Across the Universe
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Amy watches her mom undergo a painful cryogenic freezing process. They are part of the first interstellar mission though space, and are being cryogenically frozen for the 300-year voyage to a new planet, Centauri-Earth. Amy’s mother is a botanist and will help terraform the new world, and her father is a member of the military. Amy promised she would come with them, but just before her father is frozen, he offers her a choice. She can stay on Earth with her aunt and uncle guilt free or come with them. It’s her choice. As she watches her father undergo the painful cryogenic procedure, Amy thinks hard and in the end chooses to go with her parents. As she’s undergoing the horrible process a technician offhandedly remarks about them being frozen for 301 years. Wait! What? No, it’s 300 years, she signed up for 300 years. Amy starts to fight the process, the cold seeping through her veins, slowing her heartbeat, seizing her muscles. She wants that year, that’s one more year with her boyfriend, with her friends, but the process is too far along and the technicians don’t care. As Amy feels the flash freeze she imagines she is ice and thinks she will wake up in 301 years… but why is her mind still conscious?
Elder will be the next leader of the ship Godspeed. He is meant to be learning from Eldest but Eldest is not teaching him anything, instead only keeping secrets from him. In frustration, Elder bangs against a panel which activates and requests instruction. Elder says to open, but instead of a door, it reveals a huge window out to the stars. Elder has never seen the stars, only the metallic walls of Godspeed. As he stares in wonder he notices a crack in the center of the window, panicking that everyone aboard will be killed! Elder throws himself at the lockdown button. Amy feels like she is sleeping with her eyes open, slipping in and out of dreams. She has no sense of time or what’s going on around her. It’s a strange fog.
Elder questions why he isn’t dead then realizes it wasn’t really a window, just a screen and twinkling lights. Eldest comes stomping along then demanding to know what happened. The stars were a lie. Though Eldest is generally a grumpy grandpa type, he does, in this instance, concede and says he is proud of Elder who put the survival of all the others on the ship before himself. Eldest admits dereliction to his duty to train Elder. There had been an Elder before him who died and was meant to be the one to train him, but instead Eldest has to and has neglected the task. He decides he will finally make strides to rectify it now in the learning center. Eldest shows Elder a screen with blinking dots and explains that each one is a person. Their job is to lead the people on Godspeed to Centauri-Earth, nothing more, nothing less. Amy is still awake. She feels trapped in a body whose heart doesn’t beat.
Elder is looking at the portrait of Eldest, thinking that one day, his own will be hung in its place. As he gazes at a face he hardly recognizes, Elder thinks about Godspeed, how it’s a giant city in space where everyone is assigned tasks and sections of the city where they live, work and die. Eldest assigns him a task to think about the three Discords that helped destroy Sol Earth and shape Godspeed. Elder knows two, difference and lack of strong leader, but has to work out the third (it’s individual thought). This is why everyone on Godspeed is monoethnic and why Elders were put in place. Orion, one of the Recorders, shows Elder blueprints of Godspeed, one set from after the plague when floors were rearranged, rooms were repurposed and additions were made, and a blueprint from before the plague. On this one, the blueprints show a hidden level. Amy can hear something, see a sliver of light. She can hear sounds, feel warmth. Feel someone touching her leg! Amy can’t move, her mind is screaming, she’s desperately trying to move but can’t. She is covered back up in her icy coffin is pushed back into the hole.
Elder goes to the medbay and we meet Doc, and after he visits Harley, his friend who does not fit into the monochromatic model aboard the ship. Harley is an artist and loves to work with color. After his visit, Elder locates the secret elevator to the hidden level and presses the button labeled C. He steps out to a cavernous chamber where the walls are covered in small doors, each with a painted number and little metallic flags attached. One of the little doors is open. Inside is a box filled with glittery blue fluid and a girl with the brightest red hair. He’s never seen hair color like that. Elder is transfixed. Suddenly Doc shouts his name, chastising Elder for being there and not being careful. He could have accidentally woken the girl in #42, and… wait. How exactly did he find out about this place? Doc comms Eldest who comes and collects Elder.
Amy has beautiful dreams filled with warmth. Her grandma, running with her father, pancakes. But sometimes, those dreams go bad. Elder is angry at Eldest for keeping secrets. There shouldn’t be secrets, he should know everything Eldest knows. Eldest demands to know what the third form of discord is, but Elder can’t answer because he hasn't figured it out yet. Eldest throws this back at Elder. If he doesn't even know what the third form of discord is, why should he know everything else?
Amy is still conscious, she misses the sound of a ticking clock and knowing that time is passing. But then she hears something. Feels something. Her heart starts beating, the tube down her throat is moving. Oh god, she can move! Elder has escaped the learning center to visit the hospital garden. He spent a year at the hospital before beginning training with Eldest and the garden has always brought him comfort. He sees Doc and they talk for a few moments before spotting someone ahead whistling an ancient tune, it’s Orion. They greet each other and Doc tenses, recognizing Orion’s voice, but that can’t be right. Orion is just a Recorder, he must sound like someone he knows or knew. Suddenly, the cryo alarm blares. Doc and Elder rush down. The girl in #42 is awake, thrashing, panicking, and trying to pull the tubes out of her throat.
All Amy can feel is pain and cold. She notices people pull her out of her coffin and lie her down on a metal slab. They give her oxygen, it feels warm and dry but she is so cold. They pour liquid into her eyes and down her throat, and she feels pain. The face of a boy hovers in her blurred vision. She wants to trust that face.
Elder asks how long the girl will be like this, Doc tells him she wasn’t reanimated correctly and it’s a miracle she is still alive. They are supposed to be removed from the box and warmed up in a bath, not left to melt. Someone pressed her release button. Shit. However Doc tells Eldest that it looks to be a malfunction. Elder looks at Doc differently now he knows Doc is a liar. Amy is making painful noises on the slab as Eldest and Doc talk about her. Elder is the only one to notice or hear when she gives her name. Doc administers a sedative and Amy lies still.
Amy wakes up, wondering how much she actually slept and how much her own mind tricked her. When she opens her eyes she sees the same boy next to her bed. He introduces himself as Elder, the future leader of the ship. His accent is strange, almost clipped, and at first Amy struggles to understand him. Fear and loneliness fill her when she learns that they haven’t reached the new planet, that she’s been woken up 50 years early, and that her parents are still in cryo. She’s by herself.
Eldest isn’t happy with Elder who has gone to the garden to pick flowers for Amy. He orders Elder to go back to the Keeper Level of the ship, to the Learning Center, but Elder won’t. Eldest makes Elder’s comm produce a modulated high pitched sound inside his ear in an effort to force him to follow orders and behave but he doesn’t; he is determined to get to Amy and give her the flowers he has for her.
Though Amy believed what Elder told her, she gets Doc to confirm that they are indeed 50 years away from landing. He also confirms she can’t be refrozen or she’ll turn into freezer burned meat. Doc also tells her her parents are essential to the planet landing so they won’t be unfrozen. Amy rages at this, throwing the stuff on Doc’s desk around. Calmly Doc explains he will medicate her for the next 50 years if necessary.
Eldest threatens to dump Amy in space because she is different and different is bad and causes disorder. Doc refuses, saying she can stay out of sight at the hospital. Eldest is not happy. He and Doc have a “private” conversation outside in the corridor, but of course Amy eavesdrops and hears confusing half sentences about ‘someone unplugged again,’ ‘season starting,’ ‘sympathetic to him last time’ and that ‘it had to be someone with access.’ As confusing and scary as this situation is, Amy wants to know... why her?
Eldest is not happy. Elder is losing focus over Amy and so he keeps demanding he stay in the Learning Center. Eldest offers to give Elder the talk as the Season will be starting soon. On Godspeed, reproduction is highly regulated. The offer is awkward for both and Elder declines, because he knows the fundamentals. Later Elder sneaks into Eldest’s room. Inside he discovers two things, a model of the ship's engines and a box of med pills, the same he takes for his mental health and the reason he was forced by Eldest to spend a year in the hospital. More secrets and lies.
Amy is in her assigned room and everything feels alien but familiar - the shower, the food and the unidentifiable meat, the fake sun, the fake hills. She decides she needs to find others, learn about the ship and find out what happened. Meanwhile, Elder and Eldest are responding to Doc’s call in the cryo-chamber: another door opened, another person left to melt. This one, #100 William Robertson, did not survive. This was purposeful, but who is responsible? The only people who know about this place are Eldest, Elder, Doc and Doc says the people in the other lab. Wait. Other lab? Together they take the body to a hatch and release it to the stars...aka dump it into space.
Feeling closed in, Amy goes for a run, even though she's supposed to stay in her room. Once she’s exited the maze of the hospital, she starts to see people and they stare, hard stares with distrust. When Amy stops to say hello, she’s met with distrust and suspicion. One of the older women tells everyone to go back about their business and warns Amy it’s not safe outside the hospital where they’re used to the weird. Interestingly, the woman doesn’t seem to have much love for Eldest either. Soon after Amy finds herself standing looking at a picture of Earth and crying. Orion comes across her and helps dry her tears. Other than Elder, he’s the kindest person she’s met on the ship. Later Amy goes into a common room in the hospital. She gets the same stares, but they're more curious than hostile and soon she’s telling all the patients about Earth.
Eldest receives communication of Amy’s activities and he’s as happy about it as he is about everything. As in, not at all. Eldest makes an announcement to all residents that Amy is a science experiment, is simple but harmless, prone to lying, easily confused and too feeble for physical work. He calls her a freak and says she should be treated as such. And it works. The people Amy has been talking to turn on her, all except Harley. He takes her back to her room where Elder finds them later. Harley hasn’t told Amy what Eldest has broadcast about her and when Elder does, she doesn’t seem too surprised. Together they discuss the possibilities of what happened in the cryo chamber and Elder tells them about the man who didn’t survive. They go down to the chamber to investigate.
There are no outward clues in the cryo chamber but this doesn’t deter Amy who suggests they dust for prints. Smashing charcoal from Harley’s art supplies she starts dusting while Elder scans them. All come up as Doc or Eldest/Elder. The last print however is slightly different, it looks like a thumb print but with a scar crossing the pattern. When scanned it comes up Eldest/Elder. Elder is sure he didn’t touch there, but they dismiss it.
After, Harley stays in the cryo chamber to guard it and look at the actual stars through the hatch. Amy and Elder go to the hospital gardens when it starts to rain. They share a kiss before Amy pulls away. To clear her head, Amy goes for another run. As she’s running through the fields, she gets a close up of the animals. The cows are smaller, their horns mushroom shaped and they make a moo-squeal sound. Amy also meets a woman at the rabbit farm. She’s inoculating the rabbits but when Amy looks at the computer she is using, it says “genetic modification.” Amy tries to explain, but the woman tells her Eldest said it was an inoculation so it must be. Eldest’s control is absolute.
Eldest seems to wash his hands of Elder and tells him if he must go and fraternize with the girl then do it, but he’ll soon learn... Elder doesn’t need to be told twice. As he walks through the ship, people are having sex everywhere, the Season has begun. Amy tells him it’s not right, not natural. Not love. They go to visit Amy’s parents where Harley has been keeping guard all night. Amy can’t look at her parents as frozen meat in a box so Elder offers to take her to get her trunk. Amy’s parents’ trunks have books, photos, a childhood teddy bear but Amy’s is empty. Her father didn’t think she would come. Suddenly Amy runs off. She hears a familiar sound and they find another box melting, but thankfully Doc is able to refreeze the woman inside. Harley shouts from another row of units where another body is thawing, but this one can’t be saved. He’s melted and dead.
Elder asserts his authority to Doc. He is the future leader and he will deal with this. He will go and speak to Eldest. While Elder is gone, Amy and Harley go to the gardens for some air. Harley goes back to his rooms to get his paints and against his better judgement leaves Amy outside by herself. Harley’s gut was right, while he is gone two men try to force themselves on Amy, she tries to fight but they are laborers and very strong. Thankfully Harley returns and smashes them over the head with his easel. Meanwhile, Elder is with Eldest in the secret lab. Eldest is showing him vials of liquid that are meant to help future generations born on the ship, to make scientists, artists, engineers. Genetic material that will mutate a fetus, and those decisions are going to be in Elder’s hands. Elder confronts Eldest, accusing him of poor leadership by letting those people in cryo die. Eldest seethes, throwing the third Discord at Elder, individual thought, and belittles him.
Elder heads over to see Amy and on the way finds Orion replacing Eldest’s picture. Behind is an old plaque stating “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” It seems to mock their progression, and this makes Elder wonder what he really knows about Orion. It’s not the first time the Recorder has shown him the secrets of Godspeed. Orion comes back with the new painting, but this one is of Elder and it’s by Harley. Meanwhile Amy has gone to see Doc, the office is packed with women and Doc is in the middle of a very personal examination with one. Amy watches as he takes out a syringe and injects the pregnant woman with genetic materials. This is all wrong to her, not just strange, but wrong.
A little later Elder and Harley are in Amy’s room discussing the cryo murders. Amy said she wants 24 hour protection in the chamber because she's worried for her parents. She gets some water to help calm herself. Elder is worried about Harley because he has been off his meds, it can’t be him unfreezing people… then there is an all person call by Eldest. Everyone is to go to the Keeper Level. Harley is excited, he’s never been, but Elder has a very bad feeling. Eldest tells them that landfall is not 50 years away, but 75. Harley shouts and becomes upset at the additional 25 years to the voyage and when Eldest whispers something to him, runs off. Amy however isn’t affected, she just looks at the pretty stars, the fake stars. Amy shushes Elder, telling him “our Eldest is speaking.” Our Eldest?! Amy is out of it, she does care, she should be raging, but she doesn’t care. Not about the bruises from her attack, that she’ll never see her parents, that she is called a freak. Elder takes her to see Doc and he says she’s acting normal, placid, obedient, Doc points out Elder hangs out with the mental patients, he can’t recognize it. Did something in the water cause her to act this way? Doc gives Amy something to “help” her.
Elder goes to confront Eldest who is drunk. Elder punches him before leaving in disgust to go to Amy’s room. Amy has written a list of the people in cryo who have been killed or almost killed. Elder fills in some blanks like names, ages or reasons they were there. There isn’t anything to connect them. He looks in her notepad, the one taken from her fathers trunk. There are a list of names or descriptions of people, some like Harley and Orion with their name crossed out and others like Eldest, Elder and Doc who aren’t crossed out. A list of suspects maybe?
Amy has finally woken up from the drug cocktail. She tells Elder how much she hates it there, how nothing is right. Elder takes her to the records room to show her the Earth records, and he brings up Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as the founding ideal of monoethnicity. It’s all wrong and basically racist. All the records Elder brings up are wrong and Amy can tell Elder doesn’t believe her. One photo does make Amy pause. It’s of someone she knew who helped freeze her and her family. The man is holding a baby, the first baby born on Godspeed. Amy wants to know about the genealogy and if Elder could be related to him, while Elder knows his birth records are locked, he brings up the information. Amy counts 13 generations recorded and sees a note saying some were killed by plague. The plague was a long time ago, not this or the last generation of Elder so at least 100 years. Things aren’t adding up and there aren't any genealogy charts after the plague. Eldest bursts in, disturbing them. Amy tries to confront him but he instead commands Elder to follow and stop being distracted.
When they’re alone and Eldest starts to give another belittling speech, Elder stops him and points out that it’s his fault, his neglect that made him seek the answers himself, he has only himself to blame. Eldest, resigned, tells Elder there was never any plague. Yes there have been illnesses, but no plague. To explain, Eldest takes Elder to the engine room and explains the engine is running slower and slower, it's not reprocessing as it should. As of now, they are running 250 years behind schedule, and there are easily 100 years more to go. The plague was what happened when the people were told about the engine: murder, suicide and revolt. Everything after was designed to keep order: the season, the drugs in the water, even the drugs the mental patients take, they’re designed to allow creative thought and not be the drones of the mass populace. Everything is by design, born from necessity.
Amy meets the older woman, Steela from her first run, she’s being dropped off at the hospital by her daughter for her delusions. She remembers being pregnant and standing on the Keeper’s Level being told their voyage was going to last longer, she remembers the stars. Doc is waiting for them on the fourth floor and hooks Steela to two IVs, and without thinking, Amy rushes him, accusing him of being nothing but a liar. Doc tells her that the drugs in the water, even the inhibitors, will deteriorate their minds and when people aren’t able to physically contribute they are, essentially, recycled.
Elder finds Amy ugly crying and panicking in her room, gesturing to her murder wall he tells her to take herself out of the equation and find the common link while he goes and watches over her parents. Harley has been in the cryo chamber a long time, though really he has been at the hatch so he can watch the real stars and paint. There is a canvas covered with cloth next to him. Elder spends the night in the main chamber hoping nothing happens while he sleeps. When he wakes up though there are red X marks with fresh paint on some of the cryo chambers. Rushing to Harley at the hatch, Elder finds him in the airlock punching the code in. The last words he hears Harley saying is that he can get closer. He floats in space, smiling. Dead.
Amy has worked out the common denominator, all the victims were part of the military. Rushing out her door, she bumps into Orion. Orion is delivering a painting on behalf of Harley. It’s magnificent showing Harley floating in the stars and it’s still wet. Elder appears and together they go back down to the cryo chamber. As they’re on their way, Elder checks the logs to see the movement of Harley, Eldest and Doc. Nothing there to be concerned about but then Amy points out that if you don’t have an embedded communication link you cannot be traced, but Orion brought her the painting so he must have been there, but the only logs show Eldest who was in the lab with Doc. When they reach the chamber, all the red X marked units are open, including Amy’s father. Quickly they close them again.
Following the noise coming from the lab, Amy and Elder find Eldest and Doc contaminating the water supply with the mind controlling drugs, Eldest complaining loudly about Amy and ordering her to be transferred to level four to be recycled. He’s also complaining about the previous Elder, the one who should be in charge now. Eldest ordered him to be recycled, too, but Doc didn’t do it and while Doc is convinced he killed himself, Eldest isn’t so sure. Elder goes to smash the glass of the water filtration unit with a chair, sick of the lies and the weak leadership that needs mind controlling drugs. The glass doesn’t smash, but Eldest’s face does when Elder punches it. Since Elder couldn’t break the pump, Amy pulls wires out of the unit and it stops. Eldest rages at Elder, he tells Doc they will get rid of this Elder and make another because, after all, they are clones. Orion comes in then, and tells them he was Elder but is now Orion the hunter. Orion pours the bucket of drugs over Eldest's head and he immediately stops, becomes a shell, and collapses. He has calmed to death.
Orion explains that he started fighting Eldest’s dictates, so he was sent to the fourth floor to be recycled, but he escaped and reinvented himself. Orion asks if they know why they are here, not Eldest’s lies, but the real reason. To be slaves and cannon fodder for the frozen military when they reach the new planet. He says it was Elder who gave Orion the idea of unplugging them. Elder pushes Orion into a cryo chamber and it begins filling with liquid, Elder punches the button to freeze him. Elder is the leader now.
Elder comms to the whole ship and explains what is going on in the simplest terms possible. He tells them the truth. Amy records everything she can and tries to correct the history logs. Everyone will have access to everything. Well, almost. Amy doesn’t yet know that Elder was the one who unplugged her. He saw her and became infatuated, revisiting her until one day he flipped the switch on her box and bolted to the garden when he heard a noise, and he didn’t know that was Orion watching him.
Elder comes to Amy who is sitting at Harley’s hatch watching the stars. He tells her he was the one to unplug her and she goes numb with rage but calms when he says he needed her to know the truth. He needs her to know that when he did it, he didn’t know she couldn’t go back. Elder just wanted to meet her. As Amy looks out at the stars, she thinks about Harley and his loneliness, how he reached for the stars but not them. Amy reaches behind her, takes Elder’s hand and squeezes.