“AUGH! Days upon days of work, and all for nothing!” The small device flew across the room, clanging against the metal walls. The exhausted earth pony flopped into his seat, rubbing his eyes wearily, looking up at the softly humming machine before him.
“And what do you think of all of this, huh?” he asked. No response, of course. He spun the chair away, stopping it to face the front door, which, surprisingly, was made of wood. “I just don't get it,” he said aloud, despite being alone. “How can so many paradoxes resolve themselves so easily? I mean, you have the physical separation from birth of the light and the dark, and all the problems that entails, then you throw on causality loop after causality loop... There's just no way this could be fixed by chance.” He breathed a sigh of frustration. “I hate not being the one responsible. It makes me feel so lost.” He growled slightly. “Fine. I've tried to avoid direct intervention, but I have to know.”
The stallion spun the chair once more, turning back to the machine. “You ready for another trip, dearest? It's been some time, hasn't it?” He threw a couple levers and the machine purred to life, its gentle pulse echoing across the room. The stallion watched a counter carefully. Back in time. To the beginning of this world. He was going to learn its secrets even if he had to tear it from the void himself.
The room gave a sudden lurch, like a boat striking a coral reef. The chair slid a few feet before coming to rest. “Hey now!” the stallion yelled, leaping out of his mobile cushion. “No no no! Don't complain!” He skidded over to the console as another lurch tried to knock him off of his hooves. “There shouldn't be any paradoxes preventing a landing! That's why we're exploring it!” His eyes narrowed in confusion. “Wait, if it wasn't you who stopped us, then who... ?”
This space-time is protected by Thael Godsrin, last of the Metaspectre. Turn away, and suffer no harm.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Should've known.” He threw on his coat and ran to the doorway, throwing it open. “Listen, I know you're all mysterious and meddling, but I've got some business in the past, and I'd rather get a move-on.” The light from the molten, still-forming planet outlined the figure before him.
You know me? The shadowy creature seemed perplexed.
“...Yeah, you kind of dragged me into everything. I'm the Doctor, the one who told the others about the history of your race?”
Ah, the Doctor, yes. We've heard of you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, though I apologize for the circumstance. We're sorry, but we must insist. This world might hold the answers I'm looking for, and we can't allow anything nor anyone to intervene.
“Except you, of course.”
Doctor, I've sowed the seeds of countless civilizations. This one has grown strong independent of me. That's why it's so intriguing.
“Independent of you? Hah! Your hooves are in every major event, as far as I can tell.”
We beg pardon? Ah, you must be from my future. While we find it unlikely that I'd take an active stance in the development of this world, it would explain the differences in our knowledge. You know us, but we've only just met you. In fact, we've only recently arrived to this world.
Only a few decades ago.
“Oh, of course. And where are you off to now?”
The same place you seem to want to go. To this world's creation. I must see whether it is a natural or unnatural birth.
“Yeah, I'd like to see the same, if you don't mind.”
The Metaspectre remained silent for a moment, but when it spoke, its voice was gravely serious. Doctor, we know you mean well, but the truth is you leave a path of destruction wherever you go. This is the only reason we haven't sought you out sooner. I was afraid that this force of such power would be nothing more than an aimless wanderer, that everything you do would be a mistake, an accident. I see now that you have a greater purpose, and that only makes me more wary. You have intelligence behind your actions, and that makes you dangerous.
“And what about you? How many lives have you claimed for your thirst for knowledge?”
Far less than you, I'm afraid.
The Doctor sighed. “You're right. I actually came to this world to settle down. To get away from my past.”
None of us can ever escape what is already set in stone.
“You and I are time-travelers, though. We can change the past, and in the few cases we can't, we can still change the future.”
But we are burdened with the knowledge of what might have been. What would have been, had we not intervened. You see, mortals worry that their influence dies with them. That their purpose can only be lived in their lives, and once they have breathed their last, so has their importance. We get to see the full extent of each of our actions. Every mistake is ours, and haunts us to the graves that will never come.
“Never come? Everything dies some day.”
Not until we've fulfilled our purposes. How long, Doctor? Someday? Someday is an infinity away. It cannot be reached. Not while there is still more to see, and may I remind you, this universe is endless.
“But I've seen its death! It's birth! I've seen everything from the beginning to the end! Of course it'll end!”
How many years, Doctor?
How old are you? How long have you wandered?
The Doctor hesitated. “Too long.”
“Thirteen thousand years.”
The Metaspectre nodded. And you jump to the interesting parts, yes? You cannot sit still, cannot wait like the rest of the universe has to?
“I've tried my hand at it, but yes, I have a tendency to be where I'm needed.”
Thirteen thousand years is not that long, Doctor. I'm older than most species. Try three hundred and forty-three million years, then we can speak about the universe ending. Doctor, I have only seen the beginning. Unlike you, I never bothered to go to the end of Time. I cannot, I shall not, until I have my answer, until I've lived that time myself.
The Doctor shook his head. “There's no way you can be that old.”
“Entropy, if nothing else. Your brain would've turned to mush! I mean, I guess you're made of crystal, so not quite, but there's no way you can carry on for that long. You'd kill yourself before living that long.”
Life becomes much easier to live when you're not worried about an imminent ending. Besides, I cannot kill myself, Doctor.
“You're physically restrained from harming yourself?”
Nothing like that, no. Doctor, consider this. If my second-hand reports are true, your burden is the loss of your people, yes? You couldn't save them from themselves, right? And so you turned to other races? To prevent them from falling into the same trap of pride, arrogance, and control?
“There's much more than that, but yes.”
Of course there's more. Well, Doctor, do you know how I became the last of the Metaspectre? I assume you're aware that they disappeared. It wasn't because I couldn't save them from their folly. It's because I couldn't save them from mine.
I killed every single last one of my people because of a foolish choice I made. I ended the Metaspectre race. Every individual was wiped out in a cataclysmic event that shook the foundation of our world. All except one.
My wife. I survived, of course, but I meant besides me.
“A wife? You're married?”
Was. She died, of her own volition. She couldn't carry on any longer, nor could we bear to bring children into a universe where they had no home, no culture, and no real future. One day, she finally decided that she had enough. And so, she finished her work, and passed on. Her soul forms the core of my altar.
“I didn't picture you the sentimental type.”
I have lost most of my emotions, yes, but a few remain the strongest part of me. Even a machine would grow weary some day.
“So what keeps you going? Why do you carry on in the face of eventual destruction?”
Why does anyone?
The Doctor shrugged. “Call it what you will. Faith, survival instinct, fear of the void, hope for an afterlife... But none of those seem like something you'd go for.”
Correct, Doctor. And that's just it. I carry on because I have to find a reason for my existence. I cannot pass on, having had my life be meaningless. But most of the answers cannot work on me. I carry the lives of hundreds of thousands of devout religious followers. All wonderful people, in their own right. There's nothing wrong with the core concept of belief, but each one is just as confident as the other, some of their practices even directly opposing one another's.
“So you believe that religion can't be true?”
Not quite. You see, Doctor, like a mirror, the shattered pieces can be part of the same whole. Yet they each show a different image. How can that be? No; I believe that the differences in each race, in each belief, in each individual only hint at a greater truth, a greater whole. I have made it my duty to find it.
“And that's why you're here now?”
And that's why I'm here now. I have infiltrated countless civilizations, waited generations, learned everything I could in an effort to find some insight I haven't known. Those are the moments I live for, Doctor. Unlike so many others who try so hard to be right, I try so hard to be wrong; because as of yet, the only future I see is the great Nothing. When I say I have not seen the end of the universe, I suppose I have lied, for I have seen it in the lives of thousands.
“You carry on to find purpose. Not just for you, but for all of the universe.”
Indeed, Doctor. Why do we live? The question has stymied thought since its inception. The things we cling to, such as wealth or power, mean nothing in the grave. Even to us as immortals; at some point you will find you have more power than you know what to do with, and then what good was your hoarding? Doctor, I can, and have, created worlds and destroyed them in childlike catharsis. I have let them live. I have supported them so their lives are absolutely perfect and blissful. I have condemned others to lives of slavery and anger, to see them rise in rebellion against me. Doctor, I have played a God, only to find I do not have the patience for it. As long as I am bound to this Reality, I am some other force's creation. I am not the master, but a servant, to an unseen and seemingly silent concept. Through the lives of those I have consumed, I have heard the voices, I have seen the visions, felt the feelings, the liberation, the certainty that my actions were lead by a higher force. Too often, Doctor, I have been that higher force. I hear no voice but my own and those of the people whose lives I've kept. I see nothing but what's around these eyes that have seen too much. I feel nothing but that gnawing void waiting to be filled; that must be filled. I carry on, Doctor, because the alternative would be an acceptance of a defeat deeper than any a man has suffered; the acceptance that we are an accident. That our pain, our joy, our struggles and our victories, are meaningless.
Doctor, such a thing cannot be. I cannot accept it. I cannot end myself, Doctor, I cannot finish my journey nor my meddlings, my experiments and observations, until I have an answer to the question greatest of all; Why do we live?
“Do you expect to ever be free?”
The creature standing before the sobered stallion fell silent. Then, as he watched, white droplets of flame began to fall from its eyes, their light joining the countless surrounding stars. No, Doctor, I do not. If I do, it won't be a sudden event, a blast of inspiration. A secluded event could not be the answer for the vastness of creation. It will be, if the realization ever comes, a slow transition into enlightenment. Perhaps an event can change my perspective, but I do not know, any longer.
“So why did you come here, specifically? Your presence is rather heavy in upcoming events.”
Is it? The creature turned away, looking to the molten planet. I had only planned on observing. It was standard, though welcome, procedure. I've stumbled upon a world not of my creation; these are the ones I allow to grow naturally. What could convince me to do otherwise?
The Doctor covered his mouth. “It wasn't what I just said, was it?”
No, Doctor, I do not think so. I have no qualms about creating a paradox. I could just leave, making your presence and your fortune telling false and nullified. And yet, I will stay. A change of plans is a good sign. Something is about to happen, I can feel it. Perhaps the shift in perspective I have been searching for for so long. The Metaspectre turned to the Doctor. I thank you for your presence, though I will restate that I am not willing to allow you to interfere beyond what you have already done. Tell me, Doctor, is there anything I can do for you? I will give you anything within my power.
The Doctor laughed softly. “I thank you for the offer, wanderer. But, I guess you're right. After all of our physical needs are met, the only thing we can ask for is peace of mind.”
“I could ask you to find some loophole, some twisted way to bring back my people. To bring back my family. But I'd still know it was a lie, wouldn't I?”
“The only way to progress is to continue on, to carry our mistakes, and burn them into glory.” He looked at the Metaspectre with a sad smile. “Thael?”
“Can you tell me, if you find what you've been looking for?”
Thael regarded him for a moment, then nodded slowly. Of course Doctor. I'm afraid I must continue to the beginning of this timeline, but it was a pleasure finally meeting you Doctor.
“The same to you.”
The Doctor lifted his head in shock. The Metaspectre had actually spoken. The voice he had just heard had not been telepathic, nor had it been translated by the machine that carried him through the stars. It echoed in his mind, in his native language, as the door closed with a click.