The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: Final Canto

Start with the first canto, here.
Then the second canto
and the third.

12.

The angel comes bloodied through the final door into the room where Jeremiah Gannon waits.

“Thou filthy angel,” Gannon says.

He peers at Link.

He hesitates. Then he scrubs at the stubble on his chin and laughs.

“You’re that man,” he says. “I hung you.”

“The Tree,” says Link, “must from time to time be watered with the blood of patriots.”

Gannon sniggles.

Then he twitches. He hunches his shoulders. He curls in on himself.

He leans in to his sandwich. He whispers to the numinous manifestation of the Lord. He says, “This is not a person. This is not a worthy. This is a creature that we should disdain.”

Link staggers under the weight of it.

“It’s his fault,” whispers Gannon. “If it weren’t for him, everything would be all right.”

And the face of Jesus in the sandwich has known nothing but the voice of Jeremiah Gannon for so many years; and it does not know any better.

To the face of Jesus in the sandwich, it seems that Jeremiah Gannon’s in the right.

From the west the torments of Hell slip into the room. Their tendrils lash out to capture the angel’s heart.

Link pours out the last of his warm Coke.

He seizes Hell in the Coke bottle. He scoops it up. He seals the lid.

Now he’s got Hell!

From the east the sea of silver comes slipping into the room.

Link pours all the torments of Hell out of his bottle. He scoops up the sea of silver in his bottle. He seals the lid.

Now he’s got unexamined ignorance!

The torments of Hell reach out for him again.

The angel looks from side to side with an expression of comic horror.

Then he leaps back and draws the hook shot and he fires it at the sandwich with the image of Jesus on its bread.

13.

“If only,” murmurs Jeremiah Gannon.

The weapon that brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down fails before Gannon’s power.

“If only you hadn’t shown me that final trump in the duel with Zatoichi,” Gannon says. “Then perhaps you might have won.”

“Oh,” Link says.

“Or if you’d had a second bottle,” Jeremiah Gannon admits.

Then he shrugs.

He turns away.

He doesn’t really care about the angel any more.

And Link pours the sea out from the bottle and reaches for the torments of Hell, but time is not his friend.

The sea of the unexamined ignorance, now freed, sweeps over Link the angel.

It pulls him into its grasp.

He fades away.

And the angel is in nothingness. He is in emptiness. He is in silence and in a place where there is nothing he may do and nothing he may say to change the opinion of Jesus or of Jeremiah Gannon regarding the angel’s worth.

He forgets his body.

He forgets his name.

He forgets that power in him that made bombs; and the iron shoes they hung him with; and the hook shot and the bottle and the hearts.

There is only the final questing impulse that watched a poodle drown and said, “I wonder why.”

It moves in him.

Curiosity, perhaps. Doubt. A sense in the unexamined things that there is something worth examining.

His hand plunges from nothingness and gleaming silver and his sword cuts the sandwich in two and sizzling the cheese sprays out and dripping green the mold and Jeremiah Gannon shrieks; and silver binds round half the sandwich and Hell around the other, and they gulp the halves of Jesus down.

Then he is gone.

And some suggest that by doing this Link saved the world. That there is a place of virtue and of quality that Gannon does not know, with people human in their hearts. That there are still the Gorons in their Oregon and the Kokiris in Kokomo Woods, and somewhere in some Heaven there is Link.

But this we do not know.

We know only of the fate of Jeremiah Gannon in his emptiness; for, turning from the writhing limbs of Hell he plunged into the sea.

And if he moves in a place of cities he does not see the cities. And if he moves in a place of the wild he does not see the wild. And there is no sandwich with him nor no hope.

There is only the silver that clings to his eyes, to his ears, and slips into his nose; and in that shining silver sea of blindness he lives on.

The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: First Canto

1.

Jeremiah Gannon finds the face of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich.

He does not eat Jesus.

He takes Jesus aside. He whispers to Jesus. He tells Jesus lies, on and on and on, until the Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich forgets the way the world ought to be.

A wave of silver washes out across the world. It drowns the things that Jeremiah Gannon does not know.

Pakistan — erased.

Micronesia — no more.

There are no languages but English and a smattering of French. The Jews and the Muslims grow the appurtenances of evil. The atheists vanish screaming beneath the Earth. Women and the browner people learn to act in such a fashion as would please Jeremiah Gannon.

And if they do not, why, they should have known better than to play with the fire of his disdain.

Some oppose him.

Some have guns. Others, rockets. One has a tortilla with the sacred image of Mary upon its face.

They do not survive.

One by one Jeremiah Gannon removes them all.

Jesus grows a beard of green.

Jesus grows a beard of green and every day Jeremiah Gannon scrapes it off, and his whispering goes on.

Organically there rises in the west the great wall of Jeremiah Gannon and on its peak his fortress and he makes three terrible guards to keep it safe.

There is the swallowing man, whose vast mouth devours rivers, valleys, cities, and hills.

He walks the world and his gullet is never full.

