The T-Shirt from the Future: A Short Short Story

Time travel cube

Someone nudged my shoulder, stirring me from deep sleep. “Wake up, grandpa,” said an unfamiliar voice. Grandpa? Who’s that? I opened my eyes to see a young woman, dressed in black, looking back at me. Her face was brown, and her eyes looked like deep pools of water.

She smiled. Nothing in twenty-plus years of teaching could have prepared me for this, I thought. I looked around, trying to find my cell phone, without success. Nothing here was like anything I’d seen before. Small lights, like fireflies, circled us in the darkness.

“I know it’s confusing to be called ‘grandpa,'” she said, answering a question I had not yet had the chance to ask. “This is, well, complicated.” Her voice sounded excited, even though she was speaking softly. She reminded me of teachers new to the profession, positively bursting with new ideas, and looking forward, enthusiastically, to the new school year ahead. 

“It would have to be complicated,” I mumbled. Sleep was fading as I rubbed my eyes, trying to see where I was. A light came on, but it was unclear where the lightbulbs were. We were alone, inside a blue and white cube. The cube slowly moved, but its direction kept changing. “What am I doing here? Where’s my wife? Where am I, and who are you?”

“So many questions! I expected that, though. I will explain what I can.”

“That’s good, because . . . .”

“Please don’t interrupt,” she said. I stopped talking, but did not stop thinking. It appeared to be time to listen, not talk. “Thank you,” my alleged granddaughter continued. “In order, here are the answers to your questions. First, you are here for an important conversation. Second, your wife is peacefully sleeping. Third and fourth, you’re in my time-travel cube, and my name is Xiahong Al-Nasr. Technically, you’re my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but . . . .” I raised my hand to ask a question, as if I were in class myself. She shook her head, and continued, “. . . I’ve always thought of you as, simply, ‘grandpa.’ It’s a time-saver. May I continue explaining why we are here, or can your question wait?”

I thought fast. What should I say next? There was only one logical response. “I’ll listen,” I replied, and put my hand back down.

“You’re about to go back to school,” she said, “and you’re the teacher. It’s important that you understand why you are doing what you do, this year, above all others.” This reminded me of advice I’d heard before, but this time I was listening as if I were hearing for the first time.

This woman’s name, Xiaohong Al-Nasr, combined a Chinese given name with an Arabic surname. I hoped she would explain how that had happened.

“You’re wondering about my name,” she said. I swallowed, and nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak. “I’m from the 23rd Century,” she continued. “Nearly everyone where I work and learn, including me, has DNA from every continent on Earth. I’ve also got a little from off-world colonies, but I’m 100% human, just as you are. I was given my name by all of my parents.” She paused. Her gaze was locked to my own. “I’ve been authorized to tell you that much, but I have to be careful about revealing more, to prevent altering the timestream. Do you believe me?”

“If you know anything about me, you know that I teach science, as well as other subjects.” It was a relief to finally have my turn to speak. My alleged descendant, Xiaohong, was listening to me now. Finally! “You’ve either studied me, somehow, or you’re reading my mind, or it’s something else even more complicated, but you seem to know what I know. You must know, then, that scientists are trained to be skeptical. Everything has to have evidence to support it. In science, there is no higher authority than experiment.”

“I understand that, grandpa. We knew you would need evidence, so I do have a gift for you. It’s a t-shirt. You like t-shirts, after all.” Xiaohong smiled, and removed a small capsule from her pocket, no larger than a quarter. She opened it, and — somehow — pulled a full-size t-shirt from that impossibly small place.

t-shirt

I took the t-shirt from my descendant. Touching it was, well, real! I turned it over. It said “Go Bears!” on the back. Even if I believed her, though, I knew I would need more than just a t-shirt to convince anyone else. After all, time travel to the past was considered impossible by every scientist I had studied. Quickly, I did the arithmetic, using the year on the shirt. “That’s the year I would turn 300 years old, if I could live that long!” I was now catching Xiaohong’s excitement. “Clearly, Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws apply here, as does the Sagan Standard, Feynman’s First Principle, the grandfather paradox, and — and — and — the entire scientific method!”

“You’re absolutely correct, and it will be important for your students to understand all those things as well.” She was right; these are all things I talked about in science class, every year. This year, though, I can try to explain them differently, or perhaps have my students research them, and then have the students explain them to my class. Correction: my classes. My students. All of them.

Something fell into place in my mind at that moment, and I finally understood what was going on. It wasn’t my own accomplishments that had brought my descendant back in time to visit me, but the unknown creations of a student of mine — from the school year about to begin. Xiaohong smiled.

“You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?” She was asking a question, and, this time, I had the answer.

“Yes. You came back through time to refocus my attention to my own true purpose in the classroom. My job is to help my students learn to do great things. It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Xiaohong’s smile grew larger. I continued. “This school year is critical. This is true of all school years, in fact. Each year is both important, and urgent. In every school, and for every student, we must always do our best to learn — together.”

Xiaohong extended her hand, and received a firm handshake from me. “Now that you know the truth, grandpa, our work here is finished. You’ll wake up in the morning, in bed with your sleeping wife, and after that, you’ll find your t-shirt, in the dryer, at home. I have to go, though; I’m needed back in the 23rd Century. After all, I have my own classes to teach, quite soon, at our Time Travel Academy, where I got your t-shirt. Goodbye, and have a great school year! I know I will, as I continue my training to become a teacher myself.”

“I will do that,” I replied. “Thank you so much! As for this evidence you’ve given me, I know how I’ll handle that. I will let the students evaluate it, with help from me, on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

“Exactly,” Xiaohong said, and then she spoke to the ceiling of her time travel cube. “Send us both back to where we were — now.” A humming sound started, then became louder. The lights began to dim. After a few minutes, everything faded to darkness, and silence, once more.

When I awoke, home again, I checked the dryer, and found it — my t-shirt from the future — waiting for me. This school year will be amazing!

When We Build Our Dyson Sphere, Let’s Not Use Enneagonal Antiprisms

Before an undertaking as great as building a Dyson Sphere, it’s a good idea to plan ahead first. This rotating image shows what my plan for an enneagonal-antiprism-based Dyson Sphere looked like, at the hemisphere stage. At this point, the best I could hope for is was three-fold dihedral symmetry.

Augmented 9- Antiprism

I didn’t get what I was hoping for, but only ended up with plain old three-fold polar symmetry, once my Dyson Sphere plan got at far as it could go without the unit enneagonal antiprisms running into each other. Polyhedra-obsessives tend to also be symmetry-obsessives, and this just isn’t good enough for me.

Augmented 9- Antiprism complete

If we filled in the gaps by creating the convex hull of the above complex of enneagonal antiprisms, in order to capture all the sun’s energy (and make our Dyson Sphere harder to see from outside it), here’s what this would look like, in false color (the real thing would be black) — and the convex hull of this Dyson Sphere design, in my opinion, especially when colored by number of sides per face, really reveals how bad an idea it would be to build our Dyson sphere in this way.

Dyson Sphere Convex hull

We could find ourselves laughed out of the Galactic Alliance if we built such a low-order-of-symmetry Dyson Sphere — so, please, don’t do it. On the other hand, please also stay away from geodesic spheres or their duals, the polyhedra which resemble fullerenes, for we certainly don’t want our Dyson Sphere looking like all the rest of them. We need to find something better, before construction begins. Perhaps a snub dodecahedron? But, if we use a chiral polyhedron, how do we decide which enantiomer to use?

[All three images of my not-good-enough Dyson Sphere plan were created using Stella 4d, which you can get for yourself at this website.]

Initial Transmission After Arrival, from the First Automated Spacecraft from the Pluto/Charon System, “Wizonn Shore,” to Visit the Mysterious Planet Earth, Surrounded by Its Atmosphere of High-Pressure Nitrogen (and Toxic Oxygen) High-Temperature Vapors

[Source: This is the lead story in the most recent issue of The Charon Space Central Daily, published electronically every 6th or 7th Earth day, since Pluto’s day lasts almost as long as our week. I simply translated it into English, after I intercepted the transmission, so that at least some other humans can read it.]

Earth is the most massive of the inner rocky planets, with the mass of 459 plutos, according to the most accurate measurements relayed so far by Wizonn Shore, in recent days, on the robotic spacecraft’s approach to the giant rocky world. Earth’s radius, 5.5 times that of Pluto, gives it a volume of about 160 plutos, so it is almost three times as dense as either of our homeworlds. Its surface area, as the largest rocky body in the solar system, is almost 23 times greater than that of Pluto and Charon combined. However, as this chart shows, much of Earth’s surface is covered with deadly oceans, utterly useless for any form of life as it evolved in the Pluto / Charon system. These enormous accumulations of liquid dihydrogen monoxide are the largest yet discovered anywhere, so incredibly hot (averaging ~300 kelvins) that, at Earth’s high atmospheric pressure, that compound exists as a freely-flowing, highly-reactive liquid covering over 70% of earth’s surface, except for rare areas where it is frozen, mostly near the poles and/or at the top of Earth’s taller mountains. Unfortunately, 300 kelvins is about seven times what natives of Pluto, Charon, or our colonies are used to, in terms of temperatures above absolute zero, so Earth is believed by most scientists to hold no potential for colonization.

It was this high temperature that prevented exploration of the inner solar system’s rocky planets — until recent developments in high-temperature adaptive technology made it possible for us to begin our exploration of the inner solar system, breaking the previously-inviolable heat-barrier at the asteroid belt, and sending our now more heat-resistant spacecraft into the previously “forbidden” region — first, Mars, which has been studied already with two separate mission; and now, finally, Earth. The exploration of Venus and Mercury by robot craft, however, at least for now, awaits further improvements in heat-resistant materials science.

 

The first surface-reconnaissance rover, similar to those used on Mars, was sent to a place with relatively low large-alien population density, as estimated by artificial light-output from different parts of the land surface, during Earth’s night. However, of course, its landing position had to be somewhere in the 29.2% of Earth’s surface not covered with oceans — for a rover landing in liquid dihydrogen monoxide would instantly be destroyed, as it sank to ever-more-crushing pressures in a hot liquid often called, on decoded Earth voice-transmissions, “water.” On both Pluto and Charon, in all laboratory experiments, this dangerous “water” has quickly rendered inert any electronic components — of anything — to which it is exposed. (Indeed, this, as well as the numerous deaths which resulted, was the reason that such “water” experiments have largely been abandoned, except by Earth-colonization advocates who have, a few admit, no good answers to the questions about Earth already being inhabited, nor how to deal with the toxic oxygen gas making up nearly one-fifth of Earth’s atmosphere.)

Despite the care given to choosing a landing-spot, this was still the first and only image sent before our spacecraft’s first rover was unexpectedly deactivated, for unknown reasons. These reasons are suspected to be related to the strange, pink alien creature dominating the image, although that is, at this point, speculation.

With data transmissions from the first landing probe ceased, Pluto/Charon’s automated spacecraft Wizonn Shore, launched from Charon eight years ago, continues to take pictures, from Earth-orbit, as fast as it can, while waiting on instructions from Charon Space Central regarding when to risk launching a second landing rover. Transmission of the images taken from orbit is a secondary priority to actually taking the pictures, as is happening now, so our news services do not yet have images of Earth of any higher resolutions than those already sent as Wizonn Shore approached Earth over the last few weeks.

While there has been some speculation in the press that the alien pictured in the one image sent from Earth might be the dominant species on Earth, that is not supported by visual transmissions decoded in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum, most of which depict the activity of a relatively hairless biped which compensates for its nudity, for reasons unknown, by covering itself with “clothes,” the buying and selling of which is, judging from the transmissions we have decoded so far, a major activity for Earth’s bipedal inhabitants.

It is these mysterious bipeds, and their activity as observed by our own devices, which all of Pluto, Charon, and our colonies on the outer moons are waiting to see images of, as taken by Wizonn Shore. Will it match what they beam out in all directions, using radio waves, with what seems to be careless abandon — or will the “as seen on TV” version of Earth prove to be an elaborate deception, on the part of Earth’s inhabitants?

Of course, the computers processing these images do not care about our collective frustration, and so we continue to wait. Might “clothes” be adopted only at a certain age by Earth’s dominant bipeds? Might that single, naked, pink-skinned alien, photographed by our short-lived landing-rover, simply be an immature form of the same species? At this time, those questions, and more, remain open.

Firstflight, Lastflight (an illustrated short story)

Making show never did prize me when soberfied, but that undescribed me that day, and, for that mistake, payment was failsafely, fullwise, and painly made. Tranqued with Euphenol, selfbought at the official dispensing-machine on Convenience Corner, right after worktime, methought melooked mighty brave strolling wrongway homewise on my hands, feet toepointed at the otherseyes, down a steel walkway crowded with those farmore sensehaving, so neither of my LifeLine© MagnetShoes touched metal, but as soon as Unitility’s gravsynths fritzed surprising, I felt notimpressive, floating rapidly away from the crowd.

Weightlessness bit me mid-handspring, and sent me flying, but I was too headspun to realize predicamental situation until my homehalf of our Megalopolis already could be seen in entireness, several deathfalls away. Soon my home fragment of ShatteredEarth looked only littlemuch bigger than neighbor skyrocks, and the cities otherfolk in othercities had built on them, as our own beforefolk had built Megalopolis. Wheezing suddenly brought meself realizing: the thinning air would set me freesome if Unitility’s repairs took much longer. Time passed, and bleakness grew as hope thinned. I watched Megalopolis, overcrowded skyrock of ours, rotate in the . . . or was it me rotating? I couldn’t figure out how to tell, and this added “headache” to growing problemlist.

Augmented Convex hull

My bubble of air biggifying as it bled away spacewise I could see, for this bubble was debrislittered, spaced evenish out here, but more crowded nearer our skyrock — paper, waterblobs, cloudpuffs, disoriented pigeons, half-eaten McFood left behind — but no other people out in the thinning bubble, just my sad self, now far away from safeness anykind. Apparently Euphenol overleaped me earlier, and, thus obliviated, I ended up the only fool I could see with sufficient maltimed stupidity to fall off the world. Most got away in shuttles , justvisible and receding to vanishment, or simply stayed inside the cubicles in our towers to safely outwait events, while a few on the surface I could only barelysee, with muchwise squinting. Each flailed arms, but all safely stuck to home skyrock by safety magnets at their feet. Unitility blackouts never lasted overlong, especially for gravservice; they’d likely live, not being me that day, for the air stayed thicker nearer to our skyrock, leaking only slowly from its insulasafed towers.

Luck having clearwise left me, my flightpath then entered the last raincloud in the thinning Megalopolis atmosphere, and instantly drenched I startled, from ends of my floating hair to toestips, moisture entering even my feetboots with their nowuseless safetymagnets that seemednow mocking me. It was frigid inside the cloud, and I watched in sockhorror as the water on my hand start freezing, ice spreading over my skin and standardissue clothiform, at about a centimeters per heartbeat, from multiple locations. Even though I wasn’t speaking, mouthchatter quicklike so bad made me fear teethcracks from the constantlike repeated impactstrikings. Remembering last dental torture-session determined me not to endure that level of pain while in my likely lastseconds, so clenched my teeth together determined, hardwise, to stopchatter, and this worked. At least one thing was on path, myway, now.

Not long, though. Leaving the cloud on the otherside, pressuregrowing inside me forced mouth fullopen, and more air than I knew I had speedily left, from both lungbottoms, up allway. I could hear bubbling from somewhere inside, wondered what and exactly where it was, then deciding not to know indeed was the better. Dental painmemories were now distanced as new pain eclipsed it hereandnow, from the vacuum conditions approaching. Newpain competed with growing dizzisorientation from samecause. Closed my eyes, notwishing seeing.

Suddenrealizing closing eyes seriously mistaken, started vomitmuch, then realized eyes were frozenshut while finishing uneating afterlunch’s, then lunch’s, then wakefast’s McFood. Panicked clawing at eyes quickly got one open partwise. It was enough permitting seeing, but liking what seen not happened. Big, bulging silver eye was growing towards me full of quickness, already filling most all of what I could see. It had iris lavished every color everseen and some hadn’t before, and the pupil, while small, clearly pointed in no other direction than me. Could an eye that large see all people? Surely, but at that moment its focus was clearly on me, leaving others forgotten for what moments remained of my consciousness. I shook my head, and the illusion was shattered; I thensaw what it had morphed from, which was the thing we still called the Moon, full bright now. Why did we still call it the Moon, I wondered, since the known pieces of ShatteredEarth now orbited it, not otherway aroundwise?

Coldifying broke as sudden heat grew backside my head, diverting focus from the Moon and all the skyrocks closeful enough to seeing. Turning around freefalling not close to easy, but I did it — was by swimming-motions against what air remained, making seen the heatsource: the Sunstar, unaffected by lastcentury’s Earthshatter. Sunstar then grewsize, as fading consciousness sent hallucinavision back myway, until the morphing orb grew even larger than my previous Moon-based vision of One Big Eye staring at onlyme. As I thought these weirdthoughts, the sun started changing its appearance, growing eyes everyway around.

Snub Dodeca

Feelinglike unexpectedly challenged, but voiceless with breathloss, I could but headshout at what I saw, but did so loudlymuch, enough to deafen a t’path, had one unlucked near: Die! Die! Die! I can stare anyone down! For a moment, triumph filled me as my headshouting seemlyworked — the sun greyed out, and then vanished altogether. I saw nothingness! The Sunstar itself was defeated!

No, idiot, you just selfblinded, staring at the Sunstar!  This thought, my most rational of allday, made me attempt screamreacting, but the mere wisps of air remaining were not enough to allow sonics from my effort. All I selfgained was an increase in the bodywide painstabbings, to levels I never knew everhappened.

In the darkness, another eye appeared, like the ones I had seen on the Sunstar, but based on nothing but rememberings now, since I could see nothingcept. There were changing swirlsparks everywhere within it, timed precisely with the growing pounding from within my skull and chest. Panic didn’t happen, but only because of the dizzycalm which sometimes happens from lackoxy. I got lost wondering what a headpop might feel like. Would I just puff away, like a candleblown, or would I painfully feel the bursting of each nerve and blood vessel? Detachment was now extreme, muchso that I carednot which. The eye got nearmuch, so that I should have been able to reachtouch the pupil, but my arms weren’t listening to brainorders to move. I fell then, tumbling, into eyecenter, a pupil far wider than my own height.

My contactmoment with its cornea’s thickslime covering provoked a spasm of the entire eye, scaring me to new levels. Meter-thick eyelids rushed toward me from twindirections opposite. My last heartbeat was deafening, in literality — I heard nothing more. Time remained for only a silent finalthought. What a way to lose a staring contest: death by Sunblink —

# # #

[The images above were made with Stella 4d, available here. Geometer’s Sketchpad and MS-Paint were also used, as well as a background image, which I altered, from this website.]

Important Safety Guidelines from Your Gravity Company, GravCorp, Inc.

floating-people-068

Please read these safety guidelines carefully. Also, we recommend displaying them prominently, securely fastened to the sturdiest wall in your home, in the event that your gravitational service is ever shut off for non-payment of your GravCorp gravity bill.

Because your friends at GravCorp care about you and your family’s safety, GravCorp will never shut your gravity off abrupty, but does so gradually, over the 24-hour period following the end of the shut-off date (prominently printed in red, bold type) on your gravity shut-off notice. It is best to evacuate early during this period. [Tip:  when you notice that you weigh noticeably less than you did the day before, that is your signal to leave.] We are not responsible for anything that happens if you fail to heed this advice, but we do have some safety guidelines to help those who, through no fault of ours, fail to leave their homes in a timely manner.

Once gravity shut-off is complete, if you are still inside your home, follow these safety rules carefully:

1. Be certain to keep moving at all times. Stationary humans have been known to die from lack of oxygen in the absence of gravity, due to the buildup of a spherical cloud of exhaled carbon dioxide, centered in the region of their mouths and noses. If you still have electrical service while your gravity is shut off, however, you can also avoid this danger by turning on all the electric fans in your home, such as the ceiling fan in the picture above. 

2. Should you choose to go outside, exercise extreme caution to avoid serious accidents (most of which are likely to be fatal). If you still have telephone or Internet service, we recommend paying your past due GravCorp account balance (plus the $135 reconnect fee) by phone or Internet, from inside your home.

3. Keep all liquids inside containers, for inhalation of even part of a floating ball of water, or other liquid, can cause death by drowning.  [Tip:  don’t forget to seal all toilets — both bowl and tank — using approved, waterproof sealing methods and materials.]

4. Act quickly to pay your past due bill, plus the $135 reconnect fee, or have a pressure suit on and pressurized, for the air above you is already beginning to escape into space.

5. Remain calm, do not panic, and consider setting up automatic bank drafts to pay your gravity bill, effortlessly, each month. It’s convenient, safe, and saves you money on postage. (An annual $3.14 convenience fee will be charged to your GravCorp account, on or near July 1st each year, for this optional service.)

 

[Image credit:  The picture above was found at http://www.thedistractionnetwork.com/going-to-bed/.]

My Four Favorite Authors

favorite authors

Whenever people ask me to name my favorite author, I always have to ask them to be more specific, for I cannot bring myself to choose just one. If gender is specified, and either fiction or non-fiction is, as well, then I am able to choose a favorite author in each of the resulting four categories.

My two favorite writers of fiction, Flannery O’Connor and Robert A. Heinlein, are shown at the top. Flannery O’Conner was often described as a Southern gothic writer with an excellent ability to describe the grotesque, mostly with short stories, while Robert Heinlein was often called the greatest of all writers in the genre of science fiction. I wish it were possible for them to write even more, but, unlike the two authors described next, they are no longer living.

Shown below O’Connor and Heinlein are my two favorite authors of non-fiction, Jung Chang and Sam Harris. Jung Chang writes about Chinese history, eloquently, from the perspective of someone who actually was a Red Guard during the utterly insane period known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as a teenager, but later managed to get out of the People’s Republic — and, crucially, she was also able to mentally escape the powerful cult of personality which surrounded that nation’s leader for over two decades, Chairman Mao Zedong. She has gone on to become one of Mao’s harshest critics.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, began his career as an author by writing books criticizing religion, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. He has since moved on to other topics (and writing better books than his earlier work, in my opinion), such as the corrosive effects of lying, the question of the existence or non-existence of free will, and a scientific approach to dealing with issues involving good and evil. He also has a new book coming out in September.

Other than their amazing skill at the difficult craft of writing, these four have little in common . . . but who wants to read the same sort of books all the time? If you aren’t familiar with their work already, I recommend giving each of them a read, and seeing what you think of their books. For one of them, Sam Harris, you can even give some of his writing a try for free, for he maintains a blog you can check out for yourself, at http://www.samharris.org.

For the other three, it isn’t quite that easy to get started, but their books may still be found in any decent public library, or, of course, websites such as Amazon. For O’Connor, the best place to start is with her collected short stories (Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Stories-Flannery-OConnor/dp/0374515360/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405366654&sr=8-2&keywords=collected+short+stories+of+flannery+o%27connor). For Jung Chang, I recommend starting with the story of what happened, against the tumultuous backdrop of Chinese history, to her grandmother, mother, and finally herself, in Wild Swans:  Three Daughters of China (see http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Swans-Three-Daughters-China/dp/0743246985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405366792&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+swans). Heinlein’s works are numerous, and there are many good starting places to be found. Among the best books with which to start reading Heinlein are Stranger in a Strange Land (his most famous work), Friday, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Job:  A Comedy of Justice. Amazon’s Robert Heinlein page may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein/e/B005GDIOHM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1405367065&sr=1-2-ent.

Enjoy, and, if you have book recommendations of your own, I invite you to leave them in a comment to this post.

The Origin of an Interplanetary War: Itaumiped vs. Almausoped

Image

The Origin of an Interplanetary War:  Itaumiped vs. Almausoped

Itaumiped and Almausoped are artificial rogue planets, each an identical member of a double-planet system bound into orbit, and tidally-locked, by gravity. The energy source used by the planets’ inhabitants, which uses a radioactive isotope with a very long half-life, causes the faces of these hollow polyhedral planets to radiate heat and light, both on the inside and outside, which is why you can see them here, but do not see a “night” side on either planet.

Long ago, the common ancestors of the Itaumipedeans and the Almausopedeans, living on the natural planet Loorohmude where their species evolved, built each of these planets as a heavily-populated, multi-generational, interstellar colony-ship. They built two, using materials from large asteroids, and launched them together, for a perfectly good reason: if something happened to one of the planet-ships, the survivors could find refuge in the other one. A large pentagonal hole was even built into each planet’s polyhedral design, and set to face the other one, simply to allow ease of communication, and travel, between them. Their journey was to last “only” twelve generations . . . but things don’t always go as planned.

An idea took root, and spread during the long journey, that viewed the old stories of Loorohmude as primitive, dangerous superstitions, with no evidence to support their veracity — other than ancient written records, which the anti-Loorohmudeans viewed as dangerous fabrications. Civil war broke out on each planet, and the anti-Loorohmudeans achieved two of their goals: they killed a lot of their enemies (who returned the favor in kind), and they destroyed the ancient records, despite the attempts of their enemies to save them. On each planet, some of the inhabitants on each side survived — but, on both, the old records were utterly obliterated.

The information lost wasn’t all mere history for history’s sake, but also included essential technical material, such as instructions for building the device, while in transit, which would allow Itaumiped and Almausoped to slow their velocity in time to achieve orbit when they reached their destination, the distant planet Stidennatio. For this reason, this planned deceleration never happened, and the twin war-ravaged planets flew right past Stidennatio at a high fraction of the speed of light. Inertia carried them right through Stidennatio’s solar system, and into the uncharted space beyond. With civil wars still raging on each planet, however, the combatants took little notice of the solar system they rapidly flew through, and those few who did notice any of it did not understand what they were seeing.

The reduced populations of each planet, simply due to their smaller numbers, now had supplies for a much longer journey, and eventually, the civil wars stopped . . . because both sides ran out of long-range weapons. They could have continued fighting without weapons, or with such things as knives and clubs . . . but by that time, the population was so reduced, so dispersed, and so war-weary, that hostilities on each side simply dwindled slowly away.

It took a long time — just under three generations — for the smoke to clear, and the population to start to rebound. By this time, no one thought of themselves as pro- or anti-Loorohmudeans anymore, but simply as the descendants of the survivors of a terrible war.

Naturally, and gradually, everyone started looking for someone to blame for the atrocities that always accompany warfare. By this time, the ravages of war had rendered the exterior surfaces of both Itaumiped and Almausoped uninhabitable, so everyone lived in the hollow interiors of each planet-ship. From this inside vantage point, thanks to the pentagonal holes which were part of the original design, everyone could see one convenient scapegoat: the other planet, always in view, and close enough that evidence of habitatation could be seen with telescopes.

Lasers aren’t all that difficult to make, and so the first shot fired in the new, second period of warfare, between the planets this time, took the form of an intense pulse-laser blast exiting one pentagonal hole, and entering its counterpart. It destroyed the top of an abandoned building, and killed no one . . . but it was noticed, and so a retaliatory strike soon took the same path, but in the opposite direction. This time, there were fatalities. More weapons were built, and immediately deployed. Soon, full-scale interplanetary war was raging.

This new war won’t last forever. It may stop when supplies run out, to be followed by famine, or the supplies might hold out until everyone simply kills each other. Does it matter which of these outcomes happens? No, not really. Itaumiped and Almausoped passed their destination generations ago, and now they’re going nowhere, at a high rate of speed . . . in more than one way.

Unlike their inhabitants, though, the planet-ships Itaumiped and Almausoped, soon to be devoid of life, will continue much longer. Just as they have since their construction, they will keep orbiting their common center of mass, and keep getting further away from their original, long-forgotten launch point, as well as their intended destination, until the heat death of the universe finally catches up with them, as well.

###

Notes: Itaumiped (anagram for “I made it up”) and Almausoped (anagram for “also made up”) have different characteristics every time they appear. This is one of the nicer things about having my own imaginary astronomical objects — I don’t have to memorize things like planetary radius, mass, etc., because, since they’re mine to play with as I please, I can change their features according to my whims. For example, Almausoped was always previously depicted as the star orbited by Itaumiped. In this incarnation, however, there’s no star around. Also, Loorohmude is an anagram for “our old home,” and Stidennatio is an anagram for “destination.” The image that accompanies this story was created using Stella 4d, which you may try or buy at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.

The Story of the Void, Chapter Three

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The Story of the Void, Chapter Three

Previous chapters:

Ch. 2 — https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/the-story-of-the-void-chapter-two/

Ch. 1 — https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/the-story-of-the-void-chapter-one/

* * *

By the time Richard realized he was losing the details of his existence, he’d already forgotten his middle name. It wasn’t long before his last name was gone as well. Scared, it took Richard a long time, one night, after an unknown number of “nights” or “days” in solar orbit, where there is no true night nor day, for him to fall asleep.

When he slept, he rarely remembered his dreams. This one, he remembered.

He was plummeting to his doom, from a great height. As he got closer to the ground, he wished he were not there. And then he wasn’t. He fell right into the ground, and then kept going. What in hell is going on, he thought? He thought of his last science class, for the first time years.

He was trying to figure out what was going on when the direction of his fall reversed itself. It was an odd sensation. He felt as though he’d turned inside-out. However, he wasn’t too disoriented to think, and he realized he must be inside the earth. He didn’t know what would happen if he returned to his normal state while inside liquid or solid rock, but he didn’t want to find out, either. He waited, therefore, until he came flying out of the ocean on the other side of the earth.

He woke up. Earth was recognizable in front of him. Soon, it was larger in his field of view. He reasoned that he must be moving very fast. How fast, he thought? He didn’t know.

Richard didn’t want to come out the other side, above — what, the Indian Ocean? — some ocean, apparently, he thought, as he tried his best to picture all sides of a globe in his mind.

In the dream, he remembered having the idea that his density were under his conscious control. He had lowered it to essentially nothing, and had passed right into the ground. No longer dreaming, he raised a hand and looked at at.

Rather, he tried. It wasn’t there.

Panicked, he ran. On what? There didn’t seem to be a floor below him. A door did appear after a time, though, and he opened it, reasoning that what lay on the other side must be better than what there was here, where he apparently didn’t exist.

He opened the door, and saw two corridors before him. On the left, a bright light shone, but was very far away– he couldn’t tell how far. On the right, the passageway became darker as it receded from him, until an absolute darkness appeared, in which no detail could be seen.

He stepped just inside the passageway on the left, choosing light, at least for now, over darkness. He closed the door behind him, after passing through it, whereupon it promptly vanished. The earth grabbed his attention, which wasn’t difficult, considering that it appeared larger than before.

The corridors could no longer be seen, but they could be felt. He could control his density. The singularity had . . . had . . . told him this. So they knew. Wait — they? Who are we, he thought, and where did the singularity go?

It was then that he realized no one had told him about a singularity. He didn’t even know the word. The idea had been communicated to him, but not by anyone he could see. By the singularity itself, conscious, apparently, only from the time he, and his small space pod, had fallen into it.

The space pod had been destroyed — ripped apart. Richard remembered that. He did not remember losing his hand, nor the rest of his body. But, wait, there it was now — but faded. He could see stars through it.

With a thought, he increased his density. The stars vanished. He stayed that way for a time. He slept, and woke again. Earth was larger still. He could see South America, and remembered studying it in school.

He was obviously moving quickly, and chose to reduce his density to a very low amount (making the stars appear though him again) before encountering the atmosphere. It would be good, he reasoned, to slow down, and not repeat his dream with his actual life.

When the atmosphere came, he knew right away, for the thin bits of matter he was permitting into his body’s normal, human-shaped volume lit up, flaming from the friction. He became aware of the heat, but it did not hurt him. Arriving at sunrise, some from the unlit side of the earth thought they saw a meteor. On the sunlight side of earth, no one noticed, for the light of his re-entry was indistinguishable from the sunlit clouds watched in that morning’s sunrise.

For a time, Richard saw little but flame, but it began to fade once friction had slowed him down enough that the heat radiation produced was no longer visible. He could still perceive it, as a color he had never seen before (and would be helpless to explain), but he could use the parts of the spectrum normal humans can see to look “above” it.

He puzzled over his seeming to intuitively understand physics, which he had never studied, while he used this knowledge to slow himself down, and land, slowly, at normal density for a human. He was glowing red-hot, still, from the heat of re-entry, but did not feel uncomfortable. A lone tree nearby caught fire, and burned up quickly, but there were no other trees to which the fire could quickly spread. There was dried grass and leaves burning, though, and that could spread — just more slowly. Richard felt compelled by conscience (a completely new feeling for him, and he didn’t know why he had one now, but not before) to put the fire out. As soon as he had cooled off enough to do so, he put the fire out by stomping it out with his boots.

Boots? When had he put boots on, he wondered? How did they survive re-entry, as had, mysteriously, the clothes he had on, including a favorite t-shirt from when he had been a teenager, lost, in a move, years ago? He tried, but could not figure out how this was possible.

He wondered one thing, above everything else: where was he?

The question “What was he?” was a better question, but that didn’t occur to him for about twenty minutes after he stomped the last of the fire out.

Once he was sure it was extinguished, he started walking forward through a grassy area, along a gentle upward slope, following his shadow to keep himself going the same direction, and practicing his density-control as he walked, which caused his shadow to fade, disappear, and then gradually reappear, over and over. He found that he preferred walking at about half his normal density, simply because he didn’t weigh as much in that condition. He walked for many hours; later that day, he was walking away from his shadow, because the sun had passed overhead, and was now behind him in the sky. Later, the sun set. Richard then stopped walking, until a dozen or so stars were visible. Richard set his gaze on the brightest star he could see, near the horizon, that was in the general direction he was going, for he didn’t want to double back by mistake and come back to the burned remains of the tree near his landing-spot. He walked all night.

[to be continued]