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Permutation City. 7

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She phoned Durham.

It was three in the morning, but he must have been out of the City; Standard Time set a rate, but no diurnal cycle, and behind him was a dazzling sunlit room.

She said bluntly, "I think I"d like to hear the truth now. Why did you wake me?"

He seemed unsurprised by the question, but he replied guardedly. "Why do you think?"

"You want my support for an early expedition to Planet Lambert. You want me to declare-with all the dubious authority of the "mother" of the Lambertians-that there"s no point waiting for them to invent the idea of us. Because we both know it"s never going to happen. Not until they"ve seen us with their own eyes."

Durham said, "You"re right about the Lambertians-but forget the politics. I woke you because your territory adjoins the region where the Autoverse is run. I want you to let me use it to break through to Planet Lambert." He looked like a child, solemnly confessing some childish crime. "Access through the hub is strictly controlled, and visible to everyone. There"s plenty of unused space in the sixth public wedge, so I could try to get in from there-but again, it"s potentially visible. Your territory is private."

Maria felt a surge of anger. She could scarcely believe that she"d ever swallowed the line about being woken to share in the glory of contact-and being used by Durham was no great shock; it was just like old times-but having been resurrected, not for her expertise, not for her status, but so he could dig a tunnel through her backyard...

She said bitterly, "Why do you need to break into the Autoverse? Is there a race going on that nobody"s bothered to tell me about? Bored fucking immortals battling it out to make the first unauthorized contact with the Lambertians? Have you turned xenobiology into a new Olympian sport?"

"It"s nothing like that."

"No? What, then? I"m dying to know." Maria tried to read his face, for what it was worth. He allowed himself to appear ashamed-but he also looked grimly determined, as if he really did believe that he"d had no choice.

It hit her suddenly. "You think... there"s some kind of risk to Elysium, from the Autoverse?"

"Yes."

"I see. So you woke me in time to share the danger? How thoughtful."

"Maria, I"m sorry. If there"d been another way, I would have let you sleep forever-"

She started laughing and shivering at the same time. Durham placed one palm flat against the screen; she was still angry with him, but she let him reach through the terminal from his daylit room and put his hand on hers.

She said, "Why do you have to act in secret? Can"t you persuade the others to agree to stop running the Autoverse? They must realize that it wouldn"t harm the Lambertians; it would launch them as surely as it launched Elysium. There"s no question of genocide. All right, it would be a loss to the Autoverse scholars-but how many of those can there be? What does Planet Lambert mean to the average Elysian? It"s just one more kind of entertainment."

"I"ve already tried to shut it down. I"m authorized to set the running speed relative to Standard Time-and to freeze the whole Autoverse, temporarily, if I see the need to stem the information flow, to let us catch up with rapid developments."

"So what happened? They made you restart it?"

"No. I never managed to freeze it. It can"t be done anymore. The clock rate can"t be slowed past a certain point; the software ignores the instructions. Nothing happens."

Maria felt a deep chill spread out from the base of her spine. "Ignores them how? That"s impossible."

"It would be impossible if everything was working-so, obviously, something"s failed. The question is, at what level? I can"t believe that the control software is suddenly revealing a hidden bug after all this time. If it"s not responding the way it should, then the processors running it aren"t behaving correctly. So either they"ve been damaged somehow... or the cellular automaton itself has changed. I think the JVC rules are being undermined-or subsumed into something larger."

"Do you have any hard evidence?"

"No. I"ve rerun the old validation experiments, the ones I ran during the launch, and they still work-wherever I"ve tried them-but I can"t even instruct the processors running the Autoverse to diagnose themselves, let alone probe what"s happening there at the lowest level. I don"t even know if the problem is confined to the region, or if it"s spreading out slowly... or if it"s already happening everywhere, but the effects are too subtle to pick up. You know the only way to validate the rules is with special apparatus. So what do I do? Disassemble half the processors in Elysium, and build test chambers in their place? And even if I could prove that the rules were being broken, how would that help?"

"Who else knows about this?"

"Only Repetto and Zemansky. If it became public knowledge, I don"t know what would happen."

