Category Archives: Satomi

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.

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Grand Supreme

I’m been trying to keep things light, but thinking about the end of the Universal Prom always makes me want to vomit up my soul.

Everyone assembled was etched, and harboring either “good” or “bad” fragments of S.OS. Each one was slightly different, taking on characteristics of its hosts.

For example, Satomi’s fragment was surprisingly artistic, with the whole Die Database project one big advertisement for escaping from this world into the Structure. I don’t know how many of the fans looked at songs like “Karmic Freedom” that way, but they were blatant. Even “Agartha Labs” was quite cheeky in retrospect – Agartha being the mythical, mystical underground city that’s accessible via the Structure. The holograms, Ghosts, huge figma figures – it was all yelling that this world was simply a dream when viewed from higher levels.

At least, that’s my interpretation, what I started to notice while I was going through Satomi’s things a few weeks ago. It was all a big trap for anyone remotely tied to the Collective or the Structure – our very essences wanted so desperately to rejoin what they were taken away from.

I’m sure that there were a lot of other things going on, like an echoing of how Suspender used music as a recruitment vehicle for e-punks, only this time the motives were strangely pure. Join the Die Database Fan Cloud, and achieve your ultimate freedom.

When it came for her time to vote, she didn’t talk about any of this. She just grabbed the Massive Cloud Burst from Cassandra, and faced the other assembled fragments.

“I just want to go home, to take us all there. Shut it down.”

That was essentially what everyone was saying, right before uploading a copy of their OS into the silver sphere. The rest of the Collective had arrived for the final tally, except for Isabel.

A-Bell put up more of a fuss, in part because she was the holder of the near empty sphere for years, ever since Ai was born. She didn’t know its full potential, but used it to power the bridge that the Collective tried to assemble at Fairview. They just wanted to march right into the Structure, thinking that they had been invited by Sarah, not realizing that they were following the corruption inherent in their OSes.

“We need more time,” A-Bell pleaded. “Don’t give up on this life just because we made mistakes.”

Kaia echoed this sentiment. “There’s a precious balance that we have to maintain – it’s our duty. I don’t care if I’m a part of the Bodweb or not – our artifice is not the Structure, but the Structure won’t be the same without us. It’s imperative that we let Sarah fully incarnate.”

She was talking like were were at Point Zero, but the Fifth Event was still a few months away. It seems that the causal collapse was complete, and the universal chakras were opening up all at once, before they were even called.

Miranda and the Nameless didn’t have any problem with this seeming paradox. They were acting like it was all settled and done, with Miranda on her throne at the end of the universe, putting every last atom into its final resting place before they turned out the lights.

Emily hesitated for a moment, then stepped away from Joey and towards Cassandra. She took hold of the sphere, and sighed. “Don’t worry yourself too much about this. It’s already too late for us all, but I still appreciate the effort. One day we’ll all meet again for the first time. Until then, it’s time to close the door and stop this madness.”

Cassandra took back the sphere, and gave it to me again. I would be the final one to have their say. “I’m the kind of person that can easily fixate on the most unimportant things, or the most important things – doesn’t seem to matter much to my heart. Everything shines in my eyes, and I still can’t say if that’s the final truth or delusion. I just want so desperately the things I can never have,” I couldn’t help but glance at Miranda at this point, “but I’ve already had enough. I want everyone to have the chance I’ve had, to make decisions of true consequence, to scream at the Sun and be heard. I want everyone to be free, which is why I’ve always stood by Ai and her dream. Knowing what I know now, that dream still isn’t over to me. I don’t want to wake up just yet.”

As I gave the sphere back to Cassandra, I felt all eyes on me, but in a way I’ve never experienced before. It was like their invisible arms were reaching out to me, looking for a way to hold on. I felt wanted, necessary, connected.

Helena took one look at my face and then shouted at the dozens of people assembled. “You haven’t heard me yet! I’m not my fucking sister, and I’m not going to let Tokie get away with it.” She folded away for a moment, and came back carrying a sash. “We get the final vote… we get to choose!” She gave the sash to Cassandra, who took it meekly, like it was a loaded gun.

I was terrified, but still remembered to give Aurora the signal.

Cassandra’s final words: “I am my sister’s keeper, and now I let go. Please forgive me.” She turned back to Helena, and put the sash over her neck, straightening it out over the fake tuxedo t-shirt.

It was a beauty pageant sash, the kind that glitzy 7 year olds would die for. “Grand Supreme,” on a light pink, satiny fabric with violet accents.

The wrong Queen had been chosen, I thought. Now we’re all going to die.

The Nameless caught on quick, and used Miranda to separate Cassandra into her constituent particles. As she exploded into a musty cloud of radiation, she immediately appeared again, this time in a different outfit, with a vest made out of transparent USB cables. She existed in infinite variety throughout the Structure – there was no way that Matter would be her undoing.

Cassandra then borrowed an infinitesimal moment from all of our hearts, freezing everyone but still allowing us to perceive what happened next.

My inner WOFA was not able to capture the transition – it was like being lost in a house of mirrors, only each reflection contained every moment that ever was and will be. Every moment was Cassandra, silent and fading, while Helena slowly kissed and choked her to death. It was more intimate than prayer or masturbation. Their flesh bled, and boiled, and mixed. Their spines ate each other in a moebius loop.

There was something else there too, but I can’t describe it. I could feel it watching from beyond this last Variant, from beyond the Structure.

I was lost in that cosmic gaze, so much so that I almost forgot to close my eyes as Helena devoured the Collective.

