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We found you, and you alone, in a universe that had forgotten to die.

Or rather, a universe for whom death had been set just out of reach. When my people grew aware of our universe’s impending mortality, we developed slipspace travel, to pass through the shining soap-bubble boundary of another realm without breaking it. Your people created zero-tau fields, on a scale we had never dreamed possible. Entire galaxies, even superclusters, within which time had totally ceased to exist—an impossible feat, the astrophysics committee insisted, except that you had somehow done it: hidden your universe’s own corpus from itself until, at the end of its life, it lacked the mass to return to the singularity that had birthed it. I will never get an answer from you, but I can’t help but ask: why?

And atop one of those zero-tau envelopes rested your little pod, like a blister on a boil. We detected no other such survivors; we did not know whether you were chosen to be the last of your kind, or whether you endured alone as an accident of fate. A lonely existence, in either case.

To study you, we slipped a smaller zero-tau field of our own inside your larger one and extracted your pod in a continued stasis. We could drop the field only for microseconds, long enough for our instruments to capture observational slivers, of your anatomy, your technology. You are so little like us: so few appendages, such a rigid internal support system! And yet so much like us too, with what we believe to be an intricate and interconnected sensorium. If you woke, would you hear the high-pitched hum of the slipspace drive, or perhaps even feel its vibrations through the ship’s biolaminate? Would you recognize me as another sentient being, and if you tried to communicate, how would you do it?

Unlike you, the information storage device from your pod can be woken without fear of destroying it. Not that this is a simple process! My siblings on the information processing committee and I studied it for several cycles before we could fabricate a connection that would allow transfer of your data to an isolated ganglion of our ship’s computers. Having the data, of course, does not mean understanding it. Even unencrypted, the sounds—music? speech?—are a cacophony; the written script is indecipherable. Are these ideograms? Syllabaries? Most puzzling of all are the two-dimensional images: some that show beings who might be your conspecifics, others with similar but puzzlingly different body plans. I think your sensorium must possess some cross-dimensional perception that we lack, cutting across time itself, able to open a window to your past simply by perceiving its visual representation. How wonderful, and how sad. No wonder your people, who must have lived so much in their own histories, chose to lock their universe in stasis rather than surrender it to the unknowable future.

As far as we can tell, you as an individual are unrepresented in any of these stored images. If your voice spoke to us out of these recordings, we would never recognize it. We determined quickly that you were unsuited to the conditions of life required by our universe of origin and our universe of choice alike. We cannot wake you, meet you, know you; not without destroying you. Nor do we even know for certain if anything in you remains to awaken. Whatever intent you had, in preserving these things, it is lost with you. How I wish I could ask you! I like to imagine that, if our roles were reversed, you would burn with a similar curiosity.

Ignorant as we are of your customs, the xenocultural committee decided we should restore the data storage device and its mysteries to your pod, and return you and it together to your own universe. The information processing committee objected, but we were overruled by the majority of our extended brethren. The data, they said, had been entrusted to you to bear alone, in the silent endless tomb of your universe. It was never intended for us.

As the members of the information processing committee are the only ones who understand how to access your data stick, however, its contents have been—I confess—somewhat altered. I will bear your songs and stories with me, and you in turn will bear this letter. Though it is almost certain that neither of us will ever understand exactly what it is we carry.

I lack your species’ ability to transcend time’s arrow and live in this past of yours; these things do not yet mean to me what they would have meant to you. Perhaps they never will. Yet even now, to me, they mean more than nothing. When you return to your universe in the last held breath before its death, your people are born anew in mine. Whatever else I come to understand, whatever else I do not: I see that you loved them, and I see that I will learn to do the same here. In their absence, and in yours.

Aimee Ogden is an American werewolf in the Netherlands. Her debut novella, Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, was a Nebula Award Finalist, and her newest novella, Emergent Properties, arrives July 2023. Her short fiction has previously appeared in publications such as Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You can find more of her work at her website.
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