Life on Mars 01
Baker Bloch and his dog traveled many miles into the Martian landscape before coming upon this more interesting raised terrace with several structures. It’s the first real proof Baker found for Life on Mars.
Unfortunately the only residents of this plateau were dancing automatons. No contact made — quite yet.
Baker pressed on. 15K to the north north west he found the Jacksboro base, which turned out to be more lucrative.
A cave attracted his attention. He’s found in his experiences that holes often contain answers to puzzles, riddles, and cyphers. This would include holes on their sides.
It looked like a dry run at first. Baker scanned the computer screen in the cave station but found only Second Life animation (again).
He then explored the main Jacksboro station next to the cave, composed of 6 connected pods and a central greenhouse. Baker Bloch knew one thing: this was really and actually Mars he was on now. As well as all of Collagesity.
But this might not have been the most astounding thing he determined today. Someone appeared at the pod door.
“Jesus Christ, Old Grey! How the heck did *you* get here? I haven’t seen you since I was 8, I suppose.”
“Yes, I’m Old Grey. said the woman Baker Bloch thought of as his wet nurse. But I’m also someone else. Don’t you know me boy?”
Baker thought hard and deep before making a guess. He now additionally remembered summers in Paris, skiing in the Alps, and dinner at Andre’s.
Life on Mars 02
“Tell me about Phil Heartthrob, then,” asked the son Baker.
“What’s there to tell? Your *father* couldn’t do the deed so I had to hire a surrogate. Winter in Alps. Remember?”
“I remember. Can I call you… mom?”
“No, keep referring to me as Old Grey. As you can tell by my appearance it’s a name that applies more now. Before I was only 43 to your 8. Yet still you remembered me as ancient. How do I look now? Like a *mummy*, hehe?”
“No,” Baker lied. “You look fine. You look young,” he added, but immediately knew he’d taken it too far.
“Just like your father. Never saying what you really feel. I was never who you thought I was.”
Life on Mars 03
15 minutes later, Baker Bloch was back in the cave station, seeing things in the animation patterns that he’d passed over before. “MessiaenSphere,” he cursed while looking at the information.
“Keep me informed of what you find,” Wheeler called from the eating booth in the 1 room station. She continued staring out into the cave.
“I knew you couldn’t be my mother,” Baker Bloch said back.
“Well, yeah, sorry about that. Just a joke. The Table couldn’t be set up properly yet since Spongeberg called in sick — perhaps he feined illness — but I had some time to kill and thought I’d follow you into Mars to see what dirty tricks you were up to. Speaking of rust and dirt and such, Karoz should be arriving soon. Then you can take your leave, Baker Bloch. Your services will no longer be needed. Just tell me what you find for now. Take some snapshots of the screens if you wish. I already know what’s on them. It’s God, Baker Bloch. God. [delete 2 minutes of exchanges]”
“These space chips are pretty good, Baker,” Wheeler said with her mouth full. “Maybe — umm — maybe you should take a break from staring at that computer screen. You may get assimilated like you know who. You know, the black dude with the red violin. Sure you don’t want any?” She shakes the bag in Baker’s direction, but no response. “MessiaenSphere, eh? Who could have known?”
Karoz never found Jacksboro. His weekly beatings became bi-weekly for remainder of the month.
Sink Sank Sunk
Mars Probe 01
Hummie told Baker Bloch about a huge Martian sity only 10 clicks to the west north west of the Jacksboro base. “That’s where they buy their groceries,” he adds. Baker decides to check it out. Maybe there he can finally get away from Wheeler and do some thinking and pondering on his own about the future of Collagesity on this red planet. And find that beating heart mystery he needs to resolve in order to return his town back to its proper sphere.
Hopping aboard the dog ship again, Baker found the burg easily enough. It was certainly larger than Collagesity, but not exactly the giant place Hummie advertised it as. And really really dusty. Baker felt his throat starting to constrict almost immediately upon landing, but decided to explore more. He found this Mars Bar, legitimizing the location.
