``Actually, I am made of glass: clear, see-through glass. I am therefore extremely beautiful... more beautiful than you, but you should not feel bad about that, because you cannot help being opaque. People who are not beautiful -- or strong and clever and wise, as I also am -- should take comfort from being ugly and boring, because you will never be Called By Fate to undertake Difficult Adventures. Fate does not invite ugly boring people to save the world: and if you do try to save the world (without being beautiful, strong, clever, or wise), you will soon die pointlessly and how much adventure is there in that?
``I do not die in this story. Those of you who have looked at the last page -- which is only sensible, because you wish to make sure I do not make a long speech telling what lessons I have learned -- those who have looked at the end will know that instead of dying, I win everything. I defeat the bad people, am adored by the good people, and get to say, `I told you so,' as freely as I wish.
``That is the whole point of being in stories: to have a Happy Ending.''
``Therefore, I have discovered tha the proper way to write for Earthlings is to divide one's tale into modestly brief sections with titles at the top, such as My Technique. This is certainly an Effective Literary Device, especially when addressing persons with a short attention span. The technique also helps one skim ahead for sections whose titles seem more exciting than the passage one is supposed to read next. Thus one can jump forward to read Facing a Hellish Maw before coming back to Conversing With A Little Man Whose Sole Amusing Quality Is That He Is Colored Orange.
``Most importantly, putting many titles into a story makes it easier to find your place if you happen to use your book to smash an irksome buzzing fly, and you hit the fly so hard that pieces of metal and plastic go shooting out of the book mechanism, so then you are forced to put the story chip into a new reader and you cannot remember where you were.
``This happens more often than you might expect.''
Festina stood by my shoulder, her face filled with concern.
``I am not all right,'' I whispered. ``I am not all right at all.''
I steeled myself, then told her the truth. ``Things die.''
``You and I, Festina -- we could die.''
``We will die, Oar. Sooner or later. Maybe in the next second, maybe years from now; but we will die.''
I looked at her. Was this not a good time for my friend to offer an embrace, a comfort, a reassurance? Lajoolie had enfolded Uclod in her arms, but Festina was only watching me -- as if she did not want to make the moment go away. As if she wished the thought of death to impress itself on my brain, deeply, deeply, deeply.
I fought back tears. ``How can you stand it?'' I asked. ``Why do you not scream and scream?''
``Because screaming doesn't do any good. Nothing does any good in the long run. Death will come.'' Festina locked my gaze with her blazing green eyes. ``But we have choices, Oar. There are some deaths we don't need to accept. If a blood clot hits my brain right here, right now, there's nothing I can do about it, so no regrets. But if I die from something I could have prevented if I'd just thought ahead...''
She shook her head fiercly. ``We Explorers have a saying, Oar -- don't die stupid. It's got a double meaning: don't die because of your own stupidity, and don't die in a state of stupidity. Learn things: learn everything you can. Keep your eyes open. Prepare, prepare, prepare. You'll still die eventually, but by God, in the final second you can tell yourself you didn't just throw the fight.''
``And yet,'' I whispered, ``one still dies.''
``Yes. One still dies.'' She glanced at the weeping Uclod. ``It seems you've just recognized your own mortality, Oar. Everyone does sooner or later... then most people immediately try to put it out of their minds. They go into denial, except when the grim truth strikes so close to home it can't be ignored.'' She turned back to me. ``Don't do that, Oar. Stay mindful of death. Stay constantly mindful.''
She held my gaze a moment, then lowered her eyes with shy chagrin. ``Of course, some people say you should also stay mindful of life. I'm still working on that one. C'mere.''
Festina opened her arms to me and I finally, gratefully, slid into her embrace.
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