[WP] The total population is split between two universes. When someone dies in universe one, they are reborn into universe two, then back to one in a constant cycle. Universe one is becoming exponentially overpopulated.
I open my eyes, blinking in the blinding light streaming from the sky. Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Sun, I think. I must be back in Gallus. I stand up from my spreadeagled position on the ground, taking in my surroundings. I am all alone in a large cornfield, a breeze gently waving the tips of the stalks. A faint humming noise reaches my ears from the forest beyond, and in the distance I spy a long range of mountains. I decide to head for the forest to check out how the universe of Gallus has been since I was last here.
I dig through my memories, trying to sort out how I got here. The last thing I remember is waking roughly from a peaceful sleep, a pair of cold hands around my neck. I must have died. This is my first return to Gallus, so I suppose the universe is set to birth new members in a random spot, unlike Solon’s set of rules.
I let out a sigh. I wasn’t ready to leave Solon yet. The magically long nights and few hours of light, the whispers of thoughts from all things living, the soaring views of devastation you could glimpse from the towering mountain peaks, all these things made me feel at home.
At the edge of the forest, I glance one last time around the windy plains and take the first step into the darkened wood. Immediately, I let out a gasp of surprise. Nothing could have prepared me for this bizarre scene. Every inch of the forest is crawling with people, on top of people, on top of more people. Sitting, standing, laying, crouching–everywhere. And as heads turn towards me, I see expressions of fear and hate slide over face after face.
Suddenly, I feel my feet fall out from underneath me. The mob had lifted me into the air! Many hands pass me around trees and under branches, brushing my face past leaves and sticks. By the time they put me down, I feel pretty scratched up and I’m starting to get irritated. I almost don’t notice the man standing in front of me. But as soon as we lock eyes, I recognize him all too well.
“Orlin? No way,” I say, at the same time he exclaims,
“Nadonni! You’re here!” We embrace quickly, albeit awkwardly, then stand face-to-face.
“So I guess you died, too,” he begins uncomfortably. I nod. “Last time I saw you, you were so–”
“Please stop,” I say, sharper than I mean to, then quickly ask,
“What is this place? Why is everyone acting so weird? Why did they take me to you?” I have so many questions, and he must notice how confused I look.
“Now, this will be a shock, so bear with me. I don’t know how to put this lightly, so… You’re the first birth we’ve seen in a long time. Years, maybe. So they’re just not used to it. Most of us live here, in this forest. It goes for miles into the mountains. Others live underground. See, we’ve been forced to, because of… Agh, there’s no easy way to say this. We’ve found the cure. Well, I have. I found the cure to death.”
I stare at him. I can’t formulate any words, so he continues.
“After I died in Solon, I continued my work here. You know me, I can’t leave a challenge behind. And it’s been many years of hard work, but about 10 years ago I got it. Now we can stay in this world forever! And everyone signed up to take the cure, but it took a couple years before things started going wrong. And by then, everyone had taken it. We now host 80% of the total population here on Gallus.
“People still age. They still get hurt, the sun still burns them, but for some reason it’s harder for them to heal. Sometimes a minor injury can take a year to recover from. That’s why we all stay in here all the time. This is a controlled environment, where people won’t be uncomfortable in the sun or exposed to the elements. And, they tend to lose their sense of empathy. It’s kind of making us all into animals.” I raise my eyebrows in disbelief. “I’m working on an anti-cure right now,” he adds sheepishly.
Confused fury sprang to my eyes. “You mean to say you’re the reason these people are living like this? You’re why we never get new births anymore in Solon? You made all these people suffer… for another experiment? You haven’t changed a bit, Orlin. You’re still the murderer I remembered. Just because you made them live forever, that doesn’t exonerate your sins from Solon.”
I turn away in disgust, intending to storm away and blend into the crowd, but I stumble as my foot catches on something metal. They set a trap! A cage door swings shut behind me, and I am captured. How did I not see that? Orlin leans in close to the cage.
“The problem is, Nadonni, you’re the only one who hasn’t taken the medicine… yet. Everyone in this universe has been exposed, except you. You can still die. So I’m afraid I can’t let you leave.” His grin gleams sinister as he rattles the cage door once, then strides away.
Hopelessness creeps into my chest. I should have run the other way when I saw him. On Solon, he was the reason the ravaging wars started. His radical scientific movement killed thousands of people, sending them here. And now, he has trapped them all here, condemning them to suffer yet again.
“Monster!” I yell after him. He lifts a hand in acknowledgement, not even glancing back. The cage lifts off the ground and once more, I am passed through the air. As twigs scrape my face, I get an idea.
Scrambling upright, I reach wildly to grab hold of something, anything. My hands find a hefty branch and for a moment, my progress is delayed. But a moment is all I need. Quickly, I break off a large branch of wood from the tree and draw it into the cage just in time. As I am rocked into motion again, I breathe hard and try to swallow my fear. Be brave, I tell myself. No time for mistakes. With one smooth motion, I raise the splinter and bring it swiftly towards my heart. The pain only lasts several seconds.
I open my eyes, blinking in the dim moonlight. I smile briefly and let myself breathe in the sweet air of home before running off into the night.
Thank you to Kasim’s Korner for this awesome prompt! I love making myself write sci-fi 🙂 Click link to see their take on this prompt. Hope you enjoyed!