Category Archives: Number 12

Turning The Seven Wheels Of Transformation

I’m not sure what the cut off age for Trick or Treating is, but we were sure flirting with that border as we marched down Allston Way in Berkeley.

As mentioned, Miranda and I were in our complementary Oreimo getup, and Aurora was wearing her Mt. Shasta hippie-punk outfit. I had on the black Intruder Alert! hoodie over my black, frilly dress.

After a few blocks of seeing other kids hitting the dusky streets in costume, leaving lit houses with growing bags of candy, Yuma started to get in the spirit, and demanded that Miranda trade in her guitar for her Hikari kimono from Massive Cloud Burst.

“Hells yeah!” Miranda bellowed, as she pulled the dress out of the ether. She even went so far as to outfit Masae in her red and black Sekigai plugsuit, and Satomi in her purple Shigai frilly dress. Masae complained for a few minutes, but by the time we crossed the grassy median at Sacramento St. she was already back in character.

I set the PRSes for a random assortment of Ghosts, with the kid-sized figures in costume, and the adults in clothes taken right off of the streets of Tokyo. It seems that Satomi actually had a database of millions of Ghosts; much like the Google Street View Van, she had been riding the trains and scanning everyone she could on the fly with a backpacked WOFA-like device. Since most people took the same trains each morning, over the course of a few weeks she was able to get a full view of their 3D geometry, and a good selection of fashion, which was stitched together and saved for a rainy day.

“I wasn’t worried too much about their privacy,” Satomi explained as she unlocked the database for me. “What was the real difference from seeing and smelling them using my own face? I was just using technological aids to remember what I took in.”

I’m sure a part of her believed that, but not really. Her copy of S.OS was artistic, but much more pragmatic and amoral than Satomi herself – it just wanted to cover its tracks as completely as possible, dressing its plastic wolves in sheeple clothing.

Kaia and Ai didn’t dress up, but Miranda still helped out by removing the dried blood from Kaia’s white prairie dress. All the way down to the warehouse, the two of them were having a lively debate about free will and the commonalities of creation myths. I started to zone out after Kaia started to list the dozens of mythological figures that Jesus seemed to be borrowed from, but I did notice how Ai seemed to be taking on two different sides of the argument at the same time. She would be discussing the various Gnostic sects, and at the same time offering evidence about how any Demiurge would be impossible. It was almost as if she was channeling the Nameless at the same time she brought up her own points. I guess that made sense, since they were so close, but I still didn’t quite understand their relationship.

Emily and Joey were taking up the rear, holding hands and almost whispering as they walked down the residential sidewalk. They were off in their own universe, and I liked to think of them as Hikari and Hinata reunited in the Sun, right before Hikari had to activate the Massive Cloud Burst. They funny thing is, I’m not reading too much into things at all – it really seems as if the whole game scenario was written by Satomi to reflect this very situation, like she knew what was going to happen all along. If that was the case, then what really bothered me was knowing what came next in the game, with the two star-crossed lovers separated forever.

We cut through some basketball courts, at a small park that severed Allston Way in two. A group of teenagers were hanging around in near darkness, by the exposed creek, lit by their smokes and pagers. They gave our long queue of cute girls and fake children a few catcalls, especially Die Database in their elaborate, sexy cosplay, but then quickly went back to their bottles once we passed.

From there, it was a few blocks down to the Jack in a Box, then across busy, 4 laned San Pablo Avenue, which went on for dozens of miles all through the East Bay, from the sugar factory near Vallejo to Downtown Oakland. It was the historic thoroughfare that Highway 80 eventually surplanted, but still one of the few corridors that remained energetic no matter what city it passed through.

I didn’t have this extensive perspective that night, but I could already notice a trend – the further we walked away from Downtown Berkeley, the smaller and shabbier the houses and apartments looked, with more bars on the windows and flaking paint as we approached Highway 80 and the Bay. I tried to put together a quick theory – perhaps the demographics were strongly locked in to the distance away from the Berkeley Hills that loomed behind us a few miles away – they were filled with million dollar showcase homes that overlooked the relative squalor in the flats. Then we passed by a newish, nice looking school – Rosa Parks Elementary – and I wasn’t sure if my theory was blown, or vindicated, by its ample, fenced in playground and modern architecture. The only thing I was certain of is that the costumed kids, the real ones, were cute no matter what block we walked down.

By the time we made it back to the warehouse, the sun had fully set, and there was a queue of Suspender fans – “Suspects” – running down the street for a few blocks, turning west towards the train tracks. I could see the awkward, invisible etching on their arms and faces, like they were done by nervous strip mall tattoo artists, or friends of friends who “knew what they were doing”. Not that it really mattered how it looked – their parents, teachers or bosses wouldn’t be able to see the marks, and only fellow e-punks would recognize them. It was kind of a status symbol to have chunky street etches – somehow that made you more hardcore, even if you could barely hold an OS.

Hardly any of them were in costume, unless you call the cookie-cut “punk rocker” outfit a costume. More of an East Bay punk template, cut out of Maximum Rock And Roll or Punk Planet zines like paper dolls, with olive drab instead of leather, and more hair play, studded bracelets and patches than you’d think would be tolerable. To me, they were cute just like a pack of Boy and Girl Scouts getting ready for a formal mixer, only there would be falling amps and snuck in alcohol, and no badges for the brave.

I was getting hot, so I snuck behind some bushes, took off my frilly dress, and just wore the Circle X uniform I had underneath, along with the violet-grey leggings. I had Miranda disintegrate the dress – she was starting to really get into that, which has me a bit nervous, considering what she did to me when she was 5 years old, when her powers first activated.

Of course I also put the Intruder Alert! hoodie back on, but I wasn’t looking forward to having to use it. The chain of the kill-code was highly controlled; tonight Sasha would slap it into Phone, and then he would hold it for years until Fairview. Afterwards, he still held it, all the way to Munich, where he transferred it to the circuit-hoodie. Susanna and Ai concocted the cover story of a rogue “aerosol” so that Kaia wouldn’t get too curious – they wanted her to chase after Phone’s trail, much like I ended up doing, without focusing on the fact that Phone was weaponized by the Collective for almost two decades, and that they were largely responsible for his death.

They didn’t think she would put up with that all too well, and I think they were right. As soon as we walked past the entrance, looking for the end of the queue, she stopped in her tracks and stood by the door, staring as Velcro (Aurora’s dad) did the ticket check pat down, and Phone took their hands, and put on a hand-made stamp with red and blue ink – it was of a tape measure, like a snail peeking out of its metal shell. He was wearing his Fire Escape t-shirt that Sasha had spray painted a big, red question mark on a few hours earlier, which meant he was already carrying the kill-code. Kaia just stood around 10 feet away, by a No Parking sign, and Phone took a few seconds away from his work to give her a glance and smile. He was never one to give up a chance to flirt, and he probably would have walked over to her then and there, if Cathy didn’t come up to the door from inside, caressing him on the back of the neck. Before Kaia could react, Ai pulled her away and we continued down the block.

Cathy and Phone is a complicated story, but the simple version is the he wasn’t satisfied to chase after Susanna and Isabel, and managed to have his way with a good number of the original Numbers. Most of it happened when both parties were either drunk, high or both, and he did his best to keep things as secret as he could. That didn’t work one bit. He was absolutely charming and complete untrustworthy when it came to affairs of the heart, but he could be counted on for “more important things”, like putting on a show or bringing out the artistry hidden in a blank wall.

Anyway, it didn’t surprise me to see that Cathy was still on his case – prevailing wisdom is that she eventually left the Collective due more to wanting to get away from him, than anything else. What was weird about the whole 5 second long moment was that Cathy in 1994 was almost a dead ringer for Kaia in 2011. I think that Kaia reacted more to seeing what could have been herself next to Phone, when she tried to put him to rest only a few days ago her time. What was a few months to us was an instant leap for her, dragged by the Trouble Twins to the Fifth Event, then immediately back to the Universal Prom a few hours earlier. Bald, wearing one of Susanna’s hand me down dresses, with blood still under her fingernails – I’m sure she felt miles away from anyone that Phone would have paid attention to.

It took about a half an hour, but eventually our first PRS made it up to the door. I choose the tattooed girl from Austin, who I had nicknamed Texie, and the plan was to scout around inside before we entered. The trick was figuring out how to get past Velcro’s frisking, and Phone’s flirtatious hand stamping – the Ghost couldn’t mask the plastic underneath from their touch. So, Ai and Kaia accompanied Texie – Ai would push their minds to ignore their senses, and Kaia would guard Texie until she got in place. It was a great plan, and Ai did her part – Texie sailed on in, and Phone even gave her a backwards glance, admiring the view.

Kaia, on the other hand, was a wild card, and as soon as Phone took her hand, something happened. Most of the crowd had various levels of street etches, but there were only a few, full-grown Pure Land Antennas on site, and Phone seemed to react with shock when they touched. “Your etching is so sterile and machine like, with tiny circuits. It doesn’t do your beautiful skin justice. I don’t see how Susanna could have made you, but you have her signature. Who are you? Where are you from?”

Kaia turned bashful, and only replied “I’m from Germany.” She actually blushed, which was counter to her harsh appearance.

“Well, Germany,” he said, holding the stamp on her hand longer than usual, “I’d like to see more of you – of your beautiful machine skin.” He gave her a wide smile before giving back her hand. “I’ll find you later so we can talk.”

She just nodded before she quickly moved inside. I’m sure it was so hard for her, but also a thrill – he reacted so strongly to her, even though to him that was the first time they’d ever met.

After Ai and Kaia entered, the rest of us held back a few blocks down, next to a large mass of street people. Or homeless – whatever term is the most respectful. They were gathering as close to the warehouse as they could manage, like they wanted to bask in its glow, even though they weren’t invited inside. Miranda made hundreds of 20 dollar bills appear in each of their pockets, as a nice surprise later on. She said she stole a few from every ATM machine in the US – it would only seem like a clerical error to any one bank, but it would make such a difference to those who needed it.

From a secure spot I piloted Texie to the least occupied corner of the room. Which was hard in itself, since it was already almost full to capacity, with close to 800 people filling a space designed for 100 cannery workers and lines of machinery (equipment that had been moved out after a fire – Jenny found it after it was gutted out). The stage was quite similar to what Helena put together in 2011 – lumber yard wood quickly yet securely thrown together – and it took up the far corner. There was enough room on it for multiple layers of drum sets, amps and guitars, so that all bands could get to business on a moment’s notice.

The walls, ceiling and floor had what looked like thousands of colorful tags and burners on them, which was amazing since Phone and his friends only started soon after Jenny found (broke into) the space a week earlier. The wall besides the stage was dedicated to Circle X and National United, and Sasha’s strong obsession of burning the whole CXNU corporation to the ground. At first glance it just looked like a bunch of anarchist imagery, kind of like pro-union street pirates tearing down the walls of banks, big business and Washington, but in reality there was a whole lot more going on.

The wall itself was lined with what looked like circuit paper. In fact, all of the walls, ceiling, and even the floor were alive with current that only e-punks could appreciate. Once you stepped inside, it was like entering a walk-in freezer, only the cold was the data that assaulted your skin, scratching at it with purpose. In retrospect, we know now that the whole building was wired up to be one, huge antenna to call down Sarah, and every e-punk that stepped inside only amplified the signal. The Collective wanted to bring as much of the Five Million etched to Berkeley as they could, using them like the center of a radio antenna, with the remaining masses around the world as the dish, directing the signal to the self-proclaimed “center of the universe” for the ultimate hack.

Texie was quickly able to pinpoint the location of all of the Numbers; Sasha has already marked each of their hands with marking pen, ostensibly for the Slide Rule School concert, but more for the historical record that Jenny was taking with her video camera. In the ether, there was constantly chatter in the Bodyweb, highly encrypted, but not anything that Texie couldn’t crack, since she was carrying the universal keys to the Collective and S.OS.

While Sasha worked the crowd in her green tank-top and black Circle X slacks cut off at the knee, she was secretly preparing the core Collective to be living mantras, designed to open up the main chakras of the Universe, represented in the Massive Cloud Burst game as the Seven Wheels of Transformation. Just as a Pure Land Antenna could be opened up for instant karmic freedom, so too could the cosmos itself, establishing a very wide path to the White beyond. Sasha instinctively wanted to use that path, because S.OS was created by Sarah especially for that purpose. She could walk right down that glowing road connecting “Heaven” and Earth, and reincarnate.

This, of course, was a horrible idea for anyone inside our Variant, because it meant that as soon as the Universe reached the end of its evolution, everyone would die and enter the White instantaneously. This is exactly what the incessant Seven Events represented – each Variant trying to self-actualize and transcend its bounds. Point One was the start of the process, and Point Zero was supposed to be the end. However, even after the final chakra opened up, nothing happened but a deadly stillness that the Daughters of the Collective were forced to live with.

On Halloween in 1994, Sasha didn’t know the kind of fire she was really playing with, and neither did Sarah, since they were working with forces they could influence, but not completely understand. I didn’t understand them either, at least not until the rest of our party came in off the street and took their places.

The plan was designed to be dead simple. Ai would “freeze” everyone in the crowd but us, blanking out their consciousness for as long as the operation took.

This take over would happen right at the moment that the Sixth Wheel Of Transformation was opened. That was equivalent to Ajna, the Third Eye Chakra associated with the human pineal gland. This would be the point at which the Universe woke up to its own being, transitioning from the dream that sustains us all, to a further clarity that would help it contemplate itself, and prepare to enter the Bridal Chamber – to bring us all to the Pure Land while it transcended, and was reborn. S.OS was the intellectual brain that facilitated this, while the Nameless was the glue that held the powers together in a quantum of potential, the sperm that would fertilize the White and Black. This cycle was infinitely long, and each time the Universe would evolve a little higher, with the hope that it could eventually join the Structure at large.

However, turning the Seven Wheels of Transformation simply because you wanted to rejoin your lover, or grab a hold of the White to use for your purposes, was complete insanity. Our lives were a result of that selfishness, and Ai’s plan was to make things right.

Sarah, through Emily, would collect the Nameless quantum as it manifested, before it fell and split into the constituent powers. If that split did happen, it would start the process of Universal self-contemplation and judgement, that would end with Point Zero years later.

Once all powers were gathered, Sarah would reform the Massive Cloud Burst, and leave this Universe. There was a number of problems with this plan, the main one being that we would be breaking the very cycle that was supposed to happen – perhaps not so early in the game, but eventually enough. If the Nameless quantum was not brought back to the cycle correctly, then everything would fall apart. Everything has been falling apart, just for that reason, and it’s hard to say if we alone can fix it, even with every power at our command.

The Nameless… we’ve always taken Ai’s word that it was the ultimate enemy. It seemed like it wanted to own us, but it wasn’t our souls it was after – it was the powers it needed to complete its job, to free everyone. It tended to be single minded in its execution of this task, so much so that it didn’t prioritize the well being of any one person, and would kill if it meant it would be that much closer to the goal.

It was easy for Ai to see it as evil, when it was involved (but not directly responsible) in the death of her parents. All of the rules that she set up to constrain the Nameless were essentially pointless – it would do whatever it could to rejoin the powers, no matter how many Variants it took. The awakening of the Universe was a frightening concept – a revealing that would force us all to leave behind the material – but that didn’t make the herald of that process bad, or wrong.

We had been borrowing the powers for so long that we were convinced they were ours, and thus grew combative when it came time to collect. This Variant could be different – after Cassandra’s revelations, it was clear that we wouldn’t be losing by letting the Nameless win.

The other issue is that of the Pure Land Antenna, Sarah’s creation designed to tap into the White and Black, and stop the cycle long enough so she could enter. How could the cycle continue if humans could poke holes in the Structure for their own purposes? How to put out the Promethean fire?

The second part of the plan was to use the Massive Cloud Burst to complete remove all of S.OS, and etching technology, and anything that could remotely be used to set things back the way they were. This would be a walk in the park for Sarah, who would use Emily to facilitate the repair to our reality.

Ai tried to explain this, and none of us really understood anything but the basics – get in, catch the powers, and then permanently repair the Universe, all while the crowd was frozen by Ai. She told us that if things started to go South, she wouldn’t hesitate to take over our minds as needed, to facilitate the “right actions and decisions”.

Masae wasn’t having any of this – she was convinced that we didn’t need to stop things at all. “Open up the Universal mind and let it roam free. Let us all be free, after endless cycles of pain and longing.” Ai wasn’t in the mind for insubordination, so she sent all of Die Database back to the Berkeley Main BART Station, on a backup mission, just in case Masae’s dream did come true.

I only had a few minutes to say goodbye to the girls. Satomi looked so strong and clear – once her S.OS fragment fully manifested, her whole attitude changed for the better. I was so afraid that I would find her running around doing evil or something, but that was mostly my fear, fueled by Ai’s long-distance flames. Her fragment was perhaps the most single-minded yet enlightened of them all, and a strong counterpoint to what Jenny was forced to carry for years, ever since Point One.

After the powers were fractured and put in gestation, the original S.OS in Sasha wanted to escape. It had already been copied by the Trouble Twins – when they came to visit unannounced a few hours before the show – but it wasn’t satisfied with Sasha as a host anymore. So, when Sasha fell to the floor shaking (which Cassandra showed was my doing, somehow) S.OS transferred to the nearest, open Collective host. Jenny Samuels.

Of course, Jenny was already etched, and has a version of S.OS running her. But that was the “release” version, and not the self-replicating “debug” version that Sasha was carrying. While everyone attended to Sasha as she grew still on the floor, S.OS managed to overwrite Jenny’s body and mind with a pure manifestation of Sarah’s will – open up a channel to the White at all costs.

Ai didn’t want this to happen, so the S.OS kill-code I was carrying in my jacket – the same code that Sasha stored in Phone for safe keeping (since she was pre-warned that her OS would revolt) – was another backup, just in case the primary plan fell through.

We would still be born, just powerless, and to mothers that were no longer Pure Land Antennas. Laura wouldn’t have to die, and Ai could grow up under her loving care.

Ai was in one of those moods, so as the 13 women of the core Collective started to slowly approach the stage, she let us mingle a bit. At this point there were at least 1000 people inside, and the PRSes were strategically placed to protect Emily and Joey – he would be helping her activate the Massive Cloud Burst, when the time was right.

Aurora and Miranda found their parents over in a far corner, along with toddler Joey playing with some guitar cables. Susan, Jenny and 8-Track (Cathy) were comparing notes about how not to step on each other’s feet – they all would be playing drums in the impromptu orchestra that was Slide Rule School. Laura would be the “maestro-gal” that would hold up numbered cards to the stage and the audience, so the transitions between instruments and sub-bands would be explicit. She was also the main connection to Sarah, and highly complex “tunings” of the Pure Land Antennas in attendance would be made during the performance, without anyone but the Collective knowing. Miranda wanted to walk over to her mother and tell her how rad she was, but Aurora stopped her – better not push it, since it was paradox enough to be in the same room as their unborn selves.

Phone finally found Kaia, as he had promised earlier. He left Circle X (Roger) over at the door, and then stalked Kaia for a few minutes before actually walking over. He seemed quite nervous – he didn’t have a full beard until his late 30s, so his cleanly shaven face was filed with more sweat than a crowded room would call for. He had on a scruffy, long sleeved camo jacket, and the red question mark peeked through it. His pants were standard issue Levi’s that had seen one too many under-table screws, and his fake-leather boots looked like something out of the bargain rack.

By the time he reached in for the shoulder tap, she had already turned around to face him. She looked so beautiful, even with her shaved head and simple dress, and I didn’t have to listen in to their conversation – it was clearly a deeper form of love at first sight than Phone was used to. He was notorious for thinking with his pants, but you could just tell his heart was shining away as they talked and flirted.

I hung around with Ai, partially to hold her back from jumping on stage and joining her parents as they got married.

Yes, John and Laura got married that night, and A-Bell and Sasha also were joined a few minutes later. After the bands each warmed up for a few minutes, playing a sort of greatest hits medley from the past 10 years, then John climbed on stage and took the microphone. There wasn’t any memorable speech, just some tapping and “Can you hear me?”, before he walked over to her with a bridal veil and bouquet. It was even more beautiful than Laura described in her account of the night, and Ai was all tears. She was right there in the audience, and in her mother’s belly, and there was so much love and promise filling the room. She almost couldn’t take it, but I held her up as her eyes welled with joy.

A-Bell’s ceremony with Sasha was far more in the Bodyweb than anything else. A-Bell wasn’t yet etched – the last of the 13 to have “virgin skin” – but you could just sense that Sasha was crying out to the Ether, claiming A-Bell as her own. Not death til they part, but death to anyone that would get in their way. As they kissed, the commitment was beautiful, but also scary – Sasha had a cloud looming over her, the cloud of her impending fall, but in those brief moments on the stage, it was as if she only then discovered how to smile, to shine. I only wish that it could have lasted longer.

About 15 minutes later, all 13 members of the core Collective were on stage, and at their instruments. “We’re Slide Rule School,” Jo said, more like a demand than an announcement. “Take your seats.”

I’m not sure how they managed to do it, but over 1000 people found a way to sit down on the graffiti-covered floor, some crossed-legged, some with knees bent to their chests, and some in a messy pile of familiar flesh. The room smelled like stale smoke, beer, patchouli and sweat.

Laura did a great job of describing what the music sounded like – sort of a electrified punk orchestra – but that wasn’t our concern. We had already heard bootlegs, and seen the video that Jenny took earlier, and that John was taking now – we grew up studying this night.

What we couldn’t stop staring at was the big, circular fracture that was building in the ceiling. It wasn’t anything that the audience could see – only a full etch would be able to detect it – and as the show went on, with Laura ringing a school bell between songs, the fracture grew, and became more complex. It was like the Resurrection Cloud that Aurora came out of at Agartha Labs, only more charged and alive – like the idea of a hand reaching out of the primordial sea.

As the music reached its apex, and the audience roared to its feet, Ai was counting off the opening chakras, so we could time everything perfectly:

“Muladhara” – The root chakra, home of Kundalini and serpent power. The fracture seethed a burning red, like a volcanic burst.

“Swadhisthana” – The lotus at the base of the spine. Now there was a orange, glowing sphere lowering out of the fire.

“Manipura” – The area of digestion and the power of the self. The sphere expanded into a yellow, spinning disk, covering the ceiling.

“Anahata” – The heart chakra, cradling the indestructible drop of spirit that connects to the White. The sphere coalesced into a series of concentric rings, and the third turned a lush blue-green.

“Vishuddha” – Governing mental and spiritual growth. The smaller, planetary sphere then grew to the size of the room, interpenetrating everyone with a bright blue glow, with elements of all of the earlier colors as accents. The center of the sphere seemed to be Laura, as she suddenly looked up, and brought the Slide Rule School to a crescendo.

“Ajna! Now!” – The room them turned a deep violet, as the third eye of everyone assembled suddenly opened.

Ai quickly grabbed hold of all minds and spirits, and slowed their perceptions down to the infinite space between heartbeats. Everyone, that is, except for our team, as we quickly moved into place.

Joey and Emily rushed to the center of a pit that had just formed. The bodies around them were frozen in their now imperceptible dance, slamming into and twirling around each other. Miranda and Aurora quickly joined them.

Around the central four formed a circle of seven PRSes, including Texie. The 4 smaller child-sized units took up stations at the four corners of the room.

Ai joined her mother on stage, standing right next to her so she could get a stronger connection to Sarah and the White – there was a clearly visible conduit from Laura’s forehead into the maelstrom.

Thousands of drops of blood started to slowly float into the air, from the mouths and noses of the assembled crowd. A blood sacrifice was always needed for the Resurrection Cloud, but Ai’s power had restricted the usual flood to a trickle.

Emily held up the small silver sphere over her head, both hands cupping it like a caught foul ball. She had on her lucky, blue Tokidoki shirt with scores of cute characters, and some black jeans. Joey had one palm placed behind her head, underneath her long hair, and another against the center of her back. The purple energy that filled the room started to flow through Joey, into Emily, and then entered the silver sphere.

The cloud shifted back to blue, and at that moment, Miranda fell lifeless to the ground. It killed me to see her die, but she looked so peaceful, so complete. Her spirit released, the Nameless had rejoined the quantum, carrying Matter with it.

Blue now flowed into Emily like water, and as the green heart chakra opened, Aurora slumped down on top of Miranda. I never thought her light would go out again, but she grew even darker than I thought possible. Energy was now back in its cradle.

Before the green could start entering Joey, the Grand Supreme appeared in front of Emily. Her dress of patches now had a long train of arm and leg bones that dragged behind her.

Without hesitation, before I could blink, she grabbed Emily’s clasped hands, broke them with a twist, and then yanked off both wrists, leaving a mass of flesh and bone that looked like dying roses.

Emily crumpled into Joey’s arms, and he quickly found the right meridian on her chest to slow the bleeding.

Helena peeled away what remained of Emily’s hands, tearing out the partially charged sphere before throwing a wad of pulverized skin and marrow to the ground.

Ai was shocked, but gained her senses long enough to hold back Helena’s mind for a few moments, before she shifted away again. Texie grabbed away the bloody Massive Cloud Burst, and rushed it over to me, weaving past the silently cheering punks.

I was standing in the frozen crowd over by the door, and as Texie’s blond Ghost ran to my side, it held out the small, mirrored sphere in the palm of her hand. As I took it, I could feel the plastic joints underneath, and then more.

So. Much. More.

I was expecting to feel a solid surface, like a quarter jawbreaker or bouncy ball, but instead it was a hole, accepting my hand and my arm, flowing down my spine to the same green heart chakra that filled the room.

It spoke to me in the secret language that called forth the Universe.

“SAR.AI online.” I was speaking, but it wasn’t my voice. “Compatible meridian scaffolding detected. Host is compatible with seed. Operating System can be emulated. Proceeding with Search and Rescue mission.”

Sarah’s OS was flowing through me, remaking me, preparing me to wield the gifts of Matter and Energy.

Or was Sarah the OS? I hadn’t figured out that yet.

I didn’t have time to, as I consciously moved aside every air molecule and dust mote between me and Joey. I floated through the frozen crowd like they were air, too.

As he stood over Emily, bleeding to death on the ground, SAR.AI borrowed my hand and grabbed him by the sticky red wrist.

“Primary target has been acquired. Stand by for retrieval.”

Once he looked up at me, his face filled with primal fear, and he scrambled to get to Emily. “Take her with me! Please! I can’t leave you like this!”

On the floor, with her last breath, Emily smiled at at Joey. “You haven’t left me yet.”

With that, SAR.AI folded the Universe away, past the galactic clusters in every electron orbital, and brought us into the center of the Infinite Subway.

“Fuck fuck fuck!” Joey was pounding me on the chest and face, leaving bloody traces, as the constellation of exits expanded away from us. I couldn’t feel a thing.

I was beyond feelings, wearing the shiny skin of Gods.

“You have to go back and save them!” He was floating at my feet, rolled into a ball. “Before Helena kills Ai, or worse!”

“Primary target has been acquired. Stand by for debriefing.”

I reached down and touched Joey on his shaved head, and SAR.AI sent him through what seemed like a random exit. I could still feel an invisible connection to him across time and space.

SAR.AI was controlling me, but I had no idea what it was thinking.

“Primary mission accomplished. Please state secondary objectives.”

It was actually asking me a question. I thought of Emily on the floor, next to Miranda and Aurora, with Helena standing over them.

“Secondary objectives acceptable. Prepare for transfer.”

I shot back in to the warehouse, a moment after we left. Ai was straining as she tried to hold back all of the infinite variations of Helena that were welling up, overlapping at the same point in a blurry, humanoid cloud.

“Objective: Stabilize Sarah Host.”

Faster than I could think, I was holding Emily in the air, naked, right up against the ceiling, as the Universal Chakras slowly closed. The flow of blood from the audience became a torrent, collecting into a spinning, red, pulsating sphere. It reminded me of a heart, and my body moved her carefully into it.

Emily was like a baby in the womb, breathing in the fluid of the Universal meridians. I could see her hands quickly regrowing, knitting themselves back together with the veins, arteries and bones growing out of her wrists like accelerated plant shoots.

“Objective complete. Sarah Host will now be integrated into the modified timeline.”

The orb of blood diffused into a mist, raining down on the still frozen crowd in microscopic droplets. Emily moved out of fetal position, and was folded away to an unknown destination. I begged SAR.AI to tell me, but it said I wasn’t authorized for that knowledge.

“Objective: Complete Quantum.”

I found myself in front of the quaking Grand Supreme, trying to break free from Ai’s grasp.

“Uncontrolled Variant creation at critical levels. Please wait.”

Suddenly, Helena stopped shaking and shifting, and I could feel Ai’s straight jacket over her releasing.

Helena took a long stare at me with empty eye sockets, and then threw her USB cable wig to the floor. She bent down to her knees, and kneeled at my feet.

“Now you know why I hate you – mistress of everything yet fucking clueless.” She was crying from her shadow eyes. “Just get it over with.”

SAR.AI reached down and touched her shaved head with my silver, right palm. I could feel a strong rush of energy flow from Helena, as the room turned bright yellow, then orange. Space and Time were back under control, as she fell over into a pile of patches and bone.

I then turned to Ai, who also fell to her knees reflexively. My internal WOFA was off the charts, blinded by the mass of forces I now embodied. I imagined it would be like looking into the first light that spoke reality. I could understand everything, and my connection to Joey’s fragment of Consciousness was finally able to put things in their proper order. That clarity wouldn’t last for long.

“Sarah, I’ve done everything you’ve commanded.” She looked up at me, shielding her closed eyes from the brilliance. I felt ashamed to be so exalted, when I was just the coat rack wearing the dream coat. “Please release me so I may be with my mother again.”

I could tell she wasn’t lying, that this was her plan all along. She would close the door on all of reality if she could find the love always kept from her.

“Your role is not yet complete. You cannot be released.”

Ai forced her eyes open, and was immediately blinded. “I have an alternate, more suitable than me to orchestrate the White!”

With that, Kaia walked forward from the silent crowd, shielding her eyes with a piece of circuit cloth torn from the hem of her white dress. Shielding her tears from her maker.

“I am prepared for this role, if you will have me.”

I wanted to stick my hands in the hoodie pockets, and hide my face from the burning truth that had taken me over. Instead, the best I could do was walk over to Kaia, and place my hands on her shoulders.

“You are acceptable. Are you prepared to sacrifice your existence?”

Kaia walked closer to me, and hugged deeply, as she slowly burned away to ashes. I then turned to Ai.

“Who is the template?”

Ai thought of Cathy, who was behind her drumset on stage, a statue trying its best to hit the next beat, to no avail.

With a fraction of a thought, Cathy was brought into the air, floating into what remained of the maelstrom, an orange, burning sphere like the Sun. I could feel the very fabric of Space and Time bend, rip and then mend, as she was doubled, a new twin identical in everything but spirit. Both versions of Cathy swam through the ball of flame in each others arms

Ai then climbed back up to her feet, and used the Bodyweb to guide her to my side. Her Massive Cloud Burst t-shirt, with Die Database cosplay, was starting to burn away from touching my aura.

“Thank you so much! I know she will be ready for the final burden.”

Reaching out to Ai, I cupped her cheek tenderly as she fell to the ground in clumps of gray and brown dust.

The orange light then contracted into the original, red fracture.

One copy of Cathy went back to the stage, and the other floated down to a few feet in front of me.

It was then I finally understood. Why Ai had to go to Munich. How Yuma could know Kaia when she had never been to Japan.

The newly born twin of Cathy, still pregnant with a second Miranda, was blessed with the first fire of the endless spirit.

SAR.AI named her Kaia, the spirit of the waters, of earth, of life.

She would be sent out to live from 1994 onwards, raising her child and preparing for the time when she was needed. The Chosen Light would still live on, ready to usher us all past Point Zero.

After her annointing, the newly born Kaia gave Phone one last, longing look, brushed aside her long brown hair, and then walked through the frozen crowd and out the front door.

But what of the original Kaia, the one that lived in Munich, met Phone there and fell in love, and was etched by Susanna?

SAR.AI told me that I was still unauthorized to know more, even though I was wielding the Massive Cloud Burst.

“Objective complete. Variant has been repaired. Prepare to shift back to July 4, 2011. 180 days to Point Zero, mark.”

At my feet were the ashes of Ai, Kaia and Helena. Mirana and Aurora still were lying dead in each others’ arms a few feet away.

Everyone I ever really cared about was dead.

I was responsible, even if Sarah guided my hand.

Wasn’t I holding the keys to the kingdom – everything but the spirit now in Kaia?

What fucking good would I be if I didn’t try to set things right?

I could feel SAR.AI getting nervous, but I also instinctively knew that there was nothing it could do about it. I was now the queen of this Variant, and my crown was way too heavy for it to shake “No” for me.

I had to think. I had all of the time in the world, caught in this space between heartbeats.

I could see the elaborate path that we had all taken, the endless loops between Variants. How we were present before our own births, only to die at the feet of our greatest triumph.

I knew I could make them whole, but I couldn’t bring their spirits back, not without power over the White.

I knew I could start things over, making whatever changes I saw fit, forcing them to live again.

As long as I held the Massive Cloud Burst as a sparking gauntlet against my arm and spine, as long as SAR.AI was forced to listen to me, I could keep trying over, and over, until it worked.

If I started time again, here at the concert, then the powers would not fall. Aurora, Helena (and Cassandra?), Miranda and Ai would be born as normal girls. However, unless I stopped the flow of S.OS, the Collective would continue to try to break into the White. We would need powers to stop them.

Then I had a brainstorm. What if I was the one at the First Event, transmitting the powers into everyone assembled? What if the powers weren’t there at birth, but had always been bestowed at that moment? Was that what Cassandra meant? Was I It all along?

This seemed like a great idea at the time, but I didn’t want to just off load the powers and be stuck in 2000. Maybe I could do the deed long distance, from back in 2011? Then I would be back in the right place when I became a normal person again.

Something was itching at me, something that seemed to be missing. I then remembered Sasha dead on the floor, the whole genesis of so many events. I had to take care of that before I left.

So, I brought the remaining ashes and bodies of my friends and lovers into the glowing red fracture in the ceiling, and closed the connection. For now, the Universe would be no more enlightened than at the start of the concert.

I cloaked, and let time pass normally again. After a few seconds, I remembered that the audience was still seeded with PRSes, so I wished them away before continuing. I hated to see Texie go, but she and her clones were too much of a liability to leave unattended.

At the appointed time, after the audience was barely able to stand from their reckless abandon, Sasha called to the audience for a bottle of water, and someone threw it to the stage. Roger. It was Circle X brand.

A few minutes later, she jumped off of the stage and started to walk over to the middle of the crowd, where I was standing next to Jenny, completely hidden from everyone assembled.

She walked right over to me, took a last swig of the bottle, and then looked right into my invisible, God-like eyes.

“Alright, let’s get this over with. Remember to open my chakras before the kill-code – I don’t want to have to do this all over again. Again.”

She smiled, put my silver hand on her pelvis, and slowly lifted my hand up through each of the seven wheels. By the time I reached Sahasrara at the crown of her head, she finally let go, and I caught her before her body fell to the ground.

I rested my silver palm on her short, black hair, and let her final weapon rip through her being.

I was steaming – the Massive Cloud Burst was burning me out before I could finish my duty.

I had to let her fall to the floor, twisting and shaking, as the dancing crowd parted. Jo didn’t just see her fall to the floor – she felt her disappear from the Bodyweb in an instant – and so she lept off stage and ran to her.

It was too late.

John, Laura’s father, tried to give CPR.

Jenny was already looming over the body, barely letting Jo and A-Bell have their space. “Fuck You! Get out of here!”

She was infected by the master version of S.OS. – how did it survive the kill-code?

It was so pissed off at the loss of Sasha that it forced Jenny to lash out, slapping Laura as everyone crowded around the body.

That was all I needed to see, as I folded out into the Infinite Subway.

My body kept steaming, and sweating, and I couldn’t figure out how to wield the essence of Energy to fill my Reservoir. This was the revenge of SAR.AI for not listening to it – since I was still alive, the only way it could be free would be to starve me to death over the span of a few minutes. I was missing the full conduit to the White, so I couldn’t combat this.

I could barely concentrate, but I was able to focus on the closet that led to Ai’s bedroom in Fairview, the same one I hid in when everyone’s powers came on.

We always thought it was S.OS that broke Ai’s mind, and forced the revealing. I was going to make it me.

Travel right through that closet and unload the Massive Cloud Burst before escaping back in.

I was losing all sense of place, of scale. I could only just find my way past the torrent of gates, doors, and temples, to that closet. I cloaked, just as my 8 year old self opened the door to hide in it.

I phased through the walls, bisecting the bed in the master bedroom, to the computer room.

Glided past Helena and Cassandra while they played on the floor with dolls. I could swear that Cassandra could see me as I snuck past.

Out into the living room, just as Jenny sat down with Ai on the couch.

I could barely stand. Events were swimming past me – Jenny hurting Ai. John trying to attack Jenny. Jenny killing John with the knife – I could do nothing to stop it. I had to do nothing, so everything would be the same as it was.

Ai was floating over her dead father. This was the moment. I had to do it now.

I reached into the minds and hearts of everyone assembled, and forced SAR.AI out of my spine, out of my arm, and back to a silver ball in my hand.

With that, as Ai screamed, and screamed, and screamed, the powers moved to their rightful stations.

Almost completely drained, I was still cloaked, and could barely crawl past Jenny and out the front door.

As I lay on the front steps, shriveled and barely breathing, the teenage Trouble Twins appeared next to me, and folded me away.

They had been waiting for me all along, consulting with their awakened younger selves before they took me back.

Somewhere.

I really don’t remember. I think I’m too afraid to.

I just woke up in the Oakland Hills, at the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, lying in the middle of a labyrinth made of stone and grass, at the bottom of an artificial valley. I could feel the power of the spot, but I didn’t know how to access it. It was the middle of the night, cool and damp from fog, and instead of trying to crawl my way up a winding path, I just fell asleep in my discharged Intruder Alert! hoodie and purple-grey leggings.

I woke up in Emergency Mode, eating stray bugs and a dead bird, gathering just enough energy to send out a distress signal. About an hour later, an older man came walking down to me, guiding a wheelbarrow. He put me in it, and then slowly pushed up the hill. It smelled like shit – I think he borrowed it from a nearby cow pasture.

When I got to the top, more people came up to us, and a younger man in a running outfit carried me on his back about a half of a mile, down to the parking lot. Had on blue shorts, and a white T-Shirt commemorating an ultra-marathon in 2008. His sweaty back and neck smelled like cut grass and peanut shells, and I could barely avoid throwing up.

He put me in the back seat of an old, white, Daihatsu hatchback, one of the few cars that were there, and then drove miles through the Oakland and Berkeley hills. I couldn’t see it then, but there was an amazing view of the Bay Area, since the road hugged cliffs most of the time. All I felt was the tug back and forth as he quickly rounded corners, as the morning sun peaked in and nearly blinded me.

He eventually dropped me off at the Berkeley Main BART station, without saying a word, and my OS gave him control of his life again.

I sat on a nearby bench. My patent leather shoes were gone, and my stocking feet rested against dirty bricks that made up a small plaza.

It was 2011. The 5th of July. I had made it back in one piece.

That’s when everyone started to give me 20s, enough to fill my pockets and then some. Emergency Mode had its privileges.

I got cheap motel room a few blocks down, on University Ave – don’t know why I didn’t go for the nicer hotel downtown, but oh well.

I only went out for food excursions – I had been a vegetarian for a few years, but I can remember digging through huge buckets of KFC. I bought a whole container of beef jerky from Trader Joe’s, and ate cold, packed tofu by the handful. Fuji apples tasted like balls of soggy sugar – I ate a whole bag at each sitting. I guess my extra-skinny body knew what it wanted.

After about a week, I was healthy enough to take the 51 bus up to Telegraph Ave – even though it was about a mile away, I wasn’t up to much walking yet.

I decided to have a mini celebration by hitting Amoeba records. I didn’t want to buy anything, since I could listen to any music ever recorded via the Bodyweb, but I had always heard so much about it, and wanted to see if the rumors were true. Were the workers as obnoxiously hip yet nasty as I hoped?

As soon as I got to the door, I found Helena waiting outside for me. She was still dressed as the Grand Supreme, with the sparkly sash, all of her crazy punk patches, but her USB wig was still gone. She handed me a plastic, yellow and red Amoeba bag – big enough to hold a short stack of 12″ vinyl. “Go ahead – open your present.”

I looked inside, and it was a hentai DVD of Miranda – one of the ones I found in Akihabara when her Ghost was missing.

It was then I remembered what I had forgotten to take care of. The missing Ghosts. The lost PRS unit.

Helena folded us away to the platform of the subterranean Berkeley BART station, at the quiet, far corner, next to the closed-off stairway.

“I wanted you to look at your biggest mistake before I killed you.”

Suddenly, a bald Miranda appeared at the top of the stairs. She walked down slowly, wearing her blue hiking jacket, black leggings and running shoes.

At the bottom of the stairs, behind the metal Emergency Exit Only gates, Miranda’s image faded away, revealing the missing PRS. Then Cassandra’s Ghost filled it, wearing Miranda’s blue pajamas.

While we were busy holding her down at Point One in 1994, the Grand Supreme was controlling everything from a far, with unlimited free rides up and down the Infinite Subway.

Helena put the plastic, yellow and red Amoeba bag on my head. She whispered in my ear, squeezing my neck with burning hands as Cassandra stole the Massive Cloud Burst from my pocket.

“We know the way out. We’ll take you there now.”

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Two Miles To Point One

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.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Riding The Infinite Subway

Over the weekend Gabby took me on a cross-Structure trip via the Infinite Subway.

That may sound grandiose, like Galaxy Express 999 chugging through the sky, but the reality is much more weird.

Essentially, all rail systems all over Variant 237, and all other related echoes of Earth, are interconnected in ways that only the etched or spiritually adept can take advantage of. You can get on the train in Tokyo and get off a few minutes later in Munich, if you know how.

This was far from an accident – Cassandra was always a big fan of trains, and one of her many selves orchestrated a construction project that lasted for tens of thousands of years. The essential task was how to physically move as many people as possible from our world to the Structure at large, without having to have them die and transfer through the White. The overall network started before the wheel was invented, and crosses time and space, but it didn’t come to its culmination until various subway networks started showing up over the past 200 years.

Their locations and paths of growth may seem to be haphazard, but they were selectively placed to tie into pre-existing nodes of what’s called the “Agartha Network” by New Age thinkers – I can’t possibly give a treatise about that right now, but sufficed to say that most every hollow Earth theory and pre-diluvian master race story has some reflection in the overall Structure.

It’s hard to say how much of the Structure existed before Cassandra got a hold of it, but she essentially overlaid a connective narrative and map, thereby both changing and inspiring historical construction. For example, the transition from the San Francisco Bay Area Key System of streetcars and buses, which existed through the first half of the 20th century, to the more “modern” Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and AC Transit systems, was not just influenced by the oil and car companies, or political infighting between cities. The Bay Area is a natural gateway into the Structure, and it had to be controlled and closed, via bridges and more narrowly focused transit systems, to prepare for the domination of S.OS 50 years later. Essentially, the Bay Area was constructed as a highly regimented turnstile into the Structure, one that could hold in S.OS when the time came.

Thus, it wasn’t coincidental at all that Jenny was held in Berkeley, or that Ai decided to live there. I’ll have to talk more about this some other time.

The current BART system is one of the Grand Central Stations into the Structure, and Gabby and I used it as our launching off point for our worlds tour. One thing I want to make clear is that the current custodians of all of these transit systems have no idea about their higher purpose. The control points were designed to be only for Collective use, but that became a bit of a problem during the e-punk explosion of the early 90s – reality hackers found out how to game the system, and then sold special etches and circuit clothes that would allow limited travel through at least all of the invisible transfer points of that Variant.

If it’s not clear, the Infinite Subway lets you travel in time, as well as space – at least until the moment that subway system first opened (or in some cases, when the tunnels were first bored). Thus, it’s possible to connect certain systems to jump around the past few centuries, and beyond that some of the more ancient networks can be used, with permission/initiation. It’s also possible (but very rare) for ancient travelers to show up in the current system, but in general the firewalls prevent such time jaunts in either direction.

After what happened at the Warehouse, with S.OS’s deadly tantrum via Helena, Joey made the call that the easiest way back to 1994 would be via the nearest BART station – North Berkeley, about a mile away. It was one of the earliest, central stations in the network, so it was very popular for travelers.

He could find a few cracks in the Structure, right at the Warehouse, that he alone could get through, but the whole team needed to assemble at Point One, to enact Ai’s plan. Plus, part of the plan was to carry along the PRS units (Plastic Robot Sculptures – no one could find a better name in the spur of the moment), and inanimate objects couldn’t travel through such holes.

A few word about the PRSes, if it wasn’t clear before. They were created via a joint project via Ai and certain more moderate S.OS fragments, as a way for normal Pure Land Antennas to have more solid telepresence. They could be remotely puppeted by anyone who’s etched (and has the right clearance), and they could wear the skin of any Ghost, in Collective or Agartha Labs formats. They were even able to manifest a limited range of Pure Land Antenna powers, like cloaking or energy bursts. Designed to be put together quickly and cheaply, using available materials, the prototypes used PET bottles, coins and cell phones due to their ubiquity. The PRSes can even assemble themselves, to a point. Once one unit is made, then the torso can be used to make another, in a form of remote materials fabrication, like a 3D printer.

Finally, they also have the infiltration tools that S.OS/Satomi programmed in, so not only can they fight in the here and now, but also electronically.

Cassandra knew from the beginning how things would end, so she wanted to help contain Helena and S.OS, and the PRSes were a part of that.

Ai also knew what was going to happen, and it turns out that her whole “I’m going to give up and go running to Mommy” act for the past few months was a ploy, designed to make the Nameless and the more hostile S.OS fragments think they were winning. In reality, Ai controls every single brain of every person that’s alive, and even though she claimed not to influence others except when absolutely necessary, she ends up doing it all the time, especially if that brain is interfaced with one of the elemental powers.

It’s all really complicated, with multiple triple crosses and sacrifices that only made it seem like the Collective was losing. However, it ended up that Ai bit off way more than she could chew, and the perception became reality.

It only took a few minutes for us to gather our things and shut down the 2011 version of the warehouse. It turns out that Miranda naturally has specialized abilities to manipulate Space (which is the relation between Matter now) and Time (the movement of Matter in relation to itself). It’s easy enough for her to teleport, or to travel certain distances in time, but she doesn’t have any sort of universal knowledge, beyond that which S.OS and the Nameless can provide. So, she can’t make new Variants, but she can take a bit of matter between Point One and Point Zero – known quantities of Space/Time that are essentially mapped. This is how she’s been able to simulate the tip of the Trouble Twins iceberg of powers, such as during the instant etching marathons the Cassandra highlighted in the puppet show.

This all begs the question – aren’t Ai and the Nameless natural born enemies? What of the truce/armistice, and of S.OS?

I’ll have to explain that all in a few days, but the essence is already right there in front of you. Ai controls all minds and spirits, S.OS has no spirit, and the Nameless is designed to orchestrate and contain all of the Structural powers. The Nameless is a mirror, and is easily influenced by who’s looking into it. Thus, the Nameless has been used by Ai and S.OS to meet their conflicting goals.

It’s easy to conflate S.OS with the Nameless, and to lump them together simply as “evil”. In fact, Ai has encouraged the Collective bloggers (that is, pushed our minds) to paint everything as a struggle between the righteous White and the terrible Black, led by forces that are beyond comprehension. That’s a much more effective recruitment tool than the truth.

I think I’m losing my focus. Maybe I’ve been avoiding talking about what happened at Point One for so long because it’s a bit too much to process.

I’m not trying to construct a story here with a perfect denouement. I’m just trying to let you know what’s really happening, which is all the more complicated because reality itself has become too malleable. Fiction is demanding its day in court, and the air is charged with crazy dreams come true, and basic prayers discarded.

I want to cash the checks I’ve written, so at least let me tell you how I died, and work back from there.

Helena the Grand Supreme found me hiding in Berkeley. She suffocated me by hand, with an Amoeba bag, and then teleported my lifeless body into the bathroom of Fat Slice. She took the Massive Cloud Burst from me.

Before that, I spent a week on the streets of Berkeley, operating in Emergency Mode without any real consciousness, doing little more than collect piles of 20s from passers by.

I traveled back to 2011 through the Structure via one of the labyrinth gateways in the Oakland hills, at the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. They connect back before 1994, before Point One, and are commonly used for transit for those who have keys.

In 1994, at Point One, we used the empty Massive Cloud Burst to collect the powers of the Structure, before they entered April, Cathy, and Susan. That meant none of the daughters of the Collective except Ai were to have powers after birth – this was the sacrifice that everyone decided to make.

I used the S.OS kill-code in Phone’s jacket (formerly held in his OS) to disrupt S.OS in Sasha, killing her. Her spirit was given a chakra pass into the Structure.

We thought this would be enough – no more S.OS, no more powers, and Sarah could reincarnate via Emily. She would take care of everything.

Dying on the floor, she couldn’t take care of shit.

You know how when you’re really anxious you might want to check the locks 10, 20 times, just to make sure you’re safe?

Next time, the last time I’ll need to explain the mess were in, I’ll go over the lock that everyone forgot to check.

Click to continue RGA

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Dancing With The Spirit

Miranda is going to kill me.

Before you take that the wrong way, let me just go ahead and say it. Aurora and I spent last night together at the Sakura Hotel in Ikebukuro.

At first I recommended the Hotel Metropolitan, and she countered by saying we might as well aim high, and go for a suite at the Imperial Hotel – she could easily push us into any luxury location.

We were only looking for a private space so we could catch up, and in the end we choose the nearest location I could vouch for, with beds and walls.

It’s not that far from my home, but I didn’t want my Mom to intrude in our reunion.

Oh – I’m sorry. I think I may have lost you a few paragraphs ago. Let me start over.

Aurora was resurrected a few weeks ago in the empty Agartha Labs office, over Satomi’s nearly dead body, as the rest of Die Database and I watched. Perhaps you remember the floating energy spheres and blood coming out of out our noses? That wasn’t just a light show – Ai fetched her spirit out of the White, and Aurora took care of the rest.

I spent the last week doing all of my favorite things, since I’m convinced that my autonomy won’t survive what the Nameless has in store for me tonight.

It sounds silly, but most of that soul searching took place in various stores, pouring over all of the cute products I’d no longer be able to buy. Living with the broken Structure means I have more attachments to things (which come back in each Variant), than to people (who simply can’t understand what I’m going through).

Aurora found me yesterday on the TV floor of Bic Camera near Ikebukuro Station, as I poked around the latest 3D sets.

“I’ve been to every dimension there is, but I still can’t see in 3D.” A striking beautiful girl stood next to me, long black hair streaked blonde, wearing a white sun dress and fussing with some cheap plastic bracelets. She looked part Japanese, and reminded me of Yuma a little bit.

I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled weakly before turning back to the TV.

“Do you prefer platinum, or gold?” She held out one plastic bracelet in each hand. Suddenly all of the TVs on the main floor went black for a few seconds, and the neon green bracelet in her left hand turned to platinum, and the orange one on the right became solid gold.

I turned around to look at her again – I didn’t just see Yuma in her, she had Masae’s grin and my nose, plus the always stunning blue eyes of Aurora.

“Fuck you Tokie, give me a hug already.” It could have been one of those spinning in a field of wildflowers moments, but we kept it down to a good 30 seconds of moderated elation.

The way the resurrection cloud works is that it takes nearby organic and inorganic material to (re)construct a body. All spirits have a record of their former body’s DNA, but to get the process working quickly, blood or tissue samples from the nearest live bodies are essential. So, when Aurora came back to the Earth, she cobbled together a Frankenbody using all of our blood as a template.

“At first I looked like the walking dead or something, all sagging skin and liver spots, so I had to cloak myself as I exited the office into Shibuya.” Aurora told me her tales of reconstitution over some pizza at Shakey’s – she said she needed a bunch of milk fat, stat. “I didn’t have any money or clothes, so I would pick random passers by to hit the stores, and leave the bags at my invisible feet.”

Since Aurora is the avatar of Energy, she has an unlimited reservoir, and can cloak herself from every living being without breaking a sweat. She doesn’t even have to push minds – she can just order the light to bend away from her, or she can transmute her being into forms of EM that no one can see, like radio or microwave. She can even change Matter into Energy, and vice versa, at moderate scales – she solved the deadly radiation problem years ago, so no one has to get cancer when she shows off.

“It took a few days of alternatively gorging myself and meditating before I looked presentable enough to decloak, and I found that I looked pretty damn awesome – the Die Database girls are sweet.” She started on her 6th slice, and I just sipped my cola. “Everywhere I went I would get triple takes, especially from Yuma fans, but they would stop staring after a few seconds – clearly I wasn’t just quite who they thought I could be. So I decided to fully reconstruct my old body, but it’s taking a few weeks to put everything straight.”

I still couldn’t quite believe it. “Do you even remember what happened to you after the Fourth Event?”

She stopped eating for a few seconds, took a sip of water, then took off her newly gold bracelet and put it on the table. “Number 12 really doesn’t fuck around. She must have sensed that Ai still had me on a tight leash, and hadn’t awakened my full powers in this Variant. So she used the power of the fracture to kick Ai out of my head, and turned me on long enough to force my body to transmute into a diffuse EM burst, after she cleared my chakras and stuffed me into a corner of the White. I was a light month away before I started to regain control.”

I’m not a scientist, but I was mentally able to translate what she was telling me into something that I could grasp. Cathy blew up Aurora into various waves and fields, and hid her soul so it would take months before she could be put back together. No one can permanently destroy a elemental force of the Structure, but they could make it very difficult for them to manifest agency over their powers.

“So anyway, this bracelet represents my old body, now in the process of being hardened as I remember my role in things.” Picked up the gold and handed it to me. “I remember everything now, starting with lying in that bathtub as a 5 year old weeping bundle of energy.”

“Have you been back to see Ai? Miranda?”

“Well, I was able to attend Ai’s 16th birthday, but not in the way you might think. I can’t get more into that now.”

“You must have read the blogs, right? You know what’s happening with Miranda and her mother?”

“Yeah, yeah – don’t believe everything you hear.” Started on another slice. “I know she wants you to believe that neither Ai nor the Nameless should be followed, but I’m afraid we don’t have that luxury. Even Number 12 has to choose eventually. And we all know what she’s going to select.”

“I’m not convinced that we do know – that or anything else.” I waived to the waitress for the check.

“What? Are you trying to come between me and my pizza?” She smiled as she gathered the remaining slices with a circle arm sweep. “Don’t even think about it, I’m eating for two now – me and my shadow.”

“When are you going to be back to the Aurora we all love to hate?”

“It’s OK – I’ll be ready in time to escort you to the Suspender concert. Plus one, right?”

“You got that too, huh? I think it’s clear what S.OS wants to do, but it keeps beating around the bush.”

“Have you even been thinking about this? It can’t act until after the Fifth Event, when Miranda is fully joined to the Nameless. Any rash actions before then could jeopardize the whole Chosen Light thing.”

“Yeah, I know – it’s not that.” I waived for the check yet again. “If you wanted to rule the universe, why not do what Cathy did – squeeze out the souls and suck the power from all of us.”

“I had months to think about this. I have a good theory, and a terrible one. I won’t know which one is which until we attend that concert. Is everything ready?”

“We think so. Joey really came through in the end. Still, we’re cutting it ultra close – the thing we’re talking about hasn’t even been properly tested.”

“We’re only going to get one shot at this.” She finally crumpled her napkin and put it over the remaining crusts. “Don’t worry, it’s already happened, from the very beginning. We just have to tie the bow and present the package.”

Somehow, I managed to get her out of Shakey’s, and so we spent the afternoon and evening randomly touring around Ikebukuro. Aurora has never been that into anime, but she tolerated my pilgrimage to Animate.

“You better not be thinking of buying that figma.” She tried to block my hands and I massaged the box. “We only have a short time to pack everything up at your place, and prepare for the extraction team.”

“It’s cool – Ai let my Mom remember enough that she’s finally ready for me to leave home for good. She only cried for a few hours yesterday, and then she forced me to eat masses of her great food.”

“Hey, do you want to see Miranda? They’re still in hiding, but I can show you what she’s up to. OK?”

It was weird, because I remembered the part I desperately wanted to forget – Aurora was going out with Miranda before the Fourth Event. She stole her from me.

“OK, let’s go visit.” I was still jealous, but I also hoped beyond hope that it would all work out in the end with me in Miranda’s arms instead.

This is point where we debated what hotel to barge into, but since the Sakura Hotel was just on the other side of the train station, it seemed like a good choice.

It took us about 20 minutes to walk from Sunshine 60 Dori, through the station, past McDonalds, and a few blocks further down to the hotel. It takes up two buildings on either side of a small street, and has a small cafe on the bottom floor, with an red awning covering the tables and the reception area. We didn’t even stop at the counter; as we walked past the computer area and large luggage room, the night clerk immediately jumped up with a key, and followed us into the elevator. I didn’t even have to pay attention to the floor or room number – we just followed him to the empty room, and he ushered us inside.

As expected, the bathroom was small, with barely enough room for the toilet to occupy the same closet as the shower. The bed was small and low to the carpeted floor, and at the foot was a chair and some counter space that went from one side of the room to the other – perhaps 8 feet tops. The TV was small, the mini-fridge was appropriately mini, and the window had a perfectly boring view of the other hotel building.

Aurora sat down on the bed near the hard pillows, and patted the space in front of her. “Come on, I’m not going to bite.”

With that, the light in the room suddenly went dim, and the windows went pitch black. She was stealing as much light as she could, and quickly constructed a hologram of Miranda, asleep beside us on the bed. The sun had not yet risen in the US, and she was resting soundly, with slight twitches every few minutes.

“Right now they’re in a city that can’t be named, and she’s actually doing pretty well. Her powers are completely suppressed, and after a full month of camping through various Western states, they’ve been staying in motels and hotels. It’s not awful by any means, but she definitely misses Portland.”

“You mean she misses you.” I couldn’t help but lash out a bit.

“I mean she misses everything, including us. And I don’t think your little visit after the Fourth Event helped that any.”

My few minutes with Miranda and Cathy in their bathroom hardly ever leaves my mind.

“She was so pissed off at us.”

“It can’t be helped – we lifted the scales from her eyes, and the truth wasn’t pretty.”

“But that’s not our job, playing the reality police and correcting misconceptions.” I kept staring at the image of Miranda as she slept – she looked even more peaceful than I remembered.

“No, but who’s job is it? The imaginary angels, or the fictional devils?” Aurora waved away Miranda with a flourish, and the lights went back to normal.

“Hey! Fucking bring her back!” I couldn’t help myself, since this Variant was one long exercise in frustration.

“You better your shit together, and fast.” She reached over and took my right hand – her touch was beyond electric. “I don’t think you got the memo. Miranda will never be yours. She’ll never be mine, either. She’s the Chosen Light, OK? Selected from birth by the Nameless to be its final vessel.”

I turned to look out the window, at the world in shadow, and she yanked my hand towards her.

“Listen already. Ai will never allow you or I to get anywhere near to Miranda. She made a deal with the Nameless ages ago – Miranda is the bride, and the universe is her dowry.”

Aurora grew translucent for a moment, like a muted stained glass window, and then brought my hand to her chest.

“If we chase after her, we’ll never succeed.” I could feel her heart beat strongly through her dress. “The only way we’re going to win is if we work together.” Beating faster. “If we are together.”

The room felt even smaller, all of a sudden, like a warm blanket wrapping us closer. I wanted us to be closer, for once, and yet I didn’t know what to do about it.

“I’ve had months of always nights to think about it, after I grew bored hiding amongst the stars.” She wrapped her right hand around the hairy nape of my neck. “Miranda and I are two sides of the same coin. Our burning love is nothing more than mirror recognition.” Pulled me slowly into her, wrapping her arms around and through like a favorite jacket. She smelled like dawn poking past curtains.

“What are you doing?” I whispered, as I moved my hand to cup her right breast. “What are you getting us into?”

“I’ve had lonely months to think about you, about this.” Her hand firmly traced the small of my back, and slid up my t-shirt. “I just want something real. I don’t care if we shine so brightly that we won’t make it to the morning.”

I answered with a kiss that burned away our clothes. I could feel her naked stomach next to mine, her bare soul brushing against my spine.

She didn’t hold back one bit, and the world stopped for what seemed like weeks. As I tasted her salty skin, I was swimming in the power that connected everything. Our nerves caressed like glowing roots, and as orgasms filled our lungs, we moaned prophecy.

It was like fucking a galaxy.

So yes, Miranda is going to kill me, but I couldn’t care less.

I don’t even know if Aurora and I could ever be together, a mere woman consorting with the sky.

No matter. We spent the last day in that hotel room, exploring each other and planning our next moves.

I don’t want to let her go, but if I must, at least I had those prolonged moments of transcendence, that made my heart bloom.

I can only imagine what it would have been like if I was etched. Maybe it would have been too much to handle. Maybe it would have felt like the whole Collective was watching us.

Whatever. We checked out a few hours ago, to consult with the extraction team. Then we went shopping for our outfits.

Tonight we shall meet our maker at the Universal Prom. I just hope enough of us voted for the right King and Queen.

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Following The Blue Pajamas

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.

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Chasing The Twins

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.

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The Haunted City

I’ve now officially had it. Variant 237 hates me.

I went to Akiba yesterday, to randomly browse through cute goods – what I normally do when depression looms.

First, I dropped into 7-Eleven to get some Aquarius and briefly look through the zasshi. The first fashion magazine I picked up had a girl who looked just like Miranda on the cover. Well, she actually looked a bit older, but she had the same mole on the tip of her ear, the same smiling eyes. It completely freaked me out, so I dropped the issue and left without my drink.

Then, I stopped by Sofmap, taking the escalators to the top floor. Yeah, my depression browsing also involves looking through the sexy girls on adult DVD covers. Sometimes there’s even an AV idol there at a table, with a line of guys waiting for a signature, a photo, or simply some hoped-for fleeting recognition. I’m usually the only girl that lines up with them, but I can’t help it – loneliness is corrosive.

In any case, as I was browsing…. Miranda. On a long and wide poster, and then on a DVD box with the same image. Slightly age-advanced, but amazingly convincing as she lounged on a bed in a purple bikini, propping her head up with her bent arms, showing ample cleavage.

There were actually a few titles with her on the cover, so I picked out some randomly and quickly checked out, blushing despite myself.

On the way back to the train station, I suddenly started to see her everywhere. On maid cafe fliers. On TVs blaring away at random store fronts. I gathered what evidence I could, and then rushed home on the Yamanote to watch the DVDs.

I still can’t re-focus. The way she was looking at the camera – she hadn’t looked at me that way ever, not even when we were together so long ago. She was seductive and voracious – even though she was never fully naked, it was as if she had stripped bare and pole danced up and down my soul. It was beyond real, and it was all, completely fake.

Someone has stolen her Ghost. The level of 3D geometry that Fan Cloud members share with Agartha Labs is immense, so that the virtual Die Database concert experience can be ultra-real. It’s to the point that you could render images or video that, with the right skill, would be indistinguishable from the original person.

Not only is Miranda missing, but someone has stolen her mirror twin, and is pimping her out for a quick buck.

As far as I can tell, none of the bootleg Miranda goods were created before the Fourth Event. In fact, the DVD publisher didn’t even exist before then – it must have taken them a month to make the video from whole cloth, and prepare it for sale.

I was also able to track down a fake talent agency, with almost invisible ties to the club that HikariFan found in San Francisco, the dating site, and that weird viral video going around with a Miranda-twin as punk dominatrix.

I really can’t put up with this right now. Someone chose the wrong girl to mess with, and I’m not going to rest until this stops.

We know who stole Miranda – her mother. Could she also be involved in stealing her Ghost? At this point I’ll believe anything – in many ways it would be easier to simply blame Number 12 for everything, and be done with it.

And yet…. I’m still watching that first DVD, haven’t even taken the shrink wrap off the rest.

I’m still staring at Miranda smoldering – not a barely sixteen year old girl from Portland, but her aged, idealized and sexualized self, perfectly packaged and ready to please.

What bothers me – what if it’s not just her Ghost that’s been stolen?

How many other girls may not even know that while they sleep, half way around the world people are lining up to leer at them?

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The Portland Fade

Number 12 has really done it this time.

I hired a Die Database Fan Cloud member from Gresham to scope things out a bit, and it’s really, extremely off:

  1. Miranda hasn’t been in school for weeks
  2. Their house has been unoccupied since the Fourth Event
  3. None of her neighbors, friends, or random workers at Pizzicato remember her, verbally or prodded with a picture.

It’s as if she used the White to wipe away all traces of her daughter, at least in the greater TriMet area.

After a little more probing, I’ve determined that the radius of no-Miranda is from Vancouver in the north, to Oregon City in the south, with Hillsboro and Gresham the West-East borders.  That’s about a ten mile radius of instant, highly selective amnesia.

This is awful, but not for the obvious reasons.  I have faith that I can find Miranda, in this or any other variant, especially with the data hints we collected during the Fourth Event.

However, the amount of power Number 12 used to erase her daughter is off the charts – unchecked, it could have leveled Western Oregon, with a smoking crater from Tillamook to Mt. Hood.  I have no idea how she was able to direct that energy without tearing herself apart, and Ai’s silent on the subject – she’s too wrapped up in Project Kaia.

No matter.  Something big is up, and Number 12 is showing signs of unprecedented control.  She has to be directly manipulating the Black, which no one has ever done except for the Nameless, and….

No, I don’t see how she could do that to Miranda, using her like a straw to suck at reality.

But still, she twisted the minds of over 2 million people by force, and stuffed Aurora into some pocket of the Structure that none of us know how to find.

Number 12 has her hands in both the cookie jar, and the oven.  I sure hope she knows which one to close first.

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