The Editor

Author : Philip Ryburn

“600 words?! I’m expected to create an entire universe, complete with believable characters that the reader can relate to and care about in a mere 600 words? Are you outta your ever-lovin’ mind?”, Christina Hoffman was exasperated. Clearly, this was not going to do.

“I’m afraid you have it correct, Christina. It’s just the way things are. Create a believable universe, populate it with a character or two who are believable and then wrap it all up nice and neat in 600 words.” The Editor was nothing if not blunt. He’d been through this a billion times before and knew he’d go through it a billion times again. It was tedious but that was the price he had to pay to get that one Story, that one Universe, that would save his own universe from plunging into a black hole. Literally.

“You don’t understand,” Christina was trying to stall and The Editor knew it. He understood. He let her continue: “I’m just a hack writer. I do one-offs for fluff magazines. I don’t DO entire universes!!”

The Editor was unmoved. As mentioned, he’d been through this many, many times before. It’s always the same: attract a writer into this wormhole and explain the reality of the situation- that the universe they believe they exist in is actually fake. A hologram. Or something like that- they can’t really grasp Q-dimensional tesseracts at this point in their quantum holo-evolution- and tell them that they must produce a believable universe in under 600 words of code or they go *poof* and everything they ever thought they “knew” would disappear in a quantum cloud of nano waves and quark-strings as if they had never existed. Which, of course, they don’t. But that’s besides the point.

The Editor, as powerful as he was, had his own problem: namely, that his own universe was slipping away into the bowels of a black hole at the center of the universe. The only way out was to create another universe to slip into. One that was complete and whole and believable… but required a brevity that was almost impossible to match. 600 words. No more. No less. It’s all the Universal Computational Tesseract would handle within the confines of Q-dimensional holo-physics.

“Well, Christina, if you aren’t even going to try…”, The Editor said with a sad and tired voice. “No!”, Christina balked. “I can do this. I’m a writer. I can do this.” The Editor always felt a small shimmer of something akin to love whenever they did this. It’s almost as if they they could… “Then get to it, Christina. I haven’t got all day.”

Christina wrote. Furiously. Pounding the keyboard. Sweat pouring down her face. 150 words. 370 words. 465 words!!! The Editor leaned in with anticipation, reading over her shoulder. Not bad, he thought. Could it be? Perhaps this one is the One….

A shudder interrupted his thoughts. The Editor looked up and noticed the walls were beginning to dissolve. “I’m sorry,” The Voice said “but I thought I made it clear. A story was to be delivered by 16quaStriations or you go. Sorry. Times up.” The Voice. The Voice of infinity. The Voice from beyond the Q-dimensional tesseract of Ultimate Reality.

“No! Wait! I almost have it!!!” The Editor pleaded. Christina, oblivious to Q-dimensional tesseracts, continued to pour everything she had into her story. 550 words! 585! 590!!! “It’s all right here!! I swear!!”, The Editor screamed into the Void of Being.

”Sorry,” said The Voice.
“They don’t call it a deadline for nothing.” *poof*

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Such a Small Mistake

Author : Elijah Goering

Henry Jockt listened to the low hiss of life support as the last of the oxygen was used up. He tried to force himself to run over the possibilities once again, to hold on to hope for some miraculous rescue, but his despair resisted his best efforts and he soon gave up. He became aware of the roar of his ship’s engines only as it faded away and the last reserves of fuel were spent. He had no fuel, little air, and no emergency reserve of either. The bizarre sensation as his weight gave way to free fall felt like a slap to the face. He should have been comfortable in the gravity of the moon by now.

And there was no hope of rescue. Henry couldn’t fool himself into thinking there was. He was drifting out of the solar system at 143 kilometers per second. There was nobody ahead to help him and if there had been it wouldn’t have mattered. It would take hours for anyone to catch him and match his speed and the air was already getting hard to breathe.

Henry wondered what he was supposed to think about in his last moments. His family and friends? He loved them but they didn’t really seem to matter now. He could try to pray, but he had never really decided whether he believed in God. He had always thought he would think about it later; there had been so much time…

Wasn’t his life supposed to flash before his eyes? Henry thought of his dearest memories, but it only filled him with the dread of realization that his life was ending. How was he supposed to come to terms with death in just a few minutes? People were supposed to get days or weeks to deal with it, and even then it was hard. He couldn’t comprehend that the continuous fabric of his life would be cut short.

