There’s a hole in all existence, opening up soon in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
In about an hour, Isabel Belen Jeger will appear on the pavement at the empty Target store loading dock, at the Crossroads Center, wearing a tattered full body datasuit. She will be bleeding from all pores, and steaming – a few moments from death.
She will have just been shot bullet-like from the same location, on October 3, 2000. Only in that world, which we call Variant Zero, the location was the Fairview Shopping Center – in the middle of a central, closed court which led to the various anchor stores, like the Super Circle X.
I’ve always thought she was the bravest member of the Collective. She volunteered to march right past the edges of The White, tethered only by the spirits of the bodyweb she left behind.
Her journey was powered by what I might as well call the Massive Cloud Burst, which had been in possession of the Collective since the beginning. Sasha Williams used it early on, and then stored it away for Annabelle Spencer (A-Bell) to find in 1995. With help from Ai-Watson Carver, A-Bell was given a fairly complete instruction manual, and it was keyed to her genetically.
Above the Crossroads Center right now, there’s an empty space that wasn’t empty in the Fairview Shopping Center. Fairview was much taller, and had a few floors of administration. In actuality, it was a prominent hub for Sasha OS (S.OS), and there were mainframes that were specifically dedicated to a peculiar sort of “Watch the Skies” project.
S.OS knew that a hole into the Structure would appear on that very spot – it knew so thanks to communications from fragments and variants of itself in the future, especially those carried by me and Helena. It wanted to travel through that hole, and it planned to use Jenny Samuels as a launch vehicle.
Jenny Samuels has been harboring S.OS for years. On October 2, 2000, at the First Event, S.OS took overt control of her, leading to the death of John Carver – Ai Watson-Carver’s father. It also used Jenny to take control of the the Children of the Collective – Miranda, Ai, Aurora, Joey, Tokie, Helena and I.
While Jenny was prepped for her big escape from our Universe, the extended Collective placed the Massive Cloud Burst in a special, metal cube, which included a coolant made from A-Bell’s blood, and interfaces into the bodyweb (and also S.OS). It was inserted in the computers upstairs at Fairview, and then Isabel was brought down to central water fountain, where her launch pad was already set up.
Over the variants, there have been so many versions of what happened at Fairview. Time travelers like to observe, and I’ve seen all sorts of past, present and future Collective members show up as part of the team.
I want so desperately to go back and take a peek, but I already have an appointment to keep on New Year’s Eve, so I’ll have to confirm my suspicions then.
For now, I’ve been comforting A-Bell and Amber, as they pace anxiously in the dark, by the Target loading docks.
Back on October 3, 2000, when Isabel reached for The White as it filled the mall, she disappeared only to be replaced by A-Bell. That A-Bell in 2000 was actually from December 31, 2011, right here in St. Cloud. She had traveled back in time, to another variant, to complete The Bridge that the Collective had planned ages ago. They would use their very bodies as the foundation of what became the Infinite Subway.
At least, I spent aeons on the Subway to patch up the humongous rip that was caused in everything. All of the various pathways through time and space were sutures, but the gaping wound never did heal quite right.
Isabel is going to show up soon, and we’ll take care of her injuries. She should be ready to go back in by New Years, as A-Bell begins her long journey to break every rule.
It’s happened seemingly forever. A-Bell goes back to October 3, 2000, and leads the collective to stop Jenny and S.OS. They plug the hole before the Nameless follows S.OS back into the Structure, and everything seems perfect.
In fact, more than perfect. The Fairview fissure is used as a lens that allows anyone in the bodyweb, from any time since Sasha’s first login, to travel virtually to the past or future, and use other Collective members as hosts. Thus, the Collective in 2000 could take over their younger selves, or anyone that was etched, in 2011, 1989, or whenever.
This was meant to be the ultimate weapon against S.OS – ever vigilant, there was no way that they wouldn’t see danger coming, and act before it even happened.
I can’t believe how ridiculous this seems right now. Jenny was mentally straight-jacketed and chained to Berkeley, California. The Collective started to raise their children as part of the bodyweb, adding Meridian Scaffolding to their young skin in ever increasing waves as they grew.
A-Bell projected back into the past, and trained almost every new Collective member. Since A-Bell and Isabel were the lynch pins of this new Collective panopticon, their younger selves were treated like royalty, and looked after by the rest of the Collective. However, neither of them knew the true nature of their involvement, until Fairview actually happened in 2000. The fear was that if either were told about the future, they might inadvertently (or purposely) destroy the tunnel through everything.
Isabel from 2011 isn’t here – she’s in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Douglas Waters met with her recently, to make sure all preparations were in place. Usually, when things start to go south, there’s a mad rush from all directions in time and space, and she’s there to make sure that certain travelers don’t get through.
Isabel has been very busy this year. She took a suitcase full of bottle babies to Munich in April, and while everyone else met with Ai and Kaia, she made sure that there would be hundreds of thousands of copies by the end of the year, strategically placed through Europe, Asia and Africa. The Americas were easier to achieve, since they could multiply and migrate on their own, gathering and using Ghost holograms for infiltration purposes.
Japan was a special case, since she had to stay clear of Satomi Kurogane, and the actual first creation of the “Plastic Robot Sculpure” prototypes, lest their be more paradox than needed.
Isabel really didn’t mind, even though she always seemed like she did. It wasn’t a lie that she hadn’t eaten actual food since she first arrived in St. Cloud – the journey had permanently changed her, so she was ruled more by spirit and energy than actual, fleshy matter. She always seemed frustrated at the world because she finally saw completely through it, and it pained her to remain for any longer than absolutely necessary.
Her body was like heavily-weighted SCUBA gear, a cage for her spirit that yearned to be free. Part of her way past The White involved an elaborate tuning of her Chakras, opening and closing them according to an ancient pattern, so that she could “breathe” in the world beyond worlds. Of course, her journey didn’t really have any physical component, just a temporal, energetic and spiritual one. It was like she stood in place, and the Universe spun around her, its temporary new axis.
She doesn’t like to talk about it. If she tries, she cries for hours, until she’s able to harden herself even more against the now almost intolerable pressure of light against her skin.
When we were all at Tech High School in Fairview, she was so vivacious. She was one of the few band geeks that didn’t make fun of me when I joined the cheerleading squad. Helena and I spent most of our youth jumping in and out of those times – we wasted years in classes we didn’t need, just so we could get to know our eventual aunts and uncles.
I really love Isabel, even after she turned so dark when Phone got through with her. Susanna is great, too, but I could never look at her the same way again. Isabel didn’t deserve to be treated that way, to wander the halls at lunch trying to find a good place to hide from her heartbreak.
Sure, she had more than her share of disposable boyfriends, especially during the Dust Lag tours – they all couldn’t resist her drummer arms and model looks. Sometimes, she would stay overnight with her fans, rather than spend any extra time with her bandmates – that lasted until she and Susanna finally buried the hatchet.
During the Junior year of High School, an art photographer named Richard Flax, also a professor at Fairview State University, hired her as a model. He was a student of the local punk scene, and approached Isabel at a Treehouse show. At that time, she did everything in her power not to be perceived as conventionally attractive, but he slowly but surely brought out the shine within her. That led to professional shoots and a few TV commercials – she spent most of her weekends down in Minneapolis on this job or that one. At first she was known as the “Punk Rock Model”, like a Cherie Currie (of the Runaways) for the late 1980s, but that quickly shifted towards the high end couture.
I thought she was always so beautiful on the foreign magazine covers. Heavily made up or natural, and no matter what color her long, wavy hair was, or what wig hid it – she just seemed beyond all imagination. I made sure to drag Helena across the world, and fold in and hide in the shadows at each one of her runway walks.
She was always fierce, first like a tiger, then like a knife. Now she’s all edge, all the time.
She trusts that we’ll take care of her younger self, as we always do. Once she falls down into St. Cloud, we’ll take her to a waiting safe house, blanked from my sister by Kaia Strauss. As long as Helena has a physical body, her mind can be temporarily controlled by Kaia, Ai, or other avatars of The White.
We also know that Cathy Koehler is sure to make a play sometime soon, and the hope is that Kaia won’t just be her unnatural twin, but her superior.
It’s the most important thing ever that Cathy does not get control of the Golden Sphere, but after Helena’s ploy at the Allianz Arena, she knows that we have it, and won’t rest until it’s hers. She has all the time ever to make that happen, thanks to Helena.
I’m not so sure about how to stop her, or about anything these days. I haven’t been able to visit the future since July 4, when most of us died. Since then, I’m simply been going on my memories of what was to be, with no ability to fuss with the deck chairs as everything sinks.
I think everything is going to be OK, but I’m afraid I can’t have faith. I’ve never needed it before, not when I could visit the very moment of Creation at whim, and know exactly how everything started. It’s not the start that consumes me these days – it’s what’s going to happen this New Year’s Eve.
It’s what I’m going to have to do the next time I see Helena.
Don’t mind me. The Structure is not what it’s cracked up to be, but it’s still a whole lot better than The White or the Black.
When the time comes, just find the nearest doorway and we’ll take care of the rest.
Oh. A-Bell’s stopped pacing, and my bottle baby has started to melt a bit.
There’s a hole in all existence, opening up right now in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
It’s warm, and white, and the bloody hands reaching through are already choking everything to death.
Your homework for next time: