He ran his new idea by Ivy who told him absolutely no. How could he top such a scene in the third chapter? Mutt had to agree he had left too little to the imagination, perhaps taking Volp’s advice too far. Ivy’s other point was that readers should be interested in these characters before throwing them together in a vat room. She was all for a lusty scene eventually but felt tension needed to be developed first. Mutt thought maybe Huston could rescue Posy from a diabolical creature with noodly appendages but Ivy had other ideas. The girl, she said, should be deeply mysterious. This seemed like a good idea to Mutt. But should not the boy also have secrets? No, said Ivy, the voyeur instinct runs mainly to women, even among women readers. The imagination is more stoked by a woman’s hidden past. For a man the thoughts that come to mind are too conventional, too non-transgressive. For a sweet innocent girl like Posy the mind subconsciously supplies dark horrors that keep a reader titillated. Mutt realized Ivy was seizing control of the story but liked where she was taking it.
“What would these dark secrets be?”
“You cannot tell the reader up front.”
“Yes, but the author should know. He has to write the beginning with an eye toward the end.”
Ivy sprawled out in the tubestalk bowl looking unbearably sexy to Mutt in her domesticity. She then launched into a series of plot devices that unnerved him.
“They should meet under mysterious circumstances in the bright zone. She is under the thrall of powerful people plotting a great war for control of the zone. But she learns through chance of a secret order to the universe that makes war seem like a trifle. For what she learns,” Ivy paused, “is that the universe is organized around a concept of absolute evil.”
Mutt found this entirely too heavy. If he was going to write his story in such stark terms he would have to deliver the goods. Or at least Ivy would.
“She has been given an opportunity to rewrite the purpose of the universe. But to do so,” Ivy again paused, her breathing strained, “she must find true love.” Mutt was alarmed at where this was headed. “And she must bear the child of the man she loves.”
Mutt looked at Ivy, then at Hope, then at Ivy, then at Hope, then at Ivy. She was crazy.
“This is just a story idea,” she said, trying to deflate the moment.
“Well I cannot write such a story if I do not know these secrets.”
“Yes you can.”
“You will have to reveal them to me. Otherwise I am going to write about a giant ox with prehensile horns that has taken a fancy to Posy, and Huston must slay the ox with a magic sickle to save her.” Mutt thought this was a really good idea.
“How long can you string the story out?”
“A few months.”
“That will not do. You must make it last for two years, five months, and two days.”
“Why?” He was startled by her precision.
“Because on that day the ending will be revealed.”
“What will happen?”
She looked at him in dead earnest.
“The Fifteenth of Tarpin.”
Mutt knew his wife could be strange but this was by far the most disturbing exchange they ever had. He wanted to ply her for information about this calendar date but knew she would clam up, as if she designed to pique his curiosity for the pleasure of watching it writhe.
“Ivy,” Mutt tried a different approach, “why can’t Posy share her secrets with Huston?”
Ivy’s eyes grew wet.
“Because if she did,” her words hung in the air, “Huston wouldn’t love her.”
Mutt had never felt so unsettled in his life. What could she possibly know that would undermine his love for her? They had so completely intertwined their destinies he could not conceive of a revelation that powerful. This woman, with whom he shared such a seemingly normal life, was lost in a world of secrets, and ultimate evil, and repurposing the universe. He could not enter this world for it was the land of the insane. The woman he married was mentally ill.
Ivy knew what he was thinking.
“I can prove to you my power,” she said.
Mutt realized he did not want proof. He would rather her be crazy than correct. The conversation was shifting his mind in a different direction, toward another of Ivy’s secrets. A frightening suspicion, of greater significance to him than abstractions of ultimate evil, had been bobbing around the edges of his conscious. He did not know why the question became so important at this moment.
“Ivy, there is something I need to know. This is something you can tell me.”
“Why Interior was targeting me.”
“Some things are better left unsaid.”
“Will it hurt me if you tell?”
“I need to know.”
Now Ivy was unnerved by Mutt’s words. There were many things she did not want to share with her husband for fear of the emotional impact. This was one of them. But she also could not bear the solitude of her secrets, so profoundly did they affect her psyche. She owed this man answers. He had pledged his life to her, and she to him, and the riddle of her past was a barrier to their complete merger.
“Mutt, remember when we met at the Edge?” she asked apprehensively.
“That was not our first meeting.”
He was shocked. He had not been expecting this.
“You need to know something.”
He tensed like a small child expecting a spanking.
“You are not who you think you are.”
Here it comes.
“Mira and Dox are not your natural parents.”
This was what he needed to hear. He had long suspected it but the impact on his self-conception was so profound he had not allowed the idea to take root. What she said next he did not expect.
“You are the child of Outin and Paxa.”
Oh dear God, that cannot be.
“Interior was tracking down the children of the martyrs. They believed the son of Outin and Paxa had been taken in by refugees who fled to Arland and then gave the child to strangers in Shivaree. You were one of the only candidates. I tried to wipe your prints clean from the photo but I was not thorough enough. When Zranga sent his messenger he said he knew who you were. He must have run the prints before Interior could get them. It is the only explanation.”
Mutt could not process this information.
“Why are they tracking them down?” he finally asked. He could not bring himself to say “us.” The children of the martyrs were “them.”
“I do not know. I think Muglair wants to kill them. He has said so often he would cede power to the children he does not want to take a chance.”
Mutt lay down in the tubestalk bowl with Ivy, positioning her on top of him, the weight of her body cramming him into the cushion. He was afraid the conversation would distance them and needed her companionship more than ever.
“When did we meet before?”
Ivy drew a deep breath. She herself had only learned the awful truth in the Oopsah although she had long suspected her Hutwoman birth.
“I am the daughter of Yarly and Prudence.”
These were names, Outin and Paxa, Yarly and Prudence, that filled the schoolbooks of Mutt’s youth, revolutionaries who led the Hutman cause to international prominence, who had been so brutally murdered on the great square, their bodies run through on nickel spikes and left to rot in the blinding sun as an example to all, one of humanity’s great crimes.
“They were in the same cell, the leaders’ cell. We must have known one another. We were so small and helpless. You were four, I was three, when the repression came.”
Mutt’s entire world was uprooted. He so defined himself as an Ogga and a boy of Shivaree that he no longer knew who he was. He felt radically excised from his dear mother, the font of all that was good in his life. Did she not love him? Was her tenderness only an act of goodwill, not the natural bounty of a mother’s love? Ivy sensed where he was going.
“Mutt, you should never question the love you found in the Ogga household. Mira raised you as her own and loved you as her son. She could not have produced a finer boy. You will always be an Ogga, fortunate in God’s grace to have found such a loving family. I was not so lucky. You found heaven. I found hell. You should look upon your mother’s love as the greatest ever shown, for she was under no obligation to you by childbirth. She chose to make you the equal of Ruggin and Sabin, and of Donega. You were always part of their clan, and always will be.”
“What happened to you?”
“The Morvens never cared for me. They resented my existence. They took me in because they could not conceive and thought a child could be useful.” Ivy would say no more. She knew what they had done to her, and what they would have done to her younger sister, who was also adopted. She had no regrets at their demise.
“What happened in Harmour?”
“I cannot talk about it. Everything I have built with you has been an attempt to make life right, to find the love to which a child is entitled, only now as a wife. I am thankful to God for what you have given me. I cannot reawaken the past.”
“Why are we not dead if Muglair is killing the children?”
“I do not know.” She would not tell him her suspicion. Zranga was protecting her because she was critical to the prophecies of the Oopsah, and he could not protect her without protecting Mutt.
Mutt could not shake from his mind the image of Mira. She was so important to him, the rock of his life, his living breathing conscience, a woman of unlimited wisdom and selflessness. He so despaired of her love. Did she think of him differently from his siblings? Did she not care that he had gone missing? Was she relieved at the lifting of this burden? He needed to contact her. He had to tell her how eternally grateful he was for her sacrifice, how in his moments of despair she had been his guiding spirit, how she had given to him the love that was so cruelly stolen by forces of history.
“Ivy, I must write my mother.”
“You cannot. You will risk everything we have built here.”
Mutt would not be deterred and set to composing a letter to Mira. Ivy realized she could not stop him and that she did not want to stop him. Mira was owed an explanation of her son’s disappearance. But how to craft one that would not get them both killed? Ivy read his words in tears then reworked the letter to be more fluid and grammatical. She addressed the letter to both parents for fear of hurting Dox’s feelings, who had been as loving a parent as Mira. It was not his fault Mutt was such a momma’s boy.
My dearest parents,
I am deeply sorry for departing under such mysterious circumstances. It was not my plan to abandon you or to desert the service. A higher duty intervened, one that required me to place the interests of another first, as you have always taught. I have met the love of my life, we have married, and we have a child, a sweet and precious granddaughter that I so long to bring to our table in Shivaree. But I cannot now escape my circumstance. I cannot describe for you the pain I feel at my sudden rupture from your sacred hearth. I know now the circumstance of my birth, and the sacrifice you made in embracing me as an Ogga. You are God’s chosen, people who place others before themselves with no thought of reward, and I will be eternally grateful for your compassion, kindness, and love, and will be eternally proud to call you my mother and my father, and myself an Ogga. Please send my love to Sabin and Ruggin, and Donega, and the dogs, and know that I will contact you and bring my family to Shivaree as soon as I am able. But it may be a while and I ask that you be patient and never mistake my absence of body as absence of heart. Do not inquire as to my situation as that will put us in danger. The example you have set guides me every day, and even though I will never match your grace and wisdom I am a better man for trying. I enclose a photograph of your granddaughter and pray that your eyes will adore her as do ours.
With abiding love and gratitude,
Ivy was nervous about sending this message for fear that Zranga would intercept it. It would be better if he read the full content than if he knew simply that a message was sent. For a message to a lawmaker, as Mira still was, could be the sending of intelligence and not merely family greetings. The stakes were incredibly high with potential consequences more catastrophic than Mutt could imagine, but Ivy believed the issue of comforting Mutt’s mother was one of basic human decency, and a world in which such comfort could not be given was a world that had earned its destruction. Whatever Zranga’s reasons for letting Ivy live, he would kill her immediately before letting her share his secrets with Arland. He perceived correctly that Ivy did not want to tell Arland for the same reasons he would not tell Muglair. Once released, the power in the Oopsah could not be contained. But Zranga also knew that Ivy was capable of incredibly rash action and had no choice but to monitor her. Certainly he could kill her, that would solve the problem, but it would create another. He perceived her as a challenge, and a challenge that could be met in only one way. His will must be paramount, and he willed that she live.
Mutt was struggling with the new revelation. He could not consciously process the information but knew that deep within him a transformation was taking place. He would always be Mutt Ogga, but he was now a different person. He did not know how this new identity would affect his outlook but felt he was being drawn more deeply into the web of Ivy’s past. He was an important man whether he liked it or not, just as she was an important woman. What was taking root was a sense of destiny, a feeling at odds with the family-centered life they had built in the Notches. He now understood why Ivy so intensely wanted to be the wife of Mutt and the mother of Hope. Defining herself through love was a comfort in the face of higher callings. It grounded her in the importance of other people’s well-being and gave her courage to face whatever trials lay ahead. Ivy was not telling him everything. He would one day learn her awful secrets and only a stronger identity with a sense of destiny would be able to handle them.
Mutt pressed his hands against his temples to stop this train of thought. His mind was racing and peace was not an option. He would direct his energy to The Sphere. He disappeared into the loft while Ivy napped in the bowl chair spent from the exertions of the party, content that Mutt’s love could withstand dollops of her secrets. Despite Ivy’s stark story line of ultimate evil versus true love, he decided a vat room scene was in order. But he would make it tender and flirty, two young people chancing upon the other in an unusual environment and discovering an instant attraction. Posy would hint at her dark secrets and nothing more, and Huston would strive to stoke within her heart a romantic interest. Dramatic things needed to happen in the background so he wrote of the escalation of tensions between the nations, how Posy’s father pushed for an increase of forces in the bright zone, while Huston’s nation mustered its troops on the perimeter. They would demand an equal sharing of the zone as the requirement of natural justice, and the mayor would never relent knowing that equality is a fiction, that to yield halfway is to be taken all the way. Huston and Posy were natural enemies, his ditch digging skills put to use as a sapper in the military, she the daughter of an unabashed belligerent pushing for war. But true love was more important than the mongering of greedy people for power and narcotic, and against this backdrop of looming catastrophe their love would flourish.
Unfortunately Mutt lacked the literary skill to put his grand vision into words. He shared his scrawls with Ivy who read them, moved by the parallels with their own lives but not so touched by the quality of expression.
“Mutt,” she commented, “your handwriting is scarcely legible, and your grammar, well, is creative.”
Mutt was okay with these criticisms because they still left open the possibility it was a masterpiece. She volunteered to produce a more legible draft and disappeared herself into the loft for a few hours. He did not think a rote reproduction should take so long and was surprised when she finished to read in her handwriting the words he had wanted to write. It was still his basic plot but no longer his words. She was so much more expressive than he could ever be. He was humbled that Ivy was the true author in the household and offered to share credit on the byline with her name first. She said no, the role of muse is to inspire, not to take credit, it was his story, and she would gladly continue to inspire. Mutt had to accept the truncation of his personal grandeur. He was still conceiving this story, he would still play a role, and she would take his rough hewn ideas and polish them into a moving if tawdry romance, which he had to agree was titillating in her hands, so much he was miffed at the regimentation of their sex life. Should not a woman who can write with such passion about physical desire engage in reckless lovemaking at least on occasion? Mutt brought the new installment along with the letter to his parents to the authority, which also served as a postal exchange. Volp collared him in the lobby and tugged him into his office, an expression of faux reproach on his face.
“Do you recall how strongly I encouraged you to replace Fables of Yoop?”
Mutt figured he would be wise to recall it this way.
“And do you recall the faith I showed in your vision?”
He certainly did recall now that it was brought to his attention.
“And will you remember your kindly editor when you move on to better gigs?”
Absolutely he would, just as soon as that happened.
Volp threw before him the latest edition of The Cause, the Party organ published out of Leri Deri.
“Go ahead, flip through it.”
He did so nervously, and there on the back page was the first installment of The Sphere. Mutt was dumbfounded. His readership had just increased several-hundred-fold. Too bad the first installment was so lame. But he figured setting a low bar left plenty of room for improvement and he could now surprise on the up side with Ivy’s help. He dropped the new installment on Volp’s desk confident of its merit. Volp could not get beyond the change in handwriting.
“Since when do you write with so many loops?”
“Oh,” Mutt replied. “My wife rewrote it.”
Volp eyed him curiously.
“These are still my words, mostly,” he exaggerated. His statement was arguably true if one counted “a”, “an”, “the”, “and,” and “noodly”.
Volp was not paying attention having dived into the story of Huston and Posy.
“This is a family paper,” he said after a few paragraphs.
“They’re not doing anything.”
“Yes, but what they’re thinking, my goodness.” He held the loopy scrawl up to the light. “This will be scandalous!”
“I guess she could tone it down,” Mutt suggested. “I mean me. I guess I could tone it down.”
Volp was already at work on a pompous editorial justifying these expressions of true love in a hostile world. This is how young lovers really think. Why should we blind ourselves to their innermost feelings? Are we a population of prudes? Must we consign to naked isolation the libidinous realms of our psyche? He could see he might need multiple editorials to pull this one off.
“No, this is fine, let’s run with it. I need another installment in a week.”
Back in the hut Mutt was fixated on how to destroy the beautiful new spherical world Ivy was creating. He shared with her the idea of melting the ice mountains on the dark side of the Sphere. Surely these mountains would tower above the glaciers of Klokomad, and if people were so stupid as to melt them the water would spread across the globe drowning everyone. But why would they melt them? He could not come up with a compelling answer. He tossed around the idea of burning the ring forest, the magnificent expanse of conifers and lotus trees surrounding the bright zone. If they burned enough trees the smoke would settle on the surface of the Sphere eventually choking everyone. But why would they burn the forests? Surely entire peoples can be suicidal but they must be satisfying some short term want in the process. Ivy listened patiently to these ideas and told Mutt the answer was simple. Since these people have no hydroelectric power they burn wood to heat giant boilers. The heat from these boilers raises the planet’s temperature and the ice mountains of the dark side melt, inundating the planet. It will be a slow process that neither nation will be willing to address until it’s too late because they would rather suffer the longterm catastrophe of drowning than the short term loss of energy. Mutt found this brilliant but highly implausible. After all, did not these people rely primarily on wind power? Ivy wanted to smack him for being so obtuse. The only reason they used wind power was because that was how he originally conceived of the Sphere. It was not a real planet and he could reimagine it for the greater good of the story. Ivy was right, Mutt realized in irritation, and the story would be much improved with the mechanism of slow drowning she proposed.
But he was not satisfied. He wanted his story to end with a cosmic bang, a complete explosion of the planet, and how could one get from burning trees and melting ice mountains to such fireworks? Ivy questioned his obsession with a violent ending, a gradual inundation seeming to her a more effective demonstration of human fecklessness, but he would not be deterred. Hope toddled into the loft ladder and began bawling. Aargh, Mutt thought, no wonder authors tend to be single. Who can think with such caterwauling? Ivy comforted the trembling child, again distracting Mutt with her alluring swivel, before setting her down to roll the rubber ball back and forth. True, Mutt did not need to work out all the ending details now but he could not stand the idea of writing blindly without the looming disaster, whatever it was, developed in the back of his mind. Ivy balanced the ball on her finger and spun it rapidly, keeping it spinning with occasional hand chops. Mutt had never seen her do this before and was impressed, Hope even more so. It was one of the many skills she picked up on long boring days in the den on Lane Navachi, along with basket weaving and fishing lure assembly.
“What do you think people would do once the ice mountains started flooding everything?” she asked, the ball spinning on her finger beside her head.
“Build boats, I suppose.”
“Would they not seek out alternative power?”
Mutt agreed this was sensible. His cosmic wind theory was coming back into the story.
“What would happen if they put up enough windmills?”
She continued spinning the ball looking at him intently.
“I suppose all the planet’s energy problems would be solved and they would live happily ever after.”
“Yes, but aren’t the windmills all on one side?” The ball spun off her finger and bounced across the floor into Hope’s greedy arms.
“I have an idea,” he proposed. “If the windmills were all on one side, the side with sunlight, would not the giant windmills start spinning the planet?”
Ivy fell silent as Mutt developed this idea. So the people on the Sphere burn the forests which melts the ice mountains and switch to wind power to stop the flooding only to set the planet into rotation, eventually spinning quickly enough to toss everyone off into the void. He really, really liked the idea. He could already see Huston and Posy tearfully holding hands as they are flung violently into space along with a whole grove of nabana trees. The imagery was powerful. They would probably develop motion sickness too.
“Ivy, was this my idea or yours?”
“I am only a muse,” she replied.
Mutt had found his method of destruction.
Check out chapters of The Cube right here.