Tuesday, March 24, 2020


After Brecht's An Die Nachgeborenen.

Undeniably I live in dark days.
Any word without guile is absurd. A soft brow means
a hard heart. Anyone laughing just
hasn't heard
the new news.

And the latest, it's even
a sin to mention a tree,
since it's like this silence
about all this evil.
And whoever walks calmly across the street
retreats out of reach of their friends
who need them now.

Okay true I make a living.
Trust me that's pure fluke. Nothing
I do entitles me to eat.
The fact that I'm okay is a kind of coincidence so the first day my luck fails
I'm lost as well.

They're out here telling me: eat, drink, be thankful for what you have.
Sorry how exactly, when what I eat
is stolen from the sick
and what my water bottle pours belongs in a thirsty person's throat.
Obviously I eat and drink.

I would gladly be wise.
We've all read good advice:
accept what you cannot change, live out your little life,
be fearless,
feel tenderness instead of violence,
turn the other cheek --
don't get disfigured by your desires.
Discover how to transfigure and forget.

I can't do that shit.
I live in dark days.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Top Ten Plagues

Image result for thackery t lambshead diseases

10) Hsing's Spontaneous Self-Flaying Sarcoma, documented by Liz Williams in The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, ed. Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts.
A day or so later, the outer layer of the epidermis splits at the temple into a series of lotus-like petals, apparently causing the victim to force his/her head into the nearest narrow gap (such as a window frame) rather in the manner of a snake attempting to aid the shedding of its skin. Rejecting all offers of help and attempts at restraint, the victim bloodlessly sloughs the skin, 'scrolling it down the torso and limbs in the manner of a tantalizingly unrolled silk stocking' (Mudthumper, p.1168). 
OK, this one's not really contagious (as far as I know), so it only manages to scraape its way onto the top ten. But it can also be considered a calling card for Thackery's, which is a good source of plagues generally.

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9) Black Death AND Influenza in Connie Willis's time travel tale The Doomsday Book. The time travel conceit allows Willis to compare social responses to epidemic centuries apart. A time traveller, washed up in a part of the past she never intended to visit, tries to summon up some advantage from her superior scientific understanding of events ...
She had tried to remember what remedies the contemps had tried while he was gone. They had carried nosegays of flowers and drunk powdered emeralds and applied leeches to the buboes, but all of those were worse than useless, and Dr Ahrens had said it wouldn't have mattered what they had tried, that nothing except antimicrobials like tetracycline and streptomycin would have worked, and those had not been discovered until the twentieth century.
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8) The plague in Daniel Defoe's 1722 Journal of the Plague Year, a hugely formative work in the history of the Western novel.
Thomas. You will go away. Whither will you go, and what can you do? I would as willingly go away as you, if I knew whither. But we have no acquaintance, no friends. Here we were born, and here we must die.
John. Look you, Tom, the whole kingdom is my native country as well as this town. You may as well say I must not go out of my house if it is on fire as that I must not go out of the town I was born in when it is infected with the plague. I was born in England, and have a right to live in it if I can.
Thomas. But you know every vagrant person may by the laws of England be taken up, and passed back to their last legal settlement.
John. But how shall they make me vagrant? I desire only to travel on, upon my lawful occasions.
Thomas. What lawful occasions can we pretend to travel, or rather wander upon? They will not be put off with words.
John. Is not flying to save our lives a lawful occasion?
Image result for revelation space 

7) The Melding Plague in Alaistar Reynold's Revelation Space books. In a future where most folk are filled with cybernetic implants, this phenomenon fills those implants with a will to expand and go haywire. It tries to synthesise flesh and machine, and it affects both our bodies and our built environment. It's described as almost "purposeful" and almost "artistic."
The servitors lurched forwards, approaching the shattered angel of the Captain. More than ever he looked like something which had not so much crept with glacial slowness from his reefer, but had burst with volcanic ferocity, only to be frozen in a strobe flash. He radiated in every direction parallel to the wall, extending far into the corridor on either side, for dozens of metres. Nearest to him, his grawth consisted of trunk-thick cylinders, the colour of quicksilver, but with the texture of jewel-encrusted slurry, constantly shimmering and twinkling, hinting at phenomenally industrious buried activity. Further away, on his periphery, the branches subdivided into a bronchial-like mesh. At its very boundary, the mesh grew microscopically fine and blended seamlessly with the fabric of its substrate: the ship itself. It was glorious with diffraction patterns, like a membrane of oil on water.
HegSwarms in Iain M. Banks's Culture books, are more an example of grey goo, "self-replicating nanotech out of control" trope: a plague propagating through all kinds of physical systems, and not just biological ones. From Surface Detail:
Restoria was the part of Contact charged with taking care of hegemonising swarm outbreaks, when -- by accident or design -- a set of self-replicating entities ran out of control somewhere and started trying to turn the totality of the galaxy's matter into nothing but copies of themselves. It was a problem as old as life in the galaxy and arguably hegswarms were just that; another legitimate -- if rather over-enthusiastic -- galatic life-form type. [...] Even the most urbanely sophisticated, scrupulously empathic and excruciatingly polite civilisation, it had been suggested, was just a hegswarm with a sense of proportion.
Reynolds' Melding Plague is grey-goo-adjacent. It stands representative of those speculative sicknesses that are all about highly aestheticised kaleidescopic body horror: not grey goo so much as varicolored-crystalline-n-dimensional-irridescent-goo. There is a sense of a complex patterning logic for which we are the unfortunate substrate. See also Peter F. Hamilton's Zanth, Jeff VanderMeer's Area X (and Alex Garland et al.'s Annihilation adaptation). Compare Reynold's more grey goo-ish Greenfly Terraformers. Hegemonising goos and singularities of various kinds appear in fiction by Charles Stross, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Rudy Rucker, Linda Nagata, and others.


6) The "bad luck," as Sparrowhawk calls it at one point: the mysterious disenchantment in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore. Once more not strictly a plague, though it reproduces some of its logic. There is also a Patient Zero of sorts. See also e.g. Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away, the Nothing in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, the Forge in Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice, etc. Within fantasy fiction, sometimes the source of the contagion is something a bit more like a hellmouth. These myriad magical contagions can sometimes be read as oblique commentaries on depression, despair, loneliness, paranoia, and other forms of psychic ill-being, and on capitalism's entwined processes of atomisation, rationalisation, secularisation, and alienation.

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5) The bacillus in Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), which turns everyone into zombie-like vampires. A big influence on the filmmaker Romero and many a zombie story since. See also e.g. the Rage virus in 28 Days Later, the virus in Max Brooks's World War Z, the cordyceps infection in the Last of Us games, and the viruses in Mira Grant's Newsflesh books. But virus or no virus, these kinds of apocalyptic zombie narratives are almost always closely associated with pandemics. Whether your zombies are fast or slow, eldritch or techno-scientific, whether they are partial to brains or just mad as hell, it's the extreme contagiousness of the condition that is at the heart of this myth, and that differentiates the apocalyptic zombie from the "sorcerer's undead servant" style zombie. Spreading is the apocalyptic zombie's MO. Consider that vampirism and lycanthropy are also often supposed to be transmitted by a bite, yet vampires and werewolves -- Matheson's tale being a weird exception -- seldom swarm.

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4) BlyssPluss in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003). Here's a working paper by Polina Levontin et al. about so-called "lone wolf" bioterrorism and apocalyptic science fiction.

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3) The Red Death in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Masque of the Red Death.'
No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.
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2) The eponymous plague of Albert Camus's existential novel The Plague.

Honorable mentions: Wuhan Flu documented by Eric Schaller, Download Syndrome documented by Steve Aylett, Jumping Monkworm documented by Sara Gwenllian Jones, and many, many more in Thackery T. Lambshead's Pocket Guide etc., the Plagues of Egypt in The Book of Exodus, the plague in Lucretius's On the Nature of Things, the pandemic in the game Pandemic, the plague in Plague Inc., Farmer's Tremors and billions of other procedurally generated Dungeons & Dragons diseases, the plague in Karen Lord's 'The Plague Doctors' (downloadable here), Andromeda in Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, the plague among livestock at Noricum in Virgil's Georgics (thanks Abi), children's voices in Ben Marcus's The Flame Alphabet (thanks Sam), the fast prion in Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, Captain Trips from Stephen King's The Stand (thanks everybody), the plague described in Boccacio's Decameron, the notional plague on both your houses in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the plague in Chaucer's 'Pardoner's Tale', the parasite in Octavia Butler's Clay's Ark, Georgia Flu in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, Snow Crash in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Buscard's Murrain aka Wormwood in China Mieville's 'Entry Taken from a Medical Journal' (also in Thackery's), Diseasemaker's Croup in Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things (and Thackery's), the femicidal plague in James Tiptree Jnr's 'The Screwfly Solution', the consumption 'plague' in Frederik Pohl's 'The Midas Plague,' the plague in Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice-Cream Star, the bioweapon Clarity in Cory Doctorow's 'Chicken Little', the Motaba virus in the movie Outbreak, the fog in the movie The Fog, the 'ST-Demon' in the movie It Follows, the Simian Flu in the Planet of the Apes movies, the mass infertility in P.D. James's Children of Men, the Hopping Cough in The Smurfs, the atavism-causing Barclay's Protomorphosis Syndrome in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and various other Trekkie plagues and contagions (Tribbles maybe?), the (mass but non-contagious) blindness in John Wyndeham's Day of the Triffids, the blindness in H.G. Wells's 'Country of the Blind', the blindness in José Saramago's The Blindness, the Wandering Sickness in H.G. Wells's Shape of Things to Come, the Monte Carlo viruses in Greg Egan's 'Blood Sisters', the devastating Golgafrinchan plague transmitted via unsanitized telephone in Douglas Adams's Restaurant at the End of the Universe, cholera in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, the plague in Anne McCaffrey's 'The Ship Who Mourned', smallpox etc. in Chelsea Quin Yarbro's Time of the Fourth Horseman, Dryditch Fever in Brian Jacques's Salamandastron, the Boston plague in Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, Amusica in Alaistar Reynolds's Century Rain, GuiltTrip in Peter Watts's Rifter books, Salt Plague in Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker books, Grayscale and Pale Mare and the Spring Sickness in G.R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, Spattergroit in the Harry Potter books by anonymous, the Forge in Robin Hobbes's Assassin's Apprentice and others in that series, Sevai and Vedet in Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home, the White Blindness (myxy) in Richard Adams's Watership Down, the noocytes in Greg Bear's Blood Music, the cult virus in Linda Nagata's Vast, and so on to ...

Flight from neveryon.jpg

1) The plague in Samuel R. Delany's remarkable metafictional novella, The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals (1985, later expanded), which collages the swords-and-sorcery plague of Nevèrÿon into memoir, theory, and philosophy and poetics, wrestling with the 1980s AIDs epidemic in New York City.
"Listen to me." The actor pulled him back. "Rights, you say? You're not going to get the plague. You know that as well as I do! Me and my kind, we're the ones in danger. And do you think for a minute if I thought there was any right, reason, or efficacy to be gained by tearing down this bridge, I wouldn't have been here days ago with a hammer myself? But that's for us to decide. Not you -" The actor paused, because, from the bandy-legged worker's eyes, two very fat tears, first as glimmerings along his lower lids, then as irregular spills in the torchlight, moved down his dark cheeks toward his beard.
At one point Delany asks of characters of SFF, in what senses are their problems the same as his? And then: and in what senses are they different?

EDITS: Willis's Black Plague and Influenza double act added. Melding Plague added itself and incorporated Banks's HegSwarms.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The New Voices of Science Fiction

This review originally appeared in Interzone 284 (Nov/Dec 2019).

The New Voices of Science Fiction
Ed. Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman
Tachyon, 2019.

Science fiction is about, at least partly, the future. So here is a collection purporting to be about the future of science fiction: the future of the future. What does the future2 hold in store?

This is not a collection that sets out to discover anybody or give anybody their big break: this is an assembly of very accomplished stories, mostly published in the last five-ish years in major magazines like Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com, written by writers whom you may well have heard of or read, and may even have seen scoop up a Hugo or a Nebula Award. They ply their speculative art using a formidable albeit mostly familiar set of tools, plus some modest formal experiments. When a story does something formally striking, it generally has a clear justification closely related to its particular premise; for example, S. Qiouy Lu’s ‘Mother Tongues,’ in which neural interfacing can directly alter linguistic cognition, is very lightly macaronic: it’s almost all in English, but studded with bits of Mandarin and Cantonese dialogue. Across the anthology, far future is out, near future is in; distant planets and ETs are tired, some planet called Earth plus the alien-within-the-human are wired. None of the stories feel out of place, although a few of them could also easily blend into The New Voices of Fantasy or The New Voices of the Weird.

Two of this guy's favourites were by names new to me: Amman Sabet’s ‘Tender Loving Plastics’ and Samantha Mills’s ‘Strange Waters.’ Sabet’s Issa is a foster child raised by a robo-mom, who turns out just fine. Mills’s fisherwoman Mika is adrift on the seas of the centuries, desperate to get back to her children and afraid to check the history books to find out if she ever will. The theme of family threads through the anthology, although I felt like it was a theme that was used more often than explored. For example, the forms of non-monogamy that already exist in the real world are scarcely represented, let alone speculative reinventions or usurpations of the family. Maybe if you’re trying to cram all that rich character-driven narrative into only a few pages, the out-of-the-box resources of trad familial resonances are hard to resist?

