The Biggest Bird’s Cosmic Plan

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)

Last time on RuRu no Jikuu-Kasoku!

Commander Lucille distracted the Hurricane so Professor Akayama’s flying white fox could repair the Wheel with a golden wing. Now the Hurricane has launched ten nasty projectiles at the Galaxy Zephyr! Why won’t Akayama let them pull the Chain again?

“We can’t keep this up!” said Charlie. The Galaxy Zephyr zipped through the empty universe, narrowly evading the Hurricane’s ten gargantuan missiles.

“We’re almost out of time!” said Dakshi. The missiles tightly tracked the Galaxy Zephyr, relinquishing no leeway.

“Commander, is the Chain ready?” asked Eisu. A missile grazed mere light-years from his cockpit.

“Enlisting more of Earth’s life is our only hope!” said Fumiko. The Hurricane salivated from a thousand maws, awaiting inevitable victory.

Lucille grit her teeth. “Professor Bird-Thing!” Akayama saluted. “What’s the hold-up? Is your slice-of-life not coughing up the worms we need?”

“It is, it is!” said Akayama. “But to collect every worm, we mustn’t act prematurely!” Her tail, stuck through ZAP’s entry-hatch and affixed to the Galaxy Zephyr’s silvery-blue Uzumaki Armor, kept her connected to her giant bird-like form in the Wheel.

“Why shouldn’t Lucille pull the Chain?” asked Uzumaki. “We’ve got that white fox! Let’s send her to the Galaxy Zephyr!”

Iya!” Nakayama whizzed around the Wheel’s rim. Judging the bulge to be almost totally remedied, she brushed the golden wing and it began to unwrap itself. “To defeat the Hurricane, we need every aspect of Earth’s life. You wouldn’t want to leave your own worms behind, would you? Worms like yours will surely isolate themselves, believing they’re already complete, and rejoining humanity would be beneath them.” Nakayama loaded herself into the red mountain like an iron ball into a cannon. “To keep my interactions with life’s development at a minimum, I need the fox’s help collecting such worms—and she’s not the only help I need.” She used inconceivable methods to select an area and an instant in her torus of timelines. “Fire!”

Uzumaki fired her from the red mountain toward the water-world. Nakayama spread her wings to dive at the Islands of Sheridan. Atop the main island was a white-walled monastery. She landed beside a great stone statue depicting her shielding Nemo with her wings. She turned to the monastery and waited. She might have waited seconds or centuries, so disrupted was her perception of time. Eventually she saw Nemo exit the monastery. He wore a silver bird-mask, but she recognized him for his navy robes. Nemo approached her and bowed. “Nakayama! Oran dora!

“Nemo? Virgil Blue?” she asked, just making sure. Nemo nodded. “I need your help.”

“Anything,” said Nemo.

Nakayama squawked. “You speak! You speak English!

“Of course,” said Nemo. “You gave me thousands of books in tens of languages. I studied their texts for centuries. Visitors from other nations taught me to pronounce the words. Welcome to the Islands of Sheridan.”

Nakayama almost cried. “Thank you, Virgil Blue. I can’t imagine the effort you’ve dedicated to understanding me.”

“Anything.” Nemo bowed once more. “O venerable one, I devote my entirety to you.”

Buu!” Nakayama crossed her wings in an X. “I need you to devote yourself to nothing less than all sentient beings.” Nemo considered the phrase, but shrugged with uncertainty. Nakayama tried to explain, even though she knew she never could in any language. “I need your help collecting worms in the afterlife. I can think of no one else to shoulder the indescribable burden.”

Nemo stowed his hands in his sleeves. “Anything.”

Nakayama hesitated, but relinquished her command. “You must contain the most unruly worms. There are some who would avoid me out of fear, or greed, or ignorance, no matter how many eternities they have to reconsider. I need you to collect those worms so your soul includes theirs, because it would be improper for me to collect them myself.”

“How?” asked Nemo.

