Tag Archives: Relativity

Voyage: A Macroscopic View

Today’s post is the final part of a collaborative miniseries on time dilation and relativity. Click here if you missed the introduction!

Steve disembarked on Earth 100 years after takeoff. Thanks to the effects of near-lightspeed travel, it’d only been a week for Steve.

Humanity had prospered. Lifespans had doubled, and new genetic engineering techniques eliminated the need for medicine.

During his postflight health checkup, a doctor asked Steve about his sore throat.

“It’s just a touch of strep throat I picked up last week,” said Steve. “I didn’t realize I was sick until a couple days ago.”

Puzzled, the doctor asked, “What’s ‘strep throat’?”

Only a few months later, humanity was destroyed by the ancient bacteria that returned from the stars.


Now we get to the end of the story! Yesterday’s protagonists, Harvey and Darby, are streptolococcus bacteria, the critters responsible for Streptococcal pharyngitis, more commonly called strep throat. Strep throat’s not very deadly, thanks to antibiotics like penicillin. But in this story, in growing beyond the need for antibiotics and perhaps even immunity, humanity’s left itself exposed to the return of an old foe who finds them much more vulnerable than before.

Fry's first glimpse of New New York City
What kind of guy chooses to go to the future? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we discussed immunity yesterday, I’d like to touch on time dilation again, this time from Steve’s perspective. I wonder, how did Steve get picked for this mission anyway? Reader misskzebra offered some insightful thoughts on the problem of leaving it all behind to go into an unknown future. What kind of person would volunteer to do this? Someone with no meaningful relationships? But if you already hate the time you live in, who’s to say you won’t just bring your problems with you into the future?

Interestingly, we’ve got a historical parallel available. Back before the days of mass transit and telephones, exploration by sea was a risky proposition. I’m thinking of the European explorers who gambled on the hope that land existed beyond the horizon’s end. And while colonialism has a sordid history, I have to admire the pluck and resolve of the families who left behind the comfort and safety of civilization for a life of isolation on a foreign shore. They left behind parents and children and spouses with no guarantee they’d see them again. I could fly to England before the day’s over today, but for those colonists, America might as well have been Mars.

It’s worth noting that like Steve, the European colonists also brought their germs with them, to devastating effect.

Nonetheless, I’m glad such adventurous people exist. They push the boundaries so that the rest of us can learn from their discoveries. But wherever you go, be it Alpha Centauri or Idaho, bring some penicillin with you. Let’s not start another epidemic when we reach the wilderness.

Voyage: A Microscopic View

Today’s post is part of a collaborative miniseries on time dilation and relativity. Click here if you missed the introduction!

On the day of departure, Darby wished his clones goodbye and set sail through the stars. He didn’t miss them much, since he filled the vessel with new ones within a few days. This voyage would be great.

Several million generations later, Harvey stepped off the vessel and greeted the locals. They were a pleasant sort, but they obsessed over their reproduction problem. They just couldn’t create viable conditions on their own.

“Oh, that’s easy, you just find something carbon-based and latch on.”

Only a few months later, humanity was destroyed by the ancient bacteria that returned from the stars.


Time Dilation
Enjoy your space-cruise, Darby! (Photo credit: -RobW-)

Awesome story, Jason! And thanks for letting me share it here at Medical Microfiction!

Jason’s story takes the perspective of some bacteria that embark on a space voyage with an astronaut. While the time aboard the ship is short of an astronaut, for the bacteria, many generations go by before they reach Earth again. This would be enough time for the shipbound bacteria to mutate slightly so that their likes had never been seen on Earth.

In the meantime, Darby’s distant descendants have been hard at work evolving planetside over the course of a hundred years.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. I speculate that the bacteria on Earth has had to adapt quickly in order to keep pace with new immunities in the human population. Perhaps new vaccines were developed. Perhaps hygiene has slowed down transmission. Perhaps effective drugs were able to destroy latent infections in the bloodstream. Regardless, the Earthbound bacteria are now fundamentally different from Harvey.

What they need is an old-fashioned (although somewhat modified) plan of attack.

The humans of the future may have new weapons, yes, but it’s possible that they’ve lost immunity to old, extinct strains, and would be unprepared for a variant like Harvey.

Roman aqueduct near Tunis. Zaghouan
Roman aqueduct near Tunis. Zaghouan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ancient, deadly bacteria aside, I think it’s kind of cool when we rediscover an ancient technique or invention that’s better than what we use now. This morning, I woke to this awesome article on how the formula for Roman concrete’s been rediscovered, and it licks our puny modern concrete soundly.

Can you think of any other examples of ancient technology that’s yet to be topped to this day?

Introduction to Voyage: A Collaboration

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...
Remember: time is relative! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week ago, while listening to 19 Action News, Jason and I got to discussing time dilation. Time dilation relates to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; I’ve linked a video explaining it for anyone interested in the technical details.

To put it simply for the non-scientists out there, time dilation is the idea that the experience of the passage of time is subjective; two people may experience the passage of more or less time relative to the same event due to the nature of spacetime. In science fiction, it usually happens because of speed-of-light travel. An astronaut boards a spaceship, travels for a week at the speed of light, and when she gets back to Earth, it’s now 100 years in the future.* The astronaut’s only a week older, but because of the effects of time travel, she’s missed 100 years on her commute.

If the effects of time dilation are big for a human, imagine what it must be like for bacteria! Bacteria have brief lives. Generations come and go before we celebrate another birthday. So Jason and I got to talking about what it would be like for the bacteria that went into space with our hypothetical astronaut. We thought, “Hey! Would’t it be interesting to write two drabbles: one about the bacteria, and the other about the astronaut?”

And so a collaboration was born.

This weekend, look forward to both stories back-to-back, along with some additional fun facts about bacteria, disease vectors, and immunity.

And for those of you boarding a space ship today, you’ve got 100 years of archives to look forward to. Just leave the bacteria on your ship, please.

If given the chance to travel at the speed of light, would you take it? Would the privilege and wonder of seeing the future offset the loss of everything you know and love in the present?

*Numbers not necessarily accurate; no math was attempted in the production of this post.