Mills’s story exemplifies another big theme, time travel, appearing in six or seven stories. Why so much time travel, New Voices? Well, I felt like these time travel stories emerge more from the matrix of digital connectivity and self-fashioning -- that is, from the feeling of gazing at your Facebook photos from fifteen years ago, or searching for some deeply personal experience to find a forum of folks who share something similar -- than they do from Wellsian musings over future history, or from mindfuck “which-version-of-Baby-Hitler-will-killed-your-future-grandfather?!”-type hijinks. True, Alice Sola Kim’s ‘One Hour, Every Seven Years’ explores the chaoplexic ripples of a moment in time minutely variegated again and again. But in general the deep abiding questions are not so much, “Is causation necessarily linear?” “What dynamics shape social history?” and more things like, “Who am I?” “How literally should I take the term ‘self-care’?”

Nino Cipri’s ‘The Shape of My Name’ is exemplary here, with its interest in the intimate temporalities of an evolving subjectivity within one lifetime: in gender, in memory and identity, in hope and expectation, in personal nostalgia, in loss and grief, and in the changing horizons of who and how it is possible to be. In other words, this is partly a story about everything you wish you could tell your younger self. I liked it a lot, although I felt there was room for a richer exploration of the historically changing nature of masculinities and femininities, as well as the historically changing affordances for liberation, transformation, and subversion.

Amal El-Mohtar’s ‘Madeleine,’ which maybe isn’t strictly a time travel story, forms an interesting counterpoint. It’s a science fictional writing-through of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, especially the famous episode in which the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea vivifies a long lost fragment of Marcel’s memory. ‘Madeleine’ is about Madeleine, and about the strange things that are happening to her: and so it half-invites us to imagine things from the cake’s perspective. Or at least, Madeleine’s reality is so fragile, so ready to crumble and dissolve, that we start to imagine what it might be like to lack your own story, to be merely a figment, trigger, or a cache of memories implicated in somebody else’s story. At the same time, Madeleine is clearly a privileged person (packed with cultural capital, for example: I love how she brandishes the maxims of continental philosophers as talismans to banish hexes). In its own discreet way, I think ‘Madeleine’ sets up subtle dialogue between Proustian preoccupations with memory gone privately astray, and questions of collective remembrance, questions of whose experience dominates history, and whose is marginalised or erased. Who gets to have their cake and remember it?

‘Madeleine’ is also part of a cluster of tales built on VR / simulation / out-of-body-experience conceits. ‘Utopia, LOLS’ by Jamie Wahls was very enjoyable -- a full unapologetic mash of late 2010s cutesy internetspeak and geek pop culture references with post-singularitarian ambiguous utopia in the vein of Banks’s Culture or Egan’s Permutation City. I bet some readers will find it cloying, but I was charmed. I admired Rebecca Roanhorse’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning 'Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™' for its elegantly constructed eeriness. As an exploration of cultural appropriation and the commodification of indigenous identities, however, it felt like it was often pretty broad brush. It could have been nice to dive into murkier and more conflicted aspects of these same themes?

On the cusp of 2020, we are allegedly in the early stages of a profound new wave of automation, occasioned in part by the rapid growth of machine learning AI, and the big data on which it feeds and flourishes. ‘Tender Loving Plastics’ addresses automation overtly; E. Lily Yu’s snappy and engaging ‘The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi’ does so indirectly, portraying a humane, post-work future in which the world self-divides into Doers (who actively participate in society) and Don’ts (who passively consume). Yu claps back a little at the knee-jerk veneration of hard work for its own sake, without totally dislodging that paradigm.

Other stories, perhaps, address automation allegorically. There is certainly a little cluster about being assimilated into something spooky and transcendent. Of these, Lettie Prell’s ‘The Need for Air,’ sticks closest to a techno-scientific register, exploring that tricksy transition to posthuman singularity, again through the lens of parenthood. Jason Sanford’s ‘Toppers’ and David Erik Nelson’s ‘In the Sharing Place’ both have a nice pulpy, slipstream-inflected vibe. Nelson’s reminded me a lot of Google’s convolutional neural network DeepDream, the one that spawns the trippy of oily-irridescent eyes swimming around in fractal puppies. The eye-mouths are calling: “What are you waiting for? Jump in!” What are you waiting for?

Sarah Pinsker’s marvellous ‘Our Lady of the Open Road’ is near-future punkpunk, which takes its sweet time and never feels slow, and is partly about the fear of being replaced by a hologram Bruce Springsteen (a Universal Fear). Luce and her band are on tour till they choke, in a US of A where there are precious few live gigs left. The nature of this technological displacement is interesting: the story assumes humans will still want humans making music -- even if we are content to have bands holographically beamed in by Amazon-esque content aggregator megaplatform StageHolo -- rather than imagining human bands being displaced by AI bands. Luce’s principled stance is emblematic of something larger, of course. Not only will Luce not sell out to StageHolo, she won’t even use a phone. Then again, Luce is no luddite: she just likes tech she can get her hands dirty with, tech that extends and empowers her, like her band kit and her van Daisy.

Still … as Luce doggedly crashed for the umpteenth time on a stranger’s slightly moist sofa, somewhere in the vicinity of a cat litter, I got to wondering. I got to wondering about automation anxiety itself as a species of Americana. The almost-lone refusenik is not the only way to represent resistance to the future decreed by Google et al., right? But I don’t believe there are any workers’ unions anywhere in New Voices. Much as I stan Luce, much as I see where she’s coming from, I’m not sure I like where she’s headed. Social and economic consequences of technological developments are never inevitable -- people matter, and the choices we make can change history -- and I feel like the story’s underlying idiom of ferocious resistance, resilience, and resourcefulness ultimately deserves better than Luce’s stoic rugged individualism, even if it comes with generous side-servings of friendship, community, and countercultural solidarity.

So I can heartily recommend The New Voices, although given how it helps itself to hype like “new kids” and “avant-garde,” I was a little wistful for a few more risks. Then again, what looks like a solid and safe strategy from the outside may well have felt fraught and conflicted from within. If the editors did feel they were taking risks, I’d be interested to know what those were? I guess if anything, some of these tales felt a bit too polished, almost as though they were ticking the boxes of what a really good piece of speculative short fiction should do. I’m looking at you, Sam J. Miller’s ‘Calved’: oh, you’re you’re going to deftly deploy ice imagery as you explore taciturn masculinities at the intersection of class, race, and sexuality, in a gritty climate change-centric near future, are you? Well, that really annoys me for some reason.

I was very grateful for the slow boil of Kelly Robson’s ‘A Study in Oils,’ the gung-ho chibi space opera japes of Suzanne Palmer’s ‘The Secret Life of Bots,’ the ‘here-is-a-robot-dinosaur’-ness of Darcie Little Badger’s ‘Robo-Liopleurodon!’, and the rough, ungainly energy of Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s ‘A Series of Steaks,’ which is very much “maybe the real getting blackmailed to 3D print boutique beef by a shadowy cartoonish villain ... was the friends we met along the way!”

Monday, February 10, 2020

BSFA Awards Shortlist 2019

... is out!

I like literary awards for loads of reasons, one of which is that they raise similar questions to AI and automation: Can you design and implement a procedure that will reliably replicate human judgment? You run the program again and again, and sometimes it appears to work, and sometimes it's a bit dodgy, and sometimes it's so dodgy you consider tweaking the code. (See note). In fact, it's probably time we had literary awards judged by AI. I will fully get on that.

Also, I like the way they are a democracy cosplay.

Also, I like the way they make so many people incredibly grouchy.

Including me. Comparing longlist with shortlist, I'm personally a little disappointed not to see Sandra Newman's The Heavens and Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail up for Best Novel. Zen Cho would have been great too.

Other minor kvetches? Well, no shade to the brilliant work of the shortlisted artists, it feels a slight shame that the BSFA Award for Best Artwork has once again effectively become the BSFA Award for Best Cover, after a just slightly more varied selection last year. I pledged 50 superdelegates to Cedric Mizero's A New Life in the Village exhibition and 50 superduperdelegates to SinJin Li Studios' Productive Futures conference ephemera (notably an insanely gorgeous booklet, but also name badges sporting symbols later revealed to assign each conference-goer to a science fictional profession and class status: this was a conference with worldbuilding), but no dice.

One of the nice and slightly precarious things about the BSFA Awards specifically is that they don't boundary-police too much, but despite technically allowing any genre fiction authored anywhere in the world -- there is no hard design rule, for example, that prevents the British Science Fiction Association Awards from being completed flooded one year by US-authored epic fantasy -- they do keep a focus on what you might roughly flail your arms at and designate "British SF."  Still, in recent years Best Novel has included the likes of Yoon Ha Lee, Ann Leckie, Tricia Sullivan, Aliette de Bodard, and Nnedi Okorafor, and in Brexit year especially, it might have felt better to have a shortlist that wasn't so Very Very UK?

But like I say, these are nano-kvetches and overall -- looks like a seriously strong list! I've not read many of them or anything, but, you know, I Know the authors' Work. A bit of a mix of big publishers and smaller indie stuff is also a plus. I feel like BSFA Awards have a kind of Iowa and New Hampshire energy to them. Not bellweathers exactly, but at least an upward spurt of force that might propel something unusual into the swirling weather of the Nebulas and Hugos. Well done algorithm and the horde of human hearts that execute it.

The Non-Fiction category is a weird one, since it's so often comparing across different forms and modes. One big glitch: a piece I wrote for Big Echo, about Star Trek and work, slipped onto the Non-Fiction shortlist, among proper big books with squillions of hours of research and labour embedded in them.

Also maybe kind of interesting: the Shorter Fiction category is dominated by novellas. Why??? IS THE SHORT STORY DEAD???

Note: Except it's weird, because most of the circuitry this 'AI' is running on is actually made out of human judgments in the first place, only these are a different set of judgments from the set of judgments it's endeavouring to simulate. I.e. the judgment it is attempting to simulate is something like, "What is the best eligible book?" Whereas key judgments which actually operationalise the simulation include things like, "What system shall we use to tally up the votes? What stages shall we have? How shall we time things? Is this particular borderline work eligible in the first place?" And, "Shall I join the BSFA? Shall I vote? Shall I vote for this thing by my friend? Shall I vote for this thing I haven't read but which is by an author whose work I admire?" So related judgments, but different. Also, of course, not just judgments but also plenty of work, in particular the work of BSFA Award Administrator Clare Boothby.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

SFF and Psychology

I asked on Twitter for recommendations of SF writers interested in psychology, maybe with a slant toward hard sf (whatever that means). The thread still grows even though I have long since ceased feeding it heart. Here are some:

Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man)
Angela Carter (The Passion of New Eve)
Ann Leckie
Anne McCaffrey (Crystal Singers)
Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange)
B.A. Chepaiti (Fear books)
Brian Aldiss (The Primal Urge)
C.R. Dudley
Chris Beckett
Connie Willis (Crosstalk)
Cory Doctorow (Walkaway, 'Chicken Little')
Diana Wynne Jones ('Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream')
Doris Lessing (Canopus in Argos)
Edgar Allan Poe
Elizabeth Moon (Speed of Dark)
Emma Newman
George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Greg Bear (</Slant>)
Greg Egan
Gregory Benford (The Stars in Shroud)
Ian Watson (The Embedding)
Isaac Asimov (Foundation)
Jack Vance (Languages of Pao)
James Tiptree Jnr
Karen Ripley (Slow World)
Kingsley Amis ('Something Strange')
Linda Nagata
Matthew de Abaitua (The Red Men, etc.)
Michael Crichton (The Terminal Man)
Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers)
N.K. Jemisin (Broken Earth)
Nancy Kress (Beggars in Spain)
Nicola Griffiths (Cherryh's Cyteen, Ammonite)
Pat Cadigan (Mindplayers)
Pat Murphy ('Rachel in Love')
Peter Watts (Blindsight, Into the Rift)
Philip K. Dick (The Alphane Moon, etc.)
Raphael Carter ('Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation')
Samuel R. Delaney (Babel 17)
Theodore Sturgeon (More Than Human)
Ursula Le Guin (Left Hand of Darkness, Lathe of Heaven, etc.)
Vernor Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky)
Zenna Henderson ('The People')

There is also Psychology: A Literary Introduction (ed. Laura Corlew and Charles Waugh).

An essay by Tansy Rayner Roberts on neurodiversity and mental health treatment in TV SFF.

Gavin Miller has an academic book on SF and pyschology in the works.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Recent Stuff

Over at the Vector site, my brief note on last week's SFF conference in London, Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction.

I have a novelette in Gross Ideas, an anthology about architecture and degrowth. The anthology includes Cory Doctorow, Camilla Grudova, Will Self, Mill & Jones, Joel Blackledge, Sophie Mackintosh, Steve Webb, Lesley Lokko, Rachel Armstrong, Lev Bratishenko, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen, Maria Smith, Robin Nicholson, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Edward Davey, and Jane Yeh. Edited by Edwina Attlee, Phineas Harper and Maria Smith, with design by Studio Christopher Victor.

We've just released the Call for Papers for the next themed issue of Vector, which will be about speculative fiction and art. Feel free to share, and get in touch with your ideas. If you're interested in writing for Vector in other capacities, also please do get in touch.

The latest issue of Vector, co-edited with Polina Levontin and Michelle Clarke, was all about African and Afrodiasporic SFF. If you'd like a copy, join the BSFA or get in touch with me. Some of the articles are on the Vector website.

WorldCon wasn't too long ago: here's a report.

And my essay 'Away Day: Star Trek and the Utopia of Merit' is in the latest issue of Big Echo. It's mostly about Manu Saadia's Trekonomics, and it thinks a bit about the role of gift economies in recent political SF and SF-influenced political theory. It takes issue with this:
Saadia’s Trekonomics, I think, invites Star Trek to join the satirical zeitgeist of Walkaway, If/Then, ‘Nose Dive’ et al. It offers the Federation as a society of abundance co-ordinated by egalitarian mechanisms of reciprocity. It recognises the close relationship between work and reputation in the Federation, and discerns immense informal social pressure to pursue status and success. At the same time, it supposes, forms or aspects of labour which traditionally have been difficult to automate – care work, emotional labour, creativity, teaching, “learning, making, and sharing” – take on enhanced significance in the Federation, softening this pressure. Pre-Fordist craft is offered as a point of comparison: “the organization of work in the Federation resembles older, preindustrial forms of arrangements.” Furthermore, “work in the Federation fulfills the deep human need for belonging and recognition. Work is another way to love and be loved and to express one’s unique sensibility.” Saadia’s Federation is certainly not primitivist! – its technology generates its abundance, and is instrumental in distributing it – but it is an attack on both contemporary capitalism and on the seductive nostrums of techno-meritocracy.
I'm hoping to write a sequel eventually.

One or two mini-reviews recently up on Goodreads.

The novel that I thought had found a home maybe hasn't after all. But hey.

Poetry stuff: Sad Press has just published Maria Sledmere's nature sounds without nature sounds. Poetry & Work: Essays on work in modern and contemporary Anglophone poetry, a collection I edited with Ed Luker, is in the final proofing stages and should be out by December.

I've also just written a fairly substantial draft of a series of essays dealing with the "marvellous moneys" stuff I've been working on over the past few years, i.e. money and value in SFF. If anyone wants a peek, let me know.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

WorldCon report: #Dublin2019

See also reports from:
My WorldCon programme highlight was probably ‘The Magic of Beauty’ with Jeannette Ng, Navah Wolfe, Rebecca F. Kuang, and Vida Cruz, moderated by Kate Elliott. I wanted a sequel: the panellists had quite brilliantly picked apart and satirized literary and social norms around beauty, especially in relation to gender and race, and had just begun to explore how speculative fiction might be a space for cultivating new norms and new gazes.

I also really enjoyed ‘Horticulture in Extreme Environments’ (which was much more concerned with Earth over coming decades than with, say, Mars) and (despite the appalling moderation) ‘Future Financial Systems and Transactions.’

I did a little bit of tweeting.

I forgot to vote in the Hugos, although pretty much everyone I wanted to win did anyway, so maybe that’s the correct method? One point where the conrunners could have shown more foresight was the use of psychic surtitling during the award ceremony. Captions were live-streamed directly into the minds of the audience which, it turns out, simply does not work: it was like feeding chili cheese burritos into a USB-C port; there is zero compatibility. Ada Palmer was at the podium as this unfolded, and should be applauded for her aplomb. No one could applaud as we were just freaking out in deep neuro-glitch bacchanal. To his credit, WorldCon Chair James Bacon owned up promptly, acknowledging that it was an accessibility issue, and gave what seemed to be a heartfelt apology without attempting to downplay the incident.

Jeannette Ng's excellent acceptance speech. I think renaming the award would be a great start. Doing this officially would be ideal, otherwise maybe we can just sort of do it. Congratulations to Jeannette on winning the Ursula K. Le Guin Award for best new writer (not to be confused with the Ursula K. Le Guin Memorial Award for Best Novel). Now I'm going to tuck into this bowl of delicious Le Guin's tomato soup.


One of the things I enjoyed were the little logistical improvements that accrued over the course of the con: the visible evidence of the vast often invisible volunteer labour of conrunners. Signs spawn and migrate, queueing topologies shift, even the durations of programme items squirm, as the whole system evolves toward elegance. There were something like 7,000 in attendance, which did mean a lot of queueing, although that was really okay for me … a chance to actually read a book, which is something you can find yourself really itching for at a con!

Another challenge for the conrunners is that the entire convention centre was isolated from the outside world by an unrelenting blizzard, which took out all the phone lines, as we were picked off one by one. In the end, the only thing I didn’t get into that I wanted to was Dirk Gently's announcement in the Library which was a shame because I did the murders. I did actually mention this to one of the volunteers and it seemed a bit weird to me that they still wouldn’t let me in, but I guess it’s one of those things where if you make an exception for one person you have to do it for everyone. Also apparently it was an extremely busy item with some people sitting on the floor and at least one person lying on it spreadeagled but with one arm crooked. So I appreciate that and I hope it went well.

I wasn't too ferocious in my efforts to attend programme items anyway. Chatting to folk is kind of my favorite part. That, and just running away and sitting and staring blankly. I enjoyed a couple spells behind the BSFA table in the dealer's hall, which combines these two pursuits.

I presented a paper on Project Cybersyn which was a little rushed (I learned the sessions had been shortened by five minutes and overcompensated). I probably won't put the slides online, but it's based on an article I wrote with Liz Stainforth forthcoming in Science Fiction Studies, plus I'm going to give some version of it at Productive Futures in London next month (with Liz!).

Another major issue was that I didn’t like one of the songs that John Scalzi, author of the Old Man's War series, Redshirts, and many other novels, played during his DJ set one night. I can’t remember the lyrics but it was the one that went NYAAAAAAAWWW DOOF DOOF DOOF PUCKACHUCKACHOOKABOOPBOOPBOOP DOOF DOOF DOOF like that. I didn’t know which dance went along with it.

Brexit spread a subtexty shadow almost everywhere.

A further logistics glitch was the location of the hellmouth nearly a kilometre away from the two main sites. Spawn events were staggered so that if you wanted to catch a programme item at the conference centre or Odeon site, you still had just enough time to rush over and disturb an ancient evil. I definitely got my 10,000 steps a day in. Inevitably the hellmouth side of things was a little self-contained, and many con-goers will have missed their chance to comically mistake an actual demon for their friend who is cosplaying the same demon. Again this is really nitpicky stuff.

On the plus side, another highlight was not getting con crud! Con crud, if you haven’t heard of it, is nature’s little fuck you to human cosmopolitanism. Folk converge from across the world bringing a rich mix of pathogens and a patchy quilt of immunities, and then spend a week not getting quite enough sleep. So con crud is really myriad maladies that begin to set in, jiggling in the glands just as the population disperses, like a horror movie where you think they have made it out okay. On the Saturday night, Vector editor emeritus Glyn Morgan patiently explained to me that a serving Vector editor can edit any vector: you open up InDesign, you enable the CRISPR gene editing plug-in, and you just co-edit the disease vectors into innocuousness. So I did that, and wiped con crud and in fact all disease past, present, and future. And now I’m playing with Poynting vectors and Laplace–Runge–Lenz vectors, whatever those are. I think it’s to do with yeeting the sun into the moon?

Next year's WorldCon, in New Zealand, looks lush and I hope I can make it. It is also fucking far. I haven't yet read this year's Hugo winning novel, Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars, but I hear that it's about climate crisis too. Obviously. Literally everything is about climate crisis except Democratic National Committee sanctioned presidential candidate debates. WorldCon seems to be by-and-large a progressive institution, but I haven't yet come across the bit where we track its carbon impact. Maybe something for the future, or what's left of one.

Earlier & elsewhere:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

WorldCon in Dublin

I'll be there. Say hello.

Saturday 20:00 - Wiklow Hall 2B. I'm moderating the 'Future Financial Systems and Transactions' panel with Shmulik Shelach, Stewart Hotston, Nile Heffernan, and Maria Farrell.

Sunday 10:30 - AI panel (academic track). I'll be presenting something on Chile's Project Cybersyn (based on an article with Dr Elizabeth Stainforth, forthcoming in the next Science Fiction Studies). The other papers are Prof. Dave Lewis, ‘No Datafication Without Representation!’ and Prof. David Powers, ‘AI, Talking Robots/Ships, Brain Control Interface.’

Then at 11:30, shooting over to Odeon 4, to moderate 'Flann O'Brien: the unluckiest man who ever lived' with Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Anthony Roche, and Jenna Maguire.

And at some point, I'll be doing a stint at the BSFA table.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Endgame: Complete Script

Endgame: A Play in One Act

Bare interior.

Grey Light.

Left and right back, high up, two small windows, curtains drawn. Front right, a door. Hanging near door, its face to wall, a picture. Front left, touching each other, covered with an old sheet, two ashbins. Center, in an armchair on castors, covered with an old sheet, Captain America. Motionless by the door, his eyes fixed on Cap, Thor. Very red face.

Brief tableau.

Thor goes and stands under window left. Stiff, staggering walk. He looks up at window left. He turns and looks at window right. He goes and stands under window right. He looks up at window right. He turns and looks at window left. He goes out, comes back immediately with a small step-ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, draws back curtain. He gets down, takes six steps (for example) towards window right, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window right, gets up on it, draws back curtain. He gets down, takes three steps towards window left, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, looks out of window. Brief laugh. He gets down, takes one step towards window right, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window right, gets up on it, looks out of window. Brief laugh. He gets down, goes with ladder towards ashbins, halts, turns, carries back ladder and sets it down under window right, goes to ashbins, removes sheet covering them, folds it over his arm. He raises one lid, stoops and looks into bin. Brief laugh. He closes lid. Same with other bin. He goes to Cap, removes sheet covering him, folds it over his arm. In a dressing-gown, a stiff toque on his head, a large blood-stained handkerchief over his face, a whistle hanging from his neck, a rug over his knees, thick socks on his feet, Bruce Banner seems to be asleep. Hulk looks him over. Brief laugh. He goes to door, halts, turns towards auditorium.

Iron Man (fixed gaze, tonelessly): Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished. (Pause.)

Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap. (Pause.)

I can’t be punished any more. (Pause.) I’ll go now to my kitchen, ten feet by ten feet by ten feet, and wait for him to whistle me. (Pause.) Nice dimensions, nice proportions, I’ll lean on the table, and look at the wall, and wait for him to whistle me.

(He remains a moment motionless, then goes out. He comes back immediately, goes to window right, takes up the ladder and carries it out. Pause. Valkyrie stirs. He yawns under the handkerchief. He removes the handkerchief from his face. Very red face. Glasses with black lenses.)

Hulk: Me - (he yawns) - to play.

(He takes off his glasses, wipes his eyes, his face, the glasses, puts them on again, folds the handkerchief and puts it back neatly in the breast pocket of his dressing gown. He clears his throat, joins the tips of his fingers.)

Can there be misery - (he yawns) - loftier than mine? No doubt. Formerly. But now? (Pause.)

My father? (Pause.)

My mother? (Pause.)

My ... dog? (Pause.)

Oh I am willing to believe they suffer as much as such creatures can suffer. But does that mean their sufferings equal mine? No doubt. (Pause.)

No, all is a - (he yawns) - bsolute, (proudly) the bigger a man is the fuller he is. (Pause. Gloomily.) And the emptier. (He sniffs.)

Hawkeye! (Pause.)

No, alone. (Pause.)

What dreams! Those forests! (Pause.)

Enough, it’s time it ended, in the shelter, too. (Pause.)

And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to ... to end. Yes, there it is, it’s time it ended and yet I hesitate to - (He yawns.) - to end. (Yawns.)

God, I’m tired, I’d be better off in bed. (He whistles. Enter Hawkeye immediately. He halts beside the chair.) You pollute the air! (Pause.) Get me ready, I’m going to bed.

Andy Spragg: I’ve just got you up.

Cap: And what of it?

Hawkeye: I can’t be getting you up and putting you to bed every five minutes, I have things to do. (Pause.)

Valkyrie: Did you ever see my eyes?

Hulk: No.

Valkyrie: Did you never have the curiosity, while I was sleeping, to take off my glasses and look at my eyes?

Hulk: Pulling back the lids? (Pause.)


Valkyrie: One of these days I’ll show them to you. (Pause.)

It seems they’ve gone all white. (Pause.) What time is it?

Iron Man: The same as usual.

Captain Marvel (gesture towards window right): Have you looked?

Falcon: Yes.

Bruce Banner: Well?

Black Widow: Zero.

Thor: It’d need to rain.

Hawkeye: It won’t rain. (Pause.)

Bruce Banner: Apart from that, how do you feel?

Auntie May: I don’t complain.

Captain Marvel: You feel normal?

Hawkeye (irritably): I tell you I don’t complain.

Bruce Banner: I feel a little strange. (Pause.)

Auntie May!

Hawkeye: Yes.

Captain Marvel: Have you not had enough?

Auntie May: Yes! (Pause.)

Of what?

Thor: Of this ... this ... thing.

Hawkeye: I always had. (Pause.)

Not you?

Valkyrie (gloomily): Then there’s no reason for it to change.

Hulk: It may end. (Pause.)

All life long the same questions, the same answers.

Cap: Get me ready. (Auntie May does not move.) Go and get the sheet. (Auntie May does not move.) Auntie May!

Hulk: Yes.

Captain Marvel: I’ll give you nothing more to eat.

Hawkeye: Then we’ll die.

Captain Marvel: I’ll give you just enough to keep you from dying. You’ll be hungry all the time.

Hawkeye: Then we won’t die. (Pause.)

I’ll go and get the sheet. (He goes towards the door.)

Thor: No! (Hawkeye halts.)

I’ll give you one biscuit per day. (Pause.)

One and a half. (Pause.)

Why do you stay with me?

Iron Man: Why do you keep me?

Bruce Banner: There’s no one else.

Auntie May: There’s nowhere else. (Pause.)

Thor: You’re leaving me all the same.

Auntie May: I’m trying.

Thor: You don’t love me.

Hawkeye: No.

Thor: You loved me once.

Black Widow: Once!

Bruce Banner: I’ve made you suffer too much. (Pause.)

Haven’t I?

Hulk: It’s not that.

Valkyrie: I haven’t made you suffer too much?

Black Widow: Yes!

Thor (relieved): Ah, you gave me a fright! (Pause. Coldly)

Forgive me. (Pause. Louder.)

I said, Forgive me.

Auntie May: I heard you. (Pause.)

Have you bled?

Thor: Less. (Pause.)

Is it not time for my pain-killer?

Black Widow: No. (Pause.)

Thor: How are your eyes?

Iron Man: Bad.

Bruce Banner: How are your legs?

Hulk: Bad.

Captain Marvel: But you can move.

Hulk: Yes.

Captain Marvel (violently): Then move! (Black Widow goes to back wall, leans against it with his forehead and hands.)

Where are you?

Iron Man: Here.

Captain Marvel: Come back! (Iron Man returns to his place beside the chair.)

Where are you?

Iron Man: Here.

Thor: Why don’t you kill me?

Black Widow: I don’t know the combination of the cupboard. (Pause.)

Valkyrie: Go and get two bicycle-wheels.

Auntie May: There are no more bicycle-wheels.

Bruce Banner: What have you done with your bicycle?

Hulk: I never had a bicycle.

Bruce Banner: The thing is impossible.

Auntie May: When there were still bicycles I wept to have one. I crawled at your feet. You told me to go to hell. Now there are none.

Bruce Banner: And your rounds? When you inspected my paupers. Always on foot?

Iron Man: Sometimes on horse.

(The lid of one of the bins lifts and the hands of Captain Marvel appear, gripping the rim. Then his head emerges. Nightcap. Very white face. Captain Marvel yawns, then listens.)

I’ll leave you, I have things to do.

Cap: In your kitchen?

Auntie May: Yes.

Valkyrie: Outside of here it’s death. (Pause.) All right, be off. (Exit Auntie May. Pause.) We’re getting on.

Thor: Me pap!

Cap: Accursed progenitor!

Thor: Me pap!

Captain Marvel: The old folks at home! No decency left! Guzzle, guzzle, that’s all they think of. (He whistles. Enter Hawkeye. He halts beside the chair.)

Well! I thought you were leaving me.

Hawkeye: Oh not just yet, not just yet.

Captain Marvel: Me pap!

Captain Marvel: Give him his pap.

Hulk: There’s no more pap.

Captain Marvel (to Cap): Do you hear that? There’s no more pap. You’ll never get any more pap.

Thor: I want me pap!

Captain Marvel: Give him a biscuit. (Exit Hulk.)

Accursed fornicator! How are your stumps?

Dr Strange: Never mind me stumps. (Enter Iron Man with biscuit.)

Black Widow: I’m back again, with the biscuit. (He gives biscuit to Ant-Man who fingers it, sniffs it.)

Ant-Man (plaintively): What is it?

Black Widow: Spratt’s medium.

Thor (as before): It’s hard! I can’t!

Thor: Bottle him! (Iron Man pushes Ant-Man back into the bin, closes the lid.)

Iron Man (returning to his place beside the chair): If age but knew!

Thor: Sit on him!

Black Widow: I can’t sit.

Bruce Banner: True. And I can’t stand.

Black Widow: So it is.

Cap: Every man his specialty. (Pause.)

No phone calls? (Pause.) Don’t we laugh?

Black Widow (after reflection): I don’t feel like it.

Bruce Banner (after reflection): Nor I. (Pause.) Hawkeye!

Auntie May: Yes.

Captain Marvel: Nature has forgotten us.

Iron Man: There’s no more nature.

Captain Marvel: No more nature! You exaggerate.

Auntie May: In the vicinity.

Bruce Banner: But we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!

Hawkeye: Then she hasn’t forgotten us.

Captain Marvel: But you say there is none.

Iron Man (sadly): No one that ever lived ever thought so crooked as we.

Bruce Banner: We do what we can.

Iron Man: We shouldn’t. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: You’re a bit of all right, aren’t you?

Auntie May: A smithereen. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: This is slow work. (Pause.) Is it not time for my pain-killer?

Iron Man: No. (Pause.)

I’ll leave you, I have things to do.

Captain Marvel: In your kitchen?

Hawkeye: Yes.

Valkyrie: What, I’d like to know.

Auntie May: I look at the wall.

Captain Marvel: The wall! And what do you see on your wall? Mene, mene? Naked bodies?

Black Widow: I see my light dying.

Cap: Your light dying! Listen to that! Well, it can die just as well here, your light. Take a look at me and then come back and tell me what you think of your light. (Pause.)

Iron Man: You shouldn’t speak to me like that. (Pause.)

Valkyrie (coldly): Forgive me. (Pause. Louder.) I said, Forgive me.

Hawkeye: I heard you.

(The lid of Ant-Man’s bin lifts. His hands appear, gripping the rim. Then his head emerges. In his mouth the biscuit. He listens.)

Cap: Did your seeds come up?

Black Widow: No.

Cap: Did you scratch round them to see if they had sprouted?

Iron Man: They haven’t sprouted.

Captain Marvel: Perhaps it’s still too early.

Black Widow: If they were going to sprout they would have sprouted. (Violently.)

They’ll never sprout! (Pause. Ant-Man takes biscuit in his hand.)

Cap: This is not much fun. (Pause.)

But that’s always the way at the end of the day, isn’t it, Iron Man?

Hulk: Always.

Thor: It’s the end of the day like any other day, isn’t it, Black Widow?

Iron Man: Looks like it. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel (anguished): What’s happening, what’s happening?

Auntie May: Something is taking its course. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: All right, be off. (He leans back in his chair, remains motionless. Black Widow does not move, heaves a great groaning sigh. Captain Marvel sits up.)

I thought I told you to be off.

Auntie May: I’m trying. (He goes to the door, halts.)

Ever since I was whelped. (Exit Black Widow.)

Bruce Banner: We’re getting on. (He leans back in his chair, remains motionless. Cap knocks on the lid of the other bin. Pause. He knocks harder. The lid lifts and the hands of Groot appear, gripping the rim. Then her head emerges. Lace cap. Very white face.)

Groot: What is it, my pet? (Pause.) Time for love?

Captain Marvel: Were you asleep?

Groot: Oh no!

Ant-Man: Kiss me.

Black Panther: We can’t.

Nebula: Try. (Their heads strain towards each other, fail to meet, fall apart again.)

Okoye: Why this farce, day after day? (Pause.)

Groot: I’ve lost me tooth.

Peggy Carter: When?

Nebula: I had it yesterday.

Brock Rumlow (elegiac): Ah yesterday. (They turn painfully towards each other.)

Groot: Can you see me?

Callan Mulvey: Hardly. And you?

Shuri: What?

Frigga: Can you see me?

Nebula: Hardly.

Gamora: So much the better, so much the better.

Shuri: Don’t say that. (Pause.) Our sight has failed.

Tilda Swinton: Yes. (Pause. They turn away from each other.)

Thanos: Can you hear me?

Mantis: Yes. And you?

Groot: Yes. (Pause.)

Our hearing hasn’t failed.

Callan Mulvey: Our what?

Groot: Our hearing.

Heimdall: No. (Pause.) Have you anything else to say to me?

Shuri: Do you remember -

Drax: No.

Nebula: When we crashed on our tandem and lost our shanks. (They laugh heartily.)

Cap: It was in the Ardennes. (They laugh less heartily.)

Black Panther: On the road to Sedan. (They laugh still less heartily.) Are you cold?

Frigga: Yes, perished, and you?

Black Panther: (Pause.) I’m freezing. (Pause.) Do you want to go in?

Drax: Yes.

Nebula: Then go in. (Verity does not move.) Why don’t you go in?

Auntie May: I don’t know. (Pause.)

Groot: Has he changed your sawdust?

Auntie May: It isn’t sawdust. (Pause. Warily.) Can you not be a little accurate, Thanos?

Thanos: Your sand then. It’s not important.

Odin: It is important. (Pause.)

Thanos: It was sawdust once.

Skurge: Once!

Thanos: And now it’s sand. (Pause.) From the shore. (Pause. Impatiently.) Now it’s sand he fetches from the shore.

Rhodes: Now it’s sand.

Shuri: Has he changed yours?

Verity: No.

Thanos: Nor mine. (Pause.)

I won’t have it! (Pause. Holding up the biscuit.) Do you want a bit?

Hank Pym: No. (Pause.)

Of what?

Black Panther: Biscuit. I’ve kept you half. (He looks at the biscuit. Proudly.)

Three quarters. For you. Here. (He proffers the biscuit.) No? (Pause.) Do you not feel well?

Black Widow (wearily): Quiet, quiet, you’re keeping me awake. (Pause.) Talk softer. (Pause.) If I could sleep I might make love. I’d go into the woods. My eyes would see ... the sky, the earth. I’d run, run, they wouldn’t catch me. (Pause.)

Nature! (Pause.)

There’s something dripping in my head. (Pause.)

A heart, a heart in my head. (Pause.)

Nebula: Do you hear him? A heart in his head! (He chuckles cautiously.)

Bucky: One mustn’t laugh at those things, Thanos. Why must you always laugh at them?

Nebula: Not so loud!

Dr Strange (without lowering her voice): Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But -

Shuri (shocked): Oh!

Odin: Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more. (Pause.) Have you anything else to say to me?

Groot: No.

Korg: Are you quite sure? (Pause.) Then I’ll leave you.

Shuri: Do you not want your biscuit? (Pause.) I’ll keep it for you. (Pause.) I thought you were going to leave me.

Howard: I am going to leave you.

Thanos: Could you give me a scratch before you go?

Skurge: No. (Pause.) Where?

Thanos: In the back.

Dr Strange: No. (Pause.) Rub yourself against the rim.

Shuri: It’s lower down. In the hollow.

JARVIS: What hollow?

Shuri: The hollow! (Pause.) Could you not? (Pause.) Yesterday you scratched me there.

Callan Mulvey (elegiac): Ah yesterday.

Thanos: Could you not? (Pause.)

Would you like me to scratch you? (Pause.) Are you crying again?

Cap: I was trying. (Pause.)

Iron Man: Perhaps it’s a little vein. (Pause.)

Nebula: What was that he said?

The Wasp: Perhaps it’s a little vein.

Shuri: What does that mean? (Pause.) That means nothing. (Pause.) Shall I tell you the story of the tailor?

Cap: No. (Pause.) What for?

Thanos: To cheer you up.

Falcon: It’s not funny.

Groot: It always made you laugh. (Pause.) The first time I thought you’d die.

Bucky: It was on Lake Como. (Pause.) One April afternoon. (Pause.) Can you believe it?

Thanos: What?

Auntie May: That we once went out rowing on Lake Como. (Pause.) One April afternoon.

Nebula: We had got engaged the day before.

Ramonda: Engaged!

Ant-Man: You were in such fits that we cap-sized. By rights we should have been drowned.

Cap: It was because I felt happy.

Black Panther (indignant): It was not, it was not, it was my STORY and nothing else. Happy! Don’t you laugh at it still? Every time I tell it. Happy!

Janet van Dyne: It was deep, deep. And you could see down to the bottom. So white. So clean.

Nebula: Let me tell it again. (Raconteur’s voice.) An Englishman, needing a pair of striped trousers in a hurry for the New Year festivities, goes to his tailor who takes his measurements. (Tailor’s voice.) “That’s the lot, come back in four days, I’ll have it ready.” Good. Four days later. (Tailor’s voice.) “So sorry, come back in a week, I’ve made a mess of the seat.” Good, that’s all right, a neat seat can be very ticklish. A week later. (Tailor’s voice.)” Frightfully sorry, come back in ten days, I’ve made a hash of the crotch.” Good, can’t be helped, a snug crotch is always a teaser. Ten days later. (Tailor’s voice.) “Dreadfully sorry, come back in a fortnight, I’ve made a balls of the fly.” Good, at a pinch, a smart fly is a stiff proposition. (Pause. Normal voice.) I never told it worse. (Pause. Gloomy.) I tell this story worse and worse. (Pause. Raconteur’s voice.) Well, to make it short, the bluebells are blowing and he ballockses the buttonholes. (Customer’s voice.) “God damn you to hell, Sir, no, it’s indecent, there are limits! In six days, do you hear me, six days, God made the world. Yes Sir, no less Sir, the WORLD! And you are not bloody well capable of making me a pair of trousers in three months!” (Tailor’s voice, scandalized.) “But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look - (disdainful gesture, disgustedly) - at the world - (Pause.) and look - (loving gesture, proudly) - at my TROUSERS!”

(Pause. He looks at Heimdall who has remained impassive, her eyes unseeing. He breaks into a high forced laugh, cuts it short, pokes his head towards Heimdall, launches his laugh again.)

Black Widow: Silence! (Nebula starts, cuts short his laugh.)

Hogan: You could see down to the bottom.

Hawkeye (exasperated): Have you not finished? Will you never finish? (With sudden fury.) Will this never finish? (Thanos disappears into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Hogan does not move. Frenziedly.) My kingdom for a nightman! (He whistles. Enter Cap.) Clear away this muck! Chuck it in the sea! (Cap goes to bins, halts.)

Kat: So white.

Iron Man: What? What’s she blathering about? (Dr Strange stoops, takes Rhodes ’s hand, feels her pulse.)

Auntie May (to Dr Strange ): Desert! (Dr Strange lets go her hand, pushes her back in the bin, closes the lid.)

Ant-Man (returning to his place beside the chair): She has no pulse.

Iron Man: What was she drivelling about?

Ant-Man: She told me to go away, into the desert.

Hawkeye: Damn busybody! Is that all?

Captain Marvel: No.

Iron Man: What else?

Dr Strange: I didn’t understand.

Auntie May: Have you bottled her?

Thor: Yes.

Iron Man: Are they both bottled?

Dr Strange: Yes.

Hawkeye: Screw down the lids. (Ant-Man goes towards door.)

Time enough. (Thor halts.) My anger subsides, I’d like to pee.

Cap (with alacrity): I’ll go get the catheter. (He goes towards door.)

Black Widow: Time enough. (Captain Marvel halts.) Give me my pain killer.

Thor: It’s too soon. (Pause.) It’s too soon on top of your tonic, it wouldn’t act.

Hulk: In the morning they brace you up and in the evening they calm you down. Unless it’s the other way round. (Pause.) That old doctor, he’s dead naturally?

Cap: He wasn’t old.

Hawkeye: But he’s dead?

Ant-Man: Naturally. (Pause.) You ask me that? (Pause.)

Hulk: Take me for a little turn. (Dr Strange goes behind the chair and pushes it forward.) Not too fast! (Dr Strange pushes chair.) Right round the world! (Dr Strange pushes chair.) Hug the walls, then back to the center again. (Dr Strange pushes chair.) I was right in the center, wasn’t I?

Ant-Man (pushing): Yes.

Hulk: We’d need a proper wheel-chair. With big wheels. Bicycle wheels! (Pause.) Are you hugging?

Captain Marvel (pushing): Yes.

Black Widow (groping for wall): It’s a lie! Why do you lie to me?

Cap (bearing closer to wall): There! There!

Hulk: Stop! (Thor stops chair close to back wall. Hulk lays his hand against wall.)

Old wall! (Pause.) Beyond is the ... other hell. (Pause. Violently.) Closer! Closer! Up against!

Cap: Take away your hand. (Hulk withdraws his hand. Cap rams chair against wall.) There! (Hulk leans towards wall, applies his ear to it.)

Auntie May: Do you hear? (He strikes the wall with his knuckles.) Do you hear? Hollow bricks! (He strikes again.)

All that’s hollow! (Pause. He straightens up. Violently.) That’s enough. Back!

Ant-Man: We haven’t done the round.

Iron Man: Back to my place! (Thor pushes chair back to center.) Is that my place?

Dr Strange: Yes, that’s your place.

Black Widow: Am I right in the center?

Thor: I’ll measure it.

Hawkeye: More or less! More or less!

Ant-Man (moving chair slightly): There!

Hulk: I’m more or less in the center?

Cap: I’d say so.

Hawkeye: You’d say so! Put me right in the center!

Dr Strange: I’ll go and get the tape.

Hulk: Roughly! Roughly! (Captain Marvel moves chair slightly.) Bang in the center!

Ant-Man: There! (Pause.)

Hulk: I feel a little too far to the left. (Dr Strange moves chair slightly.) Now I feel a little too far to the right. (Dr Strange moves chair slightly.) I feel a little too far forward. (Dr Strange moves chair slightly.) Now I feel a little too far back. (Dr Strange moves chair slightly.) Don’t stay there. You give me the shivers. (Dr Strange returns to his place beside the chair.)

Cap: If I could kill him I’d die happy. (Pause.)

Hawkeye: What’s the weather like?

Ant-Man: As usual.

Hawkeye: Look at the earth.

Captain Marvel: I’ve looked.

Hawkeye: With the glass?

Ant-Man: No need of the glass.

Hawkeye: Look at it with the glass.

Ant-Man: I’ll go and get the glass. (Exit Ant-Man.)

Hawkeye: No need of the glass! (Enter Thor with telescope.)

Ant-Man: I’m back again, with the glass. (He goes to window right, looks up at it.) I need the steps.

Hulk: Why? Have you shrunk? (Exit Dr Strange with telescope.)

I don’t like that, I don’t like that. (Enter Cap with ladder, but without telescope.)

Dr Strange: I’m back again, with the steps. (He sets down ladder under window right, gets up on it, realizes he has not the telescope, gets down.) I need the glass. (He goes towards door.)

Black Widow (violently): But you have the glass!

Ant-Man (halting, violently): No, I haven’t the glass! (Exit Ant-Man.)

Auntie May: This is deadly. (Enter Ant-Man with the telescope. He goes towards ladder.)

Thor: Things are livening up. (He gets up on ladder, raises the telescope, lets it fall.) I did it on purpose. (He gets down, picks up the telescope, turns it on auditorium.) I see ... a multitude ... in transports ... of joy. (Pause. He lowers telescope, looks at it.) That’s what I call a magnifier. (He turns toward Black Widow.) Well? Don’t we laugh?

Black Widow (after reflection): I don’t.

Cap (after reflection): Nor I. (He gets up on ladder, turns the telescope on the without.)

Let’s see. (He looks, moving the telescope.) Zero ... (he looks) ...zero ... (he looks) ...and zero.

Hawkeye: Nothing stirs. All is -

Ant-Man: Zer -

Auntie May (violently): Wait till you’re spoken to! (Normal voice.)

All is ... all is ... all is what? (Violently.) All is what?

Dr Strange: What all is? In a word? Is that what you want to know? Just a moment. (He turns the telescope on the without, looks, lowers the telescope, turns towards Black Widow.) Corpsed. (Pause.) Well? Content?

Iron Man: Look at the sea.

Captain Marvel: It’s the same.

Auntie May: Look at the ocean!

(Cap gets down, takes a few steps towards window left, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, turns the telescope on the without, looks at length. He starts, lowers the telescope, examines it, turns it again on the without.)

Cap: Never seen anything like that!

Spiderman (anxious): What? A sail? A fin? Smoke?

Cap (looking): The light is sunk.

Black Widow (relieved): Pah! We all knew that.

Dr Strange (looking): There was a bit left.

Hulk: The base.

Ant-Man (looking): Yes.

Hawkeye: And now?

Thor (looking): All gone.

Iron Man: No gulls?

Captain Marvel (looking): Gulls!

Hulk: And the horizon? Nothing on the horizon?

Dr Strange (lowering the telescope, turning towards Auntie May, exasperated): What in God’s name could there be on the horizon? (Pause.)

Hawkeye: The waves, how are the waves?

Dr Strange: The waves? (He turns the telescope on the waves.) Lead.

Auntie May: And the sun?

Cap (looking): Zero.

Hulk: But it should be sinking. Look again.

Iron Man (looking): Damn the sun.

Hawkeye: Is it night already then?

Dr Strange (looking): No.

Hawkeye: Then what is it?

Dr Strange (looking): Gray. (Lowering the telescope, turning towards Hawkeye, louder.) Gray! (Pause. Still louder.) GRRAY! (Pause. He gets down, approaches Hawkeye from behind, whispers in his ear.)

Iron Man (starting): Gray! Did I hear you say gray?

Captain Marvel: Light black. From pole to pole.

Andy Spragg: You exaggerate. (Pause.) Don’t stay there, you give me the shivers. (Ant-Man returns to his place beside the chair.)

Dr Strange: Why this farce, day after day?

Hawkeye: Routine. One never knows. (Pause.)

Last night I saw inside my breast. There was a big sore.

Thanos: Pah! You saw your heart.

Ant-Man: No, it was living. (Pause. Anguished.) Groot!

Nebula: Yes.

Cap: What’s happening?

Nebula: Something is taking its course. (Pause.)

Thor: Shuri!

Groot (impatiently): What is it?

Cap: We’re not beginning to ... to ... mean something?

Thanos: Mean something! You and I, mean something! (Brief laugh.) Ah that’s a good one!

Thor: I wonder. (Pause.) Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn’t he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough. (Voice of rational being.) Ah, good, now I see what it is, yes, now I understand what they’re at! (Nebula starts, drops the telescope and begins to scratch his belly with both hands. Normal voice.) And without going so far as that, we ourselves ... (with emotion) ... we ourselves ... at certain moments ... (Vehemently.) To think perhaps it won’t all have been for nothing!

Black Panther (anguished, scratching himself): I have a flea!

Ant-Man: A flea! Are there still fleas?

Black Panther: On me there’s one. (Scratching.) Unless it’s a crab louse.

Ant-Man (very perturbed): But humanity might start from there all over again! Catch him, for the love of God!

Thanos: I’ll go and get the powder. (Exit Thanos.)

Cap: A flea! This is awful! What a day! (Enter Black Panther with a sprinkling-tin.)

Groot: I’m back again, with the insecticide.

Cap: Let him have it!

(Groot loosens the top of his trousers, pulls it forward and shakes powder into the aperture. He stoops, looks, waits, starts, frenziedly shakes more powder, stoops, looks, waits.)

Nehaal: The bastard!

Cap: Did you get him?

Black Panther: Looks like it. (He drops the tin and adjusts his trousers.) Unless he’s laying doggo.

Captain Marvel: Laying! Lying, you mean. Unless he’s lying doggo.

Shuri: Ah? One says lying? One doesn’t say laying?

Cap: Use your head, can’t you. If he was laying we’d be bitched.

Thanos: Ah. (Pause.) What about that pee?

Ant-Man: I’m having it.

Groot: Ah that’s the spirit, that’s the spirit! (Pause.)

Captain Marvel (with ardour): Let’s go from here, the two of us! South! You can make a raft and the currents will carry us away, far away, to other ... mammals!

Groot: God forbid!

Thor: Alone, I’ll embark alone! Get working on that raft immediately. Tomorrow I’ll be gone forever.

Groot (hastening towards door): I’ll start straight away.

Ant-Man: Wait! (Shuri halts.) Will there be sharks, do you think?

Black Panther: Sharks? I don’t know. If there are there will be. (He goes towards door.)

Dr Strange: Wait! (Thanos halts.) Is it not yet time for my pain-killer?

Black Panther (violently): No! (He goes towards door.)

Cap: Wait! (Groot halts.) How are your eyes?

Nebula: Bad.

Cap: But you can see.

Shuri: All I want.

Ant-Man: How are your legs?

Shuri: Bad.

Thor: But you can walk.

Thanos: I come ... and go.

Dr Strange: In my house. (Pause. With prophetic relish.) One day you’ll be blind like me. You’ll be sitting here, a speck in the void, in the dark, forever, like me. (Pause.) One day you’ll say to yourself, I’m tired, I’ll sit down, and you’ll go and sit down. Then you’ll say, I’m hungry, I’ll get up and get something to eat. But you won’t get up. You’ll say, I shouldn’t have sat down, but since I have I’ll sit on a little longer, then I’ll get up and get something to eat. But you won’t get up and you won’t get anything to eat. (Pause.) You’ll look at the wall a while, then you’ll say, I’ll close my eyes, perhaps have a little sleep, after that I’ll feel better, and you’ll close them. And when you open them again there’ll be no wall any more. (Pause.) Infinite emptiness will be all around you, all the resurrected dead of all the ages wouldn’t fill it, and there you’ll be like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe. (Pause.) Yes, one day you’ll know what it is, you’ll be like me, except that you won’t have anyone with you, because you won’t have had pity on anyone and because there won’t be anyone left to have pity on you. (Pause.)

Groot: It’s not certain. (Pause.) And there’s one thing you forgot.

Dr Strange: Ah?

Black Panther: I can’t sit down.

Ant-Man (impatiently): Well you’ll lie down then, what the hell! Or you’ll come to a standstill, simply stop and stand still, the way you are now. One day you’ll say, I’m tired, I’ll stop. What does the attitude matter? (Pause.)

Nebula: So you all want me to leave you.

Captain Marvel: Naturally.

Thanos: Then I’ll leave you.

Ant-Man: You can’t leave us.

Black Panther: Then I won’t leave you. (Pause.)

Cap: Why don’t you finish us? (Pause.) I’ll tell you the combination of the cupboard if you promise to finish me.

Nebula: I couldn’t finish you.

Ant-Man: Then you won’t finish me. (Pause.)

Nebula: I’ll leave you, I have things to do.

Dr Strange: Do you remember when you came here?

Shuri: No. Too small, you told me.

Cap: Do you remember your father?

Thanos (wearily): Same answer. (Pause.) You’ve asked me these questions millions of times.

Captain Marvel: I love the old questions. (With fervour.) Ah the old questions, the old answers, there’s nothing like them! (Pause.) It was I was a father to you.

Black Panther: Yes. (He looks at Dr Strange fixedly.) You were that to me.

Thor: My house a home for you.

Shuri: Yes. (He looks about him.) This was that for me.

Thor (proudly): But for me, (gesture towards himself) no father. But for Thor, (gesture towards surroundings) no home. (Pause.)

Black Panther: I’ll leave you.

Ant-Man: Did you ever think of one thing?

Shuri: Never.

Ant-Man: That here we’re down in a hole. (Pause.) But beyond the hills? Eh? Perhaps it’s still green. Eh? (Pause.) Flora! Pomona! (Ecstatically.) Ceres! (Pause.) Perhaps you won’t need to go very far.

Thanos: I can’t go very far. (Pause.) I’ll leave you.

Alison: Is my dog ready?

Thanos: He lacks a leg.

Alison: Is he silky?

Shuri: He’s kind of a Pomeranian.

Thor: Go and get him.

Nebula: He lacks a leg.

Alison: Go and get him! (Exit Black Panther.) We’re getting on. (Enter Black Panther holding by one of its three legs a black toy dog.)

Groot: Your dogs are here. (He hands the dog to Ant-Man who feels it, fondles it.) 

Ant-Man: He’s white, isn’t he?

Groot: Nearly.

Dr Strange: What do you mean, nearly? Is he white or isn’t he?

Nebula: He isn’t. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: You’ve forgotten the sex.

Groot (vexed): But he isn’t finished. The sex goes on at the end. (Pause.) Captain Marvel: You haven’t put on his ribbon.

Groot (angrily): But he isn’t finished, I tell you! First you finish your dog and then you put on his ribbon! (Pause.) Thor: Can he stand?

Black Panther: I don’t know.

Cap: Try. (He hands the dog to Shuri who places it on the ground.) Well?

Thanos: Wait! (He squats down and tries to get the dog to stand on its three legs, fails, lets it go. The dog falls on its side.)

Captain Marvel (impatiently): Well?

Groot: He’s standing.

Ant-Man (groping for the dog): Where? Where is he? (Thanos holds up the dog in a standing position.)

Nebula: There. (He takes Dr Strange ’s hand and guides it towards the dog’s head.) Dr Strange (his hand on the dog’s head): Is he gazing at me?

Black Panther: Yes.

Cap (proudly): As if he were asking me to take him for a walk?

Thanos: If you like.

Captain Marvel (as before): Or as if he were begging me for a bone. (He withdraws his hand.) Leave him like that, standing there imploring me. (Groot straightens up. The dog falls on its side.)

Black Panther: I’ll leave you.

Cap: Have you had your visions?

Thanos: Less.

Thor: Is Mother Pegg’s light on?

Shuri: Light! How could anyone’s light be on?

Dr Strange: Extinguished!

Black Panther: Naturally it’s extinguished. If it’s not on it’s extinguished.

Ant-Man: No, I mean Mother Pegg.

Nebula: But naturally she’s extinguished! (Pause.) What’s the matter with you today?

Cap: I’m taking my course. (Pause.) Is she buried?

Shuri: Buried! Who would have buried her?

Ant-Man: You.

Groot: Me! Haven’t I enough to do without burying people?

Ant-Man: But you’ll bury me.

Groot: No I won’t bury you. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: She was bonny once, like a flower of the field. (With reminiscent leer.) And a great one for the men!

Thanos: We too were bonny - once. It’s a rare thing not to have been bonny - once. (Pause.) Dr Strange: Go and get the gaff. (Thanos goes to the door, halts.)

Thanos: Do this, do that, and I do it. I never refuse. Why?

Ant-Man: You’re not able to.

Thanos: Soon I won’t do it any more.

Thor: You won’t be able to any more. (Exit Shuri.) Ah the creatures, the creatures, everything has to be explained to them. (Enter Shuri with gaff.)

Groot: Here’s your gaff. Stick it up. (He gives the gaff to Dr Strange who, wielding it like a puntpole, tries to move his chair.)

Ant-Man: Did I move?

Thanos: No. (Cap throws down the gaff.)

Cap: Go and get the oilcan.

Thanos: What for?

Cap: To oil the castors.

Groot: I oiled them yesterday.

Ant-Man: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!

Nebula (violently): That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent. (Pause.)

Dr Strange: I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He was a painter - and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used to go and see him, in the asylum. I’d take him by the hand and drag him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there! Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness! (Pause.) He’d snatch away his hand and go back into his corner. Appalled. All he had seen was ashes. (Pause.) He alone had been spared. (Pause.) Forgotten. (Pause.) It appears the case is ... was not so ... so unusual.

Black Panther: A madman? When was that?

Captain Marvel: Oh way back, way back, you weren’t in the land of the living.

Nebula: God be with those days. (Pause. Thor raises his toque.) Thor: I had a great fondness for him. (Pause. He puts on his toque again.) He was a painter - and engraver.

Shuri: There are so many terrible things.

Cap: No, no, there are not so many now. (Pause.) Shuri!

Nebula: Yes.

Ant-Man: Do you not think this has gone on long enough?

Black Panther: Yes! (Pause.) What?

Dr Strange: This ... this ... thing.

Groot: I’ve always thought so. (Pause.) You not?

Cap (gloomily): Then it’s a day like any other day.

Thanos: As long as it lasts. (Pause.) All life long the same inanities.

Cap: I can’t leave you.

Nebula: I know. And you can’t follow me. (Pause.)

Thor: If you leave me how shall I know?

Nebula (briskly): Well you simply whistle me and if I don’t come running it means I’ve left you. (Pause.) Cap: You won’t come and kiss me goodbye?

Black Panther: Oh I shouldn’t think so. (Pause.)

Ant-Man: But you might be merely dead in your kitchen.

Thanos: The result would be the same.

Ant-Man: Yes, but how would I know, if you were merely dead in your kitchen?

Groot: Well ... sooner or later I’d start to stink.

Cap: You stink already. The whole place stinks of corpses.

Thanos: The whole universe.

Cap (angrily): To hell with the universe. (Pause.) Think of something.

Thanos: What?

Ant-Man: An idea, have an idea. (Angrily.) A bright idea!

Shuri: Ah good. (He starts pacing to and fro, his eyes fixed on the ground, his hands behind his back. He halts.) The pains in my legs! It’s unbelievable! Soon I won’t be able to think any more.

Captain Marvel: You won’t be able to leave me. (Black Panther resumes his pacing.) What are you doing?

Thanos: Having an idea. (He paces.) Ah! (He halts.)

Ant-Man: What a brain! (Pause.) Well?

Thanos: Wait! (He meditates. Not very convinced.) Yes ... (He raises his head.) I have it! I set the alarm. (Pause.)

Dr Strange: This is perhaps not one of my bright days, but frankly -

Nebula: You whistle me. I don’t come. The alarm rings. I’m gone. It doesn’t ring. I’m dead. (Pause.) Thor: Is it working? (Pause. Impatiently.) The alarm, is it working?

Shuri: Why wouldn’t it be working?

Ant-Man: Because it’s worked too much.

Shuri: But it’s hardly worked at all.

Cap (angrily): Then because it’s worked too little!

Black Panther: I’ll go and see. (Exit Black Panther. Brief ring of alarm offstage. Enter Black Panther with alarm-clock. He holds it against Captain Marvel ’s ear and releases alarm. They listen to it ringing to the end. Pause.) Fit to wake the dead! Did you hear it?

Dr Strange: Vaguely.

Black Panther: The end is terrific!

Thor: I prefer the middle. (Pause.) Is is not time for my pain-killer?

Black Panther: No! (He goes to door, turns.) I’ll leave you.

Cap: It’s time for my story. Do you want to listen to my story?

Black Panther: No.

Ant-Man: Ask my father if he wants to listen to my story. (Nebula goes to bins, raises the lid of Ebony Maw’s, stoops, looks into it. Pause. He straightens up.)

Thanos: He’s asleep.

Dr Strange: Wake him. (Black Panther stoops, wakes Dr Strange with the alarm. Unintelligible words. Black Panther straightens up.) Black Panther: He doesn’t want to listen to your story.

Dr Strange: I’ll give him a bon-bon. (Groot stoops. As before.)

Thanos: He wants a sugar-plum.

Ant-Man: He’ll get a sugar-plum. (Black Panther stoops. As before.)

Black Panther: It’s a deal. (He goes towards door. Peggy Carter’s hands appear, gripping the rim. Then the head emerges. Black Panther reaches door, turns.) Do you believe in the life to come?

Captain Marvel: Mine was always that. (Exit Black Panther.) Got him that time!

Skurge: I’m listening.

Dr Strange: Scoundrel! Why did you engender me?

Black Widow: I didn’t know.

Ant-Man: What? What didn’t you know?

Andy Spragg: That it’d be you. (Pause.) You’ll give me a sugar-plum?

Captain Marvel: After the audition.

Thaddeus Ross: You swear?

Ant-Man: Yes.

Black Widow: On what?

Cap: My honor. (Pause. They laugh heartily.) Dr Strange: Two.

Captain Marvel: One.

Callan Mulvey: One for me and one for -

Thor: One! Silence! (Pause.) Where was I? (Pause. Gloomily.) It’s finished, we’re finished. (Pause.) Nearly finished. (Pause.) There’ll be no more speech. (Pause.) Something dripping in my head, ever since the fontanelles. (Stifled hilarity of Falcon.) Splash, splash, always on the same spot. (Pause.) Perhaps it’s a little vein. (Pause.) A little artery. (Pause. More animated.) Enough of that, it’s story time, where was I? (Pause. Narrative tone.) The man came crawling towards me, on his belly. Pale, wonderfully pale and thin, he seemed on the point of - (Pause. Normal tone.) No, I’ve done that bit. (Pause. Narrative tone.) I calmly filled my pipe - the meerschaum, lit it with ... let us say a vesta, drew a few puffs. Aah! (Pause.) Well, what is it you want? (Pause.) It was an extra-ordinarily bitter day, I remember, zero by the thermometer. But considering it was Christmas Eve there was nothing ... extra-ordinary about that. Seasonable weather, for once in a way. (Pause.) Well, what ill wind blows you my way? He raised his face to me, black with mingled dirt and tears. (Pause. Normal tone.) That should do it. (Narrative tone.) No no, don’t look at me, don’t look at me. He dropped his eyes and mumbled something, apologies I presume. (Pause.) I’m a busy man, you know, the final touches, before the festivities, you know what it is. (Pause. Forcibly.) Come on now, what is the object of this invasion? (Pause.) It was a glorious bright day, I remember, fifty by the heliometer, but already the sun was sinking down into the ... down among the dead. (Normal voice.) Nicely put, that. (Narrative tone.) Come on now, come on, present your petition and let me resume my labors. (Pause. Normal tone.) There’s English for you. Ah well ... (Narrative tone.) It was then he took the plunge. It’s my little one, he said. Tsstss, a little one, that’s bad. My little boy, he said, as if the sex mattered. Where did he come from? He named the hole. A good half-day, on horse. What are you insinuating? That the place is still inhabited? No no, not a soul, except himself and the child - assuming he existed. Good. I enquired about the situation at Kov, beyond the gulf. Not a sinner. Good. And you expect me to believe you have left your little one back there, all alone, and alive into the bargain? Come now! (Pause.) It was a howling day, I remember, a hundred by the anenometer. The wind was tearing up the dead pines and sweeping them ... away. (Pause. Normal tone.) A feeble bit, that. (Narrative tone.) Come on, man, speak up, what is it you want from me, I have to put up my holly. (Pause.) Well to make it short it finally transpired that what he wanted from me was ... bread for his brat? Bread? But I have no bread, it doesn’t agree with me. Good. Then perhaps a little corn? (Pause. Normal tone.) That should do it. (Narrative tone.) Corn, yes, I have corn, it’s true, in my granaries. But use your head. I give you some corn, a pound, a pound and a half, you bring it back to your child and you make him - if he’s still alive - a nice pot of porridge. (Falcon reacts.) a nice pot and a half of porridge, full of nourishment. Good. The colors come back into his little cheeks - perhaps. And then? (Pause.) I lost patience. (Violently.) Use your head, can’t you, use your head. You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that! (Pause.) It was an exceedingly dry day, I remember, zero by the hygrometer. Ideal weather, for my lumbago. (Pause. Violently.) But what in God’s name do you imagine? That the earth will awake in the spring? That the rivers and seas will run with fish again? That there’s manna in heaven still for imbeciles like you? (Pause.) Gradually I cooled down, sufficiently at least to ask him how long he had taken on the way. Three whole days. Good. In what condition he had left the child. Deep in sleep. (Forcibly.) But deep in what sleep, deep in what sleep already? (Pause.) Well to make it short I finally offered to take him into my service. He had touched a chord. And then I imagined already that I wasn’t much longer for this world. (He laughs. Pause.) Well? (Pause.) Well? Here if you were careful you might die a nice natural death, in peace and comfort. (Pause.) Well? (Pause.) In the end he asked me would I consent to take in the child as well - if he were still alive. (Pause.) It was the moment I was waiting for. (Pause.) Would I consent to take in the child ... (Pause.) I can see him still, down on his knees, his hands flat on the ground, glaring at me with his mad eyes, in defiance of my wishes. (Pause. Normal tone.) I’ll soon have finished with this story. (Pause.) Unless I bring in other characters. (Pause.) But where would I find them? (Pause.) Where would I look for them? (Pause. He whistles. Enter Shuri.) Let us pray to God.

Mantis: Me sugar-plum!

Black Panther: There’s a rat in the kitchen!

Ant-Man: A rat! Are there still rats?

Nebula: In the kitchen there’s one.

Ant-Man: And you haven’t exterminated him?

Groot: Half. You disturbed us.

Ant-Man: He can’t get away?

Black Panther: No.

Thor: You’ll finish him later. Let us pray to God.

Thanos: Again!

Grandmaster: Me sugar-plum!

Captain Marvel: God first! (Pause.) Are you right?

Black Panther (resigned): Off we go.

Thor (to Groot): And you?

Thanos (clasping his hands, closing his eyes, in a gabble): Our Father which art -

Cap: Silence! In silence! Where are your manners? (Pause.) Off we go. (Attitudes of prayer. Silence. Abandoning his attitude, discouraged.) Well?

Black Panther (abandoning his attitude): What a hope! And you?

Spiderman: Sweet damn all! (To Thanos.) And you?

Black Panther: Wait! (Pause. Abandoning his attitude.) Nothing doing!

Cap: The bastard!! He doesn’t exist.

Thanos: Not yet.

Grandmaster: Me sugar-plum!

Gamora: There are no more sugar plums! (Pause.)

Black Panther: It’s natural. After all I’m your father. It’s true if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. But that’s no excuse. (Pause.) Turkish Delight, for example, which no longer exists, we all know that, there is nothing in the world I love more. And one day I’ll ask you for some, in return for a kindness, and you’ll promise it to me. One must live with the times. (Pause.) Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace. (Pause.) I was asleep, as happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn’t indispensable, you didn’t really need to have me listen to you. (Pause.) I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice. (Pause.) Yes, I hope I’ll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope. (Pause. Black Panther knocks on lid of Black Panther ’s bin. Pause.) Black Panther! (Pause. He knocks louder. Pause. Louder.) Black Panther! (Pause. Black Panther sinks back into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Pause.) Captain Marvel: Our revels now are ended. (He gropes for the dog.) The dog’s gone.

Hulk: He’s not a real dog, he can’t go.

Spiderman (groping): He’s not there.

Hulk: He’s lain down.

Captain Marvel: Give him up to me. (Iron Man picks up the dog and gives it to Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel holds it in his arms. Pause. Captain Marvel throws away the dog.) Dirty brute! (Iron Man begins to pick up the objects lying on the ground.) What are you doing?

Iron Man: Putting things in order. (He straightens up. Fervently.) I’m going to clear everything away! (He starts picking up again.)

Thor: Order!

Iron Man (straightening up): I love order. It’s my dream. A world where all would be silent and still, and each thing in its last place, under the last dust. (He starts picking up again.)

Thor (exasperated): What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?

Thanos (straightening up): I’m doing my best to create a little order.

Spiderman: Drop it! (Iron Man drops the objects he has picked up.)

Iron Man: After all, there or elsewhere. (He goes towards door.)

Gamora (irritably): What’s wrong with your feet?

Hulk: My feet?

Spiderman: Tramp! Tramp!

Black Panther: I must have put on my boots.

Gamora: Your slippers were hurting you? (Pause.)

Hulk: I’ll leave you.

Cap: No!

Iron Man: What is there to keep me here?

Captain Marvel: The dialogue. (Pause.) I’ve got on with my story. (Pause.) I’ve got on with it well. (Pause. Irritably.) Ask me where I’ve got to.

Black Panther: Oh, by the way, your story?

Captain Marvel (surprised): What story?

Black Panther: The one you’ve been telling yourself all your days.

Cap: Ah you mean my chronicle?

Black Panther: That’s the one. (Pause.)

Cap (angrily): Keep going, can’t you, keep going!

Iron Man: You’ve got on with it, I hope.

Gamora (modestly): Oh not very far, not very far. (He sighs.) There are days like that, one isn’t inspired. (Pause.) Nothing you can do about it, just wait for it to come. (Pause.) No forcing, no forcing, it’s fatal. (Pause.) I’ve got on with it a little all the same. (Pause.) Technique, you know. (Pause. Irritably.) I say I’ve got on with it a little all the same.

Hulk (admiringly): Well I never! In spite of everything you were able to get on with it!

Cap (modestly): Oh not very far, you know, not very far, but nevertheless, better than nothing.

Iron Man: Better than nothing! Is it possible?

Spiderman: I’ll tell you how it goes. He comes crawling on his belly -

Thanos: Who?

Cap: What?

Iron Man: Who do you mean, he?

Thor: Who do I mean! Yet another.

Thanos: Ah him. I wasn’t sure.

Cap: Crawling on his belly, whining for bread for his brat. He’s offered a job as gardener. Before - (Black Panther bursts out laughing.) What is there so funny about that?

Thanos: A job as gardener!

Captain Marvel: Is that what tickles you?

Iron Man: It must be that.

Captain Marvel: It wouldn’t be the bread?

Black Panther: Or the brat. (Pause.)

Cap: The whole thing is comical, I grant you that. What about having a good guffaw, the two of us together?

Iron Man (after reflection): I couldn’t guffaw again today.

Spiderman (after reflection): Nor I. (Pause.) I continue then. Before accepting with gratitude he asks if he may have his little boy with him.

Iron Man: What age?

Cap: Oh tiny.

Hulk: He would have climbed the trees.

Thor: All the little odd jobs.

Black Panther: And then he would have grown up.

Spiderman: Very likely. (Pause.)

Thanos: Keep going, can’t you, keep going?

Captain Marvel: That’s all. I stopped there. (Pause.)

Hulk: Do you see how it goes on?

Spiderman: More or less.

Hulk: Will it not soon be the end?

Captain Marvel: I’m afraid it will.

Hulk: Pah! You’ll make up another.

Captain Marvel: I don’t know. (Pause.) I feel rather drained. (Pause.) The prolonged creative effort. (Pause.) If I could drag myself down to the sea! I’d make a pillow of sand for my head and the tide would come.

Thanos: There’s no more tide. (Pause.)

Gamora: Go and see is she dead. (Thanos goes to bins, raises the lid of Hank Pym ’s, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)

Thanos: Looks like it. (He closes the lid, straightens up. Captain Marvel raises his toque. Pause. He puts it on again.)

Gamora (with his hand to his toque): And Groot? (Hulk raises lid of Groot’s bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)

Iron Man: Doesn’t look like it. (He closes the lid, straightens up.) Captain Marvel (letting go his toque): What’s he doing? (Iron Man raises lid of Scarlet Witch’s bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)

Iron Man: He’s crying. (He closes lid, straightens up.) Thor: Then he’s living. (Pause.) Did you ever have an instant of happiness?

Black Panther:

Not to my knowledge. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: Bring me under the window. (Hulk goes towards chair.) I want to feel the light on my face. (Hulk pushes chair.) Do you remember, in the beginning, when you took me for a turn? You used to hold the chair too high. At every step you nearly tipped me out. (With senile quaver.) Ah great fun, we had, the two of us, great fun. (Gloomily.) And then we got into the way of it. (Hulk stops the chair under window right.) There already? (Pause. He tilts back his head.) Is it light?

Thanos: It isn’t dark.

Cap (angrily): I’m asking you is it light?

Hulk: Yes. (Pause.)

Thor: The curtain isn’t closed?

Thanos: No.

Spiderman: What window is it?

Black Panther: The earth.

Spiderman: I knew it! (Angrily.) But there’s no light there! The other! (Iron Man pushes chair towards window left.) The earth! (Iron Man stops the chair under window left. Spiderman tilts back his head.) That’s what I call light! (Pause.) Feels like a ray of sunshine. (Pause.) No?

Iron Man: No.

Spiderman: It isn’t a ray of sunshine I feel on my face?

Iron Man: No. (Pause.)

Spiderman: Am I very white? (Pause. Angrily.) I’m asking you am I very white?

Thanos: Not more so than usual. (Pause.)

Cap: Open the window.

Iron Man: What for?

Cap: I want to hear the sea.

Hulk: You wouldn’t hear it.

Gamora: Even if you opened the window?

Thanos: No.

Thor: Than it’s not worth while opening it?

Iron Man: No.

Captain Marvel (violently): Than open it! (Black Panther gets up on the ladder, opens the window. Pause.) Have you opened it?

Iron Man: Yes. (Pause.)

Thor: You swear you’ve opened it?

Iron Man: Yes. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: Well ...! (Pause.) It must be very calm. (Pause. Violently.) I’m asking you is it very calm!

Black Panther: Yes.

Cap: It’s because there are no more navigators. (Pause.) You haven’t much conversation all of a sudden. Do you not feel well?

Thanos: I’m cold.

Captain Marvel: What month are we? (Pause.) Close the window, we’re going back. (Hulk closes the window, gets down, pushes the chair back to its place, remains standing behind it, head bowed.) Don’t stand there, you give me the shivers! (Hulk returns to his place beside the chair.) Father! (Pause. Louder.) Father! (Pause.) Go and see did he hear me. (Hulk goes to Groot’s bin, raises the lid, stoops. Unintelligible words. Hulk straightens up.)

Iron Man: Yes.

Captain Marvel: Both times? (Hulk stoops. As before.)

Iron Man: Once only.

Cap: The first time or the second? (Iron Man stoops. As before.)

Iron Man: He doesn’t know.

Gamora: It must have been the second.

Iron Man: We’ll never know. (He closes lid.)

Thor: Is he still crying?

Black Panther: No.

Gamora: The dead go fast. (Pause.) What’s he doing?

Black Panther: Sucking his biscuit.

Captain Marvel: Life goes on. (Black Panther returns to his place beside the chair.) Give me the rug, I’m freezing.

Black Panther: There are no more rugs. (Pause.)

Spiderman: Kiss me. (Pause.) Will you not kiss me?

Iron Man: No.

Captain Marvel: On the forehead.

Iron Man: I won’t kiss you anywhere. (Pause.)

Gamora (holding out his hand): Give me your hand at least. (Pause.) Will you not give me your hand?

Thanos: I won’t touch you. (Pause.)

Captain Marvel: Give me the dog. (Hulk looks round for the dog.) No!

Iron Man: Do you not want your dog?

Gamora: No.

Black Panther: Then I’ll leave you.

Spiderman (head bowed, absently): That’s right. (Iron Man goes to door, turns.)

Thanos: If I don’t kill that rat he’ll die.

Gamora (as before): That’s right. (Exit Hulk. Pause.) Me to play. (He takes out his handkerchief, unfolds it, holds it spread out before him.) We’re getting on. (Pause.) You weep, and weep, for nothing, so as not to laugh, and little by little ... you begin to grieve. (He folds the handkerchief, puts it back in his pocket, raises his head.) All those I might have helped. (Pause.) Helped! (Pause.) Saved. (Pause.) Saved! (Pause.) The place was crawling with them (Pause. Violently.) Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on earth, there’s no cure for that! (Pause.) Get out of here and love one another! Lick your neighbor as yourself! (Pause. Calmer.) When it wasn’t bread they wanted it was crumpets. (Pause. Violently.) Out of my sight and back to your petting parties! (Pause.) All that, all that! (Pause.) Not even a real dog! (Calmer.) The end is in the beginning and yet you go on. (Pause.) Perhaps I could go on with my story, end it and begin another. (Pause.) Perhaps I could throw myself out on the floor. (He pushes himself painfully off his seat, falls back again.) Dig my nails into the cracks and drag myself forward with my fingers. (Pause.) It will be the end and there I’ll be, wondering what can have brought it on and wondering what can have ... (he hesitates) ... why it was so long coming. (Pause.) There I’ll be, in the old shelter, alone against the silence and ... (he hesitates) ... the stillness. If I can hold my peace, and sit quiet, it will be all over with sound, and motion, all over and done with. (Pause.) I’ll have called my father and I’ll have called my ... (he hesitates) ... my son. And even twice, or three times, in case they shouldn’t have heard me, the first time, or the second. (Pause.) I’ll say to myself, He’ll come back. (Pause.) And then? (Pause.) And then? (Pause.) He couldn’t, He has gone too far. (Pause.) And then? (Pause. Very agitated.) All kinds of fantasies! That I’m being watched! A rat! Steps! Breath held and then ... (He breathes out.) Then babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns himself into children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper together, in the dark. (Pause.) Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of ... (he hesitates) ... that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to a life. (Pause. He opens his mouth to continue, renounces.) Ah let’s get it over! (He whistles. Enter Hulk with alarm-clock. He halts beside the chair.) What? Neither gone nor dead?

