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 #46: The Rêves Part 24

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.

Shot in the Dark

Danny and Preston had realized that they liked being up here in a forest on top of a mountain, and during the early mornings when everything was shrouded in mist and fog, they would go for long walks, not bothered by cold or fatigue or any of that human shit.

By their second day there, they had also gotten quite adept at being able to walk right up to random deer and other wildlife without freaking them out and sending them running.

“Goddamn,” Danny had pointed out at one point. “If we were still alive and could TikTok this shit, we’d be viral billionaires.”

“Tell me about it,” Preston replied. “Or we could just film some fucking in the forest.”

“Hm. The world’s first combo twincest/necrophilia OnlyFans. I’m sure that would make us billionaires, except… oh, right. How do we hook back into meatspace?”

“Heh heh. You said ‘meatspace,” Preston replied.

“Heh heh, you’re a dick,” Danny said.

“Right here, ready and waiting!” Preston told him, slapping both his thighs and helicoptering.

“Can you like maybe just try to imagine pants or panties or… something?” Daniel replied.

“Can you like maybe just give me one good reason I should?” Preston snapped back, and Daniel realized that he had nothing. “’Cause it’s your dick, too, and I know you don’t mind looking at it at all, or playing with it. A lot.”

They had hiked a good ways up a trail into the wilderness when both of them began to sense something unsettling, and then sickening, and then they both stopped abruptly.

“What is that?” Daniel asked.

“Hell if I know,” Preston replied. “I’m kind of new here.”

“Duh…”

They grabbed each other, grateful at least for the fact that they could touch each other, and both felt a ridiculous sense of vertigo, both of them spinning to their left and trying to hang on, and then before they almost fell over feeling two strong hands grabbing their right and left shoulders, respectively, and pulling them back onto their feet.

They turned and looked to see the figure of a kind-looking older man with silver hair, glasses, and a moustache. There was a weird kind of red mark on his forehead and a jagged line below it, but otherwise he seemed normal, albeit transparent.

“Sorry,” the man announced. “Sorry, sorry, just saw you, you seemed friendly. Hi! Who are you?”

“I’m Danny,” Danny said.

“I’m Preston,” Preston added, “Although it’s kind of he is me and I am him and… what was that Beatles song, anyway?”

“Goo-goo-g’joob,” the spectre replied. “Come Together. I’m not really sure who I am actually. Do you know who you are?”

“Like we said,” Preston chimed in. “I’m Preston.”

“I’m Danny, but we’re kind of the same person, really.”

“Oh, how good for you,” this entity replied. “See, I still have no idea who I am. I was hoping you might know.”

“Well, it depends,” Preston replies. “How did you get here?”

“Last thing I remember is a bunch of stars. And, no, there’s a sense of betrayal. But I think that my body is right around here…”

He led them to a patch of ground that was obviously a recently filled in pit, possibly a grave.

“Well, you remembered this,” Preston said. “Why can’t you remember who you are?”

“Maybe because no one knows he’s dead yet, you silly cunt?” Danny suddenly piped up, making Preston shoot him a dirty look.

But the old man seemed to take heart in this. “Of course!” he said. “No one knows I’m dead… is that kind of a requirement for… you know?”

“Who told you that?” Preston demanded.

“I… no one… it just… came into my head.”

“Interesting,” Danny said.

“But, if it’s true… give me a minute…”

Preston looked impatient, but Danny shot him a look and restrained his arm. After a long moment, the old man stopped staring and looked at the two of them.

“Oh,” he said. “My name is Jerry, I was coerced up here by someone pretending to be my friend, but then was betrayed and killed, and I’m buried over there.”

Needless to say, Preston and Danny greeted this with a bit of silence, and then a long look at each other before either of them spoke.

“Do you know who killed you?” Preston finally asked.

“Oh. Oh, yeah, it was… he used to be my boss… tip of my tongue. Dr. Schliemann.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells,” Danny said.

“You wouldn’t know him. He’s from down in the city,” Jerry explained. “Scientist at JPL, mostly works in his secret lab.”

Danny and Preston just stared at each other, jaws dropping, then they hurried right up to Jerry.

“This is the most important question we’re going to ask you — ”

“Two questions,” Danny interrupted.

“All right two. Mine is, do you remember this Dr. Schliemann’s full name?”

“Um, sure. Yeah. Give me a minute. Getting shot in the head can fuck with your memory, you know?” He laughed and then blurted out, “Ausmann. Dr. Ausmann Schliemann.”

If either Danny or Preston had actually been breathing, they would have held their breaths as Danny asked the other question. “Do you know where he is right now?”

“Well, my car is still parked over there, so I’m guessing that he’s in his cabin.”

“His cabin?”

“Yeah, right there.” Jerry pointed. “But it’s all kinds of crazy fortified. No one’s getting in.”

“Not even if they can walk through walls?” Preston asked.

“We can do that?” Jerry asked.

“We’re dead,” Danny said. “We can do a lot.”

“Thank you very much for your help,” Preston said, taking Danny’s arm to lead him away, but Danny stopped and turned back.

“Do you know why he killed you?” he asked.

“Sure, I remember now. He told me he’d killed his wife and knew I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Which is probably true.”

“Thanks,” Danny replied as Preston pulled him away. “What’s the rush?” he asked him.

“You recognize the name.”

“Sure. But?”

“Dude, we’ve got him and he doesn’t know it. We could win the war right now, right here, before it even begins.”

“I thought it had started, with that storm.”

“That? I’m guessing that was nothing,” Preston told him, then he stopped and raised his arms above his head. “Pearl. Pearl. Pearl!” he called.

She appeared immediately. “That’s our name, don’t wear it out, and what can we do ya for?”

“We… we’ve found Ausmann,” Preston said.

“No shit?” Pearl replied.

“No shit,” Danny told them.

“Where is he?”

Preston turned and pointed at the cabin.

“You’re sure?” they asked.

“Well, we haven’t actually seen him,” Danny demurred, “But the guy he murdered told us that he has to be there because that car is.”

“Interesting,” Pearl muttered, closing their eyes for a moment, then opening them and smiling. “You’ve done very well, boys,” they said, gesturing briefly, sending waves of peaceful thoughts and a feeling of being appreciated up and down their bodies. “Now what shall we do?”

The wind started to pick up, and it was immediately chaotic, though still light. The leaves on the trees would flutter one way and then the other and then calm down, only to start up again. And then, smoky wisps flew out of the forest and coalesced into various Rêves. Preston recognized some of them whom he’d met in passing, and more than a few who were definitely Class II, although he had heard the rumor that the Class II’s were on Ausmann’s side.

Well, apparently not all of them.

The Hadas were also there, but as more of a presence that was sustaining the wind, and then Anabel appeared out of a dark blue wisp, to stand next to Pearl. Pearl didn’t have to make an announcement because they all already knew the news.

“What are we waiting for?” Anabel asked.

“Well, now, it’s a tricky thing,” Pearl explained. “We can’t exactly kill him, because that’s just letting him loose with our powers.”

“What says he’s going to show up as a Rêve?” Anabel demanded.

“These boys saw a brand-new Rêve just now,” Pearl said, indicating Danny and Preston. “And if it can happen up here right after he’s murdered… Well, let’s just say we don’t want to hand our enemy that kind of power.”

“Then what do we want?” Anabel asked her, then shouted it to the crowd. “What do we all want?”

Pearl smirked at her. “Dear, don’t try to play that rally the crowd shit on me. The Hadas could take out you and any kind of army you could muster in a snap.”

“All right,” Anabel replied, suppressing her fury. “What do ‘we’ want?”

“We’re going to drive him back down to L.A. and see where he goes next. With any luck, that will give away his strategy. Agreed?”

After a long moment, Anabel finally relented, reluctantly saying, “Agreed.”

Pearl raised their right arm and gestured, and then the weather started to intensify. Meanwhile, the Rêves strolled over and surrounded Ausmann’s cabin.

The sky darkened as deep gray clouds started to form above the treetops, growing grayer and then finally fully black as they shut off the sky. Lightning without thunder flashed through them, illuminating large chunks of their undersides in surreal blue-white bursts.

The first bolt to come down struck the satellite antenna on the roof of the cabin, shattering the dish into bits in a hail of blue sparks and sending up a black plume of smoke as the PVC mounts below burst into flames. The thunder came with it immediately.

Inside the cabin, even in the underground shelter, Ausmann had sensed the heat of the strike and definitely felt the rumble of the ensuing thunder, hearing a slight bit of it. That was also when his TV screen burst into static.

“What the fuck?” he said to himself as he switched over to display all of the outside cams on the main screen Zoom style, nine by six, showing his property from every angle — and what he was seeing he didn’t like.

First off, it looked like he was surrounded by those goddamn ghost things, no famous faces among them, and they were just standing there, about fifty feet from the cabin, doing nothing.

Second, it had started to hail, but only in one very specific spot that was about three meters on a side, and directly over the septic tank cover, since no sewer lines had ever been brought up here.

Third, one of those infernal ghosts stepped from the crowd, walked up to his front door and pointed, and he recognized that face. It was Anabel.

“Yeah,” he thought to himself. “None of this is good.”

He went to one of the smart panels in the wall and tapped the screen to activate the speaker in the front doorbell, surprised that it seemed to be working. “What do you want?” he demanded.

“We want you to leave these sacred lands,” Anabel explained.

“Sacred to whom?” he scoffed. “A bunch of low-life ghosts?”

“Sacred to something you’ll never understand,” Anabel replied.

“Like what?”

As if to answer, lightning smacked into the ground ten feet in front of the door, and the lights downstairs, which weren’t even connected to any outside power source, still flickered.

“We can put the next one wherever we want to.”

“Well, good for you, Zeus,” Ausmann sneered.

Anabel restrained her annoyance, but turned back toward Pearl. She didn’t have to say it because Pearl could read her thoughts anyway, but all she could think was, “How goddamn arrogant can this mortal asshole be?”

Appeal to his ego,” Anabel heard Pearl’s voices in her mind, wondering how she was going to do that when she remembered the car waiting nearby.

“How about a challenge?” Anabel announced.

“Like what?” Ausmann replied.

“Like… you manage to make it to the bottom of the mountain before we can catch you, then we let you go along your way.”

“Catch me with what?” he asked.

“With whatever we’ve got,” Anabel said. “And we’ll even give you a fifteen minute head-start? Twenty?”

“Make it ten, bitch,” Ausmann replied.

“So you accept?” Anabel asked him.

“As long as I get to bring along whatever I need.”

“Knock yourself out,” she said.

Over the next half hour, after Anabel and the Rêves had retreated beyond the property line so as to not present an immediate threat, Ausmann dragged an impressive arsenal out to the car, not all of it recognizable as conventional weapons. He also brought out two satchels that Pearl recognized as “Go Bags,” or as friends of theirs way back in the day had described them, “Hippie Helpers.”

After he’d loaded the car, he turned to address the air in general, because he, himself, could not see the Rêves standing there. “Fifteen minutes, then?” he announced.

Anabel chose to not call him out on his change of terms, but forced herself visible and said, “All right. And your time starts… now.”

Ausmann dove into Jerry’s car, started it up, backed around and drove down the dirt road to the highway, and almost immediately cursed the fact that he was stuck with the typical Old Man’s car — a Toyota that they’d bought new the last time they had money (in their late 50s), but which was now so old that it ran on hopes and dreams.

California version of the rule: “Never trust a car with a license plate that starts with less than 4.”

So Ausmann went chugging down the hill, while also discovering that the brakes and steering were pretty much shit, and one of the rear shocks was bouncing its tire like a basketball.

His one consolation was that just before he’d left his cabin he’d pulled the “Kill Switch,” setting the timer so it would go off around dawn. At that point, the underground propane tanks would have been opened long enough to allow all of the gas to seep through the lowest level, although the power down there would also have been shut off.

The real fireworks happened when all of the C-4 hidden around the place was set off. Combined with the propane, that should destroy the place and give the ghosts a good jolt. Ausmann had never worked the physics of it out all the way, so he wasn’t sure whether there’d just be an underground thwump that would create a sinkhole that swallowed the cabin, or if there’d be a glorious explosion that would send a fireball into the air and give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Cabin in the Sky.”

Not that this would hurt the ghosts, either, but if it started a major fire in the forest, it might keep them busy trying to stop it. They seemed like the type.

Half an hour down the mountain and with the storm and lightning clearly a couple of miles behind him, Ausmann began to despair. Were these assholes letting him win?

And the farther he went and the slower, he really had to wonder even more — were they just being lazy and hoping that Jerry’s shit-ass car would kill him first, or was it just some ruse?

Once he’d actually hit the bottom of the mountain by any definition, he found the nearest auto shop and parked. He had enough supplies in the car to wait out until they opened in the morning, he’d fulfilled the ghosts’ deal, and he’d brought a briefcase stuffed with cash, so whatever he needed repaired on this junker, he could do.

Then again, there was a used car lot across the way, so that was another option.

While he waited in the dark in the car, he worked on his own Plan B. He needed his ghost hunters, needed to find them, and also figured out the perfect incentive for them.

But the finding was the hard part, and as dawn was breaking, he still had no idea where those steampunk assholes were.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #34: The Rêves, Part 12

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.

Las hadas silvestres

Anabel had easily shot into the Earth and then up, not recognizing the place she emerged in, although she had heard the name mentioned: Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There was nothing sinister-looking about it, but maybe they didn’t even know that Ausmann had a lair hidden far beneath it.

She found her way to the A Line tunnel and into downtown, and then followed the E Line out to Santa Monica, and then the sea. Here, she followed the water up the coast a ways until she had reached Topanga, and then ventured up into the mountains above the beach, where she found a quiet bit of slightly forested meadow.

Ausmann had had some nerve asking her for their rules. He was going to have to figure those out himself, but there was one thing he was never going to figure out. There was a class of Rêves that none of his hunters would ever even encounter.

In fact, they didn’t even consider themselves to be Rêves. They referred to themselves collectively as Las hadas silvestres; basically, wilderness faeries.

And, to be honest, they didn’t even refer to themselves collectively. They tended to refer to themselves as a singular Them, which the Rêves always sensed as capitalized, mostly out of respect. They was genderless, ageless, raceless, and sexless. They was everywhere.

They comprised thousands of thems apparently, but They existed as a singular mind, or at least a collective consciousness, and They tended to stick to places where nature still held sway and humankind didn’t often invade.

You could find Them in the ocean, the mountains, and the deserts, and Their territory covered far more than any single Rêve’s did. Las hadas never even really took any kind of visible or tangible form. They were just there as a feeling or a whisper on the wind. The Rêves could always hear and sense them, but so could some humans.

How they had gotten to be who they were was a matter of Rêve legend and lore, although it was more true than not, and it had begun with a plague as well, although not the one that Anabel had lived through, nor the one that Preston had not survived.

This one was a virus that had hit in the 1980s, and many of the people it had killed in the cities were there because they had been rejected by their families. They were young, and healthy, and then they suddenly started getting sick and catching the strangest of illnesses before they started dying, and since most of them didn’t have any family to speak of (or anyone that the government would let speak as their family), a lot of them wound up being cremated.

At first, it was mostly gay men, but that demographic shifted quickly. There were addicts who shared needles, and transwomen who’d had sex with infected cis-men. Hemophiliacs fell victim as well, and so did the female partners of men who claimed to be straight but weren’t. And so did people who’d gotten blood transfusions at the wrong time.

The first three groups were the ones who had a lot of members die forgotten and without family, and whose bodies were burned, and they wound up finding themselves wandering. A lot of their ashes had been dumped at sea or tossed to the wind up in the mountains.

Then they started to find each other. Groups of them knew each other, and connected to other groups, and then one day they met a soul that had already been wandering out here for over a decade.

Her name was Janis, as in Joplin, and she’d been cremated and scattered after death.

While she hadn’t been forgotten and had plenty of fans who remembered her, she had ignored all of that and managed to hold on to her true self and just enjoy the Zen of nature. She always figured that it had had something to do with being burned and not buried, but she wasn’t going to waste any time trying to find out.

She became a magnet for the newcomers, sort of a hub around which they all gathered, and that’s when they declared Themselves to be Las hadas silvestres.

Over the years, others were added to their number — mostly those who died alone and forgotten, and for whom whatever local jurisdiction decided it was easier to just burn the body and scatter the ashes.

Many an orange grove in the area had benefited from those cremains, too.

Another big wave came in 2020, when cemeteries and undertakers could not keep up with the need for burials, and coffin makers couldn’t meet demand, although not everyone who’d been cremated chose the Joplin option. Plenty of them still felt the call of their loved ones and became Rêves instead.

Speaking of Joplin, Anabel did know that Las hadas allowed people to think of Them as Pearl in case the intricacies of pronouns became too confusing, as they most certainly did for someone of Anabel’s generation, and it was easier to say than Las hadas silvestres.

And so Anabel sat in the meadow with its view of the vast Pacific below the hills and cliffs of Southern California, and she manifested herself in a supplicating pose, hovering three feet above a large stone, arms at her sides and slightly raised, palms forward, head half-bowed and eyes closed.

Hovering above the Earth in her sky blue evening gown, she was actually lucky that no hikers passed by because she would have been totally visible — and vulnerable — to humans in this moment.

She also would have instantly led to sudden reports of a sighting of the Virgin Mary in the Santa Monica Mountains, and that wouldn’t have been good.

“Pearl,” Anabel sighed. “The Rêves need your help. We have a human who is hunting us and taking us, and we don’t know why. Pearl, please let me know what to do.”

She let her thoughts go blank except for one last one: “Pearl, please help.” Shortly, the wind kicked up a bit and the long meadow grass began to shudder back and forth, giving a slight whistle in the wind.

She sensed a presence, as if hundreds of warm arms embraced her and felt a flow of positive thoughts, as if an endless line of people were marching by to greet her and saying, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then she heard the voice in the rustle of the grass, “Anabel. Anabel,” it seemed to say.

“Yes?” she said out loud.

Then her memories of her encounter with Ausmann, from start to finish, came flooding back like a movie was playing in her head, and it was incredibly detailed, although she was watching from outside of her own POV, so she noticed things that she had not before. She had no sense of agency or volition. It played out as it had played out, although she paid very close attention to Ausmann, as well as the computer screens on his desk that had not faced the tank she had been trapped in.

What she managed to spot on it shocked her. Well, at least what she understood. There were a lot of graphs and charts that were useful without explanation, but there was one image with text, clearly a report, and headline stunned her.

“Toward a workable method for eradication of supernatural entities.”

Eradication.

Elimination.

“My god,” Anabel thought. “Genocide.”

And then the version of her in the tank shot out the side and her POV shot up into the Earth and darkness and popped out into the bright sunlight of the meadow, only now she was on her back, and she felt thousands of hands supporting her as they slowly and gently lowered her to the ground.

For the first time that Anabel could remember in ages, she cried. She hadn’t even really cried when her father died. She was never given to that kind of emotion, but here she was.

Something shadowed the Sun and Anabel looked up to see a young woman with blonde, shoulder-length hair, an engaging smile, and a slight Texas drawl. She wore an elegant silk blouse with an intricate design on the front, sleeves that started tight at the upper arms but then exploded into a series nested maunches ending in flared bells. She had lots of rings and bracelets on both hands, and a tattoo on her left wrist.

Her pants were very tight, probably also silk, and these too ended in flairs. A pair of octagonal glasses with rose-tinted lenses was perched on her nose.

Anabel might have mistaken her for human, but she had to have been at least twelve feet tall, and her feet weren’t on the ground either.

“Hello?” Anabel said.

“I don’t usually do personal appearances, man,” the woman said, “But this feels like a special occasion.”

“Are you… are you Pearl?”

“I am me, and them, and we are me and… fuck, what’s that Beatle’s lyric?”

“Sorry?”

“Whatever, man. You asked for help, and it really looks pretty bad. Like nothing none of these cats have ever seen, dig, man? What was that word? Oh, right. Genocide. Yeah, that is some total Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot shit right there, man.”

“I’m a woman,” Anabel said, not knowing what to think otherwise.

“I know, man,” Pearl replied. “And We’re not. Not normally, not anymore, but unfortunately, the only way We can get through is to, you know. Go all class two, and let the image the humans have of us take over. Joke’s on them, though, because I’m still in control.”

Pearl smiled and laughed and Anabel wasn’t sure what to think, but Pearl’s demeanor changed completely.

“Oh, shit. I’m scaring you, aren’t I? Sorry, sorry. Sorry, sorry… sorry, man.”

Pearl shrank down to human size, feet settling on the ground, then smeared out into a group of people of all types who all looked very normal and sympathetic. They held their hands out and Anabel was suddenly standing again.

“We will do what we can to help the Rêves,” They said, “But we cannot do it by killing any humans.”

“Then what can you do?” Anabel asked.

“Warn them to change their ways,” They announced.

“Do it,” Anabel replied.

“Done,” came the reply as the manifestation of Pearl vanished, but the word was a whisper on the wind instead of anything audible, and then the wind died down.

Far offshore, there was a sudden flash of lightning and as Anabel squinted, she could see a line of dark clouds start to rise above the entire horizon. There was more lightning, but no thunder.

“Damn, they work fast,” she thought as she made her way back down to the E Line and then to home, arriving just at nightfall. There was no storm up here yet, but there did seem to be a breeze rising from the west.

* * *
Image source: © 2017 Jon Bastian, Camp Round Meadow, Big Bear, CA