“Mutt, there is no choice. You must let me go to Tobor.”
“He will never honor a promise.”
“Have we an alternative?”
He was silent. He could not contemplate giving his wife to another man. He had not fully known her himself since the Notches. He could no longer love her if she emerged from Tobor’s tent carrying his seed.
“I cannot, Ivy. My love for you is too deep.”
“What you feel is not love. It is possessiveness. I wanted a true Hutman and I got one, the blessings and the baggage. You must move beyond concerns for my purity. You know my history. By no choice of mine I could not give you virginity. But what I gave you was far more meaningful. I chose you as my first and only love and will never choose another.”
“But you would now choose Tobor.”
“This is not about choice. It is about Hope. She has no future in this world. If the Oopsah is not rewritten she will have no future in any world.”
“Are there not lines you would not cross regardless of consequence? Would you kill Hope to save the world?”
“I would not.”
“Then why must you give yourself to another?”
“It is a price I can pay to have our daughter in the next life.”
Ivy was frustrated at her husband’s selfishness. The choice was clear and she could not dither. Mutt was in agony. He felt she was rejecting his love, choosing another, even if the circumstances were extraordinary. She was wearing a wedding dress again in the dance hall of Irla, the blushing bride of another man eagerly awaiting consummation. He covered his eyes to hide tears. Nothing mattered to him more than Ivy’s love, and nothing could destroy that love more thoroughly than what she was proposing. Ivy held him tenderly. She did not share his sense of the momentousness of the act. She would never choose another of her own free will, but would a few minutes of her time given to an evil man to save their daughter have to ruin their final days? Could not Mutt blind himself to the act? Could not she do it and they purge the memory?
“How could you make a man such as Tobor keep a promise?”
“I have a way.”
She could not tell him but she would accompany Tobor to the final inscription in the vault. She might expire there with him leaving Mutt to die alone with their daughter a broken man consumed with her treachery. Was this a price she could pay? Was it a price she could ask him to pay? There was no other way. Mutt remembered Ivy’s angered words when she asked if he himself would sleep with Tobor to save his family. He realized now, with revulsion, that he wished Tobor were manipulating the universe for his body. He would much rather accept the degradation of a coerced act than have Ivy suffer it. He felt so helpless that he could not protect this woman he loved so intensely from an act so horrible. He felt like he would be endorsing betrayal, that if she truly loved him she would not even consider another man, that infidelity to him should be as unthinkable as taking Hope’s life. But Ivy was right. She was always right, he thought, and smirked. This would ruin his love in what little time they had left. His masculine pride would never recover from a wound so mortal, from the humiliating proof that his love was secondary. But his love was secondary to their daughter’s future, and the humiliation would be well-earned if incomprehensibly painful. He would have to see her emerge from that tent imagining the juice in her sex. He wished his imagination were not so vivid.
Mutt pulled papers from the false compartment of Ivy’s satchel. Ivy asked what he was doing as he turned the paper over to the blank side and began writing.
“My thoughts are unruly. If I put them on paper, I can more easily spot error.”
Ivy’s eyes grew kinetic.
“What are you writing on?”
“I told you. I am clarifying my thoughts.”
She snatched the paper.
“Oh God!” She fell backwards. Mutt had never seen such an intense reaction. She shot up. “Is there more?”
“More of these papers!”
“Yes, here in the false wall. They’re just numbers.”
Ivy slapped him across the biceps harder than he had ever been struck in any hazing ritual in the patrol.
“Give them to me!”
He was thoroughly discombobulated. This was to be his special transformative moment in which he accepted the necessity of giving his wife to another man for sex for the greater good of the family. When he thought about it the idea still repelled him and he suspected the piece of paper he was writing on, if only Ivy would give it back, would be filled with crying frowny faces and crudely drawn fingers pointing at stick figures in compromising positions.
Ivy laid the papers around the tent in total frenzy.
“The Arland weather reports! Can you get them in Irla?”
“I guess so. They have a publishing office.”
“Get them now! The last two months!” She physically pushed him out the tent with such force he fell to the ground. He had never seen her so animated. He wanted to know what was going on.
“Do not ask questions! If you are not back in thirty minutes I will be in the tent of Tobor Zranga and enjoying it just to spite you!”
Mutt had never experienced so radical a shift in drama. He really wanted to go back and return the slap despite Mira’s injunction delivered to his childhood ears a thousand times that “a man shall never hit a woman, even back.” He lumbered and then ran and then sprinted coming around to the enormous significance of whatever Ivy was doing. She did not freak out without good reason. He returned to the tent twenty-nine minutes later, a wanted man for the stunt he pulled at the publishing office, leaping over the counter and threatening to twist the clerk’s neck if he did not get the weather reports NOW! In the back of his mind he felt bad about this criminal assault but what was happening in their tent was far more important. Ivy told him to leave, go fetch Hope and play with bugs, she would find him when she was ready. Mutt disappeared and Ivy laid out the weather reports next to the sheets from behind the false wall, the ones Mutt had so stupidly hidden without telling her, the ones she had so stupidly failed to discover when Mutt returned the satchel. Now would be revealed, in all its glory, the final meaning of pie. Ivy’s hands trembled. She knew the evil of the Controller; he was a man of flesh and blood extorting her body for sex to crush her spirit. But “pie,” oh God, had been written by another, an alternative voice that to her was saintly. Here was her guiding spirit, a force that could change destiny, a force that cared about the love of others, a force that cherished the bond of mother and child, of husband and wife, of selfless immersion in larger unions. Pie was the reification of family love, and the only agent that could challenge Tobor’s evil. Ivy was awestruck as the words fell into place. Yes her family was going to die, yes the Muglairs and Tobors of the universe would prevail this time, but she now had a plan for the next life. The ineluctable quality of the universe, hope, had found a voice, and she still had a chance.
