A Gilded Cage

A conversation forgotten.

 

“So, boss...just so I have this right, this vault we installed here contains...Julia the Cosmic?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“The one who exposed herself to that mysterious alien power source and absorbed it?”

“Yeah.”

 

“The single most powerful, beautiful, and influential woman on the planet?”

 

“That's the one.”

 

“...I have...a lot of questions.”

“They're not as important as you think they are.”

 

“'Scuze me?”

 

“Doesn't matter. Ask away.”

“Well...first of all, how?”

“How...what?”

“How'd you trap her in there?”

“...We didn't. We were discussing this in a meeting. She let herself in. She simply...agreed to it. She even helped us build this place.”

 

“Must be one hell of a vault then.”

“It is. See the metal on the door? How it can't decide on one color? It's a material she made herself. She demonstrated it by throwing it clean through the sun. Came back unscathed. Nothing humanity will ever make will even have a chance of breaking it down.”

 

“...What about her deciding to leave? Could it stop her?”

 

“That's the thing. She said she didn't want to leave.”

 

“What?”

“She said this is the only way she'd become free.”

 

“Free? Free from what? She's the one in a tiny vault.”

 

“'Tiny' doesn't mean much to her. She's probably made it bigger on the inside already.”

 

“But that doesn't explain why she'd-.”

 

“Doesn't matter. I'm sure she has her reasons. Let's be honest here. If she didn't want us to put her in there, she wouldn't of let us even THINK about doing it, in the most literal sense.”

 

“That's fair, boss. So...Why? Why'd you want to trap her at all? She's famous. Everyone loves her. She's done nothing but improve the world.”

 

“For everyone else, maybe. But our organization relies on a very careful balance of the world to survive, and she threatens it.”

 

“I guess so. But people are going to notice she's gone.”

 

“...They're not. The minute this bunker is sealed, it'll be like she never existed.”

“...What?”

 

“With her help, we restored some tech we 'borrowed' from area 51. Same place she got her power from in the first place. It's a...Memetic Blocker, I think she called it.”
 

“...Go on.”

 

“It's kind of like a liner, of sorts. When it's properly powered, anything and all knowledge inside of it is erased. Any attempt at reading any written accounts of it just results in a migraine. This whole bunker is lined with it. All information and memory about her will be wiped from the whole world.”

 

“Th...That's horrifying. Wait-does that mean we-”

“We'll forget too, yes. That's the whole reason I called you down here. This information is so classified, that even the people who created it will forget about it. I just wanted to talk about her one last time...Ah, sorry. I have to take this call...Yes? Yes. I understand, thank you.”

 

“Boss?”

“She's started charging the blocker. We've got about 3 minutes before the bunker's sealed. We've got to go.”

 

“...I...Okay, boss.”

 

“It's the dawn of a new era. I hope you're prepared.”

 

“...Uh, prepared for what, boss?”

“...Pardon?”

 

“Prepared for what?”

 

“...What are you talking ab-uh. What? Why are were in this creepy cave?”

“...I...don't know, boss...”

“...Let's get back to the office. I feel dizzy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

In that instant, the world changed.

 

The Memetic Blocker worked perfectly as intended. Julia the Cosmic kept her word as she remained in the vault the unknown organization had helped her create-not that they had remembered why, or even if they had.

 

However, this had some unforeseen consequences. In the decade since she'd gained her power, she had become an important figure in almost every aspect of culture-and when the information about her vanished, the information about everything she had affected vanished as well. A whole decade of culture, science, politics, and even personal memories as Julia interacted with the average person suddenly became a muddled, undefined mess.

 

This caused mass confusion and hysteria. What caused this? What did we lose? Who is responsible? The organization's attempts at preserving itself by hiding Julia was self defeating, as they had destroyed the fragile balance that they relied on, and it was disbanded. Not that they remembered why, or how.

 

The governments of the world completely failed at providing an explanation. Popular conspiracies included aliens, or some kind of gas that messed with memories. People accused the governments of covering up a disaster, but nobody could even begin to guess what the disaster was. After all, what kind of disaster of that scale could cause the world's population to quadruple over a single decade?

 

But time moved forward. People started adjusting. This event became known as the Forgotten Decade. As years turned into decades, and decades turned into centuries, this became little more than a topic for occultists and a footnote in history books.

 

But Julia the Cosmic is still alive. She remains hidden in that bunker to this very day. The second she wanted to, she could simply deactivate the Blocker and walk out of her cell as if it was never built. Why she stays there is only known to herself...

 

 

 

 

Many years later...

 

 

 

 

Joy, a recent graduate in history from the Southwest Republic College, had recently gotten a job at the New Roswell Museum of History and Nature as a night guard.

 

It wasn't a glamorous of a job as she was hoping to get there. She was hoping to maybe be a guide, or maybe even the curator. Instead, all her degree got her was a job that didn't even need it.

 

But she chose to look on the bright side of this. This was a backstage pass to look around the museum as much as she wanted, without a single crowd. The pay was decent, and the job was easy. This part of town was so quiet that she doubted anyone would ever break in.

 

Besides, she was pretty cute in the guard uniform.

 

One night, she was in the exhibit about the old nation that used to stand here-the United States. She was looking at a display mentioning how the Forgotten Decade was an important factor in the fall of the nation...though nobody could quite agree how.

 

The Forgotten Decade had always been a fascinating topic to her, even if it was an utterly meaningless one to research. How on earth could the entire planet just forget about a whole decade? She could only imagine what kinds of technologies had been created and only discarded, what kinds of stories were forgotten, or what the culture was like...

 

But as much as she would rather read, she did have to at least pretend to be on patrol. Eventually, it led her to a storage room in the museum's basement...where she found that one of the brick walls had partly collapsed, revealing an incredibly long of metal staircase behind it, stretching deep into the darkness beneath the museum.

 

She had never seen this room on any of the museum's floor plans. But she remembered hearing rumors that the museum was built on top of some old ruins, or that the floor plan had changed and left behind some obsolete rooms. The stairs were clearly designed with form over function. She shined her light down it, and it was...very, very deep. She could maybe see the bottom if she squinted.

 

Despite her better judgment, curiosity got the better of her she began to descend. It was quite the workout. She lost track of how many stairs she'd gone down, but her best estimate was that she was at least a hundred feet under the museum when she finally reached the bottom.

 

It was a dark, dank and dusty cave. So, ruins and old floor plan were both out. She mused that her flashlight might be the first source of light this cave's seen in centuries. Beyond herself and the stairs, the only sign that mankind has ever set foot in this cave is a utilitarian metal door...absolutely lousy with 'DANGER: KEEP OUT' signs, written in a hundred different languages.

 

She'd heard the stories about old nuclear waste dumps, and thought that she might of stumbled on one. Though those usually go with 'sealed' rather than 'hidden'. Either way, she'd decided that this is not a safe room. She needs to get back to her patrol, anyway.

 

She turned back to the stairs, and started to make her way back up, musing about how she'd manage to get the wall back up to hide this cave again...when she heard a voice.

 

“Oh dear, do you want to leave already? It's been so long since we've had visitor hours!”

 

It was a soft, gentle and beautiful voice from a woman. Who was...currently hidden in a creepy cave a hundred feet below the ground. That made Joy jump from 'this might not be a safe place' to 'I've walked into a horror movie.'

 

She broke into a sprint, clambering up the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but the way up seemed far longer than the way down did.

 

...Far, far longer. She knew it was a long staircase, but it seemed like she was just running up into a endless black abyss above her.

 

Her heart was pounding. Her lungs were burning. She hoped that she had maybe put enough room between her and whatever monster lurked in this cave to catch her breath, but as she glanced back down, she saw the single most horrifying thing possible.

 

She hadn't made it a single step up the staircase. She was running as hard as she could, and she had somehow stayed in the exact same spot.

 

“Please, don't leave yet. At least come out to say hello!”

 

Joy, obviously, was scared. But this strange woman made it clear she didn't have a choice. So she tried to respond as best she could through her panting. “A...at least...at least give me a chance...to catch my breath...”

 

“Oh, I forget that's something you have to worry about in there. Let me fix that for you!”

 

Joy inhaled, and...it was the easiest breath she'd ever taken. Somehow, she instantly went from panting and struggling to breathe, to feeling perfectly fine. Even before her attempt at escape, this dank cave felt hard to breathe in. She didn't know it was even possible for someone to breathe this comfortably.

 

“What on...what did you just do to me?”

 

“I gave you perfect breath! Absolutely perfect breath. Even if you're in space or on the bottom of the ocean, you'll never struggle finding oxygen again! You could run a hundred marathons and still breathe easy!”

 

“Wait, really?”

“Of course! Want to go run back up the stairs to test it?”

 

“Uh...” Joy glanced back towards the stairs and grimaced. “I think I'll pass. I'm not sure how you did that, but...thanks?”

 

“You're welcome, you're welcome! Even if you're trapped inside, that's no reason for me to be rude. Now, won't you come outside and say hello?”

 

Joy felt very nervous. She was starting to think that maybe she just fell down the stairs and hit her head and is hallucinating.

 

“No, I assure you, this is the most real thing you've ever seen!”

 

“Wh-wa-did you just read my mind?”

 

“Of course! Please, I've been waiting to visit someone for far too long.”

 

“I...Okay, I won't lie, creepy cave basement, lady with weird powers...Do...Do you promise you won't kill me?”

 

“Do you want me to kill you?”

 

“No! Of course not!”

 

“Then I won't hurt you! Now please, I'm getting impatient...”

 

The door rattled and shook and somehow swung open of it's own volition. Scared as Joy was, she decided that angering her host would be the worst possible thing that she could do, and she let herself in.

 

She wasn't sure what she was expecting behind the door, but it wasn't another door. A massive vault door set against the back of this cave. It's color was...difficult to describe. It seemed to somehow be every color at once. Not like a rainbow. She could stare at one spot and it would somehow see three different colors at once in the same spot, and every time she move her eyes the slightest amount, all of the colors would shift and she'd be seeing a different set of colors.

 

Joy wasn't sure what it was. This room was dark, and it was cold, but simply standing in it made her feel stronger and more confident about herself. As if there was some important part of existing that was only present in this cave.

 

“That's...quite the door.”

“Thank you! It was the best way I could keep you all inside.”

 

Joy frowned. “Okay, okay. You keep saying that. “you're inside” this, “come outside” that, but it's pretty clear to me that you're the one in a cell.”

 

“Is it?”

 

“You're the one sitting behind the massive door. I'm the one who has a job and a home.”

The mysterious voice laughed. It was one of the most beautiful sounds Joy has ever heard. “You don't understand! Have you realized how restrictive it is? You have to live your life. Everything in there is so...restricted.”

 

“I guess so, if you want to get existential about it.”

 

“But I'm the only one who realized how to break that! I gained the power to do anything. Go anywhere. Be anyone, anything. And so I gave myself freedom outside, and you're trapped in there.”

 

“...Look, this is getting weird. Who are you?”

 

“My name is...Julia, the Cosmic.”

 

“...Who?”

 

Julia sighed on the other side of the vault door. “I suppose that's fair. I helped everyone so they could live in blissful ignorance. But in order for that to work, they had to forget everything about me, and I do mean everything. Everything I was, everything I did, everything I touched, everything I created...”

 

Joy was suddenly very interested in this conversation. “Wait, you made us forget, then do you mean...”

 

“Correct! I was responsible for the Forgotten Decade!”

 

The greatest mystery of history had been solved, and the culprit is a weirdo with supernatural powers who lives in her job's basement. Julia continued.

 

“So, I helped a certain group...letting them think they were responsible, of course, in order to create a technology from the same source of my own power that would wipe any and all memory of me, so you could move on and focus on the silly concerns you have in there. Though I do turn it off from time to time, to see if anyone wants to visit. You're the first person who's ever tried to come outisde.

 

“...The Forgotten Decade was 600 years ago. Have you been in there...or, outside? This whole time?”

 

“Of course. I don't have any reason to go back inside!” Julia answered Joy's next question before she asked it. “My body and my mind might be outside, but my power is endless. That's how I perfected your breathing, and why this cave is so energizing.
 

“...Aren't you lonely?”

 

“No, no. I told you. I'm powerful. I can be anything. Do anything. Create anything. I've created life, I've created...paradise. The people who helped me seal you outside thought this was a tiny box, but there's an endless multiverse out here.”

 

Joy was silent for a few moments. She had a lot of questions, about why or how any of this happened. But more than anything else, she wanted to learn more about the person responsible for changing the world's history, and what her 'paradise' was like.

 

“I know what you're going to ask, Joy, but I want to hear you say it.”

 

“...Will you let me outside with you?”

 

It was as if all of existence smiled at Joy and gave her a warm embrace as the vault started sliding open. “I would love to.”

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