Orlando wakes from a dead sleep at three in the morning, yanked into consciousness by the sudden vivid memory of the time they reached across the table to pour a glass of wine for the Comte de Saint Germain and farted so loudly that the entire dinner party fell silent for a second. They can hardly breathe for the mortification; it has been three and a half lifetimes since the incident, and two centuries since the last time anyone mentioned it, but the feeling is as fresh as ever it was.

It’s a long dark night until morning.

They take their coffee black and their eggs runny and try to shake off the mood, but each memory is replaced with another, equally discomfiting. An unwelcome declaration of love during the French revolution, too-loud laughter in the Berlin opera house during the mass protests of the 1840s, holding McKinley’s hand just a little too tightly and a little too long in that last reception line. None of it matters anymore, but all the old wounds have reopened, like a bout of emotional scurvy.

They live too quietly these days.

It’s always hard, in that uncomfortable period when they’re too young to live their old life, and too old to reemerge as their own child. Their last spouse—a wife, this time—is five years dead and gone, and their friends have nothing to talk about except their own aging, the senescing of body and mind uncompelling to someone untouched by the passage of time. Orlando is firm, fit, and supple, an eternal 32, with only multiple lifetimes of embarassments and inelegancies for company.


When he’s eaten everything else he can and the snow is coming down thick and fast, Orlando eats the chyme.

“Now, I did research on this,” he says earnestly over his shoulder to the empty room he’s built into a rock face. “These musk ox, they live on grass. We can eat grass too—grass is edible—but we don’t have the right teeth to get all the nutrition out of it. But the ox, man, he does. He chewed up all that grass out there, and swallowed it down, and spit it up so he could chew it again.”

It’s dark but it’s early. Too hungry to eat, to cold to move, too dark to play dice, and he doesn’t carve. “It’s my birthday today,” he says flatly, “and my mother died. Here I am, in a hole, eating grass, nobody to talk to but you. Shoulda gone to the funeral but didn’t. Shoulda gone to her before she died but didn’t. I don’t know. Shoulda done a lot of things but didn’t.”

His knife cuts into the bag of the stomach he’s been saving for over a month. Deep breath. “Smells sour. That’s good, that means it’s fermented, and that means it’s edible. They got special bacteria in their stomachs to help break everything down like that.” He pulls out a handful of semi-digested grass and shows it to the empty room. “This is dinner tonight. Arctic kimchi. Polar pickles.”

He heats it in a tin can he found on the beach. “We didn’t get along, her and me, once I got a little older. Didn’t get along with either of them, really, but her in particular I just— I know she probably did her best, and I respect that, but—” He chews the chyme meditatively for a few minutes, wondering at the taste. “Sour milk,” he mutters.


He’s west of Constantinople and there’s a scholar battle brewing outside Salonica. Some visiting doctor from the capital got sniffy about the quality of the intellectuals in the city and one of the young students isn’t having it.

“Come out to the field,” the hothead shouts to a delighted crowd, “and let us compete in our knowledge of the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud, Sifra and Sifre and all of rabbinic literature!”

He’s been haunting the town for months, wandering the streets between the marbles and lemon sellers, from the synagogues to the mosques, and he can feel the old gravity dragging him elsewhere. “Let us strive in secular sciences—practical and theoretical fields of science; science of nature, and of the Divine!” He’d stay if he could—he hasn’t felt so at home for centuries. It’s a cramped, unsettled town, a hick town by Ottoman standards, choked with plague in the summer, the sort of place that gets assigned to disgraced courtiers because they keep getting run out of town, but it’s lively. “Let us wrangle in logic—the Organon, in geometry, astronomy, physics!”

“In your profession as well, that of medicine, IF IN YOUR EYES IT IS A SCIENCE—” thrilled oooohs from the crowd at that dig— “we consider it an occupation of no special distinction!” He tries the old trick of circulating through the mob, never still, but his doom can be put off no longer, dammit. “Try me, for you have opened your mouth and belittled my dwelling-place, and you shall see that we know whatever can be known in the proper manner.”

He wonders how it all worked out for decades.


He has lost track of the apocalypses he has lived through; somehow they come once a generation or two, a wash of fire, of war, of pandemic, of collapse. They blur together, the deaths, the dead, and the dying, a bright flash, a sharp tang, the smell of smoke that lingers in his clothes for decades. He cannot escape the stench of burning flesh, somehow.

But after the end of the world, the birth of the new: fields of poppies, new cities, old rags shed for flash clothes, food for all, race sex and class overthrown for a time, a pulse of realization of what could be, should be. That, too, blurs together. The New Jerusalem has come a dozen times and more, and been overthrown; he has picked lapis lazuli from the gates time and again and left them strewn in stream a continent away, just to mess with the archaeologists. Figure that out, schmucks.

After the twelfth century he stops looking over his shoulder; the millennium is never coming, the clock is never stopping, the road will never end. World begets world, forever and anew.


Thing is, he’s seen so many ends of days by this point. Empires rise and fall, cities shake to dust, war sweeps a country empty of life, and still he goes on, one day after the next like so many weary footsteps. What else should he do? They burn the atmosphere and he spends a millennium or more choking on ash, squeezing between glaciers a mile high, the last human outside the domes. They dig plague into the soil and he erupts in boils, weeps blood, loses his teeth, keeps walking, who cares.

The oceans rise and he haunts the sunken cities. None of them are familiar, not really, but then all cities look alike after awhile, just a house someone took the roof off of. He’s in, oh, someplace to the north, near where the glaciers split around the mountains, climbing hills in murky water the temperature of spit. There used to be a market here where people shouted at you, a space carved out of the terseness of the rest of the city. “Fresh fish!” Ahasuerus bellows, why not, but all he does is spook an octopus deeper back into the stalls.

Oh, well. Life goes on.