There Is No Colour Out of Space
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rating: +29+x

There Is No Colour Out of Space


West of Sloth's Pit, the farms sprawl. The soil is rich, and the growing good. It is not a place to breed legends, but rather cattle, a landscape in which grain and vegetables take root rather than superstition. Not every bucolic homestead has been untouched by the region's propensity for dramatic absurdity, of course; the old Hubble place is long-abandoned, the bloody harvest reaped there looming large over local memory long after the danger has passed, and there is of course the well.

Katherine Sinclair shook her head to clear it. "What's wrong with me today…"

Her two companions… three companions glanced curiously at her. The little old lady who walked like she had a goal in mind and would by no means fail to achieve it, the second-most-difficult-to-focus-on of their troupe, spoke first. "Clarify."

Sinclair shook her head again, this time in negation. "The world seems more… I dunno, florid today?" She gestured at the sun-saturated landscape. "Prone to excess. I feel like the Narrative is acting up."

Forget about it, said a voice in her head. Walk away. She almost did, too, but for a sudden stern look from the little old lady and her obvious sense of purpose.

Kimba Laslow, the only member of their party Sinclair both already knew and could remember with ease, nodded eagerly. "Well, of course it's acting up! Three strange people are marching through the countryside, on a mysterious mission! That's absolutely pregnant with possibility." Laslow was the head of Pataphysics at Site-87, and that title carried considerably more weight than it would have at any other Foundation facility, because Site-87 was smack-dab in the middle of a Nexus where pataphysics and real life were both difficult and pointless to extricate from each other. Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin was a place where narrative convention ruled, where the very laws of nature could bend over backward and even break to justify a better story.

"Four people," remarked the fourth person. When Sinclair looked directly at her, she could see… very little. She could see… that it was a woman, that the woman was wearing a hat, that the hat was… a fedora. This woman was… there was a word for it.

"There's a word for what you are," she said to the woman.

"Antimemetic," her only slightly-less-obscure travelling companion suggested. That one Sinclair knew, if only by reputation: Marion Wheeler, hypercompetent head of the Antimemetics Division. She squinted, feeling a pervasive sense of wrongness at Wheeler's presence in this place, and at this time. She didn't know why, precisely, but she knew why she didn't know why, precisely: antimemetics, the study of things which could not be observed or seen or, most importantly, remembered, tended to play havoc with a body's memorability.

The woman in the fedora shook her head. "That's a word for what I am, but not the word. The word is Nobody, and I wish I didn't have to keep repeating it."

That information slid smoothly into Sinclair's mind like a key into a lock, and she turned it and marvelled at all of the things she had already forgotten today, and would again. "Right," she said. "Right. There was… something antimemetic going on, but nobody… except Nobody… noticed it? And nobody can see Nobody, not for long, except…" She grimaced.

Wheeler didn't sigh. She had the perpetual look of someone who had just finished sighing, however, and it deepened somewhat after this repetition. "She could sense the problem, which is more than any of you could manage, and she could nudge a bit of cooperation out of Dr. Laslow, bit by bit, but that was all. She needed someone with mnestic fortification to help, so she brought me in. I was able to see her, and I was able to see it, and I was able to determine that between the three of you there was already most of a plan in place."

"Which is what?" Laslow asked. "Because I've already forgotten."

"Me too," sighed Sinclair.

"Me three," Nobody agreed. "Mostly."

"I never knew," Wheeler admitted. "The price of being late to the party. All I know is where we need to go, and what I need to do when we get there."

"Which is where?" Laslow amended.

"The well," Nobody smiled.


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Wheeler knew her parts in this little drama. One had already been played, when she'd been summoned to Sloth's Pit and confirmed the nature of the threat they were facing. The next one was easy.

They were approaching the well.

"So, what did you do last week?" she asked the pataphysicist.

Laslow frowned. "Specifically?"

"No. Or yes. Pick one. What did you do in general? What did you do specifically? What did you do at all?"

