The Play’s The Thing

Author : Bob Newbell

“To be or not to be.”

“Well, continue,” said the red, starfish-like alien to his compatriot.

“I don’t understand the line,” replied the tall being with twenty spindly tentacles. “What does ‘not to be’ mean?”

“Hamlet is considering life versus death.”


“It’s an irreversible loss of metabolic function resulting in the dissolution of the organism. All humans experience it. Let’s continue.”

The lanky green extraterrestrial got back into character. “To be, or not to be–that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous– What are slings and arrows?”

The red alien threw up two of his five limbs in exasperation. “They’re primitive human weapons. Shakespeare is using them as a metaphor for the suffering Hamlet is experiencing due to his situation. Now we really need to continue. Remember: We will be performing the play for a human audience. They will understand even if the words and concepts seem incomprehensible to us.”

The would-be thespian fluttered his tentacles, his people’s equivalent to a nod of the head, and resumed his lines.

“…The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to– Say, what does–”

“They lose consciousness! They call it ‘sleep’! Keep going!”

“Wait, why do they lose consciousness? Is it some kind of illness?”

“No, they spend about one-third of their lives asleep. Now we’ve only got a few more days to rehearse this before–”

“One-third of their lives?! Unconscious?! No wonder they took so long to become an interstellar species. That, and the fact that they have way too few arms.”

The red alien glared at his companion.

“…a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and–”

The tentacled alien said nothing but looked at the theatrical producer.

“It’s a muscular organ that pumps blood,” he said angrily.

“Okay,” replied the actor. “So ‘heart-ache’ means Hamlet is experiencing myocardial ischemia, right? Should I clutch my thorax when I say that line?”

The producer gripped the datapad which contained the Bard’s words with such fury that the device seemed on the verge of snapping in two. “He’s sad. That’s what ‘heart-ache’ means. Humans regard their blood-pumping organ as the seat of their emotions. Don’t try to understand it. Just keep reading.”

“… end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream.” The actor fell silent.

The starfish trembled. “Don’t ask it.”

“But I just–”

“It doesn’t matter!”


The producer hurled the datapad to the floor. “Don’t you even think of doing it!”

The tentacled being remained silent. His stellate-arm associate calmly crawled over to where he had thrown the datapad and picked it up.

“Alright,” said the producer, “let’s pick up from where we left off.”

“Okay. But what’s a ‘dream’?”

Shortly thereafter, the actor finally understood what unconsciousness was.

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A Snowball’s Chance

Author : Gray Blix

Walking across the Caltech parking lot, Annika, a Swedish native, shivered beneath four layers of clothing, embarrassed to have lost her tolerance of cold weather after a decade in Pasadena. It was 2 degrees Celsius in July. She glanced at the afternoon Sun. Years ago, the ring was hardly noticeable in the bright light, but now a black band cut the Sun in two.

News of alien engineers mining Mercury and constructing something big midway between the orbits of Venus and Earth had generated excitement in the scientific community and terror among the populace. Now that Mercury was gone and Venus was disappearing, scientists, too, were terrified.

Flashing credentials to heavily armed security, she plunged into the crowded lobby, overhearing snippets of conversation.

“Really? THAT’S what you don’t understand? Only 21 million kilometers from Earth and yet they won’t COMMUNICATE with us? Look, when Consolidated Electric builds a new power plant, do they communicate with local ANT COLONIES?”

A former classmate from Uppsala…

“Hej, Annika,” and then he resumed, “No, it won’t set off Velikovsky’s planetary billiard balls. Matter that was Mercury and Venus has been redistributed to the ring, which is on the ecliptic plane. Remaining planets, including Earth, will be little affected. Minor adjustments to orbits, but no catastrophe.”

Moving on…

“…negligible gravity on the ring is irrelevant. They’re not building a ringworld. They’re collecting energy.”

Leaning left…

“After Venus, will Earth be next?” asked an American general.
“Perhaps not,” replied a Chinese scientist. “If they do not build out to a Dyson sphere, they will not need more yuanliao… uh, raw material. And they may have other plans for Earth.”
“Salvage. They could simply thaw out snowball Earth, dispose of surface fei wu… waste, then beam down all the energy needed to create the ecosystem and civilization they desire.”

Leaning right…

“…burning greenhouse gasses and blackening snow and ice to counteract the cooling, but the albedo is increasing too fast…”

The PA interrupted, “Attention. Please take your seats in the auditoruim. Quickly,” and she was swept along with the crowd.

At the podium, NASA’s lead ring scientist abruptly began, “The aliens are stealing the Sun’s energy from us and using it as a weapon when we try to stop them.”

On a screen behind, looped a clip of missile fusillades approaching the ring and rays of white light vaporizing them.

Someone in the noisy crowd shouted angrily, “We already know this. Why are we here?”

“So, the Russians created a device to use the Sun’s energy against them. We learned about it this morning. It’s risky, but they calculated that we’re past the tipping point to a frozen and uninhabitable Earth. Something drastic had to be done, but their device could potentially destroy…” reconsidering his words, “…the ring.”

