Discovery – Short Story (Flash Fiction Contest Entry, 2017)

    Confused, Paul carefully removed the digital headset. “I didn’t expect trees; is this some sort of augmented reality device?”

    The climate situation had become dire. Warming from carbon emissions had created a domino effect, releasing metric tons of methane gas trapped in permafrost regions into the atmosphere. The result was catastrophic. Humanity relied more heavily on electricity to stay cool, many migrated north to survive. Entire forests withered and burnt. By 2027, scientists speculated that thirty-percent of species had become extinct in the last decade, with humanity soon to follow. While political focus had shifted to the stars, in a small remote weather station in Death Valley, Paul and Stephanie Weller hunted for a way to save the planet.
    “No, silly! Those trees are real!” Stephanie retorted.
    At least humor is alive and well. Paul thought, his eyes lifting as his lips drooped in sarcasm. “Yeah. I see the trees now. And there’s a pizza! Good thing pineapples are extinct.”

    Stephanie stared sharply at her brother, a smirk chiseling dimples into her cheeks. “Those are trees living millions of years ago!”
    “I don’t understand.” Paul said, puzzled. It was an unusual feeling, he prided himself on his contributions to the unified theory of everything. Now he dedicated himself to climate science, and who better to work with than his sister, the renowned robotics and technology engineer that designed much of the exoskeleton systems and wearable technology that people took for granted.
    “That headset is a Space-Time Altering Remote Transmission device. I call it the HeadSTART. It collapses a small layer of spacetime, allowing you to perceive a location in space as it was at a particular time.” Stephanie watched an incredulous look sweep her brother’s face. She grinned, pleased with herself. 

    Paul felt the click as everything locked into place. The fleeting hopelessness growing into frustration, years poured over technical data and failed experiments at the weather station. Here it was. It felt like the answer. He didn’t know how, but something told him that this could save everything. Shock fled him, replaced instantly with excitement. He leapt from the seat of his exo-legs and found himself three feet in the air. He still wasn’t used to walking again, never mind the strength of the carbon legs.
    “Please! I need the documentation!” Paul demanded eagerly.
    Stephanie was taken aback. She had expected Paul to be excited, knowing it would revolutionize the world of research, but she wondered why finding out how it worked was so urgent.
    “I only have my notes.”
    “I need to see them, immediately!”

    ***

    Stephanie hated downtime. She still didn’t know what Paul was looking for. Relief came from a familiar buzz behind her ear.
    “Hello!?” she answered the call.
    “Hey! Did you get the displacement chip I sent?” It was Heidi Stepurin, an old friend and the CTO of NanoVatek, the global leader in quantum technology devices.

    “Yeah, yeah! It came almost right away!”
    “That’s great! I’m so glad you got it so fast. You know BitMail.” Heidi joked. “Did it work?”, she asked.
    “Yeah! Maybe a little too well. Paul spent the last four hours…”
    Paul burst into the room, letter in hand, “Is that Heidi?”
    Stephanie nodded.
    “Can she scale the chip? I need it to merge a one-meter sphere of space.” Paul spoke in labored breaths.
    “A sphere?” Stephanie asked.
    “Yes! A sphere! Can she do it?”
    Stephanie shifted her eyes vacantly. “Did you get that?” she directed to Heidi, then glanced back at Paul. “You know a sphere would just distort everything, right?” she said coolly.
    “Yeah. We can do that, it may take months though.” Heidi replied. Stephanie relayed the message.
    In a flash, Paul ran to the BitBox, finding the chip he needed inside. Then he sent the letter through BitMail.
    “What’s going on Paul?” Stephanie asked.
    “I just sent Heidi instructions based on your notes for how to send things from one space and time to another. In a few months she is going to send me the chip I need, here and now.”

    He wasn’t making sense, but Stephanie had learned to give him a wide berth when he had something in mind. “I’ll call you back, Heidi.” She clicked her tongue.
    Paul ripped the faceplate off the HeadSTART device and replaced the chip inside. “I reprogrammed it.” he said, as if that explained everything, running for the outer doors.
    “Wait!” Stephanie called, “It’s 140 Degrees out there!”
    Paul barreled through the doors. Scolding air and sand flooded in. Briskly he ran a small distance and activated the device. A sphere appeared blasting icy air in all directions. Paul left the device, running back inside.
    “What did you do!?” Screeched Stephanie.
    Paul huffed with his hands on his knees, sitting into his exo-legs. “Saved the world, I hope.”

“How?”
    “Clean, oxygen rich air is pouring into our atmosphere from Siberia, just before the Permian-Triassic extinction event, while CO2 dense air flows there. Our best chance to avoid a global extinction event now was to exploit an ancient one.”
    Stephanie was floored. It was all so rash. Paul knew the look well.
    “I saw my future self. I told me what I needed to do.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense, how?”
    “I don’t know.” Paul said, stumped.
Stephanie and Paul walked inside, dazed by the day. The BitBox blinked. Something had arrived. Stephanie opened the door.
    There was a familiarly flat, rectangular box with a note.

    “Stephanie and Paul:
        It works. It’s been 2 years and our climate has recovered. The device was turned off last week. But Paul, there was a bug in your code. You didn’t exploit the Permian-Triassic Extinction event. You caused it. Enjoy the gift.
    Heidi”

    Stephanie shook her head at him.
    “You’re welcome Dinosaurs.” Paul mused. “What’d we get?”
    Stephanie opened the box, laughing in delight. Paul screamed, horrified. “Pineapple! No! You can’t do this to me!”
    Stephanie cackled smugly, grabbing a slice of pizza. “I love pineapple!”

(c) 2017 Jeremy Redinger

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