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Like an insect circling an elephant the pod skimmed around the hull of the Great Northern.

Mark Wu, Louise Armonk, Garry Uvarov and Serena Milpitas sat and watched as their tiny pod skirted the starship. Their silence, Mark thought, was suitably deep and awe-struck, even for four who had been as close to the final stages of the project as these. And maybe that was Louise’s intention today, he thought, the subtext under what was ostensibly a simple inspection tour of the ship by her top management team.

Well, if so, she was certainly succeeding.

The lifedome of the Northern was a squat, transparent cylinder a mile wide. It was extraordinary to think that the whole of Michael Poole’s GUTship — drive section and all — would have fitted inside that sparkling box; Mark tried to imagine the Hermit Crab suspended in that great cylinder like some immense model under glass.

Mark could see clearly the multiple decks of the dome, and throughout the dome there was movement and light, and the deep, refreshing green of growing things. He was aware that the adaptation of much of the dome, and the rest of the ship, was still unfinished; most of what he saw was little more than a Virtual projection. But still he was impressed by the scale and vigor of it all. This lifedome would be a self-contained city — no, more than that: a world in itself, a biosphere suspended between the stars.

Home to five thousand people for a thousand years.

Now they wheeled to the underside of the lifedome. The pod approached the immense, tangled structure of the Northern’s main spine, and flew parallel to the spine for some three hundred yards toward the base of the dome.

The spine was a three-mile highway of metal littered with supply modules and antennae and other sensors, turned up to the distant stars like mouths. Behind them the spine led to the mysterious darkness of the drive section, where the lights of workers — human and robotic — crawled like flies. And, attached to the spine by bands of gold just before the drive section, was the huge Interface, the wormhole terminus which they would tow to the future. The tetrahedral frame looked like a gaudy, glittering toy of shining blue ribbon.

Uvarov spread his long, intelligent fingers and rested his hands against the gleaming hull of the pod. “Lethe,” he said. The pod’s lights struck highlights from his bony profile as he peered out at the spine. “It might not be real, but it’s beautiful.”

Louise laughed; beside the thin, gaunt eugenicist she looked short, compact, Mark thought. “Real enough,” she said. “The spine’s framework is a hundred percent realized. It’s just the superstructure that remains nebulous.” She thought for a moment, then called, “Configure 3-B.”

The flower-like antennae clustered along the spine melted away, dissolving into showers of pixel cubes which tumbled like snowflakes. For a few surreal seconds Virtual configurations of equipment modules blossomed over the spine; through the snowstorm of modules Mark could see the basic — and elegant structure of triangular vertebrae at the core of the spine.

At last the storm of images stilled; the spine settled into a new scattering of lenses and antennae. To Mark’s untutored eye this looked much the same as the original — perhaps rather sparser — but he became aware that Serena Milpitas was nodding, almost wistfully.

“This is the original configuration,” she said. “It’s what was planned when the ship was being designed for its oneway hop to Tau Ceti, just a century away.”

Mark studied Milpitas curiously. The project’s new chief engineer affected physical-forty, but Mark knew she was at least twice as old as that. He also knew there had been quite a bit of friction between Milpitas and Louise; so he was surprised to find, now, Milpitas praising Louise’s design. “You sound a little — nostalgic. Do you really think this is a better design?”

“Oh, yes.” Milpitas’ broad face split in a smile; she seemed surprised by the question. “Don’t you? Can’t you see it?”

Uvarov grunted. “Not particularly.”

“Inelegance was forced on us. Look — for a thousand-year flight the problems of reliability are enormous.” Her accent was broad, confident Martian. “This ship has around a thousand million distinguishable components. And all of them have to work perfectly, all of the time. Right? Now, we estimate that the chance of a significant failure of any one of those components — of a failure serious enough to knock out a ship’s system, say — is a tenth of one percent per year. Pretty good odds, you might think. But as the years go by the chances of a failure mount up, and they work cumulatively.” She fixed Mark with a direct stare. “What would you guess the chances of such a failure would be after a hundred years?”

Uvarov growled, “Oh, please, spare us games.”

Mark shrugged. “A few percent?”

“Not bad. Ten percent. Not wonderful, but liveable with.”

Uvarov clicked his tongue. “I hate your Mons Olympus grammar, engineer.”

Milpitas ignored him. “But after a thousand years, you’re looking at a failure probability of over sixty percent. You reach fifty-fifty after just seven centuries — ”

“What she’s trying to tell you,” Uvarov said heavily, his flat Lunar tones conveying his boredom, “is the obvious fact that they’ve had to perform extensive redesign to enable the ship to survive a thousand-year flight.”

“How? Louise doesn’t tell me a damn thing.”

Uvarov grinned. “Ex-wives never do. I should know. I — ”

Milpitas cut in, “With current technology, we couldn’t get the reliability rates high enough for the mechanical, electrical or semisentient components.” She waved a hand at the half-Virtual panorama beyond the hull. “Amazing, isn’t it? We think we’ve come so far. We thought that with nanobotic technology continual repair and replacement at the sub-visible level — reliability problems were a thing of the past. I mean, look at that spine out there. There’s sentience in it everywhere, right down to the nuts and bolts.”

“There are no nuts and bolts, Serena,” Louise said drily.

Milpitas ignored her. “And yet it doesn’t take much of a challenge to move us beyond the envelope of our capabilities. Strictly speaking, a thousand-year flight is still beyond our means.”

“That sounds ominous,” Mark said uneasily.

“So,” Louise said, “we had to look to the past — simple methods used to improve reliability on projects like the first off-Earth flights.” She called out, “Central configuration,” and the blizzard of virtual components swirled once more around the spine, settling at last into the pattern Mark remembered from before Louise’s change.

Milpitas pointed. “And this is what we’re going to the stars with. Look at it. Even at this gross macroscopic level you can see there are many more components.”

And, indeed, Mark realized now that there were more antennae, more sensor snouts, more maintenance pods; the spine structure looked busier, far more cluttered.

“Triple redundancy,” Milpitas said with a grimace. “Words — and a technique from the twenty-fifth century. Or further back, even, for all I know; probably from the time of those disgusting old fission reactors. Carrying three of everything — or more, for the key components — to reduce the chance of a catastrophe to the invisibly small.”

“Gripping,” Uvarov said. “But shall we move on, some time today? We do have the whole of the ship to inspect, as I recall.”

The base of the lifedome expanded in Mark’s vision until it covered the sky, becoming an immense, complex, semi-transparent roof; guide lights and the outlines of ports — large and small — encrusted the surface with color, and everywhere there was movement, a constant flow of cargo, pods and spacesuited figures through the multiple locks. Again Mark had the impression that this was not so much a ship as a city: immense, busy, occupied with the endless business of maintaining its own fabric.

Suspended beneath the lifedome, cradled in cables, was the dark, wildly incongruous form of the Great Britain. It looked like an immense lifeboat, suspended there, Mark thought; he grinned, relishing this evidence of Louise’s sentimentality.

The pod, working autonomously, made a flawless entry into one of the huge airlocks. After a couple of minutes the lock had completed its cycle.

The four of them emerged, drifting, into the air at the base of the Northern’s lifedome. It seemed to Mark that the base itself — constructed with the universal semisentient transparent plastic — was a wall dividing the Universe into two halves. Before him was the elaborate, sparkling-clean interior of the lifedome; behind him was the tough, angular spine of the GUTship, and the static darkness of transPlutonian space.

Louise led them to a row of zero-gee scooters; the scooters nuzzled against the transparent base, neat and efficient. Mark took a scooter. It was a simple platform, its pneumatic jets controlled by twists of its raised handles.

They formed into pairs — Louise and Uvarov in the lead, with Mark and Milpitas following. With near-silent sighs of scooter air the four moved off in formation, up toward the heart of the lifedome.

The lower fifth of a mile of the lifedome was known as the loading bay: a single, echoing hall, brilliantly lit and free of partitions. The roof of the loading bay — the underside of the first habitable section, called the maintenance bulkhead — was a mist-shrouded tangle of infrastructure, far above. Today, the loading bay was filled with bulky machinery and crates of supplies; huge masses, towed by people on scooters or by ’bots, crossed the air in all directions, emerging from a dozen locks.

Serena Milpitas performed a slow, easy spiral as she rose up through the air beside Mark. “I love these scooter things, don’t you?”

Mark smiled. “Sure. But they’re a lazy way to travel in zero gee. And they won’t be a lot of use when we’re underway.”

“No. A constant one-gee drive for a thousand years. What a drag.”

Mark studied the engineer as she went through her rolls; her expression was calm, almost vacuous, with every sign that she was lost in the simple physical pleasure of the scooter-ride. Mark said, “How did you feel about having to dig up those old techniques — the reliability procedures?”

“How did I feel?” Milpitas stabilized her scooter and studied Mark, a half-smile on her face. “You sound like a Keplerian… They’re dippier than anyone else back home on Mars. Ah, but I guess that’s your job, isn’t it? The social engineer.”

Mark smiled. “Maybe. But I’m off-duty now.”

“Sure you are.” Milpitas thought for a moment. “I guess our work isn’t so dissimilar, Mark. Your job — as I understand it — is to come up with ways for us to live with each other over a thousand years. Mine is to ensure that the ship itself — the external fabric of the mission — can sustain itself. When it came to redesigning Northern, I didn’t like messing up Louise’s nice, clean designs, frankly. But if you’re going to succeed at something like this you have to take no chances. You have to plan.” Her eyes lost their focus, as if she were looking at something far away. “It had to be done. And it was worth it. Anything’s worth it, for the project, of course.” Her expression cleared, and she looked at Mark, appearing confused. “Is that answering your question?”

“I think so.”

Mark hung back a little, and let Milpitas move ahead, up toward the complex maintenance bulkhead. He fell into line with Louise.

“You don’t look so happy,” Louise said.

Mark shrugged. “Just a little spooked by Serena, I guess.”

Louise snorted. “Aren’t we all.”

Many of the original crew of the Northern — who had, after all, seen themselves as potential colonists of the Tau Ceti system, not as time travelers with quasi mystical goals about saving the species — had decided not to stay with the ship after its new flight plan was announced by Louise. Louise had lost, for instance, the genial Sam Gillibrand, her original first assistant. On the other hand, Serena Milpitas — and Uvarov, for that matter — had seemed eager to join the project after its rescoping by Superet.

Both Milpitas and Uvarov seemed natural Superet supporters, to Mark; they’d absorbed with a chilling alacrity the induction programs Superet had offered them all.

Milpitas and Uvarov had become converts. Mark thought uneasily.

“You know, I always liked Sam Gillibrand,” he said wistfully. “Sam wants to go to Tau Ceti and build houses under the light of a new sun; the dark possibilities of five megayears hence couldn’t be of less interest to him. Serena is different, though. Under all that bluff Martian chatter and confident engineering, there’s something darker — more driven. Obsessive, even.”

“Maybe,” Louise said. “But, just as human engineering isn’t yet up to thousand year flights, so the average human head isn’t capable of thinking on thousand year timescales.” She sighed and ran her fingers through her close-cropped hair. “Serena Milpitas can win through for the mission, Mark. Both Milpitas and Uvarov seem able to think in millennia — megayears, even. And as a consequence, or as a cause, they are dark, multilevelled, complex people.” She looked at Mark sadly. “The Superet stuff is spooky, I agree. But I think it comes with the territory, Mark.”

Maybe in the complexities of the future the home-builders like Sam would be obsolete, their simple skills and motivation displaced in a dangerous Universe, Mark thought. Perhaps Superet and its converts represented the human of the future — the next wave of evolution, what the species would have to become to survive on cosmic timescales.

Maybe. But — judging by Milpitas and Uvarov — there wouldn’t be too many laughs.

Anyway, he thought gloomily, he was going to have ten centuries with these people to find out about them… And it was going to be Lethe’s own challenge for him to construct a viable society around them.

“It still surprises me that you agreed to sign up for this,” he said. “I mean, they took away your mission.”

Louise shrugged. “We’ve been over this enough times. Let’s face it, they would have taken Northern away from me anyway. I want to see the ship perform. And — ”


She grinned. “Besides, after I got over my irritation at the way Superet runs its affairs, I realized no one’s ever tried a thousand-year flight before. Or tried to establish a time bridge across five million years. I can get one over on Michael Poole, wherever he is — ”

“Yes, but look what happened to him.”

Mark could see what was going on inside Louise’s head. With the Superet mission — with this immense stunt — she was going to be able to bypass the intimidating shadow of the future, simply by leaping over it. And she was obviously entranced by the idea of taking her technology to its limits. But he wondered if she really — really — had any idea of the scale of the problems they would face.

He opened his mouth to speak.

Louise, with unusual tenderness, laid a finder over his lips, closing them. “Come on, Mark. We’ve a thousand years to think of all the problems. Time enough. Today, the ship is bright and new; today, it’s enough for me to believe the mission is going to be fun.”

With a sudden access of vigor she twisted the handle of her scooter and hurried after the others.

Lieserl. Take it easy. You’re doing fine.

She looked up, tipping back her head. Already she was dropping out of the complex, exhilarating world of the convection region, with its immense turbulent cells, tangled flux tubes and booming p-waves. She stared upwards, allowing herself the luxury of nostalgia. The convective-zone cavern had come to seem almost homely, she realized.

Homely… at least compared to the regions she was going to enter now.

We’re still getting good telemetry, Lieserl.

“Good. I’m relieved.”

Lieserl, how are you feeling?

She laughed. With a mixture of exasperation and affection, she said, “I’ll feel better when you lose your ‘good telemetry’, Kevan, and I don’t have to listen to your dumb-ass questions any more.”

You’ll miss me when I’m gone.

“Actually,” Lieserl said, “that’s probably true. But I’m damned if I’m going to tell you so.”

Scholes laughed, his synthesized voice surprisingly unrealistic. You haven’t answered my question.

Her arms still outstretched, she looked down at her bare feet. “Actually, I feel a little like Christ. Dali’s Christ, perhaps, suspended in the air over an uncaring landscape.”

Yeah, Scholes said casually. My thought exactly.

Now she plunged through the last ghost-forms of convective cells. It was exactly like falling out of a cloud bank. The milky-white surface of the plasma sea was exposed beneath her; huge g-mode waves crawled across its surface, like thoughts traversing some huge mind.

Her rate of fall suddenly increased. It felt as if the bottom had dropped out of her stomach.

“Lethe,” she whispered.


She found her chest tightening — and that was absurd, of course, because she had no chest. She struggled to speak. “I’m okay, Kevan. It’s just a little vertigo.”


“Virtual vertigo. I feel like I’m falling. This illusion’s too damn good.”

Well, you are falling, Lieserl. Your speed’s increased, now you’re out of the convective stuff.

“I’m scared, Kevan.”

Take it easy. The telemetry is —

“Screw the telemetry. Just talk to me.”

He hesitated. You’re a hundred thousand miles beneath the photosphere. You’re close to the boundary of the radiative zone; the center of the Sun is another seven hundred thousand miles below you.

“Don’t look down,” she breathed.

Right. Don’t look down. Listen, you can be proud; that’s deeper than any probe we’ve dropped before.

Despite her fear, she couldn’t let that go. “So I’m a probe, now?”

Sorry. We’re looking at the new material squirting through the other end of your refrigerator-wormhole now. I can barely see the Interface for the science platforms clustered around it. It’s a great sight, Lieserl; we’ve universities from all over the System queuing up for observation time. The density of the gas around you is only about one percent of water’s. But it’s at a temperature of half a million degrees.

“Strong stuff.”

Angel tears, Lieserl…

The plasma sea was rushing up toward her, bland, devouring. Suddenly she was convinced that she, and her flimsy wormhole, were going to disappear into that well of fire with barely a spark. “Oh, Lethe!” She tucked her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her lower legs, so that she was falling curled up in a fetal ball.

Lieserl, you’re not committed to this. If you want to pull out of there —

“No.” She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against her knees. “No, it’s all right. I’m sorry. I’m just not as tough as I think I am, sometimes.”

The wormhole is holding together. We think, after the redesign we’ve done, that you can penetrate at least the first few thousand miles of the radiative zone, without compromising the integrity of the wormhole. Maybe deeper; the temperature and pressure gradients are pretty small. But you know we didn’t advise this dive —

“I know it.” She opened her eyes and faced the looming sea once more. The fear was still huge, like a vice around her thinking. “Kevan, I’d never assemble the courage to go through this a second time. It’s now or never. I’ll even try to enjoy the ride.”

Stay with it, Lieserl.

“Yeah,” she growled. “And you stay with me — ”

Suddenly her fall was halted. It felt as if she had run into a wall of glass; her limbs spread-eagled against an invisible barrier and the breath was knocked out of her illusory lungs. Helpless, she was even thrown back up into the “air” a short distance; then her fall resumed, even more precipitately than before.

She screamed: “Kevan!”

We saw it, Lieserl. I’m still here; it’s okay. Everything’s nominal.

Nominal, she thought sourly. How comforting. “What in Lethe was that?”

You’re at the bottom of the convective layer. You should have been expecting something like that.

“Yes?” she snarled. “Well, maybe you should have damn well told me — yike!”

Again, that sudden, jarring arrest, followed by a disconcerting hurl into the air, as if she were an autumn leaf in the breeze.

Like snakes and bloody ladders, she thought.

You’re passing through the boundary layer between the radiative and connective zones, is all, Scholes said with studied calm. Below you is plasma; above you atomic gas — matter cool enough for electrons to stick to nuclei.

The photons emerging from the fusing core just bounce off the plasma, but they dump all their energy into the atomic gas. It’s the process that powers the connective zone, Lieserl. A process that drives connective founts bigger than worlds. So you shouldn’t be surprised if you encounter a little turbulence. In fact, out here we’re all interested by the fact that the boundary layer seems to be so thin…

We’re still tracking you, Lieserl; you shouldn’t be afraid. You’re through the turbulence now, aren’t you? You should be falling freely again.

“Yes. Yes, I am. So I’m in the sea, now?”

The sea?

“The plasma sea. The radiative zone.”


“But — ”

Suddenly, almost without warning, the familiar skyscape of convection cells and flux tubes was misting from her sight, whiting out. There was whiteness above, before, below her; it was like being suspended inside some huge, chilling eggshell.

But what? What is it, Lieserl? What’s wrong?

For the first time she felt real panic creep around her mind.

“I can’t see, Kevan.”

Mark, rising through brightly lit air, looked down. He was nearing the top of the loading bay now. The base was a floor of glass far below him, with the spine and drive section ghostly forms beyond; people and ’bots criss-crossed the bay, hauling their cargo.

Mark tried to analyze his own impressions as they rose. For a moment he fought an irrational surge of vertigo: a feeling — despite the evidence of his eyes that he was in zero-gee — that if he tumbled from this scooter he would plummet to that floor of glass, far below. He concentrated on the environment close to him, the thick layer of warm, bright air all round him. But that made the glimpses of the spine and drive — the brutal limbs of the ship — seem unreal, as if the emptiness of space beyond the fragile walls of the dome was an illusion.

Mark felt uneasy. The ship was so huge, so complex — so convincing. After a few decades, it would be terribly easy to believe that this ship was a world, to forget that there was anything real, or significant, beyond its walls.

Now they were approaching the roof of the bay: the maintenance bulkhead. Mark drew level with Garry Uvarov, and they stared up at the mile-wide layer of engineering above them. The bulkhead was a tangle of pipes, ducts and cables, an inverted industrial landscape. There were even tree-roots, Mark saw. People and ’bots swarmed everywhere, working rapidly and apparently efficiently; even as Mark watched the bulkhead’s complex surface seemed to evolve, the ducts and tubes creeping across the surface like living things. It was a little like watching life spread through some forest of metal and plastic.

“Extraordinary how primitive it all is,” Mark said to Uvarov. “Cables and ducts — it’s like some sculpture from a museum of industrial archaeology.”

Uvarov waved a cultured hand toward the pipes above him. “We’re carrying human beings — barely-evolved, untidy sacks of water and wind — to the stars. We are cavemen inside a starship. That’s why the undersurface of this bulkhead seems so crude to you, Mark; it’s simply a reflection of the crudity of our own human design. We sail the stars. We even have nanobots to rebuild us when we grow old. But we remain primitives; and when we travel, we need immense boxes with pipes and ducts to carry our breath, piss and shit.” He grinned. “Mark, my passion my career — is the improvement of the basic human stock. Do you imagine the Xeelee carry all this garbage around with them?”

They passed through access ports in the maintenance bulkhead and ascended into the habitable sections.

There were fifteen habitable Decks in the mile-deep life-dome, each around a hundred yards apart. Some of the main levels were subdivided, so that the interior of the life-dome was a complex warren of chambers of all sizes. Elevator shafts and walkways pierced the Decks. The shafts were already in use as zero-gee access channels; they’d be left uncompleted, without machinery, until closer to departure.

Now the little party entered one shaft and began to rise, slowly, past the cut through Decks.

Many of the chambers were still unfinished, and a succession of Virtual designs were being tried out in some of them; Mark peered out at a storm of parks, libraries, domestic dwellings, theaters, workshops, blizzarding through the chambers.

Uvarov said, “How charming. How Earthlike. More concessions to the primitive in us, of course.”

Mark frowned. “Primitive or not, Uvarov, we have to take some account of human needs when designing an environment like this. As you should know. The chambers have been laid out on a human scale; it’s important people shouldn’t feel dwarfed to insignificance by the scale of the artifacts around them — or, on the other hand, cramped and confined by ship walls. Why, some of the chambers are so large it would be possible for an inhabitant to forget he or she was inside a ship at all.”

Uvarov grunted. “Really. But isn’t that more evidence that we as a species aren’t really yet up to a flight like this? It would be so easy to be immersed in the sensory impressions of the here-and-now, which are so much more real than the fragility of the ship, the emptiness outside the thin walls. It would be tempting to accept this ship as a world in itself, an invulnerable background against which we can play out our own tiny, complex human dramas, much as our distant forefathers did on the plains of Africa, billions of miles away.

“Think of the pipes and ducts under that maintenance bulkhead. Perhaps our ancestors, in simpler times, imagined that some such infrastructure lay underneath the flat Earth. The Universe was a box, with the Earth as its floor. The sky was a cow whose feet rested on the four corners of the Earth — or perhaps a woman, supporting herself on elbows and knees — or a vaulted metal lid. Around the walls of the box-world flowed a river on which the sun and moon gods sailed each day, entering and vanishing through stage doors. The fixed stars were lamps, suspended from the vault. And, presumably, underneath it all lay some labyrinth of tunnels and ducts through which the waters and the gods could travel to begin their daily journeys afresh. The heavens could change, but they were predictable; to the human consciousness — still half-asleep — this was a safe, contained, cozy, womb-like Universe. Mark Wu, is our Northern, today, so unlike the Earth as envisaged by — let us say — a Babylonian, or an Egyptian?”

Mark rubbed his chin. Uvarov’s patronizing style irritated him, but his remarks plugged in closely to his own vague sense of disquiet. “Maybe not,” he replied sharply. “But then you and I, and the others, have a responsibility to ensure that the inhabitants of the ship don’t slip back into some pre-rational state. That they don’t forget.”

“Ah, but will that be so easy, over a thousand years?”

Mark peered out at the half-built libraries and parks uneasily.

Uvarov said, “I’ve heard about some of the programs you and your social engineering teams are devising. Research initiatives and so forth — make-works, obviously.”

“Not at all.” Mark found himself bridling again. “I’m not going to deny we need to find something for people to do. As you keep saying, we’re primitives; we aren’t capable of sitting around in comfort for a thousand years as the journey unravels.

“Some of the work is obvious, like the maintenance and enhancement of the ship. But there will be programs of research. Remember, we’ll be cut off from the rest of the human Universe for most of the journey. Some of your own projects come into this category, Uvarov — like your AS enhancement program.” He thought about that, then said provocatively, “Perhaps you could come up with some way of replicating Milpitas’ triple-redundancy ideas within our own bodies.”

Uvarov laughed, unperturbed. “Perhaps. But I would hope to work in a rather more imaginative way than that, Mark Wu. After all AS treatment represents an enormous advance in our evolutionary history — one of our most significant steps away from the tyranny of the gene, which has ruthlessly cut us down since the dawn of our history. But must we rely on injections of nanobots to achieve this end? How much better it would be if we could change the fundamental basis of our existence as a species…”

Mark found Uvarov chilling. His cold, analytical view of humanity, coupled with the extraordinarily long-term perspective of his thinking, was deeply disturbing. The Superet conversion seemed only to have reinforced these trends in Uvarov’s personality.

And, Lethe, Uvarov was supposed to be a doctor.

“We should not be restrained by the primitive in us, Mark Wu,” Uvarov was saying. “We should think of the possible. And then determine what must be done to attain that… Whatever the cost.

“Your proposals for the social structure in this ship are another example of limited thinking, I fear.”

Mark frowned, his anger building. “You disapprove of my proposals?”

Uvarov’s voice, under its thick layer of Lunar accent, was mocking. “You have a draft constitution for a unified democratic structure — ”

“With deep splits of power, and local accountability. Yes. You have a problem with that? Uvarov, I’ve based my proposals on the most successful examples of closed societies we have — the early colonies on Mars, for example. We must learn from the past…”

Louise was the nominal leader of the expedition. But she wasn’t going to be a captain; no hierarchical command structure could last a thousand years. And there was no guarantee that AS treatments could sustain any individual over such a period. AS itself wasn’t that well established; the oldest living human was only around four centuries old. And who knew what cumulative effect consciousness editing would have, over centuries?

…So it could be that none of the crew alive at the launch — even Louise and Mark themselves — would survive to see the end of the trip.

But even if the last person who remembered Sol expired, Louise and her coterie had to find ways to ensure that the mission’s purpose was not lost with them.

Mark’s job was to design a society to populate the ship’s closed environment — a society stable enough to persist over ten centuries… and to maintain the ship’s core mission.

Uvarov looked skeptical. “But a simple democracy?”

Mark was surprised at the depth of his resentment at being patronized like this by Uvarov. “We have to start somewhere — with a framework the ship’s inhabitants are going to be able to use, to build on. The constitution will be malleable. It will even be possible, legally, to abandon the constitution altogether — ”

“You’re missing my point,” Uvarov said silkily. “Mark, democracy as a method of human interaction is already millennia old. And we know how easy it is to subvert any democratic process. There are endless examples of people using a democratic system as a games-theory framework of rules to achieve their own ends.

“Use your imagination. Is there truly nothing better? Have we learned nothing about ourselves in all that time?”

“Democracies don’t go to war with each other, Uvarov,” Mark said coldly. “Democracies — however imperfectly — reflect the will of the many, not the few. Or the one.

“As you’ve told me, Uvarov, we remain primitives. Maybe we’re still too primitive to trust ourselves not to operate without a democratic framework.”

Uvarov bowed his elegant, silvered head — but without conviction or agreement, as if merely conceding a debating point.

The four scooters rose smoothly past the half-finished Decks.

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