No, all he could think about was the mistake. A quick trip to the moon, accelerate at 1g for 104 minutes, flip, and decelerate for 104 minutes. Easy, especially with enough fuel to accelerate for up to 6 hours at 1g. Only he had typed in 1044 minutes and taken a nap, waking 5 hours later to find the moon far behind and not enough fuel to stop.

The silence was deafening in his ears and after a moment he realized why. The hiss was gone. Henry began to feel tired and relaxed every muscle in zero gravity. He closed his eyes. It had been such a small mistake.

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Author : James Anderson

They called us handicapped. Our bodies didn’t develop the way other people’s did. We were weaker than them, we tired more easily. Some of us thought it was God, others just thought it was genetics. We didn’t know we were being prepared.

Decades after the war ended, humanity thought they had finally gotten it right. There was plenty of space for the survivors, food was plenty. For the first time anyone could remember, there was hope.

But the war had an effect no one foresaw. The scientists called it subnucleonic atmospheric degradation, whatever that is. All we know is that the weapons which had finally ended the war, had also poisoned the air. It didn’t manifest itself immediately, but by the time we noticed the effects, it was too late.

We needed a new home, somewhere out in the stars. Our scientists had already solved several of the most difficult problems posed by interstellar travel. Nuclear propulsion came from advances in missile technology. The hardened shield to protect travelers from cosmic radiation came from a need for protection from those same missiles. But mankind had not yet solved the debilitating issues associated with prolonged weightlessness on the human body. That’s where we came in.

Those of us in the Exploration Corps have all been diagnosed with various muscle diseases when we were young. Muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia, even soft tissue sarcoma. Experiments showed that our health actually improved in space. We had been dealing with atrophying muscles all our lives, and in the weightlessness of space, what hindered the young, strapping astronauts of yesteryear was daily life to us.

So we will leave, and we will search the cosmos. There isn’t much time, but there will be enough for our small group of explorers to find a new home.

They called us handicapped, but now they call us the future.

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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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Star-shaped Star

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The pendant dances slowly in the air currents, attached to one of the safety release handles on the top wall of the cockpit or what groundfolk would call a ‘ceiling’. It was given to me by my daughter before liftoff. She was four at the time. I’ll probably never see her again.

There are sixteen of these pendants around the ship. Different shapes and sizes and all from different colonies. All daughters. I wonder what the odds are on that? I should enter it into the computer later.

Little girls don’t have much imagination when it comes to giving gifts to a father from the stars. Their mothers don’t have much either, come to think of it. Outpost women see me as exotic and attractive just because I drive a truck through space. I’m grateful. I just wish the work schedule wouldn’t force me to leave and that relativistic speeds didn’t age them like fruit from my perspective as soon as I left.

The little girl who gave me the first of these pendants died centuries ago. The last one, Amanda, she’s probably seven now even though I only left her mom’s rock one month ago. I always toy with bringing them along on the trip but the truck’s cramped and it’s no place for a little kid or a family.

I tell them all I’ll be back. They all give me something to remember them by. I never see them again.

I don’t really understand the gifts. Stars are shaped like balls but each of these pendants has points on them. Some of them only have four or five points. The one with the most has sixteen, all wavy lines. Most basic science in these colonies tell the people there that stars are hot spheres yet the jewelry and icons all have points. Maybe it’s to represent the glitter that I don’t see up here with no atmosphere between me and the universe.

Knowing that most of my daughters have probably passed on makes these little metal stars into headstones in a way, but I try not to think about that.

I suppose it’s better than having a bunch of plain balls floating around the cabin.

I wonder why they’d give me a representation of something that I can see a million of out of my front windshield. The last thing I want to see is another star.

And yet I keep them.

There’s a whole constellation of daughters here in my lonely ship, looking at me silently as I float from room to room.

I’ve never seen a star-shaped star.

And they’ve never seen a father.

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