The Rube Suit was, of course, created by an Alpha, whose name was Delonvi. Although he designed and constructed it, many of its parts were made by adherents of other giants. A Mabbite named Fethergatch built the box, made it able to hold items of any shape or size and carry them safely through the worlds. The suit required over eleven thousand chunks of beryl, diligently assembled and donated by Zillots. The thin wooden veneer was steam-molded by Esquibeth's daughter, a devotee of Spriggan who retained her mother's affinity with water. Gwendolyn had the strongest ability to shift between worlds, and she asked Cosma to share that blessing with the suit. Alchemy was necessary to merge the parts and transform them into a working whole, and it was widely suspected that Mezoriligahn the Ti'ite inflicted some of zir well-known sense of humor into the process. Abstrixia gave it the gift of speech, and Hispikulia the Lemming—cousin of the more famous Hispikulus—gave it the ability to walk in any terrain, and chronicled the process of its invention and release.
Truly, all the giants were involved. While the contributions of the Humbabans and Potians were often considered lesser, they were no less essential; the safety and comfort of the Glitch in the suit was crucial, and Pot made sure the foods carried in it stayed fresh and tasty. But it is with the Lemmings, and Hispikulia in particular, that this tale is concerned.
This is her story, and the story of the shadow-world beyond Ur.
Hispikulia grew up in the shadow of her cousin, although they were born on the same day to twin sisters. He grew to be quite famous for his bold explorations, and she was more focused on the archival aspects of service to Lem. What was the point, she thought, of visiting exotic lands and having grand adventures, if nobody remembered them? So Hispikulus traveled the world and came home to tell his stories, and Hispikulia wrote them down to share the beauty and wonder of far lands with everyone.
When her cousin was traveling, she kept herself busy working for Alphas, who were, as a rule, incredibly creative but prone to forgetting to document their inventions. As a result, many grand and wonderful tools were rendered useless when their inventors moved along to other interests, or the projects lost funding. Hispikulia took on the task of writing descriptions and instructions, so that people would know how and when to use them, and how to fix them when they wore down or broke.
"What's what?" He looked up from his workbench, where he was trying to attach a broken Tinkertool to a cluster of crystals. Hispikulia'd learned to never ask him about anything unfinished; it resulted in long, rambling lectures on the differences between planks and boards, or rants bemoaning the lack of Shiny Element in their neighborhood. Which there wasn't, except that he kept using it up. "Oh, that. I call it an Ice-Mixing Multi-Ingredient Party Drink-Maker. The Friends were pestering me to find something to do with all that hooch."
Hispikulia made some notes in her ubiquitous notebook. Delonvi was a terrific inventor; not so good at naming things. The chickens in his yard were named Grain, Grainy, and More Grain. (He had no piggies. They kept dying, so now when he hatched piggies, Hispikulia stole them away and released them into the forest. He never noticed.)
"What does it do?" Just because he'd called it a drink-maker didn't mean it made drinks.
"It makes drinks. With ice. Now leave me alone; I'm trying to align these crystals along the edges of the blades."
She looked around the table—usually, he had some kind of notes, if only partial ones. Sure enough, there on the wrapper of a birch candy, she found a partial recipe.
Lem, on, milk, ice, XXX. Having some experience with Delonvi's notes, and recognizing the underline as his way of marking a doubled measure, she gathered up a lemon, which she squeezed into the canister, a small onion, which she removed the skin from before dropping it in. She poured in two small jars of butterfly milk, two handfuls of ice, and the contents of a jug of hooch.
It didn't look appealing, but she'd seen less plausible mixes turn into tasty foods. She put the cap on it and shook it a bit; she heard crunching as something in the internal mechanism crushed the ice. She shook a while long, until it sounded slushy instead of rattling around.
She removed the lid and poured the resulting drink into a glass Delonvi had made from a triangle beaker. (The Friends weren't the only ones with an abundance of hooch.) The drink was amazing! Lifted the spirits, restored the body and inspired the mind all at once!
"You've outdone yourself, Delonvi," she told him.
"Eh? What? Oh, that. Glad you like it. Made out of tin. Give the Zillots something to do with all that metal. Probably should give it to a Potian, see what uses they can come up with for it." Delonvi turned back to his work, obviously bored with the completed invention.
Hispikulia drew and annotated the shape of the finished device and as many of its internal parts as she could see, weighed it to see how much tin was required for its making, and gathered up as many of his notes that she could find as seemed to relate to it. Since Del was obviously going to be busy for a while, she wrangled herself an invite to a party of Friends. She laid out the device, a lemon, an onion, two portions of ice, two portions of milk, and a bottle of hooch on a flat rock and invited them to try it.
The Creamy Martini was very popular, and the Friends told her she was welcome to bring Delonvi's experiments around anytime. And they'd be talking to some Potians as soon as they got tired of this drink, which, given the number of them who ran off to harvest cherries and activate their fruit-changing machines, might be a while. Hispikulia returned home, her random kindness for the day complete.
Eb was a pale shadow of Ur, a land less-imagined than the rich and vibrant world of Ur. While its regions mirrored those of Ur, they were blighted and dark, and had not the fertile wealth of Ur. Eb had no quoins of any sort. No street spirits. Paper trees were the only trees, and chickens and the useless, annoying wrizzards the only animals. Rocks and ice were plentiful, but almost nothing could be done with them. No sunrise began the new day, and no moon hung over the mountain peaks. The places where the shrines existed in Ur held only pools of plain water, slowly swirling with Beigien motion. There was one food in Eb that the glitchen hadn't seen before… the inedible woody mushrooms dripped a sweet, tasty syrup.
With food so scarce and so few resources, most glitchen wandered around pooped, unable to jump or even walk quickly. For a long, long while, many glitchen just stood where they found themselves, waiting for change that never happened. None of them knew how long they had been in Eb, not even how many ages had passed since they arrived. Very little ever changed in Eb.
Eb was crowded, dim, and unhappy. Hispikulia worked tirelessly to change that.
First, she made a full accounting of all the resources of this limited, murky world. It was dreary work, but most Lemmings enjoy list-making, and Hispikulia was no exception; as she made extensive notes, her mood lifted, and she was able to encourage others.
Paper chickens grain syrup, she wrote. Water ice metal sparkly beryl dullite. She tried to think of what could be made with only those materials. She couldn't think of much, but she was sure Delonvi could, so she went to find him.
He, like most glitchen, had succumbed to the doldrums, but she roused him by giving him grain to eat and encouraged him to pet a few trees and squeeze a few chickens until he was able to concentrate again.
"What can be made with only these resources?" she asked.
"Nothing useful," he started to say. "Except maybe the Ti'ites know how to work with raw elements." They had a few tools, those that glitchen had been carrying when their ages ended. Delonvi had one of the few Tinkertools in all of Eb. Hispikulia had a grinder she'd always kept around because Delonvi kept dropping his to make space for new inventions.
He continued, "If someone has a smelter, we could make ingots, and then… then I could make tools again…" he trailed off, started poking through the meager collection of scraps that made up his workshop here. Hispikulia ran off to find a smelter, knowing that if Delonvi felt like tinkering, there'd be no stopping his creativity, and soon Eb would be overflowing with tools of all sorts.
Just as Delonvi and his apprentice Alphas started producing scrapers, grinders, and watering cans, not bothering with frying pans or grills since there was nothing to be cooked with them, a miraculous change came to Eb. At the end of the eleventh age, after each giant had ruled an entire era, the springs of Eb started to bubble and swirl. The water was as bland and tasteless as ever, but items came spilling forth from the depths.
Sparkly rocks, which they had plenty of. Seasoned beans, which would not grow in Eb's tiny harsh patches. Essences of flowers, which were mostly useless to them; there were few skills to be studied in Eb. Meat—stacks and stacks of meat, for which there was much rejoicing.
The materials that had been donated to shrines throughout the ages started to wash up on the shores of the springs of Eb. The glitchen rejoiced.
Delonvi started to make frying pan and grills, and as soon as planks were donated, knives and board, and shovels, and picks. The Mabbites and Potians were ecstatic to be busy again.
The Humbabans were sad; they did love the chickens, and squeezed them often, and named and renamed them, but they missed the diverse animal life of Ur. They even tried to pet the wrizzards, but usually just got bitten. While seasoned eggs sometimes rose to the surface of the springs, no amount of incubating would make most of them hatch; no piglets or caterpillars could live in Eb.
A Humbaban and Ti'ite worked together to merge the two kinds of eggs that would not hatch, and thus were the batterflies created. Hispikulia recorded the procedure… one piggy egg, one butterfly egg, eleven cups of water, 139 red elements, 69 green elements, 19 blue elements; simmer in an awesome pot until the eggs fused together into a single dark-brown blotchy egg. Ask a nearby chicken to incubate it, and it'd soon hatch into a fierce baby slug, a grumbling creature (poke at own risk! They bite!) that needed more water to grow into a batterfly. They flew away, untameable, hungry for all the flavors that Eb lacked.
They also produced guano. As unpalatable a substance as it was, the Ebian glitchen were starved for variety. They tilled the ground with it, although the only crop seeds they had were those that were donated, and waited for the meager harvests. They started to cook with it… guano, grain and water made a thick, bitter gruel; adding birch syrup made it tolerable, and it was more filling than anything else native to Eb.
Now that the pools of water showed a direct connection to Ur, the glitchen tried to return. They dove into the springs, swimming down and down into the shadowed depths, but never found an end, nor a way to cross whatever veil separated Eb from Ur. Finding a way home became an obsession among the glitchen.
Grendalinians, of course, insisted the way back would obviously be found in the pools, as that was the only true connection known. Cosmapolitans claimed that path was one-way only, and the way back would be upward and outward, through the sky; they need only follow the batterflies. Zillots said that the rocks united the two worlds; those were the true path. Humbabans were convinced the chickens were important, as the only living beings known to grow and thrive in both realms.
The arguments probably would've started a war, if anyone had enough energy for long-term conflicts. As it was, many glitchen fell into despair.
Not Hispikulia. She recorded all the theories, noted all the conflicts, and reminded the other glitchen what had been tried before. As a Lemming, she was convinced that all roads are equally valuable, all places equally worthy of exploration, and all theories worthy of consideration, if not quite as equally.
And trade they did. Glitchen would harvest the donations that washed up in a spring, stock the suit with valuables, and leap into a pool with a flash of Sparkle Powder to pierce a hole in the veil between worlds. They brought tools and gems and essences, all plentiful in Eb as the donations washed ashore, and traded for the much more scarce vegetables and spices and wood and eggs. A few very crafty glitchen made dolls from paper and fabric, but most lacked those skills.
They stockpiled their goods in a yard in the brightest part of Eb, so that as each suit-wearer was ready for a trip, no time was lost finding something to trade. But the wrizzards kept getting gnawing their way through the fence, nibbling the foods and scratching up the tools, and had to be chased off. They tried lining the fence with the same mix of beryl and wooden veneer that protected the suit, and the space around the yard shifted between the worlds a bit. Sometimes, a glitch from Ur would wander in, chase off wrizzards, and wander away; the Ebians shouted and waved frantically when this happened, but the living glitchen never saw the ghosts.
Powering the suit was expensive. It ran on a blend of Sparkle Powder and Krazy Salts and it needed 11 Draughts of Giant Amicability to activate it for a trip to a single street in Ur. Nobody minded… all the glitchen were thrilled to have a purpose again, and with guano, they could grow herbs; grain hooch was cheap and plentiful. Glitchen who had any affinity for machinery set their craftybots to brewing potions, and lined up to take a turn wearing the suit, a chance to see a bit of their long-lost homeland.
The suit didn't allow much conversation. The wearer couldn't chat with their chosen exchange partner; the words of the trade had been pre-arranged and couldn't be changed, except for the names of the materials in the box, and the desired swap. The glitch inside could only see Ur dimly… but those few moments were better than nothing.
Glitchen who'd worn the suit returned to Eb with tears of joy in their eyes.
"Butterflies! I saw real butterflies, blue and fluttering through the spice plants. Someone milked one right in front of me!"
"I traded a tinkertool for a jellisac! Quick, get it to the Grendalinians; see if they can get this one to take root and grow!"
"I walked the length of Groddle Forest Junction and watched a blue-skinned glitch with antlers fetch all the quoins around Friendly's shrine! The sharding was magnificent!"
Hispikulia wrote it all down. She recorded every trade, successful or not. She knew of other projects to maintain some contact with Ur: the Alphas who made keys for the Mabbites to stash under traps in the Ancestral Lands that were most similar to Eb's vast wastelands, the distribution of Sparkle Powder to allow Ebians to see little flashes of Ur, the lost glitchen who hovered in the dark, hidden places where only a few living glitchen would ever see them, and then only as ghosts. She knew when other Lemmings built Hell, to prevent more glitchen from being forced into Eb when they died. But those were not her project, and she left the details to other Lemmings. Hispikulia recorded the comings and going of the Rube Suit of the Twelfth Age.
Eleven ages had been ruled by the sleeping giants, one age for each giant. There were arguments about the order of the rulership… while nobody believed Humbaba created piggies and chickens before there were streets, the Zillots, Lemmings, Cosmapolitans and Ti'ites had an ongoing debate about which giant's influence manifested first.
Hispikulia didn't care. As a Lemming, she was required by dogma to insist that of course Lem's locations and learning came first, but she was privately inclined to believe that either the skies or the numbers were likely to be earlier. But nobody asked her what she personally thought; she was too busy recording what happened to discuss what it meant.
What happened was: the twelfth age was not ruled by any giant. The rook started to overtake it. Rook attacks happened frequently, and items used to prime the shrines and fight them off didn't trickle through to Eb. The resources of Ur were slowly being lost to the dark birds, which were growing in power. Their cries and claws started to wake the giants from their long sleep, and as they started to stir, the wonders of Ur began to fade; the lands and glitchen that existed only in the minds of the sleeping giants would cease to exist when they awoke.
Eb wobbled, but only a bit; Eb was only partially imagined by the giants. The foundations of Ur shook and started to distort and break up. New regions appeared; some streets without color, some streets with strange topography, some streets with long-lost relics that flickered into the present for anyone to grab. Lem grew distant from the glitchen of Ur, granting favor to Completionists of the new regions erratically, and sometimes not at all. Humbaba's personal pets escaped her temples and flitted around Ur on their spinning tails. Pot changed the very nature of cooking, granting new recipes and changing the chemistry so that entirely different ingredients were needed for many old favorites. A hectic sense of exploration, a rush to accomplish tasks and quests, settled over Ur and held the glitchen in thrall.
Donations became erratic. The ghosts who fought their way through to the darkest corners of Ur reported what they saw: glitchen frantically building towers, collecting gemstones, blending stacks of Sno Cones and handing them out to strangers. The very glitchiness of all the activities warmed their hearts; shy glitchen threw parties and dozens showed up to say hi. But it was sad that this only happened with the end of Ur looming close.
The shrines received fewer donations, and those that still occurred, were strange. Many more gems than before. Musicboxes, including rare ones. Ebian glitchen wept to the tune of Goodnight Groddle. They found many essences and potions. Almost no sparkly rock; the Ebians were happy they had plenty of stones.
Donations of crops and seeds, formerly common donations from young inexperienced glitchen, dropped to almost nothing. With no piggies to make plops, they traveled in the Rube Suit again and again, trying to collect what they needed for their gardens, foods to cook with so they wouldn't have to go back to living on Sweetened Noxious Gruel.
As the final hours approached, another miracle happened in Eb. Humbaba sent some of her creatures across the veil; piggies and butterflies poured through the shadows between the trees and out of caves in the mountains. The Ebians were overwhelmed by the sight of the beloved animals, and set to petting, massaging and singing to them.
Delonvi sent a note to Hispikulia, asking her to visit him in the shop in his backyard. He'd never asked for company before, and she wondered what was wrong. She rushed to reach him, arriving a bit out of breath, her notes and quills all askew. He didn't seem to be in any distress; he smiled at her.
"You've never worn the suit, have you?"
"Me? No, I've been too busy. Recording trades, you know. We need to keep track of what we have, what we need."
"Not anymore we don't. Pretty soon, there won't be much coming from Ur. Maybe nothing more at all. No place to walk in that suit."
Hispikulia's lip quivered at that. The forests of Groddle, the caverns of Ilmenskie, the cliffs of Kloro, the snowy peaks of Nottis… all gone, all too soon.
Delonvi didn't look sad though. He wouldn't, she thought. All he's ever needed was in his workshop. It's the Lemmings who will miss Ur the most, she realized. (In these final hours, Hispikulia could perhaps be forgiven a bit of short-sighted dogma.)
Delonvi said to her, "Put it on."
"What? No, I… it's not my turn."
"It most certainly is. If not you, who?"
Hispikulia pointed wordlessly at the line of glitchen in his yard, waiting for a chance to visit Ur one last time. There were fewer than usual—many glitchen had left their tasks and goals to pet and nibble piggies—but the line was never short.
"Them? Bah. They know nothing. Deserve nothing. It's been nice to have glitchen to test all the bugs in the suit, but I didn't make it for them."
"You didn't?" she said blankly, knowing as the words left her that of course he hadn't. She never knew why he made things, but it wasn't because of all the glitchen made happy from his inventions.
"No, m'dear. I made it for you."
"For… for me?"
"You and that crazy cousin of yours, always chattering on about the statues in Ix, the salmen in Jal, the sloth-trees in Grumbla… made me nostalgic, it did, and if I felt like that, when I never cared to visit anywhere that didn't have a Tinkertool and a pile of ingots, you must be really hurting. So I made you a suit."
"Me. Made me a suit?" she said, voice trailing off with wonder.
"Yes, and now Ur is ending, and you haven't used it even once! Get suited up, girl!"
Startled, she jumped to obey before she thought of what she was doing. She climbed inside the heavy wood-and-stone device, oiling its joints with Draughts of Giant Amicability as she'd helped others do so many times, and watched the tiny leaves sprout, showing Spriggan's blessing of the wood. She poured powder and salts into the giant helmet that would let her breathe in Ur. She opened the box…
Delonvi threw in a handful of packets, probably a mix of foods and powders. She felt a pang of panic for not recording exactly what was being carried—but soon, it wouldn't matter, she told herself.
He knocked on the helmet, and she turned to him as he spoke. "Pick up some vegetables if you can. I miss a good slaw now and then." Then he winked at her, and pushed her into a nearby pool.
She drifted through the murky water, wondering why she'd never been here before. (Because her cousin was the explorer, she reminded herself. She had devoted herself to recording events, not experiencing them directly.) The currents shifted around her and pulled at her, drawing her down through swirling colors, into a vortex where she could see Ur dimly in reverse, as if through a dark mirror. She wobbled her head to activate the suit—a flash of chaotic sparkles surrounded her, and she was drawn to a street sign, pulled through by its strange magnetism…
Aranna. She was in Aranna, in the foothills of the mountains where she'd grown up. She wanted to weep for the beauty of the trees. A fruit tree! She hadn't seen one of those in… many long, long years. She stood on the rocky outcropping, barely able to move, knowing the discordant tones of the suit's presence would soon summon a nearby glitch.
She hoped there was time. Each of the giants had spoken recently, speaking of love and blessings for all the glitchen and the wonders of Ur. (Well, not Tii so much. But Tii showed its love in odd ways; that the game tickets still worked was a sign of Tii's continuing delight in its glitchen followers.) She knew she had only minutes, perhaps time to make one last trade.
There! A glitch rushed up to her, a girl with greenish hair wearing the robe of an Alpha. She must know, Hispikulia thought; she must realize how little time there is left. Hispikulia placed the first packet—a Naraka Flame Rub—into the trade-slot, and glanced at the bags the glitch carried… she had cabbages with her! Hispikulia was overjoyed, and keyed the code for cabbages into the "offer" side.
The Suit did the rest. Ghost-glitchen could not speak in Ur, but The Rube could, a few simple phrases that allowed the trade between the worlds to continue. The living glitch accepted the trade—Hispikulia had no idea why; she certainly wouldn't have time to eat it, much less blend it with something else to make another food. But she did accept it, and Hispikulia tapped her heels in joy at making the final trade in Ur, just as the melody of Goodnight Groddle swept over the land.