Romantadox: A Romantic Paradox in The Final Parallel Universe!
There was one thing she knew for certain; two high school students never kissed, and now the world was coming to an end. It wasn’t quite that simple, maybe, probably, most likely... but she couldn’t think of anything that mattered more than seeing those two together. And now it was a passing memory buried beneath ash and dust..
Each inhale was another reminder of how rough her throat had gotten since she landed back on Earth. Three hours had passed and saliva was no longer forming under her tongue. She would close her mouth, but that meant her nose had to suffer just as much. All around her she could hear the entire squad of soldiers panting and running in unison with each step. Their rasping sighs echoing through the shielded comms alongside a very quiet rendition of ‘Lacrimosa’. One of the soldiers didn’t feel like broadcasting his coughing to the world and funny enough, no one cared.
The landscape was a blur of black silhouettes and dark gray skies. The ruins that surrounded them, the broken buildings, rusting cars and ripped up pavement, all disintegrated and crumbled to create the Tokyo Desert they ran through. Visibility was a nightmare, and they still hadn’t been given permission to use night vision, on account that any use of ‘unshielded tech’ would alert the enemy to their whereabouts.
They ran another mile before their leader, Ranger A, the tallest and most broad-shouldered of the group, lifted his closed fist for a halt. The exo-skeleton of the war suit glimmered white against the light of yet another satellite burning up in the atmosphere. For a few brief moments the world was illuminated with brilliant light. The corpse of skyscrapers, the burn marks of the craters, and even their war suits became a stark shimmering white before the light began fading over the horizon. They were free to move again.
The leader motioned forward, eight rangers started panting and running as Lacrimosa looped back to the beginning. Ranger E, the smallest and youngest of the soldiers, stayed behind. Because in that brief heavenly flash she had seen a spectre of her past. A memory of a time before the world had become chaos and pain. Across from where she stood, in the middle of the street, was the remains of a photo booth. Bent from the passing winds, warped and stained from the acid rain. She could still imagine it standing with it’s curtain and roof, and thought of a time when she and two others might have entered with her and taken a photo or three.
Like tears in the rain, she thought.
“Ranger E,” droned a voice in her suppressed comline. “Did you find something?” asked Ranger F, hand on her shoulder, the only one that hadn’t run off listening to Mozart. The soldier was just three inches taller than her but that was annoying. Putting his hand on her shoulder was also annoying.
“Back to business, soldier” she remarked, removing his hand as one would a small rat. They settled into a sprint to catch up with their squad, and with still no word from mission control for lights on, they’d have to just hope they would wait for them at the next checkpoint in Shibuya.
“You know, you really should be a bit more careful, Ranger E.” F noted with an air of concern.
“Yeah, I know.” Ranger E replied as they dashed across an expansive clearing. Across from them, several large skyscrapers still stood. That would be where their squad had gone.
Ranger F kept blathering on about protocol and squad safety as they shuffled forward, their exoskeletons propelling them across sand and debris. And for the longest time all they could hear was bellowing winds and their own soft stomps in the sand. Static suddenly dominated the channel after stepping one mile outside of Shibuya proper, but the sad music was only starting to sound a bit closer with each step. After an expansive clearing, they followed the signal to a small grouping of leaning buildings barely holding up to the harsh nature around it. The string section came back into focus and after a bit of straining she could finally hear Mozart again, but as the song became clearer she realized she couldn’t hear anyone but her and Ranger F.
“Shush,” Ranger E said, finally stopping Ranger F’s persistent nagging. Lacrimosa swelled, that would mean Ranger A was right around the corner. But the silence from the rest of the squad was concerning. “Squad D-Minor, come in! Status report?” She asked firmly. Mozart continued playing. No other response. The two of them sidled up to the building on their right, hands gripped firmly to their railguns. “Status report?” She asked again, training her weapon ahead of her as F raised his behind them to cover their back. Still no response.
Mozart continued playing.
