After a stressful incident, Orange gets sent on a harmless and relaxing mission. He ends up having a chat with his most unusual co-worker: Chiro Shiroiro, an individual who is perpetually experiencing every iteration of themselves throughout every Entirety at once. Needless to say, things get a little strange. (2015)
It was early, and as far as Orange knew no one else was awake. Not quite alive enough to determine if that was a good thing or a bad thing, he thought nothing more of it and pulled himself out of his room, blanket dragging along the ground with him. Even indoors this planet was entirely too cold. LeFleuris would’ve hated it here. He stood there in front of the coffeemaker, imagining his complaints beside him.
Something like “this place is too fucking cold, how does anyone even live here?,” he would’ve grumbled, swaddled in at least three blankets and visibly resisting the urge to pour the entire pot of coffee over his head. As though it had really happened, Orange smiled.
Yawning, Orange shuffled over to the alcove, collapsing ever so carefully onto the couch that lined it so as not to spill. He laid there for a while, focusing on the heat of the mug in his hands. Maybe he was just hallucinating or not quite lucid yet, but the room was so cold that he could barely feel anything at all. Eventually he sat up again, considerably more aware of his lips burning as he took a sip of his coffee. That was exactly why he rarely drank it before, but after that happened he slipped into the habit to keep himself going and never quite got out of it.
He almost let it hurt him again and, too tired to deal with those memories, distracted himself by looking out the window. If this planet was anything like his own, it had to be early. The sun just barely glistened on the waves, and if you lifted your eyes just a bit higher stars still dotted the sky. Forgetting what he was going to think about next, he sat there blankly with his lips at the rim of his mug, too numb by now to care. It had to be warmer out there. Those colors wouldn’t lie to him. He hoped they wouldn’t.
He had been caught just a second too soon; one more and he would have been cleaning coffee off of the windows and praying that nothing got stained. That not a single drop soiled anything as he recoiled into a corner of the couch was an unprecedented second miracle.
“Wow, very impressive, Li’l Oregano!” Chiro marveled, clapping their hands. “That doesn’t happen very often!”
They sat down right across from him, their visor’s suspicious absence putting nothing between their line of sight and Orange’s quivering form.
“See, usually you just spit coffee everywhere. It’s hilarious! Exactly like you’d see on TV! Comedy gold!” they continued on without skipping a beat.
“Well, no,” they rubbed their chin, “I suppose sometimes you react the same way you did just now, but coffee ends up everywhere anyway. Still kind of funny, but not classic enough for a laugh track. And it ends disappointingly. Cleaning and bitter passive-aggression aren’t much fun, Li’l Oregano.”
“But you went for it anyway.” Orange commented, more curious than angry.
“Of course!” Chiro laughed, arms spread. “I had to see if I could achieve my lofty goal of surprising you without consequence, and I managed to pull it off! I’m sure the others are jealous. Or will be.”
It was almost funny to Orange how accustomed he had become to this sort of thing. Sure, it was seldom that Chiro didn’t catch him off-guard, but by now it never threw him for long. Ironically, their unpredictability had become something he could rely on. It was something he hadn’t thought about until recently, but Chiro’s utter lack of concern and detachment from what Orange could comprehend as reality was something he found increasingly comforting. They were a constant. No matter what Orange said or did, no matter which path he chose, no matter who he kept close, Chiro would always be there. They would never get angry at him, they would never be upset with him; anything he could ever do would be just as they desired.
Though they almost certainly did, Orange found himself wondering if Chiro knew that.
“Pretty quiet there, Li’l Oregano. What’s on your mind this time?” Chiro asked, propping their head up with their elbows on their knees.
Orange straightened himself out in his seat, searching for his reflection in his coffee. Wondering if he would find the words there with it, he let the silence drag on until Chiro took the initiative and sat down beside him.
“You should really just say it,” they whispered in his ear. “Nothing bad ever happens.”
He gave Chiro a fleeting glance before returning to his coffee, too tired to fidget. He took a sip to focus himself, then another.
“Do you have any regrets?” Orange asked.
“I mean… you. You specifically. The you in front of me.” he added on quickly.
Chiro cocked an eyebrow, silent for an uncharacteristically long time. Was that something they usually did, for effect or emphasis or otherwise? Or had Orange really managed to surprise them? He doubted that was even possible, but it was nice to entertain the thought.
“See, Orange,” they finally began, leaning back. Orange tensed up. Very rarely did Chiro refer to anyone by their actual name, and when they did it tended to be a sign that something either terrifying or unsettling was about to occur. Of course, Orange wasn’t an enemy of Hadris’ and therefore there was no reason for Chiro to destroy his pitiful psyche, but given Chiro’s peculiar nature it was never completely out of the question.
“That’s a tricky question. Can’t blame you for looking at me and just thinking of it as me, but it’s really not like that, y’know? Think of me as an avatar. Just a flesh husk with an infinitely-expanding mind. ‘Individual mes’ don’t really put too much stock into their individual experiences because, well, they’re not individuals, really!” they explained with the same lightness they spoke with in every other conversation.
“I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little sad every once in a while after doing something,” they continued a little more thoughtfully, “But in the end, everything benefits me. Not much to regret there.”
“It must be nice.” Orange blurted out. Though he never meant it consciously, he tended to be more up-front around Chiro. Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind, he figured that some version of himself in some Entirety always said something – and if that was the case, Chiro would know what he was thinking either way. Staying quiet was pointless.
“Not really having to worry about the decisions you make, always knowing what’ll happen if you do or don’t do something…” he went on dreamily, glancing past Chiro and out the window again.
“It is! It’s wonderful!” Chiro confirmed enthusiastically.
“But,” they leaned in, throwing an arm around him, “I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
Before Orange could take in the words they had just spoken to him, Chiro stood up and offered him a hand. He stared at them blankly for a few moments before leaving his mug on the coffee table and accepting it. Wordlessly, Chiro led him into the hallway, past their rooms and up the stairs. They climbed in spirals to the top, where Chiro stopped him before the unending window that surrounded them.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” they spoke up, hands on Orange’s shoulders.
“Um… yeah, it’s pretty nice.” Orange answered as he stared out at the ocean that grew ever warmer, struggling to figure out where Chiro was going with this before they got there.
“You know, we don’t always come here. Not always me and not always you. Sometimes none of us come. Sometimes Drew never even finds this place. So you and I never have this conversation.”
They leaned in and whispered to him again, “But you don’t remember any of that, do you? You can’t regret not being here in a world you can’t experience.”
“I guess?” Orange furrowed his brow, “But that’s not really what I-”
Suddenly, Chiro whirled him around and pushed him against the railing, hands a little closer to his throat now.
“What if I pushed you over this railing just now? What if you fell all the way to the bottom, unhindered? Or what if you fell a little strangely and hit your head on the stairs on the way down?”
“T-That would suck.” Orange stuttered, not sure if that was meant to be a rhetorical question.
“It would, wouldn’t it?” Chiro chuckled, releasing him again. Shuddering slightly, Orange wrapped his blanket more tightly around him.
“It would suck if you remembered every time you died, right? Or even just every time you got hurt. Every possibility, all the time, forever.” Chiro began anew, walking around the room in a circle. Orange followed close behind – but not too closely.
“See, right now, somewhere, I’m dying. I’m choking, I’m drowning, I’m falling. I’m being torn apart, shot at, tortured, eviscerated, blown to pieces, reduced to ashes… at every second there’s an ever-expanding number of mes that are suffering in unimaginably painful ways!”
Orange winced. Was this supposed to be a pep talk? This was a weird pep talk.
“Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t bother me much.” they assured him, dismissively waving a hand. “After all, I was born into this. It’s just who I am! If there’s one thing I can’t comprehend, it’s not being vividly aware of every experience I could ever have at once. I’d be awfully empty inside if I couldn’t feel my organs being ripped out at every single moment, y’know?”
No, he didn’t know. He didn’t really want to. But he wasn’t going to question Chiro’s logic.
They turned toward the sun and stopped, almost causing Orange to bump into them. They threw an arm around him and placed the other on their hip, standing as though they were taking pride in the world outside – a world that was unquestionably theirs.
“But you? And just about everyone else, for that matter? Well, I don’t think you’d find that sort of life much fun at all! It’s not really something that you can learn to love, or even just get used to. It has to be part of you from the start. It’s a dangerous thing to wish for.”
Chiro’s grip on him relaxed as they turned to look at him, “Of course, I know you didn’t need to be told that. I know where you’re coming from. It would be nice if you could just see a few futures, if you could just see which option would do the least harm – that’s what you’re thinking, right?”
Orange didn’t respond, which did nothing to stop them.
“You’re not wrong! You could live a more comfortable life like that, absolutely! But would it really be as satisfying? What if the choice that did the least harm to everyone else did the most harm to you? Wouldn’t you spend the rest of your life relying on the future to make everyone happy? I’m sure you can believe me when I tell you that you would. Knowledge can be a heavy burden.”
For a few seconds, neither of them spoke, fixated on the horizon.
“Again, I’m sure that’s something you already knew. That wasn’t the secret I was going to tell you.”
Chiro turned to face him and Orange returned the action. Light flooded the room as the sun crawled higher, illuminating the hand that gingerly tilted his head upward.
His name barely registered.
“The truth is that there are just as many yous as there are mes. Your life is as infinite as mine. The only difference between us is that you can’t see from anyone’s eyes but your own. As far as you’re aware, you’re the only one who really exists.”
Certain that Orange’s gaze was firmly locked with their own, Chiro returned both hands to his shoulders.
“And if that’s what you’re limited to, you really ought to make yourself a priority. There are plenty of other yous out there that can go off and waste their lives worrying about how their actions will affect others. But I think this you, the one right here in front of me, would be much happier if he just did what he thought best for himself.”
“What if I ruin everything by doing that?” Orange asked quietly, not untrusting enough to look away.
“You can never ruin everything! No, not you. But mistakes are there for you to make. Just like me, you have to do everything you do for the sake of discovery. You have to be a little selfish or you’ll never get any joy out of the choices you make! Sure, my decisions and yours aren’t quite on the same scale, and they’ll never have the same sort of context, but I think you’ll have a lot more fun if you do your own thinking.”
Their hands sunk down to his arms. “I won’t lie, you’ll make some people upset. You’ll make them angry. You’ll make enemies and destroy lives, sure! But that’s going to happen no matter what you do, especially given your position. So, why bother stressing out over who you’re going to hurt? If you’re going to pick sides, why not just pick your own? It’s much easier to just focus on yourself.”
Normally the thought of destroying the lives of others no matter what wouldn’t be particularly comforting to him, but Orange found himself understanding exactly what Chiro meant. He didn’t know if he wanted to give up on worrying about others entirely, but the thought of doing what he believed was right without regard to how everyone would react was seductive, to say the least.
“Your perspective is your universe, Orange,” Chiro continued, “and you’re the god of it. If you’re going to be trapped here, you might as well expand your world as far as it’ll go.”
They leaned in closer, taking his hands.
“And no matter what sort of place it becomes,” they said softly, “I’ll always be in it.”
Orange felt his heart stop. How was he supposed to respond to that? What was he supposed to say now? Was his face as red as it felt? Suddenly embarrassed, he turned his head away only to come face to face with Elemon frozen at the top of the stairs.
“…Am I interrupting something?” they asked bluntly.
Chiro turned to them and smiled, all without releasing Orange.
“Not at all, Elliot!” Chiro informed them cheerfully. “We were just finishing up, actually! Right, Li’l Oregano?”
“I see.” Elemon replied. Orange was sure they were squinting under their hood. “We’re heading out soon. Venith and I will be waiting downstairs.”
“Righty-o, good chum! We’ll be there in just a second!” Chiro saluted, taking Orange’s hand with them. Elemon nodded silently and headed back down the staircase, presumably just as dumbfounded as Orange was. Once Elemon was gone Chiro returned their attention to Orange, letting go of his hands in a motion that was so fluid, so natural that Orange didn’t realize it had happened until Chiro was already a few steps away.
They paused at the beginning of the staircase, back turned to him.
“You know, Orange…”
Chiro turned their head just slightly enough to see Orange again, standing there like a deer in the headlights. The longer Chiro waited to indulge him, the wider his eyes grew.
“I think I’ve become rather fond of you.”
They left him there by the window, right where the stars melted into the dawn.