The Greatest Story Ever Told!
So I'm sitting at my desk, minding my own business, happily typing away on a new one. Y'see, a physicist buddy of mine recently remarked that every time they make these super-electro-microscopes more powerful, they always find more stuff. More layers of matter, y'know? Hey, I'm a high school drop out who fell into writing by accident, so what do I know from "layers of matter," okay, but my buddy tells me that at some level, matter and energy is the exact same stuff.
This makes sense to me, from what little I've absorbed from writing bad science fiction. I mean, matter is just energy stored and energy is matter released . . . or something like that, right? Anyway, the idea that matter and energy is actually the exact same stuff at some deep down level sounds really good to me. One of those really incredibly deep thoughts that your average man on the street would automatically nod and say, "Sure, I coulda told you dat!"
So I let this little bit of silliness percolate in the back burners of my head for a couple of weeks, just turning it over and looking to see if there are any interesting angles I can use. Hey, that's what writing is all about, capeesh? You take something interesting and make up a whole lotta bullshit about it that sounds good. Try it out on a friend of a friend who knows lots about the something interesting part and make some adjustments.
Then you send it to an editor, who sends you a check.
Simple. Frankly, I don't understand why more people don't use this writing scam . . . but that's a whole different discussion, ain't it?
Anyway, I finally found a hook to the "matter and energy is the exact same stuff" rap my buddy was laying down. What if everything was actually composed of the exact same energy/matter? I mean, once you could focus your super-duper microscope down far enough, you find that the stuff on the slide is made of the exact same stuff as the slide, itself. Take the slide out and you still see this stuff because the very air is made of it.
Make it golden, with a faint glow to it.
Call it "God-Stuff." The basis of everything; connects everything, everywhere, together. The mo-jo, the magic, the life force of the universe; "God-Stuff!"
Great title, huh?
Well, I sat down and outlined the basic story. Scientist working on building the biggest electro-microscope thing (gotta look up the proper term) gives it a test drive and discovers, just before the whole gizmo shorts out and dies, all mysteriously like, "God-Stuff." However, since there can be no real proof of the existence of God. . .
All religion is faith based, y'know; it's the entire free will thing. Ya gotta choose to believe and have faith in the existence of God and so forth. Take away the necessary faith aspect, prove that God actually exists - as real as Lola Falana and George W. Bush - and the rest falls apart. (The benefit of having flunked out of Seminary College a few years back. Just as well, I woulda made a shitty priest.)
Anyway, since "God-Stuff" is just too big a hint as to the actual existence of God, the poor scientist all of a sudden is on Heaven's hit list. He's gotta be silenced before he can alert the rest of the world as to the existence of "God-Stuff." However, since he now knows about it, he finds that he's totally connected to just about everything. Entire "Matrix" level reality manipulation and all because the old saying, "The Truth will Set You Free," was always meant to be taken literally. This guy has found "The Truth" and now he's free to do whatever he wants!
So the scientist can duck Heaven's bad angels, who come down to stop him from spreading the word, as well as Hell's demons, who come up to help him (since the total collapse of Christianity would be a great thing for them). In the meantime, every chance he gets, he studies the "God-Stuff" (which he can now see even without the super-duper-electric-microscope thing) and comes to understand some very basic truths about life, humanity, reality, and just about the whole she-bang!
This was going to be my first novel and it was going to be big!
(Hell, I could even see Tom Cruise playing the scientist!)
The first dozen or so chapters went without a hitch. Background on the scientist (he's a ex-priest who lost his faith during Viet-Nam and went back to college for his degree in whatever it is that guys who build super-electro-microscopes major in . . . I could always add the details later), background on the basis of Christianity (classic comics level stuff), a little on the background of matter and energy . . . the standard build up. Keep the conversations light and the memories dark, easy on the education and heavy on the generalizations; same old shit.
Then I finally had to explain exactly what "God-Stuff" was and how it affected everything. No big. A fresh cup of java, save the last chapter, and . . . a puff of air wafted across my face, making me glance at the door and reach for the revolver I keep on the desk when I work. (Writers tend to exist in their own little world while working, so it pays to have a little protection near by, just in case I forgot to lock the front door of my apartment.)
Nobody there. I got up and opened the door. Nobody in the hallway. I walked into the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Nada. I even checked the door and found it was securely locked.
'Kay, the a.c. musta burped or something.
I went back to my office and sat back down. Chapter 26, sub-titled . . . another puff of air. I whirled about in my chair, gun at the ready.
Sat there for a second, staring into my own face, and trying to remember exactly when I'd put a mirror on the wall.
Then my reflection disappeared.
I sat there for around five minutes, just giving it a think over, and then moved my desk around. I usually like having it up against the wall, but I turned it so I could face the room while typing. Without taking my eyes offa the room, I slowly resumed typing . . . sub-titled, "The Heart of Reality." New paragraph; "Franklyn sat back and called the glowing mist back into existence, this time narrowing his focus in an attempt to follow . . .
The puff of air coincided with my appearing in the middle of the room. I looked a little surprised to be standing there, staring at myself, but managed to blurt out, "Quick, delete it!" before popping back outta existence. I blinked, glanced at the 21 words I'd typed, frowned, and moved my right index finger to the delete button.
A second puff of air and my own voice yelling, "No! Don't delete it! Finish the story!" I looked up just as the latest me disappeared. This time I could feel the softer swoosh of air rushing to fill in the space he no longer occupied. The first puff must be caused by his displacing so many cubic-inches of air, then.
Puff. "Don't listen to him! Delete it while you can!" Swoosh.
Puff. "No! Keep going! Don't stop!" Swoosh.
I got up and fetched the coffee pot, and a couple of mugs. When I walked back in, there was six of me all arguing at the top of their lungs. I poured myself a fresh cup and sat back. Over the next few minutes, several dozen versions of me started popping in and out, all screaming variations of "Delete It" or "Don't Delete It" (or telling me to do . . . something else, I couldn't make out their instructions over the combined yelling of their replicas).
Once, an entire room of me all popped into existence at the exact same instance . . . and blew the windows out. No yelling this time, they all silently regarded the blown out windows, then shot me a guilty glance and swooshed out. Within seconds, the screaming and contradicting instructions reached a new crescendo when all the various versions of me simultaneously bellowed "SHIT!" and vanished. My ears popped with the swoosh of returning air.
Then they all popped back in, looked at each other, screamed "Damnit!" and disappeared again. I wedged my fingers in my ears and waited. Sure enough, they all kept popping in, cycling through all the profanity I knew, and vanishing. Musta happened a couple of dozen times in the next six minutes. Then a full minute past without them popping back in and I took my fingers outta my ears.
After a few more minutes, the silence had become total and was beginning to edge into ominous. No matter; I waited, patently. I knew myself too well not to, y'know. Finally, a much older version of me popped in.
"Well?" I inquired, politely.
He smiled, hooked my visitor's chair with his foot, sat down, and poured himself a cupper. After drinking about half the cup, the smacked his lips, leaned back, and shrugged.
"It's rather complicated, actually . . . he began, gesturing with the cup to encompass the room.
"Lemme guess, okay?" The older me nodded and sipped his coffee. "Right . . . so I come up with this killer idea for a story, all about how there's a unifying energy and all that, and - all of a sudden - I get all sorts of me's showing up and begging me to either kill the piece or keep on writing it. I suspect that my writing this story really causes some shit, right?"
"And then some!"
"'Kay, so some of ya are the me's from one line of reality and some of ya are me's from some other line of reality, maybe even from all sorts of different lines . . . and on some lines my story changes shit for the better and on others it really messes everything up something terrible, right?" I refreshed my cup and gestured towards his.
"Not bad, basically got it in one, thanks." He held out his own cup.
"Okey-doke, then . . . so which line are you from?"
"Me? Oh, I'm from where you never flunked out of the seminary and had a long and happy career as a priest. Just call me 'Father.'"
"Really? Well, don't that beat all . . . so are you the only one of us who actually graduated from that place?"
"Yup. I'm the lucky long shot. All the rest of us went into writing, one way or the other. Most of us did the same as you and became freelance fiction writers, paying the rent and hoping for the big one. The rest went into related fields; staff writers, ghost writers, speech writers, movies, television, politics . . . all across the board."
"Huh. Okay, then . . . how many of us wrote 'God-Stuff?'"
"About a tenth of the fiction writers, actually. Call it around ten million of us as a nice round number. All of them made excellent green just selling first publication rights and then made serious mega-money selling the movie rights . . . well, except one who sold all rights for just over a hundred grand."
"Geez . . . one of us was 'Gumped?!' That's terrible."
"Yes, well . . . you won't be seeing him during any of this. He gave up writing shortly after the movie passed the one trillion mark and is now selling hardware in a small town in Kansas. He's happy."
"Glad to hear it . . . but what's any of this have to do with me writing my story?"
"Well, apparently, you are the main one of us for this. You are the original one who came up with the idea for this particular story and all the rest of us got it as a dream or odd thought. If you don't write your story, none of us will."
"And is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I picked my cup back up and discovered my coffee had gone cold. Father had the pot in his hand and was already walking towards the kitchen while replying.
"Depends who you ask, actually. That's why I said it's complicated." Without having to be told where everything was, he put together a pot of coffee and set it on the stove to brew. "The results seem to be evenly divided. On all the lines where we wrote that story, we're wealthy beyond reason (again, with the lone exception) and a horrifying percentage of the public as adopted us as some sort of cult figure / religious icon. Remember how some people treated Heinlein after 'Stranger in a Strange Land?"
"Like that, only worse. A lot of your - for lack of a better word - fans now worship us as some sort of second coming. On about a third of those lines, an even larger group has taken the existence of 'God-Stuff" as fact and have started some sort of voodoo religion based on manipulating it to their benefits . . . again, with you as a deity of sorts."
"Aw, shit. A voodoo cult with me as the central figure, terrific." I got down two clean cups.
"Even worse than that, I'm afraid. You see, they believe that only we know how to work the 'God-Stuff,' as shown by the fact that we've made billions (the fact that we made our billions from the book and subsequent movie is somewhat lost on them, I'm sorry to say), and have made kidnapping us a very high priority. The basic gist is that they intend to torture us until we tell them how to manipulate the stuff for themselves."
"They get any of us, yet?"
"Several, sad to say. Thankfully, all but one escaped." He sighed and checked on the coffee. I didn't ask what happened to the one who didn't escape and, after a bit, he continued, "However, these cult sorts are not the worse reaction to our book."
"No? Religious nuts aren't the worse, huh? Don't let it boil over, that stove has a funny idea what medium means."
"You can fix it, actually. Just pull the element and replace it with a newer one. Turns out that it's not the rheostat after all, just a faulty element."
"Really?! Hey, great! Thanks!" I was going to call a repairman when I sold my next story.
"You're welcome . . . by the by, never use Anderson Electronics for any repairs. Horrid people." He poured two cups and brought them to the table. "Anyway . . . where was I?"
"Them cult sorts are not the worse . . ."
"Oh, yes. Thank you. Well, they are not the worse reaction to our little story. That honor has to go to the vast majority of organized religions, I'm afraid, with the major Christian and Hindu sects leading the pack. Seems we're not terribly popular with either Rome or Mecca on about an even half of the lines where we wrote the book."
"What? The Pope puts out a hit on us or something?" I always go for the laugh when I'm confused. He didn't laugh, just stared at his coffee sadly. "No . . . you gotta be kidding me!"
"Well, possibly it wasn't the Pope, himself (or, in all fairness to the various lines, herself), who ordered it, but Rome made it known that our Lord Jesus would really like to discuss our book with us . . . in person."
"Whereas whomsoever in Mecca was slightly more specific and slightly less biblical . . . they just want our severed head to display. Where our spirit goes or who is speaks to afterwards is entirely our own affair, as long as the head is shipped directly to Mecca."
"Holy crap," I slumped in my chair.
"Well put," Father replied, handing me my cup. I took a deep swallow and let the nasty acidic taste burn me back to reality.
"So, lemme get this straight; on all of the lines where we wrote the book, we've become a cult figure of sorts, and on about a third of them, a voodoo group wants to torture us until we tell them how to use the 'God-Stuff' for their own benefits, which we can't. While on about half of those lines, the major organized religions want our head . . . literally, in some cases."
"This is correct."
I sipped my coffee and asked for a refill while organizing my thoughts. Finally, I shook my head and asked, "So, then, who are the guys who want me to write the book? Seems to me, from what you say, that damn near all of us would either want me to kill it or simply don't care because they don't come from a reality line where it exists."
"Well, that's only because I have yet to tell you about the good our book does."
"Good?! Are you trying to tell me that on the half of the lines where I'm not being hunted, I'm being hailed?!?"
"Nope . . . I'm telling you that you are celebrated on all the lines where we wrote the book, even the one where we got 'Gumped.' Yes, there are a considerable number of people who hate, despise, or fear us, but the vast majority holds us in great esteem." I spit coffee across the table, but he was waiting with a napkin. "No, seriously! 'God-Stuff' is considered a modern classic and an entire branch of philosophy has generated around the basic principles we espouse within it. It has served to actually bring people closer together, simply because of the one in a billion chance that it might actually be right! On all of the lines where it was written, we were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature . . . in several cases, in absentia with the money being placed in a secure bank account for us to draw on from hiding."
"Jesus! You gotta be kidding me!" I looked for a chair to sit down, and then discovered that I was already seated, so I contented myself with sitting harder.
"Not in the least. The book succeeds beyond all of our wildest dreams and brings about a worldwide reevaluation of man's relationship to the universe. Several wars stopped, simply stopped, when the solders refused to fight, citing our book as reason. They realized that they'd be killing a piece of themselves! Governments actually find it hard to govern in those lines where we've written the book, too."
"It effects governments, too?"
"My goodness, yes! Here's a popular example: On over three-fourths of the lines where our book exists, the government of the United States of America (or its local equivalent, you understand) found itself totally at a loss during the last presidential elections. For the first time in history, there was 100 percent participation in an election! 100 percent of those qualified registered to vote and 100 percent of those registered voted!"
"Oh . . . no. No, no, no, no!" I didn't like where this was going.
"Oh, yes, yes, yes! In every one of those elections, we were elected President (or whatever) by write-in vote! In quite a few of those cases, it was when we were still in hiding for our lives, which was a bit of a pickle, but still . . .
I slowly slid offa my chair and onto the floor.
"Don't you understand? What you are writing, what you cause to be written across lines of reality too numerous to mention, change the very nature of humanity tremendously! Balancing the good against the rare instances of bad, your book is the second more important mass event in the history of humanity!"
"Second?" I asked, fighting to regain my seat. Father made a slight shrug and sketched the sign of the cross in the air. "Oh. OH!"
"Indeed! Your little story affects so many aspects of life; religious, philosophical, psychological, physical . . . here's the most unlikely aspect of what you inspire: Haven't you wondered how we were able to travel here? How is it that I am sitting here this very instant?"
"Um . . . no, actually, I hadn't." I gave it a thought as I took a large gulp of coffee and held my cup out for a refill. "Good question, though. I guess I sorta suspected that one of the time lines hand superior science or something."
"Nope, just a few which had a fan of ours who was a superior scientist . . . or, rather, a very lucky one," he replied, topping me off. "Here irony for you, he's the same fellow who first told us about how matter and energy, at a distant level, are the same! Anyway, after our book came out and we informed him that he inspired it (and then gifted him with over a million dollars as thanks), he set to building the very 'super-electro-microscope' we described."
"How?" I asked, spilling a little coffee. "I mean, I'm certainly no scientist and he wasn't the kind of scientist who could build that sort of thing."
"No, you are not and no he isn't . . . which is why he accidentally invented the device that permits travel through the various lines of reality, instead. Once he realized what he had done (oddly enough, it took him several adventures before he understood what he had), he gave the device to the one person it would best benefit; us!"
"Certainly, as his line's us was one of those running for his life, it even made sense. Where best to hide than on some other reality line, right? That one of us didn't even stop to think, just thanked him, gave him a draft for another million, and then strapped himself in. Pushed a button and - blip! - he was on another reality line." Father tipped a little sugar into his cup and permitted himself a small smile as he continued, "Of course, as luck would have it, it was into another line where he was running for his life, so he gathered his other self up and the two of them headed for a third line . . . then a fourth . . . then . . . well, it's rather confusing, actually. You see, as there were several of these devices jumping back and forth, finding and gathering, looking and seeking, running and hiding; well, pretty soon several of them were hitched together to transport hundreds, then thousands."
I stared at him, my jaw hanging slack as he paused for a judgmental sip of his coffee. He frowned, then tipped a little more sugar into his cup, and stirred it. "All of those in danger now live on my line. An island was purchased and a perimeter was set with a private security force maintaining perfect privacy . . . actually, it is privacy that is the true issue, as most of us don't really care to live with us, if you follow my meaning. I mean, know thyself, sure . . . but it can be taken to ludicrous extremes, too!"
We sat there for the longest time; me, adjusting to what I'd told myself, and Father, adjusting his coffee and giving me time to think. I frowned and opened my mouth, and Father immediately said, "Hawaii."
"You were going to ask what island was big enough to hold all of us who were being hunted and the answer is Hawaii."
I stared at him until he continued, "Please remember that history doesn't exactly run completely parallel on each line of reality. On mine, Hawaii is a group of abandoned islands that were used as a test site for the first atomic bombs. Radiation is negligible, now, except for one small island in the chain, and our combined wealth was easily enough to buy them."
"Oh." I went back to thinking and he went back to adjusting the taste of his coffee, stopping at one point to completely pour out his cup and start over with a fresh one.
Finally, I made up my mind and walked back to my office. Father kept pace, still stirring his coffee. I sat down at my computer and closed the chapter I was working on, and then brought up the file that contained everything I'd written on "God-Stuff."
"Okay," I started, watching Father closely, "Lemme check this just one more time. The bad side is that a lot of imbalanced people either start worshiping me, trying to kidnap me, or doing their best to kill me. Governments go wacky and humanity slips a bit off the bubble, so much so as to elect me president in some places. The good side is that the majority of the people get really happy and well adjusted, I get myself a Nobel Prize, write the greatest book ever written, become filthy rich, and can always hide away in an alternate-universe Hawaii if things get too strange. Is that about it?"
"Essentially, yes," Father confirmed. "There is the odd civil war or two that breaks out over the correct interpretation of our book and the one reality line where all out nuclear war happened . . . but there are no direct signs indicating that it was because of your book! Other than that, yes; you have a good grasp of the situation."
"Right then!" I deleted the folder with two keystrokes.
Father leapt to his feet, total bafflement radiating from him. He looked wildly about as multiple me's flashed in and out; some screaming, some cheering. "Why?!" he wailed over the din. "I have a few seconds before the device that brought me here will have never been made, so please tell me why you just threw all that away and doomed mankind to suck a bleak reality!"
"Why?" I repeated, cocking my head. "You obviously aren't a writer, Father. You tell me that I'm about to write a book that will becomes an instant classic, a Nobel Prize winner, a book that will forever change mankind; In short, I'm about to write the greatest book every written." He started to fade, so I simply shrugged and explained:
"So who needs that kinda pressure when I write my second novel?"
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