Mushi Music’s Magic Menagerie

When you spend as much time on the shitter as I do, you start to notice little things about people. Poops says so much about a man. The scent of a turd can tell you where he’s been, what he ate, or how many times he’s cheated on his wife in the last week. Some people say that eyes are the windows to the soul, but that’s a load of crap.
Today, I drop a solid 10 incher into the bowl. It slips out of my sphincter without a trace, like an assassin after the kill. It even smells a little like death. Its hull is perfectly smooth, not a crease or wrinkle in sight. There is no way this bad boy would slow down in the heat of a race. My wipe is clean, not a single speck on the paper. One hundred percent efficiency. I have birthed a perfect poop luge. I’m talking gold medal shit, right here.
I’m a Pooplympian. Specifically, I compete in the “Poop Chute” event. The easiest way to describe it is as a poop luge. The turd who makes it to the bottom of the course fastest is the winner, plain and simple. What’s more complicated is the preparation of the shits. But, that’s technical, I’ll spare you the details.
Professionally, I’m a chemist. And before you get any ideas, no, I don’t dope myself with chemicals. Like any honorable Pooplympian, I rely only on a diet (heavy in fiber, low in fat) to build my poops and my Herculean abdominal muscles to shape them. I’ve been training my whole life. I could probable tie a cherry stem in a knot with my colon.
I take a quick pic of my handiwork and upload it to my blog to get my fans pumped. While I wait for my phone to connect to the web, an out-of-breath stranger barrages into the stall next to mine. The man’s heavy, black work boots whimper under his epic mass. He groans like a howler monkey trapped under a fallen boulder. I’m guessing he’s somewhere between two and three hundred pounds. They way his poops splash wildly suggest he’s getting older and eating poorly, lots of fatty foods. It’ll only be another decade or so before he croaks, unless he takes fate by the hand and dumps on her chest.
I turn to go, eager to escape the fragrant tendrils of death escaping my neighbor. Just as I open the stall door, the man bellows in rage or terror or god knows what. He bursts out of the stall and falls to the floor. His gelatinous form jiggles as it slides across the bathroom floor, leaving a light trail of blood in its wake. He comes to a halt just shy of the urinals. We are alone.
“Hello, sir? Are you all right?” I ask.
He is silent. Pungent strains of his fecal remains urge me to vacate the room, but I can’t just leave him. I cover my mouth with my shirt; flannel does a decent job neutralizing nasty odors. His body lays still, lacking even the subtle rise and fall for breath. But, of course, it might just be a response to his own foul doody. My fingers probe his neck fat, searching for a pulse. They find nothing. This obese stranger appears to be dead.
I panic and call the only person I trust, Leonard. He’s a Pooplympian, like me. “Long Distance Pooping” is his specialty. He currently holds the United States record of 26.3 feet. He must carefully regulate his diet and prepare for a week’s time before every event. He even designed a special butt plug, the Leonard Innard, to prevent any premature evacuations. The man is a champion. He’s also a police officer and my best friend.
“Well, fuck, did he say anything before he died?” Leonard asks.
“No, he just screamed like he was giving birth to something humongous. Or maybe something horribly evil. Or humongous and evil.”
“Have you checked the bowl?”
“Fuck, no, man. It smells like an abortion clinic in there. No way I’m diving in unprepared.”
“Right, that’s probably smart. Look, I’ll send a squad over right away and we’ll clear this whole thing up. Don’t leave until they question you and just be honest with them. I’ll get there as soon as I can. You will be fine, Sean. You’re a Pooplympian, after all.”
“All right, thanks, man. I was scared shitless, for a second.”
“Hey, that’s loser talk, right there. You’re the biggest winner I know. All right? See you soon.”
I hang up the phone and try to calm my nerves. I’ve already got 50 comments on my upload telling me what a champion I am. I want to believe it, but I had just stood by contemplating my chances of Pooplympic victory while some guy next to me was dying from who knows what. My intestines tremble. Maybe I’m not cut out for this sort of life. I shake my head and begin answering my fans’ questions and praise. It’s all I can do to stay focused on the Pooplympics. Two more long months of training await me before the big show.
Unfortunately, the Pooplympics won’t be happening this year. I’ve just witnessed the birth of the death of mankind.
All over town, reports fly of people being forcefully ejected from their toilets. The death toll quickly escalates from a dozen to a hundred to a thousand over the course of an hour. Now people are afraid. Afraid to even venture into the bathroom and relieve themselves. So, they try pooping in their living rooms, outside, or in public. An executive tried to poop in his office on the fortieth floor of the Empire State Building. His explosive bowels defenestrated him out his glass portal to the beautiful city, but he was dead before he hit the ground. The scourge doesn’t stop. The fatalities rise higher and higher. By nightfall, more than ten thousand deaths have been reported all over the country.
Nobody can offer an explanation for the fatal evacuation. Scientists are clueless, or are holding information from the public. The news cries terrorism and the government attempts to keep things under control.
“Please, calm down, citizens of America. Do not fear. This is not the Apoocalypse. All is well. Fear will only loosen your bowels, and God knows what will happen when you do that. Keep it tight. Pray with me.”
The government is a bit lacking in confidence, these days. I make a blog post, “Show Me Your Poops!” trying to rally my friends and fans. I’ll do anything to give them the courage to survive. For once, they’re inspiring me! I want to fight this death demon, dirtying the thought of pooping.
Celebrities and common folk alike Twitter their dying thoughts during their fatal craps, leaving their last words etched forever into the slate of the internet. Nearing midnight, people have started trying to hold their craps, in vain. The shit explodes inside them, causing a more painful death. There’s no escaping this thing, whatever it is.
The slaughter gets worse and worse and worser and worser, until at a quarter ’til two in the morning, it stops. Finally, it can’t go on anymore. The world has gone completely dead. Everyone is dead except, apparently, for me.
Everything is silent. I try flipping on the television to suck away the emptiness, but all the channels are blank. I turn on my radio alarm clock, but I only find static. I turn it up and sit on my couch, staring at the wall, until I begin to disassociate. I just want to poop and disappear, like all my friends and family. It was hard to comprehend. All of them gone, dead by doing the thing that I love so much. I relax my ass and feel all my troubles start to flow out of me, a great relief. But, it doesn’t end me. I remain aware. A buzz in my pocket snaps my self back into my body.
“Leonard, what the fuck, man? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Sean. I’m great, in fact. I’m glad you’re all right.”
“What the fuck was that? It happened so fast! One minute, life was so… normal, now everybody’s dead! Fuck!”
“Not everyone, Sean. No. This was a culling. A reckoning, if you will. This was a test to see who was worthy of surviving in this new, beautiful world.”
“What the holy shit do you mean?”
“It’s a new world order. There are only a few of us survivors, Sean. The Pooplympians! We are the chosen people! We survived the second coming! We are the meek who have inherited the earth from those irresponsible with their waste. The planet is ours at last!”
“The fuck are you going on about?”
“Didn’t you hear me? We’re the chosen people! All our lives, we’ve been training for this moment! Our perfect intestines have saved us from a terrible fate. This is the real Pooplympics, Sean! We swept the competition! Look, I’ve contacted some of the others. The Pooplympians are all fine. We’re going to meet up at the capital to try and figure out what happened and make some plans. Will you come?”
“Sure, man. Fine. I don’t have anything else to do, I guess.”
“Great, I’ll see you there.”
I check my last post. No comments. Bummer. I quickly change my pants and walk out the door. The cold morning wind carries the scent of last night’s reaping. I wonder what kind of power lives in the air that could do this bad, bad thing. Whatever. It doesn’t matter, really. There’s a whole new world out there for me to poop on.

Plan C was an instant hit among women and men, aged 18 to 108. Pharmacies worldwide couldn’t keep their shelves stocked for the ravenous demand. Shareholders of Goretech Industries held wild orgies in celebration of the new product’s launch, knowing their wallets would be fat for years to come.
After scientists derived the chemical make-up of love, it was only a short time before they repackaged it and hawked it to the general populace. One little pill, swallowed every single morning, was all it took to cure the invisible aches and pains, the malignant tumors of those who had spun the wheel of love and gone bankrupt.
Single parents and widows adopted it first, eager to try a different approach toward allaying their pains. The jilted lover demographic was still a bit skeptical of such an elixir, still having some faith in the natural way of things. Every day, new lost souls found their way to the plan.
———–
On the first day of dosage, Shari felt a glowing hum descend over her body. The feeling was familiar, but she couldn’t specifically tag it with anything she had previously experienced. She’d visited three pharmacies before finally finding the maximum strength formulation of Plan C.
If I’m going to do it, she thought, I may as well do it right.
Shari spent the rest of that day staring at the ceiling, listening to an album of songs she had once shared with a special someone. The rapscallion choruses usually brought a tear to her eye, but today she was able to listen to each song, all the way through. It was a very good album.
Why couldn’t I do that before today? she asked herself. What’s different in the air?
The next day, after taking her pill at breakfast (blueberry pancakes, somebody’s favorite), Shari decided to go for a walk down to the hardware store, to buy some things for an art project she’d been meaning to start. The idea had been floating around her brainspace for months, but she just couldn’t motivate herself to start the piece. Since starting Plan C, Shari felt riddled with energy, ready to burst into action at the least provocation.
I feel like a new person! she thought. Smiling at the bright, empty sky, Shari lost herself in a world of new, exciting possibilities. Rapt by her dream, Shari didn’t see Steve until she bumped into his extended bottom. He crashed into the wall of paint samples he’d been arranging.
“Oh, my bad!” Shari said, unaware of how many ways she had struck the tall, chiseled employee.
Steve righted himself and quickly replaced a few fallen samples. He couldn’t help but notice how good Shari would look in Capitol Crimson. “No, no, my butt is way too big for this job. I need to be more careful with it,” he joked. He rolled up the sleeves on his uniform, exposing arms freshly toned by his expensive exercise equipment.
Shari nodded and smiled politely, blithe to his flirtations. “Ha, yeah. Hey, can you help me find a few things? I need a gallon of paint, some rope, and an economy-sized flamethrower.”
——
Over the next few weeks, Plan C popularity took on a life of its own. It became more infamous than ever, thanks to endorsements by celebrities like Hoprah, a regular user, and Lenoman, who made a list of the top Nine reasons Plan C was better than sex.
9. It’s cheaper and easier than sneaking out on your significant other!
Marriage counselors raced to get prescription licenses. With Plan C as such an easy fix for most marriage problems, divorce rates dropped faster than a stone in the Nazareth.
8. No babies!!!!
The trendy partiers swapped acid for Plan C. Hippies started praising the glory of cheap love. “Take Love, not War!” quickly became the new slogan of the pacifist movement. Instead of having meaningless, hot, no strings attached sex, people just talked and talked about everything and nothing. The sex drive had become vestigial.
7. Plan C goes both ways, all the way.
The demographics of users was split evenly between men and women. Gay, lesbian, and alternative relationships were reflected in the same proportion as of the total population. Asexuals finally had a flawless situation for finding love.
6. You can do it with a ten-year-old and stay out of jail.
Parents were soon buying doses of Plan C for their pubescent children, hoping to stave off the effects of teenage angst.The music industry was flipped on its head, as the target, love-starved audience was shrinking. Fledgling indie rockers focused their songs on the joys of feeling love all day, instead of the dearth they had once known.
5. You can do it every day, all the time.
Side effects, if they existed at all, were completely invisible. Users took it everyday, usually multiple times a day. Everyone was doing it.
4. God won’t smite you if you do it for funsies.
A number elite Mormons all had visions, simultaneously, from the angel Gabriel. He brought them tidings that Plan C was actually a sacrament from God, a way that he might easily fill his children with love. The number of Mormon converts skyrocketed until it was the most prevalent faith in all the land.
3. You don’t need no stinking protection.
Demand for sex workers declined rapidly. Plan C offered a much cheaper and less dangerous way to find satisfaction and fulfillment. Many prostitutes themselves started taking the Plan, suddenly finding the strength to leave their dangerous lives and pimps behind them.
2. It’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it.
Looking to secure their market share, Goretech research and development quickly seized upon ideas for new methods of ingestion. By the end of the first month, there were schemes on the floor for Plan C nasal spray, inhalers, suppositories, patches, and even Plan C injectibles (for the terminally lonely).
1. You can do it, instead of just pretending!

Over the next several months, Shari completed more fine works than she had done in her entire life before Plan C. Brilliant sculptures, radiating her inner joy, filled every crevasse of her single-room apartment. Her modus of creation was to take objects that didn’t belong together and fuse them together with the molten heat from her Firespitter 5000. After posting some of her chimeric statues online, Shari was quickly invited to share them at a local gallery opening. She accepted, excited to share her products with the world.
Alan was the curator of Surrealities, a gallery specializing in abstract art from all media. After seeing Shari’s sculptures online, their purity struck him in ways he had not expected. Before he had even met the artist, he was dreaming of her, ready to spelunk into her conscious mind (and, he admitted to himself, her pants). Alan was a lonely man, but had, so far, resisted the urge to take Plan C.
The night of the opening, Shari wore a strapless, red dress to complement her newest creation, a conglomeration of empty cans of scarlet paint, an abandoned fire hydrant, a stop sign, and a recently deceased cardinal. She called it “Cardinal Sin.”
Shari was swept away by fantasy, mingling with the other artists, while Alan watched her from afar. She gazed into bright, psychedelic landscapes painted by a Brazilian woman. A Japanese man had constructed a series of music boxes, each loaded with melodies catchier than the last. Shari’s favorite piece of the night, aside from her own, was a set of urns that just begged to be filled with excited ashes. Shari was honored to consider herself among peers. As she looked into the other’s eyes, she saw they were full of the same content aura she felt.
As the night wound down, Alan finally worked up the courage to speak with Shari.
“Hi Shari,” he said, “Sorry, I haven’t gotten a chance to speak with you yet tonight. I’ve been wanting to compliment you on your new piece. I really think you’ve broken new ground. You’ve reached a level that most artists only dream of reaching.”
She flashed him a genuine smile, proud of her success. “Thanks, um, Alan was it?”
He laughed and rubbed a hand through his thinning hair. “Yeah, that’s right. Say, what are you doing now? Would you like to get some coffee or something?”
“Oh no, thanks, I’ve got to get to bed,” she said, no hint of a lie in her heart, “It’s way past my bedtime.”
The next day, Alan popped his first pill and started a new life of contentitude.
—–
Everything seemed all right with the world, a glorious age of happiness had descended on the world. The planet’s citizens were peaceful and satisfied, for the most part. Nearly a year went by as the people of Earth lay tranquil all over the globe.
A minority of the populace was unable to accept Plan C. They deemed it unholy, an abomination to Nature. These unhappy wretches formed a band called the Wild Hearts and began a smear campaign, hoping to wake up the world’s citizens to a stark reality. They felt that users were made stupid by their addictive dopage. As the ultimate drug, Plan C had brought societal ascension to a complete halt.
Their tactics started out on a small scale. They outed Hoprah as a Plan C abuser, using more than ten times the recommended daily dose. However, they failed to realize that the average user took in approximately three times the recommended dosage. Few users changed their opinions on the drug once Hoprah turned herself into a rehab clinic. They told themselves they could do the same thing, if their usage got so far out of hand.
After a few more failed sob stories and celebrity incarcerations, the Wild Hearts decided it was time to up the ante of their game. They took the ball to their opponent’s court, earning their terrorist badges along the way.
The leaders of Wild Hearts organized a protest at Goretech Industries Headquarters, hoping to raise awareness of the evil drug’s effects. Once the police arrived to break up the gathering, one hundred tons of strategically placed dynamite exploded, killing hundreds of Goretech employees. The entire production plant was ruined; synthesis of Plan C slid to a grinding halt.
——
Shari popped her sixth pill of the day, savoring the rush of love it brought into her system. She sat watching the late night news’ live coverage of the Goretech explosions. As the pill made its way down her parched throat, Shari noticed that her supply of Plan C was almost gone. She had five pills left. One day’s worth, at most.
As soon as she woke up the next day, Shari rushed to the local pharmacy. She quickly found she was too late. The aisles were packed with other users, desperate to hoard a private stash of the Plan for the coming shortage. Small brawls broke out, as some heavy abusers saw they wouldn’t be able to keep their high. One bearded man, with sad glasses, pushed a middle-aged woman over, grabbed her pills, and ran toward the exit. His eyes met with Shari’s; she saw something different inside him. With most users, Shari could see something of herself, a contentness. This man was completely empty, unsatisfied even by the simulacrum of love.
Shari left the store, watching the man as he ran off into the distance. Something was different today. She popped her third to last pill and drove around town, looking for other pharmacies. Though she found a few, the situation was the same at all of them. Sad people faced with an uncertain future crowded together in despair, staring blankly at the empty pharmacy shelves.
Shari went home popped her second to last pill before working on her latest sculpture, made of eggshells, porcelain, and chicken bones. Once her body called her to sleep, she swallowed the final pill and climbed into bed.
In the groggy dawn, Shari reached over to her bedside table, scrambling for her pill vial, forgetting it was already empty. She frowned, upset with her lack of substance, and pulled the covers back over her head. Three hours later, her stomach begged her to get out of bed and fill it with sustenance. As soon as her feet hit the ground, Shari’s world began to spin. She felt her body suffering from withdrawal of Plan C; her chest began to hurt.
Is this a heart attack? she panicked. Do I need to call the doctor?
The pain quickly spread through her body, filling her fingers and toes with a burgeoning dread.
This is what dying is like, it must be what dying is like.
She flipped through her phone’s address book, looking for someone to call to ask for advice. She couldn’t find a single number that she had called in the last six months, thriving on her independent existence. She couldn’t muster the will to drive to the hospital, her dive into abyssal depression was so steep.
Instead, she sat in front of the television and flipped through the channels. Every station was covering the same thing; Goretech industries was giving a press conference about the attack and its aftermath. As Shari watched, the Vice President was addressing the vicious bouts of withdrawal sweeping the nation.
“We are well aware of the current situation. The government is forcing us to aid all of you with the withdrawal symptoms. To do so, I must reveal the secrets of our product.
He paused. “Let me tell you of the magic behind Plan C. It wasn’t anything new. In fact, it was nothing at all. A little bit of sugar and a little bit of spice. That’s it.
“This withdrawal is all in your head, folks. You’ve been under a spell of your own creation. Let’s all pretend that we’re in love, full of this wonderful magic. It nothing but an illusion, folk. All of a sudden, you are realizing the emptiness of your lives that has been there all along. I’m sorry we have to tell you this way. It makes us look like a bunch of jerks.
“We made you think that you were full of something greater, just for a little while. We made you believe that everything was okay. We fooled you, fooled you good and took your money. And, there’s nothing you can do about it. At least, nothing worse than what’s already been done.”
He gestured to the smoldering rubble behind him; days later, fires were still burning underneath the crumbled buildings. The smell of burning flesh still lingered in the air.
“Besides, if you really think about it, you fooled yourselves. I mean, bottling up the essence of love? Come on. That’s just silly.
“You’re missing the main lesson here, which is that that you all have the power to love yourselves already. You don’t need a drug, you don’t need another human. You can do it on your own.”
The Vice President was killed thirty-four seconds later by a group of users throwing bricks from the ruined facilities. None of the security guards tried to stop it.
Similar fates befell other Goretech Officials that same day. The CEO was involved in a mysterious food poisoning. The CFO was crushed by a falling flower pot. The whole marketing team was involved in a freak bus accident, killing each and every member.
The last few pills of Plan C disappeared with the junkie hoarders and the world slowly shifted back to its natural state. Most people were pretty okay with that.

Sam Sobelman
Science and Religion
Professors Richard Olson and Robert Cave
December 17, 2007

The term “apocalypse” conjures images of death, destruction, or disasters. However, the word “apocalypse” is actually the Greek term for the “lifting of the veil” or “uncovering of the pot,” either of which may be interpreted as the solving of a mystery or, more simply, “revelation”. This implies that apocalypses are actually informative, granting wisdom to those who perceive them and understand their meaning. Apocalyptic literature is literature of hope, written for those who are facing hardships in life. These people are those who may find little no satisfaction in their day to day life, those who are oppressed by others with power over them, and those who wish that the world would move to a better state. Often, this state is most easily imagined to come from the cleansing of a slate, so to speak. An apocalypse has the power to wipe the world clean and give a fresh start to everything. While there are many kinds of apocalyptic literature, two of the most common types can be found in religious texts and science-fiction stories.

As times have changed, so have the methods and media of communication. These two types of apocalyptic literature share the same function in society, but are dressed in the garments of different periods. Specifically, science fiction and religious apocalypses are literatures of hope, drafted to inspire those who are being oppressed or disillusioned. Religious apocalypses have existed at least as early as ca. 2000 BC (The Epic of Gilgamesh) and are found in many different cultures all throughout the world (the Koran, the Four Vedas, the Book of Mormon, etc.). While their origins may be more recent, science fiction apocalypses are at least as common as their religious kin. There are a few fundamental differences between the two types of literature, but their core function remains the same: to bring comfort to the oppressed and relieve the anxieties of the fearful.

One important thing to consider concerning apocalyptic literature is that it is written concerning a very specific era of time. The symbolism can be applied to any time with enough work, but the message is often less applicable to eras apart from the time when the apocalypse was written. The Book of Daniel is thought to have been written a few centuries BC, during a time when many people were waiting for the establishment of the messianic kingdom. Is it a common belief that apocalypse found in Daniel was written in direct response to the oppressive anti-Jewish measures of the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, at the time of the Maccabean Revolt (167-164 BCE). The beasts and terrors found in the apocalypse are metaphors for Antiochus himself and a number of other rulers (White). These rulers battle each other and destroy all in their path until, eventually, a grand kingdom is established.

The Book of Revelation, containing the apocalypse of John, is thought to have been written sometime in the first century AD. During this time, Christians in Rome were being persecuted and became disillusioned by the failure of the Messiah to return. In this story, God initiates a war described as Armageddon to cleanse the world of wicked mankind. The Whore of Babylon (representing Rome) rides her great beast around causing destruction. A dragon (Satan) comes from hell to consume humanity. The heavens unleash seven catastrophes upon the world, the seventh of which leads to seven more unleashings of wrath upon the earth. Eventually, a warrior-like savior arrives on a shining steed to save what remains of humanity from evil and chaos. However, this remainder is only the “elect,” a select few who were chosen to be saved by God. These elect are able to live in a new, perfect earth with a new, perfect heaven. The purpose of this apocalypse seems to have been to reaffirm the faith of those Christians being oppressed, to remind them that their salvation was still coming.

