Short story: Exystropia

Exystropia is a short story written by me.

Exystropia (n). Extropian Dystopia. A dystopia caused by a lack of an energy source causing a drastic need for extropian behaviour.

She peered through the viewscope, the optics automatically converted the far infrared of the brown dwarf into deep reds and purples her eyes could see. She wished she had the augmented optics that were the preserve of those rich enough to pay for them. All her money went towards the mundanities of transit and food, interspersed with occasional diversions such as these. Her eyes strained to make out the contours of their home star, the pitiful thing that it was. Just a lump of atoms too few to cause fusion, too few to extropize them. The light crystal on her display began to wink, indicating her time was running out, excitons efficiently announcing their presence by emitting photons, clock cycles counting away.

”Come on Kayla”, said her mother. “We’ve got to catch the last shuttle back”. Not too long ago, transit ran till late at night, but recently they’d been cutting back, saying the entropy budget had got tighter and the books needed to be balanced. Night shuttles with low ridership were the first to go.

The constant war with entropy fascinated her. How could it not, when it dominated every aspect of their lives. Ever since they realised their small colony was not going to be self-sustainable if drastic action wasn’t taken. Only so much entropy could be allowed before Cthulthu got it’s fusion plant up and running. An old tokamak design, nevertheless the best they had. Getting it off Earth had been torture enough. The endless discussions on what sort of energy source would justify the use of atomic warhead-propellants to escape Earth’s gravity. Even in their planet’s eschaton, irrationality played its hand, and only one nuclear pulse propulsion launch was allowed. To lift the tokamak plant (christened “Chuck”) into deep space. The final sight had been stunning. Mushroom cloud after mushroom cloud, in an orgy of violent, iridescent majesty blossomed before her eyes, towering tens of kilometres into their atmosphere, outlined by an engorged Sun swollen beyond all belief. Nuclear bombs propelling the nuclear fusion plant into space so that mankind could find its destiny among the stars. Escape the home that birthed it, fleeing the dying convulsions of Sol. Past the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the flat emptiness of Neptune and the lonely perambulation of Pluto, to Rohini. a sixth of a parsec out.

The remaining launches were pure chemical rockets. Solid propellant. The negotiations over chemical versus nuclear propulsion had been bitter. Each side indignantly pronounced itself right, and in the shadow of a looming Sun a vicious PR battle played itself out. Finally, the bargain came down to one nuclear launch. Though nothing could ever compare to the battles fought over who would survive and who would go down with the Motherplanet. Ultimately, it wasn’t the best and brightest of the human race, but those chosen by lottery. Justice lay in the process being fair. If the process was the same for all, it was just. Ofcourse lofty philosophical reasoning did nothing to prevent riots at the launch pads when the last rockets blasted off and humanity remnant realized they were rats on a sinking ship. Sinking with Gaia.

She glanced at the news ticker while waiting for the shuttle. It played up the latest indignation, the rich building homes further and further out from their efficient but crowded city centre. The sprawl draining precious order, opening the spillgates for entropy. Straining their energy distribution systems. There was already talk of additional government planning regulation. Rohini had a curious mix of free market operation and government regulation. The considerable ingenuity required to run their settlement efficiently enough necessitated free market operation, strictly optimized by regulation that directed it towards increased efficiency.

She remembered the uproar when they first touched down on their planet, more a rocky misshapen asteroid it’s gravity barely enough to keep you on the surface, and some entrepreneurs tried setting up an ‘entertainment district’. It was all they could do to prevent a riot. A riot in spacesuits. That would’ve been funny. Till your suit ripped and you suffered vacuum death. She shuddered at the memory. Alan was his name if she remembered correctly. On a routine space walk to check on some solar panels when space dust sliced through his suit. Depressurizing it before anyone knew what was happening. They reeled him in as fast as they could but it was no good. She would never forget the grotesque rictus mask that stared out of the visor mockingly, with glassy, helpless eyes, staring into the abyss of death. What did he find there? Limbo? Netherworld? Hades?

She snapped to attention. Ma was pulling on her arm, chastising her for day-dreaming yet again. What was wrong with rich daydreams? The shuttle was here. She let herself be pulled onto it, checking her comm alongside. A message from Terry. Her mother glanced down and she angled the screen away so her mother did not spy the message. “Are you on your comm again?” “Just a friend Ma”. “Then there’s no need to be so furtive about it”, her mother sighed. She hurriedly shot off a reply to him, only for a reply to instantaneously light up her screen. It was a rally that never ended. Electromagnetic waves continually streamed between their comms, carried their precious payload with them. The miniscule photons of energy beaming bits of human emotion. The dance of pixels on her screen sparking dopamine releases in her brain. They’d met at the viewscopes, in the precious moments when her hovering mother was in women’s room. Barely enough time to feel the thud of instantaneous connection, exchange a few words of snatched conversation and exchange comm codes before Ma returned to find her peering innocently through her ‘scope.

She rarely saw her father. He was brilliant, his degrees in immunochemistry and neuroscience placing him in the rarified echelons of academia, poring over research papers searching for ways to chemo-preserve the brain. A self-declared extropian. He was the prime mover behind her fascination with the inner workings of the world. She looked up things she barely understood. Planck foam. Virtual particles. Spacetime geometries. Branes. Biothermodynamics. Riemann Zeta function. But even his research funding was cut to a dribble as everything went into escaping imminent death by solar execution. Spaceships riding the shockwaves of their dying Sun. Out here on Rohini he rarely discussed his research and funding. No one could know the extent to which his research was funded. The extropy it generated could cause anger. Where deprivation was common, the ones gifted extropy budgets were targeted. All she knew was that his research was proceeding. Some days he would come back ecstatic, crack jokes at the dinner table and you knew there had been progress. Other days he’d be morose and their mother would quietly shuffle them to bed while he stayed up in his study.

Terry was the only person her age who knew as much as she did. They had passionate comm arguments over everything from macroeconomic theory to whether spacetime was discrete to P=NP. It always ended in cheesy sweet nothings. They’d managed to rendezvous a few more times but it was always under pretext. Her comm tracker meant Ma always knew where she was. And if you had an overprotective mother at 18 there wasn’t much breathing space. Her best friend was in on it and would cover for her but even so.

The shuttle ticker droned on about a major government announcement tomorrow on progress towards going energy positive. She let it slip her consciousness by. They always had announcements, the usual, banal listing of measures against extropy. Cutting down on such and such privilege while desperating trying to maintain a free market veneer. The limits on personal freedom were actually a function of the cost needed to repress a population under those limits versus the energy saved from those limits. They tread a very fine line indeed. In addition, their government had to be run as efficiently as possible. Indeed, if people did not see that their leaders were those driven hardest, they would’ve rebelled a long time ago.

She got home and they settled down to their usual meal of artificially flavoured, enhanced and machine manufactured food. It actually tasted all right. Once scientists had got muscle scaffolds and stem cells right, food production efficiency skyrocketed. Indeed with the recycling systems in place, food and water were the least of their worries. Yes, their home star had gone nova, but they had years of rapid human progress to sustain them. If only energy.

Pa was in an unusually thoughtful mood that day. Not happy or sad. Just thoughtful, only half present at the table. She and her brother slept early and left their parents to their ruminations. She snuck in her last message to Terry and dozed off.

Next morning over the same recycled, manufactured, breakfast she lazily glanced over at the government’s big announcement. “Contingency plan announced. Chemopreservation will allow energy positive operation” said the headlines in bold print. She read the news a little more closely, her attention piqued. “Current scenario means going energy positive is impossible …. humans root cause of energy consumption …. no other solution …. chemopreservation of 20% of the population required …” 20%?! Her mind spun. So what they’d been whispering for awhile was true after all. They could not go energy positive. There were too many of us. We thought we had room for optimism. But 20%? Why it almost guaranteed that one of their little nuclear family would go. Was it coerced? “…. presently calling for volunteers … a 70% chance of success … “ It meant 6% of the population was condemned to certain death. Oddly there were no reports of riots or civil disobedience. It was as if the population had accepted their fate. Providence had dealt humans a bad hand. Grin and bear it.

Her comm lighted up. “Did you see the news?” “Yes!” “What do you think?” “It’s terrifying” “I wonder who will go at 20%!” “Yes…I don’t suppose we should go?” “Don’t be ridiculous!” “But…” “You might die Kayla!” “Someone has to”. Pa just walked in at that moment. “It’s the best we could do.” Then it dawned on her. Her father had orchestrated this. All those late nights, they were slaving away at chemopreservation, making the success rate as high as humanely possible. It explained the stress and strain of the past few months. Why her mother had been on edge. Her overprotectedness. “Do you think 70% is good enough to get people to volunteer? I wasn’t sure, but the leadership said it was now or never. Fuel supplies are dwindling. We need that tokamak up and running.” “There isn’t much for it, is there?”, Ma said. “There is only one way and this is it. You’ve done all you could. It’s time you took a break.” Pa looked at her, shrugged his shoulders and sat down, staring intently at the newscast all the while. The ‘cast panned to the sight of the first volunteers lining up. They were interviewing the first volunteer. “Humans always survive, and I want to be part of it”, he said. “But what if you don’t survive?” “Well I’m not going to feel it in suspended animation am I?”

She sent again, reinforcing her growing conviction, “Someone has to”. “It doesn’t have to be you. You’ll die.” “We need people who work, not kids who contribute nothing. We must sacrifice for our future” “This is a fool’s errand. You’re 18.” “And what does that have to do with it?” “Clearly, there’s no convincing you?” “You have it. There isn’t :)”, she said. “Then I’m coming” “Don’t be stupid, both of us don’t need to die” “If you’re going, so am I Kayla” A flurry of communication yielded nothing. If she was going to volunteer, so was he. She felt she was condemning him. Yet some primal part of her thought there was a certain allure to it. The rational part of her told her there was only a 49% chance that both of them would survive. A tad less than half. That wasn’t good statistically speaking. But whatever! It felt right. They arranged to meet at the volunteer centres. She slipped out under her old pretext of meeting her best friend. Her parents were too pre-occupied with the news to notice. “Be back soon”, Ma said.

She walked to the volunteer station holding his hand. They approached the registration center. The woman checked her ID. “Barely legal”, she nodded. She began taking down their details when Kayla froze. Her father, barely metres away. Ofcourse he would be here! This was his baby. His project. At that moment he turned and spied her. They locked gazes for what seemed like eternity. Then there was the barest flicker of a smile, a slight nod and he moved away. As if to bestow his blessing upon her act. “What happened?”, Terry asked picking up on her emotions. She nodded a “nothing” and pressed on.

A father watched his young daughter walk into an uncertain capricious future of his own making, necessary but wholly unnecessary.

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