Blue spanned my field of view. The cold breeze blended with the warmth of the sun. A sea of clouds shined in the distance. Above, a peculiar castle held its place in the sky.

A startling sound broke the silence, “It’s really amazing, isn’t it?”

Another familiar voice said, “Yea.”

A trickle of tears flowed down my cheeks. The beautiful sounds were none other than Arezo and Pandora. Had I returned?

Worried, Pandora said, “Guhya… what’s wrong?”

“It’s just… so beautiful. You are so beautiful. This world. We need to do it right this time,” I said.

She blushed and giggled, “You are almost acting as strange as me now!”

Quickly, I grabbed her and held her tight, still in tears.

Then, the reality set in. I only had so much time to stop her impending doom. I turned to Arezo, “Hey! Listen, this is important. Soon, Vaeda is going to meet with me. Some bad stuff is about to happen. You are going to be really upset but I need you to do this. You have to trust me when I say our future depends on it. So, when you notice I’m checked out, stop time. Just for 10 minutes. Got it?”

She hesitated in surprise, “Yeah. I got it. What do you mean by something bad?”

I replied, “We aren’t in any danger, not yet. But you are about to be hurt, emotionally. In a few minutes, we will reach the doors of Xanadu and the Lost Ones will meet with us. You can even stop time for all of us and continue your conversation, I just really need to explore Vaeda’s place.”

She sighed, “This is startling, but I’ll do as you say. I trust you.”

Pandora looked in awe, as if she already knew.

Gadi asked, “What’s going on? You’ve deviated from your destiny, Guhya.”

“What? You can tell? Well, I’ll explain later. Let’s just hope the rest stays on track, right?”

“I suppose so.” His depression lifted into a state of suspicion.

“Look, there they are, any moment now, Vaeda will-” The world flickered; it was already happening. I yelled, “Don’t forget, Arezo! Please!”

She nodded, in loop, repeating, glitching, twitching.

The usual portal ripped open and sucked me in. I landed on Vaeda’s chilling floor. Each time I returned, it was like the place was imbued deeper with scars. I got up off my knees and looked ahead to see Vaeda, smiling.

I called out, “Vaeda?”

She moved for only a frame, stopping before uttering a single word. Perfect.

Quickly, I ran to the Hall of Trials. The doors had been swapped around since the last time I was here. I started scanning each door, looking for Pandora’s.

The first placard read, “Discovery 10: Iniko’s Beast – A large bipedal creature has been spotted roaming around Iniko since the day I acquired the forest. Only one of these beasts has been seen. It appears to be an unknown artificial intelligence species that lives in symbiosis with Iniko. The monster is not affected by the Sige fog. It appears to feast on the unconscious dreamers of Iniko’s influence. It may be that-“

I shuddered. That thing was real?? This was a distraction though, so I moved on.

I scrambled to each door, checking around for hints of Pandora’s room. Curiosity begged me to read the placards for so many of the doors, but there simply wasn’t time. The most concerning of doors stopped me in my tracks.

It read, “Experiment 99: The Prophecy”

This couldn’t be real.

I continued reading, “After connecting to the Psychonet the first time, I was granted sights of the future. Those perceptions remained, scarring and staining my mind. Initially, the experience was unbearable, even traumatic. Though, once it settled, its utility was made apparent. The first important discovery was that the future can be changed, but the highest utility comes when one stays on track with destiny, ensuring that one is entirely prepared for that future.

“The next stage was the implementation of a prophet. The human that I formed a syzygy with appeared to lose all memory since my connection to the Psychonet. I’ve implanted the perception of the future in his brain to fill the void and give him new life. He has now set out to meet with the chosen one, picked to my accord.”

What the fuck was this?? Knowing I didn’t have time to process this, I rushed to each next door. Finally, I found it: Pandora’s door. The placard had been removed. So, she must have known. Before giving in to the sense of hopelessness, I peered through the window and a new sense of awe, terror, and state of stupefaction froze me. Even the feeling of time hesitated.

It couldn’t have been.

This was too much.

Behind the door… was… the enigma herself: a half lavender-, half black-haired girl stared back at me, in stasis, as if stunned but only because of Arezo’s new power. Pandora was inside the box-shaped prison cell.

Suddenly, she rushed over and pressed her hands against the glass.

I yelled, “Pandora?!”

She mouthed something in return.

Then, everything faded, pixelized, and I was returned to Vaeda’s cold hard floor, at her feet. I looked up, “Vaeda? What’s going on??”

She smirked and said, “You tell me, nosey pest.” She was weirdly amused by my curiosity.

She continued, “It’s pretty exciting, right? You shouldn’t have snooped if it scares you. You’ll just have to embrace your fear of the unknown, that lustfully poisonous side of curiosity.”

Pleading on my knees, I begged, “Please, Vaeda! I need to know who Pandora is!”

She replied, “Your curiosity will drive you mad. Now you see why I am the way I am. It’s kind of beautiful, I think.”

“This feels sadistic,” I said.

