You can’t make scissors any more. Not since that day. You can barely spread two fingers of your hand.
You can’t fold paper into shapes.
Boots are gone. Hammers are gone. The empire of the Fan Hoeng, gone.
There isn’t even the Fan Hoeng star.
I like to think that’s just perspective. I like to think that Jeremiah Clean doesn’t have the power to scrub away whole worlds from space — that he’s just the god of our little world, you know? And everything else is still real.
But I really can’t promise that. It makes sense to me, but I can’t.
Those things are gone.
Gotterdammerung, I am told, is a lower energy state. It is easier than a sensible world.
And nothing at all — I suppose —
Nothing at all would be simpler yet.
Some people think the evil prophet of space is Christ reborn. Others want to measure her with scientific instruments. But everyone who approaches her dies!
“Space does not like you,” the prophet says to the audience that gathers before her.
There are rivers of blood on the Earth in those final days. There are locusts that fall from the Heavens. The sky is full of fire, and the omens are omen-wroth.
Jeremiah Clean mops up the blood. He sprays all the locusts.
He leaves the fire and the omens alone.
“You look outwards towards space,” says Lucy Souvante. “You make puppy-dog faces. You project onto space with your purposes and your expectations. Space is confused and nauseated by this! Space is not your frontier. It is not your world’s Heaven. Space is a cold, empty void! You need to stop hoping and dreaming towards it.”
She licks her lips.
“So I am going to kill all of you,” she says, “in the hopes this will make you stop.”
“Hallelujah!” cries somebody in the crowd.
Then she brandishes her evil prophecy and most of the people in the crowd suffer from explosive decompression. Those who do not she hangs from spikes and leaves there to die.
Conventional weaponry cannot stop her. She is a Fan Hoeng assassin and an evil prophet. She studied at the legendary Lethal Magnet School before it was stomped down and glassed over. She may corrode your systems, change the patterns of you, rewrite the book and software of you and in the image of her wicked text. She may slaughter you with her umbrella. She may brandish an evil prophecy at you, or play rock-paper-scissors against you, and to your death. She walks through armies and she leaves them in ruins, gasping and coughing out their life and blood, and she does not even care that this is bad.
“I do this because it is prophesied,” says the evil prophet of space.
She looks at her prophecy. She confirms that’s what she was supposed to have said.
“I do this because I must.”
She is on a street corner in Branxton, Northumberland. She is eating her lunch, a tuna sandwich, on top of an overturned tank. Everyone else has fled Branxton save for an abandoned and unhappy dog so there’s no real audience for her explanation but explaining herself has recently become sort of habitual for the evil prophet of space.
“Behold!” she says, and unfurls the scroll of her evil prophecy.
The scroll is covered in the gleaming golden letters of space. Hesitantly, angered by the evil prophecy, the abandoned dog barks.
It is bad, incidentally, to nuke pic —
You know what? I’m not bothering. I give up. I have tried but I think no matter how many times I explain this people will still nuke picturesque British communities because, well, I guess, probably because they are there.
Nuclear weapons fall upon Branxton. They crunch down around her like pine cones falling to the Earth.
They burst into an extraordinary nuclear rage.
Local crops mutate.
The dog dies.
All around the evil prophet of space fire blooms. But she holds up the scroll of her evil prophecy and says, “Paper beats nukes!”
And it is so.
Why does she survive? Why her, of all the unclean things?
Because it is prophesied.
Because her survival is written of, and that is a tidy thing. Because to be born in service to a destiny, and to live in service to a prophecy, is cleanly; and to unmake people with a prophecy is cleanly; so she shall be one of the last things left.
That’s what it tells her, in her prophecy.
That they shall meet at last in two halves of an empty world. She, with the evil prophecy; he with his . . . janitorial cart of good . . . and they shall do battle then; and he shall scrub away the letters of her evil prophecy one by one, and all the stars go out.
What could be cleaner than that?
And she accepts it.
She will allow it. The Fan Hoeng are gone. Everyone she cared about is gone. Her hat doesn’t even really work without Fenris and Edmund.
So it’s fine to her to dream of that final meeting with the janitor of Earth;
But still, when she has a chance, she scours the prophecy, looking for hints and omens, portents, indications that she will, before that final end, get to play rock-paper-scissors against someone worthy of her, have at least one game worthy of her; against a robot, maybe, or a really sharp goat.
Emily pastes a few extra buttons on her Konami Thunder Dance pad. She adds a button for navigation in Antarctica. She adds a button labeled Nobody Wants to Hear Your Opinion You Stupid Evil Prophet Anyway. And another three in memory of Lirabelle, Veronica, and Fred.
Then she goes online.
She hunts through pages and pages of irrelevant results because she doesn’t really know how to use Google.
