And Then There Were Infinite
by Josh Pearce
“Do you ever feel like you’re standing with your finger in the dam of reality?”
There were two buttons in front of Miller: one red, which would execute the programmed course correction, turn them around, send the great battleship Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones home; and one blue, which would cancel all previous commands and keep them on their current heading into the black. Miller braced himself against the console, shaking sick with the cold and with sleep, withdrawing from the many, many drugs. The captain’s body lay pressed against the deck with a hole blown through her midriff, her hair escaping from the tight bun in which it had been wound.
August Domino, Lieutenant, stood over the body, shouting something at Miller, urging him to choose a button. The lensor pistol slipped from Domino's hand and fell to the deck next to the captain’s body. Its delicate focusing and internal magnifying lenses cracked. There was no one else to hear all the shouting because, apart from Miller and Domino, all the rest of the crew was in one form or the other of long sleep. Miller leaned weakly on the helm. He had never felt heavier than he did right now. He reached out for the buttons, and pressed one.
The battleship woke him by heating his cryonic cells with radio waves. The cryoprotectent in his veins turned back into liquid as it warmed, drawn out of his body through the femoral IV, replaced with someone else’s fresh blood and polyvinyl alcohol anti-nucleators. Before the warming cycle had fully finished, Lt. Domino cracked open Miller’s pod and pulled him out. “I had to get you out of there. The captain is atomizing all the pods.”
Miller climbed out slowly and painfully and looked around the pod bay. The nine cryogenic coffins that were at the far end of the bay now sat empty, their red-orange-yellow spray-painted hatches hanging open. His eyes took a long time to focus on Domino’s face, which was pushed close up to his. “What’s our current schedule?” he asked.
“Captain Rifkin has us on twenty years down, six months up, now.”
“What?” said Miller. “That’s impossible. We don’t have enough crew to maintain that.” He felt more tired and colder than his previous duty shift, like his bones were made out of ice.
“I know that. She’s been giving us bad blood when we wake up for our duty shifts.” Then Domino saw the panic on Miller’s face and said, “Don’t worry, I gave you captain’s blood that was only on ice for a couple of weeks. It might not be A-1 premium kosher USDA standard considering how much radiation she’s been soaking up, but it was better than giving you what I had in my veins.”
“Yeah, you don’t look so hot.” Miller could only imagine how bad he himself looked, just out of deep freeze. The shakes overtook him and he collapsed on the floor, trying to curl up on himself under a canvas blanket until they went away. “I feel so weak. Are you sure I didn’t get a tainted blood supply?” Or was this the side effect of having been frozen for so long? But then he noticed how the blanket didn’t drift around him, and how solidly Domino was planted on his feet. “No, that’s not it. Our gravity is stronger, because our acceleration’s greater. Why?”
Lt. Domino crouched down next to him. “Like I said. Captain Rifkin is burning everything that’s not nailed down for fuel, trying to get our delta-v curve as steep as possible. She says it’s the only way we’ll catch the Infraviolets.”
“Well, is she right?” Miller reached for the duty-officer flimsy that Domino was holding. “What does the computer say about the projected trajectories?” The flimsy screen was dark.
The lieutenant shrugged. “The Catesby locked me out of the system because I couldn’t pass the cog test when I woke up. I don’t think
anyone has been able to since Rifkin put us on the new schedule. Like I said, bad blood.” Domino pointed at the bridge of his nose but not, alarmingly, with his finger. With the muzzle of the lensor pistol. “It’s right behind the eyes. You can see it if you close them tight
Miller woke the flimsy with his thumbprint, and it greeted him with a series of reasoning tests, spatial comprehension, simple things to
test for brain damage, because repeated thawings and freezings could easily damage the delicate cells of the body with ice crystal build
up. Coordination and balance. Recite the alphabet. Touch your nose with your finger. Once Miller had done that, the flimsy unlocked his
access to the server. The ship’s computer said, “Midshipman Hale Imamovich Miller, declared cognitively fit for duty.”
“Shit, now she knows I woke you up off schedule.”
“She would know that anyway. Catesby could relay our conversation to her.”
“I smashed all the microphones in this room,” Domino said, pleased with himself. “They can’t hear us talk in here.”
With great effort Miller levered himself up and propped up against Domino. “Where is she now?”
“She’s barricaded herself on the bridge.” Domino waved the lensor around. “But I’m gonna raise the rest of the crew so we can take back control of the ship. It’ll be a few more weeks before you’re ready to give blood, but once you are we can wake the next two at the same time. And then there’ll be four. And a few weeks after that we can all use our blood to make eight of us. And then....”
“I get it,” said Miller. “I know how we mass for battle stations.” Training was superseding pain and discomfort. “But before we can plan
for that, we have to find out where we are and how long it’ll take us to get back to base. If you have us hot-blooding it until the whole
crew is awake, that could create more problems than we’d solve. We’re only designed to be at full battle rotation once during our
deployment. There won’t be enough slush to feed an entire awakened crew again. We used up our battle rations when we hit the Infraviolet station.”
“Well, ask Catesby where we are.”
Miller played with the flimsy for a minute and finally said, “The info’s been restricted by the captain.”
“I can try burning the hatch off the bridge.”
“With that tiny thing? It’d take you years and you’d probably melt the gun’s mirrors long before you got through one hinge. No, let’s go talk to her, and see what all this is about.”
“I’m telling you, she’s not going to listen. I’ve been screaming at the hatch for weeks and she doesn’t answer. Even Catesby stopped
talking to me,” Domino said, as he dragged Miller through the ship’s corridors. He looked worried. “Do you think she died in there? We
could be stuck on autopilot.”
“Then I’ll tell Catesby to let me in, because I’ll be in command. Or we’ll wake up another officer.” They were at the vacuum-sealed hatch to the bridge and Miller flicked the flimsy. “Catesby, call to the bridge.”
A pause, and then Captain Rifkin’s detached voice came on speaker. “Hello, Hale.”
“Good morning, Captain. I want to discuss the current duty schedule with you.”
“Very well. Discuss.”
How much had she aged as he’d slept? What had years of micro-gravity done to her body, and how was it holding up to the current
acceleration? Was her heart about to explode with the strain? “Ma’am, as the active duty officer, I require access to the bridge.” The
speakers hissed and popped with cosmic static. “Captain?”
She said, “Access denied.”
“See? I told you,” Domino hissed, like static.
“Is that Lt. Domino with you?” said Rifkin. “He is unfit for duty and has been relieved. He should be put down.”
“Catesby,” said Miller. “Requesting shift-change evaluation of all awake crew. Has the captain taken a cog test since the last shift?”
There was a long pause as something happened behind the locked door, and then the ship’s computer came back, saying, “Captain Rifkin has scored fit-for-duty on the cognitive test.”
“How is that even possible?” Domino demanded. “She’s burning the crew as rocket fuel.”
“Nonetheless,” said Catesby, “she has made those decisions of sound mind.”
“We could starve her out,” Domino suggested. “I can cut the slush line to the bridge’s spigot, and then she’d have to come out for food.” He banged on the hatch. “You hear that, Captain?”
Her voice sounded weary over the speakers. “The survival of my physical body is immaterial to the completion of this mission. If I
die in here, the ship will continue on the course I set.”
“Captain, please.” Miller tried to be rational. “Let me in and you can lay out the plan. If I agree that it’s sound, then I can stand watch
for you and you can sleep. Otherwise, the lieutenant and I wait out here until you starve to death and Catesby lets me onto the bridge.”
There was a promising pause. At least she was thinking about it. Then Rifkin gave a command to the ship. Radio waves flickered over the two men and Catesby said, “Lt. August Domino is armed with a lensor pistol, in contravention of ship law regarding non-duty crew.”
“Okay, okay.” Miller took the sidearm from Domino, saying, “It’s the only way she’ll open the hatch.” He tucked it into a pocket of his
undersuit. “I have control, Captain.”
The hatch finally released its seals and Domino pulled it open. Inside, the bridge was dim, Rifkin silhouetted against a wall-sized
flimsy screen that showed the starfield outside. Blue-shifted stars on her left, red-shifted on her right. “Come in. Though Mr. Domino should still be put under medical care.”
“In time, ma’am. Once we put him to sleep, he’ll have to stay under until we get back to an Ultrarose base with a full hospital to revive
him. Ship conditions won’t be able to handle it.” He hobbled to the center of the bridge, towards the helm. “As with most of the rest of
the crew, Captain. Our current rotation schedule is unsustainable.”
She turned to him. Miller bit back his shock. Her skin was wrinkled, inelastic, hair gray and white, an old woman whose eyes had started to go opaque. While the rest of her crew slept, she'd stayed awake and watched for the universe to change, like a sailor’s wife standing vigilant on the widow’s walk of a lighthouse. “The schedule must work,” she told him, “otherwise we would not be here. We must stop the Infraviolets before they reach the Omega point. I mean, we must have stopped them.” She looked confused. “Perhaps, we must have already will have stopped them? In the future?”
“How is that the talk of the cognitively fit?” Domino demanded.
“Discussion of Omega points necessarily involves logical convolutions,” she answered.
“I think the whole idea of an Omega point is ridiculous in the first place,” said the lieutenant. “You have no proof. What do you think,
“I have repeatedly analyzed the equations that we pulled from the Infraviolet station’s computers during our assault. Their scientists’
calculations appear to be internally consistent, but there is no way to confirm their conclusions in any objective frame.”
“Captain,” Miller interrupted. “How far out are we from base? How close are we to catching the Infraviolet ship?”
Rifkin waved her hand at the flimsy display and it melted into a graph of their course and position. Miller blinked blearily at it, but
Domino was first to catch on, and he squawked in terror. “We’ve over forty years out from our Alpha point! We have to turn over now. With braking and getting back up to return speed, it’ll take us a hundred years to get back home.”
More, actually, because every minute spent heading outward-bound added days to the return trip. And with diminishing fuel supplies. But the part that frightened Miller the most was the point on the graph where the red trail of the Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones intersected with the blue track of the enemy ship’s course. “This says we won’t intercept the Infraviolets for another five hundred years.”
“At this acceleration rate, that is correct,” she said. “Which is why I ordered the dead used as reaction fuel. To cut down on their lead.
Less mass, more exhaust.”
“This is a suicide plan,” Miller argued, “on so many levels. Even if someone on our crew is still alive, miraculously, by the time we reach
the Infraviolets, how are they going to be revived? Our blood supplies will have gone bad long before then. And the return trip would take a thousand years. We weren’t prepared for that long of a voyage, in terms of cold storage, crew size, or mass-acceleration ratios.”
“Returning is not the primary mission,” said Rifkin. “Only stopping them from entering the Omega point.”
“And how are we going to prevent that?” he asked. “We’re out of warheads.”
“I have already locked in a collision course. Even if we are all dead, Catesby will ram the Infraviolet ship and destroy it.”
Domino and Miller were shocked silent. Then Miller said, “Catesby? What do you think of this plan?”
“I think this part of the galaxy is filled with frequencies undetectable from our home systems. In short, it is like nothing I
have ever seen before.”
“Shit,” Domino said. “Everyone on this bucket has bit rot. Catesby, you dumbass, is the captain’s plan right? Will we even be able to stop their ship?”
The computer said, “The Infraviolets expected to reach the supposed Omega point less than three hundred years after launching from their station.”
“Well then we don’t stand a chance anyway,” said Domino, “so we should reverse course right away and good riddance to them.”
“Which is why I had Catesby calculate a different intercept path,” said the captain. A new curved line appeared on the screen. “Which is
the course we are on now. With these new parameters, we can intercept and destroy the enemy before they reach the Omega point. But only if we get our acceleration up beyond this threshold.” More lines. “We can accomplish this goal, Catesby and I decided, if we atomize the rest of the pods with our reactor core and bring our speed up.”
“The rest of the pods?” said Miller. But all the dead had already been burned for fuel.
“You mean the rest of the crew!” Domino said. “Killing them in their sleep!”
“To reduce our mass and increase our velocity,” she said. “Yes, it is a difficult sacrifice to make, but this is war, and if the
Infraviolets outrun us, then our existence will be over. I believe it is apparent that this is the correct path, because we are still here.
Because I have already made the decision, and deviating from it will erase us.”
“Or we’re still here because there is no Omega point,” Domino shouted. “You just believe there is! If you’re wrong, then you’ve killed us
all, did you think about that?”
She stared at him coldly. “And if I am right, then not only will everyone on this ship die, but we will cease to have ever existed, and
so will the whole Ultrarose society. If you turn this ship around, or slow us, or deviate from its course at all, then you will blink out of
existence. We have the best chance of success if you two, as well, provide yourselves as reaction fuel. I know that when the time comes, I will gladly throw myself into the furnace for the greater good.”
Miller was paralyzed. It was a coin-toss. What else was he to do? August Domino made the first move, though, saying, “You go first, old lady,” and struck out at the weakened Miller. While Miller was falling, Domino snatched the pistol from him, turned it on the
captain, and blew her in half.
“Unauthorized weapon discharge on the bridge,” Catesby announced to anyone who was listening. The smell of torched flesh filled Miller’s mouth and he spat it out. He looked up to see Domino aiming the gun at him.
“You can’t shoot me,” Miller said, pulling himself up.
“The hell I can’t. I just shot the captain. I can shoot anybody.” Domino punched commands into the helm flimsy, but it was unresponsive.
“The computer is only going to accept commands from someone who is not crazy,” Miller pointed out. “The captain’s fried, so I’m in control, and I’ve got the last of the good blood. Kill me, and you lock yourself out of the helm forever.” He brushed Domino aside. The
computer woke when he touched it and showed that the helm had two courses pre-plotted -- a blue course that took them after the enemy and a red course that took them back to base. Caught between their own Alpha and Omega points. Behind him, Domino dropped the lensor pistol.
“Well, Hale? Make your choice.”
The captain addressed them in the forward mess, which was the only section large enough to hold the entire ship complement at once. The mood was a harsh mix of after-battle euphoria and mourning for the nine spacemen they’d lost in the assault on the enemy station, where the Infraviolets were building a superweapon, or stockpiling warheads, or holding undeclared P.O.W.s, or any other rumored horror. The nine dead were frozen in their cryogenic pods, which were now coffins, draped with the Ultrarose colors. There they would stay for the long trip home where they could be properly buried. There had been 51 when the ap Catesby launched. Nine dead. And then there were 42.
During this after-action debrief, Domino called out, “So what were they really doing way out here, Captain? The station is light-years
away from any star system.”
Rifkin had a flimsy animation on display to follow along with her words. “From captured intel, we believe this station was a deep-space
dock for a new type of Infraviolet ship.” A schematic showed up in the distinct green-blue-purple of the enemy flag. They all took in the
strange warship, with heavy radiation shielding, extended crew capacity, excessive fuel holds. “Unfortunately, this ship launched
long before we arrived. We have an estimated escape trajectory based on the enemy files.” The blue curved line shot out from the enemy station and pierced deep into the empty black space.
“That’s in the opposite direction of the war ground,” Domino said. “Where the hell do they think they’re going?”
“The Infraviolet scientists think that they’ve found,” Rifkin hesitated, “an Omega point. A deep gravity well.”
Sounds of disbelief from the officers, who had better astrophysics classes than the able-bodied spacemen like Miller. “What?” he asked
the woman next to him. “Is that a bad thing?”
“Catesby is reviewing the available information,” said the captain, “but that is uncharted space. Anything could be out there.” The mess
hall had one wall completely given over to slush spigots, but nobody was eating because most the entire crew was scheduled back into cold sleep after the audience. “Fact or wishful thinking, our mission was to eliminate the enemy presence, and that remains incomplete until that ship is destroyed.
“So we are in hot pursuit. Excess and depleted equipment will be atomized as reaction fuel to get us up to full steam. Deep sleep is
ordered for all crew except Lt. Domino, who will be pulling first watch. Duty schedule is standard one year down, one month up, unless
calculated otherwise necessary.” Even though the crew sometimes referred to her as “the old lady,” Heather Erisova Rifkin had actually
joined a crew when she was sixteen, as a cabin girl in the times before appetite suppressants had made that an archaic role. She worked her way up and made captain at 25 and now, a decade later, was due for promotion to commodore after their current mission. She had been born and grown up during and now lived entirely in the war. She smiled. “Dismissed, and good rest, everyone.”
Miller caught up with Domino as the crew drifted to the pod bay at the back of the ship. “What is that all about?” he asked. “The Omega point?”
“I think it’s a waste of time. An astronomer’s fairy tale. There’s nothing out there,” Domino said. They passed the assault bays,
hauntingly empty because all of the war machines inside had already been scrapped for reaction mass. Engineering crews squeezed past them, detailed to convert the ship’s remaining warheads into nuclear fuel. “I bet the ship we’re chasing is an empty decoy, just bait to draw us away from the battleground, where we’re really needed.”
At the end of the corridor they saw Rifkin slip into her private cabin, a squeeze pouch of ship’s slush in hand. “Is she not going to
sleep?” Miller asked. The slush was warmed, which was about all you could say for it. Fungus, algae, bacteria, anything they could get to grow on the crew’s own waste and skin cultures. The slush fed on them and they ate it. Not something you wanted rotting in your guts as you slept away the years.
“Not from what I saw of the schedule, which is a surprise. Usually, command staff sleep for a very long time and age only reluctantly. Who knows how long she’ll stay up? But I’ll tell you, I’d sleep a lot better with a gun under my pillow.”
