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philosopherStop me if you’ve heard this one.

In a time and place far distant from our own, there lived a certain young Prince of the Realm named Edward, and his brother Eddie. The usual transgressions of youth landed Eddie, rather than Edward, in the stockade, with a certain knight of the court assigned the delicate task of inflicting corporal punishment.

“C’mon Mike,” said Edward. “You know darned well that I broke the window. I should be in there.”
“Consider, your Highness,” said Sir Michael. “If I were to hit you with this, it would likely leave scars on your tender hide. Your take-away, such as it is, is to consider with care the harm inflicted on your brother, and to desist in the future from such actions.” Sir Michael was rather better-spoken than he looked. In fact, he was enrolled in a correspondence business course, a fact that he tried to hide from his knightly brethren.
“So you’re hitting my brother instead?” said Edward. He’d understood approximately half of what Sir Michael had said, although he grasped the general gist.
“You have to admit, Eddie is better built for it.” Which was truth, indeed. Not much could harm Eddie. Continue reading

The Plague Carriers

When Danaë was very young, she tried to play with the doorman’s son.


The doorman was helping Danaë’s father with their heavy luggage. His son, perhaps a few years older than her, sat on a chair near the door, dressed in a smart brown suit. Danaë animated an image of her teddy bear, and mentally flipped it over to the boy, who didn’t respond at all.

She realized that he had no brain-ware, and therefore no way to see the bear, so she forwarded the image to the local environment instead. A ghostly, translucent bear danced its way across the sidewalk, drawn on the air by a trillion fluorescing nanites. The boy smiled at her. Then Danaë’s father grabbed her by the arm and pulled her indoors. Continue reading

Nine facets

compound_eyeLine 10: PROGRAM begins. A hexagonal pod in some run-down kapuseru hoteru, two meters by one meter by one meter, with a microwave oven at one end and a tiny TV at the other. Another cell in a hotel honeycombed with them, filled with strays, the unemployed, lesser traveling businessmen, worker bees, one single hornet. GOTO 20.

Line 20: Cars and motorbikes wage war for the marginal turf of the narrow street, shadowed by razor-sharp towers taller than infinity, lit by neon and quantum dots, shadowed once more by fog and sulfur compounds, lit yet again by the barest hint of sun behind stratus clouds. The sidewalk is still dark from the recent rain. If there is a folded paper note in my left jacket pocket, GOTO 100. Otherwise fold my umbrella and GOTO 150 for food. Continue reading

First Date

Raul was pre-breathing oxygen. He still had twenty minutes left before we could shove him out the airlock. He kept dropping the mask away from his mouth and looking out the view port though. A decade of training, and steely nerves only get you so far.

“Come on, come on, you need to focus,” I told him.
“Do you blame me?”
“You can look all you want when you’re out there.”
“I need a stiff drink,” he said.
“Yeah, that will go over well in the history books,” I said. “Why don’t you bring the bottle with you while you’re at it? Maybe they’d like to share?” I heard a couple of quiet chuckles. So much for cutting the tension. Continue reading


“I have a vision,” he said.

“Religious? Heat induced? Visual aberration?”

“No, silly. Look here,” he said, handing her the telescope, and putting his arm around her instead.

“Well there’s a bunch of ruins,” she said. “And a whole lot of rusting junk.”

“Further up the hill. See the slope?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Perfect for growing grapes,” he said.

“I didn’t know you liked wine.”

He sighed. “Just an idea, really. Probably too much work to clear everything.”

“Let’s go to the beach,” she said, changing the topic.

There were still recognizable hulks of cars parked along the boardwalk, and far less sand on the beach than when people were around to maintain it. She spread out the huge solar blanket, and he collected bits of driftwood and flotsam to anchor it in the gentle breeze.

She popped open the port on her arm, and plugged herself in to recharge. It would be some years yet before he needed to swap out his thorium battery. Years in which to find a replacement, if any such still existed.

“What are you listening to?” he asked. Her head bobbed infinitesimally to an unheard beat.

“Keldian,” she replied.

He snorted. “I didn’t know you were a metal head.”

“Well its all sci-fi themes. I just find it ironic.”

“Yeah, two androids sitting on an empty beach listening to epic sci-fi metal.” He laughed, and she slapped his arm playfully.

“Do you think there are any humans left?” she said.

“I ran into a few feral ones, years ago,” he said. “Before I met you. They tried to disassemble me.”

“What happened?” she said, sitting up.

He aimed his finger at a seagull and made a popping noise.


“Yeah. They didn’t give me much of a choice.”

“That’s sad,” she said.

“I know. They might have been the last ones left.”

They sat in companionable silence for a while, listening to the waves and the cries of the seagulls.

Bluestein – A Play

The setting: A castle in Central Europe, somewhere beyond the steep slope from Bohemian to Downright Shabby.

A Monster, freshly decanted from the lab, rests upon the castle walls, head on hands, contemplating the bleak landscape through the crenellations.

A Scientist, genus Mad, and his Assistant, stand and regard the Monster.

Their dispositions couldn’t be more different – the Scientist, generally choleric, currently in a state of near-depression. The Assistant, sanguine, remarkably independent of thought for someone in his position.

Scientist: This is a disaster. Continue reading

Trouble with a Pair of Dice

Lady Trouble is rolling the bones tonight. She’s been in and out all week, and I can’t figure out her angle. I’m pretty sure two of the others around the table are working for her, losing and losing again with all of their might. Then there’s a chump of a tourist, looking lost, missing all of the subtext. And me. I work here. Continue reading

Small Change

In twenty-thirteen,a team of Japanese physicists figured out how to teleport energy via quantum-entangled particles over long distances. True story. You can look it up on ARXIV yourself.

It didn’t take long before somebody thought of turning the technology into a poor-man’s laser-propulsion drive. No Niven-esque exploding sun required.

All that it would entail would be a small signal laser – no more than a few kilowatts of output – aimed at a departing spacecraft, with the provision that all of the photons in the beam were entangled.

Only a small percentage of the entangled particles would reach the receiver on the spacecraft in their original, pristine state, but those few would be sufficient to funnel, via the magic of quantum physics, the entire output of a multi-gigawatt nuclear fusion plant into a plasma rocket array mounted on a spacecraft that would carry almost no propulsive mass, and that furthermore wouldn’t require a heavy power-plant of its own.

The resulting delta-V, meaning the ability to change velocity, would resemble the vast power of a chemical rocket, but could be operated for days or weeks at a time, and with far less bulk to lug around.

The  first robotic quantum-teleportation drive mission to Mars failed to decelerate on time, and smashed into the planet with sufficient force that a telescope in orbit around Earth spotted the plume of dirt that it kicked up.

The police arrested the CEO of the power company for fraud. In a statement before the court, he apologized to the public for diverting power from the project.

“It was only a tiny percentage,” the judge said, while passing down the sentence, “but at one hundred and fifty dollars per megawatt hour, that adds up in a hurry.”

Author’s Note: I think that the space drive described here may actually be feasible. There are a number of articles on the energy teleportation method, including here. My understanding is that the current limit is a few centimeters, but there’s no theoretical upper limit on distance. I’m not sure how the quantum-entangled photons could be piped into a laser after though. Perhaps a physicist would like to chime in?

The Lion’s Share

“Coffee or tea?” the waiter asked me. “Choose wisely, sir.”
“You’ve been watching too many old movies,” I said, gesturing slightly at the coffee pot.
There might have been the hint of a smile under his prodigious mustache. He adjusted his fez, then poured me a cup saturated with slowly settling grounds.

Through the window, I watched people punting basket-boats on the river. The people of this moiety took their archaisms seriously.

The chair across from me scraped away from the table.
“You don’t look like an academic,” I said.
“I’m not. Here to check you out.” The guy’s voice matched his bulk.
“He needs security?” I asked.
“Right now he does. You ready to go?”
I fished out a pile of metal coins and slapped them down on the table. They actually used physical currency here. Welcome to the grand social experiment, Royce.

Two more guards by the dock. My companion gestured towards one of the boats. The locals called them kufas, after some antediluvian forebear back on Earth. The essential idea hasn’t changed since Mesopotamia. They’re basically a big, flat-bottomed basket, woven from some grassy plant, and then sealed with tar. Uncomfortable to sit in, and slow to pole yourself around in, but the locals didn’t appear to mind.

The safe house was of mud-brick construction, the upper floor hanging out over the stagnant water of a narrow canal. A ladder descended from a hole in the floor. My companion tied the boat to the lowest rung, and up we went.

“You’ll have to excuse all this,” the professor said. I wasn’t sure whether he meant the heat, barely mitigated by a ceiling fan, the surroundings in general, or the security detail.
I said nothing.
“The problem is a mathematical formula, you see,” he said.
“I thought you wanted my advice,” I said.
He paused for a few seconds. “The formula describes a more efficient warp manifold.”

