Monthly Archives: April 2011

Following The Blue Pajamas

I’m finally back in Tokyo again, but not for lack of trying to get away from the twins.

When I finally decided to leave Kaia’s storage unit, I first considered my options for a good hour. My intention was to kill some time, and then walk back to the party, arriving just after I had left. Then, I could consult with the rest of the Collective, and find out what the next best move was.

As soon as my mind had settled on this option, Helena and Cassandra appeared again right in the middle of the hallway.

“No. That just won’t do.” Helena was wearing the same pink kimono she had on during Saturday’s meeting at Kaia’s apartment. Cassandra had on the Satomi Kurogane holographic dress that Isabel was wearing at the party, the one she used to cover Susanna’s corpse. Helena’s eyes were intact. I was quickly having a hard time figuring out what place and time they were coming from.

“Any choice you make now will be wrong.” Cassandra’s blue bustier was was covered by overlapping streaks of clouds made out of light.

“At least just let me fly home. Something sane and slow.”

Helena grimaced at me, like I suggested eating kittens. “No! I’ve had it up to here with your bullshit!” She grabbed Cassandra by the shoulder, and then slapped me on the face. We were back in Ikebukuro, apparently seconds after we had left.

“Just listen.” Helena motioned for me to sit down on my bed. Cassandra then twirled around, the light show twisting about her frame like a flashing tornado. “Kaia is gone. You won’t see her again until the Fifth Event.”

Cassandra walked over to my Agartha Labs Fan Cloud setup, eyephones and picos resting on the desk, and laughed while she pawed at them.

“I don’t care who you are – I’m tired of you always telling me what to do! Every fucking variant, it’s like you’re picking on me!”

Helena motioned to Cassandra, and the two of them quickly grabbed me by the thighs and shoulders. When the folding was complete, we appeared in Miranda’s room in Portland. Aurora’s water bottle was on the floor, and the bed…. it was right after the Fourth Event on the night of March 4th, when Number 12 forcibly logged me off.

“You may be Ai’s cousin, but to us you’re just an annoying fly we don’t dare swat.” Helena pulled me by the hand out of Miranda’s room, down the hallway and into the bathroom. Miranda was lying naked in the bathtub, and her mother was slowly sponging her face and shoulders. Her blue pajamas were lying in a nearby hamper, and Cassandra helped herself to them.

Number 12 turned around to us slowly, and smiled at me – just like she did at the party in Munich when she crashed it. She was wearing the same gray sweatshirt and blue jeans that she had on when she attacked me and Aurora.

“I tried to warn you. Threatened your very soul, but you just wouldn’t let it go.” She stood up from the bathtub and walked over to me. “That’s when I knew you were the real deal – you really love Mira.”

Suddenly I realized that I was physically standing a few feet away from Miranda, and the universe wasn’t falling apart. No fracture, no Event – nothing. I felt like I was going to throw up with joy.

“Leave.” The twins then folded away, as Number 12 – Cathy – took my wrist, walking me over to the bathtub. Miranda looked so peaceful, so amazing, that I just had to grab a towel and cover her. I didn’t want to see her like that, unless she wanted it as well.

“OK. You realize that this is the fucking point of no return, right?” Miranda started to moan a little, and slightly twisted under the towel.

I didn’t understand. I understood.

I quickly glanced around the bathroom I had already seen dozens of times virtually, but just seeing the lotions and toothbrushes in person was an epiphany. This was realer than real – a dream come true.

“I don’t care. If I can be here with Miranda, I don’t care what else happens.”

“Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but it’ll do for now.” She took the green towel out of the tub. “Mira. Mira! It’s time to come back down.”

Miranda turned towards her mother, and open her eyes with a start. “Mom?”

“Someone’s here to see you. Look.” She pushed me towards the tub, and it took a few seconds for it to register on her face.

“Toki?” That smile! “What happened to your ghost, it looks awesome!” Then that frown. “What the fuck did you and Aurora dose me with? And where is she?”

I took a chance and reached out to touch her hand, resting against the tub.

“Oh. What the fuck!” She jumped back a full foot, banging her elbow against the metal soap dish. “You can’t actually be here!” Grabbed the towel back from her mother with a jolt. “Get the fuck out of here, I’m totally not even dressed!”

That wasn’t the reaction I expected. I had seen her in all states of nakedness hundreds of times in this variant, but I guess she felt differently about it since it was a ghost, and not me right there pressing against her. So I instinctively closed my eyes, turned around, and started to crawl for the door. Cathy closed it before I could leave.

“Listen you two. I’m only going to say this once.” She sat down on the dark blue rug next to me. Miranda was alternating between a blush and rage face. “Mira, tonight you and I have to leave Portland. We’re not going to come back, ever.”

Fully rage face now, but she remained quiet, glaring at my red and white FC Bayern jersey.

“Tokie. You can’t stay here in this time. You can’t go with us. I just had to make sure that Miranda could count on you when it all hits the fan.”

I couldn’t stop looking at Miranda – so close, and yet even more distant than usual.

“Get out of there, Miranda, and go get dressed.” She quickly hopped out of the tub and rushed past us into the hallway.

“Please, just be straight with me. What the fuck is going on?”

Cathy suddenly grabbed me by the shirt. “We don’t have much time before the twins return. Before the Nameless notices the changes to this variant.” She motioned for me to lift my arms, and then took off the jersey. “You’re no longer on the home team, OK? No more Collective, no more Ai, just you, me and Miranda against the Nameless.”

“What about Phone’s funeral, about Susanna?” I felt the same fear that invaded me during the Fourth Event.

“That wasn’t me, at least not yet. I’m afraid I only have a few more months before the Nameless makes a play, and apparently it didn’t turn out that well.” She stood to her tube socked feet, and I followed, with only a few inches in between us.

“Let me just make this simple. Just about everything that Ai has told you about Miranda has been a lie. She’s kept you apart for a reason. She’s brought Aurora into her life for a reason. The only thing that’s true is that Miranda is the key to everything, and you are the key to saving her – saving us.”

Hugged the air out of me – I could smell faint patchouli in her hair.

“OK, this is it.” She smiled that same smile as she carefully pushed me away. “I need you to do three things for me. Follow the trail of whomever stole Miranda’s ghost, and save Kaia. And try not to kill me the next time we meet.”

At that moment the twins returned. Cassandra had on the blue pajamas, and Helena was wearing her poofy pink party dress, and bloody bandages over her face.

Before I could resist we folded back into Ikebukuro, moments after we had left.

Cassandra flopped down on my bed and pretended she was Miranda shaking while the Fourth Event loomed, giggling all the while.

“Don’t even think about it!” Helena got up all up in my face, like she was about ready to scream herself silly. “There is no place or time that you can run away to – we’ll find you instantaneously. I know you don’t understand why I’m so pissed off at you, and no, it’s not because of my eyes.”

Cassandra started whispering at her sister in one of their secret languages, and she backed off. “If it wasn’t for Cassie, I would have killed you a thousand years ago. But that amnesty is not going to last long.”

She then joined her sister on the bed, and they embraced almost like lovers before folding away for good.

That was hours ago. Since then, I stopped in Circle X long enough to resign, and the disappointment on my manager’s face was priceless. It wasn’t for me at all – he was clearly heartbroken that his last connection to Yuma and Die Database was about to leave for good. He tried to bribe me with a choice day shift, but I just laughed as I walked away.

I’ve already taken a new job, and it’s full time with just one benefit – Miranda.

I can’t wait to get to work.

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Chasing The Twins

I pray I never see the twins again.

If you meet Cassandra or her twin sister Helena, you know you’re in trouble. Your life is about to get very strange, or very sad, extremely quickly.

As soon as Ai started to fawn over her square pizza on Saturday night in Schwabing, I logged off and left Kaia and Ai to their special meeting.

Ai has been literally bugging me for months about it – she had to be in Munich on that exact day, with Kaia, or “everything is for nothing!” She was liable to throw out absolutes like they were wedding rice – with velocity and joy.

In any case, as soon as I centered myself in Ikebukuro, and started to put away my eyephones, Cassandra and Helena appeared on my half-made bed. Cassandra was wearing the same blue pajamas that Miranda had on the last night we saw her, and Helena was wearing a poofy pink satin dress.

I tried to calculate how fast I could throw myself out the window, but it was too late – they grabbed my arms and folded me away.

The Space/Time twins usually don’t become active until after the Fifth Event, but this variant has been a bundle of firsts. Usually Ai deploys them like invisible needle and thread, stitching things up when they get too out of hand. This time around, however, it almost seems like they’ve been given free reign to do as they please, and it’s amazingly frightening – like sixteen year old girls given the keys to the family car, with no curfew and an unlimited credit card.

I can’t really describe what it’s like to travel along with them, except that you’re running in a hamster ball that’s the focus of a tennis match – all changing perspectives and sickening vertigo, all the time.

This time, after my bedroom slipped away, I found myself in a dark corner of the warehouse where the Collective was paying their respects to Phone. The room was full of Pure Land Antennas, my extended family of crazy aunts. Ai and Susanna were talking to Kaia over by the bar, and everyone else was wrapped up in their gossip and drinking games.

“Don’t move until I come back for you.” Cassandra tapped me on the nose with her finger, and then folded away with her sister.

Next, I’m not quite sure of the sequence of events. Across the room, behind the bar, a woman opened the door like she owned the place. At first I didn’t recognize her, but once she passed into the light I couldn’t help but step back into the metal wall, and pray for another exit. It was Number 12, dressed only in her shining, body-tight datasuit, crashing the party. She glanced over at me in the shadows, and smiled.

Then I saw Kaia turn into a blur and rush for the stage. The twins appeared right in front of her, like they knew she would attack Susanna all along. Kaia smashed her hands and thumbs into Helena’s face and flung her aside as she screamed. She flew over 50 feet to Number 12, who grabbed her and then disappeared.

As soon as Kaia leapt on stage, I tried to look away but I was transfixed by her burning fury. She moved with such speed and precision that I didn’t realize that Susanna was dead and decapitated until Cassandra touched Kaia and took her away.

A few seconds later dozens of Collective members were on the stage, yelling and searching for evidence, for anything that could explain what just happened. Of all people, Isabel was the first to be by Susanna’s side – she took off her shining dress and laid it over her body, as if she was trying to hide the horror with even the slightest beauty.

While everyone was focused on the CSI stuff, Ai walked over to me, not appearing to be fazed one bit by the assassination. “I’m sorry you had to see that.” She sat down on the floor and Cassandra appeared next to her, hands covered with blood. “We won’t see each other again until the Fifth Event. Please look after Kaia for me, and put this on.” Took off her red and white soccer jersey and gave it to me.

Cassandra then grabbed me by the right ankle, on one of my Halloween socks, and the party winked away, replaced by the same room, only now full of printing presses and various equipment related to the trade.

“Helena won’t arrive for a few hours with the first wave of equipment. As soon as you gather yourself, I need you to get from here to the city.”

It was Sunday morning, and I was supposed to be just coming off of my shift at Circle X in Japan. Instead, I was in Germany still, wrapped up in another of Ai’s insane plans.

“Take this.” She gave me a padlock key and a tourist map of Munich, with an address and number written in careful script – Helena’s big puffy girl handwriting. “Get to the marked spot by 14:00 and open the door – carefully.”

With that, she faded away again, leaving me alone with blurry, bloody flashbacks of Kaia and Susanna. As soon as it really hit me, that Kaia was now the property of the Nameless, I couldn’t help but fall to my knees and cry. I wasn’t worried about Susanna – she had died in worse ways than that in other variants, but I hated to see Kaia driven to murder by remote control.

I don’t see how Ai can justify it this time, how she can so nonchalantly move her extended family around like chess pieces, sacrificing anyone and anything just to reach the end game.

Now’s not the time to lament what I can’t control. Instead, I did what I could to regain my senses, and took the long walk into Munich.

I ended up traveling along the riverfront, past Kaia’s favorite graffiti-filled walls and tunnels. It was the first time I had actually set foot in the city, but I felt like I knew every detail, thanks to her photos and our long conversations. It was a little breezy, but still quite pleasant – taking breaks on benches to watch the Isar pass calmed me down.

Eventually I made it to the Self Storage building, and used a minor hack to re-route their CCTV signals. Made sure no one was nearby, and then entered the PIN before I unlocked the unit, and rolled up the white corrugated door.

The large room was full of open, brown cardboard boxes full to bursting with books, records and clothes, along with a blue couch, kitchen table, bookshelves and various framed photos and art. Buried under it all, like a beaver in her lodge, was Kaia rolled up into a ball and crying uncontrollably. Her white dress was streaked with blood and dirt, and her hands grasped a torn silkscreen.

“Did they send you kill me? Please kill me.” She looked up at me and cried even harder. “You’re on the home team.”

I reached in far enough that I could hold her bald head and kiss it. “It’s OK, OK….” I started to pull her out of her things, trying not to start an avalanche of hard memories. “I’ve got you. I’m going to take care of everything now.”

“Not everything, not by a long shot.” I recognized Helena’s voice anywhere, but it seemed rougher, pained. Turned around to find her in the same pink dress, only with white bandages entirely covering her eyes and forehead, spotted by blood. Cassandra was standing behind her, wearing a glowing fiber optic wig and partially metallic jumpsuit.

“The Nameless would like to have a few words with you.” Helena stared at Kaia even though she had no more eyes.

“Don’t worry,” Cassandra lied with a grin. “We’ll bring her back to you in one piece.”

I didn’t dare move.

Kaia screamed herself hoarse as they dragged her away into nothingness.

I didn’t move for a long time, just staring at the silkscreen Kaia latched on to until the end.

It was the stenciled art for Phone’s Intruder Alert! jacket, the same one he had on when he died.

Torn and covered by bloody hand prints, it looked like Kaia had tried to reach through it, desperately hoping to touch Phone again.

I’m afraid that she might get her chance after all.

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The Haunted City

I’ve now officially had it. Variant 237 hates me.

I went to Akiba yesterday, to randomly browse through cute goods – what I normally do when depression looms.

First, I dropped into 7-Eleven to get some Aquarius and briefly look through the zasshi. The first fashion magazine I picked up had a girl who looked just like Miranda on the cover. Well, she actually looked a bit older, but she had the same mole on the tip of her ear, the same smiling eyes. It completely freaked me out, so I dropped the issue and left without my drink.

Then, I stopped by Sofmap, taking the escalators to the top floor. Yeah, my depression browsing also involves looking through the sexy girls on adult DVD covers. Sometimes there’s even an AV idol there at a table, with a line of guys waiting for a signature, a photo, or simply some hoped-for fleeting recognition. I’m usually the only girl that lines up with them, but I can’t help it – loneliness is corrosive.

In any case, as I was browsing…. Miranda. On a long and wide poster, and then on a DVD box with the same image. Slightly age-advanced, but amazingly convincing as she lounged on a bed in a purple bikini, propping her head up with her bent arms, showing ample cleavage.

There were actually a few titles with her on the cover, so I picked out some randomly and quickly checked out, blushing despite myself.

On the way back to the train station, I suddenly started to see her everywhere. On maid cafe fliers. On TVs blaring away at random store fronts. I gathered what evidence I could, and then rushed home on the Yamanote to watch the DVDs.

I still can’t re-focus. The way she was looking at the camera – she hadn’t looked at me that way ever, not even when we were together so long ago. She was seductive and voracious – even though she was never fully naked, it was as if she had stripped bare and pole danced up and down my soul. It was beyond real, and it was all, completely fake.

Someone has stolen her Ghost. The level of 3D geometry that Fan Cloud members share with Agartha Labs is immense, so that the virtual Die Database concert experience can be ultra-real. It’s to the point that you could render images or video that, with the right skill, would be indistinguishable from the original person.

Not only is Miranda missing, but someone has stolen her mirror twin, and is pimping her out for a quick buck.

As far as I can tell, none of the bootleg Miranda goods were created before the Fourth Event. In fact, the DVD publisher didn’t even exist before then – it must have taken them a month to make the video from whole cloth, and prepare it for sale.

I was also able to track down a fake talent agency, with almost invisible ties to the club that HikariFan found in San Francisco, the dating site, and that weird viral video going around with a Miranda-twin as punk dominatrix.

I really can’t put up with this right now. Someone chose the wrong girl to mess with, and I’m not going to rest until this stops.

We know who stole Miranda – her mother. Could she also be involved in stealing her Ghost? At this point I’ll believe anything – in many ways it would be easier to simply blame Number 12 for everything, and be done with it.

And yet…. I’m still watching that first DVD, haven’t even taken the shrink wrap off the rest.

I’m still staring at Miranda smoldering – not a barely sixteen year old girl from Portland, but her aged, idealized and sexualized self, perfectly packaged and ready to please.

What bothers me – what if it’s not just her Ghost that’s been stolen?

How many other girls may not even know that while they sleep, half way around the world people are lining up to leer at them?

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The Beginning Of The Middle

Ai took my advice, and now she has a blog.

I hope she doesn’t turn all Bruce Almighty and try to help each and every person individually. She did that before, for a few variants, and it all just led to ruin.

Anyway, the inside of the bag is now the outside, and there’s no turning back. She is definitely right about one thing – we all love her to pieces, and are scared out of our minds every time she breathes.

It’s a different kind of fear, though – of the leaping wolf caught mid pounce, right before it tears you apart. We’re not afraid of Ai – the power that freezes the grave away – we’re afraid to death of those teeth, always visible.

No matter. It’s the beginning of the middle – time to dust off the running shoes and start the last marathon.

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Quick Miranda Update

Thanks to Hikarifan, I’ve been tracking some very weird activity when it comes to Miranda.

Specifically, she’s been sporadically appearing in a few images, all tied into the more sketchy side of the net. There were some party shots from a nightclub in San Francisco, some candids from a low-rent dating site, and also some personals ads. In every one, “Miranda” is referred to by another name (Ilyanna, Heather, etc), and isn’t acting at all like her normal self – usually her doppelganger is partying and/or trolling for guys.

Kaia went over the images, and the whois info for all the involved sites, and there seems to be a slight connection between them, but it’s not clear yet. It was also apparent after a little analysis that some moderately-skilled Photoshopping was involved – she didn’t quite mesh with the club scenes, and her hair was a bit off. Furthermore, the dating site text was just boilerplate – it came from a few other profiles associated with Russian scammer girls.

We don’t have any firm explanation right now, except that it’s clearly not Miranda in those pictures. However, that doesn’t rule out that someone has access to her, or at least a lot of personal photos, and is taking/shopping these images to whatever end.

I’ll let you know when I have any more information.

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Everything But The (Birthday) Girl

Thursday the 31st of March was Miranda’s Sweet Sixteen. I can’t say if she had fun or not, since she’s been missing for more than a month.

I had an elaborate virtual party planned for her; I had been working on the environment ever since I woke up a few months ago. Satomi and the girls had already marked their calendars to put on a private Die Database show just for her and me.

I had a huge box of gifts, including character goods from anime and games that only existed in prior variants – I managed to secretly cache them at Point Zero over the years, and Ai uncharacteristically looked the other way.

It’s so rare that Miranda actually survives this far in each Variant, and I wanted to celebrate in the most massive way possible.

Not that she would have even understood such intensity – not that she can ever really understand all that we’ve been through, all that she’ll never remember from all of her lifetimes.

Still. I figured it was worth a shot, to really give her the 16th Birthday she deserved, and her mother ruined everything.

I don’t think I can ever forgive her, but that isn’t even the problem. I need to find her, to save Miranda from whatever mess Number 12 has gotten her involved with.

I need to find her, so I can just look at her one more time, even if it’s through pixelated eyes.

Is that too much to ask? Such rhetorical flourishes are pointless, since the only higher power in this universal bubble doesn’t seem to care. She may be my cousin, but I always get the feeling that Ai just sees other people as fingerprints on her glasses, just getting in the way of her infinitely long view.

No, I really am not in in the best of moods. Sometimes I wish I was etched, if only so I could turn off the pain and sadness, ignoring the heavy enormity of it all.

Sometimes I wish I could tear up my Get Out Of Jail Free card, the one that brings me to Point Zero to contemplate the ashes of everyone I’ve ever seen.

And sometimes I just think of Miranda, of her careful and sweet kisses so many Variants ago…. at this point, I would gladly destroy the world for her touch, and that’s selfish fire is how I know I’m alive.

Everything else is an ever-blurry shadow, the fuzzy memories of so many almost-identical lifetimes. My only anchor is her.

I have to learn how to build off of that. To make a world profoundly beautiful enough for my always fallen angel, and to pray to the void that I’ll be able to reside there with her.

That’s the dream I’ll hold tightly to my chest as I cradle myself to sleep, alone.

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