Author: David Henson
Debra dipped a shrimp in cocktail sauce. “I’m glad my folks could take the kids so we could have a quiet night in. How’s your father spending this New Year’s Eve? As if I have to ask.” The couple sat at their dining room table in a space open to the living room.
“Same as always since Mom died,” replied her husband, Richard, as he smeared mango chutney crab spread on a cracker. “He’s time-traveling back to when they went to Vienna for New Year’s Eve on their honeymoon.”
“That’s sweet, but it’s a little sad he always uses his annual temporal allowance to revisit the same time and place. I’d think since he was a science teacher for all those years, he’d like to peek over the shoulder of Newton or Einstein. Shake hands with Kryne of Euler. Even get crazy and see a T-Rex for gosh sake.”
“He misses her so much. And the day he describes sounds wonderful— Sachertorte in a Viennese cafe, seeing the Lipizzaners, waltzing to The Blue Danube at midnight… Speaking of temporal allowances, where would you like to go this year?”
“I was thinking the Globe Theater, 1610, first-ever performance of The Tempest. It would be wonderful for us and educational for the kids.”
Richard raised his champaign flute. “One of my favorites. ‘all … are melted into air, into thin air…’ It’s a date.”
Debra touched her glass to her husband’s. “I wonder if the future will ever be declassified? I’d love to take a peek.”
“Time will tell.”
Debra laughed. She loved Richard’s sense of humor. The couple spent the evening lost in conversation. A few minutes before midnight, Richard announced he had a surprise. “Computer, run New Year’s Eve program.”
A virtual stage and a tuxedoed man at a standing microphone appeared in the living room. “For Debra and Richard,” he said.
“Our song, Honey. Shall we?” Richard stood and held out his hand. Before Debra could take it, his ring began flashing. “Who’d contact me so late?” His voice was pitched with alarm. “Computer, pause program.” The crooner’s face froze in a microexpression that made him look as if he were screaming in pain.
Debra’s husband twisted his ring. “This is Richard Rinehart.”
“Mr. Rinehart, Temporal Command here. I’m afraid I have disturbing news. Your father has somehow deactivated his Paradox Prevention Buffer, gone off-script and refuses to return. Our agents are en route to perform the necessary corrections — and elimination. You should say your goodbyes.”
“What? Wait! No!”
“Don’t panic, Debra. Dad’s wiley. Maybe he’ll elude the agents … at least long enough for him and Mom to …” He pointed to himself. “I —”
“Five minutes till midnight,” Samuel said loudly above the din of the festive jazz club. Debra forced a smile across the table. The vague sense of loss that never left her gnawed especially deep this time of year and made her reflect on her life. Her parents had thought her too young to get married all those years ago, but Samuel turned out to be a wonderful husband — smart, romantic, and someone who’d have been an excellent father if she hadn’t decided against having children.
The singer began her last set. Samuel stood and held out his hand. “I got her to do your favorite song, Honey.”
Yes, my song, Debra thought. It made her ache for some lost place and time. She’d go there with a temporal allowance — if only she knew where and when.
“Sorry.” Debra tried to smile, took Samuel’s hand and danced with him into tomorrow.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Carter sat on a long low bench in the middle of the observatory and stared out into deep space. He hunted the blackness for a fleck of light, then watched it hawklike, trying to gauge its position relative to the edge of the viewport to see if it, or rather they, were moving.
“Happy New Year”, Jess appeared in his peripheral vision, an alloy mug in both hands, grinning.
“I wonder if these are really windows at all,” Carter spoke, not looking up, “I sometimes think they’re just projections, and the computer puts things on them to keep us from going insane with all the emptiness that’s really out there.” He gestured in the general direction of the window, half-heartedly.
“You’re a cheerful bugger, aren’t you?” Jess handed him one of the mugs and stood with her own outstretched toward him. “Cheers!”
Carter looked from the mug he was now holding, to hers, then up to her smiling face.
“Why are we still celebrating some arbitrary timescale based on the orbit of a planet we haven’t seen in a hundred years around a star we haven’t seen in almost as long?”
Jess withdrew her mug and sighed.
“I mean,” Carter continued, “we may as well celebrate the rotation of the plasma cores or our rotation out of cold storage.”
“Well I, for one, celebrate my rotation out of cold storage every – damn – time.” Jess cupped the drink in both hands, shifting her weight from foot to foot absently. This wasn’t the first time Carter had gotten off on a rant about a tradition or protocol he thought was stupid or outdated.
“Listen,” Jess waited until Carter looked at her directly, “we marked the first twenty years of our lives by the revolution of that planet around that star, and until we get where we’re going, that’s the calendar we’re sticking to. On a new world, with a new orbital duration around a new star, we’ll adjust, but until then, it helps out here with no visible path behind us, or ahead of us, to keep these frames of reference so that the rest of us,” she grinned, pausing to let the dig sink in, “so that the rest of us don’t lose our minds.”
