|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
The Black Hole
Chuck travels through the tube system Sigmund installed in the Cape tower until the platform finally brings him into Sigmund’s lab where he finds something of a little powwow going on. There’s Sigmund, sweaty as usual, standing across from… oh boy. This moment. He’s standing across from some vaguely familiar silver-haired, tall-ass let us call him a purple-painted human, accompanied by a slightly familiar-looking human who, for some untold fucking reason, is holding about ten kilos of brick LSD in his menacingly gloved hands.
“Chuck!” Sigmund exclaims, running over to Chuck. “Look! That’s an extraterrestrial! And so is that one, they’re both actual, extra-terrestrial extraterrestrials!”
Chuck looks at Sigmund, then at the purple dude, then at the bricks piled in the kid’s hands, then at the chinchilla sitting on top of Sigmund’s head, then at the kid, and then back to the body painter, making eye contact.
“They’re finally here! Remember, that one New Year’s bash you threw? The one with the domestic terrorist? When I accidentally contacted the extraterrestrial transmitter that was floating in our solar system? Well, it took them a while, but they finally came!”
Chuck, noticing the abnormally tall intruder rolling his eyes, scoffs, “Hah, bullllllllllshit. That’s totally the hippie from the closet before.”
“What?” says everybody in the room, even Chuck.
“Uh, nothing,” Chuck says, evidently feeling talkative. “I’m out, I gotta go somewhere… else.”
The elevator platform begins to ascend back into the ceiling to take Chuck to a place in his tower where he can hopefully salvage what’s left of the Holiblaze, and then escape and not get eaten by a black hole. Then it shakes to a stop, Chuck opting to jump off before the device malfunctions and bursts into flames. This leaves him looking mildly annoyed.
Sigmund’s about to start monologuing about the transmitter again, but the suspected extraterrestrial holds up his four-fingered, one-thumbed hand and shushes him, not even giving him the chance.
Then, the extraterrestrial says, “Wait, before you start with that transmitter nonsense again, we aren’t staying here. I have gifts for both of you as thanks for sparing your eL-eSs-Dee. I know it will cost Cape Enterprises Uncorporated quite a bit of, how you say, dollars.”
Chuck begins to smile, but then, “Wait, how did you know the name of my–”
“You told me yourself, Chucky.”
“For you, Sigmund, this device.” Purple hands Sigmund a small black cube with a white ring on one of its sides. “That is a very special iteration-class device, use it wisely. And for you, Charles–”
“That’s what I said, Charles,” says the “painted” dude, holding out his empty palm, “But for you, this… wait, what?”
Chuck is confused and mildly irritated – Sigmund gets a present but not him? Why did he even get teleported down here in the first place?!
Then, he has an ah-ha moment as some pre-black hole memories flood his system, leading him to remove his right glove.
“Wait, I thought I… how is this…” the purple-painted player mumbles perfectly, almost as if he rehearsed it. When he looks up, he sees that Chuck is flipping him off, his middle finger sporting a ring with a multicolored gemstone. The violet vindicator’s eyes grow into that of a giant squid. “Where…” a practiced pause. Then, “Where did you get that ring?”
“Well wouldn’t you like to know, fucko?”
The purple tallman(?) takes a moment to study the situation, a perfected look of contemplation heavy on his face, but ends with a smile. “Very well,” he says, turning to Sigmund. “You know what that does, don’t you Sigmund?”
“Uh, y-yes I… believe I do,” he nervously stutters. They say never meet your idols – they’re out of their flipping minds.
“And are you going to press that button?”
Sigmund looks at the device in his hand, studying the black hole inside the white ring. “No, I… I don’t think I will, sir. I think I have plans for it though, I’ll reverse engineer it.”
The purple nothuman smiles a smile that’s taken millennia to perfect. “Very well. Welp, our time was running short even before I decided to bestow this gift upon you. We must dip, the rift is closing. Thank you Sigmund.” Then, in an existentially sincere tone, “Thank you, Chuck.”
The purple being winks at Chuck and then disappears, along with the kid and the four bricks of crystal LSD.
“So uh… what the fuck was that, Sig?”
“Hm?” Sigmund says without looking up from his new device. “I’m not sure… thank you for coming though.”
“You teleported me here.”
Chuck stretches his arms towards the ceiling, yawning a mighty yawn. “Whatever, that went better than I expected. It–”
“I thought you never expected things?”
“Don’t interrupt me. And I don’t expect things.”
“You expected me to not interrupt you just now. I’d call that a pretty great expectation, considering how I’m smarter than you and I’m entitled to interrupting you whenever I want.”
“Oh, you’re smarter than me, huh? Is that why you live in my fuckin’ basement, asshole? Is that why you work for me? Because you’re smarter than me?”
Sigmund stares Chuck in the eyes and clutches his iteration-class device. “I allow myself to work for our company because you have enough money to own a city. You’re luh–”
“I’m lucky to have you, Sig? Is that what you were going to say? Guess what fuckstick, luck is about as real as magic, meaning it’s not. You work for me because you’re not good enough to exist on your own… wait, are you getting déjà vu, too? I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.”
“Stop it, don’t change the subject. You really think you’re better than me, Chuck? Because you’re not. You think you’re superior to everyone around you, it clouds your judgement; you’re fucking crazy, like, literally insane. And guess what?” Sigmund postulates, the agitation building inside him. “I’ve been planning on killing you, asshole, and you never even realized it. Your body is already more machine than man… you’re hardly even human. All I had to do was inject your brain with hemibots and you’d be done, you’d be a robot, a slave. You’d be my slave; if I so much as pressed a button, you’d have to do exactly what I say.”
“Emphasis on the if. But you’re seriously not getting déjà vu?”
“The only déjà vu that I’m getting is the feeling that you keep changing the subject whenever I start to be right. Whenever I start to act on the dominance I hold over you, you always change the subject. You’re sick. You manipulate everyone around you because you don’t know how to make others like you. You think I like you? The only reason I stuck with you is because you offered me a bigger paycheck than the other leads I had back when I graduated college. I regret it to be honest; I’ve regretted joining up with you ever since the moment I chose to do it.”
“If you regret it so much then why don’t you fuckin’ leave?” Chuck growls. “Nobody’s making you stay Sigmund, if you fuckin’ hate it here so much then just fuckin’ go. Actually, you know what? Maybe I’ll just fuckin’ leave. You know what this ring does, big boy?” as he holds his middle finger inches away from Sigmund’s face, the Dif
Zoral Tryptamine crystal shining bright with colors that Sigmund’s never even conceived of.
As Sigmund starts to answer, Chuck continues, aggravating him further. “It lets me travel to different universes. I can leave and do whatever I want. You cou– oh, wait. No, you can’t, because you’re not smart enough to have invented this technology by yourself.”
“Neither are you! You got it from the extraterrestrials, you–”
“NO! I didn’t! You heard him yourself, the purple dude had no fuckin’ idea where I got this shit! Maybe I’m some kind of spiritual god – you said you were planning on killing me a second ago. Then why am I still here, why didn’t you do it?”
“BECAUSE, I’m better than you in every conceivable way. Like, I’m objectively better, an–… what are you doing with that?”
Sigmund’s staring at his iteration-class device, clutching it with both hands.
“Sigmund…” Chuck says, feeling the strings of the Universe beginning to tremble. “You’re not… what are you doing?”
Sigmund slowly raises his head and stares at Chuck, a hollow blackness emerging from his pupils that are usually so full of life and wonder. He raises his hand above the iteration-class device an–
Sigmund finds himself laid out against the back wall of his laboratory, the black hole generator sitting in the middle of the floor between himself and Chuck.
Chuck, once the hemi-atomic nanobots that are his left arm melt from air cannon form back into arm form, tries to catch his breath. His heart’s racing, mind’s spinning – this isn’t just déjà vu, this is something more. Sigmund almost pressed that button, and… oh fuck, he’s crawling back towards it.
“Dude stop, what are you doing?!”
“What I need to do! I’m tired of it Chuck, I’m tired of all of it! Slaving under you, putting up with your psychotic mood swings, dealing with the emotionally unstable brat that you’ve grown to become! I’m just fucking sick of it, nobody should be made to suffer through a world where Chuck Leary lives and breathes. This is supposed to be my story, my life, and I spend all my time doing your bidding because I’m afraid you’ll hurt me if I don’t!”
As Sigmund picks himself up, Chuck dons his ring and traces an oval into the fabric of space. Before he shatters it and jumps ship though, he has to try one more time.
“Sig, I don’t think you understand what you’re doing with that… you’ll destroy everything except me. I’m about to escape an–”
“Escape? From a black hole?” as he bends down and picks the device up off the floor. “That’s physically impossible, and I would know. I’m an astrophysicist, and a rocket scientist, and an engineer, and… you know what? Fuck it, I don’t need to explain myself to the likes of you.”
As the third iteration of Universe W-2020 approaches its point of singularity, something clicks in Chuck’s mind. From his right kneecap, two small arms emerge and stretch across the room, gripping Sigmund by the wrists and holding his hands, and the killswitch, safely in place.
“Look man,” Chuck says, not sure why the words are coming from his mouth, “I need you to understand something, okay? This has happened before, more than once. This moment, the press of that button… the evisceration of this Universe from Existence at large, and I’ve escaped it each and every time, only to come back and see it all happen again. You claim that you’re destroying the Universe because you’re spiteful towards me, but destroying the Universe won’t destroy me. I’ll just leave and come back once the shit’s reformed, don’t you get it? If you’re going to do this, you need to come to grips with the fact that you’re doing it because of you. Nobody is making you do this except you; whether it’s because someone wasn’t very nice to you as a kid, because your parents didn’t treat you the way you thought you should have been treated, whatever; you’re about to end the Universe again because it’s what you want to do.”
Sigmund, struggling to break the hold that his own invention has over him, scoffs at Chuck. “No Chuck, this is happening because of you. You’re a dick, you’re always rude to me, never giving me the credit I deserve. You only thank me because you feel obligated to; if you didn’t live inside your own damned head, you wouldn’t even acknowledge me! I can’t even interrupt you without you making a big fucking deal out of it, you’re a narcissistic sociopath! What’s more, you claim that this has all happened before, that you’ve seen me press the button multiple times, and yet, you’ve failed to stop me each and every time.”
‘Well,’ Chuck thinks to himself, ‘never considered that before.’
“Even if your bullshit theory is right and this moment keeps repeating itself, there’s a correlation between you being in this Universe and me ending it. Know what that means? Of course you don’t, because you dropped out of college after eating nothing but psychedelic drugs for weeks on end! That means that you are the cause of this Universe’s demise. If what you say is true and we keep coming to this moment, with my hand over the button and you trying to stop me only to fail and have me push the button, then it is your fault when I unavoidably push that button! I may be the one pushing the button, but you’re the one who’s pushed me to push the button. And considering how this isn’t even the first instance of all this happening, that means you keep causing it over and over. So maybe, this time… maybe you just shouldn’t come back.”
“Maybe…” sigh “maybe you’re right, okay? Is that what you want to hear? It’s all my fault, okay dude? So if I leave and never come back, are you still going to end it all?”
Sigmund gives Chuck a quizzical look. “That… is for me to know, and for you to never find out.”
Chuck releases his hold on Sigmund’s hands and they both just stand there for a moment, staring into each other’s eyes. Is this really goodbye? Is Hunter Owens Wallace crazy enough to spend a month and a half locked away in his dark bedroom writing for twelve hours a day to draft a novel that he’ll never release? Did I die and come back… for nothing?
“Well… I guess you’ve given me no other choice, Sig ol’ buddy. It’s been real, and it’s been fun, and you know what?”
Sigmund waits for Chuck to continue, but Chuck doesn’t. So Sigmund asks, “What?”
“It’s been real fun. You’re the closest thing to a friend that I’ve ever had, man. I love you like a brother. You’re brilliant, you’re funny, you’re incredibly kindhearted, and you’re so fucking unique, I’ve never met another dude like you. An–”
“And it really fucking sucks that you had to be faced with the destruction of your Universe for you to tell me that,” Sigmund says, cutting Chuck off for the last time. “You have ten seconds before I press the button Chuck, and it’s happening whether you’re here or not. So if you’re going to leave, leave. And never come back.”
Chuck retraces the oval into the fabric of the Universe because the old one went too long before it was shattered and the strings melded back together. He takes one last look at Sigmund and asks, “Wait, I have one more question, and it’s a serious one. What if… what if I am this Universe? What if, when I leave, everything just ends anyway? What if this entire Universe just exists for me?”
Sigmund stares at Chuck for a moment. “Well… the fact that you’re megalomaniacal enough to seriously ask me that question right now makes me want to destroy the Universe all that much more. Just fucking go Chuck, nobody wants you here. Let me end the world in peace.”
And so, he does; Chuck shatters the oval and leaps through the swath of colors into infinity. A moment later, Sigmund, sitting alone in his laboratory that’s buried underneath the faux earth he created out of plastic and garbage, takes a shallow breath. Shaking, he pres–