Eventually she finds it — tucked away in a little-known guide on IGN. It’s years and years old. It’s in Japanese. It’s for the wrong version. But she translates it anyway. She prints it out. She types it in.
She has found it.
It’s the Unlimited Cheat Code for the Konami Thunder Dance.
She plays around with it. She learns the options.
Then she goes to face the evil prophet down.
“Oh, man,” says Emily.
“I know,” says Lucy.
“He looks like — like he’s just going to, you know.”
She sees him; and for a moment she almost loves him. It’s the sense of potential around him. It’s the fact that he, like she, had come there. Most of all, it’s the way he smiles. But she doesn’t fall for him. Not then.
“He doesn’t look dead,” she says softly. “He looks like, wham. One of these days. He’s gonna show you what for.”
“Yeah.” Lucy looks at Sid uncomfortably. She looks back at Emily. “But he won’t, right?”
“He’s dead,” Emily says.
“I know,” says the evil prophet. “But like, he’s not going to be a zombie or ghost or whatever, right?”
“That’s deeply insensitive,” Emily says, rubbing at her nose.
“I just worry,” Lucy says. “If there are ghosts then I am possibly in trouble. Or zombies — though I guess that I could probably handle zombies with my evil prophecy.”
“Or with hobbit-Spock-spider,” Emily says.
She’s just being mean.
“You could play hobbit-Spock-spider with them,” says Emily, helpfully. “And with your amazing space skills that would probably beat all the zombies up!”
One, two, three counts Lucy, in a sudden fury, and throws paper, but Emily has thrown Spock.
Lucy cannot make herself say it. She cannot make herself say paper disproves Spock, even if that is a standard, accepted move in expanded rock-paper-scissors. Even if it will let her incinerate and disprove Emily.
Instead she sulkily turns away.
“I do not like you,” says Lucy. “But I will fight you. That is my graciousness.”
Her eyes are green, with only the faintest hints of wolf-white.
“Good,” says Emily. “Because I want to dance you for it. For the whole shebang. For humanity. For everything.”
“OK,” says Lucy.
“I win,” says Emily, “and you go away. And you apologize to my murdered friends.”
“OK,” Lucy says.
“Even if I beat you?”
“That would be so amazing,” Lucy says. “You beating me. That would be so terrifying and so great. Because it says right here.”
She unfurls the scroll.
She points at it. She points at it because it is prophesied.
Emily is crushed.
“Rocks fall,” says Lucy, “you see. Everybody dies. The end.”
Mr. Matsuda, the inventor of the Konami Thunder Dance, is dead.
He dreams as he dreamed in life.
In his dreams he is standing in a field of red and lightning; red petals, red flowers, red silks, and the argent fire of the clouds.
He is standing in a single still spot of the storm.
A man is there. The man is wearing a hat. Mr. Matsuda cannot see the color of the hat.
“This world should run on love,” says the man, “and not on hate.”
The man shows Mr. Matsuda the world in the palm of his hand. It is spinning. There is red fluttering around Mr. Matsuda. He tastes of the air and it is like drinking cranberry juice: it is cold and crisp and pure in him and its flavor makes him strong.
The man in the hat reaches his other hand for Mr. Matsuda.
“The world,” he repeats, “should run on love, and not on hate; and people should know how beautiful they are.”
So Emily sets up her PlayStation. She plugs it in. She takes her position. Then she waits while Lucy goes off to rob a department store to get one of her own.
They stand facing one another.
Sid’s corpse isn’t rotting. Not while they’re facing one another. The next enemy isn’t approaching. That’s how it is with the Thunder Dance. There isn’t a yesterday. There isn’t a tomorrow. There’s only a now.
Then they move their toes across the keyboard of the feet.
And Emily has always been the best at this; one of the best that there has ever been — but there is a gulf now between them.
You should not have your yellow, yellow hat, Navvy Jim had told her, nor be in your yellow House.
She has fought hard to overcome it, but she is still a girl sorted into the Keepers’ House. She is still a girl whose eyes struggle to catch and seal, to keep the magic bound.
And Lucy has become something more than human; more than Fan Hoeng.
She dances HER EVIL PROPHECY in the name of the wicked god of space. It humbles Emily; it strikes her low; it kneels her, it takes her body and it kneels her, and her head comes down.
It isn’t even a contest. The evil prophet is just plain better than Emily now.
Emily was ready for this. She’d half-expected it. She hates it, and she hates herself, but this is for all the money; this is for the world.
She activates the Unlimited Cheat Code and enables the Great Networked Thunder Dance.
Lucy congeals herself. She frowns at Emily.
“You shouldn’t —”
Emily presses the Nobody Wants to Hear Your Opinion You Stupid Evil Prophet Anyway button with her toe.
Then she auto-activates the Symbol GATHERING to begin the Networked Dance.