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SIN first appeared in the city in the guise of poverty, the weakened condition against the affluent. Cases were initially put down to malnutrition, poor hygiene and terrible living conditions. The age was presented with such a vast gap between the affluent and the poor, that sanitation, health care and all manner of civil services benefitted those least needing of them. A virus began to spread in the lower end of the populace, weakening them and forcing them to become more physically dependent on services.
It didn’t take long for those in power to descend on this arising circumstance and to manipulate it. Screenings were made mandatory, and a classification of conditions were regulated. The virus worked fast, spreading through at a rapid speed, almost like a plague from God. It changed people in an instant, forcing them into lives that they would not be able to break free from. For those smartly dressed souls who seemed resigned in their reason and status, their lives seemed to be validated by this new wave coursing through the land. Almost justifying what they always knew.
The Altered, a place of such wonder, was the harbinger of all this darkness. A place that offered such goodness and possibilities gave birth to something so maligned. In an allegoric tern, it was the fact that something so good released something so terrible perhaps to show that people could overcome darkness. It was the Altered that set forth SIN into the material realm. Not wantingly, but by the malpractice of those going in and out of the world and not understanding completely what they were doing. SIN came from a mishandling of the magic, set free and loose from a mind that did not understand what it was doing.
But in the poison, so in lies the cure.
When the light had finally faded, and the scene before them came into view once more, they all stood there unsure of what to do. Jess had tumbled back with Aiko, taking a hit of both his and Nina’s magic. When Akari had run and touched the Holy water, the reaction had catalysed everything in the vicinity, surging through her and Aiko. Akari lay on the ground by the Pandora machine, and Nina and Daniel went across to her as Jess shook herself to, sitting up and piecing things together. Aiko lay on the floor, his eyes closed. He was no longer the huge entity that had fled from the Altered. He was once again his usual size. Little sparks of white light snapped about him, like the aftermath of an electrocution.
“Jess, are you alright?” Eva asked, coming over to her now and helping her up. Jess nodded, her head still raging with an odd static sensation.
“Yes, I feel fine. Great even, just my mind is swirling like duelling dragons in there.” Jess said, seeming to shake her head as if the beasts would fall from her ears. They both looked at Aiko on the floor, the little lights emitting from him.
“What about him?” Eva asked, nudging his feet with her boot. Nina walked over to where they were now. They could see Daniel and the other members of the order going to where Akari stood, light also still emitting from her.
“Are you okay?” Nina asked, her tone calm yet concerned.
“Yes, yes I’m fine. Really. That was something though.” Jess said.
“Your bravery indeed is something Jess, amazing.” She said, putting her hand on her back tenderly.
Aiko began to stir, his head that was lulled backward began to move from side to side until he opened his eyes. He looked around for a moment, then pushed himself up, sitting still before them.
“What is going on here?” He asked, groggily.
The others looked at one another, before Nina spoke.
“A lot is going on here Mr Tanaka.” She kneeled down to him, looking directly into the eyes which once were black and dead. They now swirled with a different light, a human window to his soul.
“Tanaka?” He said, quietly, puzzled over that word for a moment. Then he looked across to see the machine, and the order members. On spotting Akari, it was as if a realization had been set loose in his blood.
“Oh god.” He said, his head falling forward as if in shame.
“Aiko, it’s over. Everything is going to be fine.” Nina said, and she too put her hand on his shoulder, comfortingly.
“But, I…” He began, but stuttered off, shaking his head.
“Come, we all must leave now. This place has done what it was meant to, but now it is time to leave.” Nina said, and she helped Aiko up with the help of Jess.
Outside of the building, the divine light from the Holy water was ebbing away in the distance. The streets and the city below them shimmered as if it had been scrubbed clean and bathed in celestial bleach. They took their leave, making their way back to the temple, Karen’s team following; leaving the pandora machines where they stood.
Akari had been the key it seemed; she was the one that had been able to turn the dark to the light. Though they had successfully released the Holy water and changed the city forever, it was because of her that Aiko had been subdued. Once back at the temple, they were all able to take stock of the event.
Karen set about monitoring the effects the pathogen was having on the city, flashes of screens and machines flooded her lab with data. Other members saw to helping those hurt in the battle and arranging for everyone to be taken care of and comforted. It was a member of the order by the name of Sally who discovered them. She had gone to get some additional medical supplies from one of their containment units and had stumbled across the Tanakas. They were asleep at the back of the unit, huddled together but safe
Nina learned from them, once they were woken and had joined the others, that they had appeared in the temple when the events in the Altered had climaxed. With a flash they had been expelled, and sent to the temple, landing unceremoniously in one of the storage units. Dazed and bewildered, and scared for what was happening; they had remained there where it was safe. It seemed once the pathogen had been released, it had plummeted their energy levels after their transition, inducing sleep.
Aiko had embraced his family when they had entered the room. He and Akari hugged them, tears coming easily and copiously to all the eyes of the Tanakas. Anyone suspicious on Aiko’s change needed only see how he greeted his family to know that a paradigm had indeed shifted. Not only was he changed, it seemed he’d reignited the empathy within him that he had tried so hard to exorcise.
Nina looked on, seeing how Akari and Aiko embraced their family. Akari was the key, the siphoned off bits of Aiko that he thought he could control, but what was made in the Altered seemed to overflow into the material realm. She had indeed magnified Aiko’s power and magic, but he had not counted for the goodness and reasoning that was still apart of him, and prevalent in her. Though the light was tiny in regards to the overwhelming darkness he wielded, the tiniest candle it seemed would always banish the deepest dark. She looked at her now and smiled, knowing that hope was always worth having.
“So how did the Tanakas get back here?” Jess asked, coming to stand with Nina. She was happy, a sense of elation not abating inside of her. Nina thought for a moment, looking over to the happy embraces of the family.
“I guess it was The Pope, he must have tried to save them in the final moments.” She said, smiling.
“He must have known more about the Altered then anyone, knowing how to use it.” Jess offered.
“Indeed. Unlike Aiko who sought to control the power, Samuel always respected and understood the power and the magic of the Altered. It was like he took such blessings from merely being able to caretake the magic, He always use to say…..” But what, Jess never did find out. “I need to check something.” Nina said, touching her slightly on the arm and disappearing away.
Jess was stood alone only for a short moment, before Eva came to talk and help her process all the events. They were both happy, and proud of what they had accomplished. Both their fights had occupied their lives for years, much as everyone’s had in the order. Jess now not only had something to be happy and proud of, but she had a sense of belonging too. Her tribe, so to speak. And her thoughts turned to her own family, hastily making a call to them.
It wasn’t long for Nina to find Karen. She was sat down in front of a huge holographic screen, numbers and images flashing in front of her, the glow of which dousing her in a ghostly blue light.
“All good I’m hoping?” Nina said, coming over to her friend. Karen looked up and greeted her with a smile, one of relief and elation.
“I can’t belief this data. Well, I do believe it but it’s beyond what we had hoped for. Everything seems to be stabilised, all persons seem to be responsive. The was a cluster expansion in the west side, understandably, but the readings are off the charts. SIN is gone, it’s evolved into the best-case scenario.” She said, beaming.
“Wonderful, that’s such good news. It was as we hoped then?” Nina asked.
“And more, we can’t tell from the data the emotive responses from individuals naturally, but the cognitive recalibrations would suggest a higher state of empathy.” Karen said, scanning through a diagram before her.
“So people will give a shit more then?” Nina said with a grin.
“You better believe they will. And it’s about time. Nina, this is it. We did it!” Karen said, her eyes on the brink of welling. Nina stood forward and hugged her friend deeply. It had indeed been a long battle, with many casualties along the way. But it seemed that everything was worth it..
“So, Samuel…” Nina said, as she and Karen broke apart.
This shook Karen’s smile.
“The greatest loss.” Karen said.
“Maybe not. Jess just reminded me something he said once, about the magic and the Altered. There’s so much really with all this and what has happened, and no one is an expert. Except maybe you now.” Nina said. Karen brushed the comment aside humorously. “Samuel once said to me that we needed to embrace the death of death, that because things are always an illusion here in the material realm, nothing is what it seems.”
Karen began to shake her head.
“I know where you’re going, but it’s not possible. It happened in the Altered, there was no illusion there. He used to speak of things moving to stages, how we are all the same underneath really; and that when things die, they merely move on to something else. There is proof with the science, how atoms don’t die but reassemble. Death is an illusion I suppose. But Nina, this happened over there. The same as Levon. They’re gone I’m afraid.” She said, sombrely.
“I know it happened there, but that’s what makes it odd to me. I’ve been Levon’s teacher for years now, I know his level of magic and the gift he had. It was borrowed from there; it came by way of his father and the unlocking that was done for him. But Karen, Samuel came from the Altered. ‘’To it, he shall return!” She said, almost urgently, adding. “The blue light….”
Karen looked at her, realisation slowly spreading across her face.
“The light we saw, of course. Things from the Altered don’t ever die, they realign on the basis of consciousness.” Karen said, a new light dancing in her eyes now.
“He’s waiting.” Nina said, almost silently as if to utter it, might undo it.
FIVE YEARS LATER
Jess crossed to the midway section of the road as a huge gleaming tram silently slipped by her. The car was full, the people inside in good spirits as the sun beat down and called them to the sea. A boy inside waved to her as it passed, and she waved back, chuckling to herself. She crossed over to the beach side of the road. The tram stopped some way up and lots of people disembarked, heading to the sands and the refreshing waters of the bay. The day was hot, the temperature had climbed to record levels the past few months, signalling alarms across the city and the state that the climate had begun to turn on them.
Jess walked up a bit further, being sure to put some distance from herself and the masses. Despite the weather, she wore her army jacket, the green fatigue blending into the palms that she passed which punctuated the shoreline. Whereas before the pristine beach area was an ordered place of affluent control, since the great change the beach fronts had opened up to more creative expression and controlled chaos. Little areas now pocketed themes and cultures, with an eclectic mix of fusions and tastes. Jess made her way along the path, past a community hub which seemed to be having an outdoor art exhibition. Canvases and works peppered the boardwalk, where eager eyes were enjoying the artistic flares and social gathering.
She saw her brother Den first, then Akari, sat on a bench with a huge palm above them, shading them from the sun. Their spot looked out over the beach, elevated slightly as it looked down onto the sand and out into the bay. She knew this spot was good, as it gave an excellent view to the peninsular where you could see the lighthouse and marine club where the sailboats would dock.
“Hey guys.” Jess said reaching the bench.
“Hey, he’ll be back any second…” Akari had said, but just that moment Aiko came walking around the palm from the other direction that Jess had come.
“Hey! Speak of the devil.” Jess said, embracing him. He hugged her back, carefully trying to hold the ice creams away from her weather defiant jacket.
“Good to see you, do you want one of these?” He asked her, handing both of the ice creams over to Den and Akari, little spots of the red and white dripping then blotching the floor beneath.
“I’m fine.” She said, smiling. “You guys been waiting long?”
“No, not really. We took the tram down together, but we’ve only been here about five minutes.” Den said, already tucking into the ice cream before it melted into nothing.
“Shall we head up the beach then?” Jess offered, and they agreed, getting up and making their way down onto the warm sands.
“How have you been?” Jess asked Aiko. Den and Akari were off in front, drifting down to the water where the tide was slowly throwing itself against the shore quietly.
“Really good, it’s been busy this year so far but we’re making some headway I think.” Aiko said. He looked refreshed, and content. Gone were the deadened eyes of apathy, in their place were little coffee coloured pools which seemed to absorb the light from all around.
“The legislations have made it easier i imagine. It was surprising that so many wanted to forget the past.” Jess said, the sand sinking easily beneath her feet.
“I think everything came so quickly to everyone, back at the change. They were so fundamentally moved and disgusted with how they had been living and allowing. That goes for me also. It seemed everyone wanted to throw it all away and start again.” Aiko said.
“Oh yeah I know, they wanted to get rid of St. Patrick’s remember. Anything that reminded them of the old ways. It took a lot to convince them.” Jess said.
“Well, Nina still holds a lot of sway.” Aiko added, smiling. “But yeah it was hard to keep anything, and from Atone too, to show them all that there could be some good salvaged from all of it.” They watched as Den and Akari splashed in the water, the ice creams already consumed, part of Den’s washed out to sea.
“Well, I’m glad things are better now. We have to remember what we’ve come from; we can’t remove the uncomfortable for ease of minds. I think a lot comes out of guilt, but it won’t help to erase the struggles, nor should they. I’m glad the Towers have been preserved.” Jess said.
“Have you been there since they opened?” Aiko asked, referring to his two towers where the Pandora machines were stationed.
“Not yet, I said I would with Eva and Daniel, it will be interesting to see them as museum pieces.” Jess said.
“I still can’t believe it all to be honest. Part it feels like a surreal dream that I merely watched. I can’t mentally take myself to the place that I was the cause of it all.” Aiko said.
“It’s probably best not to, the past doesn’t offer you a future, or any of us. What happened needed to, without it we wouldn’t have what we have now. This understanding, this fairness. This was what we all worked to get.” Jess said to him, adding. “Well, you were a little late to the party.”
“Better late than never.” He said.
“Exactly. You were there to show that people can change, that things could be so different. Not just inside the genes but in their minds. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But we are all collectively moving forward with a shared consciousness now.” Jess said.
They walked on a bit more, going down to the shoreline and kicking some of the water playfully at the others. The beach was busier now, the heat and the time of the day luring people like a siren’s song.
“Your technology will have to find a way to sort this heat out you know.” Jess said, wiping her forehead.
“Well you aren’t really dressed for the day.” Aiko added back, pointing to her jacket.
“I go everywhere with this jacket; it’s brought me luck.” She said, and just as she was pulling at the cuffs, a beeping sound came from her left one. “Excuse me a second.” She said to Aiko and slid her finger across a sensor on her watch. Nina’s face popped to life, faded in the midday sun which shone through the hologram.
“Hey Nina.” Jess said, greeting her friend.
“Ah, you’re with Aiko. Good. Hi to you both.” Nina said, spotting Aiko. He returned her greeting cheerfully.
“Hope you’re both well, nice day to be at the beach.” She said, friendly.
“Wanna come down here? It’s a little busy but still nice.” Jess offered.
“Well, I would, but there is something here at the Temple which has taken my attention.” She said, mysteriously.
“What is it?” Jess asked, curiously. Aiko looked on too.
“You both know the Altered’s protection order allows it to complete it’s recovery without any interference. It’s taken longer than we thought, but it’s finally getting there.” Nina said.
“It has been much longer than I thought it would need, or anyone would’ve supposed. Thank god it was able to repair though.” Jess said.
“The fractom robots should show recovery levels and produce a completion timeframe.” Aiko added, having provided the technology to monitor all aspects of the Altered from a far.
“Yes, of course. They have been a treasure. It’s just, with the near completion of the recovery, we have had a bit of a discovery this morning.” Nina said.
“I hope a good one.” Jess added.
“Oh, I would say the best kind. In the realms of religious metaphor, it would be of a resurrection kind.” Nina said, and they knew what she meant.
“The Pope?” Jess asked.
“We think he’s back.” Nina said, a smile seeming to escape the bonds of the holograph and capture both of those looking on. Covering them in sparkling fashioned happiness.