“I am going to Tobor,” Ivy said bluntly, finding Mutt by a bonfire cupping crickets with Hope.
“What?” He thought they had moved beyond that option.
“I am going to Tobor and you are going to like it.”
Mutt was speechless.
“You are going to like it because it is the right thing to do under the circumstances. And when I return you will love me more for my sacrifice regardless of what remnants of that awful man remain in my body.”
Mutt was shellshocked, the other firegoers even more so.
“You are going to love me for who I am damn it!”
Ivy seldom cursed and when she did it was a sign to obey.
“Okay,” he responded, not meaning it.
“You are going to love me for who I am and you are going to mean it!”
“Okay,” he repeated, trying to nudge his feelings into line.
“Why must you men abuse women and then blame them for it? Why must I be tainted if I go to that pervert to save your life, to save our daughter?”
Garan had heard remarks like this before. She was definitely crazy.
Mutt faced her and grabbed her shoulders. God she was a beautiful woman, especially when distressed. All his chivalric desires to protect her bubbled up, and he knew now he could only protect her by accepting the purity of her love regardless of what Tobor Zranga had done to her, or would do.
“I will always love you regardless, Ivy. Have I not proven that? All I need is ...”
“... time to adjust.” She completed the sentence. “You must be here when I return to purge me of the evil. You know what I mean.”
She turned and was gone, clutching her satchel. What she meant, he realized, was they would have cleansing sex after the liaison with Tobor. This was too much for Mutt’s fragile ego. She wanted him to move from point a to point z in his psychic transformation skipping all points in between. He stared into the fire all emotions purged from his mind. There was no limit to this woman’s ability to shatter his world. He wanted to feel sorry for himself but decided he could not be so petty. She carried upon her back the weight of destiny and he must not add to that burden.
Ivy walked in a fugue of purpose to the tent of Tobor Zranga, her eyes focused with such intensity she was convinced she held the power of immolation. She needed to know Mutt would let her do this, that he would not place her God-damned Hutwoman purity above the life of their child, that he would not stop loving her for doing what she must to save their family. If she did not choose the treachery, if circumstance chose it for her, she could not be blamed for it, and it was his job to adjust to this new reality, not her job to repair the taint in his eyes. She was tired of her sex being the only one that mattered. Mutt Ogga owed her a loving embrace upon her return and a transcendence of the harlotry forced upon her. But this was the full extent of what she needed, to know that he would do these things in principle. Because she had no intention of putting him in that position. Whatever anger she felt toward Mutt, she loved him with all her passion as the kindest and gentlest man on the planet, the only traveler who could have accompanied her on this awful journey. No, her true anger was directed elsewhere. There was no heaven to correct the evils of this world, and that meant only one thing. Evil would have to be punished in the here and now, on this planet in this moment, or it would reign eternally triumphant.
Ahead she saw the elegant folds of the tent of Tobor Zranga. She drew a deep breath and entered, the canvas closing behind her. Tobor was seated at his desk writing the final entry for the Oopsah, a valediction of his life. He intended to take it to the vault where it would be inscribed on the final metal sheet. He would expire there with the destruction of the world, asphyxiating in the thinning air, awaiting the next iteration.
“I am here for an assignation,” she said.
“I knew you would come.”
She sat down at his food table along an adjacent wall of the tent. He joined her across the table.
“I am no longer interested,” he said.
“Must you humiliate me? Was not a wedding on my daughter’s birthday sufficient?”
“Why should I bargain with you?”
“Because I have what you want.”
“I have changed my wants. My devotion is to Celeste. Your body holds no challenge.”
“If that is true, Tobor, why did you wish to marry?”
“Because I knew I could have you, and keep Celeste.”
She had assumed his promises were false yet looked with horror upon his casual admission.
“I am here as a mother of a wanted child and have come to plead for her existence.”
“Celeste is an expression of my will. She is the continuation of my being across the many worlds. She cannot die.”
“She is already dead, in this world and in all worlds past. Why must you bring a child into a future world by rape?”
“You were my lawful wife.”
“What you did was unholy. You forced yourself upon an innocent girl.”
“Then why do you seek my company now?”
“I am a woman, not a girl, and will do what I must for my family.”
“I have no pity.”
“You must search within your heart. I have found a love that is true, and there can be no higher expression of your will than to enable it. To be is to forgive. It is to think of others first.”
“Your daughter and Celeste cannot both exist. Would you ask that a father destroy his child?”
