Einstein’s Last Words

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I walked into the offices of Temporal Travel Inc. A bored agent three rows back motioned me toward him with his free hand, as he peered around his upturned coffee cup. “Good morning, Sir.” he said as he placed the empty coffee cup squarely on a coaster. “Where and when may we send you?”

I sat down in the large chair at the side of his desk. “Yes, hello,” I said. “My name is Dr. Marc Strohm, Dean of the Physics Department at MIT. I’m interested in going to Princeton, New Jersey, April 15, 1955, at about 1:00 AM. Specifically, the Princeton Hospital. I need to stay about 20 minutes.”

The salesman motioned to his AI assistant to begin the temporal calculations as he scanned the iridium credit transponder implanted in my forearm. He said, “I don’t believe anybody ever asked to go there and then before. Sounds boring. You sure I can’t talk you into Mars, say 3.5 billion years ago? Tropical climate, twenty foot waves slowly crashing onto orange beaches? Very beautiful, and we’re having a special this week.”

“No, it has to be the hospital room of Albert Einstein on the day he died. You see, just before his death at 1:15 AM, he uttered his last words to the attending nurse. Unfortunately, he spoke them in German, and she only understood English. Nobody knows what he said. I’m hoping that during the heightened brain activity at the end, he may have solved the unification problem. Einstein had spent the last half of his life trying to develop a single equation to unite the four fundamental forces in the universe. As far as we know, he never did it. Two hundred years later, we still haven’t solved it. I’ve been studding German for three years for the opportunity to understand his last words.”

The salesman looked disappointed. His commission was based on years traveled, not scientific merit. “Listen, professor,” he said, “what if Einstein said, ‘Nurse, you’re standing on my oxygen hose.’ You would have wasted a trip for nothing. How about the end of the Cretaceous? You can watch The Great Asteroid impact the Yucatan peninsula.”

“Sir, I’m a Theoretical Physicist, not an Astrophysicist, or a Paleontologist. Look, if you’d prefer, I can go to Time Excursions.”

The eyes of the AI began blinking green. The salesman quickly changed tactics. “No, no, no. You’re the boss. OK, I think we’re ready now. Please step into the Phase Transporter, and we’ll send you on your way. You’ll be able to see and hear everything, but you’ll be in ‘phased-time,’ so you’ll be invisible to them. Have a good trip. And, good luck.”

When he shut the door to the Transporter, everything went pitch black. Then there was a flash of intense light. When sight returned to my eyes, I was indeed in Einstein’s hospital room. He lay propped up in his bed. He looked so old and feeble. But even at this hour, as weak as he was, he was feverishly writing in his note pad. I drifted behind him to study his notes. Fantastic, he was working on the unified field equation. I started to get chills up my back. He appeared to be on the verge of something, when his eyes closed, his hand went limp, and his chest stopped moving. The pen fell out of his hand, rolled off the bed, and dropped onto the floor. The attending nurse ran to his side and shook him gently. “Mr. Einstein, are you all right? Can you here me?”

His eyes suddenly fluttered open. He motioned for her to come closer, and whispered, “Gott zeigte mir die Lösung. Sie war… schön.” Then he smiled, closed his eyes, and died.

It was a bitter sweet moment for me. Although I was disappointed, I was happy for Einstein. His last words were: “God showed me the solution. It was…beautiful.”

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Alternate 7816JS

Author : Joshua Reynolds

Dinosaurs thundered through a post-industrial city on their way to work. Suits and ties. Briefcases built to fit thick, knobby talons. The stink of mammal bacon on the breath of some, boiled plant on others. Pollution choking the air and grease and oil and garbage on the streets. A thriving, productive society.

This wouldn’t do. Oh no, not at all.

Not because the dinosaurs had evolved, or even because they had simultaneously supplanted the mammal and driven it to near extinction (except for those in processing farms, getting fat from no movement and squirting out infants every nine months) but because they intended to do it elsewhere.

The Censor stood on top of the tallest building in the city, invisible to the saurian eye, his coat heavy with light-bending circuitry and Ellison cells. He tapped the side of his head, bringing up a HUD screen on the insides of his eyelids. A series of tiny screens within screens appeared on the display, an infinity of bureaucracy. The Timeline Validation Bureau. Bland faces appeared in each screen. Gray little men leading gray little lives in their chronal separation cubicles hard at work, never to know the joys of the infinities of the continuum. And to prevent others from doing so as well. That was the job of the Censor. Of all the Censors, though they were all the same man.

They were all him. All Wight.

And they all loved their job.

“Report.” A multitude of somber voices echoed in his ear.

“Alternate 7816JS is experiencing a major chronal incident.”

“Nature?”

“Scientists have discovered the back roads. They have open doors to Alternates 7826JS, 7846JS and 7886JS respectively and a fourth tacking directly into the continuum itself.”

“Eliminate.”

“My thoughts exactly.” The Censor smiled. “Initiating reality disruption.”

He stuck his hand in his coat and pulled out a smooth sphere-an entropy grenade-and twisted it’s top half lightly. The sphere began to glow as he tossed it up into the air where it rose higher and higher finally fading out of sight altogether. It would phase itself into the heart of the sun. When it exploded it would send out an entropic pulse and erase the rogue timeline from existence as well as the three it had infected with its disease in a controlled ‘Big Bang’. The Censor leaned over the edge of the building, arms resting on his knee and breathed in the humid, swampy air. How many sentients would perish? The machines in his head began to calculate and he hummed to himself as he prepared to leave. Overhead, the sun seemed to flash for a moment, growing brighter with every second as the entropy wave devoured it from inside out.

The Censor smiled as his eye lenses polarized against the glare.

He did so love his job.

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The Last Beautiful Thing

Author : D. Magliola

Ron was sprawled on a park bench. His dirty hands were tucked into the kangaroo pouch of his salvaged Nike hoodie. He exhaled a cloud of vapor and wheezed with his next breath. A single tear ran down his cheek and was absorbed in the dust mask that protected his mouth and nose. Everything had gone to hell since the day before. The scene that previous evening had been different. She had been there.

People had been fighting over things for longer than anyone could remember. First it was for oil. Then it was bombs. Then it was freedom, then food, and finally people just fought for themselves. All around the filthy world, people had stolen shotguns from WalMarts and fought for their lives. Later, people lost hope even in themselves. There was no reason to go on, death was easier than fighting.

Then, in the broken cement jungle of Chicago, a small group of scavengers found the girl. She was small, soft, and autistic. It was as if her fractured mind had turned down the volume of the fighting. She was the only one who hadn’t lost hope. She shared it with those who found her. They became the Protectors. The group of men and women, only a few dozen strong, defended their little bubble of hope for years. She was the last beautiful thing. In a world of horror, she was the only relief. The Protectors risked their lives to steal her food. When she became ill with typhoid, they tore apart every abandoned supermarket and pharmacy in Chicago until they found penicillin that hadn’t dried up and become like chalk. She could play the piano, so the Protectors stole her one. While a handful of them stood night watch in the entrance of their decrepit subway station, she had played beautiful music. Wonderful random little notes would tinkle through the frigid night air and help people forget their dead families and hunger. Sometimes she’d sing.

Then one night some freakoids came through in a minivan. They had all the seats taken out and a .50 caliber M-2 Browning bolted to the interior. They hit the guards and crashed down the stairwell, throwing the passenger door open and filling the depot with hot lead before Ron could blow the bastards away.

She had been sitting on the bucket next to the piano with her head on the keys. Her torn dress was an off shade of muddy red, the puddle beneath her matched.

Ron took another ragged breath through his mask. The world had ended that night. There was nothing left to fight for. What would he do? Maybe he’d join the other Protectors, at the bottom of the Sears Tower. Their broken bodies felt no pain. Why go on living in a world with nothing beautiful?

Ron removed his mask and took another breath. He hawked a pint of warm red relief, his scarred lungs liberated of life by the razor dust. If she couldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. Ron closed his eyes and departed to find the last beautiful thing.

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Sky Marshal

Author : Phill Arng

It was wet work, being in the Sky Platoon. Yawning decades hunched in the basket of those primitive balloons with nothing for company but the clouds and the telescopes for watching all our friends below.

Time moved differently in the chronosphere and it lent itself to idle thoughts. They hadn’t mentioned that when they sent us up here, a few of the centurions went a tiny bit mad. Blew the wrong people up, as it where. That was a crime as we saw it in the early days.

Our job was to enforce the laws, to begin with they where largely contradictory; we fixed them once we had solved the philosophical foundations. Ethics, logic, that sort of thing. Oh yes, time! hah! we had a unique perspective for fixing that one.

I was watching when the first generation of senators frantically ordered the decommissioning of the Sky Platoon. The exact moment when the Emperor violated section eight of the Aerial Autonomy Act. I was watching his face in melting slow motion as zeppelin 17 arrested him. It seemed artless and marked the end of our tenure as public servants.

I must have arrested more than any other zeppelin during that era. I had a somewhat errant perspective on genome crime, I’m ashamed to say. To my credit, I was soon able to arrest individual genetic mutations without destroying the host. That is before we started enforcing the Atomic Pre-Destination Act.

Atomic predestination law isn’t really something you can do alone inside your mind, you see? You have to think up compression matrix to store the positions and vectors of a millennia of atoms, cede synapses to independent thought patterns when parsing them… Whole consciousness fragmented, it was an age of neuro-rebellion. Zeppelin 17 cut some of his brain out with the lens of his warrant card, the rest of us just tried to forget.

Its a shame I only remember the bad stuff. The more I forget, the more the stuff becomes bad. I remembered better than most and my balloon was among the last to fall. I think there are still people up there, warring for their minds, destiny out of sync with sanity.

The world is about to end, did I mention that? I thought it might be for the best. Difficult to tell, really, when your a recovering schizophrenic.

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Space Walk

Author : Duncan Shields

The helmet amplifies my own breathing and makes me feel uncomfortably confined. It’s like when you can hear yourself chewing and it sounds so noisy because of the bone conduction going on with the sound but outside of your head its fine. Except with me I can hear my own breathing coming through the speakers in my earpieces. All I can see through the faceplate is infinite space salted with Christmas-light stars. This is my first space walk.

Something interesting happens to the human mind when it’s confronted with this level of distance. Visually, there is no up or down and below your feet is an unknowable distance of nothing. The tallest building you’ve ever dared yourself to look over the edge of is nothing compared to this. Your brain tries to get a hold on it. It either gives up altogether or the monkey starts screaming and you go crazy. Right now I’m not sure which way it’s going to go. Am I going to blind myself by projectile vomiting against the glass? Am I going to claw at the catches on my helmet just to make it stop? My breathing is getting loud and ragged in my ears. My vital signs are rising.

Control senses it.

“You alright?” comes down the speakers.

I breathe back and manage a squeak. I feel like screaming but I can’t. I know I’m starting to lose it. Any second now the line is going to go tight, they’ll reel me in, and I’ll get shipped dirtside to a desk job or a training facility and my days in space will be done if I don’t get it together.

“McGavin! You alright?” comes down the tube again.

And just like that, like someone shooting out the part of my brain that’s not evolved, I don’t care. It’s like the monkey blew a fuse and just went dark. I look at the stars and they’re just stars. I look down and see my feet dangling and below them is just space. I’m fine. I can feel my little heart blink and start to slow down, relieved.

“Roger. I’m fine.” I say.

The instructor can hear it in my voice that I have it under control and I’ll be fine. He’s done this hundreds of times. He knows the signs.

“Copy. Five more minutes then we’ll pull you in. Enjoy it.” He says.

I start to hum a little tune that I heard a couple of weeks ago. I’m still humming it later in my bunk, going over the high fiving of my fellow successes and our uneasy shunning of the people who panicked and are going back to Earth tonight. I wonder for a while what the switch was in me and how it really didn’t seem like a conscious decision. I wonder if survival is different for some people, like we evolved from different apes. Some people panic, scream and run while some people just turn off and sublimate.

I drift off feeling mysteriously strong but not personally responsible.

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