Flash Fiction – Echo

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

For the Daily Prompt – Echo

The phone was face up and flashing strange colors and messy squiggle shapes that vibrated across the screen.  All she had done was try to send a text message.  A very important text message.

Vanessa slammed her phone down onto the table and swore.  A brand new Nine, with all the updates.  A line of phones that had never expressed the Bug before. Nothing she’d read before buying had mentioned the Bug finally getting to her preferred phone brand.

Deep breath.  Fine.

She glanced down at the mess of notes scattered across the kitchen table.  It was 3am and she’d already been up for an hour working out the idea that had woken her up.  A rambling affair of equations and arrows pointing to phrases like “cosmological inflation.”  All she had tried to text to her research partner was, “We need to figure out how to make an echo,” followed by a few snapshots of her notes.

And now her phone was refusing to send that message, overcome with strange, eldritch symbols and flashing lights like a dance club.  This new phone was the brand that wasn’t supposed to have the Bug; only Androids had been doing it previously.  It didn’t make much sense, and no one working to develop phone technologies had figured out what was causing the Bug.  But Vanessa was a theoretical physicist, and she couldn’t turn away from a mystery that needed a proper application of science.

So she made some strong black tea.  This entire situation had been instigated by her abruptly waking from a dead sleep, full of the understanding that solved the issue her research team was stuck on.  Vanessa sipped her tea.

The phone was still flashing, and vibrated occasionally.  Vanessa wasn’t an Android user, and had never seen a live example of the Bug.  She’d had the Nine for about three weeks, with no issues.  What was different?

She frowned at the thing, and began listing out everything she knew about the Bug.

It was first reported about 18 months ago, in high end Android phones.  Communications sent through messenger apps occasionally sent back strange forms of data that neither the app nor the phone could interpret; weird sounds, those flashing lights, the shapes that looked…wrong. Voice and video calls sometimes generated something that sounded almost like music, something on the cusp of being a true pattern.

Various causes had been accused; sun spots, Russian hackers, North Korean hackers, US government spyware, spyware in Facebook.  It took long a time for anyone to suggest it was the hardware.

Vanessa sipped her tea.  It couldn’t be the hardware, though, could it?  Not when multiple phone brands and operating systems were having the problem.  What else had changed?  Did the Nines have some new-ish technology that Android had been playing with for the last year and a half?  She tended to keep her head out of consumer product tech, and didn’t have enough information in her head.

Standing up, Vanessa walked to her bookshelf, where a stack of print magazines leaned precariously.  She knocked the whole thing over, searching for the scientific journals from three years ago, hoping they were there.  She knelt down on her knees, flipping through the magazines over and over again until she found what she was searching for:

“Nature 2019: New encryption technology potential in harnessing dark matter relay networks”

Vanessa went back to the table and grabbed a highlighter, marking the article up as she read, understanding washing over her.  She remembered the announcement two years ago of new encryption technologies, something “completely unhackable.”  There was a vague memory of Drake at the lab expounding excitedly about it.  He had very little technical detail at the time, and so Vanessa hadn’t paid much attention.  Was this theory about a “dark matter relay” really it?

She put more water on to heat for tea, then picked the quivering phone up and stared at it.  Shapes trailed across the screen, like an old fashioned screen saver.  There was a sense of depth, like watching a poorly made 3D movie, that made her stomach twist up as she watched.  Some of the shapes resembled viruses or bacteria under an election microscope, and seemed to gain more detail the longer she stared, ceasing to be formless blobs.

There were the squiggles, long threads that tied themselves in and out of complicated knots.  There was a pattern to the knots; she felt that if she studied them long enough, she’d find something mathematical being communicated.  She became increasingly certain that those knots represented part of the formula she had tried to text earlier, which was surely impossible.  The tea kettle screamed out, and Vanessa dropped the phone, her eyes snapping up and away.

