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The Emergence of a Post-Fact World
The transmitters use an innovative direct conversion modulator that achieves high modulation accuracy with exceptionally low noise. The face was a tattooed mask, under a scalp shaven in elaborate whorls. The fal'Cie themselves are notable loophole abusers: Obviously these are pricey. I use them in a GV and I don't think you can find a better headset. And then the tentacles came down, those grabber arms they use, with the machine leaning over the hole it had made. I had heard that Bose service support was not on par with others,say, Lightspeed.

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If technological and economical development were to slow down substantially for some reason, then we would have to take a closer look at the crunch scenarios.

Determining which scenarios are shrieks is made more difficult by the inclusion of the notion of desirability in the definition. However, there are some scenarios that would count as shrieks under most reasonable interpretations. Suppose uploads come before human-level artificial intelligence. An upload is a mind that has been transferred from a biological brain to a computer that emulates the computational processes that took place in the original biological neural network.

Uploading a mind will make it much easier to enhance its intelligence, by running it faster, adding additional computational resources, or streamlining its architecture. One could imagine that enhancing an upload beyond a certain point will result in a positive feedback loop, where the enhanced upload is able to figure out ways of making itself even smarter; and the smarter successor version is in turn even better at designing an improved version of itself, and so on.

If this runaway process is sudden, it could result in one upload reaching superhuman levels of intelligence while everybody else remains at a roughly human level. Such enormous intellectual superiority may well give it correspondingly great power. It could rapidly invent new technologies or perfect nanotechnological designs, for example. If the transcending upload is bent on preventing others from getting the opportunity to upload, it might do so.

Such a world may well be a realization of only a tiny part of what would have been possible and desirable. This end is a shriek. Again, there is the possibility that a badly programmed superintelligence takes over and implements the faulty goals it has erroneously been given. Similarly, one can imagine that an intolerant world government, based perhaps on mistaken religious or ethical convictions, is formed, is stable, and decides to realize only a very small part of all the good things a posthuman world could contain.

Such a world government could conceivably be formed by a small group of people if they were in control of the first superintelligence and could select its goals. If the superintelligence arises suddenly and becomes powerful enough to take over the world, the posthuman world may reflect only the idiosyncratic values of the owners or designers of this superintelligence. Depending on what those values are, this scenario would count as a shriek. These shriek scenarios appear to have substantial probability and thus should be taken seriously in our strategic planning.

One could argue that one value that makes up a large portion of what we would consider desirable in a posthuman world is that it contains as many as possible of those persons who are currently alive. After all, many of us want very much not to die at least not yet and to have the chance of becoming posthumans. If we accept this, then any scenario in which the transition to the posthuman world is delayed for long enough that almost all current humans are dead before it happens assuming they have not been successfully preserved via cryonics arrangements would be a shriek.

If things go well, we may one day run up against fundamental physical limits. Even though the universe appears to be infinite, the portion of the universe that we could potentially colonize is given our admittedly very limited current understanding of the situation finite , and we will therefore eventually exhaust all available resources or the resources will spontaneously decay through the gradual decrease of negentropy and the associated decay of matter into radiation.

But here we are talking astronomical time-scales. An ending of this sort may indeed be the best we can hope for, so it would be misleading to count it as an existential risk. It does not qualify as a whimper because humanity could on this scenario have realized a good part of its potential. Selection would favor those replicators that spend all their resources on sending out further colonization probes. Although the time it would take for a whimper of this kind to play itself out may be relatively long, it could still have important policy implications because near-term choices may determine whether we will go down a track that inevitably leads to this outcome.

Once the evolutionary process is set in motion or a cosmic colonization race begun, it could prove difficult or impossible to halt it. It may well be that the only feasible way of avoiding a whimper is to prevent these chains of events from ever starting to unwind. If things go well, however, and we develop into an intergalactic civilization, we may one day in the distant future encounter aliens.

If they were hostile and if for some unknown reason they had significantly better technology than we will have by then, they may begin the process of conquering us. Alternatively, if they trigger a phase transition of the vacuum through their high-energy physics experiments see the Bangs section we may one day face the consequences. Because the spatial extent of our civilization at that stage would likely be very large, the conquest or destruction would take relatively long to complete, making this scenario a whimper rather than a bang.

The first of these whimper scenarios should be a weighty concern when formulating long-term strategy. As Larry Niven pointed out, any space drive that obeys the law of conservation of energy is a weapon of efficiency proportional to its efficiency as a propulsion system. Today's boringly old-hat chemical rockets, even in the absence of nuclear warheads, are formidably destructive weapons: Slowing down doesn't help much: War, or other resource conflicts, within a polity capable of rapid interplanetary or even slow interstellar flight, is a horrible prospect.

I take issue with one of Anders' assumptions , which is that a multi-planet civilization is largely immune to the local risks. I've rabbited on about this in previous years: I don't rule out the possibility of building robust self-sufficient off-world habitats. So our future-GF need not be a solar-system-wide disaster: For example, if the resource extraction and energy demands of establishing self-sufficient off-world habitats exceed some critical threshold that topples Earth's biosphere into a runaway Greenhouse effect or pancakes some low-level but essential chunk of the biosphere a The Death of Grass scenario that might explain the silence.

What is the cheapest, most cost-effective way to do this? Both the IO9 think-piece and Anders' response get somewhat speculative, so I'm going to be speculative as well. I'm going to take as axiomatic the impossibility of FTL travel and the difficulty of transplanting sapient species to other worlds the latter because terraforming is a lot harder than many SF fans seem to believe, and us squishy meatsacks simply aren't constructed with interplanetary travel in mind.

I'm also going to tap-dance around the question of a singularity, or hostile AI. But suppose we can make self-replicating robots that can build a variety of sub-assemblies from a canned library of schematics, building them out of asteroidal debris?

It's a tall order with a lot of path dependencies along the way, but suppose we can do that, and among the assemblies they can build are photovoltaic cells, lasers, photodetectors, mirrors, structural trusses, and their own brains. What we have is a Von Neumann probe — a self-replicating spacecraft that can migrate slowly between star systems, repair bits of itself that break, and where resources permit, clone itself.

Call this the mobile stage of the life-cycle. Now, when it arrives in a suitable star system, have it go into a different life-cycle stage: Here it starts to spawn copies of itself, and they go to work building a Matrioshka Brain. However, contra the usual purpose of a Matrioshka Brain which is to turn an entire star system's mass into computronium plus energy supply, the better to think with the purpose of this Matrioshka Brain is rather less brainy: Then, once it detects a promising candidate — within a couple of hundred light years, oxygen atmosphere, signs of complex molecules, begins shouting at radio wavelengths then falls suspiciously quiet — it says "hello" with a Nicoll-Dyson Beam.

A Dyson sphere or Matrioshka Brain collects most or all of the radiated energy of a star using photovoltaic collectors on the free-flying elements of the Dyson swarm. Assuming they're equipped with lasers for direct line-of-sight communication with one another isn't much of a reach. Building bigger lasers, able to re-radiate all the usable power they're taking in, isn't much more of one. A Nicoll-Dyson beam is what you get when the entire emitted energy of a star is used to pump a myriad of high powered lasers, all pointing in the same direction.

You could use it to boost a light sail with a large payload up to a very significant fraction of light-speed in a short time We have plenty of griefers who like destroying things , even things they've never seen and can't see the point of. These are indeed scenarios of concern. But I find it hard to see how, by themselves, they could add up to a big future filter. Sometimes that will fail, but once it succeeds enough then competing griefers have little chance to stop them.

On simple war, I find it hard to see how war has a substantial chance of killing everyone unless the minimum viable civilization size is large.

And I agree that this min size gets bigger for humans in space, who are more fragile there. But it should get smaller for smart robots in space, or on Earth, especially if production becomes more local via nano-factories. The chance that the last big bomb used in a war happens to kill off the last viable group of survivors seems to me relatively small.

Of course none of these chances are low enough to justify complacency. We should explore such scenarios, and work to prevent them. But we should work even harder to find more worrisome scenarios. So let me explain my nightmare scenario: Consider the classic post-apocalyptic scenario, such as described in The Road.

Desperate starving people ignore the need to save and build for the future, and grab any food they can find, including each other. First all the non-human food is gone, then all the people. These are differential equations giving the rates at which counts of predators and prey grow or decline as a function of each other. The standard formulation has a key term whereby prey count falls in proportional to the product of the predator count and the prey count.

This formulation embodies an important feature of diminishing returns: Without enough such diminishing returns, any excess of predators quickly leads to the extinction of prey, followed quickly by the extinction of predators. For example, when starving humans are given easy access to granaries, such granaries are emptied quickly. Not made low; emptied. Which is why granaries in famines are usually either well-protected, or empty.

In nature, there are usually many kinds of predators, and even more kinds of prey. So the real predator-prey dynamic is high-dimensional. The pairwise relations between most predators and preys do in fact usually involve strongly diminishing returns, both because predators must usually search for prey, and because some prey hiding places are much better than others.

If the relation between any one pair of predator and prey types happens to have no diminishing returns, then that particular type of prey will go extinct whenever there is a big enough excess of that particular type of predator. Since this selects against such prey, the prey we see in nature almost all have diminishing returns for all their practical predators. Humans are general predators, able to eat a great many kinds of prey. And within human societies humans are also relatively general kinds of prey, since we mostly all use the same kinds of resources.

So when humans prey on humans, the human prey can more easily go extinct. For foragers, a key limit on human predation was simple distance. Foragers lived far apart, and were unpredictably located. Also, foragers had little physical property to grab, wives were not treated as property, and land was too plentiful to be worth grabbing.

These limits mattered less for farmers, who did predate often via war. The usual source of diminishing returns in farmer war predation has been the wide range of protection in places to hide; humans have often run to the mountains, jungle, or sea to escape human predators. Even so, humans and proto-humans have quite often driven one another to local relative extinction. While the extinction of some kinds of humans relative to others has been common, the extinction of all humans in an area has been much less common.

This is in part because, when there has been a local excess of humans, most have focused on non-human prey. Such prey are diverse, and most have strongly diminishing returns to human predation. Even if humans expand into the solar system, and even if they create robot descendants, we expect our descendants to remain relatively general predators, at least for a long while.

We also expect the physical resources that they collect to constitute relatively general prey, useful to a wide range of our descendants. Thus the future predator-prey dynamic should become lower dimensional than it has been in the past.

Which raises the key question: That is, when some of our descendants hunt down others to grab resources, how fast does that task get harder as fewer prey remain? One source of diminishing returns in predation is a diversity of approaches and interfaces.

The more different are the methods that prey use to create and store value, the smaller the fraction of that value a predator can obtain via a simple hostile takeover. This increases the ratio of how hard prey and prey fight. As many have noted, in nature prey fight for their lives, while predators fight only for a meal. Even so, nature still has plenty of predation. Even if predators gain only part of the value contained in prey, they still predate if that costs them even less than this value.

As I said above, the main source of diminishing returns in predation among foragers was travel cost, and among farmers it was the diversity of physical places to run and hide.

Such effects might still protect our descendants from predator-prey-dynamic extinction, even if they have only one kind of predator and prey. Alas, we have good reasons to fear that these factors may less protect our descendants. The basic problem here is our improving techs for travel, communication, and surveillance. We are steadily able to move bits and people more cheaply, and to more cheaply and accurately watch spaces for activity.

Yes moving out into the solar system would put more distance between things, and make them harder to see. But that one-time effect will be quickly overwhelmed by improving tech. A colonized solar system is plausibly a place where predators can see most any civilized activities of any substantial magnitude, and get to them easily if not quickly.

So if we ever reach a point where predators fight to grab civilized resources with little concern to save some for the future, they might be able to find and grab pretty much everything in the solar system. Much as easy-access granaries are quickly emptied in a famine.

Whether extinction results from such a scenario depends how small are minimum viable civilization seeds, how obscure and well protected are the nooks and crannies in which they might hide, and how many of them exist and try to hide.

Yes, hidden viable seeds drifting at near light-speed to other stars could prevent extinction, but such a prey-collapse scenario could play out well before such seeds are feasible.

Yes there are about a hundred billion comets way out there circling the sun, but even that seems a small enough number for predators to careful map and track all of them. Nick Beckstead has argued against refuges saying:. The most likely ways in which improved refuges could help humanity recover from a global catastrophe are scenarios in which well-stocked refuges with appropriately trained people help civilization to recover after a catastrophe that leaves a substantial portion of humanity alive but disrupts industrial and agricultural infrastructure, and scenarios in which only people in constantly-staffed refuges survive a pandemic purposely engineered to cause human extinction.

I would guess that, in the former case, resources and people stocked in refuges would play a relatively small role in helping humanity to recover because they would represent a small share of relevant people and resources.

The latter case strikes me as relatively far-fetched and I would guess it would be very challenging to do much better than the largely uncontacted peoples in terms of ensuring the survival of the species. In contrast, I fear that a predatory-collapse scenario is the most likely future great filter, where unequal survival key to preventing extinction.

When enemies mass on the border, one might have to turn farmers into soldiers to resist them, even if it is harvest time. Dinosaurs were pretty darn successful. They managed to be the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for million years, while us hairless apes have only been around for 0. So why didn't dinosaurs evolve intelligence and create a galactic empire at the end of the Mesozoic Era? Well, they procrastinated just a wee bit too long on creating their space program.

Approximately 66 million years ago the Cretaceous—Paleogene extinction event happened, aka the "Dinosaur Killer Asteroid". Freaking asteroid was 12 kilometers in diameter, blazing along at about 20 kilometers per second had about 5.

The blast was approximately the equivalent of a teraton nuclear bomb. You couldn't do more damage with three thousand tons of pure antimatter. But this meant it was Megatsunami time. Scientist calculate that the waves were about five freaking kilometers tall. Small islands "small" as in "Madagascar-sized" would have been totally submerged. There was a global firestorm, partially ignited by the thermal pulse of the impact, and partially from incendiary fragments from the blast launched into sub-orbital trajectories to all points on the world.

The higher proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere back then just made things worse. Scientists examining the prehistoric layer of soot laid down concluded that almost the entire terrestrial biosphere had gone up in flames. There is also some evidence that the impact was not straight down, with the primary destruction focused at a single impact point. Evidence suggests it was a glancing impact, meaning it was an impact line , creating a flaming path of destruction across the face of North America.

The asteroid also picked a particularly devastating spot to strike: The incinerated limestone released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Some of it led to rapid ocean acidification, spelling doom to ammonites. The rest went into the atmosphere. Note that the Chesapeake Bay impacter of 35 million years ago did not hit a limestone shelf, and apparently did not cause an extinction event.

Between the firestorm and the limestone continental bake-off the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere took a drastic upturn, which started a savage greenhouse effect. There was also about twelve years of acid rain, but that was just a flea bite compared to the rest of the catastrope. Most of the animals that managed to survived were the ones that ate worms, flies, and carrion, due to the fact that was pretty much the only thing around to eat.

This is because the debris cloud choked off the sunlight for about ten years, which wiped out most of the plants, which caused the herbivores to starve, which caused the carnivores to starve. The only abundant food source was the mountains of rotting animals fat cooked ones and skinny raw ones and the maggots who could not believe their own luck.

In addition there was mold and fungus everywhere. Cockroaches and the ancestors of rats survived, of course. Everybody knows how hard they are to kill. Don't sneer at those rats, they were your ancestors too. These events are sometimes measured in a unit called a Foe , from the phrase "ten to the power of f ifty- o ne e rgs".

One Foe is equal to 10 44 joules. An average supernova emist one Foe. Back in the 's all the science fiction novels which needed an earth-shattering kaboom would use a Nova.

Star goes boom, incinerates the entire solar system, pretty apocalyptic. Astronomers didn't know anything about novae except they were huge, so science fiction author had free reign. Nowadays we know that novae happen only in binary star systems. A normal star has the misfortune to be orbited by a white dwarf.

Over the millennium the dwarf sucks hydrogen out of the normal star like a cosmic vampire. The dwarf starts burning the hydrogen using carbon-nitrogen-oxygen fusion reaction. The fact that a white dwarf is required made instantly obsolete all those science fiction stories about the sun going nova. With each explosion only about one ten-thousandth of the white dwarf's mass is ejected.

The point is that a vampire white dwarf can go nova multiple times. For instance, the star RS Ophiuchi has gone nova six times. The mass is ejected at velocities up to several thousand kilometers per second. A nova can reach an absolute magnitude of Nova emit about 10 -7 Foe or about 10 37 joules. Novae to eject enriched elements into the interstellar medium like red giant, supergiant stars, and supernovae do.

But only a paltry amount. Dwarf Nova are also called U Geminorum-type variable star. Their increase in luminosity is not due to a fusion explosion. Rather it is a vampire white dwarf star whose accretion disk becomes unstable. Part of the disk suddenly collapse onto the white dwarf and releases large amounts of gravitational potential energy.

This only releases a tiny fraction of the energy of a full fledged nova, and would be difficult to detect from another solar system without a telescope. It is hardly apocalyptic. Kilonova are caused when two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole merge.

Kilonovae not only emit intense bursts of light, but also lots of gravitational waves. Kilonovae emit about 10 -5 Foe 10 39 joules to 10 -3 Foe 10 41 joules. Luminous Red Nova are caused when two stars collide probably a binary star whose components spiral into each other. The only reference I could find said that luminous red novae had luminosities between that of a nova and that of a supernova.

Which means it emits about 0. Your guess is as good as mine. Novae are impressive but Supernovae are the real deal. Blasted cataclysm will briefly outshine the entire galaxy. In a few months a supernova will emit as much energy as Sol will over its entire lifetime.

Type I or type II supernovae emit about 1 Foe about 10 44 joules. While novae happen multiple times to a star, a given star can only go supernova once. There isn't much left except for a little neutron star or black hole, it is not going to explode again. The most energetic supernovae are called hypernovae. Supernovae are potentially strong galactic sources of gravitational waves. The expanding gas causes shock waves in the interstellar medium, creating a supernova remnant.

Supernova remnants are considered the major source of galactic cosmic rays. There are two ways a star can go supernova: There are four classifications of supernovae, the first one is caused by thermal runaway and the other three by core collapse.

Thermal runaway is the same mechanism that causes novae: The difference is that with a supernova the runaway reaction is not so much like popping a birthday balloon so much as it is like detonating a thermonuclear warhead. Thermal Runaway supernova emit about 1 to 1. Gravity makes everything fall down, with "down" being defined as the center of gravity of all the objects. So a nebula contracts as gravity tries to squeeze into a tiny ball. Soon the nebula contracts into what they call a protostar.

But at some point the temperature at the center of the protostar becomes high enough to ignite a fusion reaction. A star is born. The fusion reaction emits lots of electromagnetic radiation, i. The radiation pressure of the light brings the star's gravitational collapse to a halt. The star's body can no longer fall down, it is "propped up" by radiation pressure.

Core collapse is when one of several mechanisms kicks out the prop. The star then abruptly collapses. This means that instead of a small steady stream of the star's hydrogen is slowly being burnt in the core, suddenly all of the hydrogen is burnt in a fraction of a second. The supernova explosion obliterates the star, leaving only a small neutron star or black hole. Millions of years from now alien astronomers in an adjacent galaxy notice that our galaxy has suddenly doubled in brightness.

The mechanisms that can cause core collapse are electron capture ; exceeding the Chandrasekhar limit ; pair-instability ; or photodisintegration. Which mechanism does the dirty deed more or less depends upon the star's mass. Details can be found in the Wikipedia article. Supernovae are very important for the formation of planets. When the universe was formed it was composed of hydrogen with a sprinkling of helium.

The only reason that elements like carbon, oxygen, iron, and uranium exist at all is because these elements were forged in supernovae explosions and spread into the galaxy at velocities of 0. These elements later condensed into molecular clouds, which formed stars and solar systems. Specifically a Von Neumann universal constructor, aka Self-replicating machine. These are machines that can create duplicates of themselves given access to raw materials, much like biological organisms.

Whatever sabotage they are programmed to do against the defenders is magnified by the fact that they breed like cockroaches. In Greg Bear's novel The Forge of God and the sequel Anvil of Stars , an alien species systematically destroys planets detected as possessing intelligent life by attacking the planets with self-replicating machines.

Nanotechnology and it's extension nanorobotics is the concept of molecule sized machine. The idea is attributed to Richard Feynman and it was popularized by K.

It didn't take long before military researchers and science fiction writers started to speculate about weaponizing the stuff. A good science fiction novel on the subject is Wil McCarthy's Bloom. There are many ways nanotechnology could do awful things to a military target. One of the first hypothetical applications of nanotechnology was in the manufacturing field. Molecular robots would break down chunks of various raw materials and assemble something like, say, an aircraft , atom by atom.

Naturally this could be dangerous if the nanobots landed on something besides raw materials like, say, an enemy aircraft.

However, since they are doing this atom by atom, it would take thousands of years for some nanobots to construct something and the same thousands of years to deconstruct the source of raw materials.

But using nanobots for manufacturing suddenly becomes scary indeed if you make the little monsters into self-replicating machines AKA a "Von Neumann universal constructor" in an attempt to reduce the thousands of years to something more reasonable. Suddenly you are facing the horror of wildfire plague spreading with the power of exponential growth. This could happen by accident, with a mutation in the nanobots causing them to devour everything in sight.

Drexler called this the dreaded "gray goo" scenario. Or it could happen on purpose, weaponizing the nanobots. Drexler is now of the opinion that nanobots for manufacturing can be done without risking gray goo.

What about nanobot gray goo weapons? Anthony Jackson thinks that free nanotech that operates on a time frame that's tactically relevant is in the realm of cinema, not science. Rick Robinson is of the opinion that once you take into account the slow rate of gray goo production and the fragility of the nanobots, it would be more cost effective to just smash the target with an inert projectile. Jason Patten agrees that nanobots will be slow, due to the fact that they will not be very heat tolerant a robot made out of only a few molecules will be shaken into bits by mild amounts of heat , and dissipating the heat energy of tearing down and rebuilding on the atomic level will be quite difficult if the heat is generated too fast.

Other weaponized applications of nanotechnology will probably be antipersonnel, not antispacecraft. They will probably take the form of incredibly deadly chemical weapons, or artificial diseases.

Paste is safe, but is slow acting and limited to the number of nano-assemblers present. Goo is dangerous, but is fast acting and potentially unlimited in numbers. ACE Paste A tmospheric C arbon E xtractor designed to absorb excess greenhouse gasses and covert them into diamonds or something useful. Garden Paste is a "utility fog" of various nanobots which helps your garden grow manages soil density and composition for each plant type, controls insects, creates shade, store sunlight for overcast days, etc.

Medic Paste is a paste of nanobots that heals wounds, assists in diagnosis, and does medical telemetry to monitor the patient's health. It is hoped that, in such cases, the deployment of an existing sub-black level or black-level existential counterthreat may ideally destroy or subsume the excessionary-level threat, replacing it with one already considered manageable, or in lesser cases, at least delay the excessionary-level threat while more sophisticated countermeasures can be developed.

The software is The Blight, a malevolent super-intelligent artificial entity. Before it is defeated, it takes over several entire races rewriting their minds to turn them all into agents of the Blight and murders several post-singularity trancendent entities. In Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes, a rogue artificial intelligence called One True can contact a person on a cellphone, then use rapidly changing audio signals to reprogram the person's brain, turning them into a brainwashed zombie.

It then tries to take over the entire world. Fortunately, very, very rare, and generally outnumbered by everyone else. Fortunately, at this point, the perversion broke down before it could carry on with the rest of the galaxy.

With the voice and under the authority of the Galactic Volumetric Registry of the Conclave of Galactic Polities, this buoy issues the following warning:. This moon contains the remnant of a Class Three Perversion, including autonomous defensive technologies and other operational mechanisms, nanoviruses, infectious memes, certainty-level persuasive communicators, puppet ecologies, archives which must be presumed to contain resurrection seeds, and unknown other existential risks.

These dangers have not been disarmed, suppressed, or fully contained. Memetic and information warfare systems are not known to be entirely inactive. A renascence of a perversion of this class poses a most serious and imminent threat to all local space and extranet-local systems. Further, the englobement systems surrounding this volume are equipped for containment of remaining unidentified threats and the prevention of access. Any vessel approaching within , miles of the englobement grid, or attempting to communicate through the englobement grid, or attempting to actively scan through the englobement grid, will be fired upon without further warning.

Your presence has already been reported to higher authority, and escaping after transgressing the englobement grid will therefore not preserve you. Naval vessels should note that this area has been deemed a black-level existential threat zone by the Presidium of the Conclave. This englobement grid does not respond to standard Accord command or diagnostic sequences. Interaction should not be attempted without explicit authorization and clearance from the Commission on Latent Threats.

They include not just large and active perversions such as the Leviathan Consciousness, but also areas formerly occupied by such and not yet known to be cleansed, such as the Charnel Cluster, and areas as small as a single moon or asteroid known to be the site of a failed experiment It was at this stage that the proto-perversion began to expand its services to the networks of other polities in the Drifts.

It may have been at this point that the daemon learned of the artificial nature of certain barriers to its expansion and the possibility of its bypassing them, an act which would fulfil its Sigereth drives. Among the artificial barriers known to the daemon were the security protections common to the neural implants being used by a large proportion of the population of the Combine and neighboring polities which prevented implant software from implementing reorganizations of the biosapient brain.

Bypassing these, the daemon began to optimize the agents, talents, and personality routines of this population for processing efficiency, beginning with the lowest-level functional routines. While there was some indication at this time of spreading alarm as large groups began to, for example, have identical and perfectly synchronized heartbeats and other organic functions; walk in identical to within the limits of gait analysis, allowing for morphological differences and synchronized manners, et.

Regardless, this period lasted only for a matter of days, if that, before the daemon discovered how to cross-correlate and optimize personality elements for single execution, and the members of the affected population ceased to be recognizable as sophont in any conventional sense. Further, in this stage, the daemon became aware, through this process, of verbal communication and came to consider it as a type of networking: It is the regrettable conclusion of the Board that at this present time we possess no effective countermeasure to the Siofra Perversion, nor are we able to countenance more than the most limited experimentation with Siofra elements at this time.

All signal traffic whether by stargate or non-stargate routes into and out of the affected volume must likewise be suspended immediately, enforced by physical disconnection of network or other communications hardware. The entire region of the Ancal Drifts and Koiric Expanse constellations must henceforth be considered a black-level existential threat zone. As a secondary measure, contracts have been issued for the creation of network security patches effective versus current and anticipated Siofra-type attacks, although we do not consider this more than a backup measure of limited utility and such should not be relied upon in ill-considered attempts to probe the containment zone.

A time-based analysis to compare risk levels of countermeasure attempts versus outbreak probabilities is presently underway. How bad have AI blights similar to this one [ Friendship is Optimal ] gotten before the Eldrae or others like them could, well, sterilize them? Are we talking entire planets subsumed? The biggest of them is the Leviathan Consciousness, which chewed its way through nearly systems before it was stopped.

And since thought is computation…. Everywhere Bulk As received at: Given the high levels of uninformed critical response to our advisory concerning handling potential refugees arriving sublight from regions within the existential threat zone of the Siofra Perversion, or Leviathan Consciousness as it is becoming popularly known, the Board now provides the following explication. Currently, the best available method for doing this is based on the minimum-size thesis: This method, therefore, calls for the insertion of a diagnostician equipped with the best available fail-deadly protections and a single-bit isolated communications channel i.

The primary difficulty here is that each investigation requires not only a fully-trained forensic eschatologist, but one who is both:. Observe that a failure at any point in this process results in first you, and then your entire local civilization, having its brains eaten. We are not monsters; we welcome any genuine innovation in this field which would permit the rescue of any unfortunate sophonts caught up in scenarios such as this.

Scope Focused Destruction A small localized area undergoes a species-level or higher apocalypse. The rest of the world at large is totally unaffected, maybe not even knowing of the events happening in the affected area.

Continental an entire continent or landmass "Oceania", "The Americas", "Eurasia", etc. Planetary an entire planet, or the vast majority of one. Stellar a solar system, every planet orbiting a star, the star itself, or the star plus everything in its orbit. Galactic a galaxy, most or all of its stars, up to all mass associated with it. Universal the entire universe, all or most galaxies within it, or all major galaxy filaments or equivalent highest-level structures.

Multiversal multiple universes, or whatever that exists outside of the setting's native universe includes whichever flavour of Another Dimension is on offer.

Omniversal all universes or all possible universes, everything that exists, or reality itself; up to some abstract ontological limit if the setting includes explicit metaphysical stipulations. Severity Societal Disruption Civilization survives intact, but is forever altered.

This may be due to the sheer amount of damage caused lowering the standard of living, or it may be a result of people being forced to adapt to the new threat s they face. Societal Collapse Humanity backslides within the affected area, regressing to pre-industrial level at best and pre-agricultural at worst. Civilization may recover on its own, but not for centuries at the least. Species Extinction A dominant or major species is either wiped out completely or reduced to such a low population level that its recovery is virtually impossible barring intervention by an outside force.

Total Extinction Life itself ends. No living organism of any kind exists within the affected area. Physical Annihilation The affected area physically ceases to exist as it did before, but remnants of it can still be found; it's nuked into glass, sunk into the ocean, or blasted into asteroids. Metaphysical Annihilation The affected area ceases to exist totally, without remainder, or perhaps even to have ever existed; this usually involves erasing it from time. The three of them sat around the table, in zero gravity, on three of four sides, their legs tucked under the frames of purposefully designed stools: They had nothing in here with them save the clothes they wore, not so much as a flask of water.

I mean, both the amulet and the string. Unfamiliar molecular forms, apparently. But nothing but silicon and oxygen. And no data content. It was what came through it that counted. I mean, it was meant for us! That creature you destroyed, Nicola, mentioned us by name. He picked it up. He looked around and shrugged. Then she sat back, grinning, waiting for —. Poole felt as baffled as when he had first heard his own name spoken over the link from the mercury-droplet.

The amulet drifted in a stray air current, lifting slowly towards his face. He reached up and laid his hand over it, pressing it gently to his chest. Poole, startled, jolted in his seat. It was a fourth voice. He glanced at his companions. Nicola leaned forward, intent, with every appearance, as usual, of enjoying the latest twist hugely.

Harry, though, had shrunk back from the table and was drifting, almost comically, up into the air, his mouth wide, his eyes set, staring. And he was staring at the occupant of the fourth side of the table: A man who stared back at the three of them, looking as shocked as they were.

He raised a hand, laid it on the table — and the palm of his hand broke up in a scatter of fine pixels. He snatched his hand back, and laughed. You, this-sh place, hh-what sh-tar, hh-what sh-system? Hh-how many hh-yearsh this-sh time? He spoke on, bombarding them with barely understood questions. Poole could think of no response, and not, at first, it seemed, could Harry or even Nicola.

But Marsden, observing from Gallia, spoke softly in their ears. The pronunciation has drifted, and he has an odd habit of talking in lists. Who what, where, you, the cabin, the location. We should have a translation routine running in a couple of minutes. Hear him, if not sense him some other ways.

His interfacing protocols break down when he tried to touch the table or the walls, just as our own Virtuals would. Though we see no evidence of a generating technology. Poole would not have imagined anything could distract him enough to make him look away from their Virtual visitant, but that remark did. Now Harry, evidently calming, let himself drift back to the table. As he settled he touched the surface gingerly, as if he feared it, or he, had suddenly been transmuted to a Virtual too.

He is like you — he is you, the hairline, the eyes. The cleft in your chin. And now the Virtual turned to Poole and stared, open-mouthed. Did I hear that right? The visitor pushed his way out of his chair, and drifted upward; he did not seem fazed. Who do you think? I am Michael Poole — or a Poole. And which are you? Poole was increasingly confused. Nicola laughed, and poked Poole in the arm, hard enough to hurt.

But who are you? And what has the amulet got to do with you? It is a common enough symbol. Dates all the way back to the liberation of the Earth from the Qax. This amulet was given to us by a — a being, that came through a wormhole. Our wormhole, a prototype that was to connect Jupiter to Earth. Humanity encountered it during the Second Expansion. Or was it the Third?

The legend is that on first contact a Ghost gave its life to save a stranded human being. This was a star-spanning species of awesome power. After two thousand years, we hunted down the last of them for their hides. Tell me first — where are we? His cave of yours has no windows.

Nicola cut him off. This is the Solar System. The system of Earth. His eyes widened again. That is not as unusual a question as it might sound. I am used to be woken by my creators after long intervals. Poole and Nicola shard a glance. At the centre of the Galaxy, on a world dedicated to the billions of dead of the Exultant Wars, there is a statue of you, Michael Poole. I have seen that statue for myself. And I have visited the tetrahedral cathedrals of the Wignerian faith of which you are a prophet.

I am an emulation. Wignerian priests, of a sect called the Ecclesia, who inhabited — will inhabit — an abandoned military base in the Core of the Galaxy, tried to reconstruct you, or at least a copy. Using records, documentation, scholarship — pious wishful thinking — and I am the result. Nicola snapped her fingers. A bunch of Christian fanatics tried the same trick, in the year three thousand and thirty-three — three millennia after Jesus was crucified.

The Virtual laughed with her. It took me centuries to escape from the clutches of my makers. Not to be reproduced without consent. My late brother-in-law Walter Jenkins was nothing if not an inveterate chronicler of his own life and moods. This was partly his vocation, as a commentator on philosophical, political, scientific and other matters, and partly as a result of impulses deriving from his deepest nature, which was one of introspection.

After the War, he headed to London and to other centres to pursue his studies on the Martian affair, to meet with anatomists and astronomers and other experts on all things interplanetary, to discuss with other learned fools such doomed projects as a Commonweal of Mankind, an earth unified after the shock of exposure to the Martians, and what a pipe-dream that proved to be - and eventually, six years on!

In short, once he was done neglecting wife and home to go chasing after Martians across the English countryside - and after the heart-warming happy-ever-after scene of reunion with which he closed the Narrative — he all but immediately began once more chasing after the Martians in spirit, so to speak.

And it was left to Carolyne to clear up the mess. As everybody knows the damage done to Woking and its suburbs and surrounds was dreadful, so close was it to Horsell Common where the first cylinder fell, but Carolyne was lucky; the house itself had been relatively spared. Lucky too that she had not lost it all, as so many did — and that she did not need to make a claim against her insurance companies, the default of which industry in the aftermath of the Martian catastrophe being one of the more shameful social responses I thought too of that oddly moving day when the Tomb of the Vanished Warrior had been unveiled in Westminster Abbey, disrupted though the ceremony had been.

The Heat-Ray, you see, will obliterate a person without leaving a trace, and that is hard for the bereaved to absorb. So, the Vanished Warrior, an empty coffin buried with full honours, and each of us who had lost loved ones could believe that somehow a trace of our own was remembered there, forever. An oddly imaginative and empathetic gesture for a government, you might think — and so it was!

Perhaps Walter was right; perhaps the Martians would come to England following a not dissimilar impulse — and their capacity for empathy would be all the worse for us And there, still visible in the ruins of Westminster, was the tangled remains of a wrecked fighting-machine.

The Martians had known Parliament was a place of importance to us, if not its specific purpose. So they had come, one, two, three machines, to lay waste. But a party of sappers had set a trap — a lode of explosives stashed, they claimed, in the basement under the old House of Lords that Fawkes had once used to plot the destruction of Parliament.

Two of the fighting-machines had limped away, barely; the third had been so damaged that even the Martian salvagers could not remove it all, and the Martian who rode under its cowled hood smashed and splashed to the winds.

A triumph it might have been but I let them talk, and I built up a picture of the new Britain in my mind — and I felt oddly ashamed, for I began to realise the extent to which, relatively safe in Paris, I had neglected the fate of my home country. It had, of course, been transformed.

I imagined it as seen from above, by a high-flying bird — or by an observer through a powerful Martian telescope. The Amersham Redoubt, as their central pit had come to be called, must have looked like a livid wound, with a sprawling tangle of destruction around it. The Cordon, where the dummy cylinders had fallen, was a wider ring of smashed-up lunar landscape centred on the Redoubt, and enclosing a circle of English ground, green and laced with the crimson of Martian vegetation — the strange zone into which I was being taken, one step at a time.

To the south-east you had the great sprawl of London, a war zone, itself hugely damaged — like a coral reef stamped on and smashed by some tremendous boot General Marvin, for all his faults, had nine years to prepare us for this sort of life, a nation like an army camp. Churchill — and you hear more from him nowadays than you do Lloyd George — puts it in uplifting terms.

Just as the Martians have clearly unified their entire world and dedicated it to a single goal, of racial survival, so must we Britons emulate the best of their methods while avoiding their darkness of soul. Does a Martian have a soul to darken at all?

Did you know that the American electrical inventor Tesla claimed to have received wireless signals from Mars, at the turn of the century? Hoping to bypass the invasion fleet, you see, and demonstrate to the Martians at home that we are beings with minds of our own.

And yet their response was the Heat-Ray. As Walter pointed out to me, we do know the Martians send signals between the worlds, in the creation of their huge sigils.

This time it was different. A Martian got into the tunnel itself. It came down through the roof. Everybody screamed and scattered, one way or another. And then the tentacles came down, those grabber arms they use, with the machine leaning over the hole it had made. My friend was at the back of the group and he ran for his life; only a handful made it back Maybe we should leave the Jovians alone, until we need to encounter them again — in the jungles of Venus.

The Martian technology is continuing to give up its secrets. Whether we can cross between worlds any time soon, there are grand schemes afoot, to throw bridges across the Bering Strait — even the Atlantic — to dam the Mediterranean, to make our deserts bloom.

The Martian biology offers great potential too, you know. The medical people and the materials industries are falling on the red weed and its derivatives. What might one do with such fast-growing, endlessly pliable organisms?

Throw a handful of seeds in the desert and watch a city grow like a forest And I have already spoken of the pouring of memories from one head into another. What is that but an avoidance of death? Or at least one could grow a perfect, even an enhanced copy But, having hinted at such chilling possibilities, he dismissed the talk with a gesture. That was characteristic of the man But I know that is not so.

There can only be few of them, as individuals, and they must be loyal to each other, as a race. Perhaps there are so few that they know each other, all of them on Mars.

But this family affair is paid for with the blood and toil of a subject people — I mean, the humanoids in their cylinders. The Martians cannot have begun as leathery vampires! It must have been as it was in another fiction, the novel by that fellow, the magazine writer, who is always speculating irresponsibly on the future.

What is his name? The Year Million man. He showed a future where social division drove evolution on the earth — where two classes ultimately became two species of mankind. Perhaps it was like that on Mars. There was a donor class, who gave — or sold! And again that class division drove a ghastly sort of natural selection, which resulted in — well, what was delivered to us in the Horsell cylinder. We found the bodies of those wretched, drained humanoids.

But even the Martians remain an incomplete form, unfinished themselves, with this terrible flaw, the ghastly business of the blood And yet, and yet!

The magnificence of the vision! How the hell can a star be artificial? Lobsang consulted a handheld tablet. What you have there, Joshua, is a helium star.

Which is how the interstellar medium gets enriched with that stuff, as old stars die. In the far future, as generations of stars pass and process the matter of the universe over and over again, there will be new elements — stable nuclei but very massive, with masses of neutrons and protons clinging together. Elements whose properties we can only guess at. There will be new kinds of chemistry, maybe entirely new forms of life, based on those elements.

I believe that burning planet is a processing factory, producing a mass of exotic heavy elements. Maybe whoever built that helium star was thinking on very long time scales, Joshua. But by now, Joshua was no longer listening.

Standing a little way back from the monoliths, he had a wider view of the landscape than the others. He shielded his eyes to see better. No, Joshua realised, that lenticular object around the sun was no cloud. Hanging in the sky, dominating the eastern horizon, it was too big, too symmetrical to be any kind of cloud system. A big ellipse, he thought. Or maybe some kind of disc, tipped up from his viewpoint.

Joshua frowned, cursing his rheumy eyes as he squinted into the sky. There was shading on the surface of that tilted disc, he could swear. Concentric bands around the sun at the centre: And the surface was textured, not perfectly flat. Wrinkles, like mountain ranges on the moon. Wrinkles that cast a shadow, from that central sun. Joshua hobbled over to him, grabbed his shoulders, physically manoeuvred him out of the shadow of the monoliths, and made him face the eastern horizon.

The rising sun was dazzling now, but the air was clear, and the reality of the object in the sky was obvious. It may oscillate around the sun so both sides are illuminated, in turn.

There must be some kind of artificial gravity, to keep everything stuck to the disc. Look, you can see different climatic zones depending on the radial distance from the sun.

Desert-like zones towards the centre, more temperate, perhaps Earth-like climates further out. Joshua shook his head. We encounter a superhuman artefact, but it is as engineers of the past have imagined. Sketching with pencil and paper, scribbling down numbers.

Still they were able to antiuciupate this. Why bother, when you have perfectly sensible planets like this one hanging around? And it looks kind of — fragile — to me. Is it dynamically stable? Must need a lot of maintenance. I presume the disc would have two habitable sides? If a supernova threatened above, you could simply move below, and let the shield structure protect you.

A population equivalent to many planets could be sheltered with simple safety procedures. Indra stared up at the sky, and she smiled, and to Joshua it was as if a second sun had risen. To go exploring on it. You have whole worlds kind of mashed up together. You could walk interplanetary distances, walk from one planetary type to another, from Venus to Earth to Mars.

It would depend if it were spinning or not. I imagine the gravity field would be complex. Alternatively there could be defence systems to shoot you down. Rogue asteroids must be a threat. People forget they are even living on a disc. Agnes, sitting with her sewing basket, suppressed a sigh, and steeled herself not to intervene. Shi-mi will appreciate it. You like mushroom soup. Then he ran out into the stockaded yard, banging the screen door behind him.

Lobsang stood and stared after him, arms folded. Then he turned to Agnes. My relationship with Ben is evidently malfunctioning. Might even have one of my naps. Just to make the point. But that was the plan. Of course the New Springfielders had already achieved a lot, and one reason Lobsang and Agnes had chosen to come here was because of their evident basic competence. They knew about hygiene, for instance. Their plumbing was good enough, they washed their hands regularly — they even made their own soap, from animal fat and potash from their charcoal burners.

They had worked out some folk remedies in addition to the supplies they acquired from the Low Earths, such as quinine from wild cinchona, and willow bark for pain relief. And they had figured out how to make the best of local resources, notably the trees, the basic stock of this forest of a world, and the way you used different types of wood for different purposes: They maintained a pottery kiln, and a forge, although they had inherited the latter from the rather more industrious first pioneers.

They had started making their own clothes as the stock they had brought from the Datum slowly wore out. They even made foul-smelling candles from the fat of the pigs that had gone wild in the forest.

They did cheat, as Agnes had slowly learned. You saw few old folk, few very sick. One of the community, Bella Sarbrook, had some medical training, basic equipment such as a stethoscope and thermometer and blood pressure tester, and was studying midwifery and dentistry and other essential skills — for Bella it was a way to make a living after the death of her husband. But when people got old, or seriously ill, or in one case when a couple had borne a disabled child, they tended to drift off back to the more sophisticated facilities of the Low Earths.

Conversely the homegrown medicines and toiletries and stuff were supplemented by a trickle of produce from the Low Earths or Valhalla, either fetched back after visits there or supplied by itinerant vendors. As long as the Low Earth communities existed, why not use them? Lobsang meanwhile was running experiments in farming. Working to a careful schedule he was rotating peas and beans to put nutrients back in the soil, and enriching the ground with the dung from the animals that he fed from the root crops and beets he planted.

Now Lobsang was hard at work setting up a water-driven millstone down at Soulsby Creek. The first wheat harvest, small as it was, had drawn curious volunteers, to reap with handheld sickles, to thresh and winnow. Agnes sometimes wondered if the Long Earth was getting more peaceful, overall. Yellowstone had uprooted billions of people from their homes, and had had effects that had rippled out across the stepwise worlds, psychological as well as physical.

She suspected that nobody felt safe any more. Maybe you ought to welcome the refugee into your home, then, because next time it could be you needing shelter. Lobsang, sweeping the floor, sighed. And then Ben came bustling through the door after her. Shi-mi went straight over to the spilled litter.

She scuffed at it with her paw, then looked up mournfully at Ben. Lobsang quietly went to the cupboard, and brought back a broom and a dustpan and brush. For a few minutes Lobsang and Ben, father and son, worked together sweeping up. Agnes sat and did her sewing, pretending not to watch. And the cat sat and licked her paws.

The fiction they still maintained in front of Ben was that the cat was just a cat, there was never even a suggestion that she could talk. But until then they wanted Ben to have as normal a life as possible. So the cat obeyed the house rule, and stuck at being a cat.

But she glanced over at Agnes, who raised her thumb, out of sight of Lobsang and Ben. The cat actually winked. Well, you do a good job of sorting out her litter for her. And she loves you just as much as we do. Now listen, Ben — you got angry before.

I know you like school. If you were angry it was your fault; if you were annoyed, it was the fault of whoever did the annoying. We talked about that. But if their artificial nature was becoming apparent, in spite of all their efforts at concealment.

But it did mean that they were a lot older than the other parents who gathered at the Irwin home to collect their kids from school every day. Look at the Bells.

Does Jimmy Bamber laugh at them too? Who does she belong to? So why is she yours, then? You fix her litter. So who looks after you? Ben wriggled away from Lobsang and ran after her.

He glanced at Agnes. Lobsang had gone so far as to build himself a study. They were happy here, Agnes decided.

Life, as ever, was far from perfect. Sometimes all Agnes could see were the problems. But she had the wider perspective to see that overall, as best she could judge, these people were getting it more right than wrong. Figuring out a new way of living, based on the long experience of mankind, and their own sturdy common sense.

If this was why Sally Linsay had brought them here, it was a good choice. The only problem was that Agnes was still having trouble sleeping. Capitol Square, Madison West 5, was like a movie set, Maggie had thought, not without pride. Here she was with her crew make that crews at her side, drawn up in parade order before the steps of the Capitol building, under a clear blue Low-Earth January sky.

On the stage a few guests waited for the President himself, as he made his latest public appearance at his new capital. When she was fifteen she was already notorious for having been the only western student to travel with the Chinese on that mission to Earth East Twenty Million. Still only twenty, or less. We carry a freight of symbolism.

The overt purpose of it is to go further stepwise than any ship before us, even those Chinese ships before Yellowstone. Maggie tipped up her head to see, and shielded her eyes. Precisely at noon, three airships had appeared above their heads.

Cernan, were whales in the sky. And between the Navy ships, stepping in at precisely the same moment in a neat bit of synchronisation, was a smaller ship but just as sturdy-looking, its hull painted white and blue with a proud presidential seal emblazoned on its flanks and tail fins. Now, with a hum of powerful engines, a soft downwash of air and some neat navigation, Navy One descended towards the Capitol building, and a hatch in the base of the gondola opened up to allow a staircase to extend smoothly to the stage.

With secret service agents front and back, the unmistakeable form of Brian Cowley came down the ramp. The band struck up Hail to the Chief, there were good-natured cheers from the gawking crowd out beyond the perimeter, and Cowley worked his way along the line of the dignitaries with handshakes.

He was an overweight man in a crumpled suit. At last Cowley stepped up to the microphone, and grinned at the gathering before him. Cowley had always had the easy, graceful command of a natural orator — well, his whole career had been predicated on that one skill — and as his gaze swept over her, Maggie felt herself swell with pride, just a little.

Asshole the man may once have been, and may still be, but he was the President, the office was always greater than any one man - and since Yellowstone Cowley had demonstrated that there had been far worse incumbents before him. Now Cowley looked up at the new vessels, hovering above the Capitol. The product of American technical ingenuity, and the generosity of our own people and our partners from overseas. But what of the second? I bet you looked it up before you came out here today.

Beyond the Low Earths, the only major milestone anybody in the US Navy was aware of was the Gap, at around West two million, where a hole in the Long Earth string of worlds, a missing Earth, allowed easy access to space in at least one universe, and a nascent space exploration and exploitation industry had grown up as a result.

Maggie was looking forward to seeing this, in fact. Surely there were human colonies beyond the Gap. Explorers at least, or combers, the barefooted take-each-day-as-it-comes wanderers who increasingly suffused the Long Earth, throwing off the shackles of complex civilisation and living off the low-hanging fruit, of which there was always plenty, if not in this world then in the next.

If they were out there nobody in an official capacity knew about it, and Maggie had a brief to keep a weather eye out for such distant wanderers. But her ultimate goal was to travel far beyond the Gap — if the twains worked to their design capacity. They will map, they will log, they will study, and they will plant the flag.

And they go to extend America as far as the footprint of this great nation can be said to exist. We got so many warm bodies on board. Think of the ship as a huge processor, air and water and food in end, sewage out the other. Whereas the numbers for the Cernan match perfectly. Maggie rubbed her face, trying to focus.

By which I mean, human. Not to mention a whole bunch of marines, who the Navy classes as a separate species. But I do try to account for all that. We have Ensign Snowy, for example, wired up to monitor his unusual metabolism. He takes that in good part. Now Cowley was growing more reflective. We all know that; only the very youngest among us cannot remember the time of plenty before Yellowstone, which we compare to the deprivation of the present. Well, recover we will, as the might and resources of the new worlds of the Long Earth come to the aid of the old.

America is more than that. I know there are some who say that Yellowstone was an instrument of God — a punishment for the sins of our nation, like the Flood that once cleansed a sinful Earth. But I say this: God may have sent the Flood, but He also gave Noah the Ark, a means for humanity to survive, a second chance that Noah and his children gratefully grasped. Yellowstone expresses the ineffable wrath of God.

At around Earth West ,, the oxygenation of the air returned, and a few million worlds further on, they came to a belt of worlds with complex life of bizarre forms, and even more bizarre biochemistry according to Gerry Hemingway, even though the geology of these worlds could be quite different from the Datum.

They moved on, logging one strange world after the next, many of them hosting complex biospheres adapted to exotic conditions: But it is also a time of coming together, of a rebuilding of strength. A time that will be remembered as long as humanity survives. I say to you young people gathered before me: Go out into the new worlds God has given us. Go out there, and found a new America! Even the military crew, supposedly still at attention, broke out into cheers and hat-hurling now. Lemmy stirred slowly, feeling around for his jumpsuit in the dark of the barrack.

Yuri always thought it was amazing the kid slept at all, what with his scurvy, as the Martians called it, the stuffy head and the nausea and the disorientation, the result of a profound non-adaptation to the low gravity, and that was despite him having spent half his nineteen years up here.

He lay in his narrow bunk every night, listening to the snoring of the men around him in the barrack and the shuffling of the bed-hoppers, like it was some border-control prison back in Manchester. And behind all that there were the uncomfortable sounds of Mars itself, the unending wheeze of the pumps and fans, the popping of the dome shell as the temperature swung through its day and night extremes, and the occasional distant artillery-shell crump that might be a meteorite, or something worse.

Sleep, for Yuri, was a luxury on Mars. But Lemmy slept like a baby. Once dressed, the two of them padded barefoot through the barrack. A few inmates were awake, Yuri could tell; eyes gleamed in the dark, predatory or fearful.

But nobody bothered them. Yuri still had enough of his Earthborn strength to be able to swing a fist effectively. Which was one reason why Lemmy, smart but small and sickly, hung around with him. Once out of the barrack they hurried through corridors, heading for the dome wall. All was quiet, save for a couple of squat maintenance robots working their dull way across the scuffed plastic floor.

But over their heads the bland surface of the main dome stretched, shutting out the sky. They passed a row of VR booths, all occupied. Always somebody trying to escape from Mars, and prepared to spend their hard-earned scrip to do it, whatever the time of day or night.

But the handover from late night to early morning is always a slack time. With a shambling run Lemmy led Yuri around the curve of the wall, which was plastered with UN posters in Spanish, English, French, Russian, even some in Chinese, exhorting you to eat, sleep, exercise, to obey the Peacekeepers and accept whatever verdict the Community Council handed down to you, and to throw yourself into your WorkTherapy. All the posters had been systematically marred by graffiti.

Keep your voice down. Of course they would be seen, their identities observed, every movement recorded; it was just a question of whether they could get to where they wanted to be before they were stopped. They stopped at a stretch of wall covered by a new poster, taller than Yuri was, plastered against the sloping face. It showed an astronaut in a snazzy black and silver pressure suit, smiling out at you while pointing to a cluster of stars in the night sky: Somebody had scratched a UN-dollar sign into his forehead.

Lemmy briskly ripped this off the wall, to reveal another poster reassuring you that gen-enged Martian wheat from the province of Cadiz was wholesome to eat despite the rumours, and under that — A hatchway. A metal door with rivets, rounded corners. But they never seal anything up.

Beyond the hatch fluorescents blinked reluctantly to life. They hurried down a short corridor, towards another hatch. The air smelled musty. The second hatch was stiffer, but Lemmy got them through. Now they entered a small compartment, which had windows to the outside showing streaky Martian dawn light, and the domes and blocks of Eden, this UN township.

Yuri went straight to a window and pressed his hands against it. Every atom in his body longed to be out there on the Martian ground, frozen, ultraviolet-blasted desert though it might be.

Mostly he never even got to look through a window. He turned and inspected the chamber. There was nothing in here but four holes in the wall with some kind of plastic diaphragm over them about as wide as his waist, and shelves with a clutter of elderly gear on it: How do we get outside? Then he got hold of a hand rail over one of those holes in the wall, lifted himself up with a grunt, and slid his legs feet-first through the hole.

The diaphragm, flaps of flexible plastic, swallowed his lower body. He looked back at Yuri. One size fits all. Yuri had no choice but to trust him.

He went to another hole in the wall, kicked away his own shoes, grabbed the bar, jumped up and swung. The plastic flaps slid around him easily, and he felt his legs being guided into tubes of fabric. With a faint misgiving he let go of the bar, wrapped his arms around his torso, and let himself fall through the hole — and found himself standing up, inside some kind of pressure suit, outside, on the Martian surface.

His head had ended up in a bubble visor. His legs had slid easily into the lower part of the suit, the leggings and boots, but his arms were still clasped around his chest. He heard the suit come alive now he was inside it, the high-pitched hum of fans, and the material squirmed around his legs and feet, evidently adjusting to fit. The helmet, and the whole back of the suit, was fixed to the wall behind him, as if glued.

But he was outside. Through the visor he saw a panorama of dusty buildings and equipment. Beside him, Lemmy stood inside another suit, similarly pinned at the back to the wall. Lemmy was working his arms inside dangling sleeves, and a neck light inside his helmet showed his face. Yuri found the arms of his own suit, and pushed his hands down the sleeves and into gloves. The suit chafed in places, and he could see the outer layer was grubby and worn.

Lemmy sneezed spectacularly, spraying the inside of his dome helmet. Designed to keep humans and their mucky bodies sealed off completely from Mars. From back in the day when they cared about such things. Look, you just have to pull away from the wall. Everything got dust-covered on Mars. He just pulled himself forward, there was a smacking sound like a noisy kiss, and there he was, free of the wall, standing independently on Mars.

He tried a step or two. At his feet, there was dust heaped everywhere, the relic of many storm seasons; this area was evidently unused. When he kicked, the dust fell like crimson snow, in the gathering red-brown light of a Martian dawn.

Lemmy coughed again; his breath was a wheezy rattle. You could see its history in the jumble of buildings around the dirt-track streets. The cylindrical bulks like Nissan huts were the remains of the first ships to land, tipped over and heaped with dirt and turned into shelters. Then had come domes like the one Yuri had been assigned to, built of panels or inflatable habs prefabricated on Earth and shipped out here, and covered over with dirt as a shield from meteorites and solar radiation.

The whole place had the feel of a prison to Yuri, or a labour camp. And all this was just a pinprick, a hold-out; the scuttlebutt was that a colony like this would be dwarfed by the giant cities the Chinese were building on the rest of the planet, like their capital, Obelisk, in Terra Cimmeria.

Just to be out was a relief, to be able to walk more than fifty metres or so and not be stopped by a wall. But he longed to rip off this enclosing suit, he longed to run, off into the lapping desert. They came to a kind of parking lot where ground vehicles were gathered around big pressurised maintenance workshops. The vehicles ranged from little one-person dust buggies, to huge diggers intended for the work of extending Barsoom-type canals to the south pole ice cap, and drilling rigs with ground anchors to hold themselves down against the low gravity while they extracted water from deep aquifers.

All these great engines were coated with the clinging dust of Mars, all reduced to the same washed-out reddish-brown, their paintwork obscured. The area was quiet, nobody around; Lemmy had been right about this window of small-hours stillness. With six big bubble wheels and a boat-like lower hull, the rover was dust-covered like the rest, but Yuri saw from scuffs and smears that a big heavy airlock door at the rear had been opened recently.

And stupid enough to do what we tell it. Lemmy was good at this kind of stuff, knew his way around. Which was one reason why Yuri hung around with him - the other being, Yuri sometimes admitted to himself, a need to protect somebody even weaker than himself, here on Mars. Like Lemmy with his rat Krafft, so it was with Yuri and Lemmy. As the cabin pressurised they opened up their suits. The cabin was a two-seater, with two sets of controls, two wheels. A hatch at the back evidently led to the rear pressurised bay.

Lemmy deferred to Yuri and let him take the left-hand seat. Settling in the right seat, Lemmy punched a few panels and murmured a few commands, while his pet rat crawled around his neck and inside his jacket. Of course alarms will be ringing in the domes. Soon they were rolling away from the vehicle lot. Panels lit up with red flags, and a ponderous automated voice in what sounded to Yuri like a Bostonian accent instructed them to turn back, but Lemmy shut it all down.

There was even some kind of manual override on the transmission if you needed it. Even the language had stabilised, more or less, if not the accents; English was spoken across several worlds now and had to stay comprehensible, and there was a huge mass of recorded culture, all of which tended to keep the language static.

The vehicles and vocabularies of the year were easy. Lemmy performed another miracle. He produced a plastic flask full of a clear liquid from inside his pressure suit. Yuri grabbed it, unscrewed the cap using his teeth, and swigged. He knew what it had to be: He knew where he was, more or less, in an area called Atlantis in the southern hemisphere.

So he took his alignment from the sun, which was rising now, a small, pale, distorted disc whose light turned the sky a kind of diarrhoea brown, washing out the last of the starlight. He got up some speed, and a plume of dust rose up behind them, ancient Martian dust that got endlessly sifted around this snow-globe of a planet, never settling, never raining out, never consolidating. Lemmy whooped in exhilaration, though it quickly broke up into a cough. They soon left the colony behind.

Then they passed through fields, most of them covered over with clear plastic, where UN scientists were experimenting with gen-enged wheat and potatoes. But some of the fields were open to the air, and here banks of lichen, green and purple, stained the rocks. Some of these lichen, native to Mars but some kind of relation to Earth life, were being gen-enged too, more experiments to find a way to farm Mars.

They were the most advanced life forms on Mars, although Yuri had learned that the ground beneath the human fields and domes was rotten with native bugs, dreaming the millennia pointlessly away. All this soon cleared away too, and then, under the dung-coloured sky, there was nothing but the trail, and the vehicle, and the two of them, and barely a sign that humans had ever come this way before.

Directly ahead Yuri made out what looked like a range of low, eroded hills, looming on the close horizon. The Chaos, whatever it was, where they were going to have some fun. Not far from the colony Lemmy pointed to a mound of stuff that they passed a little way off the track, a heap of boxes and canisters, some of them broken open already, and a fallen parachute draped over the dirt.

All of it was stamped with UN roundels, evidently a supply drop gone wrong. Eden relied on supplies dropped from orbit, because most of the rest of Mars was owned by the Chinese.

It was like the Berlin airlift, somebody had once told Yuri, as if he would remember an event that was over a century before he was even born. They went over a pothole in the track, and the rover bounced on its fat tyres with an eerie low-gravity slowness. As they hit the dirt once more Yuri thought he heard a noise in the rear compartment, like a grunt. But he listened closely, and heard no more. After that Lemmy went quiet, and when Yuri looked over he saw he had fallen asleep.

Even the rat was dozing on his shoulder. Lemmy was only nineteen, a year younger than Yuri biologically, but he looked older, sallow, the dirt accentuating the lines in his face, even when he slept. Well, his silence suited Yuri. He wanted nothing more in all this shrivelled-up cage of a world than to be left alone. He grinned, and put his foot down harder. They came upon the Chaos before he knew it.

Distances were evidently tricky here, with the near horizon, the dry but dusty air. The Chaos was a bunch of irregular mounds sticking out of the ground, big slabs like some huge piece of Martian crust had been picked up and dropped and allowed to shatter.

All of it was softened, eroded under the dusty yellow-brown sky, but he could see a few sharp edges and sheer cliffs. He drove into shadow, between two huge hill-slabs like the paws of some tremendous animal. He found himself in a kind of valley, a gully.

He could tell no water had ever run here, or not enough to carve this feature; it was just a break in the slabs. A screen on the dash pinged and lit up with some kind of map, along with more red warning lights.

Lemmy, woken by the ping, tapped a pad until the flags went away. They raced through a nest of mesas, buttes and hills, chopped through by valleys that looked as if they had been carved out by some huge laser beam. Or maybe it was more like a game, the kind of VR game he used to play back on Earth, a chase, a multi-player shooter — not the slow boring dreams of oceans and clouds that they offered you in the booths in Eden.

He whooped, ignored the pinging of the warning flags, and pushed the rover even harder, and the vehicle bounced on its tyres.

Again he thought he heard some kind of grunt come from the rear cabin, but it must be a creaking of the hull. A slope rose up out of the dust under his left wheels, like a purpose-built ramp. The hurtling rover flipped neatly up and over. Suddenly Yuri was sailing through the thin air, the shifting shadows of this canyon, upside down.

The flight seemed to take an age in the low gravity. Lemmy closed his eyes. Yuri laughed out loud. The rover hit with a slam, and slid on its roof deeper into the canyon. Yuri, strapped upside down in his seat, was enough of a Martian by now to listen for the signs of a hull breach, the whistling of a leak, the ear-popping of decompression. But the hull held. The rover rammed itself between narrowing walls, and came to a sudden, juddering halt.

Yuri and Lemmy exchanged a look. Ten years is worth it. He reached up to help Lemmy down. A distinctive scraping was coming from the hatch to the rear compartment. The sound of a handle turning, a wheel. Both of them turned and watched the hatch. Even the rat sat still. The hatch swung back, awkwardly pushed; whoever was back there was upside down too. Then a head and shoulders thrust through the hatch.

The face was a tattooed mask, under a scalp shaven in elaborate whorls. She had some kind of white dust scattered over her shoulders, and the black jacket she wore.

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