Falling Stars
Image from Bernd Helfert

by Anders Sandberg

Contributed 2001, Published in Voices/ Future Tense Issue 14 (January 2010)

As I met ambassador Keilen she was wearing a formal spacesuit, covering with glittering black diamonds and the dull Negentropy pentagon. On her waist she had a metal grey sash embroidered with the line codes of her offices. I could not help shivering when I noticed the 7-7 knot - the symbol for ordered suicide.

'Greetings, your Excellency. May your trip here have been reversible and swift.' She greeted formally, but with her usual half hidden smile.

'Likewise, your Excellency. I hope our confluence will hasten the eternal state.'

'No need to be that formal, Ologa-Zan. Besides, isn't referring to the eternal state here of all places a bit of bad form?' I blushed and she laughed and hugged me. 'It is good to see you again, even if this has to be brief. I have a pressing engagement.'

'I came as soon as I heard about the directive.'

'Yes. The arch-conservatives back home finally decided to send me the silken thread. I can't say that it was unexpected. I took a chance with the Pyxis settlement, but you cannot win them all...'

I followed her as she strode along the gallery towards the farewell chamber. I desperately wanted to tell her how much I admired her, how wrong this was, that I would gladly do anything to change her mind or save her. But a look at her sparkling eyes told me that she already knew it. She gently shook her head and smiled at me.

'No, I cannot back down. They have my family, and they will suffer if I don't act properly. Trust me, I know what I am doing.'

'I never doubted that, but there must be possibilities?' 'Actually, I think they suspect my loyalty and purity more than any purely legal shortcomings. And that is much more serious for my gene-line than if I had eloped with a few kilograms of amat or accidentally spilt trake on the God-Emperor. I better show them just how loyal I am.' Again that smile.

'But Keilen... what about the Velaria cease-fire?' Damn! It sounded so self-serving, so coolly pragmatic. But at the same time I had to ask on behalf of my government, my people. The cease-fire in all its bizarre splendour hinged on one thing: it would only last as long as Keilen lived. She had impressed the I4 and their tweak enemies to the extent they actually based the whole deal on her. And we were dependent on the cease-fire lasting at least a few years more, if we were to survive.

'Actually, that is why I am here. To save it.'

Keilen stepped into the farewell chamber and looked around. The floor and one of the walls were solid diamond, giving an unobstructed view of Threshold. Ahead the sprawling meshwork of hospices, temples, cathedrals, prayer polyhedra and hotel facilities spread towards the infinite horizon line, surrounded by the steady cold light of the stars on all sides. Straight ahead a causeway with ornate railings stretched straight out, ending in nothing 30 meters away. Beneath... it was hard to see, but the faint Einstein rings gave it away. Straight down the black hole yawned.

Keilen walked on the transparent floor with no hesitation, while my brainstem sternly told me not to. Instincts older than thought told me that walking on a near invisible floor above a literally bottomless hole was not survival enhancing. Again I envied Keilen her iron nerves and rationality. Or did I? The same practical logic that had saved us so many times now made her prepare for a very long fall indeed.

'I don't get it. Please explain to a mere Mensan. If you are going to jump into oblivion I better want to know why, except for a misplaced sense of duty. If you had just wanted to end your life you could probably have done it instantly, couldn't you?'

'You are getting warmer.' She smiled at me and fastened the helmet onto the spacesuit. Then she hugged me again and gave me a storage device. 'Give this mindstate to my family. They will understand. And... I'm happy you are here with me. Just don't worry.'

As I stood there dumbfounded she elegantly walked into the airlock which shut with a discreet susurration. She waved and stepped outside. I could do nothing but watch as she walked along the causeway outside. A small part of me wondered why they had bothered to put up handrails on both sides. After all, somebody walking along it probably had no desire to avoid falling off. Although to some, I guessed, dying in a less than perfect way would be worse than anything. I began to understand.

'Keilen, aren't the Velarian Confed strict physiclassicists?' I asked over the radio in the room.

She turned around at the edge, now smiling openly at me. 'I knew you would work it out. Can you see how the pieces interlock? It is so simple.'

She jumped, leaving an empty causeway. Beneath me I saw a moving star among the others, falling towards the unseen distortion in the centre.

'The conservatives will be happy, since I will be quite dead. One loose cannon less. I have proven my loyalty to my planet, and no shadow can fall on my family. The Velarians on the other hand... to them I will never die. I will just approach the horizon forever, becoming eternal. The cease-fire will remain forever.'

It was indeed simple and beautiful. A solution perfectly expressing the Precepts of Negentropy - and hence the most devious and inescapable revenge on the arch-conservatives back at Cirici that anybody could come up with.

'It is... wonderful.'

'Yes. Now you know why I was so glad you could come, after all the Velarians would want a witness.'

'I will do that. But Keilen, what about yourself?'

'Myself?' the radio voice asked.

'You have worked for as long as I know you for others. You have saved billions with your negotiations. You saved my skin at the Antares conference. You just saved your family, your honour and the cease-fire. But what's in it for you?'

The room was silent. I tried to discern the falling star against the background below, but could not make put anything in the diffused light around the hole.

After an interminable silence the radio spoke again: 'It has been fun watching.'


'The best way of getting a front seat at some historical event is to arrange it yourself. This way I got all the opportunities, all the fun. You think I have been as unselfish and self-eradicating as the NoCoZo makes us out to be, but you're wrong - I did it all for my own pleasure. I'm the most curious and selfish woman in the world. And now... let's see what happens!'

The signal broke up. A moment later the unseen point beneath me flared up in a blaze of gamma.

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