Another eternity had come and gone, like those before it. All that once existed in the universe was no more; of the old stars not a trace, even their memory fading. It had all collapsed like a thing outliving its usefulness, and simply vanished.

Yet remarkably in that dark and empty space a thought began to stir. A most miraculous thought, for buried there in the celestial ashes lay a mind beyond measure, powerful beyond imagining, which had survived the fall. Untold years it pondered infinite possibilities. And all at once, the mind flexed ...

BEHOLD! A brilliant chandelier of celestial fire shattered darkness! Another pulse, and between those virgin stars burst forth new worlds, blossoming along stellar tracks like buds on a vine. Coruscating bands of radiation broad as galaxies seethed in the void, while incalculable masses swelled and ebbed like tides across the eons. All this but a passing thought to the eternal mind.

The universe was filling up again. Gargantuan nebulas, impossibly grasped, were folded into its grand scheme. There was no hesitation in the plan, only satisfaction in its creation. And at last, with the foundation complete, the mind paused to fashion apprentices for those monumental labors which still lay ahead. From scattered worlds it plucked them, empowered them in elemental arts, versed them in essential ways, then withdrew at last to see what may follow.

Almost twelve-hundred numbered the appointed immortals, every Godling a force of nature, busily stretching the borders of creation all around them. Some immortals, former sea creatures, fashioned world after world of oceans teeming with life. Others had begun as mammals, and imbued their works with abundant warmth and forest. Former sentients crafted planets heavy with minerals to be put to use. Whatever their origins, each Godling followed its nature to some degree and ensured a dynamic spectrum of worlds and cultures. This, by the way, was exactly what the High Mighty hoped.

The only thing not according to plan was Fuddy.

This last apprentice was different somehow ... not just different, but significantly so. Fuddy's appointment to Godhood was an afterthought quickly forgotten, and its creative efforts proceeded nothing at all like the rest.

Though all powerful like the others, Fuddy's contributions might best be described as the product of impromptu trial and embarrassing error. Assigned to fill the smallest portion of the mega-verse, this befuddled creature felt very much like a firefly on a comet, riding far too much horsepower with way too little help steering. Yet everyone has to make do, it supposed, and did its very best.

Fuddy's mandate was plain enough -- a quadrillion parsecs of space requiring decoration. And the work itself they found gratifying, as omnipotence can be a marvelous thrill: think of a thing and it comes to pass, ponder, create, fidget, blast everything to pieces and begin again. And beyond that, no one could deny Fuddy's gift for novelty. Sometimes in a feminine mood she would fashion water worlds, sparkling like jewels beside bright suns. She liked making worlds that shimmered. Other times feeling masculine he would press together rugged places of jagged land and thick dust, making a gloomy job of it and rather pleased with himself. One world they sprinkled with remnants of ancient galactic civilizations (it was just a whim, but imagine the joke on future historians!) Fuddy was full of surprises, as gods go.

Still and all, being an afterthought and getting very little help, Fuddy took eons to perfect her planetary recipe: not too much core heat, some hard elements, material for an atmosphere depending on the species that would settle in. Stars she found were even more challenging; they may have appeared simple to the casual celestial observer, but looks can be deceiving. For a time every hydrogen ball Fuddy rolled together either shrank into a black hole or blew apart like some gigantic cosmic bomb. That embarrassed her no end when other Godlings sensed it, and peeked from across the universe.

Other times things progressed completely on their own: put together enough stellar dust and gravity and things appeared to coalesce with no prompting at all. It also seemed whenever Fuddy turned his back those errant masses evolved into populated planets! The way some things kept shifting around he just decided to let it happen and indeed happen it did. Overnight entire life forms changed; one day dinosaurs hunting wild beasts, the next civilized beasts feeding themselves from microwave ovens. And though Fuddy enjoyed crafting and arranging new species, he found the accidents endlessly fascinating. Before long he was tweaking evolutionary paths in all kinds of random directions just to see the results! Soon adaptations, evolutions, and stunning mutations filled his cosmos with crawling, swimming, flipping, skipping, skimming and buzzing creatures in splendid array.

And so the job of Godling continued, prod and poke, tinker tinker, and much trial and error.

