"What is flowing within it is everywhere Thought." – Rudolf Steiner

Archive for the ‘The Collective’ Category

Tokyo, Japan – November 21, 2011

At Midnight, right at the start of November 21, 2011, everyone in Tokyo turned their attention towards the Ikebukuro neighborhood, no matter if they were awake or asleep before hand.

Those that were dreaming woke up with a start, their spines itching from within, and faces full of steaming sweat.

Those awake were startled by a point of light the size of a 100 yen coin, piercing their field of vision, even when they shut their eyes. No matter what direction they turned, that light remained fixed on Ikebukuro; even if they turned in the opposite direction, they could still feel the sharp, glowing cord at the back of their head.

The Ikebukuro Train Station was fairly immense, over 6 stories tall at parts, surrounding multiple sets of tracks with a number of retail buildings and department stores, like Seibu. The tracks roughly traveled from North to South, with the Eastern side containing many popular retailers and attractions, including Bic Camera, Animate, and the Sunshine City complex. The Western side was a bit more subdued, and had a mix of hotels, office and retail buildings, including the Hotel Metropolitan, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. Ikebukuro was Tokie’s home neighborhood, and somewhere Ariel and I happily lived for a few years.

Looming high above the Ikebukuro train station, her bare feet almost the size of city blocks, was a stone-faced young woman. She was immense, taller than any building for miles in any direction. A few moments ago she was naked and bald, feet bleeding from all of the structures she had kicked down. Now, her long, black hair grew yards per second down the back of white, flowing robes – fabric that oozed out of her skin like boiling milk.

Miranda the Chosen Light was taking the form of the goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto, the Japanese mistress of creation and death. In her hands was the Ame-no-nuboko, the hundred-yard-long heavenly spear. She was using it to pierce the solidified land, churning it like dirty laundry, until concentric waves of liquified matter rushed outwards, toppling the neighborhood in every direction at once.

The goddess had finally come back from Yomi, the land of dead. In mythical times, she threatened her husband Izanagi-no-Mikoto that if he left her in the underground kingdom of souls, she would kill one thousand living people per day. Now, she was free, and apparently on an accelerated schedule of killing one thousand people per second.

As Miranda mixed the Earth with her glowing spear, all of Tokyo shifted in weird and novel directions, with the buildings appearing more like inorganic carrot greens hundreds of feet high, like plum trees bowing under the weight of their car fruit.

With each twist, the Nameless instantaneously shucked more and more of the population of their souls, with the remaining flesh and bloody skeletons stretched out like grass, or spiderwebs, covering all broken surfaces around them with a fine scaffolding of death.

As the train station folded upon itself like cake batter, the Seibu department store that was only a few meters away from us collapsed on top of the train tracks, like a controlled demolition, only with an jelly-like ooze of congealed matter instead of billowing dust clouds. Ariel was enough of herself again that she disintegrated the flow of rubble before we were buried in it.

“There it is – right on schedule.” Ariel pointed upwards, as spherical balls of liquid metal rushed up from the train station and into the sky, with the intensity of an invisible magnet picking up basketball-sized ball bearings. Like reverse rain drops of mercury forming a shining cloud above us. Just like in Munich, the S.OS installation that exists in every major train and subway station was fleeing before Miranda dismantled the world.

Before we got a real look at it, the S.OS fragments spun up into a massive disk, like a cymbal from a drum set, or a stereotypical UFO, and the sweltering air filled with a screeching hum that shattered taxi windows, and shook the remaining leaves off of trees. The object then shot away Eastward, towards the Pacific ocean.

The air smelled foul, and Miranda’s every exhalation enveloped Ikebukuro in a sickly sweet haze that provoked weezing and coughing. Ariel constructed some fancy breathing apparatus for me and her, like gas masks without the goggles, and we ran down the wavy, uneven pavement, leaping over masses of half-visible bodies that were drowned by bucketfulls of liquified city. We were headed South towards Shinjuku, and the first rendezvous with the Japanese Collective.

The fallen Hotel Metropolitan obscured the most obvious route, with hundreds of tiny, Western beds littering the waves of rubble like lifeboats, and the corpses of tourists still hanging on to the petrified blankets for dear life. It was a 25 story mountain of fine woods, elevator shafts and broken bodies collapsed like a quiche into a 5 story melted Maple tree, with each leaf a guest room.

So, we turned back to take the clearest path, along side the rubble of the Yamanote line. That central loop once passed through the heart of Tokyo, making a circuit in about an hour. Now, the train tracks were braided together like friendship bracelets, with metal and concrete stretched and intermixed like candle wax mixed with cooling glass. They sagged to the ground like downed power lines, only instead of sparks there was periodic twitching, pulsing in time to Miranda’s deafening heartbeat.

“I don’t think she can last much longer.” Ariel stopped, leaning against a huge metal flower, with each petal a former JR Line train car, silver with two lime green stripes on each side. They were flattened like aluminum cans, and oozing oil, metal and blood.

“What do you mean, dear?” I couldn’t stand that booming hearbeat. “Please, we have to keep moving.”

“I’m so sorry.” She wiped the sweet mist away from her eyes. “In Munich, when I was wrapped around her… I cleared Miranda’s chakras. It was way too spendy, but I had to do something.”

“You didn’t…” I couldn’t believe it, but once I focused on her spirit that loomed over us all, I knew it was true. “I can sense her drop from here – it’s stuck somewhere between Muladhara and Swadhisthana, near her pelvis.”

“She’s a dead girl walking.”

“But why hasn’t it already escaped? Sasha’s script should have forced her to immediately leave her body behind.”

“The Nameless latched onto her like a bear trap. The only way I could break it off was to take advantage of my connection to Miranda – we’re like siamese twin souls.” She put her palms together like in prayer, and then rubbed then vigorously. “It’s really hard to tell where she ends and I begin….”

“You’re not the same person at all!”

“To push her soul to freedom, I had to unseat mine first.”

I started to cry as soon as I studied Ariel’s energetic pathways – they were stressed, and almost broken. Her pure white drop was stretched thin, yearning to rejoin The White. “What the fuck did you do to yourself?”

“I don’t have much longer before I’m gone.”

“I’m not going to let you leave!”

“My soul wants to jump out of my head so badly, and it’s slowly dragging Miranda’s along with it.” She looked into the sky full of spikes of glass, like overlapping dandelions spun out of innumerable window fragments.

“Oh shit, I just can’t stand listening to her heart for one more second!” I ordered my ears to turn off a wide swath of frequencies, effectively cancelling out the sonic assault.

“Mom.” She hugged my back, our circuit clothes slightly sparking as our fields overlapped. “It’s going to be alright. Really.”

I couldn’t lose her. Would stopping Miranda take my baby away from me? “Promise me you have a plan.”

“A good one. It’s not going to be easy, though – we have to attack her chakras in the right order, at the right times, before she can finally escape the Nameless.”

Around us, the remaining store signs that hadn’t already shattered to pieces were coming back to life. However, instead of backlit descriptions of ramen shops or the Dotour café, the Japanese script had changed to English.

“There is a girl”, written horizontally over a convenience store, that was reconstructing itself from rubble as we watched.

“That never goes out”, on a sign stuck to the sliding doors of that store, which were broken off their hinges a few seconds ago.

“Well, not really.” The title of a newspaper displayed just inside the door. “It’s not like I don’t go to school every day” was the headline of the lead story.

Every single visible word in that store, and all around the neighborhood, suddenly told a narrative that I couldn’t help but recognize.

“It’s Miranda’s sucky blog.” Ariel carefully approached the convenience store, that looked like it used to be a Circle X. “She’s rewriting Ikebukuro with her random musings and tweets.”

As she approached the glass doors, covered with red and black stripes and informative decals, they slid open. Before she could step in, she glanced at the magazine rack and then immediately walked back outside into the buzzing electrical light. “It’s time to go. You don’t want to go in there.”

I couldn’t help but take a peek into Ariel’s short term memory, and then I understood her desire to flee. Miranda’s picture – Ariel’s picture – was on the cover of every single fashion, news, cooking and game magazine. She was even drawn in manga form on the front of the weekly digests stacked on the bottom shelf.

“Tokie was right, even though she didn’t know it.” Ariel waived at the wreckage of the Hotel Metropolitan, and the encapsulated rooms swayed on the steel and concrete branches, lifting up into the night, revealing a path for us. “Miranda’s ghost has been stalking us the whole time, ever since Slide Rule School.”

I followed her, past cars flattened and then shaped into canoes, floating on the waves of pavement. “Wasn’t Miranda’s ghost stolen?” I wasn’t as fixated on her as Ariel, a fact that I now regretted as she shifted the city into her own image.

“It’s hard to steal what you never even owned. All ghosts were the property of Agartha Labs. Of S.OS. Of the Trouble Twins, doing its bidding across space and time. So no, borrowed is the best I can give you. Wait… don’t move…” She gave me the shush finger and face as we approached the intersection at Gekijo street.

A building that must have been 10 stories tall had collapsed like a burned marshmallow. A shiny, metal, obelisk-like clock tower had its triangular base snapped, and it had fallen on top of the crumbling, dark sidewalk pavement. The 3 analog dials were cracked, and stopped at 10:38. On the downed pole was the legend “Ikebukuro Police Station” in Japanese kanji, which my OS dutifully translated. Two story tall trees that bordered the building were still burning, unnaturally, like flickering candles.

The front of the police station had a fancy metal awning that jumped off the support columns, blocking the sliding glass front doors. The 4 parking spots to either side of the destroyed entrance were filled with similarly deconstructed emergency vehicles; a black and white police minivan was opened like a can of tomato sauce, with the smeared remnants of occupants still inside.

The pink brick pedestrian walkway was blanketed by the dead, intermixed with orange caution cones striped by reflective tape. You could tell the police from the public by their blue hats – flat topped and more angular for the men – which hugged their decapitated heads. In the neighboring bike lane, on the sidewalk but paved like the street, were a flock of casual low-speed bikes with baskets, twisted around the legs and arms of their broken riders, and all pointed South. It looked like the mass exodus away from Miranda only prolonged their destruction for a few minutes.

Something was crawling out from under the metal awning, next to a super-deformed statue of a police girl that once welcomed the public. It was a woman, audibly crying, wearing a long sleeve, light blue shirt, covered by a dark blue bullet proof vest. She was dragging herself across the sidewalk, but her legs looked to be broken off at the knees, with her empty pants legs trailing blood. Before we even ran up to help her, I already knew what we were in for.

It was Izumi Koda, Number 2 of the Japanese Collective, and our Shinjuku contact. What happened to her, and why was she lying broken in Ikebukuro?

Izumi and I were always close. After everyone was etched via late night visits, Ariel and I shut down Agartha Labs and replaced it with the Japanese Collective. That was ideally Satomi’s job, but she had been missing with the rest of Die Database since Halloween of 1994. Izumi was the leader in her absence, and she accomplished in two months what took Sasha and the Runaway Girl Army two years.

She was slight in stature, with puffy cheeks and heavy eyeliner, but her super-girly voice and demeanor hid a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of pain, and strength. Izumi was always the first to take a punch, but the last one to throw one.

Ariel had already disintegrated her pants, revealing little more than torn muscles and shattered bones. She took a sample of her blood by licking her hands, which were already red from touching Izumi. Then, her arms split open at the wrist, and fleshy tendrils shot out and enveloped Izumi’s thighs.

“It’s going to be OK. We’re going to fix you right up, and get you out of here.”

“It’s never going to be OK ever again.” Izumi coughed a few drops of blood onto the sleeves of my datasuit, and I propped her up. Her jet black hair was short and uneven, almost as if it had been torn off in handfuls.

Everything started to shake, and the dark streets filled with a sonic boom. Ariel threw up a transparent shield to protect us from the flying glass and rubble.

“She’s moving again. We have to get Izumi out of here now!”

“Give me a fucking second, I’ve never even seen her bare legs before!” Ariel had already reconstructed her down to the knees, as she vomited a cloud of blood and flesh, sculpting it with elongated fingers.

“We got your alert from Munich.” Blood trickled down her chin. She screamed like a scared baby in response to Ariel’s surgery.

I projected in and massaged her spirit, taking away the pain. She smiled weakly, eyes caked with dust and tears, as she reached out for my chest.

“We got your alert…. so did she. You were unconscious for hours, as she roamed the streets of Ikebukuro, growing every second.” Upon contact, her fingers transmitted terabytes of data through my left breast, detailing what we missed.

“I was lucky, still undercover at the police department. Working with Chiaki on one of the backup plans.” Her left arm fell limply to the ground as Ariel grew her new feet.

Sweet Chiaki…. I now knew that she was the first out the door when Miranda arrived. She had been playing police woman for the past month, shifting the minds of all officers, and all existing records, so they would accept her as one of their own without question. This was standard Collective procedure, and the main reason why authority figures always seemed to look the other way from the more obvious Pure Land Antenna activity – the Man was on our psychic payroll.

Ai didn’t believe in wiping their minds and memories wholesale, making them puppets to our plans, but I’ve never had the same morality. I’d make a Homeland Security agent forget they were ever born if they touched me the wrong way.

From the data, it was clear that Miranda arrived on the other side of the train station, over by Bic Camera. She was 8 or 10 stories tall then, and growing quickly, just high enough to punch through the white walls adorned with consumer product logos, and throw toys and video games in heaping handfuls down to the streets below, filled with the screaming and already dead. To the immediate left, near Miranda’s big toe, the McDonalds had burst from within, invading the sidewalk with piles of bleeding diners still holding their treats.

There weren’t many calls to make, so Chiaki chose from a limited menu of bad decisions, and decided to attack Miranda head on. So she passionately kissed Izumi goodbye, and ran through the police station, ignoring the ringing of phones – landline and cellular – that filled the offices with eerie synchronization.

It was only two blocks to the Metropolitan entrance of Ikebukuro station, and she ran past frantic late night travelers, sprinting down the black escalator hand rails, to save what time she could. She was simulcasting her every move to the other 11 Collective members in Tokyo, and to the major cells around the world, with complete WOFA access. She had given me her annotated WOFA data for the past few hours, with unlocked access to her own OS.

Her OS was filled with weird port mappings and cubby holes leading to members of other Collective cells – she was wired into our world more than any other Pure Land Antenna I’ve ever come across. Her etching was also insanely detailed – I think she convinced Cassandra to give her extra circuits when she visited at night.

It felt weird at first to have such intimacy with her virtual self. Chiaki was gruff, holding almost everyone at arm’s length, while it was obvious she just wanted to be hugged. She was almost as tall as Satomi, but when the two of them stood beside each other, Chiaki always seemed to command the room with palpable presence. She could have been a rock star, and even with a complete lack of musical talent, Masae from Die Database was always after her to join the band in some visible capacity. Chiaki took that as a plea for her to become a groupie or cheerleader, so she stopped watching the band from the front row, just in case someone tried to pull her on stage.

Her mind was full of thoughts of Izumi, who she had been seeing soon after Agartha Labs folded. Chiaki was the webmaster, and always worked intensely with Izumi in her role as lead graphic designer. They would slave over code and textures during long hours together, which usually spilled over into nighttime adventures around Shibuya and the rest of the city. They both adored dining out, smoked the same brand, and liked to stalk Die Database, attending most every show. Chiaki convinced Izumi to be more adventurous – indoor rock climbing in Ebisu was the ice breaker – and they even took a few friendly vacations together, to London, New York, and Seoul.

Neither were attached, and they always seemed to avoid talk about potential paramours. They always had a crush on each other, but it only expressed itself with moderate drunken flirtation and long glances over dinner that were soon waved away. Chiaki never thought to risk showing her heart, until they were both etched. At that point, it all became completely obvious and futile to fight – they were paired up as partners in the Collective, and could no longer hide their true feelings. It was always love.

As she ran through the Ikebukuro station, pushing aside the crazed crowd with her mind, Izumi ran up beside her. Only it wasn’t her in flesh and blood – it was a PRS unit made out of Kirin beer cans, hosting her Ghost. Izumi’s hologram looked fierce, with full riot control gear only without a helmet.

She quickly was followed by a line of dozens – hundreds – of other PRS units. For the past few months, they had been riding the trains all day, every day, or stashed throughout the train stations and neighborhoods, using Satomi’s immense collection of holographic Tokyo citizens as camouflage. They were for emergency use only, and this most certainly applied.

The sprinting PRS units could barely keep up with them as they rushed up the final escalator to the street. They weren’t even cloaked, appearing as segmented dolls, since Chiaki didn’t expect any of the witnesses to survive the night.

So the public watched the plastic and metal figures gather in mass on Meiji street, a few dozen holding back for crowd control. Hundreds more gathered around Chiyaki, and started lifting her in the air, like she was a conquering hero. Izumi’s PRS was right below Chiaki, holding her with aluminum arms. Higher still, as the PRS units stood on each others’ shoulders and hands, so they could raise Chiaki above the first few floors of the nearby grey and white Parco building.

After a few moments of movement so fast that it blurred, Chiaki was consumed by a huge mass of over three thousand PRS units, each one a block that worked en mass to form a huge, lumbering leviathan, over 20 stories tall, like a starfish walking on the tips of its arms.

You could still make out the plastic and metal shine of each interlocked unit, the nighttime lights sparkling off their skin, at least until they used their internal holograms to piece together a huge image of Chiaki, bringing herself to her feet.

Miranda was still naked, and as she slowly turned to face the rival giant, Chiaki rushed forward, pushing Miranda’s hips into the tall and skinny Adores Game! center building. It was 7 stories tall, but only the two floors of amusements near the street were still occupied. Everything quickly collapsed down and out into the street – broken glass from UFO Catcher machines intermingled with networked fighting games. A green, yellow and white CNG Non-Step Bus tried to steer around the avalanche, but as she stumbled backwards Miranda’s left foot kicked the bus into the ZARA clothiers store, with smartly dressed mannequins breaking into bits under the wheels.

By the time ZARA caught on fire, a few seconds after the crash, Chiaki and the swarm of PRS units had already wrapped around Miranda like a pro wrestler. It looked like a 26 story tall police woman subduing a giant, bald, nudist girl, thrashing about on the red and black pavement on top of demolished cars and corpses. Miranda had a completely disinterested and distracted look on her face, like she was mentally making a shopping list, and Chiaki seemed to take that as an invitation to go for a killing strike.

Chiaki took one of her arms made of PRS units and shoved it right in Miranda’s face. Hundreds of figures rushed into her nostrils, mouth and ears, forcing their way past soft tissue and bone, swimming up into her massive brain, and down into her pounding heart. After a few seconds, as Chiaki pinned Miranda to the ground, she turned on the replication engines of all the PRS units, so they started to suck Miranda’s flesh into their plastic and metal bodies.

Miranda then started to stare at Chiaki, and smiled.

Small holes started to appear all along Miranda’s torso and face, growing quickly to resemble someone afflicted by a flesh eating bacteria, with jagged gaps in skin and muscle, revealing decaying organs underneath. Chiaki released her grip and crawled off of Miranda, who was now almost zombified and in full seizure, her wild arms tearing into the Softbank store in the LABI building.

Chiaki then shaped her right arm of PRS units into a long samurai sword, taller than the remaining 7 and 8 story buildings. She rose to her feet, holding the sword at a slight angle in front of her, and then lunged at Miranda’s chest, thrusting it firmly into her exposed heart.

Miranda looked terribly amused, rolling her eyes back as she stuck out what remained of her tongue in a child’s feigned death. Then she grabbed the sword with both hands, and a blinding blue light traveled up the holographic blade, exposing raw PRS units in its wake. It continued on up Chiaki’s arms, and rushed to the center of her chest, as 1235 PRS units formed into tentacled hands, digging for the real Chiaki. Her tiny figure was quickly found, plastic and metal tendrils jutting away from her body like a sea anemone’s spikes, holding onto Izumi’s Ghost in a lover’s embrace.

As Miranda crawled to her feet, as much of an articulated skeleton as a flesh and blood figure, she used her arm-length gloves made out of PRS units to cherry pick Chiaki from the crumbling, giant star fish, its constituent parts falling to the ground like sea salt.

Chiaki was terrified, frozen and trapped, her etching probed and controlled by Miranda, who brought her up to her leering, dissolving face.

Miranda tried to speak, but it came out as a guttural rumble that pulverized windows. The invading PRS units had almost completely devoured her body, but she was still standing due to something far more than the sheer force of will. Her missing flesh had been replaced by an undulating, black aura.

“I was worried there for a moment.” Miranda’s inner voice intruded into the Collective network, using the trembling Chiaki as a microphone jack. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find you all in time.”

It was horrible. Miranda was using Chiaki’s simulcast against her, quickly mapping out the location of every last Collective member worldwide. Only a few were able to log out in time, before they were discovered.

“Do you know what lies at the heart of Cassandra’s precious bottle babies?” She lifted up the spiky bundle of Chiaki and Izumi, like it was a fly with broken wings, and brought it to her gaunt face, her exposed gums and teeth chattering with every breath. “A tiny pin prick of The White, to allow spirits to control them, and an infinitesimal bit of The Black, to facilitate the transmutation of matter. Just enough of the elemental darkness that I can control them completely.”

Chiaki couldn’t look away from Miranda’s crumbling nostrils, which afforded a clear view of her brain stem. PRS units could be seen crawling about like ants, only now they were spewing out nerve tissue and blood vessels.

“These are bodies of the Sixth World, and their flesh is my flesh, their blood my blood.”

Around Ikebukuro, tens of thousands of people swooned where they stood, their freed spirits fueling the engine that was quickly putting Miranda back together again. As her muscles knitted back into recognizable shape, the PRS units stayed affixed in place, like a new circulatory system made of plastic and metal cells, joined by copper wire. They followed the same paths etched into a Pure Land Antenna, only internal.

The pile of PRS units that had once made up Chiaki’s extended body ran down the street, swarming around Miranda’s ankles, mending her legs as they rose like shiny stockings. Only a few minutes had passed, but Miranda was nearly whole again.

“For some reason, conquering heroes love to eat the hearts of the subdued. Let’s find out why.”

With that, Chiaki trembled in horror as Miranda raised her to her lips, and swallowed.

Chiaki held onto Izumi’s Ghost as they rushed down her throat, as wide as a JR Line car. They tried to get handholds in the mucus, to no avail

Once they hit the gastric acid feet first, Chiaki didn’t scream. She was too wrapped up with guilt about what she had unleashed, to even try to fight back.

Instead, she caressed the metal sides of Izumi’s cheeks, and begged her for freedom.

Sobbing on the floor of the lobby of the Ikebukuro Police Station, Izumi whispered her undying love as she used the right arm of her PRS to unlatch Chiaki’s chakras.

Chiaki’s last words were little more than a smiled sigh, as the two of them sunk into nothingness. Izumi held on as long as she could, until her metal arms fused into place, and the Police Station shook as from an earthquake.

“One down, 168 to go.” The booming voice of Miranda blew the sliding glass windows off of their hinges. Before Izumi could rush past them, the heavy metal awning that protected the front of the Police Station fell down on top of her.

As she marshaled her strength, trying to release her legs from the rubble as crowds of people rushed by, there was a bright burst of flesh and bone, followed by the normal sized figure of Miranda walking up the small parking area. She ripped apart a police van like paper, tossing the broken bodies it contained over her shoulder. Kicked aside piles of corpses like fallen leaves, and crouched down in front of Izumi. She was wearing frilly cosplay from Massive Cloud Burst, the same mixture of character costumes that Ariel had on right before she died, only hers was completely dyed red from the blood of her victims.

“I’m going to give you a choice.” She grabbed Izumi by the hair, only with plastic hands. It was just a PRS unit she had borrowed for the visit; Miranda’s heavy heartbeat still echoed through the canyons of buildings. “You can join your precious Chiaki now, or you can try to have your revenge later.”

Miranda tore at Izumi’s head, giving her a haircut like she was breaking hard pasta.

“Demon, you will die by my hands.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” She threw a handful of arm-length hair to the ground, and then grabbed Izumi by the shoulders. “Here. Let’s get you back to your feet.”

With that, she yanked Izumi forward, severing her legs with a snap and spurt of arterial blood. Izumi bit her lips, and turned off all feeling below her chest. She would only be able to slow down her heart for a few hours, before she bled out.

“Alright then. Choose your weapon well, and I’ll see you in a few hours. This is going to be awesome.” Miranda smiled, flashing peace signs with both hands before she jumped like a flea in the air, over the remains of the Police and train stations, towards Sunshine 60 street.

Izumi’s data dump was a bit too much to take in all at once, especially considering her severe torment due to what happened to Chiaki. I was suddenly concerned about a great number of things, including the current location of the other members of the Tokyo Collective. Did Miranda already get to them in the past hour?

“Get off of me. Please.” Izumi suddenly snapped to attention, proving the worth of Ariel’s surgery by kicking weakly at her face.

“Fucking gratitude, etc. Stand yourself up then.” Ariel got up from her crouch, making a few exaggerated stretching movements with her arms before walking over to me.

Another earthquake, enough to fell a church a block down the street. Ariel’s shield was still holding, but her patience was not.

“She’s coming! We have to prepare to fight, or run. Mom, you know what my decision is.”

Ariel was a strong believer in fighting first, and if anything running were involved, it would be backwards with fists still raised at the enemy. I was too concerned for her health to think about anything but a temporary retreat to get reinforcements, but our momentary delay during deliberations was enough for Miranda to pinpoint our location.

The sky darkened, and the sickly sweet smell pervaded our pores, even after Ariel manifested more breathing masks for us. Izumi had staggered to her feet just as a palm the size of a segmented city bus fell from the sky, scooping us up, along with many cubic yards of rubble, dirt, and dead bodies, into a sweaty fist.

I could sense Miranda very clearly – she was just a little speck of light, surrounded by stolen matter and harvested spirits, all controlled by the taskmaster without a name.

As we raised high in the air, Miranda’s heartbeat became as deafening as dubstep drop amplified to hurricane levels.

“We have to end this now!” Ariel had split her protective field into three separate shields, one for the each of us. She rubbed up against mine, letting herself in while she pressed my trembling hand just below her belly button. “You have to unlock me. You have to let me go.”

Except for Sarah, I was the only one with power enough to end Miranda’s rampage. If it wasn’t for the Nameless, I could have forced her spirit to jump out of her body with a finger twitch. Now, I had to use my only daughter as a voodoo doll, showing Miranda how to leave her giant tomb of growing flesh.

I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t do it.

I felt my hand burning black, as the Golden Sphere forced me to act despite myself.

Many things happened in just under 5 seconds.

I was blinded by a orange and then yellow light, as I moved Ariel’s pure white drop up past Swadhisthana and Manipura. I could feel Ariel’s power, her will to consume and to grow, leap out in all directions, enough to stagger Miranda.

She opened her closed fist, which was just in front of her Mt. Rushmore of a face, and dropped us from over 1100 feet up.

Ariel was besides herself with confidence. She grabbed me by my left wrist, and Izumi by her right foot, and teleported us safely to a plaza in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, by a circular fountain.

Miranda was clearly disoriented, and her glamor into the goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto quickly shifted, her flowing white robes collapsing into an angry flock of tens of thousands of albino crows. Part of the murder rushed past a few feet above our heads, and I noticed that they were the Japanese kind, with huge beaks and hungry eyes.

Without missing a beat, Ariel jumped into the fountain, surrounding herself in a bubble of water the size of a boulder. She then mentally borrowed thousands of paving stones from the wavy ground beneath our feet, and rose in the air on a tentacle of bricks. She stabbed Miranda’s abdomen while she was newly naked, riding an ice-covered stone spear the length of the Tokyo Skytree tower.

Miranda was impaled by the Tokyo streets. Instead of blood, thousands of red PRS units spurted out and fell to the ground like tossed wedding rice.

Ariel, still her normal size, fought past the stream of fleshy figures and into Miranda’s stomach – she moved so quickly that from the plaza I could only track where she was a few moments ago.

My right fist was still burning black, and whisper-yelled at me, begging me to unleash its power again.

Before I could comply, Miranda literally came apart at the seams, with her upper torso teleporting away first, followed by her lower body.

Ariel then flew back down to the plaza, followed by a minutes-long stream of paving bricks. Each one was expertly placed into the spot it usually occupied, and then the fountain started to flow again, as if nothing had ever happened.

Ariel had changed. She was no longer grounded, and her pure white drop was pushing against Anahata, the heart chakra, itching for the rest of its final journey.

I still didn’t want to let her go. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

“Izumi. Most of your cell is dead. No bodies remain.” Ariel had shifted away from the bodysuit, and was wearing a weirdly beautiful dress made out of various subway maps from around the world. “Let me take you to the survivors.”

With that, Ariel grabbed Izumi’s hand, and they folded away with a slight rumble of air.

I had a few minutes to gather myself, and to process what had happened.

I took running leaps to get over to Sunshine 60 street. All that was left was a smoking crater, after Miranda had dug up the neighborhood with bare hands, searching for a hole into Yomi – one corner of the Structure. She wasn’t powerful enough yet – all that came out was the vengeful echo of Izanami-no-Mikoto.

In those two hours, Miranda had killed tens of millions of people. With her powers focused by Ame-no-nuboko, the heavenly spear, she turned the land into a malleable liquid, shifting the very fabric of Eastern Japan. She created mountains out of buildings, trees out of highways, and strange sculptures from the proud works of the people.

I couldn’t help myself. By the time Ariel came back with the survivors, I was already on my knees in a heaving sob.

Harumi Kaku placed her warm left hand on the back of my neck. As always, she looked perfectly made up, like she had just stepped out of a fashion magazine spread.

Behind her were Izumi, and Rin Kawamura – the former Head Accountant from Agartha Labs.

Rin was muscular and butch, but with a certain softness that opened doors she didn’t feel like busting down. She reminded me a lot of A-Bell, only a bit shorter and more likely to giggle at stupid jokes. Right then she was wearing an Orix Buffaloes jersey, white with large buttons, and number 222 below her left breast. She tried to smile at me for a moment, but I think the look on my face prevented it from taking.

It was too much.

Everyone.

Everyone else was dead, torn apart by the hand of Miranda’s little PRS lieutenants.

“We don’t have time.” Ariel floated me to my feet with a wave of her hand. “She’s in Portland now. Put back together and tearing everything apart. Prepare yourself.”

There was a sharp, wrenching sensation, and then we appeared on a field of carefully cut grass, in the Waterfront Park. Ariel was standing over by the water’s edge, leaning against a stone fence. When she looked back over at us, her face was steaming and covered with blood, which she wiped away with the backs of her hands.

When we left Tokyo it was just before 1AM, so the Sun had just risen in Portland on the day before. As soon as we arrived I felt a pulsing wave of terror and death – the whole city was screaming itself awake, and I couldn’t shut out the psychic pain.

Looking up the Willamette river, we could see Miranda. She must have been over 1500 feet tall now, and growing quickly. She was naked, with black eyes and immense bruises the size of billboards, and covered with patches of torn flesh that were quickly being replaced by new skin.

She coughed a few times, and all of the windows downtown immediately blew inwards. Metal and plastic newspaper machines rushed down one way streets like dice, decapitating morning joggers. Bricks that once lined Pioneer Square felled city buses.

She took a few seconds to tear apart the Steel Bridge, throwing metal girders down to the river like cigarette butts. A full Max train car that was crossing it at the wrong time was tossed over her back and into the Southeast, demolishing the I-5 freeway overpass a mile away. Commuters that couldn’t stop in time rode their SUVs into the churning river, landing on top of the train as 67 people drowned to death. Every single one was full of choking prayers that no one would heed.

She then moved on to the Burnside bridge, and tore the flashing, green and red, Portland Oregon Old Town neon sign off of a wall, and threw it a few thousand feet over to the Trailblazers stadium across the river – the Rose Garden Arena that was already aflame.

There were car alarms and sirens everywhere. Every time a pocket of sound flared up, like a long fire truck racing towards the Western stub of the Steel Bridge, Miranda looked in that direction and replaced it with bloody silence.

Through the Golden Sphere, which was still extinguished, I could feel her probing the area, looking for weaknesses in the veil that separated stuff from spirit.

The Nameless was taking her childhood frustration – of years effectively held captive by her mother Cathy – and letting it loose like Godzilla. Destroying everything so it could poke through into the Structure.

The waterfront path was almost empty, if you didn’t count the ever-increasing pile of corpses, and I was drawn to a bicyclist that was still up and pedaling, weaving between the dead at they approached. As she approached – the rider had long, blond hair that flipped about from under her band-stickered helmet. I started to freak out, because I couldn’t feel a thing where their soul was supposed to be.

“What the fuck have you two done!” She jumped off of her bike before it stopped moving, and let it crash to the stone retaining wall in a pile of twisted metal. She was taller than you’d expect, and had on a what could only be called a hippie dress, with contrasting fabrics and patterns every few inches. She waived at Harumi, Rin and Izumi as she approached us.

“Hey, Rora. I was expecting you in Munich.” Ariel perked up a bit as she gave the cold plastic of Aurora’s PRS a warm hug.

“Munich is gone. Fuck, Germany is gone. Western Europe is burning, not to mention Japan. We lost hundreds of thousands of PRSes. Hundreds of millions of people overall.” Aurora stared at me as she took off her holographic bicycle helmet. “This has to end here.”

Miranda just punched a hole in the Rose Garden Arena, and pulled out a flaming fist of many rows of plastic seats.

“What do you expect us to do? Please, tell us what the fuck to do!” I couldn’t help but start to freak out, which only seemed to make Aurora more angry.

“Understand this. The Chosen Light has to burn this world to pieces. If it didn’t happen now, it would have soon enough. The Fourth World has to end, but it doesn’t have to end like this.” She looked up river as Miranda tore the Arena off of its foundations, and threw it Southeast, in the direction of her old neighborhood. Molten chucks of metal and plastic rained down on Burnside and Hawthorne, destroying a wide swath of houses and stores four miles long.

“What!”

Aurora gave me a frowny smile, and then looked up into the blue sky that was somehow filling up with the Northern Lights.

Reinforcements from Variant 1 had arrived.

Aurora, the 7 year old destroyer of galaxies, had come back to finish what she started.

After I catch my breath, I’ll continue our journey on the road to unavoidable ruin.

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Munich, Germany – November 20, 2011

Like I mentioned earlier, my Ariel has a twin sister that was born from another mother. Miranda.

Well, maybe the same mother – it’s a painful chicken-egg situation, not really knowing who came first.

Miranda is the bride of the Nameless, and the two of them together are destined to destroy everything that has ever existed. She controls Matter in all of its forms, and the Nameless force that puppets her body has no respect for our material world. They’re universal pyromaniacs that wish for fertile ashes.

Ariel was meant to be the anti-Miranda – someone that was just as powerful, but more focused on maintaining the continuity of material existence.

We’ve spend many lifetimes trying to prevent Miranda from coming to power, but it was a foregone conclusion that someone, somewhere, would mess up in the worst way, and let the Chosen Light shine forth. Her mother Cathy is as good a person to blame as any.

Which makes me equally culpable. I’m no longer sure if I’m just a Variant of her, or the other way around. We look the same, had the exact same daughters, but have lived immensely different lives.

Whatever – I’ll spare you my moebius philosophy. I promised you an Apocalypse in parts, so here is the first one.

I first confronted Miranda in Munich, on November 20, 2011, during Jenny’s resurrection.

Cassandra sent Douglas Waters from Berkeley to Germany, so he could meet with me and Ariel. He’s one of Cassandra’s life-long errand boys, but he means well.

Douglas has already shared his version of what happened that day on his short-lived blog.

He had a piece of Jenny Samuels’ DNA, from when she was 12 years old, and Cassie wanted us to resurrect her. It’s a long story, but let’s just say that Jenny is extremely important. She has always had literal angels and devils sitting on her shoulders, fighting for her attention.

We started the process in an underground parking garage on the grounds of the Allianz Arena – the home of Munich’s soccer team, FC Bayern. It was Sunday, and not a game day, so it was completely empty except for us.

Miranda appeared during the resurrection ceremony, interrupting the process at the worse time, after Ariel had turned her body into a biological machine devoted to replicating Jenny. Ariel was an unzipped collection of bone, muscle and nerve endings, and Miranda almost tore Ariel to pieces just as Jenny was born again.

I was only concerned about getting Ariel her body back. She was still turned inside out, yelping for air on the cement floor of the parking garage.

Once I forced Douglas to run away to safety, I unlocked the first level of the Golden Sphere – the light of creation emitting from black flames.

We had stolen the Golden Sphere from Miranda. Simply put, it’s a weapon of mass insurrection, suitable for fighting the Creator of all things. Miranda was the rightful owner, but could do little more with it than make kids pee their pants.

As I brought out the Golden Sphere, the Nameless just growled through Miranda’s teeth. “If you don’t return what is mine, I’ll destroy your daughter and the rest of this groaning world.”

Before the air around us caught fire, the Grand Supreme folded into the fray just long enough to take the newly created copy of Jenny away to Goddess knows where. She wrapped up naked Jenny in her punk patch dress, and gave an empty-eyed grin before she cut away.

It was so bright – I was breathing flames instead of air.

“Cathy was never quite enough for me.” Miranda started to grow taller, until she had to hunch her huge, bald head underneath the cement ceiling. “She had the will of The Black, but not the way to The White. You, on the other hand…”

Ariel was flopping around on the floor, throwing off her skin and muscles so that her spine could be free.

“Your connection to Spirit, and to The Black, makes you a bridge between the two poles, and we intend on climbing you to take our rightful place at El’s throne.” Her breath was excessively sweet, like granulated sugar quickly caramelizing in the intense heat.

I only had moments to act. I willed all microscopic life still alive in the Allianz Arena complex to converge upon Ariel, so she could feed and escape. Massive waves of bacteria, amoebas and dust mites were pulled by my power over Spirit, amplified by the Golden Sphere, so that the winds darkened with trillions of congealed cells rushing towards what was left of my daughter.

“I will take one hundred steps before leaving this world in ashes. Follow me only if you want to witness the end.” With that, Miranda punched a hole in the roof, and pulled herself up to the surface.

I burned away the falling rubble, and then tended to Ariel. Her spine was growing in fits and starts, until it reminded me of a dinosaur’s, except with unnatural flesh and organs growing out of her back. I could feel that her essence was still there, still fighting for a familiar shape, but all she could manage in that moment was to generate dozens of arms up and down the length of her broken body, which were enough to propel her through the far wall of the garage, and eventually up to the surface.

By then, I was naked and burning black from head to toe. I was try to process what the Nameless had told me – that the transference of Ai’s Spirit power into Cathy, into me, meant that I was a nothing more but a tool for The Black’s long wished for insurrection against The White. My blood brought forth a perfect vehicle for the Nameless, for The Black, and my connection to all life was just the hole it needed to punch through this world, and into The White.

I didn’t want to be a tool. I didn’t want anything except to be left alone, and to raise my daughter in peace. No more missions for the Collective, no more swimming in the hopes, dreams and fears of the biosphere, nothing but a calm stillness that I deserved to taste at least once.

Explosions from the world above took me out of my pointless thoughts, and I levitated myself up through the hole that Miranda created, only to see Ariel’s spine wrapped around Miranda, who must have been two hundred feet tall at that point.

I quickly flew up towards the Allianz Arena, which reminded me of a huge, white bird’s nest mixed with a honeycomb. I entered via the large opening at the top of the structure, so I could situate myself to open the second level of the Golden Sphere.

I could feel Douglas and a few other spectators watching me as I floated down to the grassy field, which was already charred black due to my aura. I burned away half of the stadium walls just by looking at them, leaving a pool of melted plastic and twisted metal, and then focused on Miranda as she tried to rip the arm-legs off of Ariel.

I didn’t want to hurt any of the bystanders, but I felt I had little choice if it meant I could stop Miranda in her tracks. So I knelt on the steaming dirt, palms sinking into the ground like sand, and sensed deep into the planet until I could feel its radiant life blood. It noticed me back, and rushed upwards with glee towards my intended target. I grabbed Ariel’s nervous system and forced her to flee, just as a geyser of magma one hundred feet wide enveloped Miranda.

Her clothes burned off instantly, and as her skin blackened, she staggered around the pool of yellow-red lava for a few moments, before teleporting away, followed by a massive amount of wind that spread the magma far and wide into the nearby area.

I tried to call off the mini-volcano, but the Golden Sphere didn’t seem to listen. It wanted chaos, and it wouldn’t rest until the greater Munich area was overcome, first by massive earthquakes that felled office parks and historic churches, that collapsed all U-bahn tunnels and buckled streets and highways. Then the lava intruded, seeping out slowly in some places, and bursting forth with reckless abandon in others.

Swans boiled in the lakes at Olympiapark.

Flocks of tourists buried under the rubble of the Rathaus at Marienplatz.

Airplanes and model ships burning in the ruins of the Deutsches Museum.

U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains melting into slag deep under Haupbahnhof, as passengers claw against the immobile windows and doors.

The Isar river evaporated, replaced by a lava flow filled with half-submerged building fragments and cars.

I could feel the screams as thousands of people died every second, and I tried to ferry their souls safely to the Structure, but the Golden Sphere twisted my intentions, and just swallowed their energy for kindling.

I could also sense something very strange going on at the Münchner Freiheit train station – everyone in the general area was scared out of their minds, but not because of the earthquakes. Something immense was streaming out of the station exits and into the sky – a cloud of liquid metal spheres, varying in size from the smallest pin prick to a soccer ball. They rushed upwards and outwards, following a carefully orchestrated flight plan around screaming children and Sunday window shoppers, and past the falling rubble. It took less than a minute for the thousands of mirrors that lined the ceilings of the station platform to disappear, leaving little more than flames behind.

I didn’t need any more information than that. A major node of S.OS had quickly left the underground complex that sheltered it for decades, headed for safer points unknown.

Everywhere I looked, burned. I couldn’t turn off the light. I couldn’t stand it, and so I jumped out of the remains of the Arena, the whole complex already overrun by magma, and found Ariel on the top a nearby hill, near the stump of the wind turbine.

As the tide of flames rose steadily, as the waves of destruction pulsed over Bavaria towards the rest of Europe, I was overwhelmed by the millions crying out for their imagined saviors, only to be met by a swift and voracious death. I was supposed to be the guardian of their shining spirits, but all I could do was watch them suffer, and cry burning black tears of failure.

I grabbed Ariel by the base of her brain stem, and searched deep inside for any remaining connection that I could use to bring her back to me. She was like a huge, dissected snake, coiled around my glowing, midnight skin, and I sang her a song that contained all of the addresses we ever lived at while she grew up, all of the cities and countries we secretly called our own. I just kept my eyes closed as I felt her flesh twist and reshape around me, as her spine shrank and her arm-legs became her rib cage. There was so much heat everywhere, and the sound of air raid sirens and fighter jets whooshing overhead, quickly replaced by a bubbling silence.

I opened up my eyes to find Ariel whole again, naked and clinging for dear life onto my back. We were surrounded by a half-solidified bubble in the molten rock, that had long since enveloped the hill. I was no longer burning, but the Golden Sphere was still holding back the Earth’s blood, since it still thirsted for destruction, and intended for me to be its final vehicle.

“We have to get her.” Ariel’s first words as she awoke, as I could feel her engine revving up.

“We’re going to get her, dear. Where is she now?” The two of them were more than twins, and Ariel could always sense what Miranda was up to.

“She’s destroying Tokyo… so many dead!” She let me see through her eyes. It was just before Midnight in Ikebukuro, and Miranda was as tall as the Sunshine 60 tower – 60 stories up to her eyes. Her flesh was repaired, but she was still naked. She was kicking the Animate building to pieces, leaving 9 or 10 stories of broken glass, blue rubble and anime goods that she was wading through like toy blocks. Broken bodies and smashed cars littered the streets like wind-swept sakura petals.

“I need you to take us there, now. Can you do that for me?”

Ariel nodded silently as she tightened her grip around my back. There was a sharp, wrenching sensation, and then we appeared on the sidewalk, near the East exit of the Ikebukuro Train Station. Ariel was on the ground, growling in pain, holding her head between her two elbows. When she looked up at me her nose was bleeding out of the left nostril.

“Fucking head explosion! My big sister is really playing for keeps.” Ariel stumbled to her feet, wiping the blood away with her arm, and once she realized we were naked she covered us with off-white, old school Collective bodysuits, lousy with circuits. I could feel the extra code in them – bespoke pathways designed to slightly minimize Miranda’s growing influence over all Matter, including our aching bodies.

Once the bodysuits rebooted our OSes, I suddenly realized that the sidewalks all around us were covered by hundreds of fresh corpses. There was a blocks-long trail of bodies from Sunshine 60 street, right around the Humax movie theater and Book Off store, all the way down the stairs and escalators leading into the station. There wasn’t a bit of blood on their faces – it looked like they just immediately crumpled to the ground like tossed jackets.

Carefully made up young ladies headed home after a casual night on the town. Stinky young men who just finished spending hours drinking. Shop keepers, waitresses, and unobtrusive homeless men. Everyone fell over sucked dry of their souls a few moments after Miranda arrived.

Neighborhoods full of proud electric signs were now dark, and sirens pervaded the chill.

When we left Munich it was early afternoon, but now the last Narita Sky Access Limited Express train had just arrived in Ikebukuro, right on time at 23:48.

Every jet lagged traveler who spent an hour on that Airport train, and any person within a hundred mile radius, was already as good as dead.

Not that we knew that then. I was busy calling all of the Japanese Collective over the Bodyweb – Satomi’s secret army of former Agartha Labs employees.

By the time even a few of them arrived, our failure was already so complete and catastrophic that it’s hard to comprehend.

I’ll give you all of the tragic details next time, but just remember – this was still only the beginning of the end, and it is going to get unimaginably worse.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Freedom for rent

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.

Click to continue RGA

Back to Runaway Girl Army Home

Protecting the council

Is it alright that I hate Helena?

All day she’s been popping in and out of our meetings, taking away Cassandra for hours at a time.

Each time she’s carrying different shopping bags from major cities, wearing progressively more amazing outfits and hair styles. A few hours ago she stumbled back into the room in a sakura-covered pink and white kimono that she picked up in Kyoto, unwrapping a brown candy cube before stuffing it into Cassandra’s mouth. “Bontan Ame, ne?” The universe is her playground.

That’s not the part I hate about her – she’s actually quite cool, and much more grounded than her sister. It’s just that she’s everywhere except where she’s supposed to be.

The Structure assigned them particularly choice roles at birth – Helena has dominion over Space, and Cassanda is in charge of Time.

The current theory is that complete mastery of Space/Time is too much for any one living being to handle, so their duties were split in half. However, neither of their powers really work unless the both of them act in concert. Helena can “teleport” anywhere in the universe, while Cassandra can stay in one place and yet travel to any moment in any variant. Get them together, and they can not just travel to anywhere, at any time, but they can literally modify the fabric of existence.

They can tap into both the White and Black to varying degrees, and as long as they’re not carrying too much extra mass, and stick between Point One and Point Zero, they can flaunt their powers at whim, with no negative effects on the Structure. Well, they did almost ruin a few variants with temporal micro managing, so Ai tends to keep them on a tight leash.

They have 65 distinct secret twin languages, and a connection between them that’s impossible to sever. On the other hand, they’re restless, and never can stay in the same time and place for more than a few minutes.

When she wants, Ai can change all of that in a second – her domain over every living spirit is absolute, and while she rarely revokes free will, she’s been known to puppet members of the council at Point Zero when it meets her needs.

“Helena dear, come sit down next to your sister. We need to talk.” We were all in my flat, sitting in the empty living room on the wooden floor. The Numbers were out getting everything ready for tomorrow, while I stayed behind at Ai’s insistence.

“You all know that we still haven’t found Aurora.” That was Tokie, with her Ghost visiting all of our minds via Agartha Labs tech. Instead of using pico projectors to make a hologram, she just setup a bridge into the bodyweb. “Helena has confirmed that she’s nowhere in this variant, and Cassandra?”

She was lying on her stomach, still wearing her futuristic one piece jumpsuit, playing with a cellophane wrapped piece of candy. “Aurora’s not here now. She hates October and loves December.” Helena laughed as she sat on a random, one of a kind silk scarf she took out of a baby blue paper shopping bag. “She’s hiding in a far off star.”

Aurora is the mistress of energy, with perhaps the most raw power of any of us. She can tap into the Black and siphon out all sorts of electromagnetic force.

“Miranda is still missing, too, but at least we know who has her.” Tokie looked even more annoyed and upset than usual. She started to pace back and forth, her high cuffed brown slacks showing glimpses of Halloween themed socks, with black cats and cartoon witches.

“The current question is what Number 12 has planned for her.” Ai kept brushing back her curly hair with a plastic tortoise shell comb. “My best guess is that she wants complete control of her power.” She seemed intent on straightening it by force.

The power that Miranda had to be compelled to forget was over matter. She could use the Black to change the Universe wholesale, from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy cluster. Apparently too much power for one girl to consciously handle. Whomever controlled Miranda had already won.

“I think it’s more than that.” Tokie again, now fussing with her hoodie, a virtual replica of what Phone was wearing when he died. “I think Number 12 is after the whole council, either as a free agent, or acting on behalf of the Nameless. Ai?”

Ai and the Nameless were separate, yet two sides of the same coin. The Nameless has control over what you can simplistically call “Information”, but in reality it’s the original agent of entropy. It knows everything, and seeks to subvert it for its own ends. Ai, on the other hand, is an agent of the most absolute order, life of the flesh and of the spirit.

The Nameless is the wild card that makes everything possible, more than just a perfectly balanced, homogenized steady state. It’s hard not to try to anthropomorphize it, especially when it takes human form at the end of each variant.

In any case, Ai is in constant communication with it, to make sure that neither army has broken the truce.

“Number 12 is acting on her own,” Ai assured us, “but she’s going to have to pick a side soon.”

Helena suddenly grabbed her sister’s hand and whisked them away.

“Don’t worry, I sent them on a mission. They’ll be back tomorrow.” Ai then stood up, and bolted for the door. “Now let’s square the circle!”

I looked at Tokie for guidance, but she only shrugged. Ai then slowly opened the door.

