Marcus stood in a ruined wasteland, the smoking remnants of once great buildings cast down around him as far as he could see.
“You know, the bay looks pretty nice like this,” he said, taking in the stark beauty of it all.
Normally ruined cityscapes were synonymous with mass gravesites. There were very few methods of wrecking a modern city thoroughly that didn’t involve massive fatalities. The ruins before him though held no ghosts.
Or no new ghosts at least.
“You know I didn’t use to be able to see ghosts,” Anna said, as a parade of spectral figures passed by them. “What do you think they’re doing?”
“Admiring the view?” Marcus guessed. “[Gaia] said that most of them spend their time doing things they missed out on in life. Can’t imagine the last time when any of them would have had a view like this available.”
“It still feels unreal that we’re not marching along there with them,” Anna said. “When you straight up vanished with that monster I thought we’d reached the end of the line.”
“From what I gather we came real close. Very ‘cut the green cord one second before the bomb blows’ kinda thing,” Marcus said.
“What was it like being on the other side of thing?” Anna asked.
“Ever been to Niagra Falls?” Marcus asked. “It was like being at the bottom of that. You have this sense of this massive, constantly moving thing and you are so, so small in face of it.”
“So not so different from here then,” Anna said. “I thought living through a few earthquakes meant I could handle natural disasters like a pro. Turns out I was not right.”
“To be fair, there wasn’t anything even vaguely natural about the disasters you lived through,” Marcus said. Behind him the ‘Egress Entertainment’ sign that had been mounted over the buildings main entrance lost its battle against gravity and clanged to the ground.
“I suppose not,” Anna said, wrapping her arms around herself. “Or about the rebuilding.”
In the distance, a gleaming spire of quartz glass rose into the sky as a parade of faerie winged creatures danced in a triumphant circle around it. From its base, flowering vines sprouted, enwrapping the spire in a myriad of colors.
“I gather we don’t have that long to enjoy treats like that,” Marcus said, nodding towards the building. “The worlds are already settling back into their comfort zones, so all the magic we picked up from everything colliding is going to ebb away and leave us nice, and normal, and boring again.”
“I don’t think we ever were any of those things before, or that we ever will be either,” Anna said with a chuckle.
“Yeah. We’re never going to go back to what we were,” Marcus said, searching for some twinge of nostalgia for the ‘old days’ and coming up surprisingly empty.
“Would you really want to?” Anna asked.
A gravity in her tone made Marcus turn to her. They’d been casually chatting up till now, waiting for one of the Egress Entertainment IT staff members to find a truck or bus they could use to head to Las Vegas so they could connect with Anna’s team. In the wake of the Earth’s near destruction, the two teams, along with many others, had found themselves the nearest custodians of the dwindling gates between the worlds.
Where the Egress Entertainment servers had once stood there was only severely flattened rubble, and rising above it, thirteen wondrous gates to the [Risen Kingdoms] and various points on Earth (Las Vegas not being one of them, unfortunately). One of the QA leads had come up with the idea of cross-pollinating the teams so that the attempts to understand the gates, which seemed to be composed of code to some extent, would have as many talented perspectives as possible to draw on.
There was another idea lurking behind Anna’s eyes though. Marcus caught a glimpse of it and shuddered, though whether out of longing or fear he wasn’t at all certain.
“Would I really want to what?” he asked, knowing what her question really was and what his heart’s answer would be. Hearts were stupid things though, and denial rose as a shield to buy his brain precious moments to think.
“Go back to what we were before,” Anna said. “The long nights, the lack of respect, the endless whining from the executives and the customers?”
“You paint such a rosy picture,” Marcus said. “Are you sure you weren’t working on our team?”
“Am I wrong? For any game shop? Or software company at all?” Anna asked.
“There are better places,” Marcus said. “You just need to get the right boss.”
“And then hope they don’t get fired, or leave because they can’t deal with their higher ups,” Anna said.
“Maybe this is our chance to built it back better than it was?” Marcus said.
“Maybe. Probably even I guess,” Anna said. “And we know people will be doing that. I mean, you’ve heard the stories right?”
Marcus knew exactly which stories she was referring too though he didn’t know if he could actually believe them.
There had been fatalities during the apocalypses. Hundreds of millions of people were dead across the globe, but not randomly as it should have been during a worldwide calamity. No, from the reports that Marcus had seen the Angel of Death had played favorites quite strongly. Prisons still held plenty of people but certain sections of them hadn’t fared well. Billionaires, as a class, were nearly extinct, as well as the ruling parties and their supporters in many countries across the globe. Smaller scale problems hadn’t been overlooked either. Crisis centers for domestic violence, hotlines for all sorts of violence, and even calls for the police (those of who were left) were showing a pattern that spoke to the most predatory and harmful members of the population having been effectively deleted from existence.
That didn’t mean the world was in perfect shape, or that the people who’d been victimized and abused were magically good to go with their lives, but it did seem like a more hopeful place to start rebuilding from than Marcus had ever expected he would see.
“Do you not think that’s a good thing? Assuming those stories are true?” Marcus asked.
“I think it’s a fantastic thing,” Anna said. “In fact I think without that the Earth would be empty before the end of the day.”
“Because everyone would jump at the chance to go to one of the other worlds that wasn’t full of enormous assholes?” Marcus said.
“There’ll always be people we don’t like on any world,” Anna said. “The key, I think, is being able to find a place where you can be who you most want to be.”
“Is that what we do?” Marcus said. “Make places where people can be, at least a little bit, someone else?”
“You’ve been there though. You know what its like to actually live it rather than just imagine it. So that’s what I’m asking. Would you go back to what we were? Could that really be enough anymore?”
“The gates are closing though,” Marcus said.
“If what we had was good enough, then we should let them. If going back to the lives we lead is where we can find our selves, then we might as well walk away right?” Anna asked.
“Yeah,” Marcus said, drawing a deep breath for what was coming next.
“And if it’s not? If the worlds out there hold something precious?” Anna asked.
“Then someone needs to keep them open. Or find a way to cross over even without them,” Marcus said and as he spoke, all the denial in him fell away. With a smile he offered Anna his hand. “Would you like to go on a bit of an adventure?”
“I thought you’d never ask!”
Walking through a new hospital wasn’t an unfamiliar experience for Claire. She’d worked in three different states in her nursing career so acclimating to a new facility was almost old hat.
Of course those hospitals had been ones where she was an official staff member and none of them had been research hospitals.
“Excuse me? Can I help you Ms…?” the nurse at the central station wasn’t quite sure what to make of Claire, or rather wasn’t quite sure what to make of Lady Midnight. Vampire’s were exactly common at Earthly hospitals even if fiction had them buying or stealing blood from blood banks as an alternative to killing random people.
“Yes. Can you direct me to any of your research staff. I have a limited window of power here, and I’d like to use to provide the data we need to eradicate a disease or two.”
“Oh, of course,” the nurse said. “Please follow me.”
That was not the response Claire had been expecting, and a hundred counterarguments died unneeded on her lips.
Instead, she followed Nurse Gaylor into the elevator and road up to the 5th floor with her.
“I’m not the first one to think of this, am I?” Claire asked as they passed the 3rd floor.
“Thankfully no,” Nurse Gaylor said. “We’ve got a central data clearinghouse running in Stuttgart that’s coordinating efforts from people like you.”
“That’s…that’s excellent,” Claire said, stunned at what a worldwide effort backed by magic and ultratech science would be able to accomplish.
“I’m hoping it puts me out of a job to be honest,” Nurse Gaylor said.
“Me too,” Claire said. “I was working at Conroy General before all this stuff started.”
“Really? Oh that’s fantastic! A lot of the people showing up to help are new to actual medicine. You’ll be a big help there.”
They exited the elevator to a scene of oddly controlled chaos. Whiteboards were everywhere. Autoclaves were running at a fever pitch. Microscopes seemed to be strewn out as far as the eye could see.
“Another one?” someone said the moment Lady Midnight stepped off the elevator.
“Yes, and she’s got nursing experience!” Nurse Gaylor said.
“Oh thank god!” Doctor Kevins said. “We got a new assignment in five minutes ago and everyone’s tied up on the other projects.”
“What other projects?” Claire asked.
“Cures,” Kevins said. “We’re finding cures for things that we didn’t even think could be cured.”
“Cancers?” Claire asked.
“Nearly wiped out,” Kevins said. “The first couple hundred people that we had show up were quite adamant about eradicating every form of cancer we knew about. We’ve made more progress in the last hour than we made in the last century.”
That was far beyond what Claire had expected to hear. She’d been hoping to help the science leapfrog ahead by a few years to maybe a decade at most, but the best projections she knew of put unlocking full cures to most cancers as either unattainable or decades away still.
“How?” she asked.
“Analyzing [Remove Disease] spells has yielded us cure after cure after cure. Especially when that analysis is done by nanotech swarms that can write the information on the effect and suggest non-magical analogues directly into our brains.”
“That’s…” she was tempted to say ‘impossible’ but far too much of her experience argued against that word having any meaning at all. She also remembered the lore from the Crystal Stars game where players could pay for ‘Instant Skill Upgrades’ for their characters. In game it was just a mechanism so the players didn’t have to wait a realistic period of time when their characters improved in their abilities, but drawn into the real world it had become a copying machine for miracles.
“Which other diseases do we have cures for?” she asked, trying to imagine what might be left for her.
“Lots,” Dr. Kevins said. “Heart disease is a thing of the past now. Same with three different forms of Chronic Fatigue. Oh, and Alzheimer’s? Full and complete recovery. In fact we have treatment for nearly all forms of Traumatic Brain Injury too.”
“Wow,” Claire said, feeling a bit woozy on her feet. “What do you have me then?”
“You missed Malaria by about ten minutes, but I just got in a test pack that we’re hoping will unlock the common cold, specifically the coronavirus variants.”
Claire imagined a world were no one ever got another coronavirus. That sounded like a world she wanted to see.