the hate engine (8)

An experiment was carried out: having stolen the Andromeda machine, we carried it into the time traveller’s cell and informed him he was to enable the systematic obliteration of his home time period. The experiment went poorly.

He screamed, ‘What’s wrong with you people?’ and other hysterics before breaking free of the grip of his captors and running into the wall at such a sprint that it jolted the bulkhead that was partially phased through his torso and split him raggedly in two.

We stared at his halves, unsure how to react. Pooling blood reached the shoes of one of the techs and he fainted in it.

‘Okay,’ said his superior, scratching the back of her neck with one of the Andromeda machine’s struts. ‘So should we pack this back up, or … ?’

I called medical. They sewed up our man as well as they could (bulkhead and all) and brought him to the airlock dragging a clutter of hissing, beeping medical wizardry. We'd prepared the Andromeda machine by then and had him drag that along too.

‘We call them certainty generators,’ I was saying as we escorted him through the umbilical. We’d finally snagged an undamaged pretzelboat, and it was to this we were taking him. ‘Vicious things. They can make you sure of anything.’

‘No,’ he slurred, ‘no.’

'Watch him,' said one of the guards who'd been present in his cell. 'He's slippery. He can do future-man flips and shit, you keep an eye out.'

Through the translucence of the hull, Jupiter burned. We’d begun dismantling their dyson sphere. In the places where the salvaging fleet had tugged the massive plates free it looked like someone had painted flaming tetris shapes in the vacuum. Completion was years away.

What had once been the Great Red Spot burned a little brighter than the rest. Who knows? Higher windspeed, probably. It peered at us through one of those tetris-shape openings. It was just a storm but we felt watched by it.

My smartwatch blipped. Earth’s response to my last transmission was coming through. Here’s what I’d said upon returning from the Kuiper:

’Our findings coincide with the envoy’s claim. The engine hit Andromeda. They were preparing an invasion, which is convenient, otherwise it might have targeted us instead.

’This fits a number of potentialities I outlined in the design. The data we have is this: the visitors are destroyed. Jupiter killed them. We still don’t know how many they were, but less than Earth’s population, certainly, or at least not as determined because otherwise it would’ve been us. It can’t discriminate. It's democratic.

‘Only now Andromeda is dead, and it looks like they were out-hating us.’ I had sighed. ‘Without the projector, it’s just a vacuum. It targets the richest fuel source it can find.’ I’d shrugged into the camera. At this point not even I knew how the damn thing worked. ’Apparently the interaction is fatal.

‘I see one option. Have the folks go over the documents I’ve attached. But let me be clear: whether or not the proposition’s amenable, you must begin reconditioning the populace immediately. We don’t have time for conventional tactics. Rewire some memetic bombs if you have to—there’s no telling when the next storm will hit, and we don’t want to make ourselves a target.’

Their response, whispering in my ear as I walked the envoy to his ship, was predictable.

’Under no circumstances. Doctor, you will not proceed with this proposal. We can’t foresee even a fraction of the consequences. And that you would consider memetic warfare against the population is utterly … It’s inhuman. What have you done? What have you built that a human mind could consider this a reasonable next step?

‘There were leaks while you were out in the Kuiper. At this point the situation is entirely out of control. Now everybody hates everything. The government, the engine, themselves. You. We got riots, lynch mobs, anti-hate rallies. The hippies are practically vomiting flower wreaths. After the victory people were winding down, but I’ll tell you, Doctor, if you can’t come up with something better than this you will be personally responsible for the extinction of humanity.’

I opened my eyes. They were all watching me. They knew what I’d been hearing. Behind them, through layers of impossible steel, Jupiter watched too.

One of them ran a hand through unwashed hair, squinted around at the rest of us, then back at me. ‘All clear, doc?’

I glanced at Lemarch. He frowned back at me, waiting.

‘All clear,’ I said, waving them forward. ‘Get him aboard.’

They started to move, then froze. I hadn’t taken my eyes off Lemarch, so all I felt when he drew the taser from his pocket was a sinking dread. ‘You disgust me,’ he whispered.

‘Lemarch—’

This time he addressed the others. ‘Earth rejected the plan. Whatever this insanity is, it’s scrapped. We’ll find another way.’

There is no other way!’ I shouted. He blinked. In all the years he’d worked with me this was probably the first time he’d heard me so much as raise my voice. ‘Ignore him. Keep moving.’

Nobody moved. Lemarch shook his head. He just looked tired. Disappointed. ‘I’m revoking your command of this expedition, Leigh. They gave me the authority if you didn’t play along.’