Her smirk relaxed, “Yes, it does, doesn’t it? But it truly isn’t. I already told you, I’m not evil. You simply cannot alter your destiny like that. We are already straying off course. This meeting is already strange. I don’t know how you managed to do that, but here we are.”

I backed down, “I’m sorry.”

In a strange twist of events, she hugged me, “I know. It’s going to be okay. It doesn’t need to be like this forever, but you must trust me and be patient.”

It was strangely comforting.

Softly, she said, “Do you see that we are the same?”

“How?” I asked.

“Our curiosity leads us into downright disturbing circumstances. The way you handled Evelyn, Riyon, and maybe even Rue. We are the same. My case is worse though. Mine has isolated me, extracted me out of the social systems, and left my heart to rot.”

“Then why do any of this??”

She petted my hair, “The same as you. It always seems like a good idea at first. And we can never discover whether it truly is until it’s too late. That is the nature of Pandora’s Box.”

I pushed her off, “Are you fucking with me right now?!”

She giggled, “You seem to be forgetting that you’ve betrayed our trust already. You are a child, reaching in the cookie jar. Yet so arrogantly believing you are of the gods.”

My stance grew aggressive, “Don’t talk about Pandora like that. Was that a fucking pun?? Right now, of all times? Vaeda! We aren’t the same. You are experimenting on all these people. And for what?!”

For the first time, she was enraged. She got closer and glared at me, “You are so naive. You don’t even know it. Do you really think you have it more figured out than I do, Guhya?! It’s preposterous. Look at yourself. Why would you succumb to such a narrative? No wonder you are the Aeon of Regret, endlessly making the wrong choices, accumulating misery, annihilating those you love along the way.”

“I know I’m naive, ok?! But I don’t think you truly care about others, so it doesn’t matter how great you are at reaching your goals. You hurt others to satisfy your curiosity.”

Her fists clenched and she screamed, “Your wrong!! I sacrificed everything with the hopes of bringing a better world for us all! Now I’m all alone. I’m an alien. An immigrant from oblivion. Just look at how this is playing out. Conflict seems inevitable, but I still hold a faint ember of hope. Maybe if I bring about a better world, I’ll finally have someone to share it with.”

In a guilty tone, I said, “I’m sorry Vaeda. Maybe I’m wrong about you. Maybe I am just an aimless child. I’ve already gotten the ones I loved killed. Rue, Evelyn, Riyon, and now I’m losing Pandora too.”

She was suddenly drawn in with her curiosity, like she had taken a drug. Her depression faded and she asked, “Pandora?”

Shit. “I misspoke.”

Seemingly amused, she said, “Did you?”

Did she know? If so, she was way too sharp. I couldn’t manage a response.

She said, “I need to think now, so I am sending you out. I realize this has been an emotional roller coaster. Next time will be better. We just need to meet under different circumstances.”

“Can I ask one more-” Without a chance to say goodbye, I was flung into the transitory world of the void.

I awoke to a familiar scene. A crying Arezo held a numb superficially sympathetic Archie. This time, I ran over and placed a hand on Arezo’s shoulder, “We’ll figure this out. Cry as you must but realize some trace of your brother remains and cherish it. That’s all we can do.”

Shocked, she nodded. She held onto Archie for another few minutes before we entered the familiar hellscape of the ruins. Before Pax began his story again, I whispered to Arezo, “Hey, I know the timing is rough, but do you think you can take both Pandora and I into a private bubble? All three of us need to talk about something.”

Mentally destroyed from earlier, she gave only a short, “Yea.”

I grabbed Pandora, and without warning, Arezo took both of us into her private mindscape. Pandora bewildered by the new world, only stared with her mouth open.

I said, “We don’t have a lot of time, so I need to get right to it.”

Arezo silently watched.

Pandora agreed.

My hands shook, “Pandora… tonight you will be murdered. I don’t know by who… but I’m trying to stop it.”

Pandora said, “You already did it… didn’t you? You connected to the Psychonet.”

In hesitation, I replied, “Yes. How did you know?”

She just looked down without answering.

After no response, I said, “Pandora, I’m tired of all this secrecy. I… I saw you in a chamber at Vaeda’s place. What the fuck is going on??”

Tensing up, she still couldn’t answer.

“Well??” I asked.

After a while, she said, “You shouldn’t have looked. We are already so close to spiraling away from your destiny.”

“I’m not even sure we should follow the prophecy anymore. The other thing I saw at Vaeda’s is that… Gadi is actually one of her experiments. The prophecy is the future she saw when connected to the Psychonet.”

Both of them were suddenly immersed in my words, both with interest and horror.

“Gadi and Vaeda have a syzygy. When she connected to the Psychonet, Gadi’s mind was corrupted and erased. She replaced it all with the prophecy.”

Arezo muttered, “That’s horrible…”

Pandora grew angry, “We can’t follow Gadi’s words anymore!”

“Why??” I asked.

Her jaw clenched, “Vaeda doesn’t even want to reach the Outside. If she has us following her prophecy, then we’re being misled.”

She was right, I had forgotten about that.

At last, she confessed, “We do have a syzygy.”


