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.