The Upgrade

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Deep in the bowels of the Top Secret Experimental Vehicle Development Center, sat the most technically advanced aircraft ever developed by General Motors. As the ship rested solidly on its landing skids, I meticulously guided the ion-vapor polisher a few thousands of an inch above painted graphite composite skin. My fellow detailer, Clement, was polishing the chrome and mahogany trim inside the cockpit. “I don’t know why I bother,” he complained to no one in particular. “You know the military is gonna gut the entire ship once they get their hands on it.”

“What makes you think the customer is the military,” I asked?

“Com’on, who else can afford to spend 130 billion dollars for a one passenger ship? Hell, a thousand man deep-space battlecruiser doesn’t cost that much.”

“Well, I was kinda hopin’ this ship was for some trillionaire playboy,” I replied as I admired the 40 foot long aerodynamic beauty. “A primo ship like this should be used for recreation, not war.”

Clement stepped out of the cockpit and studied the sales sticker glued to the windshield. “Look at the options,” he remarked. “This ship has a tracking system with 5040 cascading global positioning locators, each with its own quantum homing sensor. The propulsion system is a 3.2 terawatt warp engine with microburst capability. There’s an inertial braking system that can stop the aircraft in less than a nanosecond. The cockpit canopy has a heads-up night vision photonic display. It even has a multiphase cloaking device. Think about it. Why would a civilian need an instrumentation package this advanced? There’s no doubt in my mind. This ship is definitely a prototype for a military fighter. I’ll bet they plan to use it to take back Mars. President Moore was an idiot for letting those ungrateful bastards secede without a fight.”

“You’re nuts, Clement,” I countered. “For God’s sake, this ship is a convertible. It can’t even leave Earth’s atmosphere. How’s it gonna reach Mars? Have you even noticed that it’s painted red? Who paints a fighter red?”

Undaunted, he continued arguing his point. “Mars is red too you know. You’d never see this baby while it was parked on the ground.” He motioned me to the rear of the aircraft and opened the cargo hatch. “Have you seen the hold? It has a station-to-station subspace tunnel array. It would be perfect for remotely loading munitions during an extended sortie. After the pilot fires all his antimatter torpedoes, he can re-supply the ship in-flight using the tunnel.”

“That tunnel only has a range of 15,000 miles,” I pointed out in vein. “That alone shoots down your Mars theory?”

“Just the opposite, Einstein,” he replied sarcastically. “Space Force has a supply station on Phobos. Fifteen thousand miles can cover every square mile of Mars. I’ll bet you a case of beer the customer is Special Forces.”

“I’ll take that bet,” I said enthusiastically. “Look, they’re supposed to be here in thirty minutes to inspect the ship. We’ll find out then. In the meantime, we need to finish up.” Clement and I quickly completed detailing the aircraft, then ducked behind some shipping crates and watched the hanger door.

A few minutes later, the door whisked open, and a plump elderly man with a broad face and a full white beard stepped into the hangar. When he saw his new “sleigh” his droll little mouth drew up like a bow. His eyes…how they twinkled! And, I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The bright yellow spaceship of the Sol Department of Transportation pulled up next to a two ton rogue asteroid. They deployed the grappling sling, and slowly maneuvered it toward the asteroid. After they secured it, the spaceship adjusted its orientation, fired its aft plasma engines, and launched the asteroid toward the center of the sun. The crew confirmed that the asteroid’s new trajectory was “terminal,” and then moved on toward their next target; a jettisoned escape hatch from a cargo vessel that had collided with a utility schooner.

Vir Quisquilia glanced over at his trainee, Josh Knoxx, who was sitting in the co-pilot seat. He was a good kid, but he was beginning to get on Vir’s nerves. He never shut up. He was always commenting on something, or questioning some department procedure (usually related to why Vir wasn’t following them). Vir momentarily reflected on his rookie year, and quickly concluded that he had never been like Josh; as best as he could recall.

“I don’t understand,” protested Josh, “why haven’t the ship designers figured out how to strengthen the forward deflector shields so they can handle a two ton rock. We could finish our route in a week if we only had to clear the really big ones.”

Vir mentally counted to ten before answering. The kid still didn’t see the big picture. Less work also meant fewer pilots. For now, he decided, he’d just explain the physics. “Listen, Josh, its all about mass and velocity. If a ship is only going 500 miles per second, the shields could deflect a 180 ton mass. But since the interplanetary velocity limit is 0.5c, we need to clear out all objects one ton and larger. Nobody is going the slow down just to make our job easier. Besides, you should be grateful that you were assigned to the Earth-Mars sub-light corridors. Imagine trying to keep the corridors clear through the asteroid belt? I covered a buddy’s run for a month. Hell, I’ll never do that again. The way the corridors constantly spiral to stay aligned with Jupiter and Saturn was a logistical nightmare.” He physically shuttered as he remembered the intricate space-dance he needed to choreograph to get Vista to shepherd a small cluster of asteroids out of Interplanet EJ-13.

