BEFORE YOU AND MAMI PARTED, she asked you if you wanted to join her on a witch hunt tomorrow.
"You can see what fighting a witch is really about," she said. "Then you can decide if you want to become a Puella Magi."
"It'll be a great experience," I added as I hopped onto your shoulder.
"Well… okay," you said.
"See you tomorrow after school then," said Mami. With that, she left.
Now was about the time of day when people weren't sure whether to say "good afternoon" or "good evening". The sun was half over the horizon, and the sky blushed a fiery red-orange. You carried me back to your room and placed me on the shelf with your stuffed animals. I waited there as you ate dinner downstairs and watched some TV. As I studied your room, I was reminded of our desperate situation. The fancy cherry wood chairs, the stuffed pig in the corner of your bed, the heart-patterned blanket, all of this was disintegrating one atom at a time. The entropy built up, up, up like a silence that had fermented in my ears for so long that it began to scream. You finally returned to your room at ten past ten, ready to go to sleep.
"So what do you think?" I asked. "Don't you want to be a Puella Magi? Didn't Mami look really cool?"
"She did," you said.
"Don't you want to be like her?"
"I do. I think I'll make a contract with you, Kyubey, but only after tomorrow's witch hunt."
"Great! Do you know what your wish will be?"
You paused for a beat to think. "Well, I'd really just like a true friend who I can trust to look out for me."
"Really? You seem like an amiable person, Madoka. What about that teal-haired girl you were talking to earlier today?"
"Oh, her name is Sayaka Miki. She's best friends with Hitomi Shizuki. I've only talked to them a few times but only as a classmate."
"Well, what about Mami?"
"She's too cool for me, Kyubey. I was thinking about someone who I can really connect to. Someone who will look out for me no matter what."
I thought about your words for a moment. This wish wasn't unreasonable, it wasn't even surprising, yet it sounded odd coming from a person like you, Madoka. I've heard the wishes of hundreds and hundreds of girls. One of them once asked me to be transported into the past. Strange, but I granted it. Another one asked me if she could meet aliens on another planet. I granted that one too. But of all the wishes I've heard, yours, for some reason, made me the most nervous.
"Is that all?" I asked.
"Mmmhmm. I've got to go to sleep now. I've got cleaning duty tomorrow, and I need all of my energy for that."
"Good night then, Madoka."
"Good night, Kyubey."
The next day, you waited with me in the courtyard after school for Mami like you said you would. You were cheery and spry, much unlike the weather that afternoon. It had been drizzling all morning, and it refused to let up. The raindrops pattered on your umbrella as you waited and fantasized about being a Puella Magi. A few minutes later, Mami arrived, and you greeted her with all of the enthusiasm of a new recruit. She showed you her golden Soul Gem, and it began to pulsate in a steady rhythm. You two followed the Soul Gem's signal like a transponder and ended up at an old business center a mile from Mitakihara Middle School. The building itself was abandoned and dilapidated. Vines of ivy slithered out from missing windows and wrapped the outer walls in their grip. Streams of yellow tape that read "DO NOT CROSS" were stretched across what used to be the oft-entrance to a prestigious company headquarters.
"It's here," said Mami.
From the roof, a tiny figure leaned forward from the ledge and consigned its body to freefall. A powerful updraft pushed a long wave of hair into the air. It was a woman.
Mami lunged forward and transformed instantly into her magical form as she had yesterday. She swung her hand, and a net of glowing, yellow bands materialized beneath the woman and caught her in its fibers. The net lowered her to the ground, and Mami inspected the unconscious woman. A strange, crimson emblem was branded onto her neck. The wind howled, and the rain grew fiercer.
"A witch's kiss," observed Mami. "Let's go."
You carried me with you into the building and past the cracked walls. A damp smell permeated the dark corridors. Bales of rotting paper covered the floor as if to bandage it. Water dripped from three places in the ceiling.
"Be careful," said Mami. "We're past the barrier now."
The hallway began to shift into something unholy. The sheets of peeled wallpaper warped and wobbled until they had been distorted into a bright spread of abstract expressionism. After a moment, the hues crystallized into patterns. Chunks of pudding and cake swelled up and tiled the sky. Giant donuts and cupcakes sprouted from the frosting that was once a linoleum floor. Strudels, custards, tiramisus, every imaginable type of dessert filled the space until everything looked sweet enough to eat. The ground quaked.
"Watch out!" you warned.
Above, a colorful half-ghost half-puppet ripped through a sugar-coated Danish and bore herself to Mami. Its eyes were empty. So, this is what Charlotte had become!
"Careful, Mami. That's Charlotte, the dessert witch."
Mami drew a musket from inside her body. Her Soul Gem flashed, and the gun blew up to a hundred times its size. With effortless motions, she aimed the oversized rifle at Charlotte and pulled the trigger. "Tiro Finale!"
The shot pierced the witch's body, and it deflated into a heap of rags. No sooner had you begun to celebrate than another grotesque monster climb out from an opening in the rags. It possessed a caterpillar's body and a clown's face. Its eyes spun deliriously like a kaleidoscope. Its black skin was spangled with red dots. The monster thrashed about and crushed a line of cream puffs that sat beneath it. Mami stood stunned as it sprang toward her, its nose not two feet from hers. The monster pulled open its jaws, ready to engulf the golden-haired treat. A look of horror set on Mami's face. I turned to you.
"Madoka! Quick! You have to save Mami!"
"Make a contract with me! Tell me your wish that will power your Soul Gem!"
"O-Okay. I wish for true friendship!"
Let it be so.
You felt a sudden tightening in your muscles. A flash of energy erupted from within you. Your school uniform dissolved into a flowing dress. Your stockings frilled out, and a flawless ruby nestled itself on your newly formed choker. You swung your arms and found the slender bow that materialized at your service. The texture and weight of the wooden arch felt familiar in your hands. You drew back the string, and with one mighty release, a bolt of pink energy burst from the bow. The arrow struck the monster between the eyes; it recoiled and shrieked so loudly that the manifolds spacetime itself seemed to crumble. No matter. You ignored it and released another arrow, then another, then another. A salvo of pink bolts penetrated Charlotte's elongated body. Your arms moved themselves as if they'd been trained for years to do this. You were a natural Puella Magi. The monster shrank and let out a final shriek as it imploded into nothingness. Goodbye, Charlotte.
"Amazing!" you exclaimed.
"You were amazing!" I said.
"Madoka," said Mami as she ran up and wrapped herself around you, "You saved my life! Thank you! Thank you!"
The mountains of frosting began to thaw, the pies and cakes vaporized, and the bitter weight of reality returned.
A few miles away at Mitakihara Medical Center, Homura Akemi woke from her coma.
LUDWIG EDUARD BOLTZMANN was an Austrian physicist and Maxwell's contemporary. It was he who laid the foundations of the second law of thermodynamics on your planet. Boltzmann was a brilliant man who was underappreciated in his lifetime, but came to be known as the "Father of Statistical Mechanics". In addition to his work in particle distributions and entropy, he also came up with an intriguing idea known as the Boltzmann brain. He asked: what if the universe had existed forever, and that it had reached thermal equilibrium a long, long time ago? What if these trillions and trillions of atoms floated around in a probabilistically uniform distribution across all of spacetime for an unimaginably long time, and then they all suddenly condensed? Remember: entropy is only a consequence of probability. Stochastic dips in disorder happen all the time. There is no driving force behind entropy other than random chance. It follows then, that given an infinite amount of time, at some point, all matter in existence will come together in one great plunge in entropy and create a universe capable of sustaining life. We may just happen to exist during one of these "Boltzmann brains". If we didn't exist, we wouldn't be able to observe it. This is another principle called the anthropic principle.
It's an interesting theory, right? Too bad it's wrong. Our species struggled with this question many eons ago, and we came up with a definitive answer not long afterward. We won't bother explaining this to you. Not even the preeminent physicists of your time would understand let alone you. Just know that the universe has a finite age and an impending expiration date. By the time I've finished telling this to you this, entropy will have increased by enough to obliterate an adult star.
AND SO IT GOES that things didn't end up the way I had originally planned. Homura was a shoo-in for Mitakihara Middle School; she scored the highest on the entrance exam out of all the students who took it that year. She joined your class, and you two became an inseparable item. A few weeks later, Walpurgis Night finally showed up and killed Mami. You battled the big bad witch and triumphed, you did what Charlotte could not do, but you were mortally wounded in the process. Homura consoled you as your lungs puffed out one last breath and your eyes hollowed out. You lay half-immersed in the water among the ruins of a city that time had forgotten about. It began to rain as it had when you and Mami met Charlotte, except this time, the skies were lit. A warm sunshower.
Your wish came true, Madoka. Homura relinquished her soul to me to save you. And her wish was this: to meet with you once more, but this time, instead of you protecting her, she would protect you. I heard an unbreakable conviction in her voice, and it reminded me of Charlotte when she sung at the dance recital. Bound to the contract, I granted her her wish. A sharp pain radiated from her core. She clutched her chest and scrunched her face. A gleaming purple gem slowly pulled itself free from her bosom.
"The contract is formed," I announced. "Your wish has lowered the entropy in the universe. Now let your powers loose!"
Homura glanced up at the shining stone and then clapped it between her hands. The rain fell on her face and merged with the tears that streamed from her eyes. Then, in a blinding flash of purple light, she vanished.
"Goodbye, Homura!" I called.
She had ripped apart the very fabric of spacetime. I could sense the ripples of time dilation flow by as she shuttled into the past. I surmised that she would probably wake up in the hospital several days before her meeting with you. How would she alter the past? What effect will this effect have on the future? I suppose we're just going to have to wait and see, eh?
The drizzle continued to fall. Heaps of smoldering rubble pumped smoke into the air, but the water dispersed it and made everything smell fresh. Like a used up campfire, you know? I looked at your lifeless body once more and shook my head.
So, in the end, things didn't go the way that I had planned. You fought Walpurgis Night and when you died, your emotions were lost. That wasn't supposed to happen. It's too bad. You could've really helped the universe live longer.
You were supposed to lift your Grief Seed into the air and with one final shriek, channel all of your spirit, your vitality, your essence, through the seed and become a witch. You were to become Satan to the Christians, Shaitan to the Muslims, and Shiva to the Hindus. You were destined to be the Apocalypse, Armageddon, and the end of the world for the seven billion people on Earth. A girl I once formed a contract with became a witch and precipitated the bubonic plague, an even more powerful one precipitated World War II, but you were surpass all of them. You should have summoned the deluge that extinguished all life on Earth.
I suppose you expect me to apologize for condemning you to a meaningless death or something like. I won't. If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs. You were a cracked egg, Madoka. I'm sorry it turned out this way, but I'm not sorry for trying.
Now, I find myself at an uncertain point in the story. I thought with the destruction of Earth, I would move on to another planet to harvest more souls, but I didn't consider the unpredictable events that transpired. This timeline may not be the prime timeline after all, but as Incubator, I have little choice but to continue my work on Earth.
IF YOU STILL DON'T SUPPORT what I do, then let me put things into perspective. The universe is a big place, bigger than you can possibly imagine. Stars form galaxies, galaxies for local clusters, and local clusters form superclusters. All of these things are millions of light-years away from each other. It's a terribly empty place, but it's also an exciting place. Life has independently arisen billions of times, and each form is more amazing than the next. Most of it is microscopic, but many life forms have made it past the single-cell stage and evolved into multi-cellular organisms. Even rarer are sentient beings capable of emotion and sociality. Rarer still are species that possess the ability to reason. Human beings are one of them, but others do exist. Oh, I could tell you about all of their cultures and languages, how they built great civilizations and created robust social systems, but I would have to sit here for a million years finish.
Instead, let me just tell you about us. Our species used to be much like yours. We didn't look a lot like you, but we had eyes, limbs, and ears at least. Evolution has a way of converging on the traits that matter the most. When our brains were still relatively undeveloped, we had already switched to sedentary lifestyles and founded cities. We warred with each other, we traded with each other, we produced art, and we pursued science. The same laws of nature that you discovered only recently, we discovered billions of years ago. The theory of evolution, the periodic table, relativity, quantum mechanics, and a bunch of other laws that you've yet to uncover. We wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for you.
We had emotions. When a family member died, we grieved. When another was born, we rejoiced. We avoided pain and sought pleasure regardless of whether our rationalities agreed with us. Our primal impulses ruled us for long time. We really were no different from you now. Once we completely analyzed our genome and perfected gene therapy, we were able to rid the genes that had been holding us back as a species. Through this mode of artificial evolution, and we promptly abandoned our emotions for rationality. Don't get us wrong; it doesn't mean we can't feel emotions, it just means that we don't let emotions get the better of us. So while I cannot empathize with you on a personal level, I can understand why you feel the way you do.
Armed with the gift of impeccable reasoning, in just a few years, we exhausted every scientific field. Biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics. We even figured out how to circumvent death. Every problem was resolved except the problem of entropy. It was a like watching an asteroid barreling towards us and there was nothing we could do about it. We wouldn't describe ourselves as scared, but we definitely did not want the heat death of the universe to occur so soon. At some point, we migrated from our home planet and ascended to the aether. I'm sorry, but I cannot elaborate on this point. The circumstances surrounding this event are fuzzy, and I couldn't tell you even if I wanted to. All we know is that somewhere along the way, a higher entity connected us to the flow of energy and entropy in the universe. We gained the power of telepathy as a result. This higher entity let us peer behind the curtains of nature; we realized that there were exceptions to the law of the conservation of energy. Energy can be created. Carrying our rationalities with us, we devoted ourselves to retarding the increase in entropy by injecting the universe with energy. We scoured trillions of planets for new sources of energy, and eventually, we happened upon the blue-green rock you call Earth. Human emotion, especially those of young girls, could provide enough energy for us to extend the life of the universe by several hundred billion years. You were a gold mine. Earth would eventually be destroyed, yes, but with your sacrifice, we could delay the heat death of the universe by many, many trillions of years. Think about this: if you knew the world was ending, would you be willing to sacrifice us to delay your demise?
You would, wouldn't you?
Now that you've heard my side of the story, I must thank you both for listening and for sacrificing yourself, even if you didn't mean to do it. Your emotions will improve the lives of countless organisms. Please don't be angry at me, Madoka! You'll see in time just how right I am.
I WAKE UP WITH a start. My head feels heavy with grogginess. I lean up from beneath the covers and rub my eyes.
A cool draft surges through the open window and pitches forth the blue bedside curtains. Past the glass wall, doctors and nurses talk with each other about something important. The sterility of the room looks awfully familiar. A thin file with "Mitakihara Junior High School Admittance Information" printed across the front lies on the stand beside me. Something is chafing at my chest, and I realize that I'm hooked up to a heart monitor behind the bed.
"I'm still in the hospital?"
But the world had just ended a few minutes ago, hadn't it? I remember a girl named Madoka Kaname and her dying pleas to me for help. It all seemed so real; I can still smell the rain. Was it all a bad dream?
I notice something warm and heavy in my hand. Carefully, I curl back my fingers, and a purple Soul Gem reveals itself. Patches of black dust are dancing inside of it.
"So it wasn't a dream?" I gasp.
I slip the gem in my pocket and sigh. What really happened back there? I glance at the calendar hanging on the far wall. The 16th has a red flower drawn over it; that's the day I I'll be discharged from the hospital. The 25th has a blue star drawn over it; that'll be my first day at Mitakihara Middle School. Today is the 15th, so I have ten days left before Incubator's plan is set in motion again.
A small sparrow lands on a tree branch just outside. It scratches itself and chirps a short song to me. Past the hospital gates, children are playing a game of tag, laughing as they go. Beyond that, a couple is walking hand-in-hand on the sidewalk and sharing a precious moment together. The clouds part and reveal the smiling mother sun.
To me, the universe is small and simple. I don't really care for entropy or thermodynamics or any of that complicated science stuff. The universe consists of only me and Madoka Kaname. I made a promise to her that I would protect her no matter what. That no matter how dire the situation, I will fight to the bitter end. And if that doesn't work out, I'll leap back in time and redo everything again until it does.
I don't care if that's irrational. After all, we humans are not flawless by any stretch of the imagination. We're a bunch of selfish, vindictive fools who'll fight each other over the smallest things. We want to live. We'll try our hardest to survive because we're emotional creatures. Oftentimes, these emotions get in the way of clear thinking, and we'll make bad decisions. We'll take things for granted, hurt our loved ones, and lose friends over trivialities, but that only makes true friendship all the more valuable. We are imperfect, yes, but we are perfect in our imperfection. We need each other to survive and thrive. We'll continue to make mistakes, but we'll learn from them and grow as both individuals and as a species. That is what it means to be human.
Ten days pass, and today is the first day of school and the second time I'll be meeting my friend. I wake up early to fix my hair and iron out my school uniform. I grab my bag and take the bus to Mitakihara Middle School. As I enter the classroom, I see the pink-haired girl's face, and I can't help but smile.
"Please introduce yourself," says the teacher.
"I'm Homura Akemi. Pleased to meet you!"
The teacher scribbles my name on the dry erase board. "Akemi was hospitalized for—"
I know I don't have much time, so there's no need for manners. I step forward and find my way to Madoka Kaname's desk. She looks up and gasps as I wrap my hands around hers. I feel complete again.
I hope I can keep my promise to her this time. If I fail, then I'll have to relive everything until I succeed. But that's not so bad because at least I can hold my friend's hands once more, look into her eyes, and say, "Madoka Kaname! My name is Homura Akemi! Let's work hard together from now on!"