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Judith Command was being systematically dismantled around them, the billions, trillions of soldats perdus uploaded into a pattern cache that Paul would carry. The bubble around the non-place had developed great cracks on its periphery, and in places, the blackness of the unknown beyond shined down through.
They walked to the edge, the place where they could look down into the Timestream. The Alpha Point sparked an eternity below them. As they walked, his hand was close enough to Alina's so that she could hold it, if she wanted. We know the distances between us; we test the lines and hope someone crosses.
Theirs was a heartbroken silence built of everything that had gone wrong, all the fights over nothing, the context of them, the place and time out of time in which they lived. They were both machines built from life's flickers.
They sat on the edge and still said nothing. Their hands were still close enough to hold.
! Their feet dangled down over the universe.
He said, "It was good."
She said, "I know."
A thousand other lives tried to crawl into that moment, a thousand other faces, but as he sat there dying, Paul looked only at Alina. The angle of her jaw, the patterns of her freckles, the flare of her nose, eyes that smiled, upturned, even when she was crying. A thousand other faces tried but failed to replace her.
We can count down our final moments in the stillness between another's heartbeats.
We can search for a perfect moment and realize that we've already lived it.
We can ravel a ball of silver, wear a filament of it on our wrists. We can hear the music across the water, the stars falling above, and we can dance, reach out for a hand. The world falling apart around us, and none of it matters. Life is a series of moments, of splendor, of misery, the finest line woven between. We can sit on the edge with the love of our lives and not say anything at all.
He reached out,! withdrew. They looked down at existence. He coughed.
She turned back to the bubble's center. "I think they're ready."
He looked. Judith Command was empty, except for them. There was wind, and it was cold.
They looked into each other's eyes for the first time in months. Years. Time had no meaning at the edges.
He held out his hand.
She smiled. Her eyes were wet. He was bleeding metal.
There were echoes.
She took his hand and jumped off the edge.
They fell, but in that scale, they were motionless. Judith Command raced away above them, the bubble's edges cracking and releasing, great plates of metallish shattering down toward them, the whole of the last fort erupting and falling. And they flew, hands held, eyes open, as shards of Command danced around them. They wove, hands held, between the pieces.
They pulled toward each other, arms frantic, grasping, bodies shuddering to relearn their symmetries, to reseat the way they fit together perfectly. They tumbled, hands held, down into the past, into the deepest night, the places hidden away for lifetimes.
Paul wrapped his arms around Alina, couldn't hold her close enough. He pulled back, looked into her colorless blue eyes, remembered the taste of her, gone so long now, tumbling, hands held, end over end, a dizzying, frightening descent, picking up speed, whirling, faster, faster, and Command was nothing above them, a cascade of countless fragments running alongside.
He never looked away. Reached out, one hand shimmering, one hand clasping hers, so small and perfect. It was a beautiful hand that he couldn't see, enveloped in his own, but he could feel it, contact, reached out, one hand shimmering, and called the silver to him, the detritus of Judith Command, and it came, an ocean of metal, swarming, singing around them, wrapping and protecting, enveloping, consuming. He would protect her. He would hold her close. And it formed around them, hands held, silver forming and reforming, merging with him, the finest silver web spidering through him. She didn't look away from the horror of him as he shifted, merged, became something else. She was caught in an expanse within him. She was encapsulated inside of him, a ship, a living ship of silver, the last of Command, the machine sea, and an ancient silent song. She looked up and saw the last of the light before he closed around her, the pattern cache falling into place above, sparking to almost-life, his hand changing, snaking, draping. His face a distended mess of metal, and then flat, and then nothing. It was dark inside of him. It was quiet. She was cold. He never looked away.
remember me on the wind
in the autumn
please remember me
The interface webs dug into her.
and I loved you. Know that I loved you.