Чарли Андерс: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others

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Чарли Андерс Six Months, Three Days, Five Others
  • Название:
    Six Months, Three Days, Five Others
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    Tom Doherty Associates
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    Фэнтези / Фантастика и фэнтези / nsf / на английском языке
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    New York
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Six Months, Three Days, Five Others: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“A master absurdist… Highly recommended.”

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Charlie Jane Anders


To Annalee, with all my heart

The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model

The thing about seeking out new civilizations is, every discovery brings a day of vomiting. There’s no way to wake from a thousand years of Interdream without all of your stomachs clenching and rejecting, like marrow fists. The worst of it was, Jon always woke up hungry as well as nauseous.

This particular time, Jon started puking before the autosystems had even lifted him out of the Interdream envelope. He fell on his haunches and vomited some more, even as he fought the starving urge to suck in flavors through his feed-holes. He missed Toku, even though he’d seen her minutes ago, subjective time.

Instigator didn’t have the decency to let Jon finish puking before it started reporting on the latest discovery. “We have picked up—”

“Just—” Jon heaved again. He looked like a child’s flatdoll on the smooth green floor, his body too oval from long recumbence, so that his face grimaced out of his sternum. “Just give me a moment.”

Instigator waited exactly one standard moment, then went on. “As I was saying,” the computer droned, “we’ve picked up both radiation traces and Cultural Emissions from the planet.”

“So, same as always. A technological civilization, followed by Closure.” Jon’s out-of-practice speaking tentacles stammered as they slapped together around his feed-holes. His vomit had almost completely disappeared from the floor, thanks to the ship’s autoscrubs.

“There’s one thing.” Instigator’s voice warbled, simulating the sound of speaking tentacles knotted in puzzlement. “The Cultural Emissions appear to have continued for some time following the Closure.”

“Oh.” Jon shivered, in spite of the temperature-regulated, womblike Wake Chamber. “That’s not supposed to happen.” The entire point of Closure was that nothing happened afterwards. Ever again. At least he was no longer sick to his stomachs (for now anyway) and Instigator responded by pumping more flavors into the chamber’s methane/nitrogen mix.

Jon spent two millimoments studying the emissions from this planet, third in line from a single star. Instigator kept reminding him he’d have to wake Toku, his boss/partner, with a full report. “Yeah, yeah,” Jon said. “I know. But it would be nice to know what to tell Toku first. This makes no sense.” Plus he wanted to clean up, maybe aim some spritzer at the cilia on his back, before Toku saw him.

At the thought of Toku coming back to life and greeting him, Jon felt a flutter in his deepest stomach. Whenever Jon was apart from Toku, he felt crazy in love with her—and when he was in her presence, she drove him nuts and he just wanted to get away from her. Since they had been sharing a three-room spaceship for a million years, this dynamic tended to play out in real-time.

Jon tried to organize the facts: He and Toku had slept for about two thousand years, longer than usual. Instigator had established that the little planet had experienced a massive radioactive flare, consistent with the people nuking the hell out of themselves. And afterwards, they’d carried on broadcasting electromagnetic representations of mating or choosing a leader.

“This is shit!” Jon smacked his playback globe with one marrow. “The whole point of Closure is, it’s already over before we even know they existed.”

“What are you going to tell Toku?” Instigator asked.

Toku hated when Jon gave her incomplete data. They’d taken turns being in charge of the ship, according to custom, for the first half million years of their mission, until they both agreed that Toku was the better decision-maker.

Jon was already fastening the hundreds of strips of fabric that constituted his dress uniform around his arm- and leg-joints. He hated this get-up, but Toku always woke even crankier than he did. His chair melted into the floor and a bed yawned out of the wall so he could stretch himself out.

“I guess I’ll tell her what we know, and let her make the call. Most likely, they had a small Closure, kept making Culture, then had a final Closure afterwards. The second one may not have been radioactive. It could have been biological, or climate-based. It doesn’t matter. They all end the same way.”

At least Jon had the decency to let Toku finish voiding her stomachs and snarling at Instigator’s attempts at aromatherapy before he started bombarding her with data. “Hey love,” Jon said. “Boy, those two thousand years flew by, huh? The time between new civilizations is getting longer and longer. Makes you wonder if the Great Expedient is almost over.”

“Just tell me the score,” Toku grumbled.

“Well,” Jon said. “We know they were bipedal, like us. They had separate holes for breathing and food consumption, in a big appendage over their bodies. And they had a bunch of languages, which we’re still trying to decipher. We’ve identified manufactured debris orbiting their world, which is always a nice sign. And, uh… we think they might have survived.”

“What?” Toku jumped to her feet and lurched over, still queasy, to look over Jon’s shoulder at his globe. “That doesn’t happen.”

“That’s what I said. So what do we do? The Over-nest says not to approach if we think there’s a living culture, right? On the other hand, it might be even longer than two millennia before we find the next civilization.”

“Let me worry about that,” Toku said, sucking in some energizing flavors and slowly straightening up her beautifully round frame. Her speaking tentacles knotted around her feed-holes. “I think we assume they didn’t survive. It’s like you said: They probably held on for a little while, then finished up.”

Space travel being what it was, Jon and Toku had months to debate this conclusion before they reached this planet, which was of course called Earth. (These civilizations almost always called their homeworlds “Earth.”) For two of those months, Instigator mistakenly believed that the planet’s main language was something called Espanhua, before figuring out those were two different languages: Spanish and Mandarin.

“It all checks out,” Toku insisted. “They’re ultra-violent, sex-crazed and leader-focused. In other words, the same as all the others. There’s absolutely no way.”

Jon did not point out that Toku and he had just spent the past two days having sex in his chamber. Maybe that didn’t make them sex-crazed, just affectionate.

“I’m telling you, boss,” Jon said. “We’re seeing culture that references the Closure as a historical event.”

“That does not happen.” Toku cradled all her marrows.

There was only one way to settle it. Weeks later, they lurched into realspace and settled into orbit around Earth.

“So?” Toku leaned over Jon and breathed down his back, the way he hated. “What have we got?”

“Looking.” Jon hunched over the globe. “Tons of lovely metal, some of it even still in orbit. Definitely plenty of radioactivity. You could warm up a lovebarb in seconds.” Then he remembered Toku didn’t like that kind of language, even during sex, and quickly moved on. “I can see ruined cities down there, and… oh.”

He double- and triple-checked to make sure he wasn’t looking at historical impressions or fever-traces.

“Yeah, there are definitely still electromagnetic impulses,” said Jon. “And people. There’s one big settlement on that big island. Or small continent.” He gestured at a land mass, which was unfortunately lovebarb-shaped and might remind Toku of his dirty talk a moment earlier.

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