Deus Ex Machina

Lightning struck, very close, and violent thunder shook the home of Harold Meltzer in Lower Hambat, Illinois. Sitting on his front porch, staring out, Harold did not react. There was nothing he could do. The storm had been raging for days. The river, already swollen by upstream snowmelt, would crest soon, and overwhelm the levee. That barrier, built to be so mighty, was now exposed as feeble against the wrath of nature. Once it failed, nothing could save the town.

Lower Hambat’s calls for help had gone unanswered. Emergency services were already deployed to the fullest at other locations along the river. Harold thought about his family home, and talons of despair constricted around his heart.

Harold’s neighbors also sat on their porches, looking out, watching the rising waters that measured the exact height of human futility. There was nothing to be done.

Then, something moved.

A tiny, slim figure dared to resist the storm. Kyle Rogers, the six-year-old neighbor boy, had left his home and was advancing against the rain. He held an object in his hands. Heedless of nature’s fury, showing the invincible courage of innocence, the child walked to the levee and climbed to its top.

He turned and faced the gaping neighbors. Kyle Rogers held his weapon high above his head, like a general calling his soldiers to battle. Lightning arced across the sky behind him, illuminating him from behind, making him appear impossibly fragile. But the force of the storm did not tear the boy to pieces. Instead, it revealed him as fearless and magnificent.


The object he held was simple and absurd. It was a sponge. A hundred million of them could never stop the flood. But it was all he had, and he was the only one in town who dared to take any action, however symbolic, however pointless.

Kyle Rogers set his sponge down on the top of the levee, then stood over it, looking majestic.

Harold was galvanized. He rushed inside to find a sponge of his own, then hurried out to the levee, and set his sponge down at his feet, next to Kyle’s.

He saw other neighbors doing the same. Word spread quickly, and soon every resident of Lower Hambat stood at the levee, drenched in rain, sponges at their feet, pitiful but defiant.

Harold put a hand on Kyle’s head, and spoke. “Kyle Rogers, you have humbled and inspired us. We may lose our homes, but we have not lost our ability to act. We will survive! And we will face the next challenge squarely, knowing that we have the ability to fight it.”

Then, the sky opened again — but this time it was not lightning that cracked the heavens. A massive object, shiny and metallic and flat, breached the clouds, larger than anything any of them had ever seen. It was the royal flagship of Tyloreas Beta 3. The Tylorean exploration fleet, cruising past Earth, had heard the calls for help from Lower Hambat.

The storm became silent. The rain ceased, as the power of the ship stilled the swirling vapors. A voice echoed down from the ship to them all. It said:

“Though we heard your calls for help, we found your resigned attitude unworthy of an intelligent species. We had resolved to do nothing, lest you fail to learn from the consequences of your apathy. But the sight of your young one, defying forces that broke the will of his elders, has changed our minds and given us hope for your kind.

“Kyle Rogers, you have inspired us as well. We will rescue you from your predicament. Our superior intelligence and technology will protect you from all flooding forever. Humankind may now enjoy a prosperous future, and we hope you will soon join us in interstellar trade.

“Our solution to your water problem is: a sponge.”

The voice fell silent, and the starship rose through the rapidly dissipating clouds. Moments later, a small, rectangular object landed in the river with a tiny splash. The moment it touched the water, however, it began to swell to many, many times its original size.

The object took the shape of the water, and within seconds its contours outlined the entire river, as far as the eye could see.

No water remained; there was only the massive, alien sponge, which pulsated gently but did not let a single drop of water escape. Moments afterward, the sponge ascended into the sky, and the water with it. As it ascended, the gaping onlookers could see that it now encompassed a breathtaking network of rivers, lakes, and oceans. It briefly blocked the sun as it ascended, then it vanished into the heavens. Before them, only a dry riverbed remained. Fish flopped pitifully in the dirt. The sponge had absorbed the water so greedily that the riverbed was not even left muddy. Harold blinked rapidly, and noticed that his throat felt dry.

The sky was now a clear blue, with no clouds to be seen. The Tylorean exploration fleet had vanished, and taken their sated sponge with them.

The residents of Lower Hambat stood silently on the now unnecessary levee. The problem of storms and floods had indeed been solved forever; no liquid water remained on the surface of the planet. The Tylorean exploration fleet, inspired to generosity by Kyle Rogers’s simple gesture, had doomed human civilization to extinction.

Harold Meltzer smacked Kyle across the head, and said: “Dumbass.”

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