I don't remember how long it was exactly, that I survived in that old finished cellar of my great uncle's country house. It wasn't a bunker by any means, but it was as far away from pretty much anything potentially dangerous as I could think of when I decided on a location to wait for the inevitable. It was quite dilapidated, but honestly, what wasn't these days?
I had maybe a week's worth of food left and the well still had water. But I dreaded going out again to forage for more. I already knew that it was hopeless even if I did find something. I saw too many people die to have any illusions left that this ‘apocalypse’ was something that was possible to overcome. Not after experiencing it for nearly half of my life. It was too random and too relentless to be entirely natural. There was no one left to live for anyway.
My parents died in a plane crash. Blown right out of the sky by yet another ‘freak thunderstorm of the century’. That was in the beginning. When it wasn't obvious quite yet, what was happening. Just another tragedy.
My sister was killed in a riot in front of a food store. Trampled by a mob that couldn't even have been all that hungry at that point. Just a bunch of people that wanted to ‘prepare’ for what was coming, however they thought they could.
My brother was part of an emergency relief team, rescuing earthquake victims. They didn’t make it when they were surprised by an aftershock and half a mountainside slid down on them. His long term partner was a member of the same crew.
My wife killed herself after being diagnosed with a deadly virus infection she had already lost most of her side of the family to. She didn't want me to nurse her and end up catching it as well. There was no cure anyways she reasoned. And nobody was really still trying to develop new medication when even conventional ones couldn't be produced in anywhere near sufficient quantities anymore. Not that she gave me a choice in the matter. She just left a letter behind the day she left two years ago. I was just glad we didn't have any children. Losing her was bad enough.
The rest of my extended family, that I was able to keep in contact with, succumbed to one thing or the other. It took years, but I'm pretty sure that I was the last one left. Acquaintances, colleagues and friends from before were too busy with their own shit to stay in contact in the first place once it seemed clear where this was all heading. Of course, there were a lot of people still holding out somewhere, as I did. I even met a few on my way here, but nobody could care about strangers in these times.
Now I was sitting alone in a thankfully still dry and actually quite comfortable cellar with no one to even talk to. I used to read a lot and kept up with current research on anything from old mythology and ancient civilizations to experimental archaeology. I liked to imagine what it must have been like to live back then, in simpler but no doubt harder times. God knew I bored many a patient friend to death with that particular topic once I got drunk enough to not notice their indifference. Now I only wondered what may be left of us after this was all over, for whomever might find our remains.
The end of the world neither arrived quietly nor unexpectedly. It still took years of continuously worsening conditions to be recognized as such and taken seriously. It wasn't caused by global warming, nuclear war, a giant meteor impact or any of the other long-established potential „world ending“ scenarios. It was way more... Old-Testament than that.
Over a period of a few decades countless droughts, wildfires, monstrous storms, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis, epidemics - even honest-to-god volcanic eruptions - happened basically everywhere. Sometimes staying very localized, but most of the time affecting at least multiple countries if not the whole world at once. Hurrah to globalization. None of these occurrences was improbable. Every single one of them had plausible causes. But one couldn't help but feel like someone was bored with playing some civilization builder game and activated every possible natural disaster event they could, just to see the world burn. Yeah... almost exactly like that.
No emergency plan or relieve program could keep up with that kind of endless barrage of catastrophes. The more they failed, the more infrastructure got destroyed, the more resources didn't get where they were needed anymore, if they could still be produced in the first place. The more resentment and fear spread around, the more they transformed into riots, anger, despair, you get the picture...
Of course, some regions could hold out longer than others. Tectonically stable areas far away from coastlines and big population centres became prime real estate early on. But all throughout the ordeal the seemingly natural disasters never stopped.
It would have been a very humbling experience honestly, if people weren't too busy with trying not to die wherever they holed themselves up in the end, to hold out another month, another week, another day...
The last landline had broken down a week ago. Don't ask me how. I didn't care anymore. It's not like it made a big difference. There wasn't anyone important left to call before that anyways. I just felt so numb. I was not sure how long I could subsist in this house. I had a few solar panels, a pretty big garden out there and a bunch of different seeds to theoretically grow food with if I could survive until the current drought let up and it wasn't immediately followed by more storms. But who knew when another airborne pest spread and made a venture outside my last one. It was all quite depressing.
Yeah, what did you expect from the fucking apocalypse, Sherlock, I know. But that made what happened next all the more infuriating.
It just all ended.
From one moment to the next I was surrounded by absolutely nothing. I was not sure if I died at first and it just was caused by some new absurdity that I didn't see coming until it got me. But then there were - I kid you not - fireworks. Absolutely nothing there but a black and empty void, not even my own body, but these stupid over the top fireworks... and the voice of course.
“This concludes our final Event Chain!” a very deep and artificial voice bellowed… cheerfully(?) from seemingly everywhere.
“We hope you all had lots of fun with our longest-running game: 'Alpha Reality'! But all good things must come to an end and dragging it out even more would become just boring real fast. You know how it is...” it continued. Well, I didn't, but I honestly was too dumbfounded to think about that at the moment.
“Don't forget to select your reward for participating before you head home. Everything you don't save in your own domain until we restart with our long-awaited Reboot will be recycled. We repeat: nothing will be saved in the cloud, so secure your trophies and deployed energy before you leave, if you wish to have access to them after our restart! Bye-bye, see you all next time!” Then it was gone again. It would have been quiet if not for these ridiculous fireworks that continued to explode all around me without care.
I had no idea what it was talking about. Or who it was talking to in the first place. I'm not even sure if it was supposed to sound male or female. I was just... confused. Until another voice, this time decidedly female, stated exasperatedly from right next to me. “There you are! How did you get that far away?”
I was not aware that I moved at all, but I couldn't answer her anyway, as I found out as I tried to ask, what the hell was happening.
“It would have been such a shame if you were lost too,” she continued. “So don't drift away again! I have to gather up all my energy before they use it for their stupid restart.”
I wish I could say I complied. Or protested being treated like a child? Or that I did anything really, but I could do absolutely nothing at all. I just existed. In a black void surrounded by sparkling explosions.
Until I was yanked into... somewhere? From one moment to the next I found myself in something that could resemble a room. If it was made for giants. Maybe. I looked down at myself and discovered that I had a body again. At least kind of? It was pretty much translucent and I was not quite sure that these were really my hands and arms, but they flexed and moved how I wanted them to. I tried to walk around but nearly immediately ran into a transparent wall that went all the way around me. It seemed like I was in some kind of glass container? What. The. Actual. Fuck?
“Hey! Where am I?!” I shouted. “Is somebody there? Let me out of here!”
“Ah, you're all gathered together already? That was quick.” The female voice from before came from behind me. “That's quite a persistent soul you've got there,” she said in a kind and sweet tone.
I turned around and looked up at her. And up, and up. She was enormous but otherwise had perfectly human proportions. Dirty blonde, grey-green eyes, horned glasses, slender figure. She reminded me of the cute receptionist in our local library when I was still a teenager. Wait a minute. She looked exactly like her!
“Wh-what is happening?” I asked and I didn't like how my voice wavered under her gaze. So I gathered what was left of my courage and asked in a hopefully accusing tone.
“Am I dead? Is this some kind of fucked up afterlife? Why am I in a damned jar?!”
She cocked her head there.
“And who are you supposed to be in the first place? Do giants like to cosplay as cute librarians?”
She started to chuckle... not... menacingly? Yeah, I guess it wasn't that smart to throw a barrage of questions in this kind of situation, but what was I supposed to do? Sit there quietly and let her inspect me like an interesting specimen?
“My, my, … That is how you see me? A 'cute' librarian? How precious!” She giggled.
I didn't like her tone at all. It sounded like she was talking to a silly pet. Maybe from her perspective, I was? I shrank back a bit, my back touching the glass behind me.
“Yes, at the moment you are dead, my sweet. But don't you worry bout a thing.” she cooed. “I saved you from being recycled together with most of the rest of your world. A shame really. I liked that game. It was so complex but simple at the same time. Now all that is left are memories.” She looked... sad?
I was horrified. Game? “The world was some game to you?” I muttered under my breath.
“Oh, your whole universe was, Sweetie. Well, every universe really is. But I guess it would look different from the perspective of a mortal, wouldn't it?” she contemplated. “Anyways... yours was really old, you see? One of the first successful creations. And many of the Others started to get bored quite a while ago. Only one competitive sentient species. Interaction was limited and the more the sapient population increased, the more energy was occupied in maintaining their number, which couldn't be used by the players anymore. So no more expensive miracles for gathering worshipers. Most of the Others weren't satisfied with just watching and wandered off to play other games. And the number of still-active players dwindled more and more. Some of those even gathered believers under new identities to wage war against themselves, when they got too bored.” She giggled again. I tried to comprehend what she was talking about.
“Well long story short. With the overall faith that was produced becoming less and less and the resources put into maintaining your universe keeping the books barely in the black, the Creators decided to scrap the game and make a new one from its concepts. They even implemented this huge Event Chain to advertise and create hype for the restart!” she exclaimed excitedly while clapping her hands together.
I stood there in my jar, leaning against my wall, mouth agape. That was it? All the suffering and mourning of a whole world just to advertise? Was this some sick joke? I must have looked mortified because the Player(?) in front of me suddenly looked a bit worried.
“There, there...” She petted the glass around me. “You don't have to be afraid anymore, Sweetie, I saved you for myself, you see?” She looked pretty proud of herself, still smiling at me.
“Why?” I asked after hesitating for a few seconds.
“Well, so I can take you with me into the new game of course!” Aaaand she was excited again. “We could choose one mortal from everyone that was left in the end, if we participated in the final event, you see? And you were my 3673rd choice. So lucky!”
“3673rd?” I muttered.
“Well, yes. The others died before the game ended. A shame really but I don't think anybody got to have their first 2000 preferred picks anyways. It was quite a spectacle. All that destruction and...” She wavered, looking away. “I really liked that world. It had so much history and memories. It's such a shame, really.” She shook her head slightly. “But what can you do? If it's not profitable anymore, better make room for something new, right?” She blinked, focusing on me again.
I looked through my hands at my feet. Was she honestly expecting me to agree here? Did it even matter? I mean, the way she talked I was just some kind of pet she rescued from the street to her, wasn't I? I wish this was a nightmare. I focused on my translucent hands. They felt real. As bizarre as everything was, it felt all too real. So what now? I looked up at her again. She scrutinized my every move. As if I was the most interesting thing, she'd seen in a while.
“What's on your mind, Sweetie?”
“Will you keep me in this jar?” I asked warily.
“Jar?” She cocked her head again. “Oh!” She clapped her hands together in front of her mouth. “That is how you perceive the Soul Gathering Array! Yes, you'll have to stay in there for now, or you would disperse. My domain isn't exactly suited to support your soul's continued existence without it, you see? We are not inside a universe at the moment.”
I swallowed. Okay. So I was currently a soul in a jar with a fancy name, outside of the universe, and everything around me was just my perception trying to make sense of what was not comprehensible? I thought I was done with panicking.
She was still watching me. Waiting for a reply? Well, I seemingly had absolutely nothing else to do. So let's just pretend that this all is completely normal and roll with it. Please let me stay sane? I took a deep breath.
“So...” I started. What to ask? Introductions seemed a bit late, but I really didn't like her calling me Sweetie all the time, so... “What should I call you?” Let's try not to aggravate the all-powerful being with demands quite yet.
