Chapter 2:

(Prelude) (Act 3)


She crossed the bus stop without thinking about it unless it strengthened the resolve. As soon as she turned the corner, she entered the very place that celebrated the death of not only her normalcy but the whole world's. The time period she supposedly lives in. The oppressive light blinded Jackie as she went to Steppe Avenue for the first time. Bookmark here

It made no sense. It was truly fantastic.Bookmark here

The light from the various augmented projections didn't illuminate, more like radiate as the colors were amalgamating much less bending, constantly in cascading flux until coming together to form the said holograms. Jackie didn't expect there to be swarms of people clustered, moving up, down, all around the space.Bookmark here

The bizarre street layout, converted for commercial purposes, sidewalks engorged, and roads split in multiple ways, didn't compare to the once buildings that shrouded everyone.Bookmark here

Compact. In design, in structure, and overall aesthetic. As if the buildings were layered continuously, layered, layered, and someone forgot to stop. So compact, each building has a feature jutted inward or outward to offset any potential malfunction. So much, they even "rotate," and another piece takes the previous' place. They stood tall as they swayed subtly when one looked at them enough, and always swung in ways that made one feel snared, never reeling back because one ever noticed when they "closed in."Bookmark here

The first "Grounder" was a colossal structure that towered over the whole street—described as silver and white hued, like an engorged stump. But Jackie knew the rest was underground. Glanced at her right and she could see the first "PATHO-S" station, passing by it. Gunmetal, a spacious building further down the street's right, looked bulkier than the rest of the buildings surrounding it. Closed as the "technology" was already risky without tonight's event happening. And she knew that the Dr. Taber Memorial Center was behind her, but she didn't feel like turning to see it. Bookmark here

She refused to look at anything around here as is. No need to devote any more attention to something that naturally steals it. Bookmark here

The moving, compact buildings surrounded the populace, as multiple augmented projections came and went in sets, radiating constant and everchanging light across the plain.Bookmark here

And Jackie wondered why, exactly, she's the odd one out. She began walking down the street, amalgamating into the crowd, and felt like she was now living as her sentiment. Bookmark here

Once upon a time, she got a picture, the description, and sounded like something out of this world, cool. She recalled she was…five, when her parents sat her down, told her what was going on. "Futuristic!" Was what she thinks she shouted out, cutting off her father.Bookmark here

Which made him lose the heart he built up to explain what it meant thoroughly.Bookmark here

It was disconcerting just being here, seeing it all happen and yet still feeling like being wholly removed from reality. Her sight darting side to side at what popped up or what shined against her eyes, barely hearing her thoughts as sounds came in crowds, as she moved across the physical claustrophobia everyone was projecting unknowingly or not. How can see enjoy this sight if outright rejected her senses?Bookmark here

It was uncanny. Truly fantastic. Bookmark here

And yet, this'll soon be the reality for everyone.Bookmark here

Jackie wished that she didn't see the "construction." Almost like a skin graph, the local store was slowly being enveloped by it's shifting segment, essentially a tumor. She ended up staring in disgust as she noted the foundations, like the walls and steel frames, were comprised and now of the shifting segment, slowly fitting the surrounding buildings.
"Shiftication". And it was happening right before her eyes. Bookmark here

In her haste, she quickly looked down to her phone once more and bit the other bullet in the series of many she had lined up.Bookmark here

Dug in her sports bag's front pocket and grabbed what she was looking for into a fist. She quickly figured that handling it in the way she did could damage it, so she looked it over with the most generous grip she could allow and felt like giving it.Bookmark here

Hers was blue, but navy—as any lighter shade wasn't made yet when she ditched it, sure there is now. A trapezoid overlapped with a semi-circle, the scrunched top, and ridges with smooth curves filling out what the framework couldn't. It fit perfectly snuggle in Jackie's fingers, even with the two that turned it about in both expectation and trepidation.
She glanced at the people that had them fused into their ears.Bookmark here

She could only glance at them because they were the type to walk up and down in places like these continually. Despite frilly and meaningless displays, color, background or theme, they all were looking at what's happening, with the information conforming about their face.Bookmark here

Most of them could've been investors before all of this, committing to keep track of the changing world even if it didn't make any sense anymore. If it made sense to them, then fine. Jackie knew that it was a meanspirited read, because they ranged from investors, teachers, emergency workers, to just people.Bookmark here

Still. No way in hell she's putting that in her ear.Bookmark here

She soon jammed it on top of her phone and watched it change. The ridges simply continued down to the phone's edges and the phone's build simply gotten bulk. There wasn't much of a screen anymore but transformed phone being transparent on the surface, with the innards holding technology morphing into borderline sci-fi components. It was complete.Bookmark here

Jackie took a deep breath and pressed her index and middle fingertips against the "phone's" surface. The machinery gleamed and became circularly focused around them. She removes the fingers, and the logo appeared with the equally as iconic ambient sound, rising tonally into a soft fade.Bookmark here

"Athernet," the sudden, soft voice over said, something Jackie forgot about.Bookmark here

Then she startled backward a bit, causing the duo of guys behind her to follow suit in a chain reaction, then proceeding onwards into the crowd by going around her. She said sorry on reflex, brewing with guilt.Bookmark here

That manifested because of what startled her: the reply her father sent back.Bookmark here

"Alright. Text back when you get home. lov u"Bookmark here

She clutched her phone hard. In the best-case scenario of doing this, would she even get back no later than 3 or 5 in the morning?Bookmark here

Guilt. Anxiety. Hatred. These things never stood with Jackie for this long. Never stewed within her. She never even consider that she'd use those things for fuel to keep her going, now.Bookmark here

She shook her head. There's no use with thoughts that go in circles. Forward. Focus.Bookmark here

She discarded the message with a finger swap and poked about in the hub while ignoring the "Welcome back"-themed reminders about how to use Athernet, yet constantly huffed to herself as she got stuck with something. She redid actions, stumbled about sometimes because her vision was wavering as her heart hammered through her body. She simply didn't care about how she wanted her hub to be laid out and plowed through the multiple screens, turning briefly into "dust" then reconstituting into the next screen.Bookmark here

She was getting used to this, being so hapless at the point of being irrational, and it made it worse in her mind. Her countless nights of thinking about this where she barely slept, witnessing her life regularly change without any chance to settle, much less assess. Then she figured that she's only the odd kid out, and surely everyone else accepted what's going to happen with open arms, and she had to be browbeaten to reach this conclusion. She would even love for that to be the case, even.Bookmark here

Then she realized even the ones accepting it did it in the sense of resignation. Not acceptance. Not adaptation. Resignation.Bookmark here

A series of days happened, thinking about this repeatedly at the point everything was ruined for her before this day came.Bookmark here

She finally found the search engine after minutes of fighting through the "features".Bookmark here

"Tabby ToMorrow" was searched and queued up with many upon many videos.Bookmark here

Calling them videos were a stretch, they were sheets of media more than anything, but they served the same primary function. All of them cluttered against each other, the contents all over the place equally as. It wasn't what she was after.
She wanted to refresh herself; she wanted to measure the weight of exactly what she's getting into.Bookmark here

"Tabby ToMorrow first Shift Talk"Bookmark here

It instantly popped up, and Jackie tapped for it to play, looking at it intently.Bookmark here

The holographic haze reconstituted into a meek, feminine figure; hair long and spiraling, which made Jackie question if it was on purpose due to the length and coverage, as she fidgeted on screen. A pregnant pause followed when the image was cast and as the video played, indicating to Jackie that Tabby was still trying to figure out what she'll be soon famous for.Bookmark here

"So, uh," Tabby begun, then cleared out of her throat. "Right. The Shift Noumenon…"Bookmark here

Tabby clasped her hands together, and started again when she regained the confidence, "We're…starting to get a handle on what exactly it is, so that's good, and the public—us, yeah, you and mean—are getting the complete information as they look more and more into it, so that's good…"Bookmark here

She paused, Jackie noted. Was it because she noticed she said "so that's good" twice? The constant stumbling over words? Bookmark here

