As the army led by the insane, power-hungry Tangent marches across the field toward their city, Gateway and Fountainhead, two genetically-engineered rodents placed on a terraformed planet as part of an experiment, find themselves in danger. Strangeness begins to sweep over the world, and Gateway is lost in the flood. A strange light appears in the sky while Tangent is giving a speech, and as the rumors spread, the account becomes exaggerated. Soon, everyone flees in terror, believing that Tangent caused a great conflagration to sweep over the world. Gateway and Fountainhead return to their city to warn their leader, Pacemaker, of the oncoming attack, but Pacemaker refuses to listen, so Gateway and Fountainhead flee on their own. A hawk attacks from the sky, and Gateway is lost in another fit of confusion. In it, Fountainhead has become an insane person deprived of potato chips. They begin to search for the potato chips, and then Gateway returns to reality. Tangent's army has taken them captive aboard a boat. The boat goes over a waterfall, and Gateway loses consciousness, only to wake up later at the home of Conflux the philosopher. By now, strangeness has taken over the world.
Gateway lapses in and out of consciousness, experiences strange visions, and engages in discussions with Conflux about the meaning of truth. Outside, buildings have formed in preparation for the aliens, humans, who are coming. Gateway visits the city and basks in the strangeness, becoming confused. A strange conversation with a watermelon takes place. Strange forces sweep over the world, and it sinks further into the muck. One day, Gateway finds Fountainhead again. The two have not met since the incident at the waterfall. Fountainhead is now in the later stages of some mysterious disease and suddenly dies. Gateway talks to Conflux and realizes that life is dead. Meanwhile, the parasite that has infected Fountainhead spreads to Tangent's followers. Strangeness still remains, however, and Gateway has strange dreams and becomes Zenith, the legendary rodent who saved the world from the hawks. One day, Gateway returns to Pacemaker's city only to find it abandoned. Some rodents there start throwing rocks. One day, an entity appears, and Gateway travels into the future and the past and finds nothing. In another vision, Zenith fights the evil one. The world is proved pointless.
Gateway, confused, continues to have strange discussions with Conflux and experiences weird visions and dreams, in which Zenith continues to battle evil. Strange voices give strange speeches, and finally the aliens arrive. Strangeness and confusion spread through the land, infecting the people, who are already infected with the strange disease that Fountainhead had. The aliens come, and they inhabit their cities, and society is struck with even more strangeness and even more confusion. One day, the aliens abduct Gateway. The world falls apart, and it burns. Other strange visions appear, and Zenith is confused as well. The entity comes again, and Gateway is even more confused.
The aliens speak and reveal that the whole thing is one big experiment that has no point. Gateway loses grip on reality and ventures forth into a strange new world. The strange unreal visions merge with reality, and confusion takes over. The world is now completely immersed in strangeness. The plot falls apart, and the characterization proves fruitless. The entity makes it clear that Gateway, and thus this novel by extension, has failed. Yet Gateway refuses to give up. The strange visions become yet more strange, and nothing makes sense. The reader reacts with rage at the poor quality of this story. Finally, during one last conversation, Conflux makes a big long speech the repeats itself, and Gateway reaches the final stage of understanding.
Copyright © 2002 by Ergon Blockhead and Bewildering Stories.