The Saturday Morning Post #62: The Rêves Part 40

At last, the penultimate chapter is here, and everything wraps up next week, but be prepared to have your mind twisted in this one. Let’s just say that in the manuscript version of this story, this chapter begins on page 391 and ends on page 244.

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.

Ever after

No long after the Great Return, as the Revivants preferred to call it, Joshua and Simon had agreed to let Danny and Preston be permanent tenants in their second unit, rent-free, and to consider them to be at least nephews, if not honorary un-adopted sons.

“We’re not quite old enough to actually be your fathers yet,” Joshua had started to explain.

“Actually — ” Simon cut in.

“Shut up, honey,” Joshua stopped him. “We’re technically not currently physically old enough to legally be their fathers.”

Joshua and Simon also used their tech skills to set the boys up with their own streaming website, complete with e-commerce, payment system, and so forth, and also convinced them to go with the idea that they were Preston’s previously unknown identical triplets, which meant they had to come up with yet other stage names, although they decided to stick with LeCard over Winthrop.

They mulled it over. The one last touch that Joshua and Simon took care of was to set up a corporation that paid money into a trust fund. Since Danny and Preston were technically dead, and since, despite Brenda’s work, she still hadn’t gotten that whole deal figured out with State and Federal governments, a corporation would stand in for them in everything.

The State and Federal questions were not trivial, though, and Congress had been debating them for months. The big question was, “Suppose someone died at 85 and then came back. In order to regain their rights as a living person, do they have to pay back 20 years’ worth of Medicare and/or Medicaid and Social Security benefits? What if they had life insurance? Do the beneficiaries have to pay that back?”

As usual, it was basically already-rich people quibbling over whether poor people owed them, ignoring the fact that the returned wouldn’t be collecting benefits anymore, but would be paying back into the system if they were recognized as who they once were.

This back and forth argument would become the political battle of the next eight years, and it started out having a really big effect on the elections of 2028.

But long before that, Preston and Danny had finally let Simon and Joshua know that they’d come up with an idea for their new porn names, but wanted to meet up and have dinner (or at least fake having dinner) to discuss it with them.

Joshua told them yes, so they came over, dressed to the nines — which was a very weird state to see Preston in, although he seemed to become a lot fonder of clothes once he had a physical body to put them on.

They all sat down, the boys exchanging nervous looks, until Simon announced, “Okay. What’s on your minds?”

Another nervous look, and then Preston — as he was generally wont to do — spoke first. “So, we picked the names we want to use, but we wanted to ask you first, since you’ve been so great at advising us on everything.”

“And we don’t want to fuck anything up in our relationship, or make a stupid choice,” Danny added.

“So, hit us,” Joshua said.

“There are reasons that we chose these,” Danny started to explain, but Preston put a hand on his shoulder.

“Dude, let’s just rip the Band-Aid.” He looked at Joshua and Simon and said, “Okay. We’re keeping LeCard, but he’d be Joshie, and I’d be Sy. Or Silas.”

“Hm. Sounds familiar,” Joshua deadpanned, but then he and Simon looked at each other, both of them already knowing the answer. They could only feign annoyance for so long before they broke out in big grins and looked back at the boys.

“That is awesome!” Simon replied.

“I’ve always wanted to be a porn star’s namesake,” Joshua added.

“Adult entertainer,” Preston/Silas reminded him.

“Future fucking superstars,” Simon admonished.

“I hope so,” Danny/Joshie agreed.

“With your looks and your niche, it’s inevitable,” Joshua insisted.

“Here’s to Joshie and Silas!” Simon toasted, and they all clinked glasses.

“May the two of you make many sexy messes together,” Joshua added.

“Mm,” Preston replied. “I like the sound of that.”

None of them knew at the time, though, that Simon and Joshua were going to get into a very un-sexy mess, and very soon.

Meanwhile, one of the bigger messes that Brenda had to deal with were the resurrected Class II’s, and they got very special handling when any of them showed up — not that they deserved it, but because they needed it. While they were still stuck in a state of being made of people’s memories of their most famous roles, physically they came out trapped as about the 25-year-old versions of themselves.

So, in this new reality, it meant that they were young and pretty. But in outside reality, it meant that they did not necessarily resemble any of their famous characters — with few exceptions, like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. But the mess on top of that was that the studios got wind of the idea of all of these old stars being brought back physically, and the dollar signs went off in their eyes.

Since Brenda was working at compiling information on all of these people, she was also the recipient of a lot of butt-ass stupid emails from all levels of government, most of them asking whether she couldn’t turn over Revivants of certain talent to them.

Her short and sweet answer to this was always just “No.”

All of the Class II’s that they had met and counselled became Brenda’s charges, and they were immediately housed in a former seminary and its grounds that had been sold off to the County while the Catholic Church was paying off yet more lawsuits a few years earlier.

Sure, a lot of them bitched about being stuck in what were basically dormitories, but Brenda personally met with them many times, and explained that it would eventually turn out to their benefit. She contacted a few powerful entertainment lawyers, and also got as much information as she could from the Class II’s on who had handled their estates, whether they’d had trustees set up, or if they likely had living descendants.

It was a multi-year process, with the entire entertainment industry constantly trying to get Brenda to set up meetings with the Class II’s. She finally had to assign one of her assistants to practically spend all of his days only replying “No” to these requests — and he had full permission, with her blessing, to use the exact words, “No, and which part of ‘fuck off’ do I need to explain to you?’”

His name was Blake, by the way, and it was the best job he ever had, especially because he had absolutely no interest in working in show biz at all, so threats of, “You’ll never work in this town again” meant nothing to him since, to the people saying it, “this town” was limited to the entertainment business.

The joke would be on them all later, when Blake wound up working in and then running the L.A. Film Permitting Office, and he had a long memory, so those who had threatened him would always find their permit requests being tangled up as he enforced every last law and regulation down to the tiniest dot, then would put his best inspectors onto the locations for the duration of the project to document every violation — of which there were always many.

Ultimately, Brenda and the lawyers had compiled the information and documents they needed for every last Class II, and it gave them the ammunition to fire back, so Brenda finally scheduled a Zoom meeting with all of the various producer types who had contacted her.

Their cameras and audio were off, and it was her solo show.

“Good afternoon,” she announced. “I understand that all of you have expressed an interest in exploiting my clients in order to benefit yourselves. And that is exactly the word. Exploit. Because we’ve seen some of the offers you’ve made for various commercial or other appearances and, honestly, they are laughable.

“You seem to have either forgotten or ignored how the whole licensing game works, although, come on. I know for a fact that some of you have done things with the images of Monroe and Chaplin, and they are two of the more notoriously expensive dead celebs in town. Hey, at least Chaplin wasn’t buried anywhere near the flight path of the magic resurrection beam, right?

“But, the point is this. My team of lawyers and accountants has gathered the information and done the math. They’ve calculated peak income, adjusted for inflation, for each of our clients, as well as their current Q-scores among likely audiences.

“Factoring these together, but then adjusting using search frequency for both their names and properties they starred in, we’ve come up with a universal licensing rate sheet that covers three scenarios.

“Licensing their image, but recreating it with CGI, licensing the image but augmenting it with actual ADR work from our client, or hiring the client to physically work for you. This document will go out at the end of our meeting. Keep in mind that the fees will be the same across categories regardless of media or format, so you’ll pay the same for print ad as you would for an international feature. Sorry. Not Sorry. Here comes the doc…”

She sent the rate chart, then turned on everyone’s video, still muted. “If you have questions, click to raise your hand, and we’ll try to get to them, with a time limit of thirty minutes. And… go.”

The questions, of course, came fast and furious, and Brenda’s social media assistants, who flanked her in her office on their laptops, sifted through and forwarded them faster and furiouser.

Most of them seemed to be along the veiled lines of “Why should we pay dead people?” Brenda’s constant response to this was, “Last we checked, they weren’t dead anymore.”

But it keyed her into something else going on in society, and especially since she was dealing with supposedly woke and progressive people.

There was a definite bigotry against the Revivants going on here. It was giving her nasty flashbacks to stories her mother had told her about what her grandparents and great grandparents had had to put up with being considered second (or lower) class citizens, and it made her blood boil.

Right around the time limit, she couldn’t handle it anymore, and jumped onto her mic, knowing what she had to say, and that the reaction would be extreme, but it would certainly get media attention — so she turned on everyone else’s audio.

“Okay,” she said, telling them what they were basically calling the Revivants and how they were trying to treat them, although she used a particular word — because she could — that got quite the reaction.

There was an audible gasp and much clutching of pearls at THAT word and sudden fervent denials — to Brenda, it reminded her of St. Peter’s little routine before the cock crew — and it got even better when people started saying that she should be banned for using that word, but then she shut off the mics and gave them another Come to Jesus moment.

“Okay, look, you idiots — and I still see that the vast majority of you are white,” she said, because she didn’t care anymore, “Number one, I can use that word if I want to, in case you’ve been too busy not looking at my face. Number two, every single one of us has one or more ancestors who died. And now, every single one of us has maybe one, maybe more, ancestors who have come back.

“So… if you want to, you can be a total dick to someone’s mother, or father, or sibling, or grandparent… or not. And you can treat them fairly or not. Our time is up now, but I’ve emailed you our offer. Take it, or leave it. End of negotiation. Bu-bye!”

She shut down the session and every one of Brenda’s assistants suddenly stood up and broke out into wild spontaneous applause.

Of course, the industry sued, but Brenda already had the high-powered lawyers on board, so the thing wound its way through the courts, eventually hitting the SCOTUS, which finally ruled, in an 8 to 5 decision, that the Revivants had the same human rights as they would have had when they were living, including the right to control of the use of their own image.

Of course, it had much broader implications, and in a single stroke made moot all kinds of bottlenecks the Revivants were facing in trying to get back at least some access to what they had left behind.

Doubling down, Congress quickly passed what was popularly known as Brenda’s Bill, officially called the Restoring Essential Benefits of Returned Nationals, or the REBORN Act. Brenda loved that her name was on it, but secretly hated the over-reaching acronym creation of the civil servants who named bills.

Plus, some asshole had calendared it as SB 666. At least in the House it got an innocuous HR number. It passed by an overwhelming majority in the House, by 56-46 in the Senate, and was signed immediately into law by the President on September 23, 2029.

And it was the next day when Joshua and Simon called her out of the blue. She had been worried sick that something had happened to them, but was glad to see that they were okay, although it was clear that they were no longer in their place in Noho and, also clear that Joshua now looked a metric fuckton older than Simon.

“Hi!” they waved and smiled. “How you doin’?”

“Really great,” she said. “And where the hell have you two been?”

“Well, until your little law got passed, harassed and hiding,” Joshua explained.

“This place?” Simon indicated the room around them. “Yeah, it’s an old U.S. nuclear missile silo buried somewhere in Wyoming, although we’ve had upgrades. Ta-da!”

“We kind of had to go into hiding because, apparently, once upon a time, the Revivants were not popular, and Simon and I especially not, because we got our names all tied up in Ausmann’s bullshit and whatever — ”

“Basically,” Simon took over, “We got blamed for what he did.”

“So we signed our shit over to Preston and Danny — remember them?”

“Oh, yeah,” Brenda said.

“Bought this big-ass tour bus from some band, hired a driver and two bodyguards, and headed east,” Simon explained.

“We finally found and bought the silo — ridiculously cheap — but lived in that bus for two or three years while the place was renovated for us. Really, it’s kind of like living in the best Manhattan penthouse ever, except that it’s way underground.”

“And it’s in Bumfuck, Egypt,” Simon added.

“Damn,” Brenda exclaimed. “So, what are you doing otherwise?” she asked. “I mean, to survive?”

Joshua and Simon exchanged a look. “Oh,” Joshua went on. “I don’t think we ever told you. In our past life — well, his past life — we kind of did very well for ourselves designing apps. So we don’t need to do anything otherwise for profit — ”

“But we’ve been doing a lot of podcasting,” Simon added. “Well, using CGI deep fake avatars and all. You might have heard of us? Jericho and Rome?”

“Oh my god,” Brenda exclaimed. “That was you guys? Holy shit — without your rabble rousing in the early days, I never would have gotten any traction. Do you have any idea what kind of public support you drummed up that helped me jam it up the food chain? I mean, not just for the Class II’s, but for all of the Revivants?”

“Well, not to humble-brag,” Joshua said, “But, yeah, that was our intent.”

“And look what it led to,” Simon continued. “You done got a bill named after you. But we called because our next question was this. Can we donate to your organization?”

“The government one, sadly no,” Brenda said. “But there is a Foundation, which was set up to benefit the Class II’s, although we’re in the process of broadening its charter.”

“Great,” Joshua said. “What’s its name?”

“Well, in order to make it happen, we had to make one of the Class II’s very happy, so it’s called the Bette Davis Foundation for the Preservation of Legacy Actors’ Rights.”

“Mouthful,” Joshua uttered.

“I know, right?” Brenda said. “But in light of the court ruling and all that, we’ve already filed to change it to the Revivant Rights Restoration League.”

“I like that,” Simon said.

“So, should we hold off with our donation until that’s official?” Joshua asked.

“Oh, hell yeah,” Brenda replied. “Bette is a total bitch on wheels and I don’t want her to get an ounce of credit. So, sure. After the fifteenth of next month, go for it.”

“Awesome,” Joshua said. “And is there a limit on what we can donate?”

“I don’t think so,” Brenda told them. “Ten, twenty, thirty grand, sure, whatever.”

She heard them both laugh, and then Simon continued. “Um, actually, we were thinking something around a hundred million?”

This was followed by a very long silence until Joshua and Simon could wait no longer.

“Brenda?” Joshua asked.

She replied quietly and timidly. “Fuck… me. You boys better be serious.”

“As serious as the grave,” Simon said.

“We have our reasons,” Joshua added.

“Okay, okay, “Brenda replied. “If you’re not shitting me, yes you can donate that much, but for fuck’s sake, don’t do it until after we’ve announced the official name and charter change of the foundation, okay?”

“Deal,” Joshua said. “Email us the go sign, and then we’ll pull the trigger. Thanks!”

They hung up and Brenda just sat and stared at her screen for a long time, not even aware of the grateful tears that were pouring down her cheeks.

As for Joshua and Simon, they couldn’t have been happier that they could contribute so much. They’d had to shut down the Ada Lovelace Foundation after they found out that one of the board members had been embezzling left and right.

Rather than press criminal charges, they simply made him explain every step of how he did it, then let him keep the money on promises that he would never do it again. But… organization compromised — and this two months after Simon’s return, so before the bullshit hit the fan — they figured that they could create a new Foundation, and entrust it to Danny, Preston, Brent, and Drew, but they never got the chance, because the world went batshit against them the next day.

And, so, the entire endowment of the foundation devolved into their hands again, and despite the embezzlement, it had accrued a ridiculous amount in royalties, residuals, and interest, putting them well over their self-imposed cap.

They had considered establishing the William Gibson Foundation, but scuttled that idea when they were reminded that he was still alive, and instead looked into starting up the Jacquard Foundation instead, but they finally decided that Joshua would just start making donations himself, listing them as memorials to Simon.

Maybe it would help atone for the bad feelings people had had for them, and maybe it would pave their way back into society. Not that they really cared about that. What they cared about was maybe someday having the luxury of being able to visit Preston and Danny, and dropping in on Brent.

Sadly, Drew had passed at the age of 100, and as far as they could tell, had not come back in any form at all.

As for the boys, though, they had become sensations, and were doing really well for themselves. They had also inadvertently started a case that wound up changing incest laws in the U.S. for good.

They were never directly involved, but their broadcasts were, when some southern Senator got a wild hair up his ass and sued the internet provider that hosted their site with obscenity charges for transmitting incestuous content.

Danny and Preston were never defendants in the case, nor did they have to testify, because the state involved went after the provider, but their attorneys were good, and backed them into defending anti-incest laws for preventing inbreeding.

That blew their whole case, because there was no way that Joshie and Sy could ever get each other pregnant, ergo what they did could not be considered incest in the slightest. It had been the most posted about and searched court case in at least fifty years, and when it was over, there was a huge explosion of outpouring and support for “Joshie” and “Sy,” as well as memorials to Preston/Danny.

And neither of the boys had done a thing to promote the case of Kentucky vs. Digi-Axe LLC either way, but rejoiced in its outcome.

The world, though, had changed in bigger ways since 9/2, after Pearl and Taamit, the name the wolf had settled on, came down the mountain — although along the way, the Taamit admitted that they had only taken that form to defend themselves, and soon morphed into another human of Pearl’s stature and with the ever-shifting appearance, all of them clearly members of the Tongva tribe stretching back forever.

Once they came back into the cities of mankind, they certainly got everyone’s attention, but they started small and without being obvious about what they were doing. As they passed through the first town below the mountain where it was 105ºF, a sudden breeze began to roll down the mountain, bringing cool air in and rapidly dropping it to 75ºF.

This pattern continued to follow them as they walked westward, through a late summer heatwave that was baking the state.

They even brought down rain in communities where it was sorely needed, although these were gentle showers and nothing resembling the great storm of just over two weeks earlier.

“Two weeks and two days,” Pearl thought as they marched through San Bernardino and toward the L.A. County line. Had it only been that long? By this point, it felt like centuries.

Eventually, they wound up outside L.A. City Hall, on Spring Street between the front steps and Grand Park, and this got a lot of attention, especially once they started creating random weather effects as the politicians, public, and press gathered to watch.

Their pitch was simple. They had come back via a similar mechanism to all the others, although not totally physically. If humans accepted, they could offer a lot of help. If humans said no, they could do a lot of harm.

“Remember that storm a couple of weeks ago?” Pearl said, once they were the center of attention. “Well, that was us. So you either get more of that, or more of better. Simple choice, right?”

Within three hours, the message came back — not just from the city, but the county and the state as well. “Help us!”

Pearl and Taamit looked at each other, feeling enormous relief in that instant. They embraced, and then they melded, and became an even taller and more powerful entity made up of all of the spirits within them, and then set off on their mission to fix all of humanity’s environmental fuck-ups before it was too late.

Somehow, Simon and Joshua had missed that news, which was a shame, because it really would have floated Simon’s boat enormously, and might have set them on a different path. But as it happened, they were already knee-deep in the whole “How did this happen” thing, as well as setting up Danny and Preston in their new careers.

It had also taken Joshua three years to remember that he still had real Lorre in the trap, one of the few things they’d taken on the bus with them. He woke up one morning in April with a sudden “Oh, fuck,” stumbled to the bus’s vault, unlocked it, took out the trap, opened it, and… nothing.

He hoped that this meant that Real Lorre had resurrected anyway and was out there as the only other example of a Revivant clone, and not that Real Lorre had perished completely, only to be replaced by his Class II shadow.

But he would never know.

It had become apparent that Simon was aging a lot more slowly than Joshua and after a couple of decades, as Joshua was hitting his early 60s, Simon was still stalled at about 25.

“Okay, honey, look,” he begins. “It’s kind of obvious now that you have lucked out with the gay dream of being Twink Forever, while I am just decaying into decrepit old fuck — ”

“Don’t say that,” Simon warned him. “You are still beautiful to me.”

“I appreciate your… kindness,” he said, “But, come on. It’s obvious. I am going to age, I am going to die, and I am going to die on you. Which, given our history, is so fucking ironic that it just puts my dick in a twist.”

“I know all of that,” Simon insists. “And I don’t care. How old you get, how sick, whatever. I made that oath — ‘Til death do us part, and I mean it.”

“Yeah, well, do you remember the part where death did?” Joshua asked.

“Yes,” Simon replied, “And death got undid, and you came back for me, and I’m going to be here for you for as long as it takes, and I’m going to love you like I always have, no matter how old and decrepit your sorry-ass body gets, because the part of you that is the most attractive to me is that squishy bit stuffed in your skull. Get it yet, honey?”

“But you don’t get it,” Joshua replied. “I’m going to die on you because that fucking machine never worked in the first place.”

“What do you mean?” Simon asks.

“Okay. After Ausmann killed you, I sent a message back to the past, just like the machine was supposed to do, but nothing at all changed. You died, he lived until we killed him, and so on.”

Simon stared at Joshua for a long moment, then took his shoulders in his hands. “Oh, honey… I am so sorry. Don’t you realize the main thing here?”

“Um… no?” Joshua replied.

“Okay,” Simon continued. “It’s just that… whoever sent the message could never know whether it worked, because they’ve divorced themselves from that timeline.”

“What do

Out on the balcony, Ausmann gestured at the landscape. “This belongs to people,” he said. “Living, human people. Fuck the dead. And I have figured out the way to figure out how to defeat them, but it requires one tiny bit of your help.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you, but I won’t say yes,” Joshua replied. “What tiny bit do you need?”

“Simple,” Ausmann replied. “Bring me the spirit of Peter Lorre. That’s it. He’s going to share all of the secrets to destroying them, and guarantee my mission.”

“Peter Lorre?” Simon scoffed. “How are we supposed to find him?”

“I suppose you’ll need to find an ally on the other side,” Ausmann said.

Joshua wanted to tell him, “We’ve already got two,” but restrained himself — there was no telling how this madman would take the news. Besides, he didn’t exactly want to call out Danny and Preston when they were most likely watching but hidden.

In fact, they were watching, and the thing that they noticed was that Ausmann was doing his weird “Hindu Time” bit again, seemingly stronger than it had been before, and that was when time blurred.

“I can’t think of any of those existing ghosts who’d trust either of you,” Ausmann said. “But I know who would.

Abruptly, Ausmann spun around to hit Simon hard in the chest, knocking him backwards over the balcony railing and into fifteen stories of air. As they turned back, it looked like the back of the ghostly one’s head exploded in a spray of red mist, and then it fell.

That was when the heavily armed Federal agents rappelled down from the roof, Ausmann shot dead, and Joshua running to the railing and looking down to see that Simon had landed on an airbag, which agents and firefighters were now helping him down from.

He looked back up at Joshua and they gave each other thumbs up.

“Oh, thank the fucking deities,” he thought to himself. The love of his life was alive.

“What the fuck was that?” Danny asked Preston.

The agents secured the place, brought Simon up, and then separately asked him and Joshua questions about Ausmann, their connection, and his motives. They explained as much as they could.

At the end of his interview, Joshua asked, “How did you even know he was here and what he was planning?”

“Because you told us,” one of the agents replied, taking out a piece of paper and handing it to Joshua. It was a printout of a message he had sent. Or, rather, would be sending tomorrow, detailing everything that had been going to happen.

The machine actually worked.

The agents and investigators were there for a couple of hours after they had finished questioning Joshua and Simon — taking photos of the scene, measuring distances and angles, looking for stray bullet holes and casings. They eventually zipped Ausmann up in a body bag and took him away, although his blood was still all over the patio and on one of the walls.

“Note to self,” Joshua said. “Call up the special cleaners for that one.”

He was also surprised that the agent let him keep the printout of his message when they all finally left. He read it over and over, and was starting to have weird flashes of a very different future, where Simon had died.

Simon came back from their second unit, where he’d spoken to the agents, and Danny and Preston rematerialized. The four of them just sat together around the kitchen table.

“How are you doing?” Joshua asked Simon.

“Nothing broken or bruised,” he said. “I saw the airbag as soon as Ausmann lifted me over the rail, so the fall was actually kind of fun. I tried to do a front flip in mid-air, but didn’t manage it.”

“Who told them Ausmann was here?” Danny asked. Joshua held up the message.

“Apparently, me,” he explained. “I sent this to them tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that a bit late?” Preston noted.

“Wait — so the damn machine does work?” Simon asked. Joshua nodded. “Then you have to send that exact message tomorrow, at the time it says you sent it.”

“But it already worked,” Joshua explained.

“I know,” Simon said, “But that one was sent by you in a universe in which I was probably seriously injured or died — ”

“You did!” Joshua exclaimed. “That’s what the thing says.” He handed it to Simon, who read it.

“You definitely need to send this, then. That way, it makes it to the same place in both timelines. Otherwise, who knows what kind of paradox you could wind up with here?”

The FBI informed interested parties of the death of Ausmann and of closing the homicide cases involving Coraline and Jerry. Davis and Lewis were a little disappointed that they didn’t get their chance at solving the case, but went on to have successful careers on the force.

Schrantz was secretly glad that she didn’t have to coordinate an inter-agency road trip down to Pasadena after all, and that justice had been served before Ausmann could kill again. She, too, had a successful career before going into politics, eventually being elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, State Senator and, eventually Governor of California.

Brenda continued on with L.A. Metro, not originally having any other career plans, but what she didn’t know was that was going to change.

Pearl had sensed Ausmann’s death and Simon’s survival almost as they happened, and she was not happy about it, so she hurried to Anabel to discuss matters.

The next day was a Thursday, and Joshua headed down to the lab at JPL, giving himself plenty of time to re-type the message and hit “send” at the exact second the copy said he had. He’d wanted Simon to come with him, but Simon had demurred.

“Butterfly effect,” he explained. “Since I obviously wasn’t there, me being there this time could change something slightly but enough to alter the arrival of the message. Who knows? Someone else reads it and doesn’t take it seriously because just my proximity alters the transmission time slightly?”

Joshua wasn’t happy, but he understood, so he typed out the message exactly as he had written it, then waited for the magic moment to come. At the exact second, he hit “Send” and the deed was done.

Other than that, nothing happened, although he wasn’t expecting anything to, and he returned home only to find Simon, Danny, and Preston sitting in the living room with Pearl and Anabel.

“There you are,” Anabel gushed as he entered. “Now we can finally bring you in on the conversation we’ve been having.”

“Thanks for getting rid of Ausmann legally so you don’t have to worry about him killing you anymore?” Joshua offered.

“Not exactly,” Simon said.

“You’ve solved one problem, but given us another, darlin’” Pearl explained. “We wanted him to think that he was going to use the machine to wipe us out, but trick him into using it to protect us, and you were going to handle that part for us.”

“How could the machine wipe you out?” Joshua asked.

“Simple,” Anabel told him. “If he turned up the energy input by at least ten percent, it would burn all of us out instantly and we’d be gone. As long as the machine is running, that’s a constant danger because we’re still connected to whatever it is that’s going on inside of it.”

“We need the machine to be shut down completely,” Pearl added. “That way, we’ll be free of that force, but continue to exist on our own.”

“Doesn’t it provide your energy?” Joshua wondered.

“It’s not actually necessary to us. What it mainly powers now is the creation of new Rêves — and I’m sure the Vivants would be happy to not keep on seeing more of us.”

“Have you chimed in on this yet, Simon?” Joshua asked.

“We were waiting for you,” he replied.

“It’s just that… shutting the machine down, well, we don’t know how to do that, or if it can be done.”

“Sabotage is always possible,” Pearl laughed.

“Yes, but it can’t exactly look like that,” Joshua explained. “I mean, if Ausmann had lived to wind up doing it, we wouldn’t really care because he was already on the wrong side of the law, but we’d rather not commit a federal crime — ”

“Well, we’d be committing one,” Simon cut in. “It just can’t look like we did.”

“That complicates the planning,” Joshua sighed.

“The thing is thirty years old, though,” Simon offered, “And who knows whether the flood actually caused damage somewhere. Plus, it hasn’t been constantly attended in a while now.”

“That’s one to throw into our brainstorming,” Joshua said.

“So… you’re going to help us?” Anabel asked.

“We’re going to do our best to figure out whether we can shut this thing down, and make it look like a natural failure.”

“But it can send messages into the past,” Danny said. “Isn’t that really useful?”

“Devil’s advocate,” Preston added, nodding.

“Sure, it turned out to be really useful in saving Simon’s life,” Joshua told them, “But it could be really dangerous in the wrong hands. Imagine if this got used in wartime. Lose a battle? Someone sends back a detailed description of what the enemy did, and things are very different the next time around.”

“Sounds like it’s good to be the only one who has it,” Preston suggested.

“They said the same thing about the nuclear bomb,” Simon replied.

“And if two countries have it and go to war, it becomes a constant game of leap-frogging — the losers get a do-over and become the winners, and the new losers do the same, and pretty soon you have an endless battle that just keeps going on, repeating the same few days over and over and never making it out the other side.

“That is why we should destroy it,” Joshua added.

“Whatever help you need from us, we can provide it,” Pearl told them.

“We might need a bit of that nature magic to pull this off,” Joshua said.

“But I guess that step one is homework,” Simon chimed in.

“Lots and lots of homework,” Joshua agreed. “This thing has got to have a weakness. Every machine does. We just have to find it.”

“Thank you,” Pearl said as they stood. “You can’t imagine how much this will help us all.”

Anabel nodded and then the two of them whisked away.

Over the next week, Joshua and Simon buried themselves in Ausmann’s documents, studying every aspect of the machine to find its Achilles heel. Most of it seemed pretty solid and well-protected, with various fail-safes.

Their natural inclination of first target was the tachyon generator itself, but that was encased in a room with walls made of two-foot thick stainless steel. The only opening was the hole the beam came out of, but that was inside of the plasma containment field, so there was no way to get anything in that way without vaporizing it instantly.

The room did have a door, but it required five keys to open. Ausmann had one — well, used to — a pair of officials working at the Federal Building in Westwood had two more, and the last two were held by their counterparts in Arlington, Virginia. It would require getting all five people together with their keys, since the holes they went into were too far apart for one person to do it, and they all had to be turned at the same time.

They also weren’t ordinary keys. They were made of titanium in colorful, gradient shades, with long cylindrical shafts coming out of oval tabs. At the other end, instead of teeth in a line, there were multiple tabs sticking off at varying angles in 90 degree increments, each one of those cut with different notches.

The keys worked in the locks physically, as well as visually — the color gradients were no accident — and with a final magnetic back-up, in the form of a cylinder encoded in an eight-digit binary number using neutral and magnetic as its 1s and 0s.

In other words, they couldn’t be forged and there was no brute-force way in. Besides, blasting a hole in the thing would be decidedly not accidental.

As it turned out, all of the hardware and software controlling the machine was actually contained in that room as well. Anything connected from outside was only there to monitor status or, in the case of the transmission room, to provide input.

After poring over everything, they started to look into the containment field itself, and that was when they had their sudden “A-ha!” moment.

Six metal tubes with super-conductor magnetic fields inside trapped a plasma stream that in turn kept the tachyon beam contained on its trip back in time and across the country. If that containment stream were to stop, then the tachyons would tend to fly away from a gravity source, aka Earth, and never make it to the target. This would effectively turn the machine off, as one of the only fail-safes that would shut off the generator itself was tied to the integrity of the containment field.

“That’s useful,” Simon uttered when they had both looked over that section of the specs for a third time.

“But how to break the field?” Joshua wondered.

“And how to do it without killing ourselves while making it look like an accident?” Simon added.

“Indeed.”

That had been after three days, so they knocked off for the evening to spend it binge-watching content with the Boys, winding up at one point watching one of Preston’s scenes in which he was on the receiving end of a “medical exam” that turned into a hand-job and prostate massage.

Joshua and Simon felt a little weird watching it, especially in front of the star and his doppelgänger, who had technically not participated in the making of it. But Preston’s running commentary on the behind-the-scenes actually finally made it comfortable to watch and also amusing and informative.

“That exact same doctor’s office set is in a warehouse in Van Nuys,” he explained at one point, “And every last adult entertainment studio in town uses it.”

That night, Joshua and Simon went at it like they hadn’t in weeks, and although Danny and Preston could probably hear them, they didn’t care — although the boys were all smiles in the morning.

Energized, Joshua and Simon dove back into their homework, although they retreated to the bedroom to do it when Preston decided to show Danny all of his work online.

Since they had a target, they zoomed in on materials and specs, looking for the weak spot, but there didn’t seem to be any. The bright yellow pipes that carried the magnetic field were made of a tungsten-steel alloy that was among the strongest of metals. The outer walls were two inches thick, joined together in meter-long sections secured with 24 bolts and nuts that had been screwed down and then welded.

Somewhere deep in the documents, Simon found specs on the tubing inside of the pipes that also secured the plasma. It was made of a clear bullet resistant material in layered sheets of glass and vinyl, four inches thick.

The plasma itself was about 30,000 Kelvin, or around 54,000ºF, which is why the magnetic containment was so important.

It seemed like an impenetrable barrier, but Simon was the materials guy, so he dove deep into all of that while Joshua worked on the logistics of how to make it appear to be an accident while also making it look like they were never there.

Unfortunately, there was no good way to get to JPL via public transit, even though Joshua was sure that Brenda would be good on purging their images from the cameras or arranging convenient “failures” to block their passage.

A rental car was also no good, because they’d have no control over the GPS, while the rental agency would have records of who rented their cars.

However, he realized that he could hack their own car and do a little fuckery to make it record false GPS data by basically inverting the coordinate system temporarily, and then have it track in real time onto the roads and routes going in exactly the opposite direction.

With minor variations to account for different lengths of actual roads, this would show that they took a ride up into Topanga Canyon, which in Valley People terms was about as far from Pasadena as you could get in distance, politics, and class.

Their phones, of course, would have to stay home, conveniently “forgotten” if anyone ever did question them and they gave their Topanga alibi.

They would use the emergency exit to gain access, although would probably need Preston and Danny to come with them to manage that part. The only thing he hadn’t figured out was how to do what they had to do while making it look like an accident, but that would happen once Simon finished his research.

He hadn’t by that evening, so they settled in for another viewing night with the boys, although Simon started it off with, “Hey, how about no ‘you’ porn this time, okay?”

“Didn’t you like it?” Preston pouted.

“Well, yeah, sort of,” Simon said. “But it was still like watching my son get fingered and jerked and that’s… still weird.”

“Aw,” Danny and Preston replied in unison.

This made Joshua make it a family-friendly viewing night, and they all went to bed before midnight. The next morning, Simon awoke with an “A-ha!” and he raced to his laptop and fired it up.

“So… you’ve realized something?” Joshua asked.

“Give me a second,” he replied, typing away before laughing in triumph. “Oh, those idiots,” he said.

“What?”

“Okay. Tungsten is one of the strongest metals, except in one condition. Very low temperatures. Likewise, this bullet-resistant glass is good at room temperature, but heat it up beyond about the boiling point of water, and it starts to fail.”

“Oh my dog,” Joshua replied.

“Exactly. And the weak points in any system of pipes are the joints, and you know what the bolts are made of? Pure tungsten, not even an alloy. “

“No shit?”

“No shit, honey,” Simon said. “I’ve calculated what it would take to break the pipes, destroy the containment field, eject the plasma, which would cool immediately, and then send the tachyons right off the planet.”

“And?” Joshua asked, eagerly.

“A mass of about 80 kilos. We only need to break the top two pipes to start. This will let the plasma out, and it will melt that glass bit instantly, letting the weight drop through the rest of the pipes. But first hit should do all the damage.”

Joshua did the math in his head. “So, about 175-ish pounds?”

“Right,” Simon confirmed. “Damn. If only we had some hapless worker to tumble from a great height into the works.”

“I am not volunteering, dear,” Joshua shot back.

“I wasn’t asking you. But I think this is where Pearl and friends can help. Let me look at some more specs.”

“Okay,” Joshua agreed.

Simon looked up the specs for the entire room outside of the main transmission apparatus itself, finally determining that the ceiling was made of concrete, and it was a foot thick.

To get 80 kilos, they only needed one thirtieth of one cubic meter, the latter measurement which would be a chunk 5 by 7 feet — wide enough to do the job and 30 times what they really needed for it.

And there was their game plan. If they could somehow get Pearl and the Hadas to organically knock that size chunk of ceiling out and onto the pipes, it would appear completely natural, and it would kill the machine.

“I guess the real trick is ensuring that the right piece falls in the right place, isn’t it?” Joshua asked Simon once they drafted out the plan and looked at it.

“I guess so,” Simon replied. “I suspect this is going to take some total Mission: Impossible shit with harnesses and power tools in order to prime the pump for the Hadas to do their magic.”

“No doubt,” Joshua agreed. So… game on?”

“Game on, bro,” Simon replied, and they high-fived.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #60: The Rêves Part 38

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.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #59: The Rêves Part 37

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.

Zero Hour

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.

“No.”

“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.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #58: The Rêves Part 36

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.

White rabbit

It was light out when Joshua woke up, although he had no idea what time it was. Simon was wrapped around him and still quite warm and tangible, and the sex the night before had been beyond amazing. There was something else going on beyond the physical.

More than a few times to Joshua it felt like his own soul and consciousness had suddenly left this head, bubbled up under his taint, shot up his asshole, and then ridden his spine into his skull before exploding out into the universe, leaving him a quivering pile of ecstasy.

When it felt like his mind and soul came back, it also felt like he and Simon were the same person before he would slowly feel his limbs and body unfold back into place and his eyes would open to see that everything had a deep violet glow.

Preston had been right about the difficulty of keeping silent, too, although when Joshua and Simon were at the peak and the Danny and Preston started to audibly moan and wail as well, it just intensified everything.

Joshua turned to stare at a sleeping Simon, content that they had gotten to be back together — sort of — and reconciling himself to both how they did it and to the fact that Preston and Danny had now also sort of fucked him, or something.

“Band of Thebes,” he thought as he remembered that they were about to march into war and, with any luck, win the only battle and save the Rêves. And, honestly, the humans, because Joshua had a feeling that if Ausmann did manage to do what he wanted to, it would not affect Pearl or the Hadas, and they would take their revenge by scrubbing the planet of humanity.

Although this morning, it wasn’t so much a feeling as it was just something he believed.

Simon stirred and his eyes opened and they smiled at each other, and then followed their first of the month tradition.

“White rabbit!” they said in unison, and they smiled harder and hugged.

“How the hell is it September already?” Joshua asked.

“Wake me when September ends,” Simon replied.

“Oh, don’t even, you putz!” Joshua warned him, playfully slapping his shoulder.

“What?” Simon asked, sincerely.

“You’re quoting elevator music, okay?” Joshua shot back.

“I like Green Day,” Simon said.

“I know,” Joshua said. “But I don’t want this September to end. I don’t want this day to end, or this… this whatever it is.”

“See? We fucked that tune right out of you?” Simon said, with a smile.

“What tune?”

“Your whole resistance to, um… guests? Observers? Um — ”

“We can hear you,” Preston’s voice suddenly called out.

“Them,” Simon added.

“And we can feel you,” Danny said.

“And we are totally fucked out, thank you!” Preston continued.

“My god,” Joshua whispered to Simon. “We out-fucked porn stars?”

Simon kissed Joshua on the forehead, then hugged him tight. “This wasn’t mere ‘fucking,’ honey,” he explained. “It was… well, in video game terms, leveling up before the boss battle. You’ve got a little bit of Rêve in you now — ”

Little?” Joshua scoffed.

“Stop!” Simon ordered him. “You know what I mean. We’ve kind of tagged you as one of us, meaning one of the Rêves, and that is your armor in case they ever go after the humans.”

“Why would they do that?” Joshua asked.

“They wouldn’t,” Simon said, “Unless we fail.”

“So we can’t fail, dude,” Preston and Simon both whispered.

“Okay, so how do we win?” Joshua asked.

“Simple,” Simon said. “Make sure all the pieces favor us calling checkmate. And in order to do that, you need to power up as many Pawns as you can to be Queens.”

“I hope that’s a chess reference and not — ”

“Yes, and no,” Simon said. “I’ve already been given the ultimate power-up, but you need a bit more of a boost.”

“Wait,” Joshua called out. “You don’t mean you’re going to kill me and turn me into a Rêve. Right?”

“Of course I don’t mean that,” Simon explained. “You just need one more trip up the magic mountain in order to see what we see. So, ready?”

“I… don’t know,” Joshua replied. “How do I get up there?”

“Simple,” Simon explained. “I get behind you and push.”

Joshua just laughed at the absurdity of it all. Did it really come down to his husband fucking super powers into him, was this all just bullshit, or what?

He kind of didn’t care, so he rolled onto his left side and called back. “Okay. Do your worst. But you’re the one who gets to wash the sheets.”

This one immediately felt different and far more intense, plus it felt like Joshua’s body was being stroked by more than just two hands — at least six, but probably more than that. And then he started to hear voices — not just Simon, Danny, and Preston, but dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of others.

The words were not distinct, and he had the impression that they were speaking many languages, and the speakers were all possible ages and genders.

And then, he began to see… things. There were swirling lights in green and blue that he thought at first were those typical images he saw before falling asleep, but then everything became symmetrical, as if it turned into a kaleidoscope of lace or stained glass, and the green and blue melted into an electric shade of cyan that was quickly joined by neon violet, with red creeping in from the center and the edges.

All of the speaking tongues suddenly melded together into one human voice singing a soaring chorus not made up of words but of sounds — Joshua thought that maybe they were the primal noises humans made that eventually became language — and then he realized that the music beneath it consisted of chords clearly played on a piano.

He fell out of his visions and landed clearly in a past memory. He and Simon were sitting in a micro-brewery in San Francisco’s North Beach. Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky was playing over the speakers, and Joshua realized that there was a spinet piano right behind his bench, so he turned around, opened the cover, and started playing along to the song.

Here was the weird part: While Joshua had musical training, he could never play by ear, but his mind just told him that the song was in D minor — well, technically, in F Major, but the relative minor took precedence, and away he went, picking out the cords and blending right in.

Weirdly, it was a talent he’d sort of retained, but then present Joshua realized that he was peeking in on past Joshua, at least fifteen years earlier, and then realized two things more.

The Simon who had come back looked exactly as old as he had during their brief six months in San Francisco. And, second, that particular night in that particular North Beach microbrewery, Joshua had been tripping balls on shrooms.

That realization was the instant that he was yanked back into current reality, probably by Simon’s death grip on his nipples and his persistent pounding, but then he remembered Simon’s comments about giving him another power-up, and he once again felt that weird build-up between his legs and just behind his balls.

But then time seemed to fracture and crystalize, and suddenly Joshua was simultaneously reliving every single time in his life he’d ever cum, and it wasn’t just with Simon. From around the time he turned 12 until he graduated high school, that was well over 6,500 times — and those were just guitar solos.

And so on and so forth. But every single one of those orgasms started playing on repeat in his brain and body at once, and he lost his fucking mind in the white noise of ecstasy.

What could have been seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years later, Joshua woke up in the bedroom, alone, naked, and feeling like a glazed donut.

“Simon?” he called out, but there was no response. “Danny? Preston?” He tried again, but nothing.

And then he stopped thinking about them and suddenly saw in his mind where they were, so he headed right out the doors, onto the balcony, and up to the roof via the ladder on the balcony, where the three were hanging out.

When he appeared, they applauded.

“You just passed your final, dear,” Simon said, and this was when Joshua realized that he and the boys were quite separate.

“What?” he asked. “I don’t get to fuck y’all again?”

“Didn’t we it do enough already?” Preston asked.

“Probably,” Joshua said. “I still feel like I’m not quite on the planet.”

“Like how you figured out we were up here when we weren’t moving or talking?” Simon asked him.

“Oh, yeah. Right. How did I know that?”

“I told you, dude. You’ve leveled up. Now are you ready for that boss fight?”

“I guess it’s now or never,” Joshua replied. “Let’s go get ready.” They headed downstairs.

In San Bernardino, Captain Shrantz had just been informed that the FBI had taken an interest in the case of the exploding cabin not because the alleged perpetrator worked for the federal government, but because the cabin was located on federal land, in the middle of a National Forest.

Her supervisor hinted at the fact that if her division managed to trap the perpetrator first, it would look really good not only for her division, but would help the Sheriff-Coroner’s next election bid, even though it wasn’t for another three years. And if Shrantz wanted to be promoted to Deputy Sheriff and move onto the executive staff…?

He left it hanging, but she got the message. She had a gut instinct that despite all of the LEO’s looking for him, he would ultimately run to ground at his basecamp at JPL. So this would require some coordination with L.A. County, the City of Pasadena, and either the FBI or Federal Marshals.

Of course, her division probably wouldn’t get the bust even if they made it, but their presence would be mentioned in the media.

She discussed her thoughts with her Lieutenants, and Ramirez was, as usual, playing Devil’s advocate — a big part of the reason that Shrantz just admired the fuck out of him.

“Why the hell would he go back there?” Ramirez exclaimed. “That’s like painting a giant target on your ass, bending over, and screaming, ‘Well hellooooo, boys!’”

“I think it all depends upon who you think is coming to put some fire in the hole.”

“Oh, nice call-back,” Ramirez said, sincerely.

“Thank you,” Shrantz continued. “If he doesn’t think it’s the feds, then he might be lulled into a false sense of security that no agency on a lower level can penetrate his fortress.”

“Still a big risk.”

“Is it, though?” Shrantz replied. “He already had a team of campus police and Simi Valley amateurs out there…” she squinted at the report. “Sorry, Federal Marshals, but they didn’t get…” she looked at the paper again. “Sorry, again. No, Simi Valley cops, with some LAPD, and campus cops, and none of them could get in.”

“But does he know that?” Ramirez asked.

“Well, apparently, he was there at the time,” Shrantz told him. “So if we want to find our killer, that’s where we need to go.”

“Right. But if all those others couldn’t get in, how the hell could we?”

“Simple,” Shrantz explained. “Once we’re in place, then we call in the Feds, because I’m sure they would have the keys and passcodes and whatever to get down into that place in two minutes.”

“They make the bust, we get the tip-off credit?” Ramirez wondered.

“Exactly,” Shrantz exclaimed.

“Okay. I like it,” Ramirez replied. “So when do we go?”

“Crap. It’s Labor Day weekend, isn’t it?” Shrantz realized. “They’re not going to want to invest in a helicopter for this trip and traffic both ways is going to be shit, so… tomorrow morning?”

“Sounds good to me,” Ramirez agreed.

“Exellent,” Shrantz replied. “Make it so.”

Ramirez nodded and headed off to coordinate plans.

Davis and Lewis had just finished a late lunch and he was doing the dishes when she told him, “You know, I have gut-feeling.”

“Again?” he replied.

“You know they’re always right,” she said.

“I know,” he shot back, “But they tend to get us in trouble.”

“Except when they solve cases,” she insisted. “Anyway, I know where we can find him.”

“And where’s that, Sherlock Holmes?” Lewis teased her.

“Simple,” Davis replied. “Where’s the last place you’d look?”

“The ruins of his house in Simi,” Lewis said.

“Okay, technically true, but they’re way too exposed. Where can he hide underground, with multiple layers of protection?”

“A nuclear missile silo?”

“Okay, honey, now you’re just being silly.”

“I know,” Lewis grinned at her.

“JPL. Well, at his facility beneath it. From all the reports I’ve seen, it’s been closed down since the storm, but if he can get in there…”

“Perfect hidey-hole,” Lewis added.

“Exactly.”

“But isn’t absolutely everyone watching it?”

“Maybe,” Davis said. “But he was the boss. He had the keys to everything, and here’s a thought. A facility like that might have one obvious entrance, but what about emergencies?”

“Oh my god,” Lewis suddenly realized. “You’re right. They must have Swiss-cheesed multiple escape routes out of there. But wouldn’t those just be one way exits?”

“Maybe,” Davis explained. “But if you’re the boss, and you’re as paranoid as we think he is —”

“Is he?”

“Didn’t you read the psych reports on the server? Anyway, he had complete control of the place, so I’m sure that for every secret exit, he’s found a way to make it his secret entrance.”

“So what are we waiting for?” Lewis demanded.

“Back-up, I suppose,” she replied. “And it’s probably better not to hit at night — ”

“It’s only three o’clock.”

“You know full well that multi-agency shit takes time. Doing it within twenty-four hours would surprise the hell out of me.”

“But making the bust and turning it over…?” he suggested. “How good would that make the SVPD look?

“Are you going all politician on me?” she asked.

“Since when have I ever run for anything?” he replied.

“Kiwanis Club president, 1998,” she snapped back.

“And I lost!” he retorted. “I’m a bad politician. But a good chess player. And it seems like if we take your hunch, get there first, and make the arrest, well… good things for you?”

“I’m just not like that,” she finally said, crossing into the living room and grabbing her laptop off of the coffee table to bring it back into the kitchen. “It takes a village,” she said. “Or… whatever. But, all right, let’s roll the dice. You said they can’t pull multi-agency together in 24 hours? Time to test that theory.”

She had been typing and tapping the entire time she’d been speaking, but paused both at the same time. Lewis turned from the sink and looked at her, suddenly panicking.

“Oh god,” he said. “What did you do?”

“Nothing yet,” she smiled back, index finger hovering over the enter key.

“What the hell are you about to do?” he demanded.

“Bringing someone who is probably a serial killer to justice, no matter who gets credit?” she replied. “Duh?”

And then her finger dropped onto the enter button and the image of the message on her screen vanished.

“Duh and done,” she added.

Lewis just stared at her for a long moment, then realized that she was right. It didn’t matter who stopped this asshole, as long as someone did.

“So do we really need to schlep out there tomorrow morning?” he asked.

“What?” she replied. “You think I want to piss away the chance to be the one to arrest him? Oh, hell noes. But I want to keep it a fair chase, and minimize his opportunities of escaping. Capisce?

Lewis sighed and smiled. “I knew there was a reason that I loved you,” he said.

“Liar,” she replied. “There are at least twenty-three.”

“True,” he shrugged.

Brenda was back at work, anticipating an early shut down for the holiday weekend, when Joshua called her.

“Guess who’s back!” he said.

“You’re kidding!” Brenda replied.

“Nope. Not in the flesh, but definitely in the spirit.”

She could hear him turn the phone and then heard Simon say, “Hi, Brenda. Happy September 1st.”

“I’ll be damned. But isn’t that weird to you both?” she asked.

“Little bit,” Joshua replied. “But it has its benefits. Anyway, we just wanted to let you know that we’re both safe, we’ve gone over all of the information we have, have gathered all the protection and… weapons that we need, and tomorrow we are stopping Ausmann.”

“That sounds really stupid and dangerous,” she chided them, going into Mom mode. “Why not just turn him over the authorities or something? He did kill your husband.”

“But they don’t know that,” Joshua spurted, realizing his mistake almost immediately.

“And neither did I, until now,” Brenda said. “Look. I will keep my mouth shut about that, I never heard you say it, but on one condition. You let me help you two, so that you don’t get your ass killed, and Simon doesn’t get his killed a second time.”

Joshua wanted to tell her that his ass had already been absolutely murdered four or five times in the last twenty-four hours, but refrained. Instead he asked, sincerely, “Um… what can you do for us, Brenda?”

“Bitch, I’m with L.A. County Government, and where the hell do you think you are?”

“Even JPL?”

“Last I looked, Pasadena was in L.A. County.”

“But JPL, and especially Ausmann’s project, is under Federal jurisdiction.”

“But a lot of the infrastructure around it is ours. Look, what would be the most useful thing I could do for you?”

Joshua and Simon thought about it a moment and discussed it quietly, then Joshua turned back to his phone. “I suppose,” he explained, “Keep out any unnecessary interference, at least until we can get him to where we need him.”

“’Interference’ as in the metric fuckton of law enforcement agencies that are no doubt looking for his ass, right?”

“Exactly!” Joshua and Simon exclaimed together.

“Yeah, I can pull some strings and get some emergency street and off-ramp closures set up tomorrow. And it’s in Pasadena, so it will inconvenience old white people, so yay!”12.

“Won’t it inconvenience us and Ausmann in getting there?” Simon asked, Joshua relaying the question.

“No, because I’m going to give you the magic words to get through. Well, the magic QR code you can flash on your phone. Although I’d really recommend that you arrange to drive Ausmann yourselves, to avoid him being seen.”

“I think we could do that,” Joshua said. “It’s a Tesla, plenty of storage space in the trunk and under the hood.”

Simon gestured for Joshua to hold the phone his way. “You only need to stall things until we confirm that we’re down there,” he told her, “And then let them loose.”

“Any particular reason for that?” Brenda asked.

“Sure,” Simon said. “The proper authorities have got to be there to arrest his ass once we’ve stopped his plot to kill all of the Rêves.”

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t,” Brenda said.

“OMG,” Joshua said. “You know your Shakespeare! No wonder we all get along so well.”

I count myself in nothing else so happy, as in a soul remembering my good friends…” Simon added, somewhat wistfully.

Tomorrow in battle, think of me,” Brenda said.

“That’s not the best advice, considering the source,” Joshua replied.

“Oh, shit, right. You better not put away your swords and despair!” she admonished him.

They all laughed, then fell into a moment of quiet.

“Tomorrow morning,” she finally told them. “It’s soon, but I think I can set this up.”

“Let us know whether you could or couldn’t,” Joshua told her. “Securing that will actually be the go signal for our whole mission.”

“Ooh. Now I feel so important,” Brenda said.

“That’s because you are and always have been,” Joshua told her.

“Thank you,” she replied simply. “So, is seven in the morning tomorrow too early for you to be up to call me?”

“It all depends on what we get up to tonight,” Joshua said coyly, giving Simon the eye, which made Simon slap him on the arm, but with none of the impact that came with having Danny and Preston inside him.

“Save it for tomorrow night,” Brenda said. “I know that Jonah ain’t gettin’ none until this is all over.”

“Thanks,” Joshua replied.

“Don’t mention it. But now I have to get my ass in gear, because half the idiots around here have already shifted into long weekend mindset, and I’ve only got a couple of hours before we shut down early to get shit sorted. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Joshua said. Bye!”

The call ended, and Joshua and Simon looked at each other.

“Well, that left it unfortunately open-ended, didn’t it?” Simon asked.

“Probably for the best,” Joshua advised him. “No use going into the final battle without all of your chess pieces lined up for that move to checkmate, right?”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“It makes total sense?”

“It makes absolute sense,” Simon agreed.

All that was left to do was wait until Saturday morning, although Joshua did manage to convince Simon and the boys that Brenda had said nothing about them not having some early afternoon into evening fun as long as they went to sleep early, and so they all went a few more rounds before a late dinner — well, for Joshua, at least — at 7:30, then some streaming entertainment until bedtime, which came at the ridiculously early (for them) hour of 10:30 p.m.

Warriors did not stay up late. Unfortunately, that was exactly what they had become.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #56: The Rêves Part 34

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.

Nothing good ever happens on Tuesday

It was a bright, warm Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood — August 29th, to be precise — and the buskers were setting up early around the Metro Station at Hollywood and Highland and all down the street past the forecourt of the Chinese Theater, which was pretty much all that was left of the original place by now, but they had managed to stay in business by charging people to come in to see the prints in cement and gawk at the faux-Sino architecture of a bygone era.

Madame Tussauds had managed to hold on, but only because they were an international enterprise on four continents, and the places that hadn’t closed for all that long subsidized the ones that did. They had also early on figured out ways to increase the distance between displays and control traffic, so that people could come and stare at wax visages of celebrities, some alive and some dead.

Except that, recently, the actually dead celebrities had started to infringe on things, not only on the Hollywood site, but at the Washington D.C. version, and concern had gone all the way up to the home office in London.

It was a matter of concern, because a lot of these alleged celebrities showing up in the streets actually infringed upon licensing agreements that the museum had made with the dead celebrity’s estates.

So they sent out a fleet of lawyers and investigators to determine two things: Number one, who the hell was behind this stunt? Number two, who could they serve with papers in order to sue their asses off, on behalf of both the museum and the license-holding estates.

In fact, the whole legal team had been on the job for at least a week, when all of these so-called “ghosts” started to get media attention, but in all of that time, not a one of them had come back with a single piece of plausible evidence tying the whole thing to any single human or corporate entity.

The suits in London were getting more and more annoyed. Well, in American terms, pissed, although by this point, given the frustration of a fruitless investigation, they were probably now getting regularly pissed in the British sense.

It didn’t help that while D.C. was plagued by dead politicians and other American figures left and right, the detectives there couldn’t come up with any answers, either.

Bette Davis loved to hold court in front of the Chinese Theater, regaling fans with stories of her films, while Valentino still insisted on creeping around by Hollywood High. W.C. Fields preferred to stick to the bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the Marx Brothers just did their shtick up and down the Boulevard, from Highland to Vine and back again.

Marilyn, being Marilyn, hung out wherever the light was best.

As for the rest of them, they just wandered around at random on the streets of Hollywood, as they did when they were still alive, veering north and south off of the holy path that ran from Grauman’s Chinese eastward to the fabled Hollywood and Vine.

Back at Hollywood and Highland, various remote news crews had set themselves up, from all of the major networks and streamers, and all did their own stories from here. But if someone were to cut them together, it would all be the same exact video.

They all pretty much led with some variation on “Ghosts in Hollywood?” immediately tipping savvy readers off via Betteridge’s Law: If a headline ends with a question mark, then the answer to the question is, “No.”

Of course, in this case, the answer to the question was actually, “Sort of yes,” but what all of the stand-up reporters were hinting at and trying to discover was the mastermind behind what was clearly a viral campaign of some sort, backed by some very high tech.

What they failed to notice in their coverage was that elsewhere on the Boulevard, social media influencers had descended, and they were corralling these Rêves left and right, in order create their own viral things.

It was a weird dynamic, because some 20-ish kid would Google lens a Rêve, look up their bio and memorize the titles of or quotes from some films they’d never heard of, then do the old “rush and gush,” convince the celeb that said kid is their biggest fan, and then either get some selfies with them or, ultimate goal, talk the celeb into doing a short TikTok dance.

What the Class II Rêves never caught onto, of course, was their lack of understanding the current power dynamic. In their minds (or at least their trapped memories) they were the major celebrities whom the world loved. So they were more than happy to help the sweet kids who came up raving about their works.

What they didn’t know and couldn’t understand was that any one of these kids was more famous — at least to their generation and maybe the one before — than any Class II Rêve could ever be now, mostly because the fanbases who knew them live had died off long ago.

But Bette Davis had no idea, and Alec Queen, better known as AQMDj, Insta, YouTube, and TikTok superstar around the world, got her to dance with him in her Baby Jane persona, and overnight became the first person on Earth to get a billion views on two out of the three platforms.

“While we can’t identify some viral marketing campaign behind the sudden invasion of what appear to be the ghosts of famous people,” ran the rather boring and generic ending of all those mainstream media reports, “What we can say for sure is that whatever is wandering around Hollywood are not ghosts. Back to you… [Insert local anchor’s name.]”

Along the Boulevard, character Peter Lorre tried to get the attention of the young people he saw taking pictures with the other Class II’s, but none of them paid him any notice. He finally sulked into a corner and sat, brooding, epitomizing every character he had ever played.

“Why does everyone hate me so?” he said in the strongest version of his accent that he only played up for the public.

Fortunately, character Peter Lorre had sucked up every last bit of real Peter Lorre’s self-doubt, because that was the engine that drove his performances.

He finally just got sick of the spectacle and whisked on back to his grave.

At the same time, up in the mountains, Pearl and Anabel were walking around the ruins of what had been Ausmann’s cabin while the Hadas swarmed around them. They were quite aware of where Jerry had been buried, and the circumstances of his death, but Pearl used their powers to keep the Hadas focused away from any kind of revenge and keep them centered in, well, Pearl.

“Do you think that they’ll succeed once Simon comes back?” Anabel asked.

“Don’t discount the power of love,” Pearl said. “And the power between those two is strong. Plus, they’re both very smart. If anyone can defeat our enemy, they will.”

“They don’t seem all that well-armed,” Anabel countered.

“Oh, actually, they just obtained their superweapon after the funeral,” Pearl explained.

“What’s that?” Anabel asked.

“An apparent Class II who really isn’t,” Pearl said. “All it’s going to take is Joshua arming it before taking it into the field, but we are absolutely certain that he can do that.”

“I’m… not even sure what you’re talking about,” Anabel replied.

“Think back to the questions Ausmann asked you when he had you in captivity,” Pearl said, but Anabel just shrugged. “I know, it must have been traumatic, but I was watching. He wanted to know all of our secrets and how we could be destroyed.”

“Oh, right,” Anabel muttered. “I kind of — ”

“I know, Pearl said. “I kind of wiped that memory. But look at the brilliance. Joshua has turned the table on Ausmann, and he’s never going to see it.”

“I’m not sure I see it, either,” Anabel said.

“It’s simple,” Pearl replied, but then they were interrupted by several black helicopters suddenly pulling into view at the same time as dozens of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s vans came screaming up the mountain, lights and sirens in full effect, and they all converged on the ruins of Ausmann’s hideaway.

The lead vehicle was marked “Arson/Bomb Detail.”

The Hadas chose this moment to flee the area — or at least fade into the trees.

“Well, this ought to be interesting,” Anabel said.

“Indeed,” Pearl agreed.

Numerous armed and armored law enforcement officers poured out of the vehicles while more heavily armed and armored law enforcement officers dropped from the helicopters, assault rifles at the ready.

They did a search around the area, guns drawn, calling clear to each other at various points, focusing on the crater that stood where the cabin had been.

“Fire in the hole!” one of them called out, the others slapping on ear-guards and covering their eyes just before the flash-bang that one officer had tossed into the crater went off.

It revealed nothing.

“Stand down!” another voice called. “We are considering this a sterile site, perp not present.”

“What about booby-traps?” someone called out.

“We think he shot his wad,” the first voice replied. “What we’re looking for — very gently — is any bit of forensic clues we can scrounge up to give us the motive. Consider the location safe, and proceed accordingly.”

The officers proceeded to sweep the area, some with metal detectors, others with UV flashlights, and still others with trained dogs. There were even those few rare humans who had no apparent tools, but who had been in the business so long that they could see other things that most people, even professionals, missed.

The younger officers privately derided them as “The Gummer Shoes,” a term they would never use around the first officer, who had told them to stand down.

And why wouldn’t they? Because Captain Schrantz followed the rules and sailed a tight ship, and she would have psychologically slapped the shit out of any of her subordinates who acted, as she put it, “Like a whiny little 2020 karen.”

When she called out, “Officer who dropped that flash-bang, report to me immediately,” knees went weak and testicles retracted as every man on the squad empathized with whoever would have the balls (if not for long) to respond.

Meanwhile, every woman on the squad quietly smiled and nodded internally. They were really over this toxic masculinity bullshit.

Of course, everyone was surprised as fuck when Lieutenant Ramirez stepped forward, because he was famous as the first transgender person to have been accepted by San Bernardino County. In fact, it was his court case that finally forced the county to recognize transgender individuals and correctly gender them on all county forms.

When Ramirez finally dumped his dead-name and became forever and legally Lucas, it opened major doors. Everyone on his squad knew this, which is why they were doubly shocked when he stepped forward after the Captain’s request.

“Did you drop that grenade?” Schrantz asked.

“Sir, yes sir!” Ramirez replied.

“And why did you do it?”

“Because it was an honorable action, sir.”

And it was as if the entire squad took a collective breath, because no one had any idea how this was about to play out.

The Captain stared at Ramirez for a long, long moment, then finally asked, “So… why did you consider that action honorable?”

“Simple, Captain,” Ramirez replied. “We really had no idea whether the place was safe, given our briefing, and the psycho-history of the perp. He’s coming damn close to being a serial killer, and per his profile, taking out a few law enforcement officers, regardless of station, would have been a feather in his cap.

“So, sorry if I overreacted, but I was just doing what good officers do, which is clearing the area before they have to enter the danger-zone. Sir, thank you, sir!”

Lucas snapped his heels together, nodded, and stepped back.

Schrantz considered his words for a long, long time, finally just sighing and muttering to herself, “Well… fuck.”

“We can’t fault you for helping,” she finally said. “And we can’t penalize you for being sincere. Just… in the words of Darth Vader, ‘No disintegration!’”

This lightened the mood immediately, as Schrantz had intended. One of her strongest leadership skills was the ability to defuse a tense situation with an unexpected bit of improvised humor.

“We found something!” one of her officers called out over the radio, and so all of them converged on a spot where they quickly excavated the grave that held Jerry’s body.

“Son of a bitch,” Schrantz muttered. “Any ideas?”

“Bullet hole in his head says it was probably homicide,” Ramirez explained. “We can airlift him to the coroner, run a full autopsy. Might want to have the forensics crew check the body for ID now, start looking for connections to our perp.”

“Excellent idea,” Schrantz said, nodding to a nearby officer, who went to notify the forensics team. By the time they were loading the body onto the helicopter an hour later, Schrantz knew the man’s name and address, and a quick check of his phone showed that his last phone call had been from a very familiar name.

The display just read, “Ausmann,” and the call came in the early evening just over a week ago. She was willing to bet that when they recovered the GPS history from the phone, that was also when it would move from L.A. up to Big Bear, and then stop.

That wasn’t the only connection to Ausmann though, at least not according to what Captain Davis of the Simi Valley PD had explained when she’d called after the bulletin about the explosion went out. In fact, that was the reason why Schrantz and her crew were up here in the first place.

Random explosion, possibly an accident with a propane tank. But when a cop tells you, “You know, this guy’s house down here was also destroyed under mysterious circumstances during that freak storm, and we found his wife’s corpse in it,” well, that’s when you pay attention.

After the helicopter lifted off and on the way back to the command car, Schrantz called Davis, who answered immediately.

“Captain Schrantz!”

“Captain Davis. I have some… interesting news, but it certainly bolsters your case.”

“Oh my god, what?” Davis asked.

“Our boy is apparently a murderer in two counties now, although he wasn’t as careful to make this one look accidental like you told me he did with his wife.”

“Really?” Davis replied, incredulous.

“Really,” Schrantz said.

“So, how do we coordinate from here?”

“APB time, I’ll coordinate the southern counties, maybe even let them know in Nevada in case he tries to flee east. You keep an eye out up there in case he sneaks back to the roost, and I’ll also loop in the Pasadena PD.”

“Excellent,” Davis said.”

“On the way back down to HQ, I’ll call our tech guys and have them set up a private intranet to use as a multi-divisional clearinghouse for all information on the case. And I do mean all. No matter how tiny or stupid you think a hunch is, share it.”

Davis just laughed. “You kidding?” she said. “Some of my biggest busts have happened because I took a tiny, stupid hunch seriously. Hey, we’ll have to get together and talk shop some time when this is over. Is there a Mr. or Mrs. Schrantz?”

“Sadly, no,” she replied. “Well, unless you want to call my badge ‘mister.’”

“I so get that,” Davis replied. “Don’t give up hope. But let’s definitely meet up. My husband is an amazing chef.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind,” Schrantz said. “Okay, I’m heading back down now, and I’ll keep you posted.”

“Okay, bye.”

They hung up and Schrantz got into the car. Meanwhile, Davis dialed Lewis’ extension.

“Yes?” he asked when he picked up.

“Guess whose hunch was right,” she sing-songed to him teasingly.

“Get out,” he replied.

“Get in here, and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

As Lewis hung up his phone, Ausmann was answering his.

“There are some cops here asking about that guy,” Austin said.

“Thank you,” Ausmann replied. He had already taken to keeping himself heavily disguised in latex at all times as “sunburnt old homeless person.” He now got into the wheelchair he’d had delivered and rolled himself down the hall, into the elevator, and to the lobby.

He casually rolled past the main desk, where several L.A. County Sheriff’s officers were asking the desk clerk about a Mr. Ausmann, and busied himself with the tourist pamphlets next to the concierge desk, where Austin was helping a tourist couple who didn’t speak English. Ausmann was rather surprised when Austin replied to them in fluent Korean.

But then the clerk directed the cops to Austin, and he apparently told the Korean couple to wait as he answered their query. They showed him photos and told him the name, and asked if that man had been in the hotel, and Austin immediately answered, “Nope. Haven’t seen him, and nobody by that name is on the books.”

“Are you sure?” one of the Sheriffs asked.

“It’s my job to know who’s in our hotel, and that man is not,” Austin replied.

The Sheriffs looked at each other, disappointed, then thanked Austin and exited.

Austin went back to helping the Korean couple. Ausmann waiting until he was done and they left, then rolled up to the desk.

“Hi,” Austin announced breezily. “How can I help you?”

“Remember me?” Ausmann said, waiting a beat while Austin looked confused, and then slapping a trio of Franklins on the desk. “Excellent job at informing me, and deflecting them. More to follow if you keep it up. And I think I’m a couple of steps closer to getting to Ausmann before they do, so thanks!”

“Thanks?” Austin replied, pocketing the money. As an employee in his position, he lived in a suite at the hotel, so didn’t pay rent, but he certainly had plenty of other expenses.

At home, Brenda was sitting on the porch swing out back alone, sipping a glass of McBride Sisters Collection Central Coast California Red Blend, 2016 vintage, contemplating life and everything that had happened in the last month or so.

Well, almost a month, and that’s what made it even weirder to think about. It had been a very eventful August, indeed, and it had made her reconsider her current place in life.

Oh, she was absolutely head over heels in love with her whole extended family and their situation. They all got to be together, the kids were turning out great, Jonah continued to evolve as a person… and so did she.

Which is why she realized that she was getting tired of government work, had absolutely no interest in moving up that food chain, and was really looking for a change. Fifty was barreling down the tunnel at her and would be here in a few years. She wanted to leave a legacy as more than just a Metro line functionary.

But what? She had considered going into advocacy for transgender children for obvious reasons, but was resistant because, as a straight cis-woman, despite her experience as the mother of a transgender child, she did not feel qualified to speak on their behalf.

Oh, she could support their rights at every turn, and she sure as hell would. She just knew that it wouldn’t be right to speak as an authority on their lives — something she wished that more people got in all the various combinations. “Stand with us, but stand behind us, then hold us up when we get shoved,” should be the motto every marginalized group uses with their “allies.”

She had found herself really fascinated with Joshua and Simon’s work, and incredibly moved and saddened that it had led to Simon’s death. She was seriously considering talking to Joshua about doing something in that field, although it would not be for the county or state government. She’d want to go strictly freelance and, by this point, she had a feeling that Joshua wanted to help these ghostly companions.

What was it he said they preferred to be called? Oh, right. Rêves. Well, except for the mysterious oldest and all-powerful ones who hung out in nature and were a collective. What was the word again? Las hadas silvestres.

And he’d explained to her at one point that their ex-human representative, as it were, was an entity that comprised all of them at once, sort of, went by the name of Pearl and the pronouns they, them, and theirs, although most commonly, Pearl appeared as who they had been originally before taking on the collective.

“Janis Joplin,” he said.

“Oh, get out!” Brenda had replied, but he insisted it was true and explained why. Something about cremation changed the dynamic, so the Rêves of the cremated, which Hadas technically were, didn’t come back in the same form.

The only reason that Janis managed it was because so many people still knew her when she died and remembered her, which gave her the strength of a Class I, but the powers of a Hada. She ultimately chose the latter.

The rest of them were mostly those forgotten in the early days of the AIDs epidemic because they had died far from home, shunned by their families, and often even by their friends after the diagnosis. A lot of them died indigent, with no one to claim the bodies, so it was into the county incinerator they went.

Brenda wanted to help them all — not just the Hadas, but the Rêves, especially the poor Class IIs, who were forever trapped in someone else’s version of who they had really been.

She hadn’t asked Joshua yet, but she knew the backstory on Preston and Danny, and wanted to know what they were considered, seeing as how they were essentially the same person, but separated into two different classes.

That was it then, she decided. She wanted to work with Joshua to create some sort of agreement between the humans and all of these others, maybe even enlist the Hadas to help humans fix the environment.

Joshua had also explained that the mystery storm almost two weeks ago had been the Hadas doing, so if they could move the weather in a calamitous direction like that, perhaps they could move it the other way as well.

As Brenda sipped her wine, Joshua was explaining his plan with Lorre to Danny and Preston. He definitely needed them there to reassure their… guest, but assured them they could leave if the idea of a Rêve in a cage was too traumatic.

Both of them insisted that it wouldn’t be, so Joshua continued.

“Okay,” he said. “It’s a two-part thing. The first is, we need him to tell us what the Rêves are vulnerable to — that is, what will kill them. Likewise, the Hadas. Second is, we need to tell him what to tell Ausmann so he winds up not killing any of them and shooting himself in the ass.”

Danny and Preston looked at each other and laughed.

“Dude, what are we?” Danny asked.

“You do know that all of us know the answer to the magic question, right?” Preston continued.

“You… what?” Joshua looked at them confused.

“Yeah, it’s a funny thing,” Preston said, “But when we first come up — you know, pop out of the ground and back into awareness — it’s like this voice is speaking in our heads, telling us what we can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, why we’re here, and what could end it. It’s probably Pearl.”

“You both know?” Joshua asked them, stunned.

“Well, duh!” they said in unison.

“So…?”

“So,” Preston went on, “Your fancy machine created us and keeps creating new Reves, but it’s at just the right level. We all get some energy from it, but would get enough from the environment alone to continue on — ”

“He means actual sciencey energy,” Danny interjected, “And not the bullshit woo-woo kind.”

“Thank you!” Preston said before he continued. “You probably think that stopping the machine or turning it off would kill us all, but it’s the other way around. Increasing the energy output would rip us all right out of existence.”

“It would take about a ten percent increase, actually,” Danny said.

“Wow,” Joshua said. “But shutting it down would do nothing?”

“We just know that it wouldn’t kill us,” Preston explained.

“If ‘kill’ is the right word,” Danny added.

“Hm,” Joshua mused, pacing. “Okay, okay. But, as far as I know, it’s a machine that can’t be turned off. At least not easily. Too many fail-safes and command chains to go through.”

“Couldn’t you just unplug it?” Preston offered. Joshua gave him stink eye.

“You’d have to nuke Pasadena to do that,” he said, “And even then, it’s not a guarantee.”

“Fuck,” Danny reacted.

“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Okay, we’re going to have to leave Mr. Lorre on ice for a bit longer while I figure out whether there’s a way to disable the machine. Do either or both of you feel like reporting to General Pearl and General Anabel that we do have our secret weapon, but it’s going to take a bit longer to arm?”

“Of course!” they both replied.

“Dude, you take fake mommy, and I’ll take the Hadas, okay?” Preston asked.

“Why?” Danny replied.

“Because I’m dressed for one and not the other.”

“You aren’t wearing shit.”

“Exactly,” Preston shot back. “Bye!” and then he ran out onto the balcony and shot into the air.

“I guess he has a point,” Danny muttered, waving to Joshua and making his own exit.

Joshua dipped into the stolen files yet again, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening searching every last nook and corner of the data for information on how to stop the machine.

Danny and Preston returned just after midnight while he was still going at it, and he told them to do what they wanted while he worked, so they binged more stuff they hadn’t seen.

Joshua’s journey down the rabbit-hole continued endlessly until about four in the morning, when he was fighting nodding off on the keyboard, and trying to focus on technical diagrams of the primary transmitter for the machine, which was on the JPL end.

He studied the specs over and over, did some calculations, and realized that he just might be onto something. He carefully documented his idea in a memo to himself that he printed out and then set on the laptop keyboard before shutting down and closing the lid.

He’d work on it in more detail tomorrow. But, for now, he just needed sleep. He said his good-nights to Preston and Danny, and headed to his room, where he said his own good-night to Simon, at least in his head, as he had every night since the day his husband had died.

No, hadn’t died. He had been murdered. He didn’t shuffle off this mortal coil. He was pinky-lifted, false-cut, and bottom dealt into the abyss. Now, Joshua was gunning for the evil sorcerer who had done it, and he was not going to miss his target.

* * *
 
Image source Antoine Taveneaux, (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Saturday Morning Post #54: The Rêves Part 32

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. We’re racing toward the finale now.

Planting a seed

After Anabel had summoned Pearl and explained why, Pearl looked at the body that was still lying on the table prior to being loaded into the casket.

“Do we know him?” they asked.

“I don’t think you’ve ever met,” Anabel explained, “But he and his… partner used to work for Ausmann — ”

“So now he has a spy on the inside?”

“No, no,” Anabel countered. “I think the opposite. From what I’ve heard from Preston and Danny, Simon and the other one had decided they needed to stop Ausmann as well. So they’re on our side, and now we have the spy.”

“Well, we don’t yet,” Pearl said. “Poor thing won’t come back as a Rêve until he’s been buried, and even then it’s not necessarily instantaneous.”

“You think I don’t know that, Pearl?” Anabel replied.

“Of course not.” Pearl circled the table, looked at a clipboard nearby, then announced, “Monday. His funeral is Monday, which is the day after tomorrow. So he might not be joining us for a few days yet. Any idea where his partner is?” they asked.

“No,” Anabel replied, “But I think that Preston and Danny have kind of become infatuated with him. You know — playing bodyguard and all that, especially after Simon was murdered.”

“He was murdered?” Pearl replied, incredulous.

“Yes, by Ausmann,” Anabel explained.

“Why didn’t you say that at first?”

“I thought that everyone knew!” Anabel replied. “Sorry!”

“All right,” Pearl huffed. “Preston and Danny, probably with Simon’s partner, who was…?”

“Joshua. And he’s still an ‘is.’”

“Right,” Pearl replied. “And… partner ‘business’ or partner ‘screwing?’”

“What?” Anabel exclaimed. “Hell, I don’t know. Ask Preston. Or Danny. And does it make a difference?”

“Only because if it’s the latter, the two of them will get along great with the Hadas. Not to mention go all Band of Thebes when it comes to war. All right. To Preston and Danny it is, and here’s hoping his partner is with them. Meanwhile, you keep an eye on Simon’s container, and let me know the second that he’s transformed, okay?” Without another word Pearl turned away, concentrated for a second, then vanished.

“Yeah, thanks,” Anabel fumed. How dare Pearl give her the grunt work. On the other hand, Simon was almost as beautiful in death as he had been in life, so there was at least that.

For his part, Ausmann was growing impatient. With Simon now one of… them… and reunited with his boyfriend, they should have been able to track down and deliver Lorre by now. It was, of course, a sign of his disordered and paranoid mind that it took him a while to realize, “Oh. Shit. How?”

He hadn’t given them a way to find him and deliver the goods, and for good reason, lest the goods he got came at the end of gun barrels from officers either city, county, state, or federal, or all of the above.

He thought about it for a second and realized that he was only one murder away from fitting the FBI definition of Serial Killer.

But he’d killed Simon on Wednesday and now it was Saturday, so surely he should be back already. Ausmann would have to look into that personally.

Fortunately, he had acquired a bunch of books on disguise and make-up and, since it was late August, that meant that all of the Halloween shops were already open for business, so he’d dropped into one on Bunker Hill that had managed to avoid any flood damage, and stocked up on all of the high-end professional stuff. Basically, anything that would defeat facial recognition.

One corner of his hotel room looked like the wardrobe and make-up departments of an indie production company — racks of clothes; and Styrofoam heads covered in tons of wigs, male and female. In the inevitable space between the hall closet and the bathroom, a ring light turned the vanity table into an impromptu make-up station.

So on Saturday afternoon, he glanced through his arsenal and decided on a disguise that would get him back to Joshua’s place undetected. This one actually involved some de-aging, but he was up for the challenge. By the end of it, he looked like a typical 30-ish hipster, complete with face scruff, black plastic-rimmed glasses, a culturally inappropriate man-bun, and carrying, but not riding, a longboard.

He should be good to pass on mass transit, so he made his way to the nearest Metro station to head to NoHo.

Joshua, Preston, and Danny had been pseudo-cuddling on the couch, watching the original Ghostbusters, when the air suddenly popped and this strange woman appeared in front of the screen.

Well, strange at first to Joshua until his brain did the math, but very familiar to Preston and Danny, who ran over and hugged her their mother had just come home.

As Pearl smiled at them, Joshua suddenly caught it… “Janis Joplin?” he whispered.

She… well, he was thinking “she” — pointed at him and hissed. “Pearl,” they replied. “And my pronouns are they, their, and them.”

“Oh, sorry,” Joshua replied, “Of course, I should have asked.” He sank into the sofa and smiled. “But, I mean… you are… were Janis Joplin, right? in some way…?”

“I was, now I’m not. Now we are. That’s how it goes, sunshine. Meanwhile, more important questions. It seems that you, your late partner — ”

“Husband,” Joshua interjected.

“Husband,” Pearl corrected, “Sorry, I assumed as well. You, your husband, and we are allies in this battle against Ausmann.”

“Damn right,” Joshua said. “He killed Simon. My husband. So fuck him.”

“And do you know how you’re going to defeat him yet?” Pearl asked.

“Not quite,” Joshua said, “But I’m close. He made a demand before he killed Simon, but I think we can fulfill it and turn it against him at the same time. I just need Simon to show up as one of you first.”

“Ah,” Pearl said. “Well, that’s not going to happen until after he’s buried, which I understand is Monday?”

“What?” Joshua asked, startled. “Why does it take so long?”

“Simple,” Pearl said. “The seed can’t sprout until it’s been planted.”

“Seriously?” Joshua replied.

“Seriously,” Pearl explained. “It has to do with returning to Earth. And why do you think the Hadas are so different than the Rêves?”

“Sorry?”

“The Hadas were all cremated, so they didn’t go into the Earth, just onto it. But, back to the important question. What was Ausmann’s demand?”

“To bring him Peter Lorre. Well, his Rêve. Oh… is that the right way to say it?”

“The Rêve Peter Lorre, thanks for asking. But… why?”

“He didn’t say, actually. But I can’t help but think that it has to do with the whole Class thing, and if we can find real Peter Lorre instead of movie Peter Lorre — ”

“But since he died almost sixty years ago, I doubt that there are many people around who remember the real him who could bring him to Class III.”

“Oh…” Joshua looked at her with a sudden realization, but he didn’t want to blow an Ace in the Hole that might not pay off. “So… Simon won’t be back until after the funeral?”

“No,” Pearl said. “Sorry. But he will be back.”

“Will it really be him, though?” Joshua asked.

Pearl gave him a long look, then replied, “It will be the he that you’ve held in your heart for all these years, and your love and memories that will sustain him. He will be back, as the best version of him he can be, because… well… because…”

“So… not him at all,” Joshua scoffed.

“Au contraire, mon frere,” Pearl said. “More him than you’ve ever known.”

“You better be right,” Joshua said.

“Darling, I admire your chutzpah, as they’d say in New York, although in good ol’ Port Arthur Texas, we’d just say ‘balls.’ I think you and Simon are going to win this thing for us.”

She turned to Danny and Preston, stroking each of their cheeks, then said, “Take good care of this one,” before vanishing in a puff of purple smoke.

“Wow,” Joshua muttered. “Could shit today get any weirder?”

That was when somebody rang them from downstairs and, when he went to check who it was on cam, he saw some weird, ancient skater dude, so he replied on the intercom via his phone.

“What?” he demanded.

“Joshua, it’s me. Ausmann. Just checking in.”

“On what?”

“Have you managed to find Lorre yet?” Ausmann asked.

“Of course not,” Joshua said.

“Can I come up?”

“Only if you want to fly down,” Joshua told him.

“Fair enough,” Ausmann demurred. “But what about Lorre?”

“Well, first of all,” Joshua explained, “I can’t do that without Rêve Simon, but apparently he’s not going to show up until after his funeral on Monday. Second, we kind of need to find some dead celebrity neither of us knows, so keep your panties on, cool your jets, and just be glad that I don’t report your ass to the police for murdering my husband.”

“Don’t…? You mean… you haven’t?”

“Exactly. Because that’s my ace in the hole on you, motherfucker. So, tell you what. Give me your text number, or whatever you prefer, and when we find Lorre, we will call you. Otherwise, stay the fuck away. ¿Me comprendes, pendejo?”

“So, I’ll hear from you on Monday?” Ausmann asked.

“You’ll hear from us when you hear from us, dipshit. Now what’s the number?”

Ausmann gave Joshua the number for his current burner cellphone, and Joshua thanked him before saying, “Okay. Now go on back to your hidey-hole at the Alexandria and I’ll text you when we have something.”

Ausmann almost felt his heart fall out his asshole when Joshua spilled the beans so casually on knowing where he’d been, so he hopped onto the longboard and took off as fast as he could for the Metro Station — which was a short but very undignified trip.

As Joshua hung up, Danny and Preston laughed their asses off.

“What?” Joshua asked.

“That last bit was intentional from what we told you, wasn’t it?” Preston asked.

“Make him run like hell,” Danny added.

“Oh, fuck yeah, boys. Why should he feel one second of safe?”

“And why should you not feel all the seconds?” Preston said as he and Danny moved in on Joshua, placing their hands on his head again.

“Oh, guys, come on, this is a little wei — ” Joshua started to say until his knees went wobbly and his brain turned into an endless loop of his own voice repeating “Ung.”

The real satisfaction came later, though — they had truly cornered Ausmann, and really held all the cards.

They spent the rest of the evening and all of Sunday in, Joshua catching Danny and Preston up on various shows and films they’d missed. There was really no reason to go out until the funeral. The whole thing reminded Joshua of the lost year back in 2020-21, when he and Simon had stayed home most of the time, having everything delivered and not doing any Rêve hunting at all.

Ausmann had fled back to his hidey-hole, wondering all the way whether Joshua was going to send the cops after him or not. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to find him by name. Then again, he knew of at least eight hotels within a four-block radius he could relocate to if necessary.

He still took the precaution of telling the concierge to keep an eye out for any kind of law enforcement who “Come looking for this man.” He handed the young man a card with his own name written on it. “Let’s just say that I’m looking for him, too, and I’d like to find him first. My cell number is on the back. Call me if they show up. And this should cover the cost of the call.”

He slipped a tightly folded hundred dollar bill into the concierge’s hand, but the short, young, cute, curly-haired man with the wide face and big eyes, whose nametag read Bacchus, quickly realized that Ben Franklin had come with four siblings. “Yes, sir!” he replied, pocketing the money. “First sign, I’ll let you know. And I’ll tell the other two shifts to be on the lookout.”

“Thank you,” Ausmann said, heading back up to his room. ==

Out in Simi Valley, the local police detectives spent all day Saturday still trying to decide whether there was a case for murder or some other foul play in Coraline Schliemann’s death, but they were still unsure about it.

On the one hand, she was heavily insured, with all kinds of indemnities that exactly matched the apparent circumstances. On the other hand, nobody had come forward yet to collect on those policies. The only one who could was Ausmann himself, but if he didn’t within ninety days, then the payout would go to a designated family trust.

“Hard to believe he wouldn’t take care of that right away,” Captain Lewis said.

“Unless he’s dead,” Detective Davis offered.

“Or very inconvenienced,” Lewis countered. “He did have his house blown apart.”

“I wonder whether he didn’t wander out into the storm for help, and something happened.”

“You did send someone out to his place of work, right?”

“Yeah, JPL,” Davis explained, “But we had to let Pasadena PD lead. And deal with the campus police. He wasn’t there, and nobody could remember when they’d last seen him around. The guards weren’t even there to let anyone in to look.”

“I’ve been in this business long enough to know when to trust my gut instincts, especially on cases like this. You know what my gut is telling me?” she asked.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Davis replied.

“Older couple, adult kids out of the house, pretty affluent according to the neighbors and public records, he’s got some mysterious government job, and his house — and wife — are insured out the wazoo. Like, way over-insured. He seems to work late hours, and on weekends, which tells me that he could be having an affair — ”

“The JPL angle must work wonders with some girls,” Davis offered.

“You’d be surprised,” Lewis shot back. “On top of all that, there’s the weird little detail that out of all of the houses in the neighborhood — hell, in the entire city of Simi, and in all of Ventura County, his is the only one that seemed to suffer the particular wrath of the storm.”

“That is a bit suspect.”

“Right? And that goes back to the way over-insured angle.”

“So what’s your gut telling you” Davis asked her.

“It’s telling me that he is guilty as fuck of uxoricide.”

“That’s a new one.”

“Where’s your Latin?” Lewis asked him. “It’s the wife version of homicide. I’m thinking that he somehow managed to destroy the house, bludgeon her and leave her in the wreckage, and then take off into the night.”

“But how could one man destroy a house like that? I mean, so completely?” Davis asked. “Really big sledge hammer?”

“Really big storm to distract from the noise,” Lewis said. “Oh. You probably didn’t see this yet.” She slid over a file folder with a bulletin in it. “This showed up Tuesday afternoon from San Berdoo County. Explosion and fire completely destroyed a small house up there. Three guesses who the owner was.”

Davis read the document, then just muttered, “Fuuuck.”

“So, he’s quite capable of destroying a house. And given how loud that storm was — which all of the neighbors described in great detail — the sound of demotion and the sight of explosions would have hidden in the thunder and lightning.”

“He killed her,” Davis stated flatly.

“That’s why my gut says,” Lews replied. “But the really big problem is that there is absolutely no forensic evidence that he did demolish the house — no starters or explosive residues or anything at all. We do have evidence of plenty of direct hits by lightning, though, and the pieces we’ve found scattered all over the place don’t show any fire or smoke damage.. Those appear to have been ripped off by wind.”

“Then what’s next?” Davis asked her.

“I guess we meet with the DA on Monday,” Lewis said. “Show her what we’ve got, and see what her gut says.”

“You know that I’d love to nail this asshole as much as you would, right?” Davis asked.

“Damn right, skippy!” she smiled.

“So, what do you want for dinner tonight?” he asked.

“I’m kind of in the mood for Mexican,” she said. “But once we and the kids are all home, please. We are not discussing this one at all, deal?”

“Deal,” he said, “Love you,” and then he kissed his wife on the cheek and left her office.

Johnny Ramone and Ritchie Valens had hit it off when they met at the Rêve war council, and so had taken to hanging out since then, usually near one or the other of their graves, just for shits and giggles.

Of course, it had been a weird dynamic because, in their Rêve form, Ritchie was only 17, while Johnny was 55 and, while he could have appeared much younger if he’d wanted to, he didn’t want to. Now, to Johnny, Ritchie had been an influence down through the ages while, to Ritchie, Johnny was an older person, so naturally deserved respect.

So each of them was super-deferential to the other for their own reasons at first until they both realized how being a Rêve really played with the generational thing. After all, Johnny had been only ten years old when Ritchie died in a plane crash in Iowa, but he was 23 when Don McLean’s American Pie came out, and unraveling the mystery to those lyrics led him directly to learning about Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.

“What do you think is going to happen with this whole thing?” Ritchie asked him as they hung out at the San Fernando Mission cemetery.

“Honestly, I think that the Class II’s are going to get their asses handed to them if they sell out to the Vivants,” Johnny replied. “They don’t know it, but Ausmann only wants to destroy them all.”

“Aren’t there more of them than us?” Ritchie asked.

“Oh, you don’t know your Andy Warhol, do you?”

“Who?”

“’In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ That’s what he said… well, wrote. And it’s definitely true by now. Which means that more celebrities have been created in the last fifty years than in all time before that. Which also means…?”

He left it hanging and Ritchie thought about it before the lightbulb went off. “There are more famous dead people who are Class III now, and not on the side of the Vivants?”

Johnny paused before he laughed. “Nah, dude, I’m just fucking with you. Most of those people are still alive. No… it’s this one. Regular folk always outnumber the famous. That’s just how it is, right? At any point in time — handful of famous, fuckton of not. But… the not famous people were well-known by their friends and loved ones, hence Class I is the dominant force, and Class II, as always, are deluding themselves.”

“What about us?” Ritchie asked.

“Oh, we, the Class IIIs, have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Above the fray, but clearly on the right side, which is the anti-Vivant side.”

“Viva los Rêves!” Ritchie shouted.

“Mort aux Vivants!” Johnny replied.

“This one or this one?” Brenda asked, holding first one, then another hat over her head. The first was a purple pill-box with a short veil over the face and fascinator on top. The other was a red cloche with matching feather held with a gold clasp on the left side.

“Oh, honey, I don’t know shit about fashion,” Jonah said. “Go ask our daughter.”

“I thought you might have an opinion about which hat I look prettier in,” she said.

“Whichever hat you be wearing while you’re butt-ass naked,” he replied.

“You are saucy,” she snapped back.

“It’s why you love me,” he said. “Anyway, why you always gotta be running off to do this church shit on Sunday when you don’t believe a word of it?”

“I do it for my mother,” Brenda replied. “And the gossip at the coffee afterwards, of course!”

“They got some good shit there?”

“The coffee or the gossip?”

“The second one,” he replied.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It really should be tea instead of coffee, because that’s what gets spilled big time.”

“What they say about me?” Jonah asked.

“Just that you’re the luckiest man on Earth because I’m your wife.”

“Bullshit!” he laughed.

“Don’t believe me? Come with us.”

“Sorry,” Jonah said. “I’d burst into flames if I walked in there.”

“Honey,” Brenda told him, “Why you think I always wear asbestos panties?”

“’Cause if you were any hotter down there, the Sun would have too much competition. Duh!”

“Eyes up here. Last call on the hat vote. Really, which one, with this dress?”

She held the hats up again and he gave them both serious looks, finally picking the purple one. “I think this, because it hides your face.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “Oh, so now I’m ugly?”

“No, baby, you’re beautiful. So I don’t want no other men looking at you.”

“Well, honestly, this church, I don’t think a straight man has shown up since 1997.” She paused, then laughed. “So maybe it’s best that you don’t go in case you get some man looking at you.”

“I don’t know, honey. Some of them dudes on Drag Race are… you know. Kind of — ”

“Stop!” She playfully slapped his arm, put on the purple hat, and did her best sashay away, just to remind him what would get his tail wagging when she came back home.

She met Esme in the living room and, as usual, her mother was dressed to the nines, make-up perfect, and not in that garish way that some older women over-did it in a misguided effort to look younger. Esme was stunning. Brenda took her arm and they walked out, down the street and down the hill to the church.

Of course, while Brenda didn’t believe any of the religious hocus pocus going on, the reason she was able to support her mother and come with her was that this was a place that went for Socialist Jesus instead of Republican Jesus — they had actively supported same-sex marriage when that had been an issue, had run a free AIDS hospice since the early 90s, encouraged members of the congregation to take in homeless people as well as adopt babies that might otherwise have been aborted, and on top of all that, my god, the choir!

The choir alone was worth the price of admission, along with their backing band, Shofar Shogood — yes, all six members came from a local synagogue and were Jewish — and they were not averse to tossing in a show tune or two now and then, with songs from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar being regular repeaters.

Brenda was totally convinced that if she could ever get Jonah and the younger kids to come along that they would just love the hell out of it, because it was theatre of the highest order, and Pastor Rivera, who was Filipino, gave sermons that were wildly entertaining, energetic and, most of all, totally inclusive.

Then again, so was the congregation. This wasn’t a Black church. This was an everyone church and, as far as she could tell, there was an equal mix of Black, white, Asian, and Hispanic.

If Jesus had ever existed, he would have loved the place.

Right around the time that Esme’s church was passing the plate and the choir was singing Day by Day, Joshua shot up and awoke from a nightmare. He had fallen asleep while they’d been watching Sister Act.

Preston and Danny were there in a heartbeat. “Are you all right?” they both asked, in unison.

“What if he doesn’t come back?” Joshua asked. In his dream, he had been in the cemetery for the funeral, and the pallbearers had brought the casket to the grave but, instead of lowering it like normal, they opened the lid and flipped Simon’s obviously decayed body out like so much trash into the hole, which was then unceremoniously filled in by a loud, obnoxious beeping backhoe.

When the dirt had been filled in, Joshua flung himself onto it, in tears, and then a hand reared up, grasping, but it was completely skeletal. Reluctantly, Joshua took it.

“Is that you, Simon?” he asked. But then the bony fingers squeezed and he started bleeding and trying to pull away. Then the hand pulled hard and dragged him down face first into the dirt and the Earth and darkness and a kind of death before he woke up choking and screaming.

“Are you all right?” Danny and Preston asked, almost in unison.

“No!” Joshua replied. “Hold me?” he asked.

And so they did, as best they could, and made sure, whenever he did manage to drift off into sleep, to use all of their powers to fend off any other nightmares.

Thus did Joshua manage to make it to the most difficult day of his life.

Monday. The last Monday in August. The day of Simon’s funeral or, as someone more optimistic put it, the planting of his seed. But, right now, that just smelled like total bullshit.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #51: The Rêves Part 29

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.

Yestern Union

Joshua drove the Tesla up to JPL, parked right outside, and was surprised to find when he walked up that there was nobody in the guard station. The outside door was locked, but one of the gadgets they’d always kept on hand was a belt buckle with all the necessary keys hidden in it.

Joshua unlocked the door and entered, noticing that not even the JPL Campus Cops were around.

No one was in the guard station, and he met no resistance when he walked to the elevators and pushed a button. One of them soon dinged its arrival, so he stepped in and descended to the lab.

Again, no challenge, so he went to Ausmann’s office, then unlocked and opened the gray door behind his desk — the one they’d never seen opened, but knew about.

Behind here, there was a long cat-walked corridor that seemingly stretched off into infinity. Next to it was a huge tunnel that was basically bordered by thick yellow pipes set at 60 degree angles, but no other separations. And, down the center of that border defined by the pipes, a hot, pink plasma snaked its way to who knew where.

Well, Joshua had a pretty good idea where, and then he spotted the gray door on the side of a square room that was located just below the point where the yellow pipes all came to a single focus.

He unlocked it and entered to find a small room with a single terminal and screen, and it wasn’t even password protected.

He sat and looked. There was an input box under a message. “Text here, ETA T-minus 6 Days, 16 hours.”

He put the USB stick in the port on the computer and a pop-up appeared. He dragged and saved the file to the desktop, then opened it, then copied the text. He finally switched back to the input box, was relieved when he was able to paste, then clicked send and sat back, happy.

It read: “To whom it may concern: I am sending this message via the machine created at JPL in Operation Slingback, and it concerns a murder that is going to take place in your near future. As best as I can tell, it will be approximately five days after you receive this, in North Hollywood, California, and the perpetrator will be the director of the project himself, a man named Ausmann. Exact date and details will follow, but if this machine works, please do whatever you can to prevent this crime, as it involves the murder of someone very dear to me, and a fellow contractor on a side-job connected to Operation Slingback that, in retrospect, may not have been all that authorized. Date, time, and precise location information follows. Sincerely, Joshua Hunter-Aisling. Employee ID 04J-23M-K42-06. The perpetrator is a man named Gustav Schliemann Ausmann, who heads Operation Slingback here at JPL, but he seems to have gone rogue. Consider him armed and dangerous.”

“Location of the crime: 5400 Tujunga Ave, North Hollywood, CA, Unit #1501, 15th floor, on the balcony on the northeast corner. 34°10’10.4″N 118°22’44.8″W, altitude approximately 743 feet above sea level, Wednesday, August 23, 2023. About 5:00 p.m. Perpetrator throws the victim off of the balcony onto Tujunga, below.”

And then… not a damn thing happened.

“Of course,” he thought. No reason I would have brought Simon here, so let’s go back home. He went back up, hopped in the Tesla, set it on auto, and did what he said, arriving back home, only to find that nothing has changed, and Simon isn’t there.

“What the fuck?” he wonders out-loud as Preston and Danny pop up out of the furniture.

“What?” they ask in unison.

“I did the thing. I fixed it in the past, but… where is he?”

“Oh, dear,” Danny said, rushing over to hug Joshua.

“You don’t know how it works, do you?” Preston added, joining the hug.

“What are you twats on about?” Joshua demanded.

“Things changed, but not…”

Before Danny could finish, Joshua’s phone rang and he answered. “Hello?”

It was Brenda, with a simple announcement. “So… where do you want to have Simon sent? All you have to do is show up at the hospital with your marriage certificate.”

Joshua’s stomach fell. Nothing had happened. Simon was still dead.

“And that’s it?” he asked.

“That’s it,” Brenda replied.

“Thank you,” he said, blankly.

There was a long silence, and then Brenda said, “I could not have done it for a nicer couple, but I don’t think that any of us are out of the woods yet.”

“What do you mean?” Joshua asked.

“Does the name Ausmann mean anything to you?”

“Oh… fuck,” Joshua muttered before adding, “Sorry!”

“Don’t be,” Brenda said.

“Yeah, so…. do you know where he is?”

“No,” she replied, “But one question I want you to answer honestly, with one sincere promise from me. No matter what you say, I will never deviate from the story that Simon fell and died in an accident.”

“Um…. why would you think he didn’t, Brenda?” Joshua asked.

She sighed. “Crazy man who knew where you lived, and whom you worked for, threatened my entire family to learn your location, which I didn’t give, and then the love of your life suddenly falls backassward off your balcony? Yeah, there’s one part of that story that just sets off my bullshit meter — ”

“Okay, I’m trying to catch Ausmann before the cops do, because it’s probably the best way to protect the Rêves. If that makes me seem like an asshole —

“No, no, not at all,” she said. “I know all about the things we do for love.” There was another silence, and then she added, “Look, I know you probably don’t know how this shit works, but it took some really major string-pulling to get Simon away from the Coroner, mainly because his death was sudden, violent, and unexpected — ”

“But not officially a homicide,” Joshua noted.

“Doesn’t matter when you score three for three,” Brenda explained. “When was the last time he saw his doctor?”

“Um… I don’t know. Maybe around his last birthday, in February?”

“So not within 20 days. Yeah, I’m guessing that’s what his HMO told them. Anyway, you need to go to the County Coroner’s office, I’ll text you the address, bring proof you’re family, and the name of the mortuary you want to send him to.”

“But then… we can do the funeral as soon as possible?” he asked.

“Well, probably not before Saturday,” Brenda said, “But I guess that really all depends on what the cemetery can do.”

“Even though I’m an atheist, I’d buy them a new chapel or some shit to make this happen fast.”

“I know you would, honey,” Brenda said.

“How do you know that?”

“Bitch, please! I saw the way you always looked at him during the brief time we were all hanging out.”

“Busted…” Joshua replied, actually laughing a little.

“There. More of that, okay? You’ll get through this. And call me if you need anything. At all. Okay?”

“Will do. And thanks again.”

“No problem. Bye.”

They hung up and Joshua felt the tears and sobs coming again. Danny and Preston hurried over to comfort him in their way. “I tried,” he said. “I really tried, but I guess the machine is just a gigantic lie, too.”

He wanted to scream, but then Danny and Preston put one hand on either side of his head and the other on his chest and back and he felt a sudden wave of peace and calm sweep over him.

“Thanks, guys,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” they replied.

He went to the condo vault and dragged out their marriage certificate and, for good measure, both of their birth certificates and passports, then hopped in the car and headed to the County Coroner’s office, which was located on the north edge of the County USC Medical Center, which was located nowhere near the campus of USC itself, but of course.

USC was about five miles southwest of USC Medical Center, but only as the crow flew. As the car drove, it was probably at least a good thirty minutes, or pushing an hour on public transit.

He drove down, gave the clerk all of the paperwork, and she vanished for a long time into a back room to retrieve the file. She had been cordially icy for the first part of the transaction, but when she came back, flipping through the rather thin file, she was deferential as hell.

Joshua signed a few forms, she explained that the mortuary would have to submit two forms of their own but that Simon’s last attending physician had already certified, and she estimated that they’d be able to release the body and transport it out to Forest Lawn Glendale by the next morning.

“Not sooner?” Joshua asked.

She looked around to see whether anyone was listening. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “I don’t know who you know, but a case like this would normally take at least two weeks.”

“Really?” Joshua replied, truly amazed.

“Really,” the clerk told him. “But, hey, it’s not for me to judge, just to do the paperwork. Would you like a text message when we ship the body out?”

“Sure,” Joshua said.

“Great. Initial here, and sign there.”

He did, she snapped out a yellow NCR copy of the form and handed it to him — how quaint — and then said, “Thank you for visiting the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office, where Law and Science serve the community.”

“Oh god,” Joshua said. “They make you say that?”

She said nothing, but just nodded.

“Sorry. And thanks!”

He walked out from the natural oppressiveness common in any government building and into the bright sunlight of a late August day. Nothing to do now but wait, he supposed. He couldn’t get this show on the road — or in the ground — until the funeral director said so.

At the same time, Ritchie had finally managed to deliver Coraline to Anabel, who was circling that woman with a critical eye.

“Do you love your husband?” Anabel asked her.

“Oh, yes,” Coraline replied. “He’s given me a very good life.”

“Children?”

“Two. A daughter and a son. Three grandsons and a granddaughter, all from our daughter.”

“Is your son not married?” Anabel asked.

“Oh, he is, but they could only have kids if they adopted, which they aren’t inclined to do.” Coraline explained.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” Anabel faked sympathy. “Is she barren?”

“No, they’re gay. Anyway, my husband won’t talk to them at all. Only I do.”

“Gay?” Anabel questioned. “Happy?”

“Um… homosexual?”

“Oh. But here’s the really important question. What do you know about your husband’s work?” Anabel asked.

“Not a whole lot,” Coraline replied. “I mean, it’s up at JPL, so I assume it’s got to do with space and stuff, maybe the upcoming Mars mission, or establishing that Moonbase, finally. He can’t tell me a lot, anyway.”

“Um… wait, mission to Mars? The Moon? And what is JPL?”

“Jet Propulsion Laboratory, of course,” Coraline tells her. “And yeah, we’ve put people on the Moon and all kinds of probes on Mars. You haven’t heard of all that?”

Anabel just stared, not sure what to think. She didn’t even know what a jet was, and cursed the fact that Preston and Danny had abandoned her to go hang out with the crazy Hadas, because they probably could have interpreted.

And she was getting distracted, so tried again. “So what was your husband doing for this… JPL, exactly?”

“That’s just the thing,” Coraline explained. “I couldn’t tell you. He’d go off in the morning, come back at night, sometimes twelve-hour days, and not a word. I started to think that it was something besides space travel, because those missions always got hyped and were very public, while his… nothing.”

“Exactly,” Anabel smiled and took Coraline’s hands in hers. “That’s what we think, too, that he was involved in something completely different.”

“Which, to his credit, he never breathed a word about.”

“Doesn’t he love you, Coraline?”

Coraline took a moment, then laughed. “You must have never been married. No, he hasn’t loved me since just before I birthed our second child, and I still think he blames me for Ronnie being gay. As if. But… I’ve tolerated him, mainly because, well, I live in this ridiculous patriarchal society, so might as well hang on for what I can keep, right? Anyway, he probably won’t outlive me, right? Statistics!”

Anabel sighed, then looked into Coraline’s eyes. “I thought you’d already picked up on it, dear.”

“On what?”

“On the fact that you are quite dead while your husband is still quite alive. What do you know about that?”

“My Gustie is still alive?” Coraline suddenly lit up. “Where is he?”

“I hate to disappoint you,” Anabel explained, “But we happen to think that he may have actually been the person who killed you.”

“No, of course not,” Coraline denied it. “If I died, it was because of that storm. And why would he want to kill me? He’d be all alone otherwise, and I happen to know he’s not seeing anyone else.”

“What do you remember?” Anabel asked. “Concentrate, and relive your last moments.”

“We’d been through that storm,” she explained. “We went down to our shelter in the basement. It’s really elaborate, we could survive down there for months he always said. And we locked ourselves in and watched the news on TV — ”

“On what?” Anabel asked.

“It’s not really important for you to know,” Ritchie whispered to her. “Think of it like a tiny movie screen in a box, but it runs on electricity.”

“Yes, like that.”

“And you watched it all the time?” Anabel asked.

“Well, not when we slept.”

“But if the electricity went out — ”

“We had plenty of back-ups,” Coraline explained. “Generators and batteries and all that. And we got our signal through a cable that was buried about thirty feet below the basement. But we did lose all of the monitors upstairs, so had no idea what was going on.”

Off of Anabel’s look, Ritchie told her, “They’re like little TVs, except they show the view of various rooms in the house.”

“We were in there all that night, and the next day, and then into the next… why am I telling you this, again?” she asked.

“So you can remember whether Ausmann killed you.”

“Oh, right. Of course he didn’t. I mean, when I wanted to leave that room, he insisted on making sure it was safe to do beforehand, then he opened the door for me. I went out into the hall, and the house above us was completely gone, nothing but sky. And I headed for the stairs. Well, I hoped they were still there, and then I…”

She froze, staring as her eyes went wide.

“What is it?” Anabel asked.

“Mrs. Ausmann, are you all right?” Ritchie added.

“That son of a bitch,” Coraline muttered under her breath.

“Tell us,” Anabel prompted her.

“Some insulation stuff had fallen into the hallway and was lying at the end, and it was very reflective. I could see myself in it, then I could see Gustav raising a piece of wood with both hands, and then he swung it. And then… nothing.”

“You’re absolutely sure?” Anabel asked.

“Yes,” Coraline insisted. “Oh, yes.”

“You know, you just might become the first murder victim to personally testify at their murderer’s trial,” Anabel told her, with a gleam in her eye.

“Oh they do that all the time,” Coraline replied. Anabel just looked nonplussed, so Coraline added, “Well, I see it on all the shows — the CSIs, and the SVUs, and the like. The victims are dead, but their corpses leave plenty of testimony.”

“O… kay?” Anabel said. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t mind getting a little revenge on him.”

“But what can I really do? I’m dead.”

“We all are,” Anabel went on. “But here’s the thing you don’t know. We’re here because of that little project of your husband’s, which had an unintended side-effect, and now he wants to use it to destroy all of us. Or, in other words, he wants to kill us — and you — again. He wants to take away your second chance.”

“It all makes sense now,” she said. “I mean, he’s never been the nicest person. I’ve never known him to give to charity, and he never let the kids have a dog.”

“And he’s a murderer,” Ritchie added.

“And that,” Coraline agreed. “All right. So what do you need me to do?”

“I knew you’d see things our way. What we need you to do is to tell us absolutely everything you know about him — habits, likes, dislikes, places he likes to go. All of it.”

“I don’t think he’s going to be going back home any time soon,” Coraline told them.

“True,” Anabel replied, “But when I was alive, I learned that if you want to persuade someone to do something, you needed to learn their patterns, along with their desires and fears, then use the former to figure out how to exploit the latter two until you maneuvered them into doing what you wanted while thinking it was their idea all along.”

“What did you do? I mean, when you were alive?” Coraline asked.

“Helped my family build their empire,” Anabel explained, proudly. “All this land you’re standing on? Yeah. We owned this.”

“Very impressive,” Coraline said.

“Thank you.”

Anabel turned to Ritchie. “Go see if you can find Bugliosi. I think he’d be perfect for taking down this information. Oh, and Oda,” Anabel added. “She was an old family friend and one hell of a lawyer. Oda Faulconer.”

Ritchie nodded and sailed off into the cemetery.

“Lawyers?” Coraline asked, nervously.

“Of course,” Anabel said. “Who better to take a deposition, right?”

“Is that what this is?”

Anabel just nodded. “But relax. You’re not the criminal here.”

Coraline nodded and sat, waiting. Anabel couldn’t have been more chuffed over this coup. Not only were they going to get all of Ausmann’s darkest secrets, the kind that only a spouse would know, but she had neglected to tell Coraline one thing in her whole speech about persuading someone.

The information she’d asked for was also the best way to find a fugitive when you knew they were in the city, but not exactly where. Just like a poker game, everyone had their tells, and Anabel was about to get all of Ausmann’s on a silver platter.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #33: The Rêves, Part 11

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters 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.

Anabel and Ausmann

Ausmann had been so amazed by the possibility of having finally trapped the infamous Anabel that he did nothing with the trap for a while. No — he wanted to learn everything about her first, because he was definitely all about “Know thine enemy.”

He certainly wasn’t going to ask Joshua and Simon for information, because that would just tip his hand and make him seem weak. He gleaned what he could from their comments, but then went right to the online archives and files.

The main thing he could determine about her is that she had never really been famous and had died almost a hundred years earlier, in childbirth. However, when he searched for her son, all he found online were completely indecent search results pointing to some guy who had been born over seventy years after she died.

Now, her family had been well-known, and they were connected to several wealthy families back east, but given the theory he’d been developing on who had been remembered, how, and why, Anabel made no sense.

Everything he’d gleaned indicated that she was very important to all of these… things… but why would they settle on her?

He contemplated the trap that the boys had given him. It was unlike all of the others, which looked like nothing more than flat compacts with matte black exteriors. The only thing that they lacked was some sort of fancy branding, like an embossed silver stamp of J&S. Or S&J. He had no idea who was the boss in that relationship, but he didn’t really care.

This trap holding Anabel, though, was much more elaborate — an amethyst teardrop in a cage of gold that reminded him of the Kabalistic tree of life in three dimensions. He actually wasn’t totally sure they hadn’t been trolling him, but he decided, finally, once he’d had enough info, that it was time to unleash the beast.

He set up a triple containment field — two secured boxes, with an electromagnetic grid around that — then sent the trap up through the double airlock and used the remote manipulator arms to open it.

The usual fog shoots out of it, but this one is a vivid shade of blue, and seems to have more agency then most of them. Indeed, it isn’t long before the blue fog shimmers out into a human form, followed by pure white mists that form the head, neck, and arms, and then a black shoot that creates the cascade of hair.

In under a minute, there is the form a young woman in a long blue evening gown and matching elbow gloves. Her jet black hair streams down her back in a highlighted waterfall, one tress in front covering half of her right eye, which only emphasizes her thin face, alabaster skin, and glossy red lips. Her eyes are jade green and intense between dark black lashes, above sharp, high cheekbones, and below carefully penciled brows, set off by a pale dusty rose eyeshadow that serves as a quiet echo of her lips.

Her shoes match her lipstick, and she is just as tall as she needs to be to stand up in the inner box, although that isn’t full human height, of course. The images reminds Ausmann of the small ghost that says good-bye to guests going up the final exit ramp at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in both size and appearance.

“Who are you?” she demands.

“It’s not your place to ask, Anabel,” Ausmann replies. “I’ll be asking the questions here.”

“The hell you will,” she fires back. “Do you know who I am?”

“That was actually my first question,” Ausmann answers. “Who are you?”

“You already said my name, so it’s too late to play stupid. Who are you?”

“That’s not important. You are the one trapped in a box,” Ausmann shot back.

“Do you really think that we all don’t know who you are and what you’re doing?”

“We all, who?” Ausmann asked.

“Have you ever actually trapped a true celebrity?” she suddenly asked.

“What do you mean?” he replied. “The Black Dahlia. How’s that?”

Anabel just laughed. “No, come on. Someone you’d heard of before going full asshole on them?”

“When  have I ever gone full — ”

She shot him a look that shut him up.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I had questions.”

“So do I, “Anabel replied. “Want to let me out of this cage and talk like adults?”

There was a long pause before Ausmann finally replied, “No.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“I don’t trust you,” he replied.

“Probably wise,” she said, “But I don’t trust you either.”

“Fine!” he spat back.

“Fine,” she waved him off.

After a while, he asked her, “Do you know where you are?”

“Not specifically,” she said. “Duh. But I do know that I’m a lot farther underground than I usually am. Do all of the evil assholes happen to have hidden underground lairs?”

“I’ll ignore that,” Ausmann replied —

“Please don’t,” Anabel spat back.

“Next question,” Ausmann  continued. “What do your people want from us?”

There was a quiet moment, and then Anabel began to laugh very hard. In fact, so hard that Ausmann began to worry that she might injure herself, so he cut down the pressure in the tanks and opened the inner tank to the next one.

“Are you all right?” he finally asked her.

“Oh, peachy,” Anabel replied. “I was laughing because you’re arrogant enough to think that my people want or need a damn thing from yours? Right. Hint: We are all goddamn dead, so we don’t need to eat or sleep or… anything, ever again.

“And that could easily get so boring, except that we’ve vowed to entertain ourselves as long as you aren’t doing something more interesting. So I suppose, to answer your question, what we want is for you to leave us alone and stop kidnapping our kind.”

“What kind even are you?” Ausmann demanded.

“We refer to ourselves collectively as The Rêves,” she replied, “Although that’s not so much a description as it is more of a family name.”

“Rêves,” Ausmann repeated. “French for ‘dream.’”

“That’s part of the reason,” she said. “It also refers to ‘revenant,’ a person who’s come back from the dead.”

“That could be a ghost or a zombie,” Ausmann said, “But you don’t look like a zombie.”

“We aren’t zombies, and we’re not truly ghosts, either.”

“Then what are you?” he asked.

“Bored by this conversation,” Anabel said. “So, what are you?”

“A scientist,” Ausmann replied.

“Mad scientist?”

“Don’t be dramatic,” he sneered.

“Well, what branch of science?”

“Several that hadn’t been invented by the time you died,” he explained. “Let’s just leave it at physics. I think that branch was around in your day.”

“And what would a physicist have to do with our kind? I thought that you science people didn’t even believe in spirits or ghosts.”

“I don’t believe that you are ghosts,” he said.

“Then you tell me what we are,” Anabel snapped back.

“Don’t you know?”

“No,” she insisted. “I’m not a scientist. How would I know?”

“Well… what rules do you follow?” he asked.

“Oh… it’s impolite to scare humans, never manifest in your current, actual physical form, especially if you’re still in that awkward decomposition phase, never try to have sex with a human — ”

“No, I meant more like… actual rules. Physical things that seem to control or limit you.”

She tilted her head and stared at him for a moment, then just laughed. “Do you think that I’m that stupid?” she replied. “Your real question is, ‘How can we control you?’ Sorry. We are not interested.”

“I already seem to be controlling you,” he said, tapping the side of the outermost box. “And it doesn’t seem that difficult. Look at what a tiny trap my boys caught you with.”

She picked up the trap, which surprised Ausmann because he didn’t think they could do that. She stared at it. “Such a pretty thing to be so dangerous, don’t you think?” she asked him, but something in her tone made it ambiguous whether she meant the trap or herself.

“You’ve got a lot of voltage running around outside this box. Well, not anything that would kill a human through air contact, but pretty similar to how these little traps work. There’s a problem with that, though.”

“What?” he asked.

“I remember a teacher in school — it was biology class — answering someone’s question. ‘What if an ant was suddenly as big as an elephant?’ The short version of her answer was that its legs would immediately shatter under its own weight, and it would suffocate and dehydrate at the same time.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Ausmann asked.

“Some things don’t scale up,” she said. “And when you give a thing a power source, you give it great power. I enjoyed our conversation. Good-bye.”

She smiled at him, then abruptly shoved her arm right through the Plexiglas of the traps and then her hand made contact with the static field that was supposed keep the Rêves in.

As soon as it did, the entire inner box filled with a bright blue flash, Anabel shot up to full size and through the top, where she stood there for just a moment, seeming more substantial than she had already, and locked eyes with Ausmann.

“Leave us alone,” she said. “That’s your only warning.”

And then she blinked away, but it was so fast that Ausmann wasn’t sure which way or where she’d gone. He hit the general alarm button, then buzzed security.

“An entity has escaped containment,” he announced. “I don’t know whether it’s still on the premises, but consider it keter. Put the complex on full lockdown.”

As alarms sounded everywhere, Ausmann sank back into his desk chair and sighed.

“Fuck,” he said.

* * *

Split

Joshua and Simon got up, showered and dressed, made and had breakfast, and then moved on to the main event of the day. Joshua retrieved the trap with Preston/Danny in it from the vault while Simon prepared the holding trap they would interview him in.

They had gone back and forth over whether to just let him go free range like last time and, while he had made no attempt to escape, they weren’t so sure he’d stick around after today’s interview.

Simon also made sure that what they called The Tank was set up with a perfect view of their living room widescreen, and he had already cued up the programming that would appear on it.

They set the trap into the slider that would take it into the holding tank, which unscrewed the lid as it moved to the center. A mechanism slid into place to lift the lid once it was there, and the inky black smoke they were so used to drifted up to fill the tank, swirling around for a while before it resolved into Preston in his favored garb.. He looked around until he saw the two of them, then smiled and pressed himself up against the glass. “What?” he asked. “Don’t you trust me now?”

“Today’s questions might be… difficult,” Joshua replied. “We want you to be safe.”

“Around two hot daddies like you?” he said. “I’d always feel safe.

“Stop,” Simon replied. “We’re not ‘daddies.’”

Young daddies?”

“Didn’t your sex drive go away when you died?” Joshua asked.

“No,” Preston replied.

“You mean you can still — ” Simon started to ask.

“Wanna watch?” Preston said, licking his lips.

“No, and no, don’t answer that question,” Simon said, looking away.

“We were wondering how much you remember, so tell us about this scene,” Joshua said, nodding to Simon, who tapped the coffee table, which had touch screen controls built into its top. On the TV, video played.

It was Preston with two other guys in what was probably a fancy apartment, probably east coast judging by the city view out its windows, which were clearly from high up and full of skyscrapers.

The three of them were mostly clothed at this point, but were making out heavily.

“Oh, yeah,” Preston said. “Last full scene I remember doing. That was… Blake Alan on the left and… Gabriel Stokes on the right.”

“Do you remember where you shot it?” Joshua asked.

“Yeah, it was this sweet apartment in Manhattan that our producer rented for the month, right near the south end of Central Park with a great view of mid-town,” Preston explained fondly. “God, this was so hot to shoot.”

“Do you remember when you shot?” Simon asked.

“Right at the end of the video, baby,” Preston replied. “Twice.”

“Oh, goddammit,” Simon muttered. “Really?”

“What was the date?” Joshua asked, giving Simon a loving look in hopes of calming his embarrassment.

“Oh… this was like the beginning of April, probably, so I think it was the last thing I shot with other people. Winston did let me stay in the place until the end of the month, then made it the end of May. I was all alone, but doing Only Fans stuff all the damn time. Otherwise, everything kind of stopped after that for a while. No more scenes, and not even bringing a crew in for a solo.”

“Do you remember the end of May?”

“Yeah. I mean, I definitely remember the middle of May, when Winston gave me this insane offer to go appear in Florida.”

“The Memorial Day circuit party in Miami?” Joshua said.

“Yeah. God, that was amazing. And not just that I banked five hundred K for the appearance, but I made a goddamn mint on top of that in tips for stripping, signing autographs, selling underwear, doing escort work. The whole… what’s the word? Nine inches?”

“Yards,” Simon corrected him.

Preston laughed. “Did you know that ‘yard’ is British slang for cock?”

“Really?” Simon replied, but the tone was one of disdain, not interest.

“Yeah, Winston told me that. It came from naval slang. Yardarm on a mast holds up a sail, and it sticks out like a hard-on.”

Preston laughed again as Simon gave Joshua a jaundiced look.

“Okay, so you did the party, the whole weekend, I’m assuming, then what?” Joshua asked.

“Let’s see…” Preston thought. “I went back to L.A. Jason — my kind-of boyfriend — suggested I just stay at home and focus on doing my own shit for Only Fans.”

“Not that any of us were really selling by that point,” he continued. “At around the beginning of May, there was this sudden explosion of new OF accounts, so there was too much in the market. Plus customers were out of work, so nobody wanted to pay anything for it. Not that I needed money by that point.”

“And then?” Joshua asked.

“June… middle of June…?” Preston trailed off and stared, seeming lost in thought. “I remember suddenly feeling really bad, and Jason and Winston and I did this video conference thing with some woman in a black robe… oh. Yeah, I think we got married. Jason and I, not Winston. And…” he trailed off.

“And?” Joshua and Simon both asked quietly.

“I remember being in Jason’s car, in the back, and then… sitting all alone in the cemetery before Anabel walked up to me.”

“She was the first one to come to you… after?” Simon asked.

“Well, she was my mother, right?”

Before Simon could speak, Joshua gave him a warning look. “Do you remember when and where you were born and grew up, Preston?” he asked.

“Hollywood. The first thing I remember is the first day I worked for Winston.”

“Really?” Joshua continued. “Nothing before that?”

“No,” Preston said.

“Do you remember that first shoot?”

“Just me and my fist,” Preston said. “That’s pretty normal for this business, right?”

Joshua nodded to Simon, who seemed apprehensive, but he tapped the coffee table anyway. Another video ran. In this one, a clearly younger Preston sat on a mohair couch that looked like it had been stolen from a university dorm break room, completely dressed, with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.

A voice from off camera asked questions, starting with innocuous things like, “So, you said you just got here and you need money?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I can probably arrange that.”

“Cool.”

Before it got to anything too personal, Joshua gestured for Simon to hit pause.

“This was your first shoot,” Joshua said.

“Really?” Preston said. “Wow. Yeah, I kind of remember that one, but it was so long ago.”

“Not that long,” Joshua explained. “But I want you to pay very careful attention to the questions and answers, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And you’re absolutely sure that’s you in the video?” Simon asked.

“Oh, hell yeah,” Preston said. “I still have that… still had that hat.”

Joshua nodded and Simon restarted the video.

“So, pay close attention to the questions and answers, then,” he said.

The off-screen voice, who must have been Winston, continued.

“So, you just got here and you have no money, is that it?” Winston asked.

“Yeah, I’m pretty broke. I was sleeping in the bus station.”

“What would you do for fifty bucks, then?” Winston continued, and a hand holding a fifty dollar bill came into screen.”

“Um, I don’t know,” onscreen Preston/Danny replied. “What did you have in mind?”

“What’s your name?” Winston asked.

“Danny,” Preston/Danny answered.

“Danny what?” Winston asked.

“Just… Danny.”

Joshua gestured and Simon hit pause.

“Danny what?” Joshua asked.

“Just… Danny? Danny who?” Preston replied.

“That’s you in the video, right?” Joshua said.

“Well, yeah, duh.”

“So you’re really Danny… who?”

“Dude, don’t you know that porn is all fake names and shit?” Preston replied. “I probably didn’t want people to know who I was.”

“So… you went on to have a porn career under your real name? That seems backwards,” Joshua said. “Where was Preston born?”

“Hollywood,” Preston insisted.

“And… Danny?”

“In some dude’s fucking imagination, I don’t know,” Preston shot back.

“That’s good,” Joshua told him. “That’s it. Hold that thought. Preston, who is the real you, did tons of porn so that he wouldn’t be identified under his real name. Meanwhile… where was Danny born?”

“Shit, I don’t know. The second some fat old fuck with money decided to pay me to jerk off?”

“Or was that when Danny died?” Joshua went on, giving Simon the signal. The video continued.

“Danny. Nice name,” Winston said. “So, where were you born?”

“Idaho,” Danny/Preston replied in the video.

“Ah. Potato planet,” Winston laughed. “Boise?”

“Nah,” Danny replied. “Pocatello.”

“Oh my god,” Winston laughed. “Did they name everything in that state one off from some kind of porn reference?”

“What do you mean?” Danny asked.

“Well, first of off, ‘Boys-me.’ Second, you’re from ‘Poke-a-Fellow?’”

“Yeah, but I grew up in Emmett. Fuck, that kind of sounds like ‘in it,’ doesn’t it? I never thought… oh, holy shit, you’re right!” Danny started laughing, then reached out and grabbed the fifty. “What do you want for that?” he asked.

“Take your clothes off,” Winston said.

“All of them?” Danny asked.

“All of them,” Winston replied.

Simon paused the video again.

“Hm. Innocent little Danny from Pocatello Idaho, on the casting couch. You’re sure you don’t know who he is?” Joshua asked.

“It was all just made up shit, for the business. You know, stage names,” Preston insisted.

“All right,” Simon chimed in. “This still doesn’t make sense. You came to L.A., did one little jerk off vid under a fake name, then started doing legit porn under your real name?”

“That’s right,” Preston replied. “All that Danny shit was just to get in the door.”

Joshua and Simon looked at each other, not sure what to do, but then Joshua signaled to Simon… let it roll.

He restarted the video, and it went through the rest of the set-up and story. The first fifty had gotten Danny naked, the next hundred got him hard, and the last hundred came after he did, and all the while Winston was asking him about his life back home, and he just kept giving details.

When it was over, Simon shut off the TV and Joshua decided that it was time to play bad cop. Not that he hadn’t kind of been already, but this felt like it needed extra attention.

“Okay,” he said. “So Danny was just this dude you made up for the first film, right?”

“Right,” Preston replied. “I didn’t even remember that until you reminded me.”

“Telling,” Joshua whispered to Simon. “Okay, so then you must have lied when you finally signed up to take the job.”

“What do you mean?” Preston demanded. Joshua snapped his fingers, and Simon put all of Danny’s proof of age docs up, which were all under his real name — and this seemed to have a slight effect when he read aloud…

“Winthorpe… Win… when…? Fuck…”

In the box, he collapsed out of his visible form back into the black mist. Simon and Joshua exchanged a concerned look, but then Joshua whispered to him, “Sorry. Ace in the hole, dear.”

“That seems really, really cruel,” Simon replied.

“Yeah, so do most of the things they do in rehab,” Joshua said. “Cue it up, and I’ll signal when I’m ready.”

Joshua went right to the box and pressed his ear against it as he spoke. “Hey, Preston. Hey, you okay? We were just trying to clear up all this thing, because rumors were starting to spread that you were not Anabel’s son, and we were hoping to, you know… stop that shit?”

There was a long moment, but then the black smoke sank and coalesced again, with Preston huddled in the bottom right corner of the box that Joshua had been speaking to.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“So am I,” Joshua replied, then he signaled to Simon, who fired up the screen again, this time with a copy of Jason and Preston’s wedding certificate — except that the name on it for Preston wasn’t Preston. It was Daniel Winthorpe.”

Preston turned, stared at the document, then began to shudder while letting out inchoate moans of some kind of existential angst and fear. He started to de-coalesce into a cloud of gray gas while keeping his naked porn star form. On the other side of The Tank, that gas reformed into a clearly younger, totally clothed, and more innocent looking form of Preston who was clearly Danny.

Each of them now knelt at opposite sides of the box before turning to stare at each other in disbelief. After a moment, both of them turned to stare at Joshua and Simon on the outside, then glare and point at them.

“Goddamn you,” they both said in unison, rising as best they could to point. “What the fuck have you done to us?”

“What’s your name?” Joshua demanded, defiant.

In unison, they each answered with the name they thought they had. “Danny Winthorpe.” “Preston LeCard.”

And no sooner were the answers out of their mouths that they turned to stare at each other in fear and anger.

Joshua turned to Simon and they nodded at each other, reaching for the emergency trap activation switch, but it was too late. Danny flew out of one side of The Tank and Preston flew out of the other, shattering the glass before they both roiled into trails of smoke and blasted out of the open patio doors and off into the night sky above NoHo.

“And… that went well,” Simon muttered to himself.

“Just shut up and fuck me if you know what’s good for you,” Joshua replied.

“Angry fuck?” Simon said.

“Yeah, I guess I kind of deserve that. Shut the doors and batten down the hatches. It’s going to be a humpy night.”

“Honey?” Simon told him as he slid shut the patio doors.

“What?” Joshua asked.

“We just managed to pull off a gigantic fuck-up. So all you’re getting tonight is, maybe, a little bro cuddle, And then we have to figure out what and how we’re going to explain this shit to Ausmann.”

“Are you saying that like it’s my fault?” Joshua demanded

“No,” Simon replied. “And that’s my point. We just both had a massive joint-fuck-up.”

Joshua stared at Simon for a long moment, then sank into the sofa in disbelief.

“We… lost one, didn’t we?” he finally said.

“No. We made two, then lost them both,” Simon replied.

“How the fuck did we make two?” Joshua asked.

“I have no idea,” Simon replied, “But that might be important later.”

Joshua sighed at the ceiling, tried to come up with an answer, but had nothing so, finally, he just pushed Simon onto the couch, climbed on fully clothed with his back to him and said, “First, I’m sorry. Second, just be the big spoon and bro-cuddle the fuck out of me tonight, because I think we’re going to need it for tomorrow.”

“Ditto,” Simon whispered into his ear before they drifted off together.

* * *