“Alien” (a first attempt)

I got me some of that writing bug a-bitin’ again. So I just began to type and this came out. Thought I’d share it with you because I have no idea where it’s going. Maybe a short story. Maybe a series. Maybe a novel. Let me know what you think.



This is Clovenard.

Clovenard is an alien.

Clovenard doesn’t know he’s an alien, any more than he knows that his superiors gave him a stupid name before dispatching him to Earth. You’d think that with all their information and knowledge and science and technology those guys would have been able to come up with a name not quite so prone to elicit mirth from the earthlings, but there you have it. Managers at their finest.

Anyway, Clovenard is the protagonist of this story. And that’s good because Clovenard isn’t much of anything else on his home planet. Clovenard – whose real name is unpronounceable by the primitive human mouth-voice-tongue-whatever machinery – is one of those little Praxitans that came out of the left side of the conveyor belt.

That’s not a criticism, by the way. It’s an observation. You see, on Praxitus, they figured out how to mass-produce baby Praxitans. So when they made the first batch, they went all out and made them all gems. Smart, sophisticated, athletic. I mean, what kind of business wants to make defective products?

Despite their best efforts, the Praxitans discovered a universal law of life that transcends all creature endeavors: When everyone is special, no-one is. Somehow, there’s always someone lagging behind. Someone who just doesn’t cut it. Someone who can’t reach the bar because the bar is always being pushed higher.

On Earth, they call it natural selection. On Praxitus, where things are a bit more sophisticated, they called it product recall.

By the way, it wasn’t quiet, and it wasn’t pretty. Praxitans take product quality very seriously – especially when said products are supposed to be their children.

There were protests. There were riots. There was political dissent, separatism, terrorism, factions, tribes, military law, civil war. To this day, the Best Child revolution remains a dark time in the history books of Praxitus.

So the Praxitan marketing departments got together with their R&D departments, and the R&D departments got together with the Quality Control departments, and the Quality Control departments got together with the Manufacturing departments, and after brainstorming, evaluating, calculating, equivocating, ruminating, deliberating, assessing, leveraging, buy-inning, buy-outing, restructuring and complementing, the Praxitans finally found a solution to their problem:

In every batch, introduce a few sub-par specimens to hold the curve back.

In every generation, add a few nonathletic, slightly dim, low-expectation, underachieving babies that would make everyone else shine and restore balance to a hurting planet.

Throw a dunce in every gene pool.

And so, the Praxitans made a new batch modified with an idiot-introducing algorithm, which promptly assigned the vast majority of recessive genes to a single subject.

And so, the Praxitans made a subject that would surpass all expectations – but in the wrong direction.

And so, the Praxitans made Clovenard.

To be continued

Short story: Two-dimensional

Day thirty-six on the ISS-2, and I can’t swallow my gel-breakfast fast enough. You’d think the new International Space Station would have updated its cuisine, but between a complete overhaul of living quarters, additional cargo space, upgrades to instruments, and a brand-new EVA system, there just wasn’t enough money left to figure out bacon in zero-G.

I don’t care. Two minutes and I’m already pulling myself into the Z-3 suit-port that’s attached to the outside of the Station. It’s so easy – you just open a port and slide straight into it. No pressurisation chambers needed. Twenty seconds and you’re stepping into space.

I push myself over to the working platform attached to the D-Port. When I reach it, my feet are over the Ganges.

The D-Port, or Dimension Portal, looks like a huge mirror, except it reflects back other dimensions. It began as a serendipitous incident at CERN, took over fifty years and countless dollars to build, but the crowning achievement of Multiverse Theory was finally switched on last month to the bated breath of eleven billion earthlings.

Day 1 was horribly anticlimactic: Black space with one star. Our first-ever cross-dimensional knock-knock, and we get a one-star universe. I floated by the D-Port like an idiot, feeling mankind’s collective “meh” ascend towards me like a prayer.

Of course, the dimensional physicists did backflips. Their baby worked, and we had the first ever proof of another dimension. It was like discovering aliens. Nonetheless, the scientific community’s primal excitement was diluted through layman disappointment and Twitter LOLs.

The idea behind our dimension-hopping expedition was to find a dimension that is similar enough to ours – ideally with only one difference. Like flying dogs or singing cows or fluorescent cucumbers. Something we could deal with. But since our math can’t pinpoint specific dimensions, we’re just switching channels until we find something to watch.

So we kept looking. That’s all you can do, by the way. The D-Port is an energy barrier that doesn’t allow sound or matter to pass through, although photons have no problem. Nonetheless, we still thought it prudent to install it in orbit, away from Earth. In theory, there must be a dimension out there where the D-Port will be more of a D-Hole.

The second dimension we found was creepy. Something out of a Lovecraft story: a universe of reds and translucent greens that pulsated like veins, all radiating out of an incandescent white sphere that I swear knew it was being watched. We recorded it, turned it off, and moved onto the next dimension while the world freaked out.

It went like that for a month: A parade of lifeless universes, some dull, some inexplicable. Even the staunchest acolytes began to lose interest. Kind of like SETI.

But today – today is history. The D-Port has finally located another Earth. The initial readings say that it’s exactly like ours – even its climate matches ours. It’s hard to believe, but here I am, hanging onto the D-Port’s platform and staring into a universe that had the same ideas as ours.

And that’s not all. The Other Earth has an orbiting station too, and they’re sending someone to say hello. That’s right: I am about to make contact with a sentient being, probably a human, from another dimension.

I’m so excited, I can feel my Maximum Absorbency Garment swell a little.

I tether myself to the platform and eye-tap the comms icon on my HUD. “Houston, this is Mission Specialist Dr Leonard Mann. Requesting all-clear for D-Port interfacing.”

“You’re good to go, Dr Mann. Just relax and follow the script.” Loaded into my tablet, the Cross-Dimensional Interfacing Protocol has been put together by our top exo-psychologists and translated in virtually every language we know, dead or alive. Crowdsourcing works wonders.

A spacesuit appears on the edge of the D-Port’s frame, slowly floating towards me. I confirm the contact my headset, although Houston’s getting real-time, hi-def feed of it.

It looks like a woman. The suit is form-fitting, and the body shape wouldn’t match a man’s in our dimension. Of course, we don’t even know how many genders they have over there.

I tell Houston all this, conscious that the whole world is listening in. As the spacesuit approaches, I can make out the face behind the helmet: Definitely a woman. Definitely human. My MAG swells a little more.

She comes to a stop on the other side of the D-Port and raises her right hand in what I can only assume is a greeting. I do the same and she smiles.

She’s beautiful – in either dimension. I can’t see her hair under her Communications Carrier, but its absence just highlights her stunning features.

“Dr Mann, this is Houston. Please proceed with the script.”

I breathe out. “Copy that, Houston.” I raise my tablet: WE COME IN PEACE. Cliché.

She smiles and produces her own tablet. Their technology looks like ours: WE KNOW.

“Houston, confirm: Subject communicated in English. Are you seeing this?”

“We are as stunned as you, Leo. Just keep going.”

I raise the tablet: WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

She grins playfully and taps her tablet: WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

I frown. “Houston, please advise.”

“The psychs say go ahead, Leo.”


She’s laughing. Hysterically.

I’m feeling a little offended. Forget the script. WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?

Her tablet flashes on the other side of the D-Port. LEONARD MANN FROM ATHENS, GEORGIA? ONLY SON OF RUSSELL AND PATRICE MANN?

I stare at her and my fingers type. YES. HOW DO YOU KNOW?

She laughs inside her helmet, and her tablet flashes with cross-dimensional excitement:


Fiction on Lablit, article on EPFL, free book!

I have a new short story over at Lablit! It is based on true events. Specifically, true events that happened to me during my PhD. Click here to read.

There is also a new article on EPFL from yours truly. High-temperature superconductors are inching closer. Click here to read.

And lastly, get your FREE copy of LAZARUS from Smashwords! Offer ends tomorrow.

— Nik


Lazarus_Final_LoResMy sci-fi novel LAZARUS is now free on Smashwords as part of their “Read an Ebook Week” promotion!

Offer ends March 8!

— Nik

Quirky photons spin out of the Standard Model

New article on EPFL!

Doing some hardcore analysis on data from the LHC “beauty” experiment, a group at EPFL found evidence that when a bottom quark decays into a strange quark it emits a photon that’s polarized.

Why’s that important? Because it might just be a nudge towards New Physics. And no, that doesn’t mean we’ll be leaving on the Enterprise any time soon. Although…

Read more here.