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The strange thing about using non-legible ASCII characters is it makes it difficult to find on E2. I just happened to hit this node due to the random nodeshell tool, and it got me thinking. What can this kind of node be used for?

And then it came to me, probably because of the steganography node I read a couple of days ago.

Secret stories. A scavenger hunt. Free signed copies of books. An all-expense paid trip to London.

So, I'll start this one out with a flash fiction story. I hope you enjoy it. And yes, there's a clue to the next hidden node buried somewhere in there. Enjoy :)



The Strangelet

Commander Greg Hall avoided the urge to scratch his left hand. It was beautiful, in a fractal or mathematical sense. He turned it over to look at where the palm would normally be, mesmerized at the little flashes of light between where the flesh ended and the Strangelet began.

Five hundred and seventy seven days in orbit, where every day set a new record. Enough time to have his entire family wiped from existence by petty wars and a dirty bomb set off in Pensacola. Collateral damage in a war of collateral damage. The epitome of human stupidity and small-mindedness.

Commander Hall keyed the transmitter one last time. “Houston, I am ready for burn.”

“We’re ready for you,” came the worried reply. “Reconsider what you’re doing, Greg.”

The Commander smiled. He switched off the radio before his long-time friend could protest. “Sorry, General. My mind is made up.”

He’d played the lottery and won. He was an astronaut, one of the few made from the Right Stuff. Now he understood the feeling of loneliness the curse of winning brought. Everyone wants to hit the lottery jackpot, but nobody wants the consequences.

Greg looked back at his converting left hand. His second lottery winning. A random cosmic ray dropping a set of up, down and strange quarks smack dab next to an atomic nucleus in his hand, and having that atom changed to a stable strangelet. As the atoms interacted, they also converted, a slow-motion Ice-9 takeover of his body. Surprisingly, there was no pain, only a persistent itch, like a spider crawling on his skin. Eventually, it would turn him into…something else. A soup of hot exotic particles. Who knows? Perhaps a new form of life.

It was time. He triggered the deorbit retros and felt the kick of inertia in his gut.

It would take decades for the Earth to convert. Enough time to kick the kids out of the nest, to finally reach for other stars. Maybe someday, he’d have a statue on some far-flung world orbiting a distant sun. A tribute to the man who pushed humanity from the cradle.

The shuttle began to shake from first contact with the atmosphere. Soon, the missiles would lock on to the intense heat source and put him out of his misery. Bits of his hand would be spread across most of Nevada. Greg chuckled, enjoying the irony of landing on Oppenheimer’s old stomping grounds. He had truly become Death, the destroyer of worlds, and he was coming home.

Appeared in the Vignettes from the End of the World anthology

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