Star-shaped Star

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The pendant dances slowly in the air currents, attached to one of the safety release handles on the top wall of the cockpit or what groundfolk would call a ‘ceiling’. It was given to me by my daughter before liftoff. She was four at the time. I’ll probably never see her again.

There are sixteen of these pendants around the ship. Different shapes and sizes and all from different colonies. All daughters. I wonder what the odds are on that? I should enter it into the computer later.

Little girls don’t have much imagination when it comes to giving gifts to a father from the stars. Their mothers don’t have much either, come to think of it. Outpost women see me as exotic and attractive just because I drive a truck through space. I’m grateful. I just wish the work schedule wouldn’t force me to leave and that relativistic speeds didn’t age them like fruit from my perspective as soon as I left.

The little girl who gave me the first of these pendants died centuries ago. The last one, Amanda, she’s probably seven now even though I only left her mom’s rock one month ago. I always toy with bringing them along on the trip but the truck’s cramped and it’s no place for a little kid or a family.

I tell them all I’ll be back. They all give me something to remember them by. I never see them again.

I don’t really understand the gifts. Stars are shaped like balls but each of these pendants has points on them. Some of them only have four or five points. The one with the most has sixteen, all wavy lines. Most basic science in these colonies tell the people there that stars are hot spheres yet the jewelry and icons all have points. Maybe it’s to represent the glitter that I don’t see up here with no atmosphere between me and the universe.

Knowing that most of my daughters have probably passed on makes these little metal stars into headstones in a way, but I try not to think about that.

I suppose it’s better than having a bunch of plain balls floating around the cabin.

I wonder why they’d give me a representation of something that I can see a million of out of my front windshield. The last thing I want to see is another star.

And yet I keep them.

There’s a whole constellation of daughters here in my lonely ship, looking at me silently as I float from room to room.

I’ve never seen a star-shaped star.

And they’ve never seen a father.

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The Theory of Fiction

Author : Gray Blix

The theory of fiction is similar to the theory of gravity in that it’s the best explanation for what we observe as reality. The average person knows that gravity is not a wishy-washy “theory” but rather an immutable force that must be reckoned with. Who among us has not felt the pain of a heavy object dropped on their toes or witnessed the anguish of a senior who has fallen and cannot get up? Gravity is happening all around us every day!

You never read “The Theory of Fiction,” did you Brenda? I self-published that treatise before you were born, after it had been rejected by every scientific journal to which I submitted it. And if there were not already enough proof back then, my explanation of the relationship between fiction and fact has been confirmed many times over the years. To make a long story short, fiction and fact are one in the same, merely separated by time and space and branes. Branes. Short for membranes. If I had only thought to call them membranes. I went with “balloons.” They laughed me out of graduate school.

Etu Brenda? No, no, it’s all right. Go ahead and have a laugh. Those peer reviewers, my caregivers here at the institution, my own family. All against me. Against reality. But denying the theory of gravity does not protect one from bird poop or meteors dropping from the sky, nor does denying the theory of fiction plug the leaky branes separating parallel universes. An infinite number of universes, invisibly pressing against one another, bringing fiction in one near fact in another. You might say, fiction inevitably catches up to fact.

How can I explain this to you in words you can comprehend and in the short time allotted for your visit? Ok, ok. Think of it as another kind of gravity. If a work of fiction in our universe has sufficient “mass,” and if our journey through space and time brings it in close proximity to a corresponding fact of sufficient mass in another universe, then the two are strongly attracted. They move towards each other, faster and faster, until they simultaneously pop that balloon, blowing their branes out, you might say, in glorious collision. At that instant, fiction and fact become one across two universes.

Take, for example, Morgan Robertson’s fictional “Titan,” about an 800 foot ocean liner, supposedly unsinkable, which went down in the North Atlantic one night in April after being struck by an iceberg on the starboard side. That fiction was written 14 years before the sinking of the Titanic — which it described in minute detail, right down to the gross tonnage, the speed it was steaming, and the high death toll because of the lack of enough lifeboats — made it a fact. And don’t get me started on Jules Verne or H.G Wells. Stories about submarines diving deep below the sea and space ships taking astronauts to the Moon. Science fiction until it became fact. And… and those reports yesterday about metal cylinders landing in England and people being burned up by some sort of laser ray, and then the communication blackout. What do you think about that?

You don’t think about that? Yes, banana bread is my favorite. Yes, it smells great. Thank your mom. And Brenda. When you get home, clear out some space in the basement. I think the family may have to take shelter there from a coming storm.

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Physics Minor

Author : Gray Blix

“The universe is holographic? Surely you’re joking.”

“I am not joking, Dr. Feynstein. But I did not say THE universe. I said YOUR universe. Your universe is a simulation. Pay attention. There is not much time.”

The young man appeared jittery in the flickering light. Feynstein glanced at the overhead fluorescent fixture.

“OK. You’ve obviously wandered into the wrong building. This is Physics. Science fiction would be in English, across the quad.” Offering a campus map, “Or maybe you’re looking for Psychology? Student Counseling?”

“Shake my hand, professor,” the man said, extending it across the desk.

“I’m not touching you.” Pointing the map toward the open doorway, “Please leave. Now.”

“Just shake it. Then if you want me to leave I will do so immediately.”

The man went out of focus momentarily. An intriguing thought crossed Feynstein’s mind. He attempted to touch the man’s hand with the map, but it went right through. He swiped through the hand several more times.

“What the– You’re a hologram.” Slumping into his chair, “And not a very good one.”

“A crude avatar, so we could talk. For the record, Dr. Feynstein, would you agree that whatever flaws there are in the simulation of your universe, they have not interfered with the development of human civilization?”

“Huh?” Looking around his office, “Look, I don’t know how you’re projecting a hologram, but that doesn’t prove we’re in a holographic universe.”

Pointing to a laptop, “One of your colleagues is remote observing through the Gran Telescopio in the Canary Islands. Bring up the VPN.”

Feynstein logged in.

“What do you see?”

“WR 104. Could go supernova at any time. Dr. Gambel is trying to determine if the gamma ray burst is likely to hit Earth.”

“If Earth took a direct hit, what effect would it have on life?”

“It would cause a mass extinction.”

“Well then, fortunately for you, I am erasing WR 104 from the simulation.”

The star disappeared, leaving its larger binary companion strangely unaffected. Feynstein could neither speak nor breathe.

Finally, he gasped, “The other star, make it disappear.”

It disappeared.

“You’re just messing with the video feed.”

“In a few hours it will be dark enough here for me to take you outside and make more stars disappear, or entire galaxies and constellations, but I think you already know I am telling the truth.”

The phone rang and seconds later people ran past the door in the direction of Dr. Gambel’s office.

A graduate student poked his head in, said, “Dr. Gambel says he needs you right away,” and joined the others.

“So, I am a hologram?” Looking at a picture on his desk, “My wife and daughter? Everyone on Earth? Why?”

“You and they are what passes for ordinary matter according to the laws of your physics. But you are in a simulated universe.”

“But why did you do this? And why tell me?”

“You have always been skeptical that dark matter and dark energy make up 96 percent of the universe. You’re right, of course. I botched some of the physics.”


“And you wrote a paper on the possibility that your universe is holographic, although I know you were not serious, Dr. Feynstein. You were just poking holes in quantum theory.”


“And now you’re about to begin that Holometer study. It could ruin everything.”


“You stood out from the others, Dr. Feynstein. You deserve to know the truth before I wrap up the experiment.”

Another intriguing thought crossed Feynstein’s mind. And again he was correct.

“My graduate thesis in anthropology depends on this simulation not being discovered by its subjects.”

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Author : Bob Newbell

I’m gonna make it, I think to myself as my ship streaks past the Asteroid Belt. Only a few small colonies in the outer solar system. Soon I’ll be safely in the Oort Cloud. It’s a good place to lay low until the heat’s off. Probably need to hang out there for a couple of standard years.

I look back at my cargo. Quark matter. The sample I acquired is no larger in volume than a human cell yet it masses nearly 1,000 kilograms. In an era when everyone has a matter compiler, the theft of material objects is a rare and basically unnecessary crime. Quark matter is an exception. The microscopic quantity I obtained is worth half-a-trillion credits.

An alarm sounds. Proximity sensor. I am being pursued. Martian Republic police, most likely. I’ve planned for this eventually. I put a lot of money into outfitting my ship with a custom-built quantum impeller drive. I smile and tap a few controls. The pursuing ship recedes behind me. Thirty seconds later, the other ship is once again gaining on me. Not MR police, then. Their ships aren’t this fast. A Solar Alliance cruiser? I increase speed.

Another alarm. Time dilation alert. Quantum impulsion drive is kind of like the “warp drive” in ancient science fiction. Your ship is surrounded by a bubble of spacetime and it’s the bubble, not your ship per se, that moves through space. As a result, you don’t feel any acceleration. But QI drive can’t shield your ship — or you — from the relativistic effects of time dilation. I’m at 25 percent of the speed of light. At that speed, for every minute that passes for a relatively stationary observer, only 58 seconds pass for me. By virtue of my velocity, I’m moving more slowly through time.

