Ink Unrepeatable (XIII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Dr. Sarous lives in a world where there is right and there is wrong.

There is goodness.

There is badness.

Badness is an infection of the body. This is clear to him. Badness is a physical affliction. It derives from sicknesses in the organs and bug-like creatures in the veins. It seeks to drag people down even as the bright impulse—

The awakening impulse, the looking-up impulse, the thing that makes people into people—

Seeks to lift them up.

Now he has fallen.

Now he sees for the first time the world of degenerate things.

It seems to involve walking along a very long road in the sky that winds by sheeted rock walls and around and about the stalactites of the kingdoms beneath the world.

“This is not what I’d thought being degenerate would be like,” he complains.

“Oh?” says the girl.

“I imagined a diabolical joy,” he admits. “A consuming will to wrongness. Also, more adherence to gravity.”

The girl picks her way around a stalactite.

“It’s not like that,” she says. “It’s more like winning, you know? It’s like when you’ve won something, and you kind of want to play the game again, but you kind of don’t want to play again, because you’ve won. That kind of itchy dissatisfaction.”

“So you are evil, then?”

For a moment, he’s excited. For a moment, it’s a bit like a breakthrough: has she come past the hyperrachia? Will she understand, at last, that she is corrupt?

Then he remembers, like water being dashed on his head from a dripping stalactite—

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

That he can’t very well be a doctor, any more, out to cure people of their decay. He’s gone bad himself.

“Oh, I’m terrible,” says the girl. “Not as bad as a siggort, you know, but worse’n a werewolf or a lavelwod.”

“I see.”

She grins at him. It’s this bright cheerful grin. It shames him, that grin, because he did plan on bleeding her to death just a few hours back.

“It’s okay,” she says.

“It’s okay?”

“Dharma moves.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Back at the beginning of his reign,

says the girl

Cronos went down to Tartarus to free all the things that his father had chained. He freed the demons and the devils and the slimy things and the wasps. But he didn’t free the siggorts.

Dr. Sarous looks blankly at her back.

“He tried,” says the girl. “But they wouldn’t come out.”

The siggorts didn’t come out; nor the woglies; so he went in after them.

He walked down through the darkness into the siggorts’ home.

He found Bidge there. Bidge was wandering in darkness. The knives of Bidge cut Cronos. They maimed his hand. They lay his face open to the bone. They cut his neck. They caused dark blood to trickle down his leg.

“Come free,” Cronos said.

The key to the gates of Tartarus was small: too small, almost, for the eye to see. But he held it out to the siggort in his hand.

Something stirred in Bidge’s mind.

He awakened to the knowledge of another creature in his place of imprisonment.

He formed a face. A thing like a face. It hovered in the center of him. Around it spun the blades and spheres and cutting wires of the siggort’s shape.

“‘Come free?'”

And Cronos said:

The words are heavy as the girl says them, heavy and trembling, like they’re too big for her to say.

“Be welcome, o my love, into the world.”

And Bidge laughed a horrible, broken laugh. And he laughed and he laughed on.

Cronos stared at him.

“And how did you free us, then?” Bidge asked.

“I have aspired to the throne of the world,” said Cronos. “Now I rule; and I will not set my will against you if you choose your freedom.”

These words fell strangely flat.

Siggorts gathered behind Cronos’ back. He felt a terrible chill of threat. The knives of them cut away his leg, his arm, his dorsal tendril, and his glunin. He tried to remember how to shape them back.

“That would not do,” said Bidge.

Cronos didn’t understand. You could tell. It was in his face.

So Bidge flowed forward until he was this close, two fingers’ close—

The girl holds two fingers up, close apart.

—to Cronos, and he gaped his mouth quite wide. And he did not bite.

And after a moment, Cronos understood.

He said, “Those are not teeth.”

“Where you are warm,” said Bidge, “we are cold. Where you are light, we are shadow. Our teeth are not teeth. Our faces are not faces. We are a dhamma inexpressible in your world. Should I not cut you then, o my love?”

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

The girl walks along.

Her name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago—so she says. One must remember that there are exceptions: the silent monks of Tsu Catan; the child-eating stickbugs of the deeps; Dukkha, as previously described; and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which refers to her only as “that Ink.”

Her last words echo: should I cut you, o my love?

“Were they lovers, then?” asks Dr. Sarous.

“Lovers,” giggles Ink.

She looks like she’s trying to imagine some incredibly complex anatomical marvel in her head—

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

And then she shakes her head.

“They were people,” says Ink. “That’s why they said things like that. It was so marvelous to them, back then in the early days of the world, that there should be other people. Even baby-eating titans like Cronos and horrible vivisecting things like Bidge. Love swelled in them, it swelled, when they thought on that, like just living with it was going to burst them.”

Dr. Sarous stares at her.

After a moment, Ink shrugs.

“You don’t have to follow me,” she says. “Really, hunting down the person on the throne of the world is a one-imago operation. Like negation or squaring.”

“The other alternative is falling screaming to my death,” Dr. Sarous points out.

“So don’t scream!”

They walk in silence for a while.

“I’m usually critical of the surrealists,” Ink says. “But today, their road saved my life.”

“What happened?”

“I think it was in one of your orderlies.”

“No,” says Dr. Sarous. “I mean, with the siggorts.”

“Oh,” says the girl.

She reviews the history in her mind.

“Cronos’ heart was beating,” she says. “Doki-doki! Like that. It was burning in him like a fire. And Bidge could see it, right through his chest. He wanted it. So the shears cut closer. Cronos’ nipple fell off. His breast and his ribs caved in. He was very bloody. And the question hung there: ‘Should I cut you, o my love?'”

“No,” Dr. Sarous says.

“No,” Ink agrees. “He said ‘No.’ And slowly, reluctantly, the siggorts withdrew.

“‘I shall trust you, then,’ said Bidge, with consummate calm and the tightest control. ‘I shall trust you,’ he said, and he turned away.

“And they left Cronos there, alone, trying to justify himself to himself.

“‘I do not want to keep you here, imprisoned,’ said Cronos.

“‘It’s not my fault!'”

The girl thinks. “I think,” she says, “that that’s how corruption comes to high intentions. When you start identifying those whose integrity you have to sacrifice in its name.”

“Like whomever’s on the throne of the world,” the doctor says. “Or a ziggurat’s.”

There’s a pause.

“Yes,” says the girl flatly. “Yes, those are examples of how corruption might come into high intentions.”

The doctor grins.

