Ink in Emptiness: The Mirror Cracks

the legend of Ink Catherly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 7, 8, 9, 10)

In Hell there is a city of poison and gold.

Ink Catherly lives there. She sits on its broken throne. She is fifteen years old and she is a savage jungle queen.

She has not thought of her father or her mother in some time.

Instead she thinks of Greystoke, the bull-ape raised by suburbanites, lord of suburbia and king of men. She thinks of the treasures of the jungle. She thinks of the mechanisms by which she might escape her Hell.

It is the unfortunate character of Ink’s circumstances that Hell is inescapable.

Here ends the legend of Ink Catherly: in the city of poison and gold, in Hell, where Greystoke has called up her father against her.

Hell, day 969: The veil-rending gun.

As always the ape opposed my search. I tell him: “You must let me work. I must find an answer so that I can escape from Hell.” But he is a beast and he does not understand.

I found it at last, kept in the claws of Usr-Acigh: the gun that can break the veil between worlds. I fired it. I opened a gap in the jungle. But I could not step through. In any other world I would be a corpse.

I watch my hand as I write this. It is like watching a hand pulled around by puppet strings. It is like a spider. It is like a headless chicken. It is like the flopping plastic bag that one at first mistakes for life. There is direction. There is intentionality. But it is emptiness and not purpose that drives it.

There is no escape from Hell because it is not a place but rather a condition, and a condition not of quality but of absence. I have lost the divine fire that gave me purpose. I have only the bleak insectile intentionality of flesh. I am an outsider to myself. If I were not in Hell I would be dead.

Mr. Catherly stands at the door.

“Greystoke,” Ink breathes. “You go too far.”

Mr. Catherly is gliding forward, his footsteps silent on the gold and marble floor. He says, “It is not your right, Ink, to claim the jungle’s treasures.”

Ink shakes her head.

Her face is darkening with anger.

“The Mirror of Flame will do you no good,” says Mr. Catherly. “This is Hell. There is no avenue by which you may obtain your desire.”

Ink turns. The threat of Greystoke is forgotten, and the ape himself is nearly so. Her world has narrowed down to the Mr. Catherly and the savage challenge that must come—in any species—when a child defies her parent and seeks to define the freedom of her course.

“You would say that,” she says.

There is a growl tickling at her throat. She is not letting it loose: for one thing, the human voice does not yield easily to it, and it replaces speech in use. For another, she does not wish to warn him of the seriousness of her intent. But as she shifts her stance to the lightly-bent crouch that humans use in battle her plans are transparent to the older man. He slows his advance. He is wary.

“Hold this,” Ink says, not taking her eyes from her father’s face.

She holds out the instrument of defiance to Greystoke; for unlike the men he summons, the ape-king of suburbia has such notions of honor as to make this safe.

The bull-ape takes it from her hands.

Incompatible Precepts Catherly takes two steps forward and then springs.

The contest of human and human is savage. Their teeth are blunt. Their claws are weak. Their muscles are poorly suited to murder.

But there are many ways by which they may give one another pain.

The howls of them rise through the jungle. They disturb the birds, that look up once and flee. They cause the frogs and salamanders to retreat into their holes. They shake the ancient city and its poisons and its gold.

And Ink takes her father down onto his back and beats at his chest and he is smiling hideously at her with his white fangs and he says, “See? Incompatible.”

Ink shrieks, a terrifying and an alien cry.

Her cunning talons close around his neck. His face darkens. His terrible words go still. His hands are twitching.

Ink says, “Tell me I’m a person.

But this is Hell.

Hell, day 1406: The mirror of flame.I have captured a mirror that reflects someone with a self—not the Ink who writes this but an Ink such as I was before. It hurts but I cannot stop looking at it.

She would, I think, find an answer to this place. She would explore it, transform it from this horrid absence into a phenomenon worth recording—not Hell but the witnessing of Hell, not emptiness but the recognition that she is not empty. She had wanted that. But I am not that Ink. I am her empty corpse.The ape, I think, will be here soon.

“Stupid fathers,” says Ink.

Mr. Catherly is unconscious.

“Stupid parents. Can you imagine?” she says. She is panting. She is struggling to recapture control over her emotions. “Naming somebody after what having the baby meant?

Greystoke is mute.

Ink rises. She stalks back to the throne. She sits down. Her posture slumps and her eyes go distant and she reassumes the demeanor of a brooding jungle queen.

“Take it,” she says. “Take the Mirror.”

So Greystoke steps forward. He pulls the Mirror of Flame down from the air.

“Leave the instrument of defiance. And go.”

The ape places the instrument of defiance down upon the floor and begins to walk away.

“Wait.”

Ink struggles for words.

“When I was young,” she says. “I accidentally cut off a fingertip. And the funny thing was that it just lay there, empty. It wasn’t a part of me. It was meat.”

“Yes,” says Greystoke.

“That is all we are,” she says. “Meat and bone.”

“Yes,” says Greystoke.

“I remember when I was fire,” Ink says. “I can look in the mirror and I can see that—an Ink Catherly, far away, who is fire and not just emptiness. Someone who is different from that twitching finger.” Her breathing is erratic. “I need it. I need it to remind me that I had something inside me once.”

“That is not need,” says Greystoke. “That is suffering.”

And in her last glance in the mirror, as he carries it away, she can see a great tower that is not her tower; and beyond it a sea of surging chaos; and an Ink who is not herself, but somehow possessed of that which is forbidden to her in Hell.

The mirror cracks.

