Past the facts lies a realm where your guess has to be good enough: probable space! Its places and peoples have their own odds, from 2to1 on down, getting less substantial all the way. All the planets there are the ones merely theorized here, from tiny Vulcan, to Counter-Earth, to Phaeton, and now beyond to… Pluto?
The poor orbiting body’s downgrade from planet to dwarf shoved it into the realm of theory, so it popped up in probable space, complete with an adult population shocked to find themselves alive! One such Plutonian is Minty Julip, who is nearly sure she is a librarian, and hopes to stay that way, but many are vying for power in their fresh world, and they think she belongs in the battle.
That battle will suck her into a chaotic maelstrom of criminal organizations, weaponized cardistry, literal storms of cats and dogs, and an unlikely companion calling themselves Long Odd Silver. There may be no escape for her, but in probable space one can never be so sure.
Planet in Theory
Pluto takes the Stage
In Media Res
Cherry-picking is both hope and folly. The brightest and sweetest on the tree exist, sure, spectrums need starting gates and finish lines as much as anything else, but to pretend it represents the whole is to wind up with a pie that looks great but sourly disappoints.
And I know salt and cherries don’t really go together, but you should still take what I’m about to say with a grain of it. I admit that I’ve cherry-picked these, out of 7 seas of reactions, just to give you an idea of how intensely this development struck some people.
If you’re not savvy with the sciences, you might not know that cherry-picking refers to looking at a body of data and only acknowledging the points that reflect what you want to see overall. It’s like telling people what animal a constellation is shaped like even though you can only see one of its stars.
The truth, the dull worm-shaped constellation of it, is that most people didn’t care at all. They heard the ruling and went about their days as if nothing had changed, and if everyone had done that things would’ve concluded a good deal simpler. Those who were struck in the heart by the news performed anti-observations, projecting their version of the universe with volume, venom, and spittle.
The International Astronomical Union ignored them, even with some of them being members, but I’ve got my little basket of cherries here for you:
“I thought it was better than writing to Santa, because these people are real, but they didn’t answer me either. I think they should have an outer space version of Christmas, so we can have presents when we need them. It’s everyone’s sky right?” – Kenzie Dallas, 13 years of age
“That’s not what I learned. Who do they think they are?” – Thad Grimmel, dullest tool in the hardware store
“It doesn’t matter what they say; it’ll always be number 9 to me. My astrologer is confident it won’t actually make a difference.” – Shannon Rogers, different flavor of dim
“Cultural history should count for something. Cumulatively, across the hearts and minds of man, Pluto is a planet, and always will be. Governing bodies get a sick thrill out of reorganizing things so that nobody can find them anymore. They’ve rearranged the food pyramid so many times it looks like Venetian blinds after a tussle with a British shorthair.” – Felix Menshino, cat tree designer
I saved the best for last, and not just because the profession of ‘cat tree designer’ is endlessly fascinating to me. I do hope that field is large enough for multiple schools of design and bitter, even catty, rivalries. One safe assumption is that there is an off-season after all the home décor and pet magazines send out their seasonal catalogs, explaining how such a person could find the time to complain about a new label on an icy rock over 4,500,000,000 miles away.
Our friend Felix was particularly affronted because he had just finalized a design on a luxury feline high-rise for high-rises, vertically optimized for the upwardly mobile house pet. Elegant and colorful, it also indicated that its purchasers, while driven, had a sense of perspective. They, as Felix put it in purring whispers at functions that needed to incorporate designers of other goods to count as parties, ‘knew that the rat race was a buffet to a mouser.’
The tree had 9 furry spherical cubbies, each skewered by an orbital trajectory, all connecting to a solid base resembling half the sun. It was the solar system turned on its side and it included, at its apex no less, the tiny, compared to the others, body called Pluto. As a boy Felix was told that Pluto was a planet. He wrote that down on tests and it was marked correct. Everyone in every one of his classes all the way to adulthood had always answered that one that way, and gotten their pats on the head.
The catalogs, in recreating Felix’s beautifully felted solar system in glossy full page color, stated just as confidently that the ornament atop the tree belonged there, because Pluto was the 9th planet. Aghast was poor Felix when, just days after the model debuted in August of 2006, Pluto was stripped of the title of planet.
Those doing the stripping often pointed the finger back into the past. It was all the earlier astronomers who were just too eager to discover things that sometimes weren’t there. The search for planet 9, or planet X as it was called, like it belonged emblazoned on a poster above a fifties flying saucer, went on for decades, and when they finally got their hands on something close they welcomed it into the club with no questions asked, or the astronomer equivalent, which is a good many questions, but really not the same scrutiny the other more massive bodies faced.
You see, the discipline had come to understand just how many roundish rocks there were in our neck of the galaxy. While the general public would be perfectly happy to call a marble accidentally launched into orbit a planet, those who make it their passion and let it decay into their business needed a definition more refined to keep things from getting out of hand.
So, after much debate, they settled on a new definition of ‘planet’ going forward, and that definition was made up of 3 characteristics:
1. If it wants to be a planet, it has to orbit the sun.
2. If it’s actually serious about this planet business, it needs hydrostatic equilibrium if anyone’s going to listen. That means it’s round.
3. If it’s going to earn its planetary keep it absolutely must ‘clear its neighborhood’. It’s the outer space equivalent of being organized, gravity potent enough to sweep in or away everything around it. No respectable planet would leave the grime of irregularly shaped asteroids just lying about.
It was on this last standard that Poor Pluto didn’t quite make the cut. It just didn’t have the muscle to get the job done, and nostalgia is only so much of a motivating force to the kind of people who get small thrills from putting decimal points in the right places.
People like Felix had no recourse but to rage. The way they acted, it was as if the union had actually destroyed Pluto, like they wanted to replace it with a newer bigger model and expected the taxpayers to foot the bill. As I said, most people went about their day, they lived on an Earth that would never lose its planetary privileges after all, but the intensity with which the Felixes of the world rejected the ruling had much bigger consequences than the change itself.
There is a place, which is to say there isn’t actually a place, where things might be. It’s difficult to explain if you’ve never not been there, but little sensations in your life should give you a feel for it. It’s the place of knowing there’s a room behind a door without seeing it. It’s the place of expecting to wake up from a dream. It’s the futures you planned for but that ultimately didn’t come to fruition.
Probable space is its name, and probability its rigged game. Populated only by the plausible but nonexistent, everything there is a little thinner, a little softer, and a little dimmer, like shadow puppets on stage curtains.
A sun different from the real one, containing all the confounded wonder of everyone who realized they couldn’t stare at the real thing indefinitely, stood at the center of probable space’s equivalent to our solar system. It had been there only as long as people had funny ideas about its real cousin, like that it might revolve around the Earth or just be a hole in a giant bed sheet dome.
This central fire was alone at first, until the ancient Greeks started throwing their intellects everywhere where they would stick. A philosopher named Philolaus threw out a possibility that stuck in the sky fiercely, a possibility that grabbed other minds and sent them spinning in 1,000 directions, away from a central, fascinating, and faulty premise.
He thought there might be something of a ‘Counter-Earth’ out there in the sky. Now he didn’t even have the right ideas about the sun, but it sure sounded like he was onto something. The Earth revolves around a giant glowing body at a steady rate, so what if, on the exact opposite side of the orbit, moving at the same rate, there was a nearly identical planet blocked from view? It could be filled with counter-people driving counter-cars listening to the counter-voices on their counter-radios discuss the celebrated decision to keep Pluto on the roster.
This was all nonsense, this Antichthon as Philolaus would’ve called it, but all that mattered was that, for some time, it seemed like it could be true and it hadn’t specifically been disproved. So Antichthon made an appearance, in probable space, to keep its sun company. Not only did it manifest, it did so with plenty of those hypothetical counter-people as well, but we’re still on the big of it; we’ll get to the small of it shortly.
There was another long while where the probable sun and Antichthon were making a go of it on their own, but the endless possibility generation of the human mind doesn’t quit as long as they don’t, so they kept filling the sky with theories that almost always tempted their rationality by fitting nicely with some of the evidence, be it observed, calculated, or discussed 2ndhand.
The year 1823 saw the arrival of Phaeton, a planet that never was but might have been between Mars and Jupiter. Some people thought Ceres, an honest to goodness actual dwarf planet, new bunkmate of Pluto after its demotion, was a leftover piece of the tragically destroyed Phaeton. Again, all nonsense, but not in probable space. Phaeton and its people said hello to Antichthon through the magic of radio, and before they knew it they were passing folks back and forth like dishes at Thanksgiving.
Even with all that socializing they were still thrown for a loop when they got a new neighbor a scant few decades later, in 1859. It was still early enough in human actuality that one man seeing spots in a dirty telescope could send the scientific world quaking, and one of those dirty spots was dubbed Vulcan, the planet between Mercury and the sun.
Einstein himself disproved that one with relativity, but every resident of Vulcan was way ahead of him, able to simply observe they were in probable space rather than outer space. Antichthon and Phaeton welcomed them, happy to see their little corner pocket of irrelevance bustling with 3 billiard balls.
And for a long while that seemed like the magic number. The real solar system had more than twice as many, so surely they didn’t have the room to inject more thought bubbles into orbit. The whole twentieth century passed without a peep, as long as you didn’t count Nemesis.
Postulated in ‘84, that ominous body was outside the solar system. A brown dwarf, it couldn’t make up its mind if it was a planet or a star, so it brooded like the former and threatened like the latter. Some real people thought it might’ve been the cause of all Earth’s mass extinctions, so now the people of probable space had to deal with the threat of it, hopefully one millions of years away.
Nemesis was a good scapegoat for everything. Cut yourself shaving? A flare on Nemesis. Denied a promotion? Nemesis vexing your boss’s mind. No soulmate? Nemesis’s haze stood between the 2 of you. Most of them would never admit it, but they liked Nemesis right where it was, just close enough for its gravity to draw some of the responsibility off them like fog into an intake fan. Everyone prayed it didn’t have theoretical people of its own to refute the blame, or do something more sinister. No radio waves ever came from it, nothing intelligible anyway.
The likely solar system collectively assumed they were complete when the new millennium dawned. Then, in 2006, Pluto. They were still 5 years out from the ice giant Mephitis crashing through, thanks to the 5-planet Nice model that insisted something like that had been ejected from the early solar system to create its current orbits. That wide load would be true chaos, but at the time itty bitty Pluto was the most disturbed they thought they could be.
It was far. It was small. It was strange. All the others had been properly postulated, but Pluto was demoted out of its actual planethood. As far as the probable universe was concerned, it was just another convenient place to put all those hypothesized humans, but the others were immediately wary.
What kind of people belong on a demoted planet? Those lacking work ethic. Leeches. Thieves. General morons. These were the fears and they were particularly motivating to Antichthon. Even though Phaeton was closer it was the Counter-Earth that sent a delegation, more of a legion really, of space-faring ships to meet the new neighbor, and to show them how things had long been done in this neck of perpetually unmapped woods.
Aboard those ships was everything needed to assemble a functioning government much like that of Antichthon’s: hundreds of temporary representatives, just as many bureaucrats, voting machines, judge’s robes, city charters and constitutions, and interplanetary ambassadors. Then there were all the military ships and their thousands of heavily armed soldiers, to make sure everything went smoothly for the regime they would install.
Now it was a very long trip by their standards, but they were all confident their services would be needed the moment their telescopes, radios, and exploratory ships confirmed Pluto had taken the stage. It was well recorded, even in the relatively ancient annals of Antichthon, how civilizations were born into probable space: in media res.
If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it means ‘in the middle of things’. Like inspiration, probable things manifest in a flash, no need for billions of years of accretion, atmosphere percolating, or sexy evolution. Planet and people popped up as one, and thanks to the lower standards of theory, physics was able to cook the books without a recipe. Its gravity was identical to Antichthon’s despite the difference in mass, and everything else they needed from air to water to vegetation and animals was amply provided.
They were so thoroughly theorized for each other that the farms and the cities they supported were already in place. Pluto began with half the light switches flipped, planes in the sky, autos rolling along, cats mid-yawn, wedding vows mid-recitation, and tongues being burned by premature sips of steaming cocoa.
In order for all these to interface properly they had to be of roughly the same make, model, and year. For this an overall societal aesthetic was fabricated from a few highlights of the real thing, though functionality was more at pace with the other probable planets. So while Pluto borrowed heavily from the 1920s through the 40s in its skyscrapers, vehicles, entertainment, and attire, its technological capabilities were already good enough for space travel, though the powers that might be hadn’t seen fit to grant them any appropriate ships, with their design specifically having nothing to do with Pluto and everything to do with leaving it.
All the probable people, the millions of them, had the lay of the land from their first thought, and generally didn’t begrudge certain things, like being formed in old age, or with a cane, or glasses, or a chipped tooth from a childhood accident that was even less real than they were.
They also mostly took their assigned positions in stride. If you dressed like a banker it usually meant you had the temperament of a banker, and you might as well try your hand at banking before you complain about it. Most people who had a clear assignment were vital to things running, like electricians, farmers, and plumbers. Notably there wasn’t a single clear cat tree designer to be found.
With the non-essentials more ethereal, the Plutonians found themselves leaderless, and not just in government. There were companies in place, distributing products and services, but no executives. Sports teams with mascots but no coaches. Even the criminal organizations had no idea who they were supposed to plan to usurp.
One thing was certain, for it crackled through every radio and on every screen, interrupting their brand new but somehow also regularly scheduled programming: leaders were coming. Antichthon had broadcast its intent since the liftoff of its welcoming committee. Don’t you worry Pluto, help’s on the way. We’ll take care of everything. You won’t have to lift a finger. Just 6 months. Just hold onto your hats for 6 months.
Despite being born yesterday, Plutonians weren’t stupid. In 6 months they might lose any control they had over their own destinies and be forced to live the Antichthon way, whatever that was. Again the farmers, electricians, and plumbers were at ease, because no matter the regime nobody would dare move them. They were free to get started on their happily ever after while everybody around them scrambled.
There were only 2 things to want in these early days that felt threatened by the welcoming committee: entertainment and power. Nobody knew if those coming were sticks in the mud, but they were the kind to crush your hand when they were supposed to shake it, so they seemed like proponents of censorship, modesty, and prohibition.
And while there was no doubt that their military might would be overpowering, there was still the ill-defined scraps to fight over. If they showed up and someone claimed to be in charge, that party might get deferred to on crucial matters, might be enough of a go-between to still count as a duke or a governor or whatever title tags the Counter-Earthlings might hand out.
Crime was a big prize too, for if Antichthon was oppressive enough, any illegal empire would immediately become the noble resistance.
Between these groups was plenty of common ground but irreconcilable methods. People just trying to have a good time were roped into earning it by those with bigger plans. Gangs muscled over territory, short of outright war thanks to the functioning infrastructure, like broad-shouldered goons shoving each other for more room on the streetcar.
In the first month they took to calling the time left before the welcoming committee Saturnalia, after the ancient Roman festival that saw merry reversals across their civilization: slave served food by the master, a drunk presiding, and women mingling with the men. Just like the real thing they knew it would come to an end, true order restored, so it was important to dance while they could, take what was left out, and seize the spirit of excess.
During Saturnalia the dance halls never closed. The roulette wheels spun endlessly. Pluto swung this way and that with wild abandon, drunk on its new lack of responsibility. Its people started finding themselves and each other, and very quickly deciding what to do about all of that before the real authorities got there and put a damper on the whole enterprise of the planet’s tipsying point.
Back in the real world the gas giants did all the talking, one even lending its name to Saturnalia. It was far from a giant, but in probable space Pluto sure was a gas, especially in the finger snap of its opening act. Feast your eyes, before the slaves go back to clearing the silverware.
Minty Julip was born. Minty Julip was standing behind a counter, wearing a green blouse, and wearing round spectacles with green-tinted lenses. It must have been her favorite color. Her memory informed her that she was a 32 year old woman, but with a young cherubic face. There was no reason to doubt this, but her state was something like shock, so her hands squeezed her full cheeks and pulled them back and forth to confirm.
Self-image also told her she had auburn hair, glossy like varnished wood, that didn’t quite reach the nape of her neck. This was probably true, but her hands could only confirm that whatever amount of hair it was was done up in the back into a tight bun. She wondered how long hair could be and still be put up into a bun, and what size that bun would be.
Is that what I really want my first thoughts to be? She scolded herself for being silly, but really such a reaction was normal. Thoughts like that were fine for a woman who was physically done with figuring herself out even if her spirit hadn’t caught up.
The newness of it all was like having a hummingbird hovering about her face, constantly threatening to poke her in the eye. Yes, the rest of the world was clearly the same past its humming flutter, everything in its place, but she couldn’t just go about her day that easily. She looked around.
Dim, but in a cozy way. The ceilings were high to accommodate all the bookshelves. 2 sets of curved stairs stood behind her, on either side of the desk, both connecting one floor up where another set of shelves ringed a walkway, pinching the top of the building to shape it a little like a glass bottle or a skinny church.
A mechanized ladder, born in the middle of its automated journey back to the start of its track, glided along those upper shelves before clicking into place. Then there was silence. Minty drummed her fingers on the counter. I’m too organized; there are no scraps of context lying around! It was true; the desk had nothing but a stack of books and a big cash register with far more buttons and levers than seemed appropriate. She never would’ve been able to learn how to use it if she didn’t already know.
Another person appeared around one of the shelves on her level, peeking his head out like a mouse checking to see if an owl was still perched outside its burrow. The small fellow looked much more nervous than Minty, probably because, as they both realized, this was actually her burrow and definitely not his.
She tried to make her expression friendly, but he only came out when she opened her mouth and very nearly called out to him to tell him that everything was fine, that he was safe there. Safe in here, definitely. Out there? He had a book in his hands, something almost as big as his chest, with a cover the color of cinnamon gum. When he got close enough, after an agonizing amount of time, he gently set it down on the felt of the desk in front of her.
“Cryovolcanoes of Pluto’s Brass Knuckle Region in Full Color Photos,” Minty read off the cover. She smacked her lips before she could stop herself. That felt good. No wonder she was there. Literature was cuisine. “By K.J. Seaborg.” She flipped it open and looked through a few pages. Some were mid-eruption, chunks of ice rocketing up in sprays of snow.
The dramatic image tickled her mind, sending a snow of background facts and mysteries tumbling back to her awareness. That eruption was just backstory. Sure, it happened as much anything else around there, but nobody had been there to see it, to take that picture. The book was assembled by the universe. They were the first to set eyes on it.
“I guess I like pictures of dangerous places I’ll absolutely never go,” the man whimpered. “Don’t ask me why.”
“Do you think there’s a K.J. Seaborg?”
“Do you think he’s out there?” Minty rephrased. “He took this picture, but he couldn’t… come to terms with it until just now. But maybe he died shortly after it was published. It was published in,” she looked inside the cover, “1987.” She flipped it over to the back and looked at Seaborg’s author photo. “Looks old. He could’ve died before, you know, which means the universe, and only the universe, made this book happen.”
“I know a lot about Seaborg,” the man admitted, pinching his nose and squeezing his eyes shut. “He published photos in every nature magazine to hit news stands in the last 4 decades. He still favored black and white, which is why I think that ‘full color’ bit is in smaller print. I don’t know if he’s out there though.”
“I run this place,” Minty said, letting it sink in for both of them. “So, I can’t really leave. You can though. Are you going to find him?”
“Absolutely not!” he squealed, adjusting his volume with a flinch, again as if an owl swooped by. “Sorry, this is a library right? Should keep my voice down.”
“It does… feel like a library,” she agreed. “Everything’s very organized, and these books don’t look very new… but there’s this register here.” She tapped a few levers on it. “This isn’t just a register. It’s a money eating machine. This is what a bookstore would have. I guess some of the details are up to us.”
“That’s just great,” he said, digging a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping his forehead. “Hopefully none of them are up to me specifically.” He remembered, and regretted, why he was standing there. “I wanted to purchase that, but do I have to check it out instead?”
“I don’t know,” she said, closing the wide volume and turning it over in her hands. “I guess I should split the difference. Everything is for rent, but if you ask you can buy.”
“Can I ask for a 6to1 copy? Or if you have a changer that’s fine too.” Perhaps the hummingbird in her face was being kind, the annoyance of things partly obscured by its wings worth what it actually hid behind its solid body. When she remembered what he was talking about the knowledge drenched her, like her tent collapsing in the rain and sucking onto her skin. All the right words to talk about it came to her, but they felt like rolling sharp rocks around on her tongue, trying to keep them away from her fragile teeth.
“You’re 5to1 aren’t you?” she asked. He looked the part, as 6to1’s couldn’t sweat, so there would’ve been no need for his handkerchief. Plus, his heart was pounding so much she could see it move under his shirt. No matter how close you got you couldn’t hear a 6to1’s metronome.
“For now,” he said. “I’ve got this bad feeling though, like I won’t make it out of the week without hitting 7. I’d still like to be able to hold my book when that happens.”
“Let me check the card catalog.” Minty reached into her pocket and out came something stupendous. Her breath caught again, almost as if her spirit tried to go back to wherever and whatever it was 10 minutes prior.
Its little box, comfortable in her palm, was made of thin copper. There was a black design etched onto it: a solar system with all the probable planets replaced by books, their names their titles. Her thumb flipped the hinged lid open. There they were. 52 electroglass cards, currently displaying a creamy paper color that made them look much more like a traditional card catalog, more like what she’d expected to have.
Still reeling from seeing it, she reflexively pulled one out. The information she needed was already displayed on it, forcing another memory. She always switched them to receiving mode when she was at work, so the public computers could hear the conversations, transmit the relevant data to the cards, and have it ready for her.
“We do have one 6to1 copy available,” she told him. “Just one minute please, while I fetch it.” He nodded and kept his head down, acting like a trespassing bug that wanted to crawl under the carpet.
Minty tucked her deck away and turned around. The ladder above, connected to Pluto’s public computer system as well, surprised her by dropping down to her floor on a well-hidden track and clicking into place on the edge of the parallel rows of shelves that extended all the way to the entrance.
She stepped up on a rung, and off they went. Now the bun made sense, for without it the enthusiastic ladder would’ve blown her hair straight into her face. Though the ride was silky smooth the speed was clearly above recommended settings. Halfway down her collection, or perhaps her wares, she laughed and clung to it ever tighter. I did this, because it’s fun. Peachy suggested it.
The ladder’s slow and stop was just as smooth, so much so that she practically swooned as she dismounted, like they’d just finished a samba. She even called the ladder Slim as she thanked him for the good time.
The cinnamon spine of the book was right in front of her, its probability written in gold: 6to1. She reached, but stopped halfway there. Another snag. She was currently 4to1, so the book was just out of her likely reach. Though the exact nature of the place as public service or retail space still eluded her, she had every decided detail at her disposal, including probability supplies and the drawers they were stored in.
Back under her desk she had several sets of gloves that had their ratios printed on the back: 4to1, 5to1, and 6to1. There was no need for anything higher or lower because she didn’t have a single book below 3to1 or above 7to1. At those points you needed dedicated shelves upon dedicated mats just to make sure they didn’t fall through the floor and all the way into Pluto’s core.
There was one solution available without riding Slim all the way back. She took her deck out again and pinched 2 cards out of the middle: the 5 of drinks and the 5 of lights. Everyone organized their decks their own way across the 4 suits of wheels, kisses, lights, and drinks, but Minty thought it simplest to keep alternate probability cards assigned to matching numbers, so the 2 5s in her hand were both 5to1.
Since they were within one step of her 4to1 self she could touch them without passing through, and since they were within one step of the 6to1 book she could use them as middlemen, sliding them in on either side of the book and pulling all 3 out. It was pretty heavy for 3 fingers to keep a hold of, but Slim raced back to the desk as fast as he could.
