He was away again. A rush of memories, of experiences, of life.
He settled into the life cycle of a solitary bacteria cell, lying between the shadow of an Antarctic iceberg and a minuscule volcanic vent. Then he was a bird, somewhere in medieval Europe, flying over some recent battlefield, the smell of blood, death and despair filling the world.
Then he lived the full life of Maggie O’Reilly in less than an instant, growing up in hellish poverty, falling in love with the wrong man and dying painfully in the potato famine, giving up her meals to save her children.
N'buli jumped between a dozen different lives and a hundred different eyes. He saw life through the eyes of a half-blind cat that lived up the last tree in Baghdad and watched the Earth fall into the sun from the Alpha Centuri colonies, watching the end of the world in biodomic sunglasses. He lived within the consciousnesses of a gargantuan creature living in the clouds of a super-sized gas giant on the other side of the galaxy, and saw the world through the pseudo-eyes of a sentient smell on the very edge of the universe.
And then he lived Stevie’s life, all the way through to the end. Born to parents who survived the worst of humanity, raised to think for himself and encouraged to dream. And as he died in that car on a suburban Sydney street, in that instant that he slipped away, he remembered the part he had played in the great story of life, and he died happy.
And then N'buli lived his own life, all over again, skipping through the events of his life at cosmic speeds. He felt all the little pains and big affections of his life, all the times he was scared, or ecstatic, or just felt alive.
N'buli walked off the African plains into the meat-grinder of the Great War and walked on out of that into the best job in the world. He saved everybody on the entire planet more times than he could count, and met more fascinating people than he could ever have expected. He saw things that few people would ever see and he never let hate into his heart.
He was N'buli MacGregor, the Man from LOVE.
He relived his last adventure, tracking the people responsible for his friend’s death across the world. He relived the long journey into the Mongolian wilderness, and relived his own rebirth into a higher plane of existence. He relived the reliving, over and over again, in an infinite loop.
He pulled out of that loop and stopped there. N'buli knew he could access his entire life, past, present and future, but he did not want to know what was coming tomorrow.
'Where is the fun in that?' he asked Mr Goodson, sitting at the table opposite him. He was back in the Goodsons’ dining room. It was exactly the same as the last time he’d seen it.
'Not exactly the same,' said Mrs Goodson, walking around the table and placing a large roast chicken on the table. She took off her oven gloves and walked over to the corner of the room where - underneath photos on the wall of Trevor he had never noticed before – there was a large wooden trapdoor with a thick copper handle. She bent over and wrenched it open.
N'buli craned his neck to try and see what was down there. Under the trapdoor, there was a glowing, flowing pink liquid, thick with consistency.
'There is a whole universe of that stuff under us,' said Mr Goodson as his wife closed the trapdoor and joined them at the table. 'It’s pure matter, pure life, that exists in the boundary between the World and Everything.'
'How did you make you words go capital like that?' asked N'buli. His head was starting to buzz again.
'It’s what we use to make the universe,' said Mr Goodson, ignoring the question, 'but we’ve just used the tiniest bit to make this room, just like we all remember it.'
'You did enjoy coming to our place for meals, didn’t you?' asked Mrs Goodson. She sounded like she really meant it. 'We really do mean it. They were an absolute highlight.'
N'buli couldn’t help shrugging. 'Yeah, they were pretty good. The company was always nice, and the food was better. And you really fooled me. I really thought you cared.'
Mrs Goodson took N'buli by the hand. 'Oh N'buli, of course we cared.'
He pulled away. 'Yeah? Then why did you put me through all of this? Why couldn’t you have just told me the truth?'
'We’re a conduit between a higher power and the material world,' said Mr Goodson. 'Working out all the bureaucracy that allows our God self to inhabit any form of life and any form of history and experience it in person. But we still have feelings. We do these terrible things because that is the way it works and we needed to create conflict, but we never meant to hurt you, N'buli.'
'Besides,' said Mrs Goodson, 'like we said, you have to go on a journey to get anywhere in life. You don’t get it by lying on your ass in bed and waiting for somebody to ring you up and tell you the meaning of life.'
Mr Goodson took his wife’s hand across the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. 'We’re only interested in keeping life going as much as possible. LOVE helps. HATE helps. It all generates the new. And it works, there are still things we don’t understand and a bit of mystery is always good for the soul. We don’t know where Chang went, or what awaits us all in the next universe, but we know one thing. We love you all.'
'We’ve been saying it ever since the early days, when they called us God-In-Skin,' said Mrs Goodson. 'We love us because we are us.'
N'buli just shook his head. 'You might be happy not knowing everything, but there is still so much I need to work out. Why did-'
Mr Goodson interrupted him by leaning across the table and putting his right hand on N'buli’s skull, and a rush of information filled his mind.
He knew the Goodson financial empire was maintained by a vast stockpile of antiques and ancient objects, hoarded in safety and strategically sold off over decades. He knew the empire had survived on comic books for much of the last century – a secret stash of mint condition golden age comics from 1938 paid for three quarters of the LOVE budget for 2012, and one copy of Detective Comics #38 had paid for all of N'buli’s salary for that year.
He knew who invented the immortality pills, (and knew there was no reason to keep them secret), and knew how to travel in time. He knew the name of Lady Cassandra for the first time and knew it would not be the last.
He knew there would always be plotholes, but good stories always required the audience to fill in the gaps.
He knew they weren’t lying about Chang – he had ascended out of this plane of existence entirely, outside the universe. He knew everything that happened, happens and will happen in this reality, but who knew what was beyond that?
He knew how it all worked.
N'buli blinked as Mr Goodson sat back in his seat. It took him a moment to think of something to say, and it was pretty uninspiring in the end.
'Whoah. Comic books?'
'We gave away so many of our things,' said Mr Goodson. 'Comics were one of our favourites, all those four-colour supermen showing the way to live. I still can’t believe it took so long to become so popular, but I was always surprised how things turned out.'
N'buli shook his head, and cleared it a tiny amount. 'You do all that, and you could do better.'
Mrs Goodson gave her husband’s hand the tiniest squeeze. 'Go on.'
'We can do better, there is no need for all this conflict to generate interesting stories. We can think of something better.'
'We agree completely,' said Mr and Mrs Goodson, in unison.
'We always agree with you,' said Mr Goodson.
'Always have, always will,' said Mrs Goodson.
'This is where everything changes, N'buli.'
'Tell us what you want.'
'And we’ll make it happen.'
N'buli MacGregor couldn’t think of a single thing to say. 'Huh.'
He stood up from the table and paced around the fake room for two minutes, before turning back to his hosts.
'All right. I want three things: One. We let everybody take the same immortality pills we do, if they want to. There will be issues of overpopulation and all that, but we’ll figure it out. Aren’t you going to stop me sharing them with everybody?'
'Share away,' said Mr Goodson with a shrug. 'A lot of people will get really scared, but the world will change in weird and wonderful ways. We know. We all know. We’ve been there.'
'Okay,' said N'buli. 'Two, all that technology we have, we share with the world.'
'We already do.' said Mrs Goodson.
'We do it a lot faster. Everything we learn goes public as soon as we learn it. No more secrets. No more hoarding.'
'Done,' said Mr Goodson. 'And the third thing?'
'I said I was sick of secrets. We tell everybody the meaning of life. We’ve done enough stumbling about, it’s time to get the facts. So we all share the same soul, building the universe to put bits of ourselves in? Fair enough, let’s tell everybody that.'
Mrs Goodson looked at her husband and smiled. 'This is always the bit I like the most.'
'What?' said N'buli, unable to believe it was going to be that easy. It was never that easy. 'You're not going to try and stop me? Never mind the meaning of life, what about the shitstorm widespread immortality is going to bring? What about population growth? What about the need for a finite existence to give that existence purpose?'
'Oh, we're not worried about that,' said Mrs Goodson. 'We just have to be smarter about dealing with these things, that's all.'
'Besides, people will still die in the end,' said Mr Goodson. 'Finite time has an end, it always does.'
Mrs Goodson looked away into the distance. 'There's still a human being at the end of time, but only one. We can see them.'
Mr Goodson also looked lost in deep time. 'We're with them now.'
She brightened up again. 'But this way, people get more time to experience this universe, and all its wonders, before they bring them back home. That's what it's all about. Everyone can deal with their own mortality in their own time.'
N'buli was still unconvinced and was about to let them know it, when Mr Goodson looked at his watch. 'Speaking of all that, would you look at the time?'
Their living room faded away in an instant, and N'buli faded away with it.