Sun and Shadow

Tired of wandering, and overwhelmed with despair, Jason lay around the house alone on Christmas morning, watching a rerun of a television show that nobody, including he, had liked while it had been a scheduled series. He was on the verge of falling asleep when it was interrupted by a news flash. The screen was filled with a ten-story-tall titan, a colossal animated statue of deep indigo stone, that was wreaking havoc in a nearby financial district. It swept its enormous arms through banks and office buildings, sending them shuddering and crashing to the ground. Out of every building poured a stream of those who could not teleport, running for their lives. The statue didn't chase the fleeing crowd, and it moved slowly, but none of the buildings were fully evacuated before it turned its wrath upon them.

"What a terrible weapon our enemies have unleashed upon us!" a reporter cried in a choked voice. "With the Gyeedian Army spread perilously thin across the multiverse, it will come all too late! Who will save us?"

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this," said the Argonaut, rising, "but this looks like a job for Jason Blue."

Ten minutes later, perching on a water tower a safe distance away from the scene, Jason found it much the same as it had appeared on TV. The chief difference was that the statue had accomplished a good deal more destruction in that time; a large portion of the financial district had been reduced to rubble, and the mass of fleeing Gyeedians had greatly expanded. They formed a vast flower of fear, blooming outwards through the streets from the epicenter of the carnage. The statue itself was yet more imposing in person. Never before had Jason seen something so big move about on land; it was over three times taller than the tallest sauropods. Its arms were as long as it was tall, each with seven twenty-foot-long fingers, and it had four massively thick, footless legs to support its incredible weight. The only features on its flat face were two bright-white eyes in the shape of crescent moons: it didn't seem intelligent, and that, Jason thought, was at least one saving grace.

Obviously, he couldn't hope to simply overpower this monster with bestial brawn, since there was no natural animal large enough to be a match for it. He had to find a weakness. Fighting against his own terror, he turned into a hawk and dove towards it. When he came within range of its arms, it took no notice of him, and he was able to inspect it unmolested. What he saw gave him little hope. All of it appeared to be smooth stone, formed from a single contiguous mass; nowhere could he find a hole or an artificial joint. It appeared to function through magic alone. In desperation, Jason became a pterodactyl and clawed at its eyes, but these were as impervious as the rest of it. The monster moved a hand up to crush him, and he flew away.

What was he to do? It appeared that the statue could be stopped by nothing but brute force, and Jason couldn't imagine how he could muster the necessary amount. He doubted he could even find something big enough and light enough that he could use to cover its eyes. He watched it march relentlessly onwards to a fresh cluster of buildings in the shadow of an eighty-story skyscraper. He was wondering if it could possibly level that building when, with his keen pterosaurian eyes, he spotted a young woman fall from a seventieth-floor window and rapidly plummet. Thinking cynically that this way he might save one person's life, Jason turned into a peregrine falcon (to maximize his dive speed) and sped towards her. He met her somewhere between the eighteenth and twentieth stories, changed back to a pterodactyl for strength, caught her (just barely!), flew a couple of blocks away from the statue, and set her on the sidewalk as gently as he could, which unfortunately wasn't terribly gentle. Pterodactyls are remarkable for their size, not for their grace in the air.

Returning to the monster, Jason found it had attacked the skyscraper, but apparently given up: the structure remained standing despite the great damage its lower floors had taken. It had been spared only because the statue was too short to strike the upper floors, and too impatient to sufficiently clear out the lower ones. And then Jason had an idea.

The monster was still standing in the skyscraper's shadow. Quickly, he flew behind the building, then a few more hundred feet upwards. Again a falcon, he dove at the skyscraper, aiming around the forty-fifth story. He accelerated up to eighty miles at an hour. Then, when he got sufficiently close, he turned into a blue whale; in gross violation of the laws of physics, he didn't immediately slow down. He rolled a bit, and so struck the skyscraper with his side.

A blue whale moving at eighty miles an hour has a lot of momentum. Thus, the skyscraper not only collapsed, it violently toppled, crashing down on the statue and another building with enough force to blow all three monoliths to bits. The statue had been hollow, after all.

Jason was relatively unhurt. His generous quantity of blubber had cushioned his huge bones, so that they weren't damaged, even if he had felt, for a moment there, that the impact would cleave him in two. Now, his chief concern was that he was plummeting towards the earth himself. He turned into an albatross and spread his wings. His speed slackened, and he glided towards the ground.

