“Ah,” the Black Lotus said. “So you concede that, as dire as your eternal punishment is, it is not as bad as it could be.”
“That was never a matter for debate,” Çrom protested. “I was made this way by an Infinite. If you think there aren’t infinite ways it can be made worse, you haven’t been paying attention,” he scowled at her. “And you have been paying attention,” he concluded accusingly. Lotus responded with a slow, reptilian blink. “So what’s with the line of questioning?”
“I endeavour to ask the questions nobody else has,” Lotus replied simply. “And if I cannot do that, then at least I will ask the questions that have not been asked by me. Because I will ask them better.”
“That makes no – what – wait, is that … are you quoting Müllick at me now?”
“The man was a pompous buffoon, but his only real mistake was in believing any other species could hope to operate on the Molran level,” Lotus said.
“That, and collaborating with the Kikelore Think Tank.”
Lotus acknowledged this with a brief grimace. “Those who are granted immortality should consider not only the brief mortals who would trade places with them in a heartbeat, but also the eternally suffering who would do the same,” she rallied.
“I suppose it depends on the type of immortality you’re given,” Çrom admitted, feeling helplessly ungrateful and churlish in the light of Lotus’s fervour.
“And the fact remains that there are good and bad forms of immortality,” Lotus pressed her advantage, “and the immortality you have been given is among the better forms one might hope for – despite having come from the dread Ghåålus Himself,” she pointed a crooked, grimy-nailed finger at him. “Is it not?”
“I guess,” Çrom allowed, after a few more moments’ dubious scowling. “The dread Ghåålus wasn’t all that interested in tormenting me with one of the bottom-shelf varieties.”
“There were already plenty of those to provide amusement,” Lotus suggested. “In the various Hells.”
“Right. Not much point in making it actively nasty. Just living will do enough, after a certain point,” Çrom shrugged. “Always room to downgrade me if I misbehave or get too boring.”
“You are not concerned that this will constitute misbehaviour?”
“Not overly. But you know, no stone unturned and all that,” Çrom spread his hands. “I suppose the dread Ghåålus did go all out to give me the deluxe package.”
“Deluxe, but not Din deluxe,” Lotus said with a smile.
“Well, there’s always something better, isn’t there?” Çrom philosophised. “Maybe the immortality I was saddled with wasn’t as good as an immortality that allowed me to live happy and undamaged without dying and experiencing the horror of that death on a semi-regular basis … did my esteemed associate in the Greater ‘Urbs seem happy?”
“Extremely,” Lotus said. “His mansion was grotesquely well-stocked. I imagine that Judgement Day is going to come far too soon and be a distinct disappointment to him.”
“Maybe I should drop by and make friends,” Çrom remarked.
Lotus blinked. “You haven’t acquainted yourself with other eternals?”
“God no,” Çrom shuddered at the thought. “It’s – the idea’s like – well, have you made friends with any of the other Danes who’ve migrated to this area?”
Lotus shook her head. “I moved to get away from the big drunk bastards.”
Çrom pointed. “Exactly.”
Lotus laughed and shook her head again. “Still,” she went on, “this leads us to a quite obvious solution to your little eternity issue.”
“What?” Çrom blurted.
“Your punishment ends on Judgement Day,” Lotus pointed out. “Why not simply … get there faster? It seems that even though stasis is fatal, before your inevitable death you do still manage to skip through a few centuries, yes?”
Çrom didn’t mention his strong suspicion at this point, which was that any attempt to cheat his way to the finish line would probably result in dreadful consequences. Consequences he didn’t even want to think about, but quite possibly involving some of those bottom-shelf varieties of immortality they’d been circling around. At least trying and failing to permanently kill himself would only result in another death for him to endure. If you could say only of something like that.
“I’ve thought about jumping through time in a series of stasis chambers,” he said truthfully. “Minimise the number of deaths I have to go through before the end. Sorry to say, it just doesn’t work out logistically. Stasis is generally unpleasant for human physiology, for one thing, and for another … dying after six hundred years on ice starts with a nice recap of six hundred years of nightmarish pain, condensed into however long it takes my death to fit itself into my memory.”
“But a successful stretch in stasis, followed by revival, then killing yourself before starting a new stretch…” Lotus suggested, then shook her head. “Convoluted.”
“Very. Not impossible, but also not really sustainable,” Çrom agreed. “Hard to find a place where I can put an entire-urverse’s-history’s-worth of stasis devices where they’ll last long enough, for that matter. And sooner or later I wind up being dug out of a dead city’s potato cellar by a bunch of enthusiastic archaeologists in the middle of a stasis technology drought.”
“So you have considered it,” Lotus said, “but not actually followed through.”
“Tried it,” Çrom said, “but am yet to find a way of taking it further. Not bad for the occasional shortcut,” he added encouragingly. “Not a final solution. And I’ve tried the Time Destroyers, and even a couple of actual time travellers of various stripes,” he went on before Lotus could respond, “just to save on stasis chamber spare parts and storage rental, which … even if you pay for long-term, gets really prohibitive around the trillion-year mark.”
“None of them wanted to annoy Limbo or the dread Ghåålus,” Lotus guessed.
“Very well, then,” she said, and leaned forward. Çrom felt his pulse give a silly little jitter. “Now,” she went on in a low purr, “to the matter of your death.”
“Wasn’t that the matter we’ve been talking about for the past couple of hours?” Çrom chuckled uncertainly.
“Of course,” the Black Lotus said, and smiled again. “Only now, I know much more than I did when we started out. And your death is much closer at hand.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.