“She is already dead.”
“She cannot be stopped, Ivy. She will rise again. You are already with child in the next life when I read the Oopsah. That cannot be undone through any power you or I could exercise.”
Ivy remained silent.
“You cannot destroy Celeste.” His eyes were piercing.
“I already did, Tobor.” Ivy met his gaze. “I can do it again.”
“What do you ask of me?”
“I ask that you rewrite the final inscription and instruct yourself to set me free.”
“What do I get in return?”
“I will drink your potion.”
“Do you believe my will is so easily seduced?”
“Are you not the Controller?”
“Then I offer you control of my body. You will get it no other way.”
“Why should I abandon Celeste?”
“This has never been about Celeste. It is about having your way.”
“Why should I not wait till the next life? You can impose no conditions then.”
“Is your will not now?”
Tobor Zranga was an impatient man.
“Does your boy know you are here?”
“He does not need to know.”
“Very well then. I will do as you wish.”
Promises, he thought, are worth the breath that utters them.
“You must rewrite the Oopsah in my presence and take me to the vault for its inscription.”
“You will drink the potion first.”
He reached into a trunk and retrieved two wooden goblets, one square and one round. He had called them his and hers but Ivy knew the purpose of the different shapes was to prevent switching. He filled the goblets with wine, then removed a vial of powder from his pocket and poured it into the round glass.
“You may drink, my bride.”
Ivy stood up and walked over to the drafting table. She removed the lantern from its hook.
“First I will destroy this accursed work.”
She dashed the lantern onto the scattered pages. The fuel spread across the desk lit by flickering flame. Tobor leapt from his chair shrieking. Violently he slammed a cushion onto the desk to extinguish the flames. Ivy returned to her seat, removed a container from her satchel, poured the wine from his glass into it, poured the wine from her glass into his, and poured the wine from the container into hers. She had switched the potion.
Tobor returned to the table enraged.
“You will leave this tent now!”
She remained seated. “You should know the force you are controlling. It will heighten your pleasure. Our bargain remains.”
Tobor sat back down. It was true he had no need of those pages if he planned to rewrite the Oopsah. This was her way of ensuring his performance. He found the audacity of her action arousing.
“Drink,” he said.
She held forth her goblet.
“To the next life.”
They toasted, and she drank.
Tobor drank more slowly than Ivy. He wanted to see the effects of the potion before he himself felt the wine. She lay down on his mattress, his gaze following her.
“Will you drink to me?” she asked.
He brought the goblet and sat down beside her, drinking deeply. Ivy retreated into herself and waited for the disrobing. So convinced she was of her role that she believed she could not move. She was paralyzed. She realized she was reliving the horror of her experiences in Harmour, only now she was conscious. Her body was limp and pliable and he would have his way. He removed her shoes first, and then her outer jacket. He fondled her breasts and looked for the buttons and ties of her dress. Ivy wanted to feel revolted but found herself watching the scene dispassionately from afar. This was what the pervert had done to her when she was a girl. This was how he had ruined her. This was the origin of Celeste. She had selected her clothing for the difficulty of its removal. He rolled her over to reach the buttons on the back of the dress. He untied the bows knotting the straps. He struggled to lift her torso and remove the dress past her hips. So enthralled was he with the prospect of reliving his past conquests he did not notice how drowsy he was becoming. With a final exertion he removed her last shred of cloth, holding it to his nose. He gazed upon her naked form, consumed with desire, then yielded to the power of sleep. Ivy sat up beside him and sobbed. She felt purged of the evil he had inflicted upon her. She had stopped him not only this time but for all times past. She had reclaimed Mutt as her first and only love. Piece by piece she reassembled her outfit until fully clothed. She reached into her satchel for the binds. She had work to do.
When Tobor awoke his hands were bound so tightly about the central pole his flesh was atrophying.
“You switched the potion.”
“It will do you no good.”
“Will I not derive pleasure from driving a knife through your heart?”
“It will make no difference whether I die now or in a few days. The future is already written. You cannot change it.”
“You will have to pay for your sins, Tobor.”
“You cannot kill me.”
“Oh yes I can Tobor. You are not who you think you are.”
Until that moment Tobor had not feared death. But a dark and sinister thought crossed his mind, then exploded into white light. Everything he had been doing was an attempt to create a new future. He had read what happened last time in the Oopsah, learned from his past mistakes, and boldly charted a new course in this iteration. He had failed and was now preparing for the next iteration in which his new instructions would create a new future. But what if it was an illusion? What if the instructions were not new? Then he would lose his power over the future and become an actor reading a script like everyone else. There was only one way this could happen. He realized with horror the awful truth. Ivy raised the knife to gather momentum and plunged it straight into his chest with all her might. She felt the resistance of a rib as the blade slid past directly into his heart. Tobor’s body convulsed. She twisted the blade mercilessly while he looked at her through fading eyes. How could he not have known? Ivy sat there without emotion waiting for him to die, his heart emptying its blackness onto the dirt floor. She now had her destiny to fulfill. She would need a bigger knife. Fortunately, she had brought one.
Check out chapters of The Cube right here.