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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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, 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.