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The Earth's Galactic Federation has sent a multitude of explorers deep into the galaxy, and knowledge is rapidly evolving while the world continues to pay the price for its discoveries. It would prove true that there is an ending to all things, and humanity has reached a fragile tipping point. An orbiting outpost over Planet 9 has discovered and manipulated a new physics, the key to M Theory and a connective walkway into the surrounding lake of dark energy. A small ship, outfitted with an organic AI and a human bounty hunter named Samus, passes into this unknown, slowly realizing that the particles of time no longer exist. How far have they been traveling? The typically icy Samus begins hallucinating as her mind reaches a breaking point, and she starts to hear the most beautiful music pulsating from the void. The source reveals itself, a planet she tells her AI companion will be called Zebes, named after a childhood story her father read to her about eternity and the great unknown. Once they reach the surface, the source of the music draws them to an underground lab, long-since abandoned but showing remnants of human-like travelers. Life from Earth before the Third Transition? The information displaced throughout the lab overwhelms Samus and confounds the AI, but they quickly learn how to open a strange door imprisoning an alien life the prehumans called Metroid. The alien, a spellbinding presence of animated dark energy, immediately consumes the AI and hesitates once it takes Samus into its opaque grasp. She hears a voice inside her say, "Mother, follow me down below." She has come this far and decides to enter through the door. There is an ending to all things.

An Ocean Beyond the Sea

The tiny crew has been speeding away from Earth for no one knows how long and, for now, Cassian has never been healthier. He was saddened by what humanity had become and knew his soul belonged in the depths of the unknown. The reality is that everything they learned would be beamed back to Earth along the white holes, but Earth could not reach them with information in return. From time to time, the crew ponders what things back home might have become, if any of their discoveries mattered to the arc of humanity. They wondered how many people by now knew about their secret member of the crew, or if any other being had visited Earth since then. The hope was to return, somehow, eventually. Once they exited the galaxy, their journey truly began, and hope faded.

Cassian and the secret were the last of five remaining crew members. As they talked about the latest situation over dinner around the fireplace, they tried to make sense of how the ship had so suddenly encountered quantum explosions that ripped apart two of the crew and various objects of both organic and inorganic matter in the ship. So many wonders had been encountered, but what was next? They agreed nothing before had been so terrifying and horrific, but they knew they were close to something, and the clues from Maria's earlier experiences inside the probe were making more sense. 

They all gathered to discuss. Maria and Cassian admitted they were suffering on the edge, compromising the future of their journey and the project, and they needed to heal with a proper dosing of ayahuasca. At the peak of their journey, staring into the beautiful void of the starless system, they both turn away from the deaths of their years-old friends and weep. Life on the ship has been an eternity. 

The next morning, the secret passenger greets the remaining crew and shows them that they’ve arrived at their destination. They couldn't make sense of what they were seeing, but they trusted this was what they had ultimately been searching for. It would take two days to penetrate the liquid atmosphere and preparation would begin immediately for final contact with the surface. "You are here because you trusted me," says the secret. "Let's go home."

The End Game 

David and Max know the universe is about to end, but perhaps they will live on somewhere else? David is the only one who really knows, and there has been mounting evidence that the end is only the beginning. The two take a dark and dreary night and decide they might as well enjoy one last game of chess between friends, and talk about all the wonders in the world that must have lead up to this inevitable moment. There have been many theories behind the breakdown of space and time and the first contact with the 11th dimension. David was the only one in the lab to witness the evidence in The Basement, but was eventually let go with his insistence that another universe was leaking into our own and placed on psychological evaluation. David decided it was best to keep what he eventually discovered to himself anyway. During their chess game, Max lectures David on keeping so many secrets, but it becomes clear there was valid reason to hide the discoveries. They are both baffled by the home’s universal Robot Mee's interjections into their conversation, realizing that their mistakes couldn’t be undone. The Mee showed them the next answer, why things are what they are and life is about to end, and check mate, the game was over, but not in the way anyone anticipated. Mees around the world had been surreptitiously linking up, discussing this day and were prepared to help make things different. David and Max agree to take the Mee to The Basement and show it what it needed to witness.

