Dr. Jacobs stood at the head of the boardroom, advancing through a slideshow as he gave his presentation. Projected on the screen was a photograph of a somewhat ill-maintained livery stable bordered by a chain-link fence. A horse stood off to the side, gazing at the camera.
"One thing to keep in mind before entering the house of inconstant horses is these horses simply can't be relied upon," he said. "They are very untrustworthy, even though they may not seem it."
Click. The slide changed to a tilted photograph of one of the stables inside. Daylight shone from an opened door behind the camera, partially washing out the scene. A horse stood at the darkened far end, away from the photographer, its throat bulging.
He continued narrating. "Also, during periods of high stress, their necks are known to swell threateningly and exude intoxicating odors."
Click. A D-class was shown eagerly following a horse away from several members of a field team, all of whom were wearing gas masks. The D-class was not. The agents were going after the D-class, whose gait suggested extreme speed.
"Men have been led to their doom by the swollen necks of terrified horses."
Click. An aerial photo, most likely from a helicopter, of three D-classes chasing the swollen horse and eight agents chasing the D-classes into a mile-wide, sprawling, gnarled thicket of thorny branches and prickly hedges.
Dr. Jacobs described the picture. "Men led to the center of a deadly maze by bored horses who are also rude."
Click. A rotting human corpse wearing a D-class uniform being found in a clearing in the thicket by the field team. The timestamp showed that only half an hour had passed.
"Horse-pranked fools slowly starving to death in the center of a large, complicated bush."
Click. The slideshow came to an end. Dr. Jacobs switched off the projector. The overhead fluorescent lights came back on.
"So it's best to keep these things in mind and also probably other things. It sometimes seems there is no end to the things required to keep in one's mind, but I recommend limiting the things you bring with you into the house of inconstant horses, as a busy mind is upsetting to the horses."
Dr. Jacobs smiled at his audience, a group of several other researchers sitting around a table. No one spoke for a time until a man near the front coughed.
"I am entranced by the world you inhabit," said Dr. Adelie, clearing his throat.
Dr. Jacobs blushed. "Thanks."
"I will find the house. I will conquer it. I will whip these horses into shape, goddammit," exclaimed Dr. Taylor, on the warpath as usual.
Every swiveling chair turned as the door to the meeting room opened. A black-haired woman stuck her head inside. "I heard the word "horses." I like that."
"Hi Dr. Hanawalt!" Dr. Jacobs yelled awkwardly. He stuck out his hand, holding a fancy slip of paper. "Here is an invitation to play my game "DOUBLEHORSE." It's where you draw what you think a doublehorse is. It's fun!"
Dr. Hanawalt hissed through her teeth. "Oh dude, I'm working right now…" She thought for a second. "But I might have an hour free to play DOUBLEHORSE tonight!"
"Hell yeah, a genuine Hanawalt doublehorse would be amazing!"
"I appreciate the invite," she said. "Most people are too intimidated to play DOUBLEHORSE against me…
In his awkwardness, Dr. Jacobs let his thoughts drift. "I accidentally just pictured Dr. Lockwood a doublehorse into battle."
Trying to be reassuring, Dr. Hanawalt shushed him. "That was no accident! She's riding the main horse and I'm in the little attached sidecar horse."
Dr. Kelly, who up until this point had been silent, now spoke up. "When I visited the house of inconstant horses, I tried to sneak a horse stability expert in with me, but the foothills did this little escalator trick and carried her away…"
"I feel ashamed of my doublehorse," sighed Dr. Walters. "He can't even run. The doublehorse Dr. Taylor described could do some kind of little sideways sashay but mine, ugh…"
Dr. Sterrestof, the resident xenobiologist, then spoke. "I've only seen alien doublehorses … they're extremely sweet yet notoriously unreliable. And they come in all shades of pinkish purple."
The room was silent. She went on, her greener eye looking around independently.
"Oh, and contrary to the Earth doublehorses, they're always into french kissing."
There was still silence.
"With each other, I might add."
Dr. Adelie cleared his throat again. He seemed to be coming down with something. Dr. Kelly patted him on the back.
"If you double a horse's Pokédex number, which is 472," Dr. Nate Tarrant, the mathematician, remarked as he discreetly typed into a calculator, "you get UNDEFINED, which is made up of a bunch of cough SFX and mountain sprites. Speed-runners use it to bypass time-consuming areas like [BIRTH] and [DIRECTIONLESS LONGING]."
Suddenly, Dr. Jacobs struck the table with a fist, remembering something he had forgotten. He turned the projector back on. The lights darkened and he called up a final slide. On the screen, an ancient Greek philosopher was sketching a strange, indistinct animal amidst geometric formulae.
"This is Euclid logically deriving a doublehorse from a simple, made-at-home axiom that anyone can use!" Everyone oohed and ahhed in acknowledgement. There were a few more slides of Euclid's tablet at increasing magnification; Dr. Jacobs advanced past them until the slideshow was over.
The lights came back on. Inexplicably, Dr. Tarrant stayed dark, as well as a shadowy copy of him lurking in the corner of the room.
"BOTH DARK NATES HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT DOUBLEHORSE," Dr. Jacobs screeched. The shadowy figure flickered out. Dr. Tarrant stayed dark.