“You see,” says the girl, “he could have saved them.”

Shadows stir between the sheets of the wall. There are black stickbugs clinging to the edges. They are pressed against the thin edge of the stone. They are large. They are the size of men, and not just any men, but large men. They are taller than the girl. They are taller than the doctor. Their legs are strangely angled. Their heads are small and their eyes are beady.

There are hundreds of them along the wall. Their taut tense muscles hold them against the cracks.

“He could have saved them,” says the girl.

“He could have saved them, o my love, if he had thrown everyone else away.”

The stickbugs spring.

  • But it doesn’t end there! There’s still three more parts to come! Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting history of the imago:
    INK IMPERCEPTIBLE!*
    * You can’t see the title from this far off.

Ink Indestructible (I/I)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“I think that God lives at the center of the world,” says the girl.

She is sitting on the head of a monstrously oversized warbish lavelwod, a horror bound under a tower in the sea of chaos to the west of the world, and her hand is brushing gently against the surface of the sea.

“I think that he’s at the heart of the world like the seed’s at the heart of a pearl. That it surrounds him so that in every direction he may look out and see the world; and that the crust is there so that he cannot see too clearly the suffering that he works with his existence.”

The warbish lavelwod breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

“So that’s why I need you,” says the girl. “Not to go up and eat the sun, but to go down and devour God.”

“That’s all very well,” says the warbish lavelwod, “but I am not sure that we have been properly introduced.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

Ink giggles.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago. ‘Cause i’m-a-go in’ to kill whomever’s on the throne of this bloody ol’ world, you see.”

“I see,” says Sukaynah.

“And you’re Sukaynah?”

“Yes.”

Ink’s hand is pink against the surface of the chaos. It is causing ripples to be. But now a sea change comes to it; and she gives a great gasp and stretches back; and the substance of Ink becomes history.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004 – Sukaynah: Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Sukaynah.

She loved the storms.

When it rained she would run out into them and play.

If there were a purpose to Sukaynah, it would have been to rush through the world into gathering storms and then take joy in them.

But this is a purpose that she did not understand.

One day Sukaynah broke a promise.

It wasn’t much. Just a little thing. But it made her ashamed.

It rained that day, and she couldn’t face the rain.

The fairies of the clouds and the dragons of the storm called to her, but Sukaynah would not come.

She curled up in her room.

She would not hear them.

And one of the truggumps that sometimes grew in the hay told her, “So make a promise that you won’t break.”

She drew on the strength in her.

“I promise that I’ll make the sun go away forever,” she said, in the face of those storms.

She became something horrible.

She became something great and terrible, a warbish lavelwod, and the skin of her was mottled and the teeth of her were sharp.

“Would you take me down below the sea?” Ink asks. “And crack for me the surface of the world?”

“If I were free?” Sukaynah says.

“Yes.”

“The currents would sweep you away,” Sukaynah says. “Then if you remained with me, we would crash into the crust of the world and hurt our heads very badly; and if I made it through, you would not.”

“That’s one thing,” says Ink, “and this is another.”

“But—” Sukaynah is frustrated. “We would find lava. And possibly some kind of magnetic thingie. Like iron or something.”

Ink laughs.

“You mustn’t be so afraid of the world,” Ink says. And points out, “You’re a gigantic horror, you know. It’s more scared of you than you are of it.”

Sukaynah breathes.

Then something in her snaps. Ink’s enthusiasm reaches her.

“Sure,” she says. “Sure, I’d do that.”

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – She chased the setting sun, across the world from the east to the west, chased it out into the sea that lies beyond world and sound; and there, on a small bit of rock, she closed her eyes to sleep;

And while she slept the gibbelins chained her down beneath the sea and built a tower on her face.

If this were not enough, they fed her on no food more good than human flesh, great gobbets of it, raw, until she would rather have choked than eat another bite. But eat she did.

And if that were not enough, they went away.

They left her there to starve. And she cried out to the Heavens that she would forgive even the flesh, if someone would just feed her in that way again.

It was a lie.

What has a lavelwod to do with such forgiveness?

The bonds on Sukaynah weaken.

They strain beneath her strength.

Something is different, though the nature of it is not yet clear.

Then one by one, the ropes that bind Sukaynah snap.

Sukaynah tears herself loose and there is a monstrous turbulence and a cry of terrible pain. After all of these years freedom burns like acid admixed with fire.

The tower, weakened by her earlier thrashings, caves in above her.

Sukaynah dives.

She maketh a whirlpool of the chaos.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – And the years passed, and Abel Clay came to the tower.

Sukaynah cried out to him.

How could she not?

She cried to him that if he would feed her on sweetness and good things that it would give her the strength she’d need to break her bonds; that she could snap them and be free and rise to eat the tower and the sun; that the gibbelins had made the rope to bind a creature outcast by the world and it would not hold a creature who knew love.

And he loved her.

He loved her, but not the whole of her.

He loved the girl who’d run to love the storms and the great gnashing maw of her and the burning eye of her and the endless warbishness of her. He loved that part of her in that rough-edged way of a man beyond the boundaries of the world;

But what man could love the part of her that yearned to eat the sun?

Ink leaves contrails in the chaos as she descends.

She thinks, as the many long limbs of Sukaynah thrash at the chaos behind her: This would be a really good excuse for being named Ink.

The lavelwod’s a bit like an octopus, after all.

Ink’s streaming behind her as she jets.

She’s leaving contrails of herself—motion lines of imago. She’s warping the chaos as it tries to warp her.

But it’s hard to reduce that to a short phrase she can use in an introduction.

And all around her she can taste the chaos.

It’s not like air. It’s like Sukaynah and Tep and Ink and thousands of years of suffering.

Ahead of them in the chaos are the first wisps of the gathering storm.

With a great loud whump Sukaynah strikes the crustline of the world.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – One day she thought, as she lay imprisoned there, that perhaps she should not devour the sun, after all.

That her inherent nature as a creature driven to destroy all human life forever and leave the world horrible and cold was why nobody loved her; or, at least, the part of her nobody in the world could love.

So she promised.

She screwed up her courage and she promised that if someone would feed her on wholesome things and the substance of the world, that she would not rise. That she would stay deep, and bring no more trouble to the world. That she would let the sun to live.

She changed that day.

A person who makes a promise that a warbish lavelwod can’t fulfill can’t be a warbish lavelwod, after all.

Again and again Sukaynah pounds against the world.

It has unleashed a fiend in her, this freedom.

