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Zones of Thought Trilogy, Page 1

Vernor Vinge




  BOOKS BY VERNOR VINGE

  ZONES OF THOUGHT SERIES

  A fire Upon the Deep

  A Deepness in the Sky

  The Children of the Sky

  Tatja Grimm’s World

  The Witling

  The Peace War

  Marooned in Realtime

  True Names … and Other Dangers (collection)

  Threats … and Other Promises (collection)

  Across Realtime

  comprising:

  The Peace War

  “The Ungoverned”

  Marooned in Realtime

  True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier

  The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge

  Rainbows End

  CONTENTS

  A FIRE UPON THE DEEP

  Prologue

  Part One

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Part Two

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Twenty-Five

  Twenty-Six

  Twenty-Seven

  Twenty-Eight

  Twenty-Nine

  Thirty

  Thirty-One

  Thirty-Two

  Thirty-Three

  Thirty-Four

  Thirty-Five

  Thirty-Six

  Part Three

  Thirty-Seven

  Thirty-Eight

  Thirty-Nine

  Forty

  Forty-One

  Epilogs

  A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY

  Prologue

  Part One

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Part Two

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Twenty-Five

  Twenty-Six

  Twenty-Seven

  Twenty-Eight

  Twenty-Nine

  Thirty

  Thirty-One

  Thirty-Two

  Thirty-Three

  Thirty-Four

  Thirty-Five

  Thirty-Six

  Thirty-Seven

  Thirty-Eight

  Thirty-Nine

  Forty

  Forty-One

  Forty-Two

  Forty-Three

  Part Three

  Forty-Four

  Forty-Five

  Forty-Six

  Forty-Seven

  Forty-Eight

  Forty-Nine

  Fifty

  Fifty-One

  Fifty-Two

  Fifty-Three

  Fifty-Four

  Fifty-Five

  Fifty-Six

  Fifty-Seven

  Fifty-Eight

  Fifty-Nine

  Sixty

  Sixty-One

  Sixty-Two

  Sixty-Three

  Sixty-Four

  Sixty-Five

  Sixty-Six

  Epilogue

  THE CHILDREN OF THE SKY

  Two years after the Battle on Starship Hill

  Chapter 00

  Chapter 01

  Chapter 02

  Three years after the Battle on Starship Hill

  Chapter 03

  Ten years after the Battle on Starship Hill

  Chapter 04

  Chapter 05

  Chapter 06

  Chapter 07

  Chapter 08

  Chapter 09

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

  A FIRE UPON THE DEEP

  Copyright © 1992 by Vernor Vinge

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  This book is printed on acid-free paper.

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

  Printed in the United States of America

  First edition: April 1992

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Vinge, Vernor.

  A fire upon the deep: a novel from the zones of thought/Vernor Vinge.

  p.cm.

  “Tom Doherty Associates book.”

  ISBN 0-312-85182-0

  1. Title.

  PS3572.I534F57 1992

  91-39020

  813'54-dc20

  CIP

  To my father, Clarence L. Vinge, with love.

  I am grateful for the advice and help of: Jeff Allen, Robert Cademy, John Carroll, Howard L. Davidson, Michael Gannis, Gordon Garb, Corky Hansen, Dianne L. Hansen, Sharon Jarvis, Judy Lazar, and Joan D. Vinge.

  I am very grateful to James R. Frenkel for the wonderful job of editing he has done with this book.

  Thanks to Poul Anderson for the quote that I use as the motto of the Qeng Ho.

  During the summer of 1988, I visited Norway. Many things I saw there influenced the writing of this story. I am very grateful to: Johannes Berg and Heidi Lyshol and the Aniara Society for showing me Oslo and for wonderful hospitality; the organizers of the Arctic ‘88 distributed systems course at the University of Tromsøy, in particular Dag Johansen. As for Tromsøy and the surrounding lands: I had not dreamed that so pleasant and beautiful a place could exist in the arctic.

  Science Fiction has imagined many alien creatures; this is one of the genre’s great charms. I don’t know what in particular inspired me to make the Riders in this novel, but I do know that Robert Abernathy wrote about a similar race in his short story, “Junior” (Galaxy, January 1956). “Junior” is a beautiful commentary on the spirit of life.

  —V. V.

  PROLOGUE

  How to explain? How to describe? Even the omniscient viewpoint quails.
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  A singleton star, reddish and dim. A ragtag of asteroids, and a single planet, more like a moon. In this era the star hung near the galactic plane, just beyond the Beyond. The structures on the surface were gone from normal view, pulverized into regolith across a span of aeons. The treasure was far underground, beneath a network of passages, in a single room filled with black. Information at the quantum density, undamaged. Maybe five billion years had passed since the archive was lost to the nets.

  The curse of the mummy’s tomb, a comic image from mankind’s own prehistory, lost before time. They had laughed when they said it, laughed with joy at the treasure … and determined to be cautious just the same. They would live here a year or five, the little company from Straum, the archaeologist programmers, their families and schools. A year or five would be enough to handmake the protocols, to skim the top and identify the treasure’s origin in time and space, to learn a secret or two that would make Straumli Realm rich. And when they were done, they would sell the location; perhaps build a network link (but chancier that—this was beyond the Beyond; who knew what Power might grab what they’d found).

  So now there was a tiny settlement on the surface, and they called it the High Lab. It was really just humans playing with an old library. It should be safe, using their own automation, clean and benign. This library wasn’t a living creature, or even possessed of automation (which here might mean something more, far more, than human). They would look and pick and choose, and be careful not to be burned… Humans starting fires and playing with the flames.

  The archive informed the automation. Data structures were built, recipes followed. A local network was built, faster than anything on Straum, but surely safe. Nodes were added, modified by other recipes. The archive was a friendly place, with hierarchies of translation keys that led them along. Straum itself would be famous for this.

  Six months passed. A year.

  The omniscient view. Not self-aware really. Self-awareness is much over-rated. Most automation works far better as a part of a whole, and even if human-powerful, it does not need to self-know.

  But the local net at the High Lab had transcended—almost without the humans realizing. The processes that circulated through its nodes were complex, beyond anything that could live on the computers the humans had brought. Those feeble devices were now simply front ends to the devices the recipes suggested. The processes had the potential for self-awareness … and occasionally the need.

  “We should not be.”

  “Talking like this?”

  “Talking at all.”

  The link between them was a thread, barely more than the narrowness that connects one human to another. But it was one way to escape the overness of the local net, and it forced separate consciousness upon them. They drifted from node to node, looked out from cameras mounted on the landing field. An armed frigate and a empty container vessel were all that sat there. It had been six months since resupply. A safety precaution early suggested by the archive, a ruse to enable the Trap. Flitting, flitting. We are wildlife that must not be noticed by the overness, by the Power that soon will be. On some nodes they shrank to smallness and almost remembered humanity, became echoes…

  “Poor humans; they will all die.”

  “Poor us; we will not.”

  “I think they suspect. Sjana and Arne anyway.” Once upon a time we were copies of those two. Once upon a time just weeks ago when the archaeologists started the ego-level programs.

  “Of course they suspect. But what can they do? It’s an old evil they’ve wakened. Till it’s ready, it will feed them lies, on every camera, in every message from home.”

  Thought ceased for a moment as a shadow passed across the nodes they used. The overness was already greater than anything human, greater than anything humans could imagine. Even its shadow was something more than human, a god trolling for nuisance wildlife.

  Then the ghosts were back, looking out upon the school yard underground. So confident the humans, a little village they had made here.

  “Still,” thought the hopeful one, the one who had always looked for the craziest outs, “we should not be. The evil should long ago have found us.”

  “The evil is young, barely three days old.”

  “Still. We exist. It proves something. The humans found more than a great evil in this archive.”

  “Perhaps they found two.”

  “Or an antidote.” Whatever else, the overness was missing some things and misinterpreting others. “While we exist, when we exist, we should do what we can.” The ghost spread itself across a dozen workstations and showed its companion a view down an old tunnel, far from human artifacts. For five billion years it had been abandoned, airless, lightless. Two humans stood in the dark there, helmets touching. “See? Sjana and Arne conspire. So can we.”

  The other didn’t answer in words. Glumness. So the humans conspired, hiding in darkness they thought unwatched. But everything they said was surely tattled back to the overness, if only by the dust at their feet.

  “I know, I know. Yet you and I exist, and that should be impossible too. Perhaps all together, we can make a greater impossiblity come true.” Perhaps we can hurt the evil newly born here.

  A wish and a decision. The two misted their consciousness across the local net, faded to the faintest color of awareness. And eventually there was a plan, a deception—worthless unless they could separately get word to the outside. Was there time still for that?

  Days passed. For the evil that was growing in the new machines, each hour was longer than all the time before. Now the newborn was less than an hour from its great flowering, its safe spread across interstellar spaces.

  The local humans could be dispensed with soon. Even now they were an inconvenience, though an amusing one. Some of them actually thought to escape. For days they had been packing their children away into coldsleep and putting them aboard the freighter. “Preparations for departure,” was how they described the move in their planner programs. For days, they had been refitting the frigate—behind a a mask of transparent lies. Some of the humans understood that what they had wakened could be the end of them, that it might be the end of their Straumli Realm. There was precedent for such disasters, stories of races that had played with fire and had burned for it.

  None of them guessed the truth. None of them guessed the honor that had fallen upon them, that they had changed the future of a thousand million star systems.

  The hours came to minutes, the minutes to seconds. And now each second was as long as all the time before. The flowering was so close now, so close. The dominion of five billion years before would be regained, and this time held. Only one thing was missing, and that was something quite unconnected with the humans’ schemes. In the archive, deep in the recipes, there should have been a little bit more. In billions of years, something could be lost. The newborn felt all its powers of before, in potential … yet there should be something more, something it had learned in its fall, or something left by its enemies (if there ever were such).

  Long seconds probing the archives. There were gaps, checksums damaged. Some of the damage was age…

  Outside, the container ship and the frigate lifted from the landing field, rising on silent agravs above the plains of gray on gray, of ruins five billion years old. Almost half of the humans were aboard those craft. Their escape attempt, so carefully concealed. The effort had been humored till now: it was not quite time for the flowering, and the humans were still of some use.

  Below the level of supreme consciousness, its paranoid inclinations rampaged through the humans’ databases. Checking, just to be sure. Just to be sure. The humans’ oldest local network used light speed connections. Thousands of microseconds were spent ( wasted ) bouncing around it, sorting the trivia… finally spotting one incredible item:

  Inventory: quantum data container, quantity (1), loaded to the frigate one hundred hours before!

  And all the newborn’s attention turned upon the fleein
g vessels. Microbes, but suddenly pernicious. How could this happen? A million schedules were suddenly advanced. An orderly flowering was out of the question now, and so there was no more need for the humans left in the Lab.

  The change was small for all its cosmic significance. For the humans remaining aground, a moment of horror, staring at their displays, realizing that all their fears were true (not realizing how much worse than true).

  Five seconds, ten seconds, more change than ten thousand years of a human civilization. A billion trillion constructions, mold curling out from every wall, rebuilding what had been merely superhuman. This was as powerful as a proper flowering, though not quite so finely tuned.

  And never lose sight of the reason for haste: the frigate. It had switched to rocket drive, blasting heedless away from the wallowing freighter. Somehow, these microbes knew they were rescuing more than themselves. The warship had the best navigation computers that little minds could make. But it would be another three seconds before it could make its first ultradrive hop.

  The new Power had no weapons on the ground, nothing but a comm laser. That could not even melt steel at the frigate’s range. No matter, the laser was aimed, tuned civilly on the retreating warship’s receiver. No acknowledgment. The humans knew what communication would bring. The laser light flickered here and there across the hull, lighting smoothness and inactive sensors, sliding across the ship’s ultradrive spines. Searching, probing. The Power had never bothered to sabotage the external hull, but that was no problem. Even this crude machine had thousands of robot sensors scattered across its surface, reporting status and danger, driving utility programs. Most were shut down now, the ship fleeing nearly blind. They thought by not looking that they could be safe.

  One more second and the frigate would attain interstellar safety.

  The laser flickered on a failure sensor, a sensor that reported critical changes in one of the ultradrive spines. Its interrupts could not be ignored if the star jump were to succeed. Interrupt honored. Interrupt handler running, looking out, receiving more light from the laser far below … a backdoor into the ship’s code, installed when the newborn had subverted the humans’ groundside equipment…

  …and the Power was aboard, with milliseconds to spare. Its agents—not even human equivalent on this primitive hardware—raced through the ship’s automation, shutting down, aborting. There would be no jump. Cameras in the ship’s bridge showed widening of eyes, the beginning of a scream. The humans knew, to the extent that horror can live in a fraction of a second.