I do not own Mythic Ocean. Paralune does.
Chapter published April 11 2021.
"I want them to go as far as they possibly can with science on their side."
"Computer," he said. "How long till we're there?"
A blue orb of light appeared in front of him, flashing brighter as it spoke. "ETA to Uncharted System... five hours."
"Thanks, computer. Dismissed." It blinked out. Markey turned away from where the computer's AI had projected itself, facing a glassy terminal on the walls. It reached from the floor to the ceiling, and the glass was so pure black he could see individual motes of dust clinging to its surface. "Kitchen," he said, focusing his intent on going there, to that place in his ship, rather than saying it aloud for no reason.
The world around him distorted as the ship's onboard teleporters found him and took hold of his body. Dark spots grew darker, bright spots grew brighter and bluer, and his field of view receded as though down a long tunnel as the black and blue grew like mold to engulf everything he could see...
... and then in reverse, twice as fast. The world stretched back into view, and the warped colors settled back into place. He was no longer in his bedroom, but in the kitchen of his ship.
The kitchen was a sizable room, and its circular perimeter was covered entirely in see-through shelves and cupboards. Inside the cupboards were a few listed ingredients, and Markev went a bit closer to each of them to see what they could be used for. As he did, holographic displays lit up in his field of view. They weren't on the glass, not in the air, but transmitted directly into the part of his mind that processed vision. The result was something between a hallucination, and only seeing something in his mind's eye.
He searched through the various cans, loaded with every synthfood his company could afford. Alfos's Human Spaghetti, DX-RTE's Vren Oil Substitute, EZ-Synthesize-Steak... whenever he found one, he mentally marked it as 'selected'.
Once he had enough for his crew, he said aloud, "Cook all selected."
The onboard kitchen computer quickly read his mind, found the selected group, and a second later...
That was that. The food would all have been teleported to the dining hall. Markev lowered his hand to the floor and raised it up. As he did, a holographic call window rose from the floor to face height. "Vrika," he said aloud, and the screen rippled to show the inside of Vrika Heavenkiller's room. The midarian - a large, bipedal avian covered in brilliant red plumage and with four eyes - was at her nest, pecking about on a private hologram. "Computer says we're there soon. Report to the dining hall."
Without even skipping a beat at his sudden appearance, she nodded. "Right away," she chirped out, before swiping a large, broad wing and cutting his transmission.
Markev went through the rest of his employees, summoning them one by one. A general message would've worked, but he wanted to get them personally.
Then, eventually, his last stop. The room was colored hot pink, and there was a teenage girl sitting at an old style vanity, a ray-gun in her hands. She had curled demon-ram horns coming out the side of her head, and a pair of large bat wings out her back. Her hair was bright, neon yellow. Even as he watched, he pointed the ray-gun at one of the wings, where it was slowly recoloring them from dark red to black.
"Susan!" he barked, startling her. "Put the body-mods down and get to the dining hall. Company meeting."
She groaned, not turning to look at him. "Yes, dad. Body mods off." The demon horns and wings turned to ash, falling freely to the ground. The yellow in her hair drained out and her natural black flooded in to replace it.
"Don't sulk, Susan. We're almost there." He swiped the hologram back into the ground and said aloud, "Dining hall."
Again, the world receded from view as he was teleported.
And again, the world came back, but now he was elsewhere.
The company ship's dining hall was like a high-class restaurant atop a space elevator. It was located near the middle of the ship, out where it bulged outwards the most. As a result, the panoramic windows didn't show any of the ship's metal exterior when you looked out. Just the pure, empty, starless black of the intergalactic void. Not even Markev's own, top-of-the-line eyes could make out the faintest glimmer of a galaxy.
The dining hall's interior had no doors or elevators to the rest of the ship, bar a few panels that could be pulled back to reveal emergency exits in the event that the onboard teleporter failed. Strips of yellow light ran along the floor, standing out sharply against the dark brown flooring. Insta-Furn brand tables and chairs had erupted all around the area, each seat designed for the unique physiology of everyone on the ship, and the tables were packed with the food he'd picked and cooked.
One by one, people began warping in. Not just the people he'd called, but the people they'd went and gotten themselves. They popped in with teleportation; first there'd be nothing more than motes of blue light floating in midair, then more and more until it formed a solid silhouette, and then the light would fade and there they were. His daughter Susan, the squat robot S3-E3, aquatic aliens in pressurized suits, avian aliens, more humans, all manner of mortals from across the universe.
Markev didn't take a seat; instead, he walked to one end of the dining hall as everyone began filing in. Once he was satisfied everyone had arrived, he held out a hand as though he were gripping something. Sure enough, a crystal glass teleported between his fingers, and he tapped on it with a spoon that also materialized as needed.
Ding ding ding! "Can I have everyone's attention please?" he asked, raising his voice. The growing hub-ub died down before it had a chance to blossom as everyone looked his way. "Thank you. I've brought you all here with some exciting news. According to the ship's computer, we'll be arriving at our system in just a few short hours!" The glass and spoon vanished, letting him clap his hands together. Behind him, a portion of the glass windows changed to a countdown, from just under five hours. "When we get there - "
"Keep track of all your daily events!" a woman's voice interrupted from behind him. He spun around in surprise, then frowned when he saw the countdown was frozen and, in its place, an ad was playing with cutesy pictures of children laying in grassy meadows. "Never forget those important, special moments, with the TruTime Countdown app."
The ad ended and the countdown resumed. "Ahem. Anyway. We'll all be arriving shortly. This is it, everyone. I know all Deep Dive employees have been working very hard to make this a reality, and this is the big score. Free matter, no oversight, and our own personal black hole."
Bring up congratulations list, he thought. A list of various employees, their positions, and what they'd done to make this a reality flashed to the front of his mind's eye.
"I want to take this time to thank Sophoron Buon for charting our course," he said, and a spotlight fell onto one of those aquatic aliens, and she looked away bashfully at the attention. "Abuno Antor for pouring through the gravimetric data to find this little gem all the way out here. Alfonso LaGuerra for..."
He continued listing a few more names, moving the spotlight back and forth as the counter continued to tick behind them. "... and lastly I would like to extend a big welcome to all friends and family, here with us on the Deep Dive Friends and Family package. No corporate speak - I really do see all of you as my family," he said, extending his hands wide. His chest warmed, and almost perfectly, unbidden, a tear came to his eyes. "We're not exactly much of a company out here, after all. Not like we're selling anyone anything." There were a few chuckles. "Alright alright, I've rambled on long enough. Dig in, everyone."
Everyone cheered and began to eat, talking excitedly to one another. Markev, for his part, found where Susan had sat and pulled up a seat next to her. She wasn't eating her chocolate lava cake - her favorite - and was instead staring off into space, a blank look in her eyes.
"Susan," he said. "Get off the internet."
She groaned, but turned her attention back to the physical world. "Ugh, fine." Her whining cut off when she saw what was in front of her. "Mmm." She held up her hands, and both a knife and a fork teleported into them. She dug in like a pig.
Markev, for his part, enjoyed a simple soup. It was rich and salty, and the spiced pork in it was hot enough to clear his nostrils and burn his eyes. "So, are you going to be alright by yourself while we're getting settled?"
She groaned. "Yes, dad, I am. Alethea's sake, it's just a black hole."
He smiled at her attitude. Oh, to be that fiery again. "Alright, in that case I'm going to the bridge. Take care!"
"Bridge," he said aloud after swallowing the last mouthful of his soup.
One teleport later, he was there.
The bridge was located at the very front of their ship, the tip of the spear as they dove towards their destination. Space was a vacuum, devoid of gravity, and so he could imagine orientation however he wanted. Markev liked to imagine they were sailing straight downward, falling onto the star system they'd chosen to live out their lives upon, and that when he looked up through the glass dome ceiling, he was really looking down at their target.
Of course, the artificial gravity keeping his shoes on the ground made the illusion pretty difficult.
Well, there wasn't much else to do. There were about four hours left until arrival, and there wasn't four hours of work to do.
Markev looked around. The bridge, when not in use, was pretty barren. He decided to start calling up holograms from the ground, orienting them to display all sorts of readings. A captain's chair appeared underneath him and he reclined into it, looking straight up into the inky darkness. Absolutely nothing to be seen.
He supposed he could catch up on his reading.
Their destination was an uncharted black hole system, floating deep in the intergalactic void. Based on its trajectory, it'd been ejected from a relatively nearby galaxy eons ago, probably during a close pass with another celestial body, and ever since it'd been drifting. Finding anything in the intergalactic void was virtually impossible, because there was simply so, so much space to look through, and not only that, but as the cosmos expanded, there was only an increasing amount of empty space to look through. But his company had specialized in finding the unfindable, in diving deep into the uncharted vacuum and returning with the coordinates to items of interest.
But this time, they wouldn't be returning to any of their customers, fellow companies seeking new sources of matter and energy to exploit. This time, they'd be staying.
Advanced nanotechnology could take any lump of matter and turn it into anything, even rearrange the subatomic particles to change one element to another like alchemy. But all that required energy, and in a world with vast roving Expansion Fleets and GigaCorporations rounding up every star and galaxy, sources of energy were worth more than their weight in unobtanium. And among the most valuable were black holes; the bigger the better. But there weren't many left that hadn't been claimed.
This little black hole system, utterly out of the way, untouched since the dawn of the first day when Alethea had created the universe, would sustain him, his family, and their loved ones forever. Or at least, close enough.
More people were on the bridge now; his captains, his astrophysicists, his engineers. The people who he'd built this company with, ruthlessly forcing out the competition and building something great. As the countdown grew closer to zero, Markev changed the way he pictured themselves; no longer were they a spear falling down towards their black hole, but now they were a rocket, soaring in sideways. To look up at the glass dome was to look out ahead at their final destination.
"Ten," he counted down. "Nine. Eight..." This was it. They were about to be here! "Three... two... and one."
The intergalactic drives cut out. There was no light out here, so the ship began releasing pings of radar and painted false color on the glass.
There it was. The black hole system.
Floating around in a tight orbit was its lone planet, a chunk of rock the size of a large moon, littered with craters and covered in wide canyons from where the black hole's immense tidal forces had tortured it. Just an ordinary, irradiated space rock, but to Markev it was so much more. They had journeyed so long, so far, to find this.
There was no accretion disk to spiral inwards to it, and there were no jets of x-ray light spewing from the poles. There were no stars behind it, so there wasn't any odd gravitational lensing. Just an invisible black ball, and the only way they could see it at all was the false ring of white the computer was projecting on the screen, like the outline of a circle.
Everyone who needed to breathe, held their breaths. They stared up at the simple scene. So simple, so mundane, but what it represented! No more contracts with uncaring giants. No more intrusive ads. Freedom from the ruthless exploitation, from having to ruthlessly exploit.
Then the scene shifted. Like a great giant awakening, something began to appear around the black hole, unraveling like a rolled up rug being let out. It was a great spherical structure, shedding its cloaking field, wrapped around the black hole. Markev's eyes widened as more and more of the construct came into view, and the excited silence gave way to nervous muttering.
It was like one of the Dyson Spheres erected around the stars of every galaxy, greedily pumping them for all the light they had. But this one had many open spaces in its surface, as if to let the black hole's non-existent light shine through. It was made of a dark, black metal, glinting blue when the ship's light hit it just so. The scale was immense, and even from so far away he could make out the details of glass domes the size of continents, coiling cables the size of asteroids, as well as several larger guns mounted along a rotating axis. It was enormous, far larger than the city-sized black hole it sat around; it was the size of a planet.
Someone had beaten them to it. But who?
Suddenly, the intercom crackled and they all jumped. "Hello out there?" came a woman's voice, deep and motherly. "Is this the... am I reading your ship ID right? The S.S. Darkness Dweller?"
Everyone was looking to him for leadership, and he would not let them down. Markev coughed, cleared his throat, and answered. "This is indeed the Darkness Dweller, property of the corporation Deep Dive. This is CEO Markev Interlo speaking. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Interlo. You may call me Alethea." His eyes widened. She seemed to sense his astonishment, because she laughed quietly on the other side. "Yes, the very same! Would you mind telling me your business in my little corner of the universe?"
"I..." What to do? Lie to her? Maybe. Nobody had seen Alethea in centuries, not since she'd struck off on her own. He'd been a young man back then, having just gotten his first anti-age slot, and the debt to go with it. What would she believe?
He stopped himself. Alethea wasn't the CEO of a GigaCorp, looking to pump him for all his money. She was the Creator, and former chair of the Intergalactic Scientific Committee. The truth would work.
"I... we came here because we thought this black hole was uninhabited. Our company specializes in locating star systems lost in the intergalactic void, and this one was supposed to be everyone's retirement plan."
"Well!" she said, and he could hear her mirthful smile through the intercoms. "I'm sorry to say, but I've rather beaten you to the punch." A pause. "Your ship is not in any critical condition, is it? Is your energy core stable, and all that?"
He frowned. "We... were carrying everything we needed to make a graviton turbine, but our ship itself runs off antimatter. If we drift we've got years left, but not enough to get out of the void."
"Ah ah!" she chided. "Not a problem. I certainly won't turn you away at the door, so please feel free to settle into orbit around that planet over there."
He nodded, then turned to Sophoron. "Make it so, captain," he whispered, and she nodded at him. He turned back to the ceiling, speaking 'to' Alethea as best he could. "We're charting a course right now."
"Splendid! Now, you must understand, I am a very busy woman, but I think I can set aside a few minutes to make your acquaintance, Mr. Interlo. I am locking on to your position right now, may I teleport you onboard so we may speak face to face?"
He took a deep breath. This... was getting out of hand rather quickly. Not only had they been beaten to their black hole, but by none other than Alethea herself. Her station was the size of a planet, who knew how much weaponry was stationed along it that he couldn't see from so far away? But what could he do? It'd be rude to turn down an interview. "Yes, whenever you are read - "
He didn't get a chance to finish his sentence before he was on her station. It wasn't even like regular teleportation; no warping of space, no sliding down a tunnel. He was just there. " - y!" he said, startling.
Markev was in... where was he?
At first he thought he was in a dome city, floating high in the clouds of a gas giant. It was certainly big enough; there was a skydome stretching unbelievably high up, projecting the appearance of being underneath the ocean waves to him. But there weren't any regular buildings. No closely-packed skyrises, no bustling hovercars, no humming smog-siphons to pump the choking fumes out into space. All around him were structures he could barely even guess the purpose of, in every kind of shape he could think of and some he never would have imagined. Some were simple canisters holding live specimens of fungi and plants, others were scale models of cities, others were gargantuan structures of spikes and curves, glass and metal and plastic and probably other types of material he had no name for. They stuck up from the ground, hovered in midair, even crawled along the edge of the dome like gravity was pointed upwards for them.
"There you are!" Alethea's voice greeted him, and it took him a moment to realize she was standing right in front of him.
Or, rather, floating.
He'd seen pictures of Alethea before. Who hadn't? But nothing quite did her justice. On the surface she looked like a voluptuous woman who'd indulged deeply in dark blue skin-mods, with a richly patterned head scarf adorned with a golden star. But the more he looked, the harder it was to tell where her clothes ended and where her body began, if there was any difference at all; she didn't even have any legs, rather her skirt floated an inch or two above the ground, supporting her body, and through a cut in it he could see the inside was patterned with brilliant stars and constellations. The most immediately eye-catching feature of Alethea were her goggles, which were flush against her face and filled up by her pupil-less blue eyes. As she appraised him, her eyes seemed to zip up and down across his form with motions that were, no doubt, much smaller behind them.
"I... greetings, Alethea?" he said nervously. He looked around again. "Where am I?"
"Oh, just a quiet part of my lab," she said. "A lot of my station is currently engaged in experiments, and I'd hate to have dropped you in there while they're ongoing. At any rate, it is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Interlo."
"And... you too, Alethea," he said. She looked portly at first glance, but that was just an illusion. She was eye level with him, even taller thanks to her hovering. "I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed to see someone beat us out here."
She smiled and chuckled. "Yes, I imagine you would! I know I would have been peeved to have come all this way and find the trip was for naught." She held up a hand to pause him before he could get a word in edgewise. "Now now! Like I said, I am not about to turn you away at the door. You merely wanted to build a graviton turbine around this black hole, yes?"
"Well, that and use the turbine to put down roots here, yes." His eyes widened with an idea. "There wouldn't happen to be room around the black hole for another turbine, would there be?"
Alethea shook her head. "No, no, I'm afraid not. Look down."
He did. The moment he did, the tiled floor turned transparent, allowing him to see through the floor of the station, all the way down to the black hole. Alethea's station wasn't just a shell around the vortex, but it also had enormous tethers, stretching thousands of miles down towards the event horizon.
"I've already set up my own turbine design all around the black hole, all the way down towards just above the event horizon. No room, I'm afraid. However, it is not a problem. They produce more than enough energy to power this station's basic functions, and there should be no problem transferring some of the surplus for your ship."
He blinked, and the floor turned solid again. "That is... rather generous of you, Alethea." But what was the catch? "What do you want in exchange?"
She drew back, as if offended. "In exchange? Goodness, do you think me so cold hearted as to simply doom you to drifting in space until you run out of power?" Her eyes narrowed behind her goggles, and she huffed. "Honestly now. I suppose if you want an exchange all I ask is you, and the people with you, refrain from entering my station unless I invite you. It has taken me a long time to build all the sensitive equipment in this laboratory, and I do not fancy having to run around picking up after people."
A moment's pause. Markev was tense. But then Alethea seemed to relax. She even gave a little giggle. "Hee hee. You know, in a way, this actually rather reminds me of how I met the Historian." The who? "He showed up outside my old station too, much like you." She rolled her eyes. "He knocked quite a lot of my things over. And I'm still rather certain Beaker CE-37-O ended up falling into the depths."
He needed to take back control of this conversation. "If all you want is no trespassing, then I can certainly agree to that!" Markev smiled. Maybe this wasn't so bad. They'd come here for a black hole's energy, and they'd get it after all. "If you're sure we won't be imposing?"
"Oh, not at all! This black hole of mine is only good for low-level processes any way. I need a lot more energy for some of my truly ground-breaking research."
"More energy?" Alethea had been called the goddess of discovery and innovation. But what possible source of power could she have found that had her referring to a black hole, completely milked to the bone, as only good for 'low-level processes'? "What in the world could you need that much power for?"
She smiled wryly. "Perhaps one day, I will tell you! After all, we are going to be neighbors for the foreseeable future. Now." She clapped her hands together. "Let me send you back to your ship. I'll coordinate with your captain, help set up the energy transfer process." She looked away into the distance for a second. "A dock of sorts, perhaps... yes. Any way, I will be seeing you!"
"See you - "
Suddenly, he was back on his own ship.
" - too?!" he said to his crew.
True to her word, Alethea helped them into orbit around the black hole's planet, then helped them pick a relatively safe landing spot on it. They landed and converted the ship into their shelter, hopefully one day a proper little town. To help them with power, Alethea's science station produced and launched a fleet of satellites into orbit around itself, transferring high-energy beams to their new home, enough to power a short-range terraforming procedure to make the planet safe to be on.
The little irradiated space rock would never be a lush paradise, but it didn't neither to be. After all, that was what VR was for. It was a bit frustrating, though. It was, after all, a whole planet's worth of mineral wealth, just sitting there and uselessly orbiting the black hole.
One day, Markev found himself sitting in his bed, at the very top floor of a high-rise superscraper. He stared up through the glass bubble dome of his roof, up into the sky. It was always black, everywhere, in the intergalactic void. No stars, no galaxies, no light. Even if there were, the planet had no atmosphere to color the sky.
Above him, Alethea's station floated, an everpresent icon in the sky. And staring up at it, it stirred thoughts in him.
He'd always had a passion for the sciences. Who didn't? But he'd been born too late, into a universe where the mortal races had become masters of reality. The laws of physics were charted, the vast galactic superclusters mapped. Too late to explore the universe, too late to delve into research.
Nothing to explore... but then, what was Alethea doing here with a research station the size of a small planet?
Well, what the hell. They were neighbors.
"Computer," he said, and its azure sphere appeared next to him. "Open intercom with Alethea."
A moment's pause, and then Alethea's voice came through, as crystal clear as though she were standing right in front of him. "Hello there, Mr. Interlo! Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I just found myself curious," he said.
"Aha! I can certainly relate to that. What's on your mind, my friend?"
"Well, first it's this planet. It belongs to you, right? I was wondering if we can mine it out."
"Oh, of course you can! I haven't needed it for anything, but there's no point in letting it go to waste. Yes, by all means, do whatever you want. And I'm to assume there's something else you wanted to ask?"
"There is, actually. It's your station." He looked up at it again, awed by its sheer scope. "What... what in the world could you possibly be researching? How in the world are you powering it if a black hole's not enough?"
"Now that is a splendid question! Here, let me bring you on board."
"Wait, let me - "
And suddenly he was on Alethea's station. In his underwear.
The goddess floated before him. She narrowed her eyes at him, then snapped the fingers on one of her glove-like hands. "Ah, my apologies. Let me get that."
And just as suddenly, he was fully dressed.
His gut burned a bit, and he had to suppress to give the all-powerful deity a piece of his mind. "Right, thanks," he settled on. Then Markev looked around. "This... isn't where I first came aboard. Where are we?"
"This," Alethea said, gesturing to the room, "is my main generator."
"It looks unpowered," he said. The room was as absolutely gargantuan as the first one he'd seen, and it was riddled with wires and electronics boxes all over its surface. In the very middle was a podium of unobtanium, sculpted to have a bowl in its middle. It was all quiet. No humming, no lights. Was this her generator?
"Well, that would be because I am not using it at the moment!" she said. "This station is equipped with several remarkably high-capacity batteries. My own design, of course," she said, touching a hand to her chest. "However, I am ready to begin a new round of testing, so there's no harm in topping them off. Watch."
Alethea hovered over to the podium, then held an arm up in front of her. Her goggles began to glow, brighter and brighter until he could barely see her irises behind the glare. From her outstretched palm appeared something he'd only ever seen in sims; the gargantuan orange ball of power known as the Gift of Creation, the very thing that gave Alethea her dominion over the universe.
As though it were glued to her hand, Alethea lowered the Gift into the podium's hole. When the Gift of Creation made contact, the entire room flared to life. Wires began to glow, with blue auras flowing through their bodies. The podium's black substance turned brilliant white, like it was being heated to near melting, and the ground rumbled beneath his feet. Markev took a step back and shielded his eyes against the blazing lightshow, but before he knew it, it was over.
Alethea lifted the Gift out and reabsorbed it. The room darkened and quieted, and the godly aura surging from her faded. "That is how I power my facility's main functions."
"But what are you even studying?" he asked, gesturing around. "There haven't been any new physics to discover in... in ages."
"Aha!" she said excitedly, eyes upturned happily. "But that's precisely it. What about the field of metaphysics? The physics of physics, the laws that govern what laws come into being. That is what I have been studying. Allow me to show you."
Markev braced himself and, sure enough, they were teleported again. He and Alethea appeared somewhere else again, into a room patterned with purple and blue hexagons and wide glass windows. Before his very eyes, a copy of one of the chairs in his office appeared. Hell, maybe it was the same one.
"Please, sit." He did so, and Alethea hovered lower to stay eye level with him. "Are you familiar with how I made this world?"
How I made this world. What a sentence. "I think so," he said. "You used the Gift of Creation to create it from nothingness, right?"
"But what about before that nothingness?" she pushed.
He wracked his memory for his church lessons. "There was some sort of other world before that, right? An ocean?"
She nodded. "Indeed. One day, the Ocean was engulfed in a brilliant light, and all of the creatures I'd come to know vanished, as if they were never there to begin with. That was when I received the Gift, and that was when I brought this world into being." Alethea frowned and looked at the ground, worriedly. "But, there is something that worries me. That this world... it is not the first time it has happened. I have a friend. Another god, but you wouldn't know him. He keep watch on us from his own little pocket of reality, documenting the history of the mortal world. His presence makes me think that this process is cyclical."
He thought back to his first meeting with her. "You mentioned a historian before. Is that who you mean?" he asked, leaning forward. This was divine knowledge. Did anybody in the world know of this? He felt... he didn't know how he felt.
"The very same," Alethea confirmed. "If my suspicions are correct, then this is not the first time the Gift of Creation has been used to create the world, nor will it be the last. But for that to happen, what will become of this world?" She gestured around herself. "I have spent decades solving the problems of heat death. Successfully, I might add. That is not enough, however. So I use the Gift to conduct my studies into the very nature of our world, the very nature of this... this cycle." Alethea sighed and sank lower.
She looked so... tired.
"I do not know how much time there may be left," she admitted, and Markev's heart skipped a beat.
"What? What do you mean, the world's going to end?" he whispered, breathless, like the goddess's words had punched him in the gut.
"It very well might. We... you mortals have all come so far. You've accomplished so much. But it may all end up swept away like so much dust to make room for the next world. And then the next, and the next. And what will become of us? Become of me? I do not know what gods may come after us, or if they will be able to solve this problem either."
"That's why you came out here," he said. Markev leaned back. "Goodness, that's... that's a lot to take in."
She giggled, raising a hand to her mouth. "Oh, I certainly bet it is!" Alethea shook her head. "Oh, listen to me, laying this sort of weight on you."
"No, no," he said, shaking his hands. "I'm glad you did. I asked for it, after all."
"Mmhmm, well, it certainly is good to meet another curious mind all the way out here! However, I am worried. Despite all my efforts, nothing has been made clearer. The end of the world, it might come at any moment. It might be today. Tomorrow. When the last black hole evaporates. It might happen this very instant." She deflated, resting her head in her hands. "I do not know the mechanism that would end the world, I do not know what might trigger it. I was not able to figure out the purpose of the Ocean, and I fear I may not be able to figure out the workings of the Cycle either. Not in time to save us."
Markev's heart ached. For Alethea to admit she might not be able to solve something, it must've been a truly staggering problem. "Well, I'm sure if anyone can, it's you," he said. "And if you need help, none of us have anything immediately pressing to do."
"Haha!" she laughed quietly. "Oh, thank you for the offer, but I'm afraid I must decline. I get my best work done on my own, after all." She looked up. "Well then. I trust this satisfies your curiosity? After all, it is quite a lot to absorb all at once," she said with a quirk of her lips.
He nodded. "It does. I... kind of wish I didn't know. It feels like a sword hanging over my head."
"It does indeed," she admitted. "But I, for one, will not give up on this. As long as you work hard, you can accomplish anything, and this research must be done." She rose up, and Markev stood to match her. "Please, let me send you back. After all, I do have a rather staggering workload to get to."
"Alright," he said. "I'll see you around."
"Indeed! Until next time, my friend!"
And then he was back home. He was even undressed again. He was even laying on his bed, staring straight up.
Alethea's words weighed on him like a ton of neutronium bricks. A great cycle of worlds, coming into being and ending for the next to begin. What a thing. But... that was good, right? It meant there was more to discover out there, more secrets to unearth, and he hadn't been born too late at all. Maybe he'd been born just in time, even.
He stared up through the glass dome. Alethea's station was still there, humming with a planet's worth of scientific equipment. All around them the skies were black.
Maybe one day they'd light up. A great blazing font of energy would engulf the universe, forcing back the darkness and turning all there was into light, undoing the work of generations in mere moments.
But that day was not today, and there was so much to do until then.
"Computer," he said aloud. "Draw up planetary demolition plans."
"Beyond that... we'll have to wait and see."
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