Journey to the End of Nothing

By Tycalibur

Rated PG-13 for mild language

Summary: Haruko has at last found what she seeks. Or has she?

Although she didn't look a day over the age she had been when her journey began, she felt old. Wrung out. And now it had come to this.

The dusty rock in space was unforgiving, and most lesser species would not have been able to withstand its cold temperatures, erupting geysers and almost non-existent gravity. The two beings standing on it could. They had been in a verbal standoff for hours, it seemed, and one of the two of them was begging for an answer. It showed with the incredible pain on her face. At last, the being she was waiting for an answer from spoke.

"I can't help you. Not in the way you want. I'm sorry."

Those were his words… final, firm and stinging. And angering.

The burning tears filled her eyes, as the closure in her tortured mind began. Never in her life, in any dimension, had she cried. It was a new pain far more cutting than any physical pain she had endured in her life (and she had endured plenty of in her struggle to find this being). The tears rolled down her face, and she was helpless to stop them.

And quite frankly, it sucked.

She supposed that, for what it was worth, it had at least gotten to this point. She had traveled so far, for so long. Billions of parsecs and hundreds of thousands of galactic light-years of endless searching, seeking, only to find he was exactly what her peers told her he would be, and what she now decided in her rage, betrayal, hurt, grief and frustration that he would be to her, forevermore:

Her mortal enemy.

She didn't know it at the time, but her search had finally begun to come to an end when she had met the human from Earth. A 'primitive' human.

As evolved as this being now standing before her was, she was the one that now felt primitive. And shamed. She would now be even more humiliated in the eyes of her Fraternity, her home world, her friends in this and other dimensions. They had all proved her right.

Her entire life spent in pursuit of someone who had broken her heart as thoroughly as she had broken…no, she wouldn't think about that other person.

Haruko Haruhara stood before the spectral image, in both mixed disbelief and awe. She gritted her teeth and hung her head, trying to contort her face in an effort to appear 'strong'.

His form burned the color of a hundred-billion red quasars imploding unto themselves. There was no corporeal form that defined him, though he did prefer the shape of avian creatures when others in the galaxy saw him. He could take on any form he wanted, but she supposed that for her sake, he was in humanoid form for now. He was, for what it was worth, a hundred-billion times more beautiful than she had ever imagined he would be.

He began to kneel down toward her. Whenever he spoke, his words came into her mind rather than through her ears, along the cosmic wind. His words rang out with unseen power in her thoughts, but with a restrained gentleness. "Clever child, you are strong. I would offer you my hand in friendship, but my N.O. would hurt you."

Haruko, the tears falling freely as the sparking blue rain from her home planet, said, "I don't……I can't…..I wouldn't touch you now if my life depended on it."

What had it all been for? This wild goose chase? For power and glory? To be the one who 'won' Atomsk's heart? For being different?

"I can, at least, offer you some peace, and comfort by answering your questions, young one," he said.

Haruko felt her eyes go wide. She stared up at him with great intuitiveness. It was obvious to her…he had been reading her thoughts.

"What do you want from me? You led me this far and made me chase you for NOTHING!!" She continued through her sobs. Surely, everything, even seeing Atomsk for this length of time and conversing with him had to have a price. And surely the Pirate King was about to name his. If only her friends could see her now. Shaken. Sorrowful. A pathetic emotional wreck. Completely out of character.

He went from kneeling to sitting down casually in front of her. His face was simply a bright, dazzling, hypnotic light.

"Your people are the most advanced corporeal race in the Galaxy," he said, simply. "You evolved quickly, and your race discovered me first."

She nodded, but only in a half-hearted gratitude. She was having trouble containing her anger. If she blew her stack now, he might simply suck her in and transport her to heavens-knew-where, just to get her out of his sight. So, she listened.

His voice was not emotional. It remained soft, and soothing. "This is simpler than you make it, Haruko. I am a free spirit. You may think of me as nothing more than a portal, a channel, an energy form from which you can harness tremendous amounts of power. But the truth is I have been here since close to the beginning of this universe. I became self aware billions of millennia before your home planet even formed. While many underdeveloped species might mistake me for a god, I am simply a sentient being who transcended into a higher level of consciousness long before any other in the universe could, or did."

Exhausted, Haruko actually began thinking her questions to Atomsk, rather than speaking.

Then why not teach me about you?

"I cannot. You would have to transcend to my level of being to understand that."

Then tell me how to do that, please! I love you! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT! She could contain her feelings no longer.

"You cannot do it, Haruko. It is not simply a matter of mind over matter. Your very sentience is not yet fully developed to understand who or what I am. If I were to even show you the first of millions of steps of evolution to becoming what I am, your mind would not be able to take the onslaught. You would greet oblivion in less than ten ten-millionths of a second. Your entire form, body and mind and sentient thought, would be consumed with insanity, and cease to exist."

But…the boy! He was able to merge with you! Pathetic and haggard, black circles had begun to form under Haruko's eyes.

"I know that is what you want. You misunderstand. I allowed the boy to merge with me, but only temporarily…and I prevented his mind from connecting with mine. He was transported inside Medical Mechanica, he had the way out. My way out. You knew I would be able to get back out through him. But I had simply been in a hibernating process, of sorts. I was waking up when you saw the boy emerge from the MM robot you called Canti."

If you're so powerful and omnipotent, how in the hell did you let them capture you in the first place? And why didn't you come out sooner than you did? Haruko's impatient streak was beginning to show through, and her anger began to burn a scarlet red into her already puffy cheeks. She didn't care now if he flung her halfway across the known universe. She had every right to be angry. She may have used the boy to some extent, but Atomsk used both of them? How dare ANYONE-

"-your anger is understandable, but it will be your undoing one day, clever child. I did not let Medical Mechanica 'capture me' in the way you see it. I allowed them to believe they had caught me by falling into what I could only describe to you as a 'meditative' state of being. I went into their 'clutches', as you probably see it, to find out exactly what they were doing. I left open an N.O. portal to get myself back out as quietly as I came in. But I overextended my stay, and my window of opportunity to get to the right channel to get back out had long since passed. It would have taken another millennium before the channel came into proper alignment again; an amount of time I could not afford to waste. So, I do have you and the boy to thank for that. For freeing me so I could send you back to the galaxy with this message…"

Huh? Message? Oh so THAT'S it? I come halfway across time and space itself to find you, and you want me to go out spreading Messianistic propaganda and get me stoned by Medical Mechanica and my own people and the REST of the universe?? To HELL with that!

Haruko turned and started back toward her Vespa for the long journey home.

"You can refuse to tell anyone about your meeting with me, but first…I would simply like the courtesy of being heard. Then I will not detain you any longer. My time grows short as well. Haruko…please listen to what I have to say before you let your emotions cost your people and the universe…and YOU, yet another mistake. "

Haruko stopped. She cared for her family, even though they had disowned her. She cared for her brothers and sisters, and Fraternity colleagues, even though they kept telling her that pursuing Atomsk would lead to her eventual death, if not at Atomsk's hands, in some horrible accident caused by the destruction always left in her wake.

She even cared for him, the only being that she ever believed to the very day that truly loved her, and not in a misplaced affectionate way.

She had spent many years during her early childhood studying Earth's culture, and found a childish liking for it that she would carry with her in the years to come. In her very young years, those of her species that were closest to her would soon think her highly unevolved for embracing it. But then again… many beings non-indigenous to Earth embraced the planet's culture, particularly the Earthling's entertainment industry called 'music'. Her species wasn't the only one to develop weapons that appeared like guitars that came from Earth. Even Atomsk was able to call one. Or did he just do that for her?

"You are capable of great love. But if I may say so, Haruko, your species, for all its advancement and accomplishments, is very immature. And your continued apathy and ignorance of Medical Mechanica is becoming dangerous. Very dangerous."

Haruko turned on her heel and shouted at Atomsk, rather than 'think' her questions this time. "WHAT do you know about it?!?!" She spat, with venom in her voice. "They're just trying the typical galactic domination by pacifying other races into mindless idiots. It's nothing we haven't seen before in our history."

Atomsk projected something onto her then -- into her mind -- that felt like a sigh, or a wave of sadness.

"A noble attempt, clever child, but there is more to it than that. Medical Mechanica is a conglomerate of fanatics from all over this universe, and every universe. They made themselves known to this galaxy when sentience was discovered on many planets. They knew that sooner or later, the humans of Earth would evolve so rapidly, and that they would become a threat to their overall plan. Of all the planets, they fear Earth the most."

She sat back down, facing Atomsk. You aren't any Pirate King.

"At last, we finally come to the truth," Atomsk said, "and you were very clever at figuring that out. The reason I am 'legendary' is because I prefer to remain alone, Haruko. I have lived a very, very long time. And all the stories you have heard about me…they are just that, nothing more than stories. But with my power, I prefer to aid the other species in this universe in developing into something greater and achieving their potential. Medical Mechanica's plan is to do the opposite. At first they simply studied me for a very long time, from telescopes. They think I invented N.O., or stole the ability to take it in vast quantities. This could not be farther from the truth. I evolved on my own. I am not immortal. I will die, as any sentient life form would, but it will be many trillions of your years before I do."

Haruko sat back, her tears finally beginning to wane. She felt like a lost child about to be told something that was bigger than her…bigger than the entire galaxy or the entire universe, for that matter.

"Their ultimate, maniacal goal is immortality. Medical Mechanica believes that my power comes from a higher state of being, which it does, but they believe it comes from universal portals that are beyond the boundaries of which I can go. States of being so high they are unable to comprehend it. They think I am their key to that, but I think they realized in this last capturing attempt that they were wrong. They want to enslave every free or unfree planet and species in the known two-hundred fifty-six thousand, five-hundred and seventy-four universes, and bend their wills for their purpose. And Earth was their first target, because it was evolving the most rapidly."

Haruko thought about it. She had said it to Amarao herself. Earthlings were a million years under-evolved from her species and culture. But…

"Yes," Atomsk said, confirming her thoughts. "You have to realize the truth of it. The truth was that Medical Mechanica's suspicions about the Earthling humans were confirmed when you unlocked the N.O. channel in the boy's head. You had tried it years before with the male of their species, Amarao, and several others, but they weren't ready quite yet. I must say even I was impressed that a child of their species could contain my own power as I 'reawakened' from my investigation of them."

Haruko's thoughts were directed at herself this time more than to Atomsk. He tried to kill me. But he didn't. He even knew how to merge the two guitars together, forming the weapon that I have now.

"That is because the child loved you, Haruko. I knew he would not hurt you. Think about the fight. With my power in him, he only held you back from harming yourself. But his powers of compassion, his ability to see beyond the fight and know right from wrong, combined with him being the first of his kind to form an N.O. channel so powerful, all culminated into his love for you when he told you how he felt."

Haruko stifled a shudder. Something was wrong.

"Medical Mechanica has already resolved part of the puzzle," said Atomsk. "They have given up on me, because I was too strong to resist their probing. But the Earthlings are not. Not even the one you call 'Takkun'."

She saw it coming.

"I know you understand. Now they don't plan to flatten Earth as they had before -- and make it a slave planet like the others -- but to send their armies to dominate it. They have been preparing for years since I escaped. And the child, who is the only one of his kind, and likely will be for a long time, will be in grave danger."

Haruko let slip her fears again. She knew what this meant.

She looked down. "You aren't going to help us I don't suppose, are you?" She asked sarcastically.

"On the contrary. I have been helping you, but I cannot help you at all times. I must continue to keep an eye on them, and resume what I was doing before they began to come after me…"

And that is?

"…why, to find others like me, of course. I cannot be an anomaly alone in this universe, child. There must be others out there like me."

Haruko spat at the ground. This was ridiculous. What had all this searching been for?

Atomsk replied. "You have sought me since your youth, but not for the reasons you expected."

Suddenly enraged, Haruko stood back up unexpectedly, grabbed her double-neck Gibson and poised it threateningly at Atomsk. "I'll kill you. I SWEAR I WILL KILL YOU."

Atomsk gingerly raised a hand, using his powerful N.O. to pull the guitar from her grasp. It landed in his hand, but curiously, did not disintegrate as any inanimate matter normally would.

"Hey!" Haruko was positively boiling angry at this point. "GIVE THEM BACK TO ME, you…"

Atomsk's head looked down at the merged guitars. "I crafted these instruments to help you. Did you know that?"

She slumped her shoulders in defeat, plopped back on the ground and laid on her side, propping one hand up on her face.

Atomsk touched the guitars with his other hand, turning them into a temporary ball of blinding white light as they seemed to absorb the weapons for a split second before it vanished. He set the merged guitars back on the ground before her.

"I have put additional power into these guitars to further assist you. I have also put a coded N.O. contact ability into them if you ever need my power, or my help."

Haruko snorted, pretending to ignore him. She tried to shut her mind out from him, wondering if it would do any good.