“Pizza!” The delivery man was startled, since he didn’t even get a chance to knock. Ai quickly took an €100 note out of her pocket, placed it in his left jacket pocket, and took the pizza box away with a door-closing flourish.

It was a simple, steaming margherita, baked into a perfect square.

“Sorry cousin, I didn’t order you one in Ikebukuro, but you can watch us eat!”

“I think I’ll sit this one out.” Tokie logged off with a particularly disgruntled flourish.

Ai placed the box on the middle of floor, and motioned for us to gather around it.

“Now that we’re alone, I need to tell you something with super seriousness.” Picked up a square slice and ravaged it. “Things really aren’t going well at all.”

I nibbled on a slice while I watched her wipe her hands on her FC Bayern jersey.

“Please don’t tell anyone else, but I don’t think we’re going to win this time.”

What?

“Cassandra has seen the end, and it’s not what I expected.” Another slice, slight pause, then another.

“What are you trying to tell me?” I tried to look her in the eyes, but it was as if the light just kept on going and never bounced back.

“That you are very important. That we all need you to be brave, especially when everyone’s lives are on the line.”

She gave me a hug and greasy kiss on the cheeks, and then without additional comment went back to the pizza.

She never brought it up again all night, not even when Susanna came back to check in on us. By then Ai was already asleep, and I was curled up in the corner of the room, staring at the shadows under the bed.

Ai knows exactly what’s going to happen, something terrible, and all she can give are comforting, vague platitudes. That’s more scary to me than the most obscene horror movie – what could possibly freak out the immortal girl that rules us all?

Susanna just sat down next to me, gave me the last piece of candy from Kyoto, and said nothing while we watched Ai sleep.

Even in her dreams, Ai watched back.

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Even Goddesses sleep…

It’s 6AM and Ai’s finally asleep, after spending the entire night grilling me on comparative religion, especially Theosophy, Anthroposophy and the chain leading to New Age thought.

You would think that after a dozen hours in the air, spread over a few airports, she would have wanted to take some time to breathe, but no. As soon as we met with her entourage at the Flughafen München, Ai ran up to Susanna and gave her a huge hug.

“It’s been ages since I’ve seen you! Literally hundreds of hours!” She was wearing a red and white vertically striped FC Bayern jersey – the home variety – and some dark blue jeans that look like they had been ironed forcefully, with crisp creases. “We simply must catch up about everything, especially the recent permutations in this variant!” I couldn’t stop staring at her shoes – they were basketball-style hi-tops that seemed to be made out of firm bubble wrap.

“And you!” She reached up to rub my stubbly head. “My how you’ve grown!” Gave me a little poke in the shoulder – I was still wearing one of Susanna’s frilly prairie dresses, since my custom clothes hadn’t yet arrived.

Ai proceeded to jog down the terminal, towards the escalators which led back to the Lufthansa counters. “I’m going to the observation deck!” The bodyweb was still ringing from her telepathic exuberance.

“You’re Kaia, right?” That was A-Bell, Ai’s godmother, standing next to her partner Amber. Like Ai, they were traveling extremely light, with little more than the clothes on their backs. A-Bell was quite tall, almost besting me by a head, and her naturally red hair barely reached her ears. Amber was about my height, and had bright blue hair with violet highlights, hanging well past her shoulders. I knew they were both almost 40, but they seemed half that age – Collective membership has its benefits.

Both she and Amber had on two variations on the same outfit – faded-blue circuit jeans and the most elaborately high-tech T-Shirts I had ever come across. They looked like a simple cotton/polyester blend, with old school Collective band logos (Fire Escape for A-Bell, and Jumpster for Amber) but upon a quick scan they were lousy with electrons and solid state memory threads.

“We’ve never been to Munich before, but we just love the airport.” Amber was naturally charming, and she took advantage of this by sliding her arm around my waist. “I”m sorry we came to visit on such a solemn occasion, but you know Phone wouldn’t want us to weep and wail – he’d want us to cause a righteous ruckus.”

“Sorry, I’m all out of ruckus.” Isabel, the only person to bring along a huge, black, rolling suitcase. She was clearly having none of this. “Can you point me in the direction of out of here?”

Isabel was Phone’s first real girlfriend, starting in High School. That is, until he cheated on her with Susanna. The two of them had resolved their differences long ago, but I could tell that she didn’t care for me one bit. Plus, she was wearing a whole container of mascara, and a loud, bangly couture outfit, Harajuku alley meets Fashion Week, that was expensive just to look at.

The final member of the party, Cassandra, was corpse quiet. Her wig had long, clear fiber optic hair that was iridescent, changing in color with every moment. I couldn’t place her outfit – it was like a painter’s tan one-piece, combined with space station lounge wear and yoga chic. She was one of the teenage twins – I could never tell them apart, except from context. I knew it was Cassandra because Helena never, ever would fly anywhere – she doesn’t have to. More about that when I have ample time to explain.

Right now, I only have a few more minutes before Ai wakes up, and demands my full attention for the rest of the day. She ran for my bed as soon as we arrived Friday evening, stripping down not to a datasuit, but something that looked like it came out of a €5 three pack – the most basic and plain white underwear imaginable. Slipped under the sole sheet, and ordered me to lay beside her fully clothed.

As we talked for hours, and the rest of the crew went to their hotels, I could tell that she was treating me less like an employee and more like her babysitter. She wanted to be tucked in, doted over, loved unconditionally, but only in the purest way, that core that transcends age.

She wanted to impress, even though she was the most impressive person that had ever lived. And she wanted me, for whatever reason, to be right there by her side.

I was her pet project, but also her confidant, almost like an imaginary friend. It was as if she was talking to herself, but she wanted my face there to sell the illusion of conversation.

Which is not hard to understand, since her brain is naturally buzzing with the thoughts, hopes and wishes of an entire species, all rushing at her from the White. She showers in humanity, and it was simply amazing that it hadn’t driven her crazy already.

Instead, every new person born only added to her joy, and wonder. I just don’t understand her perspective, especially since it’s no secret that she only really cares about one thing – family.

She would kill us all if it meant finding a world that her mother is still alive in, and that her hypothetical daughter can call home. I’m not speaking metaphorically, and I’m not going to go over it more now.

Sufficed to say that while even Goddesses have to sleep, you really don’t want to witness their nightmares.

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Funeral in spray paint…

Ai is coming to München, to this empty flat, on Friday.

There’s so many things wrong with that sentence, I don’t know where to start. Ai never leaves the US, not at least until after the Fifth Event, and she definitely doesn’t travel so openly.

It’s almost like she’s taunting the Nameless, begging it to show its cards. I’ve never seen her so recklessly, arrogantly powerful.

Did I mention she started a blog? She’s actually reaching out to the world for once, instead of commanding it to come to her. That’s so promising, and scary too.

In any case, she’ll arrive in a few days, and Susanna and I have to take care of everything, from her lodging to Phone’s funeral. I’m not sure who’s coming with her physically, and who will attend virtually, but it’s bound to be an once in a variant event.

It’s actually kind of shocking – I didn’t think anyone would care. But, after reading over his part of the antizine Fragments, like Our American Heritage, I totally understand now.

He was the glue that held all of the bands together, the instigator, doorman and secret weapon. When he was alive, he had no idea how important he was, how important the Collective let him be, and it speaks to his influence that everyone is dropping everything to be there in the end.

It really touches me, but also breaks my heart. Even in his last breath, he didn’t have any idea. All that was rushing through his skin was artificial hatred, a burning desire to destroy Satomi, and he didn’t even know why.

At least, I don’t think he knew why. That’s still something for me to determine, once my training is complete.

Anyway, it’s a chilly, cloudy morning, and the bodyweb says it will rain a bit. This will be the first day in weeks that I can actually walk out of my flat unassisted, that Susanna will let me off my leash. I’m so excited that I don’t even know what to do first – perhaps rub my face in some grass at the Englischer Garten (perhaps not the best idea, considering the dog population), or jump across the Isar (again, not the best idea to perform superhuman feats so soon).

Perhaps I’ll just ride the U-Bahn aimlessly, enjoying the crowded trains and oblivious people.

If only I could change my mind back to the way it was. To unstare at the sun. To forget.

Of course, Ai won’t allow that one bit. The Collective never forgets.

Friday, the center of the living universe is coming over for tea – I’m not even sure how she likes it.

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Rewinding the tape

I’ve been body bored but mind over-stimulated lately.

I only have to use the IVs a few hours a day now, but Susanna still won’t let me out of the apartment.

So, I’ve had nothing but bare walls in the here and now to entertain me, like a never ending flight circumnavigating the world, and you’re strapped into your seat with no possibility of almost new movies to view.

I’ve allowed Sasha OS to interact with me again, and it’s – she’s – pretty reasonable for the end of all things.  She really doesn’t like it when I call her that, since it technically wasn’t her that caused all of the trouble, but still – it’s like playing solitaire against the Devil.

Anyway, she was kind enough to gather up the antizine fragments from Variant 0 a few minutes ago, and put them on a blog.  I’ve already read them like you would a tall glass of cool water – in quick and satisfying gulps – but I need to sit down and actually go over the words with my eyes, and not via my data sockets.

Today I’m obsessed over the fragment code-named Into The White – it recounts the night that Sasha died, at the last Suspender concert ever.

Jenny Samuels taped those few hours on a camcorder, and Laura did her best to pore over the footage, after it all happened, to look for clues.

Of course, the Collective has long since digitized the tape, and I plan on going over the footage myself soon, since I already can see many parallels between the events of that night, and what happened with Phone.

That’s one weird thing about going through the old fragments – Phone’s is either in a lot of them, or he actually wrote them.  I love seeing him in his prime, but it’s also so terribly sad – I think Sasha was trying to give him a warning even then, a prophecy that no one could really understand.

In any case, if you have been following this blog for the past few weeks, I think you’ll get a lot of perspective from this fragment that Laura wrote.  It’s also a great way to keep track of who’s who in the Collective – Sasha publicly revealed the Numbers that night, namely:

Sasha – Number 0
Laura (Frisbee) – Number 1
A-Bell (Annabelle) – Number 2
Jenny – Number 3
Jo (Joan) – Number 4
Caroline – Number 5
April – Number 6
Susan – Number 7
Susanna – Number 8
Rebecca – Number 9
Elizabeth – Number 10
Isabel – Number 11
8-Track – Number 12

She clearly did this for the video’s sake – the numbers are actually the order that each woman was etched over the years, and brought into the Collective, with one important exception – A-Bell. I’ll come back to that later.

I think it may also help to better understand who was in what band, something that the fragments really don’t cover, so I wrote up this little summary:

Masking Tape (84-89)
Susanna – vocals/guitar
Isabel – Drums
Becky (used to be Betty) – vocals/bass
Doug – guitar

Intruder Alert! (85-88)
Joan Gordon – vocals/guitar
Circle X (m)  – guitar
69rpm (m) – drums
Caroline – everything (including bass)
(Joan and Caroline head their own label, 2nd Going).

Eskimo Guy (84-85)
Joan – vocals/guitar
Susan – drummer
3-Way Tie – bass, vocals
Plug – vocals/guitar
(splits and becomes Intruder Alert, Slow Cone, Vacuum Chamber)

Slow Cone (85-88)
Velcro – guitar/vocals
Susan – drummer/vocals
Gary – bass/vocals
Tina – guitar/vocals
Inches – keyboard.
Sister band to Intruder Alert!, also on 2nd Going. (Becomes Photocop, April is part of it).  Susan and Velcro don’t get along, temporary break up.  Get back together in 86.  Gary, Tina and Inches each go their own way.

Potato Power (85-88) (Flake)
April – vocals/guitar/cello
8-track – drums
Rebecca – bass
Elizabeth – vocals, violin
(April goes on to Photocop after breakup)

Vacuum Chamber (85-87)
3-Way Tie – vocals/bass
Plug – guitar/vocals
Alex – drums
Theo – trumpet

Fire Escape (86/87) (Flake)
April – vocals/guitar/violin
Joan – vocals/guitar
Susan – drums
Caroline – everything
A-Bell – clarinet/vocals.
The supergroup.

Jumpster (86-87)
Sasha – Keyboard/Vocals
Joan – vocals/guitar
Susan – drums

Fuck Traffic (87-91)
A-Bell – clarinet/guitar/vocals
Frisbee – vocals
Jenny – drums
Sasha – keyboard/vocals
The official antizine band.  First gig at the antizine headquarters.

Dust Lag (89-94)
Susanna (Masking Tape) – vocals/guitar
Rebecca (Potato Power) – bass
Elizabeth (Potato Power) – vocals/violin
Isabel (Masking Tape) – drums.
Masking Tape meets Potato Power.

Photocop (89-94)
April (Potato Power) – vocals/guitar/cello
Susan (Slow Cone) – drummer
Circle X (Intruder Alert!) – guitar
69rpm (Intruder Alert!) – 2nd drums
Theo (Vacuum Chamber) – trumpet

Suspender (89-94)
Joan – vocals/guitar
8-Track (Potato Power) – drums
Caroline – everything
Velcro (Slow Cone) – guitar

It might seem like trivia now, but believe me – how these 12 bands turned into the Collective is key to everything that’s going wrong now.

You may want to look two other fragments now, since they cover the bands in more depth:

antizine 5
Yard Stick Vs. Tape Measure

I’ll definitely come back to these later.

I’ve been paying extra special attention to Slide Rule School, the “orchestra” made out of the Collective members – I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I have a feeling that something was going on that night, that rewinding the tape will never show.

Sasha OS has been mum about the whole thing – I get the feeling she likes to feel my brain squirm.

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Me and Sasha’s shadow

I’ve been lying in bed for days, with my veins plumped with Susanna’s secret concoction guaranteed to inflate me back up like a sex doll or something.  Which is all fine and good, since when I came home from Olympiapark I looked like a 60 year old Grandmother, all wrinkled and liver spotted and arthritic.  I was a mess.

To pass the time during my reconstruction, I pored through the Collective OS, running the training led by a tutorial program in Sasha Williams’ form.  It was very convincing – she acted just like Phone has described from back in the day, big Number 0, infused with kind haughtiness.  Not that she didn’t deserve to be cooler-than-thou – she did invent the Collective, Bodyweb, etching and the OS that was currently controlling me, all before she was 21.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out more about the Reservoir, since I obviously didn’t know what I was doing when it came to my powers, when “Sasha” chimed in.

“Are you sure you haven’t had enough already”?  She was still dressed in the same, red Circle X outfit, and I asked her about it.

“Oh, this old thing?” It looked like she was standing right at the foot of the bed, smiling at me while she fussed with the big shirt buttons.  “It’s definitely not as nice as the one the Japanese franchise is using, but I like it.”

Circle X was a multinational nightmare that started in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the late 40s.  It was Sasha’s nemesis, for a number of reasons I don’t fully understand, and therefore the focus of the Collective until she died on Halloween in 1994.

“Just how true are you to the original?” She was short, stray kitten cute and slight, with arms like wind-swept bamboo trunks. “Did Sasha program you to be just like her?” Her face had old-school etching, all hand done with broad circuits, and every hair on her head was individually modeled.

“That’s a tough one… is your mirror twin exactly like you?” Flipped back her short, black bob with a flirty flourish.  “When your back is turned, does it make frowny faces in your direction?”  Walked through the bed to the middle, and she was bursting out of my chest – like a huge, slimy, black Alien.

“Please don’t poke through me like that.   It makes me feel like a magician’s assistant, post trick.”

“OK OK.” She shrunk down to the size of a Raggedy Ann doll, and sat down on my stomach.  “Did you ever notice about how most every prodigy has amazing math or logical skills, but only rarely creative ones?  Sasha was the sort of polymath that pops up once in a generation – she wrote Operating Systems and crazy punk songs, all knife-brilliant.  I’m one of her pet projects – the sort of artificial intelligence that’s not supposed to exist.”

“What are you saying?  That you’re S.OS?”  If I could have jumped up and ran out of the room, I would have.

“You say that like I’m pulling your teeth and throwing them back at your face.  It’s not that hard to understand – Sasha needed a OS to interface with what became known as the Pure Land Antenna etching.  Something that could use her body as a platform.  She had strong hints from Laura Watson about what that would entail – visions pulled out of the White – but it still took almost a decade to perfect it.  Sasha OS.  Literally, her shadow self that she trusted to govern her very essence.”

“I can’t believe this – please get off of me!”  I swatted at her, but my hand just passed through, slightly tangling the IV.

“Don’t get me wrong.  I’m the original S.OS, the kernel that’s a part of every member of the Bodyweb.   I’m not the… thing you’re thinking of.”

“I still don’t like this at all.  I don’t know how I can trust you, after all that’s happened.”

She sighed, and then grew to normal size, sitting on the right edge of the bed.

“Trust me, you don’t know what’s happened.  No one does, save for perhaps Ai and her mother.”  Sighed again.  “I’m not going to be able to convince you now that I’m not a threat to you, that I’m here to help you.  Just know that you can call upon me whenever you like.”

With that, she gave me a slight smile, like a busy cashier slapping the receipt into my hand, and disappeared.

Now I’m really worried.  If there’s anything that Tokie drummed into me over the past months, it was that S.OS was a world destroyer.  That it became autonomous, and vicious, and wouldn’t stop until every last network and CPU was under its control.  If not for the Collective, for Fairview, it would have succeeded.

To have a tame version of that beast now in charge of my head and heart – I don’t know if I can handle it.

It may be Sasha’s shadow, but I’m not worried about that part.  I’m worried about what a shadow sees when it looks in the mirror.

Will it decide to break your arms and legs just to get a better view?

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The always hungry engine

Susanna was right – being etched is the total opposite of a free lunch.  It’s more like a banquet that fills a restaurant, but you can never, ever stop eating.

Over the past few days she left me alone while I went through the training modules.  It didn’t matter where in München I did them, so yesterday I chose Olympiapark.

It has been raining on and off for the past week, so I tried to enjoy the relative sun and say hi to my swan princesses.  Not to forget the ducks, but between there and Schloss Nymphenburg, I’m always happy to watch the beautiful, regal birds.

There’s a particular order to all of the exercises, time tested to get new Collective members started the right way, but since I had no problem with the basics, I decided to give something exciting a shot – invisibility.

Yes, invisibility.  Just like I could relay my senses through the White for a few moments, and see through someone else’s eyes, so too could you block their mind from noticing your presence.  The more minds you have to fool, the harder it is, and the less time it would last.

Sasha herself led the training exercise – it must had been programmed in the early 90s, right before she died.  She was like a crystallized cyberpunk anthem, with a face that could launch shmups.  Plus, she was quite charming for a crazy genius.

“So, you don’t want to be seen? I completely understand the feeling.”  She was wearing a bright red, short sleeved Circle X uniform, as was the nature of her obsession – she always had on some of their circuit clothes.

I sat down on a bench next to the small pond.  “Do I just use the straight lure, or something special?”

“Don’t worry about the mechanics,” Sasha’s subroutine told me, “Either you can visually register who you want to hide from, or you can choose a radius within which you won’t be seen.  Just make sure you don’t over tap your Reservoir.”

The Reservoir is the sum total of your available energy.  Since stealing even a bit of the White is not allowed, it’s largely how many fat calories you have, plus the section of your aura that’s not life-essential.  Susanna is obsessive, and always uses an exact Kilocalorie readout, but I just set up a nice, gradiated therometer that I can pull up, going from pine green to blood red.  I was currently almost full, so I decided to give it a shot.

I didn’t ask Sasha about the exact number of minds that would be ideal for cloaking.  There seemed to be around 50 people milling about, from mothers with their prams to packs of kids running towards the Sea Life aquarium.  A 20 meter radius seemed decent to start with.

I stood up from the bench, faced towards the Kaffee Crepes kiosk, and started.

I felt myself slip into the minds of everyone nearby.  They were thinking about a sexy man in this morning’s Abendzeitung, or going to the BMW Welt to play with the big aphid-like robots, or jumping off of the nearby Olympia Tower… I paused on that mind for a moment, but it turned out to be a scenario in a story they were recalling.

I was well implanted, and so I had them all take a look at me, all at the same time.  Some people thought I was a freak with my shaved head, while one woman admired my dress – I was borrowing one of Susanna’s Victorian white and frilly affairs.  A young boy thought I reminded him of an actress on KI.KA he had a crush on.  They all had their opinions, and I swam pass them, to the center of their visual field.   Then I pulled the trigger.

