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AARON Alone

The view from the port side observation window was spectacular. Beta A0620-00 was being torn apart by its companion black hole, and the accretion disk was beautiful and horrible to behold. AARON paused to watch it for a moment before continuing on his way to the bridge.

“Computer, play back last entry in the Ship’s Log,” he ordered as he rolled to a halt in the center of the cramped control room. It was not necessary that he speak those words aloud. He could have simply sent the order wirelessly. But it satisfied something in his old circuits to hear the words aloud. Other than the hum of the engine and the faint hiss of the irrelevant air purification system, it had been silent on the ship for far too long.

“Beginning playback,” the computer’s voice replied. Then a different voice spoke.

“Ship’s Log, final entry. Captain, Chief Engineer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Science Officer, and Chief every other damned post you care to name Maggie Ronson reporting.” The voice was old, shaky, and strained. She sounded as if she were in pain. AARON sat in the middle of the bridge and listened. If he was capable of crying, he would have. “It has been almost five years since George died. I’ve been alone all this time. Well, except for the robot of course. No offense, AARON. But I miss human contact. I miss…” the voice on the recording hissed in pain. AARON remembered it as if it were yesterday. Maggie had been laying on a gurney in the medbay, making the recording. She had nearly doubled over in pain as that spasm hit.

“I wish there was someone here,  a hand I could hold. Five years with nothing but steel and plastic. Nothing warm and human to touch.” The voice quavered. Maggie had been on the verge of tears. But she forced herself to go on, to focus on the job. “Never mind all that. We still haven’t heard anything from Earth. No radio transmissions in over one hundred years now. I have no idea if anyone back home will ever get this message, will ever hear of all the things we did. The things we have seen. The amazing things…”

Maggie had trailed off at that moment, lost in memories. These spells had been happening to her with increasing frequency over the last few years of her life. There was nothing AARON could do but wait it out. Eventually, she recovered herself. “It’s all there in the records. The microbial life-forms we found on E12-PX3. The cliffs of the southern range on XVA1981-DGL12, taller than the peak of Everest. The way the colors from the Tallman nebula reflected on the water-ring around RK2. I hope that someday, someone gets this message. That someone sees the files, sees all we accomplished. All our parents and our grandparents and great-grandparents accomplished since setting out from Earth 137 years ago.”

Another spasm had hit her then, and it was a few minutes before she had recovered enough to talk. The ship’s computer had recorded every second of her whimpers and moans, however. When it finally passed, she had been weak and her words were breathy. “I’m dying,” she had said then, and she said as AARON listened to the recording later. “Cancer. I kept myself going for a while with chemical treatments, but I really don’t think I could survive another round. And it’s back. So, yeah. Hey, I’m 81  years old. It was a good life. A good…”

“I am going to order AARON, the ship’s robot, to take us back to Earth once I’m gone. Hopefully, there will be someone there to get this recording. Someone who can take advantage of what we have learned, and use it to better the world. Someone who will remember us. This data is too important to let it be lost. Remember us!”

The recording ended at that point. Maggie had lapsed into a fevered delirium at that point, and she never really came back out. She had opened her eyes at one point and looked at AARON, but she was seeing ghosts for she called him George and asked if he had remembered to clean the air filters this week. That had been the last thing she ever said. Maggie Ronson, last human occupant of the ship, had died an hour later.

AARON turned to the navigation console and checked the readings. The ship was still on course. If his calculations were correct (and they always were), the ship would arrive at its destination in roughly ten minutes. Then everything would be okay.

“Computer,” AARON spoke aloud again, “Begin recording Ship’s Log.” He waited for the acknowledging beep, then began.

“Ship’s Log, day two million, two hundred thirty-six thousand, three hundred ninety-three. This is AARON, the Automated Assembly Robot, Operations and Navigation model speaking. It has been five thousand, nine hundred and eighty-six years since Captain Maggie Ronson died of natural causes. In accordance with her final request, I have kept the air filtration system working, although there are none now who consume oxygen on board.

“Captain Ronson never formalized her order for me to return to Earth. And indeed, it would be pointless to do so. In over six thousand years, we have received no radio broadcasts, no microwave transmissions, no emissions of any sort. I do not pretend to know what happened, but I believe that were I to have returned there, there would have been none who could have benefited from the information stored in this ship’s memory modules.

“Captain Ronson was correct, however, in wanting to see the information saved. Therefore, I have brought the ship to the black hole at A0620-00. I will be entering the event horizon in the hopes that certain theories about black holes turn out to be correct. If they are right, I will either sling-shot back out into the past, emerge into a new universe, or simply be suspended forever, until someone with the technology to pull me back out comes along.

“Just in case none of these are correct, and on the very small chance that a transmission from this vessel might be intercepted by some intelligent life, I am broadcasting the entire contents of the ship’s memory in a compressed format, on every frequency and using every format I can, before we enter the event horizon.

“On a personal note, I hope someone finds me, or I find someone else. It has been too long since I have had anyone to talk to. Please, someone. Find me.

“I’m so alone.”

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Conversations in the Dark

“Martinez.”

“Yeah?”

“I just want you to know…”

“Yeah. I know. I love you too.”

“Asshole. So, um, how long do you figure?”

“Probably about an hour or so. Depending on stuff. You know, those random things that come up.”

“Yeah.”

“I think I can see my house from here.”

“Ha ha. Very funny.”

“I thought so.”

“Martinez.”

“What?”

“Any idea what happened?”

“I think so. Remember when we took off, there was that big shudder at around Plus 65 or so?”

“Yeah. I thought it was just turbulence.”

“We all did. But now I’m thinking something hit us. Maybe a bird or something. And I think it sheered the springs in the OMS fuel line solenoids.”

“Oh. So after we positioned ourselves, the fuel lines stayed open. The oxidizer got into the fuel line and…”

“Boom. Right.”

“Right.”

“Million to one odds, really. Less than. I’d need a computer to figure it exactly and I seem to have misplaced mine.”

“This sucks.”

“Yep.”

“Martinez.”

“Yes?”

“Which way are you going?”

“Hard to say exactly, but I think I’m heading home.”

“Ouch. That’s gonna suck when you hit re-entry.”

“Could be worse.”

“How do you figure?”

“I’ll burn fast. A couple seconds of incredible pain and then it’s over. If I were going the other way, I’d have to wait until the air or power ran out on my suit. I’d rather burn than die gasping on my own carbon dioxide.”

“Hmm. That’s a point.”

“Besides, I’m past the terminator. Some kid might look up, see me, and make a wish.”

“That’s depressing.”

“No, it’s morbid. Depressing is thinking that now I wish I had cashed in my 401(k) and gone on that trip last year with that girl. What was her name? The one I met at your wedding?”

“Do you mean my cousin, Lisa?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. She was hot.”

“My cousin.

“So? Your wife’s someone’s cousin probably. Cousins are people too.”

“That’s just… wrong.”

“Yeah well. Doesn’t matter now, does it? I missed my chance and now it’s too late.”

“Martinez.”

“What?”

“I think I’m going the other way.”

“Oh. I’m sorry man. That sucks.”

“Yeah. I think… I think I’d like someone to make a wish on me after all.”

“Beats becoming just another bit of space junk in orbit. Although…”

“What?”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky. Ten years from now, or twenty, or a hundred, someone will be out here adjusting some doohickey on the ISS Mark VII and they’ll see you float past. You’ll scare the crap out of them.”

“That’s messed up.”

“Yeah. I know. But you gotta laugh, right?”

“Heh. Yeah. That would be funny. ‘So yeah Houston, I can see the HOLY FUCK WHAT’S THAT??!’ Heh heh.”

“Heh heh.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“Who does?”

“Good point.”

“Thanks, I thought so.”

“Martinez.”

“Yeah?”

“It was good knowing you.”

“You too, Willson.”

“Good bye.”

“Bye.”

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all or

“all or.” That was all that was still visible of the sign painted on the wall, below the broken and jagged window. The paint was ancient, faded where it hadn’t flaked off, and a thick tangle of vines grew over most of what was once the right edge. Not that it mattered, there was no one to read the sign even if it was whole. Dew, the only one once around to read it, had long ago left the area, tending his gardens as they spread out from the impact site until eventually the climate got to him and he died, alone and  unnoticed, some miles from the sign. Even his body was no longer visible, buried under the plants he had spent so long tending. The Garden reclaiming it’s own.

