“Move away from the screen, son.”
A deep voice boomed at me from behind my chair. I jumped and almost spilled my coffee, leaped to my feet and turned to face the intruder in one slick, spastic move.
It was a guy. He stood seven feet tall with his skin glowing like a halogen light bulb in a dark room. He wore a glowing cowboy suit that reminded me of an old movie my mom likes, The Electric Horseman.
But how’d he get in here? The hinges on my bedroom door squeak like a coffin lid. An empty potato chip bag was still right up against it. My room’s only window was painted shut six years ago. You’d need a crowbar and a hammer to open it.
I should have seen this guy’s reflection on my computer screen. I should have seen the light on my desk and the light on the wall in front of it. But no, somehow he got in here like he’d popped out of thin air.
“Dude, you scared the Irish out of me. What’s with the glowing makeup and all the lights?”
“I’m an angel from E8.” He exhaled with a tired-sound. “I’m here to discuss physics. But, kid, you’re spending entirely too much time indoors on that thing.” He glanced at my computer monitor.
“What kind of angel are you? A Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, or… wait, you’re a Mormon, right?”
His eyebrows went up a little, but he didn’t say anything.
“I’m just wondering. You could be a silver version of that Mormon angel, whats-his-name. Greer says the Mormon World Corporation is, like, totally into the ET thing. So I’m just putting one and one together. See what I’m saying? Except you should probably be gold instead of silver. Them Mormon angel statues are always gold.”
“I’m not a statue.”
“Ah, but you’re a Mormon.” I smirked and nodded, agreeing with myself.
“You’re out of shape. You’re poisoning yourself with carbohydrates. Your body needs sunshine and better sleep.”
I could see this was going to be a one-sided “adult” conversation. Unless maybe I forced things in another direction.
“How do I know you’re not a demon?”
“Do you believe in demons?”
“No, but I didn’t believe in angels a minute ago.”
I could see half of my clock on the wall behind him. The second hand was frozen. I hoped it just needed batteries, but I kind of knew better.
“And anyway, why would an angel single me out for a message? How’s that going to be fair to everybody else? All them people out there needing a message but never getting one? Is that fair? Does fairness even matter where you come from?”
He stared at me blankly.
“Where are you from, anyways?”
His gaze dropped to the floor beside his huge cowboy boots. He spoke quietly as if to someone else.
“You sure we hit the right coordinates? Check the date. This kid’s talking religion, for Shiva’s sake.”
It was clear that I’d disappointed the man already. I do that a lot with people. With angels, too, apparently.
He nodded to himself with his lips moving, then his eyes came back to me looking like a beat cop trying to endure tough talk from a superior. “Ok, then.” He looked me up and down with a perplexed expression.
“What are you, really?” I asked. “And don’t feed me no angel crap.”
“You need to get outside and walk,” he said. “Sunshine, fresh air, exercise, human interaction. You’re isolated in here. You’re destroying yourself.”
“Talk to the hand, dude.” I didn’t put my hand up, of course, that’s totally lame.
“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Listen, for reasons I can’t fathom, the Desk thinks you can help us.” He looked at the computer screen behind me. “Those damn simulation games destroy free will.”
OK, he wasn’t Mormon. Those boys might take a hit off a meth bowl to get you talking shop with them, but they don’t touch four-letter words. Uh-uh.
I glanced over my shoulder at Grand Theft Auto where I… uh, where my character just stole a hundred large from Wells Fargo and crashed the getaway car on a sidewalk loaded with pedestrians. Multiple fatalities, of course. I needed to scram fast to avoid the cops and more boring jail time. But the whole screen was frozen now, so maybe it wouldn’t matter.
You know, I worked a long time getting those sick Grand Theft Auto muscles all over me. And the rad gear? Along with some respect from the community, know what I’m saying? None of that came easy.
And this beyond-white-male dude thought I was going to just turn it off and walk away?
Right. None of that was going to happen.
The pushy talk coming out of his mouth was irritating enough, but to be honest, I felt kind of paralyzed by the fact that a guy like this even existed in the first place. And in my bedroom, you know?
But here he was, bigger than life.
Then it dawned on me. I was having a psychotic break — my first hallucination on the grand tour of shame and misery for the rest of my life. All it would take now was one word about this to my shrink and I’d get tagged schizophrenic, like my Uncle Saul.
He’s in his mid-forties and never been laid. The shrink’s scarlet letter is not working out so good for the man. Sad part is, hell, he seems perfectly normal to any chick he meets, right up to the moment they find out he comes attached to the word, “schizophrenia.” Then it’s all, “Bye-bye Saul. I’ll call you.”
“Dude, you’re a hallucination.” I turned away, sat back down in my chair and hid my face in my hands. I could feel tears coming, but I knew I shouldn’t let myself be a victim. That only makes things worse. You got to believe stuff happens for, like some decent reason that don’t have to ever make sense.
My bedroom door squeaked open. “Call your mother in,” the cowboy said. “Ask her if I’m real.”
I thought about it for a second. Ordinarily, I never let her in my bedroom. Calling her in here now would look suspicious. She’d figure out something was weird and then talk the truth out of me, right down to the details of this hallucination. Then it would be official. “My son’s turned idiot like his uncle.”
But can a hallucination open a door?
I didn’t know. I bounced my bare heels on the carpet, up and down like double bass, trying to figure out how to do this right. Then I noticed the carpet was still damp from last night.
“Hey, Mom? Fritzie peed on the floor again. Check it out, there’s this gross wet spot in here.”
I spilled a little beer is all, but Mon’s not going to know that… Unless she gets down and sniffs it.
Which she totally will.
Man, I’m dumb. Here comes another lecture on the evils of alcohol. Yes, I know what a liver is, Mom. But read my lips — I do not care!
Mom showed up at my door, took one look at the big shiny dude, and ran off screaming, Jesus. She’s very religious that way.
“OK, so you’re real.” I didn’t want to let on that it was a gigantic relief, but it was. “Why can’t you just talk to me like a normal human being instead of getting all up in my face with this bossy attitude of yours, huh? Tell me that.”
He nodded solemnly. “I suppose you’re right. The powerful never listen, do they? But you really need to control the acidic tongue. It will destroy you.” He sat on the side of my bed and crossed his legs like a girl — well, totally not like a cowboy let’s just say. And his butt, get this, it didn’t sink into the bed at all.
“What’s the deal, you aren’t denting my bed? You gotta be 200 pounds plus.”
“Good observation. But never make personal comments, it’s rude.” He looked at my blankets and quick as a slap sunk nine inches into my extra-soft memory foam mattress. “Now then, I used the term, ‘angel’ with you because I thought you could relate to it. But actually, I’m more of a…” He glanced out my window at the evergreen trees in the vacant lot next door. “Have you heard about the third ontology? Irwin’s code theoretic axiom of quantum gravity theory?”
I shook my head. “Sounds perfectly boring.”
“It’s not.” His eyes moved to my computer monitor. I scooted my chair out of his way and looked at the screen with him. The bank-heist fatalities vanished, and up came a YouTube video showing some physicist dude with my dad’s pompadour haircut and the exact same hairline. It was weird. Even the eyebrows and eyes were similar.
“Watch this with me,” the angel said in a voice so deep it vibrated my chest.
I figured I had no choice, but wow, physics? Not my slice of pie.
We sat there forever listening to this smart, sort of humble guy go on and on about some ridiculous crap I’d never heard of.
I kept checking the wall clock to see how much of my life was going down the toilet for this, but the clock’s hands never budged. I checked the tiny digital clock on my computer screen but those numbers weren’t moving either.
“Hey, if you’re doing one of them time-stopping things, like in UFOs? — am I still aging right now?” I basically just wanted to talk about anything besides this pompadour dude’s real estate code, or whatever it was.
The video stopped. “You’ll be an hour or two older than your chronologic age when we’re done here. Maybe three hours. You’re kind of a talker.”
“Not always. This kind of thing turns your presidents’ hair gray. We contact them from Reality and usually wind up talking and talking. Over the course of an 8-year term, the time adds up to many years, sometimes over a decade. It shows up on them as premature aging.”
“Those dudes are mostly hot air, though, right?”
“Every last one of them.” The cowboy angel laughed.
“So what’s your name, anyways?”
“Max. That’s the first syllable. People here can’t remember my full name.”
The video started over from the beginning. I moaned.
Max reached over and touched my forehead with two extra-long, extra bright fingers. No fingerprints best I could tell. Right away I felt like I chugalugged three double mochas.
“Sir, if you could just teach me how to do that… Man, I could get rich. Imagine you’re on stage and–”
“Pay attention, son. Less talking, more listening.”
This Klee guy – the physicist who stole my dad’s hairline – he started talking again, but this time he was making total sense. “Is reality random or is it deterministic?” He asked it like he already knew the answer. Then he said that people who think things are random have an opportunity to maybe think that they might have free will. But the determinists don’t.
It was weird knowing words I’d never heard before.
The video stopped.
“Randomness can’t give you free will,” Max said. “It’s a false proposition that affords only unpredictability.” He folded his arms and looked back at the screen.
Klee started up again, saying that reality didn’t have to be understood as either a deterministic algorithm or as a purely random thing.
Reality could be a language in action.
“Remember this, now,” Max said. “He’s talking about the machine language in your part of the Universe.”
Klee went on about a code that carries information at the same time it becomes the quantum fabric of waves and the volumes of matter. Stuff that people can measure and touch. The deal is, it’s a self-referencing language where the letters are geometric shapes projected into this realm from another part of the Universe with eight mathematical dimensions.
It’s like everything we call real is projected from an eight-dimensional geometric structure that Klee calls “E8.”
Max paused the screen again and loaded another vid, never touching the controls, mind you. “Burn this into your mind,” he said. “It’s a two-dimensional projection of E8.”
The image moved slowly…
“The shapes represent themselves in the code,” Max said, “carrying meaning without the need for a translation.”
Somehow, that made sense now.
“The rules of the code are non-arbitrary, they come from a natural mosaic tiling language called a quasicrystal. The symbols are what they represent. We use geometric symbols in a geometric language to represent geometric objects. The hardware, the software and the simulation output are all one-and-the-same.”
“Dude, this is an information dump, don’t you think?” Not that I couldn’t understand him. It was just that understanding this kind of stuff felt totally weird to me. I’m normally not the sharpest pencil in the box, to put it politely — like if a teacher ever said I was average, I’d take it as the biggest total complement of my entire scholastic career. But it’s not apt to happen, seeing as I quit going to classes over a month ago. I’ll be old enough to officially drop out next year.
Max started the video again with a chuckle. “Guess I was a bit verbose there, sorry. Remember this part, though.”
And without skipping a note, Klee Irwin kept right on talking. The man’s got a set of lungs.
“…there is physical evidence and argument that is very rigorous that reality is not a deterministic algorithm playing itself out… the general consensus among scientists is that reality is non-deterministic.”
“Let us discuss how in the world there can possibly be a language as the substrate of reality without some notion of a chooser of the language and an actualizer of the meaning of these geometric symbols. Because there needs to be something that interprets or actualizes meaning in order to say that information exists.
If we like, we can just start with the axiom that God exists. But that’s not what science is about.
Science is about going deeper and constantly questioning where that comes from, and going all the way down to the bottom. So God may or may not exist, but if he does, I want to know how does he exist?
So we don’t need to make it religious.
We can say, well alright, abstractly maybe there’s this kind of universal collective consciousness, it’s not like a human consciousness, maybe it’s more like a force in Star Wars, maybe it’s more like Chi in Chinese medicine. We don’t know what it’s like, but we need something that is everywhere and that may be the substrate of everything, and [something] that is capable of actualizing this geometric information that we conjecture, and making the syntactical choices in this mosaic tiling language in 3D that we are working with here at Quantum Gravity Research.”
“So what’s this all about, Max? Really. You don’t need some dumb ass like me trying to spread this stuff around for you.”
“No,” Max said. He adjusted something on the jewel-studded lapel of his cowboy jacket and leaned toward me whispering, “We want you to oppose him.”
“Me? That’s really dumb. You think I could go up against this genius dude?”
Max nodded. “You can now.”
I scratched my head. “What are you saying, then? Klee Irwin is wrong?”
“No, he’s right about everything. Too right. That’s the problem. A simulation only works when the people inside don’t know it’s a simulation. If they figure things out, it all becomes little more than a lucid dream and they quit playing.”
“You mean like, mass suicide or something?”
“Yes, that could happen. Or worse. What people do here matters to their character and personality in Reality. Take Hitler, for instance. What he did has tarnished his soul. He may never want to come back to Reality. He may never be morally fit to come back home.”
“But I thought he was dead.”
“Hitler’s dead, but the soul of the man, the person from Reality is still cycling. He lives somewhere in Long Beach, California. But there’s a larger problem. Someone we all dearly love has put an enormous amount of time and effort into building this simulation for us. We asked him to do it. And now we’ve got over a trillion, trillion people in Reality who feel sure they need this experience. They want to know who they are apart from the physical presence of the Great Surfer.”
“Dude, you lost me. The great…”
“He’s a Surfer. That’s all you need to know.”
“You talking about God?”
“He dislikes that term, but, yes, from your perspective, that’s as close as you’re apt to get.”
“And what if I refuse to go up against this physics dude. He’s just out there trying to tell people what in the freaking world the truth really is about this place. These lives we’re living.”
“That’s no problem at all, son. We totally respect free will. There are thousands of scientists and educators already set up to oppose him. We’ve been working on it for centuries, you could say.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I have no idea why the Desk singled you out. With your background and this lifestyle?” He looked at my computer screen and shook his head. “They had a reason, though. They always do.” He touched his lapel and spoke softly to the floor again. “It’s a no-go, Swadhisthana. The cowboy angel rides.”
“Now, wait a sec. Just let me–”
He tipped his hat and disappeared into thin air.
My computer screen came to life. Writhing, mangled, moaning people all over a bloody sidewalk. My ride was still functional. I could probably get away before the cops showed up. I started to reach for the game controls but stopped. It wasn’t interesting anymore. The sirens grew louder and louder as I stared at the scene. I didn’t care about the sociopathic muscle man I’d become. He wasn’t me. Never was.
I stood and looked out my little window at an old cedar tree that I bet somebody planted more than a hundred years ago. Maybe I could sit in the shade and figure out how in the world I’m going to explain all this to Klee Irwin. He’s going to think I’m nuts.
But the dude should know all the problems he’s causing, right? And all the people they’ve sent on a mission to stop him.
Maybe my mom will back me up on the cowboy angel part. The guy was real.
Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD
Gates of Eden by Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)
Of war and peace, the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden
The lamppost stands with folded arms
Its iron claws attached
To curbs ‘neath holes where babies wail
Though it shadows metal badge
All and all can only fall
With a crashing but meaningless blow
No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden
The savage soldier sticks his head in sand
And then complains
Unto the shoeless hunter who’s gone deaf
But still remains
Upon the beach where hound dogs bay
At ships with tattooed sails
Heading for the Gates of Eden
With a time-rusted compass blade
Aladdin and his lamp
Sits with Utopian hermit monks
Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf
And on their promises of paradise
You will not hear a laugh
All except inside the Gates of Eden
Relationships of ownership
They whisper in the wings
To those condemned to act accordingly
And wait for succeeding kings
And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden
The motorcycle black Madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause
The gray flannel dwarf to scream
As he weeps to wicked birds of prey
Who pick up on his bread crumb sins
And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden
The kingdoms of experience
In the precious wind they rot
While paupers change possessions
Each one wishing for what the other has got
And the princess and the prince
Discuss what’s real and what is not
It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden
The foreign sun, it squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign
Leaving men wholly, totally free
To do anything they wish to do but die
And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden
At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel a glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true
And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden