The Future Was What We Made It

Author : Adam Zabell

Commander Deborah Sagmeiser began the ‘big reveal’ of Project Beta. This briefing used to be a formality which celebrated the human race. She looked across the table at a bespectacled middle-aged man, brought into the fold against her better judgement, and wondered how much room for celebration was left.

“Time and space travel,” she explained, “use identical but polarized technology. Like those elementary school cartoons showing self-propagating, transverse oscillating waves of electric and magnetic fields, the physical laws of interstellar travel are twinned with intrachronological transfer.” First Physicist Nikolayev’s eyes grew wide as his scientific intuition processed the implications. His previous assignment had been Project Coeus, whose hyperspatial engineering had drilled Chang’s Five Theorems into his soul.

Commander Sagmeiser tapped a display screen to reveal the Sixth Theorem. “Outside of Project Beta, FP Nikolayev, this collection of variables and constants are an expensive and ruthlessly guarded secret. Within, the past several centuries have seen it used to great effect.”

“It is a reasonable approximation to say there are two timelines measuring the existence of humanity. They branched five hundred years ago, subjective, because Project Beta achieved what nature could not. For two dozen generations, a fleet of C5T ships explored a sterile universe. Discovering rocky planets in every astronomical ecosphere, none of which could manage more than a kind of proto-life. Collections of nucleic and amino and betain acids, barely self-replicating, a light broth in salty water. Psychosocial analysis showed our species on an inevitable descent to suicide because of cosmic loneliness.”

“Within that context,” the Commander continued, “Project Beta developed the C6T technology. Eighty objective-years ago, we finished our prototype ship and went back some four billion years to fertilize the most promising worlds. We returned at intervals to cultivate a spectrum of cultures a bit slower and poorer than ours in preparation for when the C5T survey ships were scheduled to arrive. Five hundred sub-years ago, that was the Fluvuluvians. Twenty years ago, the G’trn.”

Commander Sagmeiser paused, savoring the last moments of Nikolayev’s innocence. “There was much debate within our Sociological Unit about how we should balance exobio aggression; in the end we settled for enmity from every fourth species. The inevitable wars would cost millions of lives and billions of dollars, but our racial ennui had stopped before it started.”

“Having created in our own image, we made certain none of those races would independently develop time travel. Usually a simple matter of giving some desperate alien physicist the first Five Theorems, we short-circuited any natural discovery on every foreign world. Let one of those seedlings peek behind the curtain of history, and the consequences would be disastrous. It’s why Project Beta is always and forever exclusively human, why joining our family is always a one-way trip.”

“We’ve successfully managed time, our most precious resource, for millennia with only modest intrusion. That all changed last week; the C5T ship Yoolis Night has discovered a race we never seeded.”

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Thirty two years. He’d lost count of the number of homicides.

A Detective for twenty one of those years, John Barrick wished he knew how good he’d had it as a beat cop.

There was no going back now.

John opened the back door of his cruiser. Reaching in, he grabbed the zip tie holding his prisoner’s hands behind his back and dragged him roughly out onto the ground. The car’s suspension wheezed at the change in load, re-leveling itself.

Barrick pulled the limp figure’s head back by the hair and snapped a sim cap under his shattered nose.

“Wake up, Stanton,” he shook him, pushing the cap into the man’s nostrils until he recoiled from the smell, “wake up.”

Stanton coughed and sputtered, hands straining against the binding and head twisting behind the wide tape covering his eyes. He finally managed to get his feet underneath his body and propel himself upright.

“This doesn’t smell like the cells,” his speech slow and calm, “I want my legal representative.”

Barrick unclipped the heavy gun he’d hung on his belt, and prodded the unsteady man in the back with it. Stanton moved hesitantly away from the prodding, puzzled at the whining sound that followed each jab in the spine.

“I’m tired of catching you, Stanton,” John’s body ached with fatigue as he pulled the prisoner up short before a half meter square opening in the ground. “I keep putting you in the box, and you keep coming back and doing the same shit again and again.”

Stanton grinned, exposing broken teeth behind cracked lips. “That’s the beauty of virtual. I can do twenty years of that standing on my head, and when my time’s up, you’re just a little older and none the wiser. Twenty years in a bit box don’t mean shit to me out here. It’s just the economics of law, don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Barrick had seen Stanton convicted seven times since he’d been on the force, each with a twenty year term in virtual lockup; fully immersive confinement with the realtime clock turned way down. The prisoners rode out the whole sentence, but the taxpayers got to save the expense of a full term crate in a big house somewhere with all the amenities. Economical. Mostly effective, except for the Stanton’s of the world.

Barrick clipped the gun back on his belt, and gripping the other mans shoulders, propelled him forward until one foot hovered over open air. He kicked the other foot out violently from under him and stepped back as Stanton dropped ten feet down into the darkness.

“What’s this, pre-v isolation?” The voice was still calm above the sound of him pushing himself upright again in the darkness. “That’s against protocol, when my lawyer hears…”

The rest of his words were muffled as Barrick wrestled the heavy wooden lid into place over the hole. Unclipping the heavy gun, he leaned into it, listening to the whine as the igniter primed and enjoying the satisfying pop as it discharged steel framing spikes through the lid and into the crate below.

The clip emptied, Barrick tossed the gun on top of the crate before filling in what was left of the hole and spreading the remaining dirt.

As his cruiser climbed the gravel road back to the highway, Barrick eyed the towering paving machines at rest behind him. In the morning, they would lay down a mile wide stripe of concrete and asphalt, locking the door on Henry Thomas Stanton for the very last time.

While they worked, for the first time in thirty two years, John Barrick knew he’d be asleep.

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Malfunction Onboard the Rosetta

Author : Jamison B. Medcalf

Technical officer Jones had had his first job at 12 during the 2127 crash following the Antarctic War. Those were simpler times when perma-jacks that fed the Internet into your brain were less common.

Nowadays only those aboard colony ships got sleep. Deep frozen sleep for years in the void of space while people on Earth had their brains awake 24-7 thanks to the new drug, Ap. Ten years off your life for only having to sleep once a week.

Colony ships like the Rosetta were needed to set up the seeds of a new city on some far off world so that great Transport vessels could come next with its thousands of comatose passengers. Earth couldn’t hold any more people and was low on breathable oxygen. The crew of a colony ship will sleep for years and awaken a few months away form the eventual destination to begin preparations for arrival. Timing was everything. Time meant money and lives with every second being worth more than the last.

Jones was currently going mad from boredom and loneliness and knowledge of his fate. His sleeping bath had malfunctioned and now he was going to die. He was mostly through his own food rations already and if he ate the other crewmembers then they would all starve in the last few months off the journey once everyone awoke. So instead he worked. He plotted courses and wrote notes and calibrated terraforming machines. He tried to fix the sleeping bath but it was no use, the thing was shot and no spare parts existed save those on his crewmates baths.

Two months into his awake period he gave up trying to ration food. He wasn’t working anymore. Instead he wrote. He wrote all of his goodbyes and an explanation of what had happened and what command could do in the future to make sure it never happened again.

He wrote out his memories and hopes and things he wished he had done. He felt like he had all the time in the world. In fact, he hadn’t been this bored for a long time, which was why he was going crazy.

Jones mapped the ship in his mind and walked it with his eyes closed just to pass the time. He made delicate zero-gee sculptures by lifting small objects into space and then he took digital images of them for his crewmates to see when they awoke.

When they awoke, he realized, he would be long dead. It was the third month and he was almost out of his food when he simply stopped. He sat and stared into the blackness of space out a window and wondered what they would say, what they would do, when they found his body. He hadn’t been so still for so long before in his life to his knowledge. Eventually he got out his personal computer and wrote one more thing before swallowing a handful of pills and strapping himself into the command chair to stair out the window into space.

Dear Earth and Whom It May Concern-

I think if we all took some time away from the Net and the Vehicles and the Noise we could all learn a thing or two about what it means to be alive.

Looking out the window he decided the stars, the same stars he saw every day and every night for hours on end, weren’t so boring as he had thought. In fact, they didn’t seem very far away either. All it took was time, and he had all the time in the world.

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Hanging Around

Author : Q. B. Fox

At night, when everything’s finally fallen quiet, the terraces sing; or maybe moan, I’m not sure which. The water where it laps over the first floor windowsills seems calm, except when a boat stirs it up. But deep underwater, by the front steps and in the old basement flats, Gary says there are currents that tug at the foundations. The old brickwork complains at the weight above; a choir of fallen, drowning angels.

I try not to listen. I just try to sleep.

It’s still dark when the Big Girl in the Red Dress comes up the stairs from the floor below, heading off across the rooftops. She seems fearless over the loose slates, crossing the most precarious wires between the buildings. But she won’t take a boat.

Gary says that she’s seen what’s in the water. I don’t know.

When the water’s low you can almost make out the front door or the shadows of long abandoned cars, but I’ve never seen the big, moving shapes people say they can see.

I think the Big Girl in the Red Dress is ill; she’s always red-faced these days, feverish maybe; and she never speaks to us anymore either. Gary says she drinks too much. He says he’d drink too much if he’d seen what she’s seen.

It’s still early, barely light, when we take the boat up the Earl’s Court Road. The Hustler’s are already there, trading out of skiffs and rafts. These days they are all big, burly men; sour faced and sombre, eyes darting nervously downward, or to the high ground in the north. I hear one say that when the water’s low you can almost walk on dry land at Nottinghill or Speakers Corner. I smile; even I know there’s nothing that way until you reach Camden.

We look, but there’s no food for sale; everything’s for sale except food and that’s all anyone wants to buy. There are millions of people left in the city and the flat-roof gardens aren’t enough. “Never mind,” says Gary, “maybe tomorrow.”

We head back down towards Redcliffe Gardens, keeping the spire of St. Luke’s on our right. There are currents that pull you out over Brompton Cemetery if you go too far. Boats go missing there; just below the surface are statues and mausoleums; and the colonnades. Some people say there are other things too.

We step out onto the pontoon at Coleherne Court. The men keep their distance; teenagers really, some no older than me. Mostly they wear long leather dusters, despite the heat. It’s sweaty and steamy already and they’re shirtless under their open coats. They’re so skinny, they eat no better than us.

Finally one comes closer. He has monkey on his shoulder. No one smiles, except the monkey who bears its teeth. No one, not even the monkey, looks up; they all keep their eyes on the gaps in the pontoon.

When we get home again, the Post has left a letter for us. It’s from Mum. I don’t know how the post is still running, but it is. Our letter has been sent over the wire from Cumbria, but at one point it must have been typed out again by hand, because it’s full of mistakes. Mum doesn’t make mistakes.

“Christ,” spits Gary, “I’ve told her not bother. I’ve told her we’re alright in the city, that we high above the ground.” He still looks nervously at the water. “We’re not leaving.” We both know that there’s no way to leave anyway and nowhere to go.

“We’re just hanging around,” I grin.

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The UESS Hermes

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer, and Steven Odhner

The crew took their positions in Earth’s first faster than light spaceship, The UESS Hermes, named for the Greek god of flight. Its maiden voyage was planned to be a short three light-minute jump from the Naval Construction Station orbiting the Earth to the Space-Dock on Phobos, Mars’ largest moon.

Systems check completed, the Hermes left the Station and aligned itself with Mars. With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, the captain gave the command to activate the Alcubierre Drive and the computer announced that a warp bubble had been formed, and was dragging the ship toward Mars at just over the speed of light. However, after three minutes, rather than return to normal space, the ship began to accelerate toward the outer solar system. “Bridge to engine room, the warp drive didn’t disengage. Can you shut it down manually?”

Chief Engineer Travis “Slim” Wheeler, who had helped design and install the propulsion system replied, “The drive itself is off, Captain. The warp bubble is somehow sustaining itself!”

“Chief, we’re entering the asteroid belt and accelerating. If you can’t collapse the bubble, can you at least turn us around?”

“Negative, sir. Once the warp bubble is created, the ship will move in that direction until the bubble collapses. It doesn’t matter which direction we’re pointed; we’re just going along for the ride. Unless…” he added as a crazy plan formulated in his head, “I’ve got an idea. If we turn the Hermes around and create a new warp bubble going in the opposite direction, the two warp fields should cancel each other out. That, or tear the ship apart. To be honest, sir, it could go either way.”

Just then, the emergency klaxon sounded, followed by an announcement by the computer. “Warning. Collision alert. At the present course and acceleration, the ship will collide with Jupiter in 60 seconds.”

“Well,” stated the captain, “I guess that makes my decision easy.” He nodded to the helmsman, who rotated the ship 180 degrees, and activated the Alcubierre Drive for a second time… but nothing happened… “Chief, we need that second bubble in 45 seconds, or we’re all dead.”

Chief Wheeler mumbled something about safeguards, grabbed a three-quarter inch box wrench, and straddled the Alcubierre Drive like it was a Brahma bull. He tore off the cover plate, said a quick prayer, and jammed the wrench between the power transfer coupling and the high voltage terminal. The ship seemed to stretch and twist as the cabin was filled with a terrible screeching noise – and then there was silence. Main power and artificial gravity had cut out. The emergency lights flickered on.

“Captain,” announced the helmsman, “we’ve returned to normal space, but there’s a fifty percent drop in air pressure in the engine room.”

The captain scrambled toward the engine room, but when he arrived, he was blocked by the sealed vacuum doors. Through the small window in the door he saw nothing but loose wires floating lazily in the center of the empty room. The walls were completely intact, but the Alcubierre Drive was gone, and the only person who could hope to understand what had happened had vanished along with it.

The captain watched the drifting wires sparkle in the bright sunlight that was entering the engine room through the starboard porthole. “Sunlight? There shouldn’t be…” Then he realized that the new warp bubble must have flung them back toward the inner solar system before collapsing. “Damn,” he said, as he watched a solar prominence arch past the porthole as the Hermes plummeted into the fiery furnace of hell.

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