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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