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Chapter 1

Venice seemed doomed now. There might be a way Azzie could still save it, though. He would have to go to the Backstage Universe where the Cosmic Machinery was storedin that part of the cosmos where symbology rules.

To get there he would need to follow a set of instructions he had never used beforeinstructions he had thought he would never have to use. But now was the time. He found a sheltered place under a balustrade and made a complex gesture.

A disembodied voiceone of the Guardians of the Waysaid to him, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I am," Azzie said.

And disappeared

Azzie reappeared in a small waiting room. There was a long padded sofa against one wall, two chairs on the other. A big lamp cast a mellow glow over a stack of magazines on a nearby end table. Before the third wall was a receptionist, clad in a toga, sitting in front of what looked like an office intercom. The receptionist looked for all the world like a woman, except that she had an alligator's head on her shoulders. The sight of her convinced Azzie that he was indeed in the place where realism held no sway and where symbology ruled the world.

"What can we do for you, sir?" the receptionist asked.

"I'm here to inspect the symbolic machinery," Azzie said.

"Go right in. You were expected."

Azzie passed through a door into a space that had the dismaying qualities of being both enclosed and endless, a universal plenum filled with innumerable contents. It seemed to be a factory, or a derisive three-dimensional comment on one, for its volume was interminable to the eye. This place beyond space and time seemed entirely filled with machinery, with an endless variety of cogwheels and spindles, with belts to drive them, all of them apparently suspended in midair and working away with a zinging, hissing, clanging sound.

The machines were piled up endlessly in all directions, separated by narrow catwalks. On one of these catwalks was a tall, gaunt man, wearing gray coveralls with a thin white stripe and a peaked cap of a similar material. He moved along with his oilcan, making sure the machinery ran with a minimum of friction.

"What's going on here?" Azzie asked.

"Here all of Earth's time is compressed into a single narrow strip and passed through rollers. And it comes out here, a broad gossamer-thin tapestry."

The old man showed him the broad rollers where the timelines were woven into a tapestry that represented and in some sense was the history of the cosmos up to that moment. Azzie examined it and found a botched place.

"What about this?" he asked.

"Ah, that's where Venice was destroyed," the old man said. "The city was one of the principal threads in the fabric of civilization, you see, and so there'll be a bit of a discontinuity in the cultural aspect of the space-time fabric until another city takes up its place. Or perhaps the whole tapes-try will lose luster for loss of one of its finest parts. It's difficult to predict the effect of a major fallout like this."

"Seems a pity to leave it at that," Azzie said. He examined the threads that made up the warp. "Look, if we go back and pull out this one strand, Venice would be all right."

He had found the strand where he had begun his golden candlestick game with the pilgrims, the point at which Venice's doom had been sealed. It was necessary to withdraw that action from the skein of causality in order to undo the cosmic damage.

"My dear young demon, you know very well we can't mess with the skeins of time. I agree it would be easy. But I would not recommend it."

"What if I did it anyhow?"

"Try it and find out."

"Are you going to stop me?"

The old man shook his head. "My duty is not to stop anything. My task is solely to watch the spinning of the tapestry."

Azzie reached out and with a firm motion pulled out the thread that marked his meeting with the pilgrims.

The thread lit with sudden fire as it tore loose. He could see the result immediately on the slow-moving web of tapestry, which repaired itself at once. Venice was restored. It was as easy as that.

Azzie turned to go, but he stopped when an icy finger tapped him on the back. He looked around; the watchman was gone.

An ominous voice said, "Azzie Elbub?"

"Yes. Who's there?"

"Call me Nameless. It seems you've gone and done it again."

"Done what?"

"Produced another unacceptable anomaly."

"Well What's that to you?"

"I'm the Anomaly Eater," Nameless said. "I'm the Special Circumstance that arises in the maw of the universe when things get too hairy. I'm the one Ananke was trying to warn you about. Through your actions you have called me into being."

"Not good enough," Nameless said. "You're in for it this time, my lad. You've fooled around with the universal machinery once too often. And while I'm at it, I think I might as well destroy the cosmos and overthrow Ananke and begin everything all over again with me as Supreme Deity."

"That's an overreaction if I ever heard one," Azzie said. "To destroy an anomaly you propose to produce a greater one."

"Well, that's how the universe crumbles," Nameless said. "I'm afraid I'll have to destroy you."

"I suppose you have to try," Azzie said, "but why don't you have it out with Ananke instead? She's top gun around here."

"That's not the way I do business," Nameless said. "I'll start with you. After I've eaten your soul and washed it down with your body, I'll think about who to take on next. That's my agenda."


Chapter 5 | A Farce To Be Reckoned With | Chapter 2







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