He'd grown up stargazing. There's so much of the Universe to see, no one can see it all in a lifetime. It may as well be infinite. But there was still something about it that bothered him. It was all snapshots.

Oh, sure, he may have discovered a comet or two, but when looking outside the solar system, changes in the sky were rare to say the least. He longed to see Eta Carinae go hypernova, to see the fantastic collision between Andromeda and the Milky Way. He wanted to know what those galaxies in the Hubble Deep Field looked like now.

They laughed at him through college. His "ridiculous" ideas would go nowhere. They told him he couldn't look into the future. He kept insisting that he wanted to do no such thing, only to look into the present.

He dropped out eventually. Theoretical physics wasn't really his thing anyway. He carved out a meager living, married, settled down, and returned to his passion of watching the skies. There was always something new to look at, and every time looked, he still wanted to know what had been going on in the thousand years it'd taken for that light to reach his telescope.

It took him 20 years to find the answer. He called it the FTLescope. As in F-T-L-escope. When people looked at him quizzically, he told them it was a faster than light telescope. Usually, they gave a couple forced, polite laughs. He thought it was terribly clever.

It wasn't really important how exactly the thing worked. It was at once incredibly simple and ridiculously complicated. Had something to do with a pocket dimension tucked neatly inside a 2" refractor he'd gotten for Christmas at the age of seven. A nice, big reflector would have been nice, but his design simply didn't allow for it. He could focus his telescope on any object in the sky, and see it as it appeared at that exact moment.

Observations of Jupiter confirmed his theory. He pointed his telescope at the gas giant and saw nothing. Twiddling with some knobs, he moved the telescope to place in the sky which Jupiter would occupy (as seen from Earth, that is) in 33 minutes. That was where the planet was now, and that is where is telescope saw it now.

Over the next few months, he made more observations within the solar system, all appearing exactly as predicted. One night, he finally turned his FTLescope towards Sirius. It took a little more figuring to find out where the star was, or would be, 8.6 years into the future, but once he was narrowed in, there it was.

The next night, he took the big leap. He pointed his telescope at Andromeda. The little refractor wasn't the best for deep sky observing, but it was more than enough for the massive neighbor galaxy. It was a little more difficult to figure out exactly where it had gone in the 2.5 million years its light took to reach Earth, but the deep sky was what he built the FTLescope for. But something was wrong. He hadn't expected to see the galaxy right away, but his view was empty. No background or foreground stars, nothing.

He tried Triangulum. Nothing. The Eagle Nebula. Nothing. The Pleiades. Nothing. The Universe seemed to be vanishing all around the Earth. Finally, he pointed the FTLescope at Procyon, only 11.4 light years away. Nothing. There was no light coming from any of it. The Universe was disappearing, and we didn't know it because most of its light was still en route.

He'd observed Sirius before. The next night, it was still happily shining, 8.6 years in the future. Perhaps he jumped to the conclusion a bit quickly, but it seemed that there was a vast expanse of nothing, centered at the Earth, and moving inward at the speed of light. The Universe was collapsing around us, and it would get here in between eight and twelve years.

He told his wife. She trusted him completely. She was one of the few who believed him from the beginning. He had no desire to know exactly when the Universe would end. So he dismantled the FTLescope, letting the pocket dimension escape into its own pocket universe. He published his findings, getting a lot of media attention for a while. Nut job predicts end of world sort of thing. A few extreme groups, religious ones mostly, actually ascribed to his belief.

Over the next several years, his data was seriously analyzed by some real scientists. Former university colleagues, actually. Get this: they believed him. His data actually confirmed what he'd been telling people for years. His FTLescope could see into the future (sort of).

Despite renewed media attention worldwide, he refused to share the FTLescope with the world. No one should know exactly when the world would be ending. He thought it would be better that way. As it turned out, most people didn't believe him because of his refusal.

At the nine year mark, a poll was taken. Something like 10% of the world's population believed in the End. It may not sound like much, but imagine living in a world where one out of ten people really and truly believes that the world will come to a sudden and complete end at any moment. It was actually pretty scary.

There were mass suicides. Suicide bombings. Scores of religious groups trying frantically to save every last soul they could. Violent crime was higher than it had ever been. Ever. As more time went by, it got worse.

By the eleven year mark, millions were dead. The man who started it all pulled out his old 2" refractor to take in every last bit of light the Universe had to offer. He poured himself a glass of 18 year old Scotch he'd been saving and set up the telescope (FTLescope no more). Taking a sip, he pulled off the lens cap and-

The glass of Scotch dropped to the floor and shattered. Glass and whiskey and ice went in all directions. Our hero froze, with one hand on the telescope and a look of absolute terror on his face when his wife rushed in. His eyes were wide and tears were streaming down his face as she walked over to him.

"What's wrong, what's happened?" she asked desperately. Seeing the old telescope there, she asked, "Do you know when it's going to happen?"

He couldn't even look up at her. He just stood there clutching the telescope, shaking violently, and said, "I forgot to take the lens cap off."

SciFiQuest 2107

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