“Those visions, they were memories of the past, of a future we once lived through, together,” she explained.

Still processing, I asked, “What are you saying??”

She placed her hand on my cheek, “I love you, Guhya… You died… I came back to save you.”

Still confused about what it all meant, I grabbed her and started kissing her passionately. A tear dripped down my cheek, tickling between our lips.

She pulled away, “Guhya?”

“You’re going to die tonight,” I said.

“There’s still time,” she assured me.

“Pandora, please. Please just tell me what I saw in that room.”

“Okay. But we won’t align with the prophecy if I tell you. I’m sure of this.”

Hesitating, I finally said, “I understand.”

She explained, “I am… experiment 27. I was desperate to get you back. It was futile but… Vaeda…” she started crying, “Vaeda offered me a chance to go back. So now… I’m trying to save you from your fate.”

“My fate?? Is that in the prophecy?” I asked.

She replied, “I don’t know. This isn’t playing out like it did before.”

“What do you mean, before?”

Her tears unleashed, “I’ve been holding this in for so long! It’s been unbearable! Everything has been so much colder with you now. You are a stranger, yet I know you so well. And I can’t do anything about it! In the original timeline, we were lovers, Guhya!”

I placed my hands on her face and impulsively kissed her. Our hearts beat in sync. I pulled away and looked her in the eyes, “Thank you, Pandora. It must have hurt. All that’s over now.”

Arezo rushed in and hugged us both tightly. It was awkward, but also wholesome. She said, “We need to figure out what to do about tonight. Also, I could repair your syzygy.”

“Could you?? That would be awesome!” I said.

She placed her hands on each of our heads. There was a flash of light and suddenly, I could feel through Pandora’s body and head. I could feel her feeling my body and head. We could share thoughts now, beyond the occasional vision.

After discussing our investigation strategy, we returned to real life. We were back in the grand ominous halls of Xanadu.

In nervousness, I grabbed Pandora’s hand. This time, I was first. At that moment, a rush of colors and sounds filled the room.

We both held hands, looking out at the vast cliffs of Hedo. We planned on this for a long time now. For the first time in a while, we could finally get away from all the pain and stress that life threw at us.

“Are you ready?” I said.

She answered, “Let’s go!”

I grabbed the massive telescope with both of my hands. She grabbed the picnic basket, blanket, and bag of other important stuff.

An hour into our climb of the cliffside hills, Pandora said, “I can’t believe we decided to do this. What the fuck were we thinking.”

“Hey! I promise it will be worth it,” I reassured her.

She said, “Ugh! But you’re going to carry all this on the way back.”

After another hour, we finally reached the top. The pain of the climb distracted us from the beauty of the place. But as we stopped at the top, it all started to hit. The petals and terpenes of the flowers wafted around decorating the air with sights and smells. The breeze molded the landscape like waves in an ocean of grass and colorful blooms. A sea of clouds flowed beneath us, beyond the cliffs.

For the first few minutes, we just consumed our senses in silence.

She said, “I wonder if time passes slower up here. It feels so still, even when the wind pushes everything around.”

As I set up the telescope, I replied, “Yeah.”

After it was finally up, I said, “Come look! Time is still moving; you can see it.”

She looked through the lens and remarked, “The stars! They are moving!”

As she pulled away from the telescope, her face stretched out, in a disturbing distortion. Then, the reality of Xanadu’s hellscape kicked back in.

“Are you two okay??” Pax asked.

Then, like last time, he said, “Hey!! You’re Echo!!”

At that moment, a horrible realization crossed my mind.

His voice repeated and looped, “Ech-ech-ech-cho-cho-cho-cho.”

I had forgotten about the fog. Shit. The world spun and my memories faded. The world was alien, but this time I had a faint awareness that my memories were gone for some reason. Though, my brain was too scrambled to remember the particular reason. I assumed drugs, brain damage, and then occasionally, I remembered the fog. The concept of the fog only appeared as a distant idea, without its defining details. As if only the word remained, stripped of its meaning.

The world around us took on similar dissociation. I was simultaneously in my old home in Hedo, in Neo-Iniko, and in Colony 25, at least in my demented mind. Strangers surrounded me, seemingly tugging on my body. To the left, a cute girl with mixed black- and lavender hair was similarly being captured and dragged beside me. It seemed we were being taken prisoner, though it was clear both of us were too weak to resist. We must have been drugged.

The girl was tied to a metal bar. Then, the world faded.

At an indiscernible point, I awoke drenched. I faded in and out of reality, though slowly, I realized what was happening. The fog had wiped my head again.

The sound of crying pulled me out of my haze. It was Arezo. As I got up, the reason made itself clear: we were too late. Pandora was gone. Again.

I slammed my fists on the metal floor, “Why!!?”

I fucked up. Again.

And again.

And always.

Everything faded to black.

Blue spanned my field of view. The cold breeze blended with the warmth of the sun. A sea of clouds shined in the distance. Above, a peculiar castle held its place in the sky.

A startling sound broke the silence, “It’s really amazing, isn’t it?”

Another familiar voice said, “Yea.”

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Long hair Pandora!