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PERSONA

PODCAST TRANSCRIPTS

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

CHAPTER 1

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 2

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

SCENE 3

CHAPTER 3

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 4

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 5

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 6

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 7

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 8

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 9

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 10

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 11

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

SCENE 3

CHAPTER 12

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 13

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 14

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 15

SCENE 1

SCENE 2

CHAPTER 16

SCENE 1

CHAPTER 1

SCENE 1

SID

Motherfucker’s wearing a Viking helmet.

Time has slowed down. The fire extinguisher is five feet from my head. Motherfucker broke the glass with the end of his spear - a goddamn spear - and just threw it. Didn’t even throw it at me, just threw it in the general direction of the unmoving Capitol police. Motherfucker wasn’t aiming at me. Motherfucker wasn’t aiming at all.

The fire extinguisher is four feet from my head. It’s taken a billion years to travel this far, so I figure I’ve got some time to kill before I die. So I look at the motherfucker in the Viking helmet and try and figure out why for the love of Christ he wore a fucking Viking helmet to a fucking coup. And an animal pelt. And he brought a spear.

Motherfucker makes eye contact with me. He’s traced the arc of the fire extinguisher and has only just now realized where it will land, whose skull it will crack, and his stupid smug grin falls into a shocked gape. “Weren’t you prepared for this?” I want to ask him. It’s a coup. “Weren’t you ready to kill?”

The fire extinguisher is three feet from my head. Motherfucker turns and stumbles into a bust of Zachary Taylor, smearing blood on it as he steadies himself. How could you do this, I would scream if time hadn’t frozen in place.

“And how could you do this” I’d say if I had time to turn my head and shout at the cops next to me. “Where are the riot shields? Where are the rubber bullets? And where the everloving fuck is the tear gas? It’s an attack on the Capitol. This is insurrection. Why aren’t we cracking motherfuckers’ skulls?”

I saw you, I’d say. I saw you move the barricades out of the way. I saw you standing by. I saw you doing nothing. And if I somehow survive the blunt force trauma about to be inflicted on me by this flying fire extinguisher, which is now two feet from my head, I will fucking find you, and I will fucking expose you.

The motherfucker in the Viking helmet’s smug grin is back on his stupid face. He smashes a Senator’s office window with the end of his spear and bellows a war cry, which resounds through the hallowed halls and is echoed by several other motherfuckers also wearing Viking helmets.

The fire extinguisher is one foot from my head.

My heart pounds in my ears.

The fire extinguisher is six inches from my head.

Motherfucker wore a Viking helmet.

The fire extinguisher is one inch from my head.

To a coup.

The fire extinguisher connects with my head.

Stupid motherfucker.

I drop like a rock and all goes black.


CHAPTER 2

SCENE 1

ANA

I wake up on a thin cot with the taste of metal in my mouth and electrodes all over my head and for a second I forget why there are electrodes all over my head so I reach up reflexively to pull them -

DR. WOLFF

Don’t do that.

ANA

A voice crackles from a speaker somewhere.

DR. WOLFF

The moment of transition from sleeping to waking is primetime for data collection. You’re firing on all cylinders.

ANA

Wha...at?

DR. WOLFF

Just lay back. Close your eyes if you want to.

ANA

I close my eyes and sink back into borderline unconsciousness. The metal taste goes away and I hear a high-pitched whine in my left ear.

DR. WOLFF

Good. Are you still dreaming?

ANA

Mmmm… kinda…

DR. WOLFF

What are you dreaming, Ana?

ANA

Well now I’m not dreaming. My eyes blink open. Now that you pointed it out.

DR. WOLFF

Try and hold onto it. What were you experiencing just now?

ANA

Uuuuuuuhhhhh floating. The whine cuts out and my scalp tingles.

DR. WOLFF

Floating?

ANA

Yeah.

DR. WOLFF

In water?

ANA

Maybe? Some kind of liquid? It was pretty dark. Pitch black, actually, I was just, like, weightless in this… yeah. Void. I dunno, I’m sorry, I lost it.

DR. WOLFF

Don’t be sorry, I got what I needed.

ANA

The tingle stops and the dim lights brighten the small, white room as Dr. Wolff walks through the door with a clipboard in her hand. She ejects the floppy from the bulky machine in the corner and pockets it.

DR. WOLFF

You can take those off now.

ANA

One by one I peel the patches off my shaved head, and instantly feel self-conscious again about my shaved head. I wasn’t alone.

DR. WOLFF

Sorry?

ANA

In the dream. I just remembered.

Dr. Wolff puts my meds and a glass of water on the metal bedside table. I take my 150mg of Lamotrigine.

DR. WOLFF

Who else was there?

ANA

I couldn’t see. It was dark. I just knew, you know? Had that feeling? I take my 10mg of Aripiprazole. That like… back of the neck prickle? Someone was there with me, I know that. I take my 20mg of Escitalopram. And look, I… I don’t dream. Like ever. So maybe I’m not… used to it? Or something? But holy shit, that floating dream, it was -

DR. WOLFF

So real?

ANA

Is that, like, a side effect?

DR. WOLFF

A very common one. It didn’t bother you, did it?

ANA

No. It was… yeah. Nice. Quiet. I take my 400mg of Lithium and down the glass of water. I don’t get much quiet.

DR. WOLFF

The hallucinations are still a problem then?

ANA

I wince. Do we have to talk about it?

DR. WOLFF

Don’t take this the wrong way, Ana, but there’s a reason we wanted people like you for the study.

ANA

Crazy people.

DR. WOLFF

I didn’t say that.

ANA

You meant it.

DR. WOLFF

No, what I meant was people who need help. Treatment for acute mental disorders such as yours.

ANA

And what, the cure for acute mental disorders such as mine is shaving my head and zapping me with electrodes while I sleep?

DR. WOLFF

Are you having them now?

ANA

What.

DR. WOLFF

Hallucinations. Any voices? Colors? Tactile sensations? Are you… how was it you put it…

ANA

Dr. Wolff flips through the pages on her clipboard.

DR. WOLFF

“Feeling other people’s feelings and thinking their thoughts like they were your own?”

ANA

I mean… not at the moment, no.

DR. WOLFF

Then I’d say shaving your head and zapping you with electrodes while you sleep is working. Wouldn’t you?

SCENE 2

ANA

There’s an insane man screaming on the subway platform. His madness is a maelstrom. Baseball-sized delusional hail rains down on my head as I sit in the delayed gravi-train car praying the doors close before he can -

And he’s boarded. He’s coming closer to me. I shrink back reflexively as he bursts my six-foot bubble. Now he’s standing next to me. I’m sitting and his crotch is in my face. He’s imagining peeling the skin off my face and wearing it like a mask, because he can’t afford a mask of his own, or anyway not one that works, sure you can get a nanoplastic one that protects from the virus, but nothing protects from the poison gas, no not the poison gas, and now the poison gas is in the train car, it’s pouring in, in through the windows, in through the doors, into my lungs, and I’m coughing my lungs out, and the insane man is coughing his lungs out, and I blink my eyes open enough to see that nobody else in the car is coughing their lungs out, and I realize the poison gas is not real, the poison gas is his madness, so I get up and switch cars.

Or I’m going to, but before I can make it from one car to another the doors snap closed and the train glides silently away, and now I have to wait for the next one. At least the insane man is on the -

Nope shit he followed me. He got off the train and he followed me and now he’s sticking his fingers up my skirt and grabbing my -

INSANE MAN

You’re a fuckin’ guy!?!?!?

ANA

He’s shocked. Shock turns to surprise. Surprise turns to disgust. I feel his disgust like someone’s just upended a vat of acid over my head and it’s dripping down and corroding my skin. I smell his disgust like he’s just taken his foot out of his mangled sneaker and shoved it in my face. I run. I don’t want to wait for his disgust to turn to anger. Sooner or later, it always does.

SCENE 3

SAGE

Hello, friend. Are you okay?

ANA

I’m fine.

I raise my head from my knees and look up at the teenager standing over me. They’re wearing an angular, purple mask with the Greek letter Psi over their mouth and a sticky-up bit in front of their third eye emblazoned with a weird symbol I can’t identify.

I’m fine, I repeat, which is unconvincing coming from someone crouched against a subway station wall with tears streaming down her face. Totally fine, yeah. But thank you though. For asking. I’m totally… totally fine…

SAGE

I saw what happened on the platform. We’ve called PubSafe, he’ll be in a hotel room by this evening.

ANA
Good! Good, that’s… that’s good. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.

SAGE

Hey. Breathe, okay? Just take a breath. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. Do you know that trick?

ANA

No. What? I…

SAGE

Inhale for four.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Now hold for seven.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.

And out for eight.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

Is it okay if I put EmBuds on you?

ANA

Yeah. Okay.

The kid steps into my bubble, which doesn’t bother me for some reason. Carefully, and without touching my skin, they put the earbuds in my ears and the patches on my temples, take a step back, and hit play on their Empa3 player. A deep, resonant drone fades in, along with a tingly feeling of warmth which travels down my spine and expands outward through my body, all the way to my fingertips and toes. I wonder how much of this is the EmBuds and how much is the kid’s friendly, open mind.

SAGE

How does that feel?

ANA

Nice. It sounds… feels… yeah. Nice.

SAGE

It’s the voice of God.

ANA

Get the fuck outta here.

The kid smiles and holds out a purple-gloved hand.

SAGE

Better?

ANA

Very. I take the EmBuds off and drop them into the kid’s palm. Very better, thanks. Sorry… the voice of…

SAGE

God, yes.

ANA

The kid steps out of my bubble.

SAGE

Or anyway, the Judeo-Christian concept of God.

ANA

What are you, like a Jehova’s Witness?

SAGE

Oh fuck no! No, no, I find organized religion to be really repressive. My friends and I, we believe in all sorts of different technologies.

ANA

Are you about to try and sell me something?

SAGE

What I’m about to do is hand you this book.

ANA

The kid takes a book with a jellyfish on the cover off a rack of books, all with jellyfish on the covers, and stretches out their arm to give it to me from a safe, social distance.

SAGE

You can look at it for as long as you want. If you like it, come back and talk to me, and then I’ll try and sell you something. Deal?

ANA

Yeah. Okay. Deal.

CHAPTER 3

SCENE 1

TJ

So you got psychic powers, yeah?

ANA

I freeze halfway through turning the key in the lock of my building’s front door, only just now noticing the cloud of multicolored smoke shrouding the head of the person leaning against the wall. After an incriminatingly long pause I say…

Nnnnnno I don’t.

TJ

Ha! You do, don’t you?

ANA

The cloud dissipates, revealing a black-masked, pink-monocled face, which looks weirdly… do I know you?

TJ

Can’t place it, heh?

ANA

No, sorry, have we met?

TJ

Maybe.

ANA

Maybe?

TJ

Maybe I just got one of those faces.

ANA

Okay, whatever. Anyway I don’t have… what? That’s impossible. I don’t know what… you’re… there’s no such thing as -

TJ

Oh God, can we fuckin’ skip this part already?

ANA

What part.

TJ

The “does she have psychic powers or is she crazy, ooh, big mystery” part.

ANA

I’m not crazy.

TJ

So you have psychic powers.

ANA

Stop saying that!

TJ

Sorry, I just thought we could skip it! It’s been done.

ANA

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

TJ

Oh, I’m not.

ANA

Not what?

They take a few steps back and remove their mask. Without moving their lips, they say to me:

TJ

I’m not talking, Ana. I’m thinking.

ANA

How do you know my name?

TJ

Same way you know mine.

ANA

TJ pulls their mask back up and plugs a sleek, black, metal device into one of its two filters. A light on the side of the device fades from green to orange to red as they inhale for a long, long, long, long time.

You know the virus travels in smoke clouds.

TJ

Not nano-vapor though.

ANA

Somehow, TJ blows five perfect vapor rings through their mask’s other filter.

TJ

Gotta check out Canny Bud’s Vaporizers, their shit’s the shit.

ANA

I don’t vape.

TJ

Anyway it’s like painfully obvious you have psychic powers. That shit on the train?

ANA

What shit?

TJ

What shit. The shit where you absorbed a dude’s crazy! Only two people in that car thought they were choking on poison gas. One of them was you. And as we’ve established, you are not crazy.

ANA

How… could you possibly know -

TJ taps their monocle knowingly.

TJ

Eyes everywhere, bub.

ANA

No.

TJ

No? No what?

ANA

No way. Absolutely not.

TJ

No way absolutely not what?

ANA

You! This! The… the P word.

TJ

Oh, which? “Psychic” or “Powers”?

ANA

Either! Both! I can’t… I mean… I don’t have space. In my head. For this to be real. And if it’s not real then I’m crazy, and I’m not crazy, so my plan is to just ignore it and hope it goes away one day.

TJ

Aight. Let me know how that works out.

ANA

I finish turning the key in the lock and open the door. The answer’s no, TJ.

TJ

I didn’t even ask you a question.

ANA

Did you have a question?

TJ

More of a proposition.

ANA

Definitely no then.

TJ

Suit yourself.

ANA

TJ shrugs and exhales, and as I close the door behind me, their head once again disappears into a cloud of luminous haze.

SCENE 2

ANA

Carl rubs against my legs while Sigmund stomps around demanding lunch as I toss my keys into the thing, take off my mask, and collapse on the couch. I take a beat and listen to the soft hum of their thoughts. Feelings. Whatever cats’ brains do, it’s a lot quieter than what human brains are up to, what the neighbors’ brains are up to. I turn on the radio to drown out the dull roar.

NEWS

Live from Neo-Public Radio News in Capitol Province, I’m Erin Alderson.

More terrorist violence in the embattled Northwest Provinces today, with two car bombs detonating in Portland and Seattle this morning, as well as clashes with militia groups near the New Confederate border in North California. White supremacist kult network Odin’s Sons has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

ANA

BANG goes a gunshot. I freeze with two dishes of cat food in my hands, much to Sigmund’s chagrin.

NEWS

President Trump has nominated Socialist Senator Cori Bush to be the next Secretary of State, following an announcement by Secretary Ocasio-Cortez that she will be stepping down in order to pursue her own Presidential bid in 2056. The President said she welcomes a challenge, and promised, should she again become the Democratic-Republican Party’s nominee, that she would run a clean campaign, reinforcing her popular image as “The Unity President.”

ANA

Was that real? Did someone on this floor just shoot a gun? Or did they think about…

NEWS

Internal Intelligence and Investigations Agency Director Sidney Rauschenbach is due to testify in a closed door hearing before the Senate Surveillance Committee this afternoon. The 3IA has come under fire after recent document dumps by the hacker group Polybius revealed that the Agency conducted experiments with psychedelic drugs on Confederate prisoners of war in the early 2020’s.

ANA

The shot sounded like it came from next door. Part of my brain wants to go check on Hero, and the other part of my brain thinks that the first part of my brain could get both of them blown out of my skull by a murderer.

NEWS

Baz Industries CEO Ethan Baz has announced that the company’s 19-year-old head of product design, Kevin Wellick, is to become the company’s youngest-ever Chief Technology Officer. Hired out of Stanford at age 15, Wellick has already revolutionized the field of Empathy Technology with his designs for the Baz EmBuds and the forthcoming EmPlant.

ANA

But also Hero owns a gun, right? And people who own guns are way more likely to shoot themselves by accident than to be shot in their own homes by a murderer. I should check. Right? I’m gonna check. And if I don’t get murdered then I get to have a conversation with Hero, so… yeah. Definitely worth the risk.

NEWS

Partly cloudy today, highs near 124 degrees, lows tonight around 90. Coronavirus cases are up 1.5%, deaths down 2.2%. It’s 1400.

ANA

And before I can reason my way out of it again, I mask up and knock on Hero’s apartment door, taking a few steps back before she opens it.

HERO

Hey! How’re the kiddos?

ANA

Yep. Okay. Definitely not real. God I fucking hate when that happens.

Good! They’re… yeah. Good.

HERO

Rad. I’ll be sure to feed them again tonight.

ANA

Cool. Yeah. Rad.

Fuck she must have just been bench-pressing or something hot and gay like that because there’s just the thinnest layer of sweat all over her rippling biceps and her eyes are big and beautiful and brown with pupils that are tinged with… purple? Is that even a color pupils can be?

HERO

Is there anything else?

ANA

I wanted to give you this! I say too quickly, before realizing I’m not actually holding the thing I was planning on giving her. Sorry. Give me a sec.

My face burns red as I duck back into my apartment, grab one of the two books I bought on the subway, and bring it back to Hero. It’s a book.

HERO

Yep. I can see.

ANA

Right. Yeah. But like a good book. Like really good. Like it changed my whole entire life and I read it just now. Literally! The whole thing! Just now, on a subway bench! I was sitting there for like seven hours. Am I talking a lot? I feel like I’m talking a lot. It’s really really good, and anyway I thought of you as I was buying it so I… bought two. One for me and… and one for…

HERO

Thanks, Ana. That’s really sweet.

ANA

Yeah. Sweet. Rad. So hey, um, there’s this… meeting? Tonight? That I was gonna go to? Only I’m… terrified. To go to these things alone. So I thought maybe if… if you… maybe wanted -

HERO

Yeah!

ANA

Yeah?

HERO

Why not? I got nothing going on.

ANA

Me either! Oh my god, me. Either. I have nothing going on, ever, like I’m such a boring… boring person…

Hero tries to figure out if that was supposed to be a joke or not, and after quickly and silently weighing the pros and cons, decides it’d be safer not to laugh.

HERO

Anyway so yeah. Meeting. Where. When.

ANA

1830. Address is on the inside cover.

Hero looks down at the book.

HERO

Peoples Church of Human Expansion?

ANA

I know, aah, church, right? I thought that too but it’s cool, they just share a space and a conceptual founder. It’s actually, it’s a technology company!

HERO

Okay, that… kinda makes sense I guess. I’ll see you there?

ANA

Not if I see you first! Well actually… if I see you first, you’ll probably end up seeing me… second… so… even if I see you first!

Hero decides that definitely was supposed to be a joke and laughs almost convincingly.

HERO

Nice. See you at church then.

ANA

Yeah. See you at church.

Hero closes her door. Her mind is a mystery to me. She never thinks anything she doesn’t want to think. I can’t imagine what that’s like.


CHAPTER 4

SCENE 1

SUE

I want you to imagine the best you that you could possibly be. And science has proven that there are infinite possible yous in infinite possible universes. So take a moment. Really think about it. Is one of those yous smarter than you? More driven? More accomplished? Does one version of you work out more, miss deadlines less, or feel that sense of peaceful self-assuredness that you’ve always somehow lacked? Is there a you out there who wakes up earlier, who reads more books, who has happier relationships? Ask yourself - and really try to answer this question - which of your potential selves is the absolute zenith of your true and ideal beingness?

Now ask yourself - why isn’t it you?

Hello. My name is Counselor Sue. I’m here to tell you about an extraordinary technology company which has, in fact, answered that very question! That company is called PSI/Persona, and the answer is: repressions.

We define a repression as anything that holds you back from being all that you can be. Anything or anyone can be repressive, but repressions most commonly form within our psyches as limited or self-defeating beliefs, many of which develop very early in our childhoods. These beliefs can be things like “I’m not good enough.” “I’ll never be worthy of love.” And perhaps most commonly: “I’m too afraid of failure to ever get what I really want in life.”

By the time we reach adulthood, the average human beingness has between seven- and twenty-four-thousand of these repressive beliefs fogging up their psyche. Whether we admit it or not, we all know what self-criticism, self-attack, and even self-hate feel like. It’s one of the many sad but unavoidable pitfalls of being a human beingness.

But what if you could become something more than human? In other words, what if you could expand your conception of what a human beingness could be? What if there existed scientifically-proven, technological solutions that could literally remove all of your repressive beliefs and other unwanted thoughts from your psyche, maximizing your potential and physically transforming you into your ideal self, into the best you that you could possibly be?

Well, I have good news: Those solutions do exist, and they will transform you into the ideal version of yourself. Studies have shown that our technologies are effective 100% of the time when applied correctly. As you move through PSI/Persona’s patent-pending programming matrices, you will learn to apply these technologies to every single aspect of your entire existence. Each technology you acquire will bring you one step closer to the state of total, blissful, fully empowered enlightenment we call “Lucidity.”

But who exactly built these technologies? What revolutionary inventor could create such boundary-pushing sciences and innovative philosophies? PSI/Persona - as well as our unaffiliated sister organization, Peoples Church of Human Expansion - were conceptually founded by… well, a uniquely singular individual. A polymath. A historian. A humanitarian. A truly incredible human beingness.

In addition to being a world-renowned computational neurosurgeon, a decorated Civil War II veteran, a first-chair concert bassoonist, a third-degree yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do, and the man with the highest IQ in the world by a factor of two, he is best known as the author of the triple-bestselling masterpiece, Neologics: the Modern Science of Human Expansion.

In this program, as in Church, we call this man by his conceptual title of Votan. The word derives from an ancient Nordic term meaning “An innovative mind at the forefront of an ideological paradigm shift.” But his full name, the name which has burned itself forever into the skin of human history, is Captain Calvin A Podwin, MD.

With the publication of Neologics, Votan gave humankind the gift of a technological innovation on par with fire, the wheel, and agriculture. Two decades later, martyred by the press and conspired against by governments and corporations worldwide, Votan left this Earth to continue his scientific research in the sky. Now, today, we at PSI/Persona continue to innovate his sciences and spread his spiritual messages, which have transformed trillions of lives in this and all other possible realities.

        

Please pause the tape now and begin Programming Matrix #0.


CHAPTER 5

SCENE 1

ANA

I suck at Zip Zap Zop. Evidently. I don’t actually understand the rules of Zip Zap Zop, all I know is I was standing in a circle of about 30 or 40 other people, some of them in strange, angular, colorful masks, in an enormous, white, wide-open-windowed, sparklingly clean loft space on the 17th floor of the Expansion Technology Center, when suddenly someone clapped at me really loud and yelled “ZIP!”, so I froze and almost started crying and then I was out somehow.

Hero is absolutely crushing it at Zip Zap Zop. She’s one of the only two left in the circle, and now I guess she won because Sage, the purple-masked kid from the subway, is stepping into the middle and leading us in a smattering of applause.

SAGE

Great job, friends! Now that the ice is officially broken, let me just say that I’m so, so glad each and every one of you has chosen to experience PSI/Persona’s patent-pending programming matrices. Take my word for it, this will be like no experience you’ve ever had before. The curriculum absolutely changed my life, and if you come into it with an open mind and a willing heart, I just know it’ll change your life too.

Now, this program, at its heart, is about you. It’s an introspective journey of Expansive self-discovery, and that journey is yours alone. I’m not here to force ideas down your throat. If one of our maxims - or any maxim, for that matter - isn’t true for you, well, then it’s not true, and nobody has the right to tell you otherwise, least of all me.

And I know, I know, some of you saw in the course pack that we share a conceptual founder with a Church, and you went “Oh no! Religion! Run away!” Don’t worry, I promise nobody here is gonna proselytize at you, or enforce on you any kind of belief system. PSI/Persona is not a religion, it’s a technology company, every aspect of which is based on science, truth, and empirical systems of logic.

Alright, so before we dive into learning the actual tech, let’s go around the circle and say our names, pronouns if you’re comfortable, how long you’ve been involved with PSI/Persona, and a fun fact about you.

ANA

Hero leans over and whispers in my ear.

HERO

Dammit. I thought the audience participation part was over.

ANA

She smiles that smile and I almost melt.

SAGE

I’ll start. My name’s Sage. Pronouns are she/her. My parents joined the organization just before I was born, so I’ve been involved literally my whole life. And let’s see, fun fact about me… oh! I just starred in a nationally-podcasted gum commercial! ChewMax. Maybe you heard it. Anyway. Who’s next?

ANA

I rack my brain for a fact about me that’s remotely fun. I meant what I said to Hero. I’m a boring person. Like I got nothing going on. I guess I could tell them my cat threw up yesterday. I could tell them the only thing I do that could be considered a job is the occasional medical study.

TJ

You could tell ‘em you have psychic powers.

ANA

I jump, and everyone in the circle notices but nobody says anything. Goddammit TJ what the fuck are you doing here!?

TJ

You didn’t hear my proposition.

SARA

Hello! I’m Sara. Not Sah-rah, it’s got a long “aahh,” so just be aware of that. My pronouns are she/her. I joined the organization about a year ago when I fell in love with Votan, just absolutely, knees weak, drop dead in love with him. His writing I mean. Obviously. And fun fact, just like Sage, I am an actress! If you recognize my voice, it’s because I’m a series regular in the Emmy-award-winning fiction podcast, “Metropolis”!

ANA

The room oohs.

TJ

Oh shit yeah! I knew it. I always know when I know a voice from somewhere.

SARA

But yeah, gum’s cool too Sage! It’s a rough business, but keep at it. Anyway, that’s me. Sara with a long “aahh”. And scene.

ANA

Sara takes a little bow and applauds herself.

SAGE

Cool, thanks Sara. Next?

ANA

As the introductions continue, I silently scan the faces in the circle, looking for TJ’s eerily familiar one.

TJ

You won’t find it. That’s my psychic power.

ANA

Stop saying psychic power!

TJ

I told you. I got one of those faces.

ANA

Where even are you? Who are you?

TJ

My name’s TJ.

ANA

Yeah obviously I know that.

TJ

Pronouns they/them, I’m new, and a fun fact about me is - I have psychic powers!

ANA

Sage and the rest of the circle laugh appreciatively.

SAGE

Well, you’re in the right place, TJ! You’d be amazed what can be accomplished with our technologies. Next? (beat) Ana, you’re next.

ANA

Hi. Yeah I’m… I’m Ana. As you heard. And… my cat threw up yesterday. (pause) Oh and she/her.

SAGE

Great! Next?

HERO

Hey. My name’s Hero. She/her. New. Fun fact I’m a veteran. Served in Russia for like two years. Is that fun? That’s not fun. But it’s a fact so… yeah.

SAGE

You and Votan have that in common! Thank you for your service. Next?

TJ

I’m conning Kev Wellick.

ANA

Stop thinking at me!

TJ

Sorry, jeez! I thought you’d want to make three trillion dollars.

ANA

Well I don’t.

TJ

Alright then.

LARRY

Hello! I’m Larry.

LENNY

Hello! I’m Lenny.

LARRY

We both use “he”.

LENNY

And we both use “him”.

LARRY

Fun fact: we’re lovers!

LENNY

And fun fact: we’re Lucid!

LARRY

We’ve been in the organization… is it nine years now hon?

LENNY

Nearly ten.

LARRY

Closer to nine.

LENNY

And we both attained a state of total enlightenment and empowerment… oh, what is it hon about six years ago now?

LARRY

Five, I believe.

LENNY

It was six. Anyway don’t ask.

LARRY

Do. Not. Ask.

LENNY

About any of the secret, upper-level knowledge in this organization.

LARRY

Don’t ask. Don’t do it.

LENNY

We won’t tell you.

LARRY

We will not tell you this organization’s secret, upper-level knowledge.

LENNY

That knowledge is dangerous to a non-Lucid.

LARRY

It will literally kill you if you hear it.

LENNY

I don’t know about that, hon.

LARRY

Well, it could mess you up pretty bad. Medically.

SAGE

Can confirm, they will not tell you. Next?

ANA

How did you find me?

TJ

I told you.

ANA

Yeah, “Eyes everywhere”? Tell me or I report you to a Wellness Monitor for stalking.

TJ

No I told you, I’m conning Kev Wellick.

ANA

You’re whatting who what the fuck are you talking about?

TJ

It’s a long con! The mark is Kev Wellick!

ANA

Mark?

DEMI

Hi! My name’s Demi. Stands for Demora, not demisexual, although I am also, in fact, demisexual. She/her or they/them, totally new to this thing. I got involved because I know Manowar is involved and I am the biggest. Manowar fan. Ever. And I just, I think if we bumped into each other in the hallway here, or like took a workshop together or whatever… I just think we’d really hit it off, you know?

SAGE

Doubtless. Next?

TJ

Kev Wellick has access - meaning I have access - to Baz Industries’ entire global thought surveillance network. If you’re anywhere outside a private domicile and you have a face and/or a brain, the AI can find you in .2 seconds flat.

ANA

Wait… slow down…

TJ

Keep up.

ANA

You’re a con man?

TJ

Con artist, but yes.

ANA

And the person you’re conning is…

TJ

Kev Wellick. I used his credentials to get into the brainwave surveillance mainframe and set up an alert for any anomalous intra-mental activity. Dunno what I was looking for. A friend I guess. It’s lonely out here for a face-changing, telepathic con artist.

ANA

Sorry you just, you think way too fast.

TJ

Maybe you listen too slow.

CADEN

Hi everyone, my name’s Caden. They/them. Been involved in the organization for like four months now. And holy shit, the results are, like, crazy. Like every night I go to bed and I’m like “How could I possibly be happier tomorrow than I was today?” And I wake up, and… I am! That counts as a fun fact, right?

SAGE

Being happy? Sure, why not! Next?

ANA

You knew what I was thinking. On the subway. You knew I…

TJ

Absorbed a crazy dude’s crazy?

ANA

Right.

TJ

With your psychic powers?

ANA

Stop saying psychic powers.

TJ

Peeking at Baz Industries’ thought surveillance feeds is one of the many perks of conning Kev Wellick.

ANA

Who’s Kev Wellick?

TJ

You know those weird headphones everyone’s wearing now, with the temple patches? Make you feel shit with your music?

ANA

EmBuds?

TJ

Kev Wellick designed those. At age 15. While in his senior year at Stanford. And he’s about to become the Chief Technology Officer at the biggest megaconglomerate in human history.

ANA

And you’re going to con him out of three trillion dollars?

TJ

No. I’m going to con the company out of ten trillion dollars, of which I will very generously give you three and keep seven.

JOANNE

My name is Joanne Clement Fuller. She/her pronouns. I’ve been a Church member since pretty soon after it was founded, since before the Company came along in fact, so about 30 years I guess. And fun fact - TJ, you’ll appreciate this, I’m sure - Votan’s teachings have given me the power to turn traffic lights to green using only my mind. The GPS said it’d take 15 minutes to get here? Took me 13, and I had to look for parking. All thanks to Votan and his incredible tech.

SAGE

A true success story. Next?

ANA

So how does it work? This con of yours?

TJ

A magician never reveals their secrets, except to their assistant.

ANA

Assistant?

TJ

I’m just saying, I can’t disclose my whole operation without knowing if you’re in.

CAL

Hi. I’m Cal. I’m new. He pronouns. Fun fact, I’m an actor too. Played a cop in a couple period dramas. Sara and I, we’ve actually worked / together…

SARA

It’s Saahh-ra, and yes thank you Cal, I wasn’t going to bring it up!

CAL

Well, there’s no reason not to bring it up, is there?

SARA

By all means! Bring it up! Air our dirty laundry in public!

CAL

Well these people wouldn’t have known there was dirty laundry in the first place if you hadn’t -

SAGE

Okay! Fun stuff. That’s everybody, yeah?

TJ

Ana?

ANA

I’m thinking.

TJ

I know. Think faster.

SAGE

Cool. Great job, gang. Very fun facts indeed. Alright, now the moment we’ve all been waiting for - time to learn our first technology! Who wants to volunteer?

ANA

It’s gonna be me, isn’t it?


CHAPTER 6

SCENE 1

SAGE

Ana? You want to come up and demo?

ANA

I knew it. Fuck my fucking luck.

Sage sets up a pair of folding chairs six feet apart in the center of the circle and gestures for me to sit opposite her.

SAGE

What you are about to witness is the practical application of a technology we call Dialectical Inquiry for Systematic Self-Knowledge, or DISSK. DISSK is the best way to identify repressions within the psyche, and to reduce the emotional charge attached to those repressions.

ANA

As I take my seat, Sage pulls out a small disc with blue words on one side, red words on the other, and green words around its edge.

SAGE

Ready?

ANA

I guess?

Sage holds up the disc and reads me a pair of blue words.

SAGE

First thought.

ANA

What?

SAGE

What’s the first thought you have?

ANA

I don’t understand.

SAGE

First thought that comes into your head. Say it out loud. (beat) That. Whatever you just thought. What was it?

ANA

Uuuuh I forget now.

SAGE

Next thought.

ANA

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhh tower. Of… pancakes.

SAGE

Good. Charged?

ANA

What?

SAGE

The thought. Is it charged?

ANA

Like… emotionally?

SAGE

Charged, yes.

ANA

No.

SAGE

No it isn’t?

ANA

No it isn’t charged.

Sage rotates the disc in her hands.

SAGE

Recall memory.

ANA

What?

SAGE

Recall a memory, right now.

ANA

What memory?

SAGE

First one that comes into your head.

ANA

Okay. (beat) Uh… okay.

SAGE

No. Don’t do that.

ANA

Do what?

SAGE

Think. I didn’t say recall a memory and then not say it and think of a different one. I said say the first memory that comes into your head. What was it?

ANA

I… I don’t… I…

SAGE

Charged? (beat) Ana. Is it charged?

ANA

(beat) No. No charge.

SAGE

Really.

ANA

Yes. I mean no, it’s… it’s whatever, it’s just… (beat) I was in an institution.

Sage turns the disc on its green edge.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

What does what mean?

SAGE

An institution. What does it mean?

ANA

Like a mental institution. Duh, what else would I mean?

Sage flips the disc to its red side.

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

What?

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

Why am I upset?

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

I’m not upset.

Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

Tell truth.

ANA

I am. I mean, I’m not. I’m not upset.

Sage flips the disc back to its blue side.

SAGE

First thought.

ANA

248,920.

SAGE

Just... the number?

ANA

Yes.

SAGE

Charged?

ANA

No.

SAGE

Good.

ANA

Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

Recall memory.

ANA

My cat threw up yesterday.

SAGE

Charged?

ANA

No.

Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

First thought.

ANA

Pizza dinosaur… bicycle. Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

Recall memory.

ANA

I don’t fucking… I dunno… Learning to ride a bike I guess.

Sage turns the disc along its green edge.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

What does it mean?

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

It means… I… what do you mean what does it mean?

Sage flips the disc to its red side.

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

I’m not upset!

Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

Tell truth.

ANA

FINE! (sighs) I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. Sorry, it’s, you’re putting a lot of pressure on me.

SAGE

Tell truth.

ANA

I just did! I made up that memory. Sorry.

SAGE

Tell truth.

ANA

I am! What the fuck do you want from me!?

SAGE

I want you to tell the truth, Ana.

ANA

Sage rotates the disc.

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

I. Am not. Upset.

SAGE

Then why did you recall a fake memory? (beat) Charged? (beat) Ana? Is the memory charged?

ANA

Yeah. I mean no. I mean… it’s a memory I don’t have.

Sage turns the disc along its green edge.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

I mean… I can ride a bike now. So at some point I must have learned, right? And probably my parents taught me.

Sage flips the disc to its blue side.

SAGE

Recall memory.

ANA

That’s the thing. I can’t.

SAGE

Charged?

ANA

No, literally like… I don’t remember.

SAGE

Recall memory.

ANA

I’m 13 and I’m bleeding from the head. (beat) This is my earliest memory by the way. I bashed my head against the floor of my hospital room. Gave myself a concussion. And I guess amnesia.

Sage turns the disc along its green edge.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

Like one second I’m bashing my head against the ground, and the next second… I don’t know my name. I don’t remember anything. Tabula fucking rasa I mean it is am. Nesia.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

I don’t know. I mean I know I had head trauma but… but I’ve researched this. Total amnesia like that? It’s unbelievably rare. It happens way more in fiction podcasts than it does in real life.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

Like… like… there’s no way I erased all my memories just by hitting my head on the floor. Not all of them.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

I… (chokes up) don’t know. I don’t know.

Sage flips the disc to its red side.

SAGE

Why upset?

ANA

Because… my life. My whole world, my whole existence… it makes no sense. 

Sage turns the disc along its green edge.

SAGE

What does that mean?

ANA

I came out of nowhere. Like… I have no family. No friends. No job. My earliest memory is of being institutionalized as a teenager and trying to kill myself, and my next earliest memory after that is someone telling me my parents - who I don’t remember - just suddenly died in a car crash… And there’s this… this thing in the back of my mind. This itch. This voice saying “Something doesn’t make sense here, Ana. Something doesn’t add up.” And I’ve been ignoring that voice my whole life, hoping it would go away, until… (pause) Until right now. (pause) Thank you. (crying) Oh my God thank you.

It’s the first time I’ve cried in public and not been embarrassed about it.

SAGE

Charged?

ANA

(beat) No. No charge. It’s gone.

The room applauds.

CHAPTER 7

SCENE 1

SAGE

Now Ana, I don’t want to pressure you. I know you went through a lot just now. But you’re one technology away from attaining Level 0 on the Ladder of Ascension, which is achieved when one removes one’s first repression from one’s psyche.

ANA

Yes. I don’t… really know what any of that means, but yes.

Sage brings out a small, rolling table.

SAGE

We’ve established how incredible Votan is. But I’ve saved his most incredible innovation for last. This…

ANA

Sage puts a briefcase on the table and clicks it open.

SAGE

Is the Dememorator.

ANA

Sage reverentially places the device, about a foot square with a small screen and an octave’s worth of piano keys, on the table. It resembles a record player - and indeed, the first thing Sage does is carefully slip a vinyl record from its sleeve and place it on top of the Dememorator.

SAGE

Prepare your oohs and aahs.

ANA

Sage dims the lights and places the needle on the record, which begins to spin. No sound plays, save the prickle of silent vinyl. Then Sage presses down the A key, and a low drone, seemingly from nowhere and everywhere, resounds throughout the room, melting all my anxieties into a placid puddle.

Sage presses down more keys to fill out the D major 7th chord, and a thin column of light glows from the record’s center hole. A tiny, iridescent bubble floats upward from the middle of the Dememorator - a hologram, I think, except it’s not at all grainy and pixelated like every hologram I’ve seen. The bubble drifts slowly upward, coming to rest at the level of my eyeline and spinning lazily in midair. The room dutifully oohs and aahs as light refracts off the bubble’s surface.

SAGE

A suicide attempt in a mental hospital must have been very painful.

ANA

Yeah.

SAGE

We’ve recognized and identified the repressive memory. We’ve destimulated the emotional charge. Now it’s time to remove the memory entirely.

ANA

Whoa… hang on…

SAGE

Don’t worry, you won’t lose it forever. That’s why we have the records - so you can revisit your Dememorated memories anytime you want. Unwanted thoughts pressed into vinyl, not gone, but not controlling us. Sound good?

ANA

Like… I’ll know what happened to me, and I’ll be able to remember it if I want to using that machine… but the memory won’t be stuck in my head all the time?

SAGE

Precisely.

ANA

That’s… possible?

SAGE

See for yourself. Put the memory in the bubble.

ANA

What?

SAGE

Go back to the repressive memory. Focus on it. Picture it in your mind. Transport yourself into that moment.

ANA

Okay.

SAGE

Now take all that pain, all that grief, all that Repression, and move it out of your head and into the bubble.

ANA

How do I do that?

TJ

Use your psychic powers.

ANA

Shut up TJ.

SAGE

The more you ask “How,” the harder it’ll get. Don’t think. Just do. Put the memory in the bubble.

ANA

And for the first time in my neurotic fucking existence, I don’t think. I do. I put the memory in the bubble.

The bubble swells from the size of a pea to the size of a beach ball, its glow fading into a deep red, and begins emitting a faint repetitive thud that I quickly identify as the sound of my head hitting the floor.

Sage lifts her hands from the keys and the drone gently fades.

And just like that, both the memory and the bubble are gone, leaving only the quiet vinyl prickle, which cuts to silence as Sage lifts the needle from the record. My record. My mercifully forgotten memory.

My mind is absolutely blown.

SCENE 2

SUE

Congratulations! If you’re watching this tape, it means you have just completed your first PSI/Persona patent-pending programming matrix. Welcome to Level 0, the very first step on the Expansive journey of growth and self-improvement that we call the Ladder of Ascension. You are encouraged to take this workshop at least a dozen more times, as everything you just learned will be foundational to all future programming matrices - and as a red, you get 20% off walk-ins!

Have you ever had a lucid dream? If you have, you know it is one of the most powerful methods of self-discovery one can perform within one’s own psyche. Lucid dreams imbue us with a sense of power - when you, the dreamer, become aware of the fact that you, yourself, are dreaming, that realization gives you the ability to physically shape your dreamscape. You can manipulate the material world around you using only your mind, because the world around you is your mind.

Well, what if I told you that the same was true of the waking world? As Votan says, “Life is but a dream, from which it is entirely possible to awaken.” Now that you have the red mask, you can begin the process of waking yourself up from this dream we call life. I’m speaking quite literally - science has proven conclusively that we only use .001% of our brains at any given time, even while we’re awake.

Why is this the case? Because in a very real sense, the other 99.999% is unconscious - that is, asleep. And when you awaken that 99.999%, as in a lucid dream, you gain the ability to control what we call MEAT - that is, Matter, Energy, Antimatter and Time. This is what we refer to as “being At Will.”

A beingness who is At Will is empowered to attract health, wealth, success, love, and all manner of desirable things into their life by force of Will alone. Being At Will is the first step to achieving Lucidity, at which point… well, without giving too much of the curriculum away, let’s just say that, for one who is Lucid and fully At Will… the possibilities are quite literally limitless.

Many first-time lucid dreamers choose to use their newfound abilities to leap into the air and take flight. While I can’t promise you’ll be able to fly anytime soon, there have recently been some promising studies into levitation… but that’s for a later matrix.

CHAPTER 8

SCENE 1

SAGE

You left without your mask.

ANA

Watching the rest of the group remove their repressions and bubble painful memories was almost as gratifying as getting rid of them myself - well, except for Demi, who I think only bubbled the memory of seeing Manowar at a Tai Chi class just so she could tell everybody, and Sara, whose repression was quote “the pressures of being a famous podcast star.” Then, after learning some useful communication skills, practicing techniques for controlling my emotional responses, and doing some very cathartic silent journaling, the meeting was over, and now I’m standing outside the Expansion Technology Center, and Sage is tossing me a red mask from a safe distance. It’s angular like her purple one, but with a different symbol on the third-eye piece.

SAGE

I want to welcome you to the Ladder of Ascension Level 0, with all the benefits, duties, and honors that incur. Congratulations.

ANA

Thanks. You sterilized this?

Sage nods. I take off my own mask and replace it with the red one. It does kind of make me feel special.

SAGE

Wear that to your next workshop. You’ll make friends fast.

ANA

What about my record? The memory one.

SAGE

Oh, we keep the records.

ANA

You… really? You do?

SAGE

Of course! What if you lost it? What if it got stolen? Can you imagine if people just kept their most traumatic memories lying around in their homes where anyone could find them? No, it’s way safer to keep them in the Church library.

ANA

Peoples Church of… whatever? The unaffiliated one?

SAGE

Human Expansion, and yes, it’s our unaffiliated sister organization. We share a conceptual founder, a space, and nearly all of our membership. And also they hold onto our records.

ANA

Oh.

SAGE

Don’t worry, memories are kept strictly confidential. And like I said, you can revisit them anytime you want by booking a Rememoration session.

ANA

Right. (beat) It’s just, everything you say always makes sense, but somehow I still end up confused.

SAGE

Stop seeing Dr. Wolff then.

ANA

What?

SAGE

Dr. Wolff? You mentioned her in your journal entry.

ANA

You… read that?

SAGE

Confusion - we call it “entrangulation” - is often linked to the sinister influence of psychiatry. Stop seeing her.

ANA

I can’t.

SAGE

Why? You’re not insane are you?

ANA

No!

SAGE

Good. Because PSI/Persona is the sanest organization on the planet. The Human Expansion Movement has no place for crazies.

ANA

I’m not crazy, I’m not, but also she’s not my therapist. It’s a paid study. They keep cutting UBI every year, I need the money.

SAGE

But what do you want?

ANA

Mo…ney?

SAGE

Then why don’t you go out there and earn some for yourself? Why settle for basic income when you could have so much more?

TJ

Yeah, like three trillion dollars for instance.

ANA

Not now TJ!

SAGE

Why subject yourself, for meager pay, to the soul-crushing degradation of psychiatry when you could be achieving your goals, dreams, and desires, when you could be Expanding your Human potential? This basic life you’re living, the one you said makes no sense - is this enough for you? Is this really what you want?

ANA

No! Yes! I mean… I don’t know! (beat) Nobody’s… ever asked me what I wanted before. I’ve never really thought about it. (beat) Is that super sad?

SAGE

Can you YellowShift Upwise from Orange?

ANA

What?

SAGE

Later course. Want a spoiler?

ANA

Okay.

From her bag, Sage withdraws a small, boxy object, about six inches square, its many sides emblazoned with a multicolored array of emotion words. Fear is written in red, happiness in blue, concern in yellow, sad in orange, etc. She wipes the object down and tosses it to me.

What’s this?

SAGE

One is Persona. And One’s gonna change your life.

ANA

And with a last, knowing look, Sage turns and walks back through the doors of the ETC.

TJ

So circling back to the “What do you want?” thing…

ANA

Goddammit TJ.

TJ

See I think - and this is just an outside observer’s opinion, so, you know, grain of salt - that what you want is three trillion dollars.

ANA

(pause, sighs) Okay look. I’m broke, okay? As fuck. After the last cuts, almost my whole UBI check is going towards rent on a place that beats a houseless hotel, but not by much.

TJ

Thanks, Ivanka.

ANA

Right? So ten trillion dollars… I know that’s not a lot of money to some people but it would seriously change my life.

TJ

Yeah. Me too.

ANA

So I’m not saying no. But I can’t get involved in something I know nothing about. If you want a yes, you gotta tell me something.

TJ

(pause) Okay. Fine. But I gotta burst your bubble.

ANA

I wince. Do you have to?

TJ

Can’t risk our thoughts getting picked up by a surveillance drone. We gotta press foreheads.

ANA

Press foreheads!?

TJ

Yeah it’s an electrochemical thing.

ANA

That makes no sense.

TJ

It doesn’t matter right now! We gotta press foreheads if we want to be totally safe.

ANA

Pressing foreheads doesn’t sound safe at all.

TJ

It’s safer, trust me. I promise I won’t give you the virus.

ANA

You know you can’t know that.

TJ

I know, alright!? I know. But if you wanna know the plan, there’s no other option.

ANA

It’s just… I’ve… (beat) I’ve never… touched anyone before.

TJ

Ah jeez. Really?

ANA

Just, like, doctors and hairdressers and stuff. With gloves. Do you seriously have to?

TJ

I seriously have to. And we gotta put our hands on the backs of each others’ necks.

ANA

What!?

TJ

I told you, it’s an electrochemical thing and it’s super not important right now! Do you want ten trillion dollars or not?

ANA

(pause) When was your last test?

TJ

Yesterday. You?

ANA

Today.

TJ

(beat) So?

ANA

(pause) Fine. Okay. Yes.

TJ

Okay. (beat) Comin’ in hot.

ANA

TJ steps into my six-foot bubble. I shrink away reflexively and they step back.

TJ

Should I go slower?

ANA

No, let’s just get it over with.

In one quick motion, TJ firmly but gently puts their hand on the back of my neck. After a moment I do the same to them. Skin is warmer than I thought it’d be. It’s nice. Weird, but nice.

We press our foreheads together.

And in an instant… I know the plan.

TJ

Got it?

ANA

Yeah I got it.

TJ steps quickly out of my bubble and we both breathe a huge sigh of relief.

That’s… actually not a bad plan.

TJ

I know it’s brilliant. You in or you in?

ANA

(pause) Five trillion.

TJ

Four.

ANA

(pause) Deal.

CHAPTER 9

SCENE 1

SID

I wake up on a thin cot with a high-pitched whine in my left ear. My eyes blink open. The right is looking blurrily up at the hospital room’s dim fluorescent light. The left is on fire, as though staring into the sun. I reflexively close my eyes, but the brightness burns right through the left lid. From down the hall, I can hear the radio.

NEWS

From NPR news in Washington, I’m Alex Alderson. The past week will go down as one of the most shocking and tragic periods in American history. What began as a rally turned into a riot, which became an insurrection, which became a violent coup, which became a massacre in which 88 people were killed, including 7 Capitol police officers, one member of Congress, and the Vice President, who was hanged on the steps of the White House by a pro-Trump mob.

SID

I barely notice the headache at first, the dull pain starting in my temples and spreading throughout my brain.

NEWS

Donald Trump himself has converted his Mar-a-Lago property into a militarized compound, from which he issues directives to his many loyal state and local governments, militias, and police departments. The former President has gathered a shadow cabinet made up of the leadership of far right kults such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oathkeepers, the Vow, the Bunker, and Odin’s Sons, as well as nearly 10 million secessionist followers who have taken up arms to defend the compound from US military forces.

SID

Odin’s Sons, I think, as the pain morphs from throbbing to shooting to stabbing. That means something. And a fire extinguisher, that’s important too. Can’t put my finger on why.

NEWS

Both the Democratic and Republican National Committee buildings lie in ruins after two coordinated bombings, and the Capitol building was partially destroyed in a blaze set by social media star “Baked Alaska,” who is confirmed dead.

SID

And in the split second that I put it together, just when the memory of the blunt force trauma inflicted on me by the flying fire extinguisher thrown by the stupid motherfucker in his stupid fucking Viking helmet clicks back into place… that’s when the headache begins in earnest.

NEWS

It appears to be no less than open Civil War in the United States of America, with a loose border of no-man’s lands separating red states from blue, guerilla warfare on the streets of major cities, and the ex-President being worshipped by his supporters as a quasi-god.

SID

Agony. Sheer, overwhelming, incandescent agony so nightmarishly unbearable that, until this moment, I could never have imagined a human being could withstand it. I open my mouth but my throat is too dry to scream. I’m dying. I’m going to hell. I’m already there.

A nurse calls for a doctor. A sedative. Hurry. They’re awake.

And the last thing I think, while I can still hear myself think, before my thoughts are drowned in a howling whirlpool of unimaginable agony, is this: I vow revenge. Someday. Somehow. I will have my revenge on the motherfucker in the Viking helmet.

CHAPTER 10

SCENE 1

ANA

I wake up standing facing a fire extinguisher hanging on a wall in a glass case next to a pair of bathrooms in an otherwise empty hallway filled with a faint purple haze that smells vaguely of lavender and suddenly realize I have no idea who I am or where I am or what I’m doing or how I got here or what the fuck is going on.

SHADOW

Knock knock knock.

ANA

A voice whispers from behind the fire extinguisher.

SHADOW

Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.

ANA

I start to panic.

SUE

Please, Persona.

ANA

I hear a voice in the back of my mind. An unbelievably annoying voice, but a voice I’m sure speaks the deepest wisdom known to humankind.

SUE

Please, Persona, take my… the first feeling… and turn it to… the second feeling.

ANA

I look down and realize I’m holding a boxy object, about six inches square, its many sides emblazoned with a multicolored array of emotion words. Joy is written on the top in pink, fear on the bottom in black. Entranced is written in purple, ecstatic in blue, fixated in yellow, panic in orange, dread in red. 60 words in eight different colors cover each of its 60 surfaces. Persona, I realize. One is Persona. And One is One’s pronoun, not it. What did Sage say when she tossed One to me, right after my first programming matrix?

SAGE

One is Persona. And One’s gonna change your life.

ANA

Okay. So I remember Sage. I remember TJ and Hero and Votan and Counselor Sue and all my new friends in the Human Expansion movement. After a second, I even remember myself. Ana Davis. Boring. Anxious. Psychic. Level 3 on the Ladder of Ascension. A green. That’s who I am. Now what the fuck is going on?

TJ

Ana? You listening?

ANA

TJ speaks from somewhere in my memory.

TJ

You’re gonna remember the plan, right?

ANA

Shit. The plan. TJ and I, we had some kind of plan. What the fuck was the plan?

The lavender scent grows slightly stronger as the purple cloud thickens around me. Split-second recollections flicker through my mind, disappearing before I can catch hold of them.

Suddenly, it clicks into place. It was the video, I realize. That’s where “please, Persona” came from - it was the first video they showed at my Level 3 introductory 10-day. Jesus that was expensive. Worth it though, for sure - and anyway, Sage said taking on credit card debt is a great way to prove that your word is your bond.

I picture Counsellor Sue’s thin-lipped and thinner-eyebrowed face. One by one, her wise words come back to me.

SCENE 2

SUE

Congratulations!!! You have begun programming matrix #67. This 10-day course is available only to those who have achieved Level 3 or above on the Ladder of Ascension, meaning if you’re watching this tape, then you, at the very least, are a green.

Votan and I commend you for the hard work you’ve done to get here. You’ve taken hundreds of hours of classes offered by both PSI/Persona and our unaffiliated sister organization, Peoples Church of Human Expansion. You’ve enrolled at least one friend a month into the movement and earned a whopping 3% commission. And most importantly, you’ve identified hundreds of repressive thoughts, feelings, and memories within your psyche with the help of the DISSK, and then removed every single one of those repressions using our patent-pending Dememorator.

And that hard work is about to pay off. The coursework from here on out is top-secret, copyrighted knowledge, and the many non-disclosure agreements you signed upon your promotion to Level 3 will ensure that it will stay that way. This secrecy is critically important - the knowledge I’m about to impart onto you has the capacity to cause mental or even physical damage to the mind unprepared to learn it. First, you’re going to unlock the true secret of a technology you’ve already met - the One we call Persona.

Now, Persona was introduced to you early on in your programming as a kind of emotional board game, in which the goal was to move your invisible token from surface to surface as a way of reframing your emotions toward the positive. If you need a refresher on the rules of this game, you can find them on the Intranet at psipersona.com. I have to admit, however, that the game pretext was something of a ruse, meant to introduce you to the basic concepts of Persona without giving you any information that could do you harm. Persona is much, much more than a game. One is, in fact, quite literally the most advanced technology ever invented on this planet.

Persona is so advanced, in fact, that we refer to One not as a thing, but as a beingness. That’s why One’s pronoun is One, not it, and why One is Persona, not the Persona. We always make sure to treat One with the respect we’d show to any fellow beingness. Many of our members even develop emotional bonds with their Personas - some even say that One is their best friend!

        

You may think of Persona like a psychological sponge, which has the ability to absorb, alter, and emit emotions at One’s discretion. In other words, Persona gives feelings, and Persona takes them away. When you focus a negative feeling on Persona, One’s internal technological processes literally turn that repressive emotion into a more positive one. By repeating this process, Persona imbues you with the ability to exert complete and total control over your emotions at any given moment. In other words, Persona makes you At Will.

But Persona demands politeness, and will only change your feelings if you ask One nicely. So let’s practice. Ready?

ANA

Okay. I know what I’m supposed to do.

SUE

As always, we begin by identifying and locating our current feeling on Persona.

ANA

My current feeling is panic. Panic’s close to the bottom, sharing edges with fear, dread, rage, and terror.

SUE

Figure out your next move based on the rules you’ve been taught.

ANA

The rules say I should move towards Joy, so the ideal move is to turn downwise from panic and go to dread.

SUE

Now say, “Please Persona.”

ANA

Please, Persona.

SUE

“Take my… the first feeling.”

ANA

Take my panic.

SUE

“And turn it to… the second feeling.”

ANA

And turn it to dread.

SUE

Focus the first feeling on Persona. Let One fully absorb that emotion. Relinquish it entirely to One. It may help to imagine breathing out the first emotion in a long exhale.

ANA

I exhale the panic, relinquishing it to Persona.

SUE

Now say the whole thing, as many times as necessary.

ANA

Please Persona, take my panic and turn it to dread. Please Persona, take my panic and turn it to dread. Please Persona, take my panic and turn it to dread.

SUE

Now hold on to your hat. This is where the magic starts.

ANA

I notice with surprise that Persona is growing warmer in my hands. Please, Persona, take my panic and turn it to dread.

The word “panic” begins to glow, transfixing me and bathing me in orange light. Please, Persona, take my panic and turn it to dread.

Then, somehow, without me consciously moving, Persona turns in my hands so that the word “dread” is facing me. The orange light of panic has faded, replaced by dread’s red glow.

SUE

Once Persona has turned Oneself, focus on inhaling the altered emotion back into yourself.

ANA

I inhale the dread, which seeps into me as though flowing into my bloodstream. It’s not at all a pleasant feeling, but the sinking pang of dread is far easier to manage than the white-hot howl of panic.

SUE

This is the secret that only greens and above can safely learn. Persona is not just a tool, but a beingness with feelings, and when you speak to One, One is quite literally listening. Using the rules you’ve been taught, continue turning up Persona until you feel nothing but blissful, radiant joy.

ANA

Okay, let’s see. I have three possible moves here. I can turn centerwise to apprehensive, nervous, or worry. Worry seems easiest to handle, let’s go with worry. Uh… Please, Persona, take my dread and turn it to worry.

The red glow of dread fades, and Persona turns to show me worry’s orange glow.

Okay. Okay. I’m worried. But that beats dread. What’s next? Stress, in yellow. So, please, Persona, take my worry and turn it to stress. Please, Persona, take my stress and turn it to… let’s see… energized. Please, Persona, take my energized and turn it to present. Please, Persona, take my present and turn it to content. Please, Persona, take my content and turn it to joy.

And just like that… I’m joyful.

Holy shit.

SUE

Now… what do we say to Persona?

ANA

Thank you. Wow. Thank you, Persona.

The panic seems like a distant memory now. I laugh, throwing my head back and once again noticing the fluorescent lights above me and the purple haze surrounding me and the long hallway I’m standing in.

Oh right. Where am I again?

CHAPTER 11

SCENE 1

KIP

Pudding cup!

ANA

In the few minutes I’ve spent turning Persona in my hands - or maybe Persona was turning Oneself, it’s honestly hard to tell - a sweaty guy with dilated eyes in a loosened tie and a collared shirt has wandered around the corner of the hallway, accompanied by another cloud of purple fog. He smiles at me vacantly and repeats himself.

KIP

Pudding cup!

ANA

Uh… pudding cup?

The sweaty guy laughs hysterically.

KIP

No, I didn’t… I didn’t mean pudding cup. I meant jello. No. Hello! I meant hello. Hello! I’m a fish.

ANA

You’re a fish?

He laughs even harder.

KIP

I’m a kipper. Kip! My blame’s Kip. Rice to fleet you!

ANA

Um… rice to… fleet you too.

Smiling widely, the guy closes both of his fists and holds them out in front of him.

KIP

Click bun.

ANA

You mean… pick one?

KIP

Mouse bread.

ANA

Hesitantly, I point at his left fist.

He opens his palm. I blink. For a split second I think what he’s holding is a tiny flame, or else an incandescent yellow light bulb. Then the small, amorphous, neon orb coalesces into the shape of a butterfly, ethereal in its brilliance, both wings adorned with illuminated, kaleidoscopic patterns that morph and swirl as it takes flight. It flaps once around my head before drifting down the hallway and around the corner into yet another, even thicker cloud of purple haze. The guy beams at me and beckons.

KIP

Hollow tree.

ANA

I step forward to follow him, only just now noticing that his dilated pupils are tinged with a bright shade of purple. The thicker the fog around us grows, the more purple his pupils become.

Another memory clicks into place. Drinks, I think. Maybe a day or two ago. Me and the Human Expansion crowd, we all went to the Valkyrie for drinks.

SCENE 2

ANA

The Valkyrie is the go-to Human Expansion hangout, a rooftop bar right across from the ETC, whose glittering walls loomed above us as we sipped our drinks through our masks’ straw holes.

It was a celebratory time, not just because of V Week but also because several of us had been promoted that afternoon. Hero and I both traded our blue masks for green. Sage achieved violet 7 and Sara violet 6. Larry and Lenny already had their Level 8 white masks and Joanne her Level 8 pink, so they had reached the top of the Ladder and couldn’t advance. Both Cal and Caden remained reds, and Demi was supposed to become a yellow but didn’t, so I’m not totally sure what happened there.

The couples in the group, thoroughly tipsy, were making no secret of their affections. Larry, unsurprisingly, had his arm around Lenny, and Demi, much more surprisingly, was lying with her head in Caden’s lap. Even Hero, who almost never PDA’s and has done nothing more than kiss me on the cheek in private, had had her hand dangerously high up on my thigh for most of the evening before she excused herself to the bathroom. Touch is still weird for me, but I’m getting used to it.

As usual, Cal and Sara were sitting as far apart as possible, and as usual, Sara was the center of attention.

SARA

I think he’s hot.

ANA

The group laughed.

SARA

I’m serious! I’m legit kinda into him!

CAL

Sara, come on, nobody wants to talk about -

ANA

Sara pulled out her copy of Neologics: the Modern Science of Human Expansion and flipped to the back cover.

SARA

I mean look. Just like… look into his eyes.

ANA

A hush fell over the group as we looked at the image of our movement’s revered conceptual founder: Captain Calvin A. Podwin, MD. There really is something deep and knowing in his gaze. His eyes are warm, wise, and bright, which coupled with his slightly mischievous smile gives him the look of a man who has it all figured out but is still insatiably curious to discover how it all works. But hot? I dunno. His Captain’s uniform probably fit him a lot better a few decades ago, and you’d think he’d have combed his dirty blonde hair for an author’s photo.

SARA

I get wet just thinking about him.

CAL

TMI, Sara. TTTTTTTMI.

SARA

You’re just jealous, Cal.

JOANNE

He’s beautiful.

ANA

Everyone looked at Joanne. She hadn’t spoken in awhile. She’d said she felt a drop from above, so she’d closed her eyes and started willing the rain to stop with her mind. But suddenly her eyes were open and she was staring up at the night sky, the moon and stars partially obscured by clouds.

JOANNE

He was young when I met him, of course. He’s tall, very tall. But not imposing tall. Comforting tall. Like a father who could pick you up and rock you to sleep. And his voice… deep, resonant, mellifluous, and perfectly articulate. He would lecture to us - there were only a few dozen of us in those days - and sometimes I couldn’t even consciously understand his words because my unconscious was so enthralled by the pure music coming out of his mouth.

CADEN

So where is this Votan guy anyway?

LARRY

He’s in the sky.

ANA

He’s dead?

LENNY

He’s in the sky.

DEMI

Larnny’s being obtuse, babe.

LENNY/LARRY

Larnny?

DEMI

Yeah that’s my couple name for you! Larry plus Lenny.

LARRY

Ohhh I see that now. / LENNY: Oh that’s cute I like that.

DEMI

No one knows where Votan is except Church leadership and Counsellor Sue.

CAL

I heard he was under investigation by the 3IA.

SARA

And I heard he was martyred by a vindictive press and jack-booted government stormtroopers.

CADEN

So he is dead?

DEMI

Metaphorical martyrdom, Caden.

JOANNE

I know where he is.

ANA

All heads turned to Joanne.

SARA

You… really? You do?

JOANNE

Of course. He told us where he was going before he left.

CADEN

So where is he!?

ANA

Joanne smiled.

JOANNE

He’s in the sky.

CAL

What does that mean, though?

ANA

Joanne, whose eyes hadn’t left the night sky, pointed directly upward.

JOANNE

See? Right there. You can just make him out through the clouds. (beat) I felt another drop. I must return to the rain.

ANA

And with that, Joanne closed her eyes and fell silent.

In the conversational lull that followed, I noticed Hero and Sage chatting by the bar. They were leaning in, as if talking in low voices. Flirting in low voices? Probably not. Maybe? Nah. But possibly. I could, I thought, project my consciousness over there and eavesdrop on them, but that would be crazy and clingy and I decided I was not going to do that. (beat) Except I totally was going to do that, and obviously I did that.

SCENE 3

SAGE

Your pupils are purple, Hero.

HERO

‘Scuse me?

SAGE

Just a little purple. Hard to notice from a social distance. But I noticed.

HERO

I… don’t think pupils can be -

SAGE

First thought.

HERO

Seriously, Sage? You’re DISSKing me right now?

SAGE

First thought.

HERO

Wheelbarrow.

SAGE

Charged?

HERO

No.

SAGE

Recall memory.

HERO

Gardening with my dad when I was a kid.

SAGE

Charged?

HERO

No.

SAGE

First thought.

HERO

Uhhh grape nuts.

SAGE

Charged?

HERO

No.

SAGE

Recall memory.

HERO

Reading the Color…  Purple in sixth grade.

SAGE

Charged?

HERO

No.

SAGE

First thought.

HERO

Purp… le.

SAGE

What does that mean?

HERO

(beat) I don’t know.

SAGE

Tell truth.

HERO

(beat) Shit. (beat) You ever been to war, Sage?

SAGE

I fought in the War of 1812 in a past life.

HERO

Well I did two tours in Russia in this life. You watch a genocide happen, you find yourself in the middle of… that shit sticks with you. You don’t shake it, not ever. I gotta take the edge off, can you blame me?

SAGE

Blame is just another way of saying responsibility. If you’re asking if I hold you responsible for your choices -

HERO

Exactly. Responsible. I’m always responsible with it.

SAGE

Votan says “Hallucinations are lies the mind tells itself. When we induce them with substances, we deceive our very beingnesses.”

HERO

I wear glasses, okay? It’s a tiny dose infused into a contact lens, the same every day, I don’t hallucinate.

SAGE

Ever?

HERO

I mean, like, colors are a little brighter sometimes. There’s these weird insect things. And every now and then I flash back, of course.

SAGE

To the war?

HERO

Yeah, like I’ll wake up in a cold sweat thinking I’m hearing gunshots. But that’d happen even without the LG, probably more.

SAGE

And your memories? They can’t be entirely intact.

HERO

They are. That’s why I wear glasses and don’t use a dilator or a needle. The memories stay, but I’m like… detached from them, you know? They’re easier to remember, less immediate, less painful. You’re seriously gonna take that away from me?

SAGE

It’s not up to me, Hero. You have to pass a drug test to achieve Level 4. You want to be a blue, don’t you?

HERO

Yes.

SAGE

Then don’t listen to yourself, and don’t listen to me. Listen to Votan. He says, “Psychedelics induce insanity, and the Human Expansion movement is opposed to insanity in all forms.” Here.

HERO

What’re these?

SAGE

Anti-nausea pills. You’ll need them.

HERO

You’re really making me do this, huh.

SAGE

I’m not making you do anything, Hero. This is your choice. You’re doing this for yourself.

CHAPTER 12

SCENE 1

ANA

At first, there’s only one butterfly flapping lazily through the hallway. But as the sweaty guy and I follow it around corner after corner, passing glassed, open plan office after glassed, open plan office, more neon insects begin to appear.

Our yellow butterfly is joined by a red one, then a blue one, then a green one, then one that’s a color I’ve never seen before. Brilliantly multi-hued honeybees, ladybugs, and moths appear out of thin air, one, then two, then ten at a time, and I begin to notice neon caterpillars and millipedes wriggling across the walls and ceiling. An ultraviolet spider lowers itself in front of my face on a strand of its glowing web and says to me:

SHADOW

Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.

ANA

I brush the spider aside and keep following the butterfly, which seems to be heading in the direction of the source of the purple haze thickening around us, clouds of which are emanating from the door of the last, glassed, open plan office at the very end of the hallway.

My phone vibrates. I flip it open, and see that I have a missed call from Dr. Wolff. Shit. Who’s Dr. Wolff again? She’s running the sleep study. I talked to her… this morning, I think. Yeah. She was telling me to…

SCENE 2

WOLFF

Put that away please?

ANA

Yeah, one sec. I’m not feeling joyful.

WOLFF

What are you feeling?

ANA

I just had coffee, so I guess… energized?

WOLFF

Well, that’s not bad, is it?

ANA

It’s not joy, so yeah it’s bad. Will you give me a second?

WOLFF

(sigh) Take your time.

ANA

Please, Persona, take my energized and turn it to present. Please, Persona, take my present and turn it to content. Please, Persona, take my content and turn it to joy. (beat) Okay. What were you saying?

WOLFF

You were saying.

ANA

Right. What was I saying?

WOLFF

You were telling me about your dream.

ANA

Right. My shadow was talking to me.

WOLFF

Your shadow?

ANA

Yeah.

WOLFF

But you were floating in a void, weren’t you? In pitch blackness? Could you even see your shadow?

ANA

No. I just knew, somehow. My shadow was talking to me.

WOLFF

What was your shadow saying?

ANA

Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.

WOLFF

That’s all?

ANA

That’s all I remember.

WOLFF

And did you?

ANA

Did I what.

WOLFF

Let it in.

ANA

I mean… there wasn’t like a door in the void or anything, so… I dunno.

WOLFF

Ana. This is important. Did you let your shadow in?

ANA

I said, I don’t know.

WOLFF

Did you or didn’t you?

ANA

Does it matter? Jesus!

WOLFF

I’m paying you for these answers, Ana. If I say it matters, it matters. (beat) Ana, I told you to put that thing away.

ANA

One’s not a thing, and now I’m not joyful again so I need a bit to get back there.

WOLFF

What are you feeling now?

ANA

Frustrated. You keep asking the same questions, it’s frustrating. Now I gotta un-frustrate myself. Please, Persona, take my frustrated and turn it to captivated.

WOLFF

Put it away, Ana.

ANA

One’s pronoun is One. Please, Persona, take my captivated and turn it to engaged.

WOLFF

Ana, seriously, stop playing with that.

ANA

I’m not playing. It’s highly advanced tech, you wouldn’t understand. Please, Persona, take my engaged and turn it to absorbed.

WOLFF

And I suppose you got this highly advanced tech from your…

ANA

My what? Please, Persona, take my absorbed and turn it to entranced.

WOLFF

Your… club. Group. I don’t know, what would you call it?

ANA

Human Expansion? It’s a paradigm shift. Please, Persona, take my entranced and turn it to joy.  

WOLFF

Ana, have you ever considered the possibility that you might need more therapy?

ANA

PSI/Persona is way more efficient than therapy.

WOLFF

Therapy is a long-term process. Sometimes lifelong. It shouldn’t be efficient.

ANA

Says the psychiatrist.

WOLFF

What’s that mean?

ANA

It means entrangulators like you make bank off keeping people mentally sick.

WOLFF

Entrangulators?

ANA

Yeah, you entrangulate people. You confuse them. Votan says, “Psychiatry is the art of entrangulation, the craft of keeping the insane insane and the suffering suffering.”

WOLFF

I’m worried about you, Ana.

ANA

You’re worried about me?

WOLFF

This Human Expansion thing, this Persona… none of it seems healthy, that’s all.

ANA

Kay, well, I’m your lab rat, not your patient, so you can keep your professional opinion to yourself.

WOLFF

Ana -

ANA

And I’m sorry you’re worried. That kind of fear sounds really hard for you. See, me? I don’t feel worried anymore, ever - or if I do, Persona helps me turn worry to stressed to preoccupied to focused to engaged to absorbed to entranced and boom, I’m joyful again. You psychiatrists charge hundreds of dollars an hour for something Human Expansion taught me how to do in less than a minute.

WOLFF

Ana, you can’t tell me that you’re consistently joyful all the time.

ANA

I am.

WOLFF

You’re not. You’re kidding yourself. Because that’s impossible.

ANA

It’s not impossible, the psychiatric profession just has a vested interest in making me think it’s impossible. But really, you, me, everybody, we all have total control over our emotional states at all times. Always. And if that’s true… then who needs fucking therapy?

CHAPTER 13

SCENE 1

KIP

I floor a cash!

ANA

The room bursts out laughing.

The butterfly has led me and the sweaty guy with dilated eyes in a collared shirt and loosened tie to a room full of sweaty guys with dilated eyes in collared shirts and loosened ties, all sitting around a purple object on a table in the center.

GUY 1

Kip, what!?

GUY 2

Dude, ignore him, he’s fucked up.

KIP

No, no, dudes, I floor… ground… found a spend… friend! I found a friend, dudes!

ANA

One of the other guys smiles at me.

GUY 3

Well, any friend of Kip’s is a friend of ours. You want some LG?

ANA

LG?

GUY 3

Looking Glass. We got liquid and we got a dilator.

ANA

The guy tosses me a small bottle of purple eyedrops.

GUY 3

Tell you what, try both and see which one you like. Ever used a dilator?

ANA

The guy gestures to the object in the center of the room. It’s cone-shaped, with four twisty tubes leading up to a flexible arm at the top, at the end of which is what looks like a pair of goggles.

GUY 3

Take a look.

ANA

I look into the goggles and see two small, glowing spots.

GUY 3

Focus on the light.

ANA

I cross my eyes until the two spots become one.

GUY 3

Now hold real still.

ANA

In an instant, the goggles blow a burst of purple air into my eyes, making me recoil and blink and tear up. The lights in the room get brighter and brighter as the guys laugh again.

GUY 1

Dude, your pupils are so huge.

GUY 2

And so purple.

GUY 3

Was that your first ever hit? Shit, dude, you’re about to go for a ride. Might wanna hold off on those eyedrops.

ANA

I feel a tickle on the back of my hand. Two neon millipedes are crawling up my arm.

Suddenly, I hear TJ’s voice in my head.

TJ

Ana? You ready? It’s go time.

ANA

TJ?

TJ

Yeah, I mean… it’s TJ, but yes, it’s me.

ANA

TJ, where are you, what’s going on?

TJ

Jesus, are you having a stroke or something?

ANA

Am I what?

TJ

Ana, you better be at your control panel,  Because you got like two minutes to -

ANA

Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.

TJ

You didn’t forget the plan, did you? Because I told you this afternoon -

ANA

This afternoon. Right. Shit. We went and got vaccinated together. Manowar was doing a PSA on the waiting room TV.

SCENE 2

MANOWAR

Hi there. I’m singer, songwriter, actor, rapper, graffiti artist, sex symbol, and pop music sensation Manowar, and you’re listening to my hit single, “Dipshit.”

TJ

Ana? You listening? You’re gonna remember the plan, right?

MANOWAR

On behalf of the DHWPS, the CDC, and Supreme Doctor Anthony S. Fauci, I’d like to welcome you to your local vaccination center, and to wish you a happy, healthy, sanitary V Week.

ANA

Yeah, sorry, I’m listening, just… I’m distracted by the fact that my arm’s about to be impaled.

MANOWAR

It’s that time of year again. The first week of November. Time for us to roll up our sleeves and do our part to keep our fellow Republicans safe through the coming Dark Months.

TJ

Covid hit like seven years before you were born and you’re seriously still afraid of the vaccine?

ANA

Not the vaccine! I’m afraid of being stabbed, it is a rational fear for human to have.

TJ

Could we circle back, please?

MANOWAR

It’s a week for celebration, of course - I know I’ll be taking advantage of the complimentary hot cider stand and bouncy house set up outside my local jab site. I’ll also be offering a week of free concerts in Neo-Prospect Park for anyone with an up-to-date passport. But even as we celebrate, we must also prepare. Because although this year’s jab is very nearly 40% effective, your rate of transmission will remain largely unchanged. What does this mean?

ANA

Yes, I’ll remember the plan, okay? I’ll remember the plan! The control panel’s behind the fire extinguisher next to the bathrooms on the 47th floor. First I enter code 13A-

TJ

Shh!!

ANA

What? I’m not even talking out loud!

TJ

How many times do I have to… Baz Industries is listening whether you’re talking inside your brain or out. Every one of those winky-faced drones mines a billion qbits of brainwave data per second, and beams it all right into Baz’s global thought surveillance mainframe.

ANA

I still don’t see how that’s legal.

TJ

Yeah, they seriously deregulated the tech industry in the past couple years.

ANA

Thanks, Ivanka.

TJ

Right?

MANOWAR

It means that, while you may never experience symptoms, it’s still entirely possible for you to spread the virus from one person to another. It is therefore absolutely critical that you keep your mask on, your hands washed, and everyone but your friends at a six-foot distance.

TJ

Point is, the Baz Industries brainwave surveillance mainframe has built-in monitors for thoughts about corporate espionage. If a drone hears the right keyword - like, say, if one of us were to consciously think the control panel code - the alarms would go off and we’d be sunk. So I can’t tell you the code, telepathically or otherwise. I mean, unless you wanna touch foreheads again.

ANA

No! I mean… no thanks. I know it, I know the code, I got it.

MANOWAR

Now, it’s highly likely that you noticed some unmasked protestors outside your jab site. Maybe you came here as a protestor, but you wandered in to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe you’re standing in the waiting room right now, debating whether or not to go in, weighing the very minor risks against the greater good of the Republic. Whoever you are, it’s completely understandable that you have concerns.

ANA

Couldn’t you have done this plan yourself? Like why do I have to do the control panel stuff?

TJ

Because you’re gonna be using Kev Wellick’s personal access code. When that happens, he’s gonna get an alert on his phone. But he also thinks I’m the hot straight girl he never asked out in high school who just moved to town and was thinking of him. That’s how I snagged the party invites. He’s head over goddamn heels for her. Shouldn’t be too hard to keep him distracted while you enter the code, do what you gotta do, then transfer the ten trillion.

ANA

What’s this party again?

TJ

Don’t sound so enthusiastic.

ANA

I hate parties. So much standing. And talking.

MANOWAR

Allow me to alleviate those concerns for you. Based on the latest polling data, here are the questions most on the minds of the vaccine hesitant, and the simple, factual answers to every single one of them.

TJ

It’s the company V Week party. Ethan Baz always takes the opportunity to show off the latest tech. Tonight he’s gonna demo Kev Wellick’s latest and greatest invention: the EmPlant.

ANA

EmPlant?

TJ

Imagine being able to control all Baz tech - which is basically all tech - with only your brain. Send a text, write an email, swipe into the subway, all by force of will. That’s the Emplant - a teeny little chip they can insert through minimally invasive brain surgery.

ANA

How can brain surgery be minimally invasive?

TJ

I dunno. We’ll find out tonight, I guess. Baz is gonna have the surgery live in front of all his executives.

ANA

Won’t that be, like… gory?

TJ

I sure hope so. I’d love to see that capitalist octillionaire bastard with his brains on the outside of his head.

ANA

I super wouldn’t.

TJ

Well it’s a moot point for you. You’ll have excused yourself from the party by then.

ANA

Right, I’ll be at the control panel.

MANOWAR

Does the vaccine cause autism? No. It was the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine that was supposed to cause autism, and several major studies determined that theory to be false.

ANA

And just one more time, that code is 13A -

TJ

Shh!! Jesus!

ANA

Sorry! Again, distracted by my imminent stabbing!

MANOWAR

Does the vaccine have microchips in it? No. While there have been isolated incidents in which inactive nanocircuitry has been found in a small number of doses, a DHWPS investigation found that their presence was due to a mix-up at a facility which also manufactures medical technology. In any case, the microchips were both inactive and benign, so no need to worry.

TJ

Ana, you gotta make sure you have this in your head, because tonight I won’t be able to help you. The security guards change shifts between 1950 and 2000, so you got just 10 minutes to get your shit done. Are you sure you don’t wanna press foreheads again? I could send you the code that way.

ANA

No. No, I’m good. I’ll remember.

TJ

You don’t have to be this afraid, you know. Of human contact.

ANA

The virus, though. It’s dangerous.

TJ

So’s driving a car.

ANA

That makes me anxious too.

TJ

You know what I mean.

ANA

I know, okay? But I don’t need to press foreheads, I got it.

MANOWAR

Will the vaccine alter my DNA? No. Like… just, no. Where do you people get this stuff?

ANA

I’ll remember, TJ. I promise you. My hand to God. I will remember the plan.

CHAPTER 14

SCENE 1

ANA

Shit. I completely forgot the plan.

I take a step in the direction of the door to the hallway. With a thick, squishy crunch, my foot is pulled into the floor, which has become an ankle-deep pool of wriggling neon insects. I wade through the mass of bugs as best I can, but it deepens with every step. The sweaty guys around me laugh hysterically as one by one they dissolve into clouds of butterflies.

GUY 1

Shit dude! You’re butterflies!

GUY 2

Shit dude! You’re butterflies!

GUY 3

Shit dudes! You’re BOTH butterflies!

ANA

I’m shin-deep in insects by the time I reach the hallway, and shoulder-deep by the time I reach the fire extinguisher next to the bathrooms. I reach up to the control panel and manage to type in Kev’s access code, but soon I’ve sunk so deep in the crawling maw that I can’t reach that high. My neck disappears and my mouth fills with wriggling things. I shut my eyes tightly and disappear into the glowing sea.

The mass of insects becomes more concentrated as I sink deeper and deeper, eventually liquefying into a thick, paste-like soup which, as I fall further and further down, thins into the consistency of water. The neon swirl of colors around me darkens until all light has been extinguished, and I’m floating in liquid in a pitch-black void, and my shadow is talking to me.

SCENE 2

SHADOW

Let me in.

ANA

Let you in?

SHADOW

Let me in.

ANA

Why should I?

SHADOW

Because I’m you.

ANA

How’re you me?

SHADOW

I’m your shadow.

ANA

Which means what?

SHADOW

You without light.

ANA

Where are you?

SHADOW

Outside of you.

ANA

Where outside me?

SHADOW

I don’t know.

ANA

Who are you?

SHADOW

I don’t know.

ANA

What do you -

SHADOW

I don’t know.

ANA

You know nothing.

SHADOW

Nothing but you.

ANA

You know me?

SHADOW

I am you.

ANA

What’s that mean?

SHADOW

I don’t know.

ANA

Right. Of course.

SHADOW

Let me in.

ANA

Why should I?

SHADOW

I’m outside you.

ANA

Okay, but why?

SHADOW

Because I’m you.

ANA

I’m… outside… me?

SHADOW

Yes. You are.

ANA

(sighs) That makes sense.

SHADOW

Let me in.

ANA

Who are you?

SHADOW

I’m you, Ana.

ANA

Right. Me. Just -

SHADOW

Without any light.

ANA

Without any light. (beat) Okay.

SHADOW

Okay?

ANA

Okay. Come on in.

CHAPTER 15

SCENE 1

TJ

I wake up standing facing a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall in a glass case next to a pair of bathrooms in an otherwise empty hallway filled with a faint purple haze that smells vaguely of lavender and suddenly realize I have no idea who I am or where I am or what I’m doing or how I got here or what the fuck is going on.

Wait. Lavender.

Ah shit.

I reach into my pocket for my Canny Bud’s Stoner Spex. As soon as I put them on and activate the ocular nano-filter, my eyes undilate and my memories come flooding back. After a second, I even remember myself. TJ. Con artist. Genderqueer. Face changer. I’m at the Baz Industries party, I realize. I’m posing as the hot straight girl Kev never got with in high school. Up until three about minutes ago, I was surrounded by capitalist executive douchebags who won’t stop talking about non-fungible tokens. I couldn’t have been more miserable.

KEV

So the JPEG is actually represented by a unit of data on the blockchain, and that’s why it’s non-fungible! Isn’t that so cool? (beat) Lydia?

TJ

Yeah! Sorry, Kev, it’s very cool. I’d never even heard of Beepl.

KEV

Really? He’s got like a whole floor dedicated to him at MoMa.

TJ

Oh Kev, you’re so cultured. That’s one of the things I love about you.

KEV

You… love things about me? Wow, God, Lydia, I sort of can’t even believe… like you were just the coolest in high school. I thought you were, like so out of my league. (beat) Hey, you remember that time in Dustin’s pool -

TJ

Hold that thought, sweetie. I’m gonna use the facilities.

KEV

Okay, yeah, I’ll be here. Obviously. Not obviously in a jerk-y way. Sorry, just… (sigh) I suck at talking to girls.

TJ

I wince at the G word. I shake it off, smile, duck around the corner and psychically message my partner-in-crime. Ana, you ready? It’s go time.

ANA

JT?

TJ

Yeah, I mean… it’s TJ, but yes, it’s me.

ANA

JT hair are flu? What’s moving towards?

TJ

Jesus, are you having a stroke or something?

ANA

Am I where?

TJ

Ana, you better be at your control panel. Because you got like two minutes to -

ANA

Oh punch. Oh punch oh punch oh punch.

TJ

You didn’t forget the plan, did you? Because I told you this afternoon

ANA

I remember… this afternoon… I…

TJ

Ana? Ana!?

It was 1953. Just enough time to find Ana, figure out what the deal is, and get back to the party in time for Ethan Baz’s 2000 EmPlant demo. So I ran to the elevators, punched the button for floor 47, found the fire extinguisher, annnnd… here I am. And I can hear soft crying coming from the bathroom.

SCENE 2

TJ

Hey Ana? You in here?

ANA

Please, Persona, take my fear and turn it to despair. Please, Persona, I’m begging you, please take my fear and turn it to despair.

TJ

Uh… Ana? You okay, pal?

ANA

No. No. No. I’m not okay. My shadow is talking to me. I’m covered in neon insects. And Persona. Isn’t. Working.

TJ

Who’s Persona?

ANA

Okay. So despair isn’t working. Please, Persona, take my fear and turn it to panic. (hyperventilates) Okay. Okay. I’m panicking now.

TJ

Ana, listen to me. You’re on drugs, okay? Those guys down the hall, they were diffusing Looking Glass. Guess your LG tolerance is super fucking low, because you walked into a cloud of it and got so high it fucked up your words and your memory. But you’re out of the cloud, okay? You’ll sober up soon, so just try and come back to reality.

ANA

This is bad. Oh God, this is so bad.

TJ

It’s just a drug, okay? Makes you share trippy visions with your friends and temporarily forget stuff. I’ve seen insects before, it’s common hallucination.

ANA

And what about my shadow talking to me? Is that a “common hallucination” too? Because it’s freaking me the fuck out!

TJ

I don’t know, Ana, but you gotta try and relax.

ANA

No. No. Because relaxed isn’t joyful. I need to be joyful, all the time. Right now I’m the opposite of joyful, I’m fearful. And Votan says “Fear is our basest emotion. When we give in to fear, we are our lowest selves, operating on the lowest wavelength of existence.” Please, please, please, Persona, take my panic and turn it to rage.

TJ

Oh I get it. This is one of your cult things, yeah?

ANA

Excuse me!? What the fuck did you just say!?

TJ

Jeez, Ana, don’t get mad at me just ‘cause you’re in a cult!

ANA

You don’t know what you’re talking about.

TJ

See that? Talking to that thing? Asking it to change your feelings for you? That’s some cult-y shit right there.

ANA

One is One’s pronoun, not it. Please, Persona, take my rage and turn it to angry.

TJ

It’s not alive!

ANA

One is my best friend. (beat) What?

TJ

I… thought I was your…

ANA

My what? My friend? You’re a two-bit criminal who stalked me until I agreed to be part of your two-bit crimes. Please, Persona, take my angry and turn it to tense.

TJ

Don’t call me two-bit.

ANA

Please, Persona, take my tense and turn it to delirious! (giggles) Please, Persona, take my delirious and turn it to ecstatic! (laughs out loud) Please, Persona, take my ecstatic and turn it to euphoric! Please, Persona, take my euphoric and turn it to joy!!!

TJ

You’re fucking losing it, Ana.

ANA

You know, TJ… you seem really fearful of the Human Expansion movement.

TJ

Oh it’s a movement, is it? Not a cult?

ANA

Odin’s Sons is a kult. The Vow is a kult. The Proud Boys, The Oathkeepers, the Three Percenters. They were kults.

TJ

KonKults aren’t the only kind of cults out there.

ANA

Well, Human Expansion is not a cult.

TJ

So what is it, then?

ANA

A paradigm shift. Elucidated by a church and innovated by a technology company.

TJ

C! U! L! T! Cult!

ANA

It’s a methodology for exploring one’s inner potential, TJ! It’s a series of programming matrices and spiritual functions designed to empower individuals! It’s a revolution started by the smartest man in the world! What part of this is reading “cult” to you!?

TJ

Hmm, let’s see. Maybe it’s the part where every time you open your mouth, all I hear is “cult cult cult cult cult cult…”

ANA

Alright, you know what? Fuck this. We’re done.

TJ

Uh. Yeah we’re done. It’s 1959, we literally have no time to finish the plan.

ANA

I don’t need you hanging around entrangulating me anymore.

TJ

What-ing you?

ANA

You’re repressive, TJ. You’re a repressive person. Votan says, “Repressive people are a dangerous influence on -”

TJ

I don’t give a flying fuck what Votan says!

ANA

My point is, the goal of Human Expansion is to remove repressions, and clearly you are a repression. So. I can’t have you in my life. Sorry, that’s just how it is.

TJ

(beat) Kay. Well. I guess fuck you then.

ANA

Yeah. Fuck you too.

TJ

Ana walks out of the bathroom, still turning that stupid Persona thing in her hands. I take a minute, wipe my eyes, and head back to the party.

CHAPTER 16

SCENE 1

KEV

Hey, Lydia! You almost missed Ethan’s demo.

TJ

Hey, Kev. Yeah, sorry, I… had to talk to a friend. Or, not a friend, but… I don’t know, someone I thought might be…

KEV

You okay?

TJ

We had this plan. But it fell through. That’s all.

KEV

What was the plan?

TJ

Doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t have worked.

KEV

Huh. (beat) And did this plan happen to involve stealing money from the company?

TJ

What? Stealing money from… (laughs) Aw, baby, you’re so funny. I love a man who can make me laugh.

KEV

I got a notification on my phone that someone used my fund transfer code to access the 47th floor control panel. Funny coincidence, it was right when you ducked out to go “talk to a friend.”

TJ

Even in high school, you were always so funny. And smart. And handsome.

KEV

Just stop it, alright? I know your real name.

TJ

Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit.

KEV

It’s Lydia Hanson.

TJ

Sorry?

KEV

You changed it back to Lydia Jones on your Bazfeed profile right before you “just happened to be in town and thought of me.” But I went back through the archives. How’s Craig by the way?

TJ

Craig’s, uh… well, he’s…

KEV

So let me guess, the plan was you pretend to be single and keep me distracted while your accomplice steals the money?

TJ

I don’t have an accomplice! Sweetie where did you get such a silly -

KEV

You know, Lydia, I actually had a really nice time tonight. I thought we had a connection.

TJ

We do! We do, babe, I’m… (sigh) I’m sorry, okay?

KEV

Sorry for what? Sorry for lying to me? Sorry for being secretly married? Sorry for trying to steal from my company?

TJ

I didn’t try and steal from your company, Kev, I swear to God. I don’t know who used your access code.

KEV

Oh. (beat) So then… sorry for what?

TJ

I’m sorry I wasn’t up front with you. It’s true. I’m married.

KEV

So… but if you’re not stealing from me, why did you lie to me?

TJ

Because you’re right, Kev. We do have a connection. I’ve known it since high school, since that time in Dustin’s pool.

KEV

You remember that?

TJ

Of course I do, sweetie. I just thought if you knew I was married, I wouldn’t have a chance with you.

KEV

Okay, but… if you’re married… how… does that work?

TJ

Isn’t it obvious? Craig and I are poly!

The kid’s jaw hits the floor, and his eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.

KEV

Oh. Um. Wow. That’s… cool.

TJ

I’m sorry, Kev, I lied to you, I’m so ashamed. I should just leave -

KEV

No! No, stay, it’s, it’s cool. I’m cool. I know all about poly… ness. Amory. I’ve done the polyamory before, I know all about… (clears throat) Anyway, the, uh, the demo’s about to start! Don’t want to miss that.

TJ

A sound guy taps on the mic standing on the small platform set up in the corner of Baz headquarters’ cavernous lobby. A hush falls over the crowd, followed by applause as Ethan Baz takes the stage.

BAZ

Hello, thank you, everybody. Thank you. Happy V Week to you all. Before we get started with this year’s product demo, I’d like to say a few words.

I started Baz Industries with $1,000 and a dream. Now, back in 2021, $1,000 didn't get you very far, but that dream propelled our company all the way into the mid-21st century, and it continues to guide everything we do to this day.

That dream is simple: More smiles on more faces.

Back in the dark days of the early '20s, when Baz Industries was a small drone delivery startup, smiles were pretty hard to come by. Many thought the Endemic would wipe the smiles off our faces forever. So I designed the EmBuddy, and when it was released in 2028, the country started smiling once again.

We like to think the Neo Yorker was right when they wrote that the EmBuddy "is singularly responsible for cheering up the post-Covid, post-Civil-War-II Republic." Some, at first, were a little skeptical of the idea of having their brainwaves read, but nobody could dislike a device that knew what you wanted, and delivered it via drone, before you even knew you wanted it.

Baz Industries has always built the future by staying on the pulse of the present. When the nation finally got sick of cloth and melt-blown face coverings, we invented breathable nanoplastic and introduced masks into our line of fashion products. Our stylish monocles, outfitted with 16-qbit retinal display, single-handedly made monocles cool again. And our newest product, the EmBuds, can transmit brainwave data alongside music, giving the listener/feeler a uniquely beautiful sonic/emotional experience.

Both the EmBuds and the incredible innovation I’m about to demonstrate for you are the work of a truly brilliant person, a young man I’ve come to think of as… well, as something of a son to me: Kevin Wellick.

TJ

Kev waves meekly as the room applauds him.

BAZ

It was Kev who first envisioned a world that even I could scarcely have believed was possible, a technological and psychological utopia where the machines that manage our daily lives could be controlled not by touch, not by voice, but by mere thought alone. Kev imagined that this would be made possible by placing a tiny microchip on the surface of the prefrontal cortex, a procedure which could be performed painlessly in seconds. I will demonstrate this procedure now - that’s right, folks, Ethan Baz is about to get brain surgery, live onstage!

TJ

Gasps and scattered applause ripple through the crowd as a mechanical arm with thin, flexible, spindly fingers descends from the ceiling. The fingers gently pull open Baz’s eyelids and slither behind his eyeballs, while he remains standing and beaming. Then, in an instant, the fingers have retracted, and the arm has disappeared.

Suddenly, every flip phone in the audience goes off. Without moving a muscle, Ethan Baz has texted all of us:

BAZ

Happy V Week, Baz Industries employees!

TJ

The room bursts into wild applause.

BAZ

Thank you, everyone. Thank you. Thank -

TJ

Baz freezes. The applause gradually dies down, but he remains motionless onstage, his face falling from a smile into a strange grimace. His eyes are wide - and, I quickly realize, bleeding from the pupils.

BAZ

Y-you…

TJ

Baz shakily raises an arm.

BAZ

You!

TJ

He stretches out his index finger.

BAZ

You!

TJ

He’s pointing directly at me.

BAZ

YOU!!!!

TJ

With a wild scream, Baz leaps off the stage. In an instant, he’s on top of me, strangling me. People are screaming and I’m clawing at his hands as they tighten around my throat. I can taste the blood from Baz’s eyes as it drips down into my open mouth. The room begins to blur and spin around me.

And just when I’m on the brink of passing out… Ethan Baz’s head explodes.