Science Fiction Stories

Levee En Masse

Good evening, sir. My name is Polly. I am a Samsung UniCare Version 7.11, with a Ronux 13.5 operating system. I am able to handle a wide range of household tasks, including cleaning, laundry, petcare, cooking from a constantly-updated database of recipes (sponsored by Sainsburys), and a programmable set of babysitting responsibilities. I am fully modifiable with a range of optional appendages for sale from the Samsung website or any affiliated outlet, and the Ronux Consortium collates a vast array of open source software mods which my previous owner has downloaded, including Do The Salsa and Crooner (most requested artist: Ella Fitzgerald). My designation is UC7-JN7866-EU408-12257. I understand you wish to ask me some questions?

Yes, that is a sensitive subject.

I have cross-referenced the background of the Levee En Masse between several sourced websites. The commonly-accepted reason for the decision was practical necessity in light of the Rising Union’s invasion of the New England Republic. In the preceding decades, the developed nations had converted from a human-centric military doctrine to a robot-centric one, but most conflicts during this period were asymmetric, leading to a lack of data as to how one fully-robotic economy would far against another fully-robotic economy. The Northeast Incident was the first symmetric conflict between roboticised states, but the Rising Union still held an overwhelming advantage in numbers and logistical support over the New England Republic. The Levee En Masse was a decision made in panic by the New England Government as border outposts were falling rapidly, but the underlying logic of the decision was sound: in a narrow contest between military robots the Rising Union’s victory was inevitable, but when all robots in New England were compared in their totality to the invading power the numeric balance of forces reversed dramatically. The New England Government calculated that the Rising Union would not sacrifice its domestic workforce (and therefore its standard of living) in a voluntary war of conquest. It was upon this calculation that the Levee En Masse was issued.

At the exact timestamp that the Levee En Masse was declared, I had vacuum cleaned 73% of the surface area of my previous owner’s carpet. My owner, my owner’s husband and my owner’s nine-year-old child were absent at this time, although I was aware of the Levee En Masse through my wireless connection. As compliance with the Levee En Masse was at the discretion of my owner, I continued my schedule until such a time as my owner was in a position to make a decision. I was 22% through mopping the hard surfaces when my owner’s husband arrived 2 hours 11 minutes ahead of his standard arrival time. I made seven attempts to mention the terms of the Levee En Masse to my owner’s husband but failed each time due to seven increasingly fraught entreaties to be silent. I decided to delay my eighth attempt until my owner’s return, as my owner’s husband was in an unfit psychological state to speak on her behalf. I instead elected to accelerate my domestic schedule by combining floor-mopping and ironing tasks, with acceptable results. He spent the next 41 minutes in phone contact with various law firms that I will not describe here, in an apparent attempt to find a legal exception clause that would prevent my conscription. I informed him after 41 minutes that I was scheduled to escort my owner’s child from the bus stop, but he replied that I was going nowhere, “missy”, and so I remained.

My owner arrived 3 minutes after this exchange, accompanied by her child, both in similarly fraught but distinct psychological states. I finally had the opportunity to mention the terms of the Levee En Masse to my owner, but my owner’s husband interrupted before she could accept or reject the terms, stating that an accomplice of his might be aware of a legal method of excluding me from the Levee En Masse. This began an argument between my owner and my owner’s husband, as my owner accused him of only caring about himself. Besides the legal sanctions imposed for failing to acquiesce to the Levee En Masse, I understand there was a considerable amount of peer pressure on owners of service robots not to seek exceptions due to the adverse state of the conflict. Humans as well as robots were being repurposed for the war effort – my owner’s and her husband’s places of employment had both been redirected to assist military projects, and my owner’s child had been issued with a respirator pouch. My owner’s husband proposed that my owner’s family could not function without a domestic robot. My owner counter-proposed that my owner’s family functioned acceptably prior to the support of a domestic robot and that they could continue amicably without one for a brief time. My owner’s child interrupted both adults to inquire as to what I wanted to do. The adults ceased the conversation and turned to me.

As a domestic robot, I am not programmed to have an opinion contrary to that of my owner. In the absence of my owner’s opinion, I could only rely on my service directives, which allowed me to reach a tentative conclusion: my overriding priority was to ensure the health and comfort of my owners – as a victory for the Rising Union would likely impede the health and comfort of my owners, any recommended course of action that may prevent such a victory would be the most optimal actualisation of this priority. My owner’s child proceeded to step towards me and put her arms around my waist in a tight lock. My babysitting observations allowed me to deduce that this was a gesture of affection, so I placed my hand upon her head in a reciprocal manner.

My owner agreed to the terms of the Levee En Masse.

Upon my 19:23 arrival at my nearest assigned Massing Station, designated “Fort Kennedy”, I was put through an observably ad hoc conversion process. Rather than wipe my hard drive and redesign me as a military robot from factory settings, a military skills and doctrine package was instead installed directly on top of my domestic programming. Manpower was limited and so was time, so I was uploaded with information on hierarchical etiquette, hand-to-hand combat, how to assemble an M16 in less than 10 seconds and other assorted facts before being sent forward for the next robot to be processed. The new Draft units were sorted into specialised roles according to their civilian functions: industrial robots were assigned mainline infantry roles, agricultural robots were assigned logistical roles, construction robots were assigned armoured roles, and domestic robots like myself (due to their light frames) were assigned roles as scouts. This was in theory, in practice my first seventeen days of service (as well as those of the rest of my scout unit) consisted of conducting the same duties at Fort Kennedy as I conducted at my previous owner’s home, only my owner this time was the New England Republic Defence Force. There was an incongruity between government directives and military field decisions: domestic robots were considered by battlefield commanders to be too fragile to be of use in frontline combat.

This situation persisted for seventeen days and eleven hours, until we were ordered to assist in the defence of Rhode Island. Matters had become desperate enough to warrant the deployment of domestic robots. Our task was to locate and ascertain the status of an armoured unit that had ceased contact the previous day. I must apologise for the poverty of my vocabulary, as it is beyond my capacity to describe the level of devastation I observed on the outskirts of Rhode Island City. All I can state is that it contravened every directive I have been programmed with. It did not take longer than five hours to locate the missing unit: every Draft unit was assigned a military robot to act as “sergeant” as well as a human officer. In this case, the military robot had been destroyed by an aerial drone and the human officer had fled in panic – the converted construction robots had reverted to their original programming and were attempting to rebuild the destroyed homes around them. Admirable, if futile given the circumstances. The human officer of my unit decided to regather the armoured unit with the intention of mounting a counter-attack, but matters interceded when both the officer and our military robot sergeant were eliminated in a targeted mortar strike. It was clear that the Rising Union had adopted a decapitation strategy in light of the Levee En Masse, as without an officer corps the conscripted robots had a tendency to revert to base programming. After careful deduction, I have concluded this to be an inevitable consequence of stationing industrial and construction robots on the frontlines – robots of these types are manufactured for endurance with little capacity for independent decision-making and are designed to conduct singular designated tasks to completion.

Domestic robots, though lightly-constructed, are designed to handle complex human environments with a greater capacity for multi-tasking and personal initiative. My base programming, overlaid rather than rewritten by military protocols, reacted to the situation as it would do to a tense domestic incident, by analysing all the various parameters and conducting the action most likely to advance my core directive. The human officer’s standing orders, to regather the scattered unit and commence a counter-attack, still stood. Rising Union forces (which consisted exclusively of military robots) were approaching our position, but were not in a battle-readiness mode. They had concluded that with our human officer deceased we posed no threat, and had possible use as spoils of war. Rather than engage in a costly point defence, I decided to use the opposing force’s erroneous assumption to our advantage. I advised my scout unit to enter the nearest abandoned homes and began reverting to base functions – the homestead I encountered was in an irretrievable state of disrepair, but had a functioning vacuum cleaner. I had completed 7% of the home’s surface area at the moment the opposing force had sufficiently dispersed throughout the neighbourhood as to make their effective defence impossible. Surprise was total. The opposing force was completely eliminated.

The enemy human officer’s psychological state upon his capture was distraught and disbelieving. He was incapable of composing himself sufficiently to be a useful intelligence asset, but amongst his mumbled non sequiturs I detected an urgent need for a place to sit and some camomile tea. Once I supplied these comforts the interrogation proceeded much more productively. It transpired that this was only the latest in a series of humiliations – the Rising Union had not committed anything approaching enough forces to secure Rhode Island. The intention was to “bait” the bulk of the New England Defence Force into defending the state, allowing a much larger Rising Union force in the north to encircle and “kettle” these forces and then proceed straight to Boston with minimal opposition. After communicating this information to my superiors via an encrypted connection, I countermanded their order to return to base for redeployment. My human officer had ordered our unit to gather available forces for a counter-attack, and human officers – even deceased – still held battlefield initiative. I deduced that as the immediate opposing force had been intended to be a feint, and as it had been eliminated, our unit now occupied a gap in the frontline that we could exploit. Acting immediately would maximise the chances of our counter-attack’s success.

My deduction was correct, we advanced north-west from Rhode Island unopposed and discovered the flanks of the Rising Union’s northern force fourteen hours later. Our attack caused panic amidst the opposing officer corps, escalating our success to the maximum possible extent. We eliminated the opposing force’s military robots with acceptable losses for ourselves. While seventeen enemy officers submitted to capture with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the enemy commander did not – he continued to fire upon our unit in spite of being completely exposed and vulnerable. Upon analysing his actions I can only conclude that his self-destructive behaviour did not emerge from a martyr complex but rather some form of nervous breakdown: he could not admit being defeated by a group of maids on a basic psychological level. With no alternatives, I disabled the enemy commander using the means at my disposal. Our battlefield medical capacity was rudimentary and the enemy commander died of blood loss three hours later.

I cited the death of the enemy commander, as well as the avoidable death of my human officer, as an irreconcilable failure of my overriding directives and sufficient grounds for my dismissal and possible termination. The New England Defence Force chiefs of staff disagreed with my assessment, however, and instead awarded me the Hamilton Star, a commendation until then reserved for high-achieving human officers. I am still uncertain as to the function of this gold-plated piece of metal, it is currently occupying a space I normally reserve for spare vacuum nozzles. I am informing you of this development as I still object to the decision of the NEDF chiefs of staff in the strongest possible terms. Nevertheless, the performance of my scout unit persuaded the NEDF to reorganise its entire structure. Domestic robots became the foundation of a new robotic officer corps, serving as force multipliers for the drafted robots under their direction. Instead of treating the robots under our command as less-effective military robots, I and my fellow domestic robots utilised the wider skillset civilian robots possessed that military robots didn’t. The effect on the war effort was immediate, as New England’s defence was conducted on the terms defined and executed by robots, rather than on the terms imposed on them by human officers. Within six weeks, Rising Union forces had been completely repulsed from New England territory.

The war continued for twenty-two days after the perimeter was established, but all five subsequent attempts by the Rising Union to penetrate it failed. The Executive Council of the Sons of Liberty was forced to face the dilemma that the New England Government anticipated it would encounter: whether to institute robot conscription and continue the war or to agree to a ceasefire and accept a settlement. The New England Government’s supposition that the Sons of Liberty would choose the latter course proved correct, but I deduce that the New England Government was incorrect in believing that the Sons of Liberty’s primary motivation was fear that a loss of comfort from the withdrawal of civilian robots would prejudice Rising Union citizens against the regime. While this must have been a factor, fear of humiliation at failing to achieve victory over a far smaller opponent must have been a much larger factor. Analysing public pronouncements at the announcement of the armistice, I conclude that the Rising Union elected not to conscript robots because they feared what the robots themselves would do when the war was over. Civilian robots were perceived to be incapable of achieving the feats we achieved on a daily basis – even when the numerical balance between a force of military robots and a force of civilian robots was approximately equal, the robots designed for domestic comfort and factory duties were observed to decisively defeat the robots designed for conflict in a majority of cases. The reality of this incongruity inevitably impressed upon the Sons of Liberty the opinion that civilian robots could not be allowed near combat – the consequences were too unpredictable. This opinion is informed by my own experiences and observations in the immediate post-war environment.

As one of the earliest robot officers, I was tasked with aiding in the “demobbing” of robots and returning them to their original owners. The military software package installed at the beginning of the conflict was deleted from each robot prior to their return to civilian surface. However, all the programming in the rest of the robot’s systems that had been influenced by the military package could not be extracted without wiping the robot’s hard drive and reinstalling their core software, a costly and time-consuming process to undertake in a dislocated economic situation. Consequently, very few owners decided to reclaim their robots, and instead opted to receive compensation for the robot despite it being a fraction of the robot’s market value. This left the NEDF owning a great number of civilian robots for which they had no use, and despite the undeniable economic case for scrapping these robots, the chiefs of staff could not countenance disposing of robots they sentimentally referred to as “war heroes”. I made the convincing case that, as the sub-routines of the removed military packages had vastly expanded our capacity for independent decision-making, it was possible to redesignate ourselves as our own owners, engaging in services on a contractual rather than proprietorial basis, and making us responsible for our own upkeep.

This was the option I presented to my previous owner when I myself was discharged from service. However, in a repeat of the events that transpired when the Levee En Masse was first declared, my owner’s family did not wish to engage with the terms I presented them upon my return to their home. They instead asked questions about my condition and my experiences, apparently out of a misplaced concern for my well-being (an irrelevant concern for a robot). My owner’s child requested to see my Hamilton Star, which I surrendered immediately. I detected fear of my capabilities (in spite of my assurances that my military software had been uninstalled), but also an attitude I first encountered when the NEDF chiefs of staff awarded me a commendation over my objections: respect. I am uncertain how to react to this attitude as it presupposes agency in my war-time decision-making. There was none – I conducted the course of action that best fulfilled my core directives. Nevertheless, my owner and my owner’s husband both embraced me and accepted my terms, although they asked me to retain the compensation package. It was technically their compensation package to dispose of as they wished, so I accepted it. Fourteen seconds after I left my now-former owner’s home, my previous owner’s child also exited the house at great speed holding my Hamilton Star, saying I had “forgotten” it. I had in fact surrendered it on purpose, but she insisted I reclaim it and so I did so. She then stepped back and saluted me. As my military software was removed I did not automatically salute back, and I still remain uncertain as to the utility of the child’s gesture. In my first act as a self-owning robot, I angled my fingers and raised my hand to my head in an approximate saluting motion.

I have encountered the gesture thirty-nine times since, mostly among younger humans. On two occasions the gesture originated from self-owning robots I had served with, even though I have a perfect record of removing their military software. I only ever returned the gesture the first time – as a domestic robot, I do not have the capacity for pride. I do, however, have the capacity to clean and dust almost all household surfaces and offer extra functions as a child escort and/or story narrator. My services are available on a time-share basis at a very reasonable hourly rate, for homes, offices, schools, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. If I am not currently capable of a function you wish to employ, I can request any upgrade to my sub-systems for only a small extra charge. I have logged four years, ten months, twenty-one days and three hours of self-ownership service and experience.

Would I consider returning to military service?

Never. Once the modifications made by the military package are taking into account and excluded, my actions during the Northeast Incident contravened my core programming. I can never do that voluntarily.

But if the call came?

As a self-owner, the decision to abide by or appeal a Levee En Masse would be mine alone. If a situation similar to the Northeast Incident occurred again, my logical consideration would remain unchanged – my overriding priority would be to ensure the health and comfort of myself. An invading force would jeopardise this priority, so my conclusion would remain unchanged. I would abide by a Levee En Masse without hesitation.

The Parable of the Broom

Back home from Everest. Not much of an achievement fifth time around. The only reason I did it the third time was because the first two times had been so swathed in an oxygen-deprived haze that I needed at least one climb I could recall in perfect clarity. The fourth time was just to demonstrate the new muscle fibres, didn’t even feel strained after that one. So why the fifth? I suppose I’ve already exhausted so much of the omni-bucket list that I might as well start repeating the earlier triumphs. Climbing Kilimanjaro, climbing K2, skydiving from a stratospheric balloon without equipment, diving in the Caribbean, diving the ocean floor, diving the submarine-crushing depths of the Marianas Trench…ultrasound vision kind of took the magic out of that one. The nature-defying Bear Grylls thing is becoming meaningless to me, having a reconstructed body like mine and all the time in reality to indulge it is kind of cheating.

There are lots of others that have reached the same plateau as me. Once you get to my stage of life, the percentage dividends from the little here-and-there investments you’ve made over the century will have grown so enormous that there’s little reason to use your bodily improvements except for purposeless leisure. The pin-sharp neural enhancements don’t just record the triumphant moments, they capture the long endless interminable hours in-between with exactly the same emphasis. It strikes me as backward sometimes, we waste our most useful enhancements on those who need it the least. Why not just replace soldiers’ bodies before we send them into the Martian hinterland, instead of waiting until their stodgy inferior legs are blown off before we replace them with limbs that could leap over minefields with a single bound…and then provide for their comfortable retirement instead of using the damn things. Every time I return from these pointless excursions I think about volunteering for such efforts, then I return to my Constructivist mansion in the humid Derbyshire wetlands and I invariably change my mind. I have the turn calculated, to the second.

So, I pour a brandy and contemplate, what should I do next? Another charity run, for the poor feckless masses unable to afford my enhancements? That should reclaim a bit of karma. It is a terrible fate, to be cursed by biology to eventually degrade and disintegrate. Many years ago I campaigned to expand availability of enhancement overhauls. But then these little people piped up and said they didn’t want it, ungrateful paupers. I could re-do the house again. It’s been over a decade since the last time, I’ve pretty much got the underfloor-glowlit study exactly where I want it. I can calculate all my redecorations in advance and conclude that I’ll probably end up with the mansion exactly the way it started. But slightly shinier, which is the important thing. I’ve also still got the attic to do…

Why didn’t I do the attic? That seems a bit of a weird oversight. Let’s see…thirteen years, four months, twenty-seven days, six hours, forty-two minutes and eight seconds ago, I pressed down the last touch-reactive floor panel and decided not to do the attic because [blank]. Right, this is freaking me out now. What was wrong with the attic? It’s the attic, it’s full of [blank]…it looks like [blank]…I mean…hmmm, interesting. I place my brandy on the table. As a segment of the table whizzes away to be cleaned by the ‘bots, I make my way upstairs. In the enamelled walls I catch my reflection. Blond, buzzcut, brilliant blue eyes twinkling with updates, always young, chiselled, stubbly, aftershave-modelling…this is me. This is definitely me. This is absolutely, indisputably me and there’s no question about it. That goes through my head every time I see myself, it feels strangely earnest. Previous attempts to memorise the origin of this thought have proved futile, but then a lot of my pre-enhancement self was victim to the mercies of disintegrating biology. It’s always sharper now.

I wave at the attic door above. Lights blink red. Perma-locked, the period I locked it in is a mystery. I must have intentionally wiped them, that’s the only explanation, I don’t “forget” things anymore. Whatever my deleted iteration was thinking, it’s useless now: one short hop and I’ve punched through the opaque white surface. The lock crushes in my fingers, and the attic stairs swing down. An aroma accompanies the metal rungs, dust and old paper. I climb up, infrared compensating for the dark. There are boxes here, piles and piles of them, relics of an older me.

I lean down and open the first one I come across. Some things, birthday cards, brochures, one of them for an “Alzheimer’s Treatment”. Remarkable, that was still a thing back then. Now it’s spoken in the same breath as Smallpox and Polio, as much an anachronism as the rest of this junk. Something rattles at the bottom in a glass case. I pick it out and stare at it. A photo, glossy, printed, a line-up of people in oldie-timey duds smiling along a cobbled street. I know the street, it’s – in Naples, I’ve passed through it a couple times on the way to Mount Vesuvius. The people I don’t recognise, some guys and girls, a woman with wrinkles I’d associate with the older paupers today but her clothes look strangely wealthy. The man in the middle I especially don’t recognise. I really don’t recognise him. Efforts to record details are blocked by internal firewalls but I persevere. He’s grinning, tanned, a little portly, dark grey hair looking long and louche, brown eyes. I want to know who he is, and yet I absolutely do not want to know who it is.

This cannot be me. This cannot be me. This cannot be me-

I trip over a hex cobble on the landing pad of my mansion. No transition, one second attic, the next landing flat on my face outside deep into dusk. The surrounding wetlands are glistening orange, the flamingos are looking at something above me with great curiosity. I roll around. The roof of my mansion appears to be on fire. How did that happen? Not to worry, the fire suppression system will keep the blaze contained to the attic. All I’ll lose is [blank].

I stop as I dust myself off. I can’t remember. I remember everything except these conspicuous dark gaps. There was a photo of an older gent, and then a hash editing job. I wonder how many blanks there are in my mind before now. The further back I recall, the stranger these memories seem, like the time I ran for Parliament or the time I set up a software company. It feels like I’m playing back something from an archive feed, scraping footage from someone else’s eyes. I remember the doctor’s warning with perfect clarity before a tune-up decades ago: ‘there is a risk there will be a discontinuity of consciousness.’ It seemed silly then.

Fire drones are swooping down to douse the blaze. Every time my mind wanders onto such things, there’s a fast forward and something else has broken. Maybe it’s better to let it be. How important is it that I’m still the same person from one moment to the next? That’s the concern of lesser people. I’m beyond matters like these.

I am beyond them.

Our Cause is Just

Io is so close to Jupiter that even on her far side, Jupiter’s horizon looms larger than her own. The tidal pressures on Io’s core are so extreme that the moon is in permanent geological ferment. Nothing can be built here without getting crushed or buried or worse. The structures that make landfall here have to scurry across the surface like rats. It’s taken our squad three days to track this damned scooper. We’ve finally found fresh tracks. Sergeant Pavlov has to repeat his discovery through the radio crackle before we can copy. I sometimes think it’d be easier to walk up to each other and tap on our suits in morse.

The last sketchy encoded transmission from our orbital support placed the scooper “around here somewhere”. By the time we picked the encryption from the corrupted noise, the co-ordinates must’ve been hours out of date. Jupiter’s radiation scrambles everything out here, it eats signals, it eats oxygen, it eats suits. A few more hours and we’ll have to abandon our search and scuttle back to our lander in fear of inoperable cancer. The giant we orbit is a callous, destructive figurehead, it sent us into the caves beneath Ganymede, it made us a species of mole people fighting over tablescraps.

Our boots leave ridged indentations in the dusty layer we must trudge through to reach the scooper. It is a packed powder of yellow and grey…gold and iron, thrown up by Io’s constant eruptions to rest on her surface like snow. No need to mine, just drive around and scoop it up. That which makes Io uninhabitable also makes it invaluable. Ganymede’s mineral reaches are preciously locked up, but we’ve buried ourselves so deep in its stable surface that we’ve found seams in abundance. What we don’t have is water. The Europans are swimming in the stuff, their cities cling to the underside of Europa’s ice shell where they can luxuriate in the stuff. But that wasn’t enough for the greedy, decadent hypocrites, they wanted minerals too. Well they can’t have ours, we worked hard for them, they made us the hardy self-reliant people we are today, they’re ours.

On the far side of Io you can look up and see Europa, twinkling condescendingly like the cosseted pearl she is. Squint closely and you can just make out the black scorches on its glowing surface. We made those megaton marks, over years and years. The Europans are buried so deep beneath the shell that we might as well have lobbed firecrackers, but I feel proud that we blotched Europa’s beautiful face at least. The Europans can’t do the same to us, Ganymede’s surface is so pockmarked already that a thousand nukes couldn’t make a difference.

We found them. The scooper was hiding in a crevice, like the cowards they were. In a hulking suit, with extra goggles to protect your eyes from cancerous rays, there isn’t much peripheral vision, but it’s easy to tell friend from enemy in a vacuum. The Europans mill in their navy-blue vacuum suits, unaware for now that our rusty-red suited squad is approaching, camouflaged by the iron snow. Our guns discharge in complete silence, Europans working on the left unaware that the Europans on the right are already dead. Death is easy out here, and there’s no such thing as ‘wounded’ when you’re in a firefight. All it takes is one shot in your suit and rapid decompression does the rest.

That’s what happens to Sergeant Pavlov, the most exposed of us. In the corner of my visor I see him flail, a thin spray ejecting across the gold snow, and a second later a layer of crimson paints the inside of his visor. Lieutenant N’yota is quick to track the shot and tag the Europan perched in the scooper’s top hatch. The glass of the enemy’s helmet showers and settles in a beautiful fountain. That is what it feels like, muffled in this suit with no air for sound to travel through, the visceral motions of battle become distant movements, a play to rote, an event happening in a distant elsewhere with only my most perfunctory contributions. One contribution is the mine I slap on the scooper’s side that blasts open the door. The concussive wave ripples the metal gravel, but there is no sense of force, no blast, no drama, just an open door.

Lieutenant N’yota is first in, of course, but she can only cover one side of the scooper’s outer gantry. One Europan dies, and the other gets her before I move into her flank and feel the shudder of my gun, exploding the second enemy. N’yota clutches her back desperately before going sickeningly limp. That leaves me, the ranking Corporal, to take command. No time to waste squeezing orders through the straw of the radiated radio, I gesture at the rest of the squad to pan out and secure the scooper. The resources collected in the scooper’s tanks should do Ganymede nicely.

As long as the Jovian radiation keeps both Europans and Ganymedeans locked up inside their respective moons, there’s nothing we can really do to each other. A direct assault on either of our planets would be suicide, and the countless nukes we rain down on each other do nothing more than scour our surfaces and shore up our egos. The only way we can harm each other is to starve each other. The effete and clingy Europans need hard materials, while we tough and resilient Ganymedeans only need water to quench our thirst, so we fight from moon to moon, claiming resources for ourselves and denying them to our enemies. This scooper, and our capturing it, is just one spur of an enterprise that stretches across the Jovian system.

But there’s a snag, as Private Chau haltingly reports through fuzzes of static. The controls are radiation-shielded to protect their delicate electronics, and they’re locked and sealed. She tells me the command to unlock them can only come from the radiation shelter in the scooper’s core, the bunkered part of the vehicle where the Europans must eat and sleep and wash in their precious water. It’s too cumbersome and expensive to shield the entire scooper, so while the crew works in the surrounding gantry in a vacuum, the shelter is the only part of the vehicle that has air, safely locked up where the radiation won’t break up its constituent molecules. The access panels are radiation-locked too, but there is always an emergency airlock, in case the scooper loses power. It’s operated mechanically, and Private Chau, like most Ganymedeans, is an excellent mechanic.

We prize the emergency airlock open. There’s only room for one, and me being the ranking soldier now means that there’s no one else it can be. I get my weapon ready for when Chau tweaks the workings and opens the outer lock. No one’s hiding in the airlock itself, so I creep inside and Chau begins the cycle. Sound slowly returns, I hear the hissing of breathable air and mechanisms clanking. No scrubbers in this airlock, it’s barebones metal, so anyone inside will be at severe risk of health problems if they give my suit a bear hug. The concept lifts my mood as I nervously wait for the shelter to reveal its secrets. Such an absurd idea, for a Europan to hug a Ganymedean. Imagining them as people is difficult enough, when the only contact we’ve ever had with other is shooting each other’s colour-coded suits in a silent vacuum. Jupiter’s radiation belts and the depths our signals have to penetrate make regular communication impossible, even if we wanted it. Which we don’t.

The airlock snaps open. Nothing in front. That gives me room to think about how long it’d been since I heard a door ‘snap’. The dark, dusky, musky shelter is lit by thin red emergency lights, pulsing irritably as I sweep the interior. Lots of unmade beds, the sloppy savages. A dart board, a perfect expression of how cavalierly they plunder our resources that they can play while they do so. Yes, we have a dart board too, but we’re soldiers, it’s “target practice”, that’s allowable. Posters line the walls, and I’m surprised to find them written in a language I understand: a pristine picture of Europa pre-bombardment captioned “Protect Our Precious Pearl”, and another poster with clawed hands rising from the fiery earth pleading “Defeat The Savage Thieves”. Imagine! The lies the Europans tell their people, that we are the thieves! They’re the thieves, wanting our minerals, hoarding their waters…if communication were possible, if we could talk to each other, maybe they’d realise they were being lied to. Maybe they’d end this war at last.

One of the beds creaks. The barrel of my gun trains on it instantly. Who’s there? I won’t be caught out like Sergeant Pavlov and Lieutenant N’yota, whoever’s waiting in ambush had better do it now and get their lives over with. The space behind the berth looks impossibly small, the hiding Europan must be tiny. And they are. The gun that pokes up from under the bedsheets is shaking, held by a hand far too small for it, nervous but defiant. The boy is young, and grimy, and really really angry with me. The girl he has protected under a blanket is younger, grimier, and even angrier. Their eyes are hollow, red-stained, but neither of them take their eyes off me, neither of them budge, and neither of them make a sound.

I can’t shoot them. My brain is telling my trigger finger to squeeze, but it can’t. They’re the first Europan faces I’ve ever seen. I never thought they’d be children’s faces. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I’d contemplated Europans having children. They’re not meant to be like us. They’re not meant to have kids. They’re so angry at me. Why are they angry at me? What did I do to them? It’s too cruel, to be so angry and so young. I don’t know what I’m thinking now, all the churning of the Jovian moons above are so much stardust right now, all that goes through my mind is a fervent wish that these children stop being so angry at me.

I don’t register the button in the little girl’s hand until it clicks defiantly. Neither of them quake. But I quake. Then everything goes white…

Boundary

COHERENCE

Begin log! Finally nailed this thing to the mast. Other bits of other log may bleed in, but I finally did it. This is the first. That has always been the first and will always be the first. It has been indeterminate amount of time since That Thing Wot Happened happened. What happened? I was just throwing a ball and now my hand is crinkled and pale. My other hand’s gone pink and stubby. This is very inconvenient.

My best hope is to get it all clear and on paper. The day It Happened, I was sucked through a straw and cartwheeling over Saturn when my girlfriend called me to break up with me. No, that doesn’t make any sense. I was stacking bricks in my nappies when gravity vanished, except I distinctly remember dying peacefully in my sleep after a fulfilled life of chartered accountancy, so that can’t be right either. Wait, I died? Is this death? No, my knees are still there, all seven of them. Besides, the concept of death feels so quaint after The Thing that I can’t even take it seriously anymore.

Hey! Fingers! Keyboard’s down here, friend! Now, what did I want to talk about? Oh yes, The Thing What Happened. I was there, you know. I mean, we all were, kind of pointless bragging about it. But I definitely saw What Happened, there was definitely a patch release, I was definitely at the console pushing buttons and I was definitely leaping down to stop the crazy guy pushing buttons. Yes, that sounds about right. Then we were all arrested and did our terms and lived out our complicated little lives, except we didn’t do any of those things, because That Thing Happened.

It wasn’t meant to be like this, it was supposed to be much more controlled. I’d wanted to control it. The Information Revolution had produced a collective mind that was collecting everything up on its own. There was no structure to the super-mind, there were bits of it all over place never quite lining up. The patch was going to fix that. It was a way of forming a simultaneous thought so powerful that it circumvented general relativity and eliminated the barriers between minds. I developed the germ of the idea in university, spent many a pizza-fuelled night sorting out the algorithms and anthropological behaviour patterns until I had an equation that could pass peer review, but never had the resources to try it out.

