She sighed, slowly passing a single finger over the control plate and dropping the shutters, closing out the dark moonscape of Pindam, closing out the universe. She felt it nearly impossible to accept all that she had learned that day, and she knew somehow that Ken had meant it that way, that it was supposed to be nearly impossible.
And he wasn't here to ask, anymore. As the shutters closed so too she closed out Ken, who hadn't been able to accept the last dying sight of Pin and had followed Pin into that oblivion. And so she had buried him that morning. Burial. The word made her grimace, even though nobody was there to see it. It seemed so archaic, the concept of burial. And she would have preferred a burial at sea, but there were no more seas.
"Dave?" she asked for the tenth time that day, no longer frustrated when he failed to answer her. She had gone down to Cybernetics One and checked the diagnostics; everything was running to specifications, but Dave just wasn't talking to her. Someone, though, was watching out for her-- life support was still running and doors were still opening.
The voice stunned her, but only for less than a single firing of what passed in her anatomy for neurons; she whirled, mentally commanding every weapon she could remember extant in the Command Center to bear on the source of that voice. "Freeze."
The source of the voice was a young human woman, her apparent age indicative of eighteen years, not an uncommon age for someone to pause their aging at. Her features were distinctly Terran Asian, about 160 centimeters tall with small breasts, dark hair, and just a hint of softness in her belly. Like herself, the woman wore no clothing. The woman smiled and said, "You probably don't want to shoot me, Oenone."
With a slow snarl Oenone said, "Who are you?"
"You don't remember me, do you?"
Oenone thought for a moment. "I have never met you before."
"Yes, you have. Think back, try and remember the voice, Oenone. We spent a few weeks together, a long time ago. If I remember correctly, you've moved up the timeline pretty slowly, for a Terran, and you're about seven thousand years old now. For me, it was about three billion years."
Puzzled, Oenone asked, "That means you could be just about anybody." Deliberately punching each syllable, Oenone asked "Who are you?"
"We met in Ken's car, remember? Close your eyes and recall my voice, O. Back them I was a metallic cylinder 65 cents in diameter and 40 cents high."
Oenone blinked, the memory flooding her suddenly. "You... you're Fawn Destiniere'?"
"You do remember!"
Oenone sagged. "It's hard to forget the lady who saved my life, but I am not convinced. You could still be anybody, anybody who gave Ken's Journals even a passing glance. But it doesn't matter anymore, there are no secrets worth keeping and I don't care who you are. You're probably the last voice I shall ever hear. I'm not sure I haven't gone insane."
"When reality is whatever we make it--" The girl paused, "within limits-- insanity becomes a pretty slippery thing to define. But you're not insane. And whether you believe me or not, I would like you to call me 'Fawn'. It would make me comfortable, and would give you something to call me other than 'Hey you.'"
"Very well," Oenone agreed. "'Fawn,' then."
Fawn smiled. "You're right, though," she said as she walked across the control room, "I am the last voice you're ever going to hear. Even Dave has stopped working."
"'Stopped working?' Is that what you call it when one of your own dies?"
"I'm not particularly artificial, O." She smiled. "Ken's peculiar idiosyncrasy of giving his AI's such intense self-identities cut both ways. Dave shut down all of his higher functions when he was sure Ken wasn't coming back. Ken might have known how to reactivate him; I think the database is intact, but I haven't checked. And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Well, don't you think it rather odd that the last person left alive in the universe is an ancient Greek water goddess stuck on an otherwise airless ball of rock?"
It was Oenone turn to smile. "Not goddess, nymph. Why does everybody insist on elevating me to the status of my father?"
Fawn shrugged and stepped even closer to her. "Perhaps because you're the only one left alive from that particular brood of self-proclaimed deities."
"You know, ages ago that kind of statement would have infuriated me."
"I know," Fawn replied.
"There was only one real god, wasn't there? Ken was the only real god the universe had that they could reach out and touch."
Fawn shook her head, a small frown crossing her lips. "Ken wasn't a god. He wasn't even an agent of a god."
Oenone laughed. "He did a lot more than the Olympian Gods ever did!"
"Did he? The Olympian Gods got the Greeks through that period when they were most needed, during the breakdown of the bicameral self- identity most of humanity had. Ken got all of sentience through the next step, the 'what do we do now?' step. Maybe he deserves the title, then, but that's not the real point. Ken was a visionary, and his vision was one that maintained his very human spirit while realizing the wildest potentials of whatever tools the universe saw fit to drop in his lap."
"He was also very selfish."
"Is it selfish, to want to live as long as you possibly can, and to see your children do the same? How badly did it hurt when Pin could no longer keep Pendor viable?"
