The City

Author : Cesium

It is only from one of the higher towers, the myriad smaller buildings laid out below and higher ones gleaming in the distance, that the City’s infinitude truly becomes intuitively and not merely intellectually apparent.

But even in the mist of a cool morning, when only the closer bridges and skyscrapers loom nebulously out of the featureless white, the City’s sheer vastness is never far from one’s mind. The City has no limits in the horizontal; it is bounded below and above only by what current technology can delve from the ground and claim from the sky. It is immeasurably old and constantly evolving. It contains buildings, and indeed whole districts, of every conceivable purpose and architectural style, and no sooner is a new one invented than some aging, decrepit building is torn down to make room for its first exemplar.

The City is everywhere inhabited; its populace moves about on its daily business via a network of streets, walkways, and rail lines, irregularly distributed, intersecting interminably with more of the same. The system is of course impossible to diagram in full, though local maps are readily available. Many people find employment and contentment within a few miles of their birthplace; some travel great distances to settle in different regions of the City; the remainder are restless wherever they go. I count myself among the latter few.

Once in my youth, driven by the impetuous urge to prove wisdom mistaken and the City finite, I leapt onto the back of an emptied supply truck as it departed the local produce market. If any activity went on beyond the limits of the City, I reasoned, it would surely be agriculture. But the truck arrived finally at a vast complex of greenhouses and hydroponic farms, surrounded by the familiar yet unfamiliar skyline of some other part of the City, and, seeing no obvious openings for further exploration, I was forced to make my way home.

In the decades since, I have traveled uncounted distances across the face of the City. A few years ago I began to hear rumors of the Tower of Jorge, which called it variously a tourist destination, an ancient relic, or a pilgrimage site; its fame seemed to grow the closer my journey took me. This very morning I arrived in the square where it stands, a tall straight spire pointing upward at the heavens, and climbed the winding stair to its top.

An inscription there defines the Tower to be the center of the City. The claim is absurd; the infinite has no center, or equivalently, every point is the center. But soon the chaotic sweep of the City all around me began to make a sort of sense; I seemed to perceive the avenues emanating from the square below, the districts arranged radially, disguised though they were by centuries of construction and demolition. In that instant I could believe that the City had started here. And if it had a beginning then perhaps it is not endless after all.

This is all I have discovered, for I have not managed to recapture that momentary revelation. I leave this note here in the hope that it will reach someone younger and better equipped than I to explore the mysteries of the City. I plan now to follow as far as I can the direction of one of the hidden avenues; perhaps I shall find its end in a location as distinguished as this one from the rest of the City. More likely I will die still unfulfilled. The City will continue, eternal and indifferent.


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

Andelie stands atop the Fisher Building, gazing across miles of open air at the Monolith. It is formally the Colonial Administrative Headquarters, but it is always called the Monolith. Its imposing black form towers over the rest of the city. Fisher is the only building that comes close.

The Fisher Building is nominally the future corporate offices of Fisher Insurance, an immensely profitable and perfectly unremarkable corporation of which Andelie is also nominally an employee. It has risen story by story into the sky over the past decade. It is now only weeks from its official opening. Its unofficial opening will come significantly sooner.

Andelie adjusts her goggles, zooms in on the base of the tower. The motorcade is just pulling past lines of rippling flags into the entrance. They are later than she expected, but not behind schedule. The schedule is theirs. Andelie can afford to wait.

A scudding wisp of cloud obscures her sight for a moment. She looks away, touches a finger to her phone. The countdown starts.

Beneath her feet, illicit machinery moves into position. Industrial-grade fabbers complete the final stages of years of preparation. Surplus construction materials left deliberately unrecycled in the basements are covertly loaded onto high-speed lifts.

Careful deceptions and generous bribes have kept the Fisher Building’s true purpose hidden since its inception. The Monolith is well defended against terrorist attacks and armed siege alike. To decapitate the irredeemably corrupt government in an appropriately spectacular fashion requires a more innovative approach.

The clock ticks down to zero.

Down the face of the building, windows lift open and retract. Rail cannons extend, locking into position. The first salvo comprises kinetic and incendiary shells, fabricated from innocuous raw materials. Wind speeds and atmospheric conditions are known; angles and tolerances have been calculated precisely. Andelie watches the guns fire, perfectly synchronized.

The side of the Monolith bursts into plumes of dust and flame. Automatic turrets are already returning fire, but the Fisher Building’s active and passive defenses, which are overengineered for mere earthquakes and storms, adequately shield it. The architects of the Monolith, however, did not anticipate that it might face a skyscraper bristling with hostile guns.

Flying drones approach, but veer away before coming into range. The automated safeguards against colliding with tall structures are hardcoded even into military aircraft. They can be overridden, but it will take time.

The second salvo of explosive rounds shatters the weakened skeleton of the lower floors. The Monolith sways, bleeding acrid smoke, then collapses in on itself with an elegant rapidity. A cloud of dust enfolds its base and blossoms out through the city.

Just like that, it’s over. Time has run out.

The ultimatum to the armed forces, Andelie knows, has already been broadcast. She does not expect significant resistance. The weapon she stands upon should be intimidation enough. “Good work,” she says into her phone. A new age has begun, she thinks.

A stiff breeze ruffles her clothes and exposes the ruined stump of the Monolith. It was the Colonial Administrative Headquarters, but now it is only the grave of the old regime. The Fisher Building’s imposing silver form towers over the rest of the city. No other building comes close.

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


Paradigm Shift

Author : Cesium

Professor Sean Katz walked into his lab the next morning, and Katherine was waiting for him.

“So, how did the trials go?”

“You'd better come see for yourself.”

He glanced up from his Blackberry. She looked as calm as usual, but there was a tinge of worry in her voice. He followed her down the corridor, brilliant sunshine streaming through the windows on one side, graphs and xkcd posters plastering the wall on the other. They turned a corner, and Sean stopped short.

The lab's very expensive new electron microscope was blackened and charred, and emitting a thin trickle of smoke which was slowly drifting toward the ceiling.

“Dr. Ko reported a breakthrough at around 3:30 last night –”

Sean's sense of doom was suddenly offset by indignation. “3:30? How late were you up?” He noted the discarded cans of Mountain Dew spilling out of the recycle bin.

“She insisted, after reading the report for herself…” Katherine looked apologetic.

“And this?”

“So after my apparent success, I decided to examine the atomic structure of the spoon… and, well, not only did Aristotle not believe in atoms, he didn't know about electrons, or electricity. He would have described them as little bits of fire, I suppose. Hence…” Dr. Ko waved helplessly in the direction of the wrecked machine.

Sean suddenly felt dizzy, and he leaned against the counter. “It actually worked.” He looked around at the other two. “We can change the laws of physics at will. No, more than that. We determine the laws of physics by studying them. God, the effectiveness of mathematics in explaining the universe is probably just because we expect physical laws to be mathematical in nature, so they are.”

“We can control matter by thinking about it,” offered Katherine. “Magic.”


They looked at each other for a while; at the microscope, symbol of a paradigm that now seemed so limited; at the spoon, which was apparently currently composed of mostly earth, with some fire and water and air.

“Well, you know what we have to do now,” said Dr. Ko.

They performed further experiments and tests, and once they were sufficiently convinced of their results, the manuscript was submitted to Nature.

Katherine walked into Sean's office. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit nervous. Once this thing hits peer review, news will spread, and every scientist on the planet's going to want to test it for themselves.”

“You know, something occurred to me. When Newton and his contemporaries started trying to explain the world through mathematics, the spread of the Enlightenment probably changed it into a form that could be understood that way. That might explain why reports of supernatural sightings and miracles have decreased since then.”

“Hmm. That could –” Sean stopped. If the efforts of relatively few scientists over centuries could change the way the entire universe worked… and just about now, every scientist hearing the news would be trying it with their own favorite discredited scientific paradigms, which were probably incompatible and almost certainly dangerous. The charred hulk in the corner of one of their rooms was testament to that. He reached for his keyboard, intending to compose an urgent email.

But it was too late.

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 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