The Stories that Tell Themselves
Kevin and the old man found themselves back in the maze of doors, once again walking down the hallway.
"So," Kevin said sheepishly, "sorry about getting lost back there."
"No worries," the man said, "you now see - so it is no longer a problem."
"I guess so," Kevin said, "I sure hope they'll be fine out there. Looked like quite the fight they'd have coming up."
"They will be fine," the man said, "in some ways, they already are."
"Sounds good," Kevin said. Walking a bit further, he said, "so, we were never properly introduced... I'm Kevin, from New York City. Who are you?"
"I am the Gatekeeper, I am the one who mediates the division between fiction and reality."
"What does that mean?
" Kevin said, "you said that other world was semi-fictional, although it seemed rather real to me."
"It was, mostly real, even. And semi-fictional is a state of being, where one is not entirely real, although not entirely fictional either."
"I suppose that makes about as much sense as anything I've seen lately."
"We are approaching the others from the ship," the Gatekeeper said, "you can try asking them."
"Wait, I was gone for at least a day," Kevin said, "were they waiting the whole time?"
"No," the Gatekeeper said, "time is somewhat arbitrary around here."
Kevin merely let out a sigh, and said, "at least we didn't keep them waiting."
They rounded a corner and saw a small group of people waiting. They were of all shapes and sizes, and were wearing outfits from the mundane to the exotic.
"We are now ready to go," the Gatekeeper said.
The group walked down the hallway following him, mostly in silence, until Kevin said, "so... where are we going anyways?"
"To new homes," a young girl said in the back.
"To a future," an older man said.
"To the places where things change," said a teenage boy.
"Yeah, I think you lost me there," Kevin said, "where you were before, things didn't change? How did that work?"
"Because they're from fictional worlds," the Gatekeeper said.
"I guess that makes sense," Kevin said, "a book doesn't change every time I read it."
"Precisely," the Gatekeeper said.
Walking a bit further, they came upon a bright red door, and stopped.
"Anyone destined for West Ensentria, this is your stop," the Gatekeeper said, opening the door.
On the other side, a great grassy expanse could be seen. A huge field, stretching on for miles, a city and sea port visible in the distance. A few of the travelers left the group to walk through this door, waving good-bye to the others. The Gatekeeper then closed the door, and the group continued walking along.
"So that's a real world then?" Kevin said.
"Not quite," the Gatekeeper said, "they are not ready for a truly real
world. So these are semi-fictional as well. Usually more fictional than the one you were in previously."
"Makes sense," Kevin said, not entirely understanding.
Upon reaching the next door, many more left into a great floating city, waving good-bye as well. They proceeded this way for quite some time, visiting a dense forest, a magical realm of dragons, and a rather boring-looking swamp.
At this point it was only the two of the Gatekeeper and Kevin left, as they came upon a metal door, not entirely unlike a subway car door.
"What's this place?" Kevin said, intrigued.
"An option," the Gatekeeper said, opening the door.
• • •
On the other side was New York City, or at least a very recognizable version of it. The two of them stepped through, and into the busy day. Cars and people alike bustled around them, the familiar scents and sounds of city life filled the air. Skyscrapers rose above the sidewalks and touched the partly-cloudy sky.
"Ah!" Kevin said, "feels just like home!"
However, all was not quite the same as the New York City Kevin had known. Occasionally a person could be seen flying down the street and down the stairs to catch a subway train. A demon tipped his hat at the two of them on the sidewalk, and a miniature fairy followed close behind. Birds chirped, and flew above the city streets, occasionally dodging a low-flying hover-taxi.
"But it's not my
New York City, is it?" Kevin said, staring down at the sidewalk, which appeared to be made of some sort of futuristic concrete.
"No, it is not," the Gatekeeper said, "I do not have the power to send you back to wherever you are from. This is as close as I can take you."
"A semi-fictional New York City, right?"
"For characters that have outgrown their stories?"
Kevin stood on this street for a few moments, before saying, "I think my story doesn't end here."
"Very well, then," the Gatekeeper said, "where would you like to go instead?"
"I don't suppose you know the way back to Meta-Reality?"
"No, I do not."
"Hmm... I remember that lady on that planet knowing about it," Kevin said, "can you take me back there?"
"Not directly," the Gatekeeper said, "but I know who might be able to help."
