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.

Wednesday 3/08

On Wednesdays, the crew desperately runs around assembling legends despite their busy Tuesday nights.

Wednesdays are probably coalesced out of tomato soup by a crack team of scientists.

This is how it happened the very first time.

A group of scientists in New Mexico decided to hang themselves from the tree of worlds for a week as a test of the experimental validity of Asatru. Several control groups of scientists, including the man who would later go on to become Scientist X, hung themselves from ordinary oak trees for seven days. This was a double-blind test: some scientists were blinded in one eye, some weren’t, and none of them were told which was which. Time passed.

“I’m really hungry,” one of the hanging scientists said.

“I’d like some soup.”

But wise Dr. Goldstein said, “We can’t have soup, because we’re hanging upside down from trees.”

“Our research assistants can fetch some,” strategized another scientist.

“Ah,” sighed wise Dr. Goldstein. “But while we hang from trees, immobilized and helpless, unable to monitor their research, where are they?”

The scientists looked around. Indeed their research assistants were not waiting hand and foot on them as they had expected.

“They are having a life,” wise Dr. Goldstein said.

“Curse you!” shouted the other scientists, shaking their fists.

They had secretly relied on the idea that their research assistants would save them from the darkness of their fate. This is because they did not drink from Mimir’s well and so did not truly understand the perfidy of a research assistant’s soul.

“I wish,” observed Dr. Morgan, “that the giant squirrels would stop nibbling on me.”

“That is a good wish,” sighed Dr. Goldstein.

At this point weeks only had six days. They weren’t very long! They didn’t have Wednesdays!

“You know,” said Dr. Morgan, “we should get back at those research assistants.”

“We should make their weeks longer,” Scientist X agreed.

“Longer,” whispered Dr. Morgan.

“Longer,” cackled wise Dr. Goldstein.

And thus they conceived in their wisdom the idea of Wednesday. Sinuous and lithe, as if possessed by some unearthly force, they curled their bodies upwards to the ropes and gnawed through them with their sharp, sharp teeth. They slithered down the trees and into the halls of academia. They found the tomato soup.

“We must eat,” hissed Dr. Morgan.

“No,” sighed Dr. Goldstein. “We cannot eat this tomato soup because without it there will be no Wednesdays.”

And they cast the runes into the soup and the runes formed crystals and since that time weeks have had seven days.

It’s true!

It happened just that way!

The Ragged Things (1 of 2)

Continuing the story of Train Morgan (1, 2)

The warden Ii Ma dwells in its redoubt. It wallows in its mud.

One great hand moves, shifting its weight in the murk.

Now there is little mud in the place without recourse; the soil there is for the most part clean and dry. But where Ii Ma lives the blood and ichor that pours from it at all times soaks into the soil. When Ii Ma moves he churns the soil and the blood, creating a thick unwholesome poultice beneath it for its wounds that never heal.

Sometimes when people look at Ii Ma they go mad. Their worldview, even if it is already accustomed to the nature of the place without recourse, cannot handle the existence of such a beast.

First they surrender the boundaries to their world.

They recognize that the pitiful lies by which they seek to make the world a safe and sane and orderly place are lies. They recognize that they have no real control over their fate. They cease to pretend that discipline, diet, sleep schedule, hard work, organization, nest eggs, caution, and good company can save them. They surrender the illusion that their hairstyle, their social standing, their daily drudgery, their favorite shows, their car, their toys, or their lovers have ever been important in the greater context of the world.

Once they have done so they can accept the great bulk of Ii Ma and that it can dispose of them as it wishes.

Yet still it is there, dripping with its great black blood. Still it is their keeper, holding them there by the will of Ii Ma’s masters, and it is no proper thing.

So next they must surrender the notion that the universe is kind. Gnawing prey-fear fills them, and deep anxiety. They recognize that on some deep level the world is sick.

Here is the place where Train Morgan stopped his slide into insanity. He said, “The world is sick; but it is not necessary that the world be sick.”

There are others who do not reach this conclusion.

Looking upon Ii Ma they see a world where disease is inexorable. They recognize that each step further into corruption is irreversible. They see that the world shall never be again so great as once it was.

It shifts its bulk and they vomit, uncontrollably, or cough up blood, and think, “God is a lie.”

And if they should also surrender their purpose in that moment and fall into madness then they wake up in their beds, in the place without recourse, with the smallest portion of that insanity fallen from them. And they look towards the dawn. And they say, as they always say, “How beautiful.”

And they do not visit Ii Ma again.

The ragged things catch you up, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Train Morgan is in the line to make petition to Ii Ma.

This is what Train does on Saturdays. It is the sabbath. He is not religious but there is something in his condition that makes him cling too much to meanings.

So on Saturdays, when it is the sabbath, he does not work.

Instead he comes and he waits to make petition to Ii Ma.

The ground is soft outside Ii Ma’s redoubt. It is not mud but it is soft and it is dark and if you rub your hands in it they will have a certain ichorous sheen.

The crowd is full of the usual sorts.

“It was a mistake, of course,” one woman is saying. “I did nothing. I did not pry into secrets. I did not conduct myself inappropriately. I simply—”

She gestures in frustration.

Mr. Gauston, who like Train is a regular here, answers her with a question. “Do you think that that is virtuous?”

“Pardon?”

“Do you think,” says Mr. Gauston, “that it is more just and more right to be in the place without recourse because one has pried into a secret or conducted oneself to some inappropriate standard?”

The woman’s mouth works. She frowns.

Calmly, softly, she says, “I do not know why you are here. I do not know why anyone should be here. I do not think that anyone should be here. But I know that I am here because I stood at a soft place and I heard the breathing of the ragged things and before I could run away they snatched me up.”

“Oh, I see,” says Mr. Gauston.

“I have to go back,” the woman says. “I have a son.”

But Mr. Gauston has turned away.

So Train pushes his way through the line. He can do this because he is Train Morgan and everyone who does not respect him for his actions fears him for his strength.

He says to her, “My name is Train.”

“Cindy,” the woman says.

“It is not good to protest,” says Train Morgan. “If you protest that you do not belong here, you will anger Ii Ma. Then he will lick you and you will develop terrible sores. They will split, and you will bleed, and you will wake up and you will look towards the dawn and you will say, as you always do, ‘How beautiful.'”

“Don’t say that,” Cindy says.

She curls in on herself.

“It’s creepy that I always say that.”

“It is a sign of the futility of intent,” Train says. “How can one make any progress beyond that point if you cannot even answer the question given you by Ii Ma?”

Cindy chews on her lower lip.

“I have to try,” she says.

And Train smiles.

“I understand.”

“Why are you here?” she says. “If the intent to leave is futile?”

“I want to see my brother,” Train Morgan says.

In the sky above them there is a strange flickering, a distortion in a shape similar to that of an insect spreading its wings. There is a swirling in grey clouds and the crackling of lightning and they can hear the bulk of Ii Ma shifting in its mire as the beast looks up.

Train stares upwards, but nothing further occurs.

“He is somewhere here,” Train Morgan says. “He is somewhere in the place without recourse. But the world is very big.”

The line advances, just a bit. They shuffle forward.

“I cannot find him,” Train Morgan says.

“What did he ask you?” Cindy says.

“Who?”

“Ii Ma?”

And Train remembers walking on the street, and the breathing of the ragged things, sudden in his world, and how he ran.

How he could hear the distant heavy footsteps of the ragged things.

How they had seemed just a bit farther away, how it had seemed he was escaping, until a voice whispered in his ear the question that keeps him bound.

Isn’t the world just a little bit too big for you, Train Morgan?

It is his desire to change the world; to put his will on it; to save, if not the world, then at least a few; to find, if not an answer, than at least his brother Thomas; but: isn’t the world just a little bit too big for you, Train Morgan?

“It doesn’t matter,” Train Morgan says.

Ii Ma keeps the place without recourse.

Train Morgan stands before the warden Ii Ma.

He says, “Please.”

There is silence.

“Please,” says Train Morgan. “I do not ask for freedom. I only want to see my brother.”

And he looks up into its unforgiving eyes.

He wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It is so incredibly beautiful, so mad wack stunning gorgeous. The sun is this brilliant golden glow and there is pink and red like a fire in the sky and there is a swirling in those clouds there are like the spreading of an insect’s wings, and he cries out, in the great loud voice of Train, “Whatever happened to Ink Catherly?”

The Chimerae (I/I)

Continuing the story of Train Morgan.

There is always a murder.

There is always someone who cannot wait for Train Morgan to reach the crest of the hill. There is always someone who says, “I will make this answer,” and takes out their knife, and cuts.

This splashes blood through the rickshaw that Train pulls.

It stains it darker.

But Train, he does not mind.

It does not matter if a man gets killed on his rickshaw. It is, in most respects, a kindness.

That person will not sit there, stilled by hope, as Train approaches the top.

That person will not know the crisis of impossible disappointment when that journey fails.

They will simply wake up, in their beds, as those who die here always do, looking at the dawn and saying, “How beautiful.”

Ii Ma, the Warden, keeps the place without recourse.

Train is tall and strong.

He has grown great here, in the place without recourse, as he nurses his impossible question.

He is muscled like a Hercules, like a John Henry, like an Atlas.

His skin is tan and there is sweat on his forehead as he pulls the rickshaw up the hill.

From inside he can hear this:

“I found them nesting under the servers.”

That’s a young Asian man from Silicon Valley. Train does not know his name. He is telling his story, as so many do, in an attempt to understand.

“I cut my way down there because the machines had ceased to function, and for no clear cause, and we were losing tens of thousands of dollars a day. Yet there was nothing wrong.”

There’s a woman there, nodding. Her name is Amelie and Train believes that she is French but he has no real evidence outside of her name. She is nodding to the man and considering the possibility of murdering the man, there within Train’s rickshaw.

This is because there is something about the man’s location that disturbs her.

“I tried a lot of things to fix them,” says the man. “Stupid things. I power cycled. I hit the machines. I spent a while there in the server room just flipping random switches, and I’m not even sure whether the switches were actually there. And when I came outside for air I had this cold sharp realization that I had been mad—that there in that small hot roaring room I had gone mad, and there was blood coming from my nose and ears, and that all the time that I’d been there there had been this chittering, chittering, chittering beneath the floor.”

It is hard—mad wack Sisyphusean hard—for one man to drag a rickshaw with four people in it up the hill that borders the valley without recourse. A rock slips from under Train’s foot and he stumbles and it is almost over right then; but he heaves himself back into balance with great strength and begins again to climb.

“I did not understand my own affliction at that time,” says his passenger.

Amelie nods again; but there is only snoring from Mr. and Mrs. Sandhu, who are old and therefore asleep.

“I dried my nose and ears and felt for blood at the sockets of my eyes and I said, ‘is there some chemical in the air?’

“But there wasn’t.

“I don’t know how I knew that. I just knew that that was a statement without a truth value.

“So I went back in.”

Amelie is staring at the man’s chest. It is a man’s chest. He is wearing a white shirt over it. She cannot escape the sense that there is something visibly moving inside him.

Yet this is not so.

“I would have,” she says, “done something different.”

“You have not worked for a startup,” says the man. “At a startup, it is not entirely reason that one prizes, but dedication. It is men like our host—”

And here Train nods, although they cannot see.

“—and myself who are most valuable.”

Train looks up. He imagines that he can see the top.

“So I went in,” says the man. “And I dug under the floor. And I found them there. They were bulbous, like loaves of rat, and they were clinging at odd angles to the floor and to the air. Their symmetry was threefold, and from time to time they would shift their limbs like a dying insect does. I could not see the basement under the server room, because the dizzying warren of them went down so very far. And when I looked around I saw they were also in the air: up, down, left right, there was nowhere that was not infested by the warren of them. Their legs twitched in my lungs and I coughed up a bit of blood and I could not figure out, no matter how I thought, how I could leave the room.”

“What were they?” Amelie asks.

“I have been told that they were chimerae,” says the man. “Creatures that cause the evaluation of boolean statements as neither true nor false.”

“That does not seem so bad,” says Amelie.

“It is bad for computers,” says the man.

“Ah.”

Train pulls the rickshaw higher. Now he can see it: the band of light above him that means that he has almost reached the top.

“For computers,” says the man, “and for men.”

And his nose and his ears are bleeding, and something twitches and kicks at the edge of reality, and driven by a rising panic Amelie takes her knife and cuts his throat in one great slash and her heart beats fast and his head falls back and with a sudden vanishing the man is gone.

Mrs. Sandhu startles awake.

Mrs. Sandhu feels at her face.

Her fingers come back bloody, and she squints at Amelie, and she bobs her head and says something in a language that Amelie does not understand.

“I had to,” Amelie says.

Train grunts.

“I knew what he was going to say.”

She puts her knife away.

“That it wasn’t specifically true or false, you see, that he was still there.”

Mrs. Sandhu sketches a question with one hand.

“I couldn’t let him say that,” Amelie says.

“I couldn’t. Not while I was next to him.”

She shudders.

And Train pulls the rickshaw to the crest of the

There is no discontinuity in the lens.

Train wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It is so incredibly beautiful, so mad wack stunning gorgeous. The sun is this brilliant golden glow and there is pink and red like a fire in the sky and the air is clean and bracing and he is fit and refreshed with all the aching in his muscles gone. There’s no dishonesty or pain in it when he sits up in bed and cries, “How beautiful.”

That’s just how it is, every morning, in the place without recourse.

Standing in the Storm: Their Lives Were Jewels

This story begins here.

“It’s getting harder,” says Emily.

She’s hanging out in a booth in a coffee shop talking on her cell phone to Bertram. Using the phone is pretty much habit. Since they’re not talking aloud, neither of them has actually bothered to turn their phone on.

“Totally,” says Bertram.

There’s a woman at one of the tables. She looks at Emily. She’s generically irritated that Emily is on the cell phone even though she can’t actually hear anything that Emily is saying. But before the woman can comment Emily looks at her with empty, hollow eyes and mouths the woman’s name. That’s so horrifying that the woman shudders and hurries from the shop.

“It’s Hunger,” says Emily. “The House of Torment is still pretty well-behaved. Dreams is Dreams, and I’m not even sure there are any saints left. But Hunger . . .”

“It’s like they’re encouraging it,” Bertram says.

“They can’t do that, can they?” interjects Fred.

Emily hesitates.

“Fred,” she says, “I am trying to impose the context of a phone call on this conversation.”

“It’s a conference call,” says Fred.

“Oh,” says Emily.

Emily shivers away her confusion.

“I think they are encouraging it,” Emily concludes. “I think they are actively cultivating the hunger within them.”

“But it’ll get out,” says Fred. “We won’t be able to keep it.”

“Yes,” says Emily. “But it’s okay, if we tried? I mean, failure’s okay?”

But before Fred answers, Emily suffers a distraction.

“You are a difficult person to eavesdrop on,” says the Saul-beast.

It should never have happened.

The sorting hat was not the first crack in the armor of the world. Through cracks of just such a kind came Fenris Wolf into the world, and other things. It was not the first and it was not the last.

But it should never have been at all.

At the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, the only British boarding school that doubles as a secret weapon against giant wolves, the sorting hat came into the world. It changed people—into saints, into mad scientists, into tormented souls, into beasts. It sorted them into new destinies. It perverted them to new forms.

One man was sorted twice. He is the head boy of the House of Beasts. He is its visionary. His name is Saul.

The call is like elevator music, like Barry Manilow ballading on the sitar, like a cheerful twanging distant and strange. It is a ballad heard not with the ears but with the heart.

It is how the Keepers know that Gotterdammerung nears.

Emily looks up.

Bertram is there. Fred is there. Morgan is there. All of the others are there. They have drifted into the scene from unknown places. They are standing in the entrances to the coffee shop, outside the glass wall, against the bar. They are watching events unfold.

“Guys,” silents Emily, in profound relief.

“Yo,” says Fred.

And in the silence the Saul-beast opens its mouth.

“Are you still a saint?” Emily asks him, aloud.

Saul hesitates.

“I’ll tell you what we are,” Emily says, “if you will tell me that.”

Then Saul sits opposite her. He pulls the salt and pepper shakers out and sets them on the table between them. He smiles at her.

“Hello,” he says. “My name is Saul. I was sorted into the House of Hunger, but it was my second sorting. Before that I was a saint. I am the last survivor of the House of the Saints. My brother Edmund ate the others. Who are you?”

Emily looks at him.

“Oh God Oh God Oh God,” she is saying, to the other members of the Keepers’ House, because she is terrified that Saul will eat her. But he cannot hear her. She is silent and gnomic before him.

“Saul,” she says. “You have to understand that what you are doing is not in the best interests of—”

The hunger that surges up in Saul’s eyes is like a physical blow. It silences her and pushes her back against her seat.

“Who are you?” says Saul, companionably, again.

“My name is Emily,” Emily says meekly. “I like jaguars and coffee. I am a Keeper. I contain you so that your hunger does not call the wolf.”

“Good,” says Saul.

He leans back.

“Containment,” Saul says, thoughtfully.

Emily reaches out. She touches his hand. It’s a dangerous thing to do. But she wants to tell him a confidence.

“I don’t want to be eaten by people or wolves,” says Emily. “I want to live a long time and die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful. It is like the Hunger, only it’s not.”

Saul stares at her for a while. His eyes are distant like a snake’s.

“The purpose of humanity,” says Saul, “is to transform into beasts and devour the world. You are inhibiting this purpose. You must cease.”

“That isn’t so,” says Emily.

Saul looks around.

“Why haven’t I eaten you yet?” the Saul-beast asks. It is genuinely puzzled, because it was sure it would have eaten her already.

“Damn!” swears Bertram silently. “He’s on to us!”

“Run away! Run away!”

“We can’t run,” notes Fred. “He’ll eat Emily! I like Emily.”

Fred pauses.

“Not that way,” Fred clarifies.

Emily gets to her feet. She stares down at Saul. The others swell around them, containing, keeping, holding back Saul’s hunger.

The beast in Saul can sense it.

He is catching on.

“Saul,” Emily presses, in her last few moments of safety. “You have been corrupted by the sorting hat. Your mind has been altered. You are wrong about the destiny of humanity, and you will destroy your own House.”

“Make your case,” says Saul.

“I—”

Fred is gone.

Emily looks up sharply. She looks around the shop. Her brain cannot parse what has happened.

Bertram is gone.

There is something warm and wet on Emily’s face.

Morgan is gone. Lisa is gone. Betty and Veronica are gone.

“Go!” says Emily, to the others. Her voice is audible, so shaken is she. “Go now.”

The Keepers’ House disperses, leaving only Emily, Saul, and their dead; and sitting on the floor amidst the blood, chewing happily on Bertram’s arm, is the Edmund-beast.

And there is a burgeoning breath of pain in Emily. And she says, “I—”

“Ah,” says Saul. “I have backup.”

“I—”

“It’s all right to be frightened,” Saul says. “But you’ll need to make your case.”

Emily isn’t frightened. She is staring at him. She is mouthing a single syllable blankly. But what she means by it is this:

“How dare you take them from me and this world?

“Their lives were jewels: unswerving, dauntless, loving, precious things—And they died before they knew how wonderful they were.”

Doesn’t it suck when that happens?

Anyway, now Emily’s alone with the beasts, and also, the world’s about to end. Check back tomorrow or the next day for Standing in the Storm: Calling to the Wolf!

Sellurt and Morgan: The Ark

It is at first Sellurt’s assumption that Noah is exaggerating regarding the number of animals stored on the Ark.

He can hear them, of course. There are always sounds. There is trumpeting and barking and buzzing and keening and at night there is a thin distant wailing that merges with the creaking and shifting and croaking of the wood.

And he sees no small number of them—the zebras, the antelope, the ostriches, the platypuses, and the lions, of course, the lions, more than two of them, more than seven of them, more than he can count, their great padded feet always stalking through the decks.

There is impressive biodiversity on the Ark.

But Sellurt has studied the Earth. He knows how many species there are.

They cannot all be on the Ark.

They are too many.

They are endless.

Mehanem—or Noah, as everyone calls him—is always busy. He does not have time to meet with Sellurt and Morgan. Thus it is that the two visitors from the Galactic Confederacy are abandoned there to the depths below deck, to watch through the portholes the endless dreary rain and listen to the skittering and scratching in the walls. Sometimes Sellurt’s eyes will close and he will wake up to the feather-soft touch of a spider or mosquito crawling across his leg; and each time, he observes with interested horror, it is a different species than he has ever seen before.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Morgan, after a while.

Morgan is sitting at the window, dropping coins from the porthole, watching for and failing to see that moment when they strike the water and vanish into the immensity of the deep.

“It doesn’t matter?” Sellurt asks.

“I mean,” Morgan says, “humans can’t breathe water, right?”

In Sellurt’s mind there is a momentary fantasy of drowning one of Mehanem’s sons, the human’s arms and legs flailing, his face slowly turning blue, his animal noises grinding to a halt.

Then Sellurt shakes his head.

“No,” he agrees. “They can’t.”

“Then their civilization is dead. It doesn’t matter that we’re not able to invite them to join the Galactic Confederacy. They’re dead. It’s over.”

It has been seven days now and the rain has not ceased to fall.

“Surely it’s just this subcontinent,” says Sellurt.

Morgan looks out.

“A whole world can’t die to rain,” Sellurt says.

“It’s surprising,” says Morgan. “How many animals there are. Whether or not he really got them all. Where do you think they go, when we can’t see them?”

On the ninth day, when Sellurt goes to the hatch that leads to the upper levels, he finds two lions there. They are between him and the hatch. They have gingivitis, thanks to their poor dental hygiene, and their maws are dripping blood.

“You’ll have to let me by,” says Sellurt.

But the male lion yawns, with its great yellow teeth, and its breath is rank.

“God,” mutters Sellurt.

He backs away.

There is the sound of hooves on the deck beside him, the heat of fur in the air, the whining of a fly, but when he turns to track the beast’s location with his eyes he cannot see anything but the wooden halls.

Sellurt finds a place where he can hear human footsteps, endless human footsteps, pacing on the decks above. He hammers on the ceiling. He shouts. He is dignified at first but then he screams until he’s hoarse, until he cannot breathe, until he falls and curls upon himself below.

The air is thick and fuzzy and he is sure he is surrounded by the beasts, but when he opens his eyes they are not there.

“Are you okay?” Morgan says, when he finds him.

“I’m fine,” Sellurt says.

“Okay.”

“I’m fine,” Sellurt repeats, and then he says: “This is intolerable.”

A koala shares their evening meal that day. It is the first time that either of the aliens have ever seen one, and the last they ever will.

When Sellurt checks the hatch again, the lions are still there.

Every time he checks the hatch, the lions are still there.

The humans are beyond Sellurt and Morgan’s reach.

“It must be Noah,” Sellurt tells Morgan. “The humans are more advanced than we believed.”

“Hm?”

“The rain. This isn’t natural rain. It’s something they’re doing. They have a machine. Noah is doing it. He has a machine.

“Why would they kill everyone off?”

“Why aren’t there more of them on the boat?” Sellurt says. “Why were they all left to drown? There’s plenty of room. They could fit twenty, thirty more families in here. But the lions kept them away. The lions stood outside the Ark and kept them away. He wanted them to die.”

“Don’t obsess,” Morgan says.

“What?”

“We’re an advanced galactic species,” says Morgan. “I’m sure we can figure out some way to deal with lions, if we have to. We could use our stunners. Or some kind of telepathic mind control. The options,” and he gestures extravagantly, “are endless.”

Sellurt sits down heavily.

“Yes,” he says, bitterly. “I’m sure we could.”

There is a great long-legged bug probing at his hand. He’s not sure where it came from. It wasn’t there when he sat down.

He will not shudder, Sellurt decides. He is a citizen of the Galactic Confederacy. He is above such distress.

His meeting with Noah will wait.

On the eighteenth day, Morgan observes, “There are too many animals.”

There is a distant sound of slithering. It is very dark and the damp seeps in through the wood.

“Too many?”

“They are endless,” says Morgan. “Never mind what Noah claims. There are too many different animals, just the ones we’ve seen. They can’t all fit in here, not with this much free space.”

The rats stare at him from the rafters, their red eyes glowing. There is the dry scraping noise of scales on wood. There is a peculiar, choking cough.

“They have to fit,” Sellurt says. “They’re here, aren’t they?”

“There’s no room.”

Sellurt leans back. His eyes are blank and white. He is thinking. He is counting, in his head.

“There’s no room,” he agrees.

The air is hot. It is the steam of a zoo, of a kennel, of a hundred thousand bodies pumping warmth and stench into the air.

Sellurt swats at his arm.

“Why,” he asks plaintively, “did Noah save the wasps?”

There is silence for a time.

“We’ll go,” says Morgan. “We’ll go. We’ll deal with the lions. We’ll face them down.”

“Yes,” says Sellurt.

Something clammy brushes against Morgan’s face. He waves his hand at it but it is gone.

“Stupid frogs,” Morgan adds.

They rise.

They walk in the direction of the hatch.

Morgan stops.

“Don’t stop,” Sellurt says. “We have to get out of here. We have to get to the hatch. I think we will go mad, Morgan, if we stay.”

Morgan is staring at the air, with his head tilted to one side, a peculiar expression on his face.

“Morgan?”

“We have walked the length of the Ark,” Morgan says. “And more. And still there is no hatch.”

“Ridiculous,” says Sellurt.

And there in the dimness and in no specific direction: not east, not north, not south, not west, Sellurt can make out a shaft that rises through the levels of the ship, above and below, through more floors and spaces than he can count.

“Don’t you see?” Morgan says, his voice immensely small and tiny in the emptiness of the Ark.

“No,” protests Sellurt. “No. I don’t.”

“It’s endless.”

Sellurt can feel the breath of the lions at his back, and there is everywhere to run.

Sellurt and Morgan: Bumping the Dinosaurs

“Backwards!” storms Sellurt. He hurls his glass of water in fury at a nearby absorb-o-wall.

“Earth?” Morgan inquires.

“I can’t believe we’re letting these ignorant primitives into our galactic confederation,” Sellurt says. “Look at them!”

He shoves a Earth-scope in Morgan’s direction. Morgan politely shakes his head.

“Sinful, wicked, lascivious beasts! I hardly want to go near them! But because the Council says ‘they have great potential’ and ‘their intuition scores are off the scale’ I have to figure out how to bring them into the fold.”

It is 2105 years before the common era, and Sellurt’s starship spirals through the vastnesses of space towards Earth.

“But you’re calm,” Sellurt says, after a time. “Why are you calm?”

“I’m a trained mannerist,” says Morgan. “I know how to handle these situations.”

“Oh?”

“It’s simple,” Morgan says. “We get out our shiny red and gold uniforms. We press them until they’re sharp. We even polish the buttons. Then we put them on. We land the ship in someone’s back yard, lower the ramp, march down, and say, ‘Take us to your leader.’ At this point the essential difficulties of first contact are circumvented; the rest is mere detail and elaboration.”

“Hmph,” snorts Sellurt. “You don’t know these humans! They’re not impressed by shiny uniforms and galactic confederation catchphrases!”

Morgan looks placid.

“We shall see,” he says, “what we shall see.”

Sellurt’s ship rages in from space. It spins thrice in orbit around the world while Sellurt scans the planet below. He sees a structure—more than 135 cubits long and 22.5 cubits wide—and mutters to himself, “As good as anything, I guess.” Then he pops the clutch and pulls the levers and the ship tears down to land in Mehanem Noah’s backyard.

The ship shudders once and vents its heat into the atmosphere. Its ramp lowers. Morgan and Sellurt, dressed in shiny red and gold uniforms, walk down.

Noah’s son, Ham, watches this whole procedure with some alarm.

“Hello,” says Morgan, sunnily, to Ham.

“Take us to your leader,” Sellurt says.

“Oh, dear,” says Ham. “You’re not a known species of animal.”

The galactics blink. There is a nonplussed moment.

“Darn right!” says Sellurt.

“Ah—”

Ham hesitates. He has an important but socially awkward question to ask. This awkwardness shows on his face.

“Hm?” Morgan says.

“Are you clean?” Ham says.

“Pardon?” Morgan answers.

“I’m supposed to take seven of you,” says Ham, “if you’re clean. But only two if you’re not.”

Morgan says, “Which would be more convenient for you?”

“Unclean,” says Ham.

Morgan gestures illustratively at Sellurt. Sellurt looks at him oddly.

“What the hell?” Sellurt says.

“I see!” Ham brightens. “Then we’ll only have to bump the dinosaurs.”

“What?” says Sellurt. “What?”

Morgan shakes his head, smiling. “About your leader…”

“Of course,” says Ham. “Right this way.”

Ham leads Morgan and Sellurt through the crowd of lions and wild beasts that surround the Ark. The lions growl at the aliens but let them pass. At the Ark they find Noah, who is busily at work.

“Oh,” says Noah. He puts down his hammer. He dusts off his hands and holds one out to the alien invaders in the universal symbol of fellowship. “Hello!”

“Down to business,” says Sellurt, ignoring the proffered hand. “You! Ugly human! Your species is foul and sinful but we’ve decided to let you into our grand galactic confederation. Observe how shiny our uniforms are! That’s just one of the many benefits your species can achieve. We’ll also end hunger and teach you to fly—through space!”

“That’s all very well,” says Noah, “but you’re going to have to go into the Ark. It’s going to rain soon.”

“I figure we should bump the dinosaurs, Dad,” says Ham.

Noah scratches at his sideburns. “Hate to do it,” he says, “but yes. Can’t keep the great old brutes around when we could be saving sophonts. Send in Japheth to dredge them out.”

Ham wanders off.

“I’m not entirely sure,” says Morgan, “that you understand—”

“No,” says Noah. He shakes his head. “I sure don’t. How did we miss you? I was sure we had a full list of every species on the Earth—used Kabalistic magic and everything. Even the bacteria, and tracking down all of them was harder than the breakfast toast.”

Noah’s been awake for more than a year, putting the finishing touches on the ark, so his breakfast toast is very hard indeed.

“We were in space, sir,” says Morgan.

“Yes,” says Sellurt. He points up at the sky. “Do you see those little lights? Well, each of them is a star. Around each of them is a world. The worlds are organized into a great galactic confederation dedicated to peace, prosperity, and interrupting my important work to send me haring off across the cosmos to bring all these blessings to worthless uncivilized savages like you.”

Noah thinks about that.

“I’d wondered,” he says. “Well, in you go.”

“What?”

Noah gestures at the Ark.

“In.”

“It must be some sort of custom,” Morgan says.

“A primitive hazing ritual for interstellar visitors,” Sellurt agrees.

“We’ll go along,” Morgan decides. “For now.”

So they go in.

They pass Japheth in the halls. He is wrangling out both dinosaurs, one in each hand. They are protesting and screeching but he is a stronger wrestler than they. He shoves them out in his final victory, and they fall onto the unforgiving soil.

It is beginning to rain.

“I wonder if they’ll accept our offer,” Morgan says.

“Ha!” says Sellurt. “They’d better. Their civilization is going to destroy itself if it keeps on going like it’s going, you know. All that savagery and vice’ll attract the attention of a Space Devil.”

“Not everyone does what’s best for them,” Morgan says.

Behind them, there is the creaking of a great and terrible door. There is a clamor as it closes. Inside the Ark it goes very still.

It is dark now in Noah’s ship.

It is the deepest night, inside the ship, but with great cuttings of light in it: great dagger-slashes of cloud-concealed sun, entering through the windows of the Ark.

Outside, the dinosaurs and humans are already turning into fossils, flesh falling off, bones hardening in the rain, clutching upwards like drowning men at the dream of space above.

House of Saints: A Practically Unsolvable Problem

There is a sentience and a power in the graveyard of the hats. It has stirred; it has cast forth a sorting hat; it has created many Houses from the school.

In the House of Hunger, Edmund and Lucy meet.

“A shilling,” says Lucy.

“I want to apologize,” the Edmund-beast says.

Lucy points at the sign on her door. It says, “Consultations — 1 shilling. Eating your enemies — 18 shillings (ea.).”

“No exceptions,” Lucy says.

Edmund, blinking, passes her a shilling from some random change purse he has on him.

“Go ahead,” Lucy says.

“I’m sorry,” says the Edmund-beast. “It was rotten of me.”

Lucy snorts.

“I should have told you that he was mine. That I’d claimed him. But somehow I thought that hunger could be private.”

“It’s not,” says Lucy. “It is a surging force, Edmund. It is a power. It is like electricity or fire, and the color of it is green.”

The Edmund-beast nods. It is thoughtful.

“But if it’s a force, and not just something in me,” it says, “where did it come from? Whence did it rise?”

“That’s the kind of question that could get you into trouble, Edmund. If you think too much about the hunger it’ll devour your thoughts.”

In the House of Torment, young Sid in his pale hat is clipping at his nails. He’s digging at them now with a pair of Lethal-looking nail clippers and a file. He’s having to go in under the cuticle to get any more, and the pile of nail scraps on the floor is large enough to hide his discarded socks, gloves, and shoes. There is a fair bit of blood and his fingers and toes are red.

He is in the human graveyard. That’s where he went. He’s in a mausoleum. All around him, in the high levels, in the low levels, staring at him from each nook, are students with great owlish eyes and yellow hats. Emily. Morgan. Fred.

He does not mind them. They are standing between young Sid and madness.

“It is okay?” he asks them.

“There is no alternative,” Emily says.

And their presence, at the least, serves to damp his pain.

In the House of Saints, Peter makes himself ready for a journey into space.

“I wonder if this is right,” he says, to Bethany.

“We must save the world, Peter. If we do not act then it will die.”

“What if it’s meant to die?” Peter asks.

Bethany frowns at him.

“That would seem to negate all questions of morality.”

“Hm,” Peter agrees.

They pack their bags. They board the Bootstrap. Vladimir shoots them into space.

House of Saints


A Practically Unsolvable Problem

Vidar’s Boot is not simply a giant shoe. It is also a space station. From its quiet reaches Peter and Bethany look down at the Earth. They are supposed to be alone on the station, but they are not.

“Do you ever regret it?” Bethany asks him. “I mean, being sorted into the House of Saints?”

“Constantly,” says Peter.

“Me too,” says Bethany.

And from the texture of it as it spins below they know the Earth is vast.

“When we are over the hats,” says Bethany, “we will send Vidar’s Boot down.”

“Will we?” Peter asks.

Bethany shrugs.

“We will, or we won’t,” she says. “As is the way of saints. It is the virtue of strict categorization: we can determine how saints act by observing our own behavior.”

There is a soft snarling in the air. It is coming through the vents. Peter tries hard to ignore it.

“Someone is snarling,” Bethany points out.

“I am trying hard to ignore it,” Peter says. “In this, you are not helping.”

“I’m sorry,” says Bethany. “I thought you might be more comfortable if it was out in the open.”

Peter grins at her a little.

“Thank you,” he says.

He takes her hand. He squeezes it.

“We are approaching,” Peter says.

“Are you ready?” Bethany says. “To push the button?”

“Aren’t you going to do it?” Peter asks.

“No,” Bethany says.

“I’d thought,” Peter says, “that as a saint, you might spare me from this decision, by taking it onto your own shoulders.”

“No,” says Bethany.

Peter is surprised, although he should not be.

“Oh dear,” Peter says.

They both look at the button. They both face the inescapable truth. And it is an unfair one.

“Saints don’t . . . kill, do we.” Peter says.

“Apparently not.”

“Not even the terrible sentience of the graveyard of the hats?”

“Not even that.”

“That’s a flaw,” Peter protests. “That’s not a consistent morality! That’s an unfair expectation imposed from outside! We should get to kill things that are already dead.

“Peace,” Bethany says.

Peter sags a little.

“It’s not for nothing,” Bethany says. “I mean, the House of Dreams really liked building this boot.”

“Saul charged us to save the world. And we’re failing him. We’re failing the world,” says Peter. “But what can we do? Love was Gandhi’s weapon against the British Empire, and it changed the world, but the British Empire has always had a soft spot for love. Dead hats—they’re not that sentimental! They’re hollow inside! It’s like loving a hurricane or an evil jar!”

“I think saints fix things by helping others, not by campaigning to change their lives for them,” Bethany says.

Vidar’s Boot drifts over the graveyard of hats.

Sensors beep.

A button flashes, forlorn and unpushed.

“See,” says Peter, “it would have been nice to have figured that out before we were in, y’know, space.”

They pass the graveyard and continue their orbit around the earth.

Bethany makes a face.

And over the hours that follow Peter’s shoulders slump, and he sits in the corner of the room.

And finally Peter says, bleakly, “Saul lied.”

“Oh,” says Bethany. Slowly, she colors. “I . . . guess we really shouldn’t have taken him at his word after his whole reclassifying-people-as-food thing, yeah.”

“Man the defenses,” Peter says, straightening a little. “Edmund’s coming.”

There is a breathing sound and a scraping sound and the elevator opens. The Edmund-beast lopes in.

Bethany is standing at the internal defenses panel. Her finger hesitates over “heat-seeking lasers.” It moves on to “unspeakably painful nanovirus.” After reading the labels on the “worldkiller nuke” and “dimensional destruction” buttons, Bethany puts the palm of her hand to her head and says, “God. I’m sorry, Peter. We’re defenseless.”

“Peter,” says the Edmund-beast. “You cannot flee me by launching yourself willy-nilly into space. I will always find you, and when you have served your usefulness to me, I will eat you. And so I must ask: have you done so? Do I still need you, Peter?”

And Peter shakes his head.

“You don’t,” Peter says. “It’s over. Whatever you needed me for, it’s done.”

Edmund’s face shines with a brilliant grin.

There is a certain artificial gravity provided by the rotation of the boot, but it is not enough. Peter and Bethany’s blood takes a long, long time to fall.

“I am still hungry,” complains the Edmund-beast. “And now I am in space.”

It looks down at the Earth.

“I should not trust the discretion of saints to arrange things to my optimal satisfaction,” the Edmund-beast concludes.

Vidar’s Boot drifts over the graveyard of hats.

Sensors beep.

The Edmund-beast casts a startled gaze around.

A button flashes, forlorn and unpushed.

WHAM.

There is something in a boot that loves to stomp; and there is no enemy of boots so great as hats; and in the end, untended by its saints, Vidar’s Boot chooses its own destiny:

It slams down with brutal force into the Earth.

Time passes.

Vidar’s Boot smoulders.

The Edmund-beast claws out through the leather shell and limps into the molten ruins of the graveyard of the hats. He looks around. He sniffs the air.

“Welcome, brother,” says Saul. He is sitting on the blackened crater’s lip.

“What has happened?” says Edmund. It is a cry of pain. “The graveyard is ruined. The sorting hat will die. The House of Hunger will not grow.”

The computers in Vidar’s Boot click and whirr.

“There is a better way,” says Saul.

And as the beasts walk away, discussing, and unnoticed by them, the power systems in the boot come one by one to life. It is considering how it can achieve orbit again. It is a difficult problem, even for a computerized giant boot. It is practically unsolvable.

But it has tasted the stomping of the hats, and it can never go back now.

Fun Fact! Computers that click and whirr are up to 37% more powerful than computers that run in silence!

House of Saints will conclude Tuesday or Wednesday with “Standing in the Storm”

Dandelions

It is good to blow on ripe dandelions.

Their petals go everywhere!

Sometimes people blow on unripe dandelions.

This is dangerous. It’s not like blowing on ripe dandelions. It’s not safe. You shouldn’t try it at home.

Blowing on unripe dandelions is extreme. It’s the blood sport of childlike wonder. It’s frolicking in the fields—taken to the next level!

That’s not just the rhetoric of the dandelion cult.

One time in five hundred, when you blow on an unripe dandelion, it is not the seeds that scatter but the accidental qualities of your own existence.

One time in five hundred, the person who blows on the dandelion ceases to be and ceases ever to have been.

Many of the most wonderful people in the world met their ends in this manner.

There was Antijohnny Planetseed, the great negative space man whose footfalls left suns and planets in their wake. He blew on an unripe dandelion. That was his mistake!

There was Edna Porrins, whom you never met. She was ordinary but really cool if you talked to her a lot.

There was the angel Ogliel, who guest starred regularly on network television programs to remind people that angels are real.

Now they are gone, almost without trace, leaving only little echoes, little marks, faint imprints of metaphysical history etched onto the fabric of the world.

There were hundreds of them. Thousands. Endless thousands.

The world used to be much bigger than it is.

Once there was even Brad Morgan, who was probably pretty ordinary, just like Edna. He blew on the unripe dandelion, so we’ll never know.

“That’s why, in fact,” he said, as he puffed and he puffed, unmaking himself with slow statistical inevitability.

“That’s why?”

“No one will know how cool I could have been. Maybe I was the best. And each person gets to say—this is official Brad Morgan talking here—that I would have liked them. That I would have seen the good in their heart and loved them for it.”

And that’s the gift he gave you, by never having been.

But it’s not just him.

It’s all of them.

You can tell by the traces and the echoes.

They all would have liked you.

The Raining Woman

This is a story of a long time ago. It was before planes and typewriters. It was before gum and rockets. It was before absestos contact lenses.

People were different then.

People didn’t need planes to fly, back then. They didn’t need typewriters to type. They didn’t need gum to chew.

They did it all with the undivided power within them.

The dissolution came later.

People got limits later.

They didn’t have them, back then.

Sky was a woman. She wasn’t the sky. It was just her name. Most people called her Incredible Sky, because she was pretty incredible, just like you and me.

Sky wanted to go into space.

Now, a lot of people wanted to go into space back then. There was Morgan, who flew into space and then blew up. There was Irene. Irene flew into space, and maybe she got where she was going, and maybe she didn’t. No one knows. No one heard from her again. There was Skip. Skip flung her puppy into space and then was very sad, because she didn’t have a puppy any more.

(We could all learn a lesson from Skip about throwing puppies into space.)

People were different back then, but mistakes—mistakes were still the same.

Sky had an idea. “If I hold my arms out like this,” she said, “I can probably get to space and back.”

She held her arms out like one does, when flying into space.

Sky gathered her friends Storm and Skitter. They held their arms out just like that. They flew into space.

Now space has lots of dangers. There are the aliens and the asteroids and the cosmic rays. It’s the cosmic rays that got Sky.

“I’m raining,” said Sky.

That’s what she was doing. She was raining down over the earth.

There was Makemba, tending her fields. She looked up. “Fantastic!” she said.

But Achta, chewing on a bit of grain, corrected her. “Incredible.”

Incredible Sky rained down.

There was Reonet, herding alligators. It’s hard to herd alligators. Sometimes they’d eat her hand. But it would always wriggle around so much in their throats that they’d have to spit it back out and it would squirm back to Reonet.

“River’s going to flood,” said Reonet.

Incredible Sky rained down.

Camilla looked up. “I fear no rain.”

(Later, Camilla drowned.)

For days and nights Sky fell. Her body never stopped the raining. That was the power the cosmic rays gave her.

Dove came to visit Sky, up in space.

“Hey, Sky,” said Dove. “You’re going to kill everything. Every plant. Every animal. Every person. That’s not appropriate for a member of our society.”

“Can’t help it,” said Sky, tersely. “Cosmic rays.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dove.

So Dove fought the raining woman, high above the earth. Dove tore at her with hooks and claws. They fought until Storm couldn’t watch any more. Storm knew it was right, what Dove was doing, but she sobbed and flew to Sky’s defense anyway.

Storm burned with a terrible fire.

The light of Dove’s eyes seared everything she looked at.

That was the cosmic rays. Those were the changes they’d made.

And Storm couldn’t win in the end. She got pinned in Dove’s gaze like a bunny in a snake’s. And she died. And Sky died. And that was the end.

Dove came down.

Dove told everyone else, “The rain’s over. But I’ve got to go. I can’t stay. Because I’d burn you with my eyes.”

So she left. She flew into space, where the cosmic rays are, where the dust is, where the void and the aliens are, and she never came back.

Nobody knows what happened to Skitter. That’s a hole in the story, no denying it, but it’s the way the story has always been.

Now, this was a long time ago. People didn’t need asbestos contact lenses back then, and I guess Dove could have made her eyes fireproof, if she chose.

But what’s the point of choosing if you don’t take the consequence for each choice?

She flew away, and she stayed away.

Maybe she loves it there, in space.

Maybe she’s dead.

No one’s heard from her again.