“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.”
“Destruction…?” Maggie whispered.
“I’m afraid so,” the old man said as the two young people picked themselves up off the floor. Gesturing to the eerie tableau behind him, he continued, “What you see beyond these windows is a cosmos in its death throes: the final state of all matter. Stars and planets; nebulae and galaxies; living creatures—the endpoint of them all is the murky chemical soup that surrounds us, as you can plainly see. I invite you both to take a look outside. It doesn’t matter what vantage point you choose. You’ll find the view is the same regardless of where you stand.”