It was like a faded memory. All of that knowledge from the Psychonet accumulated and sculpted my perception and now it was all gone. I looked out to the horizon, at the cliffs hanging above the sea, and watched as Taro and Nell held hands in their wedding attire. The sky was painted with reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks. The ocean reflected this colorful scene along with a holographic shimmer from the setting sun. Between us, a field of flowers created a path that I began to walk along. Petals and pollen dust flowed in the breeze. My hair twirling along with the stream.

I finally reached them after a journey in peaceful slow-motion across the flowery hills. Without the adrenaline that kept us perked throughout our journey, the rate of life was left slow and smooth. When I arrived in their presence, we merely sat there looking out at the sea, watching the transforming body of water, sparkle and glisten, undulating like the chaotic wave machine that it was. The ripples of the world created some sort of inaudible timbre and melody.

The smell of our food being prepared wafted towards our lookout point, luring us in to discover its origin. The symphony of smells included cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, coriander, garlic, onion, and tomatoes. It was a garbanzo bean curry.

We sat at a wooden table, only a small distance from the cliffside. Nell finally broke our silence, “So, Riyon. You never really explained what happened after reactivating the T.E.P. implant. What was it like?”

After putting the words together in my head, I responded, “Well, first my senses expanded and consumed everything around us. I began to see into the future, much further than the few seconds that the implant gave the first time I plugged in. This time it was as if time was unraveling. I even saw an alternate reality in which you two awaited me, in the fields beyond Iniko. It was too much. It hurt. I saw and felt everything.”

Their faces were focused on mine. It looked as if they weren’t even in their bodies anymore, instead focused on consuming what I said. I continued, “But, after some time, I moved on. There was a brief moment where I resisted moving on and the thought of my growing apathy towards everything and everyone I loved horrified me. It was as if I was becoming a monster, but another moment passed, and I had even worked through that phase. Eventually, I was left feeling nearly empty, then everything stopped and I was presented with a question by something I could only describe as God. I was asked to choose between either knowledge or power. I chose power. I needed to save us all and I had faith that this would lead us to our true desires.”

Taro excitedly interrupted, “And then?? How did we all end up here like this??”

I struggled to think of the words to describe what happened next. After hesitation, I tried, “I’m not really sure, to be honest. There are some faded memories of what happened after that, but most of it seemed to go beyond what is possibly explainable. In the most abstract sense, I was lifted upward towards a light. Everything I knew of ceased to exist for a while. The way we look at the world through a lens of our language, that part of me seemed to dissolve. Strange visions of an unrecognizable and somehow nostalgic world appeared before me. Without my memories of the world from before, I felt grossly attached to this strange new universe. Most of my memory stopped forming after this point with only flashes remaining.”

Suddenly Guhya appeared and sat down with us to join storytime.

“Then, I ended up in this world. . . I think God gave us a second chance. It seemed like Hedo was suddenly gone. All that was left were some hills and poppies. After about 30 minutes of roaming around in this hilly area, I found Guhya, just laying there. After he woke, we headed towards Iniko, to meet up with you two. Iniko wasn’t like before. It was more ordinary. It started to seem like the whole world had reset at this point. Guhya and I discussed this.”

Guhya chimed in, “Yeah. It was pretty freaky. From my perspective, I just passed out, then woke up and everything was different. It was really disorienting too. I seem to have lost my ability to see into genetic code. I’m not even sure if I’m really an Aeon anymore, but I’ve never known what it feels like to be human. Maybe I just concussed during whatever the fuck that was that made me pass out. Then we found both of you and even you two were confused!”

Taro said, “Yeah. We seemed to pass out too. It’s all very weird. Maybe it was this God guy. At least we all made it through. Maybe now we can live our lives in peace.”

Nell asked, “So do you think the Basilisk risk has been resolved now?”

I answered, “During my vision, there was a strong sense that we would all be okay after. I think something deep in the world changed. I’m not even sure if AI exists anymore, but obviously, Aeons like Guhya are still here. But maybe he’s been changed. I don’t think we will ever know. Maybe we don’t need to know.”

Everyone nodded.

The aromatics grew stronger and filled the air around us. It was time, the curry was ready. Evelyn placed a large dish of curry at the center of the table. We never got to try her cooking during our adventure and it turned out to be some of the most creative and well-thought-out cooking I’ve ever experienced. It was a real gift. The food she cooked always brought us back into our senses and bodies. It made our mental clocks stop and the future disappear. Luckily, in this new world, such mechanisms weren’t needed as sorely. There was no need to escape pain. There was even no need for Zaza.

She sat across from me and smiled at me. Over the last month, we were able to reunite again. It was a miracle. She said, “So what are you all talking about?”

Taro responded, “We were just going over the story of how we got here again. It still doesn’t make sense. But maybe that’s fine.”

Evelyn said, “Yeah. I wish I remembered more of the adventure that we all went through together. It still seems weird that I don’t have a lot of my memory from before a month ago.”

She mostly only remembered the events after we all woke up in this changed place. It sort of made sense, since she seemed to be dead before that. It wasn’t really clear what happened. It upset me that she didn’t really remember all of the romantic times we had together though. With a false sense of reassurance and denial, I said, “Maybe your memories will come back someday. Even if not, you are still here with us now and that’s what matters.”

Evelyn didn’t even seem to remember that she was an Aeon. She did recognize all of us though. At least we had that. Over the last month, we walked her through the journeys we had together. Somehow it didn’t feel right to bring up any of that romantic stuff, so I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t keep silent forever, but the thought of this discussion was nerve-wracking. If she still liked me, then it would unfold naturally. Telling her somehow felt like it would be brainwashing. But also, hiding it felt cruel in a way too. Especially to myself. To be constantly teased by her presence would destroy me.

“Hey, Evelyn. Could we talk alone by the ocean after our meal?” I asked.

She nodded and smiled, “Of course!” She still had a familiar friendly attitude.

We began to eat. This time, my clock still moved, though not fast enough. There was great anticipation of the conversation we would have after. I tasted the food less than usual because my mind was racing with predictions of how our talk would go. It was the first time I had felt fear since awakening after the change. Still, the flavors pulled me in, at least a little bit.

Taro spoke, “Now that we are married, Nell had a surprise announcement.” He nudged her.

Nell nervously said, “Well. . . I’m pregnant!”

Evelyn’s eyes grew wide. Taro sat with a smug look of triumph.

It was emotional even if expected. The reality hit harder than the imagined one. After our grand journey, it even seemed more impactful than when we were in the dreamworld of Iniko. I said, “This is amazing.”

It was difficult to find any other words, even though it seemed more important than ever to give appropriate words. All I could do was gaze at them in contentment and awe. Our lives were really changing now. Time was moving forward. I said quietly, “We are really free now.”

After our food, Evelyn and I headed to the beach. It was a beautiful starlit scene. The ambiance of the waves was comforting and helped me in remaining calm as I prepared to confront her with the truths of our past. I started, “Hey. There’s something pretty important about our lives before your memory restarted.”

She looked into my eyes with intense curiosity. This curiosity seemed to be greater than anything she expressed before, which gave more evidence to the notion that she is no longer an Aeon. Now she experienced the world without insight into the future, which led her eyes to be pressed against the reality in front of her. She gave her full attention outward in a way that she didn’t seem to before. It worried me that she may not be the same person as before.

I continued, “Back then, we were close. I mean, really close.” Nervousness consumed me. “I might even say we were in love.” I couldn’t continue talking, despite that I hadn’t really explained yet. Instead, I froze up, looking into her eyes.

After a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’ve been having these strange dreams. About us.”

“Dreams?” I asked.

She answered, “Yeah. Both of us, rolling around and running about in the most beautiful fields of pink flowers. The dreams are bizarre too! The place with these flowers has lakes. Beautiful, mesmerizing, dust-filled flows of air glowed from sunlight that came from above. That’s the even stranger part. Above us, the sky was made of rock, but some sunlight burst through and colored this underground heaven.”

In astonishment, I asked, “Do you remember that place? That’s where we first kissed.”

She looked down with an expression of disappointment, “No. I’m sorry, Riyon. It’s only in these dreams.” She readjusted her gaze toward me and continued, “I had a feeling that we would come together, even if I don’t remember anything from before. Even when you asked to talk at the beach, I had a sense that maybe you were going to initiate a relationship with me. These dreams seemed like a sign that we’d come together.”

In synchrony, we both stared into each other’s eyes closely. We kept moving closer and closer. The tension rose and somehow it felt like our minds were one and the same. We kissed, for the first time, for the second time. My thoughts went silent. Our bodies pressed against each other and filled my attention. The combination of lust, comfort, and relief from the month-long pent-up anxiety over our connection resulted in supreme warmth.

I paused our kiss. Again, the same thought intruded, “We really are free now.”

We laid in the sand, held hands, and watched as the night sky shifted and the clouds formed and morphed into different shapes. The world was perfect.

I said, “We should probably get back to the community and join the others for teacher Lalu’s lesson and thank God for our second chance.”

She nodded and we headed back up to the cliffs, her ahead of me.

As we were walking, I saw a single peculiar Zaza flower. It was the first time I had seen Zaza since entering this new realm. My urge to test the reality of this world pulled me in. I approached the flower, picked it, and stared into its subtly glowing petals. If I consumed this, would I be hurled out of a dream? Was I hallucinating?

Breaking my trance, Evelyn yelled out, “Hey! Riyon! What are you doing? Come on!”

I dropped the flower and followed Evelyn.

Eventually, we got ourselves back to the village and into the community building. Everyone was here. Teacher Lalu was preparing himself to give his lecture on the goodness of our God. It seemed strange that Lalu was here, but everything was strange about this world, and it didn’t matter. This was the way of the new world. Life was simple. Peaceful. Finally, we were united under shared ambitions and a common dream for a life without pain.

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