4 Kids Walk Into a Bank: Childhood is short, brutal and hilarious
5 Possibly Controversial Star Wars Opinions

Ban Fiction: 'The Empire Cashes Back' by Mazin Saleem

Economies Of Scale

“I shan’t thank you for coming to see me. Your report stated, bragged even, that you’d chosen to use the proper channels rather than - what exactly? I didn’t know any improper channels still existed. No don’t look worried, I’d been meaning anyway to have this chat.

“You’ve questioned our spending over - forget the last quarter - the last four decades. Implied, a question of priorities. You’ve stated, with I detect some polite horror, that the first station cost 10 trillion, or ‘thereabouts’. A lot hangs on that word. The real figure was closer to 100.

“40% of GGP in fact. A bargain, for a project that took a generation, parents seeing their children go to work on the same site as them. Even with automation, automatons need to be reproduced: engineers, work-entities, fore-entities, ad-entities. PR! The marvels of intellectual labour needed to coerce an entire system - with its own legacy of struggle out of the mud up to civilisation - to convince them that their grand purpose was to make the lining on the 3 billion square units of the station’s vents and pipes. Those fruit stone worlds, left pitted and dismally floating. Culture, science, all of life’s toil: to make toilet flushes, for us!

“A fitting memorial to that space-station felled due to - as received wisdom has it - a design flaw was that we made another, for twice the price. ‘Memorial’ here isn’t irony. Even two thirds finished the second one cost twice as much. Laid bare like a half-built home, white goods and white soldiers exposed. And inside its power regulator, the regulation flaw… A moon meant to destroy a planet, yet it was never to be. And the forest moon below our moon melting in fallout as an afterthought.

“If you’re thinking this would’ve put an end to the escalation, well, warmongers don’t need war. Escalation without end will suffice. But war without end: also fine. And we got one, just like before.

“The base, costing a trillion trillion, demanded so much better than generational poverty: whole poverty dynasties, at work to reform an entire planet and its crystal centre. Officially, the cannon at the equator took its fuel from the local sun, but you say you suspect it took more. To be capable of destroying a solar system, the planet must’ve had a mycelium root of drains in hyperspace sapping the basal gravity well roots of multiple suns, dimming systems’ climates, marshaling their ice ages, sending glaciers marching in their pitiless and slow motion herds! How grand. And yet your suspicion like most did not go far enough. The base took its power from a whole parallel dimension, a universe of death just like our own, with its Sun Crushers and Darksabers and Galaxy Guns to herald our Starkiller. (Would that we could travel there to savour and worship.) The base ripened on the vine at the cost of that dimension’s diminution, making perspective there flatter, colours detone, sound turn tinny or take on a muffler, a universal deafening and blinding in a gradual white-out whose last eternal seconds are nothing but white noise and the sinks and drifts of remembered characters made from retinal driftwood. The weapon worked perfectly. It blew up. This is what we call in the Academy a pattern.

“A certain amount of - how shall I say - 'panicked cynicism', I would’ve thought a prerequisite to any advancement in the ranks - but maybe you didn’t read the Commission’s findings into what happened a couple of years ago. Maybe you actually bought the story about thermal oscillators and recrudescing weakness.

“But why does supremacy always have to have a weakness? Not as the moralising chink in a demigod’s immortality that’s found in the tall tales of our more primitive systems. Nor as ridiculous, seditious sabotage. It is we who write into each story a flaw, each womp-rat weak-spot is according to our design. Am I getting through to you, my young Moff?

“You look green. Please - help yourself to a Porg. Who would’ve thought the galaxy’s most adorable animals would turn out to be so tasty! No, that one’s off. Dead. How long have these been out?! - The best are at the bottom. Yes, go ahead and bite in - they taste best when still flapping about. So sweet!

“What was making you sick, the loss of the base, of the weapons before, the loss of blood and treasure? Then let me show you this nifty hologram.

“Behold the Galactic Gutter, size of a supermassive blackhole - because it’s built around one: a geodesic cage of paradoxical stresses and tensions, the panopticon that stares into the deepest and most baleful nothing. See how it rotates its axis of nuclei jets lancing out from the top and bottom into a sheer that when fully operational will slice a galaxy in two.

“Slaving to make it have been entire races evolved to their slavery, as blind as pit banthas. Their lot in life, genocide in slow motion - from a certain point of view. That’s just one of my little jokes - from a certain point of view! Building it for so long that none even know who started it, the builders as innocent as cells in the child who grows up to be a killer. Financed through meta exchanges of entire economies across spatial and temporal markets; galaxies’ debt traded as the small change of a deeper currency.

“Now let’s boom this thing kid, and go bust. For when the Gutter’s done with, we can advance the construction of an already in-the-making galaxy-sized battle station, capable of destroying the universe, whose fuel is the breaking of all things, all things across all spans, where all stars’ lifetimes are sleepy winks, and all wars the static-fizzing of grass on a hill in the wind.

“You cry, 'Oh when will it end!' But profit to be made is profit that will be made! You have meddled with the balance of the force, Mister Moff. How can you ever hope for a Grand ranking with such an attitude?

“Take a breath. Your insignia contains pop-out lozenges. The red one’s for digestion.

“Feeling better? Good. Because there’s going to be another three. And another three. And another. The wars will keep going, when we walk the last planck of matter, when war is between the last fleck of quantum foam and heat death - and beyond, because heat death is not at the end of time, it is the end of time and not the doom of time but when time runs out for time. Into the heat afterlife, for the wars will keep going, even when exchange is a nanokelvin of profit against a balance of absolute zero.

“The myth endures that this system of ours continues to gain, that it is a perpetual profit machine. But all profits are a higher loss. The cost is to be always feeding the nothing. A unification of life, time, entropy, into a single drive, for life needs disorder, all ordering needs some disordering, everything is tending towards the vanishing point: every star is a death. We shall call this station the Death Cosmos, because that is what we are! It has no waste product, the waste is the product. Dung stars that rise again out of the mire to make and remake the wars, another war, another weapon, another flaw, another catastrophe, catastrophes without apostrophe, wars then weapons then flaws then booms then busts, the steady state of the universe not ∞ but 0.000000…"

“Why are you yelling zero? And what are you wearing!?”

“Get out of my room! How long have you been standing there?”

“Enough to see you in the mirror. You are such an intense loser.”

“You don’t understand. No one does. It’s over.”

“For you maybe.”

“Please stop filming me.”

“It’s one thing to boycott the new one, but this.”

“Please stop filming.”

“It’s no longer for you, that’s what! ...but I love the cowl and the hood.”

“Please! Stop!


Mazin Saleem writes at TabulitOpen PenLitro MagazineThe LiterateurBig OtherLittle Atoms, and here. If you'd like more recipes for Porg, ask him on Twitter at @maybemazin.

Art by Sarah Anne Langton.