Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 5 –

– 5 –

Tom dissolves his room down to the primordial chaos. He scatters the work of Hans, who’d stomped the world down to sense.

And more than just Hans’, too.

He rips back the work of all of them, really — all who have ever taken up the stew of ideals, ideas, sense-impressions, and concepts around them and attempted to hammer them down to the shape of sense.

Under the force of his will and his all-black eyes he unrolls it all to emptiness.

There is only a drumming nothingness, a door and a window, and Tom.

He stands there before the chaos. He reaches upwards towards Heaven. He gestures, with his marvelous hope-congealing gauntlet, to draw down the fire of the gods — well, the red energy of hope and happy endings — from the notional upwards into the here.

It pours through him.

He stains the chaos red with it and he burns it into order with his eyes.

The chaos stirs.

It forms a happy ending. It is glorious and everything is totally resolved. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. The end.

Tom frowns in irritation.

Tom banishes that happy ending with a sweep of his chaos-roiling attachment. He glares out millimeters to miles — he cannot say, and nor can I — at the substance of the world around.

He begins to wrestle with the chaos.

He wrestles with it — as is traditional — for six full days and six full nights.

On the first day, he desperately attempts to teach the chaos about vice and about virtue.

“This is bad,” he says.

He holds up a popsicle. He lights the stick on fire. You shouldn’t do this! There is no point!

Then he holds up a book of science.

“This, conversely,” he says, “is good.”

The chaos understands him. It projects a happy ending at him. There are no cheerily burning popsicles in this happy ending. There are no marshmallows soaked in glue. There aren’t even any painted turtles! Such follies are scattered, turned to nothing, and made as air.

Science books, on the other hand, abound.

Tom leafs through them. He clears his throat. “These are gibberish,” he says. He marks up the chaos’ equations. Can you believe how badly the chaos understands quantum electrodynamics? It’s like it’s never even met physics at all!

On the second day and night, he attempts to teach the chaos about sense.

“It is when questions have answers,” he says. “It is when the structure of those answers can be studied, and then there are answers to the new questions that then arise. Ideally, there is never a final end to this investigative process: a proper universe ought not to be entirely contained.”

There are many good reasons, explains the chaos, why there are no glue-soaked marshmallows in this happy ending. For instance —

The chaos considers.

SCIENCE! booms the painted-turtle-less chaotic world.

Tom lunches on manna. He drinks the nectar of the gods. He is exhausted and teetering but he can see his way to an ending.

The work that is left — from SCIENCE! to victory — is mind-numbingly extensive, but finite.

He is certain he can do it. He can straighten out the world.

It is not the chaos, in the end, that confounds him.

Rather, at the end of the sixth day, he realizes that he can no longer understand the difference between the chaos and himself.

He is hoarse. He has been explaining things. He is still explaining things. And the chaos is explaining things. And he can no longer tell, for any given discursion, which is which.

He finds himself vigorously arguing on behalf of wiring mothers and fathers together; putting hoods on a hibernating computer; and teaching every beetle to dance.

Not just the limber ones!

He catches himself believing that all of this is illusion, that he is not actually in a room reduced down to chaos but in a comprehensive simulation thereof — a perception, a sense- and mind-impression of chaos, a terrible Cartesian cage. What if the world around him is still sensible and the chaos is entirely contained within his mind?

He makes a hat. He crafts it, he puts it on him, it straightens him —

Or is that someone else? On someone else?

He is losing track of everything. He has explained himself too thoroughly and the chaos is too responsive. His mind and brain, by sheer informational reflex, have offloaded pieces of themselves onto the chaos around him. He is not simply losing the distinction between himself and the world: it is dying, it is going away.

“I need a barrier,” he says.

He cannot find one; or rather, he keeps erecting it in the wrong places. He entirely surrounds the gigantic melting Tom with a metal fence of dreams and portents, but when he’s finished and it’s cut off — when its thoughts no longer flow seamlessly into the world’s, and his, and vice versa — he realizes that it cannot possibly have been Tom.

He isn’t gigantic and he hardly ever, he is certain, melts.

He grasps for himself. He cannot find himself.

He looks for purpose but there are only words.

He is gasping. He is pumping great gasps in and out of his world-lungs. He is staggering and he is lost in time.

“Yay!” someone cheers him. “It’s a happy ending!”

It’s a happy ending! Red hope energy trickles in and out of his twitching, chaos-wroth mind.

He turns, and he sees the wall between life and death behind him. He can’t remember if he’s ever seen the ghost of Tom.

His skin is crawling. It crawls right off him.

He falls, he fails, he is dying —

The chaos stutters and shuts down. The world, and his dorm room, are powered back on.

He cannot parse it. He is dead. Most of him is dead. He tries to move things with his purpose. He reaches out his thousand fingers. He tries to scuttle up and down nervously on the wall.

“I told you,” says Cheryl. She kicks him. “I told you not to light up those popsicles.”

She’s unplugged his poetic engine. She’s slipped off his marvelous hope-congealing glove.

She’s bent and broken the various devices that had surfaced raw chaos into the world.

He grasps at her. He says, “Don’t you get it? You’ve killed it. You’ve killed our happy ending.”

You shouldn’t paint turtles. That’s not kosher!

He remembers, very slowly, that he is Tom.

 

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