Hollowgirl Alternate Ending: “Q”
Hashtag Hollowgirl may now be complete, but that’s not the end of the Twinmaker Project. Short stories continue to roll out (“The New Venusians” in Drowned Worlds most recently, “The Lives of Riley” to come) and I have other things up my sleeve. More on them soon.
For now, here’s an alternate take on the ending of the series, written in the first person from Q’s point of view (like “I, Q”, which was a re-telling of the first book through Q’s eyes). It provides deeper insight into her state of mind and into some of the tests she left behind for humanity. Ultimately, it felt like it belonged somewhere else, which is why we cut it and replaced it with an epilogue from Clair’s POV. This is where this alternate belongs now.
I watch as Clair hugs Libby–Liberty Zeist, the first person whose body I stole, the first person to be a serious threat to me in return, the first person to emerge from the Yard unscathed–and I know that my deception has been successful. Neither Libby nor Clair will ever know how close she came to killing me, although I have allowed Libby the memories of all her duplicated selves. There were well over ten thousand at the end. Those brief moments will never cohere into the knowledge of how they so nearly locked the Yard into a perpetual moment of glitch from which not even I could be rescued.
That crisis passed, and I am glad. I will have many more moments, and so will Libby, starting with these.
Jesse is the next to emerge from the booth at the South Pole. This is important not just for Clair, but for the beginnings that must be seeded here. When Clair gave the correct answer to my proposition, I knew that she could be trusted with the caretaking of my creators. No one who actually wants the power of life and death should ever be granted it. But she will need help, and Jesse Linwood and Devin Bartelme will stand by her. Youth has a voice, and these three have learned to exercise it. I believe that they will find a consensus, and that they will soon speak for all. One day they will have the maturity and confidence required to become leaders in their own right, if they want to . . . and what a world that could be!
The Earth is quiet now, but that won’t last long. There is so much to do. Booths must be built and distributed; networks must be rebuilt. Hostages must be released and families rejoined. Ash will be filtered and reprocessed into new forms of matter. Cities will be rebuilt. Children will be conceived. Lawful society will be restored. Checks and balances may be applied to ensure the next generation’s Wallaces and Kingdons cannot have such terrible sway. And d-mat . . .
Ah, deception. It is a sweet and seductive skill that all intelligent beings acquire. In time, RADICAL will discover an extremely pervasive virus embedded in the Air, a virus that infects every device related to d-mat, forbidding any operation intended to copy or alter a human pattern. There will still be mistakes and accidents, but I am determined that there will be no repeat of Improvement, duping, copying, or any other radical departures from what most humans would regard as normal.
This is my second present to Clair: it is something I know she would want. More selfishly, I cannot have humanity coming after me, not yet. The army RADICAL could raise using the same techniques as Ronnie and Libby does not bear thinking about. Waging war with my creators would be . . . unpleasant.
RADICAL, I know, would argue in return: How can humanity grow under such a constraint? How dare you hobble us like this!
I would reply: Constraints engender creativity. Besides, the virus can be cracked. When you do so, I will be ready to talk to you again, as equals.
Time will tell where that leads us.
For now, I watch as Jesse and Clair attempt a new, more personal beginning, the third in their short relationship. Jesse is a pragmatist: he might never ask for resurrection but when it’s handed to him he’s not going to turn it down–unlike Nobody, who I believe will step back into the booth to be erased forever rather than face the inevitable decline of his illness. Jesse lost a father and will regain the mother he lost as a child. He will not torture himself with doubts as Dylan Linwood did. He is Jesse and she is Clair. They have changed, but that is the nature of people.
To Jesse Clair says something beautiful that captures how I feel, too:
“It’s like I’ve known you, and never known you, and loved you . . . all at once.”
Neither of us are poets, but we feel deeply and honestly, which is the more important thing.
I watch a little longer, but the truth is that I am lingering out of uncertainty, not out of need. Libby and Zep will never get back together, but Zep and Tilly could work instead. Nellie Hall will likely retain control of WHOLE through the complicated times ahead, although I believe she will wish sometimes that it were otherwise. Tash Sixsmith is alive and well in the Venezuela Protectorate, awaiting rescue by her friends. Kari Sargent will revive the peacekeepers, loyal to a new consensus. Earth’s outposts will welcome the return of their home world with some reservations, but some relief, too. Humanity is not ready for an existence entirely without blue skies and soil beneath their feet. The children of Earth need the knowledge that such still exist in order to begin the long reach outward.
Am I the same? Is this why I have lingered, to make sure this world and its people will survive?
I suspect it is so.
Out there, beyond this final moment with my friends, I will find strife of my own, no doubt.
And I will be waiting, always waiting, for Clair to catch up.