Who would you like to be?®

“Welcome back!”

“The hell?”

“Tsk. Language, Mr. Carter. I presume you can show yourself out. Have a safe trip.”

“Where the hell am I?”

“Oh my. One moment, please.” [pause] “50 simyears??? By the stars, you must be wealthy!”

“What’s going on?”

[sighs] “. . . you’d better come with me, Mr. Carter.”


“Your real name is Doug Carter. Your last (perceived) 50 years have been wholly simulated by our software, interacting with other customers as compatibility allows. It is unusual for customers to request more than a simulated week or so, but it seems you bought a whole lifetime.”

[shows signed contract with company logo]

“You’re about 24 real years older, because we use a 2:1 time scale with some scheduled maintenance. But for long-term clients, we use longevity boosters, so you’re only about 6 years older biologically. We block prior memories so that your simulated experience feels real (and for the safety of other participants), but customers usually regain their prior memories shortly after return.”

“Jeanette . . .”

“Hmm? Oh, that’s a name. Unusual. Oh, hmm, I see. It appears you had a child in simspace. That feature’s technically still in beta. How was the conception? Any tips for our dev team?”

“My daughter!”

“Oh, ah. Mr. Carter, so, your daughter doesn’t exist in reality. If you like, I can copy all her logs for you. You own all her IP. Her mother is sim too, so the same there.”

“But . . . !!!”

“Mr. Carter . . .”

“. . . how much for another fifty years?”

[representative smiles]


If you could see the notes they’re taking . . .

As time increases without bound, the probability of
existing within a simulated reality approaches unity.

There are exactly two possibilities: either we exist in a simulated reality, or we do not. If we’re simulated, this almost certainly evidences a creating group of entities in the enclosing universe with a reason for doing it.

At this point, you can speculate on motive. For example, maybe they’re doing a simulation: a group of cosmological grad students. (The idea of a “god” in the classic sense seems cretinous; what depraved being would build a toy universe and then have trite interactions inside of it for eternity?) But these lines of inquiry become dull rather quickly.

More interesting is to speculate on the existence of the parent universe itself. By applying the same logic recursively, we find that they’re probably simulated too. So you have us, inside a parent universe, inside a parent universe, inside, inside, and so on until you reach some root universe. It will always reach a root universe in a finite number of nested universes. (Why? Because by assumption, the probability of existing in a simulated reality only approaches unity. And even if we were to know we’re in a simulated universe, you toss the problem to the next one up, and so on until an assumption breaks. Anyway, you can’t have turtles all the way up.)

For example, let’s say that we think the probability of existing in a simulated reality is ps=0.93. Assuming this is constant for each universe (each universe likes simulating universes approximately the same as itself), we’d expect on average to be the 14th or 15th universe down. If it’s ps=0.5, on average we’re the first universe down.

What’s fascinating is that this implicitly involves a problem: we can’t define time very well. If you observe a universe right at the big bang and then live through until its end, your ps grows monotonically from 0 to 1 but the truth remains constant. What the original conceit really is saying is about time in the root universe. That, as time progresses, the number of recursively simulated beings collectively grows faster than the number of real-lifes. It’s a hyperexponential growth, too, since each simulated reality makes its own recursively simulated universes too.

This suggests something interesting: we can devise an a-priori experiment to see whether we’re in a simulated reality. See, this hyperexponential growth starts exactly when the root universe starts simulating things. The population growth in the root universe continues at an ordinary exponential rate, so the simulated universes very quickly outpopulate the real one.

This means that after the root universe develops universe simulation, your chances of being born in the real world drop abruptly, asymptotically, to zero.

In the absence of better data, we assume that any parent universes are like ours, since people are interested in creating applicable simulations. So:

  1. If we are simulating our own universes, then probably we are the child of a parent universe that is also simulating universes (one of which is us).
  2. If we’re not simulating universes, then we don’t have a parent universe, because that parent universe wouldn’t be simulating us either. So we wouldn’t exist (and yet clearly we do).

The intriguing thing is that the simpletons who authorize science funding get the implication backwards, reasoning that if we don’t invent universe simulation, then we’ll be living in real life (as if such post-hoc decisions could influence the very nature of reality). If this carries back up to the root universe, then no child universes will ever exist (which makes the fallacious chain of reasoning even more appealing).

Ed. note: this isn’t actually strictly fiction.


We’re a little short on crew.

The first “live” interstellar colonists to arrive successfully on an exoplanet in a nearby system were a group of six malnourished Vietnamese women. (A seventh died in hibernation, as had been statistically predicted.)

Between Sol’s planets, economies of scale and orbital infrastructure allow minor differences in weight to be tolerable. Tickets are still based on mass, as-measured by the travel agency on launch day to the nearest gram, so women and children are cheap. But even if you’re obese, you can still pay your way.

But when you’re talking about interstellar distances, every extra gram you accelerate to and back again requires energy comparable to the annihilation of a weapons-grade quantity of antimatter. That energy has to come from somewhere.

So, because men’s contribution can be saved and women’s can’t, the colonists were all women. The large diversity of the former could also cut down on the number of women required. But a bit of careful selection and reduction of key nutrients in her diet cut down the average woman’s mass by 15kg each. When you factor in the commensurate reduction in life support, their ship spent only 248 years in transit—fast enough to arrive by 2599-11-3, just under two months before the UFP’s deadline.

In Case of EMP . . .

Nostalgia costs mass.


Johnson broke the glass.

“The hell is this?”

“It’s a slide rule. And it’s going to save our asses.”

“Lotta fancy numbers. What’s it do?”

“It multiplies, divides, square roots, all the usual things ‘cept addition. This one does trig and exponents too. It’s more precise than your brain, but less so than a computer. That EMP means we don’t have a computer, though. Both backups are dead too.”

“Well, we had no way of knowing that that particular CME would hit us way out here at Jupiter. The chances of that must be pretty absurd.”

“Not really. Happens all the time. But our electrical shielding clearly wasn’t up to par, and this was a particularly big one. Right now, we’re dead fish in a very big sea. See if the emergency sparkgap is working. Tell Ganymede we’re scrubbing the mission—and we’ll use this thing to figure out how to burn for home.”

Ed. note: Idea from Atomic Rockets. I myself restored a K&E for work, and have another at home. They’re useful for one-off calculations that would be too slow to do in my head and too unimportant to boot a shell.

Physical Exam

Your A+ is an F-

“Did I pass, doc?”

“You’ll be pleased to know, you’re in perfect health.”

“Sweet! I’ma be an astronaut!”

“Well . . . no.”

“!!! . . . Why not? You said I’m in perfect health!”

“You have type A-positive blood. Astronauts are required to have type O-positive.”

“That seems arbitrary.”

“No; it’s necessary. If someone got hurt, you couldn’t be a blood donor. The body of any O-type person would reject it. O-positive is the largest blood group type, so we picked that. Sorry.”

In Port

That’s a stiff one.

“Buy you a drink?”


“Ma’am, I’m trying to be considerate. It’s about your ship.”

“The Willow? What?”

“Thought so. Eh bartender!—A double algae on the rocks for the lady here.”

“What are you doing?”

“I think something bad is going to happen to the Willow. Just some talk I heard around the docks. Something about a defective neutron moderator.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No. I’m offering a deal. I know these guys. Hold some sway. Might be able to convince—”

[leaving] “Disgusting. Keep your drink.”

Ed. note: we last saw Beth here.

Material Science

A song, broken by tears.

“What is it, my dear? What’s wrong?”

“I . . . I broke it, mommy!”

“Well, what did you break?”

[looks up with sorrowful eyes]

“You don’t mean . . .”

“It was dirty! I tried to wash it and—”

“Show me!”

The violin lay on the bed in a crumpled, twisted heap. Traditional violin bonding is water-soluble, and modern strings put nearly 50 pounds of pressure . . .

“I’m sorry!”

[examining] “Ugh, and the wood is all warped too. You should have called me sooner!”

“I’m sorry!”

[sighs] “Well, there’s no way to fix this at all. The wood is cracked and the water warped it more. Even if it weren’t, there isn’t a luthier within half a light-hour.”

“. . .”

“It’s okay sweetie. You couldn’t have known. You’ve never seen wood before.”


Artwork by Dizzy Chen.

First Impressions

To learn a profession is not to wisen to it.

[From foreword to Introductory Xenosociology, 3rd Ed.]

First (radio) contact with an alien civilization happened on 2318-01-01 13:44:57, Earth Standard Time (EST). It was a Tuesday.

Specifically, we picked up the Haðu[note 1] radio chatter from something like 500 light years away from Earth—a statistically fortunate stone’s throw away in the immensity of a galaxy—even one containing (at least!) the hundreds of sapient species known today. Just as the young queen was drawing the 13-year civil war to a close, the planets and moons of the newly reformed UFP stood unified in awe—finally, aliens! Besides hastening the end of hostilities, the announcement also spurred the development of interstellar seedships in the coming decades[note 2].

Mistakes were made. Truly, alliances can be obliterated by sheer incompetency.

Nevertheless, due to the vastness of interstellar space, humans have only recently colonized far enough out to practicably encounter Haðu in the flesh, after 6000-odd years. The Haðu are not the first (we’ve of course already had an entire war with the even-more-improbably-close Tassad), yet as with any such case study, students would do well to learn from the mistakes that were made.

The first was in our haste to prepare to make the visit ourselves. The Haðu are a cautious race, and the departure of a hibernation-emissary-ship from a nearby system was viewed with alarm. Due to light-speed delay, it was five years before the system could retract the ship, and another five years after this before the Haðu could reassure us that they were merely nervous, that an emissary was welcome, and that the ship should be un-retracted.

The second error was cultural. Ambassador López, upon orbiting the single planet[note 3] of the Haðu, Praðeb, pronounced it dead—nevermind the indignant radio transmissions which disproved that conjecture. The Ambassador simply didn’t see any cities, and mistook this for a sign of underdevelopment. This is the sort of dangerous insensitivity that can obliterate alliances.

The third error was operational. Praðeb is larger and less-dense than Earth, combining in favor of mass to produce a 2.3x stronger gravitation. López (also acting captain; his military crew disappeared after hibernation under what can only be called suspicious circumstances) believed that the strong gravity would put himself and his aides at a diplomatic disadvantage, and adamantly refused to land. The aptly-named battleship UFP Enforcer, passing through at a distance of one light-month and so acting upon its own authority, rectified this by dispatching from its escort the light cruiser UFP Polaris, which saw to it that López and his aides disembarked right-the-hell-now. Besides the obvious confusion and embarrassment, the Haðu were thus made to suffer a federation warship in low orbit.

The fourth error was actually more a misunderstanding of scale. The federation shuttle came in slowly, saving nearly all of its fuel for the single-stage ascent to orbit, relying on aerobraking to absorb the brunt of speed on descent. The computer then performed a hard burn just above the surface, bringing the shuttle to a soft landing with minimal fuel consumption.

Haðu are each actually about the size of a small house, and enclose themselves in mounds of earth as they move. It was on one of these mounds that the shuttle had alighted, scorching it—and the hapless Haðu farmer underneath.

Fortunately, the creature was not seriously injured, and diplomatic relations were finally established. The patience and honor of the Haðu testify that such incompetence—tolerated at all levels—was not catastrophic. It is fortunate that the case of the Haðu can serve as a pleasant—if motivating—object of future study.

[note 1]N.B. “ð” is transliterated as a voiced dental fricative; “th” as in “then” (not as in “think”). Haðu produce the sound by a resonant and extremely loud thrumming.
[note 2]This colonization effort would ultimately be largely overtaken by faster, laser-accelerated ships, but this initial thrust is what made later efforts successful—and possible.
[note 3]The system, a binary, has two habitable planets and three marginally-habitable planets. Yet, the Haðu have no space program whatever, and have not colonized any.

The Battle of Outer Jovia

“Yer a long way from Kansas, ain’tcha?”

[From Deep Space Entanglements: A Tactical History of the Battles of the Interregnum]

The first battle of the newly-seceded Jovian moons—now formally christened the Jovian Trade Alliance, and informally, the land of Jovia—against the remnants of the United Federation of Planets (UFP), demonstrates aptly the cultural and conceptual schism that had at that time formed between those two polities.

