Maya didn’t die in 2028, but she did accidentally get some answers.
She was a professor in the humanities department at the University of Texas Austin, mostly teaching Anthro 101 and disappointing a hundred kids a year because whatever the fuck Indiana Jones did wasn’t actually anthropology, and she got suckered into a physics lecture by the university’s newest whizz kid because her boss said it would be good for networking or some shit, anyway he didn’t show up but there she was suddenly having to talk to people and it didn’t take her long to realize her boss had sent her in as fucking Tribute.
Maya was in the back row and half-dozing when she heard it. Another minute or so and she would have been completely asleep and missed it all. But she was awake enough to hear it, and then she was listening with every firing neuron in her brain. Hell, maybe even some of the ones she had killed with booze and the cocaine she did in her twenties came back to life to listen, too.
After the lecture there was the usual wine and beer and too-small snacks and lots of people impressed with the way their farts smelled trying to get everyone else to also be impressed with their farts. Maya let the crowd thin a little before approaching him while he was alone, trying to decide between two different types of shitty beer. He was a little pudgy, and that combined with his bright red hair made him look like he wasn’t even old enough for beer in the first place.
“That part about the multiverse,” she asked after the awkward pleasantries had been delivered.
“Yes, that’s the part everyone asks about.” But the way his eyes lit up said he wasn’t tired of talking about it. “Of course there’s still a lot of research needed, but the possibilities-”
“Yeah, yes, right, it’s very interesting. Specifically, the part where a consciousness might move to another universe after death?”
It took this baby-faced physics genius a second to recover from being interrupted and Maya remembered that he was a male academic and not a female academic and therefore not used to being interrupted during every conversation.
“Um, right. The science there is still pretty sketchy. It’s nothing more than fanciful theory at this point.”
“But it is possible,” Maya said, waiting for him to pause this time so he didn’t look like a deer staring down a 747 again. “Like, if I died here. Say, giving birth or, I don’t know, having a tire flung at my face on the side of a highway, instead of just ceasing to exist or moving on to an afterlife, I’d just…slide on over to neighboring universe?”
“That’s the idea. Again, there’s no hard science to back that up. I mostly bring it up during my lectures as a break from the hard stuff. When I see eyes start to glaze over.”
“That’s usually when I break out my bull whip. Anthro. The kids love it.”
She said all this to cover her tracks and immediately regretted it because the physics professor’s eyes lit up but Maya wasn’t done getting her answers.
“If I…If you’re going to a parallel universe, though, wouldn’t there be differences. Like in movies. You’ve seen movies? Like where the Nazis won and there’s still airships in the sky and shit and we’re all speaking German?”
He was already shaking his head. “There would be universes that are that different, of course. Universes that are so different we wouldn’t even recognize them. But a multiverse is infinitesimal. Every single decision, or outcome, is a new universe, and it’s constantly branching. If you die here, your consciousness is merely going to the next world over where you didn’t. Everything is exactly the same, except you’re alive. The differences in the universes would cascade as time went on, of course, but in the moment it would look exactly the same.”
Maya’s brain was thinking too much and she needed to drown in something a lot stronger than shitty light beer, but before she could excuse herself the physics professor bobbed his head back and forth.
“Of course, if the death was caused by something catastrophic enough, you might slide into a universe that was different enough so that you’d notice.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s say you get on an airplane that’s destined to crash in the ocean. There’s too much wrong with the plane, it crashes almost every time. It crashes so often, in fact, that the closest universe where you live isn’t one where it doesn’t crash, but one where you don’t get on it all. That’s not Wolfenstein differences, but there would still be a different set of circumstances leading to you never getting on the plane.”
The drive home was a blur. It wasn’t necessarily true. But it felt right.
She had been in a universe where Maya died on the side of a highway, and then she had slid into one where she didn’t.
But in that one, she died five years later slipping on the stairs. So, she slid into another one.
Where she died in childbirth.
Maya would kick herself the next morning when she realized she hadn’t asked about dying from old age.
Turned out the next time she died was one of those catastrophic deaths. Funny how the multiverse works like that.
It was just a flu. A fucking flu. Everyone gets the flu. You’re not supposed to die unless you’re young or old or already fucked up. And besides the fact that this flu was spreading across the country outside of flu season – who gets the fucking flu in June?? – it looked like a normal flu.
Until it didn’t.
Lenny and Lily died first. Her son, Oscar, wasn’t even sick. As she lay there, staring at her ceiling and listening to her choked breathing and the ‘sorry you’re dying but everyone is and we’re too busy’ message repeat over the phone next to her ear, she wondered where they went, and if she’d go there, too. She’d never had the balls to bring it up with Lenny, rational to the point of his own insanity. If she had mentioned something the chances were high he’d have her locked away in a psych ward. How many different hers were out there, stuck in a straight jacket or something?
If they went somewhere, would they remember? Probably not. Obviously, something was wrong or at least weird with her, specifically. Otherwise everyone would remember all the times they’d been wiped off the earth. Either she was the only one remembering it, or the only one sliding around.
This was the worst one. A little because it was taking forever – Maya lingered, barely breathing, for twenty-three hours – but mostly because she was staring at Oscar. He was six. And he wasn’t sick. Lenny and Lily, one way or another, their suffering was over. But Oscar, sleeping next to her, wasn’t going anywhere. Maya was going to die. Maya was going to wake up in another universe where she didn’t. There would be another Oscar there.
But what about this Oscar?
By the time she realized she was going to die again it was obvious this flu was a world ender. Everything was in chaos. Maya would have taken hundreds of tires to the face if it would save Oscar from whatever his fate would be.
With her last bits of strength, she wrote a note and pinned it to his shirt. Then she told Oscar to find a neighbor and get food. What neighbor? Any neighbor. Anyone who would open the door. Find the neighbor and give them the note and get food.
Maya was crying when she passed into a coma. And still crying a couple of hours later when she snapped awake on the couch, completely healthy, no fever, no choking mucous. Both her kids playing in the back yard. Some version of them, anyway.
There wasn’t a pandemic in this world at all. No flu out of the ordinary. It took Maya a few weeks to fully comprehend what that meant. Every version of the world where the Blues showed up, she died. Whatever power was sliding her around had to take her to one where it didn’t happen at all.
It took her much longer to be able to look at this Oscar without immediately thinking of the one she left behind.
2082 – 93
It seemed all her deaths had come in the first half.
After the flu, nothing. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing. At least nothing she noticed. Who knows, maybe she died in her sleep a few times and woke up the next morning like everything was fine and fucking dandy. Maybe it was all random. Maybe she had just mellowed out. She didn’t do drugs, she stopped drinking anything more than a glass of wine on Fridays. Vacations were usually trips to the family cabin, nothing international or dangerous. Maya and Lenny settled into a comfy little rut and found they were happy to ride it all out like that.
Lenny died when she was ninety, and she wanted to go with him. She kept trying to follow. And kept getting waylaid to the neighboring universe. In the three years since she’d lost count of how many times she’d slid over, but figured it must be over three dozen by now. Falls. Infections. Cold weather. That time the aide swore up and down there was no coconut in the cake and turned out to be fatally wrong. All the little things that can take a ninety-year-old as easily as an empath can take a hint. Take her they did. Never where she wanted to go.
This, though. This was different. She could feel it in her bones, her blood, the way the air moved through it. This wasn’t a freak accident. This wasn’t a tire to the face or a Matchbox car on the stairs, and it wasn’t a curable (or incurable) infection. This was just…the end. Her body was tired. Over it. And frankly, so was she.
She never did get to ask that physics professor what happened at the end. What else could there be? In what rational world could she live past old age?
Maya had already died alone once, and was glad for her grandchildren to be by her side. Even if she couldn’t keep them straight anymore. One of them was holding her hand. She used what she had left to give it a pat and give them a smile. Then came the darkness.
Maya snapped awake in the dark, and reached out to turn on the light she somehow knew was there.
This wasn’t her room.
This wasn’t any of her rooms.
This time was different.
Something was different.
There…there were two of her.
Not physically. Mentally. Two sets of memories. Two lives lived.
One Maya had been professor and wife and mother in Texas and besides dying and sliding about nothing extraordinary had ever happened. This memory was fading, not quite like dreams, but like a memory of a beloved book.
The other was the real one. The one of this universe. A universe of many where magic was real, and universe of not-quite-so-many where bluewave magic ran through Maya’s veins.
This other Maya was…no, not fading. More mixing in with the rest. It seemed lately every morning Maya was waking up to another one of herself joining her. It had taken her nearly a year to realize it was age.
Outside it was still dark, and the window across from the bed acted as a mirror. Maya could feel this new, other Maya jolt in shock at seeing her. Not ninety-three. Not looking like it, anyway.
In what rational world could she live past old age?
Maya sighed, and turned the light off, hoping to sleep for a few more hours. “You forgot, that’s all. The multiverse is vast and unending, and your ‘rational’ worlds are just a drop in the bucket. Just wait, my dear. Eventually I’ll die, too. My money is on waking up in a universe where I’m a vampire.”