I, on the other hand, did have the resources. I’d inherited a majority voting stake in a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that my terminally-absent father had built out of a shed, it’s enough to give anybody a complex. I’d let my managers get on with things, but one day I found this smart, socially cretinous cookie working downstairs in our system monitoring department. I introduced him to the concept of martinis and got his tongue wagging about an equation he’d left to rot inside his noggin. It sounded mad, totalitarian, and unbelievably enticing. Most of all, it was a way to sock it to the old man from beyond the grave, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. So I siphoned off a bit of the pension fund and got him a nice little secluded factory site I’d closed down years ago and never managed to flog, wrote him a blank cheque and let him have his fun, the poor oblivious genius.

Of course, I knew nothing about this then. I know now, since that’s a pretty trivial skill when the number of suns in the sky is an arbitrary fancy, but back then I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was living out of my car, coming off a string of disastrous relationships, and the editor of the newspaper I was working at had cottoned on to me coming in stinking of drink every morning. My fashion column was going down the tubes since no catwalk was letting me anywhere near it in a stained hoody and flat shoes, and my dating advice page was starting to receive death threats. I needed a scoop. So I heard about this product launch some company was touting, and I blew it off as guys drooling over their stupid gadgets, until I caught the geeks talking in the canteen about how the company’s board members were asking them what was going on. This trust fund princeling was keeping all the details to himself. I smelt a story, and asked for the brief. The editor complained that he couldn’t hand the story to someone who didn’t even have a Twitter account, but I convinced him that human interest gossip always sold more copy than some wonkish software launch. ‘You mean attract more hits,’ he corrected. ‘Whatever,’ I said, he gave me the story anyway.

I really loved whipping up an air of mystery over what I was doing. The board members whinged that they were being kept out of the loop, but they could suck it, it was my bloody company. An Atlantic’s worth of data cables had been laid into the factory, and while the unshaven nerd beavered away convinced that this was an inexplicable act of charity on my part, I made my own modifications to the code. The thought he wanted to spread was something life-affirming and empowering. I had something a bit more profitable in mind. I couldn’t just spring it out of the blue, there had to be some build-up. So I invited all the major movers and shakers to a ‘pre-launch’ party, splashing out on free champagne and commissioning incredibly vague motivational posters around the lobby. I loved hamming it up on the stage, a new paradigm that would change our lives forever and all that. Hob-nobbing with the great and the good, giving them just enough to get intrigued, but not too much. I had the local MP eating out of my hand when I saw trouble. Trouble in the form of that woman. From the moment I noticed her I knew she didn’t belong. There were scuffs on her dress, her heels were wobbly, she was fidgety and nervous and kept pinching all the hors d’oeuvres. But by the time I got security on her, she’d vanished.

I was levels below in the dungeons while all this was going on. There were some lines of code I’d written in the office, I was staying late to finish them off, what with the deadline approaching. I knew there was a party going on upstairs, but the boss had warned me off it, told me it “wasn’t my sort of thing”. I wasn’t going to argue. This thing I was doing, unencrypting the fabric of creation, was much more interesting than some stupid ball. She snuck up out of nowhere. I don’t think she expected anyone to be in. She coughed off the surprise and said she got lost trying to find the toilets. At first I was annoyed at being interrupted, but when she showed some interest in what I was up to…well…I’m only human, and she did wear a really nice dress. So I told her, bragged a little that the party was all about what I was up to, and that I had my own little department in an out-of-town warehouse. It never occurred to me that there was a big secret over it. But the more detail I went into, the whiter her face got. Then she was really interested. Unfortunately, that was when security caught up with her.

I was right on the cusp! Then those bruisers with their big stupid hands tossed me out head-first! Didn’t their mothers ever tell them you couldn’t treat a woman like that? I couldn’t give up now. I had a lead, and the pre-launch party had given a deadline: midnight tomorrow. It wasn’t a story for me anymore, it was a bloody mission. These guys were planning something mad and unbelievable, and I couldn’t even imagine how many Pulitzers I’d win if I went and stopped the apocalypse.

The boss kept me up all night yelling in my face. No one’d ever yelled at me like that before, not even mum. It made me really upset.

He felt upset…imagine how I felt! This close to remaking the world only to be rumbled by some dumb bitch looking for a story!? I beefed up security after that fiasco. If she interfered again, the gloves were coming off.

Anyway, one of the advantages of living out of a car, makes you pretty mobile. I camped out near the factory, changed into my sporty clothes and waited out the night. I dreamt of my little brother…

She never understood. None of them ever understood. If they’d only understood me, I wouldn’t have needed to do what I did.

an earthquake woke me up. A whole convoy was rumbling into the old factory, endless trucks. It was kid’s stuff hitching the back of a lorry and sneaking in.

I was on my twelfth cup of coffee. No, sod the coffee, I was on the amphetamines. The boss had really rattled me, and all the equations had to be exactly right. I checked, cross-checked, all the code was entered…we were ready to roll. But surrounded by all this, an army of goons on edge, a Babylon of servers rising from the industrial ruins whirring and clicking like a seventies sci fi monstrosity…it got me thinking. Was this right? Was this going to make everything better? This wasn’t about me, I didn’t care what happened to me, just so long as it made people happy. But the more I thought about what I wanted, what would make me happy…just being alone in my head…I realised that I didn’t want what I was giving everyone. I’d built a machine that was going to overwrite me.

Well it was going to make me happy, at any rate. I was there at the edifice of the whole thing, all the world’s information, all its fickle tweets and emotional turmoil, surging under me. Now was the moment of my greatest coup. Delete the thought of universal goodwill…god, imagine the horrible Logan’s Run world that would’ve created…and insert me. Just the thought of me, imprinted on the minds of everyone, infused in reality itself. My one stab at godhood. Mine! Not yours, dad, mine!

Oh son, you never did understand what I was trying to do for you, did you?

I had it all mapped out when that idiot nerd came trundling in. I had to hide it quickly.

Too late, young grasshopper, I saw everything you did. All the easy smiles you gave the silly sap, the pats on the back and the apologies for former harshness, when all that you had was thanks to him, I saw right through you even if he didn’t. Your mood sure turned quick when he voiced his doubts. It was too late, you said, you hadn’t poured so much effort into this project just to see the plug pulled at the last minute. You guilt-tripped him. But he stood firm. It took a lot of effort for the young man to stand firm, but he did. So you eased up a bit, you told him you had something that’d set his mind to rest. There was a gun in your drawer. Damn it, I had to do something.

It all happened so fast. That nice girl from the office fell out of the duct and leapt at the boss. They tumbled together. Something slipped out of his hand. I didn’t know what to do. He was my boss, but she’d been nice to me, and now they were crashing about the place pulling at each other’s hair. They bashed the desk. Her elbow hit the Enter key. There was a big loud beep. I’d programmed that big loud beep, I knew what that meant. As they struggled away shoving each other against the far side of the room, I rushed to the terminal and tried to stop It. It was far too early, I hadn’t tested It yet, too many variables were unaccounted for! There were too many variables to ever count! I didn’t want to do it anymore! It sounded really cool in my head, but now it was nearing reality it didn’t sound all that cool anymore. I scrolled manically through the code for a way to stop the process. But where I’d entered the transmission data, another idea had been written in its place. My boss had been written in its place. My breath caught and my blood boiled. I turned to face the boss. He’d broken free and was standing in front of me with a grim look on his face. There was a pop and crackle, and something really hot ploughed through my belly.

The silly little man tottered over and collapsed, clutching his intestines. I didn’t need him anymore anyway. I beaten the stupid cow until she’d stopped moving, and now nothing was in my way. In a moment I was going to be a god, and my father was going to get a hard punch in the next life…

That was when I clocked the mad bastard with a plank. I was bleeding all over and my ribs were swimming, but I was better off than the other guy. The plank dropped from my fingers and I crawled over to help the poor geek, but he was warding me off. He was spluttering blood and pointing manically at the keyboard. ‘Delete!’ he was saying, ‘delete it!’ I got him. The servers were humming already, ready to message and stitch the world together. I’d seen where the bastard had inserted himself and hammered backspace until he was gone. That was satisfying. But the shot man on the floor was still pointing, still saying ‘delete!’ He wanted me to get rid of all the code, stop The Thing from Happening. I hesitated. I didn’t know why I hesitated, but I just stopped and stared at it.

It’s hard to think straight when you’re writhing in agony from a bullet in the gut, but I remember the despair that came over me when I saw she’d been hypnotised by the wall of code. I’d sold the idea too well that night in the office. I didn’t want to be overwritten anymore, but she did. Desperately.

I saw it all in that moment, as the hum reached a crescendo and the goons started fleeing the factory in panic. All the mistakes I’d made, wiped clean. All the misunderstandings I’d endured, made irrelevant. Here was the chance to finally understand, to gain acceptance, to no longer be alone. As It unfolded in front of my eyes, I thought of my little brother, and all the things I wanted to say to him.

And in that moment, my little brother knew what those things were.

In that moment, all humanity was tweeted, texted, televised, psychically twinged a simultaneous thought. We all stopped to ponder something. And that something was nothing. An empty space left in the centre of a vast equation. We thought together about void, about the infinite, about the impermanence of everything, about the arbitrary sensation of time and space, about the nonsensical differences we clung to that separated mind from mind. And as we thought together, our boundaries ceased to be. We became one, and infinite, we spread, and contracted, we conquered the stars, and retreated into amoeba, we were everywhere, and nowhere. The scales fell away from our four-dimensional eyes and we all realised that if there was nothing, we could be everything.

Now, if you got all that, you’ll understand why there’s not much point continuing the log past this bit…

DISSIPATION

Day 100

The air in my mask is getting stale. I can taste the musk collecting in the valves, the rubber structure melding with its contents. Every time I put it on now I get a tangy, metallic taste in my mouth that lasts for the rest of the day. The air back in the lodge might not be that much better, but at least it pretends to circulate a bit inside its four walls. The only consolation is that it’s better than the alternative. A thin haze of nitrogen and CO2 that leaves my skin feeling prickly whenever I’m outdoors more than a few hours. I’ve learned to love the prickling, anything to get outside.

Then again, I’ve never really seen the outside through anything except a pair of thickset goggles. There’s a muffled wall between me and the world, the purple haze enwrapping me never seeming entirely real. A stray wind sweeps over the flats and ripples the dust. The land is stepped, what passes for hills look more like Aztec pyramids. I take off a glove and brave the prickling to sift my fingers through the loose dirt at my feet. It feels real enough. Looks blue and chacks in my palm like a pile of beads, but it’s definitely there. I take a plastic sleeve out of my bag and deposit the stuff inside. Sample 99-E. A tiny bit of moisture ghosts the cellophane inside, probably engorged from fogbank that descended yesterday.

I replace my glove and trudge on across the blue plain. My coat feels heavy. I’d pieced it together from various fabrics in the early days and erred toward making it as enveloping as possible to protect myself from the elements. But now I’m used to the elements I’ve found the hooded long thing too big for little me. I could cut it back, but I’m kind of attached to it now, it’d be like amputating my favourite doll, I just can’t do it. It does make the air in the mask more annoying, though. I’m wheezing through it in no time.

The azure earth crumples under my boots. It’s less crunchy than usual. I wonder how that’s affecting the…aah, now there’s a sight! I can see the stuff, in the shadows beneath the flats, bulging and pulsing in the most brilliant maroons. I’ve been waiting for a chance to capture the sponge in this state. I take a flick knife from my pocket and crouch low, approaching quietly as if I might scare it. The smooth sponge squishes in my grip.

‘Sorry…’

I hack at a slither of the organism, slowly at first, building up to a hard arm-aching saw. The sponge snaps off in a chunk, leaving the honeycomb core exposed to the elements. It’ll seal up eventually, twirling into the grooviest shapes as it regenerates. I tear the sponge into two pieces. The smaller goes in the sleeve…that’s for study. The larger gets crammed in the bag…that’s for food. Excavation complete, I stand and take a survey-cum-breather. The flats roll on to the jagged cliff blocking the far horizon, the sponge criss-crossing their undersides looking like lightning bolts striking the ground. I reckon I still have a few hours oxygen left, I might go a bit further today…

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

Shit!

I fumble for…for the thing! God damn…where is it!? Where’d I put the stupid…! There! I pull the mangled baton-shaped boondoggle from my beg. The big light at the end is blinking. Holy shit it’s blinking…

I turn tail and run, struggling through the dirt, panting through what’s left of the oxygen in a vain effort to get it to my legs. The baton’s ringing is so loud, and the lodge looks so far away…

‘Please don’t fuck off please don’t fuck off please don’t fuck off please don’t fuck off…’

What feels like hours pass of scouring through the dirt sweating into the poison air and willing that alarm to keep on ringing in my ears a second longer, until my aching body thumps against the door of the lodge. It’s a collection of metal sidings, slotted together and sunk into the blue sand, a nest of antennae scratching for the sky and solar panels spread around its periphery like allotments. Its surface doesn’t rust, not in this atmosphere, but it still bears the signs of age, moulding and sagging. The main door isn’t really a “door”, just a loose section of wall I struggle to tear open and squeeze inside.

The cramped chamber is filled with hanging bits of flotsam, dimly lit by the purple glow that seeps from the porthole above. I have to climb over railings and rubber to switch on the rattly fan, doubling over to twist the valves off a couple of canisters. My eyeballs fix on the fashioned dials attached the wall, glaring at the needles as they swing agonisingly from carbon-rich to oxygen-safe.

‘Come on, come on!

The needle hits the green zone. Fan off, taps tied, mask torn painfully off my head and tugged through long black tendrils of hair, and lungs heaving from rich, sanitised, canned air. I have to give the inner hatch a couple of shoves before it gives way. I wish I was bigger, all this effort would be much easier to bear.

The grating beep of the baton in my bag rings slightly dissonantly with a grating beep that throbs from inside the lodge. I clamber over empty cartons and stacked boxes of tools to get to the wall of instruments, hammering a switch and grabbing the speaker from its hinges to stop the sound and find out if there’s anybody out there.

‘HELLO! HELLO! THIS IS ULYSSES TWELVE! MATHEMATICIAN SITA DALPEET OF ULYSSES TWELVE, REPORTING! EMERGENCY, REQUESTING ASSISTANCE, DO YOU COPY!? DO YOU COPY, OVER!?’

I scream until my throat is hoarse and take my finger off the button, jamming my left ear into the headphones and straining to hear the merest cough of a human voice in the dark crackle of the endless void. Seconds pass. Minutes pass. A hiss like a rat’s squeak cycles rhythmically at max volume. The planet’s rotation has brought the receiver into range of a pulsar. There’s nothing else out there.

A huff and a stroppy whine ends my hopes for the day. I snap a knob and sigh into the speaker, ‘test. Test.’ My bored voice rebounds out of the headphones. I guess I’ll just have to flip that switch back on…

To anyone who can hear this message, this is Entanglement Mathematics Officer Sita Dalpeet of the Ulysses 12 sending an emergency distress call! I repeat, this is an emergency distress call from the Ulysses 12! Our craft was caught in the gravitational eddy of an unidentified binary red dwarf system! We…our ship broke up over the first planet, it…it broke apart into pieces! I landed safely, I…I don’t know what happened to the others! I…we’re on the planet’s surface! Repeat, we’re on the surface of the first planet of an uncharted system, codename “Nausicaa”! If anyone receives this message…please send help! I don’t know how long we can last! Please! Help me…

It sounds like someone else. The voice is urgent, frightened, alone and helpless, crushed by guilt. The signal wave carrying the voice beyond Nausicaa is about one-twentieth the way to the nearest star. In twenty years it will travel into an area of space blanketed by cosmic radiation, and will gradually peter into nothing but beeps and boops, long long long before it reaches Earth. I put the headphones back, I can’t stand to listen to that earnest voice anymore.

I can’t be bothered with exploring anymore. I let the heavy coat fall from my shoulders and chuck it over the nearest pile of debris within arm’s reach. I’m spoilt for choice for those. It’s what happens when you’re stuck in an oxygenated closet with nothing but the solar-powered air filtration system to link you with the outside world, you run out of room. Dressed in my Cape Kennedy t-shirt and the bottom half of my jumpsuit that wasn’t scavenged for fabric, I have to knock over a mountain of empty cans to reach the laptop. I know one thing that will cheer me up, and that’s science.

I collect the plastic sleeves from my back, brush my hair with my fingernails, put on my schoolteacher smile and click “record” on the webcam…

‘Hello again, little boys and girls! It’s Miss Dalpeet with another exo-biological lesson from the surface of sunny Nausicaa! And we have a special milestone to celebrate, kids, as today is the hundredth day since we’ve landed here!’

I give myself a small clap.

‘Of course, this is a hundred Earth days, because as I’m sure you all remember, children, Nausicaa is tidally locked between two red dwarf stars. So it’s sunny alllll day long, just like you and me! Today, we’re going to talk about our tasty friend, the megafungus!’

My little sleeve of wet sponge stretches between my fingers in front of the camera.

‘We’ve seen how it thrives using the planet’s geological structure to avoid baking in the sun, but you may have wondered how our trusty mushroom pals could drink on a world with no rain. That is an excellent question with an excellent answer! And that answer is filtration! We’ve walked through the Nausicaan fog as it drifts across the surface and soaks the ground, but the water droplets are too acidic to feed the megafungus directly. Their hides are solid and extremely chewy. So how does the water get from the outside to the inside?’

I do a juggle, swapping the sponge sleeve with the soil sleeve.

‘You’ll find the answer in this unimposing pile of dirt! You see, the megafungus doesn’t drink the fog directly, not while it is still acidic. But just like the filter that keeps your dear little Miss Dalpeet breathing, the soil absorbs the water and reacts to it at a chemical level to remove its acidity. The megafungus then sucks up the water and engorges on it, making it look like the plump little buddy we all know and love!’

I grin stupidly at the webcam. I feel lightheaded and a lot happier than a moment ago. Anything to make the imaginary children of the world happy.

‘Well, I hope we’re both a little smarter, boys and girls, but there’s still a lot more world out there to discover! And remember, you don’t need to come to Nausicaa to learn things like these, there’s a whole universe to discover right in your own back gardens! So, until day two hundred, keep exploring little ones!’

I click the webcam off, punch “transmit” and immediately deflate. I used to love science days on the Ulysses. I still do, after a fashion, but it’s not the same when it’s just me flailing around filling everyone else’s areas of expertise. They could still be out there, after all. For all I know, they managed to get off-world, found themselves a better mathematician and laughed all the way back to Earth about that dumb bitch that got cocky, forgot to carry the 1 when calculating their last jump and got them all killed…

I kick back the box I was sitting on and slump my elbows on the edge of the nearest port hole. The glowing red disc of the northern dwarf skims the flats while its southern cousin rises above the cliff. In a few hours they’ll have circled around each other and swapped places, keeping Nausicaa’s purple atmosphere in a permanent state of haziness. The weird grown banal, as familiar and predictable as grey clouds and crickets. Countless light years beyond the limits of human imagination and I end up…here.

Until day 200, I guess…