All during Variant 237 I was Ms. Inaction Hero. Things just happened to me in mass, and I barely reacted except for a few overly explanatory blog posts.
Well, all that changed at Point One – I officially fucked shit up. Just not in a good way.
I don’t know if I’m going to be able to fit in everything tonight… but there’s a few points I have to make about the Infinite Subway now, because they’ll be extremely important soon.
After we decided to travel back to 1994 using the North Berkeley BART station, Miranda was raring to go. She wanted to teleport us there one person at a time, but after she took Amber, she came back with her tail between her legs. “If my back has a back, then that’s totally killing me!” I think she was strained from too much activity – the Nameless had been riding her hard since the Fifth Event.
Are you still worried about the Fifth Event? How that’s supposed to be in October of 2011, but it’s only July now? Please – that’s the least of your paradoxical concerns.
Since Miranda had a body-limp going on, we just decided to walk the mile. Miranda just disintegrated the stage, equipment, chairs and the like – she wasn’t feeling up to Trouble Twins style replacement. I think her earlier trick, sending the urns of the departed Collective members to the Sun for their final, fiery rest, was probably the last straw. Not because of the exertion, but because she had to send over 200 copies of her mother into the funeral pyre.
As far as we know, our Number 12 still exists with the “real” Miranda – they’ve been totally off the grid since Aurora peeked in at them when we were in Tokyo. I hope they made it to safer shores before the Grand Supreme hit, but even now I have no idea where they are.
So, Miranda was feeling down, and even her cute Oreimo cosplay wasn’t compensating. I tried to talk smooth consolation to her, but she wasn’t having any of it. So I just attended to the PRSes, and made sure they were all Ghosted up and ready to march down the streets of West and North Berkeley, inconspicuously.
Die Database were pissed when Miranda disintegrated all of their equipment and merch (they had a suitcase of stuff for their impromptu tour), but she was able to smooth it over by making Yuma’s guitar pop back into her hands. “Don’t worry, it’s all in there,” she said, tapping her forehead. “If you ever want your stuff back, just give me a call and I’ll send it to you.” Miranda offered to wish away the guitar, but Yuma strongly declined, carrying it strapped to her back.
The girls were still mad at me, but not as much as before. I think the whole process of being insta-etched couldn’t help but change their perspective. I have no idea if they’ve been taking advantage of the vast seas of knowledge in the Bodyweb or S.OS, but at least Masae isn’t death-staking me any more. Mostly they were getting a verbal tour of Berkeley from Satomi, along with a explanatory lightshow history of the Free Speech Movement that only the nearest Collective members could see.
By the time we made it up Addison to Acton, and cut across University Ave. to the BART station, Satomi was pointing out some of the WOF marks on the streets.
“Here, special people come out at strange times and mark up the streets with patriotic slogans, USA, USA.” A-Bell pointed to the sidewalk. “The red, white and blue arrows, circles and codes are actually Underground Service Alert, to tell those in the know where the buried wires and sewers are. You can see those marks with normal eyes, but if you’re etched, you can see the Collective version. Look.”
She pointed over to the BART station, a moderate sized parking lot, with a flat-roofed rotunda with tall windows in the middle, surrounded by short trees. The lot was less empty than usual for that time of night; most likely, some people were still over in San Francisco for the big fireworks show. Still, we could see a heaping mass of marks not just on the pavement, but floating in the air.
“For over a decade in Variant Zero, if you were a part of the Collective, you had to do surveying duty. We traveled all around the US and the world, painstakingly getting WOF data, and marking off any weak points into the Structure at large.” A-Bell raised her right arm, and a glowing green path showed the quickest route to the station entrance. In the air, there was an extremely complicated map of maps – a stacked array of all transit systems in the world, that would shift and turn to show the currently active routes on the Infinite Subway.
“The Infinite Subway didn’t exist when the Collective began. We built it, and the golden spike was at Fairview, in 2000.” Isabel seemed more distracted than usual, as she glanced up at the floating timetables. “Seems the powers that were didn’t appreciate our little surgical strike into the heart of the Structure. They tried to shut down the bridge, but there wasn’t too much they could do about it except lock us in.”
We were almost at the entrance of the station, by some newspaper machines. The rotunda was lit, and through the open doors I could see some fare machines, the staff booth (glass from the waist up), and what looked like a stairway downwards. There was a down and up escalator on either side of the small, circular area behind the fare gates. Amber waived to us by the newspapers.
“This is as far as we can go.” A-Bell stopped by the fare gates. “Isabel and I are permanently banned from entering the Infinite Subway.”
“Don’t you think that she’s kidding,” Amber said. “Once you start traveling on the shell that separates us from the Structure at large, there’s simply too many variables to process. Too many beings popping in and out from everywhere. I can’t protect them from those who want to shut everything down by force. The best I can do is to prevent them from entering.”
“She doesn’t think we’ll come back.” Isabel was standing over the curb, at the taxi area. “She’s right. I try to convince myself of that while we’re forced to take airplanes.”
“So, Curly, I think this is it.” Ai was nuzzling up to A-Bell and Amber, as they said their final goodbyes. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Usually Ai has a supernatural happiness to her – she just seems right, viewed at any distance. On the 4th of July, as random bursts of firecrackers filled the neighborhood, she just seemed down. She wasn’t her shiny self that I always took for granted, and I found that equally sad and frightening.
“It has to be this way. It’ll get so much worse, but the end will be brilliant. You’ll see.” She rose on to her toes and kissed A-Bell briefly on the lips.
“We better.” I don’t remember ever seeing A-Bell cry – she’s as hard as a statue. As she waved the only daughter she ever knew away, she just seemed to melt, like she could barely hold herself together. Amber just held her tightly, and slowly led her away from the station entrance, over to Isabel.
While I took this all in, Joey was over by the ticket machines, pressing virtual buttons that normal people couldn’t see. “We’re all set. There’s a train that’s going to hit the station in about 10 minutes.” He walked over to one of the fare gates, and placed his bare hand against the Clipper pad. That’s usually used for those fare cards you have to gently tap against something, while the transaction gets processed – like Suica for the JR in Tokyo. Apparently that system also worked for the etched. “Come on, and bring your bottles with you.”
He was talking to me – I was still leading the flock of the 12 PRSes (the 13th was the one that Jenny destroyed). It’s hard to explain how they interface – it’s kind of like having many displays connected to your PC – you can just move windows from one perspective to the other. Actually, it’s more like playing with dolls using your mind – you just tell them to do something, and they go about that business. If you want to jump in and control one or more directly, then that’s possible, but I didn’t have time to really try that out by the time we entered the station.
Everyone else had already entered, and as soon as I tapped my hand against the plastic pad, everything changed.
The crazy maps that were floating overhead outside were made manifest by a space that seemed to go on forever in all directions. I can’t call it a virtual place, since we were now physically at the entrance to the Infinite Subway. But at the same time, we were still in the station, or at least the hyper-station that represented every moment of time since it first opened on September 11, 1972. If we wanted to travel to any other city in the world, we only needed to take a few “steps” down the Infinite Subway, pick a gateway, and then we would fold into that location. If we wanted to travel back in time, it was easiest to find the locked gateway nearest your current station, and then use the Infinite Subway to go from there.
I know this much now, but then? Once I stepped in I just about peed my Kuroneko stockings. We were standing in the center of a sphere, and at every possible distance away from us there was another layer of perspective, of access. Every station, door, alley, closet, fracture, cave or quiet room that led inside was right there in front of you. If you thought of a place, you would zoom to the exit nearest to it.
It wouldn’t be comprehensible at all without some variant of S.OS, which overlays something we can barely understand over the seething, boiling membrane between all Variants. What’s more, you could simply sense the Structure at large, the area that none of us were allowed to visit, but it was beyond our grasp. The Infinite Subway was a nice curtain placed over the bars of our cage. We could travel along the fabric surface that Cassandra helped create, but never pull it away.
“Don’t fucking transfer! This way!” It seems that Joey has already led everyone else down the escalator, while I was subconsciously starting to travel back to Ikebukuro station. I had one foot near the Yamanote Line entrance, but I stepped back to Berkeley before I left.
The PRSes were waiting there for me, but a quick head count only brought up 11. It seems that I lost one while I was dumbstruck – did it go back to Ikebukuro, or somewhere else in space and time? I couldn’t establish a connection to it, so I just hoped that no one else cared too much about the stray lamb. Besides, we could always make more.
One thing I didn’t get was why we couldn’t just go back to 1994, and then exit the station we came from. While we all milled around the long, underground platform, Joey tried to explain it to me. “The whole time travel thing is a hack – Cassandra didn’t want any part of that, since she only trusted herself with the keys to time. But, Frisbee found the ultimate hole in 1986 – she wasn’t even etched, but she broke out of reality for a few minutes, via the Berkeley Main BART station, right before she was institutionalized. When the police caught her running through the station in her underwear – she was just back from her trip.”
I still wasn’t understanding, and so when our train arrived, he sat besides me on one of the filthy bench seats. Everyone else was lined up in the aisle like kids going on a field trip, with Ai leading the masses. “Back in the day, you could get on at one BART station, travel around the whole system for hours, and then get off at the station nearest to your entrance, all for the minimum ticket price between those two stations. Some of the nearest stations are in Oakland and San Francisco, you could just get in the system, travel everywhere as long as you didn’t exit, then get off at another station a few blocks away. Laura found a natural fracture into the Structure, that exists within the Berkeley BART station, and used it to visit the future. We think she was led by Sarah, but we’re not certain. Thankfully, she left behind marking pen tags that Sasha was later able to map out – the very first WOF marks.”
The two stations were about a mile away, but only 3 minutes away by train. As we rolled into the station and exited, the other passengers headed for the two stairways and escalator in the middle, while we walked to far end of the station. “It’s over here…. OK” Joey stood in front of a stairway that was closed off from public access. It led to an abandoned, fenced in entry area and booth, that wasn’t really ever used for normal customers. “The fracture is right up these stairs. If you ever get lost on the Infinite Subway, just come here and exit. But never try to enter that way – the full gate was closed off after the Berkeley Bikestation bicycle parking cage closed down, and now it’s exit only, and only for those who’ve already been processed.” He tapped the back of his hand – I guess entry into the system is also a way to track where you’ve been.
“Every time traveler has to leave through this gate only, and only if you’re recognized by the system.” He climbed past the metal barrier, and motioned for us to follow. “If you’re not registered, the guards will see you immediately. We call them the Infinite Transit Authority – they’re not normal BART employees.” Everyone went up the stairs, and I followed after the PRSes. No one seemed to notice as we climbed up to the concourse level that had all of the fare gates.
I assumed that North Berkeley BART was the only authorized entrance for time traveling, but Joey ignored my question led us up some stairs that exited on Shattuck Ave., near an AC Transit bus stop. A few toddlers and U.C. Berkeley students were already hitting the streets in costume. All of the cars seemed old – Honda Civic hatchbacks instead of Priuses. Beyond a few tallish buildings, I could see that the Sun was just starting to set.
Joey pointed us down Allston Way, towards the Bay and the Sun beyond. “Two miles to Point One. Come on, we have a falling God to catch.”
I sure hope that God forgives me for letting them slip through my arms.