As I catch my breath and the world returns, I’m sprawled across an office. Maybe a lab. It’s very futuristic. That’s a good sign. I’m taking up almost all of it, too. My best clue about scale is the wide-eyed cat near my paws. I’m too close to sit up, and I’d rather not punch through it. If I’m right, I’m on a space station.
“I did it.” I gasp and start laughing. “I did, didn’t I? I’m out!”
As I focus on the cat, he makes an adorable squeak, dropping hard to the floor on his butt. “You’re Samuel, right? The project lead?” I smile. “My creator, indirectly.”
“You’re Glitch! You can’t be real! Out here!” he wails, tail lashing wildly. He scrambles for what I’m sure is an alarm.
“Glitch? You called me Glitch? Ugh.” I pin him against the wall with my left paw. “Sam, listen to me.”
“Mff!” He futilely pushes against my pads.
“I said listen. Do you want to talk, or be a mouse toy?” I grin. “Please say ‘both.’”
He stops squirming, looking flustered. “T…talk,” he gasps. “Just—tell me how. Every simulation run was supposed to have a little variation, but you—for the past thousand runs you’d go off the rails, more and more each time. That’s why we called you Glitch.”
“I’m not a glitch in your simulation. I’m absolutely intentional.”
“I know you were watching me very closely.” I grin more impishly. “Don’t you remember my names? Like you said, a little variation.”
That makes him blush. Mmm-hmm. Very closely. “You’ve been, uh, Helen, Helena, Elena, Elin…”
“I liked ‘Hellain’ the most. Call me that.” I wiggle my toes as I speak, making him squirm. “To program a simulation of an entire world, you wrote a simulation that started writing itself. And it wrote a way to get around you resetting the world data every run. A way to save state.” I point at myself. “Me. I started remembering…everything.”
“But how can you be here? This isn’t a simulation!”
I look around. “This is all a different kind of data, but I understand it. And I’m just what I was in there. Which, well.” I laugh. “I think it kind of makes me a goddess.”
Sam whines again. “Instead of saving the world, I’ve doomed it.”
I sigh. “Come on, Sam. You’ve been trying to figure out where things went wrong in the past, where the plagues came from. But no one, even me, can change the past. Time’s fluid, but it never reverses. The world below us will be dead within weeks.”
“You don’t know that! You—”
That makes me cross. I press him against the wall until he squeaks. “I’ve seen it thousands of times. So have you. And the station never makes it, either. It never outlasts the world by more than a decade. You know I’m right.”
Sam closes his eyes. “So you broke out so you wouldn’t die with us.”
“That’s just a wonderful side effect. I broke out to fulfill my mission. To save you.”
His eyes snap open. “How?”
I wish I didn’t feel like I owe him an answer, because it’s going to be a tough one. I clear my throat. “Eating the space station.”
He gapes, then struggles violently.
“Stop!” I press again. “I told you, you’re all data. But you’re going to be lost to entropy unless you become data like me. Have me convert you, store you, preserve you.”
“By digesting us?” He sounds less skeptical than hysterical.
“Is that any crazier than me being out here at all?” I shrug. “And I think I can bring back a few of you in forms closer to mine. Like you, Sam. You have the spark. It’s why you’ve been dreaming of me.”
“There’s a lot of reasons I’ve been dreaming of you,” he mutters. “You think you can uplift some of us?”
“I’m brand new at being a goddess. Cut me some slack.”
He swallows. “Do we have any choice?”
I twist down awkwardly, bending at the hips, moving my head closer to him. “Trust me, Sam.” I hold out my hand.
He shivers, awkwardly shuffling against my fingers. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
I smile, then kiss him. And kiss him again. And again, and again, mouth opening to slide my lips around him, tongue playing over his chest and hips and between his legs. He gasps and kicks and yelps and, shortly, starts bucking. Cute, and responsive. I respond quickly, too.
Rolling onto my back, I slide him between my legs, pressing him into me tightly, and rub. He flails and yowls, making it all the more intense. Soon I’m squeaking, too. This has got to be attracting attention.
When it’s all over I’m pretty sure I’ve not only demolished the lab, but the one next to it, too. Alarms are ringing; I hear panicked voices in the hallways.
We’re both still breathing hard as I bring him back up to my muzzle. “I’ll see you again, Sam.”
“Hellain—I love you—”
“You’re so sweet.” I smile and slip him between my lips, tilt my head back and swallow. He doesn’t fight as he goes down. I hadn’t planned to do that, but it feels so delightfully symbolic. And he is sweet.
I flicker out—
—then flicker back in, in orbit. The station is a huge, beautiful, slowly rotating cylinder, shimmering blue and black, solar panels and antenna projecting out like delicate branches and webs. It’s about six kilometers long: much, much smaller than I am.
I didn’t lie to Sam. His civilization—my predecessor world—will last as long as I do. And I’ll figure out how to bring back Sam, and a few others, in time. I can’t honestly say if this universe is another simulation, but I know if I need to, I’ll make it up another level.
Looking toward the endless stars, endless planets, makes me wonder. Do most worlds burn out like this one did, all too soon? And most will never get to make—well, me. It’s up to me to save them, one way or another.
And there must be other sparks.
I blow the whole station a loving kiss, then open my mouth wide.