Sid was always surprised that there were so many notables in this reality that he had somehow missed meeting during his twenty six hundred odd years here. Sigmund Freud was a fascinating character and he couldn't wait to dig in and find out where the man stood on so many of the concepts he fathered at the dawn of the 20th century. That would have to wait though, for following the good doctor across the little square was Hubbard's golem, the always loud and extremely loquacious Commander Thompson.
"Hey there chief! Good to see you again! Sid, isn't it?" Thompson said embracing the Buddha in a manly hug with profuse back patting.
"Yes, it certainly is me, Snake" said Sid straightening out his mussed lapels. "I assume I'm here because of something regarding our mutual, red-haired acquaintance?"
Freud interjected, "It was I who requested your presence Lord Buddha, so that we might help this poor man with his search for his friend."
Sid grimaced at the honorific. "Please, Dr. Freud, do call me Sid, I really prefer it. The whole lord business has really turned out to be a bit of bust, hasn't it?"
Freud let out a sharp laugh, "Of course! Of course, forgive me, Sid. The modern day is so informal and I am remiss in keeping up with the times" said Sigmund, waving his huge cigar about for emphasis. Then he pulled Sid aside and whispered in his thick, German accent, "I was hoping you could shed some light on my . . . new freunden, here."
"Siggy! Aw, what the hell do you mean? 'New friend' my aunt Fanny! We've know each other since the teens! You taught me everything I know about the mysteries of the human mind! Remember the night we picked up those two Latvian sisters in Vienna? You couldn't possibly forget the tortoise and the wooden leg!" Snake roared with laughter and slapped the visibly annoyed psychiatrist on the back. "That song they sang for us? How'd it go, Siggy? How the hell did it go . . . 'Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sau . . ."
"Commander! That is quite enough!" bellowed the now beet faced doctor.
Sid was digging his fingernails into his palms in a futile effort to suppress laughter.
"So, you can see my problem, now?" said the exasperated Freud.
"Aw, come on, Siggy! Don't be such a prude, I mean sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, amirite?" Snake burst into another round of guffaws.
The more Freud tried to compose himself, the harder it was for Sid to not laugh. He decided to change the subject and calm things down a bit. "So, Commander Thompson, is Hubbard in some kind of trouble? Fallen down a well or something? I must have been summoned here for more than just a character reference."
"To be sure, Sid, to be sure!" Then Snake took on a serious demeanor. "I got an itch in my britches says that ol' Hubbs is in hot water again. I think he might need my help. I know he can can fight like a wildcat and shoot straight as a crow flies, but he's only one man." The commander valiantly acted out the last part of his description. Sid was nearly slackjawed at the performance.
"Well then, I suppose we shall have to see where fortune takes us." Sid was still trying to maintain a straight face. "I have an aeroplane over at the landing patch just outside the village. Shall we go and see what we can see? Will you be joining us Dr. Freud?" asked the Buddha.
Sigmund eyed Thompson nervously, then looked at Sid, "Only if you promise to keep him quiet for five minutes. That man, he hasn't stopped talking for a week! I think I am losing my mind with him sometimes!"
Snake stood there, mute, with a 'who me' look on his face.
Sid took Sigmund by the arm and they began to walk toward the plane followed by a contrite Snake, "Absolutely Herr Doctor, I'll fill you in on what I know. Honestly, I think you'll find Hubbard a fascinating case study. Our friend here is very much a part of his psyche. In fact, he's entirely a figment of Hubbard's imagination."
"Really? That's fascinating, do tell me more! I love a good figment . . ." and with that they made their way to the waiting plane and the wild blue yonder.
Bob was reeling from meeting all these people in whose lives Hubbard had loomed so large. He listened with rapt attention as Lisa described her last days at the Fort Harrison. How she recently learned that she had been in a loop there, waiting to confront Hubbard, and then how she found herself on this ship. He met Quentin and his afterlife partner Noah, both of whom took their own lives as a result of Scientology. He met Malcolm Goldblatt, a once wealthy, devoted Scientologist, who had given everything to the cult and died discarded and penniless. There were dozens more lives lost to Hubbard's nonsense on the ship, and he heard many of their stories. It was late, and people were beginning to drift off to bed. There were evidently lovely quarters for everyone down the long curved corridor from which they had entered.
Vaughn suggested that they should all get some sleep when Ayn brought two young women dressed in flawless '60s cocktail dresses. They both looked very familiar. "Bob and Vaughn, I know we're all tired and need our beauty sleep, but I wanted you to meet Margaret and Sara, both of whom were . . ."
"I know! I know both of you!" said Bob rising to shake the hands of two women whose stories had so captivated his imagination. "Sara Northrup and Margaret Hubbard!"
"Please, call me Polly. It's so strange meeting all these people here who all know so much about us!" said the first Mrs. Hubbard.
"Sure. Polly. It's an honor. I just want you to know how much your stories affected me, actually all of us who were critics of Scientology, and there are many of us back, well, still alive on Earth. You were our heroes for what you endured. And, Lisa, and Quentin . . . all of you. It's kind of too much" said Bob, welling with emotion for the umpteenth time that night.
"Well, this lady and I have been catching up and comparing notes and I'm gonna call it a draw" said Sara with a broad smile at Polly. Then she turned to face Bob, "And you, Bob! You put up quite a fight. I've read about you, and I'm sorry you had to leave so soon. That's a tough one. I was lucky, I made it into my seventies."
Suddenly, there was a chiming sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once, and the lights dimmed slightly. A soft voice announced, "Sleeping cycle is now mandatory. Please return to your guest pods. Follow the floor lights. Follow the floor lights."
Vaughn asked Ayn, "So, I didn't even ask, has anyone here seen this Xenu character, or anyone at all running this thing?"
"I haven't seen him, but when Vlad and I were picked up, we made our way to this place following the lights on the floor. When we came in here, there was this amazing apartment and on the table in the entry way were those glorious flowers with this note." Rand pulled a folded piece of paper out of her suit pocket, on it was this handwritten greeting: 'Welcome Ms. Rand and Comrade Lenin. I am on my way for a long overdue rendezvous with our mutual acquaintance, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. There will be others joining us on our voyage, would you be so kind as to act as host to them? Yours Truly, Xenu.'
The handwriting was very familiar to Minton, it was Hubbard's own script. He recognized it from the handwritten scrawl that was OTIII. The document was leaked to the internet from the Fishman affidavit. It was as familiar as his own hand.
"Well, I guess this makes as much sense as anything lately" Bob said with a weary smile. "I think we should all turn in. How will we know which lights to follow to our 'pods?'"
Ayn pointed to the floor "It's quite amazing, Mr. Minton, you'll only see the ones meant for you."
He walked to the now open portal in the wall leading to the corridor. "Oh, I see, it's leading down to the left."
Other guests were heading off to bed down the sweeping arc of the hallway in both directions, but Bob could see no lights for them, only his own. "Well, I guess this is goodnight, Ms. Rand. I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk. I was never a fan, but you're a hell of a fascinating woman."
"Well, I hope I'm more fascinating now! Don't hold my rather simplistic work against me. We usually change after a while in this reality, Mr. Minton . . . if we take an honest look, that is." She clasped his hand warmly and ushered the last few stragglers into the hall. "You'll all be awakened by the chimes. Just follow the instructions. Good night all."
And with that, the opening in the wall began to fuse shut, and soon there was just the long seamless curve of the corridor. Bob, Lisa and Vaughn walked for a while, chatting about the events of the evening when Lisa turned and said "This is my stop." She faced Bob and held both his hands in hers. "You don't know what this means to me. I don't know what's in store for us all, but thank you for tonight, for what you did, that's all I can say." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and stepped through the opening in the wall into what looked like a lanai in Hawaii.
Bob stood staring at the wall for a moment. The myriad events of last 20 years swarmed and darted in his head like a school of sardines pursued by a shark.
"Come on brother Bob, let's keep moving. We don't want ol' Xenu to get cross with us" said Vaughn putting his arm on Bob's shoulder. They headed down a few more meters until Vaughn stopped. "You still see lights ahead? Mine stopped here." As he said that, the wall did it's goopy vanishing act and there was a beautiful suite of rooms with saltillo tile floors and a moonlit beach beyond the balcony. "Crazy. If these are the bad guys, where do I sign up?" He stepped in and said "nighty night Bob. We'll compare notes in the morning."
Bob Minton watched the wall close and walked another couple of meters until the lights stopped in front of the now familiar glow of an opening. His room was a warm, Irish cottage, complete with oak log in the fire and a gale blowing outside the windows. His favorite kind of night when he lived on the Emerald Isle. The wall closed behind him and the featureless metal assumed the shape of timbers and plaster. In the bedroom was a feather bed built into a curtained nook. He laid down in the fluffy whiteness and was asleep before he knew what hit him.
The PC6 climbed steeply out of the grassy field that was Champex Lac's airport. The late afternoon sun panned across the cabin as Sid banked hard to the left to avoid a looming alp. Sigmund was in the passenger seat and wore a full headset and mic like Sid. Commander Thompson was relegated to the spartan rear cabin and had to amuse himself by looking out the windows and talking to himself.
Sid had been explaining Hubbard's life to Dr. Freud, who then asked "So, this Hubbard invented this Snake character to what . . . make himself more important? Fascinating! And I suppose I should be flattered that he used him as sort of direct association to me and my theories, most of which have been overthrown, and rightly so."
"Don't be hard on yourself, Sigmund. We all go through it. I gather you've been here long enough to get the lay of the land, as it were. We all made mistakes. And, besides, isn't it wonderful to see when real progress is made on the foundations one has laid? Much of what you created changed the way our species saw itself. Progress continues to this day."
"Ja, ja. I suppose it does. Well, enough of that, we could have quite the mutual admiration society, just the two of us! Back to the topic at hand" Sigmund said gesturing toward the fiction in the passenger seat behind them. "Have you ever encountered any of your ideas made flesh?"
Sid replied "Oh, yes. Green Tara and I have tea quite often. She's rather enlightened, if I do say so myself. I must say I'm very relieved that I didn't invent Kali!"
"Like you, I have met with my followers. Ach, the stories! So many abuses of my ideas! I do what I can to help them transition beyond this place, but I have never had the feeling that any of them were anything but real." There was a long pause, then Sigmund added in a wistful tone, "I had an imaginary monkey as a child. I think I should very much like to see him again."
Sid smiled. "Well, now you've gone and done it! I imagine we shall have to keep our eyes peeled for errant monkeys in the days to come!"
The conversation continued as the small plane climbed into a cloud bank and disappeared into the blank whiteness within.
The chime was almost imperceptible at first. It grew slightly louder and then, all at once, the sun began to stream through the windows of the little cottage suite. Bob had fallen asleep in his clothes on top of the downy mass that was his feather bed. Suddenly, there was the sound of an iron knocker on wood. He walked groggily over to the door. As soon as he formed the intention to open it, the glow began, and soon Vaughn was standing in the opening with two steaming cups of coffee.
"Are you gonna ask me in, 'cause these fucking mugs are starting to burn my hands!" said Vaughn shifting nervously on two feet.
"Oh, god, yeah, come in, come in! How was your room? It looked like Baja or . . . "
"PV" Vaughn interrupted.
"Puerto Vallarta? Theresa and I vacationed there a few times. Beautiful place." Bob said absentmindedly as he tried to straighten out his slept in clothing.
"How the hell do you think they do this Bob?" Vaughn was stroking an ancient looking timber in the wall. "That door looks so real, it's even in three dimensions, but as soon as you walk up to it to leave, it knows and just melts away. Hubbard didn't have this good an imagination. Hell, I edited and even wrote some of the Mission Earth crap, this wasn't in any of it."
"Vaughn. We're dead. In an afterlife, inside an afterlife . . . in a spaceship . . . with Ayn Rand and Lenin fercrissakes. Really. You want logic?" Bob took a sip of his coffee and smiled, "did you make this?" Bob said pointing at his mug.
"Oh, naw" said Vaughn, "I just thought it would be nice to show up with coffee and it was on the counter in my little casita as I was leaving. You know how things go around here."
"My point exactly. Timbers. Coffee. Flying saucers. It's all the same in this place." said Bob confidently. "Define reality."
Then the chime started up again and the soothing voice spoke again: "Guests, please gather in the Rebel Lounge. Follow the floor lights. Follow the floor lights."
Bob looked at Vaughn with a raised eyebrow, "I guess that's our cue. Shall we?"
"After you Brother Bob, after you . . ."
They followed the illuminated floor plates and the same crowd from the previous night began emerging from their rooms, joining them in the corridor as they went. They made a left and the corridor climbed in a slow arc upwards. They were heading toward the center of the saucer. The group reached another corridor that curved off in both directions, sitting concentrically within the outer ring. Again the walls were featureless until a very large area of the curved wall ahead began it's opening glow. A huge 8 meter section of the wall opened and a large circular room surmounted with a transparent dome was revealed. The group began to enter cautiously, looking around at the grand space. The ship seemed impossibly large inside from what they had seen from below. It was hard to tell with that blinding light, but still. This thing was vast. The room was very much like a Las Vegas dinner theater. There was a stage with a raised dais on which a sleek metal throne sat. Glistening metal ribs in a long arc lined the wall behind the stage. There were tables and chairs spread throughout the huge room with what appeared to be bars on either side of the space. What they served was not apparent.
Ayn Rand was in yet another Chanel suit, this one orange with chocolate trim and brass buttons. "Come in! Come in everyone! Find a table and sit where you like."
The crowd began sitting at tables in different groups. There were at least 50 people now. Bob was asking Vaughn who most of them were as they settled in at table up front. Bob looked around for Lisa and saw her waving from the entrance, he waved back, motioning for her to come up and sit with them. She had Polly and Sara in tow.
They were all chatting about their rooms when the dome overhead went totally opaque, and the lights began to dim. There was a murmur from the gathered guests when a deep announcer voice boomed out in a cadence that would have made Don Pardo proud, "Llllllladies and Gentlemen, won't you please stand for your host today, the Marcabian Marauder, the Terror of Teegeeack, that randy rebel, Looooooord Xenu!"
There was a low murmur as everyone stood and looked around. Suddenly a tympani drum roll filled the air and a follow spot pierced the gloom, illuminating a very tall, muscular figure wearing blindingly polished armor with a long red cape. His head was covered with a mirror finished helmet. He strode forward through the tables, arm raised in a parade wave, as the cheesy synth-pop music played. He was followed by muscular blond man in a short toga and gold sandals, and a dozen men armed with some sort of rifles. They wore silver body suits and short capes.
"Okay, Hubbard definitely could have written this music" whispered Bob whispered to Vaughn, who promptly elbowed him in the ribs.
Xenu took his place in front of the throne on the dais, and the man in the toga stood to his right. The dozen soldiers lined up flanking their overlord, standing six to a side. The awful music built to its frantic, overblown crescendo and the lights came up on the stage. The audience remained in the dark. Nobody knew how to react. After a long, awkward pause, there was a smattering of golf applause as the guests sat back down at their tables.
Xenu wrapped his crimson cape around his body with a theatrical flourish and sat down on the huge throne. The bodybuilder in the toga, fussed with Xenu's cape to drape it over the throne, just so. He then undid two latches on the reflective helmet and lifted it to reveal the huge man's hard, chiseled features. Xenu sat there for a moment, surveying the nervous crowd. He then stood, threw his cape back with a flourish, and flounced down to the apron of the stage and stood, hand on hip, peering out over the audience and gushed, "Terry! Can we have the house lights up? Uh huh, more . . . more . . . little more . . . too much . . . down a skoche . . . stop! Perfecto!" He shielded his eyes from the glare with his gloved hand. "Well, well, well! Look at what the photon gravitor dragged in!"
Bob leaned into Vaughn, "He sounds like a bad drag queen!" Vaughn looked like deer in the car headlights. He poked Bob in the ribs harder. Bob let out a loud guffaw.
"Who laughed! Who was it!" The audience was frozen in terror. Xenu strutted stage right and stared down at Bob who was now helpless with laughter. "Alright boys! What's so funny over at table six?" Xenu said in a sing song manner. "Ooooooh. Is that attitude I detect? I do hope you brought enough for everyone!" Xenu walked down the steps and into the audience. He made his way to Bob and Vaughn's table.
"Am I not quite what you expected, Bobby, hmmmmm?" said the hulking intergalactic overlord with an exaggerated pout. He walked up to the now frozen Bob and ran his massive finger down his chest. He was right in Bob's face now, "You were expecting some macho Tone 40? Some Darth Vader nasty, nasty?" Then Xenu stood and raised an arm in a move Vanna White would have been proud to immitate. "Oh, Mary, no, no, no! I'm Hubbard's evil overlord, remember?" He worked the front of the audience like a master showman. "I gotta be 1.1 on steroids, honey! I am more than just the product of a muddled mind!" He stopped back in front of Bob again, moving in closer to his face with each word. "I am the powerful, muscular, sassy, sexually secure superman of ol' Tubby's nightmares!" Then he shot back up to his full 7-foot magnificence and gushed "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I don't just have fashion sense and a huge . . . saucer" he paused, perfectly manicured eyebrow arched for effect. "I don't just have gravatic manipulators and antimatter cannons. I don't just have millions of psych drugs! Oh, no! I know where Hubbard is and I have renegades! We're all on the same side, poppets! And, we are going to have so much fucking fun!"