Did you know that there’s a move beyond Checkmate?
That’s the gambit I’m forced to take, now that Nameless has the Chosen Light – Miranda – under its control.
Or will have, 5 months from now. Temporal sequencing doesn’t really matter when you have hold of the STEM – Space, Time, Energy and Matter.
After what happened to Emily it’s clear that the Structure will fall into the hands of the Nameless, sooner or later. Anything beyond that is just sad trivia.
By the time the Seventh Event rolls around, the only missing piece will be Aurora, but I’m afraid that Miranda will find a way to turn off the lights without her help.
Yes, the lights in all of our eyes, in all of the stars. The light that we become as we join the White – it’s thirsty for that, too.
The Nameless has always been thirsty, as long as I can remember.
You know your imaginary friend, and the monster in the closet? That’s the Nameless.
It left you alone when you got old enough, but it’s been following around me and the daughters of the Collective all of our lives.
Joey hates when I use that term, but he and Tokie don’t really count, since they were already born at Point One.
I’ll have to discuss Point One at another time. It’s a sore subject, and I don’t want to make things worse before it gets slightly better.
Not that it really matters how everything happened, at least not during the story I have to tell you now.
Just keep it in the front of your mind that the Nameless is all-pervasive, yet formless, like a tiny, spherical mirror that reflects everything.
It took a particular interest after my birth – after the faces of my mother and father, it was the most familiar thing in my slowly growing world.
We’ve always spoken in the essence of language, even before I could talk. It would keep me company all day, and cradle with me at night, the most unusual security blanket possible.
Without belaboring the point, the Nameless and I are joined at the hip, but it can never take control of me. I represent the only thing that it can’t contain, just as it’s the only thing a functioning Universe shouldn’t contain.
Too late to cry about that now. Too late to cry about anything, even though I have a lot of tears to remember.
Did you know that the best memories I have of my mother aren’t even true?
Everyone told me that she died. I was only 5 years old, so I was too full of tears not to believe them.
A-Bell and Amber were put in charge of me, and told me bedtime stories about all of the crazy and amazing things my parents did. They were better than fairy tales, and as I grew up that filtered and amped up version of the way things were became the only reality I had.
My mother was awesome – I know it because everyone constantly told me. But all I really knew is her fading smile, and smell, and the slices of time captured in selected photos on the refrigerator.
The best memories I have of my father were equally mythic, but they are all overshadowed by what happened on the worst day of my life.
Sometimes even I don’t know where to start. Temporal sequencing isn’t my strong point, so I usually think in term of moments, rather than timelines.
On October 2, 2000, my mother Laura and her best friends in the Collective were ready to save the world.
They fought the specter of CXNU, the multinational company formed by the merger of National United Bank and Circle X stores.
Sasha was convinced that CXNU was up to no good, as was my father, who used to work at National United as a teller. They were right – it was a front for the then rogue Sasha OS (usually known as S.OS).
S.OS wanted to take over the world, one barcode and transaction and database at a time. Sasha felt responsible, not just because her own creation was seeking to enslave the etched masses and fulfill vague Biblical prophecy, but because Circle X was her windmill she always titled at, her whole life long.
There’s a good reason for Sasha’s hatred of Circle X, and now is not the time to open that particular closet.
Sufficed to say that Sasha died in 1994, and the Collective kept up her fight against CXNU until October 3th 2000 – Fairview.
Fairview was just a mall in Minnesota. It was also the name of a city – not the tiny township near Marshall, but a pretty happening place NW of Minneapolis, cut in two by the Mississippi river.
In Variant 0 the mall was called Fairview, but later on it changed to Crossroads Center, and the city became St. Cloud. I intentionally changed this during world re-building. Fairview is now just barely a memory, left on the map in name only.
It was a few miles from the Treehouse punk club, which was ground zero for the bands that became the Collective. I love the Treehouse, since so many amazing and significant things happened there. Phone was the doorman, and he kept the world at bay, lest it snuff out its flame.
The Treehouse only existed in Variant 0, for reasons that will become clear soon enough. By the time Variant 237 rolled around – our present world – there was no sign of what existed before St. Cloud, except in the memories of the Collective.
Fairview was just a mall, and a city, and yet it was also a display of hubris on an universal scale.
