Several days earlier, in The Universe Just Next Door:
It was a glorious New Hampshire morning with the sun shining warm gold through the hardwoods across Phillip's Pond. As usual, the man had risen with the dawn and headed to the kitchen where the pack waited patiently for the whir of the can opener to signal breakfast's imminence. The man fed the beasts, made coffee and a rasher of bacon with some toast. There were some perks to being in this odd reality, like never being sick and all you can eat bacon.
Bob Minton was a relative newcomer to the afterlife. Like so many billions before him, his death had been a complete surprise. Actually he had to be convinced that he was really dead. Everything felt so normal here. But he could be stubborn like that. Much of his life had been such a struggle, but he grew to love a good fight, and his grit and determination yielded many wins, especially in the financial arena. There were, however setbacks to counter the victories, and none so epic as those he suffered in his fight with Scientology. The cult was a far more dangerous opponent than he bargained for. Though things had gone down in flames after that war was lost at the turn of the century, his last years on Earth, spent in Ireland, saw his life coming together at long last. But, that didn't last long.
He'd come to forgive himself in those last years of his life. Forgive himself for his rashness. For his impatience. He had no regrets for taking on the monolithic darkness of Scientology. Having been bullied from a young age, he hated abusers with a blinding passion, and to him there was no target more irresistible than L. Ron Hubbard's brutal invention. No, his regrets were the fallout, the collateral damage of the fray. He'd underestimated the cult. He never imagined what lengths it would go to, what it would be willing to do to his wife, his marriage, his relationship with his children. He had tragically misjudged the depth of the well from which David Miscavige drew his bile and rage.
But that was a universe away, now. Another reality. This one felt so dreamlike and pleasant. There were others living here around Phillip's Pond, but the first person to greet him was a bit of a surprise, being one Robert Vaughn Young. The two of them hit it off instantly, though Bob was hesitant, considering that he had been in a relationship with the man's ex-wife, a woman he'd dearly loved and wronged in so many ways during those dark days just after the turn of the century. But Vaughn was forthright and forgiving. He laughed easily and listened like a therapist when Bob found himself in his new surroundings.
On this particular morning, Vaughn arrived precisely at quarter after six, his approach betrayed by the excited baying of Bob's beagles. The dogs related to their master's friend using the simple formula: Vaughn = treats. Bob was feeling a bit anxious about their fishing expedition today. Vaughn had said he said they 'had to talk' something about, 'important business'. For Bob, that always triggered childhood memories of his abusive father. "Son, we have to talk" would inevitably lead to rage, beatings and worse. Every time. He'd just been talking to Vaughn about how that childhood fear followed him all his life and into this one.
His pal seemed jovial enough as the dogs mobbed him at the door. "Coffee before we head out?" asked Bob.
"I have a thermos full right here, so we're good to go whenever you are. I packed a lunch" said Vaughn scratching the ass of the most insistent of the five beagles.
"So, what was this big deal you wanted to discuss, this news?" Bob asked, washing the remains of the coffee grounds down sink.
"Well, I'm afraid it's about Hubbard" Vaughn paused to let Bob take that morsel in.
Bob stopped his chores and looked down into the sink with a thoughtful expression.
Vaughn continued, "I had these two Mormon missionaries at my door the other day, and they said something about my having to interact with Hubbard, that he was awake from a trance or some damned thing, I don't remember the exact term they used. But, anyway he's been in a sort of coma since he bought the farm back in '86 and now he's up and about. I know it sounds weird, and I can't explain it, but it instantly made sense to me, and I felt you should know. They said something about becoming free. I know things are nice around here, but I have this feeling that free would do us both a world of good, brother Bob." The beagle kept jumping up for more scritches, but Vaughn was already washing his hands.
"Siobhan! Let the man alone, girl!" Bob said swatting the insistent beagle away.
"Hubbard?" Bob had an expression like he'd just remembered some awful, long forgotten smell. "Shit, I never even thought about him being . . . well, here. Where is he, anyway? Did they say?"
"Jeez, Bob, I don't even know where we really are, other than it looks an awful lot like New Hampshire. Who knows where that asshole is." said Vaughn as he picked at the bacon leftover from Bob's breakfast.
"So, why did Mormons come and tell you this? Shouldn't it have been Sea Org? What exactly did they tell you to do?"
"Honestly Bob, I don't really remember. I was so taken aback by the whole thing, I was totally distracted trying to figure out what the connection with Hubbard was to Mormons. I missed most of what they said. I do remember them saying 'You don't have to do anything Mr. Young, everything will unfold.'"
"Say, you're not related to Brigham Young, are you?" Bob walked up to his friend and peered intently at his face, looking over his glasses for comic effect. "Maybe that's the connection."
"God, I hope not! I don't need that kind of grief. Anyway, they said we don't have to do anything, so I suggest we do just that, nothing. And speaking of doing nothing, let's hit the pond, old man!" With that, Vaughn headed out onto the porch with the dogs. Bob gathered up his gear and, took a last sweep of the kitchen and joined Vaughn out on the dock where he was loading their gear into Bob's beautiful Gar Wood 20' utility boat for another day on Phillip's Pond.
The fish weren't exactly jumping into the boat. After lunch Bob said they should call it a day and head back to cook the few bass they'd hooked. Vaughn finished his beer and concurred, they should cut their losses and head back. The old Chrysler engine fired up and Bob began to head back across the glassy surface of the lake, but something was wrong.
Phillip's Pond was only about a kilometer long, and they were at the far end from his place, but the further they glided through the water, the further the far shore seemed to get! In fact, the whole lake seemed to be expanding away from them in a strange, vertigo-inducing retreat. Bob cut the motor and shot the now very sober looking Vaughn a 'what the hell' look. They slid through the still water for a while until the boat slowed to a crawl. That didn't stop the shoreline, however. It continued to retreat into the distance. The phenomenon was compounded by a building cloud cover. A dull gray ceiling, now spread from horizon to horizon. The world was silent and reduced to two things: water and air, with their small boat smack in the middle of it.
Vaughn was the first to speak, "Bob, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
They both laughed nervously.
"I'm gonna have to agree with you, Mr. Young. I don't think we're much of anywhere at present" Bob replied. His face had gone blank. The same way it did when he knew the storm was about to come . . . 'we have to talk, son.'
And come it did. A rumbling at first. A dull, low pulsing, too rhythmic for thunder. The water around the wooden boat throbbed in a quilted pattern with the growing vibration. A soft wind began to blow from the . . . well, from somewhere. The sound grew in pitch and volume. Vaughn tapped Bob on the shoulder and pointed up to a growing glow in the dark cloud deck directly above them. The light intensified as the sound built.
Their bodies buzzed with the lifting tone, and Bob was worried that the boat might start breaking up, when he noticed one of their empty beer bottles float upward past his face. Eerily, other objects started to rise and he felt himself lift slightly. After a few terrifying, floating moments, there was a sucking sound below as the boat broke the surface tension of the lake and rose to scoop the two ascending men up in its gradual climb. A sense of gravity returned as the boat lifted them. At about 500 feet they caught up with that first bottle which gently touched down on the deck as they continued to rise into the now blinding light above.
The two men huddled in the small space up toward the bow of the Theresa M. with their eyes shut tightly against the all enveloping light. The sound changed pitch and rose suddenly until it was inaudible and everything just stopped. There was a slight thud as the boat came to rest on a hard metal surface. They opened their eyes and crawled out from under the dashboard. They were in a large, circular chamber with a vaulted dome above. Everything was bathed in an low, blue glow.
"What the fuck was that?" said Bob, "where the hell are we?"
"Like I said, not in Kansas, but that's the best I can offer Bob, that's all I've got." Vaughn was staring up at the seamless welkin overhead.
They weren't alone in the huge space. There were chairs, sofas, one bed, a bicycle and several other vehicles in there. A Cessna 172 sat on the other side of the huge structure in the blue gloom. They could make out a Jeep Wrangler just to their left and an old Thunderbird convertible just behind them.
Bob was about to respond to Vaughn when there was an otherworldly sound from below, and one of the hexagonal floor plates began to glow with a chartreuse light. It pulsed and hummed pleasantly.
"I think they want us to get out Bob" said Vaughn looking over the gunwale.
"I think we'd better do as they say" replied the captain of the now useless boat.
They clambered awkwardly out of the tilting hull and stood on the plate. Sure enough, the next one over lit, and when they moved on to that one, as expected, the next one lit and so forth until the duo stood at the far wall. The Cessna and Jeep were empty and the road-caked T-bird was vacant as well.
Bob looked expectantly at the wall, "Well? Isn' this when you . . ."
And just as he said 'you', the wall began to glow with that same limey light. An opening formed as though the wall had transformed into some kind of liquid. Strange. They passed through the glowing ring into a corridor. More floor panels lit and they were off down the long, curved passage.
"You have any idea what the hell this is about?" asked Bob.
"I think I just might." Vaughn looked at Bob with an mischievous grin and said, "Xenu."
"What the fuck? Are you kidding me? You're kidding . . . right? Tell me you're kidding."
"Think about it, you've been here in this life for a few years now. You know how things work, kinda strangely? So many daily events turn out to be metaphors, and most coincidences are usually made manifest in some way. The Mormons show up. We hit the lake. This crazy shit happens." Vaughn stopped and looked at Bob. "Think about it. Hubbard was all about spaceships and Venus and Marcabians. Maybe this is a kind of joke or something?"
"I'm not laughing" said Bob.
"Come on Brother Bob, I studied that old crackpot for years. I think there's more to this than meets the eye" Vaughn clapped him on the back and they headed down the featureless corridor until they heard . . . laughter? It sounded like there was a party behind the wall. Yes, it was definitely music and laughter and it was getting louder. The wall beside them began to make the now familiar greenish glow.
Vaughn looked at Bob, "I think we found the spot."
"Or it found us" said Bob uneasily.
Meanwhile, in Burlingame, Mr. S.G. Lokavid was getting it together. His preflight checklist was going well and he'd be airborne within the hour. The fog of his regeneration had cleared and he felt awful. Not physically, but at heart. He felt responsible for Hubbard's abduction. He hadn't heard anything from Joe either. He knew that Joe was basically a petty man, and still held dreams of grandeur encouraged by Brigham's martial streak. Sid worried that if Joe found Hubbard, he'd only encourage his delusions further and the man wouldn't make any progress for decades, if not centuries. Joe was a relative youngster in this reality, he hadn't even tried to kill himself . . . yet. Smith tended toward the prissy and cautious, so he rarely put himself in harm's way. Sid could tell that Joe really missed his followers and the adulation, but he was also an intelligent and thoughtful person, so he was hard to predict. Mo was absorbed in some fairly heavy interactions with his followers who were arriving in droves. Wouldn't be able to help now. Sid would have to find Hubbard himself.
The Pilatus PC6 Porter he'd chosen for this flight wasn't the most luxurious form of transportation. Small, light and robust, these planes were built for alpine search and rescue, and he'd need it for the rugged, high altitude landing he'd have to make at the end of this trip. Intersectionality was tugging him in this direction, and after two thousand years in this place, he knew better than to resist the pull. He fired up the Pratt & Whitney turboprop and taxied out to 01R-19L where he'd await clearance for his trip into the mountains.
The wall glowed more brightly and then a small hole opened up in the center of the light and expanded until the opening was large enough to walk through. The volume jumped suddenly as the party inside was in full swing. There were about 20 or so people mingling and jazz trio playing in the corner of what looked like a large Manhattan apartment, circa 1960. There was even a city view through the floor to ceiling windows on the opposite wall.
"Come in! Come you two, we've been waiting for you!" said a Chanel-clad Ayn Rand. She turned to the crowd, hands raised, "everybody, we have some more guests!" Ayn ushered Bob and Vaughn into the foyer. The music stopped and the party goers settled down and turned to see who had come in.
The two men stood there uncomfortably until Vaughn said, "Uh, Hi there, I'm Vaughn Young." he looked around the room. "I'm beginning to recognize a few of you from, well, life. I see Quentin Hubbard over there by the piano! Hey Quentin!" Vaughn waved at Hubbard's son, who smiled and raised his glass. "Oh, and this here is . . ." Just as he was about to introduce Bob and woman pushed her way out of the crowd.
"Oh my god! I know! I know who he is now!" said Lisa McPherson rushing up to hug the man who had lost so much defending her memory.
"I know what you did. They showed me after they picked me up! How can I ever thank you for what you did?" She had Bob in a total bear hug, the side of her face pressed hard against his chest. "You're a hero. You're my hero."
It was Lisa. After all those years, he knew that face so well. He held her out at arms length, "Is it really you? I . . . I don't know what to say . . . I feel like I failed" tears were welling in his eyes.
"Oh, god no, you didn't fail! You didn't know what they were capable of . . . none of us did."
Bob was sobbing helplessly now. Lisa and Vaughn held on to him. Normally, he wouldn't allow himself to show this kind of emotion, but it was all crashing down on him now. His childhood abuse. The losses he suffered. All his good intentions and all the harm done. Ayn, who had naturally taken control of this little band of abductees signaled the band to start playing again.
"Oh, man this is kind of weird, isn't it?" said Bob through his ebbing tears. "I mean, my girlfriend's ex and the woman I tried to avenge are comforting me at a cocktail party . . . in a spaceship that looks like an apartment and we're all dead . . ." he started to laugh at the delicious ludicrousness of the idea.
The three of them were now laughing every bit as hard as Bob had been sobbing.
"Well, I see you've all met Ms. McPherson!" said the hostess walking up to them with a martini in her right hand and a cigarette in her left. "Mr. Minton, I'm Ayn Rand. We're associated by way of our intersection with Ron. Of course, we're all associated with him here, all of us are on the road to meet with him. Some of us as fellow leaders of men, some of us as his victims" she looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "and I suppose, some of us as both."
"Oh, I'm sorry about my big entrance here. Everything is a little bit much for me these days" said Bob wiping his face with his hand.
"Here, use this" said Ayn handing Bob a cocktail napkin with the words "Teegeeack Express" printed on the corner in a gay, 1950s script.
Bob continued, "Thanks. Now, Miss Rand . . ."
"No! You must call me Ayn! All my friends do. I insist!"
"Okay then, Ayn, can you tell us where we are and what we're doing here?" asked Bob.
Ayn took a long drag off her Nate Sherman and a short sip of martini and began, "Well, as best as I can figure out, at this point we've all been hijacked by Hubbard, although he has no idea he's doing it. We're probably between realities in this saucer thing. It's hard to explain, but there are many universes intersecting, probabilities if you will. Is this an afterlife? Well, I can safely tell you that I'm dead for all intents and purposes, but somehow I exist here in this place where the only other denizens are leaders of other humans. Religious figures, movie stars, politicos. There's a mindset to us. Maybe that's why we're all trapped in this place to reflect on what we've done. You, on the other hand, your life was affected intensely by your relationship to one of us. In this case, Hubbard's church.
"And speaking of churches, I can tell you there are no gods running the show here. Not that we have seen. Some of us have been here for thousands of years and there's been no communication from 'above' as it were. So here we are in a spaceship from Hubbard's own imagination and . . ."
"Xenu! It's Xenu isn't it?" said Vaughn excitedly.
"Very good Mr. Young, it is indeed Xenu . . . after a fashion. Though how our imaginary creations come to manifest here is not well understood, but intersectionality drives it. Hubbard was in a sort of coma for decades, but he's awake now, and he's drawing all those he touched in life to him." Ayn stubbed out her cigarette in her empty martini glass and looked around for a waiter. A compact man in a toga and sandals appeared with a tray. "Thank you, love. Could you get me another?" she asked. The man nodded and headed over to the bar in the corner of the room.
"That's a lot to take in, all of this is a lot to take in" said Bob. He turned to Lisa, "I still can't believe I'm talking you you. You can't know how much this means to me. I want to know everything. Everything that happened to you."
"I'll tell you the whole story, Bob, but first, can we get a drink? I'm parched."
"After you, Lisa, I could use a good belt right about now myself."
Sid knew which heading to follow. After two thousand years in this place, you just know things. You follow your instincts and they'll usually serve you in good stead. The plane passed through some cloud cover at 9700' in the Central Valley, just over Modesto, but when it emerged on into the clear again, the Alps were spread out before him. You also got used to things like that. Gray spots. Fuzzy patches. Indistinct intersections that suddenly take you where you need to go. Sid checked his GPS unit and there was a pulsing red dot that indicated a rough landing strip near a small village at about 4800' feet. He guided the sturdy plane to a smooth enough landing on the grassy alpine strip. There was a small hanger with a windsock and a bike rack at the end of the runway. He moved the plane into a parking area with a couple of old Marchettis and an ancient Fokker D.I, came to a full stop and powered down.
The map said the town was called Champex Lac. Sid slipped out of the flight jumper he had on over his light cotton suit and placed it in the back of the plane. He stepped out into what felt like a warm summer day. He pulled out his iPhone and reviewed the odd email he received yesterday regarding Hubbard. The missive was signed 'Dr. F.' It read:
Esteemed Mr. Lokavid, Some time ago, I was out for a stroll through the countryside when I came across a most curious fellow. The man is obsessed with a Mr. L. Ron Hubbard. He seems to be quite devoted to the chap, who by this strange man's account is one of the greatest people to have ever lived. The man is called Commander Thompson, yet he insists that I call him "snake." I can only imagine the obsession that lies behind that moniker. The chap has a delusional belief that we were acquainted in life. He says that he once studied with me in Wein, yet the years he describes us working intimately together would have found me in London. I've been an admirer of yours for quite some time and had a feeling that you might be able to shine some light on this vexing subject. Can you come to see me in Champex tomorrow? I shall wait for you by the fountain at three.
Sid's new Apple watch read 2:48pm as he wound his way through the charming, immaculate town. He rounded a corner where the local tobacconist's shop was and there in center of the neat town square stood the fountain. And what a fountain! It was a life-sized gorilla of finely carved black obsidian. The gorilla was depicted wearing a traditional alpine dirndl and pouring water from a wooden bucket into the basin of the fountain. Sid was marveling at the sheer strangeness of the monument when he noticed a distinguished gentleman came striding across the square.
Bowing graciously, Sid said "Dr. F, I presume?"
On a sunny, summer's day, in a small square, in an obscure town, in a place that was a dead ringer for Switzerland, Sigmund Freud nodded and tipped his hat to the Buddha.