Her stomach lurched, and she ran to the sink, retching while the tea pot continued to squeal.  Vanessa drank some cold water, and breathed slowly, turning to silence the kettle.  The phone was facedown on the carpet, still quivering every few minutes.  She made more tea, watching the steam rise slowly, which turned her mind back to her research lab.  Background radiation and echoes of the formation of the Universe, that’s what they worked on.  Questions about Dark Matter were discussed every single day.

Why hadn’t anyone looked into this encryption technology development?  It used concepts that, if true, could change how they studied the cosmos.  They could finally prove or disprove the hypothesis about the Milky Way’s dark matter disk and its effect on Earth and the evolution of life.  Or the idea of parallel dark matter universes.  That paper hadn’t addressed any of those ideas.  If there was another world right next to ours, this new encryption technology was bouncing our communications right through it.

The Bug did not happen with every single communication, or they would have killed the technology by now, rendered useless.  Perhaps the messages were for the most part traveling through empty space.  But if there was a dust cloud or meteor field of dark matter objects, sometimes those communications would bounce off the objects, creating an echo.  The bizarre way the messages scrambled when bounced back, could they be a key to Dark Matter?  What could the raw data of the scramble tell us about the Universe and matter?

Vanessa pulled the journal article back over, and started copying out equations.  This ridiculous Bug that so many people had come to hate had just given her the key to measuring invisible things.  As she began to work the math out and sketched some initial experiments, she decided that she would explain it in layman’s terms as “echolocation for space and the invisible world.”

She would start by mapping out what the phone messages were bouncing off of; a map might have practical, real world applications that could fund the rest of her research.  She was a bit disturbed by the sense of a pattern, as though the data was being intentionally manipulated, but that was one more mystery to solve.

Humanity had just been given a flashlight that could beam into the darkest, most impenetrable shadows of the cosmos.  Of course she wanted to go exploring.

My Wurstfest Adventure, or, The Mass Consumption of Animal Flesh

babyduckjourneyWe slept through two alarms this morning. That’s unusual, because the alarms sound like a raging mob of quacking, blood thirsty ducks stampeding into the room to eat our eyes, and we tend to respond to that proactively. Our exhaustion from the events of the past several weeks has finally overcome our very real fear of imaginary ducks.

Normally, I would argue this is a good thing, as we obviously needed the sleep, but today we had plans. Today, we were going to Wurstfest.

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If you aren’t anywhere near central Texas, and you didn’t bother to click on that link I provided as reference, you might be wondering what the hell Wurstfest is. In short, Wurstfest is the real Oktoberfest event of Texas. There is beer, there is meat, there is polka, and there are old ladies wearing drindls. And German-style baked goods.

I should point that a) I’m a vegetarian, and b) my partner doesn’t drink alcohol. This absolutely was a great idea. And we absolutely did not know that we would be pawns in a game stretching all eternity for the very fate of the world.

 

It was cold and damp outside. We drove for about an hour and a half through a thick mist that hid the hills and draped the distant downtown buildings of San Marcos and Kyle in a surreal fog. The mist also made us go briefly insane, as we decided to turn off of the interstate into San Marcos in search of an ATM that would not charge us the crazy fees we knew we’d encounter at the festival. Half an hour of trying to match information on our bank’s website to the varying opinion of Google Maps (who decided overnight to totally change up their Android UI, WHICH DID NOT HELP) left us feeling that paying an extra four bucks for convenience wasn’t that big a deal.

wetcatshakeFinally, we arrived in New Braunfels, and decided to turn off the Maps app and follow the gigantic signs spanning their cute downtown area. Then there was the ordeal with trying to figure out which parking areas were scams and which were legit. After driving around some more, I threw ten dollars at the problem, and we started trudging through the mud and the mist towards Landa Park where the festival is held.

Having never been there before, I was not prepared. It’s gorgeous, with the Comal River flowing through the grounds. It was so cold that big puffs of mist for rising up off of the water and floating out into the road.

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There’s a waterfall. I realize it’s just a spillway, but it looks nice surrounded by the old buildings and the trees.

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After we were done gaping at the spillway, we made our way across the bridge to the Markt, where most of the food and beer is, as well as the warm and generally safe Wursthall. And of course there’s the traditional art celebrating the mass consumption of sausage and general practice of blood sacrifice to the elder gods. That’s what this is depicting, right? I can’t imagine any other reason that anyone would pain this:

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imageWe were starving, but we don’t actively worship the elder gods, so the mass consumption of animal flesh all around us had not yet become an influence. We had some traditional soft pretzels instead. They were, at that particular moment, the best thing ever. Little did we know that we were following the grand schemes of the elder gods…

 

 

And oh yes, from above, the Old Ones were watching us.

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We found our friends we were meeting. Pretzel cravings having been satisfied, we thirsted greatly now needed drink. But to get drink one must have drink tickets. To get tickets, one must pay the beer gods, beneath their great spinning wheel, which I think throws children out into space or the mouth of a space wyrm, at least. Either way, they took our money and we bought a pitcher of Dunkels.

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We then made our way to the Wurst Hall, which is warm, dry, and full of polka. There are rows and rows of tables full of people who generally seem to be at ease. Some people wore traditional hats, some wore drindls. Many of them danced polka out on the floor. It was grand demonstration of the sway the elder gods still hold over the general populace, with this great festival of mass consumption of flesh.

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So much polka…

And we drank.

Even Reed drank, when we realized that they have non-alcoholic St. Pauli Girl.

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But as we drank, our pretzels ran out and we began again to hunger. Yet still, no sausage had been consumed. From above, we felt their eyes on us, unsatisfied…

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The temptation grew stronger, but I held on for a while longer, when I realized that one can buy a dollar’s worth of Pepto Bismol from the vendors. A reminder of the price of service to the Old Ones, and the inevitable, terrible transformation one’s very insides are subjected to.

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But suddenly we were across the festival, standing before a glorious sign for the Edelweis Deli, and its terrible deer head that had summoned us through our hunger and weakness.

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The deer head was speaking to us. Whispering of saurkraut and good spicy mustard, and the taste of meat. Horrified at the thought of ingesting the remains of something with an advanced nervous system, I tried to turn away, but it was too late.

They had Reed.

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True love knows no bounds, and there was no way I was going to let him get pulled inside out until his consciousness was in another dimension without me. The thought of dealing with the sticky, grumpy, gaseous thing left in his place turned my stomach even more than the task now before me.

Smothered in saurkraut and mustard, memories of the old ways and another life rose up in my mind. Of good bratwurst eaten greedily and ignorantly, the twisting horror of my insides simply what was normal. It was such an easy thing…

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I took four bites before I handed it over to Reed. But the Old Ones had won. They had won, and they knew it, celebrating above us the mass consumption of flesh.

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Horrified, I bought the healthiest, least harmful thing I could find, and inhaled the most delicious apple strudel I have ever had.  I could feel its powers fighting against the darkness trying to take hold. I had hope again in its sweet, cinnamony goo filling.

 

 

 

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The drive home was long, and dark. I’ve locked myself away in this room, confused by the strange sounds coming from the kitchen. Water running, dishes clinking, broken occasionally by what could only be described as the deadly vapors of the Elder Gods’ powers being released into our dimension. My boyfriend washing the dishes has never been so terrifying.

As for me, the battle inside has been raging between those four bites of wurst and the strudel. The sounds… oh, the horrible, terrible sounds, like a transdimensional whale trying to rip its way through the fabric that separates our reality from theirs. Their powers will only grow…

terrified spacecatAt least I understand what’s happening. There’s a transdimensional battle for the very soul of our Universe every time I eat meat. But damn, that bratwurst tasted good.  None of the blissfully ignorant will ever know what I really gave up to save the world from being consumed by some dread immortal monster from the Netherworlds.

Happy Wurstfest!