Maria was outraged. "What gives you the right to keep this to yourselves? Some people might panic... but what are you afraid of? Riots? Looting? The more people who know about the problem, the more likely it is that someone will come up with a solution."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps the mere fact that more people know would make things worse."

Maria absorbed that in silence. The sunlight spilling through the terminal cast radial shadows around her; the room looked like a medieval woodcut of an alchemist discovering the philosopher"s stone.

Durham said, "Do you know why I chose the Autoverse in the first place-instead of real-world physics?"

"Less computation. Easier to seed with life. My brilliant work with A. lamberti."

"No nuclear processes. No explanation for the origins of the elements. I thought: In the unlikely event that the planet yielded intelligent life, they"d still only be able to make sense of themselves on our terms. It all seemed so remote and improbable, then. It never occurred to me that they might miss the laws that we know are laws, and circumvent the whole problem."

"They haven"t settled on any kind of theory, yet. They might still come up with a cellular automaton model-complete with the need for a creator."

"They might. But what if they don"t?"

Maria"s throat was dry. The numbing abstractions were losing their hypnotic power; she was beginning to feel all too real: too corporeal, too vulnerable. Good timing: finally embracing the illusion of possessing solid flesh and blood-just as the foundations of this universe seemed ready to turn to quicksand.

She said, "You tell me. I"m tired of guessing what"s going on in your head."

"We can"t shut them down. I think that proves that they"re already affecting Elysium. If they successfully explain their origins in a way which contradicts the Autoverse rules, then that may distort the JVC rules. Perhaps only in the region where the Autoverse is run-or perhaps everywhere. And if the TVC rules are pulled out from under us-"

Maria baulked. "That"s... like claiming that a VR environment could alter the real-world laws of physics in order to guarantee its own internal consistency. Even with thousands of Copies in VR environments, that never happened back on Earth."

"No-but which is most like the real world: Elysium, or the Autoverse?" Durham laughed, without bitterness. "We"re all still patchwork Copies, most of us in private fantasy lands. Our bodies are ad hoc approximations. Our cities are indestructible wallpaper. The "laws of physics" of all the environments in Elysium contradict each other-and themselves-a billion times a day. Ultimately, yes, everything runs on the TVC processors, it"s all consistent with the TVC rules-but level after level is sealed off, made invisible to the next, made irrelevant.

"On Planet Lambert, everything that happens is intimately tied to one set of physical laws, applied uniformly, everywhere. And they"ve had three billion years of that. We may not know what the deepest laws are, anymore, but every event the Lambertians experience is part of a coherent whole. If there"s any conflict between the two versions of reality, we can"t rely on our own version taking precedence."

Maria couldn"t argue for patchwork VR holding up against the deep logic of the Autoverse. She said, "Then surely the safest thing would be to ensure that there is no conflict. Stop observing the Autoverse. Give up all plans of making contact. Isolate the two explanations. Keep them from clashing."

Durham said flatly, "No. We"re already in conflict. Why else can"t we shut them down?"

"I don"t know." Maria looked away. "If the worst comes to the worst... can"t we start again? Construct a new Garden-of-Eden configuration? Launch ourselves again, without the Autoverse?"

"If we have to." He added, "If we think we can trust the TVC universe to do everything it"s programmed to do-without altering the launch process, fouling it up... or even passing on the modified laws which we think we"re escaping."

Maria looked out at the City. Buildings were not collapsing, the illusion was not decaying. She said, "If we can"t trust in that, what"s left?"

Durham said grimly, "Nothing. If we don"t know how this universe works anymore, we"re powerless."

She pulled her hand free. "So what do you want to do? You think if you have access to more of the Autoverse than the data channels running out from the hub, you can make the TVC rules apply? One whole face of the pyramid shouting stop to the neighboring processors will carry more weight than the normal chain of command?"

"No. That might be worth trying. But I don"t believe it will work."

"Then... what?"

Durham leaned forward urgently. "We have to win back the laws. We have to go into the Autoverse and convince the Lambertians to accept our explanation of their history-before they have a clear alternative.

"We have to persuade them that we created them, before that"s no longer the truth."
<dd><br><dd>29

Thomas sat in the garden, watching the robots tend the flowerbeds. Their silver limbs glinted in the sunshine as they reached between the dazzling white blossoms. Every movement they made was precise, economical; there was no faltering, no resting. They did what they had to, and moved on.

When they were gone, he sat and waited. The grass was soft, the sky was bright, the air was calm. He wasn"t fooled. There"d been moments like this before: moments approaching tranquility. They meant nothing, heralded nothing, changed nothing. There"d always be another vision of decay, another nightmare of mutilation. And another return to Hamburg.

He scratched the smooth skin of his abdomen; the last number he"d cut had healed long ago. Since then, he"d stabbed his body in a thousand places; slit his wrists and throat, punctured his lungs, sliced open the femoral artery. Or so he believed; no evidence of the injuries remained.

The stillness of the garden began to unnerve him. There was a blankness to the scene he couldn"t penetrate, as if he was staring at an incomprehensible diagram, or an abstract painting he couldn"t quite parse. As he gazed across the lawn, the colors and textures flooding in on him suddenly dissociated completely into meaningless patches of light. Nothing had moved, nothing had changed-but his power to interpret the arrangement of shades and hues had vanished; the garden had ceased to exist.

Panicking, Thomas reached blindly for the scar on his forearm. When his fingers made contact, the effect was immediate: the world around him came together again. He sat, rigid for a moment, waiting to see what would happen next, but the stretch of dark green in the corner of his eye remained a shadow cast by a fountain, the blue expanse above remained the sky.

He curled up on the grass, stroking the dead skin, crooning to himself. He believed he"d once hacked the scar right off; the new wound he"d made had healed without a trace-but the original faint white line had reappeared in its proper place. It was the sole mark of his identity, now. His face, when he sought it in the mirrors inside the house, was unrecognizable. His name was a meaningless jumble of sounds. But whenever he began to lose his sense of himself, he only had to touch the scar to recall everything which defined him.

He closed his eyes.

He danced around the flat with Anna. She stank of alcohol, sweat and perfume. He was ready to ask her to marry him; he could feel the moment approaching, and he was almost suffocating with fear, and hope.

He said, "God, you"re beautiful."

Order my life, I"m nothing without you: fragments of time, fragments of words, fragments of feelings. Make sense of me. Make me whole.

Anna said, "I"m going to ask you for something I"ve never asked for before. I"ve been trying to work up the courage all day."

"You can ask for anything."

Let me understand you. Let me piece you together, hold you together. Let me help you to explain yourself.

She said, "I have a friend, with a lot of cash. Almost two hundred thousand marks. He needs someone who can-"

Thomas stepped back from her, then struck her hard across the face. He felt betrayed; wounded and ridiculous. She started punching him in the chest and face; he stood there and let her do it for a while, then grabbed both her hands by the wrists.

She caught her breath. "Let go of me."

"I"m sorry."

"Then let go of me."

He didn"t. He said, "I"m not a money-laundering facility for your friends."

She looked at him pityingly. "Oh, what have I done? Offended your high moral principles? All I did was ask. You might have made yourself useful. Never mind. I should have known it was too much to expect."

He pushed his face close to hers. "Where are you going to be, in ten years" time? In prison? At the bottom of the Elbe?"

"Fuck off."

"Where? Tell me?"

She said, "I can think of worse fates. I could end up playing happy families with a middle-aged banker."

Thomas threw her toward the wall. Her feet slipped from under her before she hit it; her head struck the bricks as she was going down.

He crouched beside her, disbelieving. There was a wide gash in the back of her head. She was breathing. He patted her cheeks, then tried to open her eyes; they"d rolled up into her skull. She"d ended up almost sitting on the floor, legs sprawled in front of her, head lolling against the wall. Blood pooled around her.

He said, "Think fast. Think fast."

Time slowed. Every detail in the room clamored for attention. The light from the one dull bulb in the ceiling was almost blinding; every edge of every shadow was razor sharp. Thomas shifted on the lawn, felt the grass brush against him. It would take so little strength, so little courage, so little love. It was not beyond imagining-

Anna"s face burned his eyes, sweet and terrible. He had never been so afraid. He knew that if he failed to kill her, he was nothing; no other part of him remained. Only her death made sense of what he"d become, the shame and madness which were all he had left. To believe that he had saved her life would be to forget himself forever.

To die.

He forced himself to lie still on the grass; waves of numbness swept through his body.

Shaking, he phoned for an ambulance. His voice surprised him; he sounded calm, in control. Then he knelt beside Anna and slid one hand behind her head. Warm blood trickled down his arm, under the sleeve of his shirt. If she lived, he might not go to prison-but the scandal would still destroy him. He cursed himself, and put his ear to her mouth. She hadn"t stopped breathing. His father would disinherit him. He stared blankly into the future, and stroked Anna"s cheek.

He heard the ambulance men on the stairs. The door was locked; he had to get up to let them in. He stood back helplessly as they examined her, then lifted her onto the stretcher. He followed them out through the front door. One of the men locked eyes with him coldly as they maneuvered the stretcher around the landing. "Pay extra to smack them around, do you?"

Thomas shook his head innocently. "It"s not what it looks like."

Reluctantly, they let him ride in the back. Thomas heard the driver radio the police. He held Anna"s hand and gazed down at her. Her fingers were icy, her face was white. The ambulance took a corner; he reached out with his free hand to steady himself. Without looking up, he asked, "Will she be all right?"

"Nobody will know that until she"s been X-rayed."

"It was an accident. We were dancing. She slipped."

"Whatever you say."

They sped through the streets, weaving through a universe of neon and headlights, rendered silent by the wail of the siren. Thomas kept his eyes on Anna. He held her hand tightly, and with all of his being willed her to live, but he resisted the urge to pray.
<dd><br><dd>30

The leaders of the Contact Group assembled in Maria"s apartment. They"d barely taken their seats when Durham said, "I think we should move to my territory before we proceed any further. I"m on the far side of the hub from the Autoverse region-for what that"s worth. If distance still means anything, we should at least try to run our models somewhere reliable."

Maria felt sick. The City itself was right beside the Autoverse: the fairground on the edge of the desert. But no Elysians were being computed in that public space; only buildings and puppet pedestrians. She said, "Six other founders have pyramids adjoining the Autoverse. If you think there"s a chance that effects are spilling over the border... can"t you find a pretext to get them to move their people as far away as possible? You don"t have to spell things out-you don"t have to tell them anything that might increase the danger." Durham said wearily, "I"ve had enough trouble persuading thirty-seven dedicated Autoverse scholars to occupy themselves with projects which will keep them out of our way. If I started suggesting to Elaine Sanderson, Angelo Repetto and Tetsuo Tsukamoto that they rearrange the geometry of their computing resources, it would take them about ten seconds to put the entire Autoverse under scrutiny, to try to find out what"s going on. And the other three pyramids are occupied by hermits who haven"t shown themselves since the launch; we couldn"t warn them even if we wanted to. The best thing we can do is deal with the problem as quickly-and inconspicuously-as possible."

Maria glanced at Dominic Repetto, but apparently he was resigned to the need to keep his family in the dark. She said, "It makes me feel like a coward. Fleeing to the opposite side of the universe, while we poke the hornet"s nest by remote control."

Repetto said drily, "Don"t worry; for all we know, the TVC geometry might be irrelevant. The logical connection between us and the Autoverse might put us at more risk than the closet physical neighbors."

Maria still chose to do everything manually, via her "solid" terminal; no interface windows floating in midair, no telepathic links to her exoself. Zemansky showed her how to run the obscure utility program which would transport her right out of her own territory. The less wealthy Copies back on Earth had darted from continent to continent in search of the cheapest QIPS-but in Elysium there would never have been a reason for anyone to shift this way, before. As she okayed the last query on the terminal, she pictured her model being halted, taken apart and piped through the hub into Durham"s pyramid-no doubt with a billion careful verification steps along the way... but it was impossible to know what even the most stringent error-checking procedures were worth, now that the deepest rules upon which they relied had been called into question.

As a final touch, Durham cloned the apartment, and they moved-imperceptibly-to the duplicated version. Maria glanced out the window. "Did you copy the whole City as well?"

"No. That"s the original you"re looking at; I"ve patched in a genuine view."

Zemansky created a series of interface windows on the livingroom wall; one showed the region running the Autoverse, with the triangular face which bordered Maria"s own pyramid seen head-on. On top of the software map-the midnight-blue of the Autoverse cellular automation program, finely veined with silver spy software-she overlayed a schematic of the Lambertian planetary system, the orbits weirdly chopped up and rearranged to fit into the five adjacent pyramids. The space being modeled was-on its own terms-a relatively thin disk, only a few hundred thousand kilometers thick, but stretching about fifty per cent beyond the orbit of the outermost planet. Most of it was empty-or filled with nothing but light streaming out from the sun-but there were no short-cuts taken; every cubic kilometer, however featureless, was being modeled right down to the level of Autoverse cells. The profligacy of it was breathtaking; Maria could barely look at the map without trying to think of techniques to approximate the computations going on in all the near-vacuum. When she forced herself to stop and accept the thing as it was, she realized that she"d never fully grasped the scale of Elysium before. She"d toured the Lambertian biosphere from the planetary level right down to the molecular-but that was nothing compared to a solar-system"s-worth of subatomic calculations.

Durham touched her elbow. "I"m going to need your authorization." She went with him to the terminal he"d created for himself in a corner of the room, and typed out the code number which had been embedded in her scan file back on Earth; the ninety-nine digits flowed from her fingers effortlessly, as if she"d rehearsed the sequence a thousand times. The code which would have granted her access to her deceased estate, on Earth, here unlocked the processors of her pyramid.

She said, "I really am your accomplice, now. Who goes to prison when you commit a crime using my ID?"

"We don"t have prisons."

"So what exactly will the other Elysians do to us, when they find out what we"ve done?"

"Express appropriate gratitude."

Zemansky zoomed in on the map to show the individual TVC processors along the border, and then enlarged the view still further to reveal their elaborate structure. It looked like a false-color schematic of an array of three-dimensional microcircuits-but it was too rectilinear, too perfect, to be a micrograph of any real object. The map was largely conjecture, now: a simulation guided by limited data flowing in from the grid itself. There were good reasons why it "should have been" correct, but there could be no watertight evidence that anything they were seeing was actually there.

Zemansky manipulated the view until they were peering straight down the middle of the thin layer of transparent "null" cells which separated the Autoverse region from Maria"s territory-bringing her own processors into sight for the first time. An arrow in a small key diagram above showed the orientation; they were looking straight toward the distant hub. All the processors were structurally identical, but those in the Autoverse were alive with the coded streams of activated states marking data flows, while her own were almost idle. Then Durham plugged her territory into the software he was running, and a wave of data swept out from the hub-looking like something from the stargate sequence in 2001-as the processors were reprogrammed. The real wave would have passed in a Standard Time picosecond; the map was smart enough to show the event in slow motion.

The reprogrammed processors flickered with data-and then began to sprout construction wires. Every processor in the TVC grid was a von Neumann machine as well as a Turing machine-a universal constructor as well as a universal computer. The only construction task they"d performed in the past had been a one-off act of self-replication, but they still retained the potential to build anything at all, given the appropriate blueprint.

The construction wires reached across the gap and touched the surface of the Autoverse processors. Maria held her breath, almost expecting to see a defensive reaction, a counterattack. Durham had analyzed the possibilities in advance: if the TVC rules continued to hold true, any "war" between these machines would soon reach a perpetual stalemate; they could face each other forever, annihilating each other"s "weapons" as fast as they grew, and no strategy could ever break the deadlock.

If the TVC rules failed, though, there was no way of predicting the outcome.

There was no-detectable-counterattack. The construction wires withdrew, leaving behind data links bridging the gap between the pyramids. Since the map was showing the links as intact, the software must have received some evidence that they were actually working: the Autoverse processors were at least reacting as they should to simple tests of the integrity of the connections.

Durham said, "Well, that"s something. They haven"t managed to shut us out completely."

Repetto grimaced. "You make it sound like the Lambertians have taken control of the processors-that they"re deciding what"s going on here. They don"t even know that this level exists."

Durham kept his eyes on the screen. "Of course they don"t. But it still feels like we"re sneaking up on some kind of... sentient adversary. The Lambertians" guardian angels: aware of all the levels-but jealously defending their own people"s version of reality." He caught Maria"s worried glance, and smiled. "Only joking."

Maria looked on as Durham and Zemansky ran a series of tests to verify that they really had plugged in to the Autoverse region. Everything checked out-but then, all the same tests had worked when run through the authorized link, down at the hub. The suspect processors were merely acting as messengers, passing data around in a giant loop which confirmed that they could still talk to each other-that the basic structure of the grid hadn"t fallen apart.

Durham said, "Now we try to stop the clock." He hit a few keys, and Maria watched his commands racing across the links. She thought: Maybe there was something wrong down at the hub. Maybe this whole crisis is going to turn out to be nothing but a tiny, localized bug. Perfectly explicable. Easily fixed.

Durham said, "No luck. I"ll try to reduce the rate."

Again, the commands were ignored.

Next, he increased the Autoverse clock rate by fifty percent-successfully-then slowed it down in small steps, until it was back at the original value.

Maria said numbly, "What kind of sense does that make? We can run it as fast as we like-within our capacity to give it computing resources-but if we try to slow it down, we hit a brick wall. That"s just... perverse."

Zemansky said, "Think of it from the Autoverse point of view. Slowing down the Autoverse is speeding up Elysium; it"s as if there"s a limit to how fast it can run us-a limit to the computing resources it can spare for us."

Maria blanched. "What are you suggesting? That Elysium is now a computer program being run somewhere in the Autoverse?"

"No. But there"s a symmetry to it. A principle of relativity. Elysium was envisioned as a fixed frame of reference, a touchstone of reality-against which the Autoverse could be declared a mere simulation. The truth has turned out to be more subtle: there are no fixed points, no immovable objects, no absolute laws." Zemansky betrayed no fear, smiling beatifically as she spoke, as if the ideas enchanted her. Maria longed to know whether she was merely concealing her emotions, or whether she had actually chosen a state of tranquility in the face of her world"s dethronement.

Durham said flatly, "Symmetries were made to be broken. And we still have the edge: we still know far more about Elysium-and the Autoverse-than the Lambertians. There"s no reason why our version of the truth can"t make as much sense to them as it does to us. All we have to do is give them the proper context for their ideas."

Repetto had created a puppet team of Lambertians he called Mouthpiece: a swarm of tiny robots resembling Lambertians, capable of functioning in the Autoverse-although ultimately controlled by signals from outside. He"d also created human-shaped "telepresence robots" for the four of them. With Mouthpiece as translator, they could "reveal themselves" to the Lambertians and begin the difficult process of establishing contact.

What remained to be seen was whether or not the Autoverse would let them in.

Zemansky displayed the chosen entry point: a deserted stretch of grassland on one of Planet Lambert"s equatorial islands. Repetto had been observing a team of scientists in a nearby community; the range of ideas they were exploring was wider than that of most other teams, and he believed there was a chance that they"d be receptive to Elysian theories.

Durham said, "Time to dip a toe in the water." On a second window, he duplicated the grassland scene, then zoomed in at a dizzying rate on a point in midair, until a haze of tumbling molecules appeared, and then individual Autoverse cells. The vacuum between molecules was shown as transparent, but faint lines delineated the lattice.

He said, "One red atom. One tiny miracle. Is that too much to ask for?"

Maria watched the commands stream across the TVC map: instructions to a single processor to rewrite the data which represented this microscopic portion of the Autoverse.

Nothing happened. The vacuum remained vacuum.

Durham swore softly. Maria turned to the window. The City was still standing; Elysium was not decaying like a discredited dream. But she felt herself break out in a sweat, felt her body drag her to the edge of panic. She had never really swallowed Durham"s claim that there was a danger in sharing their knowledge with the other Elysians-but now she wanted to flee the room herself, hide her face from the evidence, lest she add to the weight of disbelief.

Durham tried again, but the Autoverse was holding fast to its laws. Red atoms could not spontaneously appear from nowhere-it would have violated the cellular automaton rules. And if those rules had once been nothing but a few lines of a computer program-a program which could always be halted and rewritten, interrupted and countermanded, subjugated by higher laws-that was no longer true. Zemansky was right: there was no rigid hierarchy of reality and simulation anymore. The chain of cause and effect was a loop now-or a knot of unknown topology.

Durham said evenly, "All right. Plan B." He turned to Maria. "Do you remember when we discussed closing off the Autoverse? Making it finite, but borderless... the surface of a four-dimensional doughnut?"

"Yes. But it was too small." She was puzzled by the change of subject, but she welcomed the distraction; talking about the old days calmed her down, slightly. "Sunlight would have circumnavigated the universe and poured back into the system, in a matter of hours; Planet Lambert would have ended up far too hot, for far too long. It tried all kinds of tricks to change the thermal equilibrium-but nothing plausible really worked. So I left in the border. Sunlight and the solar wind disappear across it, right out of the model. And all that comes in is-"

She stopped abruptly. She knew what he was going to try next.

Durham finished for her. "All that comes in is cold thermal radiation, and a small flux of atoms, like a random inflow of interstellar gas. A reasonable boundary condition-better than having the system magically embedded in a perfect vacuum. But there"s no strict logic to it, no Autoverse-level model of exactly what"s supposed to be out there. There could be anything at all."

He summoned up a view of the edge of the Autoverse; the atoms drifting in were so sparse that he had to send Maxwell"s Demon looking for one. The software which faked the presence of a plausible intestellar medium created atoms in a thin layer of cells, "next to" the border. This layer was not subject to the Autoverse rules-or the atoms could not have been created-but its contents affected the neighboring Autoverse cells in the usual way, allowing the tiny hurricanes which the atoms were to drift across the border.

Durham sent a simple command to the atom-creation sub-process-an instruction designed to merge with the flow of random requests it was already receiving: inject a red atom at a certain point, with a certain velocity.

It worked. The atom conjured up in the boundary layer, and then moved into the Autoverse proper, precisely on cue.

Durham sent a sequence of a thousand similar commands. A thousand more atoms followed, all moving with identical vectors. The "random inflow" was no longer random.

Elysium was affecting the Autoverse; they"d broken through.

Repetto cheered. Zemansky smiled enigmatically. Maria felt sicker than ever. She"d been hoping that the Autoverse would prove to be unbreachable-and then, by symmetry, Elysium might have been equally immune to interference. The two worlds, mutually contradictory or not, might have continued on their separate ways.

She said, "How does this help us? Even if you can make this program inject the puppets into deep space, how would you get them safely down to Planet Lambert? And how could you control their behavior once they were there? We still can"t reach in and manipulate them-that would violate the Autoverse rules."

Durham had thought it all through. "One, we put them in a spaceship and drop that in. Two, we make them radio-controlled-and beam a signal at them from the edge of the model. If we can persuade the cold thermal radiation software to send in a maser beam."

"You"re going to sit here and try to design a spaceship which can function in the Autoverse?"

"I don"t have to; it"s already been done. One of the old plans for contact involved masquerading as "aliens" from another part of the Autoverse, to limit the culture shock for the Lambertians. We would have told them that there were billions of other stars, hidden from view by dust clouds shrouding their system. The whole idea was immoral, of course, and it was scrapped thousands of years ago-long before there were sentient Lambertians-but the technical work was completed and filed away. It"s all still there, in the Central Library; it should take us about an hour to assemble the components into a working expedition."

It sounded bizarre, but Maria could see no flaw in the plan, in principle. She said, "So... we"re crossing space to meet the aliens, after all?"

"It looks that way."

Repetto echoed the phrase. "Crossing space to meet the aliens. You must have had some strange ideas, in the old days. Sometimes I almost wish I"d been there."
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