The crowd was silent. Comet photos appeared.

“You’ve all seen photos of comet Lichtenstein. But you haven’t seen this.”

Video of a craft landing on the comet.

“Eleven months ago, Russia placed their device on comet Lichtenstein, a long period comet, a natural phenomenon, approaching at an angle posing no threat to the ring. The aliens will likely ignore it as it falls into the Sun, in about ten hours. It will trigger unprecedented magnetic disruption, incalculable releases of energy… Electromagnetic rays will reach Earth in eight minutes, a coronal mass ejection could take two or three days.”

In the following hours, in precaution, power grids shut down, communication systems went silent, aircraft were grounded, satellites turned from the Sun.

Annika was giving her infant daughter a two o’clock feeding when everything vanished in the white light of a supernova.

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Author : Ephrat Livni

Probably in most situations it’s bad news bears when the boss asks you to supply drugs. But in this case, it’s alright. First, we’re talking weeds. And second, Ellipsis has been reviewing biz docs for said boss, so she knows investments are risky and the question is potential return on investment, or ROI in bizspeak. If anything, she feels favored, not burdened, by the request — and favored is what you need to be if you are going to compete. Ellipsis wants to compete. Well, she doesn’t really want to. But it’s a competitive time and she doesn’t lack drive, so she says it can be sorted.

“Awesome. Cuz this project plushellasux.” Boss slides away, enjoying the admiring glances of pale, haggard, underpaid Metropolitans, wishing they too had that magical MoreCorp Silicon glow.

Ellipsis is not immune, even if she is wary. She also believes. How could you not? MoreCorp rules the interwebs and the inters rule all. Who is she to disdain? If there is a game, she wants to play, and people say there is, the Lovesport, like an employment Olympics in the time of permatemping. But no one knows much.

The next day she makes her offering and is surprised at ROI. Yields are immediate. The manager wanders over after finding herb in her purse. “Hey koolio, move near me. I’m lonely. This project superplusmegasux.” Boss extends a hand.

“Ellipsis.” She follows the manager.

Reader resentment is palpable as they pass. It’s a small group, mostly vets doing the minimum, which is what’s considered maximization. See, Too Long Don’t Read (TLDR) is a bizdev thought leader innovation, a text reduction method that’s plus-what’s-up-minus-space-waste, part of the Prose Control Project. It’s a spawn of MoreCorp’s algorithmic perfect, Near Zero, or N0. But corp reverence for N0 has bred reader contempt for yes, and most try to do near zero, reviewing as few comps as possible.

Comps are texts to be eliminated. They vary in length, quality, and subject — law, lit, medi, philo, tax, tek. Each presents a unique challenge to thoughtful readers.

The thoughtless dismiss all the writings of yore with a cursory NR, nonresponsive, expendable data in an age of limited storage. Readers relieve the world of works; the gist gets aggregated in spreadsheets.

“Brainstorm for us. Reduction’s production for you fux!” Daisy shouts at admirers as she heads outside with Ellipsis, explaining that she’s growing sexpertise to monetize on it if MoreCorp ends up a no-go.

“Stripping? Are you serious?”

The brainstorm amounts to boss smoking a spliff in a snowy alley. “I’m never serious.” Daisy smirks, tiny, tense, huddled in a hoodie, wrapped in a scarf, hidden under a hat, and stuffed in silver tektights, for running, not an office, unless it’s in Silicon where garb is not a signifier. “But yes.”

“Don’t you make bank at the world’s best corp?”

“I do. But maybe not for long.” Daisy smiles mysteriously.

“What,” El asks. “The Lovesport?”

“Ahh! The Lovesport, that’s what everyone always wants to know.” Boss throws the roach into a filthy snowbank. She turns back toward the office, stops before thumbing the vidgard, and whispers, quietly this time. “I’m in it. Muthahellaplusfrigginsux.”

They slide straight into their slots. Nothing to talk about but much to consider! El is inspired.

If the Lovesport is real, maybe she’ll play — her metrics are meteoric. Or maybe Daisy’s playing her. Everyone’s got an angle and a need. That’s why bizdev-ers like to say that a project is like a microcosm of the universe, with everyone interconnected and dependent and working under a corp executive.

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The Needs of the Many

Author : Tiasha J. Garcia

“Um, Houston, we have a problem,” the woman tittered nervously. Really, she was little more than a girl, radiant in the late spring sunshine as it gleamed off her long brown hair.

“Yes, and what would that be?” the man/boy inquired, relaxing amidst a cloud of pillows and a heap of tangled sheets.

Unseen, the Visitor watched them with a ferocious intensity that was almost like hatred.

“This,” and the woman brandished a little white stick, waving it back and forth.

The man/boy blanched, hid his expression with a sudden urge to cough.

The woman/girl’s eyes filled with tears.

The Visitor clenched his slender, skeletal fingers, all eight on each hand, into a powerful fist.

Every time, every time it ended this way. He had gone back and meddled as much as was possible, altered this moment with little touches like inspiring the man/boy to bring her flowers, or the surprise eating expedition at the park, or a mutual viewing of the flickering motion pictures this culture enjoyed so much.

But never wine, or alcohol of any kind, or anything that could potentially harm that precious fetus.

“Listen, I don’t know if now is the right time…”

“Yeah, me neither. I know, I have all that work at the lnstitute, we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough…”

“Can you just see me with a baby strapped to my chest in the lab? Excuse me, it’s time for a feeding, pass me that beaker please…”

Strained laughter dwindled into an awkward silence that hung like a pall in the bright morning air.

The Visitor’s fingertips were embedded in what passed for palms with his people, so deep into the spongy tissue that thin lines of silver seeped out.

He was going to fail.


Again and again and again, he had seen this moment to its bitter end.

“Well…if that’s really…”

“Maybe if the timing were different, but right now…”

Two of the most brilliant minds on this polluted third world planet casually sealed the fate of billions upon billions with this awkward conversation about career responsibility and personal needs.

There was only one possible salvation, one infinitesimal chance to avoid the galactic Holocaust that would occur in 33.25 solar years.

And once again these blithe idiots threw it away.

The woman/girl picked up the phone, pushing a pre-set number–“Hi, I need to make an appointment with my doctor”–as the man/boy turned away, ashamed, and pulled on his clothes.

They would never meet in this room, or anywhere, ever again.

And so everyone they knew, and trillions of other species, would die.

The Visitor turned away from the window, activating a relay beam to return to the ship.

Research, he thought, more research. We will have to try again. We will have to try harder.

Thus passed a typical Monday, when the destiny of the world was once again decided in favor of a mass extinction event. It was as if the human race didn’t believe it deserved to continue its way of life.

With a rumble of respiratory vents, the Visitor continued to research romance, opening a tome by the esteemed homo sapien author Jackie Collins.

Maybe next time…or maybe not.

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Can of Worms

Author : C. J. Boudreau

“We’re ready, Arthur. I just finished loading the instructions to the transmission controller. The fuel will begin transfer at 9:00.”

Doctor Evan Thackeray was the foremost expert on thermonuclear reactor design. His colleague, Arthur Henry, was the second. There wasn’t any rivalry. They were both completely dedicated to building a practical thermonuclear power plant. It seemed they were on the threshold. It was the crowning test.

“The breakthrough in wormholes has made it possible to start and sustain a fusion reaction on a manageable scale. We will finally continuously produce more power than we use. The multiple wormholes delivering hydrogen into the same point in space at one time will start and sustain the reaction just as in the sun. We can fully control it.”

“The wormholes have opened new avenues. Maybe eventually allowing communication across interstellar space and even time.”

“Maybe, but they’re limited in how much they can expand the wormholes. It would take an almost infinite amount of energy to open one large enough to accept a pen. They’ve known for decades that submicroscopic wormholes opened and closed constantly on the quantum level. Capturing and directing them was the challenge. They have succeeded wonderfully. I haven’t had my coffee yet Arthur, and I have to visit the washroom.

We have more than an hour. I’ll meet you in the commissary. After we’ve had coffee

we’ll turn on the coolant and the containment field and go through the checklist. It will only take a few minutes.”

“It seems strange to be working on a reactor so small and simple. In a classroom.”

“It does, but with the fuel transmitted directly from the production facility, and without huge magnetic compression field coils, the space requirements are minimal. Let’s go.”

The blast was small, as thermonuclear explosions go. It still obliterated the entire campus. Even the track field was beyond reclamation. The reaction had continued for several microseconds before the fuel controller sensed a lack of feedback. The loss of life was tragic, but could have been much worse if the student body weren’t on spring break. It’s hoped that Dr. Thackeray at least had a chance to go. He certainly never knew what happened. The washroom was only a few feet away from the reactor. The entire building was vaporized and ionized. All the paper records were gone, but digital records up to the event, including videos from inside the classroom, were backed up off site in multiple locations. Other researchers were able to immediately determine the cause of the disaster. When Doctor Thackeray signed in that Monday morning, he signed in at seven o’clock. The computer recorded the time as eight o’clock. It was a mistake many of us made that Monday. The beginning of daylight saving time had been moved to that weekend because of the new National Gay Pride holiday, in an effort to lighten hangovers and to discourage absenteeism. Neither Thackeray nor Henry or their grad student assistants had checked the time. It was seven minutes to nine when they left for coffee and the washroom, believing it was seven minutes to eight. The hydrogen transmission started on time at nine o’clock.The coolant and containment field were never turned on.

A new team, now at a military facility, is carrying on the fusion reactor project, under government supervision, with improved safeguards and security. In another area of the work, a similar government monitored team at Cal Tech is using wormholes to experimentally communicate with the past. They hope to avert the tragedy.

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