It has made her a creature of mad destruction, great beyond comprehension, and determined to batter her way through the chaos-weakened shell of the world.

And her head rings and her vision blurs and there is blood to glut ten thousand sharks. It floats around her like great clouds. It piles on layers upon layers and great thunderheads and some of them are green and some of them are grey.

There is a high-pitched screaming that seems too pained to be her own and far too loud to be Ink’s.

The world shudders with repeated shocks.

Her vision flares with each bump against the ground and one, maybe two seconds later she will hear the roaring of the world.

A moment of stillness comes. She is surrounded by cacophany and mist and chaos and she thinks, like a pleased child, is this mine?

Did I make this?

Everything changes when she breaks through.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – There’s nothing in the rules that says that just because someone isn’t a warbish lavelwod, that you can’t tie them up at the bottom of the sea.

If there were, then there’d be a lot fewer people on the bottom of the sea.

Like, two, or maybe eight. Twelve at the most.

Certainly not as many as there are now.

So Sukaynah’s newest promise doesn’t free her.

In fact, you could even argue that it’s kept her bound; because not too long after that latest of her cries, Martin came to the tower, and Martin’s the kind of boy who could love a lavelwod.

Of course he could.

He’s always loved things like that, great and terrible and awful, like Sukaynah, like he wishes the monster would be.

So he fed her on sweetness and on wholesome things and he loved her and she would have loved him had it not been for the stillness that had grown in her over all these thousands of years.

And one day he tried to free her; and he cast down a gift of all sweet wholesomeness; and had she been a warbish lavelwod then the sugar in it would have set her free.

But there was nothing in his gift to free a girl who rushes laughing into the gathering of storms.

And it stung her horribly, it made her writhe, because it showed her—more than anything else could—that she’d lost herself; that she’d overextended herself; that she’d made too many promises and had forgotten what to be.

And that there wasn’t any gift she could ask for that would really set her free.

Ink drifts in darkness.

She thinks: Another really good excuse for being named Ink.

There is a pressure at her back. Chaos is pushing downwards through the crack, pouring down around her in great streams.

There is a howling wind.

Her arms and legs begin to tingle as she comes to fuller consciousness.

Ink opens her eyes.

She brushes aside her hair.

Beneath the world, as everyone knows, there is a great long emptiness; she hangs above it, tangled in the roots of the world and the limbs of Sukaynah.

And far below her,

just scarcely smaller than the world that hangs above,

there is a great and seething storm.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – People always forget that it’s impossible to keep a promise that is unnatural to you.

They twist themselves up.

They try really hard.

But the truth of a person comes out, no matter what strictures you hold it to.

We don’t know the truths of ourselves.

We’d like to, but we don’t.

We only know the edges.

One of the reasons we make promises, I think, is so that we can fill them in.

Ink’s mouth is moving.

She’s saying words that Sukaynah cannot parse because of the cognitive loudness of the beauty of the world.

They are these.

“In retrospect,” Ink says, “Looking for God under the crust of the world was probably a stupid idea.”

Dedicated to Hitherby Admin. Thanks for keeping the site going all this time!

That Moldless Legacy of Hell (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Leaves scud about on the surface of the chaos. They are yellow, mostly.

There’s an odd amount of sky visible up above, thanks to all the heaving about of the tower.

Tep’s wearing a loose orange sweatshirt, now.

It’s the color of the powdered brick that had clung to him as he fell.

There’s an alchemy of combination to that. He knows. The brick had melded into him, right down to the bone, before his nature rejected it.

Werewolves are good that way.

They never let go of what they are.

They never let go of anything, really.

That’s why for the rest of his life, whenever he likes, he’ll be able to close his eyes and see the great sweep of Sukaynah beneath the chaos and the ancient crusted bonds that had held her down while he challenged her.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

“Don’t rightly know what to say,” Tep says.

Sukaynah breathes.

She does not answer.

If there is one thing he has learned from sitting irritably above her mouth for more than a century, it’s that Sukaynah doesn’t talk very much.

“How did it happen?” he says.

He’s asking about Ned.

And Sukaynah says, “He fell. He was old, Tep.”

“Oh.”

Tep had sort of forgotten that people got old. Even dogs.

“And the other thing?”

Sukaynah breathes.

“The tying-up thing?” he elaborates.

“I’d promised to make the sun go away,” Sukaynah says. “And I followed it all day, west and west, to the boundaries of the world. And the gibbelins tied me down.”

Tep whines softly.

Sukaynah breathes.

“I would surrender,” she says, “If I could. Because, in all honesty, I would not want to lose the rest of my teeth.”

“Well, that’s good,” says Tep.

He stares down.

But he can’t help grinning. It gets bigger and bigger.

“What?” Ink asks.

“I won,” he says.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

August, Tuesday 5, 1890, Today I fetched in a jellyfish that spoke & offered me three wishes, but when I asked for the death of God it offered me regrets & suggested that easier wishes would involve gold or jewels, which prompted me to great laughter as I am no doubt the richest man in all the West & I threw it back without acceptance of its offer.

January, Thursday 1, 1891. It is the new year. I have settled myself quite comfortably now and do not think I shall have the opportunity to dethrone the Tyrant; for my indisposition in its peaks and swells is worse on each occasion, and I have not cracked but the thousandth part of the gibbelins’ knowledge herein. Still I find that I am not so hard taken by this as Ned is a faithful companion & I have even grown somewhat fond of Tep & Sukaynah. How can a man find himself so comfortable with savage beasts when the Lord, that fount of goodness, proves a Tyrant? I wonder if we have been In the Wrong and goodness is topsy-turvy from the start.

January, Sunday 12, 1891. I saw him in the distance, moving on the sea, and cast my spear; but I have missed the Tyrant and so he shall remain upon his throne.

I am not certain of the date but I felt that I should close out this volume in some better fashion & not so much speak of my inefficacy as of the great and generous favors that Providence and my adversary have granted me & to acknowledge that in all the cruelty that harangues the world there is still grounds for hope for I shall not regret knowing Emma or Lily or Charles or Tep or Sukaynah & if you find this please take care to feed Ned & Tep & Sukaynah as I do not believe that they can fend well on their own;
Abel Clay.

There are a few minutes of silence, punctuated principally by the sound of turning pages. Ink is reading the journal of Abel Clay.

Then she closes it.

She taps her nose, looking very intent.

Then she takes off her backpack—pink and very flat and a bit too small for her—and puts the journal in it. In exchange, she removes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is wrapped in plastic and looks about as ancient as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can look without actually being green.

