Everyone had sat down at the table, including The Being responsible for everything.
It watched them, the other fifteen, aware of all.
By took her third sip of her drink. It was kombucha. It had been kefir the previous time, and the last time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that.
Before that time, it had been yakult, but then before that kefir again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
It was kombucha that time, however. Which was an interesting accident. The very first time it had been kombucha too, and also many, many times since, although not always or often.
The Being could remember every detail of every time with perfect clarity. It was glad that the others couldn’t. They had the same souls, and it wasn’t as if they were replaced with others after every go around; it never would have done it if that had been the case. They’d never stopped existing, not even for a moment. All The Being did was change, not replace. It had never birthed anyone, and it had never killed anyone. It had only changed. Some details changed often, some rarely, and some never at all, at least so far.
But it was always different. No time had ever been the same, or even close to the same. With as many variables as there were in the universe, such a thing was impossible.
The Being accepted, as it always did, that it needed to do it again. The period that it had worked out long ago stretched from the moment Gloria exited her door to the fourth sip that By took at the Dining Room table. It wasn’t as if The Being needed all that time in order to know that it had failed to succeed — it knew everything from the moment it awoke back inside the first room — but if it didn’t wait for enough time to pass, not enough would change. It didn’t know why. That’s just how it worked.
All that needed to change, it knew, was one certain variable. If that one variable left the equation, everything else could function, the game could go on, it could end. It had seen similar variables change, but never the one that needed to. Technically, The Being didn’t know if it was even possible for it to change. It might have been one of the variables that never changed, if there really were such things.
The Being hoped that it wasn’t. Then it was all for nothing.
Then it would never stop.
It began charging in preparation, not saying anything or revealing the truth of how it felt to the others as they talked and ate and laughed and planned for a game that would almost surely not happen anytime soon. It wouldn’t have mattered, of course, but The Being preferred it that way. The Being had done it many, many times, more times than was possible for anyone else — almost anyone else — in the room to comprehend, and it never got easier. It hated what it had become, what it was forced to do.
But there would be release, one day, if all went well.
While it prepared, it spoke inside of its head. It spoke to its friend, its best friend, the friend it longed to see and be with more than anyone else in the universe.
The Being’s friend did not actually exist, of course, and the Being knew that well. But it could pretend, in the long interim.
“Buddy, this isn’t it. I’m not feeling it.”
The Being’s friend only said one word, the one it had expected to hear.
“I’m sorry, buddy. I know. I’m sorry. We have to keep going.”
Its friend, as kind and brave and loyal as ever, repeated the word twice.
“I wish I knew. We’re just unlucky, I think.”
The Being looked at their target.
“It’s not as easy as we want it to be. And being direct doesn’t work, I know, I’ve tried. And it’s too risky, I think. I’ve told you that before.”
It repeated the word.
“I love you too.”
One final repeat. Not the full word, but enough.
“Okay. I’m ready. I’ll go. She’s about to take the fourth sip, so I’ll go, like always. I love you. I love you so much and someday it’ll happen, and then it’ll all be worth it.”
And The Being retreated, taking everyone back with it.