The Revelation

"It's been a long time, Mom." said Simon, walking over to the desk.

"Too long." said Leela.

They embraced and kissed each other with great affection. Jason thought of his own mother; for a moment, he felt deathly homesick.

"Well, boys," said Leela, "you've come a long way. Hang up those extra coats and come into the kitchen; I've got some chairs there. I'd offer you something hot to drink, except I haven't the hot water to spare."

In the tiny kitchen, about the size of the bathroom in the Blues' house, they crammed around a card table; with Leela's desk chair, there were just enough seats for all of them. Simon sat on one side of his mother, Curtis on the other, Jason across from her, and Roland beside Jason, pushed back from the table a bit.

"You must get awfully claustrophobic living in here." said Jason. "Though actually, I don't know how much time you spend here. Are you here most of the time, or do you often go to other places on Earth or in the IDC verses?"

"I've never been anywhere on Earth other than Antarctica and Greenland." said Leela. "You did get here through the portal, didn't you?"

"The one by Pillow Knob, yes." said Roland.

"Do you mean there are others?" said Leela, intrigued.

"None that we know of." said Jason.

"Oh, all right. Well, as I was saying, I've been to Gyeeds and Droydania only rarely since I first went into hiding. My need to hide is greater than ever. I've been careful enough that I don't think either of the gods knows my hiding place, or even the verse I live in, but my life depends on keeping them thus ignorant."

"'Gods'?" said Curtis. "You mean the Supernals?"

Leela nodded. "I have many things to tell you the four of you. I knew more than I told Simon when I last spoke to him over two years ago, and I've learned a deal since then. But first, I think, you should tell me your own story. It'll give me an idea of what you already know, and with any luck, it'll help to plug the holes in my own knowledge. I should be able to provide you with an essentially complete explanation of all the strange things you've encountered."

"Excellent." said Jason. "All right, I'll begin. Today, as it happens, is my eleventh birthday. It all started on Hydrogen of week 24, 5624, three days after I turned ten."

He told the long and tangled story of the eleventh year of his life in greater detail than ever before. At first, he was determined to tell the whole tale himself; he barreled on for an hour straight with only occasional corrections from Roland and a few pauses to moisten his throat and catch his breath. He got no further than the murder of Jake. Roland picked up from there for forty-five minutes until he, too, gave in, and Simon told the remaining hour-and-five-minutes of the story.

"My," Leela said at last, "that's a lot to digest. Everything from surreal nihilism to the attempted murder of my son. I suppose you've learned your lesson." she said to Roland.

"Yes." said Roland tonelessly.

"Good. Now, I guarantee you that the dragon you just faced was sent by a god. The god saw you in Koliporoth, figured you were somehow coming to find me, and tried to stop you from reaching me. However, it didn't follow you to Earth. All of you need to be extremely careful never to attract the eyes of the gods. You must appear under Terran skies, without a roof to hide you, as infrequently as possible. Do you understand?" They nodded. "Well, I'm pooped. Night never comes here at this time of year, but it's about my bedtime. And I imagine you four would like to sleep, or at least rest, before I tell you my own story. Am I correct?" They nodded again. It had been late at night in the city of Gyeeds when they'd teleported to Koliporoth. "All right, then. I don't have a bed in this house for anybody but myself, so let me show you a place you can sleep over."

She went to the library for a moment and came back with a photograph of a large house built of warm red stone. "This is the home of an Italian physicist I've been working with. He's agreed to give room and board to any extraterrestrials who've come to speak with me. Just teleport there and say you're friends of Leela Aranin. Take eight hours to sleep and one more to wake up and eat breakfast. Then, come back here and we'll talk."

"But I'm not extraterrestrial." said Jason.

"You may have been born here," said Leela, "but for all intents and purposes, you're an alien now."

Refreshed and recovered, Jason, Roland, Curtis, and Simon returned to Leela's hideaway with a thirst for the truth in all of their hearts.

