New York University, Manhattan
Nate "Shirky" Stryker looked over the NYU courtyard beneath his office balcony. There were 32,000 cobblestones in that perfect rectangle, or a thousand for each of the 32 degrees of Islamic-Rite Masonry, an organization that officially didn't even exist.
Stryker ran his left hand through his graying, dignified temple hair. Beneath him was a galley copy of his next book, Strangled Theories: Why Everything You Know About Memeology Is A Lie. A hot-pink Post-It on the title page said, "Another Million Seller! Fondly, R.M."
Perhaps it is, Stryker thought. Or perhaps it isn't. Time would tell, if Time continued its present lateral monodirectional motion. Conventional science said it would. But that's what conventional scientists always said. Through his storied career as an archeologist, artificial intelligence pioneer and new-media consultant, Nate Stryker had ruffled more than a few feathers … even from his undergraduate days at Yale.
As a professional occultist, Stryker was used to being ribbed by the medical establishment, as well as the jerks down at the physics lab with its then-state of the art small-hadron collider. But even those guys had to give Stryker credit for discovering the so-called X Neutrino, or God Particle.
What a world, Stryker thought. They go crazy over the God Particle and most of them don't even believe in God. But they will soon. Unless I can stop this.
Under the galley copy was a hatch on the desktop, so smoothly aligned with the surrounding teak that not even Stryker's darkly beautiful assistant professor, Tanalyne Foster Wallace, had ever noticed the secret chamber before. Deftly tapping his watch face four times, Stryker watched as the hatch opened, revealing an elegantly curved glass dildo inscribed with beautiful Arabic letters. Tanalyne leaned over and Stryker softly inhaled a whiff of her clean, luxuriant hair.
"If this gets to the right-wing press before I've had time to warn the Elders," Nate said aloud, "We're all going to be facing God."
The helicopter was waiting on the roof. Stryker grabbed his overcoat and trademark tweed beret from the hat stand that doubled as a rare Egyptian idol of Horus. Looking back on his office, he wondered if he would ever see it again. Not if he was dead somewhere, that much was plain.
But when the tenured professor's special elevator opened, Nate Stryker knew he wasn't getting in a helicopter after all. There was no torso, no head, no arms. Just legs. Five sets of legs. Women's legs, beautiful except for the still-bloody tattoos around the ankles. It was the same Arabic word that was on the ancient glass dildo. There is no exact translation for Bettawfeeq , but Stryker had grown up speaking Arabic, doing graduate work on newly discovered pyramids in Egypt. He knew exactly what it meant: Trouble for the whole planet.
Beneath those new ancient pyramids were thetans, millions of them. L. Ron Hubbard had been right all along. And as long as Hubbard's templar investigators known as Sea-Org were paying the media to run a smear campaign, there was no chance those thetans would ever burst through the Giant X Particle Accelerator compound deep beneath the nuclear research laboratories of EndCum Systems, the Vatican's secret space-research division.
Tanalyne opened her Google phone and pressed the scarlet button. After a moment, she checked her Chartbeat account and then closed her clamshell.
"The toenails," she breathed into the back of Stryker's neck. Of course. Stryker literally smacked himself in the forehead, literally. Each toe was discreetly and discretely marked, using a Navajo color code now practiced only by the 24 royal members of the Order of the Garter.
They could hear the helicopter on the roof depart in accordance with Tanalyne's signal. "M…P…" translated Stryker, squinting at the toenails. "R…"
But the wash of the departing rotors blocked out what he said next.
"My God," Tanalyne said in the eerie quiet, giving her Fendi bustle a shake. "They're going to pollute the entire social graph."
But who was "they"?
And now it's time for Chapter Two.