eng, Uncategorized

Last Winter

DiXit cards, First edition

Rogers always felt uneasy when he had to visit ALHEL, the Arctic Last Hope Experimental Lab. He did not like spending time with scientists. This scientist he did not like in particular. Never meets your eyes, never answers your questions, and has an annoying habit of correcting your grammar.

Yu Fei hasn’t spoken a word since Rogers entered. No hello, how are you, not even a side glance! He was sitting at a long countertop and slouching over his computer. Rogers frowned at the mess around the scientist’s workplace with spider webs of colorful cables and hoses hanging from the ceiling and clutter of transistors, robotic arms, valves, and tubes of unknown purpose. For an army man like Rogers, this place was the heart of evil. He tried not to look at the opposing wall, but it drew his eyes against his will, like a gruesome car crash on a highway. There, behind the armored glass, was a vacuum chamber with thousands of ghostly egg-shaped orbs of various sizes floating inside. Bright thin lasers were bombarding the orbs from all sides producing electric crackling sounds. 

“You know what they call you now?” asked Rogers, “Lunatic Chicken.” 

Yu Fei was still pretending nobody was talking to him, so Rogers did something that would surely turn his attention. He picked up a random object from the table as if to see it better. It happened to be an eight-way wrench. As soon as he put it back, Yu Fei rolled with his chair and moved the wrench two inches to the left. His sleepy red eyes flicked upward in annoyance. 

“Get it?” Rogers continued as if nothing happened, “chicken because you are sitting on your eggs. And do I really have to explain the lunatic part?”

“People joke to sublimate existential anxiety, “Yu Fei mumbled in his usual expressionless tone. 

“Can’t blame them. I’m feeling a little existential myself looking at how humanity’s only hope is a misanthropic scientist running an experiment that nobody can comprehend.” 

“If I’m the only hope, you should leave me to it.” Yu Fei rolled away in his chair, showing that the conversation was over. But Rogers was fast on his feet and blocked the way to his laptop.

“You know what I really think?” Rogers leaned with his broad hips against the table and folded his arms across his chest.” You couldn’t care less if humanity lives or dies and yourself with it. You’re psycho. All that matters to you is to be right about something.” 

“Everybody will die eventually. And if you spare me constant interruptions, maybe I’ll accomplish something great before I do.”

“Tell me, aren’t you happy that our planet has reached its last winter? In a normal situation, you would have some trouble proving that such tinkering with spacetime is safe.” Rogers nodded towards the egg-shaped orbs glowing in the dark.

“I do think it is quite fortunate, yes. Besides, I hate winter. But unless you are blaming me for the climate collapse, I don’t see your point.”

“My point is that people are suffering, starving, suffocating on this overheated planet, including your wife and your daughter. And you are telling me that this is fortunate, you sick bastard!”

“So, do you want me to work on it or to hold your hand?” Yu Fei used the moment of confusion to snatch his laptop. Before Rogers could come up with a reply, the scientist was deep in his screen.

Rogers clenched his teeth. “I came to tell you that the Congress decided to abort your project and revert the money into a shuttle program.”

Yu Fei lifted his head and froze with a glassy stare into a point on Roger’s chest. “Your shuttle program,” he finally said. “Are you proud of it?”

“As a matter of fact, I am. We will be able to evacuate half of the remaining population within the next year.”

“Very stupid of you. You will be killing them. Their chance to ever reach an inhabitable planet is smaller than the chance of a butterfly somehow cooling our climate with a flap of her wing.”

Rogers blew out a noisy breath. “You want to talk about chances? What about the odds of somehow hatching an inhabitable world out of an egg.”

“Stop calling them eggs. You know what they are. Besides, I am not taking any chances. I am engineering them. It’s just —” Yu Fei rubbed his eyes and suddenly looked more tired than usual. “I cannot be precise enough at this scale, and the chaos takes over every time.”

“I can see that,” said Rogers, looking around the room.

“How long do I have?”

“Tomorrow, you have to start the safety shut down of the lab. A special committee will be sent from the Command Center to oversee it.”

Yu Fei nodded and returned to his screen. Rogers could see that there would be no more discussion. He took one last look at this den of tech clutter. He felt a tint of remorse. The kid was certainly a genius, but such an attitude could not be trusted. 

On his way out, Rogers mechanically lifted the cables slacking in garlands from the shelf and managed to catch sight of Yu Fei rushing to pull the cables back down. Poor Martha, he thought. 

Yu Fei descended the ladder and turned the flaps of a bunker door. Once inside the airlock, he took off his safety suit and opened the compound door. The smell of stale bodies and sweat hit his nostrils. Against a backdrop of usual radio chatter and children crying, he could hear the sounds of celebration coming from the living area. In the tight space, with sleeping bunks folded up and chairs folded out, all of the inhabitants of his living compound were gathered around the table. They were drinking and greeted Yu Fei with a loud cheer. Martha met his eyes with an apologetic stare. 

“There he is! And he does not know yet! Show him!”

Somebody handed him a leaflet with an image of a sparkling white spaceship and a tiny blue marble left behind. There was a red square stamp with the words’ Boarding Approved’ on it. 

“We will be the first ones to leave this hell! And all thanks to your wife’s connections!” 

Yu Fei simply asked, “Rogers?”

Martha nodded. He turned around and rushed upstairs and through the bunker door into the dusty air. Outside, the wind was howling and tearing, throwing thousands of tiny darts in his face. In a few moments, Marta came out wearing her safety suit and dragging his suit along. 

“Don’t be silly. You’ll get sick.”

Yu Fei could not find anything to say to her. All he wanted was to be as far away as possible. He jumped into his rover, but she was blocking the way. 

“I know you don’t like him, but Uncle Rogers wants what is best for us,” Martha was screaming to reach him over the howling wind. 

“Shuttle will never arrive.” Yu Fei tried to pronounce each word clearly.

“Please, try to understand. We cannot keep living in these conditions any longer. Even if we never arrive, life is good there. We will get enough food, and everything is clean, and then… we will just sleep.”

“I can do much better,” said Yu Fei and suddenly understood. “You don’t believe in me.”

Martha was silent. Her eyes were begging, tearing, the only pair of eyes he ever enjoyed meeting. But not anymore. 

“Goodbye then,” said Yu Fei abruptly, did a back turn, and speeded away, showering his crying wife with the dust from under his wheels. 

His thoughts were spinning as he cut through the crusted plane. Each breath was sawing at his throat, and there was a stinging pain in his chest. He wondered if it was a heartbreak he was feeling or was it just particle matter? At the same time, his mind was lighter than a snowflake and giddy like a child. He was truly and utterly free. Which meant he could finally go all the way.

He entered the lab and switched on the lights. Quantum manifolds were glowing with a dim light behind the armored glass. As if the armored glass could ever stop the unfolding of the spacetime packed into them. Oh, the show he had to put on for the bureaucrats to check their boxes. Fortunately, the manifolds were stable in 10 dimensions. Provided the ultimate unfolding into 4 dimensions is done at once, the Earth, being in the center of it, will be left untouched, while a large portion of the galaxy will be just pushed away with this newly unpacked matter. 

When military onlookers and security inspectors were getting on Yu Fei’s nerves, he liked to imagine what would happen if one of the eggs accidentally unfolded into 9 dimensions. That would instantly turn a planet into a pretzel and everyone walking on it – inside out. Try to scold me now with your mouth on the inside, general. 

He spent years in frustration trying to direct matter particles and balance out the forces in the geometry of 10-dimensional space, all efforts failing because of occasional nanometer imprecision. His design was perfect, his calculations solid, but implementation was always beyond his reach. The solution came to him a long time ago, but the few human ties were stopping him. Now he was done with that. He would fold himself up and enter the manifold. Of course, there will be no way back, as such folding is not reversible. And god knows what will become of him after the final inflation… But what an experience that would be.

He selected the most promising orb on the latest stage of completion and shut down the rest. Installed on the inflator with a sharper side down, it now resembled a light bulb rather than an egg. The inflation will begin in about an hour. For him, time did not matter, as everything will be done in an instant, but for people here — the less they see of it, the better. Such a night like this with a dust storm raving is the best. 

He pulled down a lever and twisted shields opened in the ceiling, revealing a large barrel of a gravitational folder – a small black hole of his own creation. The force of gravity, usually so weak compared to other forces, was enhanced with artificial amplifiers and created a self-contained field where the space warped upon itself into a multi-dimensional Mobius strip. He adjusted the barrel to project himself right inside the orb. Oh, well, that was it. He took the last look around with his imperfect human scenes and entered the gravitational field. 

There was no pain, only vertigo from endless spiraling. He could feel parts of him spiraling on the outer loop and other parts rolling into a tight coil in the middle. Some minutes or years later, when it was over, he found himself in complete darkness inside an enormous bubble. He could be in all places at once, and nothing moved. He knew what he was then. He was a photon, a spec of light existing outside of time. There were objects, frozen still. He recognized them immediately, it was his design, but things were slightly off, which made everything out of balance.

At last, he had complete control over this world, powerful as a wizard, like a god even. Amazing how much one tiny photon with consciousness could do. Now he could put everything in its place once and forever. 

The following day, the dust storm was still raving. People who had some business outside of shelters were out of the habit of looking up at the sky, so nobody noticed anything strange. A committee of white lab coats who arrived at Yu Fei’s laboratory found it lifeless and dark, with no trace of any activity nor the scientist. On his work desk mounted a pile of lab journals meticulously scribbled all over, with diagrams of concentric orbits full of planets like beads on a string, spread unevenly, of different sizes, weights, and chemical composition according to tight notes on top of them: Au, Pt, Co, Cu, Fe. Only they were orbiting around nothing, and a ring of small stars was orbiting on the outer loop around the planets. It was like a Solar System on acid.  

Then, in the evening, when the dust clouds had cleared, but the darkness never fell, people started looking up, each one freezing in place as they encountered their new skies. There were thousands of beautiful moons of all colors and a few tiny suns shining through them with soft recessed lighting of a warehouse ceiling. 

In no time astronomers in all observatories were gaping through their telescopes and flipping through the copies of Yu Fei’s notebook. And when everyone was properly impressed, the main light show of the day had begun. 

First, one giant fiery feather rose slowly above the horizon. It was twisting and tumbling and shifting its color from tenderly apricot to mesmerizing purple. It was growing wider at the horizon. Its glowing threads got brighter and thinner, flowing with the smoothness of long exposure photography. At last, a perfectly round pebble of complete darkness rolled out into the sky and stared down on Earth and right into the faces of its inhabitants, lifted with grimaces of horror and wonder. 

Rogers found Martha on the roof of her shelter some hours later, her 3-year old daughter snuggling in her arms. They were standing quietly away from everybody and watching this cry-in-color of the dying star. 

“They’ve just confirmed, it is completely safe,” Rogers said, stepping at her side. “It is a massive black hole feeding on a supernova star. But far enough from us. This star is so huge that the feeding will last for several thousands of years, and then this black hole will become inactive.”

Martha nodded.

“Any news of Yu Fei’s whereabouts?” Roger asked.

“No.”

“Folks are going bonkers over his notebooks at the Command center. He really made it, this son of a bitch! Now humanity has a perfect climate year-round, unlimited resources, and hundreds of inhabitable planets just next door, can you imagine? There is no mention of the supernova star in his notes, though. I wonder where it came from.”

Martha faced him with a bitter smile, confirming his suspicion.

They watched the glowing neon skies in silence. 

“You know,” – Martha said after a while, “he was not very warm, but he was certainly bright.”

*Inspired by a blog post on Ultimate Solar system by PlanetPlanet https://planetplanet.net/2018/06/01/the-million-earth-solar-system/

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