And a book called “Marsport Mars” laying on a table within, written by some fellow named Ray
Greenup Greentown. He read several pages but started to get sick on his stomach. It was the dust again. He better explore as much as possible before heading back out into the wastelands for needed fresh air.
Perhaps answers would be found in that building on the mount over there, he thought while stepping out of the bar. Looks quite the sacred space.
He investigates another structure on the way up and encounters this mural. Giant wurmes on Mars? He’ll have to keep a watchful eye out for those!
Ah ha. Looks like a map of the planet. I wonder where Collagesity is on it now? Baker ponders. Too new a location?
Another site Baker explored.
Another — perhaps a residence. Salvador Dali was a Martian?
He even quickly checked out a rental unit giving a nice view of the smoggy sity.
The structure on the mount turned out to be some kind of religious chapel, but Baker didn’t feel the needed beating heart anywhere around. Maybe this wasn’t the huge sity Hummie indicated after all.
He even checked under the church. Interesting red gorges for sure.
Baker will landmark this place and see if he can figure out a way to safely come back and investigate more. But for now he needs to get the heck out of Dodge, as it were.
“Where to forth next?” he wheezes to himself.
While Baker Bloch has landed his dog ship for a bathroom break, it seems like a good time to take a closer look.
First off, you can notice what appears to be a small tail next to the big or normal tail of the dog, protruding from its body as well. This was sometimes called in the business the Dog Wagger, a sign of prestige actually. How well you crafted this second tail is a measure of how much you knew what you were doing. Now let’s go inside and see what this is all about.
Baker Bloch’s dog ship is, in fact, an old traveling wrestlers’ show, the canine shape being a novelty attraction. Customers paid to view the match (which, as you can tell, frequently turned bloody) from two “sitting trees” positioned on opposite sides of the small, fenced-in ring. The Dog Wagger is actually the protusion of the longest limb of the rear tree through the ship’s hull.
The wrestlers, often the scum of the virtual universe understandably, stayed in this cramped space below the rink, only accessible through a door in the opposite leg of the dog from the main entrance.
The ship’s cockpit could be reached through this small bridge beside the ring, passing atop the wrestlers’ bunk beds.
The ship’s pilots sat here in two egg shaped chairs. Well, I say pilots, but one was usually a lower grade simulant, linked to the flesh and blood pilot through a mind-body meld. Even in the beginning of the novelty act, one of the wrestlers themselves would often double as this pilot. In later days, this was always the case, and even the simulant might be dumped in favor of the 2nd wrestler. This usually made for one bumpy ride. The business rapidly deteriorated. Dog ships can only be found at salvage sales these days, which is where Wheeler probably picked it up for Baker Bloch to journey through the Martian landscape.
Using a bit of photo-trickery, Baker demonstrates how spectators would gather around the ring. Obviously some seats were worth more money than others.
And that’s the story of the dog ship! I hope you enjoyed it. On with the current show…
Mars Probe 02
Fast forward several weeks. Baker Bloch now rents an apartment in a considerably larger Martian city, probably the actual one referred to by Hummie the hummingbird during his stay in Jacksboro. The burg’s name in this case is INSCO — all caps. He’s also found out the name of the dusty city with the Mars Bar. It’s Toledo, a location often mocked by his new neighbors and co-workers. Because, yes, Baker has also acquired a job: as a receptionist for one of the local businesses.
He been trying to increase his knowledge of the red planet in other ways.
Despite the surface brilliance, Baker has come to feel like this is an old town. His apartment chairs contain only a few sitting scripts, and his knees keep protruding through the dining room table. His sink doesn’t even work, and he has to get his water from the shower. Compare this to Jacksboro with its more modern and abundant scripts. This is a dying city, he’s determined, an aging behemoth.
But what it must have been like in its day! Still a hauntingly beautiful place. Reminds Baker of that movie he saw a few years back called “Bladerunner,” based on a Philip Dick novel.
