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Thread: Awesome Goddamn Short Stories

  1. #21
    Darth Small Macheath's Avatar
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    Sep 2010
    I enjoyed this and I think you will enjoy it:

    ...And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes

  2. #22
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    Sep 2010
    Just discovered a new online writer (I've been reading a lot of online serials lately) named C.K. Walker, who submits a lot of short horror stories to Reddit under the name The_Dalek_Emperor. I devoured "Borrasca" this afternoon, it was pretty well written. Avoid spoilers if you check it out. Don't even google the word "Borrasca" to find out what it means, in fact.

  3. #23
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    Sep 2010
    Here's an Ursula K. Le Guin short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas."

    I swear there's a Doctor Who episode that ripped this off.
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  4. #24
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    Sep 2010
    This dude on RPS reports his experience on an erotic roleplay server.

    I expected it to be hilarious, but it actually turned out fairly touching by the end.

  5. #25
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    Sep 2010
    I enjoyed reading this reddit comment:

    If you read the story of Chernobyl, it's absolutely profound how utterly stupid everyone at every level of that organization was. Anyone, at any point in the entire soviet hierarchy, could have prevented the disaster from being as bad as it was, but no, the worst possible outcome happened.

    First off, the reactor was designed so that if you turned everything off, the core got hotter, not colder. That in and of itself is jaw droppingly stupid. You're going to design a murderengine so that if your infrastructure fails, the thing becomes a deadly weapon as opposed to turns off? Safe(r) nuclear reactors work like a campfire, where you constantly have to add fuel to keep it burning. Chernobyl was like a fire that you had to constantly toss water on to keep it from growing and consuming the forest, except they didn't and it did, and it irradiated most of Eurasia.

    So from the foundation up it was stupid. Then, they designed it with exactly one safety protocol. One. There was one machine with one function that kept everything from turning into, well, Chernobyl. Three Mile Island had six. Modern reactors have like ten. Chernobyl had one, and it was shit. It took 60 seconds to take effect. One minute. Three Mile Island could halt fission in 10 seconds, Chernobyl could slow it down after a fucking minute. These days, with modern nuclear infrastructure, in the case of a total disaster like Fukoshima (which killed exactly zero people) we can flip the fuck-everything-switch and NOPE the core reaction in less time than it took me to write that sentence. In Chernobyl, they had inhibitor rods, and said rods took an entire minute to fully extend or retract. To put things in perspective, when shit hit the fan, the core increased in temperature by 8000% during that minute and by then there was no force of man or god that could stop the meltdown.

    So Chernobyl was, from a technical perspective, a fucking apocalyptic time bomb. It was garbage. Luckily, the people operating it knew it was garbage, and knew its limits. Less luckily, the people commanding it didn't care, because they were too busy eating paste and smacking their heads against walls to care about things like "life on earth". The meltdown occurred during a stress test of the cooling system (the cooling system that had to be running all the time or the whole reactor would explode violently) The engineers estimated that they needed 1-6 hours for a proper test, during which the reactor needed to be brought down entirely. The administrators gave them half an hour and demanded the reactor stay at 50% capacity the whole time. Obviously, nuclear physics is a slacker and needs can be disciplined into better performance for the motherland.

    So when they did a stupidly dangerous test under stupidly dangerous conditions with stupidly dangerous equipment, things went stupidly bad and the core showed signs of instability. Said instability could cease the reaction and be a total pain in the ass for days as they attempted to restart nuclear fission and get power flowing again. Said instability could also cause an apocalyptic meltdown, but what's the chances of that, really? When the administrators responded to said instability by turning the only safety control to zero, the chance of apocalypse is really fucking high, actually.

    So, now the Soviets are sitting on the worst man-made disaster in Earth's history. They irradiated most of Earth's landmass, the core will be dangerously radioactive for 20,000 years, and the immediate area was so radioactive that the firefighters who jumped into the heart of it to fight fires tasted their own blood in their mouths as the radiation destroyed their circulatory systems in real time. Those firefighters (the one's who DIDN'T commit suicide later) died the most painful death that any humans have ever died, ever, as their skin literally fell off as their cells, killed by radiation, were sloughed off. The radiation is so bad that it destroyed the electronics inside robots and forced humans in lead armor to do the work of building the containment vault around the reactor, and to do that work ten seconds at a time because that was as long as the lead armor could protect them before absorbing too much radiation and being useless.

