You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. In this one, the shit hits the fan.
Math after aftermath
Social and mainstream news media blow up almost immediately, but it has nothing to do with JPL.
The headlines are sensational and lurid, and the live reporters wide-eyed and disbelieving. At home, Brenda just stands in front of the TV, staring at the news, arm up and still holding the remote, other hand on her cheek, and mouth wide open.
Jonah walks in, looks at the screen and mutters a quiet, “Fuck!”
Esme strolls through to the kitchen. “Heard the news?” she says casually. “Well, told you so!”
Joshua has heard none of the news because he booked it out of JPL through the emergency exit, called the car to him, then headed off to the one place where he thought he could find an answer: Simon’s grave. Well, his and the boys’.
Was it possible that Lorre had betrayed them all, and actually given away the one way to destroy them, knowing that he’d be safe in Joshua’s trap?
He could have, in theory — but then once Pearl and Anabel knew what he was going to have Ausmann do, why did they allow it to happen if it meant their destruction? They must have known the same trick that Preston and Danny did, and there were three of them as well. All six of them could have Mecha merged into a giant Rêve that could have crushed Ausmann like a bug.
So he couldn’t believe that the Rêves were gone. He tried to keep that thought out of his head — he couldn’t stand to lose Simon twice. Once was traumatic enough. He sped to Glendale, drove through the cemetery gates, and slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw what was going on.
There were hundreds of people, wandering around looking very disoriented, all of them naked, and none of them looking more than maybe 25.
Joshua rolled down his window and started driving slowly, calling out. “Simon! Preston! Danny!” over and over. The walking people didn’t seem hostile at all, just confused — and then he realized something.
He recognized a couple of famous faces there. Famous dead faces, and as they’d appeared when very young, including Jimmy Stewart — and it was really disconcerting to see him nude. Not that he wasn’t attractive at his apparent age, just that it was a jarringly anachronistic image.
He continued to drive until he got up near Simon’s grave, an area that was mostly deserted, since everyone seemed to be heading down to congregate near the main administration buildings in the first area of the huge grounds.
He came around the corner, and there were Simon, Preston, and Danny, just casually hanging out near Simon’s grave. He parked and ran to them.
“Told you this is the first place he’d look,” Simon told the boys. Joshua raced up and hugged him hard, and realized that he was quite tangible and very warm.
“You’re back,” he said, starting to cry. “Back, alive, and in the flesh.”
“Well, sort of,” Simon said. “We’re kind of… best of both worlds, I guess. Flesh and blood, but with Rêve abilities and powers, and so forth.”
“Did you know this was going to happen?” Joshua asked, turning the question to all three of them. They looked at each other and then shrugged.
“We all knew, all along,” Preston explained. “Well, not the Class II’s, which is why they supported Ausmann.”
“They didn’t believe they could be destroyed,” Danny added.
“But none of you were,” Joshua replied.
“Exactly,” Simon said.
“The whole idea was to let Ausmann think he could do it, and then lead him right into the opposite thing. But you were there, you know how it worked.”
“But I didn’t know that everyone was going to get physically resurrected!” Joshua insisted.
“Would you have helped if you did?” Simon asked.
“I… no. Yes. I don’t know! It’s such a huge question, and here I was left right out of the loop. For one thing, how many billions of Rêves came back?”
“Not that many,” Preston explained. “The effect is limited to either end of the machine, nothing in the middle or distant from it.”
“Thank you for your service,” a voice called out. Joshua turned to see Anabel approaching. She was wearing a woman’s dress in colonial American style and carrying a huge armload of clothes, which she dumped on the ground.
“What? There’s a mini history exhibit up in one of the chapels. I figured you gentlemen might want to put something on before you go home, and while it’s a bit earlier period than your preferred hunting garb, it’ll keep you legal.”
“Thanks,” Joshua replied, uncertain, as they sorted through the clothes and everyone but Joshua put them on, since he didn’t need to. They wound up looking like refuges from an unfortunately all-white dinner theatre production of Hamilton.
“You’ll be back, I can tell — ” Preston started to sing.
“Shut up,” Danny told him.
“What happens now?” Joshua asked her. “I mean, I guess you’ve all gotten what you wanted.”
“We’ve gotten the means to what we want,” she corrected him. “This was just the first step.”
“There’s more?” he asked, nervously.
“You’d have to ask Pearl about that,” Anabel replied. “Oh, don’t worry. Since we share your world now, they’re nothing nefarious or dangerous to humans.”
She turned to the others. “And you do know that you still have some of your abilities, right?” They nodded. “Just don’t try walking through any walls.”
She turned away and then vanished in what looked like a rapidly receding puff of smoke.
“Well, guess I have to take the long way home,” Joshua said to them sadly, but Simon put his hand on Joshua’s cheek. “Never alone,” he said. “We’re riding with you. Like humans.”
“Nice,” Joshua sighed quietly. He even let Simon drive. The trip home was uneventful, although they did notice they were getting the occasional strange looks from other cars at their outfits.
They got back to the building and parked, then got in the elevator, which wasn’t a problem for the formerly dead crew anymore. It stopped in the lobby and their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Gresham, got on, coming back from a walk with her dog Joan.
“Hello,” she nodded, and they replied in kind, but then she looked at Simon, started, went white and fainted, Preston and Danny catching her.
“Oh dear,” Joshua sighed. “I have a feeling this kind of thing is going to be a problem. He, Preston and Danny carried her off on her floor while Simon continued on up. They got her to one of the banquettes in the hallway and sat her down to revive her.
She eventually came around and looked at them.
“Are you feeling all right, Mrs. Gresham?” Joshua asked. “Do you need anything? Water? To see a doctor?”
“No, no, I’m okay now,” she insisted, looking around. “Wait, where is… there are only three of you?”
“There only ever were,” Joshua reassured her.
“But I could have sworn I saw…” She trailed off and covered her mouth, then laughed. “No, but of course not, he’s no longer with us. I’m just… maybe it’s my meds, or maybe I’m just going demented. I’m sorry to scare you all like that. He just looked so real.”
“Simon, I’ll assume,” Joshua said. “Yeah, he was the most real person I ever knew.”
“I am so, so sorry for your loss, dear,” she said, patting his hand.
“Thank you,” he replied. “And don’t feel bad. I still swear I can see him around our unit sometimes.”
They helped her up and walked her to her door. Once she’d opened it, Joshua told her to call if she needed anything or felt faint again, and then he and the boys headed back upstairs, heaving a collective sigh of relief in the elevator.
“That was close,” he told them.
Once they got inside, Joshua fired up the TV and nine-screened it to all the major media outlets, from liberal to neutral to conservative. At the same time, Simon started streaming sources on their phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, and then they all sat down to watch and learn, with each of them focusing on a particular corner of whatever device they were watching.
The conservative media was definitely leaning religious, with headlines like, “Second coming imminent?” “Herald of the Apocalypse?” and “Has the Resurrection come?”
Meanwhile, more liberal media were running headlines like, “Science faces ultimate challenge in cemetery mystery,” “Viral hoax or supernatural event?” and “The real life Walking Dead.”
The press in the middle seemed less certain of what to do with it, so their stories had the most factual headlines: “Thousands of nude people appear in local cemeteries,” “Is Spencer Tunick at it again?” and “The ultimate case of religion vs. nudists?”
They watched and made notes for a couple of hours, and not once was JPL mentioned, but there were certainly op-ed pieces and person-on-the-street interviews, and it quickly became clear that the world was starting to lose its collective shit as the story spread.
The first negative report came from NBC, which cut to live footage of a scene in which a bunch of armed men in pick-up trucks rode up in front of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and let loose with military grade arms against the naked dead who were casually walking out from the front gates. And… nothing happened. The bullets appeared to hit them and leave brief red splotches on their skin, but these quickly vanished, even as the walls behind them showed real damage.
Meanwhile, the resurrected Rêves just kept walking, unconcerned — but the boys in the trucks who were formerly so confident in and proud of their abilities turned tail and fled, and there were probably many pants shat at the same time.
It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that ABC broke in with news from Pasadena, and Joshua and Simon finally found out what had really happened above ground.
And, as no one knew, this story wasn’t supposed to break, but Davis couldn’t resist, spotted a now working payphone, and had called up her sister-in-law to give her the scoop to pass on.
So the new viral thing on social media became “Dead revive, old rethrive,” and the mainstream media spent the rest of the day trying to get comments from the law enforcement agencies involved, but they kept stonewalling (per the media) or protecting their people (per reality) by not revealing any details.
Into the evening, the conservative media started asking whether there wasn’t some government plot to suppress a magic “fountain of youth” formula or process, while the liberal media was still asking for specifics on who was affected by this, and who or what was behind it.
The media in the middle, meanwhile, just focused on which celebrity was either a) fucking, b) marrying, or c) divorcing which other celebrity, with all the same questions asked about the second celebrity, and so on, in a meaningless clusterfuck of gossip that kept the stupid and weak-minded focused on trivia instead of reality.
In reality, Joshua realized, there was no good single way to explain all of this. He knew the science behind it completely, but the details of that would make the average citizen brain explode in two seconds. Meanwhile, Preston understood but did not believe all the religious bullshit bits that could explain it, and Danny kind of remembered, but didn’t want to explain, so none of them could do that.
And Simon was in total agreement with Joshua. There was nothing any of them could say to convince any of the peons of any particular persuasion to not believe what they had already hitched their wagons to.
“Well… fuck,” they sighed in unison.
“Now what?” Joshua asked.
“I have no damn idea,” Simon said. “Except, we’re kind of locked in here for the moment, so what does the magic box on the wall say?”
“It says ‘Honey, I love the way you think.’ Let’s strap down and watch up.”
“What about us,” Danny asked.
“You are family now, and you know it,” Joshua replied.
“We know,” Preston replied. “Just making sure that — ”
“Things are going to be weird enough,” Joshua admonished them. “There’s strength in numbers, right? Four is better than two. And it’s a fuckton better than one.”
“I’m not sure, but I still think that we don’t need to eat,” Simon explained.
“Doesn’t that make you all cheap dates, then?” Joshua laughed. “But how is that possible? If you have physical bodies now, don’t they need to run off of something?”
“Did you notice how all the Rêves in the cemetery weren’t affected by those bullets?” Simon pointed out.
“We’re a lot more solid than we used to be,” Simon said, “But not quite physical in the same way.”
“Physical enough,” Joshua said. You have body heat. And I can smell you when I get close enough.”
“Sorry,” Danny moped.
“Not that,” Joshua told them. “I’d recognize Simon’s scent anywhere, and it came back today.”
This seemed to cheer up Danny, who looked at Preston, and they just locked eyes for a while as Joshua turned down all the devices to just their streaming entertainment home screen.
“Any preferences?” Joshua asked, but Danny and Preston were heading for the hallway.
“It’s been an insane day,” Preston said. “We’re going to bed.”
“It’s like two in the afternoon,” Joshua reminded them.
“Just a nap,” Danny called back as they exited up the hall. “We’ll be back.”
“It has definitely been an insane day,” Simon said.
“Agreed. So what do you want to watch now?” Joshua asked.
“Honestly, I just want to watch you breathe,” Simon told him.
“God, I love you,” he replied.
“I love you, too.”
They looked into each other’s eyes a long while, kissed briefly, then snuggled on the couch. Joshua handed Simon the remote.
“Here,” he said. “You can drive.”
In the guest bedroom, Danny and Preston had entered, locked the door, and just looked at each other, both suddenly anxious.
“Physical enough,” Danny whispered.
“We can touch each other now, for real,” Preston replied. They simultaneously reached their right hand up to each other’s left cheek, pulled in, and started kissing, gently and slowly at first. Both of them were thinking that it wasn’t technically incest, since they weren’t exactly related, and it was questionable whether they could be considered clones.
What they quickly realized, though, was that each of them knew exactly what they liked, both of them liked the same things, and they were quickly driving each other wild in mad ecstatic fits because they never had to ask what to do, what with, and to which body part.
It wasn’t long before their clothes were strewn all over the room and they hit the bed, writing around in dozens of ever-changing positions, moaning and cooing in urgent little outbursts of pleasure, mouths regularly coming back together so their tongues could wrestle.
Both of them honestly felt more than once that everything felt so good they were going to pass out, if not leave their body entirely. They proceeded to get more adventurous, and louder, although one of them was still yet to top the other.
When they finally started taking turns fucking, the sexual frenzy meter went off the Richter scale.
In the other room, Simon and Joshua heard the bed suddenly start bumping into the wall, and then the muffled but obvious shouts and shrieks of passion. They just looked at each other and smiled.
“I guess that was inevitable,” Joshua said.
“Well, wouldn’t you, if the opportunity came up?” Simon asked.
“In a hummingbird heartbeat,” Joshua agreed.
Preston and Danny started getting louder and the thumping got faster. Their moans and outbursts of “Oh fuck,” and “God,” in a crescendo until a moment of silence, and then almost simultaneous and very loud grunts.
Joshua and Simon smiled at each other again. They both knew that sound very well. The guest room went quiet after that.
“You don’t think they’d mind living in our second unit, do you?” Joshua asked Simon.
“No, but I think the neighbors fifteen floors down and a half mile away might,” Simon joked.
They went back to ironically watching the 1965 satire The Loved One, which had actually been shot in Forest Lawn, and which was a devastating critique of the funeral industry.
In the guest room, Danny and Preston collapsed into each other’s arms and lied there in a sweaty, sticky pile of exhausted satisfaction for a long time.
Eventually, they looked at each other. “Dude — ” they said at the same time.
“You first,” Preston replied.
“No, you,” Danny insisted.
“Okay,” Preston said. “Do you have any idea how huge a market there is for gay twink identical twin incest porn?”
“No idea,” Danny said.
“Enormous,” Preston explained. “We’ll basically be able to cum money.”
“Wow. I was only going to suggest doing an Only Fans,” Danny replied. “But I can see where a niche market would help.”
“Forget Only Fans,” Preston said. “Too many people on there now who promise a lot and deliver nothing. We’d set up our own site. I’m sure Simon and Joshua can help us with that. And I do have name recognition.”
“Right, but don’t most of your fans know you’re dead? Er… you were… you died at one point?”
“Hm. I wonder if the market is bigger or smaller for gay twink identical twin incestuous necrophilia porn?”
“What if Preston was actually one of three identical triplets?” Danny suggested. “And his brothers, hearing of his death, decided to come out to L.A. to start their own career?”
“Hm,” Preston said, intrigued. “But then I’d have to become someone else.”
“Technically, so would I,” Danny reminded him, “Because when you died, I died. It’s just that your fans never knew that you were me.”
“Goddamn,” Preston laughed. “When I left Idaho, I never imagined that there’d one day wind up being three of me!”
“Technically,” Danny said.
“Technically is the best way to be right,” Preston reminded him. “So, I’m in. You?”
“Let’s do this,” Danny agreed.
Elsewhere, others were making big decisions on career changes. In the Simi Valley, Davis and Lewis were considering their new-found youth, and how a career in law enforcement had nearly gotten them killed.
“You remember what we really wanted to do in college, honey?” Davis asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Lewis replied. “Except we were both kind of afraid.”
“I know,” she said. “But now? Come on. We were naked on the news. What more could we fear?”
“Premature baldness and breast cancer?” he offered.
“Cynic!” she chided him. “Okay, who did we always want to be?”
“Nichols and May,” he replied.
“Exactly!” she said. “And what stopped us?”
“Wanting to be able to pay rent and eat!” he exclaimed.
“But now… we own the house outright, we have a buttload of savings and investments, and our formerly old asses are now young and cute again. Which means…?”
“You’re going to leave me for a younger man?” he quipped.
“Stop!” she shouted. “Although, don’t stop, because that’s actually it. You’re doing right now. Ad-libbing your ass off. You’re a really funny man, Randall. Why do you think I married you? What stopped us from pursuing our dream ain’t stopping us now, because we have the time and the money.”
“So what are you suggesting, exactly?” he asked.
“Improv classes,” she replied. “And then we get to become the next Nichols and May.”
“And then what?” he asked.
“Oh, who knows? Maybe never famous beyond a handful of loyal fans at some tiny black box in the Valley, maybe we wind up starring on SNL and then going on to movie careers. But no matter what, it means that we can just forget our policing past and finally have fun in our lives.”
“We had fun, didn’t we?” he asked.
“We did,” she said, “But we’ve also been given a second chance. Or did you miss that part?”
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to wrap my mind around it.”
“As are we all, dear. Just thought I’d try to help.”
“Oh, you did,” Davis replied. “You did enormously.”
“So?” she asked.
“So when is our first improv lesson?”
She laughed in delight and hugged him. “I’d scheduled it for the beginning workshop, which starts on Tuesday night.”
“You knew I was going to say yes, didn’t you?” he laughed.
“Why the hell do you think we’re going to be so good at improv?” she shot back.
“Why do you think I love you so damn much, Paula?” he replied.
Another career change was in the works, and when Brenda’s phone rang, she answered immediately when she saw that it was Rita calling her back.
“What the mother-loving actual hell is going on out there right now?” Rita exclaimed. “See, if you’d just taken the state job — ”
“Rita, I know how it works,” Brenda replied, “And I wouldn’t even have seen my first day of actual work until at least the first quarter of ’25, so let’s not pretend we could have done anything to prevent this.”
“I’m guessing that you know how it happened, and that your two boys in the fancy costumes were involved.”
“Which is all water under the bridge right now, Rita. I’ve got a proposal, and we can do it right now, either state or county, although I think that county will be more relevant, because as far as I can tell, the phenomenon is limited to there.”
“All right. Try me. What you got?”
“What we’ve got is an untold number of formerly dead people who have come back physically and, between you and I, the explanation is totally rational and scientific. Oh, I mean, it’s all that weird quantum physics spooky action stuff. But there’s nothing supernatural about it.”
“Tell that to my mom,” Rita sighed.
“Yours too?” Brenda replied. “Anyway… these people have been gone anywhere from a few to a couple hundred years, at most, but that’s enough at either extreme. They have returned physically, but have no assets, nothing that they own, and to all levels of government, they don’t exist.”
“Because they died.”
“Exactly. And for the ones who died a long time ago, they don’t even have living friends or relatives, or at least not ones who know they exist. But they’re here, and we have to find a way to integrate them into society, and give them ways to support themselves.”
“Sure, but what’s the trade-off?” Rita asked.
“You kidding me?” Brenda replied. “They are a direct connection to the past. These people lived it, and they know things about it that our generations have forgotten, or never even knew. We could fill a hundred libraries with their memories, and maybe that is the trade-off.”
“Librarians?” Rita scoffed.
“Now you’re just being obtuse on purpose,” Brenda scolded her. “No. They tell their stories. In as much detail as they have, day-to-day from what they can remember, and we record it all. They also answer questions from our historians and archivists, identify if they can forgotten locations and objects, and fill in all the blanks in our history.”
“Okay. That does sound useful. In exchange for…?”
“Room and board, and maybe re-training for modern fields of employment? And you know, we still have so much abandoned real estate after the plague, even after we housed all of the homeless in it. We could supplement it with a subsidy to any descendants who would take any of them into their own homes.”
“Okay, I only ask because you know it’s my job to shoot holes in proposals like this,” Rita cut in.
“Of course,” Brenda agreed.
“But have you accounted for how the living might feel about the undead? Fear? Resentment? Animosity? Outright hostility?”
“Oh, I’m sure they will,” Brenda replied, “Which is why I think our first step is outreach and getting them into our custody to keep them safe.”
“What if they won’t go willingly?” Rita asked.
“I think that my boys in the fancy costumes might have a pretty powerful and persuasive connection in that regard,” Brenda told her.
“Do tell,” Rita urged her.
“No details. Just that let’s say she… well, not she, they, could be considered the… monarch of all of the Rêves.”
“They got a monarch?” Rita exclaimed.
“Sort of,” Brenda demurred.
“Shee-it!” Rita exhaled, before pausing. “Okay. I’ll pitch to the supes and see what they say. Anything else?”
“Yeah,” Brenda added. “Tell them that if the county doesn’t do it, I’m going to anyway, whether they like it or not, and I’ll make it the biggest non-profit they’ve ever seen.”
“Good luck with that,” Rita said, not as insincerely as it might have sounded, and they hung up.
There were two reasons that the tachyon transmitter had not stirred up billions or even hundreds of millions of the dead. One was distance, and the other was time — which made perfect sense in terms of physics, of course.
Physically, the thing seemed to only have an effect within a 150 kilometer radius, which limited it to an area bounded by a circle passing through Mount Palomar and continuing around in an arc that passed outside of Victorville, just north of Bakersfield, just west of Santa Barbara, and through a lot of Pacific Ocean, which didn’t bring back anyone.
Neither did two of the three islands in range — one of the Channel Islands and San Clemente Island, although Catalina Island and its Avalon cemetery were right in range.
As for the time limit, it had nothing to do with when the machine was created, even though the Rêves did not first appear until 1993. Rather, it had to do with how long there had been outside settlers in the region, but also whether there were any specific records or memories about them.
It was the Class II phenomenon all over again. Historical figures that had been remembered, even from the earliest colonial days, came back. The ones who weren’t remembered by history or their descendants did not.
And most of the indigenous people, the Tongva, happened to come back as the equivalent of Hadas as well, but they kept themselves hidden from the Hadas silvestres. They all hated the Spanish who had subjugated them, so would never refer to themselves in that language in the first place.
If they did name themselves, it was something like iisawut taamit, or “sun wolves,” although they all just accepted that they had moved into the spirit realm while remaining earthbound and had no idea what they had done to deserve it.
At the moment that Ausmann had fallen through the pipes, breached containment, and effectively shut the machine down, there was a sudden rain of ash from the air everywhere. At the same time, all of the Hadas came racing back to Pearl, who was meditating on the mountain next to Ausmann’s ruined hide-out.
The entity Pearl reintegrated all of them and, like all of the other Rêves, suddenly took on a very tangible form, except that they were now twelve feet tall and, instead of appearing always as Janis Joplin, Pearl constantly cycled through every face and body of ever one of the Hadas.
It was exactly what they knew would happen, and the one desired outcome of this whole adventure, although the one detail that Pearl had withheld from all of the Rêves and humans involved.
They were now incredibly powerful — the storm they had conjured just over two weeks ago was nothing compared to what they could do now, but they didn’t want to do that.
Pearl’s goal in engineering this was to help the stupid Vivants learn how to live with and on the planet, and perhaps the only way to do it was to give them an existential shock even bigger then the ultimately subverted plague disaster of three years earlier.
Then, it would be time to offer them Pearl’s help. They could actually change weather patterns, help undo damage, and help nature help humans — and vice versa.
Pearl decided to take a stroll around the mountain top, and it felt good to be this alive again, this tall, and this powerful. They were going to do great things for this planet, dammit. It was something that every one of them had wanted to do throughout their human lives, and they had never lost track of that goal.
And then, near the top of the mountain, a large wolf appeared on the road, and just stared at Pearl, who stopped. It was proportional to Pearl, with gray and white fur, and eyes that shone with the light of the Sun.
It sat and sniffed the air, then regarded Pearl with a head-tilt to the left. Pearl placed a hand on their chest, then nodded. The wolf rose and approached slowly, head down. A familiar energy was sweeping over Pearl now. It was the same one they sent to Rêves they were approaching — one that said you are loved, you are safe, be calm.
Very slowly and carefully, Pearl put their hand on the wolf’s head and in that instant their mind was flooded with images of hundreds of thousands of faces, all of them indigenous people, of every age and gender, and all of them were smiling and laughing.
It honestly made Pearl forget themselves and lose all concept of identity until it suddenly stopped when the wolf ducked its head away from their arm. Their eyes met again, and the wolf placed its heavy paw on Pearl’s right wrist, as if to acknowledge some agreement.
They exchanged no words mind(s) to mind(s), but many ideas and feelings, and Pearl finally just nodded. They knew who this wolf was, and the wolf knew who they were, and they both wanted the same thing.
As one, they turned to face the road down the mountain and knew that they had to head into the center of the home of humankind. They could have flashed themselves there in an instant, but there was a tacit agreement between them as well — “We must make this journey in the old way, on foot.”
That was probably the wolf, although Pearl wasn’t sure.
“It is the path of humility, and the best remembrance to not let our powers make us arrogant.”
Yeah, definitely the wolf, Pearl thought. And so they started the long walk down the mountain.