Robin Maxwell, a historian, screenwriter and bestselling novelist, is writing a full-length novel for grahamhancock.com that we will be releasing as a serial publication — chapter by chapter — periodically.
With tongue firmly in cheek, her story peels back the veil of existence and looks behind the scenes of our current tumultuous times and the strange, precious multiverse we inhabit. At the center of it all, Ed and Helen are cosmic coders who discover that Ed’s Earth Simulation has gone completely out of control. But there is worse brewing. Much, much worse…
Below is Chapter 7 of I Am Your Creator Dude.
Enjoy, and stay tuned for more chapters to come. Read:
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter I
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter II
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter III
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter IV
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter V
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter VI
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter VII
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter VIII
- “I Am Your Creator, Dude!”: Chapter IX
“I just read your brilliant ‘I Am Your Creator, Dude!’ Your story is great! Funny, clever, thought-provoking and entertaining.” – Graham Hancock
“Many times I have pondered what’s it all about. Spaceship Earth and The Human Condition. You have touched on my reoccurring conclusion that “Earth” is entertainment for the eternal creator. That infinite eternity is a long time so the creator of creators and creations manifest art projects such as Earth. “The Eternal Must Be Entertained” I suspect Channel Earth is one of a zillion creative projects.” – T Crowe Semler
“What the hell, Ed?
“I know. It’s a bit flashy.”
They gazed up at the turreted pink “wings” on either side of a dramatic archway flanging thirty stories up between either side of the grand resort’s high-rise, glowing gold in the sun. At the tippy-top, two metal swordfish battled it out in the air. The edifice threw shade over the palm forest below, two blue manmade lagoons and a phony Mayan pyramid towering over a third. The complex sprawled across its very own island called “Paradise,” surrounded by white sand beaches and a screaming blue Caribbean Sea. One might expect loose and leisurely Bob Marley tunes blasting over the scene, but Ed had programmed some James Taylor over the loudspeakers to soothe his nerves for what he knew was coming. What he hadn’t coded and never expected was the crush of demonstrators cramming every inch of the concrete walkways in front of the main hotel, here to protest their worlds falling apart, and other nihilists celebrating it. They were really loud. Really angry. So it didn’t take much for the oh-so-mellow, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of tiiiiime…” to be drowned out by shouting from both sides.
“What is this place?” Helen demanded, her neck craned up at the architectural grotesquery Ed had brought her to, the place he expected to stop the Big Suck in its tracks.
“The Atlantis Bahamas Mega-Resort and Water Park,” he told her. “You can slide into ‘The Abyss’ and through ‘Shark Lagoon,’ lounge on the ‘Lazy River…’” he said, sounding like an advertisement, “…ride along the rapids of ‘The Current,’ or simply relax by one of the eleven swimming pools. Or play golf. Or swim with the dolphins.”
“You coded this?” she asked, truly baffled.
“Helen, I don’t know.”
She started to speak, but he interrupted.
“I wasn’t drunk. I knew what I was doing. Just, like, goofing around inside the head of the avatar architect who designed it. I gave him an obscene budget with instructions to create a place with a showy casino for middle-class families to spend their life savings on, on a single vacation. Not a romantic place. Kids shrieking on the Mayan Pyramid water slide.”
“Why are we here, Ed?” She was already impatient.
“Everybody who’s anybody – the good, the bad and the ugly – they’re all in there. World leaders, inventors, investors, techies, gamers, bankers, scientists, saviors. Kind of a planetary Genius Bar.”
She was the opposite of impressed. “What about them?” She indicated the protesters with a wave of her hand.
“Sometimes,” he said unconvincingly, “some of these guys have good ideas.”
“That nobody listens to.”
“What was I supposed to do?” he said. “Go schlepping around the globe to see them one by one? Our culprit is in there. Or…” he pointed to the extravagant water park arrayed around the high-rise. They make a very nice Tortuga rum cake at the Bimini Road Cafe,” he added for levity.
She glared at him.
“This’ll work, Helen. I promise you.”
They pushed through the throng of demonstrators hurling insults at each other. Neo-Nazis pumped tiki-torches and AK-47s to the sky. A few feet away, a sign read, “The Oceans are Rising…and so are we!” Some people knelt beside the walkway with their heads stuck in the sand. Others wore animal masks, presumably of the species already lost to extinction. A sit-in of right-to-lifers with bloody abortion signs was squashed next to a lie-in of women in red Handmaid frocks and nun-like headdresses.
The sky, Ed noticed, was as chaotic as the one over Yellowstone had been, instead of the mildly breezy azure one with the poofy white clouds the Caribbean was famous for. He wondered with a shudder if his “freeze-code” on Mother Nature might have crashed, and she was on the loose again. He didn’t dare mention it to Helen.
“I don’t know, Ed…” Helen continued, looking around them dubiously. The mob was getting mobby-er by the moment. There were a bunch of white militia guys strutting around with various open-carry automatic weapons strapped to every part of their bodies and big smirks on their faces, looking for somebody – anybody – to threaten. “Your Sapiens’ code is awfully buggy,” she observed, scanning the crowd.
“Tell me about it. I thought…dammit, I was sure they were going to be astonishing. My finest creations. Now look at them.” His shoulders sagged as he looked at the furious faces on both sides of them.
“Viruses infect the best of codes, honey,” she said, relenting, giving his cheek a little smooch. She could be so sweet sometimes. “But no time for whining…”
Shoulder to shoulder, they plunged on.
Ahead of them, standing with arms akimbo before a huge fountain of six winged horses of faux gold spurting water thirty feet in the air, a petite but steely-eyed Swedish girl of twenty observed the crowd as a distinguished older gentleman standing next to her with an utterly defeated expression.
“Sorry,” David Attenborough whispered to Greta Thunberg. They watched as one of the protesters wearing a silver lamé mu-mu with a paper mâché symbol covering his head heaved a pail of fake blood onto one of the fountain’s horse statues.
“It’s over for Earth,” Greta mouthed hopelessly.
“They wouldn’t listen to me,” Attenborough agreed, choking back a sob. “I’ve been trying to tell them for eighty years.”
“Stupid white men,” she muttered. “Not you,” she added, patting his pretty-nice-head-of-hair-for-an-old-guy.
‘You don’t know the half of it,’ Ed thought as they hurried between the two civilian armies.
“Neh, neh, neh, neh neh!” shrieked the deranged Floridian governor as he tossed a match onto a pile of gasoline-soaked young adult books over the rhythmic chant of “Woke, woke, is up in smoke!!”
“What’s ‘woke?’” Helen asked.
“Don’t ask,” Ed replied glumly. “Nothing I ever created got that fucked up that fast.”
“Any significance here?” Helen asked as they passed the blood-splattered fountain.
“It’s Poseidon’s team of horses,” Ed told her.
“No last name. Just one of the gods. Like Cher.”
“But why here?”
“Because we’re at the Atlantis Hotel, and Poseidon…” Ed was suddenly lost for words.
“Just a bit of Earth’s prehistory I coded and put in the head of a Greek philosopher 2,500 years back. Poor fucking Plato. He’s been catching shit for believing Atlantis was real ever since. I’ll explain later.”
“Whoa…!” Helen uttered with genuine awe as they gazed up at the wide-open 25-foot-high double doors of heavy burnished metal emblazoned with gigantic sea dragons and fat-lipped fish. They walked through them into the immense circular, rotunda-topped lobby, its polished floors an intricate weave of red, black, and white marble. Its eight gigantic pillars that appeared to be supporting the nautical-themed dome were — each of them —a waterfall. Helen walked out to the center of the lobby, craning her neck to gawk at twelve huge, stylized murals evenly set around the bottom of the dome. They depicted the infamous Atlantis myth – from glory-to-doom – the spectacular circular city constructed of concentric islands and canals…to men and women clad only in incongruous and strangely placed fig leaves… to the colossal waves that sent the metropolis sliding under the sea forever.
Ed thought about the few simulon researchers trying their damnedest to find the city’s ruins somewhere on the planet, or any proof of its existence at all, but he had just never found time to code “the discovery” into his game. It was kind of mean to the Atlantis-seekers, he knew, suddenly feeling guilty as hell. Their detractors were really vicious, especially the academics and scientists – but he secretly got a thrill watching them go after each other like ravening dogs. If he managed to save the Multi-Verse, Ed promised himself, looking around at the lobby now, he’d go ahead and “raise Atlantis,” lobbing egg on the faces of the unimaginative, nay-saying prigs, and giving something for the open-minded prehistorians to celebrate.
Helen was mesmerized by the twelve frescoes over their heads. He walked over and joined her.
“You never told me…” she said. “Great storytelling.”
“Listen, we gotta get going. This…this…”
“Quest?” she offered, sounding like the talented cosmic gamer that she was.
He really loved her in that moment. Appreciated everything that she was…and wasn’t. Ever since they’d discovered this snafu, she’d given him her entire attention and support. It occurred to him that he didn’t have the slightest clue what she’d been working on when all hell had broken loose.
He wanted to tell her, but they didn’t have time, so instead, he diddled under his ear, and in the next moment, she was wearing the yellow capri pants. He watched as she walked ahead of him. Good god, she has a beautiful ass! he thought.
At a wide marble stairway to the lower-level corridor Helen paused. “Are those long tanks on both sides filled with giant fish and…what are those things?”
“Sharks and stingrays,” Ed said, taking her by the elbow. “I built this place as an amusement park for adults.”
“It says ‘Spa’ over there,” she said longingly. “I could get a facial.”
“Helen!” he whispered intensely. “Get a grip.”
“Sorry, sorry…” She laughed apologetically as she allowed herself to be dragged away, looking all around her. “It’s so tacky…in a really elegant way. Or is it elegant in a tacky sort of way? Wait! Who’s that? It might be somebody important to us. Somebody with a clue.”
The word sounded funny to Ed – “a clue,” like something out of his Agatha Christie novels. But that, in fact, was exactly what they were looking for. Their quest was to solve the ultimate murder mystery. Ultimate to the nth degree…to any required power…in the real world…the Universe…the Multi-Verse Entire.
With a ticking clock to boot.
And he, fucking hell, had created the murderer here in his own game!
“Earth to Ed!” Helen pinched his arm and jutted her chin towards a giant “throne” set into a curved alcove in the lobby. “Who is that?” she persisted.
Sitting there was a balding, grisly-faced old codger in a $95,000 Alexander Amosu vicuna, Arctic muskox and pashmina wool suit. Rupert Murdock was peering around as though to say, ‘Where is everybody? Everybody who’s supposed to be groveling at my feet?’ But all there were, were a couple of middle-aged tourists in leisure wear waiting impatiently to have their pictures taken on the royal chair.
“That’s nobody,” Ed told her. “An Australian media guy who thinks he runs the world. He’d crap himself if he knew about me. Look, Helen, we really have to go!” Ed was starting to get the jitters because – truth be told – he wasn’t sure where he should start looking. It was a big place, and everybody was here for the End-of-Everything-Circus, though, of course, all the attendees had no idea why they’d suddenly found themselves in a Bahamian resort hotel with no memory of it showing up on their travel itinerary. And none of their handlers, security teams or press secretaries were anywhere in sight.
With a touch under his ear, one of the Atlantis Convention Center’s board rooms was projected into Helen’s and his brains. The “Heads of State Summit” had already convened in a black-and-white Doctor Strangelovian “War Room” – a massive round table with a lit-up map of the world behind it covering an entire wall. Volod Zelensky was repeatedly poking President Putin in the chest, calling him “yebanoye-litso,” as a red-faced Vlad poked him back with a trembling finger saying, “You are the fuck-face!” Xi and Biden were eating Chinese out of cardboard cartons with chopsticks, pretending a detent both of them knew was as substantial as egg-drop soup. Kim Jong-un stood isolated in one corner, solemnly anointing ten-year-old Kim Ju-ae as the new ‘Dear Leader,’ knowing full well that a girl king would go down with the people like a kimchi fart.
Those fucking idiots, Ed thought to himself, and all the other Captains of Industry who – like withering old Rupert on the throne – thought they ran things. “You’d think they would have guessed it by now,” he said quietly.
“It’s your fault,” Helen shot back. “That’s how you programmed them. And you’re the only one….” She gripped the lapels of his hoodie with both hands, “the only one who can fix this shit-show.”
“Do some of that yogi breathing,” she added, letting go.
“Good. Good idea.” He started counting to a hundred as he breathed, inhaling and exhaling to no particular rhythm. He held her eye. It steadied him.
“Thanks for the Capris,” she said with the barest hint of a smile.
The place was so huge Ed didn’t know where to begin searching. There were 40 restaurants, bars, and lounges in the resort, a wellness haven, and the “ruins of Atlantis” for snorkeling. The Casino was down at the end of one wide corridor, where the Wheel of Fortune had been replaced by a giant Doomsday Clock – it’s second hand so close to midnight you couldn’t see any white space. Beyond the Casino was the Convention Center. Out the large windows, he could see the marina and its mega-yachts that looked like small cruise ships.
“Wow,” Helen muttered behind him. “That’s funny.”
He turned to find her staring down another corridor off the lobby. “What? What did you just see?”
“Jesus and Buddha walked into a bar.”
“Are you kidding?”
“You didn’t set that up?” she asked.
“Nope.” Ed thought for a moment. “Lord of Laughter, you ole rattlesnake!” He looked up and addressed the god who was now staring down at them from a thought-bubble. Bradjerry still hadn’t changed out of his kilt and skin-tight plaid shirt. Even more of his impressive chest was hanging out. “Good one,” Ed commended the jokester and turned to Helen with an understanding grin.
“How’d he do it?”
“Hacked into my game,” said Ed. “L.O.L. knew we were gonna need a laugh. Come on.”
The two of them picked up their pace so they could follow the spiritual masters into the “Moon Bar”, whose sign was glowing in green neon. Inside it was retro – all the way back to biblical days retro. All except the vertical fish tanks, which were modern, filled eerily with hundreds of phosphorescent “moon” jellyfish.
But as Ed and Helen walked through, trying to keep Jesus and Buddha in their sights, they realized The Moon Bar was not – at least in this moment – a conventional drinking establishment. Behind the long bar there was no booze. No beer or Guinness on tap. No liqueurs. No Manhattans or Mojitos. Instead, the scent was patchouli and weed. In the center of the space was a huge fish tank terraced with a living coral reef. Within – some swimming, some lurking, and some cuddling with each other and rapidly changing their colors – were octopuses. A dozen of them. These were the latest of Earth’s inhabitants that its human scientists had determined were conscious and intelligent. Ed’s documentary – “My Octopus Teacher” (another Oscar winner!), helped enlighten marine biologists. It was like pulling teeth, getting Sapiens to acknowledge they weren’t the only smart ones in the game.
The tables had no chairs – only rounded, heavily pillowed banquettes of Turkish textiles. In the center of each table was a tall, painted glass and brass octopus-shaped hookah spouting a dozen tentacle hoses from its body.
“There!” Helen said, pointing to the far end of this bespoke bar.
The Theistic Duo was making its way towards a crush of Sapiens simulons sprawled around a large hookah table, next to each other, sucking languidly on their tentacles, nodding sagely and laughing with the gentle understanding of the unknowable. Nearby, James Taylor sat by himself, strumming his git-tar and singing softly, but not so softly that the occasional love song lyric didn’t float by. Apropos, Ed thought, as the idea he’d embedded into the core code of the Earth Sim – “LOVE IS THE ANSWER” – had sadly, over the millennia, been swamped by the dark arts of war and greed.
Helen and Ed seated themselves silently and invisibly at the crowded back table. “Who are these people?” she asked him.
“Far as I can see, they’re….” Ed took a good look and finally realized the company they were in. “Holy fuck. It’s the crème de la crème of my game’s psychedelic squad. We lucked out. This, my love, is the Atlantis’s A-List party. And they’re here from both sides of the veil.”
Twenty-plus years dead, Terence McKenna, with his white boy Afro, sat shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother Dennis, both of them looking very pleased to be in each other’s company again.
“Look who’s here!” friendly-faced Master of Mycelium, Paul Stamets, in his brown mushroom fedora, yelled out as he saw the Righteous Ones approaching. “Make room, make room!”
Everybody scooched around and rearranged pillows until Jesus and Buddha were seated.
“I’ll have the water,” Jesus told their waiter.
“Do you have a wine list?” Buddha asked.
“Winter, spring, summer or fa-aal, all you have to do is call…” James crooned. “You’ve got a friend…”
“You know, I saw you when you came to my country,” Buddha said to Jesus.
“You were just a young pup.”
“Not even fourteen. Just after my bar mitzvah. It was one helluva long, hot camel caravan across the Arabian desert to India. Traveled with one of the wise guy merchants who’d been there all those years ago for my birthday….”
“Following that star?” Buddha said with a smirk.
“Who thinks this stuff up?”
They both roared laughing.
Ed, eavesdropping, wasn’t sure whether to be proud of his game’s whimsical storytelling or embarrassed.
“I didn’t have much choice,” Jesus offered. “I had to get out of town before somebody put out a hit on me. My crazy brother James was a Zealot. My mom and dad – in all their infinite wisdom – told everybody in that I was the long-awaited Messiah.”
“I kind of ran away with the circus,” said the young Galilean who’d never wanted to be anybody’s savior. “Got to India and followed in your footsteps. Put myself through the ringer like you did. Learned yoga, starved myself near to death with extremist religious sects, trying for enlightenment. Got chased by villagers who wanted to kill me for my progressive ideas – Sorry, your ideas. Are you kidding?” Jesus added, shaking his head with admiration. “Women monks?! Genius. Prime reason I went home and made Mary M. my disciple. And they call them my ‘lost years.’ Lost, my foot.”
“I was older when I bolted,” Buddha said. “Already married with children. A prince, for cryin’ out loud. I just had to chase down why there was all that suffering in the world.
“Listen, guys…” Carlos Castaneda said to the newcomers. With his curly hair and mustache, a dark bushy beard with a stark white patch below his left lip, he looked less like the writer he’d been in the ‘60s than the whacky Yaqui sorcerer Mescalino hero of his novels, Don Juan Matus. “Water? Wine? Forget all that,” Carlos said. “We’ve got everything you need right here.” He swept his hand over the ‘Food of the Gods’ arrayed on the table – powders, teas, tabs and tablets, piles of leaves, gnarled jungle roots, red and white polka-dotted mushrooms, and dark green cactus buds.
“Ibogaine, Ketamine. Five minutes to Nirvana!” Terence promised, his bespeckled eyes twinkling, “Quickest way to enlightenment. No fuss, no muss. No sore behinds from decades of seated meditation.”
“Turn away from your animal kind, try to leave your body, just to live in your mind,” came James’s sung philosophy, wafting their way on some sweet-smelling smoke.
“What do we have here?” Buddha asked, intrigued, eying the stash.
“A full-on acid trip!” cried dead-no-more Timothy Leary in a clichéd but quite marvelous tie-died tee-shirt.
“Where the world…” Terence added, “is composed of little demons doing calisthenics, each one the size of a pissant’s eyebrow.”
“L…S…Deeeeee” the re-manifested psychedelic warrior and discoverer of acid, Albert Hoffman, sang out. “We have kosher,” he advised Jesus.
“What’s your pleasure?” Dennis McKenna asked the deities, sounding like a carnival barker. “Nine minutes in an alternate dimension with self-replicating machine elves? Six hours in an Amazonian wonderworld – with some vomiting – same drug, different preparation. We only have the best.”
“MDMA,” tall, gangly, recently-converted Michael Pollan insisted. “Ecstasy. It’ll cure what ails you – PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, depression and existential dread … with one dose, and the right therapy, of course!”
“I actually feel fine,” Jesus said, twisting his long hair into a bun and securing it on the top of his head with a chopstick. “Though I am a little creeped out by recent visions of the Rapture on steroids.”
That Nazarene’s still sharp as a tack, Ed thought.
With a small smile, Castaneda laid some peyote buttons in front of the newcomers. “We are men, and our lot in life is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds,” he said.
“You’re going to love this one,” Helen murmured sarcastically to herself.
“Shower the people you love with love,” James persisted in song. “Show them the way that you fee-eeel. Things are gonna turn out right if you only will….”
They all turned to hear the shouted advertisement from the front door where a tall, thin, pale-skinned man incongruously decked out as an Amazonian shaman in macaw-feathered hat, giant animal-tooth necklace, and a “STUFF JUST KEEPS GETTING OLDER!” tee-shirt came running towards the tables, a black jaguar hot on his heels, and an oversized anaconda slithering behind it.
“We’re over here, Graham!” Dennis called, waving him over. “But lose the wildlife, okay?”
Graham Hancock skidded to a stop, causing his shaman’s hat to fly off his head and the jaguar and snake to vanish as though they’d never existed. “Hello!” he cried, surprised at the distinguished and quite unexpected company of his fellow psychedelic compadres. As he took an empty seat at the table between Leary and Hoffman, he greeted the ones he knew in this life and nodded his head in silent reverence at the ones who were long-dead. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been in your collective company before,” Hancock finally said to them all.
“Nor we,” Albert Hoffman replied for the group. “Kinda weird, you know. Coming from…both sides…”
Hancock grinned at Leary and Hoffman, who grinned back. Clearly the two Acid Kings had been meeting ‘over there,’ staying tight and very high in the Afterlife. Then he placed his hands together over his heart, closed his eyes and bowed in Terence McKenna’s direction.
Buddha had gotten up and was dancing nearby in small, slow steps to the piped-in Music of the Spheres.
“So guys,” Ed said, materializing himself and Helen at the table. Everyone was unperturbed, no strangers to visions and hallucinations. “You don’t know us…”
“You look kind of familiar,” Dennis told Helen. “Weren’t you the wife on ‘Mad About You?’”
She smiled at him with delighted surprise because she had, indeed, coded her appearance after Ed’s sitcom creation.
“We’ve got something of a problem and very little time,” Ed persisted.
“Your problem, my friend,” the sorcerer Castaneda replied, “is that you think you have time. In a world where death is the hunter,” he continued with a mysterious glint in his eye, “there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”
“I’m afraid we’re staring down something of an apocalypse,” Ed told them all.
“The apocalypse is not something that is coming,” Terence announced solemnly. “It’s only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege and social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating it. In major portions of the planet, in Bosnia or Somalia or Peru, in much of the developing world, it appears that the apocalypse has already arrived.”
“This is actually a somewhat larger and more troubling scenario than that,” Ed interjected. “The opposite of a ‘Big Bang.’ And not just for our Universe. Its a Big Suck for all the Universes. Gone. Kaput.”
That silenced everybody for a full half-minute until Hoffman intoned, “Megatomic bummer.”
They all nodded their heads compassionately.
Ed watched Dennis, with renewed intention, packing the hookah with weed sprinkled with a fine white non-cocaine powder – enough DMT to send them all to that glimmering alternate dimension in about five seconds, no questions asked. The tentacle-shaped hoses were handed out to everybody, and the hookah was lit.
“Let us peer into the bits and zones of chaos,” Leary said solemnly. “Maybe we can find a solution.”
“From your lips to Godzilla,” commented the once-again-living Rip Taylor, one of the Lord of Laughter’s most beloved stand-up comics of the ‘80s, as he skipped by the table.
The hookah was refilled, and the trippers were toking, if not joking, and one by one heading out for the other side.
“See you all there,” Dennis McKenna said, and took a long pull.
“You should have some,” Terence said to Helen, thrusting one of the hoses her way.
“Dimethyltryptamine,” Ed said wistfully. “One of my all-time best inventions.”
Terence observed Helen’s dubious expression. “Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience, my dear, is life trivialized…life denied…life enslaved to the ego.”
“We really would love to join you,” Ed told Terence, “but we’re running out of time.”
“I understand,” said a solemn Terence. “We’re squeezing through a very narrow historical neck where the accumulated stupidity of the last 5,000 years is blocking progress. We’re nothing more than a global population addicted to a drug that’s killing us. But there’s no doctor, no rehab clinic to go to when you’re a species. We’re on an absolutely destructive bender that will end with the death of the Earth, the impoverishment of the animal and plant population, and the collapse of our civilization into scarcity…unless we can restructure our psychology. The dues have to be paid.” Finally, he took a breath. “I suppose it’s too late to spike the world’s drinking water with woo-woo. Or at least a dose for the leaders of the free world.”
“Instant world peace,” Graham Hancock agreed before inhaling a lung full. “Aaaaaaahh…” he groaned ecstatically and slumped back in boneless pleasure.
“What a wonderful wonderful wonderful world it would beeeee,” James sang in agreement.
“If we get out of this alive, that is definitely worth a try,” Ed told Terence.
“You know,” McKenna said, “it occurs to me that since the Universe itself is sentient…”
“The Multi-Verse,” Helen corrected him.
“Yes, the whole nine yards. If it’s sentient, perhaps the Great OverMind has decided it made a gigantic boo-boo and wants to end it all.”
“Commit hara kiri?” she asked.
“Why not? Isn’t that every sentient being’s choice? Massive supergiants stars do it all the time.”
“We’ve got it on good authority that it’s not suicide,” she insisted.
“The highest, actually,” Ed added, imagining Shan-Alla’s three-inch-long cosmic fingernail skewering him between the eyes.
“Not to sound like a lawyer,” Terence said, “but what is the motive here? Who would benefit from utter annihilation of everything?”
“Uh, no one,” Ed and Helen answered simultaneously, with assurance.
“Terence! Come on, bro!” Dennis called through a portal to the great beyond that had just opened up before them.
They could see him and the others entering a phantasmagorical wonder-world of grinning, jewel-colored shaman faces and spinning mandalas that slowly rotated to the sound of distant, tinkling fairy music. Truth be told, Jesus and Buddha looked a little freaked out.
“Be right there!” Terence called back to Dennis.
“Is that your code?” Helen asked, unable to drag her eyes away from the kaleidoscope of weirdness on the other side of the portal.
“Wish I could take credit,” he said, similarly gobsmacked.
She gawked at him. “If not you, who? Or what?”
Ed shook his head slowly. “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Terence turned back to Ed and Helen, unwilling to give up on the mystery quite yet. “Maybe one of your newfangled Artificial Intelligence models is behind The Suck,” he suggested.
“You mean the prompt for producing ‘a perfect paperclip’ that extrapolates into nuclear holocaust?” Ed asked.
“A.I.? No, too obvious,” Helen confidently insisted.
“Let’s see what I can find out over there. It’s a hip crowd,” Terence said, bringing the hookah hose to his lips. “We’ll talk it over. I’ll be in touch. Bye-eee…” A second later the psychonaut’s eyes closed, his head dropping back on his neck.
Ed was already on the move by the time the round portal rotated shut behind McKenna.
“Where are we going?” Helen asked, following hot on Ed’s heels.
“To the root of all evil,” he answered. “The meat and potatoes. The black heart of the matter….”
“The Military-Industrial Complex”, read the giant sign hanging above the flung-wide-open doors into the Atlantis Resort’s Ballroom. And underneath it: “The 32nd International Arms Fair.”
“Beware, beware,” Ed intoned lugubriously, “of this permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. The War Machine. There must at all times be constant build-up and readying for conflict.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, “Helen said.
“You think the answer’s in there?”
“Pretty good chance.”
She was peering through the doors into the convention.
Two such warm, fuzzy words combined to describe an extravaganza of death, dismemberment, and annihilation. He’d thought about coding a cotton candy stand inside to make Helen smile, but that was not going to happen.
Her stink-eye was brief but sub-zero. “Don’t ever say those words to me again.”
“Are you coming?” he said and walked through the door.
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