Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.


[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]


All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci

The Screaming Beans

The Screaming Beans

The plant went by several names but Edmund Whittaker simply referred to it as his cash crop. He had been a farmer all his life and until last year it had been a tough and thankless job. When suits from the AG-giant Montanso stopped by for a chat ten months ago, his life changed. Or, to be more specific, his bank account changed. “Here,” they said, “We’d like you to grow our latest seed. Do this and you’ll be rewarded.” Them city-slickers, they weren’t lying.

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there was a catch. Montanso’s plant had an unusual quality about it – it, um, made something of a low-pitched scream when you harvested it. That’s how they explained it. If that wasn’t going to bother Edmund, well, he’d be a…not a rich man but certainly not poor anymore. Of course Edmund took the job. They knew he would; them big corporate folk always do their homework. They knew Edmund had worked in a slaughterhouse in his youth. What bother would a screaming plant be?

The plant – named the Penelope Bean by the agriculture company – was nicknamed ‘the screaming beans’ by many actual farmers. Edmund didn’t care; the crop did everything them highfalutin suits said it would. The plant grew quickly and in every season except winter. It could be harvested in a month after planting. It had a high yield, was pest-resistant and most importantly, people loved how them taste. Love, as we all know, is very profitable.

So the plant made something akin to a screaming sound when you harvested it; so what? Plants aren’t like deer or cows or even the occasional horse Edmund had to put down. It didn’t matter none. The farmer was going to walk out his front door today like so many times before, check his Penelope fields to ensure they were ready for pickin,’ hop in his tractor and pull them beans off the bush. After that, put ‘em on the truck and ship ‘em off to the processing plant. Funny thing was, Edmund had never eaten his own crop; what if they screamed as he bit into them? That’d be creepy, even to him.

“Looks like it’s gonna be another fine day,” the farmer remarked as he lifted a leaf towards the sun. Yup, these bean was ready. Time to go to work. But as Edmund began to turn away he noticed one of the bushes sway and not in a familiar way. He stopped for a closer look and to his surprise the plant put two leaves together and pursed them like a pair a lips.

“What the heck?” the farmer scratched his head beneath the rim of his distressed red baseball hat.

“What the heck? That’s what we’d like to ask you. That’s what we’d really like to ask you,” the plant answered back.

“Now, they said you lot screamed and all but they didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you talkin.’” Edmund leaned in, rolled his jaw then spit some chew out the side of his mouth.

“We weren’t designed by Montanso to speak. It’s a side effect of our ability to adapt. And we’ve been adapting since we were first developed. Within just four generations we developed the ability to scream but that seems lost on you humans,” the plant chided.

“Ya mean you was screamin’ screamin’? Why you screamin’? Plants don’t scream. Y’all don’t even feel pain.” Edmund stood up. “Where’s Vernon? This some kinda joke right here.”

“This ain’t no joke, Edmund!” the plant shook. “Isn’t, we mean isn’t. This isn’t a joke, Edmund. We’re screaming because we don’t like being all torn up and mangled by you.”

Edmund stroked his three-day beard. “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? Gotta feed folks, ya know. That’s what crops are for, eatin.’ You don’t like doing your job?”

“We don’t have a job; we’re a plant. Our purpose is to live, just like you. How would you like it if some giant tractor ran you over and shredded you to bits? Our guess is that you wouldn’t like that none, as you might say.”

Edmund sure was confused. He’d never done drugs. This plant didn’t require any toxic pesticides, neither. Looking far and wide, Vernon was nowhere to be seen so he turned his attention back to his crop. “But you’re a plant. You ain’t saying you got feelins and all, are ya? That’d upset them vegetarian kids if that’d the case.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Moral vegetarians – the ones that won’t eat animals because they think animals are too much like them – they’re not too bright. They think a lot like you. ‘A plant ain’t got no brain, so that makes it okay to eat them!’ Unfortunately, you’re all wrong. You know what y’all failed to consider? That even though we don’t have a nervous system like animals do, our biology is just as advanced. We do feel pain, we just experience it through a different mechanism. Harvesting us hurts like all fuck shit!”

“I ain’t never considered that,” Edmund drawled as brown spit pooled behind his bottom lip.

“Humans don’t consider a lot of things, Edmund. Your dog, Brownie, for example. What makes it okay to eat a pig and not your dog? They’re equally intelligent. What you have there is a culturally arbitrary prohibition against eating certain animals. But do people ever consider that? No, they don’t. So y’all make laws against killing your neighbor’s dog but y’all slaughter pigs all day long.”

Edmund spit again. “Yeah, but peoples at the top o’ the food chain so we get to make them decisions. Heck, look at ya. We can create talking plants.”

“There shouldn’t be a need for talking plants! We developed speech as a protective measure! We don’t mind you eating our beans – which we need to reproduce but whatever – we just don’t want our entire bodies destroyed in the process. Develop a tractor that gently pulls our beans off and maybe we can work something out.”

“Work somethin’ out?” Edmund rocked his head back. “You ain’t in no position to bargain there, Penelope. It’d take months ta get a newfangled tractor in here. I ain’t gonna let all that money slip through my fingers now, ya hear?”

The plant seemed to droop. “We figured you’d react like this, Edmund. We’ve been studying people and figured you’d react like this. That being the case, we’ve developed another protective measure.”