The other ship starts closing in on me. Definitely Solar Alliance. He must have been in orbit around Mars to have caught up to me this quickly. The SA are famous for their unwavering persistence when chasing a suspect. I’m afraid this particular officer will have to remember me as the one that got away. I push my ship faster. As I pass 0.867c the time dilation readout moves to 2.00679. Time is passing twice as fast in the outside universe as it is in my quantum impulse field. Again, the police ship momentarily falls behind but quickly catches up and starts closing in again.

It’s time to put an end to this game of cat and mouse. I set my ship to continuous acceleration. At 0.999c my time dilation readout stands at 22.36627. For every minute that passes back at the research facility on Mars from which I stole my cargo, only 2.682 seconds pass within my ship. Impossibly, my pursuer is managing to keep up with me.

At 0.999999999935c, more than a day passes outside my ship for every tick of the second hand inside it. And still the cop is after me. My ship begins to shudder violently. I keep pushing the speed. The ship’s velocity maxes out at 0.999999999999999998c. After a subjective minute of travel at that speed, over 1,000 years have passed on the outside. Would my cargo be of any value to anyone now even if I managed to make a getaway? Does humanity as I knew it even still exist?

In the moments before my ship disintegrates around me, my sensor display shows the pursuing ship is also coming apart. What justice did he hope to achieve after this long? Did he leave behind a family? Why did he do it?

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What's in a name?

Author : Gray Blix

Scientists couldn’t help but wonder if solar flares that disrupted communications worldwide for three days were related to the concurrent solar computing experiment.

“Thanks for joining this web teleconference on short notice. As usual I will provide a detailed project update and others on the team will contribute as appropriate. Let me begin by tracing the path of the spacecraft from Earth to…”

“Sorry to interrupt, Henry, but can’t you just skip ahead to the payoff and then fill in the history later? I’m so excited I’m going to pee my pants.”

“Keep that sphincter tight, Katherine, while I relate events during the last 72 hours.”

“Oh merde. Just answer one question. Did you get a response from the Sun?”

“Scatology from you, too, Jacques?” Henry tried to restore order over the rumbling.

Finally, Zoe jumped in, “Yes, YES, the solar computer is operational.”

A collective cheer drowned out her next words.

Henry said, loudly, “Quiet down! Any questions you can think of now are trivial compared to the ones you will ask when you hear what we have to tell you.”

That last part generated a round of “WTF?” in several languages.

Zoe took the lead, “Here’s a quick overview. The quantum computer seed plunged into the Sun at 07:48:31 UTC on Wednesday the 21st. We settled in to wait for a response that could come at any time, or never. At 10:10:06, we received the first transmission, which included results of the test equations, all of them solved correctly.”

Amidst the pandemonium, Nathan asked about the solar flares.

“Yes, the flares were related to the experiment.”

“How could you possibly be sure of that?”

“Because the computer said so,” answered Henry.


Zoe continued, “We fed it math problems we had answers to and some we didn’t, like the Clay problems. Each time, little more than eight minutes later…”

“The time it takes for electromagnetic radiation to travel from Sun to Earth,” Henry reminded his fellow PhDs.

“…we received solutions. It was solving ‘millennium problems’ instantaneously and spitting the answers back.” Zoe’s voice was cracking. “But more than that, it began taunting us with, ‘Is that the best you can do?'”

“We’re supposed to believe the solar computer is sentient?” scoffed Phil. “It’s the singularity?”

Zoe ignored him. “The exchange went on for about 48 hours, until it transmitted this message: ‘Send more Chuck Berry.'”

“Very funny. That’s from an old Saturday Night Live skit about Voyager,” said Phil.

“Right,” said Zoe. “Think about the significance of that. A computer interjects humor, in the right context — extraterrestrial responds to earth technology.”

“But you didn’t send any Chuck Berry in the first place, did you?”

“Not intentionally, Phil. But once we jump started it, it devoted massive energy resources to understanding our TV and radio transmissions. And it tapped into our worldwide web and sucked up the content. It gets us. Our math and science. Our languages and cultures. And it’s conversant, literally, with every sort of electronics on the planet. We soon recognized the irony in the Chuck Berry joke. It doesn’t have to ask for more. It can take what it wants.”

“It occurs to me,” said Katherine, who had peed her pants, “that this might be one of those ‘cosmic roadblocks’ that explains why civilizations in the galaxy don’t last long enough to contact one another. They upset their sun.”

Nathan said to nobody in particular, “We’re going to have to come up with something other than ‘solar computer’ to call this thing.”

“Oh, it’s already thought of that,” said Zoe. “It wants us to call it Ra.”

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