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“What do you mean I can’t live?  I’ve been doing that for 59 years now.  I’m pretty confident I am capable of that.  Unless… wait… are you saying I’m dead?  Is this the afterlife or something?”

“No.  This is most certainly not The Afterlife.  And you can’t be dead.”

“Sure I can.  I hate to tell you, but give it long enough, everything dies.  Entropy is a thing.  Even those of you who run around with incredibly long life spans will finally cease to be.  Even the Universe, itself, can’t be infinite.  ‘All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity,’ was one of my people’s favorite lines.”

“And Shakespeare was quite correct.  All that lives must die.”

Horace stared into the cosmos.  He let the meaning sink in.  “So… I can’t die because I’m not alive.  And I can’t be dead because I never lived.”

“You’re beginning to understand.  Would you care to try a different universe now?  We still have 1.78 billion or so left to consider.”

“So… I’ve never lived.  What am I?”

“Everyone asks that question.  Few get an answer.  Would you care to continue with your Universe Selection?”

“I’d prefer to be among the few.”

“My job is to assist with Universe Selection.  I don’t do philosophy or psychology.  They’re just beyond the Argument Clinic in the Python Galaxy.”

“Where is that?”

Horace perceived the being he couldn’t see to be pointing into the cosmos.  “Second star to the right…”

“And straight on ‘till morning?”

“That’s the one, yes.”

“I’m… a fictional character?”

Had Horace been able to see the being, he would have seen a smile and a nod.  “Now, shall we select your universe?”

“I’m a little freaked out.  How do you know I’m a fictional character?  Unless… you’re also a fictional character?”

“I assure you I am quite real.”

“Is there a universe where I’m real?”

“It’s possible.  Just as the laws of physics break down in different universes, in singularities, and in wormholes, the laws of philosophy are also subject to collapse.”

“Could you put me in a universe where I’m real?”

“That would require a universe in which Fred Eder never existed.”

“Who’s Fred Eder?”

“He’s the writer who invented you.”

“So, we need a universe where I exist, but he doesn’t.”

“And World Peace, and Valerie Bertinelli exists, and she asks a fictional character to dinner.  Those seem to be the requirements now.  That could be exceptionally difficult.”


“Because if Fred Eder doesn’t exist, he can’t write the story in which you find such a universe.  This can’t happen at all.”

“Well, frankly, I’m not all that impressed with him as a writer.  He screwed up the last universe.  It didn’t meet even the basic requirements I gave you.”

“In what ways?”

“Valerie mentioned that I live in poverty most of the time.  I requested a Universe in which poverty had been eliminated.  That sounds like either inattention to detail, or a failure of imagination.  Neither of those are elements of good writing.”

“He was writing to himself.  He wanted to make it as plausible as possible.  He tried to imagine how it might happen in his universe.  You’re Fred’s alter ego.  Fred lives in poverty most of the time.”

“So do I.  But, I wouldn’t in the universe I requested.”

“Fair point.  I’ll make some adjustments for the next one.  My fault.”

“What can I control in my environment?”

“Anything.  Just like anyone else.”

“Most of a human’s environment is beyond their control.  They can’t control the weather, or what other people do, or–”

“They can, and they must, control how they deal with it.”

“Okay… Let’s try something.”  Horace thought for a moment and then said aloud, to the Cosmos, “Fred, take your fingers off the keyboard.”

There was a timeless pause.  Nothing happened.  The Cosmos didn’t spin.  The being made no effort to communicate.  Horace was frozen.

“Fascinating,” said Horace.

“Did you wish to select a Universe now?  We really need to move things along a bit.”

“Does it matter?  I mean, am I really choosing at all, or is it this Fred person?”

“He can’t choose anything that you wouldn’t do.  He couldn’t, for example, have you choose a Universe in which the world was constantly at war, poverty ran rampant, everyone was homeless, and there was no Art.  It’s not within you to choose such a thing, so he can’t do it.”

“Okay.  Then this is the Universe I want.  World Peace, the elimination of poverty, homelessness, crime, and unobtainable health care, and Valerie Bertinelli offers to make me dinner, and… I exist… and this Fred Person is a fictional character.”

“I believe that may be possible.  I’m not familiar with the procedure to change reality.  Universes are simple.  Reality is infinitely more complex.  However, there should be a universe in which I can change reality.  So, we shall both need to go to that universe, and then I can send you to yours.” 

“How do we do that?”

“I’ll need to locate The Omega Point.”

“How do you do that?”

“I’m looking it up.  You’re always in such a hurry.  We should find you a Universe in which you gain some patience.  Ah!  Here we are.  The Omega Point does not exist within the timeline of the universe.  It occurs at the exact edge of the end of time.  From that point, all sequences of existence are sucked into its being.”

“So, when we get to the Omega Point, how do we avoid the end of time?  That sort of prevents us from choosing a universe.”

“Douglas Adams posits that there is a restaurant there.”

“Okay… So?”

“We arrive, put our names on the waiting list, and then depart before they call us in.  I don’t know how much more obvious it could be.”

“And how do we get back here then?”

“We turn around and come back.  You really are frighteningly stupid for a fictional character.”

“It’s a sort of time travel?”

“Obviously.  That was worked out a couple of thousand of your years ago in at least 13 billion different universes.  Your H.G. Wells was quite late to the party.”

“Twain got there 6 years earlier.”

“He was still late.”

There were beeping sounds filling the Cosmos.

“What is that?”

“I’m calling ahead for reservations, obviously.  How slow precisely are you?  Hello.  I need reservations for two….  Thank you!  We’ll see you presently.”

Everything went entirely black for a moment, and then Horace saw that they were on a dark, desert highway.  He felt a cool wind in his hair.  The warm smell of marijuana growing wild filled the air.  Up ahead in the distance, Horace saw a shimmering light.  He moved toward it, and he found himself joined by the being, in the shape of Winnie The Pooh. 

“Oh, bother,” said the being.


They were in the hotel lobby. 

“This isn’t the restaurant at the end of the universe,” said the Pooh Bear Being.  It’s…”

“Welcome,” said an Android behind the desk.  “I’m Marvin, the Nightman.”

“Nice to meet you, Marvin,” said Horace.

“No, it’s really not.  Do you know how depressing it is to be the last person anyone wants to meet?”

“We’re here to check out,” said the Pooh Bear being.

Marvin smiled cryptically at them.  “Relax,” said the Nightman.  “We are programmed to receive.  You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”