THE TRICKSTER by Jonathan Andrew Sheen


-    In a physical sense, he was lying in a pale-walled room.

-    Blood sugar levels were fluctuating wildly, and somewhere, perhaps in an arm or a leg, an aggregate of hundreds of thousands of jagged-edged blood cells called platelets had bonded together into a solid object, not large on a scale of men or worlds, large enough for gods. It was bonded to the wall of a vein by a thin enough layer of cells, by anyone's lights.

-    None of this matters in any sense that counts.

-    Far away from the body that breathed heavily, but still somehow intrinsically attached, he was arguing with someone.

-    "My Lord," she said. "You know it's time."

-    "I don't want to!"

-    She shook her head. (She didn't, of course. Such concepts have no place here. But, clumsy as the metaphor is, it will do.) "But it is time. You do know that."

-    "I don't care! When do I get a say in these things?"

-    "But you do, my Lord! It was your decision!"

-    "Yeah, yeah, I know. Trickster God. But I don't want to! I'll miss the end of the arc on Babylon 5!"

-    "What a silly thing to say! Of course you won't! You'll be omniscient, you won't miss anything."

-    "Yeah, but I won't care!"

-    She smiled, a little more smugly than he thought he should have to put up with. "Then what's the problem?"

-    "I want to care! I want to continue to enjoy a tale spun out slowly, over time, building on its own creativity to become more and better than it was meant to be." He smiled, in spite of himself. "This is fun!"

-    "It wasn't supposed to be," she murmured.

-    His smile was a little more triumphant. "Yeah. But the Trickster God should know that thereís one person he can never outsmart! I mean, donít get me wrong, thereís a genuine brilliance there. The universe created, billions of years old, six thousand years ago, with light on the way from distant stars already, and dinosaur bones already fossils in the Earth. Iím good. Iím good, but Iím better! I took the form I gave myself, took the mortal span... And look what I did with it: I enjoyed it!"

-    An infinite, infinitesimal distance away, more platelets struck the mass, where it protruded into the rushing current of plasma, and adhered. With each impact, the thin layer of connective cells holding it to the venous wall peeled ever so slightly further.

-    "Did you learn from it?"

-    He thought on that one for a while. Of jokes shared and sudden friendships. Telling Ben "Oh, it's under the bomb." Jon's unexpected Londo impression the day they'd met. The soft and beautiful curves of Shannon Garcia's cheekbones, and the odd combination of pleasure and pain they brought him. Japanese animation and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and ReaderCon. Neal Stephenson's friendliness, and James Burke's enthusiasm. Josh's noisy sarcasm and quiet loyalty. Andrew's steadfast good humor. The warmth of community from words on a CRT screen, people who lived and loved and befriended on the strength of their words - their minds - alone.

-    "Yes. They're really quite noble, in their way, you know."

-    The membrane of cells peeled a bit further from the cell wall.

-    She nodded slowly. "You build well. You did, even, there."

-    She pointed past the body, stiflingly remote, to the world it inhabited.

-    His gaze followed only as far as the body itself, its autonomic systems ticking away. "Code," he said, quietly, quietly. "They make code. It's amazing. Fluid, precise, and infinitely malleable. It's all nothing but ones and zeroes, but it becomes art and science and comedy and design and commerce and war."

-    "You were doing that all along."

-    "But not like that!" He shook his head, gestured vaguely.

-    On a metal-railed bed in a room that was right there, arms moved, slightly. Dim light flickered from a thin, transparent plastic tube. "...like that..." the lips murmured, nearly inaudible.

-    "With primitive tools - merely metaphorical, really - they're manipulating the fundamental units of creation itself! Can you comprehend that? They can, some of them. It From Bit is becoming a popular cosmological theory!"

-    "They're going to need you very soon, then," she said. "And the others."

-    "Others?" His head swung toward her. Memory was returning faster, now. Others. Cells peeled further. Small aggregates of platelets broke loose, and tumbled away downstream.

-    "Others," she said.

-    He looked back toward the body. The chest raised and lowered slowly. Friends, movies, greasy cheeseburgers, perl scripts, music, books, all rushed through him.

-    Laughter. The trap was so tight, so implacable, inevitable. But still... Laughter.

-    Even he, even now, still didn't know how they did it.

-    Others.

-    The Trickster God should know that there's one person he can never outsmart.

-    Cells impacted the body of the clot, and adhered. Others, at the bottom, lost to the current.

-    Laughter.

-    Some tricks, he decided, were crueler than others. Some were too cruel. He'd have to think about that.

-    Others...

-    "Oh, all right," he said, peevishly, turning back toward the body for just an instant.

-    The face in the pale room wrinkled in momentary irritation.

-    The last few cells, adhering to the wall of the vein, stretched and began to tear away.

-    "Implement," he said.

END