The Dynamite Trilogy: Space

Some people think the evil prophet of space is Christ reborn. Others want to measure him with scientific instruments. But everyone who approaches him dies!

“Space does not like you,” the prophet says to the teeming masses of humanity.

There are rivers of blood on the Earth in those first few days. The sky is full of fire.

“You look outwards towards space. You make puppy-dog faces. You project onto space with your purposes and expectations. Space is confused and nauseated by this! Space is not your frontier. It is a cold bleak void! You need to stop hoping and dreaming towards it. So I am here to kill everyone in hopes that this will make you stop!

“Hallelujah!” cries somebody in the crowd.

Then most of the listening people suffer explosive decompression and those that do not the prophet hangs from spikes.

Conventional weaponry does nothing. He walks through armies and leaves them ruins.

“I do this because it is prophesied,” says the evil prophet of space.

He is on a street corner in Boise, Idaho. He is eating his lunch, a tuna sandwich, on top of an overturned tank. Everyone has fled Boise save for an abandoned and unhappy dog but explaining himself is habitual for the evil prophet of space.

“Behold!” he says, and unfurls the scroll of his evil prophecy.

The scroll is covered in the gleaming golden letters of space. Hesitantly, angered by the evil prophecy, the abandoned dog barks.

Nuclear weapons fall upon Boise, Idaho. They crunch down around him like pine cones falling to the Earth. They burst into an extraordinary nuclear rage.

Potatoes mutate.

The dog dies.

All around the evil prophet of space fire blooms. But he holds up the scroll of his evil prophecy and says, “Paper beats nukes!”

And it is so.

The Earth takes its final measure of defense. The United Nations Security Council meets and unanimously votes to issue the Unlimited Cheat Code.

Konami Thunder Dancers all over the world plug the cheat code into their dance pads.

It enables the Great Network Dance.

Thus is finally realized the most glorious dream ever dreamed by a middle-aged Konami Corporation executive, that is, that people should hook their dance pads together via wireless Internet connection and dance the networked thunder dance to sweep away the evil prophet of space.

Riding the Symbol of the Gathering, the Dancers fly to Mount Hook.

They defy the evil prophet there.

And there are many. There are legion. There is old Margerie. There is hobbling Kalov. There is Ellen. But also there are Doug and Kasumi and Ben and Christine and Dancer X and Hot Coffee and Footwork and Phobos and many more.

There are gathered there all of the legends and most of the minor experts of the dance.

The evil prophet looks at them.

A warm and tender smile spreads across his face.

“Why,” he says. “You’ve actually got something interesting.”

Then the wind of the dance falls on him howling. It rends him. It rips him apart as he has ripped apart others. He hangs in the air in pieces. His hands and his feet and his mouth scrabble at the air to try to draw him back together again.

Ellen dances the Scissors and the Dynamite.

Margerie throws Glory.

And so many others! So many Symbols! There is even a sweat-drenched beginner in the back desperately dancing Misshapen Metal Lump in opposition to the evil prophet of space.

Thunder peals.

The Dancers rip the evil prophet down to the seething particles of him and his smile.

The PlayStation 7s through which the Dancers dance grow hot. They suckle at the cool evening air. A single particle of the evil prophet finds its way in through the vents and touches on the networked code.

“Do you know what I am going to do?” the prophet’s voice whispers in Hot Coffee’s ear.

“No,” says Hot Coffee.

“I am going to redefine the LIVE_BURIAL variable to TRUE,” the evil prophet says.

And before any of the dancers can say anything—before they can even utter a word—

Mount Hook falls on them.

None of them die immediately. But all of them black out.

Most of them never wake up.

Margerie opens her eyes long enough for a moment of satisfaction. Kalov grumbles with finality about kids these days. Phobos wakes but to no avail; his chest is pinned and he screams silently until he dies.

Time passes.

Ellen startles open her eyes.

She is buried under the mountain. She can scarcely breathe. She can’t move: there are rocks pinning her. Everywhere she is held down. The pain of it is horrible.

She is only alive because the PS7s are sturdy, unbreakable by something as small as a mountain falling on them, and thus have served to prop up the tumbled rock in certain limited ways.

“Oh,” she says.

It is soft and meek and the word is lost in the channels of the fallen mountain and she coughs and only the red light of a PlayStation on standby breaks the darkness.

“I feel,” she says, to unseen angels, “that we should apologize to the world, for now the evil prophet shall kill everyone.”

The rock shifts and grinds into her back.

And laughing and crying she thinks, “Rock beats scissors.”

A ridiculous notion blossoms in her mind. It’s really quite stupid. But she can’t help it. She counts to three under her breath. She closes her fist.

The rock shifts again. It lifts from her, just a bit. Then it is grinding, grinding, pushing back away from her, and in the little cavern that forms she sees the cross-legged form of Navvy Jim.

One hand is holding up an improvised roof.

The other, paper.

Ellen giggles. Then she laughs. Then pain shoots through her ribcage and she chokes and she says, “Oh.”

“You cannot think to defeat me at rock-paper-scissors simply by draining my battery, taking me apart, waiting 5 years, and hiding under a mountain,” says Navvy Jim. “That is the kind of hijink only beneficial against amateurs.”

“Oh,” she says, and brokenly she smiles at him her love.

“But . . . it is dangerous to play rock-paper-scissors here,” he says. “The mountain throws rock. So rock and paper, perhaps, are safe, but if you play scissors you would be crushed under tons of rock.”

“Mountains don’t care about rock-paper-scissors,” says Ellen. “They’re not like robots or space.”

Navvy Jim hesitates.

“That’s partially true,” he says. “Although I will observe the established higher mortality rates for people who carry scissors on mountains over people who carry paper.”

“You saved my life,” Ellen says.

“I am a good robot,” smugs Navvy Jim.

There is silence for a while.

Tendrils of evil slowly slip into the chamber. The evil prophet congeals.

He looks between them. He looks between the Konami Thunder Dancer and the rock-paper-scissors-playing robot.

Insultingly, he chooses to worry about the robot.

“I sensed a power on Earth,” he says, “capable of playing rock-paper-scissors against me at my level.”

“You would be a worthy opponent,” Navvy Jim concedes.

“I didn’t expect to find you while finishing these dancers off.”

“Did you wish to play,” says Navvy Jim, hesitantly, “then?”

“Navvy Jim!” Ellen says. “Don’t play rock-paper-scissors with the evil prophet of space!”

“If I don’t play, he wins by default!” Navvy Jim protests.

What?

“You wouldn’t understand a rock-paper-scissors player’s heart,” says Navvy Jim. “You’re organic.”

“Oh,” Ellen says.

So the evil prophet and Navvy Jim square off.

“I should warn you,” says the evil prophet, “that I always throw paper. That’s how I’m going to kill you and the human. With paper.”

Navvy Jim’s eyes dim, then brighten.

“Why would you do that?” he asks.

“I use my evil prophecy to kill things,” says the evil prophet of space. “I’m an evil prophet. That’s just what I do.”

Navvy Jim nods.

“Well,” he says, “the three symbols are mathematically equivalent, in any case.”

The evil prophet laughs. It’s startled from him. It’s pure and clean. And he says, “Yes. Yes, of course they are.”

And in a flash of insight Ellen remembers the mountain that surrounds them, the great bulk of rock, and a shout bursts from her, racking the inside of her with pain: “Don’t throw scissors, Navvy Jim!”

The evil prophet is counting to three.

Navvy Jim glances at Ellen.

“Of course I won’t,” he says. “The mountain always throws rock.”

And the evil prophet brandishes his evil prophecy. And Navvy Jim’s palm is flat.

“A tie,” says the evil prophet. “Rethrow.”

Softly, he counts to three.

He brandishes his evil prophecy, and Navvy Jim his palm.

“A tie,” says the evil prophet. “Rethrow.”

Navvy Jim says, “For all the money?”

“Of course,” says the evil prophet.

“And if I win,” says Navvy Jim, “you’ll leave this world?”

“Navvy Jim,” says Ellen, and her face is as pale as the snow.

“Perhaps,” the evil prophet says.

And Navvy Jim’s eyes glow blue.

And softly the evil prophet counts to three.

“Oh, no,” says Ellen. “Oh, no.”

And she pushes down against the world with her hand to reach desperately for Navvy Jim.

And the evil prophet brandishes his evil prophecy; and Navvy Jim, with a great screeching of metal, splits into scissors the fingers of his hand; and simultaneous with Being Crushed by Rocks Ellen throws Dynamite.

And the last things that Ellen sees as the world goes white are Navvy Jim lunging for her to catch her as she falls and the hideously betrayed expression of the evil prophet as he shouts:

“You can’t throw Dynamite! This is rock-paper-scissors!”

They don’t let you do things like that at the evil academy of space.

The Dynamite Trilogy: Konami Thunder Dance

In those days gods walked among us courtesy of Konami Corporation.

There were two of them arguing right in this spot—

Right over there, in that blasted pit that not even the repavers can heal.

It happened like this.

There’s a cat curled up on old Mrs. McGinty’s porch.

There’re crows croaking raucously on a nearby power line.

Ellen walks up from the south. She doesn’t look around. She finds a square of sidewalk and she sets up her Konami Thunder Dance pad.

The crows go silent as death.

Ellen plugs her pad into a PlayStation 6 and an uninterruptible power supply. Ellen kicks off her shoes. She steps onto the pad.

The cat uncurls. It stretches. It lopes away.

Now old Kalov comes clicking down the road from the north. He’s got his game under one arm. He’s using the other hand to hold his cane.

He sets up his dance pad.

He plugs it in, just like Ellen’s.

He steps on. And smugly, because it’s allowed in the University’s Konami Thunder Dance Club rules, he rests his cane tip beside his feet on the dance pad.

“Kalov,” says Ellen. “Don’t be stupid! You can’t beat me.”

Kalov doesn’t crack a smile.

“Elly,” he says. “It’s the decision of the Konami Thunder Dance Club that we’re going to upgrade to the new version. It’s a good version. It’s easy on these creaky old bones of mine.”

“But it doesn’t have dynamite,” Ellen protests.

“You’re a good dancer,” Kalov says. “Don’t ruin your life.”

The air is as clear and still as glass. The sun isn’t moving.

That’s the way it is with Konami Thunder Dance. They could stand there all day, if you’ll pardon some linguistic ambiguity, and the sun wouldn’t move one inch.

But Ellen’s not happy. She doesn’t let it sit like that. She moves her foot to the side, just sweeps it across what Konami calls the “keyboard of the feet,” and she’s hit the Symbol for storms.

There’s lightning in the sky.

And Ellen says, “Konami doesn’t care about us any more. The original team’s gone on to work for Round Square. All Konami’s doing with this version is squeezing a few more Euros from the newbs.”

It’s raining.

“You’re too inflexible,” Kalov complains.

Thunder sounds.

“I won’t accept,” Ellen says, “a version without dynamite.”

And, just like God had allegedly done in that sacred vision that inspired Hiro Matsuda to make Konami Thunder Dance, Ellen hits the button with her toe that begins the game.

“There’s no turning back now!” warns the voice of the machine.

And for Ellen and Kalov alike the patterns of the Thunder Dance begin to flow.

Here is how it is. There are one hundred and sixty eight distinct ‘keys’ on the Konami Thunder Dance pad, divided into eight regions. Eight-key sequences, properly timed, combine to form a Symbol. Most of these sequences have four to seven redundant versions, leaving approximately 1.25 x 10^17 combinations. Each Symbol generates a unique effect; thus, most of the possibilities of the game remain undiscovered even by the greatest of masters.

As Kalov is dancing to Tourniquet, it is natural that his first Symbol is Blood.

As Ellen is dancing to Jungle Song, it is equally natural that her first Symbol is the Elephant.

In the books of the sacred thunder dance, this is called the day that Dumbo fell. The birds are shrieking; they are rising from the power line, scattered even in the face of the dance; an elephant tumbles past, choking on the crimson angst of existence.

And Kalov throws kami and Ellen throws the Wilderness, and thus it is that our city loses the blessing of Heaven.

And in that darkness without the hope of greater powers there comes a rising beat. And Ellen is dancing now, not just for the Symbols but for the rhythm of it, dancing in the rising darkness of Kalov’s Symbol Lost, and her dance is Strength.

And the music of Evanescence rises in the darkness:

My God, my tourniquet.
Return to me salvation.

And the counterpoint of Toybox:

Hey, monkey! Get funky!

And then, pivoting one hand down to support her on the center of the pad, and without interrupting the Symbols of her dance, Ellen uses her free foot to throw Dynamite.

There is a flare of light. The air ignites. Old Kalov struggles against a rising wind and a missed half-note to stay in the game; and all up and down the street windows are shattering, roofs are caving in, chicken dinners are rising from their graves to run around clucking—

For the chicken, alone of all the creatures of this Earth, is blessed with independence from its brain—

And the old lady comes walking, clicking, ticking footsteps up the path.

There’s something fascinating about the way she walks. It’s like the dawning of the sun. The wind of the dynamite doesn’t even touch her. She’s old and her hair is blue and she’s smiling ever so thinly as she walks up.

And the dance goes still.

Both Ellen and Kalov just stare at her. The Symbols they’re supposed to dance drift past right to the terrible ending of those songs.

And the old lady says, “It’s not worth giving your life for dynamite, child, and it sure isn’t worth taking someone else’s.”

Ellen’s chin is high. Her eyes are fierce.

She says, “I want to dance the real thunder dance. The one that matters.”

“You kin’t,” the old lady says.

“We live in a degenerate time,” pleads Ellen. “Hobbit-Spock-spider. A Thunder Dance without dynamite. A sixth teletubby. We can’t just let all the old true things go away.”

“I hear,” says the old lady, “that they’ve added Symbol support to the new version so that newbies can get by with just four of the steps.”

“It is good for the community of Thunder Dancers,” Kalov says.

“Some people up in San Antonio,” the old lady says, “they wired it up through a hacked Furby and abused the Hell out of the four-step system so they could pull off twelve-step Symbols. Things you can’t imagine, like itserbani and oieie.”

Her enunciation is very precise.

“I thought that was clever,” she admits.

“I’m not saying the new version is bad,” Ellen says, although she has been. “I’m just . . . I practiced so much learning to throw Dynamite. And now Konami’s saying that it wasn’t ever intended.”

“Did you know why I stopped Thunder Dancing?” the old lady asks.

Ellen shakes her head.

“Margerie,” says Kalov. His voice is sad.

“I stopped Thunder Dancing,” the old lady says, “when Konami released the patch that made it so that Thunder Dancers didn’t all die by live burial any more.”

Ellen frowns at her.

“What?”

“The original version,” the old lady says. “It had a bug. Or a feature— who can say?”

“That you’d get buried alive?”

“If you were good enough,” the old lady says.

Ellen’s eyes are round.

“That’s extreme,” she says.

“It was the genuine thing,” the old lady says. “It was the Konami Thunder Dance as sent to us by God. If you were too good then one day the Earth would open up and swallow you. Or you’d get trapped in a mine cave-in. Or something else like that would happen to bury you under the ground. That’s how the Kid died. And Lois Lethal. And Ren the Bing. But not me.”

“Ma’am,” says Ellen. “I’m sure you’d have been buried alive if they hadn’t released that patch.”

“I stopped playing,” the old lady says. “That day. I kept my old pad but I never plugged it in. I would practice without electronic aid. Eventually I learned a few things— just the simplest moves, things like Banana or Grace— without the PlayStation. And when I finally danced a proper Banana and the world went still and a Banana manifest, I cried like the rankest of newbs on their third day of struggling with the dance. But you know as well as I do how many thousands of Symbols I must learn to manifest before I am even vaguely competitive again.”

Ellen is staring at her.

“You can create bananas without a PlayStation?” she chokes.

And Margerie laughs. She can’t help it. It is an articulate laugh, careful and slow, but still it is unwilling, and it bends her over a little with it.

When her chuckles die down, she says, “You see why I am a legend among people who very much like bananas.”

“Margerie,” says Kalov. “Why are you here?”

“The campus police asked me,” she says. “They said, ‘two Thunder Dancers are going to duel. In earnest. Non-regulation.’

“‘Non-regulation?’ I asked. ‘Whatever for?’

“‘Some Thunder Dance Club matter,’ they said. ‘Something about dynamite. . . . we don’t care,’ they said. ‘But we can’t stop them. Bullets don’t work against people carrying PlayStation 6s.’

“So I came down here,” says the old lady, “to tell you to stop this foolishness; and if you don’t, I’ll dance against you.”

“I have no stake in this,” says Kalov. “If we do not duel, it is as if I have won. So I will leave you two to it.”

“I—” Ellen says.

Ellen looks down.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she says. “I— God, I’d do whatever you say, except—”

And the old lady’s mouth crooks up at the corner. “Except?”

“I want to fight you,” Ellen says.

“I’m an old lady,” says Margerie. “I only know a few Symbols. You sure I’m the person you want to beat?”

“It’s the way you walk,” says Ellen. She’s got this transported air of awe about her. “It’s just— there’s only so many times in one’s life that one’s blessed to see perfection. Please. Please.”

And Margerie snorts.

“Kid,” she says, “I said I’d fight you if you didn’t back down, so you don’t have to beg.”

Margerie looks to Kalov.

“Move,” she says.

“Move?”

“Don’t need your machine,” the old lady says, “but I need your music and I need your spot.”

So Kalov hobbles back and he braces himself against the huddled elephant and he watches.

And the old lady steps up.

And this time it is Ellen dancing to Yatta and the old lady to Stillness in Silence. The former is one of the hardest of songs in the Konami Thunder Dance and the latter is one of the easiest. Nevertheless, the Symbols that flow from Ellen are impeccable while Margerie’s—danced on the sidewalk— are fumbling, failing, and incomplete.

And there is impatience stirring in Ellen because she cannot wait for Margerie to fail out of the dance; she must defeat her.

And there is patience in her because she knows that she is in no danger until and unless the old lady does Ellen the honor of conceding the failure of her technique and steps onto Kalov’s pad.

And so her Symbols are not offensive but rather a rising pyre of power that gathers around her, such that the clouds in Heaven are marked with burning mandalas of the spinning magic of her dance.

And she uses her impatience as an engine to drive the patterns of her feet.

And then she sees that the old lady is near the last gasps of her dance, and so Ellen yields to the drive in her. Her hand comes down. Without ceasing to dance the Leaf, she dances also Dynamite.

On the very last movement of those steps she slips.

It is a banana peel: nothing much: but it burns through her like a shock and her world explodes in whiteness and whirling green. As she tumbles through two buildings and a third she sees the old lady stepping away with grace and she realizes that Margerie has won.

My God, she thinks, because this is more amazing to her than even Navvy Jim.

A leaf brushes past her cheek.

May you be buried alive, Ellen thinks, with the greatest possible kindness, and then her head hits concrete and the world goes dark.

The Dynamite Trilogy: Navvy Jim

When Ellen was a young girl scissors attacked the Earth. There were billions of them and they came from space. They were unreasonable in their aggression and humanity had to defend itself, leaving in the end an exhausted, stunned, and uncertain world littered in the mangled corpses of snippy blades.

Nobody’d ever figured out why it had happened. Religion and science both were mute.

But it had.

“I thought I’d lost you back then,” Uncle Ned says.

“Oh?”

“You were just six,” says Ned, “and you couldn’t believe that scissors were hostile. You loved them. You cried when I told you that dynamite blows scissors up, or that rock crushes them. They were your favorite implement. So you wandered out, all on your own, to make peace with them on behalf of the world.”

Ellen has a flash of terrifying memory. She shakes her head.

“They were coming down so hard,” Ned says. “From space, I mean. I couldn’t go after you. All night long I stared at the walls of the dome and I wondered if I’d ever see you again. And then came the morning and the bombardment stopped and I went out to look, and there you were with Navvy Jim.”

“Hee hee,” says Ellen.

“Rock beats scissors, is all he’d say.”

Ellen leans back on the couch. She thinks.

“Whatever happened to him, Ned?”

“To Navvy Jim?”

“Yeah.”

“I put him to sleep,” Ned says.

“Sleep?”

“I drained his battery really good,” Ned says, “so he wouldn’t feel any pain. And then I took all his pieces apart and I crated them up. I told him, ‘There’ll be better days again. When the power lines aren’t all cut up and when people are ready to play rock-paper-scissors again.’ But— well.”

Ellen nods.

“The kids are calling it hobbit-Spock-spider now,” she says. “But the gestures are all different.”

Ellen is taking a break from graduate school. She’s hanging out at her crazy uncle’s ranch. It’s got air and fences and buildings and a rock-paper-scissors-playing robot disassembled and in crates. It’s just the place to clear one’s mind of the stress of an advanced education— but—

“It’s sad,” she tells Ned, a few days later.

“Is it?”

“We should get him out,” Ellen says. “We should teach him hobbit-Spock-spider. You can rewire him for that, can’t you?”

“A hobbit-Spock-spider-playing robot?”

“Yes.”

“. . . ridiculous,” dismisses Ned. “It’s demeaning to Navvy Jim. Can you just see him there, in his robot voice, saying ‘Spock sings about hobbits?'”

“We could ask him.”

Ned swigs from a bottle unspecified in content. He looks up at the ceiling.

“Well, we can do that,” he allows.

So they go digging together in their old boxes from the 20s and they pull out the pieces. Ellen’s the first to find a good-sized chunk of Navvy Jim. It’s his hand and arm. She plays rock-paper-scissors with it as Ned hunts for the rest. And after a while Ned glances over and sees her playing and he snorts.

“Too young for them to really scare you, huh?” he asks.

“Huh?”

Ellen is distracted. She’s chewing hard on her lip. She’s thrown paper and the metal hand has creaked open into scissors.

“Too young,” says Ned. “I mean, the scissors. They don’t send a shudder down your spine.”

“Oh,” says Ellen. “No. Not really.”