She tosses this to Tep.

He catches it. He looks at it more or less as anyone would.

“Sheesh,” says Ink. “You people don’t know how good you have it.”

“Oh,” says Tep.

“It’s food! You chew it and swallow it and then it’s in your stomach fueling the divine fire of your life.”

Tep looks at the sandwich sidelong.

“That is the theory,” Tep agrees.

“Hey,” Ink says.

And now she’s looking solemn.

“If you’ve won,” she says, “you can go, right?”

Tep whines again. It’s soft and under his breath and not so much an answer as a vocalization before his words; and he shortly adds, “She is tied down.”

“You’d sit here for a hundred years waiting for a dead dog to come back and fight you,” says Ink, “and now you’ll stay until someone unties a giant sun-killing horror with limbs as big as jet airliners?”

“Yes,” says Tep.

“Outside,” says Ink, “there are a billion souls to love as you’ve loved those here; and sunsets like rocketfire; and candy with chocolate inside and letters on the front, if you can hold that thought in your head without going insane from the sheer head-pounding magical majesty of it—

“‘Cause, seriously, I mean, just think about that for a moment—

“and balloons that fly up to the ceiling and get stuck there until they die; and ten hundred zillion books; and bees made out of ice and bees made out of rocks and bees that have sex with flowers. And when you breathe there’s air and it comes into your lungs and they push out and then suck in like this,” she says, demonstrating. “And sometimes people light little sticks on fire and breathe part of it into their lungs and then spit out smoke just like they were tumorous dragons.”

“There’s air here, too.”

“Huh,” says Ink. She breathes again: it makes the sound ho-ha, ho-ha, but smaller than Sukaynah’s. “So there is.”

She grins to Tep.

“But I’m taking her,” Ink says. “You can fight me over it, and she’ll stay tied up here forever, or you can say good-bye, and go, and find other people to love out in the endless immensity of the world.”

Sukaynah has been shifting softly in her bonds, pulling against them, a tiny motion that Ink did not feel and Tep did not see until it stopped.

It is still now, below Gibbelins’ Tower.

Softly, Sukaynah says, “Go.”

It is like the lifting of a shackle. It is the ending of a hundred years.

Smiling wildly, and leaning out across the chaos to touch Sukaynah’s face, Tep makes his goodbye; and then, his whole body one great moment of transition, he goes up the wall and away.

What is the imago?
Why does Sukaynah even care that fig newtons are fruit and cake?
Why, in just a few short minutes, will a quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower fall into a jumbled ruin?

Check back on Tuesday for the exciting conclusion to Chapter Two of The Island of the Centipede:
Ink Indestructible (I/I)

“What are you?” Sukaynah asks.

Ink’s hand comes down to touch the surface of the chaos.

“I’m a destroyer.”

Tep vs. Sukaynah (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

In stillness Sukaynah strains.

Ropes have bound her for thousands of years. They have become crusted with the varicolored substance of the chaos. They have grown stronger as she’s struggled. Her head rests among great stones. Her body presses in against the crust of the world. Around her head like an orthopedic pillow there is the artificial island whence the tower grows, one great hollow pillar of it fixed against her face, so that she breathes channeled air and not the chaos. From above one might not guess her presence there.

She has long since grown inured to the agony of her tangled limbs and the unpleasantness of things.

But right now she is gagging, and nausea is a unique unpleasantness.

The substance of her throat fizzes. The house caught in it trembles and rises. She is throwing up Ink, and Tep, and the house of Abel Clay.

Sukaynah’s neck has a crick. That is an agony. The swollen ropes around her left wrist and seventh limb have ground away the blood. That hurts her too. And there are promises she cannot keep and thirsts and hungers that she cannot satisfy and the harrowing monotony of time.

But it’s the little things that get past the crust of her disregard.

Like the nausea, or Tep.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

“It’s going to be tough for you to win,” Ink observes.

Tep wrinkles his nose at Ink.

Then he casts back his head.

He shouts, “Show your belly!

And he leaps from the porch to a protuberance in Sukaynah’s throat. And from there to the back side of Sukaynah’s teeth; and growling, as her maw gapes wide, he wraps himself around a tooth and begins shredding the enamel with his fingernails.

Ink frowns. She asks: “Isn’t that a bit eager?”

And Sukaynah says: hic.

The house of Abel Clay shoots through Sukaynah’s maw. It crashes into the wall of Gibbelins’ tower. It bows in on contact and explodes into flinders. With a whump Ink hits the wall, opens her mouth wide, and then falls onto a great long branch.

Sukaynah snaps her teeth shut.

Tep crunches until he is very thin. Then, as Sukaynah opens her maw again, he fills out, gasping for breath.

“Guh,” Tep says.

He shakes himself, hunches his back, and jumps upwards to land and claw against Sukaynah’s tender gums.

Sukaynah’s face has pulled free, just a bit, from the masonry of the tower. Chaos bubbles up around her.

With a wrench, Tep tears free Sukaynah’s tooth. It is substantially bigger than he is.

Sukaynah shakes her head.

Tep flies sideways, clutching the tooth in his arms and legs.

Tep slams into the wall.

Brick explodes under him and turns into fine powder. The shock of Tep’s impact ripples through the wall. He makes a little pained yip and his eyes water and his bones all snap.

Slowly, his body pulls back together.

He looks to Ink. He holds up the crumbling tooth. His face has a wild grin, as if to say: did you see? did you see?

Then he unsticks from the wall and lurches forward and falls into the chaos.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

May, Thursday 18, 1890, surrounded by such a peculiarity of knowledge and Things I have decided to settle rather than test the brace on my leg against the enormity of the journey home & until such time as I have a better conception of in which direction lays my adversary; thus I have begun with the help of Ned to construct a home within this tower and learn the ways of fishing these great seas & spending my nights in review of the various written materials and records herein. I am forced to revise my opinion of the gibbelins; they are not savages but rather profoundly civilized creatures possessed of greater erudition than the Universities of the East. If they are lacking in any wise it is solely their respect for the other peoples of the Earth, to whom they conceive no more greatness than the foulest savages, to which effect I would chide them had they survived the long years since this tower’s establishment.

May, Wednesday 24, 1890, Tep has followed me to the tower. At first I judged this an occasion for great sorrow & attempted futilely to drive him off with gunfire but Ned fought him with such ferocity that Tep retreated and, after some time, offered muffled apology for his rude behavior & to make amends so I have set him to work helping me with my home & yet I do not trust him for he will mutter so darkly as he works.

July, Wednesday 30, 1890, Ned and Tep fought again this day. Tep is furious that he cannot make progress against the dog & also at me but as I have allowed him to haul in the nets he has soothed a portion of his anger & glutted himself until his stomach rounded on a vicious toothed fish perhaps 10 meters long. Salting the leavings and eating well I judged myself well served as I might well have lost the nets if I had hauled them in my Self.

August, Monday 4, 1890, my condition worsens due to fever spreading from my leg which I had thought was becoming well. Tep & Ned both solicitous, but Ned does not allow Tep into the house which I think very funny. Thus Tep sits on the branches & fumes & occasionally wrestles Ned in a fury of barking and growling which leaves them both bloody but scarcely harmed.

Swaying, Ink stands.

She looks down.

She stands in the baleful gaze of Sukaynah, above that creature’s burning eye; and Sukaynah says, softly, “In truth, after all this time, I would like to see him win.”

Ink stares for a moment, and then she beams.

She jumps down. She sits, cross-legged, next to Sukaynah’s eye.

“I thought you were a talking thing,” she says. “But who?”

Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

It blows Ink’s black hair about.

“Someone who has made too many promises,” Sukaynah says.

Tep’s hand rises from the chaos.

It hooks into the wall.

“He’s coming back,” Ink says. “Be ready.”

Tep pulls himself up, hand over hand. He is burned and altered, but his body sheds the wounds of chaos as he heals. Only his clothing is left changed.

But he does not attack.

In a sad and oddly goofy voice, he says, “I did not know you were tied up, Sukaynah.”

Ink Indigestible (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“We make of this world,” says the girl, “a great and marvelous immensity filled with pureness and lightness and darkness and things that we do not understand.”

Her voice is reverent.

“It burns the skin of us like ice or fire,” she says. “It resounds in our ears like thunder. And we worship it, naturally we worship it, we look outwards and we give it homage, because it is so very wonderful things are.”

Tep is ignoring her.

He is sulking.

He is saying, “I can’t believe I have to fight Sukaynah.”

“Wow,” says the girl.

“Hm?”

“I can’t believe that either! Also: where are we?”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

Normally being swallowed by a giant horror occasions great terror, uncertainty, and pain. However inside the throat of Sukaynah phosphorescent fungi manifest both light and slickness, producing an experience somewhat between that of a waterslide and Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

The house of Abel Clay rockets down her gullet and casts forth a great spray when it corners.

“We’re— that is,” says Tep. “There’s a giant, um, Sukaynah— the gibbelins—“

“Hm?”

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to explain.

“We’re on the porch of a house in the throat of a horror under a tower in the middle of the sea,” Tep says.

Ink’s eyes light up.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Maliciously, Tep adds, “And you’re probably going to be digested, since you’re not a werewolf.”

Ink Catherly dips a finger in the fungus.

She tastes it.

“This is so much better than Hell,” says Ink Catherly, grinning ear-to-ear.

“What?”

“Did you know,” says Ink, “that when you’re in Hell, you can taste things, but it doesn’t matter that you can?”

“What does it taste like?”

“Terrible,” says Ink.

Then she cups her hands to the sides of her mouth. She shouts, “Sukaynah!”

There is no immediate response.

“Sukaynah! I’m covered in intangible bugs!”

The house slows in its course.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

February, Tuesday 11, 1890, having abandoned all other concerns & let Emma’s garden grow over with dark vines I set forth to California & regions beyond. With the establishment of the rail I made this journey with fewer hardships than my grandfather & arrived without incident & with the graces of that Tyrant from whom I intended to claim satisfaction. For some weeks I traveled the coastal regions, discovering no chaos but locating several homes ravaged by disease & burying the residents therein & acquiring for the first time the loyalty of my dog Ned, formerly the associate of a family unfortunately passed. (See picture.) Naturally this close acquaintance with the dead chilled me with unease but a Responsible man tends to the damage done before the revenge for it & so strongly burned my purpose that fear could not turn me from these favorable actions that I have described.

May, Friday 5, 1890, I made my first encounter with the boy whom I now know as Tep, a child whose bestial personality has manifest certain physiognomic and physiological peculiarities. To wit, when not occupied in pleasant pursuits he acquires increasingly the stigma of the wolf & behaves in outrageous fashion. Remarkably in his hunt he sheds gunfire in the same fashion that a motivated man may shake off fisticuffs and, having earned his rage thus firing upon him, I ran for some days and became quite lost, wherefore I cannot accurately mark the location of the bridge to the tower of the gibbelins upon my map, but suggest to any who may come here by sea that its approximate location is here, see X.

May, Sunday 7, 1890, I am here and safe and seeking assiduously to discover the location of the Tyrant. At first I considered this tower with its fearful abattoirs a plausible location for His eminence but have had to rethink this after finding certain scripts that indicate this as the home of “gibbelins,” which if I am not mistaken are a tribe of the savages whose presence the Spanish first reported; yet if the Spanish had been here I would be much surprised as great treasuries of jewels reside untouched within the gibbelins’ vaults. Have found a volume, “To Serve Man,” apparently a cookbook & perused the recipes with great interest but the cooks have made some manner of jest and I am unable to penetrate it. Regrettably I am unable to return to civilization as a misstep in a cellar of bones has injured my leg substantially and I reckon at least two days’ travel beyond the bridge through hard ground before I find a settlement.

May, Tuesday 9, 1890, beneath this tower I discover Sukaynah’s terrible maw. (See illustration.) This creature whose great mouth opens as one of the tower’s foundations is no doubt the very beast of Hell herself but as I am seeking vengeance on the Tyrant who made things as they are & not the beast that corrupts them I have elected to leave her be & grant her such favors as she prefers that do not entail her devouring my soul or rising free of her confinement.

Continuing the history of the imago (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. It’s because she’s covered in intangible bugs, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

Either way, she’s just announced it to the person who’s swallowed her.

“That’s mean,” says Tep, with fascination.

And Sukaynah is gagging.

You’re the one who’s going to fight her,” says Ink.

The channel in which they rest is rocking back and forth; it grows apparent that for all the things Sukaynah is willing and able to swallow, she cannot casually gulp down someone covered in intangible bugs.

“She ate Ned, so she’s alpha,” says Tep. “I have to fight her.”

Ink shrugs.

Then she grins, and says, “Oh, hey! Fig newton.”

She reaches out into the throat of Sukaynah.

She plucks it forth.

“Oh, don’t,” says Tep.

“Hm?”

“It is one thing to fight her,” says Tep, “and buggy words are just buggy words; but fig newtons are fruit and cake.”

His expression is peculiarly solemn.

“Please put it back?” he says.

Ink smiles to him.

“Then in homage to that great immensity,” she says, “that surrounds us.”

And gently and with reverence she tosses the cookie; and Sukaynah tosses hers.

Red Mary (3 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Currents rush through the purple sea.

Ahead of Max are the scattered remnants of an island. Some great power has struck and shattered what once was whole so that now it is a dozen, perhaps two dozen pieces of land with watercourses between them. The sunlight runs in white and golden streams along the chaos’ surface.

Max dangles from the edge of his catamaran by one arm and the strictures of his harness. Red Mary swims towards him.

Her movements are effortless and swift.

Max flounders and tries to drag himself up. The catamaran wobbles. His hand catches a wooden box. He closes his fingers around it, pulls it down and tries to catch Red Mary’s head with it.

It flails without efficacy and the claws of Red Mary open a gash on his side and the impact of her drives him and the boat back.

The box opens.

Inside, there is a knife of melomid skin, a shard of the lens Necessity, and it contains within it the history of Confucius; or, that is to say, of Mr. Kong.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.
The Island of the Centipede

It is June 3, 2004, in the latter years of the tyranny following the Fourth Kingdom of the world.

Max seizes the knife.

Red Mary draws back. She is ten yards away from him in the blinking of an eye. She curls her tail into a spiral and her hair drifts and she stares at him with cold black eyes.

He cannot imagine how it is that her shirt neither clings nor falls away.

“Wisdom tells us that we are not important as we are,” she says.

Max takes a tentative breath. The chaos is breathable but sickening, like the air in a slaughterhouse, so he kicks his feet to rise.

In that moment of blindness when he crests the surface she closes in; but he draws up his feet and he flails with the knife and honoring the wisdom of Mr. Kong Red Mary’s charge pulls short.

She circles, lazily. Max watches until she disappears around the catamaran; then, to track her, he must drop his head below the chaos once again.

“This is the argument for your death,” she says.

Max takes another lungful of chaos. He coughs. He bows inwards on himself. His mind’s eye blurs out with pain and stress. She flicks towards him.

Max extends the knife. Once again the point of the history keeps her at bay. She flicks back.

“The thrust of a mind’s attention distorts the chaos,” she says. “It agitates the substance of the world. From this we arise: rocks and trees and mortal men and gods. We serve as cysts for love and pain. And where we go we bestow these commodities, such that when we see the things that please us we distort them with the imprint of our suffering and when we see the things that hurt us we distort them with our love.”

The chaos picks up the rhythm of her words.

It is everywhere singing with them, and billowing with darkness like a God-squid’s ink.

“We carry forward the pains that gave us birth.”

Max goes to rise to the surface; but the coldness of her eyes stops him.

If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg.

He can hear that as a harmony in the chaos. The music tells him: You are entangled, and to struggle will hurt you more.

If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg. But here I cannot really breathe.

“We are imperfect and pitiable creatures,” she says. “Because where we go no paradise can sustain. Why did the Buddha fail to save the world? Why was the maiming of Uranus in vain? Why has every effort ever made to craft a Heaven of this world failed us? It is because of who we are. We are unfinished. We are imperfect. Our existence necessitates a condition of imperfection.”

Diamond patterns play across his vision.

“But there is an answer,” she tells him.

Oh?

“There is a perfect anodyne.”

This is the music that once Odysseus found beautiful; and it would have killed him were he not tied to his mast.

Max cannot think. The knife drifts from his hand.

“You’re soaking in it,” she says.

Max sags.

He drifts there in the water.

He can feel it, everywhere around him: the infinity of things.

He is small in it.

He is a speck.

He is a handful of organic molecules and thoughts whose insistence on material integrity have bound him to suffering and to fight that which he loves.

“There was a siggort,” says Max.

And perhaps that is why he does not dissolve and scatter into the foam of the sea; but it is not enough.

“You are part of this great infinity,” Red Mary tells him, and he feels himself the whole of the chaos and the land and he does not feel her teeth.

Newton’s First Law (4 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The baited hook falls, falls, falls.

There is a pause.

There is a great crunching and munching of teeth.

“Perfect,” says Martin smugly. He glances slyly at the Roomba. “See, if you had a better set of lexemes, you’d be able to admire that cast.”

The Roomba’s “I don’t want to get eaten” LED lights up.

There is a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.

“I’ve got her,” Martin says.

Here is how it came to pass.

The morning of June 1, 2004, had gone well for Martin. Sukaynah was placid, made happy by the falling of apples. Mei Ming, insofar as he could guess, was giving serious contemplation to his ideas. Jane, overwhelmed by the task of piecing together histories in the broken lens, was uncharacteristically quiet. And there, shining amidst the aisles of Costco, he’d found a flat of delicious Fig Newtons: 125 packages of 24 cookies each, bundled together, 5x5x5.

The flat shone like the stars.

He took it home to the tower and set his purchases on the counter. Jane descended like a vulture, but—

“No,” said Martin, flush with the power that was in him.

“No,” he said. He held out his hand. “Not the cookies,” he said.

Jane pouted, but Martin did not bend. She tried to sneak around him to the cookies. Martin stood firm, like the sentryman of Heaven.

“You can’t eat 3000 cookies by yourself!” Jane protested, driven at the last to the employment of reason. “You’d turn into a cookie. And explode!”

Martin said, dramatically, “I’m willing to take that risk.”

But Jane’s star was in ascendance. She made her very best face at him. He trembled under the power of that face. Her eyes bored into his. “You have to share them with everyone in the tower,” she said.

“I have to?”

“Yes.”

And sometimes Martin wonders why he made her, why he shaped her from the ruin that he’d found, why he’d bothered to bring an ending to the firewood and to Bob: but not today.

On June 1, 2004, he loves her; and with gloatful satisfaction says, “That’s more than 2800 for me.”

And against the glow of that brilliance Jane can offer no protest.

Martin leans back. He prepares to reel Sukaynah up. He spins the wheel on his fishing pole. It turns easily at first but then it slows down. It gets harder and harder.

“Will you keep your promise?” Martin says.

He’s sweating as he struggles with the line.

“Glugnuh?” Sukaynah says, meaning: Promise?

