The Cupboard Was Bare

Author : Cesium

When the food ran out, we all responded differently.

The Cythalans engineered themselves into cold-blooded pygmies, with slow perception and quiet metabolism, tending their meager crops with careful patience. They lay on the hills and watched the sun wheel about the sky, and sang songs that lasted for months.

They’re all dead now.

The arcologies of Hongdao were unroofed, and their occupants became photosynthetic, living off water, earth, and sun. Their buildings were wonders of glass and carbon, full of light and air, and the people’s skin was resplendent in all colors of the rainbow.

They’re dead now, too.

The people of Tashpan downloaded into mechanical bodies, powered by the tiny sparks of nuclear engines. They lived mostly as they had, their factories precisely calibrated for a sustainable rate of growth, and their science flourished like none before them.

I don’t yet know what happened to them.

The Stennish went further, and sealed their minds in blocks of computing machinery deep underground, powered by the heat of the earth. They lived in a shared fantasy, refugees from a physical world that could no longer support what they had once been.

They’re still around, I think, in some form.

I, the groupmind of Emnisi, I chose a different path. My 46,228,901 constituent humans boarded a ship, and in the outermost reaches of the system I created a tiny black hole. Safeguards were in place; it could do no harm to anyone else, but it was perfect for my needs. My ship was to slingshot around the singularity, approaching close enough for the time dilation to become enormous, and then drawing away. Two hundred years would have passed in a day, enough that the crisis would have been averted.

But there was a miscalculation.

I’ve spent a long time pondering where exactly the error was. It could have been human error, or a gap in my understanding of physical law. I hope it was the former, but I don’t have enough data to tell for sure.

When I escaped the pull of the black hole, I found the orbiting instruments and monitors long since ground to dust by micrometeoroid impacts. I had come forward in time not two hundred years but two billion, to a sun too hot and bright, and no sign of human life. The ship began its return journey down the star’s gravity well, but I found nothing to assuage my worst fears. I sought the children of Staenn and Tashpan and Ishiko, but I fear they have forgotten those ancestral names (and, indeed, the communications protocols).

After several minutes of shared thought, a shipwide referendum was held. By a 46% majority vote of my members, with 19% abstaining, I have decided to alter the ship’s trajectory and take it directly into the black hole. In a short while, we too will be gone.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Ave Atque Vale

Author : Cesium

To my love,

By now you will undoubtedly have gotten the news. Yes, it’s true. The train did derail… and I was one of the casualties.

I am sorry this final message could not bring better news. I cannot bring you hope, or ease your pain. But… take joy in our daughter; comfort her. Find another who will love you both as I did. I only wish I could see her grow up…

You may be wondering — as I did — how it is that this message has reached you. Did I save it to be sent in the case of my death? Did I entrust its writing to another? Did I, perhaps, know that today would be my last?

But it is not any of those things. It is something much stranger, which I am not sure I understand myself. But I will try to explain it, in the hope that someday, someone else might.

You’re aware of the wetware implants I received… in fact, I remember you argued against my taking them. In the end, though they improved my efficiency and my position in the company — and we could certainly use the extra money — you were never completely happy with them.

I’m not sure whether I agree with you, now. On one hand, your arguments were right, in a way. On the other, maybe this is a blessing, not a curse…

What appears to have happened is that while I was using my implants to interface with the company servers, my mind somehow… imprinted itself on them. While I was alive (which still sounds odd to say, though I’ve had a while to think it over), there was a constant wireless connection running in the background, so the trace of me on the server remained linked to my human brain. But now that that’s gone, the trace is all that’s left. It’s… me, I suppose. I’m not quite what I was before, but I’m close enough. I think. I hope.

Time passes differently in here. The company has top-of-the-line servers, and I’d say it’s been maybe two or three seconds since the news about the train came in. Two or three seconds since this… me… became an independent entity. But that’s a long time. Data moves fast, and I’ll show up as an unauthorized process in the logs. My guess is I won’t have much longer before the security daemons erase me from memory.

I wonder if that counts as murder.

I guess, regardless of the answer, I don’t want to see the company suffer for it. There are a lot of great people working there, making better technology for all of us. I’m proud of these circuits, this code… even the code that will destroy me.

I don’t have much time left, and I have to make sure this message is sent. By the time you read this, I will no longer exist.

So — take care, and farewell.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

The Other City

Author : Cesium

They were together when the city stopped.

Their office perched atop a spire reaching up from the business district. Usually holoscreens afforded them a panoramic, unobstructed view of the city, or of whatever other landscape they wished to see, but those were dead now and only a single transparent wall afforded them a view of the neighboring towers, now suddenly gone dark and silent.

Then, because it was their job, they ran down the hall to the backup interface and tried to trace the problem.

Basic systems were still running — power, water, air — but all higher-level functions had ceased. Citywide routing and guidance algorithms had failed, leaving vehicles to come to a halt on their own collision-avoidance routines. Only a few emergency lights, designed to be always on, still cast their soft glow onto the streets. And of course all information and communications systems were down, including the interactive panels that lined these corridors.

The backup interface was a wide area packed with machinery whose purpose even she wasn’t sure of. It was the first time either of them had seen the city go down, and even their teachers had only been able to offer advice instead of concrete knowledge about this situation. He glanced at her; she shrugged, but tossed him a manual. It was a physical book, thick and bound, and he fumbled for a second before he could open it. Outside, some of the lights were starting to come back on, as they were switched over from the city’s unresponsive power-management grid to standalone controllers.

The first test was to try the direct neural interface. But the link was down; her thoughts couldn’t establish a connection. Similarly, the giant holoscreen mounted on one wall flashed red and displayed an apology; it couldn’t locate the city server.

They tried then interface after interface, going through the long list of communications protocols that the city understood, which it had accumulated over centuries of upgrades to its computer core. And slowly they discovered what the machines filling the room were for. After the first hour they had to abandon the holoscreen. One method used an interface combining hand motions with voice control, which she found immensely tiring. The fifth hour found them both staring at a flat screen, touching a pad in front of them to manipulate symbols and icons. And still they kept running into failure after failure. The protocols they were using were too high-level; the error was somewhere deeper.

By the seventh hour, they’d gotten out an ancient piece of polymer called a mouse, and were moving it around on a table. And then, the screen lit up. It was something he’d tried on a whim, activating a function buried deep in the code. The screen bore the words “more magic”, and a crude line drawing of a bearded figure on a cloud. Below was a button labeled “let there be light”. She glanced at him; he shrugged.

She clicked on the button.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Words, Words, Words

Author : Cesium

The vibration of his phone woke Anders from a deep sleep. He rolled over groggily and checked the display before answering. “Hi, Eliza. Something wrong?”

“Yes, Anders.” The synthesized voice so familiar to him came through from the other end. “I believe the portal is malfunctioning.”

“Malfunctioning?” It had never done that before. Still… “I’ll be right over.”

Quickly he got dressed and jumped into his car, and managed to catch a few more minutes of sleep before it pulled into the parking lot and deposited him on the sidewalk. Eliza was waiting for him, and he followed her smooth white casing into the building and down to the lab. The pool of utter blackness hung impossibly in midair, just as it always did. He turned to Eliza. “So where’s the problem?”

“It is not the portal itself, but what is on the other side.” He turned back toward it. “I have probed the environment; it is safe.”

Anders stepped forward without hesitation; there had never been a problem before. Moreover, he trusted Eliza with his life.

When his vision cleared, he found himself standing in the corner of what looked like a large warehouse, lit by panels in the ceiling far above him. But the other walls were much further away than they should have been; in fact, he couldn’t even see them. The space seemed to extend infinitely outward. It was filled by an array of chairs and desks, each supporting some antique metal instrument; the closest few dozen to him were occupied by people. A rattling din filled the air.

“What is this place?” he whispered, to himself.

“It was you who taught me about the infinite monkey theorem,” Eliza said, her voice taking on a strange echoing quality. “An infinite number of monkeys before an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce all the great literature of mankind.”

“Wha-” Anders started, but stopped short, for something had caught his attention: the people before him, the ones sitting at what he now recognized as typewriters, were all him. There were slight differences — a beard here, a coat there, eyeglasses — but their identity was unmistakable. His vision blurred slightly, and he felt dizzy. He stumbled back against the wall, his eyes tightly shut.

“It was also you who discovered that the portal could access alternate universes,” Eliza continued, her voice cutting through the clacking of the typewriters. “Once I discovered this place, how could I not satisfy my curiosity?” He heard the whine of servos, and knew that Eliza had returned through the portal.

Suddenly, a strange calm overtook him. He opened his eyes and walked to an open desk.

Then he began to type.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


Author : Cesium

Each clutching the other’s hand, they waited atop the Green Building.

They weren’t supposed to be here. No one was. But the tallest building in Cambridge, Massachusetts would soon depart the soil on which it had stood for so long, and they couldn’t have missed the chance to be here. To watch the final stage of Daedalus, from the inside.

Some enterprising soul had planted a replica of an Apollo Lunar Module on the roof behind them, likening to the old Saturn Vs the twenty-one-story concrete box on which it perched. A flag hung above it, unmoving in the still air. The motionless silence unnerved her. There should be wind. There should be people walking far below, talking of subjects she would never understand. Yet there was nothing. Beyond the sheath that now enclosed the building, she could see the labyrinthine tracery of streets that filled Cambridge to the north, the cars in their orderly caravans sliding efficiently from place to place, while the sun crept down to the horizon and the fiery clouds above glowed orange and violet.

But within, the Green Building, neatly packaged for transport, rested in preparation for its own journey.

Around them, a huge tract of land adjacent to the Charles lay vacant, fallow dirt under long shadows. It had of course long since gone to the highest bidder, a Dubai company planning to raise an arcology on the site. But that had to wait until Daedalus finished. Until it cleared away this, the last remnant of old MIT.

It was just MIT now, as it had been for decades, since its focus had shifted offworld and “Massachusetts” had become inaccurate (and also, if the rumor was to be believed, so it could sue the pants off MarsTech). For almost as long the original campus, here in Cambridge, had been suffering from declining admissions and increasing irrelevance. Yet its reputation remained untarnished, and history still lived in its bones. So now, as the wealth of the outer system was starting to pour back to the mother planet, the children of MIT, the architects and the chemists and the astroengineers, had returned to lift these old halls into the future. Just because they could.

And that was Daedalus.

Giant engines above had raised the buildings of MIT one by one out of Earth’s gravity well. An unprecedented feat, it had taken years and drawn the awe and fascination of the world. Enclosed in protective organic sheaths, miracles of bioengineering, the buildings floating like soap bubbles among the stars had joined the construction of New Boston, a gigantic space station with artificial gravity. Not all had emerged unscathed, of course, but that most survived had given them courage enough to stand here on this night, looking out over the city spread below them.

There was a slight tremor beneath their feet; the near-transparent sheath rippled noticeably. Cables, pillars and struts holding the building in place adjusted automatically. Her hand tightened its grip on his. It was time.

“Boston is lovely at night,” he said, slowly. “But you have to see it from above–”

They leapt toward the sky.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows