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Tiger, Tiger

Chapter Text

Another possible world. A world that could be brought about.

 


 

 

"I liked the idea you had that the Sun Snatcher can only eat collapsed suns in unclaimed systems," said Ted. "That was pretty cool - actually, I hadn't even realised that, in all of twenty-five volumes, he'd never been seen eating a single non-neutron star!"

"I know, right?" said James. He leaned forward on the cool steel of the meeting-room table. "But actually, I wasn't the one who first realised that when we were brainstorming. Guess who it was?"

Ted leaned forward, too, and cupped his ear to listen.

"It was Whitney!"

"Wait, who - oh!" Ted said. He tutted at himself. "See, now; she's always just been Arielle to me."

"Mhm," said James, beginning an awkward lull in the conversation.

"So - how are those doctors treating you, son?" Ted murmured. "Are you well?"

"Well.."

"Ted and April have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia", said Dr. Emily. "That means they -"

"I knew things about paranoid schizophrenia." James nodded fervently. "There was an entry for it on the info-databases at home."

"That's good. But it's part of my job to explain to you what delusional systems are; what shared psychotic disorder is."

"That's fine."

After she had explained, James had wanted to say to Dr. Emily that that was pretty interesting information, but that he couldn't see how it would come in all that helpful for being able to talk to Ted and April without it turning into this big scary thing.

Instead, he'd said he knew it was a good and necessary thing to have a big scary talk with Ted and April some day. But that day would have to wait until he'd finished 'The Making of Brigsby Bear', because interviews were rolling for it next Tuesday at the Crosslake Minimum Security.

Dr. Emily hadn't said anything. But Ted seemed to understand when James now explained what he and Emily had talked about at their last counselling session.

"Teddy bear stuff, now, I know that's not real," said Ted, palms open on the table. "I know the difference between a story and real life. I don't think I'm completely insane." He glanced at the ceiling. "Of course, they don't let me wear my Sunday best nowadays -" James noticed his ironed, creaseless institutional fabric "- but you know I always keep clean and eat my vegetables."

Ted began to fish about for something in a trouser pocket. "Look.." Opening his hand, he revealed a small, laminated circle of paper. "Look at this." A tiny yellow star, inside. "I get one of these for making my bed. Two for sweeping my corridors." He fanned out more star tokens with his thumb. "And if I'm an extra good boy, I get three at the end of the week."

"Ah, okay," said James. How Ted felt about all this seemed mysterious. In Brigsby, several main characters had been in several kinds of prisons at several different points in the timeline. Usually they'd been really sad and angry about it. But James wasn't sure any more what the way things went in Brigsby counted for when it came to Ted.

"They don't count for anything outside of this place, of course," Ted continued. "They're pretend money. ..Still - if I weren't doing life, then if I got enough of them I might be able to go on parole."

This teaching point reassured James. He'd wait patiently for the lesson that was about to be delivered. Typical Dad - typical Ted stuff.

"Are you going to do any more stories in the Brigsby Universe?" Ted asked, instead.

James blinked. "Um. ... Sometimes I think I'd like to - but, at the same time, I'm not sure there's anywhere else a sequel could really go.."

"Mmhm," nodded Ted. "You feel that way, too?"

"I do," James nodded tentatively. "Yes."

"Then.." Ted leaned forward. "Is it alright if I tell you something very serious, about Brigsby.."

A kind of faint shadow seemed to come over him, now. "Sure - go ahead," same James. Something like tumbleweed in the desert, at dusk.

Ted swallowed, and fixed his eyes on him. "The real Brigsby Universe is the Real World. ..The real Sun Snatcher is the Monster."

James nodded slowly.

"Of course, I was part of the Real World before I developed mental health issues. In my memory, there's toys, and games - for instance, a toy tiger - friends - that kind of stuff."

Dad was saying something true. And dark shadows ringed his eyes - at 'home', of course, they kept to their strict bedtime schedules; but maybe now he wasn't sleeping well?

"When I was a grown-up, I realised that there may be no hope of getting back, for me. Being in the real world is a kind of highly mathematical consciousness."

It was true, and yet it James found it so unsettling - why?

"But your April is a genius, anyway. She's the closest thing. But maybe she could help someone else become real."

It was a terrible distortion of a glimmer of what Ted needed to know, James saw. He hadn't realised - let himself realise - that Dad's sickness could be so subtle.

"She's too good for me; she always was," Ted said, eyes on the locked door on the far side of the room. "She taught me how to become a man and put away my childish things."

A pause began, and continued; James wondered whether to say something, what he should - "She deserved better," Ted said.

"I digress." He looked down at bitten nails. (He never used to bite them.) "So, anyway, I met her in that church - you know, standing under the godlight down those dark stained-glass windows - and I heard her talking about the Fischer-Griess Monster group.. that was it; I was starstruck right then. Totally supernova." He chuckled.

Yes. James had heard this story more than once before.

"She's never been a touchy-feely person, as you know, but she really wanted kids. So, we did well together. I'd say she isn't worldly, but that.. might be misinterpreted. Other-worldly is maybe better."

But in the old days, before James became a Pope (as Dad - both Dads, actually - put it), they'd told him she'd been talking about her favourite games to play when she was a child at birthday parties.

And every year there was a Brigsby Birthday Special, and every year they played Charades.

"And gosh, that reminds me of when I tried to pitch my first show, back in seventy-nine," Ted continued. 'Terrence's Extraterrestrial Telescope'." He squinted through a frame his fingers made. "..'Too weird', they said. Stick to toys, I guess they meant."

James nodded.

"I'm not going on too much, am I?"

James shook his head, and swallowed.

"Okay, well - April told me it wasn't a tiger I was looking for; it was fire.. foxfire; light in darkness. Erm - this kind of poetic thing, called 'fearful symmetry'."

James, watch the grazerbugs, Ted would tell him when they'd go walking in the desert at night for their weekly exercise. Their glowing rectoskeletons will guide us.

"Old Terrence, though, he paved the way," Ted chuckled bitterly.

"We told you that the air takes over people's bodies so that I wouldn't lose sight of you in my fake world. The idea that it's toxic, you see, is half the truth." He shook his head, as if telling some kind of nostalgic anecdote. "But you're not allowed to do that, here.. Half a truth can never destroy a whole fake."

James flashed recognition. "What they said about the wizzle quantix - those poor wizzles.."

"Those darn fake wizzles, huh?" Ted smiled, and James paused, for a few seconds, in silence. Ted blinked his bloodshot, weary eyes.

They both glanced away and up at the wall. The big hand said they didn't have much time left.

Ted swallowed. "James.."

With a tentative hand Ted reached out over the table and cupped James' cheek.

"Your Grampa Thee.. it was your Grampa Thee who put the Monster inside me." James' heartbeat quickened, apprehensively. "It pushed me into this whole fake world." There was a sudden nervous urgency in Ted's voice. "He didn't take it out."

His voice sent James straight back to the police cars in the desert night, but James let him continue.

"When they found you, see, they, ah, thought I had let the Monster win." His ringfinger twitched on a dimple: an arrested motion.

"But you know I never did, James. Not ever." On his face, closer now, James could see the lines, and his irises, diamond-hard around the dilated pupils. His lips parted, trembling -

Closed. The hand fell away, as did the dark-glasses-wearing guard's hand from his earpiece. "You -" said Ted, blinking and smoothing out the lines "- you want to know why the Vansmithe turned out to be ju-ust six?"

He cleared his throat. "Because not every group is a subquotient of the Monster. Six groups exist outside of it. They're called the pariah groups."

"Those aren't.. they aren't the six secret bandith clans hidden in the twenty systems of the Misty Sector, are they?" James said. "'Lore of the Sun Snatcher's Hidden Failure' - the six shapes in Brigsby's Prism Triangle."

"That's right!" Ted pressed the button of James' nose with his index finger. "Smart boy."

"But.." - a theatrical sigh - "She still hasn't gotten any closer to cracking the twenty subquotients. To cracking the Monster once and for all."

"I still haven't given up hope. Maybe if you don't either, maybe it'll happen. Some day." He shook his lowered head, and moved his greying hair out of his eyes with a finger. "So, why'd you feel like dropping by, anyway?"

James smiled. "The Brigsby movie's set to come out for home formats in April. So - we've been working on bonus features." James could tell Ted could tell he'd been looking forward to this. "We're interviewing all the cast and crew for the making-of.. with permission, of course?"

"April," Ted chuckled. "Ha. ..Sure, James."

A little sound-machine sprung up from under the table, and James set it down. "Start recording now?" Ted nodded.

"Okay, question one. Everybody wants to know how you'd have ended Brigsby."

"Hm... I can tell you, but I - I'm kind of worried it might be difficult for casual viewers to understand.."

"I only tried to translate April's math into Brigsby adventures for you, so that you'd be connected to the Real World. Thing is - your mother's - sorry, April's math was going to bring me and you, or at least you, back into the World with April - destroy the fake worlds, and every single fake thing in them. When we finally understood the Monster, Brigsby would get an ending. There wouldn't be any more need for secrecy."

"James, that means that I don't know what Brigsby should do, or what should happen in Brigsby. The World does."

"'Prophecy is meaningless'.."

"Exactly. What happens in Brigsby is what April is doing in the Real World. And what April is doing in the Real World comes to us down here as math."

"Still.. I tried to make the best Brigsby fan film I could."

"And no one in all four dimensions of spacetime could have made better."

"In the end, Brigsby is a story like any other in the world. He's  a thing I -" The enthusiasm stuttered, broke. "He was a tool used by a sick person." He nodded, and this time with a sort of finality. "That's my answer to the question."

James turned off the recorder.

"But.." Ted clasped James' arms. "April chose you. You are a Chosen One in Real Life."

"I want you to keep going to your math school. I.. want you to learn about Fischer.." his voice broke - "Fischer, Cantor, Wittgenstein and Godel.. For April.."

"That's a good thing to do. A logical thing to do. Just for now."

"I.. when I was talking to Dr. Emily, I realised - I guess, she helped me realise - I've sort of .. never really known where I'm going or what I'm trying to achieve, without Brigsby."

"Oh.. oh, that's easy," Ted replied immediately. James blinked. "You just start with the most important things. ... So, for instance - you know those twenty sporadic subquotients of the Monster? Do you know what Robert Griess called them?"

James didn't know.

"The Happy Family."