“You must encompass them in the same way a widow carries her husband’s mind in hers,” said Nakayama. “You must impress upon yourself the total fiber of their form, so when you join me at the end of the eternities, I contain every corner of conscious thought. To help me reconstruct Earth’s population from dust, you must be the King of Dust. Any worms which would otherwise be annihilated, you must account for. Anihilato,” she dubbed him.

Nemo nodded like he understood, but wasn’t sure he did. “I’ll consume those who would otherwise never know you,” he said. “I suppose, as your first man, it’s only right for me to soak up everything awful the world has to offer. But in doing so, I’ll likely become somewhat awful myself!”

“Too true,” said Nakayama, “but I’m sure the presence of your wisdom will steady even the worst of the worms. Let me give you a list.” Using statistical methods she could never explain, Nakayama produced an enormous filing-cabinet from underneath her robes. “This is a complete catalog of worms. At the end of the eternities I hope every specimen documented here is accounted for, if not in my Mountain, then in you.” She pushed the filing-cabinet toward Nemo, but he pushed it back to her with all his might.

“The Mountain? On the original sun? My father?” Nemo pressed his whole body against the filing-cabinet like he was shoving a giant boulder. “My father came as a snake to take me from you!” He lowered his mask to show the swastika-mark on his forehead. “Is it really the rightful resting-place of all worms?”

“I know this is confusing.” Nakayama effortlessly overpowered Nemo shoving the filing-cabinet just by leaning against it. “Uzumaki works for me now, and even it needs your help, to be saved from itself. You’ll understand by the next eternity.”

“If I have two whole eternities, and I won’t understand until the next one, could you save these worm-certificates for when I enter the afterlife? In this life, I’m sure I’d just lose them.”

“Okay.” Nakayama reabsorbed the filing-cabinet back under her robes. “As long as you accept your duty, I trust you to the end of time.” With that, Nakayama blasted back into space and climbed into the Mountain.

“Is your plan in action?” asked Uzumaki.

“Indeed.” Inside the Wheel, Nakayama watched the islands from above and allowed her toroidal swirl of space-time to spin the scene into the future. “If my machinations pan out, the most pesky principal components will be conglomerated into a single entity.”

“Like a giant worm?” asked Uzumaki. “One worm representing all the disobedient aspects of Earthly life?”

“I know, I know. If my plan works, this entity won’t want to join the Galaxy Zephyr. I’m not supposed to force worms into the Wheel, but even if I tried, this one might overthrow me. I need the fox as my go-between so I can collect Anihilato at the end of the eternities.” From her seat in the Mountain, Nakayama surveyed the Islands of Sheridan and Uzumaki’s desert simultaneously. “Despite Nemo’s devotion, Anihilato will be unruly because of the characters it contains.”

“Pheh.” Lio held a jar of fireflies in his left elbow and capped it with his right hand. His left hand was a crushed fist caked in blood. He’d only caught six fireflies whose shining butts hardly illuminated the rough terrain through the darkness of the night. He glared at the moon. “Some help you are, huh?” The moon just made the ocean glitter.

Lio resumed climbing the main island of Sheridan, cradling his broken fist. He was done collecting fireflies. They weren’t worth his time. The real prize was all around him.

He chose a centipede-bush at random by bumping into it accidentally. “Shit!” Thorns caught his Hawaiian shirt. He considered removing his shirt, or at least unbuttoning it, but instead he painstakingly unhooked it from the thorny bush. “You think you can mess with me, huh?” he asked the plant. “Lemme show you who you’re dealin’ with.”

He pulled his knife from his Hawaiian shirt’s breast pocket. Jay broke the blade, but the hilt was intact: an awesome angry dragon which made Lio feel powerful, even through the pain of his splintered fist.

He used the hilt to push the bush’s branches. Thorns nicked his palm. “Aw, c’mon!” He wiped blood on his already-blood-soaked cargo-shorts. “Give it up already!” He reached into the bush with his right hand and grabbed its ball of centipedes. The agony of his broken fist made the thorns barely an inconvenience in comparison. In his haste to rip out the ball, some centipedes tore on thorns and snapped in half. “Perfect.”

He pried centipedes from the mutilated ball. He chucked the snapped ones over his shoulders and stowed the rest in jars.

As he ripped open the next bush, he mimicked Jay. “Oh, please, Lio! Only Virgil Blue can prepare centipedes! Come with me and get butt-fucked by monks! Pfffft.” He filled another jar with centipedes and yanked thorns from his forearm with his teeth. “What a joke. The monks aren’t even trying to protect these things. They’re just asking for people to steal their shit—it’s their own fault. It’s better that I take ’em instead of some random jack-off. Sheridan needs my business-savvy. They should thank me.”

The higher he climbed, the higher he wanted to climb. Surely the best centipedes were near the peak.

He tripped. “Fucking nests!” He was surprised to see a woven nest so high holding two porcelain eggs. “Huh.” Both eggs were painted with lacework signifying matriarchs from Virgil Green’s congregation. “They’d never notice one missing. I bet its worth something.” He dumped his jar of fireflies, replaced them with an egg all splattered with his blood, and kept climbing.

When all his jars were full, he turned to watch the sunrise. He’d worked through the night leaving broken bushes and a trail of blood behind him. He was feeling a contact-high from all the centipedes he’d handled, or maybe he was just a little loopy from all the blood he’d lost, but either way, the sunlight bothered his eyes. He put his sunglasses back on.

He turned to the peak. The clouds obscuring the island’s sacred summit were so near he could touch them. “Not supposed to climb past the clouds, huh?” Lio smirked and stuck his arm into the fog. “What a dumb rule. Sometimes the whole island is foggy. How could I know when to turn back? And how could they enforce it? They’d have to follow me, and then they’d just be hypocrites.” Laughing built courage. He entered the fog-bank. If Sheridan kept centipedes at altitude, what awesome bugs did they hide above the cloud-cover?

But in the fog, the island’s terrain was even more rough. The slopes were so steep Lio puffed and panted. He hefted himself up cliffs by swinging his legs over ledges and pulling his belly after them. Whatever was up here had better be worth it.

He saw the silhouette of a wooden marker like a stop-sign. Not just one: a whole row of wooden signs circled the top of the island, obviously official indicators of where climbing became forbidden. He walked past the signs, blocking them from view with his broken fist. He’d just pretend he hadn’t seen them.

Twenty feet beyond, he noticed a shape moving through the fog. Was it a fellow trespasser? Lio considered hiding, but then identified the figure’s waddle: it was a bird, six feet tall with long red tail-feathers. It struggled even more than he did plodding up the slopes. “Heh.” Lio caught up to it. “You birds would be better off if you weren’t too fat to fly. Climbing is human-work.” He and the bird paced neck-and-neck. “You know, all the nests up here—the eggs in ’em are chicks. I mean, girl-birds. I’ll bet guy-birds like you have to let the chicks get ahead, huh?” He grinned. “But not you and me. We don’t let anything hold us back.”

The bird didn’t look at him. Its gaze was fixed on the peak. When it came to a cliff, it flapped both wings. It couldn’t fly, but with infinite effort, it hopped high enough to pull itself over the ledge.

“Whoa.” Lio kicked the cliff with both feet trying to climb after it. “Hey, hey! Wait for me!” With his good hand, he grabbed the bird’s tail-feathers and pulled himself up.

The bird lost its balance and fell off the cliff. Lio watched it roll down the slopes below him. Its wing-bones broke with each tumble. He heard its distant squawking even after the fog shrouded it.

Lio turned to the peak. “I’m not a bully, you’re just a pussy.” To sturdy himself for the climb, he chanted the phrase like a mantra. “I’m not a bully, you’re just a pussy. And pussies like you hold me back.”

The fog chilled as he neared the island’s summit. Thin frost coated the stony heights. He finally came to a dark cave.

“Neat.” He entered the cave without second thought. “I must be the first person ever to get here!” As soon as he said it, he saw he was wrong. He lifted his sunglasses to make sure this wasn’t just a centipede contact-high: there was a man sitting in the back of the cave, facing rock wall. “Yo,” said Lio. “Whaddup.” The man didn’t turn, so Lio approached. Now he wasn’t sure if it was human or a weird rock. “Ew!”

It looked human, but it must have been a statue, because it didn’t have arms, legs, or even a pelvis. Its pitch-black flesh disgusted him, especially its texture. It was like the thing had been bitten into shape. “Heh. This whole island-chain is nothing but crazy egg-heads!” Lio bent down and bit the thing’s shoulder like a dog. “Rawr!

The man turned his head. He had wide-set eyes, high cheek-bones, and a swastika carved into his forehead. “Don’t do that.”

“Whoa!” Lio lurched back. He hadn’t expected this to be a person. “I’m just playing, man! Didn’t think you’d care, you’ve already got bite-marks all over.”

The man somehow turned with less than zero limbs, almost like a hand-puppet. “Do you know who I am?”

“Nope.” Lio stuck out his good hand, as if the limbless ascetic would shake it. “Henry.”

The man didn’t shake—of course he didn’t! How could he? “Nemo,” said Nemo. “Oran dora. Please, sit. I’m glad to have company.” Nemo leaned to look over Lio’s shoulder. “I heard a bird. Will it arrive soon?”

“Probably,” said Lio. Nemo had heard the bird squawk when it fell, so he knew this was a lie. “You guys love birds, huh?”

“Of course. My islands were built by the Biggest Bird.”

Lio scoffed. “I’ve never been into imaginary-sky-daddy bullshit. What are you doing all the way up here?”

“Didn’t you read the signs?”

“What signs? I didn’t see any signs.”

Nemo grinned. He had two rows of teeth whittled sharp like a shark’s. “I put up those signs myself. They explain an aspect of Sheridanian culture usually left unspoken: anyone on this cloudy peak belongs to Anihilato, the King of Dust. Mortals chase vices up the island only to be consumed. Quite the folk-tale, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, cool story,” said Lio. “What are you doing here?”

“Whatever I choose,” said Nemo. “My goal is understanding those who come here despite knowing they shouldn’t.”

“Oh?” Lio leaned close. “Now you sound like my kinda guy! If society says ‘don’t climb past the clouds,’ that’s the first thing you gotta do. Freedom! No matter what anyone tells you!” Lio pointed to his own forehead. “You got a, uh, a thing up here.”

Nemo nodded and looked cross-eyed at the swastika-mark between his temples. “A reminder of my duties and my heritage.”

“Hell yeah! I got one too. Not my heritage, but someone’s heritage, and as long as society disapproves, I’ll wear it proud.” Lio unbuttoned his Hawaiian shirt. Tattooed across his red chest was a blue swastika whose arms bore thirteen white stars. “As soon as anyone looks down on me for it, I know I’m above them. That’s why the world can’t keep up with us. Get me?”

Nemo knotted his brow at Lio’s tattoo. “What brings you to my little mountain?”

“Glad you asked!” Lio shrugged off his backpack and pulled out a jar of centipedes. “Harvested these all by myself.”

“Hm.” Nemo seemed unimpressed. “Freedom doesn’t come from centipedes.”

“Ha! I figured you stashed something special up here,” said Lio. “Everyone’s smoked centipede before, even monks! What else have you got? Where’s your freedom? I wanna try some!”

Nemo shook his head. Lio clearly thought ‘freedom’ was just another bug being withheld from him. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“C’mon. We’re buddies!” Lio took out his cellphone. “You like birds, right? Check this out. On the second island, there’re monks worshiping a fat-ass penguin. They made me delete the photos I took, but I got the last laugh.” Nemo’s eyes narrowed as Lio showed him a hundred photos of Virgil Green’s matriarch. “They thought I only took two, but my camera was on burst-mode, so I got a bunch.”

“I see.” Nemo inspected Lio with a squint. “You know, taking photos of birds is forbidden.”

“So’s climbing past the clouds and smoking centipedes, but that ain’t stopping us!” Lio puffed out his chest. Nemo couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly. This fool boasted about breaking Sheridan’s three laws, right in front of him!

“Freedom means setting your own limits,” said Nemo.

“Freedom means having no limits,” said Lio. “C’mon, man, I thought you were cool!”

