By Greg Wong
Chapter 8: Secrets
"I'll admit," I said to myself as I listlessly kicked a small space rock, "I'm terrified."
Two weeks had passed since Madoka and the other Existences had had their conference. She'd told me what the issue was, later, and it still gave me goosebumps.
Essentially, at that point in space, at a constantly changing point on the timeline, their (nigh) omniscience ended. It was just blank. They could virtually see into everywhere else but there. Anything that could prevent someone as powerful as Madoka or the other Existences from viewing anything, much less a huge patch of space, was bad news on a scale that made my head spin.
Madoka had told me that the five Existences were exerting power over that area, keeping a close eye on it. If something happened, they would be there, instantly.
Worse, I'd been told something else. From that point of blankness, it was spreading. Their view of the universe was obscured—would be obscured? Gah, I don't know the right verb tenses when dealing with omniscience—and they were almost blind to everything. I could tell that it was distressing Madoka badly. I did my best to talk to her and give me my support, but she was in a bad way over it.
And, on top of that, Madoka had been able to tell me that, at the moment of blindness, Earth was somehow going to be pivotal to whatever was going to come. And we didn't even know when—when talking about the regular universe's timeline—whatever-it-was was going to happen. It kept on randomly shifting.
It just made everyone tense. I mean, there was always the chance that this event would bring cosmic sparkles and rainbows to the universe, but something told me that you didn't blinker an Existence if you were going to be doing something nice.
I wrinkled my nose. And I was getting paranoid. I was assuming that this blank event had some kind of purpose to it, some kind of intelligence. Maybe it was just a cosmic tummy ache.
Yeah, keep thinking like that, Sayaka.
I mean, I had faith in Madoka. I really trusted her to do the right thing and give it her all. But what if her best wasn't enough? What happened then? I put my hands behind my head and leaned back on the asteroid I'd been sitting on. I'd extended my power over it to keep it tumbling all over the place, so when I looked up it was like looking at the night sky back on Earth. You looked at the stars long enough and you could forget, for a little while at least, about the things that worried you.
I remembered telling Kyousuke those exact words, before I made the wish that healed him. The nurses had let me take him up to the roof, and for a little while, he had seemed at peace. For a little while. Then he'd snap back to reality and look at his crippled hand.
Well, this was steering towards bad places.
I reached into my pocket and fished out an iPod Quark, one of the newest MP3 player models back from Earth. Madoka had gotten one for me—I didn't even bother to ask how—a few days back. I plugged the earbuds in and absently tapped the touchscreen.
The shuffle brought me the flowing melody of Schubert's Agnus Dei. I just laid back, not thinking of anything other than the music, until Schubert ended and melded into one of Mozart's Concertos.
I'll admit it, I'd originally gotten into classical music because of Kyousuke. After a few months of listening to it, though, I'd grown to like it personally. It was just so... soulful. Peaceful. Serene. Better than all that rock and rap and pop. Ugh. K-pop.
Hmm. Kyousuke. I wondered how he was doing nowadays. I kind of made it a point not to check on him—I think I'd start suffering a nostalgia overload or something—but sometimes I did have to wonder how he and Hitomi turned out. I genuinely hoped it worked out all right. Yeah, true, Hitomi was one of my closest friends and Kyousuke was, well, Kyousuke, but even so I'd long given up on the resentment track. The Ocktavia affair kind of put me off the whole jealousy thing.
For some reason, I thought of Janev.
Forcefully, deliberately, I smacked my palm into my forehead.
Out of nowhere, I felt someone take a seat on the asteroid next to me. Even without looking, I knew who it was.
"You look like you need some company," Madoka said to me. She was dressed in her faux-school outfit. I looked a little more closely at her, and frowned.
"I'm not the one you should be worrying about," I said as I removed the earbuds and slipped the Quark into my pocket.
Madoka looked... beat. Nothing obvious, but I could see in her eyes, in the set of her shoulders, in the way her hands were clasped together, that she was exhausted. That worried me, both because Madoka was my friend whom I cared for and because she wasn't just plain old Madoka Kaname from Mitakihara, but also the Lady Of Aspirant Radiance.
"Are you all right?" I asked a second before I realized how dumb the question was.
She didn't answer me right away. I glanced at her and realized that she was really thinking hard about that question, which was scary when I thought about it for a bit.
"I'm... not sure," she said finally. I cocked my head, waiting for her to continue.
She smiled slightly. "I have to give the usual disclaimer," she said.
"That you can't explain everything to me. That some of the things you're experiencing are so beyond my comprehension that I simply wouldn't be able to understand them. I'm cool with that."
She nodded. "Well, I suppose I could start off with some good news. We've managed to prevent the blankness from spreading farther. It's not jumping around spatially or temporally anymore, but there's still a particular moment and a particular place where we can't... know."
I thought about that for a second. "Madoka, when you say 'we,' do you mean...?"
"Myself and other Existences, yes."
Whatever it was that was causing that blackout was strong enough that it took five Existences to counter. No, not counter. If they were in similar shape as Madoka, it was straining them.
"I also can't be completely sure," Madoka continued, looking troubled at that statement, "but I think Earth is going to play a major part in whatever is coming."
"How do you figure?"
"Do you know what sets me apart from the other Existences?"
"Um... you weren't a giant bug or a ferret or dragon or... or whatever the Lord Of Fire Between used to be?"
Madoka giggled. "Well, I guess that's the obvious answer." Her smile faded. "The reason I'm thinking of, though, is that there are still humans around. There's still Earth."
Huh? My brow furrowed as I looked to Madoka in confusion. "I don't understand."
She looked away. "No one has volunteered the information to you," said said, her voice sad. "It's not pleasant."
I looked down at the ground. Well, the asteroid I was sitting on. "From the sound of things, I didn't think it would be."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Madoka nod. "The species of the Lord Of Fire Between were powerful energy beings who were old before the Incubators even came into existence. There were never many of them, and the sheer numbers of the Incubators was too much. All but a handful were wiped out, and soon the Incubators were closing in on the survivors, too.
"They sacrificed themselves, transferring their life energy to the youngest of them. With that energy, the last remnant... well, you can guess."
"He rewrote the universe," I said. I turned to Madoka. "But what was it that made the Incubators go after them? And what did his wish alter?"
My friend shook her head. "That's something I can't tell." Not can't as she didn't know, but can't as in literally couldn't. "You would have to ask Lord Fire."
One of these days, maybe I would. "What about Lady Helix and Lord Sorrow?"
"Similar stories, with the addition that the Incubators were now fulfilling wishes. They asked for a wish that contradicted the established laws of the universe, and they had the innate power to fuel that wish."
"But it wasn't all a happy ending was it?" I asked, getting a sinking feeling.
She shook her head. "Their fate is similar to what happened to Master Ssree'ten's people. They were not efficient enough for the new system and were targeted for elimination. They eventually died out."
I recalled what Janev had told me a while back, and frowned. "Janev told me that his planet was destroyed, but his people were able to escape the Incubators."
Madoka shook her head. "Only a relative handful were able to flee the destruction of their planet. Even if more of them had escaped, it wouldn't have changed anything. Through illness, disaster, and war, their time as a extant people eventually came to an end."
"And the Lord Of Sunlit Night didn't care?"
"He cared very deeply for what happened," Madoka said sadly. "Yet, it wasn't his place to affect what became of the Xori'ans."
I looked away. His entire species, gone? And he'd never told me... heck, he'd made it sound like everyone got away. I don't know why he didn't tell me the full story—even if didn't exactly lie or anything—but I'd save that question for when I saw him again.
Yeah. But that was for later. My friend still hadn't told me what was so important about Earth.
"How does this connect with Earth?" I asked, turning to face Madoka.
"Because Earth still exists, and the Incubators still view the magical girls as useful to the current system. Humanity is in no immediate danger of extinction."
And that, maybe, was the trigger for all of this? But why? I mean, just humans. Not to be mean to the average person or anything, but what could they do?
"That's something I'm actually I'm not sure of myself," Madoka admitted to me, reading my mental questions. "The blankness is concealing that from me, as well. Which brings me to a favor I have to ask."
I chuckled. "You know, you really don't need to ask me. You know I'm here for you, Madoka."
She smiled. "Well, I think I'll need you back at Earth for the time being. We don't know what's going to happen, but we're thinking it's coming soon. I just want someone, you know. I'll be asking any of the other girls if they'd like to go back, as well. I'm fairly sure Joan and Charlotte will be going."
Not alone? Sweet. "That's good, then. When do you need me to go?"
"As soon as you can."
"Make sure to tell Homura I'm doing all right."
"Are you?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow as I remembered the exchange we had had a couple of minutes ago.
"Tired, but overall I'm doing okay. Nothing to worry about. At least not yet."
Qualifiers. Eek. "All right. I'll get ready, then," I said, releasing my energy and hopping off the rock. I almost darted away before I remembered something.
"Oh, and thanks, Madoka. For helping me out with Kyoko."
"It was not a problem."
"And not just with the church. When I was talking to her. I was saying all the right things, drawing all the right conclusions. You were helping me, weren't you?"
"Just making sure you could talk to Kyoko confidently, and that you used what you knew to convey what you wanted. That was all. It was all you."
I nodded in understanding.
"Oh, almost forgot, Sayaka."
"If you can get anyone else to come back with you to Earth, you have everyone's permission."
I blinked at the slightly odd word choice.
"Lord Night tells me Master Ssree'ten hasn't been to an interesting planet in a while."
I wondered if I should knock. Or ignite spacedust into a massive fireball. You know, how exactly did you ring a cosmic doorbell?
I was still wondering when a door appeared a few meters in front of me and opened. Janev stuck his head out. Hah.
"Hey, you," I said in way of greeting.
"Hey. What's up?"
I took a few steps closer. "A friend heard from a friend that a friend hadn't been sightseeing in a while."
"Er... okay?" Janev said as he tried to sort out the who's who of friends.
"Yeah, okay," I said, reaching through the door and planting a hand on the Xori'an's shoulder.
"Wait, Sayaka. What are you doing?"
"No arguing," I grunted as I dragged him out.