“A lesson?” Creepy was immediately and clearly suspicious of this. “What kind of a lesson?” he squinted at the Prism again. “It looks like a maths lesson, Hatboy. Make it go away.”
“Would that I could, Creepy, would that I could,” I sighed. “No, this is a wider and more general lesson, I think. And what it’s teaching us is, there will always be things we cannot hope to know. Questions we cannot hope to answer.”
“Bah!” Creepy scoffed. “Lazy narrative hand-waving, Hatboy! I won’t have it. Not in my department store.”
“This isn’t your – okay, look,” I said. I was thinking about the construction yard near our house, and the planning department guys and the way they had turned up and parked their cars each morning, but something told me this was not going to be the most effective way to explain my position to Creepy, or Yool, the distressingly buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time, or indeed anyone. Reminding him about the Drackenstein place wasn’t generally the approach most guaranteed to achieve useful results in my super-sidekick, for understandable reasons. “I think we can agree that, if nothing else, human history can be characterised as a long progression of cases of humans being absolutely certain they know everything about a thing, only to find out in hindsight that they were wrong, and that now they know everything about the thing. Right?”
“You forgot the war in between each ‘knowing’ and ‘hindsight’ stage.”
“Then we’re in agreement.”
“Thank you. Well, I think this is what the Prism is trying to teach us. That the endless progression of things that we’re certain we know everything about is truly endless, and we’re always going to be wrong, and just to prove it, here’s a big yellow box that might be blue, depends how you look at it, and also it’s everywhere in time, deal with it.”
“How do you know it’s everywhere in time?” Creepy asked.
“Well, it was here last time we came down here,” I pointed out.
“That’s true. But I’m sure it wasn’t the time before that.”
“And I’m sure at some point along our timelines it will be gone again,” I said. “That just means our timelines have diverged from this one. And good riddance to it. We go our own way and find our own path.”
Creepy gave me a considering look. He was, I was fairly sure, aware that I had no idea what the Prism was and was completely at a loss as to how we might even begin to find out, and that this florid summary was just a fancy way of saying meh, I give up, if it wants to give us a clue at some point it knows where to find us. I was also fairly sure that this was exactly the approach he wanted to take and the only thing preventing him from agreeing with me – as a subset of the simple fact that it would mean agreeing with me – was that he wanted to have come up with the solution himself.
“It seems a bit defeatist, Hatboy,” was his final conclusion.
“Defeatism implies the existence of adversity or a challenge,” I said, and pointed. “I see a Prism.”
“Even so ‑ ”
“I suspect this is why we can see it and have been investigating it,” I said, “while most of the other people around the shop barely even seem to notice it’s here. It’s here for them, to notice when they’re ready … and for us, on the next level, to ignore when we’re ready.”
I didn’t necessarily believe that we were the next level – I tended to subscribe to the philosophy that we were just on an adjacent level, having been nudged there by the overcrowding on the original level and the weird things that congregated on its edges – but I figured it would appeal to Creepy’s sense of hierarchical certitude. He nodded slowly, confirming my guess.
“So we just … leave it?” he said.
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I feel like I’ve had a long and unnecessarily busy day, with way more people in it than I wanted there to be.”
“Me too,” Creepy said promptly, even though from his perspective he had barely set foot out of doors today. He looked at his watch. “And The World’s Sickest Skateboards starts in half an hour.”
“I still think the name of the show is misleading,” I said, turning to follow Creepy back towards the stairs, “you know, considering the standard jargon used by skateboarders … ”
“Not this again,” Creepy said in exasperation. “Look, Hatboy, sometimes skateboards get sick. It’s a high-pressure and high-exposure sport they’re involved with, and their humans don’t exactly take care of themselves either. Who do you expect to nurse them back to health? Veterinarians?”
Creepy was still holding forth virtuously as we left the D-level and I let his righteous indignation wash over me.
I turned to look back at the Prism, and wasn’t particularly surprised to see it was gone.