Wordless, the two soldiers shuffled forward across the building’s sagging frame. The wind whipped around them causing the structure to groan as pieces of concrete pattered the sandy roadway. They continued, alert, sweat beading on their foreheads as they walked in a low crouch.
Mozart continued playing.
They came to the corner of the massive skyscraper. Beyond that, nestled between five or six crumbling buildings was a small flat expanse of sand. That would be the mission priority and our extraction point. Ranger E thought, crouching down and preparing to peek around the corner. “Almost there, F. Do you see anything yet?”
“Negative.” F responded.
Mozart stopped playing.
The empty space left by the music gave way for a whistling sound on the comms. Ranger E gestured forward with two fingers. Ranger F began a slow circle around her towards the sound. They inched closer as the whistling rose into a cacophony of white noise. Closer, closer they inched until the clearing came into view along with the burly silhouette of Ranger A standing with his legs apart. Sixy mile per hour winds gushed through a massive hole in his head whistling into his comms like a ghostly specter.
“Lights on!” Ranger E bellowed to her partner.
She snapped her fingers and the suit leapt to life. Night vision fanned across her visor and the rippling contours of artificial muscle tightened up, hugging her frame. F leapt into action too as the two of them circled around the corpse of their squad leader to survey the scene. Everyone was dead. Pieces of exoskeleton littered the clearing which must have once been a park. Sandy, windswept, the only terrain was a large black mass in the center and a small bit of metal to their immediate le. Amongst their former comrades, in scattered pulpy heaps were the centipede-like remains of their alien foe, the Etherians.
Tall and spindly, the Etherians were surprisingly flexible and capable of reforming themselves into all kinds of shapes. Dogs, Cats, little soldier girls with spunky attitudes, the list goes on. But the most important part of their physiology were their long antennae which allowed them to sense, among other things, technology. This had been mankind’s biggest drawback in the war. Where humans needed their tech to survive, Etherians thrived on breaking it down and eating it.
In the distance beyond their fallen comrades was a smorgasbord of tech. A human spacecraft sat nose down in the dirt, its innards of cables and computer chips spilling out as a group of etherians chowed down on the rare-minerals. The Etherians' long centipedal bodies, crustaceous exterior, six-pincer mandibles and razor sharp antena never seemed to intimidate her in the least, especially when she knew full well they could look like humans if they so wished. But when one of them raised its long ribbon-like antennae to flash in their direction Ranger E panicked.
“Move!” She cried to her partner, nudging him with her shoulder and dashing past.
Quickly, she identified cover to their immediate left. A small metal wedge near the front of a building which was either a bent plane-wing or some modern art piece. Just as they made a break for it, three Etherians broke off from their feast to chase them. Ranger F pulled out his sidearm and began laying down suppressive fire. The bullets from the handgun registered as an annoyance but didn’t seem to phase the buggers.
“We need to think bigger, F.” Ranger E remarked. Sliding into place behind cover she trained her railgun at the pursuers.
Ranger E pulled back the massive hammer on the railgun’s left side, hearing the machine whir as it charged up. Quickly chambering a tungsten rod, she pulled the trigger. A blinding flash lit up the field as the weapon discharged. The etherian at the center of the advancing trio was obliterated instantly, his companions twisted in the air and fell apart, buffeted by the high-speed winds created by the projectile and cackling electricity. The projectile passed, coincidentally, through the mass of etherians near the ship vaporizing a few in the group before finding a cozy home in the dirt.
“What are you doing?” Ranger F said, activating his sensory functions to his war suit a full two minutes after her. “Mission control still hasn’t given us permission to go on assault.”
“Then ask them, if you can,” she said, chambering another round.
At that point the horde surrounding the ship slurped up what remained of their meals and charged. Ranger F activated his railgun at this point.
“Wings of death!” came the command from Ranger E as she aimed at the right flank of advancing Etherians.
“Copy!” F responded, aiming his weapon at the left flank.
The scuttling etherians bounded forward in slow motion towards the two soldiers. Firing and reloading became their entire world as lines of white light and arcing lightning spread across the field dealing death. Pieces of etherian carapace collided with dirt and their advancing comrades as the massive wave was reduced into a single column of angry bugs. Just as the etherians reached the barricade the two soldiers jumped back in opposite directions.
Landing ten feet from cover, Ranger E fired two more rounds through the metal wedge from the hip. Melted metal erupted through the column but the recoil from her one-handed stance made the shot less than clean. Three corpses slumped over the metallic slag as she pulled her side arm with her right hand. Holding the now overheating railgun carefully in her left. A straggler scuttled around the group towards her and snatched the handgun in its mouth before she could fire.
“Fine!” She said, “You hungry? Order up!”
Ranger E pulled back a large lever and disengaged the massive battery pack below the railgun’s barrel. The glowing, superheated mass ignited the air around them. Fire and arcing electricity discharged from the exposed battery that disintegrated the thing in milliseconds along with a few of its friends that had come within twenty feet. Ranger E was unphased. Through the suit she could feel a slight change in temperature. But even as the sand around her feet turned to glass she couldn’t feel any pain as the suit’s systems registered negligible surface burns.
She snapped the pack back into its groove, smoke wafting from the small channel and gun barrel. Still hot. The next etherian leapt towards her as she grabbed the weapon from its barrel and took a swing at it, sending the creature flying back into the group before another attacked at her right. Ranger E grabbed the combat dagger on her hip before whipping it at the Etherian, and extending the blade into a long sword. The etherian slumped over in two pieces as another two swiped at her with their claws and snaking antennae.
Those little buggers were the biggest danger. Amorphous and tough-as-nails the etherian antennae were long, flexible and nigh-indestructible. Even in the vaporized remains of those surrounding her, the antennae retained their shape. Untouched. That would be what had carved a hole in Ranger A and had done in their squad. It wasn’t superior firepower that had made this invasion successful, it was tenacity, numbers, and overheated tech.
Ranger E dodged the claws and parried the antennae before pressing the now cooled chamber of the railgun into one etherian’s chest and firing. The back of the etherian blew apart as the projectile ruptured several more behind it. The last etherian pounced on her and tried to bite her face. She had lost her grip on both the railgun and her combat dagger. She held the etherian’s claws back to keep its mandibles from her helmet but the etherian’s strength matched her own. Suddenly it reeled back and waved its antennae, ready to strike.
Ranger E was ready to maneuver her head at any moment to dodge it, but ended up watching it be ripped apart by a blinding flash skirting overhead. Ranger F, who had fired his railgun directly above the two had counted on the momentum of the round to tear apart her attacker. And, much to her surprise, it worked. Etherian blood and bits splashed her as it fell apart and Ranger F approached with his hand held out.
“Thirty-five, I think. What’s your count?” Ranger E asked as she scanned for remaining enemies.
“Thirty-six for me, including that last one,” Ranger F reported, his head high, no doubt revelling in his own body count. Ranger E clicked her tongue in frustration. She was used to being much less sloppy on field missions. She also realized that if she’d acted faster she’d have won!
“The rescue ship should be here soon,” Ranger E said, glancing up at a glowing blue flare he had fired during the exchange. Above them, the glowing light which would be visible from orbit, emitted a strong blue glow that was both comforting and a little glaring. Ranger E glanced at the wreckage where most of the useful tech had already been eaten.
“Well, I guess we should see if anything is salvageable.” she sighed, slinging her railgun over her shoulder and marching forward. They were about halfway to the wreckage when something began moving beneath the piles of shattered creatures. Ranger E didn’t notice as the shifting mass made its move in her direction.
“Look out!” Ranger F shouted, pulling his comrade behind him before the remaining etherian jumped out, antennae springing forward. The ribbon-like appendages sliced through his armor like butter spraying the carapace on the ground with crimson.
“F!” she cried out. She whipped her rifle around and vaporized the creature before it hit the ground. She turned to Ranger F quickly, spraying his open wound with a medical salve, the contents of which clotted the cut immediately. She then pulled the open war suit together for it to sew itself back into working order. Ranger F was breathing heavily, no doubt in a lot of pain, and hopefully the poison from the etherian’s antennae hadn’t spread too far.
Ranger F squeezed her hand tightly as if to expel the pain from his body. He groaned in pain, nearly passing out as Ranger E looked on in concern.
“The extraction ship will be here soon. Just hang on.” She told him.
“I need to tell you something…” Ranger F struggled to say.
Oh no… Ranger E thought.
“I’ve… Always admired you. You were always the best of the best. You never stopped training, never waited for someone to tell you what your limits were… And, I think I’ve fallen in love with you.” he breathed desperately. His chest rising and falling. Ranger E removed her hand from his and stood up.
“Wow,” she said. “That’s really sweet of you, and I think you’re a hard worker too, but I'm not really interested, in being in a relationship right now.” The winds picked up, Ranger A’s head whistled loudly as the two awkwardly froze.
“Oh, I see…” He croaked. “Uh, cool. That’s fine.” he said, placing his hand pointlessly over where his cut had been.
“No, I’m sorry!” Ranger F said, flustered. “I- Forget I said anything…” Ranger E patted his shoulder lightly and turned towards the ship.
“Uh, yeah, I don’t think there’s anything left in there.” She said, awkwardly gesturing at the spacecraft.
“Haha, yeah… yeah.” Ranger F gurgled, unable to meet her eyes.
“I mean, besides, if we keep moving you might get cut open again!” She laughed.
“Ha, yeah…” He repeated, trying to chuckle, instead coughing, a bit of blood spraying the inside of his visor.
The silence persisted for a solid three minutes. After which a dark purple light appeared out of nowhere behind them. The light was as small as a baseball at first, but soon expanded and reshaped itself into a triangle, a square, and finally into a hexagon. A figure stepped out of the hexagon shaped portal, masked in the very same war suit helmets they wore, but instead stood upright in a formal dress suit one would have seen in the twenty-first century. Surrounding her was a faint glow, likely some kind of ray-shielding. Ranger F would have whistled if his lips weren’t pressed together in pain, that was some expensive tech and some he didn’t know existed!
“Ethel Montgomry Arkwright Alpha 632-E, your presence is required at Final Council,” the woman said. Ranger F tilted his head to her in confusion, not because this person had suddenly popped out of nowhere, but because she sounded exactly like Ranger E, pitch, femininity, confidence and all.
“Who is that?” Ranger F asked.
“Ranger F, this is Ethel Montgomery Arkwright Omega 7-A, an assistant to me.”
“To the Prime you to be exact,” Omega Ethel corrected.
“Yes, but she’s nearly identical. Prime just has a few more years on me is all,” Alpha Ethel stated.
“Just because your timelines and universal placements are identical in every aspect except your dates of birth, doesn’t mean you hold more standing than me. It just means you honestly had a chance at being Prime, but she beat you to it, making you just as much of a late bloomer as the rest of yourselves.”
Alpha Ethel groaned at Omega Ethel’s speech and started mouthing her words to a puppet hand.
“Omega 7, darling, I’d love nothing more than to talk to my selves about the multiverse’s impending doom, but I have my own reality to look out for, so if you’ll excuse us-”
“Prime Ethel says it’s your turn,” Omega Ethel interrupted, which gave Alpha Ethel pause.
“Which reality? What is its current state?” Alpha Ethel asked.
“Before the Great Advent, Etherian invasion threat level: 1%,” Omega Ethel answered.
“One?” Ranger F repeated. “But… The invasion threat has always been at 100% since before we were born. What is she talking about?” He asked his fellow soldier. His Ranger E. His Ethel. The absurdity of what was occurring had made him all but forget about his cut until he tried to stand doubling over in pain. Still somehow trying to act tough in front of his crush. Alpha Ethel gave him a pitying head tilt and turned back towards the office lady.
“You can come if you want, but only if you really want to,” she told him.
“He’s an irregular,” Omega Ethel started. “Taking him to the Final Council would only-”
“Break the multiverse more than it already has been? Yeah, try to justify that old excuse again. Does the Council and Prime want me to try or not?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Omega Ethel stated. “It's up to you if you can convince the rest of you to unanimously consider it.”
Alpha Ethel paused for a moment before she and Omega Ethel started speaking of things Ranger F couldn’t follow. As the exchange continued, a spotlight overhead shone on them. The rescue ship had finally arrived. But when Ranger E turned back to tell Ethel, she and the other one had stepped through the portal. It remained open still, tempting him to jump in after her.
“Soldier, don’t go near that dark matter disturbance! We don’t even know if that thing is stable!” The pilot of the rescue ship said into his coms, but to Ranger F, it was barely a choice. Should he remain here where there is no Ethel? Or follow his favorite person into the unknown?
So, as the soldiers from the rescue ship began to jump down after him, Ranger F stumbled through the portal. He landed face first onto a black and white marbled floor, with a layer of sand dusting him as the portal closed. Above him on either side were the two “Ethels.”
“See?” Alpha Ethel pointed down at him. “I told you he’d choose us.”
Omega Ethel sighed, taking off her helmet at the same time as Alpha, revealing long black hair and the exact same large white bow tied at the back of their heads. Ethel was shorter than him by a tick with unnaturally pale skin and bright blue eyes. There was hardly a difference between the two women now aside from their attire. As “Omega” wore a snappy black dress suit. Her pencil-skirt betraying the incredible hips he had fallen for at the academy. Somehow her bow looked a bit softer than Ranger E or Alpha Ethel’s which seemed almost like it was made from cardboard or plastic. Ranger F sat up slightly.
“Twins?” he asked, to which both Ethels smiled like a pair of older sisters.
“You wish,” Alpha Ethel said, reaching down to pull Ranger F to his feet.
“Clear,” said another Ethel in a lab coat and doctor scrubs who had apparently already given him a medical scan. She used a small laser like tool to open up and expose Hotaru’s stomach again and began examining his wound. After injecting some unknown fluid she perked up and said: “You’ll be fine,” Doctor Ethel said, walking away quickly, typing on a tablet as she did. Hotaru failed to thank her, and found himself looking to Alpha Ethel as his suit sealed up again.
“Can you tell me your name again, your real name?” She asked as she pressed a button to unhook his helmet.
“Hotaru, Miyagi Hotaru,” he answered.
“Well, Miyagi-kun, thank you for following me. You won’t regret this.”
Hotaru’s face flushed red for a moment before he realized what she had just said. At this point he knew there was no turning back. She smiled kindly at him and pulled him along by the wrist as they followed Omega Ethel down a long and spacious hallway.
Lamps poked out of the marble walls, shaped and cycling through circles, triangles, squares, and hexagons before repeating their design in that order again and again. Below each lamp on either side was a door, alternating from black and white, each labeled with a different sequence of numbers and letters. At one time Hotaru thought he passed Omega 7-A’s room, but the plaque quickly got lost in the sea of doors as they progressed. Before long, a faint murmur reached them from up ahead.
The tall hallway came to an end. Light streamed down onto the group as they passed a metallic threshold into a massive stadium-like room. To their immediate right and left, thousands of Ethels filled tiered stands and box seats embedded in walls. At the far back of the room, three large screens towered above the seating. On the screens was a symbol of a hexagon encompassing a square, triangle and circle with the words ‘Arkwright Corporation’ in the middle. The floor in front of them looked like empty space under glass as did the ceiling which seemed to display an abyss of stars and distant galaxies.
“Watch your step,” Alpha Ethel warned Hotaru as they approached a wide staircase in the center of the room. The stairs circled around until they reached the top, where a long desk with five chairs sat on a checkered marble stage. And now that he was here, Hotaru could clearly see each distinct Ethel around him. Some younger than others, most appearing to be the same age and height as his own, but there were granny versions, kindergarten versions, versions with pigtails, ponytails, shoulder cut hair, braids, and so on. At some point Hotaru had lost track of where he was stepping and found himself colliding with the desk at the center of the stage.
“You look a little pale, Miyagi-kun” Alpha Ethel told him. His eyes swum about the room for a moment before settling on her.
“These Ethels are from other dimensions, right?” Hotaru asked.
“That is certainly a thing that is happening here, yes.” Alpha Ethel confirmed, Omega Ethel nodding along.
“Then, isn’t it dangerous for you to be meeting with all these, alternate selves?”
“Yes and no,” Alpha said as she hooked thumbs with Omega Ethel who had her eyes closed, while Alpha maintained eye contact with Hotaru they continued with a complex handshake. “We’ve discovered that prolonged and repeated physical interaction with another self only shakes the trans-dimensional reality a little. So just meeting with one another is perfectly fine.” But as she said this she and Omega continued their commplex “secret handshake”. With a start, he realized they must have practiced this and done it several times. He shuddered to think what other things these Ethels had been up to together. Suddenly, the lights around them dimmed as a single pillar rose on the other side of the room in front of the three screens.
“Welcome,” said a slightly older sounding Ethel, and everyone in the room turned their attention to the rising pillar. Atop the wide pillar was an oaken desk where a full grown adult Ethel, dressed in a suit and jacket sat with hands clasped together. Alpha Ethel took the center seat at the long desk in front of them. Omega Ethel took the far left seat next to yet another woman in a suit dress that Alpha Ethel seemed to recognize but Hotaru didn’t. She had long black hair too but with no bow. Her bangs covered her right eye and she seemed a tad more mature than the two teenage Ethels on the stage. This woman smiled warmly at Alpha, but scowled at Hotaru with a fiery passion. Hotaru flinched before recieving a nudge from Alpha who gestured to the seat next to her. He slowly sat down, noting the suspiciously empty seat to his right.
“Well, now that we are all present for once, let us begin this cycle’s joint multiverse recovery meeting. I, Prime Ethel Montgumy Arkwright, will be conducting today,” Prime Ethel said, addressing the room as a whole. “We have all come far and wide from our respective dimensions, and yet again come to broach the question of questions. How do we stop the inevitable collapse of the multiverse?” All of the Ethels remained quiet, their expressions unconcerned as Hotaru’s eyes shot open for what felt like the first time to him. He looked across at the only non-Ethel woman to his left and saw her frown, as if she and Hotaru were the only humans in this room.
“Over these last five years, across every conceivable timeline, we all have dedicated our every waking hour to fixing the existences that make up the whole of every single reality. However pointless these years have felt for us, it was not without its results. This does not mean that we have learned how it must be done, but only that we have finally pinpointed the cause of the multiverse’s deterioration.”
The way Prime Ethel spoke made Hotaru look on in awe as almost each and every Ethel around him listened with the utmost respect. Almost every Ethel.
“We already know the cause, Prime, just get to the point!” Said an Ethel with a slightly deeper voice. This version of her also sat at a desk towards the right side of the open center a bit closer to their stage which rose on another pillar till it was slightly lower than Prime Ethel’s perch. The suit of armor she wore was thicker and heavier looking than his and Alpha Ethel’s. Deep cuts covered the armor as well as the giant hammer that sat against her desk. She had a permanent scowl across her face, which only added to the long scar that ran down the middle of her forehead and to the right of her nose. Half her hair had been buzzed short while keeping the other half long and messy. Yet, the very same white bow was still tied at the back of her head.
“Patience, Zero-2,” said another adult Ethel across the black space and to their left. “We are all eager to get this cycle’s multi-universal reports over with, so quiet down and let me talk for once.” Sitting at yet another desk on a pillar, was an Ethel in a fancy purple dress and a wide brimmed hat with red feathers protruding from the back. And just under her hat was the very same white bow. Hotaru looked at her and the expanse of Ethels behind her in the stands. Hotaru finally noticed a marginal difference, as one side was populated with military and other warlike Ethels and the other half consisted of well groomed and pretty Ethels. He shot an incredulous glance at Alpha Ethel who appeared unphased. The Pampered Ethel and Empress Ethel stared daggers at one another before a loud thud erupted from Prime’s microphone.
Prime Ethel was now standing, holding a thick tablet that she had just slammed on her table and looking down on the group on the center stage.
“As of this cycle’s data collection,” Prime Ethel began. “By which was provided and compiled by Ethels 89-L, 79-L, and 69-L,” She directed her hand to Pampered Ethel on her right with that last name. “We can affirm that as of establishing travel with dimension 99999-LC, the entirety of the multiverse, alternate, past, present, and future have all been compromised to 99% deterioration rate. And are all doomed to blink out in approximately five-hundred and forty-eight days by normal earth rotation standards. That would be four alternate earth climate resets, and about forty-five moon cycles for any pre-civilization Ethels in attendance today.”
A lot of heads turned to a small group of Ethels down at the far bottom right of the large room, where about a dozen animal pelt wearing Ethels sat annoyed, looking up at Prime Ethel’s dismissive hand motion when she addressed them.
“And with a thorough report from Omega 7-A,” Prime said, nodding to their office lady,who bowed her head. “We have, as of dimension 99999-LC’s discovery, officially ran out of contingency plans to stop the multiverse’s eventual collapse.”
The whole room erupted with murmurs and talks of events in their own realities that made the two non Ethels look to each other with worry just before Alpha Ethel stood up, reloaded her railgun and pointed it at the ceiling.
“Oh no,” both Hotaru and the woman said just as she fired off an echoing blast of railgun fire. The flash and sound silenced the room completely. Omega Ethel covered her face with one hand and sighed. All heads were now turned to Alpha Ethel who said nothing as she looked up at Prime, whose eyes were shut tight with embarrassment.
“I can not believe that I was ever that arrogant,” Prime Ethel said to her Alpha version begrudgingly.
“I am you though,” Alpha Ethel explained. “And despite our Alien disposition, we all know that this multiverse destruction talk is just that, talk.”
“Alien?” Hotaru asked.
“Hinako-Chan,” Alpha Ethel said, referring to the woman on her left. “Explain that to Miyagi-kun here.”
Hinako, the only other non-Ethel in the room, stood up and addressed him.
“Ethel, is in fact a name that refers to a female Etherian. Most dimensions including my own still… Haven’t made the connection.” The way Hinako said that last part made it sound like she herself hadn’t thought as much either.
“Hold on, Ranger E?!” He said, turning to Alpha Ethel.
“Yeah, I was keeping it on the downlow but I’m sort of like, their queen.” Her white bow unfurled into two familiar ribbon-like antennae flapping playfully above her head. Behind her, Omega 7-A removed her ribbon which was, in fact, just a ribbon.
“You okay?” Alpha asked, folding her antennae into a bow again.
“I’m fine.” Hotaru lied, holding back tears.
Prime Ethel tapped her desk for attention then started again. “It is time for us to redouble our efforts towards completing the Multiverse Instrumentality Project.” Prime Ethel then turned to her tablet and began displaying on the large screens picture after picture of two people. All the images were of the same individuals but taken in different realities, a boy and girl, but across the multitude of versions shown two pictures were highlighted above the rest. The boy was a disheveled high schooler with glasses, his hair showing bed head, and wearing a typical uniform with a white shirt, black slacks and a matching jacket and checkered tie. The girl wore a girl’s version of the same uniform, but a lot of the uniform’s defining features were covered by a personal jacket. She wore track pants under her skirt, and her hair was neatly combed if not a little short for a girl her age.
The whole of the room quieted down and smiled at the pictures of these two individuals, leaving Hotaru puzzled. Even Hinako seemed entranced as though she was just as excited about this “project.”
Prime Ethel continued, “Currently in dimension 99999-LC, the Great Advent has yet to happen. We are sending Ethel Alpha 632-E, Ethel Omega 7-A, Hinako Takayama. And, in accordance with 632-E’s request, Hotaru Miyagi to assist the Ethel of 99999-LC in bringing Ame Owari and Naoko Hajime into transdimensional matrimony.”
“Wait!” Hotaru spoke up.
“Hey, Miyagi, sit down,” Hinako whispered to him, but he ignored the warning.
“What does making these two random people fall in love with each other have anything to do with the destruction of the multiverse?” Hotaru was confused and sweating. The amount of information that he was trying to download and process was too much. To simply continue with a plan of setting up two people he had never met or heard of was the final straw for him. He might have continued in his outburst if Alpha didn’t interrupt him.
“Miyagi-kun, the reason that those two are so important, is because they are the only ones out of place in all of existence. And just so you know, those two up there, are my best friends.” She said with a beaming smile. Not unlike the other Ethels in the room.
“In our universe, I experienced my own Great Advent when the Etherians first attacked earth.”
“But you’re one of them?” Hotaru asked again, hoping that it wasn’t true.
“Yes, but I’m not all that bad am I?” she asked to which he nodded, tears welling up again..
“I was forced into a bunker to await further instructions as the entire world went into a state of emergency. And cramped in that small space is where I met Ame and Naoko. I chose to fight my own people to defend them and my universe. But like every other universe, like Prime was saying, they were my best friends, but not with each other.”
“I’m lost again,” Hotaru confessed, now a little calmer. “Why are we going to try getting together if it has never worked anywhere else?”
“Because it's the only thing left to try! Where my other selves have defeated the Etherians, they’ve found that the universe comes to an end anyways. In 69-L’s universe, she unified Humans and Etherians in peace, but the sun near her earth is going to go supernova. In Zero-2’s universe, she exterminated the Etherians, but the war’s end resulted in an expansive galactic civilization in tatters. In Omega 7-A’s universe, there are no Etherians, but global warming has raised the sea levels on every habitable planet. And even in Prime’s universe, humanity is no longer at war with the Etherians in the traditional sense, but now at war in business and economics, which poses its own share of problems. And while we, the Final Council of Ethels have banded together to solve these problems, and have stopped them for now, impending doom is still coming to break down everything ever created in every shape and form.
“But!” Alpha Ethel continued pointing to the massive monitor. “Dimension 99999-LC is our last chance, and I want what all Ethels want from these two best friends that transcends time and space. I want to take a picture with them someday on their wedding day!” She yelled, loud enough for every Ethel to hear. The Final Council of Ethels erupted in applause and shouted as one.
“Rain or shine, Ameko forever!” followed by a fervent chant of “Ameko! Ameko! Ameko!”
Hotaru was once again lost in this world of hyper intelligent women who had not only made impossible contributions not only to the universe but every universe. Alarmingly, this seemed to be in a dogged pursuit of seeing their two best friends married.
“Plus,” Alpha Ethel said, turning to her two human partners. “If this works, and we actually manage to get those two to like each other, scientifically, the rest of the multiverse should fall back into place, and all crises will be averted.”
The two non-Ethels stepped back with Omega Ethel and watched as all of the room hugged and exchanged complex handshakes in excitement of this mission.
“Omega 7-A,” Hotaru started. “Would it possible that the real reason that the multiverse is collapsing is because of the Ethels themselves?”
“Certainly that is one of our problems,” she answered. “But just as your Ethel said, this is the only thing we as a collective of alternate selves have failed to do. And this is the last universe we’ve been able to discover, so if she and the Final Ethel can’t get them together, it would seem that that relationship was never meant to be.”
Hotaru took a step back, incredulous, but resolved to see it through, if he could. From across the room Prime Ethel gave their table a salute. Reluctant and a bit shaky he responded in kind. To his left, he realized Alpha was saluting as well.
Alpha relaxed significantly once the fervor had calmed down. Picturing in her mind the dream she once had for herself. Three friends, together, in a photo booth. She could almost taste the cheap popcorn and feel the plush seat of a movie theater on the weekend. Going to school, hanging out after class, and studying with her two best friends. She chuckled to herself. No longer a passing memory. Soon, it would be her reality.