October 2021

“The center is a perpetual storm field barricaded by a curtain made of clouds,” Guide said. “The physical laws are so loose that it’s pretty much a perpetual storm, and not many folks are able to make it through.”

“Will we?”

“That’s my job,” Guide said. “If you make it to the center, you might be able to get your wish.”

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A field of gravity-shifted stones before them
The physical laws of old need not apply
Each sense in its time goes deadened, numb
As they desperately attempt not to die

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“Geode catacombs,” said Guide. “Do you know what this means?”

“Not a clue.”

“People make caves all the time, but they hate boring rocks. Shiny crystals are much more exciting. So they fashion these geode tunnels for themselves, and they stay behind once the original maker gets bored, wanders off, or dies.”

“Sounds fine to me.”

“Until you realize how unstable they are, and how little stands between them and total collapse. Disturb the order, and this might all dissolve into sand.”

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I grew a perfect world in miniature, a bonsai planet of stamens and petals. Botanical plate tectonics built up tiny mountains, while seas of sap ran deep. But it was not until I saw what I was doing, and looked up for the hand growing my world and I, that I realized the magnitude of what I had done.

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“So you’re saying this fortuneteller knows everything?” Nori said, struggling through the muck.

“Everything,” replied Yasu. “The past, the future, all of it.”

“Well, at least she’ll be expecting us,” Nori said, leaning against a nearby boulder for a moment.

“I asked her once about that,” said Yasu. “She said ‘If I looked into the future and saw that I was not expecting you, would that mean that I would or would not have the teakettle on?”

“Typical.” Nori let out a deep breath. “At least there’s plenty of boulders to rest against.”

“Oh, ah, that’s not a boulder.”

Nori looked up, startled, as the ‘rock’ began to move. It was an enormous toad that let out a sullen croak before lumbering deeper into the mire.

“Fortuneteller’s grove, toad boulders…can today get any weirder?”

Yasu pointed at something in the distance. “I think it’s about to.”

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“Shh,” said X!’tua. “An outpost of accordion trees. Up ahead.”

Gr;6if parted the fronds of newspaper-and-avocado bushes quietly, observing the deadly bellows hanging limply from the boughs of several palms, like polka coconuts. “Think we can sneak around them?”

X!’tua did not like the look of the pile of bones beneath them; he saw the skeletons of a human, a soda pop can, and a participle lying there, bones bleached. “We have to try. The Reality Tsunami isn’t going to undo itself.”

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“So you say you caught these ‘aliens’ in the middle of cutting a crop circle into your barley field,” the detective inspector said.

“Yup.” said the farmer.

“And your response to this intergalactic invasion was not to contact the proper authorities,” said his detective sergeant, “but to invite these extraterrestrials to tea.”

“Yup,” said the farmer.

“Tell me, how did you even know they would understand you, or know what tea was?” the detective inspector added.

“Well now, don’t know that I rightly did, but I says to myself: Nigel, if these ‘ere aliens has solved the massive problems of energy, mass, an’ relativity inherent in travelin’ twixt the stars, well, they ought to be able to understand the King’s own an’ know when they’s asked in for a cuppa, eh? Translating’s the easy part, guv, it’s the crossin’ o’ millions o’ miles that’s hard.”

“And that, in your own words, is why you now have a farm field covered with tiny triangular cups of tea?” said the detective sergeant.

“Yup,” said the farmer. “An’ I’m stickin’ to that.”

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“Fallen horizon.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“That’s what we call them. Planets that used to support a thick atmosphere and life, but have had that atmosphere stripped away, leaving nothing but a tomb world.”

“It’s not really accurate, is it?”

“No, but it’s poetic.”

“Is poetry really the correct response, looking across such a world?”

“I can think of none better.”

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Mark looked up, the mushrooms for his salad still in hand. “Something funny about my salad?”

“Cannibal,” said Eggers.

Mark sighed. “You gonna unpack that for me, Eggers, or can I finish my lunch in peace?”

“The fungal kingdom is more closely related to you, sitting there right now, than it is to plants. So, therefore: cannibal. Even if vegetarian; cannibal.” Eggers seemed to find this utterly hilarious, as he struggled to contain a crooked grin.”

“And I’m sure you eat nothing but dewdrops and the energy of the universe,” Mark said. “At least fungi can make something useful of a wothless-ass perp like you, Eggers.”

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“He was quite agitated when he came in,” Dr. Cherry said. “We administered 200ccs of prisencolinensinainciusol, and that has calmed him significantly.” “200ccs of what?” Ellie said. “Oh, uh, you’d know it better as Prisencol HCL,” said Cherry. “Very mild sedative with some anti-psychotic properties in most cases.” “Your doctor says you were shouting about something,” Ellie said. “About knowing who killed your friend Stephens. Is that right, Nayt? Did you see who killed him?” “Plains of stardust and purple flowers,” said Nayt. “Pixel friends and mushroom powers.” Ellie looked at Cherry. “Is that a side effect of your happy pills, doctor?” “It, uh, it shouldn’t be.” “Is he another schizophrenic?” “Nayt? No, he’s manic-depressive with associated ADHD hyperfixation and OCD,” Cherry said, looking worried. “Normally he is quite coherent.”
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