Oily black shadows swirled around Aiden's form at great speeds. Twisting dark tendrils, some entities flying through the void, others just formless light, intermingled with the roaring of beasts dwelling deep within the abyss. The Infraworld was a place of unequaled chaos. Lost souls seeking Beyond wandered among wild entities. Dark and light meshed together seamlessly, and nothing was clear.
Very rarely in his twenty-three years of existence had Aiden felt so bafflingly insignificant. And, never before had he felt so completely and utterly alone.
He'd never been alone before. Never. For as long as he could remember he'd been tied to Jodie by a bright purple cord. He floated about her as she lived out her life, only ever separated from her by walls and a distance no greater than a few dozen yards.
Yet now they'd been torn from each other. The sheer enormity of the Black Sun condenser had been enough to sever their tether, and pull Aiden away from his newly revealed twin sister, down into the depths of the other side.
It was almost funny, being here amidst the blacks and whites and grays of the spirit world. For the longest time he, Jodie, and every scientist who'd ever spent time prodding the pair for Infraworld related knowledge, had assumed that he originated here. He was an entity after all. A reckless entity who'd somehow been tied to a human being. In the early years, he'd wanted to come here. To escape his confinement at the side of a tiny girl who both hated and feared him.
Yet in the end, she'd also loved him.
Nothing about him save his somewhat limited understanding of emotions hinted that he was really a human soul bound to that of his living twin. Only skimming across the edges of Beyond, where time meant nothing, had the truth of their shared past been revealed.
Aiden knew now more than ever that he'd been where he was supposed to be all along. But now that was over, and he was lost in the foreign world that he had once thought to be his true home.
He lowered himself, he called it that, though up and down seemed to mean little here, further into the swirling shadow ocean. It was an experience akin to wandering through the desert, with no sense of direction whatsoever. Half a dozen or so souls passed him. They were walking in midair, or maybe it was a flat surface after all. It wasn't clear. Whatever the case, they were walking, calling out in desperate voices for loved ones who couldn't heart them.
Had Aiden a voice, he'd be calling out to Jodie.
He continued forward with growing uncertainty and despair. Was this what the Infraworld was always like to an outsider? An endless limbo between reality and heaven, filled with nothingness?
"Aiden," said a voice from somewhere to the entity's right. It echoed and reverberated through his perception. Like hearing a sound from underwater.
Swiveling round, Aiden looked for the source. Nothing. Just swirling colors and wild spirits.
"Aiden," the voice called out a second time. It had grown closer. Aiden stopped dead, he knew that voice. He knew it incredibly well. It was the voice that had directed nearly a decade worth of experiments to determine his nature. Sometimes it had told him to read cards in another room, to knock over blocks, or to read the memories imprinted on objects.
One more determined swivel brought him face to face with Nathan Dawkins, standing but six feet away.
As always he wore a dark suit and horn-rimmed glasses. His skin was nearly rosy, devoid of the almost white pallor that had made his face gaunt during his final hours of life.
A somber smile curved across his face. Ruefulness shimmered behind his lenses.
Angry rose in Aiden like a roaring geyser. Pure, unadulterated rage filled him entirely, so much so that it consumed all other feelings.
YOU! He projected as he lunged forward, invisible tendrils closing around the man's throat. You did this!
Every ounce of his being went into his telekinetic attacks, intent on destroying the man responsible for tearing him and Jodie apart. It meant nothing to him that the Black Sun had killed more than two hundred people. Meant nothing that it had nearly caused an Entity outbreak of apocalyptic proportions, dooming the entire planet.
No. All that mattered to him in the mortal world was Jodie.
And in his desperation for a family reunion, Nathan had taken her from him forever.
Grip tightening like a vice, Aiden had every intention of squeezing the life out of the man. This wasn't possible of course. You can't kill what's already dead. Though it obviously made him uncomfortable, and he winced painfully beneath the attack, Nathan was unharmed.
It's all your fault! Aiden screamed, continuing his futile attempt at throttling the late scientist.
"Yes, Aiden," Nathan said raggedly. "It is my fault."
Aiden froze, grip loosening substantially.
You…can understand me?
No one apart from Jodie had ever understood his telepathic projections, and they'd been literally tied together.
"Here, I can," Nathan explained. His somber gaze lifted to look directly at the spot Aiden floated before him. "I can see you as well, though, only your presence. You still have no appearance to speak of."
Why are you here? Aiden seethed. Shouldn't you be with your family? That's what you wanted, after all.
At the end that had been all Nathan had cared about. Not the insanity of his experiment, not how he was hurting Jodie, the girl who'd loved him like a father since she was a small child. Just reuniting with the dead wife and daughter who'd been taken from him. And in the end he'd gotten what he wanted with a bullet to the brain. A strange reward for suicide.
"They're waiting for me," Nathan explained. "I'll be with them again soon. But for now…for now, I need to make up for my past mistakes. Please…."
The man started to turn on his heel, and, reluctantly, Aiden released him. His attacks weren't going to have any immediate effect. May as well hear him out now, and if necessary kill him later. He'd certainly earned it after the stunt he'd pulled. For several moments, or it might have been longer, who knew in this place, they walked and floated forward in silence.
"I'm not proud of what I did, Aiden," Nathan began. He didn't turn to look at the floating blob of psychokinetic energy that was his companion. But visible shame still shone beneath his spectacles.
Do it for me, Aiden projected darkly. Do it for me. That's all you could think to say? Do you have any idea what that sounded like? She loved you, you self righteous prick! You were the closest thing to a father she ever had, and you turn around and try to destroy the world just to see your dead one!? Then you have the balls to make her clean up after your fuck-up while you go on to the afterlife?! Jodie did everything you asked, and you tossed her aside like a piece of shit! I shoulda choked you just like the other faker!
Unconsciously, Aiden's rage radiated outward from his form, warping the immediate area around him. Nathan's knees started quaking sloightly, but he managed to keep his footing. If it were possible, his gaze was even more shame filled.
"You're right," he admitted quietly. "You're completely right, Aiden. I was…terrible to her over the years. Even when she didn't know it. I was so fixated on getting back what I'd lost that I didn't see what was right in front of me. I'd lost a daughter, but gained another, and I pushed it away in pursuit of madness. And in the end my madness ripped the two of you apart." He turned and looked the entity straight in the face, or, at the equivalent of one. "That's why I'm here now. To try and make things right."
How the fuck are you gonna do that?
What could he possibly due that would make any of this okay?
"By getting the two of you back together again." Aiden froze. His anger was quelled and the quaking of the Infraworld plane ceased.
You…you can do that?
"Not alone," Nathan said. "That's why we're moving. Some friends of yours are coming to help."
Nathan nodded, smiling a bit.
"Yes. The two of you met some interesting people while on the run. Here's some of them now." He gestured into the foggy gloom, from which half a dozen figures were emerging.
Five Navajo warriors garbed in ritual masks and wielding slender clubs approached them. They nodded to Aiden, slapping closed fists against their bare chests as a sign of respect. Then, they parted to allow the sixth figure to roll forward. Shimasani sat upright in her wheelchair, colorful blanket draped over her unused legs. A wrinkly smile creased the folds of her ancient face.
Smile widening at his reaction, the old woman rolled closer and lifted a withered hand to touch him. Amazingly, she didn't pass through him as people always had. Her skin was dry like old leather, though there was kindness behind it.
"You've come a long way since last we met, little spirit," she said. It was odd hearing her talk. All he'd ever heard her say was a few words to Jodie, followed by the incantation to banish the rogue entity plaguing the Navajo lands.
Why are you here? He asked.
"To guide you back," Shimasani said. "We owe you a great debt, and now we've come to help repay it." She turned to Nathan. "She's coming?"
"She should be close by now."
Nathan turned and pointed into the distance. Another figure was emerging, stepping out of a tear in the fabric of the space, out of which spilled the blue-white light of Beyond.
Had Aiden a heart pumping blood through his non-existent chest, it'd have stopped dead.
A woman with long brown hair of a painfully familiar shade came into view. Her face was a familiar shape as well, so similar to Jodie's yet distinguishable all the same.
This was Norah Grey. The woman whose heart he'd stopped as an act of mercy, to release her from her chemically induced coma-prison. No black entities were entwined around her soul anymore. No pain wracked her pale features. In fact she was smiling, beaming at him with a radiance he'd only ever experienced a handful of times. And all of them from his sister.
"My beautiful, beautiful boy," she said, stepping up beside Shimasani and raising her own tender hand. "You were with her all along, and even I didn't see it was you. Some psychic I am," she laughed, only a touch bitterly.
Aiden said nothing. What was he supposed to say? This was his mother. He had died inside her womb, strangled by his own umbilical cord, and clung to the soul of his twin as she departed their shared incubation. Her face was ablaze with affection and love.
Mother he projected, trailing off into silence. She smiled sadly at him.
"My boy," she said again. "I'm so proud of you. You and your sister both."
Proud? She was proud of a half mad spirit who set fires to get revenge on some shallow teenagers, and had made Jodie's life an unequaled mess without any chance at human relationships? He scared everyone away.
"You did the best you could," Nathan supplied. Apparently he'd projected some of those thoughts whether he knew it or not. "You kept her safe when I couldn't. She didn't always like it, but you were always there for her. Can you imagine what would've happened if you weren't at that bar with her?"
"You were her guardian angel. When she was on the street, you got her to people who would help her. You helped her carry on when she wanted to give up and die. She's lost without you, you know," Norah elaborated.
She's….better off. It's what she always wanted. She hated m-
"And loved you," Norah finished for him, smiling. "That's the important part son. You're a part of each other. Bound together forever."
Aiden looked down at the place where the twirling purple cord had been. It was gone now. Cut.
"Do you really think something as silly as that machine could break your connection?" said Shimasani. "Diminished yes, but gone? No," she turned to her Nathan and Norah. "Now, let us help him see."
She and her fellow souls stretch out their hands in front of the young entity. They came together, and were held there for several long moments. Had the position been held any longer, Aiden would've asked what they were doing. But then, he saw it.
At first it seemed to be just a trick of the light. A stray particle of shadowy wisp that had drifted downward from the swirling endlessness. Slowly, steadily, it solidified.
A colorless cord, hollow and without tangible substance, stretching upward into the vast expanse of the Infraworld. It was the tether. Like Shimasani had said, diminished, but not gone.
It's still there….he intoned disbelievingly. He looked up at the three souls standing around him, the Navajo guardians having formed a strong rank around them. They were smiling.
"All souls are connected in some way," Norah explained.
"Ours were connected to Jodie's in life, and thus, to yours as well," Shimasani continued.
"Using that, we can show you what you thought was gone," said Nathan. "Follow it, Nathan. It should lead you to a rift somewhere on earth. I can't say where. The openings are random as can be, but that doesn't matter. Follow the tether, and you'll find Jodie again. That's where you belong, Aiden."
Wordlessly, Aiden floated there. He looked to each of them in turn. Shimasani, the old woman he barely knew yet knew all the same. Norah, his mother, who'd been taken from his sister by the cruel machinations of the government. And finally, Nathan. The man who'd watched over him and Jodie for the length of their youth.
He was imperfect, like all men. But nonetheless, in the end his heart had found it's way to the right place.
"Go find your sister, sweetheart," his mother told him. "You'll see us again, and Jodie too. We'll be waiting on the other side."
…..Thank you. With that final goodbye, Aiden flew upward, following the colorless rope.
Many days later he found the rift. An inky black tear in reality. Squeezing through it, he found himself in an enormous jungle.
Great tree roots tangled through the underbrush. Exotic animals chittered nervously in the canopy, fleeing from both predators and emerging spirits alike. Aiden laughed to himself as the feelings of fresh oxygen passed through him like he was nothing.
He hadn't the slightest idea where he was. But that didn't matter. The tether was still there, leading westward.
Leading to Jodie.
Launching himself into the sky, he followed his bond. To where he belonged.