On Salvation

Abu Ya’la checks the instrumentation of the plane.

He is a pilot in the place that was called Chicago. He is preparing to take his jet across the world to Europe.

And he thinks, as he flips the switches and adjusts the levers of his plane:

Long ago, there was a land far to the west called Valinor.

And it sent to us the people of the scale,
The thunder lizards.
And they reigned over this world for the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous periods.

But as the Cretaceous period came to an end
The people of the scale heard the call.
They had only to see the shore of the sea
Or catch the smell of sea-salt in the wind
And it would seize their hearts forever.

So one by one they went west
First the ichthyosaur
Then the stegosaur
Then even the brachiosaurs and the tyrannosaurs went west across the sea.

Most of them drowned.
They did not have boats
And those that did, sank them.

Many of them were eaten by a shark
Or devoured by whales—
Who were not so picky in their diet then
As they are now.

A few returned to Valinor
Where the Valar greatly celebrated them
And said, “Lo, you are fine.”

Now they are gone.
It is a lesser age that we live in.
The K-T event has taken them from us.
The songs of the thunder lizards are no longer on the wind.
We do not find them in their forests.
We do not see their footprints on the ground
And in the sky above us they are gone.

This is what he says in his mind; though aloud, he speaks only his praise to Allah.

The engine of the great jet comes to life. He leads it forward. It races down the runway towards the sky and his heart leaps, like it always does, when the mechanical wonder that is his plane climbs off the ground.

“Lo,” he says. “It has been made to fly.”

But there is a noise. It is a strange hollow booming of metal. And the face of Abu Ya’la goes white, because he knows what that sound must be.

There is a Baz upon the wing.

No words can explain the Baz to those who have not seen them: to call them apes, to call them monsters, to call them beasts is an injustice. They are twelve feet in height and broad of chest and they are remarkable—it is with religious awe that one sees them, with primal terror, with gaping wonder. The first people of this land had called them Nyew-Nene, beast gods, and sacrificed to them. A shaman with a Nyew-Nene totem was a man commanding infinite respect. The second people of this land had called them Kongs and locked them away in the great sanctuaries beneath Chicago, in those savage lands of exile where they had remained until Allah’s soldiers—all unknowing of the truth—had broken down the doors that held them back.

The third people called them Baz and said that a man eaten by a Baz would never find his way to Heaven.

Something in the airplanes draws the Baz. Abu Ya’la does not know what it is. Some suggest that the smell of airline fuel attracts them. Others that it is location: that the airport is above an ancient mating or burial ground for their kind. It is the belief of Abu Ya’la that, like men, the great Baz yearn to fly.

Whatever the reason, something in the airplanes draws the Baz. That is why Abu Ya’la recognizes the sound even though he has never heard it before. It is a sound he dreads on every flight to hear.

There is a twelve-foot ape on the wing of Abu Ya’la’s plane.

If he were a religious man, then Abu Ya’la would pray to Allah now. He would ask his God to sit by him, to take his side against the winds of fate. But he is not. His faith is, as it has always been, for show.

Abu Ya’la believes in nothing save, perhaps, the dinosaurs that once upon a time did grace the world.

They were the stegosaur, armored, heavy, and spiked. The diplodocus, long and cunning. The anklyosaur, with its tail club. The tyrannosaur, savior and king, in whose stomach Sauron twisted for three thousand years before the lizard’s death released him. The velociraptor. The pleiosaur. The pterodactyl.

Them, and all their scaled kin.

Abu Ya’la thinks of them, but they are far away.

The Baz is ripping off his wing.

The passengers are screaming, but Abu Ya’la ignores them. One light on his panel, the light that indicates an ape tearing off the plane’s wing, blinks a slow and steady red.

Please.

“Please,” thinks Abu Ya’la to the cosmos. “Please. I have a son.”

And the cosmos answers.

This is a story of the day that dinosaurs come back into the world; the day when the pterodactyl comes soaring over the plane of Abu Ya’la with a velociraptor gripped within its claws.

As a brightness surges in Abu Ya’la’s soul; as he stands up, burning with the realization of it, the steering wheel of the plane slipping from his hands; as the tears begin to pour out from his eyes, the velociraptor falls onto the wing.

With teeth and claws it leaps upon the ape.

There is a light everywhere that Abu Ya’la sees.

There is a glory.

Screaming, roaring, the beasts tumble off the plane and towards the ground. There is blood everywhere.

“Praise Allah,” whispers Abu Ya’la’s co-pilot. “We are saved.”

It is hard to hear him over the music in Abu Ya’la’s soul.

“We are saved,” Abu Ya’la concurs.

In the back of the plane, a screaming steward beats at a two-foot dragonfly with his heavy shoe.

Manchester-in-the-Gulch

In the vast caverns wreathed in sulfurous smoke, where the ground is a milky bog and the skies are full of wheeling imps; where the damned stumble and build and hold tight their memories of Earth; where there are great creatures walking in human form, their skin as hard as stone and their bodies taller than the hills; in that place that some call Hell, each person carries an egg.

There are rocks that fall. There are flames that rise. There are beasts in the night.

And there are eggs.

Annie wakes up there, sprawled in her daisy-print dress upon a viscous bog. She wakes up already sinking into the mud and in a panic, but there are hands grasping for her, the hands of men and women standing on the stable places in the bog. They are lifting her. They pull her up.

“Hello,” she says. “My name is Annie.”

“Annie,” murmur the people, in acknowledgment.

