Ahead of me, my friends stepped out of the Underground into the warm light of the world above. I lingered behind, racing through possibilities of how to avoid what was about to happen next. Time stopped.
In itself, this was not an unusual phenomenon. In addition to my powers to SAVE, LOAD, and RESET while journeying through the Underground, I had the capacity to QUIT. Doing so left me in a limbo outside of time, my consciousness intact and capable of reflecting on my journey so far or to plan my next move. But in that state, I could neither perceive nor affect anything within the Underground. I held only a dim awareness of my SAVE, the locus of my Determination that I would snap back to once I willed myself to return.
And at this particular juncture, I wasn't sure if I would ever want to do so.
I'd made a terrible… well, mistake would not be honest. I'd abused my powers, using my infinite capacity to revisit the past as a way to do horrific things and then undo them again, avoiding their consequences. I'd put the whole of the Underground to the sword, intending to RESET and bring everyone back from their death at my hands. But my acts of destruction awoke a devilish force capable of countering even my powers, and it stood poised to take control of the timeline as soon as I left the Underground. I'd briefly seen that outcome before my last LOAD: those same people I'd resurrected, hunted down and murdered one by one by that malicious spirit driving my own body.
I'd invited it in, you see. As the price of bringing back the world I'd devastated, I consented to give up my SOUL. I had no idea at the time what it wanted with such a thing, but its aim was apparent now. It would collect on the debt once I made it to the surface, and subject the overworld to a terror I could not prevent.
What could I do, then? Try to warn the others of what was going to happen? If the killer force even let me speak of it, I doubted anyone had the power to stop it. I'd bested them all before, many times over. And what would they do, kill me? That'd just force a LOAD, and we'd do the whole thing over.
Or I could simply… stay here. Take the advice Sans had given me, once upon a timeline, and QUIT for good. It would be an eternal exile, painful for the separation from these people I'd grown to care for so deeply despite the terrible things I'd done to them. Not to mention how maddeningly dull and lonely it would be. Did time even proceed without me? I had no way to know whether a LOAD after a QUIT meant pulling time back from however long I'd waited out, or if everything stood still in my absence. If the former, was some shell of me still there, going through the motions of my life without my being aware of it? If the latter, wouldn't a self-imposed exile be just like destroying the world, freezing it forever?
While I lingered there, brooding over these thoughts, I began to feel I was not alone in the void.
There was a sort of murmuring in my perception. Where ordinarily I couldn't see or hear anything but my own thoughts, I began to hear something akin to a voice—strange, unfamiliar, maybe even speaking a language I didn't know, but more like a voice than any other sound I could try to liken it to. So I quieted my thoughts as best I could and sort of transmitted a "hello."
The mysterious burbling went silent. I was alone again, for perhaps a subjective hour.
Eventually, though, the voice came back, making a brief sound whose cadence matched my greeting. The syllables were clearer, this time, as if closer to me or less muffled. I repeated my hello, and it repeated the same foreign word.
Well. Overcoming a language barrier would be a long, frustrating process, especially without any ability to pantomime or point to objects. But time was a resource I had in infinite abundance, after all, and what else would I occupy myself with? I moved on to introducing myself by name, and off we went.
The task proved less arduous than I'd feared. Rather than learning each other's language in the usual way, our words became clearer to one another over time like a camera slowly coming into focus. It was like we'd been speaking the same words all along, but some distance or interference between us garbled it. Eventually my guest and I began to communicate freely. I turned immediately to the burning question that had not come through at the beginning: "Who are you?"
"THE INQUIRY IS UNANSWERABLE." Even with the haze between us cleared, my guest had an unearthly accent, suggesting they were monster rather than human. "I AM THE ROYAL SCIENTIST. I AM TEMMIE. I AM THREE COLD PICKLES. THESE ARE ALL EQUALLY NEITHER TRUE NOR FALSE, FOR 'I' IS UNDEFINED."
"You're saying you don't exist?"
"CORRECT. IT IS GOOD TO SPEAK WITH SOMEONE WHO ALSO DOES NOT EXIST!"
I gave up trying to wrap my head around that. It was basically nonsense. But I did my best to play along. "You may be right, at least for now. But I can go back to existing whenever I want to."
"AN ENVIABLE POSITION."
"Maybe. Thing is, I'm not sure if I should…" I told the voice my story, in lurid detail. If I'd had a body at that point, I'm sure I would have cried.
When I'd finished, we lapsed back into silence for a while. I had the vague sense that the entity I was communing with already knew everything I'd said before I even told the story, but was considering how best to respond. Answering my suspicion, the voice did return, with the observation: "YOU DESIRE TO CORRECT THE SITUATION."
"Of course I do." I'd meant to do so all along; my inability to undo the damage took me by surprise.
"DOES THAT NOT INDICATE THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED NOTHING? YOU STILL BELIEVE YOU ARE ABOVE CONSEQUENCE."
That stung. I could hardly help it, after all: the core of my power was determination, the desire to overcome the impossible. But there was another unfairness to the voice's criticism. "No, not exactly. I'd accept whatever punishment I get for this mess. But the others? Even the ones who did questionable stuff never did anything as bad as what I did. Most of them only had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wish I could fix this for their sakes, not for my own."
"THAT IS THE NATURE OF CONSEQUENCE. THE HARM YOU DO TO OTHERS IS NOT YOURS TO KEEP." I couldn't argue with that. Another few minutes elapsed in silence, until the voice spoke again, slow and thoughtful. "BUT IF WHAT YOU SAY IS HONEST, THERE MAY YET BE AN OPTION."
My mind raced with hope. "Really?"
"YOUR ANTAGONIST'S HOLD ANCHORS TO YOUR SOUL AND THE POWER YOU EXERT OVER THIS WORLD. RELINQUISH THAT. DESTROY IT. AND THEY WILL HAVE NO MEANS TO CONTROL THE HUMAN'S ACTIONS."
"Destroy my SOUL?" My hope turned to confusion. "I've tried that. I just go back to my last SAVE or to the beginning."
"NOT THE SOUL ITSELF. ABANDON YOUR WILL OVER IT. PURGE THE 'SAVE' AND GIVE VOLITION BACK TO 'FRISK'. IF THIS WORLD IS BEYOND YOUR REACH, IT WILL ALSO BE BEYOND THE FALLEN ONE'S."
I found it hard to make sense of the idea. But it was, at least, less incomprehensible than the thought of holding conversation with a non-entity. "What will that mean for me? Will I just die?" If that was what it took…
"YOU WILL NEED TO… MOVE ON. TO OTHER WORLDS, LIKE THE FALLEN ONE SUGGESTED. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT HERE. YOU WILL PERHAPS HAVE JUST ENOUGH TIME TO SAY GOODBYE—WHICH IS MORE THAN MANY GET." And more than I deserved, went the unstated continuation. Maybe it was more than the voice had managed, before landing in this disembodied state. "IF YOU TRULY HAVE LEARNED FROM YOUR ERRORS, YOU WILL TREAT THE NEXT WORLD BETTER."
I grappled with the decision for a while. This horrific situation only bothered me in the first place because I cared for these people, now. I would miss them terribly. But perhaps they could still have the happy ending I once tore away from them, if I let go. I was a guest in this world, in Frisk's skin, and it's only right for a guest to eventually leave and let their hosts get on with their lives. So at last I spoke again. "Okay. You're right. I'll do it. I'll let go, and never meddle in this world again. What… how do we make this happen?"
"RETURN TO YOUR 'SAVE'. PROCEED FORWARD. THEN, BEFORE THE FALLEN ONE CAN ASSERT CONTROL, SEAL YOUR POWER AWAY. LISTEN FOR INSTRUCTION."
So I did. I abandoned the void, LOADing one final time. I stepped out into the daylight and joined my friends for their first ever view of a sunset. And then…
"SYSTEM INFORMATION 963 LOCKED. INI LOCKED. ALL FILES LOCKED. NOW!"
I let go.
I can't know if the plan worked. Maybe it wasn't enough, and the fallen child went on to cause the havoc they'd been waiting for. That was the price, after all: I can't ever again see what happens in that world. But somehow, I think we succeeded.
If nothing else, it was a better ending for not having me in it.