The Death of Pi

Author: David Henson

I was getting ready for school when suddenly there was a bright flash. I looked out the window and was surprised to see a clear, blue sky. Before I could think much about it, I heard a headline on my transistor radio — “New computing machine discovers pi rational at 10 to 567 decimals.” How cool is that? I thought. Even though I didn’t have time to listen to the report, I was sure Mr. McHenry would tell us more in science class.

I was surprised when he didn’t, but I wasn’t about to bring it up. Cathy Stanton already thought I was a nerd.

A few days later, there was an update: “Software glitch fixed — pi rational at 10 to 192 decimals.” Amazing. Let them call me a dweeb, I had to ask Mr. McHenry about this.

“What’s going on, Mr. McHenry?” I said as soon as class started. “Pi was always irrational. Then they said it’s rational at 10 to 567 places, now 10 to 192 places.” I noticed Cathy Stanton rolling her eyes.

Mr. McHenry looked surprised. “Mr. Giesler,” he said. He called all his students Mr. or Miss. I started doing that with my friends last year till they shut me in my locker. “Mr. Giesler, as we’ve learned, the value of pi is exactly 3.1415926535. I suggest you reread chapter 2 in your Science for Sophomores textbook.”

“Giesler’s a dork and a dummy,” a voice called out from the back of the room. I hated Stan Stephens. Or Touchdown Stephens as he called himself.

That evening at supper, I guess I was sulking. “What’s wrong, Son? You’re usually in a good mood when we have broccoli.”

“Nothing, Mom.”

“Stan Stephens again?” Dad said.

I couldn’t hold it in. “Not him. It’s this business with pi. It was always irrational, then they said it’s rational, and now the decimals are getting fewer and fewer.”

Dad patted his napkin to his mouth and cleared his throat. “Decimals?”

“You know. Pi only has 10 decimal points now.”

“Michael?” Mom said. Her voice sounded like when she puts her hand on my forehead if I’m sick. “Honey, pi is equal to three. There are no decimals.”

“Three, Son,” Dad chimed in. “A fine prime number.”

The next day I stayed after class and went over everything with Mr. McHenry. “…So now pi doesn’t have any decimals? It’s just equal to three?”

Mr. McHenry sighed. “Mr. Giesler, I’ve considered you one of my brightest students, but now I’m not so sure. You forgot the existence of pi was disproved before you were born?”

My thoughts started wobbling like one of those plates on a stick on the Ed Sullivan Show. “Mr. McHenry, that can’t be. Pi — the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Every circle has a circumference and a diameter. So pi has to exist.” God, I am a nerd.

“Of course every circle has a circumference and a diameter. And every circle is beautifully unique with its own ratio,” Mr. McHenry said. He removed his glasses. “Are you having troubles at home, Son?”

“No! Of course not. I just don’t understand. Next thing you’ll be telling me the Pythagorean Theorem is all in my head.”

“The Pythago— Is that some kind of new music band you kids are onto?”

“No! This can’t be happening.” I was so dizzy I sat on the floor. “What on earth is going on?” Mr. McHenry.

“Earth?”

Technical Debt

Author: Philip Berry

“So, you’re saying it was nothing to do with you?” Malkex put his face an inch from Programmer Nik Billin’s sweaty brow. “Yet by your own account, you knew the code better than anyone in the solar system. The two statements don’t go Billin.”
“I knew the early code was weak. But I didn’t write it.”
“And you didn’t mend it either.”
“My role was expansion, not consolidation. It was agreed we would grow radially, to the next ring. A hundred k. It took all my time.”
“While sectors one to five of Needle City were left to slide off into the vacuum.”
“We didn’t know.”
“You did. We’ve got you on tape, in a bar last year.” Malkex touched a desk icon. Billin’s muffled voice cut through a soundscape of Friday night drinkers and chinking glass. ‘…it’s all built on cotton wool, the early code, full of air, like they didn’t care, didn’t even try to anticipate…’ — pause, inaudible response from friend in bar — ‘Yeah, I mean, Needle City was commercial, non-governmental. Shareholders on Earth. They did the minimum required to get ships into the ring system, bridge them, show the money that a habitat was feasible. But it’s an endless dynamic, with competing forces. You need subtle, self-evolving code to distribute those forces. So now we have to program backwards, fill the holes, strengthen the foundation in order to support the next phase… but they don’t pay us for that, they pay us for what they see, the new stuff, Needle 2, The Arch…’
Billin stared hard into the desk top. Malkex leaned back in his chair. He sensed closure.
“That was five months before the tragedy. You knew Billin. This is negligence. Space-city programming is responsible work. Tens of thousands of people entrusted their safety to the likes of you. The architects.”
“I didn’t build Needle City. I came in five years ago.”
“You didn’t keep it SAFE!”
“They knew.”
“Who knew?”
“On Titan. The cabinet. They knew.”
“You can prove that can you?”
“I told them, in a memo. I explained the stability of the ring structure was based on local energy balance. The moon Enceladus donates energy to the E-ring through its flume, convection disperses it, the moon and the ring remain stable and in harmony. That’s what attracted the company in the first place. But we disrupted that balance with our arrival. Our waste energy accumulated in the ring particles, Enceladus had nowhere to put its water-vapor, its cryo-volcanic generator didn’t stop producing, the resulting delta v caused Enceladus to shift its orbit. This pulled the front end of Needle City off its base. The moons of Saturn have always pulled on the rings. It’s knowledge. I explained it all. I told them there was a risk, that this was the debt, the technical debt, for taking those early short-cuts.”
“You’d better have that memo Billin.”
“You really want to see it, Malkex? You really want proof that your bosses are the negligent ones?”
Malkex stared into the desk, at his own reflection. Billin observed how his interrogator’s dark hair now glistened.
“Forty thousand lives,” murmured Malkex.
“They’re the ones who paid the debt.”
Malkex nodded, and thrust his chin at the door to indicate that Billin could leave. The door opened in anticipation. As Billin stood silhouetted in the corridor light beyond, Malkex called out,
“Find me that memo Billin. We’re going on a crusade, for justice! It’s time you grew up. Are you ready?”

An Undertaker’s Funeral

Author: Matt Cowan

It is not unheard of for a subject in Our care to die: We look after so many, and the rigours of interstellar travel affect each species differently.

When it happens, We always try to follow local custom, to ensure the remains are disposed of in the correct manner. We may think and act as the Herd, but We understand that others do not.

Which leads me to the subject We have just laid to rest.

Our research showed that We were studying an undertaker of this particular species, an irony that has impressed itself upon me many times over the past few days. Saying that, how they dispose of their dead is unique in the cosmos.

I had to get special dispensation from the Central Herd in order to follow the deceased’s custom to the letter. It was not easy, but they relented at last when I presented the mounds of evidence We had accrued during Our studies.

The next difficulty was in finding someone to administer such a rite. Our usual undertaker refused on religious grounds, so it fell to me to perform the preparation of the remains.

I had to skin it first of all, which is far harder than it sounds. Our kind has never had to do anything so physically repulsive before. I believe the knowledge that I did this has changed my standing in the Herd, for the worse.

That wasn’t the hardest part, though. That was the removal of the internal organs. If I had not constantly reminded myself of the objective scientific worth of this creature, and the need to dispose of its remains in the correct fashion, I would not have finished.

Next came the cutting. I had to slice the body into two large racks, then into smaller pieces, separating the ribs from the flanks and the rump.

I do not want to talk about this.

Finally, the burial. The ritual called for a transparent coffin, something that is not uncommon among some of the more morbid species We’ve had stay with Us. I placed all the different parts of the body into their designated positions.

It was hard to see the individual it had been: all I saw was meat.

The last part of the custom was the most alien to Us, even me. This involved sticking little metal signs into each body part and selling slices of them to those who came to the service. The idea that the Undertaker should earn for his or her craft makes sense. But, slicing up pieces of the body and wrapping them in wax paper for the bereaved to – We assume – take home to a smaller shrine, or for a smaller, more intimate service, beggars the belief of even the most fervent faithful among the Herd.

It is possible that We have gotten this entirely wrong, though any other theories that have been put forward are far too vicious and distasteful to be given any credence.

I have done everything within my ability to make sure the body of the subject was treated with the same reverence and care that it would have had on its home planet.

I just sold the last few slices to one of the Herd who, like the rest, was unsure how to react. I believe he will do what I intend to: bury what little he has of the subject, so that its flesh will beget new life.

