On the other hand, every being that has ever existed has been haunted by a sense that there is something larger going on around them. Someone else is pulling the strings, having more fun, making the big decisions while we our stuck at home on Friday nights, going to the same crummy job, using the same, unscented toilet paper. We try to tell ourselves that we are happy in our own spheres, and that we are just being paranoid, but we know its not true. Our lives really are lame, and someone out there really is more important, having more fun, and keeping all the big secrets to themselves. There is that one person who really is invited to all the exclusive parties and really is privy to all the important gossip and powerplays, but you're definitely not that person.
Even the Universe suffers from the contradiction of 1) feeling as though he is the center of the universe and 2) feeling like he is missing out on something bigger. Of course, he actually is the center of the universe, and the periphery and everything in between.
On Lutranean B, this contradiction resolved itself in a perfectly, simplistic way that not even the Universe could understand.
Lutranean B is a world if sentient diversity. The planet is named after the dominant species--the Lutranea. A full grown Lutranean was more than 8 feet tall and incredibly attractive. For the most part, species tend to be drawn to other members of their species, finding members of other species relatively less attractive, but everyone agrees that the typical Lutranea is no less than a mortal Adonis. People cannot actually agree on what a typically Lutranea actually looks like.
The most populous species on Lutranean B are the Aranas. With multiples heads, eyes, legs, abdomens and little sprikly things, Aranas are considered to be among the least attractive sentient beings--but given their high birth rate, they obviously disagree. Aranas never surpass a foot in height, and were generally disregarded for thousands of years and big insects that wouldn't shut up. The Lutranea still use the phrase "talking with the Arana" as a euphemism for insanity. The Arana still use the phrase "bugging like a Lutranea" as a euphemism for freaking out . . . and "smart as a Lutranea" is not a compliment.
The Darfinians are often treated like the Lutranea's shorter, uglier, bluer, and generally nerdier little brothers. They generally top out at 6 feet, walk upright on two legs, have two arms with opposable thumbs, and are best known for being a second late with the witty comment at parties and getting one-upped by a Lutranean when they try to impress. They tend to live in forests far away from the Lutranea.
And then there are the Dinkles.
The Lutranea generally consider themselves the dominant species of the planet, and no one really bothers to disagree. They claim that position based on their advanced sewer system; sewer systems being an obvious way to measure the technology, culture, civility, and non-ickiness of a people. No one is really quite sure why the Lutranea invested so much in an advanced waste disposal system, since their waste literally does not stink. The Lutranea respond that others would understand if they had to live with the pressure of being the most perfect species in existence, but, of course, they don't.
Dinkles spend the majority of their lives sitting in a row along a branch taking turns puffing a pipe. Centuries ago, before they had developed the myth of the poisonous air and grass monsters, the pipes were filled with a combination of weeds and mushrooms that acted as a mild relaxant. Now, they filled the pipe with dried and crumbled leaves from their tree which had absolute no psychoactive properties whatsoever. More important to the Dinkles, who experienced little stress in their lives and, therefore, had no real need of a relaxant, the leaves smelled better and were therefore more pleasant for passing the time.
The Dinkles spent the majority of their time smoking a pipe because they had the majority of their lives to waste. Collecting nuts required them to work full days for most of a month, and then the rest of the year they would live off storage.
The nuts were distributed equally because, quite simply, no one wanted more nuts than they could eat. Consequently, there were no rich or poor among the Dinkles. The leaves for filling pipes were available in abundance to everyone. Taking eggs was a dangerous task, and so, when the opportunity arose, the entire nest was cleaned out. The eggs were large enough that one nest could typically feed most of the Dinkle population, and they had to be eaten quickly or they would go bad. Everything was shared equally. There was no such thing among the Dinkles as fine wine, fine clothes (they only had leaves), fancy jewelry (from bark?), high art (on bark?) or, for that matter, fine women (footnote: the population control program is not as difficult for the Dinkles as it might be in other societies, because the Dinkles don’t find themselves to be at all attractive). All Dinkles lived, essentially, the same.
But Sneaux had found a reason to be cynical, and for this the Dinkles hated him. To explain, cynicism in a society is typically the product of class conflict. Generally old money, when challenged by new money, will create measures of refinement (a taste for good art, drink, clothes, manners etc.) that take a lifetime to develop. Then, they belittle all other attempts at good living to establish themselves as superior. Other classes, in an attempt to copy the higher classes, will develop a similar attitude, elevating their own food, drink, art, entertainment, and women. Eventually, nothing’s good enough to satisfy everyone, and people learn to just be cynical about everything.
The Dinkles were not cynical. They all generally ate the same food, drank the same water, smoked from the same pipes, and were equally spherical. Putting down another Dinkle for his choice in food or women was pretty pointless.
Sneaux was different from other Dinkles in one important way, though. He freely expressed his view that life is for suckers and mocked other Dinkles for valuing it. For the Dinkles, Election Day provided their one source of self-elevating pride. It motivated and perpetuated population control measures because it allowed non-Extra Dinkles to celebrate their lives as intentional, if not meaningful, while the Extras were inferior. They hated Sneaux because he tried to turn the tables on them.
Some have wondered, though briefly and without much real interest, what the Dinkles think about while they're smoking their pipes. It has been suggested that if they had a surface that allowed them to gather in a circle they would talk more. Further, the argument goes, if they talked more they may have developed literature, philosophy, and, perhaps, even begun to question and criticize the existing social order. This, of course, is blathering hogwash dreamed up by people that have never actually met the Dinkles.
But some have wondered what the Dinkles think about while smoking their pipes. Their universe is bounded by the outer limits of the tree branches. Birth and death are reduced to mechanisms of the population control program. They do have some poetry and storytelling, but the themes are very limited—you can only write so much about bland nuts, smoking pipes, and a series of battles hundreds of years ago that no one remembers. The truth is, mostly they try to think of alternative ways of preparing nuts, in which, unfortunately, they have made no progress.
Sneaux, like most Dinkles, had never actually thought about what happens after death. As he fell out of the tree, he still didn’t think about what happens after death and instead thought something along the lines of “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggg-ggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, the interpretation of which is still being debated.
Had he been able to focus while he was screaming like an idiot he would have noticed 1) he was able to scream, which meant his lungs were still reasonably well positioned, 2) his spleen was still fully intact and as useless as ever, 3) when he was scared he screamed like a sissy girl, 4) a massive wall of dust that was moving in quickly and might reach him before he hit the ground, 5) Lutranean B had two moons of about equal mass (footnote: the moons were named, incidentally, Norman 1 and Hyptokaramuliathalipulis. A disgruntled scribe had convinced the King responsible for naming the moons (his name being, rather coincidentally, Norman) that the name of the second meant Norman 2 in some ancient language. In reality, Hyptokaramuliathalipulis was just the most ridiculous series of syllables the scribe could come up. Little did he know, Hyptokaramuliathalipulis is a name, in a language older than Language herself, and it can be translated either as That Which Cannot Be, Yellow Bunny Horse Slippers or, rather ironically, Norman the Second.), or 6) that the tree might not actually be the best place for a Dinkle right now, despite all other evidence to the contrary.
Herbert, to avoid coming to terms with his seemingly imminent death, noted the moons, calculated their orbits and postulated on their origins, and became very aware that the Dinkles were about to be in the middle of something much bigger than they could ever imagine. And then he thought to himself a most curious thing: death by monkeys or death by elephants.
Mary and Murrey floated down together, each striking poses that seemed to them very noble indeed. If there was ever a time where attitude mattered, it was now - at the start of their grand adventure. They landed first, softly and graciously, followed by Sneaux and Pinkle. Sneaux’s parachute had snagged on a branch and so lost its ability to slow his descent, and Sneaux crash-landed unceremoniously in between the twins. He lay there, sprawled out - as well as any creature approaching spherical could sprawl - and as he regained his senses he noticed Mary and Murrey standing above him.
“You alright, Sneaux?” Mary asked. “You look…”
“Like you’re ready for a bath.” Murrey finished confidently. Pinkle landed a few inches away from the trio, poised and ready to take on any grass monster that might be hungry.
Mary glared at her brother. “That’s not what I was going to say, Murrey,” she stated with a hint of irritation in her voice. “I was trying to tell Sneaux that he looked a little disoriented.”
“Oh.” Murrey immediately looked embarrassed and even heartbroken, but just as quickly forgot the whole incident. “Where’s Herbert?” he wondered aloud.
The four Dinkles on the ground, with the exception of Pinkle, who had now dropped to the ground in a GI pose and was crawling through the grass on his elbows, spent a short moment wondering where Herbert could have gone. They didn’t spend too much effort on this question, however, before they decided that he had probably landed without them noticing and run off.
“He’s gone to find food,” said Mary. “He’s gone to start an adventure,” decided Murrey. The twins began discussing, in whispers, how Herbert was probably planning on one-upping them in their escapades, what they could do to stop him, and where they should first look for food. Sneaux was thinking about how it just figured that his own parachute would be the one to get a hole in it, and Pinkle was busy staring at nothing and cocking his head slightly to the side, listening intently for any sign of trouble.
What the four Dinkles didn’t know was that in fact, Herbert had had the unfortunate lot of being carried away by the hurricane force gale that had blown in, a gale from which they were temporarily protected by the thick grass. This, of course, will be supremely important later in the story, but for now it will flop elegantlessly as an elaborately foreshadowed event that is painfully anti-climatic.
Mary and Murrey scurried off. Motivated now by competition, they were even more determined to travel speedily in the direction they had chosen completely at random.
Pinkle looked at Sneaux. “Brilliant. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“What are you talking about, you dip?” Sneaux was unpopular among the Dinkles because he challenged the system, but also because he had a terrible habit of throwing out random insults whenever he had the chance.
Pinkle didn’t seem to notice. “Screaming. It kept air from entering your lungs and amorphized your spleen. Chapter 3 of the Handbook. I decided to take out the spleen so I wouldn’t risk attracting predators, but your effeminate quiver indubitably scared away any predators for miles.”
As a back handed compliment, Sneaux caught this one in the jaw like it was wearing a weighted, armored glove. He was a bit embarrassed to have his ‘dip’ still hanging out there and decided to change the subject. “There’s a storm moving in. It’s big, and we need shelter now.”
Pinkle pulled out his "Exiles' Survival Guide". The Guide had two parts, Preparation and Field Work. Pinkle had memorized the Preparation portion, but had followed the author’s unequivocal advice that he not remove the seal from the portion labeled Field Work. (footnote: In a personal note from the author, Bimal informs the reader that these pages are chemically treated for the toxic air, and if exposed to tree air the writing will vanish.) Now he broke the seal to scour the pages for advice on shelter.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no. . . What have I done?” Pinkle screeched as he flipped feverishly through the pages. “I’m an idiot.”
“I concur,” Sneaux submitted with pleasure, feeling immediately less humiliated but a little disconcerted with Pinkle’s reaction to the Guide, “but what has provoked this most recent bout of self-effacement?”
“The air here is not toxic. The grass air, apparently, has cleared the pages. My copy is useless.” Pinkle moved quickly from fear, to acceptance, to self pity and hopelessness. He slumped on the ground and dropped his face in his hands. “I’m lost. We’re lost.”
Sneaux had always been impressed with Bimal’s lack of scruples, but he was awe struck by this most recent revelation. The man, obviously, possessed a brilliance surpassed only by Sneaux himself. He decided that he would pick up where Bimal had left off. The squatting Pinkle had food squirting from his blue pajama pants, and Sneaux was famished.
“Pinkle, you slimy maggot, pull yourself together.” He was impressed with the force of his own commands. “The storm’s coming from the north. We’ll set up camp on the far side of the tree and use the base of the tree to blunt the storm winds. We’ll need to empty out a couple of those nuts in your pants to store water.”
His new subordinate split a smile, pulled out a nut and tossed it to Sneaux. He took out a second for himself and produced, almost magically, a sharpened rock from deep inside his pants. Sharpened rocks, for obvious reasons, were very valuable to the Dinkles, the closest they had to sacred relics.
Sneaux then Pinkle chopped holes in the tops of their nuts. The meat inside could be dug out by hand, and the two Dinkles cleaned out their nuts in a couple of minutes. After the storm had passed they could carve out fallen sticks to function as stoppers.
They ran to the south side of the tree, going over or around protruding roots. They positioned themselves between two larger roots that, they supposed, should buffer them against any winds that got lost in all the confusion and came at them from the wrong side. They heard huge drops of rain began to pelt the grass around the tree even before they had been able to settle in their new shelter.
“OK,” Sneaux started less convincingly, “Now, go out and fill up our nuts.”
Pinkle hopped up, grabbing both shells, and ran away from the base of the tree. As he ran he was apparently focused on the branches above them. Sneaux was first confused about what he was doing, which mutated into indifference about Pinkle’s fate, but was ultimately beaten out by a supreme concern about the future of his next meal as it was now packaged in a certain pair of blue pajama pants. He hopped up and ran after Pinkle. He had barely cleared the cover of the roots when a confused gust caught him and Pinkle and lifted them both off their feet.
Sneaux had barely hit the ground before he was up and running again. “What are you doing, you fool? Where are you going?” The words were caught up in the wind and carried to some other destination than that which Sneaux had intended.
Pinkle had struggled to get up with the shells in his hands and pants full of food—in any other circumstance Sneaux would have been amused by the show and for the second time that day discovered that his eminent death was really making life less funny. The delay allowed Sneaux to make up ground on Pinkle. He dove for his feet, or, rather, flopped in a manner that somewhat resembled a supple whale, and managed to trip him up with his hand. Pinkle’s feet were ripped out from under him, but his torso continued forward and whipped down like a fulcrum. He kept a hold of one shell, but the second flew out of his hand and was caught in the wind and blew well beyond the cover of the tree.
With only one shell, Pinkle was much more agile. He hopped to his feet. He ran another foot, near the edge of the tree’s cover. He found a spot that had been wetted by dripping water from a leaf high above and dug out the loose mud with the rock. He stuck the shell in the hole and turned back. Sneaux watched this performance from his belly. Athletes will often fake an injury to cover some idiotic move on their part, but Sneaux didn’t need to fake anything. He felt like the dive had detached each muscle from its proper skeletal contact point.
Pinkle ran back by him, looked confused, gestured for him to run back with him and said something that was swallowed up in the wind that approximated, as far as Sneaux could tell, something along the lines of “What are ya’ doing on the ground?” Sneaux decided that Pinkle must never know what it was that he was doing on the ground, and, with his mind occupied with his good fortune that Pinkle was obviously unable to deduce the obvious, Sneaux hopped up mindlessly and was half way back before his body finally got his brain’s attention and he limped the rest of the way back.
The two sat under the tree, breathless. “Sneaux,” Pinkle huffed, “I lost one of the shells.” “I know,” Sneaux replied. Sneaux wasn’t sure if Pinkle could hear him over the storm, but he was certain the tone exposing his own guilt was washed away with the wind.
“Wait.” Sneaux said, turning to Pinkle. “There’s something we need to do. Something I’ve always wanted to do.”
He stood up, turned around, and looked up into the tree. As loud as his oversized lungs would allow him he began, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.”
Pinkle had been out of sorts after his recent adventure, but Sneaux’s insane declaration at no one in particular caught his attention.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,” having noticed that he caught Pinkle’s attention he decided he should start again from the beginning. “WE HAVE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SOLEMN NECESSITY OF TELLING YOU WE THINK YOU ARE THE WORTHLESS, ROTTING MUCOUS I HOPE TO BLOW OUT OF MY NOSE.” He waved at Pinkle to stand and join him.
“WE MEET HERE UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF THE EXILES TO PERFORM OUR REQUISITE DUTY OF LETTING YOU KNOW THAT YOU SUCK.”
“We hope you die humiliated and homeless,” Pinkle started timidly. Sneaux was surprised, but encouraged him to continue. “We hope you run out of food,” he was picking up steam, “OR THE TREE BURNS TO THE GROUND TAKING YOU WITH IT OR . . . “ He looked at Sneaux and grinned like a full-blooded goofball “YOU CATCH A BLOODY COLD AND SNEEZE YOUR LUNGS OUT YOUR NOSE.”
Too embarrassed to look at each other, the two turned around, found a spot, sat down and watched the storm pass above them. Minutes later Pinkle had fallen asleep to the relaxing sounds of rain drops on leaves and gusts of wind that could probably rip a man’s hair out of his head. Several feet above him, the entire Dinkle population was also sound asleep, completely unaware that any storm of any magnitude had passed their way.
Elias was also unaware of the storm, because he lived hundreds of miles away from the Ephulsian Plains of Upper Hippotuliamulia. But Elias was strangely aware of the Dinkles. Elias often found himself drawn to that half sentence, usually following a semi-colon, that mentioned the Dinkles in Lutranean text books.
Elias had always been a big different from his fellow Lutraneans. He was a bit rebellious. In a society obsessed with keeping up appearances--a rather boring endeavor since Lutraneans could not help but keep up appearances--Elias liked to break the rules.
He liked to shock people. He generally stuck to petty crimes--talking back to teachers, cannon balling at the pool, mooning the police--but he occasionally found himself daydreaming about starting a mass panic, a work stoppage, overthrowing the government, something that would really get people worked up.
The most serious of his crimes, though, was consorting with the lesser species, not to exploit their labor, but to learn. It was through these interactions that he learned about the mystery of the age of work. The Lutranea weren't too concerned about the age of work because they never really did any; they could always convince a Darfinian or Arana to do it for them. But Elias found himself strangely drawn to this debate. It was completely esoteric, pointless, meaningless, hopeless--it was perfectly academic.
Elias was more drawn, though, to the idea that the age of work was once 0; at some point, the age of work was born to replace something else, and there he learned about the myth of the age of magic. A world of Magic! A world of broken rules, of disorder, of Chaos! And Elias had dreams.
So, on a Tuesday in the Spring, in the 12th year of Norman Gregory the MMDLXXIV, a date that, notably, could not be measured by the age of work, Elias set out for Mount Apothesis.