From Now Until Infinity
By Karen Bovenmyer
Everything on this world reminded her of him, though they’d never been here together. The air tasted like overripe oranges. Purple boulders leaned into each other, tied together with silver webs, crouching in pairs across the horizon as though waiting for some hidden signal to jump. Fine sand scraped under her boots with a soft squeal as she shuffled between the towering stones, the higher gravity of this world pressing her down into squeaking grit. The air was heavier than home. The pressure like the crushing weight of the dissolution of marriage file waiting on her transponder, requiring her thumbprint to end seventeen years of sharing everything. The soft weight of the citrus atmosphere reminded her also of his body on top of hers, the mandarin scent of his shampoo. Like most thoughts of him, the memory brought both pain and fondness, an infinite tangled overload that had sent her jumping across a dozen worlds. This world was no good—he was in every breath of its air. She logged the basic data into her transponder, designated it FN99, and added the planet to her discovery account without opening the bright red flashing reminder demanding her attention. COMPLIANCE REQUESTED. The Authority would not wait forever. Every citizen, from people coordinating the jumper database to those cataloguing infinity like herself, were required to complete all legal paperwork in a timely manner. For jumpers in particular, it was difficult to keep track of the passage of days, so the Authority kept track. They would not, however, sign the DOM for her. She would have to do that. Eventually. She closed her eyes and sent her transponder shuffling to a new infinity, then turned, looking over her shoulder and into the next world.
This world was also too dry, but light. She weighed far less than usual here, her steps gigantic leaps carrying her across powder-white sand. Smoke trails furled from her boots as she passed, making her sneeze, even though her augmented lungs didn’t technically need to draw breath. She liked breathing. She even liked breathing atmosphere her bionics couldn’t pull anything from, such as this one, which was too heavy in nitrates to sustain her. Like her marriage to him, there simply wasn’t enough to nourish. She stopped leaping and settled into the dunes, the sand floating around her, dusting her hair and skin. Sorrow radiated from her sternum. This world was no good either. She collected the data. The flashing red message now read YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF CODE. COMPLY OR YOUR JUMPER WILL BE DISABLED. Instead, she spun up her transponder and looked over her shoulder, turning somewhere else.
The next world was close, wet, and hot. A green riot of plant life choked the landscape in every direction. There was no horizon, only huge trees. The gravity felt like the world she’d been born on, the same planet he was from. They were so like each other, same age, same homeworld, same assignment jumping to new worlds for the Authority. Huge waxy leaves formed low walls around her, whispering against each other, reflecting bright moonlight. The white-faced orb in the sky was much closer than Earth’s, where he’d asked her to become his bride and she’d said yes to him as her husband. They’d both been so young, barely more than children, uncertain what the commitment they’d made to each other meant. Like the huge trees here, they’d grown in the same soil together, under the same conditions, yet separate and distinct. Leaning away from each other, until nothing touched anymore. She allowed her first tears here, in the moonlit silence. He was present here, everywhere. He was with her no matter what world she jumped to. She logged the data. WARNING: ONE JUMP REMAINING. YOUR JUMPER WILL BE DEACTIVATED UNTIL COMPLIANCE. Turn, turn, somewhere else.
She’d been on this world before. Ash coated her mouth and nose and clogged the smudged sky. There were so many volcanoes on this world that there was no way for life to subsist. Even her bionics could not withstand it for long. Her boots crunched through a crust of ash at the edge of a caldera, sending a sprinkle of black char raining down, peppering the lava below her. Waves of heat blurred her vision across the caldera’s pool of molten fire and sweat bloomed across her skin. Here too, thoughts of him followed her, though they weren’t unexpected. He’d showed her this world on her first jump. A secret, forbidden place.
“We can’t stay long, we’ll burn up,” he’d told her.
It was true. She was in trouble. Her bionics seized, emitting squeals of protest. Warning lights flashed. She imagined leaping into the lava, falling, turning into another world before she hit the surface—except she couldn’t. NO FURTHER JUMPS POSSIBLE UNTIL COMPLIANCE. She’d chosen this world instead of a colony for that reason, the decision made for her.
Divorce or die.
She logged an update on the data from this world. Her finger hovered over the now pulsing and vibrating red letters. How like throwing myself from the lip, she thought, her finger descending, opening the dissolution papers. Her name. His name. Side by side, but distinct and separate. Her vision darkened and the sounds of protest her body made rose to a crescendo.
Jump now, or die.
The heat of this world, memory burning in her throat like ash, pain like lava coating her insides. Fear, a present and demanding stream of terror stronger than that of her own impending death threatened to overcome her. The future was a composition of unknowns through which she must now jump alone. His lips on her skin. Heat that kills. The comforting weight of his arms around her shoulders. Her lungs struggling to breathe. Gone to her forever, either way. One jump, one thumbprint, between her and oblivion, between her and endless unknown worlds from now until infinity.
She made her choice.
The next world was a strange new vista of water stretching in every direction, thin spires of rock trailing up from the landscape. A warm, shallow sea teeming with life lapped against the backs of her knees, reflecting a sky no one had ever seen before, casting unending ripples. The only sound was water slapping softly against the standing stones, separate and distinct, reaching toward all the possibilities of the endless sky. She breathed a fresh salt breeze into her lungs, logged this world of unknowable futures, and turned over her shoulder somewhere else.