The End of Forever

By Amanda Cecelia Lang In Proton Reader One

Two-hundred-billion lightyears from Mother Earth, you open your eyes.

You are not alone, for I was created to stay by your side. 

You sit up and take a cautious look around. The Eternity’s lights remain dark for night-cycle. The grotto where we made our bed rests in shadows. Twisting vines cast serpentine silhouettes along the vast domed skyscape. 

What stirred you tonight? The whisper of my footsteps across space and time… the shiver of my voice blowing through those lush dreams of yours? It’s different with every visit. At times, I’m certain the ship still detects me—but you can’t quite believe I’m here, can you? 

Gripping the sheets against your chest, you go very still and listen. 

“Hello?” you whisper. 

Your voice triggers the com. A response, always warm and feminine, floats down to the grotto through the leaves and branches of the infinity garden. “Elara, your heart rate is elevated. Are you troubled?”

You stare at the wrong side of the bed, the empty side. Finally, you answer. “No, Maia. Go back to sleep.”

“You’ve had the dream again.”

“Sleep, Maia.”

“Yes, Elara.”  

The ship returns to stillness and cricket song. You hold your breath. The only other sound is the low, ceaseless hum of Eternity’s flux-engines, a non-sound. We pay no more attention to our acceleration than the Ancients listened to the rotation of the Earth. Fastest starship in the Universe, a heartbeat from lightspeed. Yet, according to Maia, we’ll never see a galaxy up close because our destination isn’t a where but a when

I linger inside the mouth of the grotto, a silhouette against the deep. 

You don’t look up.

I won’t leave you,” I promise. 

You don’t respond. Even the com stays silent. 

After a breathless moment you rise naked, adding gentle curves to the darkness. You pad along the cobblestone paths, through the swaying wisterias and weeping willows, toward the outermost boundary of the garden’s observation dome. Here, our tiny world ends and the icy death of the Universe begins.

  You stare out. Millions of dimming galaxies dust the ever-expanding void. The cooling embers of red dwarfs, the cosmic husks of once magnificent worlds, the silently screaming mouths of countless blackholes. The Earth is back there somewhere beyond the lightyears—if anything more than cold rubble exists of it after so many countless eons. As we continue to accelerate, time performs an exotic dance: one hour on our Eternity equals nearly 100,000 years on Earth.

We carry green-and-blue memories of humanity’s planet, you and I—though we’ve never ourselves walked there. For us, there’s only ever been the Eternity and the desolate trek between galaxies, beyond time. We exist in a realm outside the mortal hours of stars and mankind. Ancient suns blink out over the course of our lazy afternoons.

You press your palm against the dome and fog the glass with your breath, creating a stencil of your hand like when we were children. 

I float my dark hand atop yours. Our rings overlap. 

But you don’t see. 

The Universe reflects in your eyes, forgotten worlds evanescing into the abyss. 

Are you searching for me out there?

I’m right here,” I whisper. 

A tear escapes down your cheek as I drift closer. Though the garden rests at perfect summertime temperatures, you prickle with gooseflesh and wrap up for warmth inside your own arms.

It’s been thirteen days since I died.

It’s possible you’re the last living human in the Universe. 

Day-cycle rises on the Eternity. A golden-orange horizon glimmers around the dome, blooming with ersatz sunlight. Early flowers stretch their petals, koi flicker in the projection pond, and in high-branched trees, robins and goldfinches perform a dawn chorus recorded eons ago. 

As the sunrise caresses your sunken cheekbones, the Celestial Song swells throughout our tiny self-contained world. Warbling, planetary, haunting, a daily reminder hymn of who we are and once were.  

As always, the vibration of the Song stirs a primal ache within me. 

A curiosity, a longing to answer the call of the Universe.  

To understand why I now exist as wind—what the ancients in their mythologies called a specter, a soul, a spirit. I possess no legs until I think to walk, no hands until I reach out. Flesh and bones come and go, though my mind exists always. 

Exists for you. 

So why can’t you hear me? 

It’s proper, during the first hour of morning-cycle, to sit in meditation and absorb the ancient memories of our creators.

You stand defiantly at the edge of the garden. You haven’t meditated since I died, and like the stars your fire grows ever dimmer. I drift closer and whisper immodest promises into your ear as I did in life, hoping to see you laugh and blush and sparkle with mischief.

You don’t react. 

The new morning passes, hours and eons, but without me, you have stopped.

Inevitably, the rattle of galley trays carries down the path.   

“Forgive the intrusion, but we’re nearing midday.” Maia appears between the willows, a matronly silhouette balancing a tray. “You’ve abandoned your morning rituals. That’s alarming enough. I cannot allow you to skip another meal.”  

Your gaze shifts dully, following Maia’s tragic reflection in the dome as she approaches.  

After nineteen years of tending over us, she’s become a relic. The synthetic flesh that once warmed and cradled us stretches bare along her edges, exposing her private inner meshwork. If only Alpha and Rigel had included replacement flesh when they programmed her as our caregiver. Of course, there was much our creators neglected to consider when they launched us on this mission.  

Maia calculates your vitals and your heartache. “You must eat.”

“There’s nothing left for me,” you whisper, voice so empty it barely contains breath. “Nobody left for me.”

“The Promised Hour is left for you.” Maia strokes a tangle from your hair, and you stiffen at her automated touch. 

“I’ve already witnessed the end of everything,” you say. “It happened two Sundays ago.”

“That was not the end, Elara. You have eighty-eight years yet to thrive.”

“There was meant to be two of us.”  

“There still is…” I kneel beside you on bones of wind. As long as I can still see you and hear you and love you, I won’t leave you.

You return your gaze to the void. 

But Maia’s expression seizes briefly, freezing on that disembodied gaze she gets when she probes the Eternity’s archives. Has she registered me? Some anomaly flickering across the psychometric sensors? Or is this micro-pause another symptom of mechanical decay? 

“Maia?” I appeal to the eyes that raised us. Wet, hazel, convincingly human. “Do you read me, Maia?”

She shuffles past me. “If you won’t eat, Elara, then it’s time to listen. There’ve been developments.”  

Developments? I rise on ephemeral feet. Does she mean me?

You ignore her. “Will you mourn me when I die, Maia?” 

“You will not die, Elara. You will witness the Promised Hour and fulfill your purpose within the Universe.” 

“My purpose? And what of Castor’s purpose? He and I were created to outlast space and time. A simple broken branch undid him.”

Maia pauses, probing. “And yet he still exists.”

“Yes, in cold storage.” 

“He’s also here.”

You raise your chin. So do I.

“I detect him in your irregular heartbeat and in your memories. He’s strongest, however, during night-cycle. Your dreams indicate—”

“Some dreams are private,” you say, but the conviction has left you. It’s the same futile argument you’ve been having with her since we were ten. Monitoring our thoughts and dreams is essential to Maia’s prime directive.

“Yes, Elara, but you must hear me. Over the past thirteen days, your psychometric activity has grown increasingly anomalous. Similar rhythms have only been recorded once before. Billions of eons ago. Do you understand what this means?”

You do, but you shake your head. 

“The data suggests you are on the verge of a Vision. Perhaps if you tried meditating—” 

“Sleep, Maia.”

“Yes, Elara.” Her eyes dim. A tiny death, one she’ll recover from in an hour. A backdoor to her programming we discovered serendipitously when we were seventeen—same year we discovered each other’s bodies. 

Of course, many backdoor functions exist on the ship. While a strict regimen of education, health, and meditation are essential to our wellbeing, so is our freedom. Our creators did all they could to ensure the euphoria of the bodies we inhabit.

Except, I no longer possess a body.

You walk through me as easily as the glistening mist which haunts the garden and return to the spot where I died.

To perform your new ritual.

You drift barefoot across the garden’s lush center island to our ancient knotted cherry tree. Maia removed my jagged-necked body and the branch that dropped me, but the indentations remain in the tall grass next to the fruit I gathered. 

Plump and scattered and thirteen days rotten. You forbade Maia to touch it.

You select a large cherry then press it to your lips, briefly closing your eyes. 

I miss kissing you, too,” I whisper. 

Your hand slumps to your side. 

“Play Alpha and Rigel, bio-historical message EY3733, thirty-seven-minute mark,” you say flatly, surprising me. Since I died, you’ve replayed the bio-historical holo of my final minutes of life over seventy times. 

This is the first time you’ve summoned our creators. 

The com beeps, the air ripples with buzzing light, and an elderly couple join you on the island. 

Rigel Castor Mallick and Alpha Elara Mallick. 

They stand serenely, linking arms, and follow you with their holo-realistic gazes. 

There’s no denying the fragility of their age. Their bones tremble beneath the weight of decades. Yet they hold themselves with dignity and their eyes radiate hopeful vitality. Alpha’s lovely-boned, deeply wrinkled face echoes a lifetime of laughter and discovery. Rigel’s time-etched angles deepen when he smiles at her, heartful and sage. I would’ve looked exactly like him, if I’d lived eighty-eight years longer. Just as you will mirror Alpha when you grow old. 

At the thirty-seven-minute mark of their ancient message, Rigel has already explained how we are their creations, yet so much more. 

We are Rigel and Alpha. 

Replicas of flesh and memory, shot through the cosmos, reborn on the outermost edge of time to fulfill the sacred mission they grew too old to accomplish. 

Now, everything that was theirs is ours, duty, purpose. Even the rings we wear are the wedding rings from their first life. Primordial relics of gold, reminders of who we are and who we were. 

Reminders that their love makes us eternal. Chosen.

“You’ve condemned me,” you say, barely a whisper because they can’t hear you anyway. “Why?”

“Sweet Elara, brave Castor, listen and understand,” Rigel says—my voice made raspy with age. “You are two of the most important human beings who will ever live. Your story is the final page of a vastly long book.” 

This isn’t a direct answer to your grief, of course, just the rambling sermon that’s defined us since we were children. 

My mind doubles as it always does when I hear Rigel’s voice. Echoes of his wisdom already exist within me. His sermon isn’t mine—though I almost remember speaking it—just as I almost remember walking on Earth as Rigel and Alpha once walked there on their honeymoon. 

You lower your head, staring dolefully at the fruit in your hand.

“Humankind exists to witness the Universe,” Rigel reminds us. “Since the early pages of creation, humanity has raced across boundless savannas, breathing deep of new horizons, gazing forever skyward. The Ancients of Earth vibrated with the call of the Celestial Song, and they embraced their roles as the eyes, ears, and hearts with which the Universe longed to explore itself. 

“Flip forward through humanity’s pages—past the earliest migrations, past the wanderers and seafarers, past all manner of earthly adventurers—and you’ll find us, humankind living out its destiny within the cosmos. From Earth’s moon to other planets to other star systems, and inevitably other galaxies. The lust for exploration—to witness—calls humanity onward.” 

“The most beautiful experiences we have are with the mysterious,” Alpha says. At the petal-soft sound of your own voice, you raise your head. 

She’s right,” I whisper, standing gossamer before you. 

You see right through me. 

“Naturally, in our Universe, there are always unexplored horizons.” Rigel tilts his head toward the domed sky—a view that in their lifetime shone with the fertile light of a billion-billion galaxies, but for us cradles the ever-blooming void. “For some, it isn’t the vast outer limits of space that beckons, but the limits of time itself.” 

Alpha strokes the side of Rigel’s trim silver beard. “We were newlyweds wandering the Helix Nebula when the mysterious found us. Or rather, found my dear Rigel.” 

“The Celestial Song graced me with a Vision,” Rigel says. 

Your attention sharpens. Visions. Purpose. Is that why you’re replaying this message?

“A Vision of the end of time—and the blueprints for an immortal starship. One that could transcend the boundaries of creation and transport two people forward to the Promised Hour. Humanity’s final calling: witness the death of the Universe.” 

“That ship, Castor and Elara, is your Eternity,” Alpha says. “We agonized over the implications of such a mission. Please believe me, we did. But without us there will be no witness.” Alpha sparkles up at her husband. “And who knows what awaits us on the other side of time.”

You shake your head. “There’s nothing.”

“We made our decision at the age of twenty-three—and irony had its way with us.” Rigel rasps a laugh with lungs as brittle as ancient scrolls. “The Universe guided our hand in building an immortal vessel, though we ourselves are not immortal. Construction of the Eternity took a lifetime. Now, I fear these bodies are too weathered to complete this most remarkable journey. Dying, in fact.” 

“Yet, ours is a gift of two lifetimes,” Alpha says. “Which brings us to you, bright Elara, noble Castor, here on humanity’s final page—”

“Pause holo,” you command. 

You approach our creators with a sunken, passionless expression. They gaze at you unseeingly, their tranquility frozen in time. Red juice drips from the cherry clenched in your fist. 

“Two lifetimes? The Universe lied to you. It’s cruel, selfish. It wants a witness? The almighty cosmos doesn’t want to die alone? Then it should’ve known better!” You hurl the fruit at them. “Now we all die alone.”

No we don’t, Elara,” I promise. 

But you don’t hear me.

Night-cycle descends on the Eternity. Sunlight bleeds into a bruised purple horizon and succumbs to our blackhole nightscape. The ageless chirps of nocturnal creatures spread throughout the garden. You relent to Maia’s insistence that you take a meal. But once the bread is eaten, you resume your neglect of duty and ritual.

It’s the hour for evening meditation. 

You put Maia to sleep when she reminds you then cut away toward the island—presumably to replay the holo of my death for the tenth time since summoning our creators. I cannot bear hearing my neck crack again, so I linger beside Maia. 

“Maia?” I say. “Do you read me?” But our caregiver’s stasis doesn’t flicker. 

With a hollow sigh, I face the Universe. As I drift here, the eons unravel more galaxies. Yet here I burn, somehow, someway. 


With sudden unease, the desire for ritual overtakes me.

According to Rigel, the Celestial Song vibrates with every truth—perhaps a meditation session will reveal a way to reach you. 

Usually, it’s our practice to sit together, your knee pressed against my knee, eyes closed as the Song radiates through us. 

We are humanity. 

We are witness. 

We are the essence of our creators. 

Since we came of age at sixteen—the year Alpha and Rigel first met—meditation has marked the hour when our ancient memories bloom inside us. Barefoot memories of African beaches, suited spacewalks outside rainbow nebulas, deepwater dives into alien oceans…

Though our creators spent their first years together, touring neighboring galaxies on a two-man vessel, the majority of our memories, thus far, herald from Earth. It’s a gift: our ability to exist lightyears from our long-extinct planet, yet still feel as if we’ve walked there. The honeymoon month Rigel and Alpha spent touring Earth’s historic preservation parks shines especially vivid. Memories of the flora-haunted ruins of ancient cities like Paris and Dubai. Or their visit to Cueva de las Manos, where mankind’s earliest ancestors stenciled handprints on cave walls as if declaring: I was here, I existed at the beginning. Then, of course, there was the floating hotel suite above the Great Pyramids… 

Memories of Earth taught us many wonders. 

After experiencing our first flashes of the wedding bed, you turned to me, blushing. We were barely eighteen, and you grew more lovely with every sunrise. 

“Are we meant to do that?” you said.

“Don’t you want to?”

“Very much so.” And oh, your smile.

  After that, we embraced the dewy nature of our bodies. 

And we always looked forward to meditation and everything the memories of our creators taught us about our heritage. By the time we reach the Promised Hour, we’ll have recalled their entire lives. 

I sit in lotus position and open myself to the abyss, but the Celestial Song doesn’t answer. I have no breath to reflect upon. No brain tissue to spark. My ancient memories remain eerily silent. 

Perhaps without flesh, my ties to Rigel have found their end.

In a past life, I would’ve chuckled at this ridiculous predicament of being a spirit. Rigel always enjoyed it when the Universe surprised him, from the pure joy of his wife’s laughter to the birth of a galaxy to a quiet midnight Vision of an immortal starship—awe is awe, microcosmic or macrocosmic.

And yet, as I linger here unseen, it grows harder to find awe in my state of being. 

A wave of light ripples across my spectral eyelids. 

A memory! It sweeps over me as all Rigel’s memories do—like starlight reflecting on dark waters. My vision dazzles, sharpens, and the reflection bursts to life around me. Except…

Except, instead of transforming into some mysterious other world, the infinity garden remains lush around me. 

I’m puzzled. 

Rigel’s memories never take place on the Eternity.

I turn my head. Alpha lounges naked in the infinity garden’s larkspur meadow. She’s young, about our age and—I blink. She isn’t Alpha.

She’s you. 

This memory belongs to me

I step closer, step into the moment. 

You lie on your back, facing the dome, dark hair fanned, cheeks rosy as you conduct light-poetry with graceful flicks of fingers and wrists. The latest of a thousand fleeting hobbies. Each word sparks and glitters in the air above us, igniting our blackened skyscape with stars and stanzas. 

Yet another poem about those plucky ancient mariners. 

“This honor you hoist upon me is a grave responsibility,” I tease, lounging at your side—and, yes, I know this moment! 

It happened the previous summer-cycle.

“A grave responsibility?” You giggle. “How so?” 

“You conduct the poetry, I’m forced to read it. Imagine how you’d feel if I dedicated myself to singing sea shanties every afternoon.”

“Do you know any sea shanties?” you ask, genuinely hopeful. Lately, you’ve grown fascinated by the seafaring customs of the Ancients. 

“I know many a sea shanty,” I say. “That’s not the point. I’d be too busy reading your poetry to sing them.”

“Well, dear Castor, have you considered that my poetry isn’t for you? It’s for everyone else in the Universe. You just happen to be the hog of it all.”

“Everyone else?” I sit up and peer down at you. “Who else do you suppose still exists out there?”

You sit up, flower petals glistening in your hair, and meet my gaze quite seriously. “Perhaps Rigel wasn’t the only one to have a Vision. Perhaps other humans conceived of starships like the Eternity. Maybe they’re out there waiting for a signal from us.”

A vine of unease snakes through me at the prospect. 

“Impossible,” I say. “Rigel was chosen. We were chosen.”

“There’ve been many chosen explorers since the dawn. Human visionaries who built miraculous vessels.”

“Even if there are others out here, we’d never find them. Our trajectory’s too random, and the Universe is boundless.”

“Still, it’s possible? Right?” 

In an infinite Universe—even a dying one—anything’s possible. You sound so hopeful. You wish to meet someone new? An alien emotion oozes inside me, and I can’t stop the impulse to prove your theory wrong. 

“Not to mention, at our current time dilation it’d be nearly impossible to communicate with them.”  

“Don’t pretend you know how the Eternity functions.” You tap my forehead with your fingertips.

“I will one day—once I recall Rigel’s Vision of the ship’s blueprints, I’ll know everything.”

“Until then, allow me my daydreams. Don’t you have faith in humanity? Surviving this long, I mean?”

“I have faith in the Vision of my creator. And Rigel said we’re meant to be the last.” 

“No. He said our story is mankind’s final page. For all we know that page could be a vast scroll. There could be countless other stories written on it.” 

“Are you so bored of me?” I say. “Daydreaming about someone else?”

“Of course not! We belong to each other. But wouldn’t it be incredible?” You poke my chest. “To have someone else around to read all my dreadful poems?” 

“Not so dreadful,” I say. “Actually, I quite enjoy hearing your odes to the Ancients.”

You snort, not convinced. Still, you have the grace to pivot the subject. “Did you know the Ancients once believed the Earth was flat? If they sailed too far, they thought they’d tumble right over the edge of the world.” 

“Now that’s silly.” 

“Some explorers marked the uncharted regions of their maps with the phrase ‘here be dragons’. Later on, others misinterpreted that to mean kraken, giant squid, mysterious sea creatures—when what it really meant was that section of the planet was still unknown. Can you imagine?”

“Not as vividly as you.”

“Did you know they used the stars to navigate?”

“Just like the Eternity.”

You laugh. “Not at all like the Eternity. They were inside the Milky Way. Their view was much different. Stars surrounded them. At night, the light could blind you. Constellations hung so close the Ancients could reach up and almost grab them.” 

Unlike us, who reach but touch only void. I don’t say that though, because I truly do enjoy hearing you wax poetic about the Ancients. People long-dead who still capture our imaginations. 

“Wouldn’t that be something,” I say. 

“Do you think they knew how blessed they were to witness the dawn of—dawn of—” Your voice ripples, your rosy face ripples… light upon the water.

The memory ends. 

I snap back into my spectral self.

All around me, the ship’s red-alarms pulse. 

Something’s wrong!

Where are you? The now you?  

I spot Maia in the trees, running faster than I’ve ever seen the old girl move. As she passes, I’m certain we lock eyes for the briefest instant. 

But she doesn’t stop. Something has happened.

I chase her. She breaks through the wisteria grove and splashes across the projection pond to our island. We find you lying fetal beneath the cherry tree, curled around the holo projection of my corpse.

The holo flickers, frozen in time. My head rests at an unnatural angle on my neck and my dark skin has gone ashen. You fell asleep like this? Elara, this holo isn’t me, just cold archives of soulless data. 

I’m right here.”  

You rise to your elbows, blinking, clearly annoyed at the ship’s alarm and Maia’s intrusion into the private theater of your grief.

“What now?” you demand. 

“There’ve been developments,” Maia says. “A miracle has occurred. I’ve detected a Vision.”

You drop your shoulders and swipe your hand through the holo of my broken body. “I didn’t have a Vision. Only nightmares.”

“I don’t mean you, Elara,” Maia insists. “The Vision belonged to Castor.”

It’s as if you rise from a waking dream. You stare at Maia, and in this gauzy moment perhaps you recall the past many nights when I stirred you from sleep. Perhaps a part of you already believes.

“How could Castor have a Vision?”

“Do you recall the mythologies you studied two autumn-cycles ago?” Maia says. “The tales of Earth structures with human essences residing within the ruins? Anomalies known as spirits?”

“Those are only stories. Lies.”

Maia’s expression remains ever earnest. “Elara, hear me. Over the past thirteen days, numerous anomalies skipped across my sensors. Extremely faint at first. Likely an atmospheric aftereffect of your intense sorrow. But seventeen minutes ago, a burst of psychometric activity exploded throughout the ship—the precise brain activity produced by Rigel during his blessed Vision. This new Vision flared with the intensity of a supernova and lasted precisely seven minutes. Then my sensors flared again, and I captured a read on Castor’s vitals.”

You shake your head, because hope is painful.

“Have I ever lied to you?” Maia says. 

Naturally, she hasn’t. Absolute truth is embedded into her programming. We just have to ask the right questions. 

“Castor is with us still,” Maia says. “His spirit stands beside you.”

“That’s not funny, Maia.”

It’s true,” I say—surprised when the ship translates my spectral voice. My words buzz and echo. 

You gasp and recoil from where I stand. 

I chuckle at the miracle. My laughter ripples the air, and you gasp again. 

“Joyous evening-cycle, Castor,” Maia says. “Forgive me if I previously neglected you.” 

All’s forgiven,” I assure her as the unceasing wonders of the Universe swell around us. The ship can hear me. You can hear me! 

“Castor’s dead,” you whisper.

Yet the Universe allows me to exist.” I step toward you. As I do, a glimmer ripples the air, and my hands and arms appear in rapid pulses of holo-realistic light. The ship mimics the contours of my face and flesh and devotion, and we lock eyes. 

For the first moment in thirteen days, I feel whole. 

For the first moment since my death, a flicker of life returns to you, a fragile glow, the blush of the girl who once laid with me amid the larkspur. 


Who else did you expect?” 

Tears sharpen your disbelief, your furious hope, reflecting the ersatz shimmer of my holo. “How?”

I never left you.” But beyond that I scarcely have the words to explain this mystery the Universe has gifted us. Instead, I drop to my knees and reach for your hands. 

My holo passes through you.

I pass right through you.  

You stagger back. Your bare heel finds my scattered fruit and you slip and fall against the tree trunk. Maia hurries to assist you, but you can’t look away from me. 

“No,” you whisper, “it’s not him. I saw the light leave him. Maia, stop holo.”

I am that light,” I say.

“Maia, stop holo!”

My holo freezes mid-motion, and I stumble forward, again unseen. 

“Perhaps Elara should hear about the Vision the Universe has granted you, Castor,” Maia suggests. 

My Vision?” 

“Yes,” Maia says. “It registered extremely bright, beyond all spectrums. My sensors failed to translate it.”

I don’t remember a Vision.

Her gaze falls distant as she scans the archives. “I’m not mistaken, Castor.”

I meditated. I had a memory.” I pause. “Not Rigel’s. It was my memory.” 

“Tell us more.”

It was from the previous summer-cycle—” 

“Silence him, Maia! Silence!” You stagger away from us. “That’s not his voice, not him speaking.”  

You wrap yourself in shivering arms and rush across the bridge, past the koi flickering in the projection pond. “Open Below Deck,” you command. The cobblestone pathway scrapes and slides and rearranges into a narrow staircase. 

“Where are you going, Elara?” Maia says. 

“You can read minds. You tell me.” 

You rush downstairs into the maze of Below Deck. Our boxy childhood nursery waits at the end of the main passageway. Even as children, we preferred sleepovers in the grotto, though we often played here in the flat belly of the ship. Our childish drawings still stain the walls. Star constellations, handprints like in the caves on Earth. Maia always indulged our creative whims. 

You head in the opposite direction. Past the control bridge, past our galley and food storage, past the artifact museum, past the engines… toward the darkest corner of the ship.

“Elara, your heart rate is elevated,” Maia says—at the same instant, I beg: “Don’t be afraid.

You clamp your ears. 

“This isn’t possible! Castor’s gone! Just as Alpha and Rigel have abandoned us.”  

The door to sick bay opens. You race to cold storage and unlock my death chamber. As you roll out my jagged, subzero corpse, I freeze in the entranceway… 

My neckbones jut out, surreal, impossibly grisly.

Maia dashes through me with a hasty apology. 

You kiss my frozen lips—but unlike the fairytales Maia recited to us as children, my corpse doesn’t wake up. You tug Rigel’s wedding ring off my rigid hand and fit it onto your thumb.

“Hear me, Elara.” Urgency hardens our caregiver’s tone. “What you’re planning is ill-advised.” 

“So was this mission. Sleep, Maia.”

Maia dims.    

You push my gurney into the hallway and wheel me down another shadowy corridor to the red door—the one place on the Eternity that’s forbidden to us. 

The ship’s only airlock. 

The com buzzes with red-warnings, but you override the blockades with startling ease—our freedom on this ship is imperative to our happiness, after all. 

The hatch spirals open with an illicit whoosh. 

A glimmer of curiosity sharpens your eyes, lighting you up for the barest instant as you appraise the forbidden area beyond. A sleek, solitary spacesuit hovers in the center of a narrow chamber.

You approach it, wearing an expression of terrified awe. I’m certain I hear the wild raging of your heart.

Spacewalks are dangerously complex and thus prohibited. Eternity’s spacesuit is intended for emergency hull repairs only. Despite possessing vivid memories of spacewalks performed by Alpha and Rigel, our procedural knowledge remains nominal. At nineteen, our creators were tourists, not engineers. 

The ship issues more red-warnings as you lock yourself into the spacesuit. You override them and reach for the helmet. 

You’re being reckless,” I say. 

“You’re not him!” 

“We are more than flesh! What are you trying to prove?”

“He deserves a proper burial.”

Furiously, you kiss my lips for the final time and whisper something only my corpse hears.

Then you lock your helmet into place. 

As you wheel me toward the second hatch, I remember your stories of sailors buried at sea. I wonder if any of them stood as spirits at the stern, helpless to comfort their fellow travelers. 

More red-warnings. The hatch opens. You wheel me into the airlock and secure the gurney. The magnetic soles in your boots lock you to the floor, preparing for zero gravity.

Elara, you’re smarter than this. Please!

We’ve never been outside the ship. Your voice trembles as you issue the commands to unseal the outermost airlock. 

It’s been eons since the Eternity opened her mouth and sighed. As the outer hatch releases, the entire ship shudders. The air surges out in a silent scream. 

Your breath escapes you in a rush of dire awe. 

With clunky magnetized steps, you find the edge of the Eternity. 

Dim, distorted galaxies pinprick the vast expanse even as the disquieting darkness sucks the light from our eyes. The abyss greets us. Emotionless, inevitable, hideously magnificent.

The Promised Hour is coming. 

Our debris shield is the only thing guarding us from the Universe’s cosmic death throes. It surrounds us like a faint prismatic bubble, obliterating dust particles and cradling us inside Eternity’s time dilation. 

“He was everything I loved. My true purpose.” You unstrap my corpse and, weeping broken prayers inside your helmet, shove me adrift.

My empty shell pinwheels weightless through the silence…



Toward the shield.

Your breathing goes ragged, foolhardy misery swelling inside you. And something else. I recognize that impulsive, quixotic gleam—and that cherry-stained frown of regret twisting your resolve.

A ripple of dread overtakes me. 

“What have I done?” 

Elara, don’t!

But you’ve stopped hearing me again. 

You disengage your magnetic boots. The ship’s red-alarms go wild. I reach for you, but you step through me and leap off the side of the Eternity. 

Flying. Reaching for my far-flung body as if you can resurrect me. 

I bound after you. 

You glide forward, alarmingly fast. Even so, you won’t reach my body before it finds the ship’s merciless shield. And you’ve clearly forgotten how to control your suit properly. 

You’re losing your target. Soaring, drifting, reaching with one hand. The uneven momentum twists you in a gentle circle and the ghost-reflection of the Eternity glides across your faceplate. 

We witness it in the same instant.

Our ship, our world, our magnificent domed paradise aglow and alive with buds and forests and slithering vines.

And below that…my vision ripples with astonishment. 

Below that…the ship extends downward like the fang of a serpent.

A massive region of our tiny world we never knew existed. 

Wonder washes the entropy from your eyes, and you gasp. 

“Here be dragons…”

The Eternity expands before us, encompassing the full glory of Rigel’s immortal Vision. The ship’s darkened lower hull extends downward, twice as long as our dome is wide. 

A fang, a root, a mystery. 

We drink in the unknown, utterly transfixed. We are as the Ancients setting sail to new lands, the mighty ache of curiosity a-thrum in our chests. The Celestial Song swells within, daring us to wonder, calling to us. 

Even as the Eternity pulls ever farther away.

I break from my awe. “Elara! You’re drifting!  

The vacuum of space swallows my voice. Everything turns chaotic. Your rotating suit twists your view of the ship back to the shield.

My corpse is a shadow in the distance. 

You’re too late. The shield catches my remains, flesh and bone and ice, and obliterates me in a pitiless pulsar of radiance. 

The faceplate protects your vision. Even so, you’re dazzled, devastated. You shriek my name.

There’s no time to convince you I still exist. Red-alarms flash inside your helmet. You’re flying too swiftly from the ship. The shield’s deadly web cuts in fast, roughly a hundred corpse-lengths away… 

Now ninety… 

Now eighty… 

But you don’t take control of your suit! Why aren’t you taking control? 

Either you don’t see the danger you’re in—or you don’t care.

Damn it, Elara, I refuse to watch you die! Not until you are 107 years old and the Promised Hour is upon us. 

Defying physics, defying space and time and death, I rush to you like celestial wind, face to face, close enough to kiss. Inside your helmet, the com catches my voice. “Elara, the shield! Activate your thrusters!

The slow spin of your suit twists your view back to the Eternity… drifting quickly away. At last, a bladed gleam of fear flashes through you.

“Maia!” You fumble with the control panel on your arm. “Maia, help me!” 

Maia’s asleep in sick bay. It’s just you and me out here. You can do this. Thrusters!” 

“I don’t know how. I’ve never done this.”

Yes, you have. Alpha performed thousands of spacewalks.”   

Now fifty… 

You sob. “I’m not Alpha, I—”

You’re Alpha where it counts. If you can override red-alarms, you can activate your thrusters!” 

You squeeze your eyes tight, but it’s impossible to slow your breath, to meditate on Alpha. Your suit twists back to face the shield. 

Now thirty…

Do this for me!

Trembling, terrified, you punch a code into the control panel on your arm. An electric blue toggle appears, a holo. You glide your hand over it. Oxygen jets from the front of your suit, hurling you backward toward the ship. 

Sailing, tumbling without me. Much too fast, and your trajectory is off! 

Pull back!” I cry, not sure if the com catches me.

You fumble the controls but miss, disoriented, panic spinning you through the void. You’re going to crash against the side of the ship! 


You find your controls, and blast wildly to the side. The airlock swallows you at a hard angle, and you skid along the inner wall, slamming boots-first into the far end of the chamber.

The hatch closes behind you. Gravity returns. You clatter to the ground. Sound and oxygen swirl around the chamber. 

Wobbling onto your knees, you twist your helmet off with a pressurized hiss and sob, “Castor?”

I’m right here.

“Play holo.” 

Zig-zags of electric radiance flicker the air, and I appear before you on my knees, cupping your face with hands of light and wind. “Are you injured?

“No.” You hesitate. “…You?”

Only my heart.

“I destroyed you. I wasn’t thinking, I…”

“You’ll have to try harder than that to get rid of me.

You sob with laughter, reach out with your shaking gloved hands—and pass right through me. Wincing sharply, you pull away again and clutch your chest. You shake your head. “I dreamt of this, of you. Every night-cycle.”

Those weren’t dreams. I’ve been with you since I died.”

Another sobbing laugh. “I want you to be real. Want it so deeply—I know it can’t be true.”

But it is.

“How? Every nuance of Castor’s life has been archived, just like our creators. You might be nothing but cold algorithms. How can I know you aren’t the ship playing out the prime directive?” 

Don’t say that. The Universe has gifted us. Everything’s as it was meant to be.

You draw back. “How can you say that? Everything’s either dead or dying.”

Because Maia’s right. I had a Vision. Here be dragons! The Eternity’s more than we imagined, Elara. And the Universe wants us to discover it.

“Maia, wake.”

At your voice, our caregiver’s eyes glisten with the illusion of humanity. During our lifetime, this gentle creature of synthetic warmth has been a spectrum of people. In Maia we have known a mother, a playmate, an educator, a navigator… 

And now, she’s to be our key. 

I’m certain. Rigel and Alpha wouldn’t have left us without one.

Maia appraises us—you, with an elevated pulse and the aftermath of spirits and spacewalks. And me, visible once again to you and her sensors, the everlasting golden boy of her prime directive. 

“The ship,” you demand. “Have you known all along?”

Her gaze shifts as she scans the archives. She knows instantly what we saw outside the Eternity. Her eyes narrow on us. But instead of reprimanding us for our forbidden spacewalk, she says, “Dragons, indeed. This day was inevitable. Initiating divergent discovery protocol.”

Divergent discovery?” we echo and link eyes. 

It’s as I thought. A key.

“Your presence is requested in the infinity garden,” Maia says.

You go very still, heartbeat riotous. “Who requested our presence?” 

“It is not my place to explain.” 

You and I exchange silent exhilaration. We’ve been lied to, certainly we have—yet we cannot dispel our curiosity. Beautiful mysteries, dragons.

Maia in the lead, we ascend the staircase to the garden and follow her to our island.

Alpha and Rigel await us beneath the cherry tree. 

She stands regal in silver braids and silk. Rigel, beside her, appears noble and audacious all at once. He meets my holographic eyes. 

I stare into myself. 

Yet I cannot say I see myself. 

“Inquisitive Elara, fearless Castor.” Alpha claps her hands at each of us in turn, ever gracious. “You’ve uncovered one of our secrets.”

“You’ll never be punished for breaking new boundaries,” Rigel assures us. “Your longing for mystery makes you human. Yet, in this moment, you feel confused. Unsure of where you stand within the Universe. Do you not?” 

Yes,” I say, voice echoing. 

Rigel nods sagely. “Understandable. Perhaps you even think to accuse us of deceit. Yet unanswered secrets add spice to life, do they not?” 

You swipe a hand through Rigel’s shoulder, cut clean through him. 

As you cut through me. 

“They’re not real, Maia.” Your voice cracks, your disappointment pulses.  

“Of course they are. They’re as real as you and Castor.” Maia takes your hand, the only one who can. I expect you to yank away, an act of defiance. But you curl your fingers around her like you did as a small girl waking from nightmares of our blackhole sky.  

“Please listen,” she insists.

“We gifted you a paradise.” Rigel’s holo-realistic eyes glide between us, kind yet accusing. 

“We want you to experience a full, blissful lifetime before the Promised Hour.” Alpha loops her arms around Rigel and holds him close. “Yet, to ensure your harmony, it’s been necessary to withhold certain truths.”

“Truths you weren’t meant to discover,” Rigel admits. “Of course, our Universe loves surprises. If you’re watching this, our plan for you hasn’t gone untarnished. Even so, I have faith that all is as the Universe intends. The mystery you’ve uncovered has answers.”

“We’ll never lie to ourselves,” Alpha promises.

“Even if the truths we must tell complicate our existence.” Rigel loops his arm around Alpha, and together, they step away from the cherry tree. Near the indentation marking my death, the ground trembles and a hatch spiral open. Grass and soil rain into the hole. 

A staircase.

“Naturally, the choice to move forward is yours,” Rigel says. “If you want my opinion, some truths are best left sleeping. Life should be simple. Especially these days.”

“May I suggest, instead, a peaceful stroll through the redwoods?” Alpha says. 

I hesitate. What dragons wait for us below? Did the Ancients ever regret new lands? Turn back now, here be dragons. In fact, I suspect here be monsters, the fearful beasts of yore. The secrets that undo us. They come in many forms. In fables and in lies. 

Yet the Universe granted me a Vision. 

And even if it hadn’t, you’ve already let go of Maia’s hand. 

You step toward me. 

I haven’t realized just how hollow, how colorless, how despairing you’ve become until I see you flush with life again. You need this to be wonderful. Yet what can we hope to find? Another museum? Another garden? What more do we need? 

What more do you need? 

I stare into you, your eyes so buoyant. So alive. 

“We want to see, right, Castor? What’s down there. Who’s down there.”

Who else are you searching for? 

My entire spirit aches, yet I cannot say no to you. 

Yes, Elara.”

You turn to our creators. “Show us.” 

Their holo redirects, their image flickers. Are their smiles heavier?

Rigel bows his head. “As you wish.”

“Now,” Alpha says, “please hold hands, hold each other close. Find comfort in the other’s warmth—as we take comfort in knowing our hearts beat side by side.”

They don’t know I’m dead. Naturally, they don’t—as Rigel’s replica I was designed to meet the Promised Hour. 

“It’s okay,” you say, but your eyes threaten fresh tears. I’m desperate to take your hand, embrace you, kiss you, comfort you. 

Without flesh, I’ve never felt so naked. 

Together always,” I promise, but the sallow yellow light emanating from the hatch glows like a toxic alien planet here in our lush infinity garden. Already I mourn the days we danced here and loved here and composed dreadful light poetry in perfect ignorance of my death and our uncharted world. I’m sorry those moments couldn’t last forever. 

“I’ll be right here when you need me, dear ones,” Maia says, straightening into standby posture. 

“Thank you, Maia,” Rigel and Alpha auto-reply. Then, always together, they lead us down a spiral staircase into the mouth of Eternity’s dragon. 

We descend through a cave. 

A hushed subterranean passageway reminiscent of those once cradled inside Earth’s vast mountains—like the firelit stone touched by the charcoal hands of Ancient humans—wanderers who, even now, whisper to us across the starless eons. 

I was here…

Only, instead of natural walls of stone, our cave is a deep, human-made stairwell. Smooth white walls twist downward, lit with artificial ambience. 

And covered with hundreds upon hundreds of human handprints.  

Charcoal-blown outlines like the tiny hand-stencils we used to dust across the walls of our childhood nursery—only not.  

Have we been here before?” I whisper and my voice echoes, above us, below us. 

Breathless with wonder, you place your hand inside one of the prints. 

It matches perfectly.

I lift my flickering hand and find a print that mirrors me. 

You face Alpha and Rigel. “Are these yours?”

“Everything on the Eternity is yours and ours,” Alpha says. “Please explore freely as we continue on.” She and Rigel descend around the curve of the staircase, steadying each other’s aged steps as they disappear from sight. 

That’s not an answer,” I say. 

You hold your palm against another handprint and tilt your head back. “They’re everywhere. Like stars in Earth’s sky.” 

Yes, but who put them here? 

We hurry after our creators. Awe and unease chase me downward, and I wonder if you’re starting to suspect the same thing I am. The handprints grow so numerous they overlap by the time the stairwell ends at a closed hatchway. 

Rigel and Alpha await us like gatekeepers. 

“Not too late for a simple life.” Rigel locks eyes on me.

“We already know what they’ll choose, my love.” Alpha smiles at you.

“Open hatch,” you say. 

The ship complies. The hatch whirls open, revealing an electric blue glow beyond. The heart of a creature we never knew existed. In the subterranean silence, I can almost hear it thumping. Or is that pulsebeat yours? 

“It’s cold,” you tell me, tightening your robe. “Colder than winter-cycle.” Your breath freezes and sparkles. Mine does not. 

You step across the threshold onto a bridged walkway.

Into another cave. 

This one, vast and deep and pointed. We’ve made it inside the Eternity’s fang, unlike anything found inside the mountains of Earth.

Glass bubbles fill the entire space. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Suspended by glowing blue cords, they cluster in two spiral rows and twist below us like a strand of DNA. 

On ancient bones, Alpha and Rigel slowly approach the nearest bubble. A spherical capsule, it stands as tall as their stooped shoulders. The bottom is fitted with a glass hatch. The hatch hangs open. You don’t notice. 

“What are they?” You peer over the walkway, circles of blue awe reflecting in your irises. 

Don’t you get it? I want to say. 

But instead, I hold onto these final moments of you not knowing. 

“Everything in the Universe has a creation story,” Rigel tells us, nestling Alpha into the nook of his arm. “We were sixteen when we met. There we were, our whole lives ahead of us, standing on the silent observation deck of a comet, the two loneliest souls in existence.” Rigel smiles, almost boyishly. We already know this moment, of course. It’s the first memory we received when we came of age. The most vivid memory. Even now, I can envision that observation deck and the pale cometary light rippling off Alpha’s dewy face—your face

“Oh, before that, we had our studies and our regimented voyages,” Rigel goes on, “even a smattering of fond acquaintances. Perhaps we didn’t even know we were lonely until we knew what it meant not to be. That day, for the first time, I heard the other half of my soul speak. Know what she said?”

“‘Funny, isn’t it?’” Alpha answers, mooning up at Rigel—and you mouth those long-ago words alongside her because they belong to us, too. “‘Feels as if we’re the only two people in the Universe.’”

Lost in their memory, Rigel and Alpha exchange a sweet kiss. 

You bite your lip and lower your eyes. 

“For us,” Alpha says, “life began on that day when we were sixteen. On the observation deck of a comet where somehow we became the cosmic event. That was our creation.” 

“So how ironic,” Rigel says, “that we now find ourselves here, two dying fools more in love than ever, standing in the twilight of our lives, standing in the very nursery which will see us reborn.”

“A nursery?” you say.

“During my Vision, the glowing image of this nursery became the genesis of all that came after. A promise, I believe, for the lifetime we would sacrifice constructing the Universe’s immortal starship. Here, we are destined to be reborn, body, memory, soul.”

“Of course, now you see the truth of your existence.” Alpha gestures abashedly toward the bubble chamber. For a flash-instant, the holo glimmers, capturing the ghost-echo of a fetal shape floating there, something that existed in their time. 

“You are humanity’s final page,” Rigel says. “A page containing more than a single lifetime.”

Alpha sparkles at us. “We will have thousands before the Promised Hour.” 

“Thousands?” You examine your palms, dusty with the charcoal left behind by hundreds of hands. You touch the glass bubble. Of course, it’s not a bubble, it’s an incubation chamber. 

You step back, eyes flitting to chamber after chamber, lungs and heart working faster and faster. “But they’re empty.”

I know what you’ve been thinking in this place of phantoms where only your breath freezes. I know, because the hope drains from you like embryonic fluid from a thousand hollow wombs. 

Another twisting staircase follows the floating incubation chambers to the bottom. You rush past me, breezing carelessly through my holo. 

Elara!” But I can’t stop you. Rigel warned us there’d be no going back. On your way down the stairs, you pass chamber after chamber. Your tears fall harder with each open tank.

“They’re all empty!”

All but two.

They await us at the bottom of the staircase, in the darkest region of the dragon where the truths we think we know come undone. 

A thousand lifetimes, Alpha said. 

Ours must be lifetime number 999.

With a cry of misguided joy, you approach the final two incubation chambers. 

Inside each, a perfect human body floats fetal amid a glittering viscous fluid, suspended in time, waiting to become what the fertile soil of the Universe intended. 

They are us—they are the last. 

Yet they aren’t embryos, aren’t infants waiting to be born. 

They’re replicants. Us as we were the year we came of age and moved from the nursery in Below Deck to the grotto in the infinity garden. They are Alpha and Rigel as they were on the observation deck of a comet at the moment of their creation. 

A girl with dark hair. A boy with dark skin.

Not infants.

They are grown. 

“Maia, wake!” you cry, and your voice cracks up the throat of our Eternity. Up above, our caregiver’s hurried footsteps echo back at you. Always there for us. Except, of course, when she wasn’t actually. No wonder the old girl’s worn bare at her edges. Aiding our every happiness, serving our every desire, deceiving us about our purpose and our childhoods—a thousand times over. 

You await her, standing with your hand splayed against the Final Castor’s incubation chamber. Your breath crystalizes in the frosty air, moving in rhythm with the faintest rise and fall of his chest. 

He isn’t me, Elara.”

You don’t turn away from him. “But he could be.”

Am I not miracle enough? Please, let’s return to the garden.

You pretend not to hear. Rigel’s wedding ring gleams on your thumb. “He could be you. I could wake him and give him your memories. The ship contains all of you. He’ll be you, just as we experienced a childhood, just as we transform into Alpha and Rigel with every meditation.”

I’m not the ship, Elara! Do you wish to end up with two of us? Because I tell you, what you’re hoping is not how it works. We inherited memories and flesh from our creators. That’s all. I am my own spirit. And so are you. So are they.” I gesture toward the incubation chambers. 

Above, Maia’s ever-faithful footsteps clatter though the entrance to the nursery. 

“How can you be so sure?” you ask me.

Because when I look inside myself, I don’t see Rigel or cold algorithms. I see me. When you look inside—don’t you see you?”  

“I see a child who grew up on the edge of the infinity garden. Only that isn’t real either. So, what does it matter?” 

We are real, Elara. The three years we spent together, dancing, loving in the garden, that was real, that was pure. That was us.”

“That was a failed dream. You are a failed dream.” 

You’re breaking my heart.

“You don’t have a heart anymore, Castor,” you say, convincing only yourself. “You don’t have a body, or a voice. Only a holo which I can put to sleep any time I please.”

I have a heart!” I cry. “You’re my heart—the other half of me. Three years with you equaled my lifetime. And every beat of it was better than a thousand forevers. You’re all I ask for when I ask the Universe for anything. You’re the reason I still exist. Not because the ship wills it, but because my heart does. So, it breaks, Elara, when you stop believing in me. It breaks when you consider waking a replica of my flesh that will not contain me.” 

My heart breaks, too. For your touch, your caress.” But you won’t look at me, won’t look away from my replica. “It breaks every moment I find myself reaching for a hand I can’t hold.” 

Haven’t you been listening? I reach, too, Elara. I know how it hurts.”

Behind us, Maia approaches with measured footsteps. “I’m here.”

“I feel so alone on this ship, Castor,” you whisper, refusing to look away from my replica. “Nothing that speaks with me breathes with me.” 

“Your distress is worrisome, dear ones,” Maia says. 

You’ve been lying to us.” I turn on her, echoing, hating my holo-voice. 

“Forgive me, Castor. For your own happiness, my prime directive wouldn’t allow me to disclose certain realities.” 

Certain realities. “Am I real, Maia?

“Yes, Castor.”

“What were they like Maia?” you say, speaking over me, as if my existence holds no interest for you.

“What were who like, Elara?”

“You know who I mean. Tell me.”

“Yes, Elara. They were very much like you, every new generation. Fascinated by the Ancients on Earth, daydreamers, lovemakers. They thrived upon their memories of their creators. Quite dutiful, quite dazzled, in fact, by their sacred responsibilities.” Maia’s gaze falls distant as she scans her archives. “There were differences, of course. Bad dreams for one Castor but not the Castor before. Elara’s dreadful nautical poetry sometimes fluctuated in words—a longboat where there was once a schooner or a brig. As they grew older, their passion for the past always sharpened into a joyous fascination of the expiring Universe and the mystery awaiting them beyond. Each lived a perfect life until the predestined age of 107 when, holding hands, they discovered their Promised Hour.”

They thought they witnessed the end? You deceived them?

“It wasn’t deceit. They were all quite euphoric.” 

“Did any of them die young?” you ask. 

“No. Usually when Castor falls from the cherry tree, he only breaks his arm. Castor-333 broke a leg and carried through life with a gentle limp.”

I fall from the tree every time?” 

“Yes. This is the first lifetime the branch has broken. It’s quite an ancient tree.”

“Was this what Alpha and Rigel envisioned?” You finally turn from the incubation chamber. You regard Maia with an expression of sunken shadows. “The exact same life, over and over?”

“They envisioned a paradise until the end of time.”

Did the ship detect their spirits? After they died?

“No, Castor. Their psychometrics vanished upon their deaths. All negative readings indicate they evanesced and met the Universe together. You’re an anomaly.” 

Don’t call me that.

“Forgive me, Castor.”

“How did the others discover the nursery?” you ask.

“You are the first, Elara.”

“But the handprints—they’re real.” You hold up your charcoal-stained palm.

“They’re put there as each generation is awoken. An ancient tradition.”

I was here…


“Yes, Elara?”

  “Do you know what I’m going to ask next?” You glance at me, guiltily—cruelly, because you realize I know, too.

“Yes. Though it’s not advised.”

“But can it be done?”

“It runs against my prime directive. But yes, it can be done. You’ll need to override me.” 

Elara! If you refuse to believe in me, then believe in her.” I gesture to the chamber containing the Final Elara. “You’ll be condemning her to a lifetime of utter solitude. She’ll wake one day in a dying Universe, forced to face the true Promised Hour without anyone by her side.

“Just as the Universe and its broken branch is forcing me!”

You’re not this cruel.

“The Universe is this cruel.”

Please, let’s return to the infinity garden. Forget this.” 

“If you’re truly Castor, you’ll find a way to be with me again.” 

Damn it, I already have! If I could, I’d reverse time, loop back to when my entire world was the grass on my flesh and the wet warmth of your kiss. But I know that won’t work.”

Why not?”

Because it didn’t work for Rigel and Alpha.” I pass my hand through the Final Castor. My fingers glimmer clean through his suspended flesh, brain, heart. I sense no spark, no magnetism, no mysterious tug of life drawing me into this replica’s pulsing fibers. One life, one spirit, that’s the Universe’s plan. No matter our sacred purpose.”

“Perhaps we create our own purpose.”

I’m begging you. Let’s return to the garden, take a day-cycle to meditate. Perhaps the Universe will grant us a Vision.” 

“But it already has, remember? Dragons. We were meant to find this place.”

I love you, Elara, with all that I am. Is that not enough?

“It’s everything. It’s why I believe we’ll be together again.”

Elara, please! I’m not the ship—

“Castor, sleep.”

Two-hundred-billion lightyears from Mother Earth, I open my eyes. 

I am not alone, for you were created to stay by my side. 

“Joyous day, Castor.” You kiss my forehead. “How do you feel?”

“I feel stiff,” I say. As if I’ve been asleep for eons. I blink against the golden early light, and for the briefest instant, footsteps echo through me, something glimmers in the corner of my eye. Here then gone, like starlight rippling across dark water.

“You should feel stiff,” you say. “You fell from the cherry tree. Don’t you remember?”

I rub my neck and squint past your lovely face, toward the early shadows on the edge of the grotto. There! Another glimmer, the dimmest human silhouette. I blink and it vanishes. A shiver of unease crawls along my spine. “You sure I didn’t land on my head? I might be seeing things.” 

You frown. “No. You broke your arm.”  

As you say it, the memory cracks through me. I sit up and discover my left arm in a med-cast. “Ouch, you’re right.”

“Maia told you to rest today, remember? You might feel a little off-balance until you heal properly. Until then…” You trace your fingertips down my bare chest. “How shall we pass the time?” 

“It’s almost the hour for morning meditation.”

“Let’s skip it.” You twist a defiant smile toward our blooming blackhole Universe and watch it devour itself alive. Galaxies perishing with every slow breath we take. Another perfect day on the Eternity. 

“Funny isn’t it?” 

“What is?” I say, though I already know your answer because it belongs to us.

“Feels as if we’re the only two people in the Universe.”

Amanda Cecelia Lang is a horror author and aspiring recluse from Denver, Colorado. Her stories currently haunt the dark corners of several podcasts, ezines, and anthologies, including Creepy, Thirteen, Tales to Terrify, NoSleep, and Dread Machine’s Mixtape: 1986. You can stalk her work at—just don’t be surprised if she leaps out at you from the shadows. 

Proton Reader One

Welcome to Proton Reader
A foreword by Sami Lawson

Suck It Up
Flash fiction by Claire McNerney

A Mari Ad Astra
A short story by dave ring

Of Infinite Ends
A short story by Emily M. Dietrich

The End of Forever
A novelette by Amanda Cecelia Lang