"So let me get this straight. My world is about to end?"
"I would imagine, yes."
"Should I ask?"
"If I knew I would tell you. But all they told me was to end this world."
I understand what ending an earth does to all the people on it and in it. But given a branched universe, one with many, many worlds, some are bound to go bad. The ones with humanity in them are bound to go bad even faster.
I just prune the branches.
"I just prune the branches."
She stared up at me, in her bloodstained dress clutching her fragment of teddy bear, with her eyes starting to water. I sat her down on the end of her bed, resting her delicate body on my knee.
"I understand this seems normal to you, but you know what? There's worlds out there where people aren't being chased by the radioactive remains of what little hope they have left."
"Some places without monsters?"
"I think so. Places where the people are safe."
I hoisted her up and set her gently onto the floor. Something inside me told her that this would not be a good time to tell her that the world was primed to blow in a half hour. I am just guarding the bomb.
I turned to leave.
She clinged to my leg, and I hobbled out of the shack, with one leg weighing forty pounds more than the other. Eventually she climbed off and walked very close next to me.
Something moved out of the corner of my eye. I pulled my shotgun from behind my cloak and filled it with bits of flak and pellets, with its face still spinning inside its head. Blood was leaking over its muscles, over the remnants of skin, onto the black pavement.
I pried her off my leg.
I walked further downtown, toward that movie theater. I set the bomb in there a half hour earlier, just in front of the projector. One hour. Half over. Walking between the bloodied hulks of cars and humans, through the smashed remnants of civilization, past the people barely visible under cars and under windowsills, still vulnerable to whatever decides to reduce them to the stale fragments of the death around them.
She followed me into the theater, and up the stairs on the right, and behind a closed door. There was something sitting in the seats below, watching defiled things in the theater tearing each other apart in a furious orgy of unparalleled violence.
I wiped the blood from my face, and I held her close. Nineteen minutes.
I sat there, listening to the comforting beep of the timer, and the even more comforting beep of my personal teleporter beeping in rhythm with that infernal clock.
I didn't bother to explain to her. She already knows, and nothing I can do will change that. Thirteen minutes.
She followed me downstairs into the concessions. Sometimes, the fruit of the branches is not safe to eat. But then, that's only sometimes. I unwrapped a chocolate bar and passed it to her, consoling her sobs, listening to the howling and shrieking coming from the main theater, the snarls and slashes, the occasional splash of blood making it into the lobby. Six minutes.
I carried her back upstairs as she was still eating the chocolate and sat there in silence, looking at her from across the room.
Some would say that I have the loneliest job in the world, simply waiting for the end. They would be correct.
I heard the bomb's last beep and it rumbled across the carpet, bringing back a rank smell from whatever spores and life was in the rug. The bomb faded away.
She saw it. The world was ending, from the outside in. It was simply a matter of time. She listened to the fading sounds.
I should confess. Every time the world ends, I'm still nervous that my teleporter wouldn't go off in time.
I watched the theater screen cave in, and the monsters die, starting with their outward parts just fading away, their organs visible to all as this wave of destruction came inward in a circular pattern, trimming the edges of what is now a hundred foot wide world, consuming the monsters entirely, dissolving the seats, removing the walls of the projection room.
She screamed as the skin on her back simply ceased to exist. She dropped the chocolate bar, her blood spilling into places where it can still exist, and the moment her spinal cord was no more, her screaming stopped. I watched this young girl's body dissolve into nothing, and then the teleporter went off, when I was the only thing that existed.
I just prune the branches.