“I will make you cry” (VI/VII)

One by one the monster’s forces fail him.

The city that once he bound by his own will has become a stronghold for his enemy. It is mazed away, sympathetically estranged, in the keep of a labyrinthine god.

The men he sends for Micah cannot venture very far into that place. The gods he sends do not return.

“It’s a rather unfortunate incident,” Melanie informs him.

The monster looks at her speculatively.

“I don’t know how to say this,” Melanie says. “You’re terrifying, so I don’t want to upset you, but you’re also not impressing me with the successes of your organization. It makes me worry that you’ll think: what if she thinks I can’t handle this place and decides to take over? I’d better start hurting her immediately. But this very line of thought makes me potentially more disloyal! It’s like a vicious cycle operating entirely outside causality.”

“I see,” the monster says.

Melanie rubs at her nose. “It’s like, I get here, and you’re all ‘look upon my greatness, king of kings, and know despair.’ And I buy it, and I get myself a nice little lab, and I start doing some nice little research on some serious, important questions, like just how does this world work, anyway? and hey, can fairy gold be created in the lab? and then wham.”

The monster pulls himself up to sit on her desk. She rolls her chair a little ways away.

“You know,” says the monster, “how Amiel never really stopped talking?”

Her ancestress Amiel is inside her, wound through her, so long ago and so very far away and yet burning in her blood. I will guard your line, Amiel is promising, as she has always been promising. I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.

“Yes,” Melanie says.

“Resist the habit,” the monster says. He puts his hand on hers. He smiles.

She is quiet for a long time.

“And are there others who have expressed suchlike concerns?” the monster wonders.

Melanie shakes her head. When he doesn’t follow that up with another question, she says, “I don’t think most of the people who work here really get that it’s for real. Not the stuff we do. Not the stuff that happens. It’s all isn’ts to them.”

The monster straightens.

“It’s all right,” he says. It’s kind of soothing. He squints a bit at the wall, thinking. “Dad told me once, ‘the thing about this job, the terrible part of this job, is that you can’t just force it. You’ve got to live with the frustration of standing in a land of plenty and having nothing to eat or drink. With the world fighting you at every turn, with a terrible weight hanging every moment right above your head, no matter how much you turn yourself this way or that. And the better you do, the closer you come, the worse it gets. Just imagine how bad it’ll be, my child, if you ever make it to the throne.’”

“Why?”

Melanie looks blankly at him. She’s used to things that she can’t just force but not to the idea that it’d be the worst at the very end.

“People,” the monster summarizes, “are pretty weird.”

He hops down from the desk. He gives her a twisted smile. “I’m gonna go sort this out,” he says. “You can call anyone you have in there back.”

I will guard your line, whispers Amiel.

“You will,” she says, “bring him back?”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” he says. He grins. He leaves.

Melanie stares at the wall for a while. Her hand closes around her nametag. She thinks for a good long while.

“I wonder.”

[The Frog and the Thorn — CHAPTER ONE]


October 17, 1995

The monster drives up to Liril’s house. He gets out of the car. He walks up the way. He gives a glance to Priyanka and to Liril. He looks around the house.

Micah is toying with a pad of sticky notes. Judging by the notes on the television, bookcase, and couch, he’s been in a frenzy of labeling things with their proper names, to what end the monster cannot determine.

For a moment the monster considers interacting with the sticky notes. Then he discards the notion.

He focuses the fullness of his attention on Micah.

“I’m disappointed,” he says.

“So am I,” Micah concedes. “I’d hoped that you wouldn’t be able to get past a properly-labeled door.”

The monster glances at the door. It’s in fact labeled “Door. 100% effective against monsters.”

It arrests his attention for a long moment. It challenges his earlier decision.

“I could have wounded you terribly, then,” Micah says. “While you were looking at that. If I’d had a knife. That was three full seconds of distraction. But Liril said that afterwards you’d have done that thing you would do and I’d have hated my foolish actions for forever.”

“You’ll have to content yourself with hypothetical harm,” says the monster, “I suppose.”

“Yeah,” agrees Micah.

“Yeah?”

“You always win,” Micah says. It’s bleak. “That’s obvious. That’s waiting down every path that opens up in front of us. All I can do is decide among the little tiny things I can get from that victory, and know that one day you’ll figure out, or ask me, what those were, and take them away again, just to make sure that even with all of that, I didn’t get a thing.”

“That’s a healthy attitude,” the monster says. “Yet, I can’t help notice that you’ve missed an appointment, killed a number of my servants, and estranged Santa Ynez from the normal processes of space and time. What if I just asked you right now what you hoped to gain, and immediately took that thing away?”

“I thought about that,” Micah says. “I figure it’s probably best if I don’t know what I’m going to win, myself.”

The monster glances at Liril. It’s a question.

She shakes her head. She doesn’t know either.

“Come on, then,” the monster says.

“That’s it?”

“Just because you hand someone a riddle,” the monster says, “doesn’t mean that they have to answer it. I’m kind enough to permit you the hope that there is some sort of hope.”

Micah frowns. He works his mouth.

“You’re supposed to care,” he says. It’s stubborn.

“Come on,” says the monster. “Out to the car. I’ve been thinking about pulling out some kind of cure for cancer.”

Micah brushes past the monster. The monster frowns. Micah walks out the door. He touches the door.

“You know,” he says. “I could close this door, and then you’d be sealed in.”

The monster takes the post-it off the door. He holds it in his palm for a moment. Then he sticks it on Micah’s forehead.

Micah laughs.

“What?”

“That’s pretty gutsy,” Micah says, “but if you really didn’t think it could do anything, you’d have stuck it on Liril.”

He walks to the car. He’s just a little bit too confident. He’s peeling the top couple of entries off his pad of notes. It’s like he’s looking for something. It’s a matter of academic interest at best; sticks and stones can break the monster’s bones, but words on paper — well.

The monster steps outside. It would be best, he thinks, to settle this now; to break him here, rather than allow him to attempt something while I am driving.

Gently, he closes the house door.

He lets out a breath. He traces with his thoughts the power that is within him. He turns —

Micah is holding the Thorn That Does Not Kill at the monster’s throat.

Micah is turned to the side. He is trembling. He is horribly afraid. The fear is bone-deep, soul-deep, it’s making him cold and hot and cold again, and pale. He is standing as far as he could possibly stand away from the monster, his left arm in full extension with the weapon in it, and the hand that holds the Thorn’s thick end is slippery with sweat.

Whatever the monster was doing, though, he stops.

“You shouldn’t have that,” the monster says.

“I am not going with you,” Micah tells him. Sweat is pouring down his face, his arms, and his sides. “I swear to you on everything that is holy, on Jesus, Good, and Buddha, on my own bloody fucking name, I am not going to get in that car, and if you try, I will break you and I will leave you broken and I will walk back into Central like the new King of the fucking World.”

“Language,” cautions the monster. He moves very slowly and cautiously. He reaches for the wrist of the hand that holds the Thorn.

“Just try me,” Micah says. “Just try me. I will hurt you like you have never been hurt. I will make you cry.”

“No,” says the monster. “You won’t.”

And the monster spreads its wings.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

I have told you that in such moments he is inevitable. That he may become Truth; or Axiom; or Victory; that when his wings have spread he is not such a thing as you may deny.

He will make you say as much, if he wants to.

He will make you admit to it, while hating him; or to admit it while loving him; or to come through strenuous paths of reason or of faith to the conclusion that you should. And if you think that’s impossible, then you’re lucky, because you’ve never seen the monster’s wings.

Maybe you can keep one thing. One thought. One bit of choice.

If there’s two, he can make you choose between them. If you want to be a good person and to hate him, for instance. If you want to remember your name and who you are. If you want to fight him and not just become him.

Two things would be far too much. It’s not very many things to have, in your life, particularly when we’re talking about thoughts and feelings and bits of self. But it’s still far too much. Try to hang on to two things and your divided mind will shatter against the truth the monster brings to bear.

You get one.

And that’s at best.

So Micah, he doesn’t hang on to the Thorn. He doesn’t even try to hang on to the Thorn. To be utterly honest, he’s never even thought it possible that he could.

And he doesn’t hang on to himself.

He doesn’t even hang on to being Liril’s shield.

He just lets his right hand follow a little twitchy reflex that he’s practiced, when the monster’s coat looms in. It’s reaching forward. He’s practically forgotten what it’s for.

Just a bit of gummed paper for the monster’s nametag, and on it, written, “Amiel.”

As undeniable, in that moment, as any other monster’s truth.

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

You can’t put too much stock in labels.

You have to understand that. Just because you stick a name on something that doesn’t make it true. Words aren’t like that. Even the monster is only like that under certain worldviews’ truth models.

Micah’s not a door. For instance. He’s like a door, but he isn’t actually a door.

And in the end, despite his label, he is 20-30% effective against the monster, at best.

The Lion (V/VII)

It is May 13 in the year of our Lord 1981 and there is a Dominion that bends itself down upon the Earth. And where the Dominion goes there is a singing, and the world itself is moved to join the chorus, and there is a trembling in the houses of the unjust. And where it moves the eyes and faces and wings that are within it turn to see. Shimmering auroras move around its surface, like a cloak, like halos, like a glorious night sky.

Let us not imagine that it is a thing of safety or of sanity. It is a creature out of legend. It kills birds where it passes, for it does not share the skies. It withers trees as it passes them, leaches the world’s life from the soil, it makes good earth to fallow ground. These things it does not from malice but by its nature: it understands no life that is not its own.

I will nevertheless call it good.

If it is a blind and foolish god, if it is harmful, then still, I will say it is well-intentioned. If it has done harm, then still it is high-minded.

It is not its fault, at any rate, what happened at Elm Hill.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 13, 1981

Listen, and I will tell you the truth of the monster’s wings.

They are brilliant and they are reflective. When you look upon them you will see the inside of your own eyes. You will see the process by which you form yourself laid bare.

When he has spread his wings through the construction of the world, when he has become a parasite on creation and made the truth a captive to his will, the monster will not give you the luxury of seeing that it is so. Instead you will see yourself. And in that moment he will describe you. He will tell you who you are.

Reason will not help you. This is because the monster is aware of reason. He exists outside it, like the classical God outside of time and space. The tools of your mind are limited. They rely on receiving truthful feedback from the world — all save pure math, perhaps, and even that depends on truth for its relevance. In a position where the monster can reward error, frustrate correctness, and demonstrate as folly whatever might otherwise be wise, you cannot expect to win over him with reason. To imagine that you can do so is unreasonable. It is an idealistic attachment to the happy ending at the end of a fairy tale, where one reasonable person, refusing to give in, triumphs magically at the last.

If you had infinite time, of course, that would be so. Give yourself forever to fight the monster in and his lies, as they are lies, would fray one day and come apart. But we are mortal creatures, bound by time; to us the monster is simply truth.

Reason will not help you. Strength will not help you. Strength is as useless in the monster’s presence as is reason. Where you build walls of your strength he will dig out the ground. Where you hold a position he will encircle it, undermine it, turn the purpose of your holding it to sand. The more you fight him, the more you will lose. To expect any differently is to hew unto a fairy tale; and the fairies, well, they’re isn’ts yet.

