Author : J.D. Rice
Her mouth opens wide, eyes squeezed shut in a show of agony, teeth bared, then suddenly comes to a stop. The moment of her death slows to a crawl, like time itself is standing still. They say this is what it’s like to see someone die. Everything just slows down as you watch the person breathe their last breath, say their last goodbye, or simply scream, scream as death carries them off into the night.
But I hear no scream, and time isn’t just standing still as a metaphor. She drifts only feet from where I clutch to the hatch combing, frozen in place, dying for eternity. Moments pass and still she hangs motionless in the air, a silent scream frozen on her agonized face, covered with the helmet of her bio-suit. They told us not to come aboard the station, that the alien technology had yet to be identified. But with our ship low on fuel, and what did they expect a salvage crew like ours to do? “Unidentified alien tech” might as well read “solid gold.”
We should have listened. Now I can only wait futilely by the locked hatch and stare into my own future. The time dilation field keeps expanding, inch by inch. First the radios went out, leaving us in silence. Then her hand become stuck to the tiny device. Even then she was screaming, wrenching her body against the device trying to her hand free. Then it slowly enveloped her, freezing her forever in the final moments of her death. Frozen to the world for all eternity, yet dying in an instant on the inside. At least that’s what I hope. It’s the only hope I have as the field slowly crawls closer to where I drift.
My flashlight is the next thing to freeze. I dropped it when the commotion started and it drifted in the weightless corridor, waiting to be snatched. I can see now that it has stopped drifting, hanging motionless just a few feet away. I see the rays of light it cast as a sheet of glass hanging in the air, and wonder for a moment what this says about the age old “particle” vs. “wave” debate. This is the last intellectual thought I have before the field finally expands and envelopes me as well.
“Nooooooooo!” her voice suddenly rings in my ears through the radio. The sheet of light is gone, replaced by simple, invisible rays once again. Looking up, I see that her face no longer holds the silent scream, but only a look of puzzlement and confusion.
“You…” she starts to say, pointing to where I floated when she was first frozen, then to where I am now near the hatch combing.
I open my mouth to speak, but then the entire ship shutters. We drop like flies to the ground as the artificial gravity kicks back on. I end up somewhere to left of where I floated, and find my feet quickly. We’re used to this sort of thing on our rickety salvage ship. But here?
“What’s going on?” my companion asks, before a voice cuts her off, overriding our radios.
“Welcome, travelers,” the voice says. “Welcome to the end of the universe.”
A light flashes out the small window to my right, and I join my companion in gazing out into the unfamiliar space beyond. The stars are gone, as is our ship. Outside, we see nothing but a tiny speck of a light in the distance, which flickers violently for a moment then disappears.
“The end of the universe?” I say, looking out into the nothingness that once held the entire cosmos.
“Yes,” the voice says. “The end of one universe, and the start of another.”
There is another flash of light, a tremendous force pushing against the hull of the ship, and then nothing but white. This time there are no screams, only two quiet gasps, before the birth of the new universe carries us away.