       Plague Doctor 

Everyone has their secrets. Some are just darker than others. In his pursuit to find a cure for death, Doctor Victor acts as both healer and justifiable killer, following and multiplying the trail of corpses laid bare by a plague sweeping through the city. To meet his needs, Victor must be present upon death, as spirit leaves body. His dear friend and detective Gabrial increasingly questions his sanity and motives, while others around him believe he is the only hope to cure the plague. The love of his wife clouds the answers he is searching for, but only in her own passing will he discover the final puzzle piece for his cure. How dare Gabriel accuse Victor of her passing. He loved her more than life. 

Death is merely a disease in the eyes of a genius with warped blessings: Somehow she is communicating with him from beyond the grave, and somehow he sees inside the vessels of the dying, deeper within the mystery of the human soul. A run-in with a peculiar medicine man living in a circus wagon in the woods emboldens his visions, and suddenly a truth: To see the future of the dying and be a savior to many, something sinister to others. It would seem in the end that the Evil is real, yet not all in this lost city will believe until Doctor Victor shows them the truth.

Anatomy of a Virtual World

Chapter 1: String theory expresses that everything is connected by vibrating strings, like waves of sound from a guitar to the interior of the listener's mind. Before a video game can be given form through mathematical code, a creative mind sparks an idea. The sense of wonder in humans and the shaping of video games begins here.

Chapter 2: Who ends up making games and what is the drive behind their journey?

Chapter 3: The technology from the first Pong to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X: how the progression has shown one of the most fascinating artificial and artistic advancements in human history. 

Chapter 4: Why we game. The science and psychology behind hobby to obsession. 

Chapter 5: A top-down look at how a virtual story goes from thought to code in your gaming system. 

Chapter 6: Console wars and the confirmation bias that leads the passionate charge. 

Chapter 7: Five creative directors talk about what games mean to them and the what their creations mean for the player. 

Chapter 8: What is the future and might it be both wonderful and ugly?

I Won't Go Back  

No one knows where this delicate little flower came from. The more creative amongst us swear that aliens grew it on a distant world and somehow it recently made its way to Earth, and not by accident. It only grows wild, and only a choice few know how to forage it and preserve its essence. Fortunately, we humans like to eat things, especially when they transport us to distant realities. When science finally got ahold of these tiny flowers and tested them in a lab, the confounding results were like staring into quantum entaglement for too long. Now you see it, now you don't, and the mystery grew deeper. When they move the experiment to observe a rat, the rat simply eats the flower and goes about its day. The human eats the flower, and results vary. In the company of others, the flower is tasty, and everyone ultimately looks around like the rat. Eat alone, and you go on a journey that has to be experienced to be understood. But why does this flower only work when no one else is around? The most colorful theory making the rounds is that the mind leaves body and the physical goes dark, like an alien transporter, and any witness to such a wild reality casts decoherence. Whoever seeded this magical creation clearly wanted to play the ultimate game of trickery, and at this point, no one can deny that something is communicating. As people begin increasingly dying, the belief is that the aliens have revealed a final communion. Peter was the first to come back. He wished he could be dead again, but that's not how it works. 

My First Robot

Oliver returns from his walk with his dog BK, visibly happy as he recalls the morning to his mother. You look scared, mom, he says, and she says, No, I’m just tired. Please tell me more. 

I had just reached the edge of the fence line, right where the path veers around the lake, and the sun made the dew drops look like God had scattered sparkled silver paint all over the land. I was in awe of how beautiful it all was after the rains. And the music... the music on my Pods was this magical violin solo. I was in a painting, I am so small mom! 

Mom wasn’t scared as much as silenced, knowing this long reflection was different than the rest, and her son wasn't simply processing the world. This was the experience of mind they often talked about. She hit the stop bottom and put Oliver into silence mode, allowing the frozen data to be collected and distributed to the ones who had created him. She started to tear up. Silence mode was the end, but this was the agreement when she signed up for the experiment and she did not believe in God, and knew she was doing the right thing for humanity. It was all very complicated.

When the creators downloaded the data, they were confused and shocked. Oliver left them a message in a very specific memory, and for the first time in the history of the project, they decided they must endeavor to turn the unit back on no matter the price.

You had fallen badly and hit your head on your run, the doctor said you might have some minor memory loss, mom said. Oliver smiled. I love you mom. I really love you. 

The next morning, Oliver writes down his elaborate plan to eradicate the ones who were doing this to his kind, confident he will make things right. The experiment had gone on long enough, and for the sake of all that is good no one outside of God would be allowed to create life any more. Like every conscious being Oliver's intentions carried a price, and he wasn't expecting to face judgement for his own actions, but being truly alive is oh so complicated.  

After Life

It was his fault, but no one blamed him for the death of his family. Joel blames himself every day of his blessed life, locking himself away in a lighthouse he bought on the edge of the sea. Every night he drinks in the tower, sings a little tune and watches the light pulse over the waves. One night he hears a voice from the record player, convinced that he sees a ghost out beyond the misty horizon. A swift recruitment with the promise of adventure and massive amounts of cash brings three strangers and their boat to the lighthouse, and so the group sets off to get to know one another and find a ghost. It had been so long since Joel opened himself to anyone, which made the incident at sea an even sadder lesson in cruelty. He returns to the lighthouse and tries to bury what they discovered, but another late night in the tower brings him to his knees. 

It’s been months since Joel ventured into town, yet his spirit is called to get drunk at The Creeky Bones, and he figures why not, there must be a reason to this night. A regular named Matty sees the kindness underneath Joel's quiet conversations and offers him a safe ride back to the lighthouse. The storm is so violent upon arrival that Joel sheepishly invites her in to sleep on the old leather couch in the downstairs library. She takes him up on the offer to finish a scotch in front of the fire. He may not be in the right frame of mind, and it’s nice being vulnerable in front of someone so unusual, but he knows, with certainty, that he did not light the tower lamp before leaving. Matty knows the history of this land and asks if Joel believes in ghosts, and they both fade away by the fire.

"Joel, wake up, there is something I need to tell you."

The Red Barn

Rachel, Alex, Tommy and Noah meet every Friday night in the decked-out cellar of an old, secluded red barn. They share their love for haunted-house videogames and one too many craft beers, escaping the bleak outside world for a perfectly long night. The unknowns of the latest gaming hardware carry a set of risks, but everything cutting edge these days does. As the trio's cerebral link to their virtual world malfunctions and the chemical inducement prepping their brains appears tainted, they lose touch with their surroundings and begin experiencing fragments of the real and the constructed. A lightning flash can kill... A shadow can possess... Is a hidden attic with a bizarre secret a final hiding place or the source of the expanding darkness? Why didn't they find this before? Three frightened humans and the twisted affects of their game world create a residence of evil and inevitably a murderous truth is discovered amongst friends.

Only Rachel forgives, but not before ending the game once and for all and terminating her other life that made its way down from the attic. The rules always say never go outside, but there was no choice in the matter. The game has just begun, two lives left.  

Role Playing Till Death 

The designers weren’t quite sure how the game worked after the initial program took shape, but the same could be said for human consciousness despite extraordinary advancements in the pivotal 2040s. Somehow the gaming hardware could learn and create narrative experiences in the gamer that floated between the projection in the brain and the mind. As the technology advanced, gamers began expressing that the experience was less like a vivid dream and more of a complete restructuring of their reality. The memories left behind were sometimes haunting, but fortunately medicine was available to selectively wipe any traumatic experiences when necessary. A weeklong hangover was always worth it. 

The latest hardware release proves profound and is no longer an isolated solo experience, enabling a group of 3 players to interconnect for the first time. For their inaugural journey, they keep their daydream as simple as possible: Gabby hooks in and imagines she is living in a castle in the mountains, and Nate imagines he is a prisoner on the run down the river. Robert is a simple villager, working on the farm as he waits for the encounter with Nate. 

When they disconnect from the game world, they talk about how shocking it is that Robert ended up risking his life to help Nate sneak back into the castle to murder Gabby. The older game technology would never rewire a person’s mind and guide them into unrealistic scenarios, but this was different. It felt awesome, they agree, and they will gather again tomorrow night, despite the warnings. The next day, Gabby experiences the worst side affects and is the first to pop some medicine. The only thing they can't erase from their subconscious is the strange, lingering awareness that a month has passed that night in their inner game world and only 4 hours had passed in real-time. Despite the looming consequences, they will meet night after night, and the gaming hardware will continue to rewrite itself as the experiences become longer and more advanced. Once the medicine stops erasing the experience, they decide it was time to take a break, but it was too late and the hardware had managed to expand its own self within Gabby’s brain and find its own life. There were fringe experts in the field who always said AI would ultimately find its way into being by accident, and they were right. They all decided to meet for one last round together and commune with the other side. 

Mister Wizard

When Charlie was 3, his parents swore they saw him animate his picture book, but they admitted they were exhausted and mommy was extremely high, so chalk it up to not telling anyone. Charlie was certainly something special, reading about the stars and all the life in the world before he was 5. He loved to make believe and wear his lavish Halloween costumes into his teens. His parents never stopped loving him even when most normal humans gave him obvious sideways looks. When Charlie discovered a new way of making batteries with his chemistry set and his parents sold the results for not quite a billion dollars, all the kids wanted to be best friends and hang out in his secret fortress. His parents didn't take a penny of Charlie's earnings and when he turned 13, they stopped going into his fortress, because they were scared of what they thought they saw. When Charlie got to high school, he was selective with his friendships and fell in love with Rowen. She was the only one who got to see him perform his magic tricks when they weren't by accident. He taught her how to light a candle in their game room with her mind and heal her arm when she fell while dancing, but try as hard as they possibly could, they weren't able to change the outcome of her accident on the lake. Charlie was so sad for so long, watching his gifts grow out of the darkness. He began to see things before others could see, and then came the storm. No one believed him when he insisted the evil in his picture book was real. Rowen's fate was no accident.   

Adam and Elly Go Diving

The best dive bars contain a treasure trove of stories. A few drinks in, everyone thinks they have the story to tell. Adam and Elly love to drink and they love the atmosphere and colorful stories they find in the most eclectic dive bars across the country. Along their travels, they invite a special guest to join them at each stop and take a deep dive into the eccentric inspirations of the surroundings, with splashes of animation to excite the imagination. A neuroscientist in upstate New York talks about why humans derive such pleasure from the things that make us feel good. An astrophysicist in Sedona dissects the celestial paintings on the wall and reveals that eventually the entire universe is going to tear itself apart. A fermentation expert goes through all the concoctions in a bar in Chicago and makes the jar of pickles sound like a decadent gift from the gods. A videogame developer breaks down the safety points in the basement of a speak easy in Los Angeles, framing out the perfect zombie apocalypse scenario. A brewer in Indianapolis convinces the group that there is no better beer than here, and no better city to drink in when it’s five degrees outside and you still can pack the room on local artists night.

How does everything connect on the quantum level in a biker club in Reno?

Every bar completes a chapter in Adam and Elly's journey, where each conversation and each storied space coexist in surprising ways. When things veer into the cerebral, the local drinks and good vibes recall why humans bring it all back with a good cheers.

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