The Saturday Morning Post #61: The Rêves Part 39

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. We’re close to the end, with only two chapters after this one.

Septennials

Many media outlets had dubbed the incident The Day of the Dead, although there were also a lot of objections to this phrase, which was essentially cultural appropriation. Other media outlets preferred to use The Resurrection, while social media had a number of references: Heaven’s Last Call, Tomb Evaders, Coco Oh-no! and the probably inevitable Forest Lawn of the Dead.

In the first year after the incident, things changed a lot, some good and some bad. From the beginning, a lot of religious groups took it as the literal Resurrection of the dead that heralded the End Times, but for a lot of them it made no sense, because certain events had to happen first, and they hadn’t.

Three schools of thought on it emerged. One was based on the idea that no one could know the hour of Jesus’ return and that he’d come like a thief in the night, so it didn’t matter whether this Resurrection fit in with all of their hypotheses and prophecies. That wasn’t for humans to decide, so it was absolutely the real deal.

A second group took exactly the opposite tack: This did not fit their theology at all, so something was wrong. Their pastors and scholars had studied the Bible deeply, and had mapped out exactly what would happen when. Since this incident didn’t occur when it was supposed to in the grand scheme of things, it must have been the work of Satan, and all of the resurrected were actually demons. This group sought to have them all hunted down and eliminated.

The third group also believed that it was the Resurrection proper, but went off the rails to the extreme. While there were not as many members of this category, there were still enough that there was a substantial jump in mass suicides among families and small congregations who figured that there was no point in waiting around anymore, since they had already seen others brought back in the flesh.

Meanwhile, after about six months, scientists had a pretty good idea of what had happened, especially after a stunned government allowed a select team access to all of Ausmann’s files, as well as to Joshua and Simon, who had been intimately involved.

Of course, none of the cameras in the complex had been on at the time, so their story was that Ausmann had gone a little crazy — backed up by evidence from both the Simi Valley PD and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office — and while giving some insane rant from that top platform about using the machine to take over the world had slipped and fallen.

Since he’d been keeping Joshua and Simon at bay at the bottom with a gun at the time, they weren’t able to save him. Presumably, the gun had been vaporized along with the hand and arm that had been holding it when Ausmann fell through the plasma stream.

The end result was a 900-page report detailing all of the science, and which nobody in the government could even begin to understand outside of the science wonks, but Congress Peoples’ eyes would just glaze over whenever those wonks spoke, so the real content of the report only got through to a few.

Joshua, Simon, and the authors knew the whole story. Outside of that circle, it was heavily redacted, particularly to eliminate any mention of a machine designed to send messages back in time. That was a highly classified secret.

What was allowed out was an explanation that the machine had generated exotic matter in an effort to figure out what dark matter and dark energy were, how they interacted with regular matter, and what effect gravity had on them.

It was a completely bullshit explanation of purposes that a lot of physicists both astro- and quantum had picked up on immediately, but they also understood that the real reasons probably couldn’t be unveiled, and so kept their silence, at least publicly.

When it finally dripped down to the popular science media before becoming completely distorted in the laymen’s press, the story was that this exotic matter experiment had set up resonating wave fronts that, in effect, made people hallucinate projections of their own memories, which was why there were a combination of dead celebrities and people with living friends.

As for the physical resurrection of people, that happened when the machine was damaged, and this was the only point where they invoked time travel, but not as an intentional effect. Rather, when the generator broke down, the exotic matter briefly converted into something that in turn caused a “local temporal anomaly,” which is what de-aged the living LEOs up at JPL, and physically brought back the corpses in all the cemeteries within certain areas.

When it hit trash rags like the NY Post and The Daily Mail, the headlines were things like, “Science Smash the Dead to Life,” or “Atom-Smasher Accident Brings Back Your Gran.”

Naturally, all kinds of conspiracy theories popped up in the aftermath, including a group calling themselves the 9/2 Truthers (or 9tooTru, as their logo and T-shirts read), clearly taking inspiration from another totally discredited group from over twenty years before — although, to be fair, they did manage to dance around the hole in the donut, mainly the lack of references to working and intentional time-travel in the final report, mainly because they didn’t have access to that.

Where they went totally wrong, though, was insisting that the whole thing had been an intentional government plot to create a “resurrection beam” as well as fountain of youth, and what had happened was supposed to be a small, controlled test that got out of hand.

At least that final report had assuaged the fears of those who were not religious and had no idea what to make of it all. But it still left the problem of dealing with all the extra new people. Even if they didn’t need to eat or take up resources like that, they still needed shelter and a way to pay for it.

The County had greenlit and set up Brenda’s new Department of Post After-Care Entry Services almost immediately — and yes, the acronym was PACE, as in Requiescat in Pace, or Rest in Peace. They set up her offices in Culver City in a 32,000 square foot warehouse that had formerly hosted the county’s Internal Services Department. On the one hand, she wasn’t all that happy about it being a huge, windowless place. On the other, it was directly adjacent to Holy Cross Cemetery, which was ridiculously appropriate.

It was also a really short commute from home, although she could work remotely quite a lot. Within a month of everything being opened and the space allocated, she went to work getting it converted.

It would be a combination of intake/interview center, resource warehouse providing mostly clothing to their clients (accommodating any era-based, cultural, or religious preferences they had), as well as a temporary shelter. This was also where their social media and marketing offices were located, with a final corner of the old warehouse serving as a transit bay for the various shuttles that would take their clients to their new housing and jobs as assistants to the various historians, librarians, and archivists working all over the city.

They also kept their eyes out for certain very necessary lost skills in the modern age. For example, anyone who happened to know the programming language COBOL was immediately referred to high-end government work at various levels, since so many government computers were so old that they still ran it.

Oh, that wasn’t a function of government being out-of-touch, though. Quite the opposite. Part of it was because the scale of government would make updating hardware and software on the same schedule that people replaced iPhones ridiculously expensive and time-consuming.

Add on top of that continuity gaps in service and retraining people in new software and hardware, it was an undertaking to only be carried out every few decades and, even then, only one department at a time, very carefully.

The other big reason for not modernizing was that if no one knew how to code in the language, then no one knew how to hack it.

The drawback, of course, was that untangling the code, simplifying it, and making internal updates could only be done by the people who knew it.

There were some other “ancient” talents that were the new hot jobs to have, at least for the Rêves — who now called themselves Revivants — and Brenda’s people were tasked with keeping their eyes out for those.

One that nobody had to spot came directly to Brenda. It was Anabel, who expressed her true admiration for what Brenda had done. This surprised her, because what few interactions she had had with Anabel made her think that she disdained humans.

But Anabel had a plan and a request. She was very happy that Brenda was helping her kind back into society, but Anabel also felt that she had something to offer, and she described her vast and successful business experience, which blew Brenda away.

For one thing, she knew how young Anabel was when she had originally died. But she also knew that women were still fighting for the right to vote, and didn’t even get it until not long before Anabel did die. So she just assumed that a woman of the era wouldn’t have had any experience in business, beyond maybe typing letters and sending telegrams for some Wizard of Wall Street.

Experience shared, Anabel went on with her plan. She wanted to help the female Revivants who had only ever been trapped in domestic roles to break out of them by teaching them business skills, considering that the field was a lot more open to women now.

She reasoned that the basic psychology of business and marketing that she had intuited hadn’t changed because people hadn’t. Where she needed Brenda’s help, beyond making the connections, was in borrowing people to train these women in the modern tools they would need to use Anabel’s universal techniques for success.

Anabel could speak the language of the formerly dead women of the past, and translate the jargon of the social media and computer kiddies to them as well. If anything, it would become a sort of trade school intensive that would help re-integrate these women back into society, and at a higher level than they could have ever dreamed of the first time around.

Brenda didn’t even have to think twice. “Done!” she said. “I’ll just have to find a property where you can set up shop, and then assign you some of my social media and marketing people. Oh, hang on…”

She picked up her phone and dialed. “Stacey, who do we have in our vocational training department who’s really good at developing curriculum…? Uh-huh, yeah. She’d be amazing. Is she here today…? Great. Can you send her to my office? Thanks!”

She hung up. “Step number one. Design your course.”

Brenda’s door was open, so the woman in question strolled right in, all positive energy. “Howdy,” she announced, “What can I do you for?”

She was an older woman with a cascade of curly gray and black hair that tumbled down her head and well past her shoulders, with a friendly face and metal-rimmed glasses with circular lenses. Anabel liked her instantly. Of course, she had that effect on a lot of people.

“Anabel, this is Simone. Simone, Anabel is a Revivant I met before the incident. She has an amazing idea for a course to train women in business and marketing, and I want you to help her plan the curriculum. I’ve assigned her to the USC satellite office.”

“Fantastic,” Simone gushed. “I really look forward to working with you, Anabel,” she said. “When do we start?” she asked Brenda.

“You already have,” Brenda replied, grabbing a page that came out of her printer and handing it over. “Here’s the office info. Pick up the keys in operations. If you need it, I’ll have a driver take you both, and thank you so much for doing this.”

“Don’t mention it!” Simone said.

Anabel’s program turned out to be one of the most successful, and it was amazing how well the women she trained took to what she taught them. More than a few of them at some point would have the “A-ha!” moment. “This was exactly how I manipulated my husband into doing what I wanted while making him think it was his idea…”

“And that, ladies, is marketing!” Anabel would announce whenever the thought came up. “Or to put it in more modern terms: Sex sells. Well, the promise of sex, anyway.” There would always be nervous but knowing laughter after this.

Within a year, Brenda’s department had made a huge dent in re-integrating everyone, and she had been written up in countless publications, both internal government and business pubs, and in the mainstream media.

“The Woman Giving New Life to the Dead” was a common theme.

Despite her initial reluctance, Jonah and Esme urged her to get out more into the public eye and become the face of the department, and pretty soon she was the go-to expert anytime a reporter was writing a story about the Revivants, and then anytime any major media outlet was doing a piece on the same.

She started to get requests to appear on talk shows and balked until her mother sat her down and talked some sense into her.

“Do you not realize what a gigantic opportunity this is?” she said. “They are begging you to come on as the expert in your field. And when white people are begging a woman of color to do that, you do that. No ifs, ands, or buts. You elevate yourself, you elevate us all.”

Esme’s sincerity and intensity almost brought Brenda to tears, but then she replied, “The only reason I’m reluctant is because I don’t want my kids dragged into this.”

“Why would they be?” Esme asked.

“For one thing, Malia is kind of newsworthy. Especially since her doctors okayed starting hormone replacement therapy in about a month.”

“And if they bring her up?” Esme snapped back. “Simple. First, tell them that she’s got nothing to do with this. Second, tell them that if they’re trying to use her status in any way to paint you as a failed parent, they are wrong as hell, and turn it around. Ask them why they wouldn’t support their own child 100% in any of their decisions. That’ll put them on the ropes.”

“I can handle their bullshit, Mom,” Brenda said. “But what about Malia? If she sees herself being trashed in the media — ”

“Oh, child,” Esme replied. “I spend a lot of time with my granddaughter, and you want to know a secret? She is one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has long since learned the power of not caring what other people think about her, and if you don’t rip all them all new assholes for going after her, she will do it herself with a vengeance. That girl has got some salty in her.”

“Really?” Brenda just said, stunned.

“Well, why the hell not?” Esme replied. “She’s her mama’s daughter — and you are my daughter. We are one tough bunch of biddies, and you know it.”

“Well, okay then,” Brenda finally agreed. “If you believe in me, then I believe in me.”

“You better believe it,” Esme smiled at her.

Right after that, Brenda checked in with Rita, who hooked her up with a major Hollywood talent agency as well as the County Communications and Social Media Department, and then the bookings came fast and furious.

Over the next few years, she became a regular guest on talk shows left and right, as well as getting called on regularly to do stand-up news interviews after various events, both positive and negative, effecting the Revivant community.

A couple of years in, she tried to contact Joshua and Simon to see if they’d help out, but she could only get hold of Danny and Preston, who were kind of vague and only explained that the other two were off on some fact-finding mission and impossible to reach.

It would be years before she suddenly heard from the twins again out of the blue, but what they had to tell her was going to be very exciting news. She had asked the boys how they were doing, and while they didn’t provide specifics, they did mention that they were finding great success as entertainers.

Elsewhere, there were two performers for whom it hadn’t been so easy: Lewis and Davis. Or sometimes Davis and Lewis. They had gone through a year of improv classes with an excellent teacher and amazing classmates, but, for them, it just wasn’t clicking.

Each of them had their strengths and weaknesses, but they did not add up to a sum greater than the parts. When it came to anything with words, like rhyming and pun games, Davis would just freeze up and, for the life of her, not even be able to rhyme a word like “cat.”

The concept of puns eluded her completely, while Lewis could reel them off one after the other, effortlessly. He could also rhyme like a son-of-bitch on wheels.

But… when it came to scene games, which were all about building stories with characters, that was where Davis excelled, and Lewis just went flat. Davis could remember everything that was set up, while Lewis could remember nothing.

So Davis would walk into a scene in which “Jill” and “Susan” were established as sisters working on their glove farm in Oregon and glue herself to those names and concepts and build on them, but Lewis would go into a scene, even one where both characters had named each other at least three times, and immediately address “Bill” as “George” and “Ken” as “Keith,” and then also completely forget the relationship and insert a new one.

That could get awkward if, for example, Bill and George were father and son, but in Lewis’ mind, Ken and Keith were a couple. He was what improvisers quietly referred to among themselves as a “platform killer.”

After about six months, they both despaired of ever becoming the next Nichols and May, but then an off-hand comment during the warm-down huddle after a class changed everything.

One of their classmates, Ryan, mentioned that he’d started taking stand-up classes at a nearby theater, and another one, Tyler, chimed in to say that he was taking the same class and it was great.

Davis and Lewis made sure to catch up with the two of them as they all walked out the stage door, and asked them about the class. As it turned out, there was a new session starting in two weeks.

“So… for this, you write your shit out in advance?” Lewis asked.

“Of course,” Ryan explained. “It’s all about honing your story-telling and refining your jokes and your persona.”

“Hey, if they can make my sorry ass funny,” Tyler said, “They can do it for anyone.”

“Oh, honey,” Davis told him, “Your ass is far from sorry. I happened to think that you are totally hilarious.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes, duh,” she insisted.

She took down the information, and the next day she and her husband contacted the teacher and signed up. They were a little sad when they had to email their improv teacher to tell him that they wouldn’t be continuing, but Rick was an understanding guy, told them that he totally got it, and wished them luck.

Six months after their first stand-up class, they entered a beginner’s comedy competition at the club Flappers in Burbank — and Ryan was one of their competitors. They did a couple’s act in which they talked about their marriage, but each of them with obviously differing points of view and complete blindness to the other person’s — and it brought down the fucking house.

They took first place, then started to do the premium Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. gigs around town, took their act toward a political bent by pretending to support different presidential candidates starting around June (they didn’t, they were on the same side), and wound up being invited to do their thing on SNL’s October 2024 premiere as a feature in the opening sketch.

After that, the offers came left and right, but so did the press attention, once their former lives as cops combined with their de-aging during the incident came to light, but there was the downside, because the little revelation that they were a pair of fifty-somethings who only appeared to be in their mid-20s thanks to a lucky accident brought out the resentment in people.

It died down a bit leading up to and after the election, and they dropped the dueling politics aspect right after, but then decided to address the other part head-on. They spent the rest of the year figuring out how to write funny about their situation, and brought Ryan, Tyler, and their teacher into it, as well as continuing to take classes.

They even went back to improv, and while Davis still couldn’t rhyme or pun for shit, Lewis had suddenly gotten a lot better at listening and doing scene games. After about three years, they both managed to audition and join the main company, and a couple of years after that, an agent approached them after a show.

“You two have really got something,” he told them. “You’re probably way too young, but you remind me of Nichols and May.”

Davis and Lewis shot each other a look, their smiles telling each other to not give it away. “Really?” Davis said. “We don’t know who they are, but what are you thinking?”

He presented his card and said, “I book some of the major showrooms in Vegas, and we’re always in need of opening acts for the headliners. It might include having to relocate, for at least part of the year, but given your talent, I’m sure we could work something mutually lucrative out.”

Lewis and Davis exchanged another look, then turned back to the booker. “Hit us,” they said.

He gave them the paperwork and a week. Four days later, they had signed and were scheduled to do their first shows in two weeks. They would regularly be taken by limo to Burbank Airport and flown the half-hour to Vegas, put up in whatever hotel owned the showroom, then do their opening act for six nights plus a matinee (the non-filthy version) before being flown back to L.A. for two weeks.

Lather, rinse, repeat, ridiculous paycheck.

After a year or two of this, they got a gig being the audience warm-up act for Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, and that became the game changer. It was a lot more money spread over a shorter shooting schedule, and with better accommodations.

They even worked up an act where Davis played Penn and Lewis played Teller and they mocked the relationship as an old married couple. They were nervous as hell when they first presented it, but the real Penn & Teller laughed their asses off, taught the duo a couple of stage illusions, and let them loose on warming up the audience.

They eventually went from warm-up act for the TV show to opening act for the main stage show, in which Lewis played an arrogant, know-it-all magician, and Davis played the mostly silent assistant who was clearly the actually talented one, and the big joke of the act was the audience slowly realizing that the magician would have fucked up every single trick if the assistant hadn’t suddenly helped him.

It was a total crowd-pleaser and got rave reviews.

What was even more amazing was that by this point Teller was in his early 80s and Penn was in his mid-70s, and neither one of them showed a single sign of slowing down.

Then again, neither Lewis nor Davis had shown the slightest hint of aging since that particular “incident” at JPL which was now about seven years ago.

Coraline never knew enough to realize the irony that the same incident that had brought her back to physical life was also the one that had taken her (former?) husband out of it permanently. But when she finally made her way home the first time after a couple of weeks to find a completely vacant lot, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Her first instinct was to visit her daughter, Gretchen, which she immediately realized was a bad idea when she answered the bell, opened the door, screamed and fainted. Her husband, Henry, hurried into the foyer to see what happened, took one look at Coraline and just stared.

“Um… hello?” Coraline offered.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he asked.

“One of…?” she replied.

“One of those abominations from hell,” he shot back before slamming the door in her face.

“Rude!” she thought, so then she went to her son’s house. When he opened the door, Valentin seemed a bit more accepting of her, but there was still a certain wariness in his attitude.

“Mom,” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“My house isn’t exactly livable right now,” she explained. “And has anyone mentioned that your father killed me?”

“What?” Valentin exclaimed. “Oh, crap.”

“Yeah, that’s a good description.”

“No, not that… we’ve already filed probate, since Dad left wills for both of you, and we found out a couple of days after the whole… thing that he’s dead, too.”

“Oh,” she replied with no feeling. “Was it painful?”

“They kind of only found bits of him from the tits up and thighs down.”

Coraline tried not to laugh.

“Anyway,” Valentin went on, “That’s kind of a done deal, because in the wills, everything went first to whichever one of you survived, and then next fifty-fifty to me and Gretchen. That included any property or possessions or, since those clearly aren’t a thing anymore, any insurance benefits. It’s already been settled.”

“But, I guess there’s a hitch now,” Coraline replied. “Because I’m not quite that dead anymore, so it sounds like everything should go to me, since I survived.”

“Except that you and your kind are not considered legally alive, Mom. Sorry. But that’s how it goes.”

“So… that’s it? You have nothing to offer you mother who’s been put through this ordeal of being murdered and then brought back to have nothing?”

“Um… I hate to say it, Mom, but you and Dad were never the best parents in the world. He was totally abusive to us, and you just let it happen.”

“Because he was just as abusive to me!” she exclaimed. “Couldn’t you see that?”

“No,” he replied. “What? It’s hard to see someone else’s abuse when all you see is your own. You two totally fucked it up raising us. Gretchen and I haven’t spoken in years, although I suspect that her husband beats her. But I can’t force myself to care. And when I heard the news that Dad was dead? I felt an enormous sense of relief. No, almost joy. May that motherfucker rot in hell!”

“Valentin!” Coraline snapped. “This is not the man we raised you to be!”

“Oh, no, Mother. This is exactly the man you raised me to be. I finally pulled the lever and hit the jackpot with those wills, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on, and you can just fuck right off. Have a nice day.”

He smiled and gently closed the door.

Coraline didn’t know what to do, so she wandered, but the closer she got to L.A. itself, the more she suddenly started having feelings, like voices in her head, telling her, “Find Brenda!”

She had no idea what that meant until Anabel suddenly appeared next to her. “Family problems, huh?” she asked. “You need to talk to my friend.”

Coraline hooked up with Brenda, and the first thing she managed was freezing all assets and payments Valentin and Gretchen were scheduled to receive — they hadn’t gotten the checks yet — and then setting County lawyers off to prove that Ausmann had died and Coraline was not dead. It took about four years, during which time Coraline studied with Anabel and started her own business.

Eventually, she collected on all of Ausmann’s life and property insurance, reminded Valentine and Gretchen’s husband of their reactions when they came sniffing for their slice, and used her new-found fortune to retire to a nice little ten-acre ranch in 29 Palms.

Coraline had had to deal with being dead and trying to prove herself alive again, but it was just as difficult for the LEOs at JPL, who had abruptly dropped three decades in age.

Once it became public knowledge that there were a number of officers between the ages of just under 31 and about 42 who had suddenly been turned into anything from newborns to 12-year-olds, actions had been taken to either find their actual parents, or to find families to take them in.

All along, no one ever questioned how they managed to retain their memories all the way into how long they’d lived, but that was probably a good thing, because the scientists who had studied it knew exactly how. To explain it would be to reveal too much, because it was all wrapped around the idea that the machine could send thoughts and concepts back in time, which it had when it failed.

In essence, even as it dredged up the hardware via the physical bodies, it downloaded the last back-up, which was the one in their heads either right before the LEOs were de-aged, or the last time a Rêve hung out with humans or any other entity giving them any kind of input.

Again, no one outside of the land of science ever thought to ask that, so social workers did what they could, but this also meant that Schrantz was a bit SOL, being apparently too old for the criteria.

What she did get was temporary housing, a promise of disability pay until she had returned to adulthood, and an ancient cell phone that wasn’t even smart, but at least wasn’t a flip. It was an early 00s slider.

While she got the housing, she wasn’t going to see any money until Congress ironed out the whole deal on how to declare people no longer dead, and she wasn’t holding her breath, so she finally gave in and called her parents in Indianapolis, and got both of them talking on the same cell phone speaker.

They had seen the news stories and heard mention of her agency being involved, and had been beside themselves. She spent the first half hour reassuring them that she was fine, mostly, before she broke the big news about her now much younger status.

“So, it’s kind of weird,” she went on, “But I’m like this adult teenager in limbo, until Congress figures out how to classify us. I’m wondering, then, can I come home and live with you both again until this all resolves itself? Or five years, whichever comes first.”

There was a long silence on the other end, and then her mother spoke. “Of course you can, dear,” she said. “But… can we tell everyone that you’re our niece or something?”

“Why’s that?” Schrantz asked.

“Been a lot of bad blood out here between the living and the undead,” her father replied in his unvarnished way. “Not that we actually have any undead here. But mother and I wouldn’t want you getting killed or anything,” he continued. “I mean, if that’s possible.”

“I’m not ‘undead,’” she reminded them. “Just… unaged.”

“We know that,” he continued, “But people in these parts are not the most critical of thinkers, and you popped up at the same time, so you’re all the same in their minds. But sure, of course we’ll take you in.”

“Of course, dear,” her mother continued. “How soon can you be here?”

“Well, that’s the other thing,” Schrantz sighed. “I kind of need a ticket to ride, as the Beatles said. Bus, plane, train, some cousin I’ve never met who’s driving that way…”

“Right,” her mother replied, her father obviously sighing heavily in the background. “But, how are you going to get on most of those when your ID probably doesn’t match what you look like now? I mean, if that whole de-aging thing is true.”

Schrantz froze and looked at the screen. “Shit!” she finally muttered.

“I think you can still do the bus,” her mother went on. “Although you do have a cousin who’s about to drive out here.”

“Really?” Schrantz asked. “Who?”

“You remember Tommy?” her mother asked.

Schrantz did, and her immediate reaction was to say “Oh hell noes,” but she didn’t, because all of her negative reactions to him had happened, oddly enough, before the time she’d aged into the form she was stuck with now.

And the more she thought about it, while those moments had been creepy, they had also not really been rapey either. Then again, he was the same age as her, which she wasn’t now, so she didn’t know what to say.

“I’ll give him a chance, Mom,” she finally replied, “But he used to be really creepy, so if I say no to him — ”

“Understood, dear,” her mother replied. “I think you’ll find that he’s changed.”

“Whatevs,” Schrantz thought, but she finally told her mom to send him along. What’s the worst that could happen? She could easily dick-punch him into the next county if she wanted and if he tried any crap, since she’d been trained in that.

All her worries vanished when he pulled up to her place and hopped out of his car, a Toyota Yaris with a huge rainbow flag sticker on the back. He certainly had changed since the days of being a creepy youth. He was tall, thin, all glowed up, a bit on the flamboyant side, and a very snappy dresser.

“Cousin Becky!” he cried out. “Look at you, girl. I remember you at that age. And I remember you a lot older.”

“I didn’t think I’d seen you since I was about fourteen.”

“We were both at grandma Remy’s funeral,” he explained, “Although we didn’t talk because I didn’t stay for much of it. It was right before I came out to the family, so I wasn’t in the mood to be social just then.”

“Well, you’ve certainly changed,” she said.

“Nah, I haven’t changed. I just burst from my cocoon into a beautiful butterfly. Now, come on, baby girl. We’ve got some driving to do to get you home.”

They loaded her stuff into the car — she had stored or sold almost everything, although she had to rely on a friend on the force who hadn’t de-aged to handle renting the storage and arranging movers.

They took a few days to drive back to Indiana, staying in nice hotels when they stopped — and always two separate rooms. Tommy explained up front that Schrantz’s parents had paid for everything and reserved the rooms online.

He finally got her home and stayed for the evening and the next day socializing with his aunt and uncle, then continued on his way. As for Schrantz, she finally did wind up living at home for the next five years. Somewhere during that, although not soon enough, the governments involved finally got the whole restoration of personhood thing sorted, and she began to collect her permanent disability benefits from San Bernardino County and the state of California, despite not living in the state, which was a thoughtful exemption they’d included.

Once she’d been declared a person again and had her prior information restored, she used her graduate degrees in Law and Criminal Science to get into a PhD program and, while she couldn’t qualify for Quantum Physics like she’d wanted to, she did get into a PhD program in Quantum Ethics, finishing the program as part of the class of 2030, at the technical age of 20 going on 50.

She would never know the irony: She had gone into exactly the same field that had brought Ausmann to Operation Slingback in the first place.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #60: The Rêves Part 38

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. In this one, the shit hits the fan.

Math after aftermath

Social and mainstream news media blow up almost immediately, but it has nothing to do with JPL.

The headlines are sensational and lurid, and the live reporters wide-eyed and disbelieving. At home, Brenda just stands in front of the TV, staring at the news, arm up and still holding the remote, other hand on her cheek, and mouth wide open.

Jonah walks in, looks at the screen and mutters a quiet, “Fuck!”

Esme strolls through to the kitchen. “Heard the news?” she says casually. “Well, told you so!”

Joshua has heard none of the news because he booked it out of JPL through the emergency exit, called the car to him, then headed off to the one place where he thought he could find an answer: Simon’s grave. Well, his and the boys’.

Was it possible that Lorre had betrayed them all, and actually given away the one way to destroy them, knowing that he’d be safe in Joshua’s trap?

He could have, in theory — but then once Pearl and Anabel knew what he was going to have Ausmann do, why did they allow it to happen if it meant their destruction? They must have known the same trick that Preston and Danny did, and there were three of them as well. All six of them could have Mecha merged into a giant Rêve that could have crushed Ausmann like a bug.

So he couldn’t believe that the Rêves were gone. He tried to keep that thought out of his head — he couldn’t stand to lose Simon twice. Once was traumatic enough. He sped to Glendale, drove through the cemetery gates, and slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw what was going on.

There were hundreds of people, wandering around looking very disoriented, all of them naked, and none of them looking more than maybe 25.

Joshua rolled down his window and started driving slowly, calling out. “Simon! Preston! Danny!” over and over. The walking people didn’t seem hostile at all, just confused — and then he realized something.

He recognized a couple of famous faces there. Famous dead faces, and as they’d appeared when very young, including Jimmy Stewart — and it was really disconcerting to see him nude. Not that he wasn’t attractive at his apparent age, just that it was a jarringly anachronistic image.

He continued to drive until he got up near Simon’s grave, an area that was mostly deserted, since everyone seemed to be heading down to congregate near the main administration buildings in the first area of the huge grounds.

He came around the corner, and there were Simon, Preston, and Danny, just casually hanging out near Simon’s grave. He parked and ran to them.

“Told you this is the first place he’d look,” Simon told the boys. Joshua raced up and hugged him hard, and realized that he was quite tangible and very warm.

“You’re back,” he said, starting to cry. “Back, alive, and in the flesh.”

“Well, sort of,” Simon said. “We’re kind of… best of both worlds, I guess. Flesh and blood, but with Rêve abilities and powers, and so forth.”

“Did you know this was going to happen?” Joshua asked, turning the question to all three of them. They looked at each other and then shrugged.

“We all knew, all along,” Preston explained. “Well, not the Class II’s, which is why they supported Ausmann.”

“They didn’t believe they could be destroyed,” Danny added.

“But none of you were,” Joshua replied.

“Exactly,” Simon said.

“The whole idea was to let Ausmann think he could do it, and then lead him right into the opposite thing. But you were there, you know how it worked.”

“But I didn’t know that everyone was going to get physically resurrected!” Joshua insisted.

“Would you have helped if you did?” Simon asked.

“I… no. Yes. I don’t know! It’s such a huge question, and here I was left right out of the loop. For one thing, how many billions of Rêves came back?”

“Not that many,” Preston explained. “The effect is limited to either end of the machine, nothing in the middle or distant from it.”

“Thank you for your service,” a voice called out. Joshua turned to see Anabel approaching. She was wearing a woman’s dress in colonial American style and carrying a huge armload of clothes, which she dumped on the ground.

“What? There’s a mini history exhibit up in one of the chapels. I figured you gentlemen might want to put something on before you go home, and while it’s a bit earlier period than your preferred hunting garb, it’ll keep you legal.”

“Thanks,” Joshua replied, uncertain, as they sorted through the clothes and everyone but Joshua put them on, since he didn’t need to. They wound up looking like refuges from an unfortunately all-white dinner theatre production of Hamilton.

You’ll be back, I can tell — ” Preston started to sing.

“Shut up,” Danny told him.

“What happens now?” Joshua asked her. “I mean, I guess you’ve all gotten what you wanted.”

“We’ve gotten the means to what we want,” she corrected him. “This was just the first step.”

“There’s more?” he asked, nervously.

“You’d have to ask Pearl about that,” Anabel replied. “Oh, don’t worry. Since we share your world now, they’re nothing nefarious or dangerous to humans.”

She turned to the others. “And you do know that you still have some of your abilities, right?” They nodded. “Just don’t try walking through any walls.”

She turned away and then vanished in what looked like a rapidly receding puff of smoke.

“Well, guess I have to take the long way home,” Joshua said to them sadly, but Simon put his hand on Joshua’s cheek. “Never alone,” he said. “We’re riding with you. Like humans.”

“Nice,” Joshua sighed quietly. He even let Simon drive. The trip home was uneventful, although they did notice they were getting the occasional strange looks from other cars at their outfits.

They got back to the building and parked, then got in the elevator, which wasn’t a problem for the formerly dead crew anymore. It stopped in the lobby and their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Gresham, got on, coming back from a walk with her dog Joan.

“Hello,” she nodded, and they replied in kind, but then she looked at Simon, started, went white and fainted, Preston and Danny catching her.

“Oh dear,” Joshua sighed. “I have a feeling this kind of thing is going to be a problem. He, Preston and Danny carried her off on her floor while Simon continued on up. They got her to one of the banquettes in the hallway and sat her down to revive her.

She eventually came around and looked at them.

“Are you feeling all right, Mrs. Gresham?” Joshua asked. “Do you need anything? Water? To see a doctor?”

“No, no, I’m okay now,” she insisted, looking around. “Wait, where is… there are only three of you?”

“There only ever were,” Joshua reassured her.

“But I could have sworn I saw…” She trailed off and covered her mouth, then laughed. “No, but of course not, he’s no longer with us. I’m just… maybe it’s my meds, or maybe I’m just going demented. I’m sorry to scare you all like that. He just looked so real.”

“Simon, I’ll assume,” Joshua said. “Yeah, he was the most real person I ever knew.”

“I am so, so sorry for your loss, dear,” she said, patting his hand.

“Thank you,” he replied. “And don’t feel bad. I still swear I can see him around our unit sometimes.”

They helped her up and walked her to her door. Once she’d opened it, Joshua told her to call if she needed anything or felt faint again, and then he and the boys headed back upstairs, heaving a collective sigh of relief in the elevator.

That was close,” he told them.

Once they got inside, Joshua fired up the TV and nine-screened it to all the major media outlets, from liberal to neutral to conservative. At the same time, Simon started streaming sources on their phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, and then they all sat down to watch and learn, with each of them focusing on a particular corner of whatever device they were watching.

The conservative media was definitely leaning religious, with headlines like, “Second coming imminent?” “Herald of the Apocalypse?” and “Has the Resurrection come?”

Meanwhile, more liberal media were running headlines like, “Science faces ultimate challenge in cemetery mystery,” “Viral hoax or supernatural event?” and “The real life Walking Dead.”

The press in the middle seemed less certain of what to do with it, so their stories had the most factual headlines: “Thousands of nude people appear in local cemeteries,” “Is Spencer Tunick at it again?” and “The ultimate case of religion vs. nudists?”

They watched and made notes for a couple of hours, and not once was JPL mentioned, but there were certainly op-ed pieces and person-on-the-street interviews, and it quickly became clear that the world was starting to lose its collective shit as the story spread.

The first negative report came from NBC, which cut to live footage of a scene in which a bunch of armed men in pick-up trucks rode up in front of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and let loose with military grade arms against the naked dead who were casually walking out from the front gates. And… nothing happened. The bullets appeared to hit them and leave brief red splotches on their skin, but these quickly vanished, even as the walls behind them showed real damage.

Meanwhile, the resurrected Rêves just kept walking, unconcerned — but the boys in the trucks who were formerly so confident in and proud of their abilities turned tail and fled, and there were probably many pants shat at the same time.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that ABC broke in with news from Pasadena, and Joshua and Simon finally found out what had really happened above ground.

And, as no one knew, this story wasn’t supposed to break, but Davis couldn’t resist, spotted a now working payphone, and had called up her sister-in-law to give her the scoop to pass on.

So the new viral thing on social media became “Dead revive, old rethrive,” and the mainstream media spent the rest of the day trying to get comments from the law enforcement agencies involved, but they kept stonewalling (per the media) or protecting their people (per reality) by not revealing any details.

Into the evening, the conservative media started asking whether there wasn’t some government plot to suppress a magic “fountain of youth” formula or process, while the liberal media was still asking for specifics on who was affected by this, and who or what was behind it.

The media in the middle, meanwhile, just focused on which celebrity was either a) fucking, b) marrying, or c) divorcing which other celebrity, with all the same questions asked about the second celebrity, and so on, in a meaningless clusterfuck of gossip that kept the stupid and weak-minded focused on trivia instead of reality.

In reality, Joshua realized, there was no good single way to explain all of this. He knew the science behind it completely, but the details of that would make the average citizen brain explode in two seconds. Meanwhile, Preston understood but did not believe all the religious bullshit bits that could explain it, and Danny kind of remembered, but didn’t want to explain, so none of them could do that.

And Simon was in total agreement with Joshua. There was nothing any of them could say to convince any of the peons of any particular persuasion to not believe what they had already hitched their wagons to.

“Well… fuck,” they sighed in unison.

“Now what?” Joshua asked.

“I have no damn idea,” Simon said. “Except, we’re kind of locked in here for the moment, so what does the magic box on the wall say?”

“It says ‘Honey, I love the way you think.’ Let’s strap down and watch up.”

“What about us,” Danny asked.

“You are family now, and you know it,” Joshua replied.

“We know,” Preston replied. “Just making sure that — ”

“Things are going to be weird enough,” Joshua admonished them. “There’s strength in numbers, right? Four is better than two. And it’s a fuckton better than one.”

“I’m not sure, but I still think that we don’t need to eat,” Simon explained.

“Doesn’t that make you all cheap dates, then?” Joshua laughed. “But how is that possible? If you have physical bodies now, don’t they need to run off of something?”

“Did you notice how all the Rêves in the cemetery weren’t affected by those bullets?” Simon pointed out.

“We’re a lot more solid than we used to be,” Simon said, “But not quite physical in the same way.”

“Physical enough,” Joshua said. You have body heat. And I can smell you when I get close enough.”

“Sorry,” Danny moped.

“Not that,” Joshua told them. “I’d recognize Simon’s scent anywhere, and it came back today.”

This seemed to cheer up Danny, who looked at Preston, and they just locked eyes for a while as Joshua turned down all the devices to just their streaming entertainment home screen.

“Any preferences?” Joshua asked, but Danny and Preston were heading for the hallway.

“It’s been an insane day,” Preston said. “We’re going to bed.”

“It’s like two in the afternoon,” Joshua reminded them.

“Just a nap,” Danny called back as they exited up the hall. “We’ll be back.”

“It has definitely been an insane day,” Simon said.

“Agreed. So what do you want to watch now?” Joshua asked.

“Honestly, I just want to watch you breathe,” Simon told him.

“God, I love you,” he replied.

“I love you, too.”

They looked into each other’s eyes a long while, kissed briefly, then snuggled on the couch. Joshua handed Simon the remote.

“Here,” he said. “You can drive.”

In the guest bedroom, Danny and Preston had entered, locked the door, and just looked at each other, both suddenly anxious.

“Physical enough,” Danny whispered.

“We can touch each other now, for real,” Preston replied. They simultaneously reached their right hand up to each other’s left cheek, pulled in, and started kissing, gently and slowly at first. Both of them were thinking that it wasn’t technically incest, since they weren’t exactly related, and it was questionable whether they could be considered clones.

What they quickly realized, though, was that each of them knew exactly what they liked, both of them liked the same things, and they were quickly driving each other wild in mad ecstatic fits because they never had to ask what to do, what with, and to which body part.

It wasn’t long before their clothes were strewn all over the room and they hit the bed, writing around in dozens of ever-changing positions, moaning and cooing in urgent little outbursts of pleasure, mouths regularly coming back together so their tongues could wrestle.

Both of them honestly felt more than once that everything felt so good they were going to pass out, if not leave their body entirely. They proceeded to get more adventurous, and louder, although one of them was still yet to top the other.

When they finally started taking turns fucking, the sexual frenzy meter went off the Richter scale.

In the other room, Simon and Joshua heard the bed suddenly start bumping into the wall, and then the muffled but obvious shouts and shrieks of passion. They just looked at each other and smiled.

“I guess that was inevitable,” Joshua said.

“Well, wouldn’t you, if the opportunity came up?” Simon asked.

“In a hummingbird heartbeat,” Joshua agreed.

Preston and Danny started getting louder and the thumping got faster. Their moans and outbursts of “Oh fuck,” and “God,” in a crescendo until a moment of silence, and then almost simultaneous and very loud grunts.

Joshua and Simon smiled at each other again. They both knew that sound very well. The guest room went quiet after that.

“You don’t think they’d mind living in our second unit, do you?” Joshua asked Simon.

“No, but I think the neighbors fifteen floors down and a half mile away might,” Simon joked.

They went back to ironically watching the 1965 satire The Loved One, which had actually been shot in Forest Lawn, and which was a devastating critique of the funeral industry.

In the guest room, Danny and Preston collapsed into each other’s arms and lied there in a sweaty, sticky pile of exhausted satisfaction for a long time.

Eventually, they looked at each other. “Dude — ” they said at the same time.

“You first,” Preston replied.

“No, you,” Danny insisted.

“Okay,” Preston said. “Do you have any idea how huge a market there is for gay twink identical twin incest porn?”

“No idea,” Danny said.

“Enormous,” Preston explained. “We’ll basically be able to cum money.”

“Wow. I was only going to suggest doing an Only Fans,” Danny replied. “But I can see where a niche market would help.”

“Forget Only Fans,” Preston said. “Too many people on there now who promise a lot and deliver nothing. We’d set up our own site. I’m sure Simon and Joshua can help us with that. And I do have name recognition.”

“Right, but don’t most of your fans know you’re dead? Er… you were… you died at one point?”

“Hm. I wonder if the market is bigger or smaller for gay twink identical twin incestuous necrophilia porn?”

“What if Preston was actually one of three identical triplets?” Danny suggested. “And his brothers, hearing of his death, decided to come out to L.A. to start their own career?”

“Hm,” Preston said, intrigued. “But then I’d have to become someone else.”

“Technically, so would I,” Danny reminded him, “Because when you died, I died. It’s just that your fans never knew that you were me.”

“Goddamn,” Preston laughed. “When I left Idaho, I never imagined that there’d one day wind up being three of me!”

“Technically,” Danny said.

“Technically is the best way to be right,” Preston reminded him. “So, I’m in. You?”

“Let’s do this,” Danny agreed.

Elsewhere, others were making big decisions on career changes. In the Simi Valley, Davis and Lewis were considering their new-found youth, and how a career in law enforcement had nearly gotten them killed.

“You remember what we really wanted to do in college, honey?” Davis asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Lewis replied. “Except we were both kind of afraid.”

“I know,” she said. “But now? Come on. We were naked on the news. What more could we fear?”

“Premature baldness and breast cancer?” he offered.

“Cynic!” she chided him. “Okay, who did we always want to be?”

“Nichols and May,” he replied.

“Exactly!” she said. “And what stopped us?”

“Wanting to be able to pay rent and eat!” he exclaimed.

“But now… we own the house outright, we have a buttload of savings and investments, and our formerly old asses are now young and cute again. Which means…?”

“You’re going to leave me for a younger man?” he quipped.

“Stop!” she shouted. “Although, don’t stop, because that’s actually it. You’re doing right now. Ad-libbing your ass off. You’re a really funny man, Randall. Why do you think I married you? What stopped us from pursuing our dream ain’t stopping us now, because we have the time and the money.”

“So what are you suggesting, exactly?” he asked.

“Improv classes,” she replied. “And then we get to become the next Nichols and May.”

“And then what?” he asked.

“Oh, who knows? Maybe never famous beyond a handful of loyal fans at some tiny black box in the Valley, maybe we wind up starring on SNL and then going on to movie careers. But no matter what, it means that we can just forget our policing past and finally have fun in our lives.”

“We had fun, didn’t we?” he asked.

“We did,” she said, “But we’ve also been given a second chance. Or did you miss that part?”

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to wrap my mind around it.”

“As are we all, dear. Just thought I’d try to help.”

“Oh, you did,” Davis replied. “You did enormously.”

“So?” she asked.

“So when is our first improv lesson?”

She laughed in delight and hugged him. “I’d scheduled it for the beginning workshop, which starts on Tuesday night.”

“You knew I was going to say yes, didn’t you?” he laughed.

“Why the hell do you think we’re going to be so good at improv?” she shot back.

“Why do you think I love you so damn much, Paula?” he replied.

Another career change was in the works, and when Brenda’s phone rang, she answered immediately when she saw that it was Rita calling her back.

“What the mother-loving actual hell is going on out there right now?” Rita exclaimed. “See, if you’d just taken the state job — ”

“Rita, I know how it works,” Brenda replied, “And I wouldn’t even have seen my first day of actual work until at least the first quarter of ’25, so let’s not pretend we could have done anything to prevent this.”

“I’m guessing that you know how it happened, and that your two boys in the fancy costumes were involved.”

“Which is all water under the bridge right now, Rita. I’ve got a proposal, and we can do it right now, either state or county, although I think that county will be more relevant, because as far as I can tell, the phenomenon is limited to there.”

“All right. Try me. What you got?”

“What we’ve got is an untold number of formerly dead people who have come back physically and, between you and I, the explanation is totally rational and scientific. Oh, I mean, it’s all that weird quantum physics spooky action stuff. But there’s nothing supernatural about it.”

“Tell that to my mom,” Rita sighed.

“Yours too?” Brenda replied. “Anyway… these people have been gone anywhere from a few to a couple hundred years, at most, but that’s enough at either extreme. They have returned physically, but have no assets, nothing that they own, and to all levels of government, they don’t exist.”

“Because they died.”

“Exactly. And for the ones who died a long time ago, they don’t even have living friends or relatives, or at least not ones who know they exist. But they’re here, and we have to find a way to integrate them into society, and give them ways to support themselves.”

“Sure, but what’s the trade-off?” Rita asked.

“You kidding me?” Brenda replied. “They are a direct connection to the past. These people lived it, and they know things about it that our generations have forgotten, or never even knew. We could fill a hundred libraries with their memories, and maybe that is the trade-off.”

“Librarians?” Rita scoffed.

“Now you’re just being obtuse on purpose,” Brenda scolded her. “No. They tell their stories. In as much detail as they have, day-to-day from what they can remember, and we record it all. They also answer questions from our historians and archivists, identify if they can forgotten locations and objects, and fill in all the blanks in our history.”

“Okay. That does sound useful. In exchange for…?”

“Room and board, and maybe re-training for modern fields of employment? And you know, we still have so much abandoned real estate after the plague, even after we housed all of the homeless in it. We could supplement it with a subsidy to any descendants who would take any of them into their own homes.”

“Okay, I only ask because you know it’s my job to shoot holes in proposals like this,” Rita cut in.

“Of course,” Brenda agreed.

“But have you accounted for how the living might feel about the undead? Fear? Resentment? Animosity? Outright hostility?”

“Oh, I’m sure they will,” Brenda replied, “Which is why I think our first step is outreach and getting them into our custody to keep them safe.”

“What if they won’t go willingly?” Rita asked.

“I think that my boys in the fancy costumes might have a pretty powerful and persuasive connection in that regard,” Brenda told her.

“Do tell,” Rita urged her.

“No details. Just that let’s say she… well, not she, they, could be considered the… monarch of all of the Rêves.”

“They got a monarch?” Rita exclaimed.

“Sort of,” Brenda demurred.

“Shee-it!” Rita exhaled, before pausing. “Okay. I’ll pitch to the supes and see what they say. Anything else?”

“Yeah,” Brenda added. “Tell them that if the county doesn’t do it, I’m going to anyway, whether they like it or not, and I’ll make it the biggest non-profit they’ve ever seen.”

“Good luck with that,” Rita said, not as insincerely as it might have sounded, and they hung up.

There were two reasons that the tachyon transmitter had not stirred up billions or even hundreds of millions of the dead. One was distance, and the other was time — which made perfect sense in terms of physics, of course.

Physically, the thing seemed to only have an effect within a 150 kilometer radius, which limited it to an area bounded by a circle passing through Mount Palomar and continuing around in an arc that passed outside of Victorville, just north of Bakersfield, just west of Santa Barbara, and through a lot of Pacific Ocean, which didn’t bring back anyone.

Neither did two of the three islands in range — one of the Channel Islands and San Clemente Island, although Catalina Island and its Avalon cemetery were right in range.

As for the time limit, it had nothing to do with when the machine was created, even though the Rêves did not first appear until 1993. Rather, it had to do with how long there had been outside settlers in the region, but also whether there were any specific records or memories about them.

It was the Class II phenomenon all over again. Historical figures that had been remembered, even from the earliest colonial days, came back. The ones who weren’t remembered by history or their descendants did not.

And most of the indigenous people, the Tongva, happened to come back as the equivalent of Hadas as well, but they kept themselves hidden from the Hadas silvestres. They all hated the Spanish who had subjugated them, so would never refer to themselves in that language in the first place.

If they did name themselves, it was something like iisawut taamit, or “sun wolves,” although they all just accepted that they had moved into the spirit realm while remaining earthbound and had no idea what they had done to deserve it.

At the moment that Ausmann had fallen through the pipes, breached containment, and effectively shut the machine down, there was a sudden rain of ash from the air everywhere. At the same time, all of the Hadas came racing back to Pearl, who was meditating on the mountain next to Ausmann’s ruined hide-out.

The entity Pearl reintegrated all of them and, like all of the other Rêves, suddenly took on a very tangible form, except that they were now twelve feet tall and, instead of appearing always as Janis Joplin, Pearl constantly cycled through every face and body of ever one of the Hadas.

It was exactly what they knew would happen, and the one desired outcome of this whole adventure, although the one detail that Pearl had withheld from all of the Rêves and humans involved.

They were now incredibly powerful — the storm they had conjured just over two weeks ago was nothing compared to what they could do now, but they didn’t want to do that.

Pearl’s goal in engineering this was to help the stupid Vivants learn how to live with and on the planet, and perhaps the only way to do it was to give them an existential shock even bigger then the ultimately subverted plague disaster of three years earlier.

Then, it would be time to offer them Pearl’s help. They could actually change weather patterns, help undo damage, and help nature help humans — and vice versa.

Pearl decided to take a stroll around the mountain top, and it felt good to be this alive again, this tall, and this powerful. They were going to do great things for this planet, dammit. It was something that every one of them had wanted to do throughout their human lives, and they had never lost track of that goal.

And then, near the top of the mountain, a large wolf appeared on the road, and just stared at Pearl, who stopped. It was proportional to Pearl, with gray and white fur, and eyes that shone with the light of the Sun.

It sat and sniffed the air, then regarded Pearl with a head-tilt to the left. Pearl placed a hand on their chest, then nodded. The wolf rose and approached slowly, head down. A familiar energy was sweeping over Pearl now. It was the same one they sent to Rêves they were approaching — one that said you are loved, you are safe, be calm.

Very slowly and carefully, Pearl put their hand on the wolf’s head and in that instant their mind was flooded with images of hundreds of thousands of faces, all of them indigenous people, of every age and gender, and all of them were smiling and laughing.

It honestly made Pearl forget themselves and lose all concept of identity until it suddenly stopped when the wolf ducked its head away from their arm. Their eyes met again, and the wolf placed its heavy paw on Pearl’s right wrist, as if to acknowledge some agreement.

They exchanged no words mind(s) to mind(s), but many ideas and feelings, and Pearl finally just nodded. They knew who this wolf was, and the wolf knew who they were, and they both wanted the same thing.

As one, they turned to face the road down the mountain and knew that they had to head into the center of the home of humankind. They could have flashed themselves there in an instant, but there was a tacit agreement between them as well — “We must make this journey in the old way, on foot.”

That was probably the wolf, although Pearl wasn’t sure.

“It is the path of humility, and the best remembrance to not let our powers make us arrogant.”

Yeah, definitely the wolf, Pearl thought. And so they started the long walk down the mountain.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #57: The Rêves Part 35

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.

The third day

Preston and Danny had stayed up all night watching everything they could find, and they even found one of Preston’s early scenes, which probably every young male actor in same-sex videos had done in their progression from solo to full-on fucking.

It was the classic scenario of the physical exam, which Preston’s character ostensibly had to take before joining the college swim team, and was shot on a very detailed set depicting a doctor’s office, with all of the real equipment and furniture.

The “doctor” was a very handsome 30-something man, and the whole thing played out like a normal exam — at first. Questions and answers, taking temperature, looking in the mouth, eyes, and ears, feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears, and so on.

They even took their time with the process of Preston getting undressed, the doctor testing his reflexes, palpating his abdomen, and so on, everything seeming normal until the prostate exam, when Preston let out a loud moan as the doctor probed.

“Do you like that?” he asked, and Preston nodded. “And are you having any problems with your male parts?” the doctor continued as Preston rolled over and laid on the table, now a bit aroused.

As was the case in every version of this scenario ever shot, the answer was yes, and the solution was for the doctor — wearing neoprene gloves and using KY — to administer a hand-job to his naked patient to “cure” the problem.

It covered a few fetishes and genres all at the same time. In addition to the medical doctor, and twink and young dad type angles, it featured what was called CMNM, aka “clothed man, naked man,” which was a thing.

Since Danny was mentally more focused on his days prior to Preston’s career, it always boggled his mind at how many very specific terms and descriptions there were for things, but he really understood why the internet’s Rule 34 was absolutely true.

Rule 34 in a nutshell: If you can imagine it, then there’s internet porn of it.

“There’s probably already gay ghost twincest porn out there somewhere,” Preston suggested one time.

“And we’re not looking for it,” Danny replied. “Or making it!”

Joshua still wasn’t up by noon, although that was understandable given his very late night/early morning, on top of what must have been a lot of depression over Simon. But at about twelve thirty, Danny and Preston suddenly turned and looked at each other.

They’d both felt the same thing, and just shared a smile and a nod.

“Want to do the best thing ever for someone?” Danny asked.

“I’m way ahead of you,” Preston replied. “We just have to wait until… you know.”

“I know,” Danny said.

It was about one o’clock when Joshua finally emerged from his room, hair a mess, dressed casually, shoeless. He wandered past them and said, “Good morning,” as he went into the kitchen and fired up the coffee.

“Good afternoon!” they called back in unison.

“Any big plans today?” Danny asked.

“Just figuring out how to shut down the machine. You guys?”

“We don’t have any ideas on that,” Preston said. “We’re no scientists. But we do know that, sometimes, it helps to get out, wander around, maybe visit a familiar place to help yourself think.”

“What are you boys up to?” Joshua asked.

“Up to helping you deal with things, man,” Danny explained. “That’s all. C’mon. We can see it. You’re not exactly the happiest camper in the world right now, and you won’t be until… you know.”

“Won’t be until…?” Joshua asked.

“Until Simon has come back,” Preston said. “But you know it takes time.”

“And sitting around here just reminds you of him. Obviously.”

“Why don’t we go hang around the NoHo Station?” Preston offered. “You like that place.”

“Oh. So go from one place that reminds me of Simon to another that does?” Joshua shot back.

“Baby steps?” Danny offered weakly.

“I know you two are up to something, but I’m going to play along,” Joshua told them. “I actually trust you.”

He opened his laptop, checked that it was fully charged, took the memo he’d printed, folded it up and pocketed it, then shut his laptop, threw it in the bag, and went to put on shoes and brush his hair.

Danny and Preston were looking at each other like a couple of giddy kids. They gave Joshua hearty good-byes as he left, then dematerialized and set off on their mission.

Joshua walked down to the NoHo Station, descended the escalators by the Orange Line platform and crossed the tunnel to the turnstiles, where he slapped his TAP card and then headed down another escalator to the platform.

As was their custom — his and Simon’s — he went all the way to the end near the tunnel where the incoming trains from Universal City would appear, sat on the last bench, then opened his laptop and got to work.

His thought was that somehow damaging the constraining structures on the machine would effectively shut it down as it would break the containment of the plasma field that was actually acting as a neutrally charged primary barrier to the tachyon stream within.

Cut off the outer magnetic field corralling the plasma, it would expand and cool, suddenly deionizing, which would give it a negative charge. While the tachyon stream itself would be neutrally charged, without the barrier, its tendency was to move in space in all dimensions, so a breach in the plasma would allow the stream to firehose out through the nearest crack, as it were.

The trick was figuring out how to cut off that magnetic field, and that was why Joshua was studying all of the blueprints for the machine, and every last physical spec, running each one of them through load-limit calculations.

He very quickly got quite lost in his work, and had no idea how much time had gone by.

Meanwhile, Preston and Danny had flown over to the cemetery and Simon’s grave, because they had sensed his return. Well, probably, Pearl had sensed it and “pinged” them in her own way, but now they had to find him, because he was probably wandering around the place, a little lost and confused and, sure enough, they finally did find him. Ironically, he wasn’t all that far from Preston’s grave.

“Hello, Simon,” Danny said as Preston gave a friendly wave. Simon looked at them oddly.

“Wait… I think I remember you,” he said.

“Of course you do, Simon,” Preston explained as they approached. “You know us quite well. So does your husband. Joshua?”

Simon seemed to search his memory for a moment, then brightened up. “Joshua. I remember the name.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” Danny said. “You’re newborn, so to speak, so things are kind of fuzzy right now. What do you remember?”

“Flying,” Simon said. “Well, it felt like flying, and then… pain. And then this crazy warm numbness, in and out flashes of bright lights and all kinds of beeping and hissing and voices, and then… more numbness and then I’m standing here in this cemetery. What’s going on?”

“You died,” Preston told him. “Actually, you were murdered, by a man named Ausmann. But thanks to a machine that he built a long time ago and that you know about, we’re all back. Only not quite in our human form.”

“And Joshua is waiting for you,” Danny added.

“Joshua,” Simon said, although it wasn’t clear whether it was a question or a statement.

“Your husband,” Preston reminded him.

“Where is he?” Simon asked.

“We can take you to him,” Danny replied.

“And we can teach you one of our favorite methods of travel.”

“You guys?”

“All of us,” Danny said.

“You’re a Rêve now,” Preston told him. “Do you remember that word?”

“Oh yeah,” Simon replied, seeming to have a sudden realization, which was a good sign.

“Come on then,” Danny said, and he and Preston flanked Simon, each one taking an arm, as they lead him down into the ground and then onward until they intersected with the Metro line and followed the tunnels on up through the stations, finally coming out at NoHo.

Of course, Danny and Preston were able to be visible to Joshua immediately, but Simon was not, so he just appeared as a smoky shadow on the wall.

“How’s it going?” Danny asked.

“I think I’m getting close,” Joshua said.

“Great,” Preston replied. “We brought you a surprise.”

Joshua glanced where he was pointing and saw the obvious Rêve shadow on the wall. “Sorry,” he said. “Let it know I’m not trapping them anymore.”

“Who said you had to trap this one?” Danny told him.

“Just look,” Preston ordered.

Joshua sighed and looked at the shadow and then it drifted out of the wall as black smoke, coalesced, and Simon was standing there, dressed in full Rêve-hunter regalia, looking fifteen years younger, and smiling.

“Hi!” he said, giving a little wave. Joshua rushed over to hug him, arms not really connecting all that much, although he did feel some sort of physical resistance to indicate that something was there — just not much tangible, and with no warmth or smell.

“I missed you so much,” he told Simon.

“So did I,” Simon said. “So… now what?”

“I’m planning to destroy Ausmann and save the Rêves, including you,” Joshua explained.

“Oh, right. About that…”

“What?” Joshua asked.

“I think we just need to talk,” Simon told him.

“Shit,” Joshua exclaimed.

“Not like that talk,” Simon reassured him. “Obviously, things are a bit… different now.”

“Thank you, Captain obvious.”

“So, my place or yours?” Simon asked.

“How about ours?” Joshua countered.

“Is it, really?” Simon replied.

“Stop that!” Joshua told him, shutting and bagging his laptop. Let’s go.

Preston and Danny dematerialized, presumably heading home as Joshua and Simon started down the platform towards the escalators, Simon telling Joshua on the way, “Maybe I should fade out. What would the neighbors think if they saw me come home?”

“True,” Joshua agreed, and Simon vanished. When Joshua got home, he left the front door open and told Simon, “Re-appear once you’re inside.”

“Um…” Joshua turned to find Simon already standing behind him, Preston and Danny standing on either side.

“How long did you know he was back?” Joshua asked them.

“About a half hour before you got your lazy ass up,” Danny said.

“And you couldn’t have just brought him back here?”

“Please,” Preston said. “Where’s the drama and romance in that?”

“Well, thanks…” Joshua said. “But the two of us have some things to discuss, and we’d like to do it in private. Please?”

“All right,” they agreed.

“Go tell Ausmann he’ll be hearing from us soon, and then let Pearl and Anabel know that Simon is back.”

“Oh, we’ll tell Ausmann,” Preston said. “But we don’t have to tell Pearl. They already know.”

Seeing Joshua’s confused look, Danny added, “Who do you think told us?”

“How doe sh… Pearl know?” he asked.

“They’re everywhere, they know everything,” Preston explained. But we’ll leave you two for your reunion.”

Danny saluted, and they made their usual exit off the balcony.

“I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Simon mused.

“So, other than everything, what’s on your mind?” Joshua asked, sitting. Simon sat next to him.

“This has been a very weird experience,” he explained. “I mean, I feel like I’m a sentient being, and I have all my thoughts and most of my memories. And I’m talking to you.”

“Then doesn’t that make you a sentient being?”

“With no actual body, or nervous system, or brain? I don’t even think I have internal organs.”

“But here you are, talking to me, thinking thoughts. I’m not conjuring you up from my memories.”

“No, but we know that’s how the Rêves… exist,” Simon countered. “I’m a Class I because of you. But that’s just the thing,” he added. “I exist. I don’t live.”

“Sure, you’re living,” Joshua assured him. “It’s just a little different than it was before.”

“Organization, growth, reproduction, metabolism, homeostasis, response, and adaptation. Those are the seven criteria for biological life on Earth. We can probably strike reproduction right off that list, and growth. Metabolism?”

“Apparently, energy from the environment is what sustains the Rêves, so they do have a form of metabolism. And homeostasis — you’re maintaining your form, which means you have organization. That’s, what? Three out of seven. I’m guessing you’re also capable of response and adaptation.”

“But no growth, no reproduction,” Simon sighed.

“Do you feel alive?” Joshua asked him.

“Yes, and no,” Simon said. “Things don’t feel like they normally do. I mean, like physical senses. I’m kind of numb, and I don’t feel any kind of temperature. When I walk on hard surfaces, they feel squishy, like I could sink into them. And when I’m doing that shadow and smoke thing, the world looks and sounds really, really weird.”

“How are you doing emotionally?” Joshua asked him.

“Other than that I can never really touch you again? I am glad to see you again. At least we have that.”

“Same here. I suppose you’re as angry at Ausmann as I am.”

“I didn’t feel anything about him between the time I died and the time I found myself flying up out of the ground and wandering around the cemetery. I’m not sure I feel anything now.”

“I can’t say the same there,” Joshua replied.

“But they — the ‘they’ who say things — say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and I’m probably room temperature. So, what do you have in mind?”

Joshua quickly explained what he’d learned about how the machine could be used to destroy the Rêves, and how they were going to turn Ausmann 180 away from that. The best way to help the Rêves and win the war would be to shut the whole things down.

“Which is impossible,” Simon replied.

“Except in cases of containment breach.”

“Which can be suicidal.”

“It depends on how you do it,” Joshua explained, getting out his laptop and showing Simon his notes. “All we have to do is rupture the pipes carrying the magnetic field through a super-cooled super-conductor, the plasma containment goes, and the tachyon beam takes off. This breaks the connection with the other end, and the catastrophic shut-down mechanisms activate.”

“Great. So, how do we rupture the pipes?” Simon asked.

“You’re the materials and properties expert,” Joshua replied. “All of the specs are in that spreadsheet, so take a look and tell me.”

Simon went to the computer, surprised to find that the trackpad actually sensed his finger, and he could press the keys and click the buttons.

“Weird,” he said.

“You probably have some sort of electromagnetic field dancing around your edges,” Joshua said, “Same as human skin, so you’re repelling the electrons in whatever you touch, only maybe not as strongly.”

“Whatever works,” Simon said, continuing to study the specs and make calculations.

Joshua had printed out pictures and schematics of the chamber around the generator end of the machine, which was where they’d be targeting the attack. The generator itself was sealed and heavily fortified, the plasma beam escaping at the end of an eight-foot tube coming from the generator.

There was a catwalk high above this overlooking the first stretch of containment field and super-cooled pipes.

What had been most intriguing during this whole thing was that Joshua finally learned how they made tachyons, which were not a new particle at all. Instead, they were just ordinary photons that had been given that extra kick to go just over the speed of light in a vacuum, or c.

While it took an enormous amount of energy relative to each photon to kick it past the speed limit, it was not a huge amount of energy in absolute terms because each photon was so tiny. As soon as it was going faster than c, it would be fired into a material designed to slow it down, but here was the paradox of tachyons.

Once they’d exceeded the speed of light, that was when they started to travel backwards in time, and when you put the brakes on something go backwards in time, the apparent effect is that it starts to move away from you faster. Well, at least faster backwards in time, which is the same thing as slower going forwards.

The end result was that once the machine got going, the tachyons coming out of it emerged before they had been created inside of it — at least from our point of view.

Speaking of time, it had been over an hour, both of them deep in study, when Joshua noticed Danny and Preston on the balcony, Preston doing the helicopter to get his attention, then gesturing to ask if they could come in now.

Joshua waved and they entered.

“How’s Ausmann?” Joshua asked.

“I think he jizzed himself when we told him you had Lorre and it would be soon,” Preston explained.

“Anything else?”

“Dude has gone totally paranoid espionage hound up there,” Danny told him. “Racks of costumes, disguises, prosthetic make-up — the good, studio kind, not Halloween store shit. We didn’t even recognize him when we popped in.”

“So I guess it works,” Preston added.

“Well, when I finally send you to get him, don’t forget to let him know that once he arrives, the disguises come off.”

“Oh my god,” Simon suddenly exclaimed and Joshua hurried to him, Preston and Danny following.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Weak spot,” Simon replied, pointing at the yellow tubes that shepherded the magnetic field around. “These aren’t that strong, and especially not when they’re under the stress of the temperature differential between the outside and the inside. Hit them at a join, and they’ll pop apart.”

“How hard do we have to hit them?” Joshua asked.

“How far are we hitting from?”

Joshua pointed out the scaffolding above the pipes, Simon checked the measurements and did the calculations. “Wow,” he finally said. “We’d only need to drop about 80 kilos on there.”

“To take one out?” Joshua asked.

“To take out as many as it hit,” Simon corrected him.

“Yes!” Joshua cheered under his breath.

“So, now what?” Simon asked.

“Now, we have to come up with a plausible way to get Ausmann up there and convince him that he can destroy the Rêves.”

“He’s not going to wreck his own machine to do that,” Simon said.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him by this point,” Joshua replied. “But we can come up with some other fake thing he can do.”

“Unless he knows the science of the machine well enough.”

“I’m guessing he doesn’t,” Joshua told him, then thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Paradox!”

“What?”

“We tell him that if he creates a paradox with the machine, it will destroy the Rêves. And in order to create a paradox, he has to drop matter with mass into the beam. It doesn’t even need to be that much. Maybe just a baseball-sized piece of something, which will fall between the pipes.

“It will accelerate into the past but break the laws of physics at the same time, and that is what will send the Rêves back to their graves. Ooh. Is that dramatic enough?” Joshua asked.

“Chilling,” Simon said.

“Imagine it in Peter Lorre’s voice. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to teach him his lines now,” Joshua added.

“You really have Peter Lorre?” Simon asked.

“Well, just the Class I version of him. Class II is wandering around, probably somewhere in Hollywood, living it up.”

“I suspect Drew’s handiwork,” Simon said.

“You suspect correctly. I suppose it’s time to train him, but let’s wait until tomorrow and get a fresh start. Right now, I just want to hang out with you.,” Joshua told him.

“Should we leave?” the boys asked.

“Nah,” Joshua said. “You both can stay. You feel like family now, anyway.”

Preston and Danny both “Awwed” in unison as the four of them settled in for another night of bingeing, although they all settled down early because tomorrow would probably be a busy day.

It began with Preston and Danny managing to prepare another breakfast, intended for Joshua and Simon but, of course, Simon didn’t need to eat, nor could he. After breakfast, Joshua stood and announced, “So, shall we decant the spirit and see what we can teach it?”

Simon nodded. “Yes, of course!”

Joshua retrieved the trap and placed it in their home containment box, letting Lorre out while keeping him sealed in.

He was surprisingly calm when he appeared in the cage, but that might have had something to do with three Rêves watching him along with one Vivant. He turned to them and smiled.

“Oh, hello,” he said, his accent not as strong as it was onscreen, but still noticeable. “Is Andy here?”

“No,” Joshua said. “He couldn’t come over, but we’re all good friends of his.”

“Ah, I see,” Lorre said. “And where is here?”

“North Hollywood,” Simon explained, to Lorre’s surprise. He turned and looked toward the balcony.

“High-rises in North Hollywood now?” he exclaimed. “I know I have been gone a long time, but now I have seen everything.”

“You haven’t been up here recently?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve only come back recently,” Lorre explained.

“I know exactly what you mean,” Danny said, kneeling in front of the cage. “The same thing happened to me as — ”

“Danny!” Joshua snapped, shooting him a warning look. Real Lorre hadn’t noticed he’d been split, and Joshua wanted to keep it that way.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” Lorre asked.

“We have a very important mission for you,” Joshua explained, going on to tell the story of Ausmann, his hatred of the Rêves, and his attempt to destroy them.

“And he tasked us with finding you in order to find out all of the Rêves’ weaknesses.”

“Why would I tell him that?” Lorre asked.

“Not you,” Joshua said. “The version of you from all of your movie roles. You did tend to play characters who were…”

“Don’t be kind,” Lorre said. “That was my specialty. Cowards, turncoats, murderers, and punks. I rather enjoyed it, actually.”

“Excellent,” Joshua said, “Because that’s what this guy is expecting, and you’re going to pretend to give it to him. Cower in fear, and then appear to sell out your own kind.”

“But I don’t?””

“Of course not. You’re going to give him bad information. I assume that you, like every other Rêve, knows about the machine, and how it could destroy you.”

“Oh, yes. Rev up the engine, and we are gone.”

“Exactly. So that’s not what you’re telling Ausmann.”

“I should think not,” Lorre replied.

“Here’s what you will be saying,” Joshua continued, and he and Simon explained the scenario and the words to Lorre, tossing the concept back and forth until it felt like he really got it.

“So it would be necessary to place some mass into the — plasma beam, you called it? — in order to disrupt the machinery and destroy us?” Lorre repeated. “That’s what I should tell him?”

“Pretty good. Yes,” Joshua explained.

“What if he asks me why?” Lorre wondered.

“You’re just an actor. Actually, you’re supposedly just the collective memories of all the characters you ever played, so you don’t know why. It’s just accepted wisdom among the Rêves.”

“Well, that makes my job easier, I suppose,” Lorre laughed. “Oh. But what if he asks why I would participate in my own destruction?”

“Tell him that as long as you’re down there behind the beam when it happens, you’ll be fine.”

“What if he doesn’t believe me?”

“Why would he not? Anyway, none of it matters if he doesn’t believe what you tell him about dropping mass into the beam, and he’ll only buy that if you pull off the role of the cowardly traitor, so that he thinks you are just your characters. You’re a good enough actor that I’m sure you can pull that off.”

“Why, thank you, young man.”

“Joshua,” he introduced himself.

“Peter,” Lorre said. “Oh. But I guess you knew that.”

“No I apologize, because I have to put you back in to the trap until we take you to Ausmann. It’s the only way he’d believe that I could bring you there.”

“I understand,” Lorre replied. “Here’s to our mission succeeding. See you on the other side!”

Joshua nodded and triggered the trap. Lorre vanished into it. The cage ejected the disk out the slot, and Joshua put it in the vault where it would be safe until they needed it.

“I think it’s going to work,” Simon told the others.

“I hope you’re right,” Joshua replied. “Now, can we get our minds off of this for a bit?”

“Binge and bang?” Simon asked.

“Well, we’re not going to get much bang, are we?” Joshua said.

“I was being metaphorical. At least I didn’t say ‘Netflix and chill.’”

“That’s because only old people say that anymore. “

They settled together on the sofa, Danny and Preston on the other side (after they’d asked if they could, of course), then went through the arduous process of deciding what to watch, finally settling on Dune — the 2021 version, not the 1984 David Lynch version or the 2000 television version.

Danny and Preston were thrilled to learn that it even existed. Meanwhile, even though Joshua and Simon had already seen it multiple times, they could always watch it again, and they couldn’t wait for Part 2 to come out, since the first film had stopped halfway through the book, leaving Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, stranded in the desert of Arakis, after being betrayed by an intricate plot by a rival family.

And then they meet up with the Fremen. If you’re a Dune fan, you’ll know.

It was a long movie, but worth it, and the boys loved it. It also brought up some great memories for Simon and Joshua, and they were giving each other that look, Joshua finally sighing in frustration.

“You have no idea how much I wish we could… actually have sex right now,” he told Simon.

“So do I,” Simon said before looking at him for a long time, then glancing back at the boys, who gave him encouraging looks. “There is… one thing,” he finally said, very awkwardly.

“What’s that?” Joshua asked.

“I guess you’d call it… strength in numbers?”

“Okay, I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Joshua said, “And how would you know, anyway?”

“It’s just how this works, I guess,” Simon replies. “When you become a Rêve, you wind up with all of the knowledge. We’re all kind of interconnected. Only, sometimes, we can be very connected.”

“How, exactly, do you mean ‘connected?’” Joshua asked.

“Did you ever wonder how the Hadas could have caused that storm when every one of them was reduced to scattered ashes, and except for via Pearl, they can’t really manifest a human appearance like we can?”

“Um, no?” Joshua replied.

“That’s strength in numbers,” Danny said. “And three are enough to… do what you gotta do with your husband.”

“So… if I did agree to this, theoretically… how does it work?”

“Simple,” Preston said. “We just lend our energy to Simon so that he can become tangible enough to get freaky with you so you both can feel it.”

“Lend?”

“It’s kind of a temporary merge thing, basically,” Danny said.

“Aren’t you two worried about mooshing back together and just becoming Preston?” Joshua asked.

“Too late for that,” Preston replied. “We are definitely distinct now.”

“It sounds interesting,” Joshua said, “But I don’t know.”

“Sounds like you need a sample,” Simon announced, gesturing. Danny and Preston walked up behind him and then seemed to vanish into him, Simon appearing more and more solid until he stepped forward, took Joshua in his arms and buried his face in a kiss.

It was warm and wet and real, with Simon’s arms wrapped around him, and it took Joshua back to the days and nights before Simon died. When they broke, they stared into each other’s eyes, and all of Joshua’s resistance was gone.

Well, almost all of it. “Are those two aware of… things during this?” he asked Simon.

“Full disclosure,” he heard Preston’s voice, “Yes.”

“But we have to stay in here. If we come out, then Simon can’t do this anymore,” Danny added.

Joshua wasn’t sure whether to think of it as an audience or a four-way, but he stared into Simon’s eyes again.

“So, you’re not going to break out with two extra dicks or sprout a stray asshole or mouth anywhere, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” Simon reassured him. “They’re going to stay where they are. They’re going to feel everything I fell, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it, but just forget they’re along for the ride, okay?”

“As long as they don’t start moaning or anything,” Joshua said.

“Sorry, dude. You two are hot. Hard to promise that,” Preston whispered.

Joshua looked at Simon again and gave him a quick kiss. “Fuck it,” he said. “You only live one… sorry.”

“So, fuck it?” Simon said.

“Fuck me,” Joshua replied. Simon picked him up — which surprised the hell out of him, and proceeded to do exactly that. Several times. Until way too late that night became too early the next morning.

* * *

Friday Free-for-all #22

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

If you had a personal mascot, what would your mascot be?

This is actually a rather easy question to answer, because if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be this animal. People who know me might think I’d say dog or wolf, but that’s not it. My choice is both more fabulous and less real.

My personal mascot would be a phoenix, not to be confused with the mythical Russian firebird (Жар-птица) or the Native American thunderbird — although the latter is considered a relative.

All three also happen to be models of cars, although to be honest the only one that’s visually appealing to me at all would be the Pontiac Firebird, especially later models — although the emblematic bird decal on the hood is a must, even though it seems to have only been a thing during the second generation in the 1970s.

But that isn’t my firebird because mine isn’t a car anyone really remembers, plus it uses fire in a different way. The Russian firebird launched its flames outward. The phoenix self-directs them.

You’ve probably heard the legend. The phoenix is a very ancient bird to begin with, but every so often, it will return to its nest, spontaneously burst into flames, and die in the fire — except that it doesn’t, and the bird is resurrected anew and young again from its own ashes.

That’s something I’ve done in my own life, metaphorically, over and over again. The phoenix regularly faces catastrophe, but survives. I hate to give any attention to a transphobic TERF idiot, but here’s a bit from the Franchise that Shall not Be Named in which a phoenix does its thing.

Certainly, the entire 2020 experience is setting me on this course again, since it managed to take away so much of what I knew and loved and did. I am finally about to sort of get back to work, most of it remotely from home, but at the same time I have, for the moment, lost live theatre, as audience and performer, as a part of my life until who knows when.

I also miss seeing friends in person, the comfort of a hug, and the warmth of a voice that comes through air instead of wires.

I have a feeling that 2020 is going to turn a lot of us into phoenixes, or at least cast us into the fire. Whether we come out of the ashes or not is entirely up to each of us, but it is always better to decide to persevere and win than it is to give up.

And if you’re having trouble dealing with the flames, reach out. Even if we can’t (well, really shouldn’t) touch physically right now, we can do it emotionally across the distance. Think now about what you’re going to be once the flames subside and you poke your head out of the ashes, comfortable in the familiar and nurturing home of your own nest, born anew to take flight on your next adventure.

Yeah. I’ll take that mascot, please.