Weapons. There are at least two salient things to say about them. One is false, and the other is true. The false statement is that weapons don’t kill people. It’s easy to tell that this is not true, since killing people is pretty much the whole job of a weapon. It’s one of the reasons it is called a weapon instead of a tool. The statement that is true in relation to weapons, is that ‘people kill people’. Mostly, however, they prefer to kill people with weapons – it’s just easier than doing it with fists, feet, or heads. Yet, framing weapons in ‘people-centric’ terms can be misleading. Weapons and people don’t just kill people, they can kill other creatures, too. They can also be used by life forms other than people, to kill beings that are not people, either. As a ‘not people’ under threat of immediate weapon death, Mamma Universe has some small hope that the situation was not quite so bad as it seemed.
As usual, this is not a situation Mamma Universe had expected. And how could she have? In the billions of years that have passed since her creation, this is the first time that anyone had placed her in a position to worry about being terminated. While she knew that she was not immortal in the strictest sense – she would end at the same time that the Universe itself did – she’d had no idea that she could be killed ahead of time. This news was both unwelcome and interesting.
The news was unwelcome for obvious reasons. Most sentient life prefers not to contemplate the nature of its mortality at gunpoint. Mamma Universe, being both sentient and alive, found that she was no exception. It was the kind of experience that could be labeled ‘fearful ickiness’. This is not the way an optimist might label it, of course. An optimist might call it an experience that teaches a valuable life lesson, one that reveals a facet of the self hitherto unknown. From Mamma Universe’s perspective, though, there didn’t seem to be much value in learning that you were afraid of dying at the hands of an outraged weapon owner. To her, it seemed like not wanting to die that way was something you could figure out without any help.
The interesting part was not that she could be killed, nor even the weapon itself. Of more interest were the conditions that had lead to the development of the weapon in the first place. Even to her mind, it seemed that such conditions should not be possible. And the mind of Mamma Universe is very agile, so the appearance of an impossibility gets its full attention. In hindsight, she felt that she probably should have engaged her full attention much earlier. It might not have made any difference ‘ickiness-wise’, but she would have approached the whole thing differently at the outset. She may have even gone as far as formulating a plan.
But she hadn’t made any plan. Instead, on hearing that some alien creature had managed to get into Miss Daisy Wheelwright’s garden, she’d just rushed away to check on it. She hadn’t even stopped to ask “what kind of alien was it?” That was a mistake. It wasn’t even an honest mistake, because from Mamma Universe’s perspective, there were either no such thing as aliens, or everything in relation to her own existence was alien. She should have remembered that. Especially because, as the being created to make sure it all runs smoothly, she knew that the Universe is seriously vast. A seriously vast place, populated by a serious amount of not/are aliens. By the time she’d managed to go back and ask for a better description, the original witness and his companions had disappeared. She could have found them, but she judged by all the empty cider barrels they were out on an extended drinking binge. If her judgement was correct, it would be difficult to get any information from him by the time she caught up. No, it would be better to search the Universe by hand. She knew It was going to be really boring, but it would be less boring than trying to get any sense out of a binge-drunk ghost.
She searched swampy worlds, desert worlds, water worlds, forest worlds, and worlds that were a combination of environments. Anywhere there was life she searched, and all of it without success. Then, in frustration, she started searching dead worlds. Or rather, worlds that had once held life, but were now more or less sterilized spheres in the void. On the sixth dead world Mamma Universe caught a lucky break. A break so lucky, that it was also a painful reminder that she needed to start paying more attention. Especially to the really tedious stuff. Because, if she had paid more attention, she would have remembered that many dead worlds have a very special quality – a quality that would have saved her quite a lot of time. The quality is this: on a certain percentage of dead worlds it is possible to find answers to questions.
There are limitations to the kinds of questions that can be asked on such worlds. For example, one cannot find out what the future holds. Although it should be theoretically possible, the power of ‘oracle’ is not available anywhere in the sprawled, twisty vastness of space-time. But what can be gleaned on these worlds breaks down into two broad classes. The first class is ‘current events’. Simply put, this means that questioners can find out exactly what is happening in the universe ‘right now’ relative to their position in the universal expanse. The second class is called ‘history’. That is, it is possible for questioners to find out details about any-and-all events that have happened in the universe relative to their ‘current events’ position. No one knows exactly why some dead worlds have this quality, but it is rumored that an ancient race of Historian-Philosophers were close to an understanding before their world went extinct. For some reason, the research of that race of Historian-Philosophers is the one exception to the ‘two broad classes’ quality of dead worlds. Again, nobody knows why there is this exception, but it is widely agreed that it must prove the rule.
Mamma Universe stood on a dead world and asked her question. “Show me,” she said to troubled and sulphurous skies. There was no answer. There should have been an answer, she know the world was capable of it. Perhaps it was being stubborn? “Show me!” Still no reply. This was vexatious. Mamma Universe lost her temper. “FOR STAG HARTFORD’S SAKE! WHY WON’T YOU SHOW ME THE ANSWER?”
A voice came back. “You’ve only just asked a question.”
“Excuse me? No I haven’t, I’ve asked the same question three times already.”
“We beg to differ,” the dead world intoned. “What you have done is uttered the same directive twice, and then asked a question. A question, we’ll have you know, we just answered.”
The dead world had a point. “Okay,” said Mamma Universe in a false tone of reasonableness. “But you haven’t answered the question I actually want an answer to.”
“Perhaps,” the dead world condescended, “If you took the time to ask the question you wanted an answer for, we’d be done already. This is hardly our fault, you know. Be more precise with your language.”
Mamma Universe suddenly remembered why she’d forgotten about the qualities of some dead worlds. She’d forgotten about them on purpose because they were tediously pedantic. She mustered her self control as best she could. “Could you,” she began, “show me the alien that appeared in Daisy Wheelwright’s garden?”
What the fuck? “Why not?”
“Because no life form of any description appeared in Daisy Wheelwright’s garden.”
This was not welcome news. “Really?”
“Really.” The dead world was silent for a moment. “Perhaps if you asked the question a different way, you might get the answer you want.”
“So there was something in Daisy’s garden?”
“Besides her kitchen herbs?”
“Was it something that shouldn’t be there?”
“Now you’re getting it.” The dead world sounded officiously smug.
“Was it something dead?”
“Technically, yes. But not in the way that you think.”
“Wait a minute,” Mamma Universe was growing suspicious. “Do you know the exact question for which I want an answer?”
“Of course. It’s one of the perks of being a dead world.”
“If you know my real question, why are we pissing about with all these other questions?”
Naturally, thought Mamma Universe. It would be something stupid like that. She began to frame her question as efficiently as she could. “Dead world, what appeared in Daisy Wheelwright’s garden?”
A projection? How odd. “What was this projection of?”
“It was the projection of a life form living on a distant world.”
“Can you show me what this life form looks like?”
The dead world showed Mamma Universe the form that the projection had taken. She immediately recognized the species, although she hadn’t dropped in on their homeworld for quite some time. The species had much to recommend it. They were a tall, lean, hairless, hermaphrodite race with a snappy dress sense, and photoluminescent skin. They prided themselves on both their athletic and intellectual prowess. In fact, the pride they had in those two attributes formed the name they gave themselves as a species: Athletuals. In all the aeons of time Mamma Universe had been administrator to the Cosmos, she’d not ever seen the evolution of a race so peaceful, harmonious, or beautiful. They were boring, of course, but she appreciated the fact that they had not once caused her a single problem.
“And what is the name of this Athletual, dead world?”
“It calls itself Quinzel.”
With that, Mamma Universe bid the dead world a terrible day, and went to find the Athletual Quinzel on its homeworld. When she found it, it pulled a gun on her, and luminesced in cold rage. It was going to kill her for what she had done to its proud species. But not before monologuing the story-of-conditions that had led to the creation of the weapon that would end her. Much to her amazement, Mamma Universe found that she was not bored by that story.
END OF PART FIVE