Upon landing, he became a dog and collapsed on the pavement. He'd taken a huge gamble: doubtlessly there had been scores of people in that skyscraper when he'd knocked it over, few of whom had survived. But he felt that if he hadn't destroyed the statue, it would've taken many more lives by the time the military was able to disable it. He had saved the day. For once, he was able to feel a little proud of himself.

"You're a critter, aren't you?" Jason looked up at the speaker and found it to be the woman he'd caught in midair. She looked a little sheepish, both for being rescued and for talking to a dog. Jason wondered what she meant by "critter", but he wasn't sure he wanted to take his human form, and so reveal his identity, to ask her. "Thanks a lot for saving me. I thought I was a goner, so—I mean, thanks for destroying that monster, too." Jason did not reply. "Well, I guess we're all in this together." she threw in, and patted him on the head as only people who truly despise dogs do. "See you at Bea's wedding." She quickly walked away.

Jason turned that over in his mind. "Bea's wedding"? Now, certainly, there were many Beatrices in this world, and their weddings didn't generally concern him. The causality warp, though, left little room for doubt that the bride was Beatrix Shadewalker, and Jason would somehow find the wedding very interesting indeed. He hunted around until he found a reasonably private place, then took his usual one-handed human form and commenced coin-flipping. Yes, Beatrix Shadewalker was in the city of Gyeeds; yes, she was right now preparing for a wedding. Jason made up his mind to track her down then and there. If he didn't discover anything of note before the wedding, he was sure to see something during the ceremony itself.

An hour later, Jason had finally reached the apartment building where the coin had located Beatrix. When he came upon the correct room, he used the nose of his human form to sniff under it, since his magically amplified olfaction surpassed that of any ordinary animal. He smelled Beatrix, all right—and someone else. He realized with a start that the someone else was Roland!

Jason took the form of a fly—a really microscopic one, invisible to the human eye except at very close range—and flew under the door. His vision acuity was poor, but he could make out Roland sitting on a couch and Beatrix lying on it, with her head in his lap. Roland was absently stroking the chemist's long black hair. <What in the world is going on?> Jason thought. He landed on a wall nearby them and observed the scene sideways.

"I still don't really understand why we're having a wedding in the first place." said Roland.

"What," said Beatrix, "I can't be a little romantic now? You old hypocrite." Such words sounded strange coming from the thoughtful and deliberate Beatrix, and a certain subtle, strained quality in her voice suggested she was well aware of this.

"Oh, romance!" said Roland. "I don't think you ever used that word all the time we were together, the first time around. How you've changed, Beatrix! What a deep sleep you were in; how your eyes have opened!"

"You've changed, too." said Beatrix.

"Well, I—you know I always did love you, really, even when I said otherwise. I was only petty. Words can't describe it, really, but when I saw you that day, I suddenly felt that ancient grudge wash away from my heart. The power of love redeemed me!

"Goodness knows the world is in need of redemption. These are trying, violent times. In Gyeeds and like-minded verses, I think, people are gradually coming to their senses. But elsewhere… the world seems haunted by the specter of death. More and more innocents are burdened by the weight of oppression with each passing day.

"But what am I thinking—this is our wedding-day! We should be happy. Back to cheerier things. How was it that you, darling, saw the light? Don't you remember how cold you were in the bad old days? All you wanted to do was learn and study and think and write—such dry things, especially for a beautiful young girl like yourself. It was as if all those books and beakers had sucked the humanity right out of you. You obsessed over the trivial, and ignored the vital. And now—well, Bea, I've met a lot of girls, but only you have a sexual appetite as great as mine!" He smiled with remembered delight. Beatrix winced; Roland didn't notice, since he wasn't looking down at her at that moment. "So how, my dear Bea? How did you free yourself from those awful earthly bonds?"

"Simply by thinking." said Beatrix calmly. "I like learning and so forth, but eventually, I realized I had to decide what I really valued. I chose life."

Roland nodded, and kept stroking her hair. They were silent for a while.

"Are you sure you can't tell me anything more about the guests?" said Roland.

"Honey, I'll tell you everything after the wedding, I swear to God."

Roland laughed. "I thought you were an atheist."

"I was wrong." said Beatrix quietly.

Roland nodded. "So long as my parents aren't there. And we don't need to keep our marriage a secret, do we?"

"No, no."

"Good. A while ago, Jason remarked I'd been showering more often. He could smell it. I don't think he noticed anything else, or suspected anything, but still… he's not the sort of person you can keep a secret from easily. I'll rest easier once we've told him the truth." Jason realized, with a bit of a shock, that Roland had been showering after his meetings with Beatrix, so that Jason wouldn't catch the scent of her on him. "I wonder how he'll take this. He'll probably have some difficulty accepting you, if what he told me of your encounter with him in that Droydanian museum was true."

"Probably." said Beatrix. She glanced at her watch and swore. "We've got to go. We're a little late." She jumped up.

"Sorry for babbling so much." said Roland, rising.

They prepared to leave, and Jason flew out the window.

Jason was able to get to Curtis's school and pull him out of vector-calculus class within an hour and a half. He convinced Curtis to teleport the two of them to where Simon worked, and then the three of them met in a long-abandoned storage room in the basement of the building in which Simon's publisher had its offices.

Carefully, Jason explained how he had come to seek out Beatrix and what he had seen and heard in her apartment. Then, he said "I don't need to tell you that this is all extremely suspicious. You know how much these people hated each other. Roland killed Beatrix's second husband, and she wanted to kill him. Redeemed by the power of love, my foot! What's the real reason these people would want to marry, and why would one of their guests assume that a shapeshifter would show up? It's clear as day to me that Life, probably Love specifically, is using Beatrix to get Roland into its fold. Once Life has Roland as an ally, it'll have a permanent spy among our ranks."

"Why do you think it's Life?" said Curtis.

"Well, I've got no definite proof, but from what I saw of Roland, and what I heard of his voice, he's really—well, I guess the only phrase to describe it is 'in love'. Somehow, he's been directly mentally affected, because there is no natural or ordinary way that his attitude could have changed from such passionate hatred, to such passionate adoration, in so short a time. Isn't it only logical that if some being in the multiverse can effect such a change, that being is Love? This, I think, is what Leela was foreshadowing when she said puberty might be very dangerous for me. Anyone who has a sexuality is vulnerable to Love's love-inducing power. It's really quite fortunate that you and I, Curtis, are prepubescent, and you, Simon, are a eunuch. If we had libidos, Love could bend us to its will easily, but without them, we may have a chance."

"I think…" said Curtis. "Guys, do you remember when Role got stuck with an umbrella? Maybe he was poisoned with love potion."

"Love potion?" said Jason. "Does it exist?"

"Oh, yeah. It's powerful. It makes you fall completely in love with whoever else had some of their flesh dissolved in the solution. There's no way around it; you always rationalize a way to love them. But the potion's really hard to make; it takes really high skill in alchemy. And I think the most potent anyone's ever made it, it lasted, like, a week. This lasted… twenty-three days!"

"Well, it's not hard to believe Love can make a stronger love-potion, is it? Death made Piercers. Divine magic is obviously a cut above the mortal kind."

"Do you think Beatrix was also poisoned with love potion?" Simon asked.

"No, on the contrary," said Jason, "it looks like she still can't stand him. I think she's been courting him, and even having sex with him, for purely ulterior purposes." He frowned. "Now that I think about it, my guess is that Beatrix knows exactly what she's doing, and what's going on. She more or less explicitly said she had allied herself with Life. Yes, that's it: for whatever reason, she's working for Life. She got Roland poisoned with the love potion, and has pretended to love him back, purely for the purposes of getting him on Life's side. Beatrix, a servant of a malevolent god! And I thought Roland was evil.

"I don't know exactly why Beatrix has insisted on this wedding ceremony, but I'm sure there's a sinister reason for it. There's only one thing for us to do: rush to the wedding, and keep Roland and Beatrix from marrying, at all costs."

Simon took a deep breath. "You've come to some bold conclusions," he said, "but I think your reasoning is solid, not least in light of the causality warp. The wedding must be stopped."

"I think most of what you said's right," said Curtis, "but, 'sinister'? Jason, is Life really evil?"

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say 'yes'." said Jason. "Everything that indicates otherwise is merely Life's propaganda."

Curtis sighed. "All right. What'll we do? Just stomp in there?"

"There's nothing else we can do." said Jason. "There's no time for making up a trick; the ceremony is probably in progress as we speak. We must simply tell Roland the truth, and hope that its redemptive power is enough."