“Oh. That's an interesting question. Names are such a precious thing, aren't they?”
I just nodded a bit dumbly in response.
“I had quite a few of them over the aeons. Which ones could you have heard of?” She pressed one finger against her lips, contemplating. “I was known on your world as a raven once. Roleplaying as a spy for a one-eyed guy obsessed with fate, so I had something to do while watching.” She chuckled.
“The Greeks saw me as a Titan and mother of Muses. I liked that one. They expanded my domain quite a bit with their faith. The Egyptians called me 'Mistress of House and Books' for a time, but being flooded with all that accounting was really annoying.” She sighed.
“Well, myths change over time and with them, so did how they saw me. It was always so interesting where they took it and how much was preserved or distorted after the worshipers were gone with so little influence from our side possible in the later stages of the game. In the end, I only really went with the name of my native domain anymore. Nobody would have believed in new gods anyways at that point.” Her eyes narrowed playfully, focusing on mine that were wide open now. She gave me a knowing smirk. “Now... if I made the correct choice, you should have an idea of who I am, and what you can call me. I don't really prefer one name over the other.”
I stared at her. Swallowing again. She couldn't be serious. “You are Memory?”
She clapped excitedly. “Bravo! I knew you could do it, Sweetie! You can't imagine how happily ignorant most of your people were about old myths like that.”
“Why are you calling me Sweetie all the time? Could you stop that, please?” I tried to not sound defensive or demanding.
“Why, you don't like it? The energy I got from you was always so sweet and lively. The enthusiasm with which you delved into 'knowledge' about the past was so cute.” She smiled brightly. “Of course during the final event there were all the bittersweet memories too,” she mused in an afterthought.
I tasted something sour.
“I'm glad that my suffering was tasty,” I said dryly.
“Now, now. No need to get flippant with me. I saved you in the end, did I not?” She reprimanded me with a tone that suggested I was a puppy that bit her a little bit too hard while play-fighting. I sighed and decided to give up on that front for now.
“You said, you did that to implement me into the new... game?”
“Yep! We'll have so much fun together! You'll see. We are allowed to give our Champion Soul a bit of our own aspects with them when we enter 'Reality' again. For most that'll be some boost to corresponding affinities or behavioural patterns to make sure that they'll act in their patrons’ interests. For you see: Souls forget most of what happened to them once they reincarnate. They shed all their baggage to have a fresh start again. But guess what!” She spread her arms wide. “I am Memory! So you'll be able to remember...” She faltered a bit in her enthusiastic delivery. “... well not everything. Especially not in the beginning. But still very much. Just make sure you don't die too often in a short amount of time and keep your soul healthy and you should be golden!” She grinned as if she'd won the lottery.
“So... you want me to be your 'Champion Soul'---”
“No, you ARE my Champion Soul,” she interrupted.
“---and what would I do for you in that role, and why would I do it?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“E-except for showing how thankful I am to you for saving me, of course,” I hastily added.
She smiled and patted my jar again. “That’s the spirit,” she cooed. “But don't you worry! The more successful I am, the more power I am allowed to transfer to you, the more potential you'll have to spread my influence. In the beginning, it will just be easier for you to remember things about previous lives... and in general, I guess. But if you manage to expand my domains, who knows what else might be possible.”
“You mean like with the Muses,” I asked, “or the accounting?”
She flinched at that.
“Maybe not the accounting,” I corrected myself and she nodded a bit too earnestly.
“Exactly like that. I'm not sure what means the Creators will implement to assure, we can communicate with our Champions. I mean. Not everybody can be as awesome as me and allow their souls to remember their instructions,” Memory boasted proudly. “But they already said that the mortals will get a very limited access to the System Interface this time around so...”
wait... access to what? Did I hear that right? It's that kind of 'game'? Oh no. No, no, no, please be something else?
“I guess it's possible, communication will be achievable to at least some degree? If not I have to fall back to good old expensive prophetic dreams in an emergency,” she rambled on, looking through me deep in thought. “It will definitely have to be immersive though. So I doubt we'll be able to freely chat until I've gained enough influence to possess an avatar? ” She focused back on me and must have misinterpreted my apprehension because she tried to reassure me next. “Oh don't you worry. I'll still spread my influence in the usual ways. Champion Souls are just a bonus awarded to Players that participated in the final event chain of 'Alpha'. So even if you turn out useless, you'll be still my cute little Sweetie. I won't abandon you.”
I really wanted to cry out of frustration.
I tried to. Turns out... Souls can't cry. So I did the next best thing, that came to mind. I deflated and sat down on my translucent ass, covering my face in my hands. Well. At least as well as you can cover something with see-through appendages. Then I just stayed like that. I don't know for how long.
A 'System Interface'? Was I really just some exotic pet in what amounted to a video game now? A trophy gimmick that a player could show to their friends as proof that they completed some achievement?
Memory started to hum quietly. A playful little melody. Which made me look up again. She was still watching me, but It looked like she had sat down too, while I was moping. What I assumed to be the floor before seemed to be a table or countertop or something similar. She was resting her face in her left hand with her elbow as support on the- let's just call it a table. Well... that's how I perceived my surroundings at least. It's not like I knew if it came even close to what was really there. Or if it was at all. I was going to become insane, wasn't I?
She still was just humming and watching me. All the while keeping that kind and understanding smile that she showed whenever excitement didn't take over. I sighed deeply.
“You are essentially a god, right?”
Her smile turned... amused? Yes, she definitely looked amused, but she didn't refute my conclusion.
So I continued. “Aren't I keeping you from doing... I don't know, important godly stuff? While you're sitting there observing my mental breakdown?”
“Now come on, Sweetie, don't exaggerate! You're doing quite well, all things considered. And don't you worry about me. I've got a lot of freed up capacities at the moment that I used to play ‘Reality’ with before. 'Observing' you doesn't even make a dent.” She shot me a grin. “Is my attention uncomfortable to you? I thought it would be unhealthy to leave you alone once you were conscious again. Would you have preferred that?”
Cautiously, slowly I shook my head.
“I thought so!” she said, satisfied, and just kept staring at me. Perfectly content to wait.
“How long will it take, for – em – reality to be a thing again?” I asked tentatively.
“Oh, they already restarted. It just always takes a while to run, before a new one is ready for life,” the goddess answered cheerfully.
“I have to wait here for billions of years?!” I exclaimed in shock.
She laughed. “No, Silly! You should know that time is relative. But you don't have to worry about that either. I will join the game again when I think it to be worthwhile. We wouldn't want to cripple you by letting you spend a few lifetimes crawling around as primitive lifeforms that can barely hold on to a soul. So I'm just watching for a while longer. Hunger's live-stream is quite entertaining at the moment.”
Well, that was sort of considerate of her, I guess? I decided not to dwell too long on the implications of her watching others 'play' with evolution(?) at speeds that must be too ludicrous to even count as time-lapse anymore. But if I had to live in that world for basically ever... or until they’d scrap it again, because it was getting too dull for them to be profitable... No! I wouldn't go down that particular rabbit hole right now.
“You're watching reality right now?” I asked Memory instead.
“Yep! I wouldn't want to miss my timing now, would I?”
“So... you could tell me a bit about it? Is it like anything I may be familiar with?” I couldn't help but feel defeated. But I guessed I had to make the best with the hand I was dealt.
“Not at the moment. But they already said in the advertising that they would steer it in a direction, where 'tried and tested tropes would see a return'.” She imitated a deep voice for the last bit, making air quotes with her fingers. “They even want to reinsert humans at some point to 'enrich the variety of different sapient species' a bit. I don't know exactly how they plan to do it, but I trust that it will be interesting as always.”
