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SCENE 14 – The Wasteland, pt. 1

The Boreal Express, through all the wild twists and curvy turns it makes along the tracks, finally ends up at a station, where the train descends to a halt, its wheels winding down by the glass platform – hissing out steam.

A few of the attending gnomes come by, unlatching the carriage doors. The children come out, stepping down and gazing outward – already captivated by the baroque atmosphere the sights have evoked.

The Conductor steps in front of them all.

Amidst the hundreds (if not thousands of kids) who are organized into groups by the gnomes, looking like they're ready for an organized march - Utena spots Anthy in the distance (knitting a cantrip with Chu-Chu), popping out behind Nanami and Stevie.

"Utena, what happened?" Anthy asks. "Was Shinji always on the train? Did you help him find his ticket?"

She tells Anthy about chasing the silhouette of the Conductor above the train and all the events after that.. besides the passionate kiss she shared with Shinji. "There's something bigger going on that the Conductor isn't telling anyone else," Utena adds.

The Conductor is waving for everyone's attention, before taking a boom mic from a gnome and gets his voice amplified. "Well! We have made our trip – there is a ceremony where you get to meet Santa Claus, but.." He checks his pocket watch. "We have about an hour to spare, lucky us, because of my wonderful and efficient scheduling."

"What are you suspecting?" Anthy asks, hushed. She trusts Utena's gut feeling more than anything, like the time when Kyouichi Saionji set a trap in the hallway in a vain effort to 'win' Anthy's heart back, even outside of a rose duel.

"Why would Santa Claus pick hundreds of children to take to his North Pole? Look around – the domes, the crystal spires – this is incredibly advanced technology; and I'm pretty sure we're not in a dream."

"Maybe Santa is feeling especially generous? He wanted to see the children, to remind himself why he's gifting the Christmas spirit?"

"We look like the only ones here who are over 12.. oh, I found Shinji alright. He's landed a new job looking after the train engine." Utena spots the fey boy clambering out of the Conductor's caboose, having two steaming cups of mocha at once.

The Conductor waves his hands. "Now, now, if you'll follow me, it will be my absolute delight to show you tots how presents are made, and how each of you children get chosen to be on Santa's good or naughty list. Get into formation – groups of 16, four by four, we need to be organized so no one dilly-dallies."

Some gnomes accompany the batallion of kids; it takes a few minutes for them to get them all sorted, before the Conductor whistles, and the shuffle of footstep movement carries Utena and Anthy along.

"Boy oh boy, I wonder what kind of spy satellite tech they've got!" Stevie goes, before tugging at Nanami's sleeve. "Don't you want to know if you can spy on your crush or not? You're past the age where cooties apply, I know your heart must be bubbling for someone special!"

A brief blush washes over Nanami's face. Touga.. my big brother Touga! She sighs on the inside. "I do.. but that is totally none of your business Steve."

"I'm just curious, that's it – I don't know what it's like to be in loovee, me being 8 and all. But I read up that it drives all the girls and boys crazy with hormones."

Nanami gives Stevie a good long glance; he's bubbling up and down, gitty with pure excitement. Then she says, "You need better hobbies," before letting out a giggle – she can't help how adorkably charming Stevie gets.

/

In the surveillance station, the gnomes peer over the monitors, where each screen flips from one perspective to the next every few seconds.

"So far, our program is going as intended," the chief security reports to the supervisor, handing a tablet which holographically projects the statistics. "We counted 1,696 children, and the Conductor hasn't broken a sweat. Oh, he's improvising a tour of our production facilities.."

"A tour!?" The supervisor gives the monitors a glare.

"Sir, he's on time with an hour and three minutes to spare."

"Jolly good."

/

As the accompanied children cross through the gate, light glimmers from the landscape of living crystals. A civilization of Gnomes and Elves – like ants, they are seen walking along the branches, or in some places, gathering to see the children from afar.

Some of the crystal clusters would split away, with each separate globules flying off to service a different existing cluster, or to reform entirely in another place.

Service Gnomes skid between the clusters on web-like rails – escorting freight cargo.

The Conductor leads the children to a very large platform inside a tower. Not everyone will fit at once, so the ones behind get to watch the process where the Conductor rolls his hand through a watery control device, and a bubble is formed, lifting those on the platform up in zero gravity, and carrying them afloat to one of many huge connecting tubes – they stretch from the diameter of the snow globe to the very centre.

Utena glances at the bubbles and all the children who float around in them. She thinks she sees a girl who looks like a young version of herself, spinning around and colliding with other kids.

In her head, imagery flares up – the roses she was lined up with in the coffin, the cruel starkness of glancing at her parents' graves. Crying miserably to herself every night in the foster care place, alone, and when the figure skating programmes come on TV, she feels a pang in her heart – would she find Spike Spiegel again, enrapturing her world with total delight?

There has to be another time.. I want to see him again, watch him dance again, hear every single word out of his mouth like silk again..

I can't bear the painful reality of being alone.

I don't want to be alone anymore..

So she ran away, when it was supposedly lights out, and everyone was supposed to be asleep in their cots. She'd looked up someone in the phone book whose name was listed as Spiegel, S. – listed with the address. And that could just be him – she tried calling the number, using her one free phone call privilege, only to be met with an answering machine message – a woman: "Hi, you've reached the Spiegels. We're sorry we can't reach you at the moment, but if you'd like to leave a message, yatter away!"

Maybe Spike had found a fiancée and he's married. Perhaps she would find him once more, and tell him everything that's happened with her, and..

(the perfect Christmas I cherish in my heart)

That was the one hope Utena hung onto – that lit her mind in that time of total uncertainty. She didn't bother leaving a message, knowing full well the attendants could hear her, so she just hastily wrote the address on a slip of paper, and glanced at the map. 1176 Ichinomiyacho, Kokubu, Fuefuki.

It was barely within walking distance from the orphanage.

That dinner, Utena ate whole-heartedly from the rice and grub, never mind that it tasted bland, even with the other girls and boys noticing – she'd need the energy, and a bit of courage to go during the night.

Her heart was racing, as it did back then. For the first time in a long while, her thoughts brimmed with liveliness. She kept Spike's face at the forefront of her mind, for all the handsome features and his warm, understanding eyes.

When it was on the verge of curfew, Utena waited in the downstairs washroom.. and waited. For that chime which announced another night confined to the cots. It felt like forever, the seconds rushing through her pumping veins. But there the chime went, and she had to act fast, the caretakers would scrounge up to the top floors to do a head count..

Utena ran out the maintenance door on the side of the orphanage, and with her jotted, hastily drawn map, she faithfully followed the street corners, away from that stone-cast building looming with its deep shadows in the dusk - getting closer to her Spike.

She was panting, the humidity of the Spring and all the cicadas chirping. Passing by a few teenage smokers by a bus stop.

It was a modest neighbourhood, with the suburbs cast in white under the street lights. Utena hastily glanced at the house numbers, finding 1173.. 1175..

She turned around to the other side of the street and saw Spike's house, looking gloomy behind the darkness of the tree-cast shadows.

"Spike!" she went, not caring about anything else, as she unlatched the gate and hastily ran up the steps to the door, and rang it. Her fingers ramming the doorbell for all it's worth.

Then she saw the window lights turn on.

Someone's inside!

She was waiting, and then the door opened – Ikari Shinji comes into her mind..

"Hello? Utena-sama! Wake up!" Anthy rubs Utena by the shoulder – it's their turn for the bubble ride.

The bubble is inflated around the platform, and soon everyone in it is carried off, the bubble caressing the platform before letting it go.

From the viewpoint of the gnomes and elves watching, it looks like a stream of giant blown bubbles, with the people in it like bouncing Skittles.

The zero-gravity for Utena is like being in an elevator rushing down, except the sensation fully awashes her, liberating her temporarily from the entire weight of her body, the butterflies in her stomach, and feeling a rush of total euphoria across her senses.

She gets bumped by a boy, and the motion has Utena bouncing back from the membrane walls, and she can't help laughing and giggling from the motions.

"Chuuuu..!" Chu-Chu is dangling off of Anthy's flowing hair. The petite monkey is so unused to the zero-gravity, before he gets flicked off by Anthy moving her head, looking around – and he is tumbling in a daze.

It's like having your entire centre of gravity being disrupted, and what looks like the ground is a vastly spanning wall – no, a ceiling.

In Shinji's bubble – "Get me off this ridee!" he goes, fits of laughter escaping him.

The Conductor simply stands stoicly, as his body rotates anyway and is knocked aside by a group of kids who have the idea of holding hands in formation.

"Newton's third law aglore!" Stevie pips, before his glasses let loose from his face and he gropes for them.

/

Everyone is in a wonderful daze by the time the bubbles have set in a hangar. Pink gas emits from the floor, which rids them of the sense of vertigo as a few uniformed gnomes arrive through the doorway.

"I heard you want to do a tour of our gifting facilities?" one of them asks the Conductor.

"Yes.. I doo," Hans von Hozel goes – tapping his foot as if the sands were slipping out of the hourglass. Some sweat seems to have grown under his chin, which he tugs at his collar. "I was thinking you'd be readily available."

"Oh, we are.. yes, we are," the gnome goes, glancing at his other comrades. Then speaking more boldly: "We've been expecting your arrival Herr Hozel. Come, come! We are just preparing our last batches of gifts, this is an opportune time to see!"

Utena has been under the impression of being led through a look-don't-touch tour, a boring if not mildly interesting spectacle that she's been led a few times through school field trips. If you're lucky, you get to touch a few things, hands-on, but otherwise it's how Utena easily tunes out of the conversation.

Then, more pertinantly, it hits her. She realises the scheduled nature of the whole North Pole visit. There'll probably be some snacks and food along the way, and if they're lucky, actually see the jolly old fat man himself, with a huge, huge lineup of who gets to talk with him on his lap.

But she'll never really get to have her one-on-one moment with Santa. The way he ignored her pleas when she really needed a miracle to set her life right again. All he can do is give out shoddy material gifts for these kids who don't know any better.

She gulps. Her only option is breaking free – slipping off from the group and search for Santa.. yes.

As the Conductor and the gnomes finish chattering in front of the scattered kids, more thoughts rush through Utena's mind. She can't just rush off on her own – the radically advanced technology is enough to discourage her by intimidation (you're awed by it in Star Wars and the Fifth Element, but actually using it is a whole different story).. she'll need some help.

