The music washed over her. Not in waves, but in deep, blue water swells. And Mamma Universe danced. She’d had no idea of the pleasure in rhythmic movement – hadn’t expected it; had never known what it was to truly dance before her extinction. If she had known, she certainly would have done a lot more of it before her death at the hands of Quinzel. She smiled at this revelation. She’d been so busy being bored with her job as administrator to the universe, that she hadn’t realized there were at least two interesting things in it: music and dancing. At the very least, she would have gone to more concerts.
Mamma Universe swayed and twisted a half turn clockwise as the music crescendoed, crested another swell, and surfed down into a new, subtly arpeggiated trough. She laughed. Extinction had to be the best thing that had ever happened to her.
A discovery of music and dance weren’t the only benefits of extinction. For the first time, in an existence that had spanned billions of years, she could make use of mirrors and expect results. That is, she could expect results that she found agreeable. Whereas, while alive, she’d had no true form – appearing differently to different people, depending on what they expected to see – she now had a form of her very own. Gone were the days she had to ask others how they saw her. Death had revealed her true appearance, one that had been hidden even from her. In her opinion, her real appearance could only be described one way: awe-inspiring. Which is why she now generally refused to wear clothes. Not that she’d needed to wear them before, but that was different. The formless rarely require a wardrobe.
The music changed key, percussive textures shaping and layering the sound, pushing it upwards towards a new peak. Mamma Universe threw her arms skyward, and spun a full turn anticlockwise. Her long, dark hair echoed the movement in a slow, graceful arc. As she turned, she could just make out a robed, bearded figure staring at her intently. The figure stood just beyond the edge of the dancing ground, slightly away from a group of dancers that swayed together in a circle. An Historian-Philosopher, she realized. Odd that there should be one of them here, as they weren’t famous for their skill with movement. Nor were they understood to be a very musical race, for that matter. She tried to ignore the bearded interloper. Probably, it was just another in a long line of Historian-Philosophers that wanted her to put some clothes on. Extraordinarily clever, those ‘HP’s’, but tediously prudish.
Yet, now that she’d seen the Historian-Philosopher, Mamma Universe couldn’t put the knowledge of it out of her head. This made her grumpy, and her concentration faltered. Why shouldn’t be allowed to dance sans garments? If everyone looked like her, she doubted anybody would bother with clothing. Was it her fault she was beautiful, with smooth, transparent skin that allowed observers to look past the surface of her soul? Was she to blame for the fact that her skin’s transparency revealed great starfields, and slowly moving galaxies separated by the cold-black of intergalactic space? Should she, perhaps, feel guilty that her heart was a radiant blue star; that she was a representation of the universe itself? No. Musty scholars would just have to suck it up, and mind their own business.
Mamma Universe felt a soft tap on her shoulder. It was accompanied by a voice, but the words were lost in the wash of sound. She ignored it, secure in the knowledge that it was probably just that officer of the fun-police she had already spotted. She moved farther into the press gyrating bodies. She would not permit anyone to tax her joy.
Another tap, the voice louder: “…scuse me, but could….”
Mamma Universe shimmied away, moving closer to the stage. The musicians were lost in their own genius, smiling at each other knowingly as one or the other of them pulled off a really tasty lick.
Something grabbed her hand, arresting Mamma Universe’s progress, and preventing further escape. She spun to face what she now thought of as her aggressor. Her eyes burned white-hot, angry stars. “WHAT? …. Oh, it’s you.”
“I’M SORRY,” Persephone yelled, “BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER ALL THIS NOISE. COULD WE GO SOMEWHERE A LITTLE QUIETER? WE REALLY NEED TO TALK.”
“SORRY? WHAT?” Persephone made hand signals to indicate she couldn’t understand Mamma Universe’s question.
“I SAID, WHY? …. Oh, forget it. Let’s go.”
“WHAT? IT’S VERY LOUD, ISN’T IT.”
Mamma Universe mimed her intent to follow Persephone to a quieter place, to which persephone gave a double-thumbs up.
As they moved, the music receded, growing quieter by degrees, until all that could be heard was was a mushy hint of noise. By the time they had marched themselves past a grove trees – placed to baffle the errant frequencies that might otherwise disturb the more sensitive of hearing – there was no sound at all. They came to a halt in front of another robed figure.
“You remember Ajax, of course,” said Persephone. “You know, the one that makes terrible cups of tea?”
Mamma Universe acknowledge that she remembered, and gave Ajax a vaguely polite greeting. For his own part, Ajax mumbled a greeting in return, which he did without directly looking at Mamma Universe. Instead, he stared intently at the ground, a faint hint of red coloring that part of his face visible above his beard.
“What’s wrong with him?”
Persephone looked awkward. “It’s nothing, only Ajax is a bit funny about nudity. I don’t suppose you’d mind putting a robe on? Just to make him feel a little more comfortable?”
“I’d prefer not to,” Mamma Universe said, “but I suppose I would put something on to ease Ajax’s discomfort if I had anything to wear. As it is, I don’t carry any items of clothing with me.”
“Not to worry,” Persephone said, brightly, “we brought a spare robe with us. Ajax, could you give Mamma Universe the robe please?”
Ajax, without taking his eyes from the ground, handed Mamma Universe a bulky looking wad of fabric.
“Wonderful,” said Mamma Universe as she slipped on the shapeless garment, “how inconveniently kind of you to come prepared. So, what is it that you want to talk to me about?”
“Well,” answered Ajax, meeting Mamma Universe’s gaze for the first time, “it’s a little complicated.”
“Yes, a little,” agreed Persephone.
“Could you give me a simplified version? I’d like to go back to the dance as soon as possible.” Mamma Universe’s face betrayed annoyance. “Only, I was having a pretty good time, and only left because you insisted. Now that I’m here – and fully clothed – the only information you can give me is that ‘it’s complicated’.”
Persephone grew an uncomfortable expression. “It seemed a little less complicated when I went to fetch you.”
“And, I was sure I could do it when I was staring at the ground,” added Ajax.
“So, you can’t do it then? Fine. I’m going back.” Mamma Universe made moves to remove the robe.
“Wait!” Ajax cried. “Perhaps if you just came with us. We can take you to someone who can explain.”
“Really? And who is this someone?” Mamma Universe shot disbelief at the two Historian-Philosophers.
“The Gardener,” Persephone replied quickly. “She’ll know how to explain it in clear and simple terms.”
“The Gardner? Who’s that?”
“Don’t you tell me that she’s complicated, Ajax. I’ll strip off right now if you do.”
Ajax shut his mouth and began to examine the ground again, just in case he’d already said too much.
“Well? Who is this Gardner, and what is it she can explain that you two apparently cannot?”
“It’s not that we can’t explain,” Persephone objected, “more that we’re not sure how to begin. Right, Ajax?”
Ajax mumbled agreement without looking up.
“We need you,” Persephone continued, quickly, ” to do something. Something very important, because if you don’t….” Persephone trailed off, not because she didn’t know what they needed Mamma Universe to do, but because – as a scholar – she was uncomfortable saying things directly.
“You need me to do something,” Mamma Universe prompted, once it had become clear that Persephone was not going to come to the point any time soon.
Persephone’s expression became irresolute, clouded briefly as she performed some sort of mental calculation, and then became determined. “We need you to go back to the living universe.”
“Nice one,” Mamma Universe said. “What do you really want me to do?”
The two Historian-Philosophers stood silent. Not the sort of silence that happens when someone makes a really bad joke at a dinner party, but the kind that says: ‘we really want you to do just what we said’.
“But that’s impossible,” Mamma Universe scoffed, “even I know traffic to the afterlives only flows in one direction.”
“Normally,” Ajax responded, “that’s completely true. In fact, I thought as you do, until we talked to the Gardener.”
“I had always suspected,” Persephone chimed in, looking slightly superior. “The Gardener just confirmed my suspicions.”
“Whatever,” Ajax shot back.
“I did,” Persephone objected. “Stood to reason. Not surprising you wouldn’t realize it, Ajax, being as you are so desperately short on reason most of the time.”
“I take exception to that,” Ajax was coloring purple above the beard now. “I have always had the greatest power of reas–.”
“If we could just get back on topic.” Mamma Universe gave both the Historian-Philosophers a withering, ‘I will brook no nonsense from you two’, look. “Now, supposing it is possible to send me back to the living universe, why would I even want to do it? Because, in the interests of being up front, I’m not going to do it. The living universe is so boring.” Mamma Universe remembered her recent discovery of dance and music. “Mostly boring,” she amended.
Persephone braced herself to say something directly. It would be uncomfortable, but sometimes the uncomfortable must be done. “Because, if you don’t, the universe will end.”
“Everything ends,” Mamma Universe said dryly. “I’m not very troubled by that. Anyway, why should I care, when I’m having such a good time here?”
“I don’t think you quite understand.” Ajax was looking worried. He was going to have to make somebody else understand something. While he flattered himself that he was very good at understanding things, he’d never been very good at getting other people to understand them. “I mean – that is, what Persephone means – is that all of the universe is going to end. Even the afterlives, including this one. In fact, it’s happening already.”
“Oh yes,” Persephone said, “everyday there is less and less afterlife to go around. It’s shrinking.”
“I don’t understand? I don’t see how that’s possible, and am unsure what I’m supposed to do about it? Even if, by some miracle, you could convince me to go back, I still don’t see what help I could be.”
“Perhaps,” Ajax interposed, the fears about his inability to make people understand having been realized, “you could talk to The Gardener? She’ll know how best to explain, I’m sure of it.”
“Again with The Gardener. I have no idea who that is, even though I know I’ve asked you about her already. So, who is she, and why should I even care?”
“Ummm…. I’m not sure how to describe her.” Ajax stroked his beard, hoping that a good adjective might drop out of it. Preferably one that didn’t describe her as complicated. That hadn’t gone well the last time. “She’s… well… interesting.”
END OF PART FIFTEEN