“Where am I?” Annie asks.

Then Minister Brown steps forward, and his hand is gentle on her arm, and he says, “Annie, you have been damned.”

“Oh,” Annie says. “Oh.”

Then Annie curls tightly around the egg so that none may take it from her.

“Peace,” says Minister Brown. “There is no one here who will hurt you. We are a sad lot, an unpleasant lot, but there is not the least of us here that would ever hurt your egg.”

There is an odd ring of truth to these words, and Annie peers at him.

“Oughtn’t you lot be horrid ruffians?” she says.

“Such was also my theory,” says Minister Brown. “But it does not seem the case. I thought on the matter, and here is my conclusion: if this is Hell, we are suffering immeasurable agonies and torment, which we tune out reflexively as the nature of our condition. In such light, the only greater harm that we could suffer is the shattering of our eggs. In all history there have been no humans, or at least few humans, so depraved as to exceed in their actions the torments offered by Hell. Thus, against the background evil of this place, all people stand out as good.”

“I see,” Annie says.

She takes a few steps away from them, feeling her way through the bog. “I don’t remember being terribly evil,” she says. She looks up at the sky. “I suppose I could have been a sociopath who just didn’t recognize the truth of all my deeds.”

Minister Brown sizes her up.

“More likely a contributor to the background ignorant malice of the world,” says Minister Brown. “But it is a question that others do not investigate, here. If you should like to know, you may ponder it in your egg. If you do not, we shall not inquire.”

“I understand,” says Annie.

They take her to their community, Manchester-of-the-Gulch, and there she spends some years. She learns, of her own accord, to plait yarn from the wispy, smoky matter that trails from the branches of the trees. She learns to knit clothing using needles made of the great bones, shed by long-forgotten beasts, which from time to time surface in the bog. She joins the people on their excursions to hunt the food, the water, and the sparkling foxfire-globes of electric power that help their town to live. And for years she holds her egg close, in her hand and later a pocket of her dress, but she does not look inside it.

Sometimes she sees the great stony creatures walk by, silent in the mist. The people call them the Demon Princes, for they are eidolons of fear and mystery to them.

They pass, great and terrible in the night, and they do not speak.

“I am minded to take up religion,” Annie says, one day, to Minister Brown. “But I am not sure how to proceed, this being Hell.”

“There is no proviso in the Good Book,” says Minister Brown, “that the damned cannot take up the faith. There is only the implication, apparent to certain learned theologians, that we cannot master it. Given that we are bound by our nature and unable to accept God, we cannot know the Word; the Word that we know is not the true Word; we cannot ever truly understand the majesty of the Lord. But we may come close.”

Annie is stricken. “To study, Minister, and aspire, always knowing that the truth by definition eludes us?”

“It is a burden,” Minister Brown agrees easily. “Some take up other faiths, of course. It is the Asian perspective that this Hell is a temporary place of torment, and that by apprehending the truth we lighten the burden of our karma. Some Christian sects would have it that even the damned are vulnerable to salvation, although the nature of the transition is not entirely clear—as we are dead, we cannot change our natures, but surely God’s light can breach that gap? And then there are the various rationalist faiths.”

“Why, then, Minister, are you a man of the Book?”

Minister Brown shrugs. “Because I cannot apprehend the truth does not mean I may not seek it.”

Annie scratches at the side of her face.

“I suppose,” Annie says, “that you might manage some epistemological sleight. Some manner of knowing-without-knowing, faith-without-faith, witness-by-implication.”

“I have time,” says Minister Brown.

So Annie studies with him, and they stare around the enigma of the belief they may not hold; but in her hour and in her day, it is Annie’s decision to part ways, saying, “Lo, I have found faith, in this simple place; and I cannot deny this flame I feel inside me on the doctrinal basis of its impossibility.”

“May you be wiser in this than I,” says Minister Brown.

And it is driven by that faith, supported by that tender reed of God, that, three months later, Annie finally finds it in herself to draw aside from the others, travel out beyond the borders of Manchester-of-the-Gulch, walk into the bog. There, she makes inquiry of her egg after the sin that damned her.

Now her egg is a filigree of gold that wraps around a pulsing core of red. And there are numbers in the egg and there are sounds and there is whiteness and there is fire. And there is an ancient wind and shouts of war and more of these things besides, and in its heart, she sees the sin that damned her.

Annie shrieks, as is typical of the damned, and casts the egg aside onto a tuft of grass; and she cowers there, in the bog, shaking and trembling, biting on her lip until there is blood, scratching at her arms.

“Leave her,” says Minister Brown, when a hunting party finds her there. “She will recover.”

He bends down and tries to touch her arm, but she rebuffs him with flailing blows, and he rises and nods.

But they have not gotten thirty paces thence when the rocks begin to fall.

There is something nagging at Annie’s mind. There is something twisting in it. And then she suddenly flounders to her feet, and begins to cast frantically about her, crying, “My egg!”

And all around her there are great stones falling from the sky, falling from the heights of stone that are the roof of Hell, and she does not know where the egg was cast, or whether it is vulnerable on the surface of the ground or deep and sheltered in the bog.

The others are hurrying back already as she sees it. She is grasping for it, a scream bubbling from her throat like nothing known on Earth. But she is too late; a stone is falling.

In the vast caverns wreathed in sulfurous smoke, where the ground is a milky bog and the skies are full of wheeling imps; where the damned stumble and build and hold tight their memories of Earth; where there are great creatures walking in human form, their skin as hard as stone and their bodies taller than the hills; in that place that some call Hell, each person carries an egg.

It is the hand of a Demon Prince that saves her; a great and steel-skinned hand. It passes over the bog like a shadow, and the stone shatters on that skin.

And there is a wonder in that, and an awe, but mostly the jagged residuals of fear.

Clutching her egg tightly to her chest, mumbling a mix of frantic blessings and terrible strangled sounds, Annie stumbles back to Manchester-in-the-Gulch.

Night of the Antinomian

“I don’t know,” says Sarah to her boyfriend, James. “These woods are pretty spooky.”

“It’ll be all right,” James says. He takes her in his arms. He kisses her. “There’s nothing here that could hurt us.”

The earth shakes, once. His hands draw off her sweater and her top.

“But is it wrong?” she asks him.

“No,” he says. He shakes his head.

The earth shakes, again. Birds burst into flight.

“Nothing good people do,” he says, “is wrong.”

He fumbles at her bra hooks, without success.

The earth shakes.

Her eyes widen. “James,” she says.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I’ll get it.”

“No, James. James. James,” she says. “Behind you.”

He turns. He looks. He lets go of her.

“Wha—?”

He is grasped in a massive hand and hurled upwards into Heaven.

Sarah screams.


Johannes Agricola (1494-1566): a German Protestant reformer, at first welcomed by Martin Luther, but later condemned by Luther and others for his ‘antinomian’ heresy.


“It was, perhaps, a mistake,” Dr. Oboli admits.

“Pardon?” asks General McCoy.

“It might have been a mistake. To harvest the genetic material of Johannes Agricola, and bring him back to life—fifty times his normal size!”

“Yes,” General McCoy says flatly. “Yes, it might have been.”

“I honestly didn’t think he’d ever escape the lab,” Dr. Oboli protests.

“Spilled milk, Dr. Oboli. Spilled milk. Tell us what we’re up against.”

“It’s probably the greatest threat ever to face humanity,” Dr. Oboli frets. “Historically, antinomians and humans have been able to coexist only because we were just as big as the antinomians and could kill them if we had to. But Johannes Agricola is already dead, and he’s also very large.”

“Large enough,” General McCoy asks, “to physically fling the saved into Heaven?”

“Exactly,” says Dr. Oboli. “No one is safe.”

“What about the sinners?” asks General McCoy, practically. “I mean, aren’t they safe? What if we buy some kind of golden calf from a military supplier and everyone worships it until the problem is resolved?”

“It won’t work,” Dr. Oboli moans. “Antinomians aren’t like ordinary Christians. They don’t care about sin any more than they care about good works. To Johannes Agricola, you’re either saved or damned from the moment that you’re born. It’s a doctrine of arbitrary judgment!”


Antinomianism: the doctrine that those who God has already chosen to spare will find grace, and those he has not, will not, and that therefore the saved are ultimately free to commit whatever crimes and sins they like. In short: believers have a blank check from God, whether or not they choose to cash it.


Bud and Ernest are soldiers.

“When General McCoy said to search this region,” Ernest says, “I don’t think he meant for you to go into the church, alone, carrying only a candle.”

Bud looks embarrassed.

“I mean, that just seems—dangerous.”

“I’m not really doing it to look for Agricola,” Bud says. “I just want to pray at the stained glass window by candlelight.”

“Wouldn’t a mosque be safer? There won’t be any giant undead antinomians there.”

“What are the chances that of all the churches in this little town, he’d be hiding out in this one?”

Ernest shrugs. “Point,” he admits. He stands and watches nervously as Bud goes into the church, alone, carrying a candle.

“Oh, no!” shouts Bud. He is seized by the giant hand of Johannes Agricola. He is flung through the stained glass window and in a great arc up to Heaven.

“I always thought,” whispers Ernest. “I always thought, in my heart, that I had God’s grace.”

The earth shakes. Ernest pulls out his gun. He points it, hands shaking, towards the church.

“No!”

The earth shakes. The great doors of the church creak open, like paper pushed by a child.

“No!” Ernest shouts. “I don’t want to go to Heaven!”

He fires desperately, bullets embedding themselves uselessly in Agricola’s reanimated flesh. Then he runs. He runs before Agricola can see his grace.


Ere suns and moons could wax and wane;
    Ere stars were thundergirt, or plied the heavens,
    God thought on me his child;
Ordained a life for me, arrayed
    Its circumstances every one
To the minutest; ay, God said
    This head this hat should rest upon
    Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun.

— “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” by Robert Browning


“What I’m thinking,” says Mr. Brown, “is Agricola Cola.”

“What?” General McCoy asks.

“We don’t have to fear a giant undead antinomian. Instead, we can market him. ‘The risk of sudden enHeavening,’ we’ll say, ‘is just one of the perks of delicious Agricola Cola.'”

“Why will that help?” General McCoy asks, blankly.

“Well,” Mr. Brown says, “the problem isn’t people going to Heaven. People do that every day. The problem is that people are afraid. Resolve that fear, and suddenly Johannes Agricola is no longer a threat—just a friendly giant givin’ people a hand.”

“Get out of my sight,” General McCoy says. “And I hope you’re saved.”

Mr. Brown scowls. General McCoy stares him down. After a moment, Mr. Brown flees.


I have God’s warrant, could I blend
    All hideous sins, as in a cup,
    To drink the mingled venoms up;
Secure my nature will convert
    The draught to blossoming gladness.

— “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” by Robert Browning


“All right,” General McCoy says to his troops. “We’ve got a problem.”

He taps the tactical map behind him with a pointer. It shows the town, and a big question mark, and a little airplane.

“We have no idea where Johannes Agricola is,” General McCoy says. He taps the question mark with his pointer. “He’s picking us off one by one, and he’s immune to ordinary gunfire. But he’s just one giant undead antinomian. We still have time to set a trap.”

“Yes, sir!” snap his soldiers.

General McCoy moves the pointer to the airplane. “This is our problem,” he says. “Word is spreading to the other undead. Dracula. Living Dead Guy. The ‘love zombie’. Our media scouts say that one of them is already flying into the area. They’re interested in this antinomianism. There’s a real chance that Agricola can convert them to his doctrine of licentiousness and vice.”

“What about Dracula’s three handmaidens?” a soldier asks.

“They converted to Islam some time ago,” General McCoy says. “The burkha protects them from the terrible light of the sun, but also nullifies their infernal seductive appeal and silky lingerie. They are no longer a threat.”

The soldier nods.

“Even so,” General McCoy says, “we need to act fast. Dr. Oboli has created a ‘clean nuke’ that only kills antinomians. But it’s a stationary mine and only has a thirty foot radius. So we need to bring him to us. Which means we need bait.”

He clears his throat.

“Are any of you, ah, bound for Heaven?”

The soldiers shuffle their feet. PFC Morgan lifts his hand, but only halfway.

“Morgan?” asks General McCoy.

“I try to be a good person,” Morgan says. “I mean, there’s some whoring and cursing. But other than that.”

General McCoy surveys the soldiers. Ernest, standing in the back, keeps his hand at his side. His face is anguished. He will let PFC Morgan die.

“Very well, Morgan,” McCoy says. “We’ll stake you out for the antinomian.”

“Do you think he’ll come?” Morgan asks.

General McCoy stalks forward. He rips Morgan’s shirt open, artfully, to display the PFC’s Russell Crowe-like chest.

“He must,” says General McCoy.


Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein.
(“He who digs a hole for another, falls into it himself.”)

— Johannes Agricola


The earth shakes.

“He’s getting closer,” whispers Dr. Oboli. “He’s getting closer.”

“He will go for Morgan, won’t he?” the general asks.

“It is not for science to say who can be saved.”

The earth shakes.

Morgan is tied to a post in a forest glen. He is a sacrifice to the antinomian. Next to him is the clean nuke. All around him, hiding in the shadows, are the soldiers of General McCoy.

PFC Morgan is praying.

“God,” he says, “please don’t take me. I want to come to you. But gently. I don’t want to be flung.”

The earth shakes.

“Please,” whispers Morgan to the sky. “Not this way.”

Johannes Agricola stands in the glen. He towers over the soldiers. He looks down at Morgan. Then he looks away. His eyes scan through the trees. His giant hand reaches down.

“He’s not going for Morgan!” General McCoy shouts. “Abort! Retry! Fail!”

Ernest looks up. He sees the shadow of the hand. And suddenly he knows.

“General,” he shouts. “He’s here for me!”

And he runs. But not away. He runs into the clearing, and casts himself down upon the nuke.

Johannes Agricola’s hand scoops up Ernest and the nuke alike.

“Trigger it! Trigger it!”

There is a flare of white light.


Johannes Agricola (2004-2004): a giant undead German Protestant reformer, at first loved by Dr. Oboli, but later betrayed by him and utterly destroyed. He flung many people directly into Heaven, as well as one very surprised cat.


“He’s gone,” says Dr. Oboli. “My greatest creation. Gone.”

“I’ve lost a man today,” says General McCoy.

“How can that compare?” says Dr. Oboli. “It was suicide—suicide! Ernest chose the worst possible moment to convert to antinomianism.”

General McCoy’s mouth works. He does not know how to respond to Dr. Oboli’s statement.

“But I,” says the doctor. “I built an antinomian from clay and dust. I created a great thing—a gigantic undead Agricola. And now it is gone. And it shall never return.”

“At least no one else will be flung into Heaven,” says General McCoy.

“Yes,” says Dr. Oboli. “At least no one else was among the saved.”

There is an uncomfortable silence.

It stretches.

“There’s always good works,” General McCoy suggests.

An Answer to Emptiness (II/II)

Parvati is fifty years old.

She is an American citizen, of Indian descent, but she does not live in America now.

She lives in the temple.

She has lived there for almost two years. She has eaten nothing but leaves and air. She is very thin.

It is 1997. It is autumn. She lights a candle.

The halls are empty. The temple is a gaping void. Its walls are ruins. No one comes here any more. It has too many ants, too many spiders, too many ghosts. Once upon a time, it was a temple of Babylon.

“This is the myth,” she says.

She is speaking to the emptiness all around her. It presses in close.

“We are a civilized people now,” she says. “We are better than those who came before us. This is the Age of Truth, not the Kali Yuga.”

The candle flickers.

Parvati’s First Myth

A child lives in the land of childhood. This is a magical land full of blankets, candy, and naked greed. Eventually, children tire of that land. They move next door to teenland. Like L. Frank Baum’s Jinxland, this is an equally magical yet somehow second-rate fairy kingdom. It is full of soda, angst, and defiance.

There are seven gates from teenland to adulthood. Each has a monarch, and each its attendants. The third gate is sexuality. Attending its monarch are ministers of love, choice, happiness, maturity, and gentleness. When a girl or boy wishes to pass through that gate, each minister blesses them in turn.

