There’s a secret thrill in sneaking into someplace where you’re not supposed to be. Part of it is the thrill of learning things you’re not supposed to know. Part of it is the thrill of defying authority. Most of it though is the thrill that comes with the danger of being caught.
Jin felt all of those as she floated in the desolate and empty blackness of space despite the fact that she was doing official research, as instructed by her mentor and there was no one who could “catch” her doing it in the first place.
“This is supposed to be Earth isn’t it?” she asked. She was dressed in her official dream lord regalia of white robes edged with pink highlights. They were enchanted to generate a pleasant, if skin tight, environment for her so that she didn’t have to pay attention to doing so consciously. That they could handle the void of space wasn’t surprising. So long as she wanted them to, they could have withstood the heart of a star or the depths of a black hole.
“It is Earth, or an Earth, or to be the most accurate it’s an Earth That Never Was.” Pen answered. He was wearing a simple white t-shirt and jeans, enchanted with similar dream magics to the ones Jin had woven into her robes.
The two of them floated in the airless expanse with no sun and no planets near them. Only the mute stars twinkled around them, impossibly distant and yet all the more brilliant for not being as outshone as they normally were.
“How can you tell that? I’m listening with meta-awareness and there’s only the faintest echoes of stories left here.” Jin asked.
“That’s the clue. That and where we are.” Pen answered. He was scanning the heavens, tracing lines between the stars with his fingers.
“We’re close to Oblivion aren’t we. I can barely feel anything real here at all.” Jin said.
Pen turned to her, narrowing his eyes.
“You shouldn’t be feeling anything real at all. This is the edge of Oblivion. What washes up here were never real to begin with. The only things we should run into are forgotten dreams and untold stories.” Pen said, his brow creasing in concern.
“Are you sure about that?” Jin asked, her fingers were tingling with anticipation.
“What are you sensing?” Pen said.
“Something in one of the echoes. Something in the Earth That Never Was.” Jin said. She met Pen’s gaze and there were stars in her eyes. Nothing but stars. Cosmos upon cosmos of stars, flickering rapidly by as she took in the subtle variations of the Never Earth.
“Leave it alone Jin. There’s another class of things that you find out here. Things that someone worked very hard to make sure were forgotten.” Pen said.
He reached out and put a hand gently on her shoulder. With his other hand he pushed against something invisible in the space surrounding them. There was a rippling of light, as though he’d pressed on the surface of a pond. The ripples flowed out from his palm continuously and ended at an unseen rectangular border that gave the impression of being a door.
“Wait. We can’t leave this here.” Jin said.
“Yes we can. In fact we’re required to.” Pen said.
“I know. We’re experimenting with things on the border of what the Parliament allows. They need to be concerned about all of the real worlds out there. There’s just one problem.” Jin said.
Pen sighed and closed his eyes.
“And what would that be.”
“We can’t leave this here. As in literally. Whatever it is, it’s seen us. If we try to leave, it will follow us.” Jin said.
Pen sighed again.
“Let me see.” he grumbled.
It was Jin’s turn to close her eyes. When she stretched out her hand though it wasn’t ripples of light that appeared. It was the Earth and the Sun and the Moon.
“It’s this one. There’s someone real left on this world.” Jin said.
“Let’s go meet them then. This is sure to turn out well.” Pen said, bowing slightly to let Jin take the lead.
The continents of the Never Earth were cut into pieces Jin had never seen before. That was common for the more divergent Earths but it also meant that she had no point to reference for where on the planet they’d landed. That was compounded by the broad fields of featureless ice where they landed.
“The world is changing. I can feel it coming back to life.” Pen said, his tone cautious.
“Good. Maybe we can talk to it.” Jin said.
“I see why Haffrun snagged you for the Diplomatic Corp.” Pen smiled.
“I suspect she regrets that some days.” Jin replied.
“Yes, she very likely does.” Pen said. Except it wasn’t the Pen who had accompanied Jin.
The dazzling snowscape had hidden the approach of the second man in white.
“Interesting form you’ve chosen to take there.” Jin said to the newcomer, folding her arms in front of her chest.
“Isn’t it though. I find it especially fascinating since it’s my own and yet I see that I’ve been copied.” the newcomer said.
Jin looked between the two men. Both were on the tall side of average, but wore a purely white color scheme, t-shirt and jeans, which looked ridiculous on the snowy plain. Her Pen, her mentor, was somehow broader and grander than his twin, while the newcomer looked older. Not in any physical sense. They had the same number of wrinkles, the same weathering on their skin, but there was a quality of timeless antiquity to the newcomer which the Pen who Jin had known for years couldn’t quite match.
“And what would your name be Mr. White?” Jin’s Pen asked.
“White will do just fine” the man said with a nod.
“Interesting world you have here White.” Jin said.
“It’s becoming more interesting than it was.” White agreed.
“Mind my asking how you wound up here?” Jin said.
“The same as most things that are here, I was forgotten.” White said.
Pen began to back away.
“We shouldn’t have come here.” he said and reach for Jin’s hand.
“You’re quite correct.” White said, a delighted smile playing across his lips.
Jin stepped forward and placed herself between White and Pen. In her hand, a royal scepter appeared.
“Do tell me why?” she asked sweetly, tapping her scepter on her shoulder.
“Because you’re trapped here of course.” White said.
“From the moment we touched down.” Pen said.
“Far sooner than that.” White said.
“You don’t know what we are do you?” Jin asked, her tone mocking and incredulous.
“Oh, I have a fair inkling. Before you feel the need to demonstrate how wrong I am though may I direct your attention to two things?” White asked.
“By all means.” Jin replied. The tapping of her scepter took on an irritated rhythm.
“First please look for the heart of this world.” White said.
Jin gazed into the planet and saw traces of life bursting forth throughout it. What was more amazing were the other echoes which were growing stronger. Echoes of people and places, history and cultures. They were being drawn into the new reality that was establishing itself within the Never Earth.
“This is becoming real.” Jin gasped.
“Yes and look at where the center of it lies.” White said.
Jin looked towards the center of the Earth, where its heart traditional lay. The center was empty however, at least on a spiritual level. Instead she saw the tendrils of meaning running through the planet, all arriving at her feet.
“I’m this world’s Gaia?” Jin asked.
“Indeed. And now for my second request. Please look closely at me.” White said.
Meta-awareness told her what she was going to see even before she turned her gaze on the smirking man. A hollow image. That’s all there was of him, and even that faded away in a sparkle of light as she watched.
“He was gone the moment we arrived. We were his ticket out of here.” Pen said. Jin understood. They’d been speaking to a recording, an echo of White, left behind as the real aspect of White had fled to freedom.
“And if I follow him, this world will die.” Jin sighed.