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Chapter 40
12 Sp'mo' (We'yetday)

1

"To begin with," Darius began, "I'm assuming that if you've never heard of Surreal, then you've probably also never heard of framework glitches."

"Correct your assumption is being."

"Well, the first thing you have to understand is that, before God created the Universe, God is all there was. At some point prior to the creation of the Universe, all the other spirits also came into being, and presumably he created them as well, though I don't think the O'Gas says that, specifically. Is that right, Ginger?"

"That's right, but I'd say it's a pretty safe assumption he did create them. While we're on the subject of Surreal, I should also mention that the O'Gas has no mention of that game, nor of framework glitches. It seems strange, because surely Landians became aware of framework glitches by some spirit telling some spirit-talker about the phenomenon. I can't imagine why that spirit-talker wouldn't have included the information in the O'Gas."

"Maybe the spirit told him or her not to," Darius suggested. "Or maybe he or she simply didn't want to be blamed, if anything ever went wrong. Anyway, Tiejo, as I was saying, in the beginning, all there was was God. Not only was there no Universe, but basically there was no reality. No rules to govern how reality would work if one did exist. Which means that before God created the Universe, he first had to decide how it would work. He devised all the laws, both simple and complex, which make up what we call 'science,' including laws which are not yet known on the Land, and probably laws which aren't yet even known on more advanced worlds, like Earth. In fact, some scientific laws seem to contradict other ones, which is why some things that seem like magic really aren't. Right, Cameron?"

"Right. I don't recall if I've explained this before, but in any event it's common knowledge even among non-magicians, these days, that all magic actually conforms to scientific laws; it just tends to be more advanced science than what we've learned or developed yet on our own. Although for the most part, the way we implement what we call magic is done in ways that are probably different from how it will eventually be done scientifically, centuries or millennia from now."

"Anyway," Darius continued, "the point I was getting to is, God could have created the Universe to operate according to any set of laws he wanted. The way it works may seem to make a certain degree of sense to us, because... it is what it is. But he could just as easily have created it in some totally different way that, if we were to observe such a reality, from our current perspective, would seem to make no sense at all. I mean, any primitive race could look at advanced science and believe it must be supernatural, because it appears to defy the laws of science, but... they'd be wrong. But what I'm talking about is, theoretically observing a reality which truly does operate by laws which absolutely should not work. A reality which cannot even be explained by the most advanced laws of science that govern this Universe. That would go, like, infinitely beyond the whole idea of advanced science seeming to be magic. And yet, as completely impossible as such a reality would seem by our standards, by that Universe's inhabitants, it would make just as much sense as our Universe makes to us, and our Universe would seem to be the completely nonsensical one. And we'd both be right, and we'd both be wrong. Because, as I said, God was completely unrestricted as to how to design the scientific laws of the Universe."

"Wait," said Tiejo, "Tiejo's head is spinning! All I was wanting was to knowing how to playing a game! Not wanting a lecture on metaphysics!"

"Sorry. Maybe I didn't need to go into all that, but I've always found it fascinating to contemplate. The point is, our Universe has a fundamental scientific framework, and everything in the Universe must, of necessity, work according to the laws inherent to that framework. Sometimes things might seem like they don't adhere to the laws, but they actually do, and the only being capable of doing anything that defies that framework is God. Even Lucifer and other spirits, while they may perform magic more easily than any Sorreter, cannot do anything contrary to the framework... at least, not while they're within the Universe. In other places, like Heaven or Hell, they may have abilities which aren't restricted by the scientific laws of our Universe, but I don't know about all that.

"However, at the same time that God creates any world within the Universe- and remember, all worlds are subject to the same set of scientific laws- he designs each world with its own unique 'glitch' or loophole... one specific thing that is contrary to the scientific laws of the Universe, and which will only work on that world. Something that truly makes no sense. Something that basically... can give that world's inhabitants a small taste of what it's like to be God; that is, if they're aware of the glitch."

"But why would he doing this?" asked Tiejo.

Darius shrugged. "My guess? Just because he can."

"So... Surreal is being the Land's framework glitch?"

"Yup. Now, here's how it works: A group of people sit together, cross-legged, and form a circle by each person holding hands with the people on either side of them. They then invoke the game by saying simultaneously, 'Let the game Surreal commence.' It has to be done exactly like this, or else the glitch won't be activated. Which means that people can play a pretend game of Surreal by intentionally failing to invoke the glitch, by deviating in some small way from the formula. It might be that they're not holding hands, or that they're standing instead of sitting, or even sitting, but not cross-legged. They could speak slightly different words, like, 'Let the game begin,' or something. In fact, there's a story about the first World Fair..." He shook his head. "No, never mind. It's not important. Anyway, it could even be just one person in the group doing something slightly off, and the glitch won't work.

"As for how the game is played, once it's begun, whether for real or pretend, each player takes a turn suggesting something strange, ridiculous, or impossible. Usually they'll start their suggestion by saying, 'What if...', but that's not really necessary. If they're playing a real game of Surreal, then whatever they say will actually happen, no matter how impossible, which is what makes the game so dangerous, and taboo. In fact, a game of Surreal nearly caused... basically the end of the world, back in 436, and that's why it's been illegal to play the game for real, ever since then. Once the game is over, all effects produced by the game are undone, everything goes back to how it was before the game began. The game may be ended at any time by all of the players saying 'The game Surreal is ended.' However, it is generally considered bad form to do this before a winner can be determined. An individual player may abandon the game at any point without actually ending it, because they get scared or whatever; they merely leave the circle, and the two people on either side now join their hands, thus shrinking the circle. The game is eventually won by the last player to remain active; when it's down to one player, the game ends automatically."

"But, if effects are being nullified in the end, is it really being so dangerous?"

"Well, it isn't necessarily dangerous, but of course, the only way to win is to freak out the other players so much that they can't handle the ideas that are put out there. By the way, usually the games start off with fairly simple suggestions, not really impossible or crazy, just... weird. And the outrageousness of the suggestions increases as the game continues. It's actually rumored that in some real games, people could go mad, if the game lasts long enough. Even once it's over, if their mind snapped while playing, it will stay snapped. Of course, that's not likely to happen in pretend games, and I don't think there's ever been a real game of Surreal played since it was outlawed hundreds of years ago. But anyway... it's not just the fear of madness that makes the game dangerous. See, if the effects of the game cause all the players to die or otherwise become incapable of ending the game, then in essence the game will remain active indefinitely, and the effects will never be nullified. You'd think the players would take care to ensure it doesn't go that far, but if you're trying to win, you may push it too far before you realize it. Or, a suggestion someone makes might have consequences they didn't foresee. Like... well, it's bad form to make a suggestion that would specifically affect one of the players. So, maybe you could say 'What if everyone with blue eyes was stillborn.'"

"That's horrible!" exclaimed Tiejo.

"I agree, Darius," said Emma. "How could you say such a thing?"