"My own adventures began, like yours, Jason, with a dragon." said Leela. "Around the age of thirty, over a decade before I bore Simon, I was briefly at the Droydanian Museum of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, helping with an exhibit on interdimensional convergent evolution. While I was in one of the back rooms, I saw a skeleton of a young dragon that was being prepared for display. I marveled that after more than fifteen years since Droydania had joined the IDC, and Droydanian biologists had first observed dragons in the flesh, the species remained such a mystery—not just to Droydanians, but to all humankind. My work had nothing to do with dragons then and didn't have anything more to do with them for quite a while, yet the impression has stuck with me ever since.

"For years afterwards, I worked exclusively in genetics and almost forgot about dragons. I married Walter Baria, the 'love of my life', as it were, and we had Simon, our only child. Walter died of colon cancer not long after our seventeenth anniversary. So when Simon moved out after he turned eighteen, I was left with an empty nest. It was something of a shock. I decided I wanted to do something new, and I began my little investigation into the nature of dragons.

"Very quickly I realized that dragons were supernatural. Noticing that decades of research into dragons themselves—their anatomy, their habits, their psychology, and so on—had proved essentially fruitless, I decided to research the supernatural in general. For years I got nowhere, but I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. I slowly diverted more and more of my energies to the investigation, to the point that the administration of my university complained I was growing unproductive as a scholar. And indeed, I was publishing far less than in former years.

"Finally, about three years ago, I first hit upon the one supernatural phenomenon that was at least partly real: possession. Mixed in with all the innumerable hoaxes and nonsense, I found a few cases that were eerily similar. By interrogating the victims of possession and following the long trail of clues they guided me to, with the help of dozens of other people I encountered who secretly shared my goal, I finally pieced together the truth. I had only vague inklings of it when I realized the danger I was putting myself in and went into hiding. Now, after years of more research, not to mention what new things you told me just yesterday, I can give you a coherent picture of the prime threat to humankind.

"First of all, I should say this: Jason's theory is wrong."

"What?" Jason squawked. "How can your theory account―"

"Hear me out." said Leela, raising a hand. Her voice was firm without being hostile. Jason calmed down. "My own hypothesis can explain everything you've seen, and more. As I understand it, the multiverse is real—as real as anything can be. And for many billions of years, it was quite logical and ordinary. I think that physics, although a long way away from explaining every observed feature of reality, has already identified all of the most important parts of the fundamental workings of the multiverse. Or rather, the multiverse as it was a millennium ago. For since then, something has changed.

"You know how young the human race is, in all its incarnations in all the different verses we know of, compared to planets and stars. You also know how human culture grows in complexity not only many orders of magnitudes faster than life in general and planetary environments, but at an exponential rate. The very speed at which we change increases as we change. In fact, human history has been more eventful within the last five hundred years than it was in the preceding quarter-million.

"If there were any sapient creatures in the multiverse before us—I'm inclined to think there have been—none were so populous, none so diversified, none so advanced in every conceivable dimension of advancement. The total population of all known verses is now estimated to be in the tens of trillions. The sum of all human knowledge and works, however quantified, is staggering. In short, we, as a species, are a unique, powerful force in the multiverse all of our own.

"The catch is that we're a force more than just metaphorically. So much intelligence, in such great volume, is alien to the multiverse. By nature the world is slow and purposeless; we are quick and purposeful. And somehow, in a way not entirely clear to me, but which may, in fact, be an irreducible feature of the reality we live in, our speed and purpose rubs off on the multiverse. Our sapience has warped, and is warping, reality itself. As it's built up, it's begun boiling with energy, growing and pushing at the seams of the world. The effect is that our abstractions, formerly purely conceptual, have begun to leak into the realm of the material.

"Not all of the ideas we deal with on a daily basis, thank goodness, have taken shape. Almost none have gathered the critical mass necessary. As it happens, only two have, and they have done so exactly by being all-encompassing, by partitioning between them nearly every other cause or concept we've dreamed of. They've been increasing in size and power over the millennia, growing at an exponential rate exactly matching ours; in the very recent past—within Curtis's lifetime—they've literally taken on minds of their own. They go by many names. The most appropriate ones, as I see it, are 'Life' and 'Death'.

"I should tell you now that 'Supernal' is only a euphemism. Perhaps I wouldn't have admitted that a few years ago, but at any rate, my purpose at the time was partly to mislead the 'Supernals', to make them believe that I was mistaken about their true nature. Life and Death are simply gods."

"I knew it." Curtis mumbled. Jason looked critically at Leela.

"Like all scientists of principle," said Leela, "I'm an atheist. I don't believe in any transcendental creator-god, some paradoxical omnipotent-yet-benevolent super-being, and I'm certainly not telling you to believe in one. At the same time, Occam's Razor leaves the existence of two less-than-omnipotent, not entirely benevolent gods as the only reasonable explanation of the facts.

"I don't know everything there is to know about the gods, but I do know a respectable amount, far more than they ever intended any human to learn so soon. First of all, you should know that Life and Death are absolute opposites: they're defined by their distinction from each other. The nature of the difference, I think, is best illustrated by some of their alternative names. Life also goes by Freedom, Chaos, Activity, Energy, Falsity, Light, and Creation. Death, correspondingly, may be thought of as Order, Law, Passivity, Matter, Truth, Darkness, or Destruction. And so you can see how the line is drawn: succinctly put, Life represents change and Death represents sameness.

"Each god acts with exactly one purpose: to shape the entire multiverse in its image. That means that the greatest enemy of each is the other. They also have a common enemy: humanity. Though most humans represent one god to a greater degree than the other, humanity as a whole is heterogeneous, and Life and Death don't believe in compromise. They want perfection: the absolutely total and permanent realization of their ideal across the entire multiverse. This necessarily entails the extermination of the human race, or at least, the human race as we know it. Our only lifeline is that both exist, and for the moment, at least, they're exactly equally powerful. Each is strong enough that if the other didn't stand in its way, it could rewrite reality at its leisure: it would be almost omnipotent. Thankfully, they detest each other so much that they won't even join forces against us. If they did, our doom would be swift and certain.

"The gods are unique in that they lie between the realms of the material and the conceptual. They have no body, and thus, incidentally, no sex, which is why I refer to them with neuter pronouns. They do have vast magical power, of a quantity and efficacy unknown to men. They can create any imaginable creature they please, so long as they're willing to expend the necessary energy, and the corpses of their creations can continue existing after death if they choose. They can possess any creature that permits them to, and then do all manner of strange things to it. And although, to my knowledge, they've yet to do it once, they can permanently transfer some of their power to a mortal recipient. They're eager to make allies among humans, even as they plan on effecting our extinction. So yes, Jason, you were wise to refuse Life's offer. It would've made you its thrall."

"Life's?" said Jason. "Do you mean to say the red fox was Life?"

"That it was—a part of Life. For here we come to one of the primary differences between how Life and Death behave. Death, a believer in truth and clarity, is straightforward to a hilt. Except when trying to effect a particular deception, as that of the Thanatos cultists, it calls itself Death. It doesn't multiply entities beyond necessity. Life, conversely, in addition to believing in a higher creator-god, has split itself into a trinity. Though capable of reforming at will, it now consists of three separate agents, distinguished by their favored colors of red, green, and blue, just as Life as a whole and Death are respectively aligned with white and black. (It's no accident that in the usual additive color scheme, white light is split into red, green, and blue components.) The three aspects of Life, like Life itself, have no true names. They prefer to call themselves Love, Courage, and Peace. The less euphemistic equivalents, corresponding to the collective label of Chaos they abhor, are Lust, Greed, and Apathy. The neutral terms are simply Red, Green, and Blue. Even though they're equally powerful, they've established among themselves that particular pecking order. Thus it was, Jason, that Red, the chief aspect of Life, wished to bring you into its fold."

"And Red was Lust all along." said Jason. "So that was its connection with sexuality. Of course it wanted to sexualize me—to shape me in its image!"

"Exactly." said Leela. "And it's a sure bet that Apathy was the god Miles mistook for God."

"Have we ever encountered Greed, then?" said Simon.

"I doubt it was accidental that the creature Jason killed with a stone and the dragon you just fought were green." said Leela. "For, of course, the sudden appearance of monsters about twenty weeks ago was nothing less than the gods fighting. They'd previously been very careful to hide their monsters from the public, to minimize their chances of being discovered themselves. It was a chain of escalation that brought their struggle into full view. Death, upon seeing Jason, Roland, and Curtis, whom it hadn't been fond of ever since the Thanatos affair, go into a house with my son, decided to try killing four birds with one stone. The fight ended up being much more conspicuous to the neighbors than it had hoped. When you killed the monster, Curtis, I think Death thought it ought to try again while you were weary from the first fight; but then Life, realizing Jason was in danger again, sent its own monster in. By then it was clear to both gods that their monsters could no longer be kept secret—I think a passer-by actually managed to photograph the unicorn—so they decided to unleash everything they had at each other."

"But those monsters attacked humans, not each other." said Jason.

"Of course." said Leela. "There would've been little point in their throwing monsters at each other. Instead, they focused their energies on damaging their opponent's allies as much as possible."

"Allies?" said Roland. "Surely you don't mean to say that governments have covertly joined forces with the gods."

"In fact, they have—in a sense. It's complicated." Leela sighed. "First, I should add an important detail to my explanation of the basic nature of the gods: there's a kind of positive feedback loop between the gods and human sapience. As humans increase in population and sophistication, the gods grow stronger. And as the gods grow stronger, their very existence exerts its own effect on the rest of the multiverse, humans in particular. Slowly, they pull the human race towards opposite extremes; slowly, they erode ideological gray areas into pure black and white components. In short, the gods are polarizing the multiverse: they're widening and deepening the Schism."

"So… the Schism corresponds to the dichotomy between the gods?" said Jason.

"It's more than that. Properly speaking, the Schism is the dichotomy between the gods. You've seen how the distinction between Gyeeds and Droydania has steadily grown. This is nothing less than the multiverse coming to resemble the gods. Everything—practically everything—is creeping towards one of these two poles. People are just beginning to notice it. When they finally realize what's actually happening, their minds will have been irreversibly corrupted by the influence of the gods, and they'll hasten to their deaths.

"I should stress that human minds are not the only things in this world that the gods are warping. Causality itself, the very laws of probability, is being distorted to make the normal unusual and the unusual normal. The strangest contingencies are now the most likely possibilities; the unremarkable is now the anomaly. I think it's through this effect that the nascent Life created the draconic race. And so reality seems exaggerated: which happens to be, as I see it, the defining feature of fantasy. Hence, it's no surprise that Jason was misled. It was only an accident, I suppose, that the young dragon abducted Jason in particular. But as soon as the gods focused their attention on him—and I'm inclined to think they did so very soon after the abduction—the 'aura of improbability' they involuntarily emanate focused on him, as well. That, Jason, is why you appear to be a protagonist, and not just an ordinary character in a fantastic world.

"At any rate, the Schism divides the allies of Life and Death. Gyeeds is aligned with Life, and Droydania with Death. Verses on both sides will continue to polarize in the near future; then, at some point, the gods will reveal themselves and humans will officially take sides. A war of unprecedented scale will erupt. Should one god fall, the other will instantly have its way with the multiverse."

"And we'll all die?" said Curtis.


"But how can one of the gods die?" said Jason. "They don't have material bodies to attack."

"That's true." said Leela. "In fact, not being truly alive, they can't truly die: they're immortal. They don't need to eat, drink, or breathe. Weapons, even nuclear explosives, are useless against them. They're completely immune to human magic. They aren't indestructible, but they're so many orders of magnitude more powerful than everything else in the multiverse that nothing can hurt one but direct combat with the other."

"Which is highly likely to occur," said Jason, "somewhere down the line."

"Right. In short, if things continue as they're likely to, none of us will live more than a year longer."

"Do you mean the war will begin in less than a year?" said Simon.

"Unless something changes drastically, yes."

"That's extremely grim!" said Jason in a hoarse voice. "How in the world can we defend against this? We can't just sit back and ride the waves to our demise. Isn't there anything we can do?"

Leela adjusted her glasses. "To my knowledge, no. I've spent most of the last year attempting to answer that question exactly, and I've come up with nothing. If the war could be postponed or prolonged indefinitely, the gods would then continue to be checked by each another, minimizing the harm they could do us. But I don't see how just a few humans could hope to hold back the natural course of the multiverse, and besides, real stability is impossible in such tension. There would always be a chance that the fragile balance of power would somehow tip one way or the other, and all would be lost. Mutual destruction is, in this case, more or less impossible, since, again, the moment one is weakened, the other becomes stronger than ever before."

"Well, here's one question that occurs to me." said Jason. "You said that the winning god will be able to 'rewrite reality at its leisure', which power it'll use to 'shape the entire multiverse in its image'. How do the gods plan to rewrite things? What, exactly, is the way they want the multiverse to be?"

"I admit the details have thus far eluded me." said Leela. "All I have is educated guesses. Knowing the gods, I can imagine that Death wants destruction. What will be left once it's destroyed all it likes, what it'll spare, is anyone's guess, but I can verify that we won't be among them. I have even less of a clear idea of what Life desires. Crucially, I do know that Life wants something much more extreme than what one would imagine, a multiverse-wide Garden of Eden." (She referred to a place in an ancient Droydanian mythology analogous to the Abramic Eden.) "I think it's aiming more for a multiverse that epitomizes the essential qualities of life than one that's actually filled with living creatures. There may not be any 'life' as I, a biologist, would define the term. I don't foresee it as a pleasant prospect."

"I don't suppose one god's ideal would be preferable to the other." said Roland.

"No, there's little difference from our perspective. A victorious god would bring about the end of civilization, now and forever. That's all I need to know."

The five of them fell silent, contemplating their seemingly inevitable doom. Slowly, Jason felt the floor fall from beneath him; his thoughts became jumbled, vague, and anxious, as when he'd sat before Beatrix, barely moving, for hours. Most of all, he found himself hoping that Leela was utterly wrong; the idea that he was actually in a television show, he thought, was much less frightening.

Leela broke the silence. "Let me ask you something, Simon dear." she said. "When Roland sent you plummeting off the cliff in Koliporoth, how did you manage to teleport back in midair?"

Simon was visibly surprised. "Well, I—uh—actually, I don't really know. I tried teleporting, although I fully expected it not to work, and it worked. I think… yes, in retrospect, I believe that a small piece of ice fell from the cliff along with me, and came to be just under my foot as I fell. Since I was falling at the same speed as the piece of ice, I was at rest relative to it, so it fulfilled the requirement for a surface from which to teleport."

"So the strangeness of the multiverse worked in your favor that time." said Leela, nodding. "I have to say, I'm impressed that you mages were able to fend off that adult dragon, and with barely a scrape to show for it, too. After fighting together for so long, you've become quite powerful, as a group."

"I'm pretty powerful alone." said Curtis.

"That's true." Leela admitted. "The truth of the matter is, the four of you are able to defend yourselves against the gods—no small feat. I have no experience with combat casting whatsoever, so as soon as one of the gods finds me, my death will be 'swift and certain'."

"Leela," said Jason, "can you tell me anything about the red animals I encountered?"

"Yes, I'm fairly certain they were physical manifestations of Red. It was watching you; it earnestly did want to recruit you. Precisely why it took physical form is unclear to me. However, I think I understand how those spontaneous emotions came over you. Because a piece of Life's power was directly present, you could actually feel it, and because Life was in the form of Lust at the moment, you perceived the power as, strange as it may sound, a premonition of puberty. Since sexuality is so alien to a prepubescent, you instinctually reacted with fear at first; but over time, as you've grown closer to puberty, your subconscious has gradually come to terms with the idea.

"I should warn you: for you, Jason, puberty may be extremely dangerous. For Love's insistence on rendering you pubescent before accepting you as its avatar makes me worry that pubescence might somehow give it more power over you. I think it's a safe assumption that it's still keeping an eye on you, whatever its aim. Of course, there isn't much you can do about the issue—unless, I suppose, you were to be castrated."

Jason paled. "Well—I don't think―"

"Whoa, Nelly." said Roland, rising. He brought scornful eyes down to bear on the aging biologist. "This boy is my adoptive son, for good or for ill. If you think―"

"Please calm down, Roland." said Leela gently. To Jason's surprise, he did. "I'm only guessing that castration might help him, and even if it did, I honestly doubt it would do much good in the long run. Please remember that barring a miracle, we don't have much longer to live. It doesn't matter what Life does to Jason if we're all doomed anyway."

