Archive for May, 2012

Space Madness: Episode V

Posted in science fiction on May 14, 2012 by Alex


Paps woke up on the floor of the bridge. His head was throbbing, his joints were sore, his ankles and hands were bound with some sort of alien wire, and he had to pee. For the first time in weeks, Hal wasn’t around to say something unhelpful.

Paps wiggled and squirmed, trying to get loose. If he could get to a console, he could order a maintenance robot to come and cut him loose. At least then he could wait to die, or to be processed in comfort. Well, if not comfort, then less discomfort.

He managed to wiggle over to the nearest chair. He wished he could do that thing where you swing your arms underneath your feet to get your hands in front, but he wasn’t that flexible. Paps plopped his face on the seat of the chair. Next step, face on the console. He tried to straighten out his legs to prop up his body. His face got about six inches off the seat of the chair, and then fell back down with a thud. Were these chairs always this hard? Paps made a mental note to put cushions on the chairs when he next had a chance.

Paps panted. He tried sliding his shoulders up the seat back. This seemed to be working. He got his head to the level of the console, swung the chair around until his face was over it, and slammed his head into one of the more prominent buttons. Spanish guitar started playing on the ship’s sound system. Wrong button. The one to the right must be the communications channel to the maintenance robots. He rolled his face over three other buttons to get to the one he wanted. Paps managed to press it with his cheekbone.

“Awaiting instructions.”

Success! “Send a maintenance robot with wire cutters to the bridge.”

The console beeped in acknowledgement. The robot was on its way. Paps breathed a sigh of relief, and then slid off the console back onto the floor. A few seconds later, a tiny robot wheeled out of a hatch on the other side of the bridge, ready to cut Paps loose.

“You know, you could have just used the voice commands from the floor. There was no need to hit any buttons.”

Oh great, Hal was back. The robot cut Paps’ ankles free. “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been checking up on your new friends. It seems they are preparing a suite for you, but they are having a hell of a time getting the atmosphere right.”

The robot cut Paps’ hands free, then scurried back to its hatch. “How much time will that buy me?”

“Hours, days maybe. There isn’t any free oxygen in this planet’s atmosphere, so they need to synthesize it from a bunch of methane.”

“There’s a bunch if methane in the atmosphere here?”

“Liquid methane. It’s really cold on the surface.”

Paps was glad suddenly glad the Remotes wanted him alive, and that they bothered to check what he needed to breathe to survive. “Wait, what do these guys breathe?”

Hal expression became excited. This usually meant he was about to explain something in a needlessly complicated manner. “They breathe whatever is around them, and if there is nothing around them, they don’t breathe at all. The Remotes are designed to survive in almost any environment, including the vacuum of space. For a time, anyway.”

Paps started checking the power levels on the ship. Life support was still functioning, but the engines were shut off. They would take some time to restart. “They were designed?”

“Oh yes. Their race has been around for hundreds of millions of years, and for most of that time they have been evolving through the use of genetic engineering and selective breeding. Do you know how much a species can change in a hundred million years? I believe your ancestors of that time were tiny proto-mammals that still laid eggs. Natural evolution without any purpose or direction turned you into what you are today. The Remotes took control of their own evolution a long time ago in an attempt to turn themselves into the perfect species.”

Paps was brought up to believe that this sort of behavior was wrong with a capital W. He tried not to think about what creatures with 100 million years worth of genetic engineering experience would do to him. He needed to get out of here before he found out. “Where are we, anyway? Are we on the surface of a planet?”

“We are in orbit around one of the moons of a gas giant, tethered to the Remotes’ space station. If you look at your scanner, you’ll see that they are siphoning a bunch of methane from the surface.”

Paps flipped on the scanner. The space station Hal referred to looked more like a moon. It was a perfect sphere, with no apparent windows or ports. A stream of glowing gas was being drawn from the planet into the station. “I would really like to know how they’re doing that. I could make a fortune with that kind of mining equipment.

Hal was surprised by this observation. “I think you are missing something important here. A volatile gas is being transported unprotected onto the station. It is a rare occasion that anything the Remotes build is so vulnerable. Shoot it, and you will be free.”

Paps stopped breathing for a moment. It couldn’t be that easy. There had to be a catch. “This ship is a colony scout ship. It doesn’t have any weapons.”

“Sure it does, look over there.”

Paps slowly turned his head to the right. Apparently the ship now had a weapons station. The weapons station had escaped Paps’ notice for months. That was the catch. Paps was not in control of the situation, the Sand Dune Aliens that messed with his brain were. “There is no way the Remotes left me with the ability to shoot anything.”

Hal was looking annoyingly smug. “Try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Paps ran over to the weapons station. A targeting scanner presented itself in front of him. Paps maneuvered the circle on the scanner over a point on the methane stream near the space station. “Here goes.”

The weapon fired. The entire stream of methane ignited, and the flames trailed up into the space station. In a split second, the entire station was blown to smithereens. Paps’ ship got caught in the shockwave, causing everything on the ship to shake violently. “Holy crap, I did it. That explosion took them out. What kind of gun was that anyway?”

Hal smiled. “A positron gun. Matter and anti-matter colliding creating the biggest bang for your buck.”

Paps was dumbfounded. “I’ve got a positron gun on my ship. That is absurd. I’ll try not to worry about the anti-matter containment issue.”

“Quite right not to. You’ve got plenty of other things to worry about.”

“Such as?”

“You just started a war with the most powerful race of aliens in the galaxy.”


Space Madness: Episode IV

Posted in science fiction on May 12, 2012 by Alex


Paps flew across the bridge to grab the translator. When he got up close, he was almost startled at its appearance. He would have actually been startled, but there were too many startling things going on right now to be thrown off stride by minor surprises. The translator was a modified video game controller. “Hal, how does this thing work?”

“Press the x button and point it at them when they get through the door. Try to avoid using proper nouns and human related cultural references. They won’t translate.”

The Remotes were slowly making their way up to the bridge. “They’re sure taking their sweet time getting up here. I suppose I should try to make a good impression on behalf of humanity. How do I look, Hal?”

“Like a sweaty ape who hasn’t showered in a month. But don’t worry, that won’t matter much to them.”

Paps wished he hadn’t asked. He stood tall, facing the door, bracing himself for the menace that was about to barge in. Then they barged in.

There were three of them. They looked like some kind of bug-dinosaur combination. Huge eyes dominated what were presumably their faces, eyes with a honeycomb pattern of colors that filled the entire visible spectrum. If they had mouths, Paps couldn’t see them. It was difficult to tell whether they were wearing armor or if that was what their skin, or possibly exoskeleton, looked like. For that matter, Paps couldn’t tell whether they were carrying weapons, or if that was what their hands, or maybe claws, or tentacles looked like. The Remotes looked like they meant business, and their business looked like it was killing.

Instead of flinching, gasping, or screaming, Paps opted to sweat all over the place. He really hoped this translator worked. “My name is Captain Anton Konstantinos Pappas. I come in peace.”

Hal had to butt in. “Anton? How do you spell that? No, that’s not what I wanted to say. I meant your name isn’t going to translate. It will sound like static, or possibly words that vaguely resemble the sound of your name.”

The Remotes closed in on Paps. They were more focused on the translator. They didn’t react to it for a solid three seconds after Paps had finished talking. Finally, the device seemed to be registering their speech. It started vibrating. “How many pieces do you come in?”

Paps would have been surprised by the fact that the voice coming out of the translator was that of a sensual sounding woman, but again, there were much more surprising things going on at the moment. For instance, the Remotes’ response to Paps was higher on the list of surprising things.

Paps looked at Hal, bewildered. “Oh, translators have a hard time with homonyms. Or is that homophones? Which is the one where the two words sound the same? You humans use such imprecise language. No wonder it’s so hard for…”

“Shut up, Hal!” Paps had not anticipated just how difficult talking to an alien through a translator while his imaginary friend keeps yammering on about homonyms was going to be. Yet another thing that wasn’t in the First Contact Manual. “Uh-oh, I hope that didn’t translate. Let me give it another go. I wish to talk to your people so we may exchange ideas.”

Hal nodded in approval. One of the Remotes was standing in front of Paps pointing something at him. It was either a gun or a finger. The other two were examining the bridge.

They waited for what seemed like a couple of days to respond. The sultry voice of the translator spoke. “This unit is defective, speech incoherent. Analysis. Catalogued species 57408. Primitive intelligence. Group mind not self-aware. Specimen to be processed for further study.”

If Paps had a plan before, which he didn’t, it would have been at this point when he realized it had gone horribly wrong. As it was, things were going only slightly worse than expected, which was a relief. Not enough of a relief to stop Paps from freaking out, however. “No! Give me a chance! I don’t want to be processed!”

The two Remotes that were examining the bridge controls leaped across the bridge and grabbed Paps before he could even think about dodging them. These creatures could move very quickly when they needed to, it seemed. One of the Remotes squeezed his arm tight enough to draw blood. All three turned around and looked at the gash on the arm.

Whenever two species that have evolved on different planets in different parts of the galaxy meet, they always have trouble identifying each other’s emotions. One species’ fear can look like another species’ insane laughter, for instance. The one exception to this rule is annoyance. For some reason, every race can tell when another is annoyed. The Remotes were very clearly annoyed right now.

The seductive voice of the translator began to speak again. “This unit will not survive outside the confines of its transport device. We must bring the whole thing to the station. Analysis. Specific atmospheric conditions will take…”

Static started blaring out of the translator. “… to set up. Immobilize and tow.”

If ever there was a time for Paps to demonstrate his full ability to panic, this was it. “No! Please! Let me go! I just want to go home and have a nice retirement with a dog and a garden and a wife and a swimming pool and a bar and an entertainment center and…”

Paps’ squirming amounted to nothing. The Remote that seemed to be in charge unspooled a length of wire from its hand/claw/tentacle/gun. It tied Paps’ ankles together. One of the others tied his hands together behind his back. Paps was left squirming on the floor, screaming. The three Remotes glided off the bridge, still looking very annoyed. The last one turned around just before it left and clubbed Paps on the back of the head.

Paps collapsed and fell to the floor. The last thing he heard before he blacked out was the translator speaking softly. “Do not damage the unit further, we may have to transport it to the homeworld zoo.”


Space Madness: Episode III

Posted in science fiction with tags on May 9, 2012 by Alex

Episode I Episode II

The ship decelerated into the inertial frame of this unfamiliar solar system. It would be another week or two before it would settle into a polar orbit of the star, another day or two after that to detect planets that could support life, and another week or two to get to the destination. One thing mankind had not counted on when it took to the stars was how annoyingly difficult it is to find planets, even when you know you are in the correct solar system.

One of the oldest legends of space travel tells of the first great colony ship from Earth, the Columbus, which spent twenty years in interstellar space traveling to its destination: Proxima Centauri. Upon arrival the crew could not locate any of the planets in the system, and spent the next ten years poking about the solar system, looking for it. By the time they found the planet, three quarters of the colonists were dead from riots, starvation and cannibalism.

This star system had its own difficulties. For one, the star was a red giant. The radius of the star itself was about 1.2 AUs. Any planets that would have been habitable long ago would have been swallowed up when the star balooned up to its current size. Anything left over would be difficult to see, being obscured by the monster in the middle of the system. There was also a lot of static in the radio and microwave frequency bands, so transmissions from whatever might be out here would be garbled beyond recognition.

Paps had settled down a bit. It was a good thing he was already crazy, because the thought of him being a pawn in some unknown alien plot would have driven him mad. He was starting to think that Hal was more than just a hallucination, but some part of his subconscious mind trying to warn him about what’s happening. Hal knew about the aliens back on the planet that fixed the ship and did God knows what to Paps’ brain. Hal also seemed to know about the creatures he was currently on his way to meet.

Paps sat up straight in his Space Captain’s chair, and attempted to look confident and in charge. Hal seemed to be fascinated by the image of the giant red star on the viewscreen. “You know, if we were this far away from your homeworld’s star, it would be a little yellow dot on the center of the screen.”

“Very interesting, Hal. But I have some things I need to ask you.”

“Do you want to know about the aliens you already met but can’t remember? Or the ones you are about to meet?”

Paps was intensely curious about both, but was afraid that any more information about the ones he already met would set off another panic attack. These new aliens didn’t exactly fill his heart with feelings of joy, but they were the immediate problem he had to deal with. “The new ones. Who are they?”

“Well, names of species are usually the hardest to translate, especially when the methods of communication are completely different.”

“How do they communicate?”

“They speak to each other via modulated infra-red pulses. Devilishly difficult to translate.”

When Paps was going through Space Captain Training a long time ago, he had to take several courses on what to do in case of first contact with an advanced alien race. Trying to talk using infra-red pulses was not covered in the course. “Can I talk to them using a remote control?”

“Sure, if you want to annoy them with gibberish.”

“Seriously, how am I supposed to talk to them?”

“You can use the translator.”

“What translator?”

“That one.” Hal pointed to a little device sitting on the navigation console. It was a small box with various sensory protuberances.

Paps fell out of his chair and started to breathe heavily. He thought he could get used to all the unexpected things that kept happening to him. Apparently he had a few more unexpected things left to go. “Where did that come from?!” He had to ask this, even though he knew the answer.

“What do you mean ‘where did it come from?’ It’s been there the whole time. You just never asked what it was.”

“And that thing translates English to Remote Control Alien Language?”

“And the other way around.”

Paps was starting to get that feeling again. That helpless feeling where your fate is being controlled by an alien that you can’t remember. Worse, he couldn’t think of a plausible reason for anyone to send him out here to talk to these other aliens. Ambassador for humanity? In his current state, he was the worst possible candidate for that job. “Alright, I’m not going to ask why the Sand Dune Aliens messed with my head just so I can talk to the Remote Control Aliens. I’m going to take a deep breath, compose myself, and ask something useful.”

Paps put his head between his knees and started breathing more heavily. Hal seemed amused by this. “Your reactions are getting less frantic. Good for you!”

Paps was not entertained. He composed himself once again. It worried him that he had to spend so much time composing himself. “What else do you know about these Remote Control Aliens?”

“For the sake of brevity let’s call them the Remotes, I like that. And the other ones… the Sandys. No, the Duners, that’s better. You know, they communicate via low frequency vibrations through the ground, and some clicking noises when they’re near each other…”

“Focus, Hal, Focus!”

“Right. Ok. The Remotes, as we’re now calling them, are the most ancient race in the galaxy. This used to be their home system, before it went red giant.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Something like 50 million years ago. They all packed up and left after that, nobody knows exactly where.”

Paps cracked a smile at Hal’s overly dramatic delivery. “I assume that when you say ‘nobody knows,’ you mean that you don’t know.”

“Of course. If I don’t know where they went, nobody does. Well, nobody important anyway. What was I saying? Oh yes, they left a research station behind for some reason, and that’s where we’re going.”

This was less helpful than Paps had hoped for. “Do they get visitors often? What kind of reception should I expect?”

“Most species aren’t dumb enough to actually come and talk to them. The Remotes generally regard other species as being beneath them, or primitive. Depending on their mood, they might blow you out of the sky, or they might take your ship and put you in a zoo, or they might listen to what you have to say and have a good infra-red laugh about it and let you go on your merry way.”

Paps slumped. “This is hopeless. I suppose I should do a little dance routine and hope the most horrible conceivable thing doesn’t happen to me. At least I’ve got a few weeks before the ship finds them. That will give me time to properly brood about this.”

“Actually, they’ve already found you.”


“Oh, yes. You’re being boarded right now.”


Paps whirled the Space Captain’s Chair around to get a look at the entrance to the bridge. The door was closed, but behind it was the sound of metal scraping on metal.

“Put on your dancing shoes, because here they come.”


Space Madness: Episode II

Posted in science fiction on May 5, 2012 by Alex


FOR EPISODE I: click here

Paps was worried. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was wrong. The ship was running more smoothly than ever since Hal showed up. He seemed to help Paps to focus, often coming up with brilliant ideas to improve the sensors, the artificial gravity, the air circulation and the like. This was suspicious, but it wasn’t what he was worried about. He ran out of Space Pills quite a while ago, but didn’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms. This was even more suspicious, but no, something else was wrong. He was worried about how friendly he had become with his hallucination, and even more worried about how unworried he had been about the situation. But there was something more worrying that he couldn’t quite pinpoint. He felt quite sane at the moment, which deeply worried him. All this worrying and Paps still couldn’t figure out what was really worrying him. This was worrisome.

He looked over at Hal, sitting down at the navigation station. He was still wearing the fedora, but had discarded the pinstriped suit for a Hawaiian shirt an a lei. Hal was leaning back in the chair whistling “Ride of the Valkyries.” This was more annoying than worrying. “Will you stop that?! I can’t think when my hallucinations are whistling out of tune!”

“Sorry, Captain, I’ll do my best to stay in key next time.” Hal turned his head toward Paps in a maneuver that only an image painted on the retina could pull off. His body still appeared twenty feet away sitting in the chair, but his head was only five feet away. Sensing that this made Paps uncomfortable, Hal’s body climbed out of the chair and placed itself the proper distance away, restoring balance to the appearance of space. Paps let his eyes settle back into their sockets.

“You know, Hal, you haven’t told me much about yourself. Shouldn’t you have amazing stories about some of the other aliens you’ve encountered? Or weird space phenomena that nobody else has ever seen?”

“It’s not as exciting meeting other aliens as you might think. Politics, mostly.”

“Come on, throw me a bone, here, Hal. I hadn’t met any aliens before you, and I don’t even think you are real.”

“Is that what you think?”

“You already knew that I don’t think you’re real. You’re a figment of my imagination, something my mind conjured up to cope with the loneliness of deep space. I figure the least you can do is entertain me with stories about strange aliens.”

Hal looked at Paps with curiosity. He seemed to be studying him, slowly circling and occasionally poking him. “No, no. I meant do you think I am the first alien you have ever met?”

A tingling sensation began crawling its way up Paps’ back. He furrowed his brow. “Ye-e-e-s… unless you count native wildlife on alien planets.”

Hal kept circling. Suddenly he was wearing eyeglasses and had a pad of paper in his hands. “Oh, I see. You don’t remember, do you?”

Paps’ stomach began to rearrange itself into uncomfortable configurations. “Remember what?”

“Tell me, Captain, how long were you on the surface of that planet you were scouting?”

This was a subject Paps did not want to think about. His voice began to shake. “Don’t make me think about that.”

Hal raised his voice. This was new for him. “How long?”

Paps began pacing nervously back and forth. “A couple of days, I don’t know! I was knocked unconscious for a while! What the hell are you talking about?!”

“You were on a mission. Scouting planets for potential new colonies. You crashed on the planet you were scouting. What happened after that?”

The room was spinning around Paps’ head. He had tried for over six months not to think about this very thing. “I don’t want to say!”

“Tell me what happened!”

Paps sat down in the Space Captain’s chair and buried his face in his hands. “We crashed on the planet. We couldn’t even figure out why we crashed, but our navigation instruments stopped working the moment we hit the atmosphere. Doc Riley was killed on impact. We landed in some kind of desert in the middle of a sandstorm. Everybody was panicking. The techs, Billy and Jen, went outside to check the exterior damage before I could order them not to. They should have let the sandstorm pass. I should have…”

“Don’t blame yourself, I just want to know what happened.”

Paps took another deep breath and continued. “Billy and Jen got dragged off by a giant tentacle sticking out of the sand. There was no visibility, I couldn’t see where they went. Mick, the navigator, ran outside after them with his pistol and some explosives. Charlie, the comms officer ran after him. All I heard after that was an explosion. I tried to get the sensors working to get some kind of visual on everyone, but couldn’t. So I ran outside, screaming, seeing if anyone was left, but the sandstorm was so loud I could barely hear myself. Something must have hit me on the head, because I blacked out and woke up back on the ship.”

“How long were you unconscious?”

“I don’t know. Hours, days maybe. The storm had passed when I came to. There was nothing but sand and rocks for miles. No sign of the crew.”

“What if I told you that you were out for years, not days?”

Paps did not like where this was heading. He hadn’t thought of how strange the whole scenario was since he left the planet. Hadn’t thought about how the ship was able to easily take off with half of it buried in sand. Why would he? He was in hysterics at the time. He also hadn’t thought about Doc Riley, and why her body wasn’t on the ship when he took off. Or the fact that all the broken windows on the lower decks weren’t broken anymore. Or the fact that the ship had been practically flying itself for the last few months. “Wait a minute, who fixed the ship?”

“The aliens that saved you, and you don’t even remember them. Curious.”

Paps began to panic again. He now knew what had been bothering him all this time. It was Hal. Every time Paps was on the bridge, Hal was conveniently between him and the navigation console, blocking his view. Paps hadn’t looked at the ship’s heading in weeks. In fact, he hadn’t looked at it since Hal showed up. “Oh my god, where are we going?”

Paps sprinted across the bridge to check the heading. Definitely not Orion, definitely not any system he was familiar with. “Where the hell is this?!”

Hal started to speak in a way that was precisely the opposite of reassuring. “Interesting, I believe this system has a settlement on it. Well, more of a scientific outpost. I don’t think you are going to find them friendly, either.”

Paps had moved on from panic to sheer hysteria. “How do you know that?!”

“Time and space, my friend. Time and space.”

Paps frantically tried to get the Nav computer to change course, but the system was locked. They were only a week out from this system. “No, dammit! Why am I locked out?! What did you do?!”

“If, as you say, I am simply something your mind conjured up, then you must have done it, whatever it is.”

Paps ran around the bridge, pushing buttons, trying to change something. He was suddenly locked out of every control on the bridge.

Hal looked very pleased with himself. “You should be happy. First contact with a new race! No human has ever met these creatures before. You are an ambassador for all human kind. Cheer up!” Hal started whistling again, this time it was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Paps sprinted to the engine room, pinballing against the walls. He could hardly see straight. What happened while he was unconscious? Who was on that planet? Who was on this planet? Why did Hal know about all this?

“Here’s a little song I wrote, I hope that you learn it note for note…”

The door to the engine room was sealed shut. Paps tried the panel on the side of the door. It shocked him when he touched it. How did the panel get electrified?

“Don’t worry…”

There was nothing Paps could do. He had apparently conspired against himself to go to an alien planet he had never heard of. He turned his back to the sealed door and slid down it, alternately crying and laughing. “So this is what stage 6 is like.”

“Be happy.”


Space Madness

Posted in science fiction with tags , on May 2, 2012 by Alex



Captain Paps woke up in a cold sweat. Another nightmare. He had been alone on his ship, making the long trip back to the Orion colony for six months and counting. Six months of nightmares about what happened to his crew on that uncharted alien world, and about what happened afterward.

“The captain needs his his pills,” he muttered to himself as he stumbled to the Space Medicine Cabinet. It used to be funny that the crew put the word “space” in front of every mundane object on the ship. The Space Table, the Space Pepper Shaker, the Dehydrated Space Unspecified Food Stuff, the Space Spork, and of course, the Space Antidepressants. Paps still used these affectations to remind him of some of the good times with his crew. He didn’t want his only remaining memories to be what happened on that planet, that mission that started off so routine and ended so horribly.

“Four left, then I lose it.” He swallowed the pill, erased the number 5 written on the Space White Board that was next to the Space Medicine Cabinet, and wrote the number 4 on the board. Below the number was the phrase “Days left of space sanity.”

Now to take care of the work for the day. Check the navigational array, make any course corrections. Check the communications array, look for any transmissions. There are never any signals this deep in interstellar space, but one must always check, just in case. Check the Grav sensors, no uncharted black holes or rogue planets in the area. Life support, air circulation, water recycling system, food stores. Enough to keep an entire crew of six busy for the day. Now everything must be checked by the one man left.

Paps stared at the blank communications screen on the bridge for about twenty minutes. The daily tasks of keeping the ship running while in deep space were becoming harder every day. Off to the next…

“Greetings, Captain!”

Paps reeled, knocked his head on the console behind him and fell to the floor. There was someone in the Space Captain’s Chair. This someone had just spoken to him. This someone was, for some reason, wearing a pinstriped suit and a fedora. Clearly this someone was a hallucination.

“Oh, come on! I’ve got four days left before this is supposed to start happening!”

“Before what starts happening?”

“Before I go completely crazy and start having conversations with hallucinations!”

“I can assure you that I am not a hallucination.”

“What stage of space madness is the one where the hallucinations start thinking they are real? Is that stage 5? I must have missed going through the first four stages. Oh God, stage 6 is thinking you’re off course and you veer right into a neutron star because it’s telling you to go toward the light!”

Paps collapsed onto the floor, sobbing. The strange visitor let out a long sigh that seemed to originate somewhere on the other side of the galaxy. “First contact, a grand occasion.”

The visitor knelt in front of Paps’ collapsed convulsing body and put his hand on his shoulder. This had the opposite effect of what was presumably intended, since Paps couldn’t feel the hand touching his shoulder.

“Look, Captain. Whether I am a hallucination or not doesn’t matter. You have no one else to talk to, and will continue to have no one else to talk to for another two years or so. You might as well accept me for the company, real or imagined, that I provide. If it makes you feel better, you can even call me Hal. You wouldn’t be able to pronounce my real name anyway.”

This seemed to calm Paps down a little. “So you’re saying I should accept stage 5?”

“Yes. For what it’s worth, that has been known to delay the transition to stage 6.”

Paps slowly climbed back up to a standing position, trying to compose himself. This was, after all, only the third strangest thing to happen to him during all his travels, and for the moment it seemed much less painful than the other two. He could handle this. “So… Hal. If I pretend for the time being that you are not a hallucination, what the hell are you doing on my ship?”

“You looked like you could use some company, and I’ve never met a human before. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“So you’re an alien. I suppose that somehow explains the suit and the hat. Other than that, you look human.”

“Ah, yes, this isn’t what I really look like. This image is a direct projection onto your retina. It’s human-looking just to make the conversation easier. I’m not really here.”

Paps didn’t know he had such a vivid imagination. He kept playing along because, well, what else was he going to do? “Then where are you?”

“Everywhere, everywhen. I exist in all of space and time. Oh, I guess that means I really am here, too. I would have shown myself sooner, but it took some time syncing your audio responses to your visual ones.”

“What am I, a TV?”

“Well, you’re a little more complicated than that. More like a videophone.”

Paps was more than a little shocked by the thought of his brain being tinkered with like used electronics. He pressed on with the questions. “So, this retina projection thing, does that mean if a real human walked in here right now, he wouldn’t be able to see or hear you?”

“No. He wouldn’t.”

“Well, that’s convenient. You’re not making a very strong case for being real.”

“You’re still talking to me, aren’t you?”

“Like you said, I have no one else to talk to, real or imagined.” Paps took a deep breath, he still had to make sure the ship was running smoothly and he was being distracted by a hallucination named Hal. He wanted to stop, but couldn’t. It had been so long since he had talked to anyone that even this was a welcome respite from the silence.

“If you want to check your ship’s vitals, go ahead. We can talk while you do that. Although I assure you that everything is running smoothly and there are no unusual phenomena in the vicinity.”

Paps eyed the visitor suspiciously. “Thanks, but I think I’ll check it all out myself, just to be sure.”

Paps went to the life support screen to check that the CO2 levels were normal, they were. “You say you exist in all space and time, does that mean you know the future?”


The radiation levels were not anywhere near dangerous levels. “Alright, humor me, what’s in store for me?”

“Anything specific you want to know?”

The water recycling system was working perfectly. No contaminants. “Something simple, like will I make it to the Orion Colony intact?”

Hal put his hand on his chin in a thoughtful manner. He needed to practice human gestures, for those seemed to communicate just as much information as human speech did. “I can’t tell you that. It would violate the laws of causality.”

No change on the status of the food stores. “Oh, are those laws something your species is sworn to protect? Would you get some sort of space ticket if you violate them?”

“No, it is physically impossible for me to tell you. Unless I lie and say yes, definitely.”

Paps’ head was beginning to throb. This was not a conversation he would have expected to have with an imaginary alien. “I thought you said you knew the future.”

“I do.”

Paps was running out of things to check that might cause hallucinations. “But you are unable to tell me what happens there? Then? Whatever?”


Paps had to sit down. It was impossible to check all the gauges with confusing thoughts of imaginary aliens that know the future but are unable to tell you swimming around in his head. This situation might be upgraded to the second strangest thing that has ever happened to him before the day is done. “Huh?”

Hal sighed a sigh that seemed to say, “how can I dumb this down enough for you to understand?” Sighing was another human gesture he had determined was important for effective communication. “The laws of causality cannot be violated by anyone, even creatures that know the future.”

Paps was still confused. He was also thinking of going down to the Space Med Bay to do a full brain scan. “Eh?”

“Think of me, or this image, as an access terminal to the information I possess. When you ask me a question about the future, this access terminal has to send the information in your question to my brain. My brain has to interpret the meaning of the question, look up the answer, and send it back to the access terminal. This takes time. Enough time so that when the information gets back to the access terminal, the future event that was originally asked about will now lie in the past. You process information the same way, but your sensory organs and your brain are so close together that you don’t notice the time lag.”

Paps chewed on this thought for a while. He had always found relativity and causality a bit confusing, and was now being slapped in the face by them. “So… you know the future, but you can’t tell me the future. Ok. Look, I’ll humor you about this as long as you don’t ask me to go on any crazy alien missions for you.”

“Oh, of course I won’t. At least not until you get to know me better.”