Original Content Faded Realm - Ch.01, The Interview

#1
Not counting the few greentext stories I've transcribed for /r/HFY, this is the first story of my own I've ever posted. I could have written more, but I probably would have ended up with twice as much as is here and the story would have gone absolutely nowhere, so I had to force myself to turn it in the direction I needed. I'm posting this here instead of HFY because it isn't really an HFY kind of story yet and I didn't see anything in the board rules saying I couldn't. Anyway, please enjoy. Criticism is welcome, of course, but try not to be too harsh. And if you think it would be welcome on the HFY subreddit, please let me know. Well, here goes nothing...

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I knew it would happen eventually. It happens to everyone. Most people live their lives trying to avoid it while others live with it as a constant companion that would never hurt them. Sooner or later, however, death comes for us all. There are many different religions, and they all try to explain what happens after death. Most of the ones of which I was aware seemed to preach about some kind of afterlife while I was of the opinion that I would simple cease to exist. The exasperated expression on the face of the elderly gentleman sitting across the table from me was a good indication that I was wrong. I was surprisingly unaffected by this revelation.

“I don’t understand,” he said as he flipped through the papers on his clipboard. “You didn’t have the easiest start in life, but according to the paperwork, you had another seventy years of a healthy and very wealthy life ahead of you. Yet here you are, dead in your early thirties of not just a massive heart attack, but a stroke. Well, I suppose that’s just as well. The cancer and diabetes would have gotten you otherwise. At least this way was fairly quick.”

I fidgeted in my chair while old man let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose while slowly shaking his head in disbelief. “Seriously, Jack,” he said. “We had all the markers plotted out to take you to greatness. All you had to do was follow them. Humanity would have made it out of the solar system by the time you were fifty, and you personally would have made first contact, ushering in a golden age that would last for centuries. Now? It’ll be several more centuries before contact and there is no guarantee it’ll be peaceful. All because of your failure.”

“My name isn’t Jack,” I said, finally finding an opening.

The old man looked at me with a blank face. “Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s John. Jack is a nickname, sure, but my actual name isn’t Jack, it’s John.”

The old man’s face began to pale, but he looked at the clipboard again and began to read off it. “Jack Coleman, born December 1986, died July 2018. Parents Mark and Virginia Coleman.”

“Partially correct. I was actually born in January of ‘87. Mom did have a pretty nasty car accident in December though. They wanted to go ahead and deliver me then because of the surgery, but they didn’t for whatever reason. I don’t know.”

If I had thought the old man pale before, he was a veritable ghost as he pressed the call button on the table’s intercom. “Hey, Agnes, could you bring me the documents for a ‘John Coleman’. Check the discontinued projects filing cabinet for January 1987.” The man let out a nervous chuckle. “This will only take a minute.”

In short order, Agnes, who in the evenings probably wore clear heels and went by the name Candy, delivered the requested files to my now sweat-soaked interviewer and returned to wherever it secretaries come from. His nervous comparison of what I now assumed to be two different accounts of my life grew increasingly frantic as he read them until he finally let out a loud sob and tried to bury his head in the table.

After only a short few minutes, he lifted his head to stare at me with bloodshot eyes and barely restrained tears. “I’m going to do something I don’t often do, and have never done professionally. I am going to apologize and admit that I made a mistake. Apparently, I authorized the wrong project for your life and instead of becoming famous, you ended up...”

“Fat, lazy, and no ambition in life? Constantly disguising my depression behind a thin veil of self deprecating humor?” I let a bit of emotion through as I raised my voice towards the end. I wasn’t actually angry. In fact, I was completely indifferent to the whole situation. Or was it ambivalent? Regardless, I’d seen enough anime and read enough manga to know where this was going. Why not try to get a little something out of it and aim for a comfortable re-life?

Who was I kidding? I wasn’t very good at emotional manipulation, and assertiveness was not a quality I had been known for in life. Why should death change that? I should just quit while I was ahead and see where this conversation would actually lead. I coughed, the look of contrition not entirely feigned. “Sorry, sir. Please continue.”

“As I was saying... You were meant for great things. Normally, a life like the one you just lived is nothing for me to worry about. Life happens, and most people never achieve anything of note. I don’t need to do anything for that to happen. It just does.”

“Normally, you say. Why the worry in this case?”