Yet with so much to do and so many mistakes to learn from, the Godlings were fortunate they did have all the time in the universe. Being immortal allowed focus on the big picture as the insignificant centuries flickered by. Their only real concern was a dreadful deadline on the celestial horizon. Judgement Day they called it, and it terrified poor Fuddy. That's when their results would be inspected by the High Mighty; no one was certain what might follow, but disappointing the all-mighty would surely be an awful thing.

That fear alone made Fuddy surprisingly self-conscious and wonderfully conscientious. When new land creatures emerged she would materialize vegetation nearby, quivering in anticipation, watching to see whether the variant munched greedily or turned up their collective noses. If one species became too dangerous around others, he would act more protectively, nudging the threat towards eventual extinction. Too cold for fragile life? She warmed the core a little. Too dark? He set a second sun wobbling in the heavens, bathing the land in endless sunshine.

Occasionally Fuddy was forced to introduce a spoiler for an overproductive species - nothing complicated, just a flood or weather change to keep things nicely balanced - but some species reacted to this in quite remarkable ways. A few learned to guard themselves against future floods. Others set out to discover the source of their misfortune. And they all had the same question: why?

It's not common knowledge among Godlings because most are too preoccupied, but Fuddy discovered if you listen carefully, and a mortal species concentrates long enough and hard enough and in great enough numbers, you can actually sense their probing, their pleas, their prayers. Once, when practicing her binary stars, Fuddy was surprised by the question: "Why are we here?" She located the source planet and answered in the gentlest possible tone, "You are my children. Play nice, and don't hurt each other." Other life forms pondered whether creatures like Fuddy even existed, but with so many immortals crowding the heavens, that made him smile rather broadly (figuratively speaking, of course).

Ironically it was the times Fuddy was most passive, simply resting, that amazing things came about. That's probably when "it" first took root.

A whole stellar year had passed, a million lifetimes in mortal affairs, when one race of creatures began to bond most peculiarly. They started forming small groups ... not just to procreate but for entire lifetimes ... and the young Godling watched mesmerized for hours as eons passed below. This attractive force could not be detected directly, but its effects were everywhere evident. Then just as inexplicably the magic crossed over to another species! And then another. Soon entire worlds were dotted with this mysterious force. Curious, but uncertain what to do, Fuddy decided to keep an eye on it and went back to star building.

Building a universe is naturally a major project, and Fuddy was quite busy piecing together galaxies and filling space. Distance and time blurred into trivialities until one day word came that it was time for the gathering. The immortal Godlings would meet at last.

This was a huge event. The biggest. Attendance was mandatory because grave issues were to be deliberated. Various creators had been at odds and solutions must be found. Did the laws of entropy need revising? That ageless rivalry between galactic spiralists and spheroid supporters would certainly come to the fore. And just who was responsible for all those black holes perforating the fabric of space (surely they weren't all Fuddy's doing)? Most worrisome of all Judgement Day would follow, and on that note Fuddy's stress level soared.

At times like that omnipotence wasn't such fun. The young Godling missed its former life, its carefree days as a slug beside a shady pond. Blissfully skating wet warm mud. Filling tiny gullet with green deliciousness. And everywhere something new to try. Prickly algaes were far from its favorite but the soft syrupy sort was easily found. Not that slugs are known for their pickiness, but just the same.

Of course that life wasn't perfect. There were times terrifying creatures came seemingly from nowhere, somewhere above, which defied the natural order of things known to slugs. At any moment those feathery horrors would swoop down, breath smelling of death, and the slugs would stampede ever-so-slowly for safety! And there were dry times when no water came. But for creatures who nestled in an unseen world, unfettered by ambition, life was satisfactory indeed. Most lived out their days beneath the cool foliage, sometimes braving sun or predator, but only occasionally paying the price.

Those were Fuddy's roots, in that small slithery group. Who knew its destiny lay in so inconceivable a direction? Who knew one of their own was destined for greatness? And yet, Fuddy knew.

Far less pragmatic than its companions this smallest of slugs led quite the adventurous life. Other immortals don't know this because Fuddy was never one to brag, but he was the only slug to trek twelve feet into the forest and make it back! Fuddy was always surprising others like that. Too small to be noticed by birds, easily sated by tiny pockets of algae, this modest inhabitant reveled in its leafy little paradise. It understood with all its being that life was to be tasted and felt and explored from morning dew to evening rain. To this particular slug, just living was an inexpressible joy, and perhaps that is why it was chosen.

Well it so happened that one relaxing afternoon Fuddy was nosing over a pebble to get to the green underneath when a strange thing occurred: the pebble vanished. In fact its entire known world receded as the slug was yanked through an evolutionary maze by some miraculous and irresistible power. Before sun rose and set six times, slug became amphibian, new skin and webbed feet materializing then fading, ears and fur striking like lightning, flexible hands and other features flooding in and out again. Appendages grew and atrophied to be replaced by the next, each incarnation lasting only hours or minutes; and although the process wasn't painful it was nevertheless surprising to a bug-sized creature from the edge of the forest.

These rapid transformations sampled dozens of life forms, demonstrating to the hapless subject what it was to be catlike, or cliff climber, or bird on wing. Each change brought something new to touch or smell or see with, and each revolution endowed a lifetime of thrilling experience! It was all very exhilarating to a slug, but more than anything else it enjoyed the flying. It went so far as to swoop past the old pond to show off, only to be disappointed when erstwhile companions raced for cover.

Necessarily in addition to this biological avalanche, new intellectual capacities accompanied each makeover. With better eyes and some trial-and-error came an appreciation for distance. Tree climbing earned it balance, and the wisdom to tell strong branches from rotten. When speech first became possible, air rasping through unsteady lips made a breathy fooooos and stuttering udududee. Its first repeatable noise was fuddy, so with that sound and inestimable pride it now proclaimed an identity.

And shortly after dawn on that historic seventh day, when lowly slug had progressed to a truly advanced being and absorbed much natural wisdom from its homeworld, Fuddy was pulled skyward. Rising into thin air, towards darkness, towards ... who knew what?

Far it traveled, flitting past thinning stars, streaking towards a still barren patch of universe. It somehow knew the journey traversed trillions of parsecs, that time was passing much faster than appeared. And when unseen hand at last pulled away and journey abruptly ended, Fuddy hovered in nothingness understanding at last what must be done. Bodiless, omnipotent, the newly made Godling was appointed to fill these empty reaches with original worlds, with stars, with life. So it began.

And so it continued in a very solitary way. Devoted to their labors most Godlings had no friends to speak of, only peers. Peers and "acquaintances", of which Fuddy had very few and all quite distant. In fact her nearest neighbor was Blog and there was no neighborly feeling at all; she didn't care for Blog and it returned the favor in a most condescending manner. Sad but true, as eons rolled by and immortals filled their universe their lives remained empty by comparison. All Fuddy could do was console herself with work in general, and in particular that curious force.

Actually the force was spreading throughout her region now, infecting the entire Fuddian cosmos, and each affected species was somehow growing stronger! They were still forming small groups but were now surviving better, fighting off natural enemies, procreating more. This strange power was unlike anything the Gods had manufactured, and while it was still primarily a mystery one thing was certain: if it could be demonstrated to the gathering it would make the best possible exhibit. And so at the appointed time, armed with mental descriptions of the strange discovery, Fuddy began the long trek brimming with enthusiasm.

It seems to be a universal rule travelers be pre-occupied with their thoughts and Fuddy was no exception: "I hope everything's okay when I get back. Did I forget anything? If I get there and Zarfella is bragging about stretching the time-continuum again I'm leaving. Ragnarok the Warrior God will probably be showing off their latest galactic conflict. His life forms are always doing stuff like that, but if you ask me he encourages it. Were my dwarf stars done? I hope they don't collapse. I forget what the gravity was."

Then the discovery lightened his mood. "Phereseetha will be crying for attention with the latest thing in interspacial nebulae, but when everybody sees what I brought they'll be flashing in to watch the force first hand."

[ Scene: Somewhere in the great beyond. Enter Fuddy. ]

"First to arrive. That should count for something," he beamed. Besides it gave him time to prepare, so he waited.

And waited. When 6,000 years had passed it began to look as if he might be in the wrong place! He wasn't one to ask directions. What if the plan changed and no one told him? But that just couldn't be. If the others were late is was their poor navigation, so he settled back to wait some more.

Eventually Fuddy decided to assume a solid form, for the sheer pleasure of wagging a finger at late-comers. Concentrating on the animal with the largest fingers he'd ever seen the magic happened and he went into immediate shock. He'd never quite realized how cold space is between the stars! Shucking that frozen body like a slug did a cracked shell, he looked for a warmer location before trying again.

There wasn't much dust this far outer-stellar, but they managed to scrape together enough for one small planet anyway. Another flash of energy fixed a diminutive star nearby for heat and light. With the rest of the immortals due any millennium there was no time for niceties like flora and fauna, but it had air and a surface, so with one titanic spin to set the whole thing in motion Fuddy descended and again chose a mortal form.

This was actually the first time Fuddy had been in bodily circumstances since, well since being a slug. Everything felt so alien. Just being able to hear again, breathe and smell and touch again, but with warm mud beneath her flat bottom she was perfectly content.

"How splendid!" She instinctively gave herself eyes and looked across a solid landscape - nothing ethereal here. Rolled around to get re-acquainted with gravity. Scooted wildly across miles of open ground (the secret desire of every slug ever born!) Fuddy suddenly recalled flying and outfitted herself decorative wings, then decided all was just as it should be. That is until an odd discomfort cried out for attention. The feeling was actually quite dreadful but only vaguely meaningful, till she recognized it as hunger.

Reflexively now she probed and found not a scrap of food on the entire planet. Something had to be done. Fuddy gave herself eyelids and closed them up tight in order to concentrate better, recalled the details of eating, and when an especially tasteful memory came flooding back an anxious burst of energy followed! Nearby elements rapidly coalesced into pre-animate matter. Further mental urging yielded promising strands of protein. And with the third attempt, her miraculous task was complete. After a near eternity Fuddy once again smelled the rancorous sweetness of algae, at least three metric tons worth.

If ever a creature knew joy there it sat, quivering. Instantly the body rewarded itself with seven mouths and dove gnawing at the mound. The body dutifully swelled to accommodate, mouths working at prodigious speed as Fuddy stretched into a bubble. Gods may have their immortality but mortals have the exquisite joy of eating! And only when the algae mound was reduced by a ton or two did Fuddy quit pillaging and slowly tip to one side. Blissfully rain puddled on its lumpy body, then toasty sun peeped out and sleep began to tug (Fuddy hadn't napped in several million years).

And so the immortal dreamed. Dreamed about that day he traded worldly cares for immortal perpetuity. Dreamed of all that had happened, as he lay immobile the next ten years. The one thing that never entered the dream was his superficial condition: inhabiting a mortal shell once more, again at time's untender mercy, his body was aging with cruel swiftness. A mere decade into the nap Fuddy woke with aching parts and molting feathers. Twenty years later, still exploring the world on foot, he felt downright feeble. Soon Fuddy was forced to replace the corporeal shell altogether, and readjust his mental timetable to the creep of a mortal clock.

Had immortality changed things so impossibly? As a slug he thrilled to each waking hour; now decades marched blandly by. He was barely seven billion and beginning to feel prematurely old.

Godhood appeared to have other drawbacks as well. What fun are questions when answers leap instantly to mind? Who can explore a beach when aware of every grain of sand? Exploration is shockingly dull to an omniscient, so Fuddy practiced focusing on "there and then", pinching off their limitless powers of observation. That finally did the trick! Rain was again a pleasant surprise, every algae encounter a delightful opportunity for lunch, and soon she was feeling much better. Even the shock of sunburn was a thrill, till that excruciating novelty wore off and Fuddy willed it away. This was becoming her second favorite time. All that was missing was someone to share it with.

It was just about then Airenax came calling.

The immortal Airenax appeared in the inky blackness above, saw Fuddy's waiting place, and immediately descended. She'd never met him before so introductions were rapidly made and soon both were sharing thoughts.

To say they actually spoke would be untrue because they communicated mentally, sharing images and sensations. Which isn't to say Fuddy didn't try the mortal way first. She recalled during "the change" producing all kinds of stimulating grunts and whistles, and was proud she'd invented her own name. Now she struggled to make seven mouths work in concert while Airenax waited.

Alas it proved hopeless. Never learning a language was apparently an insurmountable handicap, so after several attempts pride gave way to convenience and it was back to mind sharing.

The visit was very exciting. Fuddy even made a joke for the occasion, the first she ever told face-to-face! Airenax vaguely remembered starting out as a reptile so Fuddy confessed to beginning life as a slug, then added Blog must have been some kind of parasite! It was the first time Airenax knew laughter, and the first friend Fuddy ever made. Building the cosmos was okay. Crafting life forms entertaining. But making a friend ... that was special indeed.

"Why are you here?" was the first question posed by Airenax.

"I brought something special for the gathering."

"Show me," sparked the other.

"Well," thought Fuddy, dragging stumpy tentacles through beach sand, "you can't see it, you can only see its effects. It's a new attractive force, very strong and absolutely unique. I just can't quite show it to you, not directly." This produced an awkward moment which lasted possibly three days.

"What effects does it show?" was the next inquisition, so Fuddy thought about that. Thought long and hard, in fact. If she knew how to explain it to Airenax she could explain it to the others, but how to explain light to the blind, solids to the intangible?

"It's an energy mortals share that causes other things to happen."

"You mean the way a nova rearranges boundary space?" glimmered Airenax.

"No, it doesn't rearrange existing situations, it creates completely new ones."

"Impossible! Only Godlings and the High Mighty create. There is no other creating."

Plainly this was going to be harder than expected. Fuddy pondered again and thought a contrasting example might help. "You've seen Ragnarok's space? All those creatures existing only to destroy?"

Airenax hadn't, but in a Godling's omniscient way instantly probed that space and saw this to be true. "Yes, that is the natural order Ragnarok has defined. Is that like the force you bring to the gathering?"

"No, but if some of those creatures stopped fighting ..."

"Impossible! Ragnarok's creatures fight. They are made that way." Airenax stopped there, as if to state a fact is sufficient unto itself.

"But if they stopped destroying, maybe if they couldn't destroy something they wanted to ..."

"That is possible," sparked Airenax. "There are goals which are impossible for lowly mortals."

This gave Fuddy renewed hope. "And what if they did another thing? If they prevented destruction instead? What if they didn't want to destroy other creatures, and sacrificed themselves to prevent destruction from happening?"

"Impossible! They are created to destroy." So there the conversation hung. Airenax hovered just a mile away, deeply puzzled by the concept of creatures who acted contrary to their instincts and survival.

Fuddy made up her mind. "I'll just have to show you what I've seen," and with that their thoughts merged. Airenax watched Fuddy's unfolding memories. No sensations, just images of three primitives near a churning body of water, when one fell in and began to drown. Of the remaining pair a second quickly fled the scene, but the third rushed into the water and pushed the first out.

"I don't understand," came the consternation in Airenax' thought.

"There's more," reported Fuddy, growing increasingly exuberant. She looked across the mile at Airenax, whose hovering form now settled to the ground, and began again. But this time adding sound and sensation as the scene replayed itself.

Stark terror could be felt in the icy water. No air to breathe. Nothing to stand on. Muscles pawing at water but sinking ever deeper. Airenax rocked from the impact of this palpable experience! Now things shifted back to the second creature whose thoughts were stunningly clear. While the first was drowning in water, this one was drowning in fear. Alarm washed over it like a river as it stumbled away screeching. The dreadful mental tearing startled Airenax, who was sorely tempted to block these sensations, but intense curiosity compelled it to continue.

The third creature's feelings reached out to the immortal now. Panic, worry, and something unrecognizable (the mystery force). This third beast plunged into that icy abyss to rescue the first, helping it reach shore where its sense of relief was immense. Fear subsided, breath flowed again, eyes opened to green sky above. Airenax drank in that feeling, pleased by the new sensations, until another sound split the air -- a cry for help. The words meant nothing (words seldom do) but desperation is easily recognized. Airenax now witnessed the first weary creature leap to its feet and plunge BACK into the deadly pool it had so narrowly escaped.

"Impossible!" Yet Airenax knew Fuddy had not fabricated the event. "Impossible!" Yet the creatures had acted of their own free will. "Impossible?" Airenax was in shock.

