By Rocky Sunico (05.27.12)

Written for Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction challenge for May 25, 2012

"Why can't a reassured disaster expand?"

I turned to Robert and tried to gauge if he was serious – or perhaps just high. It was fairly late in the night (or early in the morning, if you prefer) and he was known for exploring various “herbal” remedies for his insomnia. More often than not these experiments resulted in visits to my quarters.

“What the heck is a ‘reassured disaster’?” I asked as I steeled myself for whatever strange answer he’d come up with.

Robert allowed the door to seal behind him before he continued. Taking up the only other chair in the room, he pulled out a cigarette (or at least what appeared to be one) as he prepared to explain. “Disasters,” he began” are commonplace enough in this universe. We live in a reality where nearly anything is possible. But they’re also completely random – chaotic in nature and wildly unpredictable. We also know that a disaster can be orchestrated – a viral outbreak, a moon’s orbit shifted to rip a planet apart through the gravitometric collision. You get the picture.”

As he lit up, the smoke quickly filled my meager quarters. Even as officers, there wasn’t much extra space that could be allotted. Thankfully they compensated through alternative perks such as the option to smoke while on-board. And based on the smell of Robert’s particular concoction, it’s a good thing he wasn’t smoking this in any of the public areas.

“So how do you ‘reassure’ a disaster? Give it a pat on the back? Tuck it into bed with a cup of cocoa? Seriously Robert, what the heck are you smoking to have you barge in here at past 0200 hours?”

He waved his cigarette at me dismissively in response, the lazy curls of smoke shifting in odd patterns as he continued on. The smoke appeared to be turning green, unless I was just seeing things. “Thus a disaster can be triggered on its own. But even the best scientists can’t control all variables when they reach for the really big guns. Remember Epoch 349?”

The mere mention of that disaster –no, that catastrophe was enough to send a shiver down my spine. The Science Corps lost three-quarters of their budget because of that debacle and the entire Royal Navy was recalled in order to run new diagnostics on all of our equipment. And all those bodies

He grinned, “Yes, you do remember. That was a reassured disaster. When the universe steps in to put us in our place and remind us of how small we are. We may have started the matter-antimatter reaction ourselves, but the end results were in none of our projections or worst case scenarios. It just happened and they still can’t figure out why.”

“Okay, okay,” I answered, “I’ll accept your thesis about these kinds of disasters. Yes they do happen, based on your definition. So what’s your point and why couldn’t it have waited for breakfast or something?”

There was a distinct flash of amusement on Robert’s face – he was like a boy who had found something interesting in the backyard and just couldn’t wait to show it to his friends. But Robert had been a rather nasty little boy once. He exhaled more of his slightly-green smoke, the amount of it in the room beginning to make my eyes water slightly.

“So why can’t these sorts of disasters get bigger? Why can’t the effects cascade further into a larger chain? Epoch 349 was bad, I’ll give you that, but it was also largely self-contained.”

I dropped the data pad that I had been working on as he said this. “Self-contained? Are you insane? We lost an entire star cluster – that was dozens of inhabited planets and hundreds of asteroid stations! The loss of life was one of the worst in our history and that section of space continues to pose a hazard to any ships daring to go too close. We were fortunate that the reaction mass burned itself up when it did else we would have lost perhaps the entire quadrant!” I got off my cot and paced somewhat anxiously. It wasn’t like there was anywhere for me to go in these cramped quarters.

I heard Robert get off his chair and step closer to me, the smoke from his cigarette wafting around me. I wasn’t in the mood to continue this conversation any further. “Get out of my quarters, Robert. We can talk about your mad ideas when you’re not tripping on some alien plant or whatever it is you’re smoking.”

“Hey, buddy, pal – settle down.” He placed a hand on my shoulder as an effort to reassure me somehow, but I wasn’t in the mood. I had lost my family in Epoch 349. He knew that – so why the hell was he bringing that particular memory back from the dead?

“Okay, okay, let me cut to the chase. Just hear me out, okay?”

I don’t know why I gave in to his pleas, but I did. I turned to face him. “You have two minutes.”

He flashed that smile of his again as he continued on. “Excellent.”

“I’m not saying we can stop such events from happening. The fact the universe has stepped in to muck things up is not something us mere mortals can hope to stop. But perhaps we can predict such events – add in a factor in our projections that will let us know when we’re fucking around with something well beyond our jurisdiction, you dig? That would be pretty impressive, right?”

I was still having difficulty processing what he was trying to say – maybe it was all this damned smoke that the was filling up the room. The environmental scrubbers seemed to be having a difficult time compensating for Robert’s insistent smoking. He took one final drag as he pushed forward.

“What if I told you that I think that I can predict such cosmic events with an accuracy of plus or minus 12%. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Wouldn’t the top brass pay big money for that sort of thing?”

“Even if they did – and you know we’re conscripted and not exactly paid generously – why should believe you. And what about your whole question about disasters somehow expanding?”

He tossed his spent cigarette butt into the waste chute and just made the shot. Still, it was enough to distract him long enough to annoy me further as I waited. Then he answered.

“I can prove it man, seriously. Based on my projections, we’re heading right into such an event right now. And I’m going to be RICH!”

Robert’s words had just barely registered in my mind as the implications began to run through my head. “We’re heading for a disaster? What the fuck are you doing here instead of telling the Admiral? What kind of a disaster?”

And then Epoch 349 expanded.