Introduction: PROLOGUE - 1/4

I've always been something of a loner. That's why I volunteered for the mission. Yet this empty world below scared me.

We came in over Florida. By now I knew this had to be Earth. The broad facilities of Canaveral were nothing more than a grassy field, but the outlines were there, and the monuments of the early launch facilities seemed to be in good repair. Only after we landed could I see that their preservation was less than perfect.

I walked around, poking into the few remaining buildings. All were empty and silent. Gulls circled overhead, small animals moved in the underbrush at the edge of the meadow; birds sang. I found a terminal of unknown design in a building. Nearby was a small cap with the words "Mindlink XV3-2044." I put it on but nothing happened. The terminal was inactive and I could find no way to change that. It had no screen, no keyboard, only what I took to be a holographic projection platform and this cap. I'm not even sure it was a terminal.

Gyges (gye￿jeez) has been remarkably little help. All her expert systems, all her powerful AI functions, seemed helpless, so I asked her to go over ship's log.

Our trajectory went according to program. We approached 87.79% lightspeed within the first five years subjective travel. Then something interrupted the program. Gyges is unable to analyze what. A broad swatch of datastorage seems to be wiped. A proton flux? Magnetic anomaly? The Scoop performed according to design. Speed increased to 93.45% C, then to 94, 95, 96, 97. Time dilation began to affect the circuits in ways Gyges could not determine.

We never reached 61 Cygni.

I listen to audible representations. Mostly it is the hiss of high speed data, the shrill chatter of bits flowing in the superconducting circuits. Why do I do this? I do not know. There is nothing else to do.

Once I thought I heard something. I asked for slower and slower replays. I tried filtering and modulating the sounds. It was almost like music, a chant or patterned polyphony. I moved the frequency up and down.

I heard what I thought must be a name: Peter Devore.

I must have been mistaken, yet the name was there, hidden in the chittering data, clearly enunciated. I listened to it over and over again. Then I went outside again.

It was a warm spring day. A light breeze came in from the ocean. The air was clean and bracing with salt and ozone. It was so very like the day I had left this field for Alice Springs (how many years ago?) that I felt a strange sense of disorientation. It was as if, for me, everyone and everything familiar had vanished overnight.

Gyges sampled all available frequencies, all available channels.

There was no one in the world, so I lifted the ship and moved slowly over the face of the earth, looking for...I do not know what I was looking for.

Where Washington D.C. once sprawled beside the Potomac (only yesterday!) was a scattered parkland with ancient monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol building. The Pentagon was just an outline, a pentagonal berm covered with grass.

In the Library of Congress building I found a map called Intercorp World Administrative Regions Archival Hardcopy, with a date: August 14, 2077. The map includes what appears to be an organizational chart for the Intercorp Council.

I don't recognize any names. But I found also an outline of twenty-first century history. My own departure is listed for 2004. Monday, May 24. One of the first hypersonic salt-cycle suborbitals took me up the Gyges scoop. It's all there. The newsnets at the time carried live coverage of the scoop going operational. By the time I'd left Mars orbit I was all but forgotten. So many other things seemed to be happening in the world.

In the entry for Thursday, February 5, 2076. "Gyges 61 Cygni single man explorer telemetry ceased as of this date. Signal attenuation indicates system shutdown. Presumed lost."

That's all. "Presumed lost." No effort to understand what happened.



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