Authors: Peter Watts
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce, or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
In memory of Strange Cat, a.k.a. Carcinoma,
She wouldn't have cared.
You hold the further and final adventures of Lenie Clarkeâthe third installment of my “rifters” trilogyâin your sweaty little mammalian hands.
Unfortunately, you don't hold all of it.
is being released in two volumes, several months apart. I wish this were not necessary, but new policies have resulted from recent changes within the publishing industry. Henceforth, books by midlist authors will not receive wide distribution if they cost too muchâthat is, if they weigh in at more than about 110,000 words.
is over 150,000 words long, and was almost complete by the time this policy came into effect. Hacking away a third of it was not an option (believe me, I tried). If
were to be released as a single volume, it would be automatically excluded from about half the U.S. marketâessentially an act of professional suicide. A two-part release was the only alternative.
was conceived and written as two contrasting halves from the outset. Each half balances the other; each has its own mood, setting, and cast of characters. The
of this first volume is, therefore, largely self-contained. The
however, is only half told, the big questions remain largely unresolved. If you're the kind of reader who gets off on cliffhangers, this may work just fine for you. If not, you have been warned: you'll have to read Volume Two to see how it ends.
you lost your eyes, Achilles Desjardins had been told, you got them back in your dreams.
It wasn't only the blind.
torn apart in life dreamed the dreams of whole creatures. Quadruple amputees ran and threw footballs; the deaf heard symphonies; those who'd lost, loved again. The mind had its own inertia; grown accustomed to a certain role over so many years, it was reluctant to let go of the old paradigm.
It happened eventually, of course. The bright visions faded, the music fell silent, imaginary input scaled back to something more seemly to empty eye sockets and ravaged cochleae. But it took years, decadesâand in all that time, the mind would torture itself with nightly reminders of the things it once had.
It was the same with Achilles Desjardins. In
dreams, he had a conscience.
Dreams took him to the past, to his time as a shackled god: the lives of millions in his hands, a reach that extended past geosynch and along the floor of the Mariana Trench. Once again he battled tirelessly for the greater good, plugged into a thousand simultaneous feeds, reflexes and pattern-matching skills jumped up by retro'd genes and customized neurotropes. Where chaos broke, he brought control. Where killing ten would save a hundred, he made the sacrifice. He isolated the outbreaks, cleared the logjams, defused the terrorist attacks and ecological breakdowns that snapped on all sides. He floated on radio waves and slipped through the merest threads of fiberop, haunted Peruvian sea mills one minute and Korean comsats the next. He was CSIRA's best 'lawbreaker again: able to bend the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the breaking point, and maybe a little beyond.
He was the very ghost in the machineâand back then, the machine was everywhere.
And yet the dreams that really seduced him each night were not of power, but of slavery. Only in sleep could he relive that paradoxical bondage that washed rivers of blood from his hands.
Guilt Trip, they called it. A suite of artificial neurotransmitters whose names Desjardins had never bothered to learn. He could, after all, kill millions with a single command; nobody was going to hand out that kind of power without a few safeguards in place. With the Trip in your brain, rebellion against the greater good was a physiological impossibility. Guilt Trip severed the link between
any attempt to misuse one's power would call down the mother of all grand mal attacks. Desjardins had never lain awake doubting the rightness of his actions, the purity of his motives. Both had been injected into him by others with fewer qualms.
It was such a comfort, to be so utterly blameless.
So he dreamed of slavery. And he dreamed of Alice, who had freed him, who had stripped him of his chains. In his dreams, he wanted them back.
Eventually the dreams slipped away as they always did. The past receded; the unforgiven present advanced. The world fell apart in time-lapse increments: an apocalyptic microbe rose from the deep sea, hitching a ride in the brackish flesh of some deep-sea diver from N'AmPac. Floundering in its wake, the Powers That Weren't dubbed it
ehemoth, burned people and property in their frantic, futile attempts to stave off the coming change of regime. North America fell. Trillions of microscopic foot soldiers marched across the land, laying indiscriminate waste to soil and flesh. Wars flared and subsided in fast-forward: the N'AmPac Campaign, the Colombian Burn, the EurAfrican Uprising. And Rio, of course: the thirty-minute war, the war that Guilt Trip should have rendered impossible.
Desjardins fought in them all, one way or another. And while desperate metazoans fell to squabbling among themselves, the real enemy crept implacably across the land like a suffocating blanket. Not even Achilles Desjardins, pride of the Entropy Patrol, could hold it back.
Even now, with the present almost upon him, he felt faint sorrow for all he hadn't done. But it was phantom pain, the residue of a conscience stranded years in the past. It barely reached him here on the teetering interface between sleep and wakefulness; for one brief moment he both remembered that he was free, and longed not to be.
Then he opened his eyes, and there was nothing left that could care one way or the other.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Mandelbrot sat meatloafed on his chest, purring. He scritched her absently while calling up the morning stats. It had been a relatively quiet night: the only item of note was a batch of remarkably foolhardy refugees trying to crash the North American perimeter. They'd set sail under cover of darkness, casting off from Long Island on a refitted garbage scow at 0110 Atlantic Standard; within an hour, two dozen EurAfrican interests had been vying for dibs on the mandatory
. The poor bastards had barely made it past Cape Cod before the Algerians (the
?) took them out.
The system hadn't even bothered to get Desjardins out of bed.
Mandelbrot rose, stretched, and wandered off on her morning rounds. Liberated, Desjardins got up and padded to the elevator. Sixty-five floors of abandoned real estate dropped smoothly around him. Just a few years ago it had been a hive of damage control; thousands of Guilt-Tripped operatives haunting a world forever teetering on the edge of breakdown, balancing lives and legions with cool dispassionate parsimony. Now it was pretty much just him. A lot of things had changed after Rio.
The elevator disgorged him onto CSIRA's roof. Other buildings encircled this one in a rough horseshoe, pressing in at the edges of the cleared zone. Sudbury's static field, its underbelly grazing the tips of the tallest structures, sent gooseflesh across Desjardins's forearms.
On the eastern horizon, the tip of the rising sun ignited a kingdom in ruins.
The devastation wasn't absolute. Not yet. Cities to the east retained some semblance of integrity, walled and armored and endlessly on guard against the invaders laying claim to the lands between. Fronts and battle lines still seethed under active dispute; one or two even held steady. Pockets of civilization remained sprinkled across the continentânot many, perhaps, but the war went on.
All because five years before, a woman named Lenie Clarke had risen from the bottom of the ocean with revenge and
ehemoth seething together in her blood.
Now Desjardins walked across the landing pad to the edge of the roof. The sun rose from the lip of the precipice as he pissed into space. So many changes, he reflected. So many fold catastrophes in pursuit of new equilibria. His domain had shrunk from a planet to a continent, cauterized at the edges. Eyesight once focused on infinity now ended at the coast. Arms that once encircled the world had been amputated at the elbow. Even N'Am's portion of the Net had been cut from the electronic commons like a tumor; Achilles Desjardins got to deal with the necrotizing mess left behind.
And yet, in many ways he had more power than ever. Smaller territory, yes, but so few left to share it with. He was less of a team player these days, more of an emperor. Not that that was widely knownÂ â¦
But some things
changed. He was still technically in the employ of the Complex Systems Instability Response Authority, or whatever vestiges of that organization persisted across the globe. The world had long since fallen on its sideâthis part of it, anywayâbut he was still duty-bound to minimize the damage. Yesterday's brushfires were today's infernos, and Desjardins seriously doubted that anyone could extinguish them at this point; but he was one of the few that might at least be able to keep them contained a little longer. He was still a 'lawbreakerâ
a lighthouse keeper,
as he'd described himself the day they'd finally relented and let him stay behindâand today would be a day like any other. There would be attacks to repel, and enemies to surveil. Some lives would be ended to spare others, more numerous or more valuable. There were virulent microbes to destroy, and appearances to maintain.
He turned his back on the rising sun and stepped over the naked, gutted body of the woman at his feet. Her name had been Alice, too.
He tried to remember if that was only coincidence.
The world is not dying, it is being killed.
And those that are killing it have names and addresses.