In honor of Harlan Ellison
Kid called the drug Psychopene. What began as a pharmaceutical for clinical depression got cooked in his Tempe condo into something more third eye interesting than any previous indy variant. Thing about it, though, it put you to sleep. Only in your dreams could you fly new skies of chance, like trance. No side effects like LSD, either. Kid figured the molecule might be just the thing for nerds whose other escape was first person shooter immersion or Star Lord movies. Except he needed help, and vetoed telling his father for fear of being cut off.
Kid Holler was Hank Hollowell, a geek pothead biomedical major whose dad mined rare earths like Xenotime in Brazil. We’d once shared a dorm room at ASU until we graduated to beta test and market his creation. Me? I’d been a journalism major with a minor in business. Unemployed too, until my very first dream dive, an hour into which I envisioned a flotilla of revelers depart a dying city that resembled Phoenix, selfie drones angling to take vid snips to be stitched and stored should the realistically devastated alternate world I’d visualized be magically repopulated. Vivid? Imagine Coachella and Burning Man at the end of time, and you might get a gist of it. It was beyond wild, this deep REM stuff, no doubt tricked from my subconscious by the drug. Somehow I knew citizens had refused cybernetic immortality to join these caravans of “Freebirds” which navigated the oceans, farmlands and deserts in seeking out final festivals of human experience. Some pretty heady philosophical backstory might explain this awareness. But I didn’t know what the frag it ultimately meant, because I couldn’t vis it all.
Ecstatic as the drug initially made him, Kid soon became flummoxed by my reaction, since I wasn’t gaga about his plans for patenting or going on Narc Tank. Sure, our highs were better than VR and more visceral than any rave mood drug could induce. The visions felt like stepping into movie star roles, too. Still, as a portal, Kid’s dreamtime white powder scared me: unique, as a ticket to a new playground of art and orgy, yet ominous in a way I couldn’t explain. If Holler shouted about gleefully endless orgiastic scenarios, mine were ever more inexplicable, evolving into something recurrent, like dictation. Like a gaming script programmed by a disembodied intelligent machine. “What the hell,” Kid said when I tried to describe them. For him it was like the exploitation gaming scripts he’d dreamed of producing—a drug runner mini series featuring lots of guns, girls, and virtual gambling. Occasionally he got to play the lead role, full of mindless banter, petty jealousies, and threats of violence on steroids. A theme he enjoyed. But the rush left me exhausted and confused upon waking. So sketching ideas for ‘package and sell’ seemed premature.
“I think you should let some girls try it, before proceeding,“ I told him. “Call it something more appropriate, too.”
“I don’t know. How about REM ROD. A hot rod for some, divining rod for others.” I pantomimed potential promo covers. “The life you want and can’t have. An adventure inside your own head.” I paused. “Or just describe it as a date drug with benefits. One girl takes it as another watches. She wakes and reports. Then they switch roles. We don’t even need to be there. Just keep a camera running, and get them to report what happens, too.”
“You crazy,” Holler said. But he liked my idea, as he always had. Then he repeated the name, as though he’d just seen the future himself.
We did it. Kid told girls they’d get to be the date rapists. I filed their releases as notary in my safety deposit box. Then, after it was over, our beta test girls raved. Dreamland, apparently, was whatever you brought to the party. Or didn’t. Upshot is, Kid got an investor and Big Pharma sponsor after showing them our vid and providing samples. Soon after that he got new threads, hotter wheels, and a swankier crib. In short order.
Still, I declined another go, myself. Channeling courage from some inner ether, perhaps.
“Why you acting like this?” Holler asked over coffee, six weeks in. “Tactar Pharmaceuticals is taking over testing. Clinical trials with patent pending on a class seven recreational. You’ll get a nice bonus, buddy. Guaranteed.”
Kid had fronted me ten grand, and signed me to five percent of future company profits in exchange for occasional business and marketing deeds.
“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just, we don’t really know what’s going on here. You said it was partly an accident, right? Tactar said it wasn’t a hallucinogen. They aren’t sure what it is. Hell, I don’t think it has anything to do with opening up some part of the brain we don’t use, either. That’s bogus urban legend. But obviously in certain cases, like mine, it involves seeing stuff beyond the pale. Not with superpowers, but with extra sensory perception, maybe. Like remote viewing.”
He just blinked at me, forehead crinkling.
I continued. “Listen, they still don’t know how consciousness works, or why we dream. What if it’s to sort out our reality from other timelines, from some other stream of…”
(Continued in Judge Jury. Ebook at iTunes, BN.com, Amazon.)
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