Chapter Twenty-Three


War Journal

Entry # 8

I was waiting in the hallway when Mikio and Dr. Pipt cruised by.

I wasn't hanging out, laying in wait for him. I was thinking really hard, to myself. The feelings I was feeling were so contradictory, and so intense, that I could practically smell my poor brain hemispheres letting off sparks as they peeled out in either direction.

The fact was - and I hate to admit it - that I hadn't intended to leave the Skyrrla with Mikio. I don't know what I had intended; frankly, not a whole lot of thought had been expended on the subject. I had the Skyrrla; it was mine; it had been mine since before the beginning. I guess I kinda just assumed it would go with me into battle, keep that indestructible attitude going.

Suddenly, thinking about it, I wasn't so sure that was a great idea.

First off, I'd been stoned as a saint, high as a messiah, ever since I touched the motherfucker. A beautiful feeling, but not necessarily the one you wanna smite thine enemies with...

...unless, of course, you could make everybody else feel that way, too...

...which was where it made sense that Mikio would grab it. Of course it made sense. Maybe he could turn it into something - a FeelGood Generator, a literal God in a Machine - that could help turn the tide away from violence...

...and the fact was - now that I thought about it - that Mikio'd had a dream just the very night before. About some machine. That would work really well...

. ..and all he needed was a power source... .. .but he didn't know what it was...

...and here I was, in possession of an object so potent that simple copper wire turned into a floral display: not out of contact, but mere proximity...

. ..and god only knew what that could mean... ...so of course I began to feel entirely selfish, and utterly self-loathing. Because the fact was, I was jonesing for the thing. I wanted it back in my hands. I felt like a freebase monkey, Pavlov's junkie, already coming down off the buzz . And none too thrilled about it, either. Like, if I could just go up and say, "No, It's MINE!," I could curl up in a ball with the thing and be tranced-out happy forever...

It was right about this point that Mikio and Dr. Pipt came sailing out the doorway. A handful of friends and hangers-on followed up, in close pursuit. I hung back, trying to screw my head on straight before I made any kind of decision. I didn't want anyone to see me like this.

In that moment, I tried to regain the high I'd found, tried to put myself back in that place. Or, more specifically, tried to reaccess the really useful parts: the incredible confidence, and sense of connection. It involved shutting up my internal voices: like a yogi, sliding upward on the rhythm of his own breath. I consciously conjured stillness, the death of the yammering jones. I willed myself to there, instead of longing for there.

This took more than a little doing; but, lo and behold, it came back to me strong. It was part of me now. There was nothing to long for. And I found, to my delight, that it didn't play like a coke or narcotic buzz at all. It was more like that long-ago acid: pinning me to the wall against which I had cowered, flooding me with not just energy but information. Informing me as to the actual fabric of God, or Creation, or fucking whatever.

Which made the next part a whole lot easier. At a certain point, when I felt clear enough, I pushed away from the wall. The stairs leading down to the battlefield were on my left:. The stairs leading upward to Mikio were on my right. I headed right, taking the stairs two at a time. I knew time was of the essence. But I knew what I had to do.

At the top of the stairs was a door that was already partially open. I felt like a camera on a warped Steadicam, gliding strangely up the stairs. I focused on the door, the grain of the wood, saw a face like a scream that my eyes zeroed in on.

I hit the top of the stairs, kicked the scream. The door flew open, and there it was; the entire scene revealed in Panoramascope, a visual so huge it made Imax look like a 12" black and white tv.

Mikio's roof overlooked the wall at the east end of the city. Directly before me, Mikio and Co. were setting up the Skyrrla Device, whatever it was. They were maybe twenty yards before me, roughly the size of eight-year-olds. I saw their hurly-burly, an ant-farmlike flurry of motion.

Then I looked at the cloud above.

It was very close now. Very close. Easily less than an hour and a half from directly over our heads. It was impossibly huge, utterly swallowing the sky. Already, its shadow had buried the forest at the outskirts of my view.

I moved forward; and with every step, the vast meadows surrounding Emerald splayed out before me. To the east, they were already filling with people. All of them were our guys, it seemed.

Until I looked into the shadows, at the outskirts of of the forest.

The Hollow Man's troops were coming out of the woods. Under cover of shadow, their numbers were impossible to get a bead on; but the suggestion of mass dug a pit in my stomach, which it promptly filled with dread.

I advanced toward Mikio and the coming conflagration, trying hard to hang onto my confident buzz. I could see the green glow coming off the Skyrrla; it seemed brighter than before, but not as intense as when we had connected. Like it was getting charged up, but it's mind was on something else.

Nobody noticed me until I was almost upon them. All of them -  even Mikio - jumped. I was Death, after all, which I guess can be really scary. Especially at moments like these.

"Aurora!" said Mikio. It was more like a yelp. "I thought you were gone..."

"C'mere a second," I said.

He was holding Gene's laptop, which he handed to a friend, checking first to make sure that a jury-rigged cable was hooked up right. He said something I couldn't hear, and the friend looked at me, then nodded. I nodded in return.

Down below, about two stories down, I could see the crowds moving, all along the eastern wall. A lot of winged monkeys were perched in position, and that made me feel a whole lot better. But a lot of folks just seemed to be milling around. Banners were being strung that I couldn't read from here. Food and drink were being served. I heard snatches of song. All in all, it seemed more like the Superbowl than Armageddon. But maybe that was just me.

Then Mikio was coming, and his eyes looked so distracted that I felt like a moron for pulling him aside. But he was walking so fast that I didn't have time to freak. Within five seconds, he was upon me.

"Wow," he said; and all at once, his focus was entirely upon me. The transition was so startling that, for once, I really had no words.

"I've only got a second," he continued.

"I know. Me, too."

"But, Aurora, I...shit!" He smacked himself across the face.

Then he hauled off and kissed me, hard.

And, yeah, I guess I thought about the Skyrrla for a second. And, yeah, a couple other thoughts went flying by there, too. But mostly I was locked up in that holy sensation, where a truly potent kiss has total hold on your being.

If I was thinking anything, really, I was thinking thank God he kissed me first.

It was the finest compliment he could have possibly paid me.

When it was done, he said some stuff that I didn't expect to hear. He said he was scared of either one of us dying before having done that thing. He said that if anyone could pull off whatever needed now to be done, that person was me. And he was praying for me.

I said, "Aw, sweetie. You just stole all my fucking lines."

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