Remember when I came home to find my entire flat empty? My first response was to attack Susanna, and she swatted me away like a fly.
Sunday morning, she gave me the key to the storage locker – the place where my life was neatly stored away.
I didn’t even know she had such foresight, and I just assigned a random vindictiveness to her.
Now, I’m hiding away the day in that locker, surrounded by my once favorite clothes and records. It’s cramped, and I keep poking into antique chair legs and metal bookends.
This was supposed to be the big surprise that she was going to reveal before we hit the road, that last moment where I could still turn back, or grab a few mementos before burning my bridges. It was my body-warming present, a way to show that even the Collective cared.
I hate the smell of my life, all dust and incense. I can no longer see in the dark, or sense passers by stories below, since the White no longer speaks to me.
My antenna is broken, I’m broken…..
I don’t even know why I’m writing this…. after so many packets they’re bound to sniff me out. But I just have to speak to someone, to process it all.
She was dying in my hands, because of my hands, and Helena couldn’t stop screaming.
Oh fuck, Helena…. Ai knew it was going to happen, she should have been able to do something!
Instead, it took my body from me, took Susanna from me, and made me watch every moment.
It all started out so right….. the Numbers found the perfect warehouse for the ceremony, to the north of the city.
They set up the equipment – amazingly huge speakers and a wardrobe of guitars.
Cassandra and Helena were bringing in choice gear from every variant, and they also transported their mother April (Number 6) to help orchestrate. She was an amazingly stunning woman, even from a distance – built like a champion tennis player, with muscular arms and legs, yet stereotypically feminine, her dark wavy hair effortlessly tousled, blue eyes like still lakes, and a mouth from classical sculpture. It looked like the twins kept her well dressed – she had on a gown suitable for an Oscar after-party.
Jo (Number 4) kept huddling with A-Bell, apparently working from virtual blueprints to make the space beyond perfect. Jo had surprisingly let herself go gray, but it really suited her, especially with her simple and straight hair, right off of a 70’s shampoo model. Her outfit was a black tuxedo jacket and digital desert camouflage pants, made whole by what looked like a bottle-cap chain mail vest. I would have been shocked by anything less, knowing her reputation as a living exclamation mark.
Amber was busy with Caroline (Number 5) over what looked like a full service bar. Actually, it looked like it was just ripped out of a nightclub – I assumed that Helena had been kept busy since the previous night. You would think that most Collective members were straight-edge, but since hangovers or even liver poisoning were never a problem for Pure Land Antennas, they tended to party way past the normal dropping point. Caroline was an exception, she grew up with alcoholic parents, and always frowned upon even the slightest revelry that involved drink or drugs.
So, she had Helena stock the bar with soft drinks and exotic teas and waters from all over the world, a task that she achieved with the usual excess. She had even collected glacier ice, by hand, from the north and south poles. After Caroline fully surveyed the stash she kissed Helena on the forehead, and she actually blushed, matching the pink prom dress she had just bought from a Beverly Hills boutique.
At a stark contrast, Caroline was wearing one of the T-Shirts that Phone had designed for Intruder Alert!, back when they were all teens. It was black, with the silhouette of of a elementary school jungle gym in white. There were skeletons of children swinging across in a row.
Phone was like that, seeing the world in stark relief, like an X-Ray camera. He was nothing but fuzzy gray, but he wanted so desperately to sift everything into just black and white, the perfect and the rejected.
In that way, he seemed the perfect match for Isabel. She was off in the corner, scowling as she took the occasional swig from some Korean aloe concoction. Of all the Collective members, she was the most likely to start a fight – rumor has is that she actually spent a few variants endangering species, just because she could. Which was beyond strange, since she’s not just a vegan – she only exists off of a “natural” mix of vitamins and minerals, the kind of treat you would expect to scrape off of boulders.
Isabel wasn’t always like that – in her youth she was a fashion model ready to devour only the finest parts of the world. While her attitude has changed, she still has a taste for couture, and is the number one client of our circuit clothiers. Last night, she had on an exercise in light – it was a Satomi Kurogane original holographic dress, with every layer of shimmering photons shifting in color and opacity, like a sunset seen through a waterfall. Her face was made up to match, with a chalky foundation as a canvas, and bold strokes of color embracing her eyes. And her wig – it was like a lion’s mane, an iridescent dandelion. Phone would have died to see her like that.
I’m sorry. That’s just not right. Not only is he not coming back, but….
I tried washing my face and hands in the Isar hours ago, but they only started to smell. Now the blood is like second skin, like Susanna’s hands caressing my head after she shaved it.
By the time the ceremony started the party was already in full swing. Helena went all out, transporting all active Collective members from around the world, one woman at a time. Aurora’s parents were perhaps the only ones that didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves; Susan (Number 7) kept to herself on a drum set – she didn’t play one note, but instead just kept sliding her fingers over the cymbals. Velcro was simply drunk, and since he wasn’t etched no one could blame him for his rants and tear-filled outbursts. He kept hounding Ai, telling her to bring his baby back home, and she eventually calmed his nerves with a slight flick of the wrist, and had Helena find him a nice hotel bed.
The whole time, Cassandra sat in the middle of the dance floor, playing with the invisible. I took a few minutes to sit down beside her, and I marveled at her outfit – it was the same blue pajamas that Miranda was wearing the night of the Fourth Event. Before I could even ask her about them, she reached out for my left hand, and squeezed it. “I forgive you. And I hope you die in flames.” She smiled at me weakly, like a dog she was afraid of. Then Helena popped in and took her away.
Rebecca (Number 9) and Elizabeth (Number 10) also kept to themselves. They had been friends since High School, and had been involved on and off through Potato Power and Dust Lag. They took it really hard when Sasha died, and only were mixed up with the Collective when absolutely necessary. Susanna was their only real tie to the group, and if they had it their way, they would find a cabin in some forgotten variant and live out their days.
Isabel kept staring at them all night – as Dust Lag’s drummer she always felt kept away in the shadows, and she resented how Susanna always got the spotlight, in the eyes of the crowd and Phone. She blamed Rebecca and Elizabeth for allowing this, and for not telling her that Phone was cheating on her as soon as they knew.
Helena also brought in the technocoven, the only surviving Collective cell that Amber cultivated, and who looked after Phone during Fairview. Amy and Tomoe were still together, after over a decade, but Tomoe decided to get her phosphorescent dermal tint removed many variants ago. Sarah and Phone were involved for a few months, but she quickly grew tired of his wandering eye, and constant pining for Susanna. Mavi died in Variant 0, and she decided that she didn’t want to return – the only Collective member to ever refuse immortality.
The only original Collective members that weren’t at Phone’s funeral party were Laura (dead), Number 12 (uninvited) and Jenny. Jenny was a special case, one that I simply can’t get into now. Perhaps you could say she’s the Collective’s prisoner?
Right now, I wish I was in Jenny’s horrible position, and not a fugitive on the run from my new family.
A few minutes before it happened, Susanna and Ai pulled me aside by the bar. Susanna gave me a huge hug, and seemed to be holding back tears.
“I promised that I would watch over you in this and all other variants.” She took another shot of some vodka, and then placed her ice cold palms over my cheeks. “I lied – I’m so sorry!”
“There’s a very good reason that I picked you, Kaia.” Ai was still wearing that football jersey, and I finally understood why. “I know that you’re strong enough to survive what happens next.”
Susanna started to move her hands down to my neck. “I could end it all right here, but I won’t.” She started to half-squeeze, half-shake.
“I cheated.” Ai grimaced as she took Susanna’s hands off of me. “Cassandra and Helena took me ahead to the Fifth Event this morning. Now she’s furious, and it’s all my fault.”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t have enough time to teach you properly.” Susanna leaned her chest against the damp bar, and then looked away to the makeshift stage. “I’ll always remember you with love,” she said to me, and no one in particular as she walked away.
“Listen.” Ai suddenly reached through the White and took hold of my soul. “I lost the bet, and Number 12 has made her choice.” I could feel her spirit fingers caressing my heart.
“What are you trying to tell me?” I didn’t want to hear what I already understood.
“The Nameless is coming to collect its prize. You.”
At that moment, Ai rushed out of my head to be replaced by a cool, dark nothingness.
My connection to the bodyweb was overwhelmed by a torrent of seemingly random numbers, and as I looked up at Susanna on the stage, I suddenly started to sense the patterns in the chaos, the repetition in the irrational.
Before Susanna could even start to quiet the crowd, I felt myself rush towards the stage, fists squeezed like black holes.
Helena and Cassandra appeared in front of me, and with one motion I grabbed Helena by the head and gouged out her eyes with my thumbs, then tossed her screaming across the warehouse into waiting arms of Number 12. They disappeared before anyone could react.
Susanna didn’t move. She just stood her ground, hands grabbing her black prairie dress by the waist, and watched as I leaped on stage, placed my right hand on her pelvis, and raised it with a jerk. As it passed by each Chakra, her very being was forced into premature enlightenment, until it slipped out the top of her head and into the White.
Then the Nameless forced my hands down her throat, breaking her neck from the inside out and removing her head like a picked flower. Her curly brunette wig fell to my feet first, followed by pieces of her crushed skull.
This all happened in about five seconds. By the time the Collective thought to attack, Cassandra took me by the bloody hands and ripped me away from it all.
We appeared in the same warehouse on Friday, before Ai arrived in München. It was filled with old printing presses and scattered piles of paper.
“Stay here for the next day. Don’t leave for any reason.” She stared intensely at her bare feet. “Then, at 1AM Sunday morning, follow the Isar back into the city, and hide at the storage unit. You’ll be contacted at 14:00.”
With that, she sat back down on the floor, and disappeared, leaving me in absolute, horrific shock.
I don’t understand this. I didn’t ask for this. I hope that the Collective reads this blog, finds me, and puts me out of my misery before things get worse.
I’m staring at the florescent light that’s peeking in beyond the door. It should be comforting, but it just hurts my eyes.
It hurts my very being, and no matter how tight I close them, the pain just isn’t going away.