Infinity minus one is still infinity.
Overpopulated and facing the threat of extinction, humanity has been desperately trying to achieve time travel for decades. Running out of options, materials, and physical space to occupy, the only way to prevent all of this is to ensure it never happens.
"Rosie" is randomly selected among millions to participate in yet another attempt at interdimensional quantum teleportation. Her death is certain, her failure a sacrifice to science so that someone else eventually has the chance to succeed-
- but what if she succeeds?
Trapped in another time, can she alone erase all of humanity's past mistakes?
*In the slow process of editing and revision*
“Thank you for your contribution.”
The words feel hollow, empty as they bounce off every smooth surface in the room. Repeated over and over until the original meaning behind each word is long gone.
“Thank you for your contribution.”
Another masked scientist, engineer, doctor, nurse, theoretical physicist, quantum mechanic, faceless stark white jumpsuit and shiny name tag. I address each one wordlessly as I'm ushered through the hallway by a small troup of nurses. Their voices, almost in unison, repeat the same sentence dryly. It's a pointless sentiment really, you can't thank someone for letting you have something you took from them against their will.
“Thank you for your contribution.”
The sentence passes through each new mouth in the room, not an ounce of apology from behind any of the expressionless surgical masks. Not that I expected one, to all of themI know I'm nothing more than a test subject -today's trial and error.
I am passed around and guided like a lost child. My feet shuffle across the smooth floor, weighed down by bulky magnetic shackles. They're deactivated now, serving only as chunky metal anklets, but at any moment they're ready to reactivate and anchor me to the ground. Every now and then they clack together, ripping through the grim silence like a knife. The sound speaks an underlying threat. Walking through these halls with this small amount of dignity is a privilege.
The beauty of it is that no one has to threaten me directly, instead they just repeat that same sentence until it wears my defiance thin. Whether or not my “contribution” is voluntary is irrelevant. It is necessary, a noble cause, a sacrifice. What does it matter if one relatively insignificant person is lost among countless others?
“The greater good―”, I've heard, thrown at me whenever I speak up with the slightest hint of protest, “Someone has to take one for the team” I'm not the first and I probably wont be the last, but none of that really matters here. Infinity minus one is still infinity.
Soon my parade through he research facility's halls comes to an end and I'm lead into one final testing room. After I'm poked, prodded, one last check, double checked, mark this down, adjust that etc., I'm changed into a thick jumpsuit. It's hotter and heavier than any clothing worn around here, woven out of thick blue fabric with buttons and elastic and stitches and seams.
I almost laugh out loud at the thought of any of these pasty faceless name tags tirelessly working over an old sewing machine to make this, but it had to be done by someone. The attention to detail is too important, this suit is too accurate to be anything other than traditionally made.
Next is footwear, thick protective footwear meant for walking through rugged terrain rather than sanitized floors. I cringe at the smell, they must've been accurate with these too. Rubber soles and stiff brown leather. My mind wanders as each boot is haphazardly shoved over the shackles. Acquiring a cow is difficult enough, but then taking its skin and processing it until it becomes this... this smelly, turd colored, foot shaped shell...
I swallow hard and try not to think of the long dead animal carcass my feet now reside in as I stand up. Latex hands push and pull me up onto a platform where I awkwardly shuffle to face a large tinted mirror. These boots were made for someone with bigger, sturdier feet. My whole getup is itchy and ancient. My reflection stares back at me wide eyed, and for a moment I feel like I'm looking at a page in a history book.
One last team of white jumpsuits. A nameless nurse rolls up my right sleeve and snaps a sleek metal cuff onto my wrist. It whirs vaguely, indicating some kind of machinery starting up within the impossibly thin apparatus. The cuff shifts and fits to the contours of my wrist perfectly like a shiny second skin. I find myself staring at it, turning my hand over and over, making sure I can still move my wrist properly.
I'm so mesmerized by this new A small device is implanted into the nape of my neck and the world fades into a dull throbbing sensation. Slowly, I regain my senses only to find my head tilted to the side as part of the device is being anchored to my jaw. Pain is the last sensation to come back to me. Hot searing pain attacks me from the side but it's so intangible I can't find a way to point it out. So I stand as silent and still as I possibly can while a nurse wipes the last bit off blood off my collar, and finally I'm left alone.
“We can begin now.”
The deep metallic voice rattles every bone in my skull and bristles against my teeth, sending the feeling of lightning zig zagging across the side of my face. No doubt the mirror is two way, just tinted glass obscuring yet another team of scientists and engineers. One of them must be transmitting their voice through the implant. “Should you succeed, you know your purpose.” I grit my teeth as the voice grates against my nerves again. “The wrist band will monitor your location, the communications module on your neck will monitor your vitals. We will be watching you carefully.” The voice falters, all optimism left this environment long before I was even selected. My failure is certain, my future is certain. “Infinity minus one is still infinity.” I mumble to myself looking down at the smooth metal bracelet. “Do you understand?" The voice booms, a hint of exasperation creases the edges of the formal monotone I'm so used to hearing from behind every white mask. My head snaps up. “Y-Yes” I manage to croak out. “Good, your name is now Rosie.” “My name is Rosie” I repeat back weakly. A proper name, My name. I am different now, separate from all the others. I thought being considered my own person would make me feel important or special, but I feel exactly the same as I always have “....infinity minus one.” I whisper. “Thank you for your contribution, Rosie.” That one word transforms the sentence entirely. The original sentiment is back, bringing the words to life under my skin. No longer an empty gesture, this is a salute, a farewell. The platform under my feet begins to vibrate, buzzing to life. Something sparks and the room is full of pure energy, whizzing and whirring and glowing brighter than anything I've ever seen. I can just barely make out my reflection, still in front of me, mouth gaping open in horror. I look as though I'm being consumed by virtual fire. Shifting blue polygons stretch up from the buzzing platform and coat every inch of my body, latching onto my clothing and clinging to my skin like static electricity. The energy reaches my face and covers me entirely. I can no longer see the room or the mirror, only the brilliant turquoise flames. A small morbid thought creeps up from the back of my mind 'surely this is the last thing I will ever see.' “Ready to launch.” echoes through my head and then... nothing. It's strange, I can't hear or see but its different from silence or darkness. I'm breathless, weightless, tasteless, fading and drifting apart into nothing. Is this how its supposed to be? Is this what being split into individual atoms feels like? They explained it again and again to me: time is an illusion, nothing is linear, everything happens all at once. Disassemble me in one point in time, lock onto the atomic signature of some old relic and reassemble me there. I wont be going back in time because time doesn't exist. It's basic teleportation except instead of traveling between rooms, I'll be traveling between universes, my body put in a place it doesn't belong. They left out some key details, oversimplified beyond belief. It doesn't matter if I understand whats happening or not, so of course they spouted off the vaguest kind of non-answer summary you can give to a question that doesn't need to be answered. Just like you tell a kid a story so they'll stop asking questions and go to bed. I'm lost in my own thoughts for what feels like forever, interrupted by something cold and sharp against my wrist. The bracelet! I can feel it now touching my skin, willing the sensation to return to my body. I feel pulled together by a magnetic force, a physical body again, painfully aware of each joint in my skeleton and each muscle. Every organ within me pulses. I start to feel real again, my heartbeat, my lips, a bit of hair brushes across my cheek. I gasp and squeeze my eyes shut, suddenly finding myself able to do so. Next is clothing, the itchy fabric and heavy anklets, the smell of blood and leather attacks me. My stomach turns and I feel like I'm being dropped from an impossibly high place, though I feel no wind or gravity to suggest an up or down in the first place. With a loud bang, my boots slam into solid ground. The shock reverberates throughout my body, my knees collapse and my teeth clamp down hard on my tongue. My mouth fills with the hot metallic taste of blood, my palms stinging against smooth, flat... ...tile? I spit out a mouthful of blood and roll onto my back. Just breathe, right? My head is spinning and my skin still feels like it's on fire. I stretch out my arms and lay my hands flat on the floor, expanding onto the cool surface. Slowly, carefully, I open my eyes.
