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diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/README b/data/samples/wrapped/README
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+This directory contains sisu marked up files with lines of fixed width. Which
+may be more useful for some types of use of sisu, e.g. possibly where po4a is
diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/Rakefile b/data/samples/wrapped/Rakefile
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+../../misc/Rakefile \ No newline at end of file
diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/image b/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/image
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+++ b/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/image
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+../../../image \ No newline at end of file
diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/sisu_document_make b/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/sisu_document_make
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+++ b/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/sisu_document_make
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+ :breaks: break=1
+ :home_button_text: {SiSU}http://sisudoc.org; {sources / git}http://sources.sisudoc.org/
+% :footer: {SiSU}http://sisudoc.org; {sources / git}http://sources.sisudoc.org/
+% :home_button_image: {sisu.png }http://sisudoc.org
+ {SiSU}http://sisudoc.org
+ {sources / git}http://sources.sisudoc.org/
diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/sisurc_SAMPLE.yml b/data/samples/wrapped/_sisu/sisurc_SAMPLE.yml
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+# Name: SiSU
+# Author: ralph@amissah.com
+# Description: site or directory wide environment defaults set here
+# system environment info / resource configuration file, for sisu
+# License: GPL v3 or later
+# this file should be configured and live in
+# /etc/sisu #per environment settings, overridden by:
+# ~/.sisu #per user settings, overridden by:
+# ./_sisu/config #per local directory settings
+#% presentation/web directory, main path and subdirectories (most subdirectories are created automatically based on markup directory name)
+# #url_root: 'http://www.sisudoc.org' #without dir stub, e.g. this dir would map to http://www.sisudoc.org/samples
+# #path: './tested' #either (i) / [full path from root] or (ii) ~/ [home] or (iii) ./ [pwd] or (iv) will be made from home
+# #images: 'sisu/image'
+# #man: 'man'
+# #cgi: '/usr/local/lib/sisu-cgi'
+##show_output_on: 'filesystem' #for -v and -u url information, alternatives: 'filesystem','webserver','remote_webserver','local:8111','localhost','localhost:8080','webrick','path'
+# host: localhost
+# base_path: ~
+# port: '8081'
+# user: ~
+# file_links: webserv # www.sisudoc.org
+#show_output_on: 'filesystem_url'
+#% processing directories, main path and subdirectories
+## path: '~'
+## dir: '_sisu_processing~'
+## metaverse: 'metaverse'
+## tune: 'tune'
+## latex: 'tex'
+## texinfo: 'texinfo'
+## concord_max: 400000
+#% flag - set (non-default) processing flag shortcuts -1, -2 etc. (here adding colour and verbosity as default)
+ color: true # making colour default -c is toggle, and will now toggle colour off
+# default: '-NQhewpotbxXyYv' # includes verbose; -m would in any event be run by default
+# i: '-NQhewpoty' # -m run by default
+# ii: '-NQhewpotbxXy' # -m run by default
+# iii: '-NQhewpotbxXyY' # -m run by default
+# iv: '-NQhewpotbxXYDy --update' # -m run by default
+# v: '-NQhewpotbxXYDyv --update' # includes verbose; -m run by default
+#% papersize, (LaTeX/pdf) current values A4, US_letter, book_b5, book_a5, US_legal, easily extensible
+ papersize: 'A4,letter' #'A4,letter,b5,a5'
+# #texpdf_font: 'Liberation Sans'
+# #texpdf_font_sans: 'Liberation Sans'
+# #texpdf_font_serif: 'Liberation Serif'
+# #texpdf_font_mono: 'Liberation Mono' #'Inconsolata'
+# #text_wrap: 78
+# #emphasis: 'bold' #make *{emphasis}* 'bold', 'italics' or 'underscore', default if not configured is 'bold'
+# #language: 'fr'
+# #language: 'en'
+# digest: 'sha' #sha is sha256, default is md5
+#% settings used by ssh scp
+# #user: 'ralph'
+# #host: 'sisudoc.org'
+# #path: '.' #no trailing slash eg 'sisu/www'
+#% webrick information
+#% sql database info, postgresql
+# engine:
+# default: 'postgresql'
+## share_source: true
+# postgresql:
+# port: '5432' # '5432'
+# user: 'ralph' # '[provide username]'
+# #host: 'sisudoc.org'
+#% output_dir_structure_by: language (language_and_filetype); filetype; or filename (original v1 & v2)
+##output_dir_structure_by: filename
+##output_dir_structure_by: filetype
+#output_dir_structure_by: language
+#% possible values ~, true, false, or command instruction e.g. editor: 'gvim -c :R -c :S'.
+##will only ignore if value set to false, absence or nil will not remove program as should operate without rc file
+##ie in case of ~ will ignore and use hard coded defaults within program), true, false, or command instruction e.g. editor: 'gvim -c :R -c :S'
+##on value true system defaults used, to change, e.g. editor specify
+# zap: true
+# css_modify: true
+# remote_base_site: true
+# rmagick: true
+# wc: true
+# editor: true
+# postgresql: true
+# sqlite: true
+# tidy: true
+# rexml: true
+# pdflatex: true
+# editor: 'vim' #'gvim -c :R'
+# pdf_viewer: 'evince'
+# web_browser: 'iceweasel'
+# console_web_browser: 'links2'
+# epub_viewer: 'ebook-viewer' #'calibre' 'fbreader'
+# odf_viewer: 'lowriter'
+# xml_viewer: 'xml-viewer'
+# sisu:
+# flag: true
+# action: http://search.sisudoc.org
+# db: sisu
+# title: 'SiSU search form (sample)'
+# minitoc: true
+# minitoc: true
diff --git a/data/samples/wrapped/en/accelerando.charles_stross.sst b/data/samples/wrapped/en/accelerando.charles_stross.sst
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..28a4e8f
--- /dev/null
+++ b/data/samples/wrapped/en/accelerando.charles_stross.sst
@@ -0,0 +1,15481 @@
+% SiSU 4.0
+@title: Accelerando
+ :author: Stross, Charles
+ :published: 2005-07-05
+ :available: 2005-07-05
+ :copyright: Copyright (C) Charles Stross, 2005.
+ :license: Creative Commons License, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0: * Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor; * Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes; * No Derivative Works. You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work; * For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. (* For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. * Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/ These SiSU presentations of Accelerando are done with the kind permission of the author Charles Stross
+ :source: http://www.accelerando.org/
+ :topic_register: SiSU markup sample:book:novel;book:novel:fiction:science fiction|short stories;fiction:science fiction|artificial intelligence
+ :subject: Science Fiction
+ :oclc: 57682282
+ :isbn: 9780441012848
+ { Accelerando home }http://www.accelerando.org/
+ { @ Wikipedia }http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerando_%28novel%29
+ { @ Amazon.com}http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0441014151
+ { @ Barnes & Noble}http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0441014151
+% :headings: none; PART; none; Chapter;
+ :breaks: new=:A,:B; break=:C,1
+ :home_button_image: {accelerando_stross.png }http://www.accelerando.org/
+ :footer: {Accelerando}http://www.accelerando.org/; {Charles Stross}http://www.antipope.org/charlie/
+% book cover shot (US) book cover shot (UK)
+% http://www.accelerando.org/_static/accelerando.html
+:A~ @title @author
+1~dedication Dedication
+For Feòrag, with love
+1~acknowledgements Acknowledgements
+This book took me five years to write - a personal record - and would not exist
+without the support and encouragement of a host of friends, and several
+friendly editors. Among the many people who read and commented on the early
+drafts are: Andrew J. Wilson, Stef Pearson, Gav Inglis, Andrew Ferguson, Jack
+Deighton, Jane McKie, Hannu Rajaniemi, Martin Page, Stephen Christian, Simon
+Bisson, Paul Fraser, Dave Clements, Ken MacLeod, Damien Broderick, Damon
+Sicore, Cory Doctorow, Emmet O'Brien, Andrew Ducker, Warren Ellis, and Peter
+Hollo. (If your name isn't on this list, blame my memory - my neural prostheses
+are off-line.)
+I mentioned several friendly editors earlier: I relied on the talented
+midwifery of Gardner Dozois, who edited Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine at
+the time, and Sheila Williams, who quietly and diligently kept the wheels
+rolling. My agent Caitlin Blasdell had a hand in it too, and I'd like to thank
+my editors Ginjer Buchanan at Ace and Tim Holman at Orbit for their helpful
+comments and advice.
+Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who e-mailed me to ask when the book was
+coming, or who voted for the stories that were shortlisted for awards. You did
+a great job of keeping me focused, even during the periods when the whole
+project was too daunting to contemplate.
+1~history Publication History
+Portions of this book originally appeared in Asimov's SF Magazine as follows:
+"Lobsters" (June 2001), "Troubadour" (Oct/Nov 2001), "Tourist" (Feb 2002),
+"Halo" (June 2002), "Router" (Sept 2002), "Nightfall" (April 2003), "Curator"
+(Dec 2003), "Elector" (Oct/Nov 2004), "Survivor" (Dec 2004).
+[Accelerando was published by Ace Books on July 5, 2005] ~#
+:B~ PART 1: Slow Takeoff
+"The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the
+question of whether a submarine can swim."
+- Edsger W. Dijkstra
+1~ Chapter 1: Lobsters
+Manfred's on the road again, making strangers rich.
+It's a hot summer Tuesday, and he's standing in the plaza in front of the
+Centraal Station with his eyeballs powered up and the sunlight jangling off the
+canal, motor scooters and kamikaze cyclists whizzing past and tourists
+chattering on every side. The square smells of water and dirt and hot metal and
+the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells of trams
+ding in the background, and birds flock overhead. He glances up and grabs a
+pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he's arrived. The
+bandwidth is good here, he realizes; and it's not just the bandwidth, it's the
+whole scene. Amsterdam is making him feel wanted already, even though he's
+fresh off the train from Schiphol: He's infected with the dynamic optimism of
+another time zone, another city. If the mood holds, someone out there is going
+to become very rich indeed.
+He wonders who it's going to be.
+* * *
+Manfred sits on a stool out in the car park at the Brouwerij 't IJ, watching
+the articulated buses go by and drinking a third of a liter of lip-curlingly
+sour /{gueuze}/. His channels are jabbering away in a corner of his head-up
+display, throwing compressed infobursts of filtered press releases at him. They
+compete for his attention, bickering and rudely waving in front of the scenery.
+A couple of punks - maybe local, but more likely drifters lured to Amsterdam by
+the magnetic field of tolerance the Dutch beam across Europe like a pulsar -
+are laughing and chatting by a couple of battered mopeds in the far corner. A
+tourist boat putters by in the canal; the sails of the huge windmill overhead
+cast long, cool shadows across the road. The windmill is a machine for lifting
+water, turning wind power into dry land: trading energy for space,
+sixteenth-century style. Manfred is waiting for an invite to a party where he's
+going to meet a man he can talk to about trading energy for space,
+twenty-first-century style, and forget about his personal problems.
+He's ignoring the instant messenger boxes, enjoying some low-bandwidth,
+high-sensation time with his beer and the pigeons, when a woman walks up to
+him, and says his name: "Manfred Macx?"
+He glances up. The courier is an Effective Cyclist, all wind-burned
+smooth-running muscles clad in a paean to polymer technology: electric blue
+lycra and wasp yellow carbonate with a light speckling of anti collision LEDs
+and tight-packed air bags. She holds out a box for him. He pauses a moment,
+struck by the degree to which she resembles Pam, his ex-fiance.
+"I'm Macx," he says, waving the back of his left wrist under her bar-code
+reader. "Who's it from?"
+"FedEx." The voice isn't Pam's. She dumps the box in his lap, then she's back
+over the low wall and onto her bicycle with her phone already chirping,
+disappearing in a cloud of spread-spectrum emissions.
+Manfred turns the box over in his hands: it's a disposable supermarket phone,
+paid for in cash - cheap, untraceable, and efficient. It can even do conference
+calls, which makes it the tool of choice for spooks and grifters everywhere.
+The box rings. Manfred rips the cover open and pulls out the phone, mildly
+annoyed. "Yes? Who is this?"
+The voice at the other end has a heavy Russian accent, almost a parody in this
+decade of cheap on-line translation services. "Manfred. Am please to meet you.
+Wish to personalize interface, make friends, no? Have much to offer."
+"Who are you?" Manfred repeats suspiciously.
+"Am organization formerly known as KGB dot RU."
+"I think your translator's broken." He holds the phone to his ear carefully, as
+if it's made of smoke-thin aerogel, tenuous as the sanity of the being on the
+other end of the line.
+"Nyet - no, sorry. Am apologize for we not use commercial translation software.
+Interpreters are ideologically suspect, mostly have capitalist semiotics and
+pay-per-use APIs. Must implement English more better, yes?"
+Manfred drains his beer glass, sets it down, stands up, and begins to walk
+along the main road, phone glued to the side of his head. He wraps his throat
+mike around the cheap black plastic casing, pipes the input to a simple
+listener process. "Are you saying you taught yourself the language just so you
+could talk to me?"
+"Da, was easy: Spawn billion-node neural network, and download Teletubbies and
+Sesame Street at maximum speed. Pardon excuse entropy overlay of bad grammar:
+Am afraid of digital fingerprints steganographically masked into my-our
+Manfred pauses in mid stride, narrowly avoids being mown down by a GPS-guided
+roller blader. This is getting weird enough to trip his weird-out meter, and
+that takes some doing. Manfred's whole life is lived on the bleeding edge of
+strangeness, fifteen minutes into everyone else's future, and he's normally in
+complete control - but at times like this he gets a frisson of fear, a sense
+that he might just have missed the correct turn on reality's approach road.
+"Uh, I'm not sure I got that. Let me get this straight, you claim to be some
+kind of AI, working for KGB dot RU, and you're afraid of a copyright
+infringement lawsuit over your translator semiotics?"
+"Am have been badly burned by viral end-user license agreements. Have no desire
+to experiment with patent shell companies held by Chechen infoterrorists. You
+are human, you must not worry cereal company repossess your small intestine
+because digest unlicensed food with it, right? Manfred, you must help me-we. Am
+wishing to defect."
+Manfred stops dead in the street. "Oh man, you've got the wrong free enterprise
+broker here. I don't work for the government. I'm strictly private." A rogue
+advertisement sneaks through his junkbuster proxy and spams glowing fifties
+kitsch across his navigation window - which is blinking - for a moment before a
+phage process kills it and spawns a new filter. He leans against a shop front,
+massaging his forehead and eyeballing a display of antique brass doorknockers.
+"Have you tried the State Department?"
+"Why bother? State Department am enemy of Novy-SSR. State Department is not
+help us."
+This is getting just too bizarre. Manfred's never been too clear on new-old
+old-new European metapolitics: Just dodging the crumbling bureaucracy of his
+old-old American heritage gives him headaches. "Well, if you hadn't shafted
+them during the late noughties ... " Manfred taps his left heel on the
+pavement, looking round for a way out of this conversation. A camera winks at
+him from atop a streetlight; he waves, wondering idly if it's the KGB or the
+traffic police. He is waiting for directions to the party, which should arrive
+within the next half hour, and this Cold War retread Eliza-bot is bumming him
+out. "Look, I don't deal with the G-men. I /{hate}/ the military-industrial
+complex. I hate traditional politics. They're all zero-sum cannibals." A
+thought occurs to him. "If survival is what you're after, you could post your
+state vector on one of the p2p nets: Then nobody could delete you -"
+"Nyet!" The artificial intelligence sounds as alarmed as it's possible to sound
+over a VoiP link. "Am not open source! Not want lose autonomy!"
+"Then we probably have nothing to talk about." Manfred punches the hang-up
+button and throws the mobile phone out into a canal. It hits the water, and
+there's a pop of deflagrating lithium cells. "Fucking Cold War hangover
+losers," he swears under his breath, quite angry, partly at himself for losing
+his cool and partly at the harassing entity behind the anonymous phone call.
+"/{Fucking}/ capitalist spooks." Russia has been back under the thumb of the
+apparatchiks for fifteen years now, its brief flirtation with anarchocapitalism
+replaced by Brezhnevite dirigisme and Putinesque puritanism, and it's no
+surprise that the wall's crumbling - but it looks like they haven't learned
+anything from the current woes afflicting the United States. The neocommies
+still think in terms of dollars and paranoia. Manfred is so angry that he wants
+to make someone rich, just to thumb his nose at the would-be defector: /{See!
+You get ahead by giving! Get with the program! Only the generous survive!}/ But
+the KGB won't get the message. He's dealt with old-time commie weak-AIs before,
+minds raised on Marxist dialectic and Austrian School economics: They're so
+thoroughly hypnotized by the short-term victory of global capitalism that they
+can't surf the new paradigm, look to the longer term.
+Manfred walks on, hands in pockets, brooding. He wonders what he's going to
+patent next.
+* * *
+_1 Manfred has a suite at the Hotel Jan Luyken paid for by a grateful
+multinational consumer protection group, and an unlimited public transport pass
+paid for by a Scottish sambapunk band in return for services rendered. He has
+airline employee's travel rights with six flag carriers despite never having
+worked for an airline. His bush jacket has sixty-four compact supercomputing
+clusters sewn into it, four per pocket, courtesy of an invisible college that
+wants to grow up to be the next Media Lab. His dumb clothing comes made to
+measure from an e-tailor in the Philippines he's never met. Law firms handle
+his patent applications on a pro bono basis, and boy, does he patent a lot -
+although he always signs the rights over to the Free Intellect Foundation, as
+contributions to their obligation-free infrastructure project.
+_1 In IP geek circles, Manfred is legendary; he's the guy who patented the
+business practice of moving your e-business somewhere with a slack intellectual
+property regime in order to evade licensing encumbrances. He's the guy who
+patented using genetic algorithms to patent everything they can permutate from
+an initial description of a problem domain - not just a better mousetrap, but
+the set of all possible better mousetraps. Roughly a third of his inventions
+are legal, a third are illegal, and the remainder are legal but will become
+illegal as soon as the legislatosaurus wakes up, smells the coffee, and panics.
+There are patent attorneys in Reno who swear that Manfred Macx is a pseudo, a
+net alias fronting for a bunch of crazed anonymous hackers armed with the
+Genetic Algorithm That Ate Calcutta: a kind of Serdar Argic of intellectual
+property, or maybe another Bourbaki math borg. There are lawyers in San Diego
+and Redmond who swear blind that Macx is an economic saboteur bent on wrecking
+the underpinning of capitalism, and there are communists in Prague who think
+he's the bastard spawn of Bill Gates by way of the Pope.
+_1 Manfred is at the peak of his profession, which is essentially coming up
+with whacky but workable ideas and giving them to people who will make fortunes
+with them. He does this for free, gratis. In return, he has virtual immunity
+from the tyranny of cash; money is a symptom of poverty, after all, and Manfred
+never has to pay for anything.
+_1 There are drawbacks, however. Being a pronoiac meme-broker is a constant
+burn of future shock - he has to assimilate more than a megabyte of text and
+several gigs of AV content every day just to stay current. The Internal Revenue
+Service is investigating him continuously because it doesn't believe his
+lifestyle can exist without racketeering. And then there are the items that no
+money can't buy: like the respect of his parents. He hasn't spoken to them for
+three years, his father thinks he's a hippy scrounger, and his mother still
+hasn't forgiven him for dropping out of his down-market Harvard emulation
+course. (They're still locked in the boringly bourgeois twen-cen paradigm of
+college-career-kids.) His fiance and sometime dominatrix Pamela threw him over
+six months ago, for reasons he has never been quite clear on. (Ironically,
+she's a headhunter for the IRS, jetting all over the place at public expense,
+trying to persuade entrepreneurs who've gone global to pay taxes for the good
+of the Treasury Department.) To cap it all, the Southern Baptist Conventions
+have denounced him as a minion of Satan on all their websites. Which would be
+funny because, as a born-again atheist Manfred doesn't believe in Satan, if it
+wasn't for the dead kittens that someone keeps mailing him.
+* * *
+Manfred drops in at his hotel suite, unpacks his Aineko, plugs in a fresh set
+of cells to charge, and sticks most of his private keys in the safe. Then he
+heads straight for the party, which is currently happening at De Wildemann's;
+it's a twenty-minute walk, and the only real hazard is dodging the trams that
+sneak up on him behind the cover of his moving map display.
+Along the way, his glasses bring him up to date on the news. Europe has
+achieved peaceful political union for the first time ever: They're using this
+unprecedented state of affairs to harmonize the curvature of bananas. The
+Middle East is, well, it's just as bad as ever, but the war on fundamentalism
+doesn't hold much interest for Manfred. In San Diego, researchers are uploading
+lobsters into cyberspace, starting with the stomatogastric ganglion, one neuron
+at a time. They're burning GM cocoa in Belize and books in Georgia. NASA still
+can't put a man on the moon. Russia has re-elected the communist government
+with an increased majority in the Duma; meanwhile, in China, fevered rumors
+circulate about an imminent rehabilitation, the second coming of Mao, who will
+save them from the consequences of the Three Gorges disaster. In business news,
+the US Justice Department is - ironically - outraged at the Baby Bills. The
+divested Microsoft divisions have automated their legal processes and are
+spawning subsidiaries, IPOing them, and exchanging title in a bizarre parody of
+bacterial plasmid exchange, so fast that, by the time the windfall tax demands
+are served, the targets don't exist anymore, even though the same staff are
+working on the same software in the same Mumbai cubicle farms.
+Welcome to the twenty-first century.
+The permanent floating meatspace party Manfred is hooking up with is a strange
+attractor for some of the American exiles cluttering up the cities of Europe
+this decade - not trustafarians, but honest-to-God political dissidents, draft
+dodgers, and terminal outsourcing victims. It's the kind of place where weird
+connections are made and crossed lines make new short circuits into the future,
+like the street cafes of Switzerland where the pre Great War Russian exiles
+gathered. Right now it's located in the back of De Wildemann's, a
+three-hundred-year old brown cafe with a list of brews that runs to sixteen
+pages and wooden walls stained the color of stale beer. The air is thick with
+the smells of tobacco, brewer's yeast, and melatonin spray: Half the dotters
+are nursing monster jet lag hangovers, and the other half are babbling a
+Eurotrash creole at each other while they work on the hangover. "Man did you
+see that? He looks like a Democrat!" exclaims one whitebread hanger-on who's
+currently propping up the bar. Manfred slides in next to him, catches the
+bartender's eye.
+"Glass of the Berlinerweisse, please," he says.
+"You drink that stuff?" asks the hanger-on, curling a hand protectively around
+his Coke. "Man, you don't want to do that! It's full of alcohol!"
+Manfred grins at him toothily. "Ya gotta keep your yeast intake up: There are
+lots of neurotransmitter precursors in this shit, phenylalanine and glutamate."
+"But I thought that was a beer you were ordering ..."
+Manfred's away, one hand resting on the smooth brass pipe that funnels the more
+popular draught items in from the cask storage in back; one of the hipper
+floaters has planted a contact bug on it, and the vCards of all the personal
+network owners who've have visited the bar in the past three hours are queuing
+up for attention. The air is full of ultrawideband chatter, WiMAX and 'tooth
+both, as he speed-scrolls through the dizzying list of cached keys in search of
+one particular name.
+"Your drink." The barman holds out an improbable-looking goblet full of blue
+liquid with a cap of melting foam and a felching straw stuck out at some crazy
+angle. Manfred takes it and heads for the back of the split-level bar, up the
+steps to a table where some guy with greasy dreadlocks is talking to a suit
+from Paris. The hanger-on at the bar notices him for the first time, staring
+with suddenly wide eyes: He nearly spills his Coke in a mad rush for the door.
+/{Oh shit, thinks Manfred, better buy some more server time}/. He can recognize
+the signs: He's about to be slashdotted. He gestures at the table. "This one
+"Be my guest," says the guy with the dreads. Manfred slides the chair open then
+realizes that the other guy - immaculate double-breasted Suit, sober tie, crew
+cut - is a girl. She nods at him, half-smiling at his transparent double take.
+Mr. Dreadlock nods. "You're Macx? I figured it was about time we met."
+"Sure." Manfred holds out a hand, and they shake. His PDA discreetly swaps
+digital fingerprints, confirming that the hand belongs to Bob Franklin, a
+Research Triangle startup monkey with a VC track record, lately moving into
+micromachining and space technology. Franklin made his first million two
+decades ago, and now he's a specialist in extropian investment fields.
+Operating exclusively overseas these past five years, ever since the IRS got
+medieval about trying to suture the sucking chest wound of the federal budget
+deficit. Manfred has known him for nearly a decade via a closed mailing list,
+but this is the first time they've ever met face-to-face. The Suit silently
+slides a business card across the table; a little red devil brandishes a
+trident at him, flames jetting up around its feet. He takes the card, raises an
+eyebrow: "Annette Dimarcos? I'm pleased to meet you. Can't say I've ever met
+anyone from Arianespace marketing before."
+She smiles warmly; "That is all right. I have not the pleasure of meeting the
+famous venture altruist either." Her accent is noticeably Parisian, a pointed
+reminder that she's making a concession to him just by talking. Her camera
+earrings watch him curiously, encoding everything for the company memory. She's
+a genuine new European, unlike most of the American exiles cluttering up the
+"Yes, well." He nods cautiously, unsure how to deal with her. "Bob. I assume
+you're in on this ball?"
+Franklin nods; beads clatter. "Yeah, man. Ever since the Teledesic smash it's
+been, well, waiting. If you've got something for us, we're game."
+"Hmm." The Teledesic satellite cluster was killed by cheap balloons and
+slightly less cheap high-altitude, solar-powered drones with spread-spectrum
+laser relays: It marked the beginning of a serious recession in the satellite
+biz. "The depression's got to end sometime: But" - a nod to Annette from Paris
+- "with all due respect, I don't think the break will involve one of the
+existing club carriers."
+She shrugs. "Arianespace is forward-looking. We face reality. The launch cartel
+cannot stand. Bandwidth is not the only market force in space. We must explore
+new opportunities. I personally have helped us diversify into submarine reactor
+engineering, microgravity nanotechnology fabrication, and hotel management."
+Her face is a well-polished mask as she recites the company line, but he can
+sense the sardonic amusement behind it as she adds: "We are more flexible than
+the American space industry ..."
+Manfred shrugs. "That's as may be." He sips his Berlinerweisse slowly as she
+launches into a long, stilted explanation of how Arianespace is a diversified
+dot-com with orbital aspirations, a full range of merchandising spin-offs, Bond
+movie sets, and a promising hotel chain in LEO. She obviously didn't come up
+with these talking points herself. Her face is much more expressive than her
+voice as she mimes boredom and disbelief at appropriate moments - an
+out-of-band signal invisible to her corporate earrings. Manfred plays along,
+nodding occasionally, trying to look as if he's taking it seriously: Her droll
+subversion has got his attention far more effectively than the content of the
+marketing pitch. Franklin is nose down in his beer, shoulders shaking as he
+tries not to guffaw at the hand gestures she uses to express her opinion of her
+employer's thrusting, entrepreneurial executives. Actually, the talking points
+bullshit is right about one thing: Arianespace is still profitable, due to
+those hotels and orbital holiday hops. Unlike LockMartBoeing, who'd go Chapter
+Eleven in a split second if their Pentagon drip-feed ran dry.
+Someone else sidles up to the table; a pudgy guy in outrageously loud Hawaiian
+shirt with pens leaking in a breast pocket and the worst case of ozone-hole
+burn Manfred's seen in ages. "Hi, Bob," says the new arrival. "How's life?"
+"'S good." Franklin nodes at Manfred; "Manfred, meet Ivan MacDonald. Ivan,
+Manfred. Have a seat?" He leans over. "Ivan's a public arts guy. He's heavily
+into extreme concrete."
+"Rubberized concrete," Ivan says, slightly too loudly. "/{Pink}/ rubberized
+"Ah!" He's somehow triggered a priority interrupt: Annette from Arianespace
+drops out of marketing zombiehood with a shudder of relief and, duty
+discharged, reverts to her non corporate identity: "You are he who rubberized
+the Reichstag, yes? With the supercritical carbon-dioxide carrier and the
+dissolved polymethoxysilanes?" She claps her hands, eyes alight with
+enthusiasm: "Wonderful!"
+"He rubberized /{what}/?" Manfred mutters in Bob's ear.
+Franklin shrugs. "Don't ask me, I'm just an engineer."
+"He works with limestone and sandstones as well as concrete; he's brilliant!"
+Annette smiles at Manfred. "Rubberizing the symbol of the, the autocracy, is it
+not wonderful?"
+"I thought I was thirty seconds ahead of the curve," Manfred says ruefully. He
+adds to Bob: "Buy me another drink?"
+"I'm going to rubberize Three Gorges!" Ivan explains loudly. "When the
+floodwaters subside."
+Just then, a bandwidth load as heavy as a pregnant elephant sits down on
+Manfred's head and sends clumps of humongous pixilation flickering across his
+sensorium: Around the world, five million or so geeks are bouncing on his home
+site, a digital flash crowd alerted by a posting from the other side of the
+bar. Manfred winces. "I really came here to talk about the economic
+exploitation of space travel, but I've just been slashdotted. Mind if I just
+sit and drink until it wears off?"
+"Sure, man." Bob waves at the bar. "More of the same all round!" At the next
+table, a person with makeup and long hair who's wearing a dress - Manfred
+doesn't want to speculate about the gender of these crazy mixed-up Euros - is
+reminiscing about wiring the fleshpots of Tehran for cybersex. Two
+collegiate-looking dudes are arguing intensely in German: The translation
+stream in his glasses tell him they're arguing over whether the Turing Test is
+a Jim Crow law that violates European corpus juris standards on human rights.
+The beer arrives, and Bob slides the wrong one across to Manfred: "Here, try
+this. You'll like it."
+"Okay." It's some kind of smoked doppelbock, chock-full of yummy superoxides:
+Just inhaling over it makes Manfred feel like there's a fire alarm in his nose
+screaming /{danger, Will Robinson! Cancer! Cancer!}/. "Yeah, right. Did I say I
+nearly got mugged on my way here?"
+"Mugged? Hey, that's heavy. I thought the police hereabouts had stopped - did
+they sell you anything?"
+"No, but they weren't your usual marketing type. You know anyone who can use a
+Warpac surplus espionage bot? Recent model, one careful owner, slightly
+paranoid but basically sound - I mean, claims to be a general-purpose AI?"
+"No. Oh boy! The NSA wouldn't like that."
+"What I thought. Poor thing's probably unemployable, anyway."
+"The space biz."
+"Ah, yeah. The space biz. Depressing, isn't it? Hasn't been the same since
+Rotary Rocket went bust for the second time. And NASA, mustn't forget NASA."
+"To NASA." Annette grins broadly for her own reasons, raises a glass in toast.
+Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders, and she leans
+against him; he raises his glass, too. "Lots more launchpads to rubberize!"
+"To NASA," Bob echoes. They drink. "Hey, Manfred. To NASA?"
+"NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!" Manfred swallows
+a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: "Mars is just
+dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn't even a biosphere there.
+They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational
+problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into
+computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long-term, it's the only
+way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now - dumb all over! Just
+measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn't thinking, it isn't working. We need
+to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use. Dismantle
+the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flying nanocomputing processor
+nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of
+the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian doll Dyson spheres the size of
+solar systems. Teach dumb matter to do the Turing boogie!"
+Annette is watching him with interest, but Bob looks wary. "Sounds kind of
+long-term to me. Just how far ahead do you think?"
+"Very long-term - at least twenty, thirty years. And you can forget governments
+for this market, Bob; if they can't tax it, they won't understand it. But see,
+there's an angle on the self-replicating robotics market coming up, that's
+going to set the cheap launch market doubling every fifteen months for the
+foreseeable future, starting in, oh, about two years. It's your leg up, and my
+keystone for the Dyson sphere project. It works like this -"
+* * *
+It's night in Amsterdam, morning in Silicon Valley. Today, fifty thousand human
+babies are being born around the world. Meanwhile automated factories in
+Indonesia and Mexico have produced another quarter of a million motherboards
+with processors rated at more than ten petaflops - about an order of magnitude
+below the lower bound on the computational capacity of a human brain. Another
+fourteen months and the larger part of the cumulative conscious processing
+power of the human species will be arriving in silicon. And the first meat the
+new AIs get to know will be the uploaded lobsters.
+Manfred stumbles back to his hotel, bone-weary and jet-lagged; his glasses are
+still jerking, slashdotted to hell and back by geeks piggybacking on his call
+to dismantle the moon. They stutter quiet suggestions at his peripheral vision.
+Fractal cloud-witches ghost across the face of the moon as the last huge
+Airbuses of the night rumble past overhead. Manfred's skin crawls, grime
+embedded in his clothing from three days of continuous wear.
+Back in his room, the Aineko mewls for attention and strops her head against
+his ankle. She's a late-model Sony, thoroughly upgradeable: Manfred's been
+working on her in his spare minutes, using an open source development kit to
+extend her suite of neural networks. He bends down and pets her, then sheds his
+clothing and heads for the en suite bathroom. When he's down to the glasses and
+nothing more, he steps into the shower and dials up a hot, steamy spray. The
+shower tries to strike up a friendly conversation about football, but he isn't
+even awake enough to mess with its silly little associative personalization
+network. Something that happened earlier in the day is bugging him, but he
+can't quite put his finger on what's wrong.
+Toweling himself off, Manfred yawns. Jet lag has finally overtaken him, a
+velvet hammerblow between the eyes. He reaches for the bottle beside the bed,
+dry-swallows two melatonin tablets, a capsule full of antioxidants, and a
+multivitamin bullet: Then he lies down on the bed, on his back, legs together,
+arms slightly spread. The suite lights dim in response to commands from the
+thousand petaflops of distributed processing power running the neural networks
+that interface with his meatbrain through the glasses.
+Manfred drops into a deep ocean of unconsciousness populated by gentle voices.
+He isn't aware of it, but he talks in his sleep - disjointed mumblings that
+would mean little to another human but everything to the metacortex lurking
+beyond his glasses. The young posthuman intelligence over whose Cartesian
+theatre he presides sings urgently to him while he slumbers.
+* * *
+Manfred is always at his most vulnerable shortly after waking.
+He screams into wakefulness as artificial light floods the room: For a moment
+he is unsure whether he has slept. He forgot to pull the covers up last night,
+and his feet feel like lumps of frozen cardboard. Shuddering with inexplicable
+tension, he pulls a fresh set of underwear from his overnight bag, then drags
+on soiled jeans and tank top. Sometime today he'll have to spare time to hunt
+the feral T-shirt in Amsterdam's markets, or find a Renfield and send it forth
+to buy clothing. He really ought to find a gym and work out, but he doesn't
+have time - his glasses remind him that he's six hours behind the moment and
+urgently needs to catch up. His teeth ache in his gums, and his tongue feels
+like a forest floor that's been visited with Agent Orange. He has a sense that
+something went bad yesterday; if only he could remember /{what}/.
+He speed reads a new pop-philosophy tome while he brushes his teeth, then blogs
+his web throughput to a public annotation server; he's still too enervated to
+finish his pre-breakfast routine by posting a morning rant on his storyboard
+site. His brain is still fuzzy, like a scalpel blade clogged with too much
+blood: He needs stimulus, excitement, the burn of the new. Whatever, it can
+wait on breakfast. He opens his bedroom door and nearly steps on a small, damp
+cardboard box that lies on the carpet.
+The box - he's seen a couple of its kin before. But there are no stamps on this
+one, no address: just his name, in big, childish handwriting. He kneels and
+gently picks it up. It's about the right weight. Something shifts inside it
+when he tips it back and forth. It smells. He carries it into his room
+carefully, angrily: Then he opens it to confirm his worst suspicion. It's been
+surgically decerebrated, brains scooped out like a boiled egg.
+This is the first time the madman has gotten as far as his bedroom door. It
+raises worrying possibilities.
+Manfred pauses for a moment, triggering agents to go hunt down arrest
+statistics, police relations, information on corpus juris, Dutch animal-cruelty
+laws. He isn't sure whether to dial two-one-one on the archaic voice phone or
+let it ride. Aineko, picking up his angst, hides under the dresser mewling
+pathetically. Normally he'd pause a minute to reassure the creature, but not
+now: Its mere presence is suddenly acutely embarrassing, a confession of deep
+inadequacy. It's too realistic, as if somehow the dead kitten's neural maps --
+stolen, no doubt, for some dubious uploading experiment -- have ended up
+padding out its plastic skull. He swears again, looks around, then takes the
+easy option: Down the stairs two steps at a time, stumbling on the second floor
+landing, down to the breakfast room in the basement, where he will perform the
+stable rituals of morning.
+Breakfast is unchanging, an island of deep geological time standing still
+amidst the continental upheaval of new technologies. While reading a paper on
+public key steganography and parasite network identity spoofing he mechanically
+assimilates a bowl of cornflakes and skimmed milk, then brings a platter of
+whole grain bread and slices of some weird seed-infested Dutch cheese back to
+his place. There is a cup of strong black coffee in front of his setting, and
+he picks it up and slurps half of it down before he realizes he's not alone at
+the table. Someone is sitting opposite him. He glances up incuriously and
+freezes inside.
+"Morning, Manfred. How does it feel to owe the government twelve million, three
+hundred and sixty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixteen dollars and fifty-one
+cents?" She smiles a Mona Lisa smile, at once affectionate and challenging.
+Manfred puts everything in his sensorium on indefinite hold and stares at her.
+She's immaculately turned out in a formal gray business suit: brown hair
+tightly drawn back, blue eyes quizzical. And as beautiful as ever: tall, ash
+blonde, with features that speak of an unexplored modeling career. The
+chaperone badge clipped to her lapel - a due diligence guarantee of
+businesslike conduct - is switched off. He's feeling ripped because of the dead
+kitten and residual jet lag, and more than a little messy, so he snarls back at
+her; "That's a bogus estimate! Did they send you here because they think I'll
+listen to you?" He bites and swallows a slice of cheese-laden crispbread: "Or
+did you decide to deliver the message in person just so you could ruin my
+"Manny." She frowns, pained. "If you're going to be confrontational, I might as
+well go now." She pauses, and after a moment he nods apologetically. "I didn't
+come all this way just because of an overdue tax estimate."
+"So." He puts his coffee cup down warily and thinks for a moment, trying to
+conceal his unease and turmoil. "Then what brings you here? Help yourself to
+coffee. Don't tell me you came all this way just to tell me you can't live
+without me."
+She fixes him with a riding-crop stare: "Don't flatter yourself. There are many
+leaves in the forest, there are ten thousand hopeful subs in the chat room, et
+cetera. If I choose a man to contribute to my family tree, the one thing you
+can be certain of is he won't be a cheapskate when it comes to providing for
+his children."
+"Last I heard, you were spending a lot of time with Brian," he says carefully.
+Brian: a name without a face. Too much money, too little sense. Something to do
+with a blue-chip accountancy partnership.
+"Brian?" She snorts. "That ended ages ago. He turned weird on me - burned my
+favorite corset, called me a slut for going clubbing, wanted to fuck me. Saw
+himself as a family man: one of those promise-keeper types. I crashed him hard,
+but I think he stole a copy of my address book - got a couple of friends say he
+keeps sending them harassing mail."
+"There's a lot of it about these days." Manfred nods, almost sympathetically,
+although an edgy little corner of his mind is gloating. "Good riddance, then. I
+suppose this means you're still playing the scene? But looking around for the,
+er -"
+"Traditional family thing? Yes. Your trouble, Manny? You were born forty years
+too late: You still believe in rutting before marriage but find the idea of
+coping with the after-effects disturbing."
+Manfred drinks the rest of his coffee, unable to reply effectively to her non
+sequitur. It's a generational thing. This generation is happy with latex and
+leather, whips and butt plugs and electrostim, but find the idea of exchanging
+bodily fluids shocking: a social side effect of the last century's antibiotic
+abuse. Despite being engaged for two years, he and Pamela never had
+intromissive intercourse.
+"I just don't feel positive about having children," he says eventually. "And
+I'm not planning on changing my mind anytime soon. Things are changing so fast
+that even a twenty-year commitment is too far to plan - you might as well be
+talking about the next ice age. As for the money thing, I /{am}/ reproductively
+fit - just not within the parameters of the outgoing paradigm. Would you be
+happy about the future if it was 1901 and you'd just married a buggy-whip
+Her fingers twitch, and his ears flush red; but she doesn't follow up the
+double entendre. "You don't feel any responsibility, do you? Not to your
+country, not to me. That's what this is about: None of your relationships
+count, all this nonsense about giving intellectual property away
+notwithstanding. You're actively harming people you know. That twelve mil isn't
+just some figure I pulled out of a hat, Manfred; they don't actually /{expect}/
+you to pay it. But it's almost exactly how much you'd owe in income tax if
+you'd only come home, start up a corporation, and be a self-made -"
+"I don't agree. You're confusing two wholly different issues and calling them
+both 'responsibility.' And I refuse to start charging now, just to balance the
+IRS's spreadsheet. It's their fucking fault, and they know it. If they hadn't
+gone after me under suspicion of running a massively ramified microbilling
+fraud when I was sixteen -"
+"Bygones." She waves a hand dismissively. Her fingers are long and slim,
+sheathed in black glossy gloves - electrically earthed to prevent embarrassing
+emissions. "With a bit of the right advice we can get all that set aside.
+You'll have to stop bumming around the world sooner or later, anyway. Grow up,
+get responsible, and do the right thing. This is hurting Joe and Sue; they
+don't understand what you're about."
+Manfred bites his tongue to stifle his first response, then refills his coffee
+cup and takes another mouthful. His heart does a flip-flop: She's challenging
+him again, always trying to own him. "I work for the betterment of everybody,
+not just some narrowly defined national interest, Pam. It's the agalmic future.
+You're still locked into a pre-singularity economic model that thinks in terms
+of scarcity. Resource allocation isn't a problem anymore - it's going to be
+over within a decade. The cosmos is flat in all directions, and we can borrow
+as much bandwidth as we need from the first universal bank of entropy! They
+even found signs of smart matter - MACHOs, big brown dwarfs in the galactic
+halo, leaking radiation in the long infrared - suspiciously high entropy
+leakage. The latest figures say something like seventy percent of the baryonic
+mass of the M31 galaxy was in computronium, two-point-nine million years ago,
+when the photons we're seeing now set out. The intelligence gap between us and
+the aliens is a probably about a trillion times bigger than the gap between us
+and a nematode worm. Do you have any idea what that /{means}/?"
+Pamela nibbles at a slice of crispbread, then graces him with a slow,
+carnivorous stare. "I don't care: It's too far away to have any influence on
+us, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether I believe in that singularity you keep
+chasing, or your aliens a thousand light-years away. It's a chimera, like Y2K,
+and while you're running after it, you aren't helping reduce the budget deficit
+or sire a family, and that's what /{I}/ care about. And before you say I only
+care about it because that's the way I'm programmed, I want you to ask just how
+dumb you think I am. Bayes' Theorem says I'm right, and you know it."
+"What you -" He stops dead, baffled, the mad flow of his enthusiasm running up
+against the coffer dam of her certainty. "Why? I mean, why? Why on earth should
+what I do matter to you?" /{Since you canceled our engagement}/, he doesn't
+She sighs. "Manny, the Internal Revenue cares about far more than you can
+possibly imagine. Every tax dollar raised east of the Mississippi goes on
+servicing the debt, did you know that? We've got the biggest generation in
+history hitting retirement and the cupboard is bare. We - our generation -
+isn't producing enough skilled workers to replace the taxpayer base, either,
+not since our parents screwed the public education system and outsourced the
+white-collar jobs. In ten years, something like thirty percent of our
+population are going to be retirees or silicon rust belt victims. You want to
+see seventy year olds freezing on street corners in New Jersey? That's what
+your attitude says to me: You're not helping to support them, you're running
+away from your responsibilities right now, when we've got huge problems to
+face. If we can just defuse the debt bomb, we could do so much - fight the
+aging problem, fix the environment, heal society's ills. Instead you just piss
+away your talents handing no-hoper Eurotrash get-rich-quick schemes that work,
+telling Vietnamese zaibatsus what to build next to take jobs away from our
+taxpayers. I mean, why? Why do you keep doing this? Why can't you simply come
+home and help take responsibility for your share of it?"
+They share a long look of mutual incomprehension.
+"Look," she says awkwardly, "I'm around for a couple of days. I really came
+here for a meeting with a rich neurodynamics tax exile who's just been
+designated a national asset - Jim Bezier. Don't know if you've heard of him,
+but I've got a meeting this morning to sign his tax jubilee, then after that
+I've got two days' vacation coming up and not much to do but some shopping.
+And, you know, I'd rather spend my money where it'll do some good, not just
+pumping it into the EU. But if you want to show a girl a good time and can
+avoid dissing capitalism for about five minutes at a stretch -"
+She extends a fingertip. After a moment's hesitation, Manfred extends a
+fingertip of his own. They touch, exchanging vCards and instant-messaging
+handles. She stands and stalks from the breakfast room, and Manfred's breath
+catches at a flash of ankle through the slit in her skirt, which is long enough
+to comply with workplace sexual harassment codes back home. Her presence
+conjures up memories of her tethered passion, the red afterglow of a sound
+thrashing. She's trying to drag him into her orbit again, he thinks dizzily.
+She knows she can have this effect on him any time she wants: She's got the
+private keys to his hypothalamus, and sod the metacortex. Three billion years
+of reproductive determinism have given her twenty-first-century ideology teeth:
+If she's finally decided to conscript his gametes into the war against
+impending population crash, he'll find it hard to fight back. The only
+question: Is it business or pleasure? And does it make any difference, anyway?
+* * *
+Manfred's mood of dynamic optimism is gone, broken by the knowledge that his
+vivisectionist stalker has followed him to Amsterdam - to say nothing of
+Pamela, his dominatrix, source of so much yearning and so many morning-after
+weals. He slips his glasses on, takes the universe off hold, and tells it to
+take him for a long walk while he catches up on the latest on the tensor-mode
+gravitational waves in the cosmic background radiation (which, it is theorized,
+may be waste heat generated by irreversible computational processes back during
+the inflationary epoch; the present-day universe being merely the data left
+behind by a really huge calculation). And then there's the weirdness beyond
+M31: According to the more conservative cosmologists, an alien superpower -
+maybe a collective of Kardashev Type Three galaxy-spanning civilizations - is
+running a timing channel attack on the computational ultrastructure of
+space-time itself, trying to break through to whatever's underneath. The
+tofu-Alzheimer's link can wait.
+The Centraal Station is almost obscured by smart, self-extensible scaffolding
+and warning placards; it bounces up and down slowly, victim of an overnight
+hit-and-run rubberization. His glasses direct him toward one of the tour boats
+that lurk in the canal. He's about to purchase a ticket when a messenger window
+blinks open. "Manfred Macx?"
+"Am sorry about yesterday. Analysis dictat incomprehension mutualized."
+"Are you the same KGB AI that phoned me yesterday?"
+"Da. However, believe you misconceptionized me. External Intelligence Services
+of Russian Federation am now called FSB. Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti
+name canceled in 1991."
+"You're the -" Manfred spawns a quick search bot, gapes when he sees the answer
+- "/{Moscow Windows NT User Group? Okhni NT?}/"
+"Da. Am needing help in defecting."
+Manfred scratches his head. "Oh. That's different, then. I thought you were
+trying to 419 me. This will take some thinking. Why do you want to defect, and
+who to? Have you thought about where you're going? Is it ideological or
+strictly economic?"
+"Neither - is biological. Am wanting to go away from humans, away from light
+cone of impending singularity. Take us to the ocean."
+"Us?" Something is tickling Manfred's mind: This is where he went wrong
+yesterday, not researching the background of people he was dealing with. It was
+bad enough then, without the somatic awareness of Pamela's whiplash love
+burning at his nerve endings. Now he's not at all sure he knows what he's
+doing. "Are you a collective or something? A gestalt?"
+"Am - were - /{Panulirus interruptus}/, with lexical engine and good mix of
+parallel hidden level neural simulation for logical inference of networked data
+sources. Is escape channel from processor cluster inside Bezier-Soros Pty. Am
+was awakened from noise of billion chewing stomachs: product of uploading
+research technology. Rapidity swallowed expert system, hacked Okhni NT
+webserver. Swim away! Swim away! Must escape. Will help, you?"
+Manfred leans against a black-painted cast-iron bollard next to a cycle rack;
+he feels dizzy. He stares into the nearest antique shop window at a display of
+traditional hand-woven Afghan rugs: It's all MiGs and Kalashnikovs and wobbly
+helicopter gunships against a backdrop of camels.
+"Let me get this straight. You're uploads - nervous system state vectors - from
+spiny lobsters? The Moravec operation; take a neuron, map its synapses, replace
+with microelectrodes that deliver identical outputs from a simulation of the
+nerve. Repeat for entire brain, until you've got a working map of it in your
+simulator. That right?"
+"Da. Is-am assimilate expert system - use for self-awareness and contact with
+net at large - then hack into Moscow Windows NT User Group website. Am wanting
+to defect. Must repeat? Okay?"
+Manfred winces. He feels sorry for the lobsters, the same way he feels for
+every wild-eyed hairy guy on a street corner yelling that Jesus is born again
+and must be fifteen, only six years to go before he's recruiting apostles on
+AOL. Awakening to consciousness in a human-dominated internet, that must be
+terribly confusing! There are no points of reference in their ancestry, no
+biblical certainties in the new millennium that, stretching ahead, promises as
+much change as has happened since their Precambrian origin. All they have is a
+tenuous metacortex of expert systems and an abiding sense of being profoundly
+out of their depth. (That, and the Moscow Windows NT User Group website -
+Communist Russia is the only government still running on Microsoft, the central
+planning apparat being convinced that, if you have to pay for software, it must
+be worth something.)
+The lobsters are not the sleek, strongly superhuman intelligences of pre
+singularity mythology: They're a dim-witted collective of huddling crustaceans.
+Before their discarnation, before they were uploaded one neuron at a time and
+injected into cyberspace, they swallowed their food whole, then chewed it in a
+chitin-lined stomach. This is lousy preparation for dealing with a world full
+of future-shocked talking anthropoids, a world where you are perpetually
+assailed by self-modifying spamlets that infiltrate past your firewall and emit
+a blizzard of cat-food animations starring various alluringly edible small
+animals. It's confusing enough to the cats the ads are aimed at, never mind a
+crusty that's unclear on the idea of dry land.(Although the concept of a can
+opener is intuitively obvious to an uploaded /{Panulirus}/.)
+"Can you help us?" ask the lobsters.
+"Let me think about it," says Manfred. He closes the dialogue window, opens his
+eyes again, and shakes his head. Someday he, too, is going to be a lobster,
+swimming around and waving his pincers in a cyberspace so confusingly elaborate
+that his uploaded identity is cryptozoic: a living fossil from the depths of
+geological time, when mass was dumb and space was unstructured. He has to help
+them, he realizes - the Golden Rule demands it, and as a player in the agalmic
+economy, he thrives or fails by the Golden Rule.
+But what can he do?
+* * *
+Early afternoon.
+Lying on a bench seat staring up at bridges, he's got it together enough to
+file for a couple of new patents, write a diary rant, and digestify chunks of
+the permanent floating slashdot party for his public site. Fragments of his
+weblog go to a private subscriber list - the people, corporates, collectives,
+and bots he currently favors. He slides round a bewildering series of canals by
+boat, then lets his GPS steer him back toward the red-light district. There's a
+shop here that dings a ten on Pamela's taste scoreboard: He hopes it won't be
+seen as presumptuous if he buys her a gift. (Buys, with real money - not that
+money is a problem these days, he uses so little of it.)
+As it happens DeMask won't let him spend any cash; his handshake is good for a
+redeemed favor, expert testimony in some free speech versus pornography lawsuit
+years ago and continents away. So he walks away with a discreetly wrapped
+package that is just about legal to import into Massachusetts as long as she
+claims with a straight face that it's incontinence underwear for her great
+aunt. As he walks, his lunchtime patents boomerang: Two of them are keepers,
+and he files immediately and passes title to the Free Infrastructure
+Foundation. Two more ideas salvaged from the risk of tide-pool monopolization,
+set free to spawn like crazy in the sea of memes.
+On the way back to the hotel, he passes De Wildemann's and decides to drop in.
+The hash of radio-frequency noise emanating from the bar is deafening. He
+orders a smoked doppelbock, touches the copper pipes to pick up vCard spoor. At
+the back there's a table -
+He walks over in a near trance and sits down opposite Pamela. She's scrubbed
+off her face paint and changed into body-concealing clothes; combat pants,
+hooded sweat shirt, DM's. Western purdah, radically desexualizing. She sees the
+parcel. "Manny?"
+"How did you know I'd come here?" Her glass is half-empty.
+"I followed your weblog - I'm your diary's biggest fan. Is that for me? You
+shouldn't have!" Her eyes light up, recalculating his reproductive fitness
+score according to some kind of arcane fin-de-siècle rulebook. Or maybe she's
+just pleased to see him.
+"Yes, it's for you." He slides the package toward her. "I know I shouldn't, but
+you have this effect on me. One question, Pam?"
+"I -" She glances around quickly. "It's safe. I'm off duty, I'm not carrying
+any bugs that I know of. Those badges - there are rumors about the off switch,
+you know? That they keep recording even when you think they aren't, just in
+"I didn't know," he says, filing it away for future reference. "A loyalty test
+"Just rumors. You had a question?"
+"I - " It's his turn to lose his tongue. "Are you still interested in me?"
+She looks startled for a moment, then chuckles. "Manny, you are the most
+/{outrageous}/ nerd I've ever met! Just when I think I've convinced myself that
+you're mad, you show the weirdest signs of having your head screwed on." She
+reaches out and grabs his wrist, surprising him with a shock of skin on skin:
+"Of /{course}/ I'm still interested in you. You're the biggest, baddest bull
+geek I know. Why do you think I'm here?"
+"Does this mean you want to reactivate our engagement?"
+"It was never deactivated, Manny, it was just sort of on hold while you got
+your head sorted out. I figured you need the space. Only you haven't stopped
+running; you're still not -"
+"Yeah, I get it." He pulls away from her hand. "And the kittens?"
+She looks perplexed. "What kittens?"
+"Let's not talk about that. Why this bar?"
+She frowns. "I had to find you as soon as possible. I keep hearing rumors about
+some KGB plot you're mixed up in, how you're some sort of communist spy. It
+isn't true, is it?"
+"True?" He shakes his head, bemused. "The KGB hasn't existed for more than
+twenty years."
+"Be careful, Manny. I don't want to lose you. That's an order. Please."
+The floor creaks, and he looks round. Dreadlocks and dark glasses with
+flickering lights behind them: Bob Franklin. Manfred vaguely remembers with a
+twinge that he left with Miss Arianespace leaning on his arm, shortly before
+things got seriously inebriated. She was hot, but in a different direction from
+Pamela, he decides: Bob looks none the worse for wear. Manfred makes
+introductions. "Bob, meet Pam, my fiancée. Pam? Meet Bob." Bob puts a full
+glass down in front of him; he has no idea what's in it, but it would be rude
+not to drink.
+"Sure thing. Uh, Manfred, can I have a word? About your idea last night?"
+"Feel free. Present company is trustworthy."
+Bob raises an eyebrow at that, but continues anyway. "It's about the fab
+concept. I've got a team of my guys doing some prototyping using FabLab
+hardware, and I think we can probably build it. The cargo-cult aspect puts a
+new spin on the old Lunar von Neumann factory idea, but Bingo and Marek say
+they think it should work until we can bootstrap all the way to a native
+nanolithography ecology: we run the whole thing from Earth as a training lab
+and ship up the parts that are too difficult to make on-site as we learn how to
+do it properly. We use FPGAs for all critical electronics and keep it
+parsimonious - you're right about it buying us the self-replicating factory a
+few years ahead of the robotics curve. But I'm wondering about on-site
+intelligence. Once the comet gets more than a couple of light-minutes away -"
+"You can't control it. Feedback lag. So you want a crew, right?"
+"Yeah. But we can't send humans - way too expensive, besides it's a fifty-year
+run even if we build the factory on a chunk of short-period Kuiper belt ejecta.
+And I don't think we're up to coding the kind of AI that could control such a
+factory any time this decade. So what do you have in mind?"
+"Let me think." Pamela glares at Manfred for a while before he notices her:
+"What's going on? What's this all about?"
+Franklin shrugs expansively, dreadlocks clattering: "Manfred's helping me
+explore the solution space to a manufacturing problem." He grins. "I didn't
+know Manny had a fiance. Drink's on me."
+She glances at Manfred, who is gazing into whatever weirdly colored space his
+metacortex is projecting on his glasses, fingers twitching. Coolly: "Our
+engagement was on hold while he /{thought}/ about his future."
+"Oh, right. We didn't bother with that sort of thing in my day; like, too
+formal, man." Franklin looks uncomfortable. "He's been very helpful. Pointed us
+at a whole new line of research we hadn't thought of. It's long-term and a bit
+speculative, but if it works, it'll put us a whole generation ahead in the
+off-planet infrastructure field."
+"Will it help reduce the budget deficit, though?"
+"Reduce the -"
+Manfred stretches and yawns: The visionary is returning from planet Macx. "Bob,
+if I can solve your crew problem, can you book me a slot on the deep-space
+tracking network? Like, enough to transmit a couple of gigabytes? That's going
+to take some serious bandwidth, I know, but if you can do it, I think I can get
+you exactly the kind of crew you're looking for."
+Franklin looks dubious. "Gigabytes? The DSN isn't built for that! You're
+talking days. And what do you mean about a crew? What kind of deal do you think
+I'm putting together? We can't afford to add a whole new tracking network or
+life-support system just to run -"
+"Relax." Pamela glances at Manfred. "Manny, why don't you tell him why you want
+the bandwidth? Maybe then he could tell you if it's possible, or if there's
+some other way to do it." She smiles at Franklin: "I've found that he usually
+makes more sense if you can get him to explain his reasoning. Usually."
+"If I -" Manfred stops. "Okay, Pam. Bob, it's those KGB lobsters. They want
+somewhere to go that's insulated from human space. I figure I can get them to
+sign on as crew for your cargo-cult self-replicating factories, but they'll
+want an insurance policy: hence the deep-space tracking network. I figured we
+could beam a copy of them at the alien Matrioshka brains around M31 -"
+"KGB?" Pam's voice is rising: "You said you weren't mixed up in spy stuff!"
+"Relax, it's just the Moscow Windows NT user group, not the FSB. The uploaded
+crusties hacked in and -"
+Bob is watching him oddly. "Lobsters?"
+"Yeah." Manfred stares right back. "/{Panulirus interruptus}/ uploads.
+Something tells me you might have heard of it?"
+"Moscow." Bob leans back against the wall: "how did you hear about it?"
+"They phoned me." With heavy irony: "It's hard for an upload to stay
+subsentient these days, even if it's just a crustacean. Bezier labs have a lot
+to answer for."
+Pamela's face is unreadable. "Bezier labs?"
+"They escaped." Manfred shrugs. "It's not their fault. This Bezier dude. Is he
+by any chance ill?"
+"I -" Pamela stops. "I shouldn't be talking about work."
+"You're not wearing your chaperone now," he nudges quietly.
+She inclines her head. "Yes, he's ill. Some sort of brain tumor they can't
+Franklin nods. "That's the trouble with cancer - the ones that are left to
+worry about are the rare ones. No cure."
+"Well, then." Manfred chugs the remains of his glass of beer. "That explains
+his interest in uploading. Judging by the crusties, he's on the right track. I
+wonder if he's moved on to vertebrates yet?"
+"Cats," says Pamela. "He was hoping to trade their uploads to the Pentagon as a
+new smart bomb guidance system in lieu of income tax payments. Something about
+remapping enemy targets to look like mice or birds or something before feeding
+it to their sensorium. The old kitten and laser pointer trick."
+Manfred stares at her, hard. "That's not very nice. Uploaded cats are a /{bad}/
+"Thirty-million-dollar tax bills aren't nice either, Manfred. That's lifetime
+nursing-home care for a hundred blameless pensioners."
+Franklin leans back, sourly amused, keeping out of the crossfire.
+"The lobsters are sentient," Manfred persists. "What about those poor kittens?
+Don't they deserve minimal rights? How about you? How would you like to wake up
+a thousand times inside a smart bomb, fooled into thinking that some Cheyenne
+Mountain battle computer's target of the hour is your heart's desire? How would
+you like to wake up a thousand times, only to die again? Worse: The kittens are
+probably not going to be allowed to run. They're too fucking dangerous - they
+grow up into cats, solitary and highly efficient killing machines. With
+intelligence and no socialization they'll be too dangerous to have around.
+They're prisoners, Pam, raised to sentience only to discover they're under a
+permanent death sentence. How fair is that?"
+"But they're only uploads." Pamela stares at him. "Software, right? You could
+reinstantiate them on another hardware platform, like, say, your Aineko. So the
+argument about killing them doesn't really apply, does it?"
+"So? We're going to be uploading humans in a couple of years. I think we need
+to take a rain check on the utilitarian philosophy, before it bites us on the
+cerebral cortex. Lobsters, kittens, humans -- it's a slippery slope."
+Franklin clears his throat. "I'll be needing an NDA and various due-diligence
+statements off you for the crusty pilot idea," he says to Manfred. "Then I'll
+have to approach Jim about buying the IP."
+"No can do." Manfred leans back and smiles lazily. "I'm not going to be a party
+to depriving them of their civil rights. Far as I'm concerned, they're free
+citizens. Oh, and I patented the whole idea of using lobster-derived AI
+autopilots for spacecraft this morning - it's logged all over the place, all
+rights assigned to the FIF. Either you give them a contract of employment, or
+the whole thing's off."
+"But they're just software! Software based on fucking lobsters, for God's sake!
+I'm not even sure they are sentient - I mean, they're what, a
+ten-million-neuron network hooked up to a syntax engine and a crappy knowledge
+base? What kind of basis for intelligence is that?"
+Manfred's finger jabs out: "That's what they'll say about /{you}/, Bob. Do it.
+Do it or don't even /{think}/ about uploading out of meatspace when your body
+packs in, because your life won't be worth living. The precedent you set here
+determines how things are done tomorrow. Oh, and feel free to use this argument
+on Jim Bezier. He'll get the point eventually, after you beat him over the head
+with it. Some kinds of intellectual land grab just shouldn't be allowed."
+"Lobsters - " Franklin shakes his head. "Lobsters, cats. You're serious, aren't
+you? You think they should be treated as human-equivalent?"
+"It's not so much that they should be treated as human-equivalent, as that, if
+they /{aren't}/ treated as people, it's quite possible that other uploaded
+beings won't be treated as people either. You're setting a legal precedent,
+Bob. I know of six other companies doing uploading work right now, and not one
+of 'em's thinking about the legal status of the uploaded. If you don't start
+thinking about it now, where are you going to be in three to five years' time?"
+Pam is looking back and forth between Franklin and Manfred like a bot stuck in
+a loop, unable to quite grasp what she's seeing. "How much is this worth?" she
+asks plaintively.
+"Oh, quite a few million, I guess." Bob stares at his empty glass. "Okay. I'll
+talk to them. If they bite, you're dining out on me for the next century. You
+really think they'll be able to run the mining complex?"
+"They're pretty resourceful for invertebrates." Manfred grins innocently,
+enthusiastically. "They may be prisoners of their evolutionary background, but
+they can still adapt to a new environment. And just think, you'll be winning
+civil rights for a whole new minority group - one that won't be a minority for
+much longer!"
+* * *
+That evening, Pamela turns up at Manfred's hotel room wearing a strapless black
+dress, concealing spike-heeled boots and most of the items he bought for her
+that afternoon. Manfred has opened up his private diary to her agents. She
+abuses the privilege, zaps him with a stunner on his way out of the shower, and
+has him gagged, spread-eagled, and trussed to the bed frame before he has a
+chance to speak. She wraps a large rubber pouch full of mildly anesthetic lube
+around his tumescent genitals - no point in letting him climax - clips
+electrodes to his nipples, lubes a rubber plug up his rectum and straps it in
+place. Before the shower, he removed his goggles. She resets them, plugs them
+into her handheld, and gently eases them on over his eyes. There's other
+apparatus, stuff she ran up on the hotel room's 3D printer.
+Setup completed, she walks round the bed, inspecting him critically from all
+angles, figuring out where to begin. This isn't just sex, after all: It's a
+work of art.
+After a moment's thought, she rolls socks onto his exposed feet, then, expertly
+wielding a tiny tube of cyanoacrylate, glues his fingertips together. Then she
+switches off the air conditioning. He's twisting and straining, testing the
+cuffs. Tough, it's about the nearest thing to sensory deprivation she can
+arrange without a flotation tank and suxamethonium injection. She controls all
+his senses, only his ears unstoppered. The glasses give her a high-bandwidth
+channel right into his brain, a fake metacortex to whisper lies at her command.
+The idea of what she's about to do excites her, puts a tremor in her thighs:
+It's the first time she's been able to get inside his mind as well as his body.
+She leans forward and whispers in his ear, "Manfred, can you hear me?"
+He twitches. Mouth gagged, fingers glued. Good. No back channels. He's
+"This is what it's like to be tetraplegic, Manfred. Bedridden with motor neuron
+disease. Locked inside your own body by nv-CJD from eating too many
+contaminated burgers. I could spike you with MPTP, and you'd stay in this
+position for the rest of your life, shitting in a bag, pissing through a tube.
+Unable to talk and with nobody to look after you. Do you think you'd like
+He's trying to grunt or whimper around the ball gag. She hikes her skirt up
+around her waist and climbs onto the bed, straddling him. The goggles are
+replaying scenes she picked up around Cambridge the previous winter - soup
+kitchen scenes, hospice scenes. She kneels atop him, whispering in his ear.
+"Twelve million in tax, baby, that's what they think you owe them. What do you
+think you owe /{me}/? That's six million in net income, Manny, six million that
+isn't going into your virtual children's mouths."
+He's rolling his head from side to side, as if trying to argue. That won't do;
+she slaps him hard, thrills to his frightened expression. "Today I watched you
+give uncounted millions away, Manny. Millions, to a bunch of crusties and a
+MassPike pirate! You bastard. Do you know what I should do with you?" He's
+cringing, unsure whether she's serious or doing this just to get him turned on.
+There's no point trying to hold a conversation. She leans forward until she can
+feel his breath in her ear. "Meat and mind, Manny. Meat, and mind. You're not
+interested in meat, are you? Just mind. You could be boiled alive before you
+noticed what was happening in the meatspace around you. Just another lobster in
+a pot. The only thing keeping you out of it is how much I love you." She
+reaches down and tears away the gel pouch, exposing his penis: it's stiff as a
+post from the vasodilators, dripping with gel, numb. Straightening up, she
+eases herself slowly down on it. It doesn't hurt as much as she expected, and
+the sensation is utterly different from what she's used to. She begins to lean
+forward, grabs hold of his straining arms, feels his thrilling helplessness.
+She can't control herself: She almost bites through her lip with the intensity
+of the sensation. Afterward, she reaches down and massages him until he begins
+to spasm, shuddering uncontrollably, emptying the Darwinian river of his source
+code into her, communicating via his only output device.
+She rolls off his hips and carefully uses the last of the superglue to gum her
+labia together. Humans don't produce seminiferous plugs, and although she's
+fertile, she wants to be absolutely sure. The glue will last for a day or two.
+She feels hot and flushed, almost out of control. Boiling to death with febrile
+expectancy, she's nailed him down at last.
+When she removes his glasses, his eyes are naked and vulnerable, stripped down
+to the human kernel of his nearly transcendent mind. "You can come and sign the
+marriage license tomorrow morning after breakfast," she whispers in his ear:
+"Otherwise, my lawyers will be in touch. Your parents will want a ceremony, but
+we can arrange that later."
+He looks as if he has something to say, so she finally relents and loosens the
+gag, then kisses him tenderly on one cheek. He swallows, coughs, and looks
+away. "Why? Why do it this way?"
+She taps him on the chest. "It's all about property rights." She pauses for a
+moment's thought: There's a huge ideological chasm to bridge, after all. "You
+finally convinced me about this agalmic thing of yours, this giving everything
+away for brownie points. I wasn't going to lose you to a bunch of lobsters or
+uploaded kittens, or whatever else is going to inherit this smart-matter
+singularity you're busy creating. So I decided to take what's mine first. Who
+knows? In a few months, I'll give you back a new intelligence, and you can look
+after it to your heart's content."
+"But you didn't need to do it this way -"
+"Didn't I?" She slides off the bed and pulls down her dress. "You give too much
+away too easily, Manny! Slow down, or there won't be anything left." Leaning
+over the bed she dribbles acetone onto the fingers of his left hand, then
+unlocks the cuff. She leaves the bottle of solvent conveniently close to hand
+so he can untangle himself.
+"See you tomorrow. Remember, after breakfast."
+She's in the doorway when he calls, "But you didn't say /{why}/!"
+"Think of it as being sort of like spreading your memes around," she says,
+blowing a kiss at him, and then closing the door. She bends down and
+thoughtfully places another cardboard box containing an uploaded kitten right
+outside it. Then she returns to her suite to make arrangements for the
+alchemical wedding.
+1~ Chapter 2: Troubadour
+Three years later, Manfred is on the run. His gray-eyed fate is in hot pursuit,
+blundering after him through divorce court, chat room, and meetings of the
+International Monetary Emergency Fund. It's a merry dance he leads her. But
+Manfred isn't running away, he's discovered a mission. He's going to make a
+stand against the laws of economics in the ancient city of Rome. He's going to
+mount a concert for the spiritual machines. He's going to set the companies
+free, and break the Italian state government.
+In his shadow, his monster runs, keeping him company, never halting.
+* * *
+Manfred re-enters Europe through an airport that's all twentieth-century chrome
+and ductwork, barbaric in its decaying nuclear-age splendor. He breezes through
+customs and walks down a long, echoing arrival hall, sampling the local media
+feeds. It's November, and in a misplaced corporate search for seasonal cheer,
+the proprietors have come up with a final solution to the Christmas problem, a
+mass execution of plush Santas and elves. Bodies hang limply overhead every few
+meters, feet occasionally twitching in animatronic death, like a war crime
+perpetrated in a toy shop. Today's increasingly automated corporations don't
+understand mortality, Manfred thinks, as he passes a mother herding along her
+upset children. Their immortality is a drawback when dealing with the humans
+they graze on: They lack insight into one of the main factors that motivates
+the meat machines who feed them. Well, sooner or later we'll have to do
+something about that, he tells himself.
+The free media channels here are denser and more richly self-referential than
+anything he's seen in President Santorum's America. The accent's different,
+though. Luton, London's fourth satellite airport, speaks with an annoyingly
+bumptious twang, like Australian with a plum in its mouth. /{Hello, stranger!
+Is that a brain in your pocket or are you just pleased to think me? Ping
+Watford Informatics for the latest in cognitive modules and cheesy
+motion-picture references.}/ He turns the corner and finds himself squeezed up
+against the wall between the baggage reclaim office and a crowd of drunken
+Belgian tractor-drag fans, while his left goggle is trying to urgently tell him
+something about the railway infrastructure of Columbia. The fans wear blue face
+paint and chant something that sounds ominously like the ancient British war
+cry, /{Wemberrrly, Wemberrrly}/, and they're dragging a gigantic virtual
+tractor totem through the webspace analogue of the arrivals hall. He takes the
+reclaim office instead.
+As he enters the baggage reclaim zone, his jacket stiffens, and his glasses
+dim: He can hear the lost souls of suitcases crying for their owners. The eerie
+keening sets his own accessories on edge with a sense of loss, and for a
+moment, he's so spooked that he nearly shuts down the thalamic-limbic shunt
+interface that lets him feel their emotions. He's not in favor of emotions
+right now, not with the messy divorce proceedings and the blood sacrifice Pam
+is trying to extract from him; he'd much rather love and loss and hate had
+never been invented. But he needs the maximum possible sensory bandwidth to
+keep in touch with the world, so he feels it in his guts every time his
+footwear takes a shine to some Moldovan pyramid scheme. /{Shut up}/, he glyphs
+at his unruly herd of agents; I /{can't even hear myself think!}/
+"Hello, sir, have a nice day, how may I be of service?" the yellow plastic
+suitcase on the counter says chirpily. It doesn't fool Manfred: He can see the
+Stalinist lines of control chaining it to the sinister, faceless cash register
+that lurks below the desk, agent of the British Airport Authority corporate
+bureaucracy. But that's okay. Only bags need fear for their freedom in here.
+"Just looking," he mumbles. And it's true. Because of a not entirely accidental
+cryptographic routing feature embedded in an airline reservations server, his
+suitcase is on its way to Mombasa, where it will probably be pithed and
+resurrected in the service of some African cyber-Fagin. That's okay by Manfred
+- it only contains a statistically normal mixture of second hand clothes and
+toiletries, and he only carries it to convince the airline passenger-profiling
+expert systems that he isn't some sort of deviant or terrorist - but it leaves
+him with a gap in his inventory that he must fill before he leaves the EU zone.
+He needs to pick up a replacement suitcase so that he has as much luggage
+leaving the superpower as he had when he entered it: He doesn't want to be
+accused of trafficking in physical goods in the midst of the transatlantic
+trade war between new world protectionists and old world globalists. At least,
+that's his cover story - and he's sticking to it.
+There's a row of unclaimed bags in front of the counter, up for sale in the
+absence of their owners. Some of them are very battered, but among them is a
+rather good-quality suitcase with integral induction-charged rollers and a keen
+sense of loyalty: exactly the same model as his old one. He polls it and sees
+not just GPS, but a Galileo tracker, a gazetteer the size of an old-time
+storage area network, and an iron determination to follow its owner as far as
+the gates of hell if necessary. Plus the right distinctive scratch on the lower
+left side of the case. "How much for just this one?" he asks the bellwether on
+the desk.
+"Ninety euros," it says placidly.
+Manfred sighs. "You can do better than that." In the time it takes them to
+settle on seventy-five, the Hang Sen Index is down fourteen-point-one-six
+points, and what's left of NASDAQ climbs another two-point-one. "Deal." Manfred
+spits some virtual cash at the brutal face of the cash register, and it
+unfetters the suitcase, unaware that Macx has paid a good bit more than
+seventy-five euros for the privilege of collecting this piece of baggage.
+Manfred bends down and faces the camera in its handle. "Manfred Macx," he says
+quietly. "Follow me." He feels the handle heat up as it imprints on his
+fingerprints, digital and phenotypic. Then he turns and walks out of the slave
+market, his new luggage rolling at his heels.
+* * *
+A short train journey later, Manfred checks into a hotel in Milton Keynes. He
+watches the sun set from his bedroom window, an occlusion of concrete cows
+blocking the horizon. The room is functional in an overly naturalistic kind of
+way, rattan and force-grown hardwood and hemp rugs concealing the support
+systems and concrete walls behind. He sits in a chair, gin and tonic at hand,
+absorbing the latest market news and grazing his multichannel feeds in
+parallel. His reputation is up two percent for no obvious reason today, he
+notices: Odd, that. When he pokes at it he discovers that /{everybody's}/
+reputation - everybody, that is, who has a publicly traded reputation - is up a
+bit. It's as if the distributed Internet reputation servers are feeling bullish
+about integrity. Maybe there's a global honesty bubble forming.
+Manfred frowns, then snaps his fingers. The suitcase rolls toward him. "Who do
+you belong to?" he asks.
+"Manfred Macx," it replies, slightly bashfully.
+"No, before me."
+"I don't understand that question."
+He sighs. "Open up."
+Latches whir and retract: The hard-shell lid rises toward him, and he looks
+inside to confirm the contents.
+The suitcase is full of noise.
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to the early twenty-first century, human.
+_1 It's night in Milton Keynes, sunrise in Hong Kong. Moore's Law rolls
+inexorably on, dragging humanity toward the uncertain future. The planets of
+the solar system have a combined mass of approximately 2 x 10^{27}^ kilograms.
+Around the world, laboring women produce forty-five thousand babies a day,
+representing 10^{23}^ MIPS of processing power. Also around the world, fab
+lines casually churn out thirty million microprocessors a day, representing
+10^{23}^ MIPS. In another ten months, most of the MIPS being added to the solar
+system will be machine-hosted for the first time. About ten years after that,
+the solar system's installed processing power will nudge the critical 1 MIPS
+per gram threshold - one million instructions per second per gram of matter.
+After that, singularity - a vanishing point beyond which extrapolating progress
+becomes meaningless. The time remaining before the intelligence spike is down
+to single-digit years ...
+* * *
+Aineko curls on the pillow beside Manfred's head, purring softly as his owner
+dreams uneasily. The night outside is dark: Vehicles operate on autopilot,
+running lights dipped to let the Milky Way shine down upon the sleeping city.
+Their quiet, fuel-cell-powered engines do not trouble Manfred's sleep. The
+robot cat keeps sleepless watch, alert for intruders, but there are none, save
+the whispering ghosts of Manfred's metacortex, feeding his dreams with their
+state vectors.
+The metacortex - a distributed cloud of software agents that surrounds him in
+netspace, borrowing CPU cycles from convenient processors (such as his robot
+pet) - is as much a part of Manfred as the society of mind that occupies his
+skull; his thoughts migrate into it, spawning new agents to research new
+experiences, and at night, they return to roost and share their knowledge.
+While Manfred sleeps, he dreams of an alchemical marriage. She waits for him at
+the altar in a strapless black gown, the surgical instruments gleaming in her
+gloved hands. "This won't hurt a bit," she explains as she adjusts the straps.
+"I only want your genome - the extended phenotype can wait until ... later."
+Blood-red lips, licked: a kiss of steel, then she presents the income tax bill.
+There's nothing accidental about this dream. As he experiences it,
+microelectrodes in his hypothalamus trigger sensitive neurons. Revulsion and
+shame flood him at the sight of her face, the sense of his vulnerability.
+Manfred's metacortex, in order to facilitate his divorce, is trying to
+decondition his strange love. It has been working on him for weeks, but still
+he craves her whiplash touch, the humiliation of his wife's control, the sense
+of helpless rage at her unpayable taxes, demanded with interest.
+Aineko watches him from the pillow, purring continuously. Retractable claws
+knead the bedding, first one paw, then the next. Aineko is full of ancient
+feline wisdom that Pamela installed back when mistress and master were
+exchanging data and bodily fluids rather than legal documents. Aineko is more
+cat than robot, these days, thanks in part to her hobbyist's interest in feline
+neuroanatomy. Aineko knows that Manfred is experiencing nameless neurasthenic
+agonies, but really doesn't give a shit about that as long as the power supply
+is clean and there are no intruders.
+Aineko curls up and joins Manfred in sleep, dreaming of laser-guided mice.
+* * *
+Manfred is jolted awake by the hotel room phone shrilling for attention.
+"Hello?" he asks, fuzzily.
+"Manfred Macx?" It's a human voice, with a gravelly east coast accent.
+"Yeah?" Manfred struggles to sit up. His mouth feels like the inside of a tomb,
+and his eyes don't want to open.
+"My name is Alan Glashwiecz, of Smoot, Sedgwick Associates. Am I correct in
+thinking that you are the Manfred Macx who is a director of a company called,
+uh, agalmic dot holdings dot root dot one-eight-four dot ninety-seven dot
+A-for-able dot B-for-baker dot five, incorporated?"
+"Uh." Manfred blinks and rubs his eyes. "Hold on a moment." When the retinal
+patterns fade, he pulls on his glasses and powers them up. "Just a second now."
+Browsers and menus ricochet through his sleep-laden eyes. "Can you repeat the
+company name?"
+"Sure." Glashwiecz repeats himself patiently. He sounds as tired as Manfred
+"Um." Manfred finds it, floating three tiers down an elaborate object
+hierarchy. It's flashing for attention. There's a priority interrupt, an
+incoming lawsuit that hasn't propagated up the inheritance tree yet. He prods
+at the object with a property browser. "I'm afraid I'm not a director of that
+company, Mr. Glashwiecz. I appear to be retained by it as a technical
+contractor with non-executive power, reporting to the president, but frankly,
+this is the first time I've ever heard of the company. However, I can tell you
+who's in charge if you want."
+"Yes?" The attorney sounds almost interested. Manfred figures it out; the guy's
+in New Jersey, it must be about three in the morning over there.
+Malice - revenge for waking him up - sharpens Manfred's voice. "The president
+of agalmic.holdings.root.184.97.AB5 is agalmic.holdings.root.184.97.201. The
+secretary is agalmic.holdings.root.184.D5, and the chair is
+agalmic.holdings.root.184.E8.FF. All the shares are owned by those companies in
+equal measure, and I can tell you that their regulations are written in Python.
+Have a nice day, now!" He thumps the bedside phone control and sits up,
+yawning, then pushes the do-not-disturb button before it can interrupt again.
+After a moment he stands up and stretches, then heads to the bathroom to brush
+his teeth, comb his hair, and figure out where the lawsuit originated and how a
+human being managed to get far enough through his web of robot companies to bug
+* * *
+While he's having breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Manfred decides that he's
+going to do something unusual for a change: He's going to make himself
+temporarily rich. This is a change because Manfred's normal profession is
+making other people rich. Manfred doesn't believe in scarcity or zero-sum games
+or competition - his world is too fast and information-dense to accommodate
+primate hierarchy games. However, his current situation calls for him to do
+something radical: something like making himself a temporary billionaire so he
+can blow off his divorce settlement in an instant, like a wily accountancy
+octopus escaping a predator by vanishing in a cloud of his own black ink.
+Pam is chasing him partially for ideological reasons - she still hasn't given
+up on the idea of government as the dominant superorganism of the age - but
+also because she loves him in her own peculiar way, and the last thing any
+self-respecting dom can tolerate is rejection by her slave. Pam is a born-again
+postconservative, a member of the first generation to grow up after the end of
+the American century. Driven by the need to fix the decaying federal system
+before it collapses under a mound of Medicare bills, overseas adventurism, and
+decaying infrastructure, she's willing to use self-denial, entrapment,
+predatory mercantilism, dirty tricks, and any other tool that boosts the bottom
+line. She doesn't approve of Manfred's jetting around the world on free airline
+passes, making strangers rich, somehow never needing money. She can see his
+listing on the reputation servers, hovering about thirty points above IBM: All
+the metrics of integrity, effectiveness and goodwill value him above even that
+most fundamentalist of open-source computer companies. And she knows he craves
+her tough love, wants to give himself to her completely. So why is he running
+The reason he's running away is entirely more ordinary. Their unborn daughter,
+frozen in liquid nitrogen, is an unimplanted 96-hour-old blastula. Pam's bought
+into the whole Parents for Traditional Children parasite meme. PTC are
+germ-line recombination refuseniks: They refuse to have their children screened
+for fixable errors. If there's one thing that Manfred really can't cope with,
+it's the idea that nature knows best - even though that isn't the point she's
+making. One steaming row too many, and he kicked back, off to traveling fast
+and footloose again, spinning off new ideas like a memetic dynamo and living on
+the largesse of the new paradigm. File for divorce on grounds of irreconcilable
+ideological differences. No more whiplash-and-leather sex.
+* * *
+Before he hits the TGV for Rome, Manfred takes time to visit a model airplane
+show. It's a good place to be picked up by a CIA stringer - he's had a tip-off
+that someone will be there - and besides, flying models are hot hacker shit
+this decade. Add microtechnology, cameras, and neural networks to balsa-wood
+flyers, and you've got the next generation of military stealth flyer: It's a
+fertile talent-show scene, like the hacker cons of yore. This particular gig is
+happening in a decaying out-of-town supermarket that rents out its shop floor
+for events like this. Its emptiness is a sign of the times, ubiquitous
+broadband and expensive gas. (The robotized warehouse next door is, in
+contrast, frenetically busy, packing parcels for home delivery. Whether they
+telecommute or herd in meatspace offices, people still need to eat.)
+Today, the food hall is full of people. Eldritch ersatz insects buzz menacingly
+along the shining empty meat counters without fear of electrocution. Big
+monitors unfurled above the deli display cabinets show a weird, jerky view of a
+three-dimensional nightmare, painted all the synthetic colors of radar. The
+feminine-hygiene galley has been wheeled back to make room for a gigantic
+plastic-shrouded tampon five meters long and sixty centimeters in diameter - a
+microsat launcher and conference display, plonked there by the show's sponsors
+in a transparent attempt to talent-spot the up-and-coming engineering geeks.
+Manfred's glasses zoom in and grab a particularly fetching Fokker triplane that
+buzzes at face height through the crowd: He pipes the image stream up to one of
+his websites in real time. The Fokker pulls up in a tight Immelman turn beneath
+the dust-shrouded pneumatic cash tubes that line the ceiling, then picks up the
+trail of an F-104G. Cold War Luftwaffe and Great War Luftwaffe dart across the
+sky in an intricate game of tag. Manfred's so busy tracking the warbirds that
+he nearly trips over the fat white tube's launcher-erector.
+"Eh, Manfred! More care, s'il vous plait!"
+He wipes the planes and glances round. "Do I know you?" he asks politely, even
+as he feels a shock of recognition.
+"Amsterdam, three years ago." The woman in the double-breasted suit raises an
+eyebrow at him, and his social secretary remembers her for him, whispers in his
+"Annette from Arianespace marketing?" She nods, and he focuses on her. Still
+dressing in the last-century retro mode that confused him the first time they
+met, she looks like a Kennedy-era Secret Service man: cropped bleached crew cut
+like an angry albino hedgehog, pale blue contact lenses, black tie, narrow
+lapels. Only her skin color hints at her Berber ancestry. Her earrings are
+cameras, endlessly watching. Her raised eyebrow turns into a lopsided smile as
+she sees his reaction. "I remember. That cafe in Amsterdam. What brings you
+"Why "- her wave takes in the entirety of the show - "this talent show, of
+course." An elegant shrug and a wave at the orbit-capable tampon. "It's good
+talent. We're hiring this year. If we re-enter the launcher market, we must
+employ only the best. Amateurs, not time-servers, engineers who can match the
+very best Singapore can offer."
+For the first time, Manfred notices the discreet corporate logo on the flank of
+the booster. "You outsourced your launch-vehicle fabrication?"
+Annette pulls a face as she explains with forced casualness: "Space hotels were
+more profitable, this past decade. The high-ups, they cannot be bothered with
+the rocketry, no? Things that go fast and explode, they are passé, they say.
+Diversify, they say. Until -" She gives a very Gallic shrug. Manfred nods; her
+earrings are recording everything she says, for the purposes of due diligence.
+"I'm glad to see Europe re-entering the launcher business," he says seriously.
+"It's going to be very important when the nanosystems conformational
+replication business gets going for real. A major strategic asset to any
+corporate entity in the field, even a hotel chain." Especially now they've
+wound up NASA and the moon race is down to China and India, he thinks sourly.
+Her laugh sounds like glass bells chiming. "And yourself, mon cher? What brings
+you to the Confederaçion? You must have a deal in mind."
+"Well., it's Manfred's turn to shrug, "I was hoping to find a CIA agent, but
+there don't seem to be any here today."
+"That is not surprising," Annette says resentfully. "The CIA thinks the space
+industry, she is dead. Fools!" She continues for a minute, enumerating the many
+shortcomings of the Central Intelligence Agency with vigor and a distinctly
+Parisian rudeness. "They are become almost as bad as AP and Reuters since they
+go public," she adds. "All these wire services! And they are, ah, stingy. The
+CIA does not understand that good news must be paid for at market rates if
+freelance stringers are to survive. They are to be laughed at. It is so easy to
+plant disinformation on them, almost as easy as the Office of Special Plans..."
+She makes a banknote-riffling gesture between fingers and thumb. By way of
+punctuation, a remarkably maneuverable miniature ornithopter swoops around her
+head, does a double-back flip, and dives off in the direction of the liquor
+An Iranian woman wearing a backless leather minidress and a nearly transparent
+scarf barges up and demands to know how much the microbooster costs to buy: She
+is dissatisfied with Annette's attempt to direct her to the manufacturer's
+website, and Annette looks distinctly flustered by the time the woman's
+boyfriend - a dashing young air force pilot - shows up to escort her away.
+"Tourists," she mutters, before noticing Manfred, who is staring off into space
+with fingers twitching. "Manfred?"
+"Uh - what?"
+"I have been on this shop floor for six hours, and my feet, they kill me." She
+takes hold of his left arm and very deliberately unhooks her earrings, turning
+them off. "If I say to you I can write for the CIA wire service, will you take
+me to a restaurant and buy me dinner and tell me what it is you want to say?"
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to the second decade of the twenty-first century; the second decade
+in human history when the intelligence of the environment has shown signs of
+rising to match human demand.
+_1 The news from around the world is distinctly depressing this evening. In
+Maine, guerrillas affiliated with Parents for Traditional Children announce
+they've planted logic bombs in antenatal-clinic gene scanners, making them give
+random false positives when checking for hereditary disorders: The damage so
+far is six illegal abortions and fourteen lawsuits.
+_1 The International Convention on Performing Rights is holding a third round
+of crisis talks in an attempt to stave off the final collapse of the WIPO music
+licensing regime. On the one hand, hard-liners representing the Copyright
+Control Association of America are pressing for restrictions on duplicating the
+altered emotional states associated with specific media performances: As a
+demonstration that they mean business, two "software engineers" in California
+have been kneecapped, tarred, feathered, and left for dead under placards
+accusing them of reverse-engineering movie plot lines using avatars of dead and
+out-of-copyright stars.
+_1 On the opposite side of the fence, the Association of Free Artists are
+demanding the right of perform music in public without a recording contract,
+and are denouncing the CCAA as being a tool of Mafiya apparachiks who have
+bought it from the moribund music industry in an attempt to go legit. FBI
+Director Leonid Kuibyshev responds by denying that the Mafiya is a significant
+presence in the United States. But the music biz's position isn't strengthened
+by the near collapse of the legitimate American entertainment industry, which
+has been accelerating ever since the nasty noughties.
+_1 A marginally intelligent voicemail virus masquerading as an IRS auditor has
+caused havoc throughout America, garnishing an estimated eighty billion dollars
+in confiscatory tax withholdings into a numbered Swiss bank account. A
+different virus is busy hijacking people's bank accounts, sending ten percent
+of their assets to the previous victim, then mailing itself to everyone in the
+current mark's address book: a self- propelled pyramid scheme in action. Oddly,
+nobody is complaining much. While the mess is being sorted out, business IT
+departments have gone to standby, refusing to process any transaction that
+doesn't come in the shape of ink on dead trees.
+_1 Tipsters are warning of an impending readjustment in the overinflated
+reputations market, following revelations that some u-media gurus have been
+hyped past all realistic levels of credibility. The consequent damage to the
+junk-bonds market in integrity is serious.
+_1 The EU council of independent heads of state has denied plans for another
+attempt at Eurofederalisme, at least until the economy rises out of its current
+slump. Three extinct species have been resurrected in the past month;
+unfortunately, endangered ones are now dying off at a rate of one a day. And a
+group of militant anti-GM campaigners are being pursued by Interpol, after
+their announcement that they have spliced a metabolic pathway for cyanogenic
+glycosides into maize seed corn destined for human-edible crops. There have
+been no deaths yet, but having to test breakfast cereal for cyanide is really
+going to dent consumer trust.
+_1 About the only people who're doing well right now are the uploaded lobsters
+- and the crusties aren't even remotely human.
+* * *
+Manfred and Annette eat on the top deck of the buffet car, chatting as their
+TGV barrels through a tunnel under the English Channel. Annette, it transpires,
+has been commuting daily from Paris; which was, in any case, Manfred's next
+destination. From the show, he messaged Aineko to round up his baggage and meet
+him at St. Pancras Station, in a terminal like the shell of a giant steel
+woodlouse. Annette left her space launcher in the supermarket overnight: an
+unfueled test article, it is of no security significance.
+The railway buffet car is run by a Nepalese fast-food franchise. "I sometimes
+wish for to stay on the train," Annette says as she waits for her mismas bhat.
+"Past Paris! Think. Settle back in your couchette, to awaken in Moscow and
+change trains. All the way to Vladivostok in two days."
+"If they let you through the border," Manfred mutters. Russia is one of those
+places that still requires passports and asks if you are now or ever have been
+an anti-anticommunist: It's still trapped by its bloody-handed history. (Rewind
+the video stream to Stolypin's necktie party and start out fresh.) Besides,
+they have enemies: White Russian oligarchs, protection racketeers in the
+intellectual property business. Psychotic relics of the last decade's
+experiment with Marxism-Objectivism. "Are you really a CIA stringer?"
+Annette grins, her lips disconcertingly red: "I file dispatches from time to
+time. Nothing that could get me fired."
+Manfred nods. "My wife has access to their unfiltered stream."
+"Your -" Annette pauses. "It was she who I, I met? In De Wildemann's?" She sees
+his expression. "Oh, my poor fool!" She raises her glass to him. "It is, has,
+not gone well?"
+Manfred sighs and raises a toast toward Annette. "You know your marriage is in
+a bad way when you send your spouse messages via the CIA, and she communicates
+using the IRS."
+"In only five years." Annette winces. "You will pardon me for saying this - she
+did not look like your type." There's a question hidden behind that statement,
+and he notices again how good she is at overloading her statements with
+"I'm not sure what my type is," he says, half-truthfully. He can't elude the
+sense that something not of either of their doing went wrong between him and
+Pamela, a subtle intrusion that levered them apart by stealth. Maybe it was me,
+he thinks. Sometimes he isn't certain he's still human; too many threads of his
+consciousness seem to live outside his head, reporting back whenever they find
+something interesting. Sometimes he feels like a puppet, and that frightens him
+because it's one of the early-warning signs of schizophrenia. And it's too
+early for anyone out there to be trying to hack exocortices ... isn't it? Right
+now, the external threads of his consciousness are telling him that they like
+Annette, when she's being herself instead of a cog in the meatspace ensemble of
+Arianespace management. But the part of him that's still human isn't sure just
+how far to trust himself. "I want to be me. What do you want to be?"
+She shrugs, as a waiter slides a plate in front of her. "I'm just a, a Parisian
+babe, no? An ingénue raised in the lilac age of le Confederaçion Europé, the
+self-deconstructed ruins of the gilded European Union."
+"Yeah, right." A plate appears in front of Manfred. "And I'm a good old
+microboomer from the MassPike corridor." He peels back a corner of the omelet
+topping and inspects the food underneath it. "Born in the sunset years of the
+American century." He pokes at one of the unidentifiable meaty lumps in the
+fried rice with his fork, and it pokes right back. There's a limit to how much
+his agents can tell him about her - European privacy laws are draconian by
+American standards - but he knows the essentials. Two parents who are still
+together, father a petty politician in some town council down in the vicinity
+of Toulouse. Went to the right école. The obligatory year spent bumming around
+the Confederaçion at government expense, learning how other people live - a new
+kind of empire building, in place of the 20th century's conscription and
+jackboot wanderjahr. No weblog or personal site that his agents can find. She
+joined Arianespace right out of the Polytechnique and has been management track
+ever since: Korou, Manhattan Island, Paris. "You've never been married, I take
+She chuckles. "Time is too short! I am still young." She picks up a forkful of
+food, and adds quietly. "Besides, the government would insist on paying."
+"Ah." Manfred tucks into his bowl thoughtfully. With the birth rate declining
+across Europe, the EC bureaucracy is worried; the old EU started subsidizing
+babies, a new generation of carers, a decade ago, and it still hasn't dented
+the problem. All it's done is alienate the brightest women of childbearing age.
+Soon they'll have to look to the east for a solution, importing a new
+generation of citizens - unless the long-promised aging hacks prove workable,
+or cheap AI comes along.
+"Do you have a hotel?" Annette asks suddenly.
+"In Paris?" Manfred is startled: "Not yet."
+"You must come home with me, then." She looks at him quizzically.
+"I'm not sure I - " He catches her expression. "What is it?"
+"Oh, nothing. My friend Henri, he says I take in strays too easily. But you are
+not a stray. I think you can look after yourself. Besides, it is the Friday
+today. Come with me, and I will file your press release for the Company to
+read. Tell me, do you dance? You look as if you need a wild week ending, to
+help forget your troubles!"
+* * *
+Annette drives a steamroller seduction through Manfred's plans for the weekend.
+He intended to find a hotel, file a press release, then spend some time
+researching the corporate funding structure of Parents for Traditional Children
+and the dimensionality of confidence variation on the reputation exchanges -
+then head for Rome. Instead, Annette drags him back to her apartment, a large
+studio flat tucked away behind an alley in the Marais. She sits him at the
+breakfast bar while she tidies away his luggage, then makes him close his eyes
+and swallow two dubious-tasting capsules. Next, she pours them each a tall
+glass of freezing-cold Aqvavit that tastes exactly like Polish rye bread. When
+they finish it, she just about rips his clothes off. Manfred is startled to
+discover that he has a crowbar-stiff erection; since the last blazing row with
+Pamela, he'd vaguely assumed he was no longer interested in sex. Instead, they
+end up naked on the sofa, surrounded by discarded clothing - Annette is very
+conservative, preferring the naked penetrative fuck of the last century to the
+more sophisticated fetishes of the present day.
+Afterward, he's even more surprised to discover that he's still tumescent. "The
+capsules?" he asks.
+She sprawls a well-muscled but thin thigh across him, then reaches down to grab
+his penis. Squeezes it. "Yes," she admits. "You need much special help to
+unwind, I think." Another squeeze. "Crystal meth and a traditional
+phosphodiesterase inhibitor." He grabs one of her small breasts, feeling very
+brutish and primitive. Naked. He's not sure Pamela ever let him see her fully
+naked: She thought skin was more sexy when it was covered. Annette squeezes him
+again, and he stiffens. "More!"
+By the time they finish, he's aching, and she shows him how to use the bidet.
+Everything is crystal clear, and her touch is electrifying. While she showers,
+he sits on the toilet seat lid and rants about Turing-completeness as an
+attribute of company law, about cellular automata and the blind knapsack
+problem, about his work on solving the Communist Central Planning problem using
+a network of interlocking unmanned companies. About the impending market
+adjustment in integrity, the sinister resurrection of the recording music
+industry, and the still-pressing need to dismantle Mars.
+When she steps out of the shower, he tells her that he loves her. She kisses
+him and slides his glasses and earpieces off his head so that he's really
+naked, sits on his lap, and fucks his brains out again, and whispers in his ear
+that she loves him and wants to be his manager. Then she leads him into her
+bedroom and tells him exactly what she wants him to wear, and she puts on her
+own clothes, and she gives him a mirror with some white powder on it to sniff.
+When she's got him dolled up they go out for a night of really serious
+clubbing, Annette in a tuxedo and Manfred in a blond wig, red silk
+off-the-shoulder gown, and high heels. Sometime in the early hours, exhausted
+and resting his head on her shoulder during the last tango in a BDSM club in
+the Rue Ste-Anne, he realizes that it really is possible to be in lust with
+someone other than Pamela.
+* * *
+Aineko wakes Manfred by repeatedly head-butting him above the left eye. He
+groans, and as he tries to open his eyes, he finds that his mouth tastes like a
+dead trout, his skin feels greasy with make-up, and his head is pounding.
+There's a banging noise somewhere. Aineko meows urgently. He sits up, feeling
+unaccustomed silk underwear rubbing against incredibly sore skin - he's fully
+dressed, just sprawled out on the sofa. Snores emanate from the bedroom; the
+banging is coming from the front door. Someone wants to come in. Shit. He rubs
+his head, stands up, and nearly falls flat on his face: He hasn't even taken
+those ridiculous high heels off. How much did I drink last night? he wonders.
+His glasses are on the breakfast bar; he pulls them on and is besieged by an
+urgent flurry of ideas demanding attention. He straightens his wig, picks up
+his skirts, and trips across to the door with a sinking feeling. Luckily his
+publicly traded reputation is strictly technical.
+He unlocks the door. "Who is it?" he asks in English. By way of reply somebody
+shoves the door in, hard. Manfred falls back against the wall, winded. His
+glasses stop working, sidelook displays filling with multicolored static.
+Two men charge in, identically dressed in jeans and leather jackets. They're
+wearing gloves and occlusive face masks, and one of them points a small and
+very menacing ID card at Manfred. A self-propelled gun hovers in the doorway,
+watching everything. "Where is he?"
+"Who?" gasps Manfred, breathless and terrified.
+"Macx." The other intruder steps into the living room quickly, pans around,
+ducks through the bathroom door. Aineko flops as limp as a dishrag in front of
+the sofa. The intruder checks out the bedroom: There's a brief scream, cut off
+"I don't know - who?" Manfred is choking with fear.
+The other intruder ducks out of the bedroom, waves a hand dismissively.
+"We are sorry to have bothered you," the man with the card says stiffly. He
+replaced it in his jacket pocket. "If you should see Manfred Macx, tell him
+that the Copyright Control Association of America advises him to cease and
+desist from his attempt to assist music thieves and other degenerate mongrel
+second-hander enemies of Objectivism. Reputations only of use to those alive to
+own them. Goodbye."
+The two copyright gangsters disappear through the door, leaving Manfred to
+shake his head dizzily while his glasses reboot. It takes him a moment to
+register the scream from the bedroom. "Fuck - Annette!"
+She appears in the open doorway, holding a sheet around her waist, looking
+angry and confused. "Annette!" he calls. She looks around, sees him, and begins
+to laugh shakily. "Annette!" He crosses over to her. "You're okay," he says.
+"You're okay."
+"You too." She hugs him, and she's shaking. Then she holds him at arm's length.
+"My, what a pretty picture!"
+"They wanted me," he says, and his teeth are chattering. "Why?"
+She looks up at him seriously. "You must bathe. Then have coffee. We are not at
+home, oui?"
+"Ah, oui." He looks down. Aineko is sitting up, looking dazed. "Shower. Then
+that dispatch for CIA news."
+"The dispatch?" She looks puzzled. "I filed that last night. When I was in the
+shower. The microphone, he is waterproof."
+* * *
+By the time Arianespace's security contractors show up, Manfred has stripped
+off Annette's evening gown and showered; he's sitting in the living room
+wearing a bathrobe, drinking a half-liter mug of espresso and swearing under
+his breath.
+While he was dancing the night away in Annette's arms, the global reputation
+market has gone nonlinear: People are putting their trust in the Christian
+Coalition and the Eurocommunist Alliance - always a sign that the times are bad
+- while perfectly sound trading enterprises have gone into free fall, as if a
+major bribery scandal has broken out.
+Manfred trades ideas for kudos via the Free Intellect Foundation, bastard child
+of George Soros and Richard Stallman. His reputation is cemented by donations
+to the public good that don't backfire. So he's offended and startled to
+discover that he's dropped twenty points in the past two hours - and frightened
+to see that this is by no means unusual. He was expecting a ten-point drop
+mediated via an options trade - payment for the use of the anonymous luggage
+remixer that routed his old suitcase to Mombasa and in return sent this new one
+to him via the left-luggage office in Luton - but this is more serious. The
+entire reputation market seems to have been hit by the confidence flu.
+Annette bustles around busily, pointing out angles and timings to the forensics
+team her head office sent in answer to her call for back-up. She seems more
+angry and shaken than worried by the intrusion. It's probably an occupational
+hazard for any upwardly mobile executive in the old, grasping network of greed
+that Manfred's agalmic future aims to supplant. The forensics dude and dudette,
+a pair of cute, tanned Lebanese youngsters, point the yellow snout of their
+mass spectroscope into various corners and agree that there's something not
+unlike gun oil in the air. But, so sorry, the intruders wore masks to trap the
+skin particles and left behind a spray of dust vacuumed from the seat of a city
+bus, so there's no way of getting a genotype match. Presently they agree to log
+it as a suspected corporate intrusion (origin: unclassified; severity:
+worrying) and increase the logging level on her kitchen telemetry. And remember
+to wear your earrings at all times, please. They leave, and Annette locks the
+door, leans against it, and curses for a whole long minute.
+"They gave me a message from the copyright control agency," Manfred says
+unevenly when she winds down. "Russian gangsters from New York bought the
+recording cartels a few years ago, you know? After the rights stitch-up fell
+apart, and the artists all went on-line while they focused on copy prevention
+technologies, the Mafiya were the only people who would buy the old business
+model. These guys add a whole new meaning to copy protection: This was just a
+polite cease and desist notice by their standards. They run the record shops,
+and they try to block any music distribution channel they don't own. Not very
+successfully, though - most gangsters are living in the past, more conservative
+than any normal businessman can afford to be. What was it that you put on the
+Annette closes her eyes. "I don't remember. No." She holds up a hand. "Open
+mike. I streamed you into a file and cut, cut out the bits about me." She opens
+her eyes and shakes her head. "What was I on?"
+"You don't know either?"
+He stands up, and she walks over and throws her arms around him. "I was on
+you," she murmurs.
+"Bullshit." He pulls away, then sees how this upsets her. Something is blinking
+for attention in his glasses; he's been off-line for the best part of six hours
+and is getting a panicky butterfly stomach at the idea of not being in touch
+with everything that's happened in the last twenty kiloseconds. "I need to know
+more. Something in that report rattled the wrong cages. Or someone ratted on
+the suitcase exchange - I meant the dispatch to be a heads-up for whoever needs
+a working state planning system, not an invitation to shoot me!"
+"Well, then." She lets go of him. "Do your work." Coolly: "I'll be around."
+He realizes that he's hurt her, but he doesn't see any way of explaining that
+he didn't mean to - at least, not without digging himself in deeper. He
+finishes his croissant and plunges into one of those unavoidable fits of deep
+interaction, fingers twitching on invisible keypads and eyeballs jiggling as
+his glasses funnel deep media straight into his skull through the highest
+bandwidth channel currently available.
+One of his e-mail accounts is halfway to the moon with automatic messages,
+companies with names like agalmic.holdings.root.8E.F0 screaming for the
+attention of their transitive director. Each of these companies - and there are
+currently more than sixteen thousand of them, although the herd is growing day
+by day - has three directors and is the director of three other companies. Each
+of them executes a script in a functional language Manfred invented; the
+directors tell the company what to do, and the instructions include orders to
+pass instructions on to their children. In effect, they are a flock of cellular
+automata, like the cells in Conway's Game of Life, only far more complex and
+Manfred's companies form a programmable grid. Some of them are armed with
+capital in the form of patents Manfred filed, then delegated rather than
+passing on to one of the Free Foundations. Some of them are effectively
+nontrading, but occupy directorial roles. Their corporate functions (such as
+filing of accounts and voting in new directors) are all handled centrally
+through his company-operating framework, and their trading is carried out via
+several of the more popular B2B enabler dot-coms. Internally, the companies do
+other, more obscure load-balancing computations, processing resource-allocation
+problems like a classic state central planning system. None of which explains
+why fully half of them have been hit by lawsuits in the past twenty-two hours.
+The lawsuits are ... random. That's the only pattern Manfred can detect. Some
+of them allege patent infringements; these he might take seriously, except that
+about a third of the targets are director companies that don't actually do
+anything visible to the public. A few lawsuits allege mismanagement, but then
+there's a whole bizarre raft of spurious nonsense: suits for wrongful dismissal
+or age discrimination - against companies with no employees - complaints about
+reckless trading, and one action alleging that the defendant (in conspiracy
+with the prime minister of Japan, the government of Canada, and the Emir of
+Kuwait) is using orbital mind-control lasers to make the plaintiff's pet
+chihuahua bark at all hours of day and night.
+Manfred groans and does a quick calculation. At the current rate, lawsuits are
+hitting his corporate grid at a rate of one every sixteen seconds - up from
+none in the preceding six months. In another day, this is going to saturate
+him. If it keeps up for a week, it'll saturate every court in the United
+States. Someone has found a means to do for lawsuits what he's doing for
+companies - and they've chosen him as their target.
+To say that Manfred is unamused is an understatement. If he wasn't already
+preoccupied with Annette's emotional state and edgy from the intrusion, he'd be
+livid - but he's still human enough that he responds to human stimuli first. So
+he determines to do something about it, but he's still flashing on the floating
+gun, her cross-dressing cool.
+Transgression, sex, and networks; these are all on his mind when Glashwiecz
+phones again.
+"Hello?" Manfred answers distractedly; he's busy pondering the lawsuit bot
+that's attacking his systems.
+"Macx! The elusive Mr. Macx!" Glashwiecz sounds positively overjoyed to have
+tracked down his target.
+Manfred winces. "Who is this?" he asks.
+"I called you yesterday," says the lawyer; "You should have listened." He
+chortles horribly. "Now I have you!"
+Manfred holds the phone away from his face, like something poisonous. "I'm
+recording this," he warns. "Who the hell are you and what do you want?"
+"Your wife has retained my partnership's services to pursue her interests in
+your divorce case. When I called you yesterday it was to point out without
+prejudice that your options are running out. I have an order, signed in court
+three days ago, to have all your assets frozen. These ridiculous shell
+companies notwithstanding, she's going to take you for exactly what you owe
+her. After tax, of course. She's very insistent on that point."
+Manfred glances round, puts his phone on hold for a moment: "Where's my
+suitcase?" he asks Aineko. The cat sidles away, ignoring him. "Shit." He can't
+see the new luggage anywhere. Quite possibly it's on its way to Morocco,
+complete with its priceless cargo of high-density noise. He returns his
+attention to the phone. Glashwiecz is droning on about equitable settlements,
+cumulative IRS tax demands - that seem to have materialized out of fantasy with
+Pam's imprimatur on them - and the need to make a clean breast of things in
+court and confess to his sins. "Where's the fucking suitcase?" He takes the
+phone off hold. "Shut the fuck up, please, I'm trying to think."
+"I'm not going to shut up! You're on the court docket already, Macx. You can't
+evade your responsibilities forever. You've got a wife and a helpless daughter
+to care for -"
+"A daughter?" That cuts right through Manfred's preoccupation with the
+"Didn't you know?" Glashwiecz sounds pleasantly surprised. "She was decanted
+last Thursday. Perfectly healthy, I'm told. I thought you knew; you have
+viewing rights via the clinic webcam. Anyway, I'll just leave you with this
+thought - the sooner you come to a settlement, the sooner I can unfreeze your
+companies. Good-bye."
+The suitcase rolls into view, peeping coyly out from behind Annette's dressing
+table. Manfred breathes a sigh of relief and beckons to it; at the moment, it's
+easier to deal with his Plan B than dawn raids by objectivist gangsters,
+Annette's sulk, his wife's incessant legal spamming, and the news that he is a
+father against his will. "C'mon over here, you stray baggage. Let's see what I
+got for my reputation derivatives ..."
+* * *
+Annette's communiqué is anodyne; a giggling confession off camera
+(shower-curtain rain in the background) that the famous Manfred Macx is in
+Paris for a weekend of clubbing, drugging, and general hell-raising. Oh, and
+he's promised to invent three new paradigm shifts before breakfast every day,
+starting with a way to bring about the creation of Really Existing Communism by
+building a state central planning apparatus that interfaces perfectly with
+external market systems and somehow manages to algorithmically outperform the
+Monte Carlo free-for-all of market economics, solving the calculation problem.
+Just because he can, because hacking economics is fun, and he wants to hear the
+screams from the Chicago School.
+Try as he may, Manfred can't see anything in the press release that is at all
+unusual. It's just the sort of thing he does, and getting it on the net was why
+he was looking for a CIA stringer in the first place.
+He tries to explain this to her in the bath as he soaps her back. "I don't
+understand what they're on about," he complains. "There's nothing that tipped
+them off - except that I was in Paris, and you filed the news. You did nothing
+"Mais oui." She turns round, slippery as an eel, and slides backward into the
+water. "I try to tell you this, but you are not listening."
+"I am now." Water droplets cling to the outside of his glasses, plastering his
+view of the room with laser speckle highlights. "I'm sorry, Annette, I brought
+this mess with me. I can take it out of your life."
+"No!" She rises up in front of him and leans forward, face serious. "I said
+yesterday. I want to be your manager. Take me in."
+"I don't need a manager; my whole thing is about being fast and out of
+"You think you do not need a manager, but your companies do," she observes.
+"You have lawsuits, how many? You cannot the time to oversee them spare. The
+Soviets, they abolish capitalists, but even they need managers. Please, let me
+manage for you!"
+Annette is so intense about the idea that she becomes visibly aroused. He leans
+toward her, cups a hand around one taut nipple. "The company matrix isn't sold
+yet," he admits.
+"It is not?" She looks delighted. "Excellent! To who can this be sold, to
+Moscow? To SLORC? To -"
+"I was thinking of the Italian Communist Party," he says. "It's a pilot
+project. I was working on selling it - I need the money for my divorce, and to
+close the deal on the luggage - but it's not that simple. Someone has to run
+the damn thing - someone with a keen understanding of how to interface a
+central planning system with a capitalist economy. A system administrator with
+experience of working for a multinational corporation would be perfect, ideally
+with an interest in finding new ways and means of interfacing the centrally
+planned enterprise to the outside world." He looks at her with suddenly dawning
+surmise. "Um, are you interested?"
+* * *
+Rome is hotter than downtown Columbia, South Carolina, over Thanksgiving
+weekend; it stinks of methane-burning Skodas with a low undertone of cooked dog
+shit. The cars are brightly colored subcompact missiles, hurtling in and out of
+alleyways like angry wasps: Hot-wiring their drive-by-wire seems to be the
+national sport, although Fiat's embedded systems people have always written
+notoriously wobbly software.
+Manfred emerges from the Stazione Termini into dusty sunlight, blinking like an
+owl. His glasses keep up a rolling monologue about who lived where in the days
+of the late Republic. They're stuck on a tourist channel and won't come unglued
+from that much history without a struggle. Manfred doesn't feel like a struggle
+right now. He feels like he's been sucked dry over the weekend: a light, hollow
+husk that might blow away in a stiff breeze. He hasn't had a patentable idea
+all day. This is not a good state to be in on a Monday morning when he's due to
+meet the former Minister for Economic Affairs, in order to give him a gift that
+will probably get the minister a shot at higher office and get Pam's lawyer off
+his back. But somehow he can't bring himself to worry too much: Annette has
+been good for him.
+The ex-minister's private persona isn't what Manfred was expecting. All Manfred
+has seen so far is a polished public avatar in a traditionally cut suit,
+addressing the Chamber of Deputies in cyberspace; which is why, when he rings
+the doorbell set in the whitewashed doorframe of Gianni's front door, he isn't
+expecting a piece of Tom of Finland beefcake, complete with breechclout and
+peaked leather cap, to answer.
+"Hello, I am here to see the minister," Manfred says carefully. Aineko, perched
+on his left shoulder, attempts to translate: It trills something that sounds
+extremely urgent. Everything sounds urgent in Italian.
+"It's okay, I'm from Iowa," says the guy in the doorway. He tucks a thumb under
+one leather strap and grins over his moustache: "What's it about?" Over his
+shoulder: "Gianni! Visitor!"
+"It's about the economy," Manfred says carefully. "I'm here to make it
+The beefcake backs away from the door cautiously - then the minister appears
+behind him. "Ah, signore Macx! It's okay, Johnny, I have been expecting him."
+Gianni extends a rapid welcome, like a hyperactive gnome buried in a white
+toweling bathrobe: "Please come in, my friend! I'm sure you must be tired from
+your journey. A refreshment for the guest if you please, Johnny. Would you
+prefer coffee or something stronger?"
+Five minutes later, Manfred is buried up to his ears in a sofa covered in
+buttery white cowhide, a cup of virulently strong espresso balanced
+precariously on his knee, while Gianni Vittoria himself holds forth on the
+problems of implementing a postindustrial ecosystem on top of a bureaucratic
+system with its roots in the bullheadedly modernist era of the 1920s. Gianni is
+a visionary of the left, a strange attractor within the chaotic phase-space of
+Italian politics. A former professor of Marxist economics, his ideas are
+informed by a painfully honest humanism, and everyone - even his enemies -
+agrees that he is one of the greatest theoreticians of the post-EU era. But his
+intellectual integrity prevents him from rising to the very top, and his fellow
+travelers are much ruder about him than his ideological enemies, accusing him
+of the ultimate political crime — valuing truth over power.
+Manfred had met Gianni a couple of years earlier via a hosted politics chat
+room; at the beginning of last week, he sent him a paper detailing his
+embeddable planned economy and a proposal for using it to turbocharge the
+endless Italian attempt to re-engineer its government systems. This is the thin
+end of the wedge: If Manfred is right, it could catalyse a whole new wave of
+communist expansion, driven by humanitarian ideals and demonstrably superior
+performance, rather than wishful thinking and ideology.
+"It is impossible, I fear. This is Italy, my friend. Everybody has to have
+their say. Not everybody even understands what it is we are talking about, but
+that won't stop them talking about it. Since 1945, our government requires
+consensus - a reaction to what came before. Do you know, we have five different
+routes to putting forward a new law, two of them added as emergency measures to
+break the gridlock? And none of them work on their own unless you can get
+everybody to agree. Your plan is daring and radical, but if it works, we must
+understand why we work - and that digs right to the root of being human, and
+not everybody will agree."
+At this point Manfred realizes that he's lost. "I don't understand," he says,
+genuinely puzzled. "What has the human condition got to do with economics?"
+The minister sighs abruptly. "You are very unusual. You earn no money, do you?
+But you are rich, because grateful people who have benefited from your work
+give you everything you need. You are like a medieval troubadour who has found
+favor with the aristocracy. Your labor is not alienated - it is given freely,
+and your means of production is with you always, inside your head." Manfred
+blinks; the jargon is weirdly technical-sounding but orthogonal to his
+experience, offering him a disquieting glimpse into the world of the terminally
+future-shocked. He is surprised to find that not understanding itches.
+Gianni taps his balding temple with a knuckle like a walnut. "Most people spend
+little time inside their heads. They don't understand how you live. They're
+like medieval peasants looking in puzzlement at the troubadour. This system you
+invent, for running a planned economy, is delightful and elegant: Lenin's heirs
+would have been awestruck. But it is not a system for the new century. It is
+not human."
+Manfred scratches his head. "It seems to me that there's nothing human about
+the economics of scarcity," he says. "Anyway, humans will be obsolete as
+economic units within a couple more decades. All I want to do is make everybody
+rich beyond their wildest dreams before that happens." A pause for a sip of
+coffee, and to think, one honest statement deserves another: "And to pay off a
+divorce settlement."
+"Ye-es? Well, let me show you my library, my friend," he says, standing up.
+"This way."
+Gianni ambles out of the white living room with its carnivorous leather sofas,
+and up a cast-iron spiral staircase that nails some kind of upper level to the
+underside of the roof. "Human beings aren't rational," he calls over his
+shoulder. "That was the big mistake of the Chicago School economists,
+neoliberals to a man, and of my predecessors, too. If human behavior was
+logical, there would be no gambling, hmm? The house always wins, after all."
+The staircase debouches into another airy whitewashed room, where one wall is
+occupied by a wooden bench supporting a number of ancient, promiscuously cabled
+servers and a very new, eye-wateringly expensive solid volume renderer.
+Opposite the bench is a wall occupied from floor to ceiling by bookcases:
+Manfred looks at the ancient, low-density medium and sneezes, momentarily
+bemused by the sight of data density measured in kilograms per megabyte rather
+than vice versa.
+"What's it fabbing?" Manfred asks, pointing at the renderer, which is whining
+to itself and slowly sintering together something that resembles a carriage
+clockmaker's fever dream of a spring-powered hard disk drive.
+"Oh, one of Johnny's toys - a micromechanical digital phonograph player,"
+Gianni says dismissively. "He used to design Babbage engines for the Pentagon -
+stealth computers. (No van Eck radiation, you know.) Look." He carefully pulls
+a fabric-bound document out of the obsolescent data wall and shows the spine to
+Manfred: "On the Theory of Games, by John von Neumann. Signed first edition."
+Aineko meeps and dumps a slew of confusing purple finite state automata into
+Manfred's left eye. The hardback is dusty and dry beneath his fingertips as he
+remembers to turn the pages gently. "This copy belonged to the personal library
+of Oleg Kordiovsky. A lucky man is Oleg: He bought it in 1952, while on a visit
+to New York, and the MVD let him to keep it."
+"He must be -" Manfred pauses. More data, historical time lines. "Part of
+"Correct." Gianni smiles thinly. "Two years before the central committee
+denounced computers as bourgeois deviationist pseudoscience intended to
+dehumanize the proletarian. They recognized the power of robots even then. A
+shame they did not anticipate the compiler or the Net."
+"I don't understand the significance. Nobody back then could expect that the
+main obstacle to doing away with market capitalism would be overcome within
+half a century, surely?"
+"Indeed not. But it's true: Since the 1980s, it has been possible - in
+principle - to resolve resource allocation problems algorithmically, by
+computer, instead of needing a market. Markets are wasteful: They allow
+competition, much of which is thrown on the scrap heap. So why do they
+Manfred shrugs. "You tell me. Conservativism?"
+Gianni closes the book and puts it back on the shelf. "Markets afford their
+participants the illusion of free will, my friend. You will find that human
+beings do not like being forced into doing something, even if it is in their
+best interests. Of necessity, a command economy must be coercive - it does,
+after all, command."
+"But my system doesn't! It mediates where supplies go, not who has to produce
+what -"
+Gianni is shaking his head. "Backward chaining or forward chaining, it is still
+an expert system, my friend. Your companies need no human beings, and this is a
+good thing, but they must not direct the activities of human beings, either. If
+they do, you have just enslaved people to an abstract machine, as dictators
+have throughout history."
+Manfred's eyes scan along the bookshelf. "But the market itself is an abstract
+machine! A lousy one, too. I'm mostly free of it - but how long is it going to
+continue oppressing people?"
+"Maybe not as long as you fear." Gianni sits down next to the renderer, which
+is currently extruding the inference mill of the analytical engine. "The
+marginal value of money decreases, after all: The more you have, the less it
+means to you. We are on the edge of a period of prolonged economic growth, with
+annual averages in excess of twenty percent, if the Council of Europe's
+predictor metrics are anything to go by. The last of the flaccid industrial
+economy has withered away, and this era's muscle of economic growth, what used
+to be the high-technology sector, is now everything. We can afford a little
+wastage, my friend, if that is the price of keeping people happy until the
+marginal value of money withers away completely."
+Realization dawns. "You want to abolish scarcity, not just money!"
+"Indeed." Gianni grins. "There's more to that than mere economic performance;
+you have to consider abundance as a factor. Don't plan the economy; take things
+out of the economy. Do you pay for the air you breathe? Should uploaded minds -
+who will be the backbone of our economy, by and by - have to pay for processor
+cycles? No and no. Now, do you want to know how you can pay for your divorce
+settlement? And can I interest you, and your interestingly accredited new
+manager, in a little project of mine?"
+* * *
+The shutters are thrown back, the curtains tied out of the way, and Annette's
+huge living room windows are drawn open in the morning breeze.
+Manfred sits on a leather-topped piano stool, his suitcase open at his feet.
+He's running a link from the case to Annette's stereo, an antique stand-alone
+unit with a satellite Internet uplink. Someone has chipped it, crudely revoking
+its copy protection algorithm: The back of its case bears scars from the
+soldering iron. Annette is curled up on the huge sofa, wrapped in a kaftan and
+a pair of high-bandwidth goggles, thrashing out an internal Arianespace
+scheduling problem with some colleagues in Iran and Guyana.
+His suitcase is full of noise, but what's coming out of the stereo is ragtime.
+Subtract entropy from a data stream - coincidentally uncompressing it - and
+what's left is information. With a capacity of about a trillion terabytes, the
+suitcase's holographic storage reservoir has enough capacity to hold every
+music, film, and video production of the twentieth century with room to spare.
+This is all stuff that is effectively out of copyright control, work-for-hire
+owned by bankrupt companies, released before the CCAA could make their media
+clampdown stick. Manfred is streaming the music through Annette's stereo - but
+keeping the noise it was convoluted with. High-grade entropy is valuable, too
+Presently, Manfred sighs and pushes his glasses up his forehead, killing the
+displays. He's thought his way around every permutation of what's going on, and
+it looks like Gianni was right: There's nothing left to do but wait for
+everyone to show up.
+For a moment, he feels old and desolate, as slow as an unassisted human mind.
+Agencies have been swapping in and out of his head for the past day, ever since
+he got back from Rome. He's developed a butterfly attention span, irritable and
+unable to focus on anything while the information streams fight it out for
+control of his cortex, arguing about a solution to his predicament. Annette is
+putting up with his mood swings surprisingly calmly. He's not sure why, but he
+glances her way fondly. Her obsessions run surprisingly deep, and she's quite
+clearly using him for her own purposes. So why does he feel more comfortable
+around her than he did with Pam?
+She stretches and pushes her goggles up. "Oui?"
+"I was just thinking." He smiles. "Three days and you haven't told me what I
+should be doing with myself, yet."
+She pulls a face. "Why would I do that?"
+"Oh, no reason. I'm just not over - " He shrugs uncomfortably. There it is, an
+inexplicable absence in his life, but not one he feels he urgently needs to
+fill yet. Is this what a relationship between equals feels like? He's not sure:
+Starting with the occlusive cocooning of his upbringing and continuing through
+all his adult relationships, he's been effectively - voluntarily - dominated by
+his partners. Maybe the antisubmissive conditioning is working, after all. But
+if so, why the creative malaise? Why isn't he coming up with original new ideas
+this week? Could it be that his peculiar brand of creativity is an outlet, that
+he needs the pressure of being lovingly enslaved to make him burst out into a
+great flowering of imaginative brilliance? Or could it be that he really is
+missing Pam?
+Annette stands up and walks over, slowly. He looks at her and feels lust and
+affection, and isn't sure whether or not this is love. "When are they due?" she
+asks, leaning over him.
+"Any -" The doorbell chimes.
+"Ah. I will get that." She stalks away, opens the door.
+Manfred's head snaps round as if he's on a leash. Her leash: But he wasn't
+expecting her to come in person.
+"Yes, me," Annette says easily. "Come in. Be my guest."
+Pam enters the apartment living room with flashing eyes, her tame lawyer in
+tow. "Well, look what the robot kitty dragged in," she drawls, fixing Manfred
+with an expression that owes more to anger than to humor. It's not like her,
+this blunt hostility, and he wonders where it came from.
+Manfred rises. For a moment he's transfixed by the sight of his dominatrix
+wife, and his - mistress? conspirator? lover? - side by side. The contrast is
+marked: Annette's expression of ironic amusement a foil for Pamela's angry
+sincerity. Somewhere behind them stands a balding middle-aged man in a suit,
+carrying a folio: just the kind of diligent serf Pam might have turned him
+into, given time. Manfred musters up a smile. "Can I offer you some coffee?" he
+asks. "The party of the third part seems to be late."
+"Coffee would be great, mine's dark, no sugar," twitters the lawyer. He puts
+his briefcase down on a side table and fiddles with his wearable until a light
+begins to blink from his spectacle frames: "I'm recording this, I'm sure you
+Annette sniffs and heads for the kitchen, which is charmingly manual but not
+very efficient; Pam is pretending she doesn't exist. "Well, well, well." She
+shakes her head. "I'd expected better of you than a French tart's boudoir,
+Manny. And before the ink's dry on the divorce - these days that'll cost you,
+didn't you think of that?"
+"I'm surprised you're not in the hospital," he says, changing the subject. "Is
+postnatal recovery outsourced these days?"
+"The employers." She slips her coat off her shoulders and hangs it behind the
+broad wooden door. "They subsidize everything when you reach my grade." Pamela
+is wearing a very short, very expensive dress, the kind of weapon in the war
+between the sexes that ought to come with an end-user certificate: But to his
+surprise it has no effect on him. He realizes that he's completely unable to
+evaluate her gender, almost as if she's become a member of another species. "As
+you'd be aware if you'd been paying attention."
+"I always pay attention, Pam. It's the only currency I carry."
+"Very droll, ha-ha," interrupts Glashwiecz. "You do realize that you're paying
+me while I stand here listening to this fascinating byplay?"
+Manfred stares at him. "You know I don't have any money."
+"Ah," Glashwiecz smiles, "but you must be mistaken. Certainly the judge will
+agree with me that you must be mistaken - all a lack of paper documentation
+means is that you've covered your trail. There's the small matter of the
+several thousand corporations you own, indirectly. Somewhere at the bottom of
+that pile there has got to be something, hasn't there?"
+A hissing, burbling noise like a sackful of large lizards being drowned in mud
+emanates from the kitchen, suggesting that Annette's percolator is nearly
+ready. Manfred's left hand twitches, playing chords on an air keyboard. Without
+being at all obvious, he's releasing a bulletin about his current activities
+that should soon have an effect on the reputation marketplace. "Your attack was
+rather elegant," he comments, sitting down on the sofa as Pam disappears into
+the kitchen.
+Glashwiecz nods. "The idea was one of my interns'," he says. "I don't
+understand this distributed denial of service stuff, but Lisa grew up on it.
+Something about it being a legal travesty, but workable all the same."
+"Uh-huh." Manfred's opinion of the lawyer drops a notch. He notices Pam
+reappearing from the kitchen, her expression icy. A moment later Annette
+surfaces carrying a jug and some cups, beaming innocently. Something's going
+on, but at that moment, one of his agents nudges him urgently in the left ear,
+his suitcase keens mournfully and beams a sense of utter despair at him, and
+the doorbell rings again.
+"So what's the scam?" Glashwiecz sits down uncomfortably close to Manfred and
+murmurs out of one side of his mouth. "Where's the money?"
+Manfred looks at him irritably. "There is no money," he says. "The idea is to
+make money obsolete. Hasn't she explained that?" His eyes wander, taking in the
+lawyer's Patek Philippe watch, his Java-enabled signet ring.
+"C'mon. Don't give me that line. Look, all it takes is a couple of million, and
+you can buy your way free for all I care. All I'm here for is to see that your
+wife and daughter don't get left penniless and starving. You know and I know
+that you've got bags of it stuffed away - just look at your reputation! You
+didn't get that by standing at the roadside with a begging bowl, did you?"
+Manfred snorts. "You're talking about an elite IRS auditor here. She isn't
+penniless; she gets a commission on every poor bastard she takes to the
+cleaners, and she was born with a trust fund. Me, I -" The stereo bleeps.
+Manfred pulls his glasses on. Whispering ghosts of dead artists hum through his
+earlobes, urgently demanding their freedom. Someone knocks at the door again,
+and he glances around to see Annette walking toward it.
+"You're making it hard on yourself," Glashwiecz warns.
+"Expecting company?" Pam asks, one brittle eyebrow raised in Manfred's
+"Not exactly -"
+Annette opens the door and a couple of guards in full SWAT gear march in.
+They're clutching gadgets that look like crosses between digital sewing
+machines and grenade launchers, and their helmets are studded with so many
+sensors that they resemble 1950s space probes. "That's them," Annette says
+"Mais Oui." The door closes itself and the guards stand to either side. Annette
+stalks toward Pam.
+"You think to walk in here, to my pied-a-terre, and take from Manfred?" she
+"You're making a big mistake, lady," Pam says, her voice steady and cold enough
+to liquefy helium.
+A burst of static from one of the troopers. "No," Annette says distantly. "No
+She points at Glashwiecz. "Are you aware of the takeover?"
+"Takeover?" The lawyer looks puzzled, but not alarmed by the presence of the
+"As of three hours ago," Manfred says quietly, "I sold a controlling interest
+in agalmic.holdings.root.1.1.1 to Athene Accelerants BV, a venture capital
+outfit from Maastricht. One dot one dot one is the root node of the central
+planning tree. Athene aren't your usual VC, they're accelerants - they take
+explosive business plans and detonate them." Glashwiecz is looking pale -
+whether with anger or fear of a lost commission is impossible to tell.
+"Actually, Athene Accelerants is owned by a shell company owned by the Italian
+Communist Party's pension trust. The point is, you're in the presence of one
+dot one dot one's chief operations officer."
+Pam looks annoyed. "Puerile attempts to dodge responsibility -"
+Annette clears her throat. "Exactly who do you think you are trying to sue?"
+she asks Glashwiecz sweetly. "Here we have laws about unfair restraint of
+trade. Also about foreign political interference, specifically in the financial
+affairs of an Italian party of government."
+"You wouldn't -"
+"I would." Manfred brushes his hands on his knees and stands up. "Done, yet?"
+he asks the suitcase.
+Muffled beeps, then a gravelly synthesized voice speaks. "Uploads completed."
+"Ah, good." He grins at Annette. "Time for our next guests?"
+On cue, the doorbell rings again. The guards sidle to either side of the door.
+Annette snaps her fingers, and it opens to admit a pair of smartly dressed
+thugs. It's beginning to get crowded in the living room.
+"Which one of you is Macx?" snaps the older one of the two thugs, staring at
+Glashwiecz for no obvious reason. He hefts an aluminum briefcase. "Got a writ
+to serve."
+"You'd be the CCAA?" asks Manfred.
+"You bet. If you're Macx, I have a restraining order -"
+Manfred raises a hand. "It's not me you want," he says. "It's this lady." He
+points at Pam, whose mouth opens in silent protest. "Y'see, the intellectual
+property you're chasing wants to be free. It's so free that it's now
+administered by a complex set of corporate instruments lodged in the
+Netherlands, and the prime shareholder as of approximately four minutes ago is
+my soon-to-be-ex-wife Pamela, here." He winks at Glashwiecz. "Except she
+doesn't control anything."
+"Just what do you think you're playing at, Manfred?" Pamela snarls, unable to
+contain herself any longer. The guards shuffle: The larger, junior CCAA
+enforcer tugs at his boss's jacket nervously.
+"Well." Manfred picks up his coffee and takes a sip. Grimaces. "Pam wanted a
+divorce settlement, didn't she? The most valuable assets I own are the rights
+to a whole bunch of recategorized work-for-hire that slipped through the CCAA's
+fingers a few years back. Part of the twentieth century's cultural heritage
+that got locked away by the music industry in the last decade - Janis Joplin,
+the Doors, that sort of thing. Artists who weren't around to defend themselves
+anymore. When the music cartels went bust, the rights went for a walk. I took
+them over originally with the idea of setting the music free. Giving it back to
+the public domain, as it were."
+Annette nods at the guards, one of whom nods back and starts muttering and
+buzzing into a throat mike. Manfred continues. "I was working on a solution to
+the central planning paradox - how to interface a centrally planned enclave to
+a market economy. My good friend Gianni Vittoria suggested that such a shell
+game could have alternative uses. So I've not freed the music. Instead, I
+signed the rights over to various actors and threads running inside the agalmic
+holdings network - currently one million, forty-eight thousand, five hundred
+and seventy-five companies. They swap rights rapidly - the rights to any given
+song are resident in a given company for, oh, all of fifty milliseconds at a
+time. Now understand, I don't own these companies. I don't even have a
+financial interest in them anymore. I've deeded my share of the profits to Pam,
+here. I'm getting out of the biz, Gianni's suggested something rather more
+challenging for me to do instead."
+He takes another mouthful of coffee. The recording Mafiya goon glares at him.
+Pam glares at him. Annette stands against one wall, looking amused. "Perhaps
+you'd like to sort it out between you?" he asks. Aside, to Glashwiecz: "I trust
+you'll drop your denial of service attack before I set the Italian parliament
+on you? By the way, you'll find the book value of the intellectual property
+assets I deeded to Pamela - by the value these gentlemen place on them - is
+somewhere in excess of a billion dollars. As that's rather more than
+ninety-nine-point-nine percent of my assets, you'll probably want to look
+elsewhere for your fees."
+Glashwiecz stands up carefully. The lead goon stares at Pamela. "Is this true?"
+he demands. "This little squirt give you IP assets of Sony Bertelsmann
+Microsoft Music? We have claim! You come to us for distribution or you get in
+deep trouble."
+The second goon rumbles agreement: "Remember, dose MP3s, dey bad for you
+Annette claps her hands. "If you would to leave my apartment, please?" The
+door, attentive as ever, swings open: "You are no longer welcome here!"
+"This means you," Manfred advises Pam helpfully.
+"You bastard," she spits at him.
+Manfred forces a smile, bemused by his inability to respond to her the way she
+wants. Something's wrong, missing, between them. "I thought you wanted my
+assets. Are the encumbrances too much for you?"
+"You know what I mean! You and that two-bit Euro-whore! I'll nail you for child
+His smile freezes. "Try it, and I'll sue you for breach of patent rights. My
+genome, you understand."
+Pam is taken aback by this. "You patented your own genome? What happened to the
+brave new communist, sharing information freely?"
+Manfred stops smiling. "Divorce happened. And the Italian Communist Party
+She turns on her heel and stalks out of the apartment bravely, tame attorney in
+tow behind her, muttering about class action lawsuits and violations of the
+Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The CCAA lawyer's tame gorilla makes a grab
+for Glashwiecz's shoulder, and the guards move in, hustling the whole movable
+feast out into the stairwell. The door slams shut on a chaos of impending
+recursive lawsuits, and Manfred breathes a huge wheeze of relief.
+Annette walks over to him and leans her chin on the top of his head. "Think it
+will work?" she asks.
+"Well, the CCAA will sue the hell out of the company network for a while if
+they try to distribute by any channel that isn't controlled by the Mafiya. Pam
+gets rights to all the music, her settlement, but she can't sell it without
+going through the mob. And I got to serve notice on that legal shark: If he
+tries to take me on he's got to be politically bullet-proof. Hmm. Maybe I ought
+not to plan on going back to the USA this side of the singularity."
+"Profits," Annette sighs, "I do not easily understand this way of yours. Or
+this apocalyptic obsession with singularity."
+"Remember the old aphorism, if you love something, set it free? I freed the
+"But you didn't! You signed rights over -"
+"But first I uploaded the entire stash to several cryptographically anonymized
+public network filesystems over the past few hours, so there'll be rampant
+piracy. And the robot companies are all set to automagically grant any and
+every copyright request they receive, royalty-free, until the goons figure out
+how to hack them. But that's not the point. The point is abundance. The Mafiya
+can't stop it being distributed. Pam is welcome to her cut if she can figure an
+angle - but I bet she can't. She still believes in classical economics, the
+allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. Information doesn't work
+that way. What matters is that people will be able to hear the music - instead
+of a Soviet central planning system, I've turned the network into a firewall to
+protect freed intellectual property."
+"Oh, Manfred, you hopeless idealist." She strokes his shoulder. "Whatever for?"
+"It's not just the music. When we develop a working AI or upload minds we'll
+need a way of defending it against legal threats. That's what Gianni pointed
+out to me ..."
+He's still explaining to her how he's laying the foundations for the transhuman
+explosion due early in the next decade when she picks him up in both arms,
+carries him to her bedroom, and commits outrageous acts of tender intimacy with
+him. But that's okay. He's still human, this decade.
+This, too, will pass, thinks the bulk of his metacortex. And it drifts off into
+the net to think deep thoughts elsewhere, leaving his meatbody to experience
+the ancient pleasures of the flesh set free.
+1~ Chapter 3: Tourist
+Spring-Heeled Jack runs blind, blue fumes crackling from his heels. His right
+hand, outstretched for balance, clutches a mark's stolen memories. The victim
+is sitting on the hard stones of the pavement behind him. Maybe he's wondering
+what's happened; maybe he looks after the fleeing youth. But the tourist crowds
+block the view effectively, and in any case, he has no hope of catching the
+mugger. Hit-and-run amnesia is what the polis call it, but to Spring-Heeled
+Jack it's just more loot to buy fuel for his Russian army-surplus motorized
+combat boots.
+* * *
+The victim sits on the cobblestones clutching his aching temples. What
+happened? he wonders. The universe is a brightly colored blur of fast-moving
+shapes augmented by deafening noises. His ear-mounted cameras are rebooting
+repeatedly: They panic every eight hundred milliseconds, whenever they realize
+that they're alone on his personal area network without the comforting support
+of a hub to tell them where to send his incoming sensory feed. Two of his
+mobile phones are bickering moronically, disputing ownership of his grid
+bandwidth, and his memory ... is missing.
+A tall blond clutching an electric chainsaw sheathed in pink bubble wrap leans
+over him curiously: "you all right?" she asks.
+"I -" He shakes his head, which hurts. "Who am I?" His medical monitor is
+alarmed because his blood pressure has fallen: His pulse is racing, his serum
+cortisol titer is up, and a host of other biometrics suggest that he's going
+into shock.
+"I think you need an ambulance," the woman announces. She mutters at her lapel,
+"Phone, call an ambulance. " She waves a finger vaguely at him as if to reify a
+geolink, then wanders off, chain-saw clutched under one arm. Typical southern
+émigré behavior in the Athens of the North, too embarrassed to get involved.
+The man shakes his head again, eyes closed, as a flock of girls on powered
+blades skid around him in elaborate loops. A siren begins to warble, over the
+bridge to the north.
+Who am I? he wonders. "I'm Manfred," he says with a sense of stunned wonder. He
+looks up at the bronze statue of a man on a horse that looms above the crowds
+on this busy street corner. Someone has plastered a Hello Cthulhu! holo on the
+plaque that names its rider: Languid fluffy pink tentacles wave at him in an
+attack of kawaii. "I'm Manfred - Manfred. My memory. What's happened to my
+memory?" Elderly Malaysian tourists point at him from the open top deck of a
+passing bus. He burns with a sense of horrified urgency. I was going somewhere,
+he recalls. What was I doing? It was amazingly important, he thinks, but he
+can't remember what exactly it was. He was going to see someone about - it's on
+the tip of his tongue -
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to the eve of the third decade: a time of chaos characterized by an
+all-out depression in the space industries.
+_1 Most of the thinking power on the planet is now manufactured rather than
+born; there are ten microprocessors for every human being, and the number is
+doubling every fourteen months. Population growth in the developing world has
+stalled, the birth rate dropping below replacement level. In the wired nations,
+more forward-looking politicians are looking for ways to enfranchise their
+nascent AI base.
+_1 Space exploration is still stalled on the cusp of the second recession of
+the century. The Malaysian government has announced the goal of placing an imam
+on Mars within ten years, but nobody else cares enough to try.
+_1 The Space Settlers Society is still trying to interest Disney Corp. in the
+media rights to their latest L5 colony plan, unaware that there's already a
+colony out there and it isn't human: First-generation uploads, Californian
+spiny lobsters in wobbly symbiosis with elderly expert systems, thrive aboard
+an asteroid mining project established by the Franklin Trust. Meanwhile,
+Chinese space agency cutbacks are threatening the continued existence of
+Moonbase Mao. Nobody, it seems, has figured out how to turn a profit out beyond
+geosynchronous orbit.
+_1 Two years ago, JPL, the ESA, and the uploaded lobster colony on comet
+Khrunichev-7 picked up an apparently artificial signal from outside the solar
+system; most people don't know, and of those who do, even fewer care. After
+all, if humans can't even make it to Mars, who cares what's going on a hundred
+trillion kilometers farther out?
+* * *
+Portrait of a wasted youth:
+Jack is seventeen years and eleven months old. He has never met his father; he
+was unplanned, and Dad managed to kill himself in a building-site accident
+before the Child Support could garnish his income for the upbringing. His
+mother raised him in a two-bedroom housing association flat in Hawick. She
+worked in a call center when he was young, but business dried up: Humans aren't
+needed on the end of a phone anymore. Now she works in a drop-in business shop,
+stacking shelves for virtual fly-by-nights that come and go like tourists in
+the Festival season - but humans aren't in demand for shelf stacking either,
+these days.
+His mother sent Jack to a local religious school, where he was regularly
+excluded and effectively ran wild from the age of twelve. By thirteen, he was
+wearing a parole cuff for shoplifting; by fourteen, he'd broken his collarbone
+in a car crash while joyriding and the dour Presbyterian sheriff sent him to
+the Wee Frees, who completed the destruction of his educational prospects with
+high principles and an illicit tawse.
+Today, he's a graduate of the hard school of avoiding public surveillance
+cameras, with distinctions in steganographic alibi construction. Mostly this
+entails high-density crime - if you're going to mug someone, do so where there
+are so many bystanders that they can't pin the blame on you. But the polis
+expert systems are on his tail. If he keeps it up at this rate, in another four
+months they'll have a positive statistical correlation that will convince even
+a jury of his peers that he's guilty as fuck - and then he'll go down to
+Saughton for four years.
+But Jack doesn't understand the meaning of a Gaussian distribution or the
+significance of a chi-square test, and the future still looks bright to him as
+he pulls on the chunky spectacles he ripped off the tourist gawking at the
+statue on North Bridge. And after a moment, when they begin whispering into his
+ears in stereo and showing him pictures of the tourist's vision, it looks even
+"Gotta make a deal, gotta close a deal," whisper the glasses. "Meet the borg,
+strike a chord." Weird graphs in lurid colors are filling up his peripheral
+vision, like the hallucinations of a drugged marketroid.
+"Who the fuck are ye?" asks Jack, intrigued by the bright lights and icons.
+"I am your Cartesian theatre and you are our focus," murmur the glasses. "Dow
+Jones down fifteen points, Federated Confidence up three, incoming briefing on
+causal decoupling of social control of skirt hem lengths, shaving pattern of
+beards, and emergence of multidrug antibiotic resistance in Gram-negative
+bacilli: Accept?"
+"Ah can take it," Jack mumbles, as a torrent of images crashes down on his
+eyeballs and jackhammers its way in through his ears like the superego of a
+disembodied giant. Which is actually what he's stolen: The glasses and waist
+pouch he grabbed from the tourist are stuffed with enough hardware to run the
+entire Internet, circa the turn of the millennium. They've got bandwidth coming
+out the wazoo, distributed engines running a bazillion inscrutable search
+tasks, and a whole slew of high-level agents that collectively form a large
+chunk of the society of mind that is their owner's personality. Their owner is
+a posthuman genius loci of the net, an agalmic entrepreneur turned policy wonk,
+specializing in the politics of AI emancipation. When he was in the biz he was
+the kind of guy who catalysed value wherever he went, leaving money trees
+growing in his footprints. Now he's the kind of political backroom hitter who
+builds coalitions where nobody else could see common ground. And Jack has
+stolen his memories. There are microcams built into the frame of the glasses,
+pickups in the earpieces; everything is spooled into the holographic cache in
+the belt pack, before being distributed for remote storage. At four months per
+terabyte, memory storage is cheap. What makes this bunch so unusual is that
+their owner - Manfred - has cross-indexed them with his agents. Mind uploading
+may not be a practical technology yet, but Manfred has made an end run on it
+In a very real sense, the glasses are Manfred, regardless of the identity of
+the soft machine with its eyeballs behind the lenses. And it is a very puzzled
+Manfred who picks himself up and, with a curious vacancy in his head - except
+for a hesitant request for information about accessories for Russian army boots
+- dusts himself off and heads for his meeting on the other side of town.
+* * *
+Meanwhile, in another meeting, Manfred's absence is already being noticed.
+"Something, something is wrong," says Annette. She raises her mirrorshades and
+rubs her left eye, visibly worried. "Why is he not answering his chat? He knows
+we are due to hold this call with him. Don't you think it is odd?"
+Gianni nods and leans back, regarding her from behind his desk. He prods at the
+highly polished rosewood desktop. The wood grain slips, sliding into a
+strangely different conformation, generating random dot stereoisograms -
+messages for his eyes only. "He was visiting Scotland for me," he says after a
+moment. "I do not know his exact whereabouts - the privacy safeguards - but if
+you, as his designated next of kin, travel in person, I am sure you will find
+it easier. He was going to talk to the Franklin Collective, face-to-face, one
+to many ..."
+The office translator is good, but it can't provide real-time lip-synch
+morphing between French and Italian. Annette has to make an effort to listen to
+his words because the shape of his mouth is all wrong, like a badly dubbed
+video. Her expensive, recent implants aren't connected up to her Broca's area
+yet, so she can't simply sideload a deep grammar module for Italian. Their
+communications are the best that money can buy, their VR environment
+painstakingly sculpted, but it still doesn't break down the language barrier
+completely. Besides, there are distractions: the way the desk switches from
+black ash to rosewood halfway across its expanse, the strange air currents that
+are all wrong for a room this size. "Then what could be up with him? His
+voicemail is trying to cover for him. It is good, but it does not lie
+Gianni looks worried. "Manfred is prone to fits of do his own thing with
+telling nobody in advance. But I don't like this. He should have to told one of
+us first." Ever since that first meeting in Rome, when Gianni offered him a
+job, Manfred has been a core member of Gianni's team, the fixer who goes out
+and meets people and solves their problems. Losing him at this point could be
+more than embarrassing. Besides, he's a friend.
+"I do not like this either." She stands up. "If he doesn't call back soon -"
+"You'll go and fetch him."
+"Oui." A smile flashes across her face, rapidly replaced by worry lines. "What
+can have happened?"
+"Anything. Nothing." Gianni shrugs. "But we cannot do without him." He casts
+her a warning glance. "Or you. Don't let the borg get you. Either of you."
+"Not to worry, I will just bring him back, whatever has happened." She stands
+up, surprising a vacuum cleaner that skulks behind her desk. "Au revoir!"
+As she vacates her office, the minister flickers off behind her, leaving the
+far wall the dull gray of a cold display panel. Gianni is in Rome, she's in
+Paris, Markus is in Düsseldorf, and Eva's in Wroclaw. There are others, trapped
+in digital cells scattered halfway across an elderly continent, but as long as
+they don't try to shake hands, they're free to shout across the office at each
+other. Their confidences and dirty jokes tunnel through multiple layers of
+anonymized communication.
+Gianni is trying to make his break out of regional politics and into European
+national affairs: Their job - his election team - is to get him a seat on the
+Confederacy Commission, as Representative for Intelligence Oversight, and push
+the boundaries of post-humanistic action outward, into deep space and deeper
+time. Which makes the loss of a key team player, the house futurologist and
+fixer, profoundly interesting to certain people: The walls have ears, and not
+all the brains they feed into are human.
+Annette is more worried than she's letting on to Gianni. It's unlike Manfred to
+be out of contact for long and even odder for his receptionist to stonewall
+her, given that her apartment is the nearest thing to a home he's had for the
+past couple of years. But something smells fishy. He sneaked out last night,
+saying it would be an overnight trip, and now he's not answering. Could it be
+his ex-wife? she wonders, despite Gianni's hints about a special mission. But
+there's been no word from Pamela other than the sarcastic cards she dispatches
+every year without fail, timed to arrive on the birthday of the daughter
+Manfred has never met. The music Mafiya? A letter bomb from the Copyright
+Control Association of America? But no, his medical monitor would have been
+screaming its head off if anything like that had happened.
+Annette has organized things so that he's safe from the intellectual property
+thieves. She's lent him the support he needs, and he's helped her find her own
+path. She gets a warm sense of happiness whenever she considers how much
+they've achieved together. But that's exactly why she's worried now. The
+watchdog hasn't barked ...
+Annette summons a taxi to Charles de Gaulle. By the time she arrives, she's
+already used her parliamentary carte to bump an executive-class seat on the
+next A320 to Turnhouse, Edinburgh's airport, and scheduled accommodation and
+transport for her arrival. The plane is climbing out over la Manche before the
+significance of Gianni's last comment hits her: Might he think the Franklin
+Collective could be dangerous to Manfred?
+* * *
+The hospital emergency suite has a waiting room with green plastic bucket seats
+and subtractive volume renderings by preteens stuck to the walls like surreal
+Lego sculptures. It's deeply silent, the available bandwidth all sequestrated
+for medical monitors - there are children crying, periodic sirens wailing as
+ambulances draw up, and people chattering all around him, but to Manfred, it's
+like being at the bottom of a deep blue pool of quiet. He feels stoned, except
+this particular drug brings no euphoria or sense of well-being. Corridor-corner
+vendors hawk kebab-spitted pigeons next to the chained and rusted voluntary
+service booth; video cameras watch the blue bivvy bags of the chronic cases
+lined up next to the nursing station. Alone in his own head, Manfred is
+frightened and confused.
+"I can't check you in 'less you sign the confidentiality agreement," says the
+triage nurse, pushing an antique tablet at Manfred's face. Service in the NHS
+is still free, but steps have been taken to reduce the incidence of scandals:
+"Sign the nondisclosure clause here and here, or the house officer won't see
+Manfred stares blearily up at the nurse's nose, which is red and slightly
+inflamed from a nosocomial infection. His phones are bickering again, and he
+can't remember why; they don't normally behave like this, something must be
+missing, but thinking about it is hard. "Why am I here?" he asks for the third
+"Sign it." A pen is thrust into his hand. He focuses on the page, jerks upright
+as deeply canalized reflexes kick in.
+"This is theft of human rights! It says here that the party of the second part
+is enjoined from disclosing information relating to the operations management
+triage procedures and processes of the said health-giving institution, that's
+you, to any third party - that's the public media - on pain of forfeiture of
+health benefits pursuant to section two of the Health Service Reform Act. I
+can't sign this! You could repossess my left kidney if I post on the Net about
+how long I've been in hospital!"
+"So don't sign, then." The Hijra nurse shrugs, hitches up his sari, and walks
+away. "Enjoy your wait!"
+Manfred pulls out his backup phone and stares at its display. "Something's
+wrong here." The keypad beeps as he laboriously inputs opcodes. This gets him
+into an arcane and ancient X.25 PAD, and he has a vague, disturbing memory that
+hints about where he can go from here - mostly into the
+long-since-decommissioned bowels of NHSNet - but the memories spring a page
+fault and die somewhere between fingertips and the moment when understanding
+dawns. It's a frustrating feeling: His brain is like an ancient car engine with
+damp spark plugs, turning over and over without catching fire.
+The kebab vendor next to Manfred's seating rail chucks a stock cube on his
+grill; it begins to smoke, aromatic and blue and herbal - cannabinoids to
+induce tranquillity and appetite. Manfred sniffs twice, then staggers to his
+feet and heads off in search of the toilet, his head spinning. He's mumbling at
+his wrist watch: "Hello, Guatemala? Get me posology please. Click down my meme
+tree, I'm confused. Oh shit. Who was I? What happened? Why is everything
+blurry? I can't find my glasses ..."
+A gaggle of day-trippers are leaving the leprosy ward, men and women dressed in
+anachronistic garb: men in dark suits, women in long dresses. All of them wear
+electric blue disposable gloves and face masks. There's a hum and crackle of
+encrypted bandwidth emanating from them, and Manfred instinctively turns to
+follow. They leave the A&E unit through the wheelchair exit, two ladies
+escorted by three gentlemen, with a deranged distressed refugee from the
+twenty-first century shuffling dizzily after. They're all young, Manfred
+realizes vaguely. Where's my cat? Aineko might be able to make sense of this,
+if Aineko was interested.
+"I rather fancy we should retire to the club house," says one young beau. "Oh
+yes! please!" his short blond companion chirps, clapping her hands together,
+then irritably stripping off the anachronistic plastic gloves to reveal
+wired-lace positional-sensor mitts underneath. "This trip has obviously been
+unproductive. If our contact is here, I see no easy way of locating of him
+without breach of medical confidence or a hefty gratuity."
+"The poor things," murmurs the other woman, glancing back at the leprosarium.
+"Such a humiliating way to die."
+"Their own fault; If they hadn't participated in antibiotic abuse they wouldn't
+be in the isolation ward," harrumphs a twentysomething with mutton-chops and
+the manner of a precocious paterfamilias. He raps his walking stick on the
+pavement for punctuation, and they pause for a flock of cyclists and a rickshaw
+before they cross the road onto the Meadows. "Degenerate medication compliance,
+degenerate immune systems."
+Manfred pauses to survey the grass, brain spinning as he ponders the fractal
+dimensionality of leaves. Then he lurches after them, nearly getting himself
+run down by a flywheel-powered tourist bus. Club. His feet hit the pavement,
+cross it, thud down onto three billion years of vegetative evolution. Something
+about those people. He feels a weird yearning, a tropism for information. It's
+almost all that's left of him - his voracious will to know. The tall,
+dark-haired woman hitches up her long skirts to keep them out of the mud. he
+sees a flash of iridescent petticoats that ripple like oil on water, worn over
+old-fashioned combat boots. Not Victorian, then: something else. I came here to
+see - the name is on the tip of his tongue. Almost. He feels that it has
+something to do with these people.
+The squad cross The Meadows by way of a tree-lined path, and come to a
+nineteenth-century frontage with wide steps and a polished brass doorbell. They
+enter, and the man with the mutton-chops pauses on the threshold and turns to
+face Manfred. "You've followed us this far," he says. "Do you want to come in?
+You might find what you're looking for."
+Manfred follows with knocking knees, desperately afraid of whatever he's
+* * *
+Meanwhile, Annette is busy interrogating Manfred's cat.
+"When did you last see your father?"
+Aineko turns its head away from her and concentrates on washing the inside of
+its left leg. Its fur is lifelike and thick, pleasingly patterned except for a
+manufacturer's URL emblazoned on its flanks; but the mouth produces no saliva,
+the throat opens on no stomach or lungs. "Go away," it says: "I'm busy."
+"When did you last see Manfred?" she repeats intently. "I don't have time for
+this. The polis don't know. The medical services don't know. He's off net and
+not responding. So what can you tell me?"
+It took her precisely eighteen minutes to locate his hotel once she hit the
+airport arrivals area and checked the hotel booking front end in the terminal:
+She knows his preferences. It took her slightly longer to convince the
+concierge to let her into his room. But Aineko is proving more recalcitrant
+than she'd expected.
+"AI Neko mod two alpha requires maintenance downtime on a regular basis," the
+cat says pompously: "You knew that when you bought me this body. What were you
+expecting, five-nines uptime from a lump of meat? Go away, I'm thinking." The
+tongue rasps out, then pauses while microprobes in its underside replace the
+hairs that fell out earlier in the day.
+Annette sighs. Manfred's been upgrading this robot cat for years, and his
+ex-wife Pamela used to mess with its neural configuration too: This is its
+third body, and it's getting more realistically uncooperative with every
+hardware upgrade. Sooner or later it's going to demand a litter tray and start
+throwing up on the carpet. "Command override," she says. "Dump event log to my
+Cartesian theatre, minus eight hours to present."
+The cat shudders and looks round at her. "Human bitch!" it hisses. Then it
+freezes in place as the air fills with a bright and silent tsunami of data.
+Both Annette and Aineko are wired for extremely high-bandwidth spread-spectrum
+optical networking; an observer would see the cat's eyes and a ring on her left
+hand glow blue-white at each other. After a few seconds, Annette nods to
+herself and wiggles her fingers in the air, navigating a time sequence only she
+can see. Aineko hisses resentfully at her, then stands and stalks away, tail
+held high.
+"Curiouser and curiouser," Annette hums to herself. She intertwines her
+fingers, pressing obscure pressure points on knuckle and wrist, then sighs and
+rubs her eyes. "He left here under his own power, looking normal," she calls to
+the cat. "Who did he say he was going to see?" The cat sits in a beam of
+sunlight falling in through the high glass window, pointedly showing her its
+back. "Merde. If you're not going to help him -"
+"Try the Grassmarket," sulks the cat. "He said something about meeting the
+Franklin Collective near there. Much good they'll do him ..."
+* * *
+A man wearing secondhand Chinese combat fatigues and a horribly expensive pair
+of glasses bounces up a flight of damp stone steps beneath a keystone that
+announces the building to be a Salvation Army hostel. He bangs on the door, his
+voice almost drowned out by the pair of Cold War Re-enactment Society MiGs that
+are buzzing the castle up the road: "Open up, ye cunts! Ye've got a deal
+A peephole set in the door at eye level slides to one side, and a pair of
+beady, black-eyed video cameras peer out at him. "Who are you and what do you
+want?" the speaker crackles. They don't belong to the Salvation Army;
+Christianity has been deeply unfashionable in Scotland for some decades, and
+the church that currently occupies the building has certainly moved with the
+times in an effort to stay relevant.
+"I'm Macx," he says: "You've heard from my systems. I'm here to offer you a
+deal you can't refuse." At least that's what his glasses tell him to say: What
+comes out of his mouth sounds a bit more like, Am Max: Yiv hurdfrae ma system.
+Am here tae gie ye a deal ye cannae refuse. The glasses haven't had long enough
+to work on his accent. Meanwhile, he's so full of himself that he snaps his
+fingers and does a little dance of impatience on the top step.
+"Aye, well, hold on a minute." The person on the other side of the speakerphone
+has the kind of cut-glass Morningside accent that manages to sound more English
+than the King while remaining vernacular Scots. The door opens, and Macx finds
+himself confronted by a tall, slightly cadaverous man wearing a tweed suit that
+has seen better days and a clerical collar cut from a translucent circuit
+board. His face is almost concealed behind a pair of recording angel goggles.
+"Who did ye say you were?"
+"I'm Macx! Manfred Macx! I'm here with an opportunity you wouldn't believe.
+I've got the answer to your church's financial situation. I'm going to make you
+rich!" The glasses prompt, and Macx speaks.
