A Finite Number of Oranges, An Infinity of Tables

Author: David Henson

Loretta Saunders tapped her father’s kitchen table. “Imagine this is our universe, Dad, and these five oranges represent all the particles in it.” She laid the fruits in a row.

Whenever Jacob’s physics professor daughter summarized one of her lectures, he radiated pride as a star does light. She explained stellar fusion to him once. He kind of understood that one and knew his daughter was the hydrogen at his core — or something like that. But today’s lesson about a finite number of oranges and an infinity of universes was sounding like it might be beyond him — a galaxy far, far beyond him.

“Now pretend we have another table, a second universe.” She moved the oranges. “Now another table, a third universe.” She repositioned the oranges again. “See where this is headed, Dad?”

“Sure, Sweetie.” Not in a million years, Honey.

“There are a finite number of oranges — particles — in each universe. But, if, as some of us believe, there are an infinite number of tables— universes —  at some point, the arrangement of oranges will create every possibility. It has to.”

“Has to.”

“Meaning?”

“Orange juice for everyone?”

“Dad, if you’re not going to take this seriously.”

“Sorry.”

“Everything in the universe … this table, the house, you, me … is an arrangement of particles. So in an infinity of universes, you and I will have duplicates, but we’ll have alternate lives, too. In some universes, I’ll be a fighter pilot, a ballet dancer, the president, a plumber. Some universes will be almost like this one but not quite. Maybe I’ll be a physics professor, but instead of riding my bike to school, I’ll take the bus. In some, we won’t even know each other. And on and on. Anything that can be, will be. Pretty cool, isn’t it?”

“I always knew you could be anything you wanted to be, Loretta.”

“That’s sweet, Dad, but not what I’m getting at.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got a class. You’re going to your meeting this evening, right?”

“Haven’t missed in weeks. I get my red chip tonight.”

Loretta squeezed her father’s hand. “I’m proud of you, Dad. I know it hasn’t been easy since Mom died.”

#

“He’s been staying with us for a couple of months now,” Dr. Roberts said as they entered Jacob’s room. “Jacob Saunders, this is Dr. Loretta Schmitt. She’ll be looking after you while I’m on vacation.” Jacob ignored the two psychologists.

“You said he has PTSD?” Dr. Schmitt whispered. “What happened?”

“You heard about the physics professor killed biking to school by a drunk driver? Jacob was the father and—”

“That’s horrible, but in and of itself shouldn’t trigger such strange behavior. What’s with the oranges?”

“You didn’t let me finish. Jacob was the drunk driver. He killed his own son.”

“My God.”

“Apparently he’d been sober 20 years but started drinking again when his wife died… The oranges seem to pacify him. He sits there repositioning them over and over on his little table. I can’t imagine how horrible he must feel. I lost my father unexpectedly not long ago, and that was bad enough… Are your folks still alive, Loretta?”

“My adoptive moms are. I never knew my biological mother and father.” Loretta knelt and squeezed Jacob’s hand. “We’re here for you, Mr. Saunders.”

Jacob froze and stared at the woman. “You,” he said, “you.”

“Yes,” Loretta said. “What is it, Jacob?”

“I need more tables.”

Creating a Golden Egg

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

“Not a golden goose, but almost as good as one,” Mabel said. “And you’ve got twenty.” She had her doubts, but her skepticism melted after seeing my living prototypes.

The spring rain drizzled down, and all my hens came out to frolic in the wet grass. Two wandered close, Pam and Jam, but stopped at the electromagnetic barrier. Most modified chickens knew better than to cross ultraviolet fences, and mine were no exception.

“In this age, drugs are better than gold. This is a continuation of the OpenPenicillinProject.” I’d worked in Counter Culture Labs, where the OpenPenicillinProject wrecked the Big Pharma monopoly on antibiotics in the early 2020’s. I aimed to pick up where they left off, fifty years later, in spite of the government’s crackdown.

“Your technical documentation is good, but I marked spots in your tutorial. If you want the general population involved, you can’t teach at the university level.”

“What about the chemicals I already reverse engineered? Should any be scrapped?”

“The cannabinoids are an odd choice. But why did you remove penicillin?”

We walked to my cottage, past the chicken coops housing failed prototypes. The chickens became my life after retirement; only Mabel knew about their real purpose. I‌ intended to stay anonymous.

“The dosage is tricky. The eggs aren’t consistent in dosage, so I left it off. Who knew it’d be the trickiest one?” I‌ laughed, running my hand through my greying hair.

I unlocked the front door and walked in after Mabel. With a forlorn look at my lab space, which hadn’t been used since I finished the lab work last week. Mabel pulled out her devices from her backpack. I always admired her work ethic, ever since we met in Berkley’s master’s program.

Without looking up, she asked, “Larissa, any documentation you need me to focus on?”

“Make sure the male birth control option is up to par; I know I neglected that section.”

She gave me a thumbs up.

I folded myself into a pretzel at my desk. I had yet to review the videos I commissioned, meant to attract viral attention. Looking at them would make the looming launch real, and I wasn’t ready for the world to blow up over my research. Worse, I wasn’t ready for my work to receive zero attention, with only comments written by bots.

After Mabel sent me a reminder, I finally played one video. Then another, and another, until I watched them all.

I logged into the Golden Chicken social media accounts, instantly floored by the amount of notifications across each one. However, only other biohackers followed me now. As my favorite commissioned video loaded, I finished editing the announcement. Once everything looked presentable enough, I threw it into the internet and immediately logged out of the accounts. I couldn’t bear to watch the views count.

Mabel glanced over while I paced around the room, running over possible consequences of my research. I intended for my chickens to herald the way for affordable drugs, many of which were discovered over thirty years ago, yet only increased in price as time went on. But the backlash against the research could lead to another crackdown, like the OpenPenicillinProject.

My success story could spell disaster for the biohacking community as a whole, but how could any argument stand against the unethical practice of doing nothing while people died from treatable conditions?

“Larissa. Larissa!” Mabel called, snapping her fingers in front of my face, interrupting my spiraling fears. “You’re brooding again.”

I sighed, reaching for my coat. “I know. I’m going out to pet my chickens.”

A short write-up on the Veil

Author: Glenn Leung

Since its accidental discovery two decades ago, the phenomenon referred to as the Veil has been a heavily discussed topic. For five years, nearly every University in the world sent their best researchers billions of lightyears away from home to study it. Yet, despite strong evidence pointing to the existence of a seemingly infinite, yet invisible barrier, irreproducibility in testing has kept the Veil from becoming an established scientific phenomenon. Only a few research teams persisted in their work when it became clear that nothing useful could be learned. To this day, there is no agreed-upon theory on the nature of the wall that many are calling ‘the edge of the Universe’.

Aside from the lack of reproducibility, the Veil also exhibits properties that violate fundamental physical principles. Light directed towards the Veil has been found to scatter at aberrant angles and wavelengths. Instruments detect large emissions in the ultraviolet range, although no object in its vicinity has shown signs of UV exposure. Given the regular media updates of inconclusive experiments, public opinion has largely been in favor of terminating all further studies to focus on more fruitful projects closer to home.

Despite the pessimism, scientists still on the project believe that finding a way around the Veil is only a matter of time. The existence of the Veil at different longitudes of the Celestial Sphere has also not been confirmed. Yet an increasing number of renowned thinkers are cautioning against such ambition. Such dissidents point to the unpredictability of the Veil’s properties as evidence that our laws of science cannot be applied to the boundaries of the known. A notable futurist has said that intelligent beings have built the Veil there to “keep us from encroaching into their territory while toying with our instruments”. A philosopher has stated that “the Universe itself is telling us to know our place”.

Another obstacle to further scientific work comes from the psychological effects on observers after prolonged viewing. Celestial objects seen on the opposite side of the Veil are believed to be reflections of those in the known Universe, although the anomalous reflective properties of the Veil distort them into nearly unrecognizable forms. After twenty minutes of observation, observers report these forms transforming into disturbing visions, causing heightened levels of anxiety and distress. Such effects only dissipate an hour after observation is ceased. The longest recorded viewing was done by a graduate student who looked at the reflections for forty minutes (as recorded in her notebook) while taking measurements. She was found unconscious by her advisor and hospitalized for two days. When she awoke, she reported having dreams of deformed humanoid entities chanting in a language “so horrific and fantastic that you are drawn to listen while feeling so unsettled [sic]”. However, she could not recall taking measurements, or that she even reported for work that day. Her advisor was investigated for coercion to work under dangerous conditions, but the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence.

With large budget cuts and poor public opinion, scientists have turned to Defense agencies for funding with the hope that they see the Veil as a potential threat. No further statements have been made regarding this request.