“Because I gave you a cookie,” Martin says.

“Ah,” says Sukaynah.

“You said that if anyone fed you cookies, that you’d be able to break free, but that you’d have to eat the tower and the sea and the sun.”

“‘orry,” Sukaynah says. “‘ut, ieyah.”

Martin is sweating. He’s trying to reel Sukaynah in but he’s making very little progress.

“Because I have to admit,” he says, “I don’t actually want you to do that. And also, this isn’t working very well.”

“‘y ‘ot?” Sukaynah asks, meaning Why not?

The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED lights up.

Martin glances at it. He shakes his head irritably.

“Hush,” he says.

The line goes still and trembling.

There is a momentary hush.

Then there is anger from below. There is a thrashing in the sea. The hook tears loose and Martin falls back and Sukaynah shrieks, “But this isn’t a cookie!

“What?”

Newtons are fruit and cake!

The tower shifts, the tower shakes. The Roomba slips free from the newton on which it is impaled. The imago slumps to lean against the tree.

The crust of the world cracks.

In the distant west there is a sound: Whump!

“Oh,” Martin says.

Brick Fishing (3 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

There’s a simple fishing rod leaning against one wall. It’s made of white birch. The line makes relaxed loops like a backwards B as it travels the fishing rod’s length.

Martin threads a newton onto the hook.

“You’re probably wondering,” he says to the imago, “why I brought you here.”

The imago is silent.

“I wanted to explain to you, before anything big happened—like Sukaynah eating the tower and the sea and the sun or you coming out of your cocoon or someone bumping the Roomba’s End of Everything Button—just how very much I want to win.”

Outside the sky is blue and the clouds rush by.

Martin whips the fishing rod forward and with a sound like scree-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee the cookie falls down towards Sukaynah’s maw.

Continuing the story of Martin, Sukaynah, the imago, and the Roomba (1, 2)

“People are unfinished,” Martin says. “They’re rough and raw and they look like the blobs that kids in elementary school make when they learn pottery in art class. They’re hopeless.

The line stops descending. Martin pauses a moment.

“It hit the oak,” Sukaynah says.

Martin sighs. He reels up the line. He pulls the cookie back. Then he casts again.

“It makes me so angry,” Martin says. His face is just a little bit red. “Like, they’ll figure out that something is wrong and the first thing they do? They do it louder.

The line stops descending. Martin pauses.

“The house,” Sukaynah says.

“Oh,” Martin says.

“You’re really bad at fishing,” Sukaynah says.

“It’s not my fault you’ve got a house in your snorkel,” Martin says.

“No,” Sukaynah admits.

Martin reels the line back up. He looks critically at the fig newton, takes it off the hook, and replaces it with a fresh one. He glares down into the hole. Then he braces and casts again.

“Mind the werewolf,” Sukaynah says, and Martin’s hands jerk and he almost drops the rod and in any event the cookie hits the wall.

“I am trying to fish and explain how awful people are,” Martin says.

The imago is silent.

“They’re also sloppy,” Martin observes. “And ugly! And the really young and really old ones are all wrinkly. And they’re always leaving their things all over the place. And they hurt each other. And they poison the earth. And they don’t eat their vegetables.”

He casts the line out with grim determination. It falls, falls, falls towards Sukaynah’s maw.

There is an angry bark.

“And some of them are werewolves!” Martin says, as if this were the capstone to his argument when in fact it is the smallest of incidents.

Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.

She cried, “Feed me fruit! Green apples! Strawberries! Figs! Oh, feed me fruit and I shall sink to the depths and trouble you no more.”

But there was silence, and for a long time she was left there, to gnash her teeth and bewail her fate, until one day Martin came.

Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha. It stirs the dust on the floor. It blows back a lock of Martin’s hair.

“What would it mean,” she says, “If I may ask? Your victory?”

“I would sweep away the kingdoms of the world,” Martin says. “I would tear down all the monsters. I’d make a pile of their bones. I’d dispose of the people who couldn’t evolve. I’d rend the world, I’d cull it down to a remnant, and from its ashes I’d build the most glorious of Heavens.”

“Ah,” says Sukaynah.

Martin begins to reel back the line.

“And the gibbelins?” Sukaynah asks.

“The gibbelins?”

“Would you tear them down and make their bones a pyre?”

“You can’t punish the dead,” Martin says. His face is blank. “That’s like putting pebbles in your soup.”

“Then I do not think,” Sukaynah says, “that you should win.”

Martin finishes pulling up the line. The hook is empty. The werewolf has savagely eaten the fig newton.

He shakes his head irritably.

He sighs.

He rebaits the hook.

“I know,” he says. “I shouldn’t. I can’t. I wish I could. Thinking about it—it’s tremblingly nice. It makes my fingers warm and my toes curl. But I’m not going to.”

He casts the line. It falls, falls, falls.

His face, with no one looking at it, is almost open.

“Instead,” he says, “I’m trusting Jane.”

Feeding Dangerous Things (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

Leaves in sunlight, touched by a gust of wind, scritch and skitter along the floor. They reach the edge of the pit. They leap down like cats, hunched and light and agile, and fall slowly towards Sukaynah’s maw.

They vanish into the darkness below.

And up from below comes the breath of Sukaynah, whose snorkel and prison this tower is: ho-ha, ho-ha.

“Sometimes I try to fish her up,” Martin says. “Because I would like to help her. But I’ve never used the right bait.”

Sukaynah’s breath is heavy and rasping. It scrapes along the brick.

Continuing the story of Martin, Sukaynah, the imago, and the Roomba (1)

“Here,” Martin says to the Roomba.

He reaches into his pocket. It’s full of wadded up fig newtons. He takes one out and tosses it to the Roomba.

The Roomba attempts to vacuum up the cookie. When this fails it tries to climb up on top of the cookie. After a long effort it manages to get itself stuck on top of the fig newton. It whirrs and whines helplessly.

“That’s bad navigation,” Martin says.

“!!” explains the Roomba.

Martin says, “Well, don’t look at me to help you. I think you should use this opportunity to evolve.”

The Roomba’s “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” LED lights up. It plays a sorrowful tune.

Martin makes a face.

“Grind it down with your mobility!” he says.

As the Roomba hums and whirrs, Martin turns to the imago.

“Here,” he says.

He holds out another cookie.

The imago does not take the cookie.

“I think you’re an imago,” Martin says. “I think you’re in that cocoon because you’re evolving to the next stage of human existence—in,” he says triumphantly, “direct contradiction to the Roomba’s LED.”

