Category Archives: Yuma

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

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.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

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.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Dancing With The Spirit

Miranda is going to kill me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She was so pissed off at us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was like fucking a galaxy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Eyes Of The Silent Partners

As soon as Satomi woke up yesterday morning, Yuma and Masae gave me my walking papers.

I’m no longer the unofficial fourth member of Die Database. If Masae had her way, I would never be allowed to see any of them again, but I know part of that is existential shock.

After what happened to us at the empty shell of Agartha Labs, their entire perspective of the universe immediately changed, and they blamed me for it. I was part of the problem, the secret occupying force that kept the world groaning in pain, and I killed their fanciful visions of God and Heaven and purpose with the clinical, accidental truth. If the cosmos was Santa Claus, then I strangled him in front of the kids.

Eventually, I know they’ll come around. I’m not saying that in a wishful thinking sort of way – Ai assures me that they will be around for the Fifth Event, but she won’t give me any more information than that.

Not that it really matters. Masae kicked me out of Yuma’s apartment, and told me that “if you ever even listen to our music again, I’ll tear your ears off.” She wasn’t being hyperbolic, believe me – I’ve heard stories of her teenage punk girl terror days.

Yuma seemed more confused than angry or spiteful. I know she was always looking for purpose in life, above and beyond the world of flesh and photography, of singing for her supper. I just don’t think she wanted to find it in that way, scratching on her door begging to get in.

The thing is, I didn’t tell them much more than what I’ve already mentioned in this blog. It’s just that words simply can’t suffice when your screaming under a resurrection cloud, when you skin is covered by absolute, certain terror.

I’m terrifying to them now, an agent of death come calling for what they hold most dear.

I really can’t blame them. It doesn’t matter if the Structure didn’t give me any powers, or if I’ve never been Pure Land Antenna. It’s much worse – I’ve lied to them without knowing, from the first moment we met. I didn’t remember my role in things until a few months ago, but how do you explain that? In their eyes, I’m a fake – a pseudo-person that’s been digging into their lives only to destroy it all.

I can’t change those thoughts. I can’t even really explain how things ever really got this way, dozens of centuries ago.

All I know is that there are only a few months left, and it really looks like this is going to be the last go around, the long anticipated collapse and revealing.

I could sit around all day just contemplating what’s next, but that’s not the job I was recruited for. Every fiber of my being wants to fight the seeming inevitability of it all. I always like to hope that this fire is burning in my belly on my own accord, but odds are it was placed there and tended by Ai, so deep that there’s no putting it out.

Oh well. I’m going on and on about this more than I wanted to right now, especially considering what I’ve found out during the past 24 hours.

As I mentioned before, Satomi let go of all Agartha Labs staff right before the office closed. I tried to contact everyone after things happened, but no one would return my calls, texts or emails, except for Izumi, the Lead Graphic Designer, who at least told me that she was under a non-disclosure agreement. The most she was willing to say was that everyone was offered “crazy generous” severance packages.

Yesterday, I finally heard from Harumi, Satomi’s first hire and current (ex?) Executive Assistant. She wouldn’t say anything over the phone, but she told me to meet her at Odaiba, near the petite Statue Of Liberty (only a few dozen feet tall). I took the Yamanote and Monorail to the artificial island, walked outside past the Fuji Television building (which always reminds me of a huge Erector set), Sega Joypolis and the Aqua City mall, and got to the spot about 14:00. Spent a few minutes aimlessly staring at the water until she showed up, obviously nervous.

Harumi doesn’t have the kind of beauty that jumps out at you on a crowded train. Instead, she’s more like those few days before the sakura really bloom – you look at her, and every part of her being looks like it’s becoming uncontrollably brilliant. Yet she always holds it back with tightly combed hair, clothes too conservative for most girls in their early 20s, and a voice just melodic enough to appease imaginary authority figures.

Today, however, she was fully shining forth, for the first time I could recall, and as she walked up and gave me a big hug, I had to remember to breathe. She smelled like the full moon, breezy and electric. Her white blouse and brown skirt were Platonic ideals.

“Tokie, you’re not recording this, are you?” She squinted her perfectly applied eye makeup, showy yet subtle, with a cute eyeliner poke at each outside corner. I had always liked her, ever since we first met, but the feeling she called forth was too much, especially considering her relationship with Satomi.

“No, no, I just want to talk to you about what happened at Agartha. With Satomi.” Harumi and Satomi were on-and-off together since she was first hired, but hardly anyone knew about it – they kept things perfectly professional around the office, even to the point of barely acknowledging each other.

Harumi sat down on a brown brick ledge, and I joined her, as the occasional tourist aimed their camera wildly.

“I really can’t say much now. Not really, ever.” She placed her obscenely fashionable black leather mini purse on her lap. “It’s not because of the agreement she had me sign. It’s because of her eyes.” She took out a small compact and gave her face a quick peak, like she was afraid her perfection would be stolen away at any moment. “Ever since the accident at that Die Database show, it’s like the light in her eyes had changed. Dimmer, joined by another glow.”

Harumi had told me earlier about how Satomi’s insomnia affected their relationship – it was too much for her to handle, so she never stayed over at night for more than a few hours.

“For the past few months, I hated for her to look at me, even when I longed for her gaze.” She couldn’t resist a slight touch of blush, before she hid the compact away again. “She had eyes like lions. Poisonous snakes about to strike. And her smell changed, too.”

“Smell?” I didn’t like where this was headed.

“She used to be all sweat, pollen and pheromones. One whiff of her neck would sustain me for hours. Now, she’s like a plastic water bottle, or shower curtain. Just a hint of stale, dead moisture.”

All the pieces were starting to fit together – Satomi was a Dark Antenna for months, slowly booting up and transmuting for ideal control. Her sleep patterns and physical changes were typical of the recently etched.

Of course, as far as we could tell, she was etched a few years ago, sometime during her stay in the US. So the big questions were – who etched her, and why was she left disconnected for so long?

“I appreciate you telling me all of this.” I patted my hand briefly on her left knee, enough to tell that even her hose was exquisite. “Can you let me know anything else about what happened before the office shut down?”

Harumi started to stare past Lady Liberty and its tall pedistal, at the Rainbow Bridge. “She really wasn’t herself. She only ate Circle X onigiri and Kagome apple juice, like a toddler. She canceled all of our contracts, and spent hours talking to the silent partners on the phone.”

“Silent partners?” I had no idea what she was talking about, which was frightening enough.

“She gave up majority control over Agartha Labs in March. Ms. Strauss even came in on Thursday and Friday, to supervise the transition.”

Now I knew what she was talking about, which was even more frightening. It had to be Kaia.

“Do you know how to contact Ms. Strauss?”

“Oh, it doesn’t work that way. She and her partners contact you, at your inconvenience. They’ve been waking me up at all times of the night for months.”

“Do you know who the other partners are?”

“No. I’ve only ever met Ms. Strauss and her daughter. Miranda – really cute gaijin, like out of a TV commercial. She loved to talk to everyone.”

This was the moment when I was certain we were fucked. The last time I saw Kaia, she was being dragged off by the Trouble Twins to see the Nameless – Miranda. Next thing I know, Kaia has a hidden, lengthy back history with Yuma, and now she had a controlling stake of Agartha Labs.

Or, had – what the fuck happened to Agartha, anyway? And why the elaborate manipulation of Satomi and Die Database?

Harumi could tell I wasn’t happy to hear what she just told me – she threw her right arm around my shoulder, and tried to smile. “I’m sorry that you’re hearing this from me, and not Satomi. Or whomever has been my boss for the past few months. Honestly, I’m happy it’s all over – I couldn’t take one more moment of those eyes just staring at me. Even with her door closed, you could feel them poking at you.”

She reached in her purse and pulled out a key.

“Take this. You know what it’s for. Don’t linger, before the girls catch you snooping.” With that, she gave a perfectly formed kiss on the cheek, took off her red bottomed pumps and held one in each hand, and then darted up the stairs between lingering tourists, her jog turning into a run past Aqua City. I knew I would never see her again.

As for the key, I’ll have to put it to use this weekend, before Satomi is walking again. Now that I know it’s not just her in there, I have to strike quickly before the last bits of evidence are gone. I don’t dare say anything beyond this – it’s always everywhere, now more than ever.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

The Poison Apple Of Truth

I’m sorry that my last post ended so abruptly, before I really got into what happened at Agartha Labs.

It seems Ai hit the panic button off in Berkeley, and pushed my brain so hard that I couldn’t even look at my computer or phone until a few hours ago.

Not that I blame her – not everything is suitable for public consumption, especially how we managed to stabilize Satomi, after she was possessed and near-fatally injured by Cassandra.

What’s funny is the part that Ai wants me to censor isn’t the seemingly obvious, brain-throbbing thing, but some minor details that she says are essential to reveal later. So, I’m going to do my best to tip toe around the events of the past few days, without totally losing you.

As I mentioned, Satomi was seriously injured – she lost almost 20 pounds in about two minutes, as her etched yet unfirewalled body was hacked. Her arms and legs were little more than weak muscle and bones, and her face was gaunt, like she hadn’t eaten for months. She was hot and damp, and her teeth were sticky red.

Once I gathered my senses, I told Yuma and Masae to help me remove the blue, button down pajamas, which were covered with bloody streaks trailing down from the neck.

Masae took off her gray hoodie, and placed it on the carpet like a pillow. Satomi was wheezing heavily as we tried to make her comfortable, and Yuma couldn’t stop crying – she kept grabbing the back of her neck and rocking on her knees, with arms bent back like she was being held at gunpoint.

We couldn’t call an ambulance, because we could never explain how she got into this mess so quickly. Plus, hospitals didn’t have the necessary tech to jump start the healing process – she needed mending from the Collective, and fast. In past Variants I had seen most of my “aunts” burn out at one time or another, and their spirits usually re-joined the White after about 10 minutes of excruciating pain. I estimated that Satomi only had about a minute left, and I started to panic yell at the top of my lungs.

Now comes the part that I have to edit. I know perfectly well who came to visit us in Satomi’s office, but I can’t say who, only how.

59 seconds to go, and Satomi’s started to shiver uncontrollably. We all started to feel an immediate and all-pervasive chill, so much so that Yuma looked like she was smoking water vapor as she took off her violet sweater, and used it to cover Satomi’s bra and stomach.

51 seconds to go, and the power outlets on every wall started to spark violently, streaming delicate, bright bolts to the ceiling. Multiple balls of lightning hovered right below the perforated ceiling tiles, about the size of melons. They quickly started to revolve around each other, like a tiny planetary system, or electron orbitals writ large.

39 seconds to go, and the figurines on the floor, and cellophaned cardboard boxes by the window, suddenly lept into the air, disintegrating into a fine dust as they did. In the other room there was a rush of air, and a crackling rumble, like fallen trees. A few seconds later a cubicle mist of expensive woods and metal pulsed through the door and into the growing mass on energy.

28 seconds to go, and our noses started to bleed uncontrollably. Before we could stop them with our hands, bright red ropes trailed from our faces to the ceiling, twirling into the now descending maelstrom.

17 seconds to go, and the seething, throbbing intrusion fell down like a sheet lofting over a naked bed. I tried to push everyone out of the way, but we really had no place to go.

6 seconds, as Satomi started to take her last breath, the room filled with sweet, musty air and condensation. Everything was so bright, like headlights right before a head-on collision, and as we all blacked out, I remembered feeling an infinite, anxious bliss, the hairs on my soul all standing at attention.

She was never this diffuse, this brilliant.

And before I could thank her, we woke up coughing, covered by a fine, dark crumble of exotic organics. It looked like the carpet was now coffee grounds, and there was a clear set of bare footprints leading from Satomi’s body, through the main office and out the front door.

I didn’t have time to marvel at her return. Instead, I crawled over to Satomi, who was breathing normally again. Wiped away some of the new dirt from her face, and she was as puffy red-cheeked as a baby. Every last sign of the attack was gone.

We didn’t even bother to clean up the mess, knowing that Agartha Labs was finished. More about that soon.

We just called a cab, brushed ourselves off enough so it looked like we were fancily dressed gardeners, and waited on the street for a ride to Yuma’s place, which was only a short drive away in Harajuku.

The whole ride there, Satomi was out like a light, and we told the driver that she had a few too many after lunch. He smiled a bit in the rear view mirror, straightened his cap, and went about his business.

Satomi has been asleep on Yuma’s bed since Saturday, the first time I ever saw her so rested. I suspect her OS will be done with repairs by tomorrow.

After I gave Masae and Yuma the hours long short version of what had been going on, from the Structure down to Suspender, they didn’t ask any questions. They didn’t talk to me all for the past few days, so shocked and angry that I’m sure Masae would have beat me up after she punched me out. The most I can get out of them are angry texts from another room, or dagger eyes as they leave the apartment without me.

Once Ai let me compute again, I did some digging to find out what had happened to Agartha Labs, the company and the office.

The staff were let go on Friday morning, with amazingly robust severance packages. Moving trucks were busy all that afternoon, and by the evening the entire office was bare.

Unfortunately, not just the office. AgarthaLabs.com is completely gone. Not just all servers, but all search engine caches. All that’s left is a “This site is under construction” message. All GhostServers are now silent.

I don’t have enough data, just theories – those I can share, and those I can’t.

Satomi clearly had the means to wipe away the past three years, but the motive? I simply can’t comprehend that.

That leaves “Cassandra” – at least, someone who desperately wants to pin everything on her. It might be her, a fragment of Helena from who knows when, but I can’t put together a compelling explanation.

I know that Sasha OS was involved in the theft of Agartha Labs source code, including the Ghost technology, but is there a connection between what happened and S.OS?

Yes, there are quite a few things I’m not telling you. I can’t, until the time is right. What I can say is that right now, I’m feeling really clueless.

Nothing like this has ever happened in any Variant, and it’s clear the Nameless is so far ahead it’s about to lap us.

I only have 5 more months to figure this out, before Miranda goes online, and the future that Isabel has warned of comes irrevocably true.

I’m using Yuma’s laptop to write this, as I stand watch over Satomi’s peaceful slumber. She’s looks like a enchanted princess who was kissed by the universe, and only the poison apple can save her from an endless sleep.

I know where that apple is, but it’s guarded by one particularly angry angel, coming back out of the ceiling holes.

I no longer have a God to pray too, but I hope that my cousin will suffice.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

The Installation

When I met them Saturday at the Doutor in Shibuya, during the lunch rush, Masae and Yuma were off near the indoor fountain, smoking up a thunderstorm.

As I approached the table, I could smell Yuma’s expensive, floral perfume mixed in with the fumes. I was confused for a moment, since I had never seen her smoke before. Masae, on the other hand, might as well have her TASPO card (for vending machine access to cigarettes) surgically attached to her wrist.

“Sit down already girl.” Masae growl-giggled in Japanese, slapping me on my back. Yuma kept fussing with her box of Capris, stacking it and the lighter in various ways.

“When did you start smoking?

“I know, I know – Manners says that A lit cigarette is carried at the height of a child’s face. Sometimes you just have to fuck manners.” Yuma took one last drag and then attacked the ash tray. “I thought I kicked the habit a few years ago, when my last movie wrapped, but after last week with Satomi I couldn’t stand it any more.”

“Don’t listen to her one bit.” Masae pointed her smoking hand at Yuma with a waggle. “She’s been sucking up my air for years, pretending that she doesn’t like it. She’s totally 99% Unnatural when it comes to her desires!”

I didn’t even want to get into it, since Masae was a well-known bullshitter and conversation vacuum. “I really don’t care – look cool and kill yourselves if it makes you happy. I just want to know what’s going on with Satomi.”

Yuma grimaced, and started fumbling with the lighter again. Her bright violet sweater even seemed to fade a few notches.

“You were there in the hospital. You know she hasn’t quite been herself since the attack.” Yuma gave in and lit another.

“Ever since she first met us, you could see the circles under her eyes, the ones she tried to hide with makeup.” Masae rolled up the sleeve of her gray hoodie, brushed some stray ashes off of her side of the table, into her cupped left hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sleep for an hour without being dead drunk.” Brushed the ashes again back into the ashtray.

“I know she has insomnia, but has she ever acted like that before? Trying to take off her clothes or speak jibberish in English?”

“Most English is jibberish to me. I think she knows that – during her episodes she always directs the messages to Yuma.”

Yuma started to pull at the ends of her long, straight hair. “It’s not like I can understand everything, but the important thing is that she almost always mentions Jenny, her ex-girlfriend from America.”

“I thought they had a really bad breakup… why does she keep bringing her up?” I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear for certain.

“I’m sure Jenny is fine and all, but Satomi always demonizes her, especially when she gets like that.” Masae took a deep drag. “Jenny is always spying on her, or chasing after her, or haunting what little dreams she has.”

“We’ve tried to get her to go for help, but she refuses.” Yuma looked like she just missed the last train, all frantic and helpless. “So I promised myself to look after her, especially after all of the great things she’s done for us.”

“Usually it’s fine – after a show she just stays up all night working on who knows what, or she begs us to find the nearest bar. Sometimes alternating between the two until the sun rises. Hey, I need a refill – you want anything?”

I gave Masae the waving hand no – I wasn’t thirsty. She shrugged whatever, and went back up front to the counter.

“Tokie, listen to me.” Yuma leaned in close – her unsubtle perfume finally overpowering the smoke. “I know you know things. You speak computers like we make music.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Seriously. I’ve been trying to read your blog, and I found Kaia’s, too. Those aren’t stories, are they? Something is really going on, right?”

I hesitated. Ever since I woke up to this Variant a few months ago, I’ve taken it as second nature that everything I’ve been through has been as normal as the setting sun. I never really stopped to think about what everyone else would think, especially anyone in my insular Tokyo world. But at that moment, as Yuma stared at me with eager yet sad eyes, I knew we were already past the point of no return.

“Something is really going on.” Masae returned to the table with a hot cup of black coffee. “I need the two of you to really watch Satomi. Not because she needs help, even though she does. Watch out for her – she’s a walking accident waiting to happen.”

“Tell me something new!” Masae didn’t seem to get it. Satomi was etched with dead circuits – we found that out thanks to Phone. Now it seems her antenna is slowly becoming active, but it’s not talking to the Collective. I didn’t know how to explain this to the girls.

“I’m serious. Really and truly serious. We think that something happened to Satomi while she was living in the US, but we’re not sure what.”

“You mean when she was in Berkeley, with Jenny?” Yuma instinctively reached out across the table to my hands – my face must have been screaming stress.

“We don’t know. I don’t know… but I have to find out, and soon. Is she at the office today?”

Masae looked at her phone briefly, then went back to her coffee. “Yeah, she texted me a little while ago. She wants us to bring her…. something.”

“Yeah. I don’t quite know how to say this.” Yuma had on the face of a parent about to discuss baby making for the first time. “She makes us go to otaku shops in Ikebukuro and Akihabara, and bring back statues and figures. For a few months now.”

“Lots of Figma and Nendoroid and 10,000 yen statues of moe anime characters.” Masae was clearly not enjoying her drink – she pushed it aside with a flourish. “Castoffable ones, you know – the plastic towels and bras and whatever can come off.”

“We don’t understand what she’s doing with them – she just takes our shopping bags and puts them in a closet in her office.”

I didn’t know what to think, either. I know that Satomi likes her women, but I never saw her as the introverted, fannish type that wanted to collect toys, not when she had a band and business to run. Maybe she was working on a secret art project.

“Come on, let’s go. I have to see what she’s up to.” With that, Masae left her almost full cup on the table, and Yuma grabbed her fashionable purse – so exclusive that I didn’t even know what the logo meant.

Agartha Labs was about a ten minute walk from Doutor – up the hill a bit, right past the Book Off and Shibuya Club Quattro building. Instead of some elaborate affair, Satomi’s baby barely registered on the visual scale – it was just a small office that took up the 4th floor of a typical Toyko-skinny building.

Not that Satomi cared one bit – her vision was virtual, thus there was no need for ornamentation when it came to the “mail drop”, as she put it. That said, she still completely redid the interiors when we moved in, with the sort of Silicon Valley playful chaos aesthetic that was diametrically opposed to the cramped, paper filled cubicles of most other offices.

For some reason Yuma took the narrow stairs when we made it there, so we were obliged to follow her up that way. I wasn’t averse to some physical activity, but I wasn’t at her level – she actually took two stairs at a time all the way up. I was about to ask her where the fire was, but once she swiped the door to the office open with her card, it was clear what the rush was.

Every modernist cubicle was empty, not just of employees, but their personal effects, even office equipment. Satomi had about 12 people on staff, all female, and they were nowhere to be found.

Masae and I carefully sized up the new emptiness, but Yuma rushed in past us, towards Satomi’s office. She started screaming at us to come quickly, and so of course we imagined the worst – Satomi slumped down on her desk in a pool of blood, or some other TV cliché.

Instead, we ran to the door, only to find the entire room filled with unboxed figures, carefully positioned on their included pedestals over every free part of the carpeted floor. Their empty packaging was carefully stacked up over by the windows. Satomi was in the middle of it all, putting the final touches on the installation.

“Oh, did you bring it?” Masae hesitated, and then reached into her backpack, pulling out an Animate bag. She looked like she was trying to find a route past the toys, and then resigned, tossing the bag over to Satomi.

Satomi was barefoot, dressed in the same light blue pajamas that Miranda had, the same ones that Cassandra stole. They barely fit her, since she was some inches taller than Miranda. I knew that Masae and Yuma didn’t know what the pajamas signified, but I did.

Or, at least I thought I did, until Satomi unboxed and placed her final figure, the brand new Kirino Kosaka figma that Miranda wanted so badly. Before the Fourth Event, that is.

“Where is your sister?” I asked Satomi, sternly, assuming that Helena couldn’t be far behind.

“I don’t have a sister.” Satomi suddenly stood up, facing us as we crowded the open door. “I don’t even have parents. I was never born.”

I whispered at 99% Natural to run for the front door, but they stood transfixed as Satomi slowly started to approach us, limbs randomly jerking, like something out of a J-horror film. Her short hair covered her face, leaving her grimacing mouth visible. As her toes dug into the carpet, the figures slid away by themselves to either side, allowing her to pass.

“Cassandra, she’s not yours to take!” I slowly approached her with open arms, poised for either a hug or a wrestling match.

“I was not yours to take!” Satomi’s head twitched slightly, and her face and hands started to steam, instantly covered with sweat.

“Don’t you dare burn her out!” I grabbed Satomi by the shoulders and tried to shake her awake. Since I wasn’t etched, I couldn’t stop the attack – Cassandra was stealing Satomi’s life energy long distance, one kilocalorie at a time, and I didn’t think she had more than a minute left.

“I’ll make you a deal. Satomi or Miranda – choose!” Her face was quickly starting to cave, as all remaining fat disappeared. I looked into Satomi’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but start crying. I couldn’t hold back my voice.

“Satomi, you fucking bitch! I choose Satomi!” With that, Satomi’s mouth curled into a crazy grin, and then her body slumped into my arms.

Yuma and Masae quickly rushed to us, and cried along with me, surrounded by silent, plastic figures.

Every last one was accounted for, except for Miranda’s long-wished for Oreimo favorite. It was lying in a pool of melted plastic at the center of the room.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home