The other woman looked upset. "I honestly don't understand this question," she said, and it had an air of untruth.

Wheeler felt a glint forming in her eyes. "Tell me one single thing, or even one single category of thing, which you did in the past seven days which isn't purely biological. Beyond the fact that you ate, drank, and slept, what did you do?"

Even with all that stalling, it took Laslow a moment to respond. "More fiction-jumping, I guess." That was her special talent, the reason she was the head of pataphysics in a town where everyone already lived fiction every moment of every day: Kimba Laslow was a reality bender, and through dint of great effort and research she could enter the worlds of creative works. Alone among her colleagues, she could exist on more than just the one narrative layer.

"You guess," Wheeler spat. "Ms. Laslow, let me tell you something. In my line of work, I can spend days, weeks, months or even years on a single project, let it consume my every waking moment, let it consume me, think of absolutely nothing else, and then have that entire experience stripped away by the nature of the beast. By the beast itself, in fact. And you know what? If I try, if I really try, I can trace the outline of the absence of it all. It's not pleasant. It's not precise. It takes very specific contextual triggers to make me even think of doing it — such as, for example, someone asking me what I did last week, which by the way you absolutely, positively must not do." Wasn't that the truth. "But under no circumstances, were I to produce a response to said question, would it contain the word 'guess'."

Kimba glared at her. "Maybe we're just built different. Maybe I like guessing. Maybe that's why I do fiction, and you do whatever it is you remember doing." She glanced at her two companions, who were marching along in silence. The well was just ahead, the boarded-up farmhouse looming beyond it.

Wheeler laughed. "Nobody likes guessing about their past, Ms. Laslow. So try again. Tell me: what did you do last week?"

She really did try to focus on it, this time. Wheeler could tell she was giving it her best shot, by the way her face screwed up in concentration and the way the invisible thing which blackened the horizon behind her flexed its miles-long feelers in obscene anticipation.

Laslow spoke the truth, at last: "I don't know."

Wheeler golf clapped. "There we go. The beginning of I-don't-knowledge. Now we can move forward. Why don't you know?"

Laslow didn't dare attempt a response. They were at the well. It was boarded up; it was boarded up, Wheeler knew, because it was a temporal sinkhole. That wasn't why they were here, Wheeler sensed, it was just another adjacent slice of Sloth's Pit weirdness. "You don't know that either. Well—"

Suddenly, Laslow fairly shouted: "The Narrative."

Wheeler narrowed her eyes. "Go on."

"The Narrative. Storytelling logic defines everything we do here, everything that's possible. Most of the senior staff have protagonistic energy, they either move the stories forward or the stories lag behind to wait for them. They're the momentum. And the rest of us either get swept along, or left behind. Stories don't wait for secondary…" She sighed. "…or tertiary characters. Which is what I am. Does this make sense?" She rubbed her temples. "Oh, god, I don't want this to make sense, but does this make sense: I don't know what I did last week because until it's important for me to have done something last week… I didn't?"

"Nope. That doesn't make any sense at all. That's ridiculous, quite frankly. Your life might be subject to narrative conceit, but your existence isn't. You pay taxes. You buy groceries. You get up to things, measurable, real things. But yes; on the other hand, absolutely yes. You have something of a multiple choice past, Ms. Laslow, for the reasons you've just described, and a multiple-choice past is anti-antimemetic. You'd think that would loop back around to just being memetic, just being memorable or even contagiously memorable, but no, it's something more. Something better. If, in a moment of crisis, it's important that you saw or thought or did something strange since the Narrative last took notice of you, well, your memories will be triggered, and you'll know what to do. Just in time."

"Just in time." Kimba shook her head. "I don't want to remember just in time. I want to remember now." This was making her sick to her stomach. "I don't want to wait for the trigger."

Wheeler raised her hand, which was suddenly containing a gun. She was frightfully good with suddenly having guns. She pointed the gun at Laslow. "I'm afraid you're rather too late for that. But! You had a plan for this, remember?" One finger on the trigger. "I'm going to shoot you in the face unless you do remember."


