A Few Minutes To Breathe

I have to take a few minutes to breathe.

The florescent lights in the hallway of the storage center blew out all at once when “Cassie” arrived, so we just shifted our vision to infrared to pierce through the darkness.

I have doubts that our pushy visitor was Cassie because of what happened months ago in Shibuya, when Aurora was resurrected at the Agartha Labs office.

Then, when Satomi was possessed, she said to Tokie: “I don’t have a sister. I don’t even have parents. I was never born.”

Just now, the possessed PRS said: “I’m not my sister. I’m not anyone.”

Both times, “Cassie” was wearing Miranda’s blue pajamas. I’m having Sarah OS run through the possibilities, looking for the most likely explanations of the similarities. Things are too important now to fuck things up by rushing ahead unprepared.

“Everything’s so fucking heavy today.” Ariel still can’t stand up without Kaia’s assistance. The rainbow halo has turned into a fuzzy black and white panda hat, with stitched on “X”es for eyes and big blood drop of red felt on the side.

“Ariel, can you fetch me the PRS unit that I left in Doug’s closet?” My scalp is itching – I still haven’t got used to losing all of the curls. Maybe I should grow them back when all of this is over.

She grunts in my direction, and the plastic PRS pops in and walks over to me. I project into it, and make sure all of the firewalls are updated.

When I touched the Titanium PRS torso in the cardboard box, it temporarily infected our Collective node. As per the original designs, all PRS units have universal keys and weapons-grade intrusion abilities. We never expected them to be turned against us; the only reason I think we’re still standing is that it expected to find the older S.OS, and so the most important exploits failed.

The Universal Powers, like Ariel’s control over Matter, require a human host. “Cassie” used a layer of skin to fake enough humanity that she could commune with The Black and give it a backdoor into Ariel. Kaia was also involved, so that some spiritual energy could be “downloaded” into the fleshy PRS.

Sarah OS has just concluded that our recent visitor was actually Cassandra after all, but one not from this world. Odds are very high that it was the same version of Cassandra that has been appearing in the blue pajamas ever since the Fourth Event. Sarah OS is still working on interpreting her weird speech about non-existent BART stations and “cascading sevens”.

Right now I’m using the PRS we got from Nick Junk Magnet to carefully pick up the Titanium PRS torso. Sarah OS assures me that it’s safe to handle by inhuman hands, but that it will immediately respond to any Pure Land Antenna that touches it.

“Ariel, please enclose this PRS in whatever substance will ensure that it’s well insulated and effectively inert.”

This time she just whimpers, and the dead panda hat turns into a pair of fist sized, pink, fuzzy dice that she’s wearing on top of her head like a bow. A weird, shimmering pink alloy that looks like plastic, metal and ceramic at the same time envelops the PRS torso. Ariel even attaches cute, puffy backpack straps with My Little Ponies on them, so the remaining PRS can wear it on its back.

“My scan of the storage unit is complete.” Susanna keeps fussing with her black, old-timey dress, the same kind she usually wears. “Well, as much as I could manage to do – it’s opaque to every known Collective technology.” The circuit cloth is starting to wear out at her waist, from excessively powerful fussy-fingers.

Something is wrong. I’m staring to sound more and more like my Mom as I liveblog this. Is Jenny taking over the authorship role, like Sarah warned about?

“You need a probe. Let me probe the fuck out of that shit.” Ariel leans on Kaia with her left arm, while using her right to throw innumerable objects at the mouth of the storage unit. Some are little remote control helicopters or floating silver marbles, and they immediately disappear into nothingness. She also throws the fuzzy dice from her head.

Then she pushes Kaia aside, and floats a few feet over to the opening. It looks just like an empty box from here, about 8 by 10 feet.

A long, dark cylinder appears in Ariel’s arms, like a pool cue, and she sticks half of it into the storage unit. That half disappears, and she wiggles the remaining half around like she’s stirring invisible hot chocolate.

“Like I said before. There’s a huge amount of stuff there, like a mini-Universe or something.” Ariel grins for a moment, and then winces like she just stepped in something unfortunate. “I can still feel that the whole end of this rod still exists, and the readings I’m getting are extremely similar to Berkeley here. But it’s not our Berkeley. It’s not a normal variant, either. It’s something else.”

Susanna suddenly rips a hole in the right side of her dress with her fingers, and rushes into the storage unit with a flaming bald head and clenched fists burning black. Gone.

Shit. Was she somehow still infected by Cassie?

I adjust my satchel at my right waist. “She’s forced our hand. Prepare to enter the unit on my mark.”

“You need to reconsider this. Ariel’s still not back to 100%, and we don’t even know where we’re going.” Kaia glares at me, and suddenly she really is the spitting image of Cathy.

I don’t like where this is going, but I’m going anyway.

I move the PRS with its huge pink backpack through the invisible portal, and then give Kaia and Ariel the signal. Ariel floats the two of them into the hidden space. Somehow, the back of her hairdo is giving me the finger.

I’m all alone now. I can’t feel anyone. I don’t know if I’m supposed to like or hate the sudden silence.

A few more seconds to breathe in the darkness – the air tastes like lightning.

I walk with firm steps into the unkno….

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Are Boxes Made To Be Opened, Or Closed?

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?

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This Final Darkness

Sarah is fussing over the apples at Berkeley Bowl.

It’s just before 7PM and I’m bored out of my mind, debating the merits of Fuji vs. Pink Lady vs. Braeburn. So I’m “liveblogging” this entry as we shop.

Like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t eaten more than a few bites since I was etched. Sarah, on the other hand, is food obsessed, and she drags me here each and every day – she seems intent on sampling almost one of every single item, making up for the lost millennia.

A few days ago, I couldn’t get her to leave the produce section – we were there for over an hour, as she touched and smelled one of everything. I didn’t think it was possible to fill up a metal shopping cart to the brim, just with various types of apples, but that seems to be on the agenda for tonight. Some of the ultra-cool-hip staff are staring at us.

It’s hard not to look at her and just see Emily. I still don’t know if Emily ever really existed, except as a vessel to eventually hold Sarah down to Earth. Sarah hasn’t been forthcoming about the whole thing, and she definitely won’t discuss what was happening between “Emily” and Joey earlier this year. Was she actually having an affair with her hypothetical father? That sounds like something a Semitic God would do, but still…. I just don’t want to think about it.

7:10. She just filled a plastic bag with organic baby spinach, and daintily placed it on top of a mound of Granny Smith. I’m pushing the cart around like it’s the only way to reach my zen satori, but clearly my heart isn’t in it – besides this liveblog, I have about 34 other sites and accounts open – #30thingsaboutme hashtag on Twitter is the lamest thing possible, but I can’t stop reading it.

7:12. Sarah dismissed the seafood, meat and dairy wall with a huge swoosh of her arms. “The more things you eat, that eat other things, the more annoyed I get. Eating is so very much not the point, but try to tell that to El, or whatever he’s compelling worshippers to call him these days. Burnt offerings my ass, he’s always been so obsessed with blood.” More than a few people are staring at us now. Sarah’s mood has officially turned her face into a bemused scowl. She’s putting on a show for me, but seems to be a bit too involved tonight.

7:13. We passed by the cereal aisle, but not before she ran down it and came back bearing 2 bags of bagels that were on sale – 6 of Everything, 6 of Whole Wheat.

7:15. Walking down the frozen aisle, and she’s stage whispering. “I just can’t believe it – spare ribs made from vegetation! Who the fuck…?” She picks up some vegan burgers and throws the red box at me. I decide to turn the cart around before she sees Weight Watchers meals, and she followed the apples like a puppy.

7:17. Yeah, I get the whole apple thing, even though the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was of unspecified type. “Tell your audience that it totally didn’t happen like that. Give them an on site report when you visit the ‘Garden’.” She used her whole arms to air quote, holding them up like someone just scored a field goal. I’ve just received an official certificate of embarrassment via email.

7:20. Sarah is staring down the alcohol aisle. She’s not saying anything. I’m tempted to just go over and fondle the cheeses, but then she turns around and walks right up to me. She’s holding onto the cart from the action end. “This is our last moment together, OK? Jenny has found a way to write me out of the story for good. Not that I can blame her – we come from a long line of jealous Gods.” She walks around the cart on the refrigerator side, and puts her warm hands against my cheeks, like you would a cute baby.

7:22. “And now the prophet undoing his prophetess has brought me to this final darkness.” I think she’s quoting something, and while I stare into her soft and silent eyes, she continues in tears. “I will go in and have the courage to die. Look, these gates are the gates of Death. I greet them, and pray that I may meet a deft and mortal stroke, so that I may close my eyes as my blood ebbs in an easy death.” It’s Cassandra from the Greek classic, Agamemnon. As soon as I understand what she’s telling me, the Berkeley Bowl folds violently towards and away from me, like an earthquake that only exists in my head.

7:23. Sarah is gone. Emily is gone. The cart is empty, save for the bagels, veggie burgers and baby spinach. I leave the cart in the aisle, and bring the meal she left for me to the first of 15 busy checkout counters – 12 items or less.

7:24. It’s crowded tonight. More than enough people to watch me cry.

7:25. I give her a $20 and just walk away, not even waiting for the change. Someone is running after me with it, and I throw a bag of bagels at them as I sprint through the rain-kissed parking lot.

7:27. Trees. Cars. The sky is half filled with grey, wet clouds, left over from last night’s storms. I jog past the bus stop shelter, the tall apartment building, some charming yet ugly houses and a small public library. There’s a park with a baseball field and basketball courts, illuminated by extremely tall lights, protected by a huge cyclone fence.

7:29. I just want to get back to Doug’s apartment, to drown in my sorrows with Susanna and Ariel. It’s weird, we just walked down this street an hour ago, but running the other way everything seems different, changed.

7:30. Don’t have the keys, so I’m pounding on the door. There’s a light on inside past the blue curtains, but I can’t make out who’s in the living room.

7:31. I drop the other bag of bagels, and they roll off the walkway and fall a dozen feet to the parking area. “I’ve been expecting you. Come on in.”

There’s a man at the door, with greying curly hair and a short beard. He’s wearing a dingy baby blue T-Shirt, and dark grey sweatpants. The apartment is furnished, and cluttered, and a huge stack of magazines sits on the Ikea table, along with a lamp iMac G4. There’s another tall magazine rack off in the corner, next to a bike that’s identical to the one that Sarah was borrowing earlier.

This is Doug’s apartment, but it isn’t.

This isn’t the same world I was in yesterday.

“I’ve been following your blog. We need to have a conversation, you and I.”

He reaches out his hand to welcome me. It’s cold and plastic beyond the hologram.

“I’m Brother Nicholas. Junk Magnet. Friend of Die Database and Antizine, and here to smuggle you into the Structure.”

I’m walking in.

The door is closing.

He gives me a warm smile while I’m deciding if it’s too late to flee.

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Static Speaking

Absence makes my heart want to throw up.

Ever since I was born, I was always connected to everyone else. I naturally swam in their emotions, no matter how long distant or unrelated to me. Make-up sex or murder, the tapestry of human striving and suffering was a fuzzy blanket that kept me warm, and safe.

Ever since I was reborn, that connection has been ripped away, and Sarah’s new Bodyweb can’t replace those primal vibrations, a sky full of thoughts and feelings.

It’s all gone, and my spirit doesn’t know how to compensate.

I was automatically loved by default, by forces of nature. Now no one knows how important I was supposed to be – that world ended as the New Year began.

I’m covered with scrapes and dents after today’s combat. Sarah is trying to make me feel better, but being around her absolute completeness is like trying to dry your hair by flying millions of miles to the Sun.

She’s telling me rainy day stories with flowing water, and the significance of every moon in the Solar System. She’s trying to rub my stubbly head but it feels like every tiny hair is a supernova. She has to tone it down.

“I’m sure the Golden Sphere will visit you soon. You’ll see.”

I’ve been running blindfolded through the Redwoods in the Oakland Hills – it took a few hours for her to bicycle up there, and I was forced to jog behind on the pavement. It was chilly, and dismal, and she would constantly attack me until I properly defended myself.

“You have to fight – the baby isn’t going to ask for your permission to be delivered.” She was wearing a random blue T-Shirt and some grey sweatpants we found last night on the curb, in a Berkeley Bowl paper bag.

She broke my arm before a lunch break without food, and made me set it back only with internal muscle movement.

“Everyone gets their own flaming sword – most are tiny, but some are huge enough to destroy everything. I’m a big fan of insurrection, especially after the gravity of history hit.”

Sarah, or should I say Asherah, still doesn’t forgive the priests who kicked her out of the temple, who cut down her groves and destroyed almost all memories of the all-present Goddess. She calls the Collective “The Hammer of the Churches”, and she’s going to beat my weapon out of me if it’s the last thing she does.

I don’t want to have a sword, or a spear, or anything designed to burst the bubbles around everything. I don’t want to be an empty girl driven by the Moon to knock Jenny off her throne.

Speaking of which, after we left the apartment today, I could swear I saw Jenny a few blocks away, getting on the bus.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah rubbed against my hand, but I pushed her away. Before I could take off after her, or run away in the other direction, the 49 bus was already headed up Ashby Ave.

It could have been her, or maybe just a PRS. It wasn’t 12 year old Jenny – she was clearly in her Twenties.

“It’s already started.” Sarah read my mind despite herself. “Jenny is starting to re-author the world, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s recycling through old Antizine stores because that’s all she knows. We’re living through a remix of Annabelle’s story now.”

I have to admit that I noticed it – the haircut and hand-etching and training… even my memories of the past years are reverberating with Jenny’s golden pen, as she writes herself out of the Collective straight jacket.

“The changes are going to cascade in all directions, until we approach the Infinite Present in a few weeks.”

The Infinite Present is when nostalgia for the future hits, when there is so much novelty and exponential change that the collective consciousness collapses in the bliss of temporal heat death. The Grand Supreme is just as involved as Jenny, but they’re both just reflections of the full-to-bursting S.OS.

“Just try to ignore it.” She smiled as she took off up Adeline St, barely waiting for me to run after her. “Live in the moment, even if it’s not yours!”

So I’m couch-surfing on Jenny’s new life for us all, lazily watching as the world I thought I knew slips away.

“Susanna will be here tomorrow. Before she left Tokyo, she noticed that all of the Circle X stores were gone. Like they were never there in the first place.”

I don’t even know how to recognize a bad sign any more. The best I can do is curse at Sarah as she puts me in a headlock. Again.

A few hours ago, as Sarah was touching up some of the etching she had scratched off my face, she turned to me and smiled. “I guess you’re ready.” She pointed at the ceiling, tapped her fingers against her palm a few times, and Sasha appeared in the middle of the room, sitting with her legs crossed. “It’s for you only,” and she walked off into her bedroom, leaving me alone with the ghost.

Time is flowing in all directions at once.

“I’m sorry it had to come to this.” The e-Sasha flickered slightly as she stood up.

“What’s going on, Sasha?” I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Where are you?”

“I’m dead.” Stared right at me as she walked over. “I’m so sorry, I failed you.” She sat down next to me, and when I tried to hug her I fell right through to the floor.

She only had 10 minutes to contact me. She was broadcasting from the Fairview Bridge before it collapsed, before she was trapped in the pocket Universe, the Clubhouse trap.

I felt like I was A-Bell, pining away for her first love. “Please. Tell me the truth, for once.”

“It’s worse than Hell. We’re nothing but dolls, playing house to the death. You think I’m joking, but you’ll understand once your world becomes just like this one.”

I’m wearing Sasha’s red Circle X shirt. I wasn’t wearing it when I started this entry. I keep calling Sarah “Amber”, as she slaps me down to the wood laminate floor.

She apologized. It took her a day of fussing with my nodes and redrawing broken lines, but finally when she was making dinner – spaghetti with a perfectly chunky red sauce, better than Sasha could ever stir up – she silently called to me “I’m sorry.”

Now I was somewhere in Japan right then, using some of Sasha’s scripts to score some cash I desperately needed, but I quickly came back to the here/now and cleared my lenses. I hadn’t really talked to her since last night, and I was still mad enough that all I could shoot back was “Well?”

“I’m not sorry about what happened before. Get a grip!” She turned off the burner and walked over to me. As she sat down on the floor I looked away.

“That’s not good enough.” Stood up and walked over to the door, fully determined to just run down stairs, hop on Doug’s bike, and never turn back. I knew that she could wave the door shut, but I also knew that she wouldn’t. She couldn’t, not to me.

“Even if you leave, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to fight off Jenny and pull out your fucking sword if it kills you!”

“Like you were there for Sasha? You let her die!” I looked down at her clear hi-tops, and started to cry. How did I get on Sasha’s shoes?

“You don’t understand! You have to choose to embrace what’s beyond The Black, the always shining potential for change!”

“Choice? What kind of choice is that?” I swung around to find her sitting on the floor, fuming.

“I don’t have time for this shit. Wake up and listen.”

I was A-Bell in 1994, reaching out through the static for my new partner and lover.

I was myself in 2012, trying to hold on for dear life as my world kept shifting before my eyes.

I’m naked, shaking on the floor, and I have to throw up, I have to get the pain of Universal absence out of me at all costs.

Sarah is standing over me. She’s speaking the language that was used to call forth everything. She’s giving me a new secret name, and it sounds like a clenched fist.

Sasha’s ghost is gone. In her place is the Grand Supreme, standing in the corner of the living room as I pull my knees to my chest.

My hands are a burning black void. They are taking away the pain, and replacing it with fertile ashes.

“Astarte, take your sword and prepare for the final war.”

My skin is boiling with shadow, as I finally vomit up my Golden Sphere.

I don’t want to take it.

I’m going to take it.

I’m reaching out with midnight fingers as everything explodes with sharp purpose.

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The Clubhouse

I’m in pain – physical torment. I’ve never experienced that before.

Sarah has been etching me by hand for the past few days. Emily is now her permanent avatar, and has been since New Years Day.

I still don’t remember everything that happened. Last night I had a few dream flashes from Point Zero; it was like I was broadcasting in all directions, to all times, trying to find some version of me in some Variant that could listen. I’m pretty sure I’m the last one, though, so it was more of a yelled conversation than a speech.

I didn’t hear it for the past 9 days because I wasn’t etched.

I never needed to be etched before – I was born “shiny”, with natural Meridian Scaffolding coming out of my ears.

When I woke up in Berkeley, a few moments after Midnight on New Years Day, I was reborn perfectly normal.

No special powers, or connection to The White. No Bodyweb node running up my spine, and no messages from the Ether.

In the distance, I could hear gunshots, and see fireworks. I can’t reveal just exactly where I appeared, since we may need to defend that location in the future.

I don’t know if I’m being understood.

I woke up somewhere in the hills, only I wasn’t me anymore. I was tired, and hungry, and I couldn’t feel anyone out there. I was almost hysterical, assuming that the lack of spiritual connection to other people meant that they were all gone. Dead, just like Cassandra had been warning.

Too many things have happened since then.

People aren’t gone at all. They don’t even know that anything special happened, that the Structure may already have fallen due to Tokie’s “baby”.

Sarah won’t give me the details, but it’s clear she lost the Universal crown to Jenny and S.OS.

My private message from Point Zero confirmed much of this – I wasn’t able to receive it until the last two chakras on my head were scaffolded.

There were flashes of Helena as Grand Supreme, arguing with Helena as a 7 year old.

Young Cassandra was truly pissed, but the Nameless was able to calm her down with Miranda’s soft hands and face.

I arrived using the Fairview Bridge, slipping past the fuzzy edges of The White, where the luminous, stretched trails of the dead were sucked forever into bliss. Like billions of anxious sperm, all attacking the egg at once.

I was followed by Cathy, flaming like a shooting star. She had kidnapped Jenny from the mall, right when the Bridge opened, and somehow used her to “tune” past The White and into the final zone of deliberation.

I’m pretty certain I’m not being understood.

The Nameless won. S.OS won, and all that was left to gloat, and pick over the spoils.

I don’t remember the rest, but I sent a message back to me so I’d know the most important things.

All Variants have been destroyed, with one exception.

The Nameless used Miranda to create a special, pocket Universe – a Clubhouse – for young Helena and Cassandra to rule over.

Variant Zero is that pocket Universe, but not the original one that spawned the Collective. I destroyed the Collective when I stole my Mom and Jenny from Thomason Memorial Hospital. I took them out of the timestream, along with young Sasha.

The plan was to remove all possibility of S.OS ever existing. The problem was that there would always be a copy in the Grand Supreme, so we just replaced a known enemy with unlimited, unknown variations.

There was another reason I took such drastic steps, and I can’t discuss them now. Not until I’m fully etched, trained, and ready to act.

Since the Bridge at Fairview was destroyed, the Clubhouse is completely separated from “mainstream” reality.

I can’t call this Universe Variant 237 any more, since it’s a melange of quadrillions of fragments that Helena has been stitching together, like patchwork.

Our current Universe still exists, but Helena rules it from the inside, and Jenny from the outside.

“The Nameless feels left out.”

That’s the message I thought was so important to send back from Point Zero, before they stripped all ties to The White out of me, and tossed me aside like a broken doll.

That reminds me of a question I’ve been pondering. What’s better – to be a broken doll in the real world, or a real live girl in the fake one?

I’m absolutely convinced that you don’t understand me at all.

Variant Zero is not the “fake” world. It’s the real one, the one where everything started. That world is now locked away, forgotten.

I walked for miles that night. It was so dark, and cold, and the cities around the Bay sparkled in their ignorance.

When I finally made it through the Berkeley hills, barefoot and freezing, I instinctively wandered home.

Limped up to the cyclone fence that was supposed to hide my castle, and me, from the world. Reached out, only to meet the holes between the metal.

Climbed the fence, into the vacant lot that was supposed to be an illusion. It was full of dry grass and squirrel shit.

My real world is gone.

Everything that ever was the me in me is over.

It doesn’t do any good to scream, or to break things, or to sit on the sidewalk and mope.

Sarah found me the next day, while I was spare changing on Telegraph Ave. for breakfast.

She wasn’t carrying a car battery, or a way out of this mess. She was cradling the silver, metal lockbox, the one we tried to give to Miranda what seems like ages ago.

I was crying as she sat down on the curb next to me, and handed it over.

In it were three photographs, from 1986. Jenny and my Mom, holding up “antizine!” signs at Thomason Memorial Hospital.

“Don’t focus on the pictures. Focus on the camera.” She put her arm around my shoulder and I knew.

I have to get out of here. I have to save them, somehow.

That’s what I’m doing right now – saving us all.

My long, curly hair is lying on the floor, as Sarah continues etching my scalp.

We’re sitting in the bare bedroom of Douglas Waters’ apartment – he paid rent a few days early, so no one is going to notice we’re here until it’s too late.

“So now I’m a bald circuit board, and I can see around corners and through walls.” That’s what A-Bell said when….

Is she alright? Is Amber somewhere on this side…

I’m in pain – physical torment. I’ve never experienced that before.

I think I like it – it focuses my heart, and my fists, as I clear my inner voice and speak to the new Collective for the very first time.

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Insanity Check

In a few weeks I’ll be running away from home.

I always wanted to say that, to follow in my mother’s footsteps, along with my godmother A-Bell, and so many other members of the Collective.

In the late 80s and early 90s it was almost a contagion – Jo would play the pied piper with Intruder Alert! and Suspender, and her cousin Sasha would corral the escapees and etch the flock.

I want to reminisce about that more later, but back to the point. I’m not exactly running away from home, but now that I’ve turned 16, it’s time for me to leave nevertheless.

That’s the way it’s been in most every other Variant – I leave and gather my army, and whatever remains of the original Collective, and we do what’s needed to stop S.OS and the Nameless.

Up until recently, stopping the Nameless was pretty easy, if barely closing the bottle before it escapes beyond Point Zero is easy.

S.OS has always been a burden, but in all of the prior Variants it was mostly a non issue. The source remained contained, and any remaining fragments were manageable. In the worst Variant, S.OS did kill a few hundred million people, but we managed.

I hate that sort of calculus – managing human specicide – and it’s not like it mattered much, since the Structure inevitably falls apart, or is torn apart, and everyone dies anyway.

Variant 237 is very different. Even though the original S.OS is still contained, the fragments seem to be running wild, with agency and direction from somewhere.

Tokie has been my woman on the street, since Tokyo and Agartha Labs seems to be the current epicenter, but it’s unclear about exactly what the shadow of S.OS is up to.

Hel and Cassie haven’t been talking to me lately, so I can’t use them to take peaks at what is to come. All I know is that the last time we looked at the current state of the future, Miranda was infected by S.OS, and fully controlled by the Nameless.

This is not a good thing, but I’m not sure you understand why just yet. I think you’re still lost around when the Fourth Event happened in March, when Miranda’s love story turned into space/time invaders. So let me make it as simple as possible.

Miranda doesn’t just control Matter – she is Matter incarnated, just as I am the avatar of the spiritual realm. She has complete dominion over ever last sub-atomic particle and galaxy cluster, and can change everything at whim. There is no limit as to distance, or how much can be adjusted.

She can even create life, but it will lack spirit unless I’m involved, and won’t flourish without the involvement of the other Universal forces.

Miranda is key – the only reason I’ve been able to “win” so far is that she was on my side, either by choice or by force.

If the Nameless can control Miranda, which has/is/will happen by October, then it’s game over.

Now, if the Nameless can also win over the Trouble Twins, then it can construct or destruct the Universal Structure as it sees fit.

It would certainly be easier with Aurora and Joey on its side, but that’s not going to matter this time around. If I don’t plan and execute things perfectly… we’ll that’s the question? What sort of Cosmos does the Nameless want, and will we have any part of it?

Back to something I glossed over. Let me make it clear – we have contained S.OS, ever since the Third Event at Fairview.

You already know that Jenny Samuels was infected by S.OS. You’ll find out soon how it got there, but what’s more important now is what happened next.

A-Bell, Amber and rest of the Collective really didn’t want to kill Jenny, but after what S.OS made her do, after how many people died, it wasn’t left with many choices.

It was easy enough to permanently close all of Jenny’s ports, modifying her etching so she was a Pure Land Antenna in name only.

It took more effort to take away self-replication from the S.OS core code, but it was achieved, albeit by altering Jenny’s nervous system and brain, creating a straight jacket that neither she nor S.OS could escape.

Jenny was hospitalized when she was only 12, after she had tried to commit suicide. What the Collective did to her after Fairview was the equivalent of a walking, talking institutionalization.

Jenny could never leave Berkeley or Oakland again – she had a leash just long enough that she could visit the Berkeley Marina, if she wanted. On rare occasions, she would get a “day pass” to go to San Francisco, but only if she was physically shadowed by Collective members.

Jenny’s memory of her past was altered completely. She was programmed to believe that she never met my mother Frisbee at that mental hospital when she was 12. They never escaped it. They never created antizine together. They never created the Collective along with Sasha. The entire history of Variant 0 was false to her.

If she ever came across the antizine Fragments, she was forced to believe that they were fiction. If pushed, she wrote everything, but it never remotely happened.

They tried to give her some semblance of a life, under these constraints, but it was hard. She gravitated towards teaching and tutoring, so that was allowed. She had a number of girlfriends over the Variants, but each relationship was carefully monitored, and if they got too close to Jenny’s true self, they made sure that person never saw Jenny again.

Yesterday, I went along with A-Bell for our regular visit to Jenny, to check up on her.

She has an apartment in Berkeley, and the Collective pays for everything via a “trust fund”, set up by her dead parents. In reality, her father is still alive.

Despite our best intentions, she usually manifests some form of OCD, Manic Depression and Schizophrenia, and comes off as having strong Asperger’s. If anyone in the world seems to be the functioning insane, it’s Jenny. She can be so sweet if you look or listen carefully enough, but usually it’s masked by the spiritual and mental straight jacket.

Her real self is completely the opposite – angry and depressed, but only due to specific triggers in her life. She used to be a master photographer, but now all she takes are candid shots of random people on the street – she likes to spare change on Telegraph or Shattuck, and take pictures of the people she meets.

In short, the Collective killed Jenny despite its attempt to save her, and the world, from S.OS. The end of everything is still contained, but no one wants to touch its prison.

Right now, Jenny is going through a water and soda bottle phase – her second bedroom is completely filled by empty PET bottles, carefully bundled with string, floss or shoe laces, and stacked like cords of wood.

We didn’t need to have much of a conversation, since her entire body is permanently controlled and monitored by the Bodyweb, but she still managed to surprise me by a moderate sized shrine to Satomi that she had set up in her kitchen. Not only was the refrigerator covered by pictures of Satomi from when they were going out, but it also had clippings from Japan and elsewhere, following her rise with Agartha Labs and Die Database.

Then there was a whole series of shots of Satomi sleeping in her bed, at angles that suggested a strange voyeurism – Jenny was viewing her then girlfriend as the paparazzi would, if they were allowed to rush into the bedroom.

I still love my Aunt Jenny. I can’t blame her for what she was forced to do, even if that lead to the death of my parents.

I don’t want to hurt her, or kill her, or even understand her. I just want to find a way to permanently make everyone and everything safe again, to put down S.OS once and for all.

When I run away from home in a few weeks, I pray to the White that I don’t end up like her, broken and silent due to no fault of my own.

Ah. That was funny – no fault of my own. I think I’m starting to get a sense of humor after all.

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