Susanna Eck is in Ikebukuro, Japan, soaking in a hot bath of crematory ash and designer amino acids.
She is in the Metropolitan Suite, 184,800 yen per night (just about $2400), with attached Executive Meeting Room.
My bottle baby is sitting at the long, conference table made out of dark wood – the other 9 chairs are still empty, since everyone won’t arrive for a few hours.
Kaia Strauss mesmerized the greater Tokyo area yesterday, while her daughter Ariel resurrected Susanna on the larger bathroom’s damp floor. As a DNA focal point, she used some skin flakes from one of her wigs, and some ashes from her urn, but all the necessary information was already encoded in her spirit. Ariel just likes the extra flourish and ritual, even though at this point she no longer needs it.
Susanna was born in Fairview, Minnesota on February 12, 1970. She was an only child – her father Ronald worked at a company that processed and sculpted granite, and her mother Anna was a nurse at Fairview Hospital by the Missisippi River. She grew up on 9th St. South, a few blocks away from Lake George, Tech High, and Fairview State. Her best friend through junior high was Cathy Koehler, whose family lived across the street.
Susanna died in Munich, Germany on April 17, 2011. She died at Cathy’s hands – well, at the hands of Kaia Strauss, Cathy’s unnatural twin.
The Kaia situation is even more complicated than that, but for now let’s just say that Kaia was custom designed and groomed to become everything that Cathy couldn’t.
When they were kids, Susanna and Cathy would always fight and then make up, a few times a week, if not each day. They liked the same movies but different actors, and would finish each others’ candy bars and soda, just for variety’s sake. They were about the same size, even through puberty, so they would always share clothes and shoes, much to the annoyance of their parents – searching for the right outfit in the morning invariably led to a phone call.
Susanna got an electric guitar on her 11th birthday, and so Cathy had to one up her by begging her parents for drums. Their first basement band, Poppy Soda, incessantly covered I Love Rock N Roll by Joan Jett (Susanna’s choice) and Get Down On It by Kool & the Gang (Cathy). They played at their elementary school talent show, but they really dreamed of someday taking the stage on the Star Search TV show, which they obsessed over in 1983.
Cathy was a big holdout when it came to 8-Track tapes, and she actually cried when the stores stopped carrying them around that time. She would spend her weekends at thrift stores searching for early Fleetwood Mac or Jackson 5 tapes, and Susanna always taunted her by calling her 8-Track – a name which stuck with her through the rest of her musical career.
By 1984, Susanna moved on to The Cure and Prince, and Cathy headed towards Run DMC, Blondie and Hüsker Dü. Poppy Soda couldn’t handle the tension, and so it broke up with excessive drama. They still remained friends, at least until Joan Gordon joined Eskimo Guy that same year, which changed everything.
Killing The Eskimo Guy
Susan (Susie) Richardson was a big fan of Poppy Soda – in fact, she was the only fan, if actual musical ownership is considered. She bought a home made tape of them destroying Joan Jett for a dollar, and was so inspired that she begged Cathy to let her come over and play drums. That plan lasted for only a few weeks, until Susie broke two pairs of sticks and somehow kicked through the bass drum, all during one slumber party. Her parents ended replacing the broken bits, and Susie managed to get her own set for Christmas.
Susie was a tall, blonde, 13 year old musical genius, but at first it didn’t seem that way. She didn’t bother learning the drums via lessons, and instead spent hours every morning and night playing along to the radio. She quickly surpassed 8-Track in sheer energy and reckless abandon, and sought out people to play with by drumming on whatever she could around town – on the bus, in front of Circle X or Perkins, wherever. Eventually she attracted two guys into her web of music – Bert “3-Way Tie” Armstrong from West Fairview (Waite Park in current Variants), and Apollo “Plug” Tractenberg from North Fairview (Sartell now).
3-Way Tie was barely old enough to drive, had huge hands but smaller than expected feet, and shaved his head and then tried to grow a mowhawk – not the easiest route to take. He thought it was terribly impressive that he could play his bass upside down and blindfolded, but Susie was more taken by his ample supply of drum sticks – his father worked at a music store near the Library.
Apollo, a self-taught guitarist, was very driven – a Jr. Rotarian and member of the Student Council. He also loved to mess with the amps and effect pedals during shows, so everyone always yelled various epithets at him, like “Fucking stop messing with the plugs!”, eventually shorted to just “Plug!”. He liked to swim in the quarries because he thought they were a great pick up spot, but most girls were put off by his tendency to unintentionally insult them, and call them collect way too much.
The three of them were like water, ice and a cup – perfectly refreshing but a bit bland. They were more known for their improvisation and slavish devotion to the Ramones – each song was simple, with excessive distortion and drum solos, and usually made up on the spot. Even their name was off the cuff – they were looking for popsicles at a Circle X Jr. (equivalent to SuperAmerica gas stations today), and Susie and Apollo both picked a Star-Spangled Sugar Bomb, while Bert went his own way – he was the Eskimo Pie Guy incarnate. Strangely afraid to be sued, when no one had even heard them play out, the band quickly settled on Eskimo Guy.
Their mortal band-enemy was Flexidick – a hardcore punk band from Minneapolis that everyone in Fairview loved to hate. Part of that came from their first (and last) concert at Fairview State, an all-ages event that was strangely sponsored by the school. Everyone who was remotely quirky or edgy showed up, including most of the future Collective. They were enticed by their first single, which was 5 songs – each less than a minute long – and it sounded like the band was beating each other up with their instruments. Everyone expected an on-stage riot, but they didn’t expect Tom, the lead singer, to bring the battle through the pit and outside the double doors, while the band still played on.
For one night, Flexidick were awesome incarnate, and Eskimo Guy somehow managed to get in their good graces, and opened for them a few times throughout the state. Tom was really into the fact that 3-Way Tie played blindfolded, but even more into the fact that Bert’s brother “Waxy” was a great hookup for speed and other consumables.
Over time, it became clear that Flexidick was less about music and more about being assholes in public. Joan (Jo) Gordon was a big champion of the assholes theory, and Susie liked to hear her complain. They met over complaints at the Fairview State show – they both ended up in the same bushes over by the Missisippi, while they were trying to evade campus police and a few extra-grabby punks. Jo ended up staying on Susie’s couch that night – her parents were away for the weekend – and by morning she was already the new lead singer and guitarist of Eskimo Guy.
Plug was terribly threatened by Jo, because her brilliance put his meager strumming to shame. He also lusted after her with an owl’s intensity, and so allowed her to join the band if it meant he could spend more time with her. She didn’t feel the same way at all, but she did like 3-Way Tie’s theatrics – at least for the first few shows. He looked so cool rockin’ the bass with a white blindfold, but he tended to fall into the drum set or off the stage a few times each set.
Everything Wrapped In Masking Tape
Susanna missed her days in Poppy Soda, and was ready to jump at any chance she could find to be in a real band that actually played out.
She was one of the few faces in the Tech yearbook that didn’t have feathered hair and pastel sweaters, and she tended to attract secretly saucy members of her music class, like Isabel Jeger and Becky Rhinegold. Susanna didn’t care what anyone thought – she wanted to rock, even if it was with the pretty and preppy.
Nothing much came out of this, until Brian “Phone” Thomas started to pursue Isabel with a vengeance. He was a few years older, and managed to actually start a non-profit, all-ages punk club in South Fairview. His best friend Doug Raymond (no relation to Brother Douglas Waters) found the building that became the Treehouse after seeing it on the evening news – the INS raided a sweat shop that had been producing shoes for Circle X, and he noticed some choice graffiti on one wall. He took Phone to go see it the next day, and since the building was not just abandoned, but completely unattended, they started to hang out there after school. That led to some Saturday afternoon punk shows, which turned into Friday night blow outs a few months later.
Phone and Doug quickly became infamous – no one could understand how they were getting away with it. That aura of charm and danger was enough to get him close to Isabel and her friends, and the mere insinuation that Doug wanted to start a band was enough for the girls to take him up on the offer. It started out with Phone on lead vocals, but it only took a few practices for that to prove amazingly intolerable, and so Isabel told Susanna to stop by and give it a shot.
Susanna could sing. No one knew it, and then it seemed like the next day that everyone knew it. Making Tape was always about her shine, which increasingly annoyed Isabel and Becky. She also had a taste for adventure and danger, and Phone had all of that in his imagination. Phone followed the band around, at first because of Isabel, who was his barely steady girlfriend. By the time the band started to record, Phone would spend extra time in the studio “helping” Susanna with her vocals, tongue first. Isabel had no idea – she didn’t want to know that such a thing was even possible.
Becky knew soon enough, but she honestly didn’t care. She got along with Susanna better than Isabel – they liked to drink whatever stray alcohol they could find together, while Isabel was straight-edge. It was a miracle that the band lasted until 1989, until Isabel was forced to accept what Susanna was up to. However, she didn’t blame her – they collectively shunned Phone, who by that time had been secretly and blatantly chasing most of Fairview.
As soon as Isabel and Susanna were out of bounds, Phone moved on to whom he considered the next best thing – Cathy Koehler.
Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!
Jo quickly gave Susie an ultimatum – either the boys go, or I will. The last straw was when she woke up at 3AM in the minivan to find Plug groping her, as 3-Way Tie just stood there, watching.
Susie was fine to put a gun to the head of the Eskimo Guy, if for no other reason than she wanted to start a band with Greg “Velcro” Travis, her boyfriend since Elementary School.
Jo was approached by Caroline Atkins, a fan of hers from Eskimo Guy, to be in a band she was putting together. Caroline had already lined up Bradley “69rpm” Chatsworth as the drummer of her dream lineup – they had a thing that never went past spin the bottle a few years past, and Brad always hung around with her at Wonder Bowl, playing video games, pinball and pool. Jo was eager to get started, and even managed to get $3000 from Roger “Circle X” Nanoff, and started 2nd Going Records with Caroline as her partner. Circle X was game, as long as he could be in a band and fulfill his punk rock guitar fantasies.
2nd Going Records started with just two bands on the label – Slow Cone (Susie’s and Velcro’s baby) and Intruder Alert! (Jo, Caroline, Circle X and 69rpm). Their first tours were focused on the Midwest, and they changed the billing for each show, to give each band the proper chance to shine. However, Intruder Alert! (85-88) quickly became the stand out act, due in no small part to the theatrics and excessive charm of Jo and Caroline – Old Wave Death Noise Pop was how Circle X tried to sell their sound to the bookers.
Slow Cone (85-88) were Speed Metal In Molasses, a rumbling, roaring sound due in large part to their “session players” – Gary Ishida on bass, Tina Ivanvic on second guitar, and Hubert “Inches” Kroger on his KORG DW-8000 synthesizer. Susie and Velcro had dueling male/female vocals – he tended to croon, while she screamed behind the drumset.
In late 1985, Jo left the band for some months, in order to travel to Spokane, Washington to visit her cousin, Sasha Williams. Sasha was 13, living with her grandmother, after her parents Lilian and Peter had died in a particularly grizzly car accident – they were hit by a train. For the past few months she was in a “stereotypical old lady house,” and her new guardian was borderline senile, and across-the-border abusive – she never forgave her youngest daughter Lilian for getting together with Sasha’s dad, and always treated Sasha coldly.
Sasha kept calling and writing to Minnesota, begging Jo to take her away from it all. Jo was only 15, but something convinced her that she could take better care of Sasha than anyone else could. So she came to Spokane to stay the weekend, and they took off that Saturday night, heading south via a meandering bee line that eventually crossed the runaway path of Laura Watson in Salem, Oregon.
Jo, Sasha and Laura eventually made it to Berkeley, California, where Laura was “captured” in March of 1986 and kept at Thomason Memorial Hospital. Jo and Sasha went back to Fairview, staying with Caroline, who had just turned 19 that February – she was the defacto “illegal guardian” of the group. During 1986, two other runaway girls joined their posse – Jenny Samuels and Annabelle “A-Bell” Spencer. A-Bell was from Fairview, and so she traveled West to be with Laura, Jenny and Sasha.
Climbing The Fire Escape
The runaway Antizine girls were involved in three notable bands. Fire Escape was a true supergroup, with Jo and Caroline from Intruder Alert!, April from Potato Power, and Susie from Slow Cone. A-Bell joined them with her punk clarinet attack, and while they didn’t play out much, the album they recorded during Christmas vacation in 1996 was a classic.
Jumpster was a special project between Jo and her cousin Sasha, with Susie helping out on drums. Laura “Frisbee” Watson always made a big deal about them, although most of the fans were turned off by the more poppy sound. Nevertheless, they were rediscovered by zinesters in 1993, and the following two vinyl-only releases are now worth thousands:
“Jumpster Diving” (7″) (86) – “This is not a Drill”, “No-Way Mirror”/”Theme Song”
“Mine!” (12″) (87) – (A) “Pillow”, “5 Stitches”, “Hose”, “Mingle Bells”, “Foreback”, (B) “Sloppy”, “Kill and Be Killed”, “Red Wagon”, “Yipes”
Fuck Traffic was the Antizine house band, with A-Bell on guitar as well as clarinet, Jenny drumming, Sasha with her synth and Frisbee on lead vocals. They wore bright highway worker uniforms and hard hats, and tended to destroy everything on stage except for A-Bell’s clarinet, which was a family heirloom. They played out sporadically until 1991.
There was a lot of speculation by fans as to how 2nd Going and the Collective could harbor so many runaways and not attract the police or private investigators.
When Jo ran away from home in Biloxi, Mississippi, she followed the big river northwards, and managed to not get caught only by the sheer inventiveness of her 14 year old mind.
Sasha’s disappearance was investigated by Spokane police, but her grandmother was of little help – either she couldn’t remember, or didn’t care.
Laura’s mother did track her intensely, and she was eventually hospitalized a second time, and then brought back up to Vancouver in time for High School.
A-Bell’s father took time off of work to track her across the country, and eventually caught her in March of 1987, bringing her back to Fairview.
By the time everyone was fully etched, the first order of business was to hide them from the police and their families, and to create brand new identities via a “pseudogen” script that Sasha had. From that point in 1988, Jo, Sasha, Frisbee, Jenny and A-Bell were left alone, and could focus full time on their music and the ideas that became the Collective.
During this same time, Slow Cone went through some turmoil. Susie and Velcro went their own ways, but resolved their differences just in time for the Big Band Break Up in 1988. After Jo kicked out Circle X from Intruder Alert!, supposedly due to his alcoholism (but in reality due to his fathering a child with Sasha), 2nd Going imploded, and new bands rose from the ashes.
Existing On Potato Power
After her falling out with Susanna, Cathy “8-Track” Koehler put together her own label, Flake, and a band called Potato Power (85-88). She was aiming from more of a Punk Fleetwood Mac, and so she recruited April Schneider (my Mom) more for her cello work than her decent guitar licks. Rebecca Jacobs (bass) and Elizabeth Prowse (violin) rounded out the quartet, and they sounded like Punk Bluegrass meets The Who.
Vacuum Chamber (85-87) started at the same time as Intruder Alert! – 3-Way Tie and Plug didn’t give up after Jo kicked them to the curb, and so they got together with Theo Salisbury and Alex Winters. They were the loudest band ever to come out of Fairview, and 3-Way Tie moved on from a blindfold to playing with a fake plastic helmet from a suit of armor.
Once the shit hit the bands, Susie felt sorry for Circle X (or perhaps she just felt for him), and so she and April created a new band, Photocop (89-94). 69rpm came along for 2nd drums, which sounds ridiculous but ended up being extra-awesome. Theo Salisbury rounded things out with his jazzy trumpet, an instrument he became well-known for in Vacuum Chamber.
After the Big Band Breakup, the now-friendly Susanna and Isabel recruited Elizabeth and Rebecca from Potato Power for their new grand project. First the supergroup was Lust Bag, but Jo kept calling them Dust Lag, which eventually stuck. Elizabeth and Rebecca were a couple ever since High School, and Cathy always gave them hell for their relationship – she was raised in a particularly anti-Gay Baptist sect, and didn’t get over herself until after Miranda was born. So they were eager to leave Potato Power, Flake, and anything else associated with Cathy, and Susanna was happy to have them.
Susie and Velcro were still together, but they decided that being in the same band put too much stress on their relationship. So while she was in Photocop, he joined up with Jo, Caroline and 8-Track in Suspender. For whatever reason, Suspender was the band to really bust out of the Fairview scene and onto the world stage.
Battle Of The Bands
Dust Lag and Suspender only played on the same bill a few times, and the last one went down in memory as even worse than the Flexidick riot. It was 1991, and Cathy had recently been the last of the original 12 to be etched. She was all full of herself, after the tour of Japan and Australia, and kept going on and on about the life of a Pure Land Antenna in zine interviews.
By that time, Circle X had already been selling Collective technology far and wide, and it was the in thing to be etched, even if the marks were barely functional. Cathy flaunted her new power, and would do elaborate physical feats outside of the clubs, like leaping up to the roof in one stride, and diving off only to land on one outstretched hand. Sasha didn’t seem to care – S.OS wanted more recruits above and beyond the Collective, and made her look the other way. Jo, on the other hand, hated Cathy’s showboating.
So, at the last Dust Lag and Suspender show, on July 11th, 1991 in Portland, Oregon, Dust Lag went on first, and played the hell out of their 2nd album, “Hostage” – it was the release party. Cathy hung out at the bar, and kept heckling Susanna. They never hung out in High School, or at shows – while they seemed to be OK after Poppy Soda ended, Cathy could not abide Susanna’s success in Masking Tape. She thought Susanna stole her sound, her fated stardom. She also grew to despise Susanna after she started seeing Phone behind Isabel’s back – not because of any moral outrage, but because she wanted Phone for herself. She burned for him just like Brother Douglas wanted Jenny – they were meant to be together, no matter what, but Susanna and Isabel kept getting in the way.
During the encore, Susanna’s signature “Drinking Utensils” from back in the Masking Tape days, something in Cathy just snapped. As Susanna fell to her knees, microphone in hand, whispering “I need a glass, so I can break it”, Cathy took her half empty beer and threw it across the room and straight at her face, with all of the strength of an Antenna. A shard of glass penetrated Susanna’s right eye, and despite the blood gushing onto her face and tan peasant dress, she kept on singing, jumping off the stage and walking through the stunned crowd, towards the bar.
This was the only known fight between Collective members that ever happened in public. Portland was lousy with zinesters, but no one would believe their eyewitness reports of Susanna throwing Cathy clear through the roof, and jumping after her through the pink insulation. Car alarms went off for blocks, cats and dogs freaked out, and the path of random destruction (felled trees, smashed windows and overturned cars) went through Downtown, past the Rose Garden and the hills, and miles away to the Pacific. There was a 6.6 earthquake the next day, 70 miles off the Oregon coast. Susanna appeared a few moments later at a beach near Tillamook, completely dry except for a bloody, wet rag wrapped around her head. Her eye was completely healed after a few days.
Cathy didn’t show up for a while, and when she finally came back to Fairview in September, 1991, she and Susanna acted like nothing was ever wrong between them.
Helena and I were insanely interested in what our Mom was up to during her teen years, and that’s the main reason we decided to go to Tech High School while she was there. We were early members of the Potato Power fan club – with all 7 T-Shirts and 15 patches – and used to even run their merchandise tables. Of course we think that April is beautiful and special, but it’s hard to know how much of that isn’t just Mommy Mesmerization.
Cathy, on the other hand, was always a tough nut to crack. She’s the one that gave us the Trouble Twins nickname; at one Treehouse show in 1985 some drunk punk took a swing at me after I stepped on his foot in the pit, and Helena beat him 5/6 to death while I cheered her on. She smeared the blood from his nosebleed into his face and neck, and then folded him away for a fraction of a second into low earth orbit, returning him to the graffiti-filled floor gasping for breath. He literally saw stars.
What can I say – we were just as aggro as anyone else in the scene – and after that night Cathy took us aside. She wanted to know our deal, and she wasn’t having any of our cover story of early life in Minneapolis. She’d been watching us, noticed how sometimes we would appear in the hallways at school wearing a different outfit after each class. Cathy even heard us in the bathroom, talking shop while she was behind a stall – we used to pop in and out of Fairview via the toilet, and then change out of our future clothes before joining the masses.
We had all of the choices in the world on how to play things. We could have even erased her memories of it all right then and there, but instead Helena had one of her grand ideas. Why not tell her about everything that was going on, that was about to happen – she was going to find out soon enough when she was etched by Sasha. So we told her – that we were April’s daughters, and that it was just like Back To The Future. We had gone back in time to make things right, and to watch all of the bands slowly change into the Collective that was destined to destroy everything. If we tried to stop it, we would never be born, but if we didn’t, then everything would die.
Cathy was always extremely interested by The Bridge, about poking a hole through the Universe and traveling through it. She also managed to convince us to tell her about Joey and Miranda, and even though we left a few things out, it was more than enough for her to start scheming on her own. By the time she was etched, she had already decided that the best thing was to protect her own – to save herself and her kids while the world burned around them.
I didn’t want to admit how influenced we were by S.OS already, so when we made our special deal with Cathy, it just seemed like the most natural thing possible. We would help her protect Miranda and Joey, and she would help us shut down The Bridge before things got too far out of hand.
Little good that did us. We kept our part of the bargain, and made sure that Miranda and Joey made it out of Fairview in 2000, right before everything went to hell. We helped her track Kaia Strauss once she was “born” in 1994, and even carefully agitated and guided Tokie Murasaki, so she would be ideally placed to help with Cathy’s ultimate agenda.
Cathy didn’t want her kids to have powers. She wanted the powers for herself.
The only way to do this was to capture the powers as they fell, before they could merge with the unborn Children of the Collective. Tokie used the Massive Cloud Burst for this, with more than a little prodding from me and my sister.
In a new, unstable Variant, we were all born without powers, and then Tokie traveled to the First Event, releasing the contents of the Massive Cloud Burst. She thought she could just insert them back into all of our bodies, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we were ready to recollect them into a time-shifted variant of the silver sphere.
The deal was that we would retain control over Time and Space, while Cathy would have domain over Energy, Matter, Spirit and Consciousness. She thought that would be enough to rush through The Bridge at Fairview, and ferry her kids to safety in the Structure.
Like I mentioned, we influenced Tokie to create a highly unstable Variant, in which Miranda could never become the Chosen Light. This pissed off the Nameless to no end, since we had broken the truce that was so carefully established between it and Ai Watson-Carver. So it thought laterally, and found a perfect candidate to join with, when the time was right.
The time is always right – that’s what I like to say. But I no longer can surf the moments, and I no longer recognize the misshapen and merging Variants. How many fragmentary realities die Helena create as Grand Supreme? How can Ariel still exist with control over Matter, when that power never reached her at birth? How can Kaia Strauss exist for 17 years since she was cloned from Cathy, and also be living unetched in Munich, only to be found by Ai and Susanna?
The Destroyer of Hierarchies
Susanna Eck is still in Ikebukuro, dressed in a pink and purple floral yukata. She just welcomed Harumi Kaku to the Metropolitan Suite, seating her at a plush, dark couch with dimpled back.
Harumi is Satomi Kurogane’s old Executive Assistant from Agartha Labs. Ever since she was etched some months ago, she’s been constructing a new Collective Cell in Japan, made up of her former co-workers.
There are many other Cells all over the world now. We let S.OS etch everyone it could, using me and Helena as a transport vehicle, but we also kept careful logs of who was converted, and when.
The biggest little secret in the world is that Sasha’s Kill Code, the one that Phone carried for years, wasn’t a S.OS death sentence after all. It was a dull knife, containing a sharp backdoor into every system it thought it had control over.
Izumi Koda just arrived – the Lead Graphic Designer from Agartha Labs – she’s brought a huge 1.5 liter bottle of sake, cradled in her arms like a baby.
As soon as everyone arrives, we’re going to have a little talk about the Future. The future that we’ll all agree upon, the future that exists beyond the End Of All Existence in less than a week.
S.OS will no doubt try to use Helena against us, striking at we even contemplate our next move.
When they met this year, Kaia called Susanna “the destroyer of Hierarchies”. She wrote that she “is elemental, a blade that cuts through this existence.”
None of us knew what she was talking about – whatever she was alluding to was in an existence none of us have experienced yet.
However, just to make sure, I had Ariel mix in a little extra DNA during Susanna’s resurrection – a few stray hairs from a little baggie she kept in her pocket.
Susanna is sitting on the couch next to Harumi, complementing her designer skirt.
Her hands are animated, gesturing to and fro. If you look carefully, you can see her fingers turning an inky, burning black, as she lights up the room with her smile.
Your homework for next time: