even brands are temporary

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Qynka turns a corner and sees someone standing at the far end of the hall, hands clasped, waiting for her. It's somehow both an incredible relief and a terrible, horrifying problem.

She slows down, taking her time, trying to control her breathing. As she passes more of the operating rooms she notices that they're not empty in this hallway. There are bodies lying on the tables in each room. Bodies draped in sheets, with wires running into them. The empty human shells of the dead and dying.

Finally she can't go any farther. This is where the map was leading. This is where everything ends.

"Hi Daddy," Qynka says.

"Hey love," he says, kindly. "Sorry if the zonnys out there scared you. We didn't want you getting lost down here."

Qynka nods. "I think maybe I am, though."

"Nooo, not at all. You're with me. And you're right where you belong." Daddy turns and motions for Qynka to walk with him, so she does. "It's lovely to see you here. Portentous, even."

"Where am I? What is all this?"

"You are in the center of a very large, very complicated, and very important project, that I have been working on for a very long time. For you."

"Me?"

They continue walking, following the corridor around the corner and into another wing. Through the windows along both side of the hall she can into rooms filled with giant vats of fluorescent chemicals, very cold rooms where something - she isn't sure what - is being frozen, rooms filled with machine covered in blinking lights. And still more operating rooms, some empty and some with dead or dying bodies on the tables. Bodies of all shapes and colors, tattooed, nails painted, some without all their limbs. Qynka tries not to look like she's looking, but can't help wondering if she might see someone she recognizes.

But there are no zonnys following them. It's just the two of them, alone.

"You know I knew your parents?" Daddy asks, looking down in thought as they walk.

"Before they suddenly and tragically died?"

Daddy nods. "I wasn't Daddy then but I was close, and close to both Isotania and Rogiriplex. They were still at Eternal High when I met them. I helped put together some of their first brand engagements as a couple."

"That car thing for Modosendo? Where they did h*ndj*bs in the backseat?"

"Oh no," Daddy says, shaking like he's laughing but without actually laughing. "This was way before that. Small stuff. But even then, I knew. There was something about them. The brightest stars Wood2 had ever seen. Just universally beloved." He looks genuinely sad. "I miss them, Qynka."

"Yeah, same."

"It's made worse by the fact that we're increasingly in the minority."

"The minority of what."

Daddy holds his hands out, as though he's holding something light as air. "Of people who remember your parents. Stars fade, you know? People forget, people move on. Every season fewer and fewer people remember them. Some day it'll be just us. And then someday, when you and I are gone, the memory of them will be gone, forever."

"I get that but like, part of why they're remembered at all is because they died suddenly and tragically, right? Like if they had just gotten old and boring no one would have cared. Eventually they would dry up enough to annoy everyone and people would be like f*ck these old people and forget them even faster."

Daddy stops and turns to Qynka, regarding her as if for the first time. "See. This is what I admire about you Qynka, you get it. You get the whole thing. And you're a fighter. I have known you your entire life, and honestly, I mean, I get emotional thinking about everything you've been through. How hard you've had to fight to build your brand. To stay in this world. I know it has not been easy for you. I know it has not come without sacrifice."

"Sometimes it takes the worst pain to bring about the best change."

Daddy nods. "Yeah, like that. Qynka, I do not want your sacrifice to be for nothing. I do not want you to slowly fade out to nothing like everyone else." He gestures vaguely around. "All this, this stuff I've been working on down here, is a way for you to not have to say goodbye. A way for you to stay relevant forever."

"And it involves hooking my dead body up to a bunch of machines?"

"Bodies are temporary. Even brands are temporary, Qynka, although they don't want you to know that. This will be something totally new, absolutely unparalleled in all of existence. You would become a being of eternal value."

Qynka stares at the room in front of them, at the dead body lying on the table. "I just had a huge event at the Arena Mall. I have more value than I've ever had in my life. I have a whole new trajectory in front of me, tons of new brands dying to interact with me. Maybe I don't need anything like this."

"The thing is Qynka, if you don't die at the peak of your popularity it won't matter if you come back or not. But you're right, now is not the time. You have done very well, you have tried, and have gained a lot of followers, you have accomplished amazing things. But you are not loved. I love you, of course, but you are feared and hated as much or more than you are loved. But we can fix that. We can make you loved by everyone. And that's when we take you away from them. So they miss you. It has to hurt them when you're gone, so you can heal them when you return. And so you can stay at the center of something no one will ever stop talking about."

"So all I have to do is die. Leave my life and everything in it."

"In order to live forever."

"Does it hurt?"

"Well, like you said. The worst pain. The best change. What do you think?"

Daddy expects a pause, a moment for the weight of what he has revealed to Qynka to sink in, but there isn't one. Qynka just waves her hands like why is this taking so long?

"F*ck yeah. Let's f*ck this all the way up."

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