“We look like cattle,” Erica thought grimly. She was one of dozens; men and women packed shoulder to shoulder in a shipping container. A single dim light on the ceiling illuminated the other’s faces just enough to show off the dirt and grime. Their clothes were little more than rags but somehow, they all seemed excited, maybe even happy.
Erica knew most of the smiling faces; they were all from her shantytown. When a well-dressed stranger promised them a new life on another Earth, she was suspicious. When he said it was free, she begged her friends not to trust him. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, or maybe they were more like her than she thought.
She had no reason to stay on their Earth oppressed and poor. At first, Erica thought it was a trap for the government to kill them all easier. Once the stranger proved the existence of alternate universes, she still assumed he was up to no good. Either way, she expected to die. But she would rather die among friendly faces than alone. She wondered if that’s why they all agreed as a group, and pressured her to join them. Spite was the only thing she had left to live for; she was looking forward to uttering, ‘I told you so,” with her last breath.
Minutes after the container closed, it opened again. Erica didn’t feel it move but it opened to a brilliant, shiny new world. The gritty, smokey air of barrel fires was replaced by sparkling white floors. Giant windows looked out over a bustling, prosperous metropolis. A security guard in a white uniform waved them out of the container.
As Erica stepped out of it into the light she looked around. They seemed to be in a warehouse of sorts. She noticed dozens of other shipping containers also unloading their dirty contents. Ragged strangers grouped around white uniforms; the guard that tended to Erica’s group spoke up to call their attention.
“Welcome to Earth One,” the guard said with a smile. “We have some information to go through. But, after doing this for a while, we’ve learned what you want right now more than information is a chance to catch your breath.” The guard held his hand up and a small rectangle of glass caught the light just enough to announce its presence.
“This is a node and it’ll be your new best friend. I’m going to get some information from each of you, then hand you one of these. As long as you have a node you have access to living quarters, food, clothing, and entertainment. Get yourselves cleaned up, fed and rested. In a couple of days, we’ll have an orientation to help you decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.” Erica raised her hand as the guard stepped to the nearest person.
“I’m sure all of you have a lot of questions. They’ll probably be answered while you get yourselves situated. Those that aren’t will be answered during orientation. I’ll answer your question, miss,” he said. “But no more please,” he gestured at the other groups around them. “As you can see, we have a lot of work ahead of us. What’s your question?”
“What makes this ‘Earth One’?” Erica asked. “How many are there?”
“That’s the perfect example of a question that could have waited until orientation,” the guard said with a flat, customer service smile. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Erica Ellis,” she replied.
“This is Earth One for the same reason you are Erica Ellis. It’s just a name to differentiate it from other Earths. The Earth you came from is known as Dystopia 101. There’s one Earth out there named Pineapple,” he chuckled; the rest of Erica’s group laughed with him. “As for how many other Earths there are, no one knows for sure. The word ‘infinite’ is used quite often.” The guard walked to Erica.
“Since you volunteered to go first, let’s get you out of the way. I already have your name, so one more question. What’s your favorite number?”
“33,” Erica said. “That’s it? Just my name and favorite number?” As she asked, she noticed the guard waving at another guard; the second guard dashed over quickly.
“That’s it,” the guard said. He handed her a node. “This will help you find anything you need. Welcome to your new life.”