Baker’s taken to hanging around the local piano bar pictured above with a couple of neighbors named Lemon and Sugar. Sugar is most likely a prostitute, but no fear there dear readers, since Baker is lacking in that department. Lemon is a neurobiologist, with her current project being something called “Robolution Number 9”, a study of mind-body fusion between humans and simulants. And that’s how she and Baker became friends, because Lemon was enthralled when learning about his old dog ship formerly piloted by the same type of technology. This past Thursday Baker gave her a tour of the ship. The next day Lemon’s friend Sugar tagged along, which, in the end, turned into a 3 way wrestling match. A good evening, and a nice way to let off steam after a hard day of laboring. Sugar broke one of her ruby red fingernails, however. And Lemon lost a yank of her naturally yellow hair.
But what of Baker Bloch’s mission? He’s sinking deeper and deeper into Martian culture, forgetting about Collagesity and the takeover by Wheeler. He wants to forget Wheeler, period. He then thinks of Baker Blinker. Now Baker Bloch can’t play the piano worth a lick but that doesn’t stop him from trying, much to the chagrin of Lemon and Sugar. Saturday he finally remembers the sadness and emptiness of soulmate Baker Blinker and invites her over for a bit of tinkling with the ivories. However, Lemon and Sugar drove her away, Baker Blinker explains later, after Bloch’s return to Collagesity. “They wanted you there and I wanted you here,” she said plainly. “I had no place in INSCO. I had to leave.”
But what a performance she put on while there (!). Spongeberg’s Invention No. 9 dazzled Lemon, Sugar and the rest (Pepper, Wrinkles, Pop), with a cheered-on encore being the always popular “Water Uncles” by Pokey and the Fish.
“Wheeler can’t reach me here,” explains Baker Bloch to the other Baker as she was closing back the lid to the piano keyboards that night. “I know,” she said, not looking up. “But neither can I.”
Mars Probe 03
The day before Thanksgiving Baker Bloch lost his job as a receptionist for the local bank. Turns out he was only a fill in for a female cyborg who had worked 30 years for the business before leaving town. Leaving town like everyone else would be soon. Because, you see, INSCO will shortly be no more, maybe as early as the first of December. So explained Lemon and Sugar to Baker Bloch at the piano bar that same night, attempting to prop him up after the layoff. They too are leaving soon — packing up. Baker then confesses to his 2 new girlfriends about his mission to save Collagesity by finding what Wheeler has repeatedly called the beating heart of Mars. “If anyone would know about this,” they said, “it would be Old Mabel. She’s usually down at the Blue Ant these days, drowning her sorrows over the impending loss of her town.” They explained to Baker Bloch how to get there. “It’s in INSCO Central, a tougher neighborhood. You better ditch that campy Spaced Ghost inspired outfit,” they suggested. “Will I see you again Lemon and Sugar?” Baker asked at the end of the get together. “No,” they said, and kissed him goodbye, one to each cheek. Baker Bloch couldn’t decide which of the two he’d miss more. They were joined in his mind, like a refreshingly ice cold, tangy but sweet drink in midsummer’s heat.
Baker explores more of the town before heading over to the Blue Ant for a potential rendezvous with this mysterious Old Mabel.
He remembers to change his outfit. He teleports back to the piano bar for one last shot.
All the missing chairs and tables (and people!) at the high-end 7 Seas Restaurant: it all makes sense now. INSCO is in its final hour, final minute perhaps.
If only he could have been here during its day. Trying to blend in the best he could, he thought. Trying not to seem so… alien!
It’s time for the attempted meeting. No need to keep the disguise up. He senses no real danger in this almost vacated burg. Mainly just people checking in for one last look-around, he rationalizes.
“Hope Old Mabel is still there,” he mutters to himself while ascending the stairs.