Even if it was something modern—well, "recent"—Jackie couldn't help to be fascinated by things like this. Immortalized words in history being said by someone that was completely and utterly mortal at the time. People coming into their own in real time.Bookmark here

"I just—wanted to make this video because I want, well, it started off me, by myself, recording what I needed to know and remember…but then I thought about people not somehow not getting what's been said, and maybe I just start over, record these instead, and post them. My name isn't really important, but what's happening is, s-so…"Bookmark here

That humility lead to your name being important, Jackie commentated in her mind. People didn't get what was being said because they weren't human about it. The revelations and the lack of having ones that made sense eroded them away. We needed someone that talked like you, like us.Bookmark here

"The Shift Noumenon," Tabby continued, "Started happening…after the Infinite War, 1940's. Weird things sort of…happened. Tides never reaching the beaches, days speeding up and nights lasting weeks in some countries—just weird stuff. Many at the time thought the atomic bombs' aftereffects were causing this, somehow, which…yeah. People already on edge, being pushed and pushed until the first Shift happened on 1955. And we were so unprepared."Bookmark here

As if on cue, Jackie glanced over and saw the Shift Simulators closed. Lined up adjacent to the proceeding station in a spiral, they were black, layered spheres on a podium that doubled as steps. Practically air sealed and became airtight when they operate, having multiple, folding shells to achieve it. Once you were in, the sheer existential dread of what you want to witness instantly sets in as you're locked away for what felt like eternity and cessation when it was 3 minutes.
It would've been distasteful if they were open night. Bookmark here

"They were dubbed as you and I know them as the Transitional Shifts. Cosmic waves that alter reality at the point of warping it. Again and again, they happened what started off seasonally, then monthly, then… 'regular occurrence'," Tabby separated both hands and thrust them down in a chopping motion, hammering her point. Bookmark here

"Reality as we knew…simply changed. Literally. And after the Shifts happen, weird things just happen, because it's allowed now, in a way. Weird things we just…can't keep track of, now."Bookmark here

We do know, now, at least, Jackie mentally sighed. She was already searching for another video of what she meant. She let the current one finish before clicking that one.Bookmark here

"So, we just sort of…gave up. The Modern era had to end because the Shifts sort of took what contemporary times meant for a lot of people. And as I, and many people my age were told because we were born after this, contemporary times formally abdicated across the world at 2000, The Last Year. Here we are, in the Transitionary Point."Bookmark here

Tabby had more to say, Jackie was sure, but she had more to say and convey clearly, in the next video she chose.Bookmark here

She looked more confident due to her growing status. Her grimy hair was stylized, with indigo streaks accenting her sharp bangs and locks. She wore eyeliner, painted her nails, and overall looked healthy. Her voice, mumbling and lost, was more direct, but still maintaining its awkward tone. Jackie at least cracked a smile, at that.Bookmark here

"Alright everyone," a growing Tabby ToMorrow began, "Let's talk updates! The good doctors at the Taber Memorial Research Center finally allowed OFFICIAL definitions to what exactly the weird stuff the Shift manifests…or allows manifestation, in one case..." Bookmark here

She made a face. Something between bewilderment and terror clearly played up…yet captures the two raw emotions. "And it's terrifying. Completely terrifying."Bookmark here

"The tangible changes are as follows: 'additional clauses to the physical laws as known, 'lifeforms that cannot possibly exist able to', and 'other untold Noumenon unearthed after a Shift's effects settle'," Tabby exhaled quickly, bringing her hands together, with her thumbs fitted against her chin.Bookmark here

"So. That meeeans that the laws of physics are constantly rewritten, creatures that should not be able to exist can now, and things man weren't to never know are out there for us to discover. Yeah."Bookmark here

Jackie definitely got her appeal, outside her personal one. She's pretty cute with her wide-eyed and borderline cartoony expressions both for the comedy, the release of tension and…it being fuel for the "overly-eager" crowd, yet they were so genuine, you couldn't help but agree that you feel exactly the same way she is. Bookmark here

"To recap—Shift happens, surrounding reality that it hits will be warped and constantly 'shift' about, and now that we know, when it stops doing that: the three aftereffects will happen at random. The previously affected areas are ticking time bombs," Tabby emphasized. Bookmark here

She looked at the floor around her room, then wondered aloud, "So how does the siVis thing play into all of--?"
"Here we go…" Jackie couldn't help but say to herself. The thing she was looking for.Bookmark here

"Oh! Right," Tabby said, laughing as if she forgot she was recording briefly. "My ever-allusive siVis Experience and siVisTrends video: the one even if you guys don't rake up the views by the subject matter, it'll be popular because I've been putting it off for so long!"Bookmark here

She made a noise Jackie could only describe as "Bullllurgh~" as she waves her arms in exaggerated exasperation. "Sorry guys, that's gonna take years at this point. Even with the love you all showered me, I can't just be handed the classified stuff from Taber's on a silver platter, still. It's still too recent, too weird, even for all of this. I'm just not a mir—"
Jackie queued up her siVis video.Bookmark here

Now Tabby looked as Jackie, and the world knew her. Long, jet-black and indigo infused hair, eyeliner full and curved upwards near the sides of each eye, showing off her bare shoulders and arms in a spaghetti strap, purple top.
Tabby ToMorrow. The Informer of the New Weird. Bookmark here

"siVis. siVis. siVis," Tabby begun. "Just when we got all the crazy pieces to the puzzle, another one plummet down and lays on and scatters the whole table. And it's not even a part of it all!"Bookmark here

Pretty much it, Jackie thought, as she was currently mulling over the others.Bookmark here

"You all were waiting for this one, ladies-gents-and all my devilish inbetweeners. Ever since I was beginning to pop, this was the subject you wanted me to discuss and compare notes with. But, like everyone else, I didn't have anything written down because I was afraid that suddenly, it wasn't the Shift Noumenon that got me."Bookmark here

Tabby made a half smile, "Thanks to the unbelievable support, now I'm the gal that's reporting straight from the Center's mouth. And, somehow, became a personality—earned your trust. Now I'm glad that I never made this one until now. One, would've been crap, and two…it's just better for me to have done it here. Now."Bookmark here

She became stoic. Tempered her breathing.Bookmark here

"Now let's do this. Discovered in the '70s, by the late, great, Dr. Gia Taber. She did her best to study, inform, and influence the phenomenon until her slow death due to Shift warping, The Last Year: 2000. And I don't think I'm strong enough to describe the finer details, so you'll have to seek after them yourself. But I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about."Bookmark here

Jackie nodded, melancholily. She was just an anthropologist at a time people yelled at you for not being a Shift Researcher, had to take up multiple fields to even get anywhere with siVis while having the worst case of Shift warping at the time, and generally became something people often coined "bitter agony" in the last thirty years of her life. "It hurt to look at her", just as much as it hurt to learn about her.Bookmark here

With a story like that, calling her the Mother of the Transitionary Point wasn't an overstatement, but an honor of remembrance.Bookmark here

All of this was just too much.Bookmark here

Jackie looked up, and she wished she hadn't.Bookmark here

A man in a black hoodie marred by a white mess, portraying the wear and tear.Bookmark here

The hood was an effort to cover it all, but it wasn't enough.Bookmark here

His visible forehead and temple profile were transparent, jutting outwards and inwards, as if he was a broken construct, the pieces shifting about. He couldn't help to pick at the indent-like gash that made the image worse, his fingers—normal, human fingers—kept digging and picking; picking, picking, picking and digging, frantically. When no one was looking.
In fear. Object terror. Lost.Bookmark here

Jackie froze in her tracks, covering her mouth, long after the ping of shock sparked and expanded across her system, making her chest throb and beat.Bookmark here

She tried to look away with her wavering vision, but his son clutched in his other hand waved at her — no younger than three.Bookmark here

And his face was completely warped. He smiled at Jackie, despite the fact it constantly moved.Bookmark here

Jackie dry-heaved harshly, seemingly echoed throughout the street.Bookmark here

She trotted away, despite wanting to sprint desperately.Bookmark here

She heard things fall out of her bag somehow, but she didn't care. Everything was a blur; her eyes welled up enough to make the world something she finally couldn't see anymore.Bookmark here

Heard a voice behind her, may've been the passerby with bags in their hand, either weird arms or the blur made it so, might be telling her that she dropped something. Didn't matter, none of it did, in the face of this giant clusterfuck.
Tabby's video, her words, still played and acted as narration for Jackie's ordeal. Bookmark here

"To be clear since life decided to make it vague as hell, no, siVis is not a by-product of the Shift Noumenon. Dr. Taber warped by the Shift was something before her discovery by a mere day or so, even by hours. The two aren't connected the way you'd think at first, but indirectly, since seeing the world so differently caused her to 'found' it. Something like the Shifts, it was always there, always sort of…meant to happen in the way that the Shifts did. In that weird cosmic sense. In short, it's an anomaly."Bookmark here

She paused it there, quickly. Jackie blinked enough tears out of her eyes, enough to see she was coming up towards her final destination.Bookmark here

Steppe Avenue, then Great Steppe Avenue, is both the longest and most connected road in Davenport, Jackie heard. Everything leads to it, and everything branched from it, somehow, someway. Steppe Avenue and Peterson Street, the street that leads to Pell Forest.Bookmark here

As she looked for and found the Shift Tracker Radius, is where the brunt of tonight's Shift will happen.
Despite still running, which morphed from trotting, she managed to open that and shrink Tabby's video, playing it as she looked at the projected wave cover Bell, dissipating. Bookmark here

Tabby then flicked her index finger upwards, turning on her Athernet feed: various shapes and sizes of official documents spinning in motion around her before settling as she grabbed and dragged a picture in front of her. A blonde, young girl in a singed cheerleader outfit, staring at her hands in the ruins of a cafeteria burned crisp black. Wide-eyed. Too shocked to cry.Bookmark here

"Drowned out in the madness of The Last Year, the case of Jason Pike High happened. The Boiling Girl. Cassie Morgan, the first public siVis user. Though not the first reported, as Japan had the Atsuryoku modern folk tale, then later discovered to be Nathan Fuuki. They were the first siVisTrends of many, as the cases piled up and up, well into the Transitionary Point, present day. Victims of siVis, despite the possible damage toll or possible victim count they managed to rack up. They're people, unfortunately to you all who thought otherwise. The whole problem with all this is the fact siVis manages to make our already confusing situation outright hazy."Bookmark here

Tabby kept the images, footage, articles and other media swirl about her, as she looked to her audience.Bookmark here

"From many Trends testimonies, it's an experience — a state that puts you beyond even the Shift Noumenon, at least in feeling, in senses. You're granted many abilities that could uprise, enable interaction with the Shifts, Nulgarrt—without being warped due to the exposure. But despite all that, they constantly brought it back to you still being yourself. And they're right at least on the levels we can understand, like DNA—Blood; all matches up with their previous records barring the stress of existing like this. No one for sure knows how to cause this, except for witnessing—or even surviving—a Shift. Stretches across the whole Noumenon as well."Bookmark here

"Play it well, and you're granted with something out of this world. And there's plenty of stories I've covered that shows that playing it well, in the face of these things, is your only option other than the inevitable. So please--," Tabby finished, both as a potent plea and a perfect place to shut the video down as Jackie closed Athernet. Bookmark here

She looked towards her destination as she sprinted down Peterson, overtaxing herself towards the forest's trial's entrance on her incoming left. The hazy orange skies turned into a dimmed brown, the sun nowhere in sight anymore.
She had to. She couldn't live like this anymore. Trapped within these circulating thoughts that only boil her alive. She needed to be above this terrible life so that she could live again, screw the possibilities of ending up like them. Bookmark here

Jackie Jackson decided that she'll get supernatural abilities by trying to survive the experience of reality warping itself at first hand. On what would've been a Thursday night.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.