Departure

With contributions from Engineered Sorcery

"I believe that when we leave a place, part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in the station, when it is quiet, and just listen. After a while, you will hear the echoes of all our conversations, every thought and word we've exchanged. Long after we are gone... our voices will linger in these walls for as long as this place remains. But I will admit... that the part of me that is going... will very much miss the part of you that is staying."

--Babylon 5, "Objects in Motion"

--

"The way I figure it, we are all entitled to one really big, incredibly stupid screw-up in our lives."

--Babylon 5, "Epiphanies"

--

Words do not exist--feelings, thoughts, emotions, sensations--none of it--nothing exists to describe how it feels to create a universe.

It is something that I have done many times, of course. I am eternal. Universes come and go.

In theory, I could shepherd multiples. An infinite number, if I so chose. It would be no burden, no great strain. I am infinite, I am all-encompassing. There is nothing I cannot do. There is nothing that escapes my attention.

It is an intricate process, creating a universe. There are many choices to be made: the basis of existence in it, the physical laws governing it, the constants dictating its behaviour. Even whether my ongoing intervention will be necessary for its stability is something that I decide, whether its governing principles will be consistent and need nothing from me to remain as they are, or whether they will be somehow self-contradictory, so that my constant care is required.

This is why I create only one at a time. Creating more would rob the process of how special it is. The shepherding would be less personal, less intimate. It would change the nature of it for me, make it routine, mechanical.

And yet for all my power, all my experience, there were things I did not know. I knew what it was like to create a universe. I did not know what it was like to be in a universe.

--

The universe I chose was nothing remarkable. Quite standard, really. Not one that required any application of my power to remain stable. Physical laws that would be readily understood by any civilization with a modicum of technological advancement. Just for fun, I put in a few ways to avoid some of those laws. Nothing major, just inspired by some entertainments made by the denizens of other universes I'd made, where it hadn't been possible to work around the limitations I'd set.

Then I waited.

In some sense, time has no meaning for me. Where I normally exist, the concept has no application. But within my universes, it does. They don't always follow strict causality, but there is a definite notion of past, present and future.

Which means that I can synchronize my observations to each universe's implementation of time, choose only to view the present, only to know the past. Not to know its future.

I even choose to observe it at the same rate as any inhabitant would. That was how I had tried to know what it was like to be there, to be subject to the rules I'd put in place, but it was inadequate. Unsuitable, compared to the personal experience I'd yet to gain.

So it was that I waited. Watching, looking for a place where I could bring myself into the limited existence I had created.

Of course, I kept all my powers. The universe might be purely based on technology, not magic, but that was no reason I could not retain my own abilities, magical as they would seem.

Why wouldn't I?

--

I chose a reasonably long-lived species. Intelligent enough, not especially advanced as yet. There were other civilizations I could have chosen, some more advanced, some less so. But I chose one that I found interesting, where its scientific development had not been uniform across all fields.

There was nothing especially unusual about my childhood. I had parents who loved me, even if they didn't always get along with each other. My school was adequate to the purpose of educating its pupils, though I'd decided to retain all my knowledge. It was interesting what they got wrong, even about their own world's history. There were times that I was tempted to take my class on a little trip into the past to see what it was really like, just as there were times that I almost did impromptu science experiments in order to demonstrate why something stated as an evident fact was wrong.

The funniest, I found, was how they tended to interpret literature. For someone who could look into the deepest parts of everyone's mind, the disconnect between what authors had intended and how their words were interpreted in later years was a source of constant amusement.

Sometimes cigars are just that.

I wasn't exactly some great paragon of popularity, but neither was there anyone who especially despised me. I had a few close friends with whom I was something of a mother figure. I made some small, subtle uses of my power to ensure nothing went especially wrong for me, but not for them, as close as I was with them. So it was to me that they often came for commiseration and consolation.

I should've kept it that way, in hindsight.

But one thing I didn't anticipate was just how intoxicating powers like mine are. I couldn't not use them. I could try to keep them in check, suppress the urge, but I had to do something with them. Had to use them in some way.

And so sooner or later, my small, subtle uses were no longer enough.

--

It happened innocently enough, I guess. The species I'd chosen to live my life in was sexually dimorphic for the most part, and its societies, especially its dominant ones, had developed pretty distinct roles for the two sexes. Not that there weren't people who had a mismatch between what they found comfortable and what society expected of them.

I only realized just how much I myself had bought into those roles and expectations when a friend of mine confided to me, while we were pursuing higher, nonmandatory education, that they felt uncomfortable in any such role.

Now I knew why they cringed whenever anyone addressed them by their last name. Or their first, for that matter.

Up until then, I hadn't confided to anyone about who I really was, what I could really do. I was just a close friend and confidante, someone who could safely be told any secret, knowing the confidence would not be betrayed.

They'd already done some research into what could be done for them, and while there were methods to help address their discomfort, they were largely crude and underdeveloped compared to what I knew was possible with the technology permitted by the laws of this universe. But this species was largely in its technological infancy, so my friend's only avenue was those crude methods.

Except, of course, that they were my friend.

So I showed them what I could do.

They grasped the possibilities immediately. Out went the research, in came the designing and crafting and modeling.

When we were done, well, all I'll say is that while there was certainly plenty of pornographic content out there that pretty accurately described what my friend now looked like, nobody had ever seen anything like them in real life.

But neither of us cared. They were finally happy with themselves, comfortable with who they were, and I was happy for them.

And happy that I could use my powers to do good in the world.

--

After that, I started to pay a little more attention to those around me. People in pain, people in need, people suffering.

My friend, despite being asked, never disclosed how they came to have their new body. But that didn't matter. I couldn't not use my abilities, couldn't not help people, especially now that I knew how good that felt, and so sooner or later word was bound to get out.

I knew that from the start.

It was still only small things that I did, or tried to limit myself to, anyway. A family, just short of starving, finding a basket of food at their doorstep. A man, jobless and about to go broke, finally getting a call back from a prospective employer. A woman on her deathbed, recovering from a disease that was almost always fatal.

Nothing entirely out of the ordinary, certainly nothing as eye-catching as what I'd done at first. But enough, just enough, that there were a few people out there who realized that something wasn't entirely right. That something was seeming to interfere with the natural order of events.

--

Prayer.

Most of the people on this world believed in some sort of higher being, or otherworldly force, or what have you. None of them envisioned it as being anyone like me, but that didn't mean I didn't hear their pleas and entreaties.

And they became pretty hard to ignore once I'd started to open myself to the pleas and entreaties of this world's denizens.

I knew more than enough, of course, not just to rush through them, make snap decisions. Certainly I knew better than to just answer all of them in the affirmative--I didn't want that sort of chaos!

But slowly, slowly, I began to answer a few. There were some that were more or less just inevitably answered anyway--finding wallets and such. I didn't bother with those.

My next mistake: answering prayers beyond the rate at which chance would see them come to pass anyway.

--

The evidence mounted. The people pointing it out weren't taken too seriously at first, but soon it was too much to ignore. There was something out there that was causing certain things to happen more often than they should.

They never fingered me specifically, of course. Maybe that's why things got as far as they did. As long as I was still anonymous, I just kept doing what I was doing.

I didn't pay attention to where more and more of those prayers, those pleas, were coming from.

--

It wasn't until I turned on the news randomly one day that I realized what I'd inadvertently done.

War.

Somehow, without my consciously noticing it, the various factions that controlled the world had started tracking how many of their prayers were being answered. Without my noticing it, they'd set up groups that did little but pray to whoever was answering. And I'd just kept answering.

They took answered prayers as a sign of worthiness, of favour.

The sick part was, in a sense, they were right. I was answering prayers I thought were worthy of being answered.

And eventually one of them claimed some sort of mantle of righteousness, given how many of their prayers I'd granted, and set out to conquer those who were, it seemed to them, less worthy--had had fewer prayers answered. By me.

That was the spark that lit the tinder box I'd unwittingly created. Everything had become reoriented around this unknown wish-granter, this unseen benefactor who bestowed gifts on only those most deserving of them.

And if a being, a force, of that power deemed someone deserving, how presumptuous of anyone else to deny it!

So the reasoning went.

Of course, I had no interest in indulging such militaristic fancies, and realizing what I'd done, I simply stopped answering prayers altogether.

What I didn't realize is that I'd also accidentally created a dependency on my unseen intervention.

People started running out of food again, since I hadn't noticed that they were deliberately putting themselves on the brink of starvation in order that I would answer. Businesses suddenly had a hard time finding good workers, since I'd stoped nudging people into jobs that they were well-suited for. People began dying from diseases that I had previously been curing.

Only then did I understand an old saying about good intentions.

--

I fled.

I didn't dare try to fix my mistakes--I would only make it worse. I left that world to burn, to wither and die.

I departed that reality, didn't watch as it ended as all the others had. I felt perversely glad that I'd limited myself to intervening on such a small scale, even as the suffering I'd caused wounded me deeply.

So if you ever wondered why wishes aren't granted, why prayers aren't answered, why miracles don't happen... just be glad you don't live in a world where those things do happen.

--

"I think of my beautiful city in flames, Lennier. The streets where I walked, the temples, the great crystal spires... that sighed music whenever the wind touched them. I think of it, and I cry, Lennier. And I wonder: did I do this when I broke the Grey Council?"

"Valen always said the Council will be broken in the Great Shadow War."

"Lennier, you know the truth as well as I do. Valen only knew what Sinclair knew, could not see beyond that. Once he left us, the future became fluid. I had assumed things would continue on, like some great clockwork mechanism. As long as the war was won, we would be all right. I was wrong."

"Delenn, it was inevitable. The Council imposed balance between the castes by suppressing the old resentments, the fears, the imagined slights. But it could not erase them. Take that away, and all the old problems come right back to the surface again."

--Babylon 5, "Rumors, Bargains and Lies"

--

"There are moments when we all become someone else, something other than what we are. It takes only a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives looking back at that moment in shame."

--Babylon 5, "Objects at Rest"
 

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