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The Last Rose
by Leem

Astute literary observers may notice that the plot of this story is a blatant rip-off
of... er, I mean respectful homage to... the late J. G. Ballard’s story “The
Garden of Time”. As always, however, the use I have made of that plot would
probably have been quite surprising to Mr. Ballard. Almost as surprising as the
idea that there could be any kind of literary connection between his stuff and
mine. The story also owes something to Pink Floyd’s “Time” (a song,
incidentally, that takes on added meaning on the day that you realise
it’s been exactly ten years to the day since you first heard it).

From the roof of the lab Terrenya surveyed the horizon for several minutes, before lowering her binoculars and turning to her companion.

“It’s just as I feared,” she said. “The jumpback was smaller this time. They’re almost over the second ridge already.”

“Well, at least we bought ourselves a bit more time,” muttered Rilendris.

“Yes, but for what? We have to face the facts, Ril. We left it too late to get away, and now we’re on our own. I just hope the others made it to safety.”

She shivered in the cold wind, and Rilendris led her back inside.

Back in the lab, Terrenya sadly ran a hand over her bulging research folder. “All this work,” she sighed, “And now it’s all for nothing. Even if the invaders understood our research they’d only abuse it. Rilendris, promise me that if anything should happen to me you’ll destroy the data.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” said Rilendris, hugging her fiercely. “Not alone, at any rate. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.”

“How much time do you think we have left?” whispered Terrenya.

Rilendris sighed. “Without the roses they’d be here in a few hours. With them... maybe a day or two. Maybe less. You’re right about that, Terr. The fewer roses there are, the less power each one seems to have.”

Terrenya disentangled herself and walked over to the hydroponics room. At one time it had almost been filled by the magnificent rose bushes, but now only a handful of the golden blossoms remained.

“We could have learnt so much,” Terrenya said quietly. “Maybe the power to control time itself. We might have been able to prevent the wounded from dying before they could be given help, or even reverse their injuries. Or maybe we would have been able to view the past like a movie. Instead of just speculating about what history was really like, we could have seen for ourselves... maybe even stepped into it. But now... now all we can do is use their power to buy ourselves a few hours, and then... and then no matter what happens to us, the roses will be extinct. Nothing like them will ever grow again.”

Rilendris stepped up behind Terrenya and wrapped her arms around her friend’s shuddering body. Moments later they were making love fiercely. They had that much time, at least.

When the vibration of marching feet became faintly discernible through the walls of the laboratory the girls prepared to pick another rose. It might only be prolonging the inevitable, but neither of them was willing to justsurrender; certainly not to an all-male army that had been marching through the wilderness for days, and probably hadn’t seen a woman for a lot longer, except in tattered, semen-stained porn magazines.

“I suppose we should be thankful that they only sent infantry,” said Rilendris. “I imagine all the aircraft and tanks are busy elsewhere. Our little research project wasn’t very high on their list of priorities.”

“I just wish they hadn’t noticed us at all,” sighed Terrenya. “I suppose somebody from the Science Ministry found out about our work and began speculating about its military potential.”

Rilendris nodded sadly, then turned to face the roses. “Well... are you ready?”

“I’ll do it this time,” said Terrenya, taking the secateurs and severing a particularly fine bloom at the base of its stem. By unspoken agreement, neither of them had touched the largest and most beautiful flower. That one, they knew, would be the last.

Both Terrenya and Rilendris had deliberately approached the rose bare-handed. Now they both grasped the stem firmly and allowed it to draw their blood. They knew from their researches that the flowers drew some of their temporal power either from blood, or from the pain associated with its extraction.

The exquisite agony of the thorns was swiftly replaced by a feeling of euphoria that grew and grew even as the beautiful flower faded and became insubstantial. Finally they experienced something that was very close to an orgasm, while the rose melted into nothingness.

When at last the sensations faded there was silence outside. Terrenya sighed and stared at her palm, which, like Rilendris’s, now showed no sign of injury.

