the m john harrison blog

Tag: light

KT cruel

The White Cat reappeared 200 kilometers above Redline. Ordnance burst around her. Someone had predicted she would come out there and then. “Oh yes,” said Seria Mau, “very clever. Fuck you too.” Tit for tat, she cooked off a high-end mine she had slipped into the path of the incoming pod. “Here’s one I prepared earlier,” she said. The pod broke up, temporarily blinded, and toppled away in several directions. “They won’t forgive us for that,” she told her mathematics. “They’re arrogant bastards, that team.” The mathematics, which was using the respite to normalise her relationship with the White Cat, had no comment to make. The ship’s sensorium collapsed around her. Everything slowed down. “In and out now,” she ordered. “Quick as we can.” The White Cat pitched over into entry attitude. Retrofire pulsed and flared. Outside, the colours of space gave way to weird smeary reds and greens. Seria Mau airbraked relentlessly in the thickening atmosphere, letting speed scrub off as heat and noise until her ship was a roaring yellow fireball across the night sky. It was a rough ride. The shadow operators streamed about, their lacy wings rippling out behind them, their long hands covering their faces. Mona the clone, who had looked out of a porthole as the ship stood on its nose, was throwing up energetically in the human quarters.

They breached the cloudbase at fifteen hundred feet, to find the Karaoke Sword immediately below them. “I don’t believe this,” said Seria Mau. The old ship had lifted itself a foot or two out of the mud and was turning hesitantly this way and that, shaking like a cheap compass needle. A fusion torch fired up at the rear, setting nearby vegetation alight and generating gouts of radioactive steam. After twenty seconds, its bows dropped suddenly and the whole thing slumped back to earth with a groan, breaking in two about a hundred yards forward of the engine. “Jesus Christ,” Seria Mau whispered. “Put us down.”

The mathematics said it was unwilling to commit.

“Put us down. I’m not leaving him here.”

“You aren’t leaving him here, are you ?” Mona the clone called up anxiously from the human quarters.

“Are you deaf ?” said Seria Mau.

“I wouldn’t put it past you, that’s all.”

“Shut up.”

The Krishna Moire pod, realising what had happened, swept in, fanned out into the parking orbit with a kind of idle bravado, the way shadow boys in one-shot cultivars occupy a doorway so they can spit, gamble and clean their nails with replicas of priceless antique flick-knives. They could afford to wait:. Meanwhile, to move things along, Krishna Moire himself opened a line to the White Cat. He had signed on younger than Seria Mau, and his fetch, though it was six feet tall and presented itself in full Earth Military Contracts chic, including black boots, high-waist riding breeches and a dove grey double-breasted tuxedo with epaulettes, had the demanding mouth of a boy.

“We want Billy Anker ,” he said.

“Go through me,” Seria Mau invited.

Moire looked less certain. “This is a wrong thing you are doing, resisting us,” he informed her. “To add to all those other wrongdoings you done. But, hey, we didn’t come for you, not this time.”

“I done ?” said Seria Mau. “Wrongdoings I done ?”

Outside, explosions marched steadily across the mud, flinging up rocks and vegetation. Elements of the pod, becoming impatient with the half-minute wait, had entered the atmosphere and begun to shell the surface at random. Seria Mau sighed.

“Fuck off, Moire, and take speaking lessons,” she said.

“You’re only alive because EMC don’t care about you one way or another,” he warned her as he faded to brown smoke. “They could change their minds. This operation is double red.” His fetch flickered, vanished, reformed suddenly in a kind of postscript. “Hey, Seria, I got my own pod now!” it said.

“I knew that. So ?”

“So next time I see you,” the fetch promised. “I’ll let the machine speak.”

“Jerk,” said Seria Mau.

By this time she had the cargo bay open. Billy Anker, dressed in a vintage EV suit, was shuffling head down towards it with all the grim patience of the physically unfit. He fell. He picked himself up. He fell again. He wiped his faceplate. Up in the stratosphere, the Krishna Moire pod shifted and turned in hungry disarray; while high above it in the parking lot, the hybrid ship awaited what would happen, its ambivalent signature flickering like a description of the events unfolding below. Who was up there, Seria Mau wondered, along with the commander of Touching the Void ? Who was presiding over this fumbled op ? Down in the cargo bay, Mona the clone called Billy’s name. She leaned out, caught his hand, pulled him inside. The cargo ramp slammed shut. As if this was a signal, long vapour trails emerged from the cloudbase at steep angles. Billy Anker’s ship burst open. Its engines went up in a sigh of gamma and visible light.

“Go,” Seria Mau told the mathematics. The White Cat torched out in a low fast arc over the south pole, transmitting ghost signatures, firing off decoys and particle-dogs.

“Look!” cried Billy Anker. “Look down!”

The South Polar Artifact flashed beneath them. Seria Mau caught a fleeting glimpse of it–a featureless gunmetal ziggurat a million years old and five miles on a side at the base–before it vanished astern. “It’s opening!” cried Billy Anker. Then, in an awed whisper: “I can see. I can see inside–” The sky lit up white behind them, and his voice turned to a despairing wail. The pod, growing frustrated, had hit the ziggurat with something from the bottom shelf of its arsenal, something big. Something EMC.

“What did you see ?” Seria Mau asked three minutes later, as they skulked at Redline L2 while the White Cat’s mathematics tried to guess them a way out under the noses of their pursuers.

Billy Anker wouldn’t say.

“How could they do that ?” he railed. “That was a unique historical item, and a working one. It was still receiving data from somewhere in the Tract. We could have learned something from that thing.”



From “On Singularities, mathematical and metaphorical” at Soft Machines, the blog of Richard Jones, Professor of Physics and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield:

The biggest singularity in physics of all is the singularity where we think it all began – the Big Bang, a singularity in time which it is unimaginable to see through, just as the end of the universe in a big crunch provides a singularity in time which we can’t conceive of seeing beyond. Now we enter the territory of thinking about the creation of the universe and the ultimate end of the world, which of course have long been rich themes for religious speculation. This connects us back to the conception of a technologically driven singularity in human history, as a discontinuity in the quality of human experience and the character of human nature. I’ve already argued at length that this conception of the technological singularity is a metaphor that owes a great deal to these religious forbears.

He goes on to talk about the singularity central to the KT trilogy–also the book’s centralising of human rather than post- or transhuman problems.

every week another town

Ed liked to walk around in the cold bright morning through the circus itself, moving from the salt smell of the dunes to the smell of warm dusty concrete that filled the air around the tents and pavilions. He wondered why Sandra Shen had chosen this site. If you landed here it was because you had no corporate credentials. If you left from here, no one wished you good luck. It was a transit camp, where EMC processed refugee labour before moving it on to the mines. Paperwork could maroon you at the noncorporate port for a year, during which your own bad choices would take the opportunity to stretch it to ten. Your ship rusted, your life rusted. But you could always go to the circus. This in itself worried Ed. What did it mean for Madam Shen? Was she trapped here too? “This outfit ever move on?” he asked her. “I mean, that’s what a circus does, right? Every week another town?” Sandra Shen gave him a speculative look, her face shifting from old to young then back again around its own eyes, as if they were the only fixed point in her personality (if personality is a word with any meaning when you are talking about an algorithm). They were like eyes looking out from cobwebs. She had a fresh drink beside her. Her little body was leaning back, elbows on the bar, one red high-heel hooked in the brass bar rail. Smoke from her cigarette rose in an exact thin stream, broke up suddenly into eddies and whorls. She laughed and shook her head. “Bored already, Ed?” she said. —Light, 2002.


street view

Sudden smell of scorched hair & fats. A man in a white shirt stops walking past & looks up into the sunlight. He’s dressed for crown green bowling. He thinks: the wires, always tangled up. Who knows what he saw. At the window you only know what you could smell. The man, dressed in his white shirt & white hat for crown green bowling, will say later that he doesn’t remember anything. He has always felt a deep nostalgia but it is not based on memory. As a result he is forced to look forward like someone with a cricked neck. He is forced to find his memories in front of him–scorched hair, tangled wire, warm sunshine & another man looking down from a window on the shady side of the street. It’s almost seven in the evening, those lazy days of summer.


Christina Scholz found the Light matchbox, @reventrope photoshopped it.


“Before she could speak he walked straight out through the window, vanishing the other side & leaving her with the impression that the view from her room was painted on the glass. As if the world fabric was a style of art to which only Gaines and people like him had the secret.” One problem […]


bad, bad pony

Reader Simon Spanton sends us a “moment” from his holidays–


Please do not remove this picture from the back bar notice board.


The old cat would have loved it out here in the sun today.