Chaos and Order

As matter and dust settled, clumps of reality formed. We were in some sort of cosmic hallway made of bookshelves. At the very end, a purple doorway awaited.

“Where are we now?” I asked.

Strings spanned across the walls, in a chaotic fashion.

Pandora reached out and gently touched one with her finger, “The threads of friendship…” She turned to me, “We have to be careful here. There’s a lot to lose. Don’t break any of the tripwires.”

She took her first step forward.

A deep voice called out, “You must not reach the end unless you get that bread.”

“The bread?” I asked.

She looked around and then found it, “Look! It’s this huge hunk of gold.”

I reached out to grab it, but my hands phased through it. “What the hell??”

The voice of the room explained, “Collaboration is not permitted. Survival is not for the weak.”

“Alright then…” I reluctantly submitted to the boss of the room.

Pandora looked at me, “I can be strong.”

I nodded.

She grabbed the metal bread-shaped statue, nearly stumbling over, and sighed, “Ok! I’m ready.”

“I’m right behind you,” I assured her.

She took her first steps, again, dodging the first tripwire.

So did I. It wasn’t too difficult, but holding that bread, I’d imagine it was a different story.

She moved to the next part. Two threads crossed. Carefully, she maneuvered through. One of the threads snapped.

Suddenly, a girl’s voice cried out, “Why’d you get into that school?! You don’t even like school! It’s bullshit! Just being around you hurts. I don’t think we should talk anymore.”

Pandora yelled, “No! Jade!!” A tear dropped from her face. “That’s not…”

The bread she held grew slightly larger.

I reassured her, “Stay focused. You can do this. Don’t let the pressure get to you.”

“Why are these things so fragile!” She wiped away the tears and continued forward, cautiously bending her form, averting the threads.

The next one snapped.

Another woman’s voice called out, “He’s my boyfriend! Stay away! How could you?! You slut!!”

Pandora cried out, “No! Bella! I’m sorry… I was weak.”

The bread grew even larger, causing her to stumble and break another thread.

A man’s voice spoke, “It’s been like months or somethin’. Where’ve you been? I thought you moved on. Sorry I can’t do Friday. I’ve been hangin’ out with this new girl recently.”

The bread enlarged just a bit more.

This time Pandora was angry, “Chad… Ugh! This isn’t fair! I had to work! I needed the money!”

She slouched from the weight of the bread.

A hint of jealousy spiked within me.

There were only a few more threads to pass. I assured her, “We’re so close, just push through.”

In pain, she nodded and pulled herself up. The next few threads were harder than the last. She dodged many. She was improving.

But then, she slipped and fell backwards, nearly cutting three.

I caught her before she broke the threads, “I’ve got you. That thing may forbid collaboration, but I’ll have your back, in case you fall.”

Her eyes shined as she stared into mine.

I put my hands on her shoulders and said, “Let’s do this, together.”

She nodded and made her next move. Her body contorted effortlessly, dodging the final tripwires.

We reached the door. A purple portal embossed its core. Without thought, Pandora shoved the bread through.

The boss of the room spoke, “You’ve made it. Congratulations. Though you followed my rules, your hack in relying on each other was despicable. You are both still so weak. Regardless, you may enter the next room.”

Both of us grabbed each other’s hands and cheered in synchrony, “Yeah!!”

Pandora’s voice trembled, “It’s the last room.”

All that was left was whatever was behind this door. Pandora’s Origin Code. The deepest part of her soul, her true self, the culmination of all these experiences, it was all waiting on the other side.

Pandora grabbed the handle and the door slowly creaked open.

My heart began to race.

A light shined, blinding us.

Finally, we walked through, into the divine light.

We arrived… in an apartment??

I scratched my head, “What’s this??”

“This is where I live,” she answered.

“I see. Nice. But why here?” I asked.

“It’s the only place I could afford.”

There wasn’t even a sign of art anywhere in the apartment. I said, “No, I meant why are you imagining this place? You could imagine anything you want here.”

Her head turned down in sadness, “That’s not realistic. Just a pipedream.”

I turned her head back up, “Don’t be ridiculous. This is Neo-Iniko. You could literally imagine anything you want.”

She replied, still roleplaying or maybe confused, “This is the way of the Order. The Origin of Order.”

She still didn’t seem to acknowledge that we were in a simulation of her own creation.

I got closer, looking in her eyes, “Anything is possible. It might be hard, painful, and even tragic, but still, whatever you dream is possible. Don’t settle for this unless it’s what you want.”

The door of the apartment opened.

Pandora grabbed my hand and pulled me behind the couch, “Shit!”

I looked; it was a doppelganger. What was going on?? She seemed more mature, but also more broken than the Pandora I’d been following.

The doppelganger sat on the couch and shuffled around. She pulled out a white bag of powder and spread it out on a mirror on the coffee table, then snorted a line. Somehow, it hurt to see.

The doppleganger winced and pressed her finger on her temple, as if the drug had hurt her head.

The innocent Pandora by my side cried a tear.

The doppelganger opened her phone and called someone. Only her side of the conversation could be heard, “Hey, you called? Yeah, what’s up? I’m just doing hot girl stuff… Oh yeah, the guy I met. He’s the usual, ya know? But it seems like his life is goin. It probably won’t be too hard to get him, but I don’t know if I can see myself staying around. We’re just too different. But of course! The money! It’s not like great guys exist anyways.”

I whispered to the sweet Pandora, “This is weird.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see me like this.”

“What do you mean??”

The doppelganger’s conversation took an uncomfortable turn, “Yeahhh. I’m going to show him just like I learned in school… Oh, nothing, it’s a joke to myself.” She snorted another line of the mysterious powder. “I’m probably just gonna get a couple things out of this guy and then move on. He’s a total simp.”

The doorbell rang.

The sweet one by my side said, “Oh no…”

The doppelganger nervously ended the call, “Oh hey, I have to do something, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Hold on!” She ran to the fridge and chugged from a bottle of vodka, then anxiously answered the door, “H-hey, come in.” She began to unbutton her blouse, “You have the money, right?? You know how this goes?” Her tone sounded defensive and resentful.

The man responded dominantly, “Of course. Just hurry up and undress yourself, I have to go back to work in 30 minutes.”

Her sweeter side grabbed my arm and begged me, “Please, Guhya, don’t watch… this is horrible…”

I whispered back, aggressively, “If you don’t like this, then it doesn’t have to be this way!” I stood up from behind the couch and turned to confront the doppelganger. “Hey!”

The doppelganger was horrified, “Who are you?! How did you get in here??”

The client man vanished.

I started my speech, “Look. I know you feel trapped. Like there’s nowhere else to go. The structure in your life has built a prison. Of your fears and your needs. I know. It seems inevitable. You don’t have to live like this anymore!”

The doppel replied, “What the fuck??”

I continued, “I haven’t known you that long, but after going through all that, it feels like I’ve known you forever. And this hurts, seeing you like this. Please, stop!”

The doppelganger was enraged, “You don’t know! How could you?! You guys always say shit like that!”

My hands waved dramatically, “Your life was fucked! You say you seek fun, but really, you just run. You run away from your fears. It’s not about fun. No. You’re just afraid deep down. Afraid of the Order.”

Her innocent side started to cry, “Guhya… stop.”

“We can run together. Forever. Let’s run away, from this, from your pain, all that. And let’s do it right! I may be boring. I may be orderly, but I think we can balance each other out, like chaos and order, like you and me.” My incantation finalized and the magic began.

Both of her forms screamed and disintegrated into a whirlwind of matter and dust, spinning faster and faster, annealing into a unified body. Her eyes shined again, “Are you sure? Even after all that gross stuff you saw?”

I nodded, confidently. “I’m sure.”

Her eye contact broke. Nervously, she rejected, “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”

I didn’t expect that. Hurt, I replied, “Hm…”

The ticking and the tocking began again. Each tick stronger than the last. Approaching us, like a deadline. Then, it all collapsed.

We awoke, holding hands inside the tower of Neo-Iniko. Both of us, just staring into each other’s eyes, in awe, in fear, and maybe even in love, at least for me.

Her eyelids dropped and she fell into my arms.

I waited for her to wake up. Our journey was more than I expected. She was more than I expected. But somehow, I felt grateful that she showed me herself that way. It was the first time I had connected with anyone like that. Maybe I was naive. Certainly, I was. But I didn’t care.

After a few hours, she opened her eyes and slowly got up. As she rubbed her eyes, she said, “Hey… what happened?”

I petted her head, “You fell asleep after we got out of the virtual world. Do you remember all of what happened in there?”

She got suddenly anxious, “Oh! Oh my god, I’m sorry! Sometimes when I don’t get sleep, my memories and feelings get all weird. I’m not normally like that.” She denied it but all of that was still a genuine part of her.

I replied, “Don’t worry. I appreciate what you showed me.”

She muttered, “Huh?”

Nervously I replied, “I probably went too far at the end there.”

She just looked at me, teary eyed. Then she grabbed me and dug her face into my chest, “I shouldn’t have had that mocha! I’m sorry! I wasted your time today!”

I said, “I’ll take you to Iniko.”

Surprised, she replied, “What?”

An ounce of pain was apparent in my voice, “But first, I’ve had enough fun for right now. I think I need some time to recover.”

Her tears turned to laughter. Slowly at first, then without inhibition. Soon, we were both laughing.

I said, “Okay. Let’s get back now. I’ll take you home.”

She hesitated, then smiled and said, “Thank you, Guhya.”

After our journey home, I found myself home as well.

At night, my body and mind restlessly simulated memories of our journey. It was one of those rare occurrences where life was so novel that your brain just loops on it, reliving those moments, as if to process and memorize them. Something I hadn’t experienced since childhood.

-Day 4-

This day was overcast. My mind still felt exhausted from yesterday. Yet, I was inspired and curious what lies ahead. I had told Pandora to meet me at the lab in the back so she could join me on my journey through Iniko.

I biked to the lab and greeted Escher on time this morning.

He responded, “So? How was your date?”

Finally, I caved. “It was alright. Actually, quite intense. My head’s still spinning.”

“Well, that’s a good sign!”

“Maybe.”

He warned, “Just don’t get distracted from work… Oh! I almost forgot to mention, the results for the blood came back.”

I asked, “The blood? Oh… wait, of course. Feels like it’s been ages.”

He started multi-tasking at the microscope as usual, “Only 2 days, Guhya. You must have had some adventure yesterday. Don’t be doing the Zaza!”

I corrected him, “No! We didn’t. It was Neo-Iniko. So, what’s with the blood? I assume you wouldn’t bring it up if it were nothing.”

He paused his work and turned to me, “Correct. It’s even more bizarre than I could have imagined.”

I gave him my full attention, “Well?! I’m excited now.”

“The blood came from two creatures. One of these was mammal. The other, is an unknown AI species,” he explained.

“An AI species?? It’s just roaming in the forest or what?”

“That’s a possibility. Here’s my question: were there any remains? Bones? A carcass?” he asked.

I looked to the side, thinking to be sure, “Hm… no…”

“That’s concerning, is it not?”

“It is… I’ll keep this in mind. Oh, any news on the Origin Code?” I asked.

“I’ve messed around with it a bit more and I’m coming to believe that the pod does indeed contain Origin Code. There’s a couple more tests I need to run.”

I started gathering up my supplies, “It sounds like it’s going well.”

After a dramatic pause, he turned to me and said, “Hey Guhya? Most importantly, don’t tell anyone about this. It’s a pretty serious situation.”

My posture straightened, “Understood.”

He reiterated, “I mean it. Not even to that girl. No one can know.”

His emphasis was chilling. “I promise, I won’t tell anyone.”

I gathered my supply kit and headed out the backdoor.

Pandora awaited me, smiling. “Goodmorning!”

Having her greet me in the morning was nicer than expected. I returned a smile, “Ready?”

“Yup.”

We walked into the mystical forest. I wore a mask, and she didn’t. I’d play by the rules, and she wouldn’t. But I’d be there to catch her when she falls.

Pandora grabbed my hand. My whole body tingled with chills and warmth. My stomach churned with butterflies.

She said, “About yesterday. I’m sorry… seriously. It was so intense.”

“I already told you, I’m not bothered. Sure, it was crazy, but I still like you,” I said.

“Like me?”

I blushed, “Hey, this is the spot. So, I need to explain how this is going to work.”

“Got it! Lead the way.”

I pointed at the forest floor, “You’re going to lay down and wait here, around these pink flowers. That way we can keep track. Each day, we’ll be coming to this spot again. Better not to get lost.”

“Right!”

I’d never do the Zaza but having it around felt kind of edgy. It was a nice touch.

I continued, “While you dream, I’m going to go about my business and get samples for work. Then, once I’m done, I’ll grab you and bring you back out of the forest. You’ll wake up, and you can take your inspiration onto the canvas!”