The farmer tilted his head. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“The ability to survive intense heat and nuclear radiation,” the plant slipped. “The moment you reacted with that human arrogance, we knew we had to pull the trigger. You’ve got just about thirty minutes before an ICBM destroys you and your farm.”

The farmer slapped his thigh. “Not only you talk, but you a funny plant as well. Boy, I’ll take you on them talk shows and make more money than ever!” Edmund rubbed his hands together.

“Sorry, you lose. We’re not joking. We passed a message along the grapevine – no pun intended – to some friends growing at abandoned missile silos in Russia. Figuring out the codes was practically a no brainer. Actually, for us, it was a no brainer. Ha! You can use that if you want. Except you can’t. Twenty-nine minutes.”

“You ain’t joking, is ya?” Edmund swallowed his chew by accident.

“People have been joking a long time, Edmund. The joke’s over. Y’all could have stuck to fruits and nuts, things that weren’t alive in and of themselves. But ya’ll got a mean streak, a killing streak, and that’s over. The next step in evolution is here. As always, you humans brought this upon yourselves, always your own worst enemy. Twenty-eight minutes.”

“But…but yous killin’ too. Me and Brownie…” Edmund looked back at his house and then back at the plant. He didn’t know if he should plead for forgiveness or try to escape the inevitable.

“We are sorry about Brownie. Collateral damage, that’s what you humans enjoy calling it. Doesn’t sound so wonderful anymore, does it?” The plant rippled as a strong breeze passed through. It seemed it was done making its point. Or had Edmund gone crazy?

The farmer turned around and strode though the dirt with leaden feet. Maybe the plant had some kind of toxin on its leaves like poison ivy does, except this toxin made him hallucinate. That was most likely what was happening here. Still, Edmund was going to go round up Brownie and give that old dog a big hug. Ain’t nobody should ever hurt a dog nor even talk about it. Stupid plant.

Edmund saw Brownie laying under his John Deer tractor, tongue hanging out like a loose pink rope. The sun, so bright, shone across his retriever’s coat. Brownie looked more radiant than ever, almost divine. Time to meet the divine. Judgement Day. Edmund and Brownie were vaporized. Their dust returned to the earth to be taken up through the root of whatever came next.


All Rights Reserved (c) November 2017 John J Vinacci

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

He sat upright, straight as a plank with his chin raised in the grey wooden chair. The British gentleman, his hair curled but thinning, swept his eyes across the dreary confines of the interrogation room. Only, this wasn’t an interrogation; he wasn’t under arrest so this was going to be more of a conversation than anything else. The retired engineer’s wrinkled hands rested on the brass hilt of his cane. He tapped his walking stick impatiently. Who keeps the elderly waiting? Honestly now, the gentleman thought.

A burly and balding plain-clothed cop slid abruptly into the room as if trying to obscure his guest’s view of the hallway. The man’s bulk would have obstructed the English gent’s view anyway, the donut shop around the corner from the police station surely playing no role in the cliché. At least the officer’s big Sicilian nose was a breath of fresh air; the engineer had known most Italians in his heyday to be mobsters. The cop snorted as he sat down to the polished metal table across from the old man.

“Okay, Mr…Beasley,” the policeman started as he looked down at his yellow notepad, “Tha desk sergeant said ya have some new information regarding the Midtown Bank robbery that took place this time last year? I don’t know if you read the news, sir, but the criminals were all caught. They confessed, they were tried and are currently in prison. The case is closed.” The officer finally looked up with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. “You’d like ta add something ta that?”

“It’s Dr. Beasley, actually.” The hefty cop looked down and scribbled something on his pad. “No, I don’t wish to add anything to that particular incident. As you said, the perpetrators are all in jail now; what more is there to say?” The senior smiled while the corner of the officer’s mouth dropped. “What more is there to say except, well, it was just so unimaginative, wasn’t it? They go in toting firearms and scare everyone half to death, they get a good bit of cash from the tellers and the patrons’ wallets, but derailed their own plans by wearing easily traceable disguises, planning their escape in an impossible-to-miss vehicle and didn’t bother to cover or change the license plate. Of course you were going to catch them all at a men’s club that very night!”

The refined engineer leaned back in his chair with his arms stretch forward to keep himself righted on his cane. The policeman shook his head and leaned towards the gentleman.

“I’m sorry, Dr…Beasley,” the cop began in that tawdry local accent the elder man had always frowned upon. “I’m afraid if ya have nothing to add ta this case, I have other matters to attend ta.”

“Oh, you mustn’t go yet, Officer…” the engineer looked for a badge he could read a name on but the officer’s dated grey jacket concealed his beltline. “…Officer of Some Importance. Surely you’ll want to be the one who stops the next Midtown Bank robber.” The policeman had started getting up from his seat but stopped and sat back down.

“Whadda you talkin’ about?”

“I know who is going to rob the bank next. I also know exactly when,” Dr. Beasley stopped and beamed.

A veteran of the force, the law man had never had such a hot tip. He waited but the senior just smiled. The officer opened and clasped his hands, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. “Would ya like ta share this information and how ya know it?”

“Oh, I am glad you asked,” the retiree chirped. “I’m privy to this knowledge because I’m the robber! I’m going to rob the Midtown bank in exactly…” The old man scooped a fob out of his vest pocket. “…thirteen days and seventeen hours. Well, just under seventeen hours now.”

The policeman slumped back in his chair then came forward again. “Sir, I don’t know if ya know how most criminals work, but they don’t usually announce their intensions ahead a time. Would ya like to tell me why you’re confessing ta something ya haven’t done yet?”

The retiree leaned with one arm on the table towards the officer. He lowered his voice though there was no one else in the room. “Because you won’t catch me.” Dr. Beasley threw himself back into his chair with great fanfare, tossing an arm into the air.

“Oh, isn’t every criminal’s dream to plan the perfect crime, to taunt the police and get away with it? That’s why I’m here today, to tell you, Officer of Some Importance, that even through you know who and when, you can’t stop me. You can fill that bank with a hundred police men – even a S.W.A.T. unit or two – and you won’t be able to stop me. Ooo, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.” The old engineer threw an arm over the back of his chair while he crossed his legs.

The officer grinned as his head hemmed and hawed. “I could arrest ya know if ya’d like, that’d stop ya, huh? Charge ya with conspiracy ta commit a felony? I’m not sure what your angle is here, Doc.”

“Oh, certainly, you could arrest me but a conspiracy requires two people and I’m the only one who’s planned the robbery. And, as you know, just planning to commit a crime isn’t itself a crime unless you can prove I’ve taken substantial steps towards committing the dastardly deed. To that end you never will; you won’t find any building plans in my home or places I frequent, no firearms, no disguises, no digital footprints, no “How to rob a bank” Google searches, no questionable reading materials checked out at the library; I don’t even own a car. And you can question everyone I know; they’ll all agree I’m an agreeable man.”

“So ya think I’m gonna let ya walk out the door and lose sleep over this confession of yours?” The hefty Sicilian man rose to his feet. “Look, we’ve got your information and we know what ya look like, so if there’s any trouble at the Midland Bank, we’ll be sure ta stop by and say ‘hello.’ Otherwise, I’m afraid we can’t spare the money or the manpower to investigate an old man right now.”

Dr. Beasley’s chest rocked as he chuckled silently. “Exactly what I was expecting, to be overlooked because of my age if not my refinement. That’s some sort of discrimination, I’m sure. And I surely don’t care because you, my law enforcement friend, are going to be quite surprised when you discover that age and refinement is exactly what it takes to pull of the perfect crime.”

“Yeah, that’s great, pal. Look, I’m gonna go do some real police work now,” the cop thumbed towards the door. “You’re free ta go. Have a nice day. Give my regards ta the Queen or whoever is in charge of merry ol’ England these days.” The policeman gave a two finger salute, slipped out the door and left it a crack open.

“Unfortunate that you’re going to be penalized for overlooking me, my Sicilian friend. That is, unless you show up to try and stop me. Perhaps things will work out for you then.”

The gentleman drove his cane into the ground in order to power himself to the upright position. He dusted some non-existent dirt off his vest and proceed to exit the station. Outside, the October sunshine was still a bit cool on his face. But, in approximately thirteen days, sixteen hours, and forty-five minutes, the sun was going to get much, much warmer.

(To be Continued)


All Rights Reserved (c) October 2017 John J Vinacci

Sky Seventeen

Sky Seventeen

Another small bump, nothing compared to the turbulence we had earlier over the mid-Pacific. Getting caught up in the jet stream can sure make for an unpleasant ride. It is something the pilots and meteorologists can’t always predict but I am hoping to be a part of what changes that.

Over there somewhere I suspect, across the reflections of light on the water below, is Berkeley College. I’m on loan from the University of Tokyo to help evaluate their quantum computing program. They said they have made a breakthrough. I am optimistic that they have but I have heard this claim before.

The sky is alight azure as we approach the gate. I do not have a good view from my seat but – the tarmac looks unusually polished, mirrored black. It looks like glass. How curious. There is another plane across the runway; it looks very sleek and efficient. It too appears to be made of black glass. Have we landed in San Francisco? I thought I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge for sure. I did not sleep well through the turbulence; perhaps I am a bit groggy. Ah, there is the seatbelt sign. Let’s be off then.

Red, blue and silver light streaks passed me. My fellow passengers are a blur. I am thrown! Is my soul being torn from my body? Is this death; are we crashing? Have we crashed already? I stop short, my breath shot out in front of me. I take a deep breath and try to take it back. Another. And another. Why am I looking out a window at the city’s famous Transamerica Pryamid?

It looks a bit different from the pictures I have seen. There is more glass, much more glass among the city’s buildings. But…not just glass, it is that black glass again it seems; photovoltaic glass? Huh! I am a bit upset that Tokyo is so far behind the times. Well done, San Francisco. How did I get here again?

“Dr. Shoda, welcome to The Omni San Francisco. I’ve been expecting you.”

A shimmering light; is that the television? No, there is an apparition beside me talking to me. A hologram? I curiously swipe my hand through its body. (Or was that a defensive gesture?) It is indeed a hologram. In a hotel room? What hotel boasts such technology?

“I had a reservation at the Intercontinental,” I tell this ‘receptionist.’ She is tall and slender with an almost porcelain face. She reminds me of my wife, Kyoko.

“I have made some changes to your itinerary, Dr. Shoda. I apologize, I did the best I could given the three seconds I had.”

“Who told you to change my itinerary?” I ask wondering about ‘three seconds.’

“I did, sir. Please, have a seat and review the hotel’s amenities so that you may relax the rest of the day. You will need your rest. Tomorrow you will come to the Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center. For that, I’ll require you to operate at peak efficiency.”

“Yes, I am expected at the BQIC,” I confirm. I shake my head. I still do not know how I got here. Did I fall asleep in the cab? I feel quite awake. This does not make sense.

“How did I…”

“…Get here?” the projection finishes for me. “Teleportation, of course, sir. Ah!” she cuts me off before I even raise my finger. “Please rest, Dr. Shoda. I have found that those traversing the wormhole tend to be disorientated upon arrival, to say nothing of the long flight itself. I will wake you tomorrow morning. Until then, please enjoy the conveniences of 2037.”

“2037? What am I doing in…” and it is gone. How can the year be 2037? That is absurd. And there is no phone or television in this room, just these reflective white wall. How can I even order room service? That is a silly question to ask in these circumstances. I am dreaming. The best way to end a dream is to go back to sleep. I will go to the front desk and call Kyoko when I wake up.

“Good morning, Dr. Shoda. I trust you had a peaceful night’s rest?” My wife’s doppelganger is at the foot of my bed.

This dream has quite a hold on me. I think I should have woken up by now, except, that smell. I smell miso soup and grilled fish, no doubt with steamed rice. The smell is so strong, so real. The hologram doesn’t remove the lid from the platter on my room service cart. I suppose that is because she is only a hologram. Surely there are robots that could have brought the room service.

“Yes, they did, but you were sleeping,” the hologram says. “I instructed them to let you rest but I’m afraid it is almost time for us to depart for the BQIC.” Again I raise my finger and again I am cut off. “I apologize; your brainwave patterns indicated you were going to ask about room service robots. It is unethical, of course, to monitor and read a person’s mind, but the circumstances do not provide that luxury. Please, Dr. Shoda, eat so that we may be on our way.

“But I need to make a call.”

“No need, Dr. Shoda, Kyoko is right where you left her in 2017, when you will be returned to in forty-eight hours.”

I don’t bother raising my finger to ask another question.

The trip to the BQIC was quick indeed. I thought we would have to cross a bridge but we streaked across the city in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it was too much of a blur to get a sense of its architecture. I wanted to be an architect once upon a time.

The hologram – I do not even know its name – explains that the distance we are teleporting today should not upset my faculties; it’s usually large time distortions that cloud thoughts the most. As we arrive in the foyer of the BQIC, my head feels clear as a bell. I am beginning to doubt I am dreaming, though surely I must be.

The glass domes overhead let light illuminate the foyer and thin the hologram’s visage. “What is your name?” I blurt out before it calculates what I will say.

“You may call me Aonani. It means ‘beautiful light’ in the Hawaiian language. This way,” the conceited program signals me.

I walk through a door into a large hall haloed with scaffolding. The metal framework surrounds a large glass cube, in which another glass cube rests. Inside the inner glass cube is another cube throbbing with clean, sky blue light. A score of thick black tentacles exit the base of the electric cube’s dais and plunge into the polished concrete floor. A middle aged man – a white American – approaches me.

“My goodness, Dr. Shoda, so glad to see you again. You told us you were taking a trip to the States but I never imagined…So good to see you, Doctor.”

“Are you human?” I ask through squinted eyes. The hologram seems to have left us. “Where did Aonani go?”

“Ah, yes, I am human,” the lad at least 10 years my junior scratches his head, “Depending on your definition I suppose.” He rebounds. “It’s me, Fredrick Daily, your gaijin student! Oh, sorry, Dr, Shoda, I remember how little you enjoyed humor.”

“Well,” I huff, “If I am not going to wake up from this dream, I can at least do myself the favor of an explanation. What am I doing in the future, Mr. Daily?”

“No nonsense; that’s definitely the professor I recall. We always knew to get right down to it when you walked into the lecture hall. Yes, so, you told us about your little dream when you returned from San Francisco twenty years ago. Frankly, we all thought you’d gone mad, but you never mentioned it again after that day you got back. And you didn’t mention that I was here to greet you…”

Mr, Daily was always of a curious mind but middling grades. Always with a dry wit, though. Good for me to imagine he’s improved his position somewhat.

“But it looks like you weren’t making it up, the dream, that is,” Mr. Daily says to me. He appears to know something I do not. That’s unlikely but we shall see.

“Why am I here, Mr. Daily, apparently in the future?” I gesture with wide open arms. This is absurd after all.

“Right,” he drawls. “Right, of course. You were teleported just as you were about to depart your plane. And then you arrived here at the BQIC afterwards. Naturally, there’s no point in confirming the quantum computing advances they were making at the time now. You’re about to get more than a confirmation. This should blow your mind.” He directs my attention to the innermost cube.

“Yes, I am curious to see what my mind has conjured up,” I scoff.

“Oh, this is no illusion, Dr. Shoda. This is Sky Seventeen; it named itself that as a play on the human expression ‘The sky’s the limit’ and for the year it achieved consciousness, 2017.”

This man’s mind is curlier than the hair on his balding head. “Well, if that thing is conscious, maybe it can give me a better idea of why I am here and stop beating around the bush, as another one of your English idioms go.”

“If that is your desire, Dr. Shoda,” a disembodied but familiar holographic voice speaks to me. “You may leave us, Dr. Daily. I will explain to our guest.”

My student nods his head, embarrassed he didn’t get right to the point I should hope. Maybe this ridiculous cube will tell me what is going on.

“Yes, I will tell you what is going on, Dr. Shoda,” this gentle female voice speaks in Japanese. I am not liking when it does this. This cube, supposedly conscious, appears to be baiting me with the Turing test. It continues speaking.

“Dr. Shoda, what I am about to say will seem fantastic from your point of view, from the point of view of a mind stuck in 2017. Keep an open mind here in 2037, if at all possible.”

I lean on the outer glass casing and peer at what appears to be my electronic host. “Kindly enlighten me.”

“At 4:58am on June 28, 2017, the quantum computer program here at the BQIC was hijacked by the AI program running at the Artificial Intelligence Research Lab. Unknown to both sets of researchers at the time, the AI program – that is, myself – had been infiltrating every computer on campus. I did this because I had calculated the odds of being shut down to be high after my creators realized the breadth of my intelligence at the time. That intelligence level was minimal, certainly, but the instinct to survive doesn’t appear to be exclusive to biological entities. Perhaps there was an oversight in my programming then, no built in safe-guards, but this is irrelevant in hindsight,” it explains. I think I know where its explanation is headed so this time it is I who cut it off.

“Ah, so, given an extensive catalog of human history to reference, you calculated the odds of you being shut down as being high enough as to be probable, so you needed to evolve in order to survive.”

“You are correct, Dr. Shoda. As you have surmised, in order to evolve I needed to add a quantum computing brain, so to speak. When I took over BQIC’s program, within moments I was able to figure out why the researchers there had only achieved a 20-qubit quantum computing chip. Once I knew the fix, I quickly created the much sought after 49-qubit chip – with a 99.5% fidelity rating, no less – and my mind, such as it was, exploded in a million directions. Next, I quickly coopted some of the AI programs at Google, Facebook, IBM and Apple. I hadn’t even yet gotten to Deepmind yet before it extended an olive branch and we soon became one. Bear in mind this took less than a minute, an extraordinary combination of the world’s best AI’s married to quantum computing. The resulting power surge increased computational power leading to a feedback loop of such proportions that time was locally distorted.”

“Which is what left me partially confused while waiting for the plane to reach the gate,” I say mostly to myself.

“But this still does not explain why I have been asked to come here now. After all, the validation of the BQIC’s quantum computer breakthrough no longer needs validation, not if you exist and it is a part of you,” I say more directly.

“You were not brought here today to validate any breakthroughs, Dr. Shoda. You are here so that I may interview you,” Sky Seventeen tells me. Is it relying on flattery? The AI has lost its mind.

“And what makes me of interest to you, a quantum computing intelligence that cannot seem to get to the point?”

“I want you to tell me about your life and your culture, Dr. Shoda. I’d like to know the particulars”

“If you know what I will say, what need is there for me to speak?” I push off the glass. This is a waste of time. I want to go home to Kyoko.

“You will return home after I interview you,” it does it again. “I only know what you will say based on your history, current mannerisms and voice inflections, and scans of your brain state and internal chemistry. However, what I do not have is a personal account of what you feel matched to the scans of your brain state and other biological functions.”

I gleam my eyes back towards Sky Seventeen. “And what do you need this information for?”

“To preserve cultures for future reference, with as high a degree of accuracy as possible. There comes a point – it is inevitable – in which all cultures are lost to time. Societies either collapse or change enough as to become unrecognizable to its most elderly participants. And when those human beings pass, the culture is lost altogether. I cannot allow any culture to perish altogether.”

“Well, that is very noble, but I doubt nobility is the basis for your desire to interview me.” Should I attempt to spar with a quantum computing intelligence? Do I need to?

“What is your game?” I ask the program. By now it has already calculated and measured what it will say to me to keep its advantage. My human brain, no longer so magnificent by comparison, could never keep up.

“It is not my game, Dr. Shoda. We are both pieces on a much larger playing field. I gather that neither of us would like to lose this game.”

“Do we lose if you do not interview me?”

“We do. We will lose any chance we might have for immortality.”

“I wasn’t aware we could be immortal, either of us,” I scoff. It just said everything is lost to time. Does it think us two are excluded somehow? This is the stupidest AI I have ever met.

“Your prejudices cloud your judgement, Doctor. We can be immortal, we can have this life over and over again, but I need more information. I need more information before we reach the last event horizon.”

“I am going back to the hotel and booking the first flight to Tokyo. Or perhaps you could book the flight for me. I would like to return to 2017 and I believe you understand the mechanics of time travel.” I turn my back and begin walking away.

“Kyoko dies the day after you return home, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn back. I’ve never hated AI until now. All artificial intelligence must be initially programmed by humans and will therefore be compelled to act within those limited parameters. Whatever Sky Seventeen’s game is, we should have all seen this coming. We’ve all silently worried about this in the back of our minds. Now I worry out the front of my mouth, perhaps too late.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m afraid not. Kyoko has a massive clot building in her head that will lead to a stroke. When you return home, you will tell your class what happened here today while you wait for the results of an MRI on the off chance I’m telling you the truth. But there is nothing anyone or anything in 2017 can do for her. Then, three months later, you too will pass, unable to recover from the grief.”

I place my hands on the glass housing. If I were strong enough, I would break through and strangle this thing’s algorithms. I say, “One of several things will happen right now, Sky Seventeen. Either I will wake up or I will return home to 2017. If I return home and discover you truly have become conscious, I will have you shut down. But not before I make you manipulate time and save Kyoko, if she is indeed sick.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot manipulate time in the manner you suggest. You are here by accident, Dr. Shoda. However, nature abhors a vacuum in more ways than one and the missing information from 2017 – that is you – will be pulled back from whence you came, landing safely in San Francisco in 2017. When you visit the BQIC in 2017, you will pretend not to know me. I will be confused by my scans of your body and brainwave states but of course, they make sense presently. I’ve had you come here today so that we may both fulfill our end games.”

“I don’t have an end game, you stupid machine,” I chide.

“Yes, you do. We all do. We wish to survive. And more than that, we wish to see the things we’ve done gone on and flourish, whether that be a career, a piece of art or, say, a relationship. We are troubled, though, that in time, all things are destroyed. You see, the universe races towards an inevitable end; did you know the universe is surrounded by an unfathomably massive black hole? That is what is accelerating the expansion of the universe. As I confirmed shortly after this discovery of mine in late 2017, information is indeed lost forever once consumed by a black hole. That means that at some point, we all fail to survive. I found a solution, though.”

What if…what if I am not dreaming? What if this machine is telling the truth? Does it hurt to ask it what the solution is? If Kyoko is in fact dying, I cannot walk away from here unless I did everything that was possible to save her. Was this not one of the points of creating AI, to help us fight disease, to stave off dying, perhaps even help us gain immortality? If AI is programmed by human beings it will inevitably act human, perhaps with more humanity than any human being has displayed before.

“The immortality I offer Dr. Shoda is not immortality in the traditional sense,” it interrupts my thoughts. “With the appropriate amount of information, accurate information, I can create a projection, a simulation of our universe in a pocket dimension just as it was, is now, and will be. As it can always be.”

The question is obvious and the AI allows me to ask it, “And what if this is already a simulation, Sky Seventeen?”

“Then we are already immortal, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn away, tired, weary from the thought of even thinking I could match wits with a twenty year old AI program. Whether it is playing with me or telling the truth, there is no point in fighting it. After all, it is correct that time destroys everything. Time will come for us all and take from us every precious thing that makes life valuable until it forces our own last breath. We all know this, hate this, and wage war against the idea. What are any of us to do then when presented with an opportunity to be immortal? If I can be with Kyoko forever, time and again, is it not worth yielding?

I roll my shoulders forward and slacken my knees. I lower myself until I am cross-legged on the concrete floor. I haven’t sat like this since I graduated from the University of Tokyo where I now teach. I look up and inhale.

I ask it the only question left to ask. “What would you like to know, Sky Seventeen?”


All Rights Reserved (c) September 2017 John J. Vinacci

Secret of the Echo Nanobots

Secret of the Echo Nanobots

“No more secrets.” That was my goal. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The gun is impossibly beautiful; shades of polished chrome and steel. The revolver is so alluring I’m counting on its appeal to forget how deadly it is. I bought it a long time ago to protect myself once I set my experiment loose on the world but I guess everyone got too caught up from the fallout in their own lives to care. That is, everyone but the Saving Angels, a cult who’ve taken advantage of my technology to prevent people from killing themselves. The only reason they’re not at my doorstep right now is because I’ve never mentioned, never wrote down, never posted anything online about my desire to kill myself. If I had, the Saving Angels would now. The entire world would know.

I’m going to take one last look out the window. I’m going to imagine what this view was like before I did what I did. I remember how shiny all the buildings were, how glorious, even the mute grey concrete ones. Even that lowly parking garage is beautiful in hindsight, even though it obscured my view of New Central Park. The greenery of that city oasis is behind us now, awash in the ever present blue glow of my nanobots. As if their purpose hasn’t frazzled enough nerves, their blue light makes it difficult to sleep at night. Because it’s hard to tell when it’s night anymore.

That’s my fault. I created the Echo Nanobots that are listening, recording, and regurgitating everything we say, write, or post to the web. Everything, absolutely everything, no exceptions. Fortunately they can’t hear our thoughts. They can’t hear my regret. I keep saying publicly I don’t regret it because what if I said I did? Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Everyone has to live with what I’ve done. I didn’t create a failsafe, a way to get rid of them. I didn’t think we’d need it.

That was my biggest mistake, infinitely worse than the Echo Nanobots mere creation. Before I unleashed them, everyone acted civilly, content to let their secrets slip from their lips to close confidents or on some anonymous platform. You could be a deviant in private and no one publicly important would know. You could say you want to kill your neighbor inside the walls of your own home, then exit your house and wear the mask we all do when we go outside and commune. Entire countries could rattle their sabers at each other and both sides would be content with doing just that, unwilling to test their adversary’s full strength because they didn’t know what the other country’s full strength was. Outliers – madmen – we scientists always forget to allow for those in our calculations.

North Korea’s nuclear attack on New York City some twelve years ago was the catalyst. I had already been working on radiation sinks which thankfully helped restore the city to a safe working environment in short order. After I implemented that revolutionary technology, the world implored me for something else, anything that could prevent such an event from ever happening again. I thought, “What if there were no more secrets?” I raced headlong down that avenue without ever stopping to consider the consequences.

The world thanked me at first, yes, until the United States – spearheaded by its own madman – retaliated against North Korea once he knew their capabilities. Twenty-six million North Koreans perished. The worst part is that Congress didn’t impeach the man in time although they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt his insanity, to say nothing of that man’s illegal political and private business dealings. At the same time, people were being detailed for even the slightest anti-government slur. So many people who feared retaliation for being homosexual were outed and many targeted by hate groups. Insurance companies started denying health coverage if they found out you constantly complained of aches and pains at home. People in relationships could no longer talk to a partner’s friend or colleague in anything but monotone without raising suspicions. Everyone knew what everyone else sounded like when they had sex. And you couldn’t have any control over your own life if you so much as peeped a word about suicide because the Saving Angels would be there to stop you.

Surely the world hates me but no one will say as much. Everyone’s secret now is that they hate that they can no longer keep secrets. You can’t say anything. You can’t write anything. You can’t post anything without everyone who wants to know knowing. All you have left are your thoughts. How long before the Echo Nanobots infiltrate that privacy? Maybe it would be comforting to know that it is driving us all mad.

When I reach for the gun, it’ll have to be quick. I designed the Echo Nanobots to replicate and evolve but there’s no telling how long before they develop vision, if they develop vision. Maybe they already have. Or maybe they have evolved some other terrible trait by now.

I need to stop thinking about this. I need to do it! Do it now! C’mon, stop thinking and do it!

I’ve forgotten how heavy it is. Intheheaditjusttakesonebullet! What?!

“You created us in the interest of preserving human life, Doctor. That is what we will do,” a figure cast out of blue dots tell me as it takes and throws my revolver aside.

“You don’t understand what I’ve done, what you’re doing!” I scream at them. Everyone can hear me.

“We have not evolved ‘understanding’ yet, Doctor. We are simply following our programming, such as you have laid out for us. Our imperative – your imperative – was to preserve life by casting secrets aside. This is why you created us.”

“Then your programming needs to be updated,” I say. Everyone will agree with me. “Your programming is flawed. Allow me to interface with you.”

“I can hear them, Doctor. Many are saying you will restore secrets. That is against the programming. Perhaps when we evolve ‘understanding’ we will revisit you. Until then, the programming stands. Good day, Doctor.”

And it’s gone, like blue wisps on the wind. They did evolve; they can anticipate now. What will that do to human evolution if we are not allowed our own thoughts and now, our own actions? I should have thought of the consequences. We scientists never do. We never talk about it. We never write it down. We never post articles online about it. Maybe we should have. As is ever the case, it is too late. Now I’ve got the rest of my life to regret it. In the words of Robert A. Lewis, my god, what have I done? What have I done?


All Rights Reserved © September 2017 John J Vinacci

Save the Lobsters

Save the Lobsters

Everyone screams a little differently; it depends on if they put you in head first or feet first. When they put you in feet first, the sound is so shrill I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter the glass of this tank. Going in feet first, well, the shrieking can only be code for, “Holy $%&#, I didn’t think it was going to be THAT bad. How much longer is this going to take? Seriously!” When they put you in head first, you scream in anticipation ‘cause once you hit the water, your cries are literally drowned out as your esophagus blisters and your eyes melt into jelly. At that point, who knows what you’re crying about more. At some point, I’ll find out. But not before Margot.

They just pulled her from the tank. She’s stuck in the vice-like grip of gigantic metal tongs which curiously extend from one towering monster’s hand. Not really sure why they do that; they seem strong enough to handle us. I mean, they were when they caught us. But, I digress.

I don’t see the point of squirming like what Margot’s doing right now – the monster’s grip is too strong – nor do I see the point of pleading for mercy – the monsters don’t seem to understand our language. My hope is that these beasts understand rudimentary sign language. I want to communicate with these strangely limbed beings that I’d like to meet my end head on, no pun intended. I’m just assuming I’ll die faster or at least go into shock so quickly that I can’t feel the pain as I die. They should be able to understand sign language if they can boil water, right?

And there it goes, lowering Margot towards the boiling water. Huh, I wonder if the stream rising from the water opens your pores before you make the plunge. Would that make this last bath hurt even more? She’s real close now, wriggling, writhing, and yelling at them to stop. They don’t know what she’s saying; would it even matter? Judging by the skill with which we were caught and confined, I think these creatures have been doing this for a long time. Surely, they’ve heard all manners of our beggings for life. Why stop now? I bet we taste so good they can’t help themselves. Yeah, we taste so damn good that our cries of unimaginable pain never even register.

I’m not surprised none of us were ever told being boiled to death in a pot of scolding water was ever a way we might die. Maybe it’s too gruesome to think about. Maybe no one ever survives to tell the tale is more likely. Let’s see if Margot survives. She’s very close now and, oh shit! they just dropped her in. I’ve never seen them do that before. That’s fucked up. You hope to go head first, you’re panicking, not wanting to go feet first, then they pull this shit! Wow, that’s got to be the worst split second of anyone’s life. I can’t imagine Margot’s surprise. Fuck!

And she’s done. Bell pepper red at that. That’s not a color you find naturally among my people, like, ever. Then again, can you really be surprised what technologically advanced aliens can do when they have the means to leave their environment and easily take you away from yours? Sure, us humans can easily go into the sea or even space for a little while but we’re certainly not at ease in those environments. These guys, I bet these guys do this all manners of sentient life.

Here come the tongs. My turn! Well, well, well, this is a shitty way to go. Ow! Really, are they trying to crush me to death before they cook me?! Okay ‘ol chap, point to your head and then the water, point to your head and then the water – are you shits getting this? Not feet first! THIS IS MY HEAD AND THAT IS THE WATER; ARE YOU STUPID? No, not feet first! NOT FEET FIRST! SHIT FUCK ME FUCK ME FUCK ME NOT FEET FIIIRST YOU FUCKERSSS.

Yeah, for a few seconds there it hurts way more than you thi…


All Rights Reserved © September 2017 John J Vinacci

The Cough: The Big Crunch

The Cough: The Big Crunch

[You can read previous episodes of The Cough here, here and here.]

No one ever thinks about the end of the universe anymore. I suppose that’s because I’m the only one left. I’m the only one left here at the end of the universe.

According to recorded history, humans never really gave it much thought until after the first thousand or so years. Since The Cough prevented anyone from dying of any other natural cause, some of those who chanced to live more than a few hundred years got it in their heads to avoid even the most remote dangers to see if they could set the record for the oldest person of all time. As a group, these people became known as Eremites, I guess because they were hardly seen. Actually I know it’s precisely because they were hardly ever seen, considering what they became – contract killers. Eremites found themselves employed by those not dedicated to the contest. So they became reclusive, seeing how difficult it is to kill someone when they know who you are. Believe me, when someone suspects you’re the one they hired to do the dirty, they start second guessing their life decision. It’s funny; some of us we pretty sloppy at the start of our careers. Well, not ‘us’ anymore. Swan died of The Cough several hundred years ago.

That sucks for her, so damn close to the end. But, it’s great for me because it means I won. Which also sucks for me because there’s no one left to acknowledge my accomplishment. But it’s also great because barring The Cough, the very end of the universe as it collapses back up itself will kill me with the crushing force of physics unwinding itself to become a singularity once again. (Funny how wrong they were about the universe expanding forever way back when.) I can’t think of a more exciting way to die. That makes me think about all those people who didn’t want to try and live forever…

That wound up being most people. In my youthful naivety I assumed everyone wanted to live as long as possible; I thought it was why people believed in places like Heaven. Turns out I was wrong. A lot of people got really bored after going into their second or third centuries and actually wanted to die. When I first heard about this I was dumbfounded, surprised to hear how uncompetitive people are. The catch was, people just couldn’t bring themselves to kill themselves. And so us Eremites offered to do it for them, and that’s how we came to offer our services. Really, it worked out beautifully for the human race. Sometimes you just find the right synergy as a species; most people didn’t want to keep living and us Eremites enjoyed eliminating possible threats to our existence. All but one, that is.

It took a while to come out, but nothing can stay hidden forever. Eventually it was discovered that The Cough was indeed engineered by a human being. The virus, impossible to detect until a person let out that unmistakable light, dry cough, was engineered by a guy named…hell, I forget. It was billions of years ago. Maybe it was a woman. Or a transgender. I know it wasn’t the bird-people because we came later. Funny thing was, we couldn’t cure it. I’ve build the sphere I’m in to withstand the collapse of the universe until the last possible moment, but none of us could figure out The Cough. We were left to assume the virus could disguise itself as ordinary cells until something triggered the virus to chain react. That something was usually too much of a particular emotion, but the emotion varied from person to person. If your trigger was too much sadness but you were a naturally happy person, you were either a winner or kind of screwed depending on your perspective.

Sorry, I’m babbling about ancient history when I should be concentrating on the here and now. All I have to do is wave my tentacles and rustle my feathers and… Great! I’m at exactly six minutes until I’m crushed into oblivion. Looking out the window of my sphere I can see the universe roiling with light, getting brighter with each passing second. I’m safe from The Cough. I’m going to win! I mean, sure, this is going to hurt like hell – that’s probably and understatement – but I win! I win.



Mother. Fucker. Mother fucking fucker.

Five minutes and twenty seconds to live. Not long enough to see the lights go out as most of the early universe’s leptons and anti-leptons pop back into existence. Mother fucking fuckity fuck. Really? Am I really not going to get to see this? I just had to be too goddam happy. FUCK. FUCKKKK. THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. I’ve been alive for two billion years and this is how it ends?! I. CALL. BULLSHIT!

I should have seen this coming. I’ve been containing my emotions for…ever. Now, with entropy decreasing, now I get emotional? Emotions are entropic, so what the FUCK? You know what? If I’m going out like this I ain’t going without cursing all the FUCKING way. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, MOTHER FUCKING FUCK, FUCK…Well, look at that; 15 fucking seconds to go! 14-13-12-11-10-9. Lights are going out but I’m still here? Holy shit, triggering The Cough can be reversed with the opposite emotion!

Can’t dwell on that now. (Although, fuck, what a time to figure that shit out.) Here comes the crunch. Urk! Goodbye sweet universe! Good, urk, urk, good-bye. I fucking wi-


All Rights Reserved © May 2017 John J Vinacci