It was time. I rewrote the world again, bringing a tiny piece of code into existence. A hill appeared in the middle of the emptiness. I sat down on top of the hill, in the same position as I had all those years ago. Three figures slumbered on the side of the hill, caught up in dreams of both their own making and mine.
All of them woke with a jolt.
They looked at each other apprehensively.
“Is it really you?”
“You didn’t ask Amy that.”
“Yes but –”
Runir’s voice was venomous. He’d spotted me. The others noticed me too. Lily scowled and Amy looked away. Runir stomped over, the other following closely behind.
“You son of a –”
He flinched as I turned. “As much as I love being insulted in colorful ways, I’d rather get this over with as fast as possible.”
Runir grabbed me by the neck. “You self-righteous asshole. You don’t get to say that!”
“I take it you’ve remembered everything, then.”
“You know we have,” said Lily. She put a hand on her head and said to the side, “He still won’t stop pretending.”
Runir let go of me. Amy and Lily stepped closer. I sat down again and told them to join me.
“So,” I said. “What’s your answer?”
“Answer to what?” said Runir.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah I do, just giving you a taste of your own medicine.”
“I knew you would do that.”
“I know you knew.”
“Stop,” said Lily. “This’ll go on forever.”
“It already has. Why hurry?” said Runir. “We have all the time in world.”
Looking at the emptiness around us, it wasn’t hard to conclude that he was right. Lily shrugged and sat down. Runir reluctantly followed. Amy didn’t.
“Come on Amy,” I said. “This discussion will take a while.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?” she blurted out.
“I’ll get to that,” I said. “But please, take a seat.”
“I’m getting tired of this,” said Runir. “If you know she isn’t going to agree, why the fuck do you keep asking?”
“Because, even if I know what she’ll say, it won’t happen until I’ve asked her that.”
“So you’re going to keep asking her even if it’s useless?” he asked.
“No, and that’s because it isn’t useless. It got you talking about why I acted as if I didn’t know anything despite being omniscient which in turn led me to telling you about how it wasn’t useless because it got you talking about –”
“Yes,” interrupted Lily. “We get it. So shut up and get on with it.”
“That was just to annoy you.” I smiled. Lily grimaced and I continued, “You’re all so testy. Lighten up, it’s all over now. I’m done playing games, it’s your turn now.”
“Oh, sorry for being testy, spending thousands of years in an endless loop tends to be a little annoying,” she said.
“It wasn’t a loop, things were different every time, weren’t they?”
“No, they weren’t,” said Amy.
“Well, not in the way that matters to you, I guess,” I said, quietly.
“The only difference was the world, not us,” said Runir.
“You reacted to each new world in a different way, didn’t you? I’d say that’s a big enough difference, besides, that was the point.”
“Okay, you know what,” said Lily, standing up. “Fuck this. This is what you do every fucking time. You skirt around the truth, say it was the point, or it was all for a greater goal or some other bullshit but you never, ever give a straight answer. I’m not having it. No more riddles, no more vague empty words that don’t mean shit. I want answers and I want them now.”
“Fine, what kind of answers?”
“What was the point of all this?” asked Runir.
“To get you to experience all those worlds.”
“Shut up Runir,” interjected Lily. “You’re almost as bad as him, always asking those flowery questions that don’t get any real answers. Hell, maybe we’d know something about all this if you stopped trying to play his game.”
Runir raised his hands in surrender. “Fine, fine. You lead.”
“Thanks,” she said. “First question, who are you?”
“Fuck this.” She raised her tightened knuckles in frustration.
“What’d you say, Amy?” asked Lily.
“He’ll keep giving you annoying answers until you do it the way he wants to,” said Amy, looking me in the eyes. “He obviously doesn’t want to start from the beginning, so ask him about what’s happening right now and work your way up.”
“You always did understand me the best, Amy,” I said, smiling. She looked away.
“Okay, how do I do that…”
“Let me try,” said Runir. “Alright Kai, where are we right now?”
“On a hill.”
“Okay, what are we doing right now?”
“And why are you being a git?”
“Because it’s fun.”
Runir sighed. “Kai, we’re tired okay. Please, just give us some goddamned answers and you can go back to being a playful trickster god or whatever. Why do you even do that anyway? If you know what we’re going to do, doesn’t that ruin the fun of the prank? It’s like knowing the punchline of a joke before you hear it.”
“It’s my only source of enjoyment, to be honest. Think about it, even if you know that someone is going to sit on a whoopee cushion and you know what sound that cushion makes, it’s still funny when it happens.”
“No, this is more like seeing a video recording of someone sitting on a whoopee cushion for the thousandth time. How could that be funny?”
“From your perspective, it barely is. From mine, it’s the only bit of fun I can still have.”
“That kinda sucks, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” I agreed.
“Good. At least the asshole’s bored.”
“That felt like a real answer,” said Lily.
“Because it was.”
“What, do you want us ask questions about what you do to fight boredom? Not high on my list of priorities, I’m afraid,” said Runir.
“No, I want you to ask me about which questions to ask.”
“Okay, which questions should we ask?”
“Fuck you,” he cursed.
“Why are you leading us around in circles?” asked Amy.
“And that one.”
“Because you were right, start from the end and I’ll lead you back to the beginning. Only thing is, there is no start nor beginning. It’s all one giant circle. Everything leads to everything else.”
“Okay, I think I get it now,” said Runir. “Even if it’s all a circle of answers, we can still choose to go in just one direction. We’ll end up where we began but at least we’ll have answers.”
“Okay, let’s try this again,” said Lily. “Where are we right now?”
“On a hill.”
“Why are we on the hill?” asked Runir.
“To ask me questions.”
“And why do we need to ask you questions?”
“To get the answers.”
“And why do we need to get the answers?”
“Because I don’t have them.”
Runir frowned. “You don’t have them? But you’re omniscient, you know what we’re going to say before we even say it. If you don’t have the answers, how could we?”
“I know the answers, but I don’t have them yet.”
“So we need to say them for you to get them.”
“And why do you need the answers?”
“Because I don’t know.”
“You said that before,” said Amy. “At the end of every major loop, when I… when I locked you up, you said you didn’t know.”
“That was more of his tasteless pretending,” said Runir. “Just needed to say that so we’d react in a certain way.”
“No,” I said.
“No, I said that because I meant it. I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?” asked Lily. They were closing in, getting warmer. This was the inevitable point I’d always known they’d reach, the point of no return after which there was no coming back.
I took a deep breath, lowered my eyes, and whispered, “I don’t know what to do.”
“About what?” asked Runir.
He frowned. Lily spoke before he could, “But you know everything, how could you –”
Finally, the question I’d been waiting for and dreading.
“Yes, I know everything that’s going to happen. I even know what I’m going to do, I even know what I could be doing. All the possible timelines and scenarios that could occur, I know all of them. But what I don’t know, and what I have never known, and what has plagued me and ailed me from the moment I sat on this stupid hill and rewrote myself to be omniscient, is what I should do.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t it obvious?” began Lily. “You should…”
“I should what?” I said, voice rising a little higher than I’d like.
Runir’s eyes widened. “That’s why…”
“Yes Runir, that’s why I did it. Because I didn’t know what to do with this world, with the powers I’d stupidly walked into, I decided to get your opinions on it.”
He cursed under his breath. “Why us?”
“I felt responsible for bringing you two here.” I gestured to Lily and him. “And Amy was the best option from the people in this world.”
“And why was I the best option?” she asked.
“You were the only one who would lock me in the Anomaly, no matter what.”
She grit her teeth.
“Okay, so you looped Erath so we could experience different versions of the world, is that right?” asked Runir.
“What about the last sequence?” asked Runir.
“The ones with your perfect worlds?”
“Yeah, although Amy’s seemed to have a bit of a loop, they still weren’t looped the way Erath was.”
“Because Erath was meant to show off a few ways of running the world. For example, in the latest iteration, the Light kingdom was a feudalistic monarchy, the Dark kingdom a technocracy, the Water kingdom a corporate state, and so on. Every iteration had different characteristics, you remember the communist Fire kingdom and the anarchic Earth kingdoms from several iterations ago, don’t you?”
“So the perfect worlds were…”
“Your ideas of what a utopian world would have looked like, before the loops began.”
