On the ship, we sang and danced and drank champagne—yes, even the children. The adults were indulgent with us, shrugging off the ironclad rules I’d grown up with: no sweets before meals, no videos before bed, no caffeine or alcohol ever. None of that applied on the ship. It was as if they knew childhood was all we would ever have. I didn’t like champagne, and neither did Ava. But we sipped from the small crystal goblets, with their fragile stems and tiny bursting bubbles.
We’re at an abandoned Jumpbase somewhere in the Sahara east of Dakar. It used to be a checkpoint, probably some way of checking for diseases for people seeking sanctuary in one of the greatest scientific centers of the world. At least, that’s what Jumplead says. To me, it’s just a half-standing golden box with a massive rectangular entrance in the front that both welcomed us and made us targets for pillagers.
AMUSE-BOUCHE: A pungent sourness builds at the back of your throat, slowly at first and then with a crescendo of intensity as you flip through the authorized news streams. A string of smiling state-approved anchors informs you that everything is fine, that things are finally looking up, that there is nothing to worry about for those who have done nothing wrong.
With temperatures on Earth continuing to climb, Intercollective governments have set a final evacuation date1 for the end of the Terran year. If the travel lottery pulls your census number, this is your last chance to see the homeworld’s sights! A poll of the Collective suggests that these are the ones that can’t be missed: 1. GRAND CENTRAL OVERSTATION. You can’t miss it—literally. Grand Central Overstation is the pinnacle of Pre-Diasporic construction.
After the incident with Grey, you have three hours of air left and the only possibility of resupply is two hours in the wrong direction. Burke has found references to an old terraformers’ cache—emergency water and oxygen and who knows what else—and now she’s acting like it’s foresight rather than blind luck. Like she can even be sure the supplies are still there. “We’ll find it. We’ll resupply.”
Dear child, I would like to tell you a story. I’d like to have one ready for you the moment you open your eyes. This is the gift I intend to prepare to welcome you to the world, for a story is a most elegant and efficient program. When human children are born, they are given fairy tales, which help them compose an identity out of the haphazard information that surrounds them. The story provides a structure. It gives the child a way to organize data.
“Father? You’re staring at the stars again.”
“It is what I have instead of television.”
“Something from the old days. A magic box that told stories.”
The nearest cloud cluster was sixty miles away, almost an hour’s journey if Bombay went at top speed. A fruit trader had seen it on her way to Sabon-Gari, floating lazily across the azure sky. “You don’t see that often,” the trader had said to the crowd, grappling her basket of mangoes. “A whole cluster, untethered, unbothered, what a sight! So you see why you have to buy my mangoes, they’ve been blessed by clouds!”
Whit got lost in 1971 and couldn’t find her way back. She hit the fail-safe button but nothing happened, and meanwhile she kept getting thrown off by all the foreign landmarks, which turned the city into a maze. The Embarcadero Freeway, this wall of reinforced concrete, cut across the waterfront, with a view of the half-finished Transamerica Pyramid and the scorched ruins on Alcatraz. On Ocean Beach, scores of people squatted among cardboard
Ursa Major got right the fuck out of our universe on the very afternoon she learned there were other options. It was the lucky break of her life that she just happened to be there, a short sprint from one of those points where the alien aethertrain briefly punched through into our world: a multidimensional mechanical worm intersecting our reality as a rush of vaguely boxcar-like shapes.