They say I saved the world. I have tried to tell my people that the world is not safe; that no world is safe. That no world could ever be safe, not forever. Safety is a tranquil pool through which the river of history flows. I know the truth, or at least part of it, thanks to the man I met that day. No one else knows about that man, and he may not have even been real, but I must speak of him all the same, for he taught me something I will never forget. He imparted to me, in a sense, the meaning of life. He arrived, perhaps against his own better judgment, in a flash of light at just the right moment. And judgment it was, indeed; I had been given a choice that I could not bring myself to make, and he showed me what I had to do. He helped to fix the mistake that I had made, but he seemed so forlorn while he did so. I could not help but to ask him why: why he was helping at all, and why it made him sad. And when I did, he turned to me, and he told me a story. Long ago, and very far from here, there was a man who lived on a small blue-green planet, under a small yellow sun, lost in the endless cosmic night. This man was gifted; his work alone accelerated the scientific advancement of his world by hundreds of years over the course of his lifetime. To his beloved people, he brought peace, health, safety, comfort, and most importantly knowledge. But it was not enough for him. He did not seek power. He did not wish for domination, not over his fellow man or even over nature. What he sought was knowledge for its own sake -a nobler pursuit than power and control, but still dangerous. And as must always happen, one day... something went horribly wrong. He did not speak of what happened, not in detail, but in tinkering with the very fabric of reality, he became... sundered, splintered, undone, and then suddenly… remade. He could, all at once, perceive the whole of infinity around him. He saw the great nothing at the bottom of everything, and the madness at the top. He experienced every iteration of every universe; all of time and space happening at once in an endless forest of infinitely-branching cosmic trees. He saw the space between and could channel the limitless energy from that aether to reshape reality as he pleased. He was, in an instant, more powerful than any god -truly omnipotent. He understood the meaning of existence and he knew, with omniscient certainty, that there was no meaning. There was no reason for existence at all, no purpose for being. Reality simply is. How does someone, formerly finite and mortal, cope with infinity in every direction, when there is no meaning behind that infinity? The answer, he said, was joyfully simple. Existence, he told me then, is a blank canvas upon which to paint meaning. And he added another revelation to help me paint my meaning: existence is not unknowing and uncaring, for we know that we exist, and we must resolve to care. We are each the universe made conscious, he said to me with humble awe in his voice, and the only thing missing from a universe without consciousness is compassion. Only that which has the ability to know and understand, can know and understand others. It was so clear to me in that moment: that consciousness exists to be the door through which meaning enters the universe, and that meaning must be kindness. I asked him, then, why he was sad, for what he had said brought me tears of joy. He told me that every instance of an event with more than one outcome is another node in the tree, another fork splitting into new branches, each one with their own branches, unto eternity. There is no one true timeline, no one correct path. For him to create a new one through intervention was merely an infinitesimal drop in the aether, and he could see all the futures in which I had made a choice. He knew what would have happened without him -if, that is, the choice had been left to me, in my ignorance. He grieved that he could never ensure the permanent safety and happiness of a world, for that would be a task of infinity against infinity. To forge a new path for a world through kindness may not change much, he said, but it is noble. But then he smiled, and he told me his secret: his purpose. For all his power and knowledge, for all his eternity, he confided in me that he was not infallible. The meaning he ascribes to his everlasting life, therefore, is to strive to be better, for this is a task wherein the goal is always one step further. The quest for compassion is as endless as he and the whole of existence. So, too, is his other task: to maintain the integrity of all universes -as he has seen, there are always some rare few who would seek nothing but destruction. He cares for every infinitely-branching tree of spacetime in Eternity, tends to their ills and encourages their growth. He told me, then, that his work in this time and place was complete, for now, and wished me well as he left the same way he had come: in a flash of otherworldly light. But I have thought about him every day since then, as my world slowly heals, and I have come to appreciate who and what he really is. He did not create existence, but he bears its responsibility as though he did. He wanders the grand cosmic forest of times and spaces, sowing kindness where it must be sown and fostering compassion across the whole of existence, in hopes of watching it bloom like flowers in an endless summer sun. I never learned his name, but I know what I will call him. I will call him the Gardener.
Author's NotesHello, author here. This is one of my personal favorite pieces I have ever written, so I thought I'd share a little bit of commentary as well. Firstly: no, the narrator does not have an identity. The narrator isn't important. That's... the whole point. The focus is on the Gardener, who is one of the most important and influential characters in the entire setting. His teachings are the important part, not the world he saved or the narrator whose life he changed. Second: yes, I'm perfectly aware this is heavy-handed and unsubtle, and no, I am not changing that. I had lots of important feelings to share and I refused to pad it with metaphor and extraneous prose. You get to read the raw existentialist poetry that spilled out of me and onto the page one tearful Saturday night instead. Sometimes the most powerful option in your narrative toolkit is to state a thing plainly. Sometimes writing is like bleeding.