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A note from flriley

I am in the process of revising and editing chapters to fix continuity errors, and issues that readers have brought to my attention.

If a chapter has an ( r ), then it has been edited.

I'd finally solved the mystery of whether there was life after death. There was. And I only had to die to find out.

I'd been ill for years, progressively getting worse. Bad diet, smoking, and no exercise led to my poor health. I'd developed COPD, emphysema, diabetes, sleep Apnea, Congestive Heart Failure, AFIB, and Neuropathy. As my conditions worsened, my mobility suffered. Eventually, I lived hooked to machines, a nasal cannula to provide oxygen, a heart monitor and a pulse oximeters. They dispensed medicines like candy; I needed sixteen prescriptions and twice daily insulin injections to combat the ravages of these illnesses.

My sister became my caretaker as my illnesses progressed. She provided meals, helped with bathing, and other daily living essentials. Home health nursing provided lab testing, examinations, and wound care. But for day-to-day support, she was my lifeline. This lasted for years until she developed a virulent form of cancer. The disease ravaged her body quickly, and within months of being diagnosed, she succumbed and died.

Her death devastated me. I came from a large family, nine of us five boys and four girls, I often joked that my mother wanted to field her own baseball team. I was the oldest, after the death of the eldest sister, our youngest sister stepped up and agreed to help take care of my daily living requirements.
It worked and solidified my absolute faith and devotion towards my family.

The cliche about life flashing before your eyes is real, it's very similar to the best 3D movie experience you've ever had. Memories replay irrespective of time, and for that one moment, that one second between life and death, the passage of time is immutable.

Is this reflexion real? Perhaps this human ability to review and treasure those memories is an instinctive reflex to cling to the known. To argue about the unfairness of death. Or perhaps it's the last chemical reaction of a dying brain.

But in that second, as it happens, no matter the reason. It was real.

Reflection and understanding of what I had endured occur as events both joyous and painful replayed in full technicolor glory.

Learning to ride a bike. Christmas. That first romance, the excitement, and the fear during that first date, combining until a culmination of that perfect moment which leads to your first kiss, your first love.

It is the small moments of joy you remember. Earning your first paycheck. Buying your first car.
The birth of brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews.

And the sorrows. Those moments that seemed so unfair. Death, disease, pain, and loss.
Granted, nobody said life was fair, but my life seemed less fair than others. Even from a very early age matters of fairness and equality were subsumed by my experiences and environment. Fairness wasn't involved when you are raised in poverty, never certain if Food assistance would stretch to feed our growing family each month.

Second-hand clothes, salvaged from thrift stores or collected by dumpster diving. The glances we received, often a mix of scorn and pity. And the judgment. That somehow we were less because we came from poverty.

That we deserved our fate.

It's strange what you remember of your life.

The bad things that happened, formed the person you would become. They allowed you to build a bedrock of strength and stability or destroyed you.

I survived my childhood because we lived with my Grandmother, a woman I adored. Our poverty and the issues of bigotry and social stigma that we faced simply because of this were familiar. They were the truth of our existence, and since I didn't know any other life, they made sense.

I understood in the way a child does that sometimes dinner was bread and butter sandwiches, that cockroaches were to be found in cupboards, and that material possessions like bicycles were owned by other people.

Our neighbor was a violent drunk, and most nights the sounds of his anger, as he abused his wife and children, or as he pounded on walls, broke dishes, and destroyed furniture were the songs that filled my dreams at night. As young as five these sounds were the white noise, the background that existed in my neighborhood.

I'm not sure when I recognized the dangers that existed as he pounded on walls and screamed in fury, but at some point, I understood what those noises were and became afraid.

My entire childhood seemed filled with fear, fear that someone at some point would finally decide to kill me. Fear that we would be taken from our home. Fear that we would be separated. And fear that the belief of others, that we somehow deserved our fate, would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But there was also love. My grandmother adored me. She doted on me, and I loved her fiercely. Her death was included in the film reel that was my life. Poignant and heart-wrenching. But even here memories of her love fought back the clouds of despair and sadness.

My younger sister and I playing together, enjoying the simple pleasures that fresh air, sunshine, and blissful ignorance could produce. Our joy as more and more brothers and sisters joined our family, regardless of the consequence. Pride in our accomplishments.

My brothers and sisters were my comforts and support. All of them flawed, coming from a dysfunctional home the flaws were ingrained. But even as flawed as we were, we supported, trusted, and cared for each other. No matter what madness the world introduced, we knew that we could depend on each other. That there was a bedrock of stability and support that we would find simply by reaching out to each other.

Ultimately, it wasn't my joy or sorrow that defined my life.

In the end, it isn't about what you receive but what you give. And I'd been blessed with a generous spirit. Giving and nurturing came easily for me.

Taking over the responsibility of raising my younger brothers and sisters when our Mother fought depression and alcoholism. Giving up scholarships and Med school when my teenage sister was hit by an uninsured motorist to get a job and earn money to help pay for surgeries she required. Charities. Food drives for the poor. Volunteering at hospitals and soup kitchens. And finally earning a degree in nursing to satiate that desire to heal that had become an obsession since my sister's accident.

And laughter. Making use of my intelligence and humor to delight and amuse those I encountered. Great belly laughs that made it hard to breathe and had your face turning blue as tears streamed down your cheeks and you gasped for air.

The laughter and joy of others is the last memory you are left with as you review your life.
My death was hard.

I did not go gentle into that good night. I railed and fought. Begging and fighting, afraid to die, afraid to live as I slowly drowned in my own fluids. My battle with death lasted days, but as I took my last breath, as I exhaled and finished the review of my life, the universe seemed to inhale.

And I was finally at peace.

Briefly.

I was catapulted out of my body. An amorphous shape of light and dark. Hurtling through space, through time, through dimensions, through realities. I never saw a tunnel or a white light. There were no pearly gates. There was only me and movement.

[Translocation Complete]

The blackness and nothingness that I experienced along with the sense of movement ended. I knew the normal senses of sight, sound and touch did not apply, but somehow, I perceived my surroundings. A miasma of color and movement. Rolling waves of ambiguity, swirling in patterns of non-conformity and dissonance.

[Evaluating….]

I heard the voice. Hearing not exactly the right sense. I heard it as in I experienced it. The sound creating a vibration that seemed to resonate and refine my perspective, to allow me to interpret and understand that I was the focus of this discussion, that at this moment the attention of the Universe or God was directed entirely at me.

[Subject has a Karmic balance of 17,980, and a matter to energy balance of 2,450,000]

[Converting...]

[Rounding...]

[The subject has been awarded 52,500 character creation points]
[Character creation initialized]
[Please select between science, techno-magic, or steampunk world environments]

"What the fu.." I started to say, catching myself, afraid of what could happen if the entity speaking became offended.

"I mean what's going on? Who are you?"

[I am S-Prime]
[An arbiter of rules and laws that govern the multiple Universes. I separate order from chaos, and enforce the laws of physics and magic, the Universal constants that govern all.]

"You're God?"

[No]

[I am S-Prime, the framework, rules, and forces that Universal truths are built upon, I interpret these constants, and I act to make certain existence conforms to those primal imperatives]

[I have existed from the beginning, before creation, before the divine spark spoke the command to begin]

[Eternity, Time, Infinity, Life, Death, and System constructs that exist before and will exist when the Divine commands the multi-verse to stop]

[In every permutation of creation and destruction, I exist and will exist; past, present, and future. I am immutable and unchangeable]

I realized that it had simplified the S-Prime explanation, formed concepts into words and imagery that I could barely understand. I was a single soul in all the trillions and zillions of individuals that were born and died every minute of infinity. I would never really understand the forces involved.

S-Prime may not be God, but It may as well have been. Its tasks seemed similar.

Order and Chaos.

Shepherding souls to their next life.

Managing the systems, rules, and laws that all the worlds in all the Universes, in every dimension and multi-verse entailed.
Seemed pretty Godlike to me.

Once I admitted I would never really understand the secrets of existence, I decided to instead focus on the pronouncement S-Prime had originally made that most affected me, "You mentioned character creation? What do you mean by character creation?" I asked.

[Your existence in Universe sub-level 2,834,789 has ended]

[You have been evaluated and based on the Karmic and energy balance you gained during that existence you have been awarded creation points that will allow you to reincarnate into a higher Universal Sub-level]

[Your balance allows you to transition to Universe 1,298,742, 1,298,743, or 1,298,744]

[Entities that exist in these Universes follow rules and constructs that are vastly different from those from the sub-level you have left]

[Life forms from your mythology exist in these realms]

[Because of your high character creation points, it allows you certain advantages. You do not have to begin life as an infant, you have the choice to enter your new life as an adult with skills, memories, and experiences that you select during the creation process or carry over from your previous life]

"Karmic and energy balance? What are those?"

