James Franco(s) at the Edge of the Universe

Read More: A brief interview with James Brubaker

  1. The Public Record

On the morning of April 5, 2263 AD, James Franco left Earth in a small, warp-capable spacecraft, intending to circumnavigate the universe and arrive back at Earth. Franco’s spacecraft consisted of a cockpit and a small living area with a bed, a food synthesizer, and a waste extraction facility. To do this, Franco would have to break the Metric Expansion Barrier, that is, he would have to travel faster than the speed at which the universe is expanding, much like Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier way back in 1947.  When James Franco was interviewed in the days leading up to his flight, the actor described his desire to break The Barrier as “a hunger.”

Once James Franco was beyond the reach of Mission Control’s sensors, his ship’s flight recorder transmitted a stream of data to the nearest space station, which then relayed information back to Earth. It was thanks to this transmitted data that Mission Control witnessed James Franco’s arrival at the edge of the universe.

The details and video quality of Franco’s voyage were murky, which fueled an initial burst of skepticism. The data from James Franco’s flight recorder showed only the rapid approach of a large, silver barrier. Sensors detected the barrier’s presence, but nothing of its composition. When sensors detect nothing, they are usually still detecting radiation, light, and minute particles of space debris. In this instance, however, the scanners detected a total absence of everything. The barrier was literally made of nothing.

 

  1. James Franco

James Franco was a man of destiny and he knew it. James Franco acted on television, then in films, then he directed films, then he wrote fiction and poetry, and then he did things for charities. None of this was enough for James Franco. When James Franco was young, he was intelligent and he got good grades, but he also got in trouble for painting graffiti and going to department stores and stealing perfume and cologne, which he later sold to his friends at school. When James Franco thinks about those things now, he feels bad but accepts that he was restless and young and didn’t know what he wanted to do or be, even though he was good at math, and he liked acting and animals that lived under water.

James Franco’s problem was that he liked too many things and was good at just as many. This led James Franco to the belief that he was a man of destiny and would do something great. James Franco assumed that the reason he didn’t age past thirty-five was because he was destined to do something special, someday, that required he live a long time. When James Franco was a boy he had buckteeth, so when he wanted to become an actor he needed to get braces and in the end, he became an actor. Two centuries later, James Franco was destined to break the Metric Expansion Barrier and he needed to live for hundreds of years until the technology to do so existed, so he lived for centuries without aging and in the end broke the Metric Expansion Barrier.

James Franco hoped that breaking the Metric Expansion Barrier would mean something bigger than just circumventing the universe at incredible speeds. Even though James Franco believed it unlikely, even though James Franco was basically agnostic, he hoped maybe to meet God there, or at least to discover a fundamental truth about the nature of existence and the universe. James Franco didn’t think any of these things would really happen, but he liked to think that maybe they would.

Because James Franco’s flight would last several years at least, he followed a strict schedule so as to not lose interest in society. James Franco assumed he would return to Earth a hero and he wanted to be ready to gracefully rejoin Human Society—there were still many parts to act, poems and stories to write, and films to direct; there were not, however, any diseases to cure or mouths to feed because, in addition to eradicating hunger, humans had also ended disease. This frustrated James Franco the philanthropist, but he was glad that hunger and disease weren’t problems anymore. And who knows, James Franco thought, maybe hunger and disease would become problems again while he was circumventing the universe. That wouldn’t make James Franco happy, exactly, but it would give James Franco the philanthropist something to do when he wasn’t so busy being James Franco the actor, James Franco the writer, James Franco the director, and James Franco the spaceship pilot and Metric Expansion Barrier breaker

 

  1. James Franco’s Schedule, Written by James Franco

The following schedule is listed in forty-five minutes segments. During the unaccounted for fifteen minutes in each hour, I, James Franco, will visit the cockpit to monitor the ship’s functions.

6:00 am – 6:45 am: Wake up. Calisthenics—deep knee bends, jumping jacks, arm circles, and sit-ups. Shower, trim goatee, eat a breakfast of either two egg whites and a grapefruit, a bowl of cereal, or three buckwheat pancakes with light syrup and a side of bacon.

7:00 am – 8:00 am: Meditate and/or be grateful for the many opportunities in my life. Think about how to be a better person. There is always room for improvement.

8:15 am – 10:30 am: Watch scenes from films and television shows starring me, James Franco. Don’t do this out of nostalgia or egotism. Take notes on strengths and weaknesses of each performance to become a better actor.

11:00 am – 12:30 pm: Read from the collected works of Cormac McCarthy or William Faulkner.

12:45 pm – 1:30  pm: Eat a big lunch to provide energy for the rest of the day’s activities.

1:45 pm – 2:45 pm: Write poetry. Try not to get distracted by bad Amazon reviews of my books. Dwelling on others’ negativity will not improve my writing. Feel the responsibility to be great due to the privilege underlying my successes as a writer.

3:00 pm – 3:45 pm: Tai Chi.

4:00 pm – 4:45 pm: Review tapes from The 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Practice alternate hosting scenarios with hologram of Anne Hathaway. Know that I can never have this performance back, but try to reclaim the failure by bettering myself.

5:00 pm – 5:45 pm: Write fiction. See Write poetry for further details.

6:00 pm – 6:45 pm: Review literature archives for fiction that might be adapted into

successful holo-films. Consider how to handle possible texts as a director; as a screenwriter; as an actor.

7:00 pm – 7:45 pm: Study holo-filmmaking because it looks far more difficult than traditional filmmaking.

8:00 pm – 8:45 pm: Eat a light dinner with a glass of wine—it’s good for the heart!

9:00 pm – 9:45 pm: Review ship’s logs.

10:00 pm – 10:45 pm: Free time to be used for watching films, painting, reading, revising fiction and poetry, or listening to music.

11:00 pm: Lights out.

 

  1. The Edge of the Universe

James Franco was rehearsing an improved 83rd Annual Academy Awards performance when his spacecraft’s automated warning system notified him of an obstacle and activated the ship’s auto-deceleration process. When the alert sounded, James Franco left the hologram of Anne Hathaway standing in the crew quarters and ran to the cockpit.

Through his cockpit’s window, James Franco saw, stretched infinitely in every direction, a giant silver wall of an unknown substance. The surface undulated as if made of liquid. The ship’s sensors indicated that the object was moving in the same direction as James Franco’s spacecraft, but James Franco’s spacecraft was moving faster. James Franco knew that this was the edge of the universe and for a moment he felt satisfied—not only had he broken the Metric Expansion Barrier and outpaced the universe’s rate of expansion, he also discovered that the universe was not a closed sphere, but was, as those before Christopher Columbus might have thought of the Earth, flat, and here was James Franco at the edge of that flat universe, having exceeded the expectations of his destiny. James Franco didn’t celebrate, though, because he thought that maybe he could be discovering the edge of the universe better than he was, currently.

As the distance between James Franco and the edge of the universe shrank, sensors detected faint energy readings from another ship just beyond the barrier. James Franco didn’t know how there could be another ship outside of the universe. Soon, James Franco saw the vague outline of another starship through the shimmering barrier wall. James Franco wanted a clearer view of the ship even though he knew that passing through the edge of the universe was risky. He eyed the ethereal barrier, weighing the potential danger of passing through the substance into whatever was on the other side against his desire to investigate the ship. James Franco didn’t want to die, but he couldn’t fathom not learning everything he could about the mysterious craft before him. When James Franco passed out of the bounds of his universe, he found himself surrounded by the property-less, silvery substance, crashing into a spaceship identical to his own. Both ships took evasive maneuvers in an attempt to avoid colliding with one another, but both dodged in the same direction and crashed, like a finger touching itself in a mirror.

 

  1. The Other James Franco

The second spacecraft was also piloted by James Franco, but it was a different James Franco from a mirror universe. Unlike the first James Franco, this second James Franco didn’t have a goatee. The two Francos first spoke to each other via viewscreens in their spacecrafts. The first James Franco, the one with the goatee, said that his spacecraft was damaged, and the second James Franco, the one without the goatee, said that his craft was also damaged.

The first James Franco said, “I won’t be able to re-enter my universe. And the second James Franco added, “And even if I could, I doubt I’d be able to get back to Earth,” which was true as long as the James Francos’ ships remained damaged. Then, the first James Franco stroked his goatee and suggested the ships dock so that the two men could keep each other company. The second James Franco was suspicious.

“Why don’t you trust me?” The first James Franco asked. The second James Franco explained that in mirror universe scenarios, the character with the goatee is always evil. The first James Franco said, “Maybe you’re the evil one..” The second James Franco said, “But the goatee.” Then the first James Franco  said, “Let’s dock. I’ll show you I’m not evil.” The second James Franco agreed, but he warned the first James Franco that he would leave at the first sign of trouble.

There were no signs of trouble and so the two James Francos docked their ships and lived as neighbors. The James Francos had their own living quarters, but they could pass through the conjoined airlocks of their ships, and knock on each others’ hatches for visits. These visits often coincided with meals and parts of the day that involved watching archived films in which the two James Francos starred. The two James Francos also practiced their revised Academy Awards performances for each other, applauding and offering respectful critiques of each others’ work so that they could both continue to improve. Sometimes, after the James Francos write fiction or poetry, they workshop each other’s writing. Their work is fairly similar, and so the critique’s they provide are generally positive, but full of passive aggressive suggestions about the likability of characters and the lack of subtext and nuance. Despite this subtle one-upmanship, the James Francos remain genial throughout the workshop. Early in their stay outside of their respective universes, the James Francos worried that, if their universes were expanding toward each other, they might collide. After examining sensor readings, the James Francos learned that their universes would not collide. Though they didn’t discuss this, both James Francos contemplated the possibility of fixing their ships. It would take time, both James Francos thought, but it was doable. Both James Francos decided, privately, that they would have plenty of time to fix their ships and decided to spend a little bit more time at the edge of the universe before trying to leave.

As they got to know each other, the two James Francos found it odd that, aside from a few small differences, they were almost identical to one another. As such, the two James Francos could not figure out how their lives were different enough that one of them wore a goatee, and the other did not.

 

  1. A Diagram of Why the Two Universes Would Not Collide

Due to the circumstances surrounding the crash of the James Francos’ ships, the men initially believed that the expansion of their universes looked like this. It should be noted that the universes are depicted as circles, here, for convenience only, not to indicate that the universes are spherical:

If this were the case, and both universes were static or moving in the same direction at the same rate of speed, then, theoretically, they would collide, which would result in the James Francos being in the new space where the universes intersect, or being crushed by the force of two universes colliding:

In reality, though, the two universes were moving in the same direction, but the universe in the lead was moving slightly faster than the other, and both universes were moving slightly faster than their rates of expansion:

Thus, the James Francos were able to go about their days without worrying that their universes might collide.

 

  1. James Franco Getting to Know James Franco at the Edge of the Universe

For the first year, their friendship was mostly professional. That is, until , the James Francos noticed that they were starting to age for the first time in hundreds of years, causing the two Francos to forge a more intimate friendship. Starting to age after not aging  made the James Francos nervous. Their visits with each other assumed a new urgency and they started to get to know each other by talking about their disappointments and fears.

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“So this is the edge of the universe,” the first James Franco said.

The second James Franco said, “It’s a little bit beautiful, but also lonely.”

“Did you expect something more from the edge of the universe?” the first James Franco asked. “Like maybe we would meet God? Or feel what the beginning of time felt like?”

“Probably,” the second James Franco said. Then the James Francos agreed that the edge of the universe was nice to look at, but lonely, and underwhelming.

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The James Franco with the goatee said, “I know that fucking up The 83rd Annual Academy Awards wasn’t a big deal. Nobody really cares about the Academy Awards.”

“But it was painful to fail,” said the James Franco without the goatee.

The two James Francos nodded in agreement.

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The second James Franco said, “I thought I was lonely before, when I was younger and working hard all the time.”

“Trying to maintain a career and get a Master’s degree, and a Master’s of Fine Arts degree, and a Ph.D. at Yale…” the first James Franco added.

“It takes a lot out of you,” the second James Franco said. He finished: “At least then I still had girlfriends, and friends, and colleagues.”

And with that, both James Francos wondered , for almost the last time,  why they hadn’t been working on ways to fix their ships so that they could go home.

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“I am getting old,” one James Franco said. “Some of the hairs in my goatee have turned gray.”

“It is scary to grow old alone,” said the other James Franco.

“But at least we have each other,” said the first James Franco.

“That seems narcissistic,” the second James Franco said. “To have ourselves as company.”

“We’re not the same,” said the first James Franco. “I have a graying goatee and you don’t.”

The second James Franco said, “We’re more the same than we are different.”

Both James Francos nodded, and the first James Franco looked out one of the spacecraft’s windows. The two James Francos tried not to look out the windows often. The pulsing silver surrounding them had become a constant reminder of their isolation. Eventually the James Francos reprogrammed the Anne Hathaway hologram to keep them company during dinner, and frequently, inevitably, while telling a funny story from his past or an off-color joke, one of the Francos would try to touch her arm only to be disappointed when his hand passed right through her, the projection rippling in its wake. This only heightened the Francos sense of being alone in the universe.

Finally, the first James Franco said, “You’re right about us being more the same than different. Even though we’re both here, it’s like I’m alone, lost in my own head if the version of me in my own head didn’t have a goatee.”

 

  1. James Francos Growing Old Together at the Edge of the Universe

Eventually, the two James Francos, feeling satisfied that they had mastered their many crafts, started playing chess, and sometimes checkers when they were tired or distracted. Many games ended in stalemates because,the James Francos’ approaches to chess and checkers were very similar. While they played their games, the James Francos also talked about how they might repair a damaged spacecraft ,though they were very clear with each other that they weren’t talking about repairing their own spacecrafts. What would be the point, afterall; everyone they knew on their respective Earths would be dead.

Before arriving at the edge of the universe, neither of the James Francos had smoked marijuana in over a century because they didn’t like the way that people used to think of them as stoners. Now that they were alone, light years away from their  critics , though, sometimes the James Francos got high, ate junk food, and talked about the universe. One night they agreed that being outside of their universes was like looking inside a snow globe. “The stars are like snow,” the first James Franco said. “Maybe it’s like the end of St. Elsewhere when the camera pulls away and it looks like the whole show took place in Tommy Westphall’s imagination,” the second James Franco said.

Another time, the first James Franco said, “What if we grew to be so enormous that we outgrew our universes and learned that everything we knew was contained within a proton or electron that was really part of an atom in another, bigger universe, and then we grew larger still and learned that that universe was also a proton or electron in an atom inside an even larger universe.” To this the second James Franco said, “The entire system of universes would be a matryoshka nesting doll.” The first James Franco said, “But what is the last doll?” The second James Franco answered, “God.” The first James Franco said, “Or maybe the nested universes go on forever, and the forever is actually God.” The second James Franco had nothing to say to this and the first James Franco had nothing to say to the second James Franco’s silence. The two James Francos sat stoned in each others’ presence a little longer, contemplating their universes, and thinking about the futility of their agnosticism. . .

Eventually, the two James Francos stopped shaving and trimming facial hair and became bearded James Francos. It was then that the James Francos stopped thinking of themselves as one James Franco and the other James Franco, and started thinking of themselves as just James Franco. […]


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James Brubaker is the author of two books Liner Notes and Pilot Season. His stories have appeared in venues including Zoetrope: All Story, Michigan Quarterly Review, Hobart, Booth, The Collagist, web Conjunctions, The Normal School, and Beloit Fiction Journal, among others. Brubaker teaches creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University and serves as Associate Editor of The Collapsar.

“James Franco(s) at the Edge of the Universe” was a runner-up in the 2017 Editor’s Reprint Awards and originally appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review.

Read More: A brief interview with James Brubaker