When the woman sat down across from her at the coffee shop, Saida nodded, then did a double-take. The mouse was stunning: tan fur and mahogany eyes, dark reddish head fur that fell past her shoulders. She studied the cat intently, expression fascinated.
The Rha set down her latte. “Can I help you?”
“You’re such an anomaly, Saida.”
“What does that mean? And how do you know who I am?”
“Too alien a way to start a conversation, wasn’t it.” The mouse laughed. “But tell me. Either you come back from the dead, or you have very vivid dreams about dying, don’t you?”
That got Saida to look around in alarm, then lower her voice. “How do you know that?”
“The multiverse is all data, when you see it in a certain way. At least, it is how I see it, and how a few others see it. We can analyze it all at a high level. Process it. Change it. Try to work out the bugs.”
Saida frowned. “I don’t believe the universe is a simulation, and I certainly don’t believe I’m sitting here talking to one of the programmers.”
The mouse laughed. “With that metaphor, I’m still just another program like you. I don’t know if there are programmers, exactly.” She reached for Saida’s latte and lifted away an exact duplicate of the drink, then sipped from it. “But I’m not a program the way you are. I’m more of a supervisor process.”
Saida stared at the clone latte. “That’s absolutely nuts. It would make you—it would mean you’re a virtually omnipotent goddess.”
“I don’t like using the ‘G’ word.” The mouse grinned an extraordinarily cute grin. “So just call me Hellain.”
“Uh.” Saida swallowed. “Why am I an ‘anomaly’?”
“Different versions of you keep popping up in, hmm, unusual cataclysmic events. Not just demon summonings, but giant monster attacks.” She smiled more suggestively. “Often strangely hot ones that seem directly drawn to you. A dragon-coyote knocking over buildings to get to you. A miles-high wolf woman licking up your city. Today makes the second time a being like me’s been drawn to one of your worlds, you know. My friend Clover was the rat who ate the airport tram you were on. Well, a version of you was on.”
Saida’s eyes had grown steadily wider. “You’re describing dreams I’ve had. How can you—”
“I told you how. That all the versions of you seem to have dreams about one another is another part of the anomaly.”
Taking a deep breath, Saida looked into her latte, trying to process all this. It was entirely unbelievable, yet Hellain knew way more than possible—the Rha hadn’t told anyone about some of those dreams. Then her ears folded down. “Second time,” she echoed. “Are you here to eat me?”
“Sorry.” The mouse spread her hands, looking apologetic. “I have to take out this world. But,” she made a finger-gun at Saida, “just for you, I’m going to swallow it whole.”
“What?” Saida spluttered. “You can’t possibly—there are billions—”
“All the possible futures with this specific version of this specific world in it are just… I don’t have words for it. ‘Horrific’ doesn’t begin to describe it. Far too many end with the collapse of the entire multiverse.”
Saida swallowed again. “Why tell me all of this?”
“Because I know we’re going to meet again, Saida.” Hellain smiled more warmly. “There’s something extraordinary about you, and while it’s clearly tied in with your ability to attract mega-predators, it’s not just that. You don’t shine like the other sparks I’ve found over the millennia, but you do shine.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“I know.” The mouse stood up and offered her hand to Saida. “You’ll want a better view.”
Saida hesitated, then took Hellain’s hand.
The world blurred, and Saida found herself standing alone at a rooftop bar she’d been to a few times. If she’d just teleported in, nobody noticed. They were too busy staring and pointing up at a vast face filling the eastern half of the sky. Clouds obscured some of the mouse’s features, and between the atmospheric haze and the bright sunlight hitting her, it was easy to believe she was a crazy optical illusion, a projection, an image refracting or reflecting from…somewhere. The ocean, perhaps, visible stretching out to the horizon from this seaside city.
In slow motion, the god-mouse blew a kiss, one eye—an eye bigger than the planet—winking. The clouds roiled from the force of the kiss, a visible wave rushing across the sky accompanied by a rolling sonic boom.
Then her lips parted. As more of her mouth revealed itself, front teeth hundreds of times taller than the tallest mountain glinting with painful brilliance in the sunlight, people started screaming.
Saida didn’t. She watched as the muzzle came closer, jaws drawing farther apart, colors becoming deeper, richer, as the atmospheric haze lessened. The mouse’s lower lip sank below the horizon, and a shadow slowly started to creep across the world. The incredible, impossible teeth were high in the sky, so high she had to tilt her head straight up to see them now. The sky past that became the dark red of the roof of Hellain’s mouth.
The temperature and humidity rose, and there was something—else. A pressure, a sound, a building feeling, a presence. The ocean churned in impossible ways, and the building shook, not back and forth like an earthquake, but up and down. The tidal forces acting on the planet were no longer the moon’s; they were Hellain’s. The wind grew.
Crowds ran futilely through the streets as the line of shadow passed them. The light changed dramatically—not complete darkness, not yet, but an ironically beautiful, rich amber light, the last golden hour, playing over glistening cheeks as far away as a satellite’s orbit, creating a halo around her front teeth as they eclipsed the sun. The wind grew past gale force, hot, humid, sticky and acrid-sweet, the devouring goddess’s breath overtaking the planet’s atmosphere.
Buildings in the distance started to crumble, washed away by crashing new oceans—oceans not of water, but of saliva. The light dimmed, and Saida stared dumbly toward the western horizon as Hellain’s tongue-tip appeared. She had curled her tongue around the entire world.
Saida felt her body tingling, almost on fire, and thrust her hand down her skirt. It wasn’t as if anyone would be around to reproach her in a few more minutes.
The mouse’s lips closed, the last, final nightfall. From its molten core up to the surface, the planet vibrated from the last sound that Saida, that everyone, heard, that they felt with the force of a thousand atom bombs: a delighted mmmmmm.
Saida shuddered, and blew a panting kiss at the living sky. Some version of her would meet the goddess again. Somehow.
Then she swallowed, and the world slid down Hellain’s throat.
© 2022 Arilin Thorferra