“Geezers like me,” says Ned, “even knowing that’s Navvy Jim. That’s terrifying. So you should stick to rock while I’m around.”

Ellen counts to three under her breath and throws rock. The metal hand has creakily gone flat.

“How does he do that?”

“Do what?”

Ellen counts to three under her breath. The metal hand closes. Then she throws rock. At that same moment the hand opens.

“Win,” Ellen says.

“Predictive algorithms,” says Ned. “He’d generally set up the next few games in muscle memory so that nobody’d think he was cheating.”

Ellen shakes her head.

“That’s insane, Ned.”

“He got awfully good at it,” Ned admits, “as I recall. That’s the thing with adaptive robots. You never know which direction they’re going to go.”

Ellen throws rock. Navvy Jim’s arm throws paper.

“Look,” Ellen says, “he can’t do that.”

“He got pretty good,” says Ned. “By the end. He said, ‘My eyes see through the walls of time and the barriers of infinity. I am like God. But I cannot see the purpose of the world.'”

Ellen throws scissors. Navvy Jim’s arm throws rock. Ned winces.

“Sorry, Ned,” Ellen says.

“Enh. Oh, hey, here’s his head!”

Ned hefts Navvy Jim’s head out of the box. He taps it. Then he sticks it on a swivel neck and binds it to a battery so that Navvy Jim can watch his reassembly.

“Ned,” says Ellen, “seriously. People need to know about this.”

She throws rock. Navvy Jim’s arm throws paper.

Navvy Jim’s eyes are beginning to glow a soft blue as he wakes up.

“It’s deadly knowledge,” Ned says.

“Eh?”

“See,” says Ned. “I tried. Of course I tried. I wrote it all up for the journals. ‘The Amazing RPS Robot That Never Loses.’ ‘Fate, Free Will, and Randomness: An Exploration of Meaning in the Context of Absolute Predictivity.’ ‘Is the World Deterministic?’ ‘An Arbitrarily Accurate Online Algorithm for Predicting Rock-Paper-Scissors.’ And so forth.”

Ned pulls out Navvy Jim’s body. He puts his ear against it and raps it here and there with his hand.

“Good sound,” he says. “Still.”

“Why didn—”

And metallically Navvy Jim clears his throat and says, “Ellen. You’re here.”

And Ellen can’t help it. Even as creeped out as she is right now, a smile blooms on her face and she pulls herself to her feet and she hugs Navvy Jim’s torso, making sure that the head can see.

“Navvy Jim!” she says.

“Do you know the meaning of the universe?” the robot asks.

“Hm?”

“I was hoping,” says Navvy Jim, “that by the time I woke up, someone would know.”

Ellen shakes her head. She lets go and steps back, still smiling.

“I think,” says Navvy Jim, “that it is either, ‘Rock beats scissors’, ‘scissors beats paper’, or ‘paper beats rock.’ But I cannot decide which.”

“For the meaning of the universe?”

“Well,” says Navvy Jim. “For the meaning of my life. I can’t really speak for—”

Fast as a whip, almost cheating, Ellen has thrown rock. But Navvy Jim’s hand is already open in paper again.

“Darn it!” Ellen interrupts.

Navvy Jim giggles synthetically.

“So,” he says. “Does that mean that the world is ready for a rock-paper-scissors-playing robot again?”

“We were going to teach you hobbit-Spock-spider,” Ellen says.

“. . . ah,” says Navvy Jim.

“If you wanted,” says Ellen.

Heartily, Ned adds, “Nothing too dangerous about hobbits, Spocks, or spiders!”

“. . . I am not sure I am ready yet,” says Navvy Jim. “To learn a new game. I have scarcely begun to study my first.”

“. . . oh,” says Ellen.

“But I would like to talk to you, Ned, Ellen,” says Navvy Jim, “for a bit, before I sleep again.”

And so for the rest of her vacation it is Ellen, and Ned, and Navvy Jim, and only when she is about to go back to school do they drain Navvy Jim’s battery and carefully take him apart.

But—

Back a moment, to the last night of her trip, when she asks Ned and Navvy, “So if you tried to write it up for publication why doesn’t anyone know?”

And Navvy Jim says, thoughtfully, “I think that there is an animosity in the cosmos towards the brightness that is humanity; a malign eye, perhaps, looking on our world in some disfavor. But perhaps I am misled by my perspective, and it is simply the capacity of rock-paper-scissors to defend itself against assaults on its theoretical underpinnings.”

“Huh?” says Ellen.

Scissors cut papers,” says Ned.