Already the elder Godling understood this was unlike anything ever witnessed. Certainly unlike Tapidor space, whose sedentary creatures did nothing but subsist, reproduce and die. Totally alien to Miracle on High in the Seat of the Omniholiest of Gods, who fashioned for itself an entire universe where no creatures interact except to worship their creator. Ragnarok and the other 1,185 Godlings surely had nothing to compare. Fuddy's creatures were fascinatingly different. Airenax wanted to know more.

"What causes this?" came the query.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuddy. "It just happens."

"Impos ..." began Airenax, but realized the universe is perhaps not so regulated after all.

"I was going to show it at the gathering. We can all solve the riddle together."

"That will be sufficient," volunteered the other. And so it would prove.

The multitude assembled in nearby space, each immortal hoping for a spot not too central nor too distant, announcing their various reputations and rehearsing what they had come to share. Several tried for the spotlight, but invariably these were the unpopular ones and quickly forced off. That left the stage empty and predictably chaos reigned.

Each Godling struggled individually then to have agendas addressed. As expected Ragnarok demonstrated its savage creations, entertaining many with memories of a particularly glorious war. Zarfella gave an impressive demonstration of time shifting: her image of the universe in its infancy spread before them, painting the black void to show all their beginnings before the touch of the High Mighty. It was like home movies, and sure enough, Blog was a parasite!

Fuddy tried to be heard many times but only the younger Godlings listened. That too went predictably. The audience wanted to know what use is the mystery force? How can they control it? What accounts for its strange effects? Why do the lower creatures only pair off in twos or threes, not hundreds or thousands? And isn't self-sacrifice wasteful? There were so many things Fuddy couldn't explain, and not all for lack of answers, but for their lack of empathy. It occurred to Fuddy they might never understand. They didn't seem to live but to exist, achievement their only motivation, efficiency their stale inertia.

Fuddy also realized most of them feared Judgment Day more than she did! They worried their cosmos wasn't full enough, stars bright enough, planets gigantic enough. They tallied creations like property, so intent on stockpiling most didn't realize flowers have a smell. And all at once, Fuddy stopped being afraid.

In an intuitive flash the purpose was suddenly transparent. It wasn't the number of worlds that mattered or how well made. It wasn't anything an apprentice could add to the universe, because with all their power they were just hired hands equipped for the task. The High Mighty's real object must be the mortals themselves, what they could do, what they would make of it all. They were the reason ... the reason for everything.

This put a new light on things. Fuddy cringed to recall how Ragnarok's minions spend their days. And what of the Omniholiest, whose lifeforms do nothing but worship? It all seemed wasteful. She ultimately decided what the universe needed was more Fuddys who care about small things not large, who know what it is to sit in the shade of a leaf and sip the morning dew. In fact Fuddy decided she'd one day quit planet building and go back to that life. Today, in fact.

And suddenly, Fuddy was gone.

No one paid the disappearance much attention, but a careful observer might sense their former companion was indeed back home, bereft of godly power, retired beneath a shady bush beside an algae pond. It rained there, and flowers grew, but no birds came.

Back in deepest space things were less tranquil. Unruly crowds unraveled as Godlings went their separate fiery ways, back to old habitats and habits. Nothing more would come of the gathering they'd decided. And yet, one final order of business remained, for at the nexus of the universe a solitary thought awakened. There behind Heaven's gate where none intruded, beyond reach of even immortals it stirred. Prepared itself for a purpose both monstrous in grandeur and terrifying in power. The all-mighty prepared to choose again what is and was and yet may be. It prepared for Judgement Day.

The will that fashioned the universe peered out eagerly now. For untold ages sought a certain thing in vain ... and then, at impossible distance, faint but perfect, shone a familiar glow. It was the fire no creator could ignite, a cryptic force spilling from its place outside the boundaries of power or design. There it glowed again, unbidden, unmade, just as before among the slightest of creatures, the frailest of worlds.

As always it had renewed itself, survived the eternities, that force, that unique power. An aberration it was, an inexplicable abnormality, a tiny warm ember Fuddy called love.

And the High Mighty, satisfied at long last, spared the universe another ending and beginning. After all had been pondered in the mysterious ways of infinity, its thought was this: "So it is true. There is one thing everlasting."

The End


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