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Gateways: “Both are Infinite” by Irene L. Pynn

TRANSCRIPT: This next story is from Irene L. Pynn whose publications include plays, short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel. Her plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, and How to Field Dress an Android. You may even have heard her writing right here at Otherworld Theatre. This is “Both are Infinite”

The human body can’t survive long enough to comprehend the truths of a collapsing star, but as I stretch ever closer to one, I remember a mad theory that it can erase my past. What would that mean? 

My legacy, such as it is, would vanish. I suppose there’s no one to leave a legacy for, anyway. 

I served on the last official Earth expedition. It failed. The day our team set off, you kissed me goodbye and told me to keep my expectations low. “Everything ends,” you told me.  

Death doesn’t end, I said. If we let the Earth die, that’s permanent. 

You rolled your eyes. Semantics.  

I know you can’t hear me, by the way. No one’s comms survived the blast. But you know how I am. I want to remember the moments when we still had hope. Memory is one of the greatest things about sentience. It’s our innate ability to bend time. Something may be long past, but I can almost see it right now. I can even imagine it differently – better, if I want. Memory is magic. 

Yeah, there I go, again. Humor me today. 

We already knew it was dire, even then. The air grew noxious, the trees withered, and teams of humans raced out across the globe in all directions for hope. One by one, they returned with none. But I’ve never been good at reconciling myself to that type of news.  

So I joined the final expedition, the foolish one. The Hail Mary. 

“Onward I go,” I said as you shook your head. 

Armed with a copy of Herodotus, who once described the youthful skin of those who bathed in mythical waters, we set off for a fairy tale. Water – any at all – was precious by then. Perhaps, if we could locate the source of that ancient spring, recognize its power somehow, maybe the harsh sunlight would turn to ripples of rainbows on its miraculous surface… If we could direct such a healing force back into Mother Earth… If we believed in magic… 

I’ve just noticed there’s something wrong with my oxygen supply, but I can’t tell what. 

Closer to a black hole, spacetime behaves differently than we’re used to. At home, we’re born, we grow up, we fall in love, we invent ways to destroy our planet, and we die. In space, the rules play tricks on us. What we think we know about permanence gets sucked into oblivion. 

But at home, you were right. Everything ended, as everything does. Years ago, cities with false fountains of youth featured tours: Come take a sip from Ponce de Leon’s spring of eternal life! Then enjoy this ghost tour of local graveyards. 

We, too, were unsuccessful, though I never agreed to give up. My team dragged me home even as I insisted we hadn’t looked hard enough. Somewhere, hidden under the dusty remains of everything we’d destroyed, swelled a liquid more valuable than gold, with the power to turn back time and restore life. A bounty as boundless as the sea. 

But, of course, that wasn’t true. We had searched thoroughly. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist because magic isn’t real. 

So the last humans of Earth boarded our ships, and we left. 

Goodbye to the park where I had my first kiss. Goodbye to the birds that nested in our roof. Goodbye to my grandfather’s headstone. 

“This is what love feels like,” you told me. “It exists only because everything ends.” 

That can’t be true, I said, but you stroked my back in that soothing way a parent comforts a grieving child. 

Now I’m getting a notification that my primary life support system has switched to the secondary. I don’t know why. The explosion must have done something to – it hardly matters. I’ll be dead in minutes, either way. 

For the past few moments as I have been babbling to you about the past, I’ve caught something strange out of the corner of my eye. It’s distant and can’t really be there. Some kind of hallucination. 

The Earth ended. Then, after years of space wandering, even our ships couldn’t last. Faulty wiring, user error. Who knows what? Everyone on board had just enough time to help each other into our suits before the explosion. And then we shot out in all directions with no tethers, no plans, and no futures. 

Everything ends, you whispered seconds before we parted forever. 

Death doesn’t. 

It seems fitting that the blast shot me toward a black hole, the source of nearly every excuse for magic in science fiction. Anything is possible here. You can find foolish hope in the math for a collapsed star if you look hard enough. 

There it is again. That hallucination in the distance. I wish you were here so you could tell me whether you see it, too. I just wish you were here. 

I wonder what you are seeing right now. I hope it’s as beautiful and colorful as my strange vision. You’re probably calm and resolute, as always. I miss you. 

Love is hope. Love is memory. Love stops time and holds on to the best moments forever. It lets go of the worst. 

The theory that this sucking space event can stop time and erase my past suggests that the closer I come to death, the farther I get from our sad reality. Perhaps, when I arrive, I’ll find that we didn’t destroy our planet. We didn’t escape on aging ships. I didn’t hurtle, alone, toward the darkest point of the universe. 

It seems there’s something wrong with my secondary oxygen supply. I’ve looked for a way to repair the pack, but I’m spinning, and my body stretches uncomfortably into nothing, and what’s the point, anyway?  

In the distance, closer to the event horizon than I can survive, I swear I see something. Golden, rippling. 

Yes, I know. Light can’t escape a black hole. Nothing can. 

And yet, it can’t be imaginary. Something is there

All the time, even on land, we’re hurtling toward an end. I hear your voice in my memory reminding me that we cling to things we love because we know we can’t keep them forever. 

But, forgive me, my dear. I’m going to disagree with you again. Stubborn to the end.  

Love is infinite. And so is hope. 

Onward I go. 

Sandra Howard is an actor, combatant and generally incredible human being. She’s done several shows with Cave Painting Theater and you can find her at the  Bristol Renaissance Faire this summer. She’s also one of the most wonderful people I know. And I’m on the record with that now.