The Funeral of Maggie Rain

Prologue: Serene

Maggie Rain lay on the table dressed in white, looking serene. There were no marks on her neck, nor did it seem broken. Looking at her this way, it almost seemed like she was asleep, and not at all like she had been found just hours earlier hanging from the ceiling

The undertaker had done his job well, and quickly. Andrew Rain had chosen to send his daughter’s body to him precisely because he was one of the last undertakers left who still committed himself to his work, who still respected the dead. Most these days had simply quit their jobs, and the others didn’t bother to do more than bathe the bodies. But then, few dead bodies these days found their way to undertakers

Maggie’s parents, Andrew and Laura, stood before the body and neither knew what to say. There had been screaming and tears when they’d first found her, dead and with no note, but the fact of Maggie’s death had settled in now and there was only silence. What could they say? Their daughter was dead and, note or no note, they knew why. And the worst thing about it all was that it felt…inevitable. There was no blame to pass around, no responsibility to be claimed rightfully or otherwise, no room for thinking about what they could’ve done differently. There was just the uncomfortable fact that this was as likely an end for Maggie as was her dying in any other way

“What do people do with the dead these days?” Andrew asked, breaking that upsetting train of thought

Laura shook her head and said nothing

“Fuck, I’d forgotten what it feels like to-to lose someone. What are we supposed to do next?”

“How can you be talking about this already?” Laura asked quietly

Andrew took a while to answer. “I’d rather think of this than…you know”

She’d been just 23 years old and, until the past week, as lively as a young girl in this day and age could be. To Andrew, her life seemed so much shorter, as though he’d brought her home from the hospital for the first time just the other day. He preferred not to think about the days Laura and their daughter were in the hospital, though. A great tragedy had befallen the world just then

Chapter 1: 73000 DTE

Laura Rain’s water broke on what had seemed like just another night in Humanity’s Golden Age. This Golden Age began 1200 years ago when the ISEMA OP Cosmic Herald, the first manned mission to the Sun, returned with ill tidings: the Sun would die in 1400 years and obliterate most of the solar system when it did. The governments of the world formed a Council for Humanity’s Preservation (CHP) and ISEMA united laboratories and corporations around the globe to develop technologies to save the Sun or save mankind from it. Every man and woman with a job was contributing to the effort, and that raised spirits and inspired people all over the world. Artists had begun extolling humanity’s virtues and preached hope in the face of the looming apocalypse. And it was because of this sentiment that Andrew and Laura had been able to overcome their doubts about bringing a child into a world endangered – by the time the kid grew up, this crisis and humankind’s solution to it would be in their history books

Both of them had been scared silly by their parents about how difficult their own labors had been, but medicine had been among the things to take great strides during the Golden Age. There weren’t many diseases left without cures, and those that were left were swiftly eradicated. Painkillers were developed to manage the strongest pains the body could suffer. Advances in cybernetic prosthetics meant that any failing organ could be replaced. At a certain point, barring accidents or intentional acts of violence, there wasn’t any way left for people to die. Andrew and Laura’s births had been a long time ago

They’d stocked up on painkillers that had been made specifically for mothers giving birth, and Andrew had not driven his wife to the hospital like a bat out of hell because she was in pain, but because they had been so excited to finally have their baby girl

The actual birth had been as messy and noisy as it has been for the entire history of man, and Maggie had entered the world crying and covered in viscera as quadrillions of humans had before her, but it was painless and free of complications. Andrew and the parents’ families had all been present, and each held the baby just after she was born. Andrew was over the moon, and felt more than ever that this decision had been the right one. In his joy, he hadn’t noticed the stricken looks on his and Laura’s families’ faces

Laura’s room was cleared so she could rest, and Andrew’s father took him aside to deliver the news

“Andrew, the Golden Age is over” he said grimly

“What do you mean?”

“The CHP and the ISEMA Coalition announced that they’re giving up on saving the world. There was a press conference while Laura was having the baby”

Andrew stared at his father, refusing to believe what he was saying

“I mean, come on Andrew, it’s the sun” his father continued. “What were the odds? The head of the Coalition called it ‘our inevitable surrender to nature’. Name’s probably gonna stick”

“You’re telling me I brought a girl into a doomed world” Andrew said in a stunned monotone

His father turned to the clock on the wall. Like most clocks in the world, it showed the time, date and a countdown to the end of the world. The clock read 73000 DTE or Days to End – 200 years

“It’s funny how we live for so long now. Before the Golden Age, I would’ve been dead at age 70 and I always thanked whatever heaven there is that I’d picked that era to be born in. Kinda wish I’d died at 70 after all. Can’t be the only old-timer thinking it either”

Andrew was 70 years old himself, but thanks again to the medical advancements of the Golden Age, 70 had become the new 30. He found himself agreeing with his dad – both because he would live to see the end of the world and because he’d have to watch people buckle under the weight of this revelation

“Your girl’s gonna get sick, just like you and I did” his father began again. “Cancer, diabetes or something. Or maybe organ of her’s will give out. When that happens, do her a favor and let her go. Don’t prolong her life like we did ours. But you make sure she sees everything the world has to offer first. This will all be gone in 200 years, your girl better not miss a damn thing”

Interlude: Mistake

Had Andrew shown Maggie everything? No, he thought bitterly, I suppose I hadn’t. There wasn’t a whole lot left

He joined Laura at the door to welcome guests. Almost everyone who had been there at her birth had arrived, with four grave exceptions: Andrew’s mother had overdosed on some drug that had found its way from Lambda Earth into a club in their world, and his father had taken his own life shortly after; Laura’s parents had been mugged and shot in some inner-city alley far away from Laura’s suburban life. All had been victims of society’s collapse in the wake of what they’d started calling the Inevitable Surrender, as people grew more unhinged and willing to hurt others for short term gain. After all, the worst that could happen is they’d get the death penalty, and hanging was not so different in the end than being incinerated by the Sun

it occurred to Andrew that his own daughter had reached that exact conclusion and he had to excuse himself to go into his own bedroom. There, he fell to his knees and broke down in tears, all the thoughts he’d held back rushing in. Chief among them, this one:

It was a mistake. Having Maggie was a mistake

He waited for his wife to come in to comfort him and tell him everything was going to be okay, the way she always did. She never came. After crying for a minute, Andrew stood up, marched to the bathroom, washed his face, and returned to the funeral

There were 15 people present at Maggie’s funeral, and yet all was deathly quiet

Maggie’s body had been moved to the backyard, so everyone could stand round it and pay their respects. It was dusk time, and yet the day was as bright as it had been in the afternoon. The Sun was a giant red orb hanging in the horizon, a reminder of humanity’s doom. There were a few hours left before the Ellison Dome surrounding the planet would be blacked out and Earth’s simulated ‘night’ would begin

Everyone wished for some noise, just some ambient distraction from the girl before them and what her suicide meant, but suburban neighborhoods like the ones the Rains lived in were generally quiet – it was only at night, when the drunks and druggies would start to come home, that noises could be heard. Throughout the day, the few people left who still went to work and the majority of people who spent their days partying their lives away left the houses vacant

The adults were still a little surprised that someone would just give up, rather than try to make it through life regardless of how much it cost her. Maggie’s oldest friend, Amanda Rose, thought otherwise. She’d known Maggie since middle school, and while she remembered her friend being as bright as was possible in a world like this, she also remembered the moment Maggie started down the path that lead her to a noose

Chapter 2: Adventures

“Mommy, what’s an ‘Ellson dome’?” Amanda had asked her mother at the age of 7. And that was when she learned for the first time the world was ending

The Ellison Dome, her mother had explained, had been one of the great achievements of the Golden Age, and the best shot mankind had at surviving the death of the Sun. A dome constructed round the surface of the Earth’s atmosphere, it consisted of two layers with air trapped between them. The air would heat up from the Sun, and this hot air would be cycled through power plants all around the world, used to make steam to run some very old-fashioned generators and produce electricity. Because of how much air there was in the dome and all the places the heat was being dumped, the Dome had kept the Sun’s growing heat at bay for a long time. A tint had been added to the Dome for summer, and as the Sun grew larger, an artificial ‘night’ had to be built into the Dome. Everyone was so proud of the Ellison Dome, they’d come to expect that it was their one true salvation

It was not. No matter how much heat the Dome could siphon away, no matter how tough it was, it would burn just like planet Earth would when the Sun died

Everything young Amanda knew of the world had come from the stories her parents told her and movies. The stories were almost always from during the Golden Age, talking about the great works of scientists and engineers trying to save the planet. Stories like that of the Ellison Dome. So to clarify, everything young Amanda knew about the world today came from movies

Society in the years following the Inevitable Surrender had begun falling apart. It began with protests against ISEMA and world governments, pushing them to restart initiatives to hold off the end. The protests turned from peaceful to violent and destructive, and when the protesters saw that their efforts had no effect, they went on ‘protesting’ anyway out of fear and anger. The protesting died down and humanity’s collective moral compass had started going even further askew. By the time Amanda hit her 20s, there was no moral compass left. The masses would steal, rape and murder as they pleased, and spend their ill-gotten gains on partying and drinking and drugs. And if they got punished? It’s not the end of the world, is it? such people liked to say with bitter irony

Amanda’s parents were not among those masses, thankfully, but that did mean they kept their daughter extremely sheltered. She was only allowed to go outside without her parents when she walked to and from school, and even then, she had to be escorted by a friend. Maggie was not the sort of friend sheltering parents would approve of, but she enjoyed movies as much as Amanda did and that made her good company

On one such day, while walking home from school, Maggie first learned what life in a dying world really meant

“My dad showed me a movie from when he was our age” Maggie said

“Really” Amanda replied. “What kind of movie?”

“It was about this spaceship that goes to a planet in a galaxy far away. There are these aliens there who’re wondering what life on other planets must be like. So the humans tell them all about the wild tech stuff they’ve got, like the Ellison Dome and wormhole generators and shit like that. Some aliens decide to visit Earth and promise their families that they’ll come back, but Earth is so cool that they never wanna leave. Ending’s kinda sad. The families can’t communicate with the aliens on Earth, so they think they’re all dead”

“Sounds really cool” remarked Amanda

“You know my favorite thing about that movie? It shows humans in a positive way. They don’t do that in movies these days. It’s just people being nasty to each other, lots of blood and guts and, by the end, you hate everyone a bit more”

“I dunno. That’s how people are now, right?”

“Yeah, but they shouldn’t be that way. Humans are awesome, but folks these days don’t realize it”

“What’s the point of being awesome? It wasn’t enough to save the world”

“The point is that one failure doesn’t negate –”

Maggie was cut off when she tripped on the leg of a drunk man. He was sitting against a building, close to passed out, a bottle in one hand and a smoking tube in the other

“Sorry, ladies” the drunk slurred. “Have a drink? In good faith and stuff”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re too young” Amanda replied. “Anyway, it’s okay, we’ll be going now”

“Come on, have a sip” the drunk insisted

“Are you seriously offering drinks to 12 year old girls?” asked Maggie

“What of it? Are you gonna get me arrested?”

“Maybe we will”

“Pffffffffffffft. The Golden Age is over, no one is too old for a little booze, girl”

“This is what I was talking about” Amanda said to Maggie. “People being nasty to each other”

“Hah, there ain’t enough time left for nothing but nastiness” said the drunk. “The world’s dying, girls, morals don’t count for shit. Everything you do is gonna get burnt to a crisp, might as well be a drunk”

“Let’s go, Maggie…” Amanda pleaded, trying to drag Maggie away. But Maggie felt a strange curiosity for what the drunk had to say

“Only thing worth doing is getting too drunk to care, about the fucking Surrender or anything else. You’ll find lots of adventures at the bottom of this bottle, girl. Take the drink”

With a grim look on her face, Maggie took the bottle and took a gulp, before cringing and stopping

“Shit tastes disgusting” she told the drunk

“Y’know what, keep that bottle and drink the whole damn thing on the way home. After a chug or five, you’ll start to like it a bit more”

Maggie finished the bottle, and in the 11 years that followed, polished off many more

Interlude: My Fault

Maggie was not the first of Amanda’s old classmates to have killed themselves, but she’d been her best friend at some point. When she heard about the others, it had seemed natural to her – you either die, or you live in misery and then die anyway. Yet when it came to Maggie, Amanda couldn’t help but mull the state of the world over, wondering how it could turn a girl with ideals into someone who’d drink her way to suicide

Her train of thought was stopped by the hysterical yelling of Maggie’s mom

SOMEONE PLEASE SAY SOMETHING” cried Laura. “I can’t take the quiet anymore! Just say something, anything!”

All eyes turned to the parents as Andrew led his wife back into the house, trying to calm her down. Once the parents had gone inside, Amanda noticed another girl – one of Maggie’s friends from college – start to tear up. She too ran into the house, followed by two of her other friends. People had begun talking now, and Amanda suddenly felt alone in the crowd. Alone with the body of her old friend. She thought of something to say, but all she could think of were the words of the drunk, scarily foreboding

“Only thing worth doing in this world is getting too drunk to care”

But that was too inappropriate a thing to say at a funeral

Maggie’s room was exactly as it had been early that morning. Even down to the rope hanging from the ceiling and the chair kicked to a side

Hope Evans walked up to the rope and took it in her hands. Maggie hanged herself with this she thought bitterly and she started sobbing again

Her two closest friends, Cheryl and Janet, ran in just after her. They too needed a moment to stop and process the scene

The three of them, Maggie’s circle of friends in college, stood in the room where she had died less than 24 hours ago

Maggie’s room was exactly as it had been early that morning. Her clothes were strewn about on the ground, the carpet dotted with stains from the hundreds of drinks she’d had in this room. The bed was unmade, with the blanket lying in a pile beside the bed. Posters of Golden Age movies hung on the walls, a reminder of the belief Maggie had once had in humanity

There was one other thing that was different now: the chair Maggie had kicked had knocked a clock off a shelf. The clock had broken and stopped at 3:52AM, 04/07/27, 64605 DTE. Cheryl walked over to the clock and picked it up

“This is it. The moment Maggie decided to end it all” she announced

The Ellison Dome blacked out and the room became dark. Night had fallen. The ‘moon’, painted on the dome in fluorescent paint, cast a beam of light through the window. A moment later, lights switched on throughout the house

“Th-this is all my fault” Hope said in a choked voice

“You can’t blame yourself” Janet reassured. “This isn’t anyone’s fault”

“But it is! I just…it’s my fault, okay? Why won’t you two just accept that?”

“Because this is the only way Maggie’s life could have ended” answered Cheryl, still looking at the clock.

“Don’t you bring your negativity into this too” Janet chastised

“You know what Maggie was like, Janet. She’d been spiraling for a long time before we met her. This is what the bottom of that spiral looks like”

“That doesn’t mean we can talk about her like this, especially not at her funeral!”

“Guys, I have a confession” interjected Hope. “Look, I’m not saying this is my fault for no reason, okay? I took Maggie with me to meet Bill last week, and…”

Chapter 3: Why Bother?

Relationships are hard when the world and the relationships have no future. Hope and her boyfriend, Bill Johnson, tried as hard as they could to enjoy their lives together, taking things one day at a time, ignoring the harsh realities that surrounded them. But as the clock ticked down, it became harder and harder

There were even more mundane reasons for why the end of the world made it challenging to be in a relationship: there was nothing for the young couple to do. In the days of the Golden Age and even before, guys and girls would eat at fancy restaurants, go to see movies, or just spend time walking in a park or on a beach or driving through the countryside. These options were not available to Hope and Bill – restaurants and cinemas, like so much of the service industry, had faded out of existence, and parks and beaches were just littered with the bodies of passed out drunks and junkies

Some couples, those in which one or both partners were journeymen, had fled to other universes to escape the decay of society on Sigma Earth. In fact, the exodus of Sigma Earthers in every direction along the Chain of Worlds had been huge, cutting the world population down by over a million. Neither Hope and Bill were journeymen, though, nor did they know any journeymen who would take them away, leaving them with nothing to do but be surrounded by reminders of the coming catastrophe they were trying to forget

Each of them had their own way of dealing with the state of the world. Hope had completely immersed herself in this relationship, moving in with Bill against her parents’ wishes, cooking and keeping house and just busying herself in taking care of her boyfriend. Maggie had given her an earful on lots of occassions, saying that 22 was too young to be a housewife and that she was making herself Bill’s doormat. Deep down, Hope knew this was true. As long as it kept her from thinking about how pointless the relationship was, though, she’d keep doing it

Bill, on the other hand, was rather distant, choosing instead to avoid investing too much into the relationship. He chose to do what most people did – go to clubs everyday, dance until his ears rang from the music, and drink by the gallon. Every now and then, stronger booze from elsewhere in the Machina would find its way into clubs on this world. Lambda Earth emerged as the best place for these exotic drinks – a few shots of their light beers would leave a man of Sigma Earth blacked out and with a hangover for the ages

One day, Bill had decided to try another Lambda Earth delicacy, and had invited his girlfriend to join him. Hope, nervous, had asked if a friend of hers could also come over. He was more than happy to share

And so it was that Hope asked Maggie to partake in Bill’s latest acquisition

“Cigarette” Maggie had repeated, sounding the word out. “I like the name. What is it?”

“I’m not really sure myself. It’s made from this plant that only grows on Lambda Earth. Apparently it chills you out when you smoke it”

“Well, I think everyone could use a little chill these days. You sure Bill doesn’t mind?”

“He got so many packs and each pack has 20 cigarettes. They must smoke them like we eat candy”

“Cigarettes” Maggie said again. “Fuck it, I’m in”

They’d gathered in the couple’s bedroom, which was a lot tidier than Maggie’s own room (thanks to Bill’s doormat, thought Maggie). Bill showed them the pack of cigarettes. The box was bright and colorful, with a drawing of some kind of soldier wearing a strange hat and smoking. It was an old-fashioned design, the kind of thing you would see in history records of billions of years ago. The pack itself was small enough to easily fit in a person’s pocket

“Cool box” Maggie commented dryly

“Isn’t it?” replied Bill. “I’ve never seen a box of anything look so…bright and inviting. Makes you realize that the life has gone out of the fucking boxes in this universe too”

“I like it…” Hope added meekly

Bill opened the box and handed one each to the girls. Then he took out a lighter from his pocket and flicked it open

“Before we begin” Bill said with the cigarette in his mouth, “I’ve heard this stuff causes cancer”

“Good thing we’ve cured it on Sigma Earth” Hope replied

“I’m gonna be honest, I wouldn’t even go to the fucking hospital if I had cancer at this point” said Bill. “Let’s smoke this shit to our health”

After a brief struggle, Bill lit his cigarette and passed the lighter around. He took a few drags and closed his eyes. Whatever the thing was doing to him, he liked it

Maggie and Hope discovered that they too liked the strange feeling of light-headedness they got from the cigarette, almost as if their brains had gone numb. The feeling persisted for as long as the cigarette did. About 5 minutes

Like anyone who discovers a drug for the first time, the three of them were already looking forward to feeling that relief again, and they smoked their way through the entire pack. Hope tapped out on her fourth smoke, and Maggie and Bill split the rest between them, taking in that sweet sensation

But the sensation went away and the cigarettes were all gone. They weren’t different from any other drug in that regard

“No wonder they call Lambda Earth ‘the good times capital of the multiverse'” Maggie said. “When are you getting more, dude?”

Hope looked at Bill, who was leaning against the wall. The downcast look on his face worried her

“What’s the point?” asked Bill

“The point of?” Hope prodded

“The point of this. The point of drinking. The point of anything”

“To escape, isn’t it?”

“What kind of escape is this? We’re still alive, the world is still gonna end, we haven’t escaped a damn thing”

“There are some things we can’t change, Bill. We just try to deal with them any way we can”

“Why should we have to ‘deal with it‘?” grumbled Bill, tossing the dead butt of the cigarette away. “It’s not our fault we were born in the wrong fucking place at the wrong fucking time”

“It’s not anyone’s fault that the Sun is about to explode. It just is what it is. What exactly do you want to do about it?”

Bill walked across the room and to the window. The Sun engulfed the horizon, a red harbinger of their doom

“Why bother living in a world like this?” he asked

Maggie had been listening to the argument quietly, staring at her own dead cigarette. After Bill asked that question, the rest of their argument had been white noise, something about Hope scolding Bill for talking suicide. That question, that statement, was all that rang in Maggie’s head for the rest of the week

And then she died

Interlude: One Piercing Thought Away

“Sounds like it was Bill that planted the idea in Maggie’s mind, not you” said Cheryl

“But I’m the one who took her to the smoking thing. If I’d just been on my own, Maggie would still be alive” cried Hope. “It’s not Bill’s fault!”

“You heard what Janet said, it’s not anybody’s fault, that’s the whole point. Either Bill would have put it in her head, or someone else would’ve”

“You don’t know that!”

“For fuck’s sake, Hope, it’s what everyone is thinking” yelled Cheryl. Hope just stared back

“Yeah, I said the thing that we’re all thinking, and all those people outside are thinking” she continued. “No one wants to live in a world like this, where everyone is either trying their hardest to forget everything or huddling at home, griping about why things couldn’t be different or why ISEMA and the CHP had to give up. We’ve all thought it: death is preferable to all this. And if Janet kills herself tomorrow, you’ll blame me, but the fact is we’re all just one push, one piercing thought away from joining Maggie wherever she’s gone.”

At this point, Cheryl had begun sobbing, and the tears had smeared her makeup. Hope walked over and hugged her tight.

“The funny thing is no one could argue the world would be a worse place without us because the world literally could not get any worse than this.” Cheryl yelled into Hope’s shoulder

After letting Cheryl sob for a minute, Janet, who had been sitting on Maggie’s bed with her head in her hands, finally spoke up

“Guys, our friend just died. Can’t we think about something else? Can’t we try to remember the fun we had when she was around? I mean, we have had fun all this time, haven’t we?”

“If anyone’s gonna bring up something positive, it’s you Janet” replied Hope. “You’re, like, the happy center of the group”

Janet pursed her lips and tried to recall a good story from the group’s past, something to cheer her friends (and herself) up. And then she hit on something

“Hey guys, remember the time when…”

Chapter 4: Every Little Thing

“Are you fucking kidding me?” asked Cheryl as the car began to sputter again

“It’s okay, the noise will go away like it always does” Janet reassured

The noise did not go away this time. Instead, the car’s engine turned off

“ohshitohshitohshit” Janet muttered as she pushed the ignition button over and over, but the engine didn’t even turn or make a sound

“Pull into the shoulder before someone hits us!” screamed Hope

There had been no danger of that, since the road was empty for miles in both directions, but Janet gave up on the engine and stopped in the shoulder anyway. And now the four of them were stranded

“So much for our road trip” Cheryl grumbled as the four of them got out of the car. “Hey Janet, any chance we’ll get this jalopy rolling again?”

“Probably not. I don’t even know what’s wrong with it” answered Janet, staring into the hood as though she’d be able to see what the problem was

The car was an ancient, Golden Age-era thing that had been in Janet’s family for decades. Cars of that time were extremely reliable and could keep running for ages, but at a certain point, they did need maintenance. This particular car had not even been started in all of Janet’s life – when there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go, what use is a car?

This road trip had been Janet’s idea. A cross-country drive, the only objective of which was sight-seeing. And of course, quality time as friends. It had, sadly, come to a screeching halt on a deserted highway, with just endless green country-side around them. In the far distance, the great big barns of old farms could be seen. The barns, the girls knew, were mostly empty. There were a few places where agriculture still thrived, but this was not one of them

“Great road trip, Janet. Look at all this amazing scenery” chided Cheryl

“Hey, how was I supposed to know the car would just up and break down like that?” Janet retorted

“I could be home right now, y’know?”

“Doing what exactly?”

“Something more interesting than this!”

“Guys, lets just try to get home, okay?” Hope interjected. “Maybe we should call, like, recovery services?”

“Anyone have a number for one?” asked Maggie

“Thank goodness for the internet” replied Janet as she began to look up recovery services on her phone

Recovery services were booming these days. Janet and her friends had not been the first to take out an aging car for a drive it wasn’t ready for – but more frequently, they responded to car crashes in which one or more of the parties involved were seriously drunk. The company that Janet had called was tied up and wouldn’t be able to send a truck to them for at least an hour

“So we’re stuck out here for an hour” said Cheryl. She opened the back door and sat down on the seat. “At least the weather’s nice” she added sarcastically

It was too hot for anyone to wait outside without air conditioning. In the summer, the red giant that would be humanity’s end gave off even more heat than it did at any other time of the year. The Ellison Dome valiantly absorbed this heat, and had even been tinted to block off more of the heat than usual, but even so the air seemed to be on fire. Never mind a whole hour, even a few minutes felt impossible

The girls got back inside the car to get out of the Sun, leaving the doors open. There was nothing for them to do but to silently contemplate the empty roads. Once those roads had bustled with traffic, people traveling between cities and seeing more of a beautiful, lively world. Now they were empty. The world had, in a way, died already, even before the Sun could finish the planet off

These were precisely the thoughts that this road trip was supposed to put off, and Maggie couldn’t take much more of the negativity that had poisoned the air around them

“Hey guys, you wanna listen to some music?” she asked, breaking the silence

“Sure, what else are we gonna do?” replied Cheryl

“As long as Janet doesn’t get to play her stuff” Hope teased

“Oh shut up” answered Janet

“It’s a fact, Jan, your music kinda sucks”

“All music sucks. Art imitating life or whatever”

“Aaaanyway,” Maggie interrupted, “lately I’ve been listening to music from other universes. The ones that aren’t as depressing as ours is? There’s some good shit out there”

“How do you listen to music from other worlds?” asked Cheryl

“Cartographers bring records and stuff from around the multiverse. Then they make copies and keep them in libraries. The peasant folk like us can download them from there”

“Maggie goes to the library. I thought I’d seen everything” Janet remarked

“Yeah yeah yeah, do you want me to put it on or what?”

“On your phone’s speaker?” asked Hope

“I’d love to hook it up to the car’s Bluetooth, buuuuut…”

“Just put it on”

“Fun fact, they say that this song or some variation of it exists in 10 of the 24 universes. Not ours, and I think you’ll see why. This particular version, from the Zeta universe, is my favorite” Maggie explained as she fished around in her handbag for her phone, bottles clinking inside. She finally got it out and played the song

A man sang over a simple beat about everything good in life. He sang about waking up with a smile at the rising of the Sun, as though it carried no ill omen in his world. He sang about birds that had a song of their own, a song that only he could understand, a song whose words encouraged him to fret nothing

“‘Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright!”It was a sharp contrast from the music of their world, which consisted largely of loud, repetitive beats and rarely featured any lyrics, and never featured any lyrics of such unbridled positivity. The girls were mesmerized

“You got any other music from beyond our world?” asked Cheryl

“Sure do. I’ve got a whole playlist. I’ll play it now”

The recovery services ended up taking an hour and a half to send someone, but time had flown for the girls as they listened to music from everywhere in the Machina. Songs about the greatness of humanity, the beauty of the universe, speculations of life outside planet Earth, outside this galaxy. The singers honestly believed in the promise of the future, that every difficult time in their lives was just a moment and that in the end, every little thing would indeed be alright. On Sigma Earth, people knew that to be false, but it was fun to indulge in the hope of others

Epilogue: The World We Live In

“That’s the kind of person Maggie was – dreaming of what was and what could be, what should be. Cheryl might be right, maybe this was bound to happen to her, but that’s how I choose to remember my friend” Janet finished

Just then, Laura knocked on the door and entered the room

“Hope I’m not interrupting” she said, trying to be blunt and impassive. “We’re heading out to cremate Maggie now”

Maggie’s body had been laid down in the backseat of Andrew’s car and they drove to the sea. The other guests had followed in their own cars. Janet and her friends went in Janet’s father’s car (the one that had broken down a long time ago)

There a little cliff that overlooked the beach. Below them, parties raged on – the sand was dotted with bonfires and disco lights, and the loud, ugly music of Sigma Earth could be heard for miles. The cliff, however, was peaceful enough

They placed Maggie at the edge of the cliff, still looking as serene as she had that morning. The funeral-goers had gathered round. Andrew held a lighter in both hands and stared at it, unable to do the deed

“Hey, I have something to say” Cheryl announced

She walked over and stood before Maggie, facing the crowd. They were completely silent, waiting for Cheryl to say her piece

“What happened to Maggie is tragic, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s a reflection of the world we live in. Just because we lost Maggie, though, doesn’t mean we have to lose anyone else. We failed her, every one of us – hell, the whole damn world failed her. And now, all we can do is try not to fail anyone else. That’s all we have left to do in this world”

Cheryl returned to her friends, who both hugged her. The crowd neither applauded nor protested the statement – whether they agreed or not, they didn’t say. Andrew approached the body and kneeled before it

“Goodbye” he whispered tearfully, and lit the cloth she was wrapped in

The cremation hadn’t been planned in any meaningful way and most were not prepared for the smell. Once the body itself caught fire, most of the funeral-goers fled the cliff. Cheryl and her friends considered them with disgust – even after everything, they could not help but fail Maggie one last time

Maggie’s friends stayed. Amanda stayed. And of course, her parents stayed. They watched as Maggie Rain’s body disintegrated in the flame. A light breeze blew the ashes away

The ashes, light gray and nigh invisible in the artificial night of Sigma Earth, blew across the beach and towards the sea. None of the people partying beneath the cliff noticed Maggie’s pyre nor her remains carried on the wind. That didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except for the girl who had died, and the sad and broken people whose lives she had touched and left behind

Nothing remained of Maggie in the end. Her loved ones turned away from the cliff’s edge and walked back into the night



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