Walking through back through a floating door on the sidewalk, the two of them left the alternate New York City, and reentered the maze of doors.
• • •
Building with Fiction
The two of them walked along further, until the hallway began to morph into a more metallic chamber. This opened up to reveal a large complex, huge columns of green energy ran vertically from an unseen floor below and stretched up into an invisible ceiling above. They now walked along a metal catwalk, colored in shades of purple and green, their feet making slight ringing sounds as they stepped.
They approached crossways catwalks, and doors to unseen rooms. Occasionally they saw other people nearby, some at control panels, others working on tablets, although any that saw them immediately shied away, and pretended to not see them, getting right back to work.
"Are they reacting to me?" Kevin said, "or are you more well known than I thought?"
"I am known here quite well," the Gatekeeper said, "after all, they are the ones responsible for my creation. We have a complex relationship."
"Sure sounds like it."
Some distance further, they came upon a set of large double-doors, a geometric pattern etched across them.
"In here are the builders," the Gatekeeper said, "they should be able to help you."
"Okay," Kevin said, "builders of what? And it seems awfully convenient that this door just happened to be right here at the end?"
"Yes, it is, since this place is semi-fictional as well," the Gatekeeper said, "and they are the builders of everything semi-fictional."
Opening the door, a large control room could be seen. A variety of people were inside working at control panels as well as stations in front of large screens, not entirely dissimilar to a spaceship bridge, or perhaps a futuristic mission control. A great glass wall could be seen across the room, showing the view of a large planet, displaying shades of brown and green.
Once the two of them were inside, the previously noisy room fell deathly silent. Even the computer screens appeared to freeze up as many of the people turned around to face the pair. Scarcely a cough could be heard as they found themselves greeted by the stares of the entire crew.
A person from the left walked up to them, and nervously said, "Oh! Hey, Gatekeeper, uh, how's it going? This wouldn't be about that lost plane of energy, right? I swear we're working on finding it as soon as possible!" This person was rather tall, with brown hair, and was wearing a purple uniform, with a captain's hat on top, and looked positively androgynous.
"No, although I do
look forward to seeing what you find," the Gatekeeper said.
"Okay, whew," the person said, "so... what brings you here then?"
"This is about Kevin," the Gatekeeper said, motioning towards Kevin, who looked a bit nervous from all the attention.
"Hi," Kevin said.
"Oh! A pleasure to meet you, Kevin," the person said, shaking Kevin's hand vigorously, "I'm Kelvari Nashanto, the supervisor for this floor. A pleasure to meet you. What brings you here to our World Construction Center?"
"I'm actually looking for a way home," Kevin said, "I'm from New York City, on Earth, if you've ever heard of it?"
"Sounds vaguely familiar, don't you have a place like that, Gatekeeper?"
"Yes, although it is semi-fictional, of course."
"I'm from the original,
" Kevin said.
"Oh, like a completely real
place?" Kelvari said, "we... don't have any of those here."
"I was expecting that you would be able to provide him with a way back to the planet he arrived from," the Gatekeeper said, my last ship recently crashed."
"Sorry to hear! I suppose we probably have a ship around here somewhere," Kelvari said, thinking.
"It will come back in time."
Kelvari turned around, and yelled into the back of the room, "hey! Ventessa! Do we have a real ship available for Kevin here?"
"I'll check!" A faint voice said in the back.
Kelvari turned back around to face them, and said, "Ventessa's checking."
The Gatekeeper nodded his head, as the three of them stood silently, the room just as still as before.
A few moments later, Kevin said, "so... you make worlds here? How's that going?"
"Quite well, usually," Kelvari said, "except that lost plane, that was a bit embarrassing."
"Lost plane?" Kevin said, "what was it?"
"Oh, it's a plane of a pure fictional energy," Kelvari said, "the kind we use to make semi-fictional universes. It has probably found its way to another universe by now."
"What would happen then?" Kevin said.
"It would totally rewrite the laws of physics, completely altering that universe's fundamental structure," Kelvari said, "if the world had no fictional characteristics whatsoever, then I'm not exactly sure what would happen. It would probably be fascinating to watch, though!"
"So I still don't really understand the idea of semi-fictional," Kevin said, "much less why someone would want to make a universe like that?"
"Well... not everyone would necessarily agree, but as far as we're concerned, they're just better!" Kelvari said, "semi-fictional universes don't actually have to have a fully-consistent set of physics! They can be whatever or however you might want, get something from nothing, sure! Delete things from existence? Why not! Causality? Optional!"
"Sounds pretty nice, but not fully fictional?" Kevin said.
"Oh, well, anything fully fictional is simply a story, like written down in a book," Kelvari said, "you can't alter that. It's totally static."
"And... I'm completely lost again," Kevin said, looking confused, "thanks for the explanation, at least."
"No problem!" Kelvari said, "and if you ever find yourself here again, feel free to stop by and we can show you some of our worlds!"
"Sure, I guess," Kevin said, "although maybe another time."
"I found one!" said a faint voice in the back of the room off to the left side.
"Great!" Kelvari said, "let's check it out - follow me!"
• • •
The three of them walked towards the back of the hall, behind the controls and passing by the glass wall into another room. This room was much smaller, with a few doors, and was much more enclosed with only a small coffee machine on the side and a couple chairs scattered around.
"Any refreshments?" Kelvari said, motioning to the machine.
"Uh... I'm good," Kevin said.
"Ok!" Kelvari said as they continued out of this room through an office-like door into a rather bland off-white hallway. Following this hallway for a time, and passing by a variety of more strange and multi-colored doors, they came across a solitary red door on the right side, which said 'Hangar'.
Kelvari opened this door, and they entered a huge aircraft hangar, the floors made of an exotically-patterned red metal, and the cross-barred ceiling high in the distance, almost as if it was the sky itself. Walls could not be seen in any direction, only a large variety of exotic alien spaceships scattered around parked on the floor, many boasting all varieties of wings, fins, and engines, some even softly glowing. Looking back, they could see the door appeared now to be set in a small room, much too small to contain the hallway, most likely implying strange and incomprehensible geometries.
"Let's see..." Kelvari said, walking across the floor, passing by a few ships, "ah! This way!"
The three of them continued, passing by ever-stranger ships, some bulbous, and others looking as if they would float off the floor, until they came across an almost-ordinary-looking ship - or at least one that was somewhat recognizable as flyable. It was silver in color, and had the appearance of a hawk, with two thin wings, and a glass cockpit in the center - a cross between a shuttle and a fighter jet. Another androgynous person with light blue hair could be seen polishing the front window, and waved to them.
"Excellent! Ventessa found a good one for you," Kelvari said.
"I found this one," the person on the ship, Ventessa, said, hopping down to the floor, "it has cross-leveling thrusters, dimensional warp, and quantum slipstream. That should be able to get you pretty much anywhere, right?"
"Sure," Kevin said, sounding both impressed and inexperienced with the jargon. "It sure sounds fancy, at least."
"Great!" Ventessa said.
"Perfect!" Kelvari said, "Ventessa can show you how to operate it, and then you can leave, right Gatekeeper?"
"Yes, my work here is done," the Gatekeeper said, "I wish you luck, Kevin, in all places and situations you encounter. I can see in you that you have great potential, if you learn to open your eyes."
And with that, he promptly disappeared.
"Whew," Kelvari said, looking visibly relieved, "anyways, good luck to you too, Kevin!"
And with that, Kelvari jogged away and back towards the entrance door.
"A pleasure to meet you Kevin," Ventessa said, "I'm Ventessa, and we don't get travelers from the real worlds very often."
"I would guess not," Kevin said, "where I'm from, we barely even have spaceflight, much less anything this crazy."
"So I suppose this is your first time flying one?"
"Yes," Kevin said, "how long is normally expected to learn to fly one of these ships? This looks pretty complicated."
"Not long at all! These ships basically fly themselves. Want to try it out?"
"I guess so," Kevin said, "although I have to warn you, I barely even drive."
"No worries!" Ventessa said, tapping on the glass, causing the cockpit to open vertically, feel free to hop in!"
"Is... there a ladder or something?" Kevin said, noticing that the entrance was easily five feet off the floor.
"Right! Forgot about that," Ventessa said, flipping a switch inside which caused a blue holographic ladder to appear on the side.
Kevin nervously climbed up and stepped into the single-seat cockpit. From there he sat down in the pilot's seat, as seatbelt-like restraints automatically wrapped themselves around him.
"This really is
automatic," Kevin said.
"Yep!" Ventessa said, floating in the air next to the cockpit, declining to use the ladder. "So to get out just tap that blue button in the center of the belts, and the glass and ladder should open automatically." Ventessa also flipped the switch back, retracting the ladder into the side of the ship.
"How do I fly it, though?" Kevin said, noticing the strange-looking steering device in the center, plus the large variety of knobs, levers, buttons, panels, and flashing lights.
"You can just speak to the onboard Navigational AI," Ventessa said, "it's really helpful, but likes Title Case too much."
"Wait, like in writing?" Kevin said.
"Speaking too," Ventessa said.
"Hello and Welcome, Kevin," a computer voice said, as a small holographic display in the center started up, showing a scan of nearby ships. "I am at Your Service to Assist You in Automatic Navigation and Piloting."
"Hi," Kevin said, "and that sounds pretty cool, thanks."
"If you want to fly it manually, just use the yoke in the center," Ventessa said, "it's like driving, but you can go up and down too."
"Okay, but I'll probably stick to automatic mode."
"Any other questions, or are you ready to head out?"
Kevin looked over the controls, and nervously held the yoke in the center. Pulling up on it briefly, the ship lifted off the floor a few feet, hovering silently.
"It seems pretty good, so far," Kevin said, "how do I call for help if I get stuck or lost?"
"You should be able to ask the AI to message us if you have a problem, but I'm sure you'll be fine!" Ventessa said.
"Sounds good," Kevin said, looking around. "Also, maybe this is too forward of a question," Kevin said, "but is everyone here, like, in-between?"
"In between?" Ventessa said, "oh! You mean gender? You must come from a place with that - but we don't have it here. Just gets in the way."
"Strange," Kevin said, "although whatever works for you, I guess?"
"It does work quite well, no doubt!"
Choosing to skip any more discussion on that conversation topic, Kevin looked down at the holographic display, and said, "I guess this is goodbye then. I'm ready to go."
"Sounds great, and safe travels!" Ventessa said, floating back down to the floor as the cockpit glass closed over Kevin.
• • •
Up and Away
Now hovering above the ground, Kevin spoke to the Navigational AI, "alright. Take me to New York City!"
"Dang, ok.. how about Meta-Reality?"
"Crap. Uh... maybe back to that Planet Zseuity? Inzami said she had at least heard of the place."
"Destination Plotted," the nav AI said, showing an incomprehensible-looking chart on the front holographic display.
"Course Locked - Prepare for Dimensional Warp."
"I'm ready," Kevin said, looking confident.
Ventessa waved at him from below, as he and the ship promptly disappeared.
• • •
Traveling across dimensions and through space-time itself, Kevin's view warped and distorted, the world around him resembling a Kaleidescope of every color imaginable, and quite a few more. Eventually, he re-entered normal space, and found himself thankfully still in the ship, hovering above the icy surface of the planet Zseuity. A majestic starry sky greeted him above, the night clear as could be. Carefully grasping the yoke once more, he slowly flew around the area, although he did not see any evidence of the crash, or of Inzami.
"Beautiful view," he said, "but no-one around."
Flying over a sharp rock overhang, he saw a bright white light approaching him, and came to a stop in the sky. The light flew closer until it stopped in front of his ship, materializing into the appearance of a transparent woman, who appeared to be made of energy itself. She shone slightly with an ethereal green light, and smiled at Kevin.
"Inzami?" he said.
"Yes," she said.
"Great! I finally made it back. Took a while, though."
"I can see!" Inzami said, "congratulations! I suppose you're still looking for a way home?"
"Yes," Kevin said, "not much luck over there. Mostly a lot of confusing people and strange situations. I even died!"
"Sorry to hear about that! I was hoping the Gatekeeper could help you get home, or at least into a better situation."
"I got lost,
" Kevin said, looking a bit dejected, "and he did help me, it just took a while for me to realize how to take his help."
"Sounds like it was an excellent learning experience," Inzami said, "and it sounds like you have already had quite the adventure!"
"No doubt about that! Although I have a feeling it's not done yet."
"Doesn't sound like it!" Inzami said, smiling again. "And now that you have a ship, I can take you to many other worlds by way of my transportation network."
"That's what I was hoping for," Kevin said, "you know the way to Meta-Reality?"
"I've never been there myself, but I have heard rumors you can get there from Al-Adia, the great interdimensional trading city, and one of my favorite places to visit."
"It's the best lead I have yet," Kevin said, "so show me the way!"
"I'll send the coordinates into your navigational system," Inzami said, "just follow the wormholes, and I'll meet you on the other side."
"Coordinates Received," the navigational AI said.
"Thanks!" Kevin said, "see you soon, and uh, nav computer - engage!"
Inzami's form dissipated from view, as Kevin's ship sped ahead and out of the atmosphere. He traveled into the starry sky, the planet below receding from view. A few minutes later, a large green wormhole could be seen dead ahead. The ship flew into it, and the world went dark, only a faint green glow could be seen outside.
"Entering Slipstream Tunnel, External Navigation Guidance OK?"
"Oh heck yes," Kevin said, "take us away, Inzami."
• • •
Anything and Everything - for the Right Price
The ship exited the green wormhole into what was decidedly not normal space. A massive array of cityscapes could be seen ahead, each one sitting on a seemingly-infinite plane stacked upon another, as if this entire area was a massive skyscraper where each floor was a new continent. There was a vast array of ships soaring through the orange sky, to and from each of these buildings and the open space behind them. They occasionally winked in and out of existence, possibly traversing between other dimensions beyond Kevin's sight.
"Coordinates Received," the nav AI said.
"Follow them, then," Kevin said. As I have no idea where to go otherwise.
They traversed across this orange space, approaching one of the layered cities. Huge futuristic buildings and structures greeted them, as they flew around and between them, with and occasionally through the flow of the other ships. Certainly looks like meta-reality,
Kevin thought, although much more orange.
Up ahead was a small park, which they approached and hovered over. It was a spot of greenery, A small break in the otherwise endless sea of structures, with trees lining its edges, and a pond in the center. The ship softly approached the ground, and came to a stop on a street bordering the park.
"Ok, thanks," Kevin said, as he tapped the blue circle in the center of his seatbelts.
The restraints came off, and the cockpit glass opened up. Climbing down the ladder, he was greeted at the bottom by Inzami, who was looking quite a bit more solid than before. She was dressed in white robes, holding a small blue box, bright lines glowing at its edges.
"I'm glad to see you made it here," Inzami said, smiling, "although... will you be needing that ship anymore?"
"Not unless I can take it to Meta-Reality," Kevin said.
"Ok then," Inzami said, holding the box up to the air.
The ship shrunk down and floated into the box, twisting and contorting like a genie back into its lamp. The box's edges then glowed red, supposedly indicating it was full.
"I'll hold onto it - just in case," Inzami said, tucking the box behind herself, where it promptly disappeared into thin air. Holding her two empty hands in front of herself, she said, "ready to go?"
"Uh, sure," Kevin said, not entirely sure what to make of what had just transpired. "And... thanks? Although I'm not planning on coming back, once I get home."
"Of course," Inzami said, "but it never
hurts to be prepared."
And with that, she started walking down the sidewalk, towards a large curved structure, which looked a bit like frozen flame.
"This is one of my favorite places to visit," Inzami said, "one of the few places I can feel truly solid."
"You're not normally solid?" Kevin said.
"Oh no, not at all," Inzami said, "usually I am nothing more than a projection, or a hologram. But here in this projected space, I have the ability to take a much more solid form. Here light is no different from matter, after all."
"That... makes sense, I guess?" Kevin said, "although why are you usually just a hologram?"
"That's because I am the Transit Goddess of the Ekozet Network," Inzami said, "and that means I am
the network. And such can never be truly separated from it."
"The network is the green wormhole I went through to get here?"
"Yes, and many many more like it," Inzami said, "it is quite vast, and covers many dimensions, universes, and worlds."
"Sounds impressive," Kevin said, "although wouldn't it get boring, just running that network all the time?"
"Not really," Inzami said, "it is in effect who I am. And I've been doing it for millions of years, so I'm rather sure I won't get bored anytime soon."
"Millions of years!" Kevin said, "that's inconceivable! There's no one else to help out or to take turns with?"
"No. I am the last of my kind," Inzami said, "The Ekozet left a long, long time ago. Leaving me to maintain their network, as all traces of them were erased from the many universes they inhabited. A form of transcendence to a higher plane, as far as I know. Oh! If you meet any of them, be sure to tell them I said hi."
"I... will," Kevin said, "but that's still such a long time. When I met infinitely old people I just brushed it off like a mathematical anomaly. But millions of years seems so much more concrete
"It's not that long, really," Inzami said, "you get used to it after a while. And I would consider yourself blessed to have met people older than I! It does not
happen very often around here."
She smiled as they approached the street corner, and waited for a few cars to pass by before crossing. Across the street they passed underneath the giant structure, apparently a combination art and meeting place, as people walked along its vertical edges, and talked about the weather and trades across space and time. Passing further into the heart of the city, they came upon a tall building, as wide as the city block, and easily a hundred stories tall. They approached an entrance, as Inzami rang the doorbell.
The metal door slid open, revealing a small elevator inside. They both entered, Kevin a bit nervously, as Inzami pressed a button for an undecipherable floor. The elevator moved up and across, until the doors opened up to reveal a small, but luxurious apartment, the exterior walls entirely made of glass, and sporting a magnificent view of the city below. The room was otherwise somewhat empty, a curved couch in the center, and some exotic tree-like lamps adorning the sides were the only other decorations.
"Ah, Inzami! It's been a while," a short man said, coming around the corner from another room, "what do you need this time?"
"I need information - well, more of a rumor," Inzami said, as she and Kevin stepped inside, the doors closing behind them. "And I know you're the person for it."
"You bet!" the man said, "and who is this friend of yours? He looks a bit off for these parts."
"This is Kevin," Inzami said, "and yes, he is lost, and looking to get home. By way of Meta-Reality."
"Meta-Reality, my stars. That cannot be done, you must know that," the man said, slumping down on the couch. "That place is all but myth."
"I've been there," Kevin said, "I know it's real, albeit strange. Alorn and Dinaya gave me this train pass, but I think I lost it when I was attacked by temporal bandits. Either that or when I was shot in that ruined city before the afterlife. I'm pretty sure I didn't have it when I met with the Semi-Fictional Gatekeeper, or was in the World Construction Center."
"My! You have been to the multiverse and back!" the man said, standing up again, "my apologies, I did not introduce myself. I am Xarian Felzanso, purveyor of the finest and most exotic information in all of Al-Adia." He took a slight bow.
"A pleasure to meet you, I'm Kevin, from New York City."
"A magnificent city among the stars, I am sure."
"Actually it's pretty ordinary," Kevin said, "given all I've seen so far."
"You are truly too humble, Kevin of New York City," Xarian said, "and it would be an honor to help you return home."
"I knew you could help," Inzami said.
"How much is this going to cost?" Kevin said.
"Ah, for anyone ordinary? More that you could possibly imagine," Xarian said, "but for you, it is free. Inzami is an old friend, and has helped me more than anyone I have known. For her, the whole world could not be repayment."
"You know I do what I do for free as well, Xarian," Inzami said, "although it is nice to have help once in a while."
"Of course," Xarian said, "although for this, even I may not have all the answers. It is said that only those who already know the way can get there. There is a rumor that a passageway to Meta-Reality, and many other places beyond conception, exists in this very city. I can give you the location, but I must warn you, all who have tried to locate it have found nothing more than an echo of its existence."
"It's our best lead, and much better than nothing," Inzami said.
• • •
Express to Everywhere
Later that day, having traveled across the exotic city for seemingly hours, crossing streets and walkways across layers alike, they stood at the side of a subway platform. Trains flew by occasionally, carrying people traveling to all corners of this strange civilization.
"It almost feels like a joke," Kevin said, looking dejected.
"This is a logical place for it to be," Inzami said, "although yes, there seem to be no trains to Meta-Reality here. I'm sorry."
"What a way to end a journey," Kevin said, "so close, and yet so far away."
"I can leave you alone to think, if it would help? This place is very safe."
"Okay," Inzami said, "I will take a look around, and if say... in a half hour you don't find the entrance, we can call it a night and come back tomorrow."
"How could I find something? Like a magical train to Meta-Reality will just appear randomly?"
"I wouldn't rule it out."
"Yeah, I guess that's not as outlandish as it sounds. Thanks," Kevin said, sitting down on a platform bench.
"Good luck," Inzami said, "and I hope to see you again."
"Yeah, in like 29 minutes."
With this, Inzami walked away, and across the platform towards the food court, leaving Kevin seemingly alone.
This platform isn't even used,
Kevin thought, it's clearly an express line. Maybe they only stop here at night or something.
He watched the trains for a few more minutes.
"What am I even doing here?" Kevin said, standing up. "I should just head back."
"You bet you should," an unseen female voice said from behind him, as he suddenly felt himself yanked across dimensions, his view contorting and shifting in strange and unnatural ways.
• • •
Once the world stopped spinning, he stood up from the ground, to see none other than Adra Starian staring at him, as he was now apparently in a much smaller station, standing on the only platform, with orange tracks directly in front.
"What? How?" Kevin said, "what are you doing here?"
"Saving you," Adra said, smirking at him, "you were right next to this station the whole time! How did you not see how to step across?"
"Uh... I can only see in three dimensions?" Kevin said.
"Sounds like a lame excuse."
Kevin glared at her in return, then said, "well, thanks. I was actually about to give up there."
"Nah, I think you'd have come back," Adra said, "you don't seem the type to give up. Anyways, the train will be here in a few, need anything to eat before we get on?"
"Not really," Kevin said, thinking that he probably hadn't eaten in hours, but was still not really hungry. Strange.
"Well then, let's get on," Adra said, pointing to an orange train that pulled silently and quickly into the station, the doors opening in perfect synchronization with when it stopped.
The two of them stepped onboard among the crowd of people, aliens, and energy wisps, as the doors closed behind them.
The train whisked off and entered a sea of inky blackness, as Adra said, "we'll make a few stops in the mathematical lands, then we'll have you in Meta-Reality in no time at all. Might want to hold onto all your digits."
"Okay, I'll try to?" Kevin said, looking nervously at his hands.
"Ah! It's just a joke, this train is perfectly safe," Adra said, chuckling slightly. "Either way, you should hold on."
The train suddenly lurched and went into a free-fall, as a highly-complex fractal landscape evolved around them. Colors and geometries expanded and repeated, as they fell through scalars and into the depths of dimensions.
• • •
Return to the Outside
Having traveled through many places with and without form, where all of reality was compressed into single dimensions, or into more than could be counted, and to places where all that was, was a single equation, the train came to appear once more in the sky of meta-reality. They traveled through the exotic space, approaching the two intertwined hollow planets. Coming to rest once more at the platform of digital light, the two of them disembarked, and walked towards the elevator.
"Ugh, I feel like I should be barfing right about now," Kevin said, walking uneasily.
"You'll get used to it," Adra said, walking confidently next to him.
"People keep saying that, but I don't think it's happening."
They walked towards the elevator, and getting in, headed down the building to the street level below.
"So, do you think the temple is open now?" Kevin said.
"Maybe. But if you don't mind, I'd like to talk about some things first," Adra said.
Reaching the bottom floor, they exited the elevator, and Adra led them off in a new direction, towards what looked like a less dense part of the city. Crossing over many streets and over a few by way of translucent walkways, they came to an area with fewer skyscrapers, and with a view of the other planet arcing across the horizon. The distant cities could be seen glimmering across the sky, the stars visible above, even though it had appeared to be daytime where they were previously. They walked up to a slightly smaller ten-story building, nestled among the others of similar height, as Adra walked up to what appeared to be the front door.
"Here, I wanted to show you my place," Adra said, "I work in the Literal World, but here's where I come to truly relax."
"This is your place?" Kevin said, "it's huge!"
"What, this? This is just the entrance!" Adra said, opening the door, revealing another world.
The two of them stepping through were met by a magnificent sight - a vast plain of yellow grass, suspended above the blue clouds below, stars and daylight intermingled in the sky, as floating islands lazily coasted across.
"You have a whole world?" Kevin said. And a super strange one at that, too,
"Actually, it's an entire pocket universe," Adra said, "an almost infinite number of worlds - I just happen to like this one a lot. Certainly one of the more impressive to look at, wouldn't you say?"
"I can't argue with that," Kevin said.
"There are also organic worlds, light worlds, geometric worlds, pretty much whatever floats your boat," Adra said.
"Thanks!" Adra said, then turning to Kevin, "you really like it?"
"It would take some getting used to, for sure."
"I bet so," Adra said, "so what do you say? Stay here with me, and forget about that silly quest to get back to that backwater planet?"
"I can't imagine it can compare to here?"
"Well, sure, it's nothing like this," Kevin said, "but it is my home."
"I always say home is where you make it," Adra said, "where you're with the ones you care about the most."
"Why me, then?"
"Kevin, I like
you," Adra said, "you're something different
- in my line of work, that's almost unheard of."
"The kind of crazy stuff you work with seems like nothing but different!"
"When you've been doing this as long as I have, it all starts to seem the same."
Kevin looked around briefly at the strange sky, still awestruck at the spectacle, and feeling a bit nervous from the conversation.
"But all this... I've never
experienced any of this before!" Kevin said.
"You could, though," Adra said, walking closer to him, "with me, you could experience anything.
Here, let me show you." She grabbed Kevin by the side with her right arm, and the two of them took off into the sky.
Continents passed them by, as they flew through curtains of daylight and into the stars. They traveled at unimaginable speeds, the stars and galaxies turning into streaks, as they came upon a black hole, a bright disk of gas slowing spiraling into it.
"Ahh! Shouldn't I need air to breathe out here!" Kevin said, now floating in zero-g.
"Nah, that stuff is optional around here," Adra said.
"So why are we here?" Kevin said.
"That's an interesting question, and certainly not for the faint of heart," Adra said, "I, for one, choose to answer it thus - that we are here to experience
. And with me, you can experience anything
She reached out into the sky, and plucked the black hole from the scenery as if it was a cherry on top of a sundae. She stretched the infinite density of it into a loop, and lassoed Kevin with this cord of singularity.
"The entire multiverse of possibilities is ours for the taking!" she said, swinging him around her and into the sky, which shattered like an old mirror.
Pieces of starry sky fell around them as they careened through scenes of unbelief, the world shattering around them at each new color. At each new sense. At each new vision.
"What!" is all Kevin could manage to say.
"The very fundamentals of reality are mere playthings in this realm," Adra said, as they fell into a field of stars.
Each one appeared no larger than an apple, and they danced around like a flurry in a snowstorm. Adra grabbed one, and breathed on it, releasing its gas into a white cloud which enveloped them.
"You can experience any sensation imaginable, from these great distances of the cosmos," Adra said, snapping her fingers, "to the most microscopic of phenomena."
The scene suddenly shifted to a strange shimmering lightshow. Fields of quantum probability echoed around them, the basic building blocks of atoms dwarfing them.
"And you can be anyone or anything," Adra said, waving her hands, as the two of them were now majestic birds soaring above a great forest below.
"How is this possible!?" Kevin said, somehow. Forgetting how to fly, he tumbled below, until they became fish in the ocean, the great expanse of water around them, light shimmering through the waves above.
You can see anything,
Adra thought to him, light from another's eyes - colors that have never even been conceived of before.
"These experiences are just too strange!" Kevin said, again unsure how he was speaking with gills underwater.
They once again found themselves in a more familiar setting, a great ballroom with a large chandelier above.
"And you can experience the familiar, from a different angle," Adra said, who was now wearing a black tuxedo, and appeared to be male.
"What?" Kevin said, noticing his voice was higher. He looked down and saw himself wearing a white ball-gown, and was apparently female. "This feels very strange," Kevin said, trying not to think about anything else.
"Or you can be normal," Adra said, snapping her fingers once more, as they returned to the familiar, although still quite strange plain, both of them in their original forms.
Kevin took a look around, and noticed that he was back to normal, sighing in relief.
"This has been eye-opening and all, but I still don't understand why you - an amazing all-powerful reality creator," Kevin said, sounding a bit exasperated, "would be interested in an ordinary person like me!"
"You really don't
see," Adra said, stopping, and letting her arm down.
The two of them stood there for a moment, time seemingly standing still around them as well.
"Fine," Adra said, "if you change your mind, you're always welcome back. Until then, you need to get home, right?" She waved her hand and a rectangular portal opened up behind her. Through the visible cut in space-time, the white spire of the temple could be seen, a few people walking along the street below it.
"Yes, I do," Kevin said, "sorry Adra. I didn't mean..."
"No, no. It's okay," Adra said, "you don't need to apologize. Just go. Do what you must. Be who you are."
"Thanks," Kevin said, "I'll... remember you."
"As will I."
And with that, Kevin walked through the portal, and found himself back on the sidewalk in Meta-Reality. Across the street was the temple, a green sign indicating it was open, and pointing to a spiral staircase heading up the spire. Looking around, there was the usual mix of unearthly people, cars, and buildings, but no sign of Adra or the portal.
"Well, here goes nothing," Kevin said, carefully crossing the street, and beginning the long climb up the staircase.
Climb the Stairs