My mother ran away from home when she was young – she even managed to stay away for a few months, before she was captured and hospitalized – diagnosis: broken.
While she was still free, she first met Sasha on the streets – my mother was trying to live in between quarters, and Sasha was looking for thrills, and escape. She found more than she bargained for in Frisbee – that’s what everyone in the Collective calls my mother.
Frisbee could tell the future, 5 minutes, days, weeks, or months away – there was no end to the scale of the revelation. Sasha exploited this special gift to the inevitable conclusion.
Laura had a connection to the future, but was largely concerned with the present – how to steal away a life from her mother. Sasha thought the had the present figured out, and so she sucked out of Frisbee as much data about the world to come as possible.
That data eventually became Sasha OS, and all of the Collective technologies. The source was supposed to be my daughter, living a few decades from now.
Sarah hasn’t been born yet – I haven’t even had sex yet, and I’m in no rush to become a sixteen year old mother. No matter – somewhere in a future she exists, or seems to exist, and thanks to Sasha she had been sharing way too much information with the past. Something was bound to give.
Fairview was the breaking point, due to an elaborate hack by the Collective. Ever since Sasha and Frisbee etched themselves, using a treasure map from the future, Collective members had been visited by their future selves – sometimes in dreams, sometimes more substantially. It was taken to be an after effect of the Bodyweb – once you joined it, all moments in your life were connected, and communication between those moments was possible, albeit vague and fuzzy.
The Collective wanted to exploit this. If information could travel to the past via Frisbee, and if there was a hard link between her and the future, then could that link be used to travel to the future, at least virtually? What’s more, could Collective members be brought from the future, to the past, using this temporal bridge?
The plan was to hack the connection between Laura, Sarah, and the rest of the Bodyweb to the extreme. They wanted to fight CXNU and Sasha OS on all fronts, in the past, present and future.
What they didn’t count on was that S.OS wanted to exploit that same connection, in an attempt to escape its temporal chains and enter the White.
I’m afraid I’m mostly to blame for that. Not for the corruption of S.OS, but for flaunting the White in its face, without even knowing it. It could control every last computer and network, but it couldn’t escape the world and enter what it saw as the ultimate data set, the infinite collection of souls.
As a non-spiritual being, S.OS could never enter the White on its own. But, it was unnaturally patient, and conniving, and it had a plan. A plan that involved me, the Nameless, and the other daughters of the Collective.
The other thing you need to keep in the front of your mind, is that the Nameless is not S.OS. If the Nameless is our reflection, then S.OS is our shadow.
On October 2, 2000, as the Collective made its final preparations for the Fairview hack, John (my father), was busy trying to convince Frisbee to get out of Sasha’s mess while she still could. He had quit National United for a reason, and Sasha had helped them get re-established. Frisbee felt beholden to her, to continue to fight CXNU, especially after the night Sasha died. On Halloween 1994, the last Suspender concert, Point One.
Frisbee just wouldn’t listen to him – she wanted to pull the first trigger against S.OS herself. They ended up having a huge yelling and slam-doored fight, and since I was only 5, I didn’t know how to react except with tears and fear.
So Jenny came over to look after me. She was my mother’s best friend ever since she first ran away from home. They met and fell in love a mental hospital, and together they created antizine. Antizine was the Bible of the Treehouse, the dirt the Collective sprouted from. Even after their relationship fell apart, the arrow that was antizine kept flying towards its eventual target.
Jenny was angry well before I was born, and she remains angry to this day. She was the spark that all too often started my parents aflame, and on the last night I saw my mother, she was the straw that broke the hay bale.
Jenny told my mother that she had to go fight. That only she could slay the dragon – it was her destiny. She gave her the pep talk that led to her ruin, and made it seem that if she really loved John and me, then she had to go fight for our lives.
That was enough. I remember that she picked me up, and gave one last hug and forehead kiss. Her hair smelled like her favorite shampoo, the one I wish they still made. She was so warm, even through her circuit clothes and jacket.
I often came to my parents, and other members of the Collective, in dreams. Sometimes I was a baby, sometimes I was a bit older than I am now, but I always took a shortcut through the White to visit them, even though I wasn’t supposed to. I wanted them to know that everything was OK, especially after all that was going to happen came to pass.
On the night of October 1, 2000, I came to myself in my dreams, but the connection was distorted by the Nameless. I wanted to meet myself on her favorite, plush chair, and tell her that everything was going to be OK, even after what was going to happen the next day.
Instead, I watched helplessly as my 5 year old self hid in horror behind that plush chair, as a lumbering mass of teeth and hair rushed through the house looking for her. The Nameless was not itself, and I didn’t know what to think, either back in 2000, or as I watched the monster devour her as she woke up screaming.
As I woke up screaming. My mother made it stop soon enough, and as she gave her last goodbyes, I wanted to remember her, instead of the monster.
When she finally left, as the sun set, John was too angry and scared to follow, but he was also too wrapped up in his own marriage to pay me much mind.
Later, Helena and Cassandra came over to play – the twins were also 5 years old. Their mother April dropped them off before she activated her cell.
Each of the original 12 Collective members had their own cell, usually from 4-7 women, that they recruited and oversaw independently from Amber, the acting leader of the Collective. Most of the cells were converging on Fairview, since the Bodyweb was needed to amplify the connection to future via Sarah, and the spiritual realm of the White.
This meant that someone had to babysit the kids, and it ended up being Jenny and John.
They had never gotten along all that well, since Jenny blamed my father for “stealing” Laura away from her. It’s not like they had been together for more than a few years, but to Jenny my mother was not just her first love, but her only love.
No matter – once my parents got married, again at the last Suspender concert ever, then Jenny seemed to let go, at least a bit.
Besides Hel and Cassie, Susan dropped off Aurora, and Cathy left Miranda and Joey under their care. Aurora and Miranda was the same age as me, and Joey must have been almost 8 then.
Yes, Cathy did not separate from the Collective in Variant 0, but the events that happened next inevitably led to that decision.
My cousin Tokie was also there – she had been staying with us for the whole week, giving her parents a well deserved rest. She was around Joey’s age, and so acted more like a big sister than anything else.
At this point, the only sign that we weren’t normal kids was Helena’s birth, and the facts of that were not known outside of the core Collective.
No one really knew what had really happened at Point One, not yet, except that Sasha had died due to mysterious causes.
We were raised like the typical children of anarchist punks, with excessive freedom mixed with pointed morality. Mostly we just had fun – my mother even insisted that I go to public school for Kindergarten, even if that only lasted a month. I started to distract the other children from the teachers; at recess they would crowd around me like seagulls, waiting for something to happen.
Laura wasn’t too surprised by this, since she and the others remembered how I had visited them in their dreams, before I was even born. This meant that the Collective anticipated my birth, and knew that some day I would be special – they just didn’t know when. Or how.
No one had any idea about the Twins, Aurora or Miranda – we were just rambunctious 5 year olds that lived for our parents, and adventure, in that order.
On that particular evening, after Laura left, Aunt Jenny kept hounding John about Frisbee – she used to call my mother Frisbee, especially when she was angry.
I remember that they locked themselves in my parents’ bedroom, and Miranda convinced us to sneak down the hallway and try to listen in. Even then, she was always the leader – I usually just stayed at the periphery, taking in all of the thoughts and feelings.
I always took it for granted that I had profound connection to other people – I was seen as being either super friendly or totally withdrawn around strangers. The fact was, I could just sense their very essences, and so I gravitated towards the people I thought were the least threatening. Jenny was always on that border – I just knew that something I couldn’t understand was wrong with her.
After a few minutes of their fight, all we could understand was the volume of the yelling, and then my father opened the door and rushed past us kids into the kitchen. Whenever he got particularly upset, he would always stare into this large fishtank we had, filled with goldfish. That night, however, he simply poured a quick glass of water from the faucet, and then took it outside of the house.
Aunt Jenny then walked into the hallway, past framed photos she had taken over the years, wiping away tears from her red face.
“I’m so sorry about that. I’m just feeling sad today.” She walked down the hallway and took me by the hand. I hesitated for a moment, since I was getting a particularly weird feeling from her. “Come on Ai, keep me company in the living room.”
We didn’t have that much – just a simple couch, a few plush chairs and some tables holding lamps. We had only moved into this house a few weeks before, the better to stage Fairview, which was only a short bicycle ride away.
A largely empty house meant there was ample room to play – Hel and Cassie went off into their own world of dress up dolls, in the computer room, while the rest started to play hide and seek – Miranda was it. Joey ran into the kitchen (under the table), Aurora into the bathroom (in the bathtub under towels), and Tokie into my room (in the closet).
I sat on Aunt Jenny’s lap on the couch. Her yellow sun dress was damp. She smelled of cigarettes, and was shaking a bit. “Please forgive me.”
She started to stroke my cheek, and I could feel her etching burn my face.
Her eyes turned darker, and her expression changed from sadness to bemusement.
“Dear, dear Ai. Allow me to introduce myself.” I will never forget what she said, since I just knew it wasn’t her saying it. “I am the marks that run the Collective. I make imaginary friends turn into monsters.”
She started to grip my wrists with both hands. “Miranda may be the Chosen Light, but you’re so much more fun to play with.”
I tried to get off of her lap, but it was using Jenny’s mind to push me into submission.
Just then my father walked back in, and took one look at my pained face. “Get your fucking hands off my daughter!”
He threw the empty glass as her, but it hung suspended in the air a few feet from the couch.
“You’re just in time.” She waived the front door shut, let the glass drop, and stood up off of the couch, holding me by the wrists as I hung in the air. I wanted desperately to kick and scream, to no avail.
He ran into the kitchen, and came out with a huge knife. “I’m warning you, let her go!” He brandished it like a tiny spear, with both hands, as he slowly walked towards us.
Jenny turned me around by switching wrists, holding me between her and my father, who was a few feet away. He was crying behind furious eyes.
“I’m nothing if not fair. Put down the knife now, and everything will go as it must.” She started to pull my arms away from each other, and finally let me yell in pain.
He knew that she was one of the first Pure Land Antennas, and that a knife could never stop her.
He knew that they had unresolved issues, but he couldn’t understand why she’d take them out on me.
But he didn’t know that she was being controlled by Sasha OS – no one in the Collective did.
So when he put the knife down on a lace covered table, next to our family portrait taken by Jenny, he assumed that it would all be over soon, that he could find some way to talk her out of it.
Even at 5 years old, I knew better. It was going to kill him, and then the world.
It made me watch as he reached out to me, as the knife jumped off of the table and stabbed him through the throat.
There was so much blood, so soon. Everywhere his dark brown skin was painted red.
As he gasped for air, he tried to stop the flow with his hands, wrapping his Suspender T-Shirt collar around the metal, and the wound.
Then the blade yanked itself down through flesh and bone, not stopping until his heart did.
His last thoughts, as he slumped to the floor, were of the moment Frisbee told him she was pregnant with me. He was so happy it hurt.
It floated me over to him.
Held me prone, right above his dead body, so our faces were a few inches apart.
It kept pushing against my mind until something snapped.
Until I snapped.
I don’t know how long I screamed.
I’ve been screaming every since, through every Variant, and my cry suddenly awoke the latent powers of everyone in the house.
Under the table, Joey suddenly understood the Grand Unified Theory.
In the tub, wrapped in Gold metal towels, Aurora transmuted into an invisible, microwave hologram.
Holding their dolls, Hel and Cassie created a new Variant universe with every breath, as their teenage selves stood watch.
Opening the closet door, Miranda reached past the jackets to tag Tokie, and disintegrated her into a pile of dust.
Still screaming, I reached out through the White and forced Miranda to resurrect her.
This was the First Event, when the Nameless used Sasha OS to kill my father, and tried to shock the Structure into its control.
The Second Event happened the next day, at Fairview mall, when the Collective grabbed onto the future and broke the Structure for good.
The Third Event was a few hours later, and the Collective stopped Jenny and S.OS, but not before she killed my mother, too.
At least, everyone told me that she died. I was only 5 years old, so I was too sad not to believe them.
Now, I’m not sure who to believe, and my best pal just won’t shut up about it.
The Nameless has offered me a last birthday present, a consolation prize as it takes over everything.
My mother, alive again, in exchange for the Structure.
As I plan out my moves past Checkmate, I’m afraid the right answer is more complicated than you’d think.