Welcome to Analog Science Fiction and Fact! Featuring award-winning authors, compelling fiction stories, intriguing science fact articles, editorials, news, reviews ... Travel to the edges of the universe!

The Quantum Magician, Part 1
Derek Künsken

The Journeyman: Through Madness Gap
Michael F. Flynn

Atomic Numbers
D. A. Xiaolin Spires

Educational Challenge
Stanley Schmidt

Do Black Holes Really Exist?
John G. Cramer 


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Our lead story for March/April is from Alec Nevala-Lee: a strange vision in the remote Alaskan wilderness leads a pair of intrepid reporters to investigate, but will it ultimately be more—or less—than it seems? Find out in “The Spires.”

Then we pick up with Belisarius and his motley crew of criminals and mercenaries in the second installment of The Quantum Magician, from Derek Künsken.  . . .

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As 2018 looms, we put a year of quality fiction behind us, while another year of stellar stories awaits ahead. So let’s get to it, shall we? We kick off with a little bit of an experiment in our new format: a serial. Belisarius is a Homo quantus, a breed of enhanced human capable of interacting with quantum states in a way the rest of us baselines are not. 

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An Inside Look

The Quantum Magician, Part1

by Derek Künsken 

Chapter One

Belisarius Arjona was perhaps the only con man who drew parallels between his confidence schemes and the quantum world. Ask a question about frequency, and the electron appeared to be a wave. Ask a question about momentum, and the electron appeared to be a particle. A gangster looking to muscle in on a real estate scam would find sellers in distress. A mark looking to cash in on a crooked fight would find a fighter ready to take a fall. Nature fed an observer the clues needed to turn the quantum world into something real. Belisarius fed his marks the clues they needed to turn their greed into expensive mistakes. And sometimes he did so at gunpoint. To be precise, the muzzle of Evelyn Powell’s pistol rested on her knees as she talked to him.

“Why the long face, Arjona?” she asked.

“No long face,” he said sullenly.

“I’m going to make you really rich. You won’t need to scrape by with this freak show,” she said, waving her hand expansively.

They sat in the gloom at the bottom of the cylinder of glazed brick that was his gallery of Puppet art. A column supporting spiral stairs and landings speared the gallery. The paintings, sculptures, and silent films set in bricked alcoves had to be appreciated across a three-meter gap between the edges of the stairs and the wall. Belisarius was curating the first exposition of Puppet art ever permitted by the Federation of Puppet Theocracies. Smell, lighting, and sound invoked the aesthetic of the Puppet religious experience. Far above, near the entrance to the gallery, a whip snapped arhythmically.

“I like Puppet art,” he said.

“So when you’re rich, buy more.”

“You don’t get to buy art from prison.”

“We’re not going to get caught,” she said. “Don’t lose your nerve. If it works here, it will work in my casinos.”

Powell was a beefy casino boss from Port Barcelona. She’d crossed the embargo around the dwarf planet Oler to see if the news of Belisarius’ miracle making the rounds in criminal circles was true. She tapped the nose of the pistol against her knee, drawing his eyes with the movement.

“But you haven’t been totally honest with me yet, Arjona. I’m still not convinced you really hacked a Fortuna AI. I’ve seen people try. I’m paying people to try. What are the odds that you, by yourself, surrounded by Puppets all the way out here, got it?”

He let her stew in the conviction of what she’d just said for two breaths—8.1 seconds. Then, he lowered his eyes, matching her expectations, buying him another second of her patience.

“No one can hack a Fortuna AI,” he admitted. “And I didn’t either. I broke into a security graft and snuck in a tiny bit of code. I couldn’t make it big, or the rest of the AI would notice, but this tiny change added a factor into its statistical expectations.”

Powell was calculating behind her stare: the odds of this being the secret to beating the Fortuna AI, the number of casinos vulnerable to this modified graft, and what Belisarius had changed to crack the graft.

Statistical expectations were the core of the Fortuna AI. Technology had leapt so far past games of chance that any casino could rip off its patrons pretty easily. For that matter, any patron could cheat an unprotected casino. The presence of a Fortuna AI was the seal of approval on any casino. In conjunction with an advanced surveillance system, the AI monitored ultrasonic, light, radio, IR, UV, and x-ray emissions. It also calculated odds and winning streaks in real time. For the clients, it was proof the games were fair. For the casinos, it was protection against cheaters.

“The security grafts are unhackable too,” Powell said. “I’ve got people working on them.”

“Not if the code-breaker is fast enough to intercept the patch during transmission, and the change is small enough,” Belisarius said.

The Fortuna AI was “unhackable,” in the sense that Powell meant. All AIs were, because they were grown. They could only be evolved, or patched with small grafts.

Powell considered him for a while.

“My people are close, but we don’t have a system to go with it yet,” she said. “Using body temperature is ingenious.”

A whip sounded far up the gallery again. A recorded Puppet moan of religious ecstasy echoed softly.

“My people say you’re pretty smart,” she said, “that you’re one of those Homo quantus. Is that right?”

“You’ve got good sources,” he said.

“So what’s a super-smart Homo quantus doing in the sweaty armpit of civilization?”

“I reacted badly to the medications that let the Homo quantus see quantum things,” he said. “They kicked me out. The Banks didn’t want to pay for a dud.”

“Ha!” she said. “Duds. I hear you. Damn Banks.”

Belisarius was good at lying. He had a perfect memory, and every Homo quantus had to be able to run multiple lines of thought at once. Most of the time it didn’t matter which one was true, as long as they didn’t get mixed up.

“Let’s get this done,” he said finally, pointing at the pills in her palm.

“You wouldn’t be trying to poison your new partner, would you?” she said, grinning. Behind the grin was something very hard.

“Get interferon from your own sources if you want,” he said.

She shook her head and popped the two pills. “My augments wouldn’t let me die of a fever.”

That was probably true. His brain began running dosage and toxicity calculations, accounting for the abilities of black-market augments like the ones she was probably carrying. He let one part of his brain keep itself busy with those calculations. He wasn’t jealous of her ability to fight a fever, but those kinds of augments wouldn’t work in him anyway. READ MORE


The Journeyman: Through Madness Gap

by Michael F. Flynn

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread

*   *   *

A bird in the hand

Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand always woke quickly. It was what the men of the Great Grass called a “survival skill,” since those who did not often did not. In this case he awoke on satin pillows (which was unusual) even before the woman began to shake him (which was not).

“My husband!” she whispered. “He is home!”

“Will you introduce us?” Teodorq asked, for he had not yet mastered the etiquette of Old Cuffland.

“You fool!” she scolded him. “He is a master duelist! He has slain seven lovers of mine!”

Teo was a quick study, and from this he gathered that being a lover of the Lay Lisspeh dee Haddafahm was not a job with long-term prospects. She was either a slow learner, or she was the beater flushing quarry for her husband.

“I have some skills at dueling, too,” he promised and showed her his rapier. She swatted his arm and said she was serious.

Like all the folk of the Great States, Lay Lisspeh was green of skin and smelled faintly of grass. This pleased Teo, who had grown up on the rolling prairies of the western continent, and to his nostrils, the scent of grass was sweet perfume. She also possessed a frill around her neck that, when excited, spread out like a ruff. He understood from the Wisdoms of this land that their ancient ancestors had in some unknown way “spliced” the power of plants into their bloodlines so they could supplement their diets by “drinking” sunlight.

Teodorq himself was a noble bronze and supplemented his diet by eating cows and drinking beer.

It was the work of a moment to don his kilts and boots and throw his cloak across his shoulders. It was not as though he had had no practice at swift departures. In a pinch, he had been known to skip the kilt.

But in the doorway of the bedroom stood a broad-shouldered, elegantly dressed man with a pointed beard. In his hand was an elegantly held and equally pointed rapier. Teo reasoned that this was Lar Haddafahm, and he smiled and raised his hand, palm out.

“Hi,” he said in the Plains style.

The man flourished his sword to sky guard. “You have to go through me to get out.”

“Sure,” said Teo, and decked him.

Perhaps the Lar had been expecting a more protracted discussion over the matter, but Teo saw no reason to stretch things out. He hated long good-byes.

*   *   *

A troop in the meadow

Sammi o’ th’ Eagles, Teo’s boon companion for now several sun circuits, sat atop a short pony alongside the more splendidly mounted officers of the First Royal Savage Archers of Cuffy as they watched the recruits train. “You didn’t have permission,” he explained to Teo.

The recruits, the cream of the prisons of Cuffland, dissolved from an orderly line into a mob on horseback that filled the meadow below with milling confusion. Teo reached for his bullroarer, but his lieutenant-colonel, ever attendant on his boss’ needs, whirled his own around his head, drawing the attention of the captains leading the exercise. Banner staffs snapped up and the mob became a little less moblike. Teo was dissatisfied with the evolution.

“She said ‘yes,’” he continued to Sammi. “It sounded like permission to me. Does yes mean something different over here?”

Sammi shook his head sadly. “Carjent-major Jestapul, you want to school stupid plainsman?”

The grizzled older man was the only one among the officers wearing blacks and the only one who looked distinctly out of place on horseback. Everyone else wore the uniforms Teo had devised for the Savage Archers: open vests and trousers of soft deerskin with fringes down the side and embroidered with insignia of rank and unit. Jestapul was sergeant-major of the regiment but had been an infantryman beforetimes. He was tasked with the Sisyphean labor of civilizing Teo and Sammi for polite company.

“She’s a wife,” Jestapul said, “she can’t give permission. Only her husband can. Now, nine times out of ten, he’ll say yes, if you ask nice and exchange favors. It’s how the noble houses make alliances. But you got to follow procedure. O’ course, widows and spinsters past twenty-five sun-circuits can speak for themselves.”

Teo scratched his head. “So the husband is sorta like a pimp?”

Jestapul choked, and Teo sighed, “It’s a lot simpler on the Great Grass.”

The sergeant-major swept his arm around the Meadow Real where the regiment drilled. “Begging the kemal’s pardon, but this here ain’t your Great Grass.”

Teo grunted. “Don’t I know it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be stuck with such inept horsemen.”

The major-ji in charge of recruiting turned and said, “The senior troopers include some of the finest horsemen in Cuffland.” Like the other major officers, he wore the plains uniform awkwardly.

Teo sighed, “Yah, I was afraid of that. At least they’re well-mounted.”

The horse-major swelled at that compliment. “The bluegrass of southeast Cuffland breeds the finest horses on World.”

The supplies major said, not quite sotto voce, “Which were Arandtsland.” He had a slight potbelly, and the open vest did not display it to advantage. Only the lieutenant-colonel, Lar Rigo Della Hepplewhite, managed the uniform with any panache. Teo had the impression that he rather enjoyed the whole lark, though he might have his own notion about who should command it.

The other major officers shifted on their saddles at Major Feinuarth’s remark. Two turned stone-faced, another two grinned at nothing in particular. Jestapul pretended he had heard nothing. READ MORE


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