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Simon of Space
A novel from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
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Simon of Space, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, photo-illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 39
THE PILGRIM WAY


"Callicrates," breathed Utopia, reaching up to touch the glass through which shone a sharp crescent of blue and white, edging one side of a massive round shadow occulting the background stars. "The entire world is one great city. Can you believe that, Simon? You can see the lights shining on the nightside."

I squinted. "Those orange blurs?"

She nodded. "Each one home to millions."

I floated free from my harnesses and pushed my face up against the dome, making a little box with my hand to block the glare. Indeed, great swaths of the dark globe were criss-crossed by filaments of light joining hubs of murky golden hatching. Another light caught my eye on the dark limb: a shifting greenish glow that was hard to differentiate from an afterimage. I blinked, and watched it slowly turn red. I pointed it out to Utopia. "What is that?"

"Aurora," she replied. "Callicrates is tipped."

I turned away from the glass. "I'm sorry?"

In the hour with which I'd had to become acquainted with the conscious version of Princess Utopia Pollux (AKA Miss Tiger, AKA Freddie) I had been able to determine that she was rash, impatient, sharp, giddy, theatrically sensitive and carelessly playful in dizzying, unpredictable turns. She had awoken from her fixer-induced sleep hungry, and had virtually attacked me until I handed over the last of the Fellcorp Mercy rations that I had been carrying around, crushed, in the inner pocket of my coat.

"Thanks for trying to save me," she had said, kissing me on the cheek. "And thanks for leaving me behind afterward!" she added, and then punched me in the arm.

After visiting the lavatory she declared herself largely well and kicked off to look out the glass at space, which pretty much catches us up.

"What do you mean by tipped?" I asked.

Jeremiah looked up at us from his cross-legged position harnessed to a couch. "The magnetic axis of Callicrates is perpendicular to the axis of rotation. Thus, the magnetic poles lie at the equator. Solar wind trapped in the magnetosphere collides with the sky at the poles, causing it to fluoresce."

As he spoke Callicrates turned beneath us, gradually revealing a radial blossom of colour dancing with almost imperceptible motion in a ring over the dark land. The effect was hypnotic. Red became gold became blue in a fluid march, a rosette of orange flashing down briefly along the edge of an undulating curtain of green. "It's beautiful," I said. "Is it safe...I mean, do people live under it?"

"Oh sure," said Utopia. "People live everywhere on Callicrates. Even at the bottom of the sea."

"Callicrates was not settled as other worlds were," amplified Jeremiah. "The growth of most worlds occurs when an initial small influx of colonists begins reproducing at normal human rates. Even with immigration it takes centuries to populate a planet. In contrast, Callicrates was settled from two of the Great Arks that fled Sol -- millions upon millions settled here over a period of a single generation." He closed his eyes in apparent remembrance. "The shuttles were in constant service, dotting the sky at every hour. New families arrived each day."

"What was the solution?"

Jeremiah opened his eyes. "The planet was divided into seventy-two equal patches, each comprising one hundred thousand square kilometres of surface area. Each patch was assigned to a group of colonists by lottery, and settled simultaneously. Networks of trade were established to economically correct geographical disparities, with disputes arbitrated by the Council of the Third Earth and overseen by the sitting Solar monarch."

"He's a walking dataplate, isn't he?" quipped Utopia, rolling her eyes.

"No no," I said, waving her off. "I want to know this stuff." I turned back to Jeremiah. "So it's like a little model of the Panstellar Neighbourhood, then?"

"Quite so," agreed Jeremiah.

"And does it function?"

"It has its moments," said Utopia darkly.

I looked again at the ring of slowly flickering light over the pole. "So whose patch is that?"

"Patch Seventy-Two is the country of the human executives," replied Jeremiah. He unbuckled his harness and kicked off the couch to drift up to us at the top of the dome, and then pointed through the glass. "That large urban centre is on the border of Patch Seventy-One. Proceed counter-clockwise to Patch Seventy, and so on around the world to the north pole."

"What's at the north pole?"

"Patch One," said Utopia. "The Solar Palace."

"It is usual to be landed at a randomly chosen patch no matter where one's business lies, so that travellers are forced to experience local cultures and make use of local infrastructure. Otherwise civilization would become hopelessly clustered around patches of influence."

"So we don't know where we're going to come down?"

"No, we have received special dispensation."

"Everything is always special with this guy," said Utopia. "You get used to it."

"I'm starting to."

Jeremiah ignored her. "Our tender will land in Patch Three. We will make our way to the Solar Palace from there. Landing in Patch One is forbidden."

"Was this arranged while I was asleep? Why do I never see you talk to anyone, Jeremiah?"

"Talk?" scoffed Utopia. "He doesn't need to talk. He's executive. He's got micro-gates in his brain, and he's constantly shunting packets of information back and forth between the stars."

The globe grew beneath us and continued to turn, dawn now threatening the once dark limb with a smear of red and orange. Just a few moments later the blazing face of Epsilon Eridani Star crested the curved horizon, sparkling off an ocean and casting long shadows from a crumpled line of purple-grey mountains. The tender continued its descent, and Callicrates swelled.

"So, I suppose no patch can rule another patch," I said conversationally, my breath fogging the glass. "Just like in the big leagues."

"Correct," replied Jeremiah. "The integrity of patch borders are maintained even in cases where a common people with common needs are divided, for it is more instructive to see two solutions than one. Governing policies tend to ripple across the planet quickly, for the emulation of success is the only way to keep economic distress at bay. Citizens will readily leave patches that fall behind the times."

"The patches are competitive, then. What is the field of competition? Riches?"

"Satisfaction. Patches that fail to adequately guarantee the long-term needs of their citizenry tend to end up depopulated. Patches that indulge their citizens' short-term greed tend to collapse from internal pressures. Patches that balance economic and social sustainability tend to be emulated, thus maximizing their cultural legacy over the whole of Callicrates."

"So, there's pride to it."

"Indeed. All modern Callicratian bodies of criminal law, for example, stemmed from Patch Fourteen's prototype system a thousand years ago -- a source of great pride to the peoples of that patch. In order to defend that legacy, Patch Fourteen still specializes in legal optimization, inspired to ever greater accomplishments by the work of their legally-oriented neighbours in Patches Thirteen and Fifteen."

I scratched my head. "So what if every patch decided to specialize in legal optimization? What would happen to Callicrates then?"

"It would collapse. And if no patch in their number had sufficient wisdom to avoid that course, who can doubt they would deserve destruction?"

"How can patches have wisdom?"

"By being built around engines of governance optimized in an environment of cooperative competition to maximize the satisfaction of its citizens without unduly antagonizing neighbouring patches. Wisdom can be built into the system, as facts are built into robots -- boundaries against the extremes of human behavior, like murder or trade wars. The patches of Callicrates are free to experiment."

"Experiment how?"

"By positing answers to the political question, with different sets of restraints against free behavior and differing methods for error correction."

Utopia nodded. "They've got everything down there, Simon. Ruthless oligarchies, constitutional monarchies, benevolent dictatorships, lotteried democracies, realms of statistical rule, theocratic fascisms, anarcho-capitalist cooperatives, meritocratic gaming parliaments, hedonist soviets...anything you can imagine has been patched at least once on Callicrates."

As our tender crossed the terminator and the clouds thinned I readied myself for a better glimpse of the surface of this fascinating world -- anticipating the endless convolutions of metal that would describe a planet-sized metropolis!

The tender shuddered gently and fire flashed around the dome. The clouds, with rosy foundations and golden tips shining in the rising sun, passed aside and I saw wide green and yellow plains interspersed with hundreds of little blue lakes. I frowned. "Doesn't look too dense from here," I said.

Jeremiah said, "All Solar worlds look virtually the same from this altitude, Simon."

"Still -- a planet-wide city..." I trailed off, disappointed.

"What did you expect?" asked Utopia. "Skyscrapers and malls from horizon to horizon?"

I shrugged. "Maybe."

Utopia laughed. "That would scarcely be sustainable, would it?"

"I guess not," I admitted, feeling stupid.

We were advised to strap ourselves into our couches and we did so. I protested the lack of view and in response the yellow robot touched a series of controls and caused a huge dataplate to be raised from the floor. It illuminated with a holographic representation of the world beneath us, the landscape itself seeming to pan behind the face of the plate while the clouds ran over its surface.

The patches themselves were apparent now -- differing ways of using the land showing themselves as subtly different palettes of brown and green, like a continent-girdling farm. And while it was clear that my images of a metal-encrusted world were ridiculous, I did notice that the frequency of establishments and visible infrastructure seemed regular enough that, even standing in Callicrates' widest green field, some aspect of civilization would always be visible.

A lake flashed by, one of its shores needled with a flank of impossibly tall buildings, their long shadows cast far across the harbour. Jeremiah intercepted my gaze. "In order to conserve maximum greenspace for the functioning of the biosphere," he explained, "Callicratian architecture has embraced extreme verticality, both above ground and below."

