Serpent’s Tooth

You sent us out here. We do this for you. We break this painstaking trail, crawl across the universe while time itself runs down; we spin the webs and tie the knots and open the doors, then scuttle away before the light of your coming turns us into plasma.

Is it too much to ask, that you might talk to us now and then?

I know about evolution, and engineering. I know how much you’ve changed over a billion years. I’ve seen our portals give birth to gods and demons and creatures we can’t begin to comprehend. I’ve seen things I still can’t believe were ever human; alien hitchikers, perhaps, riding the rails we’ve left behind. Alien conquerers.

Exterminators too, if I’m not mistaken.

But I’ve also seen those gates stay dark and empty until they faded from our sight. We’ve infered diebacks and dark ages, civilizations burned to the ground and others risen from their ashes— and sometimes, the things that come out afterwards look a little like the ships we might have built, back in the day. They speak to each other— radio, laser, carrier neutrinos— and sometimes their voices sound something like ours. There was a time we dared to hope that they really were like us, that the circle had come round again and closed on beings we could talk to. I’ve lost count of the times we tried to break the ice.

I’ve lost count of the eons since we gave up.

A noninterference imperative, maybe? A nature preserve? Mustn’t interfere, mustn’t talk with the savages, mustn’t contaminate their quaint cultural worldviews. What culture, you imperious assholes? We’re stuck on a flying mountain, we’re riding a black hole to the ends of the universe so that you can frolic in our wake like spoiled children. The mission kills us off one by one, and we make do, really: we mix-and-match our replacements from bits of leftover genes, try to keep the Chimp from indoctrinating new generations with its own simpleminded vision of mission priorities. We’ve given our fucking lives for you, given a thousand lives, each one sliced into a thousand brief bright moments and strung out along a billion years. All so that you can step between the stars in an instant.

All these iterations of humanity fading behind us. All these hybrids and posthumans and immortals, gods and catatonic cavemen trapped in magical chariots they can’t begin to understand, and not one of them ever pointed a comm laser in our direction to say Hey, how’s it going, or Guess what? We cured Damascus Disease! or even Thanks, guys, keep up the good work.

We’re not some fucking cargo cult. We’re the backbone of your goddamn empire. You wouldn’t even be out here if it weren’t for us.

And more than all of that, you— you’re our children. Whatever you are, whatever you’ve become, you were once like this.

My sons. My daughters. Why have you forsaken me?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday May 27 2008at 11:05 am , filed under fiblet . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “Serpent’s Tooth”

  1. *prolonged applause*

    The best yet. Haunting stuff. More! More! :)

  2. Terrifying as ever. These little hints you drop lead to something very scary and awesome. Can’t wait to see the whole thing! Guess I’ll dip in to Ten Monkeys while I wait.

  3. I’m sold.

  4. I want!

  5. Been looking forward to the next installment. Very nice. Good flow.

  6. Simply bitching.
    Dark, haunting and evocative. I like it.

  7. Lean, mean, dark and wonderful!

  8. Bravo! More soon, please.

  9. You don’t know how giddy I am to see you shifting your palette into the far future.

    Post-humanism needs a Wattsian kick in the ass.

  10. Is there some trick of wormhole travel and closed timelike loops that would allow me to buy a copy NOW?

  11. That wasn’t long enough. I barely had time to get the straight-razor out of its case before the story was done.

  12. Anonymous said…

    You don’t know how giddy I am to see you shifting your palette into the far future. Post-humanism needs a Wattsian kick in the ass.

    I hope it comes off. The idea is to write a series of linked stories, a la Martian Chronicles or Accellerando, each of which stands alone but all of which, taken together, form a massive universe-spanning narrative arc. (Also to lay the groundwork for what I believe could be a revolutionary computer game based on the resulting book. You know, just in case anyone from that biz is listening…) The one I’m working on now is for Dozois’s upcoming Space Opera antho, so at the very least some of these stories are going to make it into print.

    But I don’t know whether the whole project will go anywhere. I’m excited about it myself, but my agent thought the outline was “pretty bleak”. Which is odd, because I thought it was the most life-affirming story I’d ever come up with.

    Michael Grosberg said…

    Is there some trick of wormhole travel and closed timelike loops that would allow me to buy a copy NOW?

    Well, you could certainly pay me for it now. I think the delivery tech might be lagging a bit behind the invoicing tech, though…

    Johan Larson said…

    That wasn’t long enough. I barely had time to get the straight-razor out of its case before the story was done.

    Leave it out on the counter. I’ve got another almost ready to go, which I’ll release once I have enough crawlspace between this one and that. Day or two, maybe.

  13. That shit be fucked. Up.

  14. Jesus Fucking Anti-existing Fucking Herbert Fucking Elvis Fucking Christ.

    Nice.

  15. In this, we are well-pleased.

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