Author : Andrew Bale

General Mortensen glanced again at the timer on the wall, ticking down the minutes until the door at the other end of this glorified closet would open. Twenty programs he oversaw for DARPA, and this was the only one that really felt weird. The door behind him led to the outside world, the door in front of him to a tiny control room overlooking a small habitat which simulated a space capsule headed for Mars. Separating the two was this airlock and a few billion dollars worth of computers and sensors. Everyone thought it was just a NASA simulator, only a handful knew it was also something else.

The countdown reached zero. Mortensen stepped into the control booth and the sweaty handshake of the idealistic young scientist who had conceived of the project.

“Doctor Robeson, good to see you again.”

“General, welcome back, sorry about the wait but we must characterize every atom for this to work!”

“Yes, I know. So why don’t you just show me what you wanted to show me, so I can go somewhere more hospitable?”

“Of course, General. As you know, this facility has been upgraded to allow us to track the location over time of each and every atom within the boundary. The computers are then supposed to use that information, the basic laws of physics, and a ton of processing power to extrapolate backwards and determine the location of every atom within since the boundary was established.”

“Yes, and it hasn’t been working. Heisenberg and all that.”

“Very good, General, but the problem was mostly just time – we may be dealing with imperfect data, but with enough time and a closed system we can get incredibly accurate!”

“So it’s working now?”


Robeson bent over the controls, brought up video on two displays.

“The one on the left is truth – habitat footage from two months ago. The one on the right is the extrapolation. They line up within measurable limits – every word, every twitch exactly as predicted!”

Mortensen stared at the displays, gathering his thoughts. Did the man not realize what he had discovered?

“General, just think – someday we could extrapolate the entire history of the human race. Every big question answered!! This will be the biggest innovation in science EVER!!”

“I see. It really is perfect? I need you to be absolutely sure, willing to bet your life on it.”

“Perfect General, perfect.”

“Can it predict forward? Predict what will happen in this booth in, say, five minutes?”

“It should be able to – I haven’t tried, spoilers and all that, but I can run it for you I suppose!”

The scientist bent over his controls, entered the time differential, and sat back while the computers processed the result. A scant minute later, a video started on the simulation screen. He leaned forward, trying to make sense of what he saw, before turning, panicked, to the General.

Who was now holding a pistol.

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? Your simulation was just physics and chemistry, and it is perfect. Every twitch, every word, you said. Can’t you see what that means? No soul, no free will. We are here in this room not by choice, but because the laws of physics said we must be. Do you know what will happen if we let that knowledge out of this room? What people will do when they know that nothing they do is their choice or responsibility? Your computer knows. Look!”

Robeson turned back to the screen, in time to see the simulation go suddenly black. A second later, so did everything else.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows