Writing Shame

Story has the power to inspire, to enlighten and to persist in our minds far longer than simple learning. For these reasons many ancient cultures considered storytelling to verge on magic. Storytelling has kept all of that power through the ages and, even now, it endures as one of the most fundamental pillars that make humanity truly human. At it’s most simple, story is what points us to our highest potential and our deepest depravity.

As an author I am generally drawn to the inspiring side of storytelling. However as I have struggled to craft the most inspiring stories I can I have come to appreciate the importance of contrast in that undertaking. While a gross oversimplification, the idea that heroes are defined by their villains is a straightforward example of the utility of contrast in sketching a story or characters. However contrast is not limited to functioning in scenarios about good and evil.

You can contrast people’s goals, people’s actions and people’s reactions. The last is generally not something I think about – one of the hazards of “writer’s brain” is to think about your stories through a single lens. My preferred lenses are actions and goals. The ways different characters react in different ways to the same stimulus is not something I often think about and when I do it is as a matter of world building or as a subset of the character’s goals, rather than as a genuine intent to examine a character’s inner life. This happens in my writing, of course, but it’s rarely intentional.

The best stories need to be incredibly intentional.

I only started to think about reactions intentionally during the writing of my last project, The Gospel According to Earth. During this story I needed to show Lang, a returning protagonist, as he reacted to the death of another character. That brought me to the topic of today’s post – shame. (Yes, we are just now reaching the thesis statement.) You see, I wanted to end Lang’s story on a high note but I worried that I couldn’t get him there without a contrasting low note.

The general approach to creating a low note is failure. Your protagonist fails at something and then has to suffer the consequences and build themselves back up. That’s fine. However, a common error in approaching the building up phase of the story is to show actions that build the character’s situation up but not the introspection that repairs the character’s mind. I am guilty of this failure myself on many occasions, not the least of which was my treatment of Lang in Schrodinger’s Book. I decided to try and rectify it in Gospel by showing how Lang struggled with his new responsibilities after being promoted, as he would naturally feel his failures of responsibility directly led to the loss of his allies in the previous installment.

In writing these things out I was forced to examine how I process shame. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. And I do have a lot of shame to process, after all, I’m a writer with a good education in that field, ten years of work and very little in the way of audience or fiscal success to show for it. That’s just the state of my shameful professional career, before assessing all my personal shame on top of it!

Nor do I always process things in healthy fashion, in fact based on my own introspection I’ve realized I tend to offload my own sense of shame onto other things that are easier to ignore. This gave rise to Lang’s sudden onset thalassophobia. It also resulted in the roundabout boxing that Lang has with Priss on several occasions – it turns out shame is a thing that is hard to recognize in yourself and is probably best dealt with at a certain remove. Dealing realistically with these things is rarely direct.

Confronting shame in fiction is usually handled by trying to lift a person up out of it. I didn’t want to do that because I have found all the attempts to haul me out of my own shame – whether I recognized them or not – offensive. That’s in no small part because, on some level, I recognize my shame as rooted in something real. I’d rather deal with that real problem than have my injured feelings addressed. Hence my decision to have Priss push Lang towards active decisions, taking steps towards concrete, attainable goals rather than focusing on his very real but unchangeable failures.

My hope was to write a story where we could see Lang cementing his character growth and leaning in to growth and meaningful achievement while still acknowledging that he was hurt by the things that happened to him. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded on that front but it was an instructive exercise. My hope is to develop these storytelling techniques in further writings and develop clearer uses of shame as both a motivation and a contrasting low point against potential high points.

Writing shame proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, even if it doesn’t land as hoped and even if I didn’t enjoy the process of putting all this together. Writing isn’t the hardest job on Earth but its uncomfortable hurdles are unique. Turning away from them is a great way to ensure that your writing stagnates and fails to reach its full potential. Don’t be afraid of your shame, or any other unpleasant emotion you may need to explore.

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The Gospel According to Earth – Afterwords

Well, it’s done.

Early in writing The Gospel According to Earth I had to confront the fact that there wasn’t really an ending to the story about Earth putting an end to evil government. The unfortunate reality is, mankind isn’t inherently good. I know that’s not an evaluation that’s particularly popular today but it’s a foundational part of my way of thinking and I don’t really believe we’ve ever completely pulled away from being a savage society where the powerful abuse the weak however they wish. We got further from that than ever before in the United States, I think. Even in this day and age it’s still a global problem, though, and as I worked to game it out in my head I realized that the future Earth at the heart of the Triad World novels would reform itself to an extent only to boomerang right back to depravity once again. Trying to sketch out a path for the Triad Worlds to build a new, utopian Earth was, therefore, foolish.

So I decided not to. That really wasn’t what I wanted to do when I started The Gospel According to Earth anyway. My purpose was to show the mindset that led UNIGOV to try rewriting the entirety of human history and why, totalitarian impulses or no, it is fundamentally wrong. Hopefully in the pages of the story you have just read I have succeeded. Since the Triad World novels are intended to be grounded in reality, rather than an exercise in the kind of unbridled idealism that some of the major scifi franchises they draw inspiration from, I chose not to close the loop on all the characters the story introduces.

In particular, I never gave the ‘great men of history’ the story introduces specific arcs or defined ending points. While I got to know and like Admiral Carrington and Captain Gyle I never intended to leave them on a specific note. They were just ships passing us in the night. I was far more interested in the lowly characters in the Fleet when writing and I particularly wanted to bring a solid ending point to Corpral Langley by the end of this story.

This was a bit of a challenge, since I felt I left him in a good place at the end of Schrodinger’s Book. In fact, that was a major part of why I chose not to reuse him or Aubrey as viewpoint characters in Martian Scriptures, along with my desire to see another part of the fleet. By the same token, this is also why I didn’t reintroduce Volk Fyodorovich in The Gospel According to Earth. Lang had to be the story’s touchstone character and I think he managed it well. I hope you’ve found following him as interesting as I have.

With a number of new viewpoint characters and an entirely new thematic through-line to keep track of, The Gospel According to Earth was a challenge to outline and write. The necessity of finding a good place to leave the story was also difficult. I don’t think I’d be a great intrigue writer so I chose not to go too deep into the wrangling needed to drag a peace treaty out of UNIGOV. Instead I ultimately chose to stop on the cusp of that new challenge and leave the rest of the details to your imaginations.

In the end I wanted the Triad World novels to concern themselves with questions of how we will govern ourselves, what we will trust in and how we can know if that trust is misplaced. I’m sure I’ve only marginally achieved those goals. Still, I had an enjoyable time writing these stories and I hope you’ve equally enjoyed reading them.

Now my typical structure at this juncture would be taking a week off. But, as you may have noticed, I just took my usual Christmas break and tacked an extra week on there before posting this! Therefore my next series of essays on writing will begin next week. I have a lot to say on any number of subjects, so strap in! This will be different.

Happy New Year!

Hello everyone! We’ve reached the end of The Gospel According to Earth and the end of the year, so in accordance with tradition around here I’ll be taking a week off. In this case, there’s two weeks off stacked up so I’ll return in two weeks, on January 14th. Hope you had a merry Christmas and enjoy ringing in the New Year!

-Nate

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Twenty Nine

Previous Chapter

Lang dangled his feet off the edge of the pier, trying his best to ignore the strong smell that seawater seemed to develop around any kind of manmade structure. Perhaps it was something from the power plant, or an effect of the plants growing there. Priss and Aubrey were there as well, although neither of them were that interested in touching the water.

“What do you think they’re going to say?” Priss asked.

“I don’t know.” Aubrey leaned against one of the titanic support pillars, a concrete pile as wide as two people that raised a good three feet above the walkway it supported. “Honestly, I’d hope UNIGOV would be willing to talk to you after everything that’s happened over the past six weeks but I also never expected I’d be happy being friends with martians either. So I don’t think I have the best insight to go off of.”

“Reminder who just got pulled into issues of interplanetary diplomacy,” Lang said, pointing at himself. “I’m getting worried I’ll be anointed the leading authority on Earthling psychology by the time the fleet’s done here. Your insight is just as valid as mine. Better, because you’ve actually lived through the changes we’re hoping everyone else will have.”

“When your tour’s up maybe you should retire and join the diplomatic corps,” Priss said, elbowing him.

“When I cycle out I’m buying my own ship,” Lang muttered.

Priss looked surprised. “Really? I always figured you were a lifer, in it ’til they force you to retire. When do you plan to pack in your exo?”

“I haven’t decided,” Lang said. “It’s something I only started thinking about since the first time we grounded.”

“What kind of ship were you thinking about?”

“Are there a lot of different kinds?” Aubery asked.

“As many as there are kinds of cars or boats,” Lang said. “The big ones are all owned by passenger of freight liners but I’m thinking about finding a small private charter ship. I may need to sign on with a charter company for a few years to get through the licensing and safety procedures but I’ve got more than enough flight hours to get accepted anywhere.”

“Private passenger charters always like ex-military fliers,” Priss mused. “Although your record of crashing ships might be a real turn-off when you have to sign up for pilot’s insurance.”

“Is there really enough demand for travel between planets for there to be private charter flights on a regular basis?” Aubery asked.

“You might be surprised.” Lang scratched his chin. “Although I’m not sure I want to have to deal with a bunch of rich passengers for a week at a stretch on the Roddenberry to Galileo run. Pay’s better than small time freight, though.”

“Two weeks a trip.” Aubery shuddered. “I’ve been away from home for maybe twice that and sometimes I think I’m going crazy. How can you put up with it?”

Lang shrugged. “It’s just part of the job, I suppose. Gotta say, this trip to Earth has been a lot nastier than the war was, given how out of touch we’ve been, but you expect to be off planet a lot in the spacer corps. At least on a passenger or freight run you get a week off between runs. Of course, by the time we get back they may have another new generation of superluminal drives to cut down on travel time.”

“If you want my advice, get a spot on a passenger liner,” Priss said. “You spend too much time alone with no one to reign you in and you’re going to go off the deep end and fly yourself straight into a black hole or something.”

Lang shrugged. “If you’re that worried about it you might as well come along and do it yourself.”

“Don’t have the skills for it. Comms are a dime a dozen out there in the stars, unlike you flyboys. My medical training isn’t up to snuff as an onboard doctor, either. I might be able to rate as a nurse but I don’t want to spend my flights wiping noses on a passenger flight.” Priss folded her hands behind her head and lay down flat on the docks. “It’s the corps or nothing for me. If I do cash out and go civilian I’ll probably settle down and get married, make a few tiny terraformers and spend my days proof reading legal filings for contractors like I was doing before the war.”

“Sounds nice,” Aubrey mused.

“You’ve never had to edit for paralegals,” Priss said dryly. “If I had a credit for every time I was told to mind my own business I’d be able to buy a ship for both me and Lang.”

“Nice because you’ll be done.” Aubrey tucked her knees up under her chin and looked out at the ocean. “You make it sound like you’re practically done with Earth. I don’t even know when I’ll have a chance to go home.”

“There’s no such thing as done, Aubrey.” Lang pulled his feet out of the water and scooted back so they rested on the pier, enjoying the feeling of them quickly drying in the warm afternoon air. “It looks like there is but that’s a trick. I thought I was done after I came home from Galileo. I was going to hang out in the fleet, do really easy patrols around the system and along the Copernican-Newtonian corridor and never have to worry about getting shot at again. Two years later, I’m here. Two years from now, who knows where I’ll be?”

“Flying charter ships, it sounds like,” Priss said.

“Maybe. Maybe I’ll change my mind, re-up and do another tour in the Corps. I did originally planned to be a lifer.”

“What made you start thinking about changing your mind?” Aubrey asked.

“The actual war part wasn’t great,” Lang admitted. “Coming to Earth seemed like a chance to make history in a more positive way but it hasn’t really worked out that way. I kind of just want to step back and see if I can make something of myself before messing with history again.”

Aubrey gave a hollow laugh. “Good luck. Sometimes history decides to mess with you.”

“Point taken.” Lang stared out at the oceans of the Homeworld and tried to reconcile his own feelings for the place. For all that it was the cradle of humanity, it hadn’t treated him that well in his time there. Then again, it’s not like the Triad Worlds were any better. He certainly felt more invested in it than he ever had on Copernicus, though. He’d never payed nearly as much attention to things back home as he had on Earth – or Minerva, for that matter. “I think you Earthlings will be able to sort it out eventually.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

“I’m more worried about the Malacandrans,” Priss put it, taking great care as she pronounced the unfamiliar name. “Those kids have had a really rough go of it and I’m not sure what we’re doing is the best way to help.”

“You could put in to join the delegation to Mars the Admiral is thinking about sending,” Lang said. “See things there up close.”

“They’re sending a Copernican delegation to Mars?”

“Oh.” He realized that was something he’d heard Carrington discussing with Naomi while they were waiting to set up Mond’s entrance into Shutdown. Not something for general dissemination. “Maybe?”

Priss gave him an arch look. “You know I’m in Comms, right? I’m duty bound to put that out on the rumor mill.”

“Can you wait a few hours to give me plausible deniability?”

“We do our best to protect our sources.”

“Didn’t sound like a yes, Priss.”

“It wasn’t one.” She sat partway up, resting on her elbows. “I’m not sure I want to go to Mars. I kind of like it here on Earth. There’s oceans and deserts and a whole lot of other stuff we don’t have on Copernicus. We say we’re terraforming the planet but we’re not really making a place that looks a whole lot like Earth based on what I’ve seen. There’s a lot of temperate land going up around the planet. Not a whole lot of deserts or jungles.”

“You want a jungle?” Lang asked. “You’ve never even been to a jungle so why do you want one on Copernicus?”

“I dunno. Maybe I just want to go see a jungle before I decide whether I want one or not.”

“How long do your tours last?” Aubrey asked. “You said you traveled a long time just to get back to Earth so will your time be up soon?”

“It’s about six months to get to Earth at the pace the Fleet came at,” Lang said, “although that’s with the old supply ships thrown into the mix. If we moved at the pace of the Principia, which is the fastest thing in the fleet, we could do it in two.”

“Everyone in the Fleet had to re-up before we left,” Priss added. “Standard tours are four years long so we’ve actually got a lot of time left to do before any of us can think about leaving the Corps.”

“Oh.” Aubrey relaxed a bit. “So you’re not taking off any time soon.”

“Why? Were you going to miss us?” Lang asked.

“A little. All my old friends still live in Texas and I’m not likely to see them again any time soon.” She shrugged eloquently. “You’re the next closest thing I’ve got, outside of Sean, and he’s gotten obsessed with interfacing your systems and ours via AI, so much so I barely see him outside of the computer labs these days.”

“I thought you both worked in AI programming.”

“We did. He’s still interested in it and I’m… I feel like other things are more important these days.”

Lang started pulling his boots back on. “That’s another thing that happens a lot, Aubrey. People all have different ideas about what’s important. Can’t say I blame him, I really want to find some of those air cars we saw on our first visit and take a few out for a spin. New tech is catnip to people like us.”

“Well then you really don’t want to get an independent freighter,” Priss said. “You don’t see anything newer than the First Galilean War in tramp freighters these days. Stay in the Corps, Lang. They’ll give you all the neat toys you want.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it. The lander I flew off the Armstrong hadn’t had a new component installed on it in the last six years.” Lang clambered to his feet and helped the two ladies up as well. “Besides, there are all kinds of new just like there’s all kinds of important.”

“What kind of new do you have in mind?” Priss asked.

“We can’t be sending an entire fleet every time someone wants to run some cargo or people out this way,” Lang said. “Gonna be a lot of call for independent ships to move things on the Earth-Copernicus run real soon. Mars needs a lot of stuff and it’s not going to be easy to manufacture using just the resources the Fleet has on hand, even assuming the Admiral doesn’t put us on full war footing in the next couple of weeks.”

“Shrewd thinking,” Priss said, tapping her chin. “And by the time you’re ready to muster out in three years the Copernican Senate will just be starting to think about normalizing travel. You may be able to get subsidized in picking up your own ship.”

“Not to mention the improvements we could see in superluminals over that time, especially with shortening the trip to Earth to set the goal posts.” Lang grinned. “The one way transit time may get down under a month by then.”

“And if anyone from Earth wants to go the other way they could do worse than to charter the Triad World’s foremost expert on the Earthling mindset to fly them,” Aubrey added, grinning back.

“Oh!” Lang grabbed his chest in mock agony. “E tu, Brute?”

Her face screwed up in confusion. “What?”

“Never mind. UNIGOV probably got Shakespeare, too.” Lang started off the docks, shaking his head ruefully. “We can worry more about that in the future. I’ve got to get back to Vesper and Priss has some rumors to monger. What about you, Aubrey?”

“Keeping an eye on Naomi and Director Mond for the moment. Hopefully we get some good news from the Admiral’s call but if all we hear is hurry up and wait I think I can deal with that, too.”

As the three of them split up and went their separate ways Lang wondered if it was worth getting his hopes up about a simple, straightforward diplomatic solution to the mess they’d made of things since they arrived at Earth. If he was honest about it, there probably wasn’t any point. However they’d muddled through everything up until that point and that suggested they could muddle through the rest. That, he decided, was good news enough for him.

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Twenty Eight

Previous Chapter

The black fog parted and Brian O’Sullivan found himself standing on a vaguely familiar beach, watching the sun set. A strange man stood ankle deep in the surf about fifteen feet away, looking in amazement at his hand as he flexed the fingers one at a time, then all together. Brian swayed for a moment, confused. He’d been exploring possibilities to… to something. He couldn’t quite remember what he’d been so fascinated by a moment ago, something to do with bringing social pressure to bear on outside forces?

He looked behind him, as if retracing his steps would jog his memory. The beach ran up a low sand dune to a line of low, comfortable looking houses of a type that, for some reason, rubbed him the wrong way. He’d never thought of architecture as hostile before but these houses felt hostile for some reason. Brian’s attention snapped back to the man on the beach. “Who are you?”

The stranger turned, sunlight glinting dully off of his dark skin, the extravagant melanin dampening the harsh rays of the setting sun to a barely noticeable corona. He was bald, or shaved his head, and was of an average height. His fingers, finally still by his side, were long and clever and his eyes were set deep in his head. He looked tired. “I’m Director Stephen Mond, from the Nevada Launch Zone Vault. I think we met six years ago, during the annual American Directorate Conference. We discussed the legacy of jazz music in North America, I recall you were a very knowledgeable amateur. It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Director O’Sullivan. Are you… well?”

“How did you bring me here?” Brian demanded, ignoring Mond’s question.

“As I understand it you never left. This is a fugue instance created when you entered Shutdown and some part of your awareness has been routed through it regardless of where you went in the simulation.” Mond offered a helpless shrug. “That’s what SubDirector Baker told us when we were planning this meeting, anyways. I’m afraid this kind of thing is very much outside my expertise.”

“Baker,” Brian whispered. “She was my assistant, wasn’t she?”

Mond folded his arms across his stomach, rubbing one elbow with the opposite hand. “Director O’Sullivan, do you remember where you are?”

He looked the beach over once more. “No.”

“Can you tell me the last thing you do remember?”

“I was… I had just convinced the martians to leave the planet again by…” Brian pressed his fingers to his temples, trying to focus his thoughts and think back. Had he actually convinced them to leave? No, he’d failed at least twice, but then…

“Director O’Sullivan?”

“I’d just convinced them to leave Earth again by applying a materialist dialectic…” Brian trailed off, his memories a confused jumble. “Or was it the existential argument?”

Mond approached cautiously, as if Brian was some kind of panicky rabbit that might bolt at any second. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to, Director. Particularly because the martians haven’t actually left the planet, in fact technically both you and I are in the custody of martian authorities. That’s part of why I’m here.”

“Custody?” Brian did his best to focus on the other man’s face but found that his eyes kept swimming, making clearly reading anything about his interrogator difficult. “I don’t understand what you mean, Director Mond. We’re in Shutdown. By definition we can’t be in anyone’s custody, we’re in a state of consciousness created by UNIGOV to facilitate the transformation of mindsets. Originally it was intended for the martians, yes, but they’ve expanded it quite a bit.”

“Our minds are here, yes,” Mond conceded, “but physically we’re in a facility that is under the control of the Unified Colonial Fleet. They represent the governments of four other colonized planets – well three planets and two moons. We are, for all practical intents, in custody. Even in this remarkable fugue state simulating some of the most impressive sights nature has to offer, we don’t have access to the resources or assistance of UNIGOV.”

“That’s just it!” Brian felt a wave of clarity surge over him. “We don’t need their assistance, we can offer assistance! The whole problem at the root of what we tried to do here is that we tried to formulate a response to the martian problem that functioned on their level. But a martian will always be better at martian behavior than a sapiens. So I started formulating sapiens responses to the issue and I’ve had real success with it in the PEF. I’ve found at least six approaches with cause them to leave Earth under more or less favorable conditions.”

Mond looked truly mystified. “More or less favorable? What do you mean? And what is a PEF?”

“A probability expansion facilitator, Director. It’s an entirely new, unique and decidedly sapiens technology that was, ironically enough, created by the martians when we placed them in Shutdown. It’s a tool that harnesses the power of our mind and combines it with the potential of a computer.” Brian turned to gesture towards the probability tank, only to remember it wasn’t there. “Well, I can’t show it to you right now. But it really is a marvel of forward thinking technology, using our subconscious mind to create a probabilistic projection of future events!”

The other man’s confusion was slowly turning into clear disapproval. “So it is just some kind of advanced modeling software?”

“It’s not just modeling software,” Brian snapped, “it gives us the ability to grasp the future in a way that the martians cannot! We can do it ethically. We can go forwards and backwards, see the issues from all angles and find solutions that allow us to reach our ends without ever having to oppress or assume. All we have to do is predict.”

Mond’s brows knit together. “Director O’Sullivan, at some point prediction tips into assumption.”

“We have everything we need here, Director Mond!” Brian found himself tugging frantically at his hair, trying to grab hold of the possibilities whirling through his mind in an jumble of half formed conclusions. “Listen, it’s not just social possibilities we can model here. The scientists who were working on the Light of Mars were crafting viable technological angles to explore without every having to build a model or run a test. Think of all the difficulties that could prevent! Vincent Vesper’s missteps along the way to a final, working model could be bypassed entirely so that we arrive at a final solution without having to intrude on the Earth for materials to build thousands of useless prototypes!”

“A dozen at most, Director, and hardly missteps. I spoke with Mr. Vesper a few hours ago and he assures me that he had a new prototype that would compensated for the issues we experienced with his original run. We just hadn’t acquired the resources to build it yet.” Mond gently took Brian by the elbow and tried to pull his hands away from his head. “Director – Brian, are you all right? I know it can be very traumatic to be in Shutdown but –”

“Traumatic!” Brian shook him off. “Traumatic! If anything it’s the opposite! I feel more alive and aware of my surroundings than I ever was outside Shutdown. Mond, we’ve stumbled across the greatest breakthrough of human history! We have the audacity to call ourselves sapiens. Director, this is the final triumph of the human mind over the prison of flesh and time and what did we do with it? We threw it before martians! The very dregs. This is always where we should have been, pushing forward the sapiens to the greatest heights of understanding, of sympathy, of environmentalism! All we had to do was take everything that could be damaged out there and put it in our mind!”

“Director O’Sullivan.” Mond’s voice took on the tone of a Directorate supervisor calling a meeting to order. “Don’t be absurd. In the time you’ve been in here seventy three percent of the comatose people you took out of Shutdown have slipped into brain death. SubDirector Baker isn’t sure the others will ever recover. Even some of the people who originally regained consciousness when removed are slipping into comas. Whatever happens here isn’t good for the human body or mind.”

“I’m sure it won’t take long to work out those problems! Besides, they were here in Shutdown not long ago so I’m sure we can find them again! There was one of them left in the Sarajevo instance. Maybe he can help us.”

“Baker found him in the records,” Mond said. “One of the techs on the program jumped off a roof and was nearly brain dead when moved into Shutdown. He’s never come back to full brain activity, Brian, that’s why he wasn’t removed with the others, a medical failsafe subroutine kicked in and prevented it. The ID code on it was so old the Vaults had expunged it from the normal databases, that’s why it took so long to work out what happened to him.”

“So? Just more proof that we can undo almost any harm if we use the PEF technology correctly! He’s still in there and thinking, Mond!” Somehow, Brian found himself gripping the front of Mond’s shirt, hands trembling. He forced them to let go. “We can find the way to solve this problem, too!”

“You’re letting martian ways of thinking take over, Director,” Mond said, pushing gently against Brian’s hands. “Believe me, I’ve been here before.”

“Don’t be absurd.” Brian snatched his hands back and shook himself once, forcing his mind to stay in the present. “If you’re not interested in the work I’ve been doing here, why did you come?”

Mond sighed. “We need you to come out, Director O’Sullivan. The LA power plant and the Bakersfield vault are in martian hands and they want to talk to the Directorate or they’re going to keep advancing. I still have enough access to Directorate systems to smooth some things over. However I don’t have codes that will allow me to get through to them anymore. We need yours.”

“Codes?” He snorted. “That’s all you want? My access codes? Fine. They’re backed up in my workstation in the Vault. Baker knows the password.”

“She said she’d checked there already.”

“Yes, but she didn’t check my music library. They’re hidden in track called “Signs” mixed in with songs by the band Rush. It’s a dummy I created years ago. You can decode them via the music compiler also in my workstation.” Brian folded his arms over his chest. “Are we done here?”

“Brian, you can’t stay here forever, it’s not healthy for you and we need you out there.”

“No, you don’t. Not compared to what I can do here.” Brian gestured back up the slope, even though it wasn’t truly where he’d come from. “I am close to the breakthrough we need, Director Mond. This is how we save the world, this is what UNIGOV is meant to be. You’ll see what I mean soon enough. There’s nothing to gain from talking to martians – they can’t understand a sapiens goals and they’ve never tried it in the past! Your efforts will fail just like all the previous ones. Then there won’t be anywhere else for you to go except back here. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Mond stared at him for a very long time. Then he folded his hands in front of him and said, “Somehow I don’t think you will be. Baker, pull me out, please.”

“Send me back-” Mond vanished and Brian slumped. He’s have to find his way back to the Sarajevo instance on his own, assuming that was possible. But this was Shutdown – no, this was Possibility. He really was capable of anything here so it was only a matter of time before he found his way back there.

Brian turned and started up the slope off the beach. The sun dipped below the ocean and the stars began to peek out of the night sky as figures in shadow swarmed up the path behind him.