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There was a crazy woman who isn't there pointing a gun at her. Kimba was…

…confused. That woman is definitely not there, said a voice that might have been her internal monologue. That woman doesn't even exist. Was that the truth? It felt like the truth. She couldn't remember, in that moment, one single solitary thing about Marion Wheeler except for the fact that there was no Marion Wheeler. She was being menaced by a ghost, with another standing beside her. The voice was right.

"Hey," said Sinclair. "Uh, what… are we doing here, precisely?"

"Precisely?" Wheeler asked. "We are, precisely, dealing with the irksome question of Ms. Laslow's lost memory. Either she recognizes the problem, and the plan she made to correct it, or she takes a permanent nap. I don't think her invisible friend would be pleased to lose its host."

Kimba raised both hands in front of her, as if that would help. "I recognize the problem! I recognize the problem! I don't know why you're being such a bitch about it, but I definitely see the issue!"

"Do you?" Wheeler's finger was like iron against the trigger. "Because I don't think you do. I think that if you looked away for a second, just a second, you'd forget that I'm pointing a gun at your face. Prove me right, would you? Look away."

"How am I supposed to look away from a gun?"

Wheeler turned the gun sideways, as if considering her firing angle. "Because I'll shoot you if you don't."

Kimba looked away.

She was standing at the time well. That was curious. She wasn't sure why they'd come here in the first place, and you should leave, right now, go back where you came from and crack a good book but if it had something to do with time travel, it definitely didn't have anything to do with her. She turned to face her companions again. "Hey, wh—"

There was a woman pointing a gun at her face. A woman who didn't exist.

The woman wrenched the gun to one side, just for a split second. There was a loud BANG, and a bullet whizzed past Kimba's head. All in a rush, like magic, in the instant that she truly feared for her life she also recalled the plans she'd laid nearly a week ago, when laying plans had still been something of which she was capable.

She took off her labcoat, tore out the interior stitches, and removed a very thin folio. She struggled with the clasp. "Sorry," she muttered. "I'm having trouble… focusing."

"Of course you are," said Wheeler. "Everyone here who isn't me is having trouble focusing. Lucky all of you."

The folio was labelled: "The Colour Out of Space,"" by H.P. Lovecraft. Laslow stared at it, struggling to remember the next step. It had something to do with… something to do with…

"Don't shoot! I get it. Don't shoot." She pointed at Sinclair. "I need help focusing. A lot of help. I need you, all of you, to come into this story with me."

Nobody gestured at the mage. "Dr. Sinclair has all the focus you need. Isn't that right?"

Sinclair winced, and reached up to scratch at the empty space where her left eye had once been. She gasped when her fingers struck hard stone, and drew out what she found there. In the light, it sparkled with magical mischief. It was a core of oriykalkos, a solid chunk of magical foci. She hadn't seen it for months, not since it came crashing down out of the clear blue sky into the woods around Sloth's Pit. "Where the f…?!"

"From me," the nebulous Nobody explained. "I was able to pick up enough scraps of Dr. Laslow's plan to know you'd need it, so I went on a shopping trip to Site-01. Do you think that'll give you enough of a boost to widen the fiction-jumping effect?"

Wheeler interrupted. "You do think so. You thought so when we asked you, back at Site-87, two hours ago. Just nod, and say you'll do it."

Sinclair nodded groggily. "Sure. Okay. I'll do it. I guess?"

"Enough guessing." Wheeler gestured at the short story in Laslow's hand. "Action!"

Kimba turned the cover page and examined the text, heart racing. The gemstone in Sinclair's hand began thrumming with a soft purple light, and she closed her good eye. Kimba knew this story pretty well, and as she read, she realized she almost knew it off by heart. As if she'd been memorizing it. Of course I was memorizing it. That was the plan. This is just the mnemonic device. She closed her own eyes, and smiled in spite of the inexplicable danger.

"At least I picked one where the racism is only implicit," she said, and then she jumped.


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Or, rather, they jumped.

Nobody, who had once been Agent Alison Carol of Site-87, watched the only fractionally fictive world of Sloth's Pit melt away into the thoroughly unreal reality of the hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. There was still a farmhouse, dark and gloomy in the distance, and there was still a farm, though the crops which grew there were like nothing she had ever seen before. Twisted, blackened, oozing and crepuscular, a sense of presence hovering between and over them, nearly as powerful as the presence hovering over Laslow which only Carol and Wheeler could sense, and only Wheeler with her potent mnestic cocktail could actually see. There was, most importantly, still a well, and this one wasn't boarded up.

Go home, the voice whispered. Before it's too late. You don't even remember your part of the plan.

But I will, she thought, and when the voice came back she drowned it out in repetition.

"Now what?" Wheeler asked.

Laslow caught the antimemeticist's stony eyes down the slide of the gun, and smiled. "I don't know. This part of the plan isn't mine."

"Whose is it, then?"

"Nobody's."

A bullet purred past Carol's head, a hair's breadth away, and all her agent's training kicked in hard. Aha. She reached over Laslow's shoulders to thumb to the correct page, near the back. "You know what Lovecraft needed, most of all?" she asked.

"A healthy relationship with his mother?" Wheeler hazarded. "Less agoraphobia, and some critical race theory? The ability to write human dialogue?"

"Besides that." Carol placed her hands together, then drew them apart again; a phantom keyboard appeared in the air, and suddenly the text of "The Colour Out of Space" hung in the air above it like mist. She slapped at it, and it began to scroll.

It all began, old Ammi said, with the meteorite. Before that time there had been no wild legends at all since the witch trials, and even then these western woods were not feared half so much as the small island in the Miskatonic where the devil held court beside a curious stone altar older than the Indians.

"Uh," said Sinclair. "What the hell is that?"

"This is what I do," said Carol. "This is why I'm part of the plan."

These were not haunted woods, and their fantastic dusk was never terrible till the strange days. Then there had that white noontide cloud, that string of explosions in the air

The explosions were deafening, and they each fell to their knees — except Wheeler, who kept her feet with surprising grace for her age and status.

and that pillar of smoke from the valley far in the wood.

The world shuddered, and a plume of dirt was blasted up around them as the meteorite smacked into the ground beside the well. They were showered in soil, and staggered back, and as the dust cleared they saw…

…a hole, thrumming with energy too painful to observe, a metallic messenger from the space between spaces embedded in the dying earth. There was something happening in the well; the sky was clouding over, and the farmstead was steadily darkening, but they could see the cobbled interior of that cursed stone throat as plain as day. They all knew the story, so they tried not to look.

Carol began to type. Her edits were judicious.

It all began, old Ammi said, with the meteorite. Before that time there had been no wild legends at all since the witch trials, and even then these western woods were not feared half so much as the small island in the Miskatonic where the devil held court beside a curious stone altar older than the Indians. The farms and fields outside Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin were already rich and fertile ground for narrative fuckery, but the fuckery to come was far fuckier still.

The keyboard sparked violently, and disappeared; altering this ages-old prose with powers meant for the pseudoreality of her home dimension was almost more than Carol could manage. This was the only edit she would be permitted.

But it was enough. Suddenly, abruptly, reality snapped back. The well and the farmhouse from Lovecraft's tale were replaced with the well and the farmhouse they'd trekked to together, boards and all. The scar in the soil, and its pulsating payload, remained. They had left the narrative, and re-entered the domain of the Narrative. Carol could sense it all around them, and drank in the renewed sense of power.

"What did you just do?" Laslow dropped the manuscript, and clutched her head. "Oh, god, did you just bring it home?! Was that our plan?!"

Sinclair staggered to the edge of the pit, which was rapidly filling in with an avalanche of blackening soil, and stared at Carol. "How did you…?"

"I'm a Nobody," Carol explained, thumbing the pages while Laslow's hands shook madly. "And I'm a reality bender. You can call me The Narrator, if you like, but in this context… like I said, I'm what Lovecraft really needed all along. I'm the Editor."


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Wheeler watched the antimemetic narritovore writhing like a bed of snakes, branching out in all directions from the shaking body of Kimba Laslow, blotting out the sun with its gleaming oil-black feelers, leeching and bleaching the light from the sky. "Dr. Sinclair?" she called. "The well, if you would."

Sinclair stared at her. "If I would what?"

"You know the story!" The entity was growing at an exponential rate. "Burn the boards, drain the water, and let out the colour!"

Sinclair's eyes widened further. "Are you insane?"

"No," Wheeler stated flatly, eyes still fixed on the expanding black horizon which only she could see. "I'm written to be saner than all the rest, and this was the part of the plan I actually understood. Now do it."

"INFERNUS!" the mage cried out, and none of them turned to look at her because instead they watched the boards vanish in a sudden gout of intense flame. Once the last few sparks evaporated into the superheated air, then they looked at Sinclair; she was standing in a T-pose, a look of contentment on her ruddy face. "Ooh, that felt good." She was stretching her arms out as far as they would go, and hopping up and down on the tips of her toes. "It's nice to flex, now and then."

It was a matter of a few sigils and incantations to rid the font of its murky water. Sinclair was clearly going through the motions; even with the core of oriykalkos in her hand, she was a master mage with near-crippling amnesia. Wheeler felt it nagging at the corners of even her steel-trap mind, and knew they were running out of time. If something were to happen, it was going to happen now.

It happened now.

A blinding, pulsing wall of non-light soared over the lip of the well, a rippling skein of something which was neither red nor orange nor yellow nor green nor blue nor indigo nor violet nor black nor white nor grey but that final, other colour which stood apart from all the rest (Wheeler didn't know it, but Nobody was already calling it 'Octarine' in her head), the shade of madness, a tone so indescribable it was essentially extranarrative. An antimemetic, pataphysical colour.

The entity wrapped its tendrils around the impossible prismatic column, greedily devouring the eldritch energy, gleaming and coruscating and annihilating its own camouflage.

"Holy FUCKING SHIT," breathed Sinclair, and Wheeler knew she could finally see it too. It had taken in too much of the colour out of space, and had been transformed into something simultaneously better and worse; even more inconceivable, even more powerful, but, at long last, visible to the others.

Laslow was too shocked to speak. Carol clapped her hands together, produced her keyboard and the wall of text again, and resumed her doomscrolling. The thing had lost its focus on her, and she had resultantly regained some of hers. Like Wheeler, she too could now see the contours of the plan. And the next step was hers to take.

I suppose the thing Ammi described would be called a gas, but this gas obeyed the laws that are not of our cosmos. This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space — a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes.

The beast between the narrative layers engulfed the sky, covering them in a shimmering dome of black as the colour poured out of the well and hammered through it like an inverted waterfall. It was singing — the entity and the colour both, as one.

Carol began typing again.

I suppose the thing Ammi described would be called a gas, and though unnatural in the extreme it was, like all gases, subject to certain laws laid down in ancient times by neither gods nor men, but nature itself.

Nobody raised an eyebrow at Sinclair. Sinclair considered the text very carefully, then grinned in the eerie deadlight. She clutched the fragment of oriykalkos in one white-knuckled fist, raised it to where she knew the heavens to be, and spoke:

"INFERNUS SEPULCHRUM!"

The Lovecraftian gas ignited in an instant, and the antimemetic monster burst into brilliant flame. The sky burned and warped and tore like a sheet of incinerating satin, and the sparks were like dying stars and the scream was like a whisper in the dark and the world they knew emerged again through a haze of falling ash, and then…

…and then, they remembered.

"Oh," moaned Laslow, prostrate on the ground, clutching her temples. "Oh, hell, ugh."

Sinclair dropped the oriykalkos core. It smoked and smouldered on the dusty, blasted soil where there had been grass just moments prior. There was a gemstone-shaped burn in the palm of her hand. She swore under her breath, and examined the divot in the ground where the crater had been. There was no sign of the meteorite; the fire had burned it away, too.

Wheeler climbed up onto the edge of the well, and looked down. There was no water; there never had been. "What do you think?" she asked Carol, eyebrow arched.

Carol shrugged. "Stories create possibilities," she ventured. "It surely can't hurt."

Wheeler stepped over the edge, and disappeared.


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The sense of narrative urgency was gone as they strolled back to Site-87, and Sinclair felt like a warm wet facecloth had been lifted off her eyes. She could see clearly, think clearly, for the first time in… how long?"

"How long?" she asked.

Nobody shrugged. "At least a week. I noticed you all acting squirrelly, forgetting things, important things. Getting worse and worse at your jobs. I knew something was eating away at you, and I was able to trace it to its origin. You were all under an antimemetic blanket, but Dr. Laslow was definitely the worst… and definitely where it started. She'd been making frantic plans, scribbling notes, and I almost couldn't make sense of it." She smiled grimly. "I had to find someone smarter than me, someone who could see what the shape of a plan looked like in the absence of the plan itself."

"Wheeler," Sinclair nodded, though the word hurt her head, like brambles slipping between her fingers. "You told us about Wheeler. Who told you…" She stopped herself short. She had a feeling that the answer to that question was not something she wanted to hear. "And you also needed her to tell you what was happening. Because she can see antimemetic entities. Can? Could?" She sighed.

Nobody nodded. "She confirmed what I suspected. Whatever that thing was, it ate memories. Stories. It got suckered into Sloth's Pit, the world's biggest narrative banquet, then piggybacked on our friend here to sate its richer tastes."

"My narrative jumping," the pataphysicist groaned. "It glommed onto me because of my narrative jumping. It was letting me lead it from story to story… no, it was leading me, like a puppet, and feasting on what it found there. It even ate all my memories of the past year… but that's how I planned to stop it. Poisoning…" She suddenly felt giddy. "Poisoning the well! Ha."

Sinclair stopped walking. "Wait a second. If Wheeler has perfect mnestic recall, why did we not just tell her the entire plan?"

"Three reasons," Nobody responded. "First, we only barely understood it ourselves. She heard enough to tell us it seemed sound, but not enough to make it work on her own. Second, Unspoken Plan Guarantee. If we told her the whole thing, laid it all out, it would fail. Clever plans only work in saturated narrative environments when nobody's in on the whole thing." She smirked at her own accidental wordplay. "Wheeler knew just enough to keep us on track; if we hadn't had her, I think we'd all have gotten confused and wandered off."

"And third?" Sinclair asked.

"I forget."

They stared at her. She grinned. "Just kidding. Third: Wheeler was, herself, a pocket of malignant narrative. I couldn't be sure Sloth's Pit would let her stick around to the end."

Laslow was obviously confused. "I don't… I'm…" She shook her head. "Who the hell is Wheeler?"

Sinclair frowned. She suddenly wasn't sure what the answer was anymore. She looked at Nobody.

Nobody shrugged.


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It had taken a tidy bit of editing, to be sure, and a very discerning eye for the right book. The Librarians had helped her find one, on the condition that she bring the tome back in one piece. Books from that particular dimension — or, rather, that particular narrative layer — were hard to come by, and they were loathe to loan them out for experimental purposes. A book like this had such potent power over reality that in the wrong hands, its tactical use could be disastrous.

Carol's hands were, of course, the right hands, and they released the tome back to where it belonged. She spared, just for a moment, a thought for its erstwhile protagonist and the doppelganger she'd edited into the world of Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin. Where had the time well taken her? Had she winked out of existence like the pataphysical construct she was, or had she been given some form of life by her brief return to the limelight?

Carol nodded at the book, a respectful salute for a job well done, and left the copy of There Is No Antimemetics Division on the shelf where she'd found it.

Hub

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