All this time, while they will have been out conquering the width and breadth of the universe, the space explorers will have kept the planet of Zog magnetized, with the poor old Zogs stuck to its surface like flies stuck to a strip of flypaper.
The Zogs will still manage to talk back forth between themselves. Mostly, what they will say is "Hoot hoot hoot." Sometimes one among them, a Zog optimist, will venture a "Toot toot," but he will inevitably be shouted down by a chorus of hooting.
Zog-19 wants the spinning radiator fan of the Ford F-250 to stop spinning, and so he simply reaches out a hand to stop it. On Zog, this would not have been a problem. The spinning steel fan blades might have struck a spark or two from his hard iron claws, and then the fan would have been stilled in his mighty grip.
On Earth, though, it is a big problem. On Earth, Zog-19 is only made of water and soft meat. The radiator fan slices easily through the water and meat of his fingers. It sends the tips of two of the fingers cartwheeling off, sailing away to land God knows where, slashes tendons in the other fingers, cross-hatches his palms with bleeding gashes. Zog-19 holds his ruined hand up before his face, stares at it in horror. He knows that he has made a terrible mistake, a mistake of ignorance, and one that it won't be possible to remedy. He wants to shout for Missus McGinty, whose name he has only just mastered. He struggles to come up with her name, but the pain and terror of his hand have driven it from his memory. All that he can come up with is this: he calls out, "Hoot hoot hoot," in a pitiful voice, and then he collapses.
Probably by this point you have questions. How is it possible to know what will happen to the Zogs in the year 2347? That might be one of the questions. Easy. The Zogs have seen the future. They have seen the past, too. They watch it the way we watch television. Zog science makes it possible. They have seen what happened on the iron planet a million years ago, and what happened five minutes ago, and what will happen in the year 2347. They can watch the present, too, but they don't.
They have seen the space explorers from Earth. They have seen the depopulation of their planet, they have seen it emptied of its precious sentient gas. In fact, that episode of their history--a holocaust of such indescribable proportions that most Zogs can be brought to tears merely by the mention of it--is by far the most popular program on Zog. Every Zog watches it again and again, backward and forward. Every Zog knows by heart all its images--the Zogs stuck helplessly to the planet's iron surface, the molybdenum straw, the descent of the Earth ships on tongues of fire--and all its dialogue. They are obsessed with their own doom.
Another question: What is Zog-19 doing on Earth, in McGinty's exact form, with McGinty's wife and McGinty's dogs, and with McGinty's best friend, Angstrom? And: How was the switch accomplished? And what the heck happened to the real McGinty?
In a nutshell: Zog-19 was sent to Earth by a Zog scientist who was not enamored of the program, who hated what Fate held in store for Zog. His name was Zog-One-Billion, and he was a very important fellow. He was also brilliant. Being brilliant, he was able to invent a device that allowed him to send one of his own people to Earth in the guise of a human being. The device allowed him to examine Earth at his leisure, and to pick one of its citizens--the most likely of them, as he saw it, to be able to put a stop to the upcoming extermination of the Zogs--as a target for Zog replacement.
Zog-19 didn't go willingly. He had to do what Zog-One-Billion said because he had a lower number, a much lower number. The higher numbers tell the lower numbers what to do, and the lower numbers do it. It makes sense to the Zogs, and so that's how Zog society is arranged. Zog-19 couldn't even complain. Zog-One-Billion wanted him to be some unknown thing, a farmer named McGinty a galaxy away, and so Zog-19 had to be that thing that Zog-One-Billion wanted.
In all the excitement, the selection of McGinty and the sending of Zog-19 across the galaxy, Zog-One-Billion failed to explain to Zog-19 what precisely he was to undertake in order to avert the Zog apocalypse. It's possible that he didn't really have many firm ideas in that direction himself. There's no way of knowing because, as he sent Zog-19 on his long sojourn, he gave a last great toot of triumph and went still. His sentient gas was depleted.
What is known is this: it's known that, during his surveillance of Earth, Zog-One-Billion came particularly to like and admire human farmers. He saw them, for some reason, as the possible salvation of Zog. It is believed that he regarded farmers thus because many farmers own cows. Cows were particularly impressive to Zog-One-Billion, especially the big black-and-white ones that give milk. These cows are called Holstein-Friesians, for a region in Europe; or just Holsteins for short.
There are no cows on Zog. There are no animals whatsoever. Cows burp and fart when they're relaxed. That's why it's a terrific compliment when a cow burps in your face, or if it farts when you're around. It means you don't make the cow nervous. You don't make all its innards tighten up.
McGinty didn't make his cows nervous. McGinty's cows were always terrifically relaxed around McGinty, as they always had been around McGinty's old man, and it's believed that this reaction in some way influenced the brilliant scientist Zog-One-Billion, that this lack of nerves on the part of the cows of McGinty attracted the attention of Zog-One-Billion from across the galaxy.
Perhaps the great Holstein-Friesians fascinated Zog-One-Billion because they reminded him of Zogs, because they reminded him of himself, with their great barrel bodies and their hard, blunt heads. Perhaps the burps and farts of the Holsteins reminded him of the sentient gas within himself, the sentient gas within every Zog, the sentient gas within the planet of Zog, the gas that made the iron planet ring in such an exotic and charming way. And yet--this would have been particularly impressive to Zog-One-Billion--cows never run out of gas, no matter how much of it they release. They manufacture the stuff! They are like gas factories made from water and soft meat.
And what happened to poor McGinty, the good-looking young dairy farmer with the beloved shovel-headed dogs and the beloved dimpled wife? Sad to say. Like the released sentient gas of Zog-One-Billion, McGinty simply . . . went away when Zog-19 replaced him. Drifted off. Dispersed. Vanished. Zog-One-Billion believed that McGinty's vanishment was the only way to save his beloved planet. If Zog-One-Billion, a very important Zog, was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of his planet and race, perhaps he reasoned, who was McGinty to object to making the same sacrifice? Of course, it wasn't McGinty's race or McGinty's planet, but there was no good way, given the enormous distances that separated them, for Zog-One-Billion to ask him.
Oh, McGinty is dead and McCarty don't know it. McCarty is dead and McGinty don't know it. They're both of them dead and they're in the same bed, and neither one knows that the other is dead.
Just when it looks like the ships of the space explorers will run out of sentient gas, the planet of the Zogs having been utterly depleted in this respect; just when it looks like the space explorers will have to stop going very, very fast, one of their number (he was the same one who thought of magnetizing the iron planet of the Zogs) will remember a thing: he will remember that the Zogs themselves are filled with the selfsame sentient gas. That gas is what makes the Zogs the Zogs, and each Zog is filled with quite a quantity of the stuff. He will remember it just in time!
Zog-19 cradles his wrecked hand against his chest. The hand is wrapped in a thick webbing of bandages. Zog-19 works hard to forget what the hand looked like after he stuck it into the blades of the radiator fan. He tries to think about what the hand looked like before that, the instant before, when the hand was reaching, and the hand was whole. Angstrom has just been by, and he brought the greetings of all the loafers down at the Modern Barbershop, who shook their heads sagely when they heard the news about the hand. Angstrom tried to interest Zog-19 in a rousing chorus of "Roll Me Over in the Clover," but Zog-19 couldn't forget about the hand long enough to sing. It did not take Angstrom long to leave.
Now Missus McGinty is with Zog-19. She holds his head cradled against her breasts. Zog-19's hand stings and throbs too much for him to take interest in the breasts, either. He does not know about healing. On Zog, no one heals. They are a hardy bunch, the Zogs, and usually last for thousands of years before all their gas is gone and they settle into de-animation. And all that time, all that time, the scars that life inflicts upon them gather on their great iron bodies, until, near the end, most Zogs come to look like rusted, pockmarked, ding-riddled caricatures of themselves. Zog-19 has no idea that his hand will not always hurt.
He is working very hard to listen to what Missus McGinty is telling him. She says it to him over and over, the same five words. And what she says is this: Missus McGinty, lovely dimpled Missus McGinty says, "Everything will be all right. Everything will be all right." Zog-19 knows what that phrase means. It means "Toot toot." He wants to believe it. He wants very badly to believe that everything will be all right.
Zog-19 is also working very hard to forget that he is Zog-19. He's not worried about the Zog extinction now. Right now he's worried about Zog-19, and about making Zog-19 believe that he is not made of iron, that he is made of water and soft meat. He is concerned with making Zog-19 believe that he is actually McGinty. He understands that, if he cannot forget that he is Zog-19, if he cannot come to believe that he is in fact what he seems to be, which is McGinty, he will--by accident, of course, by doing something that water and meat should never do--kill himself dead.
And so the intrepid space explorers will begin sticking sharpened molybdenum straws straight into the Zogs and drawing out their sentient gas. The Zogs will make a very good source of the gas, and the space explorers will be able to keep on going very, very fast. There is nothing beyond the universe they have conquered, they will discover that disheartening fact after a while, but they sure as heck won't waste any time getting there.
Drawing out the gas will de-animate the Zogs, of course. Magnetized as they are, the emptied iron Zogs won't seem to the space explorers much different from the full Zogs, except that they will be quiet, which won't be a problem. It will be, in fact, a decided benefit. Once they have de-animated many of the Zogs, the space explorers will find that they can take their earmuffs off. It will be more comfortable to work without the earmuffs, and so productivity and efficiency will both rise. They will go on sticking molybdenum straws into Zog after Zog and drawing out the sentient gas, until there will be only one unemptied Zog left.
This depletion will happen quickly, because once a space explorer hears about Zog and what the sentient gas can do, he will go there as quickly as possible (of course, he will leave much, much more quickly, thanks to the properties of the sentient gas when combined with Earth spaceships) in order to get his share. Most of the space explorers who come to Zog will never have seen the Zogs before they were magnetized, and so they won't be able to imagine why it might be a problem to empty a Zog of his gas. Except for the Zog's subsequent silence, it will seem the same afterward as it did before.
Everyone knows that the gas will run out--how could it not? And how could they not know?--but this knowledge will just make them swarm to Zog faster and faster, in ever-increasing numbers, because they won't want the gas to run out before they get there. What a dilemma.
Zog-19 rounds up his cows in the early morning for milking. It's still dark when he does so. Missus McGinty stays in bed while Zog-19 gathers the cows. Later, she will rise and make him breakfast, she will make him some pancakes. But now she is warm in bed, and dawn will brighten the sky soon, and she can hear Zog-19's voice out in the pasture, calling in the cows. He whoops and hollers, he sings out, and sometimes his voice sounds to her like a whistle, and sometimes it sounds like a regular voice.
The cows come trotting eagerly up to Zog-19. They follow him into the milking parlor. They are ready to be milked.
The cows are not nervous around Zog-19. Zog-19 is not nervous around the cows. The cows are large and black-and-white, they are noble Holstein-Friesians, and some of them weigh nearly a ton. If they wanted to, they could rampage and smash up the barn and smash up Zog-19 and smash up any of the water and meat people who got in their way, even though they themselves, the cows, are made only of water-and-meat, and not iron. Lucky for Zog-19--lucky for all of us!--that they never care to rampage.
Zog-19's favorite cow burps directly into his face. This is, as previously mentioned, high praise from a cow. A tag in the cow's ear reads 127. On Zog's planet, that number would make the cow the boss of Zog-19, since it is a higher number than nineteen. She would be able to tell him what to do, and he would have to do it, whether he wanted to or not. She would be able to tell him to go to some other planet for some half-understood reason, and replace some poor sap who lived there with his wife and his dogs, and Zog-19 would have to do just what she said.
Here, though, that number doesn't make the cow the boss of Zog-19. It doesn't make her the boss of anything, not even of the other cows with lower numbers. It's just a number. Cows never want to rampage, and they never want to be the boss.
When the cow burps in Zog-19's face, her breath is fragrant with the scent of masticated clover.
The last surviving Zog will be named Zog-1049. That is not a very impressive name for a Zog. Zog-1049 will only be more important than a thousand or so other Zogs, and he will be less important than many other Zogs. He will be much less important, for instance, than Zog-One-Billion, the Zog who sent Zog-19 to Earth to take McGinty's shape. Zog-One-Billion had a very impressive name, even though he didn't really know what he was doing. Zog-1049 will be, as you can see, more important than Zog-19, though not by much.
The space explorer's hand will rest on the big red button that will plunge the molybdenum straw into Zog-1049. He will wonder how much sentient gas the last Zog contains. He will wonder how far his ship will be able to go on that amount of gas, and how fast it will be able to get there.
Zog-1049 will say to the explorer, "Toot toot?" The space explorer will have heard it a million times, from a million Zogs, and still he won't know what it means. He won't know that it means "Don't you love me? I love you. Everything is hunky-dory."
When Zog-1049 realizes that the space explorer means to empty his sentient gas through the molybdenum straw no matter what he says, he will begin to hoot. "Hoot hoot hoot," he will say. He will hoot so long and so hard that he will expend a lot of his own gas this way. The space explorer will hate to hear Zog-1049 hoot so. He will know that it means the supply of sentient gas inside Zog-1049--and thus the supply of sentient gas in the entire universe--is dwindling ever faster. He will decide to stop contemplating Zog-1049 and go ahead and empty him.
The space explorer--whose name, by a vast coincidence that you have perhaps already intuited, will be Spaceman McGinty; he will be the great-great-great-however-many-greats-grandson of Missus McGinty and Zog-19--will take a final glance at this last of all the Zogs. He will take in the great iron foundry-boiler body, the sad, wagging head, the iron feet pinioned to the planet's surface by surging electromagnetic energy. He will take it all in, this pathetic, trapped creature, this iron being completely alien to him and useful to him only as fuel. And he will think he hears, as though they come to him from some realm far beyond his own, the lyrics of a silly song. They will ring in his head.
Roll me over in the clover.
Clover? Spaceman McGinty will never have seen clover. He will have heard of it, though, a family legend, passed down through the generations. Certainly there is no clover on Zog.
Roll me over and do it again.
The song will be a happy one. Looking at Zog-1049, and hearing the clover song in his head, Spaceman McGinty will feel unaccountably joyful. Looking at Zog-1049, Spaceman McGinty will think of cows, another family legend, great wide-bodied Holstein-Friesians, and he will think of clover, of a single lucky four-leaf clover, and of crickets hidden within the clover, and of sheep trit-trotting across mountain pastures, and of dogs at his heel. He will think of a little farm in a bend of the Seneca River, now lost forever. He will think--unreasonably, he will admit, but still he will think it--of McGinty his distant forebear, who for a time could say nothing but "toot toot" and "hoot hoot hoot," but who finally regained the power of human speech.
He will not know why he thinks of these things, but he will think of them. He will feel the joy of reunion, he will feel his family stretching out for hundreds of years behind him, and before him too, a long line of honorable men and women, almost all farmers but for him, but for Spaceman McGinty. And his family, somehow, impossibly, will encompass poor old Zog-1049. What a peculiar family, these McGintys!
And remembering the cows, and the clover, and the farm, and the family, and the happy song, Spaceman McGinty will stay his hand.
Without the sentient gas that resides within Zog-1049, he will think, he will at last be able to settle down, this formerly peripatetic Spaceman McGinty, he will put down roots, perhaps he will find a planet somewhere that will accommodate him, where he can bust the sod like his ancestors and build a little house and even--dare he think it?--have a few cows, maybe some sheep, maybe some dogs. His blood will call him to it. And on this farm he will have the time he needs to think about the dark ringing hollowness at the core of him, the hollowness that has driven him out into the universe to discover and to conquer. And perhaps by its contemplation, he will be able to understand that hollowness, and even to fill it up, just a bit.
Zog-19 has discovered McGinty's sheep pastures, high up on the ridges at the northern end of the county. He has driven the Ford F-250 up there. He no longer wants to sell the Ford, because he has mastered the stick shift. He drives the truck as well as McGinty ever did, even though he is missing the tips of a couple of fingers from his right hand, his shifting hand. A lot of other things are coming along as well, but the farm still looks like hell, it still looks like an amateur's running it. McGinty's old man would have a fit if he were to rise up from the grave and have a look at it. Rust everywhere. Busted machinery. Still, progress is progress.
The hand is healing up all right, but at night the thick scar tissue across the palm itches like hell (it's a sign of healing, so Missus McGinty says, and she does not complain about the scar tissue or the missing tips of the fingers when Zog-19 comes to her in their bed), and he can sometimes feel the amputated finger joints tingling and aching. Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, he can feel McGinty in that same way, poor vanished McGinty, he can feel the pull of the man when he is performing some chore, when he's hooking Number 127 up to the milking machine, when McGinty's dogs come dashing up to him, when he runs the wrecked hand over Missus McGinty's dimples.
Sometimes Zog-19 feels as though McGinty is standing just behind him, as though McGinty is looking out through his eyes. Is there any way that McGinty could come back from the void? Zog-19 does not know. Zog-One-Billion didn't mention the possibility, but then of course there are a blue million things that Zog-One-Billion never mentioned, including stick shift automobiles and spinning radiator fan blades.
McGinty's dogs are with Zog-19 now, scrambling and scrabbling across the metal bed of the truck as it rumbles along the rutted mountain road, their nails scraping and scratching, in a fever of excitement as they recognize the way up to the sheep pastures, as they recognize the pastures themselves. It is lonely up here. It makes Zog-19 feel like he's the last creature on the planet when he comes up here.
He parks the truck, and the dogs are over the side of the truck bed and away; they are across the field before he can climb down from the cab. They swim through the clover like seals. Zog-19 shouts after them, he has learned their names, but they ignore him. Zog-19 doesn't mind. If he were having as much fun as they are, leaping out at each other in mock battle, rolling over and over in the lush, crisp grass, growling playfully, he would ignore him too.
He strolls over to a sagging line of woven-wire fence, leans against it, breathes in, breathes out. He watches the sheep that drift across the field like small clouds heavy with snow. He has learned that he will have to shear them before long, that is part of his job, that is part of McGinty's job. He thinks that probably he can get one of the loafers down at the Modern Barbershop in Mount Nebo to tell him how to do such a thing. They seem to know pretty much everything that a man who wanted to imitate McGinty might care to know, and they're always happy to share. Needless to say, nothing on Zog ever needed shearing. Still, he imagines that he can handle it.
He whistles for the dogs, and they perk up their ears at the summons, then go back to playing. He smiles. He knows. After a while, they will tire. After a while, McGinty's dogs will run out of steam, and they will return to him on their own.
Spaceman McGinty--the only space explorer still on Zog--will shut down the great dynamos. It will be his final act before leaving the planet behind forever.
And the last Zog, unimportant Zog-1049, the final, last, and only Zog, will find himself his own master again. But how Zog has changed during his captivity! He knew something bad was happening, but trapped as he was, he could not imagine the scope of it, the impossible magnitude of the disaster. He will take up wandering the planet, he will pass through the rows upon rows of deanimated Zogs, empty, inert Zogs in their ranked, silent billions. He will use his whistle, he will release his sentient gas, the last to be found anywhere, in copious, even reckless, amounts, calling out across the dead echoing iron planet for any compatriot, for any other Zog who is still living. "Toot toot," he will call. He will call, and he will call, and he will call.
Zog-19 enjoys a hearty breakfast. He's eating a tall stack of buckwheat pancakes just dripping with melted creamery butter and warm blackstrap molasses. He's never eaten anything that made him happier. He cleans his plate and offers it to Missus McGinty, who refills it with pleasure. McGinty always liked his pancakes and molasses, and to Missus McGinty this healthy appetite, this love for something from his past, a forgotten favorite, is a sure sign of McGinty's return.
