Category Archives: dragoncon

writing chapter 13.2

Nathan spent the rest of the evening with his family, under the watchful eyes of Mom, who thought he must be getting sick, and Dad, who was worrying his son might be gay. (is it saturday or friday?) Nathan hid behind his usual responses and thought about the game he was testing.

Only when the news came on and they featured Dragoncon (is there a local 10-11 news?) did he pay attention to what was happening. They were demonizing gaming (insert section here) on the TV, and Dad was trying to turn it into a lecture on why he was right to keep them from going.

Mom and Nathan had already bought their memberships. With the same costumes, not because they learning nothing from being outed by the press last year, but because they never made new ones. Mom with her third job and Nathan with his full days of schoolwork and extracurricular exercises (lifting garbage bags at the food court).

They had an elaborate discovery-proof plan in place for the day – they were visiting colleges. Sis was extra vicious about it because nobody took her around to colleges (because she never showed any interest), but Nathan already had the brochures in an envelope at work, and he planned to go get them very late in their day at Dragoncon (can you preorder 1day badges?)

Like everyone attending the convention, they’d looked forward to it all year, planned activities with their friends and wondered about the panels on their favorite tracks. So it was hard to take Dad’s sitting there making fun of them by proxy, ridiculing them with it. “Got your badge yet, Nuthin? Wonder what this year’s badges look like. What do you think, Nuthin?”

In fact, this year it was a great illustration of a goth girl in a sexy pose, but they wouldn’t have theirs until tomorrow. It only took getting thru this evening.

During the ads, Dad dug at Mom about being away from the house all day. Dad was around all the time, and noticed Mom’s absence – nobody to get his beers and listen to his rants. But with three jobs, she was gone all day every day, and Nathan had to get the dinner most nights. (pharmacy clerk, ?, ?)

Lots of times, Dad would go to bed before Mom got home, and the whole house would be peaceful and quiet, with Dad snoring, Nathan in his room studying, and Sis gone out with some friend or other.

With Dad home all the time, they walked around on eggshells. Dad was really fragile these days. His life was random, with no security, and no regular thing to get up and do every day, no order. He hated that. He wanted certainty, regularity, reliability. Dad was not a dynamic paradoxicalist. He couldn’t take freedom or ambiguity.

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writing chapter 13.1

OMG it was Dragoncon again. The third one in this story. How did it creep up on them? The testing had not gone well – everything worked now but it just wasn’t the game they built. The testers and their preferences, the differences between the alphas and betas, the budding wars, (their own personal styles,) nothing was how the team wanted it and the things to bring back within parameters had ballooned and bubbled up into something monstrous. But it was Dragoncon, and they’d scheduled final testing and GoLive, and everything was waiting. They were screwed.

The boys had sponsors lined up and waiting, the girls had their schedules full of panels and workshops on quantum stuff in as many different program tracks as they could fit. They had several interviews scheduled and people kept coming up to them to share, or ask questions, or touch them. They were popular, sought after. It was unnerving. To Anomia and Josh at least. Fairy and Snake soaked it up.

They met Friday morning to stand in line for their badges together. They were all wearing their game avatar costumes, or approximations thereof. They didn’t have time to put a lot of work into their costumes. So Anomia was just wearing the long skirt and bodice of the Seekers from the third ring of the Antarctica level, and Josh wore jeans and a pair of boots and wore an eye patch as a member of the Seafaring Clan from the second ring. Fairy and Snake wore costumes of the Carnival and Carneytown levels, both master of ceremonies tuxedos and top hats, but Snake’s looked more like James Bond dinner clothes and Fairy’s more like Marlene Dietrich with a whip.

They were near the back of the line, moseying forward a step or two every minute. It was early in the day, and the air was still cool, except in the direct sun. Half the people in line were in regular street clothes, so costumes still stuck out and everybody took a look at the Quantum Antarctica costumes, lame as they were, as the line inched around the block.

Nathan saw them coming. The anticipation of their getting close enough to talk to made him lose track of what he was doing for a moment. Based on his experience at last year’s Dragoncon, he’d persuaded his boss that it would be better for the business for Nathan to run a coffee stand near the registration line, instead of being in the way while the wife and daughters finished prepping for lunch. So he’d dragged a table and two coffee urns over and set up early, and had been selling coffee since the registration office opened. His money belt was heavy and he needed to brew another pot and replenish the creamer.

By the time he’d done all that, the team was getting close enough to see clearly. It had been a very long time since they’d sat around his food court. He missed them. He missed Kurt.

He looked over at the team and noticed a new avatar costume, very professional. A real fan, probably spent several months on his costume. Look at that plumed turban. Then he realize d that it looked just like the costume his testing buddy Random wore. They’d just finished testing the week before, and he and Random had traded emails and were Facebook friends. He hadn’t mentioned coming to Dragoncon, his email provider was in India and Nathan figured they’d never meet. Now he was greeting the team members and joining them in line with profuse apologies and thanks to those in line after him.

Nathan watched him greet everyone on the team as if he knew them, bowing to Anomia and Josh, kissing Fairy’s hand and shaking Snake’s. He was being very formal, just like his character. Nathan wished he had that kind of dignity.

Out of the corner of his eye he watched as Random said something to both Fairy and Snake. Snake drew himself up while Fairy turned red. Then Random turned to Fairy, bowing low, and Fairy looked smug for a moment, but then caught Snake’s eye and began to shake with fury as Random continued to talk to her. Then everybody paused as they took a step or two closer, and Nathan could begin to hear them talking.

Josh and Anomia were in front, going over the million and one things they needed to do before GoLive. Josh was managing the final candidate testing and Anomia was still trying to finish installing her quantum lessons.

“We’ve been thru a dozen builds of the final candidate already, and testing doesn’t begin until ten,” he complained. “Like there are invisible testers in there while we’re sleeping or something.”

“I guess we’re nowhere near bug free yet?” She looked at him.

“Well, how are we supposed to lock it down if you won’t stop messing with things?” He looked away.

They moved a step.

Behind them Snake was protesting his innocence. “Fomenting rebellion among the testers? Ridiculous. I’m far too busy launching the product. It sounds more like something you’d do.”

Fairy had a screen shot of a recruitment poster she’d found in a Carneytown bathroom, calling for a strike against the cold. “Freeze Out! Alphas and Betas unite against unfair working conditions. Fuck testing until we get a raise in temperature!”

Snake was disavowing all knowledge with his hands raised in protest and surprised concern on his face. “I most certainly did not.”

Random looked stern. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to voice my concerns,” he said. “There is altogether too much violence in the game right now. I’m sorry to say it, but…”

Snake cut him off. “I notice you didn’t mind decorating all the drug dens and sex parlors,” he said to Fairy. “Isn’t it kind of hypocritical…”

Fairy cut him off. “You’ve got a nerve. I must have destroyed a hundred caches of weapons in Carneytown alone.”

They moved closer to Nathan, who was running out of cups and had to dart under the table to get more. Fairy moved to stand with Anomia and pulled up the schedule grid. Josh moved back to talk to Snake. Random hovered like a puppy. Fans came up and chattered animatedly while the line moved another step closer to Registration.

Nathan served coffee, planning a greeting for each of them as they passed. Maybe he could get them over to give them free coffee. The fans moved on and they moved a step closer. They were almost in reach. Nathan ducked under the table for more napkins and stirrers. They moved a step.

“My costuming panel is at 1:00,” Fairy said. “You’ve got Quantum Superpowers 101 on the Armory track at 10, then a quantum movement workshop on the Silk Road, that’s one level down. That’s at 11:30, and your Quantum Age panel is at 1. When are you going to eat?” Anomia didn’t respond. “I’ve got to go see if I’ve got any takers for my custom gamegear over at the Art Show. I guess I can look in on our display, too (prints of Anomia’s luscious Antarctica backgrounds). I think we should do the Dealer’s Hall for this stuff next year, don’t you?” Anomia wasn’t listening.

They took another step forward. Nathan was losing sight of Anomia. But he wasn’t looking at her now, because Fairy was getting heated, overhearing something Snake was telling Random. She turned quickly around to face them. “I did not,” she said hotly. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” She moved in aggressively. “You’ve been sabotaging this game from the beginning, and now you’ve got…” She couldn’t remember his name, “the raja here doing your dirty work.”

The raja tried to defend himself. “I have been trying to call your attention to a certain degradation in the validity of the science behind the rides and games,” he sputtered.

“The game sucks,” Josh agreed.

“Yes it does,” Snake said, talking over them. “That’s why I’ve been putting so much effort into beefing it up. Putting in more controls to counteract all this criminality.”

“You’ve been cheating,” shouted Fairy. “You’ve been sabotaging the game.”

“Saving it,” Snake clarified.

It was the same argument. Nathan had heard it before. But this time Random was in the middle, and Nathan watched them both turn on him, blaming him for sabotaging the game.

“But I was only…” Random protested, and Snake and Fairy began screaming at each other in line, in front of a few hundred people, many of them fans.

Nathan missed his chance to greet the team as they moved step by step away fro m him, arguing fiercely about who’d done the most damage. Even Josh and Anomia were bitching at each other. The last Nathan saw of them was Random’s blue feather bobbing atop his turban as he tried to explain himself.

They wouldn’t have stopped at Nathan’s booth, anyway. Josh and Anomia were sipping from coffee cups that refilled themselves. Fairy and Snake were hitting off of flasks.

Nathan glimpsed Caroline in the crowd, wearing camouflage, but wasn’t able to wave. She was following Anomia.

It got vicious out of Nathan’s earshot. Fairy decided that Random had betrayed her, and first by innuendo and then in his face, she decided that Snake and Random were gay lovers and had sold out to THEM and that she was the only one standing in the way of their destruction of the game.

Anomia and Josh got involved, trying to calm her down, but she got hysterical insisting that Snake had spent most of his time disabling links to quantum aspects and sabotaging Anomia’s work on quantum Carneytown. (Which he had.)

Then Anomia and Fairy faced down all three of the boys with their betrayal of the essence of the game. The snarling pack of sometime friends moving forward step by step to pick up their badges. Eventually an uneasy truce was formed, as they were passing a camera crew interviewing people in line for Dragoncon badges, and the discussion turned to the boys’ panels, with final candidate testing all day, and preparation for GoLive, scheduled for Sunday. Josh was doing a Paranormal track demo of his quantum abilities, Snake ws going to do another Skeptic track presentation, and both of them were going to attempt to bullshit their way thru an EFF track panel discussion. They spent the rest of their time in line trying to get Anomia to take the Science track discussion of the Quantumization of the Classical World, which none of them understood, but had sounded good way back in March when they’d signed up to do as many presentations as they could in the effort to publicize their game.

Final candidate testing went on all day and into the night. It was chaos. The kernel kept making adjustments, they kept having to restart the timer on bug free play, shit kept happening that required the kernel’s intervention.

Josh sat on the cloud level and watched the final testing. He and Anomia still couldn’t interact with the testers without turning them into zombies, so they stayed away and did what they could from a distance. Anomia was off giving lectures and panel discussions, and only checked in now and then.

They sat on the cloud level and listened to the noises assaulting their ears. The Carnival level and Carneytown had morphed from a tiny little western style winter carnival to Las Vegas engulfed by a glacier, with neon signs and glitter, banners, rock music blasting from hidden speakers, roving spotlights.

Anomia materialized dark glasses and earplugs. Nothing was going right.

The landing area next to the gift shop looked like a finish line and people cheered as the final candidates were captured while landing. Roving gangs of alphas and betas met each other in the middle of the carnival and battled until there were no more adversaries. Somehow they had weapons (Josh looked conscious when Anomia pointed out the assault rifles and rocket launchers.)

“It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll,” Anomia remarked quietly.

Josh rubbed his hands. “It’s going to win Game of the Year,” he said excitedly.

“Not like this, it isn’t,” she said. “How are we supposed to get it back the way it’s supposed to be at this point?” She felt like crying.

He looked at her in annoyance. “What are you talking about? It’s working great. The fans love it. It’s yout own fault if the quantum crap doesn’t work. I told you it’s impossible to teach that stuff in a videogame. You should have written a book instead. (Writing Quantum Antarctica Fan Fiction – on the SFF Literature track, scheduled for Monday at 11:30 am).

They were interrupted in their sniping at each other by a band of cloudy testers, translucently running past them in the clouds. “There aren’t supposed to be testers here yet. We haven’t opened the cloud level to testing.”

Josh looked after them as the fog curled in their wake. “WTF,” he mused. “Don’t wait test in secret, no. Involve the fans,” he said sarcastically.

A bomb went off below. They looked over the edge of the cloud and saw Arkaydland on fire. They heard shouting behind them, in the mist. Josh went to investigate as Anomia watched her game fall apart.

He came rushing back aghast. “You don’t have to worry about people not getting the quantum lessons,” he said. “Whoever they are, they’ve figured out how to materialize shit on the cloud level. They’ve got a dungeon back there. All sorts of tortures. And alternative universe pits with all kinds of hells in them.”

“They’re torturing the final testers, aren’t they?” she asked bleakly.

He nodded, sitting next to her. They were the only sane beings in the game, and it felt awful. What were they going to do about this travesty?

Random had excused himself from his company’s employee award dinner, saying he had the flu and going back to his hotel.

Nathan fled for home the moment his boss ran out of food and rolled down the steel doors, and told his family he’d been throwing up, and that it might be contagious.

Caroline hobbled back to her apartment and got in the bathtub. She felt the flu coming on. Fucking disease ridden crowds.

They logged into the game anxiously, having waited all day to join the throngs of final testers and help ready the game for GoLive. They met up in the bar of the Tutorial Hall, which was now a gambling casino, but at least it still had tutorials. Evryplayar started right in picking on c3l3r! but Random talked some sense into her.

“Look around,” he said. “The place is different than in the last version.” There were armed security guards at the exits. “We need to be a team and work together. Like it says in the rules.” He indicated the instruction wall, but it had been shot out, and was pockmarked sheetrock at that point. “If we die, we meet back here, okay?”

They left quickly, but Evryplayar hadn’t learned to fly (tho she claimed to be an expert), so she fell to her death as Random and c3l3r! circled above her helplessly.

“I can’t,” c3l3r! said. “I’ll get in trouble if I make any noise.”

“I’ll be right back.” Random dived down into the water and drowned so he could meet Evryplayar in the Tutorial Hall and make sure she passed the flight tutorial. C3l3r! prepared to wait a long time, circling.

Caroline dropped her tablet when she died. The shock was so great it flew out of her hands, and she slipped under the water for a moment as she thrashed with the pain of being detached from the game. She considered calling 911 again, but by the time she got out of the bath to pick up the phone she knew she hadn’t drowned and wasn’t having a heart attack. She had a couple of pills to calm her down and warmed the water up some, then sank back into the game and met Random in the Tutorial Hall.

After a sex tutorial – Intro to Tantric Practice – Evryplayar let him drag her thru a flying lesson, and then declared she was ready to go kick some ass. She fell most of the way to Antarctica, but c3l3r! and Random were able to catch her (c3l3r! by her long golden hair), and they landed safely at the Midway, where they were corralled by a welcoming committee of Alphas.

“Welcome to the Midway,” an alpha intoned, “Your mission is to make it thru the to the next level. To do that you need to accumulate lots of points, so you’re going to go on all the rides and play all the games, and we’re going to go along with you to make sure you enjoy your stay here. There are some risks, which we’ll do our best to mitigate, and by popular demand we’ve raised your available number of lives from three to nine.”

“You must be mistaking us for final candidate testers.” They were suspicious, but Evryplayar managed to swagger around enough to convince them she’d captured these betas on the way down and was going to put them to work in the gallium arsenide mines beneath Carnetytown.

They were impressed, and let her take them away, smacking c3l3r! with her whip.

“Take me,” one of the alphas suggested hopefully. Evryplayar blew him a kiss as they turned down a branch cavern.

They used the same ruse thruout the carnival level, Evryplayar acting like an alpha on a secret mission, Random and c3l3r! acting like listless betas. Because they weren’t really hapless saves, Evryplayar won all her bets, and they were soon approached by the Carneytown recruiter, gratefully accepting and thinking they were out of danger.

They stood in front of the signboard at the portal. “Quests, it says. Not jobs,” noticed c3l3r!.

“Hmm, CEO,” Evryplayar mused, but Random and c3l3r! went thru the list and saw a couple of new categories.

“There are your vampire alien hunters, Evryplayar,” Radom said. “Looks like you were right.”

“Let’s just pick something unobtrusive and look around,” c3l3r! insisted. “We’re testing.”

“We’re trying to escape,” said Random.

“I hear someone coming,” Evryplayar said.

“Right, we’ll be corpse robbers.”

“What? HOw disgusting. Those are real corpses, please let me remind you.”

“Would you rather kill a bunch of testers instead?”

“Fuck yeah.”

“No,” Random cut in. “We’ll take the noble path and pick over what violent people have wasted.”

So they snuck in after battles and went thru the pockets of the newly dead, before their bodies faded out. It wasn’t a bad living.

“Why do we need to collect all this wealth?” c3l3r! asked at last. They looked at each other.

“Don’t the rules say something about riches?”

“I think it says something about how you can’t take it with you to the next level.”

“Oh. How do we get to the next level, anyway?”

C3l3r! remembered suddenly, “The rabbit hole. The big one.”

“Is it open yet, do you think?” So they made the perilous journey back thru the portal to the Carnival level, where armed guards blocked their way. (When Josh and Anomia kicked everyone out and fixed things the last time, they’d installed a skill test.) If they wanted to go back to a lower level, they didn’t just go thru a turnstile anymore, you had to scale your avatar to fit the level’s scale. It was a mental concentration, a dehydration and shrinking of mental spaces, a feeling of everything growing larger around you. It was easy for Random, who’d been practicing the exercises faithfully since he started working on the game. It was harder for c3l3r!, who didn’t have much body wisdom yet, even tho it was only a small change of scale: 3 inches, 20 lbs. Evryplayar flat out couldn’t do it, even when they tried to coach her.

So they left Evryplayar in the little grove ad the tip of the peninsula, where she and the leprechaun had lots of sex and did some role playing, and raced for the Fun House, which was now called the House of Horrors. Everything was different. The house itself was falling down, with peeling wallpaper and uneven floors, giant splinters in every board, missing steps and broken glass, traps and tripwires and booby traps. Adhoc explosive devices. Don’t go into the kitchen.

Except for a pile of possible torture victims in squirming body bags, the attic was empty and still had the pair of rabbit holes and the drink me items. But the bottle was getting empty, and the cookie was half eaten.

So Random went thru to check out the next level (“It’s open!”) and c3l3r! went back to the Tutorial Hall to get help.

Random put a morsel of cookie in his pocket for Evryplayar and started back to the portal.

C3l3r! ran to the information booth in the Tutorial Hall and rang and rang on the bell. “I need to talk to xkurt,” she demanded, but the leprechaun was glitchy and would only spin on his heels and click his teeth, winking kindly. Out of desperation, she tried to leave a message, but the touch screen wasn’t working and there the only pen was out of ink. So c3l3r! scratched a message into the countertop with the tip of the pen, apologized to the leprechaun and paid him with a ring she’d picked off a corpse.

Then she flew back to the Carnival level and hung there near the clouds, looking for Random of Evryplayar, watching to see when the portal was clear.

Josh and Anomia watched her hovering. “Why can’t they all do that?” Anomia complained.

“It she a final candidate tester?” Josh asked, curious to know what was happening to all his testers. They were dropping like flies.

“No, she’s a beta. She flies well.” They called her over.

C3l3r! flew up and stopped short of the edge of the cloud, looking over hher shoulder to catch sight of her friends. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said, not realizing that they didn’t know who she was. “They’re tearing the place to pieces down there. Can’t you do something? They’re killing all the final testers.”

Josh nodded sagely. “Ah,” he said. “Do you want to do some final testing?”

“No thanks, I’m already a beta tester. I hate to tell you, but they’re not learning any of the quantum lessons down there.”

Anomia sat passively, a lone tear crawling down her cheek.

“What’s wrong with you?” c3l3r! shouted. “”What’s happening?”

They remained quiet, meditative.

C23l3r! saw Random making his way to the portal and sped down to meet him. “We’re in big trouble,” she commented.

Random spied a mob with torches and pitchforks coming around the side of the administration building. “You’re becoming psychic,” he said approvingly, and led them off around the edges of Carneytown to the peninsula, where Evryplayar was asleep.

“Asleep in a game, how strange is that?” wondered c3l3r!.

Not strange at all. Caroline had done a few pain pills over the recommended amount and was snoring in the bath, her nose just above the water level, her tablet sitting on the edge of the tub, beginning to stutter and spit as drops of water condensed in its nooks and crannies.

Random lifted Evryplayar up and set her over his shoulder. C3l3r! stuffed the cookie morsel between her lips to lighten the load a little, and they took off for the portal.

There was rioting on the Midway, and black holes were opening in the streets as tunnels were brought to the surface by Carneytown miners, swallowing the hot dog and popcorn concession stands and threatening the sunglass booth.

Waiting in the shadows until a platoon of security operatives came thru mowing people down and firebombing buildings, they finally made it to the House of Horrors and walked into a firefight between alphas and betas. Both sides shot at them, and Evryplayar was wounded in the leg, which woke her up, and she had to be hauled kicking and screaming to the attic where the rabbit hole was still there.

There was just enough liquid to give Evryplayar.

‘You go,” cl3l3r! suggested.

“No, you go,” Random insisted. With some effort, he thought himself larger and grabbed Evryplayar, who was being pulled out by the invisible force. “Hurry.”

Cl3r! turned the bottle upside down, but nothing came out. So she concentrated very hard and breathed into it, where her breath condensed and formed one last drop of whatever magical elixir it was.

C3l3r! jointed them at the bottom of the large rabbit hole, where the leprechaun was spinning in circles holding his spear out like a turnstile. They squeezed thru, being several times larger than the leprechaun, and continued down the tunnel, which turned into a wormhole.

They began having to struggle against pressure, a current, what felt like invisible beings assaulting them. It was very crowded in the wormhole. The walls were pulsing, solid walls with no give in them, pushing and shoving and crushing. They stayed together and fought the pressure as a unit, arms wrapped around Evryplayar who was struggling against them.

Finally the pressure eased and the tunnel emptied out into the nothingness of the cloud level. Evryplayar continued to freak out.

“Is there a word for cloud phobia?” c3l3r! asked Random. To ease her suffering, Random sensed his way to the edge of the cloud, and they brought her to see that there was a world beyond the cloud.

Evryplayar took one look at the land so far below and panicked. Random and c3l3r! held her back, trying to talk her down. She rather enjoyed Random’s attentions, but the kid annoyed her, so she turned to c3l3ry and cut her throat with the knife from her bodice, pushing her off the edge and standing watching her fall, feeling vindicated. “I’d be fine if it weren’t for you,” she screamed.

“You’re a mess,” Random said, and sat down with his feet dangling off the edge.

Nathan shouted in his bedroom. Mom found him holding his hand to his throat, crying.

writing chapter 9.7

(insert 9.6 after loving, happy family again: And today he was in a great mood. With the kids being industrious, and Mom back the way she was when they were first married, he was sitting on top of the world. It was out of a feeling of loving, responsible fatherhood that he told his precious baby that he’d get her a good lawyer for her DUI (drugs) charge. But Nuthin was still grounded.)

The storm hit, the largest, strongest coronal mass ejection they’d ever seen. SATCOM was down, radio, television, satellite, GPS, the power grids, everyone’s electronics. Air traffic went down first, voluntarily, with all anywhere near polar flights being rerouted or canceled 30 hours out. They expected auroras as far south as Atlanta.

The current levels started increasing, but the power transmission equipment held, and the grid stayed up. Techs continually monitored voltages and ground currents. Open access sharing went into turbo mode as power transfers were made to cope with equipment failures and capacity bottlenecks. They’d never seen anything like it. Extra High Voltage transformers blew like popcorn all over the grid. Substations melted into piles of metal. Plasma TVs burst into flame. Kitchen appliances burned out and filled living spaces with acrid smoke.

Then the lights started going off everywhere, then the phones fizzled out. Then the computers began to go down and the computer controlled systems that run the world began to stutter to a halt. Then the cars stopped running. Then it was dark. Then it was quiet. And the world settled into a long dark slumber they would wake from some time in the far distant future.

Dad bitched about the TV. Then he bitched about the beer getting warm. They he realized he wouldn’t have to go to work if the power was out. Not so bad maybe.

Back up a minute to the Monday discovery of Kurt’s death. There were enough people still around to see the ambulance, for someone to recognize Kurt’s face, tho twisted in agony and bloated by the water, for someone else to get a cellphone picture from a balcony, and someone else to get some footage of them dragging him out of the surface, and for someone to get a picture of the tow truck leaving with Kurt’s ex-van.

Soon there were rumors flying. People at Dragoncon were not inclined to dismiss Kurt the way investigators and the media did. They saw foul play written all over the scene(s) of death. They saw the hand of THEM at work. Conspiracy theories were born and developed and passed on. Kurt’s kernel, his quantum computer, his unpatented and undocumented software. And the applications thereof. Such a suspicious untimely death.

They were ahead of the officials, of course, on the link between Kurt’s death and the sun’s sneeze. They knew it was something quantum, and huge discussions continued as everybody packed up and returned to their real lives, about what kind of quantum event it had been, or was being, or would be. Would (had) they be blinked into a new universe, and could they tell if they had (were)? Would (had) the reality of the universe be shaken like a wet rag into a new conformation, would it oscillate between states and damp out over time? Or would the sun simply burn them to a crisp over the course of 24 hours? They didn’t wait to see, they backed up everything and printed out the vital things (the supply stores ran out of copy paper and printer ink). Various DIY faraday cages were constructed to shield sensitive electronics (which is all of them). But it didn’t matter – everything fried.

Josh and Anomia were shocked and dismayed by Kurth’s death, and spent a couple of days just sleeping. Their game was over, they couldn’t continue without Kurt’s support, their entire last year was a complete waste. They were both despondent. they felt like their brother died – not that they felt Kurt was like a brother, but they felt an incalculably complex part of themselves being ripped away and didn’t know what to do about the hole. Their sleep was filled with long slow stretched of nothing, broken by violent nightmares of being torn apart cell by cell. And the pain. When the lights went out they thought they were back in the game again, losing ground in the wormhole.

Nobody was actually playing the game when the CME hit Earth. And a good thing, too. The quantum solar magnetic storm did a number on Earth’s quantum geomagnetic field, and classical physics took care of the rest. The Earth glowed with many fires that night. If someone, say Fairy and Snake, had actually been playing the game, they’d might well have been caught up in what happened to Kurt’s newly rewritten Antarctica level.

But Fairy and Snake were nowhere near the game when the Storm hit and the lights went out. Fairy was plying her sugar daddy for next month’s rent, having a pedestrian time of it, county swirls in the ceiling of the hotel they were in. And suddenly she felt a sweetness starting up in her loins. It was never like this with him before, she though as she got into it. And too soon, the feeling built up and sent her cresting over the biggest orgasm of her life. Which went on and on and on. She never noticed the lights going out as endless waves of pleasure carried her to eternity.

And Snake? Nobody saw Snake after the after-session of his panel discussion. Monday came and went, all the other days between Kurt’s death and the Storm, and nobody heard anything from Snake. Maybe nobody noticed. Then the lights went out and nobody cared about Snake. (Insert description of massive catastrophe using as many special effects as possible.)

But maybe it didn’t work out that way. Maybe the magnetic storm fizzled out at the edge of Earth’s magnetosphere and no piles of steaming metal, and civilization didn’t just stop. Maybe something quantum happened. Whatever, the next morning the news was all about the Big Dud, the expected geomagnetic superstorm that wasn’t.

writing chapter 9.5

They talked about how different things were now, how many safeguards we have. Detractors cried about the weak points that would surely explode under an as yet unknown amount of solar radiation – due in less than four days. Maybe three. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center issued a series of alerts, warnings and predictions. Power grid operators dusted off their disaster plans. Geomagnetically induced currents were expected to go off the scale. System collapse was a serious threat, an inevitability. Populations in excess of 200 million on the east coast grid alone, 100,000 miles of heavy duty transmission lines. Many millions of transformers at the local level. The smaller ones would explode, the windings of the really large amp transformers would melt. There were few spares on hand, and lead time on new ones was over a year. The stock marked crashed on the news.

Meanwhile, Dad and his family didn’t know what to do with the news that they might be living back in the stone age next week, so they ignored it, and turned their attention back to the bizarre events at Dragoncon, which Dad always said was a crime scene waiting to happen.

Dad was a different man today, having spent his resentment and disappointment (and resultant bad mood) last night and had a great rest afterwards. Today he was a family man and was determined to act like it. So he rousted the kids up to make breakfast for Mom, because she was sleeping in, and while they were bustling about the kitchen he sat at the table and worked out a full agenda for his family. Memorial day, after all.

He should be at work – big sale day – but he’d taken the day off (called in sick) so he could be with his family. Now that he’d finally acted to restore some discipline, things would go a lot more smoothly and he could concentrate on trying to save his neck at work. Labor day, after all – his – in danger of getting downsized.

But he was still in control, and everything was going to be okay. He’d start pulling ahead any day now. He would call anybody a liar that suggested that he was owed more than he was worth. Some would call him a slave. But I won’t quibble.

Dad was Homer Simpson on roids, with bouts of alcohol induced rage. He was an authoritarian cretin, a misogynistic asshole, a fundamentalist bully. But he had his good side. He loved his family (as long as they did right, and he cared enough to correct them until they did do right. He was faithful. Loyal. Reliable, trustworthy, stable, consistent. (Insert manly attribute here). He was a model father and husband, as long as nobody pushed him. He was at his best when he exercised unlimited power and everybody behaved themselves so they could be a loving, happy family again.

That it was a family closely modeled on military discipline didn’t disturb him. He liked hierarchy, he was happy with everybody in his place. He could – should – be making more money at his stage of life, but he blamed the slackers for sucking the pot dry, and thought the people who ran things should be paid more, given more responsibility, more power. Somebody’s got to do it, and if it were me I’d want to be paid beaucoup. But he was thinking of the old model of wealth, where a guy went out and started a business, and employed workers, and made millions for everybody, each according to their payscale. These days, they hire CEOs to run companies that are part of some corporation, and these companies don’t make things, they buy other companies, sell off the assets, fire the employees and kick the profits back into the corporation.

But of course, corporations are people. It’s okay to make all the money; corporations need big incomes. Paychecks. The corporate mortgage – okay, I can see that. How does a corporation invest its profits? Not the shareholder’s pittance, there’s way more than that. They buy politicians, they influence news reports, they supervise new laws. They conduct – but don’t pay for – wars, and they despoil the earth in the name of profits. [??? meme author browbeating politics] I’ve read all sorts of esoteric analysis of the financial world, and I frankly couldn’t care less – my checkbook never balanced, no matter what.

Dad didn’t have to balance his checkbook. That was Mom’s job. And Mom was an anxious, nervous wreck around the house, flinching when he made a joke, hovering over Nuthin. She fed him right tho, especially for a holiday – Memorial Day.

And she was properly humble. Dad felt his heard expand as his family tiptoed around him – This is how I want my family to be – forever. He called Nuthin over to be buddies with for awhile. But Nuthin wasn’t interested in nothing. He even asked to be excused when Dad graciously stopped channel surfing at a spic soccer game. But not wanting family time with your own father was disrespectful, and Dad gave him a warning, out of a sense of fatherly indulgence.

Then they landed on the news long enough to hear the latest on Kurt – the toxicology report was out. Dad had some really mean things to say about people who took drugs, and then seeing Nuthin’s face decided to do some digging.

“I don’t have any friends, Dad. I study a lot, Dad.” These were true, Nathan found them easy to say. But he was still supposed to be at soccer practice (and science club) after school every day, and answers to those questions were more awkward.

“What’s your coach like? How many games have you won? Are there cheerleaders? What the fuck to you do in Science Club? Blow shit up?” Nuthin was silent. Dad thought a moment. “You made that Dragoncon badge in your science club, didn’t you?” Nuthin looked guilty. “I knew you had to have help for that.”

He wanted to think for a minute. “Get me a beer,” he snapped, and Nuthin jumped up and limped into the kitchen. “By the way,” Dad yelled after him as he turned the corner into the kitchen, “You’re grounded for the rest of the year for lying.” Let that be the starting point for a little adult negotiation, Dad thought (considering the same tactic at his job, kind of like in American Beauty).

Nuthin objected – “I can’t quit soccer,” he whined. “They need me. And science fair, I have an entry. They give out scholarships.”

And Dad said, “Fuck no, you lied to me.”

“I never lied,” Nuthin protested hotly.

Dad cloaked himself in all his authority. “You violated my trust. You sinned against your family.”

Nuthin quaked in his socks. “Yes sir,” he said without looking up.

Dad felt revulsion. But he was family, you have to love your own flesh and blood. So he relented. “You’re still grounded, let me be clear about that. But you can maybe earn your way out.”

Nuthin’s eyes gleamed hopefully.

“If you can make me some Brave’s tickets like you made Dragoncon tickets, then I’ll see what I can do.”

But Dad couldn’t believe his eyes. Nuthin tried to weasel out of it. “They’re crap, Dad, nobody would fall for it.”

“Then, if you’re saying my ticket wouldn’t be honored, if you give me a bum ticket, well, then you won’t like how it works for you very much, will you?” Dad was already thinking of Nathan’s forging talents as his to use. A complex ticket scalping operation sprang up in his mind – the perfect solution to a life as a slave in his shitty job. “You’re still grounded, don’t forget.”

writing chapter 9.4

All Moe knew about what was going on was what he heard in the news, and the news was all about how the sky was falling. When Kurt’s death could no longer be reported breathlessly they dropped it like a rock and turned their attention to the coming end of the world. Which was of course much more satisfying, even if it lacked personal pathos. For four days the news was filled with the approaching CME. They talked about the Carrington Event, back in 1921, when the sun coughed and everything electrical in the world caught fire and burned. Several pundits claimed mass hysteria, but countless had seen the sun blink, instruments even on the dark side of the earth registered the drop to 0 and the surge back to 100. All the on-air personalities could do was repeat and embroider on wild speculation. The earth was going to end in four days. That meant they could report on panic buying, rioting, looting, demonstrations in the streets, somber and threatening statements from the authorities.

writing chapter 9.3

as they tried to swim thru the wormhole. They felt him flailing, they felt him battering them, the felt him trying to hurt them. Not to get too mystical, but there they all were as one being, accidentally committing suicide.

Josh and Anomia were out of time. They were floating, the turbulence had ceased and they were in a fog, and there was no resistance anywhere. Were they on the cloud level beyond the wormhole? Were they dead? There was no sound, so they didn’t speak, but they felt undamaged, they felt like themselves, and they could move, tho there wasn’t much point.

Then they heard a sound. A rhythmic sound with a back and forth to it, some sort of oscillation, but whether in intensity or pitch or even air pressure, they couldn’t tell.

Whatever, Josh thought as Anomia tried to caution him. I’m going to find out what it is. So he moved forward thru the mist, and felt his way toward the sound.

Which resolved into a mist colored shape flopping on the mist colored ground. Close up the sound was a wet thumping, heavy and ponderous. Josh expressed surprise, and instantly Anomia was beside him, peering at a big lump of mist. that might have massed a couple of hundred pounds, as if they could tell, as if there were any way to measure it. It was sort of revolting. It quivered, and hiccoughed and seemed to be convulsing. Was that a tail dong the thumping?

Then the lump resolved itself into a mist colored manateelike thing, all fat with misty skin. There were little piggy eyes blinking at them. It looked like a giant baby with no arms or legs, only a kind of tail that thumped hopefully. The animal (?) was looking at them. It (he?) had stubble, and when they looked closely, a mustache and marks that looked like glasses around the eyes. And his head was bald with a mist colored fringe that reminded them of Kurt.

They reached out and touched his mind. Of course it was Kurt, who was beginning to lose patience.

I’m rescuing you, he thought.

They looked around. From what? Josh idly wondered. I like it here. And he conjured up a beer and a table and chairs, and sat down.

Suddenly they were back in the wormhole, struggling not to drown. The beer mugs and furniture were in the water with them, kicking them and jabbing them, knocking them on the head, trying to impale them. But the monstrous baby Kurt was there – exKurt – warding off the blows, pushing them before him as he swam toward the light at the tunnel entrance.

Then they felt a great shove as he dumped them on the ground outside the wormhole, where it was dark, with muffled sounds from distance sources all around them. They lay still for a long time, exhausted by their struggles. Maybe they slept. It was so dark they could see nothing, so they wrapped up in each other and waited for something to change.

After awhile, the (on-again) sun moved around the edge of the earth and things got lighter. Elevators started going up and down, making elevator noises. Doors starting opening and shutting. Josh and Anomia were up in the room, with the clocks blinking. Most of the people in their time zone and those farther west had no idea, but most of Asian and all of Europe and Africa were awake to see the electricity go off and the sun blow out.

The world had felt Kurt’s death throes. There were earthquakes all around the ring of fire, and the volcanoes of Iceland went off, popping like corks thruout the island. A pacific tsunami coursed south toward Antarctica, breeching the Ross ice shelf and sweeping away the lower fringes of Scott and McMurdo bases. The disturbance in the Force that holds together our reality rippled out thru the universe, affecting everything. It passed with a wave of existential angst. Kurt’s death agony hit the sun like a blast of cold, and for a moment the sun flickered and went dark. But it sputtered back on, like a trick candle, and sent its own shock wave speeding toward the earth in reaction (it takes 4 days).

Meantime, Josh and Anomia felt like everyone else after a week of partying at Dragoncon. They were hungover and wanted to continue the partying and socializing and going to panels and workshops, but really they were just counting the hours until it was time to pack up and go back home.

There were still people they had to see and there was Fairy’s Paranormal track presentation and Kurt’s EFF track kernel presentation, both at 10, way fucking early for a Monday. They both decided to attend Kurt’s; Anomia because she had lots of questions about the kernel, and Josh because he figured there’d be more potential sponsors at the geekier lecture. But on the way there (locations ???) Anomia got a text from the door manager at Fairy’s lecture.

Wer is Fairy? No ansr fon. 10min++ and no show. Fans restive. Pls adviz

So Anomia went to take her place, and gave another lesson on finding your superpowers within, while Josh wandered toward Kurt’s presentation until he remembered some merchandise he wanted over in the Dealer’s Hall.

Kurt never showed up to his lecture, either. While they were summoning Anomia to cover for Fairy, Kurt was being discovered lying at the bottom of the pool at the Hyatt, covered by the strapped down padlocked tarp that was what they had against Dragoncon eventualities just like this one.

Nobody would have noticed him until they removed the cover afterthe party was over, either, but for a bubbling and splashing on the security tape at around 4:38 am that everyone smoking on the Hyatt gauntlet ignored, but that some alert security rookie caught in a training session the next morning. Around 4:45 AM, ambulances and firetrucks were called to put out a suspicious vehicle fire on Butler Street, where they’d found Kurt’s van burning up from the inside out. They easily IDed it as Kurt’s van – his keys, his license, his dragoncon badge, his clothes and his shoes – all his worldly possessions. But there was no Kurt. And the van was locked.

It took them a long time to put two and two together. Kurt’s naked body was found with burns to the extremities, and he seemed to to have of smoke inhalation. But in the deep end of a pool full of water? Naked, at the bottom of a covered pool? They found lots and lots of drugs in his system, but the coroner couldn’t conclude a drug overdose or attempted suicide.

The detective assigned to Kurt couldn’t figure out how he got from his van (where he apparently suffocated while unconscious, under the influence of a pharmaceutical cocktail the detective couldn’t pronounce) to the pool where he was discovered, by normal, classical, explainable means his boss would go for. There was no violence in the case, unless someone had drugged Kurt and set him ablaze, which could conceivably have happened.

Kurt was apparently a permanently unemployed computer programming contractor of some repute, but nobody had anything good to say about him. Basically a homeless, familess and friendless wanderer with a substance abuse problem. Supposed to be working on a quantum computer – in the back of his van. So maybe some psychiatric issues too. Probably nothing, a case he could stick at the back of the file and leave until another shoe dropped, or not.

It made the news, tho. “In an incident some authorities are calling suspicious, and others are calling bizarre, Dragoncon experience just got more dangerous. In what is looking like a drug deal gone bad, the body of Kurt (someone) who was attending the world famous annual science fiction convention was found apparently tortured and drowned, while his vehicle was burned. Police are investigating it from all angles, and are asking for the viewing public to come forward with any information they might have.”

Followup reports went on to cast aspersions on the character of Dragoncon fans, as if the entire 60,000 attendees were violent sociopathic criminals. These reports questioned the wisdom of allowing that many hooligans onto the streets of Atlanta at once. Then reports starting circulating about Kurt, and the game, and suddenly there were public concerns about the safety of letting kids play quantum videogames, and concerns about whether gatherings of people to give importance to time wasters like videogames should be banned. “VIDEOGAMES – Should They Be Illegal? Do we want to encourage these violent and slothful habits in our children?”

There were exposes of Kurt’s hazy years as a vagrant, drug addicted, dangerous hacker. There were links to terrorism (warez sites) and hacker exploits. He could be a leader of Anomymous. Behind the scenes, the convention bureau had a talk with the board of Dragoncon, the event’s insurance rates doubled, and they lost 2 sponsors. A few big but waning names left the guest roster, and a whole bunch of new talent scrabbled to be part of the new edginess.

Professional scientists and amateurs alike set aside speculation about the tale of two Kurts to get really excited by the third intermittent thawing of Antarctica (the quickthaw). This one featured reports of mirages – desert vastness and teeming futuristic cities. The thaw lasted for three hours and forty seven minutes, and switched off as suddenly as it had switched on. This time people were caught out in less than optimum polar outerwear, and there were some amputations. As before, any teams camped out on the ice shelves disappeared with all their gear. That plus the tidal wave that hit McMurdo was keeping them all abuzz. The geophysicists were having a banner day with the volcanoes in Iceland. The Internet was doing what it does best – spreading information from single sources thruout the world as efficiently and quickly as possible.

The media made no mention of another thaw, it was too wacko to report.

Larry and Curly, scrambled to be on top of developments as first Kurt’s death and then the sun blink and quickthaw filled the channels they monitored. The traffic was especially poignant in Twitter, SMS and FB and RSS feeds coming from Dragoncon’s membership. They were still downplaying everything to Moe, an the assumption that it couldn’t possibly be anything, and certainly not anything they were responsible for.

Dragoncon nerds and geeks were panicking over the quickthaw, over the sun’s spasm, over Kurt’s impossible teleportation and probably murder.

writing chapter 9.2

Kurt had started his evening complaining about the morons at his talk on the kernel. He expected better from the guys he always hung out with, but they weren’t very receptive, and soon he gave up talking to anybody.

 

He had no interest in the parties, so he went back to his van, which was parked far from the Dragoncon crowd on a side street near Grady Hospital. No costumed anybody in this section, only homeless people looking for an interesting way to pass the evening.

 

He parked where the wifi was strong, and settled in for the night, putting up privacy screens on the windows and making himself comfortable in the back, at his computer. Kurt had been dissatisfied for months with the game’s progress, and now that it was being presented publicly, he could practically hear his peers howl, failing to see the beauty beneath the kludgy exterior. And for that he hated them.

 

He could walk away now, his part in the game was done and he could disassociate himself with the game itself and go on to find more interesting applications for the kernel. But the game’s poor showing injured his pride, and Kurt was very proud. It’s all a genius has, when the world conspires against you.

 

He wanted to fix the game. The Antarctica level was the problem. He didn’t care at all about the carnival levels. He agreed with Anomia that they were afterthoughts. But the Antarctica level – the game the angel told them to make – the important part – was a real mess. He’d been busy doing other things when Josh and Anomia built it on the sly, and they’d ignored or not noticed all sorts of better ways to do just about everything. He might as well tear it down and start over.

 

Which in fact he intended to do. His goal was a sterling session of sleep programming, and his first task was to self medicate properly. He’d been working on a good case of insomnia, using a blend of caffeine, cold medicines and meth, chased with Red Bull. He was jittering so bad he’d eaten his fingernails to the quick.

 

He was already on antidepressants (duh), but felt he had plenty of room for a few beta blockers, and took a bunch of propranolol to suppress his REM sleep, and several slow wave enhancers: lithium and amitriptyline.

 

All these drugs in order to produce parasomnia – sleep programming, vivid dreams, maybe a nightmare or two. And to all this he added two Ambien and a couple of shots of vodka, and settled down to smoke some good weed and wait.

 

Soon he found himself inside his dream Airstream, spacious and elegant compared to his trash-filled realworld cargo van. He was sitting in his expensive task chair, hammering away at his keyboard. He wasn’t really in the Airstream, tho. He was inside the kernel.

 

Nobody knew about this. Kurt had discovered almost immediately that he could use his special connection to the kernel – it was partially made of Kurt stuff, after all – to merge with it, to somehow shrink his essential self down small enough to enter the quantum kernel, where he made himself at home.

 

No Airstream, nothing fancy; not even a tent. Just endless dry desert and a sleeping bag. It was peaceful, he could see all the stars, and nothing changed or happened or went wrong. And he could think a million thoughts all at once, and be aware of them all, and keep track of them all, and follow each thought thru to its end or branching place. There were so many permutations of any one thought that he spent whole lifetimes pondering a single aspect before moving on to the next one.

 

Turning his attention to the Antarctica level, he saw it as a single living creation, not as lines of code, or beauteous backgrounds and poorly indicated details, or even as a pale replica of the game the kids had played on the angel’s dime. He saw it as a being in its own self, with a past, present and future all bound up together outside of time.

 

As flawed as it was, this virtual Antarctica was as real as the actual icebound continent. He could see the interconnecting complexity of its mountains and plains, its bones and skin; he could trace all the areas of cultural flow and historical crisis, growth and decay, the lives and deaths weaving in and out of its living self, because it was alive and contained everything that happened inside it, or on it, or to it.

 

There’s a better way to say this. The Gaia theory doesn’t do it justice. If you were a flea on the flank of Gaia, and you knew yourself to be that flea, and also knew yourself to be Gaia regarding the flea on her thigh, and knew yourself to be Not Gaia, outside of Gaia, which then implies that you knew yourself to be inside Gaia, even smaller than you were as a flea (muscles, sinews, organelles and corpuscles, the cells, the quantum intracellular fluid – all at the same time), and were still able to function on any and all of the levels you were conscious of being. On.

 

So Kurt was part of Antarctica, and he understood it as a part of himself, and he set about fixing it. After a short break, during which he came back to his Airstream, had a good pee, fixed himself a mug of coffee, smoked a cigarette, smoked a joint, smoked another few cigarettes and had a beer. He did another round of REM suppressors and something to intensify the slow waves, took a hit of mescaline and did a little X – for the flavor. Then, to kick up the brain activity a notch, he attached electrodes to his head and gave himself a few jolts of transcranial stimulation.

 

He was smoking. Chain smoking, sitting at his hand-tooled maple desk, his hands dancing over the keyboard, tearing Antarctica down and rebuilding it the right – dare he say the only way? (No, he durst not, because it’s quantum and there is no right way. But never mind.)

 

He was also in Antarctica. Time being an illusion, he had separated the layers into multiple Antarcticas, each one an overlay, ring upon ring of the richly complex Antarcticas at different times and stages. Continuous but never the same. He was working with the level architecture, laying out the threads of consequences from one layer to the next. Everything fit together and made sense. A billion threads to follow, stories to live. Kurt stood in awe of it all, a whole continent glistening in the midnight sun. More perfect than the classical, physical Antarctica because it was more real, more alive, wanting to play like a puppy. Kurt loved his Antarctica.

 

He was running around all seven layers at once, conjuring areas as he went, whatever was needed, whatever cried out to be done. He was tying filaments of reality together, weaving possibilities together, making nodes where quantum synapses connected to the kernel. He felt like a wizard, all fiddly bits and vastness, all in the name of the greatest good.

 

Back in the Airstream, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean, Kurt was doing breathing exercises in his isolation jacuzzi, going for the absolute minimum of distraction to clear his head of nonquantum space. (because water is quantum). He was getting really great results. He felt like his brain was electrified, on fire.

 

Back in the cargo van, parked in front of an abandoned building in Atlanta, Kurt was slumped over his broken rolly chair, his head on his chest, drooling, his eyes closed but darting all around as he dreamed.

 

He dreamed he was programming, creating the perfect Antarctica. People would be amazed. He raised his cigarette to his lips in slow motion and took a shallow puff, not breathing very deeply with his head bent forward like that. His heart was pounding, but he was unaware of it. His face was purplish, too, and the pressure was building up in his neck and shoulders.

 

But he continued to bring the cigarette slowly up to his mouth and huff at it while he was thinking. And his thinking was infinite. His mind was the fire of creation, and the universe was the shadowy Beyond. He was himself, a continuous and unchanging consciousness, a being with a body. A body which was a tool for understanding the universe, a mind capable of analyzing everything, and a consciousness which acted and participated in the grand dance of the universe. Body, mind and will. The trinity. Father, son, spirit. The father is like the body and the mid is like the son, no wait, does the body discipline the mind or is the mind ruler of the body? Hahaha, never mind. Rock paper scissors.

 

He reached for his cigarette, which was resting on the edge of his dream ashtray. He brought it slowly to his swollen, purple lips, and dreamed he inhaled it. He wasn’t really sure if he wasn’t in the jacuzzi in the back of the Airstream, doing breathing exercises and smoking a fatty. He winced a little as the cigarette grew hot at the filter and moved to stab it out in the dream ashtray. He lit another and took a dream puff, lapsing into another deep thought with his hand pausing just micrometers from his lips.

 

He nodded off for a moment but snapped back into dream consciousness when the cigarette burned down and singed his fingers, then lit another one and nodded off again, snot bubbling from his nose. This time he could feel himself slipping away, so he reached out to put the cigarette into the dream ashtray while he followed a compelling idea down into the murk.

 

Since it was a dream ashtray, the cigarette was actually resting in midair, next to a slumbering Kurt who was bent over his computer desk in his cargo van in downtown Atlanta. Since it was the classical Atlanta, the cigarette fell to the floor of the van. There it burned slowly while Kurt dreamed he was sleep programming.

 

The cigarette burned almost to the filter before the ember touched a cellophane wrapper which abutted a dried up old snotrag, which lay on a dirty t-shirt. All of which peacefully smoldered for awhile.

 

Kurt hardly noticed the smoke. Slumped over as he was, he’d developed apnea, and was snoring loudly, a coughing, choking kind of breath accompanied by a groan as tho he was trying to say something in his sleep. His face was blue, his eyes bulged behind his eyelids, his chubby fingers were blue, his heard was racing, his blood was boiling in his veins. His lungs were aching. He was getting a headache, a real whopper.

 

There are around 25 trillion synapses firing in the brain when you’re in a conscious waking state. Every time a synapse fires, 200,000 electrons go racing off toward RNA particles at the rate of 250 billion billion RNA connections an hour until the concentration of RNA is low and the rate of firing synapses falls below a minimum of about .01 per second (once every minute and a half). This is known as sleep.

 

But even in sleep the brain’s synapses keep firing, exciting RNA and forming thoughts. Some of these thoughts create heightened activity in parts of the brain, and trigger consciousness that affects a limited area. This is called dreaming.

 

But how many synapses are firing when it’s a dream within a dream within a dream? And when does the dream turn into nightmare?

 

When the pain comes. The pain of asphyxiation. The searing of your calves and ankles by a growing trash fire at your feet. The intermittent overexcitation of whole regions of the brain by transcranial stimulation. Tho much of Kurt’s brain was ticking over below the threshold of consciousness, his pain receptors were highly active. Nerve pain, bone pain, joint pain, blood vessel pain, organ pain, skin pain. And an enormous headache. A pressure behind his eye.

 

He thrashed around in exquisite intense pain. He couldn’t think. He was beside himself with the agony. He was in many states at once, and hurt in all of them. And his synapses were failing, his firing rate was dropping rapidly, he was losing consciousness. He was losing the ability to move between states, between universes, between Kurts. He was becoming the observer who only watches as the experiment is performed, performs itself.

 

But the observer chooses the outcome. The observer acts as a quantum operation itself. His synapses were filled with electrons that instantly tunneled to distant synapses and changed their states.

 

The cigarette burned almost to the filter before the ember touched a cellophane wrapper which abutted a dried up old snotrag, which lay on a dirty t-shirt. All of which peacefully smoldered for awhile.

 

Kurt hardly noticed the smoke. Slumped over as he was, he’d developed apnea, and was snoring loudly, a coughing, choking kind of breath accompanied by a groan as tho he was trying to say something in his sleep. His face was blue, his eyes bulged behind his eyelids, his chubby fingers were blue, his heard was racing, his blood was boiling in his veins. His lungs were aching. He was getting a headache, a real whopper.

 

There are around 25 trillion synapses firing in the brain when you’re in a conscious waking state. Every time a synapse fires, 200,000 electrons go racing off toward RNA particles at the rate of 250 billion billion RNA connections an hour until the concentration of RNA is low and the rate of firing synapses falls below a minimum of about .01 per second (once every minute and a half). This is known as sleep.

 

But even in sleep the brain’s synapses keep firing, exciting RNA and forming thoughts. Some of these thoughts create heightened activity in parts of the brain, and trigger consciousness that affects a limited area. This is called dreaming.

 

But how many synapses are firing when it’s a dream within a dream within a dream? And when does the dream turn into nightmare?

 

When the pain comes. The pain of asphyxiation. The searing of your calves and ankles by a growing trash fire at your feet. The intermittent overexcitation of whole regions of the brain by transcranial stimulation. Tho much of Kurt’s brain was ticking over below the threshold of consciousness, his pain receptors were highly active. Nerve pain, bone pain, joint pain, blood vessel pain, organ pain, skin pain. And an enormous headache. A pressure behind his eye.

 

He thrashed around in exquisite intense pain. He couldn’t think. He was beside himself with the agony. He was in many states at once, and hurt in all of them. And his synapses were failing, his firing rate was dropping rapidly, he was losing consciousness. He was losing the ability to move between states, between universes, between Kurts. He was becoming the observer who only watches as the experiment is performed, performs itself.

 

But the observer chooses the outcome. The observer acts as a quantum operation itself. His synapses were filled with electrons that instantly tuneled to distant synapses and changed their states.

 

One by one Kurt’s other states winked out, and he had to turn away from his beloved Antarctica, watch it collapse and disappear. He had to come back to himself, floating bodiless in the jacuzzi in the Airstream, breathing, meditating, vaguely referring to a possible vision of himself in a smoking cargo van.

 

He was as calm as he’d ever been, his mind was clear. Everything was clear to him. The memory of past and present and future were an illusion called time, but time is not time, time is out of time.

 

Kurt was out of time. Everything was slowing: his synapse firing rate, his cellular processes, his heartbeat. It got cold. The jacuzzi stopped bubbling. Kurt lost touch with his body. It got very cold. Kurt’s molecules got colder and slowed their vibration, everything got sluggish and slowed to a deep, silent halt. Everything stopped. Kurt was out of time. And he remained outside of time forever (which was actually a joke – Kurt thought so, anyway.)

 

As Kurt was going thru his death throes, he was inside the kernel, as well as a lot of other places. Attached to the kernel, his struggle transmitted itself to all the different universes he was in, and all those places felt his pain, his confusion, his panic, his struggle and loss of consciousness, and the cold stillness. Josh and Anomia felt it,

 

 

Kurt had started his evening complaining about the morons at his talk on the kernel. He expected better from the guys he always hung out with, but they weren’t very receptive, and soon he gave up talking to anybody.

He had no interest in the parties, so he went back to his van, which was parked far from the Dragoncon crowd on a side street near Grady Hospital. No costumed anybody in this section, only homeless people looking for an interesting way to pass the evening.

He parked where the wifi was strong, and settled in for the night, putting up privacy screens on the windows and making himself comfortable in the back, at his computer. Kurt had been dissatisfied for months with the game’s progress, and now that it was being presented publicly, he could practically hear his peers howl, failing to see the beauty beneath the kludgy exterior. And for that he hated them.

He could walk away now, his part in the game was done and he could disassociate himself with the game itself and go on to find more interesting applications for the kernel. But the game’s poor showing injured his pride, and Kurt was very proud. It’s all a genius has, when the world conspires against you.

He wanted to fix the game. The Antarctica level was the problem. He didn’t care at all about the carnival levels. He agreed with Anomia that they were afterthoughts. But the Antarctica level – the game the angel told them to make – the important part – was a real mess. He’d been busy doing other things when Josh and Anomia built it on the sly, and they’d ignored or not noticed all sorts of better ways to do just about everything. He might as well tear it down and start over.

Which in fact he intended to do. His goal was a sterling session of sleep programming, and his first task was to self medicate properly. He’d been working on a good case of insomnia, using a blend of caffeine, cold medicines and meth, chased with Red Bull. He was jittering so bad he’d eaten his fingernails to the quick.

He was already on antidepressants (duh), but felt he had plenty of room for a few beta blockers, and took a bunch of propranolol to suppress his REM sleep, and several slow wave enhancers: lithium and amitriptyline.

All these drugs in order to produce parasomnia – sleep programming, vivid dreams, maybe a nightmare or two. And to all this he added two Ambien and a couple of shots of vodka, and settled down to smoke some good weed and wait.

Soon he found himself inside his dream Airstream, spacious and elegant compared to his trash-filled realworld cargo van. He was sitting in his expensive task chair, hammering away at his keyboard. He wasn’t really in the Airstream, tho. He was inside the kernel.

Nobody knew about this. Kurt had discovered almost immediately that he could use his special connection to the kernel – it was partially made of Kurt stuff, after all – to merge with it, to somehow shrink his essential self down small enough to enter the quantum kernel, where he made himself at home.

No Airstream, nothing fancy; not even a tent. Just endless dry desert and a sleeping bag. It was peaceful, he could see all the stars, and nothing changed or happened or went wrong. And he could think a million thoughts all at once, and be aware of them all, and keep track of them all, and follow each thought thru to its end or branching place. There were so many permutations of any one thought that he spent whole lifetimes pondering a single aspect before moving on to the next one.

Turning his attention to the Antarctica level, he saw it as a single living creation, not as lines of code, or beauteous backgrounds and poorly indicated details, or even as a pale replica of the game the kids had played on the angel’s dime. He saw it as a being in its own self, with a past, present and future all bound up together outside of time.

As flawed as it was, this virtual Antarctica was as real as the actual icebound continent. He could see the interconnecting complexity of its mountains and plains, its bones and skin; he could trace all the areas of cultural flow and historical crisis, growth and decay, the lives and deaths weaving in and out of its living self, because it was alive and contained everything that happened inside it, or on it, or to it.

There’s a better way to say this. The Gaia theory doesn’t do it justice. If you were a flea on the flank of Gaia, and you knew yourself to be that flea, and also knew yourself to be Gaia regarding the flea on her thigh, and knew yourself to be Not Gaia, outside of Gaia, which then implies that you knew yourself to be inside Gaia, even smaller than you were as a flea (muscles, sinews, organelles and corpuscles, the cells, the quantum intracellular fluid – all at the same time), and were still able to function on any and all of the levels you were conscious of being. On.

So Kurt was part of Antarcticaca, and he understood it as a part of himself, and he set about fixing it. After a short break, during which he came back to his Airstream, had a good pee, fixed himself a mug of coffee, smoked a cigarette, smoked a joint, smoked another few cigarettes and had a beer. He did another round of REM suppressors and something to intensify the slow waves, took a hit of mescaline and did a little X – for the flavor. Then, to kick up the brain activity a notch, he attached electrodes to his head and gave himself a few jolts of transcranial stimulation.

He was smoking. Chain smoking, sitting at his hand-tooled maple desk, his hands dancing over the keyboard, tearing Antarctica down and rebuilding it the right – dare he say the only way? (No, he durst not, because it’s quantum and there is no right way. But never mind.)

He was also in Antarctica. Time being an illusion, he had separated the layers into multiple Antarcticas,each one an overlay, ring upon ring of the richly complex Antarcticas at different times and stages. Continuous but never the same. He was working with the level architecture, laying out the threads of consequences from one layer to the next. Everything fit together and made sense. A billion threads to follow, stories to live. Kurt stood in awe of it all, a whole continent glistening in the midnight sun. More perfect than the classical, physical Antarctica because it was more real, more alive, wanting to play like a puppy. Kurt loved his Antarctica.

He was running around all seven layers at once, conjuring areas as he went, whatever was needed, whatever cried out to be done. He was tying filaments of reality together, weaving possibilities together, making nodes where quantum synapses connected to the kernel. He felt like a wizard, all fiddly bits and vastness, all in the name of the greatest good.

Back in the Airstream, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean, Kurt was doing breathing exercises in his isolation jacuzzi, going for the absolute minimum of distraction to clear his head of nonquantum space. (because water is quantum). He was getting really great results. He felt like his brain was electrified, on fire.

Back in the cargo van, parked in front of an abandoned building in Atlanta, Kurt was slumped over his broken rolly chair, his head on his chest, drooling, his eyes closed but darting all around as he dreamed.

He dreamed he was programming, creating the perfect Antarctica. People would be amazed. He raised his cigarette to his lips in slow motion and took a shallow puff, not breathing very deeply with his head bent forward like that. His heart was pounding, but he was unaware of it. His face was purplish, too, and the pressure was building up in his neck and shoulders.

But he continued to bring the cigarette slowly up to his mouth and huff at it while he was thinking. And his thinking was infinite. His mind was the fire of creation, and the universe was the shadowy Beyond. He was himself, a continuous and unchanging consciousness, a being with a body. A body which was a tool for understanding the universe, a mind capable of analyzing everything, and a consciousness which acted and participated in the grand dance of the universe. Body, mind and will. The trinity. Father, son, spirit. The father is like the body and the mid is like the son, no wait, does the body dicsipline the mind or is the mind ruler of the body? Hahaha, never mind. Rock paper scissors.

He reached for his cigarette, which was resting on the edge of his dream ashtray. He brought it slowly to his swollen, purple lips, and dreamed he inhaled it. He wasn’t really sure if he wasn’t in the jacuzzi in the back of the Airstream, doing breathing exercises and smoking a fatty. He winced a little as the cigarette grew hot at the filter and moved to stab it out in the dream ashtray. He lit another and took a dream puff, lapsing into another deep thought with his hand pausing just micrometers from his lips.

He nodded off for a moment but snapped back into dream consciousness when the cigarette burned down and singed his fingers, then lit another one and nodded off again, snot bubbling from his nose. This time he could feel himself slipping away, so he reached out to put the cigarette into the dream ashtray while he followed a compelling idea down into the murk.

Since it was a dream ashtray, the cigarette was actually resting in midair, next to a slumbering Kurt who was bent over his computer desk in his cargo van in downtown Atlanta. Since it was the classical Atlanta, the cigarette fell to the floor of the van. There it burned slowly while Kurt dreamed he was sleep programming.

The cigarette burned almost to the filter before the ember touched a cellophane wrapper which abutted a dried up old snotrag, which lay on a dirty t-shirt. All of which peacefully smoldered for awhile.

Kurt hardly noticed the smoke. Slumped over as he was, he’d developed apnea, and was snoring loudly, a coughing, choking kind of breath accompanied by a groan as tho he was trying to say something in his sleep. His face was blue, his eyes bulged behind his eyelids, his chubby fingers were blue, his heard was racing, his blood was boiling in his veins. His lungs were aching. He was getting a headache, a real whopper.

There are around 25 trillion synapses firing in the brain when you’re in a conscious waking state. Every time a synapse fires, 200,000 electrons go racing off toward RNA particles at the rate of 250 billion billion RNA connections an hour until the concentration of RNA is low and the rate of firing synapses falls below a minimum of about .01 per second (once every minute and a half). This is known as sleep.

But even in sleep the brain’s synapses keep firing, exciting RNA and forming thoughts. Some of these thoughts create heightened activity in parts of the brain, and trigger consciousness that affects a limited area. This is called dreaming.

But how many synapses are firing when it’s a dream within a dream within a dream? And when does the dream turn into nightmare?

When the pain comes. The pain of asphyxiation. The searing of your calves and ankles by a growing trash fire at your feet. The intermittent overexcitation of whole regions of the brain by transcranial stimulation. Tho much of Kurt’s brain was ticking over below the threshold of consciousness, his pain receptors were highly active. Nerve pain, bone pain, joint pain, blood vessel pain, organ pain, skin pain. And an enormous headache. A pressure behind his eye.

He thrashed around in exquisite intense pain. He couldn’t think. He was beside himself with the agony. He was in many states at once, and hurt in all of them. And his synapses were failing, his firing rate was dropping rapidly, he was losing consciousness. He was losing the ability to move between states, between universes, between Kurts. He was becoming the observer who only watches as the experiment is performed, performs itself.

But the observer chooses the outcome. The observer acts as a quantum operation itself. His synapses were filled with electrons that instantly tunelled to distant synapses and changed their states.

One by one Kurt’s other states winked out, and he had to turn away from his beloved Antarctica, watch it collapse and disappear. He had to come back to himself, floating bodiless in the jacuzzi in the Aristream, breathing, meditating, vaguely referring to a possible vision of himself in a smoking cargo van.

He was as calm as he’d ever been, his mind was clear. Everything was clear to him. The memory of past and present and future were an illusion called time, but time is not time, time is out of time.

Kurt was out of time. Everything was slowing: his synapse firing rate, his cellular processes, his heartbeat. It got cold. The jacuzzi stopped bubbling. Kurt lost touch with his body. It got very cold. Kurt’s molecules got colder and slowed their vibration, everything got sluggish and slowed to a deep, silent halt. Everything stopped. Kurt was out of time. And he remained outside of time forever (which was actually a joke – Kurt thought so, anyway.)

As Kurt was going thru his death throes, he was inside the kernel, as well as a lot of other places. Attached to the kernel, his struggle transmitted itself to all the different universes he was in, and all those places felt his pain, his confusion, his panic, his struggle and loss of consciousness, and the cold stillness. Josh and Anomia felt it,

writing chapter 9.1

Snake chaired his panel – Levitation: What The Fuck – starting at 10 pm, the timeslot for the last serious panels that are just a little too late for the rubes. So only hardcore fans traditionally showed up, and the hard partying began that would go on all night. The horrible crush of costumed figures had mellowed – there was more space around the walls to sit or sprawl. They didn’t exactly open up portable bars in the back of the meeting rooms, but everyone brought something, and openly partook thereof. The room filled with smoke. Snake had a bottle of bourbon on the table, Josh was making a mis on place (???) with his stash of pharmaceuticals.

“We’re not here to debunk that levitation thing that happened to my boy’s girlfriend last year.” He showed some not very clear cellphone video someone put up on YouTube. “No, that was all real. And the vibration people felt, and the psychic contact stuff. We”re not here to disrespect any of that shit, eve tho this is the Skeptic track and there’s supposed to be a swamp gas explanation for shit like this. But many of you were there” – nods all over – “or you know someone who was” – lots of agreement – “and none of you look like the hypnotizable type, or people that would fall for mass delusions,” tho Snake was making bets with himself to the contrary.

“And I’m not inclined to doubt my teammate’s sanity, even if she is a girl.” The crowd was mostly men. The few women frowned or ignored the slight.

“What we want to know is what happened, and why, and can it be repeated? And not in terms of mystery schools or newage gobbledegook about ascended masters and quantum consciousness. As everybody knows, quantum mechanics works, but only on really small scales – an atom or two. There is even a quantum process – so called – in the brain, but there is no way that these tiny isolated little processes could be responsible for our universe, let alone what goes on in our insignificant brains. You are not God, no mater what some blissed out exhippies want you to believe. There’s only one reality, and that all I want to say abou tit.”

He paused to belt down a shot of whiskey. Josh looked bored, or stoned. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I”m not denying the strange stuff that happens when you’re tripping, and there’s been a lot of documentation about mind altering chemicals that can make out of body experiences the norm, and in the past ritual magic has shown a lot of promise as a discipline if you’re trying to conquer reality. And this is serious science compared to the consciousness mumbo jumbo you hear from some quarters. When it’s been proven over and over again that consciousness is just a side effect of having a brain of a certain size and complexity. Without a body you’re dead meat. Without a mind, you’re like 99% of humanity.” – haha – so someone was still listening.

“So what I’m saying is, there’s a reasonable explanation for the levitation we witnessed here at last year’s Dragoncon. But isn’t the Force, or magik, or quantum superpowers. Quantum mechanics looks like magic from outside, because it’s so new. But give it a few years, until you start to get quantum consumer products, and then everyone wonders what we did without it. So we’re very proudly introducing the very first quantum gaming device in this – or any other – universe.”

“See, our phenomenal levitatoress has been working on the design team from the beginning, and like all of us is intimately involved with the game, and no doubt she picked up some quantum abilities just from her interactions with the device.”

“As near as we can tell, the kernel sets up a quantum field, where what happens next can be preprogrammed, and so whatever you want, you can do. Inside the game, it’s really real. We can actually fly, we can eat and shit and get it on, tho personally I’m not attracted to any of my codevelopers. You can feel cold, and pain. You can get drunk. You can die. I mean really die, white light, life review, judgement day and all that. It’s every inch as real as this – and even moreso, because it’s a whole world and you’re a vital part of it.”

Snake was beginning to feel mystical about it. Better watch the old alcohol intake, huh? “Maybe it taps that quantum piece of your brain, or maybe it puts you into an altered state; we’re not sure. It’s whatever happens to your brain when you put it inside the quantum field of our new chip. Which by the way is called the Q-chip(tm).” He just thought that up.

“It’s smaller than a grain of sand, and I don’t understand it at all, like I’ve said before. But there’s only one of them, and there’s – also – a clone in every copy of the game. Your very own clone virtually resides on whatever device you have it running on. So don’t let’s hear any more of how you have to join the Jedis or become a Bene Gesserit witch or dance naked under the full moon, tho I wouldn’t pass that up, personally. All you have to do is play the game, and you too can fly.” (insert appropriate leading questions thrutout)

At that point someone asked Josh a question about (something???) and he launched on a rambling dawdle that was every bit as mystical as Anomia’s lectures, only a bit less coherent. Then they broke up for some serious partying and further discussion.

Josh was too fucked up to negotiate with the industry execs lined up to promote the game, so Snake talked to them and closed a few deals that they all agreed to keep secret.

Fairy spent her early evening letting a boy toy buy her dinner in the French Russian restaurant at the top of the Hilton (http://nikolaisroof.com/about-us/). It didn’t spin around for a brilliant view (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNrbc3TpmPQ) of Atlanta and be teeming with Dragonfolk, it stayed in one place with a brilliant view of Atlanta (http://hiltonatlantablog.wordpress.com/tag/nikolais-roof/), was hard to get to, and had almost nobody there. Except for Adam West, Bill Shatner, someone and someone else (???). Starting with dinner among their entourages in discrete corners of the room, then glomming together in the bar after that.

Fairy didn’t bother trying to approach the stars. She sat and exuded her bewitching aura, and one by one they came up to bend over and kiss her hand, gushing when she handed them her card.

She ditched the toy who paid for dinner, offering him another chance some time later on. Then she went to the room and changed into her leathers, and made her way to one of the suites (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/photo-tours.mi?marshaCode=atlmq&pageID=HWGRD_SUITES&imageID=14&roomTypeCode=) where there was an annual BDSM scene, and it was her turn to be a star. Later on she was pleased to attend to several of her admirers from dinner. The more macho the superhero, the more welts he wants on his ass.

And Fairy knew it, and used her budding quantum superpowers to make each nerve tingle in a special way they found addictive in its intensity – a sweet kind of pain. Thus she reigned far into the night. Fairy – mistress of your worst nightmares.

Josh and Anomia were still up, playing videogames. They’d ditched the parties and retired to the room, with some takeout, and pulled out their tablets (Josh’s new one was an iPad 5 (http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/251368046046?lpid=82) and pulled up the game. They’d been testing the Carneytown side, behind the scenes of the Carnival level that was featured in the walkthru. Players here got to operate the rides and rig the games, work the concessions and perform security patrols. This was the player’s big opportunity to learn about Einstein’s relativity, if you were into the theory, and a chance to cheat like crazy against players on the Midway – the marks. And everything was rigged against the marks.

Josh thought it was a lot more fun, but Anomia felt it was just more of the same, more like a management game than the adventure she was looking for. But it had to be functional soon after testers started on the Carnival level, so they were staying up all night getting it ready. And they were in the game partly because they were trying to be close for a little while, have some couple time to help anchor them in the whirlwind that was Dragoncon.

At this moment, they were standing in front of the wormhole to the next level, which was the cloud level, where they’d given everybody a beer and a good time in the panel session. It was the first level they’d built, because it was nothing but clouds and quantum processes. But it was always supposed to go between the amusement park and the angel-directed Antarctica quest. And the players had to be ready for that. And so the classical physics level, and the relativity level, where players came up to speed on the concepts. They’d installed a “You must be this smart” measuring stick on the drawbridge between the Carnival midway and Carneytown. And they were putting one just like it in front of the wormhole.

They’d never actually been thru the wormhole. Kurt had, zillions of times, but they’d only just arrived at it in their testing, and didn’t have anything but their notes to go on. The experience was supposed to be somewhere between being in the stomach of the giant cockroach in Men in Black, and the rabbit hole of Alice in Wonderland.

It was supposed to put your quantum abilities to the test and dump you back out if you didn’t have the skills to tackle it. It wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle themselves, but they wanted to be sure it was idiot friendly. Like, nobody would drown or implode into a black hole or anything if they couldn’t pass the test. Just a slap on the wrist and a list of remedial games you had to play. Josh thought of it as penance.

It made sense to be doing this testing while they were at Dragoncon. They were all psyched up for the Dragoncon experience, deeply involved in their years-long Dragoncon relationships – like a family reunion of people you love. There they were, baring the results of a year’s hard work to their best friends and waiting to see what they thought.

Everyone loved them, so everyone loved their work, but it was like showing the adults your first attempts at a painting, and getting polite smiles and hopeful encouragement. Everyone wins who tries, keep trying. So okay the game was klunky, but everyone got the idea and loved the gear and how real everything was. Those gorgeous environments. Too bad about the cold tho, but hey, bring it on.

Josh and Anomia tended to blame their mixed debut on Fairy and Snake, who had spent the year playing out an epic rivalry and left the game looking like it had been hit by a train. Josh and Anomia had steadily worked on the higher levels, leaving Fairy and Snake to their squabbles on the part of the game that was releasable early.

They might as well be two different games. The real introduction to the game was the cloud level, where everything was different, no classical or relative physics at all.

Pure mind. Or cloud. Whatever. That was the source of a few arguments – all the labels were. The girls jumped for the magical interpretation, and the boys wanted something concrete to point to, a mechanism, a reason. Will and desire weren’t reasons.

The wormhole was in a little dip in the landscape, a kind of drainage ditch that narrowed into a culvert. A little streamlet trickled thru it, a pipe-like tunnel of corrugated something – metal or plastic or concrete – they couldn’t tell because it was covered with moss, dripping, sound-absorbing. Damp coolness gathered around them as they stood at the entrance, just a little reluctant to enter.

They walked in, crouched over, their feet astride the trickle. The water got deeper as the tunnel descended. Soon their toes were in the water, then their feet, then they were up to their calves. It didn’t feel like water. It wasn’t cold; they couldn’t feel it flowing past them. It was like thick air.

They got deeper and deeper into this not-wet water. It was hard to wade thru ti. So they ducked their heads under and swam. But not like real swimming, more like dream swimming, when you breathe water and swim like a fish, your body moving thru the thick water like you are being pushed by the current. Like flying but more visceral. They had to use lots of willpower to keep moving forward.

Then the nature of the tunnel changed. They were all the way underwater and suddenly the water got murky – they couldn’t see the sides of the tunnel any more. The water grew agitated and turbulent, hard obstacles appeared all around them and suddenly they were caught, hemmed in, and running out of breath. They were caught in a maelstrom.

Neither Josh and Anomia knew what to do. They were in constant communication but neither of them had felt such opposition before. In their vision it had been a struggle sometimes, but never like this. This felt like the game was having a tantrum, a fit, a seizure. It was violent and hurtful. They were being battered by rocks that knew where to hit.

They found each other’s hands and swam together, and the turbulence grew. They remembered the last part of their flight – straight on to morning – before they found Antarctica, before they met the angel or played the game. The flight was endless until they thought themselves to their destination – traveling without moving (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ7DkBFjLRI).

They gathered themselves and then moved the tunnel past them, to the point where the non-water began to recede and the tunnel walls began to have oxygen-breathing plants that enhanced the sounds of moving water.

But then everything changed again. It inverted somehow. Now they were outside the tunnel, it was somehow inside them, a tube running thru their guts. They were shitting themselves out along with great quantities of water – lumps of solid turds in the midst of watery diarrhea.

And the pain. The cramping as the walls came clenching down around them. Like being crushed to death, like being born thru the small hole in a female pelvis. Forced by an impenetrable wall of NO, they fell back, lost distance, choking and spasming with a burning lack of breath.

And the pain. Like being burned alive. They had the time to to experience all this consciously, and to share it, and comment on it. Drowning is better, Josh declared. Anomia replied, Breathing is better.

She imagined she was trying to teach this idea, as if her every thought were a message to someone. She felt others with them.

Fairy, who was in the throes of orgasm, and could feel her biggest one yet building right up.

Snake, who was masturbating alone in his room with porn on the TV.

Nathan, who was trying hard to breathe thru a rubber mask.

Radhu, who was meditating in his hotel room (being too backwards to get laid and also not attracted to the party scene, a teetotaller and shy with women, who was secretly waiting for his parents to find him a wife, someday).

And Kurt, whose real pain and anguish was being transmitted thru the kernel via the entire game.

writing chapter 8.9

Nathan’s missing bit – You think you depend on your body, that if your body is destroyed then you won’t exist. But there’s no objective reality. You don’t really have a body. Your body is a product of your consciousness and not the other way around. Consciousness doesn’t depend on having a body, or experiencing a physical world. Mind is everything, consciousness is an illusion. Because we’re all one.

Back in the windowless security room, Larry and Curly were trying to make sense of security cameras that showed things materializing out of thin air. Obviously a publicity stunt – that’s what they were going to tell Moe. But really, wet carpets, and a salty, beery smell in the room even after the cleaning crew went thru. Where’d the glass mugs come from? And how to explain all the pot smoke? Actually, that was easy enough to explain by regular means – look at the people involved, of course someone brought a joint or two. They were not going to mention that around a pound of pot must have materialized as rolled joints, all of a sudden, to everyone in the room, already lit.

There were also several instantaneous sighting of the woman called Fairy, and a reported air conditioning malfunction in the game room, which caused cups of coffee and bottles of soda to freeze solid. And then there were all the tweets and instagrams and FB posts about how real the demo was – apparently not just the graphics but also exotic food not otherwise available at Dragncon (skua burgers), only the wrappers of which were still extant, and several people who sought medical attention for frostbite – purportedly from standing on a balcony looking at glaciers. Perhaps that was a coded reference for huffing coolant or something?

And then there were the views expressed during various panels associated with their psychedelically inspired videogame. Larry, who read up on all these things (Curly was afraid to be too curious in case his superiors mistook him for a sympathizer) read (typed) the transcripts of the sessions and thought the tone was all ‘power to the people,’ almost ‘bring it all down and groove on the rubble.’ Moe, being a generation older, would have had a strongly negative reaction to this opinion, but Larry had no intention of telling him.

Quantum philosophy scared him, tho. He was totally comfortable in a world brought about by the industrial revolution, with a bronze age religious base. Quantum seemed to mean a lot more individuality, with everyone a king, including the rabble, the criminals, the insane, and everybody who wasn’t in control now. It would be a nightmare. And if you thought about the logistics of as many different worlds as there were people, all having to agree to get anything done – it was just unthinkable. There’s one reality, and that’s it.

Curly was busy tallying up all the spies he’d managed to place their names on the list of testers.

writing chapter 8.8

trying to pull the mask far enough away from his face to breathe unobtrusively. All this time, Dad was guttering the most amazing abuse at him, like a toxic waste pipe spewing into the ocean. The hatred and diseased thinking drenched everything in the room, demonic figures maniacally tearing around ripping things apart.

Strangely enough, only Nathan noticed the demons. Probably from lack of oxygen. The others didn’t even seem wet. Not that he could see thru the mask or anything. But he was having the most compelling, intense experiences.

Anomia appeared in front of him and showed him how to virtually breathe thru his mask, sort of a cosmic absorption of life energy that hit his lungs like mountain air. The shock was so great he nearly fainted, but she brought him back with a kiss, and after that took him aside and told him a whole lot of eternally true and undeniably important things, including the secret of life. He was so happy and content, so profoundly at peace that he hardly noticed when Dad began kicking him. He simply adjusted his body to protect his kidneys, and went on listening to Anomia’s wisdom.

Mom watched with horror as her husband attacked her son. Nathan just took it, sacrificing himself to protect her. He’d taken Dad’s abuse before, trying to get in between them during an argument. But Dad was really wailing (waling, whaling?) on him, and Nathan was doing nothing to defend himself. Everybody knew the worst would happen if you fought back when Dad was like this, but this was way worse than usual, and he still wasn’t resisting.

Nathan’s just a child, she reminded herself. He shouldn’t have to go thru this. I’ll have to use that special green salve from Mexico on his forehead. And ice pack: his ear’s going to get so swollen. Poor baby. Can you burst an eardrum twisting like that? Can you damage the ligaments? Can you break a bone? Mom had moved into that detached place that was the only barrier against emotional or physical violence. Her thoughts were fast and practical, multitasking because the immediate danger demanded it, focusing on the consequences of the moment and how she could best cope with them.

But something stirred her when Dad started kicking Nathan. You shouldn’t do that to a dog. It turned her stomach to see Dad kick Nathan. What contempt he must have for the boy. You don’t kick someone when they’re down. You don’t kick my baby ever.

Her self-protective barriers were obliterated by the most intense anger she’d ever felt, coursing thru her like someone threw a switch, and suddenly her armor was on the outside, and she knew exactly what to do. Which was to stride over to Dad and stop him from kicking Nathan. So she pushed Dad off balance, shoving him with both hands. Then she got in front of him with a body block as he regained his balance, and pushed him backwards with both hands.

He was surprised, trying not to fall. He was shocked seeing a hand raised against him. He was flabbergasted to find his cowardly little wife acting like a pit bull. But then he regained his balance, and after that it was a matter of landing a few hard ones to stop her, and then dragging her back to the bedroom to be taught a lesson in private.

Nathan sensed, felt, and heard Dad switching his attention to Mom, and tho he was happy with Anomia, he realized he was needed, and with her help peeled off the mask and came back to normal consciousness. To find Sis leaning over to see if he was still alive. He opened his eyes.

“You okay?”

“I guess, maybe,” he answered breathlessly.

Satisfied, she straightened up and gave him a final, vicious kick to the head before wandering into the kitchen for a bedtime snack.

Nathan got up, feeling the bruises rising, and stumbled back to Mom and Dad’s room, where he could hear Mom whimpering as Dad smashed things and bellowed at her. He turned the doorknob. Mom noticed and made a squeak. Dad noticed and hit her, then thundered, “Go to bed,” at the locked door, and turned back to Mom.

Nathan crept back to his room to tend to his injuries and try to sleep. The noise from Mom and Dad’s bedroom went on a long time. Nathan slept very poorly.

Right about now you’re probably asking yourself Why? Why do they put up with it? We all know that Dad’s an asshole and Sis is a piece of work. Why do we have to read about such abuse? When are they going to get punished for their evil ways?

May I remind you that this isn’t really fiction? They won’t necessarily get theirs in the end. They might just become the most successful characters in the story, rewarded instead of punished for being completely wicked monsters.

But that’s not the question. Why do Mom and Nathan put up with it? Why was Mom unresponsive until Nathan was in danger of being seriously injured? Why didn’t Nathan call 911 when Dad was in the bedroom beating Mom up? Why do they endure the endless torment?

I wouldn’t stand for it, personally: one hand against me and I’m gone the next minute. And that’s certainly easy to say. But you would stay, if that was called love. If you don’t know any better. If you believed that blood was thicker than water, that’s this was how a family was supposed to be – just a little exaggerated, a little extreme.

It takes generations of cowing and discipline, breaking their spirits at every display of defiance or independence. It takes concerted effort by the whole society to keep women and children in their place. Dad was a proud member of that society and everything in the culture supported his obligation to be the head of his family as aggressively as possible.