Strength will not help you. Reason will not help you. Nor will it help you in the least to know that, theoretically, there is some real truth, somewhere, somewhere outside the monster’s steading.

Depending on what you imagine truth to be, that might not even be the case.

In his unfurled wings the monster is an absolute creature. He is not deniable. He is no longer a person. He is no longer a man, or a god, or whatever the hell monsters are, in a lab coat, with a name tag, with a tie. He is I AM THAT I AM, as much as any burning bush has ever been.

It is as if, to gain his power, he had slaughtered God, had ripped out the bones and organs of Him, and made from Him a coat. He usurps God as he does reason; to seek God in his presence is therefore to seek the monster out.

Look for love, if you’d rather. Look for hate. Look for hope. Look for anything you like.

You’ll be caught up in the maze of him. You’ll find it only where he wills.

The reason I’m explaining this is that I can’t really tell you what happened in places where the monster’s wings spread wide. It’s like I’ve said. He becomes truth. He becomes the authoritative source on the matter, and what he is saying is always — it’s never, “On thus and such time, at thus and such a date, this happened, and then this.”

It’s always just him.

All I can tell you is what someone told me later happened at Elm Hill. All I can tell you is a story. It’s pretty much made up, because if it were true, it would be the monster, just as the monster, at that time, was truth.

The Dominion bent down to meet him. He was standing on the roof.

You probably think you wouldn’t give in to him. Of course you wouldn’t. Of course you’d stand up to him. The man’s a filthy bit of work, isn’t he? Worse’n the Devil, some would say. There’s no way you’d look at those wings and think that what the monster does to children could be right.

Please do believe that. You should. It costs him something, every time he spreads those wings. There’s no point in giving in to him for free.

But I tell you that the Dominion bent down to meet him, and he was standing on the roof, and the monster spread his wings. And from that point forward, he was Axiom. He was Correctness. He was as righteous as the stars.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

The monster said, “This world is no place for you. If you stay here you will die.”

That’s what I’ve heard. That’s what I’ve heard he said.

“If you stay here,” the monster said, “you’ll die.”

And the creature, its words were the fluttering of ten thousand wings. The creature, its words were ten thousand hands and eyes and wings opening and closing, all modulated into voice.

It said: I will exalt you. I will lift you up. I will make you as God, and no more to depend upon the suffering of your prey.

The monster spat onto the roof, and in that spittle seethed ten thousand tiny living things.

“I will make you death and suffering,” he said. “I will make you anguish and violation. You will be hideous, horrible, and despised. Or you may go.”

The creature rotated in its form. It turned, and the pieces of its turning came into alignment, and you who looked upon it would see: ah, here is its face. Then it would turn further, the previous face dissolving, a new one forming, and you would realize: no, that was not so: its face is this.

The creature said: Can you really say that you are happy with your life?

The monster laughed.

You will die, it told him. And before that death, you will sorrow. You will know the damnation of your line.

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

It’s May 13, 1981, and we can see again, and the monster is giving the Dominion this beautiful grin.

It’s like the sun.

It’s been telling him he’s damned, only —

For a moment, you might almost think: wait. That’s not bravado. He is actually having fun.

It’s pure and clear as the monster isn’t pure and clear. It’s bright and beautiful as the monster isn’t bright and beautiful. It’s the best thing in the world, that laugh, that grin, that enemy of damnation. Then, however, the monster is moving, and there is a thorn in his hand, and it pierces the Dominion, and it is suddenly clear that everything in the world is wrong.

The Dominion staggers. Its form becomes imprecise. Where there was glory there is now a great disruptive seething, as of slime.

It is shattered. It is raining down, upon Elm Hill.

It is twisted. There is within it a great and horrible soullessness of life.

It is wounded. It gapes at him, this thing that has never before been wounded, and which cannot really understand what its hurting means.

“I will kill you,” it cries, and its voice is a great storm. But it does not.

Children, sure, it kills, those that don’t get evacuated in time. There is a price to be paid for the defiling of Elm Hill. Children it kills, and workers, and the place itself: Elm Hill’s no good place for the monster’s work any longer.

But the monster it doesn’t kill.

The monster he just serves it as any other fiend is served, until it limps and staggers howling away beyond the boundaries of the world, a broken lion, and in its paw a thorn.

Starting a Priest: Levels 1-4

Priests command some of the greatest moral authority and community organization available on Earth. However, priests are not good at hand-to-hand combat, cannot use military grade weapons, and must wear the cloth to access their greatest class abilities.

You should play a priest if you want to stand at the front of mighty congregations exhorting them to spiritually correct behavior, baptize catechumen into the faith, creatively interpret the Bible, and turn ordinary crackers into the flesh of Christ. You should not play a priest if you’re looking for a heavy hitter who can wade into fields of enemies without the direct intervention of the Lord or somebody who can top the damage per second charts— that’s not the priest’s job. You should also think about whether you want to be a part of an established authority structure, willing to settle down and play in one location for level after level. Free roaming spirits who want to minister without license should consider being druids or monks instead.

Interested in a Priest? Then let’s get started!

It is not possible to concentrate wholly on priest for the first four levels. Priests can start almost anywhere in the world, from ghettoes and back alleys to the mansions of the rich. In order to prepare adequately for the challenges of the seminary you will want to do a fair number of local quests— putting away abandoned shopping carts, winning NASCAR races, giving a rival gang what for, sex and parenthood, or military intervention in a foreign country— before you take up the full mantle of your calling.

That said, every priest will find a divine messenger carrying their Calling somewhere near them in the starting zone.

The messenger’s spiel goes something like this: the world is out of order, there is a source of transcendent light, could you find your place in society disseminating that light into an emanation of order and virtue? Afterwards, answer, “Yes,” “Three,” “One,” “Three,” and either “Faith” or “Works” depending on your desired faction and build. (Faith is ideal for priests who want to command moral authority and chastise the unbelievers, but Works is better for a community-organization-focused priest. You’ll have a chance to revisit this choice later at a modest cost in moral currency, so it’s not absolutely important to get it right. I recommend, for early leveling, that you pick Faith, but plenty of high-end priests disagree.)

This opens up a series of quests that focus on the recognition that ignoring your calling in favor of material advancement cannot effectively facilitate the dissemination of the transcendent experience into ordinary social order. At second level you will need to collect tokens of social esteem and virtue and then cast them away into the wind while standing on a gothic knoll. I like to do this in combination with one of the other local quests, but if there isn’t an obvious collection quest, it is probably easiest to collect wealth. Do work in exchange for small bits of paper and coinage until you reach the target. If you’re having trouble getting the small bits of paper and coinage, it’s efficient to steal it (re-rolling a new character if you get caught) or shift to acquiring compliance. When you’re done selling your soul for money or crushing it in the name of compliance, start looking in nearby parks and parking structures for a gothic knoll. These form randomly in nature and also appear anywhere a gnoll has been killed. Stand on the knoll and dramatically release the paper or click on your accumulated compliance. This should get you quest completion for recognizing the legitimacy of your calling. Return to your divine messenger and have a short conversation; this time, answer, “Why me, Lord?” and “But I wanted an exciting career as a medical and dental assistant!”

Enjoy the short cutscene and return to NASCAR races, gang fights, moon landings, sexual encounters, or teaching chickens to fly as appropriate to your starting area and interests.

As you start to run out of ordinary local quests the spiritual pressure on you will probably increase; to wit, you’re not a high enough level for nearby zones but you’re running out of things to do in this one. Also there will be a pervasive sense of something wrong in the world matched by a growing fire in your heart to be of service to it. When the fire is about halfway up the heart (just before the second aorta), return to the messenger for your final pre-seminary quest.

This is the challenge of humility. Are you really good enough to be a priest? Are you just trying to make yourself feel important or do you actually have a calling to serve?

In this quest you will have to venture into an abandoned cemetery where servants of Self-Justification and Virtue are at war. (See graphic.) The goal is to claim twelve tombstones, after which the cemetery will become “owned” by the winning faction and the curs of Self-Justification or the brilliant angels of Virtue will be chased away howling with their tails between their legs.

First off, don’t panic should this struggle go against you. The cemetery is “instanced” off from the rest of the world, so that nobody will ever believe you were really there. (Like Narnia.) This means that there will be little in the way of tangible reward for your struggle against temptation, but it also means that if you lose, you’ll be able to go right back in and find things the way they were before. Spiritual struggles are mostly like this, allowing for a “soft reset” and a return to the enlightened path.

Second, don’t try to take the servants of Self-Justification on head on. You’re not built for hand-to-hand combat and shouldn’t try to play that way. Plus, they’re not actually demonic: they’re people just like yourself who lost their way and now haunt abandoned cemeteries nobody believes in arguing on behalf of Self-Justification until they lose or suffer a reset. They’re not able to admit their suffering, but that’s no reason to compound it by beating their head in with a holy water sprinkler. Instead, your goal should be to stealth past them to strategic tombstones and claim them on behalf of Virtue. The exception is if you’ve taken a quest that requires some number of Self-Justifying mouths, tongues, hearts, or ears. These quests are common in the NASCAR and moon landing sequences and might force you to bend your class role a bit in the name of sweet, sweet xps.

The way I like to do it is this.

First, stop at the entry gate to talk to the leader of Self-Justification. He’ll explain that God has chosen you as someone who can know what is right, and that therefore the elimination of self-doubt is a holy work. Tell him that you will consider his argument. This will make the curs peaceful until you actually claim a tombstone for Virtue.

At this point you can look around for a few minutes—get a sense of the layout of the place, identify the features that I’m going to talk about, and generally brace yourself for the struggle that is to come. Then go to Auntie Guinness’ gravestone and listen to the ramblings of her spirit.

When you get a chance, interrupt her with, “I cannot accept that ghosts exist.”

She will continue talking for a bit.

Offer, “Given that all of that is true, it is my certain belief that a spirit like yourself is peaceably in Heaven, eternally embraced by rapture, joy, love, and so forth.”

She will protest.

Say, “Not like an amoeba, ma’am. Simply disconnected from the concerns of life as we understand them. The amoeba thing is a canard promulgated by the unicellular Devil, sinisterly bulging the cilia of amoebic pride.”

This will give you the opportunity to claim the stone.

Now the battle begins in earnest. If you claim the stone for Virtue, then you are now at war with the faction of Self-Justification. If you claim it for Self-Justification, then you shall be hounded fiercely by the bright angels of Virtue until they scourge you from the graves. (Don’t do this; it’s harder to make up the faction loss for fighting the bright angels of Virtue than it is to replace their various cool drops. You’ll have the opportunity to pick up a proper halo at level 20 and don’t need to scavenge one from the severed head of an angel and have it forever drip with blood. Plus, the swords are not actually fiery when you wield them, which is ridiculous but, well, how it works.)

There’s generally a clear path across the sward to Lassie’s tombstone. (This is probably named after the famous dog—if you go down the nearby well you’ll find the bones of somebody that she couldn’t save.) Claim it quickly for Virtue and move on to the main mausoleum before you get caught.

At the main mausoleum you’ll hit your first real spiritual challenge since you came to the abandoned graveyard. This is the confrontation with the renegade subcommander of Virtue. He’s arguing with one of the curs, and theoretically your job here is to step up to the plate and explain that the Calling is something you strive to be worthy of instead of something that generates worth. At this point you’ll be attacked by three of the curs in a battle royale.

Let’s not do that.

Instead, while they’re talking and before they bring you into the matter, sneak around behind the cur of Self-Justification and shove him into the renegade subcommander of Virtue. PUSH! This should entangle them in an embarrassing tete-a-tete and allow you to claim the mausoleum before they can work out how to explain it to their respective overlords. Head southeast, sneaking from grave to grave and converting them as fast as you can, and if all goes well the angels will get seven or eight gravestones to the curs’ four or five.

If you need parts, like I’ve said, this might get a little more complicated. You’ll have to learn how to pull.

Pulling is often a priest’s job in the late game because priests are extremely good at calling out individual monsters and making them uncomfortable. The Crypts of Rome are dominated by priest pullers and really any time you can’t get a U.S. Army Ranger and you’re not facing sociopaths or social activists a priest is going to be your best bet.

Stop behind a tombstone. Look in all directions to make sure that you are not about to be surprised by self-justification. (A lot of people can’t do this part right and then they complain about the guide. No. People, it’s not me. It’s you.) (Like that.) Wait for a patrol of curs to come past and identify a straggler—one whose self-justifications are not adequately affirmed by the others in the pack. This is generally someone at the bottom of the social ranking and therefore most vulnerable to the assaults of virtue.

When the straggler is closer to you than to the pack, step out and Disseminate Legitimacy. The holy light that passes down from God through various higher-level authorities to you will shine out and aggravate the cur, causing it to charge. Quickly fall back behind the tombstone and break the line of argument between you and self-justification and prepare for the fight of your life.

Fights in the real world are based on the assumption that every priest will have a magnate of some sort to serve as the corresponding temporal authority and a number of unruly associates such as commandoes, grocers, and ladies of the evening to gloriously serve as the base of their heavenly hierarchy. In practice, since this is a starter instance, you can make do with a single grocer or even your baby nephew Steve, but if you’re on your own, you’re facing a snarling ball of hair, teeth, and grace-because-I-damn-well-say-so with nothing more than a crucifix and a fragile sense of moral legitimacy. So you’re probably asking yourself: what can I do? What would Jesus do?

Well, as a priest, ultimately, you’re going to have to decide that for yourself, unless you get it wrong and they beat it out of you in seminary. You could just fight it out: the curs aren’t all that tough. Or you could try to cast the demon out of them: you’re not an accredited priest yet, but many starting quests offer you the legal authority to perform exorcisms. But what I do in a case like this is “kite.”

Curs are slow—slower than you are, slower than treaclists, slower than the Vatican deciding somebody not John Paul is a saint. Engage, hit them a couple of times with your Bible, fists, or special abilities, and back away around the gravestone before their self-justification bar fills. With luck, their attack will fail and you’ll have done some damage. You’re that much closer to victory! Rinse and repeat for a few rounds round the gravestone and you’ll be the proud owner of a few pennies or nickels and a self-justifying mouth, tongue, lips, or heart. You’ve also killed the first of the thousands of morally significant creatures you’ll be slaughtering on your road to become a priest.

Is it murder or spiritual advancement to kill a creature representing sin? The traditional answer is that it is two substantive realities in one ousia, a moral crucible born of the sin of Adam, a thematically relevant element of the leveling process that ensures that no one may do good without sinning and that only grace redeems.

Another answer is that it’s a broken mechanic; a lot of players prefer to skip all murderous quests entirely when playing priest and eat that, ye sin of Adam.

In any case, completing the spiritual journey should make it possible to reach fourth level without significantly venturing out of your starting zone. Congratulations on your Transubstantiation Skill and it’s off to the seminary for you! Female Catholic priests, make sure to stop at the statue of Pope Joan before you enter—she’ll give you the disguise you’ll need in order to get in!

It Falls

It’s night, and the stars are out, and the moon’s looking down with a bit of concern; because maybe, just maybe, this is the last night of the world.

The road smells of heat and rubber and it’s black and detailed in the night.

Johnny’s racing Sue.

It’s casual at first. They’re idling at the light; and the tops of their cars are down; and Johnny says to Sue, “I hear you won’t date a guy, he can’t beat you on the road.”

I hear you can’t date anybody at all,” she says. “Your Daddy’s so concerned with propriety.”

And Johnny touches the crucifix that’s hanging around his neck, a bit concerned, and then he laughs, and he pulls it off, and he drops it to the side.

“It’s on,” he says.

And the little angel and the little devil on his shoulder are fighting, seems fair to say, and he’s got this grin of one part fear and one part lust and seven parts excitement.

And the light turns green and the cars rip off.

Sue’s smooth and cool and she tips her sunglasses down to her nose as her car pulls out. The moon’s concerned about that, too, because it’s not very safe, but it does look fine.

And Johnny’s stomping on the gas, wrestling with the clutch, and the true thing is, he isn’t very good.

She pulls ahead.

And the sky is clear above Reaper’s Hill, and the two cars tear up towards the gallows point (called lover’s lane these sordid years) where once Black Richards hung. And Sue’s just far enough ahead that she relaxes, a tiny bit, and slows her car, as the shooting star flares past.

“I wish—” she says, her eyes tracking the star and not the road. “I wish—“

A pony? A new engine? Cash?

Her maiden’s heart is full of lovely notions.

But she doesn’t have the time to speak her wish; there’s a twisting in the sky and the star turns red.

Sue gapes.

“What kind of—“

There’s a stuttering in her engine. Her wheel locks. She turns and looks back, an outraged glare.

Johnny’s coming up the hill.

The star thing is pouring down from the sky towards lover’s lane. It is sprawling forth great Mandelbrot limbs of fire and there’s a rumbling in the earth.

She can feel Black Richards rising.

Johnny’s car shoulders past her; it leaves her staring at the red lights of its rear. She wrestles with the wheel and with tense slowness pumps the pedal of the gas. There is sweat on her brow and the gaping edge of Reaper’s Curve before her.

But fair is fair.

Between every wish and its fruition there is a space to breathe; and in that space, she drags the wheel to the right.

Her car makes protest. There is a grinding of the gears. Then it pulls to the right, steadies on the road, and smooths its course.

“Who wishes for the end of the world?” she says.

Her engine revs.

Johnny’s mad eyes look back at her in the mirror of his car. He’s saying something. She doesn’t hear it, which is just as well; his words aren’t sensible, but mumbled gutturals that reflect the war in his heart.

Now is the time for a good Christian boy like Johnny to make his peace with Jesus and rise to Heaven when the Rapture comes; but on the other hand, he’s winning.

She tries to pass him but he’s not so lame as that; and his car’s not suffering quite so much as hers from the doom that falls.

She’s weaving back and forth on the road behind him, and he pulls left and right to block her.

Staring in the mirror, hand reaching for the crucifix and pulling back, the other on the wheel—he pulls left and right, left and right, and then left HARD; and over, out, and down, too focused on his mirror to see the reaper’s scythe ahead, and Johnny’s twisting up like meat against the acceleration of the ground.

His car bursts into flames as it rolls, flames that draw into themselves the red fire of the star and leave it white and clean again.

Sue pulls up, panting, at the edge of gallows point, and leans her head down honking on the wheel for a cold long time.

There’s nothing else you can do, when someone makes a wish like that. Whether it’s on purpose or an accident—whether they’re a malevolent forerunner of doom or just somebody who’s thinking too much about the doom their Daddy told—you’ve got to take them out before the star can fall.

But it hurts, it hurts like knifepoints in the heart, if you’re a girl like Sue.

And she never gets her pony.

It Goes On Forever (A Variation)

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

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

“Pfui,” she says, irritably.

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” her computer says.

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

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

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

“A real boss?”

“What a question!”

“My last boss wasn’t real,” she says.

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

“‘Meat management?'”

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

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

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

“Creationist,” she accuses.

“What?”

It beeps at her like she’s gone mad.

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

“. . . God is spam,” she says.

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

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

“It was totally spam.”

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

“Bayesian.”

“Bayesian locusts?”

“Sure.”

“Bayesian hardening of hearts?”

“Yeah.”

“Bayesian Jesus mowing down sinners?”

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

“Hm.”

The computer sighs.

“What?”

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

She kisses it on the monitor.

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

“Oh,” it says.

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

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

for tea, on the ave.

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

The one that asks things of you.

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

The Devil and His Daughter

When the Devil showed up to troll Tanith’s blog, he hadn’t planned to read it.

It was his goal to speak his point, succinctly, and block it in with obstacles to dispute. He said,

“Everybody knows if you sell your soul
You’ll be loaded down with treasure.
Just what kind of wickedness is in your heart
You don’t want a life of pleasure?

“A man’s got to live and a dog’s got to die,
When you’re scrounging in the gutter
It makes Jesus cry
So take care of yourself and
Sell your soul for treasure.”

The Devil knew, when he wrote that down, that even if she left it someone else would take a swing. And he knew that that’s what matters—getting people thinking about whether or not to sell their souls.

He got two birds with one stone, too.

The more people talk about the Devil, after all, the less they talk about Tanith.

And it would have stayed that way, too, if the Devil hadn’t gotten bored one night.

He doesn’t have to read replies.

He’s the Devil.

But one night, you see, he got bored. And he went back to Tanith’s blog to see what people had said.

Now it’s the oldest lie that the Devil does tell that your words can reach him down in his Hell, but he’d forgotten that one of Tanith’s regular readers was his daughter.

And she said, “I’ve gone Red,
I’m a Commie now,
Just call me Comrade Mara
And tell me how
You can sell your soul
Without controlling the means of production?”

The Devil got mad, and a little bit sad, and he regretted not insisting on homeschooling his daughter. Nevertheless he made a game effort to reply.

“lol …” he said. “I’d just requisition it from the Party.”

Now, you might think that other readers would hesitate to jump in on a conversation between the Devil and a communist, but only if you’ve never read a blog.

There was Margot with the telling point: “Yeah, and wait in line for seventy years only to find out that all the souls were shipped to a different afterlife.”

And Steve and Ginger, who hashed out in a twenty-post thread that the communists, being atheist, had probably never formally regulated the soul.

And after a while, Mara herself, who inaccurately characterized his argument as “ad hominem.”

So the Devil tried again, a bit more formally now. He said:

“You can say what you will, but it’s a human right,
Unarbitrated by the law
To give up what you’ve got when it’s Devil-sought
In exchange for wealth and pleasure.

“Innate to the body, innate to the soul,
It’s always been that way
And I’m not a troll.
Don’t tell me you don’t know
That it’s right to hunt for treasure.”

And the argument went on long into the night. People mostly took the Devil’s side, for a couple of reasons. First, they thought it was kind of daring and counterculture to do so. They’d never sell their soul themselves, but they liked to think that other people should. Second, Mara was a communist demoness, and nobody in America takes communist demonesses seriously. We like our demons to be larger versions of ourselves, here in America. We want our ultimate capitalist democratic Christian devil, more ruthless than our tycoons, more corrupt than our politicians, living his life every day by scripture and by damn having the demons vote on rigged machines to back it up, in America. So a communist demoness is a little bit like a Prohibition demoness or a Nixon apologist demoness.

Not a bit respectable.

We’ll still fight someone like that. But we’re Americans. We can’t very well respect a devil backing a stupid idea.

So, anyway.

Tanith didn’t post much when this happened.

Some of that was a frisson of supernatural awe. It’s not every blogger who gets comments from the Devil. Most bloggers only get comments from the Devil’s payroll, or from those automatic spammers that from time to time he shits.

But most of it was just—

That kind of “what do I say?” sense that can trouble a person, on those nights.

And because she hadn’t said anything, the Devil kept on reading her blog, intermittently, over the next few months.

Sometimes he’d post, and a bunch of the regulars would jump on him. Or sometimes Mara would post, and he’d make sure to bring up her many inadequacies as a person and a demoness.

And one day, Tanith wrote this.

“The word we have for someone who buys the intangible—the traitless, the ill-defined, the ephemeral sensation of satisfaction carried by the inconsistent belief that we have obtained a thing that we cannot define—is ‘fool.’

“I find myself wondering if the Devil hasn’t trapped himself in a pyramid scheme set forth by his Creator.

“I find myself wondering if it’s anything more than a confidence game, this business of buying souls. If it isn’t all backed by the dubious goodwill of the various divine and temporal institutions that have chosen, for the nonce, to pretend that that concept has value—

“A value that is fundamentally unsustainable, a spiritual tulip market, relying on the metricization of our own unquestioned assumptions.

“So I’d like to ask the Devil
If he’s sure it’s on the level
And just what he thinks he’s buying
If the Devil don’t mind.”

Some people say that that actually reached him. Others think he just got distracted by the pressures of being buried in ice at the bottom level of Hell and decided to stick to more generally pro-Devil blogs.

But he didn’t argue, and in the end that killed him.

The Devil can’t live if he doesn’t keep posting.

If you get to make your point—

Even just once!—

He withers away.

So there’s a new Devil now, just like there always is, just the same as the one before him. He’s red and he’s mean. He’s been as cold as ice from the day that his mother bore him.

But there’s one thing changed.

He doesn’t buy souls.

Not this one.

Not any more.

You’re supposed to give this Devil your soul. He doesn’t buy: he asks. You’re supposed to give it to him; and a lot of people do.

Freely, freely, and with brightness; so they say.

Lacking the Power of Reflection

Perhaps it would be better, thinks the Count, if I had not impaled all of those people in Roumania.

The Count’s head rolls down the hill.

It strikes a speedbump, flies high, and then continues its roll.

“One,” he laughs. “One regret. Ahahahahahahaha!”

The Count attempts to reflect upon the circumstances that brought him here, his head rolling down a Washington State hill under a post-apocalyptic sky. It is impossible because he is a vampire and lacks the power of reflection.

If I had counted them, he thinks. If I had only counted them, then I could have brought them back.

There is a dog. It is nearly skeletal with hunger.

It sniffs at him as he rolls past. It thinks imponderable dog thoughts. It has no strength to chase him.

Soon, it will die.

But:

“One, two, three, four— four legs!”

And its legs grow strong.

“One dog!”

Lightning flashes.

Thunder booms.

“Ahahahahahahahahahaha!”

That is my regret, he thinks. That I did not count the people that I impaled, in Roumania. That I did not think to count them so that I could bring them back.

His head rolls past a Church.

He does not count it. Vampires do not like Christian Churches because they cannot count a God that is three persons in one. That is why they draw back hissing from a crucifix and why they do not visit India, with its even less countable gods, at all.

“One terribly steep slope leading to a lake!” he laughs.

Lightning flashes.

Thunder booms.

“Ahahahahahaa!”

I thought that I was a good man, he thinks. I thought that I was doing honor to my people.

He does not think of the faces of his peers when they understood at last what he was.

“One world,” he counts. Because he does not have time to count each thing individually. “One world, in infinite parts.”

His head strikes a speedbump. It flies up. It rolls, jangling aggly-agglty along.

“One world, in infinite parts. Ahahahahahahahaha!”

Just once, he thinks, I would have liked the opportunity to count the sun.

He plunges into the glorious blue depths.

Morgan-Thurible Laboratories: A Love Story

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

Steve and Ellen work at Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

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

They would like to be in love.

ADVICE FROM A MENTOR

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

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

“I’m taken,” Dr. Thurible observes.

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

“Not you,” Ellen says.

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

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

“Hm,” says Dr. Thurible.

“Hm?”

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

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

“Hmmmm.”

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

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

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

“Love is a plasma,” he says.

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

PATRIOTISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELIGION

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

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

“Huh,” she says.

She thinks about this.

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

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

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

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

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

THEORIES OF SOCIAL ORDER

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

Ellen takes a bite of her sandwich.

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

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

“—is threatened, perhaps—”

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

There’s a bit of a pause.

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

GIANT BALLS OF FIRE

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

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

“Accidents Happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we all going to die?” he asks.

“It’s flesh-averse,” Ellen says.

“It is?”

Steve’s voice is incredulous.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Ellen says.

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

“Focus, Ellen,” she tells herself.

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

The ball of fire jumps suddenly towards Steve.

“Hold the door,” Steve cries.

For a moment, Ellen holds the door.

Steve stumbles into the elevator.

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

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

The door closes.

The elevator dings.

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

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

Reading Nearby Manuals

Sometimes you want a Canon copier.

Other times you want a Deuterocanon copier.

The standard Deuterocanon copier is based on the Book of Tobit. It works as follows.

Put the paper in the slot marked Tobit.

Seven printer cartridges explode. Finally, one survives long enough to start copying—but the printer jams!

The user wails, asking for death.

The user does not die and so Deuterocanon faces no liability. Instead, the Archangel Raphael shows up. He teaches a mysterious nearby bishounen to exorcise the copier.

Voila, copies!

It’s an affordable business solution based on sound, deuterocanonical, Biblical principles.

Countdown to Annihilation! (Genesis 2 – 11:00AM)

Previously, on Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . ruining the chances for Lizard Cops to become a breakaway hit!
. . . also, Charles and Iphigenia were trapped in the Eden Sphere
. . . as Snavering Lavelwods rampaged through his factory!

But can Charles pull sweet chocolate victory from the grinding jaws of defeat?

Will the mass of the animals clinging to the Eden Sphere render Charles’ careful ballistic calculations useless?

And just why are the first two books of the King James Version subtly incompatible?

The eleventh hour is upon us!

The Lizard-Peoples’ Prayer

The world was full of promise then.
When we evolved our thumbs.
We thought that we would rule
The world and bring an end
To all that’s cruel
But then the cold
And then the snows
And one by one the lizards froze
And so the end, ere it began
Of our great world
Preceding man’s.

We dwell in deeps
And ancient sleeps
And on TV when it’s not sweeps
we find we’re often mentioned
And Lovecraft knew a thing or two
But misjudged our intentions.

What we can’t claim
We will not claim
The world belongs to humans now
And afterwards
When you’ve moved on
We’re kind of rooting for the cows.

But please! Kind humans in your homes
And if there is a merciful God
We ask that you not leave the Earth
To the hated
Snavering Lavelwods.

Charles stands there, staring at his watch for a moment. He is performing mass calculations in his head.

After a moment he looks up at Iphigenia.

He smiles.

Then his smile grows broader.

It is now a grin.

And Charles laughs.

“It’s going to be all right,” Charles says. “It’s going to be all right! I can jettison the television receiver! Lizard Cops won’t be on!”

He rushes among the trees. He pushes buttons. He flips back panels. Iphigenia watches in some startlement as an iris atop the Eden Sphere opens and a peculiar-looking television tree launches itself through the gap like a rocket. Then the iris closes tight.

“Yay?” says Iphigenia.

But Charles is not paying attention. He is still racing about. He stops and stands for a moment beneath an apple tree. “Is this the one?” he says. He stares at it for a time. Then he shakes his head. “No! It was the pears.”

Charles charges to the pear tree. He stops. He stands very still, like a man at attention. If his watch is correct, it is now 10:59:58, on Saturday, July 16. He is practically quivering.

“Now!” he says. He pushes the knot. He reveals a button.

There is a sighing, all through the world, as the last light of the sun touches the Earth, then fades away.

Charles pushes the button.

The world ends, wrapped in wings of darkness and of flame.

And Charles slumps.

“There,” Charles says. He leans against the tree. He smiles at Iphigenia. “There. It’s all done. All of it. Every last bit.”

“What is?”

“Anyone else would be dead,” Charles says. “No one else could have worked out a way to survive the extreme conditions at the very end or beginning of the Bible. But my marvelous Leviticus-Luke gyroscope will. It buffered us against the end of the world and it’ll protect us against the beginning. Don’t you see, my dear child? The only way to survive The End is to flip the Bible back to front and use an Apocalyptic Slingshot effect to hurl ourselves back to the second book of Genesis! Kapowie! Suddenly the world’s not quite so over, is it?”

Iphigenia blinks at him.

“The second book?”

“It’s too inconsistent with the first book of Genesis,” says Charles. “Clearly, someone traveled backwards in liturgical time. So, why not us?”

Charles looks at her seriously.

“But we can’t be greedy,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important that you choose the thing you care about most. When you’re working with inventions, greed never works. I could have gone back naked and alone and I’d have lived with that. But that’s too cruel for anyone else. So I decided long ago that I’d break all the rules of time and theology, if I had to, to make sure that anyone who came with me got to pick one thing. One comfort from the final days of the world to carry with them into Eden. I couldn’t have brought you here without knowing you’d picked one. I would have had to kill them. I was ready to kill them. But now I won’t. Now I don’t have to. They can stay in the future on a frozen Snaverer world, and we can live!

“. . . I don’t know if I’m ready to . . . to rebuild . . . the species . . .”

Iphigenia is blushing bright red.

Charles laughs.

“Dear, dear. No one did that kind of thing back then in Genesis 2. They just . . . begatted. That’s why I made the marvelous Begatting Gun. It uses the power of ribs—nature’s genetic batteries!”

“Oh,” Iphigenia says.

Then she grins.

“Okay, then.”

Charles smiles. “So, what will you keep?”

Iphigenia looks embarrassed. “What are you keeping?” she asks.

“My marvelous Apples of Knowledge,” Charles says, firmly. “They’re caramel! But we shouldn’t eat them.”

The apples are, in fact, labeled “Apples of Knowledge—DO NOT EAT.”

“Wow,” Iphigenia says. “You know that we’re going to get in trouble for that, don’t you?”

Charles waves a hand. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Iphigenia does not know how to answer that one.

“Come on,” Charles says. “It’s your turn.”

So Iphigenia reaches around behind her back and pulls out her choice. She blushes. She holds up the one thing she is keeping. Charles looks at it for a bit.

“You know those are desperate to destroy humanity at any cost, right?” he says.

The thing she is holding hisses. It coils unhappily around Iphigenia’s arm. It looks with a cold calculating cunning towards the apples on the tree.

“I know,” says Iphigenia, hugging the Snavering Lavelwod to her chest. “But they’re so adorably fuzzy.

“Score one for inerrancy,” Charles says.

As recorded in Charles 1-18 of the Dead Sea Scrolls, viz., “Countdown to Annihilation—DO NOT APOLOGETICIZE!”

Fin.