The End of Conflict
"Welcome to your new afterlife!" A surprisingly cheery voice said, "the entire complex will be at your disposal, so please do explore! And remember, while eating and drinking is no longer required, many find it comforting, and there are a variety of restaurants to choose from throughout the area."
Kevin woke up to the sound of this announcement, and sat up from the bed he was on. Looking around the small and sparsely furnished room he was in, he thought, I guess that wasn't a dream after all.
He walked up to the door, and noticing he was still dressed, opened it, and stepped outside.
He was greeted with a view of a large courtyard, smaller apartment buildings surrounding it. Closing the door behind him, he walked out into the daylight, a few other people waving at him as he walked by. He continued down a concrete walkway for a while, until it gave way to a tree-lined boulevard. Along this street Kevin continued, noticing more people waving at him. At least everyone seems nice enough in the afterlife,
he thought. A few small cars passed him by as a gentle wind blew through the leaves of the trees.
At the end of this street, a large city could be seen, teeming with people. He made his way through the streets of this strange but familiar-looking city, remarking upon how it wouldn't be terribly out of place on his Earth, except for its ethereal feeling, and that everyone seemed far too nice.
He eventually came upon a city square, in the center of which was a large globe, showing an Earth-like planet, although one with alien continents, and with a decidedly purplish glow.
Okay, definitely not a dream,
Kevin thought, and not my afterlife either.
He walked over to a small cafe nearby, and sat down at an empty table. He watched the variety of people walk by, and thought on his predicament.
No use being lost on an empty stomach,
Kevin thought, getting up and walking over to the front counter of the cafe.
Surprisingly, everything was free, so he ordered a sandwich and a coffee. Sitting back down, he ate the sandwich and remarked that it wasn't nearly as good as the one from Roger's Deli. The coffee was good at least. Of course, now he wondered what Roger's coffee would taste like, and if it would have the same reality-defying properties.
A person walked up to him, and said, "hi! You look new! Have you received your assignment yet?"
"Assignment?" Kevin said, sipping his coffee, "I don't know what that is?"
"Oh, you must
be new!" The person said, "you should head over to the information desk and find out!" They then promptly left.
Well, that was odd,
Kevin thought, no reason not to check it out, though.
Getting up from the table, and noticing that his trash had magically disappeared, he walked across the busy square, and over the strangely spotless streets. He approached a medium-sized building, which had the words 'Information Center' written on it in a strange alien language, which Kevin could still somehow read perfectly. Thinking about this contradiction started to give Kevin a headache, so he entered the building, and found a waiting area again composed of lines, chairs, and windows, not entirely dissimilar to the one he had first encountered here. Kevin waited in one of the short lines until he was called up to a desk at the front.
"Yes? How may I help you today?" The woman at the desk said.
"Someone mentioned something about assignments?" Kevin said, "although, to be honest, I'd really like to know how to get out of here, as I should really be getting home soon, or at least back to that maze of doors."
"I'm not sure about a maze of doors, but I can answer both of your questions at once," the woman said, "everyone has an assignment to complete before they are allowed to reincarnate and return to the world of the living. Give me a moment, and I'll get your record up right away."
"Okay," Kevin said, "although... I also think I might be in the wrong afterlife, as I don't recognize the planet out there, and everything seems a bit off."
"There is only one afterlife," the woman said, looking at him strangely, "so you are most definitely supposed to be here."
The two of them stared at each other for a moment, until the woman's computer beeped.
"Now that is
strange," the woman said, "you don't appear to have a record."
"See?" Kevin said, "I told you there was some sort of mistake!"
"Yes, there was," the woman said, "you should have been informed, and I should have realized."
Two uniformed men walked up to Kevin and said, "you need to come with us now."
Looking a bit terrified, but not wanting to cause any trouble, Kevin followed them away from the desk and into a back room of the complex.
• • •
Outside Context Problem
Kevin found himself sitting down in a small, dark room as the guards left him, and a rather tall man walked in. He was wearing a dark blue uniform, and had short dark black hair.
"Well," the man said, looking at a printed document in his hands. "Looks like no one knows what to do with you, so here I am. Mind telling me where you're really from, and why you're here?"
"I've been trying to tell everyone that I'm Kevin, from New York City," Kevin said, "even if everyone seems to have never heard of it before. Which would be quite surprising if I wasn't in an alien afterlife right now!"
"I can't say I'm familiar with it either," the man said, "and you say an alien afterlife? Which seems to imply that you're not even from Aratha. Strange. That being said, you didn't answer my second question, why are you here?"
"To be honest, I don't really know," Kevin said, "I was in this maze of doors, was shot with a weird polygon, then ended up on an unfamiliar street. There was this truck, and I think was shot again. That's when I woke up in that processing room. I remember filling out some paperwork, then waking up later." Kevin sat in the chair nervously, hoping this person would be able to help.
"I looked at the records, and there is no record of you existing before you died on that street, which does corroborate your story."
"So you believe me then?" Kevin said, sounding hopeful.
"Although, no one has ever heard of the other places you described," the man said, "so more investigation will be needed to determine its veracity."
"Oh. What does that mean?"
"I've made a file for you," the man said, "it contains an assignment that is likely impossible. Don't try complaining, as it won't get you anywhere. If we find any information on this maze of doors or where you're from, we'll contact you. Until then, don't worry and sit tight. You're free to go, but don't cause any trouble. Goodbye."
The man then walked out of the room, as the two guards from before came in once more, and escorted him out of the facility.
• • •
Back in the city square, feeling equal parts hopeful and dejected, Kevin walked around the city aimlessly until he came across a large lake. Sitting down on a lakefront bench, he looked out over the water, watching a few sailboats go by in the late afternoon sun.
That is, until a short woman sat down next to him. She was wearing a light-blue blouse with gray capris, and had golden-blond hair, straight down below her shoulders.
"You look new," she said, "shouldn't you be out completing your assignment?"
"Oh, I was told it was likely impossible," Kevin said, "so I'm not really sure what to do, to be honest."
"Hmm," she said, "that's... unfortunate."
"Yeah," Kevin said, being a master of conversation.
"You must have done something pretty extreme to get a task that bad."
"Well, all I did was not exist," Kevin said, "at least not here."
"I've never met someone who didn't exist before, what's that like?"
"Not that great, to be honest," Kevin said, "I've been halfway around the multiverse, from places where everything is literal, to places where everything is nothing but thought. I've seen where they forge concepts, and where realities are born. I ate the best sandwich in the multiverse, and saw planets with cities like no other."
"Wow! You really aren't
from around here, are you?"
"No! That's what I keep trying to tell everyone," Kevin said, "but, I fell. I was shot by temporal bandits, then shot by a random person in that maze of doors. And then again by some random truck. It hasn't been a good day," Kevin said, "although this is one of the nicest moments so far."
The two of them sat down on the bench for a few moments, both looking out at the water.
"Glad to hear now is nice, at least," the woman said, "and I'm Iami, a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Likewise," Kevin said, "I'm Kevin, from New York City, a place I used to call home, although I bet you've never heard of it."
"Can't say I ever have, sorry," Iami said, "although, I do want to help. I may never have heard of those places, but I do have a plan for getting out of here.
"You do?" Kevin said, "what about those people who said they were going to tell me if they found out anything about my situation?"
"You can sit here and wait if you'd like," Iami said, "but in my experience, they only let out the people they want to let out."
"To be honest... I've got nothing better to do, so lead on Iami."
The two of them left the lakefront, and headed down a small street, trees covering their path as they walked further away from the city. The setting sun cast dramatic shadows across the landscape as this road turned to dirt and passed by a few cabins in the gently rolling hills. The city could be seen below as the lights glittered off in the distance, the central hub surrounded by a vast array of suburbs and small towns in the surrounding plains and hills.
"You know, this place doesn't seem so bad," Kevin said.
"It's not," Iami said, "a gilded cage is never bad, unless you want to leave."
They approached a cabin, a few lights visible in the rustic windows.
Stopping at the door, Iami said, "now this is your last chance to bail. If you enter here, you're one of us now, and we're getting out of here. Otherwise you can go back to waiting. What do you say?"
Kevin thought for a moment, then said, "I've come too far to give up here. This place feels like a dead-end otherwise."
"Great! Glad to have you on board!" Iami said, "and it's time you met the rest of the crew."
She walked up to the door, and knocking twice, the door opened to reveal two others. The first was a tall woman with deep black hair, who was also dressed in all black, only her red headband setting her apart from the night. The second was a slightly pudgy man, wearing blue jeans and dark brown overalls, with slightly yellowish hair.
"Come in, quickly," the woman said, as Kevin and Iami entered the cabin and closed the door behind themselves.
"So, this is the mystery man, then?" The man said, "I'm Kelonzo, a pleasure to meet you."
"I'm Yunia," the woman said, "and I'm still suspicious that you can help us, and that you're not just another spy."
"I swear I'm not a spy," Kevin said, "I'm just lost, and want to get back home."
"He looks totally legit to me," Iami said, "and you know how good my viz-sense is."
"Yeah, I can't see anything," Kelonzo said.
"Me neither," Yunia said, "which is honestly the strangest thing I've ever seen."
"What's viz-sense?" Kevin said.
The three of them stared at Kevin for a moment.
"Yeah, he is
legit," Yunia said.
"I know, right?" Iami said, "no spy would ever be brave enough to say that!"
"Can you tell me what it is, though?" Kevin said.
"It's a sense that everyone is born with," Kelonzo said, "it allows one to see anyone's true nature. Although, not everyone is equally gifted."
"My skill with it has allowed me to see the true intentions of many people," Iami said, "even when they may not want them revealed. It's part of the reason I came to lead the resistance, and ended up here."
"Sounds... useful," Kevin said, sounding impressed, "Also, the resistance? I guess that's what was going on in the other world I was in briefly? Probably how I died, come to think of it."
"Apologies if any of my resistance fighters shot you," Iami said, "without my leadership, they've fractured into many warring factions, which is of course, exactly what Travelli wants."
"Who is Travelli?" Kevin said.
The three of them stared at Kevin again.
aren't from around here, are you?" Yunia said.
"He is the ruler of this afterlife," Iami said, "and a confidant of the Emperor, Mon Serant, who rules over the world of the living with an iron fist."
"He sounds pretty bad," Kevin said.
an understatement if I've ever heard one," Kelonzo said, "between the torture and the war, he's been known for more than a few misgivings."
"Life for his followers isn't too bad," Yunia said, "but ever since he and his troops took over the world seven years ago, we've been fighting for our right to even exist."
"And to make things worse," Iami said, "he's been conspiring with Travelli to bring his own followers back from death, while not allowing any of us back, no matter what we do, or what assignments we complete."
"It is true," Yunia said, "I saw a defeated battalion come back the next day, that is, before I was captured and killed."
"All this talk of revolutions feels a bit over my pay grade," Kevin said, "I've never fought anyone
in my life."
"Didn't you say you have been across the whole multiverse?" Iami said, "from places where they build realities to worlds beyond conception?"
"Yes," Kevin said, "but I didn't exactly do all that well. I was shot like four times! And fell all the way down here!"
"And survived?" Iami said.
Kevin thought for a moment, then said, "yes?"
"Then you'll do fine," Iami said, smiling.
• • •
A Simple Plan
Unfurling a large sheet of paper onto a nearby table, the four of them gathered around.
"Alright, here is the plan," Iami said, "first we need to get to the central plaza, which is in the nearby city. From there, we can make our way to this section," she pointed to a small circle drawn on the map, "where there is a blue building, which has an access door in the back."
"That door then leads to the administration level," Yunia said, "where we have to somehow pass by all the guards, and then get through the secure entrance, which, according to our intel, requires some kind of soul verification procedure. How are we expecting to get past all that?"
"No worries," Iami said, "I have a plan. But first, Kevin what kind of alien powers do you have?"
"I actually don't have any powers," Kevin said.
"Wait, really?" Iami said, "I don't believe that. How could you survive all that stuff you described, then?"
"Well, I did
still die," Kevin said.
"Perhaps your powers are more difficult to explain?" Kelonzo said.
"I still don't buy it," Iami said.
Iami glared at Kevin as if he was holding the keys to the universe.
"Powers or not, I still want to know the plan," Yunia said.
"Alright, alright," Iami said, "I happen to have stolen a copy of the guard schedule, and it turns out that there is a five minute period where there is only one guard on duty, and we can take him - no doubt."
"Seems highly suspect, but alright," Yunia said.
"And then the soul verification is really just a simple matter of finding someone who can survive anything," Iami said, "as it simply scans you to determine if you are authorized, and if not, then it simply sends you back to your home location by tearing your soul apart, then reassembling it."
"That sounds rather painful to be honest," Kevin said.
"Compared to what you've been through, that should be a walk in the park," Iami said, waving her hand dismissively, "do you want to get home or not?"
"Yes," Kevin said, "although I'd rather not have to die too many more times."
"We'll do the best we can," Kelonzo said.
"Great!" Iami said, "then let's move out!"
"Right now?" Kevin said, sounding surprised.
"Sure," Iami said, "why not? You have anything better to do?"
"Not really," Kevin said, looking a bit nervous.
• • •
The four of them walked silently through the night as they approached the city. It was eerily quiet, as nearly everyone else had gone back home for the night. Only a few patrols could be seen scouring the empty streets. They effortlessly dodged the guards' prying eyes, and made their way to the blue building near the city center.
Staying quiet, Iami walked up to the back door, and wedged it open with a small tool. Closing the door behind them, they walked along dark hallways until they reached another door.
"Okay," Iami said, "we need to wait here until we hear the guards changing out. Then we make our move."
"What I still don't get is how easy it was to get in here," Kevin said, "didn't they expect us?"
"No-one would be crazy enough to try to break in here," Yunia said.
"That's not exactly inspiring a lot of confidence in this plan," Kevin said.
"It certainly helps to have the element of surprise," Kelonzo said.
"I heard it," Iami said, "let's go!"
Meanwhile, inside the guard room a short and slightly portly guard was looking at his watch. Where is Sjorna? He's always late,
he thought, probably out flirting again.
The four of Iami, Yunia, Kelonzo, and Kevin, approached behind him, until Iami whacked him over the head, knocking him unconscious. He fell off the chair, as Kelonzo looked at the control panel in front.
"Alright, we have probably about five minutes until the other guard gets here," Iami said.
Looking at the readout, Kelonzo said, "according to this, it says he was supposed to be here five minutes ago."
"You didn't steal a copy of the guard schedule, did you?" Yunia said, sitting the unconscious guard up against a nearby wall.
"Not exactly," Iami said, winking, "I may
have been sneaking around here before and caught the other guard necking out back."
"So, uh, what do we do now?" Kevin said.
"I open the door," Kelonzo said, pressing a few controls, as a door opened in the back of the room.
The four of them walked up to the opening, and saw a shimmering orange field of energy blocking the path. It was encased within and generated by a complex-looking device built into the wall and ceiling, with blinking lights and slightly-pulsating bars. A control panel could be seen on the other side, but the field blocked the entire walkway, from the floor to an emitter ring on the ceiling.
"That looks like the soul-scanner alright," Yunia said.
"I don't know about this," Kevin said, "that looks pretty intense."
"If even half of what you've said you've done is true, then you should be able to just walk right through it," Iami said, "we'll give you instructions on what needs to be done to deactivate it once you're on the other side."
"Okay, here goes nothing, then," Kevin said, nervously walking into the orange field.
Upon impact, the field sparked and spattered, the ring above coming loose, and falling down around Kevin. A slight smell of smoke could be sensed, as the lights of the device flickered and went out, and the orange field dissipated.
"Impressive," Yunia said.
"Well, there goes our element of surprise," Iami said, "but nice work nonetheless."
"I suppose you don't need those directions now either," Kelonzo said, chuckling a bit.
"Probably not," Kevin said, stepping out of the wreckage.
"It won't be long before they figure out what happened," Iami said, "let's move!"
The three of them followed Kevin through the now-broken detector, and they all headed down the hallway until they reached another door.
"Through here is the main control chamber," Iami said, "maybe you should go first, Kevin?"
"Just in case there are any other fields you need me to walk through?" Kevin said.
"Sure, something like that," Iami said, smiling.
"Okay," Kevin said, opening the door.
Once inside, two more guards could be seen, standing at a semi-circular wall of screens, with control panels below and around.
One of the guards turned around, and said, "hey! You're not allowed in here!" He quickly pulled out a small pistol and shot a blast of orange energy at Kevin. It hit him dead on, but had no effect. "What?" The guard said, clearly confused.
"As you can see, we are now immune to your weapons!" Iami said, stepping inside.
"The leader of the resistance!" the other guard said, turning around.
"So I would suggest you surrender," Yunia said.
"Never!" The first guard said, lunging forward.
Kevin ducked back, as the others scuffled in the room. Yunia dodged a punch from the first guard, and kicked out his feet from underneath him. The second guard took out another pistol, until Iami kicked it out of his hands. Kelonzo came up behind him, as Iami dodged a sloppy kick from the guard. One whack later, and both guards were unconscious.
Yunia and Iami dragged the guards up against the wall as Kelonzo inspected the control panels.
"That was fast," Kevin said, getting back up from cowering behind a storage crate.
"We are trained professionals, after all," Iami said, "and these guys probably have barely fought at all."
"We're not supposed to be able to get in here at all," Yunia said, "so they don't staff the most competent guards. They're probably little more than watchdogs, all bark and no bite."
"I have located the controls," Kelonzo said, "although this indicates we only have a matter of minutes before backup arrives."
"I only need a few minutes to send everyone back," Iami said, "and you too, right, Kevin?"
"It's better than staying here," Kevin said, "so send me back too."
"I will stay here to hold them off," Yunia said, "that should give you enough time."
"Thank you so much, Yunia, my love," Iami said, giving her a hug, "I will come back for you when I can!"
Iami then went up to the control panel, and pressing a few buttons, she, Kelonzo, Kevin, and many millions of her resistance fighters were once again transported into the world of the living.
• • •
Rebirth of the Resistance
"Ah! Alive again!" Iami said, "it feels good!"
nice," Kevin said, looking at the ruined city around them. "Although, to be honest, this place looks like it has seen better days."
"It has, for sure," Iami said, "it used to be a great center of culture and finance, although these days it mostly serves as the headquarters for the resistance."
She looked out at the scenery, the half-destroyed architecture and occasional fire dotting the landscape beneath the smoky sky.
"You know, you really helped us out a lot here, Kevin," Iami said, "couldn't have done it without you."
"It was nothing," Kevin said.
"I'll miss you Kevin," Iami said, "maybe we could meet up again sometime?"
"I sure hope so. I feel like we have a lot in common."
"Agreed!" Iami said, "if we ever meet up in another universe or something, I'll be sure to buy you a drink."
"Thanks!" Kevin said, looking slightly embarrassed.
"Well, see ya! I have a war to win!" Iami said, waving as she ran off across the street.
That was certainly interesting,
Kevin thought, waving back, although how do I get out of here now? I don't see any obvious spaceships or portals nearby.
However, he noticed something strange in the roofless house next to him. An old CRT TV was showing a program which looked suspiciously like the maze of doors. Kevin walked up to it, and stared at it.
How can that be?
He thought, this place looks like it has been bombed to hell and back. There's no way this TV still has power.
He stared at the screen more, realizing it was in fact the very same maze of doors he had been in previously.
he thought, the old man said that maze was semi-fictional, so maybe... this place is too?
"It is," the old man from before said, suddenly standing right behind Kevin. "At least a little."
"Whoa!" Kevin said, moving back from being startled. "Could you have at least knocked?"
"Are you ready to leave?" The man said, looking intently at Kevin.
"Yes. I am," Kevin said.
Return to the Maze