"Clever child, do you still not understand? I was through running from you, so I let you have this audience with me, but only when I felt the time was right to do so. And if there was anyone in this universe I thought I could entrust my word as truth to, that being was you. For all your lack of maturity and self-control, you still possess great potential. We are not so unlike each other, in many ways. We both don't want to be alone, but for reasons beyond our control, we have had to be."

Atomsk stood up. Haruko's snooty expression changed immediately to desperation as she stood up. "WAIT!"

"I must go, Haruko. There are things to be done. You know in your heart what you have to do."

"You know what…you're right. You're no fun. Wayyyy too serious for someone like me."

Atomsk turned back to her. "We will meet again, my friend. Take my message to all of the galaxy and inter-dimensional worlds you call home, and make sure it is spread. But do not forget about the boy. By now he is 21 years of age by his world's standards. But he needs you. I can see it in my mind's eye from here, because of my former connection to him. He has needed you since the day you left. Whether or not you choose to accept this…is how you shape your destiny."

"One last thing," he said. "Watch out for the human you call Amarao, he is more dangerous to you than he ever was. Medical Mechanica has brainwashed him, and given him new weapons that he can harm you with. His taste for vengeance upon you has become formidable."

And with that, Atomsk turned to go. Haruko bit her lower lip. She was not angry with him anymore, but angry with herself. She watched, still in awe, at the sight she had observed just 9 years before, on Earth. Atomsk formed up into a perfect sphere of red energy, and then sailed away into the stars in a blink.

She turned back and walked to her Vespa. Finding him this final time hadn't been easy. But everything he had said to her was starting to sink in. Since her departure from Earth, she didn't have any N.O. channels to track him with anymore, but the newly created guitar she used was quite capable of it. More specifically, it was the fact that the merged instrument had the ability to 'guide' her to him like a cosmic divining rod.

Medical Mechanica had certainly given her enough hell in the last 9 years, too, as she searched. Robot after robot came after her, each hellish generation becoming more advanced than the last. But they hadn't been after Atomsk after all; he said that they had stopped chasing him.

They had been after her. They wanted to question her about the boy's abilities.

She hadn't the heart to tell Atomsk that the Fraternity had revoked her membership years ago, but she supposed that he knew that, and that they would likely listen to her now that they knew she had finally made contact with him. But would Atomsk have really cared about something so trivial?

No more than I would care if I were him, she thought, as she stuffed the doubleneck guitar into its holster on the back of her bike.

Atomsk, she sighed to herself as she mounted the faded yellow Vespa and ran her goggles over her peridot eyes.

Atosmk…

all I could have ever wanted, yet nothing I ever needed.

To hell with the Fraternity. She had to pay a visit to someone else first…someone that, until now, she would never have admitted she cared so deeply for (even though she planned to give him a hell of a hard time, as she always did). The mischievous memories of feeding him curry and eating crappy Ramon flooded her inner senses again.

Although she didn't look a day over the age she had been when her journey began, she felt young and revived again. Maybe finding celestial beings billions of years older than you makes you realize that you aren't so old after all.

Haruko powered up her bike and started to take off. As she kicked the vehicle into high gear something inside in the guitars suddenly wound itself up – something new that Atomsk had done to it. Her vehicle unexpectedly tore out like a banshee, the likes of which she had never seen before in her life. The vehicle shot like a bolt of lightning off the asteroid they had been on. She squealed with glee and screamed silently and triumphantly at the void of space.

She looked at her galactic map and plotted a course for the Sol system.

Third stone from the sun, she thought to herself, smugly, as her Vespa rolled across the stars at several thousand times the speed of light. Her tears gone at last at the closure of finding what she was looking for, yet more than she bargained for (which was always the story of her life), she smiled and laughed as her bike traveled along.

Haruko had gone in search of Atomsk, and found…herself.

He'd better have taken care of that damn bass, or I'm gonna beat him over the head with it. Maybe I'll just do it anyway.

Disclaimer: All characters, dialogue, environments, etc., are the property of Gainax. I just use them to have fun with my own personal imagination in a fun, non-profit manner

Author's Notes: Like the story? My muse suddenly whacked me over the head (guess Haruko hit me when I wasn't looking) when I wrote this one. Send me your thoughts on the FLCL message board connected to this website. This story may be 'continued', depending on how it is received by FLCL fans.