Recreational Reality

Annealing Collapse

Part 1: Collapse

A world of light, and a world of darkness.
Two people in each witnessed their fall.
Their worlds were no more, and they echoed across the void.
Landing nearby, they met and exchanged glances.
Neither knew where they were, or who the other was.
In search of answers, they approached an office.
The visible eye indicated a source of truth.

• • •

It was a cold night outside, dark as usual. I sat at my desk, twirling a drink in my hand. Nothing unusual had come in for a week, and I was getting restless. After all, these drinks weren't free. And neither was the rent. I needed a case, a big one. Preferably with some rich clientele. I saw a figure or two move outside, and thought this might be just the break I needed. The door opened when I saw them. A man and a girl, with an appearance like no other. There was something different about them, something I just couldn't describe. The girl looked all sparkly, like she'd just come off some crazy Broadway show, and the man wasn't much better. He was in all black and leather, like no outfit I'd ever seen.

    "Hey! Maybe you can help us!" the girl said, walking up to my desk.
    "Yeah... where, or what is this place?" the man said, "and why is everything in black-and-white?"

Black-and-white eh? Were these two kooks expecting me to be in a tux or something?

    "I'm afraid this isn't a black tie event," I said, sitting up in my chair and setting down my drink, "name's Harold F. Jones, Private Eye. Detective who can solve any case, and it sure looks like you two have one."
    "Yes! We do!" the girl said, "our worlds no longer exist, and somehow we ended up here. We saw a huge curtain of light, then bam! Just woke up on the street outside."
    "She's right, I've never seen anyone like her or this place before," the man said, "where are we?"

I realized I'd forgotten to answer his question, so I fixed that up toot-sweet.

    "You're in Chicago," I said, "Lake Michigan Locks just north of here, a great place to catch any smugglers hauling contraband."

Then, about the case they mentioned. They say their worlds collapsed? Never heard of anything like that before. Maybe in a novel or something, but nothing that strange had ever been mentioned to me personally. And a curtain of light? No idea what that meant, I'd say maybe they were knocked out, the boys would do that to their marks sometimes. But they sure looked the part. If I were to ever believe anyone was from someplace else, they'd fit the bill to a tee.

    "Alright, I'll take the case," I said, standing up, "but I'll need some leads. Where did you say you woke up?"
    "Right outside, we'll show you," the girl said, walking back out the door.

I walked out with her and the man, to see the ordinary sight I was expecting. Nothing crazy at all, no strange people or anything. A few discarded boxes, but that's to be expected. Trash day isn't until tomorrow.

    "We didn't come in the trash," the girl said suddenly.
    "Shh... I think it's a monologue," the man said.
    "Wait. You can hear my thoughts?" I said. This would sure make things interesting.
    "Yep! But it sounds like you're saying them out loud, without moving your lips," the girl said.
    "Yeah, it's pretty impressive to be honest..." the man said, staring out over the lake.

I looked at where he was looking, and saw nothing like I'd seen before. A great curtain of light, heading across the lake, like a waterfall from the sky. It was headed right for us.

    "That's the same thing we saw," the girl said, sounding a bit nervous.

The man merely stared ahead.

I'd asked for a lead, but I didn't expect it to be this obvious. The curtain made its way closer to us, and I wondered who'd taken out the hit on me, and the other two crazies. Either way, I was about to find out.

• • •

    "See that spike there?" a young man said, "it's another one just like the last two." He looked like he was in his 20's, although a bit short, with brownish-gray hair and wearing an unassuming white t-shirt with gray jeans. He was sitting on a chair, looking at the readout of an exotic science instrument. It had antennae radiating outward in a sphere above him, and showed multi-colored lines on a graph over time.
    "Hmmm, yeah, that is truly anomalous," a woman said. She was standing next to him, taller with golden hair, and was wearing a lab coat and spectacles. She wrote down a few things on a notebook, and thought about the results.
    "What do you think it means?" the young man said.
    "I'm not sure," the woman said, before being interrupted by three thuds.

Just behind the pair, three people appeared on the concrete patio next to them.

    One was a younger man as well, dressed in a complex outfit made of black leather with red accents, and had jet-black hair, for a 'punk' sort-of look. He stood up and dusted himself off. "At least this place has color," he said, "although a bit much for my taste."
    A second was a girl, probably about ten years old, who sparkled and shined with a strange light. She had yellow hair and wore a small dress, with a variety of multicolored accents, specializing in blues, yellows, and greens. "Seems a bit drab to me," she said, standing up as well, "but certainly more colorful than before. Are you okay Harold?"
    "Yes," said a third person, the most strange of the group. He was entirely in black and white, and wore a business suit with a matching fedora, as if he'd just stepped out of a 1940's movie. "Although I wasn't expecting to be. Where are we?"
    "You're on top of the Yavan Atmospheric Observatory," the woman said, "and how did you get here?"
    "We don't know!" the girl said, "this is the second time it's happened today, I guess your world doesn't exist anymore either Harold. Sorry."
    "I wouldn't be so sure of that," the black-and-white man, Harold, said, "although it sure looked the part."
    "I'm sorry, we should introduce ourselves," the woman said, "I'm Dr. Biony Ashana, head researcher of the Yavan Institute."
    "And I'm Kailan Fans, assistant researcher," the young man said, swirling around in his chair, "lovely weather today for universe-hopping it would seem?"
    "Apparently," the dark man said, "I'm Kelva Ishiro, of the third tribe. And this place looks nothing like home."
    "And I'm Aika Jini!" the girl said, "child of, um, the second order, to the first relative, of the um, empress the fifteenth. I think that's right?"
    "I suppose, if we're doing introductions, I'm Harold F. Jones, Private Eye," Harold said, taking off his fedora. "I'd just been hired by these two to figure out where they came from and how, when I ended up in this mess too."
    "I see," Dr. Ashana said, "well, we at the Yavan Institute hold scientific study of the highest regard and would be happy to assist you in determining what happened." And probably getting the Gia Prize as a bonus to boot, she thought. "Can you describe to me exactly what happened before you appeared here, and if you saw any strange electromagnetic readings beforehand. We've been tracking some unusual spikes in the magnetosphere over the last few hours."
    "It was a great curtain of light," Aika said.
    "Yeah, same appearance, mostly white," Kelva said, "kind of ragged, like old fabric."
    "I saw it too," Harold said, putting his hat back on, "tore across Lake Michigan like nothing else. Powered by the God or Devil himself I do not know. Bright as day, too."
    "Well, I suppose that makes sense," Dr. Ashana said, not entirely believing them, "would you mind if we ran some tests on you all?"

Consenting as such, the five of them walked down the stairs off the roof, and into the main hall of the research station.

    "My car might be a bit of a tight squeeze, but it's only a few kilometrics to the main facility," Dr. Ashana said. They walked out of the glass doors, and into a forested area. The weather station was nestled into the top of the hill, with a single two-lane road winding down from it. They squeezed into Dr. Ashana's car, a tiny but technically five-seater Juno.

Dr. Ashana drove along the street, descending down the hill as they could see a faint cityscape below them, partially covered in fog.

    "So, I know this might be kind of forward," Kailan said, squeezed into the center seat in the back, "but I have to ask, I've never met anyone who's black and white before. What's that like, Harold? Is it really good makeup?"
    "I have no idea what you mean," Harold said, sitting mildly comfortably in the front passenger seat, "does that phrase have some other meaning around these parts?"
    Before anyone could answer, Dr. Ashana slammed on the brakes, as the car in front of them had suddenly stopped. "What the fraz hoot? It's an orange light! Go!"
    "What's holding them up?" Kelva said, peering out the left window. "Oh no."
    "It's the curtain! That's what it looks like!" Aika said, pointing out the right window.

Visible outside was a great curtain of white light. It was traveling towards them at remarkable speed, and had a strange, almost-geometric texture, not entirely unlike a strange rock or crystal. It fragmented its way across the city, as others could be seen staring into the sky, or running from it.

    "It's happening here too," Dr. Ashana said, "I hoped we'd have more time."

• • •

    "Remember! The Professional Hockey Tournament begins next week! Ensure all bets are in before the deadline if you wish to participate!" said an announcement over a loudspeaker. "And remember! The newest edition of the Nadezhda Action Figures will be on sale at this event for the first public release! Get yours before they all teleport away!"
    "What in the blue blazes is going on," Harold said, getting up from a concrete sidewalk. This time they had landed in the middle of a busy city. Buildings with huge billboards towered above them.
    "I think their world must not be around any more either!" Aika said, getting up, "oh they made it too! Yay!"

Dr. Ashana and Kailan got up next to them, and looked around.

    "Those billboards," Dr. Ashana said, "they must have amazing cathode technology for a projection that large."
    "It's too bright," Kelva said, "why are all these other worlds so bright?"
    "Um, guys, I think we've been noticed," Kailan said.

The crowds on the sidewalks around them had stopped, as hundreds of people stared at the five newcomers. A few murmurs of uncertainty and confusion were heard, but the others mostly kept to themselves.

    "It looks like they're waiting for something," Harold said, as he noticed even the cars in the busy intersection had all ground to a halt.

Suddenly in front of them a loud pop could be heard, as a young girl appeared out of thin air. She looked to be probably in her teens, had straight black hair, was no more than five feet tall, and wore what resembled a dark gray Victorian dress. She stood on the street in front of them, as the sound of picture-taking by the other citizens could be heard.

    "They're waiting for me," the girl said. "Who are you, and what you doing here?"
    "We don't know!" Aika said, "oh, I mean, we know who we are! I'm Aika!"
    "And I'm Kelva Ishiro, of the third tribe."
    "I'm Dr. Ashana, head researcher of the Yavan Institute, if it still exists."
    "I'm Kailan Fans, her assistant."
    "And I'm Harold F. Jones, Private Eye." Sure have done a lot of introductions today, he thought.
    "You're not from around here, are you?" the girl said, raising an eyebrow, "you will come with me to be analyzed."
    "I think we should get to a scientific institute immediately," Dr. Ashana said, "the curtain of light we saw might come here next."
    "Yeah, who made you the boss?" Kelva said.
    Teleporting behind him, the girl said, "I did."

The billboards all changed to a picture of the girl, with the words written:

Nadezhda Antonina Jiang
Empress of Earth

    "Oh," Kelva said, now looking a bit scared.
    "Enter the helicopter," Nadezhda said, as a helicopter flew down over the city, and landed on the street where she had just been.

The five rode in the helicopter across the cityscape, silently keeping to themselves, as they approached a mountainside palace. It was not exceptionally ornate, but was supported by multiple massive steel columns, and had a variety of military aircraft parked on runways on either side. They landed on the roof, in a clearly-marked helipad, as black-armored guards opened the helicopter doors and escorted them out and downstairs. The guards' uniforms bore logos of the special forces, although not from any nation they had seen before. The guards led the group into a large room, overlooking the valley and city below. The guards then left and closed the door behind them, leaving the five seemingly alone.

    "This... doesn't look like an interrogation room," Dr. Ashana said, remarking at the modern decor, including three couches, a variety of lamps, and even a bar with a refrigerator along the back wall.
    "These views are amazing!" Aika said, running up to the glass and looking over the valley.
    "I sure hope these people are more prepared than we were," Kailan said, "we still don't even know what happened yet."

A quiet pop could be heard in the back of the room, as Nadezhda appeared standing on a step-stool next to the bar behind them. She took out a glass and began pouring a drink.

    "I apologize for my roughness earlier," she said, "but I had to get you off the streets. We don't get visitors from other worlds often, and nobody would have gotten anything done if you had stayed." She picked up her drink, and taking a small sip, stepped off the stool and walked across the floor towards the others. "They probably still won't with all the news reports, but oh well. Anyways, what brings you to my domain?"
    "You... get visitors from other worlds?" Dr. Ashana said, sounding impressed.
    "To be honest - no," Nadezhda said, "although it would be the next logical step."

A door opened on the side of the room, as two more people walked inside. One was a woman, looking in her twenties, with bright blue hair, wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans. The second was a man, who looked probably in his 30's or early 40's, and was dressed in slightly anachronistic attire. His brown suit wouldn't have been entirely dated in Harold's view, other than he also carried a pocketwatch clipped to his belt.

    "So these are the colorful people you've brought back?" the man said, "James J. Hinself, at your service." He tipped his hat, as Harold mirrored him.
    "They look pretty strange for sure," the woman said, "how do you know they're not new Ennai?"
    "I don't," Nadezhda said, "but we're about to find out."
    "What's an Ennai?" Kailan said.
    "Someone with supernatural powers," the woman said, "like me." She held up her hands, as a rainbow of light sprung forth, and glued itself to the window. "Maria Senolus," she said, "what can you do?"
    "That's so cool!" Aika said, her eyes glowing.
    "I know how to handle a pistol, but I've never seen anything like that, miss," Harold said.
    "But you're... literally in black-and-white," Maria said, clearly aggravated, "who are these people? Seriously Nadezhda, who are they?"
    "Calm, Maria," Nadezhda said. "We're figuring this out. Now, you said you're from another world. If that's true, how did you get here?"
    "We're not sure," Dr. Ashana said, "there was this curtain of white light, then we just woke up on the sidewalk."
    "Strange," Nadezhda said, taking another sip of her drink.
    "I've been through this three times already," Kelva said, cautiously sitting down on a couch. "First was my world, then I met Aika in front of Harold's shop, then ended up in a weather station with Kailan and the Doctor here."
    "It's true, they just appeared out of nowhere," Kailan said, "just like we did here."
    "Interesting, although I've never heard of anything like it before," Nadezhda said, "what do you think, James?"
    "I have no clue, if you want me to be honest," James said, "sounds like some kinda crazy sci-fi story for sure."
    "It's back," Aika said, looking out the window.

The eight of them matched her gaze, as a huge curtain of light could be seen outside, cutting across the landscape.

    "What the hell?" Nadezhda said, popping out of existence, before reappearing a moment later. "I can't teleport. What."
    "You what?" Maria said, sounding amazed.
    "It's the end all over again," Kailan said.
    "At least we had more time this go-around," Dr. Ashana said, "maybe we can figure out what's going on next time before it happens."

The curtain intersected with the palace, and it was no more.

• • •

Four of them appeared on a bright-green, grassy field.

Nadezhda was the first to get up, and survey their surroundings. Strangely, this field extended off into the horizon for some distance in one axis, but was relatively thin in the other. It gave the impression they were on a thin strip of grass, no wider than a street, suspended upon what looked like endless sky. Off in the distance were mountains, but too far away to make out any details.

    "Get up everyone," she said, "where are we?"
    "No clue," Maria said, the second one to get up, "looks nothing like anywhere I've seen before."
    "Agreed," Harold said, getting up as well, "although I could say that about everywhere I've been today. Starting to feel like the odd one out here."
    "All I know is it's too bright," Kelva said, "all these worlds are too bright."
    "What's up with you and darkness," Maria said, "and that outfit?"
    "It's traditional for a spire-hunter," Kelva said, "and my world is much darker than any of these. All these places feel like the sun is turned up too much. No mountains, no rivers, just sky and buildings. Well, no buildings here."
    "Wait, where are the others?" Nadezhda said.
    "I don't know," Maria said, "hope they're okay."
    "Stay on task, I hear something," Nadezhda said as a faint sound of music approached them.

A girl, no more than fifteen years old, approached them from the distance, hovering above the ground riding a guitar. She stopped a few feet away, and jumped off her instrument, which promptly flew into position in her hands. She had long, brown hair, almost down to her waist, and she sported a complex outfit, which could only be described as the mix between an anime school outfit and heavy-metal band attire.

    "Hi!" she said cheerily, "are you new players here to help defeat the rock-god Azmonith?"
    "Uh," Maria said.
    "I can defeat anyone or anything," Nadezhda said, "just bring me to him."
    "Cool! Follow me!" the girl said, hopping back on her guitar and continuing to hover along the field.
    "I thought you couldn't... you know," Maria said, getting closer to Nadezhda.

Nadezhda teleported behind her, then ahead a hundred feet, then back again, each time with a quiet pop.

    "I still can teleport," Nadezhda said, "although since I don't know the layout of this place, I'd prefer to only go where I can see."
    "Mighty fancy trick you have there," Harold said.
    "Yes. It is," Nadezhda said, as they walked along the grass.
    "Hurry up! We don't want to run out of time!" the girl said, hovering in front of them.

A few minutes later, the grassy field in front of them suddenly dead-ended into a rock formation, with a platform set in its center.

    "No obvious way around," Nadezhda said, noticing the rock formation blocked their entire path, save for the void below.
    A man appeared on the platform with a short musical riff, and strummed a brief, but sufficiently wild, guitar solo. "I am Rock-Modan the first! You must pass by me to see the god! Who dares to challenge me?"
    "I do! I am Jania of the Twelve Chords, and have come to defeat you in musical combat!" the girl said, once again jumping off her instrument, and striking a pose. "Get ready everyone, because here we go!"
    "Are we... in a video game?" Maria said.
    "Don't be absurd, there's no way a video game could be this real," Nadezhda said nonchalantly.
    "I have no idea what a video game is, if that helps," Kelva said.
    "That makes two of us," Harold said.

However, before the rock-battle could begin, an unearthly voice sounded throughout the world, with no discernible source.

    "Violation of protocol, you are in the incorrect plane," the voice said, "return or you will be enforced."
    "Who dares interrupt Rock-Modan?" the man on the platform said.
    "This protocol is established by the master parameters, you do not have authorization to inquire."
    "I, Nadezhda, Empress of Earth, do hereby inquire as to what the master protocol is," Nadezhda said.
    "You do not have authorization. You must return to the correct plane. Auto-correcting now."

A pause.

    "Um, was something supposed to happen?" Maria said, looking around.
    "I don't know what this is!" the girl said, looking around confusedly, "is this a new mechanic?"
    "Internal Error: Auto-correction failed due to pattern lookup failure. Please contact the nearest debugger to report this error. Thank you for your cooperation!" a different voice said, again with no visible source.
    "Sounds like we crashed the game," Maria said, crossing her arms and sounding almost proud.
    "Auto-correction failure. The Continuity Enforcer will be deployed. Alteration of Ventari Systems is not permitted," the first voice said.
    "I could be naive, but that doesn't sound good," Harold said.
    "Nevermind that, the curtain is back!" Kelva said, noticing a white curtain of energy approaching them from across the rock formation.
    "Oh shit," said Rock-Modan.

The curtain engulfed them, as a faint 'Game Over' screen could be seen, until it flickered out of existence as well.

• • •

Meanwhile, the other four landed in a park.

    "At last! Not a concrete sidewalk!" Kailan said, getting up from the grass, and looking around at the tree-filled area.
    "Yes, this is a much more pleasurable way to be thrown across dimensions," Dr. Ashana said.
    "Whoo, that was quite the trip," James said, getting up and looking around, "so this is what happened to all of you?"
    "Yep!" Aika said, "it's fun! But too bad the other worlds are gone, I wonder what's in this one?" She got up and ran over to a pathway.
    "Might as well check it out," James said, "after you?"
    "Of course," Dr. Ashana said, following Aika and guiding her to walk towards something resembling civilization. "Wait, have you seen the others? I assumed they'd be in the park too."
    "Nothing around as far as I can see but trees, miss," James said.
    "At least we're together," Kailan said.
    "Raz. Well, I guess we'll keep looking. Oh, and it's 'Doctor', James. Spent too many years of my life in school to be called 'miss'," Dr. Ashana said.
    "Apologies, Doctor," James said.

The four of them walked along the pathway, Aika occasionally stopping to smell a flower or two, when they came upon a couple sitting on a park bench underneath a tree.

    "Ah, excuse me, could you tell us where we are?" Dr. Ashana said to them.
    "Yes, this is Central Park," the woman said. She was a bit taller, slightly muscular, and was wearing a black strapped shirt with blue jeans. I know this park is huge, but how can they not know? Must be some crazy tourists. "Not from around here?" she said.
    "Not exactly," James said.
    "We'd be happy to give you directions if there's somewhere in particular you want to go?" the man said, who was a bit shorter and wore a light-blue shirt that could only be described as frilly, along with white slacks.
    "Home," Aika said, walking up to the man, "and your shirt is super pretty!"
    "Thanks!" he said, "where is your home?"
    "We're... actually from another universe, or maybe world, I'm not really sure how to classify these things," Kailan said.
    "Whoa. Another universe?" the woman said, "that's pretty awesome. I'm Hajia, and this here is my boyfriend Dani," she said.
    "Pleasure to meet you, great travelers," Dani said.

    At least they have some more usual names, Dr. Ashana thought. "Do you know where the nearest research center is? I'd really like to take some readings, at least before it happens again."
    "What happens again?" Dani said.
    "Oh you know, the usual, collapse of all reality as we know it," James said, "but seriously, letting her figure this out would be a relief, as I haven't the foggiest idea what this all means."
    "Sure, my friend Izeri works at the Yornac Institute of Technology, it's only a fifteen minute subway ride from here," Hajia said.
    "Great, let's get going," Dr. Ashana said.

The six of them walked along the pathway, occasionally looking up into the sky in anticipation.

    "So, I don't suppose it would be too much to ask," James said, "you know what, it's... nevermind."
    "What? What is it?" Hajia said, holding Dani's hand as they walked.
    "Well..." James said, before being interrupted by Dr. Ashana.
    "Not again," she said, "it's too soon. The interval didn't increase this time around."

They all turned around to see a curtain of white light approaching from the south.

    "Maybe it's stochastic?" Kailan said.
    "I sure hope we get an opportunity one of these times, who knows how many more cycles we may get," Dr. Ashana said.

• • •

Nadezhda's group re-emerged sitting on a bench.

    "That's remarkably convenient," Maria said, getting up.
    "Whoa! What happened?" said Jania, the girl from the previous world. "This place is so... big!"
    "Yeah, it's like a normal world," Maria said, looking around. They appeared to be just outside a school, what with the high-school-age kids walking around nearby. However, the apparent ordinariness of this world quickly evaporated as they saw others flying around, and many who looked decidedly non-human.
    "This is not that normal," Nadezhda said, getting up from the bench, "unless this is a world where everyone is an Ennai?"
    "Sure looks like it," Kelva said, "it's like a world from mythology, other than the buildings, of course. Maybe the magic never died here?"
    "Far as I know, there never was any," Harold said, "but if there was, I guess this would be what it looks like."

Two of the students noticed the group outside the courtyard, and headed towards them from the main hall.

    "Hey! Do you need directions?" said a high-school boy, who was riding on a futuristic-looking broomstick. He had short dirty-blond hair, and was wearing a beige shirt with slate blue pants.
    "Or just checking out the place for your daughter?" said a high-school girl, who was dressed in an ornate black dress, which had softly-glowing blue lines sewn in. She had matching blue hair, and was carrying a book with cryptic symbols written on its cover.
    "I'm not their daughter," Nadezhda said, "I'm Nadezhda Antonina Jiang, Empress of Earth."
    "What?" the high-school girl said, looking surprised.
    "Uh, never heard of you before, sorry!" the high-school boy said, "if that's an anime or manga I haven't read, it sounds cool!"
    Maria couldn't help but suppress a giggle at this remark, despite not knowing what anime or manga was.
    "So is this a school for magic?" Kelva said, sounding a bit excited, "I've only heard about such things in myths from long ago."
    "Sure is!" the high-school girl said, "are you studying?"
    "Oh no, I've never seen any magic before," Kelva said. He paused, then thinking about it more, he said, "well... at least before today."
    "No way! Where are you from?" the high-school boy said, getting off the broomstick and stepping onto the ground. "Oh, and where are my manners? I'm Lian Trisio, student of the aerial arts."
    "And I'm Kira Kensawa," the high-school girl said, "specializing in temperature manipulation, especially ice."
    "Temperature, eh?" Maria said, this comment brining back memories of times long past.
    "Impressive," Nadezhda said, "if you existed in my world, I would certainly consider recruiting you into the Ennai Special Forces."
    "Sounds like a sweet job!" Lian said.
    "It is," Nadezhda said.
    Maria merely rolled her eyes at this remark.
    "Do you have any classes on musical battling?" Jania said, "I have been meaning to train up."

However, before anything else could be said, they were interrupted by gasps from the crowds around them. People were staring into the sky, and taking pictures.

    "Not again," Kelva said, turning around to see - not the white curtain they had expected, but a huge chevron-shaped ship, hanging in the sky by no visible means. "That's new."
    "Perhaps they can be of assistance," Nadezhda said, "after all, they clearly have advanced technology."
    A booming voice sounded from the ship, and said, "Anomalies DR-32C, you must return to your original location. Known reference points: Jania Twelvon, Nadezhda Jiang, Maria Senolus, Harold Jones, Kelva Ishiro. Return immediately or you will be expunged and this world reset. Modification of Ventari Systems is not permitted."
    "That's the same announcement we heard before," Harold said, "ever heard of a Ventari System?"
    "Is that a final boss?" Jania said.
    "This seems slightly less automated," Nadezhda said, "maybe they will listen to reason." She teleported on top of the bench, and said loudly, "we can't return, we don't know how!"
    "Insufficient justification," the voice from the ship said.
    "Heh, looks like they didn't buy it," Maria said.
    "Perhaps-" Nadezhda started, when suddenly the five of them were teleported off the street.

They found themselves in what appeared to be a jail cell, with bars made of glowing golden energy.

    A man in a dark gold and black uniform walked up to them, and said, "what makes you think you have the right to interfere in the operations of other worlds? Who gave you this authorization?"
    Nadezhda was the first to speak. "We did not travel here willingly," she said, "a great curtain of white light covered our worlds, then we ended up here."
    "I saw it too," Jania said.
    "She speaks the truth," Harold said, "and we all know you're the one in charge here, so maybe we could explain what happened and you could help us figure out how to get back?"
    "Incorrect," the man said, "I am the Continuity Enforcer, I correct problems in the Ventari Systems. I do not help hackers and those who violate the master protocols. You will be returned and reset."
    "Great, I was getting tired of all this nonsense," Maria said.

The man stood outside the bars, unmoving.

    "So... how long does this take?" Kelva said, curious as to why the man had not taken any other action.
    "Maintenance is currently in progress," the Continuity Enforcer said. "You will be returned as soon as it is complete." He stared at them again, near-perfectly still.
    "The maintenance does not seem to be going so well," Nadezhda said, "are you sure these systems are operating correctly?"
    "I do not question the systems," the Continuity Enforcer said.
    "Well this is a load of crap," Maria said, motioning towards Nadezhda, "he's even worse than you!"
    "Apparently," Nadezhda said, raising an eyebrow.
    "I don't suppose we get a phone call to a lawyer in here," Harold said, "I know a few who can do a number on the mayor himself."
    A different voice sounded throughout the interior of this space, and said, "Internal Error: Pattern integrity failure imminent. This world is being deactivated, prepare for emergency jump."

And as suddenly as the voice had finished, the cell and the ship they had been standing in vanished, leaving them falling through empty sky. The ground rushed towards them, the city boulevard below approaching at terrifying speed. One by one they disappeared from the sky, and reappeared next to the bench they had landed on.

    Nadezhda took a few deep breaths, having teleported them one-by-one to the ground. "It's tiring to do that, but you can thank me later," she said.
    "Because it's time," Harold said, pointing into the sky where the familiar white curtain of light could be seen approaching them. "Looks like even the coppers can't resist fate."

• • •

The others landed onto a metal floor with a thud.

    "Hey! What are you doing in here?" a female voice said over an intercom, "I think we have some stowaways, Captain!"
    "Stowaways?" Dani said, getting up and rubbing his head, "where are we? What happened?"
    "We just landed in a new universe," Kailan said, looking around, and feeling disappointed in another hard landing. They appeared to be in a vast metal storeroom, surrounded on all sides by huge metal containers. "Looks like we're inside a building. That's a first," he said.
    "Building? Hah!" the female voice from before said, as a door opened in the wall, revealing a woman in a futuristic uniform. She had dark teal hair, and her uniform was colored in deep reds and blues. "You're on board the Hashiwa Intrepid, finest ship in the solar system."
    "The Hashiwa Intrepid?" Dr. Ashana said, "you mean... we're in a space ship?"
    Aika's eyes lit up and visibly glowed from this revelation.
    "Yep!" the female in the doorway said, "what exactly did you think you were sneaking into, exactly?"
    "I assure you miss, sneaking is the last thing we would consider," James said.
    "Yeah, we were in Central Park just a moment ago where there was this huge wall of white light," Hajia said, looking around, "how did we get here?"
    "Central Park, New York City?" the woman in the doorway said, "that's ridiculous, we left from Io Station three days ago."
    "Io? Like the moon of Jupiter?" James said incredulously.
    "Sure, what other Io Station could there be?" the woman said.
    "This! Is! So! Cool!" Aika said, no longer being able to contain herself, and began running around the floor. "Can we see the stars? Can we? Can we?"
    "Send the stowaways to the main conference room, Lishia," another woman's voice said over the intercom.
    "Not from here," the woman, Lishia, said, "but you will from the room the Captain will be interrogating you in. Follow me!" She motioned for them to follow her out the door.

They walked along a narrow hallway, until it expanded into a metal catwalk, overlooking a large room with people working on consoles below. The stars could be seen outside the metal-framed windows that lined the walls and floor of this room.

    "Amazing," Kailan said, "this tech must be at least 50 years in the future."
    "Hah! It's a pretty advanced ship for sure," Lishia said, "but not that advanced."
    "Where we're from, we barely even have rockets," Dr. Ashana said, "we just sent a probe orbiting the planet a few years ago."
    "Really?" Hajia said, "in our world we put a woman on the moon like thirty years ago."
    "I remember seeing the footage," Dani said, "it was pretty impressive!"
    "Cool!" Aika said, barely listening to the conversation.
    Lishia wasn't sure what to make of this conversation, unsure if they were crazy, or actually from other worlds.

The catwalk ended into a door, which Lishia opened, leading them into a large conference room, with a metal table in the center. This room had many more metal structures and controls along its walls, but stars could still be seen through small windows interspersed between the machinery. Aika promptly ignored the table and chairs, and stared out the nearest thin window.

    "Take a seat, everyone," the Captain said, as the others sat down around the table. She was tall, and had deep blue hair, swept around her face. She wore a similar uniform to Lishia, but had two gold stripes across her turtleneck. "I'm Captain Fari," she said, "my First Lieutenant Lishia informs me that you were found in the cargo bay. What do you have to say for yourselves?"
    "We're from other universes, and we need your help to figure out what's happening before it's too late," Dr. Ashana said.
    James and Kailan nodded their heads in agreement.
    "A crazy story as I've ever heard," Fari said, "but as my security sensors clearly show you were not in the cargo bay until five minutes ago. And you materialized onto this ship with no visible means of transport. And we've been scanning in deep space attempting to determine the source of these electromagnetic anomalies for the last three days. I'm inclined to believe you."
    "Anomalies? We saw anomalies in our world before other people appeared next to us, just as we did here," Dr. Ashana said.
    "Yeah, they were sinusoidal fluctuations in the planet's magnetosphere, that lasted just under a second," Kailan said.
    "That's eerily similar to what we've observed," Fari said, "maybe we should combine efforts, do you mind taking a look at our readouts?"
    "Do I!" Dr. Ashana said, getting up.

The Captain showed her and Kailan the science station as they looked over the data and remarked at how similar the signals were.

    "What do you think it means?" Hajia said to James.
    "I have no idea," James said, "I just fix things. I leave the science to the professionals."
    "Makes sense," Hajia said, "now I wish I'd paid more attention to what Izeri does."
    "Same," Dani said, looking a bit dejected. "Do you think we'll see our world again? I hope everyone else is okay."
    "I hope so too, Dani," Hajia said, "I hope so too."
    The two of them held hands, but before much else could be said, a navigational officer blurted out, "Captain! I've just received reports of a huge energy wave traveling towards sector zero-zero-one!"
    "Intercept course - now!" Fari said.
    "I've lost contact with the reports, wait... no contact from Earth either - the energy wave, it's heading straight for us!" the navigational officer said.
    "Battle-stations, everyone! Shields up, and bring us to face into the wave!" Fari said.

The ship turned around quickly, everyone holding onto their seats, and Aika sliding along the floor from the window, managing to stay upright.

    "Main view up!" Fari said.
    "Sensors not responding," a science officer said, "we can't get a lock on the wave."
    "Visuals?" Fari said.
    "Already visible," the science officer said.

In front of them, the blackness of space gave way to a white screen. A wave of energy like none other they had encountered, heading towards them at near-lightspeed.

    "Brace for impact!" Fari said.

<< Back to the IndexOn to Part 2 >>

Published on Recreational Reality by Metafictional Press. First Version 2018 June 30, Latest Version 2018 June 30.