Sylvia steps quickly into the empty elevator, and the others follow her—the woman who is mostly a leopard, the fat man with thick brown fur and eyes like a raven, the pretty teenage girl with stubby antlers and skin the color of ripe cranberries—all of them filing in, one by one, like the passengers of some lunatic Noah’s ark.
Root canal is one fifty, give or take, depending on who’s doing it to you. A migraine is two hundred. Not that I get the money. The company gets it. What I get is twelve dollars an hour, plus reimbursement for painkillers. Not that they work. I feel pain for money. Other people’s pain. Physical, emotional, you name it.
FedShip ASN/29 fell out of the sky and crashed. After a while two men slipped from its cloven skull like brains. They walked a little way and then stood, helmets beneath their arms, and looked at where they had finished up. It was a beach in no need of an ocean—it was its own ocean, a sculpted sea of sand, a black-and-white-snapshot sea frozen forever in troughs and crests and more troughs and crests. Dunes.
Pelops wakes gasping and shivering inside the CryoPod. A thin layer of ice crystals coats his cheeks and hands, pricking at his exposed skin. Crackling and moaning, he raises hands to his eyes and pries their lids open, shedding ice shards like tears. The curving glass surface before him is cracked into a mass of spidery lines. Struggling to inhale the frozen air, he pushes against the glass. The door of the pod refuses to move. He is entombed.
(Boom!) That’s a little scientist joke, and the proper way to begin this. As for the purpose of my notebook, I’m uncertain. Perhaps to organize my thoughts and not to go insane.
Second Coming is docked two miles underground. She’s made of a collapsible, repulsion-attraction subatomic slurry that the astrophysicists are convinced will survive the gravitational anomaly called Black Betty. Yes, the ship will survive; it’s her human cargo that’s doomed.
“Are we all ready, then?” Nikomastir asks. He has fashioned a crown of golden protopetaloids for himself and gleaming scarlet baubles dangle from his ears: the bright translucent shells of galgalids, strung on slender strands of pure gold. His long pale arms wave in the air as though he is conducting a symphony orchestra. “Our next destination is—” and he makes us wait for the announcement. And wait. And wait.
Every few day-cycles, it receives hate-scented lace in anonymous packages. It opens the bland plastic envelope to pull one out, holding the delicate fragment between two forelimbs. Contemplating it before folding it again to put away in a drawer. Four drawers filled so far; the fifth is halfway there.
2645, January. The war is over. The survivors are being rounded up and converted. In the inner solar system, those of my companions who survived the ferocity of the fighting have already been converted. But here at the very edge of the Oort Cloud, all things go slowly. It will be years, perhaps decades, before the victorious enemy come out here. But with the slow inevitability of gravity, like an outward wave of entropy, they will come.
The usual fallacy is that, in every universe, many futures splay outward from any given moment. But in some universes, determinism runs backwards: given a universe’s state s at some time t, there are multiple previous states that may have resulted in s. In some universes, all possible pasts funnel toward a single fixed ending, Ω. If you are of millenarian bent, you might call Ω Armageddon. If you are of grammatical bent, you might call it punctuation on a cosmological scale. If you are a philosopher in such a universe, you might call Ω inevitable.