Crossing the Void
By Derek Spohn
Trella stared at the
computer terminal, knowing the number counting down on
it indicated how much time she had left to live. This
wouldn’t be the first time she died, but, if she
succeeded, it would be the last.
three-and-a-half days until the nanovirus in her
bloodstream caused her to pass out from fatigue and
her organs to fail. Until then, she was genetically
engineered not to need food or drink or sleep. Not
that that helped her with her problem.
It was an infinity of
just enough life to remind her how alone she was, but
not enough to do anything about it. Why had she done
this to herself? How could she have thought this was a
“Trella, are you
okay?” Kurt, the ship’s AI, asked her.
She hated Kurt and
his smug attitude that said he knew best. Kurt
wouldn’t let her rest in peace. Well, she wouldn’t let
him have peace of mind, either.
“Screw you.” She said
Kurt acted as if he
hadn’t heard her.
“When your body
reached a sufficient state of development a couple
days ago, I downloaded your memories and skills. You
should have the necessary abilities to perform your
maintenance duties, but if you’re stumped, I can pull
up the ship’s database.”
It was her turn to
ignore him. “Kurt, how many lives have I lived?”
“You programmed me
not to tell you that.”
“I am her. I have her
DNA. You must obey me. I order you to turn this ship
“I’m sorry, but
that’s not how it works.”
She hadn’t thought it
would be that easy, but she had to try. “What if I
don’t do any repair work until you answer my
“Then I still
wouldn’t grant you access. I would wait for you to
expire and check your genetic processing for system
errors so your next life would be free of such a
She didn’t mean
anything to him. She was just a short-lived organic
repair system, popping up periodically to ensure the
ship didn’t wear out. She didn’t bother to hide her
contempt as she stormed out of the room.
Trella sat in the
corner of the birthing room. The accelerated growth
chamber that birthed clones stood front and center. A
pair of Kurt’s robot drones stood inert on the far
side of the room.
She wondered how much
it would set Kurt’s plans back if she wrecked the
accelerated growth chamber. Nowhere near as much as
she needed to end the project. Kurt’s robots were
limited in what they could accomplish, but she
couldn’t do enough damage their simple minds couldn’t
devise a means to repair. If she wanted to end the
cycle of misery for once and for all, she needed to go
straight to the source. She needed to kill Kurt.
Kurt censored the
information he had downloaded into her brain. She had
only vague memories from her first life. She knew that
once upon a time she had been a history professor
disillusioned from the stagnation in humanity’s
progress for the past hundred thousand years. She knew
she had commissioned Kurt and the ship after she
inherited her father’s wealth.
She knew that, yet
she only knew it as if she had read it in one of the
textbooks she taught from. She couldn’t associate
memories with emotions. She couldn’t remember her
father as a loved one. She couldn’t even remember his
face. Yet another reason to hate Kurt.
Trella tapped the
watch clasped to her left wrist, and the screen lit
up. She had three days and five hours before she died
again. She swore. At least Kurt hadn’t censored away
that guilty linguistic pleasure.
She stood up. She didn’t know what she would do, but
she knew she needed to act.
The area of the ship
habitable to Trella formed a lowercase t. The
control room was at the head of the t. One arm
held the birthing room, the other the processing
center where worn out equipment and dead Trellas were
dragged away and broken down to make newer versions of
The ship’s engine
room was at the bottom of the t. She headed to
the engine room to work on the maintenance Kurt had
scheduled for her.
She needed to buy
time to think. She needed to figure out how to shut
down Kurt for good. Kurt controlled the airflow. If he
became wary of her behavior, all he needed to do to
stop her was lock the door and suck the air out from
the room. Kurt ruled over Trella like the tin god he
was. He could fix any damage she caused.
When the countdown
reached two days and sixteen hours, Trella finished
the maintenance in the engine room. The only things
she had needed to repair were a few light bulbs
screwed in too loosely. Everything else she had done
had been tedious routine checks.
Trella started back
for the control room. She had had an idea while she
worked on the maintenance checks. What if the solution
wasn’t to sabotage the mission, but to perfect the
ship so it no longer needed maintenance checks from
“Can I help you,
Trella?” Kurt asked, as soon as she entered the
“Kurt, dear, I had a
thought while I was working.” She went a little over
the top when she added ‘dear’. On the other hand,
social cues weren’t his forte.
“What was your
“If I told you there
was a way to keep up with maintenance without using
short-lived clones of me, would you help me?”
Kurt hesitated for a
few seconds that may as well have been an eon.
understand.” He shocked her in the way he whined. “I
can’t survive this trip alone. If I don’t have you, I
have no one.”
Her cheeks flushed
red, and her hands curled into fists. Who was he to
talk about loneliness and misery after all the hellish
torment she had endured throughout the voyage? She
struggled to contain her anger at the AI.
“What if I were to
make you a companion?”
Time crawled as Kurt
paused again. “How would you do that?”
“I’d convert the two
robots in the birthing room into AIs. I’d have to
cannibalize your hardware. The original me only had
the budget for one AI when the ship was built, but it
will have to be enough. You would have thought this
yourself, but it involves taking a risk you’re
programmed to avoid. I’ll turn you off, copy your
programming, and transfer the spare copies into the
robots. It’ll be simple.”
“I don’t know about
this.” Kurt said. “There is an uncertainty I’m
uncomfortable with. I don’t want you to turn me off.”
For the first time
during her brief, miserable life, Trella chuckled.
“It’s called trust, Kurt. The question you should ask
yourself is whether you’d prefer to take a chance and
place your faith in me, the woman who created you, or
if you’d rather have us continue this cycle of
birthing me and watching me die for however many
endless years remain before we reach Andromeda.”
“I’ll do it.” He said
Trella sighed from
“I have to warn you:
I can’t extend your lifespan. I don’t have free-will
like you. My initial programming limits my choices.”
“What the hell does
that mean?” Trella asked.
“Once the nanovirus
is released into your bloodstream, I can’t control
Her heart sank into
her gut. She wanted to scream. She had found a way to
keep the ship eternally adrift without needing to
remind her every few years how ephemeral and
meaningless her existence was. She didn’t know how far
from the Milky Way she was, how long she had travelled,
or how many times she had been brought to life only to
die alone again.
She had gone farther
than anyone had ever gone before. She didn’t know what
awaited her in the Andromeda Galaxy. She might never
know that, but she would be set free from the
uncertainty and the dreaded loneliness.
After she halved
Kurt’s AI hardware and installed it into the two
robots, Trella had twenty-four hours before death
swept over her.
While she worked, her
thoughts drifted back to the restricted files on the
computer. Without Kurt looking over her shoulder, she
might be able to access those files.
She had time to spare
so she could afford to postpone Kurt’s revival a
little while longer.
Trella plopped down
in front of the control room’s primary computer
terminal and typed. It wasn’t long before she opened
Glancing every now
and then at the countdown, she skimmed past the bulk
of the data. She focused on reading the section
headings and a few words here and there.
She never imagined
Kurt had hidden so much from her. The first chunks of
data she scanned over held useless information on
Milky Way politics. As Trella read on, the information
zoomed in from the macrocosm at large to her own ship.
Her head ached, and
she felt as if she would suffocate. She couldn’t grasp
information that mind-bogglingly vast.
According to the
notes on the screen, there hadn’t been an original
development in human progress, cultural or
technological, for tens of thousands of years. The
last habitable planet in the Milky Way had long since
been colonized. The visionaries in literature and art
only reimagined stories from glories past.
As Trella read, her
face flushed red with anger at her original self. She
had thought she was helping to inspire humanity to
move forward, but she had lied to herself.
Damn her messiah
complex. She hadn’t saved the galaxy. She had sold her
soul to the devil.
Trella took a deep
breath and continued reading.
The next section was
devoted to inflight statistics. The ship had launched
a million years ago. It travelled at half the speed of
light and the Andromeda Galaxy was two and a half
million light years from the Milky Way. Adding in
relativistic effects, the trip would seem shorter to
her, but that only helped so much. That still left
more than four million years of flight to go. The ship
had cloned her more than fifty-one million times.
Her head swirled in a
riptide of pandemonium. Kurt hadn’t birthed her to
perform shipboard maintenance. He had birthed her to
satisfy some other need. Only an insane addict would
place her through this torture once a week.
Then she spotted one
final number on the screen. The ship had given birth
to forty million clones who had what Kurt referred to
as heightened awareness of their surroundings. Kurt
wasn’t God. He couldn’t control exactly how the clones
turned out. Not that that helped much.
Trella felt helpless.
What could she do that tens of millions of other
clones hadn’t already tried?
Trella sat in the
control room. The countdown on the room’s forward
screen told her there were thirty minutes to go. She
decided to spend her last few minutes telling Kurt
what she thought of him, not that she hadn’t done it
countless times before.
“Trella,” Kurt said,
after he finished rebooting. “Why didn’t you copy me
into the two robots in the birthing room?”
“Cut it,” Trella said. “We both know how little time I
have left. I need to make this brief, so don’t
Kurt started to say
he understood, but Trella never let him finish. “I
said let me talk. You don’t get to say a word, you
monster. I would have left you unplugged if I didn’t
need to tell you off so bad.”
Tears welled up in
her eyes. She didn’t want to be there, but if she
didn’t do it, then she wouldn’t be able to this time.
Maybe those tens of millions of other versions of her
told Kurt something similar, but she needed to do it
“This has never been
about loneliness for you. All you care about is power
now and once we reach Andromeda. You may have it now,
but our little journey is no more than the blink of an
eye compared to what awaits humanity. You keep trying
the same damn thing and expecting a different outcome.
That makes you insane. You don’t get to say you’ve
won. Not this time, not any of the times past, and not
any of the times to come. You lose, Kurt. You. Lose.”
adrenaline had surged through her veins. But the rush
was ending, as if the nanovirus in her bloodstream had
just enough mercy to allow her to say what she would
say and no more. Her eyelids weighed heavy on her
Kurt was talking
again, but she no longer had the strength to speak. It
didn’t matter. She had won this time and she would win
all the times to come because Kurt couldn’t change her
genes enough to matter. She was victory infinite.
With one final ghost
of a smile, Trella slept, ready for her story to