[Karmic balance is computed based on the good and evil you accomplished in your life, and the evil that was done to you]

[Your generosity with money, love of family, and selflessness to co-workers and friends gave you positive balance]

[Your gluttony, neglect, and indifference gave you negative balance]

[Finally, evil karma done to you by other people generated positive karmic balance for you and a negative balance for them]

[The most character creation points I assign for this segment of the Universe is 75,000 points.
I've allowed you all of your Karmic balance and 1.4 percent of your energy balance]

"Energy Balance? That is computed based on the evil done to me?"

[Essentially]

[But only because of your Karmic Balance]

[If your balance had been below a certain threshold or negative, the energy balance conversion would have been set to null]

"So does everyone reincarnate? Will I meet people I knew?"

[Yes, all life-forms evolve and reincarnate]

[But, it is doubtful that you will meet past associates, the chances those life-forms earned the same amount of creation points and used those points earned to gain entrance into these specific realms is so small as to approach impossible]

"You said I'd remember my past life?"

[Possibly, that depends on the character, skills, and perks you select during creation]

"What is the difference between the three Universes?"

 

[I will compare the distinction between Universes to some of your previous experience.] 


[Based on your current understanding you would consider the difference to be futuristic Science fiction which is governed by those Rules of science and  Laws of Physics you are familiar with.]

[The Steampunk realm is a fusion of early industrial age technologies, alchemy, and magic.]

[The Techno-magic realm follows the rules of magic and has evolved industry and sciences that power technological advances using magic. ]

[All are populated by countless species and races, with one profound and essential difference, homo sapiens did not evolve to become the primary species in any of these Universes]

"How advanced are these realms? And how do they differ from the world I know?"

[In your past life, you read or played games based on the shared dreamscapes of all multi-verses.]

 
[The creation of these books and games were influenced by universal bleed-over, realities visited in dreams, discovering creatures that exist in other worlds and planes of existence]

[When testing you, for assignment to a new realm, I choose Universes that you would be familiar with based on your past interests. Each Universe follows similar rules and logic that exist in game-worlds you have played]

[You will gain levels, skills, spells, psi abilities, and perks as you advance with a System interface to acknowledge accomplishments]

"So, when you die you spend eternity playing computer games?"

[Eternity?]
[No]

[The next evolution in your existence?]

[A simplistic assumption, but not an invalid comparison]

[Although you will not be 'playing' a game, your perception will often equate these realities to the gameplay you have experienced]

[You will be guided by rules very similar to those computer games]

 

"Will I have a re-spawn ability? I mean if it's like a game will I be functionally immortal?"

[One of the perks you can choose at creation will allow you to re-spawn]

[This ability is not infinite and is available only once per solar cycle]

[If you die with no re-spawns available, you will re-enter the cycle of reincarnation. It is doubtful that you would return here]

[Immortality is a separate concept.]
[There are long-lived races, races that live thousands and tens of thousands of years]
[If you choose one of those races, you could live for a very long time, but only Universal TRUTHS are forever. All things end]

"Can you suggest or tell me which one out of the three realms would be most suitable for me?"

[Analyzing...]

[Based on your interests in your past life, the Techno-Magic realm would be most suitable.


You have a well-grounded understanding of magic, leveling, and the mythologies so should adapt well to real-world considerations]

[Further, this Universe has amenities and technologies you are familiar with]

 

[That said, with the correct character build you would do well in any of the Universes available for you to choose from]

I paused a moment, trying to understand if the entity I was speaking with would have any reason to deceive me. If I assumed there were reason and intelligence behind the Universe, and obviously, there was because I was speaking to what was for all intents and purposes that individual, that did not mean that this 'entity' was benevolent.

Unfortunately, what choice did I have?


I was either in a morphine-induced hallucination still alive and dreaming this entire encounter, or I was dead, and this was Judgment day.

I'd earned enough character creation points to roll a character and begin a new life. Not the worst reward after living a miserable life.

Making my decision was easy, I realized that my choice had become binary.

Either I trusted this entity's recommendation, or I didn't.

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About the author

flriley

Bio: I'm a fanatic about reading. To say I read two to three books a day would not be exaggerating. If it's Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, I play no favorites and give everything a chance. I love hard hitting sci-fi like David Weber. Urban like Ilona Andrews, and Fantasy like Mercedes Lackey.

I've beta read for a few published authors, most notable Robin D. Owen's.

I've always wanted to write a novel, so did so during the last NaNoWrite Month. This is an edited version of that novel.

Maybe someday I'll release the original chapters so you can see just how badly mass producing a book in only 30 days can be.

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