They approached the drifting escape hatch and synchronized their orbits. Josh swiveled toward the sling panel to start the targeting sequence.

“Not the sling,” snapped Vir, somewhat more harshly than he had intended. “The hatch is titanium. It’s recyclable. It goes into the metals hold. Use the arm.”

“Damn, sorry.” Minutes later, the arm locked onto the hatch. As Josh maneuvered the hatch past the cockpit he yelled. “Oh God. There’s a dead guy holding onto the inside handle.”

Vir squinted at the arm monitor. “Yea, you’re right. I heard they couldn’t find one of the crew.” He sat there looking at Josh expectantly. “Well, come on,” he prompted, “get into your suit and pry his hand loose from the hatch. Store him in the biologic locker in hold number three. And ignite a thruster, it’s almost lunch time.”

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Cadeio III

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Jack Roberts, captain of the starship Royal Fortune, studied the image of a blue-green planet on the monitor that was attached to the left arm of his command chair. This planet is a real puzzle, he thought. It was surrounded by 132 heavily armed satellites that crisscrossed each other’s orbits in an intricate pattern that was clearly intended to defend the planet from every conceivable vector. “See any weaknesses, Mr. Bartholomew?”

“Narrr, Cap’n,” replied the quartermaster, who often broke into his eighteenth century pirate speak whenever he sensed an impending raid. Upholdin’ the tradition, he called it. “But it be plain to me, Cap’n, that this planet be harborin’ somethin’ mighty valuable. What do you s’pose it might be?”

Fighting back a smile, the captain replied, “Could be almost anything, Mr. Bartholomew. But one thing is for certain, you don’t deploy a grid like that unless you have something you’re trying to protect. We need to find a way in. Have the Bos´n take a gunboat and sync-up with one of the satellites. Let’s see if they can be deactivated, or destroyed.”

Fifteen minutes later, the gunboat pulled up alongside a satellite and matched its orbit. The Bosun and two crewmen exited the gunboat and approached the satellite. The captain’s monitor showed a noisy magnified image of the spacesuited crewmen using hand lasers to cut into the outer skin of the satellite. Seconds later, the satellite exploded, vaporizing the three men, and destroying the gunboat.

“Arrr, that wasn’t quite the plan,” said the quartermaster, “but it got the job done. There be a fifty kilometer wide opening in the defense grid, Cap’n. We can make it through, if we hurry.”

The captain signaled the pilot, and the Royal Fortune’s aft impulse thrusters fired. Even as the ship passed through the grid, they could see the remaining satellites alter their orbits to compensate for the destroyed satellite. “Not much of a defense system,” remarked the captain. “This may be easier than I’d thought.”

“Arrr, I’ll contact ’em by radio, Cap’n,” said the quartermaster. “Maybe they be willin’ to surrender, and save us the trouble of usin’ up all our ammo.” He depressed the comm button. “This be the Royal Fortune. Lower your shields, and surrender your valuables. If ye give up, peaceful-like, your miserable lives will be spared.” But not bloody likely, he thought to himself.

There wasn’t an immediate verbal reply, but an open channel with the planet had clearly been established. Captain Roberts listened intently to the speakers. He swore he could hear people on the planet laughing in the background. How dare they mock him! He would show these dogs no quarter.

“Begad. Cap’n, look at the sensor readings.”

The captain switched his monitor from visual to sensor mode. “What the…The power output from the satellites just increased a thousand fold (as they transitioned from standby to fully armed). Damn, now there’s a 500 terajoule force field 500 meters above the planet’s surface. We’d need a hundred battle-cruisers to fight our way out of this fortress. The lubbers have trapped us like gnats in a jar.” He knocked the monitor off its stand with a powerful sideward thrust of his left arm. “What the hell is this place?”

Finally, a person from the planet responded. “This is Corrections Officer Jeffries. You geniuses just broke into Cadeio III, a maximum security planetary penitentiary. Stand down, and prepare to be boarded.” Now, the laughing in the background was undeniable.

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Before the Previous Crunch

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

It was the one thousandth anniversary since Victor Kent first traveled backward in time. Of course, humans had been traveled forward in time for a thousand years before that. But, forward is easy. No paradoxes to deal with. After all, in the future, you can’t kill your father before he met your mother.

The first company to develop time travel technology was Epoca Inc. In the early days they’d only travel a few weeks into the future to see how some key experiment went. Then they’d return to the present to modify the experiment so it would work better. Of course, this action changed that future, but what difference does that make? Epoca would be more prosperous in the new future. With this philosophy, Epoca perfected time travel in short order. Another side benefit is that Epoca could peek into the future to keep track of any potential competitors, and take whatever steps were necessary in the present (legally or illegally) to make sure their competition was unsuccessful. It’s so easy to determine the future when you control time.

Anyway, on the one thousandth anniversary of negative time travel, Epoca decided to expand the time envelope exponentially. They decided to send me and twelve other scientists backwards in time thirty billion years. That’s 15.5 billion years before the Big Bang. Epoca considered it “an acceptable risk” because astrophysicists had proven that the universe is “closed” (i.e., it explodes, expands, stops, and collapses again, repeatedly for all eternity). They call the collapse “The Big Crunch.” Epoca figured that if they could send us into the previous cycle, we could learn new “inconceivable” science from whatever life forms existed then, bring it back to our cycle, and make gobs and gobs of money. A simple plan, right? Well, not really. I asked Epoca to look a few years into the future to see if we made it back OK. They did, but said we weren’t there because we had crossed the “barrier” (whatever that meant) and would not exist in our continuum until we physically returned. They called it the “Sagan Principle,” after some scientist who lived eons and eons ago. They also said that when theya looked at the instant the ship left, I was on it, so I needed to go because I had already gone. Did I mention that time travel arguments make my head hurt? Anyway, who was I to question Epoca? After all, they could prevent my parents from meeting. So, I climbed into the ship.

As I watched through the view port, the stars began to turn bluish. I guessed it was the opposite of red-shift as my universe collapsed backward toward the Big Bang. It got so bright at T=1,000,000,000 that we had to close the iris. I held my breath as we shot through T=0. At T=-1,000,000,000 we opened the iris to see a reddish universe expand backward. Well I’ll be damned, I thought, the astrophysicists were right. At T=-15,500,000,000 the ship came to a stop. With the universe no longer expanding, the shields began to sparkle like a thousand fireflies. Every alarm on the ship began to go off, including the one labeled “Danger: Lethal Radiation Detected.”

As I was thinking, “Well, this sucks,” I heard one of the other scientist yell, “Quick, get us back, and hurry!”

The pilot replied, “It will take 40 minutes to re-charge the temporal coils. I c’not change the laws of physics.”

“Then we’re screwed,” said the scientist, “because this universe is composed of anti-matter.”

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Temporal Psychosis

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Kathleen Wright entered the Temporal Control Room after being notified of a Class I permutation to the Primary Timeline. “I got your message, Williams. What’s the problem?”

“Sorry to bother you on your day off, Ms Wright, but it appears that Charlie snapped. He was supposed to go back to November 1963 to replace the pristine ‘magic bullet’ from the Kennedy assignation with a severely damaged bullet. But he completely disregarded his mission objective, and did something that irrevocably altered the timeline.”

“Williams,” she corrected, “for us, nothing is irrevocable. We can send a security team to pre-date him. We’ll bring him back before he changes the timeline.”

“You don’t understand Ms Wright. He’s established at least a dozen time-anchors. He’s entrenched. We can’t bring him back.”

“Time-anchors? Field agents aren’t trained to do that. It requires a Senior Temporal Analyst.”

“Well, he figured out how to do it.” He swiveled in his chair to face her. “I think he’s got Temporal Psychosis. There is a definite pattern of impaired judgment, irrational behavior, paranoia, schizophrenia, and dementia.”

Wright sat down at a terminal and accessed Charlie’s Psych-Evaluation. “Hmm, eleven months ago his evaluation showed him to be marginal, but within the mean minus three sigma threshold. It was recommended that he have minimal exposure to chroniton radiation, but the union filed a grievance because that prevented him from working overtime. He was allowed to operate pending administrative review, which apparently never occurred. Oh well, I guess that’s sand through the hourglass. We’ll deal with mission protocols after we fix this permutation. Our immediate concern now is to minimize the damage he’s caused.”

Williams handed Wright a printout of the new timeline. “Look at the altfuture,” Ms Wright. “Charlie was at the center of major riots in the 1970’s that practically destroyed the United States. President Nixon declared Martial law. Millions of people were killed. The Soviet Union ends up the only super power for centuries. We don’t exist in the new timeline. My wife and kids are gone.”

“Don’t worry Williams. We can fix this. First of all, what are our options? Can we kill him in early 1964?”

“Only if it doesn’t cause a contradiction with the time-anchors. I’ll check. Damn, the anchors extend into the twenty first century. We need to neutralize him using non-fatal methods. I was thinking, Ms Wright, if he’s already psycho, maybe we can get him committed. They were doing that all the time back then. We only need him neutralized until the 1980’s.”

“No, Williams, it’s too easy to escape from mental hospitals, or to be released. We need him locked up in maximum security. And he needs to be discredited. Everybody must regard him as a total psychopath. Call in Harrison, White, and Starkey to devise an impact assessment. Also, have them recommend mitigation options. Tell them he’s got to be convicted of a horrific crime. Multiple murders, at least. They’ll need to establish a past. He must be an orphan, or have abusive parents. Don’t worry, Williams. This will be much easier to fix than when Adolf crossed over.”

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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