Then they move on, to a wider and greater world.

“I expected those ministers,” Parvati says. “Dimly, dimly, but I expected them. I understood that innocence transforms into a deeper strength. I knew that creatures such as they were the mechanism for it. I could see it written on every adult face.”

A leaf skitters across the floor. She catches it. She chews on its edge.

“May a thousand people know such blessings; may ten thousand; may ten thousand thousand,” she says.

The candle fire rises. There is also a heat pouring from Parvati, generated by her spiritual strength and her austerities.

The dust of the temple floor ignites.

Parvati’s Second Myth

Some girls and boys, when they reach the gate, are singled out. “I’m sorry,” says the monarch. Its grey cloak is filled with darkness and the endless fluttering of black and orange wings. “Your course,” it says, “shall have no such blessings.”

“But why?” the child says.

“It is not a thing of reasons,” the monarch says.

Children have no power to decide who shall be their ministers at that gate. In that moment, the child understands this. The child watches as others go by and receive their blessings. And the myth is a dagger in the child’s heart.

There was no beauty or gentleness when Parvati passed through the gate. Nor, it should be said, is this uncommon.

“I have chosen a new myth,” Parvati says.

She is sweating in the fire. It is uncomfortable. But she makes no move to leave.

“I have chosen a new myth because I have that right,” she says.

The air is full of smoke. Her eyes sting. Her lungs hurt.

She sings her myth into the air.

Parvati’s Third Myth

“Perfection is virtuous,” says the monarch to the child. “To choose perfection, one must strive, and one must also hope that circumstances and others’ will will prove conducive to one’s aim. For example, to achieve the perfection of this gate, one must come here with a clear and virtuous mind. Then the ministers must decide to bless you. That is the way of perfection.”

“I have striven,” says the child, dirty and ragged from many trips through the gate. “But circumstances have not favored me.”

“Sometimes they do not,” the monarch agrees. “If you wish certainty in life, you cannot also have perfection. You must choose instead a hard and fallow path.”

Parvati goes to the center of the fire. She sits. And this is the story she has chosen:

She will sit.

She will wait.

And a foreigner will come to the temple and buy her with a silver coin.

It is a certain path. It is a hard and fallow one.

Someone will come for her. Someone will remember the old ways, and pay for her after the traditional fashion. She will sleep with them, and it will not bring her happiness, or choice, or love, or gentleness. But it will be hers, and sacred, and better than the beginning that she had before. Afterwards, she will find the first myth a thing to envy rather than to scorn.

And in Babylon, this thing is sacred.

In this temple, in Babylon, this thing she does is sacred, but even still it is a hard and fallow path, and even still it would be difficult under the best of circumstances.

These are not the best of circumstances.

The temple where she waits is abandoned, shunned, priestless, in ruins, and, at the moment, it is on fire.

(Maundy Thursday) The Messiah Incident1

1 God plays not on the radio; it speaks the ranging of our eff.

TESTIMONY OF DRAKE LASER, P.I.

It all started a long time ago, in a neighborhood far, far away, in the time of the Old Republic. Some dame in the desert went and got herself knocked up all on her lonesome. It was all over the tabloids. “Virgin Birth!” trumpeted the Tatooine Herald. “Is God an Adulterer?” shrieked the Mos Eisley Times. Even the Jedi got in on it, sent down their men to run the paternity, and sure enough, she’d been having congress with the Holy Spirit. “It’s a miracle,” they said. “Is this the child foretold?”

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

Exploding Dreadnought Guides Wise Aliens to Virgin Birth.
TATOOINE, Enda 12—It seems that even the agonizing fire-and-decompression death of everyone aboard the Republic Dreadnought Bethlehem has a silver lining. According to the three wise aliens who brought gifts to the bedside of the miraculous child, “the brilliant light of the exploding ship burned in the sky above his town, like a beacon sent by God.”

Miracle Child Heals Blind Robot!
TATOOINE, Mao 2—In what’s sure to be the first of many miracles, young Luke, child born unto us from the Holy Spirit, restored a blind robot’s vision. “It wasn’t nothin’,” said the truculent Luke, as yet unready to face his brilliant destiny. “I just puttered around with the optical circuits.” Nice try, Luke! The SD-1 series of robots doesn’t have eyes.

Miracle Child Baptized in Moisture Trap
TATOOINE, Iue 9—Luke, known to our readers as the glorious son of the Holy Spirit, visited with John the Baptist today. John declared, “I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” Yet Luke said, “Suffer it to be so now. For it so becometh us to fulfil all justice, and my Aunt and Uncle insist.” So John said, “There is no river and no water to wash away thy sins, yet I shall shove thee into a moisture trap and wet thy brow with steam.” And it was done.

TESTIMONY OF DRAKE LASER, P.I.

A few years later, I started hearing about this new designer drug. They’d talk about it in whispers. “Mitichlorian.” The kids were wild about it.

“It puts you in touch with . . . a greater power,” Rick told me. “It’s like suddenly you and the universe are one. You’re part of this grand universal life force.”

“Felt like that once,” I admitted. I stirred my drink.

“Oh?”

“She dumped me.”

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

Jedi Council Shuts Mitichlorian Controversy Down
CORUSCANT, Midi 19—Senators arguing to schedule the new drug “Mitichlorian” found themselves peculiarly speechless today as the Jedi Council used the Force to paralyze their vocal cords. “We support the Senate,” the councilors said, “in sending a message to the youth of the galaxy that mitichlorian is unsafe for recreational use. However, despite our absolute neutrality, we feel that its medical applications are too significant to endorse a blanket ban.”

TESTIMONY OF DRAKE LASER, P.I.

Then they found Rick dead. He’d slaughtered himself in the desert, out by a crude rock altar. The expression on his face was beatific. Peaceful. It didn’t matter. My friend was dead. So I made some inquiries. I put out some feelers. And when that didn’t work, I went to Mos Eisley, to find out for myself what Mitichlorian really was.

“Rooaoroagh,” the Wook told me.

“I don’t have time for inarticulate rage,” I said. “I need hard data.”

“Roaogh?” the Wook said.

I nodded. He held up four fingers. I flicked my eyes up to the barkeep. “Four for the Wook,” I said, so he slid them down the bar. “And one for me.” The drinks clinked, one against another, as the glasses lined up. I picked one up and made my devotions to Old Ma Liquor.

The Wook clinked a speech box down on the bar. His paw played against its buttons. “What Do You Need To Know?” it asked.

“Mitichlorian.”

“Church Bus-i-ness,” the speech box said. “You Need The Car-di-nal.”

“Vader?” I said. I muttered a Wook curse under my breath, and my snitch looked impressed. “That’s all you’ve got?”

The Wook looked over the drinks. He drained them, one by one. He looked thoughtful. He rubbed his fingers together, as if around coins, and then held two of those fingers up.

“Two hundred?” I said. He shook his head. “Two thousand?

“Rarogogoragh,” he affirmed.

“It’s good data?”

“Raog.”

Unhappily, I took out my billfold. I counted out two thousand. I started to pass them across. Then the tip of a litsaber emerged from his throat. I yelped and fe—sprang nimbly backwards. My drink crashed across the ground, one more layer of nameless grime on the paleontological record of the floor.

The litsaber withdrew. The Wook toppled. Vader was there. He wasn’t the black cardinal yet. Sithism was still just a gleam in Palpatine’s eye. You couldn’t hear Vader’s breath. You could see his face. But it was just as bleak back then. Just as cold. Just as hard.

“This,” he said, and held up the murderous blade, “is the liturgy of the Force. And you, Mr. Laser, should stay out of Church business.”

“I’ve always wondered,” I said, through grit teeth, “if your liturgical sabers would work on the pure of heart.”

He advanced on me. I could hear the sweep of the cape he did not yet wear. “Shall we find out?”

I blinked at him owlishly. “What, in Mos Eisley?”

He paused. He snorted laughter. Then he whirled the litsaber around, sheathed it, and offered me his hand. “Mr. Laser,” he said, “If I should tell you what you want to know, then I shall own you. For the rest of your life, I will have reason to kill you; and this will make you the slave to my pleasures and my whims.”

I pulled myself to my feet. I gestured to a seat. “How sweet,” I said. “It wants to be friends.”

He hissed. For a moment, I felt a tightening in my throat. Then the moment passed.

“Perhaps,” he said, “I do.”

He emptied my billfold, as it sat there on the bar, and passed the poor limp leather back to me. “Mitichlorian,” he said, “is the Holy Spirit.”

“What?”

“You understand,” he says, “why we can’t say this officially. People like that the Jedi God is a mystical, pervasive, universal thing. They like the Taoist incomprehensibility of it. They like that it’s something strange, something great, something beyond them. If we let out that it was just a weird chemical in the bloodstream, well, we wouldn’t be much of a Church.”

I hesitated. “But . . .”

“Our deity lives in mitochondrial DNA,” the Cardinal said. “We are a Church of Technobabble.”

“Oh my God,” I said.

He passed me a thin vial full of blue and green liquid. “Exactly.”

For a long moment, I looked at it. Then I thought, “This is the God whose blind worship killed my friend.” So I snapped the vial, and the glass cut my hand, and my blood and the mitichlorian bubbled down onto the carpet below.

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

Is The Messiah’s Mother an Addict?
TATOOINE, Mie 1—A confidential source revealed today that he’s been supplying mitichlorian to the Madonna since well before the birth of the miracle child. “She took to it like a sandduck to the desert,” said the kingpin. “Ho ho ho ho ho.” Luke greeted the news with tears. “Aunt and Uncle always said something was wrong with momma,” he said. “That’s why they’re taking care of me. But it’s not drugs! That just can’t be!” The child then ran off to fight sandpeople.

TESTIMONY OF DRAKE LASER, P.I.

Sithism rose like a wave and drowned the Jedi council. People trembled in their fear. “Where is the miracle child who will save us?” they cried.

I was there when it all went down. Having a drink with Vader. Listening to the latest sideshow: a graceless, green, and big-mouthed alien from some water planet. He was arguing with a young woman, who shouted at him, “Millions of people were killed.”

“Theesa things happen,” the alien said. He folded his hands in front of him. He flicked out his tongue to lap at her drink. She stared at him in disgust.

“Of course they do,” the woman said, coldly. “Cities drown every day. Domes crack open and whole civilizations die—why, that’s practically ordinary. And you had nothing to do with it?”

The alien’s serene expression cracked. His eyes flashed and he screamed at her, crazy-scary and uncontrolled, utterly certain in his righteousness, “They deserved it!

Quietly, it sat back. “They would not love meesa,” it said. “One of those things.”

Vader gestured. “Naboo,” he said. His tone was rich with irony.

“Naboo,” I agreed. We clinked our drinks.

The doors burst open. There was a young and ragged man standing there, dressed in white samite. The bar filled with murmurs.

“I sense a great disturbance in the Force,” Vader said.

I stared at him. “It doesn’t count when he’s already here,” I said.

“I’m drunk,” he said. “Give me some slack.”

“Vader!” the kid shrieked. He had a liturgical saber in his hand. “It’s time for you to die!”

Vader rose impeccably to his feet. He strode towards the kid. “Ah,” he said. “The miracle child. But, child, if you are a messiah, and this seems well-documented in events, and if I am, as is widely known, the chiefest and most respectable representative of our Church, then it seems that you and I should be allies, and not enemies. For the sake of form,” he added, demurely, “if nothing else.”

“Your Sithism killed my father!” he cried. “Your Dark Side has extinguished the flame of the holy spirit burning in the people’s hearts!”

Vader held up a vial of mitichlorian. He tossed it into the air. It tumbled there. Its rise and fall seemed oddly slow, as he drew his liturgical saber and murmured the prayer that brought its beam to life. Then he swept the blade through it, and the droplets of mitichlorian caught the light, and the room filled with the presence, and a voice of fire and terror poured forth, saying, “LUKE. I AM YOUR FATHER.”

“No,” whispered Luke.

“YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON,” said the cloud of mitichlorian gas, filling the air with religious mystery, “AND I AM WELL PLEASED.”

Luke sank to his knees, sobbing.

Vader turned his head. He breathed heavily. He gestured to two of the white-clad warriors, standing to either side of the door, and they picked Luke up.

“Take him to the carbonite cross,” Vader said, and turned slowly, and sat down, and picked his drink back up.

“Kind of short for a messiah,” I commented, as they hauled him away.

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

Miracle Child Gives His Life For Rebelism
TATOOINE, Abi 8—Luke, the miracle child born to us of the holy spirit, died today in compassionate devotion to the good of all living things. The black cardinal hung him on a cross, and lowered him into carbonite, and Luke looked out into the world. “I love you,” he said. “I love you all.” Then the cold took him through the gates of death, and with him all our sins.

AFTERWORD, BY DRAKE LASER, P.I.

If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that it’s all the same. Drugs. Gods. Dames. Power. It’s all about how you want to answer the big empty space in your life. For me, that’s Old Ma Liquor, a tumble now and again, the city of my heart, and a life well lived. For you?

Whatever seems right to you, I guess.

Martin visits Liz

PROLOGUE 1
1. Liz reads.
2. Martin knocks on Liz’s door.
3. Liz opens the door.
4. “Hi!” Martin says. “I’m here to explain the divine plan for your life.”
5. Liz looks skeptical, so Martin shines with the subtle radiance of the numinous.
6. Liz sits back down.

MARTIN VISITS LIZ
“First, ” Martin says, “you need to have faith.”

“I do now,” Liz admits, having seen Martin radiate.

“No,” Martin says. “That’s rational belief. It’s mundane and normal to accept the numinous when you can see it firsthand. Then, later, the preponderance of evidence makes you doubt. Surely, you decide, I never happened. It was drugs in the water. You were tired. It was a hallucination. It wasn’t real. The numinous doesn’t fit the rest of your life. Therefore, it can’t exist. That’s how rational people cope with me. You need to give that up and have faith. Otherwise, you’ll fail at everything I want you to do.”

Liz sighs. “Faith scares me.”

Martin shrugs.

Liz sighs and looks for her faith dial. It’s a big dial on the wall marked “Liz’s Faith”. She cranks it up to 8. “Are you happy?”

“Maybe.” Martin thinks. “If you really loved me, you’d go to 10.”

Liz smiles wryly.

“In any event,” Martin says. “I want you to move to California and become a lawyer.”

Liz glances nervously at the faith dial. “Okay.”

“And then I want you to kill the first gas station attendant you find.”

“Pardon?”

“You heard me.”

Liz frowns. “Can that be right?”

Martin thinks. “Yes, it can. That’s the advantage of knowing the divine plan for you. Everything you do is right. You don’t have to know how or why. That gas station attendant might be a future war criminal or a serial killer. Or maybe it’s that one domino to push over to ensure a happier tomorrow. Whatever it is, it’ll be okay.”

“It sounds almost schizophrenic,” Liz says. “I mean, you come here, and you start telling me to kill someone—isn’t that what happens to mad people?”

“Yes,” agrees Martin. “And they’re right to obey. It doesn’t matter why they hear the voice of the divine. Their brain records it as evidence of divine will, and that creates a responsibility to fulfill it.”

“So . . . it’s not immoral?”

Martin tilts his head to one side. “Well, it’s murder. That’s immoral. Divine will doesn’t let you off the hook. It just creates a separate, higher responsibility.”

“Wait. You’re telling me that I have to be a murderer? I mean, that it’d be real?”

“No excuses,” says Martin. He radiates more intensely. “It’s your choice to do the right thing and serve me. It’s your duty to pay the moral cost.”

“But it’s not a choice. You’re standing there radiating. If I don’t kill him, it’s derailing the way things should happen. It’s betraying everything.”

“This is true,” admits Martin. “But I’ll leave. You can decide I wasn’t real. You can decide this didn’t happen. It was drugs in the water. You were tired. It was a hallucination. Then you won’t have to be a killer. You won’t even have to move to California. All you have to do is turn the faith dial back down, and fail at everything you were created for.”

“I can’t.”

“Not while I’m here,” Martin agreed. “You’d never do it to my face. But the dial’s there. And I’ll be gone.”