I met a woman in a black dress at the end of a tunnel at the end of the universe.
She was startled by my presence. But then I need only look in a mirror and I am startled by what I have become. The war is an aggregation of unkindnesses, of distortions and woundings.
There was little I could do to reassure her, but smile and wait until her elegances were satisfied that I was unarmed.
Neither of us was meant to be here, the place was closed to the public at night. But there are ways and means and old soldiers (and beautiful people) have a knack of getting what they want.
She leaned against the rail and I marvelled at her big dark eyes and the sweep of her shoulders and I wanted to draw her.
Then and there.
A woman in a black dress at the end of the universe.
"I couldn't sleep," I said. "What's your excuse?"
She smiled and pointed to the roil beyond the rail. "That provokes restless nights."
It's hard to ignore the end of the Universe and knowing that it exists simultaneously in the distant future and down a long tunnel under the city is a madding seed in your mind.
For everything is now. There is no beginning, nor end, just consciousness skimming across eternity sealing up each moment and putting it in its place. And now I stood and stared at the universe cold and endlessly ending beneath a city just two centuries old.
Such wicked cicatrix has this war created, even here on this distant periphery.
"I think I should know you," she said.
"Perhaps. Do you come here often?"
"Not that often, only when I can't sleep." Her dark eyes drew me in. "The universe is a cruel place."
"Crueller than we should ever know." And I remembered the Garden Worlds and the Death I planted there. What genocide that harvest! We each did our bit. And I wondered at the honour in it, at our devotion to destruction, at the unholiness of survival.
I hung my head a moment, to hide my tears and when I looked up she was still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
"Can I draw you?" I asked and she nodded.
And I sketched her. Then and there. And for a moment, a perfect, eternal moment, there was no cruelty; there was no death.
Just my machined hands and the sound of my pen as I drew a woman in a black dress at the end of the universe.
This story originally appeared in Antipodean SF - 2001.