Chief research scientist Dr. Susannah Patel counted the votes in the cramped back room of the last bar on Earth that the crew of angry volunteer astronauts would ever see.
Ejects, they called themselves. They could barely stand each other. Yet none of them could stand staying on this planet one more day.
Dr. Patel was in charge of the program, but she would not be going with these volunteers into space. After getting to know them for a year now, she was extremely glad that she was not one of them.
This was their tenth time voting on the name of the experimental spacecraft that was to be their last home, and eventually, their permanent coffin. The hoisting was tomorrow. The experimental spacecraft would be hoisted into lower Earth orbit by a long rope made of flexible glass that stretched from Big Bend National Park in West Texas all the way past the ozone layer. The long rope was officially called the International Space Elevator, but everyone called it the Pole.
Once the spacecraft was all the way at the top of the Pole, it would be let loose, hurled into space forever by the angular momentum of the spinning Earth, shot blindly into the cosmos like a javelin hurled at God’s eye or a bullet fired into the air by a happy cowboy.
The scoops on the front of the spacecraft made it look like a mollusk with a mustache. It was a ramjet. The spacecraft worked by turning space debris into fuel, using a process called “progressive fusion.”
The faster the spacecraft went, the more debris it was able to scoop into its maw. The more fuel it scooped into its bristles, the faster it went, creating a feedback loop that would shoot it out of the solar system where it would plummet into the void forever, incrementally increasing its speed until space warped around it and the ramjet became a white hot scar on the face of time.
The ramjet could neither stop nor swerve. It was a charging bull, and the people inside it were parasites in the bull’s belly, sharing the spacecraft’s fortunes and catastrophes.
Though the hoisting was tomorrow, the volunteers had yet to agree on a name for the ramjet. The name would be their final statement of purpose to the world.
“Okay,” said Dr. Patel. “We have done this ten goddamn times now, and now we finally have a unanimous decision. I hope you guys are all happy. I hope you guys are all proud of yourselves. Every blog in the world will be reporting on this.”
“We are very happy,” said Dr. D’Andre Sullivan, looking over Dr. Patel’s shoulder. D’Andre considered himself the leader of the team, because he was the youngest, the most outspoken, the most comfortable doing interviews, and the most passionate about leaving.
“So, ladies and gentlemen,” said Dr. Patel. “The name of your new home for the rest of your natural lives will be the “Smell You Later.” Everyone is fine with this?”
A few of the volunteers nodded. Most of them just stared into space with unfocused eyes.
“Great,” said Dr. Patel. “Before you guys go out and enjoy your last night here on Earth, I’ve got some news for you. Everybody needs to pay attention to this.”
All the scientists on board the “Smell You Later” volunteered for this suicide mission. They were all engineers and scientists whose careers were going nowhere. They had massive debts, substance abuse problems, and no significant relationships with family or loved ones. Instead of putting guns in their mouths, they had signed up to be heroes.
Some of the scientists on board the “Smell You Later” were just sick of Earth or bored by its possibilities. For instance, Dr. Pamela Hotchkiss had Asperger’s syndrome. She was a crackerjack coder, but she rarely spoke and she hated to be touched. She said she would be much happier permanently plugged into the internet on board the “Smell You Later” than she ever would be sampling the planet’s myriad physical pleasures.
“What’s the news?” asked Dr. D’Andre. “I thought there weren’t supposed to be any surprises this late in the launch schedule.”
“It is good news,” said Dr. Patel. “The best news.”
She pointed at Dr. Pamela Hotchkiss. Pamela made a noise in the back of her throat like a blender with a fork stuck in it.
“Pamela is pregnant,” said Dr. Patel.
“What?” said Dr. D’Andre, looking around at the team of angry volunteer scientists.
The men in the team began to mutter and point fingers.
“Which one of you scumbags knocked up Pam?” asked Dr. D’Andre.
“I did,” said Dr. Patel, standing. “I knocked her up. With clorazepam and a turkey baster.”
Dr. D’Andre wiped his mouth, considering this.
“A science baby,” muttered Dr. D’Andre. “You are going to study the effects of space on a developing fetus. Smart.”
“Yes,” said Dr. Patel. “That’s true. But Pamela’s baby isn’t only a baby for science. Her fetus is also a distributed-DNA human unification node.”
The crew of the “Smell You Later” sat there hovering over their drinks in silence.
“Stop saying facts like you are taking a stuttering monkey shit,” grunted Dr. Oscar Capone, the team’s medical doctor. “Tell us what is going on here.”
“We feel that raising a baby together is going to be the only way to keep you all sane in the spacecraft,” said Dr. Patel. “Instead of competing with another to breed, psychologically and literally, you will share a living symbol of the future. We are also providing you with kits so that you can make more distributed DNA human unification nodes in deep space. There are instructions already waiting for you on board the “Smell You Later.”
“What do you mean unification nodes?” asked Dr. Capone.
“The baby isn’t just Pamela’s,” said Dr. Patel. “The baby belongs to all of you, and not just in theory. Sweden is trying to solve the overpopulation problem. We piggybacked on some of their early research. We took DNA samples from all of you. We built a sperm and egg that includes strains taken from all ten of your genetic codes. The baby will have features, traits, and developmental characteristics from each of you in varying proportions. It will be the biological symbol of your unity as a group. You will all see yourselves in the baby and the baby will see itself in all of you. Raising the child will bond you together and you will all have a stake in the child’s survival.”
Everyone stared at Dr. Patel with loose jaws and wide eyes.
“You suicidal assholes are worth billions of dollars,” said Dr. Patel. “If you kill each other up there, we will get no data and this whole project will be worthless. Make as many unity nodes as you want. There is plenty of space in the “Smell You Later” for warm little bodies. Replace yourselves and teach yourselves about the place you came from.”
Dr. Pamela Hotchkiss cradled her stomach.
“You are all in me,” she said in her clipped monotone.
My best friend Frank smuggled a “Team Baby” kit out of Sweden. I spent the entire advance on my latest novel to afford the damn thing.
Frank was extraordinarily clever about getting the kit out of the country, since they are so extremely illegal here. It was a gamble, but Frank likes that sort of thing. The thrill of adventure and all that shit. Frank hid the “Team Baby” kit inside a brick of very high quality marijuana. When the customs official found the brick of marijuana, Frank bribed him with more of my cash. The customs official let him keep his drugs after breaking off a healthy handful for himself.
I wanted a “Team Baby” ever since I saw that damn documentary about them. The movie was supposed to scare us, but I became obsessed.
Maybe it is the company I keep, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to make a baby out of all the amazing people I know. The idea of a “Team Baby” immediately filled me with visions of creating a messiah, creating a perfect being, melding together the best and brightest to create a living symbol of the support group that sustains me.
Frank was the only one who knew my plan. Frank already had a child from his first wife Etienne Margeaux, the famous French dessert chef, but Frank hadn’t been able to see his daughter grow up.
Etienne had taken Frank’s daughter back to France as soon as she was born, keeping her daughter in the states just long enough for her to have dual citizenship. She thanked Frank for providing her with a baby, telling him coldly that his services were no longer needed.
At first Frank had been fine with this arrangement, but over the years it dawned on him that he had missed out on one of life’s rarest pleasures. He knew he would have been a truly terrible father, but it unsettled him that he hadn’t had the opportunity to try.
Once Frank delivered the kit to me, I was suddenly paralyzed with the possibilities.
Now that I had the tool at my disposal, I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Frank and I sat down and went through all of our artist friends one by one, discussing their relative merits, trying to figure out who should make the cut, trying to create the perfect blend of genes like tea or tobacco.
There was no sense asking permission. We knew our friends. None of them would say "yes." The idea of breeding was repellent to all of them, but Frank and I knew better. All of our broken-hearted artist friends needed a Team Baby to unite them and to give them meaning.
We debated over the list for a month. We each got strike-outs like at a jury trial. Once we had the list together, I threw a dinner party and invited everyone we decided to use. It was a joyous affair. We all got drunk together and we smoked whole fistfuls of Frank’s Swedish marijuana.
Frank collected hair from everyone, pulling it out of their heads while they weren’t looking.
He saved the strands in plastic bags labeled with masking tape and magic marker.
The party was such a success that I was fully reassured that these would be the perfect people to make a perfect Team Baby. We sang, we danced, we dragged each other into upstairs rooms and fucked, we told long stories that went nowhere.
We polished all the jewels of reality until they shined.
The people who came did not all know each other, but they all vibrated at the same pitch. For instance, there was my friend Gloria Rosanante, who is as unhinged as an elevator door. She is also the finest abstract portrait painter that I have ever met. She paints using glow-in the dark whites and yellows on black velvet. Her paintings glow in the dark like ghosts. They are angry photographs of people’s souls that can change the entire temperature of a room.
Gloria got her her tubes tied in Mexico when she was seventeen, calling the doctor all sorts of emasculating names to get him to do it. Gloria hates children. She even hates anyone who acts like a child, hating neediness, petulance, and cloying dependency. She is famous for coming to parties unannounced and then leaving without saying goodbye.
We took hair from Gloria, and from Bashir Spok, and from Cocoa and Dwayne Pillsbury. We even got arm-hair from Abigail Supernova, the famous young novelist who shaves voodoo symbols into her head and writes and edits all of her books backward, starting from catastrophe and then building a happy world, never telling anyone that the joy she experiences in writing is exactly the opposite of the calculated despair that her books induce.
We took DNA from all of our most brilliant and most fucked-up friends and we sealed the DNA away in plastic bags.
Later, Frank and I read the instructions on the “Team Baby” kit and we went through them step-by-step, growing our sperm and egg in two separate sealed butter tubs in our toilet tank. It took a month for the pH-sensitive gel to turn red and blue, signifying that we were done.
Then Frank and I got wasted and we dumped the tub full of red sperm into the tub full of blue eggs. With calipers and a device that looked like a shoehorn, we implanted the fertilized egg, and then we made love until dawn, though we had always previously been repelled by one another.
The baby took hold with the first implantation. This was unusual. According to the instructions, it can take four or five tries for the baby to take hold. Our “Team Baby” wanted badly to be born.
You want to know if my origins have had anything to do with my crimes.
Well, let me tell you the truth. Of course, my origins have influenced my crimes. But I don’t consider myself a criminal the way that you do, and I don’t know if history will judge me as one.
There are more "team babies" out there than you might think. They are your doctors, your lawyers, your scientists, and your congressman.
I, however, was made from the genes of artists. Rebels. Visionaries. I feel like I have honored my parents with everything that I have done. I have no regrets. My parents who are still living are certainly not ashamed of me.
What have I done, really? What have I done but merge the light and the dark to teach you all a lesson? What have I done but rip off our masks to give us sudden space to breathe and grow?
The internet was choking us to death, and now I have unleashed the healing power of its darkest secrets.
I had fifteen different parents, all of whom contributed their DNA to my sperm and egg in equal proportions. I had nine mothers and six fathers.
None of these fifteen people would have been able to afford a child by conventional means. These were anarchists and artists, constantly traveling the world in search of peak experiences and global community. These people were irresponsible, selfish, and full of doubts, mental illnesses, and STDs.
I was raised in five different apartments in the city, changing hands as often as I changed clothing sizes. I learned how to shoplift, how to get government grants, how to speak half a dozen languages, how to cook full meals for under a dollar.
Perhaps because all of my parents were artists and intellectuals, nothing appealed to me more than the hard sciences. I have always been interested in computers. Even at a young age, I was helping my family draft grant proposals, do online banking, and hack into government databases to get visas.
We were the happiest family you could imagine. There was always someone I could go to, no matter what problem I had. I was encouraged to express myself, to make mistakes, and to experience every dark and beautiful aspect of life.
My facility with hacking was always encouraged by my parents. I love art. I love everything about art and artists. But my parents found my skills with computers to be helpful for their creative endeavors, and I was happy to help. Hacking is its own art form.
I found myself spending more and more time online. The normal people I saw everyday with normal families and normal habits were fascinating to me.
By hacking into their computers and watching them look at porn, live their lives, and struggle to find meaning, I realized that they were just like my own family of degenerates, even though they were not as comfortable expressing themselves, going where they wanted, or breaking out of their lame lives circumscribed by tradition, consensus morality, and the expectations of their peers.
I saw the future and the past at once. I saw how to give people a shot at breaking free from their hypocritical shells. My plan would be violent. There would be casualties. But it would be my artistic contribution to the world. You may call it terrorism, but it is only terrorism because the world is so backwards and full of lies.
The architecture of the internet had become so nested and interwoven, with such an emphasis on “real profiles” and “visibility,” that my job was actually very easy. Everyone was already watching what everyone else was doing. It was time to show them the truth about this.
It only took a few scripts and backdoor exploits. You all know how I did it by now. I did it on a Saturday, when most people were home from work.
At precisely noon, I turned on my little black box, and suddenly everyone’s actual internet habits were being shared with everyone else on all the social networking sites that everyone is always logged into.
Suddenly we all saw the porn that we were all watching. We saw what priests, cops, judges, school teachers, and our loved ones watched while they were relaxing. Suddenly we saw the affairs and dalliances that people were conducting to get through their days. We saw the sexual food that people were really eating.
We saw the things that actually interested people, instead of the manicured obsessions that people wanted us to see. We saw the truth about ourselves.
For one glorious day, everyone shared everything with each other, the same way that my family had always done. For one glorious day, there were no more secrets. We were all weirdos and perverts. We were all irresponsible degenerates. We were all human beings: horny, bored, spiteful, and lonely.
Of course, people lost their jobs.
People’s lives were ruined forever.
People blame me for their divorces, for their children not speaking to them anymore, for endless police investigations, and for endless social castigation. This was not my intent. I thought we would all see how we are the same with the masks stripped off and we would find a way to accept each other. I am not sorry for what I did.
People know so much more about each other now. They know things now that can never be hidden again.
If you want to blame the way I was raised for my crimes, then go ahead, by all means, blame my parents for not raising me right, all fifteen of them.
But I guarantee you that they are proud of me standing here in this courtroom today, standing up for what I believe, and trying to make the world a saner, more interesting place.
There is a sexual revolution coming. In fact, it is already happening. I have seen it. I have tried to show it to you.
We might as well talk about it. We might as well all be able to see it whenever we want. We might as well all be able to watch what the corporations and governments are already always watching.
They are not afraid to know our darkest secrets. We must not let them own our fear and sell it back to us.
The only way to safely combine DMT, MDMA, ketamine, and dextromethorphan is to also drink a gallon of water, a gallon of coffee, and pop three proamatine to keep your heart from slowing down to a complete stop while you disappear from the World We Know.
The process is called "gorging."
The team babies who are addicted to it call themselves gorgeous. As in "are you gorgeous? Do you gorge? Do you want to gorge with us? Do you want to gorge with me tonight?"
Once upon a time, everybody thought there would be an internet metaverse and we would all have avatars and live the best parts of our lives in these fantasy worlds where unchangeable biological realities did not matter and the laws of physics could be thwarted, remolded, and played like a piano.
Instead, what happened was that people identified more with the internet than they did with reality.
They started treating their real bodies like avatars, feeling comfortable and safe as long as their daily opinions were logged on the internet every day like some kind of a save game.
If you had the right "status update," you could do die unashamed. You could do anything.
Gorging is not safe at all, for instance. It is one of the more consistently-deadly drug adventures.
When you gorge, you can't ever sit down or take a shit. If you sit down, throw up, or use the bathroom, there is an even chance that you will french fry your brain.
Is it fun? Is it fun to combine massive amounts of ayahuasca, ecstasy, special k, and cough syrup? Is this really a great thing to do?
The parties where the team babies meet to simmer themselves in extremely potent chemical sludge are called elevators, on account of the fact that everyone walks around stiffly in these dark squats, afraid to sit, standing shoulder to shoulder without speaking.
There is no music at elevator parties. Music is unnecessary and distracting. There are no visuals and no dancing. There is only security to keep the kids from getting rolled or raped.
Elevator parties are not fun to watch if you are not gorging. And if you ask a team baby what the attraction is, they won't be able to tell you.
Marcus had been gorging at an elevator party called Panda Bear every month for a year now.
He had seen some shit. He had seen people keel over and die, bile spewing out of their mouths and their spinal columns twisted sideways as if they were being cracked and deveined like a shrimp.
He kept coming back, however. He had no choice.
Tonight, he drank his bucket full of drugs slowly, practically sipping them. He wasn't even finished with the bucket when the drugs began to wind their fingers into the strings of his body and pull them.
With his arms stiff at his side and his tongue glued to the roof of his mouth, he became aware of how slowly he blinked, and how each blink solidified each new reality like a new portrait from the hand of a master.
With a noise in his ears like a jet taking off, the ancestors waiting in his DNA forced upward in consciousness to join with the other gorgers until they were all intermingled, connected to each other like fiber optics, feeding from each other and communicating through scents and gestures that were louder than any words.
Most people only have two branching lines of ancestors. When they take DMT, only their one mother and one father have a crack at breaking their minds.
But team babies had dozens of parents, and hundred of grandparents. When they gorged, they went places that other people could never go.
Marcus shuffled over to stand next to a girl with drool running down her chin and her eyes rolled all the way back in her head, showing the whites. He stood next to her long enough to make a test.
Here, gorging, where all of her genetic history was being played against his like string instruments in an orchestra, he could see what had to happen.
They stood so close together that they breathed each other’s air. They were the same height, and they shared a common grandfather. Frank Gelber, the famous chef, renowned for his perfect palate and his masterful fusion of TexMex and Japanese food, inventor of the sushi enchilada and breakfast taco tempura.
“We are cousins,” they both said by touching hips, without knowing this rationally. And then they communicated: “I never thought this would happen.”
Between the two of them, they had 37 mothers and 11 fathers. They had 411 grandmothers and 210 grandfathers. The genetic danger of mingling data from Frank Gelber was insignificant. They had fallen in love instantly.
The ayahuasca running through their veins, coupled with the kick from the ecstasy and the facepunch from the ketamine, allowed them to align their genetic structures against each other with calculated intensity, like playing chess.
Team babies had been a glorious mistake. The species had spread itself thin, infusing massive amounts of genes into single organisms who all began to look and think alike, killing the frisson of routine attraction.
These team babies gorged in elevators, seeking each other to have babies the normal way, pairing up their genes and fusing them.
They were thin and reedy and sexless, these team babies. But they could see the higher organisms they were creating. They could see the future humans who would not need drugs to see life the way they saw it during an elevator trance – connected, outside of time, monsters, demons, antichrists here to eat our souls and crap them into space.
With the invention of team babies, human genes had become concentrated. The concentration had steered evolution into shallow shoals.
But now that the team babies were breeding the old-fashioned way, natural selection was paring out the mistakes. An extremely unnatural perversion of the natural order had begun to correct itself.
But the correction was like sprinkling sand onto a pattern made from glue, and then shaking the sand away. The team baby experiment had changed humanity forever.
Writhing together in the club, so gorgeous and so alive, the two teenagers interlaced their hands with a reflexive passion, like orgasm, holding onto each other and gritting their teeth.
There would be no memory of their elevator ride together (the ketamine would wipe everything clean), but they would find each other coming down, shivering together as the blood began to flow through their veins at a speed that their hearts could handle. A human speed.
But there was more than just mere humanity inside them now. Deep inside them both, the universe was beginning to awaken.