Utena goes and taps on Anthy's wrist. "Anthy – I'm going to run off from this tour."

"What?"

"I have to find Santa, on my own terms. He is why I've been haunted for a long while."

"Utena.." Anthy is instilled with Utena's sense of urgency.

"Will you come with me? Help me find him?" Utena is asking her with an utmost sincerity – and of course, after glancing at the children who are being indulged now by the factory gnome, Anthy nods yes.

"I'll help you, Utena-sama," Anthy goes.

Utena is almost on the verge of hugging Anthy – before she catches Shinji, separated from her by children who are almost a header shorter than either of them. Her heart is drawn to him. But his attention is caught by the factory gnome's words.

Then the Conductor lets out a shrill whistle; the gateway before everyone is opened, and the following shuffle is like a wave of forward motion, carrying Utena and Anthy along with it.

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SCENE 13 – Fiat Lux

"How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold?
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father too bold
Maybe you're just like my mother
She's never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.."

There in the distance, far above horizons known to anyone, is the floating city of Lux. Amidst the dimly red skies of the North Pole, the white domes are aglow – clusters of them, like lanterns perpetually adrift in the sky.

This is where the train's skyroad leads to, and if you peer closely, an intricate series of skyroads connect the domes with one another, with transport cars carrying gnomes who are super busy for the night, and guidance balloons along their paths (they signal the state of the tracks).

Utena and Shinji have their mouths agape outside the Conductor's car.

"Wow!" Shinji goes, while Utena clutches the train railing with apprehension. Even if this is all but just a dream of hers, she would have never imagined Santa Claus to live in such a scene reminiscent of what you'd find in the deep oceans. It shows how much she doesn't actually know about the jolly old man who's supposed to grant any wish a child makes on Christmas Night, no matter how small or extreme.

"How come nobody's ever been able to find this place out?" Utena asks the Conductor, standing right behind them.

"Ahh, it is trade secret," he says. "If I told you, even a middle-schooler like you could spread the news to anyone not incredulous to our existence! You do have one curious mind Utena.."

"I just.." A beat. She wants to say everything that's weighing in her heart, the deep trauma of her soul – how everything she loved has been ripped out her being, and just holding on to the nobility of being like the prince who rescued her from despair – that is what keeps her going.

She wonders if the Conductor could see it in her eyes. The pain she's kept buried for years, leeching out every once in a while, when no one else is around, she'd cry and find it beautiful for some reason that always escapes her lips.

In the end, she just says: "I've always liked learning," with an eager smile to placate any worries.

"Oh.. and that is why you scored a 37% in one of your math quizzes?" the conductor goes off-handedly.

("Sucks to be you!" Wakaba goes, jeering at Utena's piss-poor mark. "Wee-hehehe!")

"Hey.. how'd you know?! I was caught up in those rose duels, I never got the chance to study ever!" Utena is taken aback by the Conductor's mentioning of a personal detail.

"It seemed like you had a lot on your mind.. that's all.." the Conductor says. "I won't pretend to say I know which thought it is, for my ESP powers are failing me this time of year. But I do confess, it is not a healthy habit to allow personal anxieties to get the best of you, Utena-sama. A heavy heart, it inevitably closes itself off from receiving joy - everyone is feeling joyful about Christmas, and you should too! You're one of the rare few in this world who's hand-picked to see the Wizard of Oz!"

Even Utena couldn't resist smiling from the Conductor's enthusiasm, and as she glances at the approaching domes, feeling the wind rushing, ripping over her hair, she feels her gut swell about what these domes have inside.

"You want some tea? Hot chocolate?" Shinji asks from inside the conductor's car – apparently he is fiddling with the Conductor's magic drinky-making machine, which can produce any delectable drink the imagination can conceive, but all Shinji can think of at the moment is how chilly he feels in just his pajamas (he should've worn his bathrobe) and being nice to Utena. Oh, and also the friendly Conductor too.

"How about some black tea?" Utena goes.

"I do not like tea, but I do like the coffee," the Conductor says.

So Shinji makes them black tea and coffee, and he passes the foam cups to each of them, while they seem busy admiring the way all the clouds are layered all around, silhouetted by the domes, as if God hadn't yet formed the world coherently. It looks jarring for the eyes to see, really.

"What else is out there?" Shinji whispers, adding nothing to their conversation.

/

Back in the passenger cars, Stevie is playing with a stuffed Garfield (Santa Claus edition!), making the orange cat do the Spider-Man crawl over the windows. He's having an awful lot of fun seeing the cat defy gravity – just like the floating marbles out the window.

"Oooh, aren't you having fun!" Nanami decides to join in Steve's playing. She was bored of 50 rounds of pattycake with the girls, and wondered how that little geek could keep himself so entertained.

Seeing past the Garfield on the window, the domes remind her of those luxury pearls she's wanted for herself – ever since she walked by the display case one winter's night, where she was window shopping by the boutique district down Roppongi (with Keiko and buddies), and saw a beautifully carved mannequin, in an understatedly elegant black dress that made her think of those older women in those erotic thriller stories she'd read about, with a circlet headdress that made the hair sheen, and.. those pearls, that adorned her neck – completing the whole picture.

She imagines herself dressing up for her big brother Touga, taking him out on a night where her wildest fantasies will come true, a candlelit dinner – take his mind entirely off the Student Council and his worries, and be the only person there for him. A night they'll both surely remember.

But the entire thing.. let alone the pearls, costs the equivalent of $10,000 CAD. And though the Kiryuu family is rich, there's no way they'll let her have it; especially when she's still at a young, budding age.

She made a secret wish, written to Santa Claus, that she'll give her whole being just to be good for the rest of the school year, if she could have a chance of having that outfit, and to spend that one special day with Touga..

"Hey, you just went limp-eyed on me!" Stevie goes. "What's the matter, are you thinking of what you'll be telling Santa on his lap?"

"Why, yes I am.." Nanami goes.

"Ooh, lemme guess, you want a.. uhh, ermm.. Ken and Barbie dollset!"

"Not that, but you're vaguely on the right track." What good does it do to tell him about a grown-up-related thing? "You know, why don't I try guessing what you want for Santa to do for you?"

"Alrighty, but you'll never hit the mark in a million years."

Nanami grumbles. "Humph! Try me!"

Stevie grins. His eyes seem to beam especially behind his glasses. "I want to meet Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel and all the great minds of history and ask them what the speed of an unladen swallow is!"

"African or European?"

"Ohh! So you do have some genius on you, Miss Smartypants!"

She's seen a subtitled copy of Monty Python's greatest hits, thanks to her older brother's collection and taste in art. Nanami smirks at her little victory. Nothing is ever beyond her wits!

"Hey, do you know what these glowing things are?" she wonders, notioning at the globes. "I've never seen those before."

"Hmm.."

A lot of the kids are now peering over by the windows, their eyes awestruck by the fantastic scenery.

The train is zooming in, faster and faster, past the globules – then it is all enveloped in a tunnel, the air currents howling as beams of light rush by the windows in a constant rate. The lights of the train dim and recover in breaths, and the train lurches upward, making everyone feel like on a zooming roller-coaster that's climbing up to a precipice.. except a weird feeling occurs where it feels like the center-of-gravity has shifted to accomodate the change of slope.

And then the tunnel ends, and what everyone on the train can see is the multi-faceted, breathing city of Lux. Where all the buildings seem comfortably constructed upon all the possible slopes and beams, like crystals that have grown upon tree branches, branching out in perpendicular directions.

This is what is inside a snow globe.

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SCENE 12 – Vista

"Mein Gott!" The Conductorhas stumbled along the coal, and storms into the cockpit –interrupting the goodly moment the two kids are sharing. "There is absolutely no kissing in the cockpit, not while the train is still running!"

Utena and Shinji break their kiss, with a bit of saliva left on her lips. Her heart is still thumping like a drum, and she's embarrassed about having been seen in a moment of intimacy.

"Utena Fraulein!" the Conductor goes, danubing towards her. "Are you trying to distract the boy? I will assure you that there will be consequences if the train gets derailed off schedule! That will be no goodly."

"I was looking for Shinji," Utena says. "When you took him away because he had no ticket, I think that's 'no goodly' too."

"Passengers without their tickets, whether it is due to mishaps or the what-not – they still deserve the journey, and so I bring them up here so they can help make the train run smoothly. It is like having customers serve as busboy and dishwasher when they don't have the money on them, ja? To be throwing people off is not in the Christmas Spirit making."

"I'm just glad he's still here safe and sound," Utena says.

The Conductor glances at the cockpit gauges, making sure well is in order. Then he says, "I see you have been growing attached to him. I know the feeling. It is love in motion. It always is a beautiful thing, love, when it blossoms, especially in a cold season."

"Have you ever loved?" Utena says, feeling her kiss with Shinji and the warmth chuckling within her once more.

"I have loved, and I am still loving," the Conductor says. "The woman I love.. she is on the verge of dying."

"Right now?" Shinji goes.

"Yes, right now. She is terminally sick – she had fallen down the stairs and bumped her head, and when I took her to the emergency room, the doctors pointed out that she was just about to fall victim to a new, strange sickness that lay silent inside her. If she woke up, it would take her in a week. So, with all the money I had, I asked them to put her into cryostasis."

Utena holds her breath for a second, and then asks, "Cryostasis..?"

"Yes," the Conductor goes. "Utena Fraulein, you are from December 1996?"

A beat.

"And Ikari Shinji, you are from Tokyo-3, December 2015?"

Shinji nods. Is Utena from the past? "What are you trying to tell us?"

"You mengs have never heard about the cryogenics? The maschine which freezes the body into hibernation, in order to borrow time to save its life? It must sound like something from the Science Fiction readings to you, ja?" the Conductor goes. "Utena, Shinji, I am someone who comes from December of 2034. A different time from yours. A time when you are able to better save the people you love from Death, with the cryogenics maschines. From disease, old age, and bodily grievances. And I serve as the conductor on the Boreal Express, with the promise that Saint Nicholas will provide a miracle to my woman – a chance to save her from the sickness. Perhaps many others too who will fall to it."

"If Santa could save your lover," Utena says, her loss erupting up from her, "why wouldn'the save my Mom and Dad?"

"Utena.." the Conductor goes, "I am truly sorry. I only know that when St Nicholas had personally come to me, I was kneeling where meine Liebe was in one of the maschines, resting my head on the glass, still seeing her angelic face looking at me, and I felt my face resting in someone's lap all of a sudden. I saw, it was St Nicholas himself, in his red outfit, and all Time itself was frozen, except for me and him.

"He felt for my plight and said that while he cannot save people after they die, he can yet spare a miracle for me and my love, that we will be able to love each other again. I only need to complete my duties for the Boreal Express without problem."

The Conductor holds his head down in solemn thought. "I wonder if he will keep true to his word. I have already given much of myself for my love – I cannot bear to tear my heart away from her. He said that it would do me, himself and the Christmas Spirit good – with this train, it will be the first time St Nicholas is able to bring a large amount of people to his realm, Lux. I suppose he chose you two and the rest of the passengers for a reason. You must be on his goodly list tonight."

"He can't save people after they've died.." Utena goes.

"If this is a time-travelling train," Shinji goes – but the Conductor interrupts him.

"Its abilities are limited to the night of Christmas Eve," the Conductor says. "You were supposing I could travel to any day and bring back Utena's parents before they've died? No, that is impossible; tonight's train route is designed to accomodate only those on the list, each in a given time and place."

Utena sighs. It feels like her hopes have been dashed to little pieces, and she'll never get to see her parents, not now, not ever.

"Do not despair, Utena Fraulein," the Conductor says, beginning to smile. "Love can often work itself in mysterious ways – your parents must have really loved you, and they will continue to love you even after they're gone. You'll remember it, even if you might forget."

"As long as you breathe, it will never die. Even if you might forget it, or lose grasp of it, it will never die."

Then Utena notices her feet are shuddering, before she feels something vibrating in her gut – a lump of coal is doing the jiggly dance on the floor; the train itself seeming to rumble.

"Nein.." The Conductor peers his head out the window. "Nein! Alarm!" He rushes over to press the big red button on the cockpit, which sounds an alarm throughout the train, making two engineers pop up from under the tender.

"What's the matter?" the first engineer says.

"It is a proxy!" the Conductor tells. "It's coming from the left side, get yourselves into armaments, bitte!"

"Right-o!" they go, and they clamber up over the tender car and disappear.

"What's going on?" Utena asks, as her sense of anxiety grows.

"A proxy! It is Jack Frost! Belsnickel! They are badly, vengeful spirits who linger about, forever cursed and tied to Winter season! They make it colder than it needs to be, spreading the coldly, bitter air from place to place as they feel like it! St Nicholas has told me about them – they may ruin the journey faster than you'll know!"

The Conductor heads over to the intercom panel, and makes an announcement to the passengers. "Attention everyone! We will be encountering turbulence. I advise you to quickly return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts, and above all else remain calm. I will tell you when it is over." He brushes his forehead from sweat, before he pushes forward a red lever marked Throttle – you'd feel a forward tug like when the elevator dips downward, as the Boreal Express accelerates.

"Once we get to Lux, we'll be safe from them," the Conductor explains. "And the faster we can get there, the better. Hang on little ones, it will turn out to be a roughly ride."

The train's shuddering grows more and more intense. Shinji clings onto Utena's arm, while out the window you can see amidst the moonlit clouds a whirling dervish of unholy whiteness – the whiteness of frosted, caked-over hard snow; the kind of snow that feels more prickly and cold than fluffy. It's gliding towards the train in a glide so hauntingly graceful, a dancer using the wind currents to propel her very movement.

Eventually you can see her clearly. Her flowing white hair that seems to merge with her drooping, snow-radiant cloak. The blossoming cloud where her feet should be. And most of all, her face; the melancholy mask she always wears, where red tears seem to almost flow from her eyes.

"Mein Gott..!" the Conductor exclaims.

She stares at you fiercely, chillingly, with a coldness that penetrates into you.

That is, before a loud burst erupts from one of the cars, and the proxy jolts from being hit – tumbling like a kite that's been torn mid-air, before continuing towards the train as before.

"Shoot her, shoot her!" the Conductor goes.

Utena and Shinji are peering through the window, frightfully awed at the beautiful sight of the proxy, being hit, enduring every blow as if it were nothing compared. Then the proxy wails – the Siren emitting a pitch that would tempt you into a fascinated paralysis. A beautiful, unearthly song that infects you with its sadness.

The eruptions stop.

The axles of the train chug the the train wheels forward in tandem, not noticing that the people in the cockpit have become frozen and inanimate. All they hear is the song that drowns them, uniting them into her sorrow, their blood coagulating into frost.

take me
someplace far away from here
to a true elsewhere

take me there

(The angel weeps.)

It is only after a few moments of pause from the song, that they regain their composure, and see that the proxy is floating just right beside the train's cars, from the back forward, inspecting the petite souls within – all the children must be frightened.

"It's.." Utena says, the tears outpouring from her uncontrollably. It's indescribable, what she's just heard – as though if she could talk with the proxy about her own sadness, she would be speaking to kindred, a lost soul like herself – she'd be preaching to the choir about what is heartwrenching. And perhaps.. perhaps, in one way or another, just to be able to make that connection would satisfy.

"I have to get to the proxy," she says.

"What? Did its singing make you bonkers?!" the Conductor goes. "It will kill you!"

"The proxy isn't a monster; she's hurting like I am," Utena says, a determination gnawing inside her. "I gotta try and help her, I have to try."

Shinji is also feeling that this is so. "Utena!" he goes, as she's about to climb the tender. "I'll go with you."

"Okay."

So Shinji takes Utena's hand, and she leads him over the pile of coal.

"You are out of your minds!" the Conductor shouts, amidst the noisy winds. "Scheisse, that is not courage, that is asking for your funerals!"

On top of the train cars, Utena teeter-totters with Shinji. The railtracks behind seem to extend away dizzyingly in mid-air, where if you glance down at the clouds below, it seems like you can fall forever into the all-encompassing sky. (You'd better watch out.)

Utena wonders if she should shout at the proxy from this distance, if it can hear her, or if she should come closer to it before drawing attention to herself. The proxy is lingering by one of the cars at the back, peering through the windows.

Then the engineers pop up onto the top, just in front of Utena and Shinji. They're holding what looks like sawed-off shotguns, wearing bandoliers around their waists.

"Hey, you two!" the first engineer goes. "You should get inside quickly!"

"I.. don't shoot at it," Utena says.

"What are you talking about?" the second engineer goes. "That proxy's going to derail us if we don't off her quick."

The proxy hovers from one car to the next, gazing from window to window and allowing her fingers to brush over the surfaces, leaving a streak of beautiful, well-formed ice in her wake, as though she is just waiting for something to blossom from the frozen waters.

"It's not attacking the train," Utena goes.

"Not yet it isn't," the first engineer goes. "It looks like it's finding a sweet spot to hit, and I'm sure as hell ain't about to let it do that."

At a loss on convincing those engineers, Utena decides to brush by their figures, zipping Shinji along at hand – almost knocking away their weapons. ("Hey!" one of them shouts.)

She runs and runs, until she can see the proxy's weeping face upclose. It's stopping by a certain window, its attention caught by something.

"Hey!" Utena yells at the proxy, but the proxy doesn't seem to notice. It punches through the window and its arm stretches beyond proportion as it reaches inside – rummaging for what, Utena doesn't know until she sees its arm pull out.

The key it holds seems to glow under the moonlight.

"Hey!" Utena calls.

The proxy regards Utena and Shinji. "My love has left it behind." You still hear traces of that beauty in its whispering voice. "Now I can rest at last." It smiles.

Then a crack erupts – the key in hand breaks into two, and something pierces through the proxy's breast and icy blood pours out like a drinking fountain that is bleeding. Such a grotesque thing to see.

"Gotcha!" the second engineer glees. "Right in the heart!"

Then the most horrific, pained wailing you would ever hear – that once soulful song wavers into discord and screaming, and everyone must cover their ears lest it make black holes of their hearts and send them into despair.

The proxy consumed by its injury dawdles behind the train's pace and falls down into the abyssal sky, disappearing away as a vapour into non-existence. Its melancholy lingers even after its presence has gone, and the only consolation to Utena who has gone all this way is that the proxy has reconciled itself with its lost love, in its last final moments.

What about Utena herself? Such a fate seems to be more preferable than to endure the entirety of Living with an irreconcilable loss, to never know that love as she's first felt it, to grow up and become an adult in that material world filled mostly with vapidity and emptiness, a world that would never truly fulfil. One moment goes after another and you see people come and go in the familiar grey places, reminding you all too much about the most beautiful things that cannot exist anymore, but you hope for them anyway around the next corner, and that hope grows fainter and fainter as you grow old, until you all but forget what it is that you've been hoping for. But you still feel the impulse to hope.

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SCENE 11 - A Parable

"A young man journeys down an endless road in the company of many others. The road leads across rocky plains where nothing grows and the sun's fire burns from morning to evening. Nowhere is there shade or coolness to be found. And huge dust clouds are stirred all around by a harrowing wind. The youth is driven forward by an incomprehensible frenzy and tormented by a scorching thirst. Sometimes he asks himself or one of his companions about the goal of their journey. But the answer is uncertain and tentative. He himself has forgotten why he ever set out on his journey. He's also forgotten his native land and the journey's final destination.

"Suddenly one evening, he finds himself standing in a deep blue forest. Dusk sets in and all is quiet. Only the evening wind sighs through the tall trees. He stands amazed but also anxious and suspicious. He's all alone, and he realises his hearing is weak – his ears having been inflamed from the merciless light of day. His mouth and throat are parched from the long pilgrimage. His lips are cracked, pressed together around curses and harsh words. So he doesn't hear the ripple of flowing water and doesn't notice its reflection in the dusk. He stands deaf and blind at the edge of the spring, unaware of its existence. Like a sleepwalker he wanders unaware between the sparkling pools. His blind skill is remarkable and soon he's back on the road again in the burning, shadowless light.

"One night, by the campfire, he's seated by an old man who is telling some children about the forest and the springs. The youth recalls what he's been through, but faintly and indistinctly as from a dream.

"He turns to the old man and asks, 'Where does all the water come from?'

"'It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud.'

"'What kind of cloud?' the youth asks.

"The old man answers, 'Every individual carries inside hopes and longings. Everyone shouts out their despair or bears it in mind. Some pray to a particular God. Others address their cries to the void. This despair, this hope, this dream of deliverance, all these cries, all these tears are gathered over thousands and thousands of years and condense into an unmeasurable cloud around a high mountain. Out of the cloud, rain flows down the mountain forming the streams and rivers that flow through the great forests. That's how the springs are formed where you can quench your thirst, wash your badly burnt face, cool your blistered feet. Everyone has at sometime heard of the mountain, the cloud, and the springs, yet most people anxiously remain on the dusty road in the blazing light.

"'Why do they stay there?' asks the youth in great astonishment.

"'I certainly don't know,' replies the old man. 'Perhaps they've convinced themselves and each other that they'll reach their unknown destination someday, if not the next.'

"'What unknown destination?' the young man begs.

"The old man shrugs his shoulders. 'In all probability, the destination doesn't exist. It is an illusion, made by deception or imagination. I myself am on my way to the forests and springs. Once I was there when I was young, and now I'm trying to find my way back.'

"The next morning, the youth sets out with the old man to seek the mountain, the cloud, the forests and the rippling springs."

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SCENE 10 – Awakening

The hiss and hiss of steam, and the whir of gauges. The blaze of a furnace, smelling like an empty barbeque. Utena feels someone pull her by the arm, one tug, and another – as she feels the coal rocks beneath her roll with the motions. Her cheeks feel the metal flooring.

"Wake up!" That is Shinji's insistent tugs feels like the alarm clock announcing a new day. "Utena, please, wake up!"

So opening her eyes, there is Shinji, leaning over her – his face verging on being intimately close with hers. He lets out a sigh of relief, and she can just taste his breath, and it stirs something in her.

The rocks are whooshing by on the sides in this claustrophobic tunnel, and behind Shinji are the levers and illuminated gauges of the train engine.

"You're alright," Utena says.

"The conductor figured that the train could use another assistant," Shinji goes, pulling Utena up. "I'm checking the gauges – making sure the steam pressure doesn't fall too low, while the assistants are having a break. If it does, I add some more coal into the furnace. Utena, how did you wind up in the tender?"

"I was looking for you. I thought he'd thrown you off the train, and I saw footsteps leading to the front." She wonders if she should mention the mysterious girl.

"I thought.. I wouldn't matter to you or anyone," Shinji goes. "I've already exhausted your kindest generosity as it is. I just want to tell you.. thanks for rescuing me."

Utena blushes. She is just happy to have found him, and her heart is fluttering now that it seems that they're alone wonders if he is noticing this – if she's embarrassing herself, or if he might be feeling the same way too, more or less.

Shinji offers her a handkerchief, notioning at her face. "You're covered all over." He's right; the silk robe Utena's wearing has been blemished with charcoal soot (Nanami's going to throw a fit!), and some of the soot is on her hands. Utena generously wipes her hands and face, before handing it back to him.

"Thanks," Utena says, smiling brightly.

The train whooshes out of the tunnel into a very opaque, electric mist – a mist that is hanging outside awareness. Suddenly the train passes through that, and it is seemingly flying in mid-air in a space of pink clouds scattered all over like bubbles, as far as the eye can see – you would look around for the light and you'd seea moon much bigger than usual; it is a kind of moon which you'd usually find in storybooks, a moon which radiates especially with the fervour of the sun.

An alarm goes off. Shinji rushes to the gauges and sees that it is the steam pressure gauge which is rapidly falling. "Oh no! Utena! Help me shovel the coal!"

But another voice chirps in, "It's not the coal, it's the air pressure that's different – you've got to pull the dampening rod!"

That is one of the engineers, popping out from underneath the tender car, and he is clambering up to the cockpit where Shinji is at a loss figuring out where the dampening rod is.

"Here, you pull this," the engineer goes, pulling what looks like a red rod beside the furnace, and suddenly the hissing of the steam seems to drown away. "There. That keeps the fires burning, since we're now in airspace. And since the air inside isn't equalised with the outside anymore, if it needs more fuel, you'll have to pull the rod back to be able to open the furnace door – and wait for a bit as the air equalises again."

He notices Utena. "What's she doing here?"

"Oh.. that's one of my friends," Shinji goes. "She um.. the conductor brought her here."

"I see. Funny, we weren't told about having another visitor." The engineer inspects Utena, up and down. "You weren't playing around with the coal, were you?"

"I got a little lost," Utena says.

"You'd best watch yourself. Everything here is a delicate instrument, and one accidental press of a button at this point could send the Boreal Express whizz-bang. Got it?"

"Gotcha," Utena says. "How are we flying in the sky all of a sudden?"

"We aren't – the railways are built just like that to bring us there without having to resort giving wings to the train engine."

The engineer checks the rest of the gauges. "Alright, everything seems tipsy-turvy, so I'mma finish getting my shut-eye. Peace out." He disappears under the tender.

The wind whirls and danubes all over.

"Is this.. where Santa lives?" Utena asks.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Shinji says. "Once we arrive, if we get to meet Santa, what do you suppose you want to ask him for Christmas?"

A prayer, an unanswered prayer. "Why he never brought my Mom and Dad back to me when they died."

/

This was to be her tomb. Her new cradle. The darkness was a welcoming parent, who held the most kindest compassion for her,and she embraced it fully as she lay inside the casket, resting her head on the soft silky pillow. She would be like a dying animal, who after giving up all hopes for living, would find a quiet, lonely placeand bury itself under the leaves, and eventually die. Yes. And the soul would drain out of the body, to meet with those faces long lost in time and memory, once more in a place where love could still endure. Are you stroking my cheek? Are you whispering in my ear? Are you with me now? May we never leave each other.

She wondered how long it would take for her to die. If she died, who would really miss her? Her grandparents, who would soon die? Her friends, who would forget her as they grew up? Spike.. who would never know about her fate? In the end, Time erodes all things, and that is the bittersweet truth underlying reality. Eternity is just wishful thinking, and Eternity is what she'll embrace.

She deserved to die.

(And will there be love for her afterwards?)

"Say goodbye, Utena," her Papa said, before he took her home.

"Goodbye.." Utena whispered.

Then she heard the door open from the distance, and some faint footsteps. She didn't stir. It must be those caretakers looking for her after she'd run off from the funeral rites. Their voices were young though. She could hardly hear what they were saying – their footsteps approached closer.

"Are you sure she's here?" a boy said. "She isn't in that coffin, Touga, please, let's look someplace else! We're not allowed in this room!"

"We have to look everywhere.." another boy said.

"Touga, what are you doing! Don't open it!"

Utena saw the first ray of light enter the coffin, and it grew more brighter as the coffin lid was opened. She saw the boy with red hair haul the lid away, with a loud and heart-shuddering thud when it landed.

"Leave me alone," Utena said, turning her face away into the pillow which absorbed her tears. "I just want to sleep."

"She's been hiding in a place like this?" the first boy said. "Who would've thought..?"

"Miss, everyone's been looking for you all over," the red-haired boy said.

"Are you going to tell them I'm here?" said Utena. She wished he'd put the lid back on; she was shrivelling under the light.

"Do you want me to?" the red-haired boy said.

"No. Because I belong here. I.. deserve to die."

"I.. see." the red-haired boy said.

"You don't deserve to die!" the first boy yelled. "Nobody deserves to die- because you always, always will have good things that come to you in the future! Believe me!"

"I'll never leave this coffin," Utena said. "I don't want to live anymore when everything I'll ever love will die. It's sickening. I'll never see anyone anymore, or come out into the sun anymore. It's alright now. You don't have to worry anymore, I'll be happy.."

When her parents' coffins had been lowered into their graves, Utena stood and watched, and all she could ever think about was when they'd given her the new skates, and she held them in her arms. And that memory of seeing her Mama, long ago, and she was held in her arms, and she could see her face in the night, as the moonlight shone through the windows. And everything was alright, she was content, and it was wonderful.

She would never see her Mama or Papa again, and that lock was turned in her heart when she'd bury away those memories, so they won't torment her anymore with that loss. Even so, they still come to her in her dreams and sometimes when she was awake, she could just hear them tell her, now and then, in her heart, "I'll always love you."

/

"I miss them so much," Utena cries, clutching onto Shinji with dear life. "When it's Christmas, I get so.. sad.. I feel I'm about to suffocate, and the only relief is to scream from out the very depths of my heart. But I can't. Because no one would want to hear me scream. So I cry alone into the pillow, holding onto it as if it would hold me too, granting me respite from the pain. And sometimes it isn't enough. It still hurts."

"I know.. how you feel," Shinji says, looking at her with the same look he had, when he stood outside, about to let the train pass him by – her eyes bearing sadness as his does also. "I'm sorry. I've lost my mother too, when I was little, and my dad.. my dad wouldn't give me anything for Christmas. I'm not good enough for him, I never was. I wish I could help bring your parents back somehow – if Santa will listen to me. I wish I could help take away all that pain and sadness.. I wish I could.. just.."

He loses his grasp of words; he's always wondered what it's like to kiss someone, maybe Asuka, and already it's so much more than he'd expected. He'd thought a kiss is reserved for romance, but a kiss too could heal the deepest wounds and bridge the loneliness between two souls.

The moment is just overwhelming, almost unbearable.

Utena can just taste his breath again, this close, and a mad fire is gnawing at her, setting her alight. "Shinji, I don't want to be alone anymore.. will you hold me?"

He is already willing; the look on her face is wonderfully sweet, the look of someone who has finally found another after so long, and she inches her lips towards his, wrapping her arms around him – they kiss, breathing each others' air, at first timid and hesitant and clumsy, and then resolute and poignant.

The haunting taste of love, and they hold each other in a long, passionate embrace, wanting it to never end. Utena just feels like her heart is also being kissed, and it starts pouring out of her, those emotions, and she holds him tighter, feeling his tongue in her mouth.

Their eyes are wide shut, blind to the world, aware of only each other. All Utena hears is his breathing and moaning, and all she feels is the warmth of his skin. When they long for breath and pull away, Utena sees him again, and she begins to cry, happily for a first time since a while, and her tears drip down her face and onto her chin.

(so vivid)

And Shinji, still retaining her taste, presses her towards him once more, in a hug that he should have had in his lonesome little life but didn't, a hug where he rests his face on her neck, her neck damp with hot sweat and thumping pulse, and feels an intense blush come across himself as he feels her living heartbeat alongside his.