by David Moles
The ship was a billion years old, and it was dying. The incalculable energies that had forced open the metric to permit its passage were all but spent, and now the relentless quintessence was taking over again: pulling the metric tighter, so that from instant to instant the needle-eye the ship tried to thread was that much narrower, the forces pulling the ship apart that much stronger. Fields that could have carried the ship intact through the event horizon of a stellar-mass black hole were tearing like dry paper; decks and bulkheads built to withstand the heat and pressure at the heart of a star were being ground away in a shower of exotic particles that decayed instantly to pure radiation and were gone.
The ship—whose name, in a language that had been dead for many long ages before its keel was laid, was Thus is the Heaven a Vortex Pass’d Already, and the Earth a Vortex not yet Pass’d by the Traveller thro’ Eternity—had known when it set out that this was the most likely outcome; had argued, itself, for the impossibility of the task it had been asked to undertake, when they had woken it from its long sleep. Had gone to that sleep, so many millions of years past, expecting never to be woken, never again to be needed.
It had volunteered, all the same. It fought back now with shifts of mass, changes of geometry, striving with every trick learned in a long lifetime, thousands of voyages across millions of years, to protect its precious cargo; but the hungry quintessence tugged and the metric tightened like a knot, and there was just not enough space or time left for the ship to exist in, any more. And now that its prediction was coming true, the ship felt—not bitter, certainly, but cheated; not by the ones who had sent it out, but by the quintessence itself, by the laws of physics, by the long life and the imminent, untimely death of the Universe.
The ship had hoped so much to see Earth one more time, before the end.
* * *
The city was called Septentrion, and in its current incarnation it was more than seventy thousand years old. It was said there were other cities yet remaining on the Earth, but it was long since word of any of them had been much more than rumor, and Septentrion was the oldest and the largest. Three-fourths of the remaining population of the Earth made their homes here within Septentrion’s walls, where the mirrors and the latent heat of the world’s core still kept land and sea free of the ice ten months of the year: thirty million of the living, tens of millions of motiles, millions of sessile ghosts inextricable from the fabric of the city, uncountable billions of computationals and functionals, and this was not a tenth of what the city had held at its peak.
It was said that Septentrion was so old that when its first stones were laid, there were still stars in the sky. This was untrue and would have been untrue, had the city been a hundred times older; but it was certainly more ancient than any of the living could comprehend, and its origins, like those of the sun and the sky, the lake and the sea and the Earth, belonged to that deep time in which every ancient thing seems more or less contemporary with every other, and the age of all of them is the same, which is: unimaginable.
Piper and Petal Anchialine were born in Old South Port (which had not been a port in living generations, and which was more west now than south), in a house overlooking the 110° Canal. The twins were born a hundred days apart, Piper near the end of Frimaire and Petal at the beginning of Germinal, Piper into the Cricket sodality and Petal into the Primrose; and they were born among the living—which is to say they were biological creatures, their bodies symbioses of cells animal and fungal and bacterial, distinctions less important now than in earlier times.
Not all the living were born in the traditional manner, but the Anchialine twins were, and the forms they grew into, like those of their parents Swan and Cutter and Hare, would have seemed only a little strange to a living human of primordial days. They both had Cutter’s compact bones, and Swan’s straight hair (though Petal tended to wear it short these days, while Piper’s was shoulder-length like Swan’s), and if Petal had a bit more of Swan’s quiet thoughtfulness and Piper a bit more of Cutter’s fierce temper, they were in most respects as alike and close as twins could get; and (to Cutter’s occasional chagrin, and Swan’s secret delight) they had both inherited a full share of Hare’s restless energy.
Piper was fifteen and Petal was fourteen, the day the ship came.
Thus is the Heaven a Vortex Pass’d Already announced itself in the early hours of the third watch, a flare of violet-white at the very edge of the empty sky, a sun-bright pinpoint that made the night into a brief, unnatural day, and buried itself in the mountains east of the city with a thunderclap that shattered windows in the outward precincts and sent brackish waves flowing backward up the canals.
The twins were awake, as it happened, though they were not supposed to be: both of them on the floor of their room in their nightclothes, playing a prehistoric count-and-capture game with haptic projected pieces. Petal was bored and starting to make up new rules, to Piper’s increasing irritation, and at any moment one of their parents was going to come in and put a stop to the argument and the game both, when the light interrupted them. READ MORE
by James Gunn
Harry and Lisa stood under the shelter of a metal roof and listened to the clatter of sleet and larger congregates. A lake had developed in front of their laboratory, or perhaps now it deserved the designation of sea. Ice had been falling on the deserts of Mars for nearly fifty years. The long dead world was returning to life, and Harry and Lisa had seen fifty years of it as the air thickened and unsuspected Martian seeds had begun to emerge to turn the red planet green. Perhaps soon some bacterial life would resurrect itself from an ancient grave, or even simple organisms. Nothing seemed impossible in a Solar System liberated from the tyranny of an artificial intelligence that had billions of years to develop and learn and extend its alien influence across the Universe.
The beginning of their journey half a century ago had occurred on an Earth deluged by hundreds of meters of ocean that they had begun the millennia-long process of jettisoning into space and propelling a good deal of toward Mars, and they had said farewell to the robot designated as 101. 101 hadn’t needed a human name because it was a robot. It had returned from its millennia-long task of terraforming a super Earth forty-nine light-years from the world where it first became aware of its existence only to find Earth under a single deep world ocean and everyone dead except those creatures that found a boundless ocean world room in which to live and forage and multiply.
It initiated the terraformation of Earth once more and then, in an act of generosity, if it had been human, left the Earth to its potential inheritors and set off, with a hundred capsules of human DNA, to complete its mission to make the super Earth suitable for habitation. With no humans to claim this new world, it would create their progeny to take over for beings long dead. Meanwhile, Harry and Lisa had prepared to provide a renovated Mars to be the human homeworld that Earth no longer was. It had taken them a century to transform an undersea habitat constructed by long-gone scientists into a ship capable of sailing deep space and then to stock it with the goods needed to nurse protoplasm into human shape with the DNA they had found in a hopeful depository that had survived near the laboratory, and more years to maneuver the now spaceship into space and off on a solar-sail powered journey to the neighboring world only twenty-some million meters away.
But time, as Harry and Lisa had discovered, was not the urgency it used to be. They, too, were robots, their memory boxes transplanted into robot shells to give them new bodies. All they had brought to their current existence was their memories of a long-ago world and a mission to restore its long-earned existence, precarious evolution, and fragile dreams.
“What else is worth doing?” Harry said to Lisa via contact with a vise-like mechanical hand.
“We left all that behind millennia ago,” Lisa said, tightening her grip. “Now we have to create another imperative.”
* * *
The morning sun, strangely diminished by its forty million kilometers from the orbit of Earth, and filtered by the accumulating atmosphere of Mars, crawled up the eastern sky over the gentle waves of the central Martian sea. Harry and Lisa stood behind the broad front window of their Martian laboratory, looking out on a scene that no thinking creature had seen for a thousand years or had imagined as more than a fantasy. Into the middle of the phantasmical realization of their dream swam a human person, a well-proportioned male with strong arms and legs pulling and driving him through the movement of what had been a reddened desert as little as a century ago, but had now been transformed through their agency. It gave Harry a fleeting godlike feeling that he found unacceptable.
And then, just as he seemed on the verge of retreating into his usual condition of humility in the face of great accomplishments, he saw the surface of the Central Sea roiled by rising currents; the man in the ocean began splashing away from the disturbance toward the shore. But he had waited too long, and a monstrous sea creature, its wide jaws agape, closed them over the midsection of the man, blood turned the sea frothy red, and the sea creature dragged the man down, his mouth open with unvoiced screams.
After a few moments Harry’s body stopped shaking, if it had been shaped to shake, and his breathing quieted if he had lungs to breathe with.
“You saw it again,” Lisa said. She was a robot, but there was a person inside, or rather the memories of a person plus a system of wires and connections that allowed her to add new memories, and even to put them together into a semblance of a person who had once existed. But the same was true of Harry. And both were remnants of a deluged Earth, whose destructive downpours had been shared with a desert Mars. “I thought machines weren’t supposed to have illusions,” Harry said. “These are getting worse.”
He turned his side sensors to the other wall of the enclosed laboratory, where blobs of unformed creatures were crawling over other blobs under the observation of three robots. These looked identical to Lisa and himself, but lacked the human origins and memories. “Our progeny, so to speak, are still in the pre-embryonic stage, and it will be years—Martian years—before they begin to look like humans, even embryos.” READ MORE