It all happened so fast.

39 people suddenly stopped in their tracks, and blinked me away.  I was no longer there – gone.

Then the swans started to honk, and the ducks flew away en masse.

I looked down at my hands, and they were dripping sweat, steaming.  So were my arms, my legs, and the dress felt like it just came out of a hot drier.

I fell to my knees, as my senses became distorted – I could feel the bacteria dying on my fingers, I could smell the iron leeching out of my bloody mouth.

My health bar was quickly jumping into the red, and my OS took charge again. It found a member of the crowd mind that had medical training – she had worked as a nurse for years.  Rushed her over to my side, as I curled into a ball by the bench.

Sasha and the OS didn’t let her talk.  She just tore off her own t-shirt, down to a blue sports bra, and used it to cover my mouth like a gag.  Propped me up and walked me slowly over to Sea Life, demanding to use the restroom. No one could see me but her.

With the last of my Reservoir depleated, the invisibility blanket collapsed, as did I.  I woke up briefly as she cleaned up the blood that had seeped out of my mouth, saturating the front of my dress.  I don’t remember much of anything else, except for calling for Susanna, throwing up a black, sticky mass the size of my fist into the sink, and trying to drink from the soap dispenser.

A few minutes later Susanna rushed in, and gave the good samaritan robot her mind back, minus any memories of what just happened.

“Are you insane?” Her yelp shot through my mind for the next few hours, as I drifted in the warm, white, world beyond our own.  I remember the sounds of the U-Bahn, and the smell of my neighborhood, but little more than that.  My fever dreams had plague nightmares.

I woke up a few hours ago – in the middle of the night – on my bed, attached to multiple IVs.  I had enough strength to look over at my arm, and it was little more than loose skin, deteriorated muscle and bone, with large brown splotches everywhere.  My body hair had fallen out.

Susanna was sitting by the bed, staring at me with mother’s eyes.

She didn’t have to explain.  I tried to ride a bicycle on the autobahn, and crashed into the world.

The invisibility routine was for defensive purposes only, as a last resort.  Every person that you tried to fool took dozens of calories a second.  With the radius I chose, I was few minutes away from organ collapse.  I had lost 15 pounds in a few minutes.

I’m going to be out for the count for a few days, at least, as my OS completely cycles through the critical repairs.   Then, I’m going to have to gorge myself for at least a week, on sweets and meats, just to get healthy enough for explosive diarrhea.

I never liked being sick in bed,  not even with my mother doting after me.  Unable to function without aching, I would rather just limp myself through the waking world, grin and bearing the fever, or sniffles, or whatever bothered my little girl self.

Now, I can barely imagine even beating my heart without assistance.  It’s like my body is a shooting range target, the kind you see on dubbed American crime shows, and every square centimeter is full of holes.

It’s clear I’m going to get better – the Collective already have too much invested in me to let me go.

It’s also clear that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and it scares me.

My own body, still shriveled and wheezing, scares me to pieces.

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My body, jailbroken

For the first time in my life, my body is finally free to do with as I see fit.

My physical, etheric and astral beings are unchained, and even my ego holds no more sway.

The invisible, etched marks that follow my meridians, chakras, and secret circuit paths are marionette strings with which I can control everything in minute detail.

What would take a yogi lifetimes of practice is now second nature – if I will it, I can become it, to the full extent of my being.

I can sleep or stay up for weeks, with no ill effect.

A drop of water can make me feel as full as a banquet.

I can move faster than any olympic athelete, or play dead indefinitely.

I can grow into a new hair color, or change my melanin mix – not instantaneously, but over time.

I can ride my neurotransmitters like bicycles, and re-write my DNA (apparently not the best idea, but I still can).

I could live for thousands of years, and not grow a day older.

I could even, as is the temptation for all of the newly etched, have orgasms at will.  Not that I’ve had time to try that yet, but Susanna warned me that more than a few days of constant bliss will definitely make you sick.

Not that I ever have to feel sick again, or even be sick.  I’ve already willed away a few suspicious skin lesions, and corrected my vision by adjusting synapses.

In short, my body is hacked, jailbroken, fully authorized for use.

Of course, the danger is thinking that the ability to do means you should.  Most of the time, you shouldn’t.

After I woke up yesterday morning, the process complete, I was sore, bruised, and ravenously hungry.  Took a shower to wipe away the sweat, etching fluid and patches of dried blood.  Staggered towards the kitchen, and Susanna stopped me before I could inspect the empty refrigerator.

“Open up port 54 – I need to teach you something.”

Just like in the largest firewall imaginable, I now have scores of millions of ports into the bodyweb, and the Structure at large, through which data and energy comes and goes.  By default they’re highly protected, but if you don’t pay attention, you could be rooted and completely taken over by someone, or something.  Not that the collective OS isn’t robust and time tested, but there’s always a slight danger.

“Logging now.  OK. Do you feel this?”  Butterflies filled my stomach suddenly.

“Uggh, yeah.  Do you mind?”  I was this close to throwing up.

“That’s the low end of the scale.  Follow my lead.”

And then I could feel a handle on my gut, a thermostat that I could tweak at will.

“Good, good…. let me take control of your eyes for a second.”

Where the bare kitchen once was, now I had my toaster back.  The coffee machine, the cereal boxes, the plates drying in the rack.

“This is your mental map of your kitchen, stored in thousands of little memory slices.  You can inspect any memory, from any part of your life, at will.  You can also immediately enter REM sleep, or create visions out of whole cloth.”

I thought about an apple, and it was there – cold and smooth and firm.  I could see it, feel it, but it wasn’t.

“Over time, you’ll learn to manipulate the spectrum, to see beyond normal light.  But the first, most important thing is to learn how not to see at all.”  With that, I was immediately blind.

“I’m really not liking this lesson.”

“It’s OK. The world is still there.  You don’t have to see it to be with it.  Let me turn up your hearing a bit.”

A bit!  I could hear the S-Bahn trains traveling underground from blocks away.

“Your body is the finest antenna possible, if only you know how to use it.  I want you to feel me thinking.”

I didn’t understand, but I did.  Not only did her aura interpenetrate mine locally, but I could reach back through the bodyweb into her mind.  It was like pointing a camera at a TV displaying the image from that camera – I could feel her looking at me connecting to her contemplating me…

“Don’t get mirror stuck…. here.”  Suddenly my vision came back, but instead of the kitchen I could see, simply put, everything.

“One of the first things we fixed from Sasha’s original OS was the gain.  Before, you could only resolve whatever you or the bodyweb members could.  Like an array of telescopes, our perception was magnified, but only so much.”  It was like I was seeing through every eye on the planet at once, overlapped yet distinct.

“We spent 15 variants doing nothing but perfecting the tech, and now we indirectly use the White as a lens.  Everything, everywhere, at all times.”  Back to the kitchen.

“My brain aches.”

“Seriously – staring at everything for even a few moments, without the right filters, will destroy you.  Don’t worry – you don’t have permissions to do that on your own, at least not yet.”

“Anyway, food!  Please.”

“Yeah.  Get dressed, and we’ll go out for breakfast.  Real food, and not just phantoms – you’ll need a fuckton of calories from now on.”

“But you threw out all of my clothes – even the dress I came back to the flat in.”

“In the red bag is your data suit, and a surprise.”

It was still in the middle of the living room – I went over to it, and zipped it open.  Inside, machine wrapped in plastic, were the same kind of A-shirt and panties that she constantly wore.

“Back in the day, the essential circuit cloth was from ankle to wrist to neck, like a cotton-mesh scuba suit.  Now, we only need to cover you from Muladhara to Anahata.”

As I put the underwear on, my being snapped to attention.

“The OS is built into you, but you still need applications.  Many are in the cloud, but some you have to wear.”

My senses started to fill with structured data, like I was booting up for the first time.

“Over the next few weeks, I’ll help you order a few outfits – we have a secret supply chain throughout Southeast Asia, from the data thread and circuit fabs, to our haute couture designers.  Until then, I have a few things for you to pick from.  Plus, this….”

She walked over to the bag, and zipped open an outer compartment.  Pulled out a puffy, plastic shipping envelope, and gave it to me.

As soon as I touched it, I already knew what was inside – I could sense it.  Phone’s hooded jacket with the Intruder Alert! patch.

Tore it open and hugged it to my chest, sniffing the collar.  He was still there.

“Go ahead, put it on.”

My right arm went through a sleeve, and I could suddenly think in Japanese.

My left arm went through, and I knew the names and faces of every resident of Tokyo.

I put on the hood, and I could see myself at the concert, staring at Satomi from Die Database.

She was etched, from forehead to knee.

“What am I seeing?”

“We still don’t know.  She has Collective tech, but it’s completely inactive.  She doesn’t even seem to know it’s there.”

Under the hood, she was starting to play the bass line to Massive Cloud Burst Theme.  I was so close that I could feel the monitors vibrate.

“We didn’t know it was there – she’s not one of us.”

I was staring at her dancing fingers.  She didn’t notice me one bit.

“We just wanted Phone to get close enough to physically breach her data aura, and he did.  Then he went offline.”

I could see Yuma in her white kimono, waving the solar scepter to the beat.

Masae was on cloud nine, hitting the snares like invading cockroaches.

And Satomi, sweet Satomi, in her frilly, violet Shigai dress… the more I looked at her, the more I wanted to kill her.

Susanna slipped the hood off my head, and sighed.

“Phone’s jacket was corrupted, made sick by what we think was a self-organizing aerosol.  It literally re-wrote the circuits and memory in a matter of minutes.”

I took it off, and I still wanted to kill her, to throw her into the sun.

“Once you’re trained, we’re going to find out who did this to him.  To us.”

The jacket was on the floor. Why did I still want to destroy her?

“And as for Satomi….” She pulled out a Die Database T-Shirt, and gave it to me.  “We need you to rejoin the Fan Cloud.”

I’m listening to Knee right now, streamed into my ears from who knows where, as I dictate (cogitate?) this blog post.

It’s been a whole day, and I’m still under that hood, ready to take a swing.

I’m suddenly desperate to kill my idols – what have I gotten myself into?

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