|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Matter|
Chuck, Sigmund, and then Jack walk out the elevator and into the lobby, the formers having an in-depth discussion about whether or not aliens would care even a little bit if the humans called them aliens or extraterrestrials, Chuck arguing that, seeing how they’re capable of traveling through space, they’re clearly higher beings and they probably don’t give a shit about verbal labels used by lower lifeforms, and Sigmund countering with basic NewMann pronoun theory. Meanwhile, Jack can’t stop uncontrollably gagging over the smell of Sigmund’s flatulence mixed with Chuck’s favorite herbal air freshener. As they approach the panes of glass that door the Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated office, the conversation stops dead in its tracks, similarly to Chuck, Sigmund, and then Jack when he walks into their backsides. Young Monta watches the two adult men share a look before Chuck shoves Sigmund into the wall and damn near barges into his office, like he saw something captiva–
Before he even enters the office, Jack is utterly thunderstruck by the purple-skinned goddess sitting at the front desk.
She resonates there so effortlessly, not quite like she owns the place but as if she is the place, as if she’s the physical embodiment of the entire Universe herself. The creature’s likely voluptuous body is elegantly draped in an airy white cloak with purple gilding around the frays, and her silver hair shines through the smokescreen flowing fluidly from her lips like a babbling brook. Her strong yet delicate hands hold Chuck’s favorite bong, a repurposed bottle of absinthe shaped like Die Glocke equipped with a bowl that dwarfs that of the bongibus, and her eyes; they could bring the most sought-after death to any man lucky enough to be turned to stone by gazing into them. And they’re even two different colors, my word! Never has a human witnessed such beauty poured into a single living thing – her left iris a glimmering bluish-silver and the right a deep, mystical violet. Yes, Jack was right on the money; this being is surely a goddess, she must be! Her presence is enlightening, her stare intoxicating, her aura… wait, what are we talking about?
Oh yeah; the cosmic beauty looks up from her instrument and locks eyes with Chuck, then Sigmund, then Jack, and then again with Chuck. She smiles and closes her eyes before placing the bong down and folding her legs into the lotus position. She then gracefully floats over Karen’s desk to greet the humans. Said humans are one more spacey feat away from reverting into dogs and howling at whatever moon this spacelady came from.
She hovers a few feet off the ground in front of the humans and allows her legs to unfold. Once standing, the muse slowly opens her eyes and laughs in her mind when she realizes how short humans still are. Then she says, “Hello there. You must be Chuck, Jack, and Sigmund.”
Waiting for at least one of the humans to speak up and being let down, the being continues. “My name is Fleurna, and I have been tasked with sending one of you on a trip of sorts. Specifically…” as she points a finger at the ceiling, allowing anticipation to build before bringing it down in the direction of Chuck, “you, Mister Leary.”
“Please, for the love of Cannabis, call me Chuck. Mister Leary was my fa–”
Fleurna giggles, her voice light and fluffy as a pillow made of kitten fur, yet sharp enough to cut Chuck off mid-word. “No, he wasn’t. My captain wishes to speak to you three; please, right this way.”
She turns and they follow, two out of three of their jaws catching a case of carpet burn from scraping against the floor and the third jaw dangling haphazardly above the throne of the prince of hell, the chin hairs of his goatee tickling the top of Mephistopheles’s head. Around the corner, sitting at Chuck’s desk with his feet up while he waits for the humans to grasp the reality in front of them, is a purple man; not man in the human sense of the word, but man in the… well, man’s not the right word. Perhaps god is; as far as Jack is concerned, these aliens are gods.
When he was younger, Jack would often find himself entranced by mythological tales from human cultures of the past; while many believe the gods of old were vague anthropomorphizations of forces of nature and whatnot, our TerryTeammate always knew deep down inside that the gods of the folklore of the past were early humanity’s misinterpretation of extraterrestrials that visited the young planet Earth and influenced the development of the human species. Golden chariots, a city in the clouds, flying machines; either ancient humans were constantly hallucinating, or they were struggling to understand what they saw. Having only his distant ancestor’s descriptions and crude cave-wall depictions to go off, Jack always wondered what these alien gods might have really looked like. Fleurna fits the bill wonderfully for the Athenas and the Aphrodities, but what of the Zeuses? What of the Horuses and the Ras?
As he rounds the corner, Jack’s curiosity is satiated.
The being removes his feet from the desk and sits up straight with his hands folded. His flowing silver hair is longer than Fleurna’s. He’s wearing a jumpsuit similar in design to Fleurna’s cloak except more skintight (which should be the other way around as far as Chuck is concerned), with the addition of silver-rimmed aviator’s glasses with lenses that are black at the top and fade to a brilliant violet at the bottom. He removes these shades, much cooler than Chuck’s plain black square-ass sunglasses, and crushes them into dust in his hand as he stares down each of the humans, looking not at them but through them, past their eyes, past their souls, into the very frequency of the energy that composes the charmingly strange quarks that compose the building blocks of their entire Existence, let alone their bodies. Then he smiles, floating over the desk and landing on two feet to embrace first Sigmund, then Jack, and finally Chuck, in warm, loving hugs.
Chuck just now notices that the aliens are much taller than he is and, in the presence of Fleurna, feels a need to assert dominance.
“So you must be the captain Fleurna was talking about, then,” Chuck says, his words coming out entire tones lower than his normal speaking voice. “I too am a captain, not of a spaceship but of this entire tower. And the company housed within, and of the city in which the entire tower and the company held within resides. Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated, by the way.”
The being’s head, a full foot and a half higher off the floor than the top of Chuck’s fedora, smiles, saying nothing.
As he folds his arms and flexes in an attempt to puff himself up, Chuck tries, “In fact that’s my desk, and my chair. And I don’t really appreciate you sitting on them.”
The extraterrestrial tries to hold a straight face, he really does, but the man in the monkey suit’s mouth noises prove to be too much. He bursts out laughing, doubling over and slapping his thigh, really making a show out of it. Sigmund grins and nudges Jack, who shares his grin. The eyes in the back of Chuck’s head notice the shared grin, but fortunately they don’t actually exist, so Chuck isn’t bothered by it.
“FUCK was that rich! I like you already man, woo!”
Purple holds out a hand and Chuck, mouth agape, takes his glove off and gives the purple alien a firm handshake.
“The name’s Ace and, yes, I am the captain, of a spaceship that is capable of traveling through not only the Universe, not only the Multiverse, or the Omniverse, or the Gigaverse, or whatever silly mouth noises you use to denote the higher planes of reality, but through Existence itself. And we do this, my crew and I, by using what your kind calls Psychedelic drugs – which, by the way, are unusually abundant on this eerily familiar little rock you get the privilege of inhabiting. So, kudos.”
Chuck opens his mouth to speak, but Ace continues anyway.
“And why do we traverse Existence? To spread the good vibes of Psychedelia everywhere we go! Many lifeforms on a level similar to yours view our Psychedelics in a negative light, as a temptation from insert name of evil deity here to distract the masses from whatever agenda the ruling elites are pushing; that’s certainly how our species held them back when we called them drugs. But we’ve seen the light, metaphorically speaking, and we loved it so much that we’ve been carrying the torch around ever since. Some see us as harbingers, others see us as saviors or angels, but us? We see ourselves as simple messengers, some heretic Hermes clones with crystals on our shoes rather than wings.”
Ace shoots a purely coincidental wink at Jack, then, “We call ourselves… The Psychenauts!”
Ace waits for a round of applause, but gets none. Then he looks down and sees that his hand is still firmly locked into Chuck’s, and it continues to be so despite Ace’s attempts to free himself. Ace looks up to see Chuck sporting a sudden lack of sunglasses and studying him, taking in all his facial features, almost like he’s seen him before.
“Hold up. I know you…” Chuck almost growls, his eyes darting back and forth, mapping the layout of Ace’s face. “I mean, I didn’t know your name or the name of your little cult but… gah, fuck me I’m high. I can’t place it…”
“No, that simply can’t be,” Ace assures him, still struggling to get his hand back. “Prior to this, my crew and I were in an entirely different universe. It was in the Inner Rim of this one, given, but still, seeing how you’re a human and incapable of inter-universal travel, it’s qui–”
“AH HA!” Chuck accidentally shouts, his excitement over his suddenly functioning memory getting the best of him.
He finally lets go of Ace’s hand and spins around so he can point his own hand in Sigmund’s face, saying, “Told you! I told you it’s called inter-universal travel! Fuckin’, told you!”
“No, Chuck,” Sigmund corrects Chuck’s correction, “you told me it was pocket-universe, not pocket-dimension. But I see your point, you got me.”
“That I did, science man!” Chuck boasts before spinning back around to face a dumbfounded Ace.
“SO! Anyway, that’s how I know you! If you don’t believe me, check this fuckin’ shit out!”
Chuck holds up his gloveless right middle finger, now sporting a very interstellar-looking ring that wasn’t there a moment ago, and holds it inches from Ace’s eyes, which grow to the size of dinner plates upon seeing the jewelry.
“Where…” Ace says, his voice fading into a whisper before bouncing back, twice as serious. “Where did you get that ring?”
Chuck chortles and then says, “You sound almost as confused as you did last night, same word choice too. Ain’t that interesting?”
Ace looks over at Fleurna, who is equally bamboozled, if not more so. She shrugs, offering zilch in the way of help.
“I…” Ace bumbles, his head spinning on a skewed axis similar to Earth’s. “Hold on a tick.”
The captain of The Psychenauts walks over to the wall-sized window closest to Chuck’s desk and places his outstretched hand on it. The glass then turns into a cloud of fine dust before reshaping itself into a translucent jade smoking pipe, the bowl full of Cannabis sprinkled with tiny crystals that shine in a similar manner to the gemstone on Chuck’s ring. Ace then sits in the lotus position, or rather, brings his legs up and floats in the lotus position, hovering his way through the hole in the wall and sitting peacefully on the air, faced away from the building. He draws a smoky breath through the pipe, the rainbow-laced Cannabis igniting without any visible fire source, and closes his eyes, allowing his consciousness to drift off to somewhere else, unlike the smoke that he doesn’t exhale.
Seizing this apparent intermission by the balls, Chuck takes the opportunity to talk to the pretty Psychenaut. “So… you wanna know how I got these scars? Fuck, I mean… I didn’t mean scars, I don’t have any scars, it’s literally impossible for me to get scars. Ask Sigmund. I mean, don’t ask Sigmund, don’t even talk to Sigmund. Or the kid. I mean, they’re not even talking anyway. I, eh… fuck. Anyway, wanna know how I got this ring?”
Fleurna lightly bites her bottom lip and giggles in a way that, if it isn’t flirtatious, Chuck is literally a pissed off donkey with its head burnt off from a volcanic eruption. “Sure, I’d love to.”
“Well, he gave it to me, your captain over there, and I remember that he did, but he doesn’t.” Chuck pauses, giving that some time to settle. Then, “Then he tried to give it to me last night, but I already had it. I know him but he doesn’t know me. What do you think that means?” Chuck asks this last because he doesn’t know himself.
Fleurna giggles again, then, with a hand on Chuck’s shoulder, “I think it means you’re pretty special. You know, for a human.”
While Sigmund and Jack gag, Chuck smiles at that. ‘Challenge accepted.’
“And what challenge would that be, darling?” Fleurna zealously asks, winking her silver eye. Chuck would answer but he literally dies. Not literally, but literally.
Then, Ace floats back into the room. “I’ve returned, and… still, how do you have that ring? Why are you so convinced that we’ve met, for what reaso–”
Ace suddenly cuts himself off when his cheeks puff out, the dude overwhelmed with the urge to exhale a bowl’s worth of smoke. The smoke forms into a cloud that seems to have a form of sentience, evidenced by the fact that it flies circles around Ace multiple times. Then it takes the form of a human body, grows long brown hair, and finally dissipates to reveal a smiling
Ace takes a startled step back and, upon looking into this new uberhuman’s brain, eagerly asks, “And who are you, you beautiful miracle of Moksha Medicine?!”
Sam’s face goes from the expression of happiness that results from seeing a long-lost friend to the kind of disappointment when that friend doesn’t remember you or any of the experiences you’ve shared. Or, you know, something like that.
“You don’t remember me, Ace?” in a hurt voice. Then, turning to Fleurna, “Fleurna? No?”
She doesn’t answer, her gaze transfixed on Chuck.
Sam continues, checking his mental notes. “What day is it? Tuesday? Yeah, okay, this makes sense. No wonder I had to try so hard to find this moment, I shouldn’t even be here lahmayo.”
Jack rolls his eyes when his stupid magical brother says the word lmao and asks Sigmund if there’s a minifridge or something in here. Sig points Jack towards the opposite end of the office, warning him not to go into the closet next to the fridge because he won’t like what he sees. Jack looks in the closet anyway and is very perturbed by the gigantic mushroom caps sprawling from the spiderweb shit all over the floor, walls, and ceiling of the space. He decides that he’s going to start listening to these adults and opens the fridge, taking out what he assumes is a normal bottle of orange juice. Upon drinking it, a suspiciously subtle sensation of calm rests over him, but he doesn’t worry about it because he realizes that wasting mental energy on anxiety is stupid. When he returns to the Cape clique,
Sam is gone.
“Hey,” Jack chimes in, finally contributing to the conversation. “Where’d my brother go?”
Ace looks at Jack with strangely empathetic eyes and smiles. “He had to move on to the next adventure, buddy. Don’t worry, you’ll see him again. It’ll all be okay, okay?”
Jack, feeling like the extraterrestrial is awkwardly trying to tell him something, sips his juice and averts his gaze. Sigmund takes over for him.
“So, Mister Ace, sir, you’re… you don’t remember meeting me last night, either?”
Ace shakes his head, offering, “No, unfortunately. Which means that it hasn’t technically happened yet, regarding my point of view. Spea–”
“Wait!” Sigmund interjects, cutting off the extraterrestrial that he’s been trying to talk with for the past four years of his life. “Your species is capable of traveling through space and time, too?! That’s, that’s incredible! Please, teach me! You must!”
“My crew is capable of everything your brain can conceive of and more, Sigmund, and here’s your first lesson: any time traveling, as you crudely mislabeled it, that was going to happen, has already happened. Speaking of which, we need to make a phone call real quick. Fleurna, hook that up, would ya? I need to prepare the circle.”
Fleurna asks Chuck for his communicator and he surrenders an archaic smart phone that his suit constructs for him without skipping a beat, hoping that she’s typing in whatever intergalactic code that it takes for them to keep in touch after this magical day they’re sure to spend together comes to an untimely but unavoidable end. Chuck is very disappointed when he sees that, rather than a blank contact page, she’s pulled up Karen’s contact page on the phone.
Chuck’s sunglass resume form in front of his eyes. “Ugh, her? Why?”
Fleurna rolls her eyes with a smile, pressing the call button. The phone rings for an exceptionally long time until Karen finally answers, saying, “Hello boss, how are we today?”
Fleurna answers, “Great Karen, absolutely fantastic, stupendous in ways you couldn’t even understand,” before proceeding to carry out an entire conversation with Karen in Chuck’s voice, matching his inflection, style of diction, and verbal mannerisms down to the inclusion of the word heh. After hanging up she thinks for a moment, then types out a text message. When Fleurna finally hands Chuck’s phone back to him, aroused doesn’t even begin to testify to how Chuck is feeling, the arousal quickly turning to embarrassment when his mind fumbles the formation of an explanation as to why he owns so many box sets of dominoes.
“All right, it’s complete!” Ace says triumphantly, saving Chuck from obliterating his chances with a lame excuse of an excuse for having so many domino sets. He approaches Chuck, grabs him by the arm and lifts him clear off the floor, proceeding to carry him to the circle as if he weighed nothing at all.
“Chuck, sit lotus in this circle,” Ace instructs, handing Chuck the smoking pipe.
Chuck sits lotus in the circle, his knees bellowing in pain.
“Good. Now,” as he holds his open hand out to Chuck, revealing what must be the mother of those rainbow crystals that he used to spike his bowl earlier, “I want you to close your eyes and focus very hard on thi– what the fuck?”
The crystal, glimmering with all the colors of the rainbow and then some, suddenly shatters into a trillion little pieces, the dust spewing everywhere. It then forms into a cohesive smog and swirls around the room, brushing the tip of Fleurna’s nose before collecting in a cloud over the empty green pipe. The cloud then recomposes itself into a freshly clipped nugget of Cannabis as tall as a paperback book.
The nug is so abundant in happycrystals that it looks like it’s coated in sugar, but these are no normal trichomes; this specific nug has been infused with the Ace’s space drugs, resulting in the creation of a heretofore undiscovered strain of Cannabis. Chuck calls it Cape Cookies Redux: The Sexy Alien Edition in his mind and, as the nug grinds itself up without a grinder, Fleurna giggles for what must be a totally unrelated reason. When the bowl is packed to the brim, Chuck finally opens his eyes and, after the sunglasses melt back into his fedora, then winks at the nonplussed Ace standing in front of him.
Ignoring Chuck’s triumphant smile, Ace says, “I don’t even… yo, thank god that you and I came to these guys Fleurna. Can you imagine if Zaxus was here right now?”
Fleurna laughs. “Yes, yes I can. That’s precisely why I voted to leave him on the ship.”
“So glad I didn’t veto that. Shit! Anyway, Master Charles, I’m sure you know what to do.”
“You’re a cheeky bastard Ace, you know that? I almost wish we could be friends.”
Chuck holds up his right middle finger and mentally commands his fingernail to combust. He holds the flame above the bowl and hesitates, asking, “Before I torch this bowl… what do you call this stuff? The rainbow crystals, I mean. I assume it’s the same nonsense that’s in my ring?”
“Wow, way to spoil it dude,” Ace says, shaking his head. “We call it… well, it doesn’t matter. But it’s not like the other Moksha Medicines, Chuck. It–”
“Other what?” Chuck demands, pocketing the packed bowl and extinguishing the flame on his fingertip. “Y’all keep calling it that, Moksha Medicine. What’s that mean?”
Ace begins to explain how one, they’ve only once referred to the Psychedelics as Moksha Medicine thus far and two, there used to be a magically psychoactive brew on their homeworld of Fuego called Mokahuashca, and the word Moksha was derived from it.
Then earthling Jack Monta, master of sobriety, swoops in from out of the sky, possibly wearing a cape, and says, “Hold on Ace, I got this.”
Jack walks over to Chuck and sits down in the circle with him, easily contorting his legs into the lotus position due to his proclivity to stretching before he runs, and starts explaining.
“It’s a term that this really prolific author who died in the sixties used in the last book he wrote. It was the name of his version of… I think it was magic mushrooms, I mean, magic mushroom pills, that helped his fictional island community develop into a perfect society. Yanno, until the one human on the island who didn’t want to take the meds ruined the entire thing. I think the word Moksha means release or something, but don’t quote me on that. Sam read the book like a million times and he,” nostalgic laugh “he literally tried to start a commune based off the community in the book, but nobody wanted to join. Our Mom thought he was becoming a cultist, it was actually really funny.”
Jack drains his orange juice, dangling the bottle over his mouth to savor every last drop. “So anyway, yeah, medicine probably isn’t the best word for it; according to Sam, the effects went faaar beyond the realm of being described as medicinal, but it was a different time back then, yanno? Before the pharmaceutical boom. You’d actually probably really like the author, Sam told me that a few hours before he died, he had his wife shoot him up with el-ess-dee. I hate to admit it, but I’ve always kind of found that interesting, like. I wonder what it was like, how it changed the death experience. Ya know what I mean?”
The room stays absolutely silent for more than four and a fifth consecutive seconds, not even a fart dares to disturb the peace. Amid this room-strangling silence, Jack gets up and grabs another bottle of juice, this one mango flavored, before returning to the circle with Chuck.
“Do you, like, read books?” Jack inquires, hoping to break the silence. “Chuck?”
After slapping himself so hard that he dislodges a few of his goatee hairs, Chuck snaps back to reality. “N-no, I uh, no I don’t usually read. I’ll have to check that out though…”
Chuck shoots Sigmund a bewildered look whilst mouthing the words what the fuck and gets a befuddled shrug in return, all the while the aliens are looking so much more than mildly intrigued from the sidelines.
“Kid, do you know what’s in those juices you keep drinking?”
“No. I mean, fruit, I think. Maybe some extra sugar?”
Chuck looks back at Sigmund and smiles with an open mouth, overcome with more excitement than he’s felt in years. “No, well yes, but it’s infused with Cannabidiol.”
The big word gets no reaction out of Jack.
“You know, Cee-Bee-Dee? Like, from the Cannabis plant?”
Jack starts feeling a bit panicked, but he calms down as soon as Chuck assures him that CBD’s not a psychoactive substance, rather a medicinal one.
“If there was a real-life Moksha Medicine, Cee-Bee-Dee would probably fit the bill. It’s not Mushroom-based, but…” he trails off.
“Huh,” Jack huhs, taking another drink to mull this over for a moment. “Well, normally… I think normally I would be freaking out right now, but… I’m okay. I feel okay, I feel good. Calm. I like this stuff. I’m probably going to freak out after it wears off but like, right now? I’m good right now.” Through a smile of punishment, “I’ve been released from the stress.”
“Chuck, stand up,” commands Ace, holding a loving regard for this new version of Jack, despite the pun.
“Huh? I thou–”
“Chuck, I implore you, please just stand the fuck up,” nudges Fleurna, taking Chuck’s hand and pulling him from the circle like a cloth off of a table.
Chuck, his hand in hers, decides that he’ll do whatever this living embodiment of space drugs tells him for the rest of eternity.
Jack, puzzled, looks around and wonders what’s going on. Ace crouches down to level with Jack and materializes another crystal in his hand. He holds it out for the boy to examine, and Jack does so with a newfound fascination.
“Jack, this is called Zee,Zee-Dif
Zoral Tryptamine, or Dee-eff- Zee-Tee for short. It–”
‘Oh sure, you tell him what your space drugs are called,’ Chuck thinks to himself before getting poked in the back by Fleurna. ‘Okay, I get it, you can hear my thoughts. Can he too?’
‘Only when he wants to,’ Chuck hears in his head, distinctively in Fleurna’s voice. She then winks at him and he flurries, adding a thoughtful, ‘Cool,’ to the two-sided conversation going on in his head.
“–’s pretty much the
Zerocian version of something called Dee-eM-Tee, a neurotransmitter your brain produces that allows your consciousness to experience and interface with the various levels of reality.”
Ace looks up, addressing the room. “Anybody asks, y’all didn’t hear that from me, kay?” before going back to Jack.
“It’s literally the most powerful known Psychedelic substance in the entirety of this Universe. It’s not like any normal drug, this substance knows you better than you know yourself. It knows all of us. Do you… would you be open to trying it?”
Jack looks deep into Ace’s eyes for a moment, weighing him. “What’s Zerocian mean?”
“What’s that?” Ace asks, not expecting the human to answer his question with a question.
“You said it’s the Zerocian version of our, like, consciousness chemical, right? What’s Zerocian mean?”
Ace holds a deadpan expression that evolves into a smile. “Oh, no, I said
Zerocian. I guess the human version of our language hasn’t developed that sound yet… well, you know how you guys call your species humans? Like, you’re a human? Well, Fleurna and I, we’re Zeroc. We make the Dee-eff- Zee-Tee in our brains.”
“Oh… yeah, okay. I guess that makes sense.”
Jack lifts the crystal out of Ace’s hand, much to the surprise of Ace, and takes a closer look at it, turning it around and around in his fingers and actually considering the possibility of experimenting with the Psychedelic experience. Ace hasn’t kept such a strong hold on his breath in literally centuries. Fleurna and Chuck have stopped flirting, and Sigmund doesn’t know how to act, so he doesn’t.
“How do you like… do it? Do I have to inject it into my eyeballs or something?”
The hold on Ace’s breath wiggles into a hearty laugh. “No, you just have to decide you want to. Just focus on it, it’ll take care of the rest.”
Jack sits still for a moment, not sure what he should do. He’s never felt so calm before, so serene. So overcome with such a powerful feeling of tranquility. Normally the possibility wouldn’t even cross his mind; he’d be more likely to nail the thought to a cross and throw a crown of thorns on it before leaving it for dead than entertaining it, but knowing how that analogy would play out, he considers skipping the bramble and nails and heading straight for the resurrection.
The resurrection of what? He doesn’t know. He can almost hear his Mother’s voice uttering a defiant, ‘What? What do you think you’re doing, young man?’ but his head is totally silent. He flashes back to a cartoon that he would watch in his youth, the specific episode telling the story of a worm that lives in a library shaped like a book. Whenever anybody would talk to it, or more specifically question it, the worm would simply say, “Knowledge is power, power is pain; if you don’t understand I won’t try to explain,” before inching away and losing itself in this text or that.
‘Knowledge is power, power is pain…’
Jack knows that he won’t feel so open to trying new things like this again, and he can’t imagine what kind of pain could arise from exercising the power of free will, so… if all other options seem dull compared to the one at hand…
Suddenly, the crystal begins to vibrate. It floats out of Jack’s hand and begins to shrink down to the size of the head of a pin and keeps on shrinking down after that until it’s half the size of an atom. Then, it flies at the speed of a
Zerocian Jettison ship into Jack’s head, impaling him in the forehead, the resulting tiny dot of blood making a triangle with his eyes. The crystal, currently the densest object in the Universe, effortlessly slides through the empty space in between the atoms that comprise Jack’s skull and brain until it reaches his pineal gland, the human third eye, where it explodes into a lustrous fire of rainbowic sparks.
To everyone else, Jack just falls backwards and passes out. To Jack, though, the entirety of reality melts away, and he finds himself floating alone in what would be a blinding white light if he currently had eyes to be blinded with.
Heavenly Celestial Bodies
Jack feels himself traveling at high speeds, faster than the speed of sound, eclipsing the speed of light, and surpassing the speed of rumors spread about his brother by his Mom. He sees something in the distance, a small dark sphere rapidly approaching, sucking in the light, consuming it. Transforming it. As the sphere grows larger and larger it begins to take on an internal glow; Jack can see things forming, heavenly celestial bodies, clouds of nebulous gasses exploding out from stars that are rapidly forming and collapsing in on themselves. He sees clusters of cosmic dust being born, and within them, galaxies start to appear, each of these wonderful constructs of pure love beaming past him until he finally sees it: the Milky Way, that very same spiral that houses the pale blue dot that gave him the body he currently inhabits. As he approaches the rock it begins to shine, so irradiant, so lucid, so welcoming. He’s home; for the first time in his entire life, Jack Monta feels at peace, at one with the infinite everything that provides him with his anything, all the while floating in nothing. He’s here.
Just as Jack’s consciousness begins to lower him to the surface of his planet, something grabs him. A cold, dead hand wraps its icy fingers around his suddenly existing body and forcefully rips Jack from his beautiful starscape. His being fills with unspeakable terror as he’s pulled from his cosmos, the heat of stars and molten planets scorching his unprotected soul as he’s carelessly dragged through Existence like a snitch chained to the back of a lowrider.
Then, darkness. Pure, undiluted, empty darkness, devoid of any and all love or feeling in general. Just this nagging pull, this snarl from deep within the recesses of his being. He sees something in the distance, an orb, just like before, but it’s not white or black this time. It’s shiny and metallic, it… it’s gold. As it draws closer, it sprouts features of a human face – two empty, glazed eyes, a nose, ears off to the sides. A golden human-like face, gleaming in Jack’s light. And… the mouth, that dreadful maw, twisted and morphed into a sinister, fiendish, diabolical smile, a malicious sneer that strikes fear into Jack’s very heart, burning the remaining traces of the moksha medicine, spiritual or otherwise, clear out of his system.
Jack screams. A horrific, cell-splitting, guttural caterwaul of a scream, a scream that would shake you past your bones, past your core, down to the dark matter that resonates in the empty space between the atoms that make up what you think is your body, if you’re even capable of conceiving of such a sound. A scream that will make you never want to hurt, love, or interact with any living thing in general, ever again; a scream that nobody, not even the ancient aliens in the room with Jack, have heard in all their time drifting through this malevolently benign macrocosm we all pretend to know and love, nor a scream they even knew was possible. A scream that delivers a very clear message to every human, animal, and inanimate object making their way home from work within an eight-hundred-meter radius of Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated: for every thing of beauty that shines in creation, there is a matching abomination just waiting to rear its grotesque head.
Something Is Wrong
“Jack!” Ace shouts, grabbing the zonked boy’s convulsing body and attempting to shake him awake. “JACK! WAKE UP!”
Chuck looks at Sigmund, who, for the first time in his life, has absolutely no idea what’s going on right now. And he’s wearing that description too, wearing it like a persona mask from an ancient Grecian get-together. Fleurna pushes past both of the humans and assists Ace, or rather, attempts to assist him, but there’s nothing they can do. Not by themselves.
“Chuck! Give me the fucking crystal!” Ace shouts, holding out his visibly trembling indigo palm.
Chuck’s utterly paralyzed, he couldn’t move if he wanted to.
“CHUCK!” Ace booms, the soundwave rocketing across the room and shattering half of the bongs on Karen’s desk. Sigmund goes to move but his legs give out from under him, the panic taking hold and refusing to let go.
‘CHUCK!’ Fleurna shouts in his mind, ‘You need to listen to me, something is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening, something went very askew inside Jack’s head! You need to snap out of it and give Ace the crystal back!’
Chuck reaches into his pocket and produces the bowl. “B-b-but it, it, it turned into a pipe and, and I-I… fuck, man! What do I do?!”
Ace rises to his feet and snatches the bowl from Chuck’s hand with enough force to send the human flying across the room and smashing into his desk. The solid wood craftsmanship responsible for the desk snaps Chuck’s spine in half, the impact decorating the majority of his bones with spiderwebs. As his body gets to work numbing and repairing itself, Ace kills the bowl in a millisecond and collapses, his spirit rising from his body and divebombing into Jack’s head.
Then, they both float clear off the floor.
Fleurna touches her middle finger to her forehead and smoothly drags it down to the bridge of her nose. An eye opens above the space between her other two eyes, this third optic skewed vertically with an iris that contains more colors than are present in Chuck’s alien ring. She then begins waving her hands in the air, the powder that once composed the circle rising from the floor and swirling around an unconscious Ace and Jack, imbuing them with its power. At first the latter stops convulsing, but then he starts seizing right back up, and terrifyingly enough, so does Ace. Steeling herself, Fleurna composes an orchestra of harmonious hand movements, the glistening white powder swarming and forming into two spinning tetrahedrons, one above the tripping titan and the innocent child he’s attempting to rescue, and one below. The tetrahedrons then crash into one another, forming a Merkabah around the pair and trapping them inside the central chamber.
The building begins to unravel at a molecular level, trillions of hemi-atomic nanobots get shaken loose from the shockwaves just to reposition themselves and repeatedly get dislodged again, the bots struggling to keep the structure together. Outside, scores of towers standing anywhere from ten to fifty-five stories tall begin to collapse in on themselves, the resulting infernal bedlam comparable to the aftermath of the September eleventh attacks on the World Trade Centers that tragically transpired almost nineteen years ago in what was then known as New York City. Fleurna nearly goes down but she holds her ground, the floor cracking beneath her as she supports the weight of multiple colliding realities on her back like the mighty Atlas whilst the Universe crumbles and burns to ash around her. There is none more accurate a way to describe it: all hell breaks loose on the streets of New Manhattan, the likes of which have never been suffered through by the human population of this, Earth’s most irresponsibly opulent city.
The Merkabah collapses, the powder dispersing and coating the limp, airborne bodies of Jack and Ace in a fine white soot, and Fleurna collapses with it. She almost hits the floor too, but Chuck, his backbone freshly realigned and his skeleton partially solidified, flies across the room to catch her. Two extra pairs of arms then sprout from Chuck’s torso, catching Ace and Jack before they harmlessly fall to the carpeted floor, Chuck cursing in pain as his weakened shinbones fracture under the load and he falls to his knees, the caps shattering upon impact.
Sigmund, who’s managed to regain control of his legs, is already heading for the secret elevator behind Karen’s desk. He travels down to a room that Chuck was never made aware of and sits in a more sophisticated version of the BioBot chair, this one sporting more wires, tubes and screens than could even fit in the room outside the TerryStudio. A strained look overtakes his face as he slumps over and no less than ten BioBots, each designed exactly the same as Chuck’s power armor, hatch from various cavities hidden beneath the mauve concrete exolayer of the Cape skyscraper. These droids, all simultaneously controlled by Sigmund’s agonizingly pulsating brain, quickly get to work cleaning up the turmoil on the street. Half the robots attain speeds that eclipse Mach 2 to catch and demolish the falling pieces of skyscraper before they scrape far more than the sky, the other half swooping up civilians and getting carpoolers out of harm’s way faster than they can towel themselves off. The gut-wrenching sounds of countless humans being pinned down, crushed, and brutally murdered by falling structures is enough to drive any man to the brink of madness, but Sigmund isn’t just any man. Chuck may own this city, he may fund it and keep it alive with the electrical shocks of his financial defibrillators, but Sigmund’s inventions built it from the seafloor up. This is his city too, and it will not fall. Not today.
By the time the chaos settles down to the everyday NewMann levels, the sun is nearing the lip of the wall. Beautiful, sherbety oranges and pinks grace the city in their glow, basking the shaken populace in an entirely necessary security blanket of warmth. The injured are bedded in pop-up hospitals scattered on every street within a one-mile radius of Cape Enterprises. The dead are piled onto carts and loaded into the various skyscrapers that’ve been temporarily gutted and repurposed into reanimation clinics; the corpses that’ve been splattered to the point of unrecognizability are fitted with cybernetic prosthetics and, as for those who were reduced to liquid, well, a mass service will be held this Sunday, after all the victims of the incident are accounted for.
And, well, that’s it.
When the city stopped quaking, the humans of New Manhattan more or less just returned to their everyday lives. Gotta work, gotta make dollars, especially those who are rocking robotics in their arms and legs; that shit doesn’t come cheap. Indentured servitude is a strong turn of phrase but it’s repulsively accurate – humans may make the world go ‘round, but dollars oil the gears and keep the machine from grinding to an unproductive halt. And honestly? If it worked any other way, the irreversible death toll following today’s little psychephrenic mishap would be exponentially higher than the mere hundreds that were claimed. The cost may be high, sure, but you undoubtedly get the bang for your buck.
Back at Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated, all members of the space drugs party are conscious and accounted for. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re okay; Ace is sitting lotus alone, hovering one foot off the top of the roof, staring through the sky into space, into that vast nothingness that, up to this point in his very, very long life, had been so full of meaning that it overflowed to the rest of his crew.
Up to this point.
Sigmund and Fleurna are racking their very unequal brains trying to hash out a plan to restore Ace’s shattered psyche, coming up with about as many results as you might imagine. When a god loses faith, where can one turn?
As for Jack, well, he hasn’t said a word. He’s okay, physically; he probably emerged from this in better shape than anyone. When he came to, he wasn’t even aware that the catastrophe happened, probably because Ace eradicated all traces of the experience from his memory when he entered the boy’s brain. In fact, when he woke, Jack didn’t even realize he had passed out; he just randomly found himself drenched in sweat with a tiny bit of blood dripping from his nose. And from his left ear, but Fleurna managed to spot that and whisk it away before Jack could notice.
As for Chuck, well, Chuck’s in the basement. The basement basement, the lowest floor in the building, one of the very few parts of the entire city of New Manhattan that can actually be described as subterranean; he’s hard at work viciously attacking punching bag after punching bag, ripping them to shreds by the closetful in an attempt to drown out the insatiable, blaring, high-pitched siren that’s going off in his head, the echo of Jack’s scream driving him past what he once thought was the brink of insanity. Chuck has never snapped before, not really; he’s nuts, but he’s not massacre nuts, although there’s nay a better word to describe the fate that’s befallen these poor, innocent punching bags.
Eventually, once he’s attained a shredding pace that’s faster than the sandbag generator can keep up with (which causes the machine to release dense clouds of smoke through the exhaust pipes, giving the Cape Tower the appearance of being on fire from a distance) Chuck takes a deep breath and exhales, attempting to release his pent-up tension with a surprising amount of success. The elevator ride to the forty-second floor is slow and tenuous, although on the bright side, the ringing in Chuck’s ears completely drowns out the claustrophobia he never admits to feeling while riding these tiny little coffin-boxes up or down his buildings. Fleurna’s voice in his head helps too, beckoning him to return so he can assist in talking Ace off the roof.
Sam has reappeared on the roof to do just that.