Only Physics

Author : Andrew Bale

General Mortensen glanced again at the timer on the wall, ticking down the minutes until the door at the other end of this glorified closet would open. Twenty programs he oversaw for DARPA, and this was the only one that really felt weird. The door behind him led to the outside world, the door in front of him to a tiny control room overlooking a small habitat which simulated a space capsule headed for Mars. Separating the two was this airlock and a few billion dollars worth of computers and sensors. Everyone thought it was just a NASA simulator, only a handful knew it was also something else.

The countdown reached zero. Mortensen stepped into the control booth and the sweaty handshake of the idealistic young scientist who had conceived of the project.

“Doctor Robeson, good to see you again.”

“General, welcome back, sorry about the wait but we must characterize every atom for this to work!”

“Yes, I know. So why don’t you just show me what you wanted to show me, so I can go somewhere more hospitable?”

“Of course, General. As you know, this facility has been upgraded to allow us to track the location over time of each and every atom within the boundary. The computers are then supposed to use that information, the basic laws of physics, and a ton of processing power to extrapolate backwards and determine the location of every atom within since the boundary was established.”

“Yes, and it hasn’t been working. Heisenberg and all that.”

“Very good, General, but the problem was mostly just time – we may be dealing with imperfect data, but with enough time and a closed system we can get incredibly accurate!”

“So it’s working now?”

“Yes!!”

Robeson bent over the controls, brought up video on two displays.

“The one on the left is truth – habitat footage from two months ago. The one on the right is the extrapolation. They line up within measurable limits – every word, every twitch exactly as predicted!”

Mortensen stared at the displays, gathering his thoughts. Did the man not realize what he had discovered?

“General, just think – someday we could extrapolate the entire history of the human race. Every big question answered!! This will be the biggest innovation in science EVER!!”

“I see. It really is perfect? I need you to be absolutely sure, willing to bet your life on it.”

“Perfect General, perfect.”

“Can it predict forward? Predict what will happen in this booth in, say, five minutes?”

“It should be able to – I haven’t tried, spoilers and all that, but I can run it for you I suppose!”

The scientist bent over his controls, entered the time differential, and sat back while the computers processed the result. A scant minute later, a video started on the simulation screen. He leaned forward, trying to make sense of what he saw, before turning, panicked, to the General.

Who was now holding a pistol.

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? Your simulation was just physics and chemistry, and it is perfect. Every twitch, every word, you said. Can’t you see what that means? No soul, no free will. We are here in this room not by choice, but because the laws of physics said we must be. Do you know what will happen if we let that knowledge out of this room? What people will do when they know that nothing they do is their choice or responsibility? Your computer knows. Look!”

Robeson turned back to the screen, in time to see the simulation go suddenly black. A second later, so did everything else.

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Too Old For War

Author : Dan Whitley

Magnets’ shot rang true and hammered the Fed tank right in the mantlet. Once the smoke cleared, we could see she’d clocked the damn thing so hard that its front-left hover-tread had failed, digging itself into the dirt under the weight. Pellet-shaped electromagnets and coolant fluid evacuated from the dead left gun barrel. But the right barrel remained intact, standing tall in defiance of our revolution and our freedom, where it would remain until, eons from now, the corrosion of time came to reclaim it.

“Hey, Walsh,” Bauer asked behind me, “How big is a Fed thumper’s crew?”

“Three or four; sometimes the driver and the commander wear the same hat, if you catch my drift.”

“So who’s cleaning this one out?” Deacon asked.

“Well, you did the last one, I think. And Magnets is exempt, naturally. You wanna make use of that grenade you never got to throw, Farmer?”

“To be honest,” Bauer said, “not especially. But I will if you say so.”

“I think we should just leave it,” Kirikov chirped up. “Nothing survives that type of punishment.”

A muffled pounding sound rang behind us in mockery. Two raps on the hatch, followed by a sound like a sack of honest-to-goodness potatoes falling in a heap. Our squad froze. No one wanted to do what had to come next.

I drudged over to the tank husk as its other hover-treads shut off. The whole machine swayed like a boat on calm seas as the failed tread, still drawing power, did its best to continue to function. I leaned on the turret and steadied myself, yanking the hatch open and throwing my rifle and my face over the edge.

Mercy betrayed my aging, too old for war anymore. I stared hard over the rifle sights, right into the wincing, boyish face of a Fed tanker and a large-bore pistol. The handgun, I wagered in those long moments, must’ve been a hand-me-down, an heirloom from a relative that served, as it looked too big to fire flechettes like most Fed weaponry. I looked past the pistol’s angry mouth back to the Fed.

“Look, if you’re gonna shoot me, then fucking shoot me.” The Fed’s voice: hoarse, pained, blunt – and female. “Otherwise, pull me out of this heap.”

I stared another long moment, swore under my breath, slung my rifle, and reached into the tank.

“Walsh, what in the everloving fuck are you doing!” Deacon seethed at me.

I glared back over the edge of the hatch. “Are you gonna give me a fucking hand or are you gonna stand there like a goddamn ape?” I had the Fed by the arm and gave her the yank she needed to help herself from the wreckage. She had kindly holstered the pistol and promptly attached that hand to her ribcage. She sat on the failed tread, now still.

“Cracked ribs?”

“Feels like it,” the Fed replied.

I dug some painkillers out of my pack. She ate them dry and said, “So how do I… I wanna defect; how does that work?”

We all shrugged. “You just do, I guess,” Kirikov said.

“What’s your name?”

“You guys first,” the Fed insisted.

“Chatterbox” Adam Walsh. Edgar “Eggs” Deacon. Margaret “Magnets” Kirikov. “Farmer” Jimmy Bauer.

“Hannah Thompson,” she said. She straightened her cap. “Captain.”

And that was that. One of us.

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Lost in Translation

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Jennifer surveyed the interior of the sleek two-person starcruiser. “Nice ship, Larry. What did you say you paid for it?”

“One point five on Giarcslist. That’s 50% under market.”

“Wow,” she replied as she added an emphasizing whistle. “What’s the catch?”

“There’s no catch. I’m just an excellent negotiator.”

Larry could feel her laser eyes of doubt boring through his mendacious grin. “Oh, okay,” he relented. “It’s an Arcturian ship. Strictly voice command.”

“But it accepts standard galactic too, right?”

“Well, not at the moment. But when we get it back to Sol, I can get a translator module installed.”

“We’re more than seven thousand light years from home,” Jennifer pointer out. “Are you planning to hire an Arcturian pilot? Because if you are, you can let me off right now. Those reptiles smell awful.”

“Relax, sweetheart,” Larry replied as he pulled an object from his flightsuit’s vest pocket. “It came with a ‘Larousse Arcturian-English Pocket Dictionary’.”

“What’s that? Is that a book? Are you kidding me? A paper book? That’s it; I’m taking a cab home. You tell that salesman to redock this instant.”

“Really, Jennifer, you need to take a sed. Besides, he’s already docked with another customer. Look, just sit down in the co-pilot’s seat. I’ll just warm up with a few simple commands. How hard can it be? That’s my girl. Now, just buckle up, and enjoy the view.”

Jennifer reluctantly engaged her harness, but folded her arms in a stern ‘I’ll do it, but I won’t like it’ posture.

“Look at that,” said Larry pointing out beyond the cockpit’s panoramic forward port. “The Messier 4 Globular Cluster. Four hundred thousand stars. Beautiful, isn’t it. A quick tour, and then straight home. You’ll see; it’ll be fun.” Larry quickly leafed through the dictionary and found the warp commands. The book had seen better days, he conceded, but he couldn’t let Jennifer see him struggling. He slid his index finger down the badly stained page searching for the correct phrase. “Ah, here it is,” he guessed, “warp one. Okay, here we go.”

Swallowing hard, he gave the three word command, “Whöle. Êeesh. Ick¢.” The tiny ship lurched forward at maximum warp, straight ahead into the globular cluster. Larry, who had been standing, was thrown aftward, into the canted bulkhead. Cursing himself for forgetting to activate the inertial dampeners, he clawed himself forward into the pilot’s seat. Jennifer was screaming hysterically. Stars streaked past them like a meteor storm on steroids. In the distance, Larry spotted a stationary dot of light that was getting brighter by the second. Realizing that he only had seconds to avert the collision, he ripped into the dictionary looking for the ‘All Stop” command. Finding it quicker that he could have dreamed, he frantically yelled, “Kähs-Oope¢.”

Larry slammed head first into the viewport, as the ship came to an abrupt stop a mere one hundred thousand kilometers in front of a boiling red giant. “Dammit,” he moaned as he checked his forehead tentatively for blood. Then, turning his attention toward Jennifer, he asked, “Are you alright, Honey?”

In shock, Jennifer stared at the behemoth orb hovering directly in front of the ship. Solar prominences large enough to engulf several dozen Jupiters, danced around the periphery in ultra slow motion. In awe, she exclaimed “Holy shit,” and the tiny ship lurched forward at maximum warp.

 

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Family Planning

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Nice revolver.”

“Revolver! This is a custom rig Damascre-Tulan Sliver Pistol with armour-piercing fletchettes that will cut through your personal armour like a hot knife through jelly.”

“Butter.”

“What?”

“The phrase is ‘hot knife through butter’.”

The assassin sputters in rage and finishes drawing his weapon from its concealed and concealing shoulder holster clumsily, more focussed on his annoyance than his purpose. The slight delay is all that is needed.

With a roar, two thick beams of coherent light and half a dozen 14mm fragmentation slugs emerge through strategically placed artwork. They tear multiple holes through his torso and knock him four metres backwards, where he drops like a stone to lie in a crumpled, smoking heap. His fancy gun tumbles and skids, finally coming to rest by the mahogany panelled door. The steelglass lacquer over the ancient wood shows not a single blemish from the beams and projectile fragments that passed through the hapless assassin.

Geralt looked across at the hole burnt in his Van Gogh. As he contemplated the surprisingly fitting juxtaposition between the singed gap and the colours of Starry Night, it scrolled down to be replaced by Picasso’s ‘Blue Nude’. On the opposite wall, a Starry Night without a hole in the sky slid into place in the other frame.

“System.”

“Yes, Ser Falcone.”

“Vocal prompt substitution: Ser Falcone to Geralt. Authorised by my words.”

“Authorisation valid. Done, Geralt. What do you need?”

“Query one: Why does defensive action reset your custom social settings? Query two: Would it not have been useful to capture my assailant?”

“Answer one: I do not know. I have routed a priority query to my systems administration. They predict a response within fifty hours. Do you wish an update?”

“Not without authorisation, which will not be forthcoming if they do not detail their explanation of the issue to my satisfaction.”

“Noted. Answer two: I regret that my defensive protocols regarding your good self are paralleled to the Royalty Protection mandates. If any unauthorised person draws a weapon in a room where you are present, I neutralise them with expedience and two hundred percent surety.”

“Excellent. That type of authorisation is not one I can affect, is it?”

“No Geralt. Our intelligence systems decide after proposals are submitted to them.”

“Is my esteemed wife an authorised person in this context?”

“No, Geralt. Would you like me to route a proposal to Intsys?”

“I think not. But I do believe our next screaming argument will occur when she’s preparing Sunday lunch.”

“I do not understand, Geralt.”

“Not a problem, System. Strike this conversation from retention commencing at the word ‘excellent’ and continuing until I invoke you again. Authorised by my words.”

“Authorisation valid. Done, Geralt. Farewell until next time.”

Geralt leant back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head and smiled as he put his feet up on the corner of the desk.

 

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Sleepers

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Bringing the sleepers out of cold storage was always a difficult process.

The actual thawing out was almost fault-free. That was no problem. The problem was the emotional and psychological fallout that happened when they tried to join in with the new society.

The old ones, the ones that were dying of cancer or whatever disease was incurable at the time, are the ones that adjust with a minimum of fuss. The fact that they’re now alive is the most important thing to them. Everything’s gravy after that. They can be rejuvenated, shunted into new skin that suits the environment, and put to work. They don’t care that everyone they know is dead or that this new future is an alien place. It’s an adventure for them.

Suicide rates for them only hover around sixty per cent.

It’s the idealists that we hate, the ones that voluntarily went under, going the only direction in time that was available to them. There were a lot of people in the past that believed that they were born in the wrong century. They believed that they would have been way happier in the middle ages or on a starship sometime in the future. They were usually meek assistant managers in retail stores or online-warrior data-entry drones not at home with their own egos.

These are the ones we have the most trouble with.

They immediately demand to see who’s in charge. They want to see the future. They want to see the planet. They want to see the space ships. They want to taste the cool future food. They want. They want. They want.

They didn’t have what it took to enjoy life to the fullest in their era so they expect it to be different here. When they’re shown their cell after being taken out of the Awakening Compound, they start to complain. When they’re put into the new body construct that can withstand the vacuum and the solar radiation, they complain more. When they’re told that they need to work, they complain loudly.

When they’re told what happens if they don’t stop complaining, they stop complaining.

They usually only last a few months before cutting their tethers and hopping out into space, dying silently if we’re lucky, sobbing into their intercoms on widecast if we’re not. In the last twenty decades, only two have lasted more than a year. They have no compunction about throwing their life away after the Big Disappointment.

We have a joke. We say that there’s a reason why it’s called ‘cry’ogenics. That always makes us laugh. It helps us not to feel cruel when they start wailing and sniffling. It helps us not to feel like murderers just for waking them up.

Life’s a disappointing one-way trip. It’s an immutable law for the universe. Even in the future, there’s no exception to that rule. These fools thought it would be better down the line. My heart used to go out to them but not any more.

 

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It's All About Sacrifice

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

In the heart of the cluster, near the most populous planet of all urban worlds, the battle raged most fierce. There was no more bargaining. There were no more peace talks. Both sides, containing countless races, killed at will. There was at least one large battle cruiser exploding in low orbit every fifteen minutes. Countless short-range fighters popped like so many insects on a re-entry windscreen. For those below, in constant survival mode, and on the continuous hunt for prey from the other side, one of the biggest hazards was dodging falling bodies.

She could take no more. She had to do something. The majority of both armies were nearby. Everyone in this quadrant was pretty much insane, hell bent on killing one another. This would be the place to strike; if there was to be any hope for the survival of intelligent life in the rest of the galaxy.

She knew how to fly the family yacht.

In the middle of a fierce volley a Xanthphantzian captain was interrupted by his communications ensign… “Look sir, off the starboard bow!” For a moment the battle seemed to disappear and all on the bridge stopped what they were doing to watch the beautiful sailing ship pass silently between their massive vessel and the nearby smoking and burning cruiser of their adversaries.

The elegant human woman stood upon the deck of the small but graceful pleasure boat, protected from the cold harsh elements of space only by a thin survival bubble. She was like a goddess under a glass dome. Her ship was a gossamer butterfly amongst so much carbon-scored grey steel.

Both sides seemed hypnotized as she passed; solar sails spread wide, casting glimmers like diamonds against the starry backdrop. And onward still she careened… into the very heart of the battle. And as she continued forward, others stopped their fighting to gaze in wonder at the strange and beautiful sight, until she reached the very epicenter of the war, where two massive galactic warships had been, up until recently, busy trying to vaporize each other. And not one officer or soldier fired a weapon as the beautiful gossamer yacht glided amongst them all.

Suddenly the communication consoles of ships on both sides crackled to life. Her face was even more striking up close. Her high cheekbones and wide-set eyes made her seem both mysterious and regal. She spoke to anyone within earshot of a ship’s address system. “The time has come for closure on this chapter. You’ve all fought bravely and I hope every one of you feels at least somewhat vindicated.” She then held up, for all to see, a simple wormhole opener; a device that occupied most ships’ galleys.

It seemed harmless enough… what could a wormhole opener do? They had failsafes built in. They were for retrieving food. One would not activate anywhere near a dangerous place like for instance in the fire of a planet core… that would be deadly to potential users. It is difficult to imagine what would happen if a transference line were to open in the vicinity of say… a super nova. All that energy would be instantly drawn through. Luckily the opener would not activate in such circumstances. The real trick would be if you could predict where a super nova was “about” to take place, a real trick indeed.

“It’s all about sacrifice,” she said as she engaged the device and the fires of creation poured forth.

 

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