I have a phobia about storage lockers; to me they are like huge leeches latching on to my life’s ankles.
You may think that last sentence to be problematic, but likely for the wrong reasons. The real issue is that I no longer know who “I” is, so to speak.
“I” is certainly not the woman that last wrote in this blog last April. She didn’t like storage lockers either, especially after having to hide in one after committing murder.
Not that it was really murder – is it your fault if someone sneaks a pocket knife past your body’s security checkpoints, and then forces you to pluck out eyes and smash in heads?
Trust me – I know all about murder.
I’m losing the thread here. It’s a very tenuous connection now, between me and “reality”. Now being on the platform on the formerly non-existent Point Richmond BART station, as I cradle my daughter in my hands.
Back to an important point. I’m not the Kaia Strauss that you knew from this blog, and I’m not Catherine Koehler, either. I’m supposed to be Cathy’s clone, her mirror reflection cut out like a huge paper doll and told to be fruitful and multiply.
That’s another problematic concept, but no more troubling than the life of a Pure Land Antenna in general.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m obsessed with things I no longer control.
I don’t have time to pontificate, to count the mass of unmanned drones hovering overhead like huge horseflies. Silver spheres, multi-rotored helicopters, and other treasures from Ariel’s imagination.
All I know is that I’m deathly afraid of storage lockers, and our treatment after entering Joey’s unit only accentuated this.
My dear Ariel was right about many things, especially when it came to the seemingly empty space in that unit. It was filled way past the brim with stuff, like a plastic bottle over-inflated by a muddy garden hose. I don’t know who was initially responsible, but it was clear that the plastic Cassandra with boiling flesh borrowed us all for a very specific reason – to create a new, temporary world within the confines of that locker.
A world that took a sharp turn in the early 1960s, quickly diverging from “normal” reality until it takes a mental spacesuit just to exist here.
I’m ahead of myself a bit. I’m behind myself a great deal. Let me start over to a certain degree.
I was born on Halloween in 1994, with the body of a woman in her early twenties. Catherine Koehler’s body.
I was born pregnant, carrying a girl conceived by Catherine Koehler and Brian “Phone” Thomas. She called her daughter Miranda, and I called mine Ariel.
Ariel just turned 17 a few weeks ago.
Ariel just died a few minutes ago.
Don’t worry, Sarah promised that she’d put her back together in the end.
I’m holding her remains in a small rectangular box, about the size of a complete Tarot deck. It’s matte, silver metal and slightly warm, but that might just be my imagination.
My OS is going overtime, trying to hold everything together, to prevent me from actually feeling anything right now. I don’t have time to contemplate this box, and I certainly don’t have the time to cry, or scream, or slap Ai silly as she just sits there, talking to Emily like nothing even happened.
Back to the spirit of starting over. Let’s go back to Joey’s storage locker.
Susanna Eck rushed into the locker first. Ai ordered Ariel and I to follow, and the experience….
If a simile is a comparison, and a metaphor is a transformation, then that locker was the next logical step – we swam through a murky grey concept, and our lungs filled with the spit, sweat and semen of voracious machine elves.
I couldn’t see Ariel in those infinitely long moments, but I could still feel her wrapped in my arms. I could hear labored breath, filled with esoteric swears and angel sparks.
We had to consume our own bodies, only to give birth to them anew. Take a spoonful of The Black like a fiber supplement with flax, and vomit up weird and forgotten mythologies.
The one true end was right there licking our cheeks, while the changing now pierced our navels maliciously, and held on for dear life as it ran away in every direction.
If there’s a tedium in excessive novelty, then I wrote epic poems about it, only to have to recite them in reverse to the shadowy figure approaching the final throne.
I can’t. Every time I think about that transition into this pocket world, I get headaches that quickly rush up and down my spine.
Ariel had a worse time than I did. When we ended up back in the Storage Center, she kept changing her physical state, randomly cycling her limbs and fingers through the Periodic Table. I had to talk her down from grey Selenium arms, and a bumpy, yellow, crystallized Sulfur face drooling Mercury. We have special songs for occasions like that, mantras I taught her from birth to come back from The Black and rediscover flesh.
Susanna wasn’t waiting for us on the other side. The Plastic Robot Sculpture (PRS) remained, a few steps down the dark hallway, wearing a huge, pink backpack that contained the Titanium PRS seed that had attacked us.
When Ai finally stumbled out of the locker, she was enveloped in a membrane of living, fluid light. She was choking on a concept I couldn’t even process, until she used the Golden Sphere to tear through the shell with fingers burning black.
“Where’s…. Susanna?” Ai was still gasping for breath as she wiped the golden liquid off of her bald head.
“Not here. Fuck it all, here isn’t even here anymore.” I had already done enough scanning of our surroundings to know that we weren’t in the Berkeley we just left. This was only a dollhouse the size of the Universe, a well-constructed fake ship in the bottle.
“Wrong kind of matter, and we’re breathing blood and pumping air.” Ariel was almost back to her usual body, but with swatches of exotic fabrics growing up her sweaty back like wild grass. “Everything is a big bouncy castle filled with rainbow plastic balls, so unsubtle and hard to control.”
Ai didn’t waste any time. Raised herself to the floor, stepping out of the sticky puddle of light, and limped towards the nearest Exit sign. Didn’t look over to me, didn’t even speak out loud, and instead used the static-filled Bodyweb to strongly suggest for us to follow.
The PRS quickly snapped to attention and trailed behind her a few paces, just as Ariel finished singing the matter mantra, shifting back to costumed skin. She was wearing a cosplay outfit, a patched together remix of the Die Database outfits from Massive Cloud Burst – the top half of the white kimono with rainbow accents, combined with a frilly purple skirt and red, armored leggings. Her head was now bald, except for a few strands of purple hair sticking out the front in a powerful curl, like a surly baby doll.
“I’m getting up.” Still on the floor. “I’m up.” Wobbling to her feet. “Giddyup!” She jumped square on my back, like she was seven again, and I could tell from the sickly sweet smell of her breath that something horrible was happening.
It was the smell of the Chosen Light, as we fought to the death in the Allianz Arena parking garage.
The Grand Supreme had reset that reality, but only I still remembered what happened, as the Earth burned to ashes with Munich at the epicenter.
The other Kaia would say München, not Munich. She was German through and through, or at least so I’ve read.
I really don’t have time for this now, to try to explain the last 17 years. I don’t know how much time I’ll have left – a few hours or days, perhaps.
So I’m going to use all of my time to hold tightly onto Ariel’s miniature coffin, to do what Ai says even though she doesn’t even respect me as the holder of the ultimate Spirit power. I can tell she thinks of me as a fleshy bag that temporarily contains her birthright.
I carried Ariel outside – I could feel her heat against my back, like a too-close hallway furnace.
When we entered the storage center, we were a few dozen feet away from Highway 80 and the Bay. Now, we were right across the street from the North Berkeley BART station, and the air was saturated with weird WOF marks and broken transit maps that only we could see.
Ariel coughed like a crow was flying out of her mouth, and then she handed me a BART pamphlet over my right shoulder. Something was extremely wrong with it, and Ai spoke up as she studied the one that Ariel transported into her hands.
“This is what I was afraid of. Nick Junk Magnet had all sorts of files on the history of BART, from when the 9 counties that surrounded the Bay started to hash out the details in the early 1950s.”
She pointed at the BART rotunda that was across the street, while I looked behind us for the storage place that had now disappeared. We were about two miles away from our initial location, on a residental street across from the BART parking lot.
“In June of 1961, a fancy consortium of engineers and other folk from three firms – Parsons Brinckerhoff, Tudor and Bechtel – submitted an elaborate report that carefully showed how Bay Area Rapid Transit could be spread across Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. BART would go North into Richmond, Northeast to the suburbs and Concord (digging a hole through the Berkeley/Oakland hills right by the Sibley Volcanic Preserve), and Southeast to Fremont. It would also cross under the Bay from Oakland to San Francisco, and continue on down the peninsula to Palo Alto. The final masterstroke would be a branching path that went from downtown San Francisco, right by the current Montgomery station, and up through the Northern part of the City so the trains could travel across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin, and eventually past San Rafael to Santa Venetia.”
Ai was really getting worked up now, and she waived us across the street and into the BART parking lot, which was completely empty of cars.
“By the end of 1961, Marin had dropped out because they didn’t want to modify the Golden Gate Bridge in any way, and San Mateo didn’t think they could afford it. So the engineers tried to save face, and kept a modified Northern route in San Francisco, the Geary line that ran under Post street from Kearny to 25th Ave. Station. Eventually, that route was axed as well, and Embarcadero Station was added right before the Bay Tube to Oakland. This less ambitious system went on line starting in 1972, just over 10 years later.”
The PRS with huge pink backpack took point, apparently looking for trouble. We were approaching some small green shrubs and purple leaved trees that dotted the barren parking lot. Where were all of the cars?
“As you know, BART was Cassandra’s pet project. She championed for the original design that crossed over into Marin, as necessarily strong scaffolding over the thin border between our world and the Structure. It was supposed to be a huge band aid that kept trouble away, and that eventually kept Jenny and S.OS imprisoned. The loss of the Marin and San Mateo lines was enough to cause instability, specifically in the Marin Headlands. The Black has been using that hole for years to influence the whole Bay Area, and also to slowly make inroads into the Structure itself. Simply put, BART has terminally bad Feng Shui. Or had….”
I looked down at my pamphet again. There clearly was a violet train line that led from San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Marin all the way to Novato. There also was an Orange line that led West past the Richmond station, through a previously non-existent Point Richmond station, and under the water to San Rafael. There were extensions from the current Milbrae and Fremont stations, both terminating in San Jose past the Southern tip of the Bay. That’s not even counting the tracks running from Livermore directly Northward to meet the Pittsburg/Bay Point line.
“I don’t know how Cassie failed in the real world, but she clearly succeeded here. The Bay is completely encircled, and the Black contained. I think Joey and her used Ariel to re-write history.”
“This isn’t her story. It’s a pop up book!” Ariel suddenly jumped off of my back and ran angrily towards Ai, leaving a trail of dead frogs in her wake. The PRS moved to defend her, but Ai waived it off.
“Kaia, you have to control your daughter.”
“Don’t you tell me how to raise her!”
“I can already hear the whispers. At the storage unit Cassie infected her with the Black and S.OS.”
“I don’t believe you!” I believed her.
“We don’t have much longer before the Grand Supreme comes to anoint her as the second bride of the Nameless.”
At this point I was right behind Ariel, as she growled at Ai. I held her shoulders before she floated away like a raincloud, or sank down past the cracks in the asphalt. Her mind was all earthquake spasms, and forceful commands from a fragment of the Black that wrapped around her spine like a cobra.
I took Ariel’s spirit and sheltered it away from the constant attacks, leaving her body as little more than a blank shell, like the fleshy PRS that Cassie made.
“Thank you.” Ai was clearly upset, but not at me. “Joey can never follow instructions… he was supposed to hide Emily in a neutral Personal Pocket Reality, one where neither the Grand Supreme nor the Black could get after her. But he had to go to St. Cloud to get that fallen PRS…. always too damn clever for his own good. Come on, we have to make it out of this place before it collapses. Ariel was holding it together with her powers, but now that she’s out of it…”
Ai was looking behind me so intensely that I turned around to see what was up. Instead of the Berkeley neighborhood, there was just a white haze surrounding the BART parking lot. When I faced the station again, the rest of Berkeley, including the hills a few miles Eastward, were completely replaced by nothingness.
“The last train out of here is entering the station under us – you have to force Ariel to take us there now!”
The station rotunda that used to be a hundred feet away – gone.
The sky was white. The asphalt was fading away under our feet.
I grabbed onto Ai’s spirit, and used Ariel to latch on to our bodies like security blankets. We used to practice teleportation in little fits and starts – it always gave Ariel such a headache, and made her hands tremble as she cut us away from the world.
When the whiteness started to eat away at our skin, I cut us away from the parking lot, underground dozens of feet, and onto the BART train that had just started to leave. Ariel vomited little twitching globs of The Black all over the carpeted floor, as Ai scoped out the train. It was empty except for us. But not for long.
“This car is infected.” Ai reached in her leather satchel, and took out what looked like a ray gun. She shot a red beam at the black constructs before they could start to spread, and they disintegrated. “Not enough. It’s like mold, the air is full of spores just waiting for a stray thought to set them aflame.” The windows started to cover with a film of black spots, like from the damp corner behind shampoo bottles. She looked back at me as she ran for the door to the next train car. “Control her, now.”
As the train exited the station, there was only about a thousand feet of tunnel left, before it exited into what should have been the bright blue sky of North Berkeley, by Gilman Street. Instead, there was the same whiteness hugging the train, as it howled over the tracks and shot forward into the almost unknown.
I had already picked Ariel up, and sat her on one of the seats – it had a vinyl snap on cover with Twister style polkadots. Ai was near the front of the car, pacing back and forth over the dingy carpet between the opposing exit doors.
“We’re not anywhere right now,” she yelled over the Bodyweb. “Without our memories of BART, and the neighborhoods it passes through, we would be completely stuck in this dying PPR.” I hadn’t experienced a Personal Pocket Reality before, but Sarah OS had some generalized schematics – they’re related to Variants, but much more localized and controllable. It’s really quite disconcerting to be in one, especially if there are conflicting versions of what reality is supposed to be inside the bubble.
At that moment, all I cared about was Ariel, and trying to save her from the slow and steady invasion of The Black. I could barely hold on to her hands and wrists; she wasn’t feverish, but she felt ungrounded, like she was wearing gloves made of static electricity. Her eyes were watering and fully dilated, and she was whispering in a language I couldn’t place. It reminded me of sunlight just before you’re about to burn. Once my OS started to understand it, it was too late.
“Shut her up!” Ai started to sprint down the car towards us. “She’s issuing commands in Sarah’s language of creation!”
Before I could stop the forceful flow of words, now shouted at my right ear like a sidewalk sermon, the whiteness that surrounded the BART train quickly evaporated, replaced by something I’d never thought I’d see again.
From the train to the Bay, from El Cerrito to the Berkeley hills, the entire landscape was ashen and broken, with trees and houses burned beyond recognition. Albany High School, which passed on the right as we approached the El Cerrito Plaza station, was a series of cement pieces and rebar, along with a mass of decorative metal bars painted red, a bouquet of huge flower stems that were curled and bent by the massive heat. On the other side of the train, which I could barely see past the windows covered by a growing black film, San Pablo Avenue was piled up with broken cars, and Albany Hill was bare, except for the slight stubble of trees and formerly expensive homes.
Someone or something was using Ariel’s connection to the Black to revert things back to the shape they were in when Miranda, Ariel and I burned it all to hell, starting at the Allianz Arena.
As the walls, floor and ceiling of the BART car were almost completely hidden by the sticky and undulating Black infection, I could feel that we weren’t just dealing with a PPR anymore. This pocket reality was a seed that wanted to germinate and spread the final world of the end.
Once, that tiny thing was nothing but a Variant among trillions, a quick test by the Grand Supreme to see just how much more quickly two copies of Miranda could bring about the end of things, as opposed to just one Chosen Light.
I just wanted to protect Ariel. I got too wrapped up in the orgasmic heat – my flaming sword turned out to be just the right size to cleave the Universe in two.
I’ve thought long and hard about what happened in that dead place, and this is as good a time as any to share it.
It’s going to take a few posts to get it all out, a few thousand painful words to map out our fatal mistakes. As is my eternal curse, each etched moment has all of the time in the world for sorrow.
Give me a few moments alone with Ariel’s ashes, and then I’ll tell you about what really happened in Munich.