Irene in Leafy English Suburbs
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It took exactly six weeks, two days, five hours and twenty-seven minutes in Ealing for Irene Cassavetes to fall in love with the girl who was sometimes called Nieves del Rio. And this killed her, because it took the same amount of time for Irene to realise that the girl was incapable of receiving anyone's love, for the simple reason that she was not really there.

But as Irene was the opposite of such a state of being in every way, we have to go back to the start. Because Irene was not - is not - capable of being so dissipated. Irene, in every incarnation, is siphoned into a variant on a singular core; she knows exactly who she is. To tell the story of one Irene is to tell the story of them all; and so, we will take a look at who the Irene Cassavetes who fell in love in this time and place is.

Irene was born in Sol on November 4th, 1878, to Theodore Cassavetes and his wife Ophelia. The physical location was a small town called Helena, in the United States' Montana Territory. Her parents were both immigrants, lured first to Ellis Island and, finding life in a New York slum little better than in a Thessalian village, were lured again by the great Western gold rush.

They did not make the "big time", but did manage to start a small farm in Montana, a little way out of Helena. They put up their little wooden house and started rearing cattle and sheep. They did quite well, all things considered; well enough to eke out a small living. Ophelia was soon pregnant; her previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriage or death in childbirth, and she was a frightened wreck when her labour began.

Theodore rode her into town in his rambling cart, listening to her crying and cursing in the rough Greek of their childhood. He didn't like to think of what he'd left behind; the weight of the old world, with its different dreams cast in different hues. He held tightly to the reins, listening to the hiss of the rain on his coat.

Eventually, they made it into town. Theodore tied his horses and cried out for the doctor, while his wife's screams roused the townsfolk from their beds.

The nearest doctor was a vicious old soul, snappish and unpleasant. But he had taken the Hippocratic oath, and thrust his door open to let Theodore half-coax, half-drag her into his foul-smelling hut. They lay her down on a rough woolen bed, and the doctor began his work.

Irene Cassavetes came into this world with the smell of whisky breath all around her, and a relieved croack from an aging physician. She was christened Irene to contrast the violence of the night, the delivery; and her mother held her tight, defiant, proud, at last victorious.

Irene sits on the windowsill, staring out at the house opposite. This has been their mission; a six-month observation, done without any technology more advanced than the binoculars. She has them thrust tight upon her face, but there's a little flash of light at the corner of one of them; from it, she can see the girl straightening up beside her, poised, intent. She can see the freckles on the back of her hand.

Irene jams the binos further into her face, blocking out everything but the house beyond. What are the girl's likes, her dislikes? Her taste in music seems nonexistent; she reads voraciously, but only as a way to pass the time, to absorb more into herself from as many places as possible.

Is that why Irene has fallen for her? Opposites attract? No… that's not it at all…

When Irene was nine, her parents began to get extremely concerned about her behaviour. She had become quite wild; she fought the other children in town viciously. There was nothing about her that conformed. They didn't like her long sojourns away from the farm, running over the hills and prairie; there were Indians abroad, and God only knows what else.

They tried to have a talk with her. Irene had sat, cross-legged, on the sitting room's fraying rug, while her parents gesticulated and thrust their faces forward, trying to make eye contact. She was watching a cloud through the open window, seeing it morph, mutate, bend.

Her parents were at their wits' end. They didn't have any idea of what to do. One night, Ophelia suggested they sell the farm, pack up, and go back to Greece. Theodore was on the verge of agreeing with her.

There are a few variants where this actually happened; where Irene forgot her incipient English and became Greek, raised below the mountainside in a grinding kind of poverty. But her destiny remains the same in all worlds. One day, she would return to America.

When she was nine years old, on one of her rambling trips across the country, Irene found a bunker. This bunker moved around a lot; or rather, definitions of history, names, places moved around it. A Helena here, a Helena there; this was all abstract, academic thinking. So Irene found the bunker, hidden under grass, its entrance covered over and forgotten.

She leant down. The metal was cold to the touch. She wasn't sure what she was looking at - someone had made it, sure, but who used so much iron on a round metal plate? Her hands felt the rough plating; the wind tattered her dress around her ankles.

There was a click, and a lock was undone. She started back, until she saw the hatch move back, winding away left and right. Below, a ladder stretched.

There is little to do in the house in Ealing. For those unfamiliar, Ealing is a fume-choked broadway full of tall offices, shops and crowds, a tangle of traffic lights and grimy pavements - all hiding the leafiest, most sleepy of English suburbs not two streets off its central passage.

Irene had been taught some basic education in one of early Helena's little schoolhouses, but she had never been much of a reader. Nevertheless, she'd ploughed through the house's obscure metaphysical texts as a way to kill time, the rhythms of her life thudding to the grandfather clock. The previous occupant had been a member of the temporal division, analysing an outbreak of multiplying time avenues in London. He had died when the Foundation had.

One day, she had idly looked across at the calendar, and had started up. The girl had sleepily looked in her direction, before returning to her own book when she realised nothing was wrong. But Irene was agitated. "Do you know what today is?"


"It's the anniversary. A whole year, in our personal timelines, since it happened."

Irene shot a hard look at the girl, but she just kept on staring at the pages. Her eyes were glazed, staring at words as they trickled and blended across the pages.

"Does it matter?"

How could you answer a question like that? Yes, it mattered, Nieves, it mattered! It mattered because the multiverse was now in tatters, realities colliding and blooming and bursting all around them as what remained of the Foundation struggled to keep some semblance of anything together. It mattered because each timeline, reality, universe - each one held huge, perhaps infinite quantities of life! The vast unfettered worlds contained within each beating skull…

It mattered because someone or something had destroyed the Foundation through the manipulation of chance itself. That they had been attacked, mauled, mutilated. Someone or something had culled them?

"That's why! Don't you care?"

But Nieves couldn't, because the girl called Nieves wasn't really there. She looked out of the window, staring with milky eyes into the dimming sun. "Not really."

And Irene searched her for something, anything…

The hole was vast. It went on for - well, she didn't know how long for. She was only nine.

Trembling, Irene reached for the first rung. It was hard, cold to the touch. Metal. She swallowed, hard, and slowly lowered herself down.

Every frail step rattled sound into life. The pinprick of light at the top seemed more and more distant. The dark swallowed her into itself, transmuting her, like base metal into gold. Beneath her, dimly, she thought she saw the frailest light; a blank, hissing white, a bulb without a shade.

She could leave right now. She could scramble back up, onto the surface, into a life of cloudy skies and homesteading. Long walks over the prairie steppe, skirts whipping around her ankles. Marriage, children, death.

But in not one world has any Irene Cassavetes done such a thing.

It is evening. The door opens, and Irene looks up to see the girl, her head tilted on one side.

Irene is poring over maps and calculations. These are the same maps and calculations that have been spreading like wildfire throughout the telepathic networks; composed by a former bismath at Site 90090 who had been crushed by rocks a second before the resurrection went offline. Tortured by chance, he became obsessed with it, creating an elaborate porphyry computer to pinpoint where the destruction had originated from.

But nobody had been able to understand him - least of all himself.

Irene sat back, staring up at the girl. A small desk lamp has been set up in the middle of the floor; this glows orange, giving the paper a flickering effect. Irene likes warm lights; she likes the facsimile of a warm sun, light casting off the back of her hand…

"You're looking at it too?"

The girl never asked questions about anything beyond the mission. But she sat down, too, and stared at the papers. Irene watched her carefully, and saw the twitching of her eyes, the nervous scratching of her knee.

This was Nieves; quick, focused, cold. But it was fleeting. A moment later, the girl stopped, without any sign or change in movement. She simply got up again, held held upright, and glided out of the room.

But for a moment, Irene had seen something striving out. And that was when she'd fallen in love.

The young Irene reached the bottom of the ladder, and turned around. She couldn't understand what she was looking at. Dials, lights, levers, readouts - a vast array of machinery, spread out for miles and miles and miles.

What was this place?

And you might think you know that, the bunker beneath Yellowstone. But each iteration is another change, another rearrangement of possibilities; and each of those is broken across the multiverse, possibilities cascading on one another. Irene stepped forward, running her hands over the metal panels, heart beating in abject and unrelenting terror.

It compelled her forward. She had to move forward. A hundred thousand versions of herself stepped foward in unison.

There were more passages, more machines. A vast, twisting piece of black paper that absorbed all into itself. A crucifix drenched in scarlet. A single moment of pure time, undulating in inconceivable shapes that would have blanked the mind of anyone else.

She couldn't help herself. She was a wild thing, and wondered what happened if she flicked that switch…

There are other things in Irene's history, but they all hinge on that moment. The details are unimportant and variable; a scar here, a broken bone there. The second the Foundation noticed her, the second she was scooped to her universe and taken to Site-01, her paths were set out for her. She knew exactly where to go. She knew exactly what to do, because she had been born to it, a vast and varied determinism dragging her to that one place in all worlds where she was a possibility.

She had stood for a hundred hours under a flagging plastic tarpaulin in the rains of Old Hyrestes, a universe searing bright off the hundredth amber crests of the Northern Arm. She had stood there waiting, moving not a muscle, until her target happened to walk a step out of line; then she had lunged, a snake-in-waiting, gripping his throat and twisting it tight.

She had ridden the Multiversal Cargo Train, and the Fallow Trains, and the Oblong Expanse, and all the other remnants of what had once been - well, something else, stations in the green grass between worlds. Nobody remembered its name any more.

She had abseiled down into the Wells of Harkhret, rescuing the runaway Fatima from a pit of oak and tar. A waste; she had died far from there, in Site-01.

But in all these encounters, she had remained herself, a sharpened arrowhead to thrust into flesh and loam. She was Irene Cassavetes! She had never been so sure of herself, and never able to resist the truth, the moment, the grasp of the hand - the single second of something solid when surrouned by the vast and incomprehensible.

The day after, they watched the house for hours. Irene did not move a muscle.

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