“Have you noticed how the sensation gets stronger every time?” she said. ”It almost seems as if the roses are compensating for their decreasing time powers with a corresponding increase in the amount of pleasure they send us.”

“Don’t forget,” said Rilendris, “the pleasure is just a side effect, though it’s apparently harmless. We still have no idea what its true significance is.”

“And now we’ll never have time to find out,” said Terrenya.

The girls spent most of the little time that was left to them sitting together, reminiscing, looking through photos of friends and wondering whether they had made it to safety, drinking a little of the ‘medicinal’ brandy that they had managed to smuggle into the alcohol-free lab, and making love.

Each time the army came too close they would pick another rose. In order to better savour the ecstasy the roses produced they took to pressing them between their naked breasts, experiencing greater and greater pleasure with each one that evaporated.

Yet as the ecstasy produced by the flowers increased, so the amount of time they bought grew less. First five hours, then four and one-third, then less than three. Eventually the last rose but one was gone, and Terrenya and Rilendris knew they had only minutes, rather than hours, before they were taken.

Naked, they knelt before the last remaining time-rose. It was not cold, or even fear, that caused them to tremble, but the enormity of what they were contemplating.

“The last one,” breathed Terrenya. “The last time-flower in the entire world. Rilendris, do we have the right? If even this one flower survives, it might be preserved, even propagated, by grafting it onto a common rose bush. We’d be denying it even that chance. We’d be destroying something unique and beautiful forever. It would be like tearing up a priceless tapestry to make bandages.”

Rilendris sighed. “Terrenya, the invaders have done a lot worse than that already. They’ve destroyed thousands of irreplaceable works of art and literature, desecrated places of worship and burial, and ransacked entire communities. The only reason they haven’t destroyed scientific institutions is because of the possible military applications.”

Placing her hands on her friend’s shoulders, she said, “Terrenya, just think how much worse it would be if they could figure out how to exploit the power of time. They might even learn how to alter history itself, and then there’d be no place or time that could escape their evil. No, Terrenya, we have no choice. Believe me, I do realise what a terrible thing it is that we’re doing, yet if we don’t then... then everything that good and just people have ever worked for in this world could be in vain.”

The sound of marching feet was now clearly audible even through the walls of the laboratory building.

“Terrenya, there’s no more time. We have to do this now, before it’s too late.”

With their vision blurring, the two girls reached forward to grasp the stem of the exquisite golden flower.

“Forgive us,” they whispered. Rilendris’s hand shook as she reached forward with the cutters. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to do what had to be done.

Cradling the dying rose between them like a precious child, the girls pressed its thorns to their breasts, murmuring, “We’re sorry. We are so very sorry it had to end this way.”

Perhaps in some fashion the rose heard them and understood. This time the sensations produced by the evaporating rose were not just of pleasure - though there was certainly that - but of calm and comfort. It was almost as though the rose were telling them, “Do not trouble yourselves. All will be well. This was meant to be.” And they knew with absolute certainly that this was the truth.

Their anxieties melted away along with the rose, even as their feelings of mutual ecstasy grew and grew, and they made love passionately, heedless of whether the soldiers should burst in and see them. There was no longer any need for words. Their minds seemed to be joining as well as their bodies, until they were sharing their thoughts, their memories, their feelings... even their very souls.

With each passing moment their ecstasy grew more beautiful and intense, and each moment that passed seemed twice as long as the one before. The conjoined souls of Terrenya, Rilendris and the last rose wished that their mutual pleasure could last forever.

And even as they made that wish, it came true...

The commander stood in the middle of the ruins and spat. Somebody was really going to catch it for this. Ten days - ten miserable days - he and his men had marched through this rotten desert on orders to capture a potentially valuable scientific facility, only to find when they arrived that the place had been derelict for what looked like decades, if not centuries.

There wasn’t much left of the two-storey structure except a corroded steel skeleton and what was left of some of the surrounding concrete beams. Inside the shell the men had found some scientific instruments whose modern appearance was at odds with their state of decay. There was a couple of computers, but their innards were badly decayed, along with any useful data they might have contained. If there had been any paper records they had long since crumbled to dust.

There was also the remains of what looked like a hydroponic garden, but its once nutrient-rich soil had been replaced by windblown sand and dust. Not even weeds would grow there now.

Strangely enough, there was one thing that had mysteriously survived unscathed. In the remains of the garden the men had been astonished and delighted to find an incredibly lifelike statue of two nude girls making love.

Not surprisingly, most of the men masturbated over it (and sometimes on it) and quite a few of them copped a feel, reporting that it felt surprisingly and wonderfully real despite looking like solid marble.

The sergeant, feeling that this behaviour was bad for discipline, tried to discourage it by taking a hammer and attempting to knock the statue’s heads off. Much to his discomfort, and the men’s amusement, the hammer had simply bounced off and hit him in the face, making his nose bleed. Some of the men, with inevitable, though inaccurate, prejudice, said behind his back that it served him right for being queer.

The Commander decided that the statue’s unusual resilience might be worth investigating, and so to the men’s further delight he ordered them to take turns carrying it back. It would at least make the journey back through the desert a bit more bearable, for everyone except the sergeant.

After the men returned to the capital the statue was taken to the Science Ministry, with strict orders that the general public was never to get a glimpse of it. Even in the lab it was usually kept covered up, though some of the senior scientists did sneak the odd peek, and more.

The scientists believed that the statue’s apparent indestructibility was the only surviving result of the ancient laboratory’s research, and that if they could only analyse its structure they might be able to re-create that research and make indestructible weapons and armour.

Accordingly, the scientists drew up a programme of tests to be carried out on the statue. The first to be carried out involved using laser beams of various intensities and frequencies to see if any of them would penetrate one of the statue’s feet.

After several hours the scientists appeared to be making no progress at all, until by chance one particular frequency of laser light produced a result. It was, however, a result that was totally unexpected, and one that would never be documented.

What neither Terrenya nor Rilendris had realised was that the time roses had not vanished into nothingness, but had all, in fact, merged part of their essences with the girls’. To prevent those essences from dying out altogether, the last rose had frozen the girls, and the time power hidden within them, into living stasis.

Now, though, the laser had struck the stasis field with precisely the right amount and wavelength of energy to unlock the roses’ true power.

And so, an instant after the laser found its target, time began to unwind. Events ran backward until the foundation of the military dictatorship lay in the future.

Then time resumed its accustomed direction, except that in this new timeline some events occurred a little differently. The election of certain leaders, the experiences of certain men in war and peace, even the attitudes in certain minds, were all subtly altered in ways that resulted in the formation of a democratic state that allowed its people the freedom to live and love as they chose. Nobody remembered the dictatorship. How could they? It had never existed, except in nightmares.

In a pleasant wooded park in the capital, the statue of two female lovers had come to symbolise the state’s liberal attitudes. Nobody knew who had sculpted it, nor when, but it was loved and revered by everyone who saw it.

None of its admirers could ever have guessed that within the statue’s rigid shell, Rilendris and Terrenya remained in a state of heavenly, timeless ecstasy that would last forever.

Meanwhile, in an arid desert far removed from the capital, a single shoot was beginning to sprout from the dusty soil...

Ballard’s original story ends with the two lead characters petrified while a
barbarian horde overruns the remains of their garden. I replaced the
barbarians with a military dictatorship, but I felt it wouldn’t be fair to end at the
same point, letting them go on oppressing the populace, while Rilendris and
Terrenya were experiencing all that pleasure. The story bears some similarities
to other stories I’ve written, notably Jaskri and the Maiden, Sondra and Veyy,
and One Perfect Moment. That’s probably because I’m still me.

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