"You know the answer to that. He died this morning."
"I know. He finally did it, he finally opted out because there was no reason for him to stay. It was a hard life, Oenone, watching all of his friend, all of his lovers die-- not because of him but just because he insisted on holding onto life so long and holding all to all those he did love so very hard."
"Even at the cost of the rest of the universe."
"So he stole a star or two to reverse Pin's local entropy. He never stole from a sentient race, and those stars he did steal he stole early on, before the universe was your complete and utter playground. Maybe it seems wrong to you for him to keep those particular playgrounds to himself, but I don't see anything wrong with it." Fawn glanced over the control panel to her left and typed a few commands. "There."
"What did you do?"
"I accelerated the temporal differential. We're going through time, Oenone, through the second half of the universe."
"How high did you set it?"
"A couple of billion to one, I think. Not sure. As high as it would go. Forward time travel... you never did discover how to go backwards."
"Ken thought it was impossible, even though he knows he did it with you."
"It is impossible. I suspend the rules completely."
"Where are you taking us?" Oenone asked. "I thought there was nothing to go to."
"The universe has two halves," Fawn started. "The expansion and the contraction. The contraction had been going on for a short while when we met this morning, as the few burning neutron stars just didn't have enough energy to keep the expansion going. Except for you, me, and the fusion plant bank downstairs, the universe is dead, Oenone. Heat-dead. A static three-degrees Kelvin all the way across." She paused. "We're going to the end of the cycle, Oenone, and to it's beginning again. We're going to the Big Bang."
Oenone shivered. "I don't want to go there."
"I know. But it's the only place to go, Oenone. It's you, me, this rock, and dust-- there is no place else to go."
"Maybe I'll follow Ken instead. See if there's anything beyond this universe, this life."
Fawn smiled. "It's nice to have that kind of option."
"What do you mean?"
"I have to go there."
"What? To the Bang?"
Fawn nodded. "It's my assigned role."
"Fawn, if it isn't too much to ask, what are you?"
"I'm a... a tool, if you will. My set purpose, as far as I know, is to attend the end of the universe."
"A tool? Whose?"
"I don't know. All is know is my job is to be here, now."
Oenone looked puzzled again. "The why all this bit with Ken?"
"Well," Fawn said, holding up a finger, "I wanted to have some fun, and whoever's tool I am allowed me that privilege, with Ken. Because it made my assigned task easier. All the task of building Pendor, of teaching Ken gengineering... all that was secondary to the real reasons why I came to him."
"Ken claims he gave you to himself in an temporal loop."
Fawn smiled. "That's his version. Which is true. He did, but only because that's what I wanted to have happen. This building, this facility, is why Ken and I were thrown together-- I see the question in your eyes, and the answer is still 'I don't know.'"
"So what now? I just get to follow Ken and leave you here?"
"That's your decision, O. But I would ask you for a favor, before you go."
"And that is?"
"Oenone... I don't exist very much. That sounds weird, I know, but take it as faith-- I don't exists very much. Most of my life I spend over and over as Ken's library, time machine and life support. And this is one of those rare occasions where I get to spend my life as an organic, as a person." She smiled slightly and reached out to touch Oenone's skin. "I don't get to do this much, to touch another person, or to talk to her. Oenone..." Her eyes were wide and sad and hopeful. "Would you make love to me?"
Oenone returned the touch, two fingers tracing along Fawn's collarbone. "I always wondered how I would thank you if I ever met you again."
"I can't think of a better way," the brown-haired girl replied, her eyes smiling.
"Neither can I." Oenone leaned over and kissed Fawn, her lips meeting soft warm flesh that she felt she never wanted to let go, even knowing that eventually she would have to. And part they did, Oenone looking down into Fawn's eyes. Oenone tried to organize her feelings and failed; she couldn't reconcile the feeling that she was the older, more experienced woman, knowing that Fawn had to be much older, much more different, than she. "Fawn, come with me to the pool," she suggested.
Oenone tool Fawn's hand in her own and led her out of the command center, down a hallway and into the rock-carved grotto, a plant-lined room with a large, warmed pool as its centerpiece. She slid into the water, sighing gently as she did so. Fawn followed.
Oenone touched Fawn's shoulder gently, turning the smaller woman to face her. "Fawn, can I ask you a favor, since you're asking me for one?"
"When you leave this room, I'm going to stay, with my last pool of water, and the plants, and the life. I don't want to be with you... watching the universe die isn't my job. Would you... turn off the life support when you close the door behind you."
