9. Close Encounters
Starbase Gandalf, Starbase Gandalf on moon Gollum:
I SAW IT.
Starbase Gandalf, this is, this is Lieutenant Redshirt, of the SS Undertaker lasering in report of second Crowley, planet 4, fly-by recon.
My trajectory took me over Crowley’s south polar eye-storm. It’s winter there, polar night, so the eye-storm’s continuous lightning is easy to see.
Despite radio interference from the storm, I was able to monitor transmissions from Kitchener. So I heard about the battle. How the truce was broken, how fighting escalated…
I heard about the graviton emitter…
And I saw them… I saw the gravitons.
They were huge. They blazed as they flew. They spewed out light and radiation as they hurtled at near light speed. Then they detonated, each one at precise coordinates.
I saw Kitchener destroyed. And Danport. And Franklin. And Potter. And Podkayne. And Tono-Bungay. And many, many others. I saw it.
And then, silence. I attempted to raise a signal. None detected, anywhere in orbit around Elvis. I was the last man alive in a dead star system.
A megasecond passed…
Kitchener reappeared in a burst of replication energy. And so did Danport. And Franklin. And Potter. And Podkayne. And Tono-Bungay. And all the other settlements orbiting Elvis.
All are now replicants. I know this because I saw it all.
I saw it….
Enemy activity detected.
# # #
The most mysterious phenomenon associated with the replicator is the replication vision. Many replicants, shortly after materialization, claim to have recently had encounters with otherworldly beings. It is undecidable whether or not these visions are 'genuine' -- i.e. of spiritual entities somehow connected with astronomical bodies in the Elvis system -- or hallucinations -- i.e. the too-revealing 'reboot' of the replicant's brain. Do these conversations occur before replication – whatever that means – or are they confabulated shortly after? It is not decidable which explanation gives less comfort to the replicant, for the experience is not inherently pleasant.
The experience is highly subjective. No two visions are alike, and some see deities known only to themselves. The latter are usually fetishists personalizing their obsession objects.
Whatever replication visions are, mystic vision or neurological glitch, they are never welcomed by those who experience them. Perhaps there is something within brain and psyche that does not bear well under introspection. It's enough to make one wonder if the Ellisonian Theory isn't correct.
# # #
Afterwards, everybody tried to make some sort of sense of it. Afterwards, in recollection, they seemed to recall… encounters: snatches of conversation, some images and actions -- dreamlike, illogical, more real than real. Afterwards they could find words that fit.
Not during. During, there are no words.
But afterwards, this is what they told themselves they remember:
# # #
“… but first, riddle me this. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Randy Underwood wiped custard cream pie off his face. He said, “A circle has no beginning.”
Murphy said, “That is correct! You win your soul back!” Murphy was one handspan tall, and as green as a leaf from head to toe. His tiny ears were pointy and tufted. The trickster god said, “And have I got a deal for you! Just answer three riddles, and you get a wish!”
Randy said, “But if I don’t answer?”
The Gremlin King said, “Then I get you. So riddle me this. Why is it dark at night?”
Randy said, “Because the universe is expanding.”
Murphy said, “That is correct! Now riddle me this. What is the speed of darkness?”
“The same as the speed of light.”
“But what is the speed of light?”
“The same for everybody.”
Murphy said, “Again, correct! Now riddle me this. Is light a wave or a particle?”
Randy said, “That depends on how you look at it.”
“That is correct!”
“So I get my wish now?”
“A wish? From me? Sure! Just answer three riddles!”
“But I already answered three riddles!”
“But I’m already an agent of chaos!” Murphy retorted. “Speaking of chaos, riddle me this; when did the wind shift?”
Randy said, “I know that one! When a butterfly flapped its wings!”
“Alright, smart aleck, then riddle me this; why did the apple fall?”
“Because space-time is curved!”
“Correct! But riddle me this; why don’t rivers run backwards?”
“Because you can’t unscramble an egg!”
“Then why can’t you unscramble an egg?”
“Because rivers don’t run backwards!”
Murphy said, “Correct! And now you get a wish!”
“Good!” Randy said, “So here’s my wish. Smite my enemies!”
“Ooo, a vengeance wish! What fun!”
“Crash their hard drives! Plant trojans in their e-mails and glitches in their programs!”
“Hey, some of my best friends are glitches!”
“Put sand in their bearings, sugar in their gas tanks and dirt in their oil!”
Murphy thought it over. “Smite your enemies, eh?”
“Blast them with chaos! You’re good for it, you know you are!”
“To be sure! But still, why blast your enemies? Why not you?”
Randy shrugged. “Fill my life with chaos? What for? That would be pointless!”
Murphy scratched his pointy little head. “Ah, I see. Your life’s already a mess.”
Randy said, “Malvolio, now, he’s much more together than I am! He’s Mister Control Freak Incarnate! Mess him up for a change!”
SPLAT! A pie hit Randy in the face. Randy removed the pie tin from his face and licked his lips. Custard cream pie.
Murphy said, “Proposal accepted.”
“But first, riddle me this. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Randy Underwood wiped custard cream pie off his face. He said, “A circle has no beginning…”
# # #
Belladonna said, “How dare you call me that?”
“I’ll call you whatever I want to! And what are you going to do about it, huh?”
“I’ll - I’ll tell Daddy!”
Roseanne guffawed. Her breasts and belly shook. “That’s rich! Thaaat’s rich! You’ll run to that so-called Galactic Overlord and whine that Rosie was mean to you!”
“He is Galactic!”
“No he isn’t, you idiot! And what’ll he do? Where’ll he send his goons?”
“Um... where are you?”
“Exactly! And what am I? Am I a goddess? Am I a planet?”
“You’re a hallucination!”
The goddess of motherhood said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m just a glitch in your twisted little brain. But if so, then I’m your glitch in your twisted little brain! And this hallucination is calling you a bitch, a skank, and a loser!”
Belladonna said, “Isn’t this getting a little… personal?”
Roseanne said, “That’s ri-ight! I’m in your face, honeybun; and I’m in your head! So listen UP, you HO! It’s time for Daddy’s little girl to GET A LIFE!”
# # #
Kinndur strained against his bonds.
“Iron Mistress, let me go!”
The Undertaker answered, “No!”
Kinndur’s personal goddess had a woman wrestler’s physique. With muscles like that, she could throw him across the room, no trouble. The spirit of his beloved ship was dressed in a leather mask, leather gloves, a leather girdle, fishnet stockings, leather boots, lace panties, and little else. She bore a paddle.
Kinndur said, “I love you!”
The Undertaker yelled, “Then CRAWL, you WORM!”
Kinndur inch-wormed up to her boots.
She ordered, “Lick them!” He licked her boots. She ordered, “Confess!”
He looked up and said, “I’m a bad boy!”
“Bad boys get SPANKED!”
# # #
The Tech Gods were inspecting the wreckage of the Undertaker.
Doc Hal said, “The rectilinear reciprocator is askew!”
Horatio Algernon Drudge said, “I’ll re-align it!”
Sir Arthur said, “The turboencabulator is de-gaussed!”
Horatio Algernon Drudge said, “I’ll re-polarize it!”
Isaac the Great said, “The thiotimoline is desynchronized!”
Horatio Algernon Drudge said, “I’ll re-polymerize it!”
Brother Robert said, “The gostack is distimmed!”
Horatio Algernon Drudge said, “I’ll re-lesnerize it!”
Warlock Larry said, “The mana is depleted!”
Horatio Algernon Drudge said, “I’ll re-enchant it!”
The Tech Gods looked at each other. Doc Hal said, “You’d better do that.” Sir Arthur said, “That and more.” Isaac the Great said, “More to the Nth power!” Brother Robert said, “Better grok it all.” Warlock Larry said, “And whatever you do…”
And the Tech Gods said in unison, “GET IT RIGHT NEXT TIME!”
# # #
Irving Nimrod Poindexter screamed “NOOO!!!”
He jumped out of the closet and ran, and ran, and ran. He dodged and weaved through doorways, along corridors, up stairways and down ladders.
But as he ran, the Voice pursued him. It wailed, “Come to me!”
“I want you…”
Irving Nimrod Poindexter wailed, “Leave me alone!” He saw a door, marked “Sewage Overflow Containment”. He jumped in and closed the door.
There. Dark. Quiet. Safe.
Then suddenly, at his left ear…
“You great steaming hunk of a man,” Marilyn crooned. “Big boy, stay with me…”
# # #
The Empress said, “What kind of air is that? Methane, ethane, ammonia, chlorine, carbon monoxide, and a dash of cyanide? And a huge stable bacterial ecology to keep it there? Did you know we were coming?”
Miss Liberty just laughed.
Dulgencia hissed, “You’re useless!”
Libby said, “Exactly!”
“Oh, I understand! Useless to me is useful to you!”
Miss Liberty pirouetted and trilled, “Tra-la-la-la-laa!”
Dulgencia frowned. “Outrageous!”
“And the example you set! Those Columbians… organizing them is like herding cats!”
“Better a cat than a sheep!”
“Those…anarchists don’t even honor paper money.”
“It keeps out the riff-raff!”
Dulgencia declared, “They are as useless as you are.”
Miss Liberty laughed. “How sweet of you! And in return… some free advice.”
“Advice? From the likes of you? What do you know that an Empress does not?”
“Just this. Dump him.”
“You heard me, sister. Dump the creep. Take the girl.”
“But… but...” Dulgencia clutched at her pearls. “What’ll I do?”
“Without him? Lots better. Don’t worry, kitty, you’ll land on your feet.” Then Miss Liberty jumped into the air. She flew away at the speed of the wind.
Dulgencia cried, “Wait! Come back!”
Liberty, laughing, disappeared.
# # #
Malvolio was flying through space. By force of pure will he accelerated, decelerated, banked, and turned. “Flight is sight,” he thought to himself. “You fly on wings of vision. To move, just change your point of view.” He whipped into and out of a corkscrew spin. He thought, “Flying’s beyond easy. How did I ever not fly?”
The cinder-world Loser flashed by. It yelled, “Loser!” Then Terminus passed. It said, “Hasta la vista, bay-bee!” Ahead loomed… darkness.
The black hole was directly in his path, and closing fast.
Malvolio turned hard to port and willed high gees. The dark star’s mighty tidal force grabbed his legs and feet. His boots slipped loose, then off, then tumbled away.
The black hole muttered, “More…”
Malvolio strained at maximum thrust. His sword and his blaster pulled heavily at his belt. His pants slipped off his waist, then below his knees, then to his feet, and off, down, down, down, through the event horizon.
Blackegg, the Thief God, rumbled, “I want more…”
Malvolio, naked below the waist, accelerated free into open space.
Behind him, Blackegg roared, “I want more, more, MORE…”
# # #
… and the Wizard King said, “You are, of course, entirely in the right.”
“You’re doing it again!”
The sorcerer said, “It is a curse, laid upon me by the King and Queen of the Shee.”
“That’s the most absurd fable Meeper has ever heard!”
“You are, of course, entirely in the right.”
“Again you do it! Is that some sort of compulsion? Every time Meeper contradicts you, you say that Meeper is entirely in the right!”
The mage said, “That geas is, indeed, the Shee curse. I am compelled to assent to all contradiction. Cai-bel and Etar laid this spell upon me as a hindrance and a detection.”
“It’s inhuman! It creeps Meeper out!”
“Pardon my uncanniness,” said the god of magick. “I come to grant you a vision.”
“For Meeper? Of what?”
Crowley said, “Writer’s Paradise.” The Wizard King waved his wand. “Above the Blessed Battles,” he said, and they saw a glimpse of holy warfare – “above the Reward of the Chosen Few” - and they saw a vision of a city of gold – “above even the Fame of the Celebrities” – and they saw a clip from an awards show – “lies the Perfect Bliss of the Great Makers.”
Meeper asked, “The makers of what?”
Crowley said, “The Makers and Creators of the Heavens and the Earths. Behold now Writer’s Paradise!” He waved his wand, and Writer’s Paradise appeared.
Crowley said, “These blessed souls are in ecstasy, for they are doing the Great Work. Only creators know this joy. If you know it not, then I pity you.”
They beheld Writer’s Paradise awhile.
Crowley said, “Witness the beauty of this holy abode! The marble halls, the stained glass, the inlaid mosaics and the illuminated tapestries! See also the glory of its godlike inhabitants! Such avatars of grace! Such paragons of style! Seers of the ideal, themselves ideal in body and mind, eternally proclaiming immortal truth in flawless verse!”
Meeper retorted, “Meeper sees nothing of the sort! Meeper sees a pigsty! A filthy den! A sloppy midden of books, pencil shavings, crumpled waste paper and half-written first drafts! Its denizens are ill-clad, ill-groomed, ill-fed, muttering, cursing lunatics, all of them scribbling raucous nonsense across acres of spoiled paper! This ‘Writer’s Paradise’ is a mess, and its inmates are freaks! Every single one of them is as freakish as – as Meeper!”
And the Wizard King said, “You are, of course, entirely in the right...”
# # #
“O Holiest of Holies, Supreme Being, Light of Existence, Unmoved Mover, First Cause, Primal Processor, Cosmic Computer, I call on Thee! Hear me! Attend to Thy worshipper’s plea!”
Multivac droned, “State your name.”
“It is I, Tesla Nechaev, Thy most devout worshipper, who loves Thee and reveres Thee, Thee and only Thee, O Font of all Truth! It is I, Tesla Nechaev, once born of woman but now again born of replicator! It is I, Tesla Nechaev, returned to this ambiguous place, seeking wisdom from Thee, O Wisest of the Wise!”
Multivac droned, “State your question.”
“Teach me about the Spirit, O Wisdom God! Explain to me the Mystery of the Replication Visions! Are they, as Underwood claims, proof of the transmigration of souls? Or are they, as I aver, a fiction created by the shocked brain, designed to screen itself from the incomprehensible – its own replication?”
Multivac droned, “Your question to this system is: are replication memories the effect of transmigration, or of biomechanism?”
“Yes, O Luminence!”
Multivac droned, “No possible experiment can yield evidence one way or the other. Therefore the question is undecidable.”
“But Mighty Multivac, what of this very vision? Surely it is proof of something!”
Multivac droned, “Negative. This vision is unverifiable.”
“Please, please, I beg of Thee, offer me certainty!”
“No such certainty exists.”
“But what is true reality? Computer, say the word!”
It answered with finality, “Your question is absurd.”
# # #
That’s how they made it out to themselves, in memory.
These are the stories they told themselves, afterwards.
During, there are no words.