by Doc Quantum
In the end, he wasn’t sure what had made him save the child.
Over his long life, after all, he’d seen many people die. In fact, he had watched with dispassion several other scenes of tragedy and had never lifted a finger to help the victims. He had pledged himself to noninterference in everyday matters, since his primary mission always came first. Did not the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
But on that cold night as he saw a naked, nearly dead little girl clutching feebly to a piece of flotsam, he could not help himself. Something deep within told him that he must save her. And so he did.
The little girl’s name was Delilah. She didn’t know her last name, but he knew all about her. She was in shock, having witnessed her parents drowning before her eyes. In an attempt to save their little girl’s life, they kept her afloat on a tiny piece of wreckage while trying to tread water and head toward land. But their efforts were futile; they were too far out at sea to do anything. Eventually, the little girl’s father grew tired from his efforts and succumbed to the sea, followed not long after by the girl’s mother. All that mattered was Delilah’s survival.
The little girl would not have lived much longer herself had he not come to rescue her. When he saw her, he could see what would have become of her had he not done a thing. His was the ability to see the myriad ways of destiny, to see expanding around him many existences and alternate timelines that would come about through minuscule changes.
Delilah would have died; that was for certain, at least in most of those possibilities. But in a few small, less-than-one-percent alternatives, she would survive, either by managing to keep afloat until a passing ship picked her up or by miraculously reaching land herself. The other possibilities — being rescued by a flying boy, spontaneously gaining the power of flight herself, or the water’s consistency suddenly changing to solid ice, allowing her to walk back to land — were too ridiculous and unlikely to happen. He knew his rescuing of her was just as ridiculous and unlikely, but he could not let her die.
In the slim possibilities in which she was rescued by a passing ship, Delilah’s life would not have been pleasant. Being an orphan with no living family and no inheritance, she would have grown up with none of the advantages of family. Higher education was extremely unlikely. The best she could have hoped for was growing up to work in a menial job and eventually marry and have a family of her own. But again this possibility did not seem likely. There were other, darker possibilities he saw that were more likely, in which she was sold into slavery and forced to work in a series of illegal men’s clubs until finally she died through some happenstance, her death by that time only a minor blessing.
No. This could not happen to her. And so he intervened.
They were an unlikely pair. She, a little blonde girl whose memories prior to her parents’ drowning were largely gone; he, a worlds-traveler who had never experienced childhood himself and could only guess with mild curiosity what it must be like to be so small and so powerless.
His home was hardly fit for a child, but they somehow managed to get along. He expanded a storage room and made it into a mess hall fully stocked with food that was kept in a time-stasis field and would never perish or expire, unless it was not put back. He hadn’t thought much about food until she came into his life; he merely consumed the necessary nutrients to keep himself in optimal shape, never taking a moment to consider the shape, color, or flavor of the food. But almost overnight he found himself stocking his pantry with many flavored breakfast cereals, fruits and nuts of all kinds, various sliced meats, and even delicacies such as ice cream and chocolates. He even partook of some of them himself at her urging.
They had grown close, but he and Delilah always had an understanding. He was not her father; her father had died in the seas to save her life. And she was not his daughter; he was unique, the only one of his species. He was also not her master; in every dealing on their ship they were equals, this mortal human girl and this immortal man from another world. She was an exceptionally intelligent girl with an amazing capacity for memory that belied her young age.
Despite her own tragedy, Delilah brought nothing but delight into his life. The joyful ways that she took in new information and new possibilities, like only a child could, made him almost forget about his life’s mission.
The Enemy was still out there, still consuming, still killing. There was not a word for the crimes to life itself that he had committed. Genocide was nothing next to the destruction of all life and matter alike in an entire universe, let alone many universes. The Enemy was far more physically powerful than he, using every erg of that power to destroy countless universes. Eventually, if something was not done, he would consume them all.
He had kept Delilah from learning about the Enemy for as long as he could, but eventually she did ask him what vexed him so. She was still so young and so mortal, so he could only answer her question in the simplest of terms. The Enemy was out there trying to put an end to all life, and although he could not stop him, he would find a way to preserve life, even if was only a small fraction of all that had ever existed. She didn’t understand, not really, but she nodded anyway and made it her own mission to bring happiness into his life by any means necessary.
Throughout most of his existence, he had kept himself apart from other beings, living alone in his ship, only venturing out on occasion for a task that was part of his life’s mission. But now, as he neared the end, he found himself living a very different life than before. Delilah insisted on experiencing life firsthand, and she brought him — it could only be considered that way, even though it was through his power — to visit many worlds and many times, to see the same life up close that he had devoted his existence to preserve.
Together they traveled to places and times others could only have dreamt of. Delilah experienced the joys of a hundred Earths, each one different from the others yet still recognizable as her little blue planet. On some worlds, true magic still existed, while on others, science had advanced to such an extent that it was akin to magic. On some worlds she saw people she’d once seen in her own life, but they were different, somehow. They were not the same people she’d known.
The little girl’s thoughts often turned back to the happy life she’d led with her parents. At least, she assumed it had been happy. Her memories were still largely blocked by her traumatic experience. But she knew how much she loved her parents, and she knew that they had loved her and each other wholeheartedly; how could she not have had a happy childhood?
He could tell that these thoughts had begun to weigh on the girl’s mind. She no longer sang to herself the popular tunes of childhood she still knew, or skipped and jumped along the windows to the worlds outside. She began to withdraw, keeping to herself more and more.
What was causing Delilah to be so somber, so morose? He decided to investigate why. He inspected the food supply; there was nothing wrong there. He had always made sure she ate food full of nutrients that would keep her healthy, and she had never eaten too little nor too much. As far as he could see, there was no change in her diet.
Was it the light levels? After a few days of experimentation, he decided that this could not be the answer. Ever since he rescued her, he kept the ship on a twenty-four-hour cycle that mimicked the cycles of light and the seasons on Earth.
He looked into a few other avenues of investigation as well and came up short. There was evidently nothing physically wrong with the girl. Could it be something emotional?
While the girl slept, he looked into her past. Indeed, she’d had a happy childhood with loving parents. They had never been wealthy, and indeed went through serious financial hardships, but Delilah had wanted for nothing while they lived.
It took another day before the realization hit him.
Although he had learned more than any other living being in existence over the course of his life, he could not recall everything that he had ever learned, nor did he try. Many millennia ago, in fact, he began keeping files full of detailed information on everything he had learned. But he was not omniscient and could not know everything at once. So it was understandable that the calendar date had slipped his mind, even if it had been at the forefront of the girl’s mind since she’d come to live with him.
She was about to spend her first Christmas without her parents.
That very night, he slipped into her room as she slept soundly, gently picked her up, blankets and all, and took her to the transportation chamber.