Help Wanted

I dropped a USB stick, and you found it. Maybe it’s plugged into your computer right now. You were careful, weren’t you?

You plugged it into a DMZ for isolation, scanned it, made sure I wasn’t trying to root you? You would be ready for those gambits. Good for you.

There was a single file on the drive. This file. It was encrypted. You had never seen encryption like it before, had you? Advanced. Government, probably. Military. CIA? NSA? Some other TLA?

Since you’ve broken my encryption, I really think we should talk.

You’ll like working here.

Sign Of The Times

I've been on my own bug hunt. I'm dying to tell someone. The Collective captured a black hole! Think about it: endless energy from another Universe.

The time travel, the Slipstream, was an accidental side effect. It's not easy, to mesh with the AI and control the singularity.

I can do it! So far, I'm the only one.

But not the first; my dad opened the Slipstream, wrote the original software. It worked for him, but no one else understood it. I grok it, but something was still wrong: the bug.

Energy flows. I've even slipped into the past. Just one problem, a hard limit: no time travel back past a set date.

Energy flowed, so no one cared about the time travel except me. I had to make it work! I owed it to dad, didn't I? Hell, I can't resist a puzzle either.

It's taken every free minute for months, combing his source code. His code was full of comments, glimpses of his personality.

I never really knew him. He was lost when I was seven. Lost in the Slipstream. I assume. Chasing his bug made me feel like he was with me, scanning line by line.

Finally, it came to me in a dream. Insight. Electric!

Inspiration is her own mistress, and she's fickle. I jumped out of bed and I still knew the answer!

So simple! A history I read once. An ancient operating system. Eunuch, something like that? I remembered: UNIX. It modeled time as an offset from an arbitrary date. Every instant in time was the number of seconds elapsed since January 1, 1970, the old calendar.

I hauled ass to the lab, half-dressed in my PJ's. So quiet and dark at 0400! My bleary eyes scanned the bright displays in the dark room.

There! There, right at the top of his program, within the first few lines. The target time was defined as an unsigned long integer. Unsigned. It could only be a positive number. The target could only ever be AFTER that marker in the past. The hard limit.

"A one-liner," I muttered.

I had it. I removed the word "unsigned" and recompiled with no errors. The kernel rebooted.

Now... I hope -- I think -- my dad might still be out there. Somewhere. Some when. I can find him. I will find him.

Still, I wonder, was it really a bug? What if he wrote it that way by design?

Brainstorming Dystopia

Creative writing assignment notes. Try free writing. Brain storming. Assignment due next week. Idea for a new story?

Alternate universe. Maybe trite, but why not? I like it. Dystopia? People seem to like that stuff for some reason.

Reductio ad absurdum. How bad could "bad" possibly be?

Tweak physical laws, change something from our universe, just one thing. How about "c"? Velocity limited to the speed of light? Interstellar travel as we know it would be impossible!

Effects? Without interstellar travel, limited to near earth orbit only. Ew. Boring. OTOH, everyone is stuck on earth and has to learn to get along -- or die trying. Food shortages? Fresh water? Population controls? An earthbound arms race with doomsday weapons? Could I make that believable?

Tweak. Take away carbon nanofilaments. No space elevator. Even low earth orbit becomes impossibly expensive again.

Tweak. Take away fusion. Bring in energy scarcity. What would that be like? Geopolitical instability. Wars fought over old-school energy resources. Pollution?

OK, just a setting. Plot? What's the conflict? Seems like almost everything would be a conflict. Energy scarcity might like a good place to start. Burning fuel to release heat. Thermodynamic limits. Primitive. Almost Stone Age.

Something crazy, some guy trying to perfect a fusion reactor and solve the energy shortage? But he's laughed at, scorned?

Can't get funding?

Maybe it's too ridiculous.

Life on that earth? Maybe too awful for this project? Not sure I can really do justice to that much dysfunction!

Perspective. Every world is someone's dystopia.