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.

The Chaos Adapts (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Max sails through the fog.

There are sharks on these seas with splayed fins that let them fly for up to thirty seconds in the air. There are crystal spires of such intricate elegance that Max stops and stares at them for hours. That is the fastest he can perform the act of appreciating their beauty. There are reefs. There are fishhawks. There are red dolphins. There are death metal mermaids in waterproof t-shirts on these seas.

And there are Buddha Pirates.

Through the fog Max sees a granite hand. Its position offers infinite blessings to all humanity.

It is moving.

It drifts slowly towards him.

He can see the arm.

He can see the body. It is a Buddha. It is a great granite Buddha. It is the great granite Buddha prow of a ship that sails in these seas.

Monks murmur sutras. He can hear them. Their voices rise and fall like the surf.

Monks walk on the head of the Buddha. They pace their meditation tracks. Their footsteps are a soft shuffling that rebounds off of the fog.

They click their meditation beads.

There are no sails.

There are no oars.

There is only the power of the monks’ meditation.

“Wa-hey,” cries Max. “That isn’t enlightenment!”

And casting its black shadow over the fog they unfurl their pirate flag and sound their deep, low pirate horn.

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

The Island of the Centipede

“Oh,” says Max.

He pulls at his sail and it fills.

“Anatman, dukkha,” say the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.

“Jesus,” says Max.

His pulse is racing and the clicking of the monks’ beads fills his ears. He stands up, convulsively, driven by exigencies into a sudden burst of skill and drive.

Held to the boat by a harness and clinging to a rope he leans back out of the catamaran.

The boat jumps forward, its starboard hull lifting from the water, its sail straining; 10, 12, 15, 17 knots, and pulling off to pass the pirate ship by its side.

He can feel his attachment to material existence wavering.

The world subsides around him.

Max dips his left hand into the chaos. He spreads his fingers in the nautical symbol for low friction.

Today the chaos is congenial.

The surface of it slickens.

The boat hits 22 knots, which proves to be one and a half knots faster than enlightenment.

The wind whips past him. The catamaran shakes. Chaos burns his hand, eats into it, wiggles in it. At anything faster than 20.5 knots he has no time to properly absorb the teaching.

The world stabilizes around him.

Anatman, dukkha,” chant the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.

Low and sonorous sounds the pirate horn.

23 knots. 24.

The chanting of the monks has become nothing more than words to him. Something is writhing in his hand.

25 knots. 28.

He cannot go faster. The boat will flip, trapping him underneath, if he goes faster. Then he will drown or worse and the sharks and monks and shellfish will eat his bones.

Or so he supposes.

He wrenches forth his hand. It is encased in glassy sheen. The meat underneath is burned and tainted.

He heaves a shuddering breath as the shadow of the flag recedes behind him.

It is a miracle that he survives.

It is a miracle that he escapes.

Even with two good hands, Max does not sail very well.

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 )

It is June 3, 2004.

The sail goes flat and Max drifts.

He falls fitfully asleep for an hour and six minutes. Then he startles awake with the dawn.

The sail shudders once or twice.

For twenty-seven minutes Max rows. Then his hand spasms and he makes a muffled sound and the oar falls into the water. He sags. The boat drifts west. The oar floats after him, following him at a distance like a puppy uncertain of its position in its master’s good graces.

Max dips his working hand in the chaos. It burns him. He pulls it out.

He waits.

He dips his hand in again. The burn takes longer this time.

“Right, Max,” he says. “Give it time to adapt to you.”

He pulls his hand free.

That’s what Meredith had said when teaching Max to sail. “You can even swim in it,” she says. “You just need to give it time to adapt.”

Then the white thing writhes inside his wounded hand—he’s not sure, it might be a creature, it might be a bone, it might even be both—and he vomits over the edge.

He struggles for breath.

He vomits again.

Then he rests there, splayed against the boat’s edge, panting.

A shadow rises through the chaos.

It grows larger. It agitates the chaos and leaves contrails of gossamer in its wake.

Max recoils.

Red Mary bursts past the surface, her claws long, her teeth sharp, her shirt advertising the band Dismember.

Chaos sprays over Max and Red Mary’s fishtail lands heavily on the deck and the ship rocks and she writhes forwards towards Max.

Chivalry stalls Max for a fraction of a second. It proves irrelevant; he is a second and a half too slow. By the time he has his gun out of the holster with an unaccustomed hand she is on top of him and his head cracks back against the mast and her serrated shark-teeth close on his shoulder and he tumbles off the catamaran into the chaos.

This time it is not so terrible, but still it burns.

Red Mary drives him down with her weight but the harness pulls him unexpectedly sideways and they split apart. Choking, he pulls himself with good hand and teeth up the rope as she circles below him.

Her fangs catch his bad hand and red and green drifts out into the sea.

She recoils.

With a sudden crystalline beauty the chaos finishes its adaptation to Max and everything is clear and still and the sea no longer burns.

His good hand comes over the side of the deck. He takes a gulp of air. He fumbles for anything that might serve him as a weapon.

Red Mary charges.

Max Sets Forth to Kill God (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede - Chapter Two]

The hardest part of that whole night is the show.

One quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower is a jumbled ruin. Claire’s scalp won’t stop bleeding even though she’s used a Sesame Street bandaid. Broderick is coughing and coughing because he’s allergic to disaster.

Nobody’s seen Sid, Mr. Schiff, or Rahu.

Martin says that the imago’s fallen—that when the tower started shaking, she just canted over and fell into a giant hole in the floor.

Max’s room is a wreck and his nerves are a jangle.

And amidst all this they must put on a performance of Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate, to be broadcast from the tower to a hypothetical audience outside the boundaries of the world.

“Why?” says Max.

Martin looks at him blankly.

“Dude,” Martin says, “haven’t you ever watched that play and said, ‘How can anyone possibly make a sequel?'”

Martin’s got a crushed pinky, which makes him substantially better off than Max in the current wounds department.

“The machinery’s barely even working!” protests Max.

Martin twists his hands into various positions, thinking. “You’re worried about Sid,” he says.

“Yes.”

Martin’s hair is all over masonry dust.

“Then try not being all freaky about hypothetical vivisections,” Martin says. “Sometimes you’ve got to torture somebody to death. Just look at Hell, or Guantanamo, or that old riddle about whether you’d rather torture one guy to death or let everyone in the world die. It happens.”

Max stares at Martin.

Martin looks back at him.

“It’s an inevitable byproduct of adequate force,” Martin explains.

So Max goes backstage and he helps Iphigenia unclog the pipes.

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

The Island of the Centipede

They dig Mr. Schiff out of the rubble a few hours after the play. He makes protesting noises because they have woken him up.

Before they find Sid or Rahu or the imago, Martin finds Max. Max is dragging a large tumbled stone out of the way of a blocked-off room.

Martin pulls himself up on a chunk of rubble. He sits there, watching Max for a minute.

“Do you trust me?” Martin says.

“No.”

“Here’s the thing,” Martin says. “I kind of accidentally wiggled a tectonic plate by giving the wrong person a fig newton.”

Max stops pulling.

He rubs sweat off his forehead.

“I don’t believe you,” says Max.

“Eh?”

Max shrugs.

Martin thinks.

“To the west,” Martin says, “the shock’s opened up a hole in the crust of the world and there’s a fountain of good rising from it.”

“Okay.”

“I need someone to deal with it,” Martin says.

“You’d think that we could leave it be.”

“It’s difficult to improve things once they get too good,” Martin says. “An actual singularity of virtue would render fixing the world impossible.”

“Also, unnecessary.”

“Why—?” Martin says.

Then he stops himself and thinks.

“Your logic is ancillary to an inherently limited perspective,” Martin dismisses.

“So to the west there is a goodblow,” Max says, “Like God breaking forth into the world to save us all from suffering. And you want me to go stop it.”

“Yes,” Martin says. “With extreme prejudice.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s ridiculous,” says Max. “It’s fighting against what we want the most.”

“I can’t make you,” Martin admits.

Max goes back to work.

“You won’t find Sid,” Martin says.

Max stops.

“He is restless,” says Martin. “And despair is forbidden to him. He throws himself against the walls of his cage and sometimes they overcome him. He is absent from these moments in which it is too much to bear. He is scuttled from the world.”

“Oh,” says Max.

Martin drops down to his feet and strolls towards away.

“Wait,” says Max.

“Hm?”

“If I do it,” says Max, “you make Sid an is.”

“You ridiculous dolt,” says Martin.

He walks away.

Continuing from the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 )

It is June 2, 2004.

Max wakes up and he already knows what he has to do.

He goes down to the catamaran dock.

He looks off to the dark and brooding west.

And Jane is waiting on the grass to see him off. And she is looking at him with her brow furrowed in thought, and she says, “You’re here.”

Max nods.

“Is that okay?” he says.

Little girls tend to like emanations of absolute virtue, so you can see why he asked.

Jane laughs. “Noooo,” she says. “I don’t mean here, at the dock. I mean, here.”

She looks at him.

“You had bad things in your closet. Then Sid chased them away. Then you were King of the playground. Then you played basketball.”

She is being careful with these words. She is slow and deliberate, even with the easy words and simple things.

“Then you were brave and saved Mr. McGruder. Then you loved Sid. Then you saw another siggort and talked Sid into helping Ronald Reagan become President. Then you fought a King. Then you ran away. Then you read a book and afterwards you went to the place without recourse. Then you called Sid there. Then you got out but he didn’t. Then you came here to help him put on plays. Then you shot him and now you want to sail west.”

“Yes,” says Max.

He grins a little. “And what does that mean to you?” he asks.

“The world’s bright and spits up super beauty everywhere,” says Jane.

“Oh.”

“And so there are things that Max. That go Max. Like you. That is what it means.”

Max grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“Thanks,” he says.

Jane holds out a box. It’s like a cribbage box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.

“Here,” she says.

“What is it?” Max asks.

Jane begins giggling. Max watches in perplexity.

Finally, she stammers out, “Severance pay.”

There are more giggles.

“Ah,” he says.

He takes the box. He frowns at her. But he can’t keep frowning.

She’s smiling at him so brightly that he hugs her.

Then he sails to the west.

If Animals Had Elemental Powers

There would be parrots with water powers.

They would live under water.

They would make raucous noises like “Squawk! bubble bubble bubble! Squawk! bubble bubble bubble!

This would be very disconcerting for the sailors.

There would be burning tyrannosaurus rexes. They would not be extinct because their fire powers would allow them to survive K-T extinction events such as the one that killed all of the non-elemental dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The burning tyrannosaurus rexes would laugh and laugh as they rampaged through American cities but in turn people would laugh and laugh and laugh at their flaming stubby little hands.

It is actually possible that the flaming dinosaurs would not survive but it is definite that any tyrannosaurus rexes with K-T elemental powers would still be around, so, anyway.

There would be at least one Metallic Hopping Vampire. He’d be like a Hopping Vampire, only with powers over metal. That’d be so cool!

And there would be sharks who could jump twenty feet out of the water, hang there, and form bullets out of the wind to devastate their enemies. To hunt these sharks you would need a bigger boat. A bigger, bulletproof, flying boat. And lasers. And even then it would be a near thing.

There would be octopi who would assemble in eight-octopus teams using their aquatic telepathy. It is arguably not so good to be able to talk to fish when one is the King of Atlantis but it is very good when one is a fish and normally unable to communicate at all.

There would be koi with the ability to disrupt bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a terrible element but it is the element that koi get and the koi are not technically to blame for its presence in the traditional Chinese six-element cycle.

Who is to blame for that, anyway?

Bees. Bees are to blame for the traditional Chinese six-element cycle and also they sting people so Hitherby Dragons will not give them any elemental superpowers they do not already possess.

There would be elephants with special elemental ninja powers. For example there would be an elephant master of snow and ice. If you asked the other elephants who the coldest elephant ninja master is, they would invariably trumpet, douse you in water, and then indicate the snow elemental master. In addition there would be a shadow elephant—an umbral elephant, as it were—who could slip under your door and then manifest and charge you.

Charging shadow elephants are very scary even if you take away their credit cards because the phone book overflows with companies willing to extend shadowy elephant ninjas new lines of credit with no questions asked. They can even do it mid-confrontation, so that it might go like this:

“Ha ha,” laughs strong-jawed Buck Williams, brandishing the elephant’s credit card and thus preventing it from charging.

“Trumpet!” trumpets the shadowy elephant ineffectually.

Then the shadowy elephant spies one of many NO QUESTIONS ASKED credit card offers on the table next to the door where strong-jawed Buck Williams, son of Giorgi, keeps his unread mail.

Swiftly the elephant seizes it.

Swiftly the elephant mails it.

Then the elephant, oh so ungraciously, looks smug.

Buck’s eyes widen. In bullet-time, he turns and lunges for his elephant gun. He fills it with buck shot. He levels it. But it is too late.

“Trumpet!” trumpets the triumphant elephant.

He doesn’t ever pay for the charges. It’s a bad debt!

The elephant isn’t the last elemental animal we will examine. There are also earth beetles. These are beetles capable of burrowing through the dirt. Right through the earth! People can’t do that. We don’t have the requisite elemental mastery of earth, which is the problem.

Earth beetles are also good at throwing gigantic rocks at their enemies and at making clever balls out of dried dung.

“What a clever ball of dried dung!” one might praise, seeing them.

Such a compliment makes earth beetles puff up with pride!

Metallic Hopping Vampire would like to clarify that hopping vampires are not animals and so his hypothetical metal powers have nothing to do with the premise for this entry. Oops!

Finally there would be owls who fly around shooting lightning at things. One of them might try shooting lightning at a K-T-powered tyrannosaurus rex.

Bam! K-T extinction event!

That’d show those elemental-powered animals.

After a while, Martin says, “Today’s insight is apparently . . . not to taunt large predators that can cause K-T extinction events.”

Solemnly observes Jane: “People needed to know.”

(Canon: Boedromion 14) The Growing God

This continues the main Hitherby storyline.

The grangler’s an old ghost. He’s a god of holding on.

His hands are claws, like this—like withered bone with leathery tendons holding it together, cold, damp, and very sure.

He’s the third god to approach Elm Hill in quite some time.

He’s the first that isn’t friendly.

Ahead of him, behind him, all around him dead birds are rising from their graves. They are tearing forth from the rotting earth. They are rising towards the sky.

That’s the sign of the grangler.

“I should never,” the grangler says, “have let her go.”

It is May 28, 2004.

On May 28 in history, an eclipse ended Kuras’ great-grandfather’s war. The Pope married James IV. Scotland and England signed their treaty of everlasting peace. The Chrysler building opened. Liril buried a god in a box—a dead and broken god—and hid it under Elm Hill. An earthquake killed Neftegorsk. Mount Cameroon erupted. People all over the world were born and died.

On May 28, 2004, a shadow lays across the sea; and because he is following that shadow, Truth Daniels is not lost.

He’s thirsty.

It’s been four days since he’s found water. It’s been eight days since the last real bit of land. He’s got legs tight as knots.

He’s really thirsty.

But he’s not lost, because he’s following something, and you can’t be lost when you’re doing that.

“We are following the shadow on the sea,” says Deva.

“Yes,” Truth says.

“We have followed it for eight thirsty days,” says Deva.

“Yes,” says Truth ruefully.

“We should stop following this shadow,” says Deva. “It is not working well for us.”

Truth laughs.

“If we don’t suffer,” he says, “how will we grow?”

Deva considers that.

“Water weight,” he says.

The woman is on the deck now. She has her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. She says, “I don’t want to be taller.”

Truth frowns.

“You could reach higher up in the rigging,” he points out. “Or, if there were a very low star—”

“When I was a little girl,” says the woman, “I wanted to be taller, but I didn’t want to suffer. Now I’m suffering but I’m as tall as I want to be.”

Her tone changes.

“Truth, where are we going?”

“I’m not lost,” says Truth, defensively.

“It’s hard to be lost when there’s a trail to follow.”

Truth frowns. She’s anticipated his next statement, so now he can’t make it.

“It’s like this,” he says. “I think we’re getting closer to a really horrible place.”

The woman raises an eyebrow. Truth can’t see this, but he knows her well enough to guess.

“With anthropophagy,” Truth clarifies.

“Ah,” says the woman.

So she goes and helps with the rigging, and Deva works the wheel.

She’s not the kind of woman who can just ignore the chance to go somewhere where people might get eaten.

A deadwind rises to fill their sails. It drives them eastwards, towards Elm Hill.