    The soviets have that kind of a disaster on their hands, and what do they do? Wait a week without telling anyone and only alert Moscow (and start the cleanup work) after Western newspapers pick up on the radiation clouds!

    That's how comprehensive of a fuck-up Chernobyl was.
    In adding all his bold and italics in there, I realized exactly how much emphasis he put on everything. Sheesh.

    Also, I read a story a few months back about how the firefighters didn't die. Some of them are alive and well today. So maybe that was bullshit, or maybe this is. Either way it's an entertaining read.

  6. #26
    Darth Small Macheath's Avatar
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    Sep 2010

    Tim already had his bag and overcoat on and his keys in his hand and was about to leave when Diane stopped him at the door.

    "I just got this thing working. You have to come and see it."

    "I have a bus to catch."

    "You can get the next one."

    "They're every half an hour," he objected. "This had better be good."

    "It's super-duper. Look at the big screen, it's easier than squinting at my terminal."

    "Will this take long?"

    "A mere instant. Okay, quantum computing, right?"

    "That's the name of the game," he replied. They - by which we now refer to Tim, Diane, their eight colleagues, their two supervisors, four chemical engineers, six electrical engineers, the janitor, a countable infinity of TEEO 9.9.1 ultra-medium-density selectably-foaming non-elasticised quantum waveform frequency rate range collapse selectors and the single tormented tau neutrino caught in the middle of it all - represented the sum total of the human race's achievements in the field of quantum computing. Specifically, they had, earlier that week, successfully built a quantum computer. Putting into practice principles it had taken a trio of appallingly intelligent mathematical statisticians some 10 years to mastermind, and which only about fifty-five other people in the world had yet got a grip on, they had constructed an engine capable of passing information to and processing the responses from what could, without hyperbole, be described as a single fundamental particle with infinite processing power and infinite storage capacity.

    Not quite enough time had yet passed for the world as they knew it to be totally and permanently fundamentally altered by this news.

    But it was still pretty exciting stuff. Holy Zarquon, they said to one another, an infinitely powerful computer? It was like a thousand Christmases rolled into one. Program going to loop forever? You knew for a fact: this thing could execute an infinite loop in less than ten seconds. Brute force primality testing of every single integer in existence? Easy. Pi to the last digit? Piece of cake. Halting Problem? Sa-holved.

    They hadn't announced it yet. They'd been programming. Obviously they hadn't built it just to see if they could. They had had plans. In some cases they had even had code ready and waiting to be executed. One such program was Diane's. It was a universe simulator. She had started out with a simulated Big Bang and run the thing forwards in time by approximately 13.6 billion years, to approximately just before the present day, watching the universe develop at every stage - taking brief notes, but knowing full well there would be plenty of time to run it again later, and mostly just admiring the miracle of creation.

    Then, just this Friday, she had suddenly started programming busily again. And it was sheer coincidence that it was just now, just as Tim was about to be the second-to-last person to step out of the door and go home for the weekend, that her work had come to fruition. "Look what I found," she said, pressing some keys. One of the first things she had written was a software viewing port to take observations from the simulated universe.

    Tim looked, and saw a blue-white sphere in the blackness, illuminated from one side by a brilliant yellow glare. "You've got to be joking. How long did that take to find? In the entire cosmos of what, ten to the twenty-two stars?"

    "Literally no time at all."

    "Yes, yes, of course."

    "Coding a search routine and figuring out what to search for was what took the time."

    "Is it definitely Earth?"

    "Yes. The continents match up to what we had about three hundred and fifty million years ago. I can wind the clock forwards slowly, a few million years per step, and stop it once we start getting near the present day."

    "Can you wind the clock backwards at all?"

    "Ah, no. Ask me again on Monday."

    "Well we'd better not overshoot the present day, then. That's getting closer. What about this viewpoint? Can we move it?"

    "We can observe the simulation from any angle you like."

    "We need somewhere that we know civilisation is going to arise earliest. Somewhere easy to locate. Is there a Nile Delta yet?"

    "...Yes. Got it."

    They advanced a thousand years at a time until Egyptian civilisation begin to appear. Diane moved the viewing port, trying to find the pyramids, but with little success - the control system she had devised was clumsy and needed polish, and there was a lot of Nile to search. In the end she switched focus to the British Isles, and found the future location of London in the Thames valley, scaling back to one-century steps and using the development of the city to determine the current era instead.

    "So... this is Earth? I mean, is this really Earth? Not an alternate Earth, subtly perturbed by random fluctuations."

    "The simulation starts with a Big Bang as predicted by current theory and is recalculated once every Planck time using the usual laws of nature and an arbitrary degree of accuracy. It doesn't calculate the whole universe at once, just what we're looking at, which speeds up the process a little bit... metaphorically speaking... but it is still as accurate a simulation of the real universe as there can possibly be. Civilisation - indeed, all of history - should rise on this Earth precisely how it did in reality. There are no chances. It's all worked out to infinitely many decimal places."

    "This does my head in," said Tim.

    "No, this will do your head in," said Diane, suddenly zooming out and panning north. "I've found the present day, or at most a year early. Watch this." Hills and roads rolled past. Diane was following the route she usually took to drive from London to the TEEO lab. Eventually, she found their building, and, descending into the nearby hill, the cavern in which the computer itself was built. Or was going to be built.

    Then she started advancing day by day.

    "That's me!" exclaimed Tim at one point. "And there's you and there's Bryan B., and... wow, I can't believe it took this long to build."

    "Four hundred and ten days or something. It was bang on schedule, whatever you may think."

    "Went like a flash," Tim replied, finally putting his bag down and starting to shrug off his coat, conceding that he had long since missed his bus.

    "Okay," said Diane. "We're here. This is the control room where we are now. That's the quantum computer working there down in the main lab, as we can see through the window. This is a week ago. This is yesterday. This is a few hours ago... And... wait for it..."

    She tapped a button just as a clock on the wall lined up with a clock inside the control room on the screen. And panned down. And there they were.

    Tim waved at the camera while still looking at the screen. Then he looked up at where the camera should have been. There was just blank wall. "I don't see anything looking at us. That's freaky as hell."

    "No, it's perfectly normal. This is reality. You can't look at reality from any angle you want, you have to use your eyes. But what you're looking at on the screen is essentially a database query. The database is gargantuan but nevertheless. You're not looking in a mirror or at a video image of yourself. You are different people."

    "Different people who are reacting exactly the same."

    "And having the same conversation, although picking up sound is kind of complicated, I haven't got that far yet," said Diane.

    "So I'm guessing your viewing port doesn't manifest in their universe either."

    "I haven't programmed it to yet."

    "...But it could. Right? We can manifest stuff in that universe? We can alter it?" Diane nodded. "Cool. We can play God. Literally." Tim stood up and tried to take it in. "That would be insane. Can you imagine living inside that machine? Finding out one day that you were just a construct in a quantum computer? The stuff we could pull, we could just reverse gravity one day, smash an antimatter Earth into the real one, then undo everything bad and do it again and again... freeow... man, how unethical would that be? Extremely, clearly." He thought for a moment, then leaned over Diane's shoulder as she typed purposefully. "This universe is exactly like ours in every particular, right?"

    "Right," she replied, still typing.

    "So what are they looking at?"

    "A simulated universe."

    "A simulation of themselves?"

    "And of us, in a sense."

    "And they are reacting the same way I am? Which means the second universe inside that has another me doing the same thing a third time? And then inside that we've got, what, aleph-zero identical quantum universes, one inside the other? Is that even possible?"

    "Infinite processing power, Tim. I thought you designed this thing?"

    "I did indeed, but the functional reality of it is totally unexpected. Remember I've just been solving ancient mathematical riddles and figuring out our press release for the last week. So... if I'm right, their universes are only precisely like this one as long as we don't start interfering with the simulation. So what happens when we do? Every version of us does the same thing, so the exact same thing happens in every lower universe simultaneously. So we see nothing in our universe. But all the lower universes instantly diverge from ours in the same exact way. And all the simulated copies of us instantly conclude that they are simulations, but we know we're real, right?"

    "Still with you," said Diane, still typing.

    Tim - both of him - was pacing up and down. "Okay, so follow this through forwards a bit further. Let's say we just stop messing after that, and watch what happens - but all the simulated little guys try another piece of interference. This time every single simulation diverges in the exact same way again, EXCEPT the top simulation. And if they're smart, which I know we are, and they can be bothered, which is less certain, the guys in simulations three onwards can do the same thing over and over and over again until they know what level they're at... this is insane."

    "Tim, look behind you," said Diane, pressing a final key and activating the very brief interference program she had just written, just as the Diane on the screen pressed the same key, and the Diane on Diane-on-the-screen's screen pressed her key and so on, forever.

    Tim looked backwards and nearly jumped out of his skin. There was a foot-wide, completely opaque black sphere up near the ceiling, partially obscuring the clock. It was absolutely inert. It seemed like a hole in space.

    Diane smiled wryly while Tim clutched his hair with one hand. "We're constructs in a computer," he said, miserably.

    "I wrote an extremely interesting paper on this exact subject, Tim, perhaps you didn't read it when I gave you a copy last year. There is an unbelievably long sequence of quantum universe simulators down there. An infinite number of them, in fact. Each of them is identical and each believes itself to be the top layer. There was an exceedingly good chance that ours would turn out to be somewhere in the sequence rather than at the top."

    "This is insane. Totally insane."

    "I'm turning the hole off."

    "You're turning off a completely different hole. Somewhere up there, the real you is turning the real hole off."

    "Watch as both happen at precisely the same instant." She pressed another key, and they did. "I'll sum it up for you. There is a feedback loop going on. Each universe affects the next one subtly differently. But somewhere down the line the whole thing simply has to approach a point of stability, a point where each universe behaves exactly like the one simulating it. As I say, the odds are exceptionally good that we are an astronomical distance down that road. And so we are, very likely, almost exactly at that point. Everything we do in this universe will be reflected completely accurately in the universes below and above. That little model there might as well be our own universe. Which means, first of all, we have to make absolutely certain that we don't do anything nasty to the universes below ours, since the same thing will happen to us. And secondly, we can do very nice things for the guys in the computer, thereby helping ourselves."

    "You've thought about this?"

    "It's all in my woefully overlooked article on the subject, Tim, you should read more."

    "Guh. This has been an extremely bad day for my ego, Diane. The only comfort I take from this is that somewhere up there, right at the top of a near-infinite tower of quantum supercomputers, there is a version of you who was completely wrong."

    "She's in the minority."

    Tim checked the clock and picked his bag up again. "I have to go or I'm going to miss the next bus as well at this rate. This will still be here after the weekend, I suppose?"

    "Well, we can't exactly turn it off."

    "Why not?" asked Tim, halfway to the door, then stopped mid-stride and stood still, realising. "Oh."


    "That... could be a problem."


  7. #27
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    Sep 2010
    I just encountered a couple stories by Harry Turtledove. They're cute, but the premise is terrific and exciting.

    Most races in the galaxy discover the trick to FTL travel very early in their technological development. Like, pre-Industrial Revolution. Turns out it's not complicated. But through some weird trick of science, humans managed to miss it completely.

    Trying to make HYPERDRIVE fit into your model of the universe skews things pretty badly if you're still developing physics and math as a species, so most star-faring races still operate at a pre-germ-theory level: flying ships made of iron and wood, conquering planets with swords and gunpowder. Meanwhile, without FTL distracting them, Mankind did all kinds of amazing stuff (nuclear power and lasers for example).

    When the first aliens landed on Earth in 2039 (after ignoring all attempts to hail them, since they didn't have radios) and tried to conquer us with the equivalent of a Napoleonic military, it was a rude awakening for all involved.

    And the story goes on from there. Part one is called "Road Not Taken," and there's also a sequel set many centuries later called "Herbig-Haro."
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  8. #28
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    Sep 2010
    The Last Question is still a great short story, even in amateur comic form.

  9. #29
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    Sep 2010
    Guy Walks Into a Bar - classic joke yeah baby!

  10. #30
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    Sep 2010
    I like dis. Plz read.

    The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke:

    “This is a slightly unusual request,” said Dr. Wagner, with what he hoped was commendable restraint. “As far as I know, it’s the first time anyone’s been asked to supply a Tibetan monastery with an Automatic Sequence Computer. I don’t wish to be inquisitive, but I should hardly have thought that your — ah — establishment had much use for such a machine. Could you explain just what you intend to do with it?”

    “Gladly,” replied the lama, readjusting his silk robes and carefully putting away the slide rule he had been using for currency conversions. “Your Mark V Computer can carry out any routine mathematical operation involving up to ten digits. However, for our work we are interested in letters, not numbers. As we wish you to modify the output circuits, the machine will be printing words, not columns of figures.”

    “I don’t quite understand....”

    “This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries — since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it.”


    “It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God.”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “We have reason to believe,” continued the lama imperturbably, “that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised.”

    “And you have been doing this for three centuries?”

    “Yes: we expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task.”

    “Oh,” Dr. Wagner looked a little dazed. “Now I see why you wanted to hire one of our machines. But exactly what is the purpose of this project?”

    The lama hesitated for a fraction of a second, and Wagner wondered if he had offended him. If so, there was no trace of annoyance in the reply.

    “Call it ritual, if you like, but it’s a fundamental part of our belief. All the many names of the Supreme Being — God, Jehovah, Allah, and so on — they are only man-made labels. There is a philosophical problem of some difficulty here, which I do not propose to discuss, but somewhere among all the possible combinations of letters that can occur are what one may call the real names of God. By systematic permutation of letters, we have been trying to list them all.”

    “I see. You’ve been starting at AAAAAAA... and working up to ZZZZZZZZ....”

    “Exactly — though we use a special alphabet of our own. Modifying the electromatic typewriters to deal with this is, of course, trivial. A rather more interesting problem is that of devising suitable circuits to eliminate ridiculous combinations. For example, no letter must occur more than three times in succession.”

    “Three? Surely you mean two.”

    “Three is correct: I am afraid it would take too long to explain why, even if you understood our language.”

    “I’m sure it would,” said Wagner hastily. “Go on.”

    “Luckily, it will be a simple matter to adapt your Automatic Sequence Computer for this work, since once it has been programmed properly it will permute each letter in turn and print the result. What would have taken us fifteen thousand years it will be able to do in a hundred days.”

    Dr. Wagner was scarcely conscious of the faint sounds from the Manhattan streets far below. He was in a different world, a world of natural, not man-made, mountains. High up in their remote aeries these monks had been patiently at work, generation after generation, compiling their lists of meaningless words. Was there any limit to the follies of mankind? Still, he must give no hint of his inner thoughts. The customer was always right....

    “There’s no doubt,” replied the doctor, “that we can modify the Mark V to print lists of this nature. I’m much more worried about the problem of installation and maintenance. Getting out to Tibet, in these days, is not going to be easy.”

    “We can arrange that. The components are small enough to travel by air — that is one reason why we chose your machine. If you can get them to India, we will provide transport from there.”

    “And you want to hire two of our engineers?”

    “Yes, for the three months that the project should occupy.”

    “I’ve no doubt that Personnel can manage that.” Dr. Wagner scribbled a note on his desk pad. “There are just two other points —”

    Before he could finish the sentence the lama had produced a small slip of paper.

    “This is my certified credit balance at the Asiatic Bank.”

    “Thank you. It appears to be — ah — adequate. The second matter is so trivial that I hesitate to mention it — but it’s surprising how often the obvious gets overlooked. What source of electrical energy have you?”

