We didn’t play any music that night. We spent most of the night talking about jousting, until the dawn was just beginning to break.
“So anyway,” said Dirk, “I haven’t been all that straightforward with you for the last… oh say, five thousand years.”
“Oh,” I said.
“It’s this whole thing about oblivion. I haven’t been going there. Well, that’s not true; I went there the first time, just to see how it was. I didn’t like it much.”
I wanted to say something like, “I knew it!” or even, “I suspected as much,” but I didn’t like to lie to my brother when I had actually been clueless.
“So they don’t have cigars in oblivion,” I asked.
“Not as far as I could tell, no.”
“That was probably a good choice then,” I said. “Is there any reason you didn’t tell me before?”
“Yeah,” said Dirk. “You have this habit of obeying authority, and I figured if a Light Bringer asked you, you might tell them I haven’t been going there.”
I wanted to be furious. I had been furious with Dirk once a couple of thousand years earlier. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember that I really enjoyed it at the time. Unfortunately, Dirk was probably right, so I gave up on the whole furious thing and asked, “So… where you been?”
“Different places,” he said. “You know the trans-dimensional dial at the school of amazing stuff is great for traveling.”
“You never mentioned the trans-dimensional dial.”
“Well, it just never came up.”
“So why are you telling me all this now?”
“’Cause Uriculous is right,” he said. “This time they’re going to cast us both out, and it’ll be forever.”
“I finally have a girlfriend and…”
“I know,” said Dirk. “The timing sucks, but I have a nice three-bedroom in a place called So-Ho. It’s a pleasant little neighborhood in a den of iniquity called New York. I think you’ll like it – at least until you get a place of your own.”
I signed heavily. “I haven’t known Ono that long, but I’ll ask her if she wants to go to the planet So-Ho, orbiting New York with me.”
“Sorry Brother,” said Dirk. “She can’t come. We can’t even bring Swampy. It’s gotta be just you and me.”
“Stuff you wouldn’t understand.”
That was probably true. “Well then,” I said, “this is good-bye then, Brother. I can’t go with you.”
Dirk shook his head. “You have to.”
“What do you mean, I have to. You aren’t the boss of me!”
“Two.” He motioned to the world around us as if I hadn’t noticed what planet I was sitting on at the time. “It’s going to be destroyed – well, most of it, anyway.”
“You’re going to destroy Two?”
“I knew it!” and I shouted that much louder than necessary. All my life, and it was getting to be a pretty long life, I’d wanted to say, ‘I knew it!’ I’d heard other people say it a million times – maybe more, and not being able to say it myself starting getting me down four or five thousand years ago, and it had just gotten worse with each century.
Of course I could have said, ‘I knew it!’ any damn time I wanted. I didn’t have any physical restrictions that prevented me from uttering the words, but I wanted the first time to be special. I wanted the occasion to mean something like… like I actually knew what I was shouting, ‘I knew it!’ about.
Did I really know it, or did I just suspect it? I remembered in the cave with All Bore that I guessed it. Was that the same as knowing? When do you know it’s right? Was I just cheapening myself by saying, ‘I knew it!’ when really I only kinda thought it?
You don’t stand up and shout triumphantly, ‘I kinda thought it!’ It’s not the same, and now that I was thinking about it, I felt a little nauseous, considering that I’d wasted my first time when I wasn’t really sure.
I felt cheap and used, and I wanted to blame Dirk, though I knew I only had myself to blame.
Only had myself… I knew it…
No, that didn’t work.
“You might be worried about Ono,” said Dirk.
Oh my goodness! Ono!
“You can’t let the planet swarm with Ono on it!”
“Big Brother,” said Dirk. “You know better than anyone else that I’m just a guy like everyone else. Sure I learned a few interesting things in the school of amazing stuff, but nothing to stop this.
“But there is hope.”
“Hope?” I said as if I’d never heard the word. Dirk knew I’d heard it. I mean you don’t go living even a couple centuries without hearing the word, hope.
