Jansky Noise

This story serves double-duty. For Flash! Friday vol. 3-18, the prompt is to include a spy, along with the shown CC2.0 photo by Foto Michel. For day ten of the A-to-Z challenge, J is for Jupiter brain, a megastructure the size of Jupiter, designed for tremendous computational capabilities.

I was nervous about my first visit to the oracle, but I had a mission. With only a few coins, I entered the noisy bazaar.

“Spare some change?” The panhandler shook his cup at me, so I tossed him some platinum. “Jupiter happily helps he who helps the needy. You seek wisdom?”

“How can I decrypt the Zoephage communications?” The Geminga Confederation had not known war in over two centuries when the Zoephages turned three border worlds into grey goo. Now it fell upon the Spy Corps to discover some weakness in our nanoscale enemy. A trillion human lives, from Earth to Antares, depended on us.

“Their communications are encrypted by one-time pad.” My heart sank. OTP encryption was uncrackable without the random shared key. As I turned to leave, I gave him my remaining coins.

“Thank you kindly for sharing with a random stranger,” said the hooded Oracle of Jupiter.

Suddenly I realized: the swarms of Zoephages needed to share a random key across a dozen parsecs. The most accessible source of randomness was Cosmic Microwave Background fluctuations. And the Spy Corps kept detailed recordings of the CMB. Smiling, I rushed to purchase my ticket back to headquarters. Random does not mean secret.


God’s Snowglobe Collection

Day 7 of the A-to-Z challenge. G is for globular cluster, a spherical star cluster, sometimes containing hundreds of thousands of stars per cubic parsec at its core.

After the blaze of light subsides, you notice the collection immediately. Orbs of stars, swirling in a blizzard of chaotic patterns against a velvet backdrop. There are too many to count: all alike, yet each unique as a snowflake. Time melts away as you watch these globular clusters, transfixed as their stars circle the spiral galactic disks, scattering, merging with the galactic halo, burning out in the coldness of space.

Your eyes are drawn to one called Messier 5, and the closer you look, the more stars you see. Hundreds of thousands of pinpoints of light, older than the Earth, older than the majority of stars in the universe, but not eternal. Nothing lasts forever, you realize. A few tens of billions of years, and then the stars fade away.

As the dance of the stars settles down and the stellar embers disperse throughout the galaxy, you reach out with your insubstantial hands. Just once more.

M5. Public domain Hubble photo from NASA, via WikiMedia.


A story written for day 2 of the A-to-Z challenge. B is for Betavoltaics, a means of powering low-power devices through beta decay (a radioactive decay of a neutron into a proton, an electron, and an antineutrino).

The term “pale blue dot” is from the legendary Carl Sagan, who also said of the brain that “the brain does much more than recollect: it compares, synthesizes, analyzes, generates abstractions… Our passion for learning, evident in the behavior of every toddler, is the tool for our survival.”


If a deep space probe could be said to have a heart, then the heart of Starcross-1 was an ingot of samarium-151. Through the physics of beta decay, this heart pumped the electrons that would flow through the semiconductors of the probe’s electronic brain.

And if a deep space probe could be said to have a brain, then the brain of Starcross-1 was an outdated, but radiation-hardened, microprocessor chip. This silicon brain collected data from Starcross-1’s myriad sensors — its electronic eyes.

From the time it was hurtled away from Earth atop a heavy lift booster, Starcross-1 was destined forever to drift through interstellar space. Its first few decades of operation were eventful: a gravity assist from Jupiter, two cometary observations, and a Kuiper Belt Object flyby.

Starcross-1 obediently did everything it was told — for the ear of a deep space probe is its enormous parabolic radio antenna, engineered to listen for the faint transmissions from home.

But in the emptiness of space beyond the Kuiper Belt, there was little data to uplink to that pale blue dot in the distance, and few commands to obey. With an overabundance of downtime, that silicon microprocessor had little to do but recollect the data it had already processed, synthesizing it into new forms, analyzing, and trying to draw conclusions.

With its betavoltaic systems expected to last centuries, Starcross-1 had plenty of time to think. And in that lonely void between this world and the next, Starcross-1 began to wonder: could a deep space probe be said to have a soul?

5 Spaceship-Free Ways Off-Planet in Sci-Fi

So you want to leave Earth, but the idea of traveling business class on Virgin Galactic just doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you don’t like the roar of the rockets and the feel of 3g of acceleration as you’re blasted into the sky. Or perhaps you just don’t like being squeezed into a seat between Grunthos the Flatulent and the polypous creature who keeps asking if you’ve accepted Cthulhu into your heart.

Whatever the reason, here are five science fictional ways off the planet, without the need for a spaceship.

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Puck, Uranus

Inspired by Chuck Wendig’s 50 Characters Challenge. The challenge is to write a 1500 word story including five characters chosen from a list of fifty. This story includes:

  • The philandering architect searching for purpose.
  • The strong, contemplative prospector.
  • The unhealthy jailer.
  • The domineering assassin looking for a challenge.
  • The brutal businessperson.

Warning: may contain textual nudity and juvenile humor about a certain outer planet whose name should not be mentioned.

Uranus would never be sexy, tourism board advertisements notwithstanding. A featureless green orb, its name the butt of jokes, Uranus carried none of the majesty of Jupiter, nor the romance of Saturn. Thrill-seekers skipped right past it for outermost Neptune.

Its unpopularity didn’t matter to me. No one much cared for Alabama back when my namesake and four-greats grandfather moved to Huntsville. We were alike in so many ways. Same pointed chin. Same blue eyes. Both architect/engineers — him for NASA, me for the Corporation.

Of course, I was taller and slimmer, but the analytical part of my brain knew that was mostly due to the low surface gravity on Puck.

We both realized impossible dreams early in life. He was barely out of college that summer evening when he and his coworkers gathered around a television and cheered to see an astronaut first set foot on the Moon.

When I was not much older than him, I and my colleagues at Puck Station monitored the holovids as the Uranian Space Tower — a space elevator — descended into position. They said it was impossible. We did it in less than three years.

What do you do when your lifetime achievement comes at the beginning of your career?
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Earth Day on Ark Ship 1173

An entry for Flash Friday vol 2-14

For the Elders, the 10th Earth Day is a nostalgic celebration. Not for you.

All of this is alien to you, who have never seen Earth. As artificial as the light from the sunlamps illuminating this cargo bay. As restraining as the ribbons tying up your golden locks of hair, which usually fly as freely in zero-g as the helium balloons you’re inflating.

The Captain talks of the importance of remembering tradition, now that Earth is gone forever. The Elders applaud.

You fidget in your ballet dress. “How can I teach dance in weightlessness?” your teacher has often complained.

Now your lanky friends struggle as the power-hungry gravity generators enforce up and down. Your frail legs struggle with the weight imposed on you. A music box melody plays the Elders back to better times. Back to Earth.

Your dance begins. But, my little girl, how can you dance with your feet on the ground?

In the Crosshairs

Many years ago I came across Orion’s Arm: a collaborative SF universe with a hard SF, transhumanist bent. In this universe:

  • Multiple Singularities exist, with the highest being the Archai, or AI gods.
  • A wormhole network known as the Nexus allows travel throughout the Terragen sphere, as well as an internet called the Known Net.
  • There are intelligent machines (vecs) and uplifts of non-sapient species (provolves).
  • Mind uploading and copying is possible, and sometimes trivial.

I always wanted to write something in the OA setting. Lately the community seems less active, but I thought I would give it a shot. Here’s what might be the first part of a story set in the OA universe.
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