A globe-shaped perfume bottle falls through the air. Laurie and Jon teleport from Daniel’s living room to a hillside on Mars. Laurie can’t breathe its atmosphere and collapses, nearly suffocating before Jon remembers that he needs to give her an aura of oxygen to breathe. Laurie sputters furiously at Jon as she catches her breath. She starts to shout at him until she notices the large glass clockwork castle he created sitting in front of them. As they walk inside, Jon tells Laurie that they are there to “debate earth’s destiny.”
In this chapter, the falling perfume bottle symbolizes Laurie’s understanding of the world, which is about to be sent into a freefall. Jon forgets that Laurie needs air to breathe, indicating that he still has trouble connecting with mere humans or recognizing their physical needs. This in turn reflects Jon’s ignorance of Laurie’s emotional needs as well.
Jon claims to know how the conversation ends. His non-linear perception of time aggravates Laurie, but she follows him inside the castle. He tells her they are all “puppets,” but he’s the only “puppet who can see the strings.” To Jon, there is no past or future. He asks Laurie to describe her earliest memory. She remembers holding a “snowstorm ball” with a small castle inside and listening to her parents fight in the next room, near divorce. Laurence knows that Sally had an affair, and that Laurie isn’t his daughter. When Laurence and Sally find Laurie listening to them, she’s so startled that she drops the snowstorm ball.
Once again, Jon’s power to see all moments in time at once suggests that time is non-linear, but humans are only able to perceive it as a linear string of events. However, his statement that he is only a “puppet who can see the strings” highlights the fact that he cannot alter the past or the future, only observe it. That is, Jon is bound by fate, and presumably everyone else is as well. The castle in the “snowstorm ball” forms a parallel image to the glass castle that Jon and Laurie now stand in.
Jon tells Laurie that she was his “only connection” to Earth, so when she left him, he left the planet. He now feels more connection to Mars than to Earth. He wants to show Laurie around, but she refuses to be teleported again, so he lifts the glass castle into the sky and they go flying across the landscape. Laurie asks Jon if the end of the world, all that death, would bother him. He replies that an end to human suffering and struggle, which never goes anywhere, wouldn’t bother him at all.
Jon’s view that the end of humanity would simply be the end of pain and struggle reflects a deeply nihilistic outlook on life, suggesting that he sees no value to human life because it does not seem to go anywhere. People live, struggle, and die, and thus have no existential meaning or significance in Jon’s eyes.
Laurie recalls being 13 years old and seeing Sally with a gathering of first-generation vigilantes. Laurie overhears them wondering if all of their crime fighting actually achieved anything. Hollis asks Laurie if she’s read his new book yet, but Sally implies that there is something in it that Laurie should not read yet. Byron Lewis (Mothman) arrives, but he’s old, shaky, and clearly confused. He drops his glass on the floor. Laurie wonders if that’s the life she’s meant to look forward to. Back on Mars, Laurie admits that life seems futile, but it exists, which must give it some value.
Laurie’s series of non-linear recollections of events in her life parallels Jon’s series of reflections when he first arrived on Mars. This suggests that Laurie will gain some new perspective through this experience, just as Jon did when he realized that there is no God and no reason for living. Byron Lewis, apparently caught in the throes of dementia, exemplifies the pointlessness of life, since all one has to look forward to in old age is their mind and body slowly unraveling.
As they look at Mars’s vast and dramatic landscape, Jon asks Laurie if she thinks it would look better with an oil pipeline running through it. Jon thinks Mars’s “chaotic terrain” is superior to what human life would have made of it, though Laurie thinks her life is plenty chaotic. She recalls being 16 years old at the Crimebusters meeting. After Jon leaves the meeting, she meets the Comedian and vaguely flirts with him. Soon, Sally storms up and takes Laurie away, though Laurie doesn’t understand what is so bad about the Comedian. As they drive away, Laurie thinks that Edward Blake looks sad and alone. She feels sorry for him. Sally and Laurie drive a few blocks, then stop. Sally tells Laurie everything about her life, about Blake, and about her own fears.
Jon’s rhetorical question about an oil pipeline on Mars’s landscape suggests that human presence ruins natural beauty, rather than enhances it. Laurie’s opinion that Blake looks sad and alone foreshadows her true connection with him, which will give Laurie a sense of empathy for both him and her own mother. Just as Rorschach is humanized by his empathy for hurt children, Blake’s rare look of loneliness and vulnerability humanizes him as well, depicting him as a deeply flawed but also wounded person, rather than just a monster.
Laurie asks Jon if human pain and experience mean more to him than rocks in the sand. Jon answers “no.” He can see the atomic structure of every object and the vastness of the universe, which makes humanity seem “brief and mundane.” Laurie wants to end the conversation, but Jon says the conversation will end with her in tears. After that, he will return to Earth and see many dead bodies, but some “static” obscures his view of the rest of the future. Eventually, he will kill someone in the snow, but he does not know who. As they fly over Mars, Jon tries to make Laurie appreciate the landscapes, but she refuses. He asks Laurie if the human heart has the same triumphant “peaks” and devastating “chasms” that the landscape does. She thinks that the human heart has such “chasms” when it feels pain.
Jon’s statement that, compared to atomic structures, human life seems bland and unremarkable seems morbid, but it also highlights how vast and complex natural science is. Even with all of humanity’s history and technology and accumulated knowledge, none of it comes close to rivaling the complexity of atomic physics. However, Laurie’s refusal to cede his point suggests that she still finds human experience and human pain to be more meaningful than all the complexity in the world. This scene suggests that the human heart is just as dramatic as Mars’s landscape, though in different ways.
Laurie recalls a banquet in 1973 with various heads of state. Everyone shakes Edward Blake’s hand. He jokes about some murdered reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, and casually implies that he was behind the J.F.K. assassination. Laurie is drunk and furious. She’s read Hollis Mason’s book and knows what Blake did, and she hates him. Laurie approaches Blake, throws her drink in his face, accuses him of raping her mother, and shouts until Jon arrives and teleports her away. Laurie doesn’t know why she’s retelling this story to Jon on Mars. She tells him to land the castle, and they set down.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the real-life Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate Scandal, which ended Nixon’s presidency. The Comedian’s joke suggests that he quashed the Watergate investigation and murdered John F. Kennedy, and making these jokes to government officials implies that the Comedian really did these things on behalf of the corrupt American government.
Laurie wants Jon to send her back to Earth to die with everyone else. She notes that she isn’t crying like Jon said she would, so maybe he’s wrong about everything. However, Jon tells Laurie that she intentionally does not understand the events threaded through her life, as if she believes herself “too delicate” to handle the truth. Laurie realizes the connections between all the scenes she’s recalled with Jon: Edward Blake is her father. Laurie screams “no.” A globe-shaped perfume bottle appears in her hand and she hurls it at the wall. When it shatters, the whole clockwork castle shatters around them as well and falls to rubble, leaving Jon and Laurie standing on the Mars sand.
Again, the perfume bottle symbolizes Laurie’s understanding of her world, while clocks, and thus the clockwork castle, represent order in the universe. When Laurie finds out that Edward Blake, the man she hates most in the world, is her father, it wrecks her world—symbolized by the shattered perfume bottle—and crumbles any sense she has of the universe having order, meaning, and significance—symbolized by the collapsed castle.
Laurie cries that her life is nothing more than a stupid “joke.” Jon tells that he does not think her life is meaningless, which confuses Laurie. He says she’s changed his mind. Jon states that life is a series of “thermodynamic miracles,” events so improbable that they seem miraculous, like oxygen turning into gold. For every person who exists, hundreds of billions of sperm cells died, but only one fertilized a human egg and formed a being. Every person on earth is a miracle; they just forget it, since life on Earth seems so commonplace. From the perspective of another planet, Jon sees things clearly again. He tells Laurie to dry her eyes and take solace in the fact that she is a living miracle, “rarer than a quark.” They will “go home.”
Although the novel takes an atheistic view of the world—as represented by Rorschach’s belief that the world is “rudderless” and Jon’s belief that the universe is a clock without a clockmaker—Jon argues that life does not need to feel nihilistic and pointless, even without God. Human life is so improbable as to be miraculous, even within the immovable laws of physics, and thus a rare opportunity, a gift. Jon’s view allows for the presence of miracles without any divine being or contradiction of science.
Various clippings from Sally’s scrapbook reveal snippets of her life: A letter from a TV producer states that they want to turn what would have been a super-hero movie about her into an adult film. Captain Metropolis writes her a letter suggesting that they team up and begin forming the Minutemen. Laurence Schexnayder proposes marriage through a letter, calling it a “viable partnership proposition.” An interview transcript reveals that Sally doesn’t hold hard feelings against Blake, and that she believes Laurie will someday thank her for pushing her into the hero life.
Although Sally is not as thoroughly explored as most of the other central characters, these pieces from her scrapbook reveal several notable details: the TV producer’s letter suggests that publicists and media agents goaded Sally into becoming a sex icon; Laurence’s offer of a “viable partnership proposition” suggests that their marriage was devoid of romance; her comment about Laurie thanking her implies that Sally believes she is doing the best thing for her daughter, even though Laurie hates it.