The heat death of the universe scares Ryan Cady. And why shouldn’t it? It’s scary stuff. “I imagined a galaxy, a universe populated by our descendants,” he says. “And then I started researching entropy. And oh boy: a no-win situation, the collapse of all existence? That’s bleak as hell.”
The theory of universal heat death entails a complicated process—and apologies to any physicists reading—in which the cosmos approaches a period of all energy’s even distribution, aka the point of “total thermodynamic entropy.” In this moment, all energetic reactions throughout the universe cease, the universe stopping dead in its tracks.
In what could be viewed as a writer’s version of self-medication, Cady and co-creator/artist Andrea Mutti created Infinite Dark, a new ongoing series published through the Top Cow imprint. The title also features K Michael Russell coloring, Troy Peteri on letters, and Alex Lu editing, and will allow its authors to combat this gargantuan cosmic fear. Or, at the very least, they’ll be able to encourage themselves “by thinking about all the ways humanity can thrive in the centuries and millennia to come.” It helps to not only have a partner who shares Cady’s fears and outlook, but also his desire to ask questions about the future of humankind. “We know that the stars we see are just the reflection of something dead,” says Mutti. “So the point is, where are we going and why?”
The “why” in the immediate sense is to “survive.” But in the moments right after the heat death of the universe, survival would seem like an impossibility—especially given the way Cady and Mutti have artificially accelerated the cosmic apocalypse.
“I’ve played it fast and loose with the science here,” Cady says. “I wanted to use whatever I could to give the book as much looming horror as possible. I moved up the timeline quite a bit—we were wrong about entropy’s pacing, and heat death begins to accelerate and occurs 10,000 or so years from now, instead of billions of years from now.”
To save themselves, an ingenious group of humans builds the Orpheus station, inspired by the tragic character from Greek myth. The Orpheus is designed to weather the impending heat death and will function as a life preserver for all of those that can make it to the station in time.
“Orpheus traversed the underworld—the outer darkness—and made it back out alive,” says Cady. “The gods granted him a unique opportunity for a mortal, and that’s what the builders of this station thought they had done. But much like how Orpheus’ entire quest revolved around rescuing his wife, the Orpheus’ purpose was to carry tens of thousands of humans safely through oblivion. Orpheus looked back too soon, and his wife was sent back to the underworld—the station was built too far away—and too slowly—from the colony ships that needed to reach it, and they exploded in entropy.”
Instead of the 15,000 souls that the Orpheus was built to rescue, the station becomes a tomb for the 2,000 or so humans who built it. As to whether or not those folks have any shot at restarting the human race: “Obviously there’d be a bottleneck with a population that small, but that’s assuming a natural environment. The Orpheus was controlled, planned, prepared. Their medical tech is advanced enough that they can combat almost any disease, prepare ideal parenting combinations, etc. And they’re prepared for the long haul.”
Even if humankind were able to hit the “restart” button, though, where would they go? Cady’s thought of this as well: “The Orpheus even has limited terraforming equipment on board. Time doesn’t really exist now that reality is collapsed, but presumably another Big Bang will happen (well, hopefully), and when that happens, the people on board were prepared to pick a planet, reforge it, and repopulate.”
Until then, the Orpheus and the minuscule society that lives aboard are run by a Board of Directors. “They are absolutely not democratically elected. Basically, there were lots of plans in place for how human society would run on board the Orpheus… and then most of the population didn’t make it. So, because it’s the power structure they’re comfortable with, something they could cling to, the staff on board the station just kept the same roles and officials they had while the station was being assembled and prepared.” The Board includes Lynn Tenant, the director of project management, essentially a chief administrator; Ike Chalos, the director of human resources, a counselor and personnel manager; Alvin Scheidt, chief technolinguist, the station’s number one programmer; and Deva Karrell, the security director, in charge of the security guards on site.
"And for the past two years, they’ve just sort of adapted those roles to fit the necessary leadership challenges that have arisen on the station… with arguable success,” Cady says. “You can only run a society like a company or a project for so long.”
As if the complete destruction of the universe wasn’t enough, Alvin Scheidt has gone AWOL. He’s left his post, violently abducted his neighbor, and set off for the Dark Sector—an area of the Orpheus that has been cordoned off and left to function with limited power. The Dark Sector should not have any people living in it, but Scheidt has seen something there that’s changed his behavior. Finding out what that something is and why it’s taken hold of Scheidt falls in the lap of Deva Karrell.
“Deva was a veteran cop before she took the security director job,” Cady says. “She considers herself, first and foremost, a protector. So it doesn’t really matter that there was no way she could’ve saved the rest of the universe—or even save the colony ships that failed to reach the Orpheus. She still blames herself. Like many of us would, she runs through guilty fantasies and imagines ways she might’ve rescued those people. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Deva [is] kind of a powder keg, and following the events of the first issue… the fuse is lit.”
Fear of cosmic destruction may have been the impetus of Cady and Mutti’s tale, but it’s not the only fear that Cady must contend with. Despite working on licensed projects for years, Infinite Dark represents his first major foray into creator-owned comics.
“With for-hire work, there’s always a target to aim for, a bullseye, and while you’re throwing a lot of yourself out there, you’ve got these people to please and these structures already in place. With creator-owned, it feels purer, more free for sure… But that also means that we’re only really answerable to ourselves."
Infinite Dark #1 is currently available in comic book stores.