Elsewhere, in the deep and perplexing enormity of chaos, otherwise known as the universe, without warning or resistance, a book moved. It had previously been on a planet nearing the centre of the universe; one moment of matter displacement and it returns home, on a very high shelf in the Library of Life. There was a gap in case 81,613, shelf 88, and then there wasn’t. As reality-defiantly simple as that, the considerable, convoluted and very much continuing publication dedicated to Timelord HH (nee Guardian) returned to work. Its theft had resulted in irredeemable gaps in the narrative and added in far more damaging events. Things were coming undone and unless somebody stepped in, if the book was any judge, they were set to become far worse.
FutureHH arrived, in a similar way to his book’s previous arrival, silent and unannounced like the ghost his attire so well suited. There was a second blip in reality – by this point all physics and rules contemplated leaving entirely – and FutureHH was there as if he had been all along. In some respects, he had been.
He stumbled upon arrival and leant against the nearest bookcase for support. His previous appointment had left a bad taste in his mouth, no doubt the unavoidable tang of multiple paradoxes. Previous dealings with his past self were bad enough, but dealing with two versions of somebody else and a Discworld inhabitant…it was a miracle Time hadn’t turned inside out.
With one hand steadying himself against the H section, FutureHH was comforted to learn it wasn’t a cruel mirage. His and Womble’s previous visit was still fresh in his memory; what a pleasure it has been to break Captain Smartarse’s psyche, even if his house had come down with him. The Library of Life, however, remained utterly intact. Towel’s humble home had still crumbled around it and the Library hadn’t even looked round in acknowledgement. It was one of a few ‘Definites’ of creation; the kind of endless entity that would look upon the end of the universe as a minor inconvenience.*
FutureHH glanced upwards, directly at his own book. It was still there, still allowing him to cling to existence, no matter how minimal his past self’s grip. He moved in another way which all science would have deemed impossible. To say he could fly would be ridiculous. Flying suggests FutureHH moved from point A to point B. To be more accurate, FutureHH moved in such a way to put A and B in the same place simultaneously, with nothing in-between them. In the grand total of less than a second, he was off the floor and plucking free his own book, supported by nothing beneath him – or so it would seem to most folk.
It required both hands to hold his book up and open. He would be able to see further along the story than the previous self he’d left behind not long before, but still not beyond his own ‘present’ point. Not that he wanted to; he riffled through the pages until he reached the events currently afflicting the younger, doomed HH with no wrinkles and no grey hairs. FutureHH’s tired eyes scanned a few lines in quick succession and he released a sigh of relief. He wasn’t needed for this one, though did have another engagement soon after, apparently. Until then, there was always something else to do. He slid the book back home and was then walking on ground level again, towards the Completed section.
He was incredibly close to the W section, to try and answer one of his own, long suffering questions, when a shadowy intruder blocked his path. “Shadowy” was a total understatement – the figure had no exterior features at all. It was a FutureHH-shaped slab of deepest black, like somebody had made a life-sized silhouette.
The silence which fell between them could have taken on mass had FutureHH not gone first.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be right now?”
Omnipresence is a gift shared by more than just yourself, time traveller. I am still there, watching your younger self scream. I am here. I am also bringing the ends to more than a billion different stars at once. Darkness is eternal and everywhere, all at once.
“Much like boredom on a Thursday afternoon, then? Despite your voyeuristic tendencies, you still haven’t won over life itself, not by any means. Otherwise we’d all look like walking shadows round about now. Why are you even here?”
This is the Library of Life. Where there is Life there is always Death. In other words, my own domain. You see stories around you. I see fresh stock. Also, I never could miss an opportunity to gloat. It is one of my limited flaws.
“Is another your inability to shake someone’s hand? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to greet an abstract concept made living, but it does make for awkward introductions. At least the seven Endless gave themselves bodies.”
Even in your later years you cannot resist the urge to ramble. But tell me, when are you going to try and save the day?
If a shape of infinite darkness without facial features nor the ability to make expressions could look surprised, the Shadow-FutureHH did so. It was FutureHH’s chance to gloat, but he just had to kick it all off with a smirk.
“You may have studied me, but you misunderstand my course of action. It is never my intention to actually save HH, because both he, and so I, needs to learn to do that on his own and control his own fate. Honestly, you’d be surprised for an ex-solider just how useless he’s become. When he buried Guardian in his mind, he buried his skills along with him. What I do is……give him gentle shoves in the right direction. I’m his teacher, really. I prefer not to give away the answer; just the means of finding it.”
“Saves me? Or him, rather? Good question. I mean, somebody certainly does or else I wouldn’t be standing here, and it certainly wasn’t me. Trust me when I tell you this, it’s not somebody you’ll expect.”
You will tell me.
“Not because he doesn’t have the power or capacity to do it,” FutureHH went on, “but because I never expected it of him, either.”
“I knew that he could, I knew that possibly better than anyone. I don’t think I’ll ever never know why he did it, though. What did he possibly stand to gain from it?”
“At least I made it up to him. At long last.”
WHO? TELL ME WHO?!
The eruptive demand echoes across the entire universe, carried by stretches of inky blackness between the stars, flowing through the air on every unlit night, and falling down to corners of darkness in the deepest caves and craters. Every single being in creation hears the question, with no idea who asked and certainly no idea how to answer.
FutureHH barely even flinches. It’s not the first time he’s heard it, after all. “I stand by my ‘No Freebies’ policy. Both for HH and his enemies.”
You will tell me, old one. I broke the mind of the one who lived here before and I can do the same to you.
“I think you’ll find I’m the one who broke the good Captain’s infuriating thinker.”
You asked him how the Final Exit operates. I had to shatter his mind and his will, not a moment too late.
For the first time in several centuries, FutureHH’s face turns to a Look of surprise. “Wait. So there actually is an answer? He really did know everything? Oh for fuc-“
Enough. If you will not tell me what I wish to know, I can bring the answers from you by force. Can you sense my grip on your mind, Timelord? Can you feel the darkness in your mind, the sins and the sicknesses festering in your soul? Let my darkness seep into your veins and coarse through your ancient heart. Let your Guardian be your……your……allow him to……it…where is the Guardian in there?
FutureHH leans forwards, hands linked behind his back, grinning like a ravenous alligator. “That is all yet to come.”
Physics looked away for a third time and FutureHH was gone, leaving with a quiet sighing noise as matter settled back into the space he left behind. In one moment, he was millions of worlds and billions of years away,
The part of the Darkness left alone in the Library started to shrink and recede back in nothingness, no doubt needed in some other piece of the universe.
I really hate that one.
*And would probably end up joining forces with Milliways. Enjoy six impossible things before breakfast and now introducing, a trawl through your Great Auntie Mable’s life story!