Eternity

Ephmeres looked out at the huge expanse of nothingness that lay sprawled out before him, and sighed as he watched the Universe come to its final, apocalyptic end. The last little ball of dirt had finally met its end, its inhabitants and matter sucked away by the Great Galactic Vortex, before ultimately succumbing to the same fate. After all these millennia, the universe had come to a somewhat disappointing ending.

A pity really, Ephmeres mused, for a Universe with such potential. The beginning had been much the same as it always was. The 'Big Bang'. Strange that out of every race that had ever lived, in every Universe that had ever been created, everyone always assumed that the bang was big. It was quite pathetic really, just a tiny chemical reaction somewhere in the void. It was a lot bigger than anything else out there, but in an endless expanse of nothingness the biggest thing need not be particularly big.

Once the planets had formed from their component gases, the usual cycle began. The bright, twinkling stars pulled the planets together to form a solar system, and the planets danced around their star like dancers in a cosmic waltz. Billions of planets, millions of solar systems, all gathered together but never coming close enough to touch one another. Something that always astonished Ephmeres was how the myriad of colours combined so beautifully. But at the same time, it always saddened him that he would never be able to share the sight with another person.

The sadness always evaporated, however, once that rarest of things happened; when life started to appear. On just a privileged few of the little planets, ones lucky enough to have Hydrogen and Oxygen, miniscule little cells began to develop life. It was basic at first, little collections of cells with just enough instinct to survive, but it got the ball rolling. Evolution soon gave rise to more complex life, sometimes developing a few simple, but functional, animals.

Very few of them succeeded; even if the first few cells managed to drag themselves into life, there were many more pitfalls for that life to overcome. Many tried to evolve away from the light they all needed so badly, and others tried to make the leap onto land far too soon. Only the tiniest, tiniest handful ever managed to become any more than simple fishes, but some always managed it, and those who did managed it in a myriad of different, fascinating ways. One planet evolved races of races of vast, noble lizards, and another brought forth a race of magnificent birds, with plumage so bright and shining it looked like living gold.

But no matter how amazed Ephmeres was by these little creatures, it was always the development of the so-called 'intelligent' life that captivated his attention. Of course, they weren't really all that intelligent. At least, not by Ephmeres' standards. They were just the pre-eminent rats in the maze. But still, they were as close to intelligent as anyone ever got. It was such fun watching them crawl up from their savage origins and develop into speaking beings. It was just like watching the child of someone close to you growing up - you could watch them, but you didn't really have to worry about them.

Whenever a species got this far, they always found some way to occupy their little period of existence, and that was what amused Ephmeres the most. Some found Religion, some found the Devil. Some found prosperity, some found deprivation. Some found peace, some found war. The most interesting races were the ones who managed to find two of more of these ideas all at once, usually with a variety of ridiculous results.

This time, there was that silly little race on the third planet from their sun, that managed to do it all in one go. What they called themselves, Ephmeres could never remember, but they came up with such ludicrous ideas! Huge armies of war, formed to keep the peace. Religious fanatics willing to kill hundreds of innocent, 'God-fearing' people, for the sake of killing one unbeliever. And, funniest of all, parts of the planet making enough excess food to make mountains from it, while the other half of the planet starved to death. Yes, that planet was a constant source of bemusement for Ephmeres.

Eventually, a handful of the races made the technology to get off their own little planets, and even travel between the stars. Either that, or they stole it from someone else who had decided to make contact with them. This was often the end of the interesting, life-filled part of the Universe. When the little creatures got off their own worlds and started interacting with the others, it usually led to lots of fighting, and lots of killing.

Last time, the warlike races made it into space first, hunted down all the more peaceful races for sport, and then turned on each other for something to kill. The results were predictable; with thousands of generations of practice at killing each other, any race that got this far would naturally have become very good at it. They finally developed unnecessarily noisy planet-killing weapons, and then turned them on each other in an orgy of destruction. All this led to a very colourful finish, of course, but it did leave a few millennia of staring into a very boring little Universe.

A couple of Eternities ago, the warrior races had wiped each other out first, leaving only the peacemongers to inherit the multitude of worlds. Before long, all the races had come together in one giant alliance, spanning the entire universe in peaceful unity. Surprisingly, this was just as boring as an empty universe; much as Ephmeres liked to see his little creations getting along, they did seem to waste their time with the silliest things when they did. 'Politics', he remembered - that's what they called it.

But this time, the races seemed to manage a healthy balance between oblivion and tiresome serenity. The world-killers were never launched, but there was always enough of a sense of danger to keep those inclined toward peace from enjoying it. Eventually, the races settled down into a regular pattern of war, followed by peace. It was a silly pattern really, as it kept life in a holding pattern, stopping the races from developing themselves any further. But it kept life in the Universe, right up until the very end.

When that end came, it was a bit of an anticlimax, just as it usually was. It began as soon as the races began to realise how the Universe was going to end. The Great Galactic Vortex, as they called it this time, sucking all the matter out of the Universe, just as it had all once come in. Soon, there was the usual panic. People hopping from planet to planet, desperately trying to keep one step ahead of the Vortex. Others tried to build great world-ships to carry their people away. As always, all they managed to do was buy a little more time, so they could waste it trying to escape the inescapable.

When death was inevitable, each race faced death in their own way. The Religious prayed. Those worshipping the Devil made sacrifice. The Peaceful kept trying to get away. The Warrior races trying desperately to get the last blow in on their rivals. The Prosperous races held great feasts to 'go out with a bang' as they put it. Unfortunately, the races that were less prosperous never survived long enough to find out about the Vortex. But then, they would never have the technology to see the end coming anyway. Ephmeres hoped they would sometime. He always did have a soft spot for the underdogs. Maybe that was why he kept watching after all these Eternities. Just in case it happened.

It was time to begin again. Ephmeres reached out with his massive hands, and grasped the Universe as you might hold a gigantic egg-timer. He picked it up, shook it and turned it upside down. Now, he cracked his knuckles, returned to his seat, and began to watch as all the matter of the Universe began, ever so slowly, to trickle back into the empty nothingness, starting to fill it again.