The problem with being effectively immortal is that you start to believe you know everything. Then you find out you don’t, and it hurts like a car crash.
Like many mornings, I spent my early Sunday in the basement of the McDonalds near the entrance to the Ikebukuro train station. I always enjoy the incongruity of my “hotcake set”, with hash browns and over-iced orange juice, when I could be having a more traditional Japanese meal at home. No matter – I like the uniforms and the cute girls behind the counter, and it’s one easy way to keep my fingers on the pulse of a particular subset of society. Namely, those with a literal hunger for the West, no matter what the overall effect.
In any case, after breakfast I went down the stairs into the station; at least, I took the route past a sort of mini-mini-mall, a dozen or so shops nestled into a corridor that went under the street, and to the station proper. At that time of morning many of the stores were in the process of opening, and I would occasionally poke my head in a few to see what had changed from the days before. I didn’t spent too much time on this, however, because I just wanted to go where the action was – the main walkway through the station.
According to the statistics, Ikebukuro Eki is the second-most busy station in the world. The crowds move so fast, and with purpose, that in any one corridor it doesn’t seem that amazingly busy. In fact, if you stop and take a picture of the crowd, it can almost seem sedate. However, as you walk towards the central JR entrances, you can be caught up in multiple waves of people if you don’t face in just the right direction.
Usually, I would walk from the West entrance, or perhaps Metropolitan Plaza, and then cut straight across to the East exit, making my way to Sunshine 60 Dori in just a few minutes. Then I’d survey the neighborhood and shops, killing some time until Animate or the nearby otaku-havens opened. Working nights at Circle X was practically being unemployed anyway, so my daily patterns hadn’t changed much even after I quit to focus on Miranda.
“Focus on Miranda” sounds weird, especially considering what happened to me on Sunday, as I was passing the central Tokyo Metro entrance area. I usually take quick glances at the faces around me, but I couldn’t help but be transfixed as an amazingly dressed woman strolled up besides me, keeping pace. At first I couldn’t see her face, since it was shrouded in dark hair, and my initial impulse was to mentally size her up. She was awfully cute, dressed right out of the pages of CUTiE or FRUiTS, with that kind of eccentric hodge-podge street wear that we excel at. Then she turned around to face me, and I started to freak out. It was Isabel, Number 11 from the Collective.
“Get your mind out the gutter, girl, and follow me.” She picked up speed and shot past the Seibu store, headed for the crowded ramp and escalator that lead upwards.
“Where are the twins?” I was trying to keep up with her, so much so that I ignored the often attractive girls handing out cellophane wrapped tissues with forgettable ads.
She pointed me over to a tree that bordered the street, and leaned against the barrier that kept in the pedestrians.
“I don’t travel with the Trouble Twins anymore. I flew in, like I did to Munich.” She said this like she was cleaning a just used toilet.
“First class, no doubt.” She was known to demand the finer things in life.
“No, no. I just went to the airport, pushed a few minds, and got on the first plane to Narita. Shut down my body for 10 hours, and once we arrived I took the N’EX here to meet you.” A tour bus passed by, followed by a few taxis.
“You mean you were just hanging out in the station waiting for me to pass by? That’s so creepy.” Isabel used to babysit me sometimes, and that’s the kind of shit she would always pull. One time, she took me to the grocery store, and while I was examining the bananas she cloaked herself, and then hid while I searched the store for her. It was supposed to be some sort of test, but it ended simply enough with her carrying me crying out to the parking lot.
“Listen. I don’t have much time. Your girlfriend is going to kill us all.” I knew she was talking about Miranda, but I didn’t yet know what the Nameless had been up to. “I can’t talk about this here. This way.”
We crossed at the light on to Sunshine 60 Dori, a pedestrian mall that as usual was filled with people – maybe not as much as most nights, but still a good bustle. After a few blocks of following her, she seemed to be heading towards Book Off, but instead she shot past the movie theater to the entrance to Sunshine City. I followed her down the escalators, and then past the horizontal moving walkways in the underground passageway. When we got to the steps by Burger King, she stopped, looked around for a moment, and then rushed up into a passageway headed for the central shopping area.
“You’re in a shitload of trouble,” she said as we passed by the small post office. “If the last Helena finds you, she will not hesitate to kill you in some elaborately horrific way.”
I stopped by a shop selling some tasty looking baked goods. “She was fucking with me the other day. What did I ever do to her?”
Isabel grimaced, and then pulled my hand to keep us walking. “Not to her. To Cassie.” Sat us down on a bench near the central escalators. “Did I ever tell you that I went to High School with the Trouble Twins? Cassie and Hel were fixtures at the Treehouse – they were right there at the start of the Collective.”
I didn’t know what to say. Then I suddenly remembered one of the antizine Fragments, Yard Stick Vs. Tape Measure. On the night that A-Bell met with Sasha, in 1986, she mentioned that the “Trouble Twins” were in the crowd. I always assumed they were some scenster guys, but now I knew better.
“Do you understand what I’m telling you? Cassie and Hel were always back in 1986, even in Variant 0. They were also at the last Suspender concert in 1994, and they were on our intrusion team when we broke into Fairview mall in 2000. They are everywhere – the universal puppeteers.”
I didn’t understand. “Wouldn’t everyone have recognized them when they grew old enough? Or when April named her girls after some other twins you knew?”
“That’s the thing! We didn’t. They were always there in our lives, and yet it’s like that past hasn’t even really happened yet.” She looked anxiously around the mall and random passers-by.
“So what does Helena think I did to Cassandra?”
“Have I ever told you a secret? I don’t think so, since I can never really trust anyone that’s not etched. But anyway – after the big Halloween concert, when April found out she was pregnant, everyone was certain she was just carrying one baby. She had sonograms and the whole bit – one girl in there. Then, when she had Hel, Cassie followed behind a minute later. Freaked everyone out.”
“How could they make that mistake?” The answer was starting to form in my head, but I didn’t want to believe it.
“They’re not just identical twins – they’re the same person, time-shifted by one minute.”
I finally understood. There was no reason for Space and Time to be embodied by separate people, since they’re so intertwined. Helena always reaches out to Cassandra to fully manifest their powers, but in reality she’s reaching out to herself. It’s the most advanced form of schizophrenia possible – she doesn’t realize that she controls it all, and so displaces half of her power to the girl on the other side of the mirror.
“We just assumed the Structure knew what it was doing, and that she would collapse into one person sooner or later. But in every Variant so far it’s never happened. Until now.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve only seen them in pairs.”
“Oh shit, it’s too late.” Isabel suddenly jumped off the bench and ran up the escalators. Before she made it to the next floor the stairs stopped and reversed direction, and she folded away into nothingness, replaced by Helena.
Helena had on a long dress made from hundreds of canvas, silk-screened punk band patches, stitched together by thin copper wire. Her wrists were covered by white bracelets made of finger bones and strung teeth, and her chest was covered by a glittery beauty pageant sash that said “Grand Supreme”. Her eyes were hidden by hard, black plastic, old school 3D glasses, but behind the red and blue lenses it was clear that all that was left were empty sockets. Her wig was made from layers of transparent USB cables of various lengths and colors, like dreadlocks.
She looked insane. I knew it was futile to move, so I just watched her walk over to me.
“How fatally stupid can you be to actually write down the truth on your blog, when you know that somewhere, sometime, I’ll be able to see it.” Helena fussed with the teeth encircling her right wrist.
“I really didn’t mean to hurt you,” I pleaded. “I didn’t know it would end this way.”
“Isabel told you it was a secret. You had to go spill your guts and kill my sister.”
I thought long and hard about whether I should even write this blog entry. Could telling this secret have such a grave and immediate effect? Was is so simple that Helena’s knowledge of the situation would make Cassandra permanently disappear? I still can’t believe that, which makes matters even worse – this post will only be the first step that leads to Cassandra’s death in the future, and I have no way of knowing how to prevent it.
Helena took off her 3D glasses, and put them on my face.
“Do you understand that I have no one left to live for now? That every version of me in every Variant will never forgive you?”
The world was violet and blurry as Helena started to shake.
“Do you know why the Nameless took away my eyes? Because I begged it to bring Cassie back.” She was shaking away into nothingness. “It laughed at me with Miranda’s mouth, and said that if I couldn’t see what was right in front of my eyes, I didn’t deserve to see at all.”
Miranda’s mouth. As Helena folded away from the mall, I finally understood what Miranda was trying to tell us during the Fourth Event.
While she was transpositional, she told Aurora that “It comes at night to give me new skin.” The Nameless was going to kidnap Miranda, and etch her by force, so it could take over her body during the Fifth Event in October of 2011.
I have 5 months to find a way to make sure that never happens, before it’s too late.
Who was she talking about when she said that “It comes in threes, different bodies same voices…. I’m not allowed to recognize their faces”?
And how can I ever possibly sleep again, knowing that Helena can appear at any time and send me to the bottom of the ocean to drown, or inside the center of a star to burn away forever?