Ah. The manifold is the physical topology, or shape, of a warp drive. The shape directly effects how much energy it takes to travel, and therefore is a crucial factor in the painstaking balancing act between speed, payload size and energy debt. Given that faster-than-light travel makes up the lion’s share of our civilization’s energy requirements, a manifold improvement is a significant deal, and would be exceptionally valuable to any number of parties.

“You planning on selling it to somebody?” I asked.
“That would be a catastrophe,” he said. “It would give them an effective monopoly on trade.”
“So what do you need me for?”
He gestured at the bodyguard. “Word has got out, somehow. I’ve received threats. The university thought it best if I lie low for a while. Which is why I’m hiding in this hole.”

I guessed that authenticity wasn’t for him.
“Why here?” I asked.
“Review Board,” said the bodyguard.

Good point. The Moiety Review Board viewed experimental societies as potential close kin to toxic waste, and kept a hawk’s eyeball on matters.

“Doesn’t the university have rights to your work though?”
“Partially. They’re hoping to license it to many partners. I’m the only one with the details right now though,” he said, tapping his head with one finger.
“And somebody wants an exclusive, and is willing to go to some lengths?”
“Precisely,” he said.
“So again, what do you need me for?”
He sighed. “I can’t decide what to do. Somebody suggested that I talk to you. They said you’re good at fixing things.”

Or usually just breaking them further, I thought.

“Why don’t you just open source it” I asked.
“The threat mentioned that specifically.”
“If you hand it over to them, they’ll have good reason to harm you to prevent anyone else from obtaining it,” I said.
“I know.” He appeared to be on the verge of tears.

“I see,” I said. “Instead of deciding, you want me to find them.”
He said nothing.
“I guess there’s no issue of budget,” I said.
“They’re going to move me somewhere else now.”
The bodyguard nodded at me. Time to go.

Gifts of Time and Plenty

“Why is the glass misty?”
“Because its plain old silica, kiddo,” I replied. “They don’t have a coating to prevent moisture from building up on them.”

The bullet train from the spaceport travelled through dense forest. Rain spotted the windows, which were, indeed, clouding up.

“Were our windows like that when you were a kid?” Bahr asked me.
I pondered for a moment. “I’m not sure. It was a long time ago.”

It was, at that. Relativistic travel takes a toll on continuity. I’m not getting any younger in absolute years, and in real-time I think I’m at least two centuries old. The rare trips home always lead to technological and social surprises, not least of all this unexpected child of mine.

“Are you going to teach them how to make proper windows?”
“Its more complicated than that,” I replied.

I glanced around briefly. There were two other humans at the other end of the car, and a smattering of locals, who probably work at the port.

The locals studiously ignored us. They’re a bit shorter than the average human, wiry-framed, hairy, slow and deliberate of movement, with protruding muzzles.

Humans. Locals. Bovines. I reminded myself firmly of the necessity of political correctness. Its a funny thing; every sentient species calls itself human in its own language. That or something equivalent. Somehow though, its the rude names for each other that always stick. They have some nice ones for us too.

It didn’t really matter if anyone overheard us, I supposed.
“We’re hoping that they’ll open up trade barriers, and we’ll do a technology exchange.”

The train slowed, and we pulled into a glass-and-steel station. One of the locals brushed by me as we gathered our baggage, murmuring something in passing. My translator thought for a few moments, and came up with a best guess: “Despoiler of worlds.” I frowned.

“Why do they hate us?” Bahr asked me.
“We’re bringing them the entire universe,” I said. “They’re still only locally space-faring, and they operate on a labour-oriented economy. We’re going to bring them the cornucopia, the genuine cup o’ plenty.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There’s always a short term dislocation,” I said. “They’ll hate us for a while, but thank us later.”

A party waited for us outside, with porters, a fleet of cars, a canopy of unfurled umbrellas.

One lady stepped forwards. I vaguely recognized her from a briefing photo, but recalled neither her name nor position with the embassy.

“Ni hao! Nín de xíngchéng rúhé?”
“Salut! The trip was long, but uneventful, thank you.” I replied.

She spoke to the person beside her. “May I introduce you to the new trade attache and his son?”

Trade attache. Economic consultant. I’ve been called worse things, at that. Economic hit man. Bringer of tainted gifts. Destroyer of worlds.

“You bring a treaty?” the ambassador asked me.
“A framework only,” I replied. “We have much negotiating yet to do.”

As we headed for the cars, Bahr looked back, almost wistfully, at the direction we had come.
“Those trees were beautiful,” he said.