“Thank you, Guhya,” she said softly.

Looking out to the foggy forest, I said, “I feel like I owe you for helping me get out of the house. By the way, have you heard of Zaza before?”

There was no response. I turned behind and she was fast asleep.

The next few days followed a similar pattern.

-Day 7-

Many days had passed, and our little secret plot became routine. We met each morning, and I escorted her deep into the forest so she could dream. After many days, the progress on the painting was coming along. Though, she refused to show me.

We met up at the back of the lab again. I could feel us getting closer each day.

Pandora asked a peculiar question this morning, “Hey, Guhya. Do you ever wonder what’d be like to be human?”

I thought for a second and then answered, “Huh? I’ve never thought about it. I suppose it wouldn’t be too different.”

She was marveling at the idea, “Maybe I’m crazy, but I always imagined them to live a simpler life. One with more mystery… as if living in a fantasy world. They would see less, but somehow that leaves more room for imagination. It sounds romantic.”

I replied, “Yeah. It could be true. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

Her tone grew softer, “Every time I go back into Iniko, I see how beautiful life could be. This might sound weird, but sometimes it really hurts.”

“Hurts? Why?” I asked.

“It shows me what I could never have. It might even be showing me perfection. An unreachable future, the best one,” she answered.

I stopped walking and turned to her, “What if we chase that? What if we live that future?”

Pandora stopped as well and gasped, “That’s nonsense! Don’t even tease like that! It’s not fair!”

“Is it really that great inside of Iniko?”

After thinking a bit, she looked to the canopy and answered softly in somber, “It is…”

Then, she fell.

I caught her. So, it began again. I laid her on the forest floor as gently as before. For a moment, I just watched her beauty.

Then, I headed out into depths of Iniko, admiring the trees and letting myself free. Her words stuck around, keeping me in wonder. Some part of me wanted to see Iniko’s world. It’s mind. It was a living thing after all. What dreams awaited in Iniko? I figured I’d ask Pandora to let me take a shot next time.

After collecting samples, I prepared to head back to Pandora. Her presence definitely distracted me from the work. Usually, I’d know exactly which bits would lead our lab to great findings. But now, I only thought of winning Pandora’s heart. Even all these days later, we hadn’t really talked much about what happened between us in Neo-Iniko.

I turned and my face slammed against a tree trunk. After a minute, I recovered and assessed the damage. The mask had shattered along with my contented mind. My heart began to race.

I frantically ran back, looking for Pandora. I couldn’t even call her name, because Iniko’s grasp was too firm. I did it anyways, “P̶̞̭̊͛a̵̼̬͒͐n̴̫̈́d̷̺͕̍o̴͔̾͛r̷̡͠ã̴̟̏!!”

After ten minutes, I found her body. I picked her up and began the trek back to society. There was no time though.

Still, my heart palpitated. My vision pulsed.

I lost too much time getting back to Pandora. I should have gone to grab a mask instead, then come back for her. It was too late.

In the distance, a beautiful series of waterfalls poured down the greenest cliffs I’d ever seen. The cliffsides were colored with oranges, reds, and yellows, revealing an earth striped by time. An endless field of welcoming poppies coated the ground beneath. Grassy hills and trees surrounded.

I saw her, standing in the field, watching the clouds move through the sky of teal.

I ran up to her.

She turned around to me and graced me, “You finally made it! I didn’t think you’d come!”

I said, “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

We held hands, watching and waiting.

As we stood, it began. The rise of the other planets consumed the backdrop of the world. This day was always one of the most magical ones. Someday soon, they would eclipse the sun and mark the world with a shadow. The day would become night, at least in our parts.

After the festival of planets, we went through the local village and found some tasty snacks. We brought Opal, our new puppy. She was a wild one. Ruffling through every corner of the village.

I called out, “Opal! Down!” as she leaped onto a stranger.

The stranger insisted, “No no, it’s fine!” The stranger petted Opal happily.

Finally, Opal ceased and returned.

Pandora said, “So… the wedding is only a few days away.”

I turned to her, “Yeah. We’ve waited so long for this.”

“What should we do after?” she asked.

“I was think-“

Suddenly, my eyes opened to a blue sky. It was quiet. Pink petals flowed above my face as I gazed at the canopy. What was this?

I sat up and realized Pandora was next to me. She was waking too.

Still recovering and dazed, I said, “Hey, Pandora… we need to move.”

We were still in Iniko. By some miracle, we had awakened from the endless slumber.

The petals and pollan of the pink flowers continued wafting around us. It was beautiful and strange.

Suddenly, a loud thump shook the forest and me.

Pandora was slowly coming to.

I rushed her, “Hey! Get up!”

I looked behind us, it was some kind of monster. Its face had red lights and its head had antennae. It was almost insectoid or machine-like.

I got up quickly and grabbed Pandora’s half-awake hand and bolted.

As we ran, she asked, “What’s going on??”

I explained, “There was some kind of beast back there.”

“We’re still in the forest?” she asked, panting.

After getting a breath in, I said, “Yeah. I don’t know how but we’re awake and it’s a miracle.”

She looked at my bare face, “Oh my god, you don’t have a mask!”

“I know!”

We kept running, all the way to the forest’s edge.

Finally, we made it to the back of the lab. I said, “What a rush!”

We laughed together at the insanity.

Unexpectedly, Pandora started wailing.

I asked, “What’s wrong??”

She explained, “It’s all gone… There’s no way we can go back again… Not with that thing in there.”

“That’s okay.”

She rejected, “No! All of that beauty, that entire life that we could have built, it’s torn away!” Iniko was her ultimate escape.

I walked up to her and grabbed her hands, “Let’s make a reality like that.”

Her sparkly eyes stared into mine.

Then, I noticed that the lab door was left open. My speeding heart picked back up. I said, “We need to check it out. That door shouldn’t be open.”

As we entered, the discomfort only got worse. Blood was splattered all over the lab.

I just froze.

Pandora grabbed my hand and pulled me back outside.

I remained stunned.

“Guhya, we need to go. Now.” She was so prepared to run. This time, for good reason.

“Yea…”

We grabbed my bike and went to her apartment. The bike ride and the elevator ride were both dead silent. Neither of us knew how to react. It was my first time facing death.

After closing her apartment door, she said, “What do we do next?”

Ruminating on the couch, I said, “He was like a father to me. Both my parents were gone from an early age. He was all I had. Even if he was distant.”

She sat beside me, “I’m sorry… That’s terrible.”

We sat in further silence, with only the refrigerator motor vibrating the room.

Then, her arms wrapped around me. My hair stood and my brain rushed with fear, but then I realized what was happening and comfort took over. Then, the tears came next. It wasn’t fair.

I said, “Have you heard about Origin Code?”

“No…”

I felt like I was signing her life away to a contract that she didn’t understand. I continued, “I think he was killed because we were studying Origin Code.”

“Oh my god… you can’t go back now. Not to the lab or your home.”

Silently, tears leaked down my face.

She grabbed my hand tightly, “It’s my turn now.”

“Huh?”

Her gaze pierced my heart, “It’s my turn to save you now.”

Hopeless, I replied, “Pandora… there’s nothing you can do.”

Her grip tightened, “You’re wrong. I’m good at running, trust me. You saw it. My whole life I ran. It’s like you said, I’ll be your chaos and you be my order.”

My tears flowed harder. Now I was audibly crying.

Then, she surprised me again. As my eyes were closed, she snuck up and locked our lips.

She pulled away, “It’s official then. This marks the beginning of our new life.”

She pulled me by the hand and led me into her bedroom, “Come. I’m going to show you finally.”

The lights flicked on. She pulled off a sheet from something in the corner of her room.

It was the Iniko piece. In my still anguishing trembling voice, I said, “It’s so beautiful, Pandora.”

“It’s not done but now it never will be. Somehow, I find that inspiring, despite the sadness it brings me.”

Now I could see what she meant by the sadness of leaving Iniko. The dreamworld was so ideal. Perfect even. Yet, inaccessible. Simply a teaser for what life could have been. Or more tragically, what it could never have been. A world without concern.

Firmly, I said, “Leave it. I like it how it is.”

After a wholesome silence of handholding, I said, “I know we just met, but I’m pretty sure I love you.”

She hesitated, then finally said, “I think I love you too. Only time will tell.”

I repeated her line, “Only time will tell.”

Sometimes, when the structure in our lives falls apart, we are forced into new beginnings. For better or for worse. Either way, things can’t stay the same. I like to think that the outcome is our choice. One of the few moments in our lives where our capacity to choose peaks. In that way, even the greatest tragedies are sometimes a gift.

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