Many kilroy’s Bar coming to Broad Ripple? my stories have been collected, in my books Resplendent, The Hunters of Pangaea, Phase Space, Traces and Vacuum Diagrams. A Presidential Speech: Based on ‘The Long Mars’ by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
Yuri Eden on Mars: Set in the universe of Proxima by Stephen Baxter. Frank and the Dream: Set in the universe of The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The Memory of Ice: A history of the Northland universe. Stephen Baxter, except where specifically indicated. The Time Pit’, Analog October 2005. The Lowland Expedition’, Analog, April 2006. Remembrance’, for The New Space Opera, ed.
Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, 2007. In the Picture’, Space Stories ed. The Space Butterflies’, Back Brain Recluse 13, 1987. Disorder and Precision’, Substance, Autumn 1995.
The Hydrous Astronauts’, in Age of Wonder no. A Drama on the Railway’, in The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures, ed. The Children of Time’, Asimov’s July 2005. Under Martian Ice’, Nature 433 p668, 10 February 2005.
A Signal from Earth’, Postcripts no. Repair Kit’, The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Viking Children’s Books, 2007. Harvest Time’, Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future, ed.
Eric Reynolds, Hadley Rille Books, 2006. The Pacific Mystery’, The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction ed. In The Abyss of Time’, Asimov’s August 2006. No More Stories,’ Fast Forward vol. Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Tor Books, 2007. Six Sixes: Six Six-word SF stories,’ in Concussed, souvenir of Concussion, 2006 Eastercon, Glasgow, 14-17 April 2006.
Last Contact’, in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. Short fiction in the universe of Xeelee: Vengeance. The amulet, a green tetrahedron on its broken thread, sat on a nondescript table, in a cabin otherwise bare, save for a cluster of slates and other sensors hastily set up in one corner. A trinket, from another time and place. Poole had been told he was even putting the data feeds through tough firewalls to ensure no kind of malevolent alien information-entity tried to work its way into his icy refuge. The three of them sat around the table, in zero gravity, on three of four sides, their legs tucked under the frames of purposefully designed stools: Poole, Harry, Nicola. They had nothing in here with them save the clothes they wore, not so much as a flask of water.
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I mean, both the amulet and the string. But nothing but silicon and oxygen. It was what came through it that counted. I mean, it was meant for us!
That creature you destroyed, Nicola, mentioned us by name. Harry glared at the sensor cluster, as if making sure, Poole thought, it was catching his good side. He reached out and grabbed the amulet – at first tentatively, snatching is hand back, and then more confidently. Poole felt as baffled as when he had first heard his own name spoken over the link from the mercury-droplet.
The amulet drifted in a stray air current, lifting slowly towards his face. He reached up and laid his hand over it, pressing it gently to his chest. Poole, startled, jolted in his seat. Nicola leaned forward, intent, with every appearance, as usual, of enjoying the latest twist hugely.
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Harry, though, had shrunk back from the table and was drifting, almost comically, up into the air, his mouth wide, his eyes set, staring. And he was staring at the occupant of the fourth side of the table: a man, tall, slim, dark, dressed in a sweeping black robe. A man who stared back at the three of them, looking as shocked as they were. He spoke on, bombarding them with barely understood questions. Poole could think of no response, and not, at first, it seemed, could Harry or even Nicola.
But Marsden, observing from Gallia, spoke softly in their ears. As you can probably tell his language is comprehensible, as if derived from ancient English like ours, but distorted. The pronunciation has drifted, and he has an odd habit of talking in lists. Who what, where, you, the cabin, the location . We should have a translation routine running in a couple of minutes.
Hear him, if not sense him some other ways. Second, he looks like a Virtual to us. His interfacing protocols break down when he tried to touch the table or the walls, just as our own Virtuals would. Though we see no evidence of a generating technology.
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Poole would not have imagined anything could distract him enough to make him look away from their Virtual visitant, but that remark did. How often do you have to try, aside from in a mirror? Now Harry, evidently calming, let himself drift back to the table. As he settled he touched the surface gingerly, as if he feared it, or he, had suddenly been transmuted to a Virtual too. I can see it, I think. The way he has that dimple on the left side of his mouth but not the right. And now the Virtual turned to Poole and stared, open-mouthed.
And who in Lethe are you? Nicola laughed, and poked Poole in the arm, hard enough to hurt. And what has the amulet got to do with you? It is a common enough symbol. Dates all the way back to the liberation of the Earth from the Qax.
My grasp of history is, ironically, given what I was meant to represent, poor. Our wormhole, a prototype that was to connect Jupiter to Earth. An image of the mercury-drop creature was soon hovering over the table. It is, umm, an alien species? Humanity encountered it during the Second Expansion. The legend is that on first contact a Ghost gave its life to save a stranded human being. This was a star-spanning species of awesome power.
After two thousand years, we hunted down the last of them for their hides. You should have saved the skin. The Old One would have known. If you are who you say you are. His cave of yours has no windows.
That is not as unusual a question as it might sound. I am used to be woken by my creators after long intervals. Poole and Nicola shard a glance. It is the seventeenth century since humans first ventured from the Earth, to the Moon. Again that seemed to jolt the Virtual with surprise. Then I am from the twenty-eight. And I believe you are who you say you are.
Problems to be aware of
At the centre of the Galaxy, on a world dedicated to the billions of dead of the Exultant Wars, there is a statue of you, Michael Poole. I have seen that statue for myself. And I have visited the tetrahedral cathedrals of the Wignerian faith of which you are a prophet. He was surprised to find he had said that out loud. I am not you, Michael Poole. Core of the Galaxy, tried to reconstruct you, or at least a copy. Jesus was probably taller and better-looking than his original also.
It took me centuries to escape from the clutches of my makers. Even if any of this is true – why are you here? Well, the Ghost is about nineteen centuries too early for first contact. They sat back and took that in. Not to be reproduced without consent.
My late brother-in-law Walter Jenkins was nothing if not an inveterate chronicler of his own life and moods. This was partly his vocation, as a commentator on philosophical, political, scientific and other matters, and partly as a result of impulses deriving from his deepest nature, which was one of introspection. And yet, as his former wife will attest, he was simply impossible to live with. And it was left to Carolyne to clear up the mess.
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I thought too of that oddly moving day when the Tomb of the Vanished Warrior had been unveiled in Westminster Abbey, disrupted though the ceremony had been. The Heat-Ray, you see, will obliterate a person without leaving a trace, and that is hard for the bereaved to absorb. So, the Vanished Warrior, an empty coffin buried with full honours, and each of us who had lost loved ones could believe that somehow a trace of our own was remembered there, forever. And there, still visible in the ruins of Westminster, was the tangled remains of a wrecked fighting-machine. I heard men telling each other the comforting story, a rare human victory.
The Martians had known Parliament was a place of importance to us, if not its specific purpose. So they had come, one, two, three machines, to lay waste. I felt oddly ashamed, for I began to realise the extent to which, relatively safe in Paris, I had neglected the fate of my home country. It had, of course, been transformed. The Amersham Redoubt, as their central pit had come to be called, must have looked like a livid wound, with a sprawling tangle of destruction around it.