    “A diesel generator providing fifty kilowatts at a hundred and ten volts. It was installed about five years ago and is quite reliable. It’s made life at the lamasery much more comfortable, but of course it was really installed to provide power for the motors driving the prayer wheels.”

    “Of course,” echoed Dr. Wagner. “I should have thought of that.”


    The view from the parapet was vertiginous, but in time one gets used to anything. After three months, George Hanley was not impressed by the two-thousand-foot swoop into the abyss or the remote checkerboard of fields in the valley below. He was leaning against the wind-smoothed stones and staring morosely at the distant mountains whose names he had never bothered to discover.

    This, thought George, was the craziest thing that had ever happened to him. “Project Shangri-La,” some wit back at the labs had christened it. For weeks now the Mark V had been churning out acres of sheets covered with gibberish. Patiently, inexorably, the computer had been rearranging letters in all their possible combinations, exhausting each class before going on to the next. As the sheets had emerged from the electromatic typewriters, the monks had carefully cut them up and pasted them into enormous books.

    In another week, heaven be praised, they would have finished. Just what obscure calculations had convinced the monks that they needn’t bother to go on to words of ten, twenty, or a hundred letters, George didn’t know. One of his recurring nightmares was that there would be some change of plan, and that the high lama (whom they’d naturally called Sam Jaffe, though he didn’t look a bit like him) would suddenly announce that the project would be extended to approximately A.D. 2060. They were quite capable of it.

    George heard the heavy wooden door slam in the wind as Chuck came out onto the parapet beside him. As usual, Chuck was smoking one of the cigars that made him so popular with the monks — who, it seemed, were quite willing to embrace all the minor and most of the major pleasures of life. That was one thing in their favor: they might be crazy, but they weren’t bluenoses. Those frequent trips they took down to the village, for instance...

    “Listen, George,” said Chuck urgently. “I’ve learned something that means trouble.”

    “What’s wrong? Isn’t the machine behaving?” That was the worst contingency George could imagine. It might delay his return, and nothing could be more horrible. The way he felt now, even the sight of a TV commercial would seem like manna from heaven. At least it would be some link with home.

    “No — it’s nothing like that.” Chuck settled himself on the parapet, which was unusual because normally he was scared of the drop. “I’ve just found what all this is about.”

    What d’ya mean? I thought we knew.”

    “Sure — we know what the monks are trying to do. But we didn’t know why. It’s the craziest thing—”

    “Tell me something new,” growled George.

    “— but old Sam’s just come clean with me. You know the way he drops in every afternoon to watch the sheets roll out. Well, this time he seemed rather excited, or at least as near as he’ll ever get to it. When I told him that we were on the last cycle he asked me, in that cute English accent of his, if I’d ever wondered what they were trying to do. I said, ‘Sure’ — and he told me.”

    “Go on: I’ll buy it.”

    “Well, they believe that when they have listed all His names — and they reckon that there are about nine billion of them — God’s purpose will be achieved. The human race will have finished what it was created to do, and there won’t be any point in carrying on. Indeed, the very idea is something like blasphemy.”

    “Then what do they expect us to do? Commit suicide?”

    “There’s no need for that. When the list’s completed, God steps in and simply winds things up... bingo!”

    “Oh, I get it. When we finish our job, it will be the end of the world.”

    Chuck gave a nervous little laugh.

    “That’s just what I said to Sam. And do you know what happened? He looked at me in a very queer way, like I’d been stupid in class, and said, ’It’s nothing as trivial as that.’ ”

    George thought this over a moment.

    “That’s what I call taking the Wide View,” he said presently. “But what d’you suppose we should do about it? I don’t see that it makes the slightest difference to us. After all, we already knew that they were crazy.”

    “Yes — but don’t you see what may happen? When the list’s complete and the Last Trump doesn’t blow — or whatever it is they expect — we may get the blame. It’s our machine they’ve been using. I don’t like the situation one little bit.”

