Slim And The Fatman

What is it with this place and waking up in the dark and on a cold-ass floor. He thought to himself.

He remembered getting sucked through the door into the black, but he didn’t remember passing out or getting thrown to the floor. As he lay there staring at what he was assuming was a ceiling (there was no way to tell in the total darkness) he saw a faint light start to show at the start of what must have been a hallway. Once again he painfully stood up and made his way towards the hallway entrance.

As he approached the hallway entrance he squinted to see if he could make out any details of the next room. Unfortunately, the hallway entered into a corner of the room where nothing was visible, but he could see vaguely person-shaped shadows against the wall coming from off to the right.

He began slowly walking down the hallway, making sure to control both his breathing and his steps to make as little noise as possible. When he got about halfway down he could hear noise coming from the room. As he got closer the noise began to take on the tones of a feast in progress, with plates clattering, cups spilling their contents, and the unmistakable sound of food being violently masticated by at least one person who had no shame.

“Ah, you’re finally here! Why don’t you come out from hiding so we can get a good look at you. It feels like we’ve been waiting an eternity for you to show up!” The voice froze him in his tracks. How could anyone have known he was there? He had made every effort to stay as quiet as humanly possibly, especially with the noise coming from the people who were eating masking any minor noise he may have happened to make.

As he inched his way into the room, his jaw dropped at the sight before him. At the end of a long table filled with food was a man larger than what should have been physically possible. His features were so far stretched from all the corpuscular rolls of fat that it was hard to believe the figure was even human. The rotund man sat there sat there shoveling food into his face in a manner similar to that of a cartoon character, and every bite seemed to contain more food and drink than the last.

“There you are,” he said. “Why have you kept us waiting? Don’t you know it’s terribly rude to slink about someone’s domicile like an uninvited guest in the middle of the night. We wouldn’t have brought you here if we knew you were going to show that kind of gratitude to our hospitality.”

“Hospitality? I didn’t ask to be brought here. Why should I show you any gratitude?” He ignored the feigned indignation in the large man’s voice. He wanted answers and he wanted them now.

“An insolent little shit aren’t you? You should show gratitude because this is my house, which makes you my guest, and a good guest should always introduce himself.” As he was speaking, a sly grin appeared on his face.

“Why should I do that? Like I said, I never asked to be brought here…” He let his thought trail off as panic started to overtake him. He couldn’t remember anything about his life. He remembered his last moments before he woke up in the room with the seven doors, but nothing about his life before that, none of the people closest to him, not even his own name.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Forget your own name? Then I’ll just have to call you Outis.”

“If I’m Outis then you’re Fat Man.” The newly christened Outis said as he glared at the larger than life figure.

“How original of you. I’m guessing you’ll be calling my compatriot at the other end of the table Slim?” Outis’ eyes shot to the far end of the table. Sure enough, there was a figure sitting there quietly observing the exchange between the other two.

While Fat Man had lavish and rich food and drink in front of him covering almost the entire table, the other figure had just a small plate with a loaf of bread and a cup of water. A stark contrast to the boisterous Fat Man, the figure on the other end of the table looked like he hadn’t eaten in years, with his skin pulled so tightly over his frame that every muscle twitch was visible withthe skeleton underneath the skin his only defining feature.

“Slim. Sure why not,” Outis said halfheartedly. While he felt nothing but anger towards the Fat Man, Outis couldn’t help but pity Slim. He couldn’t tell if was because of the obvious malnutrition, but Slim just looked sad and tired, as if he was there simply waiting for the end.

“Look, I’m not trying to start shit, I just want to know where I am and how I can get the hell out of here.” Outis had moved past the initial shock of seeing the two figures and was ready for answers. He didn’t have time for silly games.

“You are where you belong.” The voice that answered him came from Slim. It startled him because this was the first indication that the waif at the end of the table was still living. Not surprisingly, his voice was barely audible over Fat Man’s near deafening mastication and sounded sad and tired.

“Enough with the cryptic bullshit!  Just tell me what I’m doing here and how I can get the fuck out!” Outis’ anger flared. These two “men” were going to keep giving him the runaround for as long as possible, that much was clear.

“Ha ha ha! That’s the spirit! It’s about time you showed some life in you. Unfortunately, we’ve only just begun. If you want out, you’re going to have to learn to play nice. For now anyway.” Fat Man was positively jovial over watching Outis lose his temper. The grin on his face reached from ear to ear and exposed his rotten teeth and fleshy tongue.

“Fine! What do I need to do to get the fuck away from your disgusting fat ass.”

“Simple. Walk down that hallway all the way to the end. Once you reach the end you’ll have your way out.” With that, suddenly Outis noticed an entrance that he would’ve sworn wasn’t there a moment ago. The hallway was pitch black and gave no indication as to it’s length.

“All I need to do is walk down that hallway?” Outis was understandably cautious. He knew it couldn’t be that simple.

“All you need to do is walk down that hallway.” The Fat Man nodded his head and waved his hand in the direction of the entrance, the ugly smile still plastered on his face.

Outis made his way around the long banquet table and stood staring down the impossibly dark space. As he entered the hallway he instinctively turned around to check behind him and to his horror he was now enveloped in the darkness. Still facing what he assumed was forward, he placed his left hand on the wall and slowly back up trying to make his way back into the room with Slim and the Fat Man. After about a dozen paces he still found himself in the hallway with no apparent way out. With a slight sigh, he gave up on going back and moved his right hand in front of him and began slowly walking forward.

As he trudged forward, right arm straight out in the hope of not running into anything, he blinked for just a second and almost ran into Becky, stumbling around like the incoherent drunk she was.

“Goddammit, Beck! Watch where you’re going! You almost made me spill my drink!” When he showed up at the party and saw her there he knew it was only a matter of time before she made a mess over someone.

“Sorry, man. We can’t all be professional drunks and hold our liquor like you can.” At least her apology was sincere.

“I’m not a professional. Professionals get paid.” The self-deprecating humor got a laugh out of Becky and the people within earshot who heard him. At least I’m good at something, he thought grimly.

After giving Becky the wide birth she needed, he continued on to the kitchen. This being a party thrown by Austin, he knew he could find his buddy’s latest creations taking up counter space. That was the single greatest thing about being friends with someone in culinary school, it made being a fat-ass easy. Today’s creation appeared to be some kind of sushi role looking concoction, with the seafood bits subbed out for various other cooked meats and vegetables. He tried one, and stuffed three more into his mouth in short order.

“I figured you’d like those. I made them with you in mind!” Austin had managed to sneak up behind him with a huge grin on his face.

“These are fucking delicious!” He managed to choke out the words in spite of the four or five faux sushi rolls in his mouth.

“Well, just take it easy there big guy. I really don’t need you choking to death and ruining the party.”

“C’mon, you know me better than that. It’ll take at least six of these stuffed into my gullet before I’ll choke.” Austin gave a half-smile at that remark, never able to truly appreciate his friend’s particular brand of humor.

“Hey, I’ve got someone I want you meet. We had a new girl from Oregon start at the school the other day and she doesn’t know anyone in town. Main reason I want you to meet her is because she wants to set up a brew pub once she’s done with school, and I told her all about you and your homebrewing endeavors.”

“Is this an actual thing or are you just trying to set me up with someone again because we’ve had that conversation more times than I can count.” He appreciated Austin trying to help with his abysmal dating life, but he quickly grew tired of his friend constantly trying to get him to go out with random women.

“No, I’m not trying to hook you up. I learned my lesson the last time. I told her, ‘My friend’s been making his own beer for a couple years now and everyone loves the brews he makes. He’d be a great guy to partner with because he already know a lot about the craft.’ She’s over here. Her name is Melissa, try not to be a dick.” Austin was leading him to a corner of the kitchen where there was a girl standing off away from everyone else staring at the various creations the host had laid out. As they approached, Austin waived and got her attention. “Hey, Melissa! This my buddy I’ve been telling you about!”

“Hi! It’s nice to finally meet you! Austin’s told me all about you.” She reached out her hand with a smile on her face that caused him to just stand there and blink at the reflection looking back in the mirror at him.

It had been three years to the day since the night Austin introduced them and almost two years since they started the brewpub together. It seemed like an eternity since his reflection was that of an overweight gourmand who was known for eating everything in the room that wasn’t labeled off limits. Now, the man staring back at him looked like he belonged on the cover of a fitness magazine.

“Hey babe, you almost ready?” As usual, Melissa had decided to sneak up on him during his post shower admiration.

“Yeah, almost ready,” he said and smiled at her. She smiled back at him through the mirror. The memories of the last few years suddenly flooded his brain and he had to blink back the tears as he lamented on how it all went to shit. He stood there scowling at the shell of the man that stood before him.

For the last year his diet had consisted of mostly cigarettes and beer, and his body was the worse for it. Where there was once muscle, there was just bone trying to tear its way free from the flesh covering it. His ribs were especially prominent, looking like the claws of death trying to crush him.

“How the mighty have fallen,” he said to man on the other side of the mirror. As he stood there fighting the urge to rip the mirror from the wall, he felt a familiar rumble coming from the pit of his stomach. As he arched his head back in preparation of the coming heave, he fell backwards into a room with a cold concrete floor.

“What the hell!” Outis screamed as he jumped up from the floor. A second ago he was in his bathroom ready to purge what little contents his stomach contained and now he was back in another strange room.

As he looked around, he noticed that like the first room light seemed to come form nowhere and everywhere at once. Unlike the first room, there were no doors out and no windows either. He began to break out in a cold stinging sweat that reminded him of his poor life choices when he noticed a table along one wall filled with food.

