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.
Simon and the Boys made sure that Joshua was up well before seven in the morning, although Joshua himself was uncharacteristically ready to go. At seven on the dot, he called Brenda.
“Hi, Josh,” she answered when she picked up in the middle of the first ring. “Construction barriers have been set up on all freeway routes into Pasadena, with at least three-mile detours before off-ramps, but which will lead to really complicated street routes back, and we’ve also shut down all Metro stations in all of Pasadena.”
“Wow,” Joshua replied. Thanks! So… once you re-open, how long will it take people to get to us?”
“Usual time,” Brenda said. “Which is why we’re not going to open until you tell us to. The only complication might be Federal agents, but we can at least provide them with enough union rule headaches to stall them for half an hour or so.”
“Great,” Joshua said. “So, we are going to send the message and go pick up the package. Thanks!”
“You too. Good luck!” Brenda hung up and Joshua dialed Ausmann’s burner.
It took him a few rings to pick up before he answered with a terse, “Yeah?”
“Hey, Assman,” Joshua replied in high spirits, “We’ve got Lorre, he can definitely tell you how to destroy the Rêves, and it’s go time. We can be there to pick you up in half an hour or less.”
“What do you mean ‘pick me — ’”
Joshua didn’t let him finish. “You heard me,” he said. “It’s for your own protection.”
“How the hell do you even know where I am?” he demanded.
“Because we have spies,” Joshua said. “What? You thought that turning my husband into one of them wouldn’t have consequences?”
“Oh, goddamn you!” Ausmann spat.
“No, dear,” Joshua replied glibly. “God has already damned you. Now get ready, because we’re going to be there really soon. Bye!”
Joshua hung up and the four of them headed downstairs and piled into the Tesla. Joshua drove — of course — and they were actually in DTLA and at the Alexandria hotel in about eighteen minutes — the advantages of a traffic-free Saturday because most people had already fled the city for the holiday.
Preston and Danny took advantage of their physical state to skip the elevators and head on up, while Simon also begged off of the elevator, but promised he’d wait for Joshua upstairs. Joshua took the slow human transit and, when he arrived, found Simon true to his word.
They went to Ausmann’s door — the boys had told them the number — but before they could knock, they heard a lot of commotion inside.
“Fuck it,” Joshua said, moving to ram the door open, but Simon stopped him and pushed his way through it, unlocking it from inside.
Joshua’s entrance startled the other occupants — Simon, Danny, and Ausmann.
“All right,” Joshua called out. “Fucking freeze. We are here to take you back to JPL in order to do what you need to do to end the Rêves. Okay?”
“What makes you think I want to go back there?” Ausmann demanded.
“Because it’s the only place you can do what you want to,” Joshua explained.
“What if I don’t believe you?”
“Well, then,” Joshua replied, approaching him, “I believe that the term is… oh, what is it?” He quickly swung up his arm and jammed the high voltage Taser into Ausmann’s shoulder, bringing him to the ground. “Oh yeah. Right. Bringing you into custody in a subdued state. Boys?”
Simon, Danny, and Preston merged together and picked up Ausmann’s unconscious body. They dumped it in the convenient wheelchair, and then the three-in-one of them rolled it out and down the hall, letting Joshua take it into the elevator.
They all reconvened in the lobby, got Ausmann out to the guest parking lot three stories down, then dumped his ass in the trunk, shut the lid, and set off for JPL.
They made their way out of downtown via the 110 and then the 2, heading almost due north. As they approached the 210, Joshua saw the brilliance of what Brenda had done — the entire interchange between it and the 2 was shut down, allegedly for construction, traffic being rerouted off the freeways in all directions.
Joshua pulled up to one of the workers standing by a barrier and rolled down the window. Danny and Preston were hiding in Simon again so that he would appear like a normal human and not draw any attention.
“Road’s closed,” the man said, but then Joshua showed him the credentials Brenda had sent him on his phone. The man pulled a device from his tool belt, scanned it, then nodded and whistled loudly.
He was soon directing some of his men and they quickly lifted one of the concrete rails and moved it out of the way. One of the other men waved Joshua and he drove through, onto the completely deserted 210.
“Wow,” he said to Simon. “Want to see what this thing can really do?”
“I’ve seen what your thing can really do. Besides, you don’t want to overshoot the exit.”
“Party-pooper,” Joshua teased him. But it was true. They were at the exit to Oak Grove Drive in no time. Joshua drove up, but not directly onto the campus. Instead, he pulled up outside of the emergency exit they had used the last time they left.
Simon took a still groggy Ausmann out of the trunk and carried him to the door, which is when Simon realized that it had no keypad or keyhole on the outside, Danny and Preston slipping out of him once he had put Ausmann down.
Meanwhile, Joshua did a quick search of the neighborhood, found a safe residential street nearby with no parking limits, and sent the Tesla off to park and wait until he called it back.
When he got there, Ausmann was starting to focus, and he looked at the door.
“We can’t get in from this fucking side, you idiots!” he spat at them.
“True,” Simon replied, slowing pushing his way through the door, then opening it from the inside. “Ta-da!”
“This way, please,” Joshua said, gesturing Ausmann in, and they all headed toward the tachyon generator chamber.
There was a surprise waiting for them before they got there.
“Well, hello, dear!” a voice called out as a trio of women stepped around the corner into view. Joshua and Simon recognized two — Anabel and Pearl — but not the third.
“Coraline!” Ausmann exclaimed, stunned.
“I bet you never thought you’d see me again, dear,” she said. “Correction: hoped. I would get my revenge on you in the obvious way, except that your machine would just bring you back, meaning we really would be stuck together forever.”
“Revenge? You died when the house collapsed.”
“I saw what you did,” she countered. “That’s what you get when shiny things fall into the basement from the upper floor. I knew you couldn’t resist coming here, so I brought some friends.”
There was something weirdly mythical about it, Joshua thought — the young and ethereal Anabel, the earthy Pearl, and the very senior Coraline, standing shoulder to shoulder, apparently with one goal.
“So what are you going to do?” Ausmann asked nervously.
“We can’t stop you,” Anabel explained, “If that’s what you’re wondering. All we can do is let you try.”
“I will succeed!” Ausmann insisted.
“No, darlin’,” Pearl cut in. “You will fail and see the futility of your efforts, and then maybe you’ll turn yourself over to human justice for all your crimes.”
“There is no futility!” Ausmann shouted. “I have a secret weapon.” He turned to Joshua. “Where is he?”
Joshua looked anxiously to the women, but Pearl gave him a look and a feeling shot over him that he understood as full permission. He took the trap out of his pocket and opened it. The usual smoke shot out and coalesced into Peter Lorre, in character.
He was about to speak to Ausmann when he looked past him. “Pearl?” he said nervously.
“Mr. Cairo,” they replied, but said nothing else while giving him a serene look as he heard the whispers of the Hadas in his ears.
“We know exactly what you’re all doing and what you have planned, so do it as you planned it, and we will play along. But don’t be afraid of anything we say, except in character, of course.”
Pearl smiled broadly at him, and then Lorre turned to Ausmann, feeling an enormous sense of confidence and relief — so he turned up the performance as weasly sell-out lackey to ten.
“What do you want of me?” he pleaded to Ausmann. “I am innocent, I did not do anything.”
“I want information,” Ausmann said.
“Anything, anything please, I beg you,” Lorre went on in a very convincing manner.
“All right,” Ausmann said. “What will destroy the Rêves for good?”
Lorre started at him bug-eyed, then looked at Pearl nervously. She glared at him while sending him encouraging thoughts on his performance.
“I… no. No, please, anything else, but they are my friends. I cannot let you destroy them.”
“So it is possible?” Ausmann asked him.
“Of course it…. oh, damn you! Damn me, you have made me say too much,” Lorre exclaimed, making what could have been melodrama work by sheer virtue of his well-crafted creepy little screen persona — which was nothing like him in real life.
“And you know how to do it.” Ausmann announced in triumph. “So give me the information.”
“Or what?” Lorre attempted defiance, but it was backed by terror.
Ausmann just pointed to the trap. “Back in there for you, sealed in forever and no getting out. Didn’t that happen to you in a movie with Vincent Price?” he suddenly asked.
“I was in that movie,” Lorre replied, briefly changing character, “But I was Montressor. I could be again, but then I would not negotiate.”
“Fine, then back to whatever sniveling little coward you were.”
“Is there anything else I can tell you, please?” Lorre groveled.
“But you have no idea what they’ll do to me if I tell you,” he said, looking at the three women, terrified.
“If you tell me, they’ll be gone,” Ausmann explained. “They couldn’t do anything.”
“But I would be gone, too,” Lorre added sadly. “You are asking my suicide.”
“Actually,” Simon suddenly spoke up, “If he’s in the trap, he should be protected from anything that happens to the rest of the Rêves, and we can let him out later.”
“So there’s your offer,” Ausmann said. “Save yourself, or I swear that I will get one of you to give the information. After all, if you have it, one of them must — ” he gestured toward Simon and the boys, “And I don’t care who I have to torture to get it.”
Lorre realized that this was the climactic moment of the scene, so he fell to his knees, tearing up although he didn’t go so far as to sob. His eyes darted from the women to Ausmann to the men and back, and he finally let his entire body sag in defeat.
“Deal,” he said. “I will tell you.”
The women feigned outrage — well, all except Coraline, who wasn’t faking it, but Anabel and Pearl easily held her back. Meanwhile, the other four were quietly elated.
“It’s fucking working,” Joshua thought to himself.
“So tell,” Ausmann replied.
“It is the machine sustaining us,” he explained. “In order to destroy the Rêves, you need to create a paradox.”
“Doesn’t the machine already do that?” Ausmann asked.
“Apparently not,” Lorre said.
“There’s a certain self-correcting dynamic in time travel,” Simon explained. “It helps prevent paradoxes.”
“So how do we uncorrect it?” Ausmann demanded.
“I do not know what it means,” Lorre explained, “But they have told me, you have to drop mass into the containment field.”
Joshua stepped forward in a fake a-ha moment. “Of course!” he said. “So far, we’ve only been sending messages on the thing. But if we sent something with mass back, it kind of breaks the rules of physics, which would create one hell of a paradox — ”
“And un-create all of us,” Lorre added sadly.
“So what kind of mass?” Ausmann asked. Joshua pretended to do some quick calculations, then announced, “Not much. Maybe a kilo. And not that big. I mean, you want it to pass between the super-conductor pipes, right?”
“I know just the thing,” Ausmann said, heading for his office. The other men followed, while the women and Pearl stayed behind.
In his office, he took a highly polished metal sphere off of a stand. It was about four inches in diameter. “Beryllium,” he said. “This is a kilo. Highly valued in the aerospace industry because it’s so light. It should do the trick, so let’s go play ball.”
As they started off, Joshua caught Lorre’s attention and pulled out the trap, indicating it. Lorre nodded and Joshua opened it, pulling him back in for safe-keeping. Ausmann led the way back to the generator itself, and then they all ascended the many flights of stairs to the catwalk above.
Neither Joshua nor Simon had ever seen the view from up here, but it was beautiful, really, the lightning-like stream of electric-blue plasma flying down the space between the six bright yellow pipes that shepherded it all the way to Virgina.
It was an impressive feat, really. Kind of a shame to shut it down, although Joshua felt no regrets now because, obviously, the thing didn’t really work. Telegram to the past, my ass, and he knew that first-hand.
But then, Joshua noticed something that wasn’t apparent on the ground, nor was it in any of the specs. He could see a reflection from here, between the pipes, and it obviously wasn’t coming from the plasma, since that was impossible.
The overhead lights were reflecting off of some sort of transparent shielding around the plasma itself. “Shit,” he sighed.
“What?” Simon asked him.
“Reflection,” Joshua pointed as Ausmann announced, “All right. We’re all doing this together, because if this shit blows up, we’re all going together, okay?”
He headed up the last stairway, which led to a railed observation platform that was directly above the first stretch of the plasma and tubing.
Only now, Joshua and Simon were feeling uncertain. Why hadn’t that shield been mentioned in the specs? Was it made of some top-secret indestructible material? Were they about to fail spectacularly as the sphere bounced off of it harmlessly?
They and the boys followed Ausmann up to the platform, Joshua and Simon exchanging a look, then glancing at Danny and Preston, who decided to suddenly take refuge in Simon just in case.
Ausmann stood at the rail looking down.
“I know she’ll survive this,” he said. “Oh — the machine, not my former wife or any of those creatures down there. But it’s probably going to be interesting.”
“No doubt,” Joshua said.
Ausmann leaned forward and held the sphere over the tube, closed one eye to aim, and then started counting down. “Three… two… one.”
On one, he let the sphere go but, at the same time, Joshua and Simon — who of course was able to do so — grabbed each of Ausmann’s legs, lifted, and pitched him over the side.
They could hear the sphere shatter glass first, but then an instant later, Ausmann hit the pipes. Danny and Preston abandoned Simon and they all took off in Rêve fashion, Simon warning Joshua as they went, “Run!”
Joshua didn’t need to be told twice. He skipped putting his feet on the stairs and rode the hand rails down as many cases has he had to until he was able to burst out a door and slam it behind himself.
That left no human witnesses to what happened next.
The sphere cracking the glass actually did nothing. It dropped through and vaporized almost instantly when it hit the plasma. The containment field did its thing.
But when Ausmann hit, he was flailing and had managed to twist sideways, so that his entire torso hit two of the pipes. They didn’t give right away but, true to Simon’s calculations, the joints to the adjacent sections had been weakened enough that they were slowly giving away.
Ausmann was stunned enough to do nothing for a few seconds, which was also all the time it took Joshua to get his human body away from the area and onto the safe side of thick concrete walls. Then, right as Ausmann tried to roll over and get up, the pipes gave way.
He and they fell, shattering the tube completely, and he kept right on going. The parts of him between his shoulders and his knees were incinerated instantly, the other bits hitting the concrete below.
When the pipes broke, liquid hydrogen immediately boiled out, sending up white clouds that were still very cold. With the containment gone, the plasma suddenly expanded as well and, unlike the hydrogen, it began to cool down rapidly. The blue glow vanished almost immediately, and by the time the burning plasma had expanded to about three times its original volume, it was no warmer than a Finnish sauna.
With the containment gone, the tachyons were free, and they had actually firehosed out of the initial small breach in the plasma, which had happened in the first microseconds after Ausmann fell in. Unlike the other escapees, no one could see the tachyons because they were gone before they got there, so it looked like nothing was happening. At least below ground.
But that stream shot up and got wider as it went, a like lawn sprinkler sending up a cone of water.
What Joshua and crew also couldn’t see was that they had a lot of company upstairs, and they’d all basically arrived at the same time about half an hour ago, traffic block notwithstanding, because all of them had originally intended to make this a pre-dawn raid, which meant they’d been aiming to arrive by six a.m., not nine.
Captain Shrantz and her crew were here, along with Captain Davis and Lieutenant Lewis on their own. About twenty minutes after they’d arrived, the FBI did show up — and then none of them could figure out how to get into the complex, so there were a lot of calls to home base and haggling back and forth, so all of them were distracted when… something happened.
There was no big bang or flash or anything like that. There was definitely a feeling that came with it, but suddenly everything within about a hundred foot radius just… changed.
No one knew what had happened, only what they experienced. Davis and Lewis suddenly both looked like they were in their late 20s again, although their cruiser and their uniforms — and all of their clothes and other possessions — had vanished, with the exception of Davis’ chai necklace, which her grandmother had given her when she became bat mitzvah, and which she never took off, and their wedding rings. They had married at 26.
The same thing happened to countless other law enforcement officers around them, with most of the vehicles in the lot within the area suddenly gone, the few exceptions being employee vehicles like a fully restored OG Volkswagen Bug, a couple of vintage cars from the 30s or 50s, or anything from earlier than about 1990.
And the place was populated with hordes of now naked people of varying ages, all the way from infants to, at most, maybe mid-40s, but the latter were few and far between.
Shrantz found herself thirteen again, or so she estimated, and awkward and embarrassed as hell, although that was a very common reaction from everyone right now.
Then it became apparent that a lot of the younger officers in their 20s were just gone. Not there at all. Vanished. And though no one noticed, the trees were shorter and younger, some of them not even there, and the buildings, especially Ausmann’s complex, looked decidedly newer.
So did some of those 80s and early 90s clunker cars still remaining.
But everyone was blind to the obvious because they were all so focused on their own situation and their inability to process what had happened. That, and suddenly being naked in front of their co-workers.
Well, except for two Mormon FBI officers, who had owned the same sets of secret underwear since their mission days in their early 20s, which they had almost caught up with, but not enough that they lost their undies. Of course, to them, that was just as bad as being seen in nothing.
But if they had actually taken a moment to think about what had apparently happened, their next question would have been, “But then why do I remember my future?”
Down below, Joshua had seen none of this, and he had managed to get to where Simon and the boys were before shit went down. This also happened to be where Pearl and the ladies were, and he joined them, breathing heavily.
“Well,” he said, “I think that worked.”
He smiled, and then the other six of them abruptly vanished.
“Fuck!” he exclaimed.