"It's happening again."
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Liam looked up from rolling another cigarette. "What?"
"I keep..." Isaac shook his head. "It's like I'm bouncing around in time. I thought I was talking to Bishop a second ago. That was three days ago..." He paused. "...wasn't it?"
"Will you feel better if I say it was?"
"Look at it like this." Liam popped a match alight with a thumbnail and touched it to the cigarette. He drew in smoke, let it out, and crossed his arms. "The Esch- the Happening- it happened everywhere, right? It changed everything. Consciousness is different, so we're different, so time is different. Follow me?"
Liam threw up his hands. "The world ended! Awright? Everyone goes on about The End Of The World, and now it's happened. Poof! Bang! Lights up, boys! Only it's not the world that ended, it's the game."
"Timothy Leary, you read about him at the College?"
"Sure. One of his books was required reading."
"Timothy Leary used to talk about- this was on Acid, mind you- the Time game ending, and the Space game ending, and then the Timothy Leary game ending. Or something like that. This was ages ago, I read this. Point is, the everything game ended for us. Or changed. Or some goddamn thing. Language fails."
"You say everything ended, but-"
"Look, what happens when you wake up from a dream? Could be, the dream was real as life, and twice as big. Could be, you lived a whole life, right? Past, present, future. But the second you wake up- bang!" He slapped the table. "Everything you call waking life is suddenly there, and everything you just lived through is a dream now. This is what happened to Consciousness."
"You mean, everyone's consciousness, all at once."
"We share consciousness," Liam said. "No, that's not it. It's not a packet of crisps. Bollocks. Forget it. You'll either work this out for yourself or you won't. I'll just muck things up if I go any further. If you need a way to think of it, it's like this: We all woke up. Now we're blinking, rubbing grit out of our eyes, wondering what kind of fucking bedsit this is we've woken up in. We'll probably be groggy for a bit."
"You ask me, it doesn't exist anymore, and we just haven't found a better map."
"I meant more...my own sense of time."
"It's just gone spare for a bit. You're on unknown territory- for you- and the internal flywheel takes a while to spin up."
"So time will go back to normal eventually?"
Liam snorted smoke through his nostrils. "Dunno about 'normal'. You'll adapt, make some kind of neural map." He waved a hand at Isaac. "Relax. You'll give me the hinks, you keep on like this."
Isaac was alone in the lounge.
He slid out of the plush leather booth and stood up. The lights were turned down low, all cold blues and diffuse reds. A black laquered bar glimmered in the gloom in one corner. An ornate, gilded telephone stood on a small table nearby. On an impulse he could not name, Isaac padded across the plush carpeting to the table and picked up to the receiver.
He put it to his ear, and heard:
"...easterly six or seven, becoming good. Malik. Four rising to five, north by northwest, visiblity poor. Alaric. Fair, occasionally poor..."
"Look, this is really freaking me out..."
"I was just there- back in the lounge. I picked up the phone- I remember picking up the phone- and heard the shipping forecast. Then I...don't know. I was here. Am here."
"If it gets to be too much," Liam said. "And you feel you're losing your mind, just repeat the phrase 'I seem to be a verb'. It helps, trust me."
"I seem to be a verb?"
"Right, exactly. Old trick a friend of mine taught me. Bloke named Moon."
"And it works?"
"Worked for me," Liam said. "And in worse that what you're going through. I made it back intact. More or less."
Isaac shrugged. "It's worth a try." He paused. "Can I ask you a question?"
"You just did."
"Right. Well...your name's William Steiner, right?"
"But you go by 'Liam', and you have an, um...an accent. Where are you from?"
"All over," Liam said. He stood up. "Right. I've had it with this. The Everything will just have to keep up." He turned to Isaac. "I'm going to do a little trick, take a look around, like. I'll be leaving my body here, so do us a favor and look after it. All right?"
"This is like astral projection or something you're going to do?"
"More or less."
"That's neat. Right here?"
"Don't see why not." Liam climbed up onto the table and sat down, folding his legs into the Lotus position. "Shouldn't be but a minute." He put one hand on each knee. "The body should stay in Asana while I'm gone. If it doesn't, try not to let it fall on its head, right?"
"Sure. I guess."
"Good. Back in a bit."
Isaac watched him grow still, and wondered if the man's eyes were closed behind the dark circles of his glasses. Would there be any noticeable-
One moment, Liam was a person, registering in Isaac's consciousness as a living, breathing, self-aware creature seated atop a scratched pub table. A moment later, he was as inert and lifeless as a piece of furniture. Something had gone from him, and what remained was only scenery; a statue of a man in deep trance.
Isaac waited for something else to happen. Nothing did. He got up and paced around the empty pub, looking at the pictures on the walls- mostly oil paintings of people in archaic clothes drinking together- and watching the shadows of zombies through the lozenge windows. He whistled a bit of a pub tune whose name he couldn't remember. Was that Drowsy Maggie? Sergeant Early? He gave up. It didn't seem appropriate anyway.
The furniture became a person again, and Liam was back, uncurling his legs and hopping down from the table.
Isaac looked over at him. "So?"
"So I've got it."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"What was that, then?" Isaac said. "Your spirit left your body?"
Liam looked uncomfortable. "Something like."
"Can you teach me to do that, or is this a you-only thing?"
"I don't know. Possibly. Maybe."
"Do you want to know what's happened or not?"
Isaac crossed his arms. "Sure."
"Someone cut his way across from somewhere else," Liam said. "You know what a Gate is?"
"Well. If a Gate were a door, this would be like kicking a hole in the wall. All right?"
"And that did..." Isaac gestured out the pub window. "All of this?"
"No, that's more to do with where our man cut through to get here."
"You've lost me again."
Suppose you've a- I don't know- an underground chamber, like." Liam drew a little circle in the air. "And you want to tunnel to another underground chamber over here." He drew another little circle several feet away. "All's well, and you're carving your tunnel, and you hit a gas main. Because you're a git, you keep going anyway, and tunnel all the way through to the other chamber. The gas leaks out through the tunnel and fills both chambers." He dropped his hands. "Now pretend the chambers are here, and whatever plane our man came from, and the gas main is Dimension Z, from what came Evil Poison Zombie Death vibes. Right?"
"Why didn't you just do that in the first place? Your astral thing."
Liam looked pained again. "If you're good at something," he said. "Don't come to depend on it. You ready to go, or shall we wait and see if it livens up here at night?"
"Not exactly what?"
"The hole," Liam said. "Is still mostly there. I think it's big enough to drive through."
"Big en- you're kidding."
"You don't have to come," Liam said. He started toward the door.
"And do what? Walk back from here? Wherever here is?" He made to follow Liam, then stopped. "Hey."
Liam turned, glasses catching the lamplight. "Mm?"
"If there's still a hole, and there's Evil Poison Zombie Death all around, why haven't we died?"
"We're too handsome," Liam said. "Are you coming, or what?"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.