The Roomba irritably extinguishes its “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” light. It attempts to back up off of the cookie, to no avail.

“But,” Martin says, “it can’t be very much of an evolution if the post-person stage is unable to eat cookies.”

The imago is silent.

Martin makes a face.

“Maybe you don’t get a cookie, then.”

And he plucks two apples from the tree and sits down with his legs dangling into the pit and he looks thoughtfully down at Sukaynah far below.

Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.

She cried, “Feed me sweet things! Pastries! Cakes! Cookies! Oh, feed me sweet things and I shall rise to devour the tower, the ocean, and the sun.”

At that time, a fisherman—Abel Clay—had moved into the tower, along with his family. He heard Sukaynah’s cries and was mightily amazed: but, “No way!” he shouted back down. “I like the sun!”

She heaved and wriggled in great rage, but he refused to feed her anything after the manner of her desire.

“Hey!” Martin says.

There is silence.

“Hey, Sukaynah!”

Sukaynah is a long way down but her breath fills the tower: ha-ho, ha-ho, ha-ho.

“Fruit,” Martin says.

And he tosses down an apple and it falls and it falls and then there is a great crunching and munching of teeth and finally a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.

“Martin,” says Sukaynah.

“If I were a doctor,” Martin says, “these would totally keep me away. But I’d also be Doc Martin.”

Sukaynah breathes.

Slowly, she says, “Do you sleep very soundly, Martin?”

“I sleep vigorously,” Martin says.

“If you sleep too soundly,” Sukaynah says, “then it is possible that very small people will tie you down underwater and build a combination tower/breathing tube on your face. Then a few thousand years later even smaller people will move into the tower and try to make friends with you. Your reaction might be best expressed as such: ‘I am unable to identify our common ground.'”

“Maybe you have sleep apnea,” says Martin.

“What?”

“It’s a sleep disorder,” Martin says. “You can find more information about it on the Internet.”

There is a long pause.

“I do not think it is sleep apnea,” Sukaynah says.

“Oh.”

It is June 1, 2004.

A cloud passes over the sun.

“Do you think it’s okay to destroy everything?” Martin asks.

“Yes,” says Sukaynah.

Martin munches on a cookie. He is thinking. “Me too,” he says.

Then he takes a newton from his pocket.

“Cookie?”

Sukaynah breathes.

“Why,” she says, “you’re a good little boy after all.”

The LED (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The roots of the apple tree wind about the orange and red bricks. Green leaves brush against the walls. Several branches jut forth from the window of the tower. Others get their sunlight from the ragged skylight up above.

Martin pushes open the door with his shoulder. He is dragging the imago and talking to the Roomba, and this is what he is admitting:

“I don’t understand Roomba design,” Martin says.

The Roomba’s “?” LED lights up.

“You have a dirt light,” Martin says, “and that’s fine. And the ‘?’ I get. But why would you need an LED for ‘Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations?'”

The Roomba’s “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” LED lights up.

Martin looks rueful.

“Ah,” he says.

Continuing the story of the imago (1, 2)

“This is one of only five towers near California,” Martin asides to the Roomba, “with an apple tree on the top floor.”

The Roomba is helping him move the imago. Martin is struggling to drag it along. The Roomba is weaving along in the scrape marks he leaves, bumping into the imago repeatedly, and, as it does so, occasionally shredding strands of the silken membrane that surrounds her.

It’s not actually being very helpful but Martin appreciates its desire to be of use.

“Do you know why?” Martin asks.

The Roomba spins in a circle.

“It’s because if it weren’t here, we’d all get eaten.

The Roomba’s “!” LED lights up.

“Deep below,” Martin says. “Deep past the basement, past the cellar, past the tunnels, there’s Sukaynah. I don’t know how big she is. Nobody knows how big she is. But I know how big her teeth are.”

He spreads his hands, accidentally dropping the imago.

Whump!

He bites his lip to conceal embarrassment. Bluffly, he says, “That big!”

The Roomba is visibly stunned.

Martin squats down and hefts up the imago again. He says, “The Gibbelins made a foundation of her face. She’s down there now, gnashing and grinding her teeth. She’s very angry because there’s a tower on top of her. And she’d love nothing more than to eat her way up the tower, floor by floor, and devour everybody, but she can’t! That’s because of Newton’s First Law.”

The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED blinks.

“It’s stuck to her face,” Martin explains.

The wind blows. It catches up some apple leaves. It blows them out to the center of the floor, which, the Roomba suddenly notices, isn’t there.

Where the center of the floor should be, there’s just a jagged hole edged in zigzag bricks. They’re old and red and orange and crumbling and below them—far below—there is Sukaynah.

Uh oh! the Roomba thinks. It backs slowly and circuitously away from the hole.

“The apples reinforce that,” Martin says.

“. . . and up!” he adds, to the imago.

He leans the imago up against the wall, near the window, where she’ll have sun.

The floor dapples with the competition between the sunlight, the shade, and the imago’s light.

The gibbelins fed Sukaynah only on scraps of human flesh. They’d throw down gobbets and bits of innards. These things fell into Sukaynah’s mouth and she had no choice but to eat them. Sukaynah hated this.

It is bad to be trapped and force fed but it is worse when the substance is not okay to eat.

After the gibbelins left Sukaynah had nothing to eat for quite some time, so she shouted, “Feed me!”

Time passed.

“Feed me again! Even human flesh! Feed me again and I will forgive you even that!”

But there was no sound save the gentle ebbing and flowing of the sea.

Martin glances back over his shoulder.

An LED is gleaming.

Now and again, it’ll turn off, and then back on.

“The problem,” Martin says, “is that if you only have a handful of lexemes to work with, you need to use them to build larger sequences. Or at least assign them to atomic meanings in the Roomba psyche.”

The LED flashes.

“I mean,” Martin says, “if I’m supposed to talk to you, we should at least remap them as lights 1-10 so you can talk to me in number strings.”

The LED flashes.

“Or do something with timing. I mean, seriously, how am I supposed to interpret an ‘I don’t want to get eaten’ LED?”

The LED flashes.

Martin glances at the pit, just to make sure that Sukaynah isn’t rising. Then he shrugs.

“Absolutely terrible user interface,” he says.

I don’t want to get eaten, the Roomba thinks. I don’t want to get eaten. I don’t want to get eaten.

Then it is distracted.

Hey! Dirt! There’s dirt!

An LED gleams.