THE ROOMS; POST-IMPERIAL ERA
“Why would they be interested in this?”
“Pay it no mind. Focus on the task ahead.”
Henry, a boy no older than twelve, nodded at his master’s command. The faded light of a street lamp illuminated his freckled face, his expression resolute. Barely a moment had passed before the edge of his mouth sank back into a frown. “I don’t get the point of the test in the first place.”
His master, Edgar, gazed back at him from across the park table. They were sitting in the middle of a grassy park, nearly deserted. The dull lights of New York City loomed large in the distance.
“The PoE test is essential to your growth, Henry,” Edgar replied sternly. He gestured towards something in the distance. Henry looked over to see a man harassing an older woman. It was evident he was after her money or valuables.
“But, um. . . I’m just nervous, I guess. I’ve never even been here before. Um, not here here, I mean-.”
“The Rooms are an infinite collection of all those fleeting realities, formed and never developed in earnest,” Edgar explained, “Only here, at the edge of the Plane, can we find the examples you require for the test.”
Though human, Henry and his teacher were as alien visitors to this place, a memory of New York City in the 1970s. It was one of the infinite pockets of The Rooms – perhaps someone who had lived through this time period had briefly fantasized about it, or had entertained a false memory. It was impossible to know for sure. For Edgar and Henry, this was merely a staging ground, a safe place to talk before Henry’s test begins in earnest.
Edgar’s face suddenly grew serious again. “Are your anchors all set?”
Henry glanced down at his wrist. He wore a strange device, molded onto his forearm in black and crimson metal. He played with a few lights on its surface, then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Edgar nodded in assent. “Good. We have a secondary task, as well.” Though Edgar wore an identical device on his right arm, his left had something else. An angular sheet of something resembling green and white plastic hung on that wrist, an entirely different style from the first device. The old standard of the Shahbaz glinted on its side. “This is old Ottoman tech, from before the War. We’ll be collecting the realities we jump through.”
Henry gulped and nodded. At his age, he had not yet seen reality-scale technology before.
“Do you remember what I told you?” Edgar asked. His wrinkled face and gravelly voice somehow took on an even more serious tone than before, as if he now discussed life and death. “About what we may encounter?”
“It’s totally random, I know,” Henry said. His master’s anxiety was affecting him, too. “The anchors will protect us, but-”
“But we can never be too careful,” Edgar finished, “Have you been educated in theological argumentation?”
“The cosmological argument from infinite possible universes?” He plied further.
“The idea that if infinite realities exist, and God is a possible entity, God exists in some reality. Yet, as God transcends-”
“That’s enough to get the idea,” Edgar grunted, “God, or a Devil. The Collective has grappled with far greater concepts, and they say the only beings too powerful for our anchors to protect us from were wiped out long ago, but you would be wise not to underestimate infinity, Henry.” Edgar glanced down at his wrist, then added, “It’s time.”
In a flash, they vanished. Henry blinked. Now, they were in a hallway of what looked like hospital cubicles, alternating with metallic doors. The sight was stainless and sanitary; there wasn’t a single blemish on the floor, doors, ceiling, or curtains as far as he could see. Henry squinted and peered downwards – there was no end in sight. Turning, he saw the same endless length in the other direction, too, and so he looked to Edgar for guidance.
“Yes, it’s endless,” Edgar confirmed, walking up to one of the doors and opening it. Inside was another identical hallway, extending as far as Henry could see in that direction. “Every door is another hallway, with another infinite number of doors. But the important part,” Henry said as he approached the nearest cubicle curtain. “The most essential part for you to understand, is this.” He grabbed the curtain and pulled it back. There, on a hospital bed, was a young woman with a shaven head. Countless tubes and wires ran in and out of her skin – with no blood, as if they were fused into her body. Thick rods of illuminated metal ran into her skull from the wall, as small dots of light ran across their surface. They did nothing to conceal her expression: blushed, a faint smile on her lips as drool slowly tipped over the sides of them. Her glassy green eyes, open, were utterly blank.
Henry recoiled at the sight, and slowly turned down the length of the hallway.
“So all of these?”
Edgar nodded, “All of them.”
Henry’s breath got caught in his throat. His mentor beckoned toward the girl, commanding him to approach. Henry gingerly stepped up to her bedside and peered at her, getting a closer look. Her chest slowly rose and fell; she was breathing. Clearly, she was indeed alive. But, those devices… they were feeding directly into her brain.
“A coma?” Henry asked.
“Of a sort,” Edgar replied, “Pleasure, satisfaction, and joy to the very extreme of what her neurological structure could possibly experience is being beamed directly into her brain. She is perfectly happy.”
Henry’s brow furrowed in thought, “Happy? But she’s… that’s not right.”
Edgar raised an eyebrow, “Isn’t it? In life we struggle to be free of hardships. Would this not be our end goal?”
Henry turned back to the girl and thought for a moment. Then, he turned back to Edgar, “But, she’s not doing anything! She’s stuck here! This thing, it’s gonna keep her alive forever, isn’t it?”
Edgar nodded, as he prepared the green and white device on his other arm.
“So, what’s the p-” Henry’s voice trailed off at the sight of his master, whose expression had suddenly froze in a wide-eyed stare.
“That’s not…” He breathed out.
“Sir?” Henry asked, panic creeping into his voice.
Edgar looked at him, his normally stolid face revealing panic of his own. “Henry, your anchors!”
Henry looked down at his arm. The lights on his device had gone out completely.
“But, that’s… that’s not…”
Edgar fiddled with his arm device desperately.
“That doesn’t make any sense. It would take at least a Class Y being to avoid detection and then do something like this. But The Rooms cannot hold such a being, and even if not, we would’ve been affected the c-moment we entered the-”
The two froze at the sound of a new, third voice. It was soft, and feminine. Henry looked down the hallway. There stood a blonde woman, clothed in a white gown. “I’m so glad that you’re here now,” she said with a smile. Edgar placed his arm in front of Henry.
“We are here by right of the Jacoban Collective. If you harm us, you and this reality will experience-”
The woman laughed. “Experience what? You tried to capture my reality into that thing on your arm.”
“This doesn’t make sense. She could have erased or altered us instantly,” Edgar whispered to Henry, “And she knows our intentions and thoughts. She’s at least a Class Y being. Absolute categorical infinity. Probably the last of her kind. We’re fucked.”
Henry had never heard his mentor cuss before. His heart was beating in his throat, but he couldn’t summon the will to even move. He suspected what their fate would be, and in just a moment she confirmed it.
“Why are you afraid?” She asked inquisitively, “I offer you only what must be better than what you have. Perfect, infinite joy – forever and ever.”
“It would be no different if you were to erase us now and get it over with,” Edgar’s raspy voice snapped back.
“But you two are interesting,” she sighed in reply, “You view this infinite paradise as some insignificant pocket of these ‘Rooms’ you think of. But I have an infinite number of them, too. This is the highest Good. Why do you deny it?” Edgar shook his head and looked at Henry.
“I’m sorry. I’ve failed you.”
What Henry feared was not death – every Jacoban child cared not for their own death. His life would not gather the experiences he had hoped, now. He would be doomed to this infinite stupor, forever.
Then, sound of a doorknob rattling.
Henry blinked and looked over at one of the metal doors nearby. The doorknob was turning open. The woman looked, too, and was silent.
It opened. The sound of a fourth voice came from within.
“Looks like I missed one.”
And Henry saw one like the Heroes of old step through the door. A young man, adorned in silver armor bearing the insignia of the Vergina Sun – the symbol of Old Byzantium. Henry heard his master’s breath carry the words, “It’s true…”
THE SLAYER OF DRAGONS
THE MASTER OF JOURNEYS
THE CLEVER MAN
THE RESURRECTION OF HOPE
THE GREAT SAGE, HEAVEN’S EQUAL
THE VICTORY OF SPIRIT
THE FINAL SURVIVOR OF THE GREAT EMPIRES OF MAN
“The Byzantine lives.”
SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME, ALL AT ONCE
A woman in white and a man in armor face each other.
“Another intruder?” The woman says, “You are not like the other two.”
“Indeed,” The man replies, “I am not.”
“Do you understand the futility of it?” She continues, “Do you understand what it is that I offer?”
“I understand,” he says, “And I refuse.”
The woman wills it, or has already willed it, or will always will it, and the man ceases, everywhere, all at once.
“And I will not let you harm those two,” he continues.
A contradiction. For the first time, the woman is unsure.
The man ceases to be at all times, in every sense imaginable. He never walks through that door, he never says anything. He is not.
“It’s useless, you know,” he says.
“I am absolute,” The woman says.
[Those are just words.]
“You cannot exist,” she continues, “I know what I am doing. I have already annihilated you, by a power infinitely beyond that of my paradise.” Finally, she relents, “From where are you… begotten?”
“From elsewhere,” he says.
“There is no elsewhere,” she insists, “I know of all places, at all times, in all ways.”
“Elsewhere. Not ‘in here.’ ‘Out there.’ This is just an avatar. Where [I] am,” he continues, “I suppose you exist there, too, now, in a way. But, you are not [like me]. So long as [I] am ‘out there,’ I can never be defeated ‘in here.’”
A contradiction. The woman is beyond contradictions. She can affect all and cannot be affected.
The woman is absolute, beyond all conception of absolute. She is unreachable. She is Beyond.
[It doesn't matter which words or symbols you attempt to use. Type whatever you like. [It] has already been [divorced].]
This is the absolute truth: The woman by definition cannot be 'below;' she cannot be defeated or erased. The Byzantine loses. He is utterly erased and vanquished for all eternity and beyond.
The Byzantine chooses,
THE ROOMS; POST-IMPERIAL ERA
Henry blinked. He was back in New York.
“The woman is gone. Your test is over early, boy,” came a voice to his side. He turned to see that Hero of old standing beside him, smiling, “Your master is safe, don’t worry.”
Henry’s brow creased, “How did you do that? What kind of ability-”
“Not an ability. Just a [reminder]. As for ‘how’, the answer is the same as the test’s Problem. Do you understand?”
Henry was reminded suddenly of the reality of the woman in white. He held his head in his hands, but he was confident.
“I- .. I think so. But, I don’t know if I could really desc-”
The Byzantine raises a hand to the boy’s mouth, silencing him.
“Have you gotten [it]?”
Henry stops himself, and nods silently.
“Then, you can forget the words.”