Each story is full of imagery symbolizing the powerful figures and inescapable fears of its respective time and each is designed to attenuate the worries of those were able to read it or hear it. Obviously, the world is not in the same situation as it was during those times. Some regions may have not changed too much over the past two thousand years, but there are also new areas completely unlike any region of the ancient era. For example, countries like the United States were not founded for millennia after the first apocalyptic literature was written. It is an illogical idea to assume the stories written before its existence would still necessarily apply today.

Modern society has a lot of new technologies which bring with them new wonders, but also new anxieties and new fears. While modern science has increased the human potential, it has also increased the number of ways which we might hurt ourselves and/or each other. Luckily, the anxiety that is arising from the birth of these new worries is accompanied by a new means of relieving fears. This is the role of science fiction in modern society. The stories of today are written to “comfort those disillusioned by the failure of the promise of technology and science to deliver the world from poverty, ignorance, disease, war, famine, plague, and death, and living in a word which stubbornly refuses to accept the breakthroughs made by science” (Kreuziger2, 6). Science fiction provides a new avenue for discussing the concerns of a community by extrapolating the current situation into the future. Apocalyptic science fiction extrapolates into the future of humanities’ concerns, but gives readers hope that a newer, fresher world waits beyond the present crisis.

Science fiction found its popularity rising during the Great Depression with stories being published in pulp magazines like Amazing Stories. Many people looked to science fiction as an escape into a different, more pleasant world. However, the science fiction authors and audience primarily consisted of societal outcasts. These people dreamed of a utopian society where their ideas about running the world might be taken seriously. Science-fiction author Norman Spinrad describes the situation as one where “the literary world held science fiction in contempt, and the feeling was quite mutual” (Spinrad, iii). This situation is similar to that experienced by the “original” apocalyptic writers, who were writing to promote their beliefs and ideas in the face of direct opposition. It is unlikely that science fiction writers were being tortured or killed for their beliefs, but the underlying principle remains the same. Science fiction was not taken more seriously with respect to either content or artistic merit until after an apocalypse-like event had transpired: World War Two.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, written by Walter M. Miller, Jr. in 1960, dealt with an overwhelming fear that had reared its head only a few decades before: nuclear warfare. The story begins several centuries after 20th century society has been destroyed by atomic weaponry. The world has become a place unfriendly to advanced knowledge, full of illiteracy, intellectual backlash, and mutants. However, a monastic society exists that is dedicated to the preservation of knowledge, from the present and ancient time. Over the course of 1800 years, the world’s technology slowly rebuilds. Society passes through the electric age 1200 years after the story’s start and by the end of the novel, nuclear technology and space travel have been developed. The people of earth end up inciting a nuclear holocaust yet again. However, as the atomic destruction begins, the monastic order takes its collection of knowledge and flees the planet via spacecraft.

The story is of particular note because it is a science-fiction apocalyptic work with direct correlations to the Book of Revelation. It could almost be considered a missing link between science fiction and religious apocalyptic literature. Most obviously, the monks of the monastic order are escaping the hellish, earthly domain to a heavenly realm of their own devise. This parallels the rise of the elect into heaven in Revelations. Both stories feature great rewards for those who have made great sacrifices. Leibowitz also contains a great deal of subtle social commentary, implying that humans are unable learn from their past mistakes and emphasizing the decline of religious ideals in the face of social and political standards.

Other science fiction novels deal with different themes, either in the nature of the apocalypse or in the method of revelation. Just as modern science has revealed a great deal more about the world, it has also revealed a great number of ways that the world, as it is presently known, may end. A number of different types of apocalypses have been presented in recent literature and film, including (but not limited to): alien invasion, cybernetic revolt, decline of the human race, ecological deterioration, rise of mutants, expansion of the sun, zombie apocalypse, and universal heat death. These are issues that were not distressing to early apocalyptic writers because they were beyond the scope of contemporary knowledge and concern of the time. One of the most important aspects of science fiction apocalyptic writing is the ability for authors to formulate “what if?” scenarios: possible futures that nobody has yet considered. These types of apocalypses and their aftermaths were not covered by the early writings.

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds portrays an apocalyptic scenario where humans have become slaves and fodder for alien invaders. Written in 1898, this science fiction novel is thought to be a commentary on the European colonization of Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas. Many humans are killed, but some survivors remain to repopulate and rebuild the world after the invaders succumb to earthly illness. This is different from other apocalyptic writing because the survivors are not some select few, but average humans trying to survive a great injustice. In this case, the intended audience is not the people who are oppressed, but the people who might be able to help them. The large world is significantly smaller thanks to complicated methods of communication. The growing world community results in a greater sense of altruism such that the anxiety of others may be ones biggest concern.

Some science-fiction stories speak of the end of the world catastrophically, with no hope for anybody. A prime example of this would be Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. In this story, a version of water known as ice-nine freezes at room temperature and teaches other molecules around it to do the same. At the end, the universe experiences death by freezing, nobody is spared. This would not really be considered apocalyptic literature, but dystopian literature. There is no great revelation of hope to be divined from these stories, except perhaps that the author thinks the world would be better off in a state of non-existence.

The most important difference between science fiction and religious apocalyptic literature, as exemplified by the previous two examples, is the target audience. Religious apocalyptic is meant for the oppressed and the downtrodden, whereas science fiction can be targeted at an audience completely removed from the situation. Conversely, it may also be written for a more general audience because the subject may be a universal threat.

There are some anxieties that affect us all, both oppressors and the oppressed. One such apocalypse is the end of time, the end of existence shared by all. Isaac Asimov’s Multivac stories were scribed to address this fear in particular. In each short story, humanity asked the Multivac supercomputer how to deal with the most preeminent threat to humanity: heat death caused by increasing entropy in the universe. The first six times it is asked, over the course of centuries, Multivac replies with: “Insufficient data.” However, as the universe approaches the end of time and space, the last descendents of humanity merge with the computer and the computer discovers the answer with nobody left around to tell. It decides to prove itself correct and reverses the flow of entropy by saying: “Let there be light! And there was light.”

The end of time is inevitable, as far as current scientific knowledge is concerned. However, this theoretical supercomputer gains godlike powers from its fusion with mankind, and is able to recreate the world before existence is completely lost. The biblical imagery associated with this story is important because it represents juxtaposition between science fiction and religious apocalypse. For perhaps the first time, it is easy to see religious apocalypticism as a part of pop culture.

Something is striking and strange about apocalyptic writings. Almost all of the stories seem to involve dreams and messages within them. In contrast, most science fiction literature takes place in the real world or, at least, the waking world. It is curious to think whether this was a stylistic choice or due to the time when religious apocalypses were written. The “dream apocalypse” might be stem from the fact that religious apocalyptic was not a mainstream art form. Apocalypse is strange and hard for many to deal with, but it might have been more palatable in dream form. Because science fiction is much more mainstream, it is able to write apocalyptic stories in the setting of a real world.

As science fiction and apocalypticism became more widely accepted, they began to integrate themselves into the everyday pop culture. Bands like Jefferson Airplane/Starship used apocalyptic science fiction texts as inspiration for many of their songs. For example, the lyrics of their song “Crown of Creation” are taken nearly verbatim from the text of Re-Birth, a novel by John Wyndham about a post-nuclear-holocaust world full of mutant life. In fact, the entire album Crown of Creation is an allegory about the death of innocence. Jefferson Airplane did not believe that technology was the salvation of mankind, but rather that the creation of the bomb was original sin.

Bob Dylan was another musician that had an apocalyptic lyrical style, often writing songs that dealt with the threat of nuclear war. On his album The Free Wheelin Bob Dylan, Dylan writes lyrics cautiously about the bomb, the threat of bomb shelters to society, and the general decline of society caused by the threat of doomsday. This is exemplified by a line from the song “Talkin’ World War III Blues”:

“ ‘Let’s go play Adam and Eve.’ My heart was thumping. She said, ‘Hey man, you crazy or something. You seen what happened the last time they started.’ ”

Bob Dylan was unique because he was a bard who could take the present condition and its future transformations and entangle or enrich them with his apocalyptic imagery.

The importance of these artists is derived from their method of sharing apocalypse. By writing songs on a personal level, they succeed in removing apocalypse from the “very narrow confines of political ideology, and bring it to bear of the transcendent forces of good and evil shaping people’s lives (Kreuziger2, 20).” Essentially, the artists make apocalypse personal for their audience, which can amplify the effects of revelation for each individual listener. Also, the success of these artists reflects the willingness of modern humanity to confront its fears and to learn from apocalyptic literature.

The 1990s were a decade of apocalypticism, marked by an interesting blend of science-fiction and religion. The best-selling Left Behind series of Christian fiction novels told the story of a world after the rapture, where those remaining on earth await the judgment of God and fight the antichrist. Additionally, the Y2K scare panicked every person and business with a computer. The theoretical, mass technological failure was supposed to have ruined the world and to have been accompanied by God’s wrath, had it actually occurred. It was a time where apocalyptic omens could be found in the most natural occurrences.

Suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate believed the end of the world was approaching rapidly and that humans needed to leave the planet to survive. In 1997, members of Heaven’s Gate committed a mass suicide coinciding with the passage of the Hale-Bopp Comet. They felt that an alien spaceship was hidden behind the comet that would take them home to The Evolutionary Level Above Humans (T.E.L.A.H.) and to save them from impending doom. In order to board the spaceship, however, they needed to leave their mortal vessels behind. A final message written by a Heaven’s Gate member best describes their beliefs:

The climax of this civilization has begun…A war in the literal heavens is underway as the alien races battle for the spoils of this planet…The Physical Evolutionary Level Above Humans is about to surface from their undercover, behind-the-scenes involvements, ready to make their counter…Every soul must be put to the final test.” (Jwnody, 1996)

Essentially, the Heaven’s Gate cult believed a science-fiction version of Revelation, replacing religious imagery with icons more often associated with science fiction. For example, beasts and the antichrist are replaced with alien races, Jesus with T.E.L.A.H., and the rapture with transport onto a spaceship. To be politically correct, it would be inappropriate to call the Heaven’s Gate belief system “science fiction,” it merely uses much of the same imagery. The ideas preached in their literature are just as much religious apocalyptic as the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of Daniel. However, they are also just as much science fiction as The War of the Worlds or A Canticle for Leibowitz. This incident provides some of the strongest evidence for science-fiction apocalypse and religious apocalypse having the same purpose in society.

It seems somewhat strange to group the two literatures by their current titles. “Religious apocalypse” has a very spiritual implication in it, while “science fiction apocalypse” seems like it might reject spirituality altogether. However, this is not the case; there are too many parallels between the two to divide them in such a manner. Instead, if they must be organized, it might be more proper to divide them all into subtypes based upon the time of their writing: ancient, past, and present, for example. Having titles that distinctly separate two things which are in fact the same is merely confusing and seemingly unnecessary.

Science fiction and religious apocalyptic literature are both designed to give hope and comfort for their intended audience. However, their intended audience may be separated by differences in time, space, social caste, and/or personal anxieties. Science fiction has merely expanded on the core concepts of religious apocalypse, making them more palatable for different kinds of people. Religious apocalyptic is limited by its nature: being religious. Science fiction can appeal to people across belief systems and to people with no belief system. Both the weak and the powerful can be affected by its message. At their core, they are both literatures of hope, and should be viewed as such until the end of times.

References:

Abanes, R. End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1998

Asimov, I “The Last Question” Science Fiction Quarterly November, 1956

Brake, M.; Griffiths, M.; “Apocalypse – its Influence on Society and Science Fiction” University of Glamorgan 2000 (December 6 2007) http://case.glam.ac.uk/CASE/StaffPages/MartinGriffiths/MGPubs/New%20Versions/Apocalypse%20in%20Society%20&%20SF.pdf

Jwnody, “ ‘Away Team’ from Deep Space Surfaces Before Departure,” in How and When Heaven’s Gate May Be Entered, April 8, 1996 http://www.heavensgate.com

1Kreuziger, F.A. Apocalypse and Science Fiction: A Dialectic of Religious and Secular Soteriologies American Academy of Religion 1982

2Kreuziger, F.A. The Religion of Science Fiction 1986 Bowling Green State University Popular Press

Miller, W.M. Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz Orbit, New York, 1960

Spinrad, N, ed Modern Science Fiction Anchor, New York, 1974

Vonnegut, K Cat’s Cradle Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, U.S. 1963

Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds William Heinemann, United Kingdom, 1898

White, L. Michael “Understanding the Book of Revelation” Frontline Apocalypse (December 13, 2007) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/revelation/white.html

A would-be assassin lay sprawled on the bed, steam rising out of the three bullet wounds on his chest. Petyr stood in the bathroom doorway, still sopping wet from his shower. The barrel of his gun felt hot, burning his palms like one thousand dying suns. It had been over three months since he’d quit the game and gone rogue, an eternity in the life of a secret agent. It was about time the Minotaur sent somebody after him. This attempt had been much too easy to foil; did his old employer really take him so lightly?
His escape from the dungeons of Dom Com had been relatively easy. She kept him chained up and tortured him regularly for about a week, but her spirit wasn’t in it. With no secrets to pry out of him, the whole scenario was ruined for her. Eventually, she let him go free. She promised that it wouldn’t be their final encounter, but Petyr direly hoped she was wrong.
For the next few weeks, he spent his time flitting from city to city, all over Europe. He had a number of hiding spots with contacts that he had made through the years. These places he avoided intently; traps would surely wait near his known affiliates.
He traveled by train, as hitchhiker, and even on horse to the dark corners of the world, taking care never to stay in one place for more than a few days. The entire essence of Petyr Dmitriev was devoted to staying out of trouble and under the radar of his enemies.
Petyr felt had wasted a lot of time and effort if this was the best assassin his foes were going to send at him. So much time, gone forever; he could never get it back.
Without bothering to hide the deceased mercenary, Petyr dressed himself and grabbed his things. It was time to move again.
Petyr was currently hiding out in Prague, a city he hadn’t visited for many years. As a child he had loved to visit here; the mystery and majesty combined to transport his malleable young mind to a world of fantasy. The golems and faeries and ghosts of Czech lore had all fascinated him for years, until he ultimately understood that they were only make-believe. His lifestyle required that he harden his heart and hone his mind so as to separate fantasy from reality. Now, his decisions were based in cold hard logic, usually.
He wasn’t sure why he had come to Prague, a highly frequented city surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar territories. He could have easily gone north to the Hinterlands or south to the Saharan deserts. Both would have hidden him more completely. Something had drawn him back here, to this city from his past.
Petyr was so rapt in thought that he didn’t feel the first knife until it met his legbone.
He dodged the second by a fraction of a hair, feeling its sharpness cut through the air by his ear. How foolish he had been! This was a textbook play; send in the true professionals after the amateur is killed. Petyr, the target, had let his guard down. He deserved the injury, but he didn’t plan on dying here.
He turned and rolled to safety, quickly uprighting himself in a battle stance. He immediately fell to his knees, his hamstring utterly useless. He clenched his teeth and prepared for the next cut. It never came.
Petyr opened his eyes to see the pair attacking him had frozen in midthrust. Their poses were impossible, gravity should have taken its toll, but they remained erect.
“Hey, Petyr! Hey! Come here!”
A strange man dressed in brown robes was urgently beckoning to Petyr from an alley behind him.
“Hey! Hey! Come with me, Petyr Dmitriev! If you want to see another sunrise, that is.”
Something felt very wrong, but Petyr’s mind was racing too fast to question the situation. He hobbled over to the short man; that leg was going to hurt for a while.
“I’m very sorry about that. I knew your name, but I didn’t know your face. It was unfortunate, but necessary, that those thugs attack you. I knew I was going to meet you today, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell your face from a Rottweiler’s hiney. All I knew was that I had to save Petyr Dmitriev, who would be attacked on this bridge.
“Pardon me. I never introduced myself. My name’s Jeremy. Here, let me help you.” The man grabbed Petyr’s knee before he could do anything to stop it. He appeared to be focusing intently, staring at the wound and wishing it away.
“Hey, what are you doing?“ Petyr started. He was cut off with a quick hush.
“I’m healing you, so be quiet for a second.”
Petyr’s leg felt strange and tingly. When the monk stood, Petyr saw that his wound was gone completely.
“What exactly did you do to me?”
The monk smiled. “I just took away some of that time your leg just experienced, replaced it with some better time. See! It’s all better!”
Petyr felt like this man was speaking an entirely different language, but he had certainly worked a miracle. “Okay, let me rethink my previous question. What are you, exactly?
“I wish I could explain easily,” Jeremy started. He’d been getting this question a lot, recently. Until now, nobody had really needed to know the answer. “I’ll give it my best shot. Let’s walk while we talk.”
The duo ducked into a dark, decrepit doorway at the back of Jeremy’s alley. When they passed through the threshold, Petyr found himself staring at the rock walls of a long dark tunnel. Sporatic torches lit their path.
“How did we-?” Petyr started.
The monk cut him short. “I showed you what I can do with time; you think that I can’t do it with space as well? I’m not entirely a creature of your world, Petyr. It is utterly important that you understand that. I am a projection of a much more complicated beast. You see me as a monk, an ascetic, or whatever you want to call it but those words do not describe who or what I am. Certainly, this body you see before you is human; I am full of brains and guts and emotions, just like you. In flesh and form, we are no more different than two breeds of dog.
“Come on.” They started walking down the tunnel, leisurely.
“What separates us is that I perceive this world in a fundamentally different way than you do. This body is but a tiny tendril extending from a much greater whole. I am merely the fingertips of a much bigger body. That greater whole extends through multiple dimensions, but your perception of this universe only supports a few of them, so you see me as a simple ascetic.
“To the source of my consciousness, whom I must call Bob for short, time is a trivial thing. He perceives what you and I call time the way our eyes might see a blob of Play-Doh. He can observe all the time that has existed or will ever exist, all at once. His vision trickles down to me through my dreams, his will is manifested through my actions.
“With that in mind, do you see where my powers come from? I can rearrange any bits of existing time because time is nothing but a toy, a big puzzle that can be put together an infinite number of ways. If ever I need to pause, fast forward, rewind, or otherwise manipulate time, Bob can allow me to do that. They are merely fleas compared to the solar system of Bob’s powers. My three dimensional brain can’t comprehend his greatness.”
“I don’t get it. You’re telling me you’re some sort of demigod? A disciple of a multidimensional entity?” Things were getting weirder and weirder.
“Well, yeah, okay. That’s an alright word for it, though I don’t like the implication that I’m not human. I am most certainly a human being. I’m just a little bit, you know, different. My earthly vessel, like your own, has an expiration date. Everybody and everything has to die sometime, right?
“Normally, humans travel through time forward in a series of straight lines; their vectors of perception pass through all the events they are destined to experience, all neatly arranged into this globular mass of time. They continue on their journey, occasionally crossing paths with and joining up with other temporal travelers, until they finally die.
I am detached from that artifice, my version of time goes both ways. I can remember my whole existence, from cradle to grave. My memories go right up until the moment of my death; I don’t usually think about that except for when it’s actually happening. I’ve never actually experienced death, mind you. It’s like my life is a hyperbolic arc, I will never know the true value of that last bit of my time.
Everyone in my order is like that.”
“Wait a second. There are more people like you?”
The monk smiled his well practiced grin of enlightenment. “Yes. We are the Order of Builders. All of us are builders of some kind; we live to create complexity out of simplicity, fighting the flow of entropy. There are chemists and cooks and architects among us. I personally get no greater satisfaction than building the perfect footstool.
“But those are just our day jobs.” His voice took on a heroic tone. “We oppose the generation of chaos in this world. I like to think of us as the Guardians of Eternity.” His pomp quickly deflated. “Something big and bad is happening. There’s a bit of time that’s tainted with something bad, it’s untouchable. We can’t move it; we can’t get our minds around it.
“If the rest of time were a big lake, reflecting all that has occurred or will occur, this bit of time is a brick that has crashed through the water’s surface. It’s sending distorted ripples all throughout the rest of eternity. We can’t see exactly how big it is or know how long it will last. It’s a tumor among an otherwise perfectly healthy system; growing and spreading out of my vision and reach. I want to purge it from the body of time, but I don’t know how.
No matter what I try to do, I can’t touch it, move it, or even see around it. It’s like someone put blinders on me and I can’t see where I’m going. Honestly, I’ve never been so frightened. “
“I don’t understand. What does that mean?” Petyr wasn’t following Jeremy’s logic. Metaphysics wasn’t covered in much detail during agent basic training.
“Have you ever had a nightmare? Have you even woken up to a cold sweat, to escape the monsters of your dreams? Petyr, those monsters are going to come here and they are more terrifying than you can possibly imagine.”
“Sure, I’ve had nightmares before. I used to have them all the time as a kid. You expect me to believe my childhood nightmares are going to become reality? Come on.”
“It’s true. This fluctuation of time indicates that the father of chaos is coming here! He’s going to destroy our world in a manner more terrible than you can imagine. Those nightmares were simply his envoys, messages from the dark beyond. He was seeking out our greatest fears so he can employ them against us. And that’s the least of out troubles. I can’t even begin to explain the chaos our world will experience. It’s beyond comprehension! Every fundamental tenet of reality will cease to exist as we understand it.”
Neither of the pair said anything. They walked in silence for several minutes. Petyr would have run away if he had any idea where he was located. He had entered a zone where he was utterly uncomfortable. Suddenly, the monk broke the silence.
“I have a terrible confession to make, on behalf of my brothers and myself. Our methods of fighting the chaos haven’t exactly been very pure. We have been siphoning time from people around the globe. A few minutes here, a few minutes there. Not enough that anyone would actually notice. Five minutes times five billion people equals an eon or two. I know it sounds terrible, but we used the time to pad a layer around the growing darkness, attempting to construct a barrier that would delay the coming of chaos.”
“Like how you healed my leg?” Petyr was beginning to make some sense of this situation. “You stole those minutes from me for a better cause?”
Jeremy nodded excitedly. “Well, yes! You’ve almost got it. I actually gave your leg a bit of time from someone else’s leg.”
“So, there’s someone else out there who’s hamstring suddenly split in two? That’s awful!”
“Now listen, I took the time from some soldiers who were dying anyway. They hardly noticed.” He shrugged, as if this explanation would make his actions seem alright. Jeremy’s smile turned slightly bittersweet. “Despite everything we’ve done, the world has reached a tipping point. The agents of chaos could arrive any day.
“Petyr, you must help me, for the sake of the universe’s continued existence. A thousand galaxies might birth and fade before a man of your abilities will walk this earth again.”
“I have no idea what abilities you could possibly think I have.“ The normally unshakable Petyr Dmitiriev was feeling a little anxious about the situation. He wasn’t sure if the man he was speaking to was absolutely crazy or unimaginably sane. He had some power that Petyr didn’t understand. “Look, I don’t know about all this struggle against chaos and nightmare stuff, but I’ll admit that you’ve got some strange abilities. Me? I’ve got nothing. I’m just a washed up spy who’s on the lam. One false move and my enemies will slit my throat. Your enemies? Well, it seems like they’re going to destroy reality itself. What could I possibly do to help in this situation?”
“I don’t know.” The monk stopped and frowned at Petyr. “Really, I’m very sorry. Like I said, I didn’t even know your face when I was supposed to meet you. My temporal vision has blurred so much I don’t even know what I’m going to eat for dinner! I’m sure it won’t be long before we have to find out the hard way. For now, I think you should meet my brothers and get some food in our bellies. It will make things easier for us, in the long run. I think. Ah, here we are.”
They had come upon a great wooden door, inlaid with ornate metal sculptures of clocks. One clock at the center of the door looked like it had working parts, but it had stopped moving. Something about the door incited a deep feeling of evil; both Petyr and Jeremy could feel it.
“I don’t understand,” Jeremy began. “It’s supper time; my brothers should be enjoying Father Randolph’s cooking. I don’t smell or hear anything.”
Petyr’s agent instincts kicked in fast; he pushed Jeremy aside, shushed the monk, and sidled up to the door. He had pulled his gun without realizing a need for it. Ever quiet, he slowly pulled the door open and peered in cautiously.
The Brotherhood was at dinner, but the entree had been served in a deep, cold dish. Sitting at a long wooden table were the bodies of thirty men, all dressed in the garb of the Order of Builders. Most of the monks were slumped forward onto the table, but a few others had fallen over backwards onto the floor.
Petyr didn’t have to check the bodies to know that all the Brothers were dead.
Jeremy was getting nervous. “What’s in there? What’s going on?”
Petyr pulled himself away. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to say this, but-”
It was too late. The overeager monk had darted around his companion to enter the room. As soon as he passed the threshold, he appeared to trip and fall to his knees. His hands clutched at his skull like his brain was being tortured by a hundred angry demons.
He writhed in silence for several moments, before unleashing an unearthly scream.
“Oh, it’s here; the ominous era is imminent! All our work has been for naught.”
He turned to Petyr with madness gleaming in his eyes.
“The Reign of Chaos has come at last! The Creation King is making his first steps, leaving indelible footprints in the sand. Oh Petyr, you’ve got to help us. You are our only hope.”
Petyr wanted to answer this man’s call for help, but couldn’t muster the stamina. This was way too weird. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ophelia sat at the northernmost shore of Figment Isle, staring out at the setting sun. She liked to be near the roaring ocean waves; their static froth canceled out the constant drone in her head. The horizon was a blank slate, infinite oblivion. She lost herself in the tiny waves eagerly lapping at her toes.
The wavelets formed endlessly intricate patterns, dropping off and siphoning away grains of sand as they came and went. One wave came in gently, filling up a hole she had dug between her feet. As the ebb pulled back to the sea, the puddle formed a miniature whirlpool. Instead of returning to the ocean as one entity, the water scattered; it formed many tiny rivulets that got lost before they could reach the ocean, absorbed by the greedy sand beneath them. Ophelia couldn’t help but be reminded of her siblings.
It felt good to get away from Castle Figment; the shining white fortress held too many opportunities for her to bump into her family. There was so much tension bringing them close and too much ego driving them apart. This was supposed to be a time of celebration; the coming of Midas foreshadowed their escape from the island to rule the earth, sea, and stars. No galaxy would be unscathed, safe from the touch of the Figment of Creation.
Yet still, her siblings fought amongst themselves and talked about her behind her back. They called her unworthy, an unfitting conduit for their Master’s words. That wasn’t her decision.
“It’s been years since I’ve come to just sit and watch the ocean. In only an instant, I remember why I loved it.”
The booming voice startled Ophelia, bringing her back to her self. “Oh, hello Coelacanth. Yes, I like this spot. I come here often.”
The strong, old man stood with his hands on his hips, gazing out at the setting sun. “After the gate was sealed, trapping us here, I spent the most time here. I liked to imagine myself as a sailor, free to travel the world and visit strange lands.
I miss the days when we could come and go as we pleased. Now our only connection to the outside world is the internet. Fat lot of fun that is. I suppose it’s better that way. We shouldn’t force our ways onto the residents of this planet.”
Nobody had come to or left from Figment Island, at least not during Ophelia’s lifetime. As the youngest Figment, she had grown up only knowing her siblings. A razor sharp reef surrounded the island, preventing them from leaving. She had never seen a foreign ship, even on the horizon.
“You know, when you came to us, we found you washed up on the shore. It was right over there.” He lifted his hefty, hairy arm and pointed at a spot less than twenty feet from where she sat. “All the others washed up on the south shore, but you’re different.”

Ophelia hugged her knees closer to her chest. “You don’t have to remind me.”

“I’m sorry. What I meant to say is that you’re special. You’ve got a gift, I can tell. When our Master arrives, and my heart tells me it will be soon, you will be the closest to him. Every one of us has, at one time, shared the connection to him that you currently posses. Every one of us has since lost it. There are those among your siblings who would kill to have it back.”
“I just don’t get it.” Ophelia shrugged. “I don’t understand any of this. Why am I the one who has to be special? Let Valkyrie be Master’s radio, I didn’t want this. I wish I could just skip this waiting period and get the Master out of my head! I want to know who I really am, not whoever this voice inside me makes me think I am.”
Coelacanth sighed, his heated breath condensing in the salty, night air. “Terra was partially right, you know. There are natural cycles of chaos and order. This reality began as pure order, all matter and reality condensed into a single point. The unavoidable flow of entropy has caused the universe to expand ever since that moment. With the arrival of our master and His great power, we will accelerate the growth of the universe to the point where everything is infinite. We will achieve a state of pure chaos.

But the universe cannot remain like that forever. As soon as we reach that state, the flow of entropy will reverse. Everything will begin to condense, shrinking and regaining order until unity is achieved once more. Then the cycle will repeat itself. This reality we perceive is nothing more than a wave function of chaotic value.
This is the way things have always been and probably the way things always will be.”

“That all sounds well and good, but what does it mean for us? What happens after the waiting is over? Why must we suffer until the day of reckoning?”
Coelacanth sighed again, whispering through his bushy, white beard.

“I have lived for a very long time and I still can’t answer that question. Time will tell us what we are meant to know.
“For now, just hold onto the faith that our Master will bring salvation to us all by purging the order from this place. Everything will end up as it is meant to be.”

Ophelia wasn’t satisfied, but talking with the old man always made her feel a little bit calmer. “Thank you, brother. Will you watch the tide come in with me?”
————————————————————————-
“I’m tired of the old man’s philosophy lessons.” Valkyrie was leaning on a paw-paw tree in Castle Figment’s orchard, eating a handful of paw-paw berries. There numbered at least one hundred trees that bore different fruit every season. “Everything will work itself out.” She snorted and spat a paw-paw seed on the ground. “I’m worried that little girl won’t be ready to do her duty when the time comes. What do you have to say about that, fortune teller?”
Lazarus stood at the parapet, where he could see almost all of Figment Island. He had been the one to spot the old man and the girl. “Mmm, well, you know my visions haven’t been all that clear these days. There’s too much volatility in the balance of things. The good news is that probably means our Master will be here soon.”
“That’s not good enough.” Valkyrie spat again, this time just because she could. “I’m getting tired of waiting on the world to change. My destiny has got to involve more than just sitting around this castle. I’ve got plenty of damage to do, and no where to do it.” She ground some freshly spit seeds into the loamy dirt.

Lazarus turned from the parapet. “You know, we could go over there. To the human realm. You have been to the human realm, right?”

Valkyrie stomped the ground and pivoted to face her elder sibling. “What do you mean? Should I have been? The old man said we were trapped here!”
“Well, in a sense we are trapped here. But, of course, there is a way to get out there. How do you think Coelacanth got the game started, or set up our information ansible? Where do you think Jeckyll gets the supplies for his endless stream of inventions? I go there myself once in a while, when I need to sow a little unrest or rattle some chains. Spread my seed, as it were.”

The light in the Violence Figment’s eyes turned a hellish tint. “Why wasn’t I informed of this? How do you get across the ocean?”

Lazarus gestured fervently that she should lower her voice. “Shhhh. Come on now, it’s a secret. If the old fart knew I was telling you this, well, he’d be pretty ferocious. Only Jeckyll, Coelacanth, and I know about the passage. The old man doesn’t want us messing about where we don’t need to. Even so, I’m getting tired of just sitting around.”
“Wait a second. I believe that old bastard knows how to get out of here. He might even be willing to buy things for science guy, but why would he tell you.”
“I’m not exactly sure how the transport works, but Jeckyll tried to sell me something about time manipulation. So, of course, my abilities are key. They needed to use me, so they were forced to tell me. Thankfully, they didn’t realize that I could do it on my own once I learned how.”
Valkyrie pounded Lazarus hard on the back. “I don’t like it, but I shouldn’t complain. I need to test my limits. All right! Let’s go, my fists are itching to get some action!”
“Come on, I’ll take you.”

A violent cough disrupted their exit. “You know, I can’t really approve of that.”
Terra stood between the pair and the entrance to the castle. He was, as usual, completely bare though today he was accessorized by a hefty pair of clippers.
“I was just coming up to do some yard work and what do you know, I find myself some dirty hoes.”
“Not a word of what we just said leaves this garden,” Valkyrie’s temper was quick to flare. “Do you hear me?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Will you just wait and listen for a minute? Why do you feel some need to rush into the future? We’ll get there, don’t you worry. Just give it some time.
Now, seriously, when was the last time you stopped to smell the flowers out here? I’ve been doing some interesting crossbreeding and created one that smells like candy! Come here; check this out!”
“You know, your gardening habit has always bothered me.” Valkyrie growled, ever militant. “You’re growing advanced, highly organized organisms right here in our backyard. I call you a traitor! Doesn’t it occur to you that you’re fighting the pull of chaos when you tend to your plants?”
“No, man. You’ve got it all backwards. If I were doing this for any reason other than my own enjoyment, it would be for our cause. I mean, I’m running my own little chaos factory up here.
“Every living thing, you and these trees not excluded, is an entropy machine. When we eat and drink, we break down food to its simpler constituents. That alone is an unfathomable source of entropy. Sure, some things are recycled, but nothing is one hundred percent efficient. During each cycle, some energy is lost to chaos and can never be recovered. In due course, nature will take us to a more entropic state.
The humans of Earth have got it all down to a science. They consume and consume this planet’s resources, turning it from a well-organized planet to a burnt out husk.
Frankly, they’re quite lucky our Master is coming to liberate them. Otherwise they’d probably kill each other off.

So, with that said, I can’t really support you going to change the natural order of things.”

Lazarus stepped forward to stare his brother down. “Terra, I’ve got a good idea as to who among the humans is reversing the flow of chaos.”

Terra smiled a mischievous grin. “Well, now. That changes everything. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” He gave his brother a hearty slap on the back and leaned his hoe against a tree. “I might not like it when you guys mess with nature, but I can’t stand it when humans try to go against their nature. When do we leave?”
Lazarus glowered. His back was really smarting. “Let us depart.”

There were often times when the President of the nation formerly known as the United States found himself wondering why he still had a job. In the recent era of Hegemony, his office had been reduced to that of an ambassador, a representative to attend the Summit of Nations. There were no wars left to fight and no orders to be signed. The Hegemony took care of the important legislature. The world had settled into an era of peace, for better or for worse.
The region governed by the President was now known as the United State, singular. The people there had grown fat and complacent. The world might be peaceful, but it was growing stagnant. There was no fear, no drive toward excellence. It felt like he had been given charge of a bloated carcass; a once great nation sat rotting in its own fluid, smelling slightly sweet like memories of marmalade.
The President’s only real responsibility was to reflect the after-image of the great men gone before him, to instill tranquility in the hearts of his people. He would much rather be stirring their hearts, stoking the fires of Patriotism. These days, Patriotism wouldn’t buy a fast food value item.
He had just finished eating dinner at his favorite restaurant in the District’s downtown. The food they served was Italian; the President always ordered the shrimp linguini. He ate it weekly. Such a boring, droll routine he had fallen into; not a soul was exempt from petrifying doldrums.
The President smiled to himself. Before the night was over, all of that would change.
He was currently on his way to his car, escorted by his two most trusted bodyguards. Supposedly, dangerous folks were running wild recently. The President wasn’t sure about that; he certainly hadn’t run into any of them.
Suddenly, the world around the president slowed to a halt, like a slug crashing into a wall. His bodyguards were frozen midstep; they looked like they should fall over any second. The families eating in the café nearby looked like a photograph, their faces contorted into masks of laughter. A tripping waitress was spilling food all over a customer’s lap, but the food appeared to be levitating; it was paused like the rest of the world around it.
A figure appeared in front of the president, garbed in a large tweed robe. The hood of the robe obscured his face in shadow. From within that darkness came the light tenor of a young man.
“Are you the President of the United State?”
The President was terrified and excited, all at once. Had someone finally decided he was important enough to assassinate? The blood in his veins began to boil.
“Who are you? What do you want with me? What have you done to my men? I’m not going down without a fight!” He stepped forward and took a swing at the odd man. He easily dodged the President’s wild blow with a quick step to the side. The motion revealed the man’s feet; he was wearing sandals, simple and large. His stealth and grace was impressive for someone wearing such clunky footwear.
“Mr. President, I’m sorry for the surprise notice. I need to talk to you for just a few minutes.”
The President attacked again. He tried to distract the monk-like man with a feint to the right before striking to the left. This time, the monk didn’t bother moving out of the way, he simply swatted the President’s fist away like a fly.
“Really, this would go a lot easier for both of us if you’d settle down. Please take this gesture.” The tweed-clad man reached up and pulled his hood away. Replacing the ominous darkness was a face full of sharp features, topped by a crop of short, blonde hair. He appeared no more than fifteen years old.
The President stopped his assault, but kept his fists raised and his stance low, ready to launch a defensive maneuver.
“Alright. So you’re a human, maybe. Tell me what you want. Tell me what you did to these men!”
The mysterious boy sighed with exasperation. “I’m just borrowing some of their time. Don’t worry, I’ll give it back eventually. To everybody here, I promise! I mean, they probably wouldn’t even miss it if I didn’t, but I’m a man of my word. I’m afraid your time will have to stay with me, but it’s for a good cause. Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. Look, I know it goes against protocol, but it is imperative that I speak to you immediately.”
The President squinted his eyes. This stranger was probably trying to confuse him. “What are you talking about? I don’t know what protocol you mean. Are you an assassin?”
The hood let out a deep, irritated sigh. “No, I’m not an assassin. Surely, you realize I could have killed you already if that was what I wanted.
“My name is Jeremy. I am a Brother, Second Rank, in the Order of Builders. You haven’t heard of us because you haven’t needed to know about us until now.”
This hurt the President’s self-righteous feelings. “Well, who’s to say that? I’m the representative of nearly five percent of the world’s population, damn it! If you’re so important, I should be the first to know about…well… What is it that you do exactly?”
“Well, you could say that we’re architects. You could also say that we’re clockmakers. I guess you could say that we’re a lot of things, but none of them would tell you exactly what we’re doing.
“Look. What I do and whom I work for are not important. What’s important to me is that we have the opportunity to save the lives of millions, depending on what happens tonight.”
The President raised his eyebrows. “Millions of people. Americans?”
“Well, yes, actually. Among others. Not that it should matter.” Jeremy stopped himself before he got too flustered. “Here’s the story. You were on your way to a secret meeting with a couple of representatives from other once great nations, am I right? Some of your close friends from better times?”
“Yes, that is correct. How did you-”
“Mister President, if I let you get to that meeting, you’re going to screw things up for everyone.”
This was not what the President expected to hear. “Do you have something to back that up? It’s a mighty powerful allegation you’ve got there.”
“Mister President, there are forces out there that you can’t possibly imagine. Legions of chaos are playing a dangerous game with the fate of this world as the stake. A revolution is coming that will turn everything you thought you knew upside down and round about. When chaos rules the land, your people will need someone to lead them, someone they can trust.
“You are going to that meeting to vote on something very important with the other leaders, something that’s been itching your legs for a long time. The ten of you are going to decide whether or not to secede from the Hegemony; I have orders to not let that happen under any circumstances.
“So, I’m going to keep you here until that vote is over and done. Your vote would have tipped the vote toward secession, sending the world into a nosedive toward chaos once more. Your aide is already present at the meeting and she will vote in your place once the other ambassadors are bored. She will vote for peace, thank the Builder.”
“How do you know all this?”
“You don’t need to know the details. To put it simply, I took an advance loan on some time I had coming up. I’d appreciate it if you kept that to yourself. I didn’t exactly follow proper etiquette when doing the requisitioning.
“Well, Mister President, I’ve done what I needed to do. I’ve said all that I can say. It’s been three hours by my watch. Those ambassadors are a busy lot, they’ve surely finished up by now. I’ll take my leave, if you don’t mind.”
The President didn’t understand the first thing Brother Jeremy about what Jeremy meant by borrowing and lending time. He was just fine with that.
Were his people really happy being lazy carefree? Were they okay living their lives in mundane cycles, protected by inaction? He hadn’t really thought about it that way. Perhaps living a dull, peaceful life might be the best for everybody, after all.
“Wait! Jeremy, did I-“ he stammered, “I mean, did we really just save all those people?”
The monk smiled and turned to leave.
“May Bob provide you shelter wherever you may roam.” With that blessing, Jeremy disappeared, fading away into the glowering dusk.
The world suddenly sprang back to life with a high-pitched pop, like hydrogen igniting. The president’s bodyguards finished their steps, and sprinted forward to catch up to their ward. The dining families continued chewing and swallowing. The waitress began her profuse apologies before the food landed on her customer. A man on a date complained that time had gone too fast; his date thought time had gone just fast enough. Nobody seemed the least bit startled that the early dusk had suddenly morphed into true night.
Everything appeared as it should be, borrowed time slowly trickling back unnoticed into these innocent lives. It crept back in, unnoticed, during their sleep cycles or while their minds were otherwise engaged. Abundant life flowed on, unfazed. Not a soul perceived the hours that had disappeared, gone missing in a heartbeat. No one but the President knew anything was wrong at all.
But Jeremy hadn’t told the President the whole truth; there was no reason to worry him uneccesarily. After the time was finished returning, no one noticed that a few minutes had never come home.

Weeks into their habitation in the underground lair, Dr. Hadjaz and the Two Hippos still hadn’t met with the Epitaph, face to face. The Doctor surmised that they never would.

After their train ride, the misanthropic trio had taken a cab to their final destination, a gunmetal skyscraper that disappeared into the sky, its top far beyond the cloud line. In the lobby, a dark haired receptionist took them in an elevator that would carry them down to their quarters. At the time, Dr. Hadjaz thought the idea of underground quarters was strange. Apparently, the tall building above was just a show of might.

Once they had descended a few hundred yards, the lift opened end they spilled out into a large, cavernous amphitheater. A fifty-yard movie screen was hung above the stage. Less than a minute after their arrival, a video began playing, projected from some invisible source. Trumpets blazed a heroic fanfare as the lights dimmed and the new arrivals were ushered to their seats.

A deep, excited voice filled the air; it sounded like a radio DJ who was really aroused by the next song he would play. “Welcome, friends, to Epitaph Industries! Congratulations on your new positions!” The screen was filled with cartoon pictures of smiling children and expensive houses. The children were merrily dancing and singing some gibberish lyrics. “Here at EI, we only accept the most qualified candidates for our positions. That means you! Our goals are the people’s goals, and the people’s goal is freedom.”

Suddenly, the children on the screen stopped singing and looked upwards, at something invisible to the audience. Their faces were wrought with fear. “There are forces at play that want to crush this way of life, this God-given right!” A giant globe fell from the sky, sending the children into a tizzy as they tried to escape. More than a few were crushed as the great sphere bounced around the screen. The globe bore the emblem from the Hegemon’s family crest.

Very subtle, Dr. Hadjaz thought. He glanced over at his companions. The Hippos stared blankly at the movie with content smiles on their mirror faces, unfazed by the strangeness of the situation. They seemed to think this a very agreeable welcoming party

The video continued for several more minutes. The screen showed a variety of scenes, all involving happy people and animals. Every time things looked right, the bouncing Hegemon ball would stop by and ruin things for everybody. Meanwhile, the announcer’s voice babbled on about the nobility of Epitaph Industries and how, through their valiant efforts, they would change the world. There was no mention of the game Anonymous, no mention of the grand prize, and no mention of the lives that would be lost as a result of their actions.

Dr. Hadjaz couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this video and one of the old conscription propaganda tapes. Right before the formation of the hegemony, when humanity was on the brink of destroying itself, these types of videos were very common. They were used to promote patriotism and instill hope in countries razed by weapons and soiled by plagues. Lots of bright colors and noises distracted from the real meaning behind the film: welcome to the war party, don’t forget to check your hat.

Finally, the video drew to a close but the announcer would not let them go. “Please stay seated for a word from your employer!”

In silence, the words of the Epitaph appeared on the screen:

WELCOME. I AM SURE YOU UNDERSTAND WHY YOU BOTH WERE CHOSEN TO PLAY THIS GAME; THIS PERFORMANCE WAS JUST A FORMALITY FOR LESSER HENCHMEN.

SO, JUST GET BUSY AND CREATE SOME CHAOS. WHEN I RELIEVE THE HEGEMON OF HIS DUTIES, YOUR REWARD WILL BE MERIT BASED.

ALSO, HIPPO NUMBER ONE, JUST GIVE THE SCIENTIST HIS MATERIALS ALREADY.
————–
It wasn’t long before Dr. Hadjaz realized his instincts were correct; he was entrenched in a war where his knowledge was the most powerful weapon.

The Epitaph only communicated through typed messages; he was achingly careful not to give away any trace of his identity. He managed all his employees by sending orders at the beginning of each day. At the end of the day, he would release a report on how much chaos had been generated by Epitaph Industries. Because he was a high-level employee, Dr. Hadjaz also received reports about the attacks on EI outposts in other countries. The other game players would stop at nothing to win.

The Doctor hadn’t realized the extent to which Epitaph Industries pervased throughout the world. It had nearly one two million employees causing chaos around the globe. No part of the Hegemony was left untouched by EI. If it weren’t spread so thinly with so many enemies, the corporation could have easily declared itself a sovereign nation.

Despite his aloofness, the Epitaph turned out to be a very generous employer. His headquarters was equipped with a complete laboratory, outfitted with the most advanced instruments for almost every test imaginable. He also provided a near limitless expense account, in case anything extra was required. It was just as Dr. Hadjaz had hoped it would be. However, The Good Doctor was not given free reign to experiment as he liked; the Epitaph, like every commander worth his salt, had very specific needs for the immediate future.

The Doctor’s first objectives were to analyze the bifurcation serum, replicate it, and, ultimately, find an extremely chaotic use for it.

The first task yielded surprising results, almost immediately. The liquid in the syringe was less like a serum and more like a modeling kit. It was comprised of complex nanomachines and a superdense mixture of common biological molecules. The nanobots were programmed to take a reading of the subject’s DNA, estimate his age, and using that data, sculpt a clone from the superdense material.

Once Dr. Hadjaz had extracted the code from the nanobots, it took him only three days to completely recreate the serum. By this time, he had created an optimized work schedule. He spent one hour sleeping at midnight, ten hours working, one hour sleeping at noon, and ten hours working at night. He reserved one hour for leisure time during each work cycles immediately before his rest time; he realized the importance of diverting his attention to other tasks so his subconscious could solve problems, too.

Improving the serum proved to be a trickier task. The code inside the nanomachines proved to be incredibly intricate; Dr. Hadjaz realized it would be extremely tedious to try and get a good understanding of their basic functions before experimentation; that wasn’t his area of expertise. Almost all the functions in the code used recursion to call on other functions, so changing a single variable or constant would result in drastic changes of output. He wanted to ask other scientists for advice, but they were too absorbed in their own reseach to care. Dr. Hadjaz thought they were self-important bastards.

Dr. Hadjaz’s gargantuan partners weren’t particularly helpful, either. In fact, they were down right frustrating. The Doctor’s hypnosis technique had long since worn off and couldn’t be used on the same victim a second time. The Hippo Twins would only take orders directly from the Epitaph himself. The Doctor couldn’t ask them to do anything unless he could get the Epitaphs approval. Nor could he ask them for advice in his research because they were both simpletons, at best.
If they weren’t being used for missions, the pair spent their days engaged in furious chess matches that almost always ended in stalemate. If either of them actually won a round, the other would accuse him of cheating and go sulk by himself for a while. The feeling must have been fleeting because they would end up in a rematch several minutes later.
The Doctor wondered how long their relationship would last.
While the Twins shared the same exterior, they were not exact doppelgangers. An Epitaph mandated brain scan of Hippo Number Two revealed that, even though his body’s sculpting was complete, the nanobot sculptors still remained. Instead of a fully functional brain, the robots built a special organ in the cranial cavity. This pseudo-brain had special receptors for the nanobots, allowing them to dock safely and provide a form of temporary consciousness. They seemed to be tweaking his brain, programming their host with a filling of worldly data and personality traits. It wouldn’t be long until Hippo Two became a walking encyclopedia, a braniac with two weapons of mass destruction on the tips of his arms.

Dr. Hadjaz worried that Hippo Number Two would even outstrip his own prized intellectual aspect. The worry turned to fear and the fear turned to panic. So, Dr. Hadjaz did what any irrational being would do in his situation. He injected himself with the serum and passed out in his neglected bed.

“I hereby call this emergency meeting, the Two Hundred Thirty-First Congress of Figments, to Session.”
Coelocanth, the Order Figment, remained standing, his deep voice reverberating through the halls. He was the eldest of the Figments, the first to arrive in this mundane universe. He had followed the laws of Chaos long before any of the other Figments were conceived.
He stared at his companions, six dedicated souls seated around a circular, stone table. One chair remained empty; it waited for the day its master would be free to sit upon it.
“We must begin at once, we have so much to discuss. As you are no doubt well aware, the game Anonymous is drawing to its close. Several players are close to achieving one million points. While this news should bring us all glad tidings, there have been some complications.
I have asked Jeckyll to explain his discoveries to you.”
Jeckyll stood rapidly, his wiry frame uncoiling from a cramped seating position. His body was long and skinny, full of angles as nearly sharp as his mind. The Logic Figment had a terse frown dancing on his thin lips.
“Welcome, friends. Ahem. I wish our meeting could be under more joyous circumstances. Unfortunately, I bring you both good news and bad news. Ahem. Allow me to start with the bad news.
The acceleration of randomness generation in the world has slowed down to almost zero points per day. Ahem. In other words, in the current situation it is unlikely we will reach the critical level of entropy required to release our master from his bondage.”
This news incited a roar of disappointment from the other Figments.
“What do you mean by this?” The table shook and rattled as Valkyrie, Violence Figment, slammed her fists down. Her face was a mask of wrath, from snarling lips to wrinkled brow. Her hair was done in thick pigtails that dangled down below her broad shoulders; the braids seemed to carry an electric charge, diffusing her anger from her core to the standing air around her. The Figments sitting on either side of her backed away cautiously.
“Everything we have done and worked for, all for naught? Unacceptable! Unforgivable! Explain this, scientist. Tell us who is responsible!”
“Ahem. Thank you, everyone, for allowing me finish my statements. I recalibrated on one of the entropometers, effectively rendering it an anti-entropometer. With it, I monitored the flow of the universe as it regains order. It appears that a growing number of entities are opposing the entropy we create.
If we don’t act quickly, the acceleration of randomness in the universe will become negative. Reality will reverse our hard work and start heading toward a more ordered reality, further from the goal we have set.”
“But isn’t that just how it goes?” Oedipus, the Irony Figment, had to propose an alternative opinion whenever possible. She was perched upside down in her seat, performing a headstand with her hands on the chair’s arms. She was wearing a black-and-white striped, strapless dress; both her breasts and her hemline ignored the effects of gravity completely. “The natural order is to return to a mean state, right? Isn’t that a simple explanation what is happening? It was inevitable.”
“I’m sorry sister, but I must beg to disagree with you. The natural trend is certainly towards chaos.” The Wilding Figment felt he was the definitive expert on what was natural. Terra refused to deal with artificial constructs unless absolutely necessary. Clothing did not fall anywhere near the necessary category. “Jeckyll, this trend that you’ve observed is certainly artificial. There is some disgusting, unnatural force working against us. ”
Lazarus, the Chronicle Figment, placed one finger on the table. “Quit wasting our time. You are both right, in a sense. Oedipus, the natural order does dictate a return to the median state. Terra, the force behind this negative acceleration is unnatural. However, you are both wrong in your assumptions, I can see that we are dealing with something entirely different from what we are used to. We are entering unfamiliar territory.” Lazarus was the least well-liked of the Figments. He had the gift of oracle, but he kept all of his visions to himself except when he liked to show off how much he knew about the future. The other Figments all agreed he was an ass. “I had a vision the other day-“
Jeckyll cleared his throat with exceptional vigor. “AHEM. I haven’t been able to finish what I have been needing to say.” He was beginning to get flustered. “I haven’t given you the worst news, yet.”
Oedipus rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath. “You mentioned good news and bad news, not worst news.”
The scientist ignored her remark and revealed the worst of tidings. “The agents responsible for this turn of events are human.”
Another fervorous din rose among the Figments.
“I knew you were going to say that,” Lazarus said quietly. “But I didn’t believe it.”
Valkyrie was up in arms once more, out of her seat with fists raised at the ceiling. “Don’t fuck around. That’s impossible! Are you trying to tell me that the mortals have discovered a means to compete with our power? Coelacanth, end this meeting right away. I’ll go crush those flimsy ants right away.”
Oedipus rolled her eyes. “You can’t seriously believe they’re responsible for this. There has got to be another more reasonable explanation. Maybe there’s a bizzarro version of us somewhere promoting order instead of chaos. Wouldn’t that be something?”
Valkyrie flashed a sneer back at Oedipus, but didn’t say anything.
Coelocanth was frowning. “Are you absolutely certain? There is no chance of error in your measurements?”
Jeckyll nodded. “Yes. I’m very sure. Ahem. I suppose it is possible that some scientists got a hold of some of our entropic devices and reverse engineered them. They could reverse the polarities and cancel the effects.”
“Who cares about why it’s happening? Let’s do something to fix it!” Valkyrie’s temper flared again; her mood was especially turbulent. “Let’s go slaughter those mortal bastards.”
Terra wouldn’t hear of it. “Come now, we’ve waited so long without killing them directly. Let’s just ride this out, it’s surely just temporary.”
“I don’t think so. How are they going to learn if we don’t teach them with our fists!”
The debate continued for almost an hour before everybody slowly ran out of constructive ideas. The intensity in the air cooled down from a violent boil to a low simmer. Oedipus turned to Jeckyll.
“Well, come on, give us that good news you promised us. Something has got to compensate for this disaster.”
Jeckyll looked perplexed. “Oh, did I mention that? Ahem. Well, yes, I suppose I’d forgotten all about that. I’m not actually the one who is going to say the good words. Ahem. Are you ready to speak for us?”
One of the figments had remained ominously silent throughout the entire debate. Ophelia, the Psyche Figment, had sat unperturbed as her peers argued ineffectively over different plans of action. She was the youngest of all the Figments, only a few years into the world. Because of her recent entry to this plane, she had a special connection that the others had lost over time; Ophelia was an interdimensional ansible.
“I have received another important message from our Lord and Master,” she rasped. It was obvious from the red of her eyes and her lack of energy that she had not slept much in the last several weeks. Communications came frequently, and were impossible to ignore. Recently, her head was constantly filled with the buzz of her Master’s thoughts and instructions.
“Come on, then. Spit it out! What did he say? Tell us!” Valkyrie waited on no man or woman to get what she wanted.
Ophelia calmly nodded her head. “It’s easier if I recreate the scene. I can’t actually remember what happened too clearly. Give me a moment.” She stood up from her chair, lowered her head, and dangled her arms at her sides, palms out. She held that position for several minutes, all Figment eyes focused intently on the top of her head.
Suddenly, Ophelia’s head jerked upright and she unleashed an ethereal scream. It was the kind of scream that could hunt for prey and pierce their eardrums. It was a living breathing entity on its own, birthed from demons living within the screamer. All of the Figments, even Valkyrie, jumped in their chairs, backing away from the terrifying woman before them. Only Coelacanth seemed unfazed, eagerly awaiting this new message from his longtime master. Slowly, the scream simmered down to a calmer tone. Ophelia’s continued to channel her master, singing the following lyrics to a tuneless melody:
“Devout servants, My Brothers and Sisters, My time is nearly nigh. The scales of fate are tipped in My favor. I am crowning from the womb of your efforts but I know there have been complications.
The reality you inhabit is not fully prepared for My presence, too much order yet remains. Do not quail, My kin, My loves. Have faith and wait for the day of My arrival. I portend that We shall be reunited within a galactic heartbeat’s time.
Do not forget, I bring such powerful change that the world as We know it shall cease to exist. In its stead, We will build a world of our own devising. I, Midas the Creator Figment, promise you that.
Go forth, sweet vassals, emissaries of My will, and sing My praise: a dirge of birth and rebirth, eternally repeating.”

Upon regaining consciousness, Petyr thought he had died and gone to heaven. His vision was swirling with images of beautiful women, all beckoning him with come-hither eyes. His eyes must have turned into kaleidoscopes; images of the women spiraled into the distance as far as he could see. He tried to skip over to the gorgeous ladies, but his arms were yanked back before he could finish his first hop.
Suddenly, the dreamy visions faded into a much harsher reality. Metal shackles adorned Petyr’s wrists, attaching him securely to sturdy rings in a solid, stone wall. The rings were located at shoulder height, holding his arms at ninety-degrees to his body.
The infinite expanse of spiraling beauty had settled down, congealing into seven seductive bodies. Petyr recognized them at once and knew that they were not the women of his dreams; they were the cougars of his nightmares.
The tallest, most clothed woman stepped closer. She was wearing a red latex dress that stopped short halfway down her thighs. The neckline dipped low, down to her waist exposing her ample cleavage. Her bosom might have fallen out, but six small buckles, evenly spaced, attached the sides of the neckline. Black combat boots with two-inch heels gave her an exceedingly overwhelming air of authority.
“Vell, vell, look who has voken up. Is naptime over, my little raccoon dog? Are you ready to play vith me?”
The Dom Com, sometimes called the Himalayan Minx, had caught Petyr at last. Little was known about this voluptuous woman, other than her penchant for wearing latex, her Eurasian origin, and her extremely sadistic tendencies. Her objective in Anonymous was not winning the game but, instead, forcing others to lose. Nothing satisfied her like breaking an opponent’s will, cracking them like a raw egg. She used an encyclopedic knowledge torturing techniques to interrogate her captives. If she could discover their names, she would disqualify them from the competition. Her tactics were quick and dirty, much like the woman herself.
The Minx had been tracking Petyr for almost nine months. Apparently, she had become obsessed with him due to their common Eurasian heritage. It was a strange link, but apparently enough to inspire her worldwide manhunt. Petyr didn’t bother trying to understand the woman; he focused on avoiding her at all costs. It had been at least three months since they last had an encounter. Petyr realized he must have been unconscious a long while for her to catch up to him so easily.
Oh no…the briefcase…my mission…
His thoughts must have shown on his face, because the Dom Com walked over and pinched his cheek.
“No, no. Ve can’t have you being so unhappy. You have such a pretty face. Look, I vant you to meet somebody.”
Her personal bodyguards, the Succubus Six, were scattered about the room in various states of undress. Each of the Six had her number tattooed on a very visible patch of skin. The Dom Com obviously enjoyed showing off her menagerie.
She walked over to Number 3 and began stroking her short blonde hair.
“Dis vun is new since ve last met. She vas a player, just like you, until I learned her name. Now, rather than be diskvalified, she became my henchman. Much prettier than the old Number 3, yes?”

Peter knew how this charade would play out. His years of training had prepared him for torture situations just like this one. He could avoid telling the mistress anything equally as long as she could keep torturing him. His mind was a locked steel vise and pain was not the key to opening it. His future held endless days of pain with no respite in sight. The Dom Com would work him hard a couple of days, before seeing his resilient nature shine through. Then she and the Succubus Six would take turns torturing him, each working a different day of the week. This would probably continue until he was dead or rescued.
Unfortunately, Petyr also knew what the Minotaur was planning. His boss wouldn’t be sending any rescue attempts. Failing his mission left Petyr as good as dead in the Minotaur’s eyes. If by some stroke of genius Petyr managed to escape, he would no longer be welcome in the Minotaur’s circle. He would most likely be blacklisted to prevent him from joining any other syndicates, either.
There was only one option available to him.
“Yes, Miss Com? My name is Petyr Dmitriev and I’d like to go home now.”

Train rides were exceptionally boring. Dr. Hadjaz was trying hard to keep himself awake. He didn’t quite trust the man sitting across from him, supposedly his partner in crime. They had both been hired by the same mysterious stranger, The Epitaph, whatever that was worth.
Dr. Hadjaz’s traveling companion called himself the Dancing Hippo, and rightly so. The man was a true behemoth. He looked as though he could eat literally eat a horse in one sitting. Dr. Hadjaz wasn’t sure about where “Dancing” came from and didn’t really care to know. The Hippo claimed to be wanted for murder in over one hundred countries, but Hadjaz couldn’t be sure without knowing his true identity. Even if it weren’t true, Dr. Hadjaz would have bet his first-born son that it wouldn’t be a good idea to cross The Hippo.
Their cabin was suited for four passengers; it was fitted with a pair of red, velvet-lined loveseat, one facing the other. The Hippo needed both seats on his side, no question about it. Despite being so monstrous, he was dressed well, in a white button up shirt and brown dress pants. His little green bow-tie, speckled with white polka-dots, seemed intentionally ironic. He had combed his hair immaculately, gelling it in place with far too much fixative.
None of this bothered Dr. Hadjaz; he’d worked with too many kinds of lowlife to be put off so easily. He had quite a life of medicinal research years ago, when he decided to play anonymous, joining as The Good Doctor. The opportunities for scientists in the game were much more interesting than the offerings of academia. His insignia was a purple winged man, representing both Daedalus and his son Icarus. While his everyday life flirted with danger, Hadjaz used cold logic to make sure he never flew too close to the sun.
What bothered The Good Doctor was the silver briefcase. The Hippo held it tightly with his great hamfists, refusing even to store it in the luggage compartment. “The Hippo’s only letting go of this to The Epitaph his-self.” His commitment to completing his mission was admirable.
However, Dr. Hadjaz had been hired to examine whatever was inside the briefcase and he had no idea what it might contain. It could be a code, a weapon, an elixir or any number of things. The Epitaph had given no clues, claiming only that it was “extremely entropic.” He began to grow weary from anticipation. The Good Doctor was not a scientist known for his patience.
Before devoting his life to the game, he had run several labs. He had hired grad students and other research techs to perform his research; he was too busy brainstorming his next project to do any experiments himself. If an assignment wasn’t yielding results within a few days, he claimed his staff was moving too slowly and the scheme was scrapped. Luckily, his strongest asset was his creativity, so he had no shortage of alternate schemes to investigate.
There were many hours left in the train ride. Not knowing what was in the briefcase, not being able to plan and expand and extrapolate was driving him stir crazy. He needed to find a way into that briefcase. He leaned forward, put his hands on his knees and stared directly at his associate.
“So, my dear Hippo, are you ready to let me have a peek into that case?”
The Hippo didn’t bother to look back at Dr. Hadjaz. “The Hippo already told ya, you’re not gonna get a looksee. The Hippo’s only gonna give it to the Epitaph. Stop askin’ ‘fore ya get The Hippo mad, sir.“
“Now, listen to me,” Dr. Hadjaz was getting annoyed, “We’re supposed to work together, and my job is to work with whatever is in that case.”
“Do ya think The Hippo care? The Hippo only answer to the boss.”
The Good Doctor rolled his eyes. Extreme loyalty, tremendous strength, and simpleton intelligence. All these things made the Dancing Hippo the perfect henchman. They also made him intolerable as a partner.
The Hippo had searched The Doctor before allowing him onto the train. However, he was only ordered to search for weapons, which Hadjaz did not carry. He had packed much more dangerous items, of his own invention. He pulled a pen out of his jacket pocket and began to nibble on its end.
“Hmm. You see, that’s going to be quite a problem. If we’re going to get along, we need to trust one another, right? I don’t feel very much trust in this cabin.”
The Hippo didn’t reply.
The Good Doctor smiled impishly. Fine, if that was how it was going to be, then he would play along. Dr. Hadjaz didn’t like to put his cards down before it was absolutely necessary, but the situation was driving him crazy. He took the pen from his mouth and stuck his arm out towards the Hippo. He closed his eyes and clicked the pen’s button. A light at the tip of the pen emitted a flash of green light, rapidly followed by flashes of pink light and green light in a highly complex pattern.
“Good Hippo, you will give me that briefcase and you will be happy about it. You will work with me from now on, because it is in your best interests to do so. For all intents and purposes, I am your boss now. Got it?”
The Hippo’s expression hadn’t changed. His typically calm face looked exactly the same. Dr. Hadjaz was worried. Had something gone wrong? Was this massive monster immune to his hypnosis device?
The Hippo extended his arm, briefcase still attached, to the doctor’s lap. “Yes sir, The Hippo obeys.”
Now the Good Doctor smiled a genuine smile, like a child on his birthday. “Thank you very much, dear friend. I think we’ll get along just fine from now on.”
He opened the case. Inside were six syringes containing an unknown clear liquid, probably a serum of some sort. They were all labeled as BioMod36B. The vials piqued the scientist’s interest; his soul was yearning for knowledge about this strange solution. In a few hours, he would have a lab all to himself where he could experiment to his heart’s content. But, of course, he had a willing test subject sitting across from him.
“Hey there, Hippo. To celebrate our new friendship, I have a little game to play. Are you interested?”
“Yes. The Hippo likes games.”
“Ah, well. Very good then. Just sit tight, alright?”
The Doctor took one of the syringes and checked it for bubbles. There was no use killing off his patient before investigating the serum. After he was satisfied, he walked over to the Hippo and placed the point of the needle on the Hippo’s neck.
“Bon voyage.” Dr. Hadjaz inserted the needle and pressed on the plunger until the entire contents had been administered. He wasn’t worried about the dosage; the man was big enough to need a whole flask of cough syrup to see any effect.
The Doctor returned to his seat to watch. Nothing happened for several minutes. The Hippo blankly returned his stare. After about a quarter of an hour, the Hippo passed out.
Perhaps the dosage was too great? Maybe he’s dead! The Doctor panicked for a second. The Epitaph would surely be upset that he’d killed a fine henchman. Rationally, the Doctor didn’t believe the serum was just meant for killing or for making someone pass out. There was too little chaos involved in either. Even so, maybe one vial was too much for the Hippo to handle.
The Hippo suddenly sat up, stiff as a bolt. His eyes were wild, totally different from his normal calm. A strand of drool began to extend from his mouth. His whole body was quaking, as if he were being electrocuted. He shuddered and quivered and made quite a racket. Suddenly, a growth appeared on his neck, right where he’d been injected with the serum. It was growing rapidly, inflating like a water balloon. When it was the size of a tennis ball, it detached itself and fell to the center of the cabin. The hippo passed out once more.
Dr. Hadjaz stared at the small lump of flesh with terrified eyes. This was unfamiliar territory, something that didn’t make sense. The ball continued to grow, changing shape as it expanded. It slowly morphed, taking on the features of a small child. After a half an hour, it looked like a young man, distinctly overweight. As it continued to get bigger it looked more and more like the Hippo behind it.
This was a bifurcation serum! Dr. Hadjaz couldn’t believe it. It was a serum that could replicate the test subject. It seemed unreal. He closed his eyes and shook his head, hoping to wake up from a mad dream. When he opened his eyes it confirmed that he was living in a nightmare. The cloned Hippo was poking the original, trying to wake him up. The original slowly regained consciousness, and was surprisingly calm about what he saw.
“Hello The Hippo, are you all right?”
“Oh yes, The Hippo. The Hippo was just nappin’!”
Dr. Hadjaz was contemplating jumping out the cabin window when a knock arrived at the door. Hippo Number Two opened it to reveal the car attendant.
“I’m sorry to bother you but I heard a commotion. Um, weren’t there only two of you before? Are you trying to scam us? I’m sorry, I’ll have to alert my boss.”
The two Hippos shared a quick glance before grabbing each of the attendant’s arms and pulling him into the cabin.
“Nope. That won’t be necessary.”
They picked him up and swung him as hard as they could through the cabin window. The attendant disappeared his a crash and a scream, and Dr. hadjaz decided he was glad he hadn’t gone through the window after all. The cabin was stiflingly silent for several moments afterward.
The new Hippo put his finger to his lips, wrinkles in his chubby brow indicating deep thought. The Good Doctor realized that this one wasn’t under his hypnotic spell and it worried him profusely.
“Hmm. There isn’t enough room in here for all us, is there?”
Dr. Hadjaz spent the rest of the trip in the lap of Hippo Number Two, wishing that he could be back in his lab performing research on the mundane and the uninteresting.