“Here you go sir.” He took it from her and hugged it close to his chest, breathing a little sigh of relief. “That’ll be 3 simillions and 50 cents.” Virrdiing! The cash register objected, startling them both. “Oh, alright you. 4 simillions?” The machine didn’t chime again, so they quickly finished the transaction, the little man handing over 4 bills with cherry red borders and a glossy thinness like the end of a strip of film.
Minty took one and examined the green face printed on it. Whoever she was, she looked like she belonged there, something the little man could’ve aspired to as he muttered a thanks and rushed out of the building. Before the heavy wooden door closed behind him Minty saw him glance up at the sky as if he expected a downpour of cats and dogs.
She looked at the bill again. I wonder if she’s out there too. At least I know she’s in here. With a pull on the biggest lever the register drawer popped open, going so far that it hit her in the stomach and forced her to take 2 steps back. Slim was a much more likable roommate, she noted as she tucked the bills in their appropriate place and pushed it closed. It whirred as it did an internal check, making sure the funds had all been collated and had uniform 5to1 probability.
There wasn’t long to be alone with her thoughts, and the written thoughts of countless others, before the bell over the door rang again. The perhaps-librarian straightened her posture and drummed her fingers on the desk felt, wondering exactly how popular her establishment was.
“Minty!” a stout little woman built like a coffee can sang as she rounded a shelf and hurried over, high heels clicking. Even with their help she was barely 5 foot 2. This was the 2nd person already who seemed to be expecting rain, as she was bundled up in a heavy coat the color of blushing cheeks that matched the ripening bloom of her orange lipstick. “Mint-on-my-pillow! Mint-on-my-breath! How are you this fine, if stubbornly overcast, day?”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Minty! It’s Peachy!”
“Oh my goodness,” she said, adjusting her glasses, trying to blame them for her slow adjustment to things happening in real time, “Peachy Schnapps! I’m so sorry; you know how it’s been these last few minutes, such a whirl. I was actually just thinking about you, but I hadn’t reconnected your face to all the fun.”
Peachy took this as permission to circle around the desk and hug her, her content laugh a throaty snicker. After declaring that she hadn’t touched anybody else yet, wanting Minty to be her first true contact, she wandered around, staring mostly at the upper ring of books.
“So this is the place,” she said. “I know I’ve been here before, but wow am I here now! So many books.”
“And so few authors,” Minty added, stepping out herself and joining in the awe.
“What do you mean?”
“Something tells me a lot of these books were made just for Pluto, and just because places with people have books. So they were generated, not written. This is the wisdom of the universe, using thousands of pen names.”
“If the universe was wise it wouldn’t let me run around unsupervised,” Peachy reasoned with a grin. She hooked her arm around Minty’s and started walking her toward the front door. “I was just telling my other friend Champagne that she was a bit of a mess, which is what I call a white peach lie, because she’s so many buckets of mess, really very hard to love as much as I do, and you know what she said to me? She said, ‘Pluto made me with no job, no home, no man, and no ambition, so that must be the way I’m supposed to live.’ She thinks it’s the universe’s will that her friends buy all her drinks and show tickets for her. And she won’t even bother to put on a dece-”
“Peachy, where are we going?” Minty tried to slow down, but it simply didn’t take, like her friend was a locomotive at full steam.
“We’re taking a walk of course! We’ve got to see the city.” She pushed through the door. Minty winced, and not just because the cool fresh air was overwhelming on her skin, already accustomed to the warm dry conditions of preserving paper. There was a sound, the murmur of all the machines and all the people getting into the swing of things. It was the sound of the weather making up its mind, of a skyscraper no longer putting notches in the sky to measure its growth.
“We’ve already seen the city; we live here,” Minty protested.
“I mean really see it,” Peachy said. “Everything we’ve done together I want to do again, and besides that I have to tell you about my plans, and you have to tell me about yours. Come along now. We should head for the park because everyone’s-” Minty finally managed to stall hard enough to make Peachy’s brakes squeal. She was staring up at the front of her building, which, she just recalled, was also her home thanks to a few locked rooms in the back with a bed, a bath, and a stove. There were blocky letters made of bright green resin over the door: Aleatory Books.
“Aleatory Books,” Minty muttered.
“Yes, that’s the name,” Peachy confirmed. “Has been as long as we’ve had the pleasure of knowing each other. Why?”
“Oh it’s nothing. I just don’t think I ever came up with that. I feel like I fell into this place, but I can’t imagine what kind of cliff I was standing on just before.” She lingered a few moments more. There were threads in her heart connecting her there, like it was a bramble and she was a sweater that had drifted too deep into it.
“It’ll be fine without you for a little while,” Peachy assured. Then she demonstrated her real talent: seeing straight through skin to the exact shade of a problem’s paint. “You’ve got your card catalog right?” Minty tapped her pocket. “Then all your books are right there! Walk with me before the window closes, before we become boring people who never walk anywhere.”
Their path was at a constant slight curve, as Aleatory Books was one of many shops bordering a massive concrete drainage funnel, constantly roaring as the city’s used water spiraled down into the sewers. The sidewalks and pavement had networks of deep polished grooves clearly meant to feed heavy rain directly into the whirlpool. A railing, each post connected by rope nets, kept the citizens from falling in, but not from foolishly leaning over it, as many did, like an excess of pigeons congregating on a power line.
Numerous street performers and vendors were better at keeping them safe, drawing their attention away from the bottomless throat of the neighborhood. Minty spotted a caricaturist, who, influenced by the ominous gray skies, was drawing everyone with rubber rain hats.
Another person sold decals of Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra: the moons of Pluto. They, unfortunately, did not receive any kind of demotion in the ceremony that was still less than an hour in the past, so Pluto’s sky would be empty of them at night. Enter the decals, which you could stick on your windows to pretend you were that much closer to 1to1 when you looked outside from your bed.
Minty checked the sky again, feeling something, like the shadow of a falling boulder, but there was nothing heading her way. It had to be what her first customer felt. The sky was keeping some kind of secret, and for a moment she thought she spotted it backstroking through the clouds.
Just a person, nothing to be concerned about. They had reason to be concerned, the poor soul. Controlled flight like that pegged them as 9to1, an unenviable state despite the ability to travel through space without an instrument and pass through most solid objects. Voice only a whisper. Transparent. No blood to spill. No name. Any strong emotion enough to permanently change the lines of their face if they expressed it, bending their personality in that overall direction.
The pair went one street deeper, where the buildings instantly quintupled in height and made it easy to forget the near-ghosts circling beyond. Some towers were connected by glass-walled passages in which organized lines of people could be seen rushing back and forth. Electroglass advertisements, modified to billow just a little, to draw the eye, hung over their largest windowless sections, playing short films for salves that prevented probability degeneration and various psychological counseling services for getting used to the day to day.
Minty remembered they were near one of the lobes of a bright region called Tombaugh Regio, or ‘the heart’ after its shape. That was why her home was called Atrium City, one of only 4 large urban centers across the entire planet. Pluto, especially this version which was slightly shrunk in perception and self-esteem like a certain male body part after a February dive, only had a surface area equivalent to the real Earth’s Russia, and much of that was taken up by the Whale Ocean.
So where there was land that wasn’t forest, tundra, or farm, the majority of Pluto’s 8,000,000 people were stuffed into metal and concrete quills that reached for the sky, lit up on every level with colorful lights that changed with the seasons and holidays. 8,000,000 didn’t feel like that much to her, but the further they went the better sense of it she got, as soon the 2 friends were packed practically shoulder to shoulder and shuffling along.
“This is what I was trying to say earlier,” Peachy whined. “We needed to hurry because everyone’s coming out! They’re all just as shocked as us, and I would bet on planethood that more vacation days and breaks will be taken today than any other day of the year. I’m sure it’ll be declared a holiday before the next time it rolls around.”
“So where are we going?”
“The park of course. It will have the most room, and it can’t be sold out of tickets that it doesn’t sell. I heard the squirrels’ tails are shaped like their probabilities, and that they get very frustrated when birdseed that’s too likely for them gets put out. Doesn’t that sound hilarious?”
They still had a ways to go, but they were forced to stop outside a department store thanks to a small group of people too loud and insistent to be called performers. 2 men stood on a black platform while a 3rd and 4th were on their backs with their legs sticking out from under it. The internal mechanism was supposed to raise it much higher, but judging by the clink of wrenches and the cursing from around the 2 invisible heads the machine had been born on the fritz.
The 2 above gave their demonstration anyway, drawing eyes with their attire. Nobody on the block looked less prepared for rain: dress shoes instead of rubber boots, no coats, no hats, and no umbrellas. They wore thick striped sweaters with suspenders and suit jackets their gorilla chests were practically bursting from. Emergency masquerade masks were clipped to their belts, both white with silver trim, looking a touch like opulent grand piano lids.
The orator of the 2 had dark skin, square hair, and eyebrows that almost circumvented any need for an umbrella. He posed the questions to the crowd, though it was the object stabilized on a pedestal by the 2nd man that did the answering.
“I ask again, my brazen friend, is it going to rain today?” he boomed, thumbs rubbing his lapels like he was still trying to judge the material in the tailor’s shop.
“No,” the object answered loud and clear.
“I can’t see,” Peachy moaned as she hopped up and down. Impressive as it was that she could land on shoes with heels the size of rat tails, she still couldn’t gain enough height to reach the average. “What is that thing?”
“I’m not sure,” Minty said, maneuvering to get a better look. The left half of it looked like a severed head, but severed expertly and riveted into a polished chromium collar. It had copper instead of skin with bright circular eyes, like spotlights, clothed in metal shutter lids. Carved and polished wood stretched across the scalp in place of hair. She craned her neck the other way to see that the right half matched. She still had no idea, but it was at least a complete lack of an idea. “It’s like a mechanical head.”
“Oh my stars! Whose head!?”
“I don’t know Peachy,” she said with a chuckle, but the orator heard her and practically harpooned her out of the crowd with a pointing finger.
“This head belongs to the prince of Pluto,” he declared, “the 4to1 and only Roman Koch!”
“Could’ve been the king if not for the siren song of alliteration,” someone in the crowd snorted, somehow overheard again.
“He is what he is, and he is the prince! I can prove it to you. All you have to do is ask this handsome fellow right here.” He took a step back and rubbed the head’s scalp like it was a magic lamp. “Mr. Brazen Head, is Roman Koch the official prince of Pluto?”
“Yes,” its hinged mouth confirmed. More voices declared it a parlor trick, meaningless, less impressive than fortune telling automatons they’d seen that could use full sentences.
“You listen and you listen exceptionally,” the orator barked. “My name is Vermont Red, and I’m here today representing Mr. Koch’s organization: the Eudaemons! We’re everything! We’re your agents, your representatives, your friends, your virtuous spirits! We want to make sure, before Antichthon gets here, that you’ve got something of your own that they won’t be able to take. This head is our centerpiece, and I tell you friends it’s never wrong.”
“What makes it tick?” someone shouted through funneled hands.
“Nobody on any planet has ever known that,” Vermont admitted. He snatched the head from its pedestal, ignoring the surprised grabbing and stuttering of his colleague. His confident stride to the corner must have destabilized the whole platform, for the to men underneath it followed him, rolling like logs, barely keeping it together.
Vermont held it out over the crowd so they could get a better look, and vice versa. Though its eyes were solidly lit, it clearly flicked them between individual people, examining them. Its gaze passed over Minty, who didn’t have to look away thanks to her tinted glasses. Oh that feels strange; I think I’m the one being read now.
“The brazen head was a myth in the annals of Earth,” Mr. Red went on. “For centuries alchemists told stories of it, but none were ever confirmed until now. We would never crack it open to see its secret, lest we break it, but rest assured, it is the realest of deals. No matter what query you pose, the head has the answer. Just don’t forget that the head is a card-carrying member of the Eudaemons.” Its hinged mouth popped open and spat out an electroglass card, likely a flyer for their organization, that spun over the gathered heads until somebody snatched it out of the air.
“Prove it!” The shouted order was 2nded 10 times over.
“With pleasure,” Vermont said. “I need a volunteer, somebody who has something out of the ordinary in their pocket right now.” Minty heard a skittering click, like a rat running on chopstick stilts, and when she looked down Peachy was gone. She reappeared at the foot of the busted stage, standing between the legs of one of the sprawled mechanics.
“Ooh yes, I volunteer!” she sang, waving one hand in the air while the other patted her coat’s pocket. Vermont extended a hand to help her up. “Hello everyone! Hi Minty!” Her friend rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling. She’s going to live her whole life in about a month.
“You stand still now,” Vermont advised, “while I ask the head questions until it correctly identifies the contents of that pocket.” She put her arms at her side and held her chin high, like a marching penguin. “This will take a little while, as the head is only capable of answering yes and no. Brazen head, is there something in this woman’s pocket?”
“Yes,” it answered immediately.
“Is it something everyday like a deck, handkerchief, or stick of gum?”
“Is it one word?”
“Does the first word start with the letter A?”
“The letter B?”
“No,” it stressed. The crowd laughed. Limiting it to 2 words didn’t keep it from having an attitude. It already knew they would have to go through more than half the alphabet and found it tedious. Vermont didn’t let it slow him down, powering his way through every letter until he hit P. “Yes.”
They repeated the process with the 2nd word until T was confirmed as its starting letter. Vermont asked a few more things about its shape and color, eventually settling on a guess just moments before an overly-stimulated Peachy would’ve blurted the answer.
“Is it a pregnancy test?”
“Yes!” Peachy and the head declared in unison. She whipped out a small wand still in its paper wrapping and showed it off, walking back and forth with a rolling mechanic swearing under her. “I’m having a baby!” Unsure if they were obligated to clap, most of the crowd did anyway, fearing what a frown on a face with that powerful of a smile would look like. Impressed by the head, they weren’t concerned with how Peachy knew she was having a baby with the test still in its wrapper.
“Can it tell me who to wager on at the track?” someone shouted, waving a card full of names as Peachy stepped down and squeezed her way back to her chum. “Should I pick 10 Dollar Rescue or Leap Over Sunday?”
“Afraid not friend,” Vermont explained, returning the brazen head to its pedestal. “It can’t tell the future because there’s nothing to tell; it hasn’t happened yet. Anything in the past and present of probable space is fair game though.” The other man on stage stepped forward, perturbed by his partner’s showmanship.
“If you want access to the head’s knowledge you need to sign up and pay your first dues to the Eudaemons,” he said, digging out some cards and handing them to all the outstretched fingers. “The prince of Pluto does not discriminate on your odds: 2 to 10 are all welcome. Isn’t that right Head?”
That’s not the most confident yes. Something tells me that thing didn’t put a pen in its mouth and sign up. Her thoughts turned to Peachy when the short woman wrapped her arm around Minty’s waist and dragged her through the crowd, back to room enough to stroll.
“So now I’ve told you what I’m doing,” she bubbled.
“Are you pregnant Peachy? Did Pluto make you that way? Seems rude if so.”
“Oh no, not yet. I will be having a baby though. Soon as I’m done cementing our friendship I’ll be off to find a suitable man, preferably one in a suit. I’m sure some women have Pluto to thank for what’s in the oven, but I want to be the first one to honestly get a family going. You’re looking at the first mother of Pluto, made rather than minted, and certainly better than being its prince. Nobody loves a prince the way they love their mother.”
“Best of luck Peachy, I’m sure you’ll be aces at it diaper to diploma, but I don’t want any bundles of joyous crying in my library-shop.”
“What will there be for the babe to cry about? Atrium City will be all settled down by then; we won’t hear a peep out of anyone. Now, what are you going to be doing with your life Minty? Aside from being the first and best aunt in the heart and hearts of Pluto?” The bookseller’s mind made a short trip back to Aleatory Books and settled down in a nest of pages. Searching about her soul, she couldn’t, for the life of her, find any discontent.
“I… I think I’ve been thinking about getting a cat.”
Now we move along, for though the squirrels do indeed become very frustrated when they are out of sync with their food, bigger things were bubbling up and popping all over Pluto. 2 weeks passed, and by the end of them Saturnalia was in full swing. Whole buildings were being passed back and forth in ownership, occasionally over rolls of the dice or hands of cards, the signs out front torn down and replaced with such regularity that their neon intestines were sometimes left to glow in alleys and gutters like rainbow rat nests.
Peachy’s plan, according to her, was going swimmingly. It was still too early for any tests to detect her imminent motherhood, but she was already sure. She had found that suitable man in a suit on the very night she sought him, and after declaring his love for her and promising faithfulness, she told him that was all well and good but the only contribution she needed was already made. He could stamp his name on it if he liked, but she didn’t want anything else.
All the love she needed was in her friends, though it was painfully leashed in Minty’s case thanks to her rigid schedule. She was born with a window sign already in her possession that insisted on one side that Aleatory Books opened at 8 in the morning and on the other that it closed at 6 in the evening. To her it was gospel, and it was only one on the dot, her lunch hour, where she was available to take the walk with Peachy that had become their habit.
Even though they took the same route every time, barring some chaos that made them divert, like the exodus of a multi-floor wedding party or regular party from one of the larger buildings, there was always something new to see.
Pluto had given them all coats and umbrellas for that first cloudy day, and every day since then had been just as overcast, but not a single drop of rain had fallen, so many had abandoned the heavy clothes and supplies for more elegant and showy attire. Peachy was all in on this trend, skirts growing shorter as their composition reached a higher percentage of sequins. She frequently checked her make-up in a mirrored card, but Minty never asked where such a pretty face was needed.
They instead talked about what made them happy: Peachy’s sprouting family and friends alongside Minty’s readings. Minty was surprised to find herself the more chatty of the 2, for each volume that resurfaced at her desk was a person unto itself, full of perspectives that hadn’t yet been examined by active Plutonian eyes. In them she was convinced she would find something cumulative, the voice of the planet, its birth cries.
One day, on their way back from the park, where an impromptu carnival had popped up like an illustration in a children’s book, they passed by the black platform the Eudaemons rarely left abandoned. They had given up on trying to repair it; there was now a giant crack down the middle where it sagged.
Eudaemons, leaping over the crack, extolled the virtues of their organization continuously, handing out cards like candy cigarettes, and their efforts were not in vain. Their insignia, a head in profile with an arrow-tipped imp’s tail circlet, was showing up as a lapel pin across all walks, struts, and boogies of life.
Usually the brazen head wasn’t there, off doing higher order work for the prince, but it was there that particular 1:52 as Peachy and Minty passed by arm in arm. Its constant guard had been upped from 2 to 3, though the 2 men and the woman guarding it now looked rather green. One sat in a chair holding the head in his lap as if it was nothing more important than a flowerpot while the other 2 practiced cardistry tricks, fanning out hands of electroglass and trying to toss them to each other without any cards separating.
“Is it him?” the head holder asked, cheek propped up on his palm.
“No,” the head answered.
“What about that guy; he looks tough.” The young recruit’s eyes followed a stranger in the crowd, at most 5to1 judging by the prominent shine on his bald cap. The head didn’t answer, so he gave it a flick. When it still didn’t respond he leaned forward and saw that its eyes were closed, so he moved his hand to the fresh dent above its right ear and flicked there. It was much louder, bringing the thing back to full attention after it winced. “That guy.” He pointed.
“No,” the head repeated, as if it was obvious.
“Any of those 5?”
“What abou- wait what!? One of those 2!?”
“Which one? Green?”
“Yes!” By now the other 2 recruits were listening in on the exchange. They jumped down with him as he tucked the head under his arm and waded into the foot traffic, shouting at Minty to please wait for just a minute. By the time he got to her all 3 were out of breath, but they managed to corral the 2 pals off the sidewalk and into the mouth of a community vegetable garden stuffed in an alley.
“Can we help you with something?” Minty asked; she still felt like there was a desk between her and everyone else who wasn’t Peachy. If Pluto hadn’t given her a red blooded friend she might not have left Aleatory Books at all, at least not until after trying to eat the pages out of the cookbooks.
“Oh boy can you help us,” the young man with the head huffed and puffed. “The prince of Pluto would very much like to meet you. Are you available to come with us?”
“Ooh Minty,” Peachy squeaked, poking her with her elbow, “the prince! Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry, but I have a library to attend to. What does such a person want with me anyway?”
“Well, you’re the best! Not that I have to tell you-”
“We’re interested in your cardistry skills,” the lady recruit said to get to the point; the smell of basil was sinking into all their clothes. She demonstrated her own by flicking a card out of her deck with a thumb so that it spun in the air 10 times and landed right back in its narrow slit. “These dunderheads could use some lessons from you.”
“There must be some mistake,” Minty said with a shake of her head. “I’m not much for cardistry.” The Eudaemons glanced at her pocket and saw the distinctly rectangular bulge of a deck case. “Well everybody has cards. I don’t spar with mine; they’re mostly for organization.” The young man with the head thrust it forward, fingers gripping its temples. Its eyes, like the streetlamps of heaven, looked the librarian up and down and through.
“Are you sure this is the person who’s best at one of the cardistry styles in Atrium City?” he asked it.
“Yes,” it answered plainly.
“I don’t know where it got that idea,” Minty protested, “but it isn’t true. If I so much as shuffled my deck my card catalog would be ruined. Even the thought is maddening.”
“The head is never wrong,” the lady recruit said, her thumb rubbing the side of her deck. The 3rd Eudaemon, who hadn’t spoken yet, made the loudest statement of them all by pulling his deck from its holster and performing a spring flourish, the cards flying from one palm, across his chest, and into the other. Then he cut the deck in half with the flick of a thumb, tossing one piece back to his other hand so he was dual wielding. His hands went down, but Minty spotted the 2 single cards extending above the others like fangs.
“We really need you to come with us,” the one holding the head stressed. “Cheater’s Welcome?” The head somehow knew the question was aimed in its ear.
“Over the Moon?”
“Those are cardistry styles,” Peachy whispered in Minty’s ear, almost knocking her over with her baby blue handbag.
“I know that much,” Minty said with a roll of her eyes. “And only that much.”
“Librarians give out library cards,” the quiet-up-until-now one growled. “Makes sense they’d get good at it passively.”
“Look, lady,” the head toting one started, “the prince is the prince. So this is less of a request and more of a royal decree.” He turned the head toward Peachy’s bag. “Any weapons in there?”
“No of course not!” Peachy answered even more candidly than the head would have. “Just a few presents for my best friend on the whole planet.”
“We have to be going,” Minty said, suddenly grabbing Peachy and escorting her deeper into the garden, hoping to cut through it and rejoin the flow of traffic without having to shoulder through the Eudaemons. The plan was only successful for 5 seconds, until they gave up any pretense of politeness. There was only room on the footpath of rounded stones for 2, so the trio stomped their way through the herbs and squashes, stirring up an aroma with the same name as their target.
2 of them hopped in front and blocked their progress, decks held at their hips in one hand and 5 cards fanned out in the other. The edges glowed blue-white, sharpened by a focused charge in the electroglass. Minty heard the spring flourish again, behind her. I haven’t done anything! Sure, my memory’s an old book in the closet, but I’ve read it front to back now. Never thrown a card in anger in my life. I don’t think I even have a sharpening program installed… though they think otherwise…
The bowling ball in her throat made her think nobody would believe it, but there wasn’t a better strategy apparent, so she pulled out her card catalog and flicked the lid open, fingers poised over it like a cowboy massaging the air around his 6-gun. Aside from the obvious rattling of her nerves, there was another way the threat could fail, if one of them was smart enough to ask-
“Wait, can we even take her?” the female Eudaemon asked, leaning back to look at the brazen head, which was now hanging from her partner’s belt loop over his bottom.
“Yes.” Minty somehow swallowed the bowling ball. “No.”
“Well which one is it?” the man behind them asked.
“Yes, no,” it repeated.
“It’s trying to say yes and no,” the poser of the question posited, “but it doesn’t have and in its vocabulary.”
“Is it broken? Roman did put that nasty ding in it,” the head carrier said, reaching back and feeling the dent with a knuckle.
“No I don’t think so. It’s trying to say both outcomes are possible. It doesn’t know the future, remember? So it sees versions where we win this fight and versions where we lose. We can win though. It’s sure about that. The rest is up to us.” She sighed. “I don’t think I trust you 2 goons that much. Let’s just go.” Her fan went back to one card width and disappeared into her deck.
“But there’s 3 of us!” the one in the back griped, apparently upset he performed the threatening flourish twice for nothing.
“Yeah, and she’s the best Cat Steps cardist in Atrium City. You like those odds?” He grumbled and tucked his deck back into his vest, trudging through some zucchini to rejoin his fellows. “Better the prince get on her good side than us on her bad. You ladies have a lovely day.” With that they left, brazen head bouncing in the back. It winked at Minty. I certainly didn’t ask for that. That thing’s got a mind of its own.
“Stars Minty! What’s all this about you being a cardist? You never told me!” Peachy took her arm again and pulled her along the path, not losing a single step despite their nearly violent encounter.
“I never told you because it isn’t true!” the librarian insisted.
“But the head said so! You saw it guess what was in my pocket that one time. It knows the lay of the land all the way up my legs and into the lining of my coat.”
“Oh it’s not far from the land to your pocket,” she mocked gently to change the subject. Her short friend smacked her playfully on the shoulder. “Everybody makes mistakes.”
“Still, the prince! I’ve heard so much about him. A few of my other friends have taken out loans with his organization. They say they’ve got people on the business side of things that are going to saddle Antichthon with the leftover debts when they get here. It all sounds very clever.”
“You should get in bed with a good book instead of them,” Minty advised, tempting herself with the proposition. It only took another few minutes to get back to Aleatory Books, and there was still a little time left before she reopened for them to share a cup of coffee, though Peachy liked it with too much cream and sugar. It was a minor miracle they could even sip what was essentially a pastry in a mug when Peachy was done with it.
“Don’t you want your presents?” she teased, lifting her bag and shaking it before setting it between them on the front desk.
“What’s the occasion? It’s not my birthday or yours, and it’s not the anniversary of our friendship either.”
“It’s Saturnalia! We’re celebrating, and this is how I celebrate.” She decided to unwrap it for her, entire arm disappearing inside the bag as she dug around, pulling out 2 items. One looked like a chrome cocktail shaker with a lid of semiprecious stone, blue with black veins. She set that aside and presented the other item first, 2 crystal tear drops in the palm of her hand. Even in the shop’s low light they sparkled magnificently, rainbows shooting along the seams just from the slight bump of her pulse in her palm.
“They’re beautiful,” Minty said, carefully taking them and holding one up to the light. The cash register drawer popped open, ravenous for such treasure, but she shoved the greedy thing closed with her hip. “Are they jewelry? There’s no clip or anything.”
“Yes, no,” Peachy crooned, breaking out into a giggle as she remembered the brazen head saying the same thing. “They’re coated in something that gets sticky when it gets wet, so you just dab them in some water and stick them to your cheeks. The vendor told me they’re big enough to work as an emergency mask.”
“Peachy what is that look on your face?” The stout woman’s chin was low, and her eyes looked very big. “Do you think I need an emergency mask? What trouble do you think I get into when you’re not around? If there’s any, it’s on a page 300 somewhere in a volume that I probably can’t even reach on my own.”
“Trouble can come looking for you, and I don’t have time to protect you all day,” Peachy said without a hint of irony, despite being oblivious to the threats of the Eudaemons. “I know you won’t find crazy8 on any of these pages, but that’s why they’re called emergency masks. You hope you never have to use them.”
“Do you carry one?”
“Of course.” Her arm disappeared again and out came a masquerade mask. She tried it on, tilting her head back so it would stay. There was no need for a strap, for in the event of an actual emergency it would never let go. Peachy’s reflected her personality quite well, the eyes surrounded by miniature fence posts the color of white peach flesh. Above them, across her forehead, was a busy assortment of colorful resin flowers, a few ribbons woven between their stems. It was less like the community garden and more like the side of a parade float celebrating the petal peddlers on the street corner.
“It’s adorable and I hope I never see it again,” Minty said, tucking the tear drops into her pocket. “Thanks for looking out for me. So what’s this other thing?” She picked up the cocktail shaker and tipped it upside down.
“Careful!” Peachy yelped, throwing out her hands and adjusting the way Minty held it, holding her hand until it was frozen at a pouring angle. “Remember how you said you thought you were thinking about getting a cat?” Minty stared at the tumbler, and then at Peachy. She wasn’t 8to1, but maybe crazy nonetheless.
The shorter woman delicately pinched the blue lid and unscrewed it, pulling it away all at once and letting the contents flow out onto the felt of the desk. Minty held her hand steady as a stream of thick velvety fluid, somewhere between heavy cream and pureed peas, but black as shoe polish, poured out. Rather than splatter it formed a wobbly droplet that grew and grew. Once the shaker was empty the blob was the size of a round loaf of sourdough.
2 green eyes with slit pupils appeared under its surface, growing crisp and glassy as they rose. The shape stretched out, its new back bristling and rippling at the same time. The eyes found their way to something like a head. 2 ears and a tail unfurled as well. Murrh. The cat’s mouth appeared, yawned, and disappeared. Peachy patted its head, her hand coming away dry despite the ripples it sent across the creature.
“Wherever did you get something like this?” Minty asked, petting the creature herself. It purred, which made its whole body quiver like gelatin. I guess it feels like fur… if fur was one of those vitamin powders you stir into your water.
“Oh it’s a good enough story for you to rent out here,” Peachy tittered. “I stumbled across the most peculiar little shop.” Minty suppressed a grin; Peachy was less of a stumbler and more of a person who only noticed the spiderweb they’d barreled through the next time they looked in a mirror. “So peculiar that they were going out of business in fact. Their entire inventory had to do with the rainy season.”
“That’s right!” Minty blurted. She shook her head to dispel the sensation, less frequent all the time, that she’d just turned on a light in the closet of her mind and had a box full of keepsakes spill out onto her. “I didn’t forget the rainy season… you know how it is… it just wasn’t in my frame of mind.”
“That was exactly the problem for the shopkeeper,” Peachy explained. “The poor old boy had all sorts of souvenirs and supplies for the rainy season, but nobody actually knows when it starts yet! He figured he couldn’t just wait around losing money, and he didn’t want it hanging over him during Saturnalia, so he was selling everything at a fraction of the prices Pluto suggested. I got the tear drops, which I was told shine extra special when rain or tears flow over them, and this cute little kitty for just 15 simillions.” The liquid animal flopped over onto what counted as its back. Peachy teased it with the ribbons hanging off her emergency mask, which it batted at playfully.
Animals were less coy than people in probable space, their odds always prominently and plainly displayed on their bodies somewhere. In the cat’s case the tip of its tail was bent into the shape of a 7, indicating 7to1, but that didn’t gel with what Minty saw. The desk it rested on was 5to1, and being more than one increment away it should have fallen straight through.
Proximity to the central fire of their sun was a good indicator of general likelihood, with Vulcan being the planet closest to existence at a robust and enviable 2to1. Antichthon stood at 3to1 and Phaeton 4to1. The bedrock of distant and tiny Pluto was 5to1, providing a base probability around which most objects were manufactured and maintained, conveniently serving anyone at that notch or up or down one. Minty turned the shaker over and saw it etched on the bottom clearly: 5to1.
“You’re wondering how he’s sitting there right? It’s because he’s all gooey!” Peachy said, squishing her cheeks. “The owner said he fell during a rainy season where cats and dogs came down! He’s 4 years old and his name is Drizzle.
The man also told me that weather animals of lower chances can have different little pieces of their body have different odds, sort of like how when you drink water 5% of it is actually too far from your odds to stay in, but your shirt doesn’t get wet or anything. So he’s 7to1, but he can still touch everything.”
“I hope he isn’t too bored here,” Minty said, rubbing his stomach, which caused his head to swell and shrink as she went back and forth. “Slim patrols at night, could scare away even a 10to1 mouse. You don’t think he’ll just squeeze out a window crack and run away?”
“Drizzle likes to sleep in his shaker, and never gets too far from it, don’t you Dwizzle?” The purring cat rolled over like a water balloon, dropped to the floor, and wandered between a few shelves.
“Make yourself at home,” Minty called after him before moving the open shaker to the shelf of plaques behind the desk, mostly awards her library had earned before she was born. Peachy checked the time on one of her cards and then checked it again with wider eyes.
“Oh stars, I’m late for my 2nd luncheon with Tabby Opener. I must be off Minty darling.” She rushed around and stole a hug. “I know you love the gifts, but do remember to pay attention to them! See you tomorrow! Toodle-oo!” 10 seconds later she was gone, and the silence finally gave Minty a chance to think.
I should see if I have any books that say anything about brazen heads. One confirmed mistake is all it takes to disregard everything they say. What am I thinking? I’ve confirmed it already. Me, a cardistry master, throwing my filing system into neck veins and tendons, concealing a joker up my sleeve with a body count all its own. Absurd. Laughable. I should actually laugh; it’ll make me feel better.
Come on, laugh. Now. Laugh now.
Better not. It might disturb Drizzle.
An Excerpt from When it Rains it Purrs
Available at Aleatory Books
On Idiomatic Animal Weather
Before we dive into the subject of living precipitation, it’s helpful to look at a side by side comparison of how human bodies react to their various likelihoods and how the animals react to theirs. There are many broad similarities, but the human intellect, with its exaggerated observation skills, observation itself having significant effect on the outcomes in probable space, causes us to place ourselves in a category separate from the rest of the animal kingdom.
(Do take care to remember that as probability lowers past 3to1 the effects are cumulative; aside from 2to1, traits are listed in the probability where they begin.)
Humans Shared Animals
Visions of 1to1 space
Interacts with 2to1 and 3to1
Displays the number 2
Interacts with 2to1, 3to1, 4to1
Displays the number 3
Interacts with 3to1, 4to1, 5to1
Displays the number 4
doesn’t leave fingerprints
Interacts with 4to1, 5to1, 6to1
stomach doesn’t growl
Displays the number 5
Interacts with 5to1, 6to1, 7to1
hair and nails don’t grow
diving causes discomfort
Displays the number 6
can’t blow out candles
alcohol lowers likelihood
Interacts with 6to1, 7to1, 8to1
drifting of bruises
deceptively light weight
bodies hold dye permanently
minimal food required
Displays the number 7
may be liquid in form
Short term memory loss
absorbs items into identity
may forget own name
Interacts with 7to1, 8to1, 9to1
can’t raise voice
no sensation of hot or cold
blood bubbles out and floats
enhanced jumping ability
hair moves as if underwater
Displays the number 8
may be gaseous in form
Hears 10to1 voices
can only whisper
face alters with emotions
Interacts with 8to1 and 9to1
survives out of atmosphere
Displays the number 9
No sense of identity
parasitizes or ‘haunts’ 9to1
inaudible to the likely
Thanks to research provided by the planet itself, ‘coming into the swing of things’ as it is referred to in the Heartlands, we already know that Pluto’s arrival in probable space, while a mass event that also saw the expression of millions of human possibilities, was unique only in terms of scale.
Possibilities and theories lower than 10to1 make up the fabric of reality as well as us, the shadow of said fabric. They are ever present at the subatomic scale. While attaining existence from probable space is heavily speculated upon, there are no empirically recorded instances. Being nonexistent, our world is overrun with likelihood altering interactions, so much so that a dreaming 10to1 can make it all the way to 2to1, human, animal, or plant, and sometimes on will alone.
Physical phenomena, in altering the matter states of substances, can sometimes drag theories into the process, increasing or decreasing their likelihood. Pluto’s weather, largely at 5to1 like the core of the planet itself, is lower in odds than that of the other planets about the central fire. This makes it more likely to interact with possibilities in its atmosphere, themselves drawn in from the emptiness of space by activity on the planet’s surface.
To say it plainly, the air is charged with reverse ghosts – spirits that have not yet been born. Low human possibilities face hostility from those of higher likelihood, who are naturally fearful of ‘infection’ by those less fortunate, whether those fears are founded or not. This often prevents them from precipitating, as they look out at the more biological births occurring in civilization, at that metaphysical privilege, and feel hopeless.
Animals, lacking in such observational skills, swarm without a care. They mingle with water vapor and in so doing become entangled in rain, snow, hail, and even lightning. The average probability bump received from such a fall is estimated at 3.3to1.
The term ‘idiomatic animal weather’ comes from the observation of cats and dogs falling from the sky. The old wives’ tale unhelpfully spread to most minds by Pluto is that it is similar to Pluto’s arrival itself, the results of a semantic misunderstanding by the physical forces of the universe. It claims that we have cats and dogs in our rain because ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ is a phrase in 1to1 English speaking civilizations.
In truth it is mere coincidence. All animal possibilities can precipitate, with the most common actually being jellyfish, though this happens almost exclusively over the ocean. Cats and dogs are observed most frequently because highly populated areas are most conducive to a successful life in a higher likelihood. That is, more or less, where domesticated breeds of canine and feline belong.
Cattle have fallen on ranches. Frogs on wetlands. Once, thankfully before the swing of things, a whale onto a cargo freighter. We’ve even seen that certain breeds of cat and dog are more likely to fall over cities and towns where they are popular. Ventricle City is fond of Siamese cats and Portuguese water dogs.
Inherently more chaotic than a biological birth or entering the swing of things, a precipitated animal may exhibit a number of physical anomalies including but not limited to: liquid form containing small percentages of several probabilities, gaseous form with even higher proportions of each, vocalizations like thunder and lightning, flashing lightning in the eyes, a thirst for fresh rain water, and an unstoppable urge to urinate on open umbrellas.
What follows in this volume is a breakdown of typical idiomatic animal weather patterns across Pluto, including research and speculation as to what animals fall, why they fall, how, and where. At the time of writing, briefly pre-swing, the planet has not seen fit to elucidate the beginning or end of the rainy season, but we can see this activity is most intense during that time.
Special attention should be paid to the anomalous incidents, storms that occur mostly during the rainy season. Take a look at what’s happened, in just the last 5 years:
2001: Tropical Storm Rover: The town of Wallethole was partly destroyed after a flood of alley cats, the destruction completed when a flood of terriers pursued.
2002: Hurricane Rind saw a doubling in one region’s stock of pigs, with no way to tell the new ones apart from the old, aside from when their butchered and packaged meat spontaneously liquefied.
2003: An avalanche of penguins, deposited during a storm in an earlier year, closed 10 different roads for over a month thanks to their nesting, which produced gaseous eggs that were toxic to breathe.
2004: A meteor shower, associated with the theoretical ‘I think I just saw a comet’ comet, which is believed to pass whenever enough 1to1 people are mistaken about the appearance date of an actual comet, dropped several tons of material onto Pluto’s surface. While broken up on impact, the pieces conclusively contained full fossilized dinosaur remains, some showing adaptations of having lived outside the atmosphere.
This discovery alone is the source of our newest science: astropaleontology. The study posits that Pluto, more than 60,000,000 years pre-swing, may have seen entire ecosystems of low probability space megafauna. (So far all of Pluto’s fossils have come from meteorites.)
2005: Hurricane Creepy dropped an estimated 1,000,000,000 silk-ballooning spiders over several towns, causing them to be abandoned, with none returning even after fumigation, partly due to fears that their bite might contain a probability-lowering venom.
With the swing scheduled for August 24th, 2006, and with minimal records of extreme weather events for the year so far, we know the rainy season will occur between then and January 1st 2007. Given that pre-swing dictionaries never define a ‘season’ as less than 3 weeks, we can safely narrow down its starting date to no later than December 10th.
Though this is merely personal speculation, I would expect the swing, which will charge the air with human decisions rather than Pluto’s, will result in the strangest rainy season on record, a record where the ink will actually get to dry… if the world doesn’t drown.