Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Christmas Fragment: A Bad-Science Disaster Story


Frank Dyson had long dreamed of commanding the first mission to fly faster than light, but he had never dreamed that it would start out like this: running for the launch pad with his crew of three - Abel, Dave, and Kentaro - pursued by armed NASA guards. And then there was the fact that he was being led by his own duplicate self.

"Don't worry," the other Frank said, shouting to be heard over the alarm klaxons as he ran alongside a duplicate Dave. They both wore stolen NASA Security uniforms. "Abel and Kentaro have secured the doors.You'll be on your way in no time."

Frank and his crew had been in final preparations for the launch of Starstrider, the first ship to be built with the new XCD Drive, which was theoretically capable of exceeding the speed of light. However, with less than a week to go till launch, another Starstrider had appeared in orbit and requested permission to land. It turned out that the time dilation effect had a limit equal to the speed of light. Once you exceeded that speed, time reversed itself, like turning a shirt inside out. The duplicate Starstrider had landed, bearing a duplicate crew and a wealth of data on the voyage. Scientists had been swarming over the ship and combing through the data for days.

Then only a couple of hours ago, word had come that Frank's launch had been scrubbed. NASA administrators cited dangerously high winds as the nominal cause. The launch was too risky, especially since they already had the data they needed. Frank and his crew had been locked down, as well as the duplicate Frank and crew. But with just a few minutes before launch time, the duplicate Frank and Dave had appeared and freed Frank and his men. Now they were racing against time to complete the launch.

They rounded a corner to see the duplicate Abel and Kentaro struggling to hold the door against several guards. Frank Two pulled his stunner and zapped a couple of the guards. The others were easily overcome with the arrival of the reinforcements.

"You guys got here just in time," Abel Two said.

"Right," Frank Two said. "Now we just have to get these guys to their ship."

"Wait a second," Frank said. "I thought you were being held under armed guard, just like us. How did you get away?"

"We didn't," Kentaro Two said.


Frank Two smiled and put a hand on Frank's shoulder. "Let me explain. We didn't really arrive four days ago. We actually arrived more like a month ago. And since we knew this was going to happen, we knew we needed back-up. So we decided to go out and come back a few more times. On our last trip, we'll come in and contact NASA. Those guys being held under armed guard are our future selves."

"Yeah, okay," Frank said. "But do you really think we can make it all the way to the ship without being stopped? It's a long way, and the entire base has been alerted."

"Don't worry," Frank Two said. "Our existence is proof that we'll make it. Besides, I told you, we have back-up."

He opened the door, and both crews stepped out into total pandemonium. Frank had to squint in the strong wind that ripped tears from his eyes, but everywhere he looked, he saw duplicate Franks and Abels and Daves and Kentaros battling with guards. Pockets of the battle spread across the entire mile of tarmac between the headquarters building and the ship.

"Oh my God," Frank said. "Just how many of us are there?"

"One thousand twenty-four of each...ish," Frank Two said. "Turns out, there was a doubling effect every time we came back. But four of us are still being held prisoner, and I seem to remember missing the bus one time. Let's go."

The eight of them began to run across the tarmac, weaving between struggling groups of men, dodging stunner blasts. Suddenly, Frank heard a shout from behind him.


The eight men turned to see Abramov, the NASA chief, accompanied by a large contingent of elite NASA guards. Abramov held a pistol, a real pistol, in his hand. "Stop right there, Dyson," Abramov said, blinking as his combover was whipped into his eyes by the howling wind. "You're not going anywhere."

"But Abramov, don't you see?" Frank Two said. "This is what must be. This is fate."

"There is no such thing as fate!" Abramov shouted. "And I'll prove it!"

He shot Kentaro straight through the heart. Kentaro gasped and slumped to the tarmac. All fighting stopped at the sound of the shot.

"Oh my God, Ken!" Frank shouted, kneeling beside his fallen crewmate.

Kentaro smiled up at his commander. "Sorry, Frank-san," he said. "Doesn't look like I'll be making the trip with you after all." He closed his eyes and died.

At that instant, the one thousand twenty-four-ish Kentaros simultaneously disappeared, leaving man-sized holes of vacuum in the air, air which immediately rushed in to fill the one thousand twenty-four-ish voids, making the already frantic winds blow even faster and more chaotically.

And that was how the hurricane started.

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