Thanos: In spirit only.

Cap: Which?

Hulk: Both.

Cap: Gone from me you’d be dead.

Iron Man: And vice versa.

Cap: Outside of here it’s death! (Pause.) And the rat?

Black Panther: He’s got away.

Cap: He can’t go far. (Pause. Anxious.) Eh?

Black Panther: He doesn’t need to go far. (Pause.) Spiderman: Is it not time for my pain-killer?

Thanos: Yes.

Cap: Ah! At last! Give it to me! Quick! (Pause.)

Hulk: There’s no more pain-killer. (Pause.) 

Gamora (appalled): Good ...! (Pause.) No more pain-killer!

Thanos: No more pain-killer. You’ll never get any more pain-killer. (Pause.)

Gamora: But the little round box. It was full!

Thanos: Yes. But now it’s empty. (Pause. Thanos starts to move about the room. He is looking for a place to put down the alarm-clock.)

Cap (soft): What’ll I do? (Pause. In a scream.) What’ll I do? (Thanos sees the picture, takes it down, stands it on the floor with its face to the wall, hangs up the alarm-clock in its place.) What are you doing?

Thanos: Winding up.

Captain Marvel: Look at the earth.

Thanos: Again!

Thor: Since it’s calling to you.

Black Panther: Is your throat sore? (Pause.) Would you like a lozenge? (Pause.) No. (Pause.) Pity. (Black Panther goes, humming, towards window right, halts before it, looks up at it.)

Captain Marvel: Don’t sing.

Iron Man (turning towards Captain Marvel): One hasn’t the right to sing any more?

Spiderman: No.

Hulk: Then how can it end?

Spiderman: You want it to end?

Iron Man: I want to sing.

Cap: I can’t prevent you. (Pause. Iron Man turns towards window right.)

Hulk: What did I do with that steps? (He looks around for ladder.) You didn’t see that steps? (He sees it.) Ah, about time. (He goes towards window left.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right mind. Then it passes over and I’m as lucid as before. (He gets up on ladder, looks out of window.) Christ, she’s under water! (He looks.) How can that be? (He pokes forward his head, his hand above his eyes.) It hasn’t rained. (He wipes the pane, looks. Pause.) Ah what a fool I am! I’m on the wrong side! (He gets down, takes a few steps towards window right.) Under water! (He goes back for ladder.) What a fool I am! (He carries ladder towards window right.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right senses. Then it passes off and I’m as intelligent as ever. (He sets down ladder under window right, gets up on it, looks out of window. He turns towards Gamora.) Any particular sector you fancy? Or merely the whole thing?

Captain Marvel: Whole thing.

Hulk: The general effect? Just a moment. (He looks out of window. Pause.)

Spiderman: Thanos.

Iron Man (absorbed): Mmm.

Thor: Do you know what it is?

Thanos (as before): Mmm.

Cap: I was never there. (Pause.) Hulk!

Iron Man (turning towards Spiderman, exasperated): What is it?

Gamora: I was never there.

Iron Man: Lucky for you. (He looks out of window.)

Gamora: Absent, always. It all happened without me. I don’t know what’s happened. (Pause.) Do you know what’s happened? (Pause.) Thanos!

Iron Man (turning towards Spiderman, exasperated): Do you want me to look at this muckheap, yes or no?

Captain Marvel: Answer me first.

Thanos: What?

Captain Marvel: Do you know what’s happened?

Iron Man: When? Where?

Gamora (violently): When! What’s happened? Use your head, can’t you! What has happened?

Black Panther: What for Christ’s sake does it matter? (He looks out of window.) Spiderman: I don’t know. 

(Pause. Black Panther turns towards Spiderman.) 

Black Panther (harshly): When old Mother Pegg asked you for oil for her lamp and you told her to get out to hell, you knew what was happening then, no? (Pause.) You know what she died of, Mother Pegg? Of darkness.

Spiderman (feebly): I hadn’t any.

Hulk (as before): Yes, you had. (Pause.)

Cap: Have you the glass?

Iron Man: No, it’s clear enough as it is.

Spiderman: Go and get it. (Pause. Black Panther casts up his eyes, brandishes his fists. He loses balance, clutches on to the ladder. He starts to get down, halts.)

Thanos: There’s one thing I’ll never understand. (He gets down.) Why I always obey you. Can you explain that to me?

Gamora: No ... Perhaps it’s compassion. (Pause.) A kind of great compassion. (Pause.) Oh you won’t find it easy, you won’t find it easy. (Pause. Thanos begins to move about the room in search of the telescope.)

Iron Man: I’m tired of our goings on, very tired. (He searches.) You’re not sitting on it? (He moves the chair, looks at the place where it stood, resumes his search.)

Cap (anguished): Don’t leave me there! (Angrily Iron Man restores the chair to its place.) Am I right in the center?

Hulk: You’d need a microscope to find this - (He sees the telescope.) Ah, about time. (He picks up the telescope, gets up on the ladder, turns the telescope on the without.)

Thor: Give me the dog.

Hulk (looking): Quiet!

Spiderman (angrily): Give me the dog! (Thanos drops the telescope, clasps his hands to his head. Pause. He gets down precipitately, looks for the dog, sees it, picks it up, hastens towards Spiderman and strikes him violently on the head with the dog.)

Iron Man: There’s your dog for you. (The dog falls to the ground. Pause.)

Spiderman: He hit me!

Iron Man: You drive me mad, I’m mad!

Spiderman: If you must hit me, hit me with the axe. (Pause.) Or with the gaff, hit me with the gaff. Not with the dog. With the gaff. Or with the axe. (Iron Man picks up the dog and gives it to Spiderman who takes it in his arms.)

Black Panther (impatiently): Let’s stop playing!

Cap: Never! (Pause.) Put me in my coffin.

Hulk: There are no more coffins.

Thor: Then let it end! (Black Panther goes towards ladder.) With a bang! (Black Panther gets up on ladder, gets down again, looks for telescope, sees it, picks it up, gets up on ladder, raises telescope.) Of darkness! And me? Did anyone ever have pity on me?

Hulk (lowering the telescope, turning towards Captain Marvel): What? (Pause.) Is it me you’re referring to?

Captain Marvel (angrily): An aside, ape! Did you never hear an aside before? (Pause.) I’m warming up for my last soliloquy.

Thanos: I warn you. I’m going to look at this filth since it’s an order. But it’s the last time. (He turns the telescope on the without.) Let’s see. (He moves the telescope.) Nothing ... nothing ... good ... good ... nothing ... goo - (He starts, lowers the telescope, examines it, turns it again on the without. Pause.) Bad luck to it!

Thor: More complications! (Hulk gets down.) Not an underplot, I trust. (Hulk moves ladder nearer window, gets up on it, turns telescope on the without.)

Thanos (dismayed): Looks like a small boy!

Cap (sarcastic): A small ... boy!

Thanos: I’ll go and see. (He gets down, drops the telescope, goes towards door, turns.) I’ll take the gaff. (He looks for the gaff, sees it, picks it up, hastens towards door.)

Cap: No! (Thanos halts.)

Hulk: No? A potential procreator?

Captain Marvel: If he exists he’ll die there or he’ll come here. And if he doesn’t ... (Pause.)

Hulk: You don’t believe me? You think I’m inventing? (Pause.)

Gamora: It’s the end, Black Panther, we’ve come to the end. I don’t need you any more. (Pause.)

Iron Man: Lucky for you. (He goes towards door.)

Cap: Leave me the gaff. (Hulk gives him the gaff, goes towards door, halts, looks at alarm-clock, takes it down, looks round for a better place to put it, goes to bins, puts it on lid of Scarlet Witch’s bin. Pause.)

Thanos: I’ll leave you. (He goes towards door.)

Captain Marvel: Before you go ... (Black Panther halts near door.) ... say something.

Thanos: There is nothing to say.

Thor: A few words ... to ponder ... in my heart.

Black Panther: Your heart!

Gamora: Yes. (Pause. Forcibly.) Yes! (Pause.) With the rest, in the end, the shadows, the murmurs, all the trouble, to end up with. (Pause.)

Hulk ... He never spoke to me. Then, in the end, before he went, without my having asked him, he spoke to me. He said ...

Iron Man (despairingly): Ah ...!

Spiderman: Something ... from your heart.

Thanos: My heart!

Gamora: A few words ... from your heart. (Pause.)

Hulk (fixed gaze, tonelessly, towards auditorium): They said to me, That’s love, yes, yes, not a doubt, now you see how -

Thor: Articulate!

Black Panther (as before): How easy it is. They said to me, That’s friendship, yes, yes, no question, you’ve found it. They said to me, Here’s the place, stop, raise your head and look at all that beauty. That order! They said to me, Come now, you’re not a brute beast, think upon these things and you’ll see how all becomes clear. And simple! They said to me, What skilled attention they get, all these dying of their wounds.

Captain Marvel: Enough!

Hulk (as before): I say to myself - sometimes, Hulk, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you - one day. I say to myself - sometimes, Hulk, you must be better than that if you want them to let you go - one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits. Good, it’ll never end, I’ll never go. (Pause.) Then one day, suddenly, it ends, it changes, I don’t understand, it dies, or it’s me, I don’t understand that either. I ask the words that remain - sleeping, waking, morning, evening. They have nothing to say. (Pause.) I open the door of the cell and go. I am so bowed I only see my feet, if I open my eyes, and between my legs a little trail of black dust. I say to myself that the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit. (Pause.) It’s easy going. (Pause.) When I fall I’ll weep for happiness. (Pause. He goes towards door.)

Thor: Iron Man! (Iron Man halts, without turning.) Nothing. (Iron Man moves on.) Iron Man! (Iron Man halts, without turning.)

Iron Man: This is what we call making an exit.

Cap: I’m obliged to you, Black Panther. For your services.

Black Panther (turning sharply): Ah pardon, it’s I am obliged to you.

Captain Marvel: It’s we are obliged to each other. 
(Pause. Black Panther goes towards door.) 
One thing more. 
(Black Panther halts.) 
A last favor. 
(Exit Black Panther.) 
Cover me with the sheet. 
(Long pause.) 
No? Good. 
Me to play. 
(Pause. Wearily.) 
Old endgame lost of old, play and lose and have done with losing. 
(Pause. More animated.) 
Let me see. 
Ah yes! 
(He tries to move the chair, using the gaff as before. Enter Black Panther, dressed for the road. Panama hat, tweed coat, raincoat over his arm, umbrella, bag. He halts by the door and stands there, impassive and motionless, his eyes fixed on Captain Marvel, till the end.) 
Captain Marvel gives up: 
(He throws away the gaff, makes to throw away the dog, thinks better of it.) 
Take it easy. 
And now? 
Raise hat. 
(He raises his toque.) 
Peace to our ... arses. 
And put on again. 
(He puts on his toque.) 
(Pause. He takes off his glasses.) 
(He takes out his handkerchief and, without unfolding it, wipes his glasses.) 
And put on again. 
(He puts on his glasses, puts back the handkerchief in his pocket.) 
We’re coming. A few more squirms like that and I’ll call. 
A little poetry. 
You prayed - 
(Pause. He corrects himself.) 
You cried for night; it comes - 
(Pause. He corrects himself.) 
It falls: now cry in darkness. 
(He repeats, chanting.) 
You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness. 
Nicely put, that. 
And now? 
Moments for nothing, now as always, time was never and time is over, reckoning closed and story ended. 
(Pause. Narrative tone.) 
If he could have his child with him ... 
It was the moment I was waiting for. 
You don’t want to abandon him? You want him to bloom while you are withering? Be there to solace your last million last moments? 
He doesn’t realize, all he knows is hunger, and cold, and death to crown it all. But you! You ought to know what the earth is like, nowadays. Oh I put him before his responsibilities! 
(Pause. Normal tone.) 
Well, there we are, there I am, that’s enough. 
(He raises the whistle to his lips, hesitates, drops it. Pause.) 
Yes, truly! 
(He whistles. Pause. Louder. Pause.) 
(Pause. Louder.) 
We’re coming. 
And to end up with? 
(He throws away the dog. He tears the whistle from his neck.) 
With my compliments. 
(He throws the whistle towards the auditorium. Pause. He sniffs. Soft.) 
Black Panther! 
(Long pause.) 
No? Good. 
(He takes out the handkerchief.) 
Since that’s the way we’re playing it ... 
(he unfolds handkerchief) 
... let’s play it that way ... 
(he unfolds) 
... and speak no more about it ... 
(he finishes unfolding) 
... speak no more. 
(He holds handkerchief spread out before him.) 
Old stancher! 
You ... remain. 
(Pause. He covers his face with handkerchief, lowers his arms to armrests, remains motionless.)