The old god sat in a corner of his workshop and regarded his creation. It was nearly done. He’d laid the foundations of fire and clay, he’d shaped the mountains and the seas, he’d planted the seeds that would grow into grasses and trees. He had spent the last several hours painting each grain of sand just the right shade of gold, each wave in the ocean the right shade of blue, and each cloud just the right shade of silver-grey. This world was his masterpiece. It was lighter than the ones he’d made before, but heavier than the airy worlds his brothers and sisters made. It needed only a few finishing touches: balancing the poles, stoking the fires within to just the right heat, giving the mountaintops one final polish. Once he was done, this world would outshine all the others.

A gong sounded and the Arbiter entered. “Your time is up.”

The god jerked his head up. “What?”

“You know the rules. Each world should take only one million and ninety hours to create. No more than that.”

“But it’s only been a million and eighty-nine hours! I counted.”

“Look at the clock,” said the Arbiter. “It says it has been a million and ninety hours since you started work. Has this clock ever been wrong?”

“No.” It was the clock that timed the cosmos, and the god knew it could never be wrong. “But I counted the hours. I really thought I had one left. I still have work to do to make this perfect.” He looked down at his world, now seeing only the flaws that would hold it back — it tilted, for one thing. It wasn’t perfectly round. The seas did not move as they should. Small problems, easily fixed, if he only had more time.

“Time does fly when you are taken up by your work. Your time is up, Creator. Put your tools down.”

The god could not break the rules. Slowly, he released the globe from its scaffolding and watched it spin away into reality. It would find a place in the cosmos and grow without him. He would be able to watch it, but he could no longer change it.

“It is a fine world,” said the Arbiter. “It will do well.”

“You are right,” said the god, putting his tools away. The gods made worlds to fill the empty cosmos with light and life, and he was sure this world would do just that. But the god would always wonder what it could have been if he’d had just one more hour.