Old 32 01
No one was at the Blue Ant bar so Baker decided to wait in a booth there for Old Mabel to hopefully show up soon. While doing so he took some distant pictures of the nearby Club Aftermath. Especially note the triangular design on part of the dance floor. Later this would mysteriously vanish.
When he returned his focus to the booth, Old Mabel was there opposite him, making a kind of disturbing slurping sound with her mouth. She was quite green all over, including the helmet, which he’d learn the story of a little later. Short of stature; younger appearing than expected. He waited for her to talk, but she just sat there, nursing a screwdriver apparently purchased at the bar while Baker’s attention was elsewhere.
Baker withheld his tongue. A minute later she started, and the pace was rapid. “Not much time sir,” she blurted, and took two quick breaths. “Listen quickly. 32 is the place. I know that now. Got caught dancing in the other apartment. Only two. Stark chuckled because I was a pretty girl. Disguise worked, but no book, no table. Don’t dare look in other yet. Let memory die away. Pretty girl vision fading, fading….” She tailed off, and started to look disinterested again. Was she waiting for a reply?
“Who’s Stark?” Baker ventured, but no answer. And then she was gone — teleported out. Baker subsequently heard steady footsteps behind him, approaching from the right. Dare I say: threatening? When he spotted the person and his long sword, he teleported away as well to a supposedly safer place. Returning about 2 minutes later at the same location, the tall, long haired man was now on the walkway across the bridge from him, pausing to peer into Club Aftermath. He then continued to walk past the club and neighboring red hued establishment (ReaktOr, seemingly another dance club) and then across a second bridge back to the same walkway as the Blue Ant was on. But instead of turning toward the Blue Ant again, he went the opposite direction. Baker took a snapshot of him after he had scuttled down the stairs. Is he some kind of guard? Baker didn’t expect such a vigilante style presence in the dying town.
After he had stopped distant-following the man with the sword, Baker reviewed what Old Mabel had said. 2 apartments? 32? He’d seen no Roman numerals adorning any door or structure in INSCO. Yet there was that place on the west side of INSCO Central with a white design over the front door resembling a house number. He’d actually landmarked a point in front of the door earlier during his roamings. He returned.
Could this be Old Mabel’s 32? There was only one way to find out.
Old 32 02
The front door being locked, the only way in was to sit on something inside. Baker found himself in a well upholstered chair fronting a cozy fire with a basset hound sitting in the next chair over. Baker whispered hello to the dog and then put a finger to his lips. Would the dog bark in warning? But he just sat there, enjoying the warmth. He seemed to be an older version of his species, taking everything in stride as it happens. And he’s probably seen a lot in this town down through the years, if he’s a native. Is this Stark’s dog?
Baker checks around downstairs but no sign of a mysterious table or book mentioned by Old Mabel. Was he on a totally wrong path? He pauses at the foot of the stairs to admire the detail in a classic statue.
Upstairs he found this planetary orrery. “There’s the little bastard rotating around the sun at its own arrogant little pace,” he complains softly. “Mars, the aggressive orb, pheh.”
In the upstairs front room he found what Old Mabel was talking about. Quite the shock! A table surrounded by 8 chairs very much like the one Wheeler had set up in the Blue Feather recently. Too similar — it must be Wheeler! But how? And that book — it’s the same as the one he checked out from the library the other week for Wheeler, but with a different number. 2? Wheeler’s is 3. 32 again? Things were adding up in his head and he didn’t like the direction they were leading. He took a quick snapshot of the table and grabbed the book. He teleported back in front of the apartment and ran away into a nearby alley.
Just in the nick of time…
He needed to get back to his dog ship. He felt his sojourn in the still very dangerous burg of INSCO was done. But he wasn’t finished with Old Mabel by any means.
Wheeler decided to take Hucka Doobie with her to review more Boos collages, since she had sent Karoz Blogger, along with Baker Blinker, out to the distant Muff-Bermingham to search for what she called The One, additionally suggesting that they could double up on the task and use it as a type of second honeymoon. Although Wheeler fully expected them to return (thanks to a protective amulet given to Karoz before their departure) she was quite surprised when they also toted back the requested object. Wheeler was actually uncertain of its location — could have been found in a number of spots scattered across several solar systems. I’ll elucidate more of Karoz’s and Blinks’ journey soon. Let’s get to those collages.
Wheeler couldn’t remember where she stopped in her review of the Boos works, so she just chose Boos 23 (“Goodland Goodwater 03”) to begin, since there was a heavy Mars vibe going on with that as well.
“Hucka Doobie,” she said. “You are quite the expert in interpreting Baker B. collages. What do you make of this? You didn’t have a chance to review this work last fall, nor any of the other Boos efforts. Do you feel slighted by this? Do you feel the need for revenge on Baker B.? We can technically make him not your user if you feel so inclined. I have that power. You are being fulfilled, Hucka Doobie,” she continued in her chattier manner this morning; I believe she might have had a bit too much coffee. “Like Karoz, like everyone involved with The Table, including me. Baker Bloch will be returning soon with The Two and then we”ll have everything we need to complete the triangle and assimilate into, well, God to be frank with you Hucka Doobie. Do you think much about God these days, Hucka? He’s right up there, in the clouds. Not that far up. If he let down his long grey beard like Rapunzel, you could almost grab onto it and climb up to join him. Not quite, but close. A small gap. A gap that can be managed easily enough. With the triangle. Ever listen to Messiaen, Hucka Doobie?” she continued even more. “MessiaenSphere? Messiaen Trek? You’ll have to learn all of those when you sit at The Table. The Table should be set in Heaven by that point. You’ll see. This is only the beginning. I am The Bill and I will soon be one with God. We all will. That’s how it works. We’re taking a shortcut to the End Point. You’ll see soon enough.”
“Are you finished?” Hucka Doobie was then able to wedge in. “Can I have my say about this collage — *finally*?” But Wheeler was quite nervously worked up by this point. “No, not today. I’m now not in the mood. Return to your home. That’s an order.”
On the attempted return trip back to Collagesity, Baker’s dog ship began to loose altitude about 20 ticks past Toledo. He had plenty of neutron fuel — no problems there. But he had no choice but to bring her down in the most acceptable space and check the problem out. He chose what he knew would be the soft desert sand outside of what he originally thought was the Jacksboro space station again. This was a different sort of space station, however, a different compound using the local lingo. This was Ohio.
Seeing no outward sign of harm to the ship, he decided to seek local help if possible. The Martian night was coming on, bringing extreme cold. The dog’s heating system also seemed damaged. He couldn’t take a chance.
Mabel assumed a more provocative pose as Baker went through the iris lens doors of the compound to her right. She had heard the landing in the desert and steeled her nerves. But upon entering, the Truth Tree blocked Baker’s vision of her in the hutch. He instead moved to the north and through a colonnade, still unaware of her presence.
“Looks like Plan B,” she said to herself, understanding the meaning of The Flow. She didn’t try to intervene. “Story of my life,” she couldn’t help but add.
Baker takes in the sights while walking between the two sides of the compound.
Entering the open area of the north end, it was actually Mabel’s brother Little that Baker met first. He was performing his morning mediation in the middle of what they called the 40×40 when Baker approached.
“Sir,” he called toward the little green man. “Sir, excuse me.” Little came up from the cosmic depths and skillfully untwined his legs, standing up. He turned toward Baker. “Ah, you must be Mr. Bloch, coming for his visit. I trust Mabel is doing well this fine morning. So have we chosen the path of A or B, hmmm?” Little was always a little too forthcoming, to the constant chagrin of his sister, but especially so when roused from meditation. He was in a twilight zone between one world and another.
Baker expressed confusion. “I… I haven’t seen Mabel. Are you her, um, husband?”
“Brother,” he returned. “Twin.” He was fully here now. “Name’s Little. We were born in this compound… the Dawg Pound. I don’t suppose you know anything about that as well.”
“No,” admitted Baker Bloch. “I don’t know anything about any of this. My… ship has broken down just outside the walls of your, um, area here. And I only briefly met your sister in INSCO to talk about a mysterious table and book. That was 3 days ago. Are you from INSCO as well? I thought Mabel lived there.” He didn’t tag the prefix “Old” to Mabel’s name since Little didn’t.
“I have said too much already,” Little proclaimed, pulling his orange hoodie more tightly around his body. “I must call my sister.” He walked toward the tent behind the 40×40 and, assuming a frog position, skillfully climbed to its top.
He bellows toward the south in an — to Baker — amazingly loud voice for such a small being. “MABEL, YOUR GUEST HAS ARRIVED!! HE’S OVER HERE WITH ME!! NOW!!” His voice echoed repeatedly throughout the surrounding hills.
“I understand!!” came Mabel’s echoing voice from the south.
“WELL??” There was a pause.
“Hold on!! I’ll come over!!” she said back.
“NO!! WE’LL COME THERE!! I’LL TELL BAKER… I’LL JUST SEE YOU OVER THERE!! DON’T MOVE FROM THE TENT!!”
That ended the “call”. On the way back to Mabel’s place, Little gave names to all the locations Baker had eyeballed on the walk over: Cleveland Rocks, Pit of Harrison, Booger Haze Pool. But it was just the beginning. Baker would remain stuck here for a number of days. The twins made sure of that.
“The temple is up this way, Baker Bloch,” says Little. “You go first. We’ll be right behind you. Take your time. Take in the views. It’s breathtaking. Our favorite place of the compound, that and the attached gardens.”
Baker begins to climb the stairs. The twins hold back.
“We’re still a go with Plan A,” Mabel whispers to her brother. “Truth Tree be damned. It’s been wrong before.”
“Once,” augmented Little. “We don’t talk about that, though.”
“No,” Mabel said quickly. Both thought of Winfield and the tragedy of ’08. Baker Bloch will be staying in his hutch tonight, Mabel thinks. *Maybe,* she tags on, which cheers her up. She elbows her brother gently in the ribs as they began to ascend the stairs, trying to knock him out of his sensed spiraling worries as well. “Winfield is still with us, you know,” she said.
“I know,” replied the brother. “It’s just hard still. We had no one else. We were alone then.”
“Maybe we have someone else now,” Mabel suggested, watching Baker reach the top of the stairs.
“Finally,” added Little. They were at the top as well.
Baker Bloch stared out at the amazing view. He drank it all in. Mars, he thought. This is what it’s all about. An idea flitted through his brain that he could actually and truly be happy here. But it was fleeting.
Turning, Baker Bloch saw the twins already within the temple sitting in 2 chairs. The mood seemed more sober.
“Rezz a chair, Baker Bloch,” Little requests. “Rezz a chair anywhere. We need to talk.” Baker rezzes the most handy chair in his inventory and sits down.
“Ahh, a bit closer to Mabel’s chair I see, aren’t we Mr. Bloch?”
“Maybe a little, Little.” Baker was becoming a little tired of the twins’ games. He wanted to get to the core of the situation. The book obviously. And Mabel’s rather overt affection for him.
“We apologize for not having a third chair, but you see it’s just been Mabel and I here for quite a long time. We have no guests any more. Until you showed up. We are very honored.”
“Thank you.” Baker nodded appreciatively to both Little and Mabel in turn.
Little continued: “Do you notice something different about Mabel tonight, Baker Bloch?”
Baker scanned Mabel quickly. “I — I’m not sure.”
“Well, I’ll tell you. She’s wearing makeup purchased at a fine INSCO store several years back. This is the first opportunity she’s had for its use. So there she is.”
“Oh stop it,” Mable then giggled.
“No I’m serious, Baker Bloch. Look deep into her lovely green eyes, Tell me what you see? Do you see… a soulmate?” His sister giggles again. “Take a look.”
