Kevin awoke, lying face up, staring into an overcast sky filled with purple clouds.
he thought, getting up, only to be considerably more confused by his surroundings.
He was in the middle of a surreal and dreamlike city, strange and physics-defying buildings and sculptures all around. People and vehicles traveling around the ground and sky, people and buildings coming and going, the landscape itself seemingly in motion.
this place?" Kevin said. I wish there was someone who could help me, and not that crazy Fred guy, either.
"Hello! I'm here to help you!" said a woman from directly behind him, wearing a blue uniform and a hat that said 'Information' on it.
"Great! Can you tell me where (or what) this place is?" Kevin said.
"Sorry, no. I don't know either," the woman said.
"That's not very helpful," Kevin said, "how can you not know anything either?"
"Oh, I was just created from your imagination a moment ago," she said, "I'm not really sure how I could know more than you?"
"You're what now?" Kevin said, thinking he really just wanted out of all this nonsense.
Suddenly as she had arrived, the mystery woman disappeared. Kevin also noticed that his immediate surroundings had turned into a perfectly ordinary sidewalk with a ordinary-looking bench.
What a stroke of luck,
he thought, sitting down, if only I had more of that.
A moment later, money began raining down on him, covering the bench and sidewalk. Okay, this place is super weird,
he thought. Maybe I should try hailing a cab?
A yellow-looking cab pulled up next to him, and rolled down the window.
"Hey! Do you know how to get to New York City from here?" he said.
"New York City? What are you, some kinda tourist?" the cabbie said, driving off into the sky.
That hail didn't work out so well,
he thought, when it suddenly started hailing on him. What? Now this place does puns? I didn't even want that to happen! If I'm not careful, this place will eat me alive!
The ground below him cracked and moaned, as the very Earth itself opened into a great toothy mouth, Kevin straddling both sides with each foot.
Oh no, what have I done?
"Hey you! Newbie! Catch!" said a woman off to his left.
"What?" Kevin said, barely catching a small cardboard box out of midair, "how is this supposed to help!?"
the box!" the woman said.
"What? That doesn't even make any sense!" Kevin said, now almost about to tumble down into the ground-monster.
"Jeez! You really must be new!" she said, sounding annoyed, "just imagine all your thoughts inside the box!"
"Okay..." Kevin said, closing his eyes and imagining putting all his thoughts inside the box he was just given.
Once he opened his eyes, he saw himself standing on ordinary, solid ground, and it wasn't hailing anymore. Thankfully. Looking inside the box, he saw the mouth, which he quickly hid by closing the lid.
"Whew - that was close," Kevin said, "this place is dangerous!"
"Eh. Only for the untrained," the woman said, walking up to him. She was six feet tall, equal to Kevin's height, and was wearing a rather exotic dress, in purple and orange. She had hair that looked like it was made of galaxies, and eyes that resembled infinite mirrors. "So, what's your story?" she said.
"My... story?" Kevin said, looking confused.
"Like, how'd you get here without getting any orientation or practice?" she said.
"I... don't actually know how I got here," Kevin said, "or even where here
"This is the Literal World, goofus," the woman said, "oh, and I'm Adra Starian, the first."
"A pleasure to meet you," Kevin said, "I'm Kevin, from New York City. And, I've never even heard
of a Literal World."
"Huh. That makes two of us, I've never heard of a New York City either," Adra said, "so... Kevin, if you don't know how you got here, then what does that make you?"
"Hah!" Adra said, "Maybe - but what I mean is that 'normal ordinary people' don't just waltz in here accidentally. So what are you? A figment of somebody's imagination?"
"Not that I know of, no."
"Don't know what that means, so I'm going to have to go with no."
"That makes no sense."
"Nah, you don't seem good enough to pull that off," Adra said, "still though, something is funny about the way you look. I mean, besides being drenched in anxiety and uncertainty."
"I'm what now?" Kevin said, looking down at himself, and finding that he looked dry, and surprisingly normal, considering everything.
"You can't see?" Adra said, "what, are you like... from a protected reality or something?"
"You know, I'm just going to have to answer I don't know," Kevin said, "and you can probably consider that an answer to pretty much every question you're going to ask in the future."
"Here, let me dry you off," Adra said, taking a hair dryer out her purse.
It made a whirring sound, but it seemed to move no air when she waved it at Kevin. However, he could feel his anxiety and uncertainty washing away from him, leading to a suprising calm.
"Wow! How'd you do
"Simple, all concepts are physical here in the Literal World," Adra said, "even if apparently you can't see some of them."
"Okay, then what does anxiety look like?" Adra said.
"I don't think that makes any sense," Kevin said, "how can one see
"Yep. There's your problem," Adra said, "if you can't interpret a concept through a sense, it will seem invisible to you. Eh, you'll learn if you stay here long enough."
"Actually, I'd really like to just get home," Kevin said, "do you know which way to leave?"
"Leave? You look like you just got here," Adra said.
"Yeah, but this place is totally freaking me out," Kevin said.
"Fair enough," Adra said, "just head up the Central Tower, you can catch a train from there."
She pointed to a large curving cylindrical tower, extending from the ground and through the clouds.
"Great, thanks," Kevin said, looking visibly relieved. "Thanks again for all your help."
"No problem - just hey, watch your thoughts on the way there!" she said.
"I will!" Kevin said. Once Adra turned around and began walking away, Kevin took a look inside his box. He saw himself kissing Adra, and promptly closed the lid again. Note to self: Keep thought-box closed at all times!
• • •
Across, through, and sometimes between the surreal landscape, Kevin continued walking towards the tower. It seemed to be the only fixed point in the city, except possibly the ground and perpetually-overcast purple sky.
I hope this train can take me back home, or at least somewhere comprehensible,
Kevin thought, that last place looked almost real, but this place looks totally unreal, like some strange shared dream...
He could almost see the base of the tower ahead, through a thicket of strange buildings. Being so close to the tower revealed its true size, nearly a mile across, and unbelievably tall, still at a significant width even into the clouds.
I sure hope there's an elevator,
However, before he could tackle the last thicket of chaos, a voice called out to him from behind, "hey box-boy! Lose your tour group?"
Kevin turned around, and saw three nine-foot-tall reptilian aliens smiling at him. "Uh, no, actually I'm trying to get to the central tower."
"Isn't that cute?" the lead alien said, "well, this area belongs to us, and if you want to pass, you're going to have to pay up."
"Do you take credit?" Kevin said, looking nervous.
The three aliens laughed at him in unison, before the leader made a motion with his hand and the three of them stopped.
"Credit?" the lead alien said, "we don't accept loans, or anything even remotely physical. The only currency of merit around here is concepts. Cold, hard, concepts."
"Although warm or soft ones are good too," the smaller alien on the right said, chuckling a bit.
"Shut up," the leader said.
"I don't know what that means?" Kevin said, "aren't cold and hard concepts themselves? Or do you mean philosophical concepts like love or war?"
"You really are
new," the lead alien said, "didn't you even get an orientation?"
"No," Kevin said, stepping back slightly.
"Well it looks like all you have is lost," the lead alien said, "and we already got plenty of that."
"So it's poundin' time," the larger alien on the left said, raising his fist.
Wait, everything I think of becomes reality, here, right?
Kevin thought, then I wish I was somewhere else!
He disappeared from this setting, only to reappear in a large square of three-dimensional polygons.
"Whew," Kevin said, "that was close."
"Oh, you ain't gettin' away that easy!" said the lead alien, stepping out from behind a icosahedron.
"Taxi!" Kevin said, as a bright yellow cab stopped next to him.
As Kevin hurriedly got in, the cabbie said to him, "where'ya headed to?"
"Anywhere but here!" Kevin said, still holding onto the box.
"Great, I know a shortcut to there!" the cabbie said, as the cab sped off into the air.
Before they had gotten much above the wide selection of desserts on the ground, a large battleship came up behind them.
"Fire!" the smaller alien said, standing on the front deck, near the bow of the ship.
Huge thirty-inch guns fired at the cab, vaporizing it and sending Kevin careening towards the ground.
"I hope there's a soft landing!" Kevin said, falling into a field of pillows.
"Soft and cuddly," the large alien said, standing up from the bed of pillows, and raising a large metal bat.
"A door out of here!" Kevin said, struggling to run across the feathery landscape, and falling into a small door.
He stood up on solid ground, inside a building with doors and stairs all around, twisting and turning in impossible directions.
"This looks like an Escher painting," Kevin said, looking around.
"Thanks! I'm almost finished painting it!" a man with a beard said, holding a paintbrush that he was using to fill in another staircase.
"Not a chance!" said the lead alien, stepping through a nearby door, and pointing a futuristic raygun at Kevin.
Jumping out a window into space, Kevin realized he couldn't maneuver in the zero-gravity environment. Remembering a device from one of his favorite comic books, Kevin summoned rocket boots on his feet, and took off erratically into the stars.
Rocket boots are a lot harder to control than they look!
Kevin thought, spiraling into the cloth space backdrop, and punching through it back into the purple sky.
After barely dodging a few flying taxis and giant paper airplanes, and performing more than one too many barrel rolls, Kevin eventually landed on solid ground again.
Standing up, he saw that this area was a bit more sane, mostly composed of rock and dirt, without any alien geometries or sideways staircases. However, in front of him was a solid blue energy barrier, shimmering and opaque, almost like a sideways sea. It extended as far as the eye could see in either direction, and up into the clouds above. Small signs were placed in front of the barrier every hundred feet or so, which read: 'Danger: Transitional Zone - Authorized Access Only'
Okay, probably should avoid that,
Kevin thought, reading a sign, although honestly this place seems the most reasonable yet.
"Aha! There you are!" said the lead alien, riding a large dinosaur, "thought you could just fly away, did you?"
The other two aliens pulled up next to him on their own dinosaurs, surrounding Kevin against the strange energy-wall.
"Oh, great," Kevin said, looking disappointed. Why is everyone out to get me?
His back pressed up against the wall as it emitted a high-pitched whine.
"We have you now," the smaller alien said, laughing a bit.
"Now to deconstruct you into whatever you're worth," said the larger alien, raising another futuristic raygun.
Kevin thought, as he felt his left leg slip backwards.
He fell backwards through the energy wall, and careened out of sight.
• • •
Neither Here nor There but Everywhere
Falling for a few minutes, Kevin landed on a small rock suspended in midair. It, along with many others, were falling in all directions around him, lightning and fire interspersed in a great cosmic storm.
"Where is this
place?" Kevin said, "is it too much to ask for a place with some stability?"
He slipped upwards off the rock, and impacted another, with a surprising lack of pain. Up ahead, he saw an inky blackness, and fell uncontrollably towards it, landing in a place without form. A great black void, where no senses remained, not even of himself.
• • •
Now where is this place?
There should not be any.
How can this be?
Who are you? And... what are you?
What are you?
A new concept?
I am... Kevin, from New York City.
But I can't see you, or anyone.
I can't hear you, or myself.
Of course not.
This is the place of metaphor.
The purest of concepts.
A place without need of corporeal form.
Thought and meaning exist alone, free from limitation.
That seems really strange.
How can we talk if we don't have form?
Is this even thought?
It feels like nothing.
It is meaning and comprehension.
Form above all is the other side.
The Literal World.
Here we shun all form.
None has it.
None need it.
It is another concept.
A metaphor of meaning.
The meaning of existence.
To be honest I am starting to get a bit weirded out.
Although that's nothing new for today.
You do not belong.
You are in the wrong place.
The wrong time.
The wrong thought.
Your form is not formless.
Even here you betray us.
In a place of possibility, you dare to say 'impossible'.
I didn't say this was impossible.
Although it sure seems like it.
You just did.
Time has no meaning as you see it here.
It is another concept.
And so your time is up.
You do not see that it never was.
And so you cease.
And the timeless metaphor exists.
• • •
Sounds of sparks filled the air, and the crash of metal once again awoke Kevin's senses. He found himself in a hallway, resembling a metal catwalk, surrounded by a mesh of wires and flowing lights. Light blue lights were interspersed throughout, showing the path down and across the hallway. He stood up and looked around, the smell of a metal forge filling his senses.
Kevin thought, looking down at his hands, I never thought I'd feel so relieved just to
exist. At least to have a normal form. That place was the weirdest yet, and that's saying something!
He walked down the hallway, hoping to come across another person, and noticed that his thoughts no longer affected reality around him. Which was good, given that his box was nowhere to be found.
Further down, the hallway opened up to just a thin metal catwalk, which overlooked a great forge. People in blacksmith attire below could be seen pounding a small rectangular device. Each hit of the hammer seemed to shake the very foundations of the air around him, the whole building vibrating with each stroke.
"You're not supposed to be here," said a man from behind him.
Turning around to face him, Kevin could see that this man was nearly as tall as himself, and was wearing a blue metallic uniform, similar to the hallway itself. His face was worn from uncountable years, and his eyes glowed a light blue, as if they were electric lights.
"Probably not," Kevin said, "I'll freely admit that I'm completely lost, and have been trying to get back home."
"Where is this 'home'," the man said, "little one who is lost?"
"Well, it is New York City," Kevin said, "on Earth. It's a nice blue planet, which you've probably never heard of."
"Can't say I have," the man said, "although there are many planets in the multiverse, I don't doubt it is nice, at least for you."
"So, uh, this Adra Starian lady said I needed to get to the central tower," Kevin said a bit nervously, "but then I was attacked by some bandits, and ended up in this place of nothing but thought, and yeah. You don't know how to get there, do you?"
"Oh! You have met Adra," the man said, "she is a friend of mine. And yes, I do know how to get to the central tower. I can take you there myself, little lost one."
"Thanks!" Kevin said, "although of course I don't want to inconvenience you, or keep you from this... forging?"
"Yes, the forging of concepts," the man said, "the building blocks of reality itself. But no worries, I'm on break."
The man smiled, and motioned to Kevin to follow him back down the hallway.
Walking along the hallway, Kevin said, "so... I guess forging concepts looks like metal-smithing then?"
"Everything you see here is an interpretation by your mind," the man said, continuing to walk, "the true form of this place is clearly beyond your comprehension. So remember that nothing is as it seems."
"Oh, kinda like how I had to think inside a box?" Kevin said.
"Something like that," the man said, as they approached a metal door. "Here you go, you can take this directly to the top of the central tower. I am sure that Alorn and Dinaya will want to speak with you. They will be waiting."
"Great, thanks!" Kevin said, as the door opened to reveal a small metal room. "Do I just step inside?"
"Yes, it's an elevator," the man said, "and good luck."
"Thanks again!" Kevin said, stepping inside. Oh thank god it wasn't a staircase,
The door closed, as the floor lifted up.
"Current location: Lower Literal Level, L3" a voice said inside the room. "Heading to: Reality Refinery. Please keep all concepts and thoughts inside the elevator while it is in motion."
The elevator headed upwards through a complex of metal wiring, until it left the ground behind, soaring into the sky. The four sides of it became glass, revealing a most dramatic landscape around him. Tall mountains covered the landscape, as far as the eye could see, with huge cables stretching forth from them, and into an inverted rocky plateau above. Slipping into this dark plateau, the view became quite dark for a moment, until the elevator flew over the chaotic landscape of the Literal World below. Skyscrapers of gingerbread intersected with town squares made entirely of clocks, as people flew around and came and went from existence around him. The central tower could be seen in the distance, only a few miles away. The elevator continued its upward journey, until it traveled into the purple clouds at the top of the sky. Entering these clouds, the view shifted from a light purple into a white, and much fluffier, composition.
Piercing out of the clouds, Kevin saw a bright blue sky, illumination filling the atmosphere. A great city made of concentric circles could be seen ahead, surrounding and at the peak of the central tower. A few white, puffy clouds filled this sky, as the elevator changed course, flying much more horizontally across and over the cloudy landscape. A few hover-ships and smaller rings could be seen, as the elevator headed for the center of the ringed city. Passing above a few rings, it docked on the side of the white tower, very close to the top, the tower's side opening a door to match the elevator perfectly.
• • •
Where the Heavens are Made
Stepping off the elevator, the white wall closed behind him, as a large white and seemingly-empty room stood before him. There were bands of light across and around the floors, walls and ceiling, leading to the impression that this entire area was composed of nothing but curves.
"Hello! And welcome to the Reality Refinery," a woman said, appearing next to him, "you are requested in the Overlook Conference Room. This way, please." She was thin and tall, and was quite bright, as if she was made of light herself.
Following this mysterious light-woman, Kevin walked around the curved hallways, until reaching a circular door. The door dilated open, revealing a room with many chairs, and grand windows observing the blue sky and clouds below.
Kevin thought, certainly nicer than the other worlds today.
"Alorn and Dinaya will be here momentarily," the woman said, leaving the room, the door dilating shut behind her.
"Sounds good," Kevin said, "wouldn't want to be kept waiting."
"Of course not," a man, Alorn, said, standing across the room from him. He was wearing a white uniform, with faint blue accents. He looked rather old, his white hair matching the wrinkled appearance of his face.
"We wouldn't think of it," a woman, Dinaya, said, standing next to Alorn. She appeared somewhat younger, although with hair no less white, and wore a simple white gown, with a slight orange accent.
How does everyone here do that?
Kevin thought. "Nice to meet you," he said, "I don't suppose you two know how to get to New York City? Or at least Earth?"
"Earth, yes. Our daughters are attending a University on an Earth," Dinaya said.
"Great! So you can take me back?" Kevin said, sounding hopeful.
"I'm afraid it's not that easy..." Alorn said, "you see, there are an infinite number of Earths, all coexisting across the multiverse. I would need to send you back to the correct
Earth, which would normally be quite simple - but for some reason, you have no universal signature. And so I cannot tell exactly which Earth you are from."
"Well, can't you guess? I mean, it's not a big problem for me as long as it's pretty close," Kevin said, "so what if the Golden Gate was blue or something, does it really matter?"
"If I were to send you back to the wrong Earth, there could be undesirable
consequences," Alorn said, "the resulting interdimensional imbalance could eventually expand and cause the total annihilation of multiple alternate realities, potentially killing trillions or more."
"Yeesh, maybe not then," Kevin said, "but why can't you tell where I'm from? Is it normal to not have a universal fingerprint or what not?"
"No, it is not normal," Dinaya said, "generally regarded as impossible, even."
"Okay... so what are we going to do?" Kevin said.
"You must go and meet with the Temple Meditators in Meta-Reality," Alorn said, "they can be found at the top of the Meta-Reality Temple."
"They are specialists in these sorts of matters," Dinaya said, "they would know best how to help."
"So, how do I get there?" Kevin said.
"Take this train pass," Alorn said, handing Kevin a blue card, "it will take you there."
"Thanks," Kevin said, "and... you really think they can help?"
"If not, I'm sure they will know who will," Alorn said.
Kevin turned around to leave, then thinking twice, turned back to the pair, not wanting to waste this opportunity for answers.
"So... before I go," Kevin said, "I've heard these terms of 'forging concepts' and seen thoughts turn into reality around here. What is
"This is the Reality Refinery," Dinaya said, "concepts are forged in the Lower Literal Level, then experimented and combined in the Literal World below. They are finally brought here and refined into the building blocks for realities."
"I've heard that, but I really don't understand it at all," Kevin said, looking confused as usual.
"For example," Alorn said, holding up a small white rectangle, "this is the concept for 'heat'. It was refined here recently, and can now be used to build realities."
"So wait," Kevin said, "you mean before you made 'heat' places could never be hot?"
"Not exactly," Dinaya said, "since time is but a concept, and its linear flow a view of people who live in realities with such a concept... 'heat' has always existed from your point of view."
"So when you make something," Kevin said, "it had always been there? This is only making me more confused."
"Concepts have no beginning or end, as those are concepts unto themselves," Alorn said, "you will understand in time."
"Okay," Kevin said, sounding confused, "so uh... that train home? Which way is it?"
"The guide can show you the way," Dinaya said, motioning towards the door.
And with that, Kevin walked out of the room, and followed the mysterious light-woman again, through a maze of curved hallways. He headed out of the refinery in the clouds, and across a translucent walkway towards what looked like a small train station in the sky. In front was a small platform, connected to the walkway by vertical faregates. On the other side of the platform were thin metallic tracks heading in both directions, suspended in midair with no obvious support.
Upon arriving, Kevin tapped his train pass on one of the faregates, which responded with a beep.
The faregate said, "please take the white line towards the Concept Lands, then transfer on The Ocean to the blue line toward Meta-Reality." A small holographic diagram accompanied this message.
"Thanks," Kevin said. Sure looks a lot nicer than the C train, at least,
He stepped through the faregates, noticing a variety of human and not-so-human passengers waiting on the platform and on the benches. What I wouldn't give for a newspaper right about now,
he thought. Wait, I wonder if I could summon one?
A newspaper materialized in his hands, saying 'The Reality Times'. I suppose this will have to do,
he thought. He unfolded it, and was preparing to read it when a white subway-like train pulled up. That was fast,
The doors opened up, and a variety of beings disembarked and boarded. An announcement said, "white line to Concept Lands."
Kevin thought, getting on board and sitting down in a surprisingly comfortable seat. A tone was heard, as the doors closed, and the train left the platform silently. Turning right along the tracks, the white clouds of the Reality Refinery receded into the distance behind him. Up ahead, the track ahead disappeared into inky blackness, the train approaching it in no time at all.
• • •
Surrounded by nothing but a pitch black view out the train's windows, and only the lights in the train providing illumination, Kevin picked up his newspaper to read something. Of course, it had promptly disappeared once they left the Literal Realm. Typical.
However, something else could be seen outside the windows - faint points of light, scattered across the inky blackness like stars. They became brighter, and now seemed to be moving, drifting lazily in the direction they were traveling. Kevin turned around to look out the window behind him, only to notice the pinpricks of light were inside the car as well. They looked like miniature fireflies, dancing in the air, and resisting being caught by any movement. They continued to grow, expanding until they looked like white confetti, iridescently shining with other colors, now drifting out of the train.
Kevin looked through the exterior windows, seeing the lights expand into polygonal portals to strange and new realities, each a small window into a place not yet finished. They expanded and rotated around, until each window was the size of the train car at least. Directly ahead, Kevin could see the tracks curving into one of these large portals, and a moment later, they were inside.
Now traveling across suspended rails through a universe of watermelon-sized galaxies, the train abruptly stopped, as a single being exited.
They once again resumed their course, shifting suddenly into a watery place of mountain-sized bacteria, where a few more exited.
This continued for some time, across universes of only sound, or only color, beyond time, and under space. Realities and universes both fantastic and logical, and all without any other inhabitants in sight.
Eventually, Kevin was the only one left, just having departed from a land made entirely of triangular blocks. The train entered another portal, and passed over a great mountain range, the tracks suspended between peaks. The mountains suddenly gave way to a great ocean, an expanse of perfectly still, blue water.
It was here that the train once again stopped at a small platform, balanced unmovingly on top of the ocean. The announcer on the train said, "The Ocean, Concept Lands - Transfer here for the Blue Line."
"Oh, that's my stop," Kevin said, walking out of the now-empty train car, and stepping onto the concrete platform.
The train behind him headed away, and off to the right, before disappearing into the sky at incredible speed.
"Whew. That wasn't so bad. Now just to wait for the blue train, I guess?" he said, looking at the other side of the platform, where blue tracks melted out of the ocean on the left, and vanished into the sky on the right.
Sitting down on a bench, he thought, doesn't look like there's anything to do here but wait.
"Hi!" said a woman's voice.
Kevin almost jumped off the bench, before turning to see a transparent blue humanoid woman peeking out of the water, her arms crossed along the surface of the platform, the rest of her still submerged.
"Um, hi?" he said.
"I'm Inara," she said, "I don't get a chance to meet too many people here, especially not ones like you."
"Thanks?" Kevin said, still a bit weirded out.
"Oh it's no problem, thanks for keeping me company!" Inara said, "have you visited the Concept Lands before?"
"No, I've never even heard of them before today," Kevin said, looking out at the endless expanse of ocean.
"Wonderful! A first time visitor," Inara said, smiling. "As you likely already know, each realm within the concept lands is a perfect representation of a given concept. The quintessential embodiment of it."
"So this is like, the perfect ocean?" Kevin said.
"Yes, it is!" Inara said, "I love swimming in it to get inspiration."
"If that's so... then why are there are no waves? Or fish? Or boats?" Kevin said.
"Those are all other concepts," Inara said, "you should look at a completed universe (or other concept lands) for those other ingredients."
"I suppose that makes sense," Kevin said, "but what do you use this as inspiration for?"
"I make universes," Inara said, "most people here do, after all. And no better place to learn about the fundamental building blocks than here. That and I do enjoy swimming, it's a favorite pastime of mine."
"That's... amazing," Kevin said, sounding a bit surprised, "how long have you been doing that for?"
"Oh forever," Inara said, "an uncountably infinite amount of time, to be specific."
"That sounds impossible!" Kevin said, "you'd have to be as old as the multiverse for that."
"Oh no, not at all," Inara said, "after all infinity and time are merely concepts too."
"I don't understand."
Inara merely smiled at this remark, the water splashing slightly from her treading beneath the surface.
"Do you know how big the multiverse is?" Inara said, looking up at Kevin from the water.
"Well, it's infinite, isn't it?" Kevin said.
"Not quite," Inara said, with a slight smile, "the multiverse has everything that is, was, and could be, with every concept and every possibility. So one universe can be infinite, and there can be an infinite number of them in one reality, each with an infinite number of possibilities for its existence in infinite realities."
"So, it's a infinity of infinities, and so on, or something like that?" Kevin said, "I thought that's what 'uncountable infinity' meant. I'm pretty
sure I heard that in math class at one point."
"Not quite," Inara said, smiling, "see, the idea of infinity, and all the concepts we see around us are merely building blocks for realities to be made from." She motioned around to the great ocean around them, "so there are plenty more realities with different mathematics, where infinities are commonplace, or nonexistent, or have totally different meanings. So there are all realities from all possible combinations of concepts."
"So, it's even more than infinity? Shouldn't there be a way to describe the number, then?" Kevin said.
"Not quite," Inara said, smiling again, "for any number or name or concept we give to the size is merely another reality building block, and so the size of the multiverse is so huge, so vast, that it's completely unknowable, no matter what. It simply defies definition, as any definition is part of the combinations to determine its size."
"So... it's really damn big, then," Kevin said, getting a bit frustrated.
"Something like that, yes," Inara said.
Kevin stared at her for a moment, before saying, "well. That's pretty brain-breaking to be honest. How about something more comprehensible - like... how big is this ocean?"
"It's infinitely large," Inara said, "and quite nice to swim in."
"Great. Is there anything here that's not infinite or endless or completely bonkers?"
"Possibly you," Inara said, "although it is hard to say about any visitor to this place." She smiled again.
Off in the distance, a blue subway train could be seen moving towards them at high speed, skimming along the surface of the ocean to the left.
"Oh! It looks as though your train is arriving. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you," Inara said.
"Likewise," Kevin said, "even if I barely understood any of it."
The blue train slowed rather abruptly onto the side of the platform, stopping perfectly in line with it, before opening its doors.
"It will make more sense in time," Inara said, "see you again sometime!"
"Bye!" Kevin said, stepping into the train, as Inara waved him goodbye.
Once inside, Kevin saw that he was once again surrounded by many strange creatures, some of whom eyed him suspiciously. Having no seats left, he grabbed a pole, and watched as the doors closed. The train sped off into the sky, leaving the tiny platform and infinite ocean behind.
• • •
Reality Beyond Reality
Returning to the black void, the train sped along at an indiscernible speed. The other strange passengers crowded around him, as he could see the void fading away into a gray light, as if the world was turning into static. His view suddenly flickered in and out of visibility, until they appeared to be flying through outer space. Stars surrounded them, galaxies and nebula visible at close range. This cosmic view gave way to a vast series of planets, each appearing to be hollow, and filled with cityscapes around their surface and interior. The train approached one pair of these planets, the two intertwined together, futuristic space-ships traveling between the skyscrapers of both planets.
Approaching a tall skyscraper on the outside of the larger planet, the train came to a stop alongside it. The doors of the train opened up, revealing another translucent platform, which appeared to be made of digital glass. It shimmered as the other exotic creatures walked along its surface, Kevin following them out of the train. Reaching an elevator on the side of the building, he boarded it as well. This elevator traveled down the side of the building, approaching the cityscape below. Arriving at the bottom floor, the elevator doors opened up, and Kevin stepped out with the others into the bustling sidewalk.
Now, how to find this Meta-Reality Temple?
Kevin thought. He looked around, not seeing any obvious signs or directions. He walked up to a street corner, and nervously approached a strange-looking alien who appeared to be looking at a map.
"Is this the way to the Meta-Reality Temple?" Kevin said.
The alien looked at him with a suspicious glance, and said, "what are you doing trying to get there?"
"I was told to see the Meditators at the Temple," Kevin said, "these two people, Alorn and Dinaya, said they could help me get home."
"Huh. You do
look pretty lost," the strange alien said, "so if you're looking for the Temple, follow this street down until you see the great spire in the sky, can't miss it." The alien pointed to the right, along a street drenched in neon and crowds.
"Thanks!" Kevin said, surprised at such a straight-forward answer.
He walked along the street for a ways, remarking to himself that besides the completely alien architecture, strange population, and apparent lack of respect for the laws of physics, this place was the most comprehensible yet. It even had vaguely normal-looking cars, even if they did take off from the ground rather frequently. And he was pretty sure he even saw a few people reading a surprisingly-ordinary newspaper or two. At least one that looked printed, although the language was clearly incomprehensible.
Up ahead, he saw a great white spire, rising from the surface of the city and into a bank of clouds up above. He walked up to it, carefully crossing the circular street surrounding it, and saw a holographic sign in front, which read, 'The temple is currently closed. Please check back at an another time.'
Kevin thought, they didn't even leave an opening time.
He looked around for anyone else nearby that looked helpful, and not seeing anyone he dared approach, decided to explore the surrounding area instead. Stopping next to one of the most ordinary-looking buildings nearby, he read the sign above, 'Roger's Deli'. I have been feeling rather hungry,
Kevin thought, and this place looks hopefully sane.
He walked inside, and went up to the counter. "So, what do you have here that is good?" Kevin said to the man at the counter.
The man was rather tall, sporting short brown hair, was slightly portly, and was wearing a cook's uniform, with a nametag which read 'Roger'. He said, "we make the best damn sandwiches in the multiverse here, you want one or not?"
"Sure!" Kevin said, sounding relieved that is wasn't something strange and reality-defying, "whatever you think is good."
Roger reached down under the counter and pulled out a rather ordinary-looking sandwich, which was apparently made from white bread, and even had an olive on top. He placed this sandwich on a plate, and handed it to Kevin. Kevin took the plate, and sat down at a nearby booth.
Kevin took one bite of this sandwich, and suddenly felt transported to another place and time. He was swirling around the cosmos, a state where time had no meaning, and the entire multiverse was laid out in front of him. Across timeless space and countless universes Kevin traveled, until he found himself once again sitting down at the table, one bite missing from his sandwich.
"Wow!" He said, remarking upon the wondrous experience.
He carefully took another bite, and was once again transported across space and time.
He finished this sandwich slowly over the next few minutes, savoring every bite, more than he ever had before.
Once he was finished, Roger came up to him and said, "well, how was it?"
"Unbelieveably amazing!" Kevin said.
"Great!" Roger said, "how do you want to pay?"
Kevin felt down in his pocket, noticing it was disappointingly empty. "Uh, shit." Kevin said.
"We don't accept shit here. You can't pay - you gotta work it off," Roger said.
• • •
Time to Leave
Later that evening, Kevin was behind the counter, washing dishes, as Roger was locking the deli up for the night.
"As soon as you're done in there, you can head out," Roger said.
"It seems like there should be a way to just magic this all away!" Kevin said, cleaning a pan.
"Yeah, but this is more fun!" Roger said, walking out the door and closing it behind him.
A few minutes later, a group of three people walked in through the allegedly locked door. They looked reasonably ordinary, for this place, at least.
"Hey! What are you doing here?" The lead man said.
"I'm doing the dishes," Kevin said, holding up a pan, "what are you doing here? I thought this place was closed!"
"It is," the lead man said, "so you shouldn't be here."
The person on his right raised a small device, out of which sprung a tiny bolt of blue energy. This bolt impacted the pan Kevin was holding, erasing it from existence.
"Hey! I was washing that pan!" Kevin said.
"Huh?" the lead man said, looking to the person on his right, then back at Kevin, "how the hell can you see the differences?"
"What?" Kevin said.
"This here is a Grade-A Temporal Nullifer," the lead man said, "it erases things from history, that's why we never get caught, 'cause the money we're stealin' never existed in the first place!"
"That's... odd," Kevin said, "I don't know about any of that - I was just holding the pan a moment ago until you vaporized it!"
"Dahlia, scan him," the lead man said.
"Already did," the woman on his left, Dahlia, said, "he looks like a dull organic terran, but he's got no signature."
"No signature?" the lead man said, looking at Dahlia's scanner, "the hell? How's that possible?"
"I have no clue!" Kevin said, "that's why I'm going to the Meta-Reality Temple to figure it out!"
"The only thing we're gonna be figurin' out is how to get rid o' you," the lead man said, "hit 'im, Frezena."
The person on his right, Frezena, fired the device again at Kevin, and with a bright blue flash... nothing happened.
"Was... that supposed to do something?" Kevin said, noticing he seemed to be unharmed, and thankfully still clothed.
"The hell?" the lead man said, "you some kinda spook or something?"
"No, I don't think so," Kevin said, "are you from Brooklyn?"
"Never heard o' it," the lead man said, "just shoot him with the dissociator already!"
Frezena pulled out a smaller pistol, and shot Kevin with a bolt of orangish-yellow light. Upon impact, he vanished from this place.
"Good, now we get the hell out o' here before anyone notices anything else!" the lead man said, as the three of them left immediately.
• • •
Lost but not Forgotten
Kevin awoke staring into a sky full of stars, millions of them visible above. Sitting up, he saw a metallic plain around him, curved mountains surrounding him in all directions. Above were two crescent moons, just rising out of the east.
Great, now I'm lost again,
he thought, although it doesn't look much like that nowhere place. This is far too scenic.
Looking around, he saw a wisp of white light ahead, traveling towards him, floating lazily in the air.
"Hello! Is anyone (or anything) there?" Kevin said.
The wisp moved closer, and stopping a few feet in front of him, materialized into a transparent woman. She was dressed in white robes, skin white as snow, with white hair and golden eyes. Shining slightly with an ethereal green light, she hovered a few feet off the ground, smiling at Kevin.
"Yes," she said, matter-of-factly.
Kevin looked at her with a combined look of awe and annoyance, and said, "great! I'm Kevin, and it would be really helpful if you could tell me where this is, and how to leave?"
"A pleasure to meet you, Kevin. I'm Inzami, the transit goddess of the Ekozet network," she said, taking a small bow, "and I can tell you this is the Planet Zseuity. As for how to leave, I suppose I should ask you how you got here? I just saw you appear suddenly, and decided to say hello."
What goddess of what?
Kevin thought, feeling both confused and impressed. "I got zapped by a raygun (or something) from Roger's Deli in Meta-Reality," Kevin said, "but don't ask me how any of it works."
"Meta-Reality?" Inzami said, "that's... quite a ways from here, in many dimensions."
"Okay, but can you help me get back? I need to get to the Meta-Reality Temple," Kevin said, "Alorn and Dinaya told me they were the only ones who might be able to help me get back home."
"My! You are quite well-traveled," Inzami said, looking surprised, "and that's saying something coming from me.
However, while normally I could help, this particular planet is at the edge of my network, and I can only observe, not transport directly to or from it. And my team is quite far away, and rather busy at the moment."
"Awesome - never heard that before," Kevin said sarcastically, "Is there any other way off? Preferably that doesn't involve jumping off of insane cliffs or traveling an infinite distance?"
"Actually, I believe there may be someone arriving soon who can assist you," Inzami said, pointing to a point of light falling from the sky.
The light became brighter until it resolved into the form of a spaceship, burning in the thin atmosphere, a magnificent shooting star, at least for those not in it. Mere seconds later, it crashed into the ground, bouncing once before settling in a nearby hillside. The wreck crackled and spurted a burst of fire, coloring the cold night.
"It looks more like they could use my
help," Kevin said, "are you sure it's safe to check out that crash?"
"Is it safe for you to stay outside here alone?" Inzami said.
"Good point," Kevin said, starting to feel chilly in the exposed alien night.
He headed off in a light jog, checking to make sure the crashed ship didn't explode in front of him, until he reached the smoldering wreck. It looked surprisingly intact, only the front nose-cone and wings were crushed and bent, while in the center passenger compartment, there was scarcely a broken window, and no sign of smoke or fire. Running up to the center section, he saw multiple people inside, walking towards the back of the craft.
"Hey! Do you need any help in there?" he said, walking up to what looked like a door.
The door dematerialized in front of him, as an older man stared through the open space. "We do not require assistance. Do you?"
"Well, actually, I am
stranded here at the moment, so yes. Although, are you sure you're okay? What with the flaming ship and everything?"
"Yes, while unfortunate, these situations are sometimes unavoidable," the man said.
"Glad to hear," Kevin said, "although, how exactly are you leaving if this ship is crashed?"
"We are taking the emergency exit," the man said, "although, I must warn you, if you follow us, then you may never be able to return."
Kevin thought about it for a moment, as the rest of the passengers could be seen walking to the back of the ship, and disappearing from view.
"I... don't have any other options at the moment to get off this planet, so sounds like a plan," Kevin said.
"Then follow me," the man said, walking inside and towards the back of the ship.
A door could be seen, which the last couple passengers could be seen walking through. It was old and rather beat-up looking, somewhat out of place for the otherwise futuristic-looking ship. On the other side, only darkness could be seen.
"Actually, on second thought, I might take my chances with the abandoned alien planet," Kevin said, having followed him inside.
"Through that door is nothing to fear, for one of a solid mind," the man said.
"Okay... here goes nothing," Kevin said, stepping through.
• • •
All Doors Lead Away
On the other side Kevin was greeted with a view of a dark hallway, doors interspersed across both sides. Following him into the hallway was the older man, who walked by Kevin, and motioned for Kevin to follow.
"Stay close now," the man said, "you don't want to get lost in here."
this place?" Kevin said, following behind the man, as they walked through this strange hallway.
"This is the Semi-Fictional Gateway," the man said, "it is a bridge between many worlds, and a way for me to take characters who have outgrown their stories into new places. Although, it is rather dangerous, so I much prefer manual transport, even if that doesn't always work."
Kevin stopped, and said, "what? Outgrown their stories? How is that possible?"
"I did say not to get lost in here, didn't I?" The man said, continuing further along the hallway.
"Wait!" Kevin said, "I didn't mean to offend!" He ran down the hallway, but it shifted around him, and suddenly the older man was nowhere to be seen.
Feeling lost, Kevin ran through the hallway until he found himself at what appeared to be a dead end, nothing but doors around, covering all the surrounding walls. He walked up to one, and opened it gingerly. On the other side he saw a young girl, no more than ten years old at most, wearing an anachronistic Victorian dress in black and white. She was staring ahead, unmoving.
"Hey!" Kevin said, "are you okay? And... Do you know where this is? Or how to get out?"
She turned towards him, and looking up, said, "all doors lead away"
"Okay, do any of the doors lead to New York City?" Kevin said, "or maybe Meta-Reality?"
"All doors lead away," the girl repeated, still staring at him.
Kevin looked at her suspiciously, and said, "are you lost too?"
"All doors lead away," the girl said again, not moving.
Kevin walked away slowly, and approached another random door. Opening it slowly, he stepped through only to find himself in another identical-looking hallway. He walked down this hallway further until he once again saw the same girl from before, standing in the center of the room.
"Are you the same...?" Kevin said.
"All doors lead away," the girl said.
"Great." Kevin said. He looked around, and opened another door.
Through this door was another hallway, although it had no other doors, and was bathed in a soft blue light.
At least it isn't the same hallway again,
Walking further along, he came to an ordinary-looking wooden door, which had a doorbell on its right side. Kevin approached this door cautiously, and pressed the doorbell. A soft chime could be heard, and the door opened up to reveal a short man. He was dressed in a dark blue outfit, which had spikes and fins adorned across it.
"Come in, come in," the man said, walking back inside. "I trust you're here for the Alkari merchandise, right?"
"I've never heard of it to be honest," Kevin said, stepping inside as well. "I was kinda hoping you could tell me where this is? And how to get out?"
"You don't know where this is?" The man said, turning around, "I didn't realize they let just anyone in these days."
"I am actually here by accident. I followed this old man through a door in the back of a crashed spaceship, and ended up in the hallway outside."
"You should have kept following him then," the man said, "as now I'm going to have to let you go."
"Great," Kevin said, "which way is out of here?"
"This way," the man said, pulling a gun out of nowhere, and pointing it at Kevin. "Good luck out there back in the real world."
Firing a blue polygon at Kevin, he disappeared and the man sat down on a nearby chair, relieved.
• • •
Fraught with Conflict
Kevin reappeared on a grungy street at night, unfamiliar buildings towering around him. Graffiti adorned the walls and broken glass littered the sidewalks, covering the bags of trash and broken car parts. The sounds of sirens and gunfire could be heard in the distance, approaching closer. He felt himself, and noticing no obvious injuries, and that his clothes appeared to be still intact, sighed with relief.
The sounds of fire approached closer, as a militarized truck could be seen driving down the dimly lit street. A street lamp flickered in the warm night, as Kevin waved at the approaching vehicle.
The truck drove closer, and one short discharge of its machine gun later, Kevin was no more.
• • •
He woke up in a brightly-lit room, rows of empty chairs surrounding him. He was sitting down in one as a shrill voice woke him up.
"Next!" The voice said.
"What?" Kevin said, looking around, and seeing the source of the voice was a woman sitting down behind a glass wall, in front of the rows of chairs.
She motioned to him to walk up to the glass wall, where a small opening in the glass could be seen.
Kevin walked up to the window, and said, "where is this
"Just give me your name and prior location," the woman said, looking visibly tired.
"I'm Kevin, from New York City," Kevin said, "and I've been trying to get home all day, if this has even been only one day."
"Never heard of a New York City," the woman said, "just fill out this form here and we can get you processed." She handed him a sheet of paper.
"No, no," Kevin said, "I need to get back to the hallway with all the doors, so I can find that old man again, and get back to Meta-Reality."
"Huh? What are you talking about?" the woman said, looking at Kevin, "the trauma must have hit you hard."
"What? Haven't you at least heard
of any of those places?"
"Okay, maybe you haven't been here in a while, but I really need you to fill out this form so you don't hold up the line."
"Maybe you don't understand, but I really need to get home."
"Don't you get it?" The woman said, standing up on the other side of the glass, "you're dead!"
Wake up in the Afterlife