My story begins as good ones these days do: with a meme. The meme was “Prelon” – that is, pre-Elon, referring to a time before Elon Musk joined Clubhouse and vibe-shifted that flash-in-the-pan amphitheater away from spatially scattered yet vocally intimate authenticity towards the slick salesmanship of contrepreneurs, scammy NFTs and $5,000 e-books teaching you everything you need to know about investing.

The House of Prelon was a weigh-station tucked away from the toxic highway of Clubhouse, a watering hole for queer and curious listener-ons, a cyberpalace of distinguished, gentle socio-cultural architecture whose entrance was disguised by ferns fussily arranged over a creaky wooden gate such that the whole thing seemed nothing more than a crummy shack. But something about the particular mess of it signaled to your queer and curious listener-on that if he cracked the door open and crawled through its coarse threshold, its interior would transmogrify to reveal glimmering and delightful hidden guts. The HoP voice chatroom was, for a synchronous few weeks in February 2021, perhaps the best place on the internet to reliably wade in and out of fluid, hilarious and masterful conversations. It was a sick auditory genius’s participatory mash-up of The Daily and Who’s Line Is It Anyway, a 24/7 diamond romp of unthinkable intellectual treasures.

The guests (who assumed the nomPrelon” as a conductor’s car does its freighters) touted CVs impressive enough to knock my proverbial socks (Puma, ankle-height, one black, one white) right the-fuck-off.

Prelon Michael was so fervently administrating order to the spontaneously formed meme cult that he seemed to be neglecting his regular duties as CEO of an ad-tech company based in Toronto. Prelon Yang patched in from Taiwan and elucidated the connection between DMT, cryptography and software; Prelon Simone, a Middle-Eastern dissident living in Greece whom Prelon Chris seemed to have a little crush on, made small talk about European politics; Prelon Marlene always started invocations by mentioning she was “hardly smart enough to comment while surrounded by all these geniuses, but…” before regailing us with a tale which included sitting next to Jeff Koons at a dinner party (I later learned her last name was Pompidou).

One day, Prelon Amanda asked the room of ten-or-so how to set up a private call with a Chinese engineer (begone, surveillance state!) to discuss a problem her company was having developing new 3D modeling software. I listened as the clan huddled and called the name of Prelon Charlie—who happened to be a Chinese dissident. Summoned by the angelic geometrics of the platform’s “invite-user” tool, Charlie apparated in and proceeded to coach Amanda through the proper risk-informed steps. Anonymously acquire burner phone. Set up a VPN (use such-and-such website). Transmit the number (in such-and-such manner). And so on and so forth. In five minutes the query was answered—elocuted with all the flair and dramatics of a McDonald’s cashier calling “next”. Thusly the conversation bumbled back to the room’s preferred debate topic: whether hotdogs were indeed—sandwiches.

I felt sure that if the Prelons (our numbers had bulged from ten to a few hundred) were to gather together in person and set out to solve some interminable global challenge... my sense was that the expertise and good ésprit of our cult would gracefully charge by any and all obstacles such that we would, in short order, advance the consciousness of mankind forward by a few centuries at least.

Alas; as I have now experienced with excruciating deja-vu in at least two other online cult communities (wet brain and Milady, for those scoring at home), cults form easier than they sustain. A rupture appeared in the sandy ground, so small that it was hardly worth stepping over by this traveler’s dusty Palladium boots and his curved, carved bamboo walking stick. It opened at first imperceptibly—then it became a lightning-hardened crack into which forces of expectation and grief and trauma lept like a pack of honey badgers who didn’t give a fuck, didn’t give one fuck at all, and before long I called a meeting, and before longer the House of Prelon was blemished and began to taste like battery chemicals, and hardly anyone bothered to call me Prelon anymore, and the walls of the cult once healthy and pulsing with working fluid dried and contracted; the T.A.Z. once naked and brazen, the glittering oasis in the cyber-desert spiraled, imploding; the porthole closed and the dusty gate covered in thistles and ferns once more betrayed nothing other than dust and coursing sand, and your traveler was left shaking with one single Prelonian number scrawled into his Rolodex—and let me tell you, dear Reader: your traveler was not going back to wandering the desert—not after fingering the houndstooth velvet curtains and sapping punches of red cybernetic wine. I had a number—a phone number—and I knew the route to which it led would be dangerous and fruitful.

I dialed the number and reached the manwho had eloquently described army reactors from the 1950s and who claimed to have invented something so disruptive it would reset the very energetic structure of society. Anyway, your humble cyber-traveler needed to find out more. It was then (and it remains) my task to unravel whether this was some talking bullshit sandwich (which seemed at first likely enough); or if, by some dazzling cosmic synchronicity, the nuclear scientist was telling the truth – a truth that would outpunch even than the orneryest fiction. But that is a story for another day.

For now, I rest my angular head on my traveler’s pillow. If what you hear outside is the sound of wind thrashing waves of frigid particulate against flapping canvas walls, then might I offer an alternative history – an oral tradition. In my mind’s ear, I hear a deliciously welcoming buffet of voices, harmonies of gated frequencies lighting up the back-left regions of my brain and feeding my parched appetite for truth. See, what I’ve heard is that Clubhouse was, on the whole, a lot better before Elon.

n.b. Some names have been changed to preserve anonymities.