“When did the loops begin? So much has happened, I can barely tell,” said Lily.
“For you and Runir, it began the moment you were dragged to this world. For Amy, it began sometime after she left her shrine.”
“I saw Yunni and Jeffy die thousands of times,” she said. That had happened before the loops.
She didn’t reply.
“Let’s talk about the perfect worlds then. Why was Amy’s wrong?”
“I never said it was. None of your perfect worlds were wrong.”
“You made us experience them in a biased way, of course you thought they were wrong!”
“No, I don’t know what’s right or wrong, damn it. And if you think Amy’s world wasn’t perfect then that’s your opinion.”
“You interfered with our worlds,” said Lily. “The cookies, the box, the candle, you put them in our worlds. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
“I planted the box and candle with my stories, no rewriting involved. What you did with them is your problem. By the way, you brought the cookies in yourself.”
“Back to Amy’s world,” said Runir. “A normal life with everyone. Hell, she almost got married to you. How is that a bad thing?”
“Like I said, it wasn’t a bad world. The only reason it broke was because Amy herself had a problem with it, a problem she couldn’t reconcile with the way the world was supposed to work.”
“And that problem was?” asked Lily.
“Her guilt,” I faced her. “Thousands of iterations of Erath, and every time, she ends up betraying me and locking me up in the anomaly. And the last iteration wasn’t so bad, we only had sex once and it was a forced, artificial relationship, more for me than for her, but for some of those loops, we’d been together for years. Yet every single time, when given the choice, she would –”
“Enough! It’s not my fault. I had to do it, you wouldn’t bring back Jeffy and Yunni. I –”
“I don’t mind. It’s why I picked you in the first place, remember.”
“Why?” she asked. “If you had the power to pick me, why didn’t you stop me from locking you up? All you had to do was promise to bring back Jeffi and Yunni or say you couldn’t do it. One lie, you’ve lied worse than that. Just one loop, you could have done it in one loop.”
“No, I couldn’t. Your perfect world wouldn’t break without the guilt.”
“So you did influence our perfect worlds. You made them so they’d collapse on our heads,” accused Lily.
“No, I led them to highlight the theoretical flaws in the worlds you were building. A perfectly normal world where we all lived happily ever after, nobody died, and Amy and I got married, sounds great if you cut away everything leading up to it. Without the guilt of letting Jeffy and Yunni die or locking me up, of course you’d have a happy life. That doesn’t mean those things never happened, it just means you’re choosing to ignore them. But see, she could’ve done that at the end. Just throw away all that guilt and her world would never collapse!”
“So her world was perfect because she was ignoring the imperfections,” said Runir.
“Exactly. Think back to the second part of her series of perfect worlds. There she ignored our existence entirely and lived a life solving the problems of her people with Jeffy and Yunni. It was the perfect life of a goddess, the life she could have lived had they never died and we’d never existed. I’m sure the first part was the most telling. A world where only she existed, to willingly go into the Haze to experience the high of leaving it. Forget all your problems, cut away everyone else, and you’ll have a perfect world.”
Amy spoke, “It wasn’t perfect.”
“I was blinding myself on purpose, running away from the reality of the things we had experienced. The pain and suffering I had endured. I was so willing to run away that I went all the way back to the Haze. Pathetic, I hate myself, I –”
“Shush, it’s not your fault. It’s a respectable train of thinking and I’m still not sure if it’s wrong. Why shouldn’t we all forget our troubles and live in a world of perpetual bliss? No need to think, just feel the pleasure for all eternity.”
Amy shook her head. “I don’t want it.”
“I don’t like it either,” said Lily. “But Runir’s world, what was his problem?”
“Rationality,” answered Runir. “That was what the world was based on and that was my problem with it.”
“You know your response is ironically quite rational,” I said.
“But you’re right, your perfect world was completely rational and with you in complete control. Quite vain, if I may add.”
“I wasn’t in complete control, those terrorists managed to beat me.”
“They only existed because you needed them. You needed the opportunity to exercise your rationality, to assert control. Vain, but vanity doesn’t have to be a sin.”
“So you’re telling me I broke my perfect world because it was boring?”
“And because rationality is irrational. That’s what led to the er… goat.”
“What was with the box?”
“The confines of rationality and self-containment, especially of the emotional kind. You realized the stifling nature of a rational society, and yearned for the ability to let loose, to do something outside of the box.”
“Of course,” he said dryly.
I shrugged. “Hey, it’s your world.”
“Also, why was the last iteration so different from the previous ones?”
“I’m sure you’ve already guessed.”
“So you didn’t put them there, after all.”
“I knew they were going to be there, I even knew what they would do and how they would effect you. I just have no idea how they got there.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?”
“They didn’t come from our world,” I replied. “I’m omniscient in this world, not Earth.”
“Okay,” said Lily. “My turn.”
“Your world was similar to Amy’s, you were with your loved ones – all still alive and immortal – and lived in a world of love and compassion. Like Amy, you cut out the painful parts.”
“So I did what Amy had done. I cut out the painful parts, willful ignorance.”
“Yes and no. You did that but it was different from what Amy did. She cut out her own guilt, her own conflicting emotions. What you cut out was an exterior sense of justice. You didn’t cut out the guilt of not being able to save Granny Nipa, you cut out the event itself. Then what you lacked was justice for it.”
“Why does it matter if it never even happened?”
“It only matters if you think it does, which you did.” I leaned closer so only she could hear. “You didn’t just want your mother back, you wanted to punish the corrupt officials who let her freeze to death on the street.”
Runir and Amy didn’t try to eavesdrop. This was the only part of Lily’s world I’d hidden from them. Lily nodded, she understood.
“Right, there’s a lot of stuff we could discuss. The thousands of iterations of all the six kingdoms of Erath and their pros and cons. We could talk about the differences in international relations and other structural differences or, like in your perfect worlds, we could talk about the smaller, interpersonal relationships and their differences, pros, cons and so on. We could talk about human greed and compassion. Recklessness and ruthless pragmatism. We could do all of that but it would take forever, and we’ve already lived through forever. Now I want your opinions.”
“On what?” asked Amy.
“Everything!” I gestured with hands opened wide. “How to construct this world. Should I make people immortal? Should countries exist? Should there be a central conflict to unite everyone and provide a sense of purpose? Should there be inequality to encourage competition, or a totally equal world where competition doesn’t feed anyone’s yearning for a purpose or reason for existence? I personally really liked the iteration of the Air kingdom with all the artists and musicians. We could go with an entire world like that. We could –”
“None of them are perfect, Kai,” said Lily. “All of them have their own problems. The Art country had so much art it lost all value.”
“Nothing is perfect,” I replied. “Which is why I need your help deciding which is the least imperfect.”
“We can’t do that,” said Runir. “There’s no way to quantify and compare these things. Any decision we make will be subjective, biased.”
“Exactly, that’s what I’m looking for. Your subjective opinion!”
“But Kai, what’s the point?”
“There is none, which is why we need to make one up.”
“That makes no sense.”
“We’ll make it make sense. Don’t you worry, just pick the world or system you think was the best and we can take it for a test run. Or you could make one on your own, it’s not like all the versions I showed you were the only ones. Choose something you definitely want in your new world, maybe something like immortality, and work from there.”
“Immortality does sound like a good place to start. Can’t think of much against it,” said Lily.
“It was a part of your world, of course you’d like it. But then again, do you want the people who killed Granny Nipa to be immortal too?”
“Sure, spend eternity in prison.”
“Really? You’d allow prisons? What if a bad person came to power and used that system to their advantage. Hell, they’d never die, they’d be an immortal tyrant.”
“We make a world where that can’t happen.”
“Okay, how? Do we set it up so that you’re in charge, like Runir was in his world? Let you be the benevolent dictator.”
“No, we don’t need to do that. Just make it so nobody is bad.”
“We did that in your world, Lily, if we make the bad people good, why would you need to punish them?”
“Damn it Kai, you said we could just pick a world and go.”
“Of course you can,” I said. “Just know what you’re in for, is all I’m saying.”
“Kai,” said Runir. “If you couldn’t pick something after all this time, why even ask for our opinions?”
