Chapter 13: Asteroid Oasis
The motley crew walked up a gangway into the interior of the ship, into a circular room about half the size of a high school gymnasium. Ambient blue light illuminated the space, but Roy couldn't pinpoint the source. It seemed like the air itself was luminescent. The instruments and computers were clustered in an island at the center of the room in an arrangement that took up about as much room as a big conference table.
One of the Grays gestured for Roy to sit in what looked to be a cheap, hard plastic chair that was somehow seamlessly attached to the floor. "Oh, shit," he thought to himself, "I should have brought a seat cushion."
"We think you'll find the accommodations quite comfortable," the telepathic voice told him.
"Okay, which one of you guys is talking to me?" Roy said, still speaking the old-fashioned way.
"All of us," came the telepathic response. "Our bodies are separate, but our minds freely share information. We are many who think as one. You see, there are physiological limits on how big, and how intelligent a single brain can become, but we have circumvented those barriers. Think of it as a myriad of instruments coming together to play a symphony."
"You guys all seem very highly evolved, and intelligent, and all that shit, but can you spare me the metaphors? I'm not a fuckin' idiot," Roy said.
"Of course. Please, get comfortable. The suit is no longer necessary."
"Right," Roy said as he tugged in vain at the bulbous helmet.
Lindsay had already removed her helmet and was wriggling out of the cumbersome space gear. Underneath, she was wearing a form-fitting spandex suit. And there was Roy, next to this smoking hot chick, in front of an audience of vastly superior life forms, and he couldn't figure out how to get the damned helmet off. Lindsay showed him where the latches were, and then she helped him remove the rest of the suit.
It turned out that Roy was also wearing a form-fitting spandex suit, and he was amazed to see he had a well-defined six pack and formidable pectoral muscles rippling just beneath the elastic material. He flexed like a bodybuilder and announced, "I got it goin' on!"
"Easy, stallion," Lindsay said, and she giggled a little bit. "The scientists must have thrown in some upgrades."
"Sweet," Roy said. He sat down in one of the hard plastic-looking chairs and was amazed at how comfortable it was. "Man, if I had a beer and a big screen T.V. I'd be the king of the universe right now."
"This isn't a bachelor pad," Lindsay said as she sat down in the seat immediately to his left.
"Right," Roy said, "There's some serious science goin' on. I'm ready. Let's do this!"
"We have already begun," the androgynous telepathic voice informed Roy as the rest of the crew took their seats. The tall being sat immediately to Roy's right.
"My right-hand man," Roy said. "Mister Pumpkin Head Beak Face."
"Roy, quit being an asshole," Lindsay said.
Lindsay sighed. The rest of the crew did not seem concerned in the slightest. It was innocuous. Perhaps, in their own alien way, they even found the snide remark to be cute the way humans find it cute when they see a video clip of a kitten standing defiantly on its hind legs and swatting at a Great Dane. It's all bravado and no substance.
"So, when do we blast off?" Roy asked.
"We have already departed," Telepathic Voice said.
"Funny, I didn't feel anything. No rocket boosters. No G-forces. Nothing," Roy complained. One of the Grays indicated for Roy to look up. A large section of the wall, about the size of a movie screen, had turned translucent and offered an impressive window into space.
"That's fuckin' awesome," Roy said.
"Our propulsion system is unlike the propulsion systems you are familiar with. You can see that we are moving quite rapidly toward our rendezvous point."
"Yes, the asteroid," Telepathic Voice confirmed.
"When do we get there?" Roy asked.
"Time is ... " Telepathic Voice began.
"Yeah, I know," Roy interrupted. "Time is relative. This relativity shit's already getting old."
"Relax, Roy," Lindsay implored.
"All right. I'm gonna have a little nap. Wake me up when we get there, would ya?"
Roy was snoring like a grizzly bear in hibernation when Lindsay nudged him awake.
"That was fast," he remarked. "Where's everybody at?"
"They're already outside," she said pleasantly. "Come on, let's go catch up with them."
"We're gonna go outside? I don't know. It seems dangerous. I think I'll just stay here."
"Get up, sleepy head. This is gonna blow your mind."
"Do we need our space suits?" Roy asked.
"No. We're fine just like this. Let's go."
The landscape of the asteroid was not at all like he had imagined it would be. There were hills overgrown with such lush vegetation that they took on the color of emeralds. There were blue, red, and yellow flowers with octagonal petals thriving everywhere and a meandering stream that wound its way through the rolling landscape. Roy touched the terra firma gently and felt an incredibly wise and benevolent energy seep into him.
"Hello, friend," a telepathic voice spoke to him. This one was different than the other telepathic voice. It spoke in a deeper, more theatrical tone.
"Uh, hi," Roy said. "Who are you?"
"I am the asteroid on which you are currently standing. I understand you have come to accompany us on our journey."
"Well, I didn't get real specific instructions, or an itinerary or anything, but I guess that's why I'm here," Roy explained as he looked around bewildered. He climbed to the top of one of the taller hills, and he could see the horizon slope away gradually in every direction. From his vantage point, he guessed the asteroid was about the size of a few city blocks. A myriad of star points was faintly visible through the strange atmosphere, and Roy marveled at it.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Asteroid said.
"Yeah," Roy said. "But how is there air to breathe here? I mean, I was no science major, but there shouldn't be enough gravity here to keep an atmosphere intact. Right?"
"We manufacture our own atmosphere, as well as our own magnetosphere, and we amplify gravity to a suitable level," Asteroid explained.
"So, you make your own light and heat source, too? Holy shit ... there's grass and flowers and fucking running water out here in the middle of space! And I saw some trees with some kind of fruit growing on them. How is that even possible? And how do you know how to talk? I mean, you're an asteroid, right? And not only do you speak, but you speak English. What in the hell is going on here?"
"Relax," Asteroid said, "and breathe deep. You have good questions, and I will address them all. Please sit."
The Grays and Pumpkin Head walked off somewhere, and Lindsay sat down Indian style in the lush grass on top of the hill. Roy followed suit and then he took a few slow, deep breaths.
"Good," Asteroid commended. "Isn't that better?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Roy said.
"Let us begin," Asteroid said.
"Okay," Roy said. "Should I take notes? Because I'll need a notebook and a pen if you expect me to take notes."
"No notes. Just relax."
"The energy source that sustains all that you see is deep underground," Asteroid explained. "We have developed technology that can readily harvest elements like hydrogen and helium from nebulas. And my sentient nature is comprised of a multitude of beings. Here, we refer to this collection of brilliant minds simply as The Council. These beings come from galaxies scattered throughout the cosmos to contribute what wisdom they have gleaned in their travels, and to find what wisdom resonates here. They sacrifice their physical forms, and their consciousness manifests in this rock and this soil, in the tall grass, in the colorful flowers and the flowing water. Even in the air you breathe, Roy. My mind is the collective energy of their minds. We are all here, and we are all as one."
"You mean there are ghosts here?" Roy said.
"Not the Halloween kind you're thinking of. But our energy is sustained in a coherent, sentient way. In that sense, yes, there are ghosts."
"I don't want to be a ghost," Roy said as he looked over at Lindsay.
"You see it as the end, but in reality, it's a new birth," Lindsay stated proudly.
"Is this some kind of fucked up church? Did they already mix up the Kool-Aid?"
"No, this isn't a church," Lindsay said. She was annoyed and wasn't bothering to use telepathy any longer. "We will be freed from our physical form so that we can meld into this peaceful community that seeks ever higher forms of knowledge."
"That's stupid," Roy blurted out like a child.
Lindsay sighed and tried a different approach. "Humans become attached quite easily. They can become attached to people and things almost instantaneously. It only leads to selfishness, and it blinds you to what's really possible. You waste too much time and energy consuming and hoarding senselessly."
"Well that's what people do, Lindsay," Roy said. "We fight and claw to gain some quantifiable amount of material wealth and financial security. And maybe, if you've worked hard enough, and your employer was magnanimous enough not to outsource your job to fuckin' India, maybe then you'll have two nickels to rub together when you're bedridden and senile. And if you're really lucky, maybe you even got a kid or two from a marriage that went sour about five years into it. And maybe if you're really, really lucky, your son or daughter will be kind enough to take a half hour out of their Sunday to stop by the raisin ranch so you can see your poorly behaved grandchildren who are too grossed out to give you a hug and a kiss because you have saliva dripping out of your toothless mouth, and you smell like piss and liniment."
"I'm sorry, Roy," Lindsay said. "I understand that in the context of a human lifetime it makes sense to encourage these material and emotional attachments. But we've moved way beyond that scale now. Seventy-five or eighty years is just a nanosecond in the scheme of things. We can perpetuate consciousness for a long, long time if we're willing to shed our antiquated devotion to our physical forms."
"And how long, exactly, is a long, long time?" Roy asked.
"It's an incredibly vast stretch ... exponentially longer than the current age of the universe."
"Then what happens?" Roy asked, "Does the Universe implode or something?"
"Just the opposite, actually," Lindsay explained. "It will continue to expand outward forever. Of course, an infinitely expanding universe puts a physical limit on how long we can sustain consciousness," she said bleakly.
"Why is that?"
"As the universe increases in size, matter and energy become more dispersed. Consequently, it will take even greater amounts of energy to gather the continually dispersing energy. Eventually, there will be a time when the distances will be so vast it will require more energy than is in existence to capture the next energy source."
"Sounds lame and boring," Roy said. "I'd rather go out with style. Like Jim Morrison. Now that would be cool."
"That's not cool, Roy. It's destructive and wasteful," Lindsay lectured.
"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is not wasteful. Destructive, maybe. But definitely not wasteful. And when there isn't enough energy around to keep the big asteroid brain powered up anymore, you'll be a frozen ice-cube floating through dead space for all eternity. I'd rather live fast and die young and make a good-looking corpse. Like how Elvis did it. Now that's cool."
"Is it as cool as living forever?" Lindsay asked.
"You just said there's a limit to how long you can live."
"There's a way around that. At least we think there is," Lindsay said, with a little bit of a smirk.
"Oh yeah? What way is that?" Roy asked.
"The outward expansion of space seems to be something fundamental, and therefore, unchangeable."
"So, checkmate," Roy interjected. "Goodnight, Vienna."
"There are other universes though," Lindsay explained.
"What you talkin' about, Willis?" Roy tried his best Gary Coleman impression. Lindsay didn't laugh.
"There are infinite universes, Roy. They're all around us. It's just that we can never interact with them directly. Each universe is compartmentalized, sealed off from every other universe by a cosmic membrane that encapsulates it. Your scientists on Earth recognize this, and lately, they've been using the term multiverse to describe what quantum theory predicts."
"So what good are all these extra universes if you're stuck inside this one?"
"In theory, there's a way for our consciousness to punch through into another universe."
"You can get us through," Lindsay said solemnly.
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"Our scientists became interested in your abilities when they detected your conscious energy in gravitational waves. It was just one of those serendipitous moments. The Grays happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were conducting research in the Triangulum Galaxy, taking soil samples from a volcanic planet denoted as MG-454. All of a sudden, the sensors onboard their vessel started registering strange gravitational disturbances. It turned out that those disturbances were caused by you, Roy."
"What was I doing?"
"You were only an infant, then. Maybe only a few days old. Your thoughts weren't very coherent -- you were just curious and playful, and the scientists reported that your etheric form seemed to be attracted to luminous objects."
"Like what kind of luminous objects?"
"Whatever caught your eye, I suppose. The scientists observed that there were several high-magnitude volcanic eruptions on MG-454 around that time, and they think you might have seen the plumes from your vantage point. It's likely you just wanted to get a closer look, and that's when you stumbled across the research team."
"And that's when they suspected I was an infant prodigy?"
"Initially, they thought you were hostile."
"I was just a baby. Why would they think that?"
"Well, for one thing, you kept spiking your psychic energy which damaged a lot of their more sensitive electronic equipment. And you somehow initiated the startup sequence on the vessel's main propulsion engine, which was quite unsettling for them."
"Oh. Sorry about that. I didn't know," Roy said.
"Yeah, you were a handful. They even hailed a military vessel for backup."
"Holy shit," Roy said.
"The Grays called it off when they managed to make telepathic contact with you and figured out you were just a disruptive little brat."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, they knew the event merited a full-scale scientific inquiry. Until then, they always believed psychic energy transmitted exclusively on electromagnetic waves, but yours propagated along gravitational waves. They followed your etheric substance back to your home planet, and ever since then you've been their pet project."
"You might as well be talking Sanskrit to me, Lindsay. This shit doesn't make any sense," Roy said.
"Don't over think it, Roy. You know your brain works because electrical charges are moving across neural networks, right?"
"Yeah," Roy said.
"The electrons are not consciousness itself. It's just a vehicle for consciousness. Psychic ability is nothing more than projecting those electrons that transmit thought beyond the locality of your brain. The fact that you can transmit on gravitational waves gives you the potential for unprecedented range."
"And why is that?"
"Here's a pop physics lesson. Pay attention," Lindsay instructed.
"Gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces. Your scientists on Earth were puzzled for a long time as to why it is so weak. Anybody can momentarily overcome Earth's gravitational force just by exerting the muscles in their legs and jumping. So the question is: why is gravity so weak?"
"Because it's a pussy?" Roy hazarded a guess.
"Geez, are you in fourth grade still?"
"Sorry," Roy said.
"If you use classical models to crunch the numbers, the results predict a universe where gravity is so strong all matter would cluster together and eventually collapse into a massive black hole. In other words, gravity would crush the life out of everything. But when your scientists refined their theories a bit, they realized that gravity must be propagating across a distance that exceeds the boundaries of this universe. That's why it seems so weak -- gravity isn't bound to this universe alone. It passes from our universe into others. It's moving across distances that are way beyond astronomical!"
"Neat," Roy said.
"Do you see the connection, Roy?"
"No. Not really."
Lindsay sighed and scratched her head. "If you can project your etheric energy on gravitational waves, we think you can pass through the membrane of this universe into another one."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Roy asked. "What about all that shit you were saying about decoherence? I almost couldn't even make it from Earth to the moon. I almost lost the fucking signal. Now you're talking about other universes."
"Our scientists have posited that as you grew older, your capacity for higher cognitive functions began to interfere with your innate psychic abilities. It's possible that you subconsciously chose to ignore this gift, and it has since atrophied. But we believe your ability is still as viable as ever. You only need to reawaken it and learn how to tap into it at will. We'll teach you how to harness your innate abilities. Roy, you'll be a master of time and space!"
"Are you quoting a Zeppelin song?"
"No. It's just a coincidence. I'm just saying we're gonna make sure you're good and ready before you make the transition into another universe.
"I don't know, Lindsay. I mean, it's my ass on the line."
"Actually, it's gonna be all of our asses on the line. You're gonna take us with you."
"And how's that gonna work? You want a piggyback ride?"
"You have to merge your consciousness with us. Right here on this little Eden that's flying through space. Become one with us, Roy."
"So, I become one with a bunch of alien ghosts, and then I taxi our collective consciousness into another universe?"
"This is fuckin' crazy."
"You have a gift. You can do so much good for so many."
"Like what? Are we gonna read stories to the elderly at an old folks' home? Are we gonna hand out turkey dinners down at the shelter on Thanksgiving?"
"We are going to be the curators of the most extensive collection of wisdom ever conceived. A collection composed by the most brilliant minds from the most highly evolved beings in the multiverse. We're offering you eternal life and infinite wisdom. We're offering you a place in God's mind."
Roy sighed. He could feel the psychic energy of these strangers rummaging around in his brain, picking locks, ripping the stuffing out of mattresses, looking for insight about how he felt. Would he cooperate? Was he a team player? Was he committed to this endeavor? He tried to quiet his mind so he could play his cards close to his vest. The fact was, Roy suspected something was rotten in Denmark.
Dangerous questions began to grow in his mind, and he buried them deep down where the aliens couldn't hear them. At least he hoped they couldn't hear them.
"I'm really tired, Lindsay," Roy said. "Maybe I could rest my eyes for a little bit. I'll be able to follow everything better after a little nap."
"Of course, Roy," Asteroid spoke up. "Recharge your batteries. There's no hurry."
"Do you want a blankie and your baba too?" Lindsay quipped.
"Ha ha ha," Roy said as he stretched out in the soft grass with his fingers interlaced together in a makeshift pillow behind his head. The atmosphere all around him was bright and warm, and he closed his eyes and pretended to drift off into a peaceful slumber. But deep in his psyche, Roy was conducting a very serious interview with himself:
Why would these uber-advanced beings with God-like powers ask me to do this favor? If I really possess some innate characteristic they can't reproduce in a lab, why wouldn't these egg-head alien scientists just hold a laser gun to my skull and demand that I transport them to wherever the fuck it is they want to go? Why do they seem desperate to get me to buy into their bullshit philosophy? Maybe they really are benevolent creatures who would never dream of putting me under duress to achieve their ends.
Yeah ... right. If you believe that, then you're a bigger asshole than I thought. Nothing can acquire that much power and still be good. It's impossible. They're megalomaniacs. Billions and trillions of years aren't good enough for them. They want eternity. They want to become God, and they need me to do it.
Maybe there's a way out. Maybe I can still escape when the time's right. Lindsay said I can go places they can't. Maybe they're afraid I'll run, and that I will if I ever get the chance.
Yeah ... maybe. Until then, be cool. These mother-fuckers are dangerous ... especially Lindsay. Don't let her fool you. The aliens made her look the way she does because they know you've always had a thing for hot Asian women. And come on, she's built like a Barbie doll. That was no accident. She'll manipulate you. She even said they'd traveled some astronomical distance to study you. They've been watching you since you were a baby.
That last statement kicked Roy square in the nuts. There were things in his mind -- strange things he had selectively forgotten that were beginning to bubble up to the surface of his psyche like corpses bloated with gas finally emerging from the bottom of a deep lake.
Roy suddenly recalled seeing the big orange creature with the pumpkin head and the beak in a dream he had very early in life. He was around three or four years old. Roy remembered how he had awoken in sweat-soaked pajamas, terrified and hysterical when his parents burst in and scooped him up to console him. In retrospect, he very much doubted that was a dream at all. Perhaps, he thought, Pumpkin Head had made contact with him telepathically. Or maybe that thing had been in his room, standing over him as he tossed fitfully in bed. Roy had always been a light sleeper, and it's possible he woke abruptly while that fucking thing was trying to implant a tracking chip in the base of his skull so the alien scientists could "keep tabs on him."
Roy began to remember more dreams -- dreams about flying across strange skies, some of which had more than one sun. He recalled a frozen planet entombed beneath miles and miles of beautiful blue ice, and a hellish world of boiling plasma that liquefied entire mountain ranges and that belched hydrogen and sulfur. There was a place with beetle-like creatures as big as buffalo stampeding across vast plains. In a jungle world, a hunting party of barrel-chested beings with cube-like heads bludgeoned something to death; it'd looked like a four-legged catfish in a muddy river.
Roy realized these were places he had visited, maybe in this life, or maybe in previous ones. The memories were intact, crystal clear, and haunting. He also realized that his human physiology had always been inadequate to handle this strange energy that resided inside of him. The 1,350 cubic centimeters of brain he had floating inside his skull simply couldn't digest the astronomical chunks of information his consciousness bit off during these forays through time and space.
Suddenly, Roy felt dizzy. He opened his eyes, and his peripheral vision vanished -- it seemed like he was staring through a narrow tunnel. The air around him took on a red tinge, and it left a vague medicinal taste in his mouth. He could feel it coating his throat and his lungs.
"You fucking bastards," he yelled, and his own voice sounded far away and unfamiliar.
"It's a necessary step, Roy," Lindsay said soothingly. "You're gonna be fine."
"She speaks the truth," Asteroid said. "Soon you will experience a billion years of evolution. Your consciousness will arise from the physical form that entombs it. A new reality awaits you."
Roy tried to stand, but his legs failed him. It all made sense at that moment. The aliens had orchestrated this elaborate plan. They patiently railroaded him into a situation from which he could not extract himself: quitting a promising academic career, living with a bunch of hippies in upstate New York, watching the old security guard get shot, getting the bad trip about the ghost snipers that ultimately compelled him to turn himself in ...
He had been a pawn in some alien game of chess -- an invisible hand pushing him around an unseen checkered board.
Roy wondered if Sarah had been a genetically engineered conspirator, or if she had simply been manipulated by the aliens to serve their purpose. He liked to believe she really was innocent, that her heart was genuinely good, and for a little while, they had known love.
Darkness flooded in.