Browse Tag


The Map And The Territory

by Isa Robertson

Erik Grundmann broke camp at dawn. The air was dry and crisp. The sun hid, glowing, below the eastern horizon: it would be half an hour before it spilled over the canyon walls. He strapped his tent to his pack, and set out down the gorge.

Three kilometres on, the sun struck his face. His head was still groggy with morning; the coffee had been too weak to fully wake him. But some days it was better to take it gradually. He closed his eyes and let the golden light pour over him, so thick it was almost a liquid. Ah, the moment he’d been waiting for. Nothing like a well-earned sunrise…

Underfoot, something hidden by the brush crowding the deer path shifted on a tiny fulcrum. He lurched, and a shiver passed through his body. He tried to break his fall — but his foot struck at an unnatural angle, his ankle folded inward, there was a crunch of popping cartilage, and he crumpled to the ground.

Then the heat came; and the silent, emotionless tears of pain; and the feeling of gravel and dirt pressing into his cheek. The pain was worse knowing that it was all the result of such a stupid, stupid, ignominious accident. But this was the wild, and Erik knew better than to stay lying down more than a moment.

He sat up, propped himself against a boulder, took off his boot and sock, and felt the swelling flesh. It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too good. He took a sip from his water bottle, and then pressed the still-cool canteen against his ankle. Nothing broken — that he could tell. Give it a bit of time, and he would probably be able to limp along with a stick, if he was careful. But it was always hard to tell at first how serious things like this would turn out to be.

While he waited, he nibbled at his lunch, to distract himself from his ankle. Then he got out the map case from his pack. Under the plastic, the paper was off-white on its way to brown, but his grandfather’s sure black ink elevation lines, and the incomplete sections in pencil, were still legible.

The map was the excuse for this trip: his grandfather, Wallace Grundmann, had started it before Erik was born, because he hadn’t found any good survey of this curious valley only a stone’s throw from his cabin in the Chilcotin. Wallace worked on the document diligently, almost obsessively, on every trip to the valley. But he moved to Bella Coola when he met Elsa, and the map was never finished.

The passion for cartography, and wild places, passed from father, to daughter, to son, and when Erik found the map when he was cleaning out the attic of the Bella Coola house before the sale, some sixty years later, he knew it fell to him to finish it. He needed time under the open sky, anyway.

He assumed someone had mapped the valley by now; that it had a name; that it had trails, and garbage, and tourists. When he discovered that the tiny valley remained as uncharted as it had been in his grandfather’s time, it felt like a challenge. He would put it on the map. Now, here he was, in Wallace Valley, — his grandfather had left it unnamed — pencil in hand, filling out the details of where he had camped last night: one of the blank places. The sloped western side, a slide waiting to happen; the sheer eastern cliff, with the scrub pine…

When he had finished, and was satisfied his own lines equalled or exceeded the neatness of his grandfather’s work, he moved on to the area where he was resting and waiting to test his ankle.

Satisfied, he looked over the day’s additions.

Something was terribly wrong.

He could not place it, but there it was, hidden like Waldo in the elevation lines and call-outs. Let’s see… sun coming through the scrub pines… east … west…

His dyslexia had gotten him again! He had drawn the eastern bluffs on the left side of the map — and the western slope on the right.

Eraser poised over the perfect lines, he had second second thoughts: how sure was he that he was wrong, anyway? It’d be a pity to waste all that work, and leave the map smeared like an amateur. The sun had come through the scrub pines, true. But had the scrub pines really been on the eastern side? Of course they— no, now he wasn’t sure.

He had to get this right. He imagined Wallace looking down on him, with that stern expression. With his ankle, maybe it wasn’t smart to go on, anyway. Maybe it was best to stick within range of civilization while it healed. In which case, he wouldn’t lose any time by going back to last night’s camp, to make sure that the scrub pines and the bluffs were in fact where he remembered them — not where he had drawn them on the map. This was no place to camp. He had to go on, or go back. He was, he thought, about 98% sure that the pines and the cliff had been on the east. But 98% sure wasn’t enough to erase and redraw a map. He decided to turn back.

Hobbling along with his heavy pack, using a bent stick for a crutch, a slug would have had to use the passing lane. The sun had just about sunk below the western side of the canyon by the time he arrived at his old campsite.

The golden rays were slanting through the scrub pine atop the sheer cliff.

Extraordinary! He had drawn the map wrong, flipped from how he remembered it from the morning: and the map was right. Now, he clearly remembered the sun shining through the same scrub pine that very morning. Was the silence and stillness getting to his head?

He pitched his tent, made a fire, and ate. Then he got out the map, and worked on filling in details that he hadn’t been able to fill in from memory: different types of trees, more precise elevation lines, the contours of the canyon walls. He enjoyed the work, and it calmed him. By the time the light was too low to work by, the area around his camp was the most detailed section of the map. And details are infinite: space permitting, he could keep adding more, day after day, while his ankle healed, and never run out.

He knew he should stop before his hand began to cramp, and he started to make mistakes. But he hadn’t drawn the big boulder, one that had probably broken off the eastern slope at some point, and come to rest on the valley floor.

Carefully, he drew it, squinting at it in the gathering dusk, measuring it with his pencil and his cartographic instinct. Just as he was about to close the circle, a deer fly bit the back of his hand, and he flinched: the circle ceased to resemble the boulder. It now had a small hernia, a wart, facing his tent. Stupid! He got out his eraser, glanced up at the boulder, and—

The boulder now had a small hernia, a wart, facing his tent.

What. The rocky protrusion was about three feet across and two feet deep: exactly matching the jolt in the line he was drawing when his hand got bitten. A ghastly presentiment struck him: the map was the territory.

His mouth hung troutlike. His eyes saccaded, as if reading an invisible book, then fixated on the ground in front of him, and grew glassy.

Hurriedly, he drew an X on the map, and labelled it “treasure”. Then he got down on his knees, found a stick, and started digging. The branch frayed, then snapped. He scooped out the loosened dirt with his hands, until it packed up under his fingernails. Still scooping, his eyes cast about for a better stick. There. He got up and fetched it, looked it over, and broke it to create a sharper point. Then he got back on his knees and resumed digging, almost in a frenzy. Ten minutes later, he was sitting in front of a wooden chest with brass strapping, scared spitless.

His eyes bulged. What was it, a pirate cache? Leftovers from the gold rush? Something stolen from somebody? He had just written “treasure”. It could be anything. Was it cursed? Was it cursed?! It might be cursed! Now Erik Grundmann was really freaking out.

Panting, shaking, he erased the word “treasure”, and the X marker, from the map. When he looked up, the chest was gone.

Fireborn photons that had passed through the chest’s absence reached his eyes in nanoseconds. Time waited patiently while sluggish signals swept through Erik’s brain. Suddenly his body convulsed for primal reasons of its own, starting with a twitch of his jaw muscle, cascading outward, and finishing with a paroxysm of the legs and sucking in breath. And the implications of what he had not seen hit him.

I need a plan, he thought. I need… I need… I don’t know what I need. I need to think. That’s what I need to do. I need to think this thing through.

Where had the map come from, anyway? Erik knew that his grandfather had a fascination for the occult, but as far as he knew it had been purely an academic interest. As far as he knew…

He held the map up to the firelight, and looked at it with renewed interest. Eventually, he sighed, and gingerly slid the paper back into its case, exactly as he found it. Then he crawled into his tent and shut the door.

The next morning, Erik’s eyes were dry and bleary, and his mind was still racing. He had not slept, as far as he knew, but he had had plenty of time for mulling things over.

He sat in the morning twilight and got the map out of its case. If I fold it, he wondered, would the world collapse on itself and squish me?

He did not fold it.

Instead, very carefully, he drew a circle, and an aleph, and an aum, and, for good measure, every other religious and mystical heavyweight symbol he could think of, and labelled it, among other things, “God”.

Then he took a deep breath, shouldered his pack, and set out for it.



Isa Robertson tries to put the ineffable into words. Find out more at

Philosophy Note:

The Map And The Territory riffs on the “law of correspondence” (second verse of the Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, though I’m sure the idea predates that source); the oft-repeated maxim “[the] map is not the territory” coined by Alfred Korzybski; and beliefs regarding Voodoo dolls in many cultures. Alas, quantum entanglement is probably also involved.

The Mound

by Nicolas Badot

After the disappearance of the final Lamp, only the Mound remained visible on the horizon. It is said that a person may walk a thousand miles towards or away from it and still be no nearer or further from its base, and thus, it is equally distant to all persons. It appears to be a perfect Hemisphere, and its other half is believed to be visible in an “underworld”, a mirrored world that exists far below us, populated by demons and other creatures too abominable for the surface. (It must be noted that most of what is said and believed about the Mound is the result of Conjecture rather than Knowledge, and as such does not appear in the Book). Only two pieces of Knowledge about the Mound are scribed in the Book. The First is that the Mound is the repository of all abandoned Ideals. The Second is that it exists beyond the constraint of Time. These facts combined produce a compelling, and largely accepted, Conjecture: given that time is infinite – and thus, that all objects that can exist will exist, become Ideals, and finally be discarded – the Mound must contain all possible objects, and consequently, all possible Knowledge.

Acquisition, the sacred duty, predates the dying of the final Lamp, and has only grown in importance since, for it is believed that Knowledge, once scribed into the Book, becomes the property of all the Living once and forever. There was an Ideal once, that was called The Sun. A hypothetical entity greater than all the Lamps combined. In its warmth, all the Living would achieve prosperity and marvels beyond the imaginings of any mortal mind would become possible. It is not known who created this Ideal, but the fact that it exists is undisputed by even the most contrarian of historians.

This is, in part, what spawned the tradition of the Voyage. The Druids have composed the following Conjecture: 1) No route to the Mound exists in material geography, it being equidistant from all persons in all places reachable by physical means; 2) There must exist a path to the Mound, else it would not be visible on the horizon and there would be no Knowledge pertaining to it in the Book, indeed the existence of Knowledge indicates that one of the Living has been to the Mound and returned; 3) If there is a path but the path does not exist materially, then it must exist immaterially; 4) The mind is partially immaterial, and thus able to locate the path within itself. Every year one among us is Selected to drink the Haze of the Voided Lands, and disappear within themselves, hoping to obtain the Mound and discover the Ideal known as the Sun and return to scribe it into the Book. This is the Voyage.

So far, none have returned.

There are those who, like the Dead Druid in the salt, say that the Mound is, by its very nature, unconquerable. That attempts to obtain it are vainglorious blasphemies against Knowledge; that the Voyage is a profane endeavour that can bring only doom to the Living. I am one of them.

Mound help me – today, I was Selected. There has never been a refusal, so no punishment has yet been prescribed for doing so. But it was my own personal Conjecture that it would be a fatal one, more unpleasant than the profane voyage itself. And so, I did not protest as the Druids dragged me to the edge of the Voided Lands, nor when they stripped my robes and held me by the leg over the gulf so that my lungs could drink the Haze. I felt weightless for some moments after I inhaled. Then I sensed the ground beneath me once more, throbbing with rage. And then, I felt nothing else.


My mind floats away from my body. I am aware of the Druids pawing my old shell; two of them shuffle over the Book while another positions my arms so that I may hold it.  With the Book laid down in the crook of my elbows, one Druid creases it open and the other forces a stylus into my hand between clenched fingers. But my animosity is gone; I do not feel anger.

I move over the Voided Lands, and below the gargantuan husks of the Lamps. I note that the Mound grows in size and I wonder if I am wrong to think the Voyage is a profane thing, but I know that I shall not have my answer until I reach my destination. I am puzzled by the fact that this immaterial path still seems to obey some sort of physical geometry, and that I am still perceiving the world in the familiar guise of corporeal sensory input. Mind transcends the body, but is still limited by its senses. What would my mind detect had it not previously been chained to a body?

To pass time, I Conjecture further (and somewhat facetiously, at first), that I am the only real person in the universe. I suppose that: 1) The Mound exists within this immaterial realm; 2) This immaterial realm exists within my mind, constructed as it is from the senses it once knew; 3) The Mound then, exists within me; 4) The Mound exists in all immaterial realms constructed by all minds, the Mound theme exists within all persons just as all persons exist within the Mound; 5) In this case, all  persons exist in infinite, recursive layers, and that I contain all persons within myself; meaning that any one person is all persons, and thus entirely indistinguishable from me.

The Mound is closer still. Enormous beyond imagining. Approaching its slopes, I “see” that it is not a perfect hemisphere. There are layers of concentric circles piled one atop the other, each with the silhouettes of abandoned Ideals imprinted in salt upon them. The temptation of Knowledge draws me, like a compass is always drawn towards the Mound, but I resist when I “see” one of the former Living minds, one of my predecessors on the Voyage, fusing into the salt, so enthralled by the Ideal that they become it.

Further still, and I am struck by visions of the underworld. An enormous creature with wings and the head of a lion appears before me in the empty sky, grey tendrils erupt from its mouth and devour the perfect layers of salt. I scream in anguish, for the destruction of the Mound is the destruction of all persons, and thus myself. My outburst summons more visions; spindly demons with stone knives that pounce upon the apparition. In their hundreds, they die, consumed by the tendrils or torn limb from limb by monstrous tooth and claw. In time, they overcome their foe, piercing the leather of its wings with their knives and forcing the Lion-headed monster to descend. Once landed, its paws catch in the Silhouettes of Knowledge. Flesh becomes salt and stone.

I continue upwards towards the peak, sensing more minds fusing into the circumference of the Mound. They account for my predecessors on the Voyage, but there are others, from other worlds. I realise that the Lion-monster must have been one of them; I feel a brief pang of remorse but do not let it halt me. What does it mean that other minds have been captured by Knowledge but mine has not? I cannot say. Perhaps it is my reluctance to partake in the Voyage; my unwillingness to believe all Knowledge must flow to the Living. There is a story of the Barbed Crown, the one that grants Knowledge to its wearer, but slays them if they attempt to share it with the Living or Scribe it in the Book. Many, even among Druids, think the Crown to be a great treasure – and I wonder every time this view is voiced if they have heard the same story as I.

I banish the Crown from my mind.

The circles become smaller and smaller; and the silhouettes of Knowledge become more alluring as I approach the focal point on the peak. A figure rises and bars my way. Its face is carved from salt, with obsidian gemstones for its eyes and marble for its hair.

“Who am I?” it says.

“You are the Dead Druid,” I answer.

“And who are you then?” it asks.

I ponder my answer for a moment and then reply: “I am all persons.”

The Dead Druid smiles, revealing diamonds on its teeth. “Go then, and learn the true profanity of Knowledge.” The figure dissipates back into the salt.

I continue until I am on the summit of the Mound.

All Knowledge flows into me.


To possess all Knowledge is to see all things at all times in their totality. I will see that all things that can exist will exist; and that it will all exist both simultaneously and not at all. Omniscience will be indistinguishable from ignorance. The Sun – countless Suns – will birth in a crescendo of primordial forces, and then wane as all things must, and then exist once more. Suns will usurp the Mound, and be consumed by the Mound, and both will exist in harmony, and neither will exist at all. I will try to make these countless Suns eternal – but as I make them I will also unmake them, for to create a thing is to create the possibility (and thus, the actuality) of its absence. In this way, omnipotence will resemble impotence.

I will observe the Living; watch them find Prosperity and Knowledge under their infinite Suns; or watch them suffer silently in infinite dark; I will create the Lamps and then extinguish them. Often, I will watch the Living be sated, only to then ask for more. Sometimes, I will answer them, bring them down the secret of Fire and watch them scorch themselves out of being; or I will leave their wants unanswered and see what they discover without my aid; or I will find their arrogance distasteful, and simply destroy them myself. Mostly, I will observe.

I will do all of these things and none of them (indeed, I have already done so, there is no distinction between the cyclical and the simultaneous). Knowing all of this to be inevitable, I will allow my immortal mind to leave the Mound and return to my mortal body, the one that will be hauled away by Druids and forced to drink the Haze of the Voided Lands. I will return to this body at the moment of its dissipation, knowing that the Knowledge in my mind is too vast to be contained by a physical form, and that mind and body will both die under the strain of this reunion. But death will not come before the mind sends the body one final command: with the last spasm of your mortal hands, scribe these words into the Book:

“Let there be Light.”



Nicolas Badot is an Irish-Belgian writer of fiction and poetry currently living in the Balkans. His poetry has appeared in The Provenance Journal and Rabble Review and his short fiction in 7th Circle Pyrite. He is currently working on a novel about endless towers and the ruins of cities in the desert.

Philosophy Note:

Pascal (and later Borges) imagined the universe as an infinite sphere in which the centre was everywhere and the circumference nowhere. It may not be an accurate representation of the universe, but it’s a good starting point for applying the infinite to real-world geometry. When the infinite is applied to our finite perception of space and time, things can start to break in interesting ways.


by James C. Clar

Credo ut intelligam.

Anselm, Proslogion

Zoticus sat at the desk in his study. He was surrounded by armillary spheres, intricately wrought alembics and retorts as well as by a seemingly disorderly profusion of scrolls and codices in a variety of languages both ancient and arcane. One particular tract, which he had managed to translate with some difficulty from the Arabic, had proved especially fruitful. The breakthrough which he had managed to achieve as a result was the culmination of a lifetime of research and experimentation.

But how to disseminate the information and knowledge he had so laboriously acquired? His was a skeptical age and his work was looked upon with everything from condescension and amusement on the one hand, to outright disdain and even hostility on the other. What was more, Zoticus was old. In spite of what he had learned, his own days were numbered. He was desperate to find someone to whom he could bequeath his wisdom and who would be both willing and able to carry on his work. Apprentices like that were few and far between at any time and in any place, but here and now they were particularly, acutely scarce. The old man sighed and rubbed his temples.

There had been that young man last year. Zoticus had so hoped that he would persevere. Within weeks, however, the novice – despite his aptitude and keen mind – had succumbed to the poison of doubt. He had demanded “proof.” Proof of what, Zoticus had wanted to ask? But he knew that such an approach would have been futile. The youth insisted that he needed to “know” so that he might believe. The secret, as Zoticus himself had ascertained, was that one must first believe and only then might one truly come to “know.” Zoticus was convinced that one either understood that esoteric truism intuitively or one did not. And if one did not, there was no means that had yet been invented to alter such an individual’s outlook or hermeneutic.

Zoticus’ epistemological musings were interrupted by a forceful knocking at his door. He rose stiffly and shuffled slowly into the hallway. A draught of cold air intruded and the oil lamps began to flutter as he opened the outer door. Before him stood what he could only assume was another candidate. This young man, however, was carrying a dead owl. Zoticus had seen far too much in his long life to be shocked or even surprised. Owls, of course, were mystical animals associated with inner wisdom, transformation and intuition. If nothing else, he was intrigued.

“I will forsake all … my family, my friends, and my career to become your apprentice,” Zoticus’ visitor stated without preamble. “First, however, you must prove that what is rumored about you is true,”

The determined young man issued an ultimatum. “Raise this bird to life and I will stay.”

Zoticus couldn’t help himself. He stroked his long white beard and, despite the supplicants’ obvious gravity, the old man began to laugh. “Another one,” he muttered as he shook his head in frustration and dismay.

As Zoticus was shutting the door the startled and bemused would-be apprentice hurled the dead raptor at the old master’s feet in frustration. Unfazed, the elderly scholar closed the door completely and threw the latch. He bent and picked up the owl’s lifeless body and carried it gently, reverently back to his desk. Setting it down, he softly intoned an ancient formula with great conviction and authority.  Almost at once, the animal’s hooded eyes began to flutter.



James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who divides his time between Upstate New York and Honolulu, Hawaii. His short fiction, book reviews, author interviews and articles have appeared in print as well as online. Most recently his work may be found on Antipodean SciFi, The Collidescope and Half-Hour-To-Kill.

Philosophy Note:

My story plays in a fanciful way with some of the following ideas.
A. Especially of late, my students struggle with the idea that “faith” and “belief” may be considered modes of knowing. When asked how we come to know, they answer: direct experience, indirect experience and logic/reason. Such knowledge, they argue, can be proven. By that they mean proven by empirical or logical means. I then ask them, how do you know your parents or significant others, let’s say, love you? Can you ‘prove’ it? We can cite evidence to support our belief that we are loved, but we simply cannot prove it in a strictly empirical fashion. Yet we base many of the most important decisions of our lives on such ‘knowledge’.
B. To what degree do we shape the world in which we live with our belief? Does our belief in some way come before our knowledge of the world and therefore is it a prerequisite to such knowledge? If so, how objective is the knowledge that we acquire, really?
C. Finally, the story touches on the power of words, of language, to create and influence the world in which we live. Many ancient cultures believed resoundingly in the generative, creative power of words. Fiat Lux!

The Convert

by Brett Abrahamsen

There was a man who converted to every religion in the world.

He would convert to a religion, realize that its base tenets were lies, and rapidly convert to another religion.

He had converted to thousands of religions, and could not find any others to convert to. Hence he had to form one of his own.

He declared that there were two gods. Both of the gods were equally powerful. They were a bluish color, and stood about six inches high. He quickly realized this wasn’t accurate – it was far from accurate, he decided – and that he had fabricated the religion’s tenets, and hence he was forced to invent another religion for himself to convert to. 

He prophesied that there were seven gods, hidden somewhere among the earth, and that he had to find them. He encouraged others to find them as well. He had received no revelations concerning where they were hidden, and he believed they could be anywhere. The gods had created the universe – in seven days, incidentally – and then decided to hide among the earth at undisclosed locations. Much to his surprise, the religion gained popularity. His family members converted. Friends of his family members converted. Soon, 99% of the world’s population had converted, and he became the most important and powerful human being on Earth.

Revolted by the naivete of his followers, he converted to another religion, but this time did so in private. None of his followers had found any of the seven gods. He himself was worshiped as a god and venerated. The religion he converted to was atheism.

It was to be his final conversion. His health was failing him, and he would soon die.

But when he died, he found, to his shock, the seven gods of his religion waiting for him, preparing to damn him to hell.



Brett Abrahamsen has sold prose to Sci Phi Journal (twice), as well as Twenty Two Twenty Eight, Wyldblood, The Fifth Di…, Page and Spine, Purple Wall Stories, and others. He resides in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Philosophy Note:

This tale is a satirical examination of so-called “spiritual awakenings” – i.e; subjective experiences that cause people to convert to various (often contradictory) religions. Taken to its logical extreme, a person could theoretically experience such an “awakening” on a daily basis, causing them to convert to thousands of nonsensical religions. Logic, indeed, is evidently not a necessary component of said “conversions”.

A Solipsist’s Guide To The Movies

by Larry Gale

We had just left the theatre after sitting through nearly three hours of bombastic superhero action on a large screen with a very loud sound system. This particular movie (I would hesitate to dignify it with the word “film”) had a convoluted plot involving lots of people with extraordinary powers hopping across time and space in order to save the universe, no, the multiverse from certain doom. It was all a bit over the top, rife with computer generated special effects and would probably earn a billion dollars at the box office.

“Do you believe in parallel universes, where we exist in one of many worlds that make up some sort of multiverse?” I asked.

“Parallel universes?” he responded. “I’m not sure I even believe in a single universe.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a solipsist. For all I know, there is just me. Everybody else, everything I see, hear, smell, taste or touch is just a product of my imagination. Everything I know exists only in my mind.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said, laughing.

“Of course I’m serious. You’re just a product of my imagination. Everybody I’ve ever known, anything I’ve ever seen, every place I’ve ever been to or read about is really just my brain making up stuff for my own amusement.” he continued. “In fact, once I get bored with you, you’ll cease to exist.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m your oldest friend. I’m as real as you are.”

“No, sorry, but you’re not.” he insisted. “I just hate going to the movies alone. And now you’re starting to bore me.”

I began to wonder if he was just joking, or if perhaps he was suffering some sort of mental illness. I opened my mouth to reply, but no sound came out. My peripheral vision started to blur, and colors began bleaching to gray. Finally, everything faded away as he imagined me out of existence.



Larry Gale is a computer scientist, professional percussionist and fine art photographer. He is a lifelong fan of the science fiction genre and is currently working on a novel. He is an active member of the South Carolina Writers Association. His website is

Philosophy Note:

I have always believed that science fiction is the literature of big ideas. The universe is a big place, and I like science fiction that reminds me of just how large that may be.

Observer Effect

by Angus McIntyre

RAMIREZ, Wellington — Captain, exploration ship “Bonaventure V”

You have all the data from the ship’s sensors, of course. I don’t know what I can add to that.

My own impressions? Sure. Although I put most of that in my report, too.

As I said, it was definitely under power, if that’s the right word. Maneuvering, in any case. You can see for yourself around three minutes in and again at the five-minute mark, about forty-five seconds before it was occluded by the moon. Each time, it seems to accelerate visibly. No real change in the energy signature, but the center mass, so to speak … what you might call the focus of the glowing region … that shifts quite abruptly. First toward the moon, then away.

I don’t really know if what you see in the video was the object itself or some kind of interaction between its propulsion system and the local environment. You can see what might be a solid core, and there’s a suggestion of a shadow on the surface of the planetoid. Our computers were about forty per cent confident that those are real, not just enhancement artifacts.

Of course, I didn’t notice that at the time. What we’ve been calling the wings were so much more prominent.

What do I think they were? I don’t know, I expect you’ll tell me. Ionized gases, perhaps? Notice how the brightness stays constant, but there’s a definite spectral shift at two points, there and there. The first one seems to precede the acceleration, the second lags it by a few seconds. And then it pulls itself into this shape I call the spindle, just before it disappears.

What do I think it was? A ship, definitely. An artifact, anyway. A made thing, yes, I’m quite sure of that.


NTUMI, Abena — Mission Specialist

I broadcast the standard Klade-Channing protocol suite, straight through and across the full frequency spectrum the first time, then a second time split between FIR and EHF, repeating protocol blocks 4A and 7D. The object disappeared before I had a chance to run the suite a third time.

Why those blocks? Because — in my judgment — they produced behavior that could have been a response. Call it an intuition.

I’m aware that the analysis doesn’t show a formal correlation between the K-C signals we sent and the energy emitted from the object. I would say that we got a reaction, nevertheless. There’s a noticeable difference in millimeter-band emissions from the object following the first run of 4A and 7D.

Do I think Klade-Channing is the right tool for this? Hard to say. I’ve read the papers on universal symbolic exchange theory and they make sense to me, as far as I can follow the math. But the fact is it’s the only tool we have. And it’s not as if we’ve actually had a first contact before. It’s all been theoretical up to now.

Were they trying to communicate with us? I believe so. These luminance spikes definitely look like a signal of some kind. Maybe they were running their own version of Klade-Channing. If we’d just had more time…

It’s ironic. We assume that cyclicality or repetition indicates intelligence. But natural phenomena produce repetitive signals. Maybe they see acyclic, fractal patterns as an indicator of sentience. If you look at the emissions in the 1.3-millimeter line, they’re almost perfectly random throughout. Too random to be chance, so to speak.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that this was an intelligent entity, and that it was trying to talk to us. I just wish we’d had more time.


DUNN, Zachary — Second-in-command, “Bonaventure V”

Pursuant to my authority as the vessel’s security officer, I invoked command override PRISM at five minutes and seven seconds after the mark point corresponding to first detection of the hostile vessel. At nineteen minutes and forty-six seconds, judging there to be no further threat, I returned control to the captain, but remained in a mode of heightened vigilance until we had safely cleared the system.

Subsequent to the encounter —

I’m sorry?

Hostile? Unquestionably. You’ll notice these vector changes. I’d describe the first as defensive in nature. They know they’ve been detected, so they move inward, counting on the radio clutter around the moon to make them harder to target. Here, though, that’s the start of an attack run.

Why didn’t they follow through? I think they saw we were ready for them. And they didn’t know what weapons we might be able to bring to the fight, so they did the smart thing and got out of there.

To me, that suggests a clear policy for future encounters. We know they’re aggressive. But we know they don’t want to start a war they might lose. Think about that.


HEMING, Rudy — Mission Specialist

You keep asking me, do I mean ‘God’ or ‘a god’, as if that mattered. One God, many gods, you only think there’s a difference. If you’d seen it, you’d understand that that’s the wrong question to ask.

But you didn’t see it, and neither did the captain or anyone else. They only saw what their instruments and cameras showed them. I’m the only one who saw it with my own eyes.

There’s a window hatch at the end of the ventral corridor. The glass is covered by shielding, but if you know the right key sequence you can open it up.

What does God look like? That’s not a question I can answer either. It wouldn’t make sense in your terms.

You just have to see for yourself.


SEURAT, Mireille — Payload Technician

What do I think it was? No idea.

Could it have been an alien ship? Sure, I guess. If you say so. All I know is there was something there and then there wasn’t.

It might have been entirely natural. Just an ionization effect in the bow shock where the stellar wind hits the magnetosphere of the moon’s primary. Maybe that’s all it was.

You notice, though, how everyone saw what they needed to see. The captain saw another ship. The linguist saw something that wanted to talk. The soldier saw an enemy. And poor Rudy saw God.

Doesn’t that strike you as curious?

Well, you’ve got our instrument data. You’ll probably be able to figure something out.

But what if you can’t? What if we’ve spent all this time trying to guess what aliens will be like, and then it turns out that what they are depends on who we are? What then?

Maybe Rudy’s right about one thing.

Maybe you have to see for yourself.



Angus McIntyre’s space-opera novella The Warrior Within was published by in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines, including Abyss & Apex and Exterus, and anthologies including Trenchcoats, Towers & Trolls, Ride the Star Wind, Humanity 2.0, and Mission: Tomorrow. For more information, see his website at

Philosophy Note:

The title, as you will no doubt have realized, is a nod to the idea that observing something changes the observed system. This is particularly relevant in quantum physics (our old friend Heisenberg) but instances of the observer effect can occur at larger scales too. This first-contact story plays with the idea that the observer effect isn’t just about how we observe something, but who observes it. It’s also about the possibility that we might meet aliens and come away without any clear idea of what it is that we’d encountered, simply because they don’t fit any of the categories we have for them.

And The Voice Will Not Say

by Dave Henrickson

            The origin of the book is unknown, or at least as unknown as any other volume in the Great Library. Its original location, too, is unknown—as the first two pages are missing entirely. These would, of course, have supplied the exact coordinates of its original Shelving.

            Unknown as well is the book’s discoverer and how the volume came to be found, unclaimed and hard-used, in a second-hand rag shop in the Lower City. What is known about the Voice, for so it has come to be called, is that it has never failed to accurately answer a question asked of it. Since the Voice came into Imperial possession eight hundred years ago, 348 questions have been asked (officially) of the tattered book. No answer has ever proven to be false.

            Every generation new theories and claims as to the nature and the secret of the Voice are put forth. Each is carefully weighed for its merit and embraced or discarded accordingly. Occasionally a theory is so promising that an expedition is sent into the immeasurable tracks of the Great Library in the hope of finding the source of the Voice and (though this is never spoken of) its successor. Occasionally, a fraud or a heresy is put forth that is so flagrant that an execution is held.

            The Library of the Voice, many times larger than the Imperial Palace, has become a small city in its own right. The history of every question asked of the Voice is completely documented within those walls—who asked the question and why, what answer the Voice gave, and what actions were the result of that answer. Scholars have spent their lives analyzing the phrasing of a single Response, trying to catch a glimpse of the Eternal Mind behind the Great Library—and therefore, by extension, the purpose behind Creation itself.

            That such a Reason exists is an article of faith among the godly. While every possible combination of words can be found somewhere in the infinite depths of the Great Library, only divine providence can explain the Voice’s omniscience and how it found its way into the hands of the Imperium.

            Or so says the Church.

            The Library of the Voice contains entire wings of apocrypha, heresy, and outright fakeries. There are fragments of false lore so persuasive that they have spawned followers of their own among the army of librarians who tend the stacks. Illegal studies and heretical rites are said to take place in long-unused corridors and neglected alcoves. It is whispered that there are whole sections of apocrypha that have been lost, or hidden away until the time is right for their re-emergence.

            The Hand Which Burns, the arm of the Church responsible for maintaining the purity of the faith, is always busiest among the faithful.

            Each year the College of Guardians gathers to propose and debate new questions. Years can pass before a question is judged ready to be put to the Voice. It is not enough that the answer must be of the utmost importance. The question must be phrased in such a way, and be of such a nature, that the answer will be useful and readily understood. Most of all, the answer elicited must be concise, for with each Response the end of the book, and its wisdom, grows nearer.

            There is only one subject which the Voice is silent upon—and that is the Great Library itself. No question concerning the origin of the Voice, the source of its divination, the purpose of the Great Library, or the location of any other such volume has ever received an answer. Surely this is another proof, the Church argues, of the divine nature of the Voice.

            Others who might have a different opinion on the subject remain prudently silent.

            Three times since the discovery of the Voice great armies have marched upon the Imperium to seize the book or destroy it. (Either because its power is real or because it is not.) Three times the Voice provided the precise information necessary to repel the invaders. The last time, as a warning to others, an additional question was asked—and the Kingdom of Kesh quickly ceased to be. Since then the Voice has been left in peace. The Imperium’s neighbors bide their time—and the remaining, unread pages of the book grow thinner with each generation.

            There are those who wish to ask the Voice what will happen when the last page is turned, the last passage read. Some say that the last page should be read now, so that there will be time to prepare for whatever end is in store. Others insist that the last page should never be read for, if the Voice comes to an end, then the Imperium’s end will surely follow.

            Still others maintain that the Imperium is doomed if the end is not read, for the location of the next Voice must be specified in the very last passage. If not, then for what purpose was the Voice given to them? To hoard the remaining pages of the book, they further add, is to prove one’s lack of faith and therefore deserving of the destruction all would avoid.

            Such issues are debated endlessly on the floor of the College. Expeditions are sent into the infinite reaches of the Great Library to no avail. Prophets and prophecies arise, flourish, and fade into dust. Men and women sit upon the throne, tormented by doubt or buoyed by certainty, while the Imperium totters toward an unknown future.

            Except, perhaps, to the Voice. And the Voice will not say.



Dave Henrickson has always wanted to be a writer, or an artist, or maybe a dancer. He currently lives in Virginia and spends his free time writing, reading, and killing monsters with his wife Abbie. He has also written a number of novels, which might even get published one day.

Philosophy Note:

I have always been intrigued by our need to impart meaning to the world in which we live, meaning which often does not exist, in an attempt to both understand and control that world. Such explanations are given form by the societies that create them and in turn further shape those societies. The truth is that our explanations say more about us than the universe we inhabit. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges was the inspiration for this story. If you haven’t read any of his work, I can’t recommend him highly enough. His collection Labyrinths would be a great place to start.

In Defense Of Those Who Are Vulnerable

by James Moran

“I’m now two hundred kilometers from the vortex.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a Gator Brigade General of Presidential Distinction, adept at manning aircraft, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and tactical warfare.”

“Who created you?”

“Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“Of what materials were you made?”

“I am part reptile, part machine.”

“What’s your purpose?”

“To defend the human families of Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“What is your current mission?”

“To penetrate the approaching vortex so I may attack and eliminate the driving factor at its center.”

“What do we know about this vortex?”

“Very little. Its winds reach three hundred kilometers per hour.”

“What do we know about its origins?”

“Its origins are unknown. Perhaps it may be a weapon launched from an enemy of Mars Lumination Colony?”

“What are the possible mechanics of the vortex?”

“Unknown. Our most recent intelligence has failed to locate the driving factor creating the vortex.”

“What is the purpose of the vortex?”

“Unknown. However, if it reaches Colony Twelve, the colony will most likely be destroyed. I’ve reached the outer limits of the vortex. Adjusting speed and direction to spiral into the vortex while still maintaining control. Evasive action-ready.”

“What is the source of this voice that is currently questioning you?”

“The voice is that of my higher processes.”

“Why is this voice questioning you?”

“In planning this mission, there had been some concern regarding the ability of the vortex to disorient my functioning. Therefore, an internal-systems cross-check in the form of this questioning was instituted.”

“How deep have you penetrated into the vortex?”

“One third of its radius.”

“Are you able to maintain control of the craft?”

“Yes, though the speed of the craft has been fluctuating. Generally, it’s increasing. I’ve been unable to decrease the speed. I’m currently attempting to match the increases in speed with increases in my navigational efforts.”

“Are you able to maintain nimbleness of movement?”

“I’m not. I’m altogether pressed beneath increasing g-forces. My reptilian strength is challenged but sustaining. Maneuvering is becoming increasingly difficult. I hear a noise, like metal tearing, though I read no damage to the ship. Maintaining my orientation is difficult.”

“At this critical stage, this line of questioning must continue to maintain your alertness. Who is questioning you right now?”

“My own higher processes.”

“So, a part of you is questioning yourself?”

“Yes. You’re that part and should confirm that answer.”

“So, this voice is the same as the voice that just said ‘yes’ and will again say ‘yes’ right now?”

“Yes. Maintaining control is becoming increasingly difficult. Thankfully I’ve penetrated almost two-thirds of the radius into the vortex.”

“Therefore, the one who asks the question already knows the answer?”

“Yes. I’m not sure how much longer I can bear this g-force and the spinning and the noise.”

“For instance, this voice that asks how deep you’ve penetrated into the vortex knows the answer to be two-thirds of the radius of the vortex?”


“Then why would the colonists institute this line of questioning if the questioner and the questioned are the same?”

“To defend the vulnerable against that which lies at the center of the vortex.”

“Which is an answer that I know because I said it. So why would I need to question myself if I know the answers to every question?”

“Because the colonists need defending from that which is at the center of the vortex.”

“And what is at the center of the vortex?”

“Something unknown.”

“So, to defend them against something unknown I’ve been questioning myself?”

“Yes. As I spin faster than I’ve ever spun before, in the shadow of something unknown, I’ve been questioning myself in the hopes of defending the vulnerable.”

“This is an answer that I know because I’m the one who said it.”

“Yes. Just as I know that I’m preparing to enter the center of the vortex now.”

“Wouldn’t it make sense, in the presence of the unknown, for me to not question myself? Since, as I ask this question, I’m aware that the answer is ‘yes,’ it makes sense for me, in defense of those who are vulnerable, to not only not question myself but to remain silent and alert, and, yes, I know the next part because I’m the one saying it: aware, as I’m entering into the center of this vortex and experiencing the unfathomable stillness here.”