May it rest in peace.

Reapacking

Author: John McLaughlin

Dr. Jan Gorlick retrieved a new Synthetic from the docking bay, guiding the naked man by the hand as they ambled slowly to the center of the lab. There, he tapped two keys in succession and his console beeped. Coolant escaped from the chamber before them as its translucent perma-plastique door swung open along its hinge.

“Peter, go ahead and step inside. Please watch your head.”

The Synthetic mounted one large step and turned his catatonic gaze on Gorlick.

“Thank you, Peter. We can now begin the procedure.”

The Synthetic’s forearms were gripped by two black handles at waist height, triggering the mechanism that would–in under two minutes–leave him a disembodied collection of bar-coded organs.

Gorlick hated this part, he truly did. His team would ask him with a pained expression, why must the Synthetics remain conscious during the procedure? He could not answer this with certainty, despite his many late hours pouring through the literature on neuromechs, lab-grown organoids, synthetic neural networks. There seemed to be a funny glitch in the procedure, no doubt about it, the result of which the Reapacking could be performed only on a semi-conscious subject.

The chamber door sealed with a click and a finely misted disinfectant sprayed from chrome jets mounted in the corners. In less than an instant a microblade incision formed along the Synthetic’s midside, revealing a patch of glistening pink muscle starting just beneath the pectorals and running to the lower abdomen. Even in the glazed semi-trance of a fugue state, Peter’s eyes popped from his skull.

Gorlick thumbed through an issue of TIME at his console.

Two sterile metallic arms worked with amazing speed to unfasten and sort the lab-grown organs. The GroTech large intestines were separated from the colon and sucked through a side portal into saline solution; the small intestines soon followed. All the while, a plastique trough collected the fluid that poured from Peter’s body cavities and splashed the chamber walls.

In the final 27 seconds–the most critical for future re-use of the Synthetic–Peter’s head was separated in full from the spinal column, trailing splayed bundles of neural sheath that would soon be interfaced with a new torso. The exposed stump was quickly submerged in nutrient-rich Smart Broth, another proud creation of Dr. Gorlick’s.

A cheerful beep signaled the end of the procedure and Gorlick glanced up from his magazine, just in time to see the Synthetic’s hollowed torso descend slowly to the level below.

“Dr. Gorlick–so sorry I’m late, terrible traffic. Never happen again.”

A pale young man in a lab coat appeared beside the console, sweating and barely able to stand upright.

“William, are you quite sure that you’re well?” Gorlick asked with a note of concern. “You look sick.”

“Oh yes, just overslept, very late night is all.”

“Let’s not repeat this. Go ahead and prepare the next chamber. I’ll need your help processing a few more units before we break for lunch.”

Gorlick turned to close Chamber One when a hard shove on the back threw him inside; the door vacuum-sealed shut as he turned to right himself.

William’s face was distorted by the plastique, a rictus grin slightly out of focus.

“What are you doing? Open this door right now.”

Gorlick’s heart rate now made speaking difficult; the carbon dioxide levels in the chamber didn’t help either. At that moment he noticed a deep pink groove running the circumference of William’s neck. A grim realization drenched him along with the jet-sprayed mist. The Reapacker user manual was indeed correct: the disinfectant left a bitter taste.

Donation

Author: Martin Berka

Alma sobbed over the bed, oscillating between wails and shrieks until the exasperated surgeon ushered her to his small office at the back of the ICU. He offered her a seat, eased the door closed to spare his assistants’ ringing ears, and maneuvered a box of facial tissues across the cluttered desk. Alma hurried through a dozen – it had not been entirely an act, and this was her one chance.

“I know this is difficult –”

“She will be good as new by the time a treaty is signed.”

Dr. Manos managed to convert his instinctive laugh into a cough, hidden behind a russet palm. Seeing Alma’s interest in his scarred wrists, he pointedly busied himself with sanitizer and a pair of neoprene gloves. She fidgeted with a handful of tissues in her lap.

“The brain damage is serious and those limbs will not grow back. Her directives –”

“Specify donation if she cannot fully recover. She will.” Alma had witnessed them, though only at Andrea’s insistence.

Manos was getting up, shaking his head. “And what are directive to you?” Alma blurted out. “The public knows you as the self-delivered poster child of modern transplantology. You are the hope of every wounded soldier, the brass’s favorite. Yet the more you save, the more they demand. More potential recipients, worse injuries, fewer suitable donors. So here and there, you have made cold, rational decisions.”

“Nothing outside the regulations. I assure you that all the forms are in order, properly stored and witnessed.”

“As will mine be when you report that nothing could be done to save me.” Alma stood, revealing the bloody wad of tissues clenched between her wrists, and the blade. “And that your only chance to save either of us was a whole-body isograft, never seen before or since. What else is there left for you, Doctor?”

Judging by the lighter blue of one iris, she certainly doubted there was much left of him. New man, new name, but still that same old ambition built on a murky past. The ambition won out, and he hurriedly gestured towards the door.

“Are you really so determined to die for her?” he asked.

“For her and for me. I’ve had too much time to myself since she deployed. I never want to be parted from her again.”

And then he held the door open so Alma could walk out and suddenly collapse by the bedside, alerting the unit to the depths of her grief.

Beyond shock, mourning, desolation, and the stress of her (medical) discharge and return to (peacetime) duty, Andrea gradually came to terms with subtle differences. Odd scars, reflexes, and fingerprints were common enough in her field, due to a particularly skilled pair of hands. Less so, the uninvited memories and associations, traces of a second mind that still echoed with an unfamiliar obsession:

Unity.

One Century Deep

Author: Lisa Jade

It always takes a few moments to remember where I am.

As I wake from a fitful sleep, my eyes fixed on the inside of the tank, it comes back to me. What this place is. What I agreed to.

What life is like now.

When the System boots up there’s a kick of electricity in my gut, and a sharp jolt as the computer finalises the connection. It traces its way through my body, tracking my decreased heart rate and low breathing.

Then, there’s the pain. The sensation is incredible; like someone scraping the inside of my skull with a hot needle. Initially, I tried convincing myself that it was temporary and that I’d grow used to it over time. It didn’t happen. Instead, the pain clouds my mind, fogging my vision, making it hard to think.

Some days, I grow lucid enough to scream. It’s not that I intend to; it just happens. Any distress is quickly followed by a low mechanical sound and a needle prick in my neck, which somehow makes me fall silent again.

Today, I’m not screaming. My vision has come clear, too. It’s rare that those coincide. I shift slightly, surprised to find that I can even move my head a little.

Figures stand beside me in the tank, each one pale and skeletal. I imagine that I must look like that, too. Barely human. I try to remember how I used to look. Red-faced, plump, with a mass of red-brown curls. Freckles on my nose. I always hated them. Perhaps they’re still there somewhere, beneath my blanched, colourless skin.

Kyra had freckles. Her eyes were brown like mine, her hair strawberry blonde. There was a gap between her front teeth that showed every time she smiled.

My chest tightens at the vague memory, but I fight to quell it. Leaving home was the best thing I could have done. A thing of dignity.

Agony zaps up my spine, and I think it louder. Dignity.

Earth had no time left. Too much smog in the air. Too much plastic in the oceans. No settlement planets to move to. Just a bunch of hairless apes standing atop a dying rock.

We’ve been soaring through space for about a century now – ten dozen humans frozen in time, kept alive by computers and drugs. The ship is meant to find a new planet for us to rebuild the human race. But not everyone could go.

Was Kyra my sister? Friend? Lover? Why can’t I remember?

Suddenly, it’s too much. The tightness in my chest, the scraping in my skull. The sensation of something hot behind my eyes. Can people cry after a century in half-stasis?

In the distance, I hear beeps. The ship is scanning again, trying desperately to find somewhere suitable to land. I try to remember how long we’ve got before the fuel runs out entirely and we’re left to drift – but I can’t.

Over a hundred years, my memories have eroded. I remember flashes, faces, names. Occasionally I’ll remember something fully, but it never stays for long.

Who was that girl? The one with the tooth gap?

Another wave of pain. I hype myself up again. This is the ultimate dignity. I’m one of the select few chosen to save humanity. We’ll all be heroes someday. When we find a new home and rebuild. We’ll be the stuff of legends.

I close my eyes against the agony and wait for the drugs to kick in.