The Cube - Chapter 8 - Continued

The Cause refused to pay a royalty for The Sphere, a source of endless consternation for Volp. The authority received hundreds of letters a day, now running three to one in favor of the story, and he found the Party’s wholesale theft unconscionable. Eventually he settled on product placement as a way to generate revenue from the success of the series. He instructed Mutt, who in turn instructed Ivy, to work in various references to specific products with predictable comic effect. When Huston high-kicked an enemy agent in the throat instantly killing him, the story carefully labeled his boot as a “genuine Tri-bar leather workboot,” as if that detail mattered to the dead spy. When Posy drank prune juice under the misconception it was a contraceptive, it was identified as “Hollow Farms One Hundred Percent Bug-Free Prune Juice,” as if that might increase sales. The story line was developing beautifully though and readers kept sending letters offering advice on how to raise a love child in a sapper nest, or how to cure Huston’s growing addiction to the nabana peel, or whether Posy’s interest in the undertaker was justified given Huston’s dalliance with the telegraph operator, and so on. Readers agreed that the scene in which Huston’s dead body mysteriously rolled in on an embalming cart just as the undertaker embraced Posy by the vat of formaldehyde, only for Posy to collapse onto the cart declaring her undying love for her departed, with Huston then dramatically awakening and carting her back out the door from whence he came, was a bit overwrought, yet it generated more letters than any other scene.

Despite Ivy’s control of the story Mutt continued to supply many of the plot ideas, including the formaldehyde scene of which he was especially proud. So now Posy had been banished to the vat room by a father angry at her unplanned pregnancy while Huston’s sapper brigade was burying seven tons of dynamite beneath that very same room and he knew he would soon receive orders to blow up the compound but if he did so he would lose the love of his life and their unborn child and if he refused he would lose his own life. He was leaning toward explosion under the evil spell of the telegraph operator while Posy was busily convincing her father that this was a virgin pregnancy and God was speaking through her body all the while still meeting Huston for passionate liaisons through the secret tunnel behind a huge pile of alum laced with toxins.

Volp’s editorials in support of The Sphere ran the full gamut from spirited defense of true love to championing artistic expression to attacking would-be censors to complete silence once the tawdriness breached a certain bulwark to finally blaming readers themselves for liking the story and declaring it a reflection of their own moral degeneracy. Fortunately no one complained in the permissive atmosphere of the Notches where Mutt frequently circulated unedited drafts full of phrases such as “perky nipples” and “throbbing manhood” that everyone agreed were far superior to the published versions. Ivy kept interweaving a big picture theme of the coming apocalypse and how Posy had a unique opportunity to stop it if only she could kill the right people at the right time but since she was locked in a vat room devoting most of her time to Huston’s rutting the world was doomed unless she could engineer an escape, which could only be through enemy tunnels so heavy was the rock her father had placed on the vat room hatch. Mutt knew the mechanism of the Sphere’s destruction, the windmills, but was not happy with the overlay of mysticism about destiny and rewriting the future all of which was setting the readership up for a huge disappointment. Ivy was adamant and promised to reveal all after the Fifteenth of Tarpin. One day Mutt realized with horror that the windmill idea was flawed. Would not the same windmills generating torque from the cosmic wind on one side of the planet generate opposite torque once the planet spun halfway? Ivy agreed this was a problem but felt he was giving too much credit to readers’ acumen. He would not let the matter drop and worked out an elaborate theory of the cosmic wind that placed it high above the canopy on only one side of the planet. That way the windmills would have to be gargantuan to capture the currents and they would add torque to the planet’s spin with each revolution, just like Ivy’s handchops.

One day Volp called Mutt into the office and closed the door, throwing the latest copy of The Cause onto the desk. Mutt started to flip it over – the Sphere was always on the last page – and Volp stopped his hand pointing to the lead story on page one. Muglair had referenced The Sphere in a speech to the delegates of the People’s Hall. The melting of the ice mountains on the dark side and consequent flooding of the planet were well underway in the story, and Muglair declared this the perfect metaphor for Arland’s continuing rape of the Silent Sea. Will the denizens of the Cube fare better than those of the Sphere? Muglair could see that those imaginary peoples were doomed – darn, thought Mutt, was it that obvious? – but suggested Arland take heed from the words of its artists, because there were some stresses the planet could not endure. Tom Weathers, Mutt’s byline, had inadvertently waded into great power politics. Mutt did not like the feeling. Muglair was a frightening leader, a demagogue dangerously combining anger and charisma, someone whose rhetoric promised a future of endless bloodshed. For him to blame Arland for rape of the Silent Sea while ignoring his own contribution to the crisis was hypocritical in the extreme, but men like Muglair exploited popular grievances to justify any and all action with no consistency of principle. Mutt did not like The Sphere being used for Skavian propaganda but was flattered none the same. It was certainly a better metaphor than magic weasels.

Three days after Ivy’s drunken prediction of disaster on the great sandstone plaza, Mutt received a special notice from Skava for immediate distribution to the boards. He handed it to the runner and requested leave to go home. In the hut he found Ivy seated at the table painting dragonflies on Hope’s cheeks, the little girl taking delight in viewing the progress in a mirror. Mutt dropped the notice on the table and told Ivy she was not psychic after all. Yes a viewing platform had tragically collapsed killing scores of spectators, yes Muglair had accused Arland of sabotage, yes Muglair had threatened to “bury our children in a common grave,” but the death toll was one-hundred twenty-four, not one-hundred twenty-six as Ivy predicted. She gazed at the notice bemused, figuring that a couple of the injured had yet to expire then wondering if maybe the minders slain on Lane Navachi were the missing fatalities. Perhaps they had been destined to die in the collapse but a new fate intervened in Harmour. Such was the power of the Oopsah. She regretted telling Mutt about the disaster and vowed never to drink mead again.

“You are right, Mutt, I cannot predict the future. Let us speak of this no more.”

Mutt walked to the Skavian overlook and scanned the horizon in the direction of Leri Deri. He had believed Ivy when she made the prediction. She seemed so sure of herself. But over the next three days he had grown to doubt her. A rational person could not go through life defining as truth what others strongly believe. Con men and charlatans, and great leaders like Muglair, knew that by force of conviction they could sway an audience. But rationality required evidentiary proof of extraordinary claims, and precognition was as extraordinary a claim as they come. Mutt had concluded Ivy’s prediction could not come true because it was inconsistent with his worldview. There was no known mechanism by which a person could predict the future in such detail. But she had known in advance what would happen, and he was now left with a disturbing conclusion. Rationality required him to accept on faith that Ivy Morven had special powers beyond his comprehension. She had demonstrated her power and to deny it would be irrational. So the only rational conclusion was that the world was fundamentally irrational. The delusions were not in Ivy’s head. They were in his.


The father had a favor to ask. The frame around a door in the lower crypt was rotting and Mutt was just the handyman to replace it. But first Mutt was deputized as a Church leader and sworn to respect a vow of silence before entering the hallowed space. The lower crypt was located at the bottom of a hidden staircase behind a sarcophagus in the main crypt, itself below the nave. There were no sarcophagi in the lower crypt, only a low vaulted ceiling with various doorways framed by masonry arches. A dank and sweet odor permeated the chamber. Strange markings etched in charcoal and colored chalk covered the walls, no doubt remnants of mysterious rites but looking to Mutt more like graffiti in the bus wells of Rixjrig. He saw fantastical images of an eight-taloned firebird with wingspan embracing the Cube and suckleworm flailing in its mouth, a purplish spaceship trailing blue flames carrying a glass-domed city skyward in a cosmic evacuation with pyramidal stars exploding in the background, a giant ferris wheel filled with robots from the uncanny valley waving lollipops and pennants staring creepily out of the wall with luminescent eyes, a redheaded woman in a rocking chair on a porch holding a shotgun and suckling a pig framed by spider vines falling from unseen trape trees. He saw mysterious symbols, a polka-dotted mushroom crowned by an infinity symbol containing a sun and moon in its loops, a stylized letter Z followed by the outline of a nose sporting thick-rimmed glasses, an aimless curve winding around in a malformed circle with an army of stick figures marching across its surface each firing a gun into the back of the figure ahead, a prism dividing light into its constituent wavelengths with each beam passing through a keyhole into a room with a figure beckoning on a bed, balls of goat meat with menacing eye stalks protruding from gangly tentacles of unleavened dough. Secular couplets occupied the masonry between pilasters:

Load upon load of ingot and ore

Rolls up my back to buttress my sore

Lilac and grease in the folds of my brain

Ooze in erosion through gaps in the skein

Limitless oscar in fits of debris

Delivers from garbage to set the scent free

But I in my heaven of death and decay

Flourish my scepter and send them away

On another wall:

When belvedere degorted flob

I panded on my zill

And kassed the lumilingo fass

Atop a dabbered yill

I screamed “Belort!

What pikkindums!

Has swermy wistered pule?”

The last line was scratched out from this verse. Strange words and phrases randomly filled spaces between the images and symbols, “creation of a hill”, “baby abuse factory”, “reverends of euphoria”, “incredible talking mime”, “homesick aliens”, “tomato’s poisoned thorn”, “as I addle up”, “kill the ox my friend”, “a tease shone”, “my dog doesn’t love me anymore”, “twarma kelo veno”, “sweet potatoes from a jar”, “I like to watch you sleep,” “the solitary lament of the loon”, “all good children go to heaven”, “abercrombie waltz into infinity”, a disorienting barrage of apparently random incantations. Mutt’s eyes fixated on one phrase scarcely legible between images of two cats licking their shoulders with open mouths, hooded shadows with glowing eyes looming in the darkness of their throats.

“Father, has Ivy ever been here?” The father knew their real names.

“No, son,” he smiled. “This place is beyond her limits.”

The words between the cats were “Tom & Cerise.”

Mutt no longer believed the world was rational but this was too much. “Who inscribed these?” His hand swept across the room.

“I do not know.” The father lowered his voice. “They bolt the door from the inside.” He pointed to the studded oak beam door at the staircase landing. “If you hear bells approaching from the tunnel, you must leave.”

“You needn’t worry.”

Mutt turned his attention to the work at hand. The door needing repair was not a door at all. It was a circular iron portal with locking wheel, five feet in diameter, resting on bowed hinges opening onto a tunnel descending at a forty-five-degree angle parallel to the surface of Arland. The father had erected a makeshift barrier across the tunnel just inside the portal and told Mutt it would be sacrilege and a violation of sacred vow to look beyond it. Mutt decided he would need laborers and a block and tackle to move the massive portal. No, the father told him, he had summoned Mutt because he did not want the expense and delay of bringing a consecrated crew from Rixjrig, the normal protocol for maintenance of the lower crypt. Mutt protested that the scale of renovation was beyond the capacity of a single man. The father told him the portal was buoyed and could be moved with one hand once freed from its lodgment. Mutt asked that Ivy be deputized and the father agreed she could aid him, such was his trust in the couple.

The casing had been constructed after the last leveling of the Notches, when the new church was erected and the lower crypt of the original stone temple rebuilt. The father did not know why they chose a wooden casing that would inevitably decay, and he now sought a masonry frame. Mutt was left to his labor with mallets, saws, spikes, chisels, trowel, measuring tape, plumb lines, and various other implements. He began prying out the rotted wood and securing the portal with straps as the beams were chiseled away. After a few hours he completed removal of the wood and brought Ivy the next day, duly deputized with Hope in tow, to assist with the masonry. Ivy was dumbstruck by the graffiti of the lower crypt, oriented in various directions as if drawn by people with tilted gravity, and appeared to fall into a trance. She stared through the open hole from which the portal had been temporarily removed, descended to the barrier erected by the father, and began to shake it. Mutt pulled her back from this act of sacrilege as she snapped to her senses. He mortared up a thick masonry backstop on which the portal would rest, its four tongues inserted along the front of the backstop into the grooves that would be formed by the front frame. Ivy milled around the crypt absorbed in the imagery, handing stones and mortar to Mutt as needed. She discovered on her own their make-believe names and gasped. Mutt asked how she had chosen those names on their first day in the Notches and she said she did not know, they were chosen for her by a higher power.

Later that day, seated at the table in the hut, Ivy made an unusual request. She needed the Arland weather reports every day for the next seventeen days starting tomorrow. She would not reveal the reason for the request and said simply she had decided to study weather data. The reports were delivered daily to the authority with the Arland notices, and Ivy disappeared into the loft with the first report along with her satchel. It was the Second of Skitton. She soon left in a fog with Kippers, needing company but unable to take Mutt, and returned hours later without the puppy. Mutt awoke from a nap to find Hope and Ivy frantically racing around the mound calling for Kippers, who had long acclimated and had free run of the plane. The Notches was not a large place and he rarely disappeared for more than an hour. Ivy asked Mutt where he last saw Kippers and he said with her, when she left the hut mysteriously, something Ivy could not recall. She sat down at the table her head in hands realizing where Kippers must be. At the church they found the father in the upper crypt wearing an expression of panic. Barking and howling emanated from the lower crypt and he was afraid to investigate. Ivy took his key and proceeded down the stairwell into the vaulted chamber. The portal was still off its hinges and behind the barrier they heard the scratching and digging of a trapped dog. Ivy stepped onto the treacherous slope of the tunnel, lifted the barrier from its pin slots and moved it to one side, and Kippers bounded to Hope and began licking her face, the child squeezing his floppy ears and puckering her lips to keep out dog spit. The father, shocked at this sacrilege, turned to Ivy.

“For the charity I have shown, you would betray your vow?”

“Father, I was summoned here for guidance. It was permitted.” Ivy’s trance was returning.

“Even I am not permitted beyond that barrier.”

“The permission varies by rank.”

“Would you add mockery to your sacrilege?”

“Do you know where that tunnel leads?”

“What I know is not important.”

“Father, we must meet alone.”

Mutt was glad this scene would move beyond earshot. He had seen enough of Ivy’s strangeness and preferred her domestic roles as wife and mother. The father was incensed and resolved to banish the young family from the Notches, a power granted to him by the Church and recognized by the governing council. He gave her an audience nonetheless, so insistent she was. Exegeses of the Oopsah and treatises on legal restraints on sovereign power, a subject of personal interest, lined the walls of the study. His anger had not subsided.

“Little was asked, and less was delivered.”

“You must leave this room for five minutes.” She spoke in monotone.

The father was stunned by her presumptuousness.

“Would you wear my robe as well?”

“I am not of the lower order.”

“You do not know the gravity of your offense.” He was growing angrier.

“Where I have gone, I was called.”

“You are not of the higher orders. No one else is permitted. Did you inscribe as well?”

“Yes, I wrote freely and fluidly. Such is my prerogative.” The father was speechless. “Now leave,” she continued, “and I will convince you upon your return.”

The father was unnerved by her iciness.

“Very well.” He left and returned in exactly five minutes.

She ran to him and embraced him, thanking him for his kindness, her trance broken, her eyes smiling, and told him proof was on his desk. He picked up the paper and saw a list of high temperatures for the Notches and three cities in Arland for the next five days. These were future temperatures she had obtained from her first reading of the Oopsah in Harmour and recorded on papers kept in her satchel. The message she would continue to receive from a higher power over the next sixteen days would be derived from the remaining one hundred and seventy-seven locations in the weather reports which she could not foresee. The father did not know how to respond to this revelation. She must be hoaxing him, he knew, but why do something so falsifiable so soon? Could this be real?

“Father, you know who else is permitted behind the portal. Those with knowledge. And you know how that knowledge is obtained. And surely you can guess where the tunnel leads. There is only one explanation.” She pointed to the exegetic works on the shelves.

“Child, I do not know what to make of your story. I shall reserve judgment for five days.”

“You must not tell the Church. The old rules no longer apply. To betray me would be a higher sacrilege. They are all of lower rank. They long ago lost knowledge.”

She took his hand and gazed affectionately into his eyes as he collapsed onto an ottoman.

“The end times are coming, father. The prophecies will be fulfilled.”

As she left the father stood up respectfully.

In five days she returned to the lower crypt with Mutt to position the portal and install the front masonry. The father appeared and asked if she needed a lantern. She thanked him but said no she already had one. Hope and Kippers were with Glon squared, as they called themselves, and Ivy led her husband past the barrier down the steep tunnel on rounded cobblestones set in the earthen floor for traction. They reached an ovoid chamber formed by widening of the tunnel filled with pipes venting fumes from the bowels of the earth. Ivy told Mutt this was a resonance chamber and here they would receive visions from the higher planes. The higher orders navigated the tunnels to consecrate the various churches, stopping in these chambers to receive visions and inscribing the revelations on the masonry walls of the lower crypts. Ivy closed her eyes and sought guidance. She could not handle the decision now weighing upon her. The instructions from the weather reports were proving unhelpful. She was not going to be told what to do; she was being told it was her decision, that she must gauge the consequences based on earthly knowledge. The world was off script and she believed the resulting uncertainty allowed spirits of the departed to speak to her. There was above all one spirit whose solace she sought, the young mother whose tender embrace she could remember only in fantasy, who died in agony on a blood-streaked spike on the sandstone plaza. In the sweet ethylene vapors and rich harmonics of the chamber Ivy believed that she was not alone, that she had found guidance, that she had obtained forbidden knowledge. It was not what she wanted to hear. Mutt left her in a dream state and returned to mortaring stones. When he retrieved his wife he lifted a lantern and saw that she had inscribed four words directly on the wall using Hope’s face paint, the only inscription within the resonance chamber itself: “This world is lost.”


In the notices from Skava Mutt saw a terse announcement that Tobor Zranga had resigned from the Council effective immediately. He would devote himself to writing a history of the Hutman Cause, long a sacred calling. The Party thanked him for his loyal service. Mutt was disturbed by the news. If Zranga had protected Ivy from Interior, who would protect her now? Later that day he performed impromptu at the canteen, popping and strumming his mandolin in a series of songs about farm animals outwitting their masters to avoid the chopping block. At a bench directly before the stage a stranger with Skavian gravity sat on an angled seat before two untouched mugs of mead. The stranger motioned him to the table when he finished the set. His appearance was striking, gaunt and pallid, of Mutt’s height with short graying hair cut like a block, drawn cheeks accentuating high cheekbones, and a permanently furrowed brow suggesting a habit of deep concentration, with the most piercing eyes he had ever seen.

“Son, allow me to treat,” the stranger said in a sonorous voice.

“I never say no to free mead.” Mutt took the mug and drew a deep draft.

“You do not know who I am, do you son?” the stranger asked.

“Should I?”

“You will soon enough.”

“Why not end the suspense and tell me?” Mutt was irritated by this man’s effrontery.

“You do not know what you have gotten yourself into, do you?”

“I know what I have found.” Mutt knew now he was looking into the eyes of Tobor Zranga. He was surprised at the wrath he felt.

“What you have found was not meant to be.”

“Who makes these decisions?”

“Forces far greater than you can comprehend.”

Mutt was now seething.

“There are forces I understand that you never will.”

Zranga ignored the retort.

“I am here to see your wife.”

“Shall I fetch her?”

“We must meet in private.”

“What must you say that I cannot hear?”

“What she tells you is her choice.”

“Very well, I shall take you to her.” Mutt finished his mug in one gulp. Zranga left his at the table untouched.

“The Notches is a lovely place, is it not?” Mutt asked on the walk to the hut, towing Zranga in the air on a neutrally balanced sled tilted for Skavian gravity. Zranga remained silent. Mutt climbed the steps to the hut. Ivy was seated inside with Hope on her lap rolling cookie dough.

“Ivy, you have a visitor.”

She looked toward the door and saw the angled countenance of Tobor Zranga staring from behind Mutt’s shoulder. She froze. Mutt had never seen such a look of terror in her eyes. She clutched Hope defensively with animal instinct.

“I will not harm your child,” Zranga said. “We must speak alone.”

Mutt took Hope and waited outside the hut at the bottom of the mound. Part of him wanted to eavesdrop but he decided he would trust Ivy’s judgment as to what knowledge to share. Over the ensuing conversation behind the closed door he could make out only one word, a name uttered in elevated tones he had never heard before, Celeste.

Inside the hut Zranga positioned himself in a corner with suitable leverage for a Skavian and leveled his piercing eyes at Ivy, continuing the conversation.

“You found him.”

“I did.”

“How did you know his name was Tom?”

Ivy was startled. She had not known. How could she have known?

“I know more than you think I know,” she bluffed. “But I do not know my own name.”

“It is Ivy. Past names are like phantoms. They do not exist in this world.”

“Why have you come?”

“You know you were pledged. It was your destiny.”

“I chose another.”

“Some things cannot be altered.”

“It is your will. You can alter it.”

“I will trigger the door before the flume is released. I thought you should know. This has gone on long enough. I have reconsidered destiny. After all,” he paused, “you have a sister.”

Ivy grabbed the cookie pan and struck him violently on the head.

“Get out of my hut!” she screamed, physically pushing him with force disproportionate to her size. “Never darken this door again!”

“Do not try me,” he said holding his ground slanted in the doorway. “These are things I can change, and you should be grateful for my decision.” Ivy threw the rolling pin like a missile directly at his head. He ducked and it flew out the doorway striking an unsuspecting Mutt on the back of his head, momentarily knocking him unconscious.

“Your power is not what you think it is,” she hissed. “Pledge her, and you will ponder your mistake for eternity.”

She ran at him full force and knocked him backwards out of the doorway. He tumbled down the stairway, stopped only by pounding into Mutt’s back, who was recovering from the first blow. Zranga stood up at a forty-five degree angle, composed and oddly dignified, supported by the tethered sled.

“When all else fails,” he said mockingly, “remember this: Irla.”

She threw a wad of cookie dough at his face, and again Zranga ducked and again Mutt was struck.

“You were always rash,” he spoke into the doorway in parting. “It is your most promising trait.”

Ivy was not paying attention. She rushed past his smug visage and snatched Hope back into the hut in one swift motion slamming the door shut, leaving Zranga outside with Mutt uncomfortably wiping dough from his brow.

“You must go,” Mutt said.

A servant rolled up on a tilted Skavian bounder with sidecar. Zranga stepped inside and was quickly whisked away to the church, where the portal in the lower crypt stood open on its hinges awaiting him, resting securely in Mutt’s mortar.

The door to the hut was bolted shut. Mutt knocked for fully five minutes before he heard a clunk and pushed it open. He could not figure out how she unbolted the door and retreated to the corner so quickly, where she clutched Hope in fright, the poor child weeping at her mother’s terror.

“He’s gone,” Mutt said.

“He will never leave.”

“What just happened?”

She said nothing and remained silent in the face of all inquiries. He eventually gave up, resigning himself to darkness in the face of her mysteries. At the authority later that day he received a pile of fugitive notices from Skava. Although political dissidents and practitioners of vice by tradition could take refuge in the Notches, protection was not afforded common criminals. In the lower right of a four-paneled notice displaying faces of the accused, Mutt saw his wife’s mug posing expressionlessly into the camera, unknown other figures cropped from the photo. He crumpled up the notice and stuck it in his pocket. He was afraid to throw it in the trash at the authority for fear it might be retrieved and resolved to return to the hut, chop it into tiny pieces, and bury it. He did not tell Ivy what he had seen. Next to her name in bold letters three words summed up her existence: “Ivy Morven: Wanted for Parricide.”

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