“Because it was too much for me, okay? Do you know how I felt when I sat on this hill for the first time? I realized all the suffering in this world was my fault. All the people who died, all the pain they experienced, all of it was my fault for making this world the way it was. Not just because of the Fate thing; I ran that iteration without Fate, didn’t I? It wasn’t much better.”
“Wait, so you hated yourself for all the pain you made people go through,” said Lily. “And to fix it, you decided to make everyone go through more pain thousands of times? Sounds messed up to me.”
“That’s because after gaining omniscience, I realized that the pain didn’t matter. I could just fix it later.”
“Kai,” said Runir. “You’re not making any sense here. First you say you need our opinion because you couldn’t handle making the choice to condemn people to a world of suffering, then you say it doesn’t matter because you could fix it later. Where does the ball stop, Kai?”
“The ball stops with you telling me what kind of world you want!” I declared.
“You just want to thrust that burden on us, don’t you?” he asked.
“No, besides, don’t worry. I can just fix it later!”
“Then what?” asked Lily. She gestured aggressively with one hand. “Do we go through all this again? A pointless argument that keeps going in circles?”
“We’ll keep going until we reach a conclusive decision.”
“And what will that decision be? You already know what we’re going to choose, so why not just pick it already? In fact, why go through any of this. You could have just skipped ahead and chosen what we were going to choose.”
“No, see, I had to let you decide because –”
“Because you wanted to throw that burden on us,” finished Runir. “Admit it Kai, the only reason any of this is happening is because you don’t want to take responsibility for your actions.”
I raised an eyebrow. “This is how I take responsibility for my actions. By letting you decide!”
Runir frowned and spoke in a loud voice, “No, this is how you run away from feeling bad about everything you’ve caused or will cause in the future, by making us choose. It doesn’t serve any other purpose and you know it!”
“No, you’re wrong.”
I didn’t respond. This was the part where I took a deep breath, admitted my own cowardice to myself, and proceeded to say…
“Apology not accepted.”
“That’s fine. But now that we’re here and everything has already happened…”
“Urgh,” yelled Lily. “I can’t take this, damn it. You knew you’d apologize, you could’ve stopped this. Hell, I’m sure you could go back and prevent any of this from happening in the first place.”
“Fine, if that’s what you want, I’ll go back in time and change the world to however you want it to be. None of this would have ever happened. It’ll be as if I looked into the future, saw this ending, and decided to skip straight to it. Happy?”
Lily’s mouth hung open but she didn’t say anything. She closed it and parsed her lips.
Runir spoke, “But that brings us back to the kind of world we want.”
“Okay, so I think immortality should stay.” I was about to speak but he cut me off with a wave of his hand. “I heard the drawbacks but honestly, removing death is too big of a benefit in my eyes. How do you two think?”
“I agree,” said Lily.
“Okay, but I just wanted to ask if you think you’d value things if you were immortal.”
“Why wouldn’t we?” asked Lily.
“He means we only value things because they don’t last forever,” answered Runir. “Shakespeare said something along the same lines too. Spring is only valuable because of the winter, youth because of old age, and so on. I don’t think I buy it though.”
“It’s true, you experienced it in your world.”
“I got bored.”
“You stopped valuing things. Including your relationship with Lily.”
He frowned. “Fine, we change human nature then. Keep us valuing things forever.”
“That’ll lead to stagnation. Like the country of art, if we everything and we value it all completely then nothing stays valuable. If we lose the ability to recognize that then we’ll lose the ability to evolve and change too. If you were in a relationship, you’d stay in it forever! Amy over there would be stuck with a loser like me.”
She didn’t react.
Runir said, “I still think immortality is worth the stagnation. We don’t need to advance in a perfect world.”
“Assuming the world is perfect.”
“You said you’d pop us out of it if we didn’t like it.”
“How would I know if you didn’t like it in a world where I remove your ability to dislike anything?”
He thought for a second. “Damn it, I don’t know.”
“Immortality doesn’t work, living with your friends and family doesn’t work, giving yourself a fake purpose doesn’t work, drugs don’t work,” said Lily. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”
“Just pick something.”
“Every time we try to do that, you say something that fucks it all up!”
“No, I’m only telling you the problems with it. We’ve been over this.”
“Yeah we have, because we keep going in fucking circles!”
She heaved, Runir massaged his forehead, Amy stood alone to the side, unresponsive. I took a deep breath. This was as confusing and useless as I remembered it would be. I felt the annoyance I’d felt then, as well as the echo of annoyance I’d known I’d feel about it. All my feelings had been magnified like that after I gained omniscience, which made them all feel less impactful, less meaningful.
“Look, just pick a few things you really, really want this world to have. Let’s start with something small, like chocolate and cookies! We can stop them being bad for you too, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem? Of course, they won’t be as enjoyable if we could eat them all the time, and maybe we’d get sick of them quite quickly but it’s worth a try! In fact, I know we’d enjoy a world with only chocolates and cookies for a very long time before it becomes annoying. Hey! Maybe we can keep cycling through these worlds forever, that could work. How about –”
“Yes Amy?” I was breathing a little heavily.
“You know what I’m going to ask, don’t you?”
“Are you going to make me say it?”
“Nope, I’m not.” I looked her in the eyes. “You’re going to say it on your own.”
“My loops started after Yunni and Jeffy died, right?”
“And you said you couldn’t bring them back?”
“I did say that.”
Runir and Lily stared intently. The air was growing heavy.
“But they were there in my perfect world.”
“It was almost them.”
I sighed. The second most painful thing I was going to talk about today. “Yes, almost.”
“What do you mean,” she said, face caught in a mirthless smile. “They were there. Exactly like I remember them. It was them, I could feel it. I –”
“They were Yunni and Jeffy as much as you are the Amy they knew.”
“I don’t understand. You’re telling me I’m not me?”
“You are you, but then who you are is not the same as the Amy from before.”
“Took me a while too,” I said. “To explain this, I need to explain something else first. But it’s something I need to tell Runir and Lily.” I faced the two of them, who were caught unaware. “It might get a little private so it’s up to you if you want Amy to hear it.”
“You know our answers,” said Runir. Lily gave me an expectant look.
“Okay, she can stay. Just thought I’d ask. It’s the principle of the thing that matters.”
“Whatever,” said Lily.
“Runir Candela was shot on the roof of Fenbay high school just days from his graduation date. The assailant was taken into custody and sent to prison for life, mostly because he would not reveal what he had done with the body.”
Runir frowned. “I got summoned here, we already know that. Glad Stone got fucked for it though.”
“Lily Grayscale was beaten to death in front of Darby Superstore at the behest of the local gangs, while shoplifting. It took ten years for the case to reach the courts, spearheaded by a boy who saw the event transpire. The boy had felt so guilty for allowing it to happen he took his own life after he ensured the incarceration of the perpetrators.”
“Rusty…” muttered Lily.
“The body was never recovered.”
Amy shifted. Lily looked down.
“A young video game developer committed suicide by setting his house on fire. Needless to say, the body wasn’t found.”
“What was the point of going over that?” asked Runir. “We know the bodies weren’t recovered because we were transported to Erath.”
“No, Kai’s body was burned to ashes. Runir’s body fell through an open manhole cover into the sewers below. It was incinerated by the city’s automatic treatment center. Lily’s body was stored in a cold meat storage facility and disposed of in the sea.”
My words hung in the air. Amy’s eyes were stretched wide. Runir and Lily were speechless.
“You mean we’re dead?” asked Lily.
“No, the Kai, Lily, and Runir of Earth are dead.”
“But then who are we?” asked Runir.
“What they did find in Kai’s home were remnants of a banned artifact acquired through an extra-dimensional excursion carried out by the government. The exploration initiative was cancelled after all the teams were annihilated by the strange worlds they went to, but someone managed to smuggle a book back through the portals, a book that Kai Zero used to cast a powerful spell on the game he’d created. The spell created a copy of his personality and merged it with the code he had written, which is how I came to be. Later the spell copied a few more people who died near copies of the game.”
Runir asked, “So we’re all copies?”
“Kind of. See, I personally believe Earth didn’t have an afterlife either, and if that’s true, there is no difference between us and the people we were based on. We only died in the sense that our former selves don’t exist in the present, but that happens all the time. Every moment we live is like a past version of us dying and a new version coming into existence. If, however, there was an afterlife or a soul to be reincarnated, then yes, we are only copies.”
