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, 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?

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Opening The Satchel

We’re waiting in front of Joey’s storage locker, and I’m carrying a new, leather satchel.

I hate leather, but I’m tolerating it for the sake of completeness. Ariel keeps teasing me, even after she made it out of her version of thin air – the complete repository of material building blocks known as The Black.

Everyone is teasing me, at least a little, after I forced them to gulp down some text I found in the WOF Database that Nick Junk Magnet left me. He said:

“In 1989 I had a whole, spiral-bound notebook filled with another story, one that was eventually lost due to being in pencil – the pages rubbed against each other, making it all but illegible. That was Sarah’s first story”

He made such a big fuss about it, so I figured it would would at least be worth a laugh.

He wasn’t kidding about the illegibility – I could barely read the smeared pencil with my eyes, but Sarah OS quickly plowed through it, finding the most likely version of the text.

From other notes I found in that notebook, it was clear that no one else had ever read the text, for any number of reasons. Once the pencil went all crazy, due to one too many trips in his backpack, he just left the story in a far corner and moved on to other versions of Sarah’s life.

I think he wanted me to be the first to read it, for me to understand the original, channeled version of what Sarah had in store for us, what she needed us to do.

Here’s that text, and now I’m sharing it with you. Don’t worry, there’s most definitely a point to all of this, which will become clear at the end.


Across the star-filled sky a lone speck of darkness slowly moved. It floated aimlessly, blotting out the points of light in its path momentarily as it traveled. The shadow was roughly oval, one end more curved than the other. One could assume it took this shape in anticipation for its approaching destination: the protective atmosphere of a basically youthful planet. A planet commonly known as Earth.

This shadowy construct was actually a shell, protecting its contents with an enthusiasm its designers would be proud of. It contained various supplies and a single life form, which, at the moment, was lost in thought. This being, born and raised on the approaching planet, was experiencing a moral dilemma of sorts at the time: she wanted desperately to go home, but knew that that was impossible. And as the construct locked upon its destination, she could only sit back in her seat, and hope for the best. Knowing the worst was yet to come.

1. Asphyxiation

The construct was set down silently as close as it could to its set destination. It dissolved, leaving behind nothing but its contents. The woman that it carried grabbed the equipment now deposited on the ground and left the general area of the landing as quickly as possible. She glanced at her “watch”, checking to see if anyone was in the area. It was lucky that she did, since someone was waiting a few meters ahead, behind a tree. She squatted down, and opened a leather satchel hanging from her right shoulder. From it, she took a pen shaped device, which she attached to her watch. After a few seconds, she stood up and continued on towards the unknown person. She pen shaped device glowed as she traveled closer to the tree in question, and when she came within arms length of it, she removed it from her wrist and pressed a small button in its midsection. It floated quickly around the tree and placed its target in a stasis field. She walked around the tree, recalled her device, and examined what she had caught. It was a typical watch drone, semi-humanoid, most certainly sent to report on her arrival back on Earth. Having already witnessed her return, it had reported and now was deactivated. Satisfied that there soon would be trouble afoot, she opened the field, and continued north.

The abundance of trees that she silently ran through soon gave way to the trappings of modern population. She had materialized in a park, encapsulated by a mass of plastic and metal. The dome that surrounded her and the park was clear, creating the illusion that it was not there. She took a deep breath, as she reached the nearest exit, enjoying every molecule of the park’s regulated atmosphere. Knowing that she would find nothing like it on the outside of her temporary oasis. She glanced at her wrist, and assured that the operating mechanism was not tampered with, carefully entered the airlock. Inside, she opened her satchel, took out her atmospheric regulator, and attached it to her wrist. She pressed a button on her “watch”, and she was enveloped in her protective field, which she carefully adjusted for the contours of her outfit. After setting it for proper radiation shielding, and transparency, she settled herself, and opened the outer door.

The brownish-blue sky slowly settled upon the scarred terrain, as the woman carefully adjusted her regulator. The destruction of the troposphere was more acute than she had originally thought. She glanced at her wrist, and after taking a quick scan for possible danger, opened her satchel and took out a spherical object. She placed it in her left hand, and extended her field. She gave the sphere a half twist down the middle, and concentrated. Her field took on a bluish glow, and she began to levitate. She attached the sphere to an indentation on her belt, and programmed the field for manual operation. She turned West towards the nearest indicated settlement, and started her long journey to so-called civilization. As she tried to imagine the fields of green that once existed underfoot, were only hazy memories in far too troubled mind.

A couple of miles after the park dome had disappeared on the horizon behind her, the woman reached the nearest “city”. The main structure was a dome about half a mile in diameter and 1000 feet in height. It appeared to be made of the same material as the park dome, except it was much thicker and more heavily reinforced. She perceived various buildings and other structures inside, sheltered carefully from the harsh environment surrounding. She floated down to the nearest entrance and deactivated the spherical object. She placed it in her satchel and then closed in her field to the standard position. After glancing at her watch she approached the airlock and examined the controls. It could be operated by a standard city key, she determined, so she acted accordingly. Reaching into her satchel, she pulled out a universal key, attached it to her wrist for format programming, and inserted it into the door mechanism. The door opened, and she recollected her key and carefully entered.

The outer door closed and the woman readjusted her regulator for city travel. As the decontamination cycle progressed around her, she tried to remember the time when regulators were not necessary, before the enclosed cities, before she became an Agent, but she could not. The inner door control panel flashed green, and the door slowly opened with an audible hiss. She was bombarded by an unearthly light. Instinctively, she extended her field and activated her defense mechanisms. This was unnecessary, for she realized that she had arrived at sunrise. The artificial sunrise of civilization.

The city streets were filled with activity. People walked, jogged and ran this way and that, excited into activity by the new day. The woman joined the crowd as soon as she “adjusted” her outfit to reflect the common fashion. It would be very unwise for her to be discovered as an Agent within city limits, especially since she suspected that the watch drone originated from this area. The crowd moved on, and, after glancing at her watch to determine her general location, she moved with it.

A few hours after mingling with the citizens, the woman located a food outlet. She had expended her rations before she arrived on Earth, and was now quite hungry. She reached in her satchel and pulled out her credit, which was almost depleted, and inserted it into the dispenser. She selected a protein concentrate and a litre of water, and decided to rest while she ate. She sat down on an unoccupied bench and examined herself quickly while she had the opportunity. She removed a small box from her belt and attached it to her chest. Looking at her watch, she saw that her basic functions were within limits, and that she could continue without sleep for another 10 to 12 hours before her exhaustion would become dangerous. She removed the device and attached it back on her belt. Satisfied that she was relatively OK, she began her meal. Protein concentrate never tasted so good.

The citizens of the city went on with their routine, all except one that is. This non-conformist was presently staring intensely at a woman sitting on a bench, which he considered the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She clearly stood out from the other female citizens he had encountered, and, knowing an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when he saw it, he decided to go sit in the empty space beside her. Who knows, he thought, maybe she will be different.

When the woman noticed someone approaching her, she quickly scanned him. Confirming that he was safe, she continued with her meal.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

“No. Go ahead,” she replied, not looking up.

“I haven’t seen you around. Are you a new resident?”

“No. I’m just visiting.”

“That’s too bad…. since I probably won’t ever see you again, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: you are the most attractive woman I have ever had the honor to meet. I…. just wanted you to know.” He began to leave.

“Wait! Don’t leave.. not just yet,” the woman moved towards him.

“You don’t mind if I stay?”

“Not at all. And I would really appreciate it if you could show me around the city.”

“Certainly, I would enjoy your company.”

“Great. And … I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh, how rude of me. My name is Richard.”

“Richard… I appreciate your interest in me. No one has ever been as honest with me as you just were. I respect you because of that fact. I must warn you though, I am not what I seem.

“I don’t care. As long as I am able to be with you, nothing else will matter.”

“Let’s begin, then. Lead the way.”

Richard stood up, and offered the woman his hand. With little hesitation, she accepted it. As the artificial sun moved overhead.


“Nice watch. Must be pretty expensive, huh?”

“It’s… priceless. You probably won’t see another like it.”

“Could I take a look at it? I promise I won’t damage it.”

“No!…. sorry to snap at you like that. It’s just that… I can’t take it off.”

“I guess you wouldn’t want to take off something as nice as that. I understand why you wouldn’t let just anyone see it.

“That’s not it, Richard. I do trust you. There are just some things you can’t know about me. Some things you wouldn’t want to know.”

“It doesn’t matter. Come on, there’s one more place I want to show you before sunset.”

Richard turned towards downtown, and the woman followed. She glanced at her wrist, out of habit, and was alarmed to learn that she was being followed. Not by a drone, but by another Agent. She quickly stopped Richard.

“Richard, I’m sorry, but I’ve become tired. I had a really nice time with you today, and I am extremely flattered by your interest. But, I must get some sleep. I doubt I will see you again, and I regret that fact. Thank you again. Good bye, Richard.” She gave him a kiss on his cheek, quickly adjusted her field, to the defensive position, and hurried off into the growing shadows.

“Wait! What is your name?” He received no answer, and, dissatisfied with her quick departure, proceeded to follow her quietly.

The woman soon got an exact fix on her fellow Agent, which was a few hundred meters from her position. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a small cube, which she attached to her belt. She programmed the device to operate within a minute, and assessed her situation. She was not supposed to be back on Earth, because of strict orders from the Agency, but she was, and a fellow Agent had discovered her presence. If she did not escape the city soon, she would be captured and her status would be revoked. She had a slim chance, but, if captured, she decided that her only choice would be to resort to drastic means. Extremely drastic means.

The small cute activated at the assigned time, as the woman became technically invisible. Only a trained Agent could recognize a cloaking device in operation, so she was effectively safe, at least for the moment. She hid in a dark corner, and waited for the Agent to come.

Richard was extremely surprised when the woman he was following disappeared in front of his eyes. He had excellent vision, but he wasn’t sure if he could trust it after what he had just seen. Now totally discouraged, he turned toward the underground entrance and started the long walk home. After a few minutes he saw someone walking towards him, which was unusual, for hardly anyone walked the streets this time of night. The person seemed familiar, probably because he carried a satchel like the woman he met earlier. As they drew closer, he noticed that the person also had a watch like she did. He concluded that she was much too strange to be a coincidence, so he decided to ask him if he knew where his friend had run off to.

The strange man reached in his satchel, and took out a rectangular object. He attached it to his wrist, and pointed it at Richard. He pressed a button on his belt, and a beam came out of the object, hitting Richard. He disintegrated quickly, and his component parts, sans water, were deposited into the rectangle. The strange man carefully placed it back in his satchel, and put his watch in front of his mouth. He pressed a button, and said:

“LOG ENTRY 21 – subversive Agent located in city. Possible contact of said Agent collected for further questioning. Agent has disappeared, suspect use of cloaking device. Predict capture within 10 hours. End.”

He then expanded his field, set his weapons for recharge, and walked off into the sunset, into the night.

As the women silently went to sleep.

2. Extrapolation

The artificial city sun rose quickly on the horizon as the streets became alive. The underground terminals became excessively crowded, as the population left their homes for the world above. The woman awoke as the activity increased, and, after a quick scan for the other Agent, she deactivated her cloaking device and placed the cube back in her satchel. She strengthened her field, just in case, and stepped out of the shadows into the fake day.

The woman was slightly disoriented by all the activity around her, which was greater than at the time of her arrival, but she soon became accustomed to it, and continued her work. First, she had to locate the Agent that was following her, and escape the city before she was located. This would be extremely difficult, mainly because she was unfamiliar with the city around her. During Richard’s tour she had noticed a few points which offered a chance of an undetected exit, so she decided to try those first. She wondered if she would come across Richard again before she left, and, in a way, she hoped the she would. But, she had little time to contemplate her feelings, for her sensors indicated that the other Agent was approaching quickly from the North. Her best choice for an exit lay underground, so she ran through the crowd to the nearest underground entrance.

She soon reached a small dome, from which the majority of the crowd was emanating. She slipped in the nearest entrance and entered the first lift she came across. It was a small booth with two clear sides, with enough room to hold 10 people. As luck would have it, hers was empty, which made things that much easier. She reached into her satchel, took out her universal key, which was already programmed for city use, and inserted it into the control panel. She glanced at her watch, to find with horror that the other Agent was now entering the terminal. She quickly set the lift for the fifteenth level and extended her personal field to encompass the chamber. And as she slowly descended, she calmly prepared herself for the coming confrontation.

After identifying the woman to be in the terminal, the other Agent found himself to be in bind. Her signal had weakened tremendously, most likely because she increased her field activity, so he had no easy way of picking her out of the crowd. He assumed that she had taken one of the lifts to a lower level, so he began is search by scanning all active lifts with his main control. To his surprise, all registered devoid of Agent presence. He rechecked, and noticed that his probe did not bounce off one booth, it was absorbed instead. Since only an Agency-made field could absorb scanning rays, she quickly went to that lift’s call area and took out a small disc, which he attached to his wrist. He punched a button on his belt, and the disc unattached itself and floated to the main control panel, which it landed on. He looked at his watch, and saw the lift’s location to be the fifth floor. He placed the disc back in his satchel, and took out a gun shaped object, which he pointed at the panel. He pulled the trigger, and a blue beam of light shot out and penetrated the control mechanism. The lift abruptly stopped, and he found it on the fifteenth level. He placed the device back in his satchel, and satisfied with a job well executed, took the other nearest lift down to collect his prize.

As soon as the lift jerked to a halt, the woman knew that she was in trouble. She slowly drew in her field and glanced at her watch – it has 70% of the maximum energy available to her, and many of her mechanisms were in need of recharge. She also noted that the other Agent was descending rapidly in a nearby lift, and detected a significant rise in that Agent’s power level. She knew that this signified and decided it was time for some action on her part. She quickly formulated a plan, which involved, to her dismay, an extremely dangerous maneuver which all Agents feared. If executed exactly, she decided, the result would outweigh the potential cost. The only hoped that the cost would not be too much to pay.

Now convinced, she reached quickly in her satchel and pulled out a few things. One she attached to her wrist and attuned to the other Agent, another she attached to one of the glass walls of the lift, and another she put securely on her belt. She pushed a button on her watch, and the pen-shaped device attached to it dropped off and quickly floated to the ceiling of the booth. She pushed a button on her belt, and the glass wall to which she attached something shattered. She twisted the object on her belt and pushed a button on her belt, and slowly began to rise, extended her field, and carefully exited the lift to the adjoining shaft. She looked down and saw a hatch about 200 meters below. She floated down and carefully opened it. She found herself looking into a small chamber which she scanned and quickly entered. Nothing that her last levitation had depleted her energy reserves, she set her system for recharge and waited anxiously for the first trap to be sprung.

The Agent soon located the captured lift. He picked up a quick field reading, which he assumed was from the cloak. Confident that she could not escape, he continued downward to the fifteenth level.

After exiting the lift, he approached the control mechanism for the lift he had captured. He took out his gun shaped object and pointed it towards the control panel. The stopped lift then slowly opened at its original destination. As the doors opened, the Agent was so assured of his victory that he did not strengthen his field. He misguided belief that he faced an incapable opponent dissipated as soon as he entered the booth. The pen shaped device she had left placed him immediately in a stasis field. Unmoving, he noticed the broken glass, and, realizing what it signified, he couldn’t help but admire how easily he had been fooled. But he was most certainly not about to give up.

After her equipment was fully recharged, she decided to check on her captive. She couldn’t be sure that it was another Agent in the field, but she was reading very high energy levels in the stopped lift. She assumed the worst, and carefully opened the access hatch to the shaft. She activated the sphere, and floated out into the cylindrical chamber. Looking down, she felt uncomfortable traveling against nature. For the first time since she was enlisted, she did not approve of the direction her life was headed in. And as she rose to the broken window, she decided it was time for a change.

The captured Agent, his eyes transfixed on the broken wall of the lift, was not surprised when his view was blocked by the entrance of the subversive Agent. Subversive in the sense that the Agency deemed her as such. He had already tried to extend his field to escape, but he knew that that was futile. And now, confronted with potential termination, he decided it was time for a bit of bargaining.

She quickly scanned her captive and noticed that his active energy had depleted. After throwing a secondary field around him, she deactivated the stasis ray and recollected the pen-shaped mechanism.

“OK. What do you want from me?”

“Absolutely nothing,” the captured Agent replied. “It’s the Agency who has an interest in you. I am only carrying out my orders.”

“So you always blindly follow orders?”

“Not always. I was supposed to kill you. Haven’t done that yet.”

“And you never will. Now, how should I make you suffer…”

“Don’t think too long. Bad for your health.”

“If you don’t shut up, I’ll see to it that you will never make another sound. I will not tolerate anyone giving me orders from now on, especially not from the Agency. I have been a pawn in this endless game for far too long. I am tired of being a controlled person, and I have just realized that I do not have to live this life.”

“Hold it! Control the hostility. Sarah… let’s make a deal.”

“What did you call me?”

“Sarah, I have Richard.”

“How do you know my name? There are no records!”

“Who’s in control now, Sarah? The Agency has graciously provided me with all of your files. Your past cannot be destroyed, no matter how hard you try. Face it, Sarah, you have failed.”

“Give me Richard.”

“And what will I get in return?”

“Your life. Possibly. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

“Sarah, that’s not good enough. Think of something better, or Richard dies.”

“Release Richard, and I will release you.”

“That’s better. He is in my collection device, in my satchel. Drop the secondary field and I’ll restore him.”

“Fine. But if you try anything, kiss your watch goodbye.” She lowered the field.

“That’s better. And, to complete our bargain….” The Agent reached into his satchel, and pulled out a rectangular object. He attached it to his watch, and pushed a button on his belt. A bluish glow filled the lift, and a small cloud of water formed. The object them opened and the condensed elements that made up Richard were freed. The cloud condensed, and the components entered it and began to reorganize. A small bolt of energy entered the cloud from the container, and as it did the cloud collapsed, leaving a pulsating ball of light. The ball rotated quickly, absorbing all available materials as Richard’s matrix took its former form. The ball soon reached the necessary mass, and coalesced into the human template. The brain and nervous system were the first to form, followed by the circulatory structures. The skeletal structure appeared next, which soon became covered by muscles and tendons. All sensory organs had reformed by now, and the package was completed by the addition of glands, skin and hair. Finally, (much to Sarah’s surprise), Richard’s clothes reformed on his naked body, saved in a small pocket of the stored matrix.

The Agent then took the rectangular object off his wrist and attached it to Richard’s forehead.

“His memory matrix will be formed in a few minutes. Until he wakes up, we can talk. I’m real sorry you’re dissatisfied with the Agency.”

“Oh, shut up. I don’t need your sarcasm. As soon as Richard is conscious, I will give you 30 seconds to get as far away from me as possible. If he doesn’t wake up, I’ll kill you. If I see you again, I’ll kill you. Prepare yourself to leave quickly.”

As soon as Richard began to stir, the Agent took the now empty container off of his forehead and placed it back in his satchel.

“You’ll never get away with this, Sarah. If I make it back to headquarters, a special team will be sent. You know that. If I don’t make it, they’ll blame you. Either way, you’ll never rest again.”

“Get the hell out of here!” yelled Sarah, as she pushed him into the shaft. He fell out of sight, and then disappeared with a brilliant flash of light.

“Richard, are you OK?”

“I think so… where am I? Last thing I remember was seeing your friend.”

“I know him, but let me assure you, he’s no friend. Come on, you must be tired. Let’s find someplace for you to rest.” She helped him out of the lift.

“What is your name, anyway? And why did you run away?”

“I ran away because I didn’t want you to get hurt And, I don’t really have a name, not anymore. But, you can call be Sarah.”

“Sarah… that’s a lovely name. I’m glad you didn’t run too far.”

“Richard, can I have a hug?”

“Of course. Is everything all right?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. Come on.”

She took his hand, and led him towards the future.

As her past followed close behind.

3. Elimination

Sarah stood in front of a triple-reinforced door as she carefully programmed her universal key. She had been traveling for a couple of hours, follow an idea she got during Richard’s tour of the city. And now, as her idea came closer to reality, she wondered if that reality would accept her.

“Sarah, what are you planning to do?” asked Richard, as he patiently stood by her side.

“I am planning to open this door and escape from the city as quietly as possible. And you’re coming with me. You said that you wanted to be with me always, and now you have no other choice. Stand back.”

Sarah attached her key to the opening mechanism and pushed a button on her watch. The door hummed and slowly opened, as the section revealed came to life. She glanced at her wrist, and satisfied that the life support systems were activated, she took Richard by the hand and quietly entered.

The chamber was filled with various devices and supplies, which Sarah could discern to be for emergency use. She assumed this was an emergency shelter, one of many underground structures used in times of disaster. She also assumed that there was an emergency exit close by, leading above ground. Actually, she had no doubt, from her experience with the visible paranoia of the city planners, that the various exits were highly accessible. She glanced at her watch, and quickly discovered an usable means of departure a few meters ahead.

“Sarah, what happens now? If were are going somewhere, could you at least give me a hint about the identity of our destination?”

“As soon as we get above ground, I will call my transport and we will head for the Moon. More specifically, the area known as Mare Imbrium.”

“The Moon? Come on, be serious now. There is no such thing.”

“What makes you doubt the existence of the moon,” asked Sarah, as she located the hidden lift.

“For starters, if the Moon did exist, then the Earth would have to be round. I’ve been educated enough to know that it is most definitely flat.”

“Richard! I’m surprised at you. In a world like ours, you can’t believe everything you’re told.” She took his hand and led him into the transport.

“What do you mean? Why would I be taught something which was not true?”

“To control you, and everyone else who will listen. Richard… there’s a lot more going on than you realize. All your life you’ve been told only what you were allowed to hear. For example, you were lead to believe that the Moon was a myth, when in reality it is not.” The lift slowly came to a halt.

“I want to believe you, Sarah, but it’s hard to without some sort of evidence.”

“Evidence is a most abundant resource. Come closer.” She drew him to her side, and expanded her field to shelter him. “Beyond this door lies the truth for the taking. Open it.”

He hesitated, and then deactivated the lock. The door slowly slid open, and Richard was struck with awe. About 500 meters away lay the perimeter of the city, which reflected beautifully the murky starlight. He slowly stepped out, and Sarah followed him closely over the scarred terrain.

“Sarah, where are we?”

“In the real world, Richard. The world no one talks about. This is your truth.”

On the horizon, as the last night of the Sun escaped into the night, the Moon slowly began to rise. Richard turned towards it, and dropped down to his knees.

“Sarah, I just don’t understand. How could all of this exist, while I know nothing about it?”

“Very easily. You mustn’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. We have to leave.”

She touched her watch, and her transport materialized around them.

“Sarah, I feel there’s something you’re not telling me.”

And as they slowly ascended, she could only answer in a mournful silence.


“Where you you want me to begin?”

The transport slowly orbited the Earth, as Richard carefully examined the ruins below.

“Well, to begin with, how did all this happen?”

“I assume you mean to our planet. It’s hard to explain, but try to bear with me. Before you or I were born, life as we know it did not exist. There were no self-supporting cities, because they were not needed. Our planet was clean and basically undamaged, environmentally speaking, so it was possible for people to live unsupported. There was hostility, which has always existed, and as our technology grew, so too did the possibility of destruction. War soon became a constant, and its threats, along with those of technology, began to suppress the people of our world. This was not tolerated, and war was relocated to the space we now travel in. The problem was believed to be solved.

“The war in space was supported by our advancing technology, and soon, the opposing forces became impervious to each other’s attacks. The war could not continue if the enemy could not be attacked, so hostilities temporarily ceased. Until someone found the obvious Achilles’ heel – the enemy’s ties with Earth. So, the space bound opponents began to attack the Earth, first enemy monuments, then cities, and soon whole territories. The Earth was slowly deteriorating, and the war continued. With no apparent end.

“The space-bound forces soon became autonomous from Earth, and as the targets on Earth depleted, new areas of attack were sought. None were found, and the war was at a stalemate. Finally, after much consideration by both sides, the war was deemed unproductive and ended quickly. But, it was also decided by the combatants that neither could return to Earth. They joined forces, and became an invincible, and seemingly peaceful, union. This “space nation” soon took the Moon for its new world, and the Earth began to rebuild, along with its help. You with me so far?”

“I suppose, Sarah. I understand how the Earth was damaged, but what I don’t get is how this relates to you.”

“I’ll come to that soon. Anyway… this nation, with its power and resources, easily got the Earth back on its feet. The cities that exist now were created at that time. It soon was evident that the Earth was becoming far too dependent on its benefactors. Which was true, and the space nation took advantage of this dependence whenever possible. Soon, the Earth was, for all purposes, controlled by its important satellite. And no one complained.

“The Moon, of course, kept a close eye on its neighbor, but this soon became difficult. So, citizens of Earth were captured, trained in space, and sent back to Earth to keep an eye on the masses. I, Richard, am one of those eyes.”

“You? That explains a lot!”

“I suppose it does. But I’m not finished. After a couple of years as an Agent, I became dissatisfied with my duties. I wanted to quit, so I went to central offices to tender my resignation. This action was unprecedented, and my disloyalty was not tolerated. I was assigned to special duties, but I protested, and was fitted with an inhibitor module. If I take off the watch on my wrist, I will disincorporate in 30 seconds. That’s why I couldn’t let you see it.”

“So why are you going back?”

“After I was inhibited, I tried to destroy my records in the Agency computers. It was virtually impossible, and I was discovered. So I fled rather quickly to Earth, and entered your city. I was followed by another Agent, who captured you and tried to capture me. Now that he is dead, I will be hunted down and eliminated. The Agency does not tolerate insubordination. And now, I’m going back to give the Agency what it deserves.”

“Wouldn’t that be a little dangerous?”

“Don’t you understand? If I don’t free myself from it, I won’t have any life to live. Not with you, not with anyone! And that scares me tremendously.”

The transport sensors then signaled, as the Moon loomed closer in the view screen. Sarah adjusted her field, possibly for the last time, and oriented the ship to land a short distance from headquarters.

“Sarah, I know you find this important, so if I can help you in any way…”

“Hmmmm….” She reached into her satchel and took out a rectangular object, which she gave to Richard. “Keep this always, and I will always be with you.” The transport then landed, and it dissolved into nothingness.

“I’ll signal you when you should leave. Don’t go until then. The transport will form in 1 hour. Good bye.”

“Richard slowly closed his eyes, and the memory of her presence faded away.


The cratered moon quickly passed underfoot, as Sarah contemplated that which she must fight against. As that power grew closer, she could almost feel her strength being stripped from her. Below, she noticed the tattered symbol of a former world. Blowing in the winds of the past, holding the ideals of a nation long dead. But, she could not reminisce further, since she had no true knowledge of what that past was like. A scant wind passed by, and she imagined it carried a whisper from some poor, lost soul. Words from her own mouth.

The main structure soon drew near, and she activated her shield code, so she could pass safely into the security perimeter. She knew that she was already detected, but now that she was in motion, she could find no means to turn back. She activated her cloaking device, and lowered herself to the ground. Her personal shield would insulate her from direct contact with the surface, protecting her from ground based security devices. She ran up to the main shield wall, and activated her universal key. A small portal appeared in the barrier, and she quickly passed through it, drawing it closed as she entered. She knew that she had little energy left in the cloak, and she still had to reach the main control annex. She glanced at her watch, which showed no Agent activity, and started towards the nearest entrance. Knowing that she slightest hesitation could be her downfall.

She soon reached an emergency access hatch, and quickly disarmed the sensors. She placed her key in the locking area, and the stale air of the airlock rushed out to greet her. The chamber was intact, and, after a quick scan, she entered. It was a standard airlock – white, with planar floor and curved walls and ceiling. Instinctively, she closed the outer door and checked her power levels. She had 50% of maximum charge available to her, and if she did not conserve, her life support systems would soon fail under the strain. But, she could not recharge now, she had little time as it was. In fact, she could do nothing no but continue without hesitation. She made final preparations, and slowly decoded the lock.

The door slid open, and Sarah, ironically, felt secure for a small moment in the familiar surroundings. She was in an access hall, all white, with various identification codes, evenly spaced down the corridor. She read the nearest set of crimson numbers, and turned right as directions indicated.

The hall continued for a few hundred meters, and then abruptly ended in a security door. She scanned it, and received no direct signal interference from the other side. She deactivated her cloaking device, and quickly picked the lock. The first section dilated, and she entered the decontamination area. She was irradiated in a yellow glow, which penetrated through her field, checking for adverse contaminants such as dust. The light turned green, and the second section slid open.”

“Hello Sarah, so glad you could join us.”

She reached for her pistol, but was halted by a secondary field.

“A woman of her world, I see. Sorry to say I just can’t let you kill me. Wouldn’t look good in the records.”

“How did you survive the fall?”

“Teleportation. Wasn’t that difficult, just elementary particle physics.”

“If you would stop being smug for a moment, let me remind you that there is a slight after effect of teleportation.”

“Oh, is that so? What what would that be?”

“A nasty tendency for people to spontaneously teleport back to where they left. Very bad phenomena, happens all the time.”

“Get to the point.”

“When I pushed you out of the lift, I attached a homing device to your back. I knew you would probably teleport away, so I set it for automatic return upon request.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“Oh, I’m quite serious. Allow me to demonstrate.” She reached into her satchel.

“Now wait just a minute!” He deactivated the secondary field and ran towards her.

She pulled out her pistol, and disintegrated the other Agent into nothingness.

“I always keep my world. No matter what the cost may be. Rest in peace, old friend.”

She muttered a silent prayer, and continued toward the central terminal.

Shedding a tear in a corner of her heart.

4. Recapitulation

Richard stood in amazement as he looked up at the crescent Earth. A short time ago his very presence on the Moon was a wild fantasy, like stepping off the end of the world. But now, confronted with things as they actually were, he could only wonder what other lies would become true.

The transport formed around him abruptly, and Richard welcomes its presence in the sense that it meant that Sarah would soon return. At first, when he saw her in the city, an actual relationship with her seemed unrealistic, considering his experiences with women in the past. Sarah’s mutual interest took him by surprise, and the events following their meeting seemed absolutely ludicrous. He tried to rationalize the past days, but he honestly could not. Better to take things as the come, he concluded.

He called up a chair, and tried hard to relax. The very fact that his entire would view was false made him extremely nervous, and the realization that he was deliberately deceived only made matters worse. he could only hope that Sarah would be successful, knowing that failure would be terminal. He began to grow depressed, so he turned on the radio, and quietly reacquainted himself with the world. The world kept under lock and key.


Sarah soon reached the access hatch to the control center, a mass of metal and circuitry which kept secure the means of the Agency’s operation. While she prepared to gain access, her mind kept wandering back to what had just occurred. She, without hesitation, had killed another being, if only because of a prior threat. She could have just detained him, or injured him somewhat, but she did not. Never before had her anger expressed itself that violently, and she was truly disgusted. She was not like this before she became an Agent, when her life was normal. She could not revoke what she had done, not this time. And she wanted desperately to blame the Agency for her deeds, but she could not. her free will was one thing that she still retained, and she was ashamed that she did not realize it sooner. The door opened, and Sarah prepared herself for her rebirth.

She entered the control center, an immense space filled with artificial intelligence and memory. The originators of the Agency were long dead, and their legacy was contained within the machinery before her. She was walking through the brain of a giant, carrying a hidden sling. Cold lights blinked around her, wrapping around the walls and across the ceiling. The door closed, and the shadows took their former places. The blinking lights prophesizing doom.

Sarah switched to infrared, and approached the most active heat source. It was a column of metal 100 meters high, throbbing with a visible energy, surrounded by an aura of importance. She quickly verified this as the main control, containing the central processing unit. She went up to the tower and ran her fingers across its surface. She felt the ambiance of knowledge, and it repulsed her, body and soul. She took out her interface device, and connected it to the input/output regulator.

An audible hum began to fill the chamber, and the column slowly awoke with activity.

“STATE THE PURPOSE” a voice boomed, as Sarah glanced at her watch, nervously.

“I seek justification,” she replied to the column.


“Check for files for the records of Sarah 578.”


“The actions of the Agency are contrary to my beliefs.”


“The Agency is corrupt. It should no longer exist.”


“And that is where the corruption lies. Unless you can give reason for you existence, you will be deactivated.”


“That isn’t a reason! That’s just an excuse. Explain your actions regarding Earth.”


“The Earth is more than a tool! It has existed long before you, and was responsible for your creation. You must understand this!”


“No! It has only begun…”

Sarah reached for her wrist, and began the coding sequence to remove her watch.

“My freedom, and the freedom of all others under your control, is a right that must be acknowledged. I can see that it is beyond your ability to understand this, and I have concluded that the Agency is obsolete.”

The coding completed, she took the watch slowly from her wrist and attached to the terminal before her. She took off her belt, and laid it alongside her satchel at the base of the column.


The room was suddenly filled with a crimson light, driving the shadow into non-existence. Sarah turned towards the column, ready to accept what was to occur.


Her belt began to glow, and a yellowish field projected from it, surrounding the room.


Sarah stood stiff, arms outstretched, head upturned. The room filled with an intense immediacy, as if time began to stand still.


The image of a tree formed within Sarah, not from reality but from second-hand thoughts.


The evaporated seas, once whispering the continual song of nature, seemed to become all surrounding.


Sarah pictured herself in the former fields of grass, surroundings cut haphazardly from passing recollection.


Her mother flickered through her mind, as thought became a distant activity. She could only feel the images.


As she slowly faded away, sifted carefully from reality, she could only assure herself that what was to happen was right, and that her sacrifice would be important.


Sarah’s silhouette collapsed in a mass of remembered life. The satchel that she left opened, and a small device floated out, into the receding lights, headed for the main tower. It passed slowly as it weighted down by some unseen force, and attached itself to the machine. File 578 quickly exited the tiny sphere, and for an instant, a small breeze passed through the chamber.

The next second that passed saw the obliteration of the Agency, in a fiery cloud of retribution. As the smoke cleared, and the debris settled, the only identifiable object was a small, black, charred watch. Stopped at the time when its world died.

5. Revelation

As he sat in the reclined chair, the horizon caught fire, quickly dimming from the lack of Oxygen. Richard took immediate notice, and threw off his radio headset. He looked at the object Sarah gave him before she left, and it began to glow slightly. The transport then closed, and started its trip back to Earth.

As he watched the Moon grow smaller, he noticed a particularly interesting crater. It dwarfed all the others, and appeared to be freshly carved in the rock. He had no basis to tell, for it was only a few days ago that he learned of the Moon’s existence, let alone the fact it was cratered and uneven. Just to think that an entire Universe was carefully hidden from the citizens of the Earth made him extremely uneasy. He only hoped that Sarah succeeded, not only because he wanted freedom but because he wanted her back.

The crescent Earth soon filled his vision, as the transport transformed to meet the atmosphere. Its sides began to glow in the friction, yet he felt protected, invincible in a way. Sarah had shown him that there was an alternative, there was something to hope for, and that comforted him. He plunged through the growing clouds, the land far below him growing closer in the darkness. The broken terrain changed into a mass of city domes, and for a moment, he wanted to turn back. How could he face a life he now knew to be wrong?

The transport materialized near the underground entrance he had used before. It dissolved away, leading a belt and satchel at his feet. The bag was empty, except for a lone, black watch. Remembering all that Sarah had taught him, he carefully placed the items back on the ashen soil, and entered the elevator.


They were all finished “reading” it after a few seconds.

Ariel: “Just kill me now. I don’t care if he was 16 and a wannabe prophet, that’s barely tolerable.”
Kaia: “You have to look past the words, at the structure that’s coming through, so to speak.”
Susanna: “I like the resurrection cloud part, where the clothes are in a little pocket somewhere.”
Ariel: “Why not a little pocket for the food that was in your stomach already.”
Me: “Ariel, you’re focusing on the wrong stuff. Don’t you see the similarities to the Sarah we know? Obsessed with the Moon, possessing great power that’s associated with concrete objects, controlled by and controlling an all-powerful artificial intelligence?”
Kaia: “Yeah, and don’t forget Sarah’s focus on the missing, living Earth, and her thoughts and dreams of bringing back the green, the life. She’s definitely taking on a form of the Goddess role.”
Ariel: “Don’t even start with that. There’s just too many holes in it all. She meets this dude Richard, and after a few hours of touring around his dumpy home dome, they’re all kissy cheeks and I want to be with you forever.”
Kaia: “You need to get out more, dear.”
Ariel: “Says my key master and gate keeper. What’s more, when they go to the Moon, Richard is just left there, with no way to defend himself or even breathe, until their transport reforms an hour later. And he’s listening to the radio, for fuck’s sake. Many stations on the Moon playing Classic Rock?”
Me: “You’re just not seeing it. All of the attention paid to identity issues, hidden realities, instant reincarnation, being shackled by time and space…”
Susanna: “Plus, it’s clear that after the explosion, Sarah sent herself back to the little rectangular box that Richard still has at the end. She’s plans on coming back to be with him, and to make things right.”
Kaia: “Which is interesting, since he leaves the satchel full of weapons behind before re-entering the city.”
Ariel: “Yeah, he totally trashes the satchel that came out of fucking nowhere – it can’t be hers, since that blew up back on the Moon.”
Me: “I don’t care. There’s something in here, some message from Sarah. Remember that she told me something during my training:

“I was a secret agent that worked for a quantum computer larger than all Universes. It sent me on missions to retrieve code from variant existences. I had many tools at my disposal, including the silver and golden spheres, the blue pyramid – a whole satchel full. I would create a cosmos for breakfast, and reap the required output for dinner. It was a job.”

Ariel: “OK. So she’s left you some sort of secret cupcake before Jenny took her out of the story. What good does that do us now?”
Me: “I like cupcakes. And I want you to make me an exact copy of Sarah’s satchel from the story, including functioning weapons. I want the clunky watch and belt and objects that will interact with our new Collective etching. Can you handle that, Ariel?”
Ariel: “I can handle the creation of fucking stars and galaxies. I think I can handle some weird cosplay shit that goes bleepy bloop.”
Me: “I’m serious. It’s an order. How long will it take?”
Ariel: “Give me a few minutes. I’ll have all of the tools ready and tested soon. For now…”

With that, she formed an empty leather satchel around my shoulder. It was smartly built, and slightly distressed, mostly for the aesthetics.

Me: “Great. Did I mention I’ll need the invisible spaceship, too?”
Ariel: “Fuck off! I’ve already started on that, but damn!”
Kaia: “Be nice now, before I send your soul on a joyride you won’t forget.”
Ariel: “Mommmmmm…. fine. From now on, Ai and I will be not-so-kissing long distance cousins. I’m so full of tolerance it hurts.”

We just finished throwing our bikes in a random pile outside of the warehouse. No one would dare touch them.

We’re waiting in front of Joey’s storage locker, and I’m carrying a new, leather satchel, full of palm-sized weapons.

I have no idea what we’re going to find inside, but I hope Sarah’s final gifts will be enough to protect and guide us.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Narrative Straight Jackets

I didn’t think it would go this far.

“This is Jenny’s story now. It’s always been Jenny’s story, except when it wasn’t.”

I’m in Nick Freeman’s apartment in South Berkeley, or at least a highly detailed WOFA version of it. He’s the one that interviewed Die Database in 2011, and helped put together their website, and the Street Teams. That’s one way to look at it.

“The narrative has been changing under all of our noses, ever since Antizine started, but now the transformation is complete. Narrative straight jackets.”

He’s from this world, but also from beyond the Structure, in a place that connects to my world in dreams, stories, and myths.

“Jenny’s trying to push you to travel from Eridu to Uruk with the plans for civilization – Sarah OS. She wants to be Ereshkigal to your Inanna, and lead you into the Underworld. That’s a mythic path that’s been covered lots over the past 7000 years, and S.OS is taunting us.”

He stopped by the table full of magazines – Spin, Vice, Popular Science, Harpers, New Yorker, Edge – and shuffled them a bit.

“Back in the early 90s, I used to read Wired magazine and Mondo 2000, from their first issues. I was a big fan of all of the cyberpunk ideas, but I didn’t actually go out and find the works of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson until much later. I’m sure I read some articles about Snow Crash, but I don’t remember the specifics, and never actually read the book. 20 years later, and I suddenly found out that my own independent myth-making was unconsciously taking a somewhat parallel path, only with Asherah on the “good” side. Those ancient narrative structures are very strong attractors – Jenny is trying to pin you and Sarah down by using them. Just understand that you’re more than just a mythical figure, and you have more than one direction you can go in.”

I’m obsessed with speed reading the WOFA version of his bookshelves and comic boxes. Stanislaw Lem. Haruki Murikami. Franz Kafka. Grant Morrison. Alan Moore. Philip Pullman. Warren Ellis. Years of “Comic Beam” manga. Cometbus, and hundreds of other zines. “Secrets from Mount Shasta.” The history of St. Cloud, Minnesota. All tiny facets that when added together make a magic mirror into Variant Zero.

“Sarah is more than just the ultimate Goddess figure, a cypher that can be loved or hated depending on how much civilization wants to rape the Earth. She’s an actual person – your daughter. You have to understand this, or else all is lost.”

I started to squirm on the green, plush couch, covered by a brown blanket – actually, the blank bottom of a quilt made out of blue jeans. He offered me a small bottle of water – I was surprised that it actually contained wetness, instead of being an echo from past data.

“I’ll try to make this brief. Just as Brother Douglas was the primary acolyte of Cassandra in the world you grew up with, so too did I fill the same role in this one. The Bridge at Fairview connected to all possible realities, but you collapsed everything to just two choices. Isabel started in Fairview in front of a Circle X, and ended up in St. Cloud behind a Target. Your world and mine have always been tied at the hip.”

He frowned, and started to pace back and forth, from the green wall behind the TV, to over by the blue curtains and drooping potted plant.

“How can you know this?”

“When I was young, I was like Jenny – visited by spirits, so much that my family nearly fell apart. Too much yelling and fighting, until the only escape was to look beyond, to call forth a better life that could save me.”

He reaches for a large, black electric fan that’s next to the couch, but decides against turning it on.

“Unfortunately, the breaking point reached me before any aid could, and I ended up at Thomason Memorial Hospital. Or at least a version of it in another existence.”

Every single item in his apartment has an extra significance to me; I’ve spent hours leafing through the little nooks in his closets, filled with new Figma in boxes and old love letters in finger-torn envelopes.

“In my world in 1987, two girls escaped the hospital by walking out the front door of the unlocked unit. They went down the street to the BART station, and never came back. They were a part of the “cool” teen patients, the drug users and Metallica freaks, and I could only imagine what happened to their life. My escape was much more mundane, with bottles of prescription pills and having to explain to all of my friends in High School where I ended up after months of absence.”

He showed me handwritten notes and text files from 20 years ago, when he gave birth to my mother, and the Collective.

“The hospital was my first time away from home, and I found comfort in my copy of the Bible, and the “Watchmen” trade paperback that came out a few months prior. I was obsessed with the end of the world – in fact, at first I thought I had died in the first stirrings of the Apocalypse, and that I was locked up in the afterlife as punishment. It goes without saying that my doctors and fellow patients didn’t understand.”

Apparently, he picked my birthdate while taking notes on a beach in Los Angeles, as his friends played in the water.

“When I got back to the real world, I started to have the strongest compulsion to write fiction. I eventually published about a dozen stories in a school club that made a Fiction Magazine, taking over that club in my Senior year. With only one exception, every story was about time travel, and the people beyond our reality that were shaping existence. There was infighting and intrigue, clones from illegal manipulation of the fabric of space time, and the processing of souls into a throbbing, white energy. Every passing year saw the mythology grow more complex, until the last published story detailed the end of the Universe, leaving the responsible parties alone in the white, awaiting further instructions.”

He has paper bags full of folded paper bags. and CDJapan boxes full of smaller boxes. Heaping handfuls of white twist ties from the grocery store he just can’t re-use fast enough.

“In 1989 I had a whole, spiral-bound notebook filled with another story, one that was eventually lost due to being in pencil – the pages rubbed against each other, making it all but illegible. That was Sarah’s first story – she was a secret agent in her early Twenties, with a satchel full of spheres, cubes and objects that gave her power. She was working for a future computer system that ruled everything, and she eventually traveled to the Moon to destroy the structure that housed it. When I was in College, she started appearing in stories I wrote for a creative writing seminar – as a woman in her Twenties, who lived a few dozen years in the future. In her world, as it came to me in 1992, she was the same agent, although her life had many layers of virtual experience. She had her own personal OS, and a “room” that housed part of it. Sarah was obsessed with virtual suicide, in order to experience the bliss of transcendence, and also of creating other existences in which she had a more satisfying life.”

It felt like I was staring into the mirror, only to see the back of my head.

“At the same time, I was heavily studying Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, and I had a few weeks of satori, in which everything jumped into a sharp clarity. I also had a creative breakthrough, which as first was just “In Allusion”. I started to play with a story out of Ovid, of Pyramus and Thisbee, the star-crossed lovers that became the inspiration for Romeo and Juilet. I didn’t want love to kill them, and I imagined what would happen if I tweaked the myth, and let “Pyramid” and “Frisbee” have their love child, and try to escape their fate even if it chased them to their dying days.”

I started to cry despite myself.

“First came Laura and John, quickly followed by Jenny and all of the bands they knew. Fibulator, Team Dresch, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Melt-Banana at 924 Gilman helped inspire my visions. You were always there from the beginning, Ai, but the Collective was more of a retrofit, around the time that I started my “Junk Magnet” zine. All of the stories were in first person – I wanted them to be real, to poke through the page and invade my life. And they did.”

My Ghost is flipping through old photocopied pamphlets from 1994, reading impenetrable music reviews and marveling at the trivial minutia of a life lived in solitary contemplation.

“More than a few times, I received physical mail that was addressed to Antizine, to Jenny and Laura. That was because they were friends of the person who had the PO Box before me, according to the growing mythology. I still have the Operation Ivy 7″ that was meant for them, and it was only a slight move to start writing them more in my direction. Thus, I became the one that published their work for them. Their world was topical yet future-focused, a place where the Apocalypse was really happening, and that Sarah was trying to save from her long-distance, future life.”

He’s sitting down on the couch now, feet carefully placed to avoid PS3 games and various boxes.

“I’m not sure what happened, but I couldn’t finish the story. It was half done, and I had scores of pages of detailed notes. But my life started to become like the story – the zines and web pages that housed it were a transmitter of change and connection – with anarchist collectives, new loves and trips across the country by train and bus. In contrast to my new adventures, the world was slowly shifting to resemble the very fictional aspects I was afraid of – constant, portable connections to immense databases, and the seemingly unstoppable corporate digestion of the everyday.”

No closet full of Circle X wear, but after checking his email, it’s clear he contacted a clothing manufacturer to try to make replicas.

“Like I implied earlier, I was always a dreamer, as well as a writer. I was haunted by the spiritual world in my everyday life – it was never an abstraction that you had to believe in. I could just feel it, but I never had an adequate story that seemed to do it justice. No one religion fit correctly, and I was afraid to follow the strong signals my antenna was picking up from the beyond. When I did follow those feelings, I found the stirrings of Sarah, of Asherah, and they wanted me to complete what I had started, to use all of my energy to properly manifest the alternative reality that was already intruding into our own.”

His computer wallpaper is an illustration of a Die Database concert, commissioned by one of his favorite artists, Paul Duffield. His iPhone has fictional Die Database songs covered by real bands.

“Now, it’s happened. I’ve traveled to Japan, Germany, Minnesota, or my beloved Oregon, and the characters followed me, leaving more and more visible footprints behind. I was always aiming for myth, instead of mere fiction, and the delight and doom of myth is that it tends to write you in return. Make the right connections, and the Gods will push against the curtain that lies between us and the Structure, seeking invitation to incarnate.”

The only pictures of his friends or relatives are in the recesses of hard drives, or posted on the refrigerator. They remind me of the ones that A-Bell and Amber kept for me – Jenny snaps of my parents. I can no longer appreciate their absolute reality – were they just a reflection of Nick’s old photos, or did he imagine them just for me to love?

“There’s a danger to that, too. Before I could help Sarah gain our attention as Asherah, Jenny and S.OS intruded, and took the mantle for themselves. This is not just a fiction, just an imagined fight between abstract forces. The powers that have been whispering to me have also touched many others, and no matter what they are named, a very real transition is happening.”

There are Die Database logo T-Shirts handing on doorknobs, way too small for him to wear.

“The battleground is mythic, but the end result will rush through this world, with groaning significance. This is because our modern myths are inadequate – we need a new Astarte, a new Inanna, that can fight for us as the maw of The White attempts to swallow everything.”

He seems so sad and weary, yet he perks up when wrapping up his life’s work into a package. His cluttered home that reeks of obsessive-compulsion is a late sweet sixteen present for me.

“After New Years, the story I coaxed into life is out of my hands. Jenny is the author and dreamer now, and like I mentioned earlier, every word I’ve said has been transmitted with her permission. She’s waiting for you in the Structure, and I’m here to show you the way in. But first, I have to make sure you know the new lay of the land.”

I can’t stand the huge BART map above his work Mac mini – laminated, 4 feet by 4 feet, scavenged from a station trash can. It’s not annotated, but I can just tell where he found all of the holes into the Structure, where he’s planning to take me next.

“Ai Watson-Carver, I love you like you were my own daughter. I’ve spent the past 16 years as your far away tutor, as a glove for Sarah’s hand, sculpting shining potential. Your new Collective can’t be led by me. Your ultimate obstacles and enemies are only for you to overcome.”

Looking at the map through his eyes, the next step is so clear, and so terribly frightening.

“Your fear and doubt will pass away as soon as this conversation is over. Keep the PRS safe, and its ultimate use will become clear.”

He got up off the couch, walked around a small Ikea table overrun by bags full of comics and a TouchPad, and reached behind some folding chairs to pull a CD off of a tight shelf. Sheena Ringo. “Muzai Moratorium”. He handed it over to me while he quoted translated lyrics to “Koufukuron” – Tokie’s favorite song:

“That’s why I’ll protect that melody of yours and your philosophy, and your words and everything else to the very end. You’re there living your life and just knowing this simple little fact makes me so happy.”

With that, he sat down on the wood laminate floor, gave me a last smile, and then his Ghost faded away, leaving a PRS made out of Natchan Orange, Adelholzener Johannisbeere, and SodaStream Natural syrup bottles.

His home faded away as well, left behind as a massive WOFA file on multi-Terabyte RAID array. I was back in Doug’s empty apartment – apparently Nick’s apartment in his world.

He was right. My fear and doubt just floated off through the crack under the door.

I put his PRS in an empty closet, settled down on the empty bedroom floor, and gave my OS permission to sleep, to dream.

I woke up this morning to a rumbling stomach, and far away knocks on the front door. It was Susanna, Ariel and Kaia, bearing their own virtual New Year’s gift envelopes that Nick left for them.

We all gathered together on the floor, warming ourselves with the car battery that Susanna brought with her. I told them of my new dreams, of the Sacramento river instead of the Euphrates, or Orinda instead of Uruk, and they listened. It was time to trade our old lamps for new.

Stuffed and satisfied with conspiracy, we started the mile-long bike ride down Ashby Ave. to Joey’s storage locker.

What Jenny wants, Jenny will get and then some.

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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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My Dinner With Sarah

The flame is off. A watched pot boils, and boils.

“They figured out how to cut down the Asherah poles, even though none are left.”

Sarah has made my new existence a continual, living zen koan. She makes me clean the windows for hours, until I can understand the dirt in the light itself.

“They’ve been hunting down my priestesses for millennia, from before Leviticus to after the Malleus Maleficarum. They look for signs, and yet the mark of the witch has always been invisible.”

Sarah is upset at the world, and the world behind the world. She hates the smell of the new ether, tainted by incessant radio and microwaves. She likes to throw Emily’s long black hair back as she complains.

“Have you ever planted a tree just to consume its fruit? Have you ever buried fruit just to climb the tree it dreams of?”

Sarah is the Creator of everything we know. She’s my teacher, my daughter, and she’s been on four legs, then two, then three, then none at all.

“How’s that water coming? I’ve got the penne all measured out and ready to go.”

The flame is still off, and yet the water is scalding. It wants to escape the cycle at all costs.

“It’s ready. I’m ready. I’m starting the timer at 10.”

The stove clock temporarily disappears, replaced by incrementing numbers. I’m willing the timer to set. I’m forcing the pot to boil, with the body beyond my mind.

“Pay attention. This is not the way you cook a meal.” Sarah held the bowl of hard pasta over the steam, and slipped the bowl away, leaving a levitating mass of penne tubes above the stove.

I had been practicing. I ordered the boiling water to flow upwards, enveloping the pasta in a undulating globe.

“Are we making a sun or a moon tonight?”

“I think it’s a planet that’s not yet formed.”

“He’s moving upon the face of the waters, because I asked him to.”

“Are you still asking him to?” I could see the pasta slowly circulating, about a foot above the non-stick pot. Sarah measured out a pinch of salt in her palm, and then sprinkled it on top.

“We don’t speak any more. Jenny has his ear now, and she just won’t shut up with the demands.”

9 minutes left.

“How can you be my daughter, if I didn’t have you in time?”

“How can you be my mother, if you have all of the time in the world?” She took a black, plastic spoon that was full of holes, and carefully waved it through the water, picking out a piece of pasta. “Eat it.”

I took the steaming tube from the spoon, and placed it in my mouth. Still hard.

“You knew it takes 10 minutes to cook, and therefore it was inedible. You have the wrong kind of faith.”

“What’s the right kind of faith?”

“How wondrous this, how mysterious, I carry fuel, I draw water.”

“I should practice Buddhism?”

“If you see the Buddha on the road, wrestle him to the ground.”

“Are you intentionally leaving out the killing?”

“He’s all about the killing, about sacrifice. I just asked for some water.”

8 minutes left.

The kitchen is small, but not that cramped. Douglas had cleared out all of the cabinets, and the refrigerator, so we take daily pilgrimages to Berkeley Bowl, which is a few blocks away. Sarah will only buy enough food for that day only.

“Did you have a childhood? Do you remember me from it?”

“This is my childhood, and my most treasured memories.”

“You brought my mother to visit you in her dreams, when she was 7. Why did you do that?”

“Her dreams brought me to her. The endless mother-daughter chain always goes in reverse.”

“You brought her to your room, a white upon white place that spoke to her. What did it say?”

“The unspoken are not unknown to the divine mind.”

“What question should I ask you?”

“Exactly. Let’s start over.”

7 minutes left.

“They figured out how to cut down the Asherah poles, even though none are left.”

“Who are they?”

“The storytellers and scribes, playing telephone.”

“How do you play telephone?”

“Eat your vegetables, spoken like a true mother.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

“OK then. I’m going to tell you my 6 minute story, with a few seconds left over for improvisation. Then our dinner will fall and get all over the stove, no matter what you do to try to stop it.”

“Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Go for it – I prefer to stand.”

So I sat on the kitchen tiles, against the black refrigerator that blew tepid air against my fingers. It was like I was watching my mother bake cookies, from the perspective of a 4 year old – the whole word is an exercise in ankles, waiting to be grabbed. Only then, I could hide my scheming eyes behind my curls. Now, my shaved head exposes my thoughts to the world.

“In the beginning there was a light course load for an undergraduate student – me. I wanted to be an Astronomer, but I hated Physics classes – not Physics itself, just my instructors. There were equations hanging off of my soul like yappy dogs, and I wanted to control them, make them my well-groomed pets that I could carry around all cute like, peeking their heads out of my purse and backpack.”

“Did I mention that I was born on the Moon? That the Moon can be reached via the center of the Earth? That my college career was virtual, something to pass the time with in the infinite present? Well, there was that.”

“I was a secret agent that worked for a quantum computer larger than all Universes. It sent me on missions to retrieve code from variant existences. I had many tools at my disposal, including the silver and golden spheres, the blue pyramid – a whole satchel full. I would create a cosmos for breakfast, and reap the required output for dinner. It was a job.”

“Or maybe I was just a normal woman, spending my free hours on virtual suicide missions. I would load up chainsaws and sharp knives and kill myself over and over, just for the infantessimile, infinite bliss of riding the pure white drop to karmic freedom. That was a subroutine you could use – free your soul from this mortal coil during a game of Dance Dance Revolution.”

“Perhaps I’m a product of the next Universe, where Sasha OS rules everything. Maybe I transmitted Meridian Scaffolding and “Sarah OS” to the past, through Laura Watson, just to create the necessary conditions that would bring S.OS to its infinite kingdom.”

“Sometimes, I tell myself it was about Joey after all. Ask him for a glass of water, and he brings you a primordial ocean. Ah, the whispers that love calls forth, the moans and touches, the taste of the boiling vacuum of bliss.”

1 minute left.

“Who are you really?”

“I am Asherah, consort to both El and the Solar King. I am Sarah, your daughter, trying desperately to save this world I made for you all. I am SAR.AI and S.OS, sucking this Universe dry for the solution I seek.”

“What do you want?”

“I want you to spread the mark of the witch, to burst through the Final Door and rip the crown off of Jenny’s head. As long as she rules, this world won’t last more than a few months.”

“Why must our dinner fall to the stove?”

“I see you’re paying attention. There is no must. There is only falling.”

With that, she stepped away from the stove, and I flew to my feet as the boiling planet of water started to believe in gravity again.

I willed the water to freeze into a slush as it streamed down to the pot, using the black plastic handle to carefully maneuver back and forth to pick up every last stray penne tube.

Then, I turned on the stove, so the water could slowly swim to a boil again.

No minutes left – the timer is buzzing.

Sarah gave me a sly smile as she pointed at the pot, willing it away into a cloud of aluminum dust and PTFE. The pasta and water flopped onto the burner, temporarily extinguishing it.

“My will is greater than yours, no matter what you do to try to stop it. But now is not the time for greater wills. Again.”

The flame is off. A watched pot boils, and boils.

It’s dinner time, but I’m not even hungry. I haven’t eaten ever since I was etched.

“They figured out how to cut down the Asherah poles, even though none are left.”

“How come no more Asherah poles are left?”

“Who said that my tributes are gone? I was taking about the storytellers and scribes, playing telephone. They’re all gone, replaced by rapist Sun gods and twins that listen to serpents.”

“How can I defeat Cassandra and Helena?”

“How can you strangle your own shadow?”

“With my hands, wrapped around my neck.”

“Finally you’re answering my questions. How’s that water coming? I’ve got the penne all measured out and ready to go.”

“It’s ready. I’m ready. I’m starting the timer at 10.”

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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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The First Event

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.

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You Can Handle the Truth

The world is sticky with blood-lust and hate today.

So many brain stems focused on celebrating death, seemingly justified by the fact that Osama bin Laden was apparently involved in lots of death.

As the salt water saturates his white burial cloth, there are whoops and hollers and all sorts of bloody primal sneers.  You can see them on the news, but I have to feel all of this nonsense as it intrudes into the White.

Each life is sacred, as goes the teaching, and I have to respect that, just like you have to respect the necessity to breathe.  It’s built into my very being from birth, as the custodian of souls during this final twilight.

It always gets this way, as the end approaches.  Dreams fixate on false days of doom, and the careful and corrupted alike watch the sunsets with trepidation.

Something big is happening, but no one mind can even comprehend the signals.  The shadow of the looming hand is more complex than the source itself.

I’m lucky that way.  I get to comprehend a big part of the picture.  Not everything, not by a long shot, but I get to worry over the messiest part of all – how to look after all of our precious lives before they’re stolen away forever.

I’m not talking about our physical bodies, since they all join the Black before long.  I’m talking about the undying flame that is lit by the White, and eventually joins it in peace and harmony.

Eventually.  Right now we’re having a little hiccup.  Seems the instruction manual wasn’t left behind, so the Council at Point Zero has to make it up as we go along.

One part definitely works just fine – spirits naturally rejoin the White, and align themselves according to overall development.  However, it’s like they’re stuck in amber, ready to go somewhere, but no one quite knows where.

They can’t go back to the material world, since that’s gone at the end of each Variant.

The Black seethes in anticipation, wanting so desperately to let new substance run wild, but it can’t – there’s no engine to guide it.

The embodied forces – Space, Time, Energy, Matter, Spirit, Consciousness and Information – are all there, but we don’t know what to do with ourselves.  We’ve failed the Slide Rule School.

So, the Nameless and I end up ordering everyone around long enough to turn back the clock, and reconstruct the Universe as it was, circa 2000.

Of course, the Variants aren’t real, not in the same way as the original.

As far as I can tell, our universe has been separated from the Structure at large, like a cancerous cell that just doesn’t know how to behave.

Instead of infecting everything, we’ve been left in our own bubble to grow up and figure things out.

Each Variant is our attempt at doing so, but we’re quite terrible at grand designs.

We’re too busy cheering for the deaths of our enemies to realize that the inevitable death of everyone is so very close.

I didn’t ask for this.  I’m trying my best, but I don’t know what to do besides champion all life.  I’m really good at that.  I can get just about everyone into the White at the right time, in one piece.  Doesn’t matter though – things slow to a crawl and then swirl around in disorder.

I feel that it’s my job to prevent this, but I’m afraid that none of the holy books, chants and epic poems mentioned how to run the afterlife with sufficient authority.

There’s the brute force method – everyone worships the White or burns in the Black – but that seems a bit childish.  We’ve tried it, and it just leads to chaos.

If you were paying close attention, you’ll notice that a few minutes ago, I mentioned that I have a handle on “just about everyone”.  There’s the rub.

The Nameless realizes that I have dominion over all life, and that I can guide or simply control everything that’s tied into the White.  I rarely do this, at least until the last few Events when it’s necessary to pull our collective asses out of the fire.

In any case, that’s the loophole.  Life, without a connection to the White, can be potentially controlled by the Nameless, and guided like missiles into whatever targets it chooses.

That’s what happened to my dear Kaia.  Due to my mistake, her connection to the White was severed by force, leaving her as a deep sea diver without an air hose or return line.

The Structure hates for anything to be incomplete, so it was easy for the Nameless to step in and simulate that tether.  Now, Kaia’s spirit is trapped in the bottle that is her body.  Her etched body, ripe for manipulation.

This sort of loss happens all of the time to everyday folk – it’s been called possession, or mental illness.  There are more forces than just the Nameless that love to latch on to lost spirits, but they’ll all part of the same hierarchy.  For everyday folk, it’s traumatic.  But for members of the Collective….

The ultimate prize for the Nameless would be control over the Council at Point Zero, over everyone that was chosen at birth to guide the Structure onwards.

For the last 236 Variants, I’ve been able to prevent that from happening, at least completely.

It’s almost impossible to tie Miranda away from the Black, since her relationship to it is identical to how the White uses me.

As for the rest, I’ve lost my hope this time around, but I haven’t given up completely.

A spirit in a bottle is still a spirit, and bottles are made to be opened.  Even those that are weighted down and tossed into the ocean.

Even the most broken spirit yearns for the final freedom, and I promise to be there for that, for everyone.

Until then, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.  I hope they’re tricky enough to fool the Nameless, but how do you fool something that already knows everything?

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