|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Two Aliens Smoking Drugs On The Edge Of The Atmosphere
One Last Time
Fuck what I said, and fuck the table of contents. In other words, fuck what I said. He’ll be seen one last time.
Just after Chuck flips Earth the bird and just before he opens the portal, he feels a hand bop him on the shoulder. This of course sends Chuck’s body flying through nothingness, but then a lasso made of hemp ropes him and drags him back to the unidentifiable spot in the nothingness in which he was floating a second ago.
“You? Really?” Chuck says, rolling his eyes so hard that his body rolls with them. He really wishes he didn’t smoke that joint before he left Cape.
‘Me. Really,’ Ace telepaths from the lotus position he holds.
“How are you just floating there?”
‘I’m not, my humey,’ as the captain of The Psychenauts pats the invisible metal surface he’s sat upon. ‘I’m sitting on my ship. Why don’t you join me?’
“Why don’t you… uh…” Chuck attempts, looking for a way to gain the conversational upper hand.
Then, “Why don’t you tell me why you’re able to sit in space without a space helmet?”
‘I’ll do you one better: I’m not actually alive, not like you are. Well, nothing is alive like you are Chuck, but nothing is alive like me either, besides my crew, so I guess we have that in common.’
Chuck, unsure of what to say, pops a squat next to Ace.
“What do you mean?”
‘Which part are you referring to?’ said with a devilish grin, a grin that makes Chuck wish he would have just left this goddamned Universe like he had planned to. In a last-ditch attempt to avoid this conversation by killing himself, Chuck commands his power armor to melt back into his tie. It does, and when his body is exposed to the coldness of space, he doesn’t even feel a little bit different.
“God fuckin’… okay, fine, we’ll talk. I’m referring to the part about me. I don’t give a fuck about you Ace, nor do I give a fuck about anything in this pickled shit of a Universe. What do you mean that nobody is alive like me, does that mean I’m not alive? Am I just going to wake up and this was all a dream?”
‘If you did, would that make it any less real?’
Neither Chuck nor the loop he was thrown for was expecting that. “What?”
Without looking at Chuck, because he’s speaking telepathically and eye contact has no bearing on his getting his message across, Ace continues. ‘When you were a child, you spent a whole lot of time running around the woods, playing in an imaginary ninja village of sorts, am I correct?’
“What the fuck? How did you know that, I never told anybody about that.”
‘And yet, when you were a child, you also moved around a lot with your father. Swapped schools. Never made a friend until you escaped from Magnus’s clutches and went to college, and the first friend you made? He’s been working for you ever since.’
“Uh… okay? So how do you know all that?”
‘Chuck… if you were always moving around, wouldn’t there be more than one ninja village that you played in as a child?’
Chuck should have gone through the fucking portal, god damnit.
‘Only remember one village? I know you do, and you remember it so vividly! It was so real, you probably still have that little map that you drew in your first notebook, that old leather-bound leaflet your Stepmom got for you.’
Chuck looks down at his hands and sees the map, his map. The map of his The Village Hidden In The Cliffs, drawn by ten-year-old Chuck, the one that got burned in one of his dad’s many bonfires along with his schoolwork and all the other pictures he would draw as a child.
‘You remember all the details of that place, all of the beings you interacted with back there, every leap between logs, every boulder you climbed up, every imaginary throat you slit with your stick blades and every bullet fired by your stick guns. You remember that little stretch of woods better than you remember your own life, at least up until this past Monday when you and Alvey were kicking this whole journey off.’
Ace hands Chuck a joint, already lit, and exhales a cloud of smoke into the blackness of space. ‘Haven’t you been wondering why you’re so damned different than everything else that exists in this Universe, Chuck? I mean, surely you’ve noticed that you’re not exactly from ‘round these parts,’ the ‘round these parts bit with a southern drawl.
“No shit I’m different,” as he hits the joint. “I’m from a different Universe.”
‘It’s because you’re from a diff– wait, what did you just say?’
Chuck hands Ace the joint but doesn’t bother exhaling. “Yeah, it’s the only thing that really makes sense. You know, meeting you and getting my ring without you remembering it, my memory of my life in this Universe being foggy, that mysterious force lying outside of my being that keeps taking over my body and making me say shit… you see? I didn’t even mean to say that third thing, it just kind of came out. But anyway, all that stuff is totally weird, but until you brought up the ninja village thing, it never really clicked with me. I was just going with the flow. But yeah, the only thing that makes sense is that I came here from another universe – one very similar to this one – and the memories of this Universe’s Chuck must have meshed with mine.”
‘I… well then,’ Ace telelaughs, impressed. ‘You basically got it man, good for you. Want the actual truth?’
“From you? Uh… don’t take this the wrong way but… ah fuck it, it doesn’t matter how you take it. I’m about to leave the Universe, right? Why does one leave one’s Universe? Because one needs to go on a journey. Okay, so why does one go on a journey? To learn who they are. So, no spoilers, please and thank you.”
Ace looks at Chuck for the first time, not through him but at him, as an equal of sorts. I mean, nobody’s really an equal to Ace, but that’s beside the point. Here’s this creature that’s about to move on from an infinite Universe, one endless moment that stretches on and on forever, to the next, all in search of who he is. All because things in this Universe went so far in the direction opposite that he wanted them to go that he can’t stand to live here anymore. Of course, he also has the means to leave this realm, which not many beings that get described as creatures get, but still. If this isn’t some of the most dramatic bullshit that Ace has ever witnessed in a human…
‘…but you’re not really human, are you Chuck?’
“What the fuck are you on about?” Chuck snaps, nonverbally demanding the joint back.
As Chuck puffs, Ace telepaths, ‘Well humans are alive, and like I said before, you’re not alive any more than I am. Can I at least explain what that means?’
Chuck takes a fifth consecutive hit, this one more dragged out than the other ones, and passes the joint back to Ace.
“No, Mister Drug-Doing Alien, sir, you may not.”
‘Oh my fucking… the both of you with the alien thing, it’s so fucking irritating.’
“The both of us?” Chuck anxiously asks, staring at the joint that Ace is holding in his hand rather than smoking.
‘Yeah, you and fuckin’ Samuel in there. Earth humans calling anything else an alien, especially a
Zeroc, is laughable at best, and vaporization-worthy at worst. Oblivious bastards, every one of you.’
“Um…” Chuck says, at war with himself. He knows this is just a ruse to keep him in the Universe for as long as possible before he leaves, the bait is so obvious he can almost see a silver hook floating from Ace’s mouth. Ugh… just, like… why? Why must everyone else always get in the way of Chuck doing what he wants to do? Why Ace, why right now? Chuck doesn’t have a clue – maybe this Universe slips into a state of nonexistence when it doesn’t contain his presence. Maybe Ace is going to try to steal the ring back. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe the other thing that you didn’t expect; it doesn’t matter much, not at this point in the game. Chuck just has to punch a hole into the Universe and he’s out… so… I guess he’ll take the bait, see what happens. Hmm… maybe–
‘Maybe we can pretend I’m just a
Zeroc and you’re just human and I just want to impart some knowledge on you?’ Ace offers, Chuck’s whitewater rapids of internal chatter too much to eavesdrop upon without interrupting. ‘You know, kind of like a bigger brother? That’s basically what I am to you, Chuck, like, on a biological level. If we’re gonna play pret–’
“FINE!” Chuck yells into the void of space, hardly vibrating the very few air molecules that buzz around on this, the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a good thing Ace doesn’t need to hear to perceive what Chuck is saying, or else this whole thing would be really weird. “Fine, explain your shit. Just give me the fuckin’ plant back so I don’t have to… I don’t know. Just gimme.”
Ace gives Chuck the joint, then, ‘So, where do you want me to start?’
“I don’t fucking care dude,” as he pulls. “The not alive thing, the big brother thing, the alien thing, whatever. Hey, why don’t you explain to me why Psychedelics don’t really have any effect on me anymore? Why don’t you just explain everything, let this be a whole batch of exposition for whatever blue-skinned salamander creature reads this in a book once the events echo and reverberate through the strings of Existence far enough to reach them. Fucking, why don’t you just… why don’t you just let me fucking leave?”
Ace, still in the lotus position, takes the joint from Chuck and sticks it in his mouth. Then, he takes Chuck’s hand in his and closes his eyes. ‘Chuck, in this Universe, the original Chuck died at the exact moment you entered. You’re from an earlier iteration of this Universe, one that was destroyed when that iteration’s Sigmund activated the black hole device that I ga–… that the version of me from the earlier iteration, gave him. The thing is, when you left that universe and avoided the black holing, you changed what you are as a being. You became… more or less like me.’
“Like you?” Chuck says, breaking the speech up so it doesn’t get too self-involved.
‘Yes, like all of us Psychenauts. Fleurna, Bill, myself – we all died a very, very long time ago. In this iteration of this Universe, in the last one, and in any future ones, I would assume. My squad, and the superior who trained us, we were actually the first ones to set foot on planet Fuego. It was a star before we transmuted it into a planet – want to know how we did that?’
“Sure, knock me out.”
Zee-Tee, the Moksha Medicine we produce in our brains. My squad, in an effort to prove that it was possible to our superior, changed a star into a planet using our unlocked minds and nothing else. Shortly after, an incident involving a specific moon occurred and, fearing we would be blamed, my team fled Fuego forever. One day we were zooming through space and we just died; all of us, all at once, because we got really high off this or that and decided to go. Then we all woke back up the next morning just in time to see a meteor slam into our ship and destroy us completely.’
“Oh… Christ. Didn’t expect that.”
‘Because I worded it in a certain way, duh. But anyway, yeah, us Psychenauts are only spirits, our consciousnesses – our higher selves, so to speak. We exist when we wish and when we don’t, we don’t; we’re kind of like guardian angels in a way, and to summon us, all one must do is consume any variant of the Moksha Medicine. Sort of. To be honest we just kind of find ourselves in other beings’ lives, kind of like y’all find yourselves in ours. We’re just really good at going with the flow.’
“Oh… kay?” Chuck hesitantly asks, not sure where all of this is going. Maybe he should just leav–
‘NO! No I’m about to link it all I swear, don’t let go of my hand either.’
Chuck doesn’t let go of the alien’s hand, although he more than kind of wishes he would.
‘Okay, so I told you we created Fuego, so from that you were supposed to wonder, where did they live before Fuego?’
“But I didn’t, because I’m not a fucking student, and I just want to fucking leave the Universe. Spit it out Ace, come on. This is ridiculous.”
Ace pauses and stares at Chuck for a moment. Then:
‘At first there was nothing, because a black hole decimated the last iteration of this Universe. Then, suddenly the current iteration existed and there was everything. From that everything spawned this solar system, along with an infinite amount of other solar systems, but that doesn’t matter. When all the planets were all nice and created-like, life decided to show up in the form of the Stropharians. Before you ask, they’re a race of fungal lifeforms from which all life in this Universe descends – at least, that’s what they told us. They were a bipedal mushroom species, looked a lot like you and me except their head is the shape of what we know as a mushroom cap, and they spawned on Mercury. Yes, at one point, Mercury sustained life, and it did it so well the Stropharians stripped it of all its many resources, so they had to move to Venus. Venus was devoid of life, or so I was told, so the Stropharians took over there and became even more advanced. The stories say that the Venus Stropharian empire could eclipse the Fuego
Zerocian empire in terms of spiritual oneness, but that’s beside the point.’
“What is the point? I’m so tired dude, what’s the fucking point?”
‘Getting there. So, while on the trip from Mercury to Venus, the Stropharians shot a bunch of their spores out into the void. Some of these spores landed on Earth in a field where some cows were grazing, a field owned by a farmy version of the indigenous higher life, the Quatchfut. The farmer didn’t notice the spore, but he did notice the strange mushroom growing from the shit of one of his cows a few weeks later. And when he ate said mushroom, he noticed some very strange effects had taken over his body.’
“Wait… yeah, stropharia, yeah, that’s a rare species of Magic Mushroom. Are you… so originally, before humans and
Zerocians came into the picture, life on Earth was nothing but ‘Shrooming bigfoots?! Get the fuck outta here!” Chuck exclaims, so fucking glad he didn’t leave yet.
‘Yes, life on Earth started with the Quatchfut. Perhaps they’re a branch evolution from a stray Stropharian spore that missed the target when their species originally pulled a panspermia and landed on Mercury – the ‘Shroomians needed to originate somehow, after all – but that’s not for us to know. Regardless, when the Quatchfut ate the Mushroom, the Stropharians noticed.’
“From a planet away?”
‘From a planet away. What’s that old
Zerocian saying? The one about Mushrooms versus Acid… OH! Mushrooms are like being strapped to the back of a rocket ship, while Acid is like piloting the rocket ship yourself. You ever hear that?’
‘Well, when one is on Mushrooms and strapped to the back of that rocket… who do you think is controlling it?’
Chuck doesn’t want to answer, but he does anyway. “You’re telling me that… what are you telling me?”
‘When one eats a Magic Mushroom, one’s consciousness is hijacked, or rather, highjacked, by a Stropharian for the duration of the trip. It’s entirely seamless too, not even a
Zerocian can discern exactly when it happens.’
“Huh. So how do the
Zeroc come into all of this?”
‘Right… so the Stropharians, having detected more life in their solar system, packed their bags and left for Earth. They created a symbiotic civilization between themselves and the Quatchfut at first, but it didn’t last long. The Stropharians felt that they were superior because the Quatchfut were covered in hair and the ‘Shroomians were mostly hairless, just like you and me. So, with these feelings, the Stropharians climbed to the top of the society and made the Quatchfut into lower-class citizens, for lack of a better term. Then they started some genetic experimentation and, how do I put this… one vial filled with a combination of Stropharian and Quatchfut dee-en-aye later, whammy, the first
Zeroc was born.’
‘Yeah. Eventually the
Zeroc were demoted to the social status of lower-class citizens too, so we teamed up with the Quatchfut and kicked the Stropharians off of Earth. Then, uh… there’s no easy way to say this; then the Zeroc pulled a Stropharian and rose above the Quatchfut, and some dee-en-aye experiments occurred, and one vial of combined Zeroc and Quatchfut dee-en-aye later…’
When Chuck doesn’t answer, Ace telepaths, ‘Humans. I wanted you to guess it, but… yeah, we created the humans. And then there was anything, meaning something of a civil war, and we were kicked off the planet, and apparently, at some point y’all humoys got rid of all the Quatchfuts, too. Or maybe they gave your species a hard reset and put y’all back into the backdrop to be nomads for a while before going away themselves – speaking just for myself here, if I was stuck on a planet populated with humans, I would do my best to disappear, too. But anyway, that’s where humans come from: you’re half Quatchfut and half
Zeroc, ya bunch of fuckin’ alien-ass asses. As for you Chuck, well… you’re not really human at all.’
“So I’ve been told.”
‘Okay so in the other iterations of this Universe,’ Ace telepaths excitedly, almost like the vibrational frequency responsible for his existence has never experienced explaining Chuck to Chuck before, ‘you’re a normal human, only one ninja village. Sigmund performs some cybernetic enhancements on you, but you’re still human. In this iteration, there are many ninja villages, and Sigmund kills you in your sleep by injecting your brain with hemi-atomic nanobots, just to see what happens. So, it sort of works and sort of doesn’t; you didn’t die, but you were also incapable of acting on your own free will. You could talk and say whatever you wanted, but as far as actions, you were a ragdoll. Then comes… a week ago tomorrow, in Earthly terms. Sigmund sends his CyberChuck (who didn’t know he was a CyberChuck yet, as Sigmund didn’t know how to tell him) on a mission to destroy space junk and clear the way for the aliens that aren’t coming to visit him. As you can see, he was quite successful, because there’s not much space junk up here now. However, he was also incredibly not successful, because a meteor struck the ship that CyberChuck was in and killed him.’
“Nah, I doubt it. The old me definitely survived the meteor strike and smoked a joint on his way out, that’s what I would have done. Regardless though, rest in pieces, ol’ boy.”
‘Quite. But, at the exact moment of CyberChuck’s death, your consciousness opened a portal into this Universe and the hemi-atomic nanobots that CyberChuck was composed of blinked through reality and formed your body.’
“Stop, you lost me.”
‘You lost yourself. Like I told you before, when you left your original universe, you changed who you are as a being on a basic, fundamental level. You ascended the consciousness spectrum so fast that you didn’t realize that you did it. And that’s okay, because that means you’re something of a guardian angel too, just like us.’
“I’m a guardian asshole, maybe, but continue.”
‘So, when you entered into this Universe, your existential signal, so to speak, alerted the hemi-bots that were the old Chuck and they got to where they needed to be in order to support the new Chuck. You see, and I’m going to use a metaphor here, don’t read into it – you’ll see what I did there in a minute – so, originally, this book was supposed to be Sigmund’s story, you follow? He killed you and turned you into his cybernetic sidekick and together you were going to fight crime, and then the “big twist at the end” was going to be that he was the villain all along. Then, naturally, you would have had to kill him. But Sigmund’s bad choice in the other iterations sent a ripple into this one and bam, here you are. The true you. That’s why Psychedelics don’t affect you like they used to anymore, because your body, while still functionally human, is not actually human. You’re different now, so the Moksha hits you differently. I think that’s how you work, anyway; cards on the table, I’m from the current iteration of this Universe, so I don’t really know what went down in the past one. Or ones; for all we know, Sigmund could have destroyed this Universe two, three times. Maybe you got the ring from me in the last iteration, maybe you didn’t. There’s no way to know, but, at the same time, it doesn’t really matter. You’re here, you have the ability to travel to different Universes, and your body is composed of hemiatomic nanobots, and, you’re aware of all that now. So, when you eventually get spat out into a different universe, your body will automatically be composed of the nanobots. You’re… well Chuck, you’re basically a god. Like, officially. And now you’re aware of that. Congrats.’
“Can I go now please?” Chuck pleads, not wanting to hear any more words inside his head. “I don’t even know if you answered all the questions you asked me, but I’m… I’m about done here. I don’t care anymore, I have shit to do.”
‘Exactly!’ Ace telepathically bursts, still holding Chuck’s hand. ‘And you may go, after one more thing. I want to do a little exercise with you here. Close your eyes – good. Now, open them. Yeah, we zoomed out a bit – right now, you and I are so far away from planet Earth that it looks like a tiny little pale turquoise dot. You see it? Yay! Now, humans have many hand signs, correct?’
‘You know, like… the hippie peace sign, ninja hand signs, the Star Trecker’s more fingery peace sign, um… the normal peace sign, repeated for emphasis. You know what I mean?’
Chuck is so tired.
‘Now close your eyes again, I will too this time. I want you to hold your hand up at Earth and make a hand sign at it, any one you want. Just express how you’re feeling about Earth. Nice, I’m feeling something. Okay so now open your eyes an– a peace sign? Fuckin’ really, Chuck?’
Chuck looks over and sees Ace flipping the bird to planet Earth, the joint pinched betwixt his thumb and pointer finger.
“A middle finger?” Chuck asks, mocking Ace’s voice. “Fuckin’ really, Ace?”
‘Fuckin’ really! Chuck, you’re a god now; you’re an individual being at the helm of the consciousness spectrum, unless there’s something above you, but that’s not important right now! You can go into Existence and do whatever you want, you belong to yourself and nobody else. You perpetuate your own existence, Chuck… well, not literally, but you know what I mean; you have an entire infinity ahead of you! Fuck that planet, fuck your origins; first there was nothing, then there was everything. Now, Chuck? Now, there is anything. So go fuckin’ grasp it!’
Chuck lets go of Ace’s hand just to realize he’s not holding it. In fact, Ace isn’t even there, and neither is his ship. Chuck is just floating now, floating by himself in deep, deep space, not quite as deep into space as this Universe’s Chuck was when he died, but deep into space nonetheless. Chuck takes a deep breath of the lapse of air around him and concentrates to summon the Df
ZT ring to his middle finger. A large oval is drawn into the void and shattered to reveal the spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow and then some, the undulating cauldron’s broth of conscious energy which permeates throughout all of Existence, constantly spinning behind the scenes, just waiting for another being to jump in and become one, one with It and with itself.
Well, why bother keeping It waiting? Chuck jumps in and the portal closes.
And the Universe goes on without missing a beat.