July 2019

Day 1: Gerry woke to his chiming alarm clock, unaware his spaceship, the Rotor, had just exploded. He shuffled into the kitchen and expected his usual routine: frying eggs, watering his bonsai, and being the only person for light-years.

But there he was, already holding the frying pan.

Gerry rubbed his eyes, wondering if he had actually woken up. “You’re…” he said.

“Me?” said his mirror image, staring back with the same bewilderment. They pointed at each other, silent, mouths open. The other dropped the pan and shook his fingers.

Gerry stumbled backward. He wondered just how vivid a dream could be.

Loneliness had been his way of life, but that might be reaching its limits. It had been three months since he’d been in a room with another person, though he wasn’t sure if seeing himself counted. It seemed best to identify the cause of this hallucination before taking drastic action.

Then, he noticed a plant on the counter and spun back to his cabin. His own bonsai, Rita, was still on his nightstand. Feeling his chest tighten, he sat on the bed, wondering if his copy remained outside. He touched the soil, but didn’t feel what he expected.

“Rita needs some water,” Gerry said, carrying the bonsai to the kitchen.

The copy took a cup from the shelf and slotted it under the sink without taking his eyes off the little tree. He passed the filled cup across the counter.

Gerry poured the water over the soil as he had the day before. “You should check yours.”

The other Gerry checked his bonsai’s soil, then filled another cup without speaking.

Gerry worried his hallucination theory was breaking down. Watching himself was unnerving yet familiar. He backed up to the computer terminal and tapped the screen to confirm his suspicion. “Shit.”

“What?” the other Gerry asked.

“The log is exactly the same as yesterday,” he said, partly to himself. “Sensor, radiation levels, stellar cartography. Even the date is the same.”

Today, it seemed, was yesterday.

Gerry slumped into a chair and rubbed his forehead. “My memory’s fuzzy. Something triggered an alarm, I think.”

“Will it happen again?”

These cargo ships were completely automated. The company was supposed to assign two crew for unexpected occurrences, but they got by with one and pocketed the profits. Gerry liked it that way – just him, his bonsai, and uninterrupted quiet. It would be another four months until delivery. He wasn’t sure if he could tolerate that time with another person, especially himself.

This wasn’t a hallucination. Whatever had caused it, he needed to reverse it.

He switched between consoles, examining every variable he could think of. His doppelganger sat to the side, leaping up when an alert sounded.

“Gravitational waves increasing,” Gerry said. “This area is affecting our warp drive.”

“Where’s it coming from?”

“I’m not reading a source of mass.”

Gerry tapped buttons on the console.

“You’re overloading the warp drive?” Other Gerry asked.

Co-pilots wanted to discuss plans of action, but Gerry preferred to act. “If we survive and it happens again, then I’ll change variable by variable.” The ‘we’ was hard to say.

It took an hour to reconfigure the drive. His doppelganger knew everything he knew, yet it was impossible to work together. Every time he moved to a console, the other Gerry was there in his way. Space was supposed to be empty.

Once the drive was reconfigured, Gerry buckled into his seat, with his copy next to him.

He opened his console, squeezed his eyes shut, and pressed enter.

The Rotor exploded with two crew members aboard.

Gerry woke to his alarm chiming. He waved it off and hurried into the kitchen.

Other Gerry held the pan in his hand.

The control room doors opened and a new Gerry walked in, holding his bonsai. “Any better ideas?”

This time, Gerry reversed the engines.

The Rotor exploded, three crew members aboard.

Gerry woke and ran into the kitchen, his alarm still chiming.

One Gerry dropped the pan of eggs. Another entered from the control room. A third sat on the couch with his bonsai on the table.

Gerry tried turning the ship.

The Rotor exploded, four crew members aboard.

He shut down all non-essential systems.

The Rotor exploded, five crew members aboard.

He shut down all systems.

The Rotor exploded, six crew members aboard.

Loop 65: The ship carried enough food and supplies for an entire planet, and the cargo returned each loop, so they all helped themselves to anything they liked. Space was the limited resource. Gerry 2 directed the population to the cargo bay as the living quarters was becoming overcrowded.

Loop 71: Several Gerrys formed a team to study the phenomenon trapping them. They reviewed data from the ship’s database, scanned stories of past phenomena, and examined the ship’s functions. They sent out a distress call, but doubted it would reach anyone.

Loop 73: When Gerry walked down the corridor, everyone stood aside, as they would for a captain. Some even saluted, something he hadn’t seen since his military days. It made him feel like escape was all his responsibility. He avoided the cargo bay and spent most of his time in his cabin.

Loop 92: Gerry 5 believed he’d found the reason for the loops. “The ship has a failsafe in case of a catastrophic failure. It’s like a saved state made of a bend in space-time that returns to the last safe position. It’s only supposed to work on inanimate substances.”

“Protect the cargo at any cost,” Gerry said, recalling the first rule in the company handbook. “Can we revert to an earlier save?” He had started coming to the science meetings at Gerry 2’s urging.

“No. It can only store one save. Even if we could turn it off, which we can’t, we’d all die in the next explosion.”

Escape had many meanings, Gerry thought.

“This area of space is creating a feedback of negative energy, which is conflicting with the drive. The save state isn’t just resetting space and matter; we’re actually traveling back to that point in time, all of us. It’s like we’re wrapping a piece of string around our finger, and with each loop, we add another layer of string.”

Loop 104: While Gerry 58 was attempting to bypass the quantum energy distributor, a valve exploded and killed him. His body was found burned, but it disappeared at the start of the next loop.

Loop 105: “You need to say something,” Gerry 2 said. “No one thought we could die.”

Gerry focused on bending wire around Rita’s branches, exerting just enough force to guide them into position without damaging the structure. The wiring reset each loop, which gave him reason to spend hours in his cabin repeating the process, away from his copies and clones.

There was a reason he liked flying alone, but that reality had been crushed under spatial anomalies. This was the first death on the ship. It was like getting sad over a broken branch, one offshoot of little importance to the overall growth.

He almost believed that.

Loop 186: An attempt at using antimatter to stabilize the warp drive caused an explosion that killed ten Gerrys. All systems were back to working order the next loop.

Loop 219: The science team suggested using the lifeboat to send one person out for rescue. Gerry 98 volunteered. The entire ship watched the lifeboat float until it disappeared into the blackness.

Loop 220: Gerry 98 re-appeared on the ship. Gerry 220 started that morning in the docked lifeboat.

Loop 357: A fight broke out over use of a video console. This wasn’t the first fight, but it was the first Gerry on Gerry death.

“This could get worse,” Gerry 2 said.

“What should I do about it?” Gerry asked.

“You’re the original.”

“I never listened to a chain of command before, why should I start now?”

Loop 422: Fights became more commonplace as space became more constrained. New Gerrys began loops atop cargo pods and in service tubes, places where their predecessors had gone for privacy. Every corner of the ship had become a makeshift restroom.

Loop 435: Gerry 2 organized gardening sessions to manage the forest of bonsais sprouting along the bulkheads. There was an understood comradery between a Gerry and his tree. It was the one thing each of them owned. But not everyone was willing to put the time in. Some trees were cultivated and managed, while others grew large and unkempt. Gerry 2 hoped gardening would relax the building tension. He also hoped Gerry would join in.

Loop 453: Every morning, the Gerrys expelled most of the cargo pods to make room for themselves. Gerry 361 set up a soccer tournament using a ball they’d found, though all the scores had to be memorized because anything written down would disappear.

Loop 459: Gerry had no interest in the games or community gardening. It had been more than a year, yet he saw a different person on each duplicate’s face. All his routines had ended – no more cooking, no more jogging up and down the ship, no quiet time to read or rest. There were more than 400 others to contend with.

Loop 730: Gerry 2 planned a party for the two-year anniversary on the ship. Gerry 467 and Gerry 544 fought over one of the few beers available. Gerry 544 broke Gerry 467’s nose.

Loop 758: There was a disagreement over the team standings in the league. Everyone remembered something different. They debated until punches flew. Some Gerrys fled to the control room and sealed the door.

The fighting continued through the next loop, with Gerrys running from their starting position to the battle.

Loop 761: The fighting subsided. At least 100 Gerrys had died.

Loop 762: Gerry walked through the clean cargo bay, devoid of any signs of fighting except for the reduced numbers. It was a struggle to comprehend, like part of him had fought another part and neither side had won. This was a different kind of self-hatred.

But this wasn’t the military. There were no court marshals or tribunals to convene, no punishments to enact. How could he blame anyone for what had happened? Wasn’t he as guilty as they were?

No one spoke. Everyone stopped moving and watched him.

“Just because the cargo bay is clean, it doesn’t mean you are,” Gerry said. “If you can’t handle being here, there’s an airlock for each of you.”

There was nothing that could stop more fighting. They were only going to get more cramped, more strained, and more angry.

Loop 1,370: Gerry 5, the head of the science team, died during a riot. Gerry disbanded the science team.

Gerry 2 argued against giving up, but Gerry no longer believed in escape.

He wondered what was happening outside the loop. Had time continued moving? Had someone come looking? He had no family to worry about him, but a ship full of cargo was an expensive thing to lose. He liked to think that meant someone cared.

Loop 1,723: The airlock to the cargo bay was opened minutes after the loop started. Several hundred Gerrys and their bonsais were jettisoned into space. No one saw who did it.

Loop: 2,184: Gerry 2 hurt his leg carrying boxes to the kitchen. Gerry let him stay in the cabin to recover.

Loop 2,508: The Second Gerry War began over accusations of a stolen bonsai.

Loop 2,513: The Second Gerry War ended. The bonsai in question was crushed in the fighting.

Loop 4,147: While handing out lunch in the cargo bay, Gerry 2 got caught in the crossfire of punches and was knocked against a bulkhead. He died the next loop.

Gerry secluded himself in his cabin.

Loop 4,150: Gerry emerged and reformed the science team. He had developed a system for oral record keeping so no single person contained all the research. There were dozens of volunteers to join, and the petty fighting subsided for a while.

Loop 4,682: Gerry 127 tried opening the cargo bay doors again, but was caught in the act.

Gerry had to decide what to do. Hundreds had died the last time, and the numbers would have been much larger this loop.

Gerry sat on the bed in his cabin and stared at the alarm clock. It chimed every morning, though he never set it. Every morning started the same way. For almost twelve years, he had woken to see Gerry 2 making eggs, but that didn’t happen anymore. The routine had ended.

He expelled Gerry 127 into space.

Loop 5,731: The Sixth Gerry War ended with more than a thousand casualties.

Loop 6,574: Forty-three Gerrys died of cancer over the years. Several committed suicide. Counts were difficult as bodies often disappeared before discovery.

Loop 7,758: Gerry noticed his cabin door was ajar. He pressed the latch, and someone lunged at him with a butcher’s knife. He slid backward, bending out of reach. The assassin fell forward, then jumped up with impressive speed. Three other Gerrys rushed to restrain the assassin.

Gerry already had a limp from a failed attempt on his life years before. It had become a regular occurrence.

But there was a casualty. Dirt spread across the floor like a nebula, with Rita sprawled out, roots flat and broken, having been stomped to splinters by her assassin.

Loop 7,759: The loop cleaned Rita away.

There were no apologies or forgiveness. This was self-mutilation, a cruelty fostered by copies who couldn’t adjust. Some wanted freedom by any means. Some thought an escape plan was being kept secret. Gerry was a figurehead by virtue of his age, not by skill. He’d learned this required a strict, unquestioning approach.

He expelled his attempted assassin into space. This was the eight time he done so.

Loop 8,152: The science team spent the past year collecting as much data on the explosion as possible. Gerry spent hours at the computer reviewing data and analysis, ignoring the aches and pains that came with his advanced age.

He finalized a simulation that recounted the explosion. It had to be recoded each loop, with each team member typing their assigned snippet into a console, and Gerry compiling them together. This led to the decisive discovery.

“The lifeboat,” Gerry 80 said. “This time, it’ll work.”

Gerry leaned on his cane. He wore glasses, a pair he had to fish out from cargo every morning. His hair had gone completely gray. “The lifeboat only saves one.”

“That’s true.”

Gerry frowned, then nodded for Gerry 80 to continue.

“Our ship is causing the loop. But the lifeboat doesn’t generate a warp field. It can’t fly at superluminal speeds, though a single passenger could survive several weeks with food and stasis.”

Gerry rubbed his leg. “How would it work?”

Gerry 80 pointed to the screen. “It’s like we have two doorways on opposite walls, but we go through one door and come out the other. Everything we’ve tried has been based on brute forcing our way through the doors, going faster and faster until we can break out of this negative space. But the balance is off – we can’t break out until we have the same amount of positive energy here as there’s negative energy out there.”

Gerry watched the simulation play out. He had spent a third of his life on the Rotor, and it seemed hard to believe an end was in sight. This would only save one. There were thousands of Gerrys – thousands of himself onboard. He’d worked with them, talked with them, fought with them. What would happen when only one got free? “What do you need?”

“We need more of us.”

Loop 11,753: Launch day. Calculations specified the amount of mass needed, the exact trajectory, and the precise timing to launch the lifeboat. After that, everything was unknown – escape, rescue, survival. Nothing was certain.

A few hundred Gerrys crammed onto the docking bay to watch. A video feed was setup in the cargo bay.

It had taken three years longer than estimated to reach this point. There had been too many deaths and not enough hope. Gerry had focused constant attention to keep the peace. He oversaw sport tournaments, held readings from his favorite books, and cultivated a group to care for the many orphaned bonsais. He was about eighty years old, his exact age impossible to count, yet he felt younger than ever. More active. More useful.

Standing at the edge of the dock, Gerry saw a timeline of himself aging backward down the corridor. It was as if time travel had penetrated the ship’s hull and created a loop in that room. He saw himself smiling, scared, frustrated, and jealous. Each held their bonsai, a forest of twisting branches and gnarled roots, some in bloom, some pure green, and a few browned and frayed yet clutched with the same pride. These copies had once been nothing but offshoots he could neither control nor prune. He had as much relation to the newest versions as a great-grandfather had with his descendants. They had their own experiences, memories, and lives on this ship.

They were all him. The best and worst on display.

He rubbed his eyes under his glasses, brushing tears aside. He had the privilege of watching himself survive. It was reassuring to think at least part of him could begin anew.

A random Gerry had been selected from the computer. 10,377. They had limited the selection list to Gerrys between one to five years old – someone young, but experienced enough to explain what had happened should they find someone to tell.

Gerry 10,377 opened the door to the lifeboat and slid inside, holding his bonsai on his lap.

Gerry began the countdown, and every Gerry on the ship called out numbers in unison. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. The lifeboat launched. It slid out from the ship, spun on its axes, and fell behind.

Soon, the gravitational forces would increase, the warp drive would strain under the pressure, and the ship would explode as it had thousands of times before. But this time, the force of that explosion would be enough to propel the lifeboat across the horizon and into normal space.

Gerry couldn’t answer what would happen on the ship. Would the loops continue or would this break the cycle? Escape might become a daily occurrence. The idea made him smile.

He pressed his palm against the airlock window. It was reassuring to be with the rest of himself aboard the ship.

The starship freighter Rotor exploded with 6,322 crew members aboard.

Day 2: Gerry woke up in the lifeboat, alone.

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