Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Eternity Isn't

"How do things look outside?"

His voice startled her, took her from the waking dream that had been life since he'd gone to sleep. In that moment, it seemed impossible that they'd been apart for so long - he was back, she could live once more.

She cleared her throat, tried to speak, cleared it again.

"That long?" he said, smiling faintly.

"I missed you," she whispered.

"I know." The smile faded, but there was a light in his eyes she hadn't seen in years. "I dreamed about you, and being back home again. I must've had the lightning dream a thousand times - it still makes me wonder what happened to the kids."

She was silent again, staring out before her, but when he squeezed her shoulder gently, she took his hand.

"They're all gone now - it's all gone. I can't stop thinking that." It had been almost three decades since the last transmission, the last time she'd heard another human voice - besides his.

"You should have slept with me for a while," he said softly. She looked back up at him, saw the concern in his eyes. His hand was warm in hers; for a moment, it was all she could feel.

"I didn't want to miss anything," she shrugged. It was a conversation they'd had before over the years; now the arguments were routine, unnecessary. "It's been... empty."

He nodded - it was what everyone had anticipated.

"I keep expecting to see even the smallest something - anything... Sometimes I think I noticed a spark, a whorl, a flash... but of course it's all gone before I can get a good look, and the recordings don't show a thing." She rubbed her temples, suddenly conscious of how long she'd been at the terminal this time. Outside all was emptiness, to be sure, but it mesmerized her nevertheless.

She drew a chip from the collection on her desk and pushed it into the machine. Vaguely dissonant chords rang from the walls, quickly subsiding into a simple, fugal melody. She watched his face for a reaction, was startled to see signs of recognition there.

"That part got into my dream," he explained.

"Shouldn't have - I only had it in this room," she frowned.

"Just one of those things," he suggested. They had noticed so many the last time he was awake - neither could quite explain, but it didn't matter much. They had been together nearly eight decades; their connection was a familiar peculiarity, taken for granted now.

"We don't have much time," she reminded him. A look at the sensor logs she had produced in his absence told him what he needed to know. The temperature outside had climbed, slowly at first, faster now. Energy was no longer hard to find: it was invisible, but all around them. At first, upon confirming the theorem, they had rejoiced - everyone would, eventually, have another chance - but the interceding years had dulled that pleasure somewhat. So it would not be a whimper, but a bang - it would still be over for them (as, she reminded herself often, it had been over for countless billions before them long ago).

Their eyes met again, and she rose from the chair. Her bed was still unmade, one sheet floating, unsettled, above the pad. The straps had long since been removed; she'd gotten used to sleeping without them, even preferred it now. So much nicer than anything at home, and they'd never return; there was no harm in the luxury. The rigging from their last bout still hung in the air, however, and it was only a moment before they were back in each other's arms.

She lay beneath him, hungrier now for his touch than she had realized. One hand explored his face, gently, feeling the changes time had brought to his eyes, his lips - slower for him in sleep than for her, she knew - still musing over how much he looked like his father, and his son. The other stroked his passion, so long denied her reality; she had watched the recordings of their previous lovemakings a thousand times while he slept, missing keenly silken feel of that flesh on her fingertips, on her tongue. But in that moment, though years intervened, nothing had changed between them, and the rhythm slowly evolved into its inevitable climax.

"Beethoven's Ninth, you think?" he asked her afterwards. She nodded, smiling; this, too, they'd pondered before. Nothing else would really do; although in their time, centuries had passed since its writing, nothing would ever eclipse it.

"How long before we have to start it?"

"Your calculations were pretty good," she replied, stroking his wiry grey hair. "We have actually a few months before things really start to heat up, as you wanted. All the time in the universe, anyway." Just a weak smile this time; they had known the consequences of their journey long before they had started, had the chance even to turn around. But by then, all they had known had disappeared into time, and their return would be a mockery for the world that had taken over from theirs. This experiment was the last one that would be performed, at least by those on Earth; it had, in fact, taken more resources than could be spared. She hoped her great-grandchildren had made it off world before the transmissions were ended; at least their children had had comfortable lives.

Now all the suffering was over, however, and had been for many years - billions, for the universe outside. The two of them were, as far as they knew, the last of any race alive. They had encountered many signals from as many different species, some intelligible to their computers, most mere streams of zeros and ones washing away into time. Their journey had answered the questions humanity had asked for centuries... but no one would know it but them. They could not stop to meet their cosmic neighbors, and although the ship had transmitted a message of friendship and grace for most of its existence, it was silenced now in the knowledge that no one was left to hear it.

It was frustration that drove her husband to take sleep over this day-to-day existence. She could understand it better now, having taken it herself once, nearly a decade ago. Medication could only do so much for one's mental health - sometimes, a few months' deep sleep was the only cure. Eternity, after all, is a long time.

Now, however, they would wait together for the universe to end around them, adding their mass to the next to come. He had told her, long ago, before they were even married, that a ship accelerating at a comfortable one g would reach 99% the speed of light well within a human lifetime... but that, due to relativistic effects, the universe itself would end in what they perceived to be a mere fifty-odd years. It was hard to believe, then; now, it was their reality. They had traveled for those years, coasting for the last few on their accumulated inertia; now they sat poised, essentially motionless, while pure energy writhed around them. It was a wonder to them both that the shields still protected them from the maelstrom, powered by its very substance. Neither knew how long it could hold out in the final collapse, but surely the end would come quickly when they failed...

* * *

It wasn't more than a few weeks before they noticed the first blip of something that shouldn't be there. Solid matter, like their own, hung in space not far from them. They were not alone after all... yet the plasma that separated them would never allow for meaningful communication. Only the keenest sensors had permitted their detection; the viewscreen had gone black against the energy around them, every wavelength of the entire spectrum saturating their equipment. But the other ship was there, perhaps many more - perhaps every race through all of time had sent a representative to be here for the final apocalypse!

Others did, in time, appear, though it took careful analysis to discern their presence. She wondered what they thought of the event that would soon obliterate them all; knowing at once the joy of their companionship, and the inevitable loss of never being able to share it. The two humans sobbed and laughed in each other's arms, naked now all the time in the growing heat; their bodies, albeit wrinkled with the years eternity had taken, still felt like heaven when they touched. How many trillions of beings had known such pleasure...? And now the essence of those trillions encompassed the entire universe - the energy that had been everyone and everything they knew had turned space itself into a roiling cauldron of being and non-being. All that ever was and ever would be slowly shrank around them, gaining speed as fundamental forces broke down and changed... without changing at all.

He had taken to scribbling down endless equations while she watched, aeons of hypotheses supported, theories confirmed or denied by the passage of time - everything was coming to a close, the questions answered. Their passion for thoughts, food, sex, science, music - life - all knew no bounds, as they struggled to make their remaining time last forever. She wondered on and off if the alien others were doing the same - what would their rituals and acknowledgements be like, what moments in their lives would bear reflection?

She found herself more and more frequently reliving the births of their three children: dreamt of holding their warm wriggling bodies for the first time in her arms; feeling their little mouths pulling at her breasts for nourishment, contentment. She thought of her parents and siblings, the heated conversations they thrived upon - always searching, always questioning. And she lapsed often into the fondest memories of her life with her husband, the endless pleasure he had brought; remembered him telling her once that of all those in his life he had loved - his parents, family, even their children - she was the only one he had chosen to love, and how special it still made her feel. And they had always told each other they would love one another until the end of time... how ironic it seemed when they learned that would be completely true!

* * *

The final weeks approached, though of course their measured concept of time had long since ceased to be relevant. They shut down all non-vital parts of the ship, keeping the viewscreen dimmed to a tiny fraction of the true brilliance that had evolved outside for light; allowing life support and the ever-more necessary shields to consume most of the power. They listened to all the music they had ever loved, traced luminescent star maps for their favorite constellations on Earth; made love with a new calm fervor that would have denied explanation in any other circumstance. They no longer slept - were no longer tired - were too full of anticipation and terror and euphoria to leave each other's consciousness for that long. The heat grew more intense, as did the light, and space constricted around them and their unknowable kindred, living things all.

At last, with only a few hours to go until the last moment of time, the ship's converters could no longer cope with the energy around them. The music stopped in a rush, everything went dark around their clasped bodies. The heat rose more quickly, and their breaths turned to gasps as the air hit their lungs. Yet they could both hear the strains of the Ode to Joy in their minds as matter became energy around them, until they too had joined the immense and impossible symphony of all the universe had been, and although there were no material intellects left to comprehend the moment, at last time and space came to a silent and impossible end. Paused for what might have been a nanosecond or an eternity. And then, began again.

Back to the Index
Back to the Page of Stories

about me | baby crafts | education | grammar | guestbook | kids | links | livejournal | philosophy | read & play | stories | work | site map | home

All content, barring that which is otherwise attributed, is ©2007 to Jan Andrea. If you wish to use my content on another page, please email before doing so, even for content with the Creative Commons licenses. Text/images used elsewhere must be attributed to me. Be advised that I will pursue copyright violations.