This seemed about right. I’d feared this would happen, and it had, and now what? ‘You don’t even know what—’

‘Based on prior example,’ he cut in, ‘I think I can make an educated guess that it’s monstrous.’

The envoy tugged against his restraints. ‘Well said,’ he rasped. ‘Good.’

‘Shut up,’ I snapped. To Lemarch: ‘All right. Let’s take a breath for a second, shall we? Let’s be completely clear about what you’ll be destroying.’ Here it was. Here was my plan in all its horribleness.

If I could make him hate me enough, maybe he would just die.

‘This thing—’ I gestured at tetrised Jupiter ‘—whatever the exact mechanism has become, it’s a hate-vacuum. It’s sucking it all up with catastrophic force.’

‘It’s hungry,’ whimpered the envoy. ‘It doesn’t want to starve.’

‘Shut up! Whatever the exact mechanism. It sniffed out Andromeda without even touching us, so distance might not even be a factor. Let’s hope it isn’t, because then we’ve got a whole universe of anger for it to work through before it gets to us. Worst case, we’re dealing with a matter light hours.’

Lemarch coughed disbelieving laughter. ‘What the fuck?’

‘Whatever the case, sooner or later, Jupiter’s going to run out of fuel.’ I took a step toward him. ‘We can’t let that happen. That bastard,’ I said, poking a finger at the envoy, ’is the solution to the problem they caused. Their ships can cross time, Lemarch. They can open a gate. A feeding tube.

‘And I’m told time is very forgiving of paradoxes.’

I had him. The revulsion on his face was frightening—he looked ready to shoot me regardless of whether I cooperated. His hold on the taser tightened. He tried to speak, but nothing came out.

Then his expression broke, crumbling into something much worse. Confusion. Pity. The others were looking at me like I was more alien than the man from the future who had steel jutting out of his torso. ‘I don’t know how you became like this, Leigh. But you need help.’

I felt myself deflate. It was over. I’d come so near bearing out that grand experiment, begun all those years ago when I’d dealt with Andromeda. I saw it all: I’d move, he’d fire, and I’d collapse shuddering with Jupiter looking over us.

‘War would be impossible,’ I said.

Lemarch shook his head again, scowling. ‘What?’

‘It wouldn’t be perfect. I don’t mean that. But the temptation would be gone. No argument could ever be corrupted by it. Fear could never become it, and not love either. Hatecrime would be a nonsequitur. We’d be free from it. Maybe the whole universe would be.’

He gave the others a baffled look. Squinting at me: ‘Are you stupid, Leigh? You can’t decide that for people.’

‘Look at what we become.’ I turned to the envoy, who at this point was just snickering. A whole civilisation so twisted by hatred they were willing to hate-fuck themselves into oblivion for nothing but petty satisfaction.

‘Okay, first of all, we’re looking at a crappy sample size, here. And it’s just not that fucking simple. You’re talking an emotional apocalypse. That’s worse. Come on. This looneytunes bullshit has to stop.’

I was about to tell him that he was wrong—that Andromeda was dead now not because they hated us, but because they hated hate so much that they had declared a crusade upon it and would resort to memetic warfare to eradicate it; that it wasn’t me, it was this whole rotting universe that needed help—when the envoy shoved his escort aside and charged at Lemarch.

The taser hissed. Sparks flew harmlessly off the bulkhead. The envoy was screaming—’God no, God no’—as he batted Lemarch to the ground and scrambled for the taser.

As he rose to level it on me, I swiveled the certainty generator in their direction and shoved my head inside it.

The last thing I heard the envoy say was this: ‘This is some straight bullshit.’

And then all my certainties were theirs.

 

After that the envoy hopped into the pretzelboat, muscled it into working order, and flew into Jupiter while (I guess) time travelling so hard he ripped open a permanent wound in time. We still don’t know how they did it.

When Earth heard about what I’d done they had no choice. Hate became both illegal and impossible. You could still punch someone, but your heart wouldn’t be in it.

It’s really weird.

And Jupiter still burns. Our old sun’s probably okay, although we never really dug it out of its shell, which seemed to be holding it back from its red giant phase for some reason.

Here’s what frightens me: Nobody else has come back through time. Not to stop us, not to help. I don’t like to think about what that implies. Maybe in the end we find a way to fix it, or it burns out on its own, or we’re just immune somehow. Or maybe none of those things.

Maybe one day we’ll be the last morsel of fuel left in any place, in any time, and maybe then it’ll turn out to be none of those things at all.

But for a little while our sun, and our sun only, hates.

James Firkins

Australian web designer & developer. I write, draw, and make games. I like quiet things.