“Because most people aren’t actually meant to achieve anything in their lives. That’s reserved for those like you. It is with your achievements that others are lifted up and brought to a better life. Since that didn’t happen in your case, I feel I should do something to make up for it. I don’t enjoy it even when I intentionally cause suffering”

“That, and you probably don’t want me to tell the boss?”

“There is that, yes,” he said, chagrined. “I’m just glad I don’t have to turn in my latest project report for another fifty years. I can fix my mistake, if only in the paperwork.”

“So, about making up for it, what kind of options are we looking at here?” The old man must have forgotten to turn off the intercom earlier, because Agnes-who-looked-like-Candy walked in and set a sizable stack of documents on the table with a whomp. “What are these,” I asked, my eyes wide. Hadn’t these people heard of a paperless office?

“Your options. While I can’t send you back in time, I can send you to the future. Due to recent...activity, however, those options are limited as the future can no longer be predicted with absolute certainty until this mess gets sorted out. As such, I would not be able to guarantee the outcome of your life.”

Fine with me, I thought as I began to peruse the massive stack of papers. The future is the future. If I went far enough, maybe I could get some organic circuitry tattoos to enhance the function of my e-butler as I traveled the worlds on wormhole trains. Of course, there was also...

“The most flexible choice however, would be an alternate universe entirely. One you would call fantasy based. Due to the inherently chaotic nature of these worlds, they are generally difficult to manage and we only intervene to prevent destruction of that world’s universe. That rarely happens though, and isn’t nearly as terrible as I make it sound. ”

The guy was going to let me customize a lot of my re-life so I didn’t want to miss anything, but this was an interesting bit of information. “So why the manipulation of my own world? It can be pretty chaotic,” I asked without bothering to look up. Ooh, I could be a spellsword hacker? I love cyberpunk stories. Hmm, pass. I like my dystopias fairly stable and this particular world looks like it’s going to hell pretty quick.

“The simplest answer is simply that we can. Chaotic though your world can be, you don’t have magic, making events easy to predict and thus easy to manipulate. Add to that your world’s decreasing belief in the divine, the increasing technological capabilities and all we need to do is hide our actions with some natural phenomenon. Even when we don’t, no one ever believes the truth.”

Fair enough. I would probably have fun doing that stuff if I was a god. Guess the crazy haired guy from Ancient Ancestors was right. Aliens did it. Maybe I should apply for a posting in this office? Nah, I’d get bored. Looking through this stack of possible futures was getting boring as well. Not to mention depressing. The old man wasn’t lying when he said they only intervene to prevent destruction of the universe. Most of the worlds were in some kind of nasty decline, some were stagnant yet operating under the guise of stability. I had yet to see many that seemed vibrant and full of life. Is this what would happen to Earth without this guy? I never really cared about the world before, but the thought made me shudder.

“I realize I should be grateful for being allowed to choose my future even after everything that has happened, but I’m getting the feeling you’re just playing with me. I haven’t finished with everything, but the worlds I’ve seen so far in this stack do not look very happy making. Either you really want me to pick future Earth, or most of these worlds just plain suck.”

“Well, you see,” he said,”That’s the catch. I can’t send you somewhere you would be noticed. I am not feeling guilty enough to risk an audit.”

Again, fair enough. There were still a lot of options. Hero, Demon Lord, I could even be a farmer in the middle of nowhere. No, it would be difficult to have a harem with that last option. One with people, anyway. You hear stories about lonely farmers. Not my style.

“Well, Mr. Coleman, if you would excuse me. I’ll be stepping out to begin preparations to make your transition choice a bit easier to deal with. Please, continue your perusal. Agnes will bring you something to snack on if you wish. Just press the button.”

“Thanks,” I said with a wave. “I’ll do that.” This was going to take a while. I wonder what heavenly coffee tasted like?

Turns out, office coffee tastes the same whether you’re in heaven or not. Old and burnt. I took a sip of the water that I had also asked for, my disappointment in the coffee clear to anyone. Agnes smiled briefly.“Good to see I’m not the only one. Take my word for it and don’t eat the donuts,” she said before walking back out. I tried one anyway. Stale. I never understood how they could transform like that by just entering an office building.

After consuming what seemed an entire KreamyKrisp factory worth of donuts and a coffee plantation’s yearly output, I was nearing the end of my options, having found very few worlds worth a re-life. The ones I did pick out were pretty nice, though definitely not idyllic, and seemed to run along the lines of what you would expect of a Dungeons and Demons campaign or one of the various video game rpg worlds. I finished the stack as the old man finally returned, ending up with a dozen choices for the final round.

“Have you finished, Mr. Coleman? I made sure to give you enough time.”

“Yeah, I narrowed it down to these,” I said, handing him my considerably downsized stack. He took them without saying anything and looked them over.

“I have to say, I’m rather surprised. I wouldn’t have expected you to pick any of these worlds after what happened in your previous life. I had thought you would be more inclined to pick one of the few Edens that were available. May I ask why?”

“I thought a lot about those worlds, and very nearly picked one. But... I also thought about what you said about how my life was supposed to have been, and the more I did, the more I realized just how much that explained so many things. It explains why I worked nights, always looking at the stars and imagining what was out there. Did you know I actually cried a few times when I realized I was never going into space? That’s why I didn’t pick a garden world. I could never be great there. As beautiful and wonderful as they are, no one cares. Life is perfect. But those worlds,” I said, pointing to the stack in the old man’s hands. “On one of those worlds, I can do something with my second chance. I can do exactly what I was meant to on my old world and accomplish something.”

“Thank you,” the old man said, with tears in his eyes. Why was he crying? “I didn’t say anything, but I was hoping you would pick one of these worlds. Due to mismanagement by my various predecessors or outright neglect by another office, these are considered failed worlds and management sent them to me to fix due to my success with Earth, but I could never do anything. They were too far gone. You may think me heartless, and you wouldn’t be the first, but I genuinely care about them just like I do Earth. That’s why I was so upset when I realized my mistake with you. By forcing upon you the life that I did, I unintentionally caused pain and suffering to an untold number of others, so thank you.”

He coughed in attempt to hide his embarrassment at showing such emotion. “You said you were going to make your final choice out of these,” the old man said, “Was there one in particular you were leaning towards more than the others?”

“No,” I said, “but I would like a bit more detailed information on the worlds and their history if that’s actually available. The overviews were helpful to narrow it down this far, but I need more information to make my final choice.”

“Very well then. I’ll be back with that. I also be bringing the customization options for each world. That should also help. Despite being very similar they aren’t exact copies. The value of various monies, the function and use of magic. Et cetera.”

As the old man left, I fell back in my chair and let out an exhausted sigh. I finally had a few moments to think about what had happened over the past... Hours? Days? It felt like years, but I was dead. Time didn’t exactly flow the same anymore, did it? I pulled myself upright and looked around the room. It reminded me of the time I got pulled into a police interrogation room. Grey-ish blue carpet covered everything except the table and chairs, which were in the middle of the room. It even had the really bad flourescent lights and a camera in the corner. This probably was an interrogation room. Not surprising, I thought. Sloth and gluttony were my two major causes of death, and what is a sin if not a heavenly crime? I wish the old man would hurry up. My spiritual ass was numb and my legs were tingly.

So maybe I didn’t need to think too much on how I got here. Poor health plus stress equals death. Simple. If not for the fact the old man was some sort of god figure, he was probably headed down the same path despite looking healthy. Berating me for being a failure one moment and crying about his own failures the next, being so happy he was crying followed by a composed businessman attitude. He did mention having a lot of those failed worlds put into his department, so I couldn’t really blame the man for being some kind of manic-depressive.

I looked over my shoulder as I heard the door open. The old man was back. Was he psychic? I was just thinking about him. At least he seems stable for now. And he had a tablet with him this time. Apparently they do have electronics in the afterlife, but according to the fruity looking logo, they don’t run CyborgOS. Disappointing. Maybe heaven reflects Earth in more ways than just coffee.

“Sorry for the wait, Mr. Coleman. Upon a more detailed check of the histories of your chosen worlds, I was forced to remove the majority of your selections. They had progressed even farther down the path of destruction than the paperwork indicated. I hope you don’t mind,” he said while handing me the tablet, “but I made the call based on the choices you had already culled.”

“That’s fine,” I said, even though it wasn’t. “This thing work just like on Earth?” I hated this brand. No headphone jack, needing multiple adapters and gender changers even when connecting to their desktop counterparts. I hope you’re happy, trendy hipsters.

“Yes. And it’s already on. Just swipe and you’ll see the icons for your choices.”

Finally. Although I had wanted to do the winnowing myself, it was actually a relief to have it done for me. Yep, death hadn’t changed me much at all. Now, time for my final review. I tapped on the first icon.

I tapped again. Frowned. Tapped again. “Hey, this thing isn’t working,” I said. Or at least tried to. My mouth didn’t move. I tried to get up, nope. Not happening. Please don’t tell me I was dying again. I checked myself.

Eyes? Vision isn’t cloudy. No narrowing of focus. Good there.

Chest? No pain or tingling sensation. Elevated heart rate, but that’s to be expected.

Legs? Feet and toes? Arms, hands and fingers? All fine.

Conclusion? Someone fucked me. And not in a pleasant way. I knew this was too good to be true. Why did I allow myself to believe I’d have a fresh start? Dreams never come true. Not for me. I’m worthless. Pathetic. I should never have been born.

The tablet was gently pulled from my hands. It was the old man! Maybe he’d know what happened. He was weird, but, SMACK

Holy shit, that hurt. That asshole just fucking hit me. What gives?

“I’ll tell you what gives, Mr. Coleman.”

Yep, he’s psychic. Called it.

“Yes, I am, and yes, you did. None of that matters, however. What does matter is just how badly you fucked up. It doesn’t even matter where the original fault lies. You were supposed to do amazing things, Mr. Coleman. And you didn’t. No, you just lazed around, feeding your grotesque body with disgusting food. Even if the markers to the future I had planned weren’t there, all of the potential was still there, and YOU WASTED IT!

“Years of planning wasted! All because of you! And you think I’m going to allow you to pick a decent life on some other world? Why should you be rewarded for failure?. No, you deserve punishment. Unfortunately, the boss as you call him, wouldn’t allow it without your consent.”

What? God already knew what was going on?

“Of course he knew. But he couldn’t intervene as Earth is under the oversight of my office. I love holy decrees, don’t you? Even when the almighty is being dismissive, his word holds weight. ‘Your office, your problem. No one else’s.’Still, he does have influence, which is why we had to go through all this trouble to get to this point. I hope you enjoy the hell of a world that I’m going to send you to. Agnes! Get in here and finish Mr. Coleman’s transfer. I don’t want to see him anymore.”

This was actually scary. I wonder if a dead person could cry. I knew I hadn’t been the best person I could be, but to be sent to hell? Maybe I deserved it. I did kinda grope Stephanies tit that one time in high school when she fell asleep. Did that really warrant hell? Maybe it was about the time I snuck into the girl’s locker room? No, Bryan was the one that pulled his dick out in front of the girls, not me. Nope. Had to be the time I hit the dog in my car and didn’t stop to check on it. Has to be.

A gentle voice, much different from the old man’s, “Be calm, Mr. Coleman. You’re not going to hell.”

Be calm? Be calm?! BE CALM? Yes, I’m going to calm down because someone told me to be calm.

And I was. Weird.

That voice again, that beautiful voice. And then a face entered my field of view. Agnes?

“Yes me.”

Wait. But I didn’t say anything. I closed my eyes, knowing now that she can hear my thoughts. Which means she heard when I...

She chuckled. “Yes, I heard. I never did like the name Agnes, though I must say Candy isn’t much better.”

So what’s going to happen to me?

“It’s like he said. I’m supposed to prepare you physically for your transfer. He never did like getting his hands dirty. But like I said, you’re not going to hell. I don’t have much authority in this office, but I’m the one that actually does the majority of paperwork and so I can manipulate things on behalf of the boss and not be easily noticed.”

So God put you here to help me?

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “You aren’t that important. I was already working here. But, you don’t deserve the punishment the old man wanted to give you. I made sure you’d have quite a few chances in your new life, though you’ll have to work for them. Otherwise, you’ll just end up like you did on Earth. Don’t screw it up, please.”

Okay, so how do we do this? What did you mean when you said you needed to physically prepare me?

“Well, you need to be dead,” she said. “Otherwise we can’t transfer your consciousness. I’ll be using this,” she said, pulling out a wicked looking knife. “It stores everything about you at the moment of spiritual death and allows me to transport your soul to its destination.”

Oh, holy shit. These people are fucking crazy.

Agnes softly kissed me on the lips as she plunged the blade directly into my heart, and I knew nothing but darkness and the sweet lingering flavor of... candy?
 
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