The Bridge

Author: Tomas Marcantonio

You’re not supposed to fall in love with an alien. The first time our lips touched I knew my spirit was being ripped down the centre, never to be whole again. I was forever doomed to live as a fragment of myself. Part of me here in this foreign land, the other part left to rot on the other side.
My family are waiting. I visit when I can, of course, but I never come back whole. I wonder if they see it when I step back on home soil: me as a decaying monster, different parts missing with each visit. A leg this time, a few fingers the next. A leper dropping limbs.
We pay the toll and take the bridge. We’re well-stocked for the journey; last time we crossed it took four days. Most couples make it in three, but my partner walks slowly. She can’t help looking down, watching the recesses between the wooden boards, glimpses of the red sea hundreds of feet below. There’s no fear in her eyes; in fact, all expression seems to drain from them, as if the fiery waves are swallowing particles of her soul. The closer we get to the other side – my homeland – the more her eyes glaze over, the slower her movements become, the less she speaks.
We’re like a pair of tortoises, slipping in and out of different shells, all of them ill-fitting. When we walk the bridge, we’re both shell-less, naked. Without shells tortoises should scamper like slick geckos, unburdened and gloriously light-footed. They don’t. They drag their clumsy feet across the ground, withered and half-formed, like slugs being peppered by bullets of salt.
Perhaps I should have run when I could, turned tail before her eyes bewitched me. I should have journeyed homeward as soon as our souls began to connect, our alien wires intertwining of their own accord. That way, I might have kept my soul in one piece.
But we leapt. Together. We joined hands, stoked the fires that burned in our shared furnace. We looked at the bridge and laughed. It’s not so far, we thought. We’d toss our shells and watch them melt away in the red sea. Then as the tears streamed down our cheeks, we’d kiss. Many on both sides tell us it’s wrong; they’ll never know how tears taste the same no matter where you come from.
I see my homeland growing out of the horizon. My family are a minuscule silhouette of open arms waiting on the shore, ready to lovingly reattach the pieces I’ve lost. My partner glances at me and in that moment her eyes sharpen; two glistening galaxies alive with sweet sensation. She smiles with such startling beauty that all doubt is sucked out of being.
My soul is torn in two. It is the most wonderful sensation.

END

Speak With Dead

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“What a mess.” Cabot wearily scans what’s left of the room. “Damn ATU didn’t leave us much to work with.”
Spattered with blood and bits of debris, the ATU stands to one side, patiently awaiting its next objective.
Stokes nudges a severed arm with the toe of his boot. “You’d think the Company would upgrade to quantum hardware for this kind of operation.”
“Too expensive.” Cabot shrugs, easing his way passed the splintered wreckage of a couch.
“What about cloud-based AI?”
“Too many security issues.”
Stokes walks over to a corpse crumpled awkwardly against a bookshelf. The lower half of its face has been ripped away. “This one’s no good? Damage looks superficial.”
Cabot shakes his head. “Possible head trauma. Let’s see if one of the others is more viable.”
Stokes moves to the destroyed couch. A mangled hand sticks out from under the far side. He gestures for Cabot. Together, they heave the couch aside. Underneath, lays the upper half of a human torso. From the shoulders up, everything appears intact.
“Sure.” Cabot sighs. “Get the collar.”
Stokes drops his kit and wrenches out a bulky, ring-shaped device. Moving with practiced deliberation, he soon has it locked in place around the corpse’s neck. He jabs a thumb into the activation button. There’s a quick crunch as the neural probe stabs through the skull, followed by the slight gurgle of necro-gel being injected into the brain.
The head twitches. Then, the jaw feebly opens and closes. A moment later, the corpse gives a spluttering gasp.
“Trying to breathe.” Stokes taps away at the collar’s control pad. “Should have autonomics in a second. I’ll see if I can go ahead and get speech up.”
Cabot crouches and taps the corpse on the forehead.
“Wha…” The corpse struggles to form the words. The sound comes from a speaker in the collar. “What… Happened?”
“You were killed.” Cabot glances at his watch. “About four minutes ago.”
“I was… dead?”
“Yes, for about four minutes. Try to keep up.”
“How am I…?”
“We can talk about the technicalities later. For now, I have a few questions. What’s your name?”
“Malick. Andrei Malick.”
Malick’s eyes roll back and his face sags. Cabot looks over at Stokes.
“Cognitive issue disrupting the imposed homeostasis.” Stokes hurriedly makes a few adjustments.
“Mr. Malick.” Cabot again taps the man’s forehead. Malick blinks. “I know that factionalism tends to lure individuals away from the natural compulsion of self-preservation by promising a glorified afterlife, or by arbitrarily ascribing a hyperbolic social value to personal sacrifice. Your presence in this room suggests you have fallen prey to one or more of these tactics. Now that you have experienced the true cost of your political views, do you remain committed to your previous ideology?”
“I was… wasn’t…” Malick’s face distorts in confusion. “There was nothing…”
“Mr. Malick, we’ve pulled you back from the void of non-existence to offer you a choice. We can either return you to emptiness of oblivion, or the Company is prepared to offer you a position that will let you remain here, in the land of the living.”
“I want… to live.”
Cabot nods, amicably. “Sounds like enough to imply consent.”
Stokes pauses at the control pad. “Mr. Malick, the manual says after your brain is processed into an ATU, you won’t retain any memories, but in case you do, please try and remember to keep everything center mass. Makes our job easier.”
“Wha…?”
Stokes presses a command and in a flash, the collar separates Mr. Malick’s head from what’s left of his torso.