“Phasia,” he said.
“The big continent with the polite hard-working people who are good at math?”
“That’s the one,” Dirk confirmed. “Phasia won’t get swarmed. As a matter of fact, Phasia would be having a sheep shortage right now if Uriculous allowed any use for the beasts.”
“How, why?” I said, hoping the two answers were sufficiently related so I wouldn’t have to guess which question he was answering first.
“A long time ago,” Dirk said, “the Phasians figured out that putting up fences didn’t bug the sheep. They started putting fences around their homes, and then around their barns, then around their villages and fields. Finally Phasia was just full of fenced, sheep-free areas, and they started connecting them. Most of the sheep wandered elsewhere.”
“But Ono’s not in Phasia.”
“But you have a Showr Rinn monk with you, right?”
“They’re from Phasia. I’ll bet he’ll be willing to take Ono with him.”
“So I’ll go too!”
“I don’t think so, Elmer. How good are you at math? But that girl of yours looks bright. I bet she could add two and two. If you ask the monk, he’ll take her back to Phasia.”
“But who will protect her from Lustavious?”
“The Light Bringer.”
“He’s a masher, is he?”
I had no idea what a masher was, and contrary to Dirk’s implication, I could add two and two, but I was embarrassed that my obsession over saying, ‘I knew it,’ had distracted me from Ono’s welfare, so I let both pass. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry about letting it pass because Dirk was already moving on.
“So you’re defending her from the Light Bringer?” asked Dirk.
“Well… no,” I said. “But I was planning to, once we figured out a way to stop them from casting us into oblivion.”
Dirk raised his eyebrow in the way he did when he thought I was being particularly dense. “You know we can’t stop them from casting us out,” he said, “and if you haven’t been defending her, who’s been doing it so far?”
“Swampy mostly,” I said, “and Lip Ton Tease the one time.”
“I’m assuming Tease is your monk,” said Dirk. “It sounds perfect to me. Once we’re gone, she’ll still have Swampy and she’ll be off to Phasia with the monk. She doesn’t need you.”
Sometimes Dirk meant to be hurtful; sometimes it just came naturally.
“The important thing,” he said, “is that you hold onto that scratchwing. You have to hold onto me with one hand, and the scratchwing with the other.”
“What’s so important about the scratchwing?”
“You wouldn’t understand it.”
“I’m getting tired of hearing that! That’s what you said about why we couldn’t take Ono!”
Dirk stepped up to me and gave me a man hug. It’s the kind of hug where you wrap your arms around the other guy as much as you can without bringing your torsos together. Dirk had very long arms and like so many things, he was skilled at man hugging. “Ono would probably die if we tried to bring her,” he said. “You and I are very durable. That’s why we’ve been around so long. Trans-dimensional travel is no picnic, Brother. Even if she survived, she’d probably be missing legs, arms, an eyeball – maybe half her nose. I don’t think she’d like it.”
I tried to get my brain to think of something to say – something masterful and creative. As usual, my brain, which is very good about keeping track of how many cigars I had in my fanny pack – none at the moment, was not particularly functional when it came to things that were masterful or creative. “You sure?” was all I could come up with.
“It’s all for the best, Brother,” said Dirk. “I bet she likes Phasia. There are lots of showers there.”
“So when does it all happen?”
“The casting out? It’ll happen when Uriculous and the Light Bringer corner me. In other words, it’ll happen soon. I’ll try to stay away so you can make arrangements with the monk. When you’re done, wander off and find me.
“But make sure you have the scratchwing! It’s very important.”
“I understand,” I said, lying because I didn’t understand at all, but not understanding had been a pretty common occurrence when my brother was around.
“Alright Buddy,” said Dirk, slapping me on the arm. “It’ll be good spending time together after all these millennia. I’ll show you around New York. If you’re good, I’ll even introduce you to the Stevens twins. I can’t tell them apart, so you can have whichever one you want.”
“Are they women?” I asked.