The world is slowly forming out of black fog and and blue diamonds and green shadows and red spots of blood. Watching the shapes swirl and fade into a bright whiteness is making me nauseous, I squeeze my eyes shut and swallow back the taste of bile. At least everything is still. Nothing is falling or fading away, the gravity weighing me to the floor feels so... real. I lay there shaking for a long time. My hands reach up to cover my face and I hesitantly open my eyes again, peering through my fingers only to find I'm staring up at the ceiling of a dimly lit hallway. I can make out large square paneling and a rectangular glass casing, like the kind used to house old fashioned fluorescent bulbs. A weight settles in the pit of my stomach... I made it, the year 01942, it has to be. The artifact! I guess what I'm looking for must be new at this point, a mask someone is wearing nearby. I'll find the artifact first, make contact with someone from this time period and then.... I have to do something but my plan stops there. Better to start on what I have instead if laying here forever. I sit up and gather my senses, surveying my surroundings. I'm no ancient architecture expert, but I see a lot of what looks like brick walls and linoleum so the atmosphere feels about right. The hallway is wide enough to be a room in itself, large glass windows glowing with warm yellow light line the walls. I stand stumble to the one closest to me, eager to feel real sunlight, but it's not a window at all. Crestfallen, I place my hands against the glass and find myself staring at the inside of a large wooden box. Various objects are fixed to the wall or resting on thin glass shelves, I don't recognize anything here. Shiny metal plaques are under each item labeling them with thin letters and numbers too small for me to read. A display case? This isn't right. I run to the next case, more of the same rusted old equipment and tiny metal birds of some sort. In the next case hangs a couple of faded green colored jumpsuits equipped with with belts and packs. This is ancient military gear, worn and old even now. My eyes drift slowly downward to the bottom of the display, where there lies an white severed head form... wearing the mask. For an instant my heart stops in my chest. I recognize it immediately, the same artifact from back in the lab. A primitive form of headgear designed to protect soldiers' lungs from inhaling the noxious fumes of the weaponry used in the second world war. It's in much better shape than the last time I saw it, but it still lies trapped behind glass, displayed and labeled like a collector's item. The war it was intended for has long since come and gone. “Oh no,” I mutter under my breath, my voice shakes and catches in my throat. “no no no no, no!” I shout into the glass, pounding it with my fists. “Hey-!” A loud voice calls out from across the hall, interrupting my breakdown. I turn to see a young man carrying a light in his hands running toward me. “What the hell are you doing here!?” His voice booms, echoing off every surface in the empty building. I crumple to my knees and hold my head in my hands, hot tears streaming off my face. I'm angry, can't help it, I can't do anything now. “It's too late! I'm too late! None of it matters anymore!” The words scratch their way out of my throat. “Woah ―woah, hey, Calm down, please.” he kneels down beside me and rests his hands on my shoulders. “A-are you sick? What's wrong, how did you get in here?" His voice softens as he tries to coax my hands away from my face. I shake my head and groan, slumping over limp against his arms, leaning into the cool fabric of his uniform. He lets go of one of my shoulders and lifts my head up to face him. My eyes are glazed over and full of tears. “I'm so tired.” I whisper. “Do you know where you are?” I sniff and shake my head no. “Well, uh,” he hesitates. “you're not supposed to be here. This is very important, I need to know how you got in.” He speaks the words evenly and slowly, so similar to the way the masked scientists talk. Defeated, I stare at his face blankly, trying to pick out his features in the dark. “Here―” he lifts my arm up around him and wedges his left shoulder under my right, supporting all of my weight and pulling me up to a standing position. We make our way down through hallway after hallway, he half carries me as I stumble along beside him. Rooms full of rows and rows of other artifacts pass as well as large windows showing concrete and tall metal lamps illuminating the darkness. “It's night time.” I tell him. I don't know what else to say. He sighs and pulls me along a little quicker. Eventually we reach a much smaller room, filled with a desk a couple of chairs and several chunky old monitors. He sets me down in one of the chairs and leaves the room, returning a few moments later to hand me a clear plastic cup filled with cool water. I take a small sip and as soon as the liquid touches my tongue it occurs to me that it's been a long time since I last drank anything. I feel every second of it. Gulping down the rest hastily, through the cup I can see the young man standing next to me, just inside the doorway. He turns his head to watch me as he talks into a hand sized rectangular screen. Once I'm finished,I hold the cup out to him. He reaches out and sets the cup aside, says goodbye to the screen, and turns it off. It must be some kind of communications device. “You've alerted the authorities, haven't you?" I ask him, trying to take on a professional tone but fear creeps into my voice much more noticeably than I'd like. This mission was made for someone stronger than me, someone braver than me. At this point I'm not sure how much more of dealing with this I can handle. “No actually, that was my coworker letting me know he'd be a bit late for his next shift. Which means we have lots of time for you to explain yourself.” He takes a seat in the chair beside me. “You look lost.” He adds after considering me for a moment. “You look both young and old at the same time” I reply. My fingers find their way into my hair and weave through the strands nervously. I hesitate for a minute, maybe I should be more careful in a situation like this but I need help if I'm going to get any further. My entire situation spills out of my mouth in a jumble of words, hastily strung together in an effort to save myself. “This isn't my time. I mean, I'm from your future and I was sent back here but I'm not... This was never expected to work. I guess it still didn't work because the war is over and I'm too late ―or not early enough. I― I don't know if there's anything I can do now...” I trail off as my thoughts scatter, leaving the young man in an unsure silence. Quickly pulling myself together, I tear my hands away from my hair and sit up to face him. “I have to do something and I need you to help me” I stare at him, patiently studying his expression for a sign. Any small hint of understanding. He lets out a ragged sigh and I inch forward to the edge of my seat, there's no other way I can express the importance of my task. “Is there an, um, hospital I can drive you to?” He stutters, unsure. “Some sort of mental care facility? Is that where you've come from?” His tone is almost painfully careful, as if I'm some sort of bomb just minutes away from exploding and tearing the both of us to shreds. “Of course you don't believe me. I don't know why the hell I expected you to.” I sink back into my seat, dejected. “If you're not going to help me, you're wasting my time.” My seat clatters as I stand up abruptly, pushing roughly past him through the door. “―Wait.” He says, grabbing my elbow and preventing me from stumbling out into the hallway. “My shift's almost over, ” he stands and pulls the rectangular screen out of his pocket, glancing at it for a moment before returning it to its place. “Let me take you somewhere safe, you're confused and I can't let you walk around like this.” guiding me by arm through the brightly lit hallways now, “We'll get you to people who can help you, ok?” His voice is soft and sweet, and once again I feel like a small child being coaxed and talked down to. We're approaching a dimly lit stairwell, beside it a sturdy metal door with bright white light seeping through the edges. He lets go of my arm to take a set of jangling keys from his pocket and opens the door. Grabbing my arm quickly in case I decide to make a sudden run for it, he guides me towards the doorway, but a thought occurs to me and I stop dead in my tracks. “What is it, what's wrong?” My feet planted firmly where I stand, I stare wide eyed at the painted concrete stripes outside. “What year is it?” I ask. “Twenty - fifteen” he replies, eyeing me cautiously. “I have proof.” “― What was that?” I'm from your future and, I. Can. Prove. It.” I spit out each word like fire. He steps between me and the exit, closing the door behind his back. The look on his face says that I am definitely a bomb, already fizzling and cracking around the edges. “Go ahead.” His tone is low and filled with warning.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Not here. I need a mirror, running water, and a tool.” Frustration bubbles audibly onto my lips. “Something sterile if that's possible yet.” The sound of a motor outside interrupts us. “Look, just―” he starts, opening the door and pulling me toward it again “get in the car. I have to get home anyway, we'll figure out what to do from there.” Crisp fresh air whips through my hair as he half drags me across the concrete under tall fluorescent lamps, my clunky footsteps tripping behind him. He tosses the keys to another young man walking towards us. As he gets closer I can see he's wearing the same uniform as the man who's grip now tightens around my wrist. “What's with the chick?” The stranger calls out. “Just uh... just my cousin.” His death grip releases and turns into a protective hug across my shoulders. “Driving her home.” He laughs and rests his chin on the top of my head, still dragging me along sideways towards one of the two vehicles in this empty stretch of concrete. “Ha ha, alright whatever man” The stranger dismisses us with a wave and disappears through the metal doorway. I can feel him sigh with relief once we finally get to the 'car'. A primitive oversized hunk of a machine filled with gasoline and leather, I can smell it from here. He opens a passenger door and lets me climb in, fastening a belt around me with a sharp click before closing the door and climbing in the other side. Another set of keys jingle and the vehicle roars to life. Everything shakes and rattles in a way that can't possibly be structurally sound. My stomach flips as the wheels under us lurch into motion, driving into the darkness outside.