Bannock, never relinquishing the backpack in which oXo was hammocked and wary of untoward developments, kept an eye on the two Valley Vultures, who were trying to give him the stink-eye while being pestered by a bouncy, Hollywood-hyped Curtsy. But also took in his pool-mates standing there in
shabby clothes with no belongings. Finally, uncomfortably, he spoke quietly to them, “It’s been great meeting you… well… freaks. I’ll miss you all. But listen, is everybody going to be okay, here?”

He was pleased, and a little surprised, to get nods all around. Winston made a “smooth sailing” gesture with a flat palm. “I’m stoned, I’m possession-free, and just got rid of a woman I had to take care of. How okay can I get?”

MeiMei and Tuan nodded, impressed by his implied gesture, but about as okay as a professor and millionaire newly in love can be. Copper and Aphra unconsciously inclined their heads toward each other, Aphra wearing the buddhistic calm of somebody in possession of extremely high-ticket intel soon to become a government secret. Quasi government, anyway. Real government, probably. And Seagull was evidentially going to third-wheel the two “lebanese” girls for awhile, token different rummer.

Curtsy was in however good hands you would consider Gareth and Kenny to represent and anyway stacked blondes are seldom refugees in this world.

He gave a lingering look at Ganzo, making sure he was understood. The beachcomber slowly nodded and Xchab seemed to drift a little closer to him.

“So we’re all heading to town?” Nods all around, except for Aphra and Copper, who pointed to the airport jitney. Even Curtsy and, less comfortably, the producers were on the Belize City run. So he decided he wasn’t needed. Which was just fine.

The shuttle motor fired up and Copper was moving towards the door, but Aphra turned and looked at Townsend, who was stood apart and looked at her steadily but without expression. (Unlike Gareth and Kenny, who regarded Loris and Bannock with undisguised loathing.)

She stepped away from the shuttle door and motioned him closer. He paused for a long moment, then walked to within a pace of her. She waited for him in a natural stance, no posing, and looked at him in a very unaffected way that made him immediately suspicious. “Hey, Bigtime,” she said. “No hard feelings?”

Townsend stared at her a beat, then turned away.

“Hey, wait,” she called out and he stopped but didn’t turn. She said, “We suck, huh?”

That got him to turn and look at her, so she blurted. “I mean as, you know, human beings. We’re rotten and do fucked-up shit.”

He nodded non-committally so she went on. “Ever think about changing that? Be somebody, you know… good and decent and not like deceitful and all that?”

“Lately it’s crossed my mind.”

Now she stopped and regard him thoughtfully. “Well, maybe me too,” she said dubiously. “Almost. But listen, MeiMei Chiang? She’s good, you know? Not all sappy sweet new age good like that Loris, but she’s a straight-shooter and doesn’t hurt people, you know?”

He just stood, watching her.

“And I fucked her over. Too. Just like you would’ve, if you’d been a little quicker. But maybe you could help her out.”

“If you’re so concerned, why not give her camera back?”

She smiled, but wiped if off and hurried on. “Look, I don’t know quite which alphabet frat you work for. But whoever they are, they get shit done, I been noticing. So you got that guy on the yacht. Ronchel, on the Nahual. Heading south out of Cozumel like six weeks ago. So maybe somebody you know might be up to doing his ass for him?”

He started to give her a quick, shitty answer, but just didn’t feel like it. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “Consider it under advisement.”

Then he stepped away and she moved to the door of the shuttle and stepped up inside. Townsend made no move to board either vehicle. He’d made his arrangements. He stood watching the shuttle pull out, enduring Aphra’s smirk and fingertip wave through the window. Copper leaned over and kissed her palm, then high-fived it against the glass and they were gone.

Alone on the lot except for two Mayan groundskeepers hauling out a barrow and brooms to restore the immaculosity of the area, he pulled
out a pocket widget and checked the battery and display. Very tricky lady, that one. But basically, like many private spooks, living in a two-dimensional world. Like bugs crawling around on the floor, hiding behind bottlecaps and cigar butts, not realizing they could be seen and apprehended from the mystic
third dimension known as “up”.

Curtsy sat in the very back of the bus with the Melrose Metrosex duo, as removed as possible from the rest. She chattered about wrangling dolphins, working in pictures. But she was a girl whose idle chatter wasn’t that unpleasant to take in, especially for Gareth, so they weren’t loath to have her along.

“Remember, I got that thing I gotta do first. In Belize City. Okay?”

“Sure,” Gareth said indulgently. “We can talk to that little termite in the government film office about their program. Now that he’s had time to come down from his coke blitz at the festival.”

Curtsy grinned happily, her hot-weather ponytail bobbing. Then a shadow flitted across
her expression and she got all earnest. “Listen, I know you guys paid like a quarter million for oXo, then lost him.”

“Lost him?” Kenny asked shrilly. ” Is that what you call it when somebody takes your property out of your room at night? Maybe you and your little pals, for that matter?”

“Hey, not me. Okay? But where does that leave you guys? How can you take a hit like that and still make a picture?”

“Thanks for caring, Curtsy.” Gareth laying out his nicest manners. “It’s complicated. Money’s funny in The Wood. But okay, we don’t have a director for that picture…”

“Or a script, or a treatment, or a concept, or a vaguest fucking idea.” Kenny elaborated.

“All true. But we gotta whole lotta love at that seminar.”

“And for once he’s not bullshitting. We’ve got meetings at Zoetrope and Warners, exploring doing something down here. Maybe a real Maya picture. Maybe up there at the Lodge, down at the coast. Coppola loves it. He wants to see more of little Chabex, too.”

“Xchab. That’s great, guys. So are there dolphins in it?”

“Sure. You bet. I’m taking meetings with Flipper’s people, seeing if Willy will work for free.” He smiled enough to let her know he was more or less joking. “But how about Xchab? Is she going to be around. It might be almost a year before we do it, but we’d like to think…”

“Don’t worry. She’s going to be in a great place where they’ll take good care of her.”

“Great! Mind telling us where?”

“No problem. When the time comes. Now about your company for this film… where do you think I would fit in best?”

“Let’s see,” Kenny mused. “Blonde, built like a brickhouse, hot as a cell phone at Pico and Alvarado, full of mindless enthusiasm and dumb as a box of rocks… I’d say, executive producer?”

“I was thinking more like marketing,” Gareth said. “Now all you need is a Best Boy.”

“They’re all best,” Kenny said. “One way or another.”

After carefully storing the pack with its crystal passenger, Bannock shifted to where he could keep the corner of his eye on Gareth and Kenny in the back. He knew they’d be back into a cell phone footprint before they reached Belize City and that the really dicey spot would be getting out at the bus station. Meanwhile, he turned his attention to Loris, asked her something that had been on his mind. “What I don’t
understand…you were so crushed to be parted from oXo, but now you’re trying to lose him for keeps. So, what’s the difference?

“Because he’s going home. Don’t you see? He has his spot in the scheme of things and now he’s on his way. You said you were taking him home and you came through”

“Well, I have to confess, I didn’t exactly…”

“Hey.” She put a finger to his lips.” You did it. You can’t snarl out the reasons on things like this: you made it happen. And I’m never going to forget that.”

“Well, you might, after a few years. So I figure I’ll stick around and remind you.”

She shot him a sidelong look past her hair. “Are you professional tough guys really allowed to say mushy stuff like that?”

“I’m considering retirement. Know any good beaches?”mayancalendargirls.com

“You’re pretty young for that.”

“Well, you know… I was looking at those movie people up there. And kept thinking, “Just how hard
can this business be, anyway?”

“Oh, God. Are we going to jump off ‘Get Biggie’ here?”

“Actually, I think our next role should be ‘Get Lost’.”

“How else can anybody ever get found?”

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The parking lot was a bustle of people, luggage and conflicting itineraries. Tuan noticed an inverse proportion of luggage: the nobodies who’d paid to come touch the hem of Hollywood’s garment looked like they’d packed for a safari, luminaries like Cage and Black had single carry-ons. He and Mei had, of course, the clothes on their backs and two small packs of gizmos and necessories.

No lack of ground transport, as it’s called in the trade. A couple of cabs out of Belize City, driven by evil-looking RastaNefarious villains who broke into a lyrical Creole and engaging smiles when spoken to. A shuttle bus from Maya Island Airlines and the Lodge’s own combat Proven veteran of Camel Trophy wilderness racing Range Rover for those heading for Belize City, and buses to the border or the Cayes.

“No helicopters, though,” Aphra condescendingly observed to Copper.

Copper squinted up through the rainforest canopy and said, “Yet.”

The various guests and staff were sorting out into the vehicles, most heading for the airport, a few to Caye Caulker to unwind after three days in paradise. mayancalendargirls.com

Winston and Cage had vanished, presumably “bowling” at the 420 Lanes. Shane Black was pointing out some odd arm and shoulder movements to Loris, telling her how she’d eliminated the whole carpal/zygoid glitch he called “writer’s wrist”, and asking if he could make an appointment with her back in California.

Warm farewells and promises to exchange emails were being made with all the assurance of people who believed they would actually continue to correspond. The “interloper” cadre stood somewhat apart, marked by general lack of luggage and the somewhat preoccupied expressions they’d worn all day. They spoke softly among themselves, both avoiding the subject and wanting to sort it all out.

“It’s… I don’t know. Like a ship hits a hurricane and things shift around down in the hold.” Copper nodded blankly, but Aphra kept after it. “You know it’s different, but might not find out until you start unloading. But definitely some differences.”

Definitely. Some differences Copper would never really notice. And it would be almost three months before it suddenly dawned on her that she had no interest in renewing her explorations of the non-world of Ketamine anymore. Pharmaceuticals in general seemed uninteresting, like artificial lures. And it would be almost a year before she realized that she hadn’t dumped her lover and started scouting around: an all-time record.

“I don’t really notice anything different,” Tuan said, looking down as if he’d spot some change in his posture. “I mean, it blew my mind like never before. But I’m still me.”

“Probably because you’re so normal anyway,” MeiMei teased. Like she should talk about people being normal.

“Salvia and mescaline are like that,” Copper volunteered. “The more fucked-up you are, the more you notice it.”

“In that case,” Curtsy said, “How are you doing, there, Aphra?”

Aphra shot her an eye, but tossed her hands up and gushed, “I’m queer no mo’! Bless gracious and praise the lord, I’se free at last. All I can think about anymore is big old dicks. And I’m thinking of donating my time and money to working with Retarded Unwed Manatees.”

Loris looked up and caught her eye and Aphra toned it down a little. “Yeah, there’s something happening. But nothing I want to talk about. Don’t want to jinx the mojo.”

Much of what shifted below decks in Aphra had to do with what Loris had noted in her, the conquest obsession with sex. The mighty orgasmablitz had shaken a lot loose inside her, and she felt a lingering effect every time she came, clutching Copper to her in a torrent of sensation with no thought of anything but feeling it more and passing it on. She was also, though it would have alarmed her to know it, developing a rudimentary conscience.

But she looked back at Curtsy and pointed with her chin to where Ganzo was sitting in front of Xchab, talking to her non-stop. “Now right there’s a change you might take note of, Barbie. Looks like you might wind up short one boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“I’d say it be like that .”

Everybody looked at the Mayan pair. You could spot something different about Xchab right away; there was no longer the shadow of subservience or abnegation in her pose or manner. She sat up, looked sharply, took account. And as for Ganzo…

“It’s like he just woke up,” Curtsy said. “Came out of some kind of coma. I could never figure him out before. He wasn’t stupid or gorked out: he just wasn’t really around. And now…”

At that particular “now”, Ganzo was telling Xchab, “So you see. You are who you are, you have your place to be.”

“I see that,” she said. “I just wanted… But who am I, then? Where do I belong? Do you have answers to that?”

Ganzo’s steady gaze never wavered. “You’re like me. You belong with me. We’ll leave here and go find the place where we should be.”

Xchab stared at him. This was one different guy than the one she’d seen around before. And he seemed to know exactly what he was saying. She looked at him and tried to weigh him against Winston, against the tantalizing promise of the glittery world she’d been moping around the edges of. She said, “Those men want to put me in a movie.”

“Good. Maybe that will happen. Here’s what I think. You should come with me. I feel that very strongly. I want you to come with me. Stay with me.”

There was plenty of room for a girl to be thinking, Come where? Stay where? But Xchab looked at this sturdy, open young man of her own people and mold and slowly nodded her head.

“Tell you what,” Bannock said, when people seemed done with gawking the young Indian couple, “I’ve had more remodels and refits in my head the last couple weeks than I can really deal with. Right now I just sorta feel the way I did after eating those mushrooms. Except maybe more so. I’m just… I’m up for it. That’s it, I guess: I’m all for it.”

“That’s it!” Curtsy blurted. “That’s it right there. Bring it on.”

“When I was a little girl,” MeiMei said softly, getting everybody’s attention with her soft tone of voice, “My mother would always say, When you get old enough you’ll know better. Right now, I feel like I know better.”

“That’s what I would say about it,” Loris said. “I feel like I’m charged, informed.”

“Back in my ‘hood,” Aphra told her, “When peeps informed it worked out bad for ’em.”

MeiMei and Bannock laughed and Loris smiled wide, but went on, “I have knowledge. Knowledge isn’t just information, it has it’s own intelligence.”

Aphra and Townsend both nodded at that, caught each other and looked away.

“There’s only a certain amount of knowledge in the world and nobody can have all of it,” Loris continued. “But it wants to flow out and know everyone. That’s what the Call is: to know with total certainty who we are and what the world is, what we mean.”

“And now you on top of all that? Got the inside skinny?” Aphra wasn’t adverse, but wanted to hear her answer.

“It’s coming to everybody and everything in the world,” she said. “We have each been called to a task and our task is to prepare the next call, which will come in one year.”

“Fine with me,” Aphra grinned. “I’m still shakin like a jellyroll from the last one.”

“And the purpose of the Second call will be to bring people together to amplify the next Call, each one affecting more people, more meaningfully than the one before.”

“And the final one is in 2012? What’s its purpose?”

Loris stopped, looking at her–or through her–for a long moment, then she said, “The Final Call is its own purpose. Which the purpose for everything alive, everything that exists.”

“Hey, I heard last calls before,” Aphra cracked. “Means you don’t gotta go home, but you gotta get your ass out the door.”

There were smiles. but it fell a little flat. Then Townsend spoke quietly and simply. “All I notice is, I feel more like me. Trouble is, I don’t really recognize myself.”

“But you will,” Loris told him, looking at him intently. “We all will. That’s why this is happening. Why everything happened in the first place.”

“Wow, cool.” Winston muttered. Then straightened up and looked right at her. “But nothing you said makes any sense.”

“It will,” Loris said. “It’s what sense is for in the first place.”

“Tell you what I’m wondering here,” Aphra said, and everybody turned towards her as she said, “What is the sound of one hand pulling your leg?”

Everybody laughed, including Loris. But then she said, “You already know the sound. You just heard it. The First Tone.”

As more revelations of inner alterations trickled out of the waiting passengers, testimonials Aphra thought of as “Change You Can’t Help But Believe In”, Copper suddenly started laughing and motioned her closer. She leaned over and the redhead said. “God, you know what this sounds like?”

“What, child? What?”

“The obligatory character arc.”

Both of them clutched their cheeks and screamed, “Oh, noooooooooo!”

“First Tomb Raider, then Crystal Skulls,” Aphra said, pursing her long-suffering lips. “Now we’re Raiders of the Lost Arc.”

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Breakfast at Blancaneaux was delicious as ever, and the feeling on the open deck as delightful. But the big table surrounded by the twelve “interlopers”, as they’d been dubbed by the conference staff and paid attendees, wasn’t awash in taste or sensation. They huddled together trying to both come to grips with and avoid examining what had happened to them the night before.

“I wish you’d just tell us the whole works,” Copper pouted behind her freckles. “I’d say we’re all pretty involved in this by now.”

“And if it’s the end of the world you’re talking about, I’d like to cancel some engagements and break a few dates,” Aphra added, only halfway smiling.

“My guess, anybody you date or are engaged to is already broken,” Townsend said, but without any real spite.

MeiMei was more on beam. “When you talked about that… whatever it was… being the First Tone,” she asked, “Do you mean ‘tones’ like the date glyphs on the Mayan calendar? Because if so…”

“I’m telling you everything I know,” Loris said. “As it comes in.
I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m not questioning it.”

“Hard to question getting your ashes hauled that thoroughly,” Winston tossed out, pausing to burp. “Best safe sex I ever had.”

That was the first time any of them had made a direct reference to the most spectacular part of their evening soak in such terms. The general, unspoken, feeling in the group was that nobody had ever had such a sweeping, explosive, wringing, pyrotechnic, obliterating orgasm before, and maybe nobody would ever again. There was a pause, nobody making eye contact, then Loris spoke again.

“Oh, sorry. There’s also this. The four ‘tones’ are also known as ‘calls’. What we heard was the First Call, and each of the future ones will be stronger and felt by more people, until the final one which will be of universal scope.”

That produced another silence until Aphra piped up. “Well, if they’re going to be stronger than that, I’ll definitely keep them on Call Forwarding.”

“Just a call girl at heart,” Copper chuckled, tapping her thigh to Aphra’s under the table.

“Each one of us has been changed. Or more like… oriented. I get the impression of something like a magnet with a field around it. And each of us will in some way help to bring about the Second Call.”

“Ah, a Second Coming,” Tuan said, straight-faced. “I assumed there are no dates and venues announced?”

Loris shook her head as if embarrassed not to have the press kit ready to hand out, then they all looked up because Francis Coppola was approaching the table.

He walked up, nodded around the circle of expectant faces, said, “About last night…” and gave it the beat any straight line needs to breathe.

“Mr. Coppola,” MeiMei said with mock severity, “By your age you must have learned never to utter that phrase to a woman over breakfast.”

He laughed with the rest, but obviously retained curiosity. Which Loris nipped in the bud. “I hope you’re ready for your massage, Mr. Coppola?”

He smiled back, “Is anybody ever not ready for a massage?”

“You’d be surprised.”

And if there are surprises to be had, I’m sure you and your little bunch will be the ones to provide them, he thought. “You know,” he said in an avuncular manner, as if veering off into some old-timer’s reminiscence, “You shoot all these miles of film, and most of it gets left in the cutting room. Not really on the floor, I’m sure you understand. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to take all those cuts and splice together a picture. The same cast, same setting, most of the same scenes, but a very different film from what everybody gets to see.”

“Sort of a ‘defector’s cut’?” Tuan ventured.

Coppola nodded absently then said, “I just look at you people and get a sense of you and that comes to my mind. Some other picture than the one that we’re seeing.”

Nobody had a quip for that so he stepped back and made a courtly, old world gesture. “There will be transportation at the parking lot at one. If anybody wants to arrange something more spectacular than a bus or house van…” he looked at Townsend, “…there’s a satellite phone at the concierge. Thank you for coming. I have to say, you’ve made this one of the more memorable conferences.”

“Thank you Mr. Coppola,” Loris said. “I know we’re party crashers, but your hospitality has been wonderful and your place here is simply magnificent.”

He turned and gave her a deprecating gesture of his fingers, straight out of Brando, and said, “It’s been my pleasure to be your host. You’ve entertained me, as well. And an old maxim of entertainment is, ‘Give ’em what they want, then beat it for the wings’.”

And he turned to make an exit worthy of any stage trouper, leaving a dozen people charmed, but still totally unsure what to make of what had happened at the Lodge or why they were even there in the first place.

But there was no doubt of the “why” in the minds of Gareth and Kenny as they waited until Coppola had left the building then jumped up and buzzed over to the twelve-top burning with guarded outrage. “Where is it?” Gareth snapped without warm-up or intro. “It’s not in the pool and not in your room.”

“And definitely not in our room, where our property belongs,” Kenny snipped.

Everybody just looked at them except Loris and Bannock, who knew exactly what they meant. “He,” Loris emphasized, “Is in a safe place.”

“Well then would it be safe to say…” Kenny started up, but Gareth finished.

“…that since he is ours and we paid you a large sum of money…”

“…plus expenses…”

“…that you’re going to be honorable…”

“…not sneak thieves…”

“…and return him to us?”

Bannock set down the English muffin he’d been spreading with black Mayan honey and said, “No.”

The simple finality stopped the two harried producer-hyphenates, as it was meant to.

Gareth immediately dropped into a whining competition with Kenny, no easy contest. “But listen, you guys… We can work something out.”

“Maybe. Some time,” Loris said. “But for now, oXo wants to go home so that’s where he’s going.”

“Listen, you two.” Kenny actually managed to snivel and bluster at the same time. “There are laws, even in this God-forsaken place…”

Almost everybody at the table turned their heads, taking in the simple grace of the dining deck, the teeming green beauty of the morning rain forest. But Kenny plunged on.
“We paid for that thing, it’s part of our film, and we are going to have it back.”

“No,” Bannock said. “You’re not.”

“Well you make your tactics pretty obvious,” Kenny sniffed. “Mr. Inedible Hulk sitting there threatening to turn us into brunch. But things don’t work like that in the real world.”

“Sure they do.”

“Okay, they do,” Gareth practically sobbed. “But couldn’t you just talk about this?”

“We’ll talk.” Loris’ calm statement astonished the rest of the table, who regarded talking to the Van Niseguys as being as fun and useful as self-administered dentistry. “Back in L.A. We’ll call Curtsy when the time comes. She’s on your picture, right?”

What picture?” Gareth practically shrieked. “You stole our picture, remember?”

“Director-nappers!” Kenny snarled.

“Roasting Flesh,” Loris said. “The festival brochure said you start shooting next month.”

“Is it a cooking show?” Aphra asked. “Or one of those celebrity roast things gone horribly wrong?”

“It’s a teen-aged grindhouse fucking flasher/slasher!” Gareth moaned. “We can do better. But you stole our director.”

“And our buzz,” Kenny glared accusingly. “You snatched Entertainment Tonight right out of our jaws.”

“So it’s ‘ET meets Jaws’?” Copper asked with feigned innocence.

“I think Curtsy would be practically type-casting for some co-ed getting naked before some ugly freak takes a jackhammer to her,” Aphra announced, drawing a scowl from Curtsy.

“Cut the shit, you crooks,” Kenny spluttered. “We’re going to…”

“You’re going to shut up and get lost,” Bannock said without inflection, but it was enough to stop Kenny in mid-spittle-spray. Bannock raised a battered hand and made a shooing gesture and the two producers started backing away, glaring as they bumped into waiters and chairs.

“You haven’t seen the last of us, Chuckie,” Gareth shot back as the two wheeled and fled the room.

Now that’s a dire warning,” Aphra said. “I’d just as soon see Hannibal Lector for being overweight”

“You know what really sucks?” Loris said. “He’s right.”

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The vibration in the pool was no longer subtle, and had again shifted in frequency: to the slower, more evocative beat known as “Theta”. Around the circle, legs were spreading open, nipples and erections were stiffening, membranes moistening, limbic systems reacting, anuses unclenching, breathing slowing, muscles moving in a rolling rhythm, third eyes blinking.

A sound could be heard, but only to those in the pool: an inner sound like a thin, piping whistle or piccolo. Tuan automatically classified it as an artifact, a “beat” created by wave amplitude interference of the deeper frequencies. Which was more or less his last coherent thought on the subject. The pulse dropped lower and their bodies started rising, abdominals fluttering, inner visions seeing a long tunnel with a watery, golden light at the end.

Copper, veteran of hundreds of acid orgies, took it in her proprioceptive stride, opening herself to the beginnings of white waves of orgasmic release. Her lips grew cold and trembled, seeming to whistle a simple air like that of a piper.

Xchab, a virgin emotionally if not technically, had no vocabulary of stimulus or response to refer to. As wavelets of energy lapped at her mind she retreated into the stolid non-here of an Indian, then to the unreasoned purity of childhood. Her body floated upward, her mind sank into a vortex. She felt good. She felt. She…………

Winston, another inveterate shocktrooper in the campaigns of sex and psychedelia, had long since hung a Gone Fishin’ sign on his brain and surrendered serenely to what was happening. Which, judged by the storms and tsunamis his mind/body had weathered previously, was shaping up to one hell of a blow. He felt his legs spreading wider, his feet brushed the toes of Xchab and Charity on either side.

The vibration was slowing even more, and nobody involved would have, at that point, described what they were experiencing as due to pulsing water pressure. It was inside them, around them, all over and about them. They were strings being strummed, chants being hummed.

Bannock was on alien shores, but nothing in him resisted it. His spread feet touched MeiMei’s, then Loris’ and he was profoundly conscious of being in the right place, among the right people, at the right time, of the right stuff. He wasn’t really aware of his body floating slowly up in the water, of the tip of his straining penis breaking the surface like a periscope seeking visions and orientation.

Beside him, MeiMei felt her left foot touch Bannock, and a second later her right foot contacting Tuan’s. But she really had nothing to do with any of that. She was a disembodied point of view ascending a molten staircase of golden light, her arms spread wide to embrace the source of that light, which seemed to radiate from all around her, from an invisible bird calling above her head. The bird’s song was as sweet as a gold flute. She no longer climbed, she drifted up like a bubble in a tall flute of champagne.

The beat of the night had slowed further, hovered at about one hertz. The frequency was fixed in each person in the tub, their hearts synchronized at sixty beats a minute, the blood in their arteries lub-dubbing in unison. Once a second: one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, three hippopotamus, four. The inner circuitry of their brains was also firing as one, running subprograms that released treasured molecules into their brain fluid and blood. They vibrated like insistently plucked harps, shook like the columns of wind twelve-toned saxophones.

Ganzo was almost completely horizontal at this point, his dick poking out of the water like the other guys’, one of a ring of standing members moving to inner fluctuations of blood pressure. He could feel Curtsy and Xchab touching him, could feel the music of inner tides and currents, the neaping and seeping that made him. He was alone in the dark except for that black, compelling littoral music. Then a star shone above him. As he looked at it, it widened. A comet, a moon, a distant sun. He lay as limp as he had very laid on a beach recovering from a deep dive. And the sun rotated, sucking his gaze into it, pressing down on him in a rhythmic massage. As he stared into that single light, something happened in him, as abrupt and definite as the flick of a switch. Ganzo woke up.

Seagull had felt like a third wheel when he first slipped into the water between Copper and Aphra, a useless membrane between them. But as his feet touched theirs, and as his fingers clutched around their necks and he felt other twined fingers on his own, that changed. He felt as though he stood between them on a high platform, singing while they harmonized, cosmic backup singers stepping up to do a trio turn as the piping grew stronger and the vibration shook deeper down. It was a shell, like the Hollywood Bowl, or more like Red Rocks. And in the darkness in front of him, as he sang his cellular choir, little points of light were coming on. A dozen flames out there in the night, a hundred flares held overhead by an audience of everybody who’d ever lived, a million, million stars that claimed him as their own. His mouth came open and his teeth stopped chattering. He ran to the edge of the stage and dived into the light.

Copper spun at the center of the sun. Surrounded by fire, warmed like soft wax in its radiation, buffed to metallic glory in its scarlet light, ignited with the proximity of all she had ever sought, she gave herself to the fire that moved upon her. It exploded into her eyes and she burst into flame like a bird bursts into song, like a shell bursts into a hot white flower of final flame. She was burning now, smoke coming off her in twisting, Sanskrit patterns, Tibetan flames layering out of her darkening skin, as her pubic hair rose above the surface of the pool, her nipples shed water like an emerging helldiver…she burned up and was gone. Finally rid of that. All gone. All gone.

The piping sound grew faster, louder, more piercing. It was an icepick now, sixty hertz buzz drawn out into a white lance that ran them all through.

Townsend had fought against what he had no wherewithal or reason to fight off. And seen his inhibitions blown to smithereens, his defenses flattened. He was taken and squeezed flat, kneaded like a tube of toothpaste, forced into a constricted passage of darkness. He was massaged through that black tunnel for centuries, knowing no time or space but the eternal, prodding pressure toward something he couldn’t imagine or anticipate. He felt himself longing to be there, to emerge from this bowl of blackness into something open and light. And finally a time came when he could see it, somewhere in the distance or future. He squirmed toward it in vain, but was pumped on towards that light by the constrictions around him. He stop fighting to be born and let himself flow out into the world. He slipped into blinding light, light that burned him clean and dry, polished him like ivory. He looked up at the lights above and realized he was held by hands. And the hands lifted him upwards and the light became a face. This was where he came from, he realized in exultation. This is my source! And he felt the love of it. It was not familiar to him, so it came over him like twilight, but it was The Love. He loved his parents for giving him life, he loved the children to whom he would some day return it. He loved the world for coming into existence, and for going back to nothing. For the first time since he was born, Townsend felt the motes of rock-deep, unbound, star-high love. His tears blew back out of his eyes, fell the ground and sprang up as small beings of light.

Aphra, head lolling back on Townsend and Seagull’s laced hands, legs spread open to receive the subtle but insistence pulse in the water, thought she saw something forming in the steam cloud the hot water generated in the moist night air above it. There was a swirling in the mist, then a bunching and compounding, then it was as though a shaft of mist–or light, or impulse or hallucination, or something–flared up into the sky; a column of quivering vapor that lanced as far up as she could see. Damn, she thought before she moved way past thoughts, ET calling home for real. Hope he isn’t on roaming rates. Then her eyes dropped shut under the onslaught of internal sensation, the rhythm in the water deepening and spreading up through her body, down through her nervous system, out through her mind. Her head flopped back into cradling, shuddering hands, her long flat stomach muscles fluttered, then convulsed into a running throb. Her head filled with colors, with boomings, with sparkles and spangles and the wide pounding of oblivion.

Loris stood on top of a hill, looking up the Milky Way, which extended from the center of her eye to the end of the universe. She raised her hand towards the glow of it and her hair was blown back by an almond-scented breeze. The rising wind plucked the pure white cotton robes off her, blew them away behind her. The wind was caused by her own movement: she moved steadily up the causeway of stardust, led by the light of the center of All. The rising wind blew off her hair, then teased away her skin, which rippled back and away from her. The rest of her flesh was also blown away by the rising sirocco of her own acceleration. She was lying horizontal now, flying like a harpoon into the center of the center of the center. Her bones turned to dust, more dross to curl way into her wake. She elongated as her velocity approached that of light, she was expanding, becoming the only object in the universe, streaking forward pulling an infinite cone of change towards the point of her death and birth. She was beam, a ray just one point wide and infinite points long, motion no longer meaningful. As she pierced the eye of the cosmos… she bloomed.

All six men in the pool ejaculated at once, a tiny Vegas fountain in the glowing water. All six women orgasmed as they had never before, blasted into that sweet death as though lashed onto big rockets. They all shook and spasmed, arching up out of the water as though it had been electrified.

Then they went limp and subsided, slowing sinking back down, their feet touching the bottom, their butts drifting down onto the benches. But they continued to embrace each other, their eyes still closed. Their lips parted. Their throats loosened. In some cases, their balls descended.

From the window of his bedroom in the Lodge’s highest room, Francis Ford Coppola looked down at his jungle hot pool. It looked like a carnation, like a fractal star, one of those Esther Williams musical numbers. Twelve people he didn’t know from Adam, naked and arranged around the pool with their legs forming a Moravian star in the center. They seemed to be doing some sort of dance or exercise, kind of throbbing. He opened the mosquito screen for a better view through the dome of glowing mist over the pool… just in time to see it spring upward as though somebody had turned on one of those opening night searchlights under the pool. The shaft of golden light, the same diameter as the pool, leaped up, shone into the night sky, didn’t diminish as it shined out of sight, had no end.

Then it went out and the whole pool plunged into darkness. Great, Coppola thought. Now they’ll have to drain the pool to change the bulb.

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