The Ultimate Alliance

Once Roland had announced to the Life-army that Simon had been destroyed, Green, somehow making its voice heard over the enthusiastic cheering of billions, proclaimed that for today, no more battles would be fought. "All of us have made innumerable sacrifices for the sake of Life, and some work still remains to be done. But today is a day to rest and congratulate ourselves—today is a day of celebration!"

It had been late morning here when Jason, Roland, and Curtis had returned from the canyon; the festivities began shortly thereafter, and showed no sign of stopping soon. There were sex, drugs, and rock-'n'-roll aplenty. Jason took no part in these things; he was in no mood for a party. All he did was procrastinate what he'd long ago decided he had to do. He wandered about aimlessly, dwelling on the past and dreading the future. When anyone tried to talk to him, even Roland or Curtis, he would only scowl at them and walk away.

Many hours passed. Finally, a while before midnight, with the party to end all parties showing no signs of slowing down, Jason decided he'd tarried long enough. He flew far away from the camp, until it was no longer visible, then took human form again and looked up at the sky. And then, before he could do anything else, Blue appeared. Jason shrieked with surprise.

"I'm very sorry I scared you." said Blue in a soft and gentle voice. Its shape was the same that Jason remembered from his dream: a smallish, slender fox with brilliant deep-blue fur and large, watery eyes. "I only wanted to say one thing to you."

"And… what is that?" said Jason. When the gods spoke, he listened.

"I understand how you don't like the rowdy, vivacious, active side of Life so much." said Blue. "Clearly, while so many fight for Life for the sake of Love and Courage, you do so not because of them but in spite of them."

"Yes, I suppose that's right. My feud with Red is no secret, and I don't like what Green likes much better."

"Yet you are on the side of Life, since you do value other aspects of it."

"Yes." said Jason, unsure if this was the truth. "Certainly I prefer it to Death."

"But I want to remind you that life isn't entirely a matter of movement and energy. It consists also of rest and relaxation, along with the virtues that naturally arise from a serene state, such as forgiveness and gratitude. Like the eye of a hurricane, there is a peaceful refuge in the midst of dynamism."

"So what you're saying is, the multiverse as Life will reshape it won't be totally chaotic?"

"Exactly. There will be order within the larger disorder." Jason nodded. "Take comfort in this. That's all. Would you like me to take you back to the camp?"

"No, thanks." said Jason. "I need to be on my own."

"I understand, but it's dangerous for you to be alone. Death could attack you while no one else is around to help. I don't want you to die, Jason!"

"I'm fine, okay?"

"Suit yourself." With a strange ruffling sound, the fox faded into nothingness.

<Now, what am I to make of all that?> Jason wondered, looking up at the night sky. <Oh, never mind it. I've already made my decision.> His spread his arms upwards, his lone hand opened beseechingly. "Are you there, Death?" he called. "It's me, Jason. We need to talk."

And at once, he was plunged into darkness.

No, actually, "darkness" doesn't cover it. Jason was not only blind. He was also deaf, and he could no longer feel even the sensations that were always with him: the feel of his socks on his feet, for instance. In fact, he had no evidence whatsoever that he still had a body. He was only a mind adrift in a colossal void.

<Ye gods!> thought Jason. <Is this the afterlife?>

And then, to his surprise, he received a reply. "No; you're still alive." Somehow, the message was completely voiceless, silent: the sensation wasn't auditory, but purely verbal, as if the words had been written into Jason's brain. The language was clear enough: it was English.

<Wha—who's reading my mind?> Jason thought.

"I'm only 'reading your mind' insofar as you believe you're keeping your thoughts private. In fact, you're broadcasting them. If you wish to keep your thoughts secret, will them to be so."

<Stay secret, you stupid thoughts! Stay secret! But then, how can I communicate with this thing? Well, I suppose I can broadcast only the thoughts I want—I can speak.> "Who are you?" he "said".

It appeared to have worked. "Death."

"Oh. I thank you for not killing me."

"You're welcome. I'll probably kill you soon enough, since you've given me the chance, but first I want to hear what you have to say."

<Good enough.> "I wanted to propose we join forces, in a strange way."

"Join forces? My Champion offered alliance to you many weeks ago, and instead you aided Life. You, of all the humans in the Life-army bar Roland, have done the most to hinder me. Why should I want you as an ally?"

"Because you're doomed, Death. Life has already won the war. It's only a matter of time before the final battle between you and the Vital trinity, and by then you'll be far too weak to win it."

"Admittedly, I stand to lose a great deal in the coming weeks. But my raw personal power is still not much less than Life's. Were we to duel now, no one could predict which of us would win."

"Yes, I know that. I've chosen my moment to make this offer to you carefully. You're now losing the war badly enough that victory is no longer a real possibility, yet you yourself have lost only a little power."

"I don't view my prospects as pessimistically as you do. Though I try to maximize my probability of victory, its actual value is irrelevant to me. The reason is that total annihilation is my only goal; I unconditionally devote all of my energies towards it."

"I… I realize that, and I don't like the idea of total annihilation one bit. What I ask is that, because you'll never get quite what you want, you help me achieve a more modest goal."

"'Never'? There remains a chance!"

"A negligible chance. An infinitesimal chance. You were doomed as soon as the first rabbits were born. Don't underestimate exponential growth—that mistake has been made too many times already. You simply can't win against an army that nearly doubles every three days."

"My army has good leadership—mine and Simon's. You won't live to lead the Life-army again."

"Irrelevant! Life doesn't need me any more. You'll be overwhelmed. Just think how long it will take until every inhabitable verse is covered with a teeming carpet of rabbits. They'll destroy your entire army long before they run out of food. Don't kid yourself, Death. If things are left as they are, Life will win—and I don't like that prospect much more than you do."

"What else is there for me to do? What 'modest goal' could possibly be easier to achieve than total annihilation, yet comparable in effect?"

"Annihilation not of everything, but of you and Life."

"That would be madness. Reality would be left as it was before either of us appeared: complicated, arbitrary, full of suffering, meaningless."

"So it would. But reality isn't pure chaos—in fact, at the lowest level, it's very orderly. It may not be deterministic, but it is probabilistic. Most fundamental measurable quantities are, within the scope of the entire multiverse, conserved."

"Entropy is not."


"Disorder at the molecular level. It only increases. With each passing moment, each universe expands and becomes less ordered. It may take an unimaginably long time, but eventually, every verse will collapse into a mass of swirling chaos."

"Quite homogeneous swirling chaos?"

"As homogeneous as disorder can be. Then the barriers between verses will begin to break down, and even that crude organization of reality will be gone."

"You don't think—you don't think that someday, with you and Life long gone, other gods—gods with just as much power to mold reality—might arise, in the same way you did?"

Jason got no reply for a while. At last, Death said "I don't know."

"Well, here's what I know. If Life wins, its victory will be irreversible. Order or sanity of any kind will never exist, anywhere, ever again. If both of you are destroyed, the world we're familiar with will continue to exist—and I don't see why, in the many billions of years before… before that collapse you spoke of…"

"The heat deaths of all verses? You're off by countless orders of magnitude."

"Yes, before that, I don't see why another god just like yourself couldn't be born. My race is a hardy and a fast-adapting one. Left on its own, humanity will last a long time, and so long as there is sapience, gods can be born. In short, if you concede your minute chance of victory, and accept a stalemate instead, your cause may eventually triumph. Otherwise, Life will win. That's my ultimatum: work with me to destroy Life and hope your spiritual successor fares better, or lose everything."

Again, Death seemed to take time to think. "I understand your argument," it said, "but I can't surrender. To rely on my 'spiritual successor' is to place infinite confidence in a being I can never know. Far better to cling to the chance of victory I can be sure exists."

"Death," said Jason, "you want reality to be reduced to nothing very much, don't you?"

"Earnestly. There is nothing else I want."

"Yet isn't want itself what you detest? You hate desire; you wish to destroy it—you desire an end to desire!"

"That's right. And isn't that the only reasonable kind?"

"No, it's—look, I'm offering destruction. If you're destroyed, annihilated, obliterated, you will no longer desire anything. You'll be nothingness—permanently at peace. Isn't that what you want?"

"Not only that! I'm not selfish. I want universal peace."

"But what's the difference? The only experiences and desires you can rationally believe to exist, independently of all other things, are your own. You have every reason to believe that everything you perceive is dependent on your perceiving them to exist."

"Do you take me for a solipsist?"

"I'm saying that whether or not you find it convenient to model the world as existing independently of yourself, you'd be mad to worry about its state after you have ceased existing. Think of it this way: rather than desiring immediate annihilation of everything, desire your own annihilation, and then, a moment afterwords, that of everything else. As soon as you've accomplished the smaller goal, the larger will no longer concern you in the least. What could be more reasonable?

"In fact, it's distinctly irrational to concern yourself with the parts of reality you don't perceive. You aren't omniscient—and even if you were, you'd have no way of being sure. Is it so unreasonable to think that the multiverse might be larger than we think it is? Perhaps, even if you did win, you would find yourself insufficiently powerful to destroy everything. Perhaps a deity many times mightier than you, who intervenes in our world only occasionally, will stop you. Perhaps we're all under glass, inside a miniature multiverse made for the study or amusement of beings so unlike us that to try to conceive of them would literally drive us insane. When you destroyed the multiverse, one of them would only say 'Oh, what a shame it died out so quickly; I bought it only twenty billion years ago or so.' and promptly replace it with a new one.

"There's only one certainty in all this mystery.

"And that certainty is my offer to you, Death: peace, eternal and permanent peace, nothing less than what you want. Take it or leave it. If Life wins, I think it will be more vengeful than to destroy you completely."

Death thought for a long time. Eventually, it asked "What's your plan?" Jason explained it, and Death said "All right."

Jason could barely believe it. "You'll go along with it?"

"Yes. You've made me uneasy. And make no mistake: I fear Life. If we stand united, we stand a chance."

"That's… that's the idea."

"What I'm going to do is concentrate all of my power into a single weapon, the most potent magical object in history: a scythe, I suppose. The bulk of my mind will be burnt away; I won't be able to advise you. And with my power so contracted, Life will have far more control over the multiverse in general than it does now. The scythe will protect you: so long as you wield it, only Life itself can harm you, and only it, of course, will be able to harm Life.

"I'll have to purge you of your powers of scent and shapeshifting. They ultimately derive from Life; the scythe would annihilate you if you held it with any Life-power in your possession. Your coin will be gone, too, since that power originally comes from me, and will serve you better in the scythe. Are you ready?"

"Yes." said Jason.

Nothing appeared to happen for a long time. Then, in the space of a moment, all of Jason's senses snapped back into life. The scene around him was wholly unfamiliar. It appeared to be late in the morning on a sunshiny, eerily silent spring day; the grass was a lush green, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Jason was standing at the intersection of perhaps a dozen dirt roads, all of them wide as a highway and meandering all the way to the horizon—some crooked as a criminal, others curvy and circuitous as a lie, but none straight. Right in front of him was a staircase. Covered with red carpet, yet devoid of any guardrails and just five feet wide, it ascended upwards seemingly without end. Without looking under the staircase, Jason had a hunch that it needed no support whatsoever to keep it in the air.

Once he'd gotten over the initial shock of his new surroundings, Jason noticed the object he was clutching. It was the scythe. The pole, black as blindness and gracefully curved, was quite short, shorter than him. The blade, gray as ash, glitteringly reflective as ice, and hooked like a crescent moon, looked quite long. The weapon was heavy, and Jason's inexperience with weapons in general would have made him clumsy with it in his left hand; in his right, he would be lucky to avoid accidentally hitting himself. Yet he could tell that he wouldn't need to strike very hard with the scythe in order to kill. And he wouldn't need to strike at all in order to terrify. Death itself was in the blade, and Jason could feel it; he felt a deep dread just looking at it. Already he knew that all the power he'd given up for the chance to wield this was but a mere fraction of what he had now. He hoped it would be enough.

Gritting his teeth and dragging the scythe behind him, Jason began to climb the stairs.