He's been gone from her a long time, someplace in his head, gone from her in a way that she can't imagine, and she's awfully happy to have him back. What brought him back? She does not know. She cannot venture a guess, and she does not care. She has wept many bitter tears over his absence, over his apparent madness, the amnesia, the peculiarity (small word for it!), but she thinks that maybe she won't be crying quite so much in the days to come. Watching Zog-19 with his handsome young head low over his plate, tucking into the pancakes with vigor, his injured hand working the fork as of old, working it up and down and up again like the restless bucket of a steam shovel, she can believe this absolutely.
And what of the planet Zog? Depopulated, hollow Zog? Well, the space explorers, once they have finished with the sentient gas, the space explorers will feel just terrible about what they have done. They will be determined to make amends. And so they will do what Earth people can always be expected to do in a pinch: they will go to work with a great goodwill.
They will send all kinds of heavy moving equipment, bulldozers and end-loaders and cranes and trucks and forklifts, to Zog. They will work, and they will work, and they will work. They will raise up a great monument. They will move the bodies around, they will use the inanimate husks of the Zogs in building their monument (the materials being so close to hand, and free), they will pile them atop one another in great stacks that will stretch up and up into the Zog sky. They will use every deanimated Zog to make the memorial, every single one.
Zog-1049 will almost get swept up and used too, but he will hoot desperately at the last minute, just as the blade of the snorting bulldozer is about to propel him into the mounting pile of the dead. The good-natured fellow who is driving the bulldozer will climb down, laughing with relief at the mistake he's nearly made, almost shoving the last living Zog into the memorial to the Zog dead, and he will brush Zog-1049 off, leaving some acid oil on Zog-1049's sleek iron body, and he will direct Zog-1049 to a safe spot from which to watch the goings-on without getting into any more trouble. The bulldozer operator will shake his head as Zog-1049 totters off across the empty landscape, hooting and tooting. Poor old thing, the bulldozer man will say to himself. He's gone out of his mind. And who can blame him!
Soon enough, the memorial will be finished. And it will be, all will agree, a magnificent testament to the remorse of mankind at their shocking treatment of the Zogs.
The memorial will be this: it will be a single word, a single two-syllable word, written in letters (and one mark of punctuation) tens of miles tall, the word itself hundreds of miles across. It will be a huge sign, the biggest sign ever made, a record-breaking sign in iron bodies, across the face of the iron planet, and, when the planet revolves on its axis so that the sign lies in daylight, so that the fierce sun of that system strikes lurid fire from the skins of the defunct Zogs, it will be visible from far out in space. It will be a word written across the sterile face of the steelie, the face occupied now only by eternally wandering Zog-1049, and the word will be this: the word will be SORRY!
Spaceman McGinty will, in the end, find himself on a sweet grass planet (plenty of clover there! and the breeze always blowing out of the east, blowing clover ripples across the face of the grass) far out at the raggedy edge of the universe. No one will live on the planet but McGinty and a primitive race of cricket people who communicate solely by rubbing their back legs together. The cricket people will live hidden in the tall grass, and McGinty will never so much as glimpse one of them, not in his whole life on their world. He will hear them though. He will hear them always. Their stridulation will make a soft, whispering, breezy music to which, at night, former Spaceman McGinty will sometimes sing.
And what will he sing?
Sometimes he will sing, "McCarty is dead and McGinty don't know it. McGinty is dead and McCarty don't know it."
And other times he will sing, "Roll me over in the clover."
And still other times he won't sing at all, but will simply dance, naked and sweating and all alone; former spaceman McGinty will dance along on the balls of his bare feet in the soft rustling waist-high grass of that lonely place.
All that, of course, is in the very far-off future.
Zog-19 is back in the sheep pastures. He feels relaxed, and he burps. A crisp breeze has sprung up, and he watches it play over the surface of the pastures; he enjoys the waves that the breeze sends shivering across the tops of the sweet clover. So much like water. Water used to frighten him, but he doesn't worry about it now.
McGinty is dead. McCarty is dead. Angstrom is dead.
The dogs are chivying the sheep over in the far part of the pasture. They are pretending that something, some fox or coyote or wolf or catamount, threatens the sheep, and they must keep the sheep tightly packed together, must keep them moving in a tightly knit body, in order to save their lives. The dogs love this game. The sheep aren't smart enough to know that there's no real danger, and they're bleating with worry.
"Hi," Zog-19 calls out to the dogs. More and more these days, he sounds like McGinty without even thinking about it. "Hi, you dogs! Get away from them woollies!" The dogs ignore him.
Let the dead bury their dead. That is what Missus McGinty tells him. There are so many dead. There is McGinty's old man, there is McCarty, there is Angstrom's old man, there is Angstrom, there is McGinty (though more and more these days, Zog-19 feels McGinty in the room with him, McGinty behind his eyes), there are the Zogs. What could Zog-19 do to prevent the tragedies that have unfolded, to prevent the tragedies that will continue to unfold in the world, across the galaxy? He's only a dairy farmer, he's a man who lives among the grasses. His cows like him. They are relaxed around him. They burp in his face to show their affection. What is there that a man can do?
"Toot toot," says Zog-19, experimentally, but it sounds like an expression from an unknown foreign language to him now.
Let the dead bury their dead.
Missus McGinty has come with him to the sheep pastures. Later in the day, they will shear the sheep together. It turns out that Missus McGinty is a champion sheep shearer, Seneca County Four-H, Heart Head Hands and Health, three years running. They'll have the sheep done in no time. Right now, though, they're in the act of finishing up a delicious picnic lunch. They're sitting together on a cheery red-and-white-checked picnic blanket, sitting in the wealth of the wind-rippled field of clover, Zog-19 and Missus McGinty. Around them are the remains of their meal: a thermos still half full of good, cold raw milk, the gnawed bones of Missus McGinty's wonderful Southern-fried chicken, a couple of crisp Granny Smith apples. Yum.
McGinty would have given the dogs the chicken bones, but Zog-19 will not. He worries that they will crack the bones with their teeth, leaving razor-sharp ends exposed, and that they will then swallow the bones. He is afraid that the bones would lacerate their innards. That's one difference between Zog-19 and McGinty.
"Roll me over in the clover," Missus McGinty sings in her frothy alto voice. She's lying on the checked picnic blanket, and she plucks at Zog-19's sleeve. Her expression is cheerful but serious. She's fiddling with the buttons of her blouse. She takes Zog-19's hand and places it where her hand was, on the buttons. Zog-19 knows that it's now his turn to fiddle with the buttons.
The dogs are barking. The sheep are bleating. The buttons are beneath Zog-19's hand. Missus McGinty is beneath the buttons. The crickets are chirring loudly, hidden deep within the clover. McGinty is standing behind Zog-19 somewhere. The sun is hot on Zog-19's head. There is a four-leaf clover in this pasture, he knows. Somewhere, in among all the regular clover, there must be at least one. His head is swimming with the sun. He feels as though, if he does not move, if he does not speak, if he doesn't do something, something, something, and pretty damned quick, he is going to burst into flame.
Zog-19 can't know it, but it is time for him to resume the line that will lead to that far-off Spaceman McGinty, the one who will spare Zog-1049. It is time for him to sire a brand-new McGinty.
"Roll me over and do it again," Missus McGinty sings. The button comes off in Zog-19's hand. It is small in his scarred palm, like a hard, smooth little pill. He tosses it over his shoulder, laughing. He tosses it in McGinty's direction. He tugs at the next button down. He wants that one too. He wants the one after that one. He wants them all. He wants them all.
The wind ripples the clover, the wind ripples Missus McGinty's chestnut hair.
Go To Page: 1 2