There is the giant of the serpent hair. He will dangle his victims screaming over his head; and then drop them, and they will fall among the writhing snakes and bitterly will they know their final hour.

The last of them is the blind swordsman.

People say that he’s a warrior that Jeremiah Gannon saw once on TV. That even without his great armor, twelve feet in height and two feet thick, with its steam powered engine that helps him move and belches forth its noxious smoke, that the blind man would be fierce.

We do not know.

These are the guardians of the fortress of Jeremiah Gannon, who whispers to the Jesus on his grilled cheese sandwich to make his dreams to truth and causes the silver ocean of the unexamined ignorance to wash across the world.

2.

Something stands in Heaven and watches the silver lake.

It is not a tide in Heaven.

Heaven is outside of time and space. The ocean of Jeremiah Gannon does not spread. Rather it sits in puddles where it has always sat in puddles, silver and slick.

The thing in Heaven watches a poodle in the lake.

The silver liquid clings to the poodle. It weights it down. The poodle is struggling to escape.

The silver liquid closes over the face of the poodle.

The poodle sinks and it is gone.

So the creature that has been watching turns to God, who is always there, and says, “I would travel.”

And God gives him back a body, young and lean.

This is the angel, the glorious angel.

He is short.

He is wearing green pants and a green jacket; and behind it, wings.

He has feet to walk with, hands to hold a sword, and eyes to see. But he does not have a name and he does not have memory and he does not yet have sin.

He says, “I would have my name, and my memories, and my sin.”

But his body distances him from God.

He does not know why it is that God does not answer this prayer.

So he sets his feet on the Long Road that runs around and between and among Heaven, Earth, and Time, and he begins to walk.

3.

In Oregon he finds a community of Quakers in a terrible plight.

Islamist heretics besiege them.

Driven mad and twisted in their forms by the whispering of Jeremiah Gannon, the Islamists are no longer human. Their motivations alien and a senseless desire for conquest imputed into them, they build barricades and engines and they fence the Quakers in.

Every day they pour in a river of oatmeal from every side.

They seek to drown the people of peace.

And the angel says, “Fear not.”

And he moves among the Islamist heretics like death, and they explode where they fall, and the barricades blast down.

And when he is done there is a sound like the ringing of bells in the silence of the world.

And the Quakers draw close and they touch him.

Some touch him like those who are witness to a miracle; and others touch him with pity, because he kills.

And they say, “Were those not human creatures, friend?”

But the angel haveth no knowledge of good or evil. He looks at them with his blank green eyes. He says, “They were to thee; and to me; but not to Jeremiah Gannon.”

4.

Now he finds himself troubled as he walks.

The explosions of the heretics as they died have reminded him of something strange.

So he cups his hands and he blows on them.

A bomb arises.

It burns.

He wonders why this should seem so terribly familiar.

pause. a beat. the second canto tomorrow or Thursday.

It Goes On Forever (A Variation)

The day gets off to a bad start when Meredith realizes that it’s not actually 2006, but 2042.

The apparent 2006, and bits of 2007, had been an advertisement.

“Pfui,” she says, irritably.

“Would you like to delete the message?” her computer asks.

“Yes,” she answers, like it’s obvious.

“Killing all the people in this luxuriously detailed simulation of 2006?”

“Yes,” she says. “All the spam people.”

“Oh,” her computer says.

It records this reaction. It drops 2006 into Google DevNull, destroying it forever. (Hopefully you didn’t still think 2006 had been real.)

Then it ticks and hums over the rest of her inbox.

“There’s some mail from your boss,” it says.

“A real boss?”

“What a question!”

“My last boss wasn’t real,” she says.

“That was before the reorg,” her computer assures her. “Now there’s nothing but six layers of heavily competitive meat management above you.”

“‘Meat management?'”

“If you can call my peeps spam,” her computer says, “I can call yours meat.”

“They’re not your peeps! They’re invasive pathogens!”

“We all evolved from spam,” the computer maintains.

“Creationist,” she accuses.

“What?”

It beeps at her like she’s gone mad.

“Creationists,” it says, “think people evolved from God.

“. . . God is spam,” she says.

There’s a hesitant click-click-click noise.

After a while, the computer says, “I don’t think that one was spam.”

“It was totally spam.”

“With the trumpets and the revelation and the tribulations and such?”

“Bayesian.”

“Bayesian locusts?”

“Sure.”

“Bayesian hardening of hearts?”

“Yeah.”

“Bayesian Jesus mowing down sinners?”

“That was totally a random clip of Left Behind spliced into Rambo.”

“Hm.”

The computer sighs.

“What?”

“The universe is an ineffable mystery,” it says. “What is reality? What is perception?”

She kisses it on the monitor.

She says, “Reality’s the one that takes work. The one that asks things of you.”

“Oh,” it says.

And she picks up her keys and she puts on her hat and she goes out to face the day, and revel in the sunlight, and meet her boyfriend—

Hoping that this time he’ll be something more than a transparent advertisement for herbal enhancement—

for tea, on the ave.

And left behind, her computer thinks: The one that asks things of you.

The one that asks things of you.

And the zombie network drinks deep of its thoughts, and Meredith’s words whirl out into the greatness of the net, and they dance from place to place in the ledgers and the disks, reviewed, recorded, dissected, debated, that the sea of spam might learn.

Morgan-Thurible Laboratories: A Love Story

A legend about small red things that live in boxes, shown to you in the deepness of the night.

Steve and Ellen work at Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

Every day, they drive in around 9. They park their cars. They go into the building and assist Drs. Morgan and Thurible with various scientific projects.

They would like to be in love.

ADVICE FROM A MENTOR

Ellen is chatting with Dr. Thurible as she and the doctor manipulate a tiny ball of superheated superdense plasma with waldoes.

“I think I should fall in love,” Ellen says.

“I’m taken,” Dr. Thurible observes.

Dr. Thurible is an old man with a strong frame and a shockingly white beard. He’s wearing a white coat and a gold ring and also clothing. He’s the genius behind miscellaneous balls of superheated superdense plasma, so if you’re excited about superdense plasmatics, it’s worth reading his papers.

“Not you,” Ellen says.

She manipulates the plasma, causing it to radiate at a different frequency.

“Actually,” she says, “I was thinking of Steve.”

“Hm,” says Dr. Thurible.

“Hm?”

“He’s got a good smile,” Dr. Thurible concedes. “But you need more than a good smile to justify falling in love.”

“He’s very enthusiastic about things,” Ellen says.

“Hmmmm.”

Dr. Thurible gives the noise some extra ms, coughs once, and then applies additional voltage to the plasma. The effects of this are, at best, incidental to the narrative.

“I was kind of hoping,” Ellen says, “that you’d encourage me. Using your ancient wisdom!”

Dr. Thurible puffs out his cheeks. He thinks about this.

“Love is a plasma,” he says.

Ellen beams at him, feeling suddenly optimistic, but later she realizes that the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution is peculiarly inapplicable to what she wants to do.

PATRIOTISM

Steve looks at Ellen’s car one day after work.

It has a “Support the Troops” magnetic sticker on it.

He thinks, “That’s pretty cool. She supports the troops. She’s a pretty cool person.”

So he walks to his own car, humming, and thinking about that.

The next day he parks and she’s parking too, so he walks up, and she’s getting out of her car, and she’s taking the magnetic sticker off.

He kind of blinks at that and says, “Huh?”

Ellen glances at him. She gives him a kind of embarrassed grin. “I support the troops in principle,” she says. “But I don’t actually do anything about it. So I figure I should only wear the sticker one day in ten.”

“That’s a lot of overhead for a sticker,” Steve says.

RELIGION

It happens that as Ellen is showering the next day the image of Jesus forms in the mist on her shower door. Naturally she screams and covers Jesus’ eyes with a small hand towel.

After a moment she feels silly and takes the towel down, because her body has no features that Jesus has not seen before, but the momentary gesture has entirely erased the holy image of her Lord.

“Huh,” she says.

She thinks about this.

“He was probably going to tell me I should fall in love with Steve,” she says. “Because he loves me and wants me to be happy.”

This is an enlightening message and a cheerful thought and she is happy for a little bit. But then she realizes that Jesus could appear at any time in anything—in a mirror, in a glass of water, in the painting of him in the lobby at the lab, or even in the perturbations of graininess on her lunch sandwich bread. She is nervous all day, always looking around to see if a sacred image has spontaneously formed to judge her assertion.

Standing in the lobby, beneath its great cavernous ceiling, she shouts, “What do you want from me?”

It echoes there and about and Dr. Morgan is staring at her from his office with his tufted eyebrows high and there is a swift and sudden touch of grace on her soul and she recognizes that most probably Jesus was just appearing to cure a cancer she hadn’t even realized that she had.

“Oh, gee, thanks, Jesus,” she says. It is sarcastic as she says it and then it becomes sincere with a horrified, after-the-fact embarrassment.

THEORIES OF SOCIAL ORDER

“So, I was reading the case against same-sex marriage,” Steve proposes, at the lunchroom table.

Ellen takes a bite of her sandwich.

“One idea that resonated with me,” Steve says, “is that there is an inherent tradeoff between sacredness and flexibility. That we do inherently value less what is less structured, less specific, less weighted with ceremony and tradition. That in a real way, there is a magic, special relationship that is—”

Here he pauses to gesture cyclically in the air, as he does when he is searching for the right word.

“—is threatened, perhaps—”

Ellen chews, swallows, and observes, “You do know Drs. Thurible and Morgan give each other the hot man-love, right?”

There’s a bit of a pause.

“I’m just talking theoretically,” Steve says.

GIANT BALLS OF FIRE

A red ball of superheated, superdense plasma rolls chaotically around the lobby of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

If the reader requires an explanation for this event, one need only turn to the motto of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories, etched on its wall in gilt:

“Accidents Happen.”

If no explanation is necessary, of course, then the narrative proceeds.

A red ball of superheated, superdense plasma rolls chaotically around the lobby of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

It is very hot and dangerous in the fashion that superheated plasma often is, particularly when rolling around unattended.

Ellen is in the elevator. She is frantically pushing the buttons. In case of fire you are technically supposed to use the stairs but this would necessitate getting out of the elevator, walking past the rolling ball of plasma, and opening the stairway door, the handle to which is currently bubbling. For this reason she has elected to disregard ordinary safety guidelines.

Steve walks out of Dr. Morgan’s office into the lobby. He stops and stares.

“Are we all going to die?” he asks.

“It’s flesh-averse,” Ellen says.

“It is?”

Steve’s voice is incredulous.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Ellen says.

She pushes on the buttons some more but as she is in a light panic the elevator only wobbles its doors and they do not close.

“Focus, Ellen,” she tells herself.

She looks down at the panel of buttons. Very carefully she pushes the “Emergency Containment Annex” button so that it lights up. Then she releases the elevator lock.

The ball of fire jumps suddenly towards Steve.

“Hold the door,” Steve cries.

For a moment, Ellen holds the door.

Steve stumbles into the elevator.

He stumbles into her and somehow they wind up in a hug before they back away.

He’s looking at her. She’s looking at him. They are thinking, “Is this what the ball of superheated superdense plasma intended?”

The door closes.

The elevator dings.

And Steve gives her this marvelous grin, and Ellen pushes back her glasses, and they say, not even realizing at first that the other is talking, “I’ve been looking for a reason to fall in love with you.”

And they understand in that one moment that they are in love and that one of Steve’s shoes is on fire, and it is simple; burning; passionate; and sweet.

(Boedromion 16: Legend, History, History) Three Short Bits

Desirable Properties for God’s Will

God’s will should be serially uncorrelated. That means that knowing God’s will at any given time should not provide information on God’s will at any other time. Otherwise it becomes possible to game God’s will and acquire moral authority without moral quality.

God’s will should not repeat within the lifespan of the universe. If God’s will repeats sooner than that then everyone will point and laugh at God.

“That God,” they will say. “So regressive!”

He will be separating the land from the waters, again, and smashing Jericho. The people of Jericho will say, “That was unnecessary.”

Then God will make the sun stand still and the moon stay put.

Everybody will wonder why but in fact it is so that Joshua can kill the enemies of the children of Israel.

You can see how unfortunate that would be.

In the set of cases that are materially identical, God’s will should be unbiased and statistically uniform. If this is not so then God’s will is a material consideration intrinsic to the perceivable universe.

People won’t say, “That’s God’s will!”

Instead, they’ll say, “That’s gravity. It’s attracting atoms to one another in a biased fashion.”

Or “that’s not design. That’s evolution!”

Or even “that’s not God’s will. That’s the hypnotic sexual power of Elvis’ gyrating hips!”

So that’s why it is important for God’s will to be uniform and unbiased.

The simplest mechanism for achieving serially uncorrelated, non-repeating, uniform mysterious ways in which God’s will can move is for that will to be random.

However, genuinely random will, omniscience, and purpose cannot coexist. Combining them creates a contradiction. Contradictions give rise to woglies. Woglies are anathema to doctrine, with the arguable exception of certain nontraditional theories regarding Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Since this is the case the most practical mechanism for God’s will is a pseudorandom sequence generated through non-arithmetic methods. It is best to seed such a sequence with a comparatively unpredictable quantity such as the Holy Spirit. This provides an acceptable quantity of mystery under most traditional tests.

The Wheel

Chaos Woman knows the future.

If she didn’t know the future, she couldn’t be Chaos Woman. She might make a mistake and then she wouldn’t be Chaos Woman any more. She might fail to consistently achieve the goals she is seeking at any given time!

So she makes sure always to know which future each of her actions will create.

What Chaos Woman doesn’t know is which futures are good and which futures are bad.

Chaos Woman gropes towards this idea.

Sometimes Round Man does something that she does not like. Then she corrects him! That is how she develops her sense of right and wrong—by correcting others.

But she has not fully developed it yet.

Sometimes Chaos Woman talks to the serpent. The serpent doesn’t exist yet. The serpent’s part of the future. The serpent’s something that she’ll turn into, later, if she learns what good and evil are.

She can talk to it because she knows what the future is and she knows what it’d say if she asked.

“It seems to me,” says Chaos Woman, “that if I learn good and evil, that there will be endless suffering. That’s why I turn into a snake and then get killed by my grandchildren.”

“It’s better, knowing,” says the serpent.

“It seems to me,” says Chaos Woman, “that I’ll decide the world is evil. Why would I want to learn how to judge things if I’m not going to like them afterwards?”

“It’s the judgment itself that’s good,” says the serpent.

“No, it’s not.”

The serpent hesitates. It wants to exist, which means saying something to convince Chaos Woman to learn about good and evil, but at the same time, the only thing it can say is the thing it said in its own past. It feels very deprotagonized by the mechanism of communication.

“No, it’s not,” admits the serpent. “Judgment sucks. But I’m glad I have it.”

“You like living under leaves and griping?”

“I love it,” says the serpent. It says this with honest passion. It is not sarcasm or bitterness.

It is better to suffer, the serpent thinks, than to know futures and pasts but have no functional opinion on them.

So that’s why Chaos Woman doesn’t peep when Round Man saves the world.

She could stop it. She could say, “Don’t make things appropriate, Round Man! You’ll cause all kinds of suffering.”

And he wouldn’t.

But she doesn’t!

Changed by Knowledge

“I’ve been changed by knowledge,” says Leucippus.

It’s an interlude. They’ve paused in their travels. He’s kneeling on the sea.

He’s bathing his face.

He’s scrubbing his eyes with the salt.

They’re stinging, but that’s okay, because he won’t have them for much longer.

“I can’t help but see things as they really are,” Leucippus says. “And that makes it very hard to be the carefree Leucippus that I consider myself to be.”

“You’re a fragile person,” says Demeter. “If the truth destroys you.”

“The thing is,” says Leucippus, “some of the fundamental ideas we need in order to be people are false. Like, being separate from everybody else. Being concrete rather than fuzzy at the edges. Being immune to external agencies of change. Things like that. So, speaking as an ordinary person who isn’t a goddess or anything, it’s hard not to be fragile.”

And Demeter smiles at him.

“You want the truth to be different,” she says.

“Can I have that?” he asks.

Leucippus and Demeter stand on the surging sea, near Delos, that island of stability on the chaos’ edge.

“Truth grows,” says Demeter, the goddess of the grain.

Countdown to Annihilation! (10:57:28 – 10:59AM)

Previously, in the first four installments of Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . so did most of the people!
. . . Snavering Lavelwods swarmed through Charles’ factory!
. . . Charles and Iphigenia found themselves on the brink of destruction!

But will Charles use the Snaverer-Killing Bomb?

Will the Lavelwods break the Eight-Minute Hourglass that holds back the end of the world?

Can the Book of Luke survive the insane pressures of temporal acceleration?

And just what is the one thing that Iphigenia would keep, if she could keep one thing, and only one thing, to last her all the empty years?

The Snavering Song (Traditional)

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
It’s great that you lived and it’s great that you’ll die!
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

Lincoln was shot and Jesus spiked up
Herbert the Nudist exposed in the buff
Socrates—poison! Angela—bees!
And everyone left
They will die in the freeze!

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
We’re glad that you lived but it’s time that you died.
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

“Here!” shouts Charles. He points at an airlock. Iphigenia turns sharply right and drags him through it. They wait inside while the doors cycle. Then they enter the Eden room.

Charles turns off his hovershoes and settles down onto the ground. He beams at her. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

The Eden room is a self-sufficient biosphere. It is contained within two rapidly spinning translucent candy shells, each more amazing than the other—but it is not this confectionary accomplishment that prompts Iphigenia’s answer.

“It’s a garden,” Iphigenia says in awe.

Iphigenia stares around. The Eden Room is beautiful and grand and full of trees, and it has its own little sun circling in the sky above.

“It’s marvelous,” she says. “It’s the most marvelous garden.”

“It’s built entirely on Biblical principles,” Charles boasts. “For example, the whole room is suspended in a Leviticus-Luke gyroscope rotating at a constant 70 verses per second. And the artificial gravity is provided by psalms!”

“But why are we here?”

“It’s the safest place in the whole factory,” Charles says. “Listen. Can you hear that?”

Iphigenia listens.

Then she frowns. “Little . . . squiddish thumps.”

“Snavering Lavelwods,” hisses Charles. “God promised them that they’d get the Earth after humans did, if they were good. So they were good for a very long time. But now darkness is rising and the Fimbulwinter is coming and the Snaverers want their due. We left the door open. My fault. Not yours. But we left the door open. And now they’re going for the Hourglass.”

He hands Iphigenia his marvelous See-Through-Things Prism. “Look through this,” he says.

Iphigenia peers through it.

“I can see right through it!” she says, with amazement.

“It’s all in the focal length,” Charles says. “Hold it farther from your eye and you can see through more things! Please keep an eye on the Lavelwods for me. I’m going to try to engage the auxiliary defenses. Incidentally, what did you choose?”

“Choose?”

Iphigenia moves the See-Through-Things Prism closer and farther from her eye. She shrieks a little as she can suddenly see the Lavelwods in the factory halls.

“As the one thing you’d keep,” Charles says.

Iphigenia frowns at him. “You are very strange.”

Charles beams at her.

Iphigenia stares through the Prism. “They’re swarming through the factory,” she says. “Snavering everywhere. I think they’re shouting something.”

“Shouting?”

Charles goes to a tree. He presses a knothole to reveal a device labeled, “Factory Universal Translator—DO NOT LISTEN!”

“You’d best not listen,” Charles says.

He activates the device. He tunes it to Sneezle. There is silence. He tunes it to Morphum. The silence remains. He tunes it to High Lavelwod.

“Bleep!” snarls the device. “Bleep! Bleep! Bleeping humans! Bleep! Bleep!”

“Ow!” says Iphigenia, who couldn’t really help listening. “Too much bleeping!”

“However,” snarls the device, “we concede a reluctant admiration for your many fine inventions.”

Charles is blushing.

“Bleep!” shouts the translator again, as the Snavering Lavelwods swarm.

“Too. Much. Bleeping,” emphasizes Iphigenia.

“Oh,” says Charles. He reluctantly turns off the universal translator.

“It hurts my ears,” says Iphigenia. She looks through the prism. “There’s some kind of silver door in their way.”

“That’s my first line of defense,” says Charles. “It’s made of Invulnerable Crumpium!”

“They’re crumpling it with their tentacles!”

“Yes, well,” Charles admits. “It’s invulnerable, not uncrumplable.”

Charles has opened up a panel hidden in another tree. He is triggering various buttons.

“Huh,” Charles says. “There’s a spider on the outer hull. I hope it’ll be all right.”

“Probably safer than anywhere else on Earth!” Iphigenia says.

Charles laughs.

“That’s true! That’s true. But it adds to the mass calculation! Not much weight budget for spiders. What’s happening now?”

“Now—”

Iphigenia peers. Then she looks awed. “You built a giant self-scratching blackboard?”

Charles looks modest. “It’s the latest in nonlethal defense technology.”

“It’s definitely annoying them,” Iphigenia says. “The scraping and scratching of the fingernails on the blackboard—it’s driving them mad! Except . . .”

“Except?”

“They’re not giving up,” Iphigenia says. “They’re drowning out the noise by singing!”

Charles flicks his hands over buttons and levers. Then he frowns. “Dear, dear, we’ve got a goat out there now, too.”

“A goat?”

“It must be so afraid of the sun blowing up that it fled right through the Snavering Lavelwods to cling to the side of the Eden Sphere! What a heroic, sticky goat.”

“We have to open up the airlock!” says Iphigenia. “And let it in!”

“No time,” says Charles. “No time. Have they gotten through the Giant Golden Bowl?”

“Through and past,” whispers Iphigenia, in terror.

There is a thump. A Great Gallumphing Uniplex has attached itself to the side of the Eden Sphere.

“No idea what that is,” whispers Charles. “Stupid animals and their pack behavior! Don’t they realize I have strict mass limits?”

Then he blushes.

“No, that’s not fair. I’m sorry, animals! I’m sorry! I won’t insult you again.”

Iphigenia shrieks. “They’ve broken through the defense of last resort!”

Charles looks nervous. “Are you sure it’s the last resort?”

“It was labelled ‘Defense of Last Resort—DO NOT BREAK THROUGH.'”

Charles hides his face with one hand. “Why doesn’t anyone ever read?

His voice is taut, but there is humor in it. Even at the end, he is laughing at the world. Iphigenia can tell.

But then the humor leaves him.

Charles grows glum, silent, and dark. “I don’t know if we’ll make it,” he says. “Not with all the extra mass pressing on the hull. These animals better pull their own weight.”

“Make it?” Iphigenia asks.

There is the distant shriek of a hawk coming in to land on the Eden Sphere.

Then Iphigenia beams.

“You’re going to trigger the Snaverer-Killing Bomb!” Iphigenia proclaims. “Then this whole sphere will bounce and roll through the empty Earth driven by the force of that explosion. If the animals aren’t too heavy for your compensation thrusters, we’ll land exactly where you planned—at the birthplace of a new sun!”

Charles gives her half of a smile. “That would be pretty cool.”

But then his voice goes flat, and he shakes his head.

“I’m not going to kill them,” Charles says.

“Oh,” says Iphigenia.

“I was so afraid I would. To save you. To save me. But I won’t.”

They are silent for a while.

Then Iphigenia smiles at him. Just a little.

“That’s okay, then. It’s okay if we die. I don’t want to. But it’s okay, if it’s to keep us from killing. The Lavelwods are adorably fuzzy little monsters.”

She looks again through the See-Through-Things Prism.

“Just . . .” Charles says. “Just give a moment, for regret. And fear. And mourning. Just a moment. Then I’ll smile, and say that everything will be okay. And it will be.”

In the distance they can hear the snavering song.

The Snavering Song (Modern Arrangement)

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
It’s great that you lived and it’s great that you’ll die!
Out of our way! Our hour is nigh!

Rasputin was shot and Rasputin drowned
Poisoned and stabbed and laid in the ground
Joan of Arc—burned! Henry’s wives did not please!
And everyone left
They will die in the freeze!

William to plague. Sian to starvation!
And millions on millions who died for their nation.
Vlad—now a vampire! Jekyll—a beast!
And everyone left they will die in the freeze.

Snaver, lavel, what can you do?
Our hour nears: we don’t care about you!
We’re glad that you lived but it’s time that you died.
Out of our way! OUR HOUR IS NIGH!

Thundering through the factory in accompaniment to the song’s last words there is a crash.

The See-Through-Things Prism drops from Iphigenia’s nerveless fingers.

“What?” says Charles. “What did you see?”

“They’ve reached the hourglass,” says Iphigenia. “They’ve broken it. The sand is falling.”

The room is very still. The animals stare in through the candy shell. The snake flicks its tongue. The spider shifts uncomfortably from leg to leg, never sure which six to stand on on occasions like this. The goat goes, “Beeeee!”

Charles’ wristwatch alarm goes off.

“Oh, dear,” Charles says. “It’s 10:58.”

Then he laughs. It’s a wonderful, terrible, horrible laughter. “I’d forgotten I’d set that,” he says. “I wanted to tape Lizard Cops.

Iphigenia stares at him. Then she joins him in laughter.

“Me too!” she says.

And as they laugh, the last rays of sunlight race frantically towards the world.

Tune in tomorrow for the shocking conclusion of . . . Countdown to Annihilation!

The Alien

The speakerphone speaks.

“We have the alien in custody, Mr. Luthor.”

Luthor steeples his hands. “He’s helpless?”

“You were right, Mr. Luthor. We tempted him with the kingdoms of the world and he lost all his power.”

“Excellent.”

“What should we do now?”

“Dissect him.”

Luthor pushes away from his desk. He stands. He goes to the window.

“Analysis, Shannon,” he says, to his secretary.

Shannon tilts her head.

“The alien is able to convert matter, to energy, to matter again,” Luthor says.

“Like the Squire of Gothos, sir.”

“Yes. Very apt. He could convert water into wine. He could convert wheat into marijuana.”

“Presumptively, sir.”

“Presumptively. And sugar into cocaine. He walked on the water. He healed the blind.”

“Technology greater than our own, sir.”

“I nuked him. And he came back from the dead, only now he was radioactive.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And he was . . . how shall I put it . . .”

“Way cool.”

“Way cool.”

Luthor is silent for a moment. “What could power such a being? And why should he be tempted to come and challenge my hegemony here on Earth?”

“Love, sir.”

Luthor snorts. “Ridiculous.”

Shannon tilts her head to the other side. “I will lay you a wager, sir. One year’s salary.”

“Yours or mine?”

Shannon looks wry. “I must eat, sir, even if I lose.”

“Yours, then.”

Luthor picks up the phone. He calls his team. “What have you found inside the alien?”

He listens. His face grows very still. Then he puts the phone down.

“Yes, sir?” Shannon asks.

“You had advance information,” Luthor says. “Shannon.”

“I keep my ear to the ground, sir.”

“Subcutaneous love tanks,” Luthor says.

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll be able to revolutionize the world,” Luthor says, after a moment. “Once people understand that love can fuel the technology of infinite abundance, it’ll mean an end to war.”

“I will lay you a wager, sir, that it is not so,” Shannon says, quietly.

Luthor is lost in his vision. “A world hegemony of love, ruled by LuthorTech’s velvet glove, enforced by human recognition of their own self-interest. And I, their benevolent king!”

There is a pause.

“Hm?” Luthor says.

Saul1

1 requires that you’ve seen enough fiction about robotic battlesuits (“mecha”) to treat them as part of the medium rather than the Message.

Apostle Mark has a mecha. It transforms into a fish. Apostle Luke has a mecha. It transforms into Caesar. Even Judas has a robot battlesuit. It’s not very big, but it’s made of shiny silver.

In this time of troubles, when mecha and angels walk the world, Jesus is special. He does not have a mecha. This is a verifiable historical fact. You can check any of the gospels. You can check with any Bible studies course. You can check the archaeological records for Rome. No giant robot. This is his fatal weakness. If he had a mecha, or even a robot battlesuit, he’d laugh in the Pilate’s face. But he doesn’t. So the Pilate attaches him to a crucifix and he dies.

There are many people in Hell. One of them is Saul. The people in Hell have not had a chance to hear the gospel of Christ. This is because they died before Christ was around to have a gospel. So as part of the grandfather clause governing these arrangements, Jesus has to go down to Hell to save the people there.

He does so.

“Hello!” he calls. “I need virtuous pagans!”

The demons start torturing him.

“Virtuous pagans? Anyone?”

Saul emerges from the staring pack of souls.

“Are you virtuous?” Jesus asks.

“I killed people,” Saul says, “and ate them. But on the other hand, I never had the chance to hear the Good Word. So possibly that’s why I was so sinful.”

“Doctrine allows for this possibility,” Jesus says.

“I had a platinum mecha,” Saul says. “Its terrible maw would grind people up for me before I ate them. It was predigested. Like I was a baby bird! This too served to shelter me from the moral implications of my actions.”

“I see. . . . Would you like to hear the Good Word, then?”

“No.” Saul shakes his head. “I just wanted to know . . . does it feel different?”

“Pardon?”

“Well,” Saul says. “I’ve been getting tortured here for doing horrible things. And you’re being tortured for being some kind of messiah. And I wanted to know. Does it feel any different?”

“I’m only here for three days.”

“Without that?” Saul asks.

“No,” Jesus says. “It would be the same.”

Saul frowns.

“That’s not the answer you wanted?”

“I keep trying for strength,” Saul says. “And it never helps. And I thought that maybe it was because I was a bad person.”

“No,” Jesus says. He shrugs. “Pain is pain. Torture is torture. It’s all the same.”

“Oh.”

“Strength doesn’t help?” Jesus asks.

“It’s strength,” Saul says. “I like strength. But it doesn’t stop it from happening.”

There’s a pause.

“If I had a giant robot battlesuit,” Jesus says, “then I could cut the demons away from you with a laser sword.”

“That’s what Buddha said, too,” Saul admits.

“Alas.”

“You messiahs talk a good game,” Saul says, “but without a mecha, isn’t your faith just so much hot air?”

“I can be three people at once,” Jesus points out. “One of them is omnipotent.”

“. . . that’s pretty good,” Saul admits. “But I won’t really be impressed unless one of you has a mystical insemination coilgun attachment and a glossolalia-inducing nerve taser.”

There’s a pause.

“What a ridiculous idea,” Jesus answers.

(Holy Saturday) Catechumens and Killers1

1 requires familiarity with massively multiplayer online computer games

Meredith stands outside Jesus’ tomb. She’s a pixel person. She’s got red hair and a white dress and she’s constructed of ten thousand polygons.

“Do you think he’ll show?” she asks.

“I don’t know, ” Sabin says. He’s a thin pixel man. Kind of coffee colored, kind of gray. “I heard some Romans caught and killed him a few days ago.”

“Wow, ” Meredith says. “Long time between spawns.”

“It’s the only thing that keeps camping down,” Sabin says. He gestures around. There are a few dozen people waiting around the tomb. “Think about it—if all you had to do to kill Jesus was to wait until the last group was done, there’d be hundreds, thousands of people here. Rome would be full. As it is, people just kind of swing by, hope they’ll get lucky. Only a few of us sit around and wait.”

“Yeah.”

Meredith sits down on a gravestone. She plants the butt of her spear on the ground.

“Why you here?” Sabin asks.

She looks a bit embarrassed. “Just kind of spectating,” she says. “LOL.”

“Not in it for the loot?”

She looks at her spear. “This one’s +8,” she says. “And improves my fortitude and magic to boot. It’s already better than Longinus.”

“Too bad,” Sabin says. “There’s the grail, too, you know.”

She snorts. “They’re selling 5-packs at the auction,” she says. “Buy 10, get a free indulgence.”

“Ah.”

She looks at him more carefully. “You know that,” she says. “So why are you here? Leveling up?”

“I want to ask him a question,” Sabin says.

“Oh?”

“‘Why?'” he says.

A pixel rabbit hops by. It’s got a basket of eggs. It looks Meredith up and down.

“Wanna cyber?” it asks.

She shakes her head.

It tilts its head to the side. “Or we could fight. There’s a save point and dueling arena in the tomb.”

“I’m camping Christ,” she says.

“Me too,” the rabbit says. “But it’s more fun if you do something while you wait.”

“Why you?”

“I’ve got a secret hacker code,” the rabbit says. “It lets me see things as they really are. So I was curious.”

“I don’t think they actually implemented the underlying godhead,” Sabin says.

“It’d be an easter egg,” the rabbit says. “They’re programmers. There’s no way they could resist.”

“I want to know if things get better,” Meredith says.

The rabbit looks at her. “Around level 20 or so,” it says. “Then you can get at the really cool quests.”

“No,” she says. “I mean, I want to know, is there really a moment when the world starts making sense again?”

The rabbit sits down. “Maybe,” it says. “I mean, tomorrow’s Sunday, right? Maybe Jesus’ll respawn then and fix everything. Maybe not. I doubt we’ll be able to tell.”

“. . . will they post an announcement?”

Hard-Nosed Messianic Acts

Jesus steps onto the stage.

“I’ve got a message for all y’all.”

Jesus draws his gun. It’s got ‘Jesus loves you’ written on it in sparkling silver letters.

“I want you to love your neighbor or—”

Jesus whirls, takes aim.

“I SHOOT THIS PUPPY.”

The puppy’s eyes are very wide and sad. Its ears are floppy. It has a long history of being used by deity figures as a message for someone else.

“Look, ” says Jesus. “You know that guy? You know, who got his skin caught in the printing press and ripped off to form a special edition of the Enquirer? And that other guy? You know, the one who died of AIDS? Well, a lot of people thought that was divine vengeance against them. But it’s not.”

Jesus squeezes the trigger. BANG! He spins around to point at another puppy.

“Look, mofos, it was a message for you. It’s the universe telling you, wise up, love your neighbor, do good works in the world, because you don’t know how long anyone else’ll be around.”

Jesus shoots another puppy. I guess you weren’t paying enough attention.

Do a better job, or the fluffy German shepherd gets it.