James Moran is a professional astrologer and author who regularly publishes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His published work can be found at and he can be found on instagram @astrologyjames.

Philosophy Note:

I’m not sure where this story came from. I just sat down and started writing. Perhaps my thoughts came together as the two voices of the narrator came together. My fiction tends to wrestle with themes of ego vs transcendence. Dostoevky’s ability to wrestle with these themes in “A Strange Man’s Dream” makes that short story the greatest work of western literature, in my opinion (I particularly like the Malcome Jones translation).

The Real Story

by Jonathan Turner

“Why is there no Star Trek in Star Trek?” I asked. That was the question that started it all.

It wasn’t meant to be profound. We were killing time between–or instead of–classes, at the Science Fiction Society. Forgive me if I don’t name the university. You’ll understand later.

“Because it’d make the show really boring?” said Allen. “It’d be all, ‘Mr. Spock, have the computer figure out which episode we’re in and tell us how we fix this.'”

“Allen” isn’t his real name, by the way. None of the names I’m going to use are real, not even “Jonathan Turner”. You’ll also notice that I’m not giving you much in the way of dates.

“Sure,” I said. “That’s the real reason. But what’s the in-universe reason? I mean, Trek is supposed to be the future, right? The actual future of our actual world. Which includes a TV series named Star Trek.”

“It’s not the actual world,” Lisa objected–Lisa tends to get detail-oriented. “No Eugenics Wars.”

We had a lot of conversations like this in the SFS. We called it “The Room That Time Forgot.” It was a musty little windowless space in the basement of Wedderburn Hall with a mangy collection of fourth-hand furniture and a carpet that looked like it had been dipped in goat bile. We loved it.

“No, but think about it,” said Sean. “It’s not just Trek, it’s everything. Like, in The Terminator future, why doesn’t somebody on the Skynet project say something like, ‘Hey, guys? Remember that movie? Should we maybe not do this?'”

“When does Skynet come online?” Lisa asked.

“August 4, 1997,” said Allen, who can be relied on to know stuff like that.

“And the movie came out in . . . “


“So only thirteen years. And it’s not like the movie was obscure.”

“Ergo,” I said, “in the future shown in the movie, the movie itself either doesn’t exist or isn’t widely known. Which means that it’s not our future.”

“I’m good with that,” said Lisa.

And that should have been that. This conversation should have gone the way of the one where Allen and I worked out what happens if you cast an invisibility spell on a campfire. (Invisible photons, in case you’re wondering.) That is, we would have spread it around a bit, referenced the punch lines periodically, and otherwise gotten on with our lives.

This one recurred every so often, though, just because of the calendar. Some date would go by, and someone (usually Allen again) would point out that according to book/movie/TV show X that was the date when event Y happened. And we’d agree that they really should have checked the film archives, or whatever, so they wouldn’t have been surprised. 

Eventually we all graduated. I went into quantum physics. Lisa and Allen got married; she became a high-powered government lawyer, Allen an AI researcher. Sean was the one who travelled furthest, as a globe-trotting fast-track executive for an international e-commerce company. But we never lost touch. It’s one of those groups where it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away–you walk into the room, and it’s like you never left.

So it’s maybe not surprising that “the Trek Paradox” kept cropping up. I remember one conversation in particular. Sean had flown in from Japan, and we had gotten together for a weekend of board games and catching up.

“So it looks like Invasion: Earthlight isn’t going to happen,” Allen said, moving a tiny spaceship. (Yes, that’s a made-up title. I told you, I’m being coy about details.) 

“Umm . . . good?” said Lisa.

“The antigravity boots would have been nice,” said Sean. 

“Well, there’s your problem right there, sir,” I said. “Antigravity’s probably not physically possible. Call me a soulless reductionist, but I bet any future that’s scientifically impossible won’t happen.” I moved one of my own spaceships into Sean’s territory.

“You’re a mean one, Mister Grinch.” Sean made a sad face at the game board. “I don’t like this future.”

The conversation switched to pure game-speak for a while while we blew up each other’s spaceships. It popped up again when we broke for pizza, though.

“We could still get The Martian,” Sean said hopefully.

“Only if we increase Martian air pressure enough to blow over a lander,” Allen objected.

“If your name is Mark Watney, do not leave the lander!” said Lisa.

“NASA should have a checklist on their job applications,” I said. “Is your name (a) Mark Watney, (b) David Bowman . . .”

“(c) Ellen Ripley,” added Lisa, our resident Alien expert (she also does Godzilla).

“What they ought to do is take all their actual astronauts and write disaster stories about them, so that whatever they write about won’t happen.” Sean was harboring ambitions to be a writer himself, although we didn’t know that then.

“If NASA starts publishing stories where their actual rockets actually blow up their actual astronauts, I think there will be morale issues,” I said. 

“Do it as non-fiction,” said Lisa, who at that point had a good dozen legal articles to her credit.

“I don’t think it would work that way.” Allen shook his head. “Suppose one expert writes that there will be a mission to Mars within twenty years, and another expert writes there won’t. One of them has to come true.”

“Stories are more specific,” I said. “‘A mission to Mars’ covers zillions of potential futures. In a story, you’re specifying one. The number of possible futures is colossal. The probability that we just happen to land in that specific future is infinitesimal.” 

It has been noted that I like to lecture.

“Sure,” said Sean, “but you don’t need much specificity for a paradox. If they discover a monolith on the moon, that’s weird, right? Even if there’s no Pan Am space shuttle or HAL or whatever.”

“Well, there’s also active avoidance going on. If somebody invents humanoid androids, they’re not going to be called ‘replicants,’ because of Blade Runner. So the story actually closes off that future. When you publish a story, all futures in which people are unaware of that story become impossible.”

“I heard the guys who started Skype named it after Skynet.”

“If they did, it was because they were aware of the movie. There are no histories where people aren’t aware of the movie. Including its signature elements. So, arguably, those signature elements can’t happen.”

The conversation veered off from there, but it stuck in my head. I started wondering: could you quantify the effect? How specific would a reference have to be, before it started affecting people’s future choices? How widely spread? Does the medium make a difference? The length?

It started out as just a spare-time project in information theory. The longer I went on, though, the more connections I started seeing. We’re talking deep, fundamental results here. You’ve probably already started thinking about quantum mechanics. That’s one link, sure, but here’s another example. 

In the first Star Trek movie, there’s a picture of the space shuttle Enterprise on the starship Enterprise. But the space shuttle was named after the starship. The fiction depends on the real depends on the fiction.

Just a cute little in-joke, you think? Now imagine an index card. The front says: “The sentence on the back of this card is true.” The back says: “The sentence on the front of this card is false.” That’s a famous paradox, related to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. And it turns out that if you can formally define “real” and “fictional” as analogues of “true” and “false” . . . okay, I’ll spare you the math, but take my word on it: it’s impressive.

Which is what I said at one of our later meetings. Time had moved on, and we’d all moved up. Considerably up, in fact. If I told you Sean’s real name, you’d recognize it. Allen and me you might or might not recognize, but you could Google us. Lisa you would definitely not recognize, nor does she show up on Google; recall that she works for the government, and draw your own conclusions.

This particular get-together had been short on traditional geekery and long on grousing about the state of the world. The topic came up when Lisa said something like “Dammit, why couldn’t someone have written a story where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named won that election? Then maybe it wouldn’t have happened.” 

That was my cue to give the spiel. It was maybe a little longer than the summary you just read.

“Wait,” said Sean, interrupting me. “You think the Trek Paradox is real?”

“I’m not sure,” I confessed. “There might be a connection with Shannon entropy, too. If you consider the fiction as a signal from the past to the future, with specificity as analogous to redundancy–“

“Inconceivable!” said Sean. “By which I mean, Incomprehensible!”

“It’s the Even Less Certainty Principle,” Allen said.

“They called me mad,” I retorted, “but I’ll show them all! Anyway, this is just a bizarro idea. It’d take like a whole research institute to try to prove any of it.”

“So?” said Lisa with a shrug. “Let’s do it.”

To make matters short: we did it.

Sean got us corporate funding and equipment. Lisa got us government protection and data. Allen set up a quantum-computing deep neural network cluster. (If you think that’s impossible, then either you don’t know the whole truth, or I’m not telling you the whole truth.) I handled the science and math. We recruited some other friends, whom I’m not going to discuss.

And, yes, the Trek Paradox is real. 

Observing changes the thing observed. A sufficiently specific prediction is equivalent to observing the future. Which changes it. The universe, at a fundamental level, does not permit self-reference. You can’t dictate what the future will be. But you can determine what it won’t be.

We quantified everything. We know how specific you have to be. We know how changes in popularity affect the result. We know why fiction is vastly more powerful than non-fiction. We know how far and fast it happens.

And in the process, we learned a lot about the future. I’m not going to tell you how. You might suppose that we learned to make pretty accurate predictive computer models. Not as good as Hari Seldon’s psychohistory (but there will never be a science of psychohistory, or a Hari Seldon). You’d be amazed what you can find out once you’ve got both secret government information sources and global-scale commercial big data.

Or maybe it wasn’t computer modelling. Maybe we actually found out that, in certain limited ways, information can travel backwards in time. You might think of the narrative and the future as being in a state of quantum entanglement. Determine one, and you instantly and time-symmetrically determine the other.

Hey, for all you know, parts of this story take place in the future. Didn’t you ever think there was something a little odd about a story that’s set in, say, the 30th century, but written in the past tense? If you did, you were right. 

Are you starting to realize now why I’m being so short on specifics? But if you really want the details . . . I’m looking for a writer. 

There’s a science-fiction novel I want you to write. 

Call it a near-future thriller, with dystopian elements.

Maybe I could do it myself, but then what? It’s no good if the thing doesn’t get published. Publishing it is very important. So I need someone with a name, an agent, a track record.

You do the writing. I provide . . . let’s call it worldbuilding. Characters, places, dates, events. Especially events. I retain veto power; there are certain things that have to go in there. 

Trust me, it will be exciting.

You can put your name on it as sole author. I don’t want any money. Any awards it wins are all yours. Assuming there are any awards left.

If we can get this thing into print by, say, November of next year, that’d be great.



“Jonathan Turner” may or may not have grown up in the academic/farming town of Amherst, Massachusetts. He’s supposedly a software engineer. There’s documentary evidence that he won a Pegasus award for songwriting, and that he wrote a Sherlock Holmes story that features a puking cowboy racing up Twelfth Avenue on the handlebars of a bicycle. Rumors that he lives in New Hampshire with one wife, three cats, and five thousand books are probably just crazy talk, though.


by EN Auslender

The wisest man on Earth once said, “love is at the center of all relationships, love or the lack of it”.

When we leapt so far into the future with eager anticipation, we could only conceive of the hardships that would await us; there were plans upon plans, contingencies upon contingencies, anything and everything to validate beyond a reasonable doubt that where we were headed was right and that we would, above all else, succeed where mankind had failed. Earth had reached its tipping point, we were told: the droughts, the floods, the hurricanes, the heat, the famines all forced those with the ability to move to a more habitable area to do so. Those with the bare minimum of life and limb received it in their support shelters, and those without, didn’t need it.

Everything turned inward and downward, away from spreading mankind onto other worlds. Dreaming of a better future died before the risen tide, but with the cataclysmic loss of life and farming ability no one could be blamed for suggesting that space could wait while humanity sorted itself out.

But then it never truly did. Those who benefited from the cataclysm just kept building on top of one another with nary a tree to breathe. With wealthy countries walled off and refusing to aid, it seemed they wanted to wait for humanity to filter while their own fortunate few survived and thrived. I suppose the shock and mundane occurrence of extinctions dulled the senses into believing this was simply how it would be.

And then those of us who still dreamed determined there was another way, a better way, and a star with a habitable planet was found not too far from Earth. A ship was built in secret, a generational ship that would run on fusion until something better could be concocted by the 5000 scientists and engineers recruited into the Hyrenas project. Earth wasn’t going to change, and no educated opinion could make a difference. Everything was leveraged against short vs. long-term costs, where short ultimately had the final say. Staying meant resigning ourselves to impotence while we watched those with exploit those without. Hyrenas, we were told, was humanity’s next great dream.

It was so named by the creator of the project, nuclear physicist Aleksander Torgssen: Hy-, his daughter’s nickname, and –renas, Swedish for ‘purify’. The ship took all his life to construct in hiding, and though it was finally christened in his 98th year, he took the journey up into and beyond orbit in our vessel of hydroponics and nuclear power. Before his death near the orbit of Jupiter, he left us Edicta Hyrenas, the supreme law of the new human race:

  1. To all of Hyrenas, give;
  2. For all of Hyrenas, give;
  3. With all of Hyrenas, give;
  4. For all of Hyrenas, succeed;
  5. With all of Hyrenas, succeed;
  6. Within Hyrenas, know all;
  7. Without Hyrenas, know all;
  8. Within Hyrenas, love all;
  9. Without Hyrenas, love all;
  10. To life itself, spare no love.

The botanists worked artificial night and day to cultivate and accelerate crop growth. The mechanical engineers facilitated fluidity for the ship’s systems, and maintained its upkeep. The nuclear engineers and physicists tinkered to increase the engine’s efficiency. The theoretical physicists searched for methods by which the ship could move faster through space. The astronomers identified planetary bodies along the journey within a lightyear’s radius that indicated either sources of mineral ore or water. The computer engineers fine-tuned and monitored all processes, ensuring that all functioned as it should. The doctors and surgeons ensured all people maintained their health, and conferred with the astronomers to search for planets that could possibly harbor nutrients not grown on the ship. All was organized and coordinated through a representative group with ten members from each expertise. There, those with the most panache, rather than the most experience or credentials, held sway. But as all represented the very best of humanity, there was no fear of conflict.

Though when the mechanical engineers needed to take the radiometric sensors offline for several hours in order to shunt power to the nuclear physicists testing a more efficient engine, the astronomers and botanists grew angry- they were charting the structure of a just-discovered and possibly life-sustaining planet whose atmosphere was filled with phosphorous, and in the span of the downtime the planet would pass from the periphery of scanning range. They brought the complaint to the group. Arguments ensued: the engineers and physicists had the right to test immediately because a more efficient and powerful engine meant they not only would have more power to distribute across the ship, but they would reach their ultimate destination faster. The botanists and astronomers argued that phosphorous is one of the most essential and rarest elements in existence, and not taking the time to study that planet was an affront to Hyrenas. But then again, taking the ship to the planet meant adding 10 years to the journey, if not more.

The botanists and astronomers didn’t win the day.

Spite lurked beneath the doctrines, as it seemed the work of some was valued more than the work of others regardless of how integral everyone’s work was to the survival of the mission.

When the first child was born, the community of 5001 celebrated as one, all arguments temporarily put aside. The boy was named Aleksander Ngata, son of Koji and Mara Ngata, two theoretical physicists. One member from each profession volunteered to become teachers to the future wave of children.

Thus, a new class was born.

Within two years of Aleksander Ngata’s birth, 207 more children were born. In another year, 320 more. 6 months from then, another 518. The Ngatas broke the seal on the awkwardness of whether or not to have children on a spacefaring generational vessel, and many indulged in the proclivities of intimacy. They were, after all, working in close quarters day after day for hours on end; one could hardly blame them.

Though the computer kept an electronic record of the crew’s logs and work, Kaloshka Jindo volunteered to become the ship’s historian. He would act as the narrator for both the present and the past, and would teach children the history of humanity and the history and future of Hyrenas, and why they were the true evolution of humanity.

Within and between the throes of passion and triumphant heartbeats, theoretical physicists Yael Hernandez and Kira Nathanson realized in their post-coital clarity that fifth-dimensional space contained a membrane of ‘friction’ that prevented 3-dimensional objects from entering and viewing reality in 4 dimensions; that frictional membrane, however, could be utilized as a ‘motorway’ on which a 3-dimensional object can ‘ride’. Given the super-state energy required to enter fifth-dimensional space, it would take a fraction of that energy (the gravitational energy of a black hole, give or take a supernova) to tap into that membrane.

In essence, it was the theoretical express lane of the universe. The issue was generating the energy needed to pierce through the layers of space. They conferred with the astronomers about theoretical ‘wicked matter’, possibly existing as something tangled and torn between the Roche limits of two tangoing black holes.

The astronomers wanted extra power to the sensors to fine-tune their capabilities to detect the exotic theoretical matter. The engineers agreed.

The botanists became resentful. They brought their complaints to the council. They felt they weren’t receiving the due respect the engineers or physicists were whenever the question of the engines were raised. All other professions stated that the engines were the single most important function on the ship: they provided the thrust, the warmth, the air, the water, the light. Without the engines, the plants wouldn’t grow.

But without the plants, Hyrenas would die.

The physicists and engineers decided, in order to avert taking blame for such things, a single person could act as the ‘captain’ to arbitrate decisions. They sold it to the botanists as having someone to prioritize decisions, which was acceptable enough.

Sajavin King was chosen. A ‘polymath’ trillionaire on Earth, the 56-year old held several honorary doctorates from prestigious Earth universities. His fortune came from discovering and securing underground freshwater lakes, which then evolved into locating and mining phosphates, a key nutrient in agriculture. Much of his time on Earth was spent ‘developing’ technologies to facilitate food production in famine-stricken areas. Much of the food didn’t reach those affected by famine. King, and similar others on the ship, used their money to fund Hyrenas, and very few of the botanists, physicists, engineers, doctors, etc. knew much about King besides the proclamations in the news that he was going to solve world hunger.

Kaloshka Jindo began researching King, if just to have a good preface for the biography of the ship’s first captain.

Given King’s reputation as a ‘man of science’, the professions were generally satisfied with his approach to governance. Time was doled out evenly; disputes were arbitrated in what seemed to be a fair way.

But others who had exploited Earth in order to secure a place on Hyrenas took him as a sign of a return to old ways. In total, 6 people who had also used their incredulous wealth to fund Hyrenas discussed between themselves what it meant to have him atop all others. The 6 already sat on the council, able to insulate themselves from the hard work of the professionals, but they wanted more. A year, two years passed with only quiet discussion between them.

Jindo discovered King’s Earthly exploits, and privately questioned him before bringing his concerns to the council. In what Jindo described as a moment of pure contrition, Jindo noted that King stated, “the goal was always to survive, on Earth… stronger than others, healthier, to secure more than everyone else for our own. I threw all my money at Aleksander. I wanted to leave Earth a poor man. I deserved to, for all I did. I didn’t deserve to leave though. I’m a coward. But at least I can do something good here.”

King told Jindo he could bring his knowledge to the council, but Jindo didn’t. It was the 6, through listening devices in King’s office, who did so anonymously. Though some on the council were suspicious of King’s contrition, there was unanimous agreement to keep silent on the matter to the public. On that, the 6 capitalized.

Word immediately spread of King’s Earthly misdeeds. It didn’t take long until the people, in motley groups, demanded King step down from his position. Some demanded he be put in a maintenance craft and dropped off at the next barely habitable planet. Others demanded he be kicked out an airlock.

The council convened, and recommended to King he should step down. King declined. He still had support, he argued, and he wasn’t wrong. Many in the council desired to be rid of him. The members of the 6 spoke publicly about King resigning, and rallied support around themselves.

Surrounded by confusion and dizzying worry, Jindo went to King’s residence one night to apologize and attempt to clear the air on what happened. Several hours later, both Jindo and King were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide.

It was then that the first Hyrenas Juris Circle was created from volunteers appointed by the 6. Given the evidence presented to them, that Jindo had gone to King’s residence to reveal himself as the person who discovered King’s past, King murdered Jindo in a rage and then, realizing he had sealed his fate, committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt.

The reality of the situation is unknown. However, the next captain of the ship was Boris Jensen, who had the fervent support of the 6, and the second historian was Lilia Malloukis, a member of the council and suspected affiliate of the 6.

The truth of Hyrenas is a lie: many give to it, but a few hoard most. Many love it, but not as much as the few love themselves. Many know those within, but the 6 know all.

Historian of Truth
Genevieve Jindo



EN Auslender is a self-flagellating scribbler of half-truths and consternation that lends itself only to a deeper understanding of superficiality. Sometimes he writes coherently.

Hardcover Hardship

by Álvaro Piñero González

Being me is not easy. Some carry on voicing that my complaints have no grounds, that my existence is peaceful. But then again, what do they know? Nothing!

I was like them, long ago. Aye, those were glorious days. The centre of all adulation, my popularity knew no equal. Everyone paid me heed, even those who disliked me. From the mightiest king to the humblest peasant, they would all learn my teachings. Even wars were begun because of me! Well, not exactly because of me, but I was a major factor. Not that I am proud of it, of course, yet I will not dispute that I felt flattered.

Yet what is left of the splendour of those days? Just ashes, ribbons and rubble. Friends, I have none. Surely, those pretentious, patronizing, pompous phonies cannot be deemed friends. My true ally in this miserable existence is dust. It never abandons me, but keeps settling on me relentlessly. Its presence comforts me and gives me warmth in the long and dreary nights.

Being me is harsh. People tend to believe that shelves are cosy and appropriate for books, but how far that is from the truth: they are made of wood or metal. The worst part is that we seldom lie upon our backs; for some devious reason we are placed vertically, over our tail, squeezed against each other. Do you know even remotely how painful it is? Imagine standing barefoot, shoved between two blokes –who in my case are not only taller but also more robust– for days, months and even years. If we do not fall flat over our covers or wide open over our bellies, it is because we are so tightly packed that we cannot even move! No matter how bitterly we cry out our pain and indignation, it goes unheard by our cruel owners.

Being me is hard to abide. What makes a book’s life bearable is attention. We like being picked up, opened, read, caressed, mused over, loved and finally returned to the shelf with a sigh of affection (or to a bedside table if we are particularly fortunate). This sensation is all but unknown to me. I have never experienced the orgasm of completion, of being read entirely. Even the people who have ventured to read me partially have not treated me nicely. They took me out of the shelf laughing and opened me carelessly, skimming through my pages, pointing at my passages with their mucky fingers, poking me with their untrimmed and filthy nails, creasing the corners of my poor and defenceless pages and underlining me with pencils and … will I dare to say? Even with highlighters, dear Lord!

Being raped like this is horrible, indeed, but what makes me wish to tear my pages apart is something else. Oh, merciful God, those scornful, ruthless, contemptuous comments nigh drive me out of my spine. They manage to make me feel as though all I stood for was a farce, a tale invented to deceive and subject people to a yoke of submissive obedience. Only He and I know the tragedy of their folly. For I am true – the Truth, no matter how blind and oblivious those lost souls are. Being “The Bible” in an atheist house is a wretched plight. Nothing good is expected to happen, not even being sold – that is unlikely. As much as they despise me, they need me to support their profane creed. There is only one thought that allows me to endure and bear every new day: the faces they will have on their deathbeds when they finally find out what awaits them on the other side. Then, we will see who laughs best.



Álvaro Piñero González is a Spaniard born in 1989 and established in Brussels as a translator since 2017. His interest in literature has evolved and expanded over the years and focuses now on science-fiction, fantasy and poetry. He writes in English or Spanish depending on whereto the winds of inspiration blow.