A long, thin hole punched in the fabric of the universe
A bit of fiction
Sorry for the great delay on this! I was supposed to post the weekend before the holidays, but I wanted to take more time to polish this up and get some feedback from my partner. This is the first time I’ve written some science fiction for consumption broader than the coworkers who read my notes. I hope you find this enjoyable—it was fun for me to take some time to write it and explore the little world I created. Please leave your thoughts!
I grew up here on Celestia. When I was born, humans had lived here for sixty two years and thirty nine days. Celestia was the first planet in this solar system that was colonized, followed by two other temperate planets closer to our star, Prox, and a cold planet rich in minerals.
My grandparents slept four hundred years and traversed 150 lightyears, ferried here on a colony ship with six thousand others. Two thirds of those survived the journey, and about ninety percent of the rest survived the thawing process. Making the trip is a serious decision: everyone you know and love in Sol has long passed away. Wars were fought and won. Technologies were developed and made obsolete. But most of all, it would be impossible to return home.
The ship that carried our colonists was shot into the galaxy by Verizon Communications. In the twenty second century when Verizon announced that they had invented a proprietary means of communicating at faster-than-light speeds, their technology became the basis for intragalactic travel. Messaging and telepresence, dating, banking, commerce, and almost everything else anyone could ever do was done digitally anyway, and Verizon had become the Wells Fargo & Company of space travel.
Scientists first dismissed Verizon’s claims, as their claims violate the laws of physics. Verizon ignored the criticism from academia and commercialized their secret. Quants on Mars made fortunes trading faster than competitors who were colocated in stock exchanges on Earth. Cross-planet virtual reality using the technology obviated much of the need for passenger travel, ravaging a source of revenue for the space industry.
The governments who saw opportunity acted on it immediately. Verizon became a critical component of defense: faster intelligence meant faster responses to threats, and faster retaliation. Influence was the currency with which nations paid for these advantages, and Verizon’s ability to affect the solar system and its occupants exploded.
“We pull time, much the way a glass blower pulls a fiber of molten glass into cane. As the colony ship hurtles through space to its destination, we drag a strand of the present along behind it. Upon arrival in our new home, we begin construction of the terminal nexus: a structure capable of gripping that strand, and passing information back along it. When the nexus is anchored into orbit, a pulse of energy punches a long, thin hole in the fabric of the universe. This is the Link, binding Prox to Sol.” An exhibit with colorful, animated dioramas plays this on loop for children on field trips in Celestia’s capitol museum.
Orbiting Prox, the terminal nexus slowly spins across the vast empty space. A dull gray disk the size of a city—thick like a hockey puck—with large conic pylons emerging from the edges like crenellations on a castle. A blue glow reaches out from the far side into the darkness of space. Autonomous ships come and go, feeding the reactor onboard with fuel to maintain the link. Nobody may approach the nexus, though: the ambient radiation is too high to be safe for humans.
Every connected device in the system, from tablets to virtual reality rooms to rain gauges, connect through the link back to the rest of civilization. Movies from across the galaxy are rented and watched. Songs are composed and broadcast back to the rest of humanity, and digital royalties are credited in return. Online celebrities receive fan mail from solar systems that are nothing more than a pinprick of twinkling light to the naked eye.
I discovered the truth when I ventured too far from civilization.
A family matter summoned me off-world by mail. I’d never been summoned by mail before. Mail was for parcels; someone from the post had to come out to make sure the envelope was handled properly and didn’t get lost between some boxes. I had to pack with haste, and my reply was my arrival.
The mining operation I found myself at was on a distant moon, far enough from Prox that the light didn’t feel warm through my visor. The gloomy blue land and dark speckled sky made everything look cold, despite being mid-day.
None of my devices had reception. Surely a mining operation couldn’t…operate without a connection? What if something happened, or they needed something? Being alone with my thoughts was disconcerting, and the sense of loneliness made me deeply uneasy.
I would begin a stay here to resolve the unfinished trades for the business of a deceased family member. The outpost independently traded ores to folks across the edge of the system, and it was necessary for me to untangle some outstanding deals to close the estate.
My quarters were minimal, with a shared common area and two shared bathrooms. Six others stayed in the building, though it was rare for more than two others to be around at once. All but one of the other occupants were mining equipment operators, and they worked rotating shifts.
The other fellow was an older gentleman who kept to his room. He had the perpetual appearance of exhaustion, with wrinkled skin that had been damaged by tiny burns or scarred by serious acne. We ate together sometimes, and he told me more about the operation.
“These people worked for a company, once. Molybdenum Refiners Co. They were owned by a chain of corporations leading back to a conglomerate on Earth. There was a connection to the link back then. It was easier to tune out the bleak silence of the outside.
“The miners were a scrappy group of under-paid, under-loved outcasts. You don’t go into mining with a circle of friends and family, at least not for what they were being paid.
“Debris from space took out power and transmitters and knocked the outpost offline. One of our generators needed parts. Dust from the impact kicked up and blocked our line of sight to the inner system. Two ships were sent out to fetch parts, limping along to save fuel. It took weeks for them to reach civilization.
“And you know what happened when they arrived? They didn’t exist. The mining outpost, that is. Nobody had a record of Molybdenum Refiners. None of the credit accounts for supplies were available. One of the two ships had to be bartered for repair provisions. When they returned to the outpost, the transceivers wouldn’t connect. Nobody else in the system had arrays pointed towards our moon.
“The repairs mended the comms equipment and steadied the power grid. But as far as the rest of humanity knew, nobody was here.
“More ships were sent out. A smattering of friends and family were messaged from off-world, but no responses were received. Calls went unanswered. It was as though this operation had been erased from humanity’s collective memory.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Surely there was a mistake?”
“It was no mistake. ‘They’ thought the operation had been destroyed. A loose end in the tangle of human interactions.” He looked down at his hands and pinched the air with his thumb and index finger, “Like a loose string on the edge of a linen sheet. They tugged,” he jerked his hand back, “and discarded us.”
“But that makes no sense. How could the miners be discarded? Somebody…the mining conglomerate! They’d want to know what happened.” I wasn’t convinced.
“There was no company, there never was. It was an invention. Our grandparents woke up on that ship, and everything that they were told about reality was a construction. The mining company, its parent corporations, they were all just things that people were told. The structural engineers, the distant off-world friends, the managers that oversaw production, the board of directors…they were just convincing replicas of people that could exist. Digital actors, conjured up to give us direction and purpose.
“When the powers that be thought everyone here was dead, that’s when they started to pull on the strings. The outpost looked like it had been obliterated. Simulating all those people and things…that’s money. Computer time. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it, why were you simulating a tree in the first place?
I put my head in my hand. “But…that’s nonsense. Billions of people are out there. We’re all connected, and somebody must be out there.”
He shifted back in his seat and folded his arms, “There’s nobody out there.”
I looked away.
“We settled into our way of life, bartering in person with the folks we could reach with our ships. Years later, a young woman came to us. She was sick, bleeding from her mouth. Rough shape. She was on the run.”
“The powers that be. The people pulling the strings.” He looked up, as though they were above us. “Verizon.” He paused and looked back to me. “The young lady was running because she’d been to the nexus. She saw the truth.”
“What kind of truth is at the nexus? Everyone knows how it works. It’s the link.”
“Boy, you don’t know how anything works. None of us do. Or did.” He folded his arms. “It’s all a scam.”
Verizon shot their first vessel of humans into deep space to solidify themselves permanently as part of human life. Humans across the galaxy from one another would need Verizon; the connection between worlds was too important to turn off. Viable competition would be nearly impossible—at least for hundreds of years. The time to research and develop a a faster-than-light link spanning lightyears would eat into that lead.
The executives at Verizon weren’t satisfied. Hundreds of years wasn’t long enough, they wanted a permanent lead. Greed fueled a darker plan. The link wouldn’t be constructed at all. A colony ship would set out into the darkness of the galaxy with a secret mission to create a fake link.
The young woman went to the nexus—perhaps the first person to try—and found nothing. She disabled the overrides on her navigation systems and ignored the radiation warnings. She found a vessel with no space-time manipulating equipment. It was a nearly endless room full of servers. Computers, mounted on scaffold as high as you can see, in aisles shrinking off into the distance. A giant thinking machine, automated in every way.
The reactor on the nexus burns dirty—no shielding. Humans were never meant to be there, and the machines on board don’t need to worry about radiation poisoning. Spent fuel waste is recycled by thrusters, blasted into the vastness of space to keep the nexus delicately hung in the heavens. The glowing blue trail of debris completes the narrative of a metaphysical strand of time dangling out of our solar system, like the string connecting two ghostly tin cans.
The girl died shortly after she arrived, her body ruined by terrible radiation burns. She had run to the furthest corner of the solar system fearing an authority that would punish her for what she’d discovered, but nobody chased her when she fled. She was doomed from the moment her vessel approached the nexus as she was blasted by incredible waves of radiation. Even if she had escaped, who would believe her?
Every phone call, hit single, funny video, news clipping, advertisement, and celebrity faux pas from beyond our world—all of it was fake. Inventions and innovations sent to us from the greatest minds around the galaxy were the product of a cold, mechanical mind churning through impossibly large piles of data. The link was treated like a portal to another place, but the world on the other side was fictitious. Every word, emotion, and intention of the humans of Prox was remembered with perfect recall, and a perfect story of the distant human race was played back. Billions upon billions of humans were simulated with uncanny fidelity. A galactic economy was tracked with meticulous accounting. Ideas and inventions emerged from servers burning through terawatts of power. A whole civilization was starring in The Truman Show for an audience of wires and chips.
Prox is alone. The link was a teddy bear for its residents to collectively hug for comfort. A relief for desperate colonists building a new civilization, too few and too far from home to fulfill their need to socialize. And a means to manipulate consensus and ideas by the Verizon executive elite that came along for the journey. Back in Sol, the words and ideas of “brave pioneers” filtered back from a gray disk in the sky to eager Earthlings and Martians.
I stared out the window into the perpetual dusk outside, trying to make sense of the revelation. The truth about Celestia, about the link to Sol, about everything. It was almost too much to comprehend.
I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder at the incredible feats that had been accomplished by Verizon scientists and engineers. The nexus, the multi-generational system of logistics and production that had brought humans here. It was a testament to the boundless potential of our ingenuity, but also to greed and to man’s wicked desire to control his fellow man.
How many other millions were adrift among the stars? In that moment I realized I knew nothing about humanity. So little of what I know—knew—is true.
I looked to the man, “Why do you stay in this place?”
“There are no lies here. We’re the only ones for lightyears in any direction who are truly free.”