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Darkened Sun
by Ian Brillembourg

January 24 -- 2003

Midnight came over the Pacific: One, Two, Three... the hours passed. Easter island came and went, five in the morning.

Dawn rolled, supposedly, around five sixteen in the shores of Australia. The aborigines watched and waited. Five o'clock. Five ten.

Five sixteen, and it was still dark.

The dark dawn rolled across the Earth. Panic ensued. Scientists had no explanation. The suicide rate in that one day alone was three times higher than any ever recorded.

The strange day came and went, and people cringed, waiting for the world to end. Scientists even dared to aim their telescopes at the sun. Nothing was seen. There was darkness where deadly brightness should have been.

The "day" passed, midnight came. One, Two, Three... the hours rolled. Easter island, five in the morning.

And it dawned.

And no one had an explanation for what happened. The scientists kept silence. No explanation was forthcoming.

It was the church that died that day. The Apocalypse had come and gone, and no judgment was made. No priest made any comment, no bishop spoke his opinion. The Pope had no explanation.

In fifty years, Christianity was a relic.

It simply was, everyone agreed, a lost day.

Day 271, Galactic year 3027.

Joren Larkins made a vid-call to Saturn. The terraforming project had just finished and tenants were already racing in. A quarter of the surface filled in 4 months!

He though all this while he waited for the link to be established. Soon the computer beeped its readiness.

"Saturn Central, may I help you?" A woman appeared a few feet away in the holo-pad, Larkins put on his I'm-trying-to-be-nice smile, and said.

"This is Mr. Larkins, chief presider of Earth. Put me through to Mr. Ritcher's location, please."

"Yes, sir, please vid-hold for a minute" It was obvious she recognized his name. The Chief Presider! Head of every project humankind had going, it was the closest to absolute power a man could reach.

Satellite views of Saturn were put up while he waited. Larkins hated centrals, and could not wait for the planet to get personalized vidding. It was an absolute waste of time.

"Joren!" came the voice from Saturn.

"Friedrich" called a startled earthman, he had been distracted, "so good to see you."

"Yes, it is a pleasure to see a friendly face every so often, thank you for vidding"

Larkins cleared his throat "I am afraid this isn't a social call, my friend. I have a certain matter I want to discuss"

Ritcher wasn't surprised "Ah... yes, I feared so. It's about the ringside incident, isn't it?"

"Yes, indeed. Tell me about it"

"There's not that much to tell. The sun, as I'm sure you noticed, went out. Our scientists at the ringside observatory put their digiscopes toward the sun. That idiot of an astronomer Jerrinks was watching it at maximum magnification --analyzing the mass-spectral relation or something- when it switched back on. Switched back on, I tell you! The whole room was burned off in a millisecond. It was only through the use of our radiation-magnet shield that the rest of the complex was saved"

Larkins tried to comfort his friend "Hmmm.... yes. A lucky thing you insisted on those"

"Lucky?!" Ritcher was outraged "You call 2.5 million money-units of damage lucky? That was the best telescope in the Solar System!"

"That's only because you built it on the ice rings of Saturn, don't attribute the credit to technology when it was a matter of view."

"But still the best! My idea! My project! Gone in a second! I'm almost happy that idiot died with the sun!"

" 'Died with the sun' How poetic" Larkins was not offended by Ritcher's tantrum. He knew his friend needed it. With no real friend to talk to, Ritcher must have been holding his anger inside him for hours. 'Poor man' he thought 'and to think I gave him that assignment.'

"This is not a joke, Joren. What irks me the most is that nothing was learned from this at all. A completely fruitless disaster."

Now things were getting interesting for Larkins "Didn't we learn anything at all from this? If I recall correctly, everything seen through the digiscope is recorded in hollow-cubes"

Ritcher wrung his hand "Nothing, can you believe it?! Nothing at all! One minute, the sun's dark. The other, Boom! Bright sunlight floods in, as if nothing happened! No warm up time, so to speak. You'd think nuclear fusion is as quick as the flick of a switch"

"That is strange. So no conclusions have been reached?"

"None yet, and I don't think there ever will. Too damned strange."

"Nothing like this has happened before?" Larkins was incredulous, something this peculiar must have some explanation!

"I believe my men found some old record from the homeworld days, but it's so old we can't be sure if it's true or just a fantasy" " Evidently, Ritcher had already discounted that option. "But then there were only tales of a sun vanished for a day. If you haven't heard yet, some of Mercury's power stations unexplainably shut down for the same amount of time. Power outage, they say. If you ask me, it's too much coincidence to dismiss. This is a completely different situation. "

"I'd still like to have a look at it. Beam it all to my office, will you? In any case, well, it looks like there's nothing to be done. Is everything in order now, then?

Ritcher smiled darkly "You mean besides my blown observatory? Yes, the sun seems to be working all right. We'll have to keep our watch up for some time, though."

"Let's just hope it was just a freak incident"

Ritcher grinned sarcastically "Yeah, like someday we'll have the explanation".

Year 4051 AD (old Gregorian calendar).

"So you've finally done it" said Isaac.

"After so many years, I'm finished" Leick the Mathiphycist walked towards his friend. His limp was more pronounced than usual with his excitement. His sciatica was getting worse each day. Damn the expense of gene alteration!

"I must confess, I never thought time travel would be possible" Isaac looked downcast, ashamed of his confession.

"Ah, don't worry about it, old man. Even I had my doubts"

"Have you tested it yet?"

"No. I plan to make a trip myself tomorrow"

"What? Are you sure that's safe?" Isaac was sincerely worried at his friend's statement.

"Pretty sure. As sure as can be, anyway. But it's not like I have much of a choice."

"How so?"

"Let me explain: When I first set out to build the machine, I was using the latest in technology, but I never got it done. It seemed impossible"

"Yes, b..."

Leick raised a hand "Please wait, I'm not finished. One day, when I finally thought I was making some progress, one of my hollow-gas cubes burned out. Now, I was too pent up to wait for a new one to arrive. In fact, even now, I haven't finished the calculations yet, I only took them as far as I needed. I'll do it as soon as I get back.'

'Anyway. As you know, my family's had a collection of transistors and chips dating back 2000 years or so. In my desperation, I grabbed an old silicon chip and adapted it to the machine. For some reason, things started working out! I still don't know why. So I fitted out the whole collection that was still usable, and now --I think- I'm finished. All the comp's simulations work out. Good thing, too, I ran out of parts"

Isaac was amazed "So what has that got to do with testing it yourself?"

Leick looked like a little boy for an instant, he had interested Isaac to the subject "Well, how do I know how long the chips I'm using will work? I must get replacements. The only place to do so at an affordable price is the past. I'll travel back to the 21st century, when silicon chips were at their best. Remember, it was little after that when hollow-gas transmission kicked binary technology out of the ring. It's even faster than neural processing"

Isaac frowned, an idea was beginning to shape in the back of his mind. Still, he couldn't put his finger on it, so he dismissed it. "No problems found with the binary system?"

A nonchalant "Nothing I couldn't handle" was the response. "That is the other reason I called you here. You're the best math historian there is, do you think there will be a conflict in the conversion, binary to hexadigits and back?" Leick was standing proudly besides his bullet-shaped machine. It was hollow inside, with enough space for a man, two in a pinch, to sit. The rest was cluttered with motors and computers"

Isaac lifted his shoulders, puzzled "None that I can think of. It's been done before. But the use of electricity-based chips for the numbers you handle must be enormous"

"Yes. It's amazing how we use almost no power for calculation these days. If you used simple digital technology for the computing power of one city alone, it would the power of a medium star to handle it. Fortunately, I managed to get my hands on those new engines. The pseudo-grav engines. They take their energy right out of the universe's entropy."

"Well" said Isaac" It seems you're all set, then. Do be a fellow and bring me some souvenirs from your trip tomorrow, will you?"

Leick embraced his friend "Sure thing, Isa, I'll be seeing you tomorrow"

"Have a good one" was his farewell as he left the apartment.

Isaac never saw his friend again.

1999 of the Galactic Empire, 7123 years after the establishment of time.

Ray sat alone in his room. He had no where to go in a hurry. And if he did, it didn't matter anyway. He'd be dead anytime soon. Everyone will be dead anytime soon, he thought.

He wasn't really peaceful about it, though. He was quite angry at the thought. Depressed, too, if he had stopped to think about it. Soon, he knew, everything would simply shut down and their bio-linked bodies would shut down. The synthetic organs that took their energy from a central transmission, could not survive without it.

Why meddle with biology? We'd be safe if we had just left well enough alone!

But the fact is, we couldn't. We grew too dependent on technology. Endless life and health came at a prize, and we are paying it right now.

And now, the Time Comet would come and destroy everything. In a sense, those prehistoric beliefs were true. Comets were harbingers of doom.

This particular comet, now, was different. The result of a freak incident, an attempt at time travel. A misuse of old technology not built to withstand the demands of an incomprehensible math for it. Not only had it gone AWOL, it landed as the cycle favorite to the binary computer was finished: 210 units. In this case: 1024 years!

It was understood that the time comet would arrive at its time and immediately suck up the energy it would need for the next cycle, and blast off.

But every cycle, the comet required more energy to break free. Just like in distance travel, time travel drags inertia with it. The weight of 5120 years is a pretty heavy load to carry... and to calculate.

Ray watched in horror as the light in his room shut down.

8147 AD -- in a dead universe In a silent galaxy, unheard screams emanated from a capsule that appeared in space for a fraction of a second.

And disappeared.

-- Ian Brillembourg

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