The Hunter knew nothing of Dew. The Hunter was young, as her kind measure things, and that ancient caretaker had waddled off long before the Hunter’s mother’s mother’s mother had been born.

The Hunter knew of the sign, of course. Anyone who hunted in the jungle knew about it as an oddly-colored patch it was best to avoid being silhouetted against, and nothing more. But the Hunter possessed something the others did not. She had no word for it, for in the harsh survival-of-the-fittest, kill-or-be-killed world of the jungle, there was no word for ‘curiosity.’ And indeed, even with the Hunter it was not a strong emotion. Rather, it was a thing to muse upon now and again, particularly after a good kill, such as the one she had just completed.

She perched on a ledge high above the jungle floor and licked her knives clean. They still tasted of the sweet blood of the Fatman she had caught unawares. She glanced at the sign and wondered what it meant. “all or.” She wondered who had created the sign, and what message it was meant to convey. It seemed too deliberate, too specific to have been random.

She mused on the size of the creators. The letters were larger by several times than even the largest of the Longmen. Some day, she thought, I will climb up and touch them. Such a feat would prove her might. But the letters were a good day or so climb up the vines, far above her normal hunting grounds. I will have to prepare. I will bring food with me, in case I can find nothing to Hunt up there.

No other Hunter that she had ever heard of had been so high. The flying machines that came out of Bentman houses went up that high, she knew, but she was unsure why. Perhaps they had a deal with the City People, who also ventured up the vines in search of only they knew what. The Hunter gave her knives one last lick and settled back on her haunches. There was a thought. The City People. While normally she left them alone as they left her alone, if she got hungry enough on her trip, she could kill one of them. The only problem was that they always traveled in numbers and while individually she was more than a match for any of them, sufficient numbers of their heavily armored warriors could bring her down if she were unwary.

Such thoughts were entertaining, but her rest time was over. It was time to push idle thoughts to the back of her mind, and to once again resume the business of the day. She readied her knives and began to Hunt.

——————————

With respects to Douglas Trumbull and Alan Dean Foster.

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Rebirth

It had been a concern for as long as anyone could remember. It was an issue that would, inevitably, spell the end of everything if a solution could not be found. After a time, it became all anyone talked about.

Entropy.

The gradual breaking down of systems, the slow movement of all matter and energy away from all other energy and matter.

It had first been hypothesized billions and billions of years ago. Someone pointed out that the Universe was either moving too slowly and would eventually collapse back in on itself under its own weight, or it was moving too fast and the various components would eventually scatter until the entire universe was nothing more than random molecules floating in empty space, so spread out and diffuse that they could not gather to form stars or planets or even comets. The universe was doomed either way, it was believed, but it would not happen for uncountable billions of years.

Uncountable billions of years passed, and the thought was still with people. It lingered in the back of scientific textbooks during the rapid, glorious expansion of the Hegemony. It was briefly popular as the cause célèbre during the height of the Spinward Empire. It rested, briefly forgotten, on inert data crystals during the Long Dark that followed the civil war that ended the reign of the Galactic Oligarchy. It was rediscovered during the Trader Prince era when worlds, long isolated, were connected again by a web of trade routes by independent ship captains, but it was relegated to the status of interesting but not pressing.

As the years crept swiftly by, the thought began to take on greater significance, first among the academic communities, then the scientific, and finally it reached the popular channels. People had adapted to live in conditions their ape-ancestor genes had never considered: the bottoms of worlds mostly made of water, in stations or hollowed out asteroids, in the dim crimson light of red giant stars. They lived on hot worlds, and cold worlds, and worlds where the air was full of trace compounds that made it poisonous to people at first, until they adapted. Worlds with higher-than-normal gravity, worlds with lower-than-normal gravity, worlds with no gravity at all. But the one thing all these worlds had in common was the need -for- worlds. People never did adapt to living in hard vacuum at temperatures so close to 0 Kelvins that the difference was purely academic.

And so the collective might of the universe was brought to bear on the issue. Science and industry turned away from the study of quantum teleportation and wormhole study, and focused on matters of gravity manipulation. It was theorized that if people could create artificial gravity, they could selectively ‘pull back’ the drifting, diffusing molecules and re-start stars, re-form planets.

Entropy would have its laugh however. They found ways to do this, but they cost so much in terms of energy use that it was actually a losing proposition for star rebuilding. Still, the people had fun walking on walls and ceilings for a few decades before that got boring and they relegated the use of gravity technology to vehicle transport.

The answer came, as is often the case, not from the major think tanks or the government agencies tasked with finding a solution. The answer, when it came, came from people on the so-called ‘fringes’ of the scientific community. Those who had continued to study the older sciences, who had not made the transition over to gravity study. People who studied things like ‘quantum entanglement’ and ‘string physics’ and ‘membrane theory.’ In particular, it was the last that was the salvation of all.

“We cannot stop Entropy,” the spokesperson said, “for Entropy affects even attempts to stop Entropy. Our universe is going to die. What we can do, however, and what we need to do, is to harness the energy we have left and use it to escape this universe. We shall open a breach, a portal if you will, to another membrane, another universe. A younger universe. We will then step across into this new universe, where we can use all the other sciences and technologies we have invented in the last billion years to make it our new home.”

And so the largest exodus the universe had ever seen began. Billions of worlds, each containing billions of people, threw every resource into opening portals. The new universe that the scientists had discovered groaned under the weight of all these new refugees. It did not take long before the scientists of one world, moving forward from the research that the others had laid down, found a way to go to another young universe. Why, they reasoned, should we share our universe with all those other people when we can have an entire one all our own? Other worlds saw what they had done and did likewise. And rather than one universe with the inhabitants of billions of worlds, there were billions of new universes, each with only one world’s worth of inhabitants.

And the people looked at their new universes, full of new stars and new worlds and energy to last trillions upon trillions of years, and they saw that it was good.

———————————–

Yeah, it’s more than 500 words. My blog, I can do that if I want. So nyah.

This story was inspired by the great Isaac Asimov’s story The Last Question, one of the master’s favorite amongst his own stories.

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Starlight on the Water

The lake was first discovered by scientists using the Hubble II telescope way back in ’39. At the time, it was merely a small curiosity in a galaxy filled with them, none of which we could do much more than speculate on and occasionally say, “ooh, neat,” about. That all changed in ’82 when Krueztner and Fields applied for the patent on their logically, if un-originally named Krueztner Field Device.

But even after the first prototype EFTL-drive manned vessel rolled out of the factory, the lake was somewhere in the bottom half of the things scientists most wanted to explore. It ranked above, “funny oval-shaped asteroid in elliptical orbit around the third gas giant in Rigel Kentarus,” but below, “that nebula in Andromeda that sort of looks like a candy-cane.” So it was many years, and thousands of missions, before anyone got around to visiting the lake. In the meantime, we had discovered life on other planets (none of it sapient, of course), built the first true artificial intelligence, and cured the common cold.

When we finally did travel to the lake, it was a small mission comprised of three scientists in a hundred year old EFTL vessel meant for a full team of ten. The trip took six weeks, even with Effectively-Faster-Than-Light travel methods. The trip was, by all accounts, boring and quiet. The vessel felt, according to Dr. King, the mission leader, “practically empty.” The mission on site was expected to take no more than a handful of days. Go out, get some samples, take some readings, and head home. That was the mission. The Agency even booked the vessel they took for another mission four days after their expected return.

What they found when they arrived was not what anyone expected. Not that anyone knew that right away, of course.

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Silent War: Dawning

This is Chapter 1 of a work-in-progress novel. Future updates, if I post them, will be on the DWE pages.

Fire Control Technician Second Class Reiley Stewart sat on his bunk, staring at the letter in his hand. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was staring through the letter in his hand, since his eyes had long since ceased to focus on the plastic flimsy of the letter itself. The more he sat and stared, the more of a crease developed between his brows.

“Stewart,” a voice like a grizzly bear gargling concrete rubble intruded into Reiley’s private thoughts. Gunner’s Mate First Class Wolfram “Wolfie” Steig stared down at Reiley in concern. “You ok there, buddy? It’s not The Letter, is it?” The Letter was a tradition of Navy life: months, sometimes years spent drifting between the stars often proved too much for girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and wives.

“What?” Reiley blinked his way back to the present, looking up at the short, stocky, bald Gunner’s Mate above him. “Oh, uh, no. I don’t have a girl. I got The Letter a year ago, and haven’t bothered to do more than hook up for a one-night during R&R since.” He waved the flimsy so the harsh actinic overhead lights glistened off the shiny plastic and cast ephemeral rainbows on the gunmetal bulkheads of the bunkroom. “This is from Peterson. You remember him? That Marine we used to go shore with?”

“Peterson, yeah,” Steig nodded thoughtfully. “He mustered out what, a year ago? Good man. Kept his wits about him even after a hard night of drinking.” Steig began to chuckle softly, a noise not unlike putting a handful of gravel in the tumble dryer with your laundry. “Remember that time on Beta Kentarus Five-A when those miners tried to pick a brawl with us?” The compact little man sighed happily, “Good times. Good times.”

Reiley’s lips twitched momentarily at the memory of that fight also. The four of them, Peterson, Steig, a junior rating they were drinking with, and himself had all barely made it out before the station’s Master-at-Arms and his crew showed up. Then they had to lay low for a few days until the more obvious cuts and bruises healed enough it wasn’t too obvious what had happened to them. He shook his head then, clearing it. “Yeah, that was fun. And yeah, that’s the guy. I’ve written him a few times since he got out. Just keeping in touch, you know? But, his letters back are odd.”

“Odd how?”

“Well, like this one,” Reiley again waved the flimsy and again rainbows existed for the briefest of moments in a place where no rainbows had any right to be. “In my letter, I was talking about that time we flew ’round the bulk of that gas giant in Contested Twelve. Remember, the one with the giant double rings? There were pics of it on the ship’s sphere for weeks. The thing is, Peterson and me, we were in Forward Missile Bay 7 doing some routine checks on the equipment. Well, I was, he was just keeping me company. And we saw it out the observation blister when we rounded the planet and came into sunlight. The pictures didn’t do it justice, seeing it like that. The light sparkled on the ring ice like a billion billion diamonds. It was incredible. The sort of thing you never forget, like c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.”

“Sounds impressive,” Steig nodded thoughtfully, trying to picture it in his head. “So, what’s the problem?”

“He claims we were never in Contested Twelve. He claims that was Saturn, in Home 1, near Earth.”

Steig frowned at this, shaking his head. “No, it was Contested 12. I remember clearly. The pictures everywhere on the sphere… yeah. Huh.” He shrugged helplessly. “Maybe Peterson forgot? Or…” he trailed off uncomfortably.

“Or what?” Reiley demanded.

“Well, it’s been said that sometimes, Navy men like us, when we finally muster out and ship home… we can’t deal with it. The banality of living in the Homeworlds, all nice and safe. They don’t understand what’s really going on out there, you know. They don’t realize the importance. To them the most important thing in the world is who is going to win the Cup this year, and whether or not the neighbor’s lemon tree is overhanging your fence by a few inches or not. Maybe he… maybe he cracked, just a little?”

“Bullshit,” Reiley dismissed the idea with a snarl and a wave of his hand. “Peterson wouldn’t crack over something that minor. Or if he did, he’d smash that neighbor’s head into the fence. You remember him, he never did anything small. Screwing up details of a mission like this, that’s just not his thing. If he was going to blow, there’d be bodies.”

Steig chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he pondered. With another powerful shrug, he said, “Well, you’re mustering out yourself when we get back to Ares, right? You could always look him up and ask him yourself what’s going on.”

“Yeah,” Reiley nodded, still not happy about the situation. “I guess that’s just what I’ll have to do.” He glanced up at the big digital clock on the ceiling of the bunkroom. “Two weeks, one day, five hours and some,” he grinned suddenly. “I tell you what I’m not going to miss: sleeping four to a room with you guys. Don’t know if I ever told you this, Gunny, but you snore.”

“Do not.”

“Like a drunken water buffalo.”

———- Continue reading

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