Carter looked back out into space, the fleck he’d been tracking now almost gone from his field of view.
“It just seems silly, how many of these years have passed while we’ve been asleep, and how many more will pass when we sleep again?”
Jess sat down next to him, bumping him gently shoulder to shoulder.
“How many years did everyone else sleep through, before the end came?” Her tone turned solemn, “How many won’t ever get to wake up?”
She was right, and Carter knew it. Truth be told this is what he hated about these reminders, the traditions, the promises made to change, to do better, all for what?
“We’ll be asleep before the next one comes around, so let’s try to enjoy this one, while we’re here, ok?”
She raised her mug, and Carter met her halfway, the noise they made on contact some kind of permission for them to both drink.
“Happy one more revolution of the drive cores Carter.”
He laughed and bumped shoulders with her again.
“Happy one more revolution around the sun Jess, even if we’re not there to see it.”
As if on cue, a distant star crept onto the forward edge of the viewport, and they sat there in silence, sipping whiskey from alloy cups and watching as they slowly passed it by.
Author: Irene Monaner
Matthew had never heard of the Association of Friends of Planet Earth until he was invited to their NYE Gala Dinner. Having no better plans for the last evening of the year, he had donned a tuxedo and now shared a table with a couple of herpetologists, an astrophysicist researching wormholes, a social scientist investigating the shortcomings of communism and a few spokespersons of NGOs he had never heard of. Matthew felt weird among so many accomplished people. He felt even weirder when they called him MagicMat, his nickname for his hacking mischiefs, and had spent most of the evening wondering what he was doing there. But that hadn’t stopped him from enjoying himself. The food was exquisite and the conversation interesting, if surrealist at times.
At 11’30 pm, the chair of AFPE’s Preservation Committee stood up and shushed everyone. All eyes were on the metallic helmet crisscrossed by cables he was wearing. “We have clearly failed,” he said and everyone nodded. “Global warming, wars, famines. We have been unable to solve any of the problems that threaten our existence on this planet. Until now. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the solution.” He pointed at the device on his head and pressed some buttons on its side. Silence became deafening as he vanished from the scene.
“A time machine!” screamed someone as the committee chair reappeared an inch left to where he stood only seconds ago. People oohed and aahed as he took off the helmet.
“We can now travel back in time and changed things for the future. Go back till the moment the first monkey stepped down a tree and kill that monkey,” said the chairman.
“It won’t do, evolution will always find its way,” replied a man.
“True. We could go back and talk Gutenberg out of inventing the moveable press,” continued the chairman.
“Meh, someone else would. We cannot really influence individual choices,” replied a woman.
“Right. We could then go back and blow all the steam engines that pushed the Industrial Revolution forward.”
“There would always be more machines somewhere,” said the same woman.
“Right again. It’s delightful to be sharing this evening with such smart comrades.” He paused for applause. “ We need to think big. The Millennium bug.”
“Almost a hoax,” Matthew heard himself saying. And he suddenly realised why he had been invited to this dysfunctional party.
“A hoax it was. But you’ll make it real the second time around, MagicMat.” The committee chair gestured him to join him on stage. Matthew wanted to disappear but he obliged, encouraged by a roar of clapping hands. His vision blurred as he felt the weight of the misshapen helmet on his head. “Five minutes, maybe less. That’s all the time you’ll have to hack their – our – systems and make this filthy capitalist society implode. You’re our last hope!”
The chair’s last words blended with the funky millennial beats from Jennifer Rodríguez, N’Sing, and Brittany Sears. Matthew was lost amid hordes of women wearing strapless dresses and men in tight, shiny shirts. He really was back in 1999. He had to get away. Move, run, find a quiet spot to get out his laptop and code something quickly. He had to make all systems crash and end the world he had once known.
A few lines were enough to change humanity’s fate. The countdown had already started. Five, four, three, two, one. Happy 2000! Time had run out. Matthew smiled as people panicked while the city blacked out and he vanished to the uncertain future he had just created.
Author: Lachlan Redfern
My mother once told me I will never know the feeling of sunshine on my face. I remember telling her that was ridiculous. I’d felt the warmth of UV lamps, and in terms of physical sensation, there wasn’t any difference. Mother told me that there was, that sunshine had some sort of intangible quality she couldn’t express. I asked her if she could be more specific, and she burst into tears. I stopped arguing and just pulled her into a hug. I never mentioned sunshine to her again. I don’t mention a lot of things to mother.
It’s not strictly true that I haven’t felt sunshine. I’ve felt it filtered through several inches of reinforced polycarbonate, where it seems to have picked up some of the cold of space. I make a deliberate effort not to think about the things I could have experienced in the Age of Earth. We have enough depressed adults sitting around the colony as it is.
But every now and then, I get a voice in my head telling me I’ve been robbed of a future. Not very often, just once in a while. But when it comes, I give it the answer I always give; That no boy in the previous century ever got to stand on the lunar surface and gaze up at the Earth. That I’m one of the first to see lush green forests of radiation-absorbing moss, as oceans dyed a rich purple with poison-eating algae shine in the distant sunlight.
Author: Dylan Otto Krider
We had a problem — and by “We,” I meant for the people who make the decisions which, in turn, meant for the people who funded efforts to elect the people who make decisions. The problem was this: How do you leave the plebes with nothing, and yet still have enough to transfer upwards? Which was, after all, how the people who had things got them.
The solution came with the inventions of the Metaphors, which could run simulations on every conceivable future. Climate simulations did very well by then; so much so that when someone said, “It’s like predicting the weather,” it meant with absolute certainty. People, it turns out, aren’t so very different. In recessions, they blame immigrants, like El Niño spawns more hurricanes. Combine Big Data with what we know about mass psychology, and you could manipulate society to get you from here to there – provided you had the money.
Only the rich could pay for some time on the Metaphors. Only the well-connected had the press and hired trolls to spread their memes. Only the crème de la crème could run a simulation seeing if their tactics were working.
The thing is, being a person who had things meant not be happy with what they have. No matter how rich you are, you want about 15% more. The inventor of the Metaphor, Farid Jedan, had more things than anyone else on the planet. So, he programmed the Metaphors so he was the one who came out on top.
But he always wanted more — to be precise, about 15% more than he had. So, when the Metaphors predicted he was at a breaking point, he pushed just a little further — as I said, people are as predictable as rain — and Jedan made himself the first President of Earth.
But something was wrong.
The simulations only calculated possible futures — say, if nuclear war made humans extinct, no simulation could calculate a future with humans in it — and every choice he made narrowed his possible futures. He installed his own leaders, which narrowed the future, and passed every law he wanted, which did the same, until every simulation predicted unrest, uprisings, usually ending up with him assassinated, imprisoned, or exiled, and all his wealth being redistributed.
He ran simulations on if he gave the populace guaranteed income, gave everybody jobs, taxed himself 90%… But it was too late. The populace no longer believed his paid media. They no longer believed the government could fix their problems. Most of all, they hated him.
There was only one probable future that was satisfactory to him: he would have to retire, donate all his trillions to charity, leave himself a small sum to live off for the rest of his days on a small island in the Caribbean. But, in a few decades after his death, there would a revisionist movement, re-examining his tenure on Earth. It said that although a bad President, he became quite the philanthropist is his later days.
His children were already vying for his fortune by then. His third wife, who was half his age, was waiting for him to die already, and his health wasn’t doing so well. He figured he had a year or two left.
You reach an age where it’s all about posterity, anyways. In his final days, with no time left to spend, and no time left to enjoy it, he donated his entire fortune. That was as maximized as his self-interests could get at that point, so, he took it, and died without regrets.
Author: Andrew Grenfell
You have chosen World 174.
World 174 comes with a long list of warnings – that is, this list!
World 174 is worth 12,000 points per instantiation (“life”). Of all the worlds we offer, it ranks among the highest in points per time due to the extreme commitment required, the complexity of engagement, and the moral conundrums you will be confronted with. Because of its special nature, you may choose to back out of World 174 at any time before World Entry.
Because of its highly variable nature, we cannot tell you exactly what you will encounter in World 174. You will “live” an instantiation right through, from the beginning (“birth”) to end (“death”). This particular “life” will be chosen on a completely random basis. It may be short, it may be long. It will likely seem very long to you, as you will not retain any consciousness of the real world; you will retain only your moral essence. This is the essential and unusual premise of World 174, and the reason it contains these extensive caveats.
Please note that if you have signed up for the Five Life package, you will live the five lives end to end in sequence. Your period of debriefing will follow at the end and will cover all experienced instantiations.
We outline here some of the differences between our world and World 174 as fair warning so that you are fully apprised should you wish to cancel. As noted, the nature of World 174 means that you will not remember or gain an advantage from this information.
The major points to note include:
• A primitive culture of upright bipedal beings still reliant on farming of naturally occurring planetary resources for chemical energy;
• Exclusively physical embodiment, including possible engendering of offspring via rhythmic movements involving the union of male and female genitalia;
• Expelling of bodily waste through the same organic apparatus;
• Distasteful but entrenched economic systems based on hierarchically-controlled concentrations of power;
• Various forms of violence and even outright war are still common;
• Systemic and wide-ranging destruction of the natural environment by means both overt and non-obvious.
The life you lead on World 174 will have a protracted initial period of adjustment, where you will learn how to “walk” and “talk” (amongst other world-appropriate skills) before being able to fully experience, shall we say, the more “interesting parts”.
Finally please also note that some previous participants have reported lingering after-effects from their exposure to World 174 including nightmares, feelings of dislocation and anxiety, and in one particular case, violent separation from the gestalt.
If you are ready, step in and begin.