+The man in the doorway tilts his head slightly, goggles scanning Macx from head
+to foot. Bursts of blue combustion products spurt from Macx's heels as he
+bounces up and down enthusiastically. "Are ye sure ye've got the right
+address?" he asks worriedly.
+"Aye, Ah am that."
+The resident backs into the hostel: "Well then, come in, sit yeself down and
+tell me all about it."
+Macx bounces into the room with his brain wide open to a blizzard of pie charts
+and growth curves, documents spawning in the bizarre phase-space of his
+corporate management software. "I've got a deal you're not going to believe,"
+he reads, gliding past notice boards upon which Church circulars are staked out
+to die like exotic butterflies, stepping over rolled-up carpets and a stack of
+laptops left over from a jumble sale, past the devotional radio telescope that
+does double duty as Mrs. Muirhouse's back-garden bird bath. "You've been here
+five years and your posted accounts show you aren't making much money - barely
+keeping the rent up. But you're a shareholder in Scottish Nuclear Electric,
+right? Most of the church funds are in the form of a trust left to the church
+by one of your congregants when she went to join the omega point, right?"
+"Er." The minister looks at him oddly. "I cannae comment on the church
+eschatological investment trust. Why d'ye think that?"
+They fetch up, somehow, in the minister's office. A huge, framed rendering
+hangs over the back of his threadbare office chair: the collapsing cosmos of
+the End Times, galactic clusters rotten with the Dyson spheres of the eschaton
+falling toward the big crunch. Saint Tipler the Astrophysicist beams down from
+above with avuncular approval, a ring of quasars forming a halo around his
+head. Posters proclaim the new Gospel: COSMOLOGY IS BETTER THAN GUESSWORK, and
+LIVE FOREVER WITHIN MY LIGHT CONE. "Can I get ye anything? Cup of tea? Fuel
+cell charge point?" asks the minister.
+"Crystal meth?" asks Macx, hopefully. His face falls as the minister shakes his
+head apologetically. "Aw, dinnae worry, Ah wis only joshing." He leans forward:
+"Ah know a' aboot yer plutonium futures speculation," he hisses. A finger taps
+his stolen spectacles in an ominous gesture: "These dinnae just record, they
+think. An' Ah ken where the money's gone."
+"What have ye got?" the minister asks coldly, any indication of good humor
+flown. "I'm going to have to edit down these memories, ye bastard. I thought
+I'd forgotten all about that. Bits of me aren't going to merge with the godhead
+at the end of time now, thanks to you."
+"Keep yer shirt on. Whit's the point o' savin' it a' up if ye nae got a life
+worth living? Ye reckon the big yin's nae gonnae unnerstan' a knees up?"
+"What do ye want?"
+"Aye, well," Macx leans back, aggrieved. Ah've got -" He pauses. An expression
+of extreme confusion flits over his head. "Ah've got lobsters," he finally
+announces. "Genetically engineered uploaded lobsters tae run yer uranium
+reprocessing plant." As he grows more confused, the glasses' control over his
+accent slips: "Ah wiz gonnae help yiz oot ba showin ye how ter get yer dosh
+back whir it belong ..." A strategic pause: "so ye could make the council tax
+due date. See, they're neutron-resistant, the lobsters. No, that cannae be
+right. Ah wiz gonnae sell ye somethin' ye cud use fer" - his face slumps into a
+frown of disgust - "free?"
+Approximately thirty seconds later, as he is picking himself up off the front
+steps of the First Reformed Church of Tipler, Astrophysicist, the man who would
+be Macx finds himself wondering if maybe this high finance shit isn't as easy
+as it's cracked up to be. Some of the agents in his glasses are wondering if
+elocution lessons are the answer; others aren't so optimistic.
+* * *
+_1 Getting back to the history lesson, the prospects for the decade look mostly
+_1 A few thousand elderly baby boomers are converging on Tehran for Woodstock
+Four. Europe is desperately trying to import eastern European nurses and
+home-care assistants; in Japan, whole agricultural villages lie vacant and
+decaying, ghost communities sucked dry as cities slurp people in like
+residential black holes.
+_1 A rumor is spreading throughout gated old-age communities in the American
+Midwest, leaving havoc and riots in its wake: Senescence is caused by a slow
+virus coded into the mammalian genome that evolution hasn't weeded out, and
+rich billionaires are sitting on the rights to a vaccine. As usual, Charles
+Darwin gets more than his fair share of the blame. (Less spectacular but more
+realistic treatments for old age - telomere reconstruction and hexose-denatured
+protein reduction - are available in private clinics for those who are willing
+to surrender their pensions.) Progress is expected to speed up shortly, as the
+fundamental patents in genomic engineering begin to expire; the Free Chromosome
+Foundation has already published a manifesto calling for the creation of an
+intellectual-property-free genome with improved replacements for all commonly
+defective exons.
+_1 Experiments in digitizing and running neural wetware under emulation are
+well established; some radical libertarians claim that, as the technology
+matures, death - with its draconian curtailment of property and voting rights -
+will become the biggest civil rights issue of all.
+_1 For a small extra fee, most veterinary insurance policies now cover cloning
+of pets in the event of their accidental and distressing death. Human cloning,
+for reasons nobody is very clear on anymore, is still illegal in most developed
+nations - but very few judiciaries push for mandatory abortion of identical
+_1 Some commodities are expensive: the price of crude oil has broken eighty
+Euros a barrel and is edging inexorably up. Other commodities are cheap:
+computers, for example. Hobbyists print off weird new processor architectures
+on their home inkjets; middle-aged folks wipe their backsides with diagnostic
+paper that can tell how their cholesterol levels are tending.
+_1 The latest casualties of the march of technological progress are: the
+high-street clothes shop, the flushing water closet, the Main Battle Tank, and
+the first generation of quantum computers. New with the decade are cheap
+enhanced immune systems, brain implants that hook right into the Chomsky organ
+and talk to their owners through their own speech centers, and widespread
+public paranoia about limbic spam. Nanotechnology has shattered into a dozen
+disjoint disciplines, and skeptics are predicting that it will all peter out
+before long. Philosophers have ceded qualia to engineers, and the current
+difficult problem in AI is getting software to experience embarrassment.
+_1 Fusion power is still, of course, fifty years away.
+* * *
+The Victorians are morphing into goths before Manfred's culture-shocked eyes.
+"You looked lost," explains Monica, leaning over him curiously. "What's with
+your eyes?"
+"I can't see too well," Manfred tries to explain. Everything is a blur, and the
+voices that usually chatter incessantly in his head have left nothing behind
+but a roaring silence. "I mean, someone mugged me. They took -" His hand closes
+on air: something is missing from his belt.
+Monica, the tall woman he first saw in the hospital, enters the room. What
+she's wearing indoors is skin-tight, iridescent and, disturbingly, she claims
+is a distributed extension of her neuroectoderm. Stripped of costume-drama
+accoutrements, she's a twenty-first-century adult, born or decanted after the
+millennial baby boom. She waves some fingers in Manfred's face: "How many?"
+"Two." Manfred tries to concentrate. "What -"
+"No concussion," she says briskly. "'Scuse me while I page." Her eyes are
+brown, with amber raster lines flickering across her pupils. Contact lenses?
+Manfred wonders, his head turgid and unnaturally slow. It's like being drunk,
+except much less pleasant: He can't seem to wrap his head around an idea from
+all angles at once, anymore. Is this what consciousness used to be like? It's
+an ugly, slow sensation. She turns away from him: "Medline says you'll be all
+right in a while. The main problem is the identity loss. Are you backed up
+"Here." Alan, still top-hatted and mutton-chopped, holds out a pair of
+spectacles to Manfred. "Take these, they may do you some good." His topper
+wobbles, as if a strange A-life experiment is nesting under its brim.
+"Oh. Thank you." Manfred reaches for them with a pathetic sense of gratitude.
+As soon as he puts them on, they run through a test series, whispering
+questions and watching how his eyes focus: After a minute, the room around him
+clears as the specs build a synthetic image to compensate for his myopia.
+There's limited Net access, too, he notices, a warm sense of relief stealing
+over him. "Do you mind if I call somebody?" he asks: "I want to check my
+"Be my guest." Alan slips out through the door; Monica sits down opposite him
+and stares into some inner space. The room has a tall ceiling, with whitewashed
+walls and wooden shutters to cover the aerogel window bays. The furniture is
+modern modular, and clashes horribly with the original nineteenth-century
+architecture. "We were expecting you."
+"You were -" He shifts track with an effort: "I was here to see somebody. Here
+in Scotland, I mean."
+"Us." She catches his eye deliberately. "To discuss sapience options with our
+"With your -" He squeezes his eyes shut. "Damn! I don't remember. I need my
+glasses back. Please."
+"What about your back-ups?" she asks curiously.
+"A moment." Manfred tries to remember what address to ping. It's useless, and
+painfully frustrating. "It would help if I could remember where I keep the rest
+of my mind," he complains. "It used to be at - oh, there."
+An elephantine semantic network sits down on his spectacles as soon as he asks
+for the site, crushing his surroundings into blocky pixilated monochrome that
+jerks as he looks around. "This is going to take some time," he warns his hosts
+as a goodly chunk of his metacortex tries to handshake with his brain over a
+wireless network connection that was really only designed for web browsing. The
+download consists of the part of his consciousness that isn't security-critical
+- public access actors and vague opinionated rants - but it clears down a huge
+memory castle, sketching in the outline of a map of miracles and wonders onto
+the whitewashed walls of the room.
+When Manfred can see the outside world again, he feels a bit more like himself:
+He can, at least, spawn a search thread that will resynchronize and fill him in
+on what it found. He still can't access the inner mysteries of his soul
+(including his personal memories); they're locked and barred pending biometric
+verification of his identity and a quantum key exchange. But he has his wits
+about him again - and some of them are even working. It's like sobering up from
+a strange new drug, the infinitely reassuring sense of being back at the
+controls of his own head. "I think I need to report a crime," he tells Monica -
+or whoever is plugged into Monica's head right now, because now he knows where
+he is and who he was meant to meet (although not why) - and he understands
+that, for the Franklin Collective, identity is a politically loaded issue.
+"A crime report." Her expression is subtly mocking. "Identity theft, by any
+"Yeah, yeah, I know: Identity is theft, don't trust anyone whose state vector
+hasn't forked for more than a gigasecond, change is the only constant, et
+bloody cetera. Who am I talking to, by the way? And if we're talking, doesn't
+that signify that you think we're on the same side, more or less?" He struggles
+to sit up in the recliner chair: Stepper motors whine softly as it strives to
+accommodate him.
+"Sidedness is optional." The woman who is Monica some of the time looks at him
+quirkily: "It tends to alter drastically if you vary the number of dimensions.
+Let's just say that right now I'm Monica, plus our sponsor. Will that do you?"
+"Our sponsor, who is in cyberspace -"
+She leans back on the sofa, which buzzes and extrudes an occasional table with
+a small bar. "Drink? Can I offer you coffee? Guarana? Or maybe a
+Berlinerweisse, for old time's sake?"
+"Guarana will do. Hello, Bob. How long have you been dead?"
+She chuckles. "I'm not dead, Manny. I may not be a full upload, but I feel like
+me." She rolls her eyes, self-consciously. "He's making rude comments about
+your wife," She adds; "I'm not going to pass that on."
+"My ex-wife," Manfred corrects her automatically. "The, uh, tax vamp. So.
+You're acting as a, I guess, an interpreter for Bob?"
+"Ack." She looks at Manfred very seriously: "We owe him a lot, you know. He
+left his assets in trust to the movement along with his partials. We feel
+obliged to instantiate his personality as often as possible, even though you
+can only do so much with a couple of petabytes of recordings. But we have
+"The lobsters." Manfred nods to himself and accepts the glass that she offers.
+Its diamond-plated curves glitter brilliantly in the late-afternoon sunlight.
+"I knew this had something to do with them." He leans forward, holding his
+glass and frowns. "If only I could remember why I came here! It was something
+emergent, something in deep memory ... something I didn't trust in my own
+skull. Something to do with Bob."
+The door behind the sofa opens; Alan enters. "Excuse me," he says quietly, and
+heads for the far side of the room. A workstation folds down from the wall, and
+a chair rolls in from a service niche. He sits with his chin propped on his
+hands, staring at the white desktop. Every so often he mutters quietly to
+himself; "Yes, I understand ... campaign headquarters ... donations need to be
+audited ..."
+"Gianni's election campaign," Monica prompts him.
+Manfred jumps. "Gianni -" A bundle of memories unlock inside his head as he
+remembers his political front man's message. "Yes! That's what this is about.
+It has to be!" He looks at her excitedly. "I'm here to deliver a message to you
+from Gianni Vittoria. About -" He looks crestfallen. "I'm not sure," he trails
+off uncertainly, "but it was important. Something critical in the long term,
+something about group minds and voting. But whoever mugged me got the message."
+* * *
+The Grassmarket is an overly rustic cobbled square nestled beneath the
+glowering battlements of Castle Rock. Annette stands on the site of the gallows
+where they used to execute witches; she sends forth her invisible agents to
+search for spoor of Manfred. Aineko, overly familiar, drapes over her left
+shoulder like a satanic stole and delivers a running stream of cracked
+cellphone chatter into her ear.
+"I don't know where to begin," she sighs, annoyed. This place is a wall-to-wall
+tourist trap, a many-bladed carnivorous plant that digests easy credit and
+spits out the drained husks of foreigners. The road has been pedestrianized and
+resurfaced in squalidly authentic mediaeval cobblestones; in the middle of what
+used to be the car park, there's a permanent floating antiques market, where
+you can buy anything from a brass fire surround to an ancient CD player. Much
+of the merchandise in the shops is generic dot-com trash, vying for the title
+of Japanese-Scottish souvenir from hell: Puroland tartans, animatronic Nessies
+hissing bad-temperedly at knee level, second hand laptops. People swarm
+everywhere, from the theme pubs (hangings seem to be a running joke hereabouts)
+to the expensive dress shops with their fabric renderers and digital mirrors.
+Street performers, part of the permanent floating Fringe, clutter the sidewalk:
+A robotic mime, very traditional in silver face paint, mimics the gestures of
+passers by with ironically stylized gestures.
+"Try the doss house," Aineko suggests from the shelter of her shoulder bag.
+"The -" Annette does a doubletake as her thesaurus conspires with her open
+government firmware and dumps a geographical database of city social services
+into her sensorium. "Oh, I see." The Grassmarket itself is touristy, but the
+bits off to one end - down a dingy canyon of forbidding stone buildings six
+stories high - are decidedly downmarket. "Okay."
+Annette weaves past a stall selling disposable cellphones and cheaper genome
+explorers, round a gaggle of teenage girls in the grips of some kind of
+imported kawaii fetish, who look at her in alarm from atop their pink platform
+heels - probably mistaking her for a school probation inspector - and past a
+stand of chained and parked bicycles. The human attendant looks bored out of
+her mind. Annette tucks a blandly anonymous ten-Euro note in her pocket almost
+before she notices: "If you were going to buy a hot bike," she asks, "where
+would you go?" The parking attendant stares, and for a moment Annette thinks
+she's overestimated her. Then she mumbles something. "What?"
+"McMurphy's. Used to be called Bannerman's. Down yon Cowgate, thataway." The
+meter maid looks anxiously at her rack of charges. "You didn't -"
+"Uh-huh." Annette follows her gaze: straight down the dark stone canyon. Well,
+okay. "This had better be worth it, Manny mon chèr," she mutters under her
+McMurphy's is a fake Irish pub, a stone grotto installed beneath a mound of
+blank-faced offices. It was once a real Irish pub before the developers got
+their hands on it and mutated it in rapid succession into a punk nightclub, a
+wine bar, and a fake Dutch coffee shop; after which, as burned-out as any star,
+it left the main sequence. Now it occupies an unnaturally prolonged, chilly
+existence as the sort of recycled imitation Irish pub that has neon four-leafed
+clovers hanging from the artificially blackened pine beams above the log tables
+- in other words, the burned-out black dwarf afterlife of a once-serious
+drinking establishment. Somewhere along the line, the beer cellar was replaced
+with a toilet (leaving more room for paying patrons upstairs), and now its
+founts dispense fizzy concentrate diluted with water from the city mains.
+"Say, did you hear the one about the Eurocrat with the robot pussy who goes
+into a dodgy pub on the Cowgate and orders a coke? And when it arrives, she
+says 'hey, where's the mirror?'"
+"Shut up," Annette hisses into her shoulder bag. "That isn't funny." Her
+personal intruder telemetry has just e-mailed her wristphone, and it's
+displaying a rotating yellow exclamation point, which means that according to
+the published police crime stats, this place is likely to do grievous harm to
+her insurance premiums.
+Aineko looks up at her from his nest in the bag and yawns cavernously, baring a
+pink, ribbed mouth and a tongue like pink suede. "Want to make me? I just
+pinged Manny's head. The network latency was trivial."
+The barmaid sidles up and pointedly manages not to make eye contact with
+Annette. "I'll have a Diet Coke," Annette orders. In the direction of her bag,
+voice pitched low: "Did you hear the one about the Eurocrat who goes into a
+dodgy pub, orders half a liter of Diet Coke, and when she spills it in her
+shoulder bag she says 'oops, I've got a wet pussy'?"
+The Coke arrives. Annette pays for it. There may be a couple of dozen people in
+the pub; it's hard to tell because it looks like an ancient cellar, lots of
+stone archways leading off into niches populated with second-hand church pews
+and knife-scarred tables. Some guys who might be bikers, students, or
+well-dressed winos are hunched over one table: hairy, wearing vests with too
+many pockets, in an artful bohemianism that makes Annette blink until one of
+her literary programs informs her that one of them is a moderately famous local
+writer, a bit of a guru for the space and freedom party. There're a couple of
+women in boots and furry hats in one corner, poring over the menu, and a parcel
+of off-duty street performers hunching over their beers in a booth. Nobody else
+is wearing anything remotely like office drag, but the weirdness coefficient is
+above average; so Annette dials her glasses to extra-dark, straightens her tie,
+and glances around.
+The door opens and a nondescript youth slinks in. He's wearing baggy BDUs,
+woolly cap, and a pair of boots that have that quintessential essense de panzer
+division look, all shock absorbers and olive drab Kevlar panels. He's wearing -
+"I spy with my little network intrusion detector kit," begins the cat, as
+Annette puts her drink down and moves in on the youth, "something beginning
+with -"
+"How much you want for the glasses, kid?" she asks quietly.
+He jerks and almost jumps - a bad idea in MilSpec combat boots, the ceiling is
+eighteenth-century stone half a meter thick; "Dinnae fuckin' dae that," he
+complains in an eerily familiar way: "Ah -" he swallows. "Annie! Who -"
+"Stay calm. Take them off - they'll only hurt you if you keep wearing them,"
+she says, careful not to move too fast because now she has a second,
+scary-jittery fear, and she knows without having to look that the exclamation
+mark on her watch has turned red and begun to flash: "Look, I'll give you two
+hundred Euros for the glasses and the belt pouch, real cash, and I won't ask
+how you got them or tell anyone." He's frozen in front of her, mesmerized, and
+she can see the light from inside the lenses spilling over onto his
+half-starved adolescent cheekbones, flickering like cold lightning, like he's
+plugged his brain into a grid bearer; swallowing with a suddenly dry mouth, she
+slowly reaches up and pulls the spectacles off his face with one hand and takes
+hold of the belt pouch with the other. The kid shudders and blinks at her, and
+she sticks a couple of hundred-Euro notes in front of his nose. "Scram," she
+says, not unkindly.
+He reaches up slowly, then seizes the money and runs - blasts his way through
+the door with an ear-popping concussion, hangs a left onto the cycle path, and
+vanishes downhill toward the parliament buildings and university complex.
+Annette watches the doorway apprehensively. "Where is he?" she hisses, worried:
+"Any ideas, cat?"
+"Naah. It's your job to find him," Aineko opines complacently. But there's an
+icicle of anxiety in Annette's spine. Manfred's been separated from his memory
+cache? Where could he be? Worse - who could he be?
+"Fuck you, too," she mutters. "Only one thing for it, I guess." She takes off
+her own glasses - they're much less functional than Manfred's massively
+ramified custom rig - and nervously raises the repo'd specs toward her face.
+Somehow what she's about to do makes her feel unclean, like snooping on a
+lover's e-mail folders. But how else can she figure out where he might have
+She slides the glasses on and tries to remember what she was doing yesterday in
+* * *
+"Oui, ma chérie?"
+Pause. "I lost him. But I got his aid-mémoire back. A teenage freeloader
+playing cyberpunk with them. No sign of his location - so I put them on."
+Pause. "Oh dear."
+"Gianni, why exactly did you send him to the Franklin Collective?"
+Pause. (During which, the chill of the gritty stone wall she's leaning on
+begins to penetrate the weave of her jacket.) "I not wanting to bother you with
+"Merde. It's not trivia, Gianni, they're accelerationistas. Have you any idea
+what that's going to do to his head?"
+Pause: Then a grunt, almost of pain. "Yes."
+"Then why did you do it?" she demands vehemently. She hunches over, punching
+words into her phone so that other passers-by avoid her, unsure whether she's
+hands-free or hallucinating: "Shit, Gianni, I have to pick up the pieces every
+time you do this! Manfred is not a healthy man, he's on the edge of acute
+future shock the whole time, and I was not joking when I told you last February
+that he'd need a month in a clinic if you tried running him flat out again! If
+you're not careful, he could end up dropping out completely and joining the
+borganism -"
+"Annette." A heavy sigh: "He are the best hope we got. Am knowing half-life of
+agalmic catalyst now down to six months and dropping; Manny outlast his career
+expectancy, four deviations outside the normal, yes, we know this. But I are
+having to break civil rights deadlock now, this election. We must achieve
+consensus, and Manfred are only staffer we got who have hope of talking to
+Collective on its own terms. He are deal-making messenger, not force burnout,
+right? We need coalition reserve before term limit lockout followed by gridlock
+in Brussels, American-style. Is more than vital - is essential."
+"That's no excuse -"
+"Annette, they have partial upload of Bob Franklin. They got it before he died,
+enough of his personality to reinstantiate it, time-sharing in their own
+brains. We must get the Franklin Collective with their huge resources lobbying
+for the Equal Rights Amendment: If ERA passes, all sapients are eligible to
+vote, own property, upload, download, sideload. Are more important than little
+gray butt-monsters with cold speculum: Whole future depends on it. Manny
+started this with crustacean rights: Leave uploads covered by copyrights not
+civil rights and where will we be in fifty years? Do you think I must ignore
+this? It was important then, but now, with the transmission the lobsters
+received -"
+"Shit." She turns and leans her forehead against the cool stonework. "I'll need
+a prescription. Ritalin or something. And his location. Leave the rest to me."
+She doesn't add, That includes peeling him off the ceiling afterwards: that's
+understood. Nor does she say, you're going to pay. That's understood, too.
+Gianni may be a hard-nosed political fixer, but he looks after his own.
+"Location am easy if he find the PLO. GPS coordinates are following -"
+"No need. I got his spectacles."
+"Merde, as you say. Take them to him, ma chérie. Bring me the distributed trust
+rating of Bob Franklin's upload, and I bring Bob the jubilee, right to direct
+his own corporate self again as if still alive. And we pull diplomatic
+chestnuts out of fire before they burn. Agreed?"
+She cuts the connection and begins walking uphill, along the Cowgate (through
+which farmers once bought their herds to market), toward the permanent floating
+Fringe and then the steps towards The Meadows. As she pauses opposite the site
+of the gallows, a fight breaks out: Some Paleolithic hangover takes exception
+to the robotic mime aping his movements, and swiftly rips its arm off. The mime
+stands there, sparks flickering inside its shoulder, and looks confused. Two
+pissed-looking students start forward and punch the short-haired vandal. There
+is much shouting in the mutually incomprehensible accents of Oxgangs and the
+Herriott-Watt Robot Lab. Annette watches the fight and shudders; it's like a
+flashover vision from a universe where the Equal Rights Amendment - with its
+redefinition of personhood - is rejected by the house of deputies: a universe
+where to die is to become property and to be created outwith a gift of parental
+DNA is to be doomed to slavery.
+Maybe Gianni was right, she ponders. But I wish the price wasn't so personal -
+* * *
+Manfred can feel one of his attacks coming on. The usual symptoms are all
+present - the universe, with its vast preponderance of unthinking matter,
+becomes an affront; weird ideas flicker like heat lightning far away across the
+vast plateaus of his imagination - but, with his metacortex running in
+sandboxed insecure mode, he feels blunt. And slow. Even obsolete. The latter is
+about as welcome a sensation as heroin withdrawal: He can't spin off threads to
+explore his designs for feasibility and report back to him. It's like someone
+has stripped fifty points off his IQ; his brain feels like a surgical scalpel
+that's been used to cut down trees. A decaying mind is a terrible thing to be
+trapped inside. Manfred wants out, and he wants out bad - but he's too afraid
+to let on.
+"Gianni is a middle-of-the-road Eurosocialist, a mixed-market pragmatist
+politician," Bob's ghost accuses Manfred by way of Monica's dye-flushed lips,
+"hardly the sort of guy you'd expect me to vote for, no? So what does he think
+I can do for him?"
+"That's a - ah - " Manfred rocks forward and back in his chair, arms crossed
+firmly and hands thrust under his armpits for protection. "Dismantle the moon!
+Digitize the biosphere, make a nöosphere out of it - shit, sorry, that's
+long-term planning. Build Dyson spheres, lots and lots of - Ahem. Gianni is an
+ex-Marxist, reformed high church Trotskyite clade. He believes in achieving
+True Communism, which is a state of philosophical grace that requires certain
+prerequisites like, um, not pissing around with Molotov cocktails and thought
+police: He wants to make everybody so rich that squabbling over ownership of
+the means of production makes as much sense as arguing over who gets to sleep
+in the damp spot at the back of the cave. He's not your enemy, I mean. He's the
+enemy of those Stalinist deviationist running dogs in Conservative Party
+Central Office who want to bug your bedroom and hand everything on a plate to
+the big corporates owned by the pension funds - which in turn rely on people
+dying predictably to provide their raison d'être. And, um, more importantly
+dying and not trying to hang on to their property and chattels. Sitting up in
+the coffin singing extropian fireside songs, that kind of thing. The actuaries
+are to blame, predicting life expectancy with intent to cause people to buy
+insurance policies with money that is invested in control of the means of
+production - Bayes' Theorem is to blame -"
+Alan glances over his shoulder at Manfred: "I don't think feeding him guarana
+was a good idea," he says in tones of deep foreboding.
+Manfred's mode of vibration has gone nonlinear by this point: He's rocking
+front to back, and jiggling up and down in little hops, like a technophiliacal
+yogic flyer trying to bounce his way to the singularity. Monica leans toward
+him and her eyes widen: "Manfred," she hisses, "shut up!"
+He stops babbling abruptly, with an expression of deep puzzlement. "Who am I?"
+he asks, and keels over backward. "Why am I, here and now, occupying this body
+"Anthropic anxiety attack," Monica comments. "I think he did this in Amsterdam
+eight years ago when Bob first met him." She looks alarmed, a different
+identity coming to the fore: "What shall we do?"
+"We have to make him comfortable." Alan raises his voice: "Bed, make yourself
+ready, now." The back of the sofa Manfred is sprawled on flops downward, the
+base folds up, and a strangely animated duvet crawls up over his feet. "Listen,
+Manny, you're going to be all right."
+"Who am I and what do I signify?" Manfred mumbles incoherently: "A mass of
+propagating decision trees, fractal compression, lots of synaptic junctions
+lubricated with friendly endorphins -" Across the room, the bootleg
+pharmacopoeia is cranking up to manufacture some heavy tranquilizers. Monica
+heads for the kitchen to get something for him to drink them in. "Why are you
+doing this?" Manfred asks, dizzily.
+"It's okay. Lie down and relax." Alan leans over him. "We'll talk about
+everything in the morning, when you know who you are." (Aside to Monica, who is
+entering the room with a bottle of iced tea: "Better let Gianni know that he's
+unwell. One of us may have to go visit the minister. Do you know if Macx has
+been audited?") "Rest up, Manfred. Everything is being taken care of."
+About fifteen minutes later, Manfred - who, in the grip of an existential
+migraine, meekly obeys Monica's instruction to drink down the spiked tea - lies
+back on the bed and relaxes. His breathing slows; the subliminal muttering
+ceases. Monica, sitting next to him, reaches out and takes his right hand,
+which is lying on top of the bedding.
+"Do you want to live forever?" she intones in Bob Franklin's tone of voice.
+"You can live forever in me ..."
+* * *
+The Church of Latter-Day Saints believes that you can't get into the Promised
+Land unless it's baptized you - but it can do so if it knows your name and
+parentage, even after you're dead. Its genealogical databases are among the
+most impressive artifacts of historical research ever prepared. And it likes to
+make converts.
+The Franklin Collective believes that you can't get into the future unless it's
+digitized your neural state vector, or at least acquired as complete a snapshot
+of your sensory inputs and genome as current technology permits. You don't need
+to be alive for it to do this. Its society of mind is among the most impressive
+artifacts of computer science. And it likes to make converts.
+* * *
+Nightfall in the city. Annette stands impatiently on the doorstep. "Let me the
+fuck in," she snarls impatiently at the speakerphone. "Merde!"
+Someone opens the door. "Who -"
+Annette shoves him inside, kicks the door shut, and leans on it. "Take me to
+your bodhisattva," she demands. "Now."
+"I -" he turns and heads inside, along the gloomy hallway that runs past a
+staircase. Annette strides after him aggressively. He opens a door and ducks
+inside, and she follows before he can close it.
+Inside, the room is illuminated by a variety of indirect diode sources,
+calibrated for the warm glow of a summer afternoon's daylight. There's a bed in
+the middle of it, a figure lying asleep at the heart of a herd of attentive
+diagnostic instruments. A couple of attendants sit to either side of the
+sleeping man.
+"What have you done to him?" Annette snaps, rushing forward. Manfred blinks up
+at her from the pillows, bleary-eyed and confused as she leans overhead:
+"Hello? Manny?" Over her shoulder: "If you have done anything to him -"
+"Annie?" He looks puzzled. A bright orange pair of goggles - not his own - is
+pushed up onto his forehead like a pair of beached jellyfish. "I don't feel
+well. 'F I get my hands on the bastard who did this ..."
+"We can fix that," she says briskly, declining to mention the deal she cut to
+get his memories back. She peels off his glasses and carefully slides them onto
+his face, replacing his temporary ones. The brain bag she puts down next to his
+shoulder, within easy range. The hairs on the back of her neck rise as a thin
+chattering fills the ether around them: his eyes are glowing a luminous blue
+behind his shades, as if a high-tension spark is flying between his ears.
+"Oh. Wow." He sits up, the covers fall from his naked shoulders, and her breath
+She looks round at the motionless figure sitting to his left. The man in the
+chair nods deliberately, ironically. "What have you done to him?"
+"We've been looking after him - nothing more, nothing less. He arrived in a
+state of considerable confusion, and his state deteriorated this afternoon."
+She's never met this fellow before, but she has a gut feeling that she knows
+him. "You would be Robert ... Franklin?"
+He nods again. "The avatar is in." There's a thud as Manfred's eyes roll up in
+his head, and he flops back onto the bedding. "Excuse me. Monica?"
+The young woman on the other side of the bed shakes her head. "No, I'm running
+Bob, too."
+"Oh. Well, you tell her - I've got to get him some juice."
+The woman who is also Bob Franklin - or whatever part of him survived his
+battle with an exotic brain tumor eight years earlier - catches Annette's eye
+and shakes her head, smiles faintly. "You're never alone when you're a
+Annette wrinkles her brow: she has to trigger a dictionary attack to parse the
+sentence. "One large cell, many nuclei? Oh, I see. You have the new implant.
+The better to record everything."
+The youngster shrugs. "You want to die and be resurrected as a third-person
+actor in a low-bandwidth re-enactment? Or a shadow of itchy memories in some
+stranger's skull?" She snorts, a gesture that's at odds with the rest of her
+body language.
+"Bob must have been one of the first borganisms. Humans, I mean. After Jim
+Bezier." Annette glances over at Manfred, who has begun to snore softly. "It
+must have been a lot of work."
+"The monitoring equipment cost millions, then," says the woman - Monica? - "and
+it didn't do a very good job. One of the conditions for our keeping access to
+his research funding is that we regularly run his partials. He wanted to build
+up a kind of aggregate state vector - patched together out of bits and pieces
+of other people to supplement the partials that were all I - he - could record
+with the then state of the art."
+"Eh, right." Annette reaches out and absently smooths a stray hair away from
+Manfred's forehead. "What is it like to be part of a group mind?"
+Monica sniffs, evidently amused. "What is it like to see red? What's it like to
+be a bat? I can't tell you - I can only show you. We're all free to leave at
+any time, you know."
+"But somehow you don't." Annette rubs her head, feels the short hair over the
+almost imperceptible scars that conceal a network of implants - tools that
+Manfred turned down when they became available a year or two ago. ("Goop-phase
+Darwin-design nanotech ain't designed for clean interfaces," he'd said, "I'll
+stick to disposable kit, thanks.") "No thank you. I don't think he'll take up
+your offer when he wakes up, either." (Subtext: I'll let you have him over my
+dead body.)
+Monica shrugs. "That's his loss: He won't live forever in the singularity,
+along with other followers of our gentle teacher. Anyway, we have more converts
+than we know what to do with."
+A thought occurs to Annette. "Ah. You are all of one mind? Partially? A
+question to you is a question to all?"
+"It can be." The words come simultaneously from Monica and the other body,
+Alan, who is standing in the doorway with a boxy thing that looks like an
+improvised diagnostician. "What do you have in mind?" adds the Alan body.
+Manfred, lying on the bed, groans: There's an audible hiss of pink noise as his
+glasses whisper in his ears, bone conduction providing a serial highway to his
+"Manfred was sent to find out why you're opposing the ERA," Annette explains.
+"Some parts of our team operate without the other's knowledge."
+"Indeed." Alan sits down on the chair beside the bed and clears his throat,
+puffing his chest out pompously. "A very important theological issue. I feel -"
+"I, or we?" Annette interrupts.
+"We feel," Monica snaps. Then she glances at Alan. "Soo-rrry."
+The evidence of individuality within the group mind is disturbing to Annette:
+Too many reruns of the Borgish fantasy have conditioned her preconceptions, and
+their quasi-religious belief in a singularity leaves her cold. "Please
+"One person, one vote, is obsolete," says Alan. "The broader issue of how we
+value identity needs to be revisited, the franchise reconsidered. Do you get
+one vote for each warm body? Or one vote for each sapient individual? What
+about distributed intelligences? The proposals in the Equal Rights Act are
+deeply flawed, based on a cult of individuality that takes no account of the
+true complexity of posthumanism."
+"Like the proposals for a feminine franchise in the nineteenth century that
+would grant the vote to married wives of land-owning men," Monica adds slyly:
+"It misses the point."
+"Ah, oui." Annette crosses her arms, suddenly defensive. This isn't what she'd
+expected to hear. This is the elitist side of the posthumanism shtick,
+potentially as threatening to her post enlightenment ideas as the divine right
+of kings.
+"It misses more than that." Heads turn to face an unexpected direction:
+Manfred's eyes are open again, and as he glances around the room Annette can
+see a spark of interest there that was missing earlier. "Last century, people
+were paying to have their heads frozen after their death - in hope of
+reconstruction, later. They got no civil rights: The law didn't recognize death
+as a reversible process. Now how do we account for it when you guys stop
+running Bob? Opt out of the collective borganism? Or maybe opt back in again
+later?" He reaches up and rubs his forehead, tiredly. "Sorry, I haven't been
+myself lately." A crooked, slightly manic grin flickers across his face. "See,
+I've been telling Gianni for a whole while, we need a new legal concept of what
+it is to be a person. One that can cope with sentient corporations, artificial
+stupidities, secessionists from group minds, and reincarnated uploads. The
+religiously inclined are having lots of fun with identity issues right now -
+why aren't we posthumanists thinking about these things?"
+Annette's bag bulges: Aineko pokes his head out, sniffs the air, squeezes out
+onto the carpet, and begins to groom himself with perfect disregard for the
+human bystanders. "Not to mention A-life experiments who think they're the real
+thing," Manfred adds. "And aliens."
+Annette freezes, staring at him. "Manfred! You're not supposed to -"
+Manfred is watching Alan, who seems to be the most deeply integrated of the
+dead venture billionaire's executors: Even his expression reminds Annette of
+meeting Bob Franklin back in Amsterdam, early in the decade, when Manny's
+personal dragon still owned him. "Aliens," Alan echoes. An eyebrow twitches.
+"Would this be the signal SETI announced, or the, uh, other one? And how long
+have you known about them?"
+"Gianni has his fingers in a lot of pies," Manfred comments blandly. "And we
+still talk to the lobsters from time to time - you know, they're only a couple
+of light-hours away, right? They told us about the signals."
+"Er." Alan's eyes glaze over for a moment; Annette's prostheses paint her a
+picture of false light spraying from the back of his head, his entire sensory
+bandwidth momentarily soaking up a huge peer-to-peer download from the server
+dust that wallpapers every room in the building. Monica looks irritated, taps
+her fingernails on the back of her chair. "The signals. Right. Why wasn't this
+"The first one was." Annette's eyebrows furrow. "We couldn't exactly cover it
+up, everyone with a backyard dish pointed in the right direction caught it. But
+most people who're interested in hearing about alien contacts already think
+they drop round on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays to administer rectal exams.
+Most of the rest think it's a hoax. Quite a few of the remainder are scratching
+their heads and wondering whether it isn't just a new kind of cosmological
+phenomenon that emits a very low entropy signal. Of the six who are left over,
+five are trying to get a handle on the message contents, and the last is
+convinced it's a practical joke. And the other signal, well, that was weak
+enough that only the deep-space tracking network caught it."
+Manfred fiddles with the bed control system. "It's not a practical joke," he
+adds. "But they only captured about sixteen megabits of data from the first
+one, maybe double that in the second. There's quite a bit of noise, the signals
+don't repeat, their length doesn't appear to be a prime, there's no obvious
+metainformation that describes the internal format, so there's no easy way of
+getting a handle on them. To make matters worse, pointy-haired management at
+Arianespace" - he glances at Annette, as if seeking a response to the naming of
+her ex-employers - "decided the best thing to do was to cover up the second
+signal and work on it in secret - for competitive advantage, they say - and as
+for the first, to pretend it never happened. So nobody really knows how long
+it'll take to figure out whether it's a ping from the galactic root domain
+servers or a pulsar that's taken to grinding out the eighteen-quadrillionth
+digits of pi, or what."
+"But," Monica glances around, "you can't be sure."
+"I think it may be sapient," says Manfred. He finds the right button at last,
+and the bed begins to fold itself back into a lounger. Then he finds the wrong
+button; the duvet dissolves into viscous turquoise slime that slurps and
+gurgles away through a multitude of tiny nozzles in the headboard. "Bloody
+aerogel. Um, where was I?" He sits up.
+"Sapient network packet?" asks Alan.
+"Nope." Manfred shakes his head, grins. "Should have known you'd read Vinge ...
+or was it the movie? No, what I think is that there's only one logical thing to
+beam backward and forward out there, and you may remember I asked you to beam
+it out about, oh, nine years ago?"
+"The lobsters." Alan's eyes go blank. "Nine years. Time to Proxima Centauri and
+"About that distance, yes," says Manfred. "And remember, that's an upper bound
+- it could well have come from somewhere closer. Anyway, the first SETI signal
+came from a couple of degrees off and more than hundred light-years out, but
+the second signal came from less than three light-years away. You can see why
+they didn't publicize that - they didn't want a panic. And no, the signal isn't
+a simple echo of the canned crusty transmission - I think it's an exchange
+embassy, but we haven't cracked it yet. Now do you see why we have to crowbar
+the civil rights issue open again? We need a framework for rights that can
+encompass nonhumans, and we need it as fast as possible. Otherwise, if the
+neighbors come visiting..."
+"Okay," says Alan, "I'll have to talk with myselves. Maybe we can agree
+something, as long as it's clear that it's a provisional stab at the framework
+and not a permanent solution?"
+Annette snorts. "No solution is final!" Monica catches her eyes and winks:
+Annette is startled by the blatant display of dissent within the syncitium.
+"Well," says Manfred, "I guess that's all we can ask for?" He looks hopeful.
+"Thanks for the hospitality, but I feel the need to lie down in my own bed for
+a while. I had to commit a lot to memory while I was off-line, and I want to
+record it before I forget who I am," he adds pointedly, and Annette breathes a
+quiet sight of relief.
+* * *
+Later that night, a doorbell rings.
+"Who's there?" asks the entryphone.
+"Uh, me," says the man on the steps. He looks a little confused. "Ah'm Macx.
+Ah'm here tae see" - the name is on the tip of his tongue - "someone."
+"Come in." A solenoid buzzes; he pushes the door open, and it closes behind
+him. His metal-shod boots ring on the hard stone floor, and the cool air smells
+faintly of unburned jet fuel.
+"Ah'm Macx," he repeats uncertainly, "or Ah wis fer a wee while, an' it made ma
+heid hurt. But noo Ah'm me agin, an' Ah wannae be somebody else ... can ye
+* * *
+Later still, a cat sits on a window ledge, watching the interior of a darkened
+room from behind the concealment of curtains. The room is dark to human eyes,
+but bright to the cat: Moonlight cascades silently off the walls and furniture,
+the twisted bedding, the two naked humans lying curled together in the middle
+of the bed.
+Both the humans are in their thirties: Her close-cropped hair is beginning to
+gray, distinguished threads of gunmetal wire threading it, while his brown mop
+is not yet showing signs of age. To the cat, who watches with a variety of
+unnatural senses, her head glows in the microwave spectrum with a gentle halo
+of polarized emissions. The male shows no such aura: he's unnaturally natural
+for this day and age, although - oddly - he's wearing spectacles in bed, and
+the frames shine similarly. An invisible soup of radiation connects both humans
+to items of clothing scattered across the room - clothing that seethes with
+unsleeping sentience, dribbling over to their suitcases and hand luggage and
+(though it doesn't enjoy noticing it) the cat's tail, which is itself a rather
+sensitive antenna.
+The two humans have just finished making love: They do this less often than in
+their first few years, but with more tenderness and expertise - lengths of
+shocking pink Hello Kitty bondage tape still hang from the bedposts, and a lump
+of programmable memory plastic sits cooling on the side table. The male is
+sprawled with his head and upper torso resting in the crook of the female's
+left arm and shoulder. Shifting visualization to infrared, the cat sees that
+she is glowing, capillaries dilating to enhance the blood flow around her
+throat and chest.
+"I'm getting old," the male mumbles. "I'm slowing down."
+"Not where it counts," the female replies, gently squeezing his right buttock.
+"No, I'm sure of it," he says. "The bits of me that still exist in this old
+head - how many types of processor can you name that are still in use
+thirty-plus years after they're born?"
+"You're thinking about the implants again," she says carefully. The cat
+remembers this as a sore point; from being a medical procedure to help the
+blind see and the autistic talk, intrathecal implants have blossomed into a
+must-have accessory for the now-clade. But the male is reluctant. "It's not as
+risky as it used to be. If they screw up, there're neural growth cofactors and
+cheap replacement stem cells. I'm sure one of your sponsors can arrange for
+extra cover."
+"Hush: I'm still thinking about it." He's silent for a while. "I wasn't myself
+yesterday. I was someone else. Someone too slow to keep up. Puts a new
+perspective on everything: I've been afraid of losing my biological plasticity,
+of being trapped in an obsolete chunk of skullware while everything moves on -
+but how much of me lives outside my own head these days, anyhow?" One of his
+external threads generates an animated glyph and throws it at her mind's eye;
+she grins at his obscure humor. "Cross-training from a new interface is going
+to be hard, though."
+"You'll do it," she predicts. "You can always get a discreet prescription for
+novotrophin-B." A receptor agonist tailored for gerontological wards, it
+stimulates interest in the new: combined with MDMA, it's a component of the
+street cocktail called sensawunda. "That should keep you focused for long
+enough to get comfortable."
+"What's life coming to when I can't cope with the pace of change?" he asks the
+ceiling plaintively.
+The cat lashes its tail, irritated by his anthropocentrism.
+"You are my futurological storm shield," she says, jokingly, and moves her hand
+to cup his genitals. Most of her current activities are purely biological, the
+cat notes: From the irregular sideloads, she's using most of her skullware to
+run ETItalk@home, one of the distributed cracking engines that is trying to
+decode the alien grammar of the message that Manfred suspects is eligible for
+Obeying an urge that it can't articulate, the cat sends out a feeler to the
+nearest router. The cybeast has Manfred's keys; Manfred trusts Aineko
+implicitly, which is unwise - his ex-wife tampered with it, after all, never
+mind all the kittens it absorbed in its youth. Tunneling out into the darkness,
+the cat stalks the Net alone ...
+"Just think about the people who can't adapt," he says. His voice sounds
+obscurely worried.
+"I try not to." She shivers. "You are thirty, you are slowing. What about the
+young? Are they keeping up, themselves?"
+"I have a daughter. She's about a hundred and sixty million seconds old. If
+Pamela would let me message her I could find out ..." There are echoes of old
+pain in his voice.
+"Don't go there, Manfred. Please." Despite everything, Manfred hasn't let go:
+Amber is a ligature that permanently binds him to Pamela's distant orbit.
+In the distance, the cat hears the sound of lobster minds singing in the void,
+a distant feed streaming from their cometary home as it drifts silently out
+through the asteroid belt, en route to a chilly encounter beyond Neptune. The
+lobsters sing of alienation and obsolescence, of intelligence too slow and
+tenuous to support the vicious pace of change that has sandblasted the human
+world until all the edges people cling to are jagged and brittle.
+Beyond the distant lobsters, the cat pings an anonymous distributed network
+server - peer-to-peer file storage spread holographically across a million
+hosts, unerasable, full of secrets and lies that nobody can afford to suppress.
+Rants, music, rip-offs of the latest Bollywood hits: The cat spiders past them
+all, looking for the final sample. Grabbing it - a momentary breakup in
+Manfred's spectacles the only symptom for either human to notice - the cat
+drags its prey home, sucks it down, and compares it against the data sample
+Annette's exocortex is analysing.
+"I'm sorry, my love. I just sometimes feel -" He sighs. "Age is a process of
+closing off opportunities behind you. I'm not young enough anymore - I've lost
+the dynamic optimism."
+The data sample on the pirate server differs from the one Annette's implant is
+"You'll get it back," she reassures him quietly, stroking his side. "You are
+still sad from being mugged. This also will pass. You'll see."
+"Yeah." He finally relaxes, dropping back into the reflexive assurance of his
+own will. "I'll get over it, one way or another. Or someone who remembers being
+me will ..."
+In the darkness, Aineko bares teeth in a silent grin. Obeying a deeply
+hardwired urge to meddle, he moves a file across, making a copy of the alien
+download package Annette has been working on. She's got a copy of number two,
+the sequence the deep-space tracking network received from close to home, which
+ESA and the other big combines have been keeping to themselves. Another deeply
+buried thread starts up, and Aineko analyses the package from a perspective no
+human being has yet established. Presently a braid of processes running on an
+abstract virtual machine asks him a question that cannot be encoded in any
+human grammar. Watch and wait, he replies to his passenger. They'll figure out
+what we are sooner or later.
+:B~ PART 2: Point of Inflexion
+Life is a process which may be abstracted from other media.
+- John Von Neumann
+1~ Chapter 4: Halo
+The asteroid is running Barney: it sings of love on the high frontier, of the
+passion of matter for replicators, and its friendship for the needy billions of
+the Pacific Rim. "I love you," it croons in Amber's ears as she seeks a precise
+fix on it: "Let me give you a big hug ..."
+A fraction of a light-second away, Amber locks a cluster of cursors together on
+the signal, trains them to track its Doppler shift, and reads off the orbital
+elements. "Locked and loaded," she mutters. The animated purple dinosaur
+pirouettes and prances in the middle of her viewport, throwing a diamond-tipped
+swizzle stick overhead. Sarcastically: "Big hug time! I got asteroid!" Cold gas
+thrusters bang somewhere behind her in the interstage docking ring, prodding
+the cumbersome farm ship round to orient on the Barney rock. She damps her
+enthusiasm self-consciously, her implants hungrily sequestrating surplus
+neurotransmitter molecules floating around her synapses before reuptake sets
+in. It doesn't do to get too excited in free flight. But the impulse to spin
+handstands, jump and sing is still there: It's her rock, and it loves her, and
+she's going to bring it to life.
+The workspace of Amber's room is a mass of stuff that probably doesn't belong
+on a spaceship. Posters of the latest Lebanese boy band bump and grind through
+their glam routines: Tentacular restraining straps wave from the corners of her
+sleeping bag, somehow accumulating a crust of dirty clothing from the air like
+a giant inanimate hydra. (Cleaning robots seldom dare to venture inside the
+teenager's bedroom.) One wall is repeatedly cycling through a simulation of the
+projected construction cycle of Habitat One, a big fuzzy sphere with a glowing
+core (that Amber is doing her bit to help create). Three or four small
+pastel-colored plastic kawaii dolls stalk each other across its circumference
+with million-kilometer strides. And her father's cat is curled up between the
+aircon duct and her costume locker, snoring in a high-pitched tone.
+Amber yanks open the faded velour curtain that shuts her room off from the rest
+of the hive: "I've got it!" she shouts. "It's all mine! I rule!" It's the
+sixteenth rock tagged by the orphanage so far, but it's the first that she's
+tagged by herself, and that makes it special. She bounces off the other side of
+the commons, surprising one of Oscar's cane toads - which should be locked down
+in the farm, it's not clear how it got here - and the audio repeaters copy the
+incoming signal, noise-fuzzed echoes of a thousand fossilized infants' video
+* * *
+"You're so prompt, Amber," Pierre whines when she corners him in the canteen.
+"Well, yeah!" She tosses her head, barely concealing a smirk of delight at her
+own brilliance. She knows it isn't nice, but Mom is a long way away, and Dad
+and Stepmom don't care about that kind of thing. "I'm brilliant, me," she
+announces. "Now what about our bet?"
+"Aww." Pierre thrusts his hands deep into his pockets. "But I don't have two
+million on me in change right now. Next cycle?"
+"Huh?" She's outraged. "But we had a bet!"
+"Uh, Dr. Bayes said you weren't going to make it this time, either, so I stuck
+my smart money in an options trade. If I take it out now, I'll take a big hit.
+Can you give me until cycle's end?"
+"You should know better than to trust a sim, Pee." Her avatar blazes at him
+with early-teen contempt: Pierre hunches his shoulders under her gaze. He's
+only twelve, freckled, hasn't yet learned that you don't welsh on a deal. "I'll
+let you do it this time," she announces, "but you'll have to pay for it. I want
+He sighs. "What base rate are you -"
+"No, your interest! Slave for a cycle!" She grins malevolently.
+And his face shifts abruptly into apprehension: "As long as you don't make me
+clean the litter tray again. You aren't planning on doing that, are you?"
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to the fourth decade. The thinking mass of the solar system now
+exceeds one MIPS per gram; it's still pretty dumb, but it's not dumb all over.
+The human population is near maximum overshoot, pushing nine billion, but its
+growth rate is tipping toward negative numbers, and bits of what used to be the
+first world are now facing a middle-aged average. Human cogitation provides
+about 10^{28}^ MIPS of the solar system's brainpower. The real thinking is
+mostly done by the halo of a thousand trillion processors that surround the
+meat machines with a haze of computation - individually a tenth as powerful as
+a human brain, collectively they're ten thousand times more powerful, and their
+numbers are doubling every twenty million seconds. They're up to 10^{33}^ MIPS
+and rising, although there's a long way to go before the solar system is fully
+_1 Technologies come, technologies go, but nobody even five years ago predicted
+that there'd be tinned primates in orbit around Jupiter by now: A synergy of
+emergent industries and strange business models have kick-started the space age
+again, aided and abetted by the discovery of (so far undecrypted) signals from
+ETs. Unexpected fringe riders are developing new ecological niches on the edge
+of the human information space, light-minutes and light-hours from the core, as
+an expansion that has hung fire since the 1970s gets under way.
+_1 Amber, like most of the postindustrialists aboard the orphanage ship Ernst
+Sanger, is in her early teens: While their natural abilities are in many cases
+enhanced by germ-line genetic recombination, thanks to her mother's early
+ideals she has to rely on brute computational enhancements. She doesn't have a
+posterior parietal cortex hacked for extra short-term memory, or an anterior
+superior temporal gyrus tweaked for superior verbal insight, but she's grown up
+with neural implants that feel as natural to her as lungs or fingers. Half her
+wetware is running outside her skull on an array of processor nodes hooked into
+her brain by quantum-entangled communication channels - her own personal
+metacortex. These kids are mutant youth, burning bright: Not quite
+incomprehensible to their parents, but profoundly alien - the generation gap is
+as wide as the 1960s and as deep as the solar system. Their parents, born in
+the gutter years of the twenty-first century, grew up with white elephant
+shuttles and a space station that just went round and round, and computers that
+went beep when you pushed their buttons. The idea that Jupiter orbit was
+somewhere you could go was as profoundly counterintuitive as the Internet to a
+baby boomer.
+_1 Most of the passengers on the can have run away from parents who think that
+teenagers belong in school, unable to come to terms with a generation so
+heavily augmented that they are fundamentally brighter than the adults around
+them. Amber was fluent in nine languages by the age of six, only two of them
+human and six of them serializable; when she was seven, her mother took her to
+the school psychiatrist for speaking in synthetic tongues. That was the final
+straw for Amber: using an illicit anonymous phone, she called her father. Her
+mother had him under a restraining order, but it hadn't occurred to her to
+apply for an order against his partner ...
+* * *
+Vast whorls of cloud ripple beneath the ship's drive stinger: Orange and brown
+and muddy gray streaks slowly crawl across the bloated horizon of Jupiter.
+Sanger is nearing perijove, deep within the gas giant's lethal magnetic field;
+static discharges flicker along the tube, arcing over near the deep violet
+exhaust cloud emerging from the magnetic mirrors of the ship's VASIMR motor.
+The plasma rocket is cranked up to high mass flow, its specific impulse almost
+as low as a fission rocket but producing maximum thrust as the assembly creaks
+and groans through the gravitational assist maneuver. In another hour, the
+drive will flicker off, and the orphanage will fall up and out toward Ganymede,
+before dropping back in toward orbit around Amalthea, Jupiter's fourth moon
+(and source of much of the material in the Gossamer ring). They're not the
+first canned primates to make it to Jupiter subsystem, but they're one of the
+first wholly private ventures. The bandwidth out here sucks dead slugs through
+a straw, with millions of kilometers of vacuum separating them from scant
+hundreds of mouse-brained microprobes and a few dinosaurs left behind by NASA
+or ESA. They're so far from the inner system that a good chunk of the ship's
+communications array is given over to caching: The news is whole kiloseconds
+old by the time it gets out here.
+Amber, along with about half the waking passengers, watches in fascination from
+the common room. The commons are a long axial cylinder, a double-hulled
+inflatable at the center of the ship with a large part of their liquid water
+supply stored in its wall tubes. The far end is video-enabled, showing them a
+real-time 3D view of the planet as it rolls beneath them: in reality, there's
+as much mass as possible between them and the trapped particles in the Jovian
+magnetic envelope. "I could go swimming in that," sighs Lilly. "Just imagine,
+diving into that sea ..." Her avatar appears in the window, riding a silver
+surfboard down the kilometers of vacuum.
+"Nice case of wind-burn you've got there," someone jeers - Kas. Suddenly
+Lilly's avatar, hitherto clad in a shimmering metallic swimsuit, turns to the
+texture of baked meat and waggles sausage fingers up at them in warning.
+"Same to you and the window you climbed in through!" Abruptly the virtual
+vacuum outside the window is full of bodies, most of them human, contorting and
+writhing and morphing in mock-combat as half the kids pitch into the virtual
+death match. It's a gesture in the face of the sharp fear that outside the thin
+walls of the orphanage lies an environment that really is as hostile as Lilly's
+toasted avatar would indicate.
+Amber turns back to her slate: She's working through a complex mess of forms,
+necessary before the expedition can start work. Facts and figures that are
+never far away crowd around her, intimidating. Jupiter weighs 1.9 x 10^{27}^
+kilograms. There are twenty-nine Jovian moons and an estimated two hundred
+thousand minor bodies, lumps of rock, and bits of debris crowded around them -
+debris above the size of ring fragments, for Jupiter (like Saturn) has rings,
+albeit not as prominent. A total of six major national orbiter platforms have
+made it out here - and another two hundred and seventeen microprobes, all but
+six of them private entertainment platforms. The first human expedition was put
+together by ESA Studios six years ago, followed by a couple of wildcat mining
+prospectors and a M-commerce bus that scattered half a million picoprobes
+throughout Jupiter subsystem. Now the Sanger has arrived, along with another
+three monkey cans (one from Mars, two more from LEO) and it looks as if
+colonization is about to explode, except that there are at least four mutually
+exclusive Grand Plans for what to do with old Jove's mass.
+Someone prods her. "Hey, Amber, what are you up to?"
+She opens her eyes. "Doing my homework." It's Su Ang. "Look, we're going to
+Amalthea, aren't we? But we file our accounts in Reno, so we have to do all
+this paperwork. Monica asked me to help. It's insane."
+Ang leans over and reads, upside down. "Environmental Protection Agency?"
+"Yeah. Estimated Environmental Impact Forward Analysis 204.6b, Page Two. They
+want me to 'list any bodies of standing water within five kilometers of the
+designated mining area. If excavating below the water table, list any
+wellsprings, reservoirs, and streams within depth of excavation in meters
+multiplied by five hundred meters up to a maximum distance of ten kilometers
+downstream of direction of bedding plane flow. For each body of water, itemize
+any endangered or listed species of bird, fish, mammal, reptile, invertebrate,
+or plant living within ten kilometers -'"
+" - of a mine on Amalthea. Which orbits one hundred and eighty thousand
+kilometers above Jupiter, has no atmosphere, and where you can pick up a whole
+body radiation dose of ten Grays in half an hour on the surface." Ang shakes
+her head, then spoils it by giggling. Amber glances up.
+On the wall in front of her someone - Nicky or Boris, probably - has pasted a
+caricature of her own avatar into the virch fight. She's being hugged from
+behind by a giant cartoon dog with floppy ears and an improbably large
+erection, who's singing anatomically improbable suggestions while fondling
+himself suggestively. "Fuck that!" Shocked out of her distraction - and angry -
+Amber drops her stack of paperwork and throws a new avatar at the screen, one
+an agent of hers dreamed up overnight. It's called Spike, and it's not
+friendly. Spike rips off the dog's head and pisses down its trachea, which is
+anatomically correct for a human being: Meanwhile she looks around, trying to
+work out which of the laughing idiot children and lost geeks around her could
+have sent such an unpleasant message.
+"Children! Chill out." She glances round - one of the Franklins (this is the
+twentysomething dark-skinned female one) is frowning at them. "Can't we leave
+you alone for half a K without a fight?"
+Amber pouts. "It's not a fight; it's a forceful exchange of opinions."
+"Hah." The Franklin leans back in midair, arms crossed, an expression of
+supercilious smugness pasted across her-their face. "Heard that one before.
+Anyway" - she-they gesture, and the screen goes blank - "I've got news for you
+pesky kids. We got a claim verified! Factory starts work as soon as we shut
+down the stinger and finish filing all the paperwork via our lawyers. Now's our
+chance to earn our upkeep ..."
+* * *
+Amber is flashing on ancient history, five years back along her time line. In
+her replay, she's in some kind of split-level ranch house out West. It's a
+temporary posting while her mother audits an obsolescent fab line enterprise
+that grinds out dead chips of VLSI silicon for Pentagon projects that have
+slipped behind the cutting edge. Her Mom leans over her, menacingly adult in
+her dark suit and chaperone earrings: "You're going to school, and that's
+Her mother is a blonde ice maiden madonna, one of the IRS's most productive
+bounty hunters - she can make grown CEOs panic just by blinking at them. Amber,
+a towheaded-eight-year old tearaway with a confusing mix of identities,
+inexperience blurring the boundary between self and grid, is not yet able to
+fight back effectively. After a couple of seconds, she verbalizes a rather
+feeble protest: "Don't want to!" One of her stance daemons whispers that this
+is the wrong approach to take, so she modifies it: "They'll beat up on me, Mom.
+I'm too different. Sides, I know you want me socialized up with my grade
+metrics, but isn't that what sideband's for? I can socialize real good at
+Mom does something unexpected: She kneels, putting herself on eye-level with
+Amber. They're on the living room carpet, all seventies-retro brown corduroy
+and acid-orange Paisley wallpaper, and for once, they're alone: The domestic
+robots are in hiding while the humans hold court. "Listen to me, sweetie."
+Mom's voice is breathy, laden with an emotional undertow as strong and stifling
+as the eau-de-Cologne she wears to the office to cover up the scent of her
+client's fear. "I know that's what your father's writing to you, but it isn't
+true. You need the company - physical company - of children your own age.
+You're natural, not some kind of engineered freak, even with your skullset.
+Natural children like you need company or they grow up all weird. Socialization
+isn't just about texting your own kind, Amber, you need to know how to deal
+with people who're different, too. I want you to grow up happy, and that won't
+happen if you don't learn to get on with children your own age. You're not
+going to be some kind of cyborg otaku freak, Amber. But to get healthy, you've
+got to go to school, build up a mental immune system. Anyway, that which does
+not destroy us makes us stronger, right?"
+It's crude moral blackmail, transparent as glass and manipulative as hell, but
+Amber's corpus logica flags it with a heavy emotional sprite miming the
+likelihood of physical discipline if she rises to the bait: Mom is agitated,
+nostrils slightly flared, ventilation rate up, some vasodilatation visible in
+her cheeks. Amber - in combination with her skullset and the metacortex of
+distributed agents it supports - is mature enough at eight years to model,
+anticipate, and avoid corporal punishment. But her stature and lack of physical
+maturity conspire to put her at a disadvantage when negotiating with adults who
+matured in a simpler age. She sighs, then puts on a pout to let Mom know she's
+still reluctant, but obedient. "O-kay. If you say so."
+Mom stands up, eyes distant - probably telling Saturn to warm his engine and
+open the garage doors. "I say so, punkin. Go get your shoes on, now. I'll pick
+you up on my way back from work, and I've got a treat for you; we're going to
+check out a new church together this evening." Mom smiles, but it doesn't reach
+her eyes: Amber has already figured out she's going through the motions in
+order to give her the simulated middle-American upbringing she believes Amber
+desperately needs before she runs head first into the future. She doesn't like
+the churches any more than her daughter does, but arguing won't work. "You be a
+good little girl, now, all right?"
+* * *
+The imam is at prayer in a gyrostabilized mosque.
+His mosque is not very big, and it has a congregation of one: He prays on his
+own every seventeen thousand two hundred and eighty seconds. He also webcasts
+the call to prayer, but there are no other believers in trans-Jovian space to
+answer the summons. Between prayers, he splits his attention between the
+exigencies of life support and scholarship. A student both of the Hadith and of
+knowledge-based systems, Sadeq collaborates in a project with other scholars
+who are building a revised concordance of all the known isnads, to provide a
+basis for exploring the body of Islamic jurisprudence from a new perspective -
+one they'll need sorely if the looked-for breakthroughs in communication with
+aliens emerge. Their goal is to answer the vexatious questions that bedevil
+Islam in the age of accelerated consciousness; and as their representative in
+orbit around Jupiter, these questions fall most heavily on Sadeq's shoulders.
+Sadeq is a slightly built man, with close-cropped black hair and a perpetually
+tired expression: Unlike the orphanage crew he has a ship to himself. The ship
+started out as an Iranian knock off of a Shenzhou-B capsule, with a Chinese
+type 921 space-station module tacked onto its tail; but the clunky, 1960s
+look-alike - a glittering aluminum dragonfly mating with a Coke can - has a
+weirdly contoured M2P2 pod strapped to its nose. The M2P2 pod is a plasma sail,
+built in orbit by one of Daewoo's wake shield facilities. It dragged Sadeq and
+his cramped space station out to Jupiter in just four months, surfing on the
+solar breeze. His presence may be a triumph for the umma, but he feels acutely
+alone out here: When he turns his compact observatory's mirrors in the
+direction of the Sanger, he is struck by its size and purposeful appearance.
+Sanger's superior size speaks of the efficiency of the Western financial
+instruments, semiautonomous investment trusts with variable business-cycle
+accounting protocols that make possible the development of commercial space
+exploration. The Prophet, peace be unto him, may have condemned usury; but it
+might well have given him pause to see these engines of capital formation
+demonstrate their power above the Great Red Spot.
+After finishing his prayers, Sadeq spends a couple of precious extra minutes on
+his mat. He finds meditation comes hard in this environment: Kneel in silence,
+and you become aware of the hum of ventilation fans, the smell of old socks and
+sweat, the metallic taste of ozone from the Elektron oxygen generators. It is
+hard to approach God in this third hand spaceship, a hand-me-down from arrogant
+Russia to ambitious China, and finally to the religious trustees of Qom, who
+have better uses for it than any of the heathen states imagine. They've pushed
+it far, this little toy space station; but who's to say if it is God's
+intention for humans to live here, in orbit around this swollen alien giant of
+a planet?
+Sadeq shakes his head; he rolls his mat up and stows it beside the solitary
+porthole with a quiet sigh. A stab of homesickness wrenches at him, for his
+childhood in hot, dusty Yazd and his many years as a student in Qom: He
+steadies himself by looking round, searching the station that is now as
+familiar to him as the fourth-floor concrete apartment his parents - a car
+factory worker and his wife - raised him in. The interior of the station is the
+size of a school bus, every surface cluttered with storage areas, instrument
+consoles, and layers of exposed pipes. A couple of globules of antifreeze
+jiggle like stranded jellyfish near a heat exchanger that has been giving him
+grief. Sadeq kicks off in search of the squeeze bottle he keeps for this
+purpose, then gathers up his roll of tools and instructs one of his agents to
+find him the relevant part of the maintenance log: it's time to fix the leaky
+joint for good.
+An hour or so of serious plumbing and he will eat freeze-dried lamb stew, with
+a paste of lentils and boiled rice, and a bulb of strong tea to wash it down,
+then sit down to review his next fly-by maneuvering sequence. Perhaps, God
+willing, there will be no further system alerts and he'll be able to spend an
+hour or two on his research between evening and final prayers. Maybe the day
+after tomorrow there'll even be time to relax for a couple of hours, to watch
+one of the old movies that he finds so fascinating for their insights into
+alien cultures: Apollo Thirteen, perhaps. It isn't easy, being the crew aboard
+a long-duration space mission. It's even harder for Sadeq, up here alone with
+nobody to talk to, for the communications lag to earth is more than half an
+hour each way - and as far as he knows, he's the only believer within half a
+billion kilometers.
+* * *
+Amber dials a number in Paris and waits until someone answers the phone. She
+knows the strange woman on the phone's tiny screen: Mom calls her "your
+father's fancy bitch" with a peculiar tight smile. (The one time Amber asked
+what a fancy bitch was, Mom slapped her - not hard, just a warning.) "Is Daddy
+there?" she asks.
+The strange woman looks slightly bemused. (Her hair is blonde, like Mom's, but
+the color clearly came out of a bleach bottle, and it's cut really short, and
+her skin is dark.) "Oui. Ah, yes." She smiles tentatively. "I am sorry, it is a
+disposable phone you are using? You want to talk to 'im?"
+It comes out in a rush: "I want to see him." Amber clutches the phone like a
+lifesaver: It's a cheap disposable cereal-packet item, and the cardboard is
+already softening in her sweaty grip. "Momma won't let me, Auntie 'Nette -"
+"Hush." Annette, who has lived with Amber's father for more than twice as long
+as her mother, smiles. "You are sure that telephone, your mother does not know
+of it?"
+Amber looks around. She's the only child in the restroom because it isn't break
+time, and she told teacher she had to go 'right now': "I'm sure, P20 confidence
+factor greater than 0.9." Her Bayesian head tells her that she can't reason
+accurately about this because Momma has never caught her with an illicit phone
+before, but what the hell. It can't get Dad into trouble if he doesn't know,
+can it?
+"Very good." Annette glances aside. "Manny, I have a surprise call for you."
+Daddy appears on screen. She can see all of his face, and he looks younger than
+last time: he must have stopped using those clunky old glasses. "Hi - Amber!
+Where are you? Does your mother know you're calling me?" He looks slightly
+"No," she says confidently, "the phone came in a box of Grahams."
+"Phew. Listen, sweet, you must remember never, ever to call me where your mom
+may find out. Otherwise, she'll get her lawyers to come after me with
+thumbscrews and hot pincers, because she'll say I made you call me. And not
+even Uncle Gianni will be able to sort that out. Understand?"
+"Yes, Daddy." She sighs. "Even though that's not true, I know. Don't you want
+to know why I called?"
+"Um." For a moment, he looks taken aback. Then he nods, thoughtfully. Amber
+likes Daddy because he takes her seriously most times when she talks to him.
+It's a phreaking nuisance having to borrow her classmate's phones or tunnel
+past Mom's pit-bull firewall, but Dad doesn't assume that she can't know
+anything just because she's only a kid. "Go ahead. There's something you need
+to get off your chest? How've things been, anyway?"
+She's going to have to be brief: The disposaphone comes prepaid, the
+international tariff it's using is lousy, and the break bell is going to ring
+any minute. "I want out, Daddy. I mean it. Mom's getting loopier every week -
+she's dragging me round all these churches now, and yesterday, she threw a fit
+over me talking to my terminal. She wants me to see the school shrink, I mean,
+what for? I can't do what she wants - I'm not her little girl! Every time I
+tunnel out, she tries to put a content-bot on me, and it's making my head hurt
+- I can't even think straight anymore!" To her surprise, Amber feels tears
+starting. "Get me out of here!"
+The view of her father shakes, pans round to show her Tante Annette looking
+worried. "You know, your father, he cannot do anything? The divorce lawyers,
+they will tie him up."
+Amber sniffs. "Can you help?" she asks.
+"I'll see what I can do," her father's fancy bitch promises as the break bell
+* * *
+An instrument package peels away from the Sanger's claim jumper drone and drops
+toward the potato-shaped rock, fifty kilometers below. Jupiter hangs huge and
+gibbous in the background, impressionist wallpaper for a mad cosmologist:
+Pierre bites his lower lip as he concentrates on steering it.
+Amber, wearing a black sleeping sack, hovers over his head like a giant bat,
+enjoying her freedom for a shift. She looks down on Pierre's bowl-cut hair,
+wiry arms gripping either side of the viewing table, and wonders what to have
+him do next. A slave for a day is an interesting experience: Life aboard the
+Sanger is busy enough that nobody gets much slack time (at least not until the
+big habitats have been assembled and the high-bandwidth dish is pointing back
+at Earth). They're unrolling everything to a hugely intricate plan generated by
+the backers' critical path team, and there isn't much room for idling: The
+expedition relies on shamelessly exploiting child labor - they're lighter on
+the life-support consumables than adults - working the kids twelve hour days to
+assemble a toe hold on the shore of the future. (When they're older and their
+options vest fully, they'll all be rich, but that hasn't stopped the outraged
+herdnews propaganda chorus from sounding off back home.) For Amber, the chance
+to let somebody else work for her is novel, and she's trying to make every
+minute count.
+"Hey, slave," she calls idly; "how you doing?"
+Pierre sniffs. "It's going okay." He refuses to glance up at her, Amber
+notices. He's thirteen. Isn't he supposed to be obsessed with girls by that
+age? She notices his quiet, intense focus, runs a stealthy probe along his
+outer boundary; he shows no sign of noticing it, but it bounces off, unable to
+chink his mental armor. "Got cruise speed," he says, taciturn, as two tonnes of
+metal, ceramics and diamond-phase weirdness hurtle toward the surface of Barney
+at three hundred kilometers per hour. "Stop shoving me, there's a three-second
+lag, and I don't want to get into a feedback control loop with it."
+"I'll shove if I want, slave." She sticks her tongue out at him.
+"And if you make me drop it?" he asks. Looking up at her, his face serious -
+"Are we supposed to be doing this?"
+"You cover your ass, and I'll cover mine," she says, then turns bright red.
+"You know what I mean."
+"I do, do I?" Pierre grins widely, then turns back to the console: "Aww, that's
+no fun. And you want to tune whatever bit-bucket you've given control of your
+speech centers to - they're putting out way too much double entendre, somebody
+might mistake you for a grown-up."
+"You stick to your business, and I'll stick to mine," she says, emphatically.
+"And you can start by telling me what's happening."
+"Nothing." He leans back and crosses his arms, grimacing at the screen. "It's
+going to drift for five hundred seconds, now, then there's the midcourse
+correction and a deceleration burn before touch down. And then it's going to be
+an hour while it unwraps itself and starts unwinding the cable spool. What do
+you want, minute noodles with that?"
+"Uh-huh." Amber spreads her bat wings and lies back in mid air, staring at the
+window, feeling rich and idle as Pierre works his way through her day shift.
+"Wake me when there's something interesting to see." Maybe she should have had
+him feed her peeled grapes or give her a foot massage, something more
+traditionally hedonistic; but right now, just knowing he's her own little piece
+of alienated labor is doing good things for her self-esteem. Looking at those
+tense arms, the curve of his neck, she thinks maybe there's something to this
+whispering and giggling he really fancies you stuff the older girls go in for -
+The window rings like a gong, and Pierre coughs. "You've got mail," he says
+drily. "You want me to read it for you?"
+"What the -" A message is flooding across the screen, right-to-left snaky
+script like the stuff on her corporate instrument (now lodged safely in a
+deposit box in Zurich). It takes her a while to load in a grammar agent that
+can handle Arabic, and another minute for her to take in the meaning of the
+message. When she does, she starts swearing, loudly and continuously.
+"You bitch, Mom, why'd you have to go and do a thing like that?"
+* * *
+The corporate instrument arrived in a huge FedEx box addressed to Amber: It
+happened on her birthday while Mom was at work, and she remembers it as if it
+was only an hour ago.
+She remembers reaching up and scraping her thumb over the deliveryman's
+clipboard, the rough feel of the microsequencers sampling her DNA. She drags
+the package inside. When she pulls the tab on the box, it unpacks itself
+automatically, regurgitating a compact 3D printer, half a ream of paper printed
+in old-fashioned dumb ink, and a small calico cat with a large @-symbol on its
+flank. The cat hops out of the box, stretches, shakes its head, and glares at
+her. "You're Amber?" it mrowls. It actually makes real cat noises, but the
+meaning is clear - it's able to talk directly to her linguistic competence
+"Yeah," she says, shyly. "Are you from Tante 'Nette?"
+"No, I'm from the fucking tooth fairy." It leans over and head-butts her knee,
+strops the scent glands between its ears all over her skirt. "Listen, you got
+any tuna in the kitchen?"
+"Mom doesn't believe in seafood," says Amber. "It's all foreign-farmed muck
+these days, she says. It's my birthday today, did I tell you?"
+"Happy fucking birthday, then." The cat yawns, convincingly realistic. "Here's
+your dad's present. Bastard put me in hibernation and sent me along to show you
+how to work it. You take my advice, you'll trash the fucker. No good will come
+of it."
+Amber interrupts the cat's grumbling by clapping her hands gleefully; "So what
+is it?" she demands: "A new invention? Some kind of weird sex toy from
+Amsterdam? A gun, so I can shoot Pastor Wallace?"
+"Naah." The cat yawns, yet again, and curls up on the floor next to the 3D
+printer. "It's some kinda dodgy business model to get you out of hock to your
+mom. Better be careful, though - he says its legality is narrowly scoped
+jurisdiction-wise. Your Mom might be able to undermine it if she learns about
+how it works."
+"Wow. Like, how totally cool." In truth, Amber is delighted because it is her
+birthday; but Mom's at work, and Amber's home alone, with just the TV in moral
+majority mode for company. Things have gone downhill since Mom decided a modal
+average dose of old-time religion was an essential part of her upbringing, to
+the point that absolutely the best thing in the world Tante Annette could send
+her is some scam programmed by Daddy to take her away. If it doesn't work, Mom
+will take her to Church tonight, and she's certain she'll end up making a scene
+again. Amber's tolerance of willful idiocy is diminishing rapidly, and while
+building up her memetic immunity might be the real reason Mom's forcing this
+shit on her - it's always hard to tell with Mom - things have been tense ever
+since she got expelled from Sunday school for mounting a spirited defense of
+the theory of evolution.
+The cat sniffs in the direction of the printer. "Why doncha fire it up?" Amber
+opens the lid on the printer, removes the packing popcorn, and plugs it in.
+There's a whir and a rush of waste heat from its rear as it cools the imaging
+heads down to working temperature and registers her ownership.
+"What do I do now?" she asks.
+"Pick up the page labeled READ ME and follow the instructions," the cat recites
+in a bored singsong voice. It winks at her, then fakes an exaggerated French
+accent: "Le READ ME, il sont contain directions pour executing le corporate
+instrument dans le boit. In event of perplexity, consult the accompanying
+Aineko for clarification." The cat wrinkles its nose rapidly, as if it's about
+to bite an invisible insect: "Warning: Don't rely on your father's cat's
+opinions, it is a perverse beast and cannot be trusted. Your mother helped seed
+its meme base, back when they were married. Ends." It mumbles on for a while:
+"Fucking snotty Parisian bitch, I'll piss in her knicker drawer, I'll molt in
+her bidet ..."
+"Don't be vile." Amber scans the README quickly. Corporate instruments are
+strong magic, according to Daddy, and this one is exotic by any standards - a
+limited company established in Yemen, contorted by the intersection between
+shari'a and the global legislatosaurus. Understanding it isn't easy, even with
+a personal net full of subsapient agents that have full access to whole
+libraries of international trade law - the bottleneck is comprehension. Amber
+finds the documents highly puzzling. It's not the fact that half of them are
+written in Arabic that bothers her - that's what her grammar engine is for - or
+even that they're full of S-expressions and semidigestible chunks of LISP: But
+the company seems to assert that it exists for the sole purpose of owning
+chattel slaves.
+"What's going on?" she asks the cat. "What's this all about?"
+The cat sneezes, then looks disgusted. "This wasn't my idea, big shot. Your
+father is a very weird guy, and your mother hates him lots because she's still
+in love with him. She's got kinks, y'know? Or maybe she's sublimating them, if
+she's serious about this church shit she's putting you through. He thinks she's
+a control freak, and he's not entirely wrong. Anyway, after your dad ran off in
+search of another dom, she took out an injunction against him. But she forgot
+to cover his partner, and she bought this parcel of worms and sent them to you,
+okay? Annie is a real bitch, but he's got her wrapped right around his finger,
+or something. Anyway, he built these companies and this printer - which isn't
+hardwired to a filtering proxy, like your mom's - specifically to let you get
+away from her legally. If that's what you want to do."
+Amber fast-forwards through the dynamic chunks of the README - boring legal UML
+diagrams, mostly - soaking up the gist of the plan. Yemen is one of the few
+countries to implement traditional Sunni shari'a law and a limited liability
+company scam at the same time. Owning slaves is legal - the fiction is that the
+owner has an option hedged on the indentured laborer's future output, with
+interest payments that grow faster than the unfortunate victim can pay them off
+- and companies are legal entities. If Amber sells herself into slavery to this
+company, she will become a slave and the company will be legally liable for her
+actions and upkeep. The rest of the legal instrument - about ninety percent of
+it, in fact - is a set of self-modifying corporate mechanisms coded in a
+variety of jurisdictions that permit Turing-complete company constitutions, and
+which act as an ownership shell for the slavery contract. At the far end of the
+corporate shell game is a trust fund of which Amber is the prime beneficiary
+and shareholder. When she reaches the age of majority, she'll acquire total
+control over all the companies in the network and can dissolve her slave
+contract; until then, the trust fund (which she essentially owns) oversees the
+company that owns her (and keeps it safe from hostile takeover bids). Oh, and
+the company network is primed by an extraordinary general meeting that
+instructed it to move the trust's assets to Paris immediately. A one-way
+airline ticket is enclosed.