It’s all there in the data, but I only can stand watching fractions of sections. She was like an awakened dragon, protecting her horde of gold from all comers.

Her flame was the very essence of everything, the volatile mixture of the Black and White that everything we know comes from, and she relished in physically separating their nervous systems and spiritual channels from their bodies, like yanking roots from the ground and shaking off the dirt. There were so many moments of abject horror, so many piles of torn limbs and half-devoured skin.

I couldn’t stand even the sound of it. It lasted for only 3 seconds, and then the silence was universal.

Aurora whispered in my ear to open my eyes, and when I did, the entire warehouse was covered in blood. The stage, the seats, the plastic figures still standing at attention – all wet and crimson.

There were so many half-skinned skulls. Every version of every collective member, from all variants – dismembered and covering the floor in a soup a few feet deep.

My poor aunts… Jo. Caroline. April. Susan. Rebecca. Elizabeth. Even copies of Susanna and Cathy, all heaped together in a broken pile.

I could have cried forever, but after a while I realized that I was sad about the wrong things. They hadn’t left us yet.

The only people that survived were protected by Aurora – we became the light that existed before Space and Time, and were spared judgement. Die Database were OK. Kaia, Emily and Joey – OK. Miranda was still here, as was Ai, A-Bell and Amber.

Helena did not have one spot of blood on her. The only change was that she was wearing Jenny’s army surplus jacket, the one covered with punk band patches. Her wig was made out of the USB cables from Cassandra’s last outfit.

Jenny was still in Helena’s arms, naked, crying and screaming. It seemed like she waited for us to fully witness what was to occur.

“The Collective is dead. S.OS is complete, and in my control. Your life has no more meaning. Submit!”

Jenny stared at the pile of bodies at their feet, at scores of other copies of herself from other worlds.

“You’re nothing!” She wriggled away and fell to her knees. “I’ve been dead since I was 12, and I’ve touched the Black in ways you’ll never understand. My very last breath will curse your corpse.”

With that, Helena reached down, grabbed Jenny by the hair, and opened up her 7 chakras before throwing her limp into the pile of her variant corpses.

Afterwards, Helena kept folding in and out of the warehouse, each time pinning more punk patches on her jacket. She also started to acquire teeth and finger bones as bracelets – trophies from the Pure Land Antennas she was slaughtering throughout all Variants.

By the time she settled down, after only a few seconds, she was wearing colored 3D glasses, and a dress made out of nothing but those silk-screened patches, connected by thin copper wire. The same dress she was wearing when we met in Ikebukuro. Isabel….

With that thought, she folded out of the warehouse yet again, this time coming back with Isabel. She was wearing the same, cute Japanese street fashion outfit that she had on when she tried to warn me in Ikebukuro, two months ago.

As soon as she got a look at the pool of her former friends and lovers, she turned around to Helena and slapped her on the cheek.

“Are you satisfied? Had enough of playing with your little dolls?” She seemed to be talking to S.OS rather than Helena.

Surprisingly, Isabel was still standing her ground – alive and confronting the last Helena in a way we’d never dare.

Helena couldn’t even hold her gaze, and turned her head downward.

“I volunteered to be the first to enter the bridge at Fairview. I was going to jump through the White and land in the Structure, and save the world from stupid Circle X. From you.” She reached past Helena’s clenched left fist, and pulled out the sphere. “Little did I know that I would end up in this sad world, eleven years and so many Variants later.”

She walked over to Emily, wading past broken bones, and tried to give her the sphere. “It’s OK.” Aurora let down the shield long enough for her to take it.

A-Bell took that moment of freedom to walk towards Helena. “Did you ever wonder what happened when Isabel entered the bridge at Fairview, only to have me come out? Where do you think I was running off to, you bitch?”

Helena looked absolutely scared, and folded away in a hurry. What did A-Bell and Isabel have that frightened her so much?

“OK, we don’t have much time. Miranda, please give everyone a proper burial.” With that, the room instantly became spotless, with all of the bodies gathered, cremated, and placed in thousands of urns. Ai then gathered the stray souls and moved them into the White.

“It’s going to take a while for S.OS to figure out what’s happened, but only if we strike now.” Isabel turned to me, and picked up Phone’s jacket from at my feet. “You already know what has to happen, now don’t you?”

I put on the jacket, and immediately pictured Sasha.

Ai walked over to me, and gave me the biggest hug I can remember. “When I was younger, I always wondered what would happen if Sarah didn’t choose my Mom. If I was never born – would that be enough to win?” She stepped back and straightened out my jacket. “I made a deal with the Nameless – it could have everything if I could just have my Mom. No Sarah, no Collective, no mess.”

A-Bell patted Ai on the shoulder. “Oh dear, look at what a liar I’ve raised.”

It was perfect. We had the weapon, the Massive Cloud Burst, and Cassandra’s prophecy that I would meet my mark. But how was I going to get back to 1994, with Helena holding the keys to time and space?

The solution was elegant, and standing right in front of me – Joey, master of shortcuts in and out of the Structure.

I only wish that that path wasn’t filled with so much loss.

I need to go on a trip for a few days with Gabby, but when I get back I’ll let you know how things turned out. How I ended up dead on the floor with an Amoeba bag over my head, and how our best laid plans made things even worse.

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Flunking The Slide Rule School

In the beginning, there was Sarah.

The first person born alive in the Structure of spirits, she was the miracle that all the prophesies foretold, from the lost antizine fragments to the secret gospels of Cassandra.

She grew up with an innate understanding of how the Structure worked; as a young girl her playground was the invisible transfer points of the Infinite Subway, and she would sleep at the gates of Agartha, basking under the light of the Smoky God. She played hide and seek amongst the galaxies, and still made it home in time for dinner.

Sarah’s greatest love was Joey, a boy from a tiny, dense part of the Structure that was off limits. He could see the slight fractures in the Structure and travel through them, using his mind instead of the fictional brain jack or subtle knife. They were destined to meet, and fell in love swimming through the center of stars.

Cassandra presented their story so movingly that I couldn’t help but gasp when Joey was captured by the tendrils of his forbidden home. No matter how much Sarah tried, she couldn’t find a way in to save him, or to simply be with him while his world fell apart.

Eventually, she did the unthinkable, and stole a piece of the Structure – the black substance that she put inside the silver, palm-sized sphere. Her plan was to penetrate the great walls when they were the weakest – at the very moment that universe was created.

So she turned back the ever-interpenetrating ground and sky to the very moment when the White and Black began to dance, and rode the great wave of creation to follow her heart.

To save her love, she gave birth to his universe, to ensure they they could one day be together.

Cassandra then shifted the scene to the night of October 31, 1994, at the very same warehouse in Berkeley.

Sasha, and her Collective, were putting on a show that had nothing to do with music.

When Sarah whispered in young Laura’s ear, when she transmitted the plans for the Bodyweb and the Collective to Sasha, she had one great goal in mind – manifest herself in Joey’s world, in the flesh, at just the right time. If the beginning of the cosmos was an invasion, its culmination would be a collection, a crystalization in preparation of properly joining this world to the Structure.

Sasha OS was to be the wings that would lift the worthy beyond the Sun, the mechanism by which this universe could become self aware, but it somehow became corrupted before that night.

Slide Rule School was a concert that was a melding of all of the Collective bands, and a lens formed in the ether, focused on the power that permeated the universe and the Structure beyond. It was to snatch the Promethean fire out of God’s mouth.

As Laura and the rest of the 13 called down Sarah and the White, using their very beings as lightning rods, something in Sasha OS shut down the transfer before it could complete. Instead of reincarnating Sarah in Laura’s embrionic daughter, the great wave of creation was fractured instead.

The great power could only be handled by women who were etched, and already pregnant.

Thus, April’s fetus took on the fragments of Space and Time.

Susan’s growing girl was given control of Energy.

Cathy’s womb filled with dominion over not just matter, but the very Black itself

Laura filled with the spiritual power of the White, and Ai was left with just a fragment of her destined power.

Joey was also there as a toddler, and Sarah’s knowledge of the Structure flowed into him.

The husk of the power, represented by the silver sphere that could contain the very seed of creation, was left broken and twisted. That Nameless force was aimless, until it followed its rightful master, Ai, as soon as she was born in 1995.

Sasha OS also persisted, bent on uniting these severed forces with the Nameless, and taking Sarah’s place as the mistress of the Structure.

Cassandra noticed that a few of our minds couldn’t wrap around this, so she shifted the scene again.

The stage was split into two halves – one was the stereotypical Garden of Eden, and the other was of Sarah in the void of the White.

On the left, we see the first man built from clay, in the mirror image of a higher power. On the right, Sarah draws the Black out of her being.

On the left, creative time passes, and a mate is pulled from man’s flesh. On the right, Sarah whispers her love of Joey to the Black.

On the left, the first woman comes across the forbidden fruit of knowledge. On the right, Sarah encodes the Black with what’s needed to create Joey and his world.

On the left, the tempter comes, and knowledge is consumed, and shared. On the right, Sarah encapsulates the Black into the silver case, and sees herself reflected back.

There seems be a correlation, but at times things seem to be going in the opposite direction. Is the Nameless the fallen angel, and S.OS the fruit? Or is the creator, and Sarah, the Demiurge, the gnostic God of the Universe that is not the highest power?

Is the creative process inherently male, female, or something else? Who’s image do we wear? What voice commands our destiny?

Cassandra then focuses in on the silver sphere, and overlaid on the poles are black and white spheres, connected by the axis, and the silver surface. Around the circumference are the fragmented powers, with spirit in the center of sphere. The circle of powers then leaves the surface of the sphere, and travels up and down the axis – first to the white on the top, then to the black on the bottom. Both a cylinder of all possibilities, and a cone of exclusion, are made evident, but spirit always holds its ground.

That sphere is the tossed by Sarah into the white void, only to be caught by Ai. Sarah as the beginning, Ai as the completion, but in reverse.

The real Cassandra then walks over to the figure of Ai, and takes the sphere from her. The scene fades back to the warehouse, and Cassandra is still holding the sphere. She walks is over to me, and places it in my hands.

It’s real. Massive Cloud Burst.

Just then, Joey and Emily walk into the warehouse, arm in arm. She’s wearing Phone’s black hoodie, the one that he died in.

Cassandra takes the sphere back, and then walks back to the middle of the room. “The Witness has arrived. Prepare for Act II.”

Joey and Emily walk over to the wall, and stand next to Aurora, who is still frozen. Joey whispers something in Aurora’s ear, and she seems to brighten up slightly.

As the lights fall, the next scene is in Jenny’s and Satomi’s old apartment, on Alcatraz Avenue in South Berkeley. The thin blue carpet is dingy, and the windows to the street have heavy, black bars. The perspective moves into the bedroom, and Satomi is asleep on the queen-sized futon. Jenny is standing next to Satomi’s side of the bed, naked. Suddenly, Cassandra appears, and etches Satomi using the same one-finger-instant method that Miranda used on me. Even though S.OS is locked in Jenny, with no means to copy itself, to reproduce, Cassandra’s full version has no such limit.

