It's the 250th year of the reign of our robot queen Andrea I. A jubilee year.

I am tasked with deciding what precious substance will be the formal term for this anniversary. It must be rarer than silver (25), gold (50), or platinum (70). My—literal—predecessors picked plutonium (100), promethium (150), and oganesson (200, when a gram of it was produced at great expense).

This was never a problem with our mortal monarchs.

I choose antimatter. I will deliver it to Andrea myself.

Record broadcast message. Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is the cargo starliner Knai-Hak. Our engines are inoperative and we are on a collision course with a rocky planet. We do not expect to survive. There appears to be carbon-based life on the surface, not sentient, and we regret the extinction-level event that we will cause. Please do not attempt to recover our cargo of iridium; may its anomalous presence serve as a reminder to future visitors to this world. Message ends. Send.

We’ve known for millennia that the moon is drifting away from the earth. An unavoidable consequence of this fact: one day there would be a last ever total solar eclipse. That one day is today.

We lucky few line up along the path of the eclipse, a metre-wide ribbon of land on top of a high plateau. Totality will last barely a second.

I stare through the filter and try not to blink. My grandchildren will want to know what being here was like.

Earth used to be a great place to go. You’d take your flying saucer to some remote place, get high on their sucrose, land in front of some unsuspecting drunk human and demand they Take You To Their Leader. Such fun!

But Earth’s changed. Now they have ubiquitous video surveillance, most humans even carry a portable one, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than seeing yourself on their instabook feed the next day.

The past is a different planet. You can never go back.

FAIRY CIRCLE
NO STOPPING

says the sign on the road. Sure enough, I am passing right through a huge ring of mushrooms, the road a textbook diagram of a chord.

Disregarding the sign, I pull over, engine running, and get out to take a snap with my phone.

As I return, my car starts to drive off. I run, but it lifts off the ground, then circles higher and higher until I am not sure I am seeing or imagining a speck in the sky.

I belatedly realize that I should have taken a video.

“87th floor, room 24,” says the hotel receptionist as I check in.

“87?! How tall is this hotel?” I exclaim.

“Oh, it’s only two floors up,” she smiles, “but we skip unlucky numbers, and there are a LOT of those around the world.”

“Did you know 87 is unlucky for cricketers?” I joke as I reach for the key.

She frowns, pulls back the key. “Your floor is now called—[typing]—the 111th floor.”

I am about to say something about the number 111, think better of it, and accept the key.

We return to camp. It’s been disturbed. “Snow leopard footprints,” I declare.

A dismayed Susan cries from the tent, “It ate my fur coat! My wedding ring was in the pocket!” There are tufts of fur all over the snow, but no ring.

“Not to worry,” I reassure her as I rummage through the Jeep, “I have just the thing.” I pull out a small rectangle of carpet and plop it on the ground in plain sight. There is no greater temptation to a cat with a hairball.

“Now,” I announce, “we wait.”

Under cover of darkness, I return the idol to its rightful place in the Temple at Abu Simbel.

The air fizzes and Dr Vogel appears. He points a gun at me. “I’ll take that.”

“Wherever you take that, I’ll find you!” I challenge.

“Au contraire! I am going to take it back to 1960 me, when I was here hunting for it.”

“I wouldn’t do that. Lake Nasser wasn’t—“ but he is gone. He’s going to materialize before the Temple relocation, sixty metres above ground level. I hope Vogel can fly.

We were warned about pirates in this sector. When we see a blip on our aft scanners we fear the worst. Engines are at full but the vessel still gains on us. There’s no point hailing them; we’d have no common language.

They pull alongside. We prepare to be boarded.

Through the airlock window a suited figure gesticulates towards the stern of our ship, then returns to their craft, which rockets away.

“I think,” ventures the XO, “they’re telling us we have a taillight out.”

The Ssssa are our first galactic friends. They are very protective of us. I think they think of us as their pets.

Though they have a habit of believing any old thing that is said about us. Sffffi asked me yesterday, “Is it true that humans have only seven different stories? Don’t you get bored telling them over again?”

“Take a seat,” I told Sffffi, “let me tell you the story of The Xenobiologist Who Underestimated Something By Six Orders Of Magnitude.”

The cookbook publisher that used to own the test kitchen here folded. I bought the premises to run my gourmet fast food restaurant.

Let me let you in on a little secret: the reason why you have to cook that cake recipe 25% longer at home is because your kitchen runs at one second per second. This one runs at 1 second per 800 milliseconds.

Oh, here’s your order already. That was quick, wasn’t it? See you next time!

The cat left the stunned rat by the front door for the humans to find. It was a message to them both.

To the humans, It was both an offer and a threat: “I can bring you more of these if you treat me well. Or if you don’t.”

To the rats, it was diplomacy: “I could obliterate you, but you are useful to me. But keep your numbers in check, or I will do it for you.”

The zombie apocalypse was over. We had lost. They said had we been able to collaborate better on the Internet, we might have prevailed.

Pounding on the bunker door grew louder. We had only a few minutes. There was room for one person in our time machine. We voted. I was bundled in, protesting.

My job now is to prevent my timeline from happening. I’m in the legal team at Amazon Web Services. I just edited the terms of service to explicitly permit zombie research.

Small steps.

The supply ship entered orbit, the first in years. We converged at the spaceport and waited for the most important delivery. The shuttle ramp swung down, and a man in overalls wheeled out a carton of paper. Page after page of truly random numbers, writ small. Another identical carton stayed behind, parsecs away in our capital. A literal one-time pad.

Finally we could send encrypted messages to our loved ones again. We hugged the delivery man and thanked him for his gift: privacy.

The genie granted me a packet of Tim Tams that never runs out.

I supplemented my income by filling empty packs from my endless packet and onselling them. It became an industry in itself. My costs were low and I was able to undercut the manufacturer. Eventually the manufacturer stopped making Tim Tams: they couldn’t compete.

I’m the only supplier now. My days are spent transferring biscuit after biscuit. I have become a biscuit battery hen, thanks to the gift—curse—of the genie.

Our band stays to itself. We know there are other people, outside the rainforest, but they don’t bother us and we don’t bother them.

But lately, at night, we’ve noticed new stars in the sky. Impatient stars that cross from horizon to horizon in a few breaths.

I grab my knife and axe, and set off to meet the people outside the rainforest. They must be as worried as we are. Maybe we can help them.

Welcome to Scarborough Fair!

Paul? Yeah, we were a thing once. He said what?

Well, _you_ tell _him_ that since we broke up, I’ve earned a materials engineering degree, so now I know about 3D-printing of clothing, ocean-floor habitats and stiffening animal hide products.

Also I’ve found someone else who appreciates my skills. Tell Paul no.

I have to keep buying name tags for my cat. Every few months she comes home without her collar, having lost it who-knows-where.

After the apocalypse, a metal-detectorist-cum-amateur-archaeologist will find them all, and conclude that they were symbols of worship for a very local household god.

They would not be entirely wrong.

When radio telescopes showed there was a habitable planet orbiting α Cen B, the call went out for crew to take a ship there. It would take 30 years. My brother was surprised that I didn’t jump at the chance.

“Moore’s Law,” I explained. “In ten years there’ll be a ship that can make the journey in fifteen. It’ll be first to arrive.

“_That’s_ the ship I want to be on.”

Our first hint of the civilization, ten light years away, came from their broadcast. We soon learned it was their version of a telenovela. It became quite popular.

One of the Earth networks, hit by poor ratings, became jealous. They rented a radio telescope and beamed a strong cease-and-desist.

Twenty years later, the soap opera abruptly stopped. Were they frightened? Had there been a war? Were we merely unlicensed viewers? We’d never know. It was the ultimate cliffhanger.

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