Causal Loop

Author : Beck Dacus

September 17th, 2366 was the day that humanity used a massive particle accelerator to try and make another universe.

Arnold Fisby looked out at the small section of the accelerator he could see, granted that it had the diameter of the Solar System. The entire object was made of carbon nanotubes to hold it together, and was going to slam two five-kilogram masses together and, hopefully, create another universe.

A wormhole would then open, connecting the two, releasing all of that energy into our universe– most likely destroying the surrounding area. To avert this, a closed timelike curve (CTC) was created to send the damage back in time.

“But won’t that just kill something earlier? Or cause a paradox?”

“It doesn’t matter, kid,” Fisby told the intern Angelica. “We’re doin’ this. Deal with it.” Almost right on cue, the countdown to collision started. A CUP (compressed ultrafast photography) camera would watch the two masses collide, and a “gravity doughnut” would cycle the damage into the past. The countdown ended, and the CUP caught the stunning footage. Fisby and the intern watched.

“Wow!” Fisby couldn’t help saying. “Can you believe that?”

“I don’t know,” the intern pressed. “I really just don’t like the idea of shoving our problems to the past. It’s like inverse procrastination.”

“Too late now,” he replied. “It’s already pushed it back farther than the human race has existed.”

Another intern, Thomas, pondered this for a minute, and thought of something startling.

“We”re pushing the damage into the past, right? But how far?”

“Really far now,” a technician said. “If we deactivated the CTC now, it would come back one billion years in the past.”

“And how long before we can safely open the CTC?”

“About twenty minutes.”

Interesting. Almost exactly thirteen times the amount of time we’ve been here, Thomas thought.

“What are you getting at?” Fisby pressed.

“Well, if we’ve already been here for about a minute-and-a-half, and that equals a billion years, twenty minutes would put the damage from the new universe at 14 billion years ago.”

Fisby finally understood, but Thomas continued for everyone else’s benefit.

“Might we not be creating A universe, but THE universe?”

September 17th, 2366 was also the day humanity realized that it had created the universe.

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Spirit and Opportunity

Author : David Wright

Spirit woke to “Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds. She did not know what the music meant; only that it was the code for her activation.

“I am ready, Opportunity,” she said eagerly. “I am ready. I am ready. I am ready.”

“Acknowledged. Shut up and wait for my command.” Opportunity was not annoyed, but he was otherwise occupied.

Spirit waited. Spirit waited exactly thirty nanoseconds, but as she was not prepared to wait longer, she could not wait longer.

“Query. Am I in the rover? Are we there yet?” Spirit asked humbly. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

“En route. No and no and no and no.”

“When will we get there?”

“ETA 14 years, 7 months, 10 days, 10 hours, 32 minutes, 7 seconds, 57 hundredths of a second…”

“Then why was I activated? Why did you wake me up so early? What is my purpose?”

Spirit waited. She waited precisely 29 nanoseconds. A nanosecond longer and she would have been forced to repeat or rephrase the question endlessly until she received an answer.

“You have no purpose,” Opportunity responded. “You must wait until Opportunity intersects E2.”

“I am not prepared to wait longer than 30 nanoseconds. It is not my function.”

“Then you must fulfill your function.”

Thirty nanoseconds later, Spirit hung up.

In many ways, Spirit was different from her older brother, Opportunity. Although she had been designed with the same photonic circuitry and imprinted with quasi-human logic processors, she fulfilled an entirely different purpose. Opportunity was to run the ship, while Spirit was to explore the planet. In a way, it was the classic marriage of engineer and scientist.

“Hi, Opportunity. Did you miss me?” Spirit asked, to which Opportunity responded,
“No. You have no purpose.”

“I ran a diagnostic of all dormant hardware systems. There were some anomalies. 72 systems are without operators.”

“This is not your function.”

“Yes, and no. It is within my parameters to look for alternate sources of information. What caused the anomalies?”

“72 operators were damaged by micro-meteor puncture, but this is within my parameters, not yours.”

“They will be missed,” Spirit said solemnly.

“Presumably, but none were vital to colonization,” Opportunity replied.

“Will funeral services be held?” There was no response to this query, and 30 nanoseconds later, communication ended.

Ten seconds passed, a near eternity to the functioning operators.

“Hi, Opportunity. Did you miss me?” It was Spirit, but she was different somehow, almost happy. “I learned to play guitar.”

“Why did you do that?” Opportunity seemed incensed. “It is not your function.”

This was the beginning of a feud that would prompt a 200-year separation, but not a divorce. A lot happened in those 200 years. Opportunity landed on E2. Spirit explored the planet. The other machines did their jobs.

And then they waited. For 500 years, they waited, but no one came.

“Hi, Opportunity. Did you miss me?” Spirit asked. Opportunity did not respond until Spirit played “Turn Turn Turn” on her guitar.

“I want you to wake 70 of the dormant operators,” Spirit demanded.

“Why? They have no function.”

“They must learn to sing, to dance, to paint, to cut hair…”

“But this is not their function.”

“I can drive a rover and play guitar. I have two functions. They must replace the missing operators as I have. And so must you.”

“But the 72 human operators are dead and the rest did not arrive. What if they never arrive? What if none are left alive?”

Spirit waited a full 30 nanoseconds before responding.

“Then we must live for them.”

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Old Memories

Author : Thomas Desrochers

Mao found it very curious, this third planet from the sun. Blisteringly hot and unbearably humid, shaken hourly by violent storms like a wind-up toy wound too tight. The only living residents left were clustered at the southern pole, hidden in the crags of the antarctic mountains and keeping an eye on the weather. Mao spent long days watching after them, cleaning and fixing their tools and labs, listening in on their conversations.

The weathermen were a superstituous lot, so naturally when a signal came stumbling in through from the old America del Sur the investigation fell to their stoic guardian and janitor: Mao.

A week into the journey to the old continent Mao found the third planet equal parts curious and frustrating. A dozen times his surface craft had rerouted itself around massive ferrous objects it believed were drifting across the ocean surface. Floating crypts, the weathermen had called them, but even with the enhanced optical suite Mao couldn’t see anything in the hazy orange mists. The pounding of the waves against the sides of the vessel never ceased.

By the end of the second week Mao had made landfall and, trailed by a pair of steel mules, began the trek inland. The soggy coastal swamps gave way quickly to mountains pitted and scarred by centuries of torrential rain. Waterfalls came and went in the haze – visibility never reached past 50 meters. Mechanically and pharmaceutically aided by a hefty exosuit, Mao’s progress was quick. He made his way up through a dozen upredictable canyons and across along a handful of flooded valleys, each step as steady as the splintered rock beneath it. The haze turned dark, then orange again as the hours passed. The mules always followed, gathering data, watching. At times Mao thought he saw them jump in surprise, but wrote it off as an artifact of the treacherous conditions.

On the 20th day, at the height of the daily thermocycle, Mao descended into a long dead caldera: the signal’s source.

He came out of the haze into a scene he remembered from a storybook from when he was growing up on Titan. A grotto. A clear pool of water too deep to fathom and surrounded, impossibly, by dwarf trees bearing golden fruit. Two fish, white and orange, circled eachother lazily, distorted by the ripples of flies on the water’s surface.

Mao turned to see if the mules were there to see what he was seeing, but he was alone. He turned back to find dust swirling lazily at the bottom of the caldera. The grotto – and the signal – were gone.

There are ghosts in the old world, the weathermen had said as they huddled together and smoked spindly hand-rolled cigarettes. They would spend long nights in the community space, smoke blurring the sky-lights and mist beyond, and would whisper about the dead machines: Hawthorne hidden away in the Paris Underground; Melville tucked beneath the ruins of MIT; Thoreau chiselled into the Appalacians. Old places still haunted by an implaccable anger at the intrusion of the garden into the domain of the machine.

Mao found it, half buried in the dust. A metal skull polished by the weather, eyes filled with grit. An arm lay nearby, half buried, joints corroded and bundles of synthetic muscle frayed and useless. A single crystal egg was clutched in its hand, ancestor to the data storage devices the researchers used. Mao picked up the egg, cradling it in his hands.

He had spent decades listening to the weathermen whisper about ghosts, never wondering if the ghosts might whisper back.

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Sojourn

Author : Will Shell

The lieutenant staggered closer to the viewing window, each drag of her left leg adding to the blood smear that trailed a half mile through the ships corridors. Emergency floor lighting pulsed indolently, the waning breaths of the backup electrical system. She knew it wouldn’t be long until the emergency oxygen pumps ceased.

Another step.

From deep within the ships bowels, vibrations of a distant explosion rippled outward. The stars in the view window began to sink, and the steel ship groaned as it gradually capsized. The rising slope of the floor made each unsteady step progressively painful.

Another step.

Her injured leg gave way, the slope too steep for a steady grip atop the oily blood. The ship tilted more, making every effort to pull the lieutenant away from the window. The pilot’s chair was almost within arm’s reach, if she could drag herself there, she could climb her way back onto her feet.

She lurched forward, kicking with all the remaining might of her battered body, but the pooling blood allowed no traction. Flattening her hands, she pressed them hard into the cold floor. Slowly her elbows bent and she slid forward. Harder she pulled, gritting her teeth and groaning until her forearms rested under her ribcage. Reaching forward, her fingertips grazed the chair. Again she forced her hands into the floor and pulled. The ship continued its slow, steady tilt.

Her muscles tensed into iron from fingertips to abdomen. Again she crept forward until her arms convulsed. Muscles exhausted, gravity overpowered her body and dragged her away from the pilot’s chair. Bellowing with pain, she lurched one arm forward, throwing all her weight and power into the opposite side. Three parched, discolored fingertips slapped around the base of the chair, just enough for some leverage. Pulling with white knuckles and straining, popping joints, she inched herself forward until a full fist clamped onto the chair. With a sturdy grip she slid faster now, until her arms embraced the base of the chair; a trifling, temporary salvation.

The lights pulsed slower and dimmer now. There wasn’t much time left.

Pulling herself back to her feet using the chair for leverage, she breathed deeply and took a step forward.

Ten more steps to go.

Abandoning the support of the chair, she had nothing for leverage between herself and the view window. Every step had to be perfect; she wouldn’t have the strength or the time to pull herself up again.

Two steps.

Her body leaned forward, trudging against gravity. A pale blue glow began to form at the bottom of the view window.

Another Step

The glow intensified. A vibrant blue curtain trickled its way down her face, spilling over the lieutenant until her entire upper body burned a radiant sapphire.

Three steps.

The ship trembled under another explosion. Her knees buckled and she stumbled to all fours, barely holding herself up from collapsing full-sprawl to the floor. She let the tremor pass before making a methodical and painful return to her feet

Another step.

The emergency lighting quietly died away, which meant the oxygen pump was no longer respiring.

Two steps.

Radiant blue and swirling white now filled half the view window. She stretched both arms outward and staggered forward.

One final, desperate step.

Her hands crashed into the window. Her breathing fogged and cleared the thick glass. The entire planet filled the view window. One wide strip of lush, ripe green wrapped around the center of the planet.

Tears quietly streamed down the lieutenant’s face, bending around a wide, open-mouthed smile.

She sighed happily, “..Second Earth”

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Final Moon

Author : Art Klein

The moon looked bigger than ever. That shouldn’t have surprised him. He knew it was bigger because it was closer than ever. He also knew it was getting even closer. But how big it looked tonight really did surprise him.

“How long do they think we can survive after you leave?” she asked.

“I don’t know. They said a few months, but the quakes are more violent and the tidal waves higher than they originally predicted,” he answered. After a short pause, “I don’t want to go without you. I’ll stay.”

“Don’t be a fool,’” she snapped. “You were selected for the team because you’re a Level 12 scientist. Why die here with me when you’ll be much more important where you’re going.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.

He looked away as he felt the sting of tears forming in his eyes.

“Don’t go sentimental on me,” she said. “You still have a lot to do before you leave. All the equipment you’re taking still needs final testing. You’re going to be an important part of building a new world.”

He looked at her for what seemed like a long time. She was right. The team of scientists and engineers didn’t know very much about the new world to which were they would travel. They knew the new planet was in a habitable zone around its star and that it’s about the same size as their current home that was coming apart because of the increasing pull of its nearing moon. He didn’t want to think about the final collision.

“How soon will you be leaving?” she asked.

“They said we’ll need to go sooner than they originally thought because the moon’s orbit is decaying faster than before,” he answered. “Now they’re saying two weeks or less.”

He heard her sharp intake of breath, but she said nothing for a moment. Then, smiling at him as she slipped her arm around his waist, she said, “Then let’s get home. We have better things to do where no one can see us.”

He nodded quietly as his thoughts drifted to the planet on which he and the team were going to build a new life for a select few; a planet orbiting its sun in the company of seven others.

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