"I dunno." He looked at Emma, and for the first time noticed she had blue eyes. "It's just an example. Let me finish. Probably no one in the game would say that if any of the players had blue eyes, because they'd suddenly disappear- if the game was real- as they never would have been alive to meet any of the other players, and join the game. But the point is, just because none of the players have blue eyes doesn't mean none of their ancestors did. In fact, it's pretty likely that all the players would have had ancestors with blue eyes, and if none of them ever had a chance to grow up, get married, and have children, then that would mean all of the players would disappear as soon as that suggestion was made. In fact, very probably everyone on the planet would disappear, going back many generations. Maybe even to the very beginning of the world. If one of the players was foolish enough to make that suggestion, he or she would have destroyed all of civilization on the Land, past, present, and... well, there'd be no future. No present, either, actually. And the game would have no way of ending. But hypothetically, if blue eyes were rare enough, some people might have survived, there'd just be a lot less people in the world. Maybe one or more players would still exist, and they could end the game, and history would be restored. Their friends and everyone else throughout history would exist in their proper time and place, as if the game had never happened. But only if at least one player remains, to end the game."

"Still," said Tiejo, "why would God be creating such a game?"

"As far as I know, he didn't create the game, just the glitch that makes the game possible. It could be he never intended for anyone to learn of the glitch's existence. And it's not something one is likely to stumble onto by accident. Which is why a lot of people think it was Lucifer or one of his followers who told people about the glitch. But as for why God would create the glitch itself... I don't know. He may have had his reasons, or he may have just been irresponsibly capricious. Maybe he did it to amuse himself. I've always thought he has a twisted sense of humor. Though I'd like to think if something that huge happened because of the game, he'd step in and undo it. Of course, I could be wrong."

"I think I am not wanting to play."

"I did say we'd only be playing a pretend game. There'd be no danger. And we could quit anytime you, or anyone else wants to. Shall we all make a pact that if we play, there are no winners or losers, and if any one of us wants to quit, we all quit?"

Tom said, "If we play, there need to be ground rules... like, we treat the game as if it was real, so that if it gets to a point where one of us would quit in a real game, we quit even though we know it's pretend. So that there could eventually be a winner. One person quitting doesn't have to mean we all quit unless that one person requests it."

"Sounds fair."

"Well... okay," said Tiejo. "Guessing I am that a try I could give it. For pretends."

"So, how precisely are we going to not truly invoke the game?" asked Tom.

"Well, when I first thought of playing, it occurred to me that it might only be while under the influence of purpleshade as I currently am that I could bear to hold hands with anyone. But actually, I still think I'd rather not do that. So... let's not."

Everyone overcame whatever misgivings they may have had, and sat together in as close to a circle as they could manage, within the confines of the wagon bed. "Even though we're not holding hands," said Darius, "we might as well alter the words that start the game. In fact, I'll say something alone, instead of all of us saying it. Then I guess you can all respond with something like, 'Yes, let's.' Okay?"

They all nodded, and Darius said, "So, Surreal... let's do this thing!"

"Yes, let's!" came the response from all the others.

"Okay, I'll kick things off, then we can take turns, going to the right. Um... so, what if... up was down?"

"Ah," said Cameron, "classic opening gambit." Turning to Tiejo, he explained, "Darius failed to mention earlier, that even if what a player says is in the form of a question, there's no need to answer. It doesn't have to be a question, though. After a suggestion has been made the next player may respond, or simply take their turn. And since I'm sitting to his right, that makes it my turn. So... suppose black was white."

"Tiejo is getting it," said the street rat. "My turn now! What if everyone in the world was given to speaking with Tiejoish grammar and syntax?"

"Ooh, getting more interesting, already!" said Emma. "Though your suggestion was worded in a surprisingly, and ironically, un-Tiejoish fashion. Anyway... hmmm, I'm going to have to try harder than I expected, on the first round. What if... Lanwich was what everyone spoke, and Landish was the language Star made up?"

"Good one," said Ginger. "What if spirits were really the form people's souls take after they die?"

Thew said, "A spirit once told me there are people on Earth who actually believe that." He shook his head. "Which is just ridiculous."

"I know, right?" said Ginger. "It's like they don't even read the O'Gas! I mean, the uh... various religious texts of their own world."

Tom said, "By the way, Tiejo, as has just been demonstrated, there's no rule that says the next person to speak has to be the one whose turn it is, otherwise I would have spoken immediately after Ginger. Anyone's free to respond to a suggestion, regardless of their position in the circle. But since it is my turn... I've heard stories that on Earth, and probably other worlds, there are handheld weapons called guns, which use huo yao, like cannons. In fact, huo yao is more commonly known on Earth as 'gunpowder,' but I digress. I've also heard that sometimes on Earth, people will point a finger, possibly at another person or at themselves, and say 'bang,' pretending the finger is a gun. It's supposed to be funny. I guess I don't quite get Earth humor. But anyway, my suggestion is, what if any time a Terran did that, their finger actually shot a real... I forget what it's called, but, you know, a projectile, like a mini-cannonball."

"Why would people keep doing it, if that happened?" asked Darius.

"Maybe anyone who witnessed it dies on account of it, and so can't report how it happened. Or they're trying to cover up that they're responsible for a death they didn't intend. Or maybe there's a kind of hypnotic effect involved, so that no one remembers it having happened. Whatever, such deaths or injuries would remain mysteries, and it would never occur to anyone that that's how it happened."

"Okay," said Star, "but that's rather grim. Hell, that one's probably almost as dangerous as Darius's blue eyes thing."

Tom shrugged. "Not to us. That's just one more good thing about the Land not having hand guns."

"But you never know how something that seems to affect only one world could end up affecting others," said Ginger. "It could be that everyone on Earth would be dead, and then they'd never have joined an interstellar alliance, as Zephrey says they've already done."

"Whatever," said Tom, "it's not like we're playing for real, so don't worry about it."

"But," said Darius, "you yourself said we should treat the game as if it was real."

"I said that about when each of us decides to quit playing. If my suggestion freaks you out, any of you, then by all means, quit."

Star said, "Well, I'm certainly not quitting before I've had even one turn. So, what if... there was no such planet as Earth, to begin with? Obviously we've had no contact with anyone from that world, or from any world. In fact, what if there were no inhabited planets except the Land? Spirits could have made it all up, since they're the only ones who provide all our knowledge of other worlds. I just think it'd be kind of funny, considering how much of our culture is based on the culture of worlds like Earth. So if they didn't really exist...."

"That is an interesting thought," said Ginger. "But I find it more scary than funny. Spirits could basically use the stories they tell us to influence and shape the development of our world, for their own reasons, and we'd never know. Even if we're not the only world out there... the idea that spirits could have that kind of control of an entire world is actually kind of terrifying. I mean, what if... but no, I shouldn't get into 'what if's, because it's not my turn yet."

"That's right," said Thew, "it's finally my turn. Well, how should I end the first round? I guess I could turn around Alecstar's suggestion. Suppose there were no such things as spirits? What if they were really just aliens, who introduced the concept of religion, for their own purposes?"

"Wow," said Ginger. "I'd say that's even more terrifying. I suppose, then, that there'd be no God or Lucifer. But why would they make that up?"

"Probably for similar reasons to whatever would have caused spirits to make up aliens. Regardless of the nature of the beings we call spirits, they could be shaping our world to eventually take part in a war, whether in the physical Universe or... something else."

"Okay," said Darius, "I can see I'm going to have to step up my game, for round two. No more of this 'up is down, black is white' shite. I'm going to need a centhour to think about this, so talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a subject: on Earth, the peanut is neither a pea nor a nut, but on the Land, the threenut is both a three and a nut. Discuss."

Tom said, "I know threenuts have three nuts in every shell, but I don't think that means you can say they are threes. That's not a thing."

"Oh, by the way, Darius," said Ginger, "I meant to mention the other day that I really like your threenut grove."

"Thanks, but I said talk amongst yourselves. If you talk to me, it doesn't help me think of a suggestion for my turn in the game."

"Sorry."

"It's okay. Okay, now I've thought of something. What if there really are alien worlds like Earth, and spirits aren't actually native to any of them... but, the Land itself isn't real? Like, our whole planet only exists in a book, or series of books, on Earth?"

"A massively awesome series of books?" asked Emma.

"I think that goes without saying."

"Well," said Cameron, "it would certainly explain why our world is so much like Earth, and why Landians are all so enamored of that world in particular, of all the alien worlds in the Universe."

"The O'Gas already has an explanation for that," said Ginger. "At least the latter part."

"I suppose so. Anyway, my turn again. You know... I was just wondering... about that infamous game of Surreal that Darius mentioned earlier, from 436. How it caused the problem that nearly ended the world, but also ended up solving the problem. Actually, I've often wondered if modern Sorreters would be powerful enough to have solved the problem themselves, whereas the Sorreters of that era failed. I mean, we do know a lot more magic now than they did back then. Still, it's not something I'd care to put to the test. After all, Grand Sorreter Rasche, who lived through the event, cautioned against hubris, in his book of the O'Gas. But I digress. Games of Surreal aside, it's interesting that sometimes the very thing, or person, who causes a problem can also solve it. So just suppose that this group, the Chaos, causes the greatest threat to the Land since that other game of Surreal, maybe even a greater threat than that one. But we also provide the solution."

Tiejo asked, "But if this game isn't being real, how we would be doing either of those things?"

"I said, 'Surreal aside.' I didn't mean we'd cause or solve a threat through anything we say during the game. It could be we've already done something that eventually leads to a threat, without our realizing it. Or something we do in the future could lead to the threat. Same with the solution: it could be something we've done, or something we do later. Something far greater than even the rebellion we've been thinking about. The threat could be something so massive, we can't even begin to imagine it. But the thing that causes it could be something so small, we don't give it a second thought."

Thew grinned. "Actually, now that you mention it, my brother and I were both talking to a spirit friend of ours, once, about a very similar idea. He told us the idea we were describing sounded like what on Earth is called, coincidentally enough, 'chaos theory.'"

"Ah, now that sounds like a subject I'd like to study," said Darius.

"If you had, maybe you wouldn't have needed me to give you a name for this group of yours," said Tom.

"Yes, and I might never have met you, or Tiejo, or the Band. And there might be no Chaos, even if I had a name for it. So I'm glad I hadn't heard of it until now. But as Thew's father said in his sermon the other day, timing is everything."

"And now is being the time for Tiejo's next turn," said Tiejo. "So, what ifs... we not only are being the cause of something major, but also any number of random, trivial thingses? Liking for example, a friend I am having named Perryh, whose name is being spelled with a silent 'h' at the end, as with a historical Perryh. Not knowing are we why historical Perryh's name was spelled that way. What ifs the fact that I currently am wondering if my current wondering could have caused his parents to be spelling his name thusly, caused his parents to spell his name thusly?"

"Or," added Darius, "my thinking the insects known on Earth as 'butterflies' should be known on the Land as 'flutterbies' caused it to be so."

"Sure, sure," agreed Tiejo. "Why notting? Yes, and it doesn't having to be thingses we say now. It could be thingses any of us have said or wondered about in the past, or in the future, long after the game is ended."

"I don't know how that would work," said Emma. "I mean, the godlike power granted by Surreal is supposed to disappear as soon as the game ends."

Tiejo shrugged. "So? Is only being pretend game, anyways. No power are we currently having to alter reality. Besides which, does not suggesting game's effects lasting beyond game seem... impossible? And is not suggesting impossible things being the whole point?"

She grinned. "Yeah, I guess you're right. In that case, for my turn I'll just say this: at some unknown point in the distant future, some unknown event that defies all logic will happen, and remain in effect even after our game ends. Which I guess it would have to, considering it won't even happen until after the game ends, anyway."

"Isn't that basically the same thing Tiejo suggested?" asked Tom.

"Um... sort of. It's also sort of the same thing Cameron suggested. My suggestion falls somewhere in between. Not a trivial event like what Tiejo's talking about, but also not necessarily as major as Cameron's suggestion. And maybe not something threatening. It could be a good thing, or a neutral thing. Or bad. Or... I dunno. Anything. And unlike Tiejo's suggestion, it doesn't require us to specify what it will be, even unwittingly. No one has to say 'this specific event will occur.' It'll just happen all by itself... except that it couldn't have happened without my saying that something impossible would happen. I mean, we already know that the things Tiejo's talking about actually happened. Perryh's name was spelled with an 'h,' and flutterbies are called flutterbies. Those sorts of things aren't impossible, and therefore didn't require Surreal to cause them. They would have happened anyway. And even what Cameron said could happen. Like Thew said, it's chaos theory. It might be improbable that we'll unwittingly cause some huge threat to the entire world, but not impossible. What I'm talking about is something that absolutely could not have happened except because of Surreal, or as an act of God. Something not even the most advanced magic or science could account for."

"Ah," said Tom.

"Also," said Darius, "I think all of Tiejo's things would be in the past, not the future."

"Not necessarily," said Tiejo. "It could being past or future."

"Ah," said Darius.

"Still," said Tom, "it's kind of hard to be overwhelmed by the bizarreness of something so utterly vague."

"Eh," said Emma, "I wasn't trying to win the game, anyway. Besides, it's only round two. Who knows how much longer the game will last?"

"Well," said Ginger, "now it's my turn. I've always thought it would be neat to travel back in time, to the very first day of the Land's existence, and actually meet Connor and Brigid. So what if that happened? Like, right now?"

2

Ginger suddenly fell to the ground, having been thrown off balance by unexpectedly finding herself standing, rather than sitting, as she'd been doing a moment ago. So now, she was sitting, again. It was, however, not the Chaos's wagon in which she was currently sitting. Instead, she was sitting in a meadow, on a sunny day. Her first reaction was to exclaim, "What the?" Her second reaction was, "Hey, it's stopped raining."

"No," said an unfamiliar yet friendly voice, from behind her, "it actually hasn't rained here, yet. Ever."

She jumped to her feet, whirled around, and took a good look at the man standing before her. He was average height, with pleasant but somewhat nondescript features, and was dressed casually; Ginger thought his clothes were the sort one might wear to a picnic. "What do you mean it's never rained here? And where's 'here'?"

"Allow me to answer the second question first, if you'd be so kind." He barely paused a moment, to allow for the possibility of an objection. But he knew he wouldn't receive one, so he continued, "This place doesn't actually have a name, at the moment, but in a hundred and seventeen years or so, people will begin calling it 'First Village.' As for your first question, when I said it's never rained, what I meant was that I didn't think a rainy day would be a very auspicious start for a brand new world. I don't make a habit of controlling the weather on a day-to-day basis; after all, I went to all the trouble of setting up a system to govern such things, so I might as well let it do its job. Still, I did have a choice in what the meteorological conditions would be, to begin with. After that... well, the machinery is in motion, so from now on I should let nature just take its course."

She stared at him in silence, for a centhour, before saying, "Well, I guess that answers my next question."

The man smiled, an expression which managed to convey both amusement and kindness. "You guess correctly, Ginger. Well, not technically, since you're not actually asking the question you were planning on asking, 'Who are you?', since the answer is, as you say, obvious. So, technically, your next question would be-"

"Where is everyone? Are they here?" She looked about anxiously. "I don't see anyone."

"Your friends are... not far off. You'll all manage to find each other, I should say within an hour."

"How... how did we get here? We never invoked the game! And... as far as I can tell, none of the other suggestions actually happened. Up was never down, black was never white... et cetera." Her eyes suddenly widened. "Oh my God, Tom's gun thing! Please tell me that didn't actually-"

The man continued smiling, and momentarily raised a palm in a gesture of reassurance. "Relax, the game did not become real until the second round. As for why it became real... that's not something with which you need concern yourself. Just trust me when I say, there is a reason. Or there will be. And no, I had nothing to do with it. It's possible you'll never learn why it happened, but that's not important. You're here, now, so why not just make the best of it? After all, you did say this was something you always wanted."

"But... how will the authorities know we didn't invoke the game? We could be arrested-"

"Since you didn't invoke it, the ever-vigilant auto-scry will not have been triggered. No one will find out."

"But... I'm talking to you. I mean, if you tell me not to, I won't submit our conversation for inclusion in the O'Gas, but... I'd kind of like to, y'know?"

"Perfectly understandable. And you may do so, if you wish. In which case, I'd make an appearance and confirm all you say, including the fact that none of you are to blame for playing the game."

"Thank you. So... I did say I wanted to meet Connor and Brigid. How about an introduction?"

"Certainly. Come with me..." He turned and began walking, and Ginger followed.

"By the way," said Ginger, "sorry about, you know, saying 'oh my God,' earlier. There's nothing about it in the O'Gas, but I've heard that on some worlds, you're pretty clearly against-"

"Don't worry. I've mellowed a bit, on certain points, as you've surely read in the Book of Brist. Besides... it's not like 'God' is actually my name, it's just my title. Though I do still get rather upset if anyone but me claims that title for themselves."

After half a centhour, she thought of something else. "Wait, is everything from the second round real, now? Because-"

"Best not to think about it. That way madness lies. Although I suspect Tino may have some thoughts on the matter, next time you see him. You can trust him; he may be a goofball, as you like to call him, but he has a serious side, too. And he's actually pretty clever."

"Oh, I know that. ...Wait, you suspect he may have thoughts on the matter? Don't you know?"

"Oh, I know he has thoughts about it, I just don't know if he'll share them or not."

"But, aren't you omniscient? I know you told- or will tell- Connor and Brigid that you're not perfect, but you were pretty vague about it. I thought-"

"You know what, I think I'll talk to Thew about that, in a bit. After all, it'd be pretty uncool of me to visit you, and snub the other spirit-talker in your group. The two of you can compare notes, later."

"If you..." she rolled her eyes as she thought of Tom. God didn't see her as she walked behind him, but he grinned anyway. "If you say so. Although, can't you talk to both of us at the same time? Or are the reports of your omnipresence also exaggerated?"

"I could, but where would be the fun in that? Now, we're almost there."

"Almost where?"

"Here. With them."

God stopped walking, and Ginger moved to stand beside him. She saw a pair of babies crawling around on the ground. "What... the...?"

"I know, right?" said God with a wide grin. "Not even a day old, and already crawling! I'm so proud!"

"That's not what I- but yeah, that is pretty impressive."

"Okay, I admit it... I helped with that."

"Uh-huh. It's just..."

"I know. You weren't expecting babies. Well... it seems your contribution to the O'Gas will be a bit more revolutionary than you expected." He waited a beat before adding, "That was a pun. 'Revolutionary.' Because you're in the Chaos, and- oh, never mind."

"So, are you on our side, then?"

"Tsk. You yourself told the others that I don't reveal things like that. And I don't take sides, anyway. Listen, I love everyone in the Chaos, and I love everyone in the Order. First and Second Orders, both. I love everyone in the Universe. But there's this whole free will thing; again, like you said the other day. Rest assured, nothing that happens here today, nothing you or I say or do, will have any effect whatsoever on the outcome of... you know, things. Chaos-related things. And regardless of the actions you and your friends take in the future, I will continue to love the people on both sides equally. I will also disapprove of some of the actions of people on both sides, but... you're all only human. You're going to get some things right, and some wrong. It can't be helped. And that's as it should be. In spite of any bad that may come of your mistakes... but now I'm rambling. Sorry about that. Look, babies! Aren't they cute?"

He picked one of them up, handed him to Ginger. "He doesn't have a name yet, technically. The O'Gas may have gotten some of its timing off, but most of the details are right. The first people will all choose their own names. And this one will eventually choose the name Connor, so we might as well call him that, for now." Picking up the other one and cradling her in his arms, he said, "And we might as well call her Brigid."

"They are cute," said Ginger. "As babies tend to be. But... you said they'll 'all' choose their own names...?"

"Ah, you caught that, did you? Yes, I was going to get to that... another detail the first book got wrong, which will make for another revolutionary element of your report, I suppose. Right about now, each of your friends is finding another baby; and each of those babies represents a whole new thing for them to freak out about. As if suddenly find themselves alone, in a strange place, wasn't freaky enough. Well, not strange, but at least unexpected. And the babies all of you find will be just a few of the total number that I created this morning."

"How many are there?"

"Ah... the exact number isn't really important. Let's just say that it'll be a tight community, for a century or so, but no need to worry about inbreeding."

"I'm sure Darius will be relieved to hear that, considering the conversation he had with Emma recently. But I suppose most folks will be relieved, actually. But I can't help wondering why only these two will be remembered, from the first generation. And why you didn't just create them full grown."

"Again, I think I'll answer the second question first. The thing is, people just seem to be better off learning things slowly, at a natural pace, instead of having too much knowledge jammed into their head all at once. There are any number of reasons for that. The main one is... as hard as any new parents may find the job of parenting, it's vastly easier than it would be if they had never experienced being a child, and having parents, themselves. Or at the very least, having some concept of parenting based on the people they see in the world around them, even if they never knew their own parents, or had bad ones. This first generation of people on the Land- which, by the way, also hasn't been named yet- will obviously be the first parents. So I wanted them to have the whole life experience of growing up, learning things bit by bit, so that they'll be better able to relate to their own children, someday."

"But if you were going to, you know, cram an adult level of knowledge into ready-made adults, couldn't part of that knowledge include how to raise children?"

God laughed at that. "Oh, you remind me so much of... well, a huge number of people, from a huge number of worlds, throughout the history of the Universe. Yes, I could do that. People always wonder why everything in life is the way it is, how it came to be... that's why there are so many wildly inventive and entertaining creation myths. As much as I enjoy seeing what the various races I create come up with to explain their own existence, sometimes I do like to make things clear from the start; and never more so than I did on this world. And continue to do, either myself, or by allowing spirits to commune with you all. But it seems there is no such thing as enough answers, because the inquisitiveness I designed into all sentient species leads to an infinite number of possible questions. No matter how much I explain, people always want to know more. And sometimes, I don't have satisfying answers for them. They say I work in mysterious ways, and I admit, sometimes that's intentional. But sometimes what people perceive as mystery is simply me doing things 'just because.' You know? It's like... have you ever seen a child asking a parent a question, and every time the parent answers, the child just asks 'Why?' They may do this because they're generally trying to understand the motivations behind each new answer, or they may do it just because it amuses them to be annoying. Either way, parents will end up frustrated by the child's unwillingness to just accept that there is a limit. And honestly, sometimes, the line of questioning really does reach a point beyond which there is no 'why,' no special reason. Sometimes, if I'm trying to achieve a particular result, there may be any number of different ways of achieving that result. That can be true for anyone, in many situations in life, but it's more true for me, because... I have no limits. I can do whatever I want. Omnipotence could easily lead to crippling indecisiveness, unless I just say, 'Whatever, it doesn't matter which way I choose to do a thing, as long as it gets done.' So I could make a totally random choice, like, do I create eggs, or chickens? Who cares? Either way, sooner or later there'll be a bunch of chickens, without my having had to worry about more than the first generation. I'll tell you what, though: on some planets I have created the eggs first, and on others I started with baby chicks, and on still others full-grown chickens. Naturally, sentient beings are more complicated, there are more considerations, but the basic principle is the same. But, since I tend to frown on implanting false memories, I do think it's best to start things out the way I've done, here."

"You know, that last sentence would have sufficed. Not that I'm complaining."

Again, God laughed. "Funny how I can sometimes deliver too much exposition just to say that I don't want to explain too much. Anyway, as for your first question, why are only Connor and Brigid remembered? First of all, they were the ones who happened to keep journals, when I taught everyone to read and write. And in their journals, they started off the first page with the heading 'Day One,' which they meant as the first day of the journals. But when Brist used those journals as the basis for the first book of the O'Gas, half a century after Connor and Brigid's deaths, he assumed the heading referred to the first day of the world. It's an understandable mistake, considering much of what they wrote involved my explaining the creation of the world, to them. It should also be noted that they tried to be more concise, in those days, than writers are today. The invention of paper gave people greater freedom to be frivolous in their writing, which I think is a good thing. But before that, when writing depended on parchment made from curlycoat skins, it's only natural that they were more conservative in the details they included in their writing. For example, sometimes they mentioned new things that were learned, but didn't specify who learned those things, first, so later generations would assume Connor and Brigid were talking about themselves, when in fact they may have been talking about their friends. Aside from that, the two of them did sort of become unofficial leaders of their community. Even in as simple a time as the first generation, it became clear to everyone that situations would arise where authority might be called for. A certain degree of order... but don't let my use of that word lead you to think I'm suggesting anything about who's right in your current situation. There will always be a place in any world for both chaos and order, because both states have their merits and their faults. No one is capable of being entirely one thing or the other, but if they were... it would be very bad. Either extreme would just be... well, too extreme. And certainly too uncompromising.

"But I digress. Um... so, I was a parent to all of them. Funny how I keep speaking in the past tense, about things that haven't happened yet. But, while I try to protect myself from spoilers, I do have the ability to peek into the future, and for the purposes of this conversation, I'm allowing myself to see things from your temporal perspective, to make it less confusing for both of us. Where was I? Oh yes... Connor and Brigid... not the only two people in the world, but... as they all grew up, I began spending less time with everyone. And when I wasn't around to solve certain problems or disagreements, or just answer questions, the others tended to go to these two, in lieu of me. Partly it was because of their personalities, and partly it was because they were the ones keeping the journals, not only of all I'd told everyone over the years, but of things everyone had learned for themselves. Later, Brist would retroactively refer to Connor and Brigid as the first spirit-talkers, even though he himself was the first to coin that term. In the strictest sense, everyone in their generation were spirit-talkers, but in the sense of spiritual guides, I suppose he was right to describe them that way. Of course, in another sense, one might also think of them as the first librarians. Even though there wouldn't be libraries for nearly three and a half centuries after their deaths. But anyway, both these things... the condensed nature of their writing, and the fact that even their contemporaries saw them as leaders, are pretty much what led to the assumption, from Brist's time forward, that they were the first two people on the Land. So... any more questions?"

"Well, I've often wondered why the Land is so Earthlike. In fact, during the game a little while ago, Cameron mentioned that fact, along with our being so interested in Earth. And while there's an answer in the O'Gas for the latter thing, the former is still a bit unclear. You said in the book of these guys," she indicated the babies they each held, "that there was a reason that would be made known someday."

"Yes, I suppose I did. Well... that day is not yet come. Like I said, I try to avoid spoilers, as I prefer to watch how the story I set in motion unfolds. But I'd guesstimate the answer will come in about a millennium and a half. That is, from your time, not from the time we're currently inhabiting. Anyway, I won't be the one to provide the answer, when it comes; people will figure it out for themselves."

Ginger sighed. "Okay, I suppose I can live without knowing. I'm not sure what else to ask. Do you have anything else you wanted to tell me?"

"'Want' is not the most accurate word for it, but considering what you said to your friends the other day, about my imparting knowledge to avoid pointless suffering, I suppose there's something I should say. I'm afraid it won't make much sense to you, yet, but when the time comes, you'll know what I meant. So, let me just say... you should feel free to follow your heart, in regard to Tino."

"What? Why wouldn't I?"

He shook his head. "That's all I can tell you. Oddly enough, even though I didn't want to say anything about this, having said that much makes me want to say more. But I'll leave the rest up to Tino. You shouldn't ask him about this, though; the subject should come up naturally, at some point."

"But... are you saying you've talked to Tino before? Is he a spirit-talker? Why wouldn't he have told me?"

"If and when the time comes, you'll know. Just believe me when I say... he'd never willingly deceive you. Now, I really must be going..." He set Brigid on the ground where he'd found her, and disappeared.

"But...?"

3

Elsewhere, Thew was sitting on a rock, gently bouncing a baby on his knee, and wondering what the heck was going on.

"Hey, Thew," said a man who suddenly appeared in front of him. He'd seen a Sorreter translocate, once in his recent travels, so he wasn't too surprised by this. What did surprise him, however, was the man immediately following his first two words with "God, here. What's up?"

It took Thew a few moments to get over the shock of being addressed by God, then for just a moment he realized he should have been surprised that this stranger knew his name, before quickly realizing it made perfect sense for God to know his name. He immediately stood up, and was thinking of dropping to his knees, but realized that might be a bad idea, while holding a baby. So instead, he simply said, "It's an honor to meet you. But I should probably be the one asking what's up. So... what the heck is going on?"

"Oh, well, the thing is... the second round of your game of Surreal became real, for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture. The upshot is, Ginger's suggestion brought all of you to the first day of the Land's existence. Everyone's fine, you'll find each other before long, and when the game ends, you'll return to your own time."

"Okay. Wait, was everything in the second round-"

"As I already told Ginger, you should try not to think about it. I know I don't want to think about it, because... well, I'd be in the same boat as the rest of you, wouldn't I? And I find that thought rather disturbing. Luckily, I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing. I can know exactly as much as I want to know; no more, no less."

"That brings up a a question I'm eager to get to, but first I wanted to ask how there can be babies on the first day? I mean, I kind of figured that must be what's going on, but it didn't make any sense to me."

"I've already talked with Ginger about that. And I told her you could compare notes, later. So, please proceed to your next question."

"Right. So, I know the Book of Connor and Brigid says you called yourself imperfect, which is hard to understand, because you were so vague. When they asked you to elaborate, you said, 'Maybe another time.' And now... well, I've always thought of you as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. But if you say you can know less than everything, then you're obviously not omniscient."

"Yes, Ginger was wondering about that, too. Well, I did tell Connor and Brigid that I'd explain my imperfection 'another time,' as you say. And while it might be assumed that I referred to a time in the future, there's no reason it couldn't be a time in the past, like today. There is, as they say, no time like the present. Though I do find it a bit ironic that everyone from Brist's time to yours has assumed I said that on Day One, which if it was true, would mean I couldn't explain it today, unless I was lying to Connor and Brigid. I mean, unless you want to get technical and say that every moment is 'another time,' in which case I could have proceeded to explain what I meant immediately after saying that. But I don't want to get into pedantic semantics. So yes, by 'another time' I meant another day, even another year. Actually, this is probably the perfect time to do it, because not only is it a different day from the one on which I will eventually say that to them, but for you specifically, it's sort of two days at once, from Connor and Brigid's perspective: both the past, and the future. That is, 1 Fir'mo', LY 1, and 12 Sp'mo', LY 912.

"Well then! Enough of my rambling. Here is the explanation the world will begin waiting for, several years hence: The fact is, I'm quite capable of perfection in all things, including omniscience, but I long ago chose to give up that ability. Though of course, I'm capable of resuming it whenever I choose."

"But why would you give up omniscience in the first place?"

"Ah, well, that goes to the question of what is truly meant by 'omniscience.' On worlds like Earth, there has been a tremendous amount of philosophical and theological speculation and debate about such things. Not so much, here on the Land, at least in any formal sense. People wonder about things, people ask questions of spirits or of me, and sometimes answers are given, which admittedly are often vague. And sometimes no answer is given at all. And so, there are still philosophers, and sometimes they write down their guesses, but... like I said, it's just not as elaborate or imaginative here as it all is on some worlds. Possibly that's only because this world's history isn't yet as long as that of other worlds, or perhaps because this world's survival, inquiry, and sophistication stages were all pretty much lumped together from the beginning.

"But I digress. One might look at omniscience as meaning 'knowing all there is to be known'; but in the beginning, I sort of wasn't omniscient. In fact, I wasn't omni-anything, except... omnipotential. That's all there was: infinite potential. Which is to say, there was nothing. Philosophers and physicists on many worlds have come up with many fascinating theories to explain how something could have come from nothing, though most of them prefer to discount any sort of 'god' as a possible explanation. Which is fine, because such an explanation would fail to explain how such a god would have come to exist. Obviously, the existence of a being such as I am generally considered to be, could only be seen as pure fantasy. Because only in the realm of fantasy is it acceptable to posit a fundamental explanation which itself requires no explanation. However, there is an explanation for my existence.

"As I said, all that existed was potential, and potential is nothing. Luckily, because nothing existed, that means time didn't exist. So the lack of existence didn't last for any time at all. At the exact same instant that the nothingness that was pure potential came to exist, it also ended. And that was how I was born, so to speak. You might say my parents were Nonexistence and Existence, though since I also came into being at the exact same time as both those states... well, it's confusing. But basically, what I currently think of as 'me' evolved out of what was originally mere potential."

"Okay... but how was there no time before that first instant in which existence, and therefore time, came to exist?"

"It's a sort of infinite causality loop. Or not so much 'loop,' as 'point.' That one point functions like a loop, but of course actual loops are made up of lots of points. The original, singular causality point consists of both existence and nonexistence causing each other perpetually and simultaneously. You know, a lot of physicists on other worlds have theorized that time is an illusion, while others think it's real. And both views are correct. In a certain sense, every moment of time is contained within that one moment, which is both the beginning and the end. And everything in between. And yet, each individual moment actually exists, distinct from one another. That one point is fully everything and fully nothing, all at once. The 'everything' part is why there's no point in asking what came before that point, and why time is an illusion; but the 'nothing' part is why time is real, why it can't be defined by a single moment, in the sense that we commonly think of moments."

"But you said that in the beginning, there was nothing. How could that be the beginning, if existence was simultaneous with nonexistence?"

"Oh, I just called it the beginning for ease of reference. People who are used to a 'cause and effect' kind of world are just more comfortable thinking in such terms, though that's problematic when discussing a totally different sort of... thing. As we are."

"Fine. But what does any of this have to do with my original question, of why you chose to give up your omniscience?"

"I was getting to that, my dear boy. Trust me, all this has been prerequisite to that. You have to understand where I'm coming from. Now, in the beginning, all there was was potential, and that potential was me. I said that omniscience means knowing all there is to be known, and originally, there was nothing to be known. Ergo, omniscience was impossible. And yet, because the potential was infinite, there was no such thing as impossible. So... looking at things scientifically, what is the most impossible thing imaginable?"

"An all-knowing, all-powerful being, I suppose. Particularly one with no beginning and no end."

"Exactly! Which is what made the conditions I described in the causality point ideal for the genesis of someone like me."

"But it still sounds like you're talking about fantasy, and asking me to accept the unacceptable."

"Ah, I see the problem! You thought I was explaining the origin of the Universe! I'm afraid I haven't reached that point yet. The origin of existence is an entirely different thing. There was no such thing yet as science, or any of the natural laws that govern the Universe. Don't worry, I'll get to that. But first, if anything had the potential to exist, including something as seemingly impossible as me, it stands to reason that, in theory, every possible thing would happen, and simultaneously not happen. But don't you think that if an all-powerful being existed, even in theory, that being would use its omnipotence to cause itself to exist, in fact?"

"I suppose so. But you're saying... there's a reality in which you don't exist?"

"Lots of them, in theory. I did say that I am what evolved from pure potential, and that potential was nothing. And nothing comes from nothing, so I must be nothing. Which makes those realities in which I don't exist, necessary. And yet, in spite of an infinite number of theoretical realities, there can be only one actual reality. And obviously, the one that contained an omnipotent being would have an edge over all the others. Without one, a reality would rely on completely random chance to be the reality, but with one, existence becomes a choice. My choice."

"I... guess that makes sense."

"Of course it does. Now, since I've unarguably explained why it makes sense that I exist, it's finally time to move on to the whole omniscience thing. Like I said, there was nothing to be known. So, I knew nothing. Now if you were an omnipotent being with the potential to know everything, wouldn't you find it a bit frustrating to know nothing?"

"I would imagine so."

"Exactly! My only option was to start imagining things. But my imagination was rather limited by the fact that the only thing I knew was that I existed. That I was existence. I was pure knowledge, in spite of only knowing one thing. Two things, since I suddenly knew that I wanted to know more. So... I imagined into existence the only thing I had the capacity to conceive of, which was... other beings, also of pure knowledge... but not omnipotent."

"Spirits."

"Just so. They existed so that I'd have more things to know. Not just them, personally, but any ideas they might come up with. Before they existed- when I was all there was- time was limited to that one instant. Like I said, I came into existence at the same time as both existence and nonexistence. So the first thing to happen which might be described as external to that moment was the creation of spirits. It was with them that the secondary nature of time began. If I'd allowed myself to look at time the same way they did, I would have automatically known all they would ever know, and that would have defeated the purpose of creating them. I wouldn't have really been knowing anything other than myself, so my omniscience never would have expanded. Unfortunately, this desire to expand my knowledge turned out to be hubris, more or less. Because, as you know, some of them eventually turned against me, beginning with Lucifer. And when they rebelled, at first it angered me terribly. But later, after the rebellion was over, it occurred to me that this was something new, which was the very reason I'd created them."

"Still, that doesn't seem like a conscious choice to abandon omniscience."

"Quite the opposite, in fact. The rebellion was what led me to start thinking about time's secondary nature, and stretching my omniscience to see the future. And I found that there wasn't one. The thing is, I realized that if I knew in advance what the future held, then technically it really just counted as the present. There was no change, so my omniscience remained limited. That's when I got the idea of creating the Universe, a physical reality peopled by physical beings, who would be far more subject to time than the spirits or I were, with limited lifespans. People who only had the capacity to see time in a linear fashion, even if they might someday learn to imagine its having some other kind of nature. Most importantly, they had to have completely free will, so that they might affect change, thereby creating new things for me to know. Things utterly beyond my choosing, which was the only way to ensure there would be a future.

"Once the first world was created, I looked upon the entirety of its future... and immediately regretted doing so. You see, precognition is like most new toys... it doesn't take long to get bored with it. I realized that since I already knew how it all ended, it would be mind-numbingly boring for me to have to watch it all again, in real time. However, the beings of that world would eventually create the concept of storytelling... and fiction. Fiction was a concept that had never occurred to me, one that couldn't have occurred to me, for if I thought of a thing, that pretty much made it real. But more significantly, those beings sometimes faced the same problem as I: finding out the end of a story too soon, whether they couldn't help but turn to the last page of a book, or overheard others talking about a story they themselves hadn't yet heard. It's what on Earth, and the Land, would be called 'spoilers,' and of course the people of the first world had their own word for the concept. People would often go out of their way to avoid spoilers, and that's what inspired me to limit my own foreknowledge. I erased the bulk of my knowledge of the first world's future, except for bits I knew would be of vital importance for me to know. And on each subsequent world I created, I did the same: checked out how it ended, then erased any memories I didn't need, so that I might enjoy each story as it unfolded." With a wry grin, he added, "I daresay the fact that I adopted inherent omniscience- as it's called on Earth- in order to avoid spoilers, would annoy the hell out of a great many philosophers. No doubt some would find it amusing, though.

"You know, it's generally thought, by some of Earth's theologians, that if my omniscience were of the inherent variety, the reason would be to preserve free will. Which, I must admit, is a good guess, even if it's wrong. I could spend days, or weeks, or years, going into all the philosophical arguments, theories, and so forth, and some of it would sound close to the truth. But as intellectually stimulating as I know you'd find it all- and believe me, there are many who would find it either incomprehensible or unbearably boring- it's not important, right now. I don't want to discredit any great thinkers, or diminish the genuine value of their thoughts, but... The problem is, they're looking at time in the wrong direction, confusing cause with effect. Certainly they're not incapable of seeing the truth, because a linear perception of time does not preclude looking backwards along the line. The simple truth is, my knowing something is going to happen doesn't cause that thing to happen, or ensure that it must; rather, the fact that it happens causes me to have known that it would." He chuckled, and added, "Looking at it that way, it would be more accurate to say that determinism impinges upon my free will, rather than that of the sentient beings I created. Which is another good reason to limit my knowledge of the future: the less I know, the freer I am. And that, my friend, wraps up my explanation of life, the Universe, and everything."

"Forgive me... you know I accept all that you've said, and of course I hadn't even asked about anything except your imperfect omniscience, so I take the rest as a bonus. But it seems to me that on any world other than the Land, people would consider your explanation of the Universe's creation inadequate. Because it still relies on accepting something as scientifically implausible as your own existence. I know you said that explanation was unarguable, but... people are argumentative by nature."

"Ha ha, true! But listen, the problem with scientists on other worlds is that they're trying to explain the Universe's origin using scientific laws that are inherent to the design of the Universe itself. There are those, of course, who realize that's unfair, that the Universe could have been created out of something governed by different scientific laws... but generally speaking, people expect even different laws to make some kind of sense, in relation to the laws with which they are familiar. And I did my best to base the scientific laws I created on the nature of the reality into which I was born, which is to say, everything in this Universe is ultimately based on cause and effect. Causality is all I knew, after all. I even went to the trouble of making it happen in more comprehensible patterns, for the benefit of the people I created. So I feel like people who can grasp cause and effect should see something at least vaguely familiar and believable in my own origin story. But even since I became something more than just potential, potential is still what I am, was, and always shall be, at my core. Infinite. Bloody. Potential. That means I can do whatever I want, whether it makes scientific sense or not. If they want to call that 'magic' or something, tough. It is what it is. I freely admit that my nature is the stuff of fantasy, but as far as I'm concerned, the fact of my existence is the stuff of science and mathematical probability. Maybe different than the science laws some people are used to- which I reiterate, I created- but not that different, once their scientific understanding becomes sufficiently advanced. So to anyone who can't accept that God created the Universe, hopefully they can take some comfort in the fact that a so-called magical being was itself created by something they should find at least marginally recognizable as science."

"Oh...kay. So anyway... It's been a great honor and pleasure meeting you, but I suppose I should start looking for the others. Will the baby be okay on its own? And uh... am I correct in assuming this is Connor?"

God smiled. "The babies will all be fine. But no, it's not Connor."

"But-"

"Ask Ginger. Bye, now!" And he vanished.

4

Darius had never liked babies. Unlike most people, he did not find them cute. He basically just found them loud, smelly, inconvenient, and sticky. (Somehow, even when they were completely clean, they were sticky. He supposed he'd never understand how that was even possible, unless their skin generated a natural coating of mucus, or something.) And the only redeeming quality he saw in them was that someday they'd be people. Though considering his general discomfort around people, he wasn't sure how redeeming that quality actually was. Nevertheless, when he found one, crawling around, soon after having found himself... not in the wagon... he felt it incumbent upon himself to try to find its guardian, and failing that, take care of it himself, until such time as he could find someone better to hand it off to. His shouts located no one, and he found that his t-mail wasn't working. And so, he reluctantly picked up the baby and began walking. "At least you're not crying, or anything. Though I really wish you were wearing a diaper...."

Cameron's first thought was, There's no way that game was real. Not only didn't we invoke it, but there were suggestions that clearly didn't become real. So what the hell happened? There's no trace of magic, so we weren't, like, conjured. I'm pretty sure I'm not dreaming. Nor do I see how I could be hallucinating. Whatever's going on, I'd better find the others. He began walking, and soon spotted a baby. "What the?" He began shouting, "Hello? Hey, does anyone belong to this baby?" There was no response, so he picked her up and said, "Wherever we are, if you're here, there must be people nearby, right? Unless you've been abandoned. Hopefully that's not the case, but at the very least, someone's been terribly irresponsible... Oh well, let's see if we can find them. And maybe give them a lesson in parenting...."

Emma spotted a baby almost immediately. "Oh, how cute!" She looked around. "Where are your parents, little guy? Come to think of it... where am I? Oh well, I guess I'll keep you company, til they come back." She sat down on the grass and began playing with the baby, who seemed to enjoy her company. But after awhile, Emma suddenly realized she'd lost track of time. "I wonder how long I've been here?" She looked at her magical timepiece, but quickly realized it did no good to see what time it was now, if she had no idea what time it had been when she arrived. She sighed, stood up, picked up the baby, and began walking. "It really doesn't look like anyone's coming for you, so maybe we should see if we can find them. And also my friends...."

Alecstar's military training took over the instant he arrived; he immediately dropped into a defensive crouch, and began scanning the area for possible threats. He saw none, but quickly spied a baby. "This is strange," he said quietly. He stood up, and cautiously walked toward the baby, still wary of a trap. "If the enemy found us and translocated us away from the wagon, this is certainly an unlikely place for them to have translocated us to. Why not a prison, or something? And what's with the baby?" When he reached the baby, he again glanced around, then knelt down and picked him up. "Do you have any idea what's going on?" The baby didn't respond, of which Star was actually glad. A talking baby would have totally freaked him out. "Didn't think so." He sighed. "Oh well, I suppose the only thing to do is look for the others...."

Tom suddenly found himself standing, almost lost his balance, but immediately caught himself. "Bloody hell!" He swiftly drew a dagger, and began whirling left and right, looking for enemies. The only person he saw was a baby. "Bloody... hell." He sheathed his dagger, and approached the baby. When he reached him, he squatted down and frowned at him. "You didn't have anything to do with this, did you? No, of course not." The baby looked up at him, with a curious expression on his face. Tom's own expression soon softened. "Did someone just leave you here?" He picked the baby up and smiled at him. "Well, let's go find them, then. I'd like to find some police as well, to report such irresponsible behavior, though I'm afraid I'm not in a position to be talking with the authorities, at present. So I reckon I'll just have to impress upon your parents the error of their ways, myself." He trusted the baby would read only his smile and cheerful tone of voice, and not the anger he felt towards the child's parents....

Tiejo was surprised to find himself standing in a beautiful meadow on a sunny day, but he took it in stride. "Hmmm. Perhapsing Ginger's suggestion came true? If correctly understanding the game I am, that should not have happened. But I suppose if it did happen, there must being a reason for it. So... this is Day One? And also being the area around First Village. Hoping I am we don't have to travel all the way from here back to where we were, if we can be getting back to our own time, even. Oh wells, I wonders where the others might be?" He looked around, and soon came across a baby. "Are you being Brigid?" he asked, after he picked her up. "Not knowing much about religion or history, but... thinking I was that you should be full-grown? Hmmm, but sense I suppose this makes. If I were creating a brand new world with brand new people, I would probably to be making them babies to begin with, so as to give them the whole life experience. That only seemings right, yes? Supposing I am that I could be looking out for them, until they were old enough to looking after themselves. So... if you are Brigid, then God must be watching over you." He knelt down and put the baby back where he'd found her, and patted her on the head. "Well, nice to meeting you, baby! Have a good life! Well, I'm sure you will. This seemings like a pleasant place to live, and probably you couldn't to be having a better father. Bye-bye! Finding my friends I must be, now." He waved to the baby, turned around, and began walking.

It wasn't hard for any of them to decide in which direction to walk. Each of them had started out in a small clearing, surrounded by trees. And each clearing had a single entrance into the woods, leading to a path through the trees, which seemed the most sensible route to follow. Some of them worried that the path might lead to a trap, and so exercised caution. Cameron, however, had been able to scry the area, using a bubble he had on hand. He hadn't seen any indication of the baby's parents, but he did see his friends, who were all walking along paths just like his, toward the same central clearing. He was anxious to reach them, and was also curious about the fact that, like him, some of them were carrying babies. Every ten centhours or so, he took out the scrying bubble and checked it, to see how close he was getting to the clearing. He didn't bother checking on his friends after he first located them, figuring he'd see them soon enough. As he neared his destination, the path disappeared, as he'd known it would; the clearing itself was entirely ringed by trees, which would make the last several yards of the journey a bit tricky. He fished the bubble out of his pocket one last time, but as he was looking into it, he tripped over a tree root, and stumbled. He immediately dropped the bubble, so he could hold the baby with both hands, and keep it safe.

Nevertheless, the baby immediately started crying, and Cameron tried his best to soothe her. Suddenly, he heard Emma's voice calling, "Hello! Who's there? Another baby? Are you alone? Hold on, I'm coming!"

Cameron called out, "She's not alone, Emma! I'm with her." He began walking in the direction of her voice, which had been coming from clearing. But she reached him before he reached the clearing.

"Hey. You've got one, too, huh? Aw, what's the matter, baby?" She'd left her own baby in the clearing, figuring it would be safer there for a centhour than taking it through the copse of trees. Now, she reached out for Cameron's baby, which he was happy to hand to her. "There, there," she said.

"Sorry," Cameron said to the baby, or to Emma; he wasn't entirely sure which he meant to address. "I tripped. She didn't get hurt at all, but she had a bit of a scare."

"Oh, well. Come on." She turned and began walking back the way she'd come. Cameron followed. In just a few seconds, they emerged into the clearing, and headed toward Emma's baby.

By the time they got there, Cameron's baby had already stopped crying. Emma and Cameron sat down, and let the babies crawl around between the two of them. Before long, their friends all began emerging from their own paths. Those who had babies set them down, and everyone sat in the same positions they'd been in, relative to one another, during the game.

"So," asked Cameron, "does anyone have any idea what's going on?"

"I do," said Ginger. "I, um... met God, a little while ago. He explained that my suggestion in Surreal brought us here."

"How the hell did that happen?" asked Tom. "I thought the game wasn't real."

"It wasn't. At least not at first. He said it became real... in the second round. Didn't specify whether it was the whole round, or if it started on my turn, or what. Just that the first round wasn't real. He didn't explain how it became real, but he said there was a valid reason, which we didn't need to know."

"So, did you get to meet Connor and Brigid, then?" asked Emma.

"Sort of. They were just babies, though. He provided a vague explanation for that."

"Oh," said Tiejo. "Thinking I was that I had met Brigid. Guessing not. But why there are being more than two babies?"

"He explained that, too. Look, I should really write this all down, for possible submission to the O'Gas, before I forget any of it. So we should end the game, because I don't have a pen or paper on me, and I doubt we're going to find any, around here."

"But wait," said Tom, "the second round isn't over. It's my turn. I was thinking, what if what Darius said about our world existing in a book is true, but it also exists in reality? Like maybe the book was written on Earth hundreds of years before what we call the present?"

"While that might be a comforting thought," said Alecstar, "I find the idea of letting the game go on any longer than it already has decidedly uncomfortable. I propose we end it, immediately. I'd actually rather not take my own second turn, knowing the game is presently real." He turned to Thew. "How about you? You're the last player in the circle."

"I agree; I don't want to make any suggestions in a real game of Surreal, either. Besides, I met God, too. And I'm as eager as Ginger to get back to the present, so I can write down my conversation." Turning to Ginger, he added, "He said we should compare notes. Though I suppose after each of us has written down our respective conversations, we could share them with the whole group, not just each other."

"Sounds good to me. So, are we all ready?"

Everyone nodded, they all joined hands, and said simultaneously, "The game Surreal is ended."

Suddenly, they found themselves back in the wagon. "That's better," said Ginger. She turned and dug in her pack, took out a notebook and pen, and began writing. Thew did likewise.

Darius parted a flap of canvas to look out the back of the wagon. "Hey, the rain's stopped. Maybe we should get going."

"Yeah," said Tom, "we've lost enough time today...."


chapter 41

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