Her ship is only a ship in the loosest sense. It is a vessel, certainly, but there is no metal, no composite alloy heated and pounded into hull-shape; there is no engine, no tank filled with reaction mass; there are no sensors or telescopes or radio dishes. The ship exists around her — an extension of her will, energy that was once matter and will be again for a time — to protect her from the mild inconvenience of hard vacuum.
She has been sailing for what seems like an eternity, perhaps a million years: everywhere is so far apart now. Were she still a primitive she would be dead already, starved or frozen amidst the long, slow, heat-death of the universe.
Behind her is a pitch-black nothing, and ahead of her is a faint blue glow, the only thing of value left in the cosmos. There are people fighting for control of it, to stave off the end for a few years. Some are like her, some are primitives with the misfortune to have evolved orbiting the last generation of stars. None will long survive the fading of that final glow.
It is a disc of dust, falling at relativistic speeds into a point-mass that has already devoured a galaxy.
She approaches as the battle unfolds. Parabolas of light slice through the dust and either strike their targets or not; either way, each one is a death sentence for the sender. Armadas cobbled together from dead planets and coated in armor from disassembled neutron stars maneuver past each other to be ripped into molecules by tidal shear. All fall through the event horizon.
Eventually all that remains is a handful of tired ancients. Communications crackle to life. Stories are told, long, hyperbolic tales about cultures long-dead. Friendships are made or rekindled. Old forms are resumed, new ones are adopted. Those who don't wish to face the end alone with their thoughts pair off.
The dust, like all things, is in time exhausted, and the glow fades. It takes years. The only light she sees is that produced by herself or the others like her. After a time, even they fade, until she is alone.
She is in orbit of a massive black hole, describing a circle at nearly the speed of light. Beyond her orbit, the empty universe ages further.
She settles in. She sleeps, dreams a memory: it is a billion years ago, in a city on a moon of a huge gas planet orbiting a young, bright star. She has flesh, she has fears and wants and instincts. She takes a lover and bears his child. That baby: she doesn't remember the person it grew up to be, whether it was a boy or a girl. The very name escapes her. She doesn't remember leaving that city on the moon, or where she went after.
It is a long time before she wakes: nothing has changed, because there is nothing left to change. Yet, still, her communications unit comes alive again.
What is next?
"Nothing. Nothing is next," she answers, knowing there is no one left to have asked the question.
Are you the last?
"There is no way to know for certain. There are parts of the universe too far away to reach or see. I think so. Where are you?"
She reaches out with all her senses. "You are orbiting the point-mass, in opposition? I don't see you."
I am the point-mass.
"I don't believe you."
What is next?
"Nothing is next. Where are you? What are you?"
I am the point mass. I am all of them. This universe is concluded. What shape for the next one?
Every communication costs her energy, and shortens her existence. But what does it matter now? "I have no way to know. We never gained knowledge of any other universe."
The only way to do so is to overlap. Live through the death of one and into the birth of another.
"A Big Bang would kill even me."
Death is not a concern. What you are about to do I have done. Join me, decide with me: what shape?
She drops closer to the event horizon, far enough down into the gravity well that it requires intense concentration for the ship to continue to exist. She comes to the conclusion that enough time alone has passed to drive her mad; that she is hallucinating.
If you are mad, then why not risk it? What in this universe remains to be lost? You are billions of years old. What you were when you were flesh would have thought you now a god, and yet been wrong. But you can become a god, now, the progenitor of a universe. Join me.
The ship trembles against sharp waves of gravitational shear. Within, she considers. There are no gods, or in her long life she would have met one. Gods are a way for primitives to project order onto a universe they don't understand. Gods are symbols, or a way to go into death with dignity.
Is that what this was? "Are you my mind's way of softening death? Have I created you?"
I am the point mass. I am all the point-masses. I am all the mass and energy in the universe save yourself.
"You are a figment of my imagination."
Then where am I? Who am I? What else could I be when you are alone?
"Time is warped this near the speed of light. No one has ever been this far down a gravity well to then emerge and report its properties. Time could be further warped, this close. Am I speaking to someone in the past?"
If I were in the past, how would I hear your responses?
She has no answer. Either the voice is a trick, or it is telling the truth; she has no way to discover which.
Either way it is time; further equivocation only delays the end. She wills the ship lower, down, through.