Eternal Sunshine

In a peculiar turn of events, we were left alone in the mysterious halls of the building.

Lily commented first, “Ah… very interesting.” She started running around to each doorway, checking for clues. “Not a soul in sight. Just as I thought. Totally the magic of aliens.”

Gadi looked petrified, “Wh-what do we do?? This can’t be! There is no future that I can see.”

Pandora held me closer.

I gazed down the hall towards the elevator, “We should continue to the thirteenth floor.”

Arezo said, “Did you hear what the receptionist said?”

I replied, “Yes. Truman is the mayor. This could be some weird Aeon voodoo.”

Lily corrected me, “Alien voodoo.”

“Whatever,” I replied.

Lily ran ahead of us and pressed the elevator button.

Thunder crashed outside.

The faint aura of danger emanated from Lily.

The doors opened and we all entered. As we waited, awkwardly and silently, Lily brushed against my arm, as if accidentally, but also intimately and intentionally.

Finally, we reached the top and rushed out. There were no halls, instead, floor thirteen was an office itself. The light of the setting sun was blazing through the window.

Truman welcomed us, “Guhya! You’ve brought your many beautiful friends. I hope that we may discuss the future now, without the hostility from before. Like proper gentlemen!”

Lily whispered softly in my ear, “Please protect me, hero.” She hid behind my back, holding me from behind.

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked.

Truman explained, “Life here in Hedo has been grand for so long. The prophecy suggests that you will bring the Outside for us all. Instead, I urge you to only seek it for yourself. The lot of us will suffer in the wake of your choice if you continue toward that fate.”

I stepped forward, “Look around you. This world isn’t salvageable. We have to start over.”

He was unmoved and unshaken, “I’d beg to differ. Vaeda is working restlessly on a solution as we speak. I shall not let you pass if you mean to enter Vaeda’s Aetherium and interfere with our mission.”

Pax yelled, “That bitch! She’s gonna kill us all!”

Truman smiled, “On the contrary, she is without a doubt the savior of this world.”

Confronting Vaeda with Pax was going to be an issue later. I didn’t intend to kill her. He most definitely did though.

Arezo interjected, “We’re supposed to help the humans! Instead, you live in paradise enslaving them!”

“You were once a slave yourself, isn’t that right, Arezo?” Truman was pettier than I imagined. Gentleman my ass.

She gritted her teeth, refusing to respond.

I said, “Too many suffer in this world and now a sentient Sige species is evolving out of our control.” I remembered what Arezo told me when we first met, “This is the dawn of the next stage of evolution for life and it has no intention to preserve our fallible existence. You must know that by now. You and Vaeda can try to stop it, but if you can’t even stop me, there’s no way in hell you are stopping the Sige. We’ve entered the adaptive radiation.”

“Quite devoted, I see. So that settles it.” Truman aimed his palm at Arezo, “Like the slave you were, you are now again.”

Arezo grabbed my left arm. Gadi and Pandora grabbed the right. Pax, Emory, Archie, and Sophy stared off into space.

Lily came forth and bowed, “Your abode is dreamy. It is an honor to meet with you, Sir Truman.”

With a disgusted look, he said, “You’ve brought that demon, Lillith.”

She smugly stared Truman down, “It’s Lily, akshually. It means innocence, which I am the utmost symbol of.”

Her words seemed highly doubtable.

Lily took a drag from her two cigarettes and said, “You royally fucked up, Truman, ahahAHAHAH!” Then she snapped her fingers and vanished.

Truman’s face tensed up in horror and he vanished as well. Arezo, Gadi, and Pandora all loosened their grasp. Gadi quickly backed away. Arezo softly let go. Pandora kept holding on.

Arezo asked, “What happened? Where did Truman go?”

I answered, “All of you were under the control of Truman. Both Lily and Truman disappeared. I think she’s trying to kill him. Once they left, you were all freed. I’m not really sure what happened. Maybe we should get out of here for now though.”

Everyone agreed and we headed back down the elevator. When we reached the bottom, the situation only grew more bizarre. It was sunny outside, but also totally empty. Not just of people but of the city. It had all been replaced by colorful flowers and fields of green.

I muttered, “What is this?”

Pax exclaimed, “Where the hell are we?! Are we stranded?? Has the building been moved??”

Pandora said, “Guhya?”

I replied, “I don’t know.”

We ran back to the top of the building, checked Truman’s office, and even searched every room of the building to no avail. Answers were not to be found. We regrouped on the bottom floor.