If Thy Right Eye Offends Thee

Author: David C. Nutt

It was a beautiful VR construction. Potted dwarf apricot trees, soaring arches, piles of ornate cushions and silk settees, thick oriental carpets. It was, by all accounts, the most perfect steampunk zeppelin grand salon the Adjustor had ever seen. Clearly, Citizen Archer had a keen eye for detail. Adjustor 507 sighed. Such a waste of talent.
“How did you get in here?”
Adjustor 507 reached into his jacket pocket barely noticing how fine the VR Edwardian wool waistcoat construction was as he pulled out his badge.
“As per the Bureau of Individual Ethics and Standards, I have warrant to go anywhere, including any kind of VR construction being utilized.”
“But this is my own world. My own thoughts. No one else is allowed here.”
“I understand you think that. Sadly, what happens here bleeds out into your real world. Since your purchase of this program and the construction of this simulation, there has been an 8% rise in your workplace aggression. Nothing too serious needed beyond this visit and intensified monitoring, but the aggressive peer comebacks and the inappropriate gender construct comment- “
“Inappropriate gender construct comment?”
“Yes. You were flagged by our system after a routine review of the national workplace CCTV footage picked up a questionable exchange. That exchange was selected for human review. On Fifthday last, you referred to the small watercraft you are building as “she”.
“But that’s what ships are called… “
Adjustor 507 interrupted. “Exactly the problem. The term comes from a day when women were routinely objectified. A watercraft with a female pronoun. An embodiment of a woman who could be lashed down, made to go where the patriarchy demanded.”
“It’s a boat.”
The adjustor sighed. “It starts with a boat. Then it generalizes by increments until it spills out as full-fledged gender-biased microaggressions. From sailor to sexist oppressor. It is better for the broader society if we stop this now.”
“At what cost to the individual?”
The Adjustor narrowed his eyes “I beg your pardon Citizen Archer.”
Citizen Archer stood up. “I said ‘what cost to the individual?’”
The Adjustor smiled. “I thought so.”
Archer smiled “Thought what?”
“Nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. You just got through telling me what happens in my head spills out into the real world.’”
The Adjustor took a step backwards. “I’m not the issue here-“
“No. What you think matters. How you act on those thoughts matter. Is there a bias you are hiding?”
The Adjustor rolled his eyes “Not bias, data. Your types-“
“My types? Do you mean older late 21st century males of predominantly Caucasian extraction?”
The Adjustor began to sweat visibly. “I-I-I just follow the data.”
“Indeed. End simulation.”
The steampunk zeppelin disappeared. In its place, not anyone resembling Citizen Archer, but a representative from Internal Affairs.
“Yes Adjustor 507, you are following the data. However, the data sets you are selecting indicate a more than 30% bias against the aforementioned profile.”
Adjustor 507 shoulders sunk. “I-I-I- don’t know what to say. I thought I was doing my duty.”
The Internal Affairs officer smiled sympathetically. “I understand. It’s nothing that a few hundred hours of biased data selection avoidance training can’t cure. Report to the re-education center for your district on Firstday”
Adjustor 507 handed the Internal Affairs officer his badge and left the room.
The I.A. officer did not smile, nor sigh, nor do anything that could possibly be construed as any positive or negative emotion at all. Yet, deep in their soul, they jumped for joy.