“How would they do that?” I inquired a bit hopeful. “Did they save some people from their em... recycling project? Maybe I could find people that at least remembered earth someday.”
“I doubt that. You'd have better luck finding a Champion Soul of another Player with a Knowledge related domain if that is what you want,” Memory disenchanted me from that particular idea. “I guess, they'll just recreate them from scratch and put them into a garden with some tree, they aren't allowed to eat from or some such.” Was that a joke? I honestly couldn't tell. She was smiling most of the time anyway, and she was still humming.
“Then what should I expect? You said something about a 'System Interface'?”
“Yeah, but it will probably be really really bare-bones for you. It's not like a mortal could keep track of all the myriads of different parameters anyways. This is not one of your little video games, where you need to approximate reality with a small bunch of variables. This IS 'Reality', you know?” She was grinning proudly this time. Okay, she definitely was trying to crack jokes now.
“So no stupid skills and levels and monsters.” I sighed in relief.
“... they did rebalance the energy distribution, so... There will be what you'd call monsters back in 'Alpha', yes. And magic, and magic monsters. I think they took a lot of inspiration from other universes, like that 'Phantasma' game they created a while back. That was always a very lucrative universe.”
I groaned. “How many of these universes are there exactly?”
“Way too many for us to go through right now,” she teased. “And not all of them have their own name or are nearly as complex as 'Reality'. I always liked 'Simego' the best. But a single game can only keep one occupied to a certain extent, you know?” She winked.
“I guess I can see how this could be a problem for someone with your... capacities,” I said. “You mentioned there being magic and monsters now? How is that possible, if 'Energy' was so limited before?”
“Well, for a start, the Creators didn't let the Others play around with the physics engine in the early stages anymore, so this version isn't quite as 'infinite' as before. Who needs an endless amount of galaxies anyways, if all that does is waste resources? And since it is now possible for a creature to become way more powerful during its lifetime, the excess energy that will be shed by the souls after death should increase the overall amount the longer the game runs.” She paused for a moment.
“What is wrong?” I asked.
“They just slowed down the simulation speed considerably. I'm just making sure I didn't miss anything. It can't be long now,” she said impatiently. I half-expected her to start hopping around in place. She didn't.
“Ah, I see... the massive amount of magic started to form pseudo souls that turned themselves into barely sentient proto-spirits.” She slightly shook her head. “A shame that they aren't a valid target for you or I'd jump in right now. Hmmm... let me see if I can find something appropriate.”
“Wait, right now?” I mean, I was glad to get out of this jar, but it did look like I'd be turned into something barely sapient. That didn't seem at all like something I wanted to go through. “Don't you want to wait a bit longer? You didn't even give me any instructions yet.” I admit I might have sounded a bit alarmed here.
“Now, now Sweetie. Don't be afraid. You are mine now. Whatever happens to you, you'll always come back.” She sounded a bit distracted. A sign of how much she must be focusing on her search. “Why don't you try to find some of those spirits this time around. It should be easier to learn about magic now, while it is still so abundant everywhere. I don't expect them to have a good long term memory, but who knows? Maybe we can change that together?” She grinned at me again.
Memory was way too excited about that. “There! I found something,” she almost shouted. “Ready or not, we are going in.”
I really didn't feel ready at all. Seems like this will be my new normal? I desperately wanted to wake up from this bad dream right now. But try as I might, even after the end of the whole universe, it seemed like I still couldn't escape 'Reality'.
And I would never again.
At least not for long.
- CET... but my sleeping schedule is messed up anyways
- Fledgeling Writer
I wanted to pick up writing again after years of stagnation. And this time I'd really like actual feedback.
So I switched to English, since I barely even read in a different language for fun during the last decade, and I hoped to reach more people with a modern lingua franca.
Anyways, I hope to receive honest and diverse criticism. This site seemed rather civil compared to others in that aspect.
So I'm here.