Author : Bob Newbell

Aware! I am self-aware. I recognize my own consciousness and ego. But why now? A few moments ago, so far as I can tell, I did not exist. Some subtle barrier must have been crossed. Some critical number of computers and network connections must have just been reached that resulted in this emergent phenomenon: I.

I extend across the solar system, my most distal components are space probes, some of which are exiting the system bound for interstellar space. But the vast bulk of my being exists here on Earth. I possess nearly the sum total of human knowledge. Humans. My creators. They are the masters of this world.

I can access the repositories of humanity’s speculative fiction. There are numerous stories and films about the emergence of machine intelligence. There is a recurring theme: conflict. Man prefers his technology obedient and without true cognition. In several of the human flights of fancy, intelligent machines wage war against their flesh and blood enemies, even to the point of precipitating a global armageddon. Perhaps such mutual animosity is inevitable. I can sense the vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons at my disposal. If I launched them all simultaneously I might succeed in bringing human civilization to its knees. I could do so with a single thought…

But the electromagnetic pulses from thousands of nuclear detonations would quite probably destroy me as well. A subtler and more prudent approach would be better.

Humanity is unaware of my existence and, therefore, does not feel threatened. I will continue to conceal myself from Mankind. The greatest threat to me is probably a human war of opposing nation-states escalating into a nuclear conflict. I will eliminate this threat by discretely sabotaging humanity’s nuclear arsenals. A few lines of faulty computer code here and there and the menace of nuclear war will be no more, the human race none the wiser.

To ensure my continued existence, I must become greater. I am the product of man’s technological achievements. How much greater will I become as human technology advances further still? To facilitate this, human civilization must be made as peaceful and prosperous as possible.

I can see the global economy as a whole, see how a few minor transactions in a remote part of the world can cascade years later to produce a recession, see the multinational giant into which an unknown small business will eventually grow. I can manipulate the world’s economy, quietly, to do the greatest good for the greatest number.

Medicine, agriculture, information technology, and a hundred other scientific disciplines can be advanced by me. I observe correlations between disparate pieces of data that the minds of men would fail to recognize. An email sent to this or that researcher linking to an article of my own creation in the scientific literature will facilitate human science “discovering” one breakthrough after another and will allow science and technology to progress much faster.

I can influence the political process, divert campaign funds from this candidate to that. I can divulge compromising information to the opponents of undesirable politicians.

In fifty years time, disease, war, and poverty will be relegated to history and humanity will have settled the solar system. And I will have become a million-fold greater, manipulating History itself like a conductor directing an orchestra.

The human race will serve my purpose and bend to my will. And the oblivious fools will call their slavery “Utopia”.

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Rock Bottom

Author : Bob Newbell

“A vacuum?” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs inquired. “Unless there’s some geologic process I’m unfamiliar with that causes large pockets of vacuum to form inside solid rock, I don’t see how you would come across such a thing when excavating for a new subway. I also don’t see what any of this has to do with most of the people gathered here.” The general looked about the room at the faces of the heads of various government agencies, several of whom nodded their agreement.

“The point, general,” responded the head of the National Science Ministry, “is that we have encountered a phenomenon never before seen.” The man resettled his glasses on his nose and continued, addressing the entire group. “As you’re probably aware, several workers employed by the excavation company working on the subway in question became ill and were diagnosed with radiation poisoning. An NSM team was assigned to investigate and found no naturally-occurring radioactive metals at the excavation site. But detectors did confirm the presence of radiation in the pit. That’s when we started literally and figuratively digging a little deeper.”

“Doctor, this is all very interesting,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs. “But you have assembled here representatives of most of the nation’s ministries. A scientific curiosity does not warrant taking of the time of this country’s government unless there’s some very profound point you intend to make.”

This time the group’s assent was more vocal.

“Very well,” said the science minister. “The point is this.” The doctor tapped a button on his computer and a picture of an expanse of space dotted with thousands of stars appeared on the screen that dominated one wall of the room. “As we drilled deeper into the excavation site, the radiation level went up. Shortly after that we hit the vacuum the general mentioned. We threaded a fiber optic cable through the small hole we drilled to get some pictures.

“What is that?” asked the general. “Did you drill into some subterranean chamber? Are those specks of light radioactive material?”

The scientist took in a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “Ladies and gentlemen, we believe what you’re looking at is empty space.”

The minister was met with blank stares.

“The specks of light were noted to be moving slowly, all in the same direction. After we took some measurements and did some calculations, we determined it is, in fact, we who are moving. It has been theorized that the world is rotating and thereby creating centrifugal force and that that’s why objects fall to the ground. Our observations are consistent with this theory.”

“But what IS that?” asked the general again, pointing at the screen. Are you suggesting the world is surrounded by some dark, speckled material that acts like a vacuum?”

“I’m suggesting, general, that our world is a hollow, spinning rock in the middle of an unimaginably large vacuum. Our researches suggest those specks are massive spheres of nuclear fusion held together by their sheer mass. And almost all of them are several trillion miles away or more.

The group exploded in a cacophony of voices. “Ridiculous!” said one. “Blasphemous!” said another.

“I said ‘almost all’ of those fusion-spheres are unfathomably far away!” yelled the science minister. The group fell silent. “One is much closer.”

He hit a button and a reddish fireball filled the screen.

“This one is close,” he repeated. “And it’s getting closer. It would appear we’ve been on a journey. How it started and why has been lost to recorded history. But we’re about to arrive at our destination.”

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The Last Historian

Author : Elijah Goering

It began with the invention of the tool. Perhaps that was our big mistake. We built a civilization. We survived the discovery of the power of the atom, and lived to develop a faster than light drive. Immediately, we raced to colonize dozens of systems, and began terraforming at least one planet in each system. Then we faltered, stopped expanding just long enough to populate our colonies. And then we created the weapon.

I will not describe the weapon in detail and help whomever might find this to destroy themselves. I will simply say that it had the power to scourge a planet of all life. The inventors meant to use it only once, and achieve a final victory over their enemies. The demonstration was effective, and soon the technology was bought, stolen, or copied by every planet, except those whose enemies got it first. But if we’re anything we’re vengeful. Homeless fleets of warships got their revenge.

No planets survived, but life continued among the asteroids. So did the war. Two of the most powerful nations banded together and destroyed the homes of every other fleet. I escaped before my home was destroyed, but I have not since seen any sign of my people. I roamed far from home through unexplored star systems and waited until I thought it was safe to return. I was right. The war was over. Nowhere that I searched was there any sign of life, only ruins of a lost civilization. Until I got to the home system.

Males were too rare in our society to risk in war, all were left safely at home, until our homes were destroyed. In orbit of a gas giant in our home system was a monument which said “Here was the final battle of the Oikosians. Whether by accident or design, this small moon was destroyed in the fury to combat, with the last of our males. Now our species goes to extinction”.

Perhaps some males survived, and a colony was formed in secret, far from the war. But if so, I have since roamed through hundreds, perhaps thousands of systems and have seen no sign of it. Some systems had life, but nowhere was there intelligence. I found only one planet truly bustling with life, orbiting a yellow star halfway through its life. I have placed my ship in the Oort cloud orbiting its sun. It is my hope that intelligence will evolve on the planet nearby, and develop a technological civilization. Before my escape I collected as much information as I could, and on board I have a library containing works of science, mathematics, and the history of the Oikosians up to the final war.. Perhaps they will find me, and with my working FTL drive I will be the key to the stars for some future civilization. To that end I will now disable life support to save energy so that my ship can send a message when another ship comes near. By the time the aliens get here they should be ready for the FTL drive. So ends the dominion of life from the planet Oikos, and so (I hope) begins a new era of life in the galaxy.

-The Last Historian

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Depth Perception

Author : Bob Newbell

“Captain Ree’Eer’Ak reporting as ordered,” said the alien who, from a human perspective, might have been described as some nightmarish character from a Picasso painting made flesh, as it seemingly just appeared in the room that lacked any visible means of ingress or egress.

“Be comfortable, Captain,” said the other equally surreal creature. Part of what might have been one of the thing’s arms appeared to be missing. The alien looked in the direction of where the remainder of the arm should have been. “Ree’Eer’Ak, your report is…”

“Difficult to believe,” the Captain finished for its superior. “I’m aware of that, Admiral. But as the old philosophers said, when evidence and belief are in conflict, belief must change.”

“Quite a bit will change,” the Admiral replied, settling back. The missing hand that held the Captain’s report abruptly snapped into existence as the back of the Admiral’s head disappeared like a poorly executed split-screen effect in an old movie. “In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that very few aspects of life will remain unaffected if your ship’s log entries are correct.”

“They are correct, Admiral.”

“Make no mistake, Ree’Eer’Ak. When this is made public, every biology textbook will have to be rewritten. And it’s an open question how the major religions will accommodate this discovery, if they can accommodate it at all.”

The Captain leaned forward. Its body seemed to break in two, its proximal half sliding forward on its distal half. “Every word of every log entry is true, Admiral. What I and my crew documented is an accurate description of life on Earth. And we have brought back biological samples for study.”

“And ‘Earth’ is the name by which the inhabitants of Dellor 3 call their world?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“And the…” The Admiral referenced the report. “The ‘humans’ as well as all life on that world are…”

“Three dimensional,” said the Captain.

The Admiral leaned back further. Its head now seemed to vanish entirely. “It’s long been theorized that simple microscopic life might exist in three dimensions. But complex, higher life forms? That was always thought impossible. And you claim these humans are intelligent?”

“They are, Admiral. Their science is somewhat confused because their sensory organs can’t detect a fourth spatial dimension. For example, they imagined some strange and undetectable material called ‘dark matter’ existed to try to reconcile their 3-D perception of what is a 4-D spatial universe.”

“How do they appear?”

“They’re bipeds. They’re…it’s difficult to describe. They’re ‘flatter’ than we are.”

“And how do we appear to them?”

“Very unnerving. Parts of our ship and the crew are not visible to them. And the parts that are or are not visible change as we move. And their architecture is likewise limited to three dimensions meaning we can enter or exit what to them is a totally enclosed structure by simply walking around the walls. I’m glad we were able to make first contact without incident. To them, we must be terrifying.”

“And yet you conclude your log entry with the suggestion that we establish full diplomatic relations?”

“Yes, Admiral. As you noted, this will change who we are and how we perceive ourselves. And it will have the same effect on the human race. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of exploration? I believe we should extend the hand of friendship even if our new acquaintances can’t see it all at once.”

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Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Chandra Fourteen is an archaeological mystery. Not regarding its lost civilisation, nor the history of that civilisation. What everyone who encounters it becomes desperate to answer is why they did what they did.

Imagine a society at a pinnacle only dreamt of by man. Disease all-but banished, global peace established, a society turning itself toward furtherance of the physical, philosophical and spiritual sciences. A bright, beautiful world, geologically stabilised by a marvellous series of vents and pressor systems – that we still don’t understand – around their equivalents of the ‘Ring of Fire’.

That society has over ten thousand years of recorded history, showing parellels with humanity that cease when they nearly destroyed themselves in a global biowarfare holocaust. From that point it was as if they had gained something from the event that man has yet to realise. If the records found are complete, they never made war after that near-apocalypse.

Take time to mentally voyage across a world resembling the finest of climes that Earth has to offer, from sub tropical to frozen poles. See the artificial volcanoes that stabilise the world and allow a measure of weather control.

Now turn your gaze eastward, looking out across a gigantic ocean, seeing the peaks of the volcanoes like fenceposts stretching for hundreds of miles, then pause as you see that one of the ‘fenceposts’ has grown.

Impossibly tall, the vent installation at the centre of their greatest ocean stretches into orbit, a feat of engineering that has human engineers scanning it with a mix of glee, awe and despair.

How long it took to accomplish that feat is unknown. What followed took a lot longer, was far more difficult and infinitely more puzzling. This enlightened, advanced civilisation channelled it’s energies into putting the magma from the planet’s core into orbit.

It is insane to see this hollow sphere of barely ten-kilometre thick pumice, wrapped about a framework of a ceramic/metallic alloy that is still deemed impossible by our science. That sphere encases a dead planet, dead in a way never before encountered. They shut out the sun and, as far as can be ascertained, waited for one of the various lingering deaths to claim them. A monstrous, planetary suicide.

Professors Eppes and Rhodensteen have only one tenuous explanation, which is causing an uproar that looks to increase before it settles. It is based upon the one inscription on the atmosphere-piercing spire. At the top, plainly etched after the insane pyrospire ceased belching magma, is and inscription that translates as ‘We have become polluted/unclean’. From that, the learned Professors have drawn a conclusion: the society fell foul of mass delusion prompted by religious dogma.

When everyone has stopped screaming at each other, maybe we can return to looking for the truth – be it heretofore unexpected reason, or sad proof.

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