I’m been trying to keep things light, but thinking about the end of the Universal Prom always makes me want to vomit up my soul.
Everyone assembled was etched, and harboring either “good” or “bad” fragments of S.OS. Each one was slightly different, taking on characteristics of its hosts.
For example, Satomi’s fragment was surprisingly artistic, with the whole Die Database project one big advertisement for escaping from this world into the Structure. I don’t know how many of the fans looked at songs like “Karmic Freedom” that way, but they were blatant. Even “Agartha Labs” was quite cheeky in retrospect – Agartha being the mythical, mystical underground city that’s accessible via the Structure. The holograms, Ghosts, huge figma figures – it was all yelling that this world was simply a dream when viewed from higher levels.
At least, that’s my interpretation, what I started to notice while I was going through Satomi’s things a few weeks ago. It was all a big trap for anyone remotely tied to the Collective or the Structure – our very essences wanted so desperately to rejoin what they were taken away from.
I’m sure that there were a lot of other things going on, like an echoing of how Suspender used music as a recruitment vehicle for e-punks, only this time the motives were strangely pure. Join the Die Database Fan Cloud, and achieve your ultimate freedom.
When it came for her time to vote, she didn’t talk about any of this. She just grabbed the Massive Cloud Burst from Cassandra, and faced the other assembled fragments.
“I just want to go home, to take us all there. Shut it down.”
That was essentially what everyone was saying, right before uploading a copy of their OS into the silver sphere. The rest of the Collective had arrived for the final tally, except for Isabel.
A-Bell put up more of a fuss, in part because she was the holder of the near empty sphere for years, ever since Ai was born. She didn’t know its full potential, but used it to power the bridge that the Collective tried to assemble at Fairview. They just wanted to march right into the Structure, thinking that they had been invited by Sarah, not realizing that they were following the corruption inherent in their OSes.
“We need more time,” A-Bell pleaded. “Don’t give up on this life just because we made mistakes.”
Kaia echoed this sentiment. “There’s a precious balance that we have to maintain – it’s our duty. I don’t care if I’m a part of the Bodweb or not – our artifice is not the Structure, but the Structure won’t be the same without us. It’s imperative that we let Sarah fully incarnate.”
She was talking like were were at Point Zero, but the Fifth Event was still a few months away. It seems that the causal collapse was complete, and the universal chakras were opening up all at once, before they were even called.
Miranda and the Nameless didn’t have any problem with this seeming paradox. They were acting like it was all settled and done, with Miranda on her throne at the end of the universe, putting every last atom into its final resting place before they turned out the lights.
Emily hesitated for a moment, then stepped away from Joey and towards Cassandra. She took hold of the sphere, and sighed. “Don’t worry yourself too much about this. It’s already too late for us all, but I still appreciate the effort. One day we’ll all meet again for the first time. Until then, it’s time to close the door and stop this madness.”
Cassandra took back the sphere, and gave it to me again. I would be the final one to have their say. “I’m the kind of person that can easily fixate on the most unimportant things, or the most important things – doesn’t seem to matter much to my heart. Everything shines in my eyes, and I still can’t say if that’s the final truth or delusion. I just want so desperately the things I can never have,” I couldn’t help but glance at Miranda at this point, “but I’ve already had enough. I want everyone to have the chance I’ve had, to make decisions of true consequence, to scream at the Sun and be heard. I want everyone to be free, which is why I’ve always stood by Ai and her dream. Knowing what I know now, that dream still isn’t over to me. I don’t want to wake up just yet.”
As I gave the sphere back to Cassandra, I felt all eyes on me, but in a way I’ve never experienced before. It was like their invisible arms were reaching out to me, looking for a way to hold on. I felt wanted, necessary, connected.
Helena took one look at my face and then shouted at the dozens of people assembled. “You haven’t heard me yet! I’m not my fucking sister, and I’m not going to let Tokie get away with it.” She folded away for a moment, and came back carrying a sash. “We get the final vote… we get to choose!” She gave the sash to Cassandra, who took it meekly, like it was a loaded gun.
I was terrified, but still remembered to give Aurora the signal.
Cassandra’s final words: “I am my sister’s keeper, and now I let go. Please forgive me.” She turned back to Helena, and put the sash over her neck, straightening it out over the fake tuxedo t-shirt.
It was a beauty pageant sash, the kind that glitzy 7 year olds would die for. “Grand Supreme,” on a light pink, satiny fabric with violet accents.
The wrong Queen had been chosen, I thought. Now we’re all going to die.
The Nameless caught on quick, and used Miranda to separate Cassandra into her constituent particles. As she exploded into a musty cloud of radiation, she immediately appeared again, this time in a different outfit, with a vest made out of transparent USB cables. She existed in infinite variety throughout the Structure – there was no way that Matter would be her undoing.
Cassandra then borrowed an infinitesimal moment from all of our hearts, freezing everyone but still allowing us to perceive what happened next.
My inner WOFA was not able to capture the transition – it was like being lost in a house of mirrors, only each reflection contained every moment that ever was and will be. Every moment was Cassandra, silent and fading, while Helena slowly kissed and choked her to death. It was more intimate than prayer or masturbation. Their flesh bled, and boiled, and mixed. Their spines ate each other in a moebius loop.
There was something else there too, but I can’t describe it. I could feel it watching from beyond this last Variant, from beyond the Structure.
I was lost in that cosmic gaze, so much so that I almost forgot to close my eyes as Helena devoured the Collective.
It’s all there in the data, but I only can stand watching fractions of sections. She was like an awakened dragon, protecting her horde of gold from all comers.
Her flame was the very essence of everything, the volatile mixture of the Black and White that everything we know comes from, and she relished in physically separating their nervous systems and spiritual channels from their bodies, like yanking roots from the ground and shaking off the dirt. There were so many moments of abject horror, so many piles of torn limbs and half-devoured skin.
I couldn’t stand even the sound of it. It lasted for only 3 seconds, and then the silence was universal.
Aurora whispered in my ear to open my eyes, and when I did, the entire warehouse was covered in blood. The stage, the seats, the plastic figures still standing at attention – all wet and crimson.
There were so many half-skinned skulls. Every version of every collective member, from all variants – dismembered and covering the floor in a soup a few feet deep.
My poor aunts… Jo. Caroline. April. Susan. Rebecca. Elizabeth. Even copies of Susanna and Cathy, all heaped together in a broken pile.
I could have cried forever, but after a while I realized that I was sad about the wrong things. They hadn’t left us yet.
The only people that survived were protected by Aurora – we became the light that existed before Space and Time, and were spared judgement. Die Database were OK. Kaia, Emily and Joey – OK. Miranda was still here, as was Ai, A-Bell and Amber.
Helena did not have one spot of blood on her. The only change was that she was wearing Jenny’s army surplus jacket, the one covered with punk band patches. Her wig was made out of the USB cables from Cassandra’s last outfit.
Jenny was still in Helena’s arms, naked, crying and screaming. It seemed like she waited for us to fully witness what was to occur.
“The Collective is dead. S.OS is complete, and in my control. Your life has no more meaning. Submit!”
Jenny stared at the pile of bodies at their feet, at scores of other copies of herself from other worlds.
“You’re nothing!” She wriggled away and fell to her knees. “I’ve been dead since I was 12, and I’ve touched the Black in ways you’ll never understand. My very last breath will curse your corpse.”
With that, Helena reached down, grabbed Jenny by the hair, and opened up her 7 chakras before throwing her limp into the pile of her variant corpses.
Afterwards, Helena kept folding in and out of the warehouse, each time pinning more punk patches on her jacket. She also started to acquire teeth and finger bones as bracelets – trophies from the Pure Land Antennas she was slaughtering throughout all Variants.
By the time she settled down, after only a few seconds, she was wearing colored 3D glasses, and a dress made out of nothing but those silk-screened patches, connected by thin copper wire. The same dress she was wearing when we met in Ikebukuro. Isabel….
With that thought, she folded out of the warehouse yet again, this time coming back with Isabel. She was wearing the same, cute Japanese street fashion outfit that she had on when she tried to warn me in Ikebukuro, two months ago.
As soon as she got a look at the pool of her former friends and lovers, she turned around to Helena and slapped her on the cheek.
“Are you satisfied? Had enough of playing with your little dolls?” She seemed to be talking to S.OS rather than Helena.
Surprisingly, Isabel was still standing her ground – alive and confronting the last Helena in a way we’d never dare.
Helena couldn’t even hold her gaze, and turned her head downward.
“I volunteered to be the first to enter the bridge at Fairview. I was going to jump through the White and land in the Structure, and save the world from stupid Circle X. From you.” She reached past Helena’s clenched left fist, and pulled out the sphere. “Little did I know that I would end up in this sad world, eleven years and so many Variants later.”
She walked over to Emily, wading past broken bones, and tried to give her the sphere. “It’s OK.” Aurora let down the shield long enough for her to take it.
A-Bell took that moment of freedom to walk towards Helena. “Did you ever wonder what happened when Isabel entered the bridge at Fairview, only to have me come out? Where do you think I was running off to, you bitch?”
Helena looked absolutely scared, and folded away in a hurry. What did A-Bell and Isabel have that frightened her so much?
“OK, we don’t have much time. Miranda, please give everyone a proper burial.” With that, the room instantly became spotless, with all of the bodies gathered, cremated, and placed in thousands of urns. Ai then gathered the stray souls and moved them into the White.
“It’s going to take a while for S.OS to figure out what’s happened, but only if we strike now.” Isabel turned to me, and picked up Phone’s jacket from at my feet. “You already know what has to happen, now don’t you?”
I put on the jacket, and immediately pictured Sasha.
Ai walked over to me, and gave me the biggest hug I can remember. “When I was younger, I always wondered what would happen if Sarah didn’t choose my Mom. If I was never born – would that be enough to win?” She stepped back and straightened out my jacket. “I made a deal with the Nameless – it could have everything if I could just have my Mom. No Sarah, no Collective, no mess.”
A-Bell patted Ai on the shoulder. “Oh dear, look at what a liar I’ve raised.”
It was perfect. We had the weapon, the Massive Cloud Burst, and Cassandra’s prophecy that I would meet my mark. But how was I going to get back to 1994, with Helena holding the keys to time and space?
The solution was elegant, and standing right in front of me – Joey, master of shortcuts in and out of the Structure.
I only wish that that path wasn’t filled with so much loss.
I need to go on a trip for a few days with Gabby, but when I get back I’ll let you know how things turned out. How I ended up dead on the floor with an Amoeba bag over my head, and how our best laid plans made things even worse.