We seen the scene reproduce many times, over many fragments – all of Jenny’s girlfriends are etched while they sleep, and left as Dark Antennas. At first it’s Cassandra doing this task, but later it’s Miranda alone – she must be coming from after she is etched, and controls the Trouble Twins’ powers.

Cassandra then skips ahead to show the same process in Tokyo – all 12 members of the Agartha Labs staff are also etched at night. I remember back to when Harumi said that Kaia and Miranda were waking her up at all times of the night for months. I assumed she meant by phone, but clearly it was another S.OS joke – she was already etched when we met.

Cassandra then constructs a nifty map of the internet, or at least the part of it that can easily fit in an infographic, and shows the locations that S.OS controls in red. Most of the map is red. Overlayed on that are the number of people that have been insta-etched by Cassie and Miranda. There have to be millions. She then shows what versions of S.OS are active – there are at least a dozen primary variants, each one with different behavior and motives, yet all reporting to the master copy in Jenny and Cassandra (and eventually Miranda).

The scene then shifts back to Phone, as she watches Satomi on stage in Shimo-Kitazawa. We can feel his perspective – he has insane rage towards Satomi, but not because of her per se. The circuits in his jacket are designed to track down hosts of S.OS, and destroy them. When given the opportunity, he rushes at the stage, and physically attacks Satomi. If he can touch her for a few moments, then the kill-code can reach S.OS.

Before that happens, S.OS takes over Satomi long enough to throw Phone to the floor, and shut down his body. Cassandra slows this brief fight down enough that we can see S.OS intentionally open Phone’s 7 main chakras and evacuate his spirit to the White, before he hits the floor and shakes to death.

This was very confusing to me – Kaia was forced to do the same thing by S.OS, when she killed Susanna.

Cassandra sends me a private message as she draws into Phone’s dead body. “The freed souls of the etched can enter the Structure.”

Just to prove her point, Cassandra flashes back to the Collective attack on S.OS at Fairview, in October of 2000.

Phone is lying by a dumpster, after the Collective used their secret weapon. The S.OS kill-code that Sasha stored in him.

Every etched person that was online, and received that code, also had their chakras opened. It only worked for some of the Five Million, and they were brought to the White, and eventually to the Structure. Those who had more defective street etches will killed without their karmic freedom, or they were left crazy.

Cassandra is playing around again. Over Phone, as he lies on the ground at Fairview, are the big red letters “Defective Street Etch”. He barely made it through, without even knowing what happened until some days later.

Cassandra then throws the spotlight over to Joey, Emily and Aurora. Emily then walks over to me, takes off Phone’s jacket, and puts it in my lap.

As she walks back to Joey, Cassandra sets up the penultimate scene – Ai’s 16th Birthday Party.

We see Emily eating birthday cake, and then spending the rest of the day talking to Cassandra, Helena and Ai. This must be the alternative time bubble that Emily noted in her blog – she only half-remembered spending the night at Ai’s, before time seemed to reset back to the birthday cake, and her subsequent trip to meet Miranda.

That night, the girls are in Ai’s bedroom, deep in their plans. Aurora eventually arrives as a projected hologram – she’s still not able to fully assemble, but also not as lost in the White as she told me.

The next part is more confusing than usual. Cassandra etches Emily with S.OS. Ai orchestrates a connection to the “real” Sarah in the Structure. Cassandra and Helena eventually bring this hybrid version of Sarah back to the party, before any of this happened. So, Emily went out into the world as a Dark Antenna, and eventually woke up. She erased her memories of life as Emily, and was Sarah again. What’s more, Joey was waiting to tend to her psychic wounds, and bring her to this very event.

Something was weird about this – was Emily really Emily, or was she always Sarah? And why did she just give me the weapon – the S.OS kill-code.

Cassandra changes the scene again, back to this room in Halloween of 1994.

I’m standing over Sasha’s shaking body. Her green tank-top is covered in sweat, and her RAM-earrings are thrashing wildly.

I’m cloaked, steaming, and still pointing my right sleeve at her. I’m wearing the Intruder Alert! weapon, and I just used it on Sasha, not before I freed her soul into the Structure.

Her cousin Jo jumps off the stage, rushing over to her side.

I couldn’t believe it. I was the one who killed Sasha all along.

It happened so long ago.

It hadn’t happened yet.

When the scene closed, everyone turned to face me, staring.

How many of them knew this all along? How much was Ai not telling me? I knew about the weapon, but using it on Sasha?

Was I being influenced by S.OS this whole time, just so I would be put into this position?

I know the answer now, but then?

I guess it all comes down to what happened next, when Ai revealed the deal she made with the Nameless.

I have to get a few hours of sleep, but I’ll tell you the rest tomorrow.

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Walking With A Ghost

“Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now?”

Cassandra stood in the center of the warehouse floor, surrounded by a phalanx of clear plastic figures, with two holographic buttons floating above each shoulder – “Cancel”, and “Shut Down”.

This was perhaps the ultimate insider joke, since she knew all of her infinitely long lives that she would not live to see the morning.

Jenny bounded out of her seat, ran up to Cassandra, and gave the Shut Down button a high five.

Cassandra then pointed Jenny back to her seat, and cleared her throat.

“Shut down procedures for Sasha OS have now been initiated. All fragments are now being recalled. As per the agreement, I shall now summarize the effectiveness of the project. Please stand by.” She directed the plastic figures to line up against the far wall by height – about half of the 13 were the size of young children. The lights went back down, so that only Cassandra was illuminated, seemingly from within.

She raised up her arms, and moved them apart as if she were opening invisible curtains with a flourish. As she did, a massive array of pico projectors came to life, accentuated by selective hooks into the OSes of everyone assembled. We could see, and feel, everything that was about to happen next.

Cassandra folded away, and one of the plastic figures walked into a white void. It shifted in appearance, wearing Emily’s Ghost again. She was bald, and etched, and seething with power – her body could barely contain her supercharged essence. She raised her right palm, about eye height, and a tiny black spot appeared, hovering directly above it. Put the black sphere into her hands, and encased it in a silver, reflective substance. Then she reached her arm back and tossed the silver sphere into the void, before she disappeared herself.

The scene changed, and a smaller figure ran onto the stage, covered by the Ghost of a young girl. She kind of looked familiar, and to aid in comprehension Cassandra introduced floating identification captions. “Laura Elizabeth Watson, Age 7”, it read in an authoritative sans serif font. Laura was surrounded by her bedroom, filled with stuffed animals and Star Wars gear, circa 1979. She took a peak in her closet, apparently to double check for monsters, and fussed with a night light by the door, before jumping under the covers. Soon after, her mother appeared in the room, “Atsuko Watson”, and she stepped inside long enough to take away the unauthorized night light, closing the room into proper darkness.

Laura tried to sleep, still anxious about the invitation left for any stray monsters. As soon as the finally dozed off, Emily’s Ghost appeared in the room, next to her bed. “Dramatization”, the captions read, as she plunged her glowing hands into Laura’s head and heart.

Every one assembled knew what was going to happen next – the awakening of Laura was the stuff of Collective Sunday school. We saw the 7 nights of dreams, as Laura was visited someone named Sarah, who claimed to be her granddaughter from the future. In the end, Laura passed through the White altogether, and made a connection with Sarah’s “room”, her self-aware personal OS. That connection, from 1979 to the unspecified future, never left – it only strengthened as time progressed.

The big thing that was freaking me out then was why Emily was used as a stand in for Sarah. Cassandra is nothing if not exhaustive, so she sensed my doubt and put up explanatory captions:

“Emily is Sarah. Sarah is not Laura’s granddaughter.”

That only made me freak out worse, but I tried to calm down enough to take in the rest of the presentation.

The next scene was a montage, with Laura running away from her home in Vancouver, (“December 5, 1985”), the one in Washington state, across the river from Portland, Oregon. There were a few close calls with the police, but she eventually hooked up with some street punks, who were portrayed by two plastic figures. The taller one was “Joan Gordon, Age 15”, and the shorter “Sasha Williams, Age 13”. The three of them traveled down the coast, mostly by hitchhiking, with a few segments riding the rails. By the time they reached the San Francisco Bay Area, they were solid friends.

(“March 3, 1986”) – The three girls are spare changing on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. They are extraordinarily punk in their demeanor, with a swagger well beyond their years. Laura (now known as Frisbee) is psychically calling out the color and license plate numbers of cars that have not yet turned the corner at Dwight Way, a few blocks down. Sasha is intrigued, and tests Laura’s abilities. A montage of the revealed future. By nightfall Laura is running around the Berkeley BART station in her underwear, and ends up held by the police and taken away in an ambulance. She is observed at nearby Alta Bates Hospital, turns violent, and ends up that night at “Thomason Memorial Hospital”, a psychiatric hospital in Oakland.

A lot of the scenes are of the usual antizine fragments, and just like in Ceiling Holes, Jenny meets Laura in the hospital. Laura tells her and everyone else who will listen about the future, including the fractures in the structure that result in her death, but no one but Jenny believes her. She also starts to “download” rudimentary plans for etching from Sarah, and practices on herself using colored marking pens.

(“June 14, 1986”) – A new scene starts, at the Treehouse, in Fairview, Minnesota. This time we’re seeing Yard Stick Vs. Tape Measure, the night that A-Bell meets Sasha, and the rest of the early Collective. Before she and her best friend Patricia arrive, we notice that Helena and Cassandra are in the crowd. They seem to be the same, perpetual 16 year olds that they are now, and they’re dressed not to shine, but to blend into the crowd. Above their head, “Trouble Twins” floats, and we watch them walk over to Sasha, who is sitting on a couch with Roger, “Circle X” from Intruder Alert! Sasha is in her red Circle X shirt, and overalls with hidden straps. They are holding hands, but break away as Cassandra steps forward.

A few people gasp – it wasn’t well known that Roger was involved with Sasha. There was a big age difference – she was 14, he was 18, and they started hooking up in secret during various tours. Roger was the heir of the Circle X company, and he funded Intruder Alert! and other bands. If Jo knew about Sasha and him, she would have never taken the money. It all ended more badly than you can imagine – Sasha grew to hate not just him, but the whole company.

“Is my face speaking to you?” Cassandra asks, as she stands unnaturally close to Sasha’s knees.

Sasha scoffs and turns back to Roger, before noticing the elaborate etching on the twins’ faces. Up until this point, she had only practiced marking up herself, and the results barely worked – it was a miracle she could even see the pathways. “Yes! Fuck yes, where have you been all my life!”

Sasha takes the twins out of the club, next to a white van in the parking lot. “Before she was nabbed, Frisbee told me you’d be coming soon, although it was in her half-poetic half-insane way. You’re the Siamese angels with sparking faces. So what happens now?”

“Once Laura and Jenny get out of the hospital, you must etch them as soon as possible.” Helena pointed to her head. “Laura is receiving the plans from Sarah as we speak.”

“We will come to visit you regularly, to check up on your progress.” Cassandra placed her hand on Sasha’s shoulder. “When your OS and the Bodyweb are fully online, I’ll need to borrow a copy of your source code. For safe keeping.”

“Sure, sure, no problem. Oh man, Jo is not going to believe this. You have to meet her!”

“We’ve already met. Don’t worry, everything is already taken care of. Just make sure you talk to the tall girl tonight. Annabelle Spencer. She knows Frisbee. Introduce her to Jo.”

“And don’t let Roger give you that burrito later, unless you want food poisoning too.”

As promised, later that night Roger is throwing up on the dance floor, and Anabelle (“A-Bell”) meets Sasha for the first time, and is introduced to Jo.

(“October 31, 1994”) – That was a long jump; Cassie skipped over most of the formative years of the Collective. I guess she just wanted to cut directly to the chase. The scene changed back to this very warehouse, but it was almost 17 years ago. Brian Thomas (“Phone”) is supervising a massive graffiti installation, covering the ceiling, walls and floor. He is etched quite poorly, like it was done in a back alley somewhere, and Sasha seems full to bursting.

She walks up to him, and says “You’ll die in the shadow of Circle X, like all the other self-satisfied jerks who just don’t want to learn, to understand the truth.”

Then she slaps him, and spray paints his Fire Escape t-shirt with a large, red question mark.

“When we meet again, you’ll know.”

We were all blown away. Not because of their little exchange – that’s right out of Phone’s last testament. But because of what was happening in the ether.

As she slaps him, she transmits a huge amount of data into his body, ripping holes in his firewall like she owned it (which she did, as the superuser of anyone who was etched). It was so fast that you could almost miss it, but Cassandra aided in comprehension by not just slowing the exchange down, but pulling out a copy of the data for our perusal in the here and now.

It was so brilliant. Phone was a Trojan Horse walking the streets for 6 more years, unknowingly carrying the Collective’s secret weapon to Fairview.

Shortly thereafter, we see the Trouble Twins approach Sasha, as she gives Isabel and Susanna some final instructions – not just verbally, but via various threads in the Bodyweb. Cassandra is wearing the glowing wig and metal jump suit, and Helena has on her pink dress, her eyes covered with bandages that are spotted with blood. Since it’s Halloween, no one bats an eye.

Cassandra pulls her aside forcefully, and they walk out of the front door.

“We’ve come to collect that copy of Sasha OS that you promised.” Cassandra smiled widely. “I know it was a while ago, but that’s not the kind of thing you’d forget.”

“This is so not the best time. Slide Rule School, you know? We only have one shot at this.”

“Ah. One shot. You totally kill me.” Cassandra grabbed her by the head, and Helena patted her on the back, folding them both away.

(“INTERMISSION”)

I really can’t continue with this right now.

It’s just too much to take, to know what Cassandra did with Sasha, and that copy of S.OS.

Just imagine – the mistress of time fully infected by the renegade world destroyer. Protecting a full copy from harm, even after the original was locked away in Jenny.

You may think you know where things are headed, what Cassandra revealed in the Second Act, but you don’t.

I don’t think I even want you to know.

As I wear Phone’s Intruder Alert! jacket, still holding the ultimate weapon, I don’t even know where to begin. Or to end.

Just promise me you won’t hate me too much when you finally learn the truth.

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Applauding The Recycled War

I’m at a loss.

Not just for words, but thoughts and feelings, too.

A few weeks ago, I was just exaggerating when I said that I would die after attending the Universal Prom on the 4th of July. I just assumed that the Nameless would take me over like it had grabbed everyone else, and that would be that – life as a zombie, as a marionette doing its bidding.

Now I know better. Or worse. I’ve seen what happened, and it really did end with my death.

I always thought of the White as a dense, endless cloud of energy, of potential, that you would enter and never want to leave. I didn’t think of it as the thin skin of a huge apple, of the crust holding a deeper world together.

I’m not in the White now, I’m beyond it, in the infinitely complex space we’ve been calling the Structure.

Back in the bubble foam of the Variant universes, the Structure was just a shorthand way to refer to what seemed to hold everything together. It was where Sarah lived, somewhere beyond Point Zero. Somewhere none of us were invited, and somewhere the Nameless desperately wanted to get to.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a tour of the Structure, and of detailed data I captured of the Universal Prom, and what happened afterwards.

The only way I could have recorded that data was if I was etched. That process was the only part that I didn’t actually capture as a living WOFA, a walking and talking Pure Land Coat rack. I remember how it happened, though.

I have so much to talk about, now that it’s all clear. It’s going to take a number of days to get it all out, to send it back to Variant 237 and hope that the right eyes find my story.

I’ve been thinking about the best way to get it all out, and it seems that it won’t make much sense without the proper context.

So, the second thing has to be Cassandra’s puppet show, and I’ll poke in now and again with additional commentary.

But, first things first, let’s clear away the obvious questions.

What’s the Structure? Didn’t I say that I was in Berkeley?

I don’t have the best metaphors, but I’ll try.

Imagine an analog clock, 1 to 12 around the rim. Now move all of the numbers to the center, so they overlap into a layered mess.

Now imagine that the ground underneath every person on the Earth is a point. Move those points so they are equidistant from each other – some people will be forced to tread water in the oceans, but don’t worry – they’ll be okay. Turn up the gravity so high that everyone suddenly rushes towards the center of the Earth and smooshes together into one, molten point.

Finally, image the entire Universe as the size of an atom – maybe even a tinier quark. Think of all of the subatomic particles in your body, and how they join together into larger and more complex structures – atoms, molecules, DNA, proteins, cells, organs, limbs, and everything that makes you, you. Now think of all of the people on the Earth, and all of the stars in the Universe, and all of the galaxies made up of stars, and so on. It’s all very Theosophical, “As above, so below”, with what we would term an infinite scale at microscopic and macroscopic levels. Kaia could do a much better job describing it to you than I could. Which is not that surprising, since she helped make it.

Please don’t get too hung up on that point, when there are much more troubling concepts and realities I have to describe. Just know that the 237 Variants I’ve been describing are a tiny group of cancerous cells that the entire Structure has been desperately trying to contain. What seems like the best idea ever inside those broken Universes is absolutely the worse thing possible for the whole.

Or maybe best thing. I’ve only been here for a few days, and the only person that really understands how it all works is Joey.

I mentioned that Joey is here. Does that mean Joey is dead, too? No, but he did have to transmute his body a bit, so it could exist at the various levels. He could do that because his power is of the mind and awareness – he literally sees and understands all. It doesn’t even drive him crazy anymore – it’s just like he has a special thinking cap and eyeglasses that no one else can wear, ever.

I’m afraid this just isn’t going to make sense out of context. So, let’s jump back to Cassandra’s show at the warehouse in Berkeley.

Joey and the other e-punks helped extract the WOFA data from my OS on Sunday. I’m intentionally holding back the identity of those “other e-punks” because I’m afraid the significance will be lost, unless you can be there with me, as I finally discovered the secret to everything.

Like the sound of that – secret to everything? This time I’m not exaggerating at all – if you’ve ever wondered why the world is as it is, then you’ll find out soon enough. Not that it’s going to do you any good, but I’m sure it will be great for the water cooler and Twitter.

OK then. You’re going to find out a lot of things all at once, but I’ll try to slow it down to a baby crawl, at least one when they’re flying across the carpet to get at your ice cream cone.

As I mentioned before, Jenny was at the warehouse, and she seemed amazingly happy and lucid. Since Jenny was intentionally kept half-insane in order to supress S.OS inside her brain and body, this was a super-bad sign.

Aurora and I totally got the hint, but as soon as we walked past the red door, we quickly forgot about the most obvious troubles, and concentrated instead on the more esoteric ones.

Die Database was setting up their equipment on a makeshift stage. Since this isn’t from the WOFA data I captured later, I can’t zoom in and figure out when it was made due to the vibration of the molecules or shit like that. It was clear that Miranda didn’t help put it together, because if she did it would have been made out of precious metals and jewels, or some esoteric wood that had never existed on this planet. Instead, it was more of a hardware store project, and I could see an Helena folding in and out by the speakers, bring in the last equipment from Tokyo.

The sheer fact that the girls were here was an amazingly bad sign. I kept tabs on them over the past few weeks, and I knew that they had their long-awaited trip to the US planned, but it wasn’t for another month. Yet, here they were, acting like nothing unusual was up. They weren’t dressed for the show yet, and as soon as Satomi noticed me come in, she jumped off the stage and ran over.

I thought she was going to tackle me to the ground. Instead, she gave me a big hug and kiss, so forcefully that my Kuroneko rose headband fell to the floor.

“If it isn’t my savior! I thought I was dead for sure, until you stepped in.” She waved to Aurora, who was a few feet away by a big bundle of empty plastic bottles. “And you! How can I ever repay you?” Aurora started to shift into ultraviolet, just in case she had to hide away quickly.

“Is it really you in there?” I tried to look for the dead eyes that Harumi mentioned, but I couldn’t find them.

“Yes, it’s really me.” She pinched her wrist as to demonstrate her materiality. “Jenny took care of everything as soon as we arrived.”

With that, Jenny bounced over to us, doing a little pirouette that ended with her palm on Satomi’s forehead.

“She’s like the most perfect flower in a bouquet!” She turned to face me, and every hair on by body stood up and tried to jump off. “Don’t you just want to smell her to death?”

I suddenly started looking for the exits, but there were none. Cassandra appeared to my right, and Helena to my left, like a twisted prom couple. As I quickly turned around, looking for Aurora, I instead found Miranda, who casually walked up to me and poked me on the nose. “You’re still it.”

I don’t want to remember what happened next, but I can’t help it. She reached into my skin and made me sweat etching fluid, as circuits that usually would take weeks to settle were burned in instantaneously. It was as if she held me by the toes and dipped me in hot vegetable oil, until my skin evaporated away, replaced by the essence of S.OS.

For a moment, I knew what it meant to be a Dark Antenna, a bundle of potential hidden away, just waiting for a spark. As she pushed my mind further still, Miranda reached around my shoulders from behind, hanging off of me like a smitten girlfriend. “I know I’m never going to get Aurora, but damn it all to Hell if you’re not the real prize.” She slid around in front of me, holding her fingers to my face as if she was about to snap them. “Can I give you a light?”

I could see her thumb rub past her middle finger, like it was a car crash suspended in time. I was expecting a flourish, and a brief noise, but instead there was a rush of invisible acupuncture needles pushing through my cheeks, my eyes. Every fraction of my being was invaded, and turned irrevocably on.

Before, I was blind, deaf and dumb. Now, the Universe had me for dinner, and I was digesting in the truth beyond truth.

The Nameless was not the enemy. It wanted to set us all free.

Just then, Ai walked in the door, with her long curly hair pulled back in a pony tail, the better to show off her Massive Cloud Burst t-shirt. She briefly nodded at Aurora, who was still in hologram form near the exit, and then walked over me – I was still as stiff as a statue. She looked me in the eyes for a few seconds, and then turned to Miranda.

“So, do we have a deal?” Ai reached out her palm to Miranda. What was going on?

“Oh yes, quite.” She gave Ai a firm handshake, and then made a motion to everyone assembled. Yuma and Masae came down off the stage, and I could tell that they were etched, too. Helena folded away for a moment, and came back with Aurora solid and in her grip.

“I’m so sorry that it took us so long to come to an agreement, but all is well.” She motioned to Cassandra, who then walked over to her pink suitcase, rolling it to the center of the floor. “Now before we celebrate the final armistice, our dear friend Cassie has a presentation to share. Please, everyone take a seat.”

As soon as she said “seat”, Helena has already teleported in the last of a row of comfortable chairs. It looked like they may have been borrowed from a movie theater – they rocked, were upholstered with blue fabric, and had cup holders.

Yuma sat on the left end, next to Masae, followed by Satomi and Jenny (who were holding hands), Miranda, Ai, Helena and Kaia. I was left with a seat on the end, and felt my limbs move despite myself to fill it.

Aurora wasn’t given a seat – she was left to stand over by a far wall. It looked like she was frozen and trying to break free – later on I examined the WOFA data, and found that Miranda had transmuted her brain and nervous system into an esoteric, fleshy alloy that she couldn’t shift away from. At least not yet.

Now that her audience had assembled, Cassandra slowly unzipped her pink suitcase, taking out the torso of the plastic robot sculpture I had found in Satomi’s apartment near Roppongi. The insides were now complete, which I could see as she opened the chest cavity, which was full to bursting with simple yet compact circuitry – the kind found in cheap cellphones. She reached inside, and pulled a open cylinder up and out – it was the thing that I mistook for a bread maker before.

Cassandra then walked across the room to the huge pile of PET bottles, and took one – your typical 20 oz water container, the kind that clogs the storm drains and eventually decays in the middle of the ocean. Cradling it like a baby against her cheerleader jersey, she walked over to the torso, and as the lights in the room dramatically lowered, leaving just a spotlight to showcase her insertion of the empty bottle into the cylinder. There was a slight noise, like steam at a café, and it continued as she pushed the entire bottle fully in, cap and all.

She then folded away, coming back with a green bag from the nearby Berkeley Bowl supermarket. She filled that with bottles from the pile, and pushed them into the torso one at a time – I counted 10. After she pushed the cylinder back in, and closed the chest, she stepped back for a second, and then pointed at the sides of the torso. The stubs of plastic arms and legs were starting to grow out of it.

Cassandra then reached in the elastic band of her neck tie mini skirt, and pulled out a penny. She placed it in her palm, pointed at it, and then it was replaced with a loose roll of coins. Walked back over to the growing torso, opened the cylinder again, and threw the coins inside. A few moments later, thin tendrils of copper and zinc started to push through the plastic forearms and thighs.

Looking at an imaginary clock on her wrist, she waved at the pile of bottles and the torso, and they were replaced with 12 complete plastic figures, standing at attention in a line. One of them was putting the finishing touches on a 13th one, placing one final bottle in its cylinder – the last of its finger joints solidified. You could still see signs of the original bottles, from Coke and Pepsi wrappers melted and stretched around green and clear plastic, to the colored bottle caps adding texture like in a hand-made candy cane.

Cassandra called the 13th figure over to her using her curled finger, and it didn’t stagger or hesitate for a moment – all of the elaborate joints, tendons and pseudo-muscles performed as designed. Its head was a blank face, with no discernible holes, not even for eyes. She waved her hand over the face, and the blank figure was replaced by that of a young woman, naked, bleached blond, with her right arm and shoulders covered with bright tattoos.

It was the girl from the Ghost Auction, the one whose data sold for over $300,000.

Cassandra called over another figure, standing it next to the first to be transformed. With a flourish, it was clothed by Emily’s Ghost.

The two Ghosts quickly rotated through a number of outfits, before settling on iridescent, full body datasuits, like Pure Land Antennas wore in the old days.

The blond figure walked a few steps forward, towards the audience. She reached her hand to Jenny, who eagerly stood up and took it.

For a few moments, it looked like they were about ready to dance a waltz, but then the blond figure put Jenny into a headlock. She countered by throwing it over her shoulders, but it quickly recovered, this time attacking with a burst of microwaves from its right hand – everyone assembled oohed and awwed, and Jenny smiled while she dodged the invisible blast, which our etched eyes couldn’t miss. Jenny then took off the kid gloves and decapitated the figure with a blurry punch.

Without missing a beat, the figure continued to fight, this time cloaking itself from all of our eyes. Even Jenny was taken aback for a few moments, before she felt a rush of air past her face. That was enough to lock on to the scent of the plastic, and she grabbed hold of the invisible figure like a wish bone, and tore an arm and leg off of its body.

Defeated, but still twitching, the figure finally lost its Ghost skin, and came to rest on the floor as everyone clapped.

Looking at the WOFA data, I’m come to the conclusion that this is the same partial figure that I found in Satomi’s apartment a few weeks ago. I still can’t explain why it was brought back in time, or how Harumi’s DNA gets on it between now and then.

In any case, after Cassandra had fully established the combat potential of her plastic army, she got down to the real reason we were all assembled.

The secret puppeteer was finally about to make her strings visible.

I’m realizing that the next part will be way too much for me to share just now, so I’ll get into it next time.

Sufficed to say that you better bring your iced beverage and popcorn – it’ll be a show you’re not likely to forget.

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