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.