Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 40
Stories
The Golem of Deneb Seven
by Alex Shvartsman
Aubrey Comes to Yellow High
by James van Pelt
Golden Chaos
by M.K. Hutchins
Excerpt from Drift
by M. K. Hutchins
Roundabout
by Nathaniel Lee
IGMS Audio
Roundabout by Nathaniel Lee
Read by Emily Rankin
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Fantasiestück in A Major
A Flight of the Imagination in Three Movements
    by Bud Webster

Fantasiestück in A Major
Artwork by Jin Han

Andante: The Truth

Once there was a man who saw truth and was compelled to speak it. A great gift, you might think, but it's a terrible thing to always know the truth, and to have to say it.

He wasn't very smart; he wasn't handsome or witty; he wasn't possessed of a great personality. All he was, in fact, was dull and mundane.

That, and someone who saw truth and had to tell it.

Because of this, he had no friends, and few acquaintances -- fortunate, since he saw through the dissembling that friendship makes necessary. This made him sad in the way that rain makes a fish wet: in such an ocean of sadness, who notices a few more drops?

He began normally. He was born, diapered, and weaned. But when he learned to talk, his life changed forever.

His mother tickled him to make him laugh and said, "You're Mother's little angel sent straight from Heaven!" He would shake his head and say "Mother, there is no heaven." And his mother, dismayed and disturbed, sent him out to play.

His father would tousle his hair and say in gruff good humor, "Whose little man are you?" and the boy would answer, "I belong to Mother and the man next door." Shocked and hurt, his father turned from the boy who wasn't his son.

In school, he angered his teachers by saying "Columbus maimed the Indians who would not bring him gold," and "George Washington despised his mother." This was the truth, but legend is far easier to teach, and so his teachers reviled him.

Likewise, he horrified churchmen. "Your priests have been murderers and thieves," he said to them, "and your bibles composed of myths and hearsay. Whole civilizations have been wiped out in the names of your gods." And so they cursed him and sent him away.

And so it went. With the generals, he spoke of Ethan Allen's attempt to sell out to the British, of sailors sick from the radiation of "friendly" bomb tests. With the captains of industry he mentioned fortunes built on the broken backs of slaves, of children dying in unsafe mines and factories. With politicians, he simply shook his head and would not speak.

He could find no place where he wasn't met with sullen silence and anger, and so he searched for wisdom that might temper the truth. He walked the streets of cities, towns, and then smaller and smaller villages, asking wherever he went, "Are you wise? Are you the wisest you know?" All shook their heads and spoke of someone wiser still, somewhere down the road.

And at the end, he came to the last place. There, a man sat, naked, eyes closed, under a tree.

"Are you wise?" the man who could see the truth asked. "Are you the wisest you know?"

The naked man shrugged a shoulder and replied, "Wise? Hell, no. All I am is the last man in the last place."

The man who could see the truth shook his head and said, "I have traveled as far as there is to find you, and you're only an ex-bible salesman with pretensions of wisdom."

The naked man shrugged his other shoulder. "Then, you would seem to have a choice. You can piss off, and leave me to my pretensions, or you can take my place and continue your search." And with his eyes still closed, he stood and wandered off to another tree in another village.

The man who could see the truth thought. Then he removed his clothes, closed his eyes, and sat under the tree.

Sometime later, he heard someone approach. A woman said, "Are you the man who can see the truth?"

"I am," he replied.

"Can you tell me, then, what the Great Truth is?"

He plucked at the grass around his feet and considered the question, then opened his eyes and said, "The only Great Truth is that there is no Great Truth; there are only simple truths, which contain no more wisdom than they require to tell."

The woman shook her head in denial. "It can't be that easy. I've come too far for it to be. What of war? What of hate? Of poverty and disease?"

"All right," said the man who could see the truth. "The Truth is that all truths, great or small, are more annoying than enlightening, and that those who tell them are well meaning fools. Now, piss off and leave me to my own foolishness." And he closed his eyes again.

Sometime later, he heard someone else approach the tree. The man who could see truth, and was compelled to speak it, smiled.

Doloroso: The Dragon Slayer

There was once a man who slew dragons with despair. "You are so large," he'd say mournfully, shaking his head. "Don't you worry about your heart giving out?" And the dragon, sickened by the very idea of weakness in his flesh, would stop eating and waste away.

The man traveled all over the world, disposing of dragons wherever he found them. Now, killing dragons is a difficult task, no matter how you do it, because even though dragons begin their lives as men, they harden in mind and body as they age. Although not all men become dragons, it is true that all dragons were once men.

Once they change, dragons live for a very long time, and in that time accumulate great knowledge. However, few find wisdom, and this made his job easier, for knowledge without wisdom is a sharp weapon that can turn in the hand and stab deep.

He would climb a mountain to a dragon's lair and, upon entering it, stand quietly and stare at a spot just above the dragon's right shoulder. "Why are you staring?" the dragon would ask, momentarily distracted from annoyance by curiosity.

"Oh, it's probably nothing. Just a bruise on your shoulder." The man would shrug resignedly. "My father had one like it that turned to cancer and took him, but I wouldn't worry. It's only a slight discoloration, and dragons live forever, yes?" Then the man would sigh and turn away, and the dragon would fret and worry until, his mind on slow, agonizing death to the exclusion of all else, he would ram a mountain in the dark and break his neck.

The dragons didn't always die at once. Some took years, because sadness can be a slow, methodical poison. But they were no longer great, and no longer strong, and in time, they died.

So this man was much in demand, dragons being what dragons were. He was offered the hand of many a king's daughter, and many a fortune in gold, but he was a man with a calling and he turned them all down.

He slew dragons in many places for a long, long time, gaining fame with each death. He was feted and praised, knighted by royalty and respected by nobility. He learned much in his travels and was consulted by scholars from every land. He grew proud of this, and if there was a treasure in his life, it was the knowledge gained from a life spent killing dragons.

But knowledge is not wisdom, which you know, and it can stab very deeply indeed, which you also know, and what happened next was inevitable.

One day while sitting in a town square, thinking of his treasured knowledge, the man noticed a small boy staring at a spot just above his left eye.

"What are you staring at, boy?" he said, frowning.

"Oh, it's nothing, sir," the boy shrugged sadly, "probably. It's just that my mother, rest her soul, had such a swelling and discoloration before she fell to the plague. I wouldn't worry, though," the boy said. "You're great and strong, and undoubtedly very wise." And he walked away, shaking his head in resignation.

The man who slew dragons with despair sat very still for a long moment, and then got to his feet. He walked for hours until he reached the edge of a cliff, where he spread his wings and flew to a nearby mountain top. There, he turned his face to the rock and, in the fullness of time, died.

Scherzo: The Sleeper

There once was a man who slept for a billion years, and when he awoke, nothing much had changed.

That day began and ended like every other: indifferently. The sun rose. He awoke without anticipation, dressed without eagerness, kissed his wife without ardor, and left home for the city.

That evening, he returned, ate, and undressed for bed with the same lack of enthusiasm, and when he closed his eyes, had this dream:

He sat alone in a railway waiting room. Dusky light filtered in from outside, making soft shadows against the walls and floor. Across the room, an old woman scrubbed the empty benches with a stiff brush. Little by little, she made her way across. When she finally reached his bench, she dropped her brush back in the bucket and glared at him.

"You shouldn't have fallen asleep," she said in a low voice. "It's already been ten thousand years, and your civilization is long dead."

"Pardon?" the man asked.

She took a rag from her pocket and mopped sweat from her face.

"Your culture. It's faded into the mists of time, as they say. No more television, no more baseball, no PBS, no hole in the ozone." She wrung the rag, which was much wetter than it should have been, into the bucket. "All the damage you did has long since healed."

"But you said, 'ten thousand years'!" the sleeper exclaimed in distress.

The old woman looked at a watch pinned to her dress. "Hundred-fifty thousand, now." She chuckled. "Time flies."

"I'm asleep," the man said. "I'm dreaming."

"Yes, you are. Nevertheless . . ." She shrugged.

"But how can I sleep for a hundred and fifty . . ."

"Million and a half."

". . . a million and a half years?" he cried aloud.

"You don't have to shout," she said. "I can hear you. Don't ask me how it happened, it's your dream. All I can tell you for sure is that time has passed. Your moon has fallen from the sky and wiped out the race of intelligent insects that replaced humanity. Your sun will go nova in . . ." she looked at the watch again, ". . . less than thirty million years, give or take a millennium. You still have time for coffee, though."

"I don't understand," the sleeping man sighed.

"Then assume you weren't meant to, and don't worry about it." She reached into the bucket and began washing his bench with long strokes. "Mind the soap."

He stood and paced.

"How long now?"

"Does it matter? Three hundred million."

"Why can't I wake up?"

"Better you don't. Atmosphere's gone, hard radiation. Like Newark in August."

"But there must be a reason!" The sleeper threw up his hands. "This can't be happening for no reason."

She stopped scrubbing the bench. "Look," she said, "you're an ordinary man with an ordinary life. Stagnant as hell. Think of this a free trip to Disneyland. The cool one, when they still had the old Tomorrowland." She wiped her face again. "You get to find out about things that the rest of your race never even conceived of."

"I suppose you're right, but what good will it do me?"

The old woman looked at him hard for a few seconds. "Well," she said at last, "I shouldn't tell you this, but you're coming back around to the beginning again. Try to keep your life in some perspective, okay? Have some fun. Build a model airplane. Do something useless." She looked out the window. "Yep. Big Bang, proto-stars, primordial soup, and thunder lizards." She stood slowly and painfully. "Time to catch your train, mister. You better move fast; there goes the first monkey out onto the plains with a stick in its hands."

The sleeper moved toward the gate. "I still don't understand!"

"It's a dream!" she called in exasperation. "You're not supposed to understand."

The train roared into the station and he leapt aboard at the last moment. As it pulled out, he awoke in his bed at home. It was morning, and his wife was already up.

"Sleep well, hon?" she asked, gathering laundry.

"For a billion years, I thought, but I feel . . . wonderful."

"Mmm. I tossed and turned all night. Honey," she said, putting the laundry basket down, "I know this is your day off, and you always shut yourself away in your study to work on your day off, but wouldn't it be nice if we could just, maybe, go for a drive together?"

He considered this. "Where?"

"Anywhere. It doesn't matter."

The sleeper nodded. "Yes, I'd like that a lot. Let's do it." And he leapt out of bed and dressed enthusiastically, as the twin suns shown brightly.

Coda: Tales Without Tails

There once was a man who thought of himself as a fabulist. He wrote parables and allegories; teaching stories. He was reluctant, though, to add morals to his tales, loath to impose his principles on others. Instead, he left it to the readers to come to their own conclusions about the enigmas he handed them. This, he felt, would encourage them to engage with his tales in ways he could never expect.

So he wrote his fables about Time, Dragons, and Truth, and then set them loose to see what would come of them. They neither disappeared nor shone brightly, as is true of most fables, and he never learned of their destinies; oddly enough this added to his sense of fulfillment.

Never famous, never celebrated; he was nevertheless content.


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