Ariel is pacing back and forth, in front of Joey’s storage locker.
Her footsteps are currently filled with graffiti tags in bright neon colors; a few moments ago they were a complicated floral design made out of gold and platinum foil.
A fine mist is enveloping her head, all the better to generate a circular rainbow that she’s wearing like a halo.
“Aren’t you worried about those marks? I’m totally freaking out about those marks!”
She tugs at the sides of her skirt, which is made of a transparent, cellulose-based aerogel. I know the details because she keeps on spamming the Collective with our version of Tweets, every time she changes her socks to PET chain mail, or adjusts the flavor of her gum with every bite.
The marks she mentioned are all around the orange door of the storage unit. They’re WOF marks that only we can see, and they’re filled with danger in all languages and iconic systems.
“Joey’s just playing around – he doesn’t want anyone but us to enter.” Kaia is trying to rationalize the aura of menace away, but Ariel’s not having it.
“It just doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t look right. Even that shabby padlock makes me want to run right out of here, and fast.”
“Can you turn that off already?” Susanna, who has been complaining about Ariel’s choice of music all morning. Currently she’s broadcasting KALX radio, from U.C. Berkeley, using her exposed, vibrating arm-skin as a huge speaker.
“Fuck it! I’m going in fingers blazing.” She wasn’t kidding – her pointer fingers were currently glowing black and flaming like huge wooden matches.
“Don’t disintegrate anything, OK?” Me. I’ve resigned to just letting her have her way, in the hope that tolerance of her absolute powers over the material world will satiate her enough not to turn into another Chosen Light.
Ariel approaches the silver padlock with blue plastic trim, and pops it open with a finger snap.
I’m live-blogging this because even I don’t know what we’re going to find. Asherah – Sarah – insinuated that this was the most direct way to find Emily, who had been missing since Tokie and the Massive Cloud Burst wished her away to somewhere in the Universe. Sarah desperately wants that body back – I don’t think she actually considers Emily a person, and I’m the last one to judge at this point.
The orange door rolls up as Ariel’s fingers waggle like an air pianist. Susanna has taken a defensive position on the left, but it doesn’t seem to have been necessary. The unit is absolutely empty, except for a cardboard box from Amazon.com, taped shut, about the size of a plastic milk crate.
Ariel is yelling over the ether for us not to enter. She’s chewing Watermelon gum right now, by the way. Now it’s Cola.
“I don’t know how to describe it. The empty space in the locker isn’t actually space.” Pineapple-Orange. “There’s more stuff in there than I can process right now – it’s like the space between the atoms and quarks is taken up by all sorts of weird shit. Hold on…”
The cardboard box suddenly slides over past the door and onto the cement hallway.
“Apparently telekinesis is allowed. I’m going to try a quick transmutation…”
Now the cardboard is a crystal-clear plastic. There’s a bunch of crumpled newspapers inside, from a few years ago.
“Dear, just open it up already. I know how you hate boxes, but come on.”
Ariel really hates boxes. When she was a toddler she got stuck in one, and mentally glued all sides shut without meaning too. Eventually she punched her way out, sobbing, as the cardboard caught aflame.
“I’ll do it. Going down with the ship and all that.” I walked a few steps over to the box, and used my candy apple red fingernails to pry off the tape.
Digging inside. Something hard and metal is down there inside the newspapers. Hard, and warm.
“No no don’t no fuck!” Ariel is suddenly on the floor, screaming out loud like an air raid siren. Exactly like a siren – now her mouth is a speaker.
Susanna is on the floor, too. Her head is covered with black flames.
Kaia is shaking uncontrollably, as she rubs the back of Ariel’s shirt – it’s stuck mid-transformation between a red and blue plaid button-down, and an ironic cotton T-Shirt with kittens all over it.
I can’t help myself. I’m bringing up a mass of silver metal out of the box. No, a Titanium alloy. It’s the torso of a PRS.
I’m suddenly sweaty all over. Salty drops are leaving wet hand prints as I pry open the chest despite myself.
“The Seventh World is still born – fuck!” Ariel is now speaking in actual words, but they sound artificial, like a phone that answers your questions.
I’m too focused to multitask. Somehow I’m vomiting blood into the replication cylinder, like I was speaking into the cone of an old-timey crank phone.
I don’t like this at all. Skin and bone is growing out of the sides of the metal torso, like modeling clay out of a plastic meat grinder, all sticky tentacles.
I think the vomiting has stopped – all that’s left in my mouth is a thick mass of sour spit. I drop the pile of flesh and blood to tend to my bloody face and arms. A few drops of red are on the top of my satchel, but I wipe them off before they stain too much.
Can a PRS be organic? What or who is flopping around on the floor, all naked and smelly and incomplete?
“We’re….losing.” Is that what she said, the freaky girlbot curled up in front of the storage unit?
Her face has finally formed, framed by long artificial hair that’s constantly changing color.
“Oh Goddess, it’s Cassie!” Susanna crawls over to the steaming figure, as I just stand dumstruck.
Kaia has her flaming sword raised overhead, ready to strike. “How do we know it’s not Helena? How do we know it’s not anyone?”
“I’m not my sister.” Whispering through a fast food speaker. “I’m not anyone.”
I called Kaia off, and helped steady Cassie to her feet. Why am I doing this? Can those flesh-covered metal toes even be called feet?
“Miranda…. Ariel…. come here.” She’s resting her palms on my bloody shirt, the red and white football jersey from Munich. I wasn’t wearing this shirt a few moments ago – did Ariel put it on me?
Ariel is weeping. As she walks over to us, her aerogel skirt and half-kitten shirt are floating off of her in pieces like a cross-sectional CAD drawing. Her entire body is a boiling, black sunspot.
Kaia swings her sword at Cassie, but it just penetrates through her shoulder into the torso, and Kaia screams in pain. She lets go, and the blade dissolves as the dark flames burn across Cassie in concentric circles.
I can barely even think this. Ariel has her hands locked around Cassie’s fiber optic wig, and is screaming black tendrils that are being swallowed greedily by the artificial figure.
Ariel has collapsed, still coughing up sticky black smoke. Less than a minute has passed since I opened the box.
“I’m sorry about that. I needed your blood to establish the connection. Direct access to The Black through Ariel finalized the transition between worlds. I don’t have much time before they find this rift, and close it forever.”
Cassie is wearing fuzzy blue pajamas now. I can feel her saturating the Collective network of networks.
“It’s imperative that you find find Emily, so I’m here to help. That bottle baby seed in the box has been waiting to be accessed for years, ever since Joey dug it out of a granite quarry. It called to him across time and space. It hid in his one blind spot. I’m afraid it contained an additional payload that infected him, and tried to destroy everything.”
“I don’t understand this at all.” I really didn’t. “You have to start from the beginning.”
“The beginning relies on the end, and the end is stuck in the Massive Cloud Burst, in the Clubhouse. The cascading sevens are favoring Jenny’s attempt to overthrow Sarah. Seven chakras, wheels, events, powers, worlds….”
Cassie doesn’t look right. Black bubbles, like huge pimples, are starting to cover her hands and face.
“Aurora and I are watching Jenny poke through the containment field. We’ve been watching forever, waiting for Brother Douglas. Make sure you pick the right Hinata! Meet Emily at the Point Richmond BART station, and then wait for Aurora at the first place you met.”
Her skin is now a sickly grey, and starting to flake off.
“BART over the Golden Gate Bridge to Montgomery. You have to follow the trail to Ereshkigal. Seven gates to the Underworld, past the Moon. Joey is trapped on the throne by his other two sides. I’m so sorry….”
I can see the silver metal at her fingertips, as her borrowed skin drops to the floor in clumps of ashes. All that’s left is a shiny PRS skeleton sticking through the arms and legs of the pajamas.
“Fucking hate boxes!” Ariel reflexively generates little metal-loving cartoon squirrels that tear the head, legs and arms off of PRS, consuming them like buzzsaws but leaving the torso behind.
I don’t know what to think, and we haven’t even gone into Joey’s locker yet.
Point Richmond BART station? The line ends at Richmond, has since 1972. How can we meet Emily at a place that’s not even on the map?