DATE: 8/06/23, 9:55 AM [LOCAL TIME] LOCATION: CU-14-1003 ASSETS: Anima, “Ira” PURPOSE: Flight Test
It was a flawless plan.
Nimsy had the better part of the week thinking about it. Kanga’s designation was all she’d really needed to find out more – that, and a little sleight-of-hand with one of herselves. It only took one of her to rummage through the information available in Papa’s office when both were unattended; and of course, even without him here, she’d known where and how. Wasn’t she part of him? Hadn’t she always been? What was his was hers until he told her otherwise, and he wasn’t —
Well, he’d come back, and she’d be his concern then. Right now she was trying to avoid the worry of others, so of course she’d left a Self at L-9. She wouldn’t last for long without the true Nimsy there, but maybe long enough to distract Nic or Gail until she could get into step 2 of the plan.
Right now she was still stuck on step 1. It had, admittedly, taken a little courage to come this far. She’d figured out how to find the file on the thing in the Foundation called 1003, and had found out where it was and how it appeared and somewhat on how it-She behaved. It seemed to be a She, or at least a she, and while she had been here longer she was still younger than Nimsy. Eleven being less than thirteen.
Numbers were easy. Goddesses were harder, but not impossible. She had never met a Goddess, not while waking, but she had made it away the first time. And besides! This was not this one’s world. Anima had been born here; in a sense, this world was hers! Not Hers. Or at least she hoped that was how that worked.
Of course, as part of pre-step-1, she’d needed an excuse that would engage the “Ira” that lived here. Now Nimsy hadn’t been given her Name, but she hoped that she could be willing to part with it at least long enough to answer some lingering questions. She was, after all, the same Question she had always been, just with more answers.
She may have also wanted an excuse to make a stop herself, just to see what the world outside could give without overseeing eyes. Of course the remaining Nimsy would disappear soon – she’d scheduled herself for 10AM, local time here – but she’d hoped to have just enough time to find Ira and convince her to come for the day.
The ceiling opened, full of eyes, at 9:55 AM local time. That way, Ira would have time to wake up before Nimsy dropped in – admittedly in an inexperienced ungodlinglike heap – and they’d have five minutes to chat before L-9 knew anything was amiss, or at least before Nimsy would be missed. Then they’d have to head right to their destination, which she’d also chosen with care, and hope no-one noticed until she had her answers.
Where she’d fallen, Nimsy grinned. Foolproof.
Thankfully she’d worn something other than her usual feather dress. Black jeans, a white t-shirt with a mockingbird printed on the front, and a light gray jacket covered her form today; her hair was worn down, but tied back with a gray bandanna, complete with pattern, and her bare feet were covered by black sneakers. She sat up slowly and glanced around the little room. She wanted to stare at the artwork, of course, but now wasn’t the time. There wans’t a moment to lose! She’d let her eyes rest on Ira – mismatched eyes, not his eyes, but black and vibrant red.
“Hey! Sorry to drop by like this –” she snickered at her own joke “– but I find myself in need of a shopping buddy, and was wondering if you wanted to come with?”
Her tone was casual, as if she hadn’t just fallen out of the ceiling of a heavily secured facility and didn’t have hair that sometimes twitched at its black ends if you paid too much attention to it. She stole a glance at the bright red wall display, and then added, “You’ve got five minutes to decide, otherwise I’m going by myself.”
Ira was, to put it in her own words, in a mood of 'Do not [EXPLATIVE] with me.' The little girl had her fill of adults over the past few weeks. Between Cody, Pepper, random researchers, and now a planned visit from someone on the council, Ira had simply had enough of the big people coming in and trying to speak with her on her level. They were, definitively, not on her level. Neither in stature nor rank nor understand nor ANYTHING.
And most of all, Ira had enough of Her.
For the first time in at least two decades, Ira had completely cut off this section of her mind from her better half. It was not a surprise or offense to Her for Ira to cut away, it was an understood necessary time of peace and quiet. She was so rarely peaceful or quiet, especially so recently with the new pet project. So, laying on the floor of her bedroom and staring at the ceiling, Ira had been looking forward to this time when the only voice she'd hear was the one closest to her own age, Ira's own.
That is until the ceiling opened up in a frenzy of eyes and glomped something into her containment room. It was a little bigger than Ira, a little taller, a little older... But it was not an adult. All black hair, vibrant clothes, and mismatched eyes, it- no it was a she, Ira knew genders- she was a mess of things Ira was simply not used to. She wanted to know if Ira wanted to go shopping, and she gave Ira five minutes to decide.
Ira spoke with a complete lack of hesitation that could only be wrought of a simultaneous desperation to be away from here and utter incomprehension of whatever the hell 'shopping' was. All barefoot and wearing her white longsleeve shirt and white long foundation pants, Ira held out her hand to the newcomer. It was a gesture Ira was unfamiliar with, holding out a hand for someone else to take, so it looked as though Ira held out her hand in order to take this person somewhere else. However, without knowledge or voices whispering to her, Ira knew instantly that this girl could take her places.
And Ira wanted to go.
"Your name, give it to me. Mine is Ira. You may speak it."
Well. That was easier than she’d expected. The other girl confirmed her position as shopping buddy in two words. And then used a few more to both share her name, and ask for Anima’s. Maybe a small part of her was worried about that, but a bigger part of her was Curiosity, and she hadn’t exactly had experience biting her tongue.
“It’s a pleasure to meet ya, Ira. Your cadence is off.” She made that Note as she took Ira’s hand, not as an act of judgment, but a small correction, like telling someone they had something on their shirt. Notably, Ira didn’t have anything on her shirt, despite being on the floor only a few feet from her visitor.
Oh, right, names. Not Names. Even if Ira had planned to give her Name, Anima wouldn’t’ve known what to do with it. She was still trying to figure out what other things did with names, and until that problem was solved, she’d much rather keep hers.
“You can’t have my name, but you can use it.” She dusted herself off, still examining Ira with the black-and-red eyes before smiling his smile – and Gail’s; that wide and crooked wolf-grin – and proffering a hand. “Nim. Nimsy if you’re feelin’ whimsy.”
Another cackle-giggle as she finished her appraisal.
“Ok. If we’re doing this you’re going to need to get your shoes. I can change your clothes when we get there, but people stare if you don’t have anything on your feet and I can’t make matter out of nothing yet. I’ve tried. Last time I might’ve accidentally made mini black holes? But don’t worry, I filled them!” An awkward pause. “And then they imploded and took two labs wherever they didn’t go, but hey, it didn’t kill anybody. Anyway whatever shoes you have will work, I can fix you up once we’re outta here.”
She hoped Ira was listening to what she’d asked her to do and not her random rambling, because she didn’t want to have to explain oh yeah I accidentally made a black hole in any more detail than she had. If she’d done it on purpose it’d be cool, but come on, what kind of goddess makes antimatter by accident?
A lame one. And she really didn’t want Ira thinking she was lame or inexperienced. That would be a bad first impression. Wait. Second impression? Only if she was right. And right now that’s what she was trying to figure out, right away if she could manage it.
Many things were revealed about Ira visitor as she spoke and pulled the little Goddess up off the floor. Taking the offered hand as the name was presented, not a Name but a name, Ira shook it. Ira's own name was a name and not a Name, so she took no offense to being given something that was clearly to use and not to keep. Looking at the being before her, taking in her everything, Ira had no confusion or questions about what she was looking at or what she was dealing with.
One to another, they could always recognize one when one was the same.
In response to the statement about her cadence, Ira answered, "I know."Before turning away from Nim. Half listening to Nim, half drowning in her own mind, Ira moved over toward her dresser to begin her search. She didn't think Nim was bragging about what she could do, more stating the facts about actions and their reactions. A child gushing about something new they had tried and how much they liked it. Ira could appreciate that. Pulling out two pairs of socks, Ira put them on and stated matter-of-factly, "I do not own shoes. These will do. You will change them." Ira had no doubt that Nim could change her socks into shoes, though she already hated the feeling of something covering her feet.
"I will call you Nimh. Nimh sounds like Nim. Reminds me, of movies. A movie. I saw it a long time ago. Good movie. I liked the mice. You are well-constructed. Wait- no, wrong phrasing. 'Well put together.' That is the way it is said. A compliment. I think I like you. Let's go." Ira rambled a little bit as she turned to face Nimsy and gave an incredibly rare smile. Nimsy to Nim to Nimh reminded Ira of the very first movie she had ever seen in her time on Earth. It was a film about mice and rats and funny talking birds. Holtzheim had shown it to her in an effort to make her see the importance of family, and he thought the art style would be to Ira's liking. He had been right, of course.
And so, in Ira's mind, she linked the two things. Nim becoming Nimh became associated with a good memory, a good start. The girl's incessant giggling too was good. It was new, and as much as Ira tried to separate herself from Herself, she still found new experiences to be of the utmost value. At the end of the day, she was still the same person.
Ira knew her cadence was off, which would’ve been surprising if Anima hadn’t remembered that she’d gone a long time without talking at all, so of course she’d be out of tune. Nimsy couldn’t imagine being so silent for so long. She had trouble staying still when it was strictly necessary. She was a choose-your-own-adventure and she didn’t have much patience before the next page.
She hadn’t just read stories, though, and her face lit up both with Ira’s vote of confidence about the act of creation – it was always nice to have a little affirmation – and as she caught her reference.
“National Institute of Mental Health,” she chirped, knowing the reference well, and pleased with the irony of it. It had been Joshua’s pick. A lot of movies had been crammed into her short existence. That one stood out, though. She’d liked the owl, and the silly crow. An adventure chosen, and an act of supreme courage.
The memory refreshed Nim’s own courage, even as under the surface of a relatively normal child there roiled something that would send most normal people to the Institute. She wondered if they’d studied the results of seeing the impossible. Probably not. The Foundation usually got to those types first.
But she wasn’t that creature, she was ‘well put together’. Although she would’ve been pleased with ‘well-constructed’ as well– she was somewhere paper, why not construction paper? Or contraction paper, she was well-contracted, but she couldn’t take credit for that. She then realized she’d started to let her mind wander and wonder and she wondered if Ira had noticed the moment of distraction. Surely there’d been no shift besides the wave of her hair as though in a wind in the windowless room, the ends not quite split but rather evidence of one fluid body.
She turned herself from her Curiosity and instead turned the smirk back to a real grin, and the hair was just hair again. She seized Ira’s hand, forcefully fearless, and sang without song, “Escape route in three, two, one…”
And on one, the ground opened, and the girls were gone, falling through a hole full of eyes that saw not and teeth that sawed not and goop that was as solid as shadows as the pair spiraled through. The floor closed behind them, as though they’d never been there at all, and only then did James’s badge begin to work again and the door beeped open.
Anima had planned this out, after all. It’d take him a few minutes to contact anyone, and they still had four others before anyone at Nine noticed the non-Nim.
But here and now, Nimsy always relished the feeling of falling. It was almost like the feeling of flying, except far more free. There was no control in this moment, only empty air and the dark lit only by eyes – not violet or violent, but Curious in their trinities. Her own eyes only opened to steal a glance at Ira in such dark suspension, the glee never leaving her face.
Ira had a harsh face. It was not that she was intentionally a harsh person, but she certainly had a harsh-looking face. There was a scowl that always seemed disappointed in what she was looking at adorned her otherwise relatively neutral features. She had eyes that looked down on things, even if she had to look up. And, topping it all off, a general air of disinterest seemed to carry itself about her like a neverending dark cloud. Very few people could break through this harsh veneer to see the truer emotions beneath.
But, with Nimh, all these things melted away. Like the first real day of spring melting the accumulated snow in a forest. Like a hot shower after a long, cold, hard day of work. Like a resurrection from death, just a little resurrection.
Like falling down a hole with no bottom.
So Ira, all harshness and silence as she watched Nimh's hair take on many shapes, took the other's hand and held it tight. So Ira, all pain and anger at the world, finally relaxed her body as she fell through a hole of eyes and teeth. So Ira, all rebellion and angst, looked at the grinning Nimh and did something she had not done in decades on this world. Ira let her face smile. Ira let her voice and body laugh. Ira let herself enjoy-
When they came upon their destination, Ira could barely hear anything else over the raucous laughter that ripped itself free from her body. It had finally found its outlet and it would not be withheld any longer. So the Goddess, behaving exceptionally UnGoddessLike, grasped Nimh's hand with both of her hands and shouted. "Oh! That- so much fun! Let us do more! Where else we go? We must go! Now! No hesitations! I require it!"
Anima had always laughed easily, and Ira’s laughter was infectious, like a wave of joy that echoed in the emptiness as they fell. And so Nimsy too was giggling as they were deposited on white tile in another closed, cool room. Their laughter echoed out of the women’s bathroom and beyond, as Nim looked around while Ira squealed in a way that was hardly expected of Goddess and very normal for Girl.
Predictably, the bathroom was empty. The mall had opened hours ago, but the stores were only now opening. That meant they’d have time, as long as the schedule held up. There was a very good chance Nine had already noticed the Nonsey and was looking for her, or that James had gotten through to the right people by accident. Didn’t really matter, honestly, because now that they were here, Anima felt unstoppable.
“Think of all the horrors that I promised you I’d bring~” She left the chorus unfinished as it echoed about and she settled into focus on Ira. Notably, on Ira’s clothes, the white Foundation apparel. She didn’t want any harm coming to the Foundation from this. So, as promised, a change was in order.
“First things first: disguises. I’ve already got mine except the Eyes –” Right as she thought of it, she glanced at Ira’s own pair, and determined the near-black was close enough to mimic without much worry, and in a blink it was made so. She grinned as she released one of Ira’s hands to start fiddling with the existence of her clothes. “Alright, let’s see… We could do jeans and a t-shirt, dress and sandals… Do you have strong opinions about skirts? I mean I’m sure we’ll be able to find a suitable change once we’re actually in the mall but I figured we’d want some privacy to get started…”
Ira couldn't help but continue to grin as she watched Nimh's eyes flick from Red and Black to just Black, just like Ira's own. Ira was still incredibly vain, so seeing someone mimic her own eye color gave her a little surge of pride and self-assurance in her appearance. As the other girl released her hand and began fiddling with her clothes, Ira responded as if everything they were doing was completely natural and normal.
"Skirt, ankle length, black. Shirt, black, design of bones. Like skeleton. Oh-! Make design spread, from shirt to skirt. But- ahm, not My skeleton but human. Make sense? Shoes, sandals fine." Even as Ira said the words, it happened. Reality took a swift kick to the nuts and changed Ira's plain white clothes into exactly what she described to Nimh. Perhaps Nimh did make mistakes when attempting to create something from nothing, but she was an expert in Ira's eyes of taking little somethings and making them into the else.
Examining herself with a grin, she nodded in approval. Ira knew She would hate this, black was Her color. Just another thing Ira was taking from Herself and making it her own. It wasn't stealing, necessarily, but it was certainly like the action of going into your own friend and taking out a drink you were saving for later, then guzzling it down for the serotonin. Looking all about, Ira attempted to recognize exactly where she was.
White tiles, open little rooms with toilets in them, and a row of sinks all connected with nasty-smelling soaps attached. They were in a bathroom, that was for sure, but Ira had never seen one so big. Did the humans really poop in groups like this? Did that make her weird for only pooping in privacy? Ira was content with being weird, she would not poop around other people. That was absolutely menacing.
Looking back to Nimh, Ira smiled again. Her mouth hurt from the motion already, but she would be damned if she stopped. Then, as if asking a completely normal question, Ira spoke, "What is a mall?
"So, what is she up to?" Nic wasn't the first one to wonder, just the first one to voice it aloud. They had been left with something that was merely Nimsical, rather than Nimsy Herself. It wasn't as if they weren't going to notice - they were rather used to this sort of thing, after all.
This wasn't L-6, though - this was L-9, and that was where the fun stuff happened. So, it wasn't about recontaining the little blooper, it was about finding out why she'd gone and what she was doing while she was there.
"I'm on it, I'm on it." Brian was already scanning the computer systems, and while he certainly couldn't manage the everything everywhere all at once method that SV-4 employed, he could still do pretty good with a little direction.
"Try 14. Kanga's linked to 1003, there's a path for her to follow." All paths diverged eventually, except the ones that didn't, but Nimsy was still young enough to be interested in going Somewhere, which implied a path. Eventually she would grow into going Nowhere, and then they would have a more difficult time. And some day she would probably learn to sit back and let Somewhere come to her, and then they'd just be back here at L-9, because Where else would they?
"Yeah, 14's good. I can pull audiovis. Do you want me to alert - who's in charge there?"
"Redd and Cotta. Joint managers." Cait had been there recently, and was currently flitting back and forth between the two on some project that was almost keeping her out of trouble. Not entirely, of course, but if it were entirely they would have worried.
"Not yet, they can patch their own holes. I want to see what she does before someone sensible takes over." So, instead, they just watched and listened and apparently the gods were going shopping.
There was another moment of escapism, unsurprising, and Brian was already tapping feeds from various malls. He'd have to clean up behind them a little bit, unless Nimsy already knew how to do it herself, but he'd want to check her work and make sure. He'd started opening a few more tabs, but this bout of professionalism was greeted by a poke in the ribs from Cait.
"You're sixing again."
"I'm just making sure-"
"...Shut up." There was more fondness there than annoyance, and if there was annoyance it was mostly at having gotten caught. "Anyway. Looks like Mall of America." It was the obvious choice, wasn't it? They'd have to teach Nimsy a little something about subtlety; she'd been hanging out with Nic too much. "Recontain them?"
"No, not yet. They're pretty incognito, let's just see what happens. If we pull her now she'll just be curious. I want someone there with her though."
"I can go?"
"Absolutely not." Nic might have been good with kids, but he was also an excessively large man, and people got weird about a big guy walking around after a couple little girls. And maybe that would be fine, but also: "You'd blow up the mall to make them easier to spot."
"Hey, they're both little bitty gods, they'd survive!" The fact that he didn't deny having thought of that already surprised - and concerned - exactly none of them.
"Also, Cait's going, and I can't send you two together anywhere without a babysitter or an apocalypse."
"We do like a good apocalypse!"
But there were to be no apocalypses today, it seemed. Maybe tomorrow. "Brian, go with her. You can keep her out of trouble-"
A pause. It was very silent for a moment, as everyone considered that statement.
"...You can get her out of trouble."
"I can keep an eye on things from here and probably-"
"I know. You're turning into SV-4.2. Go with Cait. It'll be terrible for you."
"You're supposed to say it will be good for you," he complained, in an obligatory sort of way.
And that had been how Brian had ended up sitting on a bench in the Mall of America, carrying a Hot Topic bag and a neon pink purse and attempting to recalibrate his sanity with a paper cup of peppermint mocha while Cait sat sideways next to him idly painting little glow-in-the-dark eyes over the black nail polish she'd already been wearing.
Being intimately (or just innately) familiar with human anatomy from Her time as part of him, Anima’s first instinct was already human before Ira even clarified. Of course, that then raised Questions of the difference between her Bones and those tied up in Strings, but there was still a degree of intimidation.
Then Ira asked a question, and Nimsy felt a thread pull, and all the worries unraveled. “It’ll be easier to show you. Trust me.” And she said that last part with the sort of smile that said she should certainly not be trusted with such, but she had once more seized Ira’s and and was bringing her out of the bathroom, chatting all the while.
“Now originally the cover story was supposed to be we’re sisters, but with your accent I don’t think we can pull that off. So cousins is a good backup. If anybody asks you’re my cousin from Poland and our parents know we’re here. Grown-ups tend to worry when they see kids alone in a big space like this.”
And they exited the bathroom, into one of the first halls of the Mall. Already there was the soft hum of life all around, and a line had already formed outside the door of the aquarium across from them. Behind that was a bookstore, and beyond was every row of shops the mall had to offer. Nimsy glanced at the passers-by as she gave Ira a moment to take it all in.
When she confirmed nobody she knew was immediately around them, Nimsy hadn’t gotten past Step 2, mostly because the mall was just an excuse. Of course she was genuinely excited to be here! It wasn’t entirely a ruse. But she hoped that Ira would be more willing to talk away from Foundational ears, and maybe Nim could confirm some things about the part of her self left behind elsewhere.
Not yet. Not now. Now was the moment and Nimsy remained in it with a sweep of her arms.
“Welcome to the Mall of America. There’s shops of all kinds, food, rides, an aquarium. Anything we want we can get it here.”
The world was their oyster. They just needed to decide what to do first.
Ira nodded as Nimh spoke, repeating key words back to her in order to commit them to her own memory, "Cousins, Poland, parents know we here. Ok, I understa-" Then, as the pair exited the bathroom to the greater mall interior, Ira's words caught in her throat. The swarming colors, lights, and throngs of people all around made her head swim instantly in confusion.
Ira had never been around so many humans before. There were places like this in her own home, where so many sentient beings amassed that they seemed an unstoppable force of flesh and sound. But back home, all were connected, even among each other. Here, Ira was faced with an innumerable moving horde of sentients who were entirely separated from not just herself, but from each other as well. It was maddening, and exciting! Squeezing tightly onto Nimh, Ira held one hand in Nimh's and the other grasped the girl's shirt, Ira spoke, "I, uh, erhm. Yes. You speak of anything? Anything desired? I know a desire."
Ira dragged the pair of them around the mall for a few minutes, knowing what she was looking for but not how to find it, until Nimh pointed out something she called a 'directory.' After that, their destination was only a few minutes' walking distance. A music shop, filled with CDs, Vynyls, Radios, Guitars, and all manner of other instruments and accessories. For a music fan, this was the greatest place in the entire Mall of America.
And their in-store radio was playing Nirvana.
Squealing with joy, Ira dashed about the store with renewed power and vigor. Despite her frantic movements Ira did not let go of Nimh. She did, however, pull Nimh around to every CD and record she recognized and spouted off about it, "Look! Look! This is Hybrid Theory! I love this! Oh!~ This is Cage The Elephant! No resting the wicked! AaaaH! Muse! Uprising! Look Nimh! Look!" There were certainly looks and glances made her way by other patrons, but no one had come up to them quite yet. In Ira's case, she didn't care about the thoughts of lesser beings.
In Ira's mind, the only two people who existed in this moment were herself and Nimh.
[div style="background-color:ghostwhite;border-top:#be2868 2px outset;border-left:#77777a 2px inset;border-right:#be2868 2px outset;border-bottom:#77777a 2px inset;"][div style="border-top:#77777a 2px inset;border-left:#be2868 2px outset;border-right:#77777a 2px inset;border-bottom:#be2868 2px outset;"][div style="background:ghostwhite;padding:15px;color:#77777a;font-family:courier new;"][div align="center"][font color="8682eb"]Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello…[/font][/div]
If Ira hadn’t been pulling her, Anima would have frozen.
A music store seemed like a good idea. It was a good idea! Anima had a love of music that was born both of ancient chants of long-dead languages – and of Papa’s voice, popularly stated to be his sole redeeming quality. Each of the Locusts had helped expand her inner musical library, some more than others, but it was important that music was built into Nim’s very bones. Come out, come out, wherever you are~
And Papa had played Nirvana for her. So often. It was only right for a godling! She’d heard it far more often since that terrible Dream that was not, the moment of rending split. One half back to [font size="1"]IT SELF[/font], the rest gone, lost, left. Left with [font size="1"]HER[/font], with–
The reports pointed that way. Kanga’s existence pointed there. Pointed here, to the girl with black hair and bones made wrong, who was ranting about grunge rock. Who was trying to get her attention. Nim blinked, and the worry and fear dissipated from her face, at least, as she looked at the album cover she was pointing at. Maybe her smile was a little weaker than it had been, but the force behind it gave it a similar strength.
[font color="be2868"]“Oh yeah, I see. Nevermind, huh? That’s cool.”[/font] She looked to the side, and still holding Ira’s hand, stepped as far as their joint arms let her. [font color="be2868"]“Oh! Here’s some more modern stuff. Fall Out Boy, Panic!... it’s not exactly grunge, but it’s still rock. Ooh, Green Day… I wonder if they have Voltaire? Probably not, he’s kinda obscure… Oh, cool, Mumford & Sons!”[/font]
She wasn’t trying to distract Ira from her treasure trove so much as herself from the incessant hum of the radio. She didn’t notice, in her focus on not-hearing, but the song began to shift softly through static:
[a href="[MEDIA=youtube]KUCXn0rk4II[/MEDIA]"][font color="black"][font face="courier new"]“Touch my mouth, and hold my tongue, I’ll never be your chosen one...”[/font][/font][/a]
Her mouth moved with the music as she checked the back of So Much (for) Stardust to glance over the listed songs. She knew the band name, but hadn’t really had a chance to listen beyond what she could pry out of interns who didn’t think giving her music would hold them accountable for an exchange. It was 9, after all. They’d all been trained.
She did glance over her shoulder, toward the passers-by, just to be sure they weren’t being followed, before she turned to pass the Fall Out Boy album to Ira to look at, apparently still unaware of the shift of tone the radio had taken, or been given.
Ira took the record from Nimh's hands, her eyes moist with joy. For the next few minutes, she became completely engrossed in the world of music and disks around her. She noticed no changes in the music as she placed test headphones on her head to listen to Fall Out Boy- what a funny name!- Nor did she take notice of Nimh looking to see if they had been followed, the thought hadn't even occurred to the little Goddess. She was in her happy place, she would not be disturbed.
As she flowed from music disks to musical instruments, her body gently swayed with the climax of the music shop's in-store audio. Reaching out and strumming a guitar, Ira sang the lyrics of the store's music without really paying attention.
"Crawl on my belly til the sun goes down..."
Her cadence was that of Her, but Ira's voice was entirely her own. There was no echo of anything more contained therein the child, nor of any other being speaking through little Ira.
"I'll never wear your broken crown,
I took the road and I [REDACTED] it all away,"
A few heads turned at the little kid cursing, but no one spoke up yet. Her voice was her own, the lyrics echoed out of habits decades in formation. Not habits nor memories little Ira personally experienced, but memories that were her own nonetheless. Because She and she were not different, even separated as they were in this moment. Ira was Her, and She was Ira.
"In this twilight, how dare you speak of grace~"
Turning to Nimh, Ira grinned, seemingly unaware that she had been singing aloud instead of inside her own head, "I desire food! We take this-" She held up the album Babel by Mumford and Sons and Cage The Elephant by Cage The Elephant, "Oh! May we acquire sustenance! Where is it? Can you take me? Can we go now?"
[div style="background-color:ghostwhite;border-top:#be2868 2px outset;border-left:#77777a 2px inset;border-right:#be2868 2px outset;border-bottom:#77777a 2px inset;"][div style="border-top:#77777a 2px inset;border-left:#be2868 2px outset;border-right:#77777a 2px inset;border-bottom:#be2868 2px outset;"][div style="background:ghostwhite;padding:15px;color:#77777a;font-family:courier new;"]Ira’s infatuation with the modern music scene gave Nim time to cool down. Even with the unsettling music – a Voice that she would sooner forget – the childish excitement was especially contagious to her.
By the time they were done, she had So Much (for) Stardust, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters And Men, the last one just out of curiosity about the band name. She then glanced into the bargain bin, and pulled out a $5 cracked-case copy of American Idiot. As she touched the plastic, four things happened at once.
First, the cameras changed. She focused one part of herself that was Her on the watching eye, and it would see Her look at it and set it back into the bin, then check her pocket for something.
Second, the people around them [font color="be2868"]would not notice them[/font]. She decreed it, a subtle influence of will she had been practicing after watching one of Cait’s more subtle antics.
Third, the plastic folded in on itself until it was a small, blue rectangle no more than a few inches on any side. In bold letters, under the number that did not stay focused until a machine touched it, there was a small name: [font size="1"]HAL F. NOTE[/font]. It was an equally bold choice, one that might be noticed, but then again it might not be if she could influence the machines properly. For that ability, She would thank Brian, if she thought he’d appreciate it, which She didn’t. As for why She chose it, first, it was a name that no longer had value. Second – and she wasn’t even sure Gail knew this – it was a name that Belonged to Her. Third, she had a hunch someone would be looking for one of the Locusts’ names. She could have made up a name, or used Her own, but what was life without a little risk?
Finally, She turned to Ira, and for just a moment over the wolfish smile, both eyes were deep red, before fading back to black as She reached for a pocket as though she was pulling the card from there, instead of recycling a damaged album, the movement matching her first subtle influence on reality as She retreated back into herself. She felt a little drained, but food should help with that. It was odd, having to fight the flow of existence rather than follow it. Nine had been an ideal place for practice; it was just harder, out in the real world.
[font color="be2868"]“Let’s figure out what we want to eat once we’ve paid.”[/font] She flashed the card, without giving the girl a good view of the name on it, then started to lead the way to the counter, explaining as she went, [font color="be2868"]“Currency can be used in exchange for goods or services. The card represents currency that I have, and the machine will know whether I actually have it. We’ll have enough for whatever you want. Papa will be able to sort out the rest after this is all over, I think.”[/font]
She spoke as someone without any doubt he would. Why would she doubt him? He’d be coming back soon, and then everything would be alright then. For now, she had to focus on Ira, and if food was the extent of that focus, then she was relieved to have little to do in that regard.
As the pair approached the counter, Ira watched closely as Nimh pulled out the cracked CD case and changed it. But that wasn't all she changed. Ira could feel the rotation and alteration of reality in the ebbing tide that constantly grated against her bones. Nimh was making good changes and they were sticking.
As the wolfish grin turned on Ira, the little Goddess gave one right back. Nimh explained the concept of 'money' to Ira and, while Ira wasn't entirely unfamiliar, it was something she had never really engaged in. A thing for a thing was a timeless exchange. Sometimes that thing was a physical item, sometimes it was an emotional connection, sometimes it was just the general idea of a debt. The idea of exchanging goods and services for a thing that could be traded for more goods and services elsewhere was even something her own children did.
Ira herself, however, simply took what she wanted. It was her way.
But, appreciating the work Nimh put into the exchange and the item containing the invisible currency, Ira decided to allow Nimh to 'pay' for their items. The first time the card was inserted into the chip slot of the card reader, it beeped. It was not a good beep.
"Gosh, says it's declined lil miss, sometimes the reader doesn't get it on the first try. Push it in there again."
The nice lady behind the counter motioned for Nimh to put the card in once more, and Ira gently reached out to touch the machine. She could not make it so she would simply not be seen, but she had an advantage others did not. She was small. Her head barely popped up from the other side of the counter. Her little fingers were hidden by the position of the two girl's bodies as she placed two digits on the card reader.
Machines were easy for Ira, they spoke a language she understood innately. It was a language of sigils and signs and hidden meanings laid bare in the form of a million trillion digits aligned in a hash for which perhaps no man on earth held the key. Yet, it made sense to the computers, and it made sense to Ira. So when the card went in again, and the machine connected to its number, Ira gave the machine a simple command.
The card reader beeped again, it was a good beep.
"You two are all set! Thank you for coming in!"
Ira grinned and carried her musical disks out in the little baggie the nice woman handed back to her. Practically dancing out of the store, Ira remarked, "The ebbing, easy to motion with. Hard to push against. Well, hard for others. Easy for me, back home. But, impossible for me, here. So, guess I say, uh, good job! Haha!" Face hurting, heart filled to bursting, and stomach empty, Ira started off toward where she smelled food. She wanted something new, something the internally infuriating Foundation didn't make.
[div style="background-color:ghostwhite;border-top:#be2868 2px outset;border-left:#77777a 2px inset;border-right:#be2868 2px outset;border-bottom:#77777a 2px inset;"][div style="border-top:#77777a 2px inset;border-left:#be2868 2px outset;border-right:#77777a 2px inset;border-bottom:#be2868 2px outset;"][div style="background:ghostwhite;padding:15px;color:#77777a;font-family:courier new;"]Machines were harder than she had given them credit for. Cameras were one thing – they were perception, eyes, and Eyes and Perception were Eldritch affairs, to be warped on a whim. Numbers were order, and order was different. Eldritch things did not abide by an Order, did not follow orders save their own.
Or, well, she’d thought so. Her heart had skipped a beat when the machine declined the card, when the numbers would not retain pattern or shape but flickered about in infinity. But then Ira touched two fingers to the surface and, lo and behold, it listened to her, the same way Nim listened to the round accent of the woman behind the counter and incorporated it into her warm, [font color="be2868"]“Oh, thank you!”[/font]
Nim’s mind was very full as she followed Ira out of the store. She still returned Ira’s smile, but there was something different in hers. Not wary, anymore, but polite. Curious. Maybe, she thought, Ira might recognize something in it, and immediately she made the smile change to a distracting grin, as she momentarily changed the subject.
[font color="be2868"]“You want something sweet, or something salty… Actually, never mind, think about it on the way. Let’s get pretzels!”[/font]
She led the way to the directory with a determined stride. There was a shop on the second floor… and a third one just around the corner on the floor they were on. Once they were walking, she’d be more comfortable speaking in a low voice, hidden under the noise around them, although she still maintained that round local accent.
[font color="be2868"]“And uh… thank you. Back home I don’t have to pull it back in. I just get to let it happen and then let it flow the rest of the way, you know? But this place is more… organized, yeah. You hafta make sure it’s done right, or someone’s gonna notice. And usually bad things happen to people’s brains when that happens.”[/font]
Ira's smile faded as the pair started walking with the little Goddess's mind began to focus on food. Particularly, she wanted whatever it was that Nimh had just mentioned. A 'pretzel.' That was a funny-sounding word. Ira had never eaten a 'pretzel' before. She began conjuring images in her head of what it would look like. There was a 'z' in the name, so maybe it was like pizza? A flatbread of some kind... It started with 'pre' too, so, maybe there was something that had to be done to it before it could be cooked? Whatever it was, Ira wanted it.
Then, Nimh thanked Ira. That gave her a mental pause, though her body kept moving. Being thanked for a compliment... That was- certainly newer for her. No- had that happened before? Surely it had... Why did it matter now? Was it because she looked at Nimh differently? How did Ira see Nimh? Nimh was talking and it was all Ira could do to just and just listen to the 'older' girl while Ira stared at her face. Ira studied everything about the other girl, looking as deep as her eyes would carry her and questioning Ira's own deeper feelings. Shaking her head, Ira tucked those thoughts away for later analysis. It was difficult to think and listen and walk all at the same time when Ira was so singular as she was now.
Though, singular she may be, Ira noticed that she didn't feel alone...
"Yes, other's minds, not good to damage. Little things are fragile. Care must be given. You Flow-and-Learn-and-Youthfully FLY! Oop-" Ira calmed herself, quieting down a bit after her outburst, "Become aaaall that you are. Infinity is forever, enjoy the moment. I intake everything, memorize everything. Someday, everything and everyone will be gone. I won't be. So I must remember. Because they will live forever, with me..."
Ira let her voice trail off, and then, looking up, she spied something. 'Pretzels,' from a shop called 'Auntie Annie's.' They were, bread twists? Bread twisted into little shapes and covered in cinnamon and butter and sugar and holy [EXPLATIVE] she had to have them now. Ira practically dashed away from Nimh toward the little stand, shoving her way straight to the glass case at the front and furiously tapping upon it. "Nimh! Nimh nimh NHIMHH! LOOK! It has BUTTER! and CINNAMON! AND SUGAR! I NEED IT!"
[div style="background-color:ghostwhite;border-top:#be2868 2px outset;border-left:#77777a 2px inset;border-right:#be2868 2px outset;border-bottom:#77777a 2px inset;"][div style="border-top:#77777a 2px inset;border-left:#be2868 2px outset;border-right:#77777a 2px inset;border-bottom:#be2868 2px outset;"][div style="background:ghostwhite;padding:15px;color:#77777a;font-family:courier new;"]Ira had questions she didn’t ask, which was a good thing, because Anima then didn’t have to answer them. She wanted to take this as slowly as the Foundation would let them, without interference. Ease into the situation. But if Ira kept looking at her like that… and saying things like that, although Nim found herself smiling in reply, because obviously Ira didn’t know Nimsy had figured that part out yet. The flying part, at least. The dying part was something she had already had to face, even if Papa was fine and technically she was, too. She just let her go, and then to her surprise had to let her go as Ira slipped free from her hand to stare into the pretzel stand.
She hoped she looked appropriately mollified as she stepped through the crowd and murmured apologies. Most adults just smiled and shook their heads, which was a blessing Nim didn’t take for granted. She stepped up to the stand and gently took Ira’s hand and said, with a little pressure, [font color="be2868"]“We hafta wait in line. It’s parta the shopping experience.”[/font]
She hoped that would be enough to give the littler goddess patience with the three people ahead of them. Nimsy quietly memorized what she was going to order – probably two of the cinnamon sugar pretzels and one of the others – before trying to bring Ira back to the subject, if only to distract her from the time passing around them.
[font color="be2868"]“Whaddya mean, it’ll be just you? There’s others like us. Maybe not everyone will make it to then, but definitely more than one. Right? One person alone in the forever is...sad, to me. Not even we are made to be alone.”[/font]
Something shifted in Nimsy’s voice, without her realizing it. There was something about the idea of aloneness, a memory of a part of her that would have still been a whole and she was still a whole now! and yet she did not feel whole, sometimes, times like now, times when she remembered the split and the break and the running back to [font color="firebrick]him[/font] and...
Present. Grounded in the present. If Ira had let her take her hand back, she would squeeze it just a little, a thread to the present. Experience the now. Now they were shopping, waiting for pretzels, and Ira was a child, like Herself. Infinite finity. Such was their lot, even if it wasn’t a lot. At least right now they had each other.
Ira allowed herself to be gently pulled to the back of the line. Waiting was one of Ira's strong suits, she could do so very easily if she desired. However, waiting as 'an experience' wasn't exactly a thrilling concept. It was something you did because you had to do it -because there was nothing else to do.- Or, because you were pissed off and it was just so much more gratifying to deny your enemies what they desire as you outlived them. But Nimh wanted to wait, and for Nimh's sake Ira would wait.
Then, Nimh said something interesting. It was interesting because of what she said- it was interesting because of how she said it. It gave Ira strange feelings and she didn't like them. Particularly, Ira knew that she was right and Nimh was wrong. Ira would outlive everyone, just as she always had, just as she always would, and she would be alone again. It was just the way of things. Ira KNEW that! SHE KNEW IT! So- why didn't-? Why didn't she remember why? Why couldn't she open her mouth and defend what she KNEW to be the truth? Why did her throat close up? Why did she want to cry?!
And, separated from her better half, why didn't Ira remember anything before that time-? Her memories were being suppressed, they had to be. She had something She didn't want her to know, didn't want her to remember... Why? They had never denied each other anything, even in this time of separation she would still go home at the end of the day and tell Her all that happened today. Surely She had a good reason though, surely... Ira was no lesser than Her, and She no lesser than Ira, equals, two better halves of a greater whole. Of course. But, yet, why-? Then, in a sudden realization, Ira knew.
When Ira next looked up at Nimh, they had moved forward two spaces in line. She was vaguely aware that Nimh had squeezed her hand, and Ira had squeezed it back. Now, gently, she twisted her palm on Nimh's and placed two fingers on Nimh's inner wrist. It was a motion she and She did so often when together, it was comforting, so Ira attempted to teach it to Nimh as they stood together. Smiling, she finally swallowed the lump in her throat in order to respond, "Maybe, you are correct. Maybe. But, at least right now... -We- are not alone."
Looking forward as the last person moved out of the way, Ira relayed her demands quietly to Nimh, "I want three. Big ones. Extra sugar."
[div style="background-color:ghostwhite;border-top:#be2868 2px outset;border-left:#77777a 2px inset;border-right:#be2868 2px outset;border-bottom:#77777a 2px inset;"][div style="border-top:#77777a 2px inset;border-left:#be2868 2px outset;border-right:#77777a 2px inset;border-bottom:#be2868 2px outset;"][div style="background:ghostwhite;padding:15px;color:#77777a;font-family:courier new;"]Ira seemed to have gotten as lost as Nim did, in thought. And for a moment Nim was afraid of what those thoughts were. Did Ira know? Had she realized–had she recognized? No...no. The pause was wrong. If anything, the quiet had left Ira not with rage or recognition, but with a quiet sort of aloneness that Nimsy knew too well to ignore.
Had being this far from her home really affected her all that much? It was a good question, and it was not a question she would broach with Ira. Not today, and maybe not any day, ever.
Ira’s fingers found Nim’s pulse, her arm twisting instinctively to allow it. It seemed almost counterintuitive, such an instinct, but she had spend so much of her life as that pulse alone, unable to hide it any more than she had already been hidden, that she did not resist. And she was as much blood as she was anything else, and Ira would find the beat in there, faster maybe than it should have been, indicative of a fear that did not spread to her face or voice. Her own fingers, slender and gentle, sought out the same beat in the other girl’s wrist. She was Curious as to whether she’d find it there, although there shouldn’t be any reason to question it. Her body should be mostly human, at least as much as Nimsy’s was.
What did matter, though, was that Ira was right about the last part. They weren’t alone, either of them. She might not be Whole, and it might be Ira to blame, but now… now they were children. She could be a child, right now. They both could be, because that was what they’d be perceived as, and that was for the best.
The distraction faded away as the person in front of them finished their order, and Ira told her what she wanted. A young man with piercings in his bottom lip and hair dyed a bright green smiled and greeted them from behind the register as they stepped forward. Nimsy smiled back, and gave the order with an exhale.
[font color="be2868"]“Four cinnamon sugar pretzels and one regular cup of pretzel nuggets, please. Extra salt and sugar.”[/font]
The man raised an eyebrow, also pierced, but never lost his smile as he rang it up. [font color="black"]“Sounds like a lot for the two of you.”[/font]
[font color="be2868"]“Our folks are finding us a seat someplace,”[/font] Nim lied, easily, rather than defend Ira’s appetite. Sometimes little lies made things easier. As intended, the man nodded like it made perfect sense, and gave her the total.
This time, thank her Mother, the card went through without objecting. It seemed to have settled in reality once Ira had touched it last time, the number set in stone. Or, well, plastic, which might even be more permanent in the long term. They stepped away, and the green-haired man greeted the next customer in line as Nim led Ira to the “wait here for your order” end of the counter, to do exactly that.