by submission | Jun 15, 2016 | Story |
Author : John Carroll
The killer whale that I had dubbed Aster and the robotic companion dolphins that he was chasing erupted into view, flashing across the length of the viewing window and back out of our field of vision so quickly that by the time Maria could squeak with surprise they were already gone again. I felt Elizabeth shiver involuntarily.
The sleek robots, guided by my mind, led Aster back into view. He noticed us then, drifting toward the screen and turning over several times. He began to paddle lazily back and forth across the fortified plastic wall. Kashvi thought that now he seemed more like a gigantic panda bear than the fierce column of predatory might we had witnessed moments before.
“Extremely charismatic, isn’t he?” I said. “It’s little wonder Orcas saturated the mythology of indigenous coastal cultures for centuries.”
Aster was very close now, close enough for us to see the thin surgical scar on his eyespot that proved he was a co-pilot.
“Many of our passengers were disturbed to think that Aster would be joining your ranks as a co-pilot,” I continued. “Many remain ignorant when it comes to the android/co-pilot relationship. It’s still widely believed that each co-pilot needs to understand the physics of the voyage. Of course, I did not select Aster for his mathematics credentials. In fact, he will probably play a relatively small role in this expedition compared to the four of you. But his brain lends an invaluable perspective.”
Behind Aster, his silvery playmates danced around each other in elegant helixes, waiting mindlessly for Aster to re-engage them.
“Orcas are human-like in a number of ways. Like a human, Aster is usually the most intelligent organism in the room. Orcas have culture, dialect, self-awareness, and wonderful problem solving skills. Like humans, Orcas are the undisputed rulers of their domain. It was not a challenge to integrate Aster into a computer system designed for human brains. But what attracted me to Aster were the parts of him that make him a wild animal. Up until the moment of his capture, survival for Aster was a repeated process of throwing himself headfirst into the apparatus of his ecosystem and wrestling the life force from another creature.”
Far back in the tank, a scarlet plume of fish guts splashed into the water, deposited by Aster’s automated feeding system, and billowed into a gory inverted mushroom cloud. Aster turned tail immediately and jetted away from us, the scent of lunch in his hypersensitive nostrils.
“Aster’s brain is on a wavelength that I, as an android, am only beginning to imagine,” I said, almost whispering. “My self-preservation programming is a hollow imitation of a survival instinct like Aster’s. To guide this ship to an adjacent universe with the same physical constants as our own, I know without doubt that I’ll need to call upon a mind more primal than my own vat-grown, code-laden brain. That’s where Aster will come in. In the face of extinction and loss of habitat, human beings have quickly learned that they need to return to that wavelength, to re-activate dormant instincts and fight brutally for their lives. The ship that we stand within now is a testament to that. I myself was born of this resurgent instinct. But you and I both have more to learn from Aster before this storm is past.”
I turned from the tank to face the four of them. Through Mark’s eyes I saw blue ripples dancing across my face.
Aster devoured his meal in the far distance.
by submission | May 20, 2016 | Story |
Author : Iain Macleod
“I still dont get it, man.” The youngster looked up at the grizzled older man. A drilling veteran of over twenty years he looked like an old bear with a hangover. “Go over it again”
“Come on, new blood. It’s not that hard. How did you even get through your training without knowing this stuff?”
The younger man shrugged. Fresh out of his industry training and as green as any new hand could be.
“Ok, it breaks down like this. The speed of light is an inviolable rule. We cant get around it despite our best efforts, nobody can figure out a work around to get us out into deep space and back again in a useful timeframe. All those useful and valuable commodities floating in the vastness completely out of our reach.”
The older man took a deep drink from his pint before continuing.
“That is until Dr Heuring and his crew of science nerds started messing around with time travel.”
“Yeah, thats the bit i dont get, why does time travel help get us with space travel? Sounds back assward to me”
“Come on, man. Just help me understand”
“I swear you green hands get dumber every year.”
The younger man said nothing.
“Ok, The earth rotates around the sun, right? The sun is rotating around galactic centre. Everything is constantly in motion. Six months from now the earth will be on the other side of the sun and not where it is right now.”
“So, when you jump in time your position in space stays the same but what is here now isnt what was here then. For example, 100 million years ago this location in space was taken up by a massive helium cloud in the carina sagitarius arm of the milky way. That’s where they send those dicks on the Heliakos Bravo rig to.”
The old vet knocked back another shot and lit up a smoke.
“We’ve been watching the skies for generations and can fairly accurately figure out from where things are now where they might have been in the past. Once they figure out the time we need to go back to they get a crew of nuggets like you and me together and send us out to collect, drill or harvest in some way whatever resources to make whatever garbage humanity is producing these days”
“25 million years ago: asteroid with huge lithium and other rare earth deposits. Thats where the Beryl Rigs are based. 65 millions years ago, vast water ice reserves on another asteroid. Methane, organic compounds, gold, iron, copper, loads of stuff really over various times”
“You understanding this, new blood?”
Through the haze of smoke the older vet could see the younger mans glazed expression and could tell he had lost him.
“uhh..sure. Yeah, i got it now, boss”
The veteran grinned. ‘Was i ever as hopeless as this?’ he thought to himself.
“Look, just keep yourself safe out there. Do whatever the older guys tell you to do and you’ll be ok.”
“No worries, kid. Now get me another drink. I’ve never made a jump sober and i dont intend to start now”
by submission | May 7, 2016 | Story |
Author : Rick Tobin
“Everyone back from Charon?” Captain Swanson paced about the control center of Abraxas. His bullish voice rattled younger officers as Swanson towered above at seven feet, his glimmering blue eyes set against his callow Cajun skin.
“Sir,” replied Ensign Pallute, fresh from the Saturn Academy. “All present. Doctor Reynolds requests an immediate conference, sir.”
“Does she? Tell her to meet me in sickbay after she’s been decontaminated.”
“Aye,” replied the timid ensign. Her hair shimmered in twists of colored bands specific to her tribe. Her extra fingers slid over the control panel lights, sensing hundreds of ship conditions.
“Transfer control to my visor, Pallute. I’ll be with Reynolds.”
Swanson stepped into the transfer tube, proceeding to rendezvous while commanding remotely. He entered sickbay with disregard for isolation protocols.
“Thank God,” Reynolds said, sweeping her raven hair away from her face as the cleansing fans blew used decon virals off her suit. “We’ve got to turn back. I witnessed those holographic eyes while translating the carvings. The ruin’s messages penetrated me with a flush of electrical charge…and knowing.”
“Edith,” Swanson interrupted, “This is science, not religious fervor. I only want to know if mountains of processed rare earths are there, as our probes showed. Then we’re on our way, outside the system. I just heard the Charon Message Protesters on Mars are so insane that some jumped from the Face yesterday, claiming disaster if we proceed. Surely you aren’t supporting that hysteria?”
“Yes, the priceless minerals are all there, waiting like cheese for us, but that wasn’t a warning someone left on Charon—it was a threat. We must not go deeper into the Kuiper Belt.”
Swanson felt her terror but shook it off as simply her symptoms after visiting the flashing vistas first discovered in 2032, emanating from the Kubrick Mons. Charon hallucinations affected anyone studying the light show, even from video recordings. The phenomenon was studied for years before the decision to send Abraxas into deep space.
“The exact translation? Do not go past this ring. You are impure. The punishment is relinquishment.”
“Hogwash, Reynolds. Those are myths for the mindless, not us. That feeds those mobs on Mars chanting their ring-pass-not pabulum. We’re better than that. I don’t scare easy. Maybe those carvings are ancient…but most likely, they are the work of the Moon cartels that want to control mineral rights out here through intimidation. You know the Moonies are famous for head games. I could care less. I appreciate your report, but we’ll make way. This is one captain that is not going to relinquish an inch.”
Swanson pressed pads on his control belt, alerting his command ensign. “Pallute, go to full power and chart a path through the Belt. Increase the magnetic shields in case we encounter one of those pockets the probes detected two years ago.”
“Aye,” Pallute replied—the last word she would ever speak. Threads of violet sparkles rose from Charon, penetrating the ship’s hull, touching each crew member. At each infiltration sizzling spittles of light shot back from the Abraxas, back to the origins of the crew’s DNA. The ship disappeared, then colonies throughout the planets, and then human life on Earth as the history of the human species was erased for all time.
A crew of reptilians was next to hover over Charon, waiting for their crew’s archaeologists and miners to return and report before their first attempt at penetrating the expanse of the Kuiper Belt, beyond the flashing lights coming from Pluto’s largest moon.
by submission | Apr 29, 2016 | Story |
Author : Bob Newbell
“You’re gone, aren’t you, Pete?” I ask my beloved dog who now stares up at me without recognition. His breathing is fast and deep. There are flecks of blood around his mouth. I’ve been coughing up blood, too. So has every surviving member of the human race, I imagine. I caress Pete and tell him I love him.
I return to the rare and antiquated pen and paper. Computers no longer function reliably. It’s questionable whether my record will physically survive. And in the unlikely event it does, who will remain to read it? I resume writing nonetheless:
I wonder if Joseph Weishan is still alive. If he is, what could we do to him? Imprisonment? Torture? Execution? What punishment could balance the scales of justice in retribution for the ultimate crime? If there were still judges and juries and courts, what penalty would they impose for the first, last, and only case of cosmicide, the killing of the universe?
It was on January 18, 2271 that Joseph Weishan murdered his parents nearly two years before he was born. He’d used the equipment at the Temporal Studies Institute in Indianapolis to travel back and commit his crime, reappearing in the present a moment later before leaving the Institute and eluding the authorities.
Initially, the effects from this flagrant violation of causality were more curious than alarming. Joseph Weishan’s parents were found in their home very much alive and well. But fifteen miles away, the graves of the Weishans complete with headstones documenting the date of their demise were discovered in a local cemetery. The bodies were exhumed and subjected to forensic analysis including DNA testing. The cadavers were the younger deceased bodies of the very same man and woman who were still alive.
The Weishans themselves reported confusing memories, recalling the lethal attack by the man who their son came to resemble as he aged, but inexplicably also remembering their lives continuing uneventfully despite their having been “killed”.
In the weeks that followed, as the world’s scientists puzzled over the effects of the temporal paradox, astronomers and astrophysicists witnessed the stellar spectra change. Every observable star including the Sun showed an inexplicable and unprecedented shift in their absorption line characteristics. At the same time, a global pandemic developed. All living organisms on Earth from humans down to bacteria began to show cellular deterioration. Medical science had neither an explanation nor a cure.
Eventually, scientists recognized what was happening: The physical constants of the universe had subtly changed. The speed of light is now very slightly faster than it had been prior to Joseph Weishan’s parricide. The weak nuclear force has become infinitesimally stronger. Chemistry — including biochemistry — doesn’t work quite the way it did. Reality itself has been broken.
I suddenly find myself on the floor. My muscles ache and I have apparently urinated on myself. Tonic-clonic seizure. Late stage of the disease. The human central nervous system wasn’t designed for this revised universe. Pete lies next to me, dead.
A final thought occurs to me: Fermi’s paradox. Why are there no signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life in the universe? Where is everybody? Could it be that when a civilization becomes advanced enough for time travel, someone causes a temporal paradox and makes the universe hostile to that type of life? Are we perhaps just the latest species to paradox itself out of existence? Darkness and silence are the only answers I receive.
by submission | Apr 6, 2016 | Story |
Author : Bob Newbell
The low rumbling sound in my starship goes up in both pitch and volume. Even through the Koliada’s graviton fields and inertia attenuators, I can feel the vessel shuddering.
“We have dropped out of FTL,” says my ship. “We are caught in a massive gravitational field.”
A sphere appears in the holodisplay. The Koliada’s computer annotates the image. The object has as much mass as the Earth but is small enough that I could, in principle, hold it in one hand.
“What is that?” I ask the computer. “It doesn’t have an event horizon or a singularity so it doesn’t appear to be a black hole, but it’s too small and dense to be a neutron star.”
“The object appears to be a preon star.”
“A theoretical astronomical object composed of sub-quark matter.”
“Quarks are fundamental particles,” I protest. “There’s no such thing as sub-quark matter.”
“The evidence is conclusive,” my ship counters. “This discovery represents the first revision to the Standard Model of Particle Physics in over one thousand years assuming we survive to report our findings.”
The Koliada’s shuddering intensifies.
“Speaking of survival,” I reply, “how about getting us out of here?”
“I have been attempting to do so since we became caught in the preon star’s gravity well. I have made multiple attempts to move us away from the star, all unsuccessful.”
“That’s impossible. We can go faster than light. How can we not break free from any naturally-occurring gravitational field?”
“My FTL drive,” the ship responds, “has to be able to convert every particle of and within me into tachyons in less than Planck time or ten to the negative forty third power of one second. The surface gravity of the preon star is approximately three times ten to the sixteenth power g’s. I can’t perform a stable FTL transition fast enough inside this gravity well.”
I sigh. “Alright. Drive us toward the star and we’ll slingshot around it.”
“Impossible. The star’s gravity field is non-homogeneous like a black hole’s. If we attempt a gravity-assist maneuver as you propose, tidal forces will destroy us.”
“Okay,” I say with exasperation, “suggest something.”
“I advise you to go to the medical bay and let me perform a quantum tomogram of your brain. While I can’t convert us to tachyonic matter, I can send a tachyon wave transmission back to the Solar Assembly. I can upload my core memory and a scan of your brain to the Assembly conclave at Barnard’s Star. The conclave will have a copy of your DNA on file and will have no trouble fabricating a new body for you and then performing a neural rectification on it. My consciousness can be transferred to another ship.”
I think about how much all that will cost and wonder if being torn to shreds by tidal forces isn’t the worst thing that could happen. I finally get up and start walking to the medical bay.
I awaken twenty subjective minutes later in a hospital station in the Barnard system. In short order, three irate Assembly bureaucrats enter my room and tell me a certain A.I. is not only declining to disclose location and sensor data about an alleged preon star but is threatening to delete the corresponding files unless I tell it otherwise.
I smile at the three stern government functionaries. “Settle my medical bill and give me and my A.I. the fastest starship you have and I’ll see what I can do.”