I suggested, “Do you think Lily had anything to do with this?”

Arezo looked down in disappointment, “I think I might know.”

After a long silence, I asked, “What is it?”

She placed her hands out. The walls of the building fled away, into the distance, giving way to a void.

I gasped, “Arezo??”

She hesitated strongly. With a look of pure anguish, she said, “This is… my dreamworld… Truman might have control over my body in the overworld.”

“We just have to wait for Lily to kill Truman, then, right??” I asked.

“I hope so,” she said, softly and doubtfully.

Emory stated, “Or Truman will simply kill us while we are stuck in here. Lily is merely human.”

I replied, “You know, I noticed that Truman was really afraid of Lily. All of you were out when that happened, so you didn’t see, but he was really afraid.”

Emory said, “I still wouldn’t count on her though, she was kinda nuts.”

We all sat there, embracing the awkward silence. It was better than expressing the fear and the hopelessness. All of our minds racing too quickly to get a word in.

Pandora came to our rescue, “While we wait, let’s make use of this time. We’ve had it really rough for a long while now. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so bad. I mean, even if we do die, isn’t it better to spend our last moments doing something enjoyable?”

Arezo was surprised. She smiled, then walked over to Pandora and hugged her. Then, unexpectedly, she began to laugh. Slowly and lonely at first, but then Pandora was hit by the giggles too. The absurdity disturbed our minds and we coped with laughter. All of us, except the Lost Ones. There was something eerie and sobering about their lack of laughter. Something about their minds being pushed beyond their ordinary limits, into the deepest of absurdity.

A single tear crossed Arezo’s face. Then she turned to the rest of us, “Pandora’s right. Let’s make a nice dinner. I make the best food, just wait and see!”

For the first time, I saw Archie give the weakest of smiles. As if some deep part of him resonated with this image of his sister. It could have been my imagination. Maybe I wanted to see that.

Pandora smiled.

Emory commented, “This is so ridiculous and pointless.”

Pax punished him, “Don’t be such an asshole man!”

Gadi smiled more heartfelt than I’ve ever seen too.

Sophy hadn’t really moved the entire time. But I knew some deep part of her would be relieved in this place.

While Arezo prepared the food, Pandora and I wandered off and sat on a grass hill and watched the still sky.

I started, “Do you know my story from Iniko? With Riyon, Taro, and Nell?”

“No,” she answered.

I laid down, looking at the clouds. “We spent years living in Iniko’s dreamworld. None of us were aware of our pasts. We just woke up in another life, carefree, pain-free, it was like heaven really.”

She laid as well. “You think that’s where we’re headed? A life apart from reality?” she asked, muttering, softened by nervousness.

I grabbed her hand, “If the Outside is real, wasn’t it already that way anyways?”

“I guess so. Not a heaven though, clearly.” She turned to me, “What did you do in Iniko?”

“We built entire lives. Taro and Nell even got married,” I teared up. “Riyon found love too.”

Restraining her jealousy, she asked, “Sounds romantic. Did you fall in love?”

I turned on my side, facing her, “I didn’t want to. Even though I was apart from my memories, I think I still felt an attachment to you, Rue.”

She was shocked.

I realized what I had said and panicked, “I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking! I didn’t mean-“

She replied, “No. It’s ok. I’m just surprised.”

I loosened my grip on her hand, “I should probably check on the oth-“

Before I could finish, she grabbed me and our lips were joined. I felt so bad, but she was washing it away quickly. Why wasn’t she mad?

With her eyes as softly as her voice, she said, “Who do you like more, me or Rue?”

I replied defensively, “That’s not fair. Don’t ask me that.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I traced my arm across the side of her body, “You two are actually pretty similar now that I think about it. I don’t think I’d want to choose. Especially if I don’t have to.”

She kissed me more passionately.

I said, “I love you.”

A look of surprise came across her face.

“I love you too,” she said.

Then my heart sank. This was the first time I had told her I loved her, again, for the third time. And last time I had killed her moments later.

She asked, “What’s wrong?? Why are you crying?”

“It’s just,” the emotions ripped apart my voice, “It’s just… I already told you that I loved you in the other timelines. A lot has happened, and you don’t even know it.”

“I know, Guhya. I know.” Her eyes grew teary, “That’s how I’ve felt since we reunited in Neo-Iniko. It’s the same.”

She was right. It was like some sick form of trauma bonding. Time has shredded both our hearts apart. Lovers, separated by the threads of fate. Yet, our destinies intertwined, in such a beautiful and painful way. Both of our paths rendered us strangers to each other, and yet, we were the closest we could ever be, sharing an unsharable experience like no other. The only two who could ever know the cruelty of time.

Our lips pressed against each other, and our tongues locked. I pulled back and said, “Let’s make a bunch of memories, once we reach the Outside. We will build a house and live out in the forest. We will grow our own food.”

Her eyes shined and her smile healed my emotional wounds, “We will, Guhya. And we will finally get that puppy together!”

Arezo summoned us, “Time for the banquet!”

We all sat around the table.

Arezo unveiled the dishes, “So! First, we have a decadent creamy roasted potato soup with coconut, then over here we have a spicy peanut butter lentil-garbanzo bean curry, and this one is the mushroom-bean bourguignon, my favorite, oh, and this bread, it’s so warm and crisp and fluffy, and there’s some poppyseed bagels here, and lastly this fragrant sweet saffron pistachio halva is euphoric!” She was still able to get excited under these circumstances. It was impressive.

Pax spoke with food in his mouth, “Hey, I didn’t know you made such good food! This is crazy!”

Archie simply said, “Thank you, sister.”

Emory was as damp as usual, “Yeah. It’s cool.”

I said, “I think the bourguignon is my favorite too. I never tried this stuff until you showed me, Arezo.”

Pandora said, “Thanks! It’s delicious as usual.”

As Arezo took the first bite, a single droplet of sadness fell onto her plate. Still, she maintained a smile.

Despite his lack of feeling, Archie asked, “What’s wrong Arezo?”

She stalled, then softly said, “The sun hasn’t moved.”

Chills went down my spine, but I didn’t want to acknowledge what it meant.

Pandora was in denial too. Her voice trembled, “What does that mean?” The emotion in her voice was clearer than her words. She knew the answer already. She just didn’t want to.

Emory coldly answered, “It means we can’t escape. Ever.”

Gadi stood up, “We’re just going to die here?!”

Arezo couldn’t hold the tears back, “I’m sorry.”

Emory crossed his arms and clarified, “No. It’s worse. We won’t die here. We can’t.”

“Huh? Can you just explain what’s going on with the sun?” Gadi asked.

Emory laid it all out, “Truman was controlling us from the inside of Arezo’s world. But then he left. So, we’re free to move again, but he’s still controlling Arezo from the overworld. It means Truman is still using her powers to keep us in here from the outside. Arezo’s power isn’t just to create a virtual world. She can also stop time for us. Truman probably froze after he left. But he’s the only one who could turn this off and now he can never do that because he’s locked in time.”

After a pause, he looked down, “We will never die here and we will never leave.”

Arezo said, “I don’t think we even left the waiting room. The receptionist probably kept us there so that our brains would be hit by the Sige.”

Pax freaked out, “What?! What do we do now?!

I put my arm around Pandora, as she cried. Both of us realized our plans for the future had all died. I whispered to her, “At least we will spend eternity together.”

Gadi only stared off, immobilized by the horror.

Days passed

Everything was dark. I kept forgetting that this was how things were now. I crawled out of bed, looking for the door. Eventually, I found it and entered the eternal light of day. We created a darkness chamber to escape the light. It was always sunset now.

As I walked out, Arezo called out to Pax and Emory, “Hey! You can’t stare at the sun forever! Come join us.”

This behavior had become typical for Pax and Emory. I believe that being among the Lost Ones brought them closer to the ultimate conclusion that each of us would eventually face. They simply had a head start, because of the Psychonet. There’s only so much information in our heads. Eventually, scarcity would set in.

An indiscernibly long amount of time passed since we entered this virtual realm. Arezo, Pandora, Gadi, and I each built our own houses. Archie helped Arezo. None of it involved any physical labor but figuring out playful designs took up our time. It was a nice change of pace from our journey. The sense of impending doom always laid in the back of our minds. From time to time, it would creep back into the center of our field of view, blinding us with pain and a hue of fear.

Nothing could ever really change in this world, unless we willed it to. In a weird way, it was freeing. All of our obligations were paused. We lived in the endless now, in a world of eternal sunshine. It was romantic, yet a vague sadness always cropped up. I think it was because I could tell our wills were slowly fading. Some days, I just sat, staring at the unmoving sky. Its motionlessness made it clearer: it was no different than a colorful void. My vision would fade in and out, like a breathing darkness from my desaturating eyes. For as long as we stayed here, nothing would ever surprise us again. That’s the only thing that stopped me from staring into the abyss.

I knew that I should regret getting us into this mess, but I didn’t. Some part of me felt obligated to return and “save” us, but I didn’t want to. I actually liked it here, but I knew it was wrong. For once, we were free from worries, until the reality of the growing void made itself apparent.

This would become our slow form of annihilation. I doubt we would even resist it. We wouldn’t care.

I walked over to Arezo’s imaginary home, “Hey. It’s like we said way back then. Now we can live here forever.”

She answered in a somber tone, “Yea.”

I continued, “But… it feels wrong. So, I think we should get out of here, if we can.”

She was surprised, “Hm? Do you have an idea?”

I explained, “In Iniko, we were able to escape because Riyon found his way to the Zaza in the dream world. I think it was because he was addicted to it at the time. He didn’t recognize the flower, but he was compelled to consume it and was hurled back into the forest.”

Her interest piqued, “I see. So, you think if we can alter our brain state, it might disrupt the Sige’s learning of our neural patterns?”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed.

She pondered aloud, “I think if I build a machine, I may be able to study the brain states that Zaza has induced by using my memories of Zaza highs. Then, I may be able to manage something. I can’t say for sure that it will work though.”

“I’ll go let the others know that we aren’t trapped,” I started walking off.

She grabbed my shoulder and stopped me, “No. I don’t want to get their hopes up. Keep this between us.”

For the next month, Arezo worked on that machine, all day and day, because there was no night.

We all sat for Arezo’s dinner. She was happier than usual.

Pandora asked, “What’s with you, Arezo? You look so bright today.”

Arezo proudly announced, “I think I’ve figured it out. I can alter my brain from in here so that it is different enough to break the Sige’s effects on us. Usually, doing Zaza inside of my mind doesn’t really produce the same kind of effects on the brain. There is overlap, but I mostly only replicate certain effects usually. But now… I think I’ve got it. I think… we can escape…”

Pax was quickest. He rushed up and slammed his hands on the table in excitement, “Are you serious?!”

Archie said, “Sister, you did well. Thank you.”

Pandora cried tears of joy.

Gadi looked down, tears in his eyes as well. Then he spoke, “What if we didn’t?”

Arezo asked, “Wha? Why not?”

With guilt, he said, “I’ve never experienced peace like this. At least not in what’s left of my memories. The overworld was utterly painful.”

Pandora assured him, “We are going to make it to the Outside. Once we do, every day can be like this. Just wait it out until then. We are so close already.”

Gadi stalled and said, “I think you’re right. I’m sorry.”

I said, “I get it, Gadi. That’s how I felt too. But it’s selfish. The rest of the world is still out there, and it will end in our hands. That’s why we can’t stay. Even Riyon wanted this. He said he wished he could live in the Playground of Gods. This is what he meant.”

Arezo said, “If all of you are ready, I will begin.”

We all nodded.

Arezo closed her eyes, “He thought he could trap us here for eternity. What Truman never considered is that I’m not just a prior slave, but I’m an escapee.” The world around us developed an array of complex geometric patterns. Strange architectures grew from both the ground and the sky. The sun’s holographic light spilled into the cracks of infinite mazes.

At the last minute, I started to doubt our choice. We had achieved the closest thing to a literal heaven. Yet, we thought we would be heroes and toss that for the sake of this dying world.

Then it went black.

I opened my eyes, and I was back on the floor of the waiting room and the outside of the building was dark again. We had returned to hell.

Everyone else slowly got up in disorientation.

At that moment, the window shattered and the woman outside broke through. So did the ghosts and a cloud of Sige. The woman flailed and seized on the ground.

I yelled, “Run!” and grabbed Pandora’s hand.

We ran to the elevator, but as we got there, we were missing three. Emory, Sophy, and Archie were gone.

Arezo quickly generated gas masks for us to wear to avoid the Sige.

We all went back to find the other three. They weren’t hard to find, but something had happened. As we walked back out to the waiting area, a residual blue light faded. The woman who crashed through the window had been annihilated.

Archie, Emory, and Sophy laid unconscious.

Screams from outside the window revealed others being annihilated, their bodies glowing and zapping away in the haunting blue light, with only the last echoes of their voices remaining.

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Imagine what beauty is bound to time.

Such can never be, in the land of eternal sunshine.

Frolicking in the meadow of eternal sunshine, like an undying dream, one where fate cannot be met, where time does not pass and the sun does not set, but alas one may pray their way away from this endless now, for their escape from dismay. May time move again, from paused to fast, from birth to death, from first to last.