“So we don’t have souls?” asked Lily.
“No, and that brings me back to Amy’s question. The reason I said I couldn’t bring back Jeffy and Yunni, was because I couldn’t really bring anyone back. All I could do was recreate a perfect copy of them formed from the code that gave them their memories and personalities.”
“Wait, if that’s how your power works, does that mean you’ve been killing different versions of us in every loop and then making new copies?” asked Runir.
“No, after the loops began, nobody died. Even if they seemed to be killed, all that happened was I relocated their code instead of erasing it, which is how the world worked before the loops.”
“So Granny Nipa didn’t –” began Lily.
“The people we personally saw die, had already died outside the loops. The Ashfiend and Granny Nipa, both had their codes erased but preserved. The ones we met were copies.”
“I see,” said Lily, her voice trailing. It was confusing.
“So the Jeffy and Yunni in my perfect world –”
“Were copies, yes, although does being a copy even matter? In a world without a soul or distinctive consciousness attached to an individual, all these concerns are irrelevant. Are Lily, Runir or I any different from the Lily, Runir, and Kai of Earth? Apart from our abilities and new experiences, not really. My erasing Zoe’s memories could be akin to making a new copy of her! It doesn’t matter. Likewise, it doesn’t matter what world you choose.”
“If the world we choose doesn’t matter, why the fuck are we even having this discussion?”
“Because why not? I don’t have any better ideas for how the world should work. Life in this world has no meaning apart from whatever we choose to give it right now – assuming we decide to give it one at all.”
“You know what,” said Lily. “If you can just zip us back here, let’s just make another world and see how it goes.”
“Yeah, makes sense to me. Besides, nothing seems to matter when you can change literally anything,” said Runir.
“Exactly! Now pick a world and let’s get started!” I said, heart sinking. It was time.
“Alright,” said Amy, stepping forward and thrusting a finger at my chest. Hadn’t seen her this angry in a long time. Maybe back in that iteration where I claimed to have killed Jeffy and Yunni. “If we can’t have a perfect world, and nothing matters because you can make a new world if this one fails, I know exactly what kind of world I want first.”
“I feel like I know exactly what you’re talking about, Amy,” said Runir, grinning.
“Yeah, same,” said Lily, nodding resolutely.
I laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you I know what you’re about to say, too?”
“Good, then if we’re all in agreement, it’s time for me to say goodbye.”
I prepared to trigger the keyword I’d prepared on the hill. But before that, I pushed the others away, opened a door behind me and opened it. I was a sucker for theatricality, even if no one would remember it.
“Nothing really matters,” I said over the roar of nothingness swirling around the hill. The others braced themselves against the winds, looking at me from the bottom of the hill with narrowed eyes and nervous expressions. “Since there is no absolute objective truth, I figured I might as well tell a little white lie to get my friends to agree to something painful but necessary.”
“What are you saying?” yelled Runir with an arm over his head.
“Well it wasn’t a lie, really. I just forgot to mention something.”
“Kai,” shouted Lily. “What the fuck are you trying to pull now?”
“Nothing,” I replied, one foot inside the door. “It’s just that, even if I can bring us all back here if you don’t like your new world, it doesn’t mean I will.”
Runir and Lily looked surprised but Amy was absolutely horrified.
“No, I take it back! I don’t want that world after all, I –”
“Don’t worry Amy,” I whispered as the world went silent. “You’ll be fine.”
“No!” she raced up the hill, Lily and Runir hot on her heels. The edge of the hill where they’d been, began to fade into nothingness.
“Kai, you lousy piece of shit.”
“Love you too, Lily.”
“Kai, we can talk this through, don’t –”
“I already know what we’re going to talk about, Runir. And you were kinda right at some point, I did all this so I wouldn’t feel guilty about what I was about to do. But I also did it so I could make some fun memories with you guys.” I stepped through the door, looked back at them appearing over the crest of the hill and smiled. “Thanks for everything guys, I’ll remember you forever.”
I waved. They shouted and cursed. Amy was crying, Lily was fuming, and Runir’s face was contorted in thought. The door shut as I whispered,