This is how the universe ends—not with a whimper but a crunch. With the End Times at hand, the universe was contracting faster and faster. Massive hypergravitational forces would soon pull everything back into a single dimensionless speck—a "windowless monad." It was going to look a lot like the Big Bang in reverse. Hence, it was called the Big Crunch. To be followed—all the theories said—by a new Big Bang.
A thousand civilizations, both human and alien, had created projects to seize control of the monad at its instant of creation and rewrite the constants of the universe it would then explode into in such a way that the successful editors would find themselves reborn within and even in control of the new universe. All the projects knew of each other. With the universe only ten light-years across and dwindling, they could hardly do otherwise. All of them knew that the civilization with the best chance of success was the Dragon Lady Culture.
"So you're telling me it can't be done." The nth-clone of the original Adrienne Wong-Heppworth was only nineteen years old and sometimes she didn't feel very much like a Dragon Lady. There had been a lot of data loss in transmitting the genome of her original through billions of years. She'd been thinking of changing her name. "That it's been a fool's errand from the start."
"In a word—yes." Her Chief of Research wasn't a bad-looking man, but he kept his eyes downcast out of reverence for her person. "You can't rewrite the monad from the inside—and it has no outside. It's as simple as that."
"So all our work, all our sacrifices, were for nothing."
"I didn't say that. In the last few seconds of the Crunch, as everything in the universe is reduced to a hot primordial soup, there's a fraction of an instant when ununseptium dominates the mix. You know how in order to conserve dwindling resources, we've colonized nanospace …"
"The fact that this research facility orbits a star only a half-inch in diameter would seem to indicate that I do," the Dragon Lady said frostily.
"Well, this device"—the Chief of Research stopped before a machine unlike anything the Dragon Lady or any of her predecessors had ever seen before—"will project us into that infinitesimally small slice of nanotime while simultaneously creating a temporary universe in which the ununseptium takes the place of hydrogen in ours." He looked up now and his eyes blazed. "Hyperhot, hyperfast ununseptium stars! Ununseptium-based worlds and plants and animals!"
"All of which will collapse immediately."
"Yes—in the frame of the outside universe. To us, it will be like re-setting the clock to the beginning of time."
"I think that's the most—"
But before the Dragon Lady could finish her statement, the Xlyv attacked the station with a fleet of vacuum-dreadnaughts a full micrometer long. The Xlyv were a spiteful race who did not like the thought of a universe designed by the Dragon Lady Culture. So they were taking no chances.
"In here, quick!" The Director of Research flung her inside the machine and then leapt into an opening alongside her. "I think there's just enough time to …"
He touched a control just as the station dissolved around them.
Through golden light they were flung, screaming as vast energies flowed through them, into a new-made universe as fragile as a thought and infinitely less enduring. Adrienne Wong-Heppworth passed out.
When she awoke, she was lying on green grass in sunlight. Birds were singing. She seemed to be naked.
She stood up. Nearby, her Chief of Research was groggily getting to his feet. He was naked, too. She had to admit that it looked pretty good on him. "Hey," she said. "I never did catch your name."
"Adam," he said. "What's yours?"
She thought for a moment, then said, "Jennifer."
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.