A few more miscellaneous practice pieces for Nera and Jonah. First, we have a fragment of Nera’s Civil War steampunk fantasy novel (referenced last month) and then a bit of Nera and Jonah eating at their not-favorite restaurant. None of this ever made it into the comic (I was too busy killing Jonah over and over again to dwell much on his eating habits and/or literary tastes) but I thought it was kind of amusing.
* * *
“We have to destroy it, Captain.”
“We don’t,” said Captain Wilderburn. “It makes my ship go.”
Dr. Weeks glared at the captain and pointed over the Redoubt‘s bow rail at the shattered remains of Fort Fisher, which still glowed a cheery orange color almost twelve hours post-fact. Updrafts from the superheated waste tugged at the Redoubt‘s envelope, causing the great airship to buck, colt-like. “You see that, Captain?” said Weeks. “That there tells me that we need to destroy the golem.”
“Point of fact,” said Wilderburn. “We were responsible for the lion’s share of that damage. It’s the sort of thing that happens when you rain Greek fire down on an installation’s primary magazine.”
“And if we hadn’t done that?” said the doctor. “The great clay titan would have made it inland. To Wilmington, Captain.”
Wilderburn crossed to the rail and stared into the holocaust for a moment. “It is a bit unnatural,” he admitted. “The fires shouldn’t be burning that hot for that long.”
“It’s the golems,” said Weeks, with patient emphasis. “They’ve got the fire inside them. The war office should never have started down this road.”
“Mm,” said Wilderburn.
Weeks narrowed his eyes. “And that is why, Captain, we need to destroy that thing in the engine room immediately, if not sooner.”
“I’m still dubious,” said Wilderburn. “You seem to be drawing a direct parallel between the giant clay reptile we have lately slew and the friendly and useful pottery man who lives in the drive room and — as mentioned, and which I cannot stress strongly enough — makes this ship go.”
“Friendly?” said Weeks, exploding a bit. “Captain, you are seeing things that do not exist! It is an implacable mass of ceramic. It does not speak. It does not emote.”
“That may be, Doctor,” said Wilderburn. “But when I am there with him, I sense a certain feeling about the creature. Of congeniality. Or, bonhomie, perhaps.”
“You’re a madman,” said Dr. Weeks.
“You’re not the first to accuse me of such, Doctor,” said Wilderburn. “As ship’s physician, you are in the unique position to declare me unfit for duty, if you think I’ve crossed the line. You know, stepped past the edge.”
“You know I would never,” said Weeks.
“You should and you must,” said the captain. “It is vital to the safety of the crew.”
“With all due respect, sir,” said Weeks, “I am a veterinarian. I am able to indulge your requests to clean wounds and set broken bones because there is very little physical difference between humans and animals in these areas, save your ability to follow my instructions to not pick at the dressings. And not all that damn sight great a difference in many cases.”
“Grant,” said the Captain.
“I am tempted to put a Victorian collar on the man next time,” admitted Weeks. “My point is that I am not trained in this new European head-medicine. So when you ask me to predict when your eternally-tenuous grasp on sanity begins to slip for the last time, I am not at all confident in my ability.”
“And yet…?” said Wilderburn.
“And yet,” continued Dr. Weeks, “even I am able to see that a man who has dedicated himself to fighting inhuman monsters might do better than to have one of them permanently emplaced in one of the most critical areas of the ship.”
“What about Mr. Christmas?” said Wilderburn. “He’s an inhuman monster, at least at times. You seem to tolerate his presence.”
Weeks gazed down for a bit at what had, a few hours ago, been Fort Fisher. “I don’t care for Mr. Christmas,” he said.
“He’s yee naaldlooshii. We’ve all seen him assume the shape of wild beasts. Navajo legend says you shouldn’t even meet his gaze, lest he control your mind and inhabit your body like a suit of clothes. Yet you exchange light pleasantries in the mess every day, and not once have I heard you call for his annihilation.”
“Christmas is human, sir. He is a human being who follows a rather unique religious path. I can respect that. Just as I can respect the Jewess who tends the golem.”
“It’s the golem itself you have a problem with.”
“War golems are the greatest threat faced by both American nations today, sir. The thunder-birds were nothing compared to this. This… thing we’ve just taken down? Clear, incontrovertible evidence that escaped war golems have indeed gone down to the depths of the sea and are fashioning more of themselves out of submarine clay. Probably constructing great cities down there where we cannot reach.”
Wilderburn patted the U.S.S. Redoubt‘s burnished, bronzeclad rail. “Modern technology has given us mastery of the air…”
“…but not the sea,” finished Weeks. “I don’t trust what might be going on beneath the waves, and I’m afraid I don’t trust our resident golem either, no matter how ‘congenial’ you believe it to be. I joined the Roaring Creek Monster-Hunting Society to hunt monsters, sir, not serve with them.”
“Your concern is noted, Doctor,” said Wilderburn.
“Noted and dismissed, you mean,” said Dr. Weeks.
“Mm,” said Wilderburn.
Weeks gave a sharp intake of breath, and seemed about to speak, but was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Veterinarian’s Assistant Bock from the observation deck’s sternward door.
“The survivor’s awake,” he said, breathlessly.
“It’s a wonder anyone escaped the great lizard’s primary assault at all,” said Weeks. “We should question him immediately.”
Bock cleared his throat. “Yes?” said Weeks, impatiently.
“‘Her’, sir,” said Bock. “Begging your pardon, sir, but… ‘her’.”
* * *
She regarded Jonah soberly over her fountain cup of Sprite.
“He’s penning his life’s work… using the high-score list on that arcade game.”
Jonah nodded brightly. “Galaxian, yes.”
Nera put down her drink. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “This is why we’re not going to the Pizzatarium for my birthday?”
“C’mon, Nera,” said Jonah. “We always go to the Pizzatarium. It’s the only restaurant we go to. It’s close to being the only place we go to.”
“That’s not true,” said Nera. “We went to the DMV the other day.”
“Uh huh,” said Jonah. “And where did we go afterward, to celebrate Driver’s License Photo That Does Not Make Nera Look Like A Tasered Llama Day?”
Nera muttered something and then quickly reached for her soda.
“I’m sorry,” said Jonah. “I didn’t quite catch that.”
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “But they were doing that Pink Floyd thing, and it really was a pretty good driver’s license photo. You saw it. Hardly looks like a tasered llama at all.”
“And I am not arguing,” said Jonah. “But occasionally, it does us good to try other restaurants that, admittedly, are not as awesome as pizza parlor built inside a decommissioned planetarium.”
“Not hardly as awesome,” said Nera, glancing around at the dining room proper of the Hope Diner, a study in checkered cloth and grease patina. Yellowing afternoon light dripped in through the oily windows and gathered in pools on the table. Aside from them, the only occupant of the dining room was a tall-but-slouchy Hebrew-looking young man a couple of years their senior, working intently at one of the ancient and poorly-maintained console video games in the little arcade nook over by the far wall. “So this is Nelson Voltaire?” she muttered, jacking her thumb in the stranger’s direction.
“Mm hm!” said Jonah, brightly, clutching his napkin to his chest. “He’s my artistic hero.”
Nera assessed him. “He looks fairly freakish,” she said.
“Every day he comes in here and plays game after game of Galaxian,” said Jonah, his eyes all aglow. “Every score is better than the one before. And when his game is finally over, he enters three more letters of his prose poem into the initials block. It’s the most astonishing thing I’ve ever read.”
“Is it a good prose poem?”
“His medium is so friggin’ awesome,” said Jonah, “it doesn’t even matter what his message is. I want to be here on the day he brings this mother to a close, plays the greatest game of Galaxian anyone has ever seen, and caps the poem off with his actual initials, at last.” He turned excitedly to Nera. “Honestly? I’m thinking of making a documentary about him. It’ll be called ‘Rub/End: Chronicles of an American Genius’.”
“Yabut,” said Nera. “How does he know that the next game of Galaxian is going to be just a little better than the last one? What if he screws up and gets eaten by a Galaxian too early?”
“‘Galaxian’ refers to the hero’s ship, not the aliens that besiege it,” said Jonah. “Common mistake.”
“Well, whatever,” said Nera. “How does he keep from getting out of order?”
“His command of the English language is second only to his command of Galaxian. He just knows, Nera. He’ll score, like, five more points than his personal best and then he’ll just drop his hands to his sides like a conductor and let himself die.”
“He’s doing it now,” observed Nera. “He’s taken his hands off the joystick.”
“Omigosh!” said Jonah, in semi-religious tones, covering his mouth. “The magic is about to happen! In a few moments he’ll enter his ‘initials’ into the machine, and we will all be one step closer to experiencing the finished product.”
Nera blinked a couple times at Jonah, and then turned her attention to Nelson V. In a few moments, the magic happened. “I am nonplussed,” said Nera.
“That is because you have no joy in your soul,” said Jonah, watching the spectacle with rapt attention.
His latest entry complete, Nelson turned and shuffled away from the machine and out of the diner, slouching so profoundly that he looked a bit like a grouchy crescent moon, or perhaps a parenthesis. “I have to see what his entry is,” said Jonah, starting to rise.
“I’ll do it,” said Nera, who was a bit quicker on the punch. “And while I’m over there, I’mo play me some Galaxian.”
“I,” repeated Nera, “‘mo play me some Galaxian. I think maybe Mr. Voltaire’s work could use the assistance of a co-writer.”
“You can’t!” exclaimed Jonah. “You’ll disrupt the fragile artistic purity of the work!”
Nera shrugged. “It’s what I do. I shake shit up. You should know me by now, Jonah.”
As Jonah looked on, horrified, Nera wandered over to the Galaxian console and plugged a quarter into the slot. Several minutes passed.
Eventually she returned to the table. “Well?” said Jonah.
“Two things,” said Nera. “One, the latest word is B-U-T.”
“Yes, and?” Jonah’s leg quivered against the table, shaking the ice in their drinks.
“Two, I totally suck at Galaxian.”
Jonah relaxed. “Thank god,” he said. “‘But’. That’s brilliant.”
“Yeah, or maybe he’s just going to finish writing ‘butt’ tomorrow.”
“That would also be brilliant,” said Jonah. “Man, Nera, I’ve never been so happy to have you suck at something.”
Nera picked up her Sprite again, but her eyes didn’t leave Jonah.
“You’re weird,” said Nera.