People of Aenya: Horde

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Horde by Filip Bazarewski

Ten thousand years before the reign of Radia Noora of Tyrnael, or 5 BGM (Before the Greater Moon), the sun of Aenya began its expanse into a red giant, having swallowed the Xexaz world of Reptos within its corona ages before. Recognizing the danger to their planet, the Zo scrambled for a plan of salvation, but were mired by political divisions. Anti-science factions did not accept the looming threat, believing it a conspiracy to gain political sentiment, whereas the scholarly community were split as to what actions could be taken, if any. Many surmised that the end of the world was inevitable, and any attempt to change course was a waste of the precious little time they had to spend with their loved ones. Evacuation was the only option. But a vocal minority considered the ethical aspect of letting a world and all of its life forms perish.

Led by the charismatic thinker, Kjus, they stressed that the planet could be saved by moving it. Years were spent organizing engineers and workers, all of whom were driven by the threat of certain doom. They labored to save not only themselves, but the lives of their children and children’s children, and every descendent they were ever to have, their species and their home. Vast networks of underground tunnels were built, and a great machine, the mass piston. The machine allowed the Zo to manipulate the surrounding higgs boson field, oscillating the mass at the core to alter the planet’s orbital trajectory. The plan was as crazy as it was ambitious, and few believed it could work.

All the while, the exit majority, led by chief science advisor, Kzell, focused efforts on the building of wormhole generators, fancifully dubbed fantastigates. The proposed plan was not without its share of problems, however, for the formation of wormholes was, at the time, theoretical. Of the major obstacles was energy. Like the mass piston, the wormhole generator used mass to create gravity, but creating enough to punch a hole in the fabric of space-time greatly exceeded what was required to move the planet. Another more pressing problem: even if a gate to another world could be opened, there was no way of knowing where or when the gate might lead. Mathematician and historian, Eldin, disappeared through one of these gates, and was later discovered to have become lost in time. Eventually, after a number of trials and errors, including one in which an entire island continent was sucked into a micro-black hole, the fantastigate project was abandoned for a simpler, more desperate plan. Days before Solos’ expansion, the leading Zo voted to transfer their consciousnesses—their thought algorithms and memories—into an invincible golem body. It was intended as a vessel to extend and preserve their lives, a biological organism which could thrive in any environment, including the depths of space. Kjus, who continued his work to move the planet, was offered to join them. But he refused, choosing death over what he regarded the loss of his humanity. A separate body was designed for each member of the council, one hundred and twenty in all, but too much effort had been wasted on wormholes.

The golem body had a number of advantages to a starship. It would be far smaller, at 12′ in height, and therefore quicker and easier to manufacture. Powered by a heart of nuclear decay, it would require no sustenance, no food or water to produce and store. The fusion of organic and metallic materials would prove impervious to cold, heat, and aging. A magnetic field was added to deflect solar radiation, and a neutronium alloy veneer (derived from neutron star matter) to shield from micro-meteorites. Once off-planet, the nigh indestructible entity could traverse the stars at nearly the speed of light, creating ionic thrust from its hands and feet. After unmeasured centuries searching the cosmos, the golem was to settle upon a hospitable world, where its collective mind could be dissociated into separate biological entities. This was the last desperate hope of the Zo. The greatest flaw in the design, however, was intentional, as the golem brain was made to maintain a sense of awareness. They wanted to feel “alive.”

As Solos exploded into its final phase, the golem launched into space, but Aenya was not destroyed. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Kjus and his devoted followers, the planet was moved into a safer orbit, becoming a moon of the gas giant, Infinity. Recognizing its error, the collective attempted a return home, but a violent solar flair from the newly formed star stripped the golem of its magnetic field, and damaged its propulsion system. Falling into an irregular orbit, the body gathered icy particles near the system’s outer rim, forming a comet like cocoon around it. After untold eons adrift, alone save for the one hundred and twenty voices in its head, the Zo lost their sense of individuality and went insane, calling itself Horde.

Ten thousand years pass before Horde returns home. Encased in ice, it crashes onto the surface like a fiery meteor, cratering the ground and obliterating the land about Kiathos. But it is a very different world from the one it abandoned, a primitive world with two moons and one sea, where science has become magic and the Zo are long forgotten.

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DMT and D&D

I’ve been sitting on this post for years. Part of me really didn’t want to write it. And as a non-drug user, I felt unqualified. But the story has been nagging at me, ever since a friend told me about his DMT experience.

Now, I don’t do drugs. Never have. I grew up in the 80’s, with the “Just Say No” campaign, and the message really hit home. Except I took it to the extreme. I avoid anything that might artificially affect my brain in any way. So I abstain from alcohol, and I mean, ZERO alcohol. Haven’t had a sip of Bud Lite in my life. Nothing. Zilch. (OK, maybe whatever’s in Nyquil). My brother spent most of my teenage life trying to convince me otherwise, that I’d never find friends who don’t drink, or end up with a wife who doesn’t drink. Well, jokes on him, because my closest friend doesn’t drink and neither do our wives! By extension, to think that I could ever be pressured into pot or crack cocaine was hilarious. I was beyond peer pressure. Then again, I never felt any real pressure to do drugs. Sure, a few people asked me, but I said “No thanks” and that was it. It got to the point where I often wondered how anyone could end up an addict. Weren’t they forced to watch the same anti-drug videos I did? Now I know better, that drug-use is more often a symptom of depression or trauma or anxiety. But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. Working in a restaurant, you’re pretty much surrounded by users. If you’re in your mid-thirties and scrubbing dishes for minimum wage, chances are you made some bad decisions in life, or you just really, really like washing dishes. But here’s the odd thing: a lot of people over the years, including some crack heads, assumed I was an addict. One time, after taking a break outside, an employee asked me, “How was it?” I hadn’t had a hit. But, I am slowly starting to realize, I may have been doing drugs all my life without knowing it.

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Truth be told, we can’t escape drugs no matter how hard we try. A “drug” is a general term for chemicals, and we’re pretty much made of chemicals. It’s in everything we eat and drink. If you enjoy chocolate, caffeine, or the high that comes from exercise and sex, you’re enjoying the drug-like endorphins produced in your brain. And this brings me to DMT. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you read up on it. The stories are amazing. It’s a hallucinogenic, but far, far more powerful than LSD. One LSD user described his DMT experience as somewhat terrifying, and you would be too, if you’re action figures started talking to you and dancing on your desk. A close friend told me the same thing. To paraphrase, “You don’t realize you’re hallucinating. There’s zero difference between what you know is real and what you are experiencing. Sight, sound, smell … it’s all there, utterly convincing.” And it’s not just seeing some funny things bouncing into your living room. Far from it. When you take a DMT trip, you’re entering another universe. You meet sentient beings, commonly referred to as “machine elves,” and there’s a great sense of time dilation. So what takes only a few minutes in reality might feel like days or weeks by the DMT-clock. OK, Nick, you may be thinking, this guy was probably pulling your leg. So I did my homework, and everything I read confirmed my friend’s story. In his book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, neuroscientist Sam Harris posits that many religious experiences, including visions of life-after death, can be attributed to hallucinogens. The “light at the end of the tunnel,” is just a symptom. Now, this might not make much sense, considering how little the drug is known. Where did Abraham or Moses or Buddha get a hit of this stuff? But here’s the thing: DMT is naturally produced in the brain. The chemical has been associated with dreaming and imagination. When we die, DMT is released from your brain in a torrent, offering powerful, convincing manifestations of the after-life. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon and author of Proof of Heaven, converted to Christianity after being pronounced brain-dead for “a week.” His description of Heaven sounds a lot like an episode of My Little Pony, with lots of colors, flowers and enormous butterflies. But, as Sam Harris points out, Eben’s experience closely mirrors those of DMT users.

I will admit, for a few days after hearing this story, I entertained the idea that maybe—just maybe—DMT acted as a gateway into another world. I truly wanted to believe. Who wouldn’t? Then again, the notion of other dimensions lurking beside our own can get pretty freaky. So I asked my buddy, “Is it real?” No, he didn’t think so. As a philosophy major, logic prevailed. Sadly, all evidence points to the fact that we only have one life to live. Unless you’re a fundamentalist, you know this is it. And it’s precisely because of this realization, I believe, people are drawn to imaginative endeavors. It’s our only escape from this mundane, everyday existence. Even if you’re the Dos Equis man, you’re going to want to step into someone else’s shoes, live someone else’s life. Why else do we spend so much time and money on movies, TV shows, books and video games? While there may not be an after-life, we can choose multiple lives within this one, and DMT, or some chemical like it, makes it all possible. After talking to my drug-venturing friend, we both came to the conclusion that the brain is far more powerful than either of us could imagine.

I am not a scientist, and even if I were, I think a lot more research needs to go into creativity and imagination and into how the firing of neurons activates those functions in our brains, but I know from experience how real the mind can make things seem. As a child, I managed to convince myself of some pretty impossible things. I could, at times, see and hear things I knew I’d just made up. It got me to worrying, for some years, whether I was on the verge of schizophrenia. My dreams have always been particularly vivid. I sometimes wake, feeling like I just watched a movie’s worth of content, enough to write a novel. Users of DMT report similar experiences, living lifetimes in the span of minutes, but the information quickly vanishes from memory, just as my dreams fade before I can get to pen and paper.

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This brings me back to books and the imagination. For much of my life, I have understood the technological drive to make things look and feel real. CGI effects, in movies and in video games, work to push reality away, to give the player the sense of really “being there.” I love what Lucas did with Star Wars, and what Jackson did with Lord of the Rings, and Skyrim just looks amazing on PS3. And still, we keep pushing the boundaries, desperate to throw more pixels on the screen to hide the fact that they are just pixels. By the end of this year, we will have affordable VR headsets to further the illusion. And yet, given the opportunity, I’d go with a tabletop game, like D&D, every time. Some people only see the pen and the paper. It never becomes real for them, and in their case, who’d want to sit around a table for eight straight hours rolling dice? But for me, D&D feels more real because my brain makes it real. The brain is, after all, a vastly more powerful computer system. The trick is learning how to activate it, how to bring it to its full potential. Am I suggesting taking a hit of DMT before a game? Hell no. That would be terrifying. But I do think we can learn to exercise that part of our brains—the part that makes the magic—through meditation, as Sam Harris suggests, or by simply turning off our screens and the endless everyday distractions tugging at our senses.

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Demogorgon

 

In the Netflix original, Stranger Things, a girl with psychic powers is put into a sensory deprivation tank to focus her abilities. I believe this illustrates something we can all do, to hone the untapped resources of our own minds. Interestingly enough, the show references D&D and a monster called Demogorgon. When I was twelve, I was pretty sure Demogorgon was lurking in my bedroom. That never happened to me playing Diablo or Resident Evil. That’s the power of imagination. Nothing can match it.  It’s why I play, why I read, and why I write.