Kevin was sitting down on a bench in Meta-Reality, watching the exotic cars fly by with a blank expression on his face. A little while ago a few of the temple meditators probably carried him out after his panic attack. After that... well, he was completely unsure of what to do now. His only lead ran him straight into a dead end. And no-one was getting him out of this rut. Or at least it felt like it.
A dark black figure, no more than a walking shadow wearing a fedora, approached him, and said, "is this seat taken?"
"Nope," Kevin said.
"Then mind if I sit down?" the figure said, sitting down next to Kevin on the bench. "Beautiful night, am I right?"
"It's okay, I guess," Kevin said, glancing at the stars before slumping a bit more.
"Ah, I see you're having a down day," the figure said, taking off its hat. "Well, no mean to bother, but I don't see how one could be so down in a place like this. So much to do, and so much to see."
"I just found out I'm - well, nothing!" Kevin said, throwing up his hands, "I'm some kind of nihilistic creation of the multiverse, with no past, present, or future! I'm the biggest nobody there ever was."
"I see I may have to correct you on that," the figure said, "as I happen to be Nobody. The personification of people who aren't."
"You're who now?" Kevin said, sitting up.
"You heard me," Nobody said, "so I'm afraid you won't be taking my job today."
"Uh, doesn't sounds like it," Kevin said.
"So who are you, really?"
"Kevin... from New York City?"
"Still doesn't sound right to me, but maybe you don't really know yourself."
"How can I not know? I was just in the pool of reflections, at the top of that crazy-high temple!" Kevin said, pointing to the spire a few blocks away. "They're the Meta-Reality Meditators, the authorities, on well, everything!"
"I suppose that is true," Nobody said, nodding its head, "but I'll tell you one thing. Who you are is not what someone else tells you, but it's who you are inside. Who you want to be, who you become by your actions, and your experiences."
"How can I be anything, if I'm nothing?" Kevin said.
"That - you're going to have to figure out for yourself," Nobody said, pointing at Kevin. "And with that, I must be off." Nobody stood up, and donning its fedora once more, said, "see you around, Kevin from New York City, and I wish you luck in figuring out who you really
The black figure walked away, Kevin waving at it, before slumping down on the bench again.
"I guess... my actions and experiences are all the things I've done here and people I've met. I should go ask some of them," Kevin said. And with that, he stood up, once again on a quest, although not to discover a way home, but to discover who he was.
• • •
Lunch of Destiny
Kevin walked down the street, and seeing a familiar building, entered Roger's Deli once more.
"Hey Roger!" Kevin said upon entering.
"Hey! Kevin," Roger said, "come back to finish the dishes?"
"Actually I wanted to see if you ever caught the robbers! Last time I was here, I was in the middle of the dishes when these three came in, zapped the pan I was holding, and then zapped me onto an abandoned planet!"
"Hmmm... can't say I have," Roger said, "although that would explain where you went. And why I had to pay for a timeline restoration service the next day."
"Because of the stolen items?"
"Nothing was stolen, just erased from existence," Roger said, "could be those temporal bandits, but no-one's caught them yet."
"Dang," Kevin said, "I'd certainly like to give them a piece of my mind if I ever see them again."
"Hah! Sounds like it!" Roger said, "give them one for me too!"
"Will do!" Kevin said.
The two stood there for a moment, before Roger looked behind Kevin, and seeing no other customers, said, "so... you planning on ordering anything? And got anything to pay with this time?"
"Oh, maybe," Kevin said, reaching into his pocket and pulling our his wallet. He took out a twenty-dollar bill, and handed it to Roger. "I'm not sure how much anything is, but will this work?"
Roger took the bill, and looked it over carefully, "possibly. But what is it?"
"It's a twenty," Kevin said, "like dollars?"
"Never heard of them before," Roger said, "and you say it's twenty of them? I see the number but it just looks like one bill to me."
"Uh... would it help if I mentioned that this bill was brought into existence at the top of the Meta-Reality Temple, right next to the pool of reflections?"
"It might," Roger said, "that might be a nice souvenir, come to think of it. Alright, for this, anything you want for one lunch."
"Great!" Kevin said, "can I get one sandwich, oh, and cup of coffee?"
"Sure thing, here you go," Roger said, taking another sandwich out from beneath the counter, with a invitingly-dark cup of coffee to match.
Kevin walked towards a nearby table, before thinking twice, and turning around to face Roger, the tantalizing sandwich and coffee still in his hands.
"Roger - do you know anything about what one would do if they were... say an ex-nihilo creation of the multiverse, with no past, present, or future?"
"That's an interesting question, can't say I've ever heard it before," Roger said, thinking for a moment. "I'd say if they had no past, present, or future, why not try making one?"
• • •
Having finished the cosmically-delicious sandwich and coffee, Kevin once again walked the streets of this strange Meta-Reality city. The stars shone above with an unearthly light as Kevin found himself walking along less-traveled roads, people thinning out and vanishing from existence around him. That's strange,
he thought, entering a seemingly-abandoned alleyway. I don't remember this being here a moment ago.
He turned around, only to be greeted by the three temporal bandits from before.
"Now, look at who's back," the lead man said.
"How'd you get back here? I zapped you into nothingness!" Frezena said, standing on his right.
"Well, apparently I am
nothingness," Kevin said, "so that explains many things."
"That's clearly impossible," Dahlia said, standing on his left, and scanning Kevin again. "And yet you still have no signature."
"Impossible? This kook here is impossible!" the lead man said, "but we know what to do with you now - Frezena!"
Frezena shot another bolt of orangish-yellow energy at Kevin, as Kevin raised a hand to block, causing the bolt of energy to impact it harmlessly.
"No," Kevin said.
"What?" the lead man said.
"I said no.
I didn't climb up half the multiverse to be shot back down again!" Kevin said.
"I don't think you have much of a choice!" Frezena said, adjusting a few dials on the strange device.
"You can't resist time itself," Dahlia said, "no matter what kind of strange cloaking device you're employing."
"I don't think you understand," Kevin said, walking closer, "I am
nothing. I have no past - no present - no future. Time is meaningless to me in this place."
Frezena held up the device to Kevin, and shot him with another bolt of energy, this time with a decidedly violet glow. Kevin glowed for a second, but stood there unharmed.
"You can't be nothingness..." the lead man said, "that's not a thing! You can't be the absence of something and be standing here next to us!"
"I thought so too," Kevin said, "but I guess the multiverse is a lot stranger than I thought."
Kevin walked up to them, and grabbed the device out of Frezena's hand, crushing it.
"Time's up," Kevin said.
"Wait - you don't understand -" Dahlia said, as the three of them flickered out of existence, leaving Kevin alone in the alleyway.
Kevin stared ahead briefly, surprised at their sudden disappearance.
• • •
"Halt! Who's there!" said a female voice from behind him.
"Ahh! I surrender!" Kevin said, raising his hands, "I didn't mean to make them disappear! I just wanted them to stop shooting me!"
"You're not under arrest, calm down," the woman said from behind him.
She walked around Kevin to face him, sporting a red-and-blue uniform with a variety of strange symbols scattered across it. She was no more than five feet tall, and had red hair, with matching eyes that stared at Kevin with the intensity of a detective.
"I've been tracking these three temporal bandits, and I was hot on their trail until just a moment ago, when I detected a temporal anomaly here," she said, "and now, my records indicate that they have never existed. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, now would you?"
"I might have crushed one of their devices," Kevin said, "is that OK?"
"Quite so," she said, "if anything, I should thank you. They've been a serious nuisance around this area, and every time we've gotten close they erase all evidence from the timeline."
"How do you know about them, then?" Kevin said, "if they never existed in the first place?"
"Time is... not entirely linear around here, if you haven't noticed already?" she said.
"Sorry, I'm a bit new," Kevin said.
"But still quite skilled," she said, studying Kevin for a moment. "Mind if I bring you down to the station for a few questions? You are free to leave at any moment if you wish - this is entirely voluntary."
"Sure, I can answer a few questions," Kevin said, "as long as I can ask a few too?"
A red and blue patrol car pulled up beside them, opening its doors vertically. The woman motioned for Kevin to get inside, as she got into the drivers seat. The doors closed down, and they took off into the sky, the city rushing below them.
"Also, apologies on forgetting to introduce myself earlier, I am Sarasani, of the Reality Squad, and you are?" she said.
"I'm Kevin, from... Nowhere," Kevin said, a bit sheepishly.
"Nowhere?" Sarasani said, "Interesting. I was told that place doesn't exist."
"Yeah. It doesn't
exist," Kevin said, "which... I guess explains a lot of things."
They flew above the skyline, and headed to the other connected planet, approaching a cityscape on the inside. They approached a large blue and red building, built in a blocky and stepwise architectural pattern, almost as if the sides were stairs.
"We're here," Sarasani said, pulling up to the side.
Here it could be seen that the sides were the size of steps for giants, as a door opened in the side of one, and the ship effortlessly coasted into it, coming to rest in a parking space, the city and planetscape visible outside.
"Follow me in here," Sarasani said, getting out of the patrol car, and opening a metal door on the side.
"Okay, do we take an elevator or something?" Kevin said.
"Elevator?" Sarasani said, "no, those are too slow. These are portal doors - they open to exactly where you want to go."
She stepped through, and they were now in an office-like room, cubicles dotting the floor, and a remarkably ordinary water cooler on their right.
"Hey! Sarasani!" said a tall reptilian alien, walking up to them. "Heard your case got erased from time, too bad about that, am I right?"
"I have the person who erased them right here with me," Sarasani said, motioning to Kevin, who waved nervously.
"Oh, oh, right, good luck explaining that to the boss!" the alien said, walking around with a considerable amount of swagger, its tail waving across their field of view.
"Don't mind Venzza, he's just jealous of my cases, that's all."
They walked over to one of the cubicles, where what appeared to be a pile of steaming magma was typing on a old CRT computer.
"Hooz! Kevin here could use to tell his story," Sarasani said, "I'll be back in a few to get him."
"Oh! Of course," the magma, Hooz, said, oozing closer to them, and reaching out a tendril of lava to pull a rolling chair closer. "Have a seat."
"Uh, thanks," Kevin said, looking slightly more surprised than usual, and sitting down in the offered chair, noticing the magma-creature did not exude the intense heat one would expect from its appearance.
"So, you are here to join the Reality Squad, right?"
"Oh, I, uh, no," Kevin said, "I just caught, well - er, erased from existence, a few temporal bandits, that's all. I think getting lucky hardly qualifies me for - whatever this is."
"Perhaps after your story, then?"
"Sure, well, it all started in the Middle of Nowhere. Wait, no that doesn't exist. Sorry. I guess it really started in the Literal World, where I met Adra, she was really nice, come to think of it.."
"I meant your interactions with the Bandits, actually," Hooz said.
"Sorry!" Kevin said, "I met them first at Roger's Deli where they erased a pan I was washing, which was pretty rude for sure."
"And you could see the change?"
"Yes, is that not normal?" Kevin said.
"Can be, continue."
"Right, then they shot me into this abandoned planet, from there I met Inzami, and well, there was a whole story of adventures. Oh! She mentioned the Ekozet had transcended to a higher plane of existence. Have you ever heard of them?"
"Hmm... Ekozet? Can't say I have. Sorry."
"Dang. Anyways, I eventually climbed back up, and just saw them again a few minutes ago in that back alley. I crushed one of the devices they were trying to shoot me with, then they just vanished!"
"Interesting, it must have been their temporal nullifier," Hooz said, typing a few notes on the computer, "which would explain their sudden existence failure."
"I guess so, yeah."
Sarasani approached them, now holding a sheet of golden paper.
"How goes the questioning?" she said.
"Quite well, are there any other instances you wish to tell us about?" Hooz said.
"Not that I can think of, I only saw them those two times."
"And hopefully never again," Sarasani said, "and as appreciation for what you have done, I wish to present you with this."
She handed him the paper, which appeared to be an application to join the Reality Squad, partially filled out, and listing her as his sponsor.
"You may not know this yet, Kevin, but we at the Reality Squad recruit people with special talents and abilities across the multiverse to help us ensure the security, stability, and cohesion of the many worlds and universes under our purview. We could use someone like you."
"I don't know what to say," Kevin said, looking at the paper nervously. "I don't feel like I deserve this."
"You do. And if you are interested, all you need to do is fill it out."
Kevin stared at the paper a bit more, before handing it back to Sarasani.
"I'm sorry, but I just don't feel like I can do this," Kevin said.
"If that's the way you feel," Sarasani said.
" she said, "if you want, I can take you back?"
"Actually, can you take me to the train? I'd like to visit the Literal World again."
"Of course, I'll take you there right away."
• • •
The two of them had returned to Sarasani's flying patrol car, and were now coasting across the cityscapes once more. They mostly sat in silence, watching the scenery fly by as if they were watching the floor counter in an elevator. They approached the Trans-Reality Transit station again, coming up beside it.
"Last chance," Sarasani said, as Kevin's side door opened up, "are you sure about this?"
"Yes, I am," Kevin said, stepping out and onto the digital glass.
"Alright, but remember, the offer to apply still stands."
"Thanks, I will."
And with that, Kevin stepped back, and Sarasani flew off into the sky. Kevin sighed slightly, then walked up to the platform entrance. He tapped his MTA card on the faregate, and it opened, although also displayed a yellow holographic box with the words 'Low Fare' written in it.
"I'm not sure to take that as an omen, or an insult," Kevin said out loud.
"Hah! Maybe you just need to reload your card!" a frog in a fedora said, walking through an adjacent gate.
Right, remember to use thinking voice,
Kevin thought, less likely to get snarky remarks that way.
Kevin sat down on a nearby bench, and waited for the next train, still a bit unsure of what awaited him in the Literal World.
• • •
Kevin once again found himself at the white platform where he started his journey to see the Meta-Reality Meditators. Unfortunately, they weren't of as much help as he was hoping for. They certainly gave him an answer on where he was from, just not the one he wanted.
He walked to the edge of the walkway, wondering how he was going to get down to the Literal World through the white clouds below.
"Are you planning on diving too?" a woman said, walking up to him. She was quite tall, probably seven feet, and looked to be made of white energy.
"Oh, I'm not so sure about that," Kevin said, "it looks pretty far down."
"It's not too bad, once you get the hang of it," she said, "and you can land however you'd like. You've been to the Literal World before, right?"
"Yes, I have," Kevin said, staring down at the clouds below, "although that was some time ago."
"I'm sure you'll remember right away! Now, if you want to dive, just follow me!"
And with that, she jumped off the side of the platform, and coasted down, disappearing into the clouds.
"Sure, that looks easy," Kevin said, "nothing to it at all."
He paced around for a couple minutes, thinking about replicating the stunt, or asking for a ride down from the Reality Refinery. Which would likely involve a conversation about how Alorn and Dinaya's advice didn't work out. Best not to upset the all-powerful reality creators,
he thought, and I've already died before, and fallen across half the multiverse. So this should be a piece of cake.
He walked up to the edge of the platform again, holding onto the railing. Here goes nothing,
he thought, stepping on top of the railing, and jumping into the sky.
Gaining a surprising amount of speed, he plummeted towards the clouds, and fell through them, water droplets scattering across his clothes. Falling through the mist, it turned a dark shade of purple, until Kevin emerged on the other side, the chaotic landscape of the Literal World below.
"A soft fall!" Kevin said, noticing the ground approaching rapidly.
He fell into a great sea of styrofoam packing peanuts, sending a large wave of white foam crashing around him. Washing up on a bubble-wrap beach, he dusted himself off, and took the closest door into a great mall. People shopped around him, shops selling a variety of concepts and clothes, items of the exotic and strange like none he had seen before.
I'm sure if Adra was here, she could make sense of all this,
he thought. Wait! What if I say she's here right next to me!
A cardboard cut-out of Adra appeared next to him, as if it had been standing there the whole time.
"I guess it doesn't work like that. Darn it," Kevin said.
He walked towards an exit and left the mall for a great expanse of ribbons, each one fluttering above an unseen sky below, the purple clouds above casting an exotic light over the landscape. Sliding down a ribbon, he found himself at a park, where ducks bathed in a pond of bouncy balls. He took a seat at a bench, under the shade of a money tree, and thought about just what it was he had come here for. After all, Adra was nowhere to be found so far, and beyond seeing her again, he hadn't really thought this through.
A tall alien walked past him, taking a sip out of a straw from what was most likely a fruity frozen drink, when it stopped, and pointed at Kevin.
"Hey! Aren't you that guy who only had lost?" the alien said.
"Wait - what?" Kevin said, looking up, and noticing this nine-foot-tall reptilian alien looked remarkably similar to the one he had encountered all that time ago, when he had first arrived here, after meeting Adra.
"You are! You are!" a smaller alien said, appearing next to the lead on the left.
"Huh. Yep, looks like that Kevin for sure," a larger alien said, appearing on the right.
"Oh hey," Kevin said, sounding nervous, "no hard feelings, right? I did escape from you all fairly."
"By going into the Transitional Zone. Somehow," the lead alien said, "and that's not fair at all!"
"Even a rigged carnival game would be more fair than that!" the smaller alien said.
"Quit it," the leader said.
"Okay, well, what would be a fair way to beat you all?" Kevin said.
"How about a concept battle to see who literally understands this place!" the lead alien said.
"Sure, I guess," Kevin said, "how does it work, and what are the rules?"
"Just name whatever concepts you can think of, and there are no other rules!" the lead alien said. "Hold my drink," he said, handing it to the smaller alien to his left.
"Okay, how about... cold?" Kevin said.
The ground and air suddenly became frigid, as small snow flurries danced around them.
"A thoroughly decent start," the lead alien said, "but I'm a bit more partial to fire!
The area around them transformed into a great conflagration, flames engulfing the park and setting the tree and bench on fire.
"Ahh! Water!" Kevin said, as a huge tidal wave crashed over the area, extinguishing the flames and drenching the group.
"You know what goes well with water? Duck!"
A massive duck flew at Kevin as he barely crouched underneath it.
"Only one?" Kevin said, sounding a bit disappointed.
"Hey! That's not a concept!" the smaller alien said.
"I thought you said there were no rules!" Kevin said.
"There aren't any!" the lead alien said, "so more ducks!"
A flock of the huge ducks flew at Kevin, as he said, "miniature!"
The ducks became the size of insects, and bounced harmlessly off his shirt.
"Is that the best you have?" Kevin said, looking confident.
"Nope! Huge! Gargantuan! Mega!" the alien said, growing to an immense size, towering almost up to the clouds. He raised a fist, to strike Kevin down, and swung downwards.
"Perspective!" Kevin said, as now the alien was not enormous, but actually just really close.
Missing Kevin entirely, the lead alien fell into him, as the two landed on the grass.
"Get off of me!" he said.
"You're on me!" Kevin said, "so how about wind?"
A powerful wind blew the aliens away, and into a nearby wall of hornets' nests. The insects swarmed around the aliens, until they all fell to the ground, having been transformed into marbles.
"Now just what are you playing at?" the lead alien said, the three of them walking back towards Kevin.
"Yeah, how can you be so good now?" the large alien on the right said, "didn't you need a box earlier?"
"Yeah! Yeah!" the smaller alien said.
"I've... been through a lot since then," Kevin said, "I guess I just learned a lot about myself and how these crazy things work. Who are you, though?"
"Oh, we're the Literal Cleaners," the lead alien said, "we find any lost people or concepts and take care
"How?" Kevin said.
"By making sure they're never found again!" the lead alien said.
"You guys are basically just scum, then!" Kevin said, after pausing for a moment to think.
"You bet we're scum, the scummiest and most bad-ass scum this side of the tower," the lead alien said.
"Uh, boss?" the large alien said.
"Well. That was a rookie mistake," the lead alien said, noticing he was, in fact, now a puddle of pond scum on the sidewalk.
The smaller alien took out a dust pan, and scraped up the leader.
"You win this one, Kevin from New York City! You win this one!" the leader said, rematerializing on the pan, as the three of them walked away sulkingly.
"That was strange," Kevin said, "but strangely gratifying."
• • •
The Infinity of Optionality
Kevin walked along the strange streets of the Literal World. He thought maybe he could learn to be a concept mixer like the others here, learn the strange ways of materialization of thoughts and conceptualization of objects. Maybe. But maybe not.
This place still felt not quite right. Everyone here was something, even many somethings. And he was nothing. He needed to find a place where nothingness was the norm, where he could find somewhere... where there were others like him.
And so he traveled back towards the spire, looking for a way up, back to the train station.
he thought, then said, "Taxi!"
A yellow and black cab pulled up to him, and the door opened.
"Where'ya goin' to, bub?" the cabbie said, as Kevin got in the back seat.
"The Trans-Reality Transit station, up above the clouds," Kevin said.
The taxi flew up into the air, piercing the clouds before coming to rest beside the platform. Getting out, Kevin handed the driver a few bills that were taken without complaint, and the taxi drove off into the sky.
"I can't believe I didn't think of that sooner," Kevin said.
He walked up to a nearby map, and studied the possible locations he could easily travel to. I've been to the concept lands already, as well as Meta-Reality,
he thought, and most of these places are named something I can't even read. I do see the mathematical lands here, maybe I can find a world of zeros or something?
And with that thought, he set out to take the train in the opposite direction, heading to parts unknown.
• • •
Riding the train through places both inconceivable and inexplicable, Kevin tried to concentrate on things more logical. For example, how he could refill his transit card, as this was the second time in a row he had seen the 'low fare' warning. Other than that, he hoped it wasn't too many more stops to the mathematical lands, as even after all he had seen and been through, some of these places still managed to make his head hurt.
"Next Stop: Unreality," an announcement voice said throughout the train.
"Unreality? What's that?" Kevin said.
"It's a place where nothing is real," a person made of blades sitting next to him said, "bit of a dump, if you ask me."
"Nothing is real?" Kevin said. Sounds like my kind of place,
The train came to a stop, and the doors opened to reveal a normal-looking lake, surrounded by grassy hills dotted with deciduous trees.
"Seems pretty nice," Kevin said, stepping out of the train, figuring it couldn't hurt to check it out along the way.
However, not all was as it seemed, as Kevin fell straight through the ground, the train car visibly receding above. I'm not sure this was a good idea!
he thought, instantly regretting this decision, as he fell into a seemingly-endless black void below.
Fall into the Void