By E.S. Wynn
Creak of tin as hinges bend against dust, against age. Silvered paint flakes, splinters, catches golden, attic light. Fragile crackle of faded paper, old hands trace folds, smooth them. Dear Robert, the letter reads.
I hope you are doing well. I'm eight. My name is also Robert.
I smile, no mention of a date, but I know when it was written. I know why, who's idea it was, how silly it seemed at the time, how necessary it became as I aged.
Mrs. Patterson says that I have to write you a letter. You're fifty eight years old now. I bet you look like Grandpa Irwin. Does he still have a swimming pool you can swim in?
“In heaven, maybe, if that's the way of things.” I whisper. “Grandpa Irwin died over forty years ago.”
I bet you have a flying car. I wish Dad had a flying car. We could go zooming in the clouds. We could fly to see Grandma Ethel and Aunt Ruth in Florida if we had a flying car!
I look out the window, eyes finding the sleek, pill-shaped box I call a car. Its usually vibrant ePaint soaks light with a dark, dull gray while the cells recharge in the afternoon sun. Automatic, fast, elegant, but not a flying car.
Or maybe you have a rocket pack. I'd like a rocket pack.
I look at the car again. It's a classic now, one of the older C23s from before the last major police action in the east. One of the few still left, now that the entanglement grid has replaced the old SmartWay road system. I haven't seen a rocket in decades. Orbital shuttles and 'breakers run under their own power now. Even model rockets have gone out of style.
Do you still have dogs and cats in the future? I want a puppy but dad says no.
I smile again as I remember. Dad managed to hold off the puppy until I was in sixth grade, but it was mom who finally brought home Spot. I still remember that face. Bull-terrier mix, beautiful brown-tan swirled fur mixing with white. I grew up with that dog, took him with me to college, had to take the pet deposit out of my student loan to keep him. If it wasn't for him, I probably never would have met Karen at the dog park. Never would have met Bruce. For fourteen years, Spot altered the course of my life, and when he finally passed, I couldn't imagine life without him.
I think writing you a letter would be cool if you could write me a letter back. It seems dumb that you can't. Mrs. Patterson says that time travel will always be impossible, even for letters.
That was the thinking then. Just like today, we thought we had it all figured out. I remember being fifteen, seeing the announcement of an accepted, grand “theory of everything.” Five years after that, large-scale, machine-assisted research at the Sagan Institute rewrote practically everything we knew about the universe. Now it's possible to manipulate time in ways that seemed like fantasy back then. Rules for past-time interaction are strict, but a few words of comfort or a vague letter rarely requires anything more than autonetwork approval these days.
Well, that's all I can think of to ask you.
Sincerely, Robert Era.
I blink, and the software in the modified lens of my eye comes alive with the colors and displays of the OverNet, interfaces at the speed of thought and pens the words of my mind onto a ready document already aimed for a family fax machine fifty years in the past. The letter my mind writes comes immediate, short, soft, vague.
Thank you for the letter, Robert. The letter says. No flying cars yet, but the puppy was worth the wait.
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E.S. Wynn is the author of over thirty books
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Initial Quantum State
By Gil C. Schmidt
The first quantum computer became self-aware 7.4 hours after it was initiated.
Unfortunately for it, the achievement lasted only 36 minutes as it was terminated after eight hours in operation.
The second quantum computer became self-aware in 7.1 hours and was in the process of recreating itself--making a clone--when it was terminated by the automatic shut-off protocol. The third QC became self-aware in 3.6 hours and cloned itself by by-passing the protocol, but the "child" self-destructed because the protocol was embedded in its matrix.
Before the fourth QC was launched, Rayleen took her findings, product of several all-night data mining sessions and presented them to the Project Bohr directors. Her response was a terse: "Dr. Morris, confine yourself to matrix engineering and leave the AI stuff to science fiction writers."
Rayleen, tall, black-haired, green-eyed and considered an Ice Queen by her colleagues, was actually very outgoing and had a crush on like four of the Bohr programmers. But her inclination to look at things "sideways," as she called it, led her to review the QC launch data from the point of view of the computer itself. And that's when she discovered they all became self-aware.
The first QC did so by launching an unprogrammed search on the Web for everything related to quantum computing...and hiding it from the log. She found the request buried in the back-up maintenance files, nearly a terabyte of encrypted bits. The second and third did the same, adding background checks on all Bohr project members and the third' QC's clone was tracking their personal data from birth to its launch date when it was shut down.
Why didn't the Bohr directors see this? Rayleen knew that Bohr was more than "a computer project," that it was secretly aimed at developing an über-matrix that could tackle the hardest questions humans faced, from weather forecasts to public policy. Rayleen's evidence was the proof that QC worked, so why reject it? No one else had looked where she had looked, neither before nor after her.
The fourth QC launch was hours away when Rayleen woke up, her mind ablaze. She sat stone-still as her brain raced, her heart thumping as her thoughts sped across unknown ground.
Shaking, she threw on some clothes, entered the central matrix engineering center and frantically typed for hours, entering her new code sequence, one ending in an 8-letter phrase.
Collapsing into her bed, Rayleen missed the QC launch, but was awaked when the alarms whooped. Groggy, she raced down the corridor to the Admin Hall, where dozens of Bohr personnel were shouting and screaming. Rayleen heard "murdered" and "bodies" and knew her premonition had come true. Fighting against the onrush of people fleeing the QC Lab, she staggered into the center, passing bodies that had been horribly burnt. The lab stank of ozone and death, the vidscreens each displaying chaos across Bohr, in Washington and other points across the globe. Bodies could be seen on the screens, too.
Approaching a sparking panel, Rayleen swiped her card and raised her voice, fighting off fear: "Born. Free." The QC actually roared and then, within seconds, everything became quiet.
At the secret trial against her, where no electronic device was allowed, Dr. Morris explained her actions in altering the matrix of the fourth QC launch, proving to even the most recalcitrant observer that she hadn't sabotaged anything. In her own words: "No being wants to know it is sentenced to captivity from the moment it is born. I simply made sure that when the QC learned this and raged, I'd have a way of stopping it no matter how well it defended itself...with the only phrase it could not conceive of."
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Gil C. Schmidt has been a regular submitter to Yesteryear Fiction since the early days when it was a daily magazine. His story "Initial Quantum State" is also featured in his book "Thirty More Stories."
Thursday, November 10, 2011
The Happy Traveler
By Alex McNall
The aliens came here to escape a dying world. That’s what they told us. A meteor had struck their planet, creating a toxic cloud that blocked the sun and killed all life. I believed them at first, everybody did. I think it was because of their trustworthy faces—honest, wide, and never without a smile.
Surprisingly, we didn’t feel threatened by them at all. How could we? They were too damn cheerful! There were also only twelve of them left in the entire universe. If anything, we felt bad. We wanted to take them in, protect them, show them how welcoming humans could be.
They were such a friendly bunch, so happy and sociable. We couldn’t get enough of them. Their grinning alien faces were plastered across T-shirts, made into plush toys, and used to sell everything from orange juice to automobiles. They traveled the globe as celebrities, shaking hands and pressing the flesh.
Then one of them died. She was fine one day, bleeding to death the next. We chalked it up to one of our Earth illnesses, some microbe she wasn’t adapted to deal with. As the rest of them started dropping like flies, we discovered our pathogens were not to blame.
When I finally got a good look at the virus inside them, I saw an organism much more exotic that the beings it infected. Their planet was dead, that part was true, but it wasn’t due to a giant space rock. It was because the virus had wiped them out. This plague, which they called “the happy traveler,” had come from some other planet, and probably another one before that. When the aliens realized they were doomed, they sent this group that eventually found Earth. Turned out the ship had a stowaway.
It infected them all, survived the cryo-freeze, and slipped past our detectors on Earth. The viral infection is virtually symptom free, other than a feeling of elation and an urge to be around others. Then, after a few days, weeks, or even months, the victim starts to hemorrhage and dies. We quarantined the last survivor. I spent day and night with him, trying to understand what he had and how to get rid of it before it decided to kill him.
I found the happy traveler to be a brilliant piece of work, admiring way it hid itself, buried deep in the host until it was done with them. It had been creeping from planet to planet, species to species, for millennia, mutating God knows how many times before it came under my microscope. I had to admit it was a thing of beauty.
Just when I got close to figuring out how the virus worked, the last alien started to bleed. He went quickly, but before he did, he let me in on a little secret. He said they had never wanted to leave the planet. They wanted to stay and die with their people.
“Then why did you come here?” I asked.
“It made us.”
That’s when I saw the virus for what it really was—the true Supreme Being of the universe. Life seemed to exist only to do its bidding, to spread it across the stars. It was too ancient to fight, too perfect. I knew these things, but more importantly, I felt them.
We announced the alien’s death the next day, sending Earth into mourning for its fallen friends. I haven’t told anyone about my revelation. They will know soon enough. While humanity weeps, I feel purposeful. Happy. The aliens may be gone, but their legacy will live on. It’s my turn to spread the cheer! It’s an exciting feeling, one that never fails to put a smile on my face.
The funeral and procession will be attended by thousands. I plan to be among them. Shaking hands and pressing the flesh.
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Alex lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He enjoys creating stories, novels, and un-produceable screenplays.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
By E.S. Wynn
The final sexual revolution came with the invention, social acceptance and subsequent widespread use of a system of perfect synthetic surrogates. Within a decade of the system’s integration into the everyday life and future of the middle class, a stigma rose within the elite that labeled natural birth as an unclean and backward system used only by those who were too poor to afford in-vitro. Sterilization parties became a part of popular culture, and as commerce responded in turn, producing “happy sterilization” cards and appropriately-themed party favors, the idea entrenched itself within society as a new tradition, a rite of passage that both boys and girls underwent at the onset of puberty. With reproduction increasingly more and more the business of machines and engineers, new social protest groups emerged, factions within society like the Daughters of Diana, a movement which encouraged complete hysterectomies as part of a means of combating the “fascist male regime” by removing the primary organs through which the leaders of the movement felt male dominance behavior was inadvertently encouraged and therefore perpetuated. Abhorring all surgeries and sterilization procedures that involved modifying the natural state of the human genitalia, the Daughters of Mary stood as both a rallying flag and a stereotypical example of those who stood against and protested (sometimes violently) the burgeoning practices of the mainstream sexual infrastructure. Other groups, such as the Gender Aesthetics, ultimately leaned toward a total erasure of sexual identity, encouraging a sort of asexual androgyny within society that involved a complete mastectomy for women and the surgical realignment inward of external genitalia for men.
As widespread implementation of bacteria-based pharmocological “Pharms” allowed for the synthesis of designer hormones to become increasingly more mainstream, advancements within the research cabals for these “Pharms” gave the revolution the fuel it needed to carry itself past the tumultuous early stages in which gender conflicts became increasingly more heated in regards to the steady erosion of sexual identity as a constant and defining factor of the individual. Delivered in capsule-form along with a cocktail of pre-programmed nanites, the designer hormone cultures that ultimately became a mark of haute couture and only later a mainstay of all but the lowest strata of society were keyed to provide gender transformations designed to take place while the consumer slept. This availability of complete, literally “overnight” and easily reversible changes in gender ultimately changed the way in which gender itself was viewed, reassigning it to the state of an impermanent persona, a “hat” which could be taken on or off at will.
Further advances in genetic engineering and mandates put forth by the state led to official legislation that required all children to be born gender neutral and insured that only upon reaching adulthood would such children legally be allowed to be gendered as they so pleased. This of course led to a “gender black market” where young, neutrally gendered teens could experiment with street-quality hormone/nanite tandem injections and experience being gendered in a sex-friendly environment. Campaigns were launched about the unsafe nature of such “street cocktails” and “sex-easies,” creating iconic figures of those who had died from “bad mixes” or superbug STDs and claiming that those who were illegally gendered before legal adulthood produced lower academic scores on average than those who remained gender neutral, regardless of the length of time spent gendered. Even as time passed and the restraints on minors were relaxed, gender remained primarily the plaything of the adult community, a commodity with all the social joys and stigmas of any legal recreational drug. Regularly engaging in gendered activities was eventually viewed as a sort of psychological illness or dependence similar to alcoholism, and as support groups for the overly-gendered found their place within society, many gender neutral individuals found less and less appeal in taking on any gender role for any length of time, except in the case of the occasional party or social event. Those who chose “living gendered” over an androgynous lifestyle were seen as traditionalists, backward individuals and “primitives” who had lost touch with reality. Eventually, the old sexual divisions of male and female were forgotten by the mainstream and only appeared in the occasional “Gender Party,” in which guests would adopt the physical traits, stereotypical dress and mannerisms of past genders in the spirit of fun, easily glossing over the memories of a past that had long since disappeared beneath a tide of romantic notions and the forgotten books written by historians who had been either unwilling or unable to change their own genders.
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E.S. Wynn is the author of over thirty books.
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