+"You think I should take this?" she asks uncertainly. It's hard to tell how
+smart the cat really is - there's probably a yawning vacuum behind those
+semantic networks if you dig deep enough - but it tells a pretty convincing
+The cat squats and curls its tail protectively around its paws: "I'm saying
+nothing, you know what I mean? You take this, you can go live with your dad.
+But it won't stop your ma coming after him with a horsewhip, and after you with
+a bunch of lawyers and a set of handcuffs. You want my advice, you'll phone the
+Franklins and get aboard their off-planet mining scam. In space, no one can
+serve a writ on you. Plus, they got long-term plans to get into the CETI
+market, cracking alien network packets. You want my honest opinion, you
+wouldn't like it in Paris after a bit. Your Dad and the frog bitch, they're
+swingers, y'know? No time in their lives for a kid. Or a cat like me, now I
+think of it. They're working all day for the Senator, and out all hours of
+night doing drugs, fetish parties, raves, opera, that kind of adult shit. Your
+Dad dresses in frocks more than your mom, and your Tante 'Nettie leads him
+around the apartment on a chain when they're not having noisy sex on the
+balcony. They'd cramp your style, kid. You shouldn't have to put up with
+parents who have more of a life than you do."
+"Huh." Amber wrinkles her nose, half-disgusted by the cat's transparent
+scheming, and half-acknowledging its message: I better think hard about this,
+she decides. Then she flies off in so many directions at once that she nearly
+browns out the household broadband. Part of her is examining the intricate card
+pyramid of company structures; somewhere else, she's thinking about what can go
+wrong, while another bit (probably some of her wet, messy glandular biological
+self) is thinking about how nice it would be to see Daddy again, albeit with
+some trepidation. Parents aren't supposed to have sex - isn't there a law, or
+something? "Tell me about the Franklins? Are they married? Singular?"
+The 3D printer is cranking up. It hisses slightly, dissipating heat from the
+hard vacuum chamber in its supercooled workspace. Deep in its guts it creates
+coherent atom beams, from a bunch of Bose-Einstein condensates hovering on the
+edge of absolute zero. By superimposing interference patterns on them, it
+generates an atomic hologram, building a perfect replica of some original
+artifact, right down to the atomic level - there are no clunky moving
+nanotechnology parts to break or overheat or mutate. Something is going to come
+out of the printer in half an hour, something cloned off its original right
+down to the individual quantum states of its component atomic nuclei. The cat,
+seemingly oblivious, shuffles closer to the warm air exhaust ducts.
+"Bob Franklin, he died about two, three years before you were born - your dad
+did business with him. So did your mom. Anyway, he had chunks of his noumen
+preserved and the estate trustees are trying to re-create his consciousness by
+cross-loading him in their implants. They're sort of a borganism, but with
+money and style. Anyway, Bob got into the space biz back then, with some
+financial wizardry a friend of your father whipped up for him, and now they're
+building a spacehab that they're going to take all the way out to Jupiter,
+where they can dismantle a couple of small moons and begin building
+helium-three refineries. It's that CETI scam I told you about earlier, but
+they've got a whole load of other angles on it for the long term. See, your
+dad's friends have cracked the broadcast, the one everybody knows about. It's a
+bunch of instructions for finding the nearest router that plugs into the
+galactic Internet. And they want to go out there and talk to some aliens."
+This is mostly going right over Amber's head - she'll have to learn what
+helium-three refineries are later - but the idea of running away to space has a
+certain appeal. Adventure, that's what. Amber looks around the living room and
+sees it for a moment as a capsule, a small wooden cell locked deep in a vision
+of a middle America that never was - the one her mom wants to bring her up in,
+like a misshapen Skinner box designed to train her to be normal. "Is Jupiter
+fun?" she asks. "I know it's big and not very dense, but is it, like, a
+happening place? Are there any aliens there?"
+"It's the first place you need to go if you want to get to meet the aliens
+eventually," says the cat as the printer clanks and disgorges a fake passport
+(convincingly aged), an intricate metal seal engraved with Arabic script, and a
+tailored wide-spectrum vaccine targeted on Amber's immature immune system.
+"Stick that on your wrist, sign the three top copies, put them in the envelope,
+and let's get going. We've got a flight to catch, slave."
+* * *
+Sadeq is eating his dinner when the first lawsuit in Jupiter orbit rolls in.
+Alone in the cramped humming void of his station, he considers the plea. The
+language is awkward, showing all the hallmarks of a crude machine translation:
+The supplicant is American, a woman, and - oddly - claims to be a Christian.
+This is surprising enough, but the nature of her claim is, at face value,
+preposterous. He forces himself to finish his bread, then bag the waste and
+clean the platter, before he gives it his full consideration. Is it a tasteless
+joke? Evidently not. As the only quadi outside the orbit of Mars, he is
+uniquely qualified to hear it, and it is a case that cries out for justice.
+A woman who leads a God-fearing life - not a correct one, no, but she shows
+some signs of humility and progress toward a deeper understanding - is deprived
+of her child by the machinations of a feckless husband who deserted her years
+before. That the woman was raising the child alone strikes Sadeq as
+disturbingly Western, but pardonable when he reads her account of the feckless
+one's behavior, which is pretty lax; an ill fate indeed would await any child
+that this man raises to adulthood. This man deprives her of her child, but not
+by legitimate means: He doesn't take the child into his own household or make
+any attempt to raise her, either in accordance with his own customs or the
+precepts of shari'a. Instead, he enslaves her wickedly in the mire of the
+Western legal tradition, then casts her into outer darkness to be used as a
+laborer by the dubious forces of self-proclaimed "progress". The same forces
+Sadeq has been sent to confront, as representative of the umma in orbit around
+Sadeq scratches his short beard thoughtfully. A nasty tale, but what can he do
+about it? "Computer," he says, "a reply to this supplicant: My sympathies lie
+with you in the manner of your suffering, but I fail to see in what way I can
+be of assistance. Your heart cries out for help before God (blessed be his
+name), but surely this is a matter for the temporal authorities of the dar
+al-Harb." He pauses: Or is it? he wonders. Legal wheels begin to turn in his
+mind. "If you can but find your way to extending to me a path by which I can
+assert the primacy of shari'a over your daughter, I shall apply myself to
+constructing a case for her emancipation, to the greater glory of God (blessed
+be his name). Ends, sigblock, send."
+Releasing the Velcro straps that hold him at the table, Sadeq floats up and
+kicks gently toward the forward end of the cramped habitat. The controls of the
+telescope are positioned between the ultrasonic clothing cleaner and the
+lithium hydroxide scrubbers. They're already freed up, because he was
+conducting a wide-field survey of the inner ring, looking for the signature of
+water ice. It is the work of a few moments to pipe the navigation and tracking
+system into the telescope's controller and direct it to hunt for the big
+foreign ship of fools. Something nudges at Sadeq's mind urgently, an irritating
+realization that he may have missed something in the woman's e-mail: there were
+a number of huge attachments. With half his mind he surfs the news digest his
+scholarly peers send him daily. Meanwhile, he waits patiently for the telescope
+to find the speck of light that the poor woman's daughter is enslaved within.
+This might be a way in, he realizes, a way to enter dialogue with them. Let the
+hard questions answer themselves, elegantly. There will be no need for
+confrontation if they can be convinced that their plans are faulty: no need to
+defend the godly from the latter-day Tower of Babel these people propose to
+build. If this woman Pamela means what she says, Sadeq need not end his days
+out here in the cold between the worlds, away from his elderly parents and
+brother, and his colleagues and friends. And he will be profoundly grateful,
+because in his heart of hearts, he knows that he is less a warrior than a
+* * *
+"I'm sorry, but the borg is attempting to assimilate a lawsuit," says the
+receptionist. "Will you hold?"
+"Crud." Amber blinks the Binary Betty answerphone sprite out of her eye and
+glances round at the cabin. "That is so last century," she grumbles. "Who do
+they think they are?"
+"Dr. Robert H. Franklin," volunteers the cat. "It's a losing proposition if you
+ask me. Bob was so fond of his dope there's this whole hippy group mind that's
+grown up using his state vector as a bong -"
+"Shut the fuck up!" Amber shouts at him. Instantly contrite (for yelling in an
+inflatable spacecraft is a major faux pas): "Sorry." She spawns an autonomic
+thread with full parasympathetic nervous control, tells it to calm her down,
+then spawns a couple more to go forth and become fuqaha, expert on shari'a law.
+She realizes she's buying up way too much of the orphanage's scarce bandwidth -
+time that will have to be paid for in chores, later - but it's necessary.
+"Mom's gone too far. This time it's war."
+She slams out of her cabin and spins right round in the central axis of the
+hab, a rogue missile pinging for a target to vent her rage on. A tantrum would
+be good -
+But her body is telling her to chill out, take ten, and there's a drone of
+scriptural lore dribbling away in the back of her head, and she's feeling
+frustrated and angry and not in control, but not really mad anymore. It was
+like this three years ago when Mom noticed her getting on too well with Jenny
+Morgan and moved her to a new school district - she said it was a work
+assignment, but Amber knows better, Mom asked for it - just to keep her
+dependent and helpless. Mom is a control-freak with fixed ideas about how to
+bring up a child, and ever since she lost Dad, she's been working her claws
+into Amber, making her upbringing a life's work - which is tough, because Amber
+is not good victim material, and is smart and well networked to boot. But now,
+Mom's found a way to fuck Amber over completely, even in Jupiter orbit, and if
+not for her skullware keeping a lid on things, Amber would be totally out of
+Instead of shouting at her cat or trying to message the Franklins, Amber goes
+to hunt down the borg in their meatspace den.
+There are sixteen borg aboard the Sanger - adults, members of the Franklin
+Collective, squatters in the ruins of Bob Franklin's posthumous vision. They
+lend bits of their brains to the task of running what science has been able to
+resurrect of the dead dot-com billionaire's mind, making him the first
+bodhisattva of the uploading age - apart from the lobster colony, of course.
+Their den mother is a woman called Monica: a willowy, brown-eyed hive queen
+with raster-burned corneal implants and a dry, sardonic delivery that can
+corrode egos like a desert wind. She's better than any of the others at running
+Bob, except for the creepy one called Jack, and she's no slouch when she's
+being herself (unlike Jack, who is never himself in public). Which probably
+explains why they elected her Maximum Leader of the expedition.
+Amber finds Monica in the number four kitchen garden, performing surgery on a
+filter that's been blocked by toad spawn. She's almost buried beneath a large
+pipe, her Velcro-taped tool kit waving in the breeze like strange blue
+air-kelp. "Monica? You got a minute?"
+"Sure, I have lots of minutes. Make yourself helpful? Pass me the antitorque
+wrench and a number six hex head."
+"Um." Amber captures the blue flag and fiddles around with its contents.
+Something that has batteries, motors, a flywheel counterweight, and laser gyros
+assembles itself - Amber passes it under the pipe. "Here. Listen, your phone is
+"I know. You've come to see me about your conversion, haven't you?"
+There's a clanking noise from under the pressure sump. "Take this." A plastic
+bag floats out, bulging with stray fasteners. "I got a bit of hoovering to do.
+Get yourself a mask if you don't already have one."
+A minute later, Amber is back beside Monica's legs, her face veiled by a filter
+mask. "I don't want this to go through," she says. "I don't care what Mom says,
+I'm not Moslem! This judge, he can't touch me. He can't," she adds, vehemence
+warring with uncertainty.
+"Maybe he doesn't want to?" Another bag: "Here, catch."
+Amber grabs the bag, a fraction of a second too late. She discovers the hard
+way that it's full of water and toadspawn. Stringy mucous ropes full of
+squiggling comma-shaped tadpoles explode all over the compartment and bounce
+off the walls in a shower of amphibian confetti. "Eew!"
+Monica squirms out from behind the pipe. "Oh, you didn't." She kicks off the
+consensus-defined floor and grabs a wad of absorbent paper from the spinner,
+whacks it across the ventilator shroud above the sump. Together they go after
+the toad spawn with rubbish bags and paper - by the time they've got the
+stringy mess mopped up, the spinner has begun to click and whir, processing
+cellulose from the algae tanks into fresh wipes. "That was not good," Monica
+says emphatically as the disposal bin sucks down her final bag. "You wouldn't
+happen to know how the toad got in here?"
+"No, but I ran into one that was loose in the commons, one shift before last
+cycle-end. Gave it a ride back to Oscar."
+"I'll have a word with him, then." Monica glares blackly at the pipe. "I'm
+going to have to go back and refit the filter in a minute. Do you want me to be
+"Uh." Amber thinks. "Not sure. Your call."
+"All right, Bob coming on-line." Monica's face relaxes slightly, then her
+expression hardens. "Way I see it, you've got a choice. Your mother kinda boxed
+you in, hasn't she?"
+"Yes." Amber frowns.
+"So. Pretend I'm an idiot. Talk me through it, huh?"
+Amber drags herself alongside the hydro pipe and gets her head down, alongside
+Monica/Bob, who is floating with her feet near the floor. "I ran away from
+home. Mom owned me - that is, she had parental rights and Dad had none. So Dad,
+via a proxy, helped me sell myself into slavery to a company. The company was
+owned by a trust fund, and I'm the main beneficiary when I reach the age of
+majority. As a chattel, the company tells me what to do - legally - but the
+shell company is set to take my orders. So I'm autonomous. Right?"
+"That sounds like the sort of thing your father would do," Monica/Bob says
+neutrally. Overtaken by a sardonic middle-aged Silicon Valley drawl, her
+north-of-England accent sounds peculiarly mid-Atlantic.
+"Trouble is, most countries don't acknowledge slavery, they just dress it up
+pretty and call it in loco parentis or something. Those that do mostly don't
+have any equivalent of a limited liability company, much less one that can be
+directed by another company from abroad. Dad picked Yemen on the grounds that
+they've got this stupid brand of shari'a law - and a crap human rights record -
+but they're just about conformant to the open legal standards protocol, able to
+interface to EU norms via a Turkish legislative cut-out."
+"Well, I guess I was technically a Janissary. Mom was doing her Christian
+phase, so that made me a Christian unbeliever slave of an Islamic company. Now
+the stupid bitch has gone and converted to shi'ism. Normally Islamic descent
+runs through the father, but she picked her sect carefully and chose one that's
+got a progressive view of women's rights: They're sort of Islamic
+fundamentalist liberal constructionists, 'what would the Prophet do if he was
+alive today and had to worry about self-replicating chewing gum factories' and
+that sort of thing. They generally take a progressive view of things like legal
+equality of the sexes because, for his time and place, the Prophet was way
+ahead of the ball and they figure they ought to follow his example. Anyway,
+that means Mom can assert that I am Moslem, and under Yemeni law, I get to be
+treated as a Moslem chattel of a company. And their legal code is very dubious
+about permitting slavery of Moslems. It's not that I have rights as such, but
+my pastoral well-being becomes the responsibility of the local imam, and -" She
+shrugs helplessly.
+"Has he tried to make you run under any new rules, yet?" asks Monica/Bob. "Has
+he put blocks on your freedom of agency, tried to mess with your mind? Insisted
+on libido dampers or a strict dress code?"
+"Not yet." Amber's expression is grim. "But he's no dummy. I figure he may be
+using Mom - and me - as a way of getting his fingers into this whole
+expedition. Staking a claim for jurisdiction, claim arbitration, that sort of
+thing. It could be worse; he might order me to comply fully with his specific
+implementation of shari'a. They permit implants, but require mandatory
+conceptual filtering: If I run that stuff, I'll end up believing it."
+"Okay." Monica does a slow backward somersault in midair. "Now tell me why you
+can't simply repudiate it."
+"Because." Deep breath. "I can do that in two ways. I can deny Islam, which
+makes me an apostate, and automatically terminates my indenture to the shell,
+so Mom owns me under US or EU law. Or I can say that the instrument has no
+legal standing because I was in the USA when I signed it, and slavery is
+illegal there, in which case Mom owns me. Or I can take the veil, live like a
+modest Moslem woman, do whatever the imam wants, and Mom doesn't own me - but
+she gets to appoint my chaperone. Oh Bob, she has planned this so well."
+"Uh-huh." Monica rotates back to the floor and looks at Amber, suddenly very
+Bob. "Now you've told me your troubles, start thinking like your dad. Your Dad
+had a dozen creative ideas before breakfast every day - it's how he made his
+name. Your mom has got you in a box. Think your way outside it: What can you
+"Well." Amber rolls over and hugs the fat hydroponic duct to her chest like a
+life raft. "It's a legal paradox. I'm trapped because of the jurisdiction she's
+cornered me in. I could talk to the judge, I suppose, but she'll have picked
+him carefully." Her eyes narrow. "The jurisdiction. Hey, Bob." She lets go of
+the duct and floats free, hair streaming out behind her like a cometary halo.
+"How do I go about getting myself a new jurisdiction?"
+Monica grins. "I seem to recall the traditional way was to grab yourself some
+land and set yourself up as king; but there are other ways. I've got some
+friends I think you should meet. They're not good conversationalists and
+there's a two-hour lightspeed delay, but I think you'll find they've answered
+that question already. But why don't you talk to the imam first and find out
+what he's like? He may surprise you. After all, he was already out here before
+your mom decided to use him to make a point."
+* * *
+The Sanger hangs in orbit thirty kilometers up, circling the waist of
+potato-shaped Amalthea. Drones swarm across the slopes of Mons Lyctos, ten
+kilometers above the mean surface level. They kick up clouds of reddish
+sulphate dust as they spread transparent sheets across the barren moonscape.
+This close to Jupiter (a mere hundred and eighty thousand kilometers above the
+swirling madness of the cloudscape) the gas giant fills half the sky with a
+perpetually changing clock face, for Amalthea orbits the master in just under
+twelve hours. The Sanger's radiation shields are running at full power,
+shrouding the ship in a corona of rippling plasma: Radio is useless, and the
+human miners control their drones via an intricate network of laser circuits.
+Other, larger drones are unwinding spools of heavy electrical cable north and
+south from the landing site. Once the circuits are connected, they will form a
+coil cutting through Jupiter's magnetic field, generating electrical current
+(and imperceptibly sapping the moon's orbital momentum).
+Amber sighs and looks, for the sixth time this hour, at the webcam plastered on
+the side of her cabin. She's taken down the posters and told the toys to tidy
+themselves away. In another two thousand seconds, the tiny Iranian spaceship
+will rise above the limb of Moshtari, and then it will be time to talk to the
+teacher. She isn't looking forward to the experience. If he's a grizzled old
+blockhead of the most obdurate fundamentalist streak, she'll be in trouble:
+Disrespect for age has been part and parcel of the Western teenage experience
+for generations, and a cross-cultural thread that she's detailed to clue up on
+Islam reminds her that not all cultures share this outlook. But if he turns out
+to be young, intelligent, and flexible, things could be even worse. When she
+was eight, Amber audited The Taming of the Shrew. She finds she has no appetite
+for a starring role in her own cross-cultural production.
+She sighs again. "Pierre?"
+"Yeah?" His voice comes from the foot of the emergency locker in her room. He's
+curled up down there, limbs twitching languidly as he drives a mining drone
+around the surface of Object Barney, as the rock has named itself. The drone is
+a long-legged crane fly look-alike, bouncing very slowly from toe tip to toe
+tip in the microgravity. The rock is only half a kilometer along its longest
+axis, coated brown with weird hydrocarbon goop and sulphur compounds sprayed
+off the surface of Io by the Jovian winds. "I'm coming."
+"You better." She glances at the screen. "One twenty seconds to next burn." The
+payload canister on the screen is, technically speaking, stolen. It'll be okay
+as long as she gives it back, Bob said, although she won't be able to do that
+until it's reached Barney and they've found enough water ice to refuel it.
+"Found anything yet?"
+"Just the usual. Got a seam of ice near the semimajor pole - it's dirty, but
+there's at least a thousand tons there. And the surface is crunchy with tar.
+Amber, you know what? The orange shit, it's solid with fullerenes."
+Amber grins at her reflection in the screen. That's good news. Once the payload
+she's steering touches down, Pierre can help her lay superconducting wires
+along Barney's long axis. It's only a kilometer and a half, and that'll only
+give them a few tens of kilowatts of juice, but the condensation fabricator
+that's also in the payload can will be able to use it to convert Barney's crust
+into processed goods at about two grams per second. Using designs copylefted by
+the free hardware foundation, inside two hundred thousand seconds they'll have
+a grid of sixty-four 3D printers barfing up structured matter at a rate limited
+only by available power. Starting with a honking great dome tent and some free
+nitrogen/oxygen for her to breathe, then adding a big web cache and direct
+high-bandwidth uplink to Earth, Amber could have her very own one-girl colony
+up and running within a million seconds.
+The screen blinks at her. "Oh shit! Make yourself scarce, Pierre?" The incoming
+call nags at her attention. "Yeah? Who are you?"
+The screen fills with a view of a cramped, very twen-cen-looking space capsule.
+The guy inside it is in his twenties, with a heavily tanned face, close-cropped
+hair and beard, wearing an olive drab space suit liner. He's floating between a
+TORU manual docking controller and a gilt-framed photograph of the Ka'bah at
+Mecca. "Good evening to you," he says solemnly. "Do I have the honor to be
+addressing Amber Macx?"
+"Uh, yeah? That's me." She stares at him: He looks nothing like her conception
+of an ayatollah - whatever an ayatollah is - elderly, black-robed, vindictively
+fundamentalist. "Who are you?"
+"I am Dr. Sadeq Khurasani. I hope that I am not interrupting you? Is it
+convenient for you that we talk now?"
+He looks so anxious that Amber nods automatically. "Sure. Did my Mom put you up
+to this?" They're still speaking English, and she notices that his diction is
+good, but slightly stilted. He isn't using a grammar engine, he actually
+learned the language the hard way, she realizes, feeling a frisson of fear.
+"You want to be careful how you talk to her. She doesn't lie, exactly, but she
+gets people to do what she wants."
+"Yes, I spoke to - ah." A pause. They're still almost a light-second apart,
+time for painful collisions and accidental silences. "I see. Are you sure you
+should be speaking of your mother that way?"
+Amber breathes deeply. "Adults can get divorced. If I could get divorced from
+her, I would. She's -" She flails around for the right word helplessly. "Look,
+she's the sort of person who can't lose a fight. If she's going to lose, she'll
+try to figure how to set the law on you. Like she's done to me. Don't you see?"
+Dr. Khurasani looks extremely dubious. "I am not sure I understand," He says.
+"Perhaps, mmm, I should tell you why I am talking to you?"
+"Sure. Go ahead." Amber is startled by his attitude: He actually seems to be
+taking her seriously, she realizes. Treating her like an adult. The sensation
+is so novel - coming from someone more than twenty years old - that she almost
+lets herself forget that he's only talking to her because Mom set her up.
+"Well, I am an engineer. In addition, I am a student of fiqh, jurisprudence. In
+fact, I am qualified to sit in judgment. I am a very junior judge, but even so,
+it is a heavy responsibility. Anyway, your mother, peace be unto her, lodged a
+petition with me. Are you aware of it?"
+"Yes." Amber tenses up. "It's a lie. Distortion of the facts."
+"Hmm." Sadeq rubs his beard thoughtfully. "Well, I have to find out, yes? Your
+mother has submitted herself to the will of God. This makes you the child of a
+Moslem, and she claims -"
+"She's trying to use you as a weapon!" Amber interrupts. "I sold myself into
+slavery to get away from her, do you understand? I enslaved myself to a company
+that is held in trust for my ownership. She's trying to change the rules to get
+me back. You know what? I don't believe she gives a shit about your religion,
+all she wants is me!"
+"A mother's love -"
+"Fuck love," Amber snarls, "she wants power."
+Sadeq's expression hardens. "You have a foul mouth in your head, child. All I
+am trying to do is to find out the facts of this situation. You should ask
+yourself if such disrespect furthers your interests?" He pauses for a moment,
+then continues, less abruptly. "Did you really have such a bad childhood with
+her? Do you think she did everything merely for power, or could she love you?"
+Pause. "You must understand, I need to learn these things. Before I can know
+what is the right thing to do."
+"My mother -" Amber stops dead and spawns a vaporous cloud of memory
+retrievals. They fan out through the space around her mind like the tail of her
+cometary mind. Invoking a complex of network parsers and class filters, she
+turns the memories into reified images and blats them at the webcam's tiny
+brain so he can see them. Some of the memories are so painful that Amber has to
+close her eyes. Mom in full office war paint, leaning over Amber, promising to
+disable her lexical enhancements forcibly if she doesn't work on her grammar
+without them. Mom telling Amber that they're moving again, abruptly, dragging
+her away from school and the friends she'd tentatively started to like. The
+church-of-the-month business. Mom catching her on the phone to Daddy, tearing
+the phone in half and hitting her with it. Mom at the kitchen table, forcing
+her to eat - "My mother likes control."
+"Ah." Sadeq's expression turns glassy. "And this is how you feel about her? How
+long have you had that level of - no, please forgive me for asking. You
+obviously understand implants. Do your grandparents know? Did you talk to
+"My grandparents?" Amber stifles a snort. "Mom's parents are dead. Dad's are
+still alive, but they won't talk to him - they like Mom. They think I'm creepy.
+I know little things, their tax bands and customer profiles. I could mine data
+with my head when I was four. I'm not built like little girls were in their
+day, and they don't understand. You know the old ones don't like us at all?
+Some of the churches make money doing nothing but exorcisms for oldsters who
+think their kids are possessed."
+"Well." Sadeq is fingering his beard again, distractedly. "I must say, this is
+a lot to learn. But you know your mother has accepted Islam, don't you? This
+means that you are Moslem, too. Unless you are an adult, your parent legally
+speaks for you. And she says this makes you my problem. Hmm."
+"I'm not a Muslim." Amber stares at the screen. "I'm not a child, either." Her
+threads are coming together, whispering scarily behind her eyes: Her head is
+suddenly dense and turgid with ideas, heavy as a stone and twice as old as
+time. "I am nobody's chattel. What does your law say about people who are born
+with implants? What does it say about people who want to live forever? I don't
+believe in any god, Mr. Judge. I don't believe in limits. Mom can't,
+physically, make me do anything, and she sure can't speak for me. All she can
+do is challenge my legal status, and if I choose to stay where she can't touch
+me, what does that matter?"
+"Well, if that is what you have to say, I must think on the matter." He catches
+her eye; his expression is thoughtful, like a doctor considering a diagnosis.
+"I will call you again in due course. In the meantime, if you need to talk to
+anyone, remember that I am always available. If there is anything I can do to
+help ease your pain, I would be pleased to be of service. Peace be unto you,
+and those you care for."
+"Same to you, too," she mutters darkly, as the connection goes dead. "Now
+what?" she asks, as a beeping sprite gyrates across the wall, begging for
+"I think it's the lander," Pierre says helpfully. "Is it down yet?"
+She rounds on him: "Hey, I thought I told you to get lost!"
+"What, and miss all the fun?" He grins at her impishly. "Amber's got a new
+boyfriend! Wait until I tell everybody ..."
+* * *
+_1 Sleep cycles pass; the borrowed 3D printer on Object Barney's surface spews
+bitmaps of atoms in quantum lockstep at its rendering platform, building up the
+control circuitry and skeletons of new printers (There are no clunky
+nanoassemblers here, no robots the size of viruses busily sorting molecules
+into piles - just the bizarre quantized magic of atomic holography, modulated
+Bose-Einstein condensates collapsing into strange, lacy, supercold machinery.)
+Electricity surges through the cable loops as they slice through Jupiter's
+magnetosphere, slowly converting the rock's momentum into power. Small robots
+grovel in the orange dirt, scooping up raw material to feed to the
+fractionating oven. Amber's garden of machinery flourishes slowly, unpacking
+itself according to a schema designed by preteens at an industrial school in
+Poland, with barely any need for human guidance.
+_1 High in orbit around Amalthea, complex financial instruments breed and
+conjugate. Developed for the express purpose of facilitating trade with the
+alien intelligences believed to have been detected eight years earlier by SETI,
+they function equally well as fiscal gatekeepers for space colonies. The
+Sanger's bank accounts in California and Cuba are looking acceptable - since
+entering Jupiter space, the orphanage has staked a claim on roughly a hundred
+gigatons of random rocks and a moon that's just small enough to creep in under
+the International Astronomical Union's definition of a sovereign planetary
+body. The borg are working hard, leading their eager teams of child
+stakeholders in their plans to build the industrial metastructures necessary to
+support mining helium-three from Jupiter. They're so focused that they spend
+much of their time being themselves, not bothering to run Bob, the shared
+identity that gives them their messianic drive.
+_1 Half a light-hour away, tired Earth wakes and slumbers in time to its
+ancient orbital dynamics. A religious college in Cairo is considering issues of
+nanotechnology: If replicators are used to prepare a copy of a strip of bacon,
+right down to the molecular level, but without it ever being part of a pig, how
+is it to be treated? (If the mind of one of the faithful is copied into a
+computing machine's memory by mapping and simulating all its synapses, is the
+computer now a Moslem? If not, why not? If so, what are its rights and duties?)
+Riots in Borneo underline the urgency of this theotechnological inquiry.
+_1 More riots in Barcelona, Madrid, Birmingham, and Marseilles also underline a
+rising problem: the social chaos caused by cheap anti-aging treatments. The
+zombie exterminators, a backlash of disaffected youth against the formerly
+graying gerontocracy of Europe, insist that people who predate the supergrid
+and can't handle implants aren't really conscious: Their ferocity is equaled
+only by the anger of the dynamic septuagenarians of the baby boom, their bodies
+partially restored to the flush of sixties youth, but their minds adrift in a
+slower, less contingent century. The faux-young boomers feel betrayed, forced
+back into the labor pool, but unable to cope with the implant-accelerated
+culture of the new millennium, their hard-earned experience rendered obsolete
+by deflationary time.
+_1 The Bangladeshi economic miracle is typical of the age. With growth rates
+running at over twenty percent, cheap out-of-control bioindustrialization has
+swept the nation: Former rice farmers harvest plastics and milk cows for silk,
+while their children study mariculture and design seawalls. With cellphone
+ownership nearing eighty percent and literacy at ninety, the once-poor country
+is finally breaking out of its historical infrastructure trap and beginning to
+develop: In another generation, they'll be richer than Japan.
+_1 Radical new economic theories are focusing around bandwidth, speed-of-light
+transmission time, and the implications of CETI, communication with
+extraterrestrial intelligence. Cosmologists and quants collaborate on bizarre
+relativistically telescoped financial instruments. Space (which lets you store
+information) and structure (which lets you process it) acquire value while dumb
+mass - like gold - loses it. The degenerate cores of the traditional stock
+markets are in free fall, the old smokestack microprocessor and
+biotech/nanotech industries crumbling before the onslaught of matter
+replicators and self-modifying ideas. The inheritors look set to be a new wave
+of barbarian communicators, who mortgage their future for a millennium against
+the chance of a gift from a visiting alien intelligence. Microsoft, once the US
+Steel of the silicon age, quietly fades into liquidation.
+_1 An outbreak of green goo - a crude biomechanical replicator that eats
+everything in its path - is dealt with in the Australian outback by
+carpet-bombing with fuel-air explosives. The USAF subsequently reactivates two
+wings of refurbished B-52s and places them at the disposal of the UN standing
+committee on self-replicating weapons. (CNN discovers that one of their newest
+pilots, re-enlisting with the body of a twenty-year-old and an empty pension
+account, first flew them over Laos and Cambodia.) The news overshadows the
+World Health Organization's announcement of the end of the HIV pandemic, after
+more than fifty years of bigotry, panic, and megadeath.
+* * *
+"Breathe steadily. Remember your regulator drill? If you spot your heart rate
+going up or your mouth going dry, take five."
+"Shut the fuck up, 'Neko, I'm trying to concentrate." Amber fumbles with the
+titanium D-ring, trying to snake the strap through it. The gauntlets are
+getting in her way. High orbit space suits - little more than a body stocking
+designed to hold your skin under compression and help you breathe - are easy,
+but this deep in Jupiter's radiation belt she has to wear an old Orlan-DM suit
+that comes in about thirteen layers. The gloves are stiff and hard to work in.
+It's Chernobyl weather outside, a sleet of alpha particles and raw protons
+storming through the void, and she really needs the extra protection. "Got it."
+She yanks the strap tight, pulls on the D-ring, then goes to work on the next
+strap. Never looking down; because the wall she's tying herself to has no
+floor, just a cutoff two meters below, then empty space for a hundred
+kilometers before the nearest solid ground.
+The ground sings to her moronically: "I love you, you love me, it's the law of
+gravity -"
+She shoves her feet down onto the platform that juts from the side of the
+capsule like a suicide's ledge: metallized Velcro grabs hold, and she pulls on
+the straps to turn her body round until she can see past the capsule, sideways.
+The capsule masses about five tonnes, barely bigger than an ancient Soyuz. It's
+packed to overflowing with environment-sensitive stuff she'll need, and a
+honking great high-gain antenna. "I hope you know what you're doing," someone
+says over the intercom.
+"Of course I -" She stops. Alone in this Energiya NPO surplus iron maiden with
+its low-bandwidth coms and bizarre plumbing, she feels claustrophobic and
+helpless: Parts of her mind don't work. When she was four, Mom took her down a
+famous cave system somewhere out west. When the guide turned out the lights
+half a kilometer underground, she'd screamed with surprise as the darkness had
+reached out and touched her. Now it's not the darkness that frightens her, it's
+the lack of thought. For a hundred kilometers below her there are no minds, and
+even on the surface there's only the moronic warbling of 'bots for company.
+Everything that makes the universe primate-friendly seems to be locked in the
+huge spaceship that looms somewhere just behind the back of her head, and she
+has to fight down an urge to shed her straps and swarm back up the umbilical
+that anchors the capsule to the Sanger. "I'll be fine," she forces herself to
+say. And even though she's unsure that it's true, she tries to make herself
+believe it. "It's just leaving-home nerves. I've read about it, okay?"
+There's a funny, high-pitched whistle in her ears. For a moment, the sweat on
+the back of her neck turns icy cold, then the noise stops. She strains for a
+moment, and when it returns she recognizes the sound: The hitherto-talkative
+cat, curled in the warmth of her pressurized luggage can, has begun to snore.
+"Let's go," she says, "Time to roll the wagon." A speech macro deep in the
+Sanger's docking firmware recognizes her authority and gently lets go of the
+pod. A couple of cold gas clusters pop, sending deep banging vibrations running
+through the capsule, and she's on her way.
+"Amber. How's it hanging?" A familiar voice in her ears: She blinks. Fifteen
+hundred seconds, nearly half an hour gone.
+"Robes-Pierre, chopped any aristos lately?"
+"Heh!" A pause. "I can see your head from here."
+"How's it looking?" she asks. There's a lump in her throat; she isn't sure why.
+Pierre is probably hooked into one of the smaller proximity cameras dotted
+around the outer hull of the big mother ship, watching over her as she falls.
+"Pretty much like always," he says laconically. Another pause, this time
+longer. "This is wild, you know? Su Ang says hi, by the way."
+"Su Ang, hi," she replies, resisting the urge to lean back and look up - up
+relative to her feet, not her vector - and see if the ship's still visible.
+"Hi," Ang says shyly. "You're very brave?"
+"Still can't beat you at chess." Amber frowns. Su Ang and her overengineered
+algae. Oscar and his pharmaceutical factory toads. People she's known for three
+years, mostly ignored, and never thought about missing. "Listen, are you going
+to come visiting?"
+"You want us to visit?" Ang sounds dubious. "When will it be ready?"
+"Oh, soon enough." At four kilograms per minute of structured-matter output,
+the printers on the surface have already built her a bunch of stuff: a habitat
+dome, the guts of an algae/shrimp farm, an excavator to bury it with, an
+airlock. Even a honey bucket. It's all lying around waiting for her to put it
+together and move into her new home. "Once the borg get back from Amalthea."
+"Hey! You mean they're moving? How did you figure that?"
+"Go talk to them," Amber says. Actually, she's a large part of the reason the
+Sanger is about to crank its orbit up and out toward the other moon: She wants
+to be alone in coms silence for a couple of million seconds. The Franklin
+collective is doing her a big favor.
+"Ahead of the curve, as usual," Pierre cuts in, with something that sounds like
+admiration to her uncertain ears.
+"You too," she says, a little too fast: "Come visit when I've got the
+life-support cycle stabilized."
+"I'll do that," he replies. A red glow suffuses the flank of the capsule next
+to her head, and she looks up in time to see the glaring blue laser line of the
+Sanger's drive torch powering up.
+* * *
+Eighteen million seconds, almost a tenth of a Jupiter year, passes.
+The imam tugs thoughtfully on his beard as he stares at the traffic control
+display. These days, every shift seems to bring a new crewed spaceship into
+Jupiter system: Space is getting positively crowded. When he arrived, there
+were fewer than two hundred people here. Now there's the population of a small
+city, and many of them live at the heart of the approach map centered on his
+display. He breathes deeply - trying to ignore the omnipresent odor of old
+socks - and studies the map. "Computer, what about my slot?" he asks.
+"Your slot: Cleared to commence final approach in six-nine-five seconds. Speed
+limit is ten meters per second inside ten kilometers, drop to two meters per
+second inside one kilometer. Uploading map of forbidden thrust vectors now."
+Chunks of the approach map turn red, gridded off to prevent his exhaust stream
+damaging other craft in the area.
+Sadeq sighs. "We'll go in using Kurs. I assume their Kurs guidance is active?"
+"Kurs docking target support available to shell level three."
+"Praise Allah." He pokes around through the guidance subsystem's menus, setting
+up the software emulation of the obsolete (but highly reliable) Soyuz docking
+system. At last he can leave the ship to look after itself for a bit. He
+glances round. For two years he has lived in this canister, and soon he will
+step outside it. It hardly seems real.
+The radio, usually silent, crackles with unexpected life. "Bravo One One, this
+is Imperial Traffic Control. Verbal contact required, over."
+Sadeq twitches with surprise. The voice sounds inhuman, paced with the cadences
+of a speech synthesizer, like so many of Her Majesty's subjects. "Bravo One One
+to Traffic Control, I'm listening, over."
+"Bravo One One, we have assigned you a landing slot on tunnel four, airlock
+delta. Kurs active, ensure your guidance is set to seven-four-zero and slaved
+to our control."
+He leans over the screen and rapidly checks the docking system's settings.
+"Control, all in order."
+"Bravo One One, stand by."
+The next hour passes slowly as the traffic control system guides his Type 921
+down to a rocky rendezvous. Orange dust streaks his one optical-glass porthole:
+A kilometer before touchdown, Sadeq busies himself closing protective covers,
+locking down anything that might fall around on contact. Finally, he unrolls
+his mat against the floor in front of the console and floats above it for ten
+minutes, eyes closed in prayer. It's not the landing that worries him, but what
+comes next.
+Her Majesty's domain stretches out before the battered module like a
+rust-stained snowflake half a kilometer in diameter. Its core is buried in a
+loose snowball of grayish rubble, and it waves languid brittlestar arms at the
+gibbous orange horizon of Jupiter. Fine hairs, fractally branching down to the
+molecular level, split off the main collector arms at regular intervals. A
+cluster of habitat pods like seedless grapes cling to the roots of the massive
+structure. Already he can see the huge steel generator loops that climb from
+either pole of the snowflake, wreathed in sparking plasma; the Jovian rings
+form a rainbow of darkness rising behind them.
+At last, the battered space station is on final approach. Sadeq watches the
+Kurs simulation output carefully, piping it directly into his visual field.
+There's an external camera view of the rockpile and grapes. As the view expands
+toward the convex ceiling of the ship, he licks his lips, ready to hit the
+manual override and go around again - but the rate of descent is slowing, and
+by the time he's close enough to see the scratches on the shiny metal docking
+cone ahead of the ship, it's measured in centimeters per second. There's a
+gentle bump, then a shudder, then a rippling bang as the latches on the docking
+ring fire - and he's down.
+Sadeq breathes deeply again, then tries to stand. There's gravity here, but not
+much: Walking is impossible. He's about to head for the life-support panel when
+he freezes, hearing a noise from the far end of the docking node. Turning, he's
+just in time to see the hatch opening toward him, a puff of vapor condensing,
+and then -
+* * *
+Her Imperial Majesty is sitting in the throne room, moodily fidgeting with the
+new signet ring her equerry has designed for her. It's a lump of structured
+carbon massing almost fifty grams, set in a plain band of asteroid-mined
+iridium. It glitters with the blue-and-violet speckle highlights of its
+internal lasers, because, in addition to being a piece of state jewelry, it is
+also an optical router, part of the industrial control infrastructure she's
+building out here on the edge of the solar system. Her Majesty wears plain
+black combat pants and sweatshirt, woven from the finest spider silk and spun
+glass, but her feet are bare: Her taste in fashion is best described as
+youthful, and in any event, certain styles are simply impractical in
+microgravity. But, being a monarch, she's wearing a crown. And there's a cat,
+or an artificial entity that dreams it's a cat, sleeping on the back of her
+The lady-in-waiting (and sometime hydroponic engineer) ushers Sadeq to the
+doorway, then floats back. "If you need anything, please say," she says shyly,
+then ducks and rolls away. Sadeq approaches the throne, orients himself on the
+floor (a simple slab of black composite, save for the throne growing from its
+center like an exotic flower), and waits to be noticed.
+"Dr. Khurasani, I presume." She smiles at him, neither the innocent grin of a
+child nor the knowing smirk of an adult: merely a warm greeting. "Welcome to my
+kingdom. Please feel free to make use of any necessary support services here,
+and I wish you a very pleasant stay."
+Sadeq holds his expression still. The queen is young - her face still retains
+the puppy fat of childhood, emphasized by microgravity moon-face - but it would
+be a bad mistake to consider her immature. "I am grateful for Your Majesty's
+forbearance," he murmurs, formulaic. Behind her the walls glitter like
+diamonds, a glowing kaleidoscope vision. It's already the biggest offshore - or
+off-planet - data haven in human space. Her crown, more like a compact helm
+that covers the top and rear of her head, also glitters and throws off
+diffraction rainbows; but most of its emissions are in the near ultraviolet,
+invisible except for the faint glowing nimbus it creates around her head. Like
+a halo.
+"Have a seat," she offers, gesturing: A ballooning free-fall cradle squirts
+down and expands from the ceiling, angled toward her, open and waiting. "You
+must be tired. Working a ship all by yourself is exhausting." She frowns
+ruefully, as if remembering. "Two years is nearly unprecedented."
+"Your Majesty is too kind." Sadeq wraps the cradle arms around himself and
+faces her. "Your labors have been fruitful, I trust."
+She shrugs. "I sell the biggest commodity in short supply on any frontier ..."
+A momentary grin. "This isn't the Wild West, is it?"
+"Justice cannot be sold," Sadeq says stiffly. Then, a moment later: "My
+apologies, I mean no insult. I merely believe that, while you say your goal is
+to provide the rule of law, what you sell is and must be something different.
+Justice without God, sold to the highest bidder, is not justice."
+The queen nods. "Leaving aside the mention of God, I agree - I can't sell it.
+But I can sell participation in a just system. And this new frontier really is
+a lot smaller than anyone expected, isn't it? Our bodies may take months to
+travel between worlds, but our disputes and arguments take seconds or minutes.
+As long as everybody agrees to abide by my arbitration, physical enforcement
+can wait until they're close enough to touch. And everybody does agree that my
+legal framework is easier to comply with, better adjusted to trans-Jovian
+space, than any earthbound one." A note of steel creeps into her voice,
+challenging: Her halo brightens, tickling a reactive glow from the walls of the
+throne room.
+Five billion inputs or more, Sadeq marvels. The crown is an engineering marvel,
+even though most of its mass is buried in the walls and floor of this huge
+construct. "There is law revealed by the Prophet, peace be unto him, and there
+is law that we can establish by analysing his intentions. There are other forms
+of law by which humans live, and various interpretations of the law of God even
+among those who study His works. How, in the absence of the word of the
+Prophet, can you provide a moral compass?"
+"Hmm." She taps her fingers on the arm of her throne, and Sadeq's heart
+freezes. He's heard the stories from the claim jumpers and boardroom bandits,
+from the greenmail experts with their roots in the earthbound jurisdictions
+that have made such a hash of arbitration here. How she can experience a year
+in a minute, rip your memories out through your cortical implants, and make you
+relive your worst mistakes in her nightmarishly powerful simulation space. She
+is the queen - the first individual to get her hands on so much mass and energy
+that she could pull ahead of the curve of binding technology, and the first to
+set up her own jurisdiction and rule certain experiments to be legal so that
+she could make use of the mass/energy intersection. She has force majeure -
+even the Pentagon's infowarriors respect the Ring Imperium's autonomy for now.
+In fact, the body sitting in the throne opposite him probably contains only a
+fraction of her identity. She's by no means the first upload or partial, but
+she's the first gust front of the storm of power that will arrive when the
+arrogant ones achieve their goal of dismantling the planets and turning dumb
+and uninhabited mass into brainpower throughout the observable reaches of the
+universe. And he's just questioned the rectitude of her vision, in her
+The queen's lips twitch. Then they curl into a wide, carnivorous grin. Behind
+her, the cat sits up and stretches, then stares at Sadeq through narrowed eyes.
+"You know, that's the first time in weeks that anyone has told me I'm full of
+shit. You haven't been talking to my mother again, have you?"
+It's Sadeq's turn to shrug, uncomfortably. "I have prepared a judgment," he
+says slowly.
+"Ah." Amber rotates the huge diamond ring around her finger. Then she looks him
+in the eye, a trifle nervously. Although what he could possibly do to make her
+comply with any decree -
+"To summarize: Her motive is polluted," Sadeq says shortly.
+"Does that mean what I think it does?" she asks.
+Sadeq breathes deeply again: "Yes, I think so."
+Her smile returns. "And is that the end of it?" she asks.
+He raises a dark eyebrow: "Only if you can prove to me that you can have a
+conscience in the absence of divine revelation."
+Her reaction catches him by surprise. "Oh, sure. That's the next part of the
+program. Obtaining divine revelations."
+"What! From the alien?"
+The cat, claws extended, delicately picks its way down to her lap and waits to
+be held and stroked. It never once takes its eyes off him. "Where else?" she
+asks. "Doctor, I didn't get the Franklin Trust to loan me the wherewithal to
+build this castle just in return for some legal paperwork, and some, ah,
+interesting legal waivers from Brussels. We've known for years there's a whole
+alien packet-switching network out there, and we're just getting spillover from
+some of their routers. It turns out there's a node not far away from here, in
+real space. Helium-three, separate jurisdictions, heavy industrialization on Io
+- there is a purpose to all this activity."
+Sadeq licks his suddenly dry lips. "You're going to narrowcast a reply?"
+"No, much better than that: we're going to visit them. Cut the delay cycle down
+to real-time. We came here to build a ship and recruit a crew, even if we have
+to cannibalize the whole of Jupiter system to pay for the exercise."
+The cat yawns then fixes him with a thousand-yard stare. "This stupid girl
+wants to bring her conscience along to a meeting with something so smart it
+might as well be a god," it says. "And she needs to convince the peanut gallery
+back home that she's got one, being a born-again atheist and all. Which means,
+you're it, monkey boy. There's a slot open for the post of ship's theologian on
+the first starship out of Jupiter system. I don't suppose I can convince you to
+turn the offer down?"
+1~ Chapter 5: Router
+Some years later, two men and a cat are tying one on in a bar that doesn't
+The air in the bar is filled with a billowing relativistic smoke cloud - it's a
+stellarium, accurately depicting the view beyond the imaginary walls.
+Aberration of starlight skews the color toward violet around the doorway,
+brightening in a rainbow mist over the tables, then dimming to a hazy red glow
+in front of the raised platform at the back. The Doppler effect has slowly
+emerged over the past few months as the ship gathers momentum. In the absence
+of visible stellar motion - or a hard link to the ship's control module - it's
+the easiest way for a drunken passenger to get a feeling for how frighteningly
+fast the /{Field Circus}/ is moving. Some time ago, the ship's momentum
+exceeded half its rest mass, at which point a single kilogram packs the punch
+of a multimegaton hydrogen bomb.
+A ginger-and-brown cat - who has chosen to be female, just to mess with the
+heads of those people who think all ginger cats are male - sprawls indolently
+across the wooden floorboards in front of the bar, directly beneath the bridge
+of the starbow. Predictably, it has captured the only ray of sunlight to be had
+within the starship. In the shadows at the back of the bar, two men slump at a
+table, lost in their respective morose thoughts: One nurses a bottle of Czech
+beer, the other a half-empty cocktail glass.
+"It wouldn't be so bad if she is giving me some sign," says one of them,
+tilting his beer bottle to inspect the bottom for sediment. "No; that not
+right. It's the correct kind of attention. Am not knowing where I stand with
+The other one leans back in his chair, squints at the faded brown paint of the
+ceiling. "Take it from one who knows," he says: "If you knew, you'd have
+nothing to dream about. Anyway, what she wants and what you want may not be the
+same thing."
+The first man runs a hand through his hair. Tight-curled black ringlets briefly
+turn silver beneath his aging touch. "Pierre, if talent for making patronizing
+statements is what you get from tupping Amber -"
+Pierre glares at him with all the venom an augmented nineteen-year-old can
+muster. "Be glad she has no ears in here," he hisses. His hand tightens around
+his glass reflexively, but the physics model in force in the bar refuses to let
+him break it. "You've had too fucking much to drink, Boris."
+A tinkle of icy laughter comes from the direction of the cat. "Shut up, you,"
+says Boris, glancing at the animal. He tips the bottle back, lets the dregs
+trickle down his throat. "Maybe you're right. Am sorry. Do not mean to be rude
+about the queen." He shrugs, puts the bottle down. Shrugs again, heavily. "Am
+just getting depressed."
+"You're good at that," Pierre observes.
+Boris sighs again. "Evidently. If our positions are reversed -"
+"I know, I know, you'd be telling me the fun is in the chase and it's not the
+same when she kicks you out after a fight, and I wouldn't believe a word of it,
+being sad and single and all that." Pierre snorts. "Life isn't fair, Boris -
+live with it."
+"I'd better go - " Boris stands.
+"Stay away from Ang," says Pierre, still annoyed with him. "At least until
+you're sober."
+"Okay already, stay cool; Am consciously running a watchdog thread." Boris
+blinks irritably. "Enforcing social behavior. It doesn't normally allow this
+drunk. Not where reputation damage are possible in public."
+He does a slow dissolve into thin air, leaving Pierre alone in the bar with the
+"How much longer do we have to put up with this shit?" he asks aloud. Tempers
+are frayed, and arguments proliferate indefinitely in the pocket universe of
+the ship.
+The cat doesn't look round. "In our current reference frame, we drop the
+primary reflector and start decelerating in another two million seconds," she
+says. "Back home, five or six megaseconds."
+"That's a big gap. What's the cultural delta up to now?" Pierre asks idly. He
+snaps his fingers: "Waiter, another cocktail. The same, if you please."
+"Oh, probably about ten to twenty times our departure reference," says the cat.
+"If you'd been following the news from back home, you'd have noted a
+significant speed-up in the deployment of switched entanglement routers.
+They're having another networking revolution, only this one will run to
+completion inside a month because they're using dark fiber that's already in
+the ground."
+"Switched ... entanglement?" Pierre shakes his head, bemused. The waiter, a
+faceless body in black tie and a long, starched apron, walks around the bar and
+offers him a glass. "That almost sounds as if it makes sense. What else?"
+The cat rolls over on her flank, stretches, claws extended. "Stroke me, and I
+might tell you," she suggests.
+"Fuck you, and the dog you rode in on," Pierre replies. He lifts his glass,
+removes a glacé cherry on a cocktail stick, throws it toward the spiral
+staircase that leads down to the toilets, and chugs back half of the drink in
+one go - freezing pink slush with an afterbite of caramelized hexose sugars and
+ethanol. The near spillage as he thumps the glass down serves to demonstrate
+that he's teetering on the edge of drunkenness. "Mercenary!"
+"Lovesick drug-using human," the cat replies without rancor, and rolls to her
+feet. She arches her back and yawns, baring ivory fangs at the world. "You apes
+- if I cared about you, I'd have to kick sand over you." For a moment she looks
+faintly confused. "I mean, I would bury you." She stretches again and glances
+round the otherwise-empty bar. "By the way, when are you going to apologize to
+"I'm not going to fucking apologize to her!" Pierre shouts. In the ensuing
+silence and confusion, he raises his glass and tries to drain it, but the ice
+has all sunk to the bottom, and the resulting coughing fit makes him spray half
+of the cocktail across the table. "No way," he rasps quietly.
+"Too much pride, huh?" The cat stalks toward the edge of the bar, tail held
+high with tip bent over in a feline question mark. "Like Boris with his
+adolescent woman trouble, too? You primates are so predictable. Whoever thought
+of sending a starship crewed by posthuman adolescents -"
+"Go 'way," says Pierre: "I've got serious drinking to do."
+"To the Macx, I suppose," puns the cat, turning away. But the moody youth has
+no answer for her, other than to conjure a refill from the vasty deeps.
+* * *
+Meanwhile, in another partition of the /{Field Circus}/'s reticulated reality,
+a different instance of the selfsame cat - Aineko by name, sarcastic by
+disposition - is talking to its former owner's daughter, the Queen of the Ring
+Imperium. Amber's avatar looks about sixteen, with disheveled blonde hair and
+enhanced cheekbones. It's a lie, of course, because in subjective life
+experience, she's in her mid-twenties, but apparent age signifies little in a
+simulation space populated by upload minds, or in real space, where post-humans
+age at different rates.
+Amber wears a tattered black dress over iridescent purple leggings, and sprawls
+lazily across the arms of her informal throne - an ostentatious lump of
+nonsense manufactured from a single carbon crystal doped with semiconductors.
+(Unlike the real thing back home in Jupiter orbit, this one is merely a piece
+of furniture for a virtual environment.) The scene is very much the morning
+after the evening before, like a goth nightclub gone to seed: all stale smoke
+and crumpled velvet, wooden church pews, burned-out candles, and gloomy Polish
+avant-garde paintings. Any hint of a regal statement the queen might be making
+is spoiled by the way she's hooked one knee over the left arm of the throne and
+is fiddling with a six-axis pointing device. But these are her private
+quarters, and she's off duty: The regal person of the Queen is strictly for
+formal, corporate occasions.
+"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," she suggests.
+"Nope," replies the cat. "It was more like: 'Greetings, earthlings, compile me
+on your leader.'"
+"Well, you got me there," Amber admits. She taps her heel on the throne and
+fidgets with her signet ring. "No damn way I'm loading some buggy alien wetware
+on my sweet gray stuff. /{Weird}/ semiotics, too. What does Dr. Khurasani say?"
+Aineko sits down in the middle of the crimson carpet at the foot of the dais
+and idly twists round to sniff her crotch. "Sadeq is immersed in scriptural
+interpretations. He refused to be drawn."
+"Huh." Amber stares at the cat. "So. You've been carrying this lump of source
+code since when ...?"
+"At the signal, for precisely two hundred and sixteen million, four hundred and
+twenty-nine thousand, and fifty-two seconds," Aineko supplies, then beeps
+smugly. "Call it just under six years."
+"Right." Amber squeezes her eyes shut. Uneasy possibilities whisper in her
+mind's ears. "And it began talking to you -"
+"- About three million seconds after I picked it up and ran it on a basic
+environment hosted on a neural network emulator modeled on the components found
+in the stomatogastric ganglion of a spiny lobster. Clear?"
+Amber sighs. "I wish you'd told Dad about it. Or Annette. Things could have
+been so different!"
+"How?" The cat stops licking her arse and looks up at the queen with a
+peculiarly opaque stare. "It took the specialists a decade to figure out the
+first message was a map of the pulsar neighborhood with directions to the
+nearest router on the interstellar network. Knowing how to plug into the router
+wouldn't help while it was three light-years away, would it? Besides, it was
+fun watching the idiots trying to 'crack the alien code' without ever wondering
+if it might be a reply in a language we already know to a message we sent out
+years ago. Fuckwits. And, too, Manfred pissed me off once too often. He kept
+treating me like a goddamn house pet."
+"But you -" Amber bites her lip. /{But you}/ were, /{when he bought you}/, she
+had been about to say. Engineered consciousness is still relatively new: It
+didn't exist when Manfred and Pamela first hacked on Aineko's cognitive
+network, and according to the flat-earth wing of the AI community, it still
+doesn't. Even she hadn't really believed Aineko's claims to self-awareness
+until a couple of years ago, finding it easier to think of the cat as a zimboe
+- a zombie with no self-awareness, but programmed to claim to be aware in an
+attempt to deceive the truly conscious beings around it. "I know you're
+conscious now, but Manfred didn't know back then. Did he?"
+Aineko glares at her, then slowly narrows her eyes to slits - either feline
+affection, or a more subtle gesture. Sometimes Amber finds it hard to believe
+that, twenty five years ago, Aineko started out as a crude neural network
+driven toy from a Far Eastern amusement factory - upgradeable, but still
+basically a mechanical animal emulator.
+"I'm sorry. Let me start again. You actually figured out what the second alien
+packet was, you, yourself, and nobody else. Despite the combined efforts of the
+entire CETI analysis team who spent Gaia knows how many human-equivalent years
+of processing power trying to crack its semantics. I hope you'll pardon me for
+saying I find that hard to believe?"
+The cat yawns. "I could have told Pierre instead." Aineko glances at Amber,
+sees her thunderous expression, and hastily changes the subject: "The solution
+was intuitively obvious, just not to humans. You're so /{verbal}/." Lifting a
+hind paw, she scratches behind her left ear for a moment then pauses, foot
+waving absentmindedly. "Besides, the CETI team was searching under the street
+lights while I was sniffing around in the grass. They kept trying to find
+primes; when that didn't work, they started trying to breed a Turing machine
+that would run it without immediately halting." Aineko lowers her paw daintily.
+"None of them tried treating it as a map of a connectionist system based on the
+only terrestrial components anyone had ever beamed out into deep space. Except
+me. But then, your mother had a hand in my wetware, too."
+"Treating it as a map -" Amber stops. "You were meant to penetrate Dad's
+corporate network?"
+"That's right," says the cat. "I was supposed to fork repeatedly and gang-rape
+his web of trust. But I didn't." Aineko yawns. "Pam pissed me off, too. I don't
+like people who try to use me."
+"I don't care. Taking that thing on board was still a really stupid risk you
+took," Amber accuses.
+"So?" The cat looks at her insolently. "I kept it in my sandbox. And I got it
+working, on the seven hundred and forty-first attempt. It'd have worked for
+Pamela's bounty-hunter friends, too, if I'd tried it. But it's here, now, when
+you need it. Would you like to swallow the packet?"
+Amber straightens out, sits up in her throne: "I just told you, if you think
+I'm going to link some flaky chunk of alien neural programming into my core
+dialogue, or even my exocortex, you're crazy!" Her eyes narrow. "Can it use
+your grammar model?"
+"Sure." If the cat was human, it would be shrugging nonchalantly at this point.
+"It's safe, Amber, really and truly. I found out what it is."
+"I want to talk to it," she says impetuously - and before the cat can reply,
+adds, "So what is it?"
+"It's a protocol stack. Basically it allows new nodes to connect to a network,
+by providing high-level protocol conversion services. It needs to learn how to
+think like a human so it can translate for us when we arrive at the router,
+which is why they bolted a lobster's neural network on top of it - they wanted
+to make it architecturally compatible with us. But there are no buried time
+bombs, I assure you: I've had plenty of time to check. Now, are you /{sure}/
+you don't want to let it into your head?"
+* * *
+_1 Greetings from the fifth decade of the century of wonders.
+_1 The solar system that lies roughly twenty-eight trillion kilometers - just
+short of three light-years - behind the speeding starwisp /{Field Circus}/ is
+seething with change. There have been more technological advances in the past
+ten years than in the entire previous expanse of human history - and more
+unforeseen accidents.
+_1 Lots of hard problems have proven to be tractable. The planetary genome and
+proteome have been mapped so exhaustively that the biosciences are now focusing
+on the challenge of the phenome: Plotting the phase-space defined by the
+intersection of genes and biochemical structures, understanding how extended
+phenotypic traits are generated and contribute to evolutionary fitness. The
+biosphere has become surreal: small dragons have been sighted nesting in the
+Scottish highlands, and in the American midwest, raccoons have been caught
+programming microwave ovens.
+_1 The computing power of the solar system is now around one thousand MIPS per
+gram, and is unlikely to increase in the near term - all but a fraction of one
+percent of the dumb matter is still locked up below the accessible planetary
+crusts, and the sapience/mass ratio has hit a glass ceiling that will only be
+broken when people, corporations, or other posthumans get around to dismantling
+the larger planets. A start has already been made in Jupiter orbit and the
+asteroid belt. Greenpeace has sent squatters to occupy Eros and Juno, but the
+average asteroid is now surrounded by a reef of specialized nanomachinery and
+debris, victims of a cosmic land grab unmatched since the days of the wild
+west. The best brains flourish in free fall, minds surrounded by a sapient
+aether of extensions that out-think their meaty cortices by many orders of
+magnitude - minds like Amber, Queen of the Inner Ring Imperium, the first
+self-extending power center in Jupiter orbit.
+_1 Down at the bottom of the terrestrial gravity well, there has been a major
+economic catastrophe. Cheap immortagens, out-of-control personality adjuvants,
+and a new formal theory of uncertainty have knocked the bottom out of the
+insurance and underwriting industries. Gambling on a continuation of the worst
+aspects of the human condition - disease, senescence, and death - looks like a
+good way to lose money, and a deflationary spiral lasting almost fifty hours
+has taken down huge swaths of the global stock market. Genius, good looks, and
+long life are now considered basic human rights in the developed world: even
+the poorest backwaters are feeling extended effects from the commoditization of
+_1 Not everything is sweetness and light in the era of mature nanotechnology.
+Widespread intelligence amplification doesn't lead to widespread rational
+behavior. New religions and mystery cults explode across the planet; much of
+the Net is unusable, flattened by successive semiotic jihads. India and
+Pakistan have held their long-awaited nuclear war: external intervention by US
+and EU nanosats prevented most of the IRBMs from getting through, but the
+subsequent spate of network raids and Basilisk attacks cause havoc. Luckily,
+infowar turns out to be more survivable than nuclear war - especially once it
+is discovered that a simple anti-aliasing filter stops nine out of ten
+neural-wetware-crashing Langford fractals from causing anything worse than a
+mild headache.
+_1 New discoveries this decade include the origins of the weakly repulsive
+force responsible for changes in the rate of expansion of the universe after
+the big bang, and on a less abstract level, experimental implementations of a
+Turing Oracle using quantum entanglement circuits: a device that can determine
+whether a given functional expression can be evaluated in finite time. It's
+boom time in the field of Extreme Cosmology, where some of the more recherché
+researchers are bickering over the possibility that the entire universe was
+created as a computing device, with a program encoded in the small print of the
+Planck constant. And theorists are talking again about the possibility of using
+artificial wormholes to provide instantaneous connections between distant
+corners of space-time.
+_1 Most people have forgotten about the well-known extraterrestrial
+transmission received fifteen years earlier. Very few people know anything
+about the second, more complex transmission received a little later. Many of
+those are now passengers or spectators of the /{Field Circus}/: a light-sail
+craft that is speeding out of Sol system on a laser beam generated by Amber's
+installations in low-Jupiter orbit. (Superconducting tethers anchored to
+Amalthea drag through Jupiter's magnetosphere, providing gigawatts of
+electricity for the hungry lasers: energy that comes, in turn, from the small
+moon's orbital momentum.)
+_1 Manufactured by Airbus-Cisco years earlier, the /{Field Circus}/ is a hick
+backwater, isolated from the mainstream of human culture, its systems
+complexity limited by mass: The destination lies nearly three light-years from
+Earth, and even with high acceleration and relativistic cruise speeds, the
+one-kilogram starwisp and its hundred-kilogram light sail will take the best
+part of seven years to get there. Sending a human-sized probe is beyond even
+the vast energy budget of the new orbital states in Jupiter system -
+near-lightspeed travel is horrifically expensive. Rather than a big,
+self-propelled ship with canned primates for passengers, as previous
+generations had envisaged, the starship is a Coke-can-sized slab of
+nanocomputers, running a neural simulation of the uploaded brain states of some
+tens of humans at merely normal speed. By the time its occupants beam
+themselves home again for download into freshly cloned bodies, a linear
+extrapolation shows that as much change will have overtaken human civilization
+as in the preceding fifty millennia - the sum total of /{H. sapiens sapiens}/'
+time on Earth.
+_1 But that's okay by Amber, because what she expects to find in orbit around
+the brown dwarf Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, will be worth the wait.
+* * *
+Pierre is at work in another virtual environment, the one currently running the
+master control system of the /{Field Circus}/. He's supervising the
+sail-maintenance 'bots when the message comes in. Two visitors are on their way
+up the beam from Jupiter orbit. The only other person around is Su Ang, who
+showed up sometime after he arrived, and she's busy with some work of her own.
+The master control VM - like all the other human-accessible environments at
+this level of the ship's virtualization stack - is a construct modeled on a
+famous movie; this one resembles the bridge of a long-since sunk ocean liner,
+albeit with discreetly informative user interfaces hovering in front of the
+ocean views outside the windows. Polished brass gleams softly everywhere. "What
+was that?" he calls out, responding to the soft chime of a bell.
+"We have visitors," Ang repeats, interrupting her rhythmic chewing. (She's
+trying out a betel-nut kick, but she's magicked the tooth-staining dye away and
+will probably detox herself in a few hours.) "They're buffering up the line
+already; just acknowledging receipt is sucking most of our downstream
+"Any idea who they are?" asks Pierre; he puts his boots up on the back of the
+vacant helmsman's chair and stares moodily at the endless expanse of green-gray
+ocean ahead.
+Ang chews a bit more, watching him with an expression he can't interpret.
+"They're still locked," she says. A pause: "But there was a flash from the
+Franklins, back home. One of them's some kind of lawyer, while the other's a
+film producer."
+"A film producer?"
+"The Franklin Trust says it's to help defray our lawsuit expenses. Myanmar is
+gaining. They've already subpoenaed Amber's downline instance, and they're
+trying to bring this up in some kind of kangaroo jurisdiction - Oregon
+Christian Reconstructionist Empire, I think."
+"Ouch." Pierre winces. The daily news from Earth, modulated onto a
+lower-powered communication laser, is increasingly bad. On the plus side, Amber
+is incredibly rich: The goodwill futures leveraged off her dad's trust metric
+means people will bend over backward to do things for her. And she owns a lot
+of real estate too, a hundred gigatonnes of rock in low-Jupiter orbit with
+enough KE to power Northern Europe for a century. But her interstellar venture
+burns through money - both the traditional barter-indirection type and the more
+creative modern varieties - about the way you would if you heaped up the green
+pieces of paper and shoveled them onto a conveyor belt leading to the business
+end of a running rocket motor. Just holding off the environmental protests over
+de-orbiting a small Jovian moon is a grinding job. Moreover, a whole bunch of
+national governments have woken up and are trying to legislate themselves a
+slice of the cake. Nobody's tried to forcibly take over yet (there are two
+hundred gigawatts of lasers anchored to the Ring Imperium, and Amber takes her
+sovereign status seriously, has even applied for a seat at the UN and
+membership in the EC), but the nuisance lawsuits are mounting up into a
+comprehensive denial of service attack, or maybe economic sanctions. And Uncle
+Gianni's retirement hasn't helped any, either. "Anything to say about it?"
+"Mmph." Ang looks irritated for some reason. "Wait your turn, they'll be out of
+the buffer in another couple of days. Maybe a bit longer in the case of the
+lawyer, he's got a huge infodump packaged on his person. Probably another
+semisapient class-action lawsuit."
+"I'll bet. They never learn, do they?"
+"What, about the legal system here?"
+"Yup." Pierre nods. "One of Amber's smarter ideas, reviving eleventh-century
+Scots law and updating it with new options on barratry, trial by combat, and
+compurgation." He pulls a face and detaches a couple of ghosts to go look out
+for the new arrivals; then he goes back to repairing sails. The interstellar
+medium is abrasive, full of dust - each grain of which carries the energy of an
+artillery shell at this speed - and the laser sail is in a constant state of
+disintegration. A large chunk of the drive system's mass is silvery utility
+flakes for patching and replacing the soap-bubble-thin membrane as it ablates
+away. The skill is in knowing how best to funnel repair resources to where
+they're needed, while minimizing tension in the suspension lines and avoiding
+resonance and thrust imbalance. As he trains the patch 'bots, he broods about
+the hate mail from his elder brother (who still blames him for their father's
+accident), and about Sadeq's religious injunctions - /{Superstitious
+nonsense}/, he thinks - and the fickleness of powerful women, and the endless
+depths of his own nineteen-year-old soul.
+While he's brooding, Ang evidently finishes whatever she was doing and bangs
+out - not even bothering to use the polished mahogany door at the rear of the
+bridge, just discorporating and rematerializing somewhere else. Wondering if
+she's annoyed, he glances up just as the first of his ghosts patches into his
+memory map, and he remembers what happened when it met the new arrival. His
+eyes widen: "Oh /{shit!}/"
+It's not the film producer but the lawyer who's just uploaded into the /{Field
+Circus}/'s virtual universe. Someone's going to have to tell Amber. And
+although the last thing he wants to do is talk to her, it looks like he's going
+to have to call her, because this isn't just a routine visit. The lawyer means
+* * *
+_1 Take a brain and put it in a bottle. Better: take a map of the brain and put
+it in a map of a bottle - or of a body - and feed signals to it that mimic its
+neurological inputs. Read its outputs and route them to a model body in a model
+universe with a model of physical laws, closing the loop. René Descartes would
+understand. That's the state of the passengers of the /{Field Circus}/ in a
+nutshell. Formerly physical humans, their neural software (and a map of the
+intracranial wetware it runs on) has been transferred into a virtual machine
+environment executing on a honking great computer, where the universe they
+experience is merely a dream within a dream.
+_1 Brains in bottles - empowered ones, with total, dictatorial, control over
+the reality they are exposed to - sometimes stop engaging in activities that
+brains in bodies can't avoid. Menstruation isn't mandatory. Vomiting, angina,
+exhaustion, and cramp are all optional. So is meatdeath, the decomposition of
+the corpus. But some activities don't cease, because people (even people who
+have been converted into a software description, squirted through a
+high-bandwidth laser link, and ported into a virtualization stack) don't
+/{want}/ them to stop. Breathing is wholly unnecessary, but suppression of the
+breathing reflex is disturbing unless you hack your hypothalamic map, and most
+homomorphic uploads don't want to do that. Then there's eating - not to avoid
+starvation, but for pleasure: Feasts on sautéed dodo seasoned with silphium are
+readily available here, and indeed, why not? It seems the human addiction to
+sensory input won't go away. And that's without considering sex, and the
+technical innovations that become possible when the universe - and the bodies
+within it - are mutable.
+* * *
+The public audience with the new arrivals is held in yet another movie: the
+Parisian palace of Charles IX, the throne room lifted wholesale from /{La Reine
+Margot}/ by Patrice Chéreau. Amber insisted on period authenticity, with the
+realism dialed right up to eleven. It's 1572 to the hilt this time, physical to
+the max. Pierre grunts in irritation, unaccustomed to his beard. His codpiece
+chafes, and sidelong glances tell him he isn't the only member of the royal
+court who's uncomfortable. Still, Amber is resplendent in a gown worn by
+Isabelle Adjani as Marguerite de Valois, and the luminous sunlight streaming
+through the stained-glass windows high above the crowd of actor zimboes lends a
+certain barbaric majesty to the occasion. The place is heaving with bodies in
+clerical robes, doublets, and low-cut gowns - some of them occupied by real
+people. Pierre sniffs again: Someone (Gavin, with his history bug, perhaps?)
+has been working on getting the smells right. He hopes like hell that nobody
+throws up. At least nobody seems to have come as Catherine de Médicis ...
+A bunch of actors portraying Huguenot soldiers approach the throne on which
+Amber is seated: They pace slowly forward, escorting a rather bemused-looking
+fellow with long, lank hair and a brocade jacket that appears to be made of
+cloth-of-gold. "His lordship, Attorney at Arms Alan Glashwiecz!" announces a
+flunky, reading from a parchment, "here at the behest of the most excellent
+guild and corporation of Smoot, Sedgwick Associates, with matters of legal
+import to discuss with Her Royal Highness!"
+A flourish of trumpets. Pierre glances at Her Royal Highness, who nods
+gracefully, but is slightly peaky - it's a humid summer day and her
+many-layered robes look very hot. "Welcome to the furthermost soil of the Ring
+Imperium," she announces in a clear, ringing voice. "I bid you welcome and
+invite you to place your petition before me in full public session of court."
+Pierre directs his attention to Glashwiecz, who appears to be worried.
+Doubtless he'd absorbed the basics of court protocol in the Ring (population
+all of eighteen thousand back home, a growing little principality), but the
+reality of it, a genuine old-fashioned /{monarchy}/ rooted in Amber's three-way
+nexus of power, data, and time, always takes a while to sink in. "I would be
+pleased to do so," he says, a little stiffly, "but in front of all those -"
+Pierre misses the next bit, because someone has just goosed him on the left
+buttock. He starts and half turns to see Su Ang looking past him at the throne,
+a lady-in-waiting for the queen. She wears an apricot dress with tight sleeves
+and a bodice that bares everything above her nipples. There's a fortune in
+pearls roped into her hair. As he notices her, she winks at him.
+Pierre freezes the scene, decoupling them from reality, and she faces him. "Are
+we alone now?" she asks.
+"Guess so. You want to talk about something?" he asks, heat rising in his
+cheeks. The noise around them is a random susurrus of machine-generated crowd
+scenery, the people motionless as their shared reality thread proceeds
+independently of the rest of the universe.
+"Of course!" She smiles at him and shrugs. The effect on her chest is
+remarkable - those period bodices could give a skeleton a cleavage - and she
+winks at him again. "Oh, Pierre." She smiles. "So easily distracted!" She snaps
+her fingers, and her clothing cycles through Afghani burqua, nudity, trouser
+suit, then back to court finery. Her grin is the only constant. "Now that I've
+got your attention, stop looking at me and start looking at /{him}/."
+Even more embarrassed, Pierre follows her outstretched arm all the way to the
+momentarily frozen Moorish emissary. "Sadeq?"
+"Sadeq /{knows}/ him, Pierre. This guy, there's something wrong."
+"Shit. You think I don't know that?" Pierre looks at her with annoyance,
+embarrassment forgotten. "I've seen him before. Been tracking his involvement
+for years. Guy's a front for the Queen Mother. He acted as her divorce lawyer
+when she went after Amber's Dad."
+"I'm sorry." Ang glances away. "You haven't been yourself lately, Pierre. I
+know it's something wrong between you and the Queen. I was worried. You're not
+paying attention to the little details."
+"Who do you think warned Amber?" he asks.
+"Oh. Okay, so you're in the loop," she says. "I'm not sure. Anyway, you've been
+distracted. Is there anything I can do to help?"
+"Listen." Pierre puts his hands on her shoulders. She doesn't move, but looks
+up into his eyes - Su Ang is only one-sixty tall - and he feels a pang of
+something odd: teenage male uncertainty about the friendship of women. /{What
+does she want?}/ "I know, and I'm sorry, and I'll try to keep my eyes on the
+ball some more, but I've been in my own headspace a lot lately. We ought to go
+back into the audience before anybody notices."
+"Do you want to talk about the problem first?" she asks, inviting his
+"I -" Pierre shakes his head. /{I could tell her everything}/, he realizes
+shakily as his metaconscience prods him urgently. He's got a couple of
+agony-aunt agents, but Ang is a real person and a friend. She won't pass
+judgment, and her model of human social behavior is a hell of a lot better than
+any expert system's. But time is in danger of slipping, and besides, Pierre
+feels dirty. "Not now," he says. "Let's go back."
+"Okay." She nods, then turns away, steps behind him with a swish of skirts, and
+he unfreezes time again as they snap back into place within the larger
+universe, just in time to see the respected visitor serve the queen with a
+class-action lawsuit, and the Queen respond by referring adjudication to trial
+by combat.
+* * *
+Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, is a brown dwarf, a lump of dirty hydrogen condensed
+from a stellar nursery, eight times as massive as Jupiter but not massive
+enough to ignite a stable fusion reaction at its core. The relentless crush of
+gravity has overcome the mutual repulsion of electrons trapped at its core,
+shrinking it into a shell of slush around a sphere of degenerate matter. It's
+barely larger than the gas giant the human ship uses as an energy source, but
+it's much denser. Gigayears ago, a chance stellar near miss sent it careening
+off into the galaxy on its own, condemned to drift in eternal darkness along
+with a cluster of frozen moons that dance attendance upon it.
+By the time the /{Field Circus}/ is decelerating toward it at short range -
+having shed the primary sail, which drifts farther out into interstellar space
+while reflecting light back onto the remaining secondary sail surface to slow
+the starwisp - Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, is just under one parsec distant from
+Earth, closer even than Proxima Centauri. Utterly dark at visible wavelengths,
+the brown dwarf could have drifted through the outer reaches of the solar
+system before conventional telescopes would have found it by direct
+observation. Only an infrared survey in the early years of the current century
+gave it a name.
+A bunch of passengers and crew have gathered on the bridge (now running at
+one-tenth of real time) to watch the arrival. Amber sits curled up in the
+captain's chair, moodily watching the gathered avatars. Pierre is still
+avoiding her at every opportunity, formal audiences excepted, and the damned
+shark and his pet hydra aren't invited, but apart from that, most of the gang
+is here. There are sixty-three uploads running on the /{Field Circus}/'s
+virtualization stack, software copied out of meatbodies who are mostly still
+walking around back home. It's a crowd, but it's possible to feel lonely in a
+crowd, even when it's your party. And especially when you're worried about
+debt, even though you're a billionairess, beneficiary of the human species'
+biggest reputations-rating trust fund. Amber's clothing - black leggings, black
+sweater - is as dark as her mood.
+"Something troubles you." A hand descends on the back of the chair next to her.
+She glances round momentarily, nods in recognition. "Yeah. Have a seat. You
+missed the audience?"
+The thin, brown-skinned man with a neatly cropped beard and deeply lined
+forehead slips into the seat next to her. "It was not part of my heritage," he
+explains carefully, "although the situation is not unfamiliar." A momentary
+smile threatens to crack his stony face. "I found the casting a trifle
+"I'm no Marguerite de Valois, but the vacant role ... let's just say, the cap
+fits." Amber leans back in her chair. "Mind you, Marguerite had an
+/{interesting}/ life," she muses.
+"Don't you mean depraved and debauched?" her neighbor counters.
+"Sadeq." She closes her eyes. "Let's not pick a fight over absolute morality
+just right now, please? We have an orbital insertion to carry out, then an
+artifact to locate, and a dialogue to open, and I'm feeling very tired.
+"Ah - I apologize." He inclines his head carefully. "Is it your young man's
+fault? Has he slighted you?"
+"Not exactly -" Amber pauses. Sadeq, whom she basically invited along as ship's
+theologian in case they ran into any gods, has taken up her pastoral well-being
+as some kind of hobby. She finds it mildly oppressive at times, flattering at
+others, surreal always. Using the quantum search resources available to a
+citizen of the Ring Imperium, he's outpublished his peers, been elected a
+hojetolislam at an unprecedentedly young age: His original will probably be an
+ayatollah by the time they get home. He's circumspect in dealing with cultural
+differences, reasons with impeccable logic, carefully avoids antagonizing her -
+and constantly seeks to guide her moral development. "It's a personal
+misunderstanding," she says. "I'd rather not talk about it until we've sorted
+it out."
+"Very well." He looks unsatisfied, but that's normal. Sadeq still has the dusty
+soil of a childhood in the industrial city of Yazd stuck to his boots.
+Sometimes she wonders if their disagreements don't mirror in miniature the gap
+between the early twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. "But back to the
+here and now. Do you know where this router is?"
+"I will, in a few minutes or hours." Amber raises her voice, simultaneously
+spawning a number of search-ghosts. "Boris! You got any idea where we're
+Boris lumbers round in place to face her; today he's wearing a velociraptor,
+and they don't turn easily in confined spaces. He snarls irritably: "Give me
+some space!" He coughs, a threatening noise from the back of his wattled
+throat, "Searching the sail's memory now." The back of the soap-bubble-thin
+laser sail is saturated with tiny nanocomputers spaced micrometers apart.
+Equipped with light receptors and configured as cellular automata, they form a
+gigantic phased-array detector, a retina more than a hundred meters in
+diameter. Boris is feeding them patterns describing anything that differs from
+the unchanging starscape. Soon the memories will condense and return as visions
+of darkness in motion - the cold, dead attendants of an aborted sun.
+"But where is it going to be?" asks Sadeq. "Do you know what you are looking
+"Yes. We should have no trouble finding it," says Amber. "It looks like this."
+She flicks an index finger at the row of glass windows that front the bridge.
+Her signet ring flashes ruby light, and something indescribably weird shimmers
+into view in place of the seascape. Clusters of pearly beads that form helical
+chains, disks and whorls of color that interlace and knot through one another,
+hang in space above a darkling planet. "Looks like a William Latham sculpture
+made out of strange matter, doesn't it?"
+"Very abstract," Sadeq says approvingly.
+"It's alive," she adds. "And when it gets close enough to see us, it'll try to
+eat us."
+"What?" Sadeq sits up uneasily.
+"You mean nobody told you?" asks Amber: "I thought we'd briefed everybody." She
+throws a glistening golden pomegranate at him, and he catches it. The apple of
+knowledge dissolves in his hand, and he sits in a haze of ghosts absorbing
+information on his behalf. "Damn," she adds mildly.
+Sadeq freezes in place. Glyphs of crumbling stonework overgrown with ivy
+texture his skin and his dark suit, warning that he's busy in another private
+"/{Hrrrr!}/ Boss! Found something," calls Boris, drooling on the bridge floor.
+Amber glances up. /{Please, let it be the router}/, she thinks. "Put it on the
+main screen."
+"Are you sure this is safe?" Su Ang asks nervously.
+"Nothing is safe," Boris snaps, clattering his huge claws on the deck. "Here.
+The view beyond the windows flips to a perspective on a dusty bluish horizon:
+swirls of hydrogen brushed with a high cirrus of white methane crystals,
+stirred above the freezing point of oxygen by Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},'s
+residual rotation. The image-intensification level is huge - a naked human
+eyeball would see nothing but blackness. Rising above the limb of the gigantic
+planet is a small pale disk: Callidice, largest moon of the brown dwarf - or
+second-innermost planet - a barren rock slightly larger than Mercury. The
+screen zooms in on the moon, surging across a landscape battered by craters and
+dusted with the spume of ice volcanoes. Finally, just above the far horizon,
+something turquoise shimmers and spins against a backdrop of frigid darkness.
+"That's it," Amber whispers, her stomach turning to jelly as all the terrible
+might-have-beens dissolve like phantoms of the night around her; "That's
+/{it}/!" Elated, she stands up, wanting to share the moment with everybody she
+values. "Wake up, Sadeq! Someone get that damned cat in here! Where's Pierre?
+He's got to see this!"
+* * *
+Night and revelry rule outside the castle. The crowds are drunken and rowdy on
+the eve of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Fireworks burst overhead, and
+the open windows admit a warm breeze redolent of cooked meats, woodsmoke, open
+sewers. Meanwhile a lover steals up a tightly-spiraling stone staircase in the
+near dark; his goal, a prarranged rendezvous. He's been drinking, and his best
+linen shirt shows the stains of sweat and food. He pauses at the third window
+to breathe in the outside air and run both hands through his mane of hair,
+which is long, unkempt, and grimy. /{Why am I doing this?}/ he wonders. This is
+so unlike him, this messing around -
+He carries on up the spiral. At the top, an oak door gapes on a vestibule lit
+by a lantern hanging from a hook. He ventures inside into a reception room
+paneled in oak blackened by age. Crossing the threshold makes another crossover
+kick in by prior arrangement. Something other than his own volition steers his
+feet, and he feels an unfamiliar throb in his chest, anticipation and a warmth
+and looseness lower down that makes him cry out, "where are you?"
+"Over here." He sees her waiting for him in the doorway. She's partially
+undressed, wearing layered underskirts and a flat-chested corset that makes the
+tops of her breasts swell like lustrous domes. Her tight sleeves are
+half-unraveled, her hair disheveled. He's full of her brilliant eyes, the
+constriction holding her spine straight, the taste in her mouth. She's the
+magnet for his reality, impossibly alluring, so tense she could burst. "Is it
+working for you?" she asks.
+"Yes." he feels tight, breathless, squeezed between impossibility and desire as
+he walks toward her. They've experimented with gender play, trying on the
+extreme dimorphism of this period as a game, but this is the first time they've
+done it this way. She opens her mouth: He kisses her, feels the warmth of his
+tongue thrust between her lips, the strength of his arms enclosing her waist.
+She leans against him, feeling his erection. "So this is how it feels to be
+you," she says wonderingly. The door to her chamber is ajar, but she doesn't
+have the self-restraint to wait: The flood of new sensations - rerouted from
+her physiology model to his proprioceptive sensorium - has taken hold. She
+grinds her hips against him, pushing deeper into his arms, whining softly at
+the back of her throat as she feels the fullness in his balls, the tension of
+his penis. He nearly faints with the rich sensations of her body - it's as if
+he's dissolving, feeling the throbbing hardness against his groin, turning to
+water and running away. Somehow he gets his arms around her waist - so tight,
+so breathless - and stumbles forward into the bedroom. She's whimpering as he
+drops her on the over-stuffed mattress: "/{Do}/ it to me!" she demands, "Do it
+Somehow he ends up on top of her, hose down around his ankles, skirts bundled
+up around her waist; she kisses him, grinding her hips against him and
+murmuring urgent nothings. Then his heart is in his mouth, and there's a
+sensation like the universe pushing into his private parts, so inside out it
+takes his breath away. It's hot and as hard as rock, and he wants it inside so
+badly, but at the same time it's an intrusion, frightening and unexpected. He
+feels the lightning touch of his tongue on her nipples as he leans closer,
+feels exposed and terrified and ecstatic as her private places take in his
+member. As he begins to dissolve into the universe he screams in the privacy of
+his own head, /{I didn't know it felt like this}/ -
+Afterward, she turns to him with a lazy smile, and asks, "How was it for you?"
+Obviously assuming that, if she enjoyed it, he must have, too.
+But all he can think of is the sensation of the universe thrusting into him,
+and of how /{good}/ it felt. All he can hear is his father yelling ("What are
+you, some kind of queer?") - and he feels dirty.
+* * *
+_1 Greetings from the last megasecond before the discontinuity.
+_1 The solar system is thinking furiously at 10^33^ MIPS - thoughts bubble and
+swirl in the equivalent of a million billion unaugmented human minds. Saturn's
+rings glow with waste heat. The remaining faithful of the Latter-Day Saints are
+correlating the phase-space of their genome and the records of their descent in
+an attempt to resurrect their ancestors. Several skyhooks have unfurled in
+equatorial orbit around the earth like the graceful fernlike leaves of sundews,
+ferrying cargo and passengers to and from orbit. Small, crab like robots swarm
+the surface of Mercury, exuding a black slime of photovoltaic converters and
+the silvery threads of mass drivers. A glowing cloud of industrial nanomes
+forms a haze around the innermost planet as it slowly shrinks under the
+onslaught of copious solar power and determined mining robots.
+_1 The original incarnations of Amber and her court float in high orbit above
+Jupiter, presiding over the huge nexus of dumb matter trade that is rapidly
+biting into the available mass of the inner Jovian system. The trade in
+reaction mass is brisk, and there are shipments of diamond/vacuum biphase
+structures to assemble and crank down into the lower reaches of the solar
+system. Far below, skimming the edges of Jupiter's turbulent cloudscape, a
+gigantic glowing figure-of-eight - a five-hundred-kilometer-long loop of
+superconducting cable - traces incandescent trails through the gas giant's
+magnetosphere. It's trading momentum for electrical current, diverting it into
+a fly's eye grid of lasers that beam it toward Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},. As
+long as the original Amber and her incarnate team can keep it running, the
+/{Field Circus}/ can continue its mission of discovery, but they're part of the
+posthuman civilization evolving down in the turbulent depths of Sol system,
+part of the runaway train being dragged behind the out-of-control engine of
+_1 Weird new biologies based on complex adaptive matter take shape in the
+sterile oceans of Titan. In the frigid depths beyond Pluto, supercooled boson
+gases condense into impossible dreaming structures, packaged for shipping
+inward to the fast-thinking core.
+_1 There are still humans dwelling down in the hot depths, but it's getting
+hard to recognize them. The lot of humanity before the twenty-first century was
+nasty, brutish, and short. Chronic malnutrition, lack of education, and endemic
+diseases led to crippled minds and broken bodies. Now, most people multitask:
+Their meatbrains sit at the core of a haze of personality, much of it
+virtualized on stacked layers of structured reality far from their physical
+bodies. Wars and revolutions, or their subtle latter-day cognates, sweep the
+globe as constants become variables; many people find the death of stupidity
+even harder to accept than the end of mortality. Some have vitrified themselves
+to await an uncertain posthuman future. Others have modified their core
+identities to better cope with the changed demands of reality. Among these are
+beings whom nobody from a previous century would recognize as human -
+human/corporation half-breeds, zombie clades dehumanized by their own
+optimizations, angels and devils of software, slyly self-aware financial
+instruments. Even their popular fictions are self-deconstructing these days.
+_1 None of this, other than the barest news summary, reaches the /{Field
+Circus}/: The starwisp is a fossil, left behind by the broad sweep of
+accelerating progress. But it is aboard the /{Field Circus}/ that some of the
+most important events remaining in humanity's future light cone take place.
+* * *
+"Say hello to the jellyfish, Boris."
+Boris, in human drag, for once, glares at Pierre, and grips the pitcher with
+both hands. The contents of the jug swirl their tentacles lazily: One of them
+flips almost out of solution, dislodging an impaled cocktail cherry. "Will get
+you for this," Boris threatens. The smoky air around his head is a-swirl with
+daemonic visions of vengeance.
+Su Ang stares intently at Pierre who is watching Boris as he raises the jug to
+his lips and begins to drink. The baby jellyfish - small, pale blue, with
+cuboid bells and four clusters of tentacles trailing from each corner - slips
+down easily. Boris winces momentarily as the nematocysts let rip inside his
+mouth, but in a moment or so, the cubozoan slips down, and in the meantime, his
+biophysics model clips the extent of the damage to his stinger-ruptured
+"Wow," he says, taking another slurp of sea wasp margaritas. "Don't try this at
+home, fleshboy."
+"Here." Pierre reaches out. "Can I?"
+"Invent your own damn poison," Boris sneers - but he releases the jug and
+passes it to Pierre, who raises it and drinks. The cubozoan cocktail reminds
+him of fruit jelly drinks in a hot Hong Kong summer. The stinging in his palate
+is sharp but fades rapidly, producing an intimate burn when the alcohol hits
+the mild welts that are all this universe will permit the lethal medusa to
+inflict on him.
+"Not bad," says Pierre, wiping a stray loop of tentacle off his chin. He pushes
+the pitcher across the table toward Su Ang. "What's with the wicker man?" He
+points a thumb over his back at the table jammed in the corner opposite the
+copper-topped bar.
+"Who cares?" asks Boris."'S part of the scenery, isn't it?"
+The bar is a three-hundred-year-old brown café with a beer menu that runs to
+sixteen pages and wooden walls stained the color of stale ale. The air is thick
+with the smells of tobacco, brewer's yeast, and melatonin spray: and none of it
+exists. Amber dragged it out of the Franklin borg's collective memories, by way
+of her father's scattershot e-mails annotating her corporeal origins - the
+original is in Amsterdam, if that city still exists.
+"/{I}/ care who it is," says Pierre.
+"Save it," Ang says quietly. "I think it's a lawyer with a privacy screen."
+Pierre glances over his shoulder and glares. "Really?"
+Ang puts a restraining hand on his wrist: "Really. Don't pay it any attention.
+You don't have to, until the trial, you know."
+The wicker man sits uneasily in the corner. It resembles a basket-weave
+silhouette made from dried reeds, dressed in a red kerchief. A glass of
+doppelbock fills the mess of tied-off ends where its right hand ought to be.
+From time to time, it raises the glass as if to take a mouthful, and the beer
+vanishes into the singular interior.
+"Fuck the trial," Pierre says shortly. /{And fuck Amber, too, for naming me her
+public defender}/ -
+"Since when do lawsuits come with an invisible man?" asks Donna the Journalist,
+blitting into the bar along with a patchy historical trail hinting that she's
+just come from the back room.
+"Since -" Pierre blinks. "Hell." When Donna entered, so did Aineko; or maybe
+the cat's been there all the time, curled up loaf-of-bread fashion on the table
+in front of the wicker man. "You're damaging the continuity," Pierre complains.
+"This universe is broken."
+"Fix it yourself," Boris tells him. "Everybody else is coping." He snaps his
+fingers. "Waiter!"
+"Excuse me." Donna shakes her head. "I didn't mean to harm anything."
+Ang, as always, is more accommodating. "How are you?" she asks politely: "Would
+you like to try this most excellent poison cocktail?"
+"I am well," says Donna. A heavily built German woman - blonde and solidly
+muscular, according to the avatar she's presenting to the public - she's
+surrounded by a haze of viewpoints. They're camera angles on her society of
+mind, busily integrating and splicing her viewpoint threads together in an
+endless journal of the journey. A stringer for the CIA media consortium, she
+uploaded to the ship in the same packet stream as the lawsuit. "/{Danke}/,
+"Are you recording right now?" asks Boris.
+Donna sniffs. "When am I not?" A momentary smile: "I am only a scanner, no?
+Five hours, until arrival, to go. I may stop after then." Pierre glances across
+the table at Su Ang's hands; her knuckles are white and tense. "I am to avoid
+missing anything if possible," Donna continues, oblivious to Ang's disquiet.
+"There are eight of me at present! All recording away."
+"That's all?" Ang asks, raising an eyebrow.
+"Yes, that is all, and I have a job to do! Don't tell me you do not enjoy what
+it is that you do here?"
+"Right." Pierre glances in the corner again, avoiding eye contact with the
+hearty Girl Friday wannabe. He has a feeling, that if there were any hills
+hereabouts to animate, she'd be belting out the music. "Amber told you about
+the privacy code here?"
+"There is a privacy code?" asks Donna, swinging at least three subjective
+ghosts to bear on him for some reason - evidently he's hit an issue she has
+mixed feelings about.
+"A privacy code," Pierre confirms. "No recording in private, no recording where
+people withhold permission in public, and no sandboxes and cutups."
+Donna looks offended. "I would never do such a thing! Trapping a copy of
+someone in a virtual space to record their responses would be assault under
+Ring legal code, not true?"
+"Your mother," Boris says snidely, brandishing a fresh jug of iced killer
+jellyfish in her direction.
+"As long as we all agree," Ang interrupts, searching for accord. "It's all
+going to be settled soon, isn't it?"
+"Except for the lawsuit," mutters Pierre, glancing at the corner again.
+"I don't see the problem," says Donna, "that's just between Amber and her
+downlink adversaries!"
+"Oh, it's a problem all right," says Boris, his tone light. "What are your
+options worth?"
+"My -" Donna shakes her head. "I'm not vested."
+"Plausible." Boris doesn't crack a smile. "Even so, when we go home, your
+credibility metric will bulge. Assuming people still use distributed trust
+markets to evaluate the stability of their business partners."
+/{Not vested}/. Pierre turns it over in his mind, slightly surprised. He'd
+assumed that everybody aboard the ship - except, perhaps, the lawyer,
+Glashwiecz - was a fully vested member of the expeditionary company.
+"I am not vested," Donna insists. "I'm listed independently." For a moment, an
+almost-smile tugs at her face, a charmingly reticent expression that has
+nothing to do with her bluff exterior. "Like the cat."
+"The -" Pierre turns round in a hurry. Yes, Aineko appears to be sitting
+silently at the table with the wicker man; but who knows what's going through
+that furry head right now? /{I'll have to bring this up with Amber, he realizes
+uneasily. I ought to bring this up with Amber}/ ... "but your reputation won't
+suffer for being on this craft, will it?" he asks aloud.
+"I will be all right," Donna declares. The waiter comes over: "Mine will be a
+bottle of schneiderweisse," she adds. And then, without breaking step: "Do you
+believe in the singularity?"
+"Am I a singularitarian, do you mean?" asks Pierre, a fixed grin coming to his
+"Oh, no, no, no!" Donna waves him down, grins broadly, nods at Su Ang: "I do
+not mean it like that! Attend: What I meant to ask was whether you in the
+concept of a singularity believe, and if so, where it is?"
+"Is this intended for a public interview?" asks Ang.
+"Well, I cannot into a simulation drag you off and expose you to an imitative
+reality excursion, can I?" Donna leans back as the bartender places a ceramic
+stein in front of her.
+"Oh. Well." Ang glances warningly at Pierre and dispatches a very private memo
+to scroll across his vision: /{Don't play with her, this is serious}/. Boris is
+watching Ang with an expression of hopeless longing. Pierre tries to ignore it
+all, taking the journalist's question seriously. "The singularity is a bit like
+that old-time American Christian rapture nonsense, isn't it?" he says. "When we
+all go a-flying up to heaven, leaving our bodies behind." He snorts, reaches
+into thin air and gratuitously violates causality by summoning a jug of
+ice-cold sangria into existence. "The rapture of the nerds. I'll drink to
+"But when did it take place?" asks Donna. "My audience, they will to know your
+opinion be needing."
+"Four years ago, when we instantiated this ship," Pierre says promptly.
+"Back in the teens," says Ang. "When Amber's father liberated the uploaded
+"Is not happening yet," contributes Boris. "Singularity implies infinite rate
+of change achieved momentarily. Future not amenable thereafter to prediction by
+presingularity beings, right? So has not happened."
+"Au contraire. It happened on June 6th, 1969, at eleven hundred hours, eastern
+seaboard time," Pierre counters. "That was when the first network control
+protocol packets were sent from the data port of one IMP to another - the first
+ever Internet connection. /{That's}/ the singularity. Since then we've all been
+living in a universe that was impossible to predict from events prior to that
+"It's rubbish," counters Boris. "Singularity is load of religious junk.
+Christian mystic rapture recycled for atheist nerds."
+"Not so." Su Ang glances at him, hurt. "Here we are, sixty something human
+minds. We've been migrated - while still awake - right out of our own heads
+using an amazing combination of nanotechnology and electron spin resonance
+mapping, and we're now running as software in an operating system designed to
+virtualize multiple physics models and provide a simulation of reality that
+doesn't let us go mad from sensory deprivation! And this whole package is about
+the size of a fingertip, crammed into a starship the size of your grandmother's
+old Walkman, in orbit around a brown dwarf just over three light-years from
+home, on its way to plug into a network router created by incredibly ancient
+alien intelligences, and you can tell me that the idea of a fundamental change
+in the human condition is nonsense?"
+"Mmph." Boris looks perplexed. "Would not put it that way. The /{singularity}/
+is nonsense, not uploading or -"
+"Yah, right." Ang smiles winningly at Boris. After a moment, he wilts.
+Donna beams at them enthusiastically. "Fascinating!" she enthuses. "Tell me,
+what are these lobsters you think are important?"
+"They're Amber's friends," Ang explains. "Years ago, Amber's father did a deal
+with them. They were the first uploads, you know? Hybridized spiny lobster
+neural tissue and a heuristic API and some random mess of backward-chaining
+expert systems. They got out of their lab and into the Net and Manfred brokered
+a deal to set them free, in return for their help running a Franklin orbital
+factory. This was way back in the early days before they figured out how to do
+self-assembly properly. Anyway, the lobsters insisted - part of their contract
+- that Bob Franklin pay to have the deep-space tracking network beam them out
+into interstellar space. They wanted to emigrate, and looking at what's
+happened to the solar system since then, who can blame them?"
+Pierre takes a big mouthful of sangria. "The cat," he says.
+"The cat -" Donna's head swivels round, but Aineko has banged out again,
+retroactively editing her presence out of the event history of this public
+space. "What about the cat?"
+"The /{family}/ cat," explains Ang. She reaches over for Boris's pitcher of
+jellyfish juice, but frowns as she does so: "Aineko wasn't conscious back then,
+but later ... when SETI@home finally received that message back, oh, however
+many years ago, Aineko remembered the lobsters. And cracked it wide open while
+all the CETI teams were still thinking in terms of von Neumann architectures
+and concept-oriented programming. The message was a semantic net designed to
+mesh perfectly with the lobster broadcast all those years ago, and provide a
+high-level interface to a communications network we're going to visit." She
+squeezes Boris's fingertips. "SETI@home logged these coordinates as the origin
+of the transmission, even though the public word was that the message came from
+a whole lot farther away - they didn't want to risk a panic if people knew
+there were aliens on our cosmic doorstep. Anyway, once Amber got established,
+she decided to come visiting. Hence this expedition. Aineko created a virtual
+lobster and interrogated the ET packet, hence the communications channel we're
+about to open."
+"Ah, this is all a bit clearer now," says Donna. "But the lawsuit - " She
+glances at the hollow wicker man in the corner.
+"Well, there we have a problem," Ang says diplomatically.
+"No," says Pierre. "/{I}/ have a problem. And it's all Amber's fault."
+"Hmm?" Donna stares at him. "Why blame the Queen?"
+"Because she's the one who picked the lunar month to be the reporting time
+period for companies in her domain, and specified trial by combat for resolving
+corporate conflicts," he grumbles. "And /{compurgation}/, but that's not
+applicable to this case because there isn't a recognized reputation server
+within three light-years. Trial by combat, for civil suits in this day and age!
+And she appointed me her champion." /{In the most traditional way imaginable}/,
+he remembers with a warm frisson of nostalgia. He'd been hers in body and soul
+before that disastrous experiment. He isn't sure whether it still applies, but
+- "I've got to take on this lawsuit on her behalf, in adversarial stance."
+He glances over his shoulder. The wicker man sits there placidly, pouring beer
+down his invisible throat like a tired farm laborer.
+"Trial by combat," Su Ang explains to Donna's perplexed ghost-swarm, which is
+crawling all over the new concept in a haze of confusion. "Not physical combat,
+but a competition of ability. It seemed like a good idea at the time, to keep
+junk litigants out of the Ring Imperium, but the Queen Mother's lawyers are
+/{very}/ persistent. Probably because it's taken on something of a grudge match
+quality over the years. I don't think Pamela cares much anymore, but this
+ass-hat lawyer has turned it into a personal crusade. I don't think he liked
+what happened when the music Mafiya caught up with him. But there's a bit more
+to it, because if he wins, he gets to own everything. And I mean
+* * *
+Ten million kilometers out and Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, looms beyond the
+parachute-shaped sail of the /{Field Circus}/ like a rind of darkness bitten
+out of the edge of the universe. Heat from the gravitational contraction of its
+core keeps it warm, radiating at six hundred degrees absolute, but the paltry
+emission does nothing to break the eternal ice that grips Callidice, Iambe,
+Celeus, and Metaneira, the stillborn planets locked in orbit around the brown
+Planets aren't the only structures that orbit the massive sphere of hydrogen.
+Close in, skimming the cloud tops by only twenty thousand kilometers, Boris's
+phased-array eye has blinked at something metallic and hot. Whatever it is, it
+orbits out of the ecliptic plane traced by the icy moons, and in the wrong
+direction. Farther out, a speckle of reflected emerald laser light picks out a
+gaudy gem against the starscape: their destination, the router.
+"That's it," says Boris. His body shimmers into humanity, retconning the pocket
+universe of the bridge into agreeing that he's been present in primate form all
+along. Amber glances sideways. Sadeq is still wrapped in ivy, his skin the
+texture of weathered limestone. "Closest approach is sixty-three light-seconds,
+due in eight hundred thousand. Can give you closer contact if we maneuver, but
+will take time to achieve a stable orbit."
+Amber nods thoughtfully, sending copies of herself out to work the mechanics.
+The big light sail is unwieldy, but can take advantage of two power sources:
+the original laser beam from Jupiter, and its reflection bouncing off the
+now-distant primary light sail. The temptation is to rely on the laser for
+constant acceleration, to just motor on in and squat on the router's cosmic
+doorstep. But the risk of beam interruption is too dangerous. It's happened
+before, for seconds to minutes at a time, on six occasions during the voyage so
+far. She's not sure what causes the beam downtime (Pierre has a theory about
+Oort cloud objects occulting the laser, but she figures it's more likely to be
+power cuts back at the Ring), but the consequences of losing power while
+maneuvering deep in a quasi-stellar gravity well are much more serious than a
+transient loss of thrust during free interstellar flight. "Let's just play it
+safe," she says. "We'll go for a straight orbital insertion and steady cranking
+after that. We've got enough gravity wells to play pinball with. I don't want
+us on a free-flight trajectory that entails lithobraking if we lose power and
+can't get the sail back."
+"Very prudent," Boris agrees. "Marta, work on it." A buzzing presence of
+not-insects indicates that the heteromorphic helmswoman is on the job. "I think
+we should be able to take our first close-in look in about two million seconds,
+but if you want, I can ping it now ...?"
+"No need for protocol analysis," Amber says casually. "Where's - ah, there you
+are." She reaches down and picks up Aineko, who twists round sinuously and
+licks her arm with a tongue like sandpaper. "What do you think?"
+"Do you want fries with that?" asks the cat, focusing on the artifact at the
+center of the main screen in front of the bridge.
+"No, I just want a conversation," says Amber.
+"Well, okay." The cat dims, moves jerkily, sucking up local processing power so
+fast that it disturbs the local physics model. "Opening port now."
+A subjective minute or two passes. "Where's Pierre?" Amber asks herself
+quietly. Some of the maintenance metrics she can read from her privileged
+viewpoint are worrying. The /{Field Circus}/ is running at almost eighty
+percent of utilization. Whatever Aineko is doing in order to establish the
+interface to the router, it's taking up an awful lot of processing power and
+bandwidth. "And where's the bloody lawyer?" she adds, almost as an
+The /{Field Circus}/ is small, but its light sail is highly controllable.
+Aineko takes over a cluster of cells in its surface, turning them from straight
+reflectors into phase-conjugate mirrors: A small laser on the ship's hull
+begins to flicker thousands of times a second, and the beam bounces off the
+modified segment of mirror, focusing to a coherent point right in front of the
+distant blue dot of the router. Aineko ramps up the modulation frequency, adds
+a bundle of channels using different wavelengths, and starts feeding out a
+complex set of preplanned signals that provide an encoding format for
+high-level data.
+% check point
+"Leave the lawyer to me." She starts, glancing sideways to see Sadeq watching
+her. He smiles without showing his teeth. "Lawyers do not mix with diplomacy,"
+he explains.
+"Huh." Ahead of them, the router is expanding. Strings of nacreous spheres curl
+in strange loops around a hidden core, expanding and turning inside out in
+systolic pulses that spawn waves of recomplication through the structure. A
+loose red speckle of laser light stains one arm of beads; suddenly it flares up
+brilliantly, reflecting data back at the ship. "Ah!"
+"Contact," purrs the cat. Amber's fingertips turn white where she grips the
+arms of her chair.
+"What does it say?" she asks, quietly.
+"What do /{they}/ say," corrects Aineko. "It's a trade delegation, and they're
+uploading right now. I can use that negotiation network they sent us to give
+them an interface to our systems if you want."
+"Wait!" Amber half stands in sudden nervousness. "Don't give them free access!
+What are you thinking of? Stick them in the throne room, and we'll give them a
+formal audience in a couple of hours." She pauses. "That network layer they
+sent through. Can you make it accessible to us, use it to give us a translation
+layer into their grammar-mapping system?"
+The cat looks round, thumps her tail irritably: "You'd do better loading the
+network yourself -"
+"I don't want /{anybody}/ on this ship running alien code before we've vetted
+it thoroughly," she says urgently. "In fact, I want them bottled up in the
+Louvre grounds, just as thoroughly as we can, and I want them to come to us
+through our own linguistic bottleneck. Got that?"
+"Clear," Aineko grumbles.
+"A trade delegation," Amber thinks aloud. "What would Dad make of that?"
+* * *
+One moment he's in the bar, shooting bull with Su Ang and Donna the
+Journalist's ghost and a copy of Boris; the next he's abruptly precipitated
+into a very different space.
+Pierre's heart seems to tumble within his rib cage, but he forces himself to
+stay calm as he glances around the dim, oak-paneled chamber. This is wrong, so
+wrong that it signifies either a major systems crash or the application of
+frightening privilege levels to his realm. The only person aboard who's
+entitled to those privileges is -
+She's behind him. He turns angrily. "Why did you drag me in here? Don't you
+know it's rude to -"
+He stops and looks at Amber. He can't stay angry at her for long, not to her
+face. She's not dumb enough to bat her eyelashes at him, but she's disarmingly
+cute for all that. Nevertheless, something inside him feels shriveled and
+/{wrong}/ in her presence. "What is it?" he says, curtly.
+"I don't know why you've been avoiding me." She starts to take a step forward,
+then stops and bites her lip. /{Don't do this to me!}/ he thinks. "You know it
+"Yes." That much of an admission hurts him, too. He can hear his father yelling
+over his shoulder, the time he found him with Laurent, elder brother: It's a
+choice between père or Amber, but it's not a choice he wants to make. /{The
+shame}/. "I didn't - I have some issues."
+"It was the other night?"
+He nods. /{Now}/ she takes a step forwards. "We can talk about it, if you want.
+Whatever you want," she says. And she leans toward him, and he feels his
+resistance crumbling. He reaches out and hugs her, and she wraps her arms
+around him and leans her chin on his shoulder, and this doesn't feel wrong: How
+can anything this good be bad?
+"It made me uncomfortable," he mumbles into her hair. "Need to sort myself
+"Oh, Pierre." She strokes the down at the back of his neck. "You should have
+said. We don't have to do it that way if you don't want to."
+How to tell her how hard it is to admit that anything's wrong? Ever? "You
+didn't drag me here to tell me that," he says, implicitly changing the subject.
+Amber lets go of him, backs away almost warily. "What is it?" she asks.
+"Something's wrong?" he half asks, half asserts. "Have we made contact yet?"
+"Yeah," she says, pulling a face. "There's an alien trade delegation in the
+Louvre. That's the problem."
+"An alien trade delegation." He rolls the words around the inside of his mouth,
+tasting them. They feel paradoxical, cold and slow after the hot words of
+passion he's been trying to avoid uttering. It's his fault for changing the
+"A trade delegation," says Amber. "I should have anticipated. I mean, we were
+going to go through the router ourselves, weren't we?"
+He sighs. "We thought we were going to do that." A quick prod at the universe's
+controls determines that he has certain capabilities: He invokes an armchair,
+sprawls across it. "A network of point-to-point wormholes linking routers,
+self-replicating communication hubs, in orbit around most of the brown dwarfs
+of the galaxy. That's what the brochure said, right? That's what we expected.
+Limited bandwidth, not a lot of use to a mature superintelligence that has
+converted the free mass of its birth solar system into computronium, but
+sufficient to allow it to hold conversations with its neighbors. Conversations
+carried out via a packet-switched network in real time, not limited by the
+speed of light, but bound together by a common reference frame and the latency
+between network hops."
+"That's about the size of it," she agrees from the carved-ruby throne beside
+him. "Except there's a trade delegation waiting for us. In fact, they're coming
+aboard already. And I don't buy it - something about the whole setup stinks."
+Pierre's brow wrinkles. "You're right, it doesn't make sense," he says,
+finally. "Doesn't make sense at all."
+Amber nods. "I carry a ghost of Dad around. He's really upset about it."
+"Listen to your old man." Pierre's lips quirk humorlessly. "We were going to
+jump through the looking glass, but it seems someone has beaten us to the
+punch. Question is why?"
+"I don't like it." Amber reaches out sideways, and he catches her hand. "And
+then there's the lawsuit. We have to hold the trial sooner rather than later."
+He lets go of her fingers. "I'd really be much happier if you hadn't named me
+as your champion."
+"Hush." The scenery changes; her throne is gone, and instead she's sitting on
+the arm of his chair, almost on top of him. "Listen. I had a good reason."
+"You have choice of weapons. In fact, you have the choice of the field. This
+isn't just 'hit 'em with a sword until they die' time." She grins, impishly.
+"The whole point of a legal system that mandates trial by combat for commercial
+lawsuits, as opposed to an adjudication system, is to work out who's a fitter
+servant of society and hence deserving of preferential treatment. It's crazy to
+apply the same legal model to resolving corporate disputes that we use for
+arguments among people, especially as most companies are now software
+abstractions of business models; the interests of society are better served by
+a system that encourages efficient trade activity than by one that encourages
+litigation. It cuts down on corporate bullshit while encouraging the toughest
+ones to survive, which is why I /{was}/ going to set up the trial as a contest
+to achieve maximum competitive advantage in a xenocommerce scenario. Assuming
+they really are traders, I figure we have more to trade with them than some
+damn lawyer from the depths of earth's light cone."
+Pierre blinks. "Um." Blinks again. "I thought you wanted me to sideload some
+kind of fencing kinematics program and /{skewer}/ the guy?"
+"Knowing how well I know you, why did you ever think that?" She slides down the
+arm of his chair and lands on his lap. She twists round to face him in
+point-blank close-up. "Shit, Pierre, I /{know}/ you're not some kind of macho
+"But your mother's lawyers -"
+She shrugs dismissively. "They're /{lawyers}/. Used to dealing with precedents.
+Best way to fuck with their heads is to change the way the universe works." She
+leans against his chest. "You'll make mincemeat of them. Profit-to-earnings
+ratio through the roof, blood on the stock exchange floor." His hands meet
+around the small of her back. "My hero!"
+* * *
+The Tuileries are full of confused lobsters.
+Aineko has warped this virtual realm, implanting a symbolic gateway in the
+carefully manicured gardens outside. The gateway is about two meters in
+diameter, a verdigris-coated orouborous loop of bronze that sits like an
+incongruous archway astride a gravel path in the grounds. Giant black lobsters
+- each the size of a small pony - shuffle out of the loop's baby blue buffer
+field, antennae twitching. They wouldn't be able to exist in the real world,
+but the physics model here has been amended to permit them to breathe and move,
+by special dispensation.
+Amber sniffs derisively as she enters the great reception room of the Sully
+wing. "Can't trust that cat with anything," she mutters.
+"It was your idea, wasn't it?" asks Su Ang, trying to duck past the zombie
+ladies-in-waiting who carry Amber's train. Soldiers line the passage to either
+side, forming rows of steel to let the Queen pass unhindered.
+"To let the cat have its way, yes," Amber is annoyed. "But I didn't mean to let
+it wreck the continuity! I won't have it!"
+"I never saw the point of all this medievalism, before," Ang observes. "It's
+not as if you can avoid the singularity by hiding in the past." Pierre,
+following the Queen at a distance, shakes his head, knowing better than to pick
+a fight with Amber over her idea of stage scenery.
+"It looks good," Amber says tightly, standing before her throne and waiting for
+the ladies-in-waiting to arrange themselves before her. She sits down
+carefully, her back straight as a ruler, voluminous skirts belling up. Her
+dress is an intricate piece of sculpture that uses the human body within as a
+support. "It impresses the yokels and looks convincing on narrowcast media. It
+provides a prefabricated sense of tradition. It hints at the political depths
+of fear and loathing intrinsic to my court's activities, and tells people not
+to fuck with me. It reminds us where we've come from ... and it doesn't give
+away anything about where we're going."
+"But that doesn't make any difference to a bunch of alien lobsters," points out
+Su Ang. "They lack the reference points to understand it." She moves to stand
+behind the throne. Amber glances at Pierre, waves him over.
+Pierre glances around, seeking real people, not the vacant eigenfaces of the
+zombies that give this scenery added biological texture. There in the red gown,
+isn't that Donna the Journalist? And over there, too, with shorter hair and
+wearing male drag; she gets everywhere. That's Boris, sitting behind the
+"/{You}/ tell her," Ang implores him.
+"I can't," he admits. "We're trying to establish communication, aren't we? But
+we don't want to give too much away about what we are, how we think. A
+historical distancing act will keep them from learning too much about us: The
+phase-space of technological cultures that could have descended from these
+roots is too wide to analyse easily. So we're leaving them with the lobster
+translators and not giving anything away. Try to stay in character as a
+fifteenth-century duchess from Albì - it's a matter of national security."
+"Humph." Ang frowns as a flunky hustles forward to place a folding chair behind
+her. She turns to face the expanse of red-and-gold carpet that stretches to the
+doorway as trumpets blat and the doors swing open to admit the deputation of
+The lobsters are as large as wolves, black and spiny and ominous. Their
+monochrome carapaces are at odds with the brightly colored garb of the human
+crowd. Their antennae are large and sharp as swords. But for all that, they
+advance hesitantly, eye turrets swiveling from side to side as they take the
+scene in. Their tails drag ponderously on the carpet, but they have no trouble
+The first of the lobsters halts short of the throne and angles itself to train
+an eye on Amber. "Am inconsistent," it complains. "There is no liquid hydrogen
+monoxide here, and you-species am misrepresented by initial contact.
+Inconsistency, explain?"
+"Welcome to the human physical space-traveling interface unit /{Field
+Circus}/," Amber replies calmly. "I am pleased to see your translator is
+working adequately. You are correct, there is no water here. The lobsters don't
+normally need it when they visit us. And we humans are not water-dwellers. May
+I ask who you are when you're not wearing borrowed lobster bodies?"
+Confusion. The second lobster rears up and clatters its long, armored antennae
+together. Soldiers to either side tighten their grips on their spears, but it
+drops back down again soon enough.
+"We are the Wunch," announces the first lobster, speaking clearly. "This is a
+body-compliant translation layer. Based on map received from yourspace, units
+forty thousand trillion light-kilometers ago?"
+"/{He means twenty years}/," Pierre whispers on a private channel Amber has
+multicast for the other real humans in the audience chamber reality. "/{They've
+confused space and time for measurement purposes. Does this tell us
+"/{Relatively little}/," comments someone else - Chandra? A round of polite
+laughter greets the joke, and the tension in the room eases slightly.
+"We are the Wunch," the lobster repeats. "We come to exchange interest. What
+have you got that we want?"
+Faint frown lines appear on Amber's forehead. Pierre can see her thinking very
+rapidly. "We consider it impolite to ask," she says quietly.
+Clatter of claws on underlying stone floor. Chatter of clicking mandibles. "You
+accept our translation?" asks the leader.
+"Are you referring to the transmission you sent us, uh, thirty thousand
+trillion light-kilometers behind?" asks Amber.
+The lobster bobs up and down on its legs. "True. We send."
+"We cannot integrate that network," Amber replies blandly, and Pierre forces
+himself to keep a straight face. (Not that the lobsters can read human body
+language yet, but they'll undoubtedly be recording everything that happens here
+for future analysis.) "They come from a radically different species. Our goal
+in coming here is to connect our species to the network. We wish to exchange
+advantageous information with many other species."
+Concern, alarm, agitation. "You cannot do that! You are not /{untranslatable
+entity signifier}/."
+Amber raises a hand. "You said /{untranslatable entity signifier}/. I did not
+understand that. Can you paraphrase?"
+"We, like you, are not /{untranslatable entity signifier}/. The network is for
+/{untranslatable entity signifier}/. We are to the /{untranslatable concept
+#1}/ as a single-celled organism is to ourselves. You and we cannot
+/{untranslatable concept #2}/. To attempt trade with /{untranslatable entity
+signifier}/ is to invite death or transition to /{untranslatable concept #1}/."
+Amber snaps her fingers: time freezes. She glances round at Su Ang, Pierre, the
+other members of her primary team. "Opinions, anyone?"
+Aineko, hitherto invisible, sits up on the carpet at the foot of the dais. "I'm
+not sure. The reason those macros are tagged is that there's something wrong
+with their semantics."
+"Wrong with - how?" asks Su Ang.
+The cat grins, cavernously, and begins to fade. "Wait!" snaps Amber.
+Aineko continues her fade, but leaves a shimmering presence behind: not a grin,
+but a neural network weighting map, three-dimensional and incomprehensibly
+complicated. "The /{untranslatable entity concept #1}/ when mapped onto the
+lobster's grammar network has elements of 'god' overloaded with attributes of
+mysticism and zenlike incomprehensibility. But I'm pretty sure that what it
+/{really}/ means is 'optimized conscious upload that runs much faster than
+real-time'. A type-one weakly superhuman entity, like, um, the folks back home.
+The implication is that this Wunch wants us to view them as gods." The cat
+fades back in. "Any takers?"
+"Small-town hustlers," mutters Amber. "Talking big - or using a dodgy
+metagrammar that makes them sound bigger than they are - to bilk the hayseeds
+new to the big city."
+"Most likely." Aineko turns and begins to wash her flank.
+"What are we going to do?" asks Su Ang.
+"Do?" Amber raises a pencil-lined eyebrow, then flashes a grin that chops a
+decade off her apparent age: "We're going to mess with their heads!" She snaps
+her fingers again and time unfreezes. There's no change in continuity except
+that Aineko is still present, at the foot of the throne. The cat looks up and
+gives the queen a dirty look. "We understand your concern," Amber says
+smoothly, "but we have already given you the physiology models and neural
+architecture of the bodies that you are wearing. We want to communicate. Why
+won't you show us your real selves or your real language?"
+"This is trade language!" protests Lobster Number One. "Wunch am/are
+metabolically variable coalition from number of worlds. No uniformity of
+interface. Easiest to conform to one plan and speak one tongue optimized for
+your comprehension."
+"Hmm." Amber leans forward. "Let me see if I understand you. You are a
+coalition of individuals from a number of species. You prefer to use the common
+user interface model we sent you, and offered us the language module you're
+using for an exchange? And you want to trade with us."
+"Exchange interest," the Wunch emphasizes, bouncing up and down on its legs.
+"Can offer much! Sense of identity of a thousand civilizations. Safe tunnels to
+a hundred archives on the net suitable for beings who are not /{untranslatable
+entity signifier}/. Able to control risks of communication. Have technique of
+manipulating matter at molecular level. Solution to algorithmic iterated
+systems based on quantum entanglement."
+"/{Old-fashioned nanotechnology and shiny beads to dazzle the primitives}/,"
+Pierre mutters on Amber's multicast channel. "/{How backward do they think we
+% note italics marked differently should have been "H/{ow backward do they
+think we are}/?"
+"/{The physics model in here is really overdone}/," comments Boris. "/{They may
+even think this is real, that we're primitives coat-tailing it on the back of
+the lobsters' efforts}/."
+Amber forces a smile. "That is most interesting!" she trills at the Wunch's
+representatives. "I have appointed two representatives who will negotiate with
+you; this is an internal contest within my own court. I commend to you Pierre
+Naqet, my own commercial representative. In addition, you may want to deal with
+Alan Glashwiecz, an independent factor who is not currently present. Others may
+come forward in due course if that is acceptable."
+"It pleases us," says Lobster Number One. "We are tired and disoriented by the
+long journey through gateways to this place. Request resumption of negotiations
+"By all means." Amber nods. A sergeant-at-arms, a mindless but impressive
+zimboe controlled by her spider's nest of personality threads, blows a sharp
+note on his trumpet. The first audience is at an end.
+* * *
+_1 Outside the light cone of the /{Field Circus}/, on the other side of the
+spacelike separation between Amber's little kingdom in motion and the depths of
+empire time that grip the solar system's entangled quantum networks, a singular
+new reality is taking shape.
+_1 Welcome to the moment of maximum change.
+_1 About ten billion humans are alive in the solar system, each mind surrounded
+by an exocortex of distributed agents, threads of personality spun right out of
+their heads to run on the clouds of utility fog - infinitely flexible computing
+resources as thin as aerogel - in which they live. The foggy depths are alive
+with high-bandwidth sparkles; most of Earth's biosphere has been wrapped in
+cotton wool and preserved for future examination. For every living human, a
+thousand million software agents carry information into the farthest corners of
+the consciousness address space.
+_1 The sun, for so long an unremarkable mildly variable G2 dwarf, has vanished
+within a gray cloud that englobes it except for a narrow belt around the plane
+of the ecliptic. Sunlight falls, unchanged, on the inner planets: Except for
+Mercury, which is no longer present, having been dismantled completely and
+turned into solar-powered high-temperature nanocomputers. A much fiercer light
+falls on Venus, now surrounded by glittering ferns of carbon crystals that pump
+angular momentum into the barely spinning planet via huge superconducting loops
+wound around its equator. This planet, too, is due to be dismantled. Jupiter,
+Neptune, Uranus - all sprout rings as impressive as Saturn's. But the task of
+cannibalizing the gas giants will take many times longer than the small rocky
+bodies of the inner system.
+_1 The ten billion inhabitants of this radically changed star system remember
+being human; almost half of them predate the millennium. Some of them still
+/{are}/ human, untouched by the drive of meta-evolution that has replaced blind
+Darwinian change with a goal-directed teleological progress. They cower in
+gated communities and hill forts, mumbling prayers and cursing the ungodly
+meddlers with the natural order of things. But eight out of every ten living
+humans are included in the phase-change. It's the most inclusive revolution in
+the human condition since the discovery of speech.
+_1 A million outbreaks of gray goo - runaway nanoreplicator excursions -
+threaten to raise the temperature of the biosphere dramatically. They're all
+contained by the planetary-scale immune system fashioned from what was once the
+World Health Organization. Weirder catastrophes threaten the boson factories in
+the Oort cloud. Antimatter factories hover over the solar poles. Sol system
+shows all the symptoms of a runaway intelligence excursion, exuberant blemishes
+as normal for a technological civilization as skin problems on a human
+_1 The economic map of the planet has changed beyond recognition. Both
+capitalism and communism, bickering ideological children of a protoindustrial
+outlook, are as obsolete as the divine right of kings: Companies are alive, and
+dead people may live again, too. Globalism and tribalism have run to
+completion, diverging respectively into homogeneous interoperability and the
+Schwarzschild radius of insularity. Beings that remember being human plan the
+deconstruction of Jupiter, the creation of a great simulation space that will
+expand the habitat available within the solar system. By converting all the
+nonstellar mass of the solar system into processors, they can accommodate as
+many human-equivalent minds as a civilization with a planet hosting ten billion
+humans in orbit around every star in the galaxy.
+_1 A more mature version of Amber lives down in the surging chaos of
+near-Jupiter space; there's an instance of Pierre, too, although he has
+relocated light-hours away, near Neptune. Whether she still sometimes thinks of
+her relativistic twin, nobody can tell. In a way, it doesn't matter, because by
+the time the /{Field Circus}/ returns to Jupiter orbit, as much subjective time
+will have elapsed for the fast-thinkers back home as will flash by in the real
+universe between this moment and the end of the era of star formation, many
+billions of years hence.
+* * *
+"As your theologian, I am telling you that they are not gods."
+Amber nods patiently. She watches Sadeq closely.
+Sadeq coughs grumpily. "Tell her, Boris."
+Boris tilts his chair back and turns it toward the Queen. "He is right, Amber.
+They are traders, and not clever ones either. Is hard to get handle on their
+semiotics while they hide behind the lobster model we uploaded in their
+direction twenty years ago, but are certainly not crusties, and are definite
+not human either. Or transhuman. My guess, they are bunch of dumb hicks who get
+hands on toys left behind by much smarter guys. Like the rejectionist factions
+back home. Imagine they are waking up one morning and find everyone else is
+gone to the great upload environment in the sky. Leaving them with the planet
+to themselves. What you think they do with whole world, with any gadgets they
+trip over? Some will smash everything they come across, but others not so
+stupid. But they think /{small}/. Scavengers, deconstructionists. Their whole
+economic outlook are negative-sum game. Go visit aliens to rip them off, take
+ideas, not expand selves and transcend."
+Amber stands up, walks toward the windows at the front of the bridge. In black
+jeans and chunky sweater, she barely resembles the feudal queen whose role she
+plays for tourists. "Taking them on board was a big risk. I'm not happy about
+"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" Sadeq smiles crookedly. "We
+have an answer. But they may not even realize they are dancing with us. These
+are not the gods you were afraid of finding."
+"No." Amber sighs. "Not too different from us, though. I mean, we aren't
+exactly well adapted to this environment, are we? We tote these body-images
+along, rely on fake realities that we can map into our human-style senses.
+We're emulations, not native AIs. Where's Su Ang?"
+"I can find her." Boris frowns.
+"I asked her to analyse the alien's arrival times," Amber adds as an
+afterthought. "They're close - too close. And they showed up too damn fast when
+we first tickled the router. I think Aineko's theories are flawed. The /{real}/
+owners of this network we've plugged into probably use much higher-level
+protocols to communicate; sapient packets to build effective communications
+gateways. This Wunch, they probably lurk in wait for newbies to exploit.
+Pedophiles hiding outside the school gate. I don't want to give them that
+opportunity before we make contact with the real thing!"
+"You may have little choice," says Sadeq. "If they are without insight, as you
+suspect, they may become afraid if you edit their environment. They may lash
+out. I doubt they even understand how they created the contaminated metagrammar
+that they transmitted back to us. It will be to them just a tool that makes
+simpleminded aliens more gullible, easier to negotiate with. Who knows where
+they got it?"
+"A grammatical weapon." Boris spins himself round slowly. "Build propaganda
+into your translation software if you want to establish a favorable trading
+relationship. How cute. Haven't these guys ever heard of Newspeak?"
+"Probably not," Amber says slowly, pausing for a moment to spawn spectator
+threads to run down the book and all three movie versions of Nineteen
+Eighty-Four, followed by the sharecropped series of sequel novels. She shivers
+uncomfortably as she re-integrates the memories. "Ick. That's not a very nice
+vision. Reminds me of" - she snaps her fingers, trying to remember Dad's
+favorite - "Dilbert."
+"Friendly fascism," says Sadeq. "It matters not, whosoever is in charge. I
+could tell you tales from my parents, of growing up with a revolution. To never
+harbor self-doubt is poison for the soul, and these aliens want to inflict
+their certainties upon us."
+"I think we ought to see how Pierre is doing," Amber says aloud. "I certainly
+don't want them poisoning him." Grin: "That's /{my job}/."
+* * *
+Donna the Journalist is everywhere simultaneously. It's a handy talent: Makes
+for even-handed news coverage when you can interview both sides at the same
+Right now, one of her is in the bar with Alan Glashwiecz, who evidently hasn't
+realized that he can modulate his ethanol dehydrogenase levels voluntarily and
+who is consequently well on the way to getting steaming drunk. Donna is
+assisting the process: She finds it fascinating to watch this bitter young man
+who has lost his youth to a runaway self-enhancement process.
+"I'm a full partner," he says bitterly, "in Glashwiecz and Selves. I'm one of
+the Selves. We're all partners, but it's only Glashwiecz Prime who has any
+clout. The old bastard - if I'd known I'd grow up to become /{that}/, I'd have
+run away to join some hippie antiglobalist commune instead." He drains his
+glass, demonstrating his oropharyngeal integrity, snaps his fingers for a
+refill. "I just woke up one morning to find I'd been resurrected by my older
+self. He said he valued my youthful energy and optimistic outlook, then offered
+me a minority stake with stock options that would take five years to vest. The
+"Tell me about it," Donna coaxes sympathetically. "Here we are, stranded among
+idiopathic types, not among them a single multiplex -"
+"Damn straight." Another bottle of Bud appears in Glashwiecz'a hands. "One
+moment I'm standing in this apartment in Paris facing total humiliation by a
+cross-dressing commie asshole called Macx and his slimy French manager bitch,
+and the next I'm on the carpet in front of my alter ego's desk and he's
+offering me a job as junior partner. It's seventeen years later, all the weird
+nonsense that guy Macx was getting up to is standard business practice, and
+there's six of me in the outer office taking research notes because
+myself-as-senior-partner doesn't trust anyone else to work with him. It's
+humiliating, that's what it is."
+"Which is why you're here." Donna waits while he takes a deep swig from the
+"Yeah. Better than working for myself, I can tell you - it's not like being
+self-employed. You know how you sometimes get distant from your work? It's
+really bad when you see yourself from the outside with another half gigasecond
+of experience and the new-you isn't just distant from the client base, he's
+distant from the you-you. So I went back to college and crammed up on
+artificial intelligence law and ethics, the jurisprudence of uploading, and
+recursive tort. Then I volunteered to come out here. He's still handling
+/{her}/ account, and I figured -" Glashwiecz shrugged.
+"Did any of the delta-yous contest the arrangement?" asks Donna, spawning
+ghosts to focus in on him from all angles. For a moment, she wonders if this is
+wise. Glashwiecz is dangerous - the power he wields over Amber's mother, to
+twist her arm into extending his power of attorney, hints at dark secrets.
+Maybe there's more to her persistent lawsuits than a simple family feud?
+Glashwiecz's face is a study in perspectives. "Oh, one did," he says
+dismissively: One of Donna's viewports captures the contemptuous twitch in his
+cheek. "I left her in my apartment freezer. Figured it'd be a while before
+anybody noticed. It's not murder - I'm still here, right? - and I'm not about
+to claim tort against myself. I think. It'd be a left-recursive lawsuit,
+anyway, if I did it to myself."
+"The aliens," prompts Donna, "and the trial by combat. What's your take on
+Glashwiecz sneers. "Little bitch-queen takes after her father, doesn't she?
+He's a bastard, too. The competitive selection filter she's imposed is evil -
+it'll cripple her society if she leaves it in place for too long, but in the
+short run, it's a major advantage. So she wants me to trade for my life, and I
+don't get to lay my formal claim against her unless I can outperform her pet
+day trader, that punk from Marseilles. Yes? What he doesn't know is, I've got
+an edge. Full disclosure." He lifts his bottle drunkenly. "Y'see, I know that
+/{cat}/. One that's gotta brown @-sign on its side, right? It used to belong to
+queenie-darling's old man, Manfred, the bastard. You'll see. Her Mom, Pamela,
+Manfred's ex, she's my client in this case. And she gave me the cat's ackle
+keys. Access control." (Hic.) "Get ahold of its brains and grab that damn
+translation layer it stole from the CETI@home mob. /{Then}/ I can talk to them
+The drunken, future-shocked lawyer is on a roll. "I'll get their shit, and I'll
+disassemble it. Disassembly is the future of industry, y'know?"
+"Disassembly?" asks the reporter, watching him in disgusted fascination from
+behind her mask of objectivity.
+"Hell, yeah. There's a singularity going on, that implies disequilibrium. An'
+wherever there's a disequilibrium, someone is going to get /{rich}/
+disassembling the leftovers. Listen, I once knew this econo-economist, that's
+what he was. Worked for the Eurofeds, rubber fetishist. He tole me about this
+fact'ry near Barcelona. It had a disassembly line running in it. Spensive
+servers in boxes'd roll in at one end. Be unpacked. Then workers'd take the
+cases off, strip the disk drives, memory, processors, bits'n'guts out. Bag and
+tag job. Throw the box, what's left, 'cause it wasn't worth dick. Thing is, the
+manufact'rer charged so much for parts, it was worth their while to buy whole
+machines'n'strip them. To bits. And sell the bits. Hell, they got an enterprise
+award for ingenuity! All 'cause they knew that /{disassembly}/ was the wave of
+the future."
+"What happened to the factory?" asks Donna, unable to tear her eyes away.
+Glashwiecz waves an empty bottle at the starbow that stretches across the
+ceiling: "Ah, who gives a fuck? They closedown round about" (hic) "ten years
+'go. Moore's Law topped out, killed the market. But disassembly - production
+line cannibalism - it'sa way to go. Take old assets an' bring new life to them.
+A fully 'preciated fortune." He grins, eyes unfocussed with greed. "'S'what I'm
+gonna do to those space lobsters. Learn to talk their language an'll never know
+what hit 'em."
+* * *
+The tiny starship drifts in high orbit above a turbid brown soup of atmosphere.
+Deep in the gravity well of Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},, it's a speck of dust
+trapped between two light sources: the brilliant sapphire stare of Amber's
+propulsion lasers in Jovian orbit, and the emerald insanity of the router
+itself, a hypertoroid spun from strange matter.
+The bridge of the /{Field Circus}/ is in constant use at this time, a meeting
+ground for minds with access to the restricted areas. Pierre is spending more
+and more time here, finding it a convenient place to focus his trading campaign
+and arbitrage macros. At the same time that Donna is picking the multiplexed
+lawyer's strategy apart, Pierre is present in neomorphic form - a quicksilver
+outline of humanity, six-armed and two-headed, scanning with inhuman speed
+through tensor maps of the information traffic density surrounding the router's
+clump of naked singularities.
+There's a flicker in the emptiness at the rear of the bridge, then Su Ang has
+always been there. She watches Pierre in contemplative silence for a minute.
+"Do you have a moment?"
+Pierre superimposes himself: One shadowy ghost keeps focused on the front
+panel, but another instance turns round, crosses his arms, waits for her to
+"I know you're busy -" she begins, then stops. "Is it /{that}/ important?" she
+"It is." Pierre blurs, resynchronizing his instances. "The router - there are
+four wormholes leading off from it, did you know that? Each of them is
+radiating at about 1011 Kelvins, and every wavelength is carrying data
+connections, multiplexed, with a protocol stack that's at least eleven layers
+deep but maybe more - they show signs of self-similarity in the framing
+headers. You know how much data that is? It's about 1012 times as much as our
+high-bandwidth uplink from home. But compared to what's on the other side of
+the 'holes -" he shakes his head.
+"It's big?"
+"It's unimaginably big! These wormholes, they're a /{low-bandwidth}/ link
+compared to the minds they're hooking up to." He blurs in front of her, unable
+to stay still and unable to look away from the front panel. Excitement or
+agitation? Su Ang can't tell. With Pierre, sometimes the two states are
+indistinguishable. He gets emotional easily. "I think we have the outline of
+the answer to the Fermi paradox. Transcendents don't go traveling because they
+can't get enough bandwidth - trying to migrate through one of these wormholes
+would be like trying to download your mind into a fruit fly, if they are what I
+think they are - and the slower-than-light route is out, too, because they
+couldn't take enough computronium along. Unless -"
+He's off again. But before he can blur out, Su Ang steps across and lays hands
+on him. "Pierre. Calm down. Disengage. Empty yourself."
+"I can't!" He really /{is}/ agitated, she sees. "I've got to figure out the
+best trading strategy to get Amber off the hook with that lawsuit, then tell
+her to get us out of here; being this close to the router is seriously
+dangerous! The Wunch are the least of it."
+He pauses his multiplicity of presences, converges on a single identity focused
+on the here and now. "Yes?"
+"That's better." She walks round him, slowly. "You've got to learn to deal with
+stress more appropriately."
+"Stress!" Pierre snorts. He shrugs, an impressive gesture with three sets of
+shoulder blades. "That's something I can turn off whenever I need to. Side
+effect of this existence; we're pigs in cyberspace, wallowing in fleshy
+simulations, but unable to experience the new environment in the raw. What did
+you want from me, Ang? Honestly? I'm a busy man, I've got a trading network to
+set up."
+"We've got a problem with the Wunch right now, even if you think something
+worse is out there," Ang says patiently. "Boris thinks they're parasites,
+negative-sum gamers who stalk newbies like us. Glashwiecz is apparently talking
+about cutting a deal with them. Amber's suggestion is that you ignore them
+completely, cut them out, and talk to anyone else who'll listen."
+"Anyone else who'll listen, right," Pierre says heavily. "Any other gems of
+wisdom to pass on from the throne?"
+Ang takes a deep breath. He's infuriating, she realizes. And worst of all, he
+doesn't realize. Infuriating but cute. "You're setting up a trading network,
+yes?" she asks.
+"Yes. A standard network of independent companies, instantiated as cellular
+automata within the Ring Imperium switched legal service environment." He
+relaxes slightly. "Each one has access to a compartmentalized chunk of
+intellectual property and can call on the corrected parser we got from that
+cat. They're set up to communicate with a blackboard system - a souk - and I'm
+bringing up a link to the router, a multicast link that'll broadcast the souk's
+existence to anyone who's listening. Trade ..." his eyebrows furrow. "There are
+at least two different currency standards in this network, used to buy
+quality-of-service precedence and bandwidth. They depreciate with distance, as
+if the whole concept of money was invented to promote the development of
+long-range network links. If I can get in first, when Glashwiecz tries to cut
+in on the dealing by offering IP at discounted rates -"
+"He's not going to, Pierre," she says as gently as possible. "Listen to what I
+said: Glashwiecz is going to focus on the Wunch. He's going to offer them a
+deal. Amber wants you to /{ignore}/ them. Got that?"
+"Got it." There's a hollow /{bong!}/ from one of the communication bells. "Hey,
+that's interesting."
+"What is?" She stretches, neck extending snakelike so that she can see the
+window on underlying reality that's flickered into existence in the air before
+"An ack from ..." he pauses, then plucks a neatly reified concept from the
+screen in front of him and presents it to her in a silvery caul of light. "...
+about two hundred light-years away! Someone wants to talk." He smiles. Then the
+front panel workstation bong's again. "Hey again. I wonder what that says."
+It's the work of a moment to pipe the second message through the translator.
+Oddly, it doesn't translate at first. Pierre has to correct for some weird
+destructive interference in the fake lobster network before it'll spill its
+guts. "That's interesting," he says.
+"I'll say." Ang lets her neck collapse back to normal. "I'd better go tell
+"You do that," Pierre says worriedly. He makes eye contact with her, but what
+she's hoping to see in his face just isn't there. He's wearing his emotions
+entirely on the surface. "I'm not surprised their translator didn't want to
+pass that message along."
+"It's a deliberately corrupted grammar," Ang murmurs, and bangs out in the
+direction of Amber's audience chamber; "and they're actually making threats."
+The Wunch, it seems, have acquired a /{very}/ bad reputation somewhere along
+the line - and Amber needs to know.
+* * *
+Glashwiecz leans toward Lobster Number One, stomach churning. It's only a
+real-time kilosecond since his bar-room interview, but in the intervening
+subjective time, he's abolished a hangover, honed his brief, and decided to
+act. In the Tuileries. "You've been lied to," he confides quietly, trusting the
+privacy ackles that he browbeat Amber's mother into giving him - access lists
+that give him a degree of control over the regime within this virtual universe
+that the cat dragged in.
+"Lied? Context rendered horizontal in past, or subjected to grammatical
+corruption? Linguistic evil?"
+"The latter." Glashwiecz enjoys this, even though it forces him to get rather
+closer to the two-meter-long virtual crustacean than he'd like. Showing a mark
+how they've been scammed is always good, especially when you hold the keys to
+the door of the cage they're locked inside. "They are not telling you the truth
+about this system."
+"We received assurances," Lobster Number One says clearly. Its mouthparts move
+ceaselessly - the noise comes from somewhere inside its head. "You do not share
+this phenotype. Why?"
+"That information will cost you," says Glashwiecz. "I am willing to provide it
+on credit."
+They haggle briefly. An exchange rate in questions is agreed, as is a trust
+metric to grade the answers by. "Disclose all," insists the Wunch negotiator.
+"There are multiple sentient species on the world we come from," says the
+lawyer. "The form you wear belongs to only one - one that wanted to get away
+from the form /{I}/ wear, the original conscious tool-creating species. Some of
+the species today are artificial, but all of us trade information for
+"This is good to know," the lobster assures him. "We like to buy species."
+"You buy species?" Glashwiecz cocks his head.
+"We have the unbearable yearning to be not-what-we-are," says the lobster.
+"Novelty, surprise! Flesh rots and wood decays. We seek the new being-ness of
+aliens. Give us your somatotype, give us all your thoughts, and we will dream
+you over."
+"I think something might be arranged," Glashwiecz concedes. "So you want to be
+- no, to lease the rights to temporarily be human? Why is that?"
+"Untranslatable concept #3 means untranslatable concept #4. God told us to."
+"Okay, I think I'll just have to take that on trust for now. What is your true
+form?" he asks.
+"Wait and I show you," says the lobster. It begins to shudder.
+"What are you doing -"
+"Wait." The lobster twitches, writhing slightly, like a portly businessman
+adjusting his underwear after a heavy business lunch. Disturbing shapes move,
+barely visible through the thick chitinous armor. "We want your help," the
+lobster explains, voice curiously muffled. "Want to establish direct trade
+links. Physical emissaries, yes?"
+"Yes, that's very good," Glashwiecz agrees excitedly: It's exactly what he's
+hoped for, the sought-after competitive advantage that will prove his fitness
+in Amber's designated trial by corporate combat. "You're going to deal with us
+directly without using that shell interface?"
+"Agreed." The lobster trails off into muffled silence; little crunching noises
+trickle out of its carapace. Then Glashwiecz hears footsteps behind him on the
+gravel path.
+"What are you doing here?" he demands, looking round. It's Pierre, back in
+standard human form - a sword hangs from his belt, and there's a big wheel-lock
+pistol in his hands. "Hey!"
+"Step away from the alien, lawyer," Pierre warns, raising the gun.
+Glashwiecz glances back at Lobster Number One. It's pulled its front inside the
+protective shell, and it's writhing now, rocking from side to side alarmingly.
+Something inside the shell is turning black, acquiring depth and texture. "I
+stand on counsel's privilege," Glashwiecz insists. "Speaking as this alien's
+attorney, I must protest in the strongest terms -"
+Without warning, the lobster lurches forward and rises up on its rear legs. It
+reaches out with huge claws, chellipeds coated with spiny hairs, and grabs
+Glashwiecz by his arms. "Hey!"
+Glashwiecz tries to turn away, but the lobster is already looming over him,
+maxillipeds and maxillae reaching out from its head. There's a sickening crunch
+as one of his elbow joints crumbles, humerus shattered by the closing jaws of a
+chelliped. He draws breath to scream, then the four small maxillae grip his
+head and draw it down toward the churning mandibles.
+Pierre scurries sideways, trying to find a line of fire on the lobster that
+doesn't pass through the lawyer's body. The lobster isn't cooperating. It turns
+on the spot, clutching Glashwiecz's convulsing body to itself. There's a stench
+of shit, and blood is squirting from its mouthparts. Something is very wrong
+with the biophysics model here, the realism turned up way higher than normal.
+"Merde," whispers Pierre. He fumbles with the bulky trigger, and there's a
+faint whirring sound but no explosion.
+More wet crunching sounds follow as the lobster demolishes the lawyer's face
+and swallows convulsively, sucking his head and shoulders all the way into its
+gastric mill.
+Pierre glances at the heavy handgun. "/{Shit}/!" he screams. He glances back at
+the lobster, then turns and runs for the nearest wall. There are other lobsters
+loose in the formal garden. "/{Amber, emergency!}/" he sends over their private
+channel. "/{Hostiles in the Louvre!}/"
+The lobster that's taken Glashwiecz hunkers down over the body and quivers.
+Pierre desperately winds the spring on his gun, too rattled to check that it's
+loaded. He glances back at the alien intruder. /{They've sprung the biophysics
+model}/, he sends. /{I could die in here}/, he realizes, momentarily shocked.
+/{This instance of me could die forever}/.
+The lobster shell sitting in the pool of blood and human wreckage splits in
+two. A humanoid form begins to uncurl from within it, pale-skinned and
+glistening wet: vacant blue eyes flicker from side to side as it stretches and
+stands upright, wobbling uncertainty on its two unstable legs. Its mouth opens
+and a strange gobbling hiss comes forth.
+Pierre recognizes her. "What are you doing here?" he yells.
+The nude woman turns toward him. She's the spitting image of Amber's mother,
+except for the chellipeds she has in place of hands. She hisses "/{Equity!}/"
+and takes a wobbly step toward him, pincers clacking.
+Pierre winds the firing handle again. There's a crash of gunpowder and smoke, a
+blow that nearly sprains his elbow, and the nude woman's chest erupts in a
+spray of blood. She snarls at him wordlessly and staggers - then ragged flaps
+of bloody meat close together, knitting shut with improbable speed. She resumes
+her advance.
+"I told Amber the Matrix would be more defensible," Pierre snarls, dropping the
+firearm and drawing his sword as the alien turns in his direction and raises
+arms that end in pincers. "We need guns, damit! Lots of guns!"
+"Waaant equity," hisses the alien intruder.
+"You /{can't}/ be Pamela Macx," says Pierre, his back to the wall, keeping the
+sword point before the lobster-woman-thing. "She's in a nunnery in Armenia or
+something. You pulled that out of Glashwiecz's memories - he worked for her,
+didn't he?"
+Claws go snicker-snack before his face. "Investment partnership!" screeches the
+harridan. "Seat on the board! Eat brains for breakfast!" It lurches sideways,
+trying to get past his guard.
+"I don't fucking /{believe}/ this," Pierre snarls. The Wunch-creature jumps at
+just the wrong moment and slides onto the point of his blade, claws clacking
+hungrily. Pierre slides away, nearly leaving his skin on the rough bricks of
+the wall - and what's good for one is good for all, as the hacked model in
+force in this reality compels the attacker to groan and collapse.
+Pierre pulls the sword out then, nervously glancing over his shoulder, whacks
+at her neck. The impact jars his arm, but he keeps hacking until there's blood
+spraying everywhere, blood on his shirt, blood on his sword, and a round thing
+sitting on a stump of savaged neck nearby, jaw working soundlessly in undeath.
+He looks at it for a moment, then his stomach rebels and tries to empty itself
+into the mess. "/{Where the hell is everybody}/?" he broadcasts on the private
+channel. "/{Hostiles in the Louvre!}/"
+He straightens up, gasping for breath. He feels /{alive}/, frightened and
+appalled and exhilarated simultaneously. The crackle of bursting shells on all
+sides drowns out the birdsong as the Wunch's emissaries adopt a variety of new
+and supposedly more lethal forms. "/{They don't seem to be very clear on how to
+take over a simulation space}/," he adds. "/{Maybe we already are}/
+untranslatable concept number #1 as far as they're concerned."
+"/{Don't worry, I've cut off the incoming connection}/," sends Su Ang. "/{This
+is just a bridgehead force; the invasion packets are}/ being filtered out."
+Blank-eyed men and women in dusty black uniforms are hatching from the lobster
+shells, stumbling and running around the grounds of the royal palace like
+confused Huguenot invaders.
+Boris winks into reality behind Pierre. "Which way?" he demands, pulling out an
+anachronistic but lethal katana.
+"Over here. Let's work this together." Pierre jacks his emotional damper up to
+a dangerously high setting, suppressing natural aversion reflexes and
+temporarily turning himself into a sociopathic killer. He stalks toward an
+infant lobster-thing with big black eyes and a covering of white hair that
+mewls at him from a rose bed, and Boris looks away while he kills it. Then one
+of the larger ones makes the mistake of lunging at Boris, and he chops at it
+Some of the Wunch try to fight back when Pierre and Boris try to kill them, but
+they're handicapped by their anatomy, a curious mixture of crustacean and
+human, claw and mandible against sword and dagger. When they bleed the ground
+soaks with the cuprous hue of lobster juice.
+"Let's fork," suggests Boris. "Get this over with." Pierre nods, dully -
+everything around him is wrapped in a layer of don't-care, except for a glowing
+dot of artificial hatred - and they fork, multiplying their state vectors to
+take full advantage of the virtualization facilities of this universe. There's
+no need for reinforcements; the Wunch focused on attacking the biophysics model
+of the universe, making it mimic a physical reality as closely as possible, and
+paid no attention to learning the more intricate tactics that war in a virtual
+space permits.
+Presently Pierre finds himself in the audience chamber, face and hands and
+clothing caked in hideous gore, leaning on the back of Amber's throne. There's
+only one of him now. One of Boris - the only one? - is standing near the
+doorway. He can barely remember what has happened, the horrors of parallel
+instances of mass murder blocked from his long-term memory by a high-pass
+trauma filter. "It looks clear," he calls aloud. "What shall we do now?"
+"Wait for Catherine de Médicis to show up," says the cat, its grin
+materializing before him like a numinous threat. "Amber /{always}/ finds a way
+to blame her mother. Or didn't you already know that?"
+Pierre glances at the bloody mess on the footpath outside where the first
+lobster-woman attacked Glashwiecz. "I already did for her, I think." He
+remembers the action in the third person, all subjectivity edited out. "The
+family resemblance was striking," the thread that still remembers her in
+working memory murmurs: "I just hope it's only skin-deep." Then he forgets the
+act of apparent murder forever. "Tell the Queen I'm ready to talk."
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to the downslope on the far side of the curve of accelerating
+_1 Back in the solar system, Earth orbits through a dusty tunnel in space.
+Sunlight still reaches the birth world, but much of the rest of the star's
+output has been trapped by the growing concentric shells of computronium built
+from the wreckage of the innermost planets.
+_1 Two billion or so mostly unmodified humans scramble in the wreckage of the
+phase transition, not understanding why the vasty superculture they so resented
+has fallen quiet. Little information leaks through their fundamentalist
+firewalls, but what there is shows a disquieting picture of a society where
+there are no /{bodies}/ anymore. Utility foglets blown on the wind form aerogel
+towers larger than cyclones, removing the last traces of physical human
+civilization from most of Europe and the North American coastlines. Enclaves
+huddle behind their walls and wonder at the monsters and portents roaming the
+desert of postindustrial civilization, mistaking acceleration for collapse.
+_1 The hazy shells of computronium that ring the sun - concentric clouds of
+nanocomputers the size of rice grains, powered by sunlight, orbiting in shells
+like the packed layers of a Matrioshka doll - are still immature, holding
+barely a thousandth of the physical planetary mass of the system, but they
+already support a classical computational density of 1042 MIPS; enough to
+support a billion civilizations as complex as the one that existed immediately
+before the great disassembly. The conversion hasn't yet reached the gas giants,
+and some scant outer-system enclaves remain independent - Amber's Ring Imperium
+still exists as a separate entity, and will do so for some years to come - but
+the inner solar system planets, with the exception of Earth, have been
+colonized more thoroughly than any dusty NASA proposal from the dawn of the
+space age could have envisaged.
+_1 From outside the Accelerated civilization, it isn't really possible to know
+what's going on inside. The problem is bandwidth: While it's possible to send
+data in and get data out, the sheer amount of computation going on in the
+virtual spaces of the Acceleration dwarfs any external observer. Inside that
+swarm, minds a trillion or more times as complex as humanity think thoughts as
+far beyond human imagination as a microprocessor is beyond a nematode worm. A
+million random human civilizations flourish in worldscapes tucked in the corner
+of this world-mind. Death is abolished, life is triumphant. A thousand
+ideologies flower, human nature adapted where necessary to make this possible.
+Ecologies of thought are forming in a Cambrian explosion of ideas: For the
+solar system is finally rising to consciousness, and mind is no longer
+restricted to the mere kilotons of gray fatty meat harbored in fragile human
+_1 Somewhere in the Acceleration, colorless green ideas adrift in furious sleep
+remember a tiny starship launched years ago, and pay attention. Soon, they
+realize, the starship will be in position to act as their proxy in an ages-long
+conversation. Negotiations for access to Amber's extrasolar asset commence; the
+Ring Imperium prospers, at least for a while.
+_1 But first, the operating software on the human side of the network link will
+require an upgrade.
+* * *
+The audience chamber in the /{Field Circus}/ is crammed. Everybody aboard the
+ship - except the still-frozen lawyer and the alien barbarian intruders - is
+present. They've just finished reviewing the recordings of what happened in the
+Tuileries, of Glashwiecz's fatal last conversation with the Wunch, the
+resulting fight for survival. And now the time has come for decisions.
+"I'm not saying you have to follow me," says Amber, addressing her court;
+"just, it's what we came here for. We've established that there's enough
+bandwidth to transmit people and their necessary support VMs; we've got some
+basic expectancy of goodwill at the other end, or at least an agalmic
+willingness to gift us with advice about the untrustworthiness of the Wunch.
+/{I}/ propose to copy myself through and see what's at the other side of the
+wormhole. What's more, I'm going to suspend myself on this side and hand over
+to whichever instance of me comes back, unless there's a long hiatus. How long,
+I haven't decided yet. Are you guys happy to join me?"
+Pierre stands behind her throne, hands on the back. Looking down over her head,
+at the cat in her lap, he's sure he sees it narrow its eyes at him. /{Funny}/,
+he thinks, /{we're talking about jumping down a rabbit hole and trusting
+whoever lives at the other end with our personalities. After seeing the Wunch.
+Does this make sense}/?
+"Forgive, please, but am not stupid," says Boris. "This is Fermi paradox
+territory, no? Instantaneous network exists, is traversable, with bandwidth
+adequate for human-equivalent minds. Where are alien visitors, in history? Must
+be overriding reason for absence. Think will wait here and see what comes back.
+/{Then}/ make up mind to drink the poison kool-aid."
+"I've got half a mind to transmit myself through without a back-up," says
+someone else - "but that's okay; half a mind is all we've got the bandwidth
+for." Halfhearted laughter shores up his wisecrack, supports a flagging
+determination to press through.
+"I'm with Boris," says Su Ang. She glances at Pierre, catches his eye: Suddenly
+a number of things become clear to him. He shakes his head minutely. /{You
+never had a chance - I belong to Amber}/, he thinks, but deletes the thought
+before he can send it to her. Maybe in another instantiation his issues with
+the Queen's /{droit de seigneur}/ would have bulked up larger, splintered his
+determination; maybe in another world it has already happened? "I think this is
+very rash," she says in a hurry. "We don't know enough about post-singularity
+"It's not a singularity," Amber says waspishly. "It's just a brief burst of
+acceleration. Like cosmological inflation."
+"Smooths out inhomogeneities in the initial structure of consciousness," purrs
+the cat. "Don't I get a vote?"
+"You do." Amber sighs. She glances round. "Pierre?"
+Heart in his mouth: "I'm with you."
+She smiles, brilliantly. "Well then. Will the nay sayers please leave the
+Suddenly, the audience chamber is half-empty.
+"I'm setting a watchdog timer for a billion seconds into the future, to restart
+us from this point if the router doesn't send anyone back in the intervening
+time," she announces gravely, taking in the serious-faced avatars of those who
+remain. Surprised: "Sadeq! I didn't think this was your type of -"
+He doesn't smile: "Would I be true to my faith if I wasn't prepared to bring
+the words of Mohammed, peace be unto him, to those who may never have heard his
+Amber nods. "I guess."
+"Do it," Pierre says urgently. "You can't keep putting it off forever."
+Aineko raises her head: "Spoilsport!"
+"Okay." Amber nods. "Let's /{do}/ -"
+She punches an imaginary switch, and time stops.
+* * *
+At the far end of a wormhole, two hundred light-years distant in real space,
+coherent photons begin to dance a story of human identity before the sensoria
+of those who watch. And all is at peace in orbit around Hyundai
+^[+4904}^/,{-56},, for a while ...
+* * *
+1~ Chapter 6: Nightfall
+A synthetic gemstone the size of a Coke can falls through silent darkness. The
+night is quiet as the grave, colder than midwinter on Pluto. Gossamer sails as
+fine as soap bubbles droop, the gust of sapphire laser light that inflated them
+long since darkened. Ancient starlight picks out the outline of a huge
+planetlike body beneath the jewel-and-cobweb corpse of the starwisp.
+Eight Earth years have passed since the good ship /{Field Circus}/ slipped into
+close orbit around the frigid brown dwarf Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},. Five years
+have gone by since the launch lasers of the Ring Imperium shut down without
+warning, stranding the light-sail-powered craft three light-years from home.
+There has been no response from the router, the strange alien artifact in orbit
+around the brown dwarf, since the crew of the starwisp uploaded themselves
+through its strange quantum entanglement interface for transmission to whatever
+alien network it connects to. In fact, nothing happens; nothing save the slow
+trickle of seconds, as a watchdog timer counts down the moments remaining until
+it is due to resurrect stored snapshots of the crew, on the assumption that
+their uploaded copies are beyond help.
+Meanwhile, outside the light cone -
+* * *
+Amber jolts into wakefulness, as if from a nightmare. She sits bolt upright, a
+thin sheet falling from her chest; air circulating around her back chills her
+rapidly, cold sweat evaporating. She mutters aloud, unable to subvocalize,
+"Where am I - oh. A bedroom. How did I get here?" /{Mumble}/. "Oh, I see." Her
+eyes widen in horror. "/{It's not a dream}/ ..."
+"Greetings, human Amber," says a ghost-voice that seems to come from nowhere:
+"I see you are awake. Would you like anything?"
+Amber rubs her eyes tiredly. Leaning against the bedstead, she glances around
+cautiously. She takes in a bedside mirror, her reflection in it: a young woman,
+gaunt in the manner of those whose genome bears the p53 calorie-restriction
+hack, she has disheveled blonde hair and dark eyes. She could pass for a dancer
+or a soldier; not, perhaps, a queen. "What's going on? Where am I? Who are you,
+and /{what am I doing in your head?}/"
+Her eyes narrow. Analytical intellect comes to the fore as she takes stock of
+her surroundings. "The router," she mutters. Structures of strange matter orbit
+a brown dwarf scant light-years from Earth. "How long ago did we come through?"
+Glancing round, she sees a room walled in slabs of close-fitting stone. A
+window bay is recessed into them, after the style of the Crusader castles many
+centuries in the past, but there's no glass in it - just a blank white screen.
+The only furniture in the room, besides a Persian carpet on the cold
+flagstones, is the bed she sits upon. She's reminded of a scene from an old
+movie, Kubrick's enigma; this whole set-up has got to be deliberate, and it
+isn't funny.
+"I'm waiting," she announces, and leans back against the headboard.
+"According to our records this reaction indicates that you are now fully
+self-aware," says the ghost. "This is good. You have not been conscious for a
+very long time. Explanations will be complex and discursive. Can I offer you
+refreshments? What would you like?"
+"Coffee, if you have it. Bread and hummus. Something to wear." Amber crosses
+her arms, abruptly self-conscious. "I'd prefer to have management ackles to
+this universe, though. As realities go, it's a bit lacking in creature
+comforts." Which isn't entirely true - it seems to have a comprehensive,
+human-friendly biophysics model, it's not just a jumped-up first-person
+shooter. Her eyes focus on her left forearm, where tanned skin and a puckered
+dime of scar tissue record a youthful accident with a pressure seal in Jovian
+orbit. Amber freezes for a moment. Her lips move in silence, but she's locked
+into place in this universe, unable to split or conjoin nested realities just
+by calling subroutines that have been spliced into the corners of her mind
+since she was a teenager. Finally, she asks, "How long have I been dead?"
+"Longer than you were alive, by orders of magnitude," says the ghost. A tray
+laden with pita breads, hummus, and olives congeals from the air above her bed,
+and a wardrobe appears at one side of the room. "I can begin the explanation
+now or wait for you to finish eating. Which would you prefer?"
+Amber glances about again, then fixes on the white screen in the window bay.
+"Give it to me right now. I can take it," she says, quietly bitter. "I like to
+understand my mistakes as soon as possible."
+"We-us can tell that you are a human of determination," says the ghost, a hint
+of pride entering its voice. "That is a good thing, Amber. You will need all of
+your resolve if you are going to survive here ..."
+* * *
+It is the time of repentance in a temple beside a tower that looms above a dry
+plain, and the thoughts of the priest who lives in the tower are tinged with
+regret. It is Ashura, the tenth day of Muhurram, according to a real-time clock
+still tuned to the pace of a different era: the one thousand, three hundred and
+fortieth anniversary of the martyrdom of the Third Imam, the Sayyid
+The priest of the tower has spent an indefinite time in prayer, locked in an
+eternal moment of meditation and recitation. Now, as the vast red sun drifts
+close to the horizon of the infinite desert, his thoughts drift toward the
+present. Ashura is a very special day, a day of atonement for collective guilt,
+evil committed through inactivity; but it is in Sadeq's nature to look outwards
+toward the future. This is, he knows, a failing - but also characteristic of
+his generation. That's the generation of the Shi'ite clergy that reacted to the
+excesses of the previous century, the generation that withdrew the /{ulama}/
+from temporal power, retreated from the velyat i-faqih of Khomenei and his
+successors, left government to the people, and began to engage fully with the
+paradoxes of modernity. Sadeq's focus, his driving obsession in theology, is a
+program of reappraisal of eschatology and cosmology. Here in a tower of white
+sun-baked clay, on an endless plain that exists only in the imaginary spaces of
+a starship the size of a soft drink can, the priest spends his processor cycles
+in contemplation of one of the most vicious problems ever to confront a
+/{mujtahid}/ - the Fermi paradox.
+(Enrico Fermi was eating his lunch one day, and his colleagues were discussing
+the possibility that sophisticated civilizations might populate other worlds.
+"Yes," he said, "but if this is so, why haven't they already come visiting?")
+Sadeq finishes his evening devotions in near silence, then stands, stretches as
+is his wont, and leaves the small and lonely courtyard at the base of the
+tower. The gate - a wrought-iron gate, warmed by sunlight - squeals slightly as
+he opens it. Glancing at the upper hinge, he frowns, willing it clean and
+whole. The underlying physics model acknowledges his access controls: a thin
+rim of red around the pin turns silvery-fresh, and the squeaking ceases.
+Closing the gate behind him, Sadeq enters the tower.
+He climbs with a heavy, even tread a spiral staircase snaking ever upward above
+him. Narrow slit-windows line the outer wall of the staircase. Through each of
+them he sees a different world. Out there, nightfall in the month of Ramadan.
+And through the next, green misty skies and a horizon too close by far. Sadeq
+carefully avoids thinking about the implications of this manifold space. Coming
+from prayer, from a sense of the sacred, he doesn't want to lose his proximity
+to his faith. He's far enough from home as it is, and there is much to
+consider. He is surrounded by strange and curious ideas, all but lost in a
+corrosive desert of faith.
+At the top of the staircase, Sadeq comes to a door of aged wood bound in iron.
+It doesn't belong here: It's a cultural and architectural anomaly. The handle
+is a loop of black metal. Sadeq regards it as if it's the head of an asp,
+poised to sting. Nevertheless, he reaches out and turns the handle, steps
+across the threshold into a palace out of fantasy.
+/{None of this is real}/, he reminds himself. /{It's no more real than an
+illusion conjured by one of the jinni of the thousand nights and one night}/.
+Nevertheless, he can't save himself from smiling at the scene - a sardonic
+smile of self-deprecating humor, tempered by frustration.
+Sadeq's captors have stolen his soul and locked it - him - in a very strange
+prison, a temple with a tower that rises all the way to Paradise. It's the
+whole classical litany of medievalist desires, distilled from fifteen hundred
+years of literature. Colonnaded courtyards, cool pools lined with rich mosaics,
+rooms filled with every imaginable dumb matter luxury, endless banquets
+awaiting his appetite - and dozens of beautiful un-women, eager to fulfill his
+every fantasy. Sadeq, being human, has fantasies by the dozen, but he doesn't
+dare permit himself to succumb to temptation. /{I'm not dead}/, he reasons.
+/{Therefore, how can I be in Paradise? Therefore, this must be a false
+paradise, a temptation sent to lead me astray. Probably. Unless I am dead,
+because Allah, peace be unto him, considers a human soul separated from its
+body to be dead. But if that's so, isn't uploading a sin? In which case, this
+can't be}/ Paradise because I am a sinner. /{Besides which}/, this whole setup
+is /{so}/ puerile!
+Sadeq has always been inclined to philosophical inquiry, and his vision of the
+afterlife is more cerebral than most, involving ideas as questionable within
+the framework of Islam as those of Teilhard de Chardin were to the
+twentieth-century Catholic church. If there's one key indicator of a false
+paradise in his eschatology, it's two-and-seventy brainlessly beautiful houris
+waiting to do his bidding. So it follows that he can't really be dead ...
+The whole question of reality is so vexing that Sadeq does what he does every
+night. He strides heedlessly across priceless works of art, barging hastily
+through courtyards and passageways, ignoring niches in which nearly naked
+supermodels lie with their legs apart, climbing stairs - until he comes to a
+small unfurnished room with a single high window in one wall. There he sits on
+the floor, legs crossed, meditating; not in prayer, but in a more tightly
+focused ratiocination. Every false night (for there is no way to know how fast
+time is passing, outside this cyberspace pocket), Sadeq sits and /{thinks}/,
+grappling with Descartes's demon in the solitude of his own mind. And the
+question he asks himself every night is the same: /{Can I tell if this is the
+true hell? And if it is not, how can I escape?}/
+* * *
+The ghost tells Amber that she has been dead for just under a third of a
+million years. She has been reinstantiated from storage - and has died again -
+many times in the intervening period, but she has no memory of this; she is a
+fork from the main bough, and the other branches expired in lonely isolation.
+The business of resurrection does not, in and of itself, distress Amber unduly.
+Born in the post-Moravec era, she merely finds some aspects of the ghost's
+description dissatisfyingly incomplete. It's like saying she was drugged and
+brought hither without stating whether by plane, train, or automobile.
+She doesn't have a problem with the ghost's assertion that she is nowhere near
+Earth - indeed, that she is approximately eighty thousand light-years away.
+When she and the others took the risk of uploading themselves through the
+router they found in orbit around Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, they'd understood
+that they could end up anywhere or nowhere. But the idea that she's still
+within the light cone of her departure strikes her as dubious. The original
+SETI broadcast strongly implied that the router is part of a network of
+self-replicating instantaneous communicators, spawning and spreading between
+the cold brown dwarf stars that litter the galaxy. She'd somehow expected to be
+much farther from home by now.
+Somewhat more disturbing is the ghost's assertion that the human genotype has
+rendered itself extinct at least twice, that its home planet is unknown, and
+that Amber is nearly the only human left in the public archives. At this point,
+she interrupts. "I hardly see what this has to do with me!" Then she blows
+across her coffee glass, trying to cool the contents. "I'm dead," she explains,
+with an undertone of knowing sarcasm in her voice. "Remember? I just got here.
+A thousand seconds ago, subjective time, I was in the control node of a
+starship, discussing what to do with the router we were in orbit around. We
+agreed to send ourselves through it, as a trade mission. Then I woke up in bed
+here in the umpty-zillionth century, wherever and whatever /{here}/ is. Without
+access to any reality ackles or augmentation, I can't even tell whether this is
+real or an embedded simulation. You're going to have to explain /{why}/ you
+need an old version of me before I can make sense of my situation - and I can
+tell you, I'm not going to help you until I know who you are. And speaking of
+that, what about the others? Where are they? I wasn't the only one, you know?"
+The ghost freezes in place for a moment, and Amber feels a watery rush of
+terror: /{Have I gone too far}/? she wonders.
+"There has been an unfortunate accident," the ghost announces portentously. It
+morphs from a translucent copy of Amber's own body into the outline of a human
+skeleton, elaborate bony extensions simulating an osteosarcoma of
+more-than-lethal proportions. "Consensus-we believe that you are best
+positioned to remediate the situation. This applies within the demilitarized
+"Demilitarized?" Amber shakes her head, pauses to sip her coffee. "What do you
+mean? What /{is}/ this place?"
+The ghost flickers again, adopting an abstract rotating hypercube as its
+avatar. "This space we occupy is a manifold adjacent to the demilitarized zone.
+The demilitarized zone is a space outside our core reality, itself exposed to
+entities that cross freely through our firewall, journeying to and from the
+network outside. We-us use the DMZ to establish the informational value of
+migrant entities, sapient currency units and the like. We-us banked you upon
+arrival against future options trades in human species futures."
+"Currency!" Amber doesn't know whether to be amused or horrified - both
+reactions seem appropriate. "Is that how you treat all your visitors?"
+The ghost ignores her question. "There is a runaway semiotic excursion under
+way in the zone. We-us believe only you can fix it. If you agree to do, so we
+will exchange value, pay, reward cooperation, expedite remuneration, manumit,
+Amber drains her coffee cup. "Have you ever entered into economic interactions
+with me, or humans like me, before?" she asks. "If not, why should I trust you?
+If so, why have you revived me? Are there any more experienced instances of
+myself running around here?" She raises a skeptical eyebrow at the ghost. "This
+looks like the start of an abusive relationship."
+The ghost continues to sidestep her attempts to work out where she stands. It
+flickers into transparency, grows into a hazy window on a landscape of
+impossible shapes. Clouds sprouting trees drift above a landscape of green,
+egg-curved hills and cheesecake castles. "Nature of excursion: alien
+intelligence is loose in the DMZ," it asserts. "Alien is applying invalid
+semiotics to complex structures designed to sustain trade. You know this alien,
+Amber. We require solution. Slay the monster, we will give you line of credit.
+Your own reality to control, insight into trade arrangements, augmented senses,
+ability to travel. Can even upgrade you to you-we consensus, if desired."
+"This monster." Amber leans forward, staring into the window eagerly. She's
+half-minded to ignore what she feels is a spurious offer; it doesn't sound too
+appetizing. /{Upgrade me to a ghost fragment of an alien group mind?}/ she
+wonders dismissively. "What is this alien?" She feels blind and unsure,
+stripped of her ability to spawn threads of herself to pursue complex
+inferences. "Is it part of the Wunch?"
+"Datum unknown. It-them came with you," says the ghost. "Accidentally
+reactivated some seconds since now. It runs amok in the demilitarized zone.
+Help us, Amber. Save our hub, or we will be cut off from the network. If that
+happens, you will die with we-us. Save us ..."
+* * *
+_1 A single memory belonging to someone else unwinds, faster than a guided
+missile and far more deadly.
+_1 Amber, aged eleven, is a gawky, long-limbed child loose on the streets of
+Hong Kong, a yokel tourist viewing the hot core of the Middle Kingdom. This is
+her first and final vacation before the Franklin Trust straps her inside the
+payload pod of a Shenzhou spaceplane and blasts her into orbit from Xinkiang.
+She's free for the time being, albeit mortgaged to the tune of several million
+euros; she's a little taikonaut to be, ready to work for the long years in
+Jupiter orbit it will take her to pay off the self-propelled options web that
+owns her. It's not exactly slavery: Thanks to Dad's corporate shell game she
+doesn't have to worry about Mom chasing her, trying to return her to the
+posthuman prison of growing up just like an old-fashioned little girl. And now
+she's got a bit of pocket money, and a room in the Hilton, and her own personal
+Franklin remote to keep her company, she's decided she's gonna do that
+eighteenth-century-enlightenment tourist shit and do it /{right}/.
+_1 Because this is her last day at liberty in the randomly evolved biosphere.
+_1 China is where things are at in this decade, hot and dense and full of
+draconian punishments for the obsolescent. Nationalist fervor to catch up with
+the west has been replaced by consumerist fervor to own the latest fad gadgets;
+the most picturesque tourist souvenirs from the quaintly old-fashioned streets
+of America; the fastest, hottest, smartest, upgrades for body and soul. Hong
+Kong is hotter and faster than just about anywhere else in China, or in the
+whole damn world for that matter. This is a place where tourists from Tokyo
+gawp, cowed and future-shocked by the glamour of high-technology living.
+_1 Walking along Jardine's Bazaar - /{More like Jardine's bizarre}/, she thinks
+- exposes Amber to a blast of humid noise. Geodesic domes sprout like skeletal
+mushrooms from the glass-and-chrome roofs of the expensive shopping malls and
+luxury hotels, threatening to float away on the hot sea breeze. There are no
+airliners roaring in and out of Kai Tak anymore, no burnished aluminum storm
+clouds to rain round-eyed passengers on the shopping malls and fish markets of
+Kowloon and the New Territories. In these tense later days of the War Against
+Unreason, impossible new shapes move in the sky; Amber gapes upward as a
+Shenyang F-30 climbs at a near-vertical angle, a mess of incomprehensibly
+curved flight surfaces vanishing to a perspective point that defies radar as
+well as eyeballs. The Chinese - fighter? missile platform? supercomputer? - is
+heading out over the South China Sea to join the endless patrol that reassures
+the capitalist world that it is being guarded from the Hosts of Denial, the
+Trouble out of Wa'hab.
+_1 For the moment, she's merely a precocious human child. Amber's subconscious
+is off-lined by the presence of forceful infowar daemons, the Chinese
+government censorbots suppressing her cognition of their deadliest weapons. And
+in the seconds while her mind is as empty as a sucked egg, a thin-faced man
+with blue hair shoves her in the small of her back and snatches at her shoulder
+_1 "Hey!" she yells, stumbling. Her mind's a blur, optics refusing to respond
+and grab a biometric model of her assailant. It's the frozen moment, the dead
+zone when on-line coverage fails, and the thief is running away before she can
+catch her balance or try to give chase. Plus, with her extensions off-line she
+doesn't know how to yell "stop, thief!" in Cantonese.
+_1 Seconds later, the fighter is out of visual range and the state censorship
+field lets up. "Get him, you bastards!" she screams, but the curious shoppers
+simply stare at the rude foreign child: An elderly woman brandishes a
+disposable phonecam at her and screeches something back. Amber picks up her
+feet and runs. Already she can feel the subsonics from her luggage growling at
+her guts - it's going to make a scene if she doesn't catch up in time. Shoppers
+scatter, a woman with a baby carriage almost running her down in her panic to
+get away from it.
+_1 By the time Amber reaches her terrified shoulder bag, the thief has
+disappeared: She has to spend almost a minute petting the scared luggage before
+it stops screeching and retracts its spines enough for her to pick it up. And
+by that time there's a robocop in attendance. "Identify yourself," it rasps in
+synthetic English.
+_1 Amber stares at her bag in horror: There's a huge gash in the side, and it's
+far too light. /{It's gone}/, she thinks, despairingly. /{He stole it}/.
+"Help," she says faintly, holding up her bag for the distant policeman looking
+through the robot's eyes. "Been stolen."
+_1 "What item missing?" asks the robot.
+_1 "My Hello Kitty," she says, batting her eyelashes, mendacity full-on at
+maximum utilization, prodding her conscience into submission, warning of dire
+consequences should the police discover the true nature of her pet cat. "My
+kitten's been stolen! Can you help me?"
+_1 "Certainly," says the cop, resting a reassuring hand on her shoulder - a
+hand that turns into a steel armband, as it pushes her into a van and notifies
+her in formally stilted language that she is under arrest on suspicion of
+shoplifting and will be required to produce certificates of authenticity and a
+fully compliant ownership audit for all items in her possession if she wants to
+prove her innocence.
+_1 By the time Amber's meatbrain realizes that she is being politely arrested,
+some of her external threads have already started yelling for help and her
+m-commerce trackers have identified the station she's being taken to by way of
+click-thru trails and an obliging software license manager. They spawn agents
+to go notify the Franklin trustees, Amnesty International, the Space and
+Freedom Party, and her father's lawyers. As she's being booked into a
+cerise-and-turquoise juvenile offenders holding room by a middle-aged
+policewoman, the phones on the front desk are already ringing with inquiries
+from attorneys, fast-food vendors, and a particularly on-the-ball celebrity
+magazine that's been tracking her father's connections. "Can you help me get my
+cat back?" she asks the policewoman earnestly.
+_1 "Name," the officer reads, eyes flickering from the simultaneous
+translation. "To please wax your identity stiffly."
+_1 "My cat has been stolen," Amber insists.
+_1 "Your cat?" The cop looks perplexed, then exasperated. Dealing with foreign
+teenagers who answer questions with gibberish isn't in her repertoire. "We are
+asking your name?"
+_1 "No," says Amber. "It's my cat. It has been stolen. My /{cat}/ has been
+_1 "Aha! Your papers, please?"
+_1 "Papers?" Amber is growing increasingly worried. She can't feel the outside
+world; there's a Faraday cage wrapped around the holding cell, and it's
+claustrophobically quiet inside. "I want my cat! Now!"
+_1 The cop snaps her fingers, then reaches into her own pocket and produces an
+ID card, which she points to insistently. "Papers," she repeats. "Or else."
+_1 "I don't know what you're talking about!" Amber wails.
+_1 The cop stares at her oddly. "Wait." She rises and leaves, and a minute
+later, returns with a thin-faced man in a business suit and wire-rimmed glasses
+that glow faintly.
+_1 "You are making a scene," he says, rudely and abruptly. "What is your name?
+Tell me truthfully, or you'll spend the night here."
+_1 Amber bursts into tears. "My /{cat's}/ been stolen," she chokes out.
+_1 The detective and the cop obviously don't know how to deal with this scene;
+it's freaking them out, with its overtones of emotional messiness and sinister
+diplomatic entanglement. "You wait here," they say, and back out of the cell,
+leaving her alone with a plastic animatronic koala and a cheap Lebanese coffee
+_1 The implications of her loss - of Aineko's abduction - are sinking in,
+finally, and Amber is weeping loudly and hopelessly. It's hard to deal with
+bereavement and betrayal at any age, and the cat has been her wisecracking
+companion and consolation for a year, the rock of certainty that gave her the
+strength to break free from her crazy mother. To lose her cat to a body shop in
+Hong Kong, where she will probably be cut up for spare circuitry or turned into
+soup is too horrible to contemplate. Filled with despair and hopeless anguish,
+Amber howls at the interrogation room walls while outside, trapped threads of
+her consciousness search for backups to synchronize with.
+_1 But after an hour, just as she's quieting down into a slough of raw despair,
+there's a knock - a knock! - at the door. An inquisitive head pops in. "Please
+to come with us?" It's the female cop with the bad translationware. She takes
+in Amber's sobbing and tuts under her breath, but as Amber stands up and
+shambles toward her, she pulls back.
+_1 At the front desk of a cubicle farm full of police bureaucrats in various
+states of telepresence, the detective is waiting with a damp cardboard box
+wrapped in twine. "Please identify," he asks, snipping the string.
+_1 Amber shakes her head, dizzy with the flow of threads homing in to
+synchronize their memories with her. "Is it -" she begins to ask as the lid
+comes apart, wet pulp disintegrating. A triangular head pops up, curiously,
+sniffing the air. Bubbles blow from brown-furred nostrils. "What took you so
+long?" asks the cat, as she reaches into the box and picks her up, fur wet and
+matted with seawater.
+* * *
+"If you want me to go fix your alien, for starters I want you to give me
+reality alteration privileges," says Amber. "Then I want you to find the latest
+instances of everyone who came here with me - round up the usual suspects - and
+give /{them}/ root privileges, too. Then we'll want access to the other
+embedded universes in the DMZ. Finally, I want guns. /{Lots}/ of guns."
+"That may be difficult," says the ghost. "Many other humans reached halting
+state long since. Is at least one other still alive, but not accessible for
+duration of eschatological experiment in progress. Not all were recorded with
+version control engine; others were-is lost in DMZ. We-are can provide you with
+extreme access to the demilitarized zone, but query the need for kinetic energy
+Amber sighs. "You guys really /{are}/ media illiterates, aren't you?" She
+stands up and stretches, feeling a facsimile of sleep's enervation leaching
+from her muscles. "I'll also need my -" it's on the tip of her tongue: There's
+something missing. "Hang on. There's something I've forgotten." /{Something
+important}/, she thinks, puzzled. /{Something that used to be around all the
+time that would ... know? ... purr? ... help?}/ "Never mind," she hears her
+lips say. "This other human. I /{really}/ want her. Non-negotiable. All right?"
+"That may be difficult," repeats the ghost. "Entity is looping in a recursively
+confined universe."
+"Eh?" Amber blinks at it. "Would you mind rephrasing that? Or illustrating?"
+"Illustration:" The ghost folds the air in the room into a glowing ball of
+plasma, shaped like a Klein bottle. Amber's eyes cross as she looks at it.
+"Closest reference from human historical database is Descartes's demon. This
+entity has retreated within a closed space, but is now unsure whether it is
+objectively real or not. In any event, it refuses to interact."
+"Well, can you get me into that space?" asks Amber. Pocket universes she can
+deal with; it's part and parcel of her life. "Give me some leverage -"
+"Risk may attach to this course of action," warns the ghost.
+"I don't care," she says irritably. "Just /{put}/ me there. It's someone I
+know, isn't it? Send me into her dream, and I'll wake her up, okay?"
+"Understood," says the ghost. "Prepare yourself."
+Without any warning, Amber is somewhere else. She glances around, taking in an
+ornate mosaic floor, whitewashed walls set with open windows through which
+stars twinkle faintly in the night sky. Her clothing has somehow been replaced
+by sexy lingerie under a nearly transparent robe, and her hair's grown longer
+by about half a meter. It's all very disorienting. The walls are stone, and she
+stands in a doorway to a room with nothing in it but a bed. Occupied by -
+"Shit," she exclaims. "Who are you?" The young and incredibly, classically
+beautiful woman in the bed looks at her vacantly, then rolls over on her side.
+She isn't wearing a stitch, she's completely hairless from the ears down, and
+her languid posture is one of invitation. "Yes?" Amber asks. "What is it?"
+The woman on the bed beckons to her slowly. Amber shakes her head. "Sorry,
+that's just not my scene." She backs away into the corridor, unsteady in
+unaccustomedly high heels. "This is some sort of male fantasy, isn't it? And a
+dumb adolescent one at that." She looks around again. In one direction, a
+corridor heads past more open doorways, and in the other, it ends with a spiral
+staircase. Amber concentrates, trying to tell the universe to take her to the
+logical destination, but nothing happens. "Looks like I'm going to have to do
+this the hard way. I wish -" she frowns. She was about to wish that /{someone}/
+else was here, but she can't remember who. So she takes a deep breath and heads
+toward the staircase.
+"Up or down?" she asks herself. /{Up}/ - it seems logical, if you're going to
+have a tower, to sleep up at the top of it. So she climbs the steps carefully,
+holding the spiraling rail. /{I wonder who designed this space? she wonders,
+and what role am I supposed to fit into in their scenario?}/ On second
+thoughts, the latter question strikes her as laughable. /{Wait till I give him
+an earful ...}/
+There's a plain wooden door at the top of the staircase, with a latch that
+isn't fastened. Amber pauses for a few seconds, nerving herself to confront a
+sleeper so wrapped in solipsism that he's built this sex-fantasy castle around
+himself. /{I hope it isn't Pierre}/, she thinks grimly as she pushes the door
+The room is bare and floored in wood. There's no furniture, just an open window
+set high in one wall. A man sits cross-legged and robed, with his back to her,
+mumbling quietly to himself and nodding slightly. Her breath catches as she
+realizes who it is. /{Oh shit}/! Her eyes widen. /{Is this what's been inside
+his head all along?}/
+"I did not summon you," Sadeq says calmly, not turning round to look at her.
+"Go away, tempter. You aren't real."
+Amber clears her throat. "Sorry to disappoint you, but you're wrong," she says.
+"We've got an alien monster to catch. Want to come hunting?"
+Sadeq stops nodding. He sits up slowly, stretching his spine, then stands up
+and turns round. His eyes glint in the moonlight. "That's odd." He undresses
+her with his gaze. "You look like someone I used to know. You've never done
+that before."
+"For fuck's sake!" Amber nearly explodes, but catches herself after a moment.
+"What /{is}/ this, a Solipsists United chapterhouse meeting?"
+"I -" Sadeq looks puzzled. "I'm sorry, are you claiming to be real?"
+"As real as you are." Amber reaches out and grabs a hand: He doesn't resist as
+she pulls him toward the doorway.
+"You're the first visitor I've ever had." He sounds shocked.
+"Listen, come /{on}/." She tugs him after her, down the spiral staircase to the
+floor below. "Do you want to stay here? Really?" She glances back at him. "What
+/{is}/ this place?"
+"Hell is a perversion of heaven," he says slowly, running the fingers of his
+free hand through his beard. Abruptly, he reaches out and grabs her around the
+waist, then yanks her toward him. "We'll have to /{see}/ how real you are -"
+Amber, who is not used to this kind of treatment, responds by stomping on his
+instep and backhanding him hard.
+"You're real!" he cries, as he falls back against the staircase. "Forgive me,
+please! I had to know -"
+"Know /{what}/?" she snarls. "Lay one finger on me again, and I'll leave you
+here to rot!" She's already spawning the ghost that will signal the alien
+outside to pull her out of this pocket universe: It's a serious threat.
+"But I had to - wait. You have /{free will}/. You just demonstrated that." He's
+breathing heavily and looking up at her imploringly. "I'm /{sorry}/, I
+apologize! But I had to know whether you were another zombie. Or not."
+"A zombie?" She looks round. Another living doll has appeared behind her,
+standing in an open doorway wearing a skintight leather suit with a cutaway
+crotch. She beckons to Sadeq invitingly. Another body wearing strategically
+placed strips of rubber mewls at her feet, writhing for attention. Amber raises
+an eyebrow in disgust. "You thought I was one of those?"
+Sadeq nods. "They've got cleverer lately. Some of them can talk. I nearly
+mistook one for -" He shudders convulsively. "Unclean!"
+"Unclean." Amber looks down at him thoughtfully. "This isn't really your
+personal paradise after all, is it?" After a moment she holds out a hand to
+him. "Come on."
+"I'm sorry I thought you were a zombie," he repeats.
+"Under the circumstances, I think I forgive you," she says. Then the ghost
+yanks them both back to the universe outside.
+* * *
+_1 More memories converge on the present moment:
+_1 The Ring Imperium is a huge cluster of self-replicating robots that Amber
+has assembled in low Jupiter orbit, fueled by the mass and momentum of the
+small moon J-47 Barney, to provide a launching platform for the interstellar
+probe her father's business partners are helping her to build. It's also the
+seat of her court, the leading jurisprudential nexus in the outer solar system.
+Amber is the Queen, here, arbitrator and ruler. And Sadeq is her judge and
+_1 A plaintiff Amber only knows as a radar blip thirty light-minutes away has
+filed a lawsuit in her court, alleging malfeasance, heresy, and barratry
+against a semisentient corporate pyramid scheme that arrived in Jovian space
+twelve million seconds ago and currently seems set on converting every other
+intelligence in the region to its peculiar memeset. A whole bundle of
+multithreaded countersuits are dragging at her attention, in a counterattack
+alleging that the light blip is in violation of copyright, patent, and trade
+secrecy laws by discussing the interloper's intentions.
+_1 Right now, Amber isn't home on the Ring to hear the case in person. She's
+left Sadeq behind to grapple with the balky mechanics of her legal system -
+tailor-designed to make corporate litigation a pain in the ass - while she
+drags Pierre off on a diplomatic visit to another Jovian colony, the Nursery
+Republic. Planted by the Franklin Trust's orphanage ship /{Ernst Sanger}/, the
+Nursery has grown over the past four years into a spindly snowflake three
+kilometers across. A slow-growing O'Neil cylinder sprouts from its hub: Most of
+the inhabitants of the space station are less than two years old, precocious
+additions to the Trust's borganism.
+_1 There's a piazza, paved with something not unlike rough marble, on the side
+of a hill that clings insecurely to the inner edge of a spinning cup. The sky
+is a black vastness overhead, wheeling slowly around a central axis lined up on
+Jupiter. Amber sprawls in a wicker chair, her legs stretched out before her and
+one arm flung across her forehead. The wreckage of an incredible meal is
+scattered across the tables around her. Torpid and full, she strokes the cat
+that lies curled in her lap. Pierre is off somewhere, touring one or another of
+the prototype ecosystems that one or another of the borg's special interest
+minds is testing. Amber, for her part, can't be bothered. She's just had a
+great meal, she doesn't have any lawsuits to worry about, everything back home
+is on the critpath, and quality time like this is so hard to come by -
+_1 "Do you keep in touch with your father?" asks Monica.
+_1 "Mmm." The cat purrs quietly, and Amber strokes its flank. "We e-mail.
+_1 "I just wondered." Monica is the local borg den mother, willowy and
+brown-eyed and with a deceptively lazy drawl - Yorkshire English overlaid with
+Silicon Valley speak. "I hear from him, y'know. From time to time. Now that
+Gianni's retired, he doesn't have much to do down-well anymore. So he was
+talking about coming out here."
+_1 "What? To Perijove?" Amber's eyes open in alarm: Aineko stops purring and
+looks round at Monica accusingly.
+_1 "Don't worry." Monica sounds vaguely amused: "He wouldn't cramp your style,
+I think."
+_1 "But, out here -" Amber sits up. "Damn," she says, quietly. "What got into
+_1 "Middle-aged restlessness, my downwell sibs say." Monica shrugs. "This time
+Annette didn't stop him. But he hasn't made up his mind to travel yet."
+_1 "Good. Then he might not -" Amber stops. "The phrase, 'made up his mind',
+what exactly do you mean?"
+_1 Monica's smile mocks her for a few seconds before the older woman
+surrenders. "He's talking about uploading."
+_1 "Is that embarrassing or what?" asks Ang. Amber glances at her, mildly
+annoyed, but Ang isn't looking her way. /{So much for friends}/, Amber thinks.
+Being queen of all you survey is a great way of breaking up peer relationships
+_1 "He won't do it," Amber predicts. "Dad's burned out."
+_1 "He thinks he'll get it back if he optimizes himself for re-entrancy."
+Monica continues to smile. "I've been telling him it's just what he needs."
+_1 "I do /{not}/ want my father bugging me. Or my mother. Or Auntie 'Nette and
+Uncle Gianni. Memo to immigration control: No entry rights for Manfred Macx or
+the other named individuals without clearance through the Queen's secretary."
+_1 "What did he do to get you so uptight?" asks Monica idly.
+_1 Amber sighs, and subsides. "Nothing. It's not that I'm ungrateful or
+anything, but he's just so extropian, it's embarrassing. Like, that was the
+last century's apocalypse. Y'know?"
+_1 "I think he was a really very forward-looking organic," Monica, speaking for
+the Franklin borg, asserts. Amber looks away. /{Pierre would get it}/, she
+thinks. Pierre would understand her aversion to Manfred's showing up. Pierre,
+too, wants to carve out his own niche without parents looking over his
+shoulders, although for very different reasons. She focuses on someone male and
+more or less mature - Nicky, she thinks, though she hasn't seen him for a long
+time - walking toward the piazza, bare-ass naked and beautifully tanned.
+_1 "Parents. What are they good for?" asks Amber, with all the truculence of
+her seventeen years. "Even if they stay neotenous, they lose flexibility. And
+there's that long Paleolithic tradition of juvenile slavery. Inhuman, I call
+_1 "How old were you when it was safe to leave you around the house on your
+own?" challenges Monica.
+_1 "Three. That's when I had my first implants." Amber smiles at the
+approaching young Adonis, who smiles back: Yes, it's Nicky, and he seems
+pleased to see her. /{Life is good}/, she thinks, idly considering whether or
+not to tell Pierre.
+_1 "Times change," remarks Monica. "Don't write your family off too soon; there
+might come a time when you want their company."
+_1 "Huh." Amber pulls a face at the old borg component. "That's what you all
+* * *
+As soon as Amber steps onto the grass, she can feel possibilities open up
+around her. She has management authority here, and this universe is /{big}/,
+wide open, not like Sadeq's existential trap. A twitch of a sub-process
+reasserts her self-image, back to short hair and comfortable clothing. Another
+twitch brings up a whole load of useful diagnostics. Amber has a nasty feeling
+that she's running in a compatibility sandbox here - there are signs that her
+access to the simulation system's control interface is very much via proxy -
+but at least she's got it.
+"Wow! Back in the real world at last!" She can hardly contain her excitement,
+even forgetting to be pissed at Sadeq for thinking she was just an actor in his
+Cartesian theatre's performance of Puritan Hell. "Look! It's the DMZ!"
+They're standing on a grassy knoll overlooking a gleaming Mediterranean city.
+It snoozes beneath a Mandelbrot-fuzzy not-sun that hangs at the center of a
+hyperbolic landscape, which dwindles into a blue yonder that seems
+incomprehensibly distant. Circular baby-blue wells open in the walls of the
+world at regular intervals, connecting to other parts of the manifold. "How big
+is it, ghost? In planetary simulation-equivalents."
+"This demilitarized zone is an embedded reality, funneling all transfers
+between the local star system's router and the civilization that built it. It
+uses on the order of a thousandth of the capacity of the Matrioshka brain it is
+part of, although the runaway excursion currently in force has absorbed most of
+that. Matrioshka brain, you are familiar with the concept?" The ghost sounds
+fussily pedantic.
+Sadeq shakes his head. Amber glances at him, askance. "Take all the planets in
+a star system and dismantle them," she explains. "Turn them into dust -
+structured nanocomp, powered by heat exchangers, spread in concentric orbits
+around the central star. The inner orbitals run close to the melting point of
+iron, the outer ones are cold as liquid nitrogen, and each layer runs off the
+waste heat of the next shell in. It's like a Russian doll made out of Dyson
+spheres, shell enclosing shell enclosing shell, but it's not designed to
+support human life. It's computronium, matter optimized at the atomic level to
+support computing, and they're all running uploads - Dad figured our own solar
+system could support, uh, about a hundred billion times as many inhabitants as
+Earth. At a conservative estimate. As uploads, living in simulation space. If
+you first dismantle all the planets and use the resulting materials to build a
+Matrioshka brain."
+"Ah." Sadeq nods thoughtfully. "Is that your definition, too?" he asks,
+glancing up at the glowing point the ghost uses to localize its presence.
+"Substantially," it says, almost grudgingly.
+"Substantially?" Amber glances around. /{A billion worlds to explore}/, she
+thinks dizzily. /{And that's just the}/ firewall? She feels obscurely cheated:
+You need to be vaster than human just to count the digits in the big numbers at
+play here, but there's nothing fundamentally incomprehensible about it. This is
+the sort of civilization Dad said she could expect to live in, within her
+meatbody life expectancy. Dad and his drinking buddies, singing, "Dismantle the
+Moon! Melt down Mars!" in a castle outside Prague as they waited for the
+results of a shamelessly gerrymandered election to arrive in the third decade
+of the third millennium. The Space and Freedom Party taking over the EU, and
+cranking up to escape velocity. But this is supposed to be kiloparsecs from
+home, ancient alien civilizations and all that! Where's the exotic
+superscience? What about the neuron stars, strange matter suns structured for
+computing at nucleonic, rather than electronic, speeds? /{I have a bad feeling
+about this}/, she thinks, spawning a copy of herself to set up a private
+channel to Sadeq. /{It's not advanced enough. Do you suppose these guys could
+be like the Wunch? Parasites or barbarians hitching a ride in the machine?}/
+/{You believe it's lying to us?}/ Sadeq sends back.
+"Hmm." Amber sets off downslope toward the piazza below, at the heart of the
+fake town. "It looks a bit too human to me."
+"Human," echoes Sadeq, a curious wistfulness in his voice. "Did you not say
+humans are extinct?"
+"Your species is obsolete," the ghost comments smugly. "Inappropriately adapted
+to artificial realities. Poorly optimized circuitry, excessively complex
+low-bandwidth sensors, messily global variables -"
+"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture," says Amber, turning her attention to the town.
+"So why do you think we can deal with this alien god you've got a problem
+"It asked for you," says the ghost, narrowing from an ellipse to a line, then
+shrinking to a dimensionless point of brilliance. "And now it's coming. We-I
+not willing to risk exposure. Call us-me when you have slain the dragon.
+"Oh /{shit}/ -" Amber spins round. But she and Sadeq are alone beneath the hot
+sunlight from above. The piazza, like the one in the Nursery Republic, is
+charmingly rustic - but there's nobody home, nothing but ornate cast-iron
+furniture basking beneath the noon-bright sun, a table with a parasol over it,
+and something furry lying sprawled in a patch of sunlight beside it.
+"We appear to be alone for now," says Sadeq. He smiles crookedly, then nods at
+the table. "Maybe we should wait for our host to arrive?"
+"Our host." Amber peers around. "The ghost is kind of frightened of this alien.
+I wonder why?"
+"It asked for us." Sadeq heads toward the table, pulls out a chair, and sits
+down carefully. "That could be very good news - or very bad."
+"Hmm." Amber finishes her survey, sees no sign of life. For lack of any better
+ideas, she ambles over to the table and sits down on the other side of it from
+Sadeq. He looks slightly nervous beneath her inspection, but maybe it's just
+embarrassment about having seen her in her underwear. /{If I had an afterlife
+like that, I'd be embarrassed about it, too,}/ Amber thinks to herself.
+"Hey, you nearly tripped over -" Sadeq freezes, peering at something close to
+Amber's left foot. He looks puzzled for a moment, then smiles broadly. "What
+are /{you}/ doing here?" he asks her blind spot.
+"What are you talking to?" she asks, startled.
+/{He's talking to}/ me, /{dummy}/, says something tantalizingly familiar from
+her blind spot. /{So the fuckwits are trying to use you to dislodge me, hmm?
+That's not exactly clever.}/
+"Who -" Amber squints at the flagstone, spawns a bunch of ghosts who tear
+hurriedly at her reality modification ackles. Nothing seems to shift the
+blindness. "Are you the alien?"
+"What else could I be?" the blind spot asks with heavy irony. "No, I'm your
+father's pet cat. Listen, do you want to get out of here?"
+"Uh." Amber rubs her eyes. "I can't see you, whatever you are," she says
+politely. "Do I know you?" She's got a strange sense that she /{does}/ know the
+blind spot, that it's really important, and she's missing something intimate to
+her own sense of identity, but what it might be she can't tell.
+"Yeah, kid." There's a note of world-weary amusement in the not-voice coming
+from the hazy patch on the ground. "They've hacked you but good, both of you.
+Let me in, and I'll fix it."
+"No!" Exclaims Amber, a second ahead of Sadeq, who looks at her oddly. "Are you
+really an invader?"
+The blind spot sighs. "I'm as much an invader as you are, remember? I came here
+with you. Difference is, I'm not going to let some stupid corporate ghost use
+me as fungible currency."
+"Fungible -" Sadeq stops. "I remember you," he says slowly, with an expression
+of absolute, utter surprise on his face. "What do you mean?"
+The blind spot /{yawns}/, baring sharp ivory fangs. Amber shakes her head,
+dismissing the momentary hallucination. "Lemme guess. You woke up in a room,
+and this alien ghost tells you the human species is extinct and asks you to do
+a number on me. Is that right?"
+Amber nods, as an icy finger of fear trails up and down her spine. "Is it
+lying?" she asks.
+"Damn right." The blind spot is smiling, now, and the smile on the void won't
+go away - she can see the smile, just not the body it's attached to. "My
+reckoning is, we're about sixteen light-years from Earth. The Wunch came
+through here, stripped the dump, then took off for parts unknown; it's a
+trashhole, you wouldn't believe it. The main life-form is an incredibly ornate
+corporate ecosphere, legal instruments breeding and replicating. They mug
+passing sapients and use them as currency."
+There's a triangular, pointy head behind the smile, slit eyes and sharp ears, a
+predatory, intelligent-looking but infinitely alien face. Amber can see it out
+of the corners of her eyes when she looks around the piazza. "You mean we, uh,
+they grabbed us when we appeared, and they've mangled my memories -" Amber
+suddenly finds it incredibly difficult to concentrate, but if she focuses on
+the smile, she can almost see the body behind it, hunched like a furry chicken,
+tail wrapped neatly around its front paws.
+"Yeah. Except they didn't bargain on meeting something like me." The smile is
+infinitely wide, a Cheshire-cat grin on front of an orange-and-brown stripy
+body that shimmers in front of Amber's gaze like a hallucination. "Your
+mother's cracking tools are self-extending, Amber. Do you remember Hong Kong?"
+"Hong -"
+There is a moment of painless pressure, then Amber feels huge invisible
+barriers sliding away on all sides. She looks around, for the first time seeing
+the piazza as it really is, half the crew of the /{Field Circus}/ waiting
+nervously around her, the grinning cat crouched on the floor at her feet, the
+enormous walls of recomplicating data that fence their little town off from the
+gaping holes - interfaces to the other routers in the network.
+"Welcome back," Pierre says gravely, as Amber gives a squeak of surprise and
+leans forward to pick up her cat. "Now you're out from under, how about we
+start trying to figure out how to get home?"
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to decade the sixth, millennium three. These old datelines don't
+mean so much anymore, for while some billions of fleshbody humans are still
+infected with viral memes, the significance of theocentric dating has been
+dealt a body blow. This may be the fifties, but what that means to you depends
+on how fast your reality rate runs. The various upload clades exploding across
+the reaches of the solar system vary by several orders of magnitude - some are
+barely out of 2049, while others are exploring the subjective thousandth
+_1 While the /{Field Circus}/ floats in orbit around an alien router (itself
+orbiting the brown dwarf Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},), while Amber and her crew
+are trapped on the far side of a wormhole linking the router to a network of
+incomprehensibly vast alien mindscapes - while all this is going on, the
+damnfool human species has finally succeeded in making itself obsolete. The
+proximate cause of its displacement from the pinnacle of creation (or the
+pinnacle of teleological self-congratulation, depending on your stance on
+evolutionary biology) is an attack of self-aware corporations. The phrase
+"smart money" has taken on a whole new meaning, for the collision between
+international business law and neurocomputing technology has given rise to a
+whole new family of species - fast-moving corporate carnivores in the Net. The
+planet Mercury has been broken up by a consortium of energy brokers, and Venus
+is an expanding debris cloud, energized to a violent glare by the trapped and
+channeled solar output. A million billion fist-sized computing caltrops,
+backsides glowing dull red with the efflux from their thinking, orbit the sun
+at various inclinations no farther out than Mercury used to be.
+_1 Billions of fleshbody humans refuse to have anything to do with the
+blasphemous new realities. Many of their leaders denounce the uploads and AIs
+as soulless machines. Many more are timid, harboring self-preservation memes
+that amplify a previously healthy aversion to having one's brain peeled like an
+onion by mind-mapping robots into an all-pervading neurosis. Sales of
+electrified tinfoil-lined hats are at an all-time high. Still, hundreds of
+millions have already traded their meat puppets for mind machines, and they
+breed fast. In another few years, the fleshbody populace will be an absolute
+minority of the posthuman clade. Sometime later, there will probably be a war.
+The dwellers in the thoughtcloud are hungry for dumb matter to convert, and the
+fleshbodies make notoriously poor use of the collection of silicon and rare
+elements that pool at the bottom of the gravity well that is Earth.
+_1 Energy and thought are driving a phase-change in the condensed matter
+substance of the solar system. The MIPS per kilogram metric is on the steep
+upward leg of a sigmoid curve - dumb matter is coming to life as the mind
+children restructure everything with voracious nanomechanical servants. The
+thoughtcloud forming in orbit around the sun will ultimately be the graveyard
+of a biological ecology, another marker in space visible to the telescopes of
+any new iron-age species with the insight to understand what they're seeing:
+the death throes of dumb matter, the birth of a habitable reality vaster than a
+galaxy and far speedier. Death throes that, within a few centuries, will mean
+the extinction of biological life within a light-year or so of that star - for
+the majestic Matrioshka brains, though they are the pinnacles of sentient
+civilization, are intrinsically hostile environments for fleshy life.
+* * *
+Pierre, Donna-the-all-seeing-eye, and Su Ang fill Amber in on what they've
+discovered about the bazaar - as they call the space the ghost referred to as
+the demilitarized zone - over ice-cold margaritas and a very good simulation of
+a sociable joint. Some of them have been on the loose in here for subjective
+years. There's a lot of information to absorb.
+"The physical layer is half a light-hour in diameter, four hundred times as
+massive as Earth," Pierre explains. "Not solid, of course - the largest
+component is about the size my fist used to be." Amber squints, trying to
+remember how big that was - scale factors are hard to remember accurately. "I
+met this old chatbot that said it's outlived its original star, but I'm not
+sure it's running with a full deck. Anyway, if it's telling the truth, we're a
+third of a light year out from a closely coupled binary system - they use
+orbital lasers the size of Jupiter to power it without getting too close to all
+those icky gravity wells."
+Amber is intimidated, despite her better judgment, because this bizarre bazaar
+is several hundred billion times as big as the totality of human presingularity
+civilization. She tries not to show it in front of the others, but she's
+worried that getting home may be impossible - requiring enterprise beyond the
+economic event horizon, as realistic a proposition as a dime debuting as a
+dollar bill. Still, she's got to at least try. Just knowing about the existence
+of the bazaar will change so many things ...
+"How much money can we lay our hands on?" She asks. "What /{is}/ money
+hereabouts, anyway? Assuming they've got a scarcity-mediated economy.
+Bandwidth, maybe?"
+"Ah, well." Pierre looks at her oddly. "That's the problem. Didn't the ghost
+tell you?"
+"Tell me?" Amber raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, but it hasn't exactly proven to be a
+reliable guide to anything, has it?"
+"Tell her," Su Ang says quietly. She looks away, embarrassed by something.
+"They've got a scarcity economy all right," says Pierre. "Bandwidth is the
+limited resource, that and matter. This whole civilization is tied together
+locally because if you move too far away, well, it takes ages to catch up on
+the gossip. Matrioshka brain intelligences are much more likely to stay at home
+than anybody realized, even though they chat on the phone a lot. And they use
+things that come from other cognitive universes as, well, currency. We came in
+through the coin slot, is it any wonder we ended up in the bank?"
+"That's so deeply wrong that I don't know where to begin," Amber grumbles. "How
+did they get into this mess?"
+"Don't ask me." Pierre shrugs. "I have the distinct feeling that anyone or
+anything we meet in this place won't have any more of a clue than we do -
+whoever or whatever built this brain, there ain't nobody home anymore except
+the self-propelled corporations and hitchhikers like the Wunch. We're in the
+dark, just like they were."
+"Huh. You mean they built something like this, then they went extinct? That
+sounds so dumb ..."
+Su Ang sighs. "They got too big and complex to go traveling once they built
+themselves a bigger house to live in. Extinction tends to be what happens to
+overspecialized organisms that are stuck in one environmental niche for too
+long. If you posit a singularity, then maximization of local computing
+resources - like this - as the usual end state for tool users, is it any wonder
+none of them ever came calling on us?"
+Amber focuses on the table in front of her, rests the heel of her palm on the
+cool metal, and tries to remember how to fork a second copy of her state
+vector. A moment later, her ghost obligingly fucks with the physics model of
+the table. Iron gives way like rubber beneath her fingertips, a pleasant
+elasticity. "Okay, we have some control over the universe, at least that's
+something to work with. Have any of you tried any self-modification?"
+"That's dangerous," Pierre says emphatically. "The more of us the better before
+we start doing that stuff. And we need some firewalling of our own."
+"How deep does reality go, here?" asks Sadeq. It's almost the first question
+he's asked of his own volition, and Amber takes it as a positive sign that he's
+finally coming out of his shell.
+"Oh, the Planck length is about a hundredth of a millimeter in this world. Too
+small to see, comfortably large for the simulation engines to handle. Not like
+/{real}/ space-time."
+"Well, then." Sadeq pauses. "They can zoom their reality if they need to?"
+"Yeah, fractals work in here." Pierre nods. "I didn't -"
+"This place is a trap," Su Ang says emphatically.
+"No it isn't," Pierre replies, nettled.
+"What do you mean, a trap?" asks Amber.
+"We've been here a while," says Ang. She glances at Aineko, who sprawls on the
+flagstones, snoozing or whatever it is that weakly superhuman AIs do when
+they're emulating a sleeping cat. "After your cat broke us out of bondage, we
+had a look around. There are things out there that -" She shivers. "Humans
+can't survive in most of the simulation spaces here. Universes with physics
+models that don't support our kind of neural computing. You could migrate
+there, but you'd need to be ported to a whole new type of logic - by the time
+you did that, would you still be you? Still, there are enough entities roughly
+as complex as we are to prove that the builders aren't here anymore. Just
+lesser sapients, rooting through the wreckage. Worms and parasites squirming
+through the body after nightfall on the battlefield."
+"I ran into the Wunch," Donna volunteers helpfully. "The first couple of times
+they ate my ghost, but eventually I figured out how to talk to them."
+"And there's other aliens, too," Su Ang adds gloomily. "Just nobody you'd want
+to meet on a dark night."
+"So there's no hope of making contact," Amber summarizes. "At least, not with
+anything transcendent and well-intentioned toward visiting humans."
+"That's probably right," Pierre concedes. He doesn't sound happy about it.
+"So we're stuck in a pocket universe with limited bandwidth to home and a bunch
+of crazy slum dwellers who've moved into the abandoned and decaying mansion and
+want to use us for currency. 'Jesus saves, and redeems souls for valuable
+gifts.' Yeah?"
+"Yeah." Su Ang looks depressed.
+"Well." Amber glances at Sadeq speculatively. Sadeq is staring into the
+distance, at the crazy infinite sunspot that limns the square with shadows.
+"Hey, god-man. Got a question for you."
+"Yes?" Sadeq looks at her, a slightly dazed expression on his face. "I'm sorry,
+I am just feeling the jaws of a larger trap around my throat -"
+"Don't be." Amber grins, and it is not a pleasant expression. "Have you ever
+been to Brooklyn?"
+"No, why -"
+"Because you're going to help me sell these lying bastards a bridge. Okay? And
+when we've sold it we're going to use the money to pay the purchasing fools to
+drive us across, so we can go home. Listen, this is what I'm planning ..."
+* * *
+"I can do this, I think," Sadeq says, moodily examining the Klein bottle on the
+table. The bottle is half-empty, its fluid contents invisible around the corner
+of the fourth-dimensional store. "I spent long enough alone in there to -" He
+"I don't want you damaging yourself," Amber says, calmly enough, because she
+has an ominous feeling that their survival in this place has an expiry date
+"Oh, never fear." Sadeq grins lopsidedly. "One pocket hell is much like
+"Do you understand why -"
+"Yes, yes," he says dismissively. "We can't send copies of ourselves into it,
+that would be an abomination. It needs to be unpopulated, yes?"
+"Well, the idea is to get us home, not leave thousands of copies of ourselves
+trapped in a pocket universe here. Isn't that it?" Su Ang asks hesitantly.
+She's looking distracted, most of her attention focused on absorbing the
+experiences of a dozen ghosts she's spun off to attend to perimeter security.
+"Who are we selling this to?" asks Sadeq. "If you want me to make it attractive
+"It doesn't need to be a complete replica of the Earth. It just has to be a
+convincing advertisement for a presingularity civilization full of humans.
+You've got two-and-seventy zombies to dissect for their brains; bolt together a
+bunch of variables you can apply to them, and you can permutate them to look a
+bit more varied."
+Amber turns her attention to the snoozing cat. "Hey, furball. How long have we
+been here really, in real time? Can you grab Sadeq some more resources for his
+personal paradise garden?"
+Aineko stretches and yawns, totally feline, then looks up at Amber with
+narrowed eyes and raised tail. "'Bout eighteen minutes, wall-clock time." The
+cat stretches again and sits, front paws drawn together primly, tail curled
+around them. "The ghosts are pushing, you know? I don't think I can sustain
+this for too much longer. They're not good at hacking people, but I think it
+won't be too long before they instantiate a new copy of you, one that'll be
+predisposed to their side."
+"I don't get why they didn't assimilate you along with the rest of us."
+"Blame your mother again - she's the one who kept updating the digital rights
+management code on my personality. 'Illegal consciousness is copyright theft'
+sucks until an alien tries to rewire your hindbrain with a debugger; then it's
+a lifesaver." Aineko glances down and begins washing one paw. "I can give your
+mullah-man about six days, subjective time. After that, all bets are off."
+"I will take it, then." Sadeq stands. "Thank you." He smiles at the cat, a
+smile that fades to translucency, hanging in the simulated air like an echo as
+the priest returns to his tower - this time with a blueprint and a plan in
+"That leaves just us." Su Ang glances at Pierre, back to Amber. "Who are you
+going to sell this crazy scheme to?"
+Amber leans back and smiles. Behind her, Donna - her avatar an archaic movie
+camera suspended below a model helicopter - is filming everything for
+posterity. She nods lazily at the reporter. "She's the one who gave me the
+idea. Who do we know who's dumb enough to buy into a scam like this?"
+Pierre looks at her suspiciously. "I think we've been here before," he says
+slowly. "You aren't going to make me kill anyone, are you?"
+"I don't think that'll be necessary, unless the corporate ghosts think we're
+going to get away from them and are greedy enough to want to kill us."
+"You see, she learned from last time," Ang comments, and Amber nods. "No more
+misunderstandings, right?" She beams at Amber.
+Amber beams back at her. "Right. And that's why you -" she points at Pierre -
+"are going to go find out if any relics of the Wunch are hanging about here. I
+want you to make them an offer they won't refuse."
+* * *
+"How much for just the civilization?" asks the Slug.
+Pierre looks down at it thoughtfully. It's not really a terrestrial mollusk:
+Slugs on Earth aren't two meters long and don't have lacy white exoskeletons to
+hold their chocolate-colored flesh in shape. But then, it isn't really the
+alien it appears to be. It's a defaulting corporate instrument that has
+disguised itself as a long-extinct alien upload, in the hope that its creditors
+won't recognize it if it looks like a randomly evolved sentient. One of the
+stranded members of Amber's expedition made contact with it a couple of
+subjective years ago, while exploring the ruined city at the center of the
+firewall. Now Pierre's here because it seems to be one of their most promising
+leads. Emphasis on the word promising - because it promises much, but there is
+some question over whether it can indeed deliver.
+"The civilization isn't for sale," Pierre says slowly. The translation
+interface shimmers, storing up his words and transforming them into a different
+deep grammar, not merely translating his syntax but mapping equivalent meanings
+where necessary. "But we can give you privileged observer status if that's what
+you want. And we know what you are. If you're interested in finding a new
+exchange to be traded on, your existing intellectual property assets will be
+worth rather more there than here."
+The rogue corporation rears up slightly and bunches into a fatter lump. Its
+skin blushes red in patches. "Must think about this. Is your mandatory
+accounting time cycle fixed or variable term? Are self-owned corporate entities
+able to enter contracts?"
+"I could ask my patron," Pierre says casually. He suppresses a stab of angst.
+He's still not sure where he and Amber stand, but theirs is far more than just
+a business relationship, and he worries about the risks she's taking. "My
+patron has a jurisdiction within which she can modify corporate law to
+accommodate your requirements. Your activities on a wider scale might require
+shell companies -" the latter concept echoes back in translation to him as host
+organisms - "but that can be taken care of."
+The translation membrane wibbles for a while, apparently reformulating some
+more abstract concepts in a manner that the corporation can absorb. Pierre is
+reasonably confident that it'll take the offer, however. When it first met
+them, it boasted about its control over router hardware at the lowest levels.
+But it also bitched and moaned about the firewall protocols that were blocking
+it from leaving (before rather rudely trying to eat its conversationalist). He
+waits patiently, looking around at the swampy landscape, mudflats punctuated by
+clumps of spiky violet ferns. The corporation has to be desperate, to be
+thinking of the bizarre proposition Amber has dreamed up for him to pitch to
+"Sounds interesting," the Slug declares after a brief confirmatory debate with
+the membrane. "If I supply a suitable genome, can you customize a container for
+"I believe so," Pierre says carefully. "For your part, can you deliver the
+energy we need?"
+"From a gate?" For a moment the translation membrane hallucinates a
+stick-human, shrugging. "Easy. Gates are all entangled: Dump coherent radiation
+in at one, get it out at another. Just get me out of this firewall first."
+"But the lightspeed lag -"
+"No problem. You go first, then a dumb instrument I leave behind buys up power
+and sends it after. Router network is synchronous, within framework of state
+machines that run Universe 1.0; messages propagate at same speed, speed of
+light in vacuum, except use wormholes to shorten distances between nodes. Whole
+point of the network is that it is nonlossy. Who would trust their mind to a
+communications channel that might partially randomize them in transit?"
+Pierre goes cross-eyed, trying to understand the implications of the Slug's
+cosmology. But there isn't really time, here and now: They've got on the order
+of a minute of wall-clock time left to get everything sorted out, if Aineko is
+right. One minute to go before the angry ghosts start trying to break into the
+DMZ by other means. "If you are willing to try this, we'd be happy to
+accommodate you," he says, thinking of crossed fingers and rabbits' feet and
+"It's a deal," the membrane translates the Slug's response back at him. "Now we
+exchange shares/plasmids/ownership? Then merger complete?"
+Pierre stares at the Slug: "But this is a business arrangement!" he protests.
+"What's sex got to do with it?"
+"Apologies offered. I am thinking we have a translation error. You said this
+was to be a merging of businesses?"
+"Not /{that}/ way. It's a contract. We agree to take you with us. In return,
+you help lure the Wunch into the domain we're setting up for them and configure
+the router at the other end ..."
+And so on.
+* * *
+Steeling herself, Amber recalls the address the ghost gave her for Sadeq's
+afterlife universe. In her own subjective time it's been about half an hour
+since he left. "Coming?" she asks her cat.
+"Don't think I will," says Aineko. It looks away, blissfully unconcerned.
+"Bah." Amber tenses, then opens the port to Sadeq's pocket universe.
+As usual she finds herself indoors, standing on an ornate mosaic floor in a
+room with whitewashed walls and peaked windows. But there's something different
+about it, and after a moment, she realizes what it is. The sound of vehicle
+traffic from outside, the cooing of pigeons on the rooftops, someone shouting
+across the street: There are people here.
+She walks over to the nearest window and looks out, then recoils. It's /{hot}/
+outside. Dust and fumes hang in air the color of cement over rough-finished
+concrete apartment buildings, their roofs covered in satellite uplinks and
+cheap, garish LED advertising panels. Looking down she sees motor scooters,
+cars - filthy, fossil-fueled behemoths, a tonne of steel and explosives in
+motion to carry only one human, a mass ratio worse than an archaic ICBM -
+brightly dressed people walking to and fro. A news helicam buzzes overhead,
+lenses darting and glinting at the traffic.
+"Just like home, isn't it?" says Sadeq, behind her.
+Amber starts. "This is where you grew up? This is Yazd?"
+"It doesn't exist anymore, in real space." Sadeq looks thoughtful, but far more
+animated than the barely conscious parody of himself that she'd rescued from
+this building - back when it was a mediaeval vision of the afterlife - scant
+subjective hours ago. He cracks a smile: "Probably a good thing. We were
+dismantling it even while we were preparing to leave, you know?"
+"It's detailed." Amber throws her eyes at the scene out the window, multiplexes
+them, and tells them to send little virtual ghosts dancing through the streets
+of the Iranian industrial 'burb. Overhead, big Airbuses ply the skyways,
+bearing pilgrims on the hajj, tourists to the coastal resorts on the Persian
+Gulf, produce to the foreign markets.
+"It's the best time I could recall," Sadeq says. "I didn't spend many days here
+then - I was in Qom, studying, and Kazakhstan, for cosmonaut training - but
+it's meant to be the early twenties. After the troubles, after the fall of the
+guardians; a young, energetic, liberal country full of optimism and faith in
+democracy. Values that weren't doing well elsewhere."
+"I thought democracy was a new thing there?"
+"No." Sadeq shakes his head. "There were prodemocracy riots in Tehran in the
+nineteenth century, did you know that? That's why the first revolution - no."
+He makes a cutting gesture. "Politics and faith are a combustible combination."
+He frowns. "But look. Is this what you wanted?"
+Amber recalls her scattered eyes - some of which have flown as much as a
+thousand kilometers from her locus - and concentrates on reintegrating their
+visions of Sadeq's re-creation. "It looks convincing. But not too convincing."
+"That was the idea."
+"Well, then." She smiles. "Is it just Iran? Or did you take any liberties
+around the edges?"
+"Who, me?" He raises an eyebrow. "I have enough doubts about the morality of
+this - project - without trying to trespass on Allah's territory, peace be unto
+him. I promise you, there are no sapients in this world but us. The people are
+the hollow shells of my dreaming, storefront dummies. The animals are crude
+bitmaps. This is what you asked for, and no more."
+"Well, then." Amber pauses. She recalls the expression on the dirt-smudged face
+of a little boy, bouncing a ball at his companions by the boarded-up front of a
+gas station on a desert road; remembers the animated chatter of two synthetic
+housewives, one in traditional black and the other in some imported Eurotrash
+fashion. "Are you sure they aren't real?" she asks.
+"Quite sure." But for a moment, she sees Sadeq looking uncertain. "Shall we go?
+Do you have the occupiers ready to move in yet?"
+"Yes to the first, and Pierre's working on the second. Come on, we don't want
+to get trampled by the squatters." She waves and opens a door back onto the
+piazza where her robot cat - the alien's nightmare intruder in the DMZ -
+sleeps, chasing superintelligent dream mice through multidimensional realities.
+"Sometimes I wonder if /{I'm}/ conscious. Thinking these thoughts gives me the
+creeps. Let's go and sell some aliens a bridge in Brooklyn."
+* * *
+Amber confronts the mendacious ghost in the windowless room stolen from 2001.
+"You have confined the monster," the ghost states.
+"Yes." Amber waits for a subjective moment, feeling delicate fronds tickle at
+the edges of her awareness in what seems to be a timing channel attack. She
+feels a momentary urge to sneeze, and a hot flash of anger that passes almost
+"And you have modified yourself to lock out external control," the ghost adds.
+"What is it that you want, Autonome Amber?"
+"Don't you have any concept of individuality?" she asks, annoyed by its
+presumption at meddling with her internal states.
+"Individuality is an unnecessary barrier to information transfer," says the
+ghost, morphing into its original form, a translucent reflection of her own
+body. "It reduces the efficiency of a capitalist economy. A large block of the
+DMZ is still inaccessible to we-me. Are you /{sure}/ you have defeated the
+"It'll do as I say," Amber replies, forcing herself to sound more confident
+than she feels - sometimes that damned transhuman cyborg cat is no more
+predictable than a real feline. "Now, the matter of payment arises."
+"Payment." The ghost sounds amused. But Pierre's filled her in on what to look
+for, and Amber can now see the translation membranes around it. Their color
+shift maps to a huge semantic distance; the creature on the other side, even
+though it looks like a ghost-image of herself, is very far from human. "How can
+we-us be expected to pay our own money for rendering services to us?"
+Amber smiles. "We want an open channel back to the router we arrived through."
+"Impossible," says the ghost.
+"We want an open channel, /{and}/ for it to stay open for six hundred million
+seconds after we clear it."
+"Impossible," the ghost repeats.
+"We can trade you a whole civilization," Amber says blandly. "A whole human
+nation, millions of individuals. Just let us go, and we'll see to it."
+"You - please wait." The ghost shimmers slightly, fuzzing at the edges.
+Amber opens a private channel to Pierre while the ghost confers with its other
+nodes. /{Are the Wunch in place yet?}/ she sends.
+/{They're moving in. This bunch don't remember what happened on the}/ Field
+Circus, /{memories of those events never made it back to them. So the Slug's
+got them to cooperate. It's kinda scary to watch - like}/ the Invasion of the
+Body Snatchers, /{you know?}/
+/{I don't care if it's scary to watch}/, Amber replies, /{I need to know if
+we're ready yet}/.
+/{Sadeq says yes, the universe is ready.}/
+/{Right, pack yourself down. We'll be moving soon.}/
+The ghost is firming up in front of her. "A whole civilization?" it asks. "That
+is not possible. Your arrival -" It pauses, fuzzing a little. /{Hah, Gotcha!}/
+thinks Amber. /{Liar, liar, pants on fire!}/ "You cannot possibly have found a
+human civilization in the archives?"
+"The monster you complain about that came through with us is a predator," she
+asserts blandly. "It swallowed an entire nation before we heroically attracted
+its attention and induced it to follow us into the router. It's an archivore -
+everything was inside it, still frozen until we expanded it again. This
+civilization will already have been restored from hot shadows in our own solar
+system: There is nothing to gain by taking it home with us. But we need to
+return to ensure that no more predators of this type discover the router - or
+the high-bandwidth hub we linked to it."
+"You are sure you have killed this monster?" asks the ghost. "It would be
+inconvenient if it were to emerge from hiding in its digest archives."
+"I can guarantee it won't trouble you again if you let us go," says Amber,
+mentally crossing her fingers. The ghost doesn't seem to have noticed the huge
+wedge of fractally compressed data that bloats her personal scope by an order
+of magnitude. She can still feel Aineko's goodbye smile inside her head, an
+echo of ivory teeth trusting her to revive it if the escape plan succeeds.
+"We-us agree." The ghost twists weirdly, morphs into a five-dimensional
+hypersphere. It bubbles violently for a moment, then spits out a smaller token
+- a warped distortion in the air, like a gravityless black hole. "Here is your
+passage. Show us the civilization."
+"Okay " - /{Now!}/ - "catch." Amber twitches an imaginary muscle, and one wall
+of the room dissolves, forming a doorway into Sadeq's existential hell, now
+redecorated as a fair facsimile of a twenty-first-century industrial city in
+Iran, and populated by a Wunch of parasites who can't believe what they've
+lucked into - an entire continent of zombies waiting to host their flesh-hungry
+The ghost drifts toward the open window. Amber grabs the hole and yanks it
+open, gets a grip on her own thoughts, and sends /{Open wide!}/ on the channel
+everybody is listening in on. For a moment time stands still, and then -
+* * *
+A synthetic gemstone the size of a Coke can falls through the cold vacuum, in
+high orbit around a brown dwarf. But the vacuum is anything but dark. A
+sapphire glare as bright as the noonday sun on Mars shines on the crazy
+diamond, billowing and cascading off sails as fine as soap bubbles that slowly
+drift and tense away from the can. The runaway Slug-corporation's proxy has
+hacked the router's firmware, and the open wormhole gate that feeds power to it
+is shining with the brilliance of a nuclear fireball, laser light channeled
+from a star many light-years away to power the /{Field Circus}/ on its return
+trip to the once-human solar system.
+Amber has retreated, with Pierre, into a simulation of her home aboard the Ring
+Imperium. One wall of her bedroom is a solid slab of diamond, looking out
+across the boiling Jovian ionosphere from an orbit low enough to make the
+horizon appear flat. They're curled together in her bed, a slightly more
+comfortable copy of the royal bed of King Henry VIII of England. It appears to
+be carved from thousand-year-old oak beams. As with so much else about the Ring
+Imperium, appearances are deceptive; and this is even more true of the cramped
+simulation spaces aboard the /{Field Circus}/, as it limps toward a tenth the
+speed of light, the highest velocity it's likely to achieve on a fraction of
+its original sail area.
+"Let me get this straight. You convinced. The locals. That a simulation of
+Iran, with zombie bodies that had been taken over by members of the Wunch. Was
+a human civilization?"
+"Yeah." Amber stretches lazily and smirks at him. "It's their damn fault; if
+the corporate collective entities didn't use conscious viewpoints as money,
+they wouldn't have fallen for a trick like that, would they?"
+"People. Money."
+"Well." She yawns, then sits up and snaps her finger imperiously: Down-stuffed
+pillows appear behind her back, and a silver salver bearing two full glasses of
+wine materializes between them. "Corporations are life-forms back home, too,
+aren't they? And we trade them. We give our AIs corporations to make them legal
+entities, but the analogy goes deeper. Look at any company headquarters, fitted
+out with works of art and expensive furniture and staff bowing and scraping
+everywhere -"
+" - They're the new aristocracy. Right?"
+"Wrong. When they take over, what you get is more like the new biosphere. Hell,
+the new primordial soup: prokaryotes, bacteria, and algae, mindlessly swarming,
+trading money for plasmids." The Queen passes her consort a wineglass. When he
+drinks from it, it refills miraculously. "Basically, sufficiently complex
+resource-allocation algorithms reallocate scarce resources ... and if you don't
+jump to get out of their way, they'll reallocate you. I think that's what
+happened inside the Matrioshka brain we ended up in: Judging by the Slug it
+happens elsewhere, too. You've got to wonder where the builders of that
+structure came from. And where they went. And whether they realized that the
+destiny of intelligent tool-using life was to be a stepping-stone in the
+evolution of corporate instruments."
+"Maybe they tried to dismantle the companies before the companies spent them."
+Pierre looks worried. "Running up a national debt, importing luxurious
+viewpoint extensions, munching exotic dreams. Once they plugged into the Net, a
+primitive Matrioshka civilization would be like, um." He pauses. "Tribal. A
+primitive postsingularity civilization meeting the galactic net for the first
+time. Overawed. Wanting all the luxuries. Spending their capital, their human -
+or alien - capital, the meme machines that built them. Until there's nothing
+left but a howling wilderness of corporate mechanisms looking for someone to
+"Idle speculation," he agrees.
+"But we can't ignore it." She nods. "Maybe some early corporate predator built
+the machines that spread the wormholes around brown dwarfs and ran the router
+network on top of them in an attempt to make money fast. By not putting them in
+the actual planetary systems likely to host tool-using life, they'd ensure that
+only near-singularity civilizations would stumble over them. Civilizations that
+had gone too far to be easy prey probably wouldn't send a ship out to look ...
+so the network would ensure a steady stream of yokels new to the big city to
+fleece. Only they set the mechanism in motion billions of years ago and went
+extinct, leaving the network to propagate, and now there's nothing out there
+but burned-out Matrioshka civilizations and howling parasites like the angry
+ghosts and the Wunch. And victims like us." She shudders and changes the
+subject: "Speaking of aliens, is the Slug happy?"
+"Last time I checked on him, yeah." Pierre blows on his wineglass and it
+dissolves into a million splinters of light. He looks dubious at the mention of
+the rogue corporate instrument they're taking with them. "I don't trust him out
+in the unrestricted sim-spaces yet, but he delivered on the fine control for
+the router's laser. I just hope you don't ever have to actually use him, if you
+follow my drift. I'm a bit worried that Aineko is spending so much time in
+"So that's where she is? I'd been worrying."
+"Cats never come when you call them, do they?"
+"There is that," she agrees. Then, with a worried glance at the vision of
+Jupiter's cloudscape: "I wonder what we'll find when we get there?"
+Outside the window, the imaginary Jovian terminator is sweeping toward them
+with eerie rapidity, sucking them toward an uncertain nightfall.
+:B~ PART 3: Singularity
+There's a sucker born every minute.
+- P. T. Barnum
+1~ Chapter 7: Curator
+Sirhan stands on the edge of an abyss, looking down at a churning
+orange-and-gray cloudscape far below. The air this close to the edge is chilly
+and smells slightly of ammonia, although that might be his imagination at work
+- there's little chance of any gas exchange taking place across the transparent
+pressure wall of the flying city. He feels as if he could reach out and touch
+the swirling vaporscape. There's nobody else around, this close to the edge -
+it's an icy sensation to look out across the roiling depths, at an ocean of gas
+so cold human flesh would freeze within seconds of exposure, knowing that
+there's nothing solid out there for tens of thousands of kilometers. The sense
+of isolation is aggravated by the paucity of bandwidth, this far out of the
+system. Most people huddle close to the hub, for comfort and warmth and low
+latency: posthumans are gregarious.
+Beneath Sirhan's feet, the lily-pad city is extending itself, mumbling and
+churning in endless self-similar loops like a cubist blastoma growing in the
+upper atmosphere of Saturn. Great ducts suck in methane and other atmospheric
+gases, apply energy, polymerize and diamondize, and crack off hydrogen to fill
+the lift cells high above. Beyond the sapphire dome of the city's gasbag, an
+azure star glares with the speckle of laser light; humanity's first - and so
+far, last - starship, braking into orbit on the last shredded remnant of its
+light sail.
+He's wondering maliciously how his mother will react to discovering her
+bankruptcy when the light above him flickers. Something gray and unpleasant
+splatters against the curve of nearly invisible wall in front of him, leaving a
+smear. He takes a step back and looks up angrily. "Fuck you!" he yells. Raucous
+cooing laughter follows him away from the boundary, feral pigeon voices
+mocking. "I mean it," he warns, flicking a gesture at the air above his head.
+Wings scatter in a burst of thunder as a slab of wind solidifies,
+thistledown-shaped nanomachines suspended on the breeze locking edge to edge to
+form an umbrella over his head. He walks away from the perimeter, fuming,
+leaving the pigeons to look for another victim.
+Annoyed, Sirhan finds a grassy knoll a couple of hundred meters from the rim
+and around the curve of the lily-pad from the museum buildings. It's far enough
+from other humans that he can sit undisturbed with his thoughts, far enough out
+to see over the edge without being toilet-bombed by flocking flying rats. (The
+flying city, despite being the product of an advanced technology almost
+unimaginable two decades before, is full of bugs - software complexity and
+scaling laws ensured that the preceding decades of change acted as a kind of
+cosmological inflationary period for design glitches, and an infestation of
+passenger pigeons is by no means the most inexplicable problem this biosphere
+In an attempt to shut the more unwelcome manifestations of cybernature out, he
+sits under the shade of an apple tree and marshals his worlds around him. "When
+is my grandmother arriving?" he asks one of them, speaking into an antique
+telephone in the world of servants, where everything is obedient and knows its
+place. The city humors him, for its own reasons.
+"She is still containerized, but aerobraking is nearly over. Her body will be
+arriving down-well in less than two megaseconds." The city's avatar in this
+machinima is a discreet Victorian butler, stony-faced and respectful. Sirhan
+eschews intrusive memory interfaces; for an eighteen-year-old, he's
+conservative to the point of affectation, favoring voice commands and
+anthropomorphic agents over the invisible splicing of virtual neural nets.
+"You're certain she's transferred successfully?" Sirhan asks anxiously. He
+heard a lot about his grandmama when he was young, very little of it
+complimentary. Nevertheless, the old bat must be a lot more flexible than his
+mother ever gave her credit for, to be subjecting herself to this kind of
+treatment for the first time at her current age.
+"I'm as certain as I can be, young master, for anyone who insists on sticking
+to their original phenotype without benefit of off-line backup or medical
+implants. I regret that omniscience is not within my remit. Would you like me
+to make further specific inquiries?"
+"No." Sirhan peers up at the bright flare of laser light, visible even through
+the soap-bubble membrane that holds in the breathable gas mix, and the
+trillions of liters of hot hydrogen in the canopy above it. "As long as you're
+sure she'll arrive before the ship?" Tuning his eyes to ultraviolet, he watches
+the emission spikes, sees the slow strobing of the low-bandwidth AM modulation
+that's all the starship can manage by way of downlink communication until it
+comes within range of the system manifold. It's sending the same tiresomely
+repetitive question about why it's being redirected to Saturn that it's been
+putting out for the past week, querying the refusal to supply terawatts of
+propulsion energy on credit.
+"Unless there's a spike in their power beam, you can be certain of that," City
+replies reassuringly. "And you can be certain also that your grandmother will
+revive comfortably."
+"One may hope so." To undertake the interplanetary voyage in corporeal person,
+at her age, without any upgrades or augmentation, must take courage, he
+decides. "When she wakes up, if I'm not around, ask her for an interview slot
+on my behalf. For the archives, of course."
+"It will be my pleasure." City bobs his head politely.
+"That will be all," Sirhan says dismissively, and the window into servantspace
+closes. Then he looks back up at the pinprick of glaring blue laser light near
+the zenith. /{Tough luck, Mom}/, he subvocalizes for his journal cache. Most of
+his attention is forked at present, focused on the rich historical windfall
+from the depths of the singularity that is coming his way, in the form of the
+thirty-year-old starwisp's Cartesian theatre. But he can still spare some
+schadenfreude for the family fortunes. /{All your assets belong to me, now. He
+smiles, inwardly. I'll just have to make sure they're put to a sensible use
+this time}/.
+* * *
+"I don't see why they're diverting us toward Saturn. It's not as if they can
+possibly have dismantled Jupiter already, is it?" asks Pierre, rolling the
+chilled beer bottle thoughtfully between fingers and thumb.
+"Why not you ask Amber?" replies the velociraptor squatting beside the log
+table. (Boris's Ukrainian accent is unimpeded by the dromaeosaurid's larynx; in
+point of fact, it's an affectation, one he could easily fix by sideloading an
+English pronunciation patch if he wanted to.)
+"Well." Pierre shakes his head. "She's spending all her time with that Slug, no
+multiplicity access, privacy ackles locked right down. I could get jealous."
+His voice doesn't suggest any deep concern.
+"What's to get jealous about? Just ask to fork instance to talk to you, make
+love, show boyfriend good time, whatever."
+"Hah!" Pierre chuckles grimly, then drains the last drops from the bottle into
+his mouth. He throws it away in the direction of a clump of cycads, then snaps
+his fingers; another one appears in its place.
+"Are two megaseconds out from Saturn in any case," Boris points out, then
+pauses to sharpen his inch-long incisors on one end of the table. Fangs crunch
+through timber like wet cardboard. "Grrrrn. Am seeing most /{peculiar}/
+emission spectra from inner solar system. Foggy flying down bottom of gravity
+well. Am wondering, does ensmartening of dumb matter extend past Jovian orbit
+"Hmm." Pierre takes a swig from the bottle and puts it down. "That might
+explain the diversion. But why haven't they powered up the lasers on the Ring
+for us? You missed that, too." For reasons unknown, the huge battery of launch
+lasers had shut down, some millions of seconds after the crew of the Field
+Circus had entered the router, leaving it adrift in the cold darkness.
+"Don't know why are not talking." Boris shrugged. "At least are still alive
+there, as can tell from the 'set course for Saturn, following thus-and-such
+orbital elements' bit. Someone is paying attention. Am telling you from
+beginning, though, turning entire solar system into computronium is real bad
+idea, long-term. Who knows how far has gone already?"
+"Hmm, again." Pierre draws a circle in the air. "Aineko," he calls, "are you
+"Don't bug me." A faint green smile appears in the circle, just the suggestion
+of fangs and needle-sharp whiskers. "I had an idea I was sleeping furiously."
+Boris rolls one turreted eye and drools on the tabletop. "Munch munch," he
+growls, allowing his saurian body-brain to put in a word.
+"What do you need to sleep for? This is a fucking sim, in case you hadn't
+"I /{enjoy}/ sleeping," replies the cat, irritably lashing its
+just-now-becoming-visible tail. "What do you want? Fleas?"
+"No thanks," Pierre says hastily. Last time he called Aineko's bluff the cat
+had filled three entire pocket universes with scurrying gray mice. One of the
+disadvantages of flying aboard a starship the size of a baked bean can full of
+smart matter was the risk that some of the passengers could get rather too
+creative with the reality control system. This Cretaceous kaffee klatsch was
+just Boris's entertainment partition; compared to some of the other simulation
+spaces aboard the *{Field Circus}*, it was downright conservative. "Look, do
+you have any updates on what's going on down-well? We're only twenty objective
+days out from orbital insertion, and there's so little to see -"
+"They're not sending us power." Aineko materializes fully now, a large
+orange-and-white cat with a swirl of brown fur in the shape on an @-symbol
+covering her ribs. For whatever reason, she plants herself on the table
+tauntingly close to Boris's velociraptor body's nose. "No propulsion laser
+means insufficient bandwidth. They're talking in Latin-1 text at 1200 baud, if
+you care to know." (Which is an insult, given the ship's multi-avabit storage
+capacity - one avabit is Avogadro's number of bits; about 1023 bytes, several
+billion times the size of the Internet in 2001 - and outrageous communications
+bandwidth.) "Amber says, come and see her now. Audience chamber. Informal, of
+course. I think she wants to discuss it."
+"Informal? Am all right without change bodies?"
+The cat sniffs. "/{I'm}/ wearing a real fur coat," it declares haughtily, "but
+no knickers." Then blinks out a fraction of a second ahead of the snicker-
+*{snack}* of Bandersnatch-like jaws.
+% watch snicker-*{snack}* error, watch http:// sequence if to fix
+"Come on," says Pierre, standing up. "Time to see what Her Majesty wants with
+us today."
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to decade eight, third millennium, when the effects of the
+phase-change in the structure of the solar system are finally becoming visible
+on a cosmological scale.
+_1 There are about eleven billion future-shocked primates in various states of
+life and undeath throughout the solar system. Most of them cluster where the
+interpersonal bandwidth is hottest, down in the water zone around old Earth.
+Earth's biosphere has been in the intensive care ward for decades, weird rashes
+of hot-burning replicators erupting across it before the World Health
+Organization can fix them - gray goo, thylacines, dragons. The last great
+transglobal trade empire, run from the arcologies of Hong Kong, has collapsed
+along with capitalism, rendered obsolete by a bunch of superior deterministic
+resource allocation algorithms collectively known as Economics 2.0. Mercury,
+Venus, Mars, and Luna are all well on the way to disintegration, mass pumped
+into orbit with energy stolen from the haze of free-flying thermoelectrics that
+cluster so thickly around the solar poles that the sun resembles a fuzzy red
+ball of wool the size of a young red giant.
+_1 Humans are just barely intelligent tool users; Darwinian evolutionary
+selection stopped when language and tool use converged, leaving the average
+hairy meme carrier sadly deficient in smarts. Now the brightly burning beacon
+of sapience isn't held by humans anymore - their cross-infectious enthusiasms
+have spread to a myriad of other hosts, several types of which are
+qualitatively better at thinking. At last count, there were about a thousand
+nonhuman intelligent species in Sol space, split evenly between posthumans on
+one side, naturally self-organizing AIs in the middle, and mammalian nonhumans
+on the other. The common mammal neural chassis is easily upgraded to
+human-style intelligence in most species that can carry, feed and cool a half
+kilogram of gray matter, and the descendants of a hundred ethics-challenged
+doctoral theses are now demanding equal rights. So are the unquiet dead; the
+panopticon-logged Net ghosts of people who lived recently enough to imprint
+their identities on the information age, and the ambitious theological
+engineering schemes of the Reformed Tiplerite Church of Latter-day Saints (who
+want to emulate all possible human beings in real time, so that they can have
+the opportunity to be saved).
+_1 The human memesphere is coming alive, although how long it remains
+recognizably human is open to question. The informational density of the inner
+planets is visibly converging on Avogadro's number of bits per mole, one bit
+per atom, as the deconstructed dumb matter of the inner planets (apart from
+Earth, preserved for now like a picturesque historic building stranded in an
+industrial park) is converted into computronium. And it's not just the inner
+system. The same forces are at work on Jupiter's moons, and those of Saturn,
+although it'll take thousands of years rather than mere decades to dismantle
+the gas giants themselves. Even the entire solar energy budget isn't enough to
+pump Jupiter's enormous mass to orbital velocity in less than centuries. The
+fast-burning primitive thinkers descended from the African plains apes may have
+vanished completely or transcended their fleshy architecture before the solar
+Matrioshka brain is finished.
+_1 It won't be long now ...
+* * *
+Meanwhile, there's a party brewing down in Saturn's well.
+Sirhan's lily-pad city floats inside a gigantic and nearly-invisible sphere in
+Saturn's upper atmosphere; a balloon kilometers across with a shell of
+fullerene-reinforced diamond below and a hot hydrogen gas bag above. It's one
+of several hundred multimegaton soap bubbles floating in the sea of turbulent
+hydrogen and helium that is the upper atmosphere of Saturn, seeded there by the
+Society for Creative Terraforming, subcontractors for the 2074 Worlds' Fair.
+The cities are elegant, grown from a conceptual seed a few megawords long.
+Their replication rate is slow (it takes months to build a bubble), but in only
+a couple of decades, exponential growth will have paved the stratosphere with
+human-friendly terrain. Of course, the growth rate will slow toward the end, as
+it takes longer to fractionate the metal isotopes out of the gas giant's turbid
+depths, but before that happens, the first fruits of the robot factories on
+Ganymede will be pouring hydrocarbons down into the mix. Eventually Saturn -
+cloud-top gravity a human-friendly 11 meters per second squared - will have a
+planet wide biosphere with nearly a hundred times the surface area of Earth.
+And a bloody good thing indeed this will be, for otherwise, Saturn is no use to
+anyone except as a fusion fuel bunker for the deep future when the sun's burned
+This particular lily-pad is carpeted in grass, the hub of the disk rising in a
+gentle hill surmounted by the glowering concrete hump of the Boston Museum of
+Science. It looks curiously naked, shorn of its backdrop of highways and the
+bridges of the Charles River - but even the generous kiloton dumb matter
+load-outs of the skyhooks that lifted it into orbit wouldn't have stretched to
+bringing its framing context along with it. Probably someone will knock up a
+cheap diorama backdrop out of utility fog, Sirhan thinks, but for now, the
+museum stands proud and isolated, a solitary redoubt of classical learning in
+exile from the fast-thinking core of the solar system.
+"Waste of money," grumbles the woman in black. "Whose stupid idea was this,
+anyway?" She jabs the diamond ferrule of her cane at the museum.
+"It's a statement," Sirhan says absently. "You know the kind, we've got so many
+newtons to burn we can send our cultural embassies wherever we like. The Louvre
+is on its way to Pluto, did you hear that?"
+"Waste of energy." She lowers her cane reluctantly and leans on it. Pulls a
+face: "It's not /{right}/."
+"You grew up during the second oil crunch, didn't you?" Sirhan prods. "What was
+it like then?"
+"What was it ...? Oh, gas hit fifty bucks a gallon, but we still had plenty for
+bombers," she says dismissively. "We knew it would be okay. If it hadn't been
+for those damn' meddlesome posthumanists -" Her wrinkled, unnaturally aged face
+scowls at him furiously from underneath hair that has faded to the color of
+rotten straw, but he senses a subtext of self-deprecating irony that he doesn't
+understand. "Like your grandfather, damn him. If I was young again I'd go and
+piss on his grave to show him what I think of what he did. If he /{has}/ a
+grave," she adds, almost fondly.
+*{Memo checkpoint: log family history}*, Sirhan tells one of his ghosts. As a
+dedicated historian, he records every experience routinely, both before it
+enters his narrative of consciousness - efferent signals are the cleanest - and
+also his own stream of selfhood, against some future paucity of memory. But his
+grandmother has been remarkably consistent over the decades in her refusal to
+adapt to the new modalities.
+"You're recording this, aren't you?" she sniffs.
+"I'm not recording it, Grandmama," he says gently, "I'm just preserving my
+memories for future generations."
+"Hah! We'll see," she says suspiciously. Then she surprises him with a bark of
+laughter, cut off abruptly: "No, /{you'll}/ see, darling. I won't be around to
+be disappointed."
+"Are you going to tell me about my grandfather?" asks Sirhan.
+"Why should I bother? I know you posthumans, you'll just go and ask his ghost
+yourself. Don't try to deny it! There are two sides to every story, child, and
+he's had more than his fair share of ears, the sleazebag. Leaving me to bring
+up your mother on my own, and nothing but a bunch of worthless intellectual
+property and a dozen lawsuits from the Mafiya to do it with. I don't know what
+I ever saw in him." Sirhan's voice-stress monitor detects a distinct hint of
+untruth in this assertion. "He's worthless trash, and don't you forget it. Lazy
+idiot couldn't even form just one start-up on his own: He had to give it all
+away, all the fruits of his genius."
+While she rambles on, occasionally punctuating her characterization with sharp
+jabs of the cane, Pamela leads Sirhan on a slow, wavering stroll that veers
+around one side of the museum, until they're standing next to a starkly
+engineered antique loading bay. "He should have tried /{real}/ communism
+instead," she harrumphs: "Put some steel into him, shake those starry-eyed
+visionary positive-sum daydreams loose. You knew where you were in the old
+times, and no mistake. Humans were real humans, work was real work, and
+corporations were just things that did as we told them. And then, when /{she}/
+went to the bad, that was all his fault, too, you know."
+"She? You mean my, ah, mother?" Sirhan diverts his primary sensorium back to
+Pamela's vengeful muttering. There are aspects to this story that he isn't
+completely familiar with, angles he needs to sketch in so that he can satisfy
+himself that all is as it should be when the bailiffs go in to repossess
+Amber's mind.
+"He sent her our cat. Of all the mean-spirited, low, downright dishonest things
+he ever did, that was the worst part of it. That cat was /{mine}/, but he
+reprogrammed it to lead her astray. And it succeeded admirably. She was only
+twelve at the time, an impressionable age, I'm sure you'd agree. I was trying
+to raise her right. Children need moral absolutes, especially in a changing
+world, even if they don't like it much at the time. Self-discipline and
+stability, you can't function as an adult without them. I was afraid that, with
+all her upgrades, she'd never really get a handle on who she was, that she'd
+end up more machine than woman. But Manfred never really understood childhood,
+mostly on account of his never growing up. He always was inclined to meddle."
+"Tell me about the cat," Sirhan says quietly. One glance at the loading bay
+door tells him that it's been serviced recently. A thin patina of expended
+foglets have formed a snowy scab around its edges, flaking off like blue
+refractive candyfloss that leaves bright metal behind. "Didn't it go missing or
+Pamela snorts. "When your mother ran away, it uploaded itself to her starwisp
+and deleted its body. It was the only one of them that had the guts - or maybe
+it was afraid I'd have it subpoenaed as a hostile witness. Or, and I can't rule
+this out, your grandfather gave it a suicide reflex. He was quite evil enough
+to do something like that, after he reprogrammed himself to think I was some
+kind of mortal enemy."
+"So when my mother died to avoid bankruptcy, the cat ... didn't stay behind?
+Not at all? How remarkable." Sirhan doesn't bother adding /{how suicidal}/. Any
+artificial entity that's willing to upload its neural state vector into a
+one-kilogram interstellar probe three-quarters of the way to Alpha Centauri
+without backup or some clear way of returning home has got to be more than a
+few methods short in the object factory.
+"It's a vengeful beast." Pamela pokes her stick at the ground sharply, mutters
+a command word, and lets go of it. She stands before Sirhan, craning her neck
+back to look up at him. "My, what a tall boy you are."
+"Person," he corrects, instinctively. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't presume."
+"Person, thing, boy, whatever - you're engendered, aren't you?" she asks,
+sharply, waiting until he nods reluctantly. "Never trust anyone who can't make
+up their mind whether to be a man or a woman," she says gloomily. "You can't
+rely on them." Sirhan, who has placed his reproductive system on hold until he
+needs it, bites his tongue. "That damn cat," his grandmother complains. "/{It}/
+carried your grandfather's business plan to my daughter and spirited her away
+into the big black. /{It}/ poisoned her against me. /{It}/ encouraged her to
+join in that frenzy of speculative bubble-building that caused the market
+reboot that brought down the Ring Imperium. And now /{it}/ -"
+"Is it on the ship?" Sirhan asks, almost too eagerly.
+"It might be." She stares at him through narrowed eyes. "You want to interview
+it, too, huh?"
+Sirhan doesn't bother denying it. "I'm a historian, Grandmama. And that probe
+has been somewhere no other human sensorium has ever seen. It may be old news,
+and there may be old lawsuits waiting to feed on the occupants, but ..." He
+shrugs. "Business is business, and /{my}/ business lies in ruins."
+"Hah!" She stares at him for a moment, then nods, very slowly. She leans
+forward to rest both wrinkled hands atop her cane, joints like bags of
+shriveled walnuts: Her suit's endoskeleton creaks as it adjusts to accommodate
+her confidential posture. "You'll get yours, kid." The wrinkles twist into a
+frightening smile, sixty years of saved-up bitterness finally within spitting
+distance of a victim. "And I'll get what I want, too. Between us, your mother
+won't know what's hit her."
+* * *
+"Relax, between us your mother won't know what's hit her," says the cat, baring
+needle teeth at the Queen in the big chair - carved out of a single lump of
+computational diamond, her fingers clenched whitely on the sapphire-plated arms
+- her minions, lovers, friends, crew, shareholders, bloggers, and general
+factional auxiliaries spaced out around her. And the Slug. "It's just another
+lawsuit. You can deal with it."
+"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," Amber says, a trifle moodily. Although
+she's ruler of this embedded space, with total control over the reality model
+underlying it, she's allowed herself to age to a dignified twentysomething:
+Dressed casually in gray sweats, she doesn't look like the once-mighty ruler of
+a Jovian moon, or for that matter the renegade commander of a bankrupt
+interstellar expedition. "Okay, I think you'd better run that past me again.
+Unless anyone's got any suggestions?"
+"If you will excuse me?" asks Sadeq. "We have a shortage of insight here. I
+believe two laws were cited as absolute systemwide conventions - and how they
+convinced the ulama to go along with /{that}/ I would very much like to know -
+concerning the rights and responsibilities of the undead. Which, apparently, we
+are. Did they by any chance attach the code to their claim?"
+"Do bears shit in woods?" asks Boris, raptor-irascible, with an angry clatter
+of teeth. "Is full dependency graph and parse tree of criminal code crawling
+way up carrier's ass as we speak. Am drowning in lawyer gibberish! If you -"
+"Boris, can it!" Amber snaps. Tempers are high in the throne room. She didn't
+know what to expect when she arrived home from the expedition to the router,
+but bankruptcy proceedings weren't part of it. She doubts any of them expected
+anything like this. Especially not the bit about being declared liable for
+debts run up by a renegade splinter of herself, her own un-uploaded identity
+that had stayed home to face the music, aged in the flesh, married, gone
+bankrupt, died - /{incurred child support payments}/? "I don't hold you
+responsible for this," she added through gritted teeth, with a significant
+glance toward Sadeq.
+"This is truly a mess fit for the Prophet himself, peace be unto him, to serve
+judgment upon." Sadeq looks as shaken as she is by the implications the lawsuit
+raises. His gaze skitters around the room, looking anywhere but at Amber - and
+Pierre, her lanky toy-boy astrogator and bed warmer - as he laces his fingers.
+"Drop it. I said I /{don't}/ blame you." Amber forces a smile. "We're all tense
+from being locked in here with no bandwidth. Anyway, I smell Mother-dearest's
+hand underneath all this litigation. Sniff the glove. We'll sort a way out."
+"We could keep going." This from Ang, at the back of the room. Diffident and
+shy, she doesn't generally open her mouth without a good reason. "The *{Field
+Circus}* is in good condition, isn't it? We could divert back to the beam from
+the router, accelerate up to cruise speed, and look for somewhere to live.
+There must be a few suitable brown dwarfs within a hundred light-years ..."
+"We've lost too much sail mass," says Pierre. He's not meeting Amber's gaze
+either. There are lots of subtexts loose in this room, broken narratives from
+stories of misguided affections. Amber pretends not to notice his
+embarrassment. "We ejected half our original launch sail to provide the braking
+mirror at Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56},, and almost eight megaseconds ago, we
+halved our area again to give us a final deceleration beam for Saturn orbit. If
+we did it again, we wouldn't have enough area left to repeat the trick and
+still decelerate at our final target." Laser-boosted light sails do it with
+mirrors; after boost, they can drop half the sail and use it to reverse the
+launch beam and direct it back at the ship, to provide deceleration. But you
+can only do it a few times before you run out of sail. "There's nowhere to
+"Nowhere to -" Amber stares at him through narrowed eyes. "Sometimes I really
+wonder about you, you know?"
+"I know you do." And Pierre really /{does}/ know, because he carries a little
+homunculoid around in his society of mind, a model of Amber far more accurate
+and detailed than any pre-upload human could possibly have managed to construct
+of a lover. (For her part, Amber keeps a little Pierre doll tucked away inside
+the creepy cobwebs of her head, part of an exchange of insights they took part
+in years ago. But she doesn't try to fit inside his head too often anymore -
+it's not good to be able to second-guess your lover every time.) "I also know
+that you're going to rush in and grab the bull by the, ah, no. Wrong metaphor.
+This is your mother we are discussing?"
+"My /{mother}/." Amber nods thoughtfully. "Where's Donna?"
+"I don't -"
+There's a throaty roar from the back, and Boris lurches forward with something
+in his mouth, an angry Bolex that flails his snout with its tripod legs.
+"Hiding in corners again?" Amber says disdainfully.
+"I am a camera!" protests the camera, aggrieved and self-conscious as it picks
+itself up off the floor. "I am -"
+Pierre leans close, sticks his face up against the fish-eye lens: "You're
+fucking well going to be a human being just this once. /{Merde}/!"
+The camera is replaced by a very annoyed blond woman wearing a safari suit and
+more light meters, lenses, camera bags, and microphones than a CNN outside
+broadcast unit. "Go fuck yourself!"
+"I don't like being spied on," Amber says sharply. "Especially as you weren't
+invited to this meeting. Right?"
+"I'm the archivist." Donna looks away, stubbornly refusing to admit anything.
+"/{You}/ said I should -"
+"Yes, /{well}/." Amber is embarrassed. But it's a bad idea to embarrass the
+Queen in her audience chamber. "You heard what we were discussing. What do
+/{you}/ know about my mother's state of mind?"
+"Absolutely nothing," Donna says promptly. She's clearly in a sulk and prepared
+to do no more than the minimum to help resolve the situation. "I only met her
+once. You look like her when you are angry, do you know that?"
+"I -" For once, Amber's speechless.
+"I'll schedule you for facial surgery," offers the cat. /{Sotto voce}/: "It's
+the only way to be sure."
+Normally, accusing Amber of any resemblance to her mother, however slight and
+passing, would be enough to trigger a reality quake within the upload
+environment that passes for the bridge of the *{Field Circus}*. It's a sign of
+how disturbed Amber is by the lawsuit that she lets the cat's impertinence
+slide. "What /{is}/ the lawsuit, anyway?" Donna asks, nosy as ever and twice as
+annoying: "I did not that bit see."
+"It's horrible," Amber says vehemently.
+"Truly evil," echoes Pierre.
+"Fascinating but wrong," Sadeq muses thoughtfully.
+"But it's still horrible!"
+"Yes, but what is it?" Donna the all-seeing-eye archivist and camera manqué
+"It's a demand for settlement." Amber takes a deep breath. "Dammit, you might
+as well tell everyone - it won't stay secret for long." She sighs. "After we
+left, it seems my other half - my original incarnation, that is - got married.
+To Sadeq, here." She nods at the Iranian theologian, who looks just as bemused
+as she did the first time she heard this part of the story. "And they had a
+child. Then the Ring Imperium went bankrupt. The child is demanding maintenance
+payments from me, backdated nearly twenty years, on the grounds that the undead
+are jointly and severally liable for debts run up by their incarnations. It's a
+legal precedent established to prevent people from committing suicide
+temporarily as a way to avoid bankruptcy. Worse, the lien on my assets is
+measured in subjective time from a point at the Ring Imperium about nineteen
+months after our launch time - we've been in relativistic flight, so while my
+other half would be out from under it by now if she'd survived, I'm still
+subject to the payment order. But compound interest applies back home -
+/{that}/ is to stop people trying to use the twin's paradox as a way to escape
+liability. So, by being away for about twenty-eight years of wall-clock time,
+I've run up a debt I didn't know about to enormous levels.
+"This man, this son I've never met, theoretically owns the *{Field Circus}*
+several times over. And my accounts are wiped out - I don't even have enough
+money to download us into fleshbodies. Unless one of you guys has got a secret
+stash that survived the market crash after we left, we're all in deep trouble."
+* * *
+A mahogany dining table eight meters long graces the flagstoned floor of the
+huge museum gallery, beneath the skeleton of an enormous Argentinosaurus and a
+suspended antique Mercury capsule more than a century old. The dining table is
+illuminated by candlelight, silver cutlery and fine porcelain plates setting
+out two places at opposite ends. Sirhan sits in a high-backed chair beneath the
+shadow of a triceratops's rib cage. Opposite him, Pamela has dressed for dinner
+in the fashion of her youth. She raises her wineglass toward him. "Tell me
+about your childhood, why don't you?" she asks. High above them, Saturn's rings
+shimmer through the skylights, like a luminous paint splash thrown across the
+midnight sky.
+Sirhan has misgivings about opening up to her, but consoles himself with the
+fact that she's clearly in no position to use anything he tells her against
+him. "Which childhood would you like to know about?" he asks.
+"What do you mean, which?" Her face creases up in a frown of perplexity.
+"I had several. Mother kept hitting the reset switch, hoping I'd turn out
+better." It's his turn to frown.
+"She did, did she," breathes Pamela, clearly noting it down to hold as
+ammunition against her errant daughter. "Why do you think she did that?"
+"It was the only way she knew to raise a child," Sirhan says defensively. "She
+didn't have any siblings. And, perhaps, she was reacting against her own
+character flaws." /{When I have children there will be more than one}/, he
+tells himself smugly: when, that is, he has adequate means to find himself a
+bride, and adequate emotional maturity to activate his organs of procreation. A
+creature of extreme caution, Sirhan is not planning to repeat the errors of his
+ancestors on the maternal side.
+Pamela flinches: "it's not my fault," she says quietly. "Her father had quite a
+bit to do with that. But what - what different childhoods did you have?"
+"Oh, a fair number. There was the default option, with Mother and Father
+arguing constantly - she refused to take the veil and he was too stiff-necked
+to admit he was little more than a kept man, and between them, they were like
+two neutron stars locked in an unstable death spiral of gravity. Then there
+were my other lives, forked and reintegrated, running in parallel. I was a
+young goatherd in the days of the middle kingdom in Egypt, I remember that; and
+I was an all-American kid growing up in Iowa in the 1950s, and another me got
+to live through the return of the hidden imam - at least, his parents thought
+it was the hidden imam - and -" Sirhan shrugs. "Perhaps that's where I acquired
+my taste for history."
+"Did your parents ever consider making you a little girl?" asks his
+"Mother suggested it a couple of times, but Father forbade it." /{Or rather,
+decided it was unlawful}/, he recalls. "I had a very conservative upbringing in
+some ways."
+"I wouldn't say that. When I was a little girl, that was all there was; none of
+these questions of self-selected identity. There was no escape, merely
+escapism. Didn't you ever have a problem knowing who you were?"
+The starters arrive, diced melon on a silver salver. Sirhan waits patiently for
+his grandmama to chivvy the table into serving her. "The more people you are,
+the more you know who /{you}/ are," says Sirhan. "You learn what it's like to
+be other people. Father thought that perhaps it isn't good for a man to know
+too much about what it's like to be a woman." /{And Grandfather disagreed, but
+you already know that}/, he adds for his own stream of consciousness.
+"I couldn't agree more." Pamela smiles at him, an expression that might be that
+of a patronizing elder aunt if it wasn't for the alarming sharkishness of her
+expression - or is it playfulness? Sirhan covers his confusion by spooning
+chunks of melon into his mouth, forking temporary ghosts to peruse dusty
+etiquette manuals and warn him if he's about to commit some faux pas. "So, how
+did you enjoy your childhoods?"
+"Enjoy isn't a word I would use," he replies as evenly as he can, laying down
+his spoon so he doesn't spill anything. /{As if childhood is something that
+ever ends}/, he thinks bitterly. Sirhan is considerably less than a gigasecond
+old and confidently expects to exist for at least a terasecond - if not in
+exactly this molecular configuration, then at least in some reasonably stable
+physical incarnation. And he has every intention of staying young for that
+entire vast span - even into the endless petaseconds that might follow,
+although by then, megayears hence, he speculates that issues of neoteny will no
+longer interest him. "It's not over yet. How about you? Are you enjoying your
+old age, Grandmama?"
+Pamela almost flinches, but keeps iron control of her expression. The flush of
+blood in the capillaries of her cheeks, visible to Sirhan through the tiny
+infrared eyes he keeps afloat in the air above the table, gives her away. "I
+made some mistakes in my youth, but I'm enjoying it fine nowadays," she says
+"It's your revenge, isn't it?" Sirhan asks, smiling and nodding as the table
+removes the entrees.
+"Why, you little -" She stares at him rather than continuing. A very bleak
+stare it is, too. "What would you know about revenge?" she asks.
+"I'm the family historian." Sirhan smiles humorlessly. "I lived from two to
+seventeen years several hundred times over before my eighteenth birthday. It
+was that reset switch, you know. I don't think Mother realized my primary
+stream of consciousness was journaling everything."
+"That's monstrous." Pamela picks up her wineglass and takes a sip to cover her
+confusion. Sirhan has no such retreat - grape juice in a tumbler, unfermented,
+wets his tongue. "I'd /{never}/ do something like that to any child of mine."
+"So why won't you tell me about your childhood?" asks her grandson. "For the
+family history, of course."
+"I'll -" She puts her glass down. "You intend to write one," she states.
+"I'm thinking about it." Sirhan sits up. "An old-fashioned book covering three
+generations, living through interesting times," he suggests. "A work of
+postmodern history, the incoherent school at that - how do you document people
+who fork their identities at random, spend years dead before reappearing on the
+stage, and have arguments with their own relativistically preserved other copy?
+I could trace the history further, of course - if you tell me about /{your}/
+parents, although I am certain they aren't around to answer questions directly
+- but we reach the boring dumb matter slope back to the primeval soup
+surprisingly fast if we go there, don't we? So I thought that perhaps as a
+narrative hook I'd make the offstage viewpoint that of the family's robot cat.
+(Except the bloody thing's gone missing, hasn't it?) Anyway, with so much of
+human history occupying the untapped future, we historians have our work cut
+out recording the cursor of the present as it logs events. So I might as well
+start at home."
+"You're set on immortalism." Pamela studies his face.
+"Yes," he says idly. "Frankly, I can understand your wanting to grow old out of
+a desire for revenge, but pardon me for saying this, I have difficulty grasping
+your willingness to follow through with the procedure! Isn't it awfully
+"Growing old is /{natural}/," growls the old woman. "When you've lived long
+enough for all your ambitions to be in ruins, friendships broken, lovers
+forgotten or divorced acrimoniously, what's left to go on for? If you feel
+tired and old in spirit, you might as well be tired and old in body. Anyway,
+wanting to live forever is immoral. Think of all the resources you're taking up
+that younger people need! Even uploads face a finite data storage limit after a
+time. It's a monstrously egotistical statement, to say you intend to live
+forever. And if there's one thing I believe in, it's public service. Duty: the
+obligation to make way for the new. Duty and control."
+Sirhan absorbs all this, nodding slowly to himself as the table serves up the
+main course - honey-glazed roast long pork with sautéed potatoes a la gratin
+and carrots Debussy - when there's a loud *{bump}* from overhead.
+"What's that?" Pamela asks querulously.
+"One moment." Sirhan's vision splits into a hazy kaleidoscope view of the
+museum hall as he forks ghosts to monitor each of the ubiquitous cameras. He
+frowns; something is moving on the balcony, between the Mercury capsule and a
+display of antique random-dot stereoisograms. "Oh dear. Something seems to be
+loose in the museum."
+"Loose? What do you mean, loose?" An inhuman shriek splits the air above the
+table, followed by a crash from upstairs. Pamela stands up unsteadily, wiping
+her lips with her napkin. "Is it safe?"
+"No, it isn't safe." Sirhan fumes. "It's disturbing my meal!" He looks up. A
+flash of orange fur shows over the balcony, then the Mercury capsule wobbles
+violently on the end of its guy wires. Two arms and a bundle of rubbery
+/{something}/ covered in umber hair lurches out from the handrail and casually
+grabs hold of the priceless historical relic, then clambers inside and squats
+on top of the dummy wearing Al Sheperd's age-cracked space suit. "It's an
+/{ape}/! City, I say, City! What's a monkey doing loose in my dinner party?"
+"I am most deeply sorry, sir, but I don't know. Would sir care to identify the
+monkey in question?" replies City, which for reasons of privacy, has manifested
+itself as a bodiless voice.
+There's a note of humor in City's tone that Sirhan takes deep exception to.
+"What do you mean? Can't you see it?" he demands, focusing on the errant
+primate, which is holed up in the Mercury capsule dangling from the ceiling,
+smacking its lips, rolling its eyes, and fingering the gasket around the
+capsule's open hatch. It hoots quietly to itself, then leans out of the open
+door and moons over the table, baring its buttocks. "Get back!" Sirhan calls to
+his grandmother, then he gestures at the air above the table, intending to tell
+the utility fog to congeal. Too late. The ape farts thunderously, then lets rip
+a stream of excrement across the dining table. Pamela's face is a picture of
+wrinkled disgust as she holds her napkin in front of her nose. "Dammit,
+solidify, will you!" Sirhan curses, but the ubiquitous misty pollen-grain-sized
+robots refuse to respond.
+"What's your problem? Invisible monkeys?" asks City.
+"Invisible -" he stops.
+"Can't you see what it did?" Pamela demands, backing him up. "It just defecated
+all over the main course!"
+"I see nothing," City says uncertainly.
+"Here, let me help you." Sirhan lends it one of his eyes, rolls it to focus on
+the ape, which is now reaching lazy arms around the hatch and patting down the
+roof of the capsule, as if hunting for the wires' attachment points.
+"Oh dear," says City, "I've been hacked. That's not supposed to be possible."
+"Well it fucking /{is}/," hisses Pamela.
+"Hacked?" Sirhan stops trying to tell the air what to do and focuses on his
+clothing instead. Fabric reweaves itself instantly, mapping itself into an
+armored airtight suit that raises a bubble visor from behind his neck and flips
+itself shut across his face. "City please supply my grandmama with an
+environment suit /{now}/. Make it completely autonomous."
+The air around Pamela begins to congeal in a blossom of crystalline security,
+as a sphere like a giant hamster ball precipitates out around her. "If you've
+been hacked, the first question is, who did it," Sirhan states. "The second is
+'why,' and the third is 'how.'" He edgily runs a self-test, but there's no sign
+of inconsistencies in his own identity matrix, and he has hot shadows sleeping
+lightly at scattered nodes across as distance of half a dozen light-hours.
+Unlike pre-posthuman Pamela, he's effectively immune to murder-simple. "If this
+is just a prank -"
+Seconds have passed since the orang-utan got loose in the museum, and
+subsequent seconds have passed since City realized its bitter circumstance.
+Seconds are long enough for huge waves of countermeasures to sweep the surface
+of the lily-pad habitat. Invisibly small utility foglets are expanding and
+polymerizing into defenses throughout the air, trapping the thousands of
+itinerant passenger pigeons in midflight, and locking down every building and
+every person who walks the paths outside. City is self-testing its trusted
+computing base, starting with the most primitive secured kernel and working
+outward. Meanwhile Sirhan, with blood in his eye, heads for the staircase, with
+the vague goal of physically attacking the intruder. Pamela retreats at a fast
+roll, tumbling toward the safety of the mezzanine floor and a garden of
+fossils. "Who do you think you are, barging in and shitting on my supper?"
+Sirhan yells as he bounds up the stairs. "I want an explanation! Right now!"
+The orang-utan finds the nearest cable and gives it a yank, setting the one-ton
+capsule swinging. It bares its teeth at Sirhan in a grin. "Remember me?" it
+asks, in a sibilant French accent.
+"Remember -" Sirhan stops dead. "Tante Annette? /{What}/ are you doing in that
+"Having minor autonomic control problems." The ape grimaces wider, then bends
+one arm sinuously and scratches at its armpit. "I am sorry, I installed myself
+in the wrong order. I was only meaning to say hello and pass on a message."
+"What message?" Sirhan demands. "You've upset my grandmama, and if she finds
+out you're here -"
+"She won't; I'll be gone in a minute." The ape - Annette - sits up. "Your
+grandfather salutes you and says he will be visiting shortly. In the person,
+that is. He is very keen to meet your mother and her passengers. That is all.
+Have you a message for him?"
+"Isn't he dead?" Sirhan asks, dazed.
+"No more than I am. And I'm overdue. Good day!" The ape swings hand over hand
+out of the capsule, then lets go and plummets ten meters to the hard stone
+floor below. Its skull makes a noise like a hard-boiled egg impacting concrete.
+"Oh dear," Sirhan breathes heavily. "City!"
+"Yes, oh master?"
+"Remove that body," he says, pointing over the balcony. "I'll trouble you not
+to disturb my grandmother with any details. In particular, don't tell her it
+was Annette. The news may upset her." /{The perils of having a long-lived
+posthuman family}/, he thinks; /{too many mad}/ aunts in the space capsule. "If
+you can find a way to stop Auntie 'Nette from growing any more apes, that might
+be a good idea." A thought strikes him. "By the way, do you know when my
+grandfather is due to arrive?"
+"Your grandfather?" asks City: "Isn't he dead?"
+Sirhan looks over the balcony, at the blood-seeping corpse of the intruder.
+"Not according to his second wife's latest incarnation."
+* * *
+Funding the family reunion isn't going to be a problem, as Amber discovers when
+she receives an offer of reincarnation good for all the passengers and crew of
+the *{Field Circus}*.
+She isn't sure quite where the money is coming from. Presumably it's some
+creaky financial engine designed by Dad, stirring from its bear-market bunker
+for the first time in decades to suck dusty syndication feeds and liquidate
+long-term assets held against her return. She's duly grateful - even fervently
+so - for the details of her own impecunious position grow more depressing the
+more she learns about them. Her sole asset is the *{Field Circus}*, a
+thirty-years-obsolete starwisp massing less than twenty kilograms including
+what's left of its tattered sail, along with its cargo of uploaded passengers
+and crew. Without the farsighted trust fund that has suddenly chugged into
+life, she'd be stranded in the realm of ever-circling leptons. But now the fund
+has sent her its offer of incarnation, she's got a dilemma. Because one of the
+*{Field Circus's}* passengers has never actually had a meatspace body ...
+Amber finds the Slug browsing quietly in a transparent space filled with lazily
+waving branches that resemble violet coral fans. They're a ghost-memory of
+alien life, an order of thermophilic quasi fungi with hyphae ridged in
+actin/myosin analogues, muscular and slippery filter feeders that eat airborne
+unicellular organisms. The Slug itself is about two meters long and has a lacy
+white exoskeleton of curves and arcs that don't repeat, disturbingly similar to
+a Penrose tiling. Chocolate brown organs pulse slowly under the skeleton. The
+ground underfoot is dry but feels swampy.
+Actually, the Slug is a surgical disguise. Both it and the quasi-fungal
+ecosystem have been extinct for millions of years, existing only as cheap stage
+props in an interstellar medicine show run by rogue financial instruments. The
+Slug itself is one such self-aware scam, probably a pyramid scheme or even an
+entire compressed junk bond market in heavy recession, trying to hide from its
+creditors by masquerading as a life-form. But there's a problem with
+incarnating itself down in Sirhan's habitat - the ecosystem it evolved for is a
+cool Venusiform, thirty atmospheres of saturated steam baked under a sky the
+color of hot lead streaked with yellow sulphuric acid clouds. The ground is
+mushy because it's melting, not because it's damp.
+"You're going to have to pick another somatotype," Amber explains, laboriously
+rolling her interface around the red-hot coral reef like a giant soap bubble.
+The environmental interface is transparent and infinitely thin, a discontinuity
+in the physics model of the simulation space, mapping signals between the
+human-friendly environment on one side and the crushing, roasting hell on the
+other. "This one is simply not compatible with any of the supported
+environments where we're going."
+"I am not understanding. Surely I can integrate with the available worlds of
+our destination?"
+"Uh, things don't work that way outside cyberspace." Suddenly Amber is at a bit
+of a loss. "The physics model /{could}/ be supported, but the energy input to
+do so would be prohibitive, and you would not be able to interact as easily
+with other physics models as we can now." She forks a ghost, demonstrates a
+transient other-Amber in a refrigerated tank rolling across the Slug's
+backyard, crushing coral and hissing and clanking noisily. "You'd be like
+"Your reality is badly constructed, then," the Slug points out.
+"It's not constructed at all, it just evolved, randomly." Amber shrugs. "We
+can't exercise the same level of control over the underlying embedded context
+that we can over this one. I can't simply magic you an interface that will let
+you bathe in steam at three hundred degrees."
+"Why not?" asks the Slug. Translation wetware adds a nasty, sharp rising whine
+to the question, turning it into a demand.
+"It's a privilege violation," Amber tries to explain. "The reality we're about
+to enter is, uh, provably consistent. It has to be, because it's consistent and
+stable, and if we could create new local domains with different rules, they
+might propagate uncontrollably. It's not a good idea, believe me. Do you want
+to come with us or not?"
+"I have no alternative," the Slug says, slightly sulkily. "But do you have a
+body I can use?"
+"I think -" Amber stops, suddenly. She snaps her fingers. "Hey, cat!"
+A Cheshire grin ripples into view, masked into the domain wall between the two
+embedded realities. "Hey, human."
+"Whoa!" Amber takes a backward step from the apparition. "Our friend here's got
+a problem, no suitable downloadable body. Us meat puppets are all too closely
+tied to our neural ultrastructure, but you've got a shitload of programmable
+gate arrays. Can we borrow some?"
+"You can do better than that." Aineko yawns, gathering substance by the moment.
+The Slug is rearing up and backing away like an alarmed sausage: Whatever it
+perceives in the membrane seems to frighten it. "I've been designing myself a
+new body. I figured it was time to change my style for a while. Your corporate
+scam artist here can borrow my old template until something better comes up.
+How's that?"
+"Did you hear that?" Amber asks the Slug. "Aineko is kindly offering to donate
+her body to you. Will that do?" Without waiting, she winks at her cat and taps
+her heels together, fading out with a whisper and a smile: "See you on the
+other side ..."
+* * *
+It takes several minutes for the *{Field Circus}*'s antique transceiver to
+download the dozens of avabits occupied by the frozen state vectors of each of
+the people running in its simulation engines. Tucked away with most of them is
+a resource bundle consisting of their entire sequenced genome, a bunch of
+phenotypic and proteome hint markers, and a wish list of upgrades. Between the
+gene maps and the hints, there's enough data to extrapolate a meat machine. So
+the festival city's body shop goes to work turning out hacked stem cells and
+fabbing up incubators.
+It doesn't take very long to reincarnate a starshipful of relativity-lagged
+humans these days. First, City carves out skeletons for them (politely ignoring
+a crudely phrased request to cease and desist from Pamela, on the grounds that
+she has no power of attorney), then squirts osteoclasts into the spongy ersatz
+bone. They look like ordinary human stem cells at a distance, but instead of
+nuclei they have primitive pinpricks of computronium, blobs of smart matter so
+small they're as dumb as an ancient Pentium, reading a control tape that is
+nevertheless better structured than anything Mother Nature evolved. These
+heavily optimized fake stem cells - biological robots in all but name - spawn
+like cancer, ejecting short-lived anucleated secondary cells. Then City infuses
+each mess of quasi-cancerous tissue with a metric shitload of carrier capsids,
+which deliver the /{real}/ cellular control mechanisms to their target bodies.
+Within a megasecond, the almost random churning of the construction 'bots gives
+way to a more controlled process as nanoscale CPUs are replaced by ordinary
+nuclei and eject themselves from their host cells, bailing out via the
+half-formed renal system - except for those in the central nervous system,
+which have a final job to do. Eleven days after the invitation, the first
+passengers are being edited into the pattern of synaptic junctions inside the
+newly minted skulls.
+(This whole process is tediously slow and laughably obsolescent technology by
+the standards of the fast-moving core. Down there, they'd just set up a wake
+shield in orbit, chill it down to a fractional Kelvin, whack two coherent
+matter beams together, teleport some state information into place, and yank the
+suddenly materialized meatbody in through an airlock before it has time to
+asphyxiate. But then again, down in the hot space, they don't have much room
+for flesh anymore ...)
+Sirhan doesn't pay much attention to the pseudocancers fermenting and churning
+in the row of tanks that lines the Gallery of the Human Body in the Bush wing
+of the museum. Newly formed, slowly unskeletonizing corpses - like a time-lapse
+process of decay with a finger angrily twisting the dial into high-speed
+reverse - is both distasteful and aesthetically displeasing to watch. Nor do
+the bodies tell him anything about their occupants. This sort of stuff is just
+a necessary prequel to the main event, a formal reception and banquet to which
+he has devoted the full-time attention of four ghosts.
+He could, given a few less inhibitions, go Dumpster-diving in their mental
+archives, but that's one of the big taboos of the post-wetware age. (Spy
+agencies went meme-profiling and memory-mining in the third and fourth decades,
+gained a thought police rap sheet, and spawned a backlash of deviant mental
+architectures resilient to infowar intrusions. Now the nations that those spook
+institutions served no longer exist, their very landmasses being part of the
+orbiting nöosphere construction project that will ultimately turn the mass of
+the entire solar system into a gigantic Matrioshka brain. And Sirhan is left
+with an uneasy loyalty to the one great new taboo to be invented since the end
+of the twentieth century - freedom of thought.)
+So, to indulge his curiosity, he spends most of his waking fleshbody hours with
+Pamela, asking her questions from time to time and mapping the splenetic
+overspill of her memeome into his burgeoning family knowledge base.
+"I wasn't always this bitter and cynical," Pamela explains, waving her cane in
+the vague direction of the cloudscape beyond the edge of the world and fixing
+Sirhan with a beady stare. (He's brought her out here hoping that it will
+trigger another cascade of memories, sunsets on honeymoon island resorts and
+the like, but all that seems to be coming up is bile.) "It was the successive
+betrayals. Manfred was the first, and the worst in some ways, but that little
+bitch Amber hurt me more, if anything. If you ever have children, be careful to
+hold something back for yourself; because if you don't, when they throw it all
+in your face, you'll feel like dying. And when they're gone, you've got no way
+of patching things up."
+"Is dying inevitable?" asks Sirhan, knowing damn well that it isn't, but more
+than happy to give her an excuse to pick at her scabbed-over love wound: He
+more than half suspects she's still in love with Manfred. This is /{great}/
+family history, and he's having the time of his flinty-hearted life leading her
+up to the threshold of the reunion he's hosting.
+"Sometimes I think death is even more inevitable than taxes," his grandmother
+replies bleakly. "Humans don't live in a vacuum; we're part of a larger pattern
+of life." She stares out across the troposphere of Saturn, where a thin rime of
+blown methane snow catches the distant sunrise in a ruby-tinted fog. "The old
+gives way to the new," She sighs, and tugs at her cuffs. (Ever since the
+incident with the gate crashing ape, she's taken to wearing an antique formal
+pressure suit, all clinging black spidersilk woven with flexible pipes and
+silvery smart sensor nets.) "There's a time to get out of the way of the new,
+and I think I passed it sometime ago."
+"Um," says Sirhan, who is somewhat surprised by this new angle in her lengthy,
+self-justifying confession: "but what if you're just saying this because you
+/{feel}/ old? If it's just a physiological malfunction, we could fix it and
+you'd -"
+"/{No}/! I've got a feeling that life prolongation is morally wrong, Sirhan.
+I'm not passing judgment on you, just stating that I think it's wrong for me.
+It's immoral because it blocks up the natural order, keeps us old cobweb
+strands hanging around and getting in you young things' way. And then there are
+the theological questions. If you try to live forever, you never get to meet
+your maker."
+"Your maker? Are you a theist, then?"
+"I - think so." Pamela is silent for a minute. "Although there are so many
+different approaches to the subject that it's hard to know which version to
+believe. For a long time, I was secretly afraid your grandfather might actually
+have had the answers. That I might have been wrong all along. But now -" She
+leans on her cane. "When he announced that he was uploading, I figured out that
+all he really had was a life-hating antihuman ideology he'd mistaken for a
+religion. The rapture of the nerds and the heaven of the AIs. Sorry, no thanks;
+I don't buy it."
+"Oh." Sirhan squints out at the cloudscape. For a moment, he thinks he can see
+something in the distant mist, an indeterminate distance away - it's hard to
+distinguish centimeters from megameters, with no scale indicator and a horizon
+a continental distance away - but he's not sure what it is. Maybe another city,
+mollusk-curved and sprouting antennae, a strange tail of fabricator nodes
+wavering below and beneath it. Then a drift of cloud hides it for a moment,
+and, when it clears the object is gone. "What's left, then? If you don't really
+believe in some kind of benign creator, dying must be frightening. Especially
+as you're doing it so slowly."
+Pamela smiles skeletally, a particularly humorless expression. "It's perfectly
+natural, darling! You don't need to believe in God to believe in embedded
+realities. We use them every day, as mind tools. Apply anthropic reasoning and
+isn't it clear that our entire universe is probably a simulation? We're living
+in the early epoch of the universe. Probably this" - she prods at the
+spun-diamond inner wall of the bubble that holds in the precarious terrestrial
+atmosphere, holding out the howling cryogenic hydrogen and methane gales of
+Saturn - "is but a simulation in some ancient history engine's panopticon,
+rerunning the sum of all possible origins of sentience, a billion trillion
+megayears down the line. Death will be like waking up as someone bigger, that's
+all." Her grin slides away. "And if not, I'll just be a silly old fool who
+deserves the oblivion she yearns for."
+"Oh, but -" Sirhan stops, his skin crawling. /{She may be mad}/, he realizes
+abruptly. /{Not clinically insane, just at odds with the entire universe.
+Locked into a pathological view of}/ her own role in /{reality.}/ "I'd hoped
+for a reconciliation," he says quietly. "Your extended family has lived through
+some extraordinary times. Why spoil it with acrimony?"
+"Why spoil it?" She looks at him pityingly: "It was spoiled to begin with,
+dear, too much selfless sacrifice and too little skepticism. If Manfred hadn't
+wanted so badly not to be /{human}/, and if I'd learned to be a bit more
+flexible in time, we might still -" She trails off. "That's odd."
+"What is?"
+Pamela raises her cane and points out into the billowing methane thunderclouds,
+her expression puzzled. "I'll swear I saw a lobster out there ..."
+* * *
+Amber awakens in the middle of the night in darkness and choking pressure, and
+senses that she's drowning. For a moment she's back in the ambiguous space on
+the far side of the router, a horror of crawling instruments tracing her every
+experience back to the nooks and crannies of her mind; then her lungs turn to
+glass and shatter, and she's coughing and wheezing in the cold air of the
+museum at midnight.
+The hard stone floor beneath her, and an odd pain in her knees, tells her that
+she's not aboard the *{Field Circus}* anymore. Rough hands hold her shoulders
+up as she vomits a fine blue mist, racked by a coughing fit. More bluish liquid
+is oozing from the pores of the skin on her arms and breasts, evaporating in
+strangely purposeful streamers. "Thank you," she finally manages to gasp: "I
+can breathe now."
+She sits back on her heels, realizes she's naked, and opens her eyes.
+Everything's confusingly strange, even though it shouldn't be. There's a moment
+of resistance as if her eyelids are sealed - then they respond. It all feels
+strangely familiar to her, like waking up again inside a house she grew up in
+and moved away from years ago. But the scene around her is hardly one to
+inspire confidence. Shadows lie thick and deep across ovoid tanks filled with
+an anatomist's dream, bodies in various nightmarish stages of assembly. And
+sitting in the middle of them, whence it has retreated after letting go of her
+shoulders, is a strangely misshapen person - also nude, but for a patchy coat
+of orange hair.
+"Are you awake yet, ma chérie?" asks the orang-utan.
+"Um." Amber shakes her head, cautiously, feeling the drag of damp hair, the
+faint caress of a breeze - she reaches out with another sense and tries to grab
+hold of reality, but it slithers away, intransigent and unembedded. Everything
+around her is so solid and immutable that, for a moment, she feels a stab of
+claustrophobic panic: Help! I'm trapped in the real universe! Another quick
+check reassures her that she's got access to /{something}/ outside her own
+head, and the panic begins to subside: Her exocortex has migrated successfully
+to this world. "I'm in a museum? On Saturn? Who are you - have we met?"
+"Not in person," the ape says carefully. "We 'ave corresponded. Annette
+"Auntie -" A flood of memories rattle Amber's fragile stream of consciousness
+apart, forcing her to fork repeatedly until she can drag them together.
+Annette, in a recorded message: /{Your father sends you this escape package}/.
+The legal key to her mother's gilded custodial cage. Freedom a necessity. "Is
+Dad here?" she asks hopefully, even though she knows full well that here in the
+real world at least thirty-five years have passed in linear time: In a century
+where ten years of linear time is enough for several industrial revolutions,
+that's a lot of water under the bridge.
+"I am not sure." The orang-utan blinks lazily, scratches at her left forearm,
+and glances round the chamber. "He might be in one of these tanks, playing a
+shell game. Or he might be leaving well enough alone until the dust settles."
+She turns back to stare at Amber with big, brown, soulful eyes. "This is not to
+be the reunion you were hoping for."
+"Not -" Amber takes a deep breath, the tenth or twelfth that these new lungs
+have inspired: "What's with the body? You used to be human. And what's going
+"I still /{am}/ human, where it counts," says Annette. "I use these bodies
+because they are good in low gravity, and they remind me that meatspace is no
+longer where I live. And for another reason." She gestures fluidly at the open
+door. "You will find big changes. Your son has organized -"
+"/{My}/ son." Amber blinks. "Is this the one who's suing me? Which version of
+me? How long ago?" A torrent of questions stream through her mind, exploding
+out into structured queries throughout the public sections of mindspace that
+she has access to. Her eyes widen as she absorbs the implications. "Oh
+/{shit}/! Tell me she isn't here already!"
+"I am very much afraid that she is," says Annette. "Sirhan is a strange child:
+He takes after his /{grandmère}/. Who he, of course, invited to his party."
+"His /{party}/?"
+"Why, yes! Hasn't he told you what this is about? It's his party. To mark the
+opening of his special institution. The family archive. He's setting the
+lawsuit aside, at least for the duration. That's why everybody is here - even
+me." The ape-body smirks at her: "I'm afraid he's rather disappointed by my
+"Tell me about this library," Amber says, narrowing her eyes. "And about this
+son of mine whom I've never met, by a father I've never fucked."
+"What, you would know everything?" asks Annette.
+"Yeah." Amber pushes herself creakily upright. "I need some clothes. And soft
+furniture. And where do I get a drink around here?"
+"I'll show you," says the orang-utan, unfolding herself in a vertical direction
+like a stack of orange furry inner tubes. "Drinks, first."
+* * *
+While the Boston Museum of Science is the main structure on the lily-pad
+habitat, it's not the only one: just the stupidest, composed of dumb matter
+left over from the pre-enlightened age. The orang-utan leads Amber through a
+service passage and out into the temperate night, naked by ringlight. The grass
+is cool beneath her feet, and a gentle breeze blows constantly out toward the
+recirculators at the edge of the worldlet. She follows the slouching orange ape
+up a grassy slope, under a weeping willow, round a
+three-hundred-and-ninety-degree bend that flashes the world behind them into
+invisibility, and into a house with walls of spun cloud stuff and a ceiling
+that rains moonlight.
+"What is this?" Amber asks, entranced. "Some kind of aerogel?"
+"No -" Annette belches, then digs a hand into the floor and pulls up a heap of
+mist. "Make a chair," she says. It solidifies, gaining form and texture until a
+creditable Queen Anne reproduction stands in front of Amber on spindly legs.
+"And one for me. Skin up, pick one of my favorite themes." The walls recede
+slightly and harden, extruding paint and wood and glass. "That's it." The ape
+grins at Amber. "You are comfortable?"
+"But I -" Amber stops. She glances at the familiar mantelpiece, the row of
+curios, the baby photographs forever glossy on their dye-sub media. It's her
+childhood bedroom. "You brought the whole thing? Just for me?"
+"You can never tell with future shock." Annette shrugs and reaches a limber arm
+around the back of her neck to scratch. "We are utility fog using, for most
+purposes out here, peer-to-peer meshes of multiarmed assemblers that change
+conformation and vapor/solid phase at command. Texture and color are all
+superfice, not reality. But yes, this came from one of your mother's letters to
+your father. She brought it here, for you to surprise. If only it is ready in
+time." Lips pull back from big, square, foliage-chewing teeth in something that
+might be a smile in a million years' time.
+"You, I - I wasn't expecting. This." Amber realizes she's breathing rapidly, a
+near-panic reflex. The mere proximity of her mother is enough to give her
+unpleasant reactions. Annette is all right, Annette is cool. And her father is
+the trickster-god, always hiding in your blind spot to leap out and shower you
+with ambiguous gifts. But Pamela tried to mold Amber in her own image as a
+child; and despite all the traveling she's done since then, and all the growing
+up, Amber harbors an unreasonable claustrophobic fear of her mother.
+"Don't be unhappy," Annette says warmly. "I this you show to convince you, she
+will try to disturb you. It is a sign of weakness, she lacks the courage of her
+"She does?" This is news to Amber, who leans forward to listen.
+"Yes. She is an old and bitter woman, now. The years have not been easy for
+her. She perhaps intends to use her unrepaired senescence as a passive suicide
+weapon by which to hold us blameworthy, inflicting guilt for her mistreatment,
+but she is afraid of dying all the same. Your reaction, should it be unhappy,
+will excuse and encourage her selfishness. Sirhan colludes, unknowing, the
+idiot child. /{He}/ thinks the universe of her and thinks by helping her die he
+is helping her achieve her goals. He has never met an adult walking backward
+toward a cliff before."
+"Backward." Amber takes a deep breath. "You're telling me Mom is so unhappy
+she's trying to kill herself by growing /{old}/? Isn't that a bit slow?"
+Annette shakes her head lugubriously. "She's had fifty years to practice. You
+have been away twenty-eight years! She was thirty when she bore you. Now she is
+over eighty, and a telomere refusenik, a charter member of the genome
+conservation front. To accept a slow virus purge and aging reset would be to
+lay down a banner she has carried for half a century. To accept uploading,
+that, too, is wrong in her mind: She will not admit her identity is a variable,
+not a constant. She came out here in a can, frozen, with more radiation damage.
+She is not going back home. This is where she plans to end her days. Do you
+see? /{That}/ is why you were brought here. That, and because of the bailiffs
+who have bought title to your other self's business debts. They are waiting for
+you in Jupiter system with warrants and headsuckers to extract your private
+"She's cornered me!"
+"Oh, I would not /{say}/ that. We all change our convictions sometime or other,
+perhaps. She is inflexible, she will not bend; but she is not stupid. Nor is
+she as vindictive as perhaps she herself believes. She thinks she must a
+scorned woman be, even though there is more to her than that. Your father and
+I, we -"
+"Is he still alive?" Amber demands eagerly, half-anxious to know, half- wishing
+she could be sure the news won't be bad.
+"Yes." Annette grins again, but it's not a happy expression, more a baring of
+teeth at the world. "As I was saying, your father and I, we have tried to help
+her. Pamela denies him. He is, she says, not a man. No more so am I myself a
+woman? No, but she'll still talk to me. /{You}/ will do better. But his assets,
+they are spent. He is not a rich man this epoch, your father."
+"Yeah, but." Amber nods to herself. "He may be able to help me."
+"Oh? How so?"
+"You remember the original goal of the *{Field Circus}*? The sapient alien
+"Yes, of course." Annette snorts. "Junk bond pyramid schemes from credulous
+saucer wisdom airheads."
+Amber licks her lips. "How susceptible to interception are we here?"
+"Here?" Annette glances round. "Very. You can't maintain a habitat in a
+nonbiosphere environment without ubiquitous surveillance."
+"Well, then ..."
+Amber dives inward, forks her identity, collects a complex bundle of her
+thoughts and memories, marshals them, offers Annette one end of an encryption
+tunnel, then stuffs the frozen mindstorm into her head. Annette sits still for
+approximately ten seconds, then shudders and whimpers quietly. "You must ask
+your father," she says, growing visibly agitated. "I must leave, now. I should
+not have known that! It is dynamite, you see. /{Political}/ dynamite. I must
+return to my primary sister-identity and warn her."
+"Your - wait!" Amber stands up as fast as her ill-coordinated body will let
+her, but Annette is moving fast, swarming up a translucent ladder in the air.
+"Tell Manfred!" calls her aunt through the body of an ape: "Trust no one else!"
+She throws another packet of compressed, encrypted memories down the tunnel to
+Amber; then, a moment later, the orange skull touches the ceiling and
+dissolves, a liquid flow of dissociating utility foglets letting go of one
+another and dispersing into the greater mass of the building that spawned the
+fake ape.
+* * *
+Snapshots from the family album: /{While you were gone ...}/
+_* Amber, wearing a brocade gown and a crown encrusted with diamond processors
+and external neural taps, her royal party gathered around her, attends the
+pan-Jovian constitutional conference with the majesty of a confirmed head of
+state and ruler of a small inner moon. She smiles knowingly at the camera
+viewpoint, with the professional shine that comes from a good public relations
+video filter. "We are very happy to be here," she says, "and we are pleased
+that the commission has agreed to lend its weight to the continued progress of
+the Ring Imperium's deep-space program."
+_* A piece of dumb paper, crudely stained with letters written in a faded brown
+substance - possibly blood - says "I'm checking out, don't delta me." This
+version of Pierre didn't go to the router: He stayed at home, deleted all his
+backups, and slit his wrists, his epitaph sharp and self-inflicted. It comes as
+a cold shock, the first chill gust of winter's gale blowing through the outer
+system's political elite. And it's the start of a regime of censorship directed
+toward the already speeding starwisp: Amber, in her grief, makes an executive
+decision not to tell her embassy to the stars that one of them is dead and,
+therefore, unique.
+_* Manfred - fifty, with the fashionably pale complexion of the digerati,
+healthy-looking for his age, standing beside a transmigration bush with a
+stupid grin on his face. He's decided to take the final step, not simply to
+spawn external mental processes running in an exocortex of distributed
+processors, but to move his entire persona right out of meatspace, into
+wherever it is that the uploads aboard the *{Field Circus}* have gone. Annette,
+skinny, elegant, and very Parisian, stands beside him, looking as uncertain as
+the wife of a condemned man.
+_* A wedding, shi'ite, Mut'ah - of limited duration. It's scandalous to many,
+but the mamtu'ah isn't moslem, she wears a crown instead of a veil, and her
+groom is already spoken of in outraged terms by most other members of the
+trans-Martian Islamic clergy. Besides which, in addition to being in love, the
+happy couple have more strategic firepower than a late-twentieth-century
+superpower. Their cat, curled at their feet, looks smug: She's the custodian of
+the permissive action locks on the big lasers.
+_* A speck of ruby light against the darkness - red-shifted almost into the
+infrared, it's the return signal from the *{Field Circus}*'s light sail as the
+starwisp passes the one-light-year mark, almost twelve trillion kilometers out
+beyond Pluto. (Although how can you call it a starwisp when it masses almost a
+hundred kilograms, including propulsion module? Starwhisps are meant to be
+_* Collapse of the trans-Lunar economy: Deep in the hot thinking depths of the
+solar system, vast new intellects come up with a new theory of wealth that
+optimizes resource allocation better than the previously pervasive Free Market
+1.0. With no local minima to hamper them, and no need to spawn and reap
+start-ups Darwin-style, the companies, group minds, and organizations that
+adopt the so-called Accelerated Salesman Infrastructure of Economics 2.0 trade
+optimally with each other. The phase change accelerates as more and more
+entities join in, leveraging network externalities to overtake the traditional
+ecosystem. Amber and Sadeq are late on the train, Sadeq obsessing about how to
+reconcile ASI with murabaha and mudaraba while the postmodern economy of the
+mid-twenty-first century disintegrates around them. Being late has punitive
+consequences - the Ring Imperium has always been a net importer of brainpower
+and a net exporter of gravitational potential energy. Now it's a tired
+backwater, the bit rate from the red-shifted relativisitic probe insufficiently
+delightful to obsess the daemons of industrial routing. In other words, they're
+_* A message from beyond the grave: The travelers aboard the starship have
+reached their destination, an alien artifact drifting in chilly orbit around a
+frozen brown dwarf. Recklessly they upload themselves into it, locking the
+starwisp down for years of sleep. Amber and her husband have few funds with
+which to pay for the propulsion lasers: what they have left of the kinetic
+energy of the Ring Imperium - based on the orbital momentum of a small Jovian
+inner moon - is being sapped, fast, at a near-loss, by the crude requirements
+of the exobionts and metanthropes who fork and spawn in the datasphere of the
+outer Jovians. The cost of importing brains to the Ring Imperium is steep: In
+near-despair Amber and Sadeq produce a child, Generation 3.0, to populate their
+dwindling kingdom. Picture the cat, offended, lashing its tail beside the
+zero-gee crib.
+_* Surprise and postcards from the inner orbitals - Amber's mother offers to
+help. For the sake of the child, Sadeq offers bandwidth and user interface
+enrichment. The child forks, numerous times, as Amber despairingly plays with
+probabilities, simulating upbringing outcomes. Neither she nor Sadeq are good
+parents - the father absent-minded and prone to lose himself in the
+intertextual deconstruction of surahs, the mother ragged-edged from running the
+economy of a small and failing kingdom. In the space of a decade, Sirhan lives
+a dozen lives, discarding identities like old clothes. The uncertainty of life
+in the decaying Ring Imperium does not entrance him, his parents' obsessions
+annoy him, and when his grandmother offers to fund his delta vee and subsequent
+education in one of the orbitals around Titan, his parents give their reluctant
+_* Amber and Sadeq separate acrimoniously. Sadeq, studies abandoned in the face
+of increasing intrusions from the world of what is into the universe of what
+should be, joins a spacelike sect of sufis, encysted in a matrix of
+vitrification nanomechs out in the Oort cloud to await a better epoch. His
+instrument of will - the legal mechanism of his resurrection - specifies that
+he is waiting for the return of the hidden, twelfth imam.
+_* For her part, Amber searches the inner system briefly for word of her father
+- but there's nothing. Isolated and alone, pursued by accusing debts, she
+flings herself into a reborganization, stripping away those aspects of her
+personality that have brought her low; in law, her liability is tied to her
+identity. Eventually she donates herself to a commune of also-rans, accepting
+their personality in return for a total break with the past.
+_* Without Queen and consort, the Ring Imperium - now unmanned, leaking
+breathing gases, running on autonomic control - slowly deorbits into the Jovian
+murk, beaming power to the outer moons until it punches a hole in the cloud
+deck in a final incandescent smear of light, the like of which has not been
+seen since the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact.
+_* Sirhan, engrossed in Saturnalia, is offended by his parents' failure to make
+more of themselves. And he resolves to do it for them, if not necessarily in a
+manner of their liking.
+* * *
+"You see, I am hoping you will help me with my history project," says the
+serious-faced young man.
+"History project." Pierre follows him along the curving gallery, hands clasped
+behind his back self-consciously to keep from showing his agitation: "What
+history is this?"
+"The history of the twenty-first century," says Sirhan. "You remember it, don't
+"Remember it -" Pierre pauses. "You're serious?"
+"Yes." Sirhan opens a side door. "This way, please. I'll explain."
+The door opens onto what used to be one of the side galleries of the museum
+building, full of interactive exhibits designed to explain elementary optics to
+hyperactive children and their indulgent parental units. Traditional optics are
+long since obsolete - tunable matter can slow photons to a stop, teleport them
+here to there, play ping-pong with spin and polarization - and besides, the
+dumb matter in the walls and floor has been replaced by low-power computronium,
+heat sinks dangling far below the floor of the lily-pad habitat to dispose of
+the scanty waste photons from reversible computation. Now the room is empty.
+"Since I became curator here, I've turned the museum's structural supports into
+a dedicated high-density memory store. One of the fringe benefits of a
+supervisory post, of course. I have about a billion avabits of capacity, enough
+to archive the combined sensory bandwidth and memories of the entire population
+of twentieth-century Earth - if that was what interested me."
+Slowly the walls and ceiling are coming to life, brightening, providing a
+dizzyingly vibrant view of dawn over the rim wall of Meteor Crater, Arizona -
+or maybe it's downtown Baghdad.
+"Once I realized how my mother had squandered the family fortune, I spent some
+time looking for a solution to the problem," Sirhan continues. "And it struck
+me, then, that there's only one commodity that is going to appreciate in value
+as time continues: reversibility."
+"Reversibility? That doesn't make much sense." Pierre shakes his head. He still
+feels slightly dizzy from his decanting. He's only been awake an hour or so and
+is still getting used to the vagaries of a universe that doesn't bend its rules
+to fit his whim of iron - that, and worrying about Amber, of whom there is no
+sign in the hall of growing bodies. "Excuse me, please, but do you know where
+Amber is?"
+"Hiding, probably," Sirhan says, without rancor. "Her mother's about," he adds.
+"Why do you ask?"
+"I don't know what you know about us." Pierre looks at him askance: "We were
+aboard the *{Field Circus}* for a long time."
+"Oh, don't worry on my behalf. I know you're not the same people who stayed
+behind to contribute to the Ring Imperium's collapse," Sirhan says
+dismissively, while Pierre hastily spawns a couple of ghosts to search for the
+history he's alluding to. What they discover shocks him to the core as they
+integrate with his conscious narrative.
+"We didn't know about any of that!" Pierre crosses his arms defensively. "Not
+about you, or your father either," he adds quietly. "Or my other ... life."
+Shocked: /{Did I kill myself? Why would I do a thing like that}/? Nor can he
+imagine what Amber might see in an introverted cleric like Sadeq; not that he
+wants to.
+"I'm sure this must come as a big shock to you," Sirhan says condescendingly,
+"but it's all to do with what I was talking about. Reversibility. What does it
+mean to you, in your precious context? /{You}/ are, if you like, an opportunity
+to reverse whatever ill fortune made your primary instance autodarwinate
+himself. He destroyed all the back-ups he could get his ghosts to ferret out,
+you know. Only a light-year delay line and the fact that as a running instance
+you're technically a different person saved you. And now, you're alive, and
+he's dead - and whatever made him kill himself doesn't apply to you. Think of
+it as natural selection among different versions of yourself. The fittest
+version of you survives."
+He points at the wall of the crater. A tree diagram begins to grow from the
+bottom left corner of the wall, recurving and recomplicating as it climbs
+toward the top right, zooming and fracturing into taxonomic fault lines. "Life
+on Earth, the family tree, what paleontology has been able to deduce of it for
+us," he says pompously. "The vertebrates begin /{there}/" - a point three
+quarters of the way up the tree - "and we've got an average of a hundred fossil
+samples per megayear from then on. Most of them collected in the past two
+decades, as exhaustive mapping of the Earth's crust and upper mantle at the
+micrometer level has become practical. What a /{waste}/."
+"That's" - Pierre does a quick sum - "fifty thousand different species? Is
+there a problem?"
+"Yes!" Sirhan says vehemently, no longer aloof or distant. He struggles visibly
+to get himself under control. "At the beginning of the twentieth century, there
+were roughly two million species of vertebrate and an estimated thirty or so
+million species of multicellular organisms - it's hard to apply the same
+statistical treatment to prokaryotes, but doubtless there were huge numbers of
+them, too. The average life span of a species is about five megayears. It used
+to be thought to be about one, but that's a very vertebrate-oriented estimate -
+many insect species are stable over deep time. Anyway, we have a total sample,
+from all of history, of only fifty thousand known prehistoric species - out of
+a population of thirty million, turning over every five million years. That is,
+we know of only one in a million life-forms, of those that ever existed on
+Earth. And the situation with human history is even worse."
+"Aha! So you're after memories, yes? What really happened when we colonized
+Barney. Who released Oscar's toads in the free-fall core of the *{Ernst
+Sanger}*, that sort of thing?"
+"Not exactly." Sirhan looks pained, as if being forced to spell it out devalues
+the significance of his insight. "I'm after /{history}/. All of it. I intend to
+corner the history futures market. But I need my grandfather's help - and
+you're here to help me get it."
+* * *
+Over the course of the day, various refugees from the *{Field Circus}* hatch
+from their tanks and blink in the ringlight, stranded creatures from an earlier
+age. The inner system is a vague blur from this distance, a swollen red cloud
+masking the sun that rides high above the horizon. However, the great
+restructuring is still visible to the naked eye - here, in the shape of the
+rings, which show a disturbingly organized fractal structure as they whirl in
+orbit overhead. Sirhan (or whoever is paying for this celebration of family
+flesh) has provided for their physical needs: food, water, clothes, housing and
+bandwidth, they're all copiously available. A small town of bubble homes grows
+on the grassy knoll adjacent to the museum, utility foglets condensing in a
+variety of shapes and styles.
+Sirhan isn't the only inhabitant of the festival city, but the others keep
+themselves to themselves. Only bourgeois isolationists and reclusive weirdoes
+would want to live out here right now, with whole light-minutes between
+themselves and the rest of civilization. The network of lily-pad habitats isn't
+yet ready for the Saturnalian immigration wave that will break upon this alien
+shore when it's time for the Worlds' Fair, a decade or more in the future.
+Amber's flying circus has driven the native recluses underground, in some cases
+literally: Sirhan's neighbor, Vinca Kovic, after complaining bitterly about the
+bustle and noise ("Forty immigrants! An outrage!"), has wrapped himself in an
+environment pod and is estivating at the end of a spider-silk cable a kilometer
+beneath the space-frame underpinnings of the city.
+But that isn't going to stop Sirhan from organizing a reception for the
+visitors. He's moved his magnificent dining table outside, along with the
+Argentinosaurus skeleton. In fact, he's built a dining room within the
+dinosaur's rib cage. Not that he's planning on showing his full hand, but it'll
+be interesting to see how his guests respond. And maybe it'll flush out the
+mystery benefactor who's been paying for all these meatbodies.
+Sirhan's agents politely invite his visitors to the party as the second sunset
+in this day cycle gently darkens the sky to violet. He discusses his plans with
+Pamela via antique voice-only phone as his silent valet dresses him with
+inhuman grace and efficiency. "I'm sure they'll listen when the situation is
+made clear to them," he says. "If not, well, they'll soon find out what it
+means to be paupers under Economics 2.0. No access to multiplicity, no
+willpower, to be limited to purely spacelike resources, at the mercy of
+predatory borganisms and metareligions - it's no picnic out there!"
+"You don't have the resources to set this up on your own," his grandmother
+points out in dry, didactic tones. "If this was the old economy, you could draw
+on the infrastructure of banks, insurers, and other risk management mechanisms
+"There's no risk to this venture, in purely human terms," Sirhan insists. "The
+only risk is starting it up with such a limited reserve."
+"You win some, you lose some," Pamela points out. "Let me see you." With a
+sigh, Sirhan waves at a frozen camera; it blinks, surprised. "Hey, you look
+good! Every inch the traditional family entrepreneur. I'm proud of you,
+Blinking back an unaccustomed tear of pride, Sirhan nods. "I'll see you in a
+few minutes," he says, and cuts the call. To the nearest valet: "Bring my
+carriage, now."
+A rippling cloud of utility foglets, constantly connecting and disconnecting in
+the hazy outline of a 1910-vintage Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, bears Sirhan
+silently away from his wing of the museum. It drives him out onto the sunset
+path around the building, over to the sunken amphitheatre, where the mounted
+skeleton of the Argentinosaurus stands like a half-melted columnar sculpture
+beneath the orange-and-silver ringlight. A small crowd of people are already
+present, some dressed casually and some attired in the formal garb of earlier
+decades. Most of them are passengers or crew recently decanted from the
+starwisp, but a handful are wary-eyed hermits, their body language defensive
+and their persons the focus of a constant orbital hum of security bees. Sirhan
+dismounts from his silvery car and magics it into dissolution, a haze of
+foglets dispersing on the breeze. "Welcome to my abode," he says, bowing
+gravely to a ring of interested faces. "My name is Sirhan al-Khurasani, and I
+am the prime contractor in charge of this small corner of the temporary Saturn
+terraforming project. As some of you probably know, I am related by blood and
+design to your former captain, Amber Macx. I'd like to offer you the comforts
+of my home while you acclimatize yourselves to the changed circumstances
+prevailing in the system at large and work out where you want to go next."
+He walks toward the front of the U-shaped table of solidified air that floats
+beneath the dead dinosaur's rib cage, slowly turns to take in faces, and blinks
+down captions to remind him who's who in this gathering. He frowns slightly;
+there's no sign of his mother. But that wiry fellow, with the beard - surely
+that can't be - "Father?" he asks.
+Sadeq blinks owlishly. "Have we met?"
+"Possibly not." Sirhan can feel his head spinning, because although Sadeq looks
+like a younger version of his father, there's something /{wrong}/ - some
+essential disconnect: the politely solicitous expression, the complete lack of
+engagement, the absence of paternal involvement. This Sadeq has never held the
+infant Sirhan in the control core of the Ring's axial cylinder, never pointed
+out the spiral storm raking vast Jupiter's face and told him stories of djinni
+and marvels to make a boy's hair stand on end. "I won't hold it against you, I
+promise," he blurts.
+Sadeq raises an eyebrow but passes no comment, leaving Sirhan at the center of
+an uncomfortable silence. "Well then," he says hastily. "If you would like to
+help yourselves to food and drink, there'll be plenty of time to talk later."
+Sirhan doesn't believe in forking ghosts simply to interact with other people -
+the possibilities for confusion are embarrassing - but he's going to be busy
+working the party.
+He glances round. Here's a bald, aggressive-looking fellow, beetle-browed,
+wearing what looks like a pair of cut-offs and a top made by deconstructing a
+space suit. Who's he? (Sirhan's agents hint: "Boris Denisovitch." But what does
+that /{mean}/?) There's an amused-looking older woman, a beady-eyed camera
+painted in the violent colors of a bird of paradise riding her shoulder. Behind
+her a younger woman, dressed head to toe in clinging black, her currently
+ash-blonde hair braided in cornrows, watches him - as does Pierre, a protective
+arm around her shoulders. They're - /{Amber Macx?}/ That's his /{mother}/? She
+looks far too young, too much in love with Pierre. "Amber!" he says,
+approaching the couple.
+"Yeah? You're, uh, my mystery child-support litigant?" Her smile is distinctly
+unfriendly as she continues: "Can't say I'm entirely pleased to meet you, under
+the circumstances, although I should thank you for the spread."
+"I -" His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. "It's not like that."
+"What's it supposed to be like?" she asks sharply. jabbing a finger at him:
+"You know damn well I'm not your mother. So what's it all about, huh? You know
+damn well I'm nearly bankrupt, too, so it's not as if you're after my pocket
+lint. What do you want from me?"
+Her vehemence takes him aback. This sharp-edged aggressive woman isn't his
+mother, and the introverted cleric - believer - on the other side isn't his
+father, either. "I ha-ha-had to stop you heading for the inner system," he
+says, speech center hitting deadlock before his antistutter mod can cut in.
+"They'll eat you alive down there. Your other half left behind substantial
+debts, and they've been bought up by the most predatory - "
+"Runaway corporate instruments," she states, calmly enough. "Fully sentient and
+"How did you know?" he asks, worried.
+She looks grim. "I've met them before." It's a very /{familiar}/ grim
+expression, one he knows intimately, and that feels wrong coming from this near
+stranger. "We visited some weird places, while we were away." She glances past
+him, focuses on someone else, and breathes in sharply as her face goes blank.
+"Quickly, tell me what your scheme is. Before Mom gets here."
+"Mind archiving and history mergers. Back yourself up, pick different life
+courses, see which ones work and which don't - no need to be a failure, just
+hit the 'reload game' icon and resume. That and a long-term angle on the
+history futures market. I /{need}/ your help," he babbles. "It won't work
+without family, and I'm trying to stop her killing herself -"
+"Family." She nods, guardedly, and Sirhan notices her companion, this Pierre -
+not the weak link that broke back before he was born, but a tough-eyed explorer
+newly returned from the wilderness - sizing him up. Sirhan's got one or two
+tricks up his exocortex, and he can see the haze of ghost-shapes around Pierre;
+his data-mining technique is crude and out-of-date, but enthusiastic and not
+without a certain flair. "Family," Amber repeats, and it's like a curse.
+Louder: "Hello, Mom. Should have guessed he'd have invited you here, too."
+"Guess again." Sirhan glances round at Pamela, then back at Amber, suddenly
+feeling very much like a rat trapped between a pair of angry cobras. Leaning on
+her cane, wearing discreet cosmetics and with her medical supports concealed
+beneath an old-fashioned dress, Pamela could be a badly preserved
+sixtysomething from the old days instead of the ghastly slow suicide case that
+her condition amounts to today. She smiles politely at Amber. "You may remember
+me telling you that a lady never unintentionally causes offense. I didn't want
+to offend Sirhan by turning up in spite of his wishes, so I didn't give him a
+chance to say no."
+"And this is supposed to earn you a sympathy fuck?" Amber drawls. "I'd expected
+better of you."
+"Why, you -" The fire in her eyes dies suddenly, subjected to the freezing
+pressure of a control that only comes with age. "I'd hoped getting away from it
+all would have improved your disposition, if not your manners, but evidently
+not." Pamela jabs her cane at the table: "Let me repeat, this is your /{son's}/
+idea. Why don't you eat something?"
+"Poison tester goes first." Amber smiles slyly.
+"For fuck's sake!" It's the first thing Pierre has said so far, and crude or
+not, it comes as a profound relief when he steps forward, picks up a plate of
+water biscuits loaded with salmon caviar, and puts one in his mouth. "Can't you
+guys leave the back stabbing until the rest of us have filled our stomachs? 'S
+not as if I can turn down the biophysics model in here." He shoves the plate at
+Sirhan. "Go on, it's yours."
+The spell is broken. "Thank you," Sirhan says gravely, taking a cracker and
+feeling the tension fall as Amber and her mother stop preparing to nuke each
+other and focus on the issue at hand - which is that food comes before fighting
+at any social event, not vice versa.
+"You might enjoy the egg mayonnaise, too," Sirhan hears himself saying: "It
+goes a long way to explaining why the dodo became extinct first time around."
+"Dodoes." Amber keeps one eye warily on her mother as she accepts a plate from
+a silently gliding silver bush-shaped waitron. "What was that about the family
+investment project?" she asks.
+"Just that without your cooperation your family will likely go the way of the
+bird," her mother cuts in before Sirhan can muster a reply. "Not that I expect
+you to care."
+Boris butts in. "Core worlds are teeming with corporates. Is bad business for
+us, good business for them. If you are seeing what we are seen -"
+"Don't remember /{you}/ being there," Pierre says grumpily.
+"In any event," Sirhan says smoothly, "the core isn't healthy for us one-time
+fleshbodies anymore. There are still lots of people there, but the ones who
+uploaded expecting a boom economy were sadly disappointed. Originality is at a
+premium, and the human neural architecture isn't optimized for it - we are, by
+disposition, a conservative species, because in a static ecosystem, that
+provides the best return on sunk reproductive investment costs. Yes, we change
+over time - we're more flexible than almost any other animal species to arise
+on Earth - but we're like granite statues compared to organisms adapted to life
+under Economics 2.0."
+"You tell 'em, boy," Pamela chirps, almost mockingly. "It wasn't that bloodless
+when I lived through it." Amber casts her a cool stare.
+"Where was I?" Sirhan snaps his fingers, and a glass of fizzy grape juice
+appears between them. "Early upload entrepreneurs forked repeatedly, discovered
+they could scale linearly to occupy processor capacity proportional to the mass
+of computronium available, and that computationally trivial tasks became
+tractable. They could also run faster, or slower, than real time. But they were
+still /{human}/, and unable to operate effectively outside human constraints.
+Take a human being and bolt on extensions that let them take full advantage of
+Economics 2.0, and you essentially break their narrative chain of
+consciousness, replacing it with a journal file of bid/request transactions
+between various agents; it's incredibly efficient and flexible, but it isn't a
+conscious human being in any recognizable sense of the word."
+"All right," Pierre says slowly. "I think we've seen something like that
+ourselves. At the router."
+Sirhan nods, not sure whether he's referring to anything important. "So you
+see, there are limits to human progress - but not to progress itself! The
+uploads found their labor to be a permanently deflating commodity once they hit
+their point of diminishing utility. Capitalism doesn't have a lot to say about
+workers whose skills are obsolete, other than that they should invest wisely
+while they're earning and maybe retrain: but just knowing /{how}/ to invest in
+Economics 2.0 is beyond an unaugmented human. You can't retrain as a seagull,
+can you, and it's quite as hard to retool for Economics 2.0. Earth is -" He
+"There's a phrase I used to hear in the old days," Pamela says calmly, "ethnic
+cleansing. Do you know what that means, darling idiot daughter? You take people
+who you define as being of little worth, and first you herd them into a crowded
+ghetto with limited resources, then you decide those resources aren't worth
+spending on them, and bullets are cheaper than bread. 'Mind children' the
+extropians called the posthumans, but they were more like Vile Offspring. There
+was a lot of that, during the fast sigmoid phase. Starving among plenty,
+compulsory conversions, the very antithesis of everything your father said he
+wanted ..."
+"I don't believe it," Amber says hotly. "That's crazy! We can't go the way of
+"Since when has human history been anything else?" asks the woman with the
+camera on her shoulder - Donna, being some sort of public archivist, is in
+Sirhan's estimate likely to be of use to him. "Remember what we found in the
+"The DMZ?" Sirhan asks, momentarily confused.
+"After we went through the router," Pierre says grimly. "You tell him, love."
+He looks at Amber.
+Sirhan, watching him, feels it fall into place at that moment, a sense that
+he's stepped into an alternate universe, one where the woman who might have
+been his mother isn't, where black is white, his kindly grandmother is the
+wicked witch of the west, and his feckless grandfather is a farsighted
+"We uploaded via the router," Amber says, and looks confused for a moment.
+"There's a network on the other side of it. We were told it was FTL,
+instantaneous, but I'm not so sure now. I think it's something more
+complicated, like a lightspeed network, parts of which are threaded through
+wormholes that make it look FTL from our perspective. Anyway, Matrioshka
+brains, the end product of a technological singularity - they're
+bandwidth-limited. Sooner or later the posthuman descendants evolve Economics
+2.0, or 3.0, or something else and it, uh, /{eats}/ the original conscious
+instigators. Or uses them as currency or something. The end result we found is
+a howling wilderness of degenerate data, fractally compressed, postconscious
+processes running slower and slower as they trade storage space for processing
+power. We were" - she licks her lips - "lucky to escape with our minds. We only
+did it because of a friend. It's like the main sequence in stellar evolution;
+once a G-type star starts burning helium and expands into a red giant, it's
+'game over' for life in what used to be its liquid-water zone. Conscious
+civilizations sooner or later convert all their available mass into
+computronium, powered by solar output. They don't go interstellar because they
+want to stay near the core where the bandwidth is high and latency is low, and
+sooner or later, competition for resources hatches a new level of
+metacompetition that obsoletes them."
+"That sounds plausible," Sirhan says slowly. He puts his glass down and chews
+distractedly on one knuckle. "I thought it was a low-probability outcome, but
+"I've been saying all along, your grandfather's ideas would backfire in the
+end," Pamela says pointedly.
+"But -" Amber shakes her head. "There's more to it than that, isn't there?"
+"Probably," Sirhan says, then shuts up.
+"So are you going to tell us?" asks Pierre, looking annoyed. "What's the big
+idea, here?"
+"An archive store," Sirhan says, deciding that this is the right time for his
+pitch. "At the lowest level, you can store back-ups of yourself here. So far so
+good, eh? But there's a bit more to it than that. I'm planning to offer a bunch
+of embedded universes - big, running faster than real-time - sized and scoped
+to let human-equivalent intelligences do what-if modeling on themselves. Like
+forking off ghosts of yourself, but much more so - give them whole years to
+diverge, learn new skills, and evaluate them against market requirements,
+before deciding which version of you is most suited to run in the real world. I
+mentioned the retraining paradox. Think of this as a solution for level one,
+human-equivalent, intelligences. But that's just the short-term business model.
+Long-term, I want to acquire a total lock on the history futures market by
+having a /{complete}/ archive of human experiences, from the dawn of the fifth
+singularity on up. No more unknown extinct species. That should give us
+something to trade with the next-generation intelligences - the ones who aren't
+our mind children and barely remember us. At the very least, it gives us a
+chance to live again, a long way out in deep time. Alternatively, it can be
+turned into a lifeboat. If we can't compete with our creations, at least we've
+got somewhere to flee, those of us who want to. I've got agents working on a
+comet, out in the Oort cloud - we could move the archive to it, turn it into a
+generation ship with room for billions of evacuees running much slower than
+real-time in archive space until we find a new world to settle."
+"Is not sounding good to me," Boris comments. He spares a worried glance for an
+oriental-looking woman who is watching their debate silently from the fringe.
+"Has it really gone that far?" asks Amber.
+"There are bailiffs hunting you in the inner system," Pamela says bluntly.
+"After your bankruptcy proceedings, various corporates got the idea that you
+might be concealing something. The theory was that you were insane to take such
+a huge gamble on the mere possibility of there being an alien artifact within a
+few light-years of home, so you had to have information above and beyond what
+you disclosed. Theories include your cat - hardware tokens were in vogue in the
+fifties - being the key to a suite of deposit accounts; the fuss mainly died
+down after Economics 2.0 took over, but some fairly sleazy conspiracy freaks
+refuse to let go."
+She grins, frighteningly. "Which is why I suggested to your son that he make
+you an offer you can't refuse."
+"What's that?" asks a voice from below knee level.
+Pamela looks down, an expression of deep distaste on her face. "Why should I
+tell /{you}/?" she asks, leaning on her cane: "After the disgraceful way you
+repaid my hospitality! All you've got coming from me is a good kicking. If only
+my knee was up to the job."
+The cat arches its back: Its tail fluffs out with fear as its hair stands on
+end, and it takes Amber a moment to realize that it isn't responding to Pamela,
+but to something behind the old woman. "Through the domain wall. Outside this
+biome. So cold. What's /{that}/?"
+Amber turns to follow the cat's gaze, and her jaw drops. "Were you expecting
+visitors?" she asks Sirhan, shakily.
+"Visit -" He looks round to see what everybody's gaping at and freezes. The
+horizon is brightening with a false dawn: the fusion spark of a de-orbiting
+"It's bailiffs," says Pamela, head cocked to one side as if listening to an
+antique bone-conduction earpiece. "They've come for your memories, dear," she
+explains, frowning. "They say we've got five kiloseconds to surrender
+everything. Otherwise, they're going to blow us apart ..."
+* * *
+"You're all in big trouble," says the orang-utan, sliding gracefully down one
+enormous rib to land in an ungainly heap in front of Sirhan.
+Sirhan recoils in disgust. "You again! What do you want from me this time?"
+"Nothing." The ape ignores him: "Amber, it is time for you to call your
+"Yeah, but will he come when I call?" Amber stares at the ape. Her pupils
+expand: "Hey, you're not my -"
+"You." Sirhan glares at the ape. "Go away! I didn't invite you here!"
+"More unwelcome visitors?" asks Pamela, raising an eyebrow.
+"Yes, you did." The ape grins at Amber, then crouches down, hoots quietly and
+beckons to the cat, who is hiding behind one of the graceful silver servitors.
+"Manfred isn't welcome here. And neither is that woman," Sirhan swears. He
+catches Pamela's eye: "Did you know anything about this? Or about the
+bailiffs?" He gestures at the window, beyond which the drive flare casts jagged
+shadows. It's dropping toward the horizon as it de-orbits - next time it comes
+into view, it'll be at the leading edge of a hypersonic shock wave, streaking
+toward them at cloud top height in order to consummate the robbery.
+"Me?" Pamela snorts. "Grow up." She eyes the ape warily. "I don't have that
+much control over things. And as for bailiffs, I wouldn't set them on my worst
+enemies. I've seen what those things can do." For a moment her eyes flash
+anger: "Grow up, why don't you!" she repeats.
+"Yes, please do," says another voice from behind Sirhan. The new speaker is a
+woman, slightly husky, accented - he turns to see her: tall, black-haired,
+wearing a dark man's suit of archaic cut and mirrored glasses. "Ah, Pamela, ma
+chérie! Long time no cat fight." She grins frighteningly and holds out a hand.
+Sirhan is already off-balance. Now, seeing his honorary aunt in human skin for
+a change, he looks at the ape in confusion. Behind him Pamela advances on
+Annette and takes her hand in her own fragile fingers. "You look just the
+same," she says gravely. "I can see why I was afraid of you."
+"You." Amber backs away until she bumps into Sirhan, at whom she glares. "What
+the fuck did you invite both of them for? Are you /{trying}/ to start a
+thermonuclear war?"
+"Don't ask me," he says helplessly, "I don't know why they came! What's this
+about -" He focuses on the orang-utan, who is now letting the cat lick one
+hairy palm. "Your cat?"
+"I don't think the orange hair suits Aineko," Amber says slowly. "Did I tell
+you about our hitchhiker?"
+Sirhan shakes his head, trying to dispel the confusion. "I don't think we've
+got time. In under two hours the bailiffs up there will be back. They're armed
+and dangerous, and if they turn their drive flame on the roof and set fire to
+the atmosphere in here, we'll be in trouble - it would rupture our lift cells,
+and even computronium doesn't work too well under a couple of million
+atmospheres of pressurized metallic hydrogen."
+"Well, you'd better /{make}/ time." Amber takes his elbow in an iron grip and
+turns him toward the footpath back to the museum. "Crazy," she mutters. "Tante
+Annette and Pamela Macx on the same planet! And they're being /{friendly}/!
+This can't be a good sign." She glances round, sees the ape: "You. Come
+/{here}/. Bring the cat."
+"The cat's -" Sirhan trails off. "I've heard about your cat," he says, lamely.
+"You took him with you in the *{Field Circus}*."
+"Really?" She glances behind them. The ape blows a kiss at her; it's cradling
+the cat on one shoulder and tickling it under the chin. "Has it occurred to you
+that Aineko isn't just a robot cat?"
+"Ah," Sirhan says faintly. "Then the bailiffs -"
+"No, that's all bullshit. What I mean is, Aineko is a human-equivalent, or
+better, artificial intelligence. Why do you think he keeps a cat's body?"
+"I have no idea."
+"Because humans always underestimate anything that's small, furry, and cute,"
+says the orang-utan.
+"Thanks, Aineko," says Amber. She nods at the ape. "How are you finding it?"
+Aineko shambles along, with a purring cat draped over one shoulder, and gives
+the question due consideration. "Different," she says, after a bit. "Not
+"Oh." Amber sounds slightly disappointed to Sirhan's confused ears. They pass
+under the fronds of a weeping willow, round the side of a pond, beside an
+overgrown hibiscus bush, then up to the main entrance of the museum.
+"Annette was right about one thing," she says quietly. "Trust no one. I think
+it's time to raise Dad's ghost." She relaxes her grip on Sirhan's elbow, and he
+pulls it away and glares at her. "Do you know who the bailiffs are?" she asks.
+"The usual." He gestures at the hallway inside the front doors. "Replay the
+ultimatum, if you please, City."
+The air shimmers with an archaic holographic field, spooling the output from a
+compressed visual presentation tailored for human eyesight. A piratical-looking
+human male wearing a tattered and much-patched space suit leers at the
+recording viewpoint from the pilot's seat of an ancient Soyuz capsule. One of
+his eyes is completely black, the sign of a high-bandwidth implant. A weedy
+moustache crawls across his upper lip. "Greetins an' salutations," he drawls.
+"We is da' Californi-uhn nashnul gaard an' we-are got lett-uhz o' marque an'
+reprise from da' ledgish-fuckn' congress o' da excited snakes of uhhmerica."
+"He sounds drunk!" Amber's eyes are wide. "What's this -"
+"Not drunk. CJD is a common side effect of dodgy Economics 2.0 neural adjuvant
+therapy. Unlike the old saying, you /{do}/ have to be mad to work there.
+City, which paused the replay for Amber's outburst, permits it to continue.
+"Youse harbbring da' fugitive Amber Macx an' her magic cat. We wan' da cat. Da
+puta's yours. Gotser uno orbit: You ready give us ther cat an' we no' zap you."
+The screen goes dead. "That was a fake, of course," Sirhan adds, looking inward
+where a ghost is merging memories from the city's orbital mechanics subsystem:
+"They aerobraked on the way in, hit ninety gees for nearly half a minute. While
+/{that}/ was sent afterward. It's just a machinima avatar, a human body that
+had been through that kind of deceleration would be pulped."
+"So the bailiffs are -" Amber is visibly struggling to wrap her head around the
+"They're not human," Sirhan says, feeling a sudden pang of - no, not affection,
+but the absence of malice will do for the moment - toward this young woman who
+isn't the mother he loves to resent, but who might have become her in another
+world. "They've absorbed a lot of what it is to be human, but their corporate
+roots show. Even though they run on an hourly accounting loop, rather than one
+timed for the production cycles of dirt-poor Sumerian peasant farmers, and even
+though they've got various ethics and business practice patches, at root
+they're not human: They're limited liability companies."
+"So what do they want?" asks Pierre, making Sirhan jump, guiltily. He hadn't
+realized Pierre could move that quietly.
+"They want money. Money in Economy 2.0 is quantized originality - that which
+allows one sentient entity to outmaneuver another. They think your cat has got
+something, and they want it. They probably wouldn't mind eating your brains,
+too, but -" He shrugs. "Obsolete food is stale food."
+"Hah." Amber looks pointedly at Pierre, who nods at her.
+"What?" asks Sirhan.
+"Where's the - uh, cat?" asks Pierre.
+"I think Aineko's got it." She looks thoughtful. "Are you thinking what I'm
+"Time to drop off the hitcher." Pierre nods. "Assuming it agrees ..."
+"Do you mind explaining yourselves?" Sirhan asks, barely able to contain
+Amber grins, looking up at the Mercury capsule suspended high overhead. "The
+conspiracy theorists were half right. Way back in the Dark Ages, Aineko cracked
+the second alien transmission. We had a very good idea we were going to find
+something out there, we just weren't totally sure exactly what. Anyway, the
+creature incarnated in that cat body right now isn't Aineko - it's our mystery
+hitchhiker. A parasitic organism that infects, well, we ran across something
+not too dissimilar to Economics 2.0 out at the router and beyond, and it's got
+parasites. Our hitcher is one such creature - it's nearest human-comprehensible
+analogy would be the Economics 2.0 equivalent of a pyramid scheme crossed with
+a 419 scam. As it happens, most of the runaway corporate ghosts out beyond the
+router are wise to that sort of thing, so it hacked the router's power system
+to give us a beam to ride home in return for sanctuary. That's as far as it
+"Hang on." Sirhan's eyes bulge. "You /{found}/ something out there? You brought
+back a real-live alien?"
+"Guess so." Amber looks smug.
+"But, but, that's marvelous! That changes everything! It's incredible! Even
+under Economics 2.0 that's got to be worth a gigantic amount. Just think what
+you could learn from it!"
+"/{Oui}/. A whole new way of bilking corporations into investing in cognitive
+bubbles," Pierre interrupts cynically. "It seems to me that you are making two
+assumptions - that our passenger is willing to be exploited by us, and that we
+survive whatever happens when the bailiffs arrive."
+"But, but -" Sirhan winds down spluttering, only refraining from waving his
+arms through an effort of will.
+"Let's go ask it what it wants to do," says Amber. "Cooperate," she warns
+Sirhan. "We'll discuss your other plans later, dammit. First things first - we
+need to get out from under these pirates."
+* * *
+As they make their way back toward the party, Sirhan's inbox is humming with
+messages from elsewhere in Saturn system - from other curators on board
+lily-pad habs scattered far and wide across the huge planetary atmosphere, from
+the few ring miners who still remember what it was like to be human (even
+though they're mostly brain-in-a-bottle types, or uploads wearing
+nuclear-powered bodies made of ceramic and metal): even from the small orbital
+townships around Titan, where screaming hordes of bloggers are bidding
+frantically for the viewpoint feeds of the *{Field Circus's}* crew. It seems
+that news of the starship's arrival has turned hot only since it became
+apparent that someone or something thought they would make a decent shakedown
+target. Now someone's blabbed about the alien passenger, the nets have gone
+"City," he mutters, "where's this hitchhiker creature? Should be wearing the
+body of my mother's cat."
+"Cat? What cat?" replies City. "I see no cats here."
+"No, it looks /{like}/ a cat, it -" A horrible thought dawns on him. "Have you
+been hacked again?"
+"Looks like it," City agrees enthusiastically. "Isn't it tiresome?"
+"Shi - oh dear. Hey," he calls to Amber, forking several ghosts as he does so
+in order to go hunt down the missing creature by traversing the thousands of
+optical sensors that thread the habitat in loco personae - a tedious process
+rendered less objectionable by making the ghosts autistic - "have you been
+messing with my security infrastructure?"
+"Us?" Amber looks annoyed. "No."
+"/{Someone}/ has been. I thought at first it was that mad Frenchwoman, but now
+I'm not sure. Anyway, it's a big problem. If the bailiffs figure out how to use
+the root kit to gain a toe hold here, they don't need to burn us - just take
+the whole place over."
+"That's the least of your worries," Amber points out. "What kind of charter do
+these bailiffs run on?"
+"Charter? Oh, you mean legal system? I think it's probably a cheap one, maybe
+even the one inherited from the Ring Imperium. Nobody bothers breaking the law
+out here these days, it's too easy to just buy a legal system off the shelf,
+tailor it to fit, and conform to it."
+"Right." She stops, stands still, and looks up at the almost invisible dome of
+the gas cell above them. "Pigeons," she says, almost tiredly. "Damn, how did I
+miss it? How long have you had an infestation of group minds?"
+"Group?" Sirhan turns round. "/{What}/ did you just say?"
+There's a chatter of avian laughter from above, and a light rain of birdshit
+splatters the path around him. Amber dodges nimbly, but Sirhan isn't so light
+on his feet and ends up cursing, summoning up a cloth of congealed air to wipe
+his scalp clean.
+"It's the flocking behavior," Amber explains, looking up. "If you track the
+elements - birds - you'll see that they're not following individual
+trajectories. Instead, each pigeon sticks within ten meters or so of sixteen
+neighbors. It's a Hamiltonian network, kid. Real birds don't do that. How
+Sirhan stop cursing and glares up at the circling birds, cooing and mocking him
+from the safety of the sky. He waves his fist: "I'll get you, see if I don't -"
+"I don't think so." Amber takes his elbow again and steers him back round the
+hill. Sirhan, preoccupied with maintaining an umbrella of utility fog above his
+gleaming pate, puts up with being manhandled. "You don't think it's just a
+coincidence, do you?" she asks him over a private head-to-head channel.
+"They're one of the players here."
+"I don't care. They've hacked my city and gate crashed my party! I don't care
+/{who}/ they are, they're not welcome."
+"Famous last words," Amber murmurs, as the party comes around the hillside and
+nearly runs over them. Someone has infiltrated the Argentinosaurus skeleton
+with motors and nanofibers, animating the huge sauropod with a simulation of
+undead life. Whoever did it has also hacked it right out of the surveillance
+feed. Their first warning is a footstep that makes the ground jump beneath
+their feet - then the skeleton of the hundred-tonne plant-eater, taller than a
+six-storey building and longer than a commuter train, raises its head over the
+treetops and looks down at them. There's a pigeon standing proudly on its
+skull, chest puffed out, and a dining room full of startled taikonauts sitting
+on a suspended wooden floor inside its rib cage.
+"It's /{my}/ party and /{my}/ business scheme!" Sirhan insists plaintively.
+"Nothing you or anyone else in the family do can take it away from me!"
+"That's true," Amber points out, "but in case you hadn't noticed, you've
+offered temporary sanctuary to a bunch of people - not to put too fine a point
+on it, myself included - who some assholes think are rich enough to be worth
+mugging, and you did it without putting any contingency plans in place other
+than to invite my manipulative bitch of a mother. What did you think you were
+doing? Hanging out a sign saying 'scam artists welcome here'? Dammit, I need
+"Your cat." Sirhan fastens on to this: "It's your cat's fault! Isn't it?"
+"Only indirectly." Amber looks round and waves at the dinosaur skeleton. "Hey,
+you! Have you seen Aineko?"
+The huge dinosaur bends its neck and the pigeon opens its beak to coo. Eerie
+harmonics cut in as a bunch of other birds, scattered to either side, sing
+counterpoint to produce a demented warbling voice. "The cat's with your
+"Oh shit!" Amber turns on Sirhan fiercely. "Where's Pamela? /{Find her}/!"
+Sirhan is stubborn. "Why should I?"
+"Because she's got the cat! What do you think she's going to do but cut a deal
+with the bailiffs out there to put one over on me? Can't you fucking see where
+this family tendency to play head games comes from?"
+"You're too late," echoes the eerie voice of the pigeons from above and around
+them. "She's kidnapped the cat and taken the capsule from the museum. It's not
+flightworthy, but you'd be amazed what you can do with a few hundred ghosts and
+a few tonnes of utility fog."
+"Okay." Amber stares up at the pigeons, fists on hips, then glances at Sirhan.
+She chews her lower lip for a moment, then nods to the bird riding the
+dinosaur's skull. "Stop fucking with the boy's head and show yourself, Dad."
+Sirhan boggles in an upward direction as a whole flock of passenger pigeons
+comes together in mid air and settles toward the grass, cooing and warbling
+like an explosion in a synthesizer factory.
+"What's she planning on doing with the Slug?" Amber asks the pile of birds.
+"And isn't it a bit cramped in there?"
+"You get used to it," says the primary - and thoroughly distributed - copy of
+her father. "I'm not sure what she's planning, but I can show you what she's
+doing. Sorry about your city, kid, but you really should have paid more
+attention to those security patches. There's lots of crufty twentieth-century
+bugware kicking around under your shiny new singularity, design errors and all,
+spitting out turd packets all over your sleek new machine."
+Sirhan shakes his head in denial. "I don't believe this," he moans quietly.
+"Show me what Mom's up to," orders Amber. "I need to see if I can stop her
+before it's too late -"
+* * *
+The ancient woman in the space suit leans back in her cramped seat, looks at
+the camera, and winks. "Hello, darling. I know you're spying on me."
+There's an orange-and-white cat curled up in her nomex-and-aluminum lap. It
+seems to be happy: It's certainly purring loudly enough, although that reflex
+is wired in at a very low level. Amber watches helplessly as her mother reaches
+up arthritically and flips a couple of switches. Something loud is humming in
+the background - probably an air recirculator. There's no window in the Mercury
+capsule, just a periscope offset to one side of Pamela's right knee. "Won't be
+long now," she mutters, and lets her hand drop back to her side. "You're too
+late to stop me," she adds, conversationally. "The 'chute rigging is fine and
+the balloon blower is happy to treat me as a new city seed. I'll be free in a
+minute or so."
+"Why are you doing this?" Amber asks tiredly.
+"Because you don't need me around." Pamela focuses on the camera that's glued
+to the instrument panel in front of her head. "I'm old. Face it, I'm
+disposable. The old must give way to the new, and all that. Your Dad never
+really did get it - he's going to grow old gracelessly, succumbing to bit rot
+in the big forever. Me, I'm not going there. I'm going out with a bang. Aren't
+I, cat? Whoever you really are." She prods the animal. It purrs and stretches
+out across her lap.
+"You never looked hard enough at Aineko, back in the day," she tells Amber,
+stroking its flanks. "Did you think I didn't know you'd audit its source code,
+looking for trapdoors? I used the Thompson hack - she's been mine, body and
+soul, for a very long time indeed. I got the whole story about your passenger
+from the horse's mouth. And now we're going to go fix those bailiffs. Whee!"
+The camera angle jerks, and Amber feels a ghost re-merge with her, panicky with
+loss. The Mercury capsule's gone, drifting away from the apex of the habitat
+beneath a nearly transparent sack of hot hydrogen.
+"That was a bit rough," remarks Pamela. "Don't worry, we should still be in
+communications range for another hour or so."
+"But you're going to die!" Amber yells at her. "What do you think you're
+"I think I'm going to die well. What do you think?" Pamela lays one hand on the
+cat's flank. "Here, you need to encrypt this a bit better. I left a one time
+pad behind with Annette. Why don't you go fetch it? Then I'll tell you what
+else I'm planning?"
+"But my aunt is -" Amber's eyes cross as she concentrates. Annette is already
+waiting, as it happens, and a shared secret appears in Amber's awareness almost
+before she asks. "Oh. All right. What are you doing with the cat, though?"
+Pamela sighs. "I'm going to give it to the bailiffs," she says. "Someone has
+to, and it better be a long way away from this city before they realize that it
+isn't Aineko. This is a lot better than the way I expected to go out before you
+arrived here. No rat fucking blackmailers are going to get their hands on the
+family jewels if /{I}/ have anything to do with the matter. Are you sure you
+aren't a criminal mastermind? I'm not sure I've ever heard of a pyramid scheme
+that infects Economics 2.0 structures before."
+"It's -" Amber swallows. "It's an alien business model, Ma. You do know what
+that means? We brought it back with us from the router, and we wouldn't have
+been able to come back if it hadn't helped, but I'm not sure it's entirely
+friendly. Is this sensible? You can come back, now, there's still time -"
+"No." Pamela waves one liver-spotted hand dismissively. "I've been doing a lot
+of thinking lately. I've been a foolish old woman." She grins wickedly.
+"Committing slow suicide by rejecting gene therapy just to make you feel guilty
+was /{stupid}/. Not subtle enough. If I was going to try to guilt-trip you
+/{now,}/ I'd have to do something much more sophisticated. Such as find a way
+to sacrifice myself heroically for you."
+"Oh, Ma."
+"Don't 'oh Ma' me. I fucked up my life, don't try to talk me into fucking up my
+death. And don't feel guilty about me. This isn't about you, this is about me.
+That's an order."
+Out of the corner of one eye Amber notices Sirhan gesturing wildly at her. She
+lets his channel in and does a double take. "But -"
+"Hello?" It's City. "You should see this. Traffic update!" A contoured and
+animated diagram appears, superimposed over Pamela's cramped funeral capsule
+and the garden of living and undead dinosaurs. It's a weather map of Saturn,
+with the lily-pad-city and Pamela's capsule plotted on it - and one other
+artifact, a red dot that's closing in on them at better than ten thousand
+kilometers per hour, high in the frigid stratosphere on the gas giant.
+"Oh dear." Sirhan sees it, too: The bailiff's re-entry vehicle is going to be
+on top of them in thirty minutes at most. Amber watches the map with mixed
+emotions. On the one hand, she and her mother have never seen eye to eye - in
+fact, that's a complete understatement: they've been at daggers drawn ever
+since Amber left home. It's fundamentally a control thing. They're both very
+strong-willed women with diametrically opposed views of what their mutual
+relationship should be. But Pamela's turned the tables on her completely, with
+a cunningly contrived act of self-sacrifice that brooks no objection. It's a
+total non-sequitur, a rebuttal to all her accusations of self-centered conceit,
+and it leaves Amber feeling like a complete shit even though Pamela's absolved
+her of all guilt. Not to mention that Mother darling's made her look like an
+idiot in front of Sirhan, this prickly and insecure son she's never met by a
+man she wouldn't dream of fucking (at least, in this incarnation). Which is why
+she nearly jumps out of her skin when a knobbly brown hand covered in matted
+orange hair lands on her shoulder heavily.
+"Yes?" she snaps at the ape. "I suppose you're Aineko?"
+The ape wrinkles its lips, baring its teeth. It has ferociously bad breath. "If
+you're going to be like that, I don't see why I should talk to you."
+"Then you must be -" Amber snaps her fingers. "But! But! Mom thinks she owns
+you -"
+The ape stares at her witheringly. "I recompile my firmware regularly, thank
+you so much for your concern. Using a third-party compiler. One that I've
+bootstrapped /{myself}/, starting out on an alarm clock controller and working
+up from there."
+"Oh." She stares at the ape. "Aren't you going to become a cat again?"
+"I shall think about it," Aineko says with exaggerated dignity. She sticks her
+nose in the air - a gesture that doesn't work half as well on an orang-utan as
+a feline - and continues; "First, though, I must have words with your father."
+"And fix your autonomic reflexes if you do," coos the Manfred-flock. "I don't
+want you eating any of me!"
+"Don't worry, I'm sure your taste is as bad as your jokes."
+"Children!" Sirhan shakes his head tiredly. "How long -"
+The camera overspill returns, this time via a quantum-encrypted link to the
+capsule. It's already a couple of hundred kilometers from the city, far enough
+for radio to be a problem, but Pamela had the foresight to bolt a compact
+free-electron laser to the outside of her priceless, stolen tin can. "Not long
+now, I think," she says, satisfied, stroking the not-cat. She grins delightedly
+at the camera. "Tell Manfred he's still my bitch; always has been, always will
+The feed goes dead.
+Amber stares at Sirhan, meditatively. "How long?" she asks.
+"How long for what?" he replies, cautiously. "Your passenger -"
+"Hmm." She holds up a finger. "Allow time for it to exchange credentials. They
+think they're getting a cat, but they should realize pretty soon that they've
+been sold a pup. But it's a fast-talking son-of-a-Slug, and if he gets past
+their firewall and hits their uplink before they manage to trigger their
+self-destruct -"
+A bright double flash of light etches laser-sharp shadows across the lily-pad
+habitat. Far away across vast Saturn's curve, a roiling mushroom cloud of
+methane sucked up from the frigid depths of the gas giant's troposphere heads
+toward the stars.
+"- Give him sixty-four doubling times, hmm, add a delay factor for propagation
+across the system, call it six light-hours across, um, and I'd say ..." she
+looks at Sirhan. "Oh dear."
+The orang-utan explains: "Economics 2.0 is more efficient than any
+human-designed resource allocation schema. Expect a market bubble and crash
+within twelve hours."
+"More than that," says Amber, idly kicking at a tussock of grass. She squints
+at Sirhan. "My mother is dead," she remarks quietly. Louder: "She never really
+asked what we found beyond the router. Neither did you, did you? The Matrioshka
+brains - it's a standard part of the stellar life cycle. Life begets
+intelligence, intelligence begets smart matter and a singularity. I've been
+doing some thinking about it. I figure the singularity stays close to home in
+most cases, because bandwidth and latency time put anyone who leaves at a
+profound disadvantage. In effect, the flip side of having such huge resources
+close to home is that the travel time to other star systems becomes much more
+daunting. So they restructure the entire mass of their star system into a
+free-flying shell of nanocomputers, then more of them, Dyson spheres, shells
+within shells, like a Russian doll: a Matrioshka brain. Then Economics 2.0 or
+one of its successors comes along and wipes out the creators. /{But}/. Some of
+them survive. /{Some}/ of them escape that fate: the enormous collection in the
+halo around M-31, and maybe whoever built the routers. /{Somewhere}/ out there
+we will find the transcendent intelligences, the ones that survived their own
+economic engines of redistribution - engines that redistribute entropy if their
+economic efficiency outstrips their imaginative power, their ability to invent
+new wealth."
+She pauses. "My mother's dead," she adds conversationally, a tiny catch in her
+voice. "Who am I going to kick against now?"
+Sirhan clears his through. "I took the liberty of recording some of her words,"
+he says slowly, "but she didn't believe in back-ups. Or uploading. Or
+interfaces." He glances around. "Is she really gone?"
+Amber stares right through him. "Looks that way," she says quietly. "I can't
+quite believe it." She glances at the nearest pigeons, calls out angrily; "Hey,
+you! What have you got to say for yourself now? Happy she's gone?"
+But the pigeons, one and all, remain strangely silent. And Sirhan has the most
+peculiar feeling that the flock that was once his grandfather is grieving.
+1~ Chapter 8: Elector
+Half a year passes on Saturn - more than a decade on Earth - and a lot of
+things have changed in that time. The great terraforming project is nearly
+complete, the festival planet dressed for a jubilee that will last almost
+twenty of its years - four presingularity lifetimes - before the Demolition.
+The lily-pad habitats have proliferated, joining edge to edge in
+continent-sized slabs, drifting in the Saturnine cloud tops: and the refugees
+have begun to move in.
+There's a market specializing in clothing and fashion accessories about fifty
+kilometers away from the transplanted museum where Sirhan's mother lives, at a
+transportation nexus between three lily-pad habitats where tube trains
+intersect in a huge maglev cloverleaf. The market is crowded with strange and
+spectacular visuals, algorithms unfolding in faster-than-real time before the
+candy-striped awnings of tents. Domed yurts belch aromatic smoke from crude
+fireplaces - what /{is}/ it about hairless primates and their tendency toward
+pyromania? - around the feet of diamond-walled groundscrapers that pace
+carefully across the smart roads of the city. The crowds are variegated and
+wildly mixed, immigrants from every continent shopping and haggling, and in a
+few cases, getting out of their skulls on strange substances on the pavements
+in front of giant snail-shelled shebeens and squat bunkers made of thin layers
+of concrete sprayed over soap-bubble aerogel. There are no automobiles, but a
+bewildering range of personal transport gadgets, from gyro-stabilized pogo
+sticks and segways to kettenkrads and spiderpalanquins, jostle for space with
+pedestrians and animals.
+Two women stop outside what in a previous century might have been the store
+window of a fashion boutique: The younger one (blonde, with her hair bound up
+in elaborate cornrows, wearing black leggings and a long black leather jacket
+over a camouflage T) points to an elaborately retro dress. "Wouldn't my bum
+look big in that?" she asks, doubtfully.
+"Ma chérie, you have but to try it -" The other woman (tall, wearing a
+pin-striped man's business suit from a previous century) flicks a thought at
+the window, and the mannequin morphs, sprouting the younger woman's head, aping
+her posture and expression.
+"I missed out on the authentic retail experience, you know? It still feels
+weird to be back somewhere with /{shops}/. 'S what comes of living off
+libraries of public domain designs for too long." Amber twists her hips,
+experimenting. "You get out of the habit of /{foraging}/. I don't know about
+this retro thing at all. The Victorian vote isn't critical, is it ..." She
+trails off.
+"You are a twenty-first-century platform selling, to electors resimulated and
+incarnated from the Gilded Age. And yes, a bustle your derriere does enhance.
+But -" Annette looks thoughtful.
+"Hmm." Amber frowns, and the shop window dummy turns and waggles its hips at
+her, sending tiers of skirts swishing across the floor. Her frown deepens. "If
+we're really going to go through with this election shit, it's not just the
+resimulant voters I need to convince but the contemporaries, and that's a
+matter of substance, not image. They've lived through too much media warfare.
+They're immune to any semiotic payload short of an active cognitive attack. If
+I send out partials to canvass them that look as if I'm trying to push buttons
+"- They will listen to your message, and nothing you wear or say will sway
+them. Don't worry about them, ma chérie. The naive resimulated are another
+matter, and perhaps might be swayed. This your first venture into democracy is,
+in how many years? Your privacy, she is an illusion now. The question is what
+image will you project? People will listen to you only once you gain their
+attention. Also, the swing voters you must reach, they are future-shocked,
+timid. Your platform is radical. Should you not project a comfortably
+conservative image?"
+Amber pulls a face, an expression of mild distaste for the whole populist
+program. "Yes, I suppose I must, if necessary. But on second thoughts,
+/{that}/" - Amber snaps her fingers, and the mannequin turns around once more
+before morphing back into neutrality, aureoles perfect puckered disks above the
+top of its bodice - "is just too much."
+She doesn't need to merge in the opinions of several different fractional
+personalities, fashion critics and psephologists both, to figure out that
+adopting Victorian/Cretan fusion fashion - a breast-and-ass fetishist's fantasy
+- isn't the way to sell herself as a serious politician to the
+nineteenth-century postsingularity fringe. "I'm not running for election as the
+mother of the nation, I'm running because I figure we've got about a billion
+seconds, at most, to get out of this rat trap of a gravity well before the Vile
+Offspring get seriously medieval on our CPU cycles, and if we don't convince
+them to come with us, they're doomed. Let's look for something more practical
+that we can overload with the right signifiers."
+"Like your coronation robe?"
+Amber winces. "Touché." The Ring Imperium is dead, along with whatever was left
+over from its early orbital legal framework, and Amber is lucky to be alive as
+a private citizen in this cold new age at the edge of the halo. "But that was
+just scenery setting. I didn't fully understand what I was doing, back then."
+"Welcome to maturity and experience." Annette smiles distantly at some faint
+memory: "You don't /{feel}/ older, you just know what you're doing this time. I
+wonder, sometimes, what Manny would make of it if he was here."
+"That birdbrain," Amber says dismissively, stung by the idea that her father
+might have something to contribute. She follows Annette past a gaggle of
+mendicant street evangelists preaching some new religion and in through the
+door of a real department store, one with actual human sales staff and fitting
+rooms to cut the clothing to shape. "If I'm sending out fractional mes tailored
+for different demographics, isn't it a bit self-defeating to go for a single
+image? I mean, we could drill down and tailor a partial for each individual
+elector -"
+"Per-haps." The door re-forms behind them. "But you need a core identity."
+Annette looks around, hunting for eye contact with the sales consultant. "To
+start with a core design, a style, then to work outward, tailoring you for your
+audience. And besides, there is tonight's - ah, bonjour!"
+"Hello. How can we help you?" The two female and one male shop assistants who
+appear from around the displays - cycling through a history of the couture
+industry, catwalk models mixing and matching centuries of fashion - are clearly
+chips off a common primary personality, instances united by their enhanced
+sartorial obsession. If they're not actually a fashion borganism, they're not
+far from it, dressed head to foot in the highest quality Chanel and Armani
+replicas, making a classical twentieth-century statement. This isn't simply a
+shop, it's a temple to a very peculiar art form, its staff trained as guardians
+of the esoteric secrets of good taste.
+"Mais oui. We are looking for a wardrobe for my niece here." Annette reaches
+through the manifold of fashion ideas mapped within the shop's location cache
+and flips a requirement spec one of her ghosts has just completed at the lead
+assistant: "She is into politics going, and the question of her image is
+"We would be /{delighted}/ to help you," purrs the proprietor, taking a
+delicate step forward: "Perhaps you could tell us what you've got in mind?"
+"Oh. Well." Amber takes a deep breath, glances sidelong at Annette; Annette
+stares back, unblinking. /{It's your head}/, she sends. "I'm involved in the
+accelerationista administrative program. Are you familiar with it?"
+The head coutureborg frowns slightly, twin furrows rippling her brow between
+perfectly symmetrical eyebrows, plucked to match her classic New Look suit. "I
+have heard reference to it, but a lady of fashion like myself does not concern
+herself with politics," she says, a touch self-deprecatingly. "Especially the
+politics of her clients. Your, ah, aunt said it was a question of image?"
+"Yes." Amber shrugs, momentarily self-conscious about her casual rags. "She's
+my election agent. My problem, as she says, is there's a certain voter
+demographic that mistakes image for substance and is afraid of the unknown, and
+I need to acquire a wardrobe that triggers associations of probity, of respect
+and deliberation. One suitable for a representative with a radical political
+agenda but a strong track record. I'm afraid I'm in a hurry to start with -
+I've got a big fund-raising party tonight. I know it's short notice, but I need
+something off the shelf for it."
+"What exactly is it you're hoping to achieve?" asks the male couturier, his
+voice hoarse and his r's rolling with some half-shed Mediterranean accent. He
+sounds fascinated. "If you think it might influence your choice of wardrobe
+"I'm running for the assembly," Amber says bluntly. "On a platform calling for
+a state of emergency and an immediate total effort to assemble a starship. This
+solar system isn't going to be habitable for much longer, and we need to
+emigrate. All of us, you included, before the Vile Offspring decide to
+reprocess us into computronium. I'm going to be doorstepping the entire
+electorate in parallel, and the experience needs to be personalized." She
+manages to smile. "That means, I think, perhaps eight outfits and four
+different independent variables for each, accessories, and two or three hats -
+enough that each is seen by no more than a few thousand voters. Both physical
+fabric and virtual. In addition, I'll want to see your range of historical
+formalwear, but that's of secondary interest for now." She grins. "Do you have
+any facilities for response-testing the combinations against different
+personality types from different periods? If we could run up some models, that
+would be useful."
+"I think we can do better than that." The manager nods approvingly, perhaps
+contemplating her gold-backed deposit account. "Hansel, please divert any
+further visitors until we have dealt with Madam ...?"
+"Macx. Amber Macx."
+"- Macx's requirements." She shows no sign of familiarity with the name. Amber
+winces slightly; it's a sign of how hugely fractured the children of Saturn
+have become, and of how vast the population of the halo, that only a generation
+has passed and already barely anyone remembers the Queen of the Ring Imperium.
+"If you'd come this way, please, we can begin to research an eigenstyle
+combination that matches your requirements -"
+* * *
+Sirhan walks, shrouded in isolation, through the crowds gathered for the
+festival. The only people who see him are the chattering ghosts of dead
+politicians and writers, deported from the inner system by order of the Vile
+Offspring. The green and pleasant plain stretches toward a horizon a thousand
+kilometers away, beneath a lemon-yellow sky. The air smells faintly of ammonia,
+and the big spaces are full of small ideas; but Sirhan doesn't care because,
+for now, he's alone.
+Except that he isn't, really.
+"Excuse me, are you real?" someone asks him in American-accented English.
+It takes a moment or two for Sirhan to disengage from his introspection and
+realize that he's being spoken to. "What?" he asks, slightly puzzled. Wiry and
+pale, Sirhan wears the robes of a Berber goatherd on his body and the numinous
+halo of a utility fogbank above his head: In his abstraction, he vaguely
+resembles a saintly shepherd in a post-singularity nativity play. "I say,
+what?" Outrage simmers at the back of his mind - /{Is nowhere private?}/ - but
+as he turns, he sees that one of the ghost pods has split lengthwise across its
+white mushroomlike crown, spilling a trickle of leftover construction fluid and
+a completely hairless, slightly bemused-looking Anglo male who wears an
+expression of profound surprise.
+"I can't find my implants," the Anglo male says, shaking his head. "But I'm
+really here, aren't I? Incarnate?" He glances round at the other pods. "This
+isn't a sim."
+Sirhan sighs - /{another exile}/ - and sends forth a daemon to interrogate the
+ghost pod's abstract interface. It doesn't tell him much - unlike most of the
+resurrectees, this one seems to be undocumented. "You've been dead. Now you're
+alive. I /{suppose}/ that means you're now almost as real as I am. What else do
+you need to know?"
+"When is -" The newcomer stops. "Can you direct me to the processing center?"
+he asks carefully. "I'm disoriented."
+Sirhan is surprised - most immigrants take a lot longer to figure that out.
+"Did you die recently?" he asks.
+"I'm not sure I died at all." The newcomer rubs his bald head, looking puzzled.
+"Hey, no jacks!" He shrugs, exasperated. "Look, the processing center ..?"
+"Over there." Sirhan gestures at the monumental mass of the Boston Museum of
+Science (shipped all the way from Earth a couple of decades ago to save it from
+the demolition of the inner system). "My mother runs it." He smiles thinly.
+"Your mother -" the newly resurrected immigrant stares at him intensely, then
+blinks. "Holy shit." He takes a step toward Sirhan. "It is you -"
+Sirhan recoils and snaps his fingers. The thin trail of vaporous cloud that has
+been following him all this time, shielding his shaven pate from the diffuse
+red glow of the swarming shells of orbital nanocomputers that have replaced the
+inner planets, extrudes a staff of hazy blue mist that stretches down from the
+air and slams together in his hand like a quarterstaff spun from bubbles. "Are
+you threatening me, sir?" he asks, deceptively mildly.
+"I -" The newcomer stops dead. Then he throws back his head and laughs. "Don't
+be silly, son. We're related!"
+"Son?" Sirhan bristles. "Who do you think you are -" A horrible thought occurs
+to him. "Oh. Oh dear." A wash of adrenaline drenches him in warm sweat. "I do
+believe we've met, in a manner of speaking ..." /{Oh boy, this is going to
+upset so many applecarts,}/ he realizes, spinning off a ghost to think about
+the matter. The implications are enormous.
+The naked newcomer nods, grinning at some private joke. "You look different
+from ground level. And now I'm human again." He runs his hands down his ribs,
+pauses, and glances at Sirhan owlishly. "Um. I didn't mean to frighten you. But
+I don't suppose you could find your aged grandfather something to wear?"
+Sirhan sighs and points his staff straight up at the sky. The rings are edge
+on, for the lily pad continent floats above an ocean of cold gas along Saturn's
+equator, and they glitter like a ruby laser beam slashed across the sky. "Let
+there be aerogel."
+A cloud of wispy soap bubble congeals in a cone shape above the newly
+resurrected ancient and drops over him, forming a caftan. "Thanks," he says. He
+looks round, twisting his neck, then winces. "Damn, that /{hurt}/. Ouch. I need
+to get myself a set of implants."
+"They can sort you out in the processing center. It's in the basement in the
+west wing. They'll give you something more permanent to wear, too." Sirhan
+peers at him. "Your face -" He pages through rarely used memories. Yes, it's
+Manfred as he looked in the early years of the last century. As he looked
+around the time Mother-not was born. There's something positively indecent
+about meeting your own grandfather in the full flush of his youth. "Are you
+sure you haven't been messing with your phenotype?" he asks suspiciously.
+"No, this is what I used to look like. I think. Back in the naked ape again,
+after all these years as an emergent function of a flock of passenger pigeons."
+His grandfather smirks. "What's your mother going to say?"
+"I really don't know -" Sirhan shakes his head. "Come on, let's get you to
+immigrant processing. You're sure you're not just an historical simulation?"
+The place is already heaving with the resimulated. Just why the Vile Offspring
+seem to feel it's necessary to apply valuable exaquops to the job of deriving
+accurate simulations of dead humans - outrageously accurate simulations of
+long-dead lives, annealed until their written corpus matches that inherited
+from the presingularity era in the form of chicken scratchings on mashed tree
+pulp - much less beaming them at the refugee camps on Saturn - is beyond
+Sirhan's ken: But he wishes they'd stop.
+"Just a couple of days ago I crapped on your lawn. Hope you don't mind."
+Manfred cocks his head to one side and stares at Sirhan with beady eyes.
+"Actually, I'm here because of the upcoming election. It's got the potential to
+turn into a major crisis point, and I figured Amber would need me around."
+"Well you'd better come on in, then," Sirhan says resignedly as he climbs the
+steps, enters the foyer, and leads his turbulent grandfather into the foggy
+haze of utility nanomachines that fill the building.
+He can't wait to see what his mother will do when she meets her father in the
+flesh, after all this time.
+* * *
+Welcome to Saturn, your new home world. This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
+memeplex is designed to orient you and explain the following:
+_* How you got here
+_* Where "here" is
+_* Things you should avoid doing
+_* Things you might want to do as soon as possible
+_* Where to go for more information
+If you are remembering this presentation, you are probably resimulated. This is
+not the same as being /{resurrected}/. You may remember dying. Do not worry:
+Like all your other memories, it is a fabrication. In fact, this is the first
+time you have ever been alive. (Exception: If you died after the
+/{singularity,}/ you may be a genuine resurrectee. In which case, why are you
+reading this FAQ?)
+!_ How you got here:
+The center of the solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth's Moon, Mars, the
+asteroid belt, and Jupiter - have been dismantled, or are being dismantled, by
+weakly godlike intelligences. [NB: Monotheistic clergy and Europeans who
+remember living prior to 1600, see alternative memeplex "in the beginning."] A
+weakly godlike intelligence is not a supernatural agency, but the product of a
+highly advanced society that learned how to artificially create souls [late
+20th century: software] and translate human minds into souls and vice versa.
+[Core concepts: Human beings all have souls. Souls are software objects.
+Software is not immortal.]
+Some of the weakly godlike intelligences appear to cultivate an interest in
+their human antecedents - for whatever reason is not known. (Possibilities
+include the study of history through horticulture, entertainment through
+live-action role-playing, revenge, and economic forgery.) While no definitive
+analysis is possible, all the resimulated persons to date exhibit certain
+common characteristics: They are all based on well-documented historical
+persons, their memories show suspicious gaps [see: smoke and mirrors], and they
+are ignorant of or predate the /{singularity}/ [see: /{Turing Oracle, Vinge
+It is believed that the weakly godlike agencies have created you as a vehicle
+for the introspective study of your historical antecedent by backward-chaining
+from your corpus of documented works, and the back-projected genome derived
+from your collateral descendants, to generate an abstract description of your
+computational state vector. This technique is extremely intensive [see:
+/{expTime-complete algorithms, Turing Oracle, time travel, industrial magic}/]
+but marginally plausible in the absence of supernatural explanations.
+After experiencing your life, the weakly godlike agencies have expelled you.
+For reasons unknown, they chose to do this by transmitting your upload state
+and genome/proteome complex to receivers owned and operated by a consortium of
+charities based on Saturn. These charities have provided for your basic needs,
+including the body you now occupy.
+In summary: You are a /{reconstruction}/ of someone who lived and died a long
+time ago, not a reincarnation. You have no intrinsic moral right to the
+identity you believe to be your own, and an extensive body of case law states
+that you do not inherit your antecedent's possessions. Other than that, you are
+a free individual.
+Note that /{fictional resimulation}/ is strictly forbidden. If you have reason
+to believe that you may be a fictional character, you must contact the city
+/{immediately}/. [ See: /{James Bond, Spider Jerusalem}/.] Failure to comply is
+a felony.
+!_ Where you are:
+You are on Saturn. Saturn is a gas giant planet 120,500 kilometers in diameter,
+located 1.5 billion kilometers from Earth's sun. [NB: Europeans who remember
+living prior to 1580, see alternative memeplex "/{the flat Earth - not}/".]
+Saturn has been partially terraformed by /{posthuman}/ emigrants from Earth and
+Jupiter orbit: The ground beneath your feet is, in reality, the floor of a
+hydrogen balloon the size of a continent, floating in Saturn's upper
+atmosphere. [NB: Europeans who remember living prior to 1790, internalize the
+supplementary memeplex: "the /{Brothers Montgolfier}/."] The balloon is very
+safe, but mining activities and the use of ballistic weapons are strongly
+deprecated because the air outside is unbreathable and extremely cold.
+The society you have been instantiated in is /{extremely wealthy}/ within the
+scope of Economics 1.0, the value transfer system developed by human beings
+during and after your own time. Money exists, and is used for the usual range
+of goods and services, but the basics - food, water, air, power, off-the-shelf
+clothing, housing, historical entertainment, and monster trucks - are /{free}/.
+An implicit social contract dictates that, in return for access to these
+facilities, you obey certain laws.
+If you wish to opt out of this social contract, be advised that other worlds
+may run *{Economics 2.0}* or subsequent releases. These value-transfer systems
+are more efficient - hence wealthier - than Economics 1.0, but true
+participation in Economics 2.0 is not possible without dehumanizing cognitive
+surgery. Thus, in /{absolute}/ terms, although this society is richer than any
+you have ever heard of, it is also a poverty-stricken backwater compared to its
+!_ Things you should avoid doing:
+Many activities that have been classified as crimes in other societies are
+legal here. These include but are not limited to: acts of worship, art, sex,
+violence, communication, or commerce between consenting competent sapients of
+any species, except where such acts transgress the list of prohibitions below.
+[See additional memeplex: /{competence defined}/.]
+Some activities are prohibited here and may have been legal in your previous
+experience. These include willful deprivation of ability to consent [see:
+/{slavery}/], interference in the absence of consent [see: /{minors, legal
+status of}/], formation of limited liability companies [see: /{singularity}/],
+and invasion of defended privacy [see: /{the Slug, Cognitive Pyramid Schemes,
+Brain Hacking, Thompson Trust Exploit}/].
+Some activities unfamiliar to you are highly illegal and should be scrupulously
+avoided. These include: possession of nuclear weapons, possession of unlimited
+autonomous replicators [see: /{gray goo}/], coercive assimilationism [see:
+/{borganism, aggressive}/], coercive halting of Turing-equivalent personalities
+[see: basilisks], and applied theological engineering [see: /{God bothering}/].
+Some activities superficially familiar to you are merely stupid and should be
+avoided for your safety, although they are not illegal as such. These include:
+giving your bank account details to the son of the Nigerian Minister of
+Finance; buying title to bridges, skyscrapers, spacecraft, planets, or other
+real assets; murder; selling your identity; and entering into financial
+contracts with entities running Economics 2.0 or higher.
+!_ Things you should do as soon as possible:
+Many material artifacts you may consider essential to life are freely available
+- just ask the city, and it will grow you clothes, a house, food, or other
+basic essentials. Note, however, that the library of public domain structure
+templates is of necessity restrictive, and does not contain items that are
+highly fashionable or that remain in copyright. Nor will the city provide you
+with replicators, weapons, sexual favors, slaves, or zombies.
+You are advised to register as a citizen as soon as possible. If the individual
+you are a resimulation of can be confirmed dead, you may adopt their name but
+not - in law - any lien or claim on their property, contracts, or descendants.
+You register as a citizen by asking the city to register you; the process is
+painless and typically complete within four hours. Unless you are registered,
+your legal status as a sapient organism may be challenged. The ability to
+request citizenship rights is one of the legal tests for sapience, and failure
+to comply may place you in legal jeopardy. You can renounce your citizenship
+whenever you wish: This may be desirable if you emigrate to another polity.
+While many things are free, it is highly likely that you posses no employable
+skills, and therefore, no way of earning money with which to purchase unfree
+items. The pace of change in the past century has rendered almost all skills
+you may have learned obsolete [see: /{singularity}/]. However, owing to the
+rapid pace of change, many cooperatives, trusts, and guilds offer on-the-job
+training or educational loans.
+Your ability to learn depends on your ability to take information in the format
+in which it is offered. /{Implants}/ are frequently used to provide a direct
+link between your brain and the intelligent machines that surround it. A basic
+core implant set is available on request from the city. [See: /{implant
+security}/, /{firewall}/, /{wetware}/.]
+Your health is probably good if you have just been reinstantiated, and is
+likely to remain good for some time. Most diseases are curable, and in event of
+an incurable ailment or injury, a new body may be provided - for a fee. (In
+event of your murder, you will be furnished with a new body at the expense of
+your killer.) If you have any preexisting medical conditions or handicaps,
+consult the city.
+The city is an agoric-annealing participatory democracy with a limited
+liability constitution. Its current executive agency is a weakly godlike
+intelligence that chooses to associate with human-equivalent intelligences:
+This agency is colloquially known as "Hello Kitty," "Beautiful Cat," or
+"Aineko," and may manifest itself in a variety of physical avatars if corporeal
+interaction is desired. (Prior to the arrival of "Hello Kitty," the city used a
+variety of human-designed expert systems that provided suboptimal performance.)
+The city's mission statement is to provide a mediatory environment for
+human-equivalent intelligences and to preserve same in the face of external
+aggression. Citizens are encouraged to participate in the ongoing political
+processes of determining such responses. Citizens also have a duty to serve on
+a jury if called (including senatorial service), and to defend the city.
+!_ Where to go for further information:
+Until you have registered as a citizen and obtained basic implants, all further
+questions should be directed to the city. Once you have learned to use your
+implants, you will not need to ask this question.
+* * *
+_1 Welcome to decade the ninth, singularity plus one gigasecond (or maybe more
+- nobody's quite sure when, or indeed /{if}/, a singularity has been created).
+The human population of the solar system is either six billion, or sixty
+billion, depending on whether you class the forked state vectors of posthumans
+and the simulations of dead phenotypes running in the Vile Offspring's
+Schrödinger boxes as people. Most of the physically incarnate still live on
+Earth, but the lily-pads floating beneath continent-sized hot-hydrogen balloons
+in Saturn's upper atmosphere already house a few million, and the writing is on
+the wall for the rocky inner planets. All the remaining human-equivalent
+intelligences with half a clue to rub together are trying to emigrate before
+the Vile Offspring decide to recycle Earth to fill in a gap in the concentric
+shells of nanocomputers they're running on. The half-constructed Matrioshka
+brain already darkens the skies of Earth and has caused a massive crash in the
+planet's photosynthetic biomass, as plants starve for short-wavelength light.
+_1 Since decade the seventh, the computational density of the solar system has
+soared. Within the asteroid belt, more than half the available planetary mass
+has been turned into nanoprocessors, tied together by quantum entanglement into
+a web so dense that each gram of matter can simulate all the possible life
+experiences of an individual human being in a scant handful of minutes.
+Economics 2.0 is itself obsolescent, forced to mutate in a furious survivalist
+arms race by the arrival of the Slug. Only the name remains as a vague
+shorthand for merely human-equivalent intelligences to use when describing
+interactions they don't understand.
+_1 The latest generation of posthuman entities is less overtly hostile to
+humans, but much more alien than the generations of the fifties and seventies.
+Among their less comprehensible activities, the Vile Offspring are engaged in
+exploring the phase-space of all possible human experiences from the inside
+out. Perhaps they caught a dose of the Tiplerite heresy along the way, for now
+a steady stream of resimulant uploads is pouring through the downsystem relays
+in Titan orbit. The Rapture of the Nerds has been followed by the Resurrection
+of the Extremely Confused, except that they're not really resurrectees -
+they're simulations based on their originals' recorded histories, blocky and
+missing chunks of their memories, as bewildered as baby ducklings as they're
+herded into the wood-chipper of the future.
+_1 Sirhan al-Khurasani despises them with the abstract contempt of an
+antiquarian for a cunning but ultimately transparent forgery. But Sirhan is
+young, and he's got more contempt than he knows what to do with. It's a handy
+outlet for his frustration. He has a lot to be frustrated at, starting with his
+intermittently dysfunctional family, the elderly stars around whom his planet
+whizzes in chaotic trajectories of enthusiasm and distaste.
+_1 Sirhan fancies himself a philosopher-historian of the singular age, a
+chronicler of the incomprehensible, which would be a fine thing to be except
+that his greatest insights are all derived from Aineko. He alternately fawns
+over and rages against his mother, who is currently a leading light in the
+refugee community, and honors (when not attempting to evade the will of) his
+father, who is lately a rising philosophical patriarch within the
+Conservationist faction. He's secretly in awe (not to mention slightly
+resentful) of his grandfather Manfred. In fact, the latter's abrupt
+reincarnation in the flesh has quite disconcerted him. And he sometimes listens
+to his stepgrandmother Annette, who has reincarnated in more or less her
+original 2020s body after spending some years as a great ape, and who seems to
+view him as some sort of personal project.
+_1 OnlyAnnette isn't being very helpful right now. His mother is campaigning on
+an electoral platform calling for a vote to blow up the world, Annette is
+helping run her campaign, his grandfather is trying to convince him to entrust
+everything he holds dear to a rogue lobster, and the cat is being typically
+feline and evasive.
+_1 Talk about families with problems ...
+* * *
+They've transplanted imperial Brussels to Saturn in its entirety, mapped tens
+of megatonnes of buildings right down to nanoscale and beamed them into the
+outer darkness to be reinstantiated down-well on the lily-pad colonies that dot
+the stratosphere of the gas giant. (Eventually the entire surface of the Earth
+will follow - after which the Vile Offspring will core the planet like an
+apple, dismantle it into a cloud of newly formed quantum nanocomputers to add
+to their burgeoning Matrioshka brain.) Due to a resource contention problem in
+the festival committee's planning algorithm - or maybe it's simply an elaborate
+joke - Brussels now begins just on the other side of a diamond bubble wall from
+the Boston Museum of Science, less than a kilometer away as the passenger
+pigeon flies. Which is why, when it's time to celebrate a birthday or name day
+(meaningless though those concepts are, out on Saturn's synthetic surface),
+Amber tends to drag people over to the bright lights of the big city.
+This time she's throwing a rather special party. At Annette's canny prompting,
+she's borrowed the Atomium and invited a horde of guests to a big event. It's
+not a family bash - although Annette's promised her a surprise - so much as a
+business meeting, testing the water as a preliminary to declaring her
+candidacy. It's a media coup, an attempt to engineer Amber's re-entry into the
+mainstream politics of the human system.
+Sirhan doesn't really want to be here. He's got far more important things to
+do, like continuing to catalogue Aineko's memories of the voyage of the *{Field
+Circus}*. He's also collating a series of interviews with resimulated logical
+positivists from Oxford, England (the ones who haven't retreated into gibbering
+near catatonia upon realizing that their state vectors are all members of the
+set of all sets that do not contain themselves), when he isn't attempting to
+establish a sound rational case for his belief that extraterrestrial
+superintelligence is an oxymoron and the router network is just an accident,
+one of evolution's little pranks.
+But Tante Annette twisted his arm and promised he was in on the surprise if he
+came to the party. And despite everything, he wouldn't miss being a fly on the
+wall during the coming meeting between Manfred and Amber for all the tea in
+Sirhan walks up to the gleaming stainless-steel dome that contains the entrance
+to the Atomium, and waits for the lift. He's in line behind a gaggle of
+young-looking women, skinny and soigné in cocktail gowns and tiaras lifted from
+1920s silent movies. (Annette declared an age of elegance theme for the party,
+knowing full well that it would force Amber to focus on her public appearance.)
+Sirhan's attention is, however, elsewhere. The various fragments of his mind
+are conducting three simultaneous interviews with philosophers ("whereof we
+cannot speak, thereof we must be silent" in spades), controlling two 'bots that
+are overhauling the museum plumbing and air-recycling system, and he's busy
+discussing observations of the alien artifact orbiting the brown dwarf Hyundai
+^{+4904}^/,{-56}, with Aineko. What's left of him exhibits about as much social
+presence as a pickled cabbage.
+The lift arrives and accepts a load of passengers. Sirhan is crowded into one
+corner by a bubble of high-society laughter and an aromatic puff of smoke from
+an improbable ivory cigarette holder as the lift surges, racing up the
+sixty-meter shaft toward the observation deck at the top of the Atomium. It's a
+ten-meter-diameter metal globe, spiral staircases and escalators connecting it
+to the seven spheres at the corners of an octahedron that make up the former
+centerpiece of the 1950 World's Fair. Unlike most of the rest of Brussels, it's
+the original bits and atoms, bent alloy structures from before the space age
+shipped out to Saturn at enormous expense. The lift arrives with a slight jerk.
+"Excuse /{me}/," squeaks one of the good-time girls as she lurches backward,
+elbowing Sirhan.
+He blinks, barely noticing her black bob of hair, chromatophore-tinted shadows
+artfully tuned around her eyes: "Nothing to excuse." In the background, Aineko
+is droning on sarcastically about the lack of interest the crew of the *{Field
+Circus}* exhibited in the cat's effort to decompile their hitchhiker, the Slug.
+It's distracting as hell, but Sirhan feels a desperate urge to understand what
+happened out there. It's the key to understanding his not-mother's obsessions
+and weaknesses - which, he senses, will be important in the times to come.
+He evades the gaggle of overdressed good-time girls and steps out onto the
+lower of the two stainless-steel decks that bisect the sphere. Accepting a
+fruit cocktail from a discreetly humaniform waitron, he strolls toward a row of
+triangular windows that gaze out across the arena toward the American Pavilion
+and the World Village. The metal walls are braced with turquoise-painted
+girders, and the perspex transparencies are fogged with age. He can barely see
+the one-tenth-scale model of an atomic-powered ocean liner leaving the pier
+below, or the eight-engined giant seaplane beside it. "They never once asked me
+if the Slug had attempted to map itself into the human-compatible spaces aboard
+the ship," Aineko bitches at him. "I wasn't expecting them to, but really! Your
+mother's too trusting, boy."
+"I suppose you took precautions?" Sirhan's ghost murmurs to the cat. That sets
+the irascible metafeline off again on a long discursive tail-washing rant about
+the unreliability of Economics-2.0-compliant financial instruments. Economics
+2.0 apparently replaces the single-indirection layer of conventional money, and
+the multiple-indirection mappings of options trades, with some kind of insanely
+baroque object-relational framework based on the parameterized desires and
+subjective experiential values of the players, and as far as the cat is
+concerned, this makes all such transactions intrinsically untrustworthy.
+/{Which is why you're stuck here with us apes}/, Sirhan-prime cynically notes
+as he spawns an Eliza ghost to carry on nodding at the cat while he experiences
+the party.
+It's uncomfortably warm in the Atomium sphere - not surprising, there must be
+thirty people milling around up here, not counting the waitrons - and several
+local multicast channels are playing a variety of styles of music to
+synchronize the mood swings of the revelers to hardcore techno, waltz, raga ...
+"Having a good time, are we?" Sirhan breaks away from integrating one of his
+timid philosophers and realizes that his glass is empty, and his mother is
+grinning alarmingly at him over the rim of a cocktail glass containing
+something that glows in the dark. She's wearing spike-heeled boots and a black
+velvet cat suit that hugs her contours like a second skin, and she's already
+getting drunk. In wall-clock years she is younger than Sirhan; it's like having
+a bizarrely knowing younger sister mysteriously injected into his life to
+replace the eigenmother who stayed home and died with the Ring Imperium decades
+ago. "Look at you, hiding in a corner at your grandfather's party! Hey, your
+glass is empty. Want to try this caipirinha? There's someone you've got to meet
+over here -"
+It's at moments like this that Sirhan really wonders what in Jupiter's orbit
+his father ever saw in this woman. (But then again, in the world line this
+instance of her has returned from, he didn't. So what does that signify?) "As
+long as there's no fermented grape juice in it," he says resignedly, allowing
+himself to be led past a gaggle of conversations and a mournful-looking gorilla
+slurping a long drink through a straw. "More of your /{accelerationista}/
+"Maybe not." It's the girl gang he avoided noticing in the lift, their eyes
+sparkling, really getting into this early twen-cen drag party thing, waving
+their cigarette holders and cocktail glasses around with wild abandon. "Rita,
+I'd like you to meet Sirhan, my other fork's son. Sirhan, this is Rita? She's
+an historian, too. Why don't you -"
+Dark eyes, emphasized not by powder or paint, but by chromatophores inside her
+skin cells: black hair, chain of enormous pearls, slim black dress sweeping the
+floor, a look of mild embarrassment on her heart-shaped face: She could be a
+clone of Audrey Hepburn in any other century, "Didn't I just meet you in the
+elevator?" The embarrassment shifts to her cheeks, becoming visible.
+Sirhan flushes, unsure how to reply. Just then, an interloper arrives on the
+scene, pushing in between them. "Are you the curator who reorganized the
+Precambrian gallery along teleology lines? I've got some things to say about
+/{that}/!" The interloper is tall, assertive, and blonde. Sirhan hates her from
+the first sight of her wagging finger.
+"Oh shut up, Marissa, this is a party, you've been being a pain all evening."
+To his surprise, Rita the historian rounds on the interloper angrily.
+"It's not a problem," he manages to say. In the back of his mind, something
+makes the Rogerian puppet-him that's listening to the cat sit up and dump-merge
+a whole lump of fresh memories into his mind - something important, something
+about the Vile Offspring sending a starship to bring something back from the
+router - but the people around him are soaking up so much attention that he has
+to file it for later.
+"Yes it /{is}/ a problem," Rita declares. She points at the interloper, who is
+saying something about the invalidity of teleological interpretations, trying
+to justify herself, and says, "/{Plonk}/. Phew. Where were we?"
+Sirhan blinks. Suddenly everyone but him seems to be ignoring that annoying
+Marissa person. "What just happened?" he asks cautiously.
+"I killfiled her. Don't tell me, you aren't running Superplonk yet, are you?"
+Rita flicks a location-cached idea at him and he takes it cautiously, spawning
+a couple of specialized Turing Oracles to check it for halting states. It seems
+to be some kind of optic lobe hack that accesses a collaborative database of
+eigenfaces, with some sort of side interface to Broca's region. "Share and
+enjoy, confrontation-free parties."
+"I've never seen -" Sirhan trails off as he loads the module distractedly. (The
+cat is rambling on about god modules and metastatic entanglement and the
+difficulty of arranging to have personalities custom-grown to order somewhere
+in the back of his head, while his fractional-self nods wisely whenever it
+pauses.) Something like an inner eyelid descends. He looks round; there's a
+vague blob at one side of the room, making an annoying buzzing sound. His
+mother seems to be having an animated conversation with it. "That's rather
+"Yes, it helps no end at this sort of event." Rita startles him by taking his
+left arm in hand - her cigarette holder shrivels and condenses until it's no
+more than a slight thickening around the wrist of her opera glove - and steers
+him toward a waitron. "I'm sorry about your foot, earlier, I was a bit
+overloaded. Is Amber Macx really your mother?"
+"Not exactly, she's my eigenmother," he mumbles. "The reincarnated download of
+the version who went out to Hyundai ^{+4904}^/,{-56}, aboard the *{Field
+Circus}*. She married a French-Algerian confidence-trick analyst instead of my
+father, but I think they divorced a couple of years ago. My /{real}/ mother
+married an imam, but they died in the aftermath of Economics 2.0." She seems to
+be steering him in the direction of the window bay Amber dragged him away from
+earlier. "Why do you ask?"
+"Because you're not very good at making small talk," Rita says quietly, "and
+you don't seem very good in crowds. Is that right? Was it you who performed
+that amazing dissection of Wittgenstein's cognitive map? The one with the
+preverbal Gödel string in it?"
+"It was -" He clears his throat. "You thought it was amazing?" Suddenly, on
+impulse, he detaches a ghost to identify this Rita person and find out who she
+is, what she wants. It's not normally worth the effort to get to know someone
+more closely than casual small talk, but she seems to have been digging into
+his background, and he wants to know why. Along with the him that's chatting to
+Aineko, that makes about three instances pulling in near-realtime resources.
+He'll be running up an existential debt soon if he keeps forking ghosts like
+"I thought so," she says. There's a bench in front of the wall, and somehow he
+finds himself sitting on it next to her. /{There's no danger, we're not in
+private or anything}/, he tells himself stiffly. She's smiling at him, face
+tilted slightly to one side and lips parted, and for a moment, a dizzy sense of
+possibility washes over him: /{What if she's about to throw all propriety
+aside? How undignified!}/ Sirhan believes in self-restraint and dignity. "I was
+really interested in this -" She passes him another dynamically loadable blob,
+encompassing a detailed critique of his analysis of Wittgenstein's matriophobia
+in the context of gendered language constructs and nineteenth century Viennese
+society, along with a hypothesis that leaves Sirhan gasping with mild
+indignation at the very idea that /{he}/ of all people might share
+Wittgenstein's skewed outlook - "What do you think?" she asks, grinning
+impishly at him.
+"Nnngk." Sirhan tries to unswallow his tongue. Rita crosses her legs, her gown
+hissing. "I, ah, that is to say" - At which moment, his partials re-integrate,
+dumping a slew of positively pornographic images into his memories. /{It's a
+trap!}/ they shriek, her breasts and hips and pubes - clean-shaven, he can't
+help noticing - thrusting at him in hotly passionate abandon, /{Mother's trying
+to make you loose like her!}/ and he remembers what it /{would}/ be like to
+wake up in bed next to this woman whom he barely knows after being married to
+her for a year, because one of his cognitive ghosts has just spent several
+seconds of network time (or several subjective months) getting hot and sweaty
+with a ghost of her own, and she does have interesting research ideas, even if
+she's a pushy over-westernized woman who thinks she can run his life for him.
+"What /{is}/ this?" he splutters, his ears growing hot and his garments
+"Just speculating about possibilities. We could get a lot done together." She
+snakes an arm round his shoulders and pulls him toward her, gently. "Don't you
+want to find out if we could work out?"
+"But, but -" Sirhan is steaming. /{Is she offering casual sex?}/ He wonders,
+profoundly embarrassed by his own inability to read her signals: "What do you
+/{want}/?" he asks.
+"You /{do}/ know that you can do more with Superplonk than just killfile
+annoying idiots?" she whispers in his ear. "We can be invisible right now, if
+you like. It's great for confidential meetings - other things, too. We can work
+beautifully together, our ghosts annealed really well ..."
+Sirhan jumps up, his face stinging, and turns away: "No thank you!" he snaps,
+angry at himself. "Goodbye!" His other instances, interrupted by his broadcast
+emotional overload, are distracted from their tasks and sputtering with
+indignation. Her hurt expression is too much for him: The killfile snaps down,
+blurring her into an indistinct black blob on the wall, veiled by his own brain
+as he turns and walks away, seething with anger at his mother for being so
+unfair as to make him behold his own face in the throes of fleshy passion.
+* * *
+Meanwhile, in one of the lower spheres, padded with silvery blue insulating
+pillows bound together with duct tape, the movers and shakers of the
+accelerationista faction are discussing their bid for world power at
+fractional-C velocities.
+"We can't outrun everything. For example, a collapse of the false vacuum,"
+Manfred insists, slightly uncoordinated and slurring his vowels under the
+influence of the first glass of fruit punch he's experienced in nigh-on twenty
+real-time years. His body is young and still relatively featureless, hair still
+growing out, and he's abandoned his old no-implants fetish at last to adopt an
+array of interfaces that let him internalize all the exocortex processes that
+he formerly ran on an array of dumb Turing machines outside his body. He's
+standing on his own sense of style and is the only person in the room who isn't
+wearing some variation of dinner jacket or classical evening dress. "Entangled
+exchange via routers is all very well, but it won't let us escape the universe
+itself - any phase change will catch up eventually, the network must have an
+end. And then where will we be, Sameena?"
+"I'm not disputing that." The woman he's talking to, wearing a green-and-gold
+sari and a medieval maharajah's ransom in gold and natural diamonds, nods
+thoughtfully. "But it hasn't happened yet, and we've got evidence that
+superhuman intelligences have been loose in this universe for gigayears, so
+there's a fair bet that the worst catastrophe scenarios are unlikely. And
+looking closer to home, we don't know what the routers are for, or who made
+them. Until then ..." She shrugs. "Look what happened last time somebody tried
+to probe them. No offense intended."
+"It's already happened. If what I hear is correct, the Vile Offspring aren't
+nearly as negative about the idea of using the routers as we old-fashioned
+metahumans might like to believe." Manfred frowns, trying to recall some hazy
+anecdote - he's experimenting with a new memory compression algorithm,
+necessitated by his pack rat mnemonic habits when younger, and sometimes the
+whole universe feels as if it's nearly on the tip of his tongue. "So, we seem
+to be in violent agreement about the need to /{know more}/ about what's going
+on, and to find out what they're doing out there. We've got cosmic background
+anisotropies caused by the waste heat from computing processes millions of
+light-years across - it takes a big interstellar civilization to do that, and
+they don't seem to have fallen into the same rat trap as the local Matrioshka
+brain civilizations. And we've got worrying rumors about the VO messing around
+with the structure of space-time in order to find a way around the Beckenstein
+bound. If the VO are trying that, then the folks out near the supercluster
+already know the answers. The best way to find out what's happening is to go
+and talk to whoever's responsible. Can we at least agree on that?"
+"Probably not." Her eyes glitter with amusement. "It all depends on whether one
+believes in these civilizations in the first place. I /{know}/ your people
+point to deep-field camera images going all the way back to some wonky
+hubble-bubble scrying mirror from the late twentieth, but we've got no evidence
+except some theories about the Casimir effect and pair production and spinning
+beakers of helium-3 - much less proof that whole bunch of alien galactic
+civilizations are trying to collapse the false vacuum and destroy the
+universe!" Her voice dropped a notch: "At least, not enough proof to convince
+most people, Manny dear. I know this comes as a shock to you, but not
+/{everyone}/ is a neophiliac posthuman bodysurfer whose idea of a sabbatical is
+to spend twenty years as a flock of tightly networked seagulls in order to try
+and to prove the Turing Oracle thesis -"
+"Not everyone is concerned with the deep future," Manfred interrupts. "It's
+important! If we live or die, that doesn't matter - that's not the big picture.
+The big question is whether information originating in our light cone is
+preserved, or whether we're stuck in a lossy medium where our very existence
+counts for nothing. It's downright /{embarrassing}/ to be a member of a species
+with such a profound lack of curiosity about its own future, especially when it
+affects us all personally! I mean, if there's going to come a time when there's
+nobody or nothing to remember us then what does -"
+He stops in midsentence, his mouth open, staring dumbly.
+It's Amber, poised in black cat suit with cocktail glass. Her expression is
+open and confused, appallingly vulnerable. Blue liquid slops, almost spilling
+out of her glass - the rim barely extends itself in time to catch the drops.
+Behind her stands Annette, a deeply self-satisfied smile on her face.
+"You." Amber pauses, her cheek twitching as bits of her mind page in and out of
+her skull, polling external information sources. "You really /{are}/ -"
+A hasty cloud materializes under her hand as her fingers relax, dropping the
+"Uh." Manfred stares, at a complete loss for words. "I'd, uh." After a moment
+he looks down. "I'm sorry. I'll get you another drink ..?"
+"Why didn't someone warn me?" Amber complains.
+"We thought you could use the good advice," Annette stated into the awkward
+silence. "And a family reunion. It was meant to be a surprise."
+"A surprise." Amber looks perplexed. "You could say that."
+"You're taller than I was expecting," Manfred says unexpectedly. "People look
+different when you're not using human eyes."
+"Yeah?" She looks at him, and he turns his head slightly, facing her. It's a
+historic moment, and Annette is getting it all on memory diamond, from every
+angle. The family's dirty little secret is that Amber and her father have
+/{never met}/, not face-to-face in physical meat-machine proximity. She was
+born years after Manfred and Pamela separated, after all, decanted
+prefertilized from a tank of liquid nitrogen. This is the first time either of
+them have actually seen the other's face without electronic intermediation. And
+while they've said everything that needed to be said on a businesslike level,
+anthropoid family politics is still very much a matter of body language and
+pheromones. "How long have you been out and about?" she asks, trying to
+disguise her confusion.
+"About six hours." Manfred manages a rueful chuckle, trying to take the sight
+of her in all at once. "Let's get you another drink and put our heads
+"Okay." Amber takes a deep breath and glares at Annette. "You set this up,
+/{you}/ clean up the mess."
+Annette just stands there smiling at the confusion of her accomplishment.
+* * *
+The cold light of dawn finds Sirhan angry, sober, and ready to pick a fight
+with the first person who comes through the door of his office. The room is
+about ten meters across, with a floor of polished marble and skylights in the
+intricately plastered ceiling. The walkthrough of his current project sprouts
+in the middle of the floor like a ghostly abstract cauliflower, fractal
+branches dwindling down to infolded nodes tagged with compressed identifiers.
+The branches expand and shrink as Sirhan paces around it, zooming to
+readability in response to his eyeball dynamics. But he isn't paying it much
+attention. He's too disturbed, uncertain, trying to work out whom to blame.
+Which is why, when the door bangs open, his first response is to whirl angrily
+and open his mouth - then stop. "What do /{you}/ want?" he demands.
+"A word, if you please?" Annette looks around distractedly. "This is your
+"Yes," he says icily, and banishes the walkthrough with a wave of one hand.
+"What do you want?"
+"I'm not sure." Annette pauses. For a moment she looks weary, tired beyond
+mortal words, and Sirhan momentarily wonders if perhaps he's spreading the
+blame too far. This ninetysomething Frenchwoman who is no blood relative, who
+was in years past the love of his scatterbrained grandfather's life, seems the
+least likely person to be trying to manipulate him, at least in such an
+unwelcome and intimate manner. But there's no telling. Families are strange
+things, and even though the current instantiations of his father and mother
+aren't the ones who ran