December 31, 2011, 11:58PM, Berkeley, CA
Douglas Waters is standing in a pool of his own blood. In front of him is his own personal Final Door, leading to the Structure. He only has a few seconds left. He doesn’t know if he should step through.
I’ve been gathering my thoughts for a long time. It’s only going to take a minute for me to lay them all down, selectively chosen from decades of experience. I’m sorry if they’re a bit confused – the future is bleeding into the past, and everything is changing as I try to pin it down long enough to write.
I promised Douglas that I would open the Final Doors for everyone at exactly 11PM, Berkeley time. He spent the day tidying up his apartment, putting all of his possessions out near the curb, in cardboard and plastic boxes. He didn’t want to leave a mess for his landlord, even though there wouldn’t be any mess, or any landlord, come Midnight.
The only thing he didn’t discard was the Circle X shoebox, the one containing his mementos from Jenny Samuels. He spent a good, long while contemplating every pencil and ink mark, tracing his fingers over some. Eventually, he just put the box in the middle of the living room floor, over by where the couch used to be – he even found someone to come over and take the larger furniture away.
Around 10:50, he took up watch by the front door to the apartment. He kneeled in front of it for a few minutes, then got up when he noticed a small spider by the lower hinge. Found a clear, plastic cup, and caught the spider between it and a junk mail card with pizza coupons, that he fished out of the recycling bin he hadn’t emptied yet. Opened the door and shaked the spider out of the cup – it wasn’t as chilly out as the prior weeks – and then went back in to kneel before his promised escape.
At 10:59, he closed his eyes, and said goodbye to the world, one category at a time. Bye to all of the animals, the bacteria, the trees, the mountains, the cars, the dirt, the sun. He didn’t say goodbye to any people, since he was certain they would join him as everyone left on this final night. He just counted down slowly from 60, as he cleared his mind of all incumberances, By the time he reached one, he held his breath, and then opened his eyes.
In front of him was the door. The same wooden door painted white, with a few scratches from his backpack made while exiting.
He gave it a minute, checking the stove top clock, the microwave, and his phone. 11:01, definitely. No mental instructions, no glowing portal to freedom.
Before he could freak out too much, I took over his body from afar. Something was very wrong, and I needed his help to fix it.
There was no time to hesitate. By 11:02 he was running down the stairs to the street. He didn’t know how to drive, so I just had him run around the corner and across the street, headed towards the Ashby BART Station.
I thought he wasn’t ever really etched, but them I remembered I gave him a full job at the concert in 1994. My memory has been playing tricks on me like that lately, but I was happy his body was fully ready to be controlled. It was just like steering a bottle baby, only I couldn’t push him too hard, lest he burn out altogether.
11:05, and he was weaving through parked cars at the BART station lot. He leaped past a few parked bicycles with stolen wheels, before he jumped over the railing and 20 feet down to the trackway.
A train wasn’t due until 11:20, which was too late. So, I had him run down the tracks towards Downtown Berkeley – we made it in 7 minutes. I could have pushed him more, but I knew his energy Reservoir wouldn’t last the exertion.
By 11:13, we ran up through the abandoned Emergency Exit, and tried to take the secret Frisbee shortcut into the Structure. It didn’t work.
Something was horribly wrong. The Fairview Bridge, the very engine that made the Infinite Subway function, had been severed at both ends.
Without the Bridge, no one could take their Final Door into safety. In less than 45 minutes, everyone would die in flames, their souls fodder for The White and The Black.
Douglas was crying now. I tried to console him from the inside out, but it wasn’t working. What can we do? he screamed at me inside his head? It can’t end this way!
Our only hope was to find another entrance into the Structure, so I could guide him to where he could do the most good.
The closest one was way up in the Oakland hills, and I didn’t know if we could make it in time.
I ran him up the nearest stairs and back outside, and headed towards the first taxi. I took over the Sikh driver by brute force, put Douglas in the back seat, and sped down Shattuck Avenue towards the freeway entrance, which was about two miles away, right near MacArthur BART station.
I did my best to turn all of the stoplights in our favor, and minimize any collateral damage, but I’m afraid more than a few drivers in our way could only be stopped by brain aneurisms.
11:20 and we turned onto Adeline Street, passing the Berkeley Bowl supermarket and the underground Ashby BART station, and headed under the BART tracks as they exited into the sky, towards Highway 24. Two large signs in the grass, made up on free-standing, metal letters taller than people, delineate the border between Berkeley (“Here”) and Oakland (“There”). Jenny and Satomi used to live a few blocks away.
11:27 got us past both MacArthrur and Rockridge BART stations, which are elevated, outdoor platforms between the lanes of traffic. I’ve had to call off a few Highway Patrol cars, and sent them to an imaginary riot in Downtown Oakland, over by the area Occupy protestors are continually kicked out of.
11:31, turned off towards Highway 13, and then took the narrow Broadway Terrace up a winding path to Skyline Blvd, the road that traced a lot of the Berkeley/Oakland hills, just on the edge of impressive cliffs that overlook the Bay. The houses were fancy, and all of the cross streets along the way up Broadway Terrace were named after the Zodiac – Capricorn Ave, Virgo Road, Leo Way.
11:42 and we turned off Skyline into the small parking lot for the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. The whole area was used as one big quarry decades ago, to dig up material to help with highway paving. They blew a huge hole in the Structure without even knowing it, but the more adept and tuned in noticed, and ended up putting various labyrinths around the park, to mark where the curtain was the weakest.
We left the taxi driver unconscious against the wheel, and then rushed in the dark up the quickest of two paths that led past Round Top, the ancient volcano. It took 8 minutes to make it to the top, and by this point Douglas was starting to steam – he simply didn’t have enough reserve calories to make it much further.
I managed to hobble him down the trail into the main Quarry Pit, and then walked him through the labyrinth made of weeds and stray stones.
11:58. Douglas Waters is slowly dying, standing in a pool of his own blood. In front of him is his own personal Final Door, leading to the Structure. He only has a few seconds left. He doesn’t know if he should step through.
“How can I leave when everyone else will be left behind? How can I go on knowing I failed everyone?” He was mumbling at me, and no one else in particular. I couldn’t hold the door open much longer.
11:59. He just won’t walk through. I take over his legs for the last time, and together we step forward.
October 31, 1994, 11:15PM, Berkeley, CA
Die Database are performing “Karmic Freedom” in a brick-lined plaza near the Berkeley BART Station.
After they left the Slide Rule School concert, they walked about two miles up Allston Way back to Shattuck Ave. Masae Ekiguchi was still incensed – she thought that Ai Watson-Carver was making a huge mistake by trying to fuss with the very order of things. “She knows way too fucking much to know anything at all!”
Yuma Natsume tried her best to calm Masae down. “See that apartment with the bars on the window? Nick Junk Magnet told me he used to live there in 1994, but I think he moved out a few months ago.”
“We should look him up, right?” Masae was fussing with a red-feathered arrow she took from her quiver – her cosplay was detailed enough that each shaft had the correct, mystical inscriptions that Sekigai used in the Massive Cloud Burst game to meet her mark.
“Leave him alone already.” Satomi Kurogane was taking the lead, as she started to walk through a small park and towards Acton St. “He doesn’t know who any of us are yet – if we tried to track him down he would probably freak out permanently.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Masae yelled with particular gusto. “Can we just take the train back to Ikebukuro and be done with it?”
A particularly intense argument followed – I tried to give the girls some space as I trailed them from a few blocks back. I was riding in one of my favorite bottle babies – it was made out of a Titanium alloy, with Vanadium and Aluminum for spice. I usually used it when I knew I was going into battle, and this night certainly sufficed.
By the time Die Database made it up to the BART Station rotunda, Satomi suddenly doubled-over in pain. The others must have felt it too – Miranda and Aurora had just passed on. What followed was a bright flash, and the space in front of the escalators was suddenly filled with amps, guitars, a packed drumset, and other equipment. It was the band’s gear, formerly held by Miranda in disintegrated form, now returned to its rightful owners.
Yuma instinctively reached out to the Bodyweb, to find out what was going on, and she was met be a growling static. “They’re gone! How can they be gone?”
Satomi tried to console her, while Masae started to drag her drumset over near some benches. “I don’t care anymore! I came to this stupid place because I wanted to play our music…. we’re going to play right now!”
Everyone, including drunk passers by in costume, just stood and stared at her as she unpacked her entire drumset, still wearing her bright red, skin-tight costume armor. She was able to assemble it in record time, thanks to her new powers, and before Yuma and Satomi could object further, she started to play the lead in to Massive Cloud Burst theme, over and over.
Satomi finally took the hint, and so she took out her acoustic, steel stringed guitar from its hard case, and started to join along. Yuma wiped away the last of her tears, and then sang at the top of her voice. “Little light of mine/You will never die/’Cause as long as there’s a sun we’re under/You and I will save each other”.
A crowd formed – they couldn’t help it. For the next hour, Die Database played their first and last show in the US, and their new fans spontaneously left money and candy at Yuma’s feet. It was so resplendent that I hated to interrupt them, but after they finished Karmic Freedom I approached them from the clapping crowd.
“I love you girls, but now is not the time for love.” I could tell they recognized me, in my baby blue Miranda pajamas, because Satomi started to swing at me with her guitar. I gave it a little mental push so it wouldn’t fall to pieces when it hit my metal shell.
“You demon! Get away from us!” Masae had already leaped over the drum set, and I took her down to the dirty, brick pavement as gently as possible.
“Don’t worry, I’m not my sister, OK?” I helped Masae to her feet. “I’m here to get you out of here. Before she arrives. Just leave your equipment where it is and follow me.”
I walked out of the small plaza and towards the entrance to the BART station, and turned around to see Die Database still standing next to their instruments. I felt I didn’t have a choice, so I used a backdoor past their firewalls, and forced them to walk single file over to me.
“OK – this is it,” I commanded in their heads. “At the bottom of the escalators, we’re going to turn right, and walk over to the unused ticket booth.”
I could sense that Satomi was unsettled by the sound of that. “Don’t worry. For all intents and purposes, I am the Infinite Subway. We can come and go as I please.”
We walked past the ticket machines and the normal fair gates, and about a hundred feet down to an unmanned entrance. Opened a swinging gate, clearly marked as forbidden to use, and then down a short flight of stairs. The girls complained about a throbbing and tearing sensation, but that was just us passing through a natural fracture in the Structure, one that would allow us to get back to 2011.
However, there was a big problem. As we reached the train platform, it was still 1994.
A train towards Richmond started to enter the station, with a whoosh of wind followed by a horn.
At the top of the stairs, Helena the Grand Supreme appeared, holding a limp, metal bottle baby in her hands. Masae yelled out despite my puppeteering – “Fuck!”
“Get on this train right now! Start running for the front by using the doors between cars!”
I gave control back to them, as Satomi bounded in the 8th and final car, and motioned for Masae and Yuma to follow. I rushed in behind them just as the doors slid shut.
It’s a 3 minute ride from the main Berkeley station to North Berkeley, a major node of the Infinite Subway. The train enters the tunnel, takes a sharp left to head West towards the Bay for two minutes, and finally straightens out around Sacramento St. When they decided on this route, they had to buy out and destroy dozens of houses, and Ohlone Park was built directly above the tunnel – a 4 block long cap of green over the scarred Earth.
As they run between the seats full of people headed for Halloween parties, I use the metal parallel bars on the ceiling to lift up and leap over Die Database. I hold open the sliding doors between the cars as they jump through.
It’s nearly empty, except for a few seats near the middle. As we pass by, while the train squeaks through the first turn, I notice that everyone in the train is a bottle baby, except for two little girls next to the far door. My younger twin “sisters”, wearing their Strike Witch and Evangelion costumes. They giggle to each other as we pass to the next car.
At the other end, Helena the Grand Supreme is standing in front of the door between cars. The other passengers are frozen as she slowly walks up the aisle towards us. I cloak my bottle baby and slide down the carpeted floor feet first, then jump up and shoot a burst of gamma rays at her chest. She meets my neck with her open palm and twists it half off.
Since the center of consciousness of a bottle baby is in the pelvis, and not in the head, I was still able to watch as Satomi took the lead, running down the aisle. She was met with a second, time shifted copy of Helena, who punched her so hard she was knocked back through the sliding doors and into Car 7. I could see the twins standing over her before the lights went out in that car.
Masae attacked next, taking a handful of arrows from her quiver and throwing them all at the second Helena. She waived the arrows to a halt, and as they hung in mid air, she grabbed one and threw it back into Masae’s chest. As she fell to the stained carpet, another Helena appeared only to grab Masae and fold away.
Only Yuma was left. She ran to a side door, pried it open, and as the train rumbled through the tunnel she dove out into the darkness. Helena smiled for a moment, and while she held my metal shell in one hand, she tore open the train doors and peeked out.
The BART tunnels aren’t designed solely for trains. There are also emergency exits and walkways along side the tracks, not to mention doors that lead to tracks going in the opposite direction. Yuma was running almost as fast as a motorcycle, using all of the free space not occupied by the train to make it to the next station before Helena caught her. It was all futile, but she managed to impress my sister with her moxie.
So she let Yuma make it all the way to the end, though the opposite tunnel, and as she leaped up onto the platform at the North Berkeley BART station, she was panting and steaming, with her Reservoir clearly near empty.
Helena left Car 6, and walked over to Yuma as she stood on one knee, the hem of her white kimono with rainbow accents touching the floor.
“I like you. We can use someone like you when we take over the Structure. Be still.”
Yuma froze with a look of abject terror on her face, as Helena touched her pointer finger to Yuma’s forehead. She overwrote her etching in a flash, copying the final version of S.OS to her system. Then she helped her to her feet, and reached in like she was going to hug her, only to instead open her 7 chakras with a flourish of her right hand. Yuma collapsed on to the hard, cold platform, dead on arrival.
“As for you,” she held my bottle baby up with her hands under the armpits. “When all of this is over, I’m coming for you next. We’re going to be together forever.”
She folded us back in time to the Berkeley BART station, and held me by my broken, metal neck while we looked down the stairs at Die Database. I was standing there next to them, unbroken and still hopeful. I wanted to bring Satomi back to Thomason, to get the Frisbee Diaries. I wanted to send Yuma and Masae to Fairview in October of 2000, to help out when the Bridge opened.
I did those things in the past, but the past has clearly changed. Someone is smoothing out all of the rough edges, so the final battle will be over before it even starts.
The train doors are opening, and I’m leading Die Database onto the train.
The train is leaving, and Helena is using her hands to slowly put my broken neck back into place.
“Do you want me to kiss it to make it better?” She laughed and laughed as she folded us away.
December 31, 2011, 9:34PM, Earth Orbit Directly Above Berkeley, California
Susanna is burning like bright fireworks. Like those sparks you can use to join metal.
Thanks to our plan, she’s able to use Jenny’s DNA to light the Golden Sphere.
I’m watching her fight Cathy, who really wants to get the Massive Cloud Burst. The ability to use that just doesn’t run in her family.
I can remember this all because I was sitting on a couch with my sister, Helena. We’re orbiting the moon in a bubble of warm air, thanks to Miranda. There are stars everywhere, and we’ve visited every one. We’re both 7 years old, waiting patiently to find out who wins.
We’re both wearing Minnesota Twins uniforms. Later on, we’ll switch into our Halloween costumes, in time to pick up Emily for more fun.
This isn’t the first time that Cathy and Susanna fought. In 1991, they destroyed a club in Portland, and then punched a hole in the Structure itself. There was a big earthquake under the Pacific Ocean, and ever since Portland has been the place to go if you want to visit the other side. Portland, Berkeley, Munich and Ikebukuro – wherever they fight, the Structure moans from abuse.
This fight is pretty fun to watch. Susanna has the Golden Sphere, so she’s trying to use it to poke through this Universe. She’d love to tear Cathy to pieces, and then push the pieces through the hole.
Cathy doesn’t have a weapon, but she’s pulling all sorts of crazy stuff out of the Black. She doesn’t seem concerned about all of the radiation she’s putting off, and even her best attacks are being shrugged off. She’s going to need a lot more power if she wants to stop Susanna.
They spent a few minutes rolling around on the Moon and making new craters. Miranda’s going to be angry about that – she likes the Moon as it is.
Something’s wrong with Cathy. She’s flying down towards the US – I bet she’s going to St. Cloud. That would be really awful, if she made it to St. Cloud and just walked right through The Bridge. The Massive Cloud Burst is down there somewhere – I’d bet she’d like to have that.
I think Susanna is thinking the same thing. She’s flying down to Earth after her, like a meteor or comet or something.
I wish we could be there to see what happens, but it’s about time to check up on Miranda.
She’s going to call up the Golden Sphere a few months ago in Minneapolis, and we need to make sure she’s alright.
That’s the funny thing – the Massive Cloud Burst is unique, with only one per Universe.
The Golden Sphere is different – anyone can tap into it, as long as they know how. More than one person at a time, even. I don’t think Cathy knows that yet.
I always wanted one of those to play around with, but Helena says we don’t need it.
We’re going to have our own Clubhouse to play with, our own special place to do with as we see fit.
And in only a few hours – Miranda promised she’d leave it for us at the end, after everything else is wiped away.
I just hope all of our dolls really do what we say. I’d hate to have to burn them all and then start over.
October 30, 2011, 10:32PM, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Miranda Koehler is lying on the hotel bed, above the unmade sheets and green blanket.
She wearing a T-Shirt and boxer shorts, and her back is arched up, eyes wide open yet seeing nothing.
Helena the Grand Supreme has started to etch her, flowing circuits from hand, to wrist, over all of her skin, accentuating Miranda’s natural meridians which tune to The Black. The Nameless seethes around us – it just can’t wait to get settled into its new home.
I’m standing over by the window, in a Titanium bottle baby with a neck that can barely turn. I can see the Crossroads Center across the street – the Target loading dock is glowing, basking the parking lot with sharp, stretched shadows of truck trailers and shopping carts. My sister keeps looking at me and smiling; she made me attend the long awaited Fifth Event.
The television is playing nothing but static, illuminating the dark room with a flicker.
Tokie is back in Tokyo, months ago, trying to use the Structure to peek in at us. Helena is sending back a fake sob story in Miranda’s own voice, with just enough clues to make sure things happen the right way. “It comes in threes, different bodies same voices…. I’m not allowed to recognize their faces.”
Cathy Koehler was here a little while ago – she wanted to make sure her baby was OK while we fulfilled our promises.
Her daughter was destined to bring an end to this Universe, but we’d give her another dear copy, more suitable to her fancies.
I don’t know how happy she was with our plan. She definitely didn’t seem grateful, and left the hotel before things really got interesting.
I wish I could do the same, but Helena is keeping me frozen by the window, eyes fixed on Miranda as the Nameless reaches out of the shadow to slowly caress her open chakras. “The moon is molesting me… I keep having shadow babies.”
Nothing good will ever come of this, but I guess that’s the point after all.
October 3, 2000, 8:34PM, Fairview, Minnesota
Everyone is staring at a naked woman covered in blood.
I’m supposed to know who she is. It’s so important for me to remember.
Cathy Koehler Thomas finished up her shift at the Super Circle X. She manages the day shift, but she’s thinking about switching to nights, so she can spend more time at home with Joey and Miranda, her kids.
Brian Thomas usually looks after them, but sometimes he gets so wrapped up in his art that he forgets to make a proper lunch, or lets them roam around town too long.
They’ve been together since High School. Each of them played in punk bands for a while, but all of that ended in 1988. Joan Gordon, who ran 2nd Going records, was convicted of manslaughter then – she killed Roger Nanoff, the heir to the Circle X fortune.
Joan ran away from Biloxi, Mississippi a few years before. She ended up in Fairview, befriended Caroline Atkins, and stayed with her family. After band practice one night in their garage, Roger complained of a stomach ache, and went inside the house. Thirty minutes later, the bathroom was empty, and Joan found Roger in bed with Misty, Caroline’s 11 year old sister. She was naked and crying.
Joan walked out of the room for a minute, came back, and then shot him to death with a hunting rifle Richard Atkins kept in a glass cabinet in the living room. Took time to reload twice, as Misty hid in the closet, screaming. The nightmares from home had finally caught up with her, but this time she was ready.
After that, all of our bands broke up, and no one really cared one way or another. My mom April Schneider says that most of her friends just left town as soon as they finished High School. My father stayed and went to Fairview State, but as soon as she got pregnant he left Mom. I guess he wanted a boy or something.
I’m back in Fairview because something big is about to happen. Just a few hours ago, I thought I knew exactly what it was, but now nothing really makes any sense. It’s the year 2000, so I should be 5 years old. Looking in a stray window, I must be 16 or 17 now.
I woke up in an alley, behind a dumpster, and my head was killing me. I was wearing blue pajamas – don’t ask, because I don’t know why.
Then, a Japanese girl in a frilly purple mini-dress found me wandering around in the middle of the street – cars kept honking at me. She said she was named Satomi, and led me by the hand over to the Valumart parking lot. Hooked me up to a car battery she was carrying around by the plastic handle. Who carries around a car battery, anyway?
I have to admit I felt better after she unhooked the alligator clips. She told me that I should follow her over to Fairview Shopping Center, and so we walked a few blocks over that way, via the freeway overpass. The streets were pretty dead – I don’t know if there was a football game or something tonight, but no one was around.
We walked up past the Super Circle X, to a big alley behind it, and a few other young girls were hanging around, huddled over by a door. It was dark, but someone was holding a bright electric lantern.
One girl had on a hospital gown, and she had blue hair and crazy marks on her arms and legs. Everyone called her Frisbee, and she seemed really young – maybe 13 or so.
Another girl had on jeans and a black Intruder Alert! hoodie – that was Joan Gordon’s old band. She was Jenny, and also young.
The girl with curly hair had on a T-Shirt, with a fancy illustration that perfectly matched what my new friend Satomi looked like. She was on the shirt with two other women – they also were Asian, and in costumes. That was pretty weird – I guess she was dressed up to match some cartoon or something. Anyway, the girl was named Ai – I had to ask her to spell it for me. She was holding the lantern.
Finally, there was a girl who unlocked the back door with a plastic key card. She had a red Circle X shirt, black pants, and her black hair was pulled back with two twist ties. Everyone called her Sasha.
I followed them up a long flight of stairs, and past an office that was unoccupied. Off in the corner I could see a room that had a few big computers in it, but we rushed by too fast to get a good look at it.
Then, we went back down more stairs, and found ourselves in the central atrium of the mall. Below the huge “Welcome To Fairview” vinyl banner, there was a big sculpture that looks like a cow being picked up by aliens. On a bench, at the foot of the statue, were Cathy and her husband Brian, along with Joey and little Miranda. They had visited the Dairy Queen and were enjoying a little snack – Miranda had her hands wrapped around a dripping vanilla cone, covered by a hard chocolate shell. Every few seconds she would stop chewing off the brown, and then lick the stickiness from her wrists.
We were a few hundred feet away from the family. There were some other people wandering around the mall, teenagers with their sweeties, old folks holding hands, but most everyone had already left – it closed at 7PM. A few Circle X workers were flirting over by a partially closed metal gate – they couldn’t wait to roll it down all the way and head home.
Jenny took a large, blue marker out of her hoodie pocket, and started to draw a huge circle on the tiled floor. Some of the other shoppers were staring at her, but no one interfered. Then, Ai went and stood in the center of the circle, while Frisbee, Sasha and Satomi had plugged in some sort of black laptop to a power outlet that was intended for janitorial staff use.
I didn’t quite know what to think, until I noticed that Cathy Koehler had gotten up off of the bench, and was walking over to us. She was twitching her neck back and forth and stretching, like she had just woken up. She wasn’t looking at us – she was staring up at the ceiling.
I thought I was imagining things – her hands were as dark as night, and burning with black flames.
Miranda was on the ground screaming, curled up in a ball, and Joey and Brian attended to her.
Then, it was like God had used a huge hole puncher in the air above us – everything was missing, except for a throbbing whiteness.
Ai reached her hand up towards the empty space, and Cathy started to run towards her, while a golden light extended from her right fist, like a solid flashlight beam that was boiling.
Satomi jumped up and dove at Cathy, only to burst into flames as the golden light touched her. Before I could react she was already a pile of ashes on the floor.
The other girls were frantically fussing with the computer and some other weird gadgets, and right before Cathy reached Ai, the white hole above us exploded outwards and covered everything.
The mall was gone. Fairview was gone. Everything was completely gone.
Was this the big thing that I was supposed to see? I couldn’t remember – I was holding on to my head for dear life, and it felt hard, like metal. My neck had a weird, sharp lump on it, like something was poking out. I put my fingers to it – there wasn’t any blood.
Time passed in the whiteness – I don’t know how much. I kept falling in and out of consciousness. I could feel people around me, whispering, but I couldn’t see them at all.
Eventually the mall came back. I found myself on the floor, and looked over to the circle. I expected to see Ai and Cathy there, maybe lying on the ground in a heap, but instead there was a bald, naked woman, bleeding all over and steaming like a hot sidewalk in the rain.
Sasha ran over to her, whispering “A-Bell! Wake the fuck up!” But she wasn’t getting up. Frisbee went to help, and they managed to flip her over onto her back, and covered her with foil and plastic sheets.
I didn’t see Ai or Cathy anywhere. Jenny was gone, too.
Brian had left Joey to take care of Miranda, who was still balled up on the floor. He approached me, putting his hand on my left shoulder.
“It took us forever to find you – I couldn’t project in until now. What the fuck did you all do to Variant Zero?”
Now there are dozens of people staring at the naked woman covered in blood. Naked A-Bell, dying on the floor.
If only I could remember what I was supposed to do about it.
December 31, 2011, 11:50PM, Mt. Shasta, California
Tokie Murasaki is being made as comfortable as possible, considering the situation.
The best adepts of Telos have held her slowly dying physical body in stasis for the past 6 months.
They have given her mind and spirit their own separate place to dwell, pattered after a few earthly cities like Berkeley and St. Cloud – places with personal significance to her.
Occasionally, she has had visitors from elsewhere in the Structure. It’s too painful for them to view what remains of her, so they project in her private soul space, to keep her company.
While I guide Douglas Waters to the Final Door in the Oakland hills, I also sit by Tokie’s side. I don’t feel like getting lost in any more illusions, so I take watch next to her real self.
We’re in a stark, white room, with no visible seams where the walls meet the floor or ceiling – it’s like we’re in the middle of a squashed marshmallow. Which is an apt metaphor, since the containment field around this place is extremely heavy.
She’s lying in a shallow bed, more like a flat counter, that’s jutting out of one wall. She’s wearing a white gown, made out of a soft yet firm fabric not seen on the surface world for thousands of years.
Tokie is little more than a skeleton now, with only enough musculature left to hold in what organs haven’t yet failed. Most of her remaining mass is focused below her rib cage, holding her growing baby in a sac that the adepts have kept manifested through months of continuous prayer.
As I hold her hand, which is little more than skin and brittle bone, I can’t even feel a pulse – what remains of her blood is focused on essential life processes, like getting enough air and nourishment to Sarah.
11:52. Tokie is wheezing. “Gabby”, her spiritual nurse, is taking her for a walk through St. Cloud, over by the Mississippi. Tokie stops to smell a handful of colorful flowers in the Munsinger gardens, near an inactive fountain.
11:55. The adepts tell me it’s time to leave the chamber, but I don’t want to. So the white walls and floor maneuver themselves around me, oozing past until I find myself outside.
11:57. From the outside, the walls appear transparent. Unlike a normal birth, the expectation is that labor will be instantaneous. No one is able to convince me that Tokie will survive the process, and so I sit and watch her last breaths in tears.
11:58. It’s the worst sight possible. Tokie’s thin arms fall off her shoulders and to the floor, like dead twigs snapped off in the wind, followed by her legs. Her head arches back, and with one final gasp she opens her eyes, and all 7 chakras unfold at once, cascading from the crown of her head to below her bulging stomach.
Prayers fill the halls and streets of Telos. Aurora joins me as we lean against the walls, hungrily taking in the last moments of Tokie’s life. Even if they were nightmarish, we never want to forget.
11:59. The containment area suddenly bulges inward, forming an hourglass shape with Tokie’s abdomen at its center. Higher spirits are projecting in from all parts of the Structure, ready to welcome the new beginning.
Someone is screaming.
Everyone is screaming, as the bed disintegrates, and Tokie’s distended stomach collapses into a dark, burning sphere, about the size of an apple. Nothing is left of the body except for this pulsating absence.
Telos shakes from a discordant, overpowering screech. The containment room vibrates like a dying engine.
Out of the shadow reaches a hand, wrapped in shining gold metal. It’s as if the arm itself was the blade of a flaming sword.
Another hand widens the hole, this one clad in silver from finger tip to shoulder, sparking violently.
The blackness enlarges further, and a young girl steps through. Naked and slight, and her body is covered by a grey, translucent, glowing aura. She is wearing a brightly shining helmet, like something a fighter pilot would wear – large goggles, chin strap, and her hair peeking out of the edges by her neck.
Her mouth opens, and Telos shakes uncontrollably with every syllable.
“All Objectives Complete. Game Over. Insert Coin.”
It wasn’t Sarah the Creator. It was S.OS, piloting 12 year old Jenny to obtain its one true wish.
The End of All Existence won’t start with our Earth.
It will start with the Structure, burning to ashes as Jenny pokes through the containment field with a golden spike, grinning from ear to ear.
I hold Aurora for dear life as everything falls apart.
It’s a few seconds before Midnight, and Douglas Waters had just stumbled through his Final Door. I pray that he’ll find a moment of peace before everything closes forever.