[Welcome to the System, Brock Carter.]
Brock Carter floated in the viscous darkness aimlessly, the emptiness of the void almost a physical substance as its icy clutches embraced the unmoving form of its guest. He could neither speak nor move, the entirety of his body frozen still by a gentle chill, rendering him useless in every sense of the word.
As the text hung silently before him, Brock’s first instinct was to brush them aside with an idle swing of his hand and focus on the real matters upon him, such as his very real death, though he found himself unable to follow that impulse in the face of his restraints. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been here, as time seemed to be a rule that held no sway in the dimension of black, but the details of what he saw were still as vivid as the second he saw them.
The flickering lightning upon Carrie, the final moments where he watched as his brain matter exploded onto the pavement before the darkness finally claimed him as he breathed his last breath.
Am I dead? He thought, trying to survey his black surroundings to no avail. Cause that would fucking suck.
The flickering white text hovered in the centre of his vision, refusing to budge no matter what he attempted to do. Brock had read stories and the like that had involved stuff like this happening, and he knew his brother was very heavily interested in those kinds of books. Brock on the other hand had never really seen the appeal, having never gotten through more than ten chapters of the genre.
The question was, were the events of those books really occurring to him right now?
As if reacting to his words, the texts flickered out of existence, only to be quickly replaced with a new set of words, appearing to be almost an activity log of sorts. His ears were driven insane by the slew of rings and dings his phone made him so intimately familiar with.
[Planetary scan completed.]
[F sized planet detected]
[Harmless planetary wildlife detected]
[Planetary energy density at 3%]
[Proceeding to inject the Original Life…]
Brock didn’t know what any of those words truly meant, nor did he understand what the injection of ‘Original Life’ would do, but he found himself nonetheless miffed by the strange word’s diagnosis of ‘harmless’ wildlife. Though, he didn’t have time to lament on the oddly targeted excerpt, as his surroundings suddenly burst into vibrance.
[The Original Life injected successfully.]
A cosmos of blues and greens and deep blacks was all Brock could see endlessly, the previously gluttonous darkness now scared away by the beauty and mystery of space, warmth taking over what had once been the cold. It was faint, but Brock even noticed that the colours in the cosmos seemed to throb in radiance to the beat of an unseen heart. It was an utterly stunning sight, but right now, there were more important aspects of the situation to focus on.
So I'm… not dead?
Furrowing his mental brows, Brock watched as that prompt too flickered out of existence and another replaced it, mentioning ‘planetary alteration’. He didn’t really like the sound of having his planet altered in any way, but whether he liked it or not, a monochrome rectangle appeared beneath the latest excerpt and slowly began to fill up from the left. A loading bar...?
Brock had no idea what was happening right now - quite literally zero understanding - and he was somewhat betting on this being a fever dream conjured up by his dying brain after miraculously surviving becoming a fleshy pancake, but Brock still found the whole situation extremely concerning, nonetheless.
[Planet promoted to C Grade]
[Planetary wildlife evolved to F Grade Average]
[Planetary energy density upgraded to 42.67%]
Following a cursory glance, Brock briefly wondered if he would ever leave this place, until a piercing pain enveloped his entire being and dispelled his thoughts, seemingly tearing apart each individual cell and peering into their secrets before piecing them back together. It was a pain unlike anything Brock had ever felt before, and he couldn’t even scream to lessen the burden.
[Brock Carter injected with the Original Life. You have become an F Grade being.]
This time, unlike all the other prompts, an emotionless, metallic voice, frostier than even the darkness that had initially consumed everything around him, read out the words as they flickered into existence. The pain eventually simmered down, though it threatened to force Brock into unconsciousness from the sheer agony it attacked him with.
You shit. That.... really bloody hurt
Blinking slowly, Brock immediately realised that he had once again regained control of his own body, although the sludge that was his surroundings left him feeling like he was moving while bound with chains, “…uh hello?”
The mechanical voice didn’t even deign to respond, the prompts continuing to appear in his vision, along with a similar pain to before, although far less intrusive and agonising. Still, it was extremely uncomfortable. Like a prostate exam.
[Please prepare to be transferred to the Tutor-]
[Error. Individual Brock Carter is now deemed dead. Cancelling teleportation.]
[Conflicting Error. Individual Brock Carter is now deemed alive. Reinitialising teleportation.]
"...What's that supposed to m-"
Brock's words fell short as a feeling akin to being tugged between two equally enthusiastic people enveloped him, his body beginning to surge with a multicoloured lightning much the same way that Carrie’s had. A strange weightlessness overtook him, before it quickly returned to normal and once again plagued him with his slightly over the top weight.
While not exactly painful, it was certainly an irritating process, and, along with the prompts repeatedly stating that he was considered dead then alive, left him feeling stressed beyond belief as he floated in cosmic radiance.
[Error detected. Solution found.]
[Error #1617826 has been successfully isolated.]
[Error #1617826 has been stabilised.]
Brock sighed in relief as the prompts ceased to rapidly cascade down his vision and all but the final few flickered out of existence. A tingling sensation attacked his body, and though it wasn’t exactly pleasant, it wasn’t terrible either. It was akin to have pins and needles across your entir-
[Disposing of Error…]
An excruciating pain exploded across the entirety of his body as the vibrant cosmos around him began to slough away like a thick coating of paint. He tried to scream out in pain, in protest, hoping that whatever was responsible for all of this heard his pleas and granted him mercy, but his voice was lost to a darkness so deep it filled him with primordial dread.
Wh... what the...
Within, Brock swore he could make out colossal shapes swimming about in impossible forms, eager to devour the meal that had been dropped upon their horrifying doorstep. Unlike the initial seemingly gentle cold from before, this new place was permeated by a frost beyond the realm of what was nonsensical.
Just existing here made Brock feel like his cells down to his very soul were being penetrated by a pervasive chill that knew no boundaries, burrowing deep into him with its icy tendrils and wreaking havoc on both his mental state and body alike.
Echoes of incomprehensible truths flowed through the air like rivers of the unknown. They were invisible to the naked eye, but Brock could feel terrifying latent power hidden within. It made his flesh sting and his blood boil inside his veins, the very promise of power beyond his imaging whispering out to him to take it and seize his destiny with an iron fist. Woah...
Despite the silhouettes of shadowy monsters slowly creeping toward him, and the invasive chill that threatened to drive him to the brink of insanity, Brock reached out to the echoes of truth, his arm straining with so much effort against the passive restraints of the cold that his simmering blood vessels began to bulge and burst, painting the weightless air with thin streams of sizzling red. His face scrunched up with pain.
A sudden ding resounded, however, and it brought Brock’s mind back to himself, if only for a brief moment. The noise sounded hollow and distant here, far overshadowed by the unrelenting whispers of those echoes, yet it had an underlying feel of omniscience. The creeping void of hidden demons and present truths disappeared as walls of a viscous glowing cosmos once again assumed the boundaries of the nothingness he had come to know.
Though now, it no longer left him feeling a sense of awe.
[The Original Life detected within the vessel of Brock Carter.]
[Forming new solution…]
[Unstable Being: Brock Carter added to whitelist.]
[Resuming Brock Carter’s previous position…]
Brock screamed out as his body was indulged in the process of being torn apart once more, though when the pain finally faded from memory, he found himself standing atop the roof once again, just like the moment before his death. The air was far warmer and more humid than it had been when he’d left, though that might have just been due to his exposure to a cold of a far greater magnitude than mere temperature.
Silently, he looked over the edge, his mind almost numb as he gazed down at the bits and pieces left from his prior fall, chunks of skull, brain and blood littering the previously grey pavement, though that was all. The rest of him wasn’t there, nor was Carrie’s body, which, if his transportation to the cosmos was any indication of regularity to those that fell, should mean that she was alive and well, wherever she was now.
"What... the fuck just happened?"
Brock felt almost reluctant as he tried to recall the events in the void, not the one he had been taken to, but the one he had been dumped in. He shuddered in horror as he remembered the shapes in the black and the gluttonous cold. Yet, despite being able to recall his time with the so-called ‘System’ and its beautiful cosmos perfectly, he could only glimpse at the void in fragmented memories and faded sensations.
It was as though the experiences he had in that place were forcibly removed. Kinda like men in black…
"I'll... deal with it all later," He knew he didn't truly believe his own words, and he was well aware why. The entire experience, however patchy, was... harrowing to say the least.
But now was not the time to recollect such horrifying memories. Standing high above the ground, Brock gazed over the world with awe. He had no clue how, but the landscape had seemed to have aged by a few centuries, if not millennia. As far as the eye could see, the once-proud buildings of the city were crumbling, if not already having fallen apart, a cacophony of flora growing up their remains and populating the concrete jungle with incredible amounts of greenery.
It was one of the most beautiful sights Brock had seen in a long time. He even caught the glimmer of large pools of greenish water in the distance or hidden within the rubble of buildings. And while it was becoming night when he had ‘perished’, it was now dawn, the radiant orange sun peaking over the canopy polluted horizon and illuminating each leaf in shades of gold, painting a heavenly picture of nature.
Hesitating as he tore his eyes from the view before him, Brock looked down at his own building and sighed in relief as it seemed to be in the best condition out of many around, though one of the roof’s corners was drooping downward, eager to crumble into misshapen chunks of stone and glass.
Brock turned his attention beneath him, carefully listening for any sound his co-workers might have been making. The party had probably still been going when everything happened, but he thought they would have woken up by now, even under the influence of a hangover. Almost expectant, Brock gave the rooftop one last cursory glance in case Carrie randomly appeared, though she never did.
Sighing as the sun crept higher into the sky, Brock remarked at the air’s newfound… consistency? Liveliness? He wasn’t sure how to explain it, but the very atmosphere itself felt so alive, like the world he had lived in before was without oxygen and now it was suddenly full of it.
Just inhaling it left him feeling empowered, and Brock began walking to the rooftop door to check the floor below. Taking deep breath after deep breath, he placed his hand on the handle of the old metal door and swung it open, revealing the staircase that led down to the top floor.
His foot managed to reach down to the first step before something strange occurred. Brock gasped as his body began to flicker in and out of existence like he was some sort of electrical glitch. It was similar to that which he saw happen to Carrie, although unlike the mixed colours of blues and greens, his lightning was purely a mix of deep crimson and black and his body became transparent.
As his body flickered wildly, Brock finally settled all the weight down on his foot and watched on in horror as his foot passed right through the step, as though he was a spectre or ghost. Desperately trying to grab onto something and failing embarrassingly, Brock plummeted through the staircase, his body only having enough time to pass by one floor before he finally solidified once more and slammed into the staircase painfully, groaning as he rolled on his side and cradled his head.
“What the fuck…” he spat, rubbing his head in an attempt to soothe the sharp pain coursing through it, "I'm... what? A... a ghost? What the hell is going on?!"
Fearfully, he brought his hands up to his face and eyed them, although even a few minutes later, it didn’t seem like he would begin flickering again. Taking a moment to breathe and deciding that dwelling on that which he didn’t understand was pointless, Brock stood up and quickly climbed the stairs back up to the top floor, before barging through the door hurriedly, lest he phased away again.
Unfortunately, his eyes were met with the sight of not a single soul, only the horrifying mess they had left behind. Tables were upturned and bottles of alcohol, both beer, wine and whiskey alike, littered the floor in almost every place Brock looked. He spotted a few puddles of vomit, as well as a few cases of sorrowfully spilled drinks. Vaguely, the room smelled like its contents.
Quietly, Brock panned his gaze over the area, almost hopeful, “Uh… guys? I’m not cleaning this up.”
There was no reply back, only the resumed flickering of what appeared to be just his hand this time, much to his dismay. Experimentally, he attempted to chop his hand through his arm, only to be met with solid resistance. Although, when he repeated the same experiment with one of the flipped tables, his hand passed right through without issue.
"Huh. Weird... I can't touch anything else, but I... can touch myself?"
Life was strange and was only getting stranger it seemed.
Brock was about to go out on a limb and try ask the System or whatever it was what exactly was happening, but a prompt appearing in his vision just as the thought came to prominence in his head gave him pause. His eyes wandered along the text, and his shoulders sagged.
[Main Quest Received.]
Second Dose: Collect the Original Life from the Source to stabilise your fluctuating state of being. Reward: The ability to remain alive. (0/1)
- You have 719:55:49 until permanent destabilisation.
Brock was still confused in every sense of the word, but it didn’t take a genius to spell out what 'permanent destabilisation' meant.