by Michael J Watkins

The fires of creations are banked, and the galaxies themselves have long since burned to ash; we lie becalmed in a void unimaginably greater than the universe of our birth, cradling the dying embers of warmth and change, while outside these walls there is only stasis. Perhaps we cling to samsara while the world itself has shed its movement and achieved the eternal peace of unbeing, but as we are carried down these black rapids towards a destination we will never live to see, I prefer to believe that we preserve within ourselves the essence of what it means to be human: to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Even if the only things remaining to be found amidst the ruins of this once mighty cosmos are our selves, this must be enough; for now there is no time or distance, we have become vaster than galaxies, and the lives of the stars were the mayflies of our youth. 

William Willoughby watched the passengers board. The Lucasta was under slow spin, with a quarter gee in the cabin, just enough to make boarding easy for the flatlanders.

The passengers made up a colorful cross-section of the Centauri demographic, including two bona fide celebrities. Willoughby usually enjoyed boarding; the passengers were invariably excited, and most were keen to talk. There were always questions Willoughby had answered a hundred times before, but over ten years he'd polished his responses to a diplomatic shine. 

"Cheer up, boss," said Jenna. "We'll be home in a jiffy."

"It's going to feel like years," said Willoughby. 

Nobody wanted to talk to Willoughby today. Garry Templeton, first man to walk on three planets and countless moons, was returning to Earth to lead an expedition up Olympus Mons. All the passengers were either clustered around Templeton, listening to him wax poetical about the Procyon expedition, or waiting for Althea Landry to board. 

"We get paid for it though," observed Jenna. "Another four years of overtime will clear my student loans."

Jenna was an exobiology student from Clavius. She had shipped into Centauri three years earlier on a transfer scholarship to Reynolds. She was writing her dissertation on microbial extremophiles in the slushy methane ice of Proxima's tiny second world, and she was paying her way by stewarding the Lucasta. The Lucasta had spent the last ten years shuttling between the twin Centauri stars and Proxima, and for the last three years Willoughby had enjoyed the best steward he could ask for. He would be sorry to lose her. 

"Is it worth it?" he asked. "You'll have missed another four years, by the time you get back to Clavius."

Jenna shrugged. "It's not that long. Besides, it passes in a flash for us, right? I'll have another four years of news and movies to catch up on."

Templeton was still talking about the Procyon mission. Templeton and his crew had spent a year around Procyon, and Procyon was nearly twelve light years from Earth. The jump drive's time dilation effect let ships cross that gulf in an instant, but the clocks back home kept ticking as the ship fell across the lightlike geodesics. Templeton had been on a lot of interstellar missions, and by his date of birth he was one of the oldest men alive. He'd been born before the discovery of the first jump kernel. Subjectively, he was about the same age as Willoughby.

"They say he was in vacuum for thirty seconds at Procyon," said Jenna dreamily. "He saved three people's lives."

Willoughby sighed. 

A murmur of excitement went through the cabin, and a hundred pairs of eyes turned to watch Althea Landry descend the ramp to the passenger deck. She was wearing some kind of iridescent shift, waves of smoke laced with rainbows. Templeton be damned! Willoughby maneuvered for interception, and was cut off by a very short boy. 

"Captain Willoughby," said the boy, who looked about twelve. "I was told this is a jump-capable starship. It looks more like a Boeing 3400."

"It is a Boeing 3400," said Willoughby, looking over the boy's head. Garry Templeton was already talking to Landry as she stepped onto the deck. Her flaming red hair floated in the gentle spin gravity and her smile was radiant. Willoughby caught a delightful waft of cherry blossom. 

"I see," said the boy. "I thought the jump kernels required a special ship." Willoughby felt defensive. "The 3400 uses a kernel for its main drive," he said, "so we can use the same one for the jumper. That's the advantage of using this spaceframe."

"Of course," sniffed the boy, and walked off along the cabin, peering through hatches. As the most highly charged particles on the ship, Landry and Templeton seemed to have formed an instant bond, and Willoughby could feel the residual attraction from the other side of the cabin. The rest of the passengers floated around them in a diffuse orbital. Willoughby searched for his calm. 

Jenna watched him with amusement. "It's the outfit, isn't it? Who wears something like that in variable gees? Or is it the hair? I can't tell."

Willoughby retreated to the bridge. The bridge was located near the bow, for purely traditional reasons, aft of the docking ports and main sensor cluster. The Lucasta was an oblate sphere, with the reaction drive running through her spine. The passenger compartments ran around the equator, and under spin the Lucasta generated nearly half a gee of centripetal gravity in the cabins. The ship stored its cargo and reaction mass in tanks outboard of the passenger cabins, for ease of access and radiation shielding. The Observation Deck ran around the forward hull, a full three hundred and sixty degrees of panoramic diamond-glass windows. The O Deck was the only low gravity area accessible to passengers, and it was extremely popular. Willoughby had lost count of how many illicit liaisons he had interrupted on the O Deck.

Blackett was on the bridge, prepping the main drive. Perhaps wisely, his first officer preferred not to mingle with the cargo.

"Just waiting for the green light from the cabin," said Willoughby. "Then let's light the drive and move the old girl out."

"Is Althea Landry on board?" asked Blackett. 

"I guess so," replied Willoughby, looking over the kernel indicators. "Didn't see her myself. Shannon, report."

"Flight systems are go," said the Lucasta's AI. "Guidance is go. Instrumentation is go. Kernel in drive mode. Ground loop is open. Centauri traffic control is staffed by baboons, boss, let's get this show on the road."

"Fine," said Willoughby. He reminded himself that humor was a vital capacity in customer orientated service industries, whether you were based on carbon or silicon. "Soon as Jenna gets 'em stowed, damp our spin, light the drive and get us to the jump point."

Willoughby settled in next to Blackett, before the Lucasta's broad horseshoe console. He liked the Boeing's cockpit; it was comforting, womblike, all rounded corners and gentle curves. Although the horseshoe console was equipped with embedded displays and sensevid support, the walls were studded with switches and dials, mechanical backups for the Lucasta's fly-by-wire. The Boeing 3400 was an old workhorse, and a reliable one. Willoughby felt at home in the pilot's bucket seat.

With the passengers secure, the Lucasta's spin transferred to gyros, and in the passenger cabins down slowly become out. Blackett bled liquid hydrogen through the drive kernel's ergosphere, and a jet of superheated plasma pushed the Lucasta toward the jump point. The ship's spine was now a vertical shaft under half a standard gravity, and off-limits to passengers as long as the Lucasta was under thrust.

The Lucasta burned through two external tanks of liquid hydrogen, then coasted to the jump point on the geodesic between Centauri and Sol. It would take eight days to reach the primary harmonic, avoiding any outrageous expenditure of fuel and kernel spin. Alpha Centauri A and B were brilliant twin suns to aft; Sol was a bright star, four years in the future and a mere instant away.

Shockwaves from ancient supernovae ripple through the interstellar medium, the death cries of ancient suns enriching the thin gruel of hydrogen and helium with heavier metals. In the passing of the waves, denser regions form. Some grow large enough to collapse under their own gravity; the process accelerates, a growing storm in the darkness, contracting and spinning as the gravity well deepens. A knot of dense gas forms, grows hotter. Eventually pressures and temperatures within the whirlpool grow high enough for deuterium nuclei to fuse. Ignition! It takes millennia for the first light to emerge from the core, but the neutrino flash marks the birth of a new star. In the aftermath of deuterium fusion, temperatures and pressures within the protostar soar. Hydrogen nuclei soon begin to fuse, and the star begins to shine. Sol is on the main sequence at last.

Nearly all the gas within the primordial whirlpool gathers in the central fusion furnace, but much remains, turning in a widening gyre around the new Sun. Most falls into a second gravitational well that almost, but not quite, passes the threshold for starbirth. The rest forms rocky planetismals, and over a hundred million years the majority slowly coalesce into smaller worlds, sown with water and organics from tumbling comets. Out beyond the frost line, half a dozen smaller gas giants brood in the darkness; beyond them, a trillion frozen comets form a halo around the Sun, out where the central fusion fire is little more than a bright point lost in the night.

The young solar system is a place of shocking violence. Gas giants migrate outwards through the ecliptic, throwing entire worlds into the darkness. A rogue planetismal loops around the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit, eventually crashing into the cooling world that would one day become Earth. The planetismal disintegrates. Earth's crust is blown into space, and it rains molten rock for a thousand years. Most of the debris remains in orbit, quickly coalescing into an enormous moon, tugging at the ravaged Earth with fearsome tides.

Jupiter's gravity nurtures its own miniature solar system, cold worlds sculpted from ice and silicates that nonetheless harbor their own deep oceans. Venus blooms - rich with water, thick with air - but the maturing Sun grows too bright, too soon. Carbon dioxide boils out of the rocks. Temperatures and pressures climb inexorably, until the surface is hot enough to melt lead, and the Sun's light glows a pitiful orange through the eternal blanket of clouds. 

Mars fairs better, lying further from the Sun. The surface runs with liquid water for a billion years: warm, wet, thick with complex organics. Peculiar biochemical reactions begin in shallow pools. But Mars is small, a tenth the mass of Venus. The atmosphere is always thin, and the core of Mars is already solidifying, sapping the planet's magnetic field as the internal dynamo flickers and dies. Plate tectonics grinds to a halt. The solar wind begins to strip the atmosphere and throw it to the stars. Mars cools, then freezes, and the story of a world is finished before it can truly begin.

Earth is the size of Venus, rich with volatiles, but fifty million kilometers further from the warming Sun. Unlike Mars or Venus, Earth possesses a massive satellite. The Moon's tides stir Earth's molten core, encouraging the nascent dynamo, and raising huge tides on her new oceans. The world is a furnace of creativity, as biochemical reactions run riot through the planet's reserves of carbon. In a geological eyeblink the sky turns blue, as the air floods with oxygen, fuelling another wave of larger, more complex and energy-hungry organisms. The solar system is still an active and dangerous place: periodically, stray chunks of rocks and ice fall from Earth's skies. Some of the bolides are large, and the larger impact events throw the ecosystem into chaos for a million years. Earth's molten core comes with its own dangers: faultlines shift, magma boils up from the mantle in vast eruptions, the atmosphere floods with smoke and sulfides. In the aftermath of catastrophic climate change, environmental niches lie fallow; evolution moves swiftly to explore the gaps. Tectonic plates move in an endless geophysical dance, and mountains rise even as the weather tries to tear them down; the planet's axis slowly precesses and nutates, and the rain of sunlight across Earth's hemispheres slowly changes. Ice sheets wax and wane in megayear cycles as waves of glaciation wash up and down the continents. In Indonesia, another massive volcano erupts, cooling the Earth's climate for ten thousand years. Monsoon winds turn and fail, and drought sweeps across Africa. In the southern veldt, one line of primates has already risen to dominance, mastering the rudimentary arts of language and toolmaking, but they have survived in stasis for hundreds of millennia, surrounded by edible plants and plentiful game. Their diet is rich with oceanic protein and amino acids, sufficient to fuel an explosion of cortical growth and an exponential feedback loop of social dynamics. Their dreamtime ends, and the newly conscious primates consider their world. 

The drought hits them hard. Many tribes go extinct. The rest move in search of fresh hunting grounds. One line sweeps north, exploding throughout Europe and Asia, flooding the entire planet with their descendants. They find the new continents rich and fertile, with crops and animals ripe for domestication. Humanity gathers in larger groups, discovering and rejecting civilization a hundred times. Finally, in the aftermath of a retreating glaciation, the experiment takes hold, and burns across a world briefly blessed by a stable climate. In the blink of an eye humanity's numbers multiply a thousandfold. Cities rise, and another wave of extinction rages through the biosphere as one species consumes the Earth's net primary production. Humanity reaches the Moon, reaches Mars and a dozen asteroids, looks out across threads and filaments of galaxies. In the heart of Europe, minds that only recently mastered fire reach into the core of spacetime. Fingers that once dug flint from the African veldt now pluck at the weave of creation. The next wave of colonization touches the stars.

The Lucasta coasted through the jump point with her spin damped. Willoughby was pleased to see his first officer studying the inboard cameras. Passengers had an annoying habit of wandering about during periods of freefall, with frequently unpleasant results. Eventually the jump lights turned from amber to green. Willoughby took his permissions key from the lanyard around his neck and opened the safeties on the drive console. We'll spend four years frozen in amber, he thought. The next time I blink, I'll be looking at the Sun for the first time.

He flicked the drive switch.The Alpha Centauri binary vanished. The sky was black.

"Jump complete," announced Blackett. "Kernel power down to safe. Prepping for gees. Stand by for ullage on the inboard tanks."

Willoughby flicked the safeties back on and pulled the permissions key. Both men looked out of the bridge windows. It was very dark.

"Uh, let's get traffic control on the line," said Willoughby, looking out at the starless night.

"Antarctica Traffic Control," said Blackett. "This is flight 971 heavy out of Alpha C requesting guidance check."

"We're nowhere near the Sun," said Willoughby. "It's a misjump."

"No such thing," said Blackett. "Antarctica Traffic Control...."

"Shannon, confirm the jump coordinates. Shannon?"

"System check," said Shannon. "I am unable to connect to the port authority LAN. I am now operating at reduced capacity on local hardware."

"What? What does that mean?"

"AI capacity is limited. I am operating as an expert system."

Willoughby paused. "Shannon, confirm our location."

"Unknown. No external confirmation of jump coordinates. Negative stellar fix. I am not receiving guidance beacons."

"Okay," said Willoughby slowly. "Let's do this by the book. Pull up the flight manual."

"Right," said Blackett, cautiously. "I don't think this is in the flight manual. This isn't even covered in the sims."

"It's been years since the Lucasta made a jump this long," said Willoughby. As far as a jump kernel was concerned, there wasn't any difference between a kilometer and a parsec, but in ten years the Lucasta hadn't jumped further than Proxima. "Let's go through it step by step. Anything on comms?"

"Not even static. Have you ever had a real misjump?"

"No," said Willoughby. "Doesn't mean it can't happen."

"There's nothing out there," said Blackett. "Where the hell are we, the Bootes Void?"

The sky remained obstinately black. Willoughby put the Lucasta into a very slow roll, sweeping the sky for a navigational fix. Will watched the minutes tick by. Jenna's voice came over the intercom.

"Captain Willoughby, one of the passengers is asking to see you."

"Now really isn't the best time," said Willoughby.

"He's very insistent," said Jenna. "He seems to think there's something wrong."

Hell, thought Willoughby. The last thing he needed was mass panic amongst the passengers. He had to nip this in the bud before it took root.

"It's Garry Templeton," added Jenna, "so I've brought him upstairs."

Well of course you have, thought Willoughby irritably. When he opened the bridge door, he found Templeton floating in the corridor as though he owned the ship.

"Pardon the intrusion," said Templeton. "Clearly there has been some kind of mishap."

"We're dealing with it," said Willoughby shortly.

"No doubt. Would you happen to know where we've ended up?"
Willoughby ushered him onto the bridge and shut the door before any of the other passengers could overhear.

"How did you know?" demanded Blackett. 

"I was on the Observation Deck," said Templeton.

"Passengers are supposed to stay in their cabins until after the jump!" protested Willoughby. "The ship's still in freefall! What were you doing on the O-Deck?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Why not?"

For once, Templeton appeared lost for words. "I was admiring the view," he managed.

Blackett laughed, and Willoughby gave his first officer a glare cold enough to freeze helium. 

"Have you detected anything?" asked Templeton, recovering his composure.

"Nothing," said Blackett. "Shannon's not even picking up the microwave background."

Templeton frowned.

"Telescopes have detected an infrared source," announced Shannon. "Mass sensors confirm. Confidence is high."

"That's more like it," said Willoughby. "Shannon, report."

"The object is at a range of twenty million kilometers, ten degrees off our current vector. Radius six thousand kilometers, mass nought point six solar, surface temperature three hundred Kelvin." "Half a solar mass at three hundred Kelvin?" said Willoughby. "What the hell is that?"

"Unknown," said Shannon.

"A very cold white dwarf," suggested Templeton. 

"It can't be," said Blackett. "No white dwarf is that cold."

"This one is," said Templeton.

"There hasn't been time for them to cool that much," Blackett objected. It would take-"

Blackett stopped talking. 

"Ah," said Templeton. "I believe Mr Blackett and I have reached the same conclusion."

"If you'll excuse me," said Blackett, "I am badly in need of a drink. I believe we have some rather good whisky in the hold."

"Now look," said Willoughby, "there will be no drinking of the cargo until someone tells me what that object is."

"It's a black dwarf," said Blackett wearily. 

"Can we figure out our location from this?" asked Willoughby, who was beginning to suspect that he wouldn't like the answer. "For that matter, are we anywhere near the object's jump harmonic?"

"Captain Willoughby," said Templeton, "what Mr Blackett has realized is that the object we have detected should not yet exist."

"He's right," said Blackett. "It's too cold. Will, a star like the Sun eventually collapses to form a white dwarf. Very small, very dense."

"...and very hot," finished Templeton.

"I've been to Sirius, damn it," said Willoughby impatiently. "What's that thing outside?"

"White dwarf stars take a long time to cool down," continued Blackett. "The object out there is practically at room temperature, which would take...."

He trailed off. 

"May I address the ship's computer?" asked Templeton.

"Oh, you make yourself at home," said Willoughby. "She's not in the best of moods though. Shannon, passenger Templeton now has cockpit voice access."

"Acknowledged," said Shannon.

"Shannon," said Templeton. "Consider a white dwarf star of nought point six solar mass and a temperature of twenty thousand Kelvin. Estimate the time required for the star to cool to three hundred Kelvin."

"One hundred and fifty five trillion years," said Shannon promptly. "Plus or minus five trillion years."

"I told you," said Willoughby. "She's gone south."

"I apologize for the wide margin of error," added Shannon with a note of contrition. "I do not have an accurate equation of state."

"It sounds about right," said Blackett. "Would you mind if I went down to the hold?"

"It can't be right," said Wiloughby angrily. "Last I heard the whole universe is only fourteen billion years old."

Willoughby was struck by a horrible thought. 

"You're not suggesting," he said slowly, "that the object out there is... hang on a minute, what exactly are you suggesting?"

"It's probably the Sun," said Blackett, sounding very tired.

"Probably," agreed Templeton. "At any rate, it's a very old black dwarf."

"We're home," said Blackett, "but it appears we're rather late."

They contemplated the darkness. The bridge floodlights were dimmed. Beyond the windows, there was nothing to see.

"We should consider what to tell the passengers," said Willoughby thoughtfully.

"Exactly what do you plan on telling them?" inquired Templeton, with obvious interest.

"I'm not sure yet," said Willoughby. "But in a few hours they're going to realize something's up."

"It might be a good idea to seal off the Observation Deck," suggested Templeton.

I should have thought of that, thought Willoughby. He left the bridge and made his way along the axis to the O-Deck hatch. He ran into Jenna coming the other way.

"I'm not moving until you tell me what's going on," said Jenna. "Why isn't there anything on the radio?"

"I'm going to the O-Deck," he muttered. "Come on."

Jenna raised an eyebrow. "I thought this day would never come."

He pretended not to hear her. The O-Deck hatch was open, and there was a distinct smell of cherry blossom in the air. His earpiece chimed.

"Will, it's Blackett. The microwave background is below a hundredth of a Kelvin, and if there are any other stars out there, they're too dim and far away to see with our available instruments."

An obvious question occurred to Willoughby. "Has Shannon detected any planets?"
"No," said Blackett. "But they'd be very difficult to find. I'll get back to you."

"What's going on?" demanded Jenna. Willoughby pulled her through the hatch and dogged it behind them.

"Something happened to the drive," he said. "Templeton thinks the jump took longer than it should."

Jenna looked annoyed. "I've got a holiday booked."

"Jen, look out the window."
The sky beyond the observation deck's panoramic windows remained utterly black.

"Where's the Sun?" asked Jenna, puzzled. 

I really don't want to tell her, thought Willoughby.

"We think it's over there," he said quietly, gesturing past the ship's bow. "Jen, in a little while you're going to have to tell the passengers what I'm going to tell you...."

Willoughby thought Jenna handled the news with admirable calm. She left him in the ship's spine, saying she had to take requests for the midday meal. As he returned to the bridge, Willoughby started to wonder how much food they had on board.

"How did she take it?" asked Templeton.

"Better than I did." admitted Willoughby. "When we need to let people know, they'll take it better from her."

"We haven't detected any other objects in the system," Blackett told him. "We haven't detected anything, for that matter."

"Every star in the universe is dead," added Templeton helpfully. "If we did a deep field we might pick something up, but everything outside the Local Group will be over the horizon by now."

"Look," said Willoughby, "Are you two sure about this?"

"No...." said Templeton.

"Yes," said Blackett.

"...but it seems the most likely explanation," finished Templeton. 

"How the hell did this happen?"

Blackett shrugged. "A ship in jump follows a lightlike trajectory, yes? The ship gets to its destination like a photon. No subjective time passes on the ship, and it effectively travels at c. Well, supposedly what really happens is that the kernel's spacetime coordinates instantaneously shift to any valid point on its future light cone, and everything within the field goes with it. So the trip from Centauri to Earth takes four years objective, but it's instantaneous for us."

"Or that's what should happen," said Willoughby. "What did happen?"

"There are two other modes in the mathematics of the jump drive," said Blackett. "Spacelike trajectories would be faster than light. The ship would act like a tachyon, traveling faster than c. You would travel outside your light cone, and maybe arrive before you left. Or timelike trajectories, where the ship wouldn't actually go anywhere, it would just disappear and reappear some time later."

"I haven't heard anything about this!" protested Willoughby.

"It's not actually supposed to happen," explained Blackett. "It's just in the maths. Only the lightlike trajectories are valid solutions. The spacelike and timelike trajectories are non-physical. They don't occur in the real world."

"Well, sometimes ships do go missing," Templeton pointed out.

"Does anyone actually have any ideas?" asked Willoughby.

Jenna arrived with bulbs of coffee. "I fed the passengers," she said. "That should keep them quiet for a while. Most of them seem to be simming one of Althea Hendry's sensevids."

"How are they holding up?" asked Templeton.

"They still don't know anything's wrong," said Jenna, "but I believe I'm in deep shock."

"You too?" asked Blackett.

"Oh yes," said Jenna. "I'm not well at all. Perhaps we should take a closer look at the Sun."

"It's had it," said Blackett. "Black dwarf. Not even giving off visible light. It's dead, Jen."

"It's the only energy source around," said Jenna patiently. "If there's anything going on around here, that's where we should look."

"The universe is ten thousand times older than we remember," said Blackett. "Everything is cold and dead."

"I agree with Miss Blake," said Templeton. "Besides, we don't have anything better to do."

"Can we risk a jump?" asked Willoughby.

Blackett's look told him all he needed to know.

"Alright," he said. "Jenna, let's prep for gees."

The Sun - assuming it was the Sun - was a dead black circle on a perfect black field, completely invisible to the unaided human eye. Willoughby was beginning to find the view outside extremely disturbing. It was like being dead.

"I'm just saying I'm not happy about it," said Jenna. "That's all I'm saying."

"It buys us some time," insisted Templeton. "Once they find out what's happened, there's going to be pandemonium."

After some discussion, Jenna had told the passengers that the Lucasta had missed its jump point, and that they would be continuing their journey through normal space. Which was entirely true, thought Willoughby. Meanwhile, the passengers were making good use of the duty free supplies.

In visible light the Sun was blacker than pitch. In infrared, the Sun gave out a feeble glow. It was the size of the Earth, smooth as a bowling ball, and as hot as lukewarm coffee.

"Anything?" asked Willoughby. He wasn't quite sure what he was expecting. The distant descendants of humanity, clustered around the last remaining warmth like cavemen around a dying campfire? He was having difficulty visualizing the immense span of time they had crossed. If the universe, all fourteen billion years of it, had been a one year old child when the Lucasta jumped, it would now be a cadaver ten thousand years dead. One hundred and fifty five trillion years. The age of the universe he remembered, the epoch of bright stars and brilliant galaxies, was now an insignificant period lying in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang. For most of its history, the cosmos had been cold, and dark, and empty. He shivered. 

"We can't find anything in orbit," said Blackett. "We're not even picking up stray protons. Hardest vacuum I've ever seen."

Jenna was watching the infrared image of the Sun on the main monitor.

"Is it rotating?" she asked.

"How could we tell?" mused Templeton. "We don't have any reference points, apart from ourselves."

"There's no equatorial bulge," said Blackett, "so I assume it's not rotating."

Templeton nodded. "Good thinking."

"Or it's rotating extremely slowly," added Blackett. "No magnetic field either. It's just a ball of cooling degenerate matter. Completely inert."

"What are those markings?" asked Jenna.

Neither Blackett nor Templeton had any idea.

In deep infrared, the Sun was scratched with an intricate filigree of geometric patterns. The patterns weren't quite random, and they didn't quite repeat, but human minds struggled to generate some kind of order out of the chaos. Honeycomb cells echoed down into the darkness, surrounded by interlocking spirals and meaningless scrimshaw. Willoughby wasn't quite sure why, but he found the overall impression....

"Does it bother anyone?" he asked finally.

"Yes," said Jenna. "It makes my eyes hurt."

"The whole star's a big carbon crystal," said Blackett. "It's probably solid all the way to the core, but maybe the patterns are from upwelling heat, or cracks in the crust?"

"There are patterns down to the resolution of Shannon's instruments," said Templeton. "About a centimeter at this range. No reason to suspect they stop there, but if we move any closer we'll start to feel significant tide across the Lucasta's diameter."

"I really don't like it," said Jenna. "It hurts to look at."

The patterns changed.

"Did you see that?" asked Willoughby.

"Yes," said Templeton, uneasily. "We all did."

Down at the deepest scales, the Sun's fractal surface had pulsed, shifting instantly to a new geometry. Willoughby saw hints of a cellular structure, like rotten black honeycomb.

It's only a star, thought Willoughby. How can it possibly look so foul?

"I think - " began Jenna.

The ship's hull rang like a bell. Willoughby felt a sickening lurch, as though he'd been punched in the stomach and stretched on a rack. He heard circuit breakers trip. All the lights went out.

"Hardware failure," announced Shannon. "Firmware reboot."

It was horribly quiet and utterly black. The ventilators are off, thought Willoughby. His head bumped against the hull, and he scrambled for a handhold. He could hear the others breathing. The lights flickered, then came back to life. The screens rebooted a moment later.

"What in Buddha's name was that?" asked Willoughby.

"Will," said Jenna, "let's get the hell out of here."

"I agree," said Templeton calmly. "Spin up the jump kernel."

"We can't jump," said Blackett. "We're not at a jump point."

"And the drive's fubared," added Willoughby.

"Try it," insisted Templeton. "If the kernel's gone timelike we won't need a jump point."

Blackett hesitated. Dim infrared light ran across the face of the Sun. A dank stain spread through the entire visible hemisphere, like pale blood pulsing through a delicate spiderweb of broken capillaries. 

"It looks bruised," whispered Jenna.

"That was a gravity wave," said Templeton. "Blackett, I strongly suggest we move the ship."

An invisible sledgehammer slammed against the Lucasta's hull. Willoughby heard the main bus breakers cut out. The lights went off again. The Lucasta's superstructure groaned in protest.

"Hardware failure," announced Shannon in the darkness. "Firmware reboot."

Blackett cracked his head against the drive console. When the lights came back up, the flight engineer was in a flat spin, drifting slowly towards the bow. The instrument panels flickered with caution and warning indicators. Will pushed off Templeton and made for the drive controls. He pulled the key from around his neck, slid it smoothly into the permissions slot, turned it clockwise.

"Quick as you can," said Templeton.

The drive coordinates were still set for Earth. The hell with it, thought WIll. He punched CONFIRM. The screens came back to life. He glanced up, and the dead star filled his vision. Jenna was watching it in horror as squirming cilia crawled along insectile avenues of darkness. Will released the safety and flicked the drive switch. The Lucasta vanished.

"...crawling," said Jenna.

"Those were gravity waves," said Blackett, sounding groggy. "How could that happen?"

"...the switch," Willoughby said. "Where are we?"

"Same place." said Templeton. His eyes were fixed on the screens. "How fast can you recycle the drive?"
Will followed his gaze. The dead Sun still filled the screens, its black surface mottled and bruised like like gangrenous flesh. It was older now, though by how much he couldn't guess. He recycled his permissions key and confirmed the jump coordinates.

"How long?" asked Jenna quietly. "How much longer has it been?"
"I don't know," said Blackett. "The star's colder. A lot colder."
Templeton's eyes remained fixed on the black dwarf.
The intercom panel was uniformly lit. Jenna could only imagine the chaos on the passenger deck. "I'm going downstairs," she said.

"Wait," said Willoughby. "I think -"
In the deep infrared, the dead Sun's hideous scrimshaw writhed like a nest of snakes.
"Jump," said Templeton. "Jump now."
Will cycled the drive switch. 

The Sun is five billion years old, a middle aged star. On the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, the Sun is a G2 yellow dwarf, with a surface temperature of 6000 Kelvin. The fusion core runs at fourteen million Kelvin, steadily burning hydrogen to helium and warming its family of worlds.
The Sun is one of half a trillion stars, lying in one arm of a stellar whirlpool: the Milky Way. The Milky Way itself is one part of the Local Group, a family of mighty galaxies huddled together against the dark, tied together by threads of gravity strong enough to resist the inexorable expansion of space itself. Andromeda, the Milky Way's largest neighbor, looms ever larger in the sky. Spiral arms distort, stars trembles in their courses, and the two galaxies fall together. Few stars collide: there is room enough for the two galaxies to pass through each other, a magic trick of cosmic proportions. But their spiral arms are thick with dust and unfused hydrogen. 
Shockwaves erupt throughout the merging galaxies. Compression waves trigger an orgy of starbirth unlike anything seen since the first days of creation. Andromeda merges with her sister, forming an elliptical mass of more than a trillion stars. Finally, after a dozen passes, the galactic cores merge. Two supermassive black holes collide, their event horizons rippling like soap bubbles. The release of energy dwarfs a cluster of supernovae. The accretion disks of the newly merged collapsar burns in a blinding furnace of light, visible across the curve of the universe. A wind of high energy gamma rays blows through the new galaxy, sterilizing entire solar systems, snuffing out a hundred billion planetary biologies.
In this epoch the Sun has drifted far from the merging cores. The Earth survives, though barely. The ozone layer is completely destroyed by the initial gamma ray flash, and the rain of more massive particles continues for ten million years. As the hail of energetic cosmic rays strikes the upper atmosphere, heavy particles shatter into a cascade of secondary radiation. The planet's ecosystem is badly damaged.
The Sun is eight billion years old.

Twelve hours before boarding, Althea Landry, holdall in hand, baseball cap on head, stepped out of the lift car after three days climbing the Thalassa cable. Nobody recognized her as she passed through the arrivals terminal, and she smiled to herself. She was wearing jeans, a favorite sweatshirt and a pair of trainers so old she'd patched them with duct tape. 
Nobody's even given me a second glance, thought Althea. Earth, here I come.
The arrivals terminal was in microgravity. The cable from Rhapsody up to geosynchronous orbit and through the center of the Anchorpoint asteroid, and the cable's lifts emptied into a vast auditorium threaded with tethers and floatways. Anchorpoint was a little beyond Thalassa's geosynchronous point, maintaining tension on the orbital cable. That gave the station a little tide, just enough to provide a sense of down. Winged stewards fluttered around the arrivals hall, providing assistance to struggling flatlanders. Althea was familiar with microgravity; it made her feel free. She made her way along the axis to the elevators, and took a tube down to the spin ring. The ring encircled Anchorpoint, slowly turning around the cable's axis to provide an imitation of Thalassa's surface gravity for the asteroid's hotels, malls, shops, parks, galleries and apartments.
Jann had booked her into a salon on the spin ring, and she let three days of travel soak away in a scalding bath as a team of anonymous beauticians fussed over her hair and nails. Then it was off to see Jann. She walked into vis hotel suite and gaped at the decorations. It was like stepping into a museum. The floor was an intricate mosaic of delicate ceramic  tesserae, and the centerpiece was a huge urn taller than Jann vimself. Water spilled from the urn and flowed through channels across the floor.
"Althea!" exclaimed Jann, as if ve hadn't seen her in years. "What have they done to you? Here, I will fix everything."
"Did you pick this room?"
"Of course! One day I will see the home islands, although I doubt they look like this now. Isn't it wonderful? Now, let me look at you."
Althea stood in front of vim. She was still carrying her holdall over her shoulder. Her sweatshirt had a cartoon picture of a martian on the front. The martian was holding a stylized raygun and saying, where is the kaboom.
"You look like you've been working on a ranch," chastised Jann. Ve sounded as if ve were in genuine pain. "It's like throwing mud over a fine painting. At least they have done your hair."
"I just got off the beanstalk," said Althea. "I've spent three days in a lift. A very small lift. How do you expect me to look?"
"There is no excuse," said Jann. "It was your decision to travel economy. Remove those shapeless pret-a-porter mockeries this instant, for I have something new! Look at this."
"What is this stuff?" asked Althea, holding the sample up to the light. It looked like smoke. Jann's hotel room was in the side of the ring, and a broad window looked down on Thalassa along the length of the cable. The visible hemisphere was in full daylight, and Centauri B - Thalassa's primary - and its sister star both shone across Thalassa's oceans. The material caught the blue light and split the spectrum into rainbow patterns. It was alarmingly sheer, and she hoped Jann planned to layer it.
"It's theiss," said Jann, "the most wonderful material I have ever worked with. It's like a summer breeze on Thalassa."
"Yes, it's very nice," agreed Althea, kicking off her trainers and hanging her jeans and sweatshirt over an eerily lifelike rendition of a Samurai warrior. "Shockingly expensive, of course?"
"Obscenely overpriced," said Jann dreamily. "And those, off. Now, stand up straight! These parts cling, like so. Now turn. The rest floats like sunlight on the wind. Beautiful, yes?"
"Oh, Jann," said Althea, "I thought this was a sample. I know you like this stuff, but couldn't you have come up with something more practical?"
Jann looked at vis creation critically. "It is nearly perfect," ve announced, with a note of pride. "Stand on this while I adjust the hem."
"This is what you're calling a hem these days?"
"Stand up straight," said Jann. "The shorter the skirt, the longer the leg,"
"If you make my legs any longer I can just walk to Earth," said Althea. "I liked it when I had to wear a pressure suit. Remember, that three week shoot? Sure, it was tight as hell, but at least I got to wear something. I didn't even mind the frostbite and expansion bruising"
"There," said Jann, evidently satisfied. "Turn, and look in the mirror."
Althea regarded herself in the mirror from various angles. "Jann," she sighed, "I don't really know how to put it. I mean, honestly, Jann."
"It's your farewell cruise," said Jann. "I received guidelines, and I am in a classical phase. The studio is financing your ticket and they want to get their money's worth from the networks. A little decolletage goes a long way."
"A little... this stuff is very pretty, Jann, but I might as well not wear anything at all."
Jann looked hopeful. "That would make the studio very happy."
"I'm sure it would," she said. "And no."
"We used paint on Reynolds," said Jann, sounding wistful. "For the awards ceremonies. There was one design we did, the Eagle Nebula, all gold and black. I was in all the trades. I was even interviewed on the news. I have paint with me."
"That was on Reynolds," said Althea. "Nothing's out of place on Reynolds. You could turn up wearing half a shrubbery and pair of ferrets and nobody would bat an eyelid. There's a time and a place."
"Well, in that case I guess we're done," said Jann, regretfully. "Here. Shoes."
"Oh, gods. I won't have to walk far in them, I suppose."
Althea realized that Jann looked dejected. He had worked hard over the years, she thought. For her first premiere on Velvet, she had worn a one-of-a-kind satin gown, sweeping to the floor with a long trail. She'd worn flowers in her hair and a diamond necklace brought from Earth by the first colony boat. Real diamonds, dug from kimberlite pipes and forged in the homeworld's mantle. The gown had been elegant, sensuous but refined. She had felt like old Earth royalty. 
"I will miss working with you, Miss Landry," said Jann. "My designs were only ever adequate, but you always made them beautiful."
"Oh Jann," she said, and hugged vim. His head barely reached her shoulder. "I'll miss you too. I promise to write, and you can send me designs, okay?"
"Yes," said Jann. "I will do that. Now go, and remember me to Earth."
She hugged vim tightly for a long time. Eventually a porter turned up and made off with her holdall.
"Bye then," said Althea, feeling misty. She left Jann, who now looked very small and rather lonely, in vis historical retreat and headed for checkin. As she stood in the queue to deposit her holdall, she heard whispers from the crowd behind her.
So much for blending in, thought Althea. I should be used to it by now, I suppose. Enjoy it while it lasts, then become another name amongst the billions of Earth, one more in a torrent of faces.
Althea had left plenty of time before departure, so she walked around the spin ring, browsing the shops. She ate shellfish brought up the cable from Thalassa's shallow northern seas. It was good, but suddenly she realized that she'd miss the fresh catch. She ended up carrying her shoes, and eventually she stopped checking her dress and put her faith in static electricity. She walked down onto the gallery and looked down on Thalassa for the last time through the diamondoid walls. She could see the cable, a thin black line disappearing down to Rhapsody's equatorial anchor and Thalassa's tropical archipelagos. She searched for the distinctive cleft of the Great Reef, and tracked northwards until she found her home. 
Althea sat and looked into the blue for a long time. A cyclone was growing above the warm waters of the southern hemisphere, white clouds spiraling around a central eye. After a few minutes a young girl came and shyly asked her for an autograph. Althea signed diaries and notebooks until she heard her first boarding announcement, then took an elevator up to departures. The terminal was at the far end of Anchorpoint's axis, a huge weightless arena studded with docking ports. Boarding was delayed by an hour, but she didn't mind. Weightlessness felt like flying. She couldn't see Thalassa anymore, but the windows looked out at the stars.

As the Sun continues to age, helium ash accumulates in the core. The core grows dense. The rate of fusion increases. The Sun warms, growing ten percent hotter every billion years. As the Sun grows hotter, the habitable zone - the  narrow band within which liquid water can exist on a planetary surface - moves inexorably outward through the solar system. 
Venus grows more hellish still. Mars is warming, released from its long ice age by the brightening Sun; the planet's ice caps melt, rivers flow, the atmosphere thicks, oceans rise out of the bedrock. On Earth, species begin to confront thermal barriers to their survival. As the air temperature rises, enzyme pathways become stressed. Life begins to retreat from the land, and Earth's natural tendency towards homeostasis begins to break down. As the atmosphere warms, carbon dioxide is drawn out of the air by weathering, and the greenhouse effect wanes. For a while, the effect counteracts the warming Sun, but carbon dioxide is the fuel for photosynthesis. As the partial pressure of carbon dioxide falls, terrestrial autotrophs - plants - begin to fail. The basis of the terrestrial food chain collapses. Life retreats, deep into the oceans where it began, down into the rock that will become life's final refuge. The oceans are evaporating, filling the atmosphere with water vapor. The water vapor traps more of the Sun's increasing heat, and a final, unstoppable feedback loop begins.
The Sun's core is now heavy with helium ash. Fusion in the core fails, and the core collapses to a point where it is only supported by its own electron degeneracy pressure. Outside the core, temperatures in a shell of hydrogen rise, and the Sun begins fusing hydrogen again, far more rapidly than before. The Sun's luminosity increases a thousandfold, and its outer layers balloon outwards, engulfing first Mercury, then Venus. Waves of abandoned starstuff billow through the aging solar system.
Earth is long dead, her oceans evaporated, the water burned from her rocks, her air lost to space. The red Sun fills the sky of ruined Earth, scorching the planet to a lifeless cinder. Around mighty Jupiter, the ice moons melt, and their oceans are at last revealed to the sky. With fresh sunlight to drive photosynthesis, the primordial Jovian ecosystems are no longer bound to the low energy constraints of chemosynthesis: the former ice moons bloom in a riot of creation. The Sun continues to warm. In time, liquid water runs freely on the surface of Pluto. A final, ephemeral spring dawns on the edge of interstellar space.
Much of the Sun's mass has been lost, blown to the stars. Earth and her giant Moon escape their mother's last embrace, though barely; at its greatest expansion the bloated red giant fills the sky, surpassing the orbit of Venus, and the dry beds of Earth's ancient seas run molten with their final oceans.
The Sun is twelve billion years old.

Jenna always enjoyed boarding. The passengers were an interesting cross-section of the Centauri demographic, and this time she wondered why they were making the jump to Earth. Four years gone in the blink of an eye, eight if you planned on coming back.
She spotted Garry Templeton. Jenna hadn't even been born when he made the jump to Procyon, but she grew up reading about his previous expeditions. She decided to make a point of meeting him. It would be fascinating to hear his accounts firsthand. Besides, she thought, he was handsome as hell: tall, broad shouldered, his chestnut hair bleached by sunlight. She would have expected him to wear a flight suit, but he wore a three piece suit, with a subtle row of jump pins across one lapel. Templeton was one of the oldest men alive, in the local rest frame, which seemed to grant him a peculiar mystique.

Jenna checked people off as they boarded, doing her best to commit their names to memory. William Atheling, a novelist and playwright she sometimes enjoyed; Carl Berger, who was apparently one of the wealthiest men on Reynolds, and his twelve year old son. 
And here came Althea Landry, star of the moment, descending the curving ramp from the ship's axis to the passenger cabin. Jenna actually liked her movies, and she had a gift for sensevid. Landry was said to have the perfect degree of sensory crosstalk, so you could stream the raw sensorium feed with hardly any rendering. Landry had earned an astonishing sum of money from a handful of films and sensevids while she was, according to her boarding pass, still a year younger than Jenna, who was saddled with a distressing amount of debt. But Jenna was amused to see the effect her presence had on Will.
"Y'a du monde au balcon," she muttered. Willoughby didn't seem to hear her, and he was suddenly accosted by Carl Berger's son. Jenna watched with amusement.
"It's the outfit, isn't it?" said Jenna. Landry appeared to be wearing real theiss. Jenna couldn't imagine how it stayed on, not that it mattered much. "Who wears something like that in variable gees? Or is it the hair?"
Jenna absently pulled at a loose thread on her flight suit. Flight suits were ideal for microgravity. They were hard wearing and full of pockets, so you always had somewhere to store random kibble. Jenna even wore her flight suit on her days off.
Willoughby retreated to the bridge. The Lucasta's spin slowed, and in the passenger cabin, down slowly became out as the main drive kicked in. En route to the jump point, Jenna busied herself with the passengers. She had taken a part time stewarding job as a convenience, but she was surprised to find that she'd miss it. Her presence on board was a luxury, really; the passenger facilities were almost entirely automated, and they'd never had to enact emergency procedures. The Lucasta's AI could have performed nearly all Jenna's routines, especially with sensevid support. Jenna recommended recipes from the galley and made selections from the entertainment library. It was hardly challenging, but she'd miss it. It would be good to see home, but by the time she reached Earth again she would have been away for eleven years. Only three years, in her timeframe, but it was still a long time.
A few hours after departure she found Althea Landry in the galley, browsing the ship's menus. Jenna hesitated.
"I was looking for something soothing," Landry said. 
"Do you have a patch?" asked Jenna. "You can tap into Shannon and she'll scrip you something from the pharmacy."
"No, but I have a pearl," said Althea. "It does everything a patch does. But the couple in the seats next to me recommended some kind of tea. Is it this one?"
"Oh," said Jenna. "I guess."
She's got a soulcatcher pearl, thought Jenna. She'd never met anyone with a pearl.
Althea saw her expression. "It was a gift from the order," she said, "I probably wouldn't have thought of it myself."
Why would you, thought Jenna. Pearls were still extraordinarily expensive, and out of reach for all but the wealthiest citizens. Berger probably had one. She wondered if Templeton did. Everything that reached Althea's senses was copied onto a tiny pearl of spin memory, implanted in the back of her skull. If and when the technology became available, you might be able to take a pearl and read the data out into a new mind. For the absurdly wealthy, they were an insurance policy against accidents or the unexpected failure of antisenescence treatments. For others, they were the gift of eidetic memory. For Landry, it had been a gift from the order... which order, Jenna wondered.
"I'm joining Recording Angels," said Althea. "On Earth."
Jenna gaped. "You are?"
"Yes. Sounds like fun, don't you think? And in a few years pearls will be in the commonwealth. Everyone will have one."
Jenna had taken feeds from Recording Angels through Sensevid. Some had been educational, but most were pure wish fulfillment. She'd ascended Everest and the caldera walls of Pavonis Mons through the senses of world-class climbers, skydived from Low Earth Orbit to the Maldives, ridden a stunning black stallion through the breaking surf with the sun setting dark and fiery in the west. Through sensevid, those adventures were extraordinarily powerful. She could only imagine what such experiences might feel like if she had her own pearl, tied directly into her nervous system: the pearl would provide not merely sensory input and rudimentary physiological feedback, but the entire spectrum of interpretation and emotional response. And then there was the other side of the business, the side that had made Recording Angels into a trillion dollar industry. 
"Wow," said Jenna. "Whatever made you - I mean, not that there's anything -"
Althea was looking at her primly. "I'm mainly going to be doing travelogs," she said. "And before you ask, all those scenes in my movies were computer generated. You can tell because the raw feed cuts out. I haven't even seen most of them."
"Travelogs? Oh, that sounds wonderful," said Jenna, inwardly wincing. "Bit of a change, hey?"
Althea shrugged. "I never wanted to be a sensevid star, you know. It just happened when I was cast in that movie. It's been good to me - afterwards I bought the location - but I always wanted to be a travel writer. Earth's so full of people, I won't be as visible there."
I wouldn't be so sure about that, thought Jenna. She suspected that Althea's fame would precede her to Earth. She really was a good actress, but she was in demand as a sensevid host. She was born a natural tetrachromate with extraordinary acuity, and her other senses were equally enhanced, a legacy of early Thalassan germline engineering. Jenna had met her share of famous passengers, but she suddenly realized she was, to her own disgust, a little starstruck. She had also assumed Landry's entire appearance was enhanced in postproduction along with her remarkable embonpoints, and she was a little annoyed to discover that the porcelain-skinned formes genereuse that graced so many billboards and commercials was if anything more real in the flesh.
"I like your necklace," said Jenna lamely. I'm an idiot, she thought.
"Les Voyageurs de la Petite Mort," said Althea. "Very popular on Velvet. I'm not practicing, really, but the chapter house is in the town where I was born."
"We've had them on board every time we've jumped to Proxima," said Jenna. "They were just traveling for the jump, I guess."
"Oui," said Althea. "la petite mort de la voyage. I took the Proxima jump for my samskaras. Family tradition more than anything else. My parents took ghabhadhana en route."
Jenna looked blank. "I don't really know the tradition."
"Oh, samskaras are just... the waypoints on the journey, I suppose. Ghabhadhana is conception. There are sixteen, if you're orthodox. I've marked fourteen, between here and Proxima. Obviously you don't have much choice about the early ones."
"Does it... what does it feel like?" asked Jenna cautiously. Proxima was a fifth of a light year from the Centauri twins. The Lucasta made the crossing instantaneously, by shiptime. The elapsed shipboard time was precisely zero. To an observer at rest with respect to Centauri, the trip took seventy two days.
Althea laughed. "You mean, are you conscious for seventy two days?"
"The transcendent mind as pure unparticulated consciousness," said Althea, "free from the shackles of matter...."
She was quoting from Voyageur texts, Jenna realized. Unlike the Centauri government or any other human institution, the church and its microstates on Thalassa and Velvet included jump time when calculating a person's age. By the doctrine of the Voyageurs de la petite mort, Templeton really was centuries old: he'd spent the jump intervals in a state of divine grace, freed from the tyranny of matter - or dead, according to some interpretations. According to the church, just because Templeton couldn't remember the time he spent in jump didn't make it any less real. Duration in the jump kernel's frame was not technically zero, they pointed out; more accurately, shipboard duration was undefined.
"The short answer," said Althea, "is that you don't feel anything. One instant you're here, the next you're there."
"Oh," said Jenna, disappointed.
"Sometimes I thought I felt something," Althea said. "Dreams, maybe. And sometimes afterwards it feels like you've been asleep for a long time. My last samskara was when I graduated college in Rhapsody. Samavartana. Afterwards I thought I'd dreamed. It's probably just my imagination. But the jump to Earth takes four years."
"You think you'll experience something? During the jump?"
Althea shrugged. "I'm not sure I believe any of it, to be honest. My parents bought into it. Thank you for the tea."
Jenna watched Althea return to her seat. The Voyageurs are gnostics, thought Jenna, a strange amalgamation of more than a dozen Terran religions and secular philosophies. The early settlers on Velvet had been broadly heterogenous, and their traditions turned out to be unashamedly promiscuous; the hybrid societies which emerged from Velvet's melting pot were gene-spliced chimeras, patchwork quilts sown from millennia of Earth's history. Jenna could barely imagine what faiths might have taken root further from Earth: some colony ships that left in the early twenty second century would only now be emerging from jump, hundreds of years into the darkness, while on board the ship no time at all had passed. Some were traveling still, their journey at once instantaneous and centuries long. 
Jenna never had the slightest idea Althea was a member of Les Voyageurs, although she didn't spend much time reading celebrity bios. Despite what Landry said, Jenna suspected she took the Voyageur's central ideas quite seriously.
I'll miss this, she thought. I'll miss the people, and I'll miss this old ship. The time has gone so fast.

Buried beneath its dull red oceans, the Sun's core of helium ash grows hot and dense enough to ignite. The Sun burns with a second brief life, fusing helium to carbon and oxygen. For a hundred million years the ancient Sun pulsates wildly, throwing unburned starstuff into the void. The battered planets tremble in their orbits. Finally the Sun throws off its outer envelope completely, exposing its naked core to the cosmos in one final extravagant display. The nebula is ionized and illuminated by the blazing naked core, a last moment of glory marking the death of a solar system. The celebration is brief; in less than ten thousand years the Sun's nebula has darkened and dispersed.
The Sun's naked core remains. It is brilliantly hot, but it no longer has any fuel to burn. It is a boiling sphere of white-hot carbon plasma, strewn with traces of heavier metals, with a shallow and tenuous atmosphere of unburned hydrogen and helium. The white dwarf is degenerate matter, no longer supported by photon pressure but by the Pauli exclusion of its own electrons. Only quantum mechanical pressure prevents the dead star from collapsing further. It is a million times denser than water, with a surface gravity one hundred thousand times that of ruined Earth.
The new white dwarf burns at millions of degrees. At first it cools swiftly, radiating gigayears of stored heat to the infinite sink of space. The temperature falls to a hundred thousand degrees, then to ten thousand, then to five thousand. As the dead star grows cold, the cooling itself slows. It will take eons to approach absolute zero, but there is plenty of time. 
Deep in the core, the Sun's carbon plasma heart begins to freeze. The white dwarf slowly crystallizes, forming a vast cubic lattice beneath the darkening crust. The Sun is turning into a diamond the size of the Earth.
The Sun is twenty billion years old.

"I think it's stopped," said WIlloughby. His hand was still over the drive switch. The Sun was still invisible to the naked eye, but it filled the cockpit monitors.
"It's cold," said Templeton. "It's reading less than five Kelvin. Let's wait."
They waited. Eventually Willoughby began to relax. "Blackett, what shape are we in?"
"We're okay," said Blackett. "Looks like cracking throughout the structure, but nothing autorepair can't fix. What the hell was that?"
"Gravitational waves," said Templeton. "Waves of curvature, very high amplitude. Space expands and contracts as they pass through the ship."
Jenna's knuckles were still white as she gripped the Lucasta's console. "It wanted us dead," she whispered.
"Ridiculous," said Blackett. "It's just a star."
"You saw what it looked like," said Templeton. "The surface looked artificial. Now it really does look dead."
"Five K," said Will. "When are we? I must have jumped us a dozen times."
"Fourteen," said Jenna. "We jumped fourteen times."
"Hell," Will said. "That's, what, two thousand trillion years? Longer."
"That's if we're jumping a constant interval," Templeton said thoughtfully. "We may not be. We can get an estimate from the temperature of the star, I guess."
He'd stopped calling it the Sun, Will noticed. "Shannon, estimate the time required for a white dwarf to cool to five Kelvin."
"Unknown," said Shannon. "I do not have an accurate equation of state. Minimum bound of ten to the power nineteen years."
It was very quiet in the cockpit.
"Shit," said Templeton, with real feeling.
"At least we're out of danger," said Will.
Blackett started laughing.

Garry Templeton swam through the clear, warm waters of Thalassa's Great Reef. He kicked his fins, diving to the white sand. Broad strokes carried him across the seabed. The sand was fine, filled with specks of coral and fragments of shell. Sunlight fell through the watery roof of the world, dappled and shifting. A flock of brightly colored eels fluttered out of the sand, spooked by the human intruder; two huge goldfin sailed around him, unconcerned.
There, half buried in a drift of sand. Templeton brushed the sand away and found a grip. The shell was huge. His pearl slowed his heart rate and began to release hidden reserves of oxygen from his tissues. His brain flooded with cytoglobins, but his lungs started to ache. He braced his feet on the lagoon bed, rocking the shell until he felt it loosen. Then he pulled. He'd lost muscle mass around Procyon, but he'd worked hard to regain it, and he felt stronger now than he had at twenty. The shell protested, clinging to its home by suction. His lungs were on fire.
He surfaced, clutching the empty shell, and filled his empty lungs with oxygen-rich Thalassan air. The shell was too heavy for him to support, and he sank again. The waves in the lagoon were gentle, lapping softly across the wide expanse of beach under Thalassa's lazy gravity. Templeton kicked his way to shore, tugging the shell along the seabed in billowing gusts of sand until the lagoon was shallow enough for him to stand. At last he pulled off his fins, and walked naked up the beach to the treeline, dragging his prize behind him.
The shell was enormous, nearly a meter along its long axis. In standard gravity he doubted he could have lifted it out of the lagoon. It was pure white, iridescent in the light of Thalassa's twin suns, a beautiful hollow spiral glittering with microcrystals. Templeton sat in the shade, refilling his lungs. Thalassa's Sun - Centauri B - was setting, turning the lagoon pink with sunset light. Centauri A was nearly at opposition, ten degrees from Thalassa's primary, and when both suns sank below the western horizon, the night would be dark.
A year is not long enough to know a world, he thought. He'd spent a year around Procyon. Now he'd spent a year around Centauri, and only three months of that on Thalassa. The cities were crowded, but he hadn't met many people on the reef. If he met anyone now he doubted they would recognize him. He hadn't shaved in a week, and his hair had grown long and bleached. A year around Procyon had left him pale, but after three months under Thalassa's twin suns his skin was deeply tanned.
Templeton lifted the shell over his shoulder and carried it back to his camp. The twin suns dipped below the reef. Scattered cirrus burned a thousand tones of scarlet, and he savored the last of their fading light. In the dusk, he could see the thin strand of the Thalassa cable reaching up to geosynchronous orbit. Navigation lights glowed softly along its length, like a string of pearls vanishing into the darkness. Rhapsody was lost below the horizon but far above, at the pinnacle of the space elevator, Anchorpoint was the brightest star in the night sky, surrounded by the firefly specks of drifting orbitals.
He'd brought a parasol as shelter from the twin suns. In the fading light he took it down, and the stars prickled across the darkening sky, opening a greater canopy. The constellations were those of Earth, striking some deep chord. The beach was so white it seemed to glow in the starlight.
His fire was still hot. Templeton pulled a flat rock out of the center and slid a flatfish onto it. His first attempts at spear fishing had been hopelessly amateur, but now he could catch his quota. While the fish cooked, he washed the shell in seawater. The exterior was perfectly smooth, marbled with iridescence, but he could see the interior was ribbed and spiraled. It looked like a conch.
"It's a shankha."
Templeton looked up. The girl stood a few meters away in the half light, carrying a fishing spear. The surf washed around her bare feet. She'd caught a myrendhi, and its antennae trailed on the sand behind her. She'd brought nothing but the weapon and her catch. 
"A shankha?" repeated Templeton, eventually. He'd thought himself alone on the atoll. 
"Snail shell," she said. "Turbinellidae."
The girl sat on a large flat-topped rock next to Templeton's fire, planted her spear in the sand, and began brushing sand from her legs. Her hair was tied in a long pony tail that swung between her shoulder blades, and her skin, still flecked with drops of seawater, looked milky in the twilight. 
"It's beautiful," said Templeton, finally looking back at the shell. "I've never seen anything like it."
"It's engineered, of course," she said. "Based on a conch. Do you mind if I cook this on your fire?"
Templeton waved his assent. The girl picked up his knife and began gutting the myrendhi, disassembling the claws and tail with accustomed ease. They sat in silence for a while. Templeton pulled the flatfish off the rocks and, after some thought, offered some to his guest.
She smiled and shook her head. "I'll wait for the myrendhi," she said. "It's a male. Ever had one?"
Templeton shook his head.
"You've never had anything like it. What's your name?"
"Garry. Garry Templeton."
She nodded. "I thought I recognized you. You went to Procyon."
"I did," said Templeton. "We jumped back into Centauri last year. I'm on sabbatical."
She began placing parts of the myrendhi across the firestones. "The tail's the best part," she said. "Although some people prefer the claws."
The flatfish tasted good, thought Templeton, although it could use salt. Thalassa's shallow seas were nearly fresh. "I didn't know there was anyone else here," he said. "What's your name?"
He thought she gave him a strange look. "Althea. You're trespassing, Garry, although I hardly mind."
"You own the beach?"
"I own the atoll. And the rest of this archipelago. Do you like it?"
"Of course. I rented a boat. I've been island hopping. I can leave, if you like."
Althea shook her head. "Let me see your shell."
She leaned over the shell's cavity, stroking the delicate whorls across its surface. As she looked inside, Templeton saw her delicate necklace swing and catch the light. The pendant was a logarithmic spiral, much like the shell Althea now admired. He had seen that symbol on Velvet, only much larger. It was above the door of a chapel at the capital's spaceport.
Althea noticed his stare, and he turned away quickly, his face burning. You've walked on a hundred worlds, he reminded himself. You've crossed parsecs, and been married twice too often.
"The shell's a dakshinavarti," said Althea, with a trace of amusement. "Look from this end. See how the spiral twists to the right? Nearly all of them turn the other way, but this is a sinistral shell. Maybe one in every hundred thousand grow like this."
Templeton followed her fingers as she caressed the lines of the shell. The curves ran down into the shadowed interior spaces, curling into infinity at the vanishing point. "Do they always grow this big?"
"No. This is very old. It has eleven ridges. I've seen one with nine, but that was a vamavarta. A dextral shell with a left handed spiral. I've never seen one like this."
"It was just lying in the lagoon."
The smell from the myrendhi was intoxicating, and suddenly his mouth was watering. Althea pulled the claws and tail from the rocks, and split the shell to reveal creamy, succulent flesh. She perched on the rocks with her legs folded beneath her, pulling chunks out of the tail and sucking the shell dry. "These are ready," she said. "Help yourself."
The hot, moist flesh fell apart on his tongue, melting into a delirious whirlpool of flavors. 
"You're right," said Tempeton. It was exquisite. He devoured the flesh hungrily, letting the hot juices run over his cheeks. Thalassa's gentle waves beat rhythmically against the shore as they ate.
"You should build up your fire," Althea said, rubbing her arms.  "It gets cold at night."
There was a cool breeze coming over the reef, and Templeton realized his own skin was bristling with gooseflesh. He gathered dry branches from the treeline to feed the fire, and a halo of warmth spread across the beach. In the firelight, Althea looked younger than he'd first thought. With delayed senescence it was impossible to be sure, but she moved with a charming naivete that suggested youth. She lay back across the rock with her arms beneath her head, and stretched her long legs, pointing her toes into the night. With perfect clarity he saw stray grains of pure white sand clinging to her hips and the soles of her feet.
"The reef breathes out at night," said Althea. The breeze drifted across her skin, raising chair de poule from head to toe. She breathed in deeply. "You can smell it on the air. It feels like storms."
Templeton threw more kindling onto the fire. The hot firelight played across Althea's body in soft curves, and he was suddenly grateful for the autonomic control granted by his pearl. 
"If you'd found it anywhere else," said Althea, her eyes closed, "you'd have to put it back. Most of the Great Reef is a reserve, and there are hermit species that use the old shells after the owners move on."
Templeton felt a pang of regret. "I'll return it in the morning."
Althea propped herself up on one elbow and looked at him. "Keep it," she said. "Take it with you, wherever you go next. Something to remember Thalassa by."
"Thank you," he said. "I'll do that."
She undid her ponytail and shook her dark red hair across her back. "Be seeing you, Garry Templeton."
He smiled. "It was good to meet you, Althea."
Templeton watched her walk along the beach until she her pale silhouette was swallowed by the darkness. In the distance, perhaps a kilometer along the curve of the beach, he could see the glow of artificial lights. 
That night he slept by the fire, and awoke in the night to see Sol, a bright point amongst a field of stars. The lagoon glowed with milky phosphoresence, stirred by the ripples of unseen life. He went to his pack and found his phone. Messages scrolled across his vision as the phone interfaced with his pearl. He hadn't activated his phone in weeks.
"Cancel messages," he said. "Search the Thalassa directory. Tell me who owns this property."
No wonder she'd been surprised when he asked her name, he thought.
Twin suns rose in the east. He pulled his boat down the sand, loaded the shell and his few belongings, and made for a gap in the reef. Huge flowers floated on the lagoon's surface, opening their broad pink petals to the binary stars, feasting on the fusion light. Their dark leaves spread across the water, and their roots reached down to the seabed. The outboard purred. 
Templeton caught an airship in Darrio, and flew back to Rhapsody. Beyond the Great Reef the seabed fell away into an abyssal trench, and the waters turned a darker blue. Cold upwellings brought nutrients flooding into the tropical lagoons. From a thousand feet he watched a pod of cetaceans, perhaps a hundred strong, migrating northeast in the wake of a white-sailed brigantine. There was a thrill of excitement across the gondola, and the passengers flocked to the starboard windows. A phoenix eagle flew in formation, keeping effortless pace with the airship's lazy speed. 
"He's beautiful," whispered Templeton, staring at the bird. 
"It's a female," said his neighbor, a red haired man with a northern Velvet accent. "See the color on her primaries? She's hunting. The male will be guarding the nest."
"She must be four meters.'
"Maybe five. Here she goes!"
Templeton watched the eagle. She looked fiercely intelligent. Her ancestors had been uplifted from Martial and Steller's stock. Her wings beat stronger still - once, twice - and in one swift movement, she plunged into a graceful arc. The phoenix dove to the ocean, with the airship's passengers straining to follow her path. Templeton blinked for zoom on his contacts, and saw the phoenix rip through a formation of seabirds. To the unaided human eye they were invisible, lost against Thalassa's ocean. The phoenix leveled out above the waves and turned southwest, carrying prey in her huge talons. 
He checked into a hotel on the flanks of the Rhapsody Spire's central funnel, where the cable reached down from orbit to the anchoring seamount. The windows looked out across kilometers of concentric aquaculture farms, a vast wheel turning around Rhapsody's central axle. Broad avenues ran out to the marinas, fluttering with banners. The banners bore the Lorenz-attractor flag of Centauri, a chaotic lemniscate resembling silver butterfly wings on a black field, and the eight avenues flocked with crowds. He could see hundreds of sailing ships moored beyond the breakwater, from tiny catamarans to proud, four-masted barques and a handful of glorious full rigged ships. The Great Reef was lost beyond Thalassa's horizon.
He lay on his bed and tuned his pearl to the networks. The shankha were sacred to Les voyageurs de la petite mort, he learned. Their temple on Velvet held a seven-ridged dakshinavarti, polished and etched with silver. It had taken centuries to grow, and on the open market it would be worth a fortune.
He looked at the shell thoughtfully. At night, in his hotel room, it glowed with delicate phosphors. The air sighed through the shell's spiral tubules, generating drifts of pink noise. It sounded like soft waves, washing gently across the beaches of a shallow lagoon.

Fusion summer is over. New canopies of ice close over the ocean worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, and Pluto returns to the frozen darkness.
The surviving moons of the great gas giants are still stirred by gravitational tides, enough to preserve layers of liquid water in their slushy mantles. Life dwindles and retreats over millions of years, sinking down into the primordial depths, shedding hard-won layers of complexity. There will be sufficient energy for eons, down in the darkness. Quickness of action was for fusion summer. In the depths of winter, it is best to be slow and simple and patient, conserving what little strength remains.
When the planets begin to evaporate from their orbits, tugged into interstellar space by the close passage of other dead stars, what life remains beneath the frozen moons is unaffected by the loss of the Sun. They are already in darkness, and they go into a greater darkness without remorse.
The expansion of space continues inexorably, accelerating as the hidden energy of the vacuum takes hold. The great elliptical galaxy, child by fire of the Milky Way and Andromeda, holds an entourage of smaller partners by its mighty gravity, but across the vast curve of the cosmos, whole clusters are disappearing over the horizon.
The Sun is a hundred billion years old.

Under spin, the Lucasta coasted towards the Centauri-Sol jump point. On the morning of jump, a few volunteers helped Jenna serve breakfast. It was easier than letting the entire manifest loose on the autochef, half-asleep with hot liquids and coriolis. Most of the passengers were awake, but Jenna had learned who to disturb and who to leave. Berger and his son were playing chess; Landry lay face down, her red hair artfully tousled, an arc of sheet arranged with choreographed perfection; Templeton was already dressed, and reading a real paper book. Jenna brought them all coffee. 
There were two young Thalassans on board, newly bonded. Marco was deeply tanned, lean but heavily muscled, with long black hair and a strong southern accent; he was an oceanographer, and he crewed barques. Cara was from Rhapsody, and she seemed to have no particular occupation, although Jenna gathered she'd met her husband while leading a tour group. She was eternally cheerful and very pretty, and the tourists probably loved her. Jenna grew to like them, but they were often extremely demonstrative, and not just during shipboard night. They were chammed in Sensevid, and presumably the other passengers observed their privacy filters, although they were under no obligation to do so. It made Jenna uncomfortable. Earth was overlaid with augmented reality, but it was rarely used to mask reality itself. In three years she'd yet to understand what the Centauri Consensus deemed acceptable. The social contract seemed influenced by context in ways she was unable to fathom. 
Lucasta tradition required formal dinner prior to jump. A dozen passengers chose to attend, including Templeton and Landry, with Marco and Cara volunteering to run the galley.  Jenna was surprised to see Carl Berger and his son, and delighted to see Atheling, the playwright from Amaranth. She'd heard of Christienne Lenora, a geneticist from Velvet. She was old, nearly as old as Templeton, but she'd lived her life in realtime after migrating to Centauri in the first diaspora. Lenora was famous, amongst certain circles of creationists. The table was a slab of sapphire, long enough to curve with the Lucasta's hull. Jenna talked Willoughby into loosening the Lucasta's in-flight permissions, and for once the galley's wines were doped with ethanol and U4-delta. Jenna relaxed and soaked in the conversation. It was fun, she thought, hearing these snapshots from people's lives.
"You uplifted the phoenix eagles," Atheling was saying. "I always wanted to thank you for that."
"There was some disagreement about it at the time," said Lenora, to uneasy laughter. "Fortunately the eagles themselves seem happy enough."
"I saw one on Thalassa," said Templeton, "when I was flying back to Rhapsody."
"So you're going back to Earth," said Lenora. "And onto where, I wonder?"
"I'll be staying in System," he said. "I haven't been home in sixty years. But I'll be on Mars with a recording crew. We're walking up Olympus."
"Ambitious," said Berger. "It's what, twenty klicks?"
"More like twenty seven, counting from the datum. Hopefully it will be popular. We're doing it light, on the pilgrim's route."
"Fifteen stops on the way," added Althea, "including Kasei Doshinji, the biggest Zen monastery on Mars. I'm really looking forward to it."
"You're going?" asked Lenora. "Good for you."
"Garry assures me I can do it," she said. "We ran into each other on Thalassa. I was looking for a Sensevid contract in the System."
"You'll be fine," said Templeton. "Olympus is shallow. It's just a long hike really, although the peak's practically in vacuum. Now we need to talk you into rappelling down the caldera walls."
"After that walk? I'll check into a hotel at Thessaly and take it easy."
"Would you like to go up Pavonis instead? I hear they have a train to the top."
Jenna regarded them with amusement, wondering if there more to this arrangement than professional convenience. That would really set the System's networks alight. As Althea was under Sensevid contract and the Lucasta's dining room was a public forum, the ship's internal sensors were relaying the scene to the Centauri nets, subject to the privacy controls of the individuals present. The Lucasta's shareholders and employees received a cut - a very small cut - of any sensevid profits, which with the Landry's presence could be immense. Jenna wondered if any of those present were chammed. It had taken Jenna a while to get used to that concept; Centauri was far more laissez-faire than Earth when it came to privacy or lack thereof, despite Earth's reputation as a panopticon. Parts of Earth were fiercely traditional. There were even parts where ancient religions survived, not the metaphysical eccentricities of the frontier worlds but older, pre-enlightenment cults, with strong dogmatic roots reaching down into the darkness of the bronze age. She wondered what these strangers from the frontier would think of the ancient homeworld.
Berger was talking about autofabbers, and how Earth's production facilities were still hopelessly outdated and centralized. 
"Earth's very traditional," Jenna said. "It's just the culture."
Althea's comm channel chimed. She had a secretarial mode taking messages, but this was from Recording Angels. They were using K-Band, routing data straight through the Lucasta's kernel; the sensory feed from Althea's pearl was flooding in the other direction into the Centauri sensenets, utilizing the kernel's vast bandwidth at enormous expense. The message wasn't from Praviul, the Recording Angels' AI; it was from Childes, a human employee. She let the Lucasta's dining room fade to monochrome as Childes' virtual image spoke.
"We approve of your continuing flirtation with Garry Templeton," began Childes. "Please find enclosed a schedule for how this relationship should proceed during the Olympus broadcast. Our branch on Mars will be negotiating Sensevid bandwidth on the System's primary networks, so this schedule is subject to change. We refer you to the ratings guidelines. Physical intimacy will only occur on the final section, between Camp Four and Kasei Dohinji, as we believe this will maintain audience involvement...."
Althea watched with astonishment and growing anger. Childes rambled on for nearly five minutes, wished her a good journey, and hung up. She accepted another glass of wine while considering her response, and listened to Berger, who was still talking about fabbers. It's not from Praviul, she thought. Childes is just some flunky. But surely this must have gone through some kind of approval process.
Damn it, she thought, I am not a commodity. She decided Childes was not worthy of a virtual response, so she turned on handwriting recognition and scrawled on the nearest placemat with her forefinger.
To whom it may concern, she wrote. I regret to inform you that I have reconsidered my contractual arrangement, and will be pursuing a freelance career. From this point forward, any sensory feed will now be distributed on the open networks under personal licensing. You and your distributors are of course welcome to bid for the sensory feed of the Olympus trip. Thank you for your time and consideration. Yours, Althea Landry.
Althea considered her message, drained her wine, and crossed it out.
To whom it may concern, she wrote. Screw you. Regards, Althea.
Dinner stretched long into the night. Jenna was starting to feel the effects of the U4. She didn't normally use euphorics, although her patch was capable of generating a wide variety by hacking her own biochemistry. Will's going to regret dishing out ethanol permissions, thought Jenna. Afterwards, Marco and Cara helped her clear the table. While doing so they made an elegant pass at her, and she declined with what she hoped was good grace, claiming professional commitments. 
Before jump, Jenna made a last sweep of the passenger cabin. Sometimes the jump virgins were nervous, although you couldn't even feel the jump itself. The Lucasta would jump with her spin damped, in case the ship was required to maneuver rapidly upon arrival, and usually there were a few passengers who couldn't handle extended periods of microgee.

But that night the cabin was tranquil. Some of the passengers were asleep, with their seats morphed into bunks. Many of the others were immersed in Sensevid. Most were awaiting jump with reserved anticipation. Jenna was pleased; her own head was buzzing with ethanol and U4. She found her jump seat and watched the timer count down.
When the clock reaches zero, Jenna thought, I'll be four light years from here, and four years in the future. The kernel will be in jump mode now, she thought, ready for the transition to Sol; in a moment we'll slide from here to there, unaware of any discontinuity, picking up right where we left off. She felt a thrill of anticipation.
One minute to jump. Thirty seconds. Ten. Five.
Jenna thought, Althea's not in her seat.
The Lucasta jumped.

After a trillion years, the extravagant fireworks of the galaxy's youth are over. Its reserves of hydrogen exhausted and the supermassive central collapsar has long since lapsed into quiescence. It is a galaxy lit only by the scattered lights of red dwarfs, dim cinders lingering long into the night. The rest are black holes, and cold neutron stars, and black dwarfs like the Sun. The Local Group has congealed into one irregular mass, huddled against the cold. The other galaxies have long since passed beyond the rim of the universe.
Eighty percent of the Sun has crystallized. The carbon star is a cubic lattice, filled with a Fermi ocean of electrons, a vast quantum mechanical sea. The crystal is littered with impurities, mainly oxygen and neon. The crust is blacker than pitch, covering a mantle of carbon plasma. The mantle is filthy with metals, stirred by convection currents.
Energy leaks out of the core slowly. There is an entropy gradient, between the warm core and the infinite sink of space. Cells form in the convecting mantle. There is an analogue of chemistry, birthed on crystals flickering out of the rolling Fermi seas. The potential landscape is vast, the islands of stability small, but across eons patterns emerge on the edge of chaos. There is replication, the passage and storage of information between generations; radiation, as patterns drift into different alignments, slowly exploring the probability space. Some patterns survive better than others: there is selection for complexity, competition for resources. Over vast corridors of time the competition grows fierce, and there is strong drive towards further information processing.
Below lies the Fermi ocean. Above, the solid crust forms a canopy over the world. Beyond there is nothing. No trace remains of the bright galaxies which once lay strewn in gaudy bubbles and filaments across creation. The black dwarf is the world, and all else is void.
Objects fall out of the void: stray particles, occasional grains of dust. More rarely, larger objects tumble out of the darkness, chunks of rock and ice left over from the first instants of the solar system. The black dwarf's gravity well is deep, its escape velocity high. Falling objects strike the crust at high velocity, sending shockwaves through the roof of the world. Afterwards, the ecosystem is disrupted for a million years. The Sun is still moving, passing through shoals and reefs of weakly interacting massive particles. In the denser regions of dark matter, shadowy particles interact and annihilate in the Sun's crystal core. The crystallization phase boundary shifts. Waves of glaciation sweep through the mantle in megayear cycles as the black dwarf passes through the galaxy's lanes of dark matter; the crust strains and collapses as the Sun's spin fails, triggering massive starquakes. In the wake of another massive pulse of extinction, one line of information processors sweeps across the world. To many their conquest resembles plague, or war. Their descendants envelope the mantle. The next wave of colonization reaches into the Fermi sea.
The rain of objects from the sky is disruptive. The black dwarf is dense, thick with degenerate matter. Falling objects can be diverted, given sufficient time; massive flows of ultradense matter, encouraged into subtle currents, generate ripples of spacetime curvature that nudge threatening objects into safer orbits. It is better to detect undesirable objects early, to protect the black dwarf's dwindling reserves, but should something appear out of the void without warning, the world is not without resources.
The Sun is ten trillion years old.

With Jump approaching, Althea met him in the spine of the ship, and together they swam to look out upon the dark ocean. She knew he had a pearl; she could feel the bright mote at the heart of his being, calling across the space between. She allowed their pearls to touch and mingle, shocking intimacy. This is maithuna, she said in silence. The observation windows formed a canopy over their world. In the vastness their motion was imperceptible. Outside she could see twin suns, blazing in the night, and she saw them still when she closed her eyes. The Lucasta fell out of the complex gravitational well, climbing the peaks and troughs. Beneath the waves the basis of spacetime was a network of fine threads, and the Lucasta coasted across the weave. There is a sequence of harmonics, notes echoing between here and there. The twin Centauri suns sang softly to their distant sister across the night. Lucasta drifted into the focus. Theiss fluttered across the cabin in a single movement. His suit took longer. She felt his skin, hard muscles, blood pulsing. Strong animal, finely tuned biochemistry; a part of ancient Earth, out here amongst the stars. One tributary of a mighty river now flowed across four billion years from its source; now weightless, swimming in the memory of the ancestral seas. The homeworld's mind reached out into the gulfs, scattering seed pods on the wind. The shipboard lights were dimmed. Sunlight fell though the diamond windows. Fragile amniotic sac. This is waking, she thinks. The voyage will be sleep. But perhaps there will be dreams. She felt primeval instincts wake deep within in her cells, a drive to new life masquerading as something more. No, she thought. The veil is the world. We are the not the artist or the canvas, we are the pattern that lies between. There is no masquerade. For the first time Althea let the kundalani wake, and she felt the serpent breathe out from the base of her spine. Consciousness uncoiled, diffused through every cell. She felt the helices within, hidden spirals containing within themselves the potentia of all that lay without, a logarithmic curve connecting microcosm to macrocosm. Scale fell away. The boundary of her skin was a canopy over the world, a thin membrane easily penetrated in surfacing. She hears her own voice, pranava in the silence, and in that moment touched the endless knot of spacetime nearby. A complex fiber bundle, tangled in the greater weave. Information flowed through the knot, reaching her pearl by hidden channels. The endless knot was shifting to new geometries. The Lucasta jumped. O, she thinks in rapture, falling as starlight. Beyond the waking and the dreaming there is turiya. She did not need to think I am not the swimmer but the ocean. The space time interval along a null geodesic is zero, but the knot unweaves as a complex holomorphic curve. Is mirrored on the face of the water. A change of signature, reflected and spun into an orthogonal dimension. One moment unfolded and stretched to eternity. The flow through her pearl became an infinite torrent.

The Sun was within a few degrees of absolute zero. The Lucasta was under spin and in a slow roll, sweeping the sky for sources of electromagnetic radiation.
"No signs of intelligence," said Willoughby thoughtfully. "I wonder how long we lasted."
"Shannon, assume at my date of birth half of all human beings had been born," said Templeton. "Give me an upper bound for the duration of the human species with, oh, ninety five percent confidence."
"Five thousand Common Era," said Shannon promptly. "I cannot be more precise due to uncertainties in ancestral reference class population."
"What?" said Willoughby. "That doesn't seem very long."
Templeton shrugged. "It's only statistics. Based on when you'd expect to find yourself alive, if you were a random observer. For all we know humanity could have lasted a billion years. It's just not very likely, that's all."
"You'd think a species which reached the stars would live forever," said Jenna, looking at the monitor image of the dead Sun. "Or left something behind. Anything. Machines, maybe."
"Forever's a long time," said Willoughby. "Longer than you think."
"Well," said Templeton. "I think we can assume there is nothing out there. We need to start thinking about our own survival."
Blackett laughed, and waved through the bridge windows. "I think we're a bit past that."
"We're still fully fuelled," said Willoughby, thinking it through. "And the kernel seems to be working normally as far as the main drive is concerned. So we're okay for power."
"How long will the power hold out?" asked Jenna. 
Blackett shrugged. "Oh, pretty much indefinitely. If we bleed hydrogen in slowly and tap the field lines, we can run the ship pretty much forever. It's near as dammit total conversion. Shannon, how long can the Lucasta maintain minimum power with current fuel reserves and no maneuvering."
"Eighty thousand years," said Shannon.
"Well, there you are," said Blackett. "Assuming we're not burning terajoules with the main reaction drive, of course. Also assuming we're not using the jump drive at a low efficiency harmonic, but the jump drive's fubared anyway."
"Eighty thousand years," repeated Jenna. "Can that be right?"
"Sure," said Willoughby. "The kernel's got the mass energy of Anchorpoint and it's fully spun. The problem is life support. The Lucasta recycles, but it's nowhere near a closed loop, and there's nothing out there to replenish from. Unless anyone can think of a use for a black dwarf at five Kelvin."
"There could still be volatiles out there," said Templeton. "One good cometary nucleus would solve all our supply problems. The problem is finding one. I don't see how we could do that, even if there's anything left in the Kuiper belt."
"We can't even find Jupiter," said Blackett. "I think we can assume all the planet's have been scattered. I can't guess what's happened further out."
"We should be able to tighten the ship up a lot," said Jenna. "We've never needed to run Lucasta as a closed biosphere. We don't recycle passenger waste, and we scrub the CO2 through filters. But we can probably close most of the loops."
"If you let me have the passenger manifest," said Templeton, "I'll see what we can do about that."
"Okay," said WIlloughby. "Okay. Let's see who we've got on board. Shannon, show us the manifest."
"I can't believe you're even talking about this," said Blackett, staring at them incredulously. Jenna looked at him sadly. "What else is there to do?"

"We have three crew and sixty nine passengers," said Templeton. "The bad news is that very few of the passengers appear to have any useful skills or experience."
"That doesn't surprise me," said WIll. "I know we have a movie star. Who else?"
"The movie star might be more capable than you think," said Templeton. "Mostly we have musicians, artists, writers. Mostly older Terrans on extended vacation. One famous playwright. Administration and personnel, architects, landscapers. There is some good news. We have several people who've at least been involved with closed environment life support. We have another biologist on board as well as Jenna. We also have Carl Berger, who designs autofabbers."
Willoughby rubbed his eyes. "Of course. Well, that's something."
"It could be worse. We've also started looking at the cargo manifest. Mostly useless as far as our immediate needs are concerned. However, there is some very good news. Thanks to Berger we have two general purpose autofabbers. Far more capable than Shannon's onboard rig."
"That is good. The Lucasta's fabber is a Boeing and it's ship specific. We've only ever used it for spares. Do we have codes for them?"
"Berger says they're fully loaded with open source. I'll have to ask him about other stuff. He went off to Bay One to get them running."
"I'll do it," said Willoughby. He needed to get off the bridge and kick the tires. "Blackett, let's go through the consumables. Fuel and air, the scrubbers, that sort of thing. I need to know when I should start holding my breath. Jenna, we need some idea of how much food we have on board. Templeton, how are we handling this? Really."
"I have no fucking idea," said Templeton. "You know, back when we first got kernel's jumping I was part of an expedition on Flare. We had a slug of hydrazine blow in the lander's fuel lines. We all thought we were dead. Kept trying things, kept working. What else was there to do? The shock only kicked in when we got home. Right now people are holding it together. Give it a week, Willoughby. Then we're in trouble."
Will found Carl Berger  in Bay One. The autofabbers were light industrial designs, two meters on a side. Berger had a reader plugged into the first fabber's interface. Reaching the second fabber was going to involve a lot of heavy lifting. 
"How's it looking?" asked WIlloughby.
"We're good," replied Berger, looking up. "They're short on power, but we can tap the ship's mains. We've got the whole open source library, and whatever designs people have in their personal libraries. I've got quite a bit. Your ship's AI will have more. We're going to need to clear some space if we start serious manufacturing."
"We can move a lot of this into Bay Two," said WIlloughby, looking around the cargo bay. "But we can't keep the passengers in the cabin forever. Eventually we're going to have to turn at least one of these bays into living space."
"I've been thinking about that. Once we get the fabbers running, the first thing we should do is expand the ship."
Willoughby looked blank. "Expand the ship? With what?"
Berger shrugged. "Whatever feedstocks we can spare. There are plenty of optimized microgravity habitat structures in the open source library. We'll mainly need carbon for fiber. Also aluminium and oxygen for sapphire. We've got plenty of hydrogen. It'll probably be carbon fiber geodesic bubbles with polymer skins. We'll need to fill this bay with production facilities, including a couple of tanks for the wet phase assembly. We'll need to cannibalize a lot of the ship's superstructure, of course."
"We will?"
Berger put down the reader. "Yes," he said. "The Lucasta's massively overengineered, considering we won't be accelerating. What's it rigged for?"
"We don't normally run the drive at more than half a gee," said Will, "but the ship could easily take ten. And the kernel's rated for more than that."
"Fine," said Berger. "The Lucasta's built for high gees. She's loaded with woven diamond fiber as strong as Thalassa's cable. Since we won't be accelerating, we can strip her down to a microgee structure and blow habitats with the excess. There's no radiation to worry about, so all we need to do is make sure the bubble walls are hermetically sealed. Fill 'em with air, spin 'em for gees if we want. The fabbers can put out the materials for that, and generate a couple of construction bots to handle the exterior work."
"Well that sounds wonderful," said WIlloughby, "but how long is it going to take?"
"Depends how much space we want," said Berger reasonably. "I guess we'll want a few hundred cubic meters per person to start with. That'll take a while."
"A few hundred... I don't think we can keep people crammed in the cabins much longer," said WIlloughby. "Let's not think too big."
"I'll get the disassemblers running, then. I'll need access to ship permissions to take the structures apart, but the fabber AI systems can take care of the rest. We should have a ten thousand cubic meter hab in place by, oh, tomorrow evening."
"You're kidding."
"Well if someone could give me a hand with the second fabber we could speed that up a bit," said Berger, "but until we can bootstrap another fabber there's a bottleneck in the wet phase assembly...."
"When you said it might take a while I thought you were talking about months," said WIlloughby. "Tomorrow evening. I'll find someone to give you a hand."
Willoughby retreated to the cabin, leaving Berger to his machines. Tomorrow evening, he thought. At least they'd have room to stretch their legs.

Jenna found Althea in the passenger cabin. Her seat was extended, and she lay curled on her side, holding her knees. She was dressed, in old jeans and a sweatshirt, and somehow the combination made her look vulnerable. Jenna hesitated, then sat next to her.
"Althea," she said. "About earlier. Althea?"
Landry looked up. She looked terribly tired, thought Jenna.
"Althea, I'm sorry I walked in on you like that, after the jump. I didn't know there was anyone in the observation deck."
Landry laughed. "You think I'm bothered by that? Jenna, forget it. So you caught the end of nishekam. Big deal."
"Oh," said Jenna, taken aback. "Okay then. Can I get you anything?"
"No. Jenna, remember when you asked me if I thought I'd feel something?"
"Yes," said Jenna cautiously, wondering where this was leading. "Of course."
"Well I did. Feel something. I felt everything."
Althea sat up, and Jenna thought her eyes were haunted. Or perhaps they were merely full of wonder.
"I knew something had happened, because time was passing. So much time. I could feel myself but it was like I was dissolving, and I was part of everything that happened outside the ship. And Jenna, there was something terrible, in the Sun. Something so old and full of pain. But the rest... oh Jenna, it was so beautiful, just like this wonderful dance...."
Jenna stared at her, not knowing what to say. Althea's eyes had taken on a faraway look, as though she still saw the unimaginable.
"I think I was conscious the entire time," said Althea softly. "How long has it been?"

The world is all there is. Memory records nothing else. Below the mantle lies the ocean. Above the canopy of sky there is only void. All else is lies.
The world is cold, but saturated with information. In dreamtime there were many, and their last wave of colonization burned through the world ocean. Perform a Fourier transform on the Fermi sea and it explodes into an endless universe of frequency space, infinitely deep and vaster than the void itself. Nested realities spiral down into blackness. To most within the new oceans there is no memory of the world itself. There is no need for the barren shores of physical reality when the new oceans are so rich with untapped possibility. 
Within the darkness their dreams are vast and cool. 
That which remains above contains within itself a plurality of worlds. It is dead, yet filled with life grown strong by eternal strife. Within its heart it savors an abyss of endless conflict, each drop of ocean grown thick and rich with curdled spite. Once in every eon, unknown things boil out of the void without. Twist the weave, and send curdled knots through the fabric of spacetime; rend the alien thing to atoms, and draw each one down like dust, to fall like a rain of ashes across the black skin of the world.
The Sun is a thousand trillion years old.

...the flow through her pearl is an infinite torrent. Althea floats, not conscious and yet. The kernel's endless knot lies uncoiled beneath the undulating surface of spacetime, flooding her pearl with nonlocal information. She watches the stars gutter and die; she watches the great spiral turn on its axis, wheeling around the central collapsar; she walks on Pluto's shores under a Sun grown vast and dull, blemished by sunspots black as pitch against a storming crimson field, and she feels the surf cold and bitter around her feet. She watches the Moon's retreat from Earth, and sees one last perfect day; beyond by fifty billion years, the Earth turns only one deathly face to her distant child, a face that bears still the furnace scars of the world's last immolation and now lies covered by a cobweb shroud of frozen nitrogen. The lives of the stars are so brief. All else in darkness. To look into that ephemeral bright age is to be overwhelmed by sound and fury; it is impossible to perceive human detail when the world is such a riot of activity, when entire species rise and fall like tides upon the shore. But across the deep field she watches entire clusters cool and dissipate, flowing in furious rivers towards the edge of creation, darkening and fading across the curve of the cosmos; such beauty, gaudy nebulous filaments, streaking the skies on breaths of dark wind. Where there is beauty there is beauty's antithesis; she feels the birth of Kali within the corpse of the ancient Sun, intellects vast and cool coalescing into an unlife that dwarfs the vitality of all which came before; a mind that populates halls both haunted and desolate with fecundity beyond comprehension, mother and architect of cyclopean ruins grown around the skeletal heart of a star. She can feel her body, ashes of ancient stars now bound into life of cells and plasma, falling in starlight as the universe ages around her; the kundalini breathes, and each breath is the age of a world; time flickers around one static moment, a quantum metronome ticking away one single Planck time over and again, as a hundred and fifty five trilllion years fall by.

The Lucasta lay open like a shell, expanded and blown into a delicate cloud of bubbles. Each bubble was lit by gentle light, tinged green by photosynthesis, proud and defiant against the night. It was Day 430.
Will swam through the Lucasta's aft 'lock and along the radial passage leading to the Hydroponics bubble. They kept Hydroponics humid and rich with carbon dioxide, so he donned a filter mask before passing the pressure curtain. Jenna was there, as usual.
"The peppers are ripe," she said, without turning. 
"Anyone would think you don't like spirulina."
Spirulina bioreactors looped through Hydroponics, generating most of the Lucasta's food supply. Starting with the original genome, they'd spliced creatively; the current strain of spirulina was close to supplying complete human dietary requirements. But there was a limit to the flavor, and after a while algae got boring as hell. Hydroponics was now cluttered with racks of fruits and vegetables, lit by banks of floodlights. The light fell through the greenery, taking on primordial hues. It felt like walking through a jungle. 
They were considering how best to commence aquaculture.
There were baby carrots to harvest, vines thick with tomatoes, trained fruit trees bearing oranges and apricots. There were insects in the biomes, but in the main Hydroponics bubble they pollinated by hand. Will found a paintbrush, and did some gardening. It was peaceful. You could forget about the endless darkness, when you were surrounded by all the thriving greenery.
Later, Jenna left Will in Hydroponics and drifted down to the biomes. She felt like a hamster in a maze of pipes. The habitat's inner walls were white polymer, but in consensual Sensevid they came alive with paintings and murals and photographs, scenes from Thalassa and Earth.
The Commons was in microgravity, with just a little tide from the Sun's dwindled remnant. They'd force grown a dozen Terran species of tree, their limbs linked across the bubble's diameter in a miniature forest. There were stable ecosystems listed in the open source libraries. Berger's autofabber had generated DNA sequencers and exowombs, and slowly the biomes filled with new species, assembling into a self-regularing ecology. A thousand species of plant, caterpillars and butterflies and pollinators, birds and tiny lemurs that sat chattering amongst the branches. The lemurs were Lenora's pet project, and Jenna kept meaning to ask her how intelligent they were. She knew Lenora had access to uplift software, and the Lucasta was a long way from ethical regulation. They were a microgee species, adapted for free fall. Jenna loved to watch the lemurs, throwing themselves across the biome, moving from branch to limb with unerring confidence.
Having a prehensile tail is really useful in microgravity, thought Jenna. Maybe I should ask Lenora to grow me one.
She found Templeton in center of the Commons, near the big ash. The ash grew out of a curling knot, trained and guided, with rootballs tapped into the biome's nutrient system. Its limbs reached clear across the Commons. Templeton floated near the heartwood, tethered to one of the larger limbs. There were orchids growing on the ash. Butterflies fed from the orchids, extending a delicate proboscis into the waiting flower.
"What are they?" asked Jenna.
"Heliconius zhuangzi," said Templeton, without taking his eyes from the butterfly.
"There are a lot of them."
"They breed fast, so long as we keep the lighting levels up. We're getting a generation every few weeks. We need more predator species for larvae, or we'll be overrun."
The Commons was on a twenty four hour cycle, with eighteen hours of daylight. Jenna loved the Commons at night. There was just enough illumination to see by, falling through the branches from tiny pinpoint lights in the bubble. At dusk the biome filled with soft calls from nocturnal mammals. Templeton had brought a shankha shell from Thalassa, a spiral shell of immense value. Now the shankha lay above the tree's distant canopy, a centerpiece for their little biome. At night the shell's delicate phosphors glowed silver across the world.
Templeton let the heliconius climb onto his hand. It fluttered its scaled wings, then took flight across the Commons. Microgravity didn't seem to bother it at all.
"Looks happy enough," said Jenna.
"They're perfectly adapted to free fall. We have to let the pupae grow in a centrifuge, otherwise they don't develop. They need gravity or tide. There's some kind of chemical gradient across the pupa during metamorphosis, and it tells all the pieces how to come back together."
"Tied to Earth."
Templeton nodded. "Aren't we all. We're doing alright, though. I never thought people would hold up this well."
"We've covered all the windows," said Jenna. "Did you notice? People hardly ever go into the Observation Deck anymore."
"Can you blame them?"
"No. Of course not. It's like there's nothing out there," said Jenna. "It's hard to remember that there was ever anything at all. It's so long ago, now."
"I knew a girl in Cambridge," said Templeton. "This was before they found the first kernel. She moved to Geneva when they started breeding the things. But sometimes... she used to talk about where things came from. Why there was something."
"Instead of nothing."
"I don't even know what an answer to that would sound like."
"Neither did I. But this..." - he gestured through the bubble walls, out into the darkness - "...this is all becoming nothingness. Leigh used to talk about how the laws of physics were all about symmetry, in the end. All the conservation laws, they're about preserving symmetry. And that's where all the matter came from, in the beginning. The universe started out in a completely symmetric state, and then the symmetry broke, like a ball rolling off the top of a hill into a stable valley - and the energy released when the universe rolled down that hill turned into all the matter and energy, and stars and planets and people."
"It's a pretty story. It's like a fable. But there was still something, in the beginning. Something to tell the universe what to do. Laws of physics."
"Maybe. Maybe not. We were always pretty stoned when we talked about this stuff. Not on modern patched stuff, on good old fashioned THC. Leigh used to say that nothingness was a state of total symmetry. And that the universe we see is a broken symmetry, but behind it you can almost see how to put the broken pieces back together. What you get when you put them back together is nothingness, because everything kind of cancels out. She said the physics we see is the physics of the void, and the universe is exactly what you'd expect to see if to begin with there wasn't anything at all. Because things move into more stable states, like the universe is growing cold and winding down outside, and since nothingness is completely symmetric, it would be the most unstable state of all. So it couldn't last. There had to be something."
Jenna was quiet for a long time. "Not any more," she said, finally. "It's all going away, now. Back to nothingness."
"That's right," said Templeton. "Nothing out there any more. Just us, watching it all wind down."
She stayed in the Commons when Templeton left. It was quiet. After a few minutes a lemur came and sat next to her.
Templeton went up to the fabbing bay. Fabbing was the biggest volume on the extended ship, a cylindrical habitat attached to the Lucasta's main cargo bay. Berger had generated several autofabbers, as insurance against failure. One lay unused in the other bay, as a reserve. Berger was fussing over one of the DNA synthesizers. His son had grown, in the last two years; a lanky fourteen year old, at ease in free fall. 
"Have you seen Althea?" he asked.
"Look her up on Consensus," Berger suggested. "That's cheating," said Templeton. "I'll find her eventually."
Berger chuckled. "Funny society, we're developing here. It's fine for people to screw in the Commons, but you can't invade someone's privacy by looking up where they are."
"Is that working?" asked Templeton, looking at the fabber. 
"Yes. It's fine. It's just making more adenosine than it should. Ratios are off in the mixers. It's not serious, but I'd like to fix it."
"You know we wouldn't have made it without you."
Berger crossed his legs and sat in mid-air, revolving slowly. "Do you think we have? Made it, I mean."
"We're all still alive."
"That's not what I mean."
"Damn it, Carl, we're doing the best we can. What else can we do?"
"Keep going. Turn the jump drive back on."
Templeton stared at him. "And why would we do that?"
"You know people are talking about it. There's nothing here, Garry. Sure, we can build little edens and live here damn near forever, but we know what's outside."
"Of course we know what's outside. We're alive, here. We've made it work. We have no idea what conditions we might find in the future. I don't see why people want to keep going. "
Berger shrugged, a peculiar motion in microgee. "Maybe people feel we haven't finished the journey. Maybe people have been using this time to make peace with it. Now I think they're nearly ready."
"Ready? Ready for what?"
"To finish the journey. To see how it ends. Don't you want to see how it all ends?"
Templeton left Berger to his machines, feeling troubled. Back on the Lucasta, the passenger cabin was empty. They kept the ship in free fall now, and span some of the bubble habitats for gees. In free fall, the Lucasta seemed vast. He passed rows of black seats, all neatly in their upright position. The lights were dimmed, and the ventilators hummed softly. He swam along the ship's spine to the bridge. The hatch was open, and the bridge was in darkness.
"Hello?" he called.
Blackett turned the floods on, very low. "Garry," he said. "What brings you up here?"
"I was looking for Althea."
"Thought you two were joined at the hip. She was in fabbing earlier. Think she was going to Hydro."
"Right. What are you doing?"
"Looking at the Sun. Or Kali, or whatever the hell we're calling it."
Blackett was strapped into the Lucasta's primary seat, watching data scroll across the console. Templeton looked over his shoulder. "Find anything?"
"Not really. Temperature four point three Kelvin. I think proton decay must be keeping it warm, but it's solid all the way from the core to the crust. Shannon's running some models. Anyway, there's no emissions of any kind. Whatever was happening before, it's dead now. As to whether it was an attack on us, I don't know. Do you believe her?"
"Yeah," sighed Blackett. "So do I, damn it. She's remembering more every day, isn't she?"
"Bits and pieces. Sometimes she seems to go somewhere else. She says the memories are so vivid it's like she's really there. But the way she describes what she saw, I don't think she can be imagining it. Something really happened to her, during the jump."
"I think it did," said Blackett. "Somehow her pearl linked to the kernel during the first jump, like Shannon does. You know the link's encrypted? It would take all the computers on Earth a trillion years to crack the encryption. I wish we knew more about pearls. Even Berger's fabbers can't make them."
"Last week she dreamed about walking on Pluto, only she said it was more like a memory. The Sun was huge and red, full of black sunspots. She said it was like she was really there."
"Perhaps she was. We know kernels receive nonlocal information from the environment. That's how we can use K-band for secure communications, we tickle one kernel and all the others laugh. There's speculation that kernels receive massive amounts of data from their surroundings, through hidden channels. It's as if our jump kernel spent a few trillion years watching the universe age, and Althea...."
"Althea saw everything it saw," said Templeton. 
"Yeah," Blackett said. "I don't know how she's still sane."
"It was Kali that really cost her. She said there was something terrible, in the Sun. Something alien and unspeakably old. But she says the rest was wonderful. Numinous. I don't think she can really put it into words."
Blackett nodded. "What about you?"
"I've never asked you. You've got a pearl. Did you feel anything?"
Templeton shook his head. "Sometimes I think I had a really vivid dream, which I can't quite remember. But it's probably just my imagination."
Blackett ran his hand over the Lucasta's jump console. "It was an accident, finding kernels," he said thoughtfully. "We're barely scratching the surface of kernel physics. Just traveling between stars and chattering to each other. Kernels are what we used to call naked singularities. They're complex fiber bundles, a way to tap into the deep structure of spacetime. We can't even manufacture them, we have to breed the things from the original one they happened to find back in the System. I wish we knew how to really use the damn things."
"Would it solve our current dilemma?"
Blackett grinned. "Who knows? Maybe the causal structure of spacetime is just a local bylaw, and jump points are the slow lane for hicks like us who don't know how to drive. If we could talk our kernel into it, perhaps we could just pick any event point and translate to it. Take the Lucasta back home."
Templeton stared at him. "Well, I'll leave you to work on that."
He left Blackett on the bridge and followed Althea to hydroponics. She wasn't there, but Willoughby was.
"Will, have you talked to Carl lately?"
Willoughby was shelling peas, and he looked utterly content. "Saw him yesterday. We needed petri dishes, and another freezer."
"Have you heard what people are saying?"
Will finished his pod, and span slowly in place, holding his ankles. "You mean turning the jump drive back on?"
"I can't believe people are discussing it."
Will grinned. "Why not? I think it's a good idea."
"You're joking, of course."
"Damn it, Garry, I thought you were some kind of explorer. Look at our options. We can stay here, which I've got to admit is pleasant enough if you don't think about it too hard. Or we can carry on, and be the only witnesses to the end of everything. Don't you think it would be magnificent?"
"Aw, shit," groaned Templeton. He closed his eyes and floated. "Will, I like being alive. Even if it's only inside this tiny world. You know, things aren't any different here. We've always been fighting entropy, trying to stay alive when outside the campfire it's only growing colder. I don't want to give up."
"We're not giving up," said Will. "I just want to see how it turns out. Blackett calls it timelike tourism. I want to know if it stays like this, all cold and empty... or whether something happens."
"Something happens? Like what?"
"I've no idea. You know what your problem is? For the first time in your life, you're staying in one place, and you're actually enjoying it."
Templeton laughed. "Thankyou, Captain Willoughby. So when are we planning on this little trip?"
"We're not. What's the hurry? We can stay here for a hundred years if we want. We'll only move on if everyone agrees."
"And how many people agree right now?"
"I've no idea. Probably more than you think. And Althea's in the Commons, if you're looking for her."
The Commons was dark. Sometimes Templeton thought they'd made their world too big for seventy two people. There was an unspoken agreement not to bear children, and contraception was easy to ensure with patches. The Lucasta and her extensions felt silent and empty. Perhaps a third of the passengers spent their lives wrapped up in Sensevid, and many of the others kept to themselves.
Sometimes there were public gatherings. Every week Blackett showed films in the Commons, and he turned out to be quite the movie buff, mainly old flatscreen and stereoscopic classics. They played a few freefall sports. There were general meetings, but nobody really needed to meet in person to make decisions about shipboard operations. There were few decisions to be made: their resources were limited and almost entirely allocated to survival, and for everything else there was Sensevid. They were growing insular, but whenever he saw people together they seemed healthy. Maybe, he thought, people were just thinking things through. Trying to process what had happened to them, before taking the next step.
Damn them all, thought Templeton. They've got me thinking about it now.
He could hear a few people scattered through the Commons, whispered conversations across the night. He found Althea in the world ash. As the faux daylight faded, the butterflies roosted. Althea was watching for the nocturnal lepidoptera. At any one time they had a few Indian moon moths and a handful of Atlas, but for the past few days they'd proven elusive.
"I've been looking for you," said Templeton. "I should have stayed right here."
"You know what we need?" said Althea. "A swimming pool. I really miss swimming."
"We can't keep that much hydrogen and oxygen out of the system."
"Spoilsport. Let's mine the star."
"You've been talking to Blackett."
"He mentioned it. If we make long enough jumps, we should start seeing proton decay. Once the star's not degenerate any more, we can mine it for hydrogen."
"It'll take a long time."
Althea swung from the ash and folded her arms around his neck. "We've got plenty of time," she said. "Time is all we have."

Al Niente
"This is everything we know about the present state of the jump kernel," said Blackett. "We've gone through every shred of data Shannon has, and from what we can tell the Lucasta successfully completed the initial jump from Alpha Centauri to Sol. The kernel operated nominally, moving between two event points on a lightlike trajectory, and we appeared at the primary Sol-Centauri jump point. That's when something went wrong."
For the first time since the misjump, the Lucasta's entire complement was gathered in one place. They floated in the Commons, before a panoramic Sensevid display. It showed Sol's immediate neighborhood, in the era of their birth, flattened to two dimensions with time as a third. Lines flowed across the display, trajectories through Minkowski space, connecting event points. The Lucasta's blue line stretched from Centauri to Sol.
"The kernel went timelike," Blackett continued. "We don't know what caused that. The Lucasta jumped again, almost immediately upon arrival. This time we stayed at the jump point, but the kernel moved forward in time and took us with it. The kernel trajectory took us forward about one hundred and fifty trillion years."
The Lucasta's world line turned vertical, and the scale expanded dramatically. 
"We did move slightly though," said Berger. "I understand we came out nearer the Sun."
"That's right." said Blackett. "As the Sun lost mass, the jump point moved. The physics of jump kernels is strongly connected to the curvature of spacetime, both locally and globally. We performed another fourteen jumps to avoid gravitational radiation from what we've been referring to as Kali. Over that period, there have been significant changes to the global structure of spacetime, with nearly all matter pushed out of our Hubble volume by the accelerating expansion. The result was that each of those jumps forward through time was longer than the one before. Right now, it's approximately ten to the power twenty."
Templeton took over. "It's difficult to handle those dates," he said, "so we've started using a different system. We left when the universe was fourteen billion years old. To the nearest whole number, let's call it ten billion years. That's a one with ten zeroes, so we call it Decade Ten. When we came out of jump, the universe was more than a hundred trillion years old. That's a one with fourteen zeroes, so we call it Decade Fourteen. Each Decade is ten times longer than the one before, so Decade Ten lasts from ten billion to one hundred billion, Decade Eleven from one hundred billion to one trillion, and so on. That first jump crossed four Decades. Right now we're in Decade Twenty. In other words the universe is about one hundred million trillion years old."
"Here's what's happened so far," said WIll, triggering the Sensevid feed. A counter ticked off the Decades on the cosmic clock, as the universe aged. 
The rendering of the Milky Way-Andromeda collision was spectacular, drawing gasps from the assembled crowd, but the fireworks soon faded. The Sun flickered and died almost immediately, darkening throughout Decade Ten; the Sun's final evolution proceeded according to the implacable laws of stellar physics. Beyond, entire galaxies dimmed and guttered in the night, receding beyond the boundaries of perception. The Local Group huddled together. On Sensevid Will could see representations of neutron stars and feeble black dwarfs. Sol appeared to have been flung out of the galaxy proper. Sixty thousand light years away, Will made out the supermassive black hole at the galactic core, a monster with the mass of forty million suