The hit of nitrous wears off gently, and he realizes he’s been listening carefully to a conversation going on behind him. It takes him a moment to register the nature of the conversation; he can’t remember when it started, nor really what it’s exactly about; but it’s very clear the two women are engaged in a very important discussion, about very important things.
“I just think we need to make it absolutely clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable,” says one of the women. “You can’t just say a thing like that about me and not expect me to have a reaction.”
“And I think your reaction is totally appropriate,” replies the second woman. “In fact, I think you’re being generous. I think you have a right to a much more livid reaction, and you’re choosing instead to be generous.”
The man grabs another cartridge from the box and loads it into the canister. He’s been high on… well, some alphabetamine all night, one that didn’t really start to feel like much until he added in the nitrous. He’s not sure if the women behind him are participating, or are ground control, or some combination of both. They’re clearly agitated, though.
“It’s my nature to be this generous,” says the first woman. “It’s how I operate, which is why I’m so surprised by the sentiment in the first place.”
What the hell are they so agitated about? Slowly he reaches across the cushion to his companion, another very high gentleman who has been staring patiently at the eye candy on the television in front of them. It is unclear if his companion on the cushion has heard anything the women behind them are saying. His companion inhales deeply and rapidly. Hmm, maybe rapidly is a sign that he does hear the women. It’s just hard to tell.
“What’s especially difficult about that sentiment,” says the second woman, “is the fact that we had to learn about it through such unexpected channels. It makes me wonder exactly how much the sentiment was distorted or exaggerated, or if that’s really what people are thinking.”
“You can’t get hung up in what people are thinking,” says the first woman.
“I know that’s true for you,” says the second woman, “but I’m afraid that’s not true for me. This is just something I’m going to have to work through, on my own.”
His companion gently drops the canister, and he reaches forward to snag it and load it with a cartridge for himself. His eagerness perhaps betrays his… uneasiness… confusion?… about overhearing something so important that, admittedly, he still doesn’t particularly understand just yet. The cartridge is slow to load.
“The important thing to remember is that the observations expressed in those sentiments seem to be totally false,” says the first woman. “Wouldn’t you agree with that judgment?”
“I would absolutely agree with that judgment,” says the second woman, “and I believe I am a fairly reliable observer in this case. I believe my understanding of the situation is considerably more accurate, which is why I’m so surprised by the vehemence of the sentiment being expressed.”
With notable enthusiasm, he puts the canister to his mouth and presses the trigger, inhaling as deeply as humanly possible. His lungs expand, his eyes close, shooting stars begin to ricochet around the inside of his head. The inside of his head begins to shimmer and his extremities begin to tingle; eventually he exhales in a burst, and gasps for air, which only seems to bring on the full flowering of the hit of nitrous. He keeps hearing strange and delightful sounds, music being played on alien instruments, the resonant hum of inner space. Whatever stimulating effect remains from the alphabetamine he took earlier in the evening is serving as a launch platform to send him deeper into the recesses of consciousness than a single nitrous cartridge could otherwise do. He is deep, he is surfing feedback signals from his own brain, he is coming close to some kind of unity. And in the midst of it, he hears–
“You can’t just ignore such a dangerous betrayal,” a voice behind him calls out. “You have to rely on the strength of your own convictions.”
–which, but wait, does this even yet make sense? Because, honestly, you can’t ignore dangerous betrayal… you just can’t, especially when you’re sliding through fractal realms and all your pleasure circuits are activated and firing at full throttle. When you’re on the verge of actually losing consciousness, or rather finding your consciousness subsumed by the larger “it” that can only be the thing that does that kind of subsuming in the first place, isn’t it obvious that you have to rely on the strength of your convictions? Or is it the case that this fact is being pointed out right here, right now, because it’s not obvious, because it’s a true danger, a spiral, one in which the betrayal comes from within?
Are these people even ground control or what?
“But you can’t simply use your convictions as a tool for imposing judgment,” says the first woman. “I wouldn’t be true to myself if I couldn’t at least begin from a position of compassion.”
Oh… compassion. Right. Slowly he reaches for another cartridge, and begins to load it for his companion, who is sitting much further away from the box than he is. There’s no sense leaving his companion over there to sit in the throes of relative sobriety for such a long period of time. He hands the canister to his companion; his companion smiles, nods, betraying no awareness of the magnitude of the miasma in which they are enveloped.
His own head is still ringing, and an appetite is growing within him.
“But compassion and fair judgment are not mutually exclusive,” says the second woman. “And in this case, I think we have ample justification for some kind of confrontation.”
“Indeed,” replies the first woman. “I’m not suggesting no such action is called for, merely that we approach this situation with a cautious hand.”
“Or else we become the thing we confront.”
Seriously? That’s actually what we become? His head is literally shaking back and forth, though he doesn’t even realize it at first. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots the hand of his companion drop, and within moments he has sprung into action. He loads a cartridge, and then, he snags another from the box. There are just the two of them on that cushion, sharing this box and another after that. It’s time to change up the dynamic.
As his companion regains some semblance of cognition, he leans forward and quietly announces, “New game. From now on… I’m going to do two at a time. And then you’ll do two at a time. Sound fair?”
His companion nods. It is afoot.
He pulls the trigger and inhales deeply once more. Then, before he is truly caught up in the unknowingness of it all, he deftly loads a second cartridge into the small canister. Holding his breath has never seemed so pivotal, so crucial to the well-being of all living things. Eventually he expels the gas, and as he prepares to inhale again–
“Clearly we are the ones who understand the real consequences of this matter,” says one of the women.
Clearly! shouts a voice inside his head, one that is almost cackling with a maniacal glee. He pulls the trigger again, firing nitrous straight into the back of his head and down his throat and right the fuck into every hidden sliver of his energetic system. Colors begin begging him outright for his attention, for a chance at communion. The clear and obvious warmth of a million tendrils of light subsume him and it takes every last ounce of everything he’s ever identified even slightly with the concept of “free will” to desperately, deliberately pull that canister back to his lips to empty it out once and for all.
“We have only one business ahead of us,” says the other woman. “We must reveal the true nature of the situation.”
That’s exactly what’s being revealed! He pulls the trigger once more. These people aren’t ground control, he hears himself shouting loudly from across the ethereal galaxies, they are in on all of it! They know, they truly know! Except, another voice reminds him, that they are talking a complete bunch of shite! Seriously! And they just keep talking, and talking, and it seems like this is the bardo of people who just keep talking and they don’t really ever stop, because they are the voice of all of it, the voice that could reveal the true nature of how much they really really ought to stop but they won’t, and he can hear the canister thump onto the wooden floor next to his feet, he can feel his entire upper body start to suddenly slump in a precipitous fashion, he can feel the very clear pulsing of his emotions as they start to collect in a strange cloud around his chest.
“Once our motives are explained, they will realize the deep mistakes that they’ve made.”
Good Christ, you mean you’re just now getting around to mentioning the deep mistakes? The deep mistakes started four hours ago when I measured those alphabetamines! I must have measured wrong! My scale must not have been working properly! I don’t understand anything that’s happening! Also, who is this “I” I keep referring to?
“Excuse me,” one of the women says, tapping him on the shoulder. Unbelievably, he manages to stir and even make eye contact. “I think,” she says, “that we’re ready to join the nitrous fun at this point. Just insert us into the order when you get a chance.”
He looks over at his companion on the cushion. Yes. Yes, insert them into the order. Yes, fill the canister with a cartridge. The woman’s right next to him, but you know what… it’s not her turn just yet. He hands the canister over to his companion, who accepts it graciously. And then, he takes the second cartridge out of the box and places it on the cushion next to his companion.
“You’re going to have to load that yourself,” he says. His companion nods.
Yep, it’s that kind of night.