Somewhere in the Multiverse someone is building the Man. Not just A Man but THE Man. Or are they?! This is Part 3 in a series of updates posted by Caveat as he follows the tangled trail as an agent of the Philosophical Center. Read all the posts here.
I made it back to Juneau and went straight to the airport. Once they got their own laminates, with more perks than mine, those DPW goons would be after me.
I checked my messages. While I’d been in the wilderness, $tephen Ra$pa had left a comment on my first post, threatening to turn the Regional Contacts against me, and telling me that a Stuart had been erased.
That sent chills down my spine. I sent Stuart a text, telling him that I was on my way out of Juneau. I waited nervously for a response.
Instead, I got a call from Hot Damn.
My heart raced. Some people come into your life like a hurricane and linger like a cough. For a while, she’d been my world, but then she became my global warming. Things had been complicated between us ever since I inspired a war at her camp at Burning Man last year. We’d made a hell of a team… my God, she’s glorious commanding a legion of sparkle ponies to tear down satirical churches… but lately our hell of a team had been a team from hell. If I were back in San Francisco, I might have been skeptical about taking her call, but now… damn it, I needed friends.
I took the call. “Hey!” I said. “Have you ever wanted to go to war with me again? Because have I got a lost cause for you…”
She laughed. But it was a little nervous. “I’ve heard you’re in trouble,” she said. “Where are you?”
“You’ve always liked my trouble,” I said.
“You make the best trouble,” she agreed. “But this sounds bad. Where are you?”
“Well…” I took a deep breath.
Then I held it. Something was… off…
My blood went cold. She’s a close friend of Ra$pa’s… I switched windows to check my post again.
Sure enough, there it was. Hot Damn Bunny had replied to Ra$pa: “Mein Hare, let’s have a meet. I can make it worth your while — I have intel on Caveat.”
My mind didn’t want to read it, but my heart was literate enough to break.
“I’m in Juneau,” I told her. “I found a site where I think they might be building the Man… I’m going back there tonight… sneaking in to get a better look.”
There was a long pause.
“You’ve never lied to me before,” she said.
“You’ve never tried to turn me in before.”
“You saw my comment.”
“The internet is for betrayal.”
She made an angry, frustrated noise. “Oh, you’re so stupid! I’m not betraying you! I’m betraying Ra$pa! I’m your mole on the inside!”
I considered. Carefully. “You’d never betray Ra$pa. You’ve been through too many Billion Bunny Marches together. Those bonds are as unbreakable as fur is fluffy. But you would betray me if you could convince yourself it’s for my own good.”
“No! Don’t be an idiot! I…”
I hung up. It felt like putting my heart in a safe and dropping it into the ocean. I hoped to hell I was right, and not being suspicious of a good thing just because it had gotten hard.
My phone rang. I started, stared at it… and realized it wasn’t Hot Damn. It was Stuart.
I answered. They hadn’t gotten him after all. At least not the Stuart from my universe.
“I heard things got rough for you,” I said. “I was worried.”
“Ra$pa,” Stuart grunted. “I got ambushed by bunnies. There must have been a billion of them. They looked cute and played rough. I was almost a goner, but Animal Control arrived at the last second, broke everything up, along with some guys in carrot suits. The whole thing turned into a dance party and I was able to get away. So, I’m fine. Well, most of me are fine. The one Stuart in the Multiverse who had a healthy emotional life didn’t make it.”
“It’s okay, I hated him. He was always smiling that weird smile.”
“Yeah, happiness is a turn-off.”
“So,” he asked me, “is it Alaska?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “It looks a lot more like some kind of weird personal project, which is my favorite kind of project. I might have stayed to help if they hadn’t tried to kidnap me.”
“Yeah, makes sense,” Stuart said. “I didn’t think we’d go all the way to Russia to burn the Man.”
Wait… what? Russia? Alaska wasn’t still part of Russia in this universe… what was that about?
“I want you to check out Dubai,” Stuart said.
“I wish. But a Crimson Rose has been spotted there, and rumor has it the pandemic has hurt the Project’s finances so much that some Sheikh has bought DPW, lock, stock, and whippets.”
I gasped. “But… most of them are volunteers!”
“More like mercenaries when it comes down to it. Bottles of Fireball don’t grow on trees.”
“What does he want them for?”
“To build more cities in the desert. It’s not a bad deal for them — the porta-potties will be a lot nicer.”
I shook my head and wondered how to best plan a trip from Juneau to Dubai. “Is Burning Man Project’s financial situation really that bad?”
“Like a $50 credit limit at a Maserati dealership.”
“I don’t even think you can rent a brochure for that.” I considered. “So you think a rich city looking to make its cultural bones wants to take over the Project, and make burning the Man some kind of branded tourist attraction?”
“That’s what I want you to find out.”
“I’ll get the ticket.”
“Don’t even think about flying Emirates,” Stuart said. “You can take a shower on an airplane on someone else’s nickel.”
“You KNOW I’ll get the shakes!” I shouted into the phone.
“And you know a lot of people go six weeks in the desert without a shower and walk away fine,” he said. “They just need skin cream.”
“DON’T GASLIGHT MY TRAUMA!” I shouted at him, and hung up the phone.
Bastard. Next time, I hope the bunnies get him.
Not likely, though, they’re after me now.
Plane rides are hard. Changing universes is easy. At least, when you get the hang of it.
We’ve always lived in a Multiverse, but most of the time we never noticed, because the bonds that connected us, the basic physics of our universe, were so so strong. But after the great plague hit, those connecting bonds shattered and we all went drifting far off into the infinite but isolated possibilities of endless time and space. A vast array of universes, so close together but keeping us so far apart. Interacting without being able to connect.
That’s what life is, now.
But we can cross universes — we figured out how. The secret turns out to be subjectivity: reality alters when it is observed. What it takes to cross universes, what it really takes, is the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. To understand their experience, their unique subjectivity — the different subjectivity they and they alone bring to all of the entirety of infinite creation. Once you can do that, crossing to their universe is as easy as snapping your fingers.
Technical types — engineers and coders and scientists — usually try to develop workarounds. They create “platforms” — devices across which people from different universes can see each other, communicate, and try to get to know each other well enough to try to make it through to the other side. And that works, sort of and sometimes, but it’s cumbersome. And it has a big problem: even when you’re connected by a platform, you still have to figure out how to enter someone else’s subjectivity. It doesn’t happen automatically — you still have to figure it out. The idea that you can reach someone else’s subjectivity just by connecting with them technologically… that’s an illusion that causes a lot of trouble.
Artists have it easier. Their imaginations just send them careening through the Multiverse, connecting with people whose lives they’ve imagined. Just like that. They’ll be sculpting a statue or painting a painting or writing a story and suddenly… they’ve traveled across the universe while staying in place.
And if artists can do it, anyone can. You can do it, too.
I don’t claim to be much of an artist, though I’ve written a few books. But I have the knack, I can just make what we call “The Philosopher’s Leap.” Once I landed in Dubai, I imagined the subjectivity of someone living in the universe I was trying to reach, and as soon as I locked in, as soon as I could live a part of their experience, there I was.
In a universe where there are 12 planets in our solar system, the last one of such staggering beauty that only psychopaths aren’t into astrology. A universe where women were allowed to participate in the economy about 30 years earlier (on average), and it sent the global economy into heights my home universe still hasn’t reached. A universe where kangaroos are crazy good at chess. No computer has yet beaten them.
That’s the universe where I belonged now. Where I cleared customs and stepped into a desert that wasn’t home.
Now if I were a Crimson Rose, where in Dubai would I burn a Man?