Momentous Monday: Weird random facts

Six random facts from science for you to enjoy, argue about, and share.

Here are a few interesting facts to ponder — things that might not seem possible, but which are true.

Which planet, on average, is closest to the Earth?

You’re probably inclined to say either Venus or Mars, going by the simple logic that in the order of orbits, Venus is #2, Earth is #3, and Mars is #4. You might also have remembered that the distance between each successive orbit follows a formula, meaning that, by definition, Venus has got to be closer to Earth than Mars.

This makes sense because each successive orbit is larger than the previous by an increasing ratio that is similar to the Fibonacci sequence,  although it’s hardly exact. It does mean, though, that Earth is closer to Venus than it is to Mars and it naturally follows that it’s closer to Venus than it is to Mercury.

But the question included “on average,” and if we take that into account, then the planet closest to the Earth is… Mercury. in fact, Mercury is the closest to every planet in the solar system, on average, period.

The simple reason for this is that Mercury’s orbital period is so short — a “year” on Mercury is only a smidgen under 88 days, meaning that it orbits the sun 4.15 times (on average) for every orbit that the Earth makes. Meanwhile, Venus only goes around 1.63 times for every Earth year.

This adds up, because Mercury is on the same side of the Sun as we are for a lot longer than Venus, and when Venus, or any planet, is on the far side, its distance from us is basically double the orbit plus the diameter of the Sun.

This is obvious if we really simplify the numbers. Let’s just randomly designate the distances by orbit: Mercury = 1, Venus = 2, Earth = 3, and Mars = 5.

When Mercury and Earth are in alignment on the same side of the Sun, the net distance is 2 (from 3-1). For Venus, it’s 1, and for Mars it’s 2. But put the planets on the other side, and the formula changes to 2O+Sol, or twice the orbital distance plus the diameter of the Sun, so the new figures are:

Mars: 2(5-3)+Sol = 4+Sol

Venus: 2(3-2)+Sol = 2+Sol

Mercury: 2(3-1)+Sol = 4+Sol

We can eliminate the +Sol from each equation since they all cancel out, and this might make it look like Venus is still the closest, but those orbital periods make a big difference, because Mercury spends a lot more time on the near side of the Sun to us than Venus does.

If we look at the averages, because Mercury gets more time in our neighborhood, in the long run it averages out to be the closest planet to Earth — but the formula holds true for every other planet in the Solar System.

Are there more stars in the universe or atoms in a human being?

Using 70 kilos as an average human weight, the answer to this one is rather simple, and the winner outnumbers the loser by a ration of 7 million to 1.

A human body has approximately 7 octillion atoms in it, and most of those are hydrogen, since we are mostly water, and there are two hydrogen atoms per oxygen atom in each molecule of water. The universe has approximately 1 sextillion stars in it and, not surprisingly, most of the universe is also made of hydrogen.

That’s kind of remarkable when you think about it, because hydrogen is the lightest of all of the elements and the simplest of atoms, made of one negatively charged electron and one positively charged proton. Yes, there are variations, or isotopes, with some neutrons slipped in there.

These neutrons are what make so-called “heavy water” so important in nuclear reactions, but chemically they make no difference, since those reactions only rely on the electron and proton.

Now, as to the answer on whether humans have more atoms or the universe has more stars, you may have already guessed it if you remember your STI and/or Greek counting prefixes. “Octillion” comes from the number 8, and refers to a number in the thousands with 8 groups of three zeroes after it. “sextillion” comes from six, and refers to a number in the thousands with 6 groups of zeroes after it.

Since the human body has about 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in it while the universe only has 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, humans win, with 7 million atoms per person for every star.

What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly became a black hole?

Gravitationally, nothing, unless the Sun lost a little mass in the process, in which case we’d drift a bit farther out in our orbit.

Otherwise, though, Earth would get very cold and dark and, depending on the orientation of things, we might or might not get blasted by intense gamma radiation that would scrub the planet clean of all life and its atmosphere.

We wouldn’t be able to see the Moon or planets anymore, just the stars, and we’d freeze to death pretty quickly but don’t worry — the Sun is too small to ever become a black hole.

People have this impression that black holes are cosmic vacuum cleaners that suck up everything that gets near them, but that’s not the case. They’re really just a matter of shoving ten pounds of gravity in a one-pound sack. Okay, maybe more like a hundred tons in a knee sock.

But the point is, the gravitational pull of that black hole is going to be no greater than the pull of the original object, and you have to get a lot closer, physically, before you hit the point where you can no longer escape.

Does my phone have more power than the Apollo 11 computer, and could it land me on the Moon?

Yes… and no. All of our phones have more computational power than a computer the size of a warehouse in 1969, and they can do amazing things. However, they would need very specialized apps in order to be able to do the kinds of calculations needed to adjust velocities and trajectories precisely on the way to the Moon, second to second.

Google Maps won’t do that because we don’t have GPS that works off-Earth. Your phone would have to be able to spot the Moon and either Earth or Sun, plus another star or two, all visually, calculate the angles between them, then keep track of them and use that to calculate velocity and direction.

At the same time, your phone would also have to interface simultaneously with 150 onboard devices and run five to seven programs at once. In case you hadn’t noticed, phones and computers don’t really multitask anymore. They stopped doing that when systems became fast enough to just pick up where it left off when you switched windows, so that it just looks like that other program was running in the background the whole time.

The onboard computer on Apollo 11 was still a lot bigger than computers today, at 70 lbs (32 kgs), but it did the job and, because of the elegant way in which the code was written, it only required a grand total of… 2 kilobytes of memory, which is about 2,000 characters.

Yes, the actual code written for it was a lot bigger, but that 2Kb was working memory, and that was what was so elegant about it. The software itself was stored in static memory, which was literally woven by hand.

No, really. It was even called “rope memory.” This essentially created an incredibly complicated addressing system where the intersection of a particular pair of wires indicates the location of a single bit of data.

Touchtone phones worked on this same principal for years, and your phone and computer keyboards still work this way to this day. In fact, this two-point address scheme is still what makes your touch screens work as well.

It’s still mind-boggling to realize that not only did this computer somehow manage to do all of its runtime stuff in only 2Kb of memory, but that they had conceived of the idea of virtual runtime environments even then, so that they were able to run those five to seven programs at once, in such a small space.

What makes water so special?

The very short version is this: if water didn’t expand when it froze, life on Earth would not be possible and we’d probably be an ice-ball planet.

Water molecules have an interesting property. Made up of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, the hydrogen atoms naturally attach to the oxygen at 120° angles. Well, basically, since the whole thing is ultimately defined by the electron field around it in which we can only determine the likelihood of an electron’s location.

But it does give water these properties: When it’s a gas, the molecules bump into and spin off of each other. When it’s a liquid, they flow around each other. However, as the temperature lowers, a funny thing happens. Those hydrogen atoms in the molecules start to line up — remember, a sphere has 360° around it — and so as the water molecules slow down (i.e. as the temperature drops) the molecules line up and lock together and begin to create a crystal lattice.

You can see it large scale in a snow-flake, with its six-sided symmetry, but down on the molecular level what’s really happening is that the molecules are actually forming rigid structures and pushing themselves apart as they align.

And so… as liquid water turns into ice, it expands, and this is good for us (but bad for the Titanic) for one very big reason. It reduces the density of ice, so that it floats in water. If it didn’t, we’d be screwed, because ice would sink, wind up on the bottom, and then tend to never thaw when winter ended.

Eventually, entire lakes, rivers, and seas would completely freeze over, removing liquid water at first from our aquifers and, eventually, from our atmosphere. The Earth would become one vast desert, and the reflection of sunlight because of all that ice would just add to the runaway freezing.

Is time travel possible?

The short answer is “probably not,” at least not to the past, although time travel to the future is technically possible through things like suspended animation — as in if you travel more slowly than everyone else, you’ll objectively get to the future faster.

But your real question is, “Can I jump into a time machine and visit another era?” And the answer is this: “Sure, if you figure out how to actually travel in time, go for it, but you’ll need to figure out how to travel in space as well. Or, at the very least, do complicated equations that would have blown the circuits out of those first NASA computers.

Example: Marty McFly abandons all common sense, and jumps into the crazy old man’s time machine even as he’s being gunned down by terrorists. Marty guns it, the car hits 88 miles an hour, and suddenly Hill Valley and the Twin Pines mall vanish…

And the car is drifting somewhere in interstellar space. Since it’s not pressurized, Marty very quickly dies, alone and billions of miles away from Earth. End of movie, and the trilogy never exists.


That’s because everything in the universe constantly moves. You may think that all of those atoms in your body don’t move at all, but that’s not true at all. The ones that are part of organs or tissues or the like may seem to be stuck in place, but they are constantly vibrating as they react with neighboring atoms. This is why you’re not a frozen block of ice.

The universe has two speed limits — the fastest you can go and the slowest you can go. If you have any mass at all, no matter how small, you can never reach the speed of light, or C. If you have no mass, you can only ever travel at C — which isn’t all that weird when you think about it.

Meanwhile, the bottom speed limit of the universe is motionless, which is defined as Absolute 0, or 0ºKelvin (-273.15ºC or -459.67ºF). Nothing can reach this temperature, because it would mean that it would have absolutely no motion at all.

The problem is that if something is not moving at all, we know its precise location. And, if we know its location, we cannot know its exact momentum. This is the core of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and, obviously, if an object is completely motionless, then we know both its location and its momentum.

As it turns out, molecules have a very clever way of hiding themselves when they get close to 0ºK. they turn into a fifth state of matter called a Bose-Einstein Condensate. In this case, suspecting that we’re about to figure out where they are, all of the atoms being reduced in temperature suddenly give up their angular momentum gladly. At the same time, they all kind of smear into a indeterminate blob, so that we have no idea where any single atom in the group is.

And… problem solved. Okay, the atoms aren’t thinking at all while this is happening. It’s just a result of the change in velocity that dictates which property is going to be hidden. But just as you can’t accelerate mass past the universal speed limit, you can’t slam the brakes on mass and bring it to a complete stop.

Note that I have no idea whether the Bose-Einstein thing affects photons, since photons do have momentum and spin, but by virtue of having no mass probably also have no real location, especially because (just a guess) they still move at the same speed at 0ºK.

Photons are tricksey fuckerses.

But despite all of that, okay. Let’s assume that time travel is possible. Marty hops in that DeLorean, travels back 30 years and, assuming that time travel is legit, he’s still not going to be in the same place on Earth because gravity isn’t going to work that way either.

Gravity is a very long range force, and it’s very strong on cosmic scales, but it’s absolutely not on quantum scales, and this may actually be the reason that it’s been so hard to reconcile classical physics with the quantum.

Look at it this way. Why do “flat-earthers” exist? Because, from their very limited perspective living on the face of the planet, the place really does look flat.

Even if you march their sorry asses to the beach and make them watch as giant cargo ships rise above and vanish below the horizon, they still won’t buy it.

You need to take them up and beyond so that they can actually see the curve and experience the gravity and all of that. I mean, after all, even if you circumnavigate the globe by boat, plane, train, automobile, or whatever, it’s still going to seem flat to you without that heightened experience.

So… how does gravity affect space time? It bends it. Or, in other words, gravity takes “flat” space time and curves it. And on a human scale, this is really easy to experience. Toss a ball into the air and watch it fall. It’s not going to land in quite the same place.

But on the quantum scale? Nope. Everything there would appear “flat” as well, because any bend of space that gravity might create would be totally imperceptible to particles so small.

So the force that would normally hold Marty and the DeLorean onto the ground on Earth and keep him in Hill Valley become totally irrelevant when you start to fuck with the quantum shiz that would be necessary for time travel.

The DeLorean pops out from here but is no longer bound to Earth or anything else by gravity, since it’s skidding gleefully through time but not limited by velocity — as in it will never travel faster than light, but does so by following an alternate path through space that, nevertheless, will still land it at the target date and place on the particular world it departed from.

In the Universe at large, that time and date 30 years ago in Hill Valley is exactly where it was in the 30 years ago of the place Marty left, which means he’s at least 22 billion miles away from the solar system, with the Earth itself some smaller increment nearer or farther.

It definitely doe not include the about 19 billion kilometers that the entire Milky Way Galaxy has moved toward the Great Attractor between the constellations of Leo and Virgo. Without that DeLorean being able to do some very complicated math and some space travel as well, it’s going to be a very short trip to the past, and no coming back to the future

image source: Mrmw, (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Saturday Morning Post #63: The Rêves Part 41

At last, the final chapter is here and you get to find out what happens. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. Keep your arms and legs inside of the chapter at all times.

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

Simon and Joshua, Jrs.

After realizing the how of the thing, Simon and Joshua still took a few more days consulting with Pearl, Danny, and Preston on how to pull it off and make it look like an act of nature.

They finally decided that the best approach would be for Simon and Joshua to enter via the emergency exit, with Danny and Simon’s help, then get to the main room, and head on up to the top level stairs.

From there, they would score a break in the concrete ceiling with very powerful lasers they’d brought, all while the cameras and other surveillance were disabled.

Once the ceiling was weakened, Pearl and the Hadas would bring on some nature in the form of hard local rain, resulting in some underground flooding and, unfortunately, a total saturation of the ground right above a point in the ceiling that would give out, and…

And it could not have worked out better, Simon and Joshua realized, once they’d taken up their spots on the observation deck and let Pearl and Taamit know to unleash.

Except for one little thing.

The concrete in the ceiling crashed down beautifully, followed by copious amounts of water. It hit the pipes and broke them apart, then kept going, and the plasma escaped and cooled, and then so did the tachyons…

And Simon and Joshua were standing right on the edge of the stream as it blew upward.

Instantly, they lost not quite all their ages, but both wound up as about thirteen years old — the beam wasn’t quite at full strength this far down. Their car keys vanished from their pockets.

Fortunately, they had left their phones at home. More fortunately, they had decided to wear their steampunk hunter garb for this mission for luck so, since it was vintage, they didn’t wind up naked, only going commando.

On the other hand, since they were a lot smaller at 13 than they had been as adults, they would need to do a lot of cinching up and securing and whatnot.

Unfortunately, Danny and Preston were nowhere to be found. Neither were the lasers. “Those were some damn nice portable industrial lasers,” Joshua lamented to Simon.

“We can always buy more,” Simon reminded him, “But it’s probably best that that evidence is gone. We should get home.”

They both stumbled down the stairs and to the exit, at which point they had to awkwardly walk to their car holding their pants up. Only after they finally opened the doors with their thumb prints did they look at each other and say, “What the fuck, dude?”

Fortunately, the car knew how to drive them home. They hopped in, pushed the button, and were on their way, Simon making sure to set the AI to “Obey All the Laws” mode.

That’s not what it was officially called, but that was the name they’d come up with for it.

Once they got home, they managed to make it up to their unit without running into anyone — it would have been very embarrassing in their current state of dress, after all, and with Halloween almost two months away, they couldn’t exactly make the “They’re costumes” excuse.

Especially not when it looked like they were wearing their fathers’ clothes. Fortunately, they could unlock their door with either a key or the app on their phones, which had been in the car, so avoided vanishing.

Once they got inside, they hunted around for anything that would comfortably fit their de-aged frames without them swimming in it or their pants falling to the floor, and then changed.

They looked everywhere to see if Preston and Danny had popped back home, but they weren’t here and didn’t seem to reply to their shouts.

“Probably celebrating with the other Rêves,” Joshua suggested, so he and Simon cuddled on the sofa to do some binge-watching.

About an hour later, they both got a text from Brenda. “OMFG. ARE YOU WATCHING THE NEWS?”

“This can’t be good,” Simon said, and they clicked around until they found a local network news channel, which was showing footage of lots of confused-looking naked people wandering around a cemetery.

“No, but it must have been our doing,” Joshua said. They watched the screen intently, trying to make out any faces they knew.

“Oh my god,” Simon exclaimed, pointing. “That’s Paul Walker. Right there.”

“You’re sure?”

“Come on. You remember that scene in Joy Ride as well as I do, when they had to walk naked into that diner. I know you never forget a nice ass, and neither do I.”

“Holy shit, you’re right,” Joshua agreed.

Simon was already tapping his phone and he announced, “Forest Lawn, Glendale. That’s where he is.”

“That’s where Preston and Danny are,” Joshua realized. “And I mean I guess literally are, right now.”

“We have to go get them,” Simon insisted.

“Should we really go out like this much?” Joshua asked.

“That’s got to be a good ten mile walk back home, and they are not doing that butt-naked.”

“Preston would probably prefer it that way.”

“Don’t be a dick, dear,” Simon shot back.

“It was a joke, honey. Of course we’re going to go get them. Let’s raid our closets again and find shit that’ll fit them.”

They eventually settled on a couple of old longish, slim-fit T-shirts and two pairs of sweat pants with drawstrings. With the legs rolled up and the strings tight, they should work.

They made it down to the car again unobserved, then set it on course.

When they arrived, the entrance was blocked off by Glendale PD. Joshua pulled up and stopped, rolling down the window as Simon muttered, “Shit!”

“Good afternoon,” the officer said. “The cemetery is closed right now. And aren’t you a little young to be driving?”

Joshua suddenly called back on all his old acting and improv skills and burst into tears. “Our mom and our older brothers are in there!” he sobbed. “I mean, buried in there, but probably not now, and we need to find them.”

The officer looked confused, but then she pulled out her radio. “Hang on, sweetie,” she said. “Let me see what I can do.”

She stepped away from the car and Joshua shot Simon a conspiratorial look. Simon just shook his head in awe.

“I still got it, baby,” Joshua whispered.

The officer came back to the car. “Is there any reason that your father didn’t drive you?” she asked.

“Um… they’re divorced and he moved out of state,” Joshua continued, keeping the emotional upset at just the right level. “This is our uncle’s car.”

“And he didn’t bring you because…?”

“DUI, restricted license,” Joshua ad-libbed.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, hon.” She stepped away for a moment, then came back one more time. “Do you know exactly how to get to their graves from here?” she asked.

“Of course,” Joshua replied.

“Perfect,” she said, motioning behind them with her right hand. A motorcycle cop pulled up next to them. “This is Officer Pérez. He’ll accompany you up to the gravesite, then help you find them if necessary.”

“Thank you so, so much,” Joshua replied, looking at her badge, “Officer Thrower. The two of us have just been… you know. Ever since the news stories.”

“I understand,” she said. “Now go find your loved ones, and good luck.”

They drove slowly through the entrance and up the road to the familiar grave, Pérez using bleeps of his siren and flashes of his lights to direct the wandering undead Rêves out of their way.

Eventually, as they neared the gravesite, Joshua and Simon saw three clothed figures — a woman and two men — walking toward them, and realized instantly that they were Anabel, Danny, and Simon, only dressed up as Colonial-era Americans.

Joshua honked the horn and stopped, he and Simon jumping out of the car.

“That them?” the motorcycle cop asked.

“Oh, yes,” Joshua replied.

He and Simon raced up to the trio, Joshua calling out, “Mom! You’re back,” the two of them getting close enough to be able to whisper, “Play along if you want to get out with us.”

“Who the hell are you?” Preston asked.

“Um… Simon and Joshua,” Simon explained. “We managed to kill the machine, but it kind of took a few years off our lives. In the wrong direction.”

Danny and Preston stared back and forth at the two of them for a long moment, then suddenly had the realization.

“Oh my god,” Danny cried out. “It is you!”

“Freaky,” Preston added.

“Yeah, not as freaky as finding your asses wandering around in the flesh. Want to go home now?”

“Fuck yeah,” Preston said, Danny nodding agreement.

“Anabel?” Simon asked.

“No, I have someone else I should meet up with now, but thanks.” She nodded, and then blinked away.

“Wait,” Simon said. “You all can still do that shit?”

“Um… I guess?” Danny offered. “But we’d rather ride home with you all.”

“Then let’s go,” Joshua said.

They headed back to the car, Simon starting for the driver’s seat, but Pérez called out to them. “You should let one of your older brothers drive. Obviously, they don’t have ID, but it just looks better.”

“Right,” Simon called back. “Thanks!”

Danny hopped into the driver’s seat and Preston took shotgun. Simon and Joshua sat in the back. When the windows were up and they were driving back down on autopilot behind Pérez, Joshua turned to Simon.

“Brothers?” Preston asked.

“Joshua had to improvise to even get in here,” Simon said. “And where did you get the clothes anyway?”

“Some weird museum attached to one of the chapels,” Danny explained. “This place is freaky like that.”

“What I want to know,” Joshua announced, “Is what the fuck do they put in the donuts at the station to make Glendale cops so goddamn nice?”

“Who knows?” Simon replied. “Just be grateful it worked for us.

Once they’d left the cemetery grounds, Preston turned back and asked, “Okay, dudes, what the hell happened to you two?”

“We could ask you the same,” Joshua replied, but they proceeded to explain everything on the trip home, and then they all retreated back up to Simon and Joshua’s front unit to figure out what to do next.

Clearly, Simon and Joshua would have to stay out of the public eye for a while, and they’d probably be able to handle most all of their needs online using their adult digital identities. Danny and Preston, who at least appeared to be adults, could handle any necessary interactions with delivery people.

They could also go back to coding and creating apps again, so there was that.

The four of them brainstormed on any potential gotchas that might come up, but as long as Simon and Joshua stayed inside, they were pretty safe.

And even after they ordered new clothes in their sizes and could go outside again, they’d just be a couple of teens of no major interest. Simon did rig up some pretty convincing student ID cards for Walter Reed Middle School, just in case, and they were obviously too young to have Driver’s Licenses.

Sure, they had Social Security cards if asked (wink wink), but if anyone ever asked for those in person, the easy answer was, “Our parents have them in their safety deposit boxes until we’re 18 or get a job.”

And then Simon suddenly sat up in an “oh shit” moment because he’d realized the one really tricky thing. “Jury duty,” he announced solemnly.

“Well, fuck,” Joshua agreed.

“Can’t you just ignore that shit?” Preston offered.

“Probably not a good idea,” Simon suggested.

“I did, a couple of times,” Danny said.

“Yeah, but you lived in buttfuck Idaho,” Joshua reminded him.

“Although, you know,” Simon added, “The last three times I got called up, I never got called in. My secret was always to reschedule for the nearest week after the original with a federal or religious holiday in the middle of it. Thanksgiving and Christmas week, for example, or if Yom Kippur or the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday.”

“And?” Preston asked.

“Well, we have a call-in system,” Simon explained, “And the reschedule is only part of it. See, you call the night before to find out if they need you tomorrow, but the trick is never, ever call early. Always call late in the evening, after nine or ten p.m. Why? Because they don’t have some random selected order. They just tend to go first caller, first called. If you’re some dumb schmuck who calls the first minute after the phone lines open, you’re probably going to get your ass dragged down there for sure.”

“Or just blow off the notice,” Preston reminded them.

“When was the last time either of us got called?” Joshua asked.

“You, in 2020,” Simon told him, “So you’re probably safe for a while. Me… around 2014? So… I might be coming right back into their sights soon?”

“Why don’t we just drive off that bridge when we come to it?” Joshua suggested. “I mean, we kind of have Brenda as our secret weapon when it comes to County shit, right?”

“I guess,” Simon agreed.

Once their discussions had come to some sort of resolution and sense of safety, the boys excused themselves. “Wow, we have bodies now,” Preston announced, “And they actually get tired.”

“Who knew?” Danny added.

They adjourned to the bedroom, and Simon and Joshua continued snuggling.

“Speaking of Brenda,” Simon said, “How do you suppose she’s dealing with all of this returned Rêve stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Joshua said. “Do you think we should call her?”

“Kind of late in the day now,” Simon replied, “But for sure.”

And then, things in Danny and Preston’s bedroom got really noisy, with the bed frame thumping the floor and wall rhythmically, and then their moans and exclamations getting louder and louder

“I guess that was inevitable,” Joshua said.

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

“In a hummingbird heartbeat,” Joshua agreed.

Their moans and outbursts of “Oh fuck,” and “God,” grew 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.

“Hey, if anything, it would give us a valid delivery address for shit that we don’t have to accept ourselves.”

“Damn… bonus points!” Joshua agreed.

It didn’t take them long to offer Danny and Preston their second unit rent free in exchange for being their adult proxies when necessary, and then to set up all the trappings for their personal porn website, including ecommerce and marketing and all the whatnot.

The hardest part was creating the corporation that would accept all of the payments, since Danny and Preston returned still didn’t have legal identities. It was technically registered to and run by Simon and Joshua, of course, but Danny and Preston did not appear anywhere in the paperwork.

In fact, that didn’t happen until after a long time when the boys asked Simon and Joshua if they could come to dinner — well “dinner,” since the revived Rêves didn’t actually eat, and explained that since they could not use either of the names of the one adult entertainer they both used to be, they would have to become his previously unknown identical triplets.

So… they kept LeCard, but Preston wanted to use Silas or Sy, and Danny wanted to go by Josh or Joshie.

And Simon and Joshua could not have been happier about that, so they gave their blessings.

They still had their own situation to deal with, so they sent a message to Brenda, asking her to come over for a meeting. They figured that face-to-face with the four of them would be the only thing that would work, and they were right.

She had come up to their place expecting the Simon and Joshua she knew, and the Preston and Danny she knew as phantoms, but instead got all four of them in the flesh, the former two suddenly teenagers.

“Oh sweet tap-dancing Jesus, what happened?” she exclaimed when she walked in the door.

“Long story short,” Simon explained, “We agreed to help out one particular Rêve, but have kind of created this weird fucked-up mess with the dead brought back — ”

“And with us de-aged. There might be more people like this, maybe. It all depends upon who was aboveground at JPL when the machine cut off.”

“You did that?” Brenda exclaimed.

“Not officially,” Simon warned her. “We were just witnesses. It was the Rêves who did it.”

“Well, Pearl and the Hadas,” Joshua added. “You know — the stormbringers.”

“But, now… you two are stuck as teenagers again, and these two have come back in the flesh but have no legal identities, right?”

“Right,” Simon said. “Plus the real complication with Danny and Preston here is that they were really only one human before they died, but shit happened, so they kind of got split in two, and then both of them came back.”

“Wait… they’re not twins?” Brenda gaped.

“No, technically they’d be…” Joshua paused. “Shit. Help me out, honey.”

“Non-corporeal clones?” Simon suggested. “Identical, sure, but only one of them existed in life prior to, well… everything thing going pear-shaped.”

“God… damn,” Brenda quietly replied. “Okay, give me a couple of days, because I think I can help you all deal with this shit. All right?”

“All right,” Joshua replied. “By the way, how is your family doing?”

“Mostly good,” Brenda replied, “Although my mom is being a bit smug about it.”

“I’m sorry, “Simon said.

“Don’t be,” Brenda told him. “She’ll get over it.”

Brenda called Rita and asked her whether the state position was still open. An hour later, Rita told her it was, by which point Brenda had already written down her requirements, and that afternoon, the California Reintegration, Education, and Employment Program for Entities Returned Act was passed, although Brenda really wanted to throat-punch the petty bureaucrat who had wasted time giving it the acronym CREEPER Act.

On the other hand, a week after it passed, she’d realized that way too many humans had a total disdain for the returned dead, despite a massive media campaign with lots of celebrities — including previously dead ones — doing spots of the “These could be your parents or grandparents, friends, or family” variety.

The official investigation into the destruction of the machine ruled it “Accident due to force majeure,” but the committee of scientists studying it couldn’t quite figure out how it had caused what it did.

They tried to contact Joshua and Simon several times, the two of them avoiding replying at first for obvious reasons, until Brenda convinced them that they should respond, just not meet in person.

“You two still sound pretty much like your adult selves,” she said. “Just don’t do any Zoom meetings.”

They finally agreed to answer the committee’s questions, but explained that they could not do it in person or via any form of video, explaining that they had been rushing to the lab when they checked the weather near it, but were still aboveground over the place when the machine must have been destroyed, and were suddenly a lot younger.

The committee expressed their understanding, although did ask for a Zoom meeting, given the explanation. Simon and Joshua reluctantly agreed, and could actually see how they slowly convinced these well-educated people that they were telling the truth.

Most thirteen year-old couldn’t rattle off advanced science like they could, or answer a lot of their questions.

Simon and Joshua ended up giving the full scientific explanation as they knew it of how the machine’s destruction resurrected the Rêves, as well as took about twenty-five years off of their own ages.

They were thanked profusely at the end of the meeting and they thought that that was it until a couple of months later, when they got a huge surprise.

Somebody somewhere must have really appreciated what they did — and had done their homework, because they were issued new birth certificates, both of them same-named but juniors, and each of them showing their parents as Simon and Joshua (now senior), and their status as adopted. Their birthdays were the same, but now taking place in 2010.

But there was more. They also received death certificates for their original selves, their own passports and Social Security cards, and were also recipients of the death benefits due from their “deceased” parents, who were, of course, them.

In other words, they had been legitimatized as the thirteen-year-old versions of themselves.

It didn’t end there, though. That homework had been super extra, and Danny and Preston also got the treatment, with Idaho birth certificates for Joshua Simon LeCard and Silas Joshua LeCard also being issued, along with passports, Social Security cards, and documents making them the legal guardians of Simon and Joshua Jr.

It was impressive in its scope and bowled them all over, and all any of them could mutter about it was, “Who the fuck…”

The best part, of course, was that Simon and Joshua Jr. became their own heirs, untangling the whole mess of their assets possibly falling into the hands of trustees — although Danny and Preston technically had Power of Attorney and Fiduciary responsibility.

Simon and Joshua decided to take advantage of their new-found youth and suddenly real people status to become influencers themselves, like Danny and Preston, except not as porn stars.

Instead, they started up various channels called The Science Squad, later followed by The Coding Crew, and they taught really difficult concepts to their peers, using Danny and Preston’s help in keeping up with the lingo and trends, although having been dead for three years before coming back, they were technically at the 26-year-old level of pop-culture awareness, so possibly out of the loop as well.

Luckily, Simon and Joshua’s stuff really caught on huge with the 12- to 15-year-old demographic, and they commented and discussed things ad nauseam on all of their sites, which gave the two of them a ready study-guide for the proper slang, pop culture references, and an ongoing what was hot or not guide, so they were able to fake it and make it.

By the time they both had celebrated their nouveau 14th birthdays, their first two channels, over all social media, had gained a cumulative 3.5 million and 2.4 million followers. Before that, they had started The Vote Boat early in 2024, and hit 4.6 million followers on all channels by June 1st.

Their popularity also shot up in the 16- to 23-year old demographic but, oddly enough, among the 65 and up demographic as well.

“You know,” Simon told Joshua sometime around October, “I hate to say it, but getting our asses blasted back to just after puberty has actually turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”

“No shit,” Joshua replied. “We’re multi-millionaires in this sweet pad with no parents, we’re world famous, and our dirty-old-man brains are having sex using our ‘could go all day and half the night’ bodies. What’s not to love?”

“Yeah, well, other than the ‘Lasts four seconds part,’ I’ll get back to you on that.”

Despite despising the name of the CREEPER Act, the ad campaign had finally had some success, at least among younger people, and Brenda’s project also started to take off in rehabilitating and reintegrating the resurrected.

One of her big innovations was identifying “lost” job skills that were still vitally needed, like the ability to code in certain languages, or to operate antiquated computers, or perform repairs on really old cars, or fix ridiculously dated telephone lines and equipment.

Ultimately, she wound up exporting a lot of the returned and reintegrated Rêves to rural areas, because those places were most likely to be dealing with really outdated infrastructure. Ironically, they were also the places most likely to be biased against the “Ooh, boo, scary” Rêves.

Sending them into these communities to work their magic turned out to be exactly the trick. It also didn’t hurt that, despite being taught about modern liberal mores and beliefs, Rêves sent into more conservative areas were allowed to fall back into their original personalities.

So… send someone who died in the mid-50s back to a place stuck in that era, let them fix up the failing phone system, and it would win hearts and minds when it came to accepting the formerly dead back into society.

It reminded Brenda of how the LGBTQ+ community had managed to turn the tide so fast between the late 90s and late 00s. It was basically a matter of playing a big game of “Meet a queer.”

Or, in this case, “Meet the dead.”

But, at the same time, she was seeing that while the Rêves were being more and more accepted nationwide, people like her daughter were not — and not even among the so-called LGBTQ+ community.

In fact, there were even groups online, mostly made up of older gay men, radical lesbians, and feminists, that went by some variation of “LGB, hold the T.”

And that made her blood boil.

It wasn’t until Malia had finally completed all of her counselling, hormone therapy, and gender confirmation surgery — and had started dating an absolutely gorgeous Filipino-American cis-man named Mario — that Brenda finally said “Fuck it,” and ran for the U.S. Senator for California.

She won in a landslide, and it wasn’t lost on her that at least some of her daughter Malia’s 10 million TikTok followers had something to do with that.

Years later, Simon and Joshua Jrs. sat down to a formal dinner to celebrate their new 21st birthdays on Joshua’s, which was the latest one in the year in November. After dessert, Simon sighed, took Joshua’s hands and said, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for the longest time, but I had to wait for the right moment.”

“Okay…?” Joshua replied nervously.

“Nah, it’s nothing  relationshippy, okay? No, it’s… okay. You can either be inside or outside of a closed time loop and a paradox. Part of you got caught inside one, part of you didn’t. The one who didn’t is the one I’m looking at right now.”

“What paradox?” Joshua asked.

“August 23, 2023. Ausmann murdered me,” Simon explained. “He threw me off that balcony, and there were no airbags. You were devastated — thank you! — but managed to kill Ausmann and break the machine, pretty much the same way we did in the timeline you remember. The big differences being that I was dead, so I came back like Danny and Preston did. Meanwhile, you managed to get out of range of the freed tachyons, so you didn’t dial back to thirteen at all.”

“Whoa,” Joshua exclaimed.

“Oh, it gets a lot more whoa-y,” Simon continued.

“How come you can remember it and I can’t? Am I the only one who can’t?”

“No, I’m probably the only one who can because I was the center of the event that split the timeline in the first place. I have ‘memories’ of that one even while I’ve been living this one.”

“That’s pretty whoa-y,” Joshua replied.

“Oh, there’s more. In the other timeline, Danny and Preston still had porn success, but you and I had to flee for our lives because we were somehow associated with bringing the dead back to life. Brenda did what she did on only the county level, and I think that’s about it.”

“All right,” Joshua replied. “But other… you and I are sitting here, at this table, celebrating and alive, and besides our ages, what’s different?”

“Well, okay, other version, we’d be hiding out in a converted nuclear missile silo, and we’d both be well over forty, although you’re the only one aging. I’m stuck looking about forever 25. In this version, we’re in our condo in NoHo, and we’re turning 21. And the biggest difference between one timeline and the other is that I didn’t die in this one.”

“I’m really happy that you didn’t die in this one, babe,” Joshua replied.

“Thank you,” Simon said. “But since I’m aware of both timelines and you, by definition, are not, you know what that makes me?”

“Um… lucky?” Joshua offered.

Simon laughed his ass off. “No, darling. Like it or not, you turned me into the first living human example of Schrödinger’s Cat. Meow!”

* * *
Image source: LOONEY TOONS, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Saturday Morning Post #56: The Rêves Part 34

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

Nothing good ever happens on Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” Anabel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed,” Pearl agreed.

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

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

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

It revealed nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you drop that grenade?” Schrantz asked.

“Sir, yes sir!” Ramirez replied.

“And why did you do it?”

“Because it was an honorable action, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Captain Schrantz!”

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

“Oh my god, what?” Davis asked.

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

“Really?” Davis replied, incredulous.

“Really,” Schrantz said.

“So, how do we coordinate from here?”

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

“Excellent,” Davis said.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, bye.”

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

“Yes?” he asked when he picked up.

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

“Get out,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Janis Joplin,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny and Preston looked at each other and laughed.

“Dude, what are we?” Danny asked.

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

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

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

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

“Well, duh!” they said in unison.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fuck,” Danny reacted.

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

“Of course!” they both replied.

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

“Why?” Danny replied.

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

“You aren’t wearing shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Saturday Morning Post #49: The Rêves Part 27

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Book Three

Hunter sans Aisling

Joshua hadn’t slept well after that first bout, which was a long, disturbing dream in which he was chasing Simon down an endless Metro station, running while Simon walked, but never catching up. Rêves moved around them in slow motion, paying them little attention.

Joshua finally did catch up as Simon stopped to get on a train, pushing Joshua’s hand away and entering, the doors closing before Joshua could follow. The train started to pull away slowly and Joshua ran after it, but it started to speed up.

As the last car passed him, he looked in the windows and could see Ausmann standing there, laughing. After the train disappeared down the tunnel, there was a sudden burst of flames and a loud explosion, which woke Joshua up.

He didn’t see Danny or Simon, so he wandered around the place, had a glass of water, stood on the balcony looking at the stars when he wasn’t staring at the spot where Simon had landed. Fortunately, he had no intentions of following — Joshua just wasn’t like that.

He also knew that, since Simon had died, the police would be back for a statement, and he had to figure out what he was going to say. Tell them it was murder, or an accident? He knew that he owed it to Simon’s memory to insist that it wasn’t suicide, and at least he knew he was right about that.

And he’d been left weirdly free of complications. Simon had been an only child, and his parents and grandparents were all dead. They had their circle of friends, of course, but he could involve them later. He felt that he definitely had to let Brent and Drew know.

There were also the implications of what Ausmann had said about Joshua “needing his help,” as well as Preston and Danny insisting that Simon would be back. Yes, but not as himself. Would he just be an echo of Joshua’s memory? And, if so, how idealized would he be?

He returned to the living room and decided to play his hunch. “Preston? Danny? You guys still here?”

After a moment, the two of them materialized. They were on the couch, nude and spooning, so Joshua had no idea which was which until Danny’s clothes quickly materialized as well — he was the big spoon.

“How are you doing?” Danny asked.

“Oh, not great,” Joshua replied. “Look, you seemed pretty sure when you said that Simon would be back…”

“Well, yeah. That’s how it works,” Preston said.

“Are you sure though? And that it’s not all people who were already dead when they turned on the machine?”

“Sure we’re sure,” Danny replied. “We just met a guy who’d been killed the night before.”

“Really? Who?” Joshua asked.

“Some guy named Jerry,” Danny explained.

“And you know the guy who killed him,” Preston added.

“Ausmann,” they said in unison.

“Ausmann killed Jerry? Why? He was such a nice guy.”

“He knew too much,” said Preston in his best gangster impersonation.

“Ausmann offed his wife, apparently, and told Jerry,” Danny went on.

“Wait… what? I can’t even imagine why, but this is kind of helpful news. I mean, whether anybody knows his wife is dead yet or not, he’s killed at least two… fuck. Three times. So he’s definitely acting like a fugitive, which means he won’t go anyplace they’d expect him to go.”

“Unless he’s incredibly stupid,” Danny replied.

“Batshit insane,” Joshua noted, “But not stupid. It’s like he’s on a crusade to get rid of your kind, and if he can kill that many living humans that easily, imagine how little he’d think of the dead.”

“Hey, we don’t like being called ‘The Dead!’” Danny jokingly snapped.

“Yeah, please. ‘The Previously Lived-In,’ for sure,” Preston added, laughing.

“I’m going to stop him,” Joshua promised them. “I just have to figure out how. What time…” he glanced over at the clock visible on the kitchen microwave. Just after 3:30 in the morning. “Okay. I have some phone calls to make in the morning, but I’m definitely going to need your help, okay?”

“You got it,” Preston asserted, Danny nodding his agreement.

“But first, I really need to try to sleep again.” Joshua headed for the bedroom. “Oh. We’ve got guestrooms, if you want, or whatever’s most comfortable for you.”

“Ooh. A real bed!” Preston gushed.

“Not like we can really feel it, but it’d be a first in a long time. Thanks!”

They started for the hallway as well, stopping when Joshua called out.

“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but… were you two, like… fucking on the couch there?”

Preston and Danny looked at each other and laughed. “Oh, I wish,” Preston said.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Danny went on. “We can’t really… I mean, parts don’t work like that.”

“But we can swap energy and have what feel like the most incredible orgasms in the universe,” Preston added.

“Basically, all boom and no bust,” Danny explained.

“So… ghost fucking?” Joshua teased them.

“Don’t make me come over there and cover you in ectoplasm!” Preston replied.

“Good night, boys!” Joshua said, waving as he exited to the master bedroom.

“Good night, daddy!” Preston called out, Danny slapping him on the arm before they disappeared into the guest bedroom, not bothering to open the door first.

This time, Joshua slept through the night, only waking up one time who knew when, and he could have sworn he heard Simon lying in bed next to him, breathing until he realized he wasn’t. He cried again a little bit. He could be prone to insomnia, and one of the things that had always comforted him through that was lying with his back against Simon’s chest, listening to his slow inhales and exhales, and feeling his warm breath on the back of his neck.

The next time he woke up, light was streaming in the windows and when he checked the clock it was nearly ten a.m. He dressed casually and headed out into the living room to find Danny and Preston in the kitchen.

“Morning!” Preston called out.

“We were going to make you breakfast,” Danny said, “But it’s kind of really, really difficult for us to manipulate physical things all that well.”

“I mean, we can do it a little,” Preston added, “But it’s exhausting as hell.”

“Hey, speaking of that,” Joshua asked, “If you can walk through walls, why don’t you fall through floors?”

“We don’t really walk ‘through,’” Preston explained. “It’s more like we push. So floors and the ground always feel squishy to us, but we don’t fall through the floors because we’re not trying. Although we can if we want to.”

“Wow. That answers that question,” Joshua replied.

“That’s a thing?” Danny asked.

“You kidding?” Joshua replied. “That’s like Sceptic vs. Ghosts question number one.”

“Oh, about the ‘G’ word,” Simon admonished him.

“Eye roll, okay, what?” Joshua replied.

“I’m sure you’ve been told, but we are not ghosts, we are Rêves. Kind of a difference.”

“Right, right, sorry,” Joshua demurred. “Ausmann got a little bit into my head with the ‘G’ word.”

“Have you managed to get into his head?” Danny asked.

“Into batshit la-la land?” Joshua answered. “No. But I’ve got some business to take care of. Hey… are you guys at least able to maybe scroll a mouse and read stuff on a computer?”

“That, we can do,” Preston said, excited. “It takes both of us rolling the thing, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Joshua said. “While I’m calling people, I’ve got some files I’d like you to look at, give me your opinions on them from your Rêve point of view.”

“Sure thing!” Preston replied.

“Is it about science? I hope it’s science, because I am such a science nerd,” Danny gushed.

“Me too,” Preston protested.

“It is,” Joshua told them.

“Sweet!” Danny smiled, high-fiving Preston.

Joshua led them to the cache from Ausmann’s computer and set them loose, then went out on the balcony with his phone.

His first call was to the hospital, to determine how to claim Simon’s body, only to be told that it was on hold pending a police investigation due to the circumstances of his death.

Well, that wasn’t good.

His next call was to Brent and Drew to break the news, and he got them to join a Zoom conference — surprisingly, it was the older one, Drew, who was the tech whiz with that. Or maybe not surprising, considering his years in the entertainment business. When Joshua told them that Simon was dead, the two of them just lost it, and Brent immediately said, “We’re paying for the funeral, shut up and don’t say no.”

“Brent, we’re both heavily insured, so thank you, but it’s taken care of.”

“You two were always so smart about money,” Drew chimed in.

“It’s going to be a small ceremony, but I don’t know how soon, because his body is kind of tied up. Possible homicide and all that.”

“Was it?” Brent asked, clutching invisible pearls.

“No,” Joshua lied. “I was kind of the only one there, but I wasn’t out there when he fell.”

“Fell!” Brent and Drew exclaimed together.

“Do you mean fell,” Brent started, “Or could he have ju— ”

“No. No, no, no. A hundred times over. Simon would have never done that.”

“Let us know when the ceremony is,” Drew added. “We’ll be there, of course. Oh, we’ve been spending so much time in cemeteries and with the dead lately, haven’t we? Weird times.”

“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Thanks,” and then he disconnected.

He thought about what the hospital had told him, then went online on his phone to look into who handled the whole death thing, only to find out that it was county — and then remembered Brenda. He found her number on his phone from when she’d called them both, and dialed.

“Joshua? What’s up?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

“Uh… no,” He started, trying not to cry. “I hate to tell you this, but… Simon is dead.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “Did Ausmann find you two?”

“No, no he didn’t,” Joshua insisted, and then he told her the whole “fell off the balcony” story. She sounded skeptical but seemed to buy it, and then he explained how the body was being held up, but that Simon personally believed that a corpse should be buried as soon as possible after death.

“Oh. Was he Jewish?” she asked.

“Um… yes,” Joshua lied, not realizing that was an actual Jewish thing. “So, it’s apparently the county that handles the whole death thing and all that, and since you work for the county…”

“You’d like some strings pulled?”

“Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top?”

Brenda laughed. “Well, there’s one little snag here,” she explained. “You two really, really pissed off my boss.”

“Um… you told us to do that,” he reminded her.

“I know, I know. My bad. Which is why I’m inclined to help you, as a make-up for it. I just have to figure out who at county hates her with enough blazing passion to help you all out. Give me a couple or two, okay?”

“Oh, thank you, Brenda. Oh — couple of days…?”

“Minutes or hours,” she replied. “All I ask is that we get to come to the funeral.”

“We?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve got a family,” she replied.

“I… I had one,” he said.

“I know. I’ll do my best and get back to you. Bye.”

“Good-bye. And thanks — ”

Although she’d disconnected before he could say thanks.

Having no more calls to make, he came back inside to find the boys huddled together over the laptop, absolutely enthralled with the screen. He had to clear his throat before they noticed he’d returned.

“Oh, dude!” Preston exclaimed. “Did you read about what this thing does?”

“Telegrams to the past?” Danny shouted. “That concept just made me jizz myself. Well, figuratively.”

“I mean, do you see what you’ve got here?”

“Oh… fuck…”

Joshua just stared at them and sank onto the sofa, a wave of possibility and hope thundering over him. Of course! He’d read it but forgotten the most significant part. Ausmann’s machine turning the dead into Rêves was just a side-effect. Its real purpose was something completely different and…

“Telegram to the past…” he muttered. “Kind of like an instant re-do.”

“You’ve got it,” Preston replied.

“Holy shit.” Joshua exclaimed, moving to his laptop and sitting, not really realizing that he kind of sat in Preston and Danny before they moved away. He read the page they were looking at, then brought up a Word doc and started typing.

When he was finished, he looked up and added the exact coordinates, address, condo number and time, then saved the message and copied it to the USB drive hidden in his fake car key.

“Now what?” Preston asked.

“Now… I need to get to JPL, and you two need to go see whether Simon is back yet.”

“Are you sure that JPL is safe?” Danny asked.

“Completely,” Joshua replied. “I told you. No way in hell that Ausmann would go there.”

“I hope you’re right,” Danny called out.

“Oh, so do I,” Joshua said.

As the boys Supermanned off of the balcony, Joshua closed and locked the doors, then headed down to the garage and drove the Tesla like a madman out to Pasadena.

* * *

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