Occasional demons.

It’s pretty much done. We even have a tentative publication date: June, 2018. All I need to do now is figure out how to embed a coded message into the text.

In the meantime, a final fiblet. The Freeze-Frame Revolution. From Tachyon.


It was the Monocerus build that broke her. The gremlin came out of the gate a split-second after we booted it up: as if the fucking thing had been waiting the whole time, hunger and hatred building with every second of every century we’d been crawling across the void to set it free. Maybe it was whatever Humanity turned into, after we shipped out. Maybe it was something that came along after, something that swallowed Humanity whole and raced along our conquered highways in search of loose ends to devour.

It doesn’t matter. It never matters. We birthed the gate; the gate birthed an abomination. This one stirred something in me, a faint familiar echo I couldn’t quite put my finger on. That happens more often than you might think. Rack up enough gigasecs on the road and you’re bound to start seeing the same models in your rear-view eventually.

 The usual protocols saved us. Deceleration in the wake of a boot is just another word for suicide: the radiation erupting from a newborn wormhole would turn us to ash long seconds before the occasional demon had a chance to gulp us down. So we threaded that needle as we always did: rode our bareback singularity through a hoop barely twice as wide as we were, closed the circuit at sixty thousand kps, connected there to here without ever slowing down. We trusted the rules hadn’t changed, that math and physics and the ass-saving geometry of distance-cubed would water down the wavefront before it caught up with us.

We outran the rads, and we outran the gremlin, and as two kinds of uncertain death redshifted to stern Chimp threw a little yellow icon onto the corner of my eye—

Medical assistance?

— and I didn’t know why, until I turned to Lian and saw that she was shaking.

I reached out. “Lian, are you—”

She waved me away. Her breathing was fast and shallow. Her pulse jumped in her throat.

“I’m okay. I’m just…”

Medical Assistance?

I could see a fragile kind of control trying to assert itself. I saw it struggle, and weaken, and not entirely succeed. But her breathing slowed.

Medical Assistance? Medical Assistance?

I killed the icon.

“Lian, what’s the problem? You know it can’t catch us.”

She gave me a look I’d never seen before. “You don’t know what they can do. You don’t even know what they are. You don’t know anything.”

“I know they’d have maybe ten kilosecs to get up to twenty percent lightspeed from a standing start to even try to catch up. I know anything that could pull that off would’ve been able to squash us like a bug long before now, if it wanted to. You know that too.”

She used to, anyway.

“Is that how you do it?” A small giggle, a sound too close to the edge of hysteria.

“Do?”

“Is that how you deal with it? If it never happened, it never will?”

Five of us on deck for the build, and I have to be the one at her side when she loses it. “Li, where’s this coming from? Ninety-five percent of the time the gate just sits there.”

“As if that’s any better.” She spread her hands, a paradoxical gesture of defeat and defiance. “How long have we been doing this?”

“You know as well as I do.”

“Furthering the Human Empire. Whatever it’s turned into by now.” As if this was any kind of news. “So we build another gate and nothing comes out. They’re extinct? They don’t care? They just forgot about us?”

I opened my mouth.

Or—” she went on, “we build a gate and something tries to kill us. Or we—”

“Or we build a gate,” I said firmly, “and something wonderful happens. Remember the bubbles? Remember those gorgeous bubbles?” They’d boiled through the hoop like rainbows, iridescent and beautiful, dancing around each other as they grew to the size of cities and then just faded away.

Their invocation got me a small, broken smile. “Yeah. What were those things?”

“They didn’t eat us. That’s my point. Didn’t even try. We’re still alive, Lian. We’re doing fine— better than fine, we’ve overperformed on any axis you could name. And we’re exploring the galaxy. How can you have forgotten how amazing that is? Back on Earth— they never could’ve dreamed of the things we’ve seen.”

“Living the non-dream.” She giggled again. “That’s just fucking aces, Sunday.”

I watched some biomechanical monstrosity fade behind us. I watched a swarm of icons flicker and update in the tac tank. I watched deck plating glint in the dim bridgelight.

“Why can’t they just— talk to us? Say hello now and again? Just once, even?”

“I dunno. You ever hop over to Madagascar before we shipped out, look up any tree shrews, thank them for the helping hand?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just—” I shrugged. “I think they’ve got other priorities by now.”

“It should be over. They were supposed to call us back millions of years ago. No—” she held up a shaky hand— “we were not supposed to go on forever. How many times have we tunneled through this fucking ring already?” She threw an arm wide: Chimp, misreading the gesture, sprinkled the local starfield across the backs of our brains. “We could be the only ones left. And we still could’ve gated the whole disk ourselves by now.”

I tried for a chuckle. “It’s a big galaxy. We’ll have to go a few more circuits before there’s much chance of that.”

“And we will. You can count on it. Until the drive evaporates and the Chimp runs out of juice and the last of us rots away in the crypt like a piece of moldy fruit.” She glanced back at the tac tank, though its vistas floated in our heads as well. “We’ve done the job, Sunday. We’re way past mission expiration, Eri was never supposed to last this long. We weren’t.” She took a breath, let it out. “Surely we’ve done enough.”

“Are you talking about killing yourself?” Because I honestly didn’t know.

“No.” She shook her head. “No, of course not.”

“Then what do you want? I mean, here we are; where else can we be?”

“Maybe Madagascar?” She smiled then, absurdly. “Maybe they left us a spot. Next to the tree shrews.”

“I’m sure they did. Judging by that last one we saw.”

“Oh Jesus, Sun.” Her face collapsed in on itself. “I just want to go home.”

I gave physical contact another shot. “Lian— this is—

“Is it really.” But at least she didn’t shake me off this time.

“There’s nowhere else. Earth, if it even still exists— it’s not ours any more. We’re—”

“Tree shrews,” she whispered.

“Yeah. Kind of.”

“Well then, maybe there’s still a warm wet forest somewhere for us to hole up in.”

“That’s you. Ever the fucking optimist.” And when she didn’t respond: “Build’s over, Lian. Time to stand down.

“I promise: Things’ll look brighter in a couple thousand years.”

All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday August 23 2017at 05:08 am , filed under fiblet, Sunflowers . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

51 Responses to “Occasional demons.”

  1. Excellent as always!
    I was wondering if both the Eriophora stories and Ambassador are set in the same universe since both share similar concepts.

  2. So, did i read that right? We are getting a new Watts Novel by 2018? If so, then YEEEEEEESSSSS give me the precious!

  3. Pablo L: I was wondering if both the Eriophora stories and Ambassador are set in the same universe since both share similar concepts.

    Nope (although i did steal some prose directly from “Ambassador” and plunked it directly into Blindsight).

    The similar-concepts thing is just because i have a really limited conceptual range.

    The K: So, did i read that right? We are getting a new Watts Novel by 2018?

    No, you did not read that right. It’s only a novella: around 40,000 words. Still, it’s being released between its own set of covers, so it’s kind of a book at least…

  4. Out of interest, how did they know that the thing that came through that gate was malevolent and the pretty bubbles weren’t pretty bubbles of eeeevil?

    Brushed steel and green lights?

  5. WOOT! WOOT! Can’t wait for Freeze-Frame Revolution.

    That techno-thriller you’ve been dropping hints about will be out some time after that?

  6. A novella is good enough for me.

  7. >No, you did not read that right. It’s only a novella: around 40,000 words. Still, it’s being released between its own set of covers, so it’s kind of a book at least…

    You know, I’m really not a fan of the whole “release a novella as a book” thing that seems to have gotten especially prominent these last few years.

    But screw that, I’m gonna buy it anyway (assuming no rapid change in my financial stability). Even knowing I might have to buy it again if you ever manage to put up all the Eriophora stories out as a single collection/fix-up.

  8. dpb: how did they know that the thing that came through that gate was malevolent and the pretty bubbles weren’t pretty bubbles of eeeevil?

    It didn’t try to eat them.

    The whole good/evil bar gets pretty low after 65 million years.

    Johan Larson: That techno-thriller you’ve been dropping hints about will be out some time after that?

    When I write it. And sell it. Probably a year after that.

    I’ve completed a first draft of the first one and a half chapters. If you’re charting my progress. Probably would have done the first two, but then I discovered Witcher 3.

    Peter D: You know, I’m really not a fan of the whole “release a novella as a book” thing that seems to have gotten especially prominent these last few years.

    Me neither. But if it makes you feel any better, it’s actually a bit over 41,000 words, which technically makes it a novel. I just insist on calling it a novella because, seriously. 1,000 measly words over? I could’ve cut that many easily, just to bring it under the line.

    But then you’d all have been denied a thousand words of deathless prose.

  9. Congrats! I’ll take more Sunflowers stuff any way I can get it–though I still hold out hope for a novel one of these days.

    Peter Watts: Probably would have done the first two, but then I discovered Witcher 3.

    Nice. That one put me behind on a job as well.

  10. In a weird way this excerpt feels like a conversation between two facets of oneself, the facet that takes an odd comfort in the fear of knowing we’re all fucked, and the side that thinks things will turn out fine and just wants to see what is around the corner. And a resolution that finds itself somewhere in the middle. A conversation that seems to define sf today, although maybe I’m just oblivious to some river of formulaic space opera which remains broad and strong. And I suppose some of my examples are technically fantasy, not sf. But it is hard for me not to think of Rorschach and Case Nightmare Red in the same breath. But then, I suppose when multiple works are simultaneously engaging with the Fermi Paradox as we busily build additional existential threats to human survival, some convergent evolution happens.

  11. Peter Watts,

    My weak reading comprehension aside, it is still a BOOK. A book i can buy, read, and devour, and then ceaslessly proselytize about, till all my friends either cave in and buy it, or force me to shut up at gunpoint.

    All praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster, 2018 is saved!

  12. That’s great, Peter! Good to hear we’ll soon be getting more interstellar prose from you.

  13. :). If I could pre-order now I would.

    And I realllly need an artists impression of what that “biomechanical monstrosity” looks like. Should I be thinking of a ‘ship’ type of thing, or a ‘space creature’?

  14. A new story in the Sunflowers universe coming next year — that’s wonderful!

    “I promise: Things’ll look brighter in a couple thousand years.”

    I hope so.

  15. “I watched some biomechanical monstrosity fade behind us. I watched a swarm of icons flicker and update in the tac tank. I watched deck plating glint in the dim bridgelight.”

    All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

  16. DA,

    While the story of Eriophora occupies a similar conceptual realm as Li Cixin’s Death’s End, it goes about it vastly different ways. Li Cixin supposes the universe is vast and full of wonders, and weeps for its fragility and self-destruction in the face of entropy. Peter Watt posits that there was nothing and there will be nothing.

  17. Daniel:
    DA,

    While the story of Eriophora occupies a similar conceptual realm as Li Cixin’s Death’s End, it goes about it vastly different ways. Li Cixin supposes the universe is vast and full of wonders, and weeps for its fragility and self-destruction in the face of entropy. Peter Watt posits that there was nothing and there will be nothing.

    I hope you (or Dr Watts ) don’t think I was about the business of ridicule. The phrasing was simply similar enough I thought it might be deliberate homage. I was disappointed there wasn’t talk of C-beams.

    In the interests of getting our references straight, I’ve never actually read Death’s End, though it sounds like I probably should. How awesome does Death’s End have to be to get mistaken for Roi Batty’s famous ad-lib.

    On the other hand…seriously? It’s a sad day when you get called out for a lazy reference only to be accused of making an entirely different lazy reference.

  18. @Daniel

    If my reference has been mistaken for Death’s End, it sounds like something I probably need to read.

    Please don’t mistake my reference for ridicule. The phrasing was so similar I thought it might be deliberate homage. I was disappointed there wasn’t talk of C-beams. I’d still really like to know what C-Beam are.

  19. Don’t care about the page count — just happy to have another Watts book to buy. Looking forward to it a lot.

  20. DA:I’d still really like to know what C-Beam are.

    I’m more interested in the location of the Tannhäuser Gate myself.

  21. DA:
    @Daniel

    …I was disappointed there wasn’t talk of C-beams. I’d still really like to know what C-Beam are.

    From the internets:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/AskScienceFiction/comments/191iv9/blade_runner_what_are_cbeams_and_why_do_they/

  22. Fatman,

    I’ve always wondered about that. Either Blade Runner’s world has interstellar gates, which puts being stuck on Earth in a whole new light, or Roy was making shit up, or confused, as he shut down.

  23. @livens

    Well, now I know. Thanks!

    Life is pretty much all downhill from here…

  24. Phil:

    Either Blade Runner’s world has interstellar gates, which puts being stuck on Earth in a whole new light, or Roy was making shit up, or confused, as he shut down.

    I don’t know about Roy, but Rutger Hauer may have been making shit up. The spirit of that sequence was present in the original script, but Hauer famously rewrote it prior to filming into something much more elegant. There was, however, no reference to the “Tannhauser Gate” in the original text.

  25. [Edit]

    Wiki informs me there may have been earlier drafts of the script that mentioned C-Beams and the Tannhäuser Gate that Hauer may have pulled from.

    I prefer it as a happy mystery.

  26. Peter, can you confirm if you will be waiting another book in the Blindsight universe? I feel like you need to :-). The first two are masterpieces! Please just a yes or no would suffice.

    Cheers,

  27. I know what a Blade Runner reference is.

    The point is that universe outside of Los Angeles is vast and full of wonders, none of which matters a whit as Roy Batty’s body shuts down.

    I wanted to use that reference as a springboard to rep Li Cixin because Death’s End and Eriophora take place across relativistic timescales, blasting off from now unto heat death.

  28. @Daniel

    Ah, I’m sorry I misunderstood. You didn’t leave me enough breadcrumbs to follow the connection you were trying to make, and why you were citing me to do it.

    Interesting point, though!

  29. Rob: Peter, can you confirm if you will be waiting another book in the Blindsight universe? … Please just a yes or no would suffice.

    Well, yes. That’s the plan. After Intelligent Design is done.

    The question, though is whether any publisher will want to buy it. Remember, no one wanted to buy Echopraxia after Blindsight.

  30. Peter Watts,

    Well that’s great news! Hopefully a publisher will see that the first two have a large following and will get behind you! Your a great writer mate, if i had it my way you would have a ten book contract in the Blindsight universe hahah.

  31. I’ve recommended Blindsight to several friends, and most loved it. Perhaps the publication numbers scare publishers, but I’d wager that your fanbase loves your work enough that we would pay more than market for a softcover (or even ebook) with a good premise (I would). I’m assuming you’ve considered self-publishing – I know that an editor is a Godsend for writers and that alone might be a great reason to stick with a publisher, but are there other concerns? Perhaps you could do something like a kick-starter so your fanbase could give you an advance?

    But if you do an ebook, *please* don’t charge a few dollars on Amazon – your work is worth more than that!

  32. Don’t get me started on Amazon books. I have a very love/hate relationship with it.

    Just look at the original Hardback of Blindsight on Amazon US right now. $50.93 is the cheapest one. No way its worth that (no offence Peter!). I like hardbacks, and I also like first editions, but Amazon prices many of these to the extreme. And heaven forbid your fav author passes into the ether… When Ian Banks passed his older hardbacks (The Player of Games) skyrocketed in price into the hundreds of dollars.

    Supply and Demand, I get it. But rarity does not always equate to a higher value.

  33. Elon Musk’s Boring Machine dreaming.

  34. Peter, what about an omnibus book with all the Eriophora related stories? In case the edition costs are not too much than just printing the present novella.

    Be it just a compilation or a fix-up with some linking in between. Both would be an interesting purchase. Or you would prefer to pen more stories in this setting before doing something like that?

  35. Michael Carradice:
    Peter, what about an omnibus book with all the Eriophora related stories? …. Or you would prefer to pen more stories in this setting before doing something like that?

    An eventual omnibus is definitely part of the master plan— but it’s going to be a while in coming because these are not just stand-alone stories. There’s an overall epic arc that doesn’t pay off until we’re a lot closer to heat death; even though FFR has its own self-contained plot, it also contains elements and questions that won’t pay off until the last piece is in place. So, yeah. Many more stories.

    (In my dream world, where the overall premise got adapted to video-game format, there’d also be a number of mission levels that would feed into the final punchline.)

  36. livens said;
    “When Iain Banks passed his older hardbacks”…”skyrocketed in price into the hundreds of dollars.”
    I have to say, the earliest covers on the hardbacks & ~B format softcovers, with the artwork by Keith Scaife
    really grab me. (Nice how Keith Scaife settles a splash of ‘Chris Foss’-like mechanica into the vista);
    http://www.loncon3.org/showcase/samples/scaife-player-of-games.jpg

    Basic simplicity of these Orbit/Futura ‘text on black’ covers eyecatchingly frames the artwork, no?
    http://sf-encyclopedia.uk/gal/clute/BanksIM-Weapons.jpg
    (‘Here’s what it’s called, here’s what it is, here’s who wrote it’, and if you’d stood a bit taller
    it would have smacked you in the back of the noggin as it screamed past overhead.. )

    Ah, but this is the one that originally sucked me in, the ’88 John Burns artwork ~B format softcover;)
    https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-JT5UBHioEeQ/UV3IX9A481I/AAAAAAAAgkI/1MPu0ukkUBA/s1600/Futura-83707-c+Banks+Consider+Phlebas.jpg

    (The Mark Salwowski covers don’t catch my eye, …except maybe this trippy thing);
    https://www.salwowski.com/Gallery-hi-res/Salwowski_Banks_State%281stEd%29HR.jpg
    Cheers

  37. Peter Watts,

    If it did get picked up for a video game I hope that wouldn’t preclude a book being published.

  38. Peter Watts: Probably would have done the first two, but then I discovered Witcher 3.

    Well, I guess that book is delayed by at least 150 hours. By the way, I would love to read a post with your thoughts on it.

  39. Phil:
    If it did get picked up for a video game I hope that wouldn’t preclude a book being published.

    Actually— and once again, speaking of my ideal dream-timeline— book and game would be bundled together. The elements that go into a successful game level are not necessarily the same that go into a successful noninteractive story, so you couldn’t just map one onto the other. I see the stories and the game as complementary facets of the same grand arc.

    Simon: Well, I guess that book is delayed by at least 150 hours.

    Probably more. I got the Game of the Year Edition with all the expansion packs and DLC.

    By the way, I would love to read a post with your thoughts on it.

    Seriously? I’d love to ramble on about this game, but its been out for a while— plus, a lot of my overall videogame insights have been expressed in previous reviews— so I don’t know how broad the appeal would be for such a post.

    That said, this is obviously a pretty niche blog anyway…

  40. Peter Watts: Actually— and once again, speaking of my ideal dream-timeline— book and game would be bundled together. The elements that go into a successful game level are not necessarily the same that go into a successful noninteractive story, so you couldn’t just map one onto the other.

    What are we talking about here? Walking simulator? Point and click adventure? Or would I get to murder stuff?

    Peter Watts: Seriously? I’d love to ramble on about this game, but its been out for a while— plus, a lot of my overall videogame insights have been expressed in previous reviews— so I don’t know how broad the appeal would be for such a post.

    Ha. I think “broad appeal” is the key. Unlike most of the stuff you typically speak on, this is a subject I understand without the hamster that runs the wheel in my brain giving me the finger and leaving to go get drunk. Probably a lot of us lost a week or so to that game. An official blog post might kind of be out of place with your typical science/science fiction themes, but I’d love to hear your thoughts informally, even if just in the comments.

  41. livens:
    And I realllly need an artists impression of what that “biomechanical monstrosity” looks like.

    Picture Cthulu, brutally augmented, crawling out with a pounding hangover after a wild night in the scrapyard…

  42. More Watts (in whatever form) is never a bad thing

  43. kenmce,

    So like this then:

    https://amazingtrout.deviantart.com/art/Organic-Spaceship-114692680

    I hope we get SOME sort of story behind them. A direct confrontation would be awesome. First contact type of thing, like we got with Rorschach in Blindsight. I try not to speculate too much into it, but I have so many questions! Like, they must realize how fast Eriophora is travelling, but they keep trying in vain? But that assumes they know about Eriophora before they come out of the gate… they could be something else entirely.

  44. That is a pretty cool spaceship.

    But don’t expect all the answers in this one novella; FFR isn’t about the gremlins, they remain ciphers throughout. There’s a metric fucktonne of other stories to be told along this timeline, and some of the gremlins will be addressed in some of those stories.

    But remember, we’re talking millions-of-years here; the gremlins that come out in one story may have absolutely nothing to do with those that emerge in another. They might have different origins and different motives. Eriophora is just a glass-bottomed boat travelling over the ocean; it would be a mistake to assume that the sea turtle and the coral and the manta ray are all the same thing just because the passengers happened to glimpse them all through the viewport.

    Hell, some of those gremlins might not even be chasing Eri at all. Some of them might be fleeing something else…

  45. As far as imagining something that says “biomechanical monstrosity”, I usually start with Giger and go from there.

  46. Also looks like the story attached to the fiblet http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=7138 comes out this week, in Infinity Wars anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan

  47. Peter Watts: Actually— and once again, speaking of my ideal dream-timeline— book and game would be bundled together. The elements that go into a successful game level are not necessarily the same that go into a successful noninteractive story, so you couldn’t just map one onto the other. I see the stories and the game as complementary facets of the same grand arc.

    Probably more. I got the Game of the Year Edition with all the expansion packs and DLC.

    Seriously? I’d love to ramble on about this game, but its been out for a while— plus, a lot of my overall videogame insights have been expressed in previous reviews— so I don’t know how broad the appeal would be for such a post.

    That said, this is obviously a pretty niche blog anyway…

    I think this is a situation where you should drop a line to Frictional games. You’ve played Soma, the Soma devs have cited you as an inspiration, I think something could work out. No guarantee it would work out, they’re more of a walking-through-the-ruins simulator genre. If you want more character interaction, something more visual novel-like would be more appropriate.

    Though I will interpret full radio silence as affirmation.

  48. BMK,

    Hear! Hear!!

  49. You know, if Blomkamp’s OATS studio (Or maybe the guys behind SOMA short vids, dunno if they are a “studio” now or if they’re related to the devs) picked this up and turned it into a series, that would be pretty spiffy.

    The plot (intense, discrete “wormhole deployment ops” punctuated by centuries of hibernation between) lends itself incredibly well to a video sci-fi series (and the budgets can be kept tame by being clever with spaceship CGI and maybe using the motherloving Unreal engine or something, it can do crazy feats now)

  50. Is this an appropriate forum for discussing Peter’s recent story “ZeroS” in the clear? I’ll assume it is. Peter can delete the post or ROT-13 it or whatever if that’s his preference.

    I have a couple of questions.

    1. If the Zero Sum program has the technology to revive dead people, why bother to get their permission? They’re dead.
    2. If the zombie soldiers fight in a state of un-self-awareness, because self-awareness just gets in the way, why not leave them that way?

    It seem like it would have been easier just to unceremoniously revive recently-dead corpses as meat-puppet soldiers, leave them wholly without self-awareness, and just use them until they wear out.

  51. Give them time.

    We’re looking at the very early days of the program, a time when zombies can’t even speak, a time when you can’t eliminate the conscious self because— as Moore puts it in Echopraxia—”They could cut us out of the motor loop but they couldn’t shut down the hypothalamic circuitry without compromising autonomic performance”. They were working on it, pushed it too fast in fact (Rossiter talks about how premature it was to separate those modes, “given the degree to which conscious and unconscious processes are interconnected”), but they hadn’t got there yet. These zombies can’t fight in a state of un-self-awareness, because the tech still needs the homunculus. So they leave the self intact, but cut it off from the motor systems. And even that’s unsustainable because they’re still building the tech, forever shutting z-mode off so they can tweak it and fix it and replace it with the latest build.

    Personally, I think they just didn’t trust the tech in the early stages, like running an experimental engine that might explode if it gets too hot. The longer you let it run, the greater that risk; so you only boot it up for short periods on the workbench, while you work out the bugs.

    Alternatively, the Military could have simply opted to give their test subjects the choice because there are Rules of Consent that apply to all sapient beings regardless of metabolic state, and it doesn’t cost anything to obey them so why not? They might have even opted to treat their subjects with as much simple decency as the project could afford just because it was the right thing to do.

    Which of these options makes most sense is left as an exercise for the reader. What we do know is that by the time Lieutenant Moore has made Colonel, zombies can talk, they are truly unconscious, and they stay that way full-time. They’re also public knowledge, so it’s important to have consent forms on file if Amnesty International comes calling.