by Liam Hogan
Ira Hanser impatiently waited for the first glimpse from the observation port. There—L365: a bright pin-prick in the black velvet of space. His quarry, the final satellite. For three hundred and sixty-five days, three hundred and sixty-five—no, three hundred and sixty-six orbits—the Ouroboros had overtaken each Geostationary satellite in turn, completing one more circuit around the Earth than they had as it chased its tail.
Ira struggled into the spacesuit. Alone, it was still a challenge, even after so many EVAs. Some commentators assumed his was a publicity stunt: The tech billionaire taking to space to personally upgrade his satellites. Even the number of links in the chain, one for each day of the year, with the gap between L365 and L1 a shade more than a quarter longer than the rest, the exact extra fraction required to create leap days. Arbitrary, surely? Why not one for each degree of a circle?
Time. Time was the reason, Ira mused as the airlock opened. Geostationary satellites necessarily map out the days. With each one sporting the most precise of atomic clocks, they also mapped out seconds and minutes and hours. For them to track the year as well might be considered overkill. As for visiting and fixing one satellite per day … No scriptwriter in Hollywood would have dared pile the coincidences so loftily atop one another.
There was more to it than pure vanity. Each satellite, perfectly positioned, was part of a particle accelerator, the Ouroboros a diamond in its ring, housing the detectors for an experiment that dwarfed anything that could ever be done on Earth.
An experiment? Did he still believe that? Had he ever?
The problem with being a future-looking visionary was that most projects Ira started would only reap dividends a century or more from now, and even then, they could easily be derailed if they weren’t nursed towards fruition. Blessed is he who plants trees under whose shade he will never sit. Perhaps, but how much more blessed is the man who plants for the future, and gets to enjoy those trees himself?
It was little wonder Ira was obsessed with human longevity. Even before his first billion rolled in, he’d started exploring cutting-edge medical science, telomeres, and the uploading of human consciousness to singularity AIs. Future generations would not suffer the indignity of death. Despite his efforts, such game-changing progress remained stubbornly just beyond the technological horizon. The bitter irony of being the last generation to die of old age! But someone would have to be the very first not to—and why shouldn’t that someone be Ira? Even if he had to dabble in the occult to achieve it?
And if it didn’t work, then “oh dear,” he’d created a scientific tool that would not be surpassed until someone even richer than he tried to encircle the sun.
He was floating in space now, the target satellite hanging as if motionless. As did the blue-green planet below, so far away he could cup it in just one of his gloved hands, like a gaudy human skull. Alas, poor Earth…
It took time to upgrade the circuitry, though there was nothing complicated about it. Switch out the deliberately obsolete part, careful to make sure the new unit was firmly seated. And then, as he closed the access panel, to scratch a complicated mark on it, in chalk.
How many of the nearly eight billion people back on Earth would recognize that for what it truly was? A sigil, lifted from a seven-hundred-year-old codex, the solution to a set of impossible instructions, a ritual no one had ever managed to complete.
Only he, Ira, had realised that it had to be performed in space, scribing the sigils on satellites that stayed their position above the Earth, that measured time so precisely. Satellites linked by an accelerator that even now was warming up. A ring around the world, in light and in eldritch symbols and in chalk, like a giant summoning circle, or like the outline traced around a murder victim.
Wheels within wheels: A physics experiment hiding an arcane incantation, the message rewriting the fabric of reality. And rewriting Ira, its author.
Well, he ruefully thought. Not quite. On the shoulders of giants, all the way back to Abramelin the Mage. But it was Ira who had elevated Nicolas Flamel’s misunderstood, inspired madness from the pages of a dusty grimoire into sparkling reality. An incantation that promised, in exchange for a great sacrifice, (the greatest sacrifice?) and Ira’s obeisance for a year, that he would never age another day he set foot on the Earth, that he would outlive everyone he knew.
Giddy with excitement, Ira re-entered the Ouroboros, the first particles already racing around the loop, picking up speed at each satellite.
Maneuvering the spacecraft into position, the jewel clasped between L1 and L365, he was on the brink of achieving what no other had, or ever could. The radiation from the collisions would alter the cells in his body, rendering him immortal. He would return to Earth a god!
Just reward for what he had given up this last year, the near ruinous financial cost the least of it, all so that he might enjoy the pleasures that awaited him back on Earth forever.
Sitting at the controls of the Ouroboros, he could sense the other-worldly energies build as the Earth was encircled by particles pushed to the speed of light, warped by science, shaped by chalked sigils, eager to unleash their power.
Ira was eager as well. Eager to reap everything the ancient ritual—performed at this impossible remove—promised. Muttering in supplication, fingers trembling, he pushed the button to bring the beams together, to smash matter into matter, to tap cosmic forces both ancient and new.
Three hundred and sixty-five flashes of intense light greeted him as his satellites vaporised, a ring of fire racing away from him at the speed of light. And, when Ira reopened his disbelieving, dazzled eyes, the Earth had winked out of existence.
About the Author:
Liam Hogan is an award winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 & 2019, and Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details at his website.