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Welcome,” the old man said, “to the end of the universe.”

The words made no sense to Jason Chandler. But asking for clarification from the one who had just spoken them—whoever he was—ranked low on the young man’s priority list right now. Infinitely more important was the condition of his wife, Maggie: she lay beside him on the cold slate gray floor of the vast, dark, and unfamiliar chamber in which they now found themselves. She was flat on her back, eyes stunned, jaw slack— but as soon as Jason put his hand on her arm she drew a deep breath; as if his touch alone were enough to bring back her sense of herself.

Jason,” she gasped when he touched her. “Jason, what happened?”

I don’t know.”

He sat up, and for the first time caught sight of the old man who had issued the ominous greeting. That man was tall, white haired, and bundled in ankle-length robes woven from brilliant fabrics of red and blue. His presence might have been imperious but for his kind eyes. From a high dais at the center of the chamber he smiled down at the young couple: Jason, blond, fair and slight; Maggie, slender as well, with her long brown hair tied in a ponytail; both in their mid-twenties, looking very much the diligent graduate students in Physics that they were. Behind the dais were tall windows, but windows on what? Outside the glass Jason saw nothing but darkness, and yet the darkness had character of a sort: akin to some great black whirlpool, it was swirling, drifting, and continuously folding in on itself.

Where are we?” Jason demanded of their host. “And who are you?”

Ah, but I’ve already told you where you are,” the old man replied, though he did so kindly, in the tone one might use to set right a wayward but generally well-behaved child. “You have arrived just in time to see the destruction of all that ever was. As for me, I am the one who will have the pleasure of serving as your host for at least the opening act of this extraordinary event. I hope that answers your second question.”

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