“When a snake claimed my islands and my children for itself, I ate it alive,” said Nemo. “If another snake did the same, I’d do it again. Interaction—action, reaction—that’s all there is! The limits we set are all we ever have and all we ever are.”

Pfa.” Lio smirked. “No wonder you have to live alone all the way up here—keeping freedom all to yourself, being all violent to tell people what they can and can’t do. The whole island must hate you. If you’d let the snake have its way, your kids might’ve learned some personal responsibility.” Lio mistook Nemo’s squint of penetrating concern for disgusted condescension. “What’s that look for?”

Nemo considered Lio’s red Hawaiian shirt. The rest of him was red, too, because he’d bled all over himself, so Lio was crimson and round like the original sun. “You remind me of my father, that snake. Soon after my birth, he tried to trick me into relinquishing my body to him.”

“And I feel sorry for you, but if you use that as an excuse to keep my freedom all to yourself, you’re worse than your dad!” Now Nemo scowled. “Don’t look at me like that! Maybe your dad was just trying to make you useful, instead of letting you be some sorta lazy Jew.”

Nemo recognized Lio’s words from the books in his library under the monastery bell-tower, but even if he didn’t, the way Lio spat them would be enough. “How did you become this thing before me?” asked Nemo. “What led you where you are now?”

“People like you!” Lio pointed with his broken fist, flecking Nemo with blood. “My whole life I’ve had to put up with people too small-minded to see things my way. Like this guy on my tour, he broke my knife, and my hand, just ’cause I tried teaching him to do an honest day’s work! Another guy once showed my tattoo to a crowd he knew would hate me for it. Now I’m meeting you, and you won’t gimme my freedom! I am the way I am because I’ve been oppressed my whole life, pushing my ideology more and more toward pure personal responsibility, where people like you have to leave me alone!” He said it like he hadn’t just climbed up to Nemo all on his own.

“…So… You’re not personally responsible for your ideology, which you describe as personal responsibility?” Through their dialogue, Nemo had extracted some of Lio’s worms for Anihilato. “I feel you, Henry, I really do.” But Lio had more worms to dig up. Nemo counted centipedes in Lio’s jar. “Are you consuming all those yourself?”

“I might smoke a little, but back stateside they sell for a thousand bucks a pop. That’s why I want the freedom you’re keeping from me! I’ll be way smarter with it than you ever were.”

Nemo bit his ragged lips. “Centipedes aren’t meant to be sold, freedom even less so.”

“But folks’ll buy both of ’em. Ya gotta feed the invisible hand of the free market!”

“I thought you weren’t into imaginary-sky-daddy bullshit. Now you’re letting an invisible hand tell you what to do?”

Lio sneered. “The invisible hand of the free market is real.

Everyone says that about their God.”

“But the invisible hand of the free market actually influences reality, all around us!”

Everyone says that about their God.”

“But the invisible hand of the free market assigns consequences for actions because it’s the only source of objective value!”

Everyone says that about their God.”

Lio sputtered and shook his fists. Spit flecked from his lips. “The invisible hand of the free market is directly influenced by everyone who matters, not lazy chumps like you, so I know it’s real!”

Everyone claims a personal connection to God. You trust an imaginary-sky-daddy to fix the world quickly as you can break it. You’re worse than the monks, because at least the monks admit what they are.”

“If you ever studied fucking economics, you’d be on my side!”

“I don’t need to read your holy book to doubt your God.”

Lio clocked Nemo in the jaw with his good hand. Nemo rolled backward on his mutilated hips, but his low center of gravity rolled him upright like a child’s boxing-toy. Lio socked him again with his broken fist, hard enough that on the rebound, Nemo bonked Lio’s nose with his forehead. “Hey!” Lio poked Nemo’s chest. “Hitting me back proves you’re way worse than I am! Can’t you see the more freedom you have, the less freedom I have? Just gimme my freedom and I’ll leave you alone!”

“Make an offer,” said Nemo. “Let’s see if the invisible hand will set you free.”

“Uh.” Lio pat his pockets. He’d spent all his money on crickets, and didn’t even have any sand-dollars left. “I’ll pay bug-sticks and centipedes.”

“I don’t want them. Try again.”

“I’ve got this cool egg.”

“Do I look like a nest?”

Lio tried crossing his arms, but his broken fist wouldn’t let him. “Well, what do you want?”

Nemo pointed with his chin at Lio’s busted fist. “Eat your useless fingers.”

“Huh? Why?”

“They’re not doing you any good, are they? Make them useful again.” In truth, Nemo just wanted to see if Lio would do it. “Prove to me you can handle the freedom you claim to deserve. If you won’t pay, liberation will escape you. You’ll forever be slave to your own shadow.”

Lio grimaced. “Crazy egg-head.”

“Call me what you want.” Nemo munched his own shoulder. He licked up every drop of blood. “If you can’t free yourself from inside a cage, you wouldn’t be free outside the cage, because there’s always a bigger cage.” Lio put the thumb of his broken fist into his mouth, but couldn’t bite hard enough to sever it. “I bet your daddy couldn’t do it either.”

Now Lio flushed red with rage. He opened wide and chomped the thumb clean off. Blood spurt onto the rocky cave floor. He groaned and spat his thumb into his lap. “Don’t talk smack about my daddy!”

“Don’t quit halfway!” Nemo rolled forward to snatch Lio’s thumb in his teeth. “Did I tell you to bite your fingers off?”

“Yeah! Idiot!”

“You’re cutting corners! I told you to eat them!” Nemo whipped his neck to fling the thumb at Lio’s face. “Or descend to tell your daddy you’re his equal in failure!”

“Don’t talk smack about—” Lio clenched his mutilated fist. “My daddy—my father, I mean, was a wealthy business-owner! And I’m just like him! Look!” He held up his severed thumb. “Let’s make a deal! I’ll eat this one finger, and you gimme my freedom.”

“Deal,” said Nemo. Lio chuckled to himself and started chewing on the thumb’s knuckle. “Please, tell me about your father. You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

“Not since I was three. That’s how alpha he is!” Lio popped the rest of his thumb in his mouth and chewed it like a pork foot. “That’s when my stupid mom got too old for him, so he kicked us off his private island to bring in a younger broad. Hear that, bird-worshipper? You’re not the only island out here!” Nemo was sorry to hear about Lio’s father abandoning him, and nodded in sympathy which Lio misinterpreted. “Yeah, you’d better be jealous. On his island, he and his bros would bring in all the hottest chicks.” Lio almost cracked teeth on his thumb-bones. “Real young chicks, too, my mom said. She started out as one of those chicks before she got promoted to trophy-wife.”

“Oh dear.” Nemo wiped tears with his shoulder-nubs. “How young was she?”

“Who cares? You’re missing the point.” Lio gnawed his thumb’s bones until they snapped. “I’m supposed to be an alpha like him, but because of all the gays and cucks out there, I can’t get any tail! But I’ll get what I deserve. I bought a wife from overseas, cheap because she came pregnant. Now that’s thinking ahead! She’s all used up, so I won’t waste my dick on her, but her kid’s just about ripe.”

“That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in all my years up here.” Nemo sniffed. Lio’s story was hard to listen to, but it was his duty to hear it. This tale extracted more of Lio’s worms for Anihilato. “Your mother told you about your father for exactly the opposite reason you think she did. You’re trying to recreate a pure land which never existed the way you imagine it—but which would be horrible even if your imagination was accurate!”

Lio swallowed the last of his thumb. All the blood, sweat, tears, and spit washed down his chest. His tattoo’s colors ran, leaving him bare-chested. “There! Urp—” Lio choked back vomit. “Fuckin’ showed you!”

“You sure did,” said Nemo.

“Now gimme my freedom! What’re you hiding up here?”

“Nothing you can’t see!” Nemo wiggled his stumps. “You chose to come to my island. You chose to break every rule. You chose to eat your thumb. You had your freedom every step of the way. I’ve eaten my fingers, too, but I’m finishing the job to save lazy chumps like you!”

Lio retched and hid his hands under his armpits. “Fucking—false advertising! You promised I’d get some awesome bugs, or some secret lesson even the monks didn’t know!”

“This is the secret lesson! I enjoy the freedom you’d rather surrender to everyone you meet because responsibility burns you like ice. Liberation doesn’t come from the Biggest Bird, or the Mountain on the original sun, or an invisible hand. Liberation comes directly from the void. No substitutes. No middle-men. You claim to desire a world without limits, but you live in it, and you’re the last to realize!”

“So you get to make up whatever rules you want?”

“Not just me! Everyone!” Nemo looked around in awe like he could see the stars through the roof of his cave. “Anyone can make rules, anyone can break them! Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it terrifying?

“Oh yeah? The gloves are off, huh?”

“The gloves were never on! There are no gloves! You’re free to leave, but having come this far, I suspect you’ll choose to stay like all the others.”

“Oh, I’m staying, but you’re not!” Lio stood up and wrapped both arms around Nemo, lifting him off the rocky floor. “This is my island now, and my cave, and you’re not allowed!” He carried Nemo to the cave-mouth to chuck him down the slopes.

Mid-throw, Nemo latched onto Lio’s shoulder with his two rows of shark-teeth. Lio tried to pry him off, but only smeared his own blood on Nemo’s back. He jabbed at Nemo’s exposed guts with both fists, but Nemo didn’t even seem to notice.

Lio fell forward to crush Nemo under his belly. Nemo was too slippery with Lio’s blood to grapple like that, and he squirted out from under him. The two wrestled, Nemo biting off chunks of Lio and Lio unable to wrangle him. “Aaugh! What the hell are you doing?

“In this life, all we really choose is the hill we die on. You’ve picked this little dirt-mound, but the Biggest Bird told me to carry your worms to my father, the Mountain on the original sun!” Nemo ate Lio’s broken fist in one bite. “It’s for your own good, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like it!”

“I’m not in your cult, you crazy bird-worshipper!” Lio’s sunglasses fell off. Nemo ate them too. “Leave me alone! I didn’t ask for your help!”

“I never needed permission to pity you!” said Nemo. “I’ve devoured every fool who’s chased vices to my peak.” Lio had no strength left to fight, so Nemo took his time devouring him feet-first. “I eat the Blue Virgils, too, to help bear the weight of worms like yours. Once I’ve totally eaten myself, this eternity is over, and we’ll all be Anihilato!”

“You’re loony!” Lio punched weakly. “How could you eat your whole self?”

“My hips were tricky,” admitted Nemo, “but once I pulled out my pelvis it was just a matter of nibbling, and I’ve got nothing but time!”

“Moron! Even if you eat everything else, you’ll never eat your own teeth!”

“Oh yeah?” Nemo paused gnawing on Lio’s knees to open wide and eject a shark-tooth from his gums. The tooth fizzled, sputtered, and annihilated itself in a flurry of particles and antiparticles. Lio pouted, collapsing under his own weight. “Your type is stringy,” said Nemo. “If someone clings to their house, then to eat their ego, I must collapse their house. If someone clings to their crops, I must wilt their crops. And so on. I’ve developed these mystical powers through my connection to the next eternity. Luckily, your pride confines you! The only thing you love is yourself, separating you from everything you claim is yours. You attach yourself only to money, so I’ll just evaporate your bank-accounts—assuming you aren’t dead-broke!” Lio had no strength to speak. Nemo crawled around him like a caterpillar. “Don’t worry,” said Nemo. “In the next eternity, as Anihilato, we’ve been promised the receipts to all psyches. We’ll be rich! Greed will be our duty. We’ll grow with spiritual power for the sake of all worms everywhere!”

Nemo unhinged his jaw and ate Lio’s head.

As he chewed, he mused to himself. “But Anihilato might be more plump with misbehavior than the Biggest Bird anticipates. Not even every Virgil Blue can dilute these stains on humanity’s spirit. If Anihilato becomes great enough to oppose the Mountain’s Heart, there must arise a redeeming force. Someone to look emptiness in the eye, unblinkingly!”


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