Mabel tilts her head down to show off the eye makeup. Baker now sees a bit more of her true beauty, but also understands he is not the one they speak of. He is not in love with Mabel, not her soulmate. He is not destined to be a Martian.
“Well?” Little asks.
“Listen, guys. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re all alone, couped up in this beautiful but ultimately limited, um, compound. Your Dawg Pound as you call it.”
“We think it’s really because of you,” Mabel speaks smoothly. “You and your dog ship. The Dawg Pound name predicts your coming. Isn’t that heartening, Baker Bloch? You were the one we were seeking.” She smiles shyly.
Baker takes another tact. “So — just speaking theoretically — what if I don’t happen to love Mabel? Turns out I’m not her soulmate. What happens then?”
“You know of The Bill, don’t you?” Little says, a slightly sinister tone entering his high pitched voice. Baker obviously thought back to Wheeler’s recent proclamation that she is The Bill and that Collagesity is fully and truly her town.
“How did you know about that?” He faces Little squarely now.
“We have our ways, don’t we Mabel. And I suppose you recognize the chairs we sit upon.”
Baker didn’t recognize them until Little pointed it out. But now he does. Wheeler’s chairs. From her Table. “Where is all this leading?” he demands.
“Where do you think?” Little asks back.
It’s leading to The Table, Baker thinks correctly. One way or another.
Per instructions from the twins, Baker Bloch slept in Winfield’s old hutch nearer Mabel’s tent than Little’s. The long table within would provide enough room for his almost 6′ 8″ frame to stretch out, they rationalized. (yes, Baker is actually that tall!) Not too surprisingly, Mabel paid a visit in the middle of the night.
“Baker,” she whispered. “Psssst, Mr. Bloch?” But he was truly fast asleep. It had been a long day. Mabel sat down in the chair next to the table, watching Baker’s sleeping bag move up and down with the rhythm of his breathing. It comforted her. She stayed this way for quite a number of minutes, then tried again to rouse him.
“Baker Bloch,” she whispered slightly louder this time. Baker mumbled but remained snoozing. “I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable in your quarters here. You’re laying on several plates and 2 small bottles, by the way. That must be slightly discomforting for you.” She grinned.
Another pause. Baker finally woke up by himself. He looked at the wall in front of him, down toward his feet, and then at Mabel, who gave him a start. He wondered what was jabbing him in his rear quarters but realized about the plates, then. Relieved, he sat up.
“Sleeping cocoon okay?” Mable asked, brightening up.
“How long have you been here Mabel?” He rubbed his head.
“About 1/2 an hour I suppose. I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable here and that the arrangement was agreeable for you.”
It was until you woke me up, Baker thought but didn’t speak out loud. “Is Little with you?” He knew he probably wasn’t, but he just wanted to say something to fill the awkward space and give him a bit more time to become alert.
“No, just little old me.” She tilted her head seductively (to her).
“I’ve been wondering about that, Mabel. Why do they call you Old Mabel up in INSCO and your brother refers to you as just Mabel? You don’t look that old… atall.”
“Don’t I? You flatter me. But we’ve calculated we’re 119 years old in your Earth time. I understand that’s pretty old, then.”
“It is!” Baker sat on some kind of shelf opposite her. An aurelia marginalis, a native Martian fauna, floated outside the hutch’s small round window.
“So how are you both here and there at once?”
“INSCO and here you mean?”
“Yes,” Baker answers.
“INSCO is not where you think. You believe you traveled in your dog ship several days to reach this place. Instead it is directly above us. 3.6K above us, to be exact again. You basically just flew around in circles.”
Baker pondered this, then asked, “did you two sabotage my ship?”
Mabel was direct. “Yes. It was because you couldn’t leave Mars quite yet. Not without me. We learned that quite a long time ago…”
“From Wheeler,” Baker guessed.
“Yes. But not directly. She is able to visit us in time if not in the present.”
Thus the presence of the table in the 32 apartment, Baker understood. Thus the table’s chairs in this place, the Dawg Pound. *She* was the one who gave him his dog ship. “Do you know someone named B-4?” Baker then spoke aloud again.
“Not much time for talk now, Baker Bloch. Walk with me instead. You haven’t seen the beauty of the compound at night.”
So they walked around the compound.
“Winfield’s Isle,” Mabel said, pointing.
“Winfield’s Island,” Mabel said again after they had walked up a number of stairs, pointing down this time from a bridge. “What’s wrong with your arm, Baker Bloch?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Oh dear. It could be the anomaly again. We’re standing right over the spot. Well, I’m sure Little will be able to fix you up, whatever it is. May have to reboot you. We better hurry up to the temple, then.”
Mable led him up to the compound’s central temple again, the place with Wheeler’s chairs. They ascended a spiral staircase circling the temple’s walls to an upstairs balcony. Baker then spied Little in the gazebo across Drew Carey Bridge. Daylight was breaking.
“I’ll take my leave,” Mabel said plainly, and went back to wait inside.
Cleveland Rocks had forever been the most holy place in the Dawg Pound for Mabel and Little, ever since they were little kids. It harbored the grave of The Host with The Most (alternately: Host Charming), who also heavily haunted the craggy knoll and its receiving bridge. The twins had withheld taking Baker Bloch to the sacred rocks until now because they knew it was all leading up to this finality.
As explained later by Mabel, a ghost of The Host had manifested to Baker as he passed over the bones of Those Who Do Not Rock while walking the bridge, quickly fading. “If he did not approve of your presence here,” Mabel says, “you would be tossed from the bridge by a gale of wind into the ravine below, your skeleton collected and then hung with the others, a *most* unfortunate end.” But the twins had faith in Baker. They knew he would not perish — destiny.
And yet another manifestation, seeming to say, “Congratulations. You rock!”
Baker also passed by this fading representation and through the torii gate to join Little on the rocks.
He did not get up to receive Baker, but simply greeted him by name and motioned to the pillow next to his own in the gazebo.
Little stared at Baker and then at his own, sneakered feet. “We’ve even named the white butterflies here,” he started. “Big and Old, after our other titles. For you see, my full name is Little Big (as Mabel’s is Old Mabel). I’m about to grow up, Baker Bloch. Oh I didn’t want to. I’ve fought the urge to fight. But it is time. You are here. You must take Mabel as your own. It does not matter whether you are married or not — Mabel would obviously prefer the former — but you must take her. Away from here.”
“I don’t understand,” said Baker Bloch. “What’s happening to you?”
Little held his stare steady now. “I am going to war.”
As Baker was absorbing this proclamation, a small, silent ship descended from the sky and landed on Cleveland Rocks to their side. Little took a long time to even look in its direction, instead searing thoughts into Baker Bloch’s mind with all the intensity a fledgling soldier could muster. Thoughts of he and Mabel chasing the white butterflies on the rocks and almost falling off not once but several times. Pictures of the compound at different times of the day that he’ll never lose. Visions of happiness for Mabel as she takes on a new life. And then the awful battles to come; obviously he might never make it back here, might never see and hold his beloved twin sister ever again. “Childhood crosses manhood here,” he finally managed, and stood up to enter the ship through a proffered ramp. Mabel called loud from the temple. “NO!! DON’T GO!! LITTLE!!!”
“We had to set childish things aside,” explained Mabel two days later, as they left through the iris door of the Dawg Pound, never to return. “The factions are fighting in several solar systems at once. It’s Whites verses Greens everywhere. Just yesterday, a new battle broke out at Muff-Bermingham. It was only a matter of time before the war caught up with us, found us in our cradled haven. Little had to grow up and become Big, I had to grow up and become Old. Although we are 119 of your years, that is still young for Martians of our species. We had to move onward.” She put her hands to her helmet and cried once again.