"I can't imagine how you feel, Fawn, but I want to stay here, because this place is still a part of Pendor, and still a part of the house where the happiest memories of my long and eventful life are. I'm just going to sink into the water and take my form as water, and I just want to freeze solid that way. It's a natural, static state for a water goddess, and that's how I want to go."
Fawn nodded, tears forming in her eyes. She sagged, laying her head against Oenone's ample chest. "I hate this job. I hate this damned impulse that forces me to be here and to go on."
Oenone wrapped her arms around Fawn and stroked her gently, feeling the skin sliding under her fingers. "Fawn... it's all right. You're right, I didn't want to be the last person left alive in the universe, but I think I learned Ken's lesson better than even he did. I don't want to die, but I just don't want to go where you're going."
Fawn nodded, rubbing her cheek against Oenone's chest. "I understand. even if I didn't want to understand, I do. I think it's kind of sad about you and I. I only get to know you for two days, separated by thousands or millions of years, depending on how you look at it."
Oenone sat down and pulled Fawn into her lap, pressing her lips to the younger girl's softly. Fawn kissed back, seemingly desperate as she did so. Oenone's fingers ran gently over Fawn's chest, caressing her nipples, teasing her. Fawn squirmed in her lap, moaning. "Ohh..."
"You're very sensitive," Oenone said.
"One give from whoever sends me; she apparently didn't intend for me to be a numb and boring lover."
"I just needed a pronoun... there are only women left, 'she' seemed appropriate."
Oenone nodded. "You could never be boring to me anyway, Fawn. With only one chance to hold you and handle you, you could never be anything but fascinating, Fawn, even if you were completely unresponsive."
"Really?" Fawn asked, hugging Oenone tightly.
"Well, if you were completely unresponsive I would wonder why I bothered, but apparently you're not."
Fawn shivered gently, returning the strokes she was receiving, if slightly awkwardly. "No, I guess not." She caressed Oenone's oversize breasts carefully, holding each one gently underwater and appreciating the buoyant weight of Oenone's flesh. "You're so beautiful."
"So are you, Fawn, so are you." Oenone's fingers slid down between Fawn's thighs and caressed the light fur she found there, sliding her fingers down along the legs and over her knees. She smiled and said, "Even if we are the only people left, and who are we to judge what is beautiful and what isn't?"
"We are," Fawn said, holding one breast up far enough to expose the nipple to the air and taking it between her lips, sucking and licking. Oenone moaned softly, her nipples hardening instantly in the cool air. Fawn bit gently in Oenone's pliant flesh, leaving soft teethmarks as she wend her way across Oenone's chest from one nipple to the other, her fingers kneading and caressing as she did so.
Oenone was surprised at how vociferous Fawn was in her attentions, in her determination. "Slow down, Fawn."
"I don't want to," Fawn said, breathing against Oenone's skin. "I want to live, O, I want to get it all in, now." She descended beneath the water, attacking Oenone's belly with her mouth, teeth. Oenone laughed slightly at the tickling sensation, but inside she felt hurt at the request Fawn had made of her, the demand to get all of life, even her life, lived within one hour, one day. She reached down into the water and shifted to her pure water form, dissolving under Fawn's caresses, to reform once more behind the oriental girl and pull her up to the surface. "I don't want you to drown."
Fawn reached back behind her and help onto Oenone's thighs. "You don't have to worry. I won't. I don't think I can."
Oenone smiled, then picked Fawn up and dropped her in a kneeling position on the stone bench set underwater, her buttocks just barely above the level of the water. "I don't think I want to find out. I just want you to feel good." She caressed Fawn's thighs gently, staring, as she was, directly at Fawn's rounded butt and lightly furred cunny. She leaned in and licked, once, carefully, at Fawn's slit.
Fawn shivered. "Please." Oenone licked harder, sliding her tongue in as deeply as she could, pressing the lips of her mouth to lips of Fawn's cunt, sucking at the girl's sweet juices. Fawn's moans were distinct and punctuated, and Oenone thought it sad that nobody but her would ever be there to hear them. "Lick me harder," Fawn sighed.
Oenone complied; her mastery of the element water was as powerful and as significant as ever. She no longer needed worshippers or totems to be what she was when she was first saved. As she dipped her tongue deeper down between Fawn's thighs and up against her clitoris, two fingers slid in and up against Fawn's cervix; she need only to pull more water up and into her and she slowly enlarged them, adding more volume to herself, pressing up and filling the young girl whose mons she so enthusiastically licked and sucked. Fawn leaned over the edge of the stones and lay her head down on the soft grass, moaning ever more loudly. Oenone attacked her with her own ferocious lust, her own efforts feeling as if they might cause herself to orgasm as they reached for Fawn's inevitable climax.
Fawn had other ideas. "Stop it!" she moaned suddenly shifted her hips out of Oenone's reach, slipping away from Oenone's probing fingers. She turned to face the water nymph, her face flushed. "I want to watch you, too."
"Then sit up and watch me. Or would you like me to make love to you like a man?" Oenone smiled.
"You can do that?"
"I am, as you pointed out, the child of deity." With a slight effort, but more than she usually found necessary, she shifted her form; her breasts sank into her body like melting ice, and between her thighs a penis seemed to grow out of the running water she was made of. The rest of her body shifted as well, the very obvious feminine characteristics fading from sight to be replaced by a broader chest with a more defined musculature. Despite this, the effect was very androgynous, and Oenone full well knew it, and liked it. His long blond hair flowed down around his back in copious streams; his face retained the high cheekbones and soft feature he had when he was female. "What do you think?"
"I.. I don't know. Do you want to make love to me like that?"
Oenone smiled and walked through the water with as little effort as Fawn would exert walking through air. "I think I would. I was made to be everything Paris could ever dream of, except for freedom. And it may sound kind of silly, Fawn, but despite the 'who cares' attitude most of Pendor had, I tend to be very heterosexual, and since you can't change, I did."
"What makes you think I can't change?" Fawn asked, reaching out with some confidence to touch Oenone's belly. His cock twitched gently at her touch.
"Can you?" Oenone asked, surprised.
"I don't know," Fawn admitted. "Doesn't mean I can't... I wouldn't be surprised if I could. After all, the last time I looked I was a steel cylinder." Fawn smiled and slid her hand down over Oenone's smooth, uncut cock. His muscles tensed under her touch. "You still look very feminine."
"I know," Oenone admitted. His voice sounded deep, even to him. "Ken liked this look, although that's not something he would often admit."
Fawn canted her head to one side; among furries it had been a common expression of confusion, and Oenone found it fetching in Fawn. "Very rarely," Fawn said. "It's not in any of my records."
Oenone reached out and began to caress Fawn's nipples softly, his fingers closing and twisting gently. "I think it was a late development; sometime around his first millennia, when he met Sufi."
"That might explain it," Fawn admitted. She rubbed the head of his cock in the palm of her hand, and Oenone groaned loudly. "Like that?" Fawn asked.
"Hurts," he said. "Feels good, but it hurts, too."
"It's making you hard," Fawn teased him gently. "Lick me some more."
Oenone grinned and settled further into the water as Fawn vaulted out and sat on the edge of the pool. He leaned in between her parted thighs and began licking insistently. "I want to make you come," he said.
"And I want you to make me wet," Fawn replied, the last word dying in a moan of pleasure. "That's good."
"Good," Oenone said, smiling. He held her cunt open with the index finger of each hand and licked the pink labia before his eyes, caressing her clitoris with his lips.
Fawn kicked slightly in the water, her legs trembling with every direct flicker of his tongue, releasing tiny whimpers of new pleasure. She reached down and took Oenone's head in her hands and lifted him up. "Make love to me, O."
"I thought that's what I was doing," he said as he leaned up over her, his straight erection pressing up between them. With a single gesture Oenone pressed his cock downward into her channel, and a gentle push buried him deep within her cunt. "Yes," they both sighed, almost simultaneously.
Oenone laughed and began to stroke back and forth. His cock, deliberately sized to standards he had established when exploring her earlier, filled her and pushed her. He started hard and never let up, making love to her violently; the fact that he was standing in a meter of water never slowed him down, and if anything it gave him a faerie's strength and impetus. Fawn gripped his shoulders and moaning, pressing her head forward against his broad chest.
His cock slid in and out, a mercifully unforgiving engine of her pleasures as he bucked between her legs. Fawn let go of his arms and fell back against the carefully maintained grass that surrounded the pool, her legs dangling in the water. Oenone followed her down, helping her from dropping too hard, and picked up speed, making love ever more powerfully than before. Fawn moaned incoherently, the pleasure on her face more than clear to him. Oenone smiled and pressed harder still, his own orgasm imminent. Wordless, he pressed deeper into her, his complete mastery of water and everything it pervaded giving him every last thing he wanted to know about she was going to climax, instantly, before those thoughts were destroyed in the screaming crash of their simultaneous orgasm. He pounded her cunt over and over as he came, shooting into her even he knew not what as she thrashed, her back arching and her mouth open with a quiet scream.
He held himself up over her, letting her catch her breath as she panted and gasped. Then he lay down, and they were quiet as his erection shrank and slipped out of her. He concentrated for a moment more and slowly shifted back to his prior, more common form as a woman.
Fawn sat up, slowly, accepting Oenone's grasp to help her. "I think... I think that was all worth it. Thank you, Oenone."
"You're welcome," Oenone replied, her voice returning to its normal, sweet and seductive pitch. She sat up and settled back into the pool, reaching out a hand again as she did so. Fawn took it and allowed herself to be pulled into Oenone's lap.
The say, looking at each other, and Fawn shivered. "You want me to go, don't you?"
Oenone shrugged, the expression on her face one of resignation. "I've lived a long life, much, much, longer than the one offered even by my life as a child of Poseidon. I've had more than my fair share. And I'm not going to die, Fawn, I'm just going to go back into the water and be frozen; I had sisters who did this every winter, every year, for three centuries."
Fawn nodded and climbed out of the pool. She knelt down then and gave Oenone one last, long, lingering kiss. As they parted, Oenone said "Stay a moment."
Fawn knelt, holding still, as Oenone closed in on her cheek and kissed her there, her tongue licking gently. As she settled back into the water, she said, "The salt, the water of your tears tells more about you than I think either of us will ever know, and if I survive this cycle, I'll never forget you, Fawn."
Fawn nodded. "I'll never forget you, either. Good-bye, Oenone, child of Poseidon."
"Good-bye, Fawn Destiniere'."
Fawn stood and slowly walked towards the door, not looking back, but she knew that the sound she heard, the soft chime of running water, was Oenone dissolving into the pool. There was something about the way all this was happening that made her want to cry, and she did, quietly, as she walked down the hallway and passed the modular bulkhead. She closed the airlock-level door behind her, and typed in a sequence of commands to deactivate life support, temperature regulations first. The lights shifted slowly from blue to red (green had been avoided, she knew, because Kennet had been slightly colorblind, a condition he had never had corrected) and as she watched the temperature dropped on the other side of the door, the heat dissipating into a jealously cold and lonely universe. She wiped the tears away, but more came after them.
She walked into the Command Center, turning off the rest of the base as she did so; she required little of the life support mechanisms and entertainments scattered throughout the facility. Somewhere down there, under the rock, lay hidden the biogene tanks that had given birth eventually to literally hundreds of species and millions of individuals. Also, somewhere under there was the old interface she had used to build Halloran, back when she had been a computer herself.
She didn't know where the knowledge to do whatever is was she needed to do came from, but every step of the way when she needed to know what this button or that lever did, the knowledge came to her without question or comment. She smiled gently and waited.
How much time, even Fawn was not sure. She spent very little of her time actually thinking, but there came a time, when the lights in the white and plastic Command Center had faded, darkened, and gone out, when she became aware that the universe had ended, and that it existed only in two separate and disparate forms- the singularity that had once been everything else, and this facility, that was still in the form everything else had once been, separated by that perversion of the laws of physics, the temporal disunity. And whatever was prodding her along made her aware that the mass of the facility stuck within the temporal disunity field was all that was required to start the whole thing over again. The universe had existed because the singularity that started it all was only slightly overburdened with being; any less, she knew, and the Big Bang would never have happened.
But along with this knowledge was a realization of her purpose. The Power That Be (for lack of a better term, she thought) preferred this particular form of the universe that had been, with the four basic interatomic forces and the nature of things as she had known them and as she was constructed. The influx of material such as hers into that process when "everything else" had been compressed into the reality astrophysicists had referred to as "The Time of Dragons" would influence the next Big Bang, making at least the initial process resemble the previous one, and she was to be the agent of that decision. All she had to do was press one control button. That button, she thought, looking down at the control panel with eyes that had never required photons to see.
But, it occurred to her, there should be something said. Something dramatic was always said at momentous events, and the heralding of a new universe was certainly a momentous event, at least in the histories of the people she had most interacted with, and influencing the future of the next version of the universe certainly qualified as a momentous event.
But what to say? What to say, what to say, she kept wondering. Her mind cast back to the Hebrew Book of The Dead, the tradition from which Kennet had come from, and since he had been the human she had had the most interaction with, maybe it was something from that tradition she could use.
But what? The words in that text that heralded Creation certainly were dramatic, but they weren't quite right. It wasn't true that light came first. But then what? The words repeated themselves in her mind over and over, and as she concentrated her thoughts were interrupted, and from that interruption came the perfect thing to say; not four words, as recorded in the text, but three, were necessary. Only three words.
She said, "Let there be."
She pressed the button.
And there was.