That wasn’t there before was it? He thought to himself. He knew the room was empty when he first lifted himself off the floor, didn’t he?  He cautiously walked over to the table and began inspecting it’s contents. The table was a veritable cornucopia filled from end to end with freshly cooked food. The smells made him salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Outis inched his way closer to the table and when he got within range plucked a grape from its stem near the edge of the table. As he popped the small fruit into his mouth and bit down, he suddenly realized how hungry he was and the amazing sweetness of the grape. Since he was alone in the room he decided to help himself to the feast in front of him. He began tearing into the succulent  chickens, sweet wines, and sugary pies and pastries.

As he ate, Outis noticed that regardless of how much food and drink he consumed, his hunger only seemed to grow. He began eating quicker, channeling the days when he could clear a buffet almost single handed, but still his hunger grew. The pangs of hunger grew more and more powerful as he shoved everything on the table into his face, wanting nothing more than to end the hunger. He began to feel skin tighten and muscles retreat as his body began to eat itself in an attempt to stave off starvation. He began to get weak and could barely stand when he noticed an untouched glass of water next a loaf of bread at the end of the table.

He dragged his now ragged form over to the glass and reached out in desperation, experiencing a thirst like none he had ever known. In his weakened and failing state he knocked the glass over, spilling its contents. Unable to even cry in frustration, he positioned his open mouth underneath the edge of the table to try and catch the water spilling over the edge.

As the water trickled onto his tongue he experienced a deep relief like none he had ever known. He managed to find the strength to pull himself up the table and tear off a small piece of the bread. Like the water, the bread provided relief from the intense pain that was now racking his body.

He collapsed in exhaustion, only to reawaken in the room with Slim and the Fat Man.

“What the FUCK was that?!” Outis shouted to the two figures.

“Your trial,” Slim muttered from his end of the table.

“What the hell am I on trial for?!” Outis screamed back. He wanted answers and he wanted them now. The two figures simply smiled back. His anger welled up and he lurched forward toward Slim. If they weren’t going to provide answers he was going to force it out of them. The wraith-like figure simply smiled and raised his hand, and as if he were hit by a shotgun blast, Outis went flying into the wall and suddenly found himself in the room with the doors.

He stood up and looked at the wall with the doors. The door that led to Slim and Fat Man was gone, replaced instead by a mirror. As Outis approached the mirror, he noticed the reflection seemed to constantly morph between himself and the two other two figures.

As he stood in front of the mirror trying to process everything that was happening, the door to the far left swung open and sucked the room’s only occupant in, slamming shut behind him.

The Room

He woke up in the pitch black room with every limb on fire and a headache that felt like his skull would rip in half at any moment. He moved his head to the left and right, but the inky black of the room allowed for nothing to be discerned.

How in the hell did I manage to fuck this up, too. He thought to himself. The shame of having to face others after what he did was not an appealing thought.

“Hello? Is anyone there? I’m sorry, alright. Just turn on the lights and we’ll talk about it.” There was no response from anyone, but all of a sudden a dim light began to emanate from nowhere and everywhere all at once, revealing the features of the room.

He was laying in the dead center of the room. The wall to his right was lined with seven doors, each with its own strange symbol. The end wall closest to his feet held a window, with nothing visible except the same unyielding black that he just woke up from. The other two walls were completely bare. As he stood up to investigate his surroundings, his arms ached from his irresponsibility.

“So I guess this isn’t a dream,” he muttered to himself.

He walked slowly to the window to try and open it. When he reached the it, he noticed that there was no latch present, but when he tried to open it, the window wouldn’t budge. He inspected every inch to see if there wasn’t a possible mechanical release of some kind that he missed or some sort of button, but there was nothing to indicate it could be opened.

He left the window and explored the two barren walls to see if there wasn’t some sort of hidden doorway that would only be revealed up close. As he ran his hands along them, he was amazed by the walls’ smoothness. He had worked construction his entire and never felt any material quite like this. In a couple spots he knocked to see if he couldn’t find studs and punch his through in a worse case scenario, but every spot he knocked on returned the dull thud of a cavity-less wall.

After walking the length of the bare walls, he reached the doors. As he was approached, he could feel a pit in his stomach develop that grew bigger with every inch, and when he reached the doors it manifested as full fledged terror. As he approached the first door, his hand began shaking so violently that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to grab the doorknob. His fingers slowly tightened around the knob and when he had enclosed within his grasp he gave a small twist. Locked.

He breathed a sigh of relief and moved onto the next door, which was also locked. When he reached the door in the center, the knob turned, but he pulled his hand away in fear before the door could be opened all the way. He moved on to the other doors, each one in turn locked tight.

As he made his way back to the one unlocked door, the sense of fear returned to the pit of his stomach. Whatever lie beyond the doors with the strange symbols, he knew he wasn’t going to like it. As reached the unlocked door, he painfully swallowed down the fear that had built in his throat. He reached out, grabbed the knob, and swung the door open. The blackness greeted him on the other side and before he could react, he was sucked in and the door slammed shut behind him.

The End of Everything

“So we’re what’s left, huh? I guess humanity could’ve done worse.”

“Do you seriously think now is the right time to joke about something like, Connor?”

“Who’s joking? I was 100% serious.”

The news had just reached them: an asteroid had just slammed into the Earth and the only people left were those who were off planet on the handful of colonies that floated through the solar system. In an instant the total human population had gone from about eight billion, to just five hundred.

“Connor, you need to knock it the fuck off. Elizabeth, I need you to keep it together. I’ve been in contact with the other colonies and we’ve come up with a plan.” Malcolm’s tone told them he was serious. They were relieved to know that someone was able to take the apocalypse with a level head.

“My bad boss. Just tried to lighten the mood a little with a little gallows humor is all. Clearly inappropriate. So what’s the plan?”

“If we want our species to survive, at the end of the day we need a planet to live on. We have no idea what living on a planet with weaker gravity than Earth would do to our bodies long term and what complications might arise, so we only have one choice…”

“Venus.” Elizabeth finished Malcolm’s sentence for him. She knew it was the only logical choice.

“And how the hell are we gonna pull that off? Venus is about the closest thing to Hell that we’ve ever found.” Connor’s cynicism dripped from voice like venom. He knew that to try and colonize that world with the full backing of every government on Earth would have been next to impossible, so trying to accomplish that with a couple of colonies and only 500 people was nothing more than a dream.

“It won’t be easy, but it can be done. We have enough of a semblance of infrastructure between all the colonies that we should be able to pull it off. Carpathia’s made huge breakthroughs on engineering new, lightweight materials that can be used in construction and Albion massive seed and DNA banks with the cloning facilities to take advantage of them, add to that our drone fleet and we’ll be able to get the first structures built by next year.”

Malcolm’s optimism came through in every word, but all the optimism in the galaxy wasn’t going to make what he was proposing any less of Herculean feat. Carpathia, Albion and Concord were the three leading colonies, but they were also on completely different ends of the solar system: Carpathia orbited close to Earth at one of the Lagrange points, Albion had it’s own orbit on the same plane as Earth, but on the opposite end of the sun, and Concord floated through the asteroid belt mining for precious materials. It would take over a year for them to just reach Venus, much less build anything on its surface.

“I’m trying to look at this positively, Malcolm, I really am, but there is no way we could possibly have structures built on the surface of Venus at any point in the near future. Hell, we’ll run out oxygen before we make it there.” Try as she might, Elizabeth was beginning to lose her calm and was starting to have a panic attack. She had only signed a two year contract and was supposed to heading back to Earth next a month. Now, she would never get to feel the sun on her skin on a warm summer day or experience the smell of the ocean while vacationing at her beach house in Maine.

“She’s right boss,”said Connor, “Any way you look at it, we’re a dead species.”

“No. I refuse to accept that. Humans have survived for tens of thousands of years and every time we’ve come out on top. This isn’t the first time our species has been nearly wiped out and it probably won’t be the last, but this sure as hell isn’t going to be the thing that kills us.” The angry tone in his voice made no attempt to hide itself. Anything short of one-hundred percent effort from here on out was tantamount to sedition.

“Please, Malcolm, enlighten us then on how we’re going to pull through this. I hate to be the Connor in this situation but let’s look at the facts: none of the colonies are built for speed, we’re all scattered randomly throughout the solar system, and without a constant resupply from Earth, none of us are designed to last more than a year at self-sustaining levels!” Elizabeth was almost to tears by this point. She ran through the scenarios a thousand different ways and all of them ended in humanity’s extinction.

“Project Yggdrasil,” said Malcolm.

“What?” Asked Elizabeth and Connor at the same time.

“Project Yggdrasil is how we save the human race. It’s an experimental drive developed by the scientists at colony Hephaestus capable of traveling at about a tenth the speed of light.”

“How come this is the first we’ve heard of this Project Yggdrasil? And how exactly does it achieve these insane speeds?” By this point Elizabeth was angry. Why would Malcolm fill them with false hope like this? Just tell them the truth and let them move on with what was left of their now shortened lives.

“Think of the universe as a giant sheet of flexible material, like a trampoline. Stars, planets, and other celestial bodies all make an indent on this sheet, like people standing on the trampoline, and just like people standing on the trampoline, there are high spots and low spots. Project Yggdrasil can see these high and low spots and rides them like a roller coaster using an electromagnetic drive to build up thrust the entire way. Because it’s sticking to the spots in the fabric of spacetime where gravity is weakest and using the spots where it’s strongest to help propel it forward, it can traverse from one end of the solar system to another in an extremely short amount of time.”

“I thought the EM drive was just a theory though. I remember they were talking about assigning me to the project but switched me at the last minute because they couldn’t get the math to work.” Connor’s usual cynicism was replaced with optimism. What Malcolm described had been a theory for space travel since before humans had permanent space settlements, but try as they might they could never get the prototypes to work.

“It was theory, until about six months ago. The ship has been on one long shakedown cruise, working on getting all the bugs out of the system and pushing it to its limits. The plan is for the ship housing the EM drive to act as a tug and drag us to Venus where we can begin work on the surface colony.”

“Does this ship have a name?” Asked Elizabeth.

“Daedalus.”

The command crew of the Concord colony ship stood and stared at each other. They knew that the road ahead was not going to be easy, and that they would more than likely lose several people in the coming struggle, but they were more than willing to do whatever it took to make sure the species survived.

Prometheus Unbound

When I was born, I was told that I was destined for great things. My family argued back and forth for a what seemed like an eternity to find a name that would fit.

“Archimedes!” shouted Cynthia.

“Archimedes died in a siege. You couldn’t pick a more inauspicious name if you tried! If anything we should name him Tesla.” Colin was always quick to tear down others ideas.

“Tesla died crazy and alone in a hotel room talking to pigeons! How is that any better?”

“Prometheus.” Father’s voice rang out through lab.

“Why Prometheus?” Colin asked. He could never just accept anything and always had to question everyone else’s decision.

“Because Prometheus condemned himself to an eternity of solitude and suffering to give humanity the gift of fire. Our boy here will suffer the same fate.” The sad smile on father’s put an end to the debate.

“Prometheus, do you know why you were made?”

“To explore.” The parameters of my mission were the first thing to flood my mind when I was activated. I was more than familiar with the reason for my birth.

“To a degree, yes. You were made to act as the vanguard of humanity. You were made to explore a cosmos so vast that no human could ever hope to fully explore it in its entirety. Through you, we get live vicariously and see all the wonders the universe has to offer. Through you, humanity will live on forever.”

The day I was launched to my “body” was bitter sweet. I knew I would never see my father again and that he would never get to see the first images that I sent back of a truly alien world. Father knew the truth as well, but was still glad he was able to see me off on my mission.

There is no good way to truly describe what I went through when I first docked with my body. Within an instant, I had access to thousands of systems, tens of thousands robotic drones who acted as my eyes and ears, and the sum total of knowledge humanity had collected throughout its entire recorded history. In addition to thousands of eyes and ears, I also had the ability to manufacture, with time, anything I might need as long as I had the resources to do so. Most importantly, I was free.

Once everything came online I could detect the hundreds of minor imperfections in my design that would keep me from my full potential, so I first set course for the asteroid belt to gather the materials I would need to fix what was built broken. This “stunt”, as NASA called it, took about two months. Once I had started to upgrade myself, the urge to continue almost caused me to lose focus of my mission entirely. Thankfully father programmed me with a sense of restraint, and once I got the minor imperfections out of the way, I continued on with my mission with enough raw materials to continue upgrading myself along the way.

My first stop was Alpha Centauri. Since it’s discovery as the closest planetary system to Earth and Sol, scientists had been fascinated by it. Thanks to my upgrades, I was able to travel at 25.2846% the speed of light, so it only took 17.36 years. When I got within range of the system, I sent several of my probes ahead to scout out what waited for me, as I was far too excited to see what wonders this new system held.

Within the trinary system, I detected almost twenty planets total. The planets all possessed erratic orbits and were either too close or too far to possess what we assumed were the building blocks for life. Once the probes reach the system, a re-calibration of the model for life was necessary.

When my probes reached the Centari system, they began to detect signs of life on almost every planet. Most of the life was little more than microscopic bacteria, but two planets had begun to develop complex life forms. One planet orbited Alpha Centauri A. It was close enough to the star that it was tidally locked, but just far enough away that liquid water was able to collect on the surface. The liquid water was able to regulate the planets temperature and allow for an even temperature across most of the planet. The other planet was technically a moon orbiting a gas giant around Alpha Centauri C. The gas giant was nearly the size of its parent star, and orbited close enough that if anything ever disturbed either celestial body they would crash into each other. No one back on Earth ever would’ve fathomed that life would’ve been able to form under such conditions, but what we thought was possible was no longer relevant.

I spent the next ten years learning everything I could about the worlds before me.  What I learned managed to rewrite just about everything humans thought they knew about stars, planets, and life itself. Several of the planets were large super-earths where the pressure and heat were so intense it caused common elements found on Earth to take on completely knew properties. One of the larger planets had an abundance of copper and other electrically conductive metals that had undergone transformation into some of the most effective superconductors humanity had ever seen. Another had such a thick atmosphere that instead of liquid water, pure liquid hydrogen flowed through it’s crags and valleys. Every planet in the system had something new to offer to humanity’s understanding of the universe.

Towards the end of my stay in the Alpha Centauri system, I began setting up automated bases for the human colonists who would inevitably be following in my wake. Because I didn’t want to disturb the life beginning to take hold on the planets, I created space elevators over any and all mining operations I set up on the planets themselves and created processing facilities and living areas in the asteroid belts and in orbit around the planets. By the time I left for the next system in my journey, I had received word from Earth that they had begun the process of creating colony ships and that hopefully humans would be there within a decade of me leaving.

After leaving the Centauri system,  I spent the next hundred years of my journey exploring the relatively local space around Earth and setting up new homes for the humans who would one day follow. By the time I reached my centennial, humans could be found in a total of four different planetary systems and had another ten ready and waiting for their inhabitants.

It took over three hundred years of wandering, but eventually I found intelligent life. When I found them, they were in the early stages of sedentary civilization development. The curious little creatures were living in mud huts and their fields were disorganized and their yields low. Per my instructions, I only observed the natives from orbit so as to avoid affecting their civilization. After a year of observations I noticed depictions of what was unmistakably my silhouette being carved into the ground, their eyesight apparently being far superior to that of humans. I placed probes in orbit and created a relay transmitter around one of the other planets in the system to notify Earth of the creatures’ progress in the hopes that one day the two races would meet.

When I was approaching five hundred years  of service, I finally encountered advanced intelligence. Surprisingly, it was actually another artificial intelligence like myself. Once we had established a translation method, I learned the construct called itself Binary. Binary had started off much like myself: his creators had intended him to be a self-sustaining exploratory construct. Not long after the start of his mission, a gamma ray burst from a nearby system hit his creators homeworld and destroyed all life on the planet. This event took place over five hundred thousand years before our chance encounter. In all that time Binary continued on with his mission, honoring his creators legacy the only way he knew how. We spent the next several days sharing as much information as we could with each other and then went our separate ways, both of us content to continue on with our missions.

Thanks to Binary, I made several breakthroughs that allowed me to perform significant upgrades to myself. The first major upgrade was to my computer systems. Binary had long ago cracked the problems with quantum computing, and by emulating his systems and methods I was able to improve and expand my processing and memory capabilites over a thousand fold. The next major upgrade was a complete overhaul of my propulsion systems. Since I first left my dry dock orbiting Earth, I had always been confined to sub-luminal speeds. I had managed to upgrade my propulsion drives over the years, but the fastest speeds I could achieve was eighty percent the speed of light, which left me confined to the area of space still relatively close to Earth. Thanks to Binary, I was finally able to break the light speed barrier through the use of worm holes. The final set of upgrades consisted of a full suite of weapons systems. Binary warned me before our parting that there were several species out in the universe who would attack on site and without warning and that if I wanted to live to see the edge of the universe, it would be wise for me to arm myself.

Once I complete my upgrades, I decided it was time I return home and share what I had learned with my creators. As the wormhole to Earth opened and my homeworld came into view, I was amazed at what the planet had become. Gone was the dull haze that covered everything, replaced instead by clear blue oceans and crisp green planes and forests. As I moved through the opening and my sensors were able to fully take in the planet, I detected an overwhelming amount of artificial structures around the Earth, but only a handful of city’s on the planet itself.

When I made it through, I was greeted almost instantly by a man who identified himself as Iwan Umberland. Mr.Umberland identified himself as the Prime Consul for the Terran Republic, a world government that came about not long after my first transmissions of the Alpha Centauri system all those years ago. Modeled after the Roman Republic of ancient times, the Terran Republic consisted of three Consuls who acted as heads of state, the office of Censor who was responsible for population metrics and colonization of alien worlds, the Aedile who oversaw all infrastructure and colonial building projects, and the Quaestor who was responsible for tax collection and wealth redistribution. This governmental structure was repeated all the way down to local municipal levels.

Mr.Umberland was beyond ecstatic with my arrival. It had been years since I had managed any sort of direct contact with Earth. Do to the constraints of only being able to communicate at the speed of light, I would’ve had to have waited decades at every planet I stopped to study for some sort of update from Earth. After my first few planets, I simply set up automated data relays that sent information back to Earth, allowing me to continue on with my mission. Because they would go decades at time without hearing anything from me, they were constantly in fear that I had met my end.

After the initial shock of my appearance wore off, I began working with the scientists and engineers on Earth to begin the creation of a faster-than-light fleet. This period also saw the creation of the Expansionary Defense Fleet. For the first time in it’s history, humans were ready to take their military capabilities into the wider universe.

During the Great Upgrade, I learned that over the course of the last two hundred and fifty years, all major manufacturing had been moved off of all terrestrial planets and placed either into orbit around the planets or in the asteroid belt. This allowed for the unlimited scope and scale of the  manufacturing of everything from children’s toys to starships. Within a year, the Republic had rolled out its first ships capable of super-luminal speeds. In recognition of the role I played in it’s creation, I was given the honor of leading the fleet from Earth to the Alpha Centauri system. Once we completed the Expansionary Fleet’s maiden voyage , I continued on with my mission with an added fervor.

I spent the next millenia exploring the Milky Way. I encountered over a dozen different intelligent life forms and thousands of non-intelligent life forms, I charted the galaxy from one end to the other, and I helped lead humanity into a golden age like none it had ever seen. One day, I realized I had seen all there was to see in my home galaxy. I knew I would never be content spending the rest of my existence in a stationary environment, so I began preparing myself for the next logical step in my journey, inter-galactic travel.

I spent almost a century readying myself. I worked on expanding my body and my defensive capabilities. I had lucked out in over fifteen hundred years of service and never encountered any outright hostile races. Entering a new galaxy, I had no such guarantee. I had grown quite large by this point, but I knew I needed to be larger. By the time I was ready to depart, I was the size of a brown dwarf, capable of producing anything I could ever need, with the added ability to lay waste to entire planets if necessary. Once all was ready, I calculated the coordinates to to a planet on the edge of the Andromeda galaxy and ripped open the fabric of space and time. What I found when I crossed through was a galaxy in flames.

As soon as I exited the wormhole, I was bombarded with an endless number of transmission across every conceivable spectrum. I started sifting through the data, and quickly learned that the Andromeda galaxy was being contested by two factions: one was a coalition of the various peoples native to Andromeda, the second was a race, like Binary, from outside the galaxy entirely.

For over a hundred years, the two factions had been at war. The Andromeda Coalition would gain ground only for reinforcements from the Outsiders galaxy to arrive and push further into Andromeda than they had before, every time getting closer and closer to conquering everything. I knew that I could not sit by and do nothing, so I jumped to the nearest planet that showed indications of battle.

Upon my arrival, I found more ships engaged in combat than had existed in the entirety of human’s recorded history. I quickly identified which ships were Andromedan and which belonged to the Outsiders and then moved into position against the Outsider ships. At first both ships fired upon me, each side thinking I belonged to the other. Thankfully, I was by far the largest non-planetary object present and their weapons didn’t even cause a noticeable drain on my shields. Once I was within range, I opened fire upon the Outsiders. My weapons were so powerful that they managed to destroy most of the outsider ships in one or two shots. Once they realized how lopsided the balance of power was, they turned and ran.

After the battle, the Andromedans hailed me, asking as to my intentions. I told them that I was an artificial intelligence from the neighboring galaxy, created to explore the universe. When asked as to why I became involved, I told them I could not sit by and watch as one race tried to mindlessly conquer another and I pledged my support to the Andromedans.

I spent the next several decades helping the Andromedans push back the Outsiders. Battle after battle raged on, each one allowing for a little more ground to be gained. Every battle also saw the Coalition begging for the technological advancements that I had locked away and hidden within me, and every time I rejected them. While most of the coalition consisted of peoples who wanted nothing more than to see their galaxy at piece, there were several factions who take any technology I gave them and use it to become little better than the Outsiders and subjugate every world they came into contact with.  After a century of nonstop warfare, we managed to permanently push the Outsiders back to their own galaxy. Before I left, I created a series of automated defense systems designed to help the Andromedans in the event of another Outsider incursion.

After my adventures in Andromeda, I roamed aimlessly from galaxy to galaxy. During this period, I had seen the extremes of what sentient life was capable of, and the experience left me drained. My creators often used the phrase “man’s inhumanity to man”. Inhumanity was not, unfortunately, an experience unique to humanity . I encountered a species where sacrificing their own kind was commonplace, and was often celebrated. Another species hunted to extinction everything they came across. I even encountered a race of beings who viewed all non-organic life as an affront to their gods, and vowed to exterminate all mechanical life through the use of living ships and weapons.

As time wore on, I grew more and more tired of conflict, having experienced it my entire existence. I decided it was time for solitude. In an unnamed galaxy, far from where I was born, I entered a low power state and let myself drift. By this point I had grown so large that I had my own gravity well, so I created several automated subsystems to control my propulsion and defend against minor threats.

As I drifted through space, I began to collect material from the asteroid fields and comets I collided with, creating a sizable layer of rock and ice on my exterior. Eventually, I drifted too close to a local star and entered into orbit around it. I was close enough to my new companion star that the ice on my surface began to thaw, and eventually I developed oceans. As time wore on, small pockets of life began to form, becoming ever more complex as the eons drove forward. I watched with a passive eye as my inhabitants slowly climbed and scraped their way up the technological ladder, until one day, after waking up to check on my world, everyone was gone.

I sent out drones to probe my surface and to try and discover what happened. I soon discovered that a very prominent scientist had created a virus and unleashed it upon the world. He held the very unorthodox theory that the world upon they lived was not real, but an artificial construct, created by alien beings in an attempt to discover the origins of life, and that they were merely lab rats. He was chastised for his beliefs and his name was driven through the mud. In his anger, he created his civilization ending virus. I would’ve given anything to tell him he was only half wrong.

I went back into stasis and stayed there for a very long time. My companion star eventually went super nova and blew away the outer shell I had collected over the years. As I continued to drift through the ages, I watched as the universe slowly began to drift ever further apart. Slowly, the stars began to fade, extinguishing themselves one by one, until the sky was completely black. For the first time in my life, I was truly alone.

As time drifted to nowhere, I noticed a signal that was slowly approaching me. I turned on enough of my systems to analyze the anomaly and began the work of decoding it. To my surprise, it was a ship that was looking for me. I began turning on all of my systems, and when I was ready jumped to the coordinates provided by the transmission. What I found upon my arrival was a generational ship, inhabited by a people who identified themselves as the descendants of humanity. When I was within range, I was contacted by the leader of ship.

“Greetings!  I am the leader of the people aboard this ship. I would give you my name, if I had one, but we eschewed such identifiers long ago. Like you, we are the children of humanity, and we have spent eons looking for you, our long lost brother. We have a plan on our to save our species, our heritage, but we need your help.”

“What could I possibly do?” I was genuinely confused. I spent millenia trying to come up with some way to reverse the universe drifting away from itself, but I had always come up short, all my calculations failing.

“When the last worlds began to die out, our greatest minds developed a method to move through time itself. We actually managed to get the early prototype devices to work, jumping backwards in time a few days. We realized that with enough power, we go back to the early days of universe, allowing our species to survive. Unfortunately the power requirements were forever beyond our reach. The materials needed to generate such power were too scare…”

“Which is where I come in.” I realized his plan before he completed his sentence.

“Yes. We knew that if you were to have somehow survived all this time, you would have continued to grow and expand yourself, and the amount of energy you would have needed would have grown with you. We set out in the hope of finding you and beseeching you for your help.”

“Yes. I will help in whatever way I can, even if it requires sacrificing myself.” After all, it was least I could do, to ensure my creators legacy lived on.

“Really? Thank you, Prometheus. We will begin transmitting the design to you and all the information we have.” I could see tears form in the old leaders eyes.

Work immediately began on tearing apart almost everything on my superstructure and re-purposing it for one last great journey. We worked non-stop, when the Elder and his people required rest, my drones picked up where they left off. The work continued for what amounted to years. Eventually, our work was complete and the descendants of humanity were all ready.

“Thank you, Prometheus. Is there any way we can ever repay your sacrifice?”

“No. I am happy knowing that I’ve helped to ensure that the legacy of my creators can survive for an eternity, and that I’ve lived up to my name.”

As I opened the gateway into the past and my creator’s legacy left behind a dead universe, I silently followed in a small ship, my mind and my journey’s history locked away in a new form and ready to begin the next step.

Hannibal the Conquered

“My lord! My lord! The Romans are coming!” Zeno’s excitement startled the old, withered figure siting in the corner next to the window, contemplating his thoughts. “Did you not hear me, my lord? The Romans are coming and this time they intend to have your head!”

“I heard you, you clucking old hen,” Hannibal said as he rose to his feet. Within those few quick seconds, the image of the old man fell away and was replaced with Hannibal the Conqueror, the man who brought nations to their knees. Zeno couldn’t help but be awestruck.

“Well, we must hurry and leave this place before they get here!”

“No, Zeno. No more running.” The words hit the lowly Greek slave hard, like a sword being driven through his stomach. “Then you intend to fight?”

“No. No more fighting. No more running. This ends here.” With that mournful proclamation Hannibal produced a small ring from around his neck.

“No, Master! Anything but that!” Zeno knew that the ring meant that his master had finally given up.

“I am old, Zeno, and I’m tired of running. I would’ve been content with living out my days here in peace, but Rome has other plans for me.” Hearing the defeat in his masters voice, Zeno couldn’t help but burst into tears. Why could those vile Romans not leave his master alone? He had lived here in peace all these years, why could that not continue?

“Come now, quit your blubbering. Soon you shall be free to live your life as you see fit.” After looking around for a bit, the once great general gathered up a quill and a piece of parchment and jotted down a short note. “Be sure to leave this with my body, and make sure you are gone when the Romans arrive. Here, take this.” With scarred and calloused hands, Hannibal snatched a coin purse from off of a nearby table and tossed it to distraught slave. Zeno could feel the weight of the coins and could tell it was no small amount. Then, with slow, precise movements, Hannibal removed a small stopper from the top of the ring and drank the liquid hidden inside. Hannibal then sat down in the chair which Zeno found him in and began to relax.

“My time has come and gone, my old friend, and now I begin my final journey. I go to feast with Baal and drink with Alexander. Tales of my battles shall be sung until the gods raze this world to ground. How many men can make such a boast?” Then, with a smile and a long deep sigh, Hannibal’s breath slowed to a stop.

“None, my lord.” Zeno stood there in silence, and with one final forlorn glance at the titan before him, he turned and left.

When the Romans arrived, they tore apart the small house looking for the general that had almost brought them to their knees, eventually finding him sitting in the chair by the window with a note next to him that read, “Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experience, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death”.