To all outward appearances the woman was no different from dozens of others strolling through the lakeside park on that bright summer afternoon. Casually dressed and carrying what appeared to be a small briefcase, she could have been a businesswoman out for a lunchtime break.
The woman was in fact from out of town. Just how far out of town (and how far away in time), nobody in the park that day could have guessed.
She had chosen this particular city for a number of reasons. It was colourful and picturesque, its architectural styles carefully chosen to blend in with the lake and the surrounding mountains and forests. It was cosmopolitan and liberal, and was home to a wide variety of races, cultures and beliefs. The city was dynamic, prosperous and self-confident, but not too smug about its achievements, although it was quick to stress those achievements to potential residents, visitors and customers.
But there was another, more important factor that had swayed her choice. The city was not located in any of the world’s richest or most powerful nations. It had no major strategic importance, no great mineral deposits, no gold reserves and no major government or military headquarters; nothing, in short, that would make it a target. Nor was it located on or near any major fault lines, volcanic ranges, hurricane or tornado alleys or avalanche zones.
It was, in short, safe.
The woman had lived in many unsafe places in her time. Though she looked (and felt) young, her apparent age belied her true years. During those years she had seen atrocities that had made her despair for humanity, but she had also seen acts of courage and sacrifice that shone as beacons of hope. And a woman she loved had sacrificed herself to save her life.
During peacetime she looked at people going about their ordinary lives, building, trading, creating works of art, studying their worlds and the universe around them, falling in love and raising families, and she had thought: Why can’t it always be this way? Why does it always have to fall apart?
She had had many names over the years. Most recently (“recently” meaning either a year or two hundred years ago, depending on how one looked at it) the inhabitants of a small, two-mooned planet had known her as Diann, which was close enough to the name her parents had given her. For several years she had lived and worked as a healer in a small farming village. Living a quiet life among decent hard-working folk had given her a chance to forget some of the horrors she had witnessed and mourn for her lover. It had almost been a working holiday for her, except that she was there to do a job and always had to bear in mind that she was on a timetable.
The woman called Diann had performed her task efficiently and on schedule, as a result of which the universe was saved from destruction; and a young woman called Jaskri had been sent back in time, to be transformed into the statue that had appeared on the day she was born.
Diann’s mission was complicated by the fact that Jaskri was the living image of Diann’s lost lover. Despite her best efforts she had found herself falling in love with Jaskri, and on the night that Jaskri was unknowingly due to become the stony Maiden, Diann had made passionate love to her.
For Diann, turning Jaskri to a statue was almost like losing her lover again, except that Jaskri was far from dead. She was in fact experiencing a fantastic, never-ending series of orgasms. Belying its inanimate appearance, her stonelike body began to radiate her love, sexuality and joy of living into the surrounding countryside.
Diann’s people would have described this phenomenon as an anomalous kilo-electron-volt neutrino field generated as a side-effect of the temporal stasis in which Jaskri’s body was locked.
Jaskri’s villagers called it the Maiden’s Blessing. Because of it they enjoyed richer harvests, better health and more exciting sex than they had ever known.
Jaskri believed that conferring the Maiden’s Blessing upon the village was only the beginning. Given time - and she now had all the time in the universe - she could radiate her Blessing to the far corners of the galaxy and bring about an end to human sufering.
Diann might have felt sceptical about this if she had not seen the results for herself on Jaskri’s own world. Within two centuries war, murder, torture, rape, slavery and all but the most petty crime had almost been eliminated. In their place were democracy, trade, art, scientific research, sport, and an encouragingly liberal attitude toward sex and sexuality. It was a stable, peaceful and prosperous world, and thanks to Jaskri and her love of humanity, it was not going to fall apart.
Diann’s instruments confirmed that the neutrino field had spread throughout the planet’s entire solar system, and was growing at a fantastic rate. Even so, it would take several decades to reach the nearest inhabited planets.
If only there were some way to speed things up a bit, Diann had thought.
And then she had had the Idea.
In the centre of the park was a small hill. At the summit was a large flat-topped boulder, about six metres in diameter, that looked as if it had been put there deliberately, but which had in fact been set in place by natural geological processes. Visitors regularly climbed the boulder to look out over the city. They were rewarded with a classic postcard view of the skyline, with the lake to its left and the snow-capped mountains beyond.
Diann clambered onto the rock, set the case down beside her and took a look. Several triangular sails could be seen gliding slowly across the water, while in the foreground a large blue kite provided a visual counterpoint to them.
I’d better get used to the view, she thought. I’ll be seeing enough of it.
She waited until a couple of joggers had gone past, then took a small device from her case and switched it on. The field it generated would prevent anyone from disturbing Diann while she went about her business. Anyone approaching within twenty metres of the device would simply feel a sudden urge to walk in a different direction. Anybody who looked toward Diann would see her only as a blurred, hazy figure, and would feel no further interest in looking. Diann herself was in the eye of the device’s field and therefore unaffected by it.
Diann then took out an object that might have been mistaken for a camera, especially when she set it up on a tripod and raised it to eye level. For some moments she simply stood and looked at the device, as if she were having second thoughts about what she was doing.
Then she shrugged, reached forward and began adjusting the device’s controls. When she was certain it was programmed correctly she began to undress, folding her clothes neatly as she packed them into the case.
Once she was naked, she closed the case and set it down beside her. Crouching, she pressed a hidden button and the case began to change shape, its memory plastic assuming the form of a low, flat, ornately-carved stone pedestal.
Well, this is it, thought Diann. After another moment’s brief hesitation, she reached forward and touched a control on the camera-like device. Then she stepped onto the pedestal and assumed a statue-like pose.
The moment she stepped on the pedestal her feet were locked in place. That had been her own idea, to prevent her from backing down at the last minute. Now there was nothing to do but wait. Thirty seconds.
Diann’s mind drifted back back several months....
On a cool autumn night on a distant planet, Jaskri had watched as a rectangular hole appeared in space, and Diann had stepped through, naked, and embraced her.
By that time Jaskri had been a statue for about two hundred years, although from Diann’s point of view only a few months had passed. Jaskri’s tiny farm village had grown into a small, bustling town, and from where Jaskri stood she could watch steam trains hauling passengers, coal and iron toward the great city of Dravinye, over the viaduct that ran past the hill where she had first become a statue. All of the village’s wooden houses had long since been replaced by stone and thatch, but the village square, its well and its stone Maiden had been preserved in their original state.
The tradition of embracing the Maiden by night for fun and fertility had also been preserved intact. Over the decades hundreds of couples had found themselves blessed with healthy children and incredible sex lives thanks to the “golden lightning” - the sexual component of the Maiden’s Blessing.
It had been two centuries since Diann had visited the village in person, although she had often conversed with Jaskri telepathically. But those who could have identified Diann were long gone (at least in a physical sense), and she had something important to tell her old friend.
Just as soon as she had finished making love to her.
After an hour or two, Diann leant languidly against the statue, kissed her on the lips, and said huskily, “You know, Jaskri, I’ve been thinking about how to speed up the Blessing, and I’ve had an idea.”
+And I bet you’re just dying to tell me about it,+ thought Jaskri, telepathically.
Diann nodded, tracing languid circles with her finger upon Jaskri’s cool, marble-like nipple. “I’ve talked to some friends of mine on various planets and they’ve agreed to help me perform a little...scientific experiment.”
+What sort of experiment?+ asked Jaskri.
Diann smiled. “Come on, Jaskri. I know you’re clever. Can’t you guess?”
“See? I knew you’d guess. You see, I estimate that it will take between ten and twenty years for your neutrino field to reach the nearest inhabited planets, so I’ve asked some people I trust to allow themselves to be frozen for between ten and twenty years - that way they’ll be radiating their own ‘blessings’ just long enough for the original field to catch up. Once they’re unfrozen they won’t have aged a day, so I’ll be able to send them back in time to the day after they became statues. That way they can resume their normal lives without anyone ever knowing they’ve been gone.”
+And you persuaded them by demonstrating what it would be like to feel the golden lightning all the time. Like me.+
“Exactly. I used one of my time devices to freeze each of them for one hour in an endless orgasm. Then I told them that if they volunteered they’d get to feel the same thing for years on end. They all jumped at the chance.”
+So,+ thought Jaskri, with a mental grin, +when will you all be starting?+
“Just as soon as I...oh. You’ve guessed that too. Yes, Jaskri, I will be joining them. I couldn’t ask them to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Besides, I’ve always wondered what it’s really like for you.”
+Well, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. Diann...I’m proud of you, and all of your volunteers. This is a marvellous thing you’re doing for all the worlds. Thank you.+
“Well, they say that virtue is its own reward - although I must admit that a prolonged multiple orgasm is a pretty strong incentive too.”
+You really don’t need to remind me of that. Take care, Diann. I love you.+
And with that, she demonstrated her love by treating Diann to a sustained burst of ecstasy.
A small beep brought Diann back to the present. Five seconds to go. Just try to relax, she told herself. Eyes open and focused, don’t tense or your ‘casually erotic’ pose will look forced....
The camera-like object began to emit a cool blue radiance. Diann felt a slight tingle as her body was bathed in the light. And then it was done.
Diann tested her body. She could see, hear and feel normally, but could not move a muscle. Her body was completely rigid, harder than stone, frozen between one heartbeat and the next.
Now it really was too late for second thoughts.
Then the machine on the tripod generated a time doorway that quickly swallowed it up. Now the technology to unfreeze Diann no longer existed on this planet. Only when the device returned according to its program could her body be restored to mobility.
The time doorway also swallowed Diann’s privacy device before vanishing into itself. Now passers-by could once more approach and look at her.
What they would see was a life-size, sensuous, nude statue of a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties. Nobody could ever suspect that she was alive. The locals might wonder where she had come from, but one thing was certain: she wasn’t going anywhere. Not only were her feet fused to the pedestal, but the pedestal was fused to the rock and the rock definitely wasn’t about to be moved.
For twenty years Diann would stand as a statue in the park, generating a subliminal feeling of health, well-being, eroticism and non-aggression. Very soon that feeling would spread to the rest of the planet, and people in more dangerous cities would begin to feel safer. And the same thing would soon be happening on twenty other planets, as Diann’s friends also became statues.
The golden lightning was beginning to wash over her, filling her body and soul with pleasure. In Jaskri’s embrace Diann had experienced the golden lightning before, but only for minutes at a time. Now she was about to find out how it felt to exist in a state of ecstasy for decades.
There was just one nagging thought troubling Diann’s mind. She had programmed the device to return and unfreeze her after twenty years, and had checked and double-checked the program. Yet, just for a split-second before it disappeared, she could have sworn that the timer had read: