Jay vaguely knew Virgil Jango Skyy was speaking, but he couldn’t discern any words. Maybe the old monk was chanting Sheridanian.
Jay still felt the centipede crawling through his intestines. As he convulsed on the rug, his view alternated between traditional reality and strange visions, but he couldn’t tell which was which. Sometimes he saw Jango and the bush of centipedes disguised as Virgil Blue. Sometimes he saw swirling cosmos. Which could be called ordinary? The swirling cosmos seemed alien, but it connected Jay seamlessly to human history and the universe.
As if to cope, Jay felt his brain’s hemispheres separating. This produced nerve-wracking imagery. Jay saw himself as an egg the size of a grown man. The egg circled the center of a grand Wheel.
From the Wheel’s center, new life-forms emerged as beams of light. The beams shot past the egg to the circle’s rim and became triangular saw-teeth. Each triangle’s slope tracked their life-form’s growth from birth to death. After death, each life-form zapped to the Wheel’s center instantaneously, and shot back to the rim as a new beam.
The egg seethed in frustration. Trapped orbiting the center, the egg was neither being born, aging, nor dying. While sentient beings cycled as beams of light, the egg was locked in limbo.
More eggs orbited the Wheel’s center, but this egg was largest by far. Perhaps that’s why, after incalculable duration, this egg alone was struck by a beam traveling to the rim.
The collision sparked the corpus callosum connecting the hemispheres of Jay’s brain. There, Dan and Jillian hovered nude in a formless mental theater. Jillian appeared only four years old, while Dan was fully grown.
“I—I understand.” Dan’s thoughts echoed in Jay’s skull. Jillian cocked her head. “Anihilato trapped me in an egg, freezing me on the Wheel of life and death.” Dan wiped tears from his face. “To escape, I stowed aboard your consciousness. I hijacked your soul.”
Jillian reached across Jay’s frontal-lobe and slapped Dan in the face. “Snap out of it!” she said. “You couldn’t have hijacked me even if you’d had the presence of mind to try. My soul rescued yours. I saved you from stasis to scavenge your spirit for parts.”
Dan felt his sore red cheek. “I’m so selfish,” he cried. “I threw myself away just to try saving Beatrice, who never needed me to begin with. When I failed, my personality infected yours.”
“Come on!” Jillian smacked him again. Despite seeming four years old, her mental projection was substantially stronger than his. “I harvested your consciousness from oblivion. You augment me. You’re my power-up, like a magic mushroom or winged boots.”
Dan shuddered and held his shoulders. “I’m still worried,” he said. “Which of us is wearing the other’s soul like a suit of armor?”
“I don’t care,” said Jillian, “and neither should you.” She reached her hand out again and Dan recoiled, but she didn’t hit him. She’d extended her hand to shake. Dan’s lower lip quivered. He shook her hand.
Jay opened his eyes. He noticed the motel-room as if for the first time.
“Finally awake?” Jango stood from the bed and sat cross-legged before Jay. “I hope your journey showed you what you needed.”
“It did,” said Jay. “I know myself now, and I understand Anihilato, King of Dust, self-proclaimed Master of Nihilism.”
Jango closed his eyes and smiled. “I’m glad I could help.”
“But I’m not done yet, and neither are you.” Jay pulled an object from his jacket and smashed it on Jango’s forehead. “Send me to the Mountain, Virgil Blue. Send me to the end of the eternities. Kill me.”
Jango trembled. He smeared bloody yolk from his face. “What’s this?”
“I bought a fertilized egg from the poultry-farm on my way here.” Jay’s eyes were still glassy. “I’ve promoted you to Blue.”
“You don’t have the authority.” Jango wiped his face with his sky-blue sleeve. “Only Virgils can promote one another.”
Jay nodded. “When Dan smoked centipede, he walked into the Wheel and was hit by a bird’s egg. That bird’s egg was put there by Anihilato with the authority of every Virgil Blue, so Dan was christened Virgil Orange. After Dan’s death, Anihilato put him in his own egg where the two halves of my soul smashed together. Whatever way you slice it I’m Virgil Purple. Now I name you Virgil Blue. Don’t deny your destiny. There are no coincidences.”
“You’re still hallucinating.” Jango scowled. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“But I believe it with unyielding conviction.” Jay shrugged. “Martyr me, motherfucker.”
Jango stood shakily and limped into the motel bathroom. Jay heard him mop egg from his face with a towel. “You realize,” said Jango as he returned, “if you really made me Virgil Blue, then you’ve doomed me to a terrible fate. The first man, Nemo, cannibalizes every Blue Virgil in their dreams.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Jay. “If you’re not ready to meet your maker, then let me show you how a free man dies.”
“Whatever you think you need to do, do it right. Don’t make me regret this!” Jango leapt upon Jay with his centipede-knife. “I’ll see you in the next eternity!”
“Damn right!” Despite demanding death, Jay instinctively shielded himself. Jango stabbed the knife through both Jay’s palms. “Aaaugh!” Jango stabbed Jay thirty eight more times in the chest and stomach. Jay sputtered blood. “Wait!”
Jango groaned. “What do you want this time?”
“When Dan Jones goes to Sheridan, you’d better take him as your student,” managed Jay. “Otherwise our timeline will be all colors of fucked up.”
“He’d have to eat a centipede.”
“He just did. You watched him do it.”
“Whatever you say.” Jango stabbed Jay a fortieth time. Jay spluttered his last.
Jango sighed and wiped his bloody hands on his robes. Was he really Virgil Blue now? Would Dan Jones appear at the white-walled monastery of Sheridan? Jango clenched his eyes shut. There were no coincidences.
He put his hands on his hips. He’d smuggled bugs for years, but he’d never had to cover up a murder before. Returning to Sheridan would be a challenge.