TBOTSG-Chapter 18

July 10, 2024

I felt my heart beating hard in my chest, even though I knew it wasn’t real, and the music from beyond rang loudly in the palace of my mind. My consciousness started slipping unnoticed into a sort of trance. I knew from Alter that my synaptic imprint was so well-defined that even if I slipped back into my world and time, I could still find my way back now.

‘None of this matters,’ I told myself suddenly.

But it did matter. It mattered because the present is the most important. It seems more real, more alive than any past or future you could remember or imagine. The glass capsule in which I lay for maintenance gave me a feeling of claustrophobia even after my consciousness stepped outside my body.

I decided that Alter should have some safeguards that, once triggered by potential attempts to reprogram him, or perhaps by who knows what structural modifications, would wake him up immediately so he could defend our home. We had established not only that our connection was truly important but also that we needed to keep the body we had as intact as possible: I knew—or rather, Alter knew—that the receptacle was just as crucial in establishing a connection with a consciousness as the desire of that consciousness to exist. This was, in fact, why the androids created for the ancients were made in their likeness.

I felt as if sleep were slowly making my eyelids heavier. And yet I saw Sela quite clearly. She stared at me intensely, almost unmoving, this time without any tablet in her hand, leaving others to take care of practical matters. As I dissolved into a dream, her image lost some of its contrast, its clarity, and the colours began to blend together, morphing into something else. Fox began to slowly materialise in front of me, in a place I knew too well: I was at home. I recognised the moment—it was more of a memory than a dream. It was fairly recent, one of our few meetings in the last 5 years. She had come to tell me that she had been in a sanatorium for about 3 months. As she was telling me this, I remember how she looked out the window, into the distance, to avoid looking at me. My face, I know well, was marked by lines of incomprehension.

‘What kind of sanatorium?’

‘You know too well, for crazy people.’

‘You’re not crazy, though. Why did you check in?’

‘I was depressed… in conflict with myself. I felt lost and meaningless.’

Her harmonious features were relaxed in total expressionlessness. She was still gazing into the distance. I knew now how many nights this thought would keep me awake from now on. From experience, I knew how hard it was to say these things out loud, to give them the power of reality and to accept them as part of yourself.

‘And what did he say?’


‘Your man.’

‘Oh, we’ve broken up a while ago. Sorry I didn’t tell you.’

‘Sorry?… And does mom know?’

‘Of course she does.’

‘About the sanatorium too?’

‘She helped me decide to check in. We chose the place together. She came to see me every weekend.’

Maybe I should have been more concerned that mom and Fox thought she needed round-the-clock specialised care. Nevertheless, at that moment, I felt nothing stronger than being left out, deceived. I took a deep breath and tried to clear my mind of these thoughts. I knew I needed to focus on her, and I kept repeating that to myself. I made every effort to put an understanding smile on my face; after all, who could understand her better than me, who had gone through so many depressive episodes. She turned towards the ashtray where she had a lit cigarette, almost consumed by itself, with a column of compact ash still attached to it. She carefully picked it up, part of the ash coming off effortlessly, which gave me an unpleasant sensation. Then she tapped it once more with her index finger before taking a strong drag up to the filter. She put the cigarette out while holding her breath, and then, as if she remembered something, she suddenly stood up and told me with words wrapped in smoke that that was all she had to say. Before I could come to my senses, she already had her bag over her shoulder and one foot halfway into the white cork-platform sandal.

‘Where are you going like this?’ I asked, bewildered.


‘Don’t you want us to talk a little longer?’


I felt hurt. Her refusal seemed unfair.

‘Why don’t you want to? We’ve been through so many similar things…’

‘We haven’t gone through anything similar at all,’ she practically grumbled. ‘You have visions of parallel worlds and decided that’s who you are. You’ve fully embraced them and lived with them. You’ve always had the strength to accept who you were, no matter how abnormal that person may seem to the world. I, on the other hand… I can’t accept myself as a person, I can’t live with my decisions, whatever they may be. It doesn’t seem to me like we’re in similar situations. I’m not as strong. And I’m not ready to prove to you that I’m not.’

‘Veronica, be serious! I know you too well. You’re going through a crisis, okay. You’re going through tough times. But aren’t these exactly the moments when you should accept help? Believe me, I would do anything to see you happy. Why do you have to push me away like this, leave me out?’

Veronica, you haven’t called me like that in a long time.’

I wanted to hug her, but she bent down to adjust her other sandal better, so I felt awkward.

‘Veronica,’ I’ve started again without any idea of what I might say. ‘At least talk to mom. Talk to Aunt Martha… She told me you haven’t been to see her in a long time… Unless she lied to me too, like mom.’

‘No, I haven’t been visiting her.’

‘We can go together one day, if you want.’

She looked at me plainly, expressionless, as if she were on medication. She kissed me on the cheek, as usual, and then, as she walked out the door, she said she’d try.

I smelled her cigarette scent – cherries this time – and then everything dissolved into smoke where I couldn’t see anything.

I waited for something to materialise, when I realised I already had earth under my feet and a pungent scent in my nostrils. It reminded me of one of my dreams from when I was a teenager, when I had entered a world that resembled hell. A world of lava and dense vapours through which I couldn’t see. I had written for several weeks in my journal, tortured by the images that wouldn’t leave my mind, by the smell, but most of all by the deep sense of fear.

Now, however, I wasn’t afraid.

‘Alter,’ I said with a faint voice, which didn’t sound like mine at all. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t ended up in some different corner of our mind palace.

I couldn’t see anything anywhere. Everything was shrouded in thick smoke. I didn’t feel the need to cough, though, as in my dreams. Or to run away. I felt both there, in the place where my eyes saw a barren world at my feet, and in another world at the same time. This time I wasn’t seeing from the outside, but from within the odd being to which I belonged, and which was myself. And yet, something was so different, so universal, that I felt as if I was embraced by divinity itself. As if those velvet veins had become part of me, and I part of them. I felt I could go wherever I wanted, I knew I could: past, present, future, to the star above my head, or to the distant planet where I found her. I longed for the past. And I could visit it anytime, but it would never be as it was before.

The wind was dry, and the atmosphere so hot that a twig, probably from the pile near the greenhouse entrance, had caught fire. The body I was in, this completely new self, so strange to me, began to float towards the entrance of what seemed to be an immense, transparent dome, reflecting light in hundreds of directions. It was crafted with billions of facets, as if whoever made it had a cut diamond.

Slowly, I realised that I was on the Second Home, the yellow sun and turquoise moon hanging in the sky almost in the same positions as when I arrived there with Fox. Except now the sea of lava was nowhere in sight. I was in the midst of what seemed to be a very smooth and arid desert, with no mound rising above another. This land was barren, I could see that clearly. It felt so. I felt as if the life of the planet itself pulsed along with me, but nothing beyond that.

I searched. This new self of mine was overwhelmed by a panic unlike anything I had felt before. I understood the emotion itself, but what I couldn’t assimilate was its manifestation. It was as if only my heart remained the same, but my consciousness had shifted to another dimension. I smiled at the thought that I wasn’t in the body of another being, but had become something else myself, yet I also knew that it hadn’t happened yet, because I felt my self ending somewhere, even though I couldn’t figure out where, and the other probably began from there and extended wherever I could explore, as if it had perfectly engulfed me in its soul, but had not yet assimilated me. It was, in a way, liberating. For me then, there was no Fox or the world back home, no Sela with the capsule where Alter now resided together with our body, and none of the worlds I knew. I was on the Second Home, but in a time perhaps immemorial for Sela’s civilisation, and unimaginable, non-existent for that of my mother or Aunt Martha.

Our presence gently moved towards the dome, feeling how our texture itself changed, taking on a familiar form. When we were fully transformed into human form, we stepped onto the ground as if we had descended from a cloud, and then we abruptly stopped: at our feet was a pile of things that didn’t seem to make any sense. In front of it was a pendant that looked as if the sun itself was captured within, and for a few moments, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The chain it was attached to seemed delicate, yet unlike anything I had seen before, as if the metal from which it was made had once been alive. I felt a deep pain, one that seemed to transcend time because I knew I had carried it with me for centuries upon centuries.

But my eyes automatically moved from the necklace to the hand that seemed to have released it, and then to the skull that lay almost in the middle of the pile, as if the being who had worn it had turned to dust almost instantly. All that remained were her bones and a robe that seemed to have been white in a distant past.

An almost human hand, mine, touched the skull as if caressing the cheek of a loved one. Then it picked it up and brought it to my mouth. At that moment, I felt the skull becoming a part of me, of us. And I understood who this person had been. What her story was, and whom she had loved. I realised that she had been loved until her last breath; that Roah’al’s gesture, to give up her own life, was not due to a lack of love, but because she missed home, she missed being around people. She had been alone for so long in this new and arid world that even her soul had dried up. And when the last shred of hope had gone, she opened the gates of the greenhouse and relinquished our gift, the gift of life and creation.

I entered the greenhouse, and what I saw there was both familiar and strange. It was as if someone had tried to recreate the world from memory. I found myself in the midst of a jungle teeming with plants, trees, and rocks resembling steep cliffs, covered in moss that looked like tiny fingers clinging tenaciously to it, ready to catch any ray of sunlight or drop of water. They seemed to move, to speak among themselves, to have their own language and emotion. This was my beloved’s world, but for me, it was more than that—it was of an anchor in time and space that I desperately needed. It was home.

I returned to Roah’al’s remains, picked up the pendant from the ground, and placed it around my neck. Then I took the robe, and within it, I placed the bones. I entered the greenhouse and, after wandering aimlessly for a while, I found myself right in the middle of it. The radial arrangement of the paths starting from a circular area felt somewhat familiar to me. In the center stood a stone bench made of a kind of polished granite.

At that moment, I felt myself gently detaching from the consciousness of this superhuman being, and before being drawn into another world, I saw Reeza strike forcefully in the middle of the stone bench, shattering it completely along with the cobblestones underneath, leaving a gaping hole in its place. She carefully placed the shroud and its precious contents inside, then spoke words that I hadn’t heard before but knew what they with exact clarity.