"Besides, I can't say castration is a prospect I can easily stomach." said Jason. "What about those pills Jonas took to suppress the 'Stirrings'—antaphrodisiacs, I mean?"

"The gods are far more powerful than drugs." said Leela. There was a pause. "I'm afraid that's all I have to tell you. I've discovered the real danger we're in, but I can't think of any kind of solution whatsoever. If there remains any doubt in your mind of the truth of my explanation, all you need do is watch the world around you. The rate of polarization, like that of human advancement, is exponential. Already, every nation I know of, including those outside the IDC, belong to one side or the other; they may change alliances over the weeks to come, but they'll never become neutral, or enemies to both. There's nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Metaphorically, one might say the two poles are at opposite ends of a single, unbroken circle of evil. We stand at its center, and the circle, like a noose, is rapidly tightening."

For the first time in his life, Jason tried not to think. Having very little practice, he failed. The conclusion seemed inescapable; his own little hypothesis, however parsimonious, entirely lacked the explanatory and predictive power of Leela's. He had sought Leela to get what he expected to be the ostensible truth; instead, he'd gotten the real truth. Of course there was no way to prove he wasn't in a television show, or a movie, or a simulation, or an advertisement on the side of a bus in New York City, but there was now no reason whatsoever to believe it. To think: everything that he'd once supposed to be a sort of massive persistent illusion was actually real. And yet it was also now that he'd learned this world was likely to soon be taken from him.

Not to say he planned on going down without a fight. He had only a little magic and almost no muscles, but he had his wits, and he was of the opinion that the latter were quite formidable by now. So keenly had he honed his talent for trickery and so confident was he in its efficacy that he felt capable of tricking the Devil himself. And indeed, it seemed a given that if it were at all possible for him to save the world, he'd do so by tricking the gods. (<Perhaps I ought to change my name to "Sisyphus".> he thought.) He supposed that despite the apparently overwhelming odds he was up against, his actual chances of emerging victorious were decent, thanks to the causality warp his opponents generated. He might even be able to increase his chances by decreasing them: by going out of his way to make victory less probable, he might actually make it more so.

In truth, these brave words, reasonable as they sounded to his intellect, did nothing to allay his fear. He remembered how Leela had described the gods as incredibly powerful: the hordes of monsters that had laid siege to cities were living examples. He was lucky that, so far, he'd had to face at most a handful of monsters at once. If Life sent a flight of dragons to attack him while no friendly mage was nearby to teleport him away, he would inevitably be slain. And Life and Death were only growing yet more powerful as time went on.

In his mind's eye, he saw the scheming gaze of Emperor Ursamor and the wide, ambitious smile of Lloyd Waverunner. These leaders represented the twin poles to which Droydania and Gyeeds had crept. And then it all came to Jason viscerally: he saw the gods watch over each side as its ideology ossified to unquestioning zeal, its nations drew inward and purged dissenters from their ranks. All normal, peacetime activity, all the diverse everyday affairs of human life, would be swept up in the tide of war as each side gathered its strength, drafting legions of citizens into its military and constructing massive machines of war. Then, when the day of Ragnarok came, as it were, both would fly at each other with everything they had. In one great bloody multidimensional explosion, jungles would become wastelands, metropolises would be reduced to fallout-tainted rubble, and afterwords, the victor would pick off the survivors like a hunter putting a wounded animal out of its misery.

There was no escape. Even if he could trick the gods, Jason realized, there was no optimal outcome. He knew he couldn't hope to prevent war from arising at all: that was inevitable, if anything ever had been. If the war were somehow prolonged indefinitely, human society would be as nightmarish as the world of "1984". If the war were allowed to finish, the world would end in fire or in ice, according to the victor. Had Jason been a deity himself, it seemed, there would've been absolutely nothing he could do.

And so, in spite of all his experiences, a seed of doubt grew in the young boy's heart that there was any hope at all. Perhaps he would be able to find a solution; perhaps he could save the world. Yet he knew that no matter how great his luck or sharp his cunning, this crisis would not end on an entirely pleasant note. Neither he nor civilization as a whole would escape the Weird unscathed.