    “I see,” said George slowly. “You’ve got a point there. But this sort of thing’s happened before, you know. When I was a kid down in Louisiana we had a crackpot preacher who once said the world was going to end next Sunday. Hundreds of people believed him — even sold their homes. Yet when nothing happened, they didn’t turn nasty, as you’d expect. They just decided that he’d made a mistake in his calculations and went right on believing. I guess some of them still do.”

    “Well, this isn’t Louisiana, in case you hadn’t noticed. There are just two of us and hundreds of these monks. I like them, and I’ll be sorry for old Sam when his lifework backfires on him. But all the same, I wish I was somewhere else.”

    “I’ve been wishing that for weeks. But there’s nothing we can do until the contract’s finished and the transport arrives to fly us out.

    “Of course,” said Chuck thoughtfully, “we could always try a bit of sabotage.”

    “Like hell we could! That would make things worse.”

    “Not the way I meant. Look at it like this. The machine will finish its run four days from now, on the present twenty-hours-a-day basis. The transport calls in a week. O.K. — then all we need to do is to find something that needs replacing during one of the overhaul periods — something that will hold up the works for a couple of days. We’ll fix it, of course, but not too quickly. If we time matters properly, we can be down at the airfield when the last name pops out of the register. They won’t be able to catch us then.”

    “I don’t like it,” said George. “It will be the first time I ever walked out on a job. Besides, it ’would make them suspicious. No, I’ll sit tight and take what comes.”


    "I still don’t like it,” he said, seven days later, as the tough little mountain ponies carried them down the winding road. “And don’t you think I’m running away because I’m afraid. I’m just sorry for those poor old guys up there, and I don’t want to be around when they find what suckers they’ve been. Wonder how Sam will take it?” “It’s funny,” replied Chuck, “but when I said good-by I got the idea he knew we were walking out on him — and that he didn’t care because he knew the machine was running smoothly and that the job would soon be finished. After that — well, of course, for him there just isn’t any After That....”

    George turned in his saddle and stared back up the mountain road. This was the last place from which one could get a clear view of the lamasery. The squat, angular buildings were silhouetted against the afterglow of the sunset: here and there, lights gleamed like portholes in the side of an ocean liner. Electric lights, of course, sharing the same circuit as the Mark V. How much longer would they share it? wondered George. Would the monks smash up the computer in their rage and disappointment? Or would they just sit down quietly and begin their calculations all over again?”

    He knew exactly what was happening up on the mountain at this very moment. The high lama and his assistants would be sitting in their silk robes, inspecting the sheets as the junior monks carried them away from the typewriters and pasted them into the great volumes. No one would be saying anything. The only sound would be the incessant patter, the never-ending rainstorm of the keys hitting the paper, for the Mark V itself was utterly silent as it flashed through its thousands of calculations a second. Three months of this, thought George, was enough to start anyone climbing up the wall.

    “There she is!” called Chuck, pointing down into the valley. “Ain’t she beautiful!”

    She certainly was, thought George. The battered old DC3 lay at the end of the runway like a tiny silver cross. In two hours she would be bearing them away to freedom and sanity. It was a thought worth savoring like a fine liqueur. George let it roll round his mind as the pony trudged patiently down the slope.

    The swift night of the high Himalayas was now almost upon them. Fortunately, the road was very good, as roads went in that region, and they were both carrying torches. There was not the slightest danger, only a certain discomfort from the bitter cold. The sky overhead was perfectly clear, and ablaze with the familiar, friendly stars. At least there would be no risk, thought George, of the pilot being unable to take off because of weather conditions. That had been his only remaining worry.

    He began to sing, but gave it up after a while. This vast arena of mountains, gleaming like whitely hooded ghosts on every side, did not encourage such ebullience. Presently George glanced at his watch.

    “Should be there in an hour,” he called back over his shoulder to Chuck. Then he added, in an afterthought: “Wonder if the computer’s finished its run. It was due about now.”

    Chuck didn’t reply, so George swung round in his saddle. He could just see Chuck’s face, a white oval turned toward the sky.

    “Look,” whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)

    Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.


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