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Post by ZachEast »

By: Zach East
about 4,200 words

“OK...that is a pretty good idea, but like you mentioned, it probably won’t work...” said James Lee, University of Oregon Physics Department Head Professor.

“Right...because of the radiation, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, the radiation but… I don’t know… how about you come back again tomorrow… maybe we can talk about your idea a little bit more?”

“OK!” Great, now I have to make the four-hour roundtrip between Portland and Eugene twice in two days! Oh well, that’s not an issue because I’m curious.

We finished our conversation, set a time to meet the following day, and I left his office with a copy of my design still on his desk. “A PHYSIC” it read at the top in bold letters, with a porcupine shaped design just below that, followed by the Albert Einstein quote “Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.”

Once I had left the room, Professor Lee gathered his thoughts, reached for his phone and began dialing.

“Mr. Krauter...you should come by tomorrow and meet with him...I know, but he’s actually not crazy, and he might be on to something.”

As I left the Physics department building, my curiosity for what he was going to say about my design was met with, and slowly replaced by, the overwhelming excitement towards the fact that today also happened to be my birthday, as well, which meant one thing, the feast.

As such, the usual birthday feast was already being prepared at home. It consisted of all of my favorite foods: grilled salmon, smoked salmon, Dungeness crab, king crab legs, raw Kumamoto oysters, grilled Puget Sound oysters casino, on and on.

But on top of my original favorites, this year I requested to include some of my favorite Korean side dishes introduced to me by my lovely wife. Kim-chi, lettuce wraps known as Ssam, a seasoned soybean paste called Ssamjang, who’s fermentation end products produce the most explosive natural glutamic amino acid packed flavor bombs known to man, even more so than the previous record holder, Parmesan crystals (MSG does not count since it’s an extract, note that I said natural glutamic acid sources). When all three of the components are mixed, with your desired meat of choice placed on top, and rolled into a lettuce ball and eaten, it closes your eyes and changes who you are. Pretenses, bitterness, anxiety, all melt away into bliss over and over with each bite.

“It’s good even without meat in it” I always say. Of course, along with this feast was the beer (mostly IPA), Soju (a Korean distilled rice spirit, drunk more out of tradition than out of love for it’s taste), Lagavulin (the one Scotch to rule them all), etcetera. Which then resulted in a hungover and drizzly drive back down to Eugene the next day. I entered Professor Lees’ office again. Three men in suits occupied the other three chairs in his office.

“Hey Zach!” Said Lee “This is Ed Ray, President of the University of Oregon.”
“Hi!” I said.
“Hi.” He said with a smile.
“And Brad Nevor, The universitys’ legal council.”
“Hi.” I said. He nodded.
“And Jeff Krauter, President of the International Atomic Energy Commission”
“Hi.” I said. But, “whoa” I thought.
“So I invited them here to listen to you talk about your idea, if you would like to.” And with that, my hungover stupor was lifted, my eyes and ears perked up, and with a smile I said:

“Oh, OK! So, Einstein once said that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, right? So, everyone took that to mean that the speed of light is the ‘universal speed limit.’ But then we found out that during the rapid expansion of our universe following the big bang, the edge of the universe was calculated to have traveled faster than the speed of light. That discovery caused some scientists to say, wait, I thought Einstein said nothing can go faster than the speed of light? Then Einstein just goes ‘that’s correct, what is the edge of the universe made of? Nothing!’ Right? So what I’m saying here in my design is that if you want to go faster than the speed of light, it’s easy, just turn yourself into nothing!”

They clearly were not impressed yet.

“Ok, and you think your ‘physic’ device does that?” said the college President.

“I don’t know, I’m just a Food Scientist, I was hoping you guys could tell me.” I said with a blank stare back at them.

Mr. Krauter interrupted the silence “Why don’t you tell us how you think your physic device is going to work.”

“OK.” I flipped to the next page of my design where there was a slightly more detailed drawing. “There’s three main parts: the router, the sinker and the floater. It starts with two particles entangled by a quantum router, particle A is sent to one of several particle accelerators arranged in a parabolic dish shape at the front of the ship, focusing all the particle A’s into a central point directly in front of the ship. Particle A’s collide, creating microscopic black holes that will now be traveling away from the ship, drawing the ship into their gravity. I call this part the sinker. Meanwhile its entangled particle B is sent to the ships’ hull. When particle A is destroyed in the atom smashing process, its entangled particle B becomes what I call ‘virtual nothing.’ It is not actually nothing, I don’t think it would just pop out of existence, I would think of it as more...temporarily confused... I call that part the floater.” I continued.

