The Danger of Hubris

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I am very, very sorry. What else can I say? If it means anything, at least I will die before you. I probably only have a few hours left…just enough time to tell you what happened, and to ask for your forgiveness.

I am (actually, was) a graduate student of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. My Ph.D. thesis involved achieving absolute zero in the laboratory. Others scientists have gotten close. My colleges at the Helsinki University of Technology got down to 0.000000001 K. But my technique was a quantum leap beyond theirs. I could suspend all atomic motion. The electrons, protons, and neutrons would be instantly locked into place. No motion, no temperature. I had already prepared my Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

I was completely certain that my technique would work. What I wasn’t sure about was what would become of my my 1 gram target of osmium. My gut told me nothing would happen. I’d just have 1 gram of very cold metal. But, like any great scientist, I had to consider all possibilities. There was a slim chance that the electrons could collapse into the protons, giving me 1 gram of neutronium, i.e., a mini-neutron star. Since a neutron has more mass than one proton plus one electron, I’d have to supply additional energy. You know, the e=mc2 stuff. Then, when I ended my experiment, the neutronium (being unstable), would revert back to protons and electrons, and I’d have to dissipate the energy. Nothing I couldn’t handle. So, this morning, I performed the experiment.

At the critical moment in the experiment, something catastrophic happened. I had overlooked the obvious. I had not considered the effect my experiment would have on the elementary particles (quarks and leptons) and I had assumed neutrons were the ultimate termination point. When absolute zero was achieved, my osmium collapsed past neutronium into a singularity. With nothing to contain the singularity, gravity caused it to drop toward the center of the Earth. In the second it took to descended through the lab bench and the floor, sucking in everything in its path, it exposed me to a lethal dose of X-rays and gamma rays. In freefall, with nothing of consequence to slow it down, the singularity will reach the core in a few minutes. It will shoot past, stop somewhere near the upper end of the southern mantle, and return through the core again, continuing the cycle for hours. Eventually, it will settle down at the precise center of the Earth. Then, over the next few days, it will devour the core, the mantle, the crust, and the atmosphere. The Earth will shrink from its current 8,000 mile diameter to an infinitesimal speck. The astronauts in the space station may live to see it, but you won’t. The earthquakes, the tsunamis, the volcanoes, and the radiation will end your innocent lives long before the conclusion of this tragedy.

But, as I said, I am very, very sorry.

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Mobius Revisited

Author : LaTosha Hall

The three children stared at the table top.

“How’s it doin’ that?” the fair haired boy whispered, reaching two fingers out towards the dull metal object floating above the center of the cracked table. The only girl of the group, tall and gangly, squatted down, peering under the table.

“It’s got to be some sort of trick… you know, like magic tricks on TV,” she muttered, touching the wood of the table top from underneath. The darkhaired boy, runt of the litter, took a step back. Visibly nervous, he shoved his hands in his pockets.

“Told you we wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said, his voice cracking into splintered tones.

A distant hum became faintly louder as the three stared at it. The fair haired boy’s fingers lightly brushed the edge of the metal, and it bobbed slightly. The hum began to sound like audible chanting, voices from far away. The children couldn’t quite make out what it said, but the dark haired boy had had enough. He bolted through the empty rotting rooms, out into the cool evening air where only the wind was heard. About 30 feet from the broken door of the abandoned house, he turned, expecting his friends behind him. Only the gaping windows followed him. He sat down in the dirt path, waiting.

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Next of Kin

Author : Ashley Bonkajo

The old woman had not been seen for quite a while. Nor was it unusual for a person to not be seen for months at a time. Robot or (for the very wealthy) android assistants handled the details of day to day life.

The old woman had not answered the door when a server had tried to present her with a summons to appear over the unpaid rent. Some few legal issues were conducted solely face to face.

The owner of the building sent for the police to look into the matter of the unanswered summons. An assistant was dispatched with a master key to let the police, and subsequently, the paramedics into the apartment.

They found that she had died in her sleep some weeks ago.

A smaller assistant robot was standing near the gurney crying. It was one of the earlier models with a flat screen display for facial expression. Blue animated tears spattered from down-turned crescent eyes. A larger crescent for the mouth also denoting sadness. If it had been a later model, it would have been wailing as well.

“Sergeant, I can’t find a listing for next of kin.”

“That’s alright.”

Looking at the small assistant which was still running the animation of tears.

“I think they already know.”

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Renegotiations

Author : Benjamin Fischer

Basajaun sighed and rubbed the sweat from under his eyes. A shadow had fallen across reflected rays of his private sun.

“What is it you want?” he asked, blinking and groggy.

The shade resolved itself into the slim image of a woman standing over him.

“Mr. Miquel, I am Yasamin Judd,” she said. Mocha skin, some sort of South Asian. Medium of height, medium build, dressed in a generic gray skintight softsuit that could have belonged to one of a thousand extraterran concerns.

“They always send a pretty one,” Basajaun muttered.

“The spa staff granted me entrance,” Yasamin said.

Basajaun grunted and made no attempt to cover himself. Lying flat and naked on a cedar deck chair, he rubbed his belly.

“You are from Palamos?” he asked her.

“Yes, I represent the Pioneer Union of Palamos.”

Basajaun fumbled around at his side.

“Pioneer Union. Hmph,” he said, bringing a bulb of oil up to his prominent stomach and farting out a glob onto his belly button.

“We wish to renegotiate-” Yasamin continued.

“Renegotiate,” Basajaun said, an ugly look on his face like he’d just caught a whiff of something foul.

“Yes,” said Yasamin.

“Have you read the contract?” Basajaun asked the woman. He began to rub the oil in slow circles around his paunch.

“Yes-”

“Then there is nothing to renegotiate,” Basajaun said. “The contract explains all.”

Yasamin made to open her mouth again, but he waved her off.

“No renegotiation,” he said. “If you had found nothing on that rock, would you come running to me? No. You would have taken my wages and been happy for them. But now that there is copper and platinum at Palamos and you grow greedy.”

“We are not looking for a higher percentage,” Yasamin replied with patience.

“Bullshit,” Basajaun barked. “I have hired gypsies and tinkers and jews before–you always want more.”

“Sir, the Union remains ever grateful for your employment,” Yasamin said.

“Then be silent,” he replied.

“We are,” said Yasamin. “These negotiations exist purely between us. The Union does not wish to give the appearance of labor difficulties at Palamos.”

Basajaun rotated a pair of beady eyes onto the woman.

“So that’s your threat?” he said.

Yasamin shifted on her feet.

“What to you want?” Basajaun asked.

“Rights to the asteroid,” Yasamin said.

“Minus the heavy metals?” he replied.

“Mineral rights will be maintained per the existing contract,” she answered.

Basajaun shut his eyes and sighed.

“I don’t understand–that rock is worth shit without the platinum,” he murmured. “And that’s all you want.”

“We want a place to call home,” Yasamin replied.

Basajaun shook his head.

“The membership of the Pioneer Union consists mostly of refugees,” started Yasamin.

“I know, I know,” said Basajaun. “Those without hope will work in the worst places for the worst pay. I know this–it is why I hired you.”

He paused.

“Finish the extraction a month before the scheduled time and the rock is yours,” he said.

“Thank you, sir-”

“Go away. I have to tan my ass,” Basajaun said.

Yasamin nodded politely and backed out of the sun booth. Basajaun could see that she was trying not to smile too broadly.

When she was gone, Basajaun looked up at the heavy mirror high above him. There the sun blazed away, its glare beading up the sweat on his cheeks and his chest. Almost hidden in its rays was a tiny sliver of blue and white where the ruins of a flooded Costa Brava fishing village lay blistering under a similar heat.

The deck chair creaked like the worn planks of an old trawler.

Basajaun sighed and rolled over.

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Necessary Fictions

Author : John Mierau

“Mr. Jerome?”

Pen and thoughts still pressed to the page, the writer looked up: a tall man in an old-fashioned suit weaved his way through the happy hour crowd.

“David Jerome. It’s really you!”

Another fan? God, why can’t people be happy with the books and leave me alone! “Uh, look, I’m right in the middle of…” David gestured down at the page.

“You write the way people think, did you know that? Almost like you read people’s minds.” He reached out a long-fingered hand. “I’m Jack.”

David didn’t take the hand. “Jack, I’m really -“

“Would you like to? Read minds?”

David snorted. “I don’t write that kind of fiction.”

The tall man shook his head. “‘I’m not making fun. I know… how much it hurt when Prudence left, how scared you are. I can fix that.”

David shrank away as the stranger rubbed salt where Pru had left him raw.

I know… your publisher scares you. He yells at you, wants the novel you owe him. Short stories are a waste to him.”

David’s knuckles whitened around the pen. The tip cut, slicing his palm.

Jack smiled at David again. “Sorry. I bet your brain’s about to burst…” The stranger reached across the table, ran two cool fingers across David’s temple. David let it happen, couldn’t think what to say or do to stop it.

“You got into people’s heads better than anyone,” Jack whispered. “It’ll all be clear soon. I wish I could stay, but they’ll be coming…”

David watched Jack rise, unable to speak, divining greater meaning in each word than sound could carry.

“If it wasn’t for you, David, I’d have never known Mystery!” Jack giggled, backing away from the table. “Now all mysteries will be, heh, open books to you.”

David didn’t see Jack leave as the world roared in like exploding bombs, like a lover’s whisper.

David knew…

The bartender didn’t notice the pretty blonde who’d bought her blue dress just for him, after he’d chased off the drunk who spoke ugly words to her and clawed under her skirt.

David knew…

The old man in the corner tried not to be angry. His son hadn’t shown. The boy always sent his mother flowers, and he’d paid to fix the roof last summer. He felt horrible for wondering if the boy remembered today would have been his mother’s birthday.

David knew…

The guy on the stool by the door had slaved six years to pay for the ring in his hand, and the down-payment on the house Shelly loved. He couldn’t wait any longer: he’d pop the question tonight!

The words… David had gotten them almost right. He looked down at the page and his ink-stained fingers; at the words so close to truth and now so empty.

Across the room, the blonde’s insides shook as the bartender noticed her dress.

David dropped the pen. It fell to the floor as the writer put his head in his hands and wept.

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