The 2020 Event |The Sideshows|

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Universe W-2020: The Psychenauts 3
April 16th, 1943
Life-Sized Droids

Insekten

Albert places the metal tray down on the counter and leans forward, catching himself before he completely loses balance. A few minutes drip down the wall and he tries to stand up straight again – we have success. Standing there in the middle of the lab, he holds himself together for a whole moment or two before inevitably stumbling backwards into a closed storage cabinet containing the laboratory’s supply of ergot-derived alkaloid compounds.

‘Wait, is this what I think it is?’

‘Shhh, just watch.’

Thankfully, the cabinet is sturdy and it catches his fall. Not about to let himself collapse into the equipment when he’s alone in the lab, Albert slowly walks his way out to the open floor. Each step taken requires an immense amount of effort and focus, is he going crazy? Perhaps; regardless, he plops himself down on the floor and covers his eyes with his hands, releasing an unsteady groan as bright lights emerge from within his closed eyelids. Then he begins to sway back and forth, the groan evolving into a light giggle. Lowering his hands to remind himself what hands look like, Albert’s face lights up with amazement at the intricacy and perplexity of the swirls on the tips of each of his fingers. Also, the patterns seem to be moving all on their own, so that’s interesting. As his jaw begins to droop, Albert’s very dilated eyes only widen.

‘Oh my god this is it, thank you so mu–’

Shhhh!

Albert continues to study his handibles for a few decades longer before he closes his eyes and lays back on the floor – old boy has a case of the spins, to say the least. He’s never felt more comfortable laying upon a cold laboratory floor than he does right now though… until he realizes how much energy he has! Woo! Oh the energy, the utter restlessness of it all! Leaping to his feet, Albert looks around and absorbs the laboratory, gazing in awe of what should be familiar to him; it’s as if he’s never seen it before.

Unsure of what exactly is happening to him right now whilst staying strictly adverse to fighting it, Albert decides that he’s in no condition to work. He writes a note explaining how he suddenly fell ill and went home, leaving it on the tray he was working with for any colleagues who may or may not come into the lab later. As he gathers his things, Albert notices two flies standing on the wall just beside the exit. Shocked at the fact his sterile science environment has been breached, he slowly approaches the insects and stares them down with eyes that aren’t nearly as hungry as a frog’s would be in this situation.

“While I do not know how you got in here, insekten, I absolutely commend your efforts. I must go now, the walls are beginning to move and I have what I imagine will be a very interesting bike ride home to embark on.”

With a tip of his hat, Albert walks out the door, the flies slipping through the gap after him.

It’s blaringly hot out for a mid-April’s day. Albert, still clad in his ankle-length lab coat, mounts his bicycle and struggles to master the ancient art of balance.

‘AH! Where’d he go?? Don’t even tell me we’ve lost him.’

‘Over yonder, he’s trying to figure out how to ride the bike. Quick, land on his coat tail!’

The flies buzz right for Albert, but just as he starts peddling off on his journey, they spiral to the ground dead.

BioBot Fuel

A reflective visor lifts from in front of Sam’s eyes, suddenly human. He’s dazed; the ship’s lights are easily as bright as the Swiss sun that he just died under, but less hot. In getting out of the chair, our boy loses his balance and stumbles forward, but luckily enough the floor is there to catch his fall. Sam then opens his eyes again, this time to a pair of feet planted next to him.

“Ride got a little bumpy there, I see. You all right, Sam? Yeah, don’t worry; as soon as you’re done groveling around on the floor, you’ll be okay.

“Shush Zax!” as Fleurna slaps him on the shoulder, shushing him through multiple mediums of reality. “You cried after your first time in the chair, didn’t you?”

Fleurna then turns her attention back to Sam. “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah I think I’m good,” as Sam stands to his feet, a little wobbly at first. “I’m not sure what just happened though. That m–”

“Albert Hoffman, Pee-ache-Dee,” Zaxus announces, his burly purple chest puffed out. “You just witnessed the human discovery of the Moksha application of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Three more days in there and you would have seen Bicycle Day. By the way, this is gonna be your only freebie.”

Sam starts chortling in the most gleeful manner. “Holy shit! That was incredible, we were literally flies on the wall during Hoffman’s iconic first trip!”

Fleurna and Zaxus look at each other with exasperation. “We know, dude. She was there with you, and I was keeping an eye on the monitor. This freaking…”

Fleurna puts a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I’m sorry that it ended prematurely, he puts on quite a show when he gets home. No matter though, whenever you’re ready for it, we have another bot session to undertake.”

“Bot session? What? I thought that was a simulation.”

“Of course you did!” Zax laughs out loud. “You’re a puny little human boy, from Earth no less!”

“Zaxus, be nice…”

“Nah. Look humey, we’re The Psychenauts, as in Psychedelics, not simulations. We don’t mess around with that nonsense. We’re not called The Simunauts, you get me?

“That said,” Fleurna cuts in, “the experience we just embarked on wasn’t exactly a trip either.” After tapping away on the computer screen, “The BioBots died early because somebody forgot to refuel the machine. Zax.”

“I didn’t put more fuel into the machine because we’re all out. Fleur. All that’s left in the cabinet is a little metal tin with a few pills in it. I didn’t even know eL-eSs-Dee was made into pills these days, wild stuff. But Botting totally counts as tripping, don’t even get at me with it.”

“We’re out of fuel? What?! What the hell dude, you’re supposed to tell Ace about that before it happens!”

“Well, ya see,” Zaxus begins, a smug little grin forming across his wide purple face. “I would have, really, but it clearly states in the HOW’s idea book that you, Fleurna, are in charge of the research chemiculars, while I am responsible for…”

Sam feels lost, a wanderer been cast astray so long he forgets where he’s from. And where he’s going. And that he’s wandering in the first place. After Ace told him, and I quote, “Lol just siddown and put on the visor, you’ll dig this,” he watched one of his all-time idols dive down the rabbit hole of an unexpected Acid trip, only to be abruptly and disorientatingly yanked out of the simulation, or rather, Bot session, ‘Whatever that means.’ Now two aliens are arguing about who forgot the LSD while Ace is nowhere to be found. Sam is so, so lost.

“So guys…” Sam squeaks from the floor.

They both turn to face him.

“Was that real or not?”

The aliens look at each other for a second.

“Uhh…” Fleurna starts, “what exactly do you mean by real?”

“Well Zaxus said it wasn’t a simulation, but Ace gave me a visor. So what was it?”

“Even if it was a simulation,” Zax condescends from the top of the mountain he apparently just climbed, “simulations are still real.”

“They are?”

“Are they not? Do you phase out of Existence when you plug into them?”

“Uh, I mean, I don’t really kno–”

“Does the very fabric of being just unwind, just collapse into itself and disappear into nothingness every time a lifeform puts itself into a simulation generator? The answer is no, no it doesn’t, and why? Because that would be asinine, I mean really, dude. Think.”

Sam shrinks down to the size of a perforated tab of paper. “I’m sorry, I’m still new at this whole traversal of Existence thing.”

“Obviously. I was there when we picked you up, kiddo. I’m just busting your balls.”

“And quite feverishly, at that,” Fleurna chimes in. “I don’t want to bore you with the details Sam, but those flies were silicarbon-based robots, droids if you will, made of nanobots a quarter the size of an atom each. Their brains are specially designed to operate with eL-eSs-Dee as the primary neurotransmitter; you see, this machine here is linked to them, to all the BioBots that were, are, and will be generated. It uses the visor and the eL-eSs-Dee to let us, how do I put it in Earth words… ummm… okay. It allows us to throw our consciousness across space, time, or any other Existential dimension into said BioBots, and the visor is part of the aiming process.”

Sam’s eyes grow wide as Albert Hoffman’s bicycle tires. “How in the what?”

Fleurna opens her mouth to say more, but Zaxus cuts her off. “It’s simple, kid. We’ve been around for so long that measuring our lifespan would be a fool’s errand; that said, our species and all the cool toys we’ve invented are, and always will be, objectively better than yours. Just go with it.”

“Buhhhht… this is a lot, I think I need to smoke. Is there any weed leftover?”

Zaxus flips from tolerance to anger real quick, literally leaping across the room and backhanding Sam across the face with the back of his hand that is roughly the size of Sam’s face. “Weed?? You might as well just call it pot, or better yet, call it fuckin’ dope! Unbelievable… it’s called Cannabis, you punk! There’s only ONE circumstance in which the plant can be referred to as weed, and that circumstance ain’t currently in our company. GAH! I told Ace this was a shitty idea. Everything that we had to go through to get this freaking human here and this is what he brings to the table?! I liked you at first, but… I need a break, I’m going to my fuckin’ lounge.”

Zaxus storms out of the cylindrical room as Ace simultaneously climbs into it through a hatch in the floor. He takes in the unsteady energy of the dojo, Fleurna desperately working on the largest of the many computers connected to the BioBot station, and Sam rubbing the scarlet half of his face. Ace chuckles.

“Mispronounced the name of the holy herb, didn’t ya?”

“I guess…” Sam says as he shakily rises to his feet. “I didn’t think the name made an–”

“Ace, emergency,” Fleurna cuts in. “Sorry, you’ll finish that conversation later. We’re almost completely out of BioBot fuel.”

“Yeah? Shit, how much we got?”

“Not nearly enough for Botting, it’s not even in liquid form. Synthesizing more isn’t exactly feasible right now, as you know.”

“I do know,” Ace says, putting his hand on his chin, clenching it in contemplation. “So how much we got?”

“Uhhh,” Fleruna freezes, peering into the tin. Then, “About four hundred mics, buh–”

“Perfect! They’re even in capsule form, look at that.”

Ace grabs the tin and turns to Sam, saying, “Don’t worry humey, I know where we can get more. You and I will take a little voyage.”

“Voyage?” Sam asks, confused.

“Voyage?! With Delysid?” Fleurna spouts from a higher level of confusion. “Isn’t that against the rules?”

“Yeah,” Ace scoffs, “the rules that I made up for y’all to follow. We’ll be fine Fleur, go burn one wit’ your second cousin in there.”

“Fine,” she says, throwing her hands into the air and keeping them up there as she walks out the door.

Ace pops two of the white flavorless candies into his mouth and produces a vial of white dust from his pocket. He removes the cork from the vial with his teeth and dumps the dust into the air. Rather than just dispersing randomly all over the place like dust would normally do, this dust seems to have a sentience to it; the particulate mass slithers through the air like a snake until the head begins to consume the tail. When the dust is properly full of itself, it falls to the floor of the ship, landing in a neat little circle that’s just large enough to accommodate both Ace and Samuel.

“Eat up kid, and sit lotus with me in the circle. Also, please stop asking questions. Just going with it is probably gonna be your best bet as long as you’re on this ship with us. Rather, as long as you’re with us in general.”

Sam does as he’s told, enduring the excruciating knee pain of folding his legs on top of one another. It’s worth it though, as he reminds himself, because he gets to trip on LSD for the second time in a week, and this time with an alien, no less. As Sam chews up the pills, Existence slowly becomes sillier and sillier around him, and when the Acid bits hit his stomach, Ace commands the boy to focus. As Sam focuses, a pressure reminiscent of his breakfast with Tiny Tim the other day makes itself present in the middle of his forehead, and everything else melts away, leaving him afloat in The Void.

A Dimly Lit Laboratory

Sam finds himself inside a dimly lit laboratory adorned with tons of futuristic-looking technology and dark blue lab equipment. The air is chilled and Sam has the sense they’re below the surface of some random planet. Stealing drugs from aliens, hell yeah.

“What the heck?” Sam says as he rubs his eyes. “Where are we?”

“What’d I just say?” as Ace rolls his eyes. “We’re in Sigmund’s lab. Don’t touch anything, a’ight? Just put these gloves on and let me do the talking.”

Sam puts the gloves on and promptly shuts his mouth. It’s been days since he’s seen Sigmund, dude’ll probably be super surprised.

Ace stares into the dark air of the lab, ready. Suddenly the wall opposite our Psychenauts slides into the ceiling, revealing a door. A rotund man wearing a transparent lab coat overtop a pair of blue overalls cautiously waddles through and freezes at the sight of the intruders. He looks over at a large red button on one of the computer stations, then back to Ace and Sam, then back to the button, then back to Ace and Sam again. In a sluggishly swift flurry of motion, Sigmund attempts to run over to the button, but immediately trips and falls, crashing to the floor. He sits right up though, refusing to be deterred. There are intruders in his lab, interlopers who are quite obviously agents of an underground United States Government Resurgence Force disguised as extraterrestrials. He peels back the right sleeve of his lab coat to reveal a watch that he didn’t seem to be wearing a moment ago and points it directly at Ace’s head.

“I don’t know who you are, scum, but those have to be the worst extraterrestrial costumes I’ve ever seen! I mean come on, you just look like a tall human with purple paint slathered all over his toned, muscular body! Silver hair? Give me a break, that’s so unrealistic. And you, the partner, or should I say child slave! You’re not even wearing a costume, that’s, that’s, that’s just lazy! Prepare to die, US-GeRF scum, the United States will remain untied as long as I live and breathe! Nobody invades the Durham laboratory and liv–”

Having had enough of that, “Eeeaasy there big guy, no need for the ol’ decimation beam-a-reeno. And props for not using the self-destruction switch, that would have been a whole thing. Anyway, c’mon. You know me. You know us.”

Sigmund lowers his watch for a moment, ponders the alignment of the planets, then immediately readies it again. “No I don’t. How do you know my watch? Not even my boss knows my watch.”

Ace opens his mouth and raises a purple finger to say absolutely nothing. He looks around the room, then back at Sam, then at Sigmund before pulling a small notebook out of his jumpsuit’s pocket and flipping through the pages. Then, “Ah, shit. I apologize Sigmund, it seems we’re a bit early; well, technically this is the fourth iteration of this Universe and we’ve all been here three times ago, and we’ll probably all be here for a fifth time after what usually happens when we dip out, but yeah. Chronologically, we’re early.”

Sigmund and Sam share a very confused look before the former shakes his head and trains the invisible laser sight of his watch back on Ace’s head.

“Right!” Ace continues, his extraterrestrial eyes picking up the laser’s light. “So we’re extraterrestrials, Zeroc to be specific. You haven’t made contact with us ye– well, technically you have, not with us us, per se, but… eugh, what a clusterfuck. Look, you’ll be seeing me again soon, the details aren’t important. Hello there!”

Sigmund’s arms drop to his sides similarly to how his jaw drops to the floor. He slowly stands up.

Utilizing his higher being voice, Ace says, “We don’t have much time, friend, our temporal shift will not last forever. You’ve been chosen to aid us in our time of need – we have a mighty favor to ask of you, Mister Durham.”

Sigmund, without breaking eye contact, raises his watch to his mouth and whispers, “Code purple,” into it. Then, after rolling his sleeve back down, “I will do literally anything you ask of me, you don’t even need to ask. Command me.” He pauses, then, “Please.”

“Lovely!” Ace exclaims. “We’ll need about ten kilograms of eL-eSs-Dee, preferably in brick form so we can melt it back down on the… mothership. You can hand it to my assistant here, who is also an extraterrestrial, and a mute one at that! He’s actually a hybrid, part human and part Zeroc. Just in case I didn’t mention that earlier.”

Sam, overcome with dubiety but happy to be here anyway, holds his gloved hands out. Sigmund slaps on the pair of rubber gloves he always keeps in his pocket and opens a secret compartment hidden beneath a computer screen, removing four off-white bricks from the cavity. Then, after shutting the computer screen with his butt, Sig piles the bricks into a neat little tower on Sam’s hands. Then, he begins to monologue about the transmitter. Ace shuts him down.

A moment later, a hole in the ceiling opens to release a platform upon which stands a man in a black business suit with a purple tie around his neck and a fedora on his head.

“Chuck!” Sigmund exclaims, running over to the suited man. As he points at Ace, “Look! That’s an extraterrestrial! And so is that one, they’re both actual, extra-terrestrial extraterrestrials!”

Chuck looks at Sigmund, then at the Ace, then at the bricks piled in Sam’s hands, then right above the top of Sigmund’s head, then at the Sam, then back to Ace, 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 Ace’s rolling 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, but it quickly shakes to a stop, Chuck opting to jump off before the device malfunctions and bursts into flames. This leaves him looking mildly annoyed, yet Ace stays amused.

Sigmund’s about to start monologuing about the transmitter again, but Ace, not even giving him the chance, holds up his hand and shushes the overzealous scientist.

Then, “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.”

“No I–”

“For you, Sigmund, this device.” Ace hands Sigmund the piece of technology that he’s used to destroy and rebirth the Universe three consecutive iterations in a row now. “That is a very special iteration-class device, use it wisely. And for you, Charles–”

“It’s Chuck.”

“That’s what I said, Charles,” says Ace, holding out his empty palm, “But for you, this… wait, what?”

Sam looks as confused as Chuck does – why didn’t Chuck get a present?

Then, Chuck trades his confusion in return for Ace’s situational dominance and holds up his now gloveless right hand, extending his middle finger so both of the “aliens” can see his admittedly very pretty ring.

“Wait, I thought I… how is this…” Ace mumbles, still looking at his hand. When he looks up and sees that Chuck is flipping him the bird wearing a DifZoralTryptamine ring that has no business existing outside of the boundaries of planet Fuego, the echoes of past universal iterations flood his mind and he remembers bestowing the ring to Chuck. Needing to play along to keep up the continuity of the current iteration of this Universe, Ace says “Where…” then takes a pause that brings with it an onset of déjà vu. Then, “Where did you get that ring?”

“Well wouldn’t you like to know, fucko?”

Ace, even though he’s completely aware of what’s going on here, takes a moment to study the situation, a perfected look of contemplation heavy on his face. He ends his studies 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. Now, for the moment of truth.

“And are you going to press that button?”

Sigmund looks at the device in his hand, studying the button that he’s pressed over and over again since the dawn of this moment’s occurrence. “No, I… I don’t think I will, sir. I think I have plans for it though, I’ll reverse engineer it.”

Ace smiles a smile that doesn’t show how full of shit he thinks Sigmund is. “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 a prematurely sincere tone, “Thank you, Chuck.”

Ace then winks at Chuck. Then he and Sam, and their ten kilos of brick LSD, disappear.

Voyaging

Sam’s sore as a mother knees greet him as he opens his eyes to find himself back on the ship with three bricks of LSD clutched in his still gloved hands. After gingerly unfolding his legs with his hands and screaming in his head in an attempt to distract himself from the pain, he turns around to see Ace sitting in the BioBot station. He opens his mouth to ask a question but Ace beats him to the punch.

“It’s called Voyaging, it’s sort of like lucid dreaming except not at all, really. Fleurna already melted down one of the bricks and fueled up the station, pick a seat and throw on a visor.”

Sam struggles to stand before he hobbles over and flops down in the empty station next to Ace’s chair. He pulls the visor back over his head and closes his eyes, the onset of the forehead pressure lulling him into The Void once more.

The Insectoids

Sam opens his eyes and immediately looks down at his hands, his fingers appearing to have been replaced with weathered, purple-hued chitinous claws. He’s inside a small metallic room, a trailer of some sort. Behind him is a door with a window that offers a view of the outside world. Upon peering through this looking glass, a chill runs up Sam’s exterior spine; a gaggle of large, chitinous humanoid insect creatures are sitting around a fire, passing a large smoking pipe back and forth among themselves and the human boy that’s joined them. It’s not just any human though, that’s Sam out there, like, Sam from a few days ago, before he got abducted by the druggy aliens.

One of the creatures sitting around the fire looks up and makes eye contact with InsectSam, discretely winking before returning its attention to the fireside chat. InsectSam slowly shakes his head and turns around to be greeted by two other insectiod creatures standing on opposite sides of a long table. He’s not sure which one is Ace, if either of them are, but what he is sure of is the identity of the buck-ass naked human laying posterior-up on the table: freaking Tyler.

“This is,” click “where you guys brought him after,” chirp “he passed out?” Sam asks, the verbal mannerisms of his new body feeling all too foreign to him.

“You guys?” one of the Insectoids asks. “You,” clack “carried him too,” chirp “yo.”

Very well then. One of the Insectoids hands InsectSam a six-inch cylindrical device with a button on one of its rounded ends, and then it points at Tyler’s ass, which InsectSam notices is gaping now that he has the displeasure of staring directly into it. Then, looking back and forth between the device and the gape, InsectSam pretends that he has no idea what he needs to do. The other two Insectoids look at each other impatiently before spreading Tyler’s legs and sliding his body down the table, putting the gape in even closer proximity to poor, defenseless InsectSam.

‘Fine.’

InsectSam slides the apparently self-lubricating device as far into Tyler’s unconscious poopshoot as it’ll go and presses the button on the end of it. The device, and Tyler’s ass, then jiggles a bit before the metallic construct tunnels the rest of the way in by itself. Tyler’s butt closes and InsectSam shudders, wishing to burn his claws.

The other two Insectoids drape a large towel over Tyler’s body and flip him over, exposing InsectSam to a side of Tyler that he never wanted to see in a trillion fucking years. Then they each grab a handle that’s sticking out of side of the table where Tyler’s head is resting, shooting InsectSam an expectant look. Catching their drift, InsectSam grabs the two handles that jut adjacent to Tyler’s feet and the three lift the top off the table. Carrying their test subject like a squad of ambulance workers would carry a maimed human on a stretcher, they exit the trailer, cautiously approaching the campsite.

“So,” chirp “uhhh,” InsectSam says, having trouble not staring at Sam. “We did the, um.” click “We did the thing. Uh.” clackity “We’re not really sure what to do with him now.”

“Oh no worries!” Sam says as he hops up from the campfire. “I’ll lead y’all back real quick! And don’t worry about getting lost, because I know you were – I may be tripping nutsack right now, but I know these woods like the back of my hand,” said while staring at the palm of his hand.

Sam gets the little convoy so lost on the way back to the campsite that it’s difficult to accurately describe with words, so I’ll just throw literal examples at you. The troupe is walked in circles four times, they wander down the wrong trail twice, they start to follow some “weird-looking footprints” only to realize they were following their own footprints; you know, that variety of stuff. Sam also keeps speaking in jibberish, repeating the same few sentences at least five times before moving on to the next string of words he feels like repeating. InsectSam and the other two Insectoids keep completely quiet during all this, the two randoms not wanting to offend the kind human by pointing out his obvious lapse of mind and InsectSam flabbergasted at how inanely he comes off when he’s tripping.

After Tyler is safely delivered to The Hillside Commons, Sam takes the troupe back to Base Camp and says his goodbyes, leaving the Insectoids to their business. Not even a moment after Sam is out of perceiving range, an Insectoid that’s slightly taller than the others approaches InsectSam and rests both his heavy, chitinous claws on his shoulders. Then, HopefullyAce reels his head back and cracks InsectSam’s skull with a headbutt.

Sammy The Kid

Back on the ship, Sam is launched out of the BioBot rig. The floor hits him right in the face, the visor claimed by collateral damage.

“Saaaaammmmm,” Ace whines, calmly lifting the visor off his head. “Now what’d you have to go and break the visor for?”

Sam stands up, his head feeling worse than it did the night it caved in, and says, “I, I didn’t, I… wait, so that was you?! Prick.”

“Yeahhh, it sure was. Cockgobbler. It’s fine though, we won’t need to Bot again for a little while anyway. C’mon.”

They walk into the ship’s main room and sit down around the table. A moment of silence is shared between Sam and Ace, a very uneasy silence as far as Sam is concerned.

Eventually, Ace speaks. “So anymore questions, humey?”

“Uhh…” humey says, rubbing his cranium. “Nope, I think I got it. Y’all are crazy, but in a really smart way that I don’t understand.”

“So… we’re not crazy?

“I didn’t say that. Actually, I do have one question, but uh…”

“What did you put up your buddy’s butt?”

“Yes, that exactly.”

Ace smiles a deviously knowing smile. “Heh. A probe of sorts, equipped with a delayed-release trigger mechanism. Might have had a quantum-tech universal eradication bomb. Or it could have been a sensor to keep track of him. Or it could have had a ton of really pure Tee-acHe-Cee in it. Or all three. Or none of the above. Or just one of them. Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Sam just stares at him.

“Okay fine. It’s a probe with a delayed-release mechanism, loaded with a whole buttload of super pure Tee-acHe-Cee. When you pressed that button, it actually tested the device and gave your boy a little taste of the trip that’s in store for him. That’s the last time I’m giving you the answer, though. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Sammy the Kid. Gotta figure things out for yourself.”

“I’m from New Jersey though.”

“Really? I just am. Anyway,” Ace says as he pulls out a tablet from underneath the table.

Without saying another word, Ace arbitrarily taps the screen and puts the device back where he found it. A moment later, over the loudspeaker that’s apparently been in the ceiling this whole time, Ace’s voice says, “Fleurna, Zax, come to das tableaux, we need ya.”

Ace then turns to Sam and, “Now I have a question for you, my monkey friend.”

“Uh, okay,” Sam says nervously. “Shoot.”

“Do you think we could be tripping… right now???

“Oh fuck you, Ace.”

“Hah-haaahhhhh, this is going to be a fun adventure.”

Fleurna and Zaxus walk into the room, the former equipped with a large smoking pipe and the latter a massive cache of Cannabis.

“A fun adventure, indeed.”

Fin


The Ring

“So uh… what the fuck was that, Chuck?”

“Hm?” Chuck says without looking up from his sparkly new ring. “Whatever could you mean?”

“Um, THAT! Calling bullshit on the extraterrestrials when they were standing in the room with us!”

“OH!” Chuck exclaims, sliding the ring onto his middle right finger. “Well I wanted to embarrass you in front of the aliens, I even made eye contact as I did it. Pretty great, I kno– waiwhat the fuck?”

The ring tightens itself around Chuck’s finger as a matrix of thin, flexible metal filaments explode out of it, encasing Chuck’s hand before both the matrix and the ring melt into Chuck’s flesh.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that Chuck?”

Chuck, in this moment, is more surprised by Sigmund’s use of the nomenclature asshole than he is about the whole ring thing.

“Did you just call me an asshole?”

“Yeah, yes I flipping did. You’re a prick, you walk around here acting like a frickin’ moron all the time, pissing everyone off and doing whatever you want, not living by any code whatsoever while the rest of us have to exist in the aftermath that forms before you even enter the room! You’re the goddarned worse!”

“Okay. I think you meant worst, I’ll let it slide though. So what else is new?”

Whatelseisneh,” Sigmund says before audibly growling.

“Woah,” Chuck says, taking a step backwards. “Easy, buddy.”

Sigmund’s face is turning red.

Chuck, swathed in a moment of fat intuition, figures out how to make the ring reappear and disappear on his finger using only his mind. As he plays with his new toy, something possesses him and forces him to trace a large oval in the air. Then, he reels back and punches the middle of the invisible oval, shattering a hole in the fabric of the Universe. A portal is left in its wake, a spiraling can of paint with pigments of all shades of the color spectrum.

Both men are rendered speechless.

Sigmund looks down at his device and says, “So your device is obviously an iteration-class transportation device, but what is this?”

Chuck is mesmerized by the spinning vortex of colors.

Seconds pass. Then, “Where do you think it leads? Oblivion?”

“It’s just a… black box, with a white ring on it. Maybe the ring is a button? Wait, yeah it must be, nothing else makes sense. What on Earth…” he trails off.

Sigmund then goes quiet for a long while, longer than Chuck thinks he should in a situation like this.

“Sigmund? What’s up dude, what does that thing do? What are you thinking?”

Sigmund looks up, dead-eyed. “I don’t know for sure, but I think it interacts with reality, like, with the very fibres of reality, and in a very serious way. Kind of like yours does, but… differently. And, going off the way this button is designed, it looks like… it, it seems like… maybe it’ll create… a black… um, let, let’s just find out, no?”

“Uh, definitely not. That shit could be a bomb dude, that alien could have taken our LSD and then given you a bomb so Earth could be blown up. That way, he would have the only remaining Earth LSD in the whole star system. Using the LSD, he could clone it and sell it to… okay, definitely not, but still. Don’t press that button.”

Sigmund makes no indication whatsoever that he heard Chuck, that he was even paying attention to Chuck in the first place.

Chuck looks at the trippy portal, then at Sigmund, then back at the portal. A strange feeling brews deep in his gut, as if the strings binding this Universe to Existence were beginning to tremble, as if they were about to be consumed by something. Something black.

Sigmund cautiously raises his finger above what’s probably the button of his iteration-class device, a hollow, empty look consuming the darkness in his eyes, leaving an abrasive nothingness in its place. Chuck loses all control of his motor skills again and feels himself leap into oblivion, unable to stop; not even a second after the portal closes, Sigmund’s finger comes down on the button, but he doesn’t press it. He just holds it there for a moment, waiting, feeling the cool space metal chill his the tip of his pointer, indulging in the feeling of holding not the fate of the city, nor the continent, nor the planet or the galaxy but the entire Universe in the palm of his hand. One twitch of his finger, one spasm of muscle, a speck of dust in his nose causing him to sneeze, the sudden excessive jerk running through his body causing his finger to push, that’s all it would take to destroy everything. Yet he waits, a’wonder of whether Chuck will return.

He waits a long time. When Chuck doesn’t return, Sigmund pre–