Remember when I said it would hit me later that everyone I used to know on Earth would now think I was dead? As I lay in Rikaine Lin Rain’s unfamiliar bed, struggling to fall asleep amid fears of an uncertain future and dread at what might lurk in Era’s darkness, it became later.
My life on Earth was over. And not just in the literal way. Everyone I used to know—all my friends, as few as they may have been; all my coworkers; my family—I would never see any of them again. Dana would never pay me back that $15 she still owed me from a year ago. My work buddy Rajan would never again have to deal with my incessant whining about the management at Ubliquo. Hell, I would never find out if they made another good Star Wars movie! I was dead, and there was no going back.
Oh god, my parents. Their only daughter was dead to them and I had no way to tell them otherwise. And after everything else they had been through… I couldn’t put them through that—except I was. And I would be every day for the rest of both of their lives.
It was torture. I mean, you know I rag on myself all the time. (And for good reason: I suck.) (Haha, see what I did there?) But this was a kind of mental torment I wasn’t used to. This was real. This was deep. It wasn’t just something I could get over the same way I got over everything else, by closing myself off and treating life as one big joke. This was something that would require extensive therapeutic intervention and processing
Were therapists even a thing that existed on Era? Ugh.
I hated that I was starting life over again at square one. I hated that I needed to open Rikaine’s bedroom’s curtains because I didn’t even know whether I should be afraid of the dark on this planet. I hated that I was in a world where everyone’s personal stats were magically and accurately quantified, except for mine. Maybe Bohriam had 10 STR, or maybe he had 100 STR, but what did I have? Not even zero STR—my stats were a big fat NULL in the great cosmic database of life. I was a gaping void, a glitch in the Matrix. Stat-less, Class-less, System-less in a world that wouldn’t know what to do with me.
What was I thinking earlier, thinking that I could use my knowledge of Earth plus Era plus Seriphen’s realm to decipher the secrets of the greater multiverse? How could I decipher jack shit about the multiverse if I couldn’t even figure out my place on Era? It’s not like my software development knowledge would be any help here—Era didn’t have computers. (That was one thing I did make sure to ask Bohriam when we were on our way to Gostrey.)
No computers, no internet. And I thought I might be able to cultivate science on Era and bring them to greater technological heights? I didn’t even know how transistors worked! What was I going to do, dedicate the next decade of my life to inventing them based solely on the fact that I know things named ‘transistors’ are possible? No. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine dedicating myself to anything. Even sleep seemed too daunting.
Unsupervised in this fantasy world stranger’s house, I didn’t even want to snoop through their belongings and furniture. I could have answered so many questions for myself if I had done a little bit of exploring when I got here—did Era have refrigerators? Air conditioning? Any kind of electrical tech? Instead I explored myself straight into the bedroom, and straight into bed, where I lay wide awake ever since.
At least Era had beds. Not as comfy as Earth mattresses, but still. At least Era had fucking beds.
When Elder Hammond and I first arrived at Rikaine’s house, we had to wait outside for a few minutes for Bohriam to reach the watchtower and tell Rikaine about me, so Rikaine could use magic to remote unlock her door—or to deactivate the wards on her house, or whatever she technically did. God, people used magic to lock their doors here. I wouldn’t even be able to lock my own doors on Era.
I turned my head to the side and looked through Rikaine’s bedroom’s window, out into the open night. Two of the moons I had seen earlier were visible through the small pane. They had traveled a good amount over the last couple hours, arcing over large swaths of sky just like good ol’ Luna used to do. I wormed my way up the mattress a couple inches, so I could look at a slightly different angle of the sky. The third moon was still there, hot on the trail of the two moons it had been leading earlier in the night.
This bothered me. A lot.
In physics, there’s a concept known as the three-body problem. It basically states that if you have three gravitationally bound objects—like three stars, or three planets, or three moons—then the math to solve their trajectories is hard as fuck. Two objects? Easy peasy; Isaac Newton’s got our back. But as soon as you add a third? Utter, inescapable chaos. To the point that eventually, billions of years of orbits down the line, you’re probably going to get a cataclysmic collision unless the bodies started their orbits in just the right way.
So how the fuck did Era, a planet that was probably billions of years old just like Earth, have three big, close moons in its sky?
Those motherfuckers should have crashed into each other eons ago and left a big nasty asteroid belt around the planet. Except clearly, they hadn’t. They were just continuing to mind their own business, despite all the laws of physics that said this kind of system shouldn’t be possible.
I could understand if it were just three solitary bodies out in the wilderness of galactic space, far from any intervening sources of chaos—but these pieces of shit were natural satellites, all tangled up with the orbit of Era itself around the yellow star at the center of the system. Even if the moons had miraculously stable orbits on their own, they didn’t exist in a vacuum. (Well, you know what I mean.) Tides, planetary alignments, all sorts of things should have thrown that stability out of whack.
So, what the fuck was the explanation for this? Obviously one of my assumptions about reality was wrong, but which one? I could think of a couple possibilities off the top of my head:
1) They weren’t natural satellites—they were man-made, or magic-made, or alien-made to have perfectly unnatural orbits.
2) The laws of physics were slightly different in this universe. That sounded like a fun possibility to explore later on.
3) I was still dead, and none of this was real. Not as fun. Let’s ignore that one.
4) This entire reality was actually a computer simulation, and I had discovered the one place where the programmers skimped on the details.
5) The moons in the system were part of the System. There were actually seven moons, and the other four were just hiding.
When I thought of that fifth possibility, I broke down into manic restless laughter. This kind of system shouldn’t be possible, my ass. I knew nothing about Era’s System. Who was I to say what should or shouldn’t be possible?
Someone with a cosmic fucking destiny, that’s who.
It wasn’t fair that I had a second chance at life and almost everyone else wouldn’t. Of all the people on Earth, what were the odds that anyone else I used to know were also among Seriphen’s “lucky few?” Out of all the billions, probably trillions, of people in the multiverse? It was a sick joke. Why me? I was just some schmuck from New Jersey. Why did I deserve reincarnation when my parents, my brother, my friends, everyone I used to know would probably get nothing more than oblivion?
Immortality was possible. Seriphen had shown me that. Yet, the gods of the greater multiverse had seen fit to hoard it for themselves and their lucky few. It wasn’t just cruel—it was evil. Seriphen and the rest of her pantheon had the ability to end Death itself by giving reincarnation to everyone. By not doing so, they were complicit in the deaths of countless sentient beings.
As I lay in Rikaine Lin Rain’s unfamiliar bed, I made a vow: if I ever found a way out of this world, if I ever found a way back into Seriphen’s realm—whether by death or magic or something even more esoteric—I would do everything in my power to end her monopoly on reincarnation. To make sure no death ever had to be final. To make sure no one would ever have to go through what my parents had gone through again.
I was never much of a religious type, but that night I prayed. I prayed to Seriphen that I was wrong about her actions as Goddess of Reincarnation, that there was something I was missing about how souls in the greater multiverse truly worked. I prayed that she would give me the System she failed to give me when sending me to Era. I prayed that she would tell my parents I was still alive, even if they didn’t believe her. I prayed that she was on my side, because I couldn’t handle being alone anymore.
I never got an answer—at some point between the tears and the self-loathing, I finally fell asleep.