“The black does strange things to a person. Cosmic radiation damage, low-gravity, isolation. A month alone on this ship is enough for me.”
The first group of crew went down. In their pods, a slow-moving cold liquid circulated over head, neck, groin, and underarms for two hours to bring their temperatures down to 10 degrees C. Then the blood washout, replaced with an isotonic nutrient. Vitrification, a
cryoprotectent injected through their femoral arteries, solidifying into a syrupy glass. Cool-down at 5 degrees C per minute by liquid
nitrogen vapor down to -120 degrees. Further cooling to -196 degrees was slower to prevent cracking of cells. A dozen more crew down. And then there were thirty.
The ship was firing all nozzles, but the acceleration was slight, gravity barely noticeable as it got underway. While Miller waited his
turn, he looked up what Catesby knew about Omega points. “Omega objects are theoretical, super-massive points that create paths in
space-time with terminal ends that exist prior to their beginnings,” said Catesby.
“You mean time-travel,” said Miller. “That can’t ... is that possible?”
“Theoretically, traveling an orbital path around a spinning black hole, a cosmic string, or something resembling a Tipler cylinder --
perhaps constructed by a civilization far older than our own -- this would allow a ship to exist in a space called a chronosphere, where
gravity is so strong that it drags not only matter and light in a whirlpool around it, but also time as well.”
The lights went out in the corridors. “Why is it so dark?”
“All spare resources, including photons, are being used as rocket exhaust.”
Another cluster of spacemen went into cryogenic sleep, sipping up medications through their IVs. EGTA to prevent vomiting. Heparin,
sodium citrate to prevent blood coagulation. Dextrose as a nutrient for tissues. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, followed by Maalox to
neutralize gastric acid. “So the Infraviolets want to go back in time to a pivotal point in the war and alter the way it’s going? What are
some possible targets?”
Mannitol to inhibit cell swelling and prevent cerebral edema. Dextran-40 prevented tissue edema and reduced blood cell
agglutination. Dextran-1 to prevent anaphylactic reaction to Dextran-40.
Catesby started listing past engagements. “The Battle of Five Stars, Greenwick’s Folly, the Third Oort Battle, the Coronation of Governor Leopold, Jupiter Engagements I-IV, the Limited War of All Heavenly Light....”
Ten more asleep. And then there were twenty.
Catesby said, “But Infraviolet documents suggest a more ambitious scenario.”
The computer put up a little animation on Miller’s flimsy screen. On it, a blue spaceship hovered in front of a dark sphere, an Omega
point. “Hypothetically, the ship enters orbit around the object, and travels one minute backwards in time.” The little ship did just that.
“And meets itself from one minute in the past.” And then there were two Infraviolet ships, floating in space next to the Omega point.
“One from the present, and one from the past.”
“Or you can think of it as one from the present and one from the future. It matters not. Now these two ships enter orbit around the
Omega point together, and travel back one minute in time, whereupon they both meet themselves from one minute in their past.” Four blue ships on the screen.
Methylprednisolone to stabilize membranes. Propofol to reduce brain metabolism. Magnesium sulfate would act as a neuro-muscular blocker. “They double in number every minute,” said Miller.
“There would be more than one quintillion Infraviolet ships within an hour. Though, from an outside point of view, all of those ships would appear at the same time, instantaneously. And once they reached a desired number, the ships could enter the Omega point en masse and travel backwards, for instance, several hundred years and begin their journey home. With a proper course and a good bit of timing, they could arrive back at their station before they’d even left.”
“And that’s what we’re heading into,” said Miller.
Dextromethorphan, alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin E, deferoxamine, nimodipine, all to minimize ischemic damage. And then there were eight
crew left to put to sleep. The blue ships doubled again. And then there were eight.
“If the Omega point existed, and the enemy reached it, then the skies above primordial Earth would suddenly fill with Infraviolet
It was Miller’s turn. He switched off his flimsy and drifted to the pod room. On the way, he passed the armory gun locker, which had an
empty slot in one of its racks. Miller climbed into his pod with his head facing aft, his feet toward the bridge, so that if any liquid
nitrogen evaporated away in his sleep, the tissue damage would be limited to his feet and spare his head. He accepted the injection
gladly, anything to turn off his brain for a while.
Miller closed his eyes, leaving the ship empty except for Domino and Rifkin, who would watch the skies for him. Ahead of the ap Catesby, the stars shrank into blue dots and in its wake they stretched to red streaks. Two choices. Toward the enemy, or toward home.