“So, just point your sinker in the direction you would like to go, start by entangling hydrogen gas since it’s the lightest, then, the throttle for this bad boy would just be entangling, and routing, heavier and heavier elements, helium, oxygen, carbon...You would probably also have to put another smaller sinker on the back of the thing for brakes, and reverse” I finished and looked at their faces to gauge their interest.

Professor Lee spoke up “Right, and you mentioned that you think the radiation would probably make it too dangerous?”

“Right.” I replied. “That’s partly why I call it a physic.”

Mr. Nevor chimed in “Right, and just so we’re clear, why do you call it ‘a physic?’”

“Because it follows the standard naming convention. Did you know that the original name for an engine was actually ‘an engineering feat’ or ‘feat of engineering.’ It was shortened over time to simply an ‘engine’. If you can get this thing to work, and overcome whatever radiation this thing’s probably gonna’ kick out, then I would say you have achieved ‘a feat of physics’ and the drivetrain that you’ve created can be called a ‘physic.’”

There was a brief silence, I could see the wheels turning in their heads.

“Well, actually Mr. East...there’s been a recent discovery of a protein produced by tardigrades, that is capable of, when in the presence of radiation, instantly wrapping itself around DNA, encasing it and temporarily protecting it from radiation.”

“Cool.” was all I could think to say as a I tried to prepare myself for what he was about to say next.

“What I’m about to tell you has to remain secret for now, do you understand?” I said yes. He continued. “We have begun development of a gene modification therapy capable of reproducing this effect in humans. We also would now like to begin developing another protein that chemically bonds your ‘floaters’ as you call them onto our therapy proteins.”

My mind slowly came churning to a halt.

What are these guys saying?

I came here to ask how this fantasy design would NOT work, and now these guys are telling me that I basically just invented the first warp drive?

“Wait, so no one has ever thought of this before?” I asked.

“Not to our knowledge.” They shook their heads.

There was another brief silence as I took in the weight of the situation. Nevor asked “What are your plans to do with this if it’s actually successful? What compelled you to do this, I hear you’re a Food Scientist?”

A look of embarrassment washed over my face.

“...I uhh…I need to find the...Europa Triopa...”

Blank stares turned into confusion, which grew into anger towards professor Lee for letting in this crazy person, and for taking me seriously.

Ahem, “The Europa Triopa?” Asked Nevor with his eyebrows now furrowed.

“Yeaaaaahhh, when I was in second grade, I had to do a diorama project where we had to invent an imaginary animal that lived in a real place. Diorama projects were the best because I love how you could create a whole world inside of a box however you want, unfortunately we only ever got to do the one. Anyways, I went home and opened my dad’s Astronomy book, and it happened to open to the page about Jupiters’ ice moon Europa. It said Europa could hold extraterrestrial life in warm oceans under the ice. Then, I do not know how or why I can still remember this, but my little second grade brain just started announcing, without even thinking: ‘The Europa Triopa is an arthropod that lives beneath the ice of Europa. It has three body segments, three eyes, three brains, three hearts, three genders etcetera.’ So, to answer your question Mr. Nevor, I am doing this so that I can send a probe into Europa’s ice, and see if they’re down there.”

Even though that was not quite what they were expecting to hear, at the same time, it kind of was. My endearing childhood story slowly started to touch the hearts of them, even Mr. Krauter, and their confusion and anger towards Professor Lee for letting me in, turned towards a direction of amusement, then admiration, then unavoidable curiosity...because...were they down there? *beep*, now they wanted to find out too.

“OK, let’s not mention that part to the press yet...” Mr Nevor said.
“What press?” I asked.
“And definitely don’t mention that part to the Chiefs either.” Said Mr. Krauter.
“What Chiefs?”
“Another thing you’re going to need to do, is the law states that you have to submit this design, in person, to the General Administration Service desk in Washington.” Nevor Said.
“OK. Where in Washington?” I asked.
“Pennsylvania Avenue.” Krauter said.
“Oh, THAT Washington.” I said, they all had a little bit of a chuckle. I said, “The *beep* one!” their chuckles increased to laughs, they’ve all heard that one before, except for Mr. Krauter, who lives and works in Washington DC. ‘I am starting to hate this guy’ thought Krauter.

I went home, bought a ticket to DC, walked into the General Administration building, and was met by the receptionist who did not take any notice or interest in my arrival.

“Hi, I need to submit a design...?” I said to her. Without looking up, and without any interest in what the answer would be, she asked “What kind?”

Awkwardly, I said “...uh… a spaceship design...”

She looked up and said “Oh great! Put it in the pile with the rest of them!” and pointed to a large messy stack of papers, letters, and greasy napkins, that were all stacked in a container marked “Inbox.”

“The rest of them?” I asked.

“Believe it or not, you’re not the only one that came up with a spaceship design, or a brain-wash canceling tin-foil hat, or a space laser. Please put your design in with the rest of them.” She said with a fake, but not too fake to be obvious smile, and looked back down at her phone.

I was about to put my design on top of the gross pile, when a man in a suit walked in. The receptionist said something to the nature of “Hi boss” as he strolled up to the front desk. Without hesitation he grabbed the entire stack of “submissions” out of the “Inbox,” and unceremoniously dropped them all directly into the conveniently placed “Recycle Bin” next to the front desk. They made a hollow thud as he casually started strolling back to his office.

I spoke up “Uhh, Jeff Krauter...” The man stopped walking away “...told me to submit this design for the Chiefs of Staff to review?”

The man turned around and said, “Hey Rachel, who is this guy?” She shrugged. He looked at me and said, “How do you know Mr. Krauter?”

I said, “He told me to come here and give this to you guys.”

“*beep*, OK, come here.” I saw his demeanor change to fear, and confusion about what to do next, as he motioned me back into his office.

“What’s your name?”

“Zach East” I said.

“OK hold on.” He picked up the phone and started dialing. “...Hey, what did that one guy say about the IAEC project?...yeah this is the guy… yeah Jeff Krauter.”I spoke up.

“No, I’m not Jeff Krauter.” He looked at me and says off to the side of the phone to me.

“I know...” and he keeps listening. “...Yeah, he says his name is Zach East... yes ma’am...wow, yes ma’am...Yes ma’am.” He hangs up the phone. “Well! It’s your lucky day Zach East, because you get to have a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff of these lovely United States of America, tomorrow!”

I smiled and didn’t really know what to say to this guy because he seemed like a total douchebag.

“OK, cool! Awesome!” He looked at me for a second as his smug smile turned to smug confusion.

“’OK, cool?’ That’s what you say?”

“Uhhhh, I don’t know...thank you...?”

What a douche. My meeting with the Joint Chiefs went great, they were all instantly on board because they were not dumb asses like that General Administrations guy. I told them they should call the ship the U.S.S East, they laughed at me, but I was not really joking, oh well.

They also asked me why I’m doing this, I just said “Oh, because my dad was really into Astronomy and he kinda’ got me into it.” They all smiled the same endearing smile as the other guys did before. I should have just said that last time.

Five years went by, life went on, until one day I got the call.

“It’s ready.”

What was ready was the unmanned test drone ship. Up until now, the details about the project had to remain secret, but now was the time when it was required to disclose the main aspects of the project to the public.

Along with the unmanned test drone, it was also announced that a manned ship was also finishing development, and since no one had come up with a name yet, they were all still calling it the U.S.S. East.

My phone and social media blew the ‘ef up.

I flew to Colorado and was admitted into the U.S. Central Command Base (the one under the mountain), to watch the first drone ship test. In order to safely run the test, they had to rocket the drone all the way out beyond the moons orbit. It was there, pointed out towards Mars. The base commander said we are going to start with 0.1% light speed. A nice woman seated at the computer beside the base commander typed 0.1 into the specially customized computer console and hit enter.

At first, nothing. The very first two hydrogen atoms came together within the router, entangling, ripped apart from each other, each one exiting on either end of the router, A went forward to be sinker, B went back to be a floater. Then after a tense few seconds on the ground, the outside of the ship began to shimmer and flow, the number under the sign labeled “Gravitometer” went up by one digit and held. Telemetry begin tracking it’s path. Radiation levels: nominal and holding.

As tough and seasoned as the central command crew were, there smiles all began to grow rapidly as they all knew exactly what that meant. I might actually do it. One voice broke through the mounting excitement, the voice was mine.

“Cool, now try...like...150%.” Now, these seasoned veterans just bust out laughing at me again.

“No,” someone says. “That test isn’t today! Ha ha ha ha!” my blissfully ignorant statement lifted the spirits in the room even more.

As they were chuckling to themselves and distracted, I remembered that even though I’m not the fastest at typing on a computer keyboard, my years of working at restaurant tills, and then food science excel spreadsheets, had made my number pad skills unmatched. I gave them all one last disarming smile, and then just reached over and with blinding speed, typed “150” into her computers’ number pad, and hit enter with my pinky finger, right as they realized what I just did. All the instruments’ numbers shot up, the nice lady now angrily smacks my hand away from the number pad and quickly enters 0 back into it and slammed enter.

“WHAT THE HELL!?!?” the commander shouted. He looked back at the screen. “*beep*...where the hell did it go?” He looked around at all the screens feverishly. It was right about where I thought it would be, about one hundred fifty thousand miles away from where it was a second ago, so probably about 0.15% of the way to Mars. “OK, now you’re getting somewhere.” I said matter-of-factly. They were not amused.

After my little stunt with the drone, the Joint Chiefs were hesitant to let me around any more of the tests, but the first manned test was coming up, and since they were still calling it the U.S.S. East, they thought I should at least be there with them in DC to watch, away from the actual controls.

Captain David Jin was on the bridge of the ship. A controversial figure, not just because he was the first human to be considered “genetically modified” due to the gene therapy, but also because of his openness with sharing his therapy process over social media.

The Joint Chiefs Chairman: “OK we’re going to begin the countdown now.” I looked on with excitement.
“27” Wow, it’s actually happening!.
“26” Here we go!
“25” It’s coming! It’s coming!
I lean up to the directors’ microphone “Wait, stop the countdown.” I said calmly, as I hold up my hand in a halting gesture.
“24. Wait, what did he say?”
“I said stop the countdown.” They stopped counting and started wondering how I was going to mess up the test this time. They calmly asked.
“What’s wrong?”

“You have to play the song.” I said as I pull out my phone and type “Magic Carpet Ride” into a search window. They look at me like I am an idiot while it loads. “Haven’t you seen the Star Trek movie where they go back in time, to when the guy first invents the warp drive, and he plays the song? You gotta’ play the song.” Some noticed what I had typed in, but this was not Aladdin and Jasmines’ “Magic Carpet Ride.” No, no. Screeching, distorted guitar feedback begins swelling and moaning out of my phones’ speakers, I turn the volume all the way up and hold it up to the directors’ microphone. Twenty-three whole seconds of electronic mayhem finally resolves into the upbeat psychedelic rock anthem by Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf: “I like to dream, yes, yes.” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

My halting hand gesture changes to a pointed finger. “Do it.”

Steppenwolf: “Right between the sound machine” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

For the first time, the world watched live as the outside of the ship appears to turn into a bright liquid and was gone.

Steppenwolf: “On a cloud of sound I drift in the night.”<-(remove for copyright purposes)

They asked me if I wanted to go on the next test flight, I said yes, but only on the condition that I go to Europa, and that I need to have a scientific crew that I can have command authority over.

Steppenwolf: “Any place it goes is right...Goes far, flies near...To the stars away from here”<-(remove for copyright purposes)

They thought that was a weirdly specific request, and usually I would need to go through military training first, but they somehow managed to pull strings to make it happen.

Steppenwolf: “Well, you don't know what. We can find.” <-(remove for copyright purposes)
I had my hand up again in another halting gesture as the U.S.S. East slowly glided over the Europan Ice. “Wait…Wait...The geyser’s smaller this time, wait...OK, now.” A cylindrical Probe ejected by compressed air out the back of the ship. Another spray of compressed air shot from the top of the probe, sending it hurtling down, towards the now receding geyser.

Steppenwolf: “Why don't you come with me little girl, On a magic carpet ride” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

The probe crashed and banged its way down the geyser hole until the buoyancy detector sensed that it had stopped. The probe righted itself and looked out across the bottom of the ice. Eyes. Colonies of eyes, upside-down ant-like creatures crawling along the top of the bottom of the ice. Their three eyes turned and stared back at the probe.

Steppenwolf: “Well, you don't know what. We can see.” <-(remove for copyright purposes)
The creatures began covering the probe as a new jet of water thrust the probe up, all the way back through the geyser again and out onto the ice. I told Captain Jin to land on the ice to recover the probe. It was covered with the creatures from below, arthropods with three body segments, some still living, as well as a thick, mucous like, pink slime.
Steppenwolf: “Why don't you tell your dreams to me; Fantasy will set you free.” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

I ordered my crew to analyze everything. Each one seemed to have three hearts, three livers, three kidneys, hell even its DNA was a triple helix. I bust out my phone.

Facebook: “What’s on your mind?”

Me: “Told you so!” I snap a picture and attach it. Post. I guess only three people knew what I was talking about (four if you count the lawyer). Then I ordered my crew to test everything for heavy metals, micros, toxins, radiation, all came back negative. In fact, by all accounts, it appeared to be physiologically similar to an ant, except an ant that is twice as protein dense and 4 times healthier than kale. The pink slime turned out to be a yeast like organism whose proteins were found to contain seven additional “unknown derivatives of glutamic acid.”

Steppenwolf: “Close your eyes girl” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

While working on their computers, one of my crew looked up in horror to see me reach into the Triopa dissection chamber, rip off one of the Triopas’ legs, and scoop up some of the pink slime.

“Did he just...?” More of my crew start to take notice as their disgust builds. I order them to stay where they are, and not tell anyone anything as I run over to a prepared pot of boiling, salted water, and a sauté pan with olive oil now sizzling.

Steppenwolf: “Look inside girl.” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

I drop the triopa leg into the water, and then start sauteing the pink slime in a pan. Over the course of the minute it took to me to cook it, my science crew started questioning their life choices, and wondering if they should disobey my order, but Captain Jin was super into the idea, so he also ordered them not to say anything, and to stop complaining. Then, he just sat back and watched. I crack open the leg with my hands, dipped the meat into the cooked slime, and hold it up to my nose. As I took the first smell, my crew saw my demeanor instantly change. I froze. My eyes fixed, pupils dilating, I taste it. Seconds become centuries, centuries become seconds, everything in the universe was one, and all I knew was togetherness. My crew now starts wondering why my eyes are watering and darting around the room like I was on drugs. I calmly say “Jensen I order you to clean this up. Do not taste it or tell anyone” as I scrape the rest of my slime into a coffee cup and calmly walk out of the room gripping the cup firmly, looking straight ahead. Once I was out of the room, Jensen cautiously walks up to the mess. As her nose begins to hover over the pot and pan, she cannot help but breath in the vapors. She freezes.

Steppenwolf: “Let the sound take you away” <-(remove for copyright purposes)

Her eyes begin dilating as well, she immediately looks around suspiciously and starts furiously, and robotically cleaning the dishes. Without saying anything, she runs away to her bunk. Overwhelmed with emotion she cries tears of happiness into her pillow.

They asked me what I want to do next. I recommend starting orbital bases around Europa and Titan, but instead of building space elevators, they should make space pumps to pump the hydrocarbons off of Titan, and pump water out of Europa. They ask me if it would be for future exploration.

“Right. Now we need to find Janus, and Eden.”
Last edited by ZachEast on Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Bmat »

Very enjoyable! The flow is comfortable and keeps the reader's attention. The personality of the protagonist comes through as it should. I was hooked from the first few lines, which kept me reading. The descriptions created vivid images in my mind. The proofreading was done very well, the only thing I noticed (and I can't locate it now) was the use of "anymore" when possibly you meant "any more." The Steppenwolf removed quotations interspersed are an inspired feature.
I can imagine the story fleshed out to become a novel, perhaps- but I am just an avid sf reader (so don't take my word for it.)
Thank you for the opportunity to read this.

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Post by ZachEast »

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story, and I'm really glad you liked it!!!

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Post by Bmat »

My pleasure. :)

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