Prof expected a lot of things about the afterlife, but not an absolutely average waiting room.
Linoleum floors of an unidentified colour (you know it: it’s not grey, it’s not green, it’s not yellow or red, or any other colour you can think of, but in the right lighting it could be called… something. Seriously, who comes up with those colours? Isn’t being colour-blind a big no-no in choosing colours for a living?), crumbling greenish yellow walls, flashing neon tube lighting and metal framed plastic benches bolted to the floor, which would have been scrapped by any Central European hospital with some minimal standards when the Russians left the country (or a few decades after the millennium at the very latest).
The few potted, dusty and dying plants hinted that someone read somewhere that potted plants would improve the customer’s well-being, and make the waiting room look a bit less drab. Well, that someone should have also read the part, where the care for the plants was described, such as removing the dust from the leaves once a decade, and maybe watering the plants once every while. The fact that the potted plants looked like imports from Tatooine and were still dying from lack of water, the watering part was most likely skipped by everyone in the office.
Is cruelty against plants a thing?
The whole setup reminded Prof of a government office somewhere out in the booneys, where the office manager’s company car (of course he needs to change it every year to enable his family and friends to mechanize themselves cheaply) was much more important than to make the office NOT look like it was situated in the war-torn part of a Third World Country. The overall picture was not enhanced by the receptionist lady either, who looked like she entered retirement age before Franz Joseph became Emperor, and who gazed at Prof like he just interrupted her in the Very Important Task of Not Giving a Shit.
They say, you can establish how good a company is doing by checking out the receptionist: the more… decorative… said receptionist is, the nearer the company is to bankruptcy or at least to the intense enquiry of some government agency. To judge the afterlife after this receptionist, it was probably the best-run company in all the Multiverses with profit so high, you could touch down on Alpha Centauri. Of course, the afterlife was THE monopoly, since one hundred percent of the populace had to use its service with no competition anywhere in sight.
How much better would a real capitalist solution be, where you could choose your service provider, make a contract and let the afterlives undercut each other in prices but promise better service? Then again, you can not choose the revenue office in your home country either…
“Choose and get out!” The voice of the receptionist hinted at the incredible annoyance to be forced to do her work instead of much more important things. “Hinted” as in putting up an oversized sign and let the loudspeakers rupture your eardrums. Obviously, the afterlife haven’t adopted customer satisfaction polls yet – but why should they? Not that an unsatisfied customer could rant about the company on the ‘net, and go with his business elsewhere. Monopolies have good points too, such as being able to let some annoying and impolite customer know, what you think about them.
As it were, Prof wasn’t exactly sure where he was (the afterlife was definitely not described by any theological-philosophical school he was familiar with as a shitty government office, even if you counted “artistic license” in the matter), and was even less sure what the job of the receptionist was, which she had to do instead of the much more important other thing she was doing. Prof assumed, the job had something to do with him, and probably some evaluation of his life, maybe even some consulting about his options.
So, yes, probably a lot of hassle for an obviously overworked (since the waiting room had room for a few dozen customers and Prof was the only one currently there) elderly lady, who had a huge backlog of crossword puzzles to solve and chat with her friends. Or watch TV. Unfortunately Prof had to suffer through the administrative block of his University (you probably had already guessed: it was an absolutely average University) and even some government offices where clerks as nice as the current lady embittered everyone who had the misfortune to enter the building. Prof started to have a bad feeling about the whole thing.
“Ehmm… Choose what?” He managed. Not the most eloquent thing he could have said to be sure, but if you have zero knowledge, what you are there for, you probably wouldn’t manage better either.
“You don’t even know that?!” Yes, definitely the administrative block. Prof though for a moment, the whole thing is not worth it, and maybe he should come back later like he did back then, hoping he found a solution on the ‘net or the issue resolved itself somehow, but realised that this was probably not an option in the given situation. No ‘net access, no friends he could ask, and his current… “situation”… would not resolve itself.
“To be frank, I wasn’t planning coming here, so no, I don’t know” What could be the worst thing they would do to him? Send him back to life?
“Choose between the alternatives, you imbecile!” Next to the irritation to have to do the job, the receptionist lady also activated the power of Talking Down to Incompetent Morons. This started to get bad. Really bad. Prof took a deep breath – not that he needed it as being dead, but habits die hard. Harder than himself, obviously.
“What alternatives you mean?” He started to think about letting go of the whole thing, going back to Earth and haunt his ex-girlfriend while she washed dishes.
“Do I have to explain everything to you?!? Choose a mode of afterlife already, I don’t have time to deal with you all day!”
Dear passengers, we have arrived at the Station: Feeling Insulted in Her Perceived Importance. Please leave the train. Since the waiting room was still empty, Prof assumed that either the crossword puzzle is going to go bad or the Brazilian Soap Opera is starting soon. Or it’s just time for the next half-a-day coffee break. Truly, every last of those would obviously be more important than to deal with a customer! Who was clearly an uninformed moron.
“I would choose, if I knew what the alternatives were!” Maybe it wasn’t so bad to haunt in Germany after all. Could he perhaps travel, see the sights or would he be bound to a place? Where was the ex currently working? Hope not Berlin. Maybe some nice place in the South?
“Eh, obviously The Big Nothing, Reincarnation, Heaven or Hell, depending on religion and deeds or you could continue in another dimension. Choose already!”
As Impatience also made his presence known, Prof knew his time was over. If he doesn’t choose now, the receptionist will send him to Somewhere Else to get a Very Important Document from Someone Else, so when he got back Sometime Later, this receptionist wouldn’t have to deal with him any more. As everyone knows who had the misfortune to deal with official offices, there is a very big chance that the Someone Else will also need some Very Important Document that can be only obtained from Someone Different, who will also need a Very Important Document.
They can keep it up indefinitely! Be careful! Prof didn’t know how many Someone Elses were working in the Government Office for Afterlife Affairs but wasn’t exactly keen on finding out while getting Very Important Documents from and for them till the end of times.
He had to make a decision based on the very limited information at hand. The Big Nothing didn’t sound all that promising, with “nothing” being in the description. Would his soul just go poof and disappear? Or would it float through the void for eternity just to be recycled by some alien race? Definitely not a way to spend eternity. Or more than five minutes. So, no, Nothing it isn’t.
Since Prof wasn’t religious while alive and his deeds were rather… average… he didn’t feel like experimenting with Heaven and Hell. After all, every religion taught that to get into Heaven, you have to be a good follower of the correct god (theirs), and if not, you went to Hell. That was even valid for atheists. Logically, most – if not all – people went to Hell, and it had to deal with an enormous over-subscription. If spending eternity in a not so much fun place wasn’t enough, there would be a huge crowd. Huge as in packed hundreds high. No thank you.
Reincarnation had some charm to it, but still, there was a bit of hesitation in Prof. Sure, it would be interesting to being reincarnated into a far off world or into a wealthy family, but realistically speaking it would almost be guaranteed that he would end up in some piss poor place trying not to starve. That is, if the Bureau of Reincarnation didn’t need a quota for livestock fulfilled somewhere. Sure, if you got to be a pet in a loving and slightly well-off family, than maybe… Who am I kidding? You have to do nothing but sleep, look cute and let your Humans pet and feed you. How can it get better than that? (Dear Gold Diggers, please refrain to answer the question). Being cattle was on the other hand not really… a career... with much of promotion opportunity. Being promoted into a lot of slices of premium meat was not something Prof looked as real promotion.
If he were a Main Character in some novel, he would have still tried it (reincarnation, not being promoted to tasty food). Probably. Maybe. Folks in novels always got reincarnated into nice places. As it was, the last option seemed like the best. Prof liked to travel and discussed the probability of other planets and civilisations with his friends. Oh, and of course, the movies! Driving a spaceship through space! Exploring new worlds! Doing futuristic Stuff! What could possibly go wrong?
“I think I got it” Prof turned to the receptionist, and tried very hard to make a friendly and innocent face. “But I have one very last question. What does another dimension mean in this context exactly?”
The receptionist took a large breath, and utter terror started to rise in Prof. Would he really spend eternity to get Very Important Documents from and for Someone Else? Has he to meet every Someone Else that Afterlife Inc. has to offer? Will he meet his love of live running an unending and unimportant errand? Will Juanita ever recover from the coma? Oh, sorry, wrong novel.
“A world from all the possible ones in the Multiverse that fits the knowledge and skills of the deceased. Have you chosen?”
Prof wasn’t surprised that the Multiverse had several worlds – or even possible worlds – but it was somewhat a let-down that he would be transported to a world that fits his own knowledge and skills. Since Prof was an office worker (you could even call him a bureaucrat) he was afraid that he would continue where he left off: working in an office and pushing files.
With some luck he would start working at HR on the Death Star not long before some passing terrorists blew it up. However, it couldn’t get much worse than it was before. The twinkle in the receptionist’s eye warned Prof not to push it further, or he would be sent on a wild goose chase for Very Important Documents. Three… Two…
“Oh, yes! I would very much like to continue in another dimension! Thank you!”
“Then go away, I don’t have more time for you!” The receptionist showed a strange mix of elation (that Prof finally pissed off) and regret (that she couldn’t send him on a goose chase for Very Important Documents). She waved at a featureless door on the right side of the hall. Prof didn’t waste another moment and fled the premises.