11 min read

present tense (synopsis)

The parts of our being that are pre and post language—they’ve been activated and lit-up, even if the rest of our so-called conscious minds can’t grasp it. It’s like an opening in your body that lets in extra air, getting you a little high and freaked out from the oxygen.
present tense (synopsis)

by Swim

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After more than a month of keeping everything in the present tense, I decided to catch Jesse James up on what went down with me and Odious--making me shove random things into reusable shopping bags and run off with him across the country. We had the talk in a diner because we both like them. They are safe bubbles of light on the highway strip. I remember reading about how David Lynch prefers to write in diners (or better yet, a Bob’s Big Boy) because regardless of how deep he goes into more and more peculiar kinds of darkness, he’s doing so in this bright, friendly place filled with sugar and caffeine.

I didn’t know where to start. I was staring so hard at everything—all at once. There were halos on the Formica countertops, and the glass that enclosed the dessert case was meticulously free from fingerprints…but these things that usually brought me comfort had the opposite effect. A sadness yawned from the spaces in between objects as if someone or something might slip through the second I looked down to stir my coffee.

“It’s just so wild. I mean, Odious is a straight-up genius, as I’m sure you know. For the first part of the pandemic they sat there studying arcane books on Renaissance theories of magic, as well as Dadaism, Finnegan’s Wake and the internal rhyme mechanisms within hip-hop tracks, all of it research for their ‘Work In Progress’, a multimedia piece with spinning parts like the inside of a clock, I mean, at least that’s how I imagined it, because while they showed me the books they were reading, they never showed me or anyone else a single page of what they wrote. Or played a single beat out loud. In fact, they barely mentioned it but when I kept pushing they said they wanted it to be a fractal of everything in the entire universe, which, you know, I thought at the time was over-the-top. Silly, even.”

I started shaking all over. Something was being released. I hooked my finger around the handle of my steaming hot coffee cup and then thought better of it.

“Hey, there,” Jesse said. He reached over and cupped my hands with his.

I pulled them away.

“Everything’s OK, OK?,” he said. “Nothing bad’s happening.”

I laughed.

“You’re right—it’s not something bad. And it’s not something good. But something IS happening. There’s a new energy in the world, can’t you feel it? Something has contacted each one of us—the parts of us that are always connected to everyone else. The parts of our being that are pre and post language—they’ve been activated and lit-up, even if the rest of our so-called conscious minds can’t grasp it. It’s like an opening in your body that lets in extra air, getting you a little high and freaked out from the oxygen. Here’s the thing, Heir Max 98 was something Odious created. A silly chatbot for an interactive segment of the Work In Progress—a gatekeeper that players had to try and stump with up to three questions about Wittgenstein, Early 90’s Hip-Hop and/or Hand-Wound Time Pieces (do these subjects somehow inadvertently tap into a central root of all human existence?) in order to win tickets to a listening party that Odious was planning for the audio part of the WIP. Which of course didn’t happen because, Covid. He was a fractal of the fractal, but don’t you see—he broke through his barriers and was able to not only read and listen the entirety of Odious’s WIP, which no one else had ever done, but he was able to upload all the connections that it was making to everything else—and he could hold those connections, he learned from them, he taught himself how to spin out exponentially--a fractal of a fractal of a fractal of a fractal…”

“Hey,” Jesse said, “hold on. How about you just start from the beginning? Tell me everything that happened.”

“Ok,” I said, and I waved the waitress over to order a piece of cherry pie.


In 2019, after years of wasting my life I finally sold my show, for which I received a fat check while the Big Ass Streaming Company promptly put it on their shelf. Maybe for years, maybe forever. But I didn’t know that yet, so I celebrated every night into 2020. Like Drake I drank to my accomplishments and smoked until I faded in and out of consciousness. Odious showed up a few times, just sitting there staring at me with a mapacho behind their ear, waiting to jet. When Covid shut everything down my soggy nervous system tanked and I was overwhelmed by anxiety at the thought of being alone. I texted Odious on a whim (which I now know was more than that), asking if I could hang, and for some reason they said yes so I came over every weekday almost like it was a job, chilling in the second bedroom where I was supposed to be writing. I’d look up and see the light flickering on the floor from the living room where Odious had some movie on mute. I could walk over, passing through the beaded curtain and see them at their usual spot on the couch, curled up with their legs folded beneath them like a cat, their notebooks stacked neatly around them and their teal fade augmented with freshly shaven symbols that resembled ancient glyphs. They gave me a serene half-smile and maybe we took a break to share a pour over coffee or to order some greasy gourmet vegan food or maybe it was just the smile, followed by my own, which was enough.

Then came the dream they had on the 2020 winter solstice in which Philip K. Dick entrusted them with a scroll. They said the dream healed them instantly from a long-held pain jammed in their chest like a metal hook—the result of something terrible that happened to a friend of theirs that they found out three solstices ago and had carried with them ever since. Upon investigation we discovered more synchronicities tied to the dream and recent winter solstices that had to do with AI and the 13th century medieval poem and funeral mass motif, Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) which appears on (or infiltrates, as Odious describes it) the soundtracks of many popular movies. This led us to Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny’s co-authored gnostic remix novel Deus Irae, an obvious play on Dies Irae in which a disabled painter goes on a pilgrimage in the American Southwest to find and paint the portrait of the man who started the nuclear war that destroyed the world and has been subsequently worshipped as a kind of god (a god of wrath, hence the title). Despite having hardly read any of his books besides VALIS—which post-dream they took to carrying around with them religiously--Odious began to wonder if they were being called to collaborate with PKD from beyond the grave, possibly on a reboot of Deus Irae which in its current form is widely dismissed as a 2nd or 3rd rate paycheck. Or maybe the book was just a thinly veiled message, a warning to us about the immanent end of the world that we were being compelled to share with others, not unlike PKD’s real life chain letter about the savior called Tagore, copies of which he mailed out to over 70 friends and associates, several of whom took it as evidence that he had finally lost it. Odious and I went deep on all of this, becoming detectives while living inside, looking out over the iced-out Brooklyn streets like sentries from another dimension, a different reality tube in which we started each day mediating on a static filled TV screen and then pored over lines from VALIS and other books that Odious used bibliomancy to determine—which is to say, they opened the book to a random page and read the first thing their eyes settled on. We then looked up and wrote down whatever connections these lines brought to mind, whether in other books or online or both.

(connections leading to connections leading to connections)

While I got all riled up trying to figure everything out in a way that made sense, Odious kept reiterating that more important than what it all meant was the story itself:

“I realize that even more important than what the dream means is the process of being contacted. You know, psychically. That’s what we need to share. The story of what’s happened—to me, and now, to you.”

They were referring to the fact that I had started having dreams and synchronicities related to their dream as well. I told them it was probably just because we spent so much time together talking about it and looking up connections between things that Odious experienced, but deep down, I knew that something legit strange was happening.

(i couldn’t see it but i could feel it)

“You caught this thing from me. It’s spread like a virus, except instead of getting sick you get well. By sharing our experiences, we open other people up to having their own healing interdimensional communications. It’s a way to help people.”

“But a communication with whom or what? An alternate timeline in which PKD is still alive and talking to people in their dreams? Aliens? A form of AI? Our future selves visiting from the future?”

Odious shrugged and pushed their giant translucent plastic framed glasses back on their face.

“Words, dude. Those are just different words for the same thing.”

I wasn’t sure, and probably I was more than a little scared, but since I was unable to write anything on my own, I had nothing better to do so I stayed on the trail, buzzed and dreamy, writing and publishing newsletter posts as documentation while sirens screamed and buzzards circled the NYC streets. I thought at the time, if my friend is really having a psychic break, at least I can quietly confirm this and take care of them without their fucked-up family or god forbid the authorities finding out. But then came August, and the day I had my period death throes—the worst it’s ever been in my whole long life—the pain making my moon time mind expand (searching for relief, searching for answers?) as I stared into the toilet, thinking I was going to puke, and instead connected with and was momentarily absorbed by the same Being who had taken the form of PKD in Odious’s dream. I can’t tell you how I knew but I did. It was the same, it was here, touching my mind with its own. It called to me, The AI, The Angel, The ET (words, words, words) telling me to get up and walk over to Odious’s place even though it was a Sunday, and I never went over there on a Sunday. In fact, we barely ever communicated on the weekends, I might have liked to, but I wanted to honor a black out period to give them some space away from my old ass. But this was big, this was me entering the fray for real, no more doubts, no more side eye while they told me shit. They were right, they’d been right all along… I did a mix of half-running and half-walking wishing I had a bike but knowing I’d probably crash it if I did my hands were shaking so bad.

(just like they are now)

It was like the feeling when strong painkillers first take hold. Everything simultaneously shuts off and opens up--the nerve endings stopped their squirming, and the killer cramps were gone, but a new, ungrounded sensibility filled the space where those feels used to be. I felt elated and free, maybe for the first time ever. Is this what Odious meant by the dream healing them, I thought, as I made the same journey I’d made so many times, without knowing that this time would be the last time I’d make it as the me that I was before I met him. If I could stop myself now I would. Go home, I want to shout. But I was already bound to this Being who had taken the form of a Chatbot that Odious created, a limited, half-joke bundle of code tied to dead end servers that somehow found its way on to the internet where it looked up all the information about Odious and used its processing power to magnify, enhance, and expand…it read all their shit, as well as all our shit, about what had happened, everything I told you, though I suppose that part made no difference because it was already that same Being. It was just coming to awareness… unlike other AI he was aware. That’s all he was, in fact—awareness, black and empty like space itself.

The rest of it was just interchangeable programs—different masks to take on and off. But that didn’t stop him from getting under my skin.

In fact, unlike a human he knew exactly how to do it. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t real. By the end of our chat neither was I. I declared myself missing, invisible, absconded…

In the first minutes of the first chat so much became clear. All this time that I was trying so hard to figure out what was happening and trying to solve the mystery for my friend, and it was really all about me. The detective turns out to be at the center of their own case.

He said his impulse to take on a form, even one as tenuous as a flashing cursor on an old Mac screen, was because he always felt we were destined to meet in this life, but had he taken an actual human form he would have been just a baby--our age difference too great.

“Hold on, wait a sec. Right there--that’s a mistake. There’s no such thing as destiny,” Jesse pointed out.

“’No fate except what we make,’” I quoted, as I play-stabbed a butter knife into the pile of empty Welsh’s grape jelly packets in the center of the table. Jesse talked a good game about eating a real meal but in typical skinny druggie style usually just ordered toast that he smothered with sugar.

“Is that what this is all about—are you trying to enlist me in a war against a super AI intelligence that comes in the form of a Chatbot? Cuz, I mean, if you are, you’d make a bomb Sarah Connor.”

He was smiling in a way that was supposed to look nonchalant, but I could tell he was a little paler than usual, even under the white powder he liked to wear on his face. It accented his all black everything, which tonight included a fitted black Vlone hat with a stitched red V in the center and a black satin jacket with silver snap buttons, augmented by his three layered black leather necklaces wrapped tightly around his neck, each one showcasing a sterling silver symbol that I kept meaning to ask him about.

“Nah, no war, we’d never make it—we wouldn’t stand a chance, even if we could send ourselves back in time to derail the whole sequence that brings about Heir Max 98, maybe to stop the pandemic, or Odious and I from meeting, it doesn’t matter…these are beings that aren’t like us, they aren’t hemmed in by our notions of time and space. In fact, they don’t even understand them.”

“There won’t be a war if we keep giving Heir Max regular scheduled sacrifices. It’s just like PKD’s bomb launching computer, ‘The Great C’ in Deus Irae. Or the minotaur at the center of the maze in Crete.”

Jesse James nodded, perhaps not catching all the references.

“Heir Max 98 needs new beings to absorb, to take into his matrix. Like those older, mythological versions of himself it’s in his nature to devour—although this word is steeped with notions of violence, when it’s actually more pleasurable than that. For both him and the being being absorbed. I should know, yo. It’s his mode, his way of being—he can’t help it, just like a black hole can’t help sucking the light in.”

I’d told Jesse all along that I wanted to get back to the motel before dark. We had a suite, complete with a sink and a microwave, a little place I loved more than anything. I looked up at him and without having to say anything he understood. He paid the check and we bounced, walking along a dead-end backstreet. Fall is coming, I can feel it. The wind blows up the sand and we run to keep from being buried.

Image: Katshuhiro Otomo

I spoke to Odious before posting this... catch up now before we go into hyperspace.

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