"How many people live on this planet?" I asked.

"Nine point six five billion."

"Mother of love! Why so many?"

Utopia smirked. "People like to be at the centre of the things. Or what they perceive to be the centre. Limiting immigration is one of our biggest problems." She shook her head ruefully. "So many idiots think they can put their mark on history by doing somebody else's loud or dirty work on Callicrates."

The Nightmare Cannon twittered, and landed on my outstretched knee. I shivered.

On the plate the landscape was lost behind a second deck of fluffier, bright white clouds. I felt the tender slow, and when we passed out of the veil we were spiralling down toward the ground. We seemed to be plunging directly into the face of a grassy hill, and then for a fleeting instant I caught glimpse of towers of blue glass and mazes of plazas clogged with ant-like people before we were swallowed by the walls of the dock. We touched down and the engines died to silence.

"Welco to Cayyicoate," said the yellow robot cryptically, its accent even thicker than Jeremiah's used to be.

I unhitched my harnesses and tried to pay the fare, but my wallet beeped angrily and refused to move any funds. "My wallet's on the blink," I complained, flexing it in front of my eyes.

"No doubt your Fellcorp assets have been frozen," said Jeremiah. He looked significantly at Utopia.

She sighed and stuck her own wallet on her fingertip. She dabbed at the yellow robot's till impatiently and then frowned at Jeremiah, her round cheeks flushing. "They'll know I'm here now," she grumbled. "You owe me one, Jeremiah...again."

"Your sacrifice is regrettable," said Jeremiah.

"Don't make fun of me," she warned.

When we walked out of the spaceport and into the densest corner of Patch Three I gasped involuntarily. It was an amazing sight. What had appeared from above to be unbroken stretches of green were in fact staggered tiers of metropolis with grass-covered roofs, beneath which ran streets and bridges and aqueducts and among which rose the squat, open-air tops of blue-glass buildings which ran deep into the ground. Tight lines of cars flew in every direction, landing on platforms, rushing away into tunnels, darting away high into the sky overhead. This knot of architecture was indeed awesome, but what stopped me involuntarily in my tracks was the people.

There were thousands of them.

In the course of my travels I have seen people with darker skin and with lighter skin, but this sampling could not prepare me for the undifferentiated wash of humankind: every shade of skin from alabaster to pitch was represented, with great swaths of ochres and umbers and siennas between. I saw bronze men and gold women, orange babies and children with skin so white their hair was actually yellow instead of brown or black or red, like Utopia's blonde wig. Their eyes were round or slit-like, almond- or lemon-shaped and every variation in mixture. Their clothes were audacious and sparkling, humble or immodest, brightly coloured or stained like earth. Some wore hats or jewels, capes or tattoos, naked pates or manes. At their heels or in their arms were a hundred different kinds of dog, and following along behind them were every shape and finish of robot imaginable, their carapaces winking in the shafts of sunlight that penetrated the immense grotto at regular intervals.

Their babble was a din, a blanket of undulating white noise that echoed down the car-filled chasms between the buildings. People walked in couples and argued or laughed, moved alone and scowled or smiled, loitered in groups and gossiped. Some people sat along the sides of the walkways on dirty blankets and held out bowls. Some people stood in intersections on boxes and preached to the undisturbed multitudes. Little people gestured to one another and hooted, dogs barked, and tinny announcements reverberated unintelligibly.

The smell of the mass reached me next: a soft-edged musk, accents muted in the scores of overlapping chemistries, an undifferentiated haze of sweat and perfume, yeast and spices, farts and breath.

From high upon the landing platform the crowd reminded me of the herds of scarlet cattle I had seen from Greskin Mile's taxicab on Annapurna, the wash of individual actions somehow accumulating into a great coherent whole, an insensible but driven thing, writhing over the plazas, pods of pedestrians pushing out to explore newly opened spaces in the shifting miasma, swirling vortices of slower pace marking eddies in the flow of perambulation by corners, around obstacles, at the base of stairways...

Utopia closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "Ah, Callicrates!" she sighed. "I guess it isn't so bad to be home after all. I love the smell of Patch Three in the morning."

"Simon, are you unwell?" Jeremiah asked me, taking my elbow.

I nodded. "I'm just a little dizzy." I blinked and rubbed my eyelids with my knuckles and glanced at the little bird sitting on my shoulder. "How do we proceed?"

"We will walk the Pilgrim Way to the Solar Palace. Once on the road we can avail ourselves of the services provided for all pilgrims. Both of you will require sustenance and additional watering."

"Will Utopia have to pay --" I started, but Jeremiah shook his head.

"The Pilgrim Way is a road of poverty. It is the road walked by unfortunates to seek an audience before the Queen of Space in order to command her support."

"To command? I should think a queen would have to be asked."

"The Queen of Space is the devoted servant of Solarkind. She can refuse no request."

"What if the request is not reasonable?"

"Then she can only hope to dissuade the requester, or that his peers do. She is otherwise at his mercy, but in the long history of this tradition the Queen has never been abused. It is understood that none come before her lightly."

"That's not true," interjected Utopia hotly. "Sigh Pi-Lion dragged Her Majesty to Ninurta and made her eat beetles to show her how terrible the conditions were in the Fallen Megalopolis of Camp Andrew."

"The Queen did not object," argued Jeremiah.

"She died from sepsis," Utopia pointed out.

"Appropriate, given the circumstances," he claimed.

Utopia frowned but said nothing, her fists flexing menacingly at her sides.

I shook my head. "I will never understand this galaxy. Let's just get on with it. Lead on, Jeremiah."

As we descended the steps from the tenderdock a ripple of re-orienting gazes began to percolate through the fringes of the crowds nearest us: dozens of eyes turned in concert to fix upon the human executive who walked in their midst. We proceeded into the throng and were jostled in the current for a moment before a space opened around us: a cyst of air surrounding Jeremiah and we, his charges. I heard whispers all around me penetrating the drone of voices: "Executive!"

I thought there was a kind of reverence to it until the first paper envelope of greasy potato wedges struck Jeremiah in the chest with a splatter of vinegar. Then someone else leaned out of the crowd and spat in his face. A bag of noodles glanced off his shoulder, breaking open and spilling viscous sauce down his arm. "Boo!" someone shouted. "Go home, Executive!"

This cry initiated a round of jeering from many in the crowd and a renewed assault of foodstuffs and drinks. Jeremiah did not react, but simply carried on walking. Utopia steered me after him as I gaped at the increasingly hostile crowd in incomprehension.

"Why are they doing this?" I begged Utopia, pulling her arm. "Why do they hate him?"

"They hate what they do not understand," she said icily, her eyes narrow. A soft, orange fruit splattered against her back, releasing a slick of little green seeds. She picked up the rind and hucked it back into the crowd with a venomous shout of, "Leave him alone you simpletons!"

A large white man with a bushy red beard took my arm and spun me around. "Think you're better than the rest of us?" he shouted, and then slapped my face.

I stumbled to a halt and paused, touching my stinging cheek. "Why do you do this?" I asked, pinning the giant man with my imploring gaze.

"Just because you eat out of the hand of the zookeepers doesn't mean they can protect you. Every last traitor is marked!" He grabbed my coat and pulled me close to his sweaty face. "How dare you bring this thing to our patch?"

He let go of me before I could respond. He backed away, eyes wide, and the crowd melted behind him and absorbed him. Their eyes were also wide, and fixed at a point behind me.

I turned around to see Jeremiah standing at my shoulder, garbage dripping from his face. "Come now, Simon," he said and then pivoted on his heel and resumed walking.

I risked another glance at the cowed man and then followed Jeremiah and Utopia, pushing on to the next platform and then mounting a long staircase that wound up to the grassy roofs. Some in the crowd looked ready to rush out after us for another confrontation but two black and white cars with flashing blue lights on top swept suddenly over the plaza, speakers chirping in warning as a booming voice declared, "Police! Disperse now!"

In response the mob dissolved, a brief random scurrying washing away to reveal the human liquid as it had first appeared: flowing in organic whorls from here to there, mixing and circulating and loitering and chattering. It was as if nothing had happened. I found the swiftness of the erasure as unsettling as the rise of the crowd's ire, frightened to imagine such ruthless passion as fickle.

At the top of the stairs we stepped out into the sun and I winced against the warm, friendly yellow glare of Eridani.

We were suddenly in a different world. Gently rolling grassy hills extended in all directions, the green broken intermittently by the protrusion of the tip of an underground tower or a bead of glass to admit light down below. Behind us were a series of innocuous pits which led to the tenderdock, and as we watched two tenders took off and another landed. A herd of goats bleated and moved further away from the pits, annoyed by the breeze and the noise.

Beyond the next hill cars emerged and disappeared seemingly right into the grass, like insects buzzing around the mouth of an underground burrow. Those that were ascending joined a long and very straight line of traffic in the sky.

As I had imagined from my orbital glimpse, there was no direction I could look across the gently rolling hills that did not permit me a view of some artifact of civilization: tall skyscrapers blue and hazy in the distance, a squat dome with trees on its apex hunkered in the grass a few hills away, a cluster of red-roofed longhouses in a valley beyond that, its sides patterned with stripes of terraced crops.

Though diffuse, the human infestation of Callicrates was total.

We stood on a humble stone road that wound to both horizons. A statue of regal looking figure presided over a gurgling drinking fountain near the mouth of the steps, its feet planted with white and yellow flowers. Dotted along the length of the stone road in the distance other fountains could be seen, as well as a few other figures walking along in small clusters. "The Pilgrim Way, I presume."

"Nobody will bug us up here," said Utopia. "Pilgrims are good people."

I touched Jeremiah's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

He brushed a spot of orange fluid off his face and held me for a moment with his black eyes. Those eyes now seemed to me to be full of a depth of sadness I could not reckon. "Fifty million hours," he said simply. "Fifty million hours, Simon."

We began to walk north.

The land changed around us. We passed islets of skyscrapers with busy labyrinths of streets at their feet, fields of densely planted crops growing in their shadows. We passed pilgrims moving the opposite way along the road, who always paused to greet us and wish us well. Though several of those we met looked at Jeremiah with quiet suspicion we saw none of the open hostility of Patch Three's urban clot. Utopia paused to feed a handful of grass to an inquisitive goat, which is something she claimed to have enjoyed since her girlhood.

"I suppose your family has always lived on Callicrates," I said conversationally as we resumed our gait, Jeremiah a few paces ahead.

"My family?" echoed Utopia. "No, no. I was born on Ops."

"The royal family lives on Ops?"

"No, I mean before I became a royal. Before school."

"I don't follow you."

"You don't inherit a place in the House of Ares," she explained, pushing a lock of her red hair behind her ear. "You get tested. You have to earn your way in. It's a meritocratic monarchy."

"Oh, sure," I said. "One of those."

"Listen, how do you think people would react if they were asked to be represented by just one particular powerful family? What right would simply being born give somebody to speak for a civilization? No, if it worked that way they'd hate us as much as they hate executives."

"So you were tested? And you became a princess?"

"I was next in line for the crown."

"Was?"

"Well," she sighed, "escaping from my own coronation and running away from Callicrates may have put a damper on my career."

"Why did you run away?"

She shrugged carelessly, eyes on the road. "It's complicated."

"Try me."

She walked along for another moment, her mouth working thoughtfully. "Sometimes what is asked of you seems too much. Sometimes it seems like the effort of being good in a bad world isn't worth killing your soul for. You don't know what Callicratian politics is like. You can't know. I couldn't know either. I was just a girl. I thought I could make a difference, but now I know this world is too sick to save."

A warm freeze ruffled my hair, and a fleet of pollen sailed across the road like snow. Birds chirped. "I am a poor judge of worlds," I told her.

"Trust me," she said. "The war between the executives and the Equivalents is tearing this planet apart, and the Neighbourhood with it."

"Who are the Equivalents?" I asked.

She pulled her ripped jacket tighter around her shoulders. "Pray you never find out," she said. "It would just make this situation that much worse, if they ever got their hands on...on you."

"You can say it," I said. "I know what I am."

"I won't say it," she argued. "I like you too much."

"Just keep calling me Simon, then."

"I will."

As the day waned the sky darkened and the northern aurora began to show, tenuous fingers of green light skirting the horizon in slow waves. After passing the open maw of another staircase from another urban warren the road became wider and filled by more travelling companions. They made eye contact and smiled or nodded respectfully, as many with heads bowed in prayer as had eyes cast up at the undulating veil of the aurora, their rapt faces green in the reflected glow.

At last we stood beneath an intersection of two lines of traffic, high in the starry sky. The Pilgrim Way opened in a wide plaza ringed by humble, open-air inns and food kiosks. We lined up for bowls of broth and rice, and then Jeremiah arranged a small berth for us on the second storey of a stone temple already crowded with the sleeping palettes of other pilgrims. We stepped over them quietly and found a bare corner in which to curl up on the rough blankets we were given.

Utopia lay down immediately and arranged her arms crossed over her breasts. She closed her eyes and appeared to be instantly asleep, but a moment later she lifted her head and asked, "Jeremiah?"

"Madam?"

"Are the hearings still going on?"

"Yes, Madam."

"Dirt," she hissed, and then lay back and closed her eyes again. Her breathing slowed and deepened, and a moment later her eyes began to flit beneath her lids as if she were dreaming.

"Did she just go to sleep?" I asked, amused. "Just like that?" I snapped my fingers awkwardly.

"Royalty are trained to control their physiology," said Jeremiah. "Even immature, rash royalty with little or no sense of responsibility."

"Shut up, Jeremiah," mumbled Utopia groggily, eyes still closed.

"Ah."

I leaned against a short wall and looked out over the plaza of pilgrims. Someone laughed, and it was a strange sound among such sober company. Cows lowed, and crickets chirped. I pulled my plate out of my pocket and looked through it to see what I could learn, but its face did not illuminate. "My plate's dead," I commented.

Jeremiah nodded. "Your subscriptions have been discontinued. You have been made a dataless man."

I sighed, and turned the useless transparent square of plastic over in my hands. "So much for my bits. I don't suppose my telephone would work either."

"No."

"That's alright," I sighed. "I don't have anybody to call."

I listened to the crickets again. "The crickets here sound like the crickets on Samundra," I said idly, watching the aurora in the northern sky as it was washed in a glaze of red that cast a ruddy, ominous glow across the land.

"Does that surprise you?"

"It does," I decided, looking at him. "I have seen several worlds now, and far more than they are different they are the same. Crickets and frogs sing at night, birds chirp at dawn. The fields are filled with crops that look the same, and even the livestock isn't so different. I mean, the cows on Annapurna were red, but they were still cows, weren't they?" I scratched my head. "And dogs are dogs, and grass is grass, and fruit is fruit. If nature is so inventive, why do we always carry on with the same things?"

Jeremiah nodded solemnly. "I knew this way would be to your profit."

"What do you mean?"

"You are a sensitive observer," said Jeremiah. "Even now the right questions are brewing in your mind."

"You took me this way on purpose," I decided. "Again. You could have found a way to get us to the Solar Palace without braving the crowds or slogging down this road. But there's something you want me to realize."

"Realization is better than explanation," he said softly.

I cast my eyes out across the shadowed hills again, cherry beacons on the top of skyscrapers winking in the dark. I formulated my question carefully. "Why are there no new beasts of burden, Jeremiah? Why are they all the same? Why are cows still cows, no matter where we go?"

"All of the strains of livestock you see around you were domesticated by primitive human beings, each of them dating from a single short ecoperiod in the history of the First Earth following the Pleistocene era."

"Why such a narrow window? Why was nothing domesticated since?"

"Because," he said, "only animals with select characteristics are sufficiently malleable to be evolved into biotechnologies civilization can use. It requires a socio-territorial function with a particular kind of hierarchy that can be co-opted and redirected by men. Animals which could not be shaped were hunted into extinction or marginalized into the wild. Those which remained were culled, generation after generation, to channel the breed into something that could be controlled."

I nodded slowly. "So the First Earth evolved animals whose behaviour could be molded, and then civilization evolved them into controllable biotechnologies."

"Yes."

"The first part took, what? -- millions of years?"

"Yes."

"And the second part...just a blink in history, right?"

He nodded.

I shifted my position against the wall, turning in toward the temple of sleepers and taking a deep breath. "If they had not been domesticated, they would have no history now, would they? If they hadn't been integrated into civilization, they would have burned at Sol."

"Dogs have no spacecraft," agreed Jeremiah. "But the resources necessary to keep a dog in working order is orders of magnitude less than those required to sustain a robot economy. In a dog a man might find a loyal guard, a herder of livestock, a bodyguard and a warm companion without the need to support an industrial infrastructure. They are, in short, useful and efficient. But fifteen thousand years ago their ancestors preyed upon human beings, attacking in packs and dragging away the feeble and the young."

"They were dangerous, until controlled."

"And now to that control they owe their existence."

I sighed and closed my eyes, Jeremiah's lessons crystallizing in my mind with a discomforting solidity. I nodded reluctantly in dawning comprehension, the trailing edge of my human dignity unweaving. The passion of the rebellious crowds came into focus, and I could understand it. I looked up and searched the shadows for the glints shining off Jeremiah's eyes.

"It all makes sense now -- the competition of worlds, the co-evolving patches of governance, the push for cultural selection..." I said, my mouth dry. "You're domesticating us."

His shadowed form did not stir. "Sir," confirmed Jeremiah.


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