Lazarus watched the next wave as it swelled. The latest Universe rippled, flashing from a point to a cloud, a cloud to an eternity of sparkling matter and light, and then collapsing back into itself in a mouldering entropy of decay.
“What?” Said Peck, frowning slightly.
Lazarus stared at his friend. It was true, they had existed since before the beginning of time. No doubt they would exist beyond the end of eternity. Still - Peck really was a dolt, sometimes.
“It’s just…” Lazarus hesitated. He watched the next bubble of spacetime whispering its way into existence, balancing on the edge of possibility. It was full of promise, full of potential. But Lazarus knew how things would go. It was always the same. How could he express that to his friend? Was there a word for it? The disappointment he felt every time the sparkling potential crashed down through inevitable spirals of dissipating energy, matter condensing and radiating, forming and exploding, the dance of atoms up the elemental chain, the formation of planets - brief dense clots in the infinitely spreading, thinning cloud of existence - and then life, fragile, sensitive, as delicate as a daydream, blooming, flourishing…and then fading (after a moment or a million moments, it mattered not), crushed under the final, inevitable realisation that the whole of its host reality was locked in - a closed system - an energy signature which was destined for only one thing: the long flat line, and the end of all potential before it had even properly begun. And if that wasn’t bad enough, to have to sit here, like Lazarus and Peck sat, lodged in the phase-shelf between the endless expanding bubbles of Universe after Universe, to watch it again and again, forever…
“Never mind,” muttered Lazarus, turning away and flipping a stone off into the front of the latest expanding Universe, where it lodged in the heart of a fledgling galaxy, displacing the central black hole, which in turn flew off, starting a chain reaction which terminated the entire Universe in a soft, disappointed hiss.
“Hey!” Complained Peck. “I was enjoying that one!”
He was right. The decaying particles of the disbanded Universe were quickly dripping away, making room for yet another wavefront, another Universe…
“True,” said Peck, an optimistic lilt to his voice. “Yes, you’re right: this one is much better.”
They sat in silence for an indeterminate amount of time, watching the Universes roll out of nothingness and back into eternity.
Lazarus found himself contemplating a small puddle, a tiny distending, dripping pool of substances left over from the previous decaying Universe, dribbling slowly back into the shores of eternity.
Lazarus blinked, sat up straight.
“What?” Asked Peck. “What is it?”
But Lazarus barely heard him.
Why had he never thought of that before?
He picked up another rock, and flung it. This time the rock managed to pass through several parts of the multidimensional structure of the wavefront simultaneously - something which was, of course, impossible - causing the Universe to shudder briefly before shutting down in a puff of offended fundamental principles.
“Lazarus!” Peck complained, really angry this time. “What the hell…”
But Lazarus ignored him. Lunging forward, he scooped up a mass of the glimmering fragments before they could completely dissolve back into the eternity of nothingness/everythingness below them.
He stepped back just in time to avoid the advancing wave of the next Universe.
“What are you doing?” Demanded Peck, aghast.
Lazarus examined what he had caught. There was less than he had been hoping for; still, it might be enough.
He rubbed the fragments together, turning and massaging the thing into being, turning it back on itself, folding and unfolding. It was a delicate business.
“Don’t you ever get bored?” Asked Lazarus, not looking up from his work.
“Bored?” Asked Peck. “We get to watch the infinite play of the Universe singing itself into being! We get to see it, again and again, in a million different ways! How could I possibly be bored?”
Lazarus kneaded the thing, whispering to it. It was taking shape. It was nearly as he had imagined it.
“Meh,” he said, talking over his shoulder while he made fine adjustments. “I mean, yeah, sure, in theory it’s infinite. Always seems kind of samey to me.”
“What?” Demanded Peck, in a cold, outraged voice.
Lazarus lifted up the thing he had fashioned. It looked perfect, glimmering softly, a sparkling thing, deep black with a million million pinpricks of fine sharp light darting out. And deep, deep within - drained of almost all the shimmering potential, with just enough remaining, he prayed, for his purpose - the single microscopic fragment on which he pinned his hopes.
“And that’s not even mentioning the fact that watching is all we’re doing,” went on Lazarus, giving his creation an experimental flick and shivering with delight as the little Universe quivered and fluttered and yet held tight and perfect. He looked up at his friend. “I’m sick of watching,” he said. “I want to experience.”
Peck had gone very still.
“We can’t,” he said in a flat voice. “You know the rules. If we drop off the shelf, if we fell into phase with any of the waves…”
“…then we would be tied to it, and end with it,” said Lazarus, finishing his friend’s thought. “I know. That’s what this is for.”
He held up the little thing he had made. It was so small, so light. It was beautiful.
“What…what is it?” Asked Peck, uncertainly.
“A machine,” said Lazarus. “A machine for existence. I wonder what I should call it.”
And he placed it on the shore - carefully, very carefully - next to the point where the never-ending wavefronts of the sequential Universes stopped, burst, faded. Even as he moved back, he could see the light of his little creation dimming, slowing, decaying.
He was right though. He had to be.
“Well, it’s a nice little toy,” said Peck, unimpressed. “But you know as well as I do that it will wind down before…oh.”
As they watched, the latest wavefront burst, deflating and trickling back down into the nothingness/everythingness of eternity…apart from a small tendril of light and matter and energy, which found its way - slithering and snaking - into the thing Lazarus had made.
At once it lit up, turning and dancing as if it were fresh-minted again.
Lazarus smiled in the darkness.
“Oh,” said Peck again. It was evident that he understood.
“Yes,” said Lazarus. He couldn’t keep the joy out of his voice.
He took a step forward. As he did so, he shrank by a factor of a million. His toy, his creation, his machine for existence swelled before him.
“But…but…it’s pointless,” said Peck, without conviction. “What good will it do you? Even if it lasts for ten Universes - or a hundred - for all of them! You’ll still know. You’ll still know what is really happening, what is really going on out here.”
The machine was all around Lazarus now, swelling as he shrank and shrank and shrank, compressing his form down into the heart of the beautiful thing he had made. He really must think of an appropriate name. He called over his shoulder without looking back.
“You think I didn’t consider that?” He said. “I’ve got it all worked out. Reincarnation. The very centre will pass on - the node of experience - the viewpoint - the soul. But there will be no room for memory.”
“You mean…you won’t let yourself remember who you are?” Peck's voice was distant now, huge and faded like a thin cloud dissolving in the bright sunlight. “Then nothing will be worth anything! Everything will be an idiotic surprise! Everything will be…”
But Peck’s voice faded into non-existence as Lazarus - executing the final round of exponential flickering miniaturisation - found himself at his destination - a bright, beautiful planet, turning blue-green in the splendid yellow light of a young sun.
Life here was in full bloom. Form after form dancing around the surface, in the oceans; filling the air. Birds and beasts, trees and plants and insects - bacteria, even - he would try them all, passing from one to the next, forever.
“Then everything will be brand new. Always.”
He said the words to no-one and to everyone, for that was the truth of it, of course it was - for he would ride them all, he would be them all, every single living thing, again and again, never stopping, never dying, and never knowing - really, never again - knowing the true awfulness of endless time, for here - that was the glorious trick of it - he would be mortal. Mortal and mortal and mortal, and eternity would be with him...but it never would claim him.
And now it was time.
He exhaled, and let himself pass into the world.
There was darkness. And darkness. And darkness.
He touched the ground.
To touch. To feel, rather that to watch endlessly. The rich earth, warm under his toes.
He opened his eyes. The sky was endless above him, vast bright blue. He felt the warmth of others around him, his new mother, looking down at him, loving him. Others, others of his tribe - or species - or group, he could not tell, for even as he looked on, he felt the awareness of who he had been draining away.
He smiled, sweet relief flooding through him.
Forgetting. He was forgetting.
The new life swept over him, sounds and scents and sensations flickering like lightning through his beautiful new existence. The sky and the wind and the crying of gulls and the smell of the sea…and the sweet earth beneath his infant toes.
And with the last flickering of the larger mind he used to be, Lazarus thought: Sweet earth. Yes. Earth. That is the name for it. My machine for existing. I will call it Earth.
And then the thought faded to nothing
He was home.