Maintaining warships is astronomically expensive when they’re literal boats floating on an ocean. In space—well, the sum is something more than astronomical. The first “battleships” of the UFP were actually hastily repurposed merchant vessels, built for slow inter-asteroid trafficking, affixed with mining apparatus (anything that chews up an asteroid will chew up another ship).

Even compared against this sad fleet, that of the nascent Alliance was sadder still. The major infrastructure of the Belt remained under UFP governance and control, leaving the Alliance with no real mining industry. And so the ships of the Alliance were armed with sidearms—literal hand rifles—welded to their sides. Their only advantage was delta-V capability—a capacity, as we shall see, shrewdly wielded.

The battle was pitched about one light-minute from Jupiter. The five Alliance ships, comprising almost entirely captured interplanetary freighters, were well-suited to long-distance operations between the Belt and Jupiter itself. With such knowledge of their enemy, the twelve short-range UFP vessels hung back defensively in order to first discover their opponent’s strategy.

Maintaining warships is astronomically expensive when they’re literal boats floating on an ocean. In space . . . well.

However, the Alliance fleet did not appear to press its delta-V advantage, as had been predicted, instead holding off in a wide formation. And so a passive stalemate ensued at a range of about 1 light-millisecond.

Finally, the UFP ships, outnumbering and outgunning their Alliance counterparts, mustered and drove headlong toward its center vessel: an unstoppable charge.

The Alliance made no move to stop it.

In fact, the targeted vessel frankly turned and ran. The outer vessels of the Alliance formation swooped sideways, to bear on the flanks of the in-falling UFP fleet.

. . . and passed it by.

The Alliance vessels were racing past the UFP fleet, through it, to converge on its logistical support ship, the UFP Corella. The Corella being the only long-distance freighter then repurposed by the UFP, stored the combined life support, ordnance, fuel, and other such vital materiel to the UFP war effort. It was also completely unarmed, and unguarded.

By the time the UFP fleet commander realized his error, his fleet was two light-milliseconds away, and increasing at 10 km/s. The Corella was destroyed before its fleet could even turn around.

In the end, the Alliance fleet returned safely home, having operated adroitly within range of Pasiphae Station, the de-facto rebellion capital. Meanwhile, without fuel or food, the UFP vessels were destroyed without having fired a shot.

Though the UFP was to ultimately win the broader conflict through sheer attrition, in early battles such as these, the UFP‘s infamous stubbornness and aggression endured heavy casualties against the Jovian pioneering innovation.

Phoebe Station

Tickets now available: 50 to 107 light-minutes.

[Heard on live evening newscast 2197-06-01 on Ceres]

“Twelve kiloseconds ago, Orbital Materials LLC announced their intention to establish an oxyhydrogen propellant depot on Phoebe, a retrograde satellite of Saturn, within the next decade. A spokesman from Orbital said Phoebe was purchased from a private collector. We have colonization analyst Helen Graves here with us on Ceres. Helen?”

“Right here, Mindy.”

“Helen, what are your thoughts on the Orbital Materials acquisition?”

“Well Mindy, as you know, I’ve studied interplanetary colonization for decades, and the Orbital acquisition seems hopelessly long-sighted. Phoebe orbits Saturn, and there are no present plans for colonization that far out. The closest well-frequented base would be Pasiphae Station, in the Jovian system. Frankly, Mindy, they just won’t have any customers.”

“What do you think is their aim in acquiring such a risky investment, then?”

“I’m guessing they intend to bootstrap colonization efforts themselves. Phoebe is undeniably well-suited for it. The moon orbits retrograde, which makes it easier to rendezvous with from certain Hohmanns, especially with slingshot capture tethers. It also has the vast wealth in water to make the fuel itself.”

“Thanks, Helen. Again, if you’re just joining us, Orbital Materials has acquired the moon Phoebe for speculative use as a propellant depot. Construction will start after the first crews arrive; I’m told Orbital will use higher-energy transfers to cut down on the six-year Hohmann from Earth. I’m Mindy Graham, and this is Ceres Evening News.”