In the facility at Elm Hill, Liril screams.

Micah is bloody and battered. He looks just awful. Haggard, really. But he’s still alert enough to stagger in the direction of the scream.

Liril, Micah, and Tainted John arrived at Elm Hill three days ago.

They were ready to fight, then.

Micah, in particular, was feeling actively enthused, back then, about killing humans and gods until the facility at Elm Hill was nothing but an empty charnel house.

He stood outside the gates of the facility, practically shaking with weariness, and he said, “Okay. Do we get to do it now? Do we get to kill them now? Because this running thing? It’s hard.”

Liril looked at him and her lips were sealed tightly. She walked to the gate. She pushed it open.

The facility was dark.

Everywhere they went in it, it was dark.

And after a while, Liril said, “No.”

It was a plaintive noise.

“They’re all gone and I don’t know where,” she said. “So no killing.”

Then she made the tragic face that all little girls make, when they don’t get the chance to kill.

And three days passed in the darkness while Micah got wearier and the blood that he’d shed getting her there grew cold and gelatinous on his face and arms.

It felt cold and gelatinous even after he found water and washed it off.

His whole body has chills now. But there is still enough in him to run when he hears her scream.

He finds her in the basement in a little crawlspace cradling a dead bird.

There’s a discarded box nearby.

It looks really gross inside, like there’s been a bird buried in it for years.

So Micah figures that she found the box in the crawlspace, and took out the bird, and that’s why she screamed; but he can’t figure out why she’s holding it.

So he looks at the bird. He looks at Tainted John. Tainted John just grins.

“Huh?” says Micah, decisively.

Liril looks up at him.

“I buried it,” Liril says. “I declared the box a time capsule and I buried it. So that it would get younger and younger until it wasn’t dead any more. But I think I did not understand how time capsules worked.”

“Oh,” says Micah.

He looks at the bird again.

“I remember that,” he says. “Sort of.”

The bird is sticky and smelly but it’s really pretty amazing that it’s still around at all.

“The problem isn’t with you,” rasps Tainted John. “It’s with time.”

Micah hesitates.

“Can I fix it?” he says.

He holds out his hands. Liril, gently, reluctantly, passes him the bird.

“What do I do?” Micah asks.

But Liril shakes her head. She crawls out. She stands up. She shakes her head again. She looks sad.

“No,” she says. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do anything.”

The bird has four wings and a really long tail. And maybe a bit more in the way of liver than it should.

It’s twitching, ever so slightly, in his hands.

Here is some of the geography that surrounds them.

To the south there is the road. It curves west and runs through a valley before connecting onto the interstate. That is the direction from which Tina will approach.

To the north and west there is a cliff.

There should not be a cliff. The Elm Hill facility is on level ground in the middle of the city; but there is a cliff, and beyond it the still white waters of the sea.

The ground falls away amidst the graves of children and the swaying elm, down a steep black rocky slope, into the sea.

And the facility at Elm Hill casts its shadow out across the waves.

“Birds,” says Deva.

He takes Truth’s hand and he points it towards the birds.

Truth smiles.

“Good,” he says.

There are birds. There are hundreds of them. They are flying out over the sea.

“They think we might have food,” says Truth.

“They’re dead,” says Deva.

He’s wrinkling his nose. Deva has a bad history with birds, and reanimated ghost birds that smell of ancient graves just aren’t his favorite kind.

“Oh,” says Truth. “Then they might think that we are food.”

“Heh,” says Deva.

The grangler lopes towards the facility at Elm Hill.

Melanie is not that far behind him. She’s discussing things with Vincent.

“It’s the logical place,” she says.

“Is it?”

“We can’t stay at Central,” she says. “But the Elm Hill facility still has most of what we need.”

“No kids,” says Vincent.

“Yet,” says Melanie.

“I meant that as an injunction, not an observation.”

Melanie blinks. Then she laughs.

“Well,” she says. “Let’s start with a temporary operating headquarters and see where things go from there.”

“Death and ruin,” proposes the grangler.

Melanie snorts.

“Nine days of death and ruin, then possibly some sort of delicious cereal,” the grangler says.

It is pleased. It has a fey feeling. It likes fey feelings.

“Git,” says Melanie.

So the grangler lopes off ahead, through the facility gates.

And behind them there are others; walking down the road from the various places where they parked their cars, and some are on two feet, some on four, and others ride the wind.

Down in the basement, in Micah’s hands, the bird-thing is stirring. Micah makes a horrified noise. He lets go of the bird. It’s still stinking. It’s still dead. But it’s stirring, rising, breathing, flying.

It’s whirling around the hall, still smelling of decay.

“Oh my God,” says Micah.

“Hi,” says Liril, to the bird, in a soft pleased voice.

But the bird does not hear her. It is whirling around. It is flying past them. It is flying up the stairs and away.

“What kind of god was it?” Micah asks.

“A growing god,” says Liril.

And it is gone.

The grangler is there when it emerges from the building’s broken door. The bird is raven-sized now, where it was sparrow-sized before. It barely squeezes through the gap in the door; and on the other side, the grangler is waiting. The grangler catches it in his clawed dead hands.

“You’re no good bird,” he says.

The four-winged bird chirps desultorily.

“You’re from someone I let go,” he says. “But no one’s here to make me let you go now.”

The bird twists and shudders in his grip.

The grangler looks behind him. Melanie is not too far away. So he skulks off. He skulks to the cliff. He skulks behind the trees, where he may curl around the bird that is his prize.

He slavers.

“I will eat you slowly,” he says.

The bird is larger now. It’s bucking and twisting in his hands. It has two spare wings to beat at his face with. But the grangler holds tight.

“Wake up,” he says, and certain other words, so that it can appreciate what he’s going to do.

And its mind stumbles back to it from the grave, and Liril’s growing god, killed more than a decade before, wakes to the eyes of an enemy.

And it cannot break free.

There is a ship, the Anna Maria, sailing distantly through the sea.

On it, Deva is frowning, and saying, “You can’t drink the water of a dead bird.”

But Truth is laughing at him, and saying, “Deva, even dead birds mean land and land means water.”

And on the land, above, the grangler is feeling a certain mild concern; because the bird is nearly his size now, and it has two wings for flight, and there is no one there to make him let it go.

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.

Sweeping Day

Sid’s sweeping up the streets after the Fourth of July. He’s got a broom in his left hand, a sack in his right hand, and three sacks on his belt.

Jane walks past.

“Hey,” says Sid.

Jane spins her head to look at him. She grins. “Hey!”

She holds up a Transformer doll.

“Now that you’ve greeted me I can show you my Transformer!” she says. “It talks! And it knows everything about biochemistry! And it turns from a robot into a beautiful swan or a fire—”

Sid blinks.

“Um,” he says.

“—work or a ban—”

Sid holds up a hand to stop her.

“Wait,” he says tersely. “Please. No explanations. I need you to trust me and be quiet and hold this bag and wait in a nearby alley.”

Sid holds out the sack he’s been sweeping street dust into.

Jane tilts her head and looks at him sidelong. She frowns.

“But I only have two hands,” Jane protests. “And I need one for the Transformer and one for pointing and gesturing!”

Jane points at the Transformer, and then attempts to point at her pointing hand. This fails, so she gestures irritably.

“Current biotechnology does not allow Jane to grow a third arm at this time,” intones the Transformer.

“You could trade,” Sid offers.

His voice is fraught with tension.

Jane thinks for a second. “Okay!”

“Okay?”

Jane hands Sid the Transformer. She takes the bag. She peeks in. “Yay! Dust!”

“Don’t look!” Sid cries. It’s a strangled shout. He closes the bag in her hands.

“It was very shiny,” Jane says. Her eyes are glittering. So are her eyelids and eyelashes. The overall effect is strangely sparkly.

Sid nods sharply.

“It’s liberty dust,” Sid says. “See, Earth is basically a giant engine that produces liberty for our alien masters. The liberty rises into the upper atmosphere and intersects with the super-cooled alien air and—”

Jane stomps on his foot.

“—Ow!”

Jane pokes him in the chest with her free pointing and gesturing hand.

“You can’t produce liberty for alien masters,” she says. “That’s an oxymormon.”

“Technically,” says the Transformer, biochemically, “an oxymormon is an oxygen atom that is bound to a religious atom that believes Joseph Smith ended the Kali Yuga and restored the Satya Yuga to this Earth. You are thinking of something else.”

“Huh,” says Jane. “But my point stands!”

“True,” says Sid. “I suppose that they’re really more like thuggish symbiotes than masters. Whisht!”

Sid shoves Jane into an alley.

“Hey!” Jane squawks.

Sid stands in front of the alley looking innocent. An alien starship descends from the upper atmosphere. Its bulbous belly discharges a landing ramp. A squat, squamous alien shuffles down.

“Hey,” says Sid.

“Aliens!” says Jane.

“Ixnay on the eakingspay,” hisses Sid.

The alien lifts its head. It snuffles. “Strange noises,” it says. “Do you taunt us again with your ‘Pig Latin’, Earth Sid?”

“A momentary aberration,” Sid assures it.

It shuffles forward. It has the gait of a creature with broken legs, but displays no other signs of pain.

“Please present us the liberty condensate,” it says, “that we pay you $3.75 an hour to collect.”

Sid walks forward, hesitantly. He takes the three sacks from his belt. He passes them over.

The alien looks in a sack. It looks up. Its eyes are glittering. So are its eyelids and eyelashes. The overall effect is horridly sparkly.

“Ah,” it says. “Za’pogh-la. Do you know how it is formed, Earth Sid?”

“Large concentrations of liberty vented into the upper atmosphere, as by fireworks, meet up with the super-cooled alien air and—”

The alien steps on Sid’s foot.

“Ow!”

Sid looks aggrieved. That doesn’t normally happen to him twice in one day.

“Silence, Earth Sid! The secret of Za’pogh-la is not for human voice!”

“Just take it,” says Sid. “Take it and go.”

“This is . . . all of it?”

The alien stares at Sid.

“Maybe the air isn’t cold enough any more,” challenges Sid. “Maybe you aliens heated up.”

The alien snurfles dismissively.

“You are careless, Earth Sid. You have swept most of it into the aquifer.”

“He is not careless!”

That’s Jane’s voice, as she runs out of the alley.

“I’ve seen him!” she shouts. “He sweeps every day! Not just on Sweeping Day after 4th of July! He sweeps every day all year to get it all!”

The alien hisses. It turns, and a proboscis unfurls from the mysterious crannies of its face. It stands still, trembling, sniffing at the air.

“Ixnay!” says Sid.

“There’s a girl,” says the alien. It trembles in outrage. “She will contaminate the Za’pogh-la!”

This takes the wind out of Jane’s sails. She did not anticipate that the subject of the discussion would turn directly to her. “What?”

“Sid!” says the alien. “Kill her!”

Sid freezes. Then he turns. He has a haunted look on his face. He pulls out his hand and shapes it into a gun, with his index finger pointing at Jane.

“Bang!” he says. “Bang! Bang! Bang! You’re dead, killed by my Earth weapon!”

Jane stomps her foot, orienting on the familiar. “Am not! You missed!”

“I’m correcting my aim,” Sid says. He’s sweating. “No need for the alien to use its space disintegrator,” he emphasizes. “I’m using a special Earth cyberoptic sight. Bang! You’re dead!”

“I don’t see the cyberoptic sight,” Jane says dubiously.

Sid squints his left eye like a man with a tic. “It’s a half-human, half-machine particle welded directly to the optic nerve.”

“Wow,” says Jane. “That’s lethal!”

She falls down dramatically.

“Avenge me!” she cries. “Avenge me!”

“The Earth girl is slow to die,” says the alien. “Are you sure that your hand-weapon is functional?”

“It is a painful and terrible death,” says Sid sadly, “but slow.”

Sid’s tone hardens.

“I would liefer use it on you,” he adds, “but for the difficulty I would have finding other employment after years of quisling labor.”

The alien turns back towards the ship.

“You will collect more,” it says, indifferently, “next year.”

“Of course,” says Sid.

“Avenge me!” wails Jane.

The alien turns. “Is she truly dead—”

The Transformer flies into the air. It shifts into the form of a firework. It sputters and burns in the air, and then explodes in brilliance.

“—Ah,” sighs the alien, distracted. “So pretty, the explosions of your Earth.”

It stomps into its ship. It rises into the air. Then it is gone.

Sid kneels beside Jane. “Are you all right?” he says.

“I’m not really dead!” Jane tells him. “It’s because I have an immortal spirit.”

“Good,” says Sid. “Those are handy in an apocalypse.”

Jane sits up.

“You shouldn’t collaborate with them,” she says. “They look horrible and alien, so they must be evil.”

“Without the Roswell technology,” notes Sid, “we humans probably wouldn’t have figured out liberty in the first place.”

“Also, it was mean,” Jane says. “It ordered the Earth Sid to kill me! I’m still kind of scared.”

“And if it weren’t for them, up there, farming us,” says Sid, “there wouldn’t be super-cooled alien air in the upper atmosphere at all. They put it there. They saturated it with the elementary particles of alien love. They’re the reason liberty does condense. And that’s why, every year, I can skim a little off the top.”

Sid reclaims the sack from her.

“What’s it for?” Jane asks.

“It’s sparkly,” Sid says.

Jane peers at him.

“I sneak into people’s houses at night,” says Sid, “and blow it in the faces of children who can’t make liberty on their own.”

“Oh,” says Jane.

She stands up. She walks in circles for a bit.

“That’s kind of creepy,” she says.

“It’s mythic and archetypal,” protests Sid. “I’m like Santa or the Witch. Or like Stars, the Thanksgiving Turkey!”

But Jane is distracted. She isn’t paying attention to Sid any more.

“Huh,” says Jane. “My Transformer died.”

Flood

The antelope race beside the Ark.

The waters are glassy, sometimes, when the rain slows down. They are rich in color. The hoofprints of the antelope are like the dents of great raindrops.

The antelope have wide feet and a powerful light foot technique. For seventeen days they keep their balance on the water. Yet slowly, as the days pass, they sink deeper and deeper into the shining waters until at last they drown.

“There’s no room for the hippos,” Ham says. “We’ll have to eat them.”

“No eating the hippos,” says Noah.

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “There are those birds,” he says, “that fly into your urethra when you’re peeing and nest inside your crotch. We could eat them.”

Ham considers that.

“Okay,” he says.

The seven-limbed howlers struggle upwards from the cities below. They flail. They howl. They reach the surface and fill their great and terrible lungs with air. Then they sink, again, slowly, pathetically, and hoard their energy for the next long breath.

The eagles circle tiredly in the sky above.

Shem and Ham descend into the Ark.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Shem believes, the density of packed animals becomes asymptotically infinite. But they do not need to go that far.

“Good sheep,” says Shem, passing a sheep.

“Good cow,” says Ham, passing the cows.

“Good crocodi—BAD crocodile!” says Shem. Shem brandishes his broom at the crocodile. It reluctantly turns away and snaps its mouth closed. It slithers deeper, slithers down, its long green body vanishing under a cluster of chickens, wrens, doves, owls, game hens, and wildebeests, and it is gone.

“Good hippo,” says Ham, grudgingly, as they pass.

The urethra birds are not very far down. They are good at gaming the ecosystem for maximum advantage. But it does not save them now.

“Bawk!” proclaims one urethra bird, startled, as Ham grabs it around the neck.

“Ch-caa!” declares the other, in some distress, as Shem seizes it in turn.

The axe descends.

“It’s natural selection,” says Noah, as he chews on a leg. “Those that do not please me, die. Evolutionary pressure driven by the seething core of the Ark will inevitably create a new generation of animals better suited to the exigencies of my desires.”

Days and nights pass.

In the third and fourth weeks, great clusters of ostriches swim by.

The ostriches are not happy with the rain. United, they are strong. Solitary, they are weak. But the rain and flood tries their solidarity.

One by one, ostriches commit social errors.

One by one, the clusters drive them out.

The stragglers are easy prey for the sharks, the icthyocampi, and the cold.

“I wonder if Mr. Sills is still alive,” Shem says.

“He’s got to have drowned by now,” Noah argues.

“I know some of them were trying to build cities in the deep,” Shem says.

Ham walks out and stares down at the water.

“It’s weird,” says Ham. “To imagine all the people we knew, down there.”

“Freaky,” Japheth agrees.

“Cold and blue and drowning.”

“It’s because God didn’t like them,” says Shem. “I mean, as much as he liked us.”

The sheep goes, “Baa.”

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

They quickly hurry the sheep back into the hold.

“Can we eat the sheep?” Ham asks.

“No,” says Noah. “Sheep are good animals. That’s why it made it all the way up.”

“The hippos?”

“No eating the hippos.”

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “Isn’t there some kind of animal that lives mostly on the brains of dead people?”

“Worms?”

Noah shakes his head. “Besides those.”

“Cranium beavers?”

“Yeah,” says Noah. “Those. We can eat those.”

Ham and Japheth descend.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Japheth suspects, the animals are unable to survive in solid form but instead revert to their natural plasmic state.

“It’s hot as God’s spankings down here,” says Ham.

“Shh!”

“What?”

“No blasphemy. We’re on the Ark.

There is a creaking, clunking noise, as the sea serpents of God beat warningly upon the vessel’s side.

“Right,” says Ham, sweating. He looks sideways. “Good oryx.”

By the eighteenth sub-basement of the Ark, Ham and Japheth are forced to carve their way through the animals to make room for their passage. Thus dies the bulwark buffalo, the crowball, and the cave goat. Thus dies the ghoul, spoken of in legend, and the icy blue beast in whose image the Slurpee was made. Thus dies the elephant and the fungal turtle.

“Here,” says Japheth.

The cranium beaver skulks defensively behind its dam of skulls, but this primitive instinct cannot save it from the knives of Noah’s heirs.

“Good sheep,” says Japheth, on the way back up.

“Baa,” insists the sheep.

It’s so adorable that even Ham has to scruffle the sheep behind its ears.

The rhinoceri have gone feral, long, and lean. In the distance, as the sons of Noah eat, they watch the primal battle between rhinoceros herd and megalodon, under a sky full of storms. The waves of that battle rock the ship, and the sinuous shapes of the rhinoceri lash and shimmer and in the sea.

“They’re winning,” says Naamah, in some surprise.

“There’s just a chance,” says Noah, in satisfaction, “that the megalodons’ll be another casualty of this rain.”

“I’ll tell the others,” says Japheth.

So he goes to the speaking tubes and calls down into the depths of the ship, “Let the rhinoceros be informed that their kind still live, under the sea.”

And up comes the honking, and the bleating, and the wailing, and the howling, and the hissing, and the chirping, and the long pleased snore of the happy shipboard rhinoceri.

“That means we could eat them,” says Ham. “I mean, the ones we have here.”

“No eating the rhinos,” says Noah.

“Fine,” sulks Ham, crunching on a barbecued cranium beaver leg.

The last of the scissor-beaked night terrors drowns that day.

“Look!” cries Ham, one silvery morning.

“What?”

“Elephants! The elephants didn’t die out after all!”

Noah rubs his chin. “There’s no reason we can’t take another female on board to replace the one you carved through.”

“Right on!”

Shem and Ham operate the elephant crane to retrieve a backup elephant from atop Ayers Rock.

“Baa,” the sheep remarks, conversationally, as it watches.

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

Naamah and Japheth hurry the sheep back into the hold.

Days and nights pass.

“I can see them far below,” says Japheth, later that night. “All the people I ever hated.”

“Are they trying to tame sea horses?”

“They’re dead, Dad. They’re moving in great drifts through the night.”

“Baa,” mourns the sheep.

“Animal on—”

Noah laughs a little and stops halfway through the sentence.

“Oh, let it be, I guess,” he says.

The sheep looks down into the water, at the hills and dales of Scotland-under-the-Waves.

Flick!

A fish-tailed sheep skims to the surface of the sea.

For a long moment, the land-sheep and the sea-sheep look into one another’s eyes.

Flick!

The moment is gone; and the two sheep go, in their respective elements, below.

In such manner as this: running, swimming, struggling, serving, seething, mourning, and loving does the world survive the rain.

Truth is Not Lost (1 of 1)

Truth is not lost.

Here is how we know that Truth is not lost. When we look in on him, on Truth Daniels, as he stands on the foredeck of the Anna Maria with the sea-spray on his face, with his silver hair flowing and his white eyes bright, with his body leaning forward and his hand clinging to the ropes, we can see a shadow behind him. That shadow is Deva, the hound of Truth, and he is tall and barrel-shaped and strong, and he is looking around with consternation and shouting forwards, “Are we lost?”

And Truth shakes his head, and there is laughter in his voice, and he calls back,

“I don’t know where we’re going!”

So he can’t be lost, you see.

In the hold there is a woman, white-limned, sleeping in a nest of silks. There is her god, its cloud of sickle-shaped limbs stirring in the wind like hanging paper cuttings strung together from a rod. There is a statue made of resin-coated wood; it does not live but sometimes it stirs itself to speak. Of these all and all the other things that dwell within the ship only the woman is worth considering as a member of the crew; and so, while she sleeps, Truth and Deva sail alone.

The Anna Maria is a long and narrow ship. Its sails are great swathes of crimson. Its bow is a spear cut from the fingerbone of the wind. We know from earlier visions of this ship that it is not established which wind contributed the bone:

“Sometimes,” Truth says, “it is from the north wind, and sometimes from the south.”

“How can two winds share a fingerbone?” Deva is prone to ask.

“It is perplexing enough,” says Truth, “that they should have even one fingerbone between them; is it truly worth fretting over the shifting of its provenance?”

If the woman is on deck, then she is likely to respond: “The two are different orders of illogic, Mr. Daniels. It is one thing to broaden and anthropomorphize the meaning of ‘the wind,’ and it is quite another to undermine the conceptual integrity of ‘from.'”

Then Truth is on the ropes, and there is little he can do but offer her an embarrassed and futile smile. But if Deva and Truth are alone, Truth’s words are more difficult to challenge. Deva is many things but a theorist of the impossible he is not ever.

The Anna Maria sails the chaos that lies beyond Santa Ynez, past its harbors and past its bridges, between the eastern and western edges of the world. As we watch, gentle viewer, it is passing through the dominion of Lachek Il’sephrain, that dread and horrid god; and this prompts Truth to look worriedly over his shoulder at the man who is his hound.

“You’d best blindfold yourself,” says Truth.

Deva gives Truth a long, slow look.

“Seriously,” says Truth. “I know these waters. At least a little. You’re best to.”

“Why?”

“This is the reach of Il’sephrain,” says Truth. “He kills by overstimulating the visual cortex and flooding the mind with vision. Sensible people are quickly lost to madness and the brain eventually hemorrhages rather than process the data it receives.”

“I am sensible,” concedes Deva. “I will find something to shield my eyes.”

There are few things more terrifying in all the world than to sail the chaos with one’s eyes sealed shut. One never knows when some great threat will emerge to trouble the ship, and so Deva’s unhindered senses are paranoiacally alert. Each creak of the ship warns him of untold dangers; each flapping of the sails is the wings of some great bird; at each shift of the deck he imagines that the ship will heave and he, Deva, blind, will clutch fruitlessly at rope and wood, will find no balance, no purchase, and no handhold, and he will fall into the chaos and be lost.

“It’s all right, Deva,” says Truth. “We’re doing fine.”

It is raining now, a harsh cold rain that to Deva might be blood.

Truth points. He laughs. “There are stormlamps out,” he says.

The stormlamps cut through the water with their dark grey fins, and their bodies are as big as ships, and their angler’s lights are like beacons on the sea. It is said that they use these lights to terrify their prey:

“Dolphins, squids, and whales,” Truth says. “It paralyzes them, like a rabbit staring into a serpent’s jaws.”

If the woman is on deck, she will ask him, “Dolphins?” and her voice will be appalled.

“The sea is cruel,” Truth says.

But Deva, who has eaten dolphin himself a time or two, does not complain.

The stormlamps do not trouble the Anna Maria. It is not their natural prey, and the stormlamps are much concerned with propriety; or, if not propriety, then instinct, which causes them to shy from the things of men and gods. But their passage sends forth waves, and these waves rock the ship, and so each stormlamp’s passing torments further Deva’s nerves.

Suddenly, Deva swears.

“I can see them,” he says. “Dimly.”

“Then we have caught the notice of the god,” says Truth. “Have a care.”

“Rockwind to the east,” says Deva.

Truth looks over.

“Skyreef,” he argues.

“Don’t be daft,” says Deva.

Truth rubs at his cheek, thoughtfully. “I guess it could be a rockwind. We’d better tack away.”

Deva’s stomach sinks. He looks a little ill. But he does what he must. He moves along the edge of the boat, helping Truth with the sails and the boom. His hands fumble at the knots and clamps. With the blindfold sealing his eyes, he can barely make out the shapes of them, even there, in the reach of Il’sephrain.

Deva can feel Truth’s eyes on him, and he flushes.

“Just a little slow today,” Deva says.

Truth grins.

The boom swings. The ship cuts west towards lighter waters.

“We’ll be on him soon,” says Truth.

Deva frowns and shakes his head. The play of light and motion through the blindfold that he wears has reached the point of full and normal vision; he can see Truth, he can see the ship, he can see the ropes and wood, and at the same time he knows in the depths of his brain that he cannot see these things at all.

And then he looks up, to the west and a little south, and there he sees the bulbous eye of Lachek Il’sephrain, struck upwards from the sea like the point of Neptune’s spear, and Deva cries out and shields his eyes with his forearm, and this action does no good. For all that day and many days besides his mind will swim with the pulsing azure afterimage of the eye of Il’sephrain.

“Hold the course,” cries Truth, into the wind.

And Deva holds the course.

The sea lashes the boat this way and that, and Deva sets and releases the ropes and he struggles with the wheel, and as the eye looms closer Deva begins to see things that he has never seen before. The pattern of the good ship’s maker is clear to him in the wood, and the ropes wear the marks of all three sailors’ souls; and suddenly, then, he can see in the wind and the sea and the creaking bones of the ship the course they all are driven on—

A course into the eye of Il’sephrain.

And Deva sees the futility of all his efforts, and that no seamanship can do him good; and laughing and crying with despair, he falls back and the ropes go loose and Deva stares upwards at the endless chambers of the sky, billowing and shifting above him, burning with the distant light of stars.

“Hold the course,” says Truth, and struggles with the ship; but his struggles serve him not; and the ship plunges forward and the spear of its bow goes full into the eye of Lachek Il’sephrain and the god gives forth a bubbling scream and blood stains blacken the sails of the ship and the whole lurches back and forth and the woman nearly wakes.

Later, Deva says to Truth, “It is a strange thing, isn’t it? That it would call us there only to its doom?”

Truth says, “It’s not for us to question Il’sephrain.”

“Perhaps it is its party game,” the woman says. “See how many ships it can kill before somebody loses an eye.”

Truth laughs.

“You know,” says Deva, “it’s also a strange thing, that we sailed so close, if we were not lost.”

And if the woman is on deck, then Truth will simply hang his head and blush; but if she is not, and Truth and Deva are alone, then Truth says, “I wanted to see you, Deva.”

The words hang in the air: “I wanted to see you, Deva.”

Then there is quiet for a time, as Truth stares forward with his blind white eyes and Deva works the ropes.