To save the future, she must return to the beginning.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Infinite Miles, a wacky time-traveling sci-fi odyssey by Hannah Fergesen—out now from Blackstone Publishing.
Three years after her best friend Peggy went missing, Harper Starling is lost. Lost in her dead-end job, lost in her grief. All she has are regrets and reruns of her favorite science fiction show, Infinite Odyssey.
Then Peggy returns and demands to be taken to the Argonaut, the fictional main character of Infinite Odyssey. But the Argonaut is just that… fictional. Until the TV hero himself appears and spirits Harper away from her former best friend. Traveling through time, he explains that Peggy used to travel with him but is now under the thrall of an alien enemy known as the Incarnate—one that has destroyed countless solar systems.
Then he leaves Harper in 1971.
Stranded in the past, Harper must find a way to end the Incarnate’s thrall … without the help of the Argonaut. But the cosmos are nothing like the technicolor stars of the TV show she loves, and if Harper can’t find it in herself to believe—in the Argonaut, in Peggy, and most of all, in herself—she’ll be the Incarnate’s next casualty, along with the rest of the universe.
NEW YORK CITY
On the third anniversary of Peggy Mara’s mysterious disappearance, Harper was watching old episodes of Infinite Odyssey. She lay in the tangled sheets of her small bed, the laptop perched on her chest, blue light flashing against the walls of the otherwise dark room. It was late, a few minutes past midnight, and she was winding down from a long, chaotic day waitressing at the Starlight Diner with discounted wine and an episode from one of the later seasons.
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The Infinite Miles
It was the one where the Argonaut’s estranged wife, a human with whom he’d fallen in love despite a contentious introduction many years before, sacrificed herself to save the inhabitants of a planet on the verge of collapse. The loss of his partner would haunt him for the rest of the series, and when their son joined the Argonaut on his jaunt across the galaxies, sometimes the older alien would look into the boy’s eyes and tell him, with such heaviness, that he saw his mother there.
Harper always cried with the Argonaut after his wife drew her final breaths. Even now, the episode not even halfway over, she felt the threat of tears just behind her eyes, though she’d argue it was for very different reasons now. Thank god her roommate was spending the night at the apartment of her current situationship.
Peggy had never made fun of Harper for her emotion. They’d watched it together a million times, the lines and actions of each character chiseled into their memories, recited with perfect execution around mouthfuls of popcorn. This was the episode she’d been watching three years ago, tangled in these same pilling sheets in this very same room, trying to soothe the fresh ache of a friendship ruined only days prior, when her cell phone rang. And like a spiteful asshole, she had looked at the name on the screen and decided not to answer.
When Harper had finally plucked up the courage to listen to the voicemail days later, long after she heard the news and got on a plane back to Denver for the memorial service, she was dismayed to find it was garbled and staticky, as if Peggy were trying to call from inside an elevator, and revealed nothing more about what happened that night than what Harper would later come to know.
These days she only watched the show once a year. She’d buy herself a bottle of something cheap and dry and red, acidic enough to chap her mouth after a few glasses, and pull the show up on whatever streaming service owned it that year. She would watch that episode once, twice, maybe even three times, every detail burned into her memory like the fine lines of a laser-cut image. The next morning her hangover would rage as she shuffled blearily onto the 1 train and shuttled herself to Riverdale for work, scrolling through the newest images from the James Webb Space Telescope until the train stuttered into the station.
It was an act of penitence more than anything—an invitation for the universe to rewrite history, if the universe were so inclined. They never had found a body, after all. Or perhaps it was a faith in something else, Harper’s true religion—a kind of scientific method, an arranging of circumstances so that they resembled the original event, an experiment to see if she could replicate, and then change, what happened next.
But no one else had seen the text message Peggy sent Harper after their fight in the diner, the last one Harper would ever receive from her, mere months before her disappearance. She couldn’t bear to show it to Greg Mara, who was content to believe his daughter had been in an innocent accident, kayaking or maybe rock climbing alone, something reckless but forgivable, as she was wont to do. But if anyone knew that Peggy was not coming back, that the universe would not be performing any miracles, that science would not be replicating the experiment of Peggy’s last moments on Earth, it was Harper.
I’m sorry that everything got so fucked. And I’m saying it now because I’m blocking your number so there won’t be another chance. Don’t look for me, Harper. I’m never coming home.
The episode ended and she clicked the Start Over icon. While the opening credits rolled and the jaunty theme music warbled out of her shitty laptop speakers, she got up and poured herself another glass of wine in the cluttered kitchen. She stopped in the bedroom doorway upon returning, her instinct to go back to the bed, to nestle down into the covers and never come out, warring with a new thought, one she hadn’t had in three years.
There was a box of Peggy’s things stashed in the back of her tiny closet, taking up precious real estate in the only bit of storage space Harper possessed. Greg Mara mailed it once Harper was back in New York after the funeral, apparently assuming she would be excited to torture herself with the memories inside. Instead, she’d hidden it away, incapable of even looking at the words scrawled on the top in Greg’s atrocious handwriting (Peggy’s Things for Harper) without her heart kicking into a gallop. Apparently, opening the box was a matter of flight or fight, and she chose flight every time.
But not tonight. Tonight the wine was making her bold, bolder than she’d been in three years. Maybe grief was like that; maybe it changed and bent around the edges and transformed into something new when you weren’t looking. What would year four look like, she wondered, and five and six? How long could this possibly go on?
She tossed her dusty shoes and fallen clothing out of the way and yanked the box from the hidden depths of the closet. She wiped at the thick layer of dust that had accumulated, but it seemed to like the old grooves of the cardboard, so she finally gave up and pulled at the packing tape that sealed the box shut. She gulped a healthy swish of wine and opened the box.
It wasn’t as full as she’d expected it to be, but it was full enough. Peggy’s father had gathered every photo the pair of them had ever taken and bothered to print—Peggy was a lover of disposable cameras—and now both young faces grinned up at Harper from the dark depths of the box. Grainy photos of the pair of them sweaty and sunburned at summer camp, Harper’s curls rising in the heat, while Peggy’s dark waterfall remained long and smooth; or speeding across the roller rink, light glinting off of their braces; or posing together at homecoming in their ill-fitting dresses and overly styled hair. There were photos Harper had taken of Peggy racing across the track during track meets, pulling easily ahead of her competition. Pictures of Peggy pointing with pride at Harper’s first-place science fair projects while Harper blushed off to the side.
Aside from the piles of photos, he had also sent Harper every piece of Infinite Odyssey and InfiniCon merch Peggy ever spent money on: two T-shirts, one with an illustration of Argo and a starry sky with the words The Chariot underneath, the other a more generic photo of the Argonaut in his trench coat from the pilot; a red bandanna like the one the Argonaut wore for at least two seasons to hide his third eye; a scarf akin to the one he’d worn during his more collegiate phase; and a handful of knickknacks that would never be worth a dime—key chains, figurines, cheap little toys that could have come out of any old Happy Meal.
The last thing Harper pulled out of the box was the one thing that didn’t seem to belong, and she wondered if Greg had dropped it in by accident. It was a cheap little harmonica, the kind you might pick up for ten tickets at the arcade, its grill somewhat dented, the metal face tarnished and smudgy black. Harper almost tossed it aside, when something caught her eye: Peggy’s name carved into the tin plate screwed to the face of the instrument. She’d probably used the little penknife she used to keep in a pencil cup on her desk. She’d always been fidgety, carving her name into chairs and trees and bathroom walls just to have something to do with her hands.
It wasn’t like Harper had memorized the inventory of Peggy’s childhood bedroom. But the sight of this busted little instrument awoke something bitter in her, as though this toy represented another secret, another piece of Peggy she’d hidden from Harper, one of the many she’d locked away and refused to share toward the end.
She put the grubby grill to her lips and blew, expecting that classic harmonica sound to interrupt the adventurous orchestral movement happening a few feet away on Harper’s laptop, signaling that the Argonaut and his wife had just tripped the alarm and were running for their lives. But instead, a sad deflating-balloon sound emitted from the instrument, just ridiculous enough that she laughed out loud, tension uncurling just a little. The bitterness ebbed. What was the point, after all, in harboring so many unresolved emotions toward Peggy? They’d grown apart, yes. And they’d fought, true. But whatever happened to Peggy, Harper knew that blaming herself was an exercise in futility. It was what her therapist had been trying to get her to understand for years.
And so Harper reached the moment in her annual ritual when the wine conspired with sleep and lulled her into a state of fraught dreaming, right there on the floor next to the box, which she’d apparently tipped over, Peggy’s things flowering out of it like a cornucopia. She gripped the harmonica tight as she crashed into sleep, a strange kind of security blanket.
She dreamed about Peggy, surprise, surprise.
The last time Harper saw Peggy Mara, Harper had just finished her final exam for the semester, her first grueling year at Columbia now done. She’d forgone most of the parties and campus events in favor of top-loading her schedule with required courses, studying hard, and acing every class. Why did she need to make fleeting friendships with tipsy college freshmen or put herself in the path of strange young men insisting she drink from their red plastic cups? Why did she need to join the a cappella club or the Bird Watcher’s Union? She had her coursework, and she had Peggy.
By winter, though, it seemed her relationship with Peggy was the one that was fleeting. Peggy, who had agreed to go to school in New York so she and Harper could stay close. Peggy, who had always made sure their friendship endured, even when it seemed like their interests might pull them in different directions. Best friends since they could make baby chatter at one another, they had something very important in common: their love of the stars. Harper might have been the only one pursuing them physically, but Peggy adored them with an ardor that matched Harper’s in different ways. It was why they both loved Infinite Odyssey so deeply, why they watched every episode on repeat, so obsessed with the Argonaut and his space-and-time-traveling ship, Argo, that they could spend hours playacting the titular character and any of his myriad first mates.
Harper didn’t understand it. From what she could gather—and this was, admittedly, dependent on Peggy’s own accounting, which was sparse and vague at best—Peggy had not made friends at City College, which was unusual for someone who seemed to make friends everywhere she went. And yet, two months into the semester, her phone was out of service constantly, text messages were left unread or ignored, calls were left to ring and ring, and her voicemail was disabled. If she wasn’t partying with new friends, then where the hell was she?
It came to a head that night. The year was over, their dorm rooms forfeit, their tickets back to Denver for the summer booked. While Harper had loved her first year at school, she was looking forward to being home with Peggy for a little while, a chance for a reset. They needed to sort out what was breaking in their friendship and patch it before it was too late. Harper took for granted that Peggy wanted this too.
She learned something very different when they met at the diner. Peggy had been missing classes. Peggy had been gallivanting around the city with some guy named Paul French. Peggy was not going back to Denver, and she wasn’t going back to school. She—
But Harper had become skilled at avoiding the subject of that particular night. It was too painful to relive, which she did many times after Peggy went missing, racking her brain for hints that she should have seen it coming, clues that Peggy might have dropped, one final test.
No, she preferred to remember herself and Peggy as they were before, when they first arrived in New York and spent the week before orientation sightseeing and eating their way through the city. On their last day before their respective schools filled up with students, Peggy surprised Harper with a sojourn north, even farther north than Harlem, where Harper now lived in a dorm she would share with a girl who had not yet arrived. It was another forty-five minutes on the train, of which they were quickly becoming expert navigators, and by the time they emerged from the subway station, blinking like newborns into the sun, Harper, utterly lost, had abandoned all guesses as to what Peggy planned to show her. Her heart swelled when they arrived at their destination, and she understood.
They stood in front of an unassuming diner in the middle of Riverdale, a wealthy Bronx exurb, its neon pink sign naming it the Starlight. It had served as a recurring set for an Earth-based diner for three seasons on Infinite Odyssey before the Kixorians destroyed it while chasing the Argonaut and that year’s first mate, Lucinda Freely. The Starlight had been in business at least two decades before its cameo, but it was already perfect for the show. Cherry-red booths, a jukebox playing the latest hits through brassy speakers, and menus covered in ’70s-style shooting stars and flying saucers set the perfect backdrop for the Argonaut and his first mate as they made their weekly plan of exploration. Harper and Peggy did the same, mapping out the rest of their quest while they ate pancakes and fries and greasy hamburgers, full and happy, before hopping the train a few stops south to the Cloisters, where they spent the rest of their day, daydreaming and wandering.
“I knew you’d like it,” Peggy had said as they parted ways that night.
“Best pancakes ever,” Harper said, and given the context, it was entirely true.
This is what Harper liked to dream about, if she could help it. The two of them in that red booth, sharing a milkshake in a new city, laughing with their whole bodies at some nonsense joke only they would ever know.
When she woke up, she was cramped into the fetal position on the hard, dirty floor. The apartment was dark; her show had ended, no ecstatic music permeating the silence. A siren outside shocked her fully awake, but it was just a fire truck barreling down the avenue.
She knew she was still alone in the apartment because there would be a perpetual drumbeat emanating from Emily’s room if she had returned. A new text from her roommate stating that she had no plans to come home tonight and that Harper shouldn’t wait up confirmed it.
But… she didn’t feel alone.
She stood up, stretched her stiff limbs, and though she couldn’t have explained why just then, she put the harmonica in her pocket. She was grabbing socks from the dresser when she heard it, so quiet she might have missed it had she not already been on alert: the gentle click of the front-door dead bolt retreating into the century-old lock.
Excerpted from The Infinite Miles by Hannah Fergesen. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2023 by Hannah Fergesen.