A bucketful of water consists of billions of minute droplets. Rivers and oceans have untold trillions.
No number could be applied to the sea of parallel realities.
Its constituent parts were infinite. They decorated the void in dense, shimmering clouds, each particle a world. In the impossible event of a spectator being present, these tiny grains would appear identical.
But a particular globule, looking like all the other, shinning no more or less brightly, differed in one very important respect.
It was dying.
The imaginary observer, peering closer, would make out a world in flux. A bubble of acrid waters and fouled air.
Its surface was one of extremes. Much was still blue-green, but tendrils of aridity patterned the globe. White masses were spreading from the poles, like cream trickling down a pudding, and the atmosphere was tinted by an unhealthy miasma.
There were four continents. The largest, once temperate, now included swathes of semi-tropical terrain.
At its core a dust bowl had formed, and previously fertile land was drifting to desert.
A group of militia, fifty strong, made its way across the wilderness. In their midst, two men struggled to keep up on foot. Each was led by a horse to which they were roped. Their hands were tied.
The soldiers bore the crest of a tyrant on their russet tunics. The prisoners were civilians, their clothes stained with sweat and dust.
It was hot. With midday approaching it would get much hotter, but neither man had been allowed water. Their lips were cracked and their mouths were so dry it was hard for them to speak. They labored on blistered feet.
There was little between them in age. The slightly older of the two had the look of someone who enjoyed a soft life. His waist was beginning...