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.
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.
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.”