For those of you who wish to read this story in one sitting, I've created a separate page for it to make your lives easier.
Also, here are the links if you want to hop to something specific.
Part 1: The Sounding
Part 2: The Blank Slate
Part 3: The Infinite Jest
Part 4: The Third
After walking around above the universe for what must have been hours (at least from my perception of time), I’d seen supernovae remnants, nebulae, and even a black hole. We spent several long minutes watching the black hole. I couldn’t help thinking that the covert nature of it, the way it waited in the fabric of space-time while the rest of the universe continued to operate without being aware of it, was like this place I now inhabited. Before I began to hear the sound, I never knew this world was here. A now I’d been pulled in, and Jester had cut off my only way out. Yet, I wasn’t sure I should be upset about that.
“The power of the black hole is impressive, but I wouldn’t recommend thinking about it too much,” Jester warned. Even as she said this, a quick glance showed that she too was invested in the sight. Her vibrant green eyes seemed to be descending into the singularity along with the heavenly objects below. “I’ve seen worlds inhabited by billions pulled inside. Part of me wonders if they were real. I could never be sure, and I didn’t really want to know. Having knowledge of that kind of loss can overwhelm you.”
“I can only imagine,” I muttered.
Jester’s hand was suddenly grasping my elbow again. “Come on. There’s more to see. We’ll have plenty of time to explore this room later.”
I blinked uncomprehendingly. “This is our entire universe, right?” There were no visible boundaries around me, so I could only imagine this indeed encompassed everything of the universe I came from.
“Of course, it is.”
“And this is only one room?”
Jester nodded. “It is a lot to take in at first,” she admitted. “That’s why we need to use shortcuts to get from one room to another. By foot it would take forever.” She casually opened another gateway.
“You need to teach me to do that,” I said.
“I will,” she promised, “but one thing at a time. You need to see more of this place before I can do that.”
Gripping my hand, she pulled me through to the next room. I had no idea what to expect, but this next room still managed to surprise me.
We stood on the edge of a dense forest. Behind me, there was nothing but water. In front of me, two paths originating at the same point snaked away from one another. One of the paths was solid dirt without any overgrowth. The other was covered with patches of weeds and fallen branches. It would be a difficult one to traverse.
“Where do we go?” I asked.
Jester smiled, though it felt like a nervous gesture. Her eyes had lost the spark I first noticed in them.
“That’s up to you.”
I hesitated. Why had her attitude shifted so suddenly? “Is this a test?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “I suppose you could call it that. It’ll tell me if you’re ready to see the rooms that lie beyond this.”
“And if I fail?”
“Then you need to decide if you want to stay here based on what you’ve seen so far, or if you’d rather go back,” she replied softly. As if the prospect of this decision being made right away worried her.
I looked at the two paths. The one that looked well-worn had obviously seen a lot of traffic. Had she tested people before? Who used that walkway?
Then I looked down the other. No one went that way. If others had taken this test and failed, then they certainly hadn’t gone that way. Did that make it the right choice?
My mind started ticking over the various possibilities. I found some semblance of the analytical mind I must have had in my previous life. Yet, for all the reasons I found justifying each choice, something felt wrong. No matter which I chose, it seemed too simple. For a place this strange, no answer could be that simple.
I took a deep breath as a new option came to life in my mind. “All right. I think I’m ready.”
Jester watched apprehensively as I stepped toward the tree line. Instead of setting foot on either of the paths, I cut down the middle, stepping through the underbrush between the two. I looked over my shoulder. “Are you coming?” I called out.
When Jester stopped beside me, her grin was wider than ever. She grabbed my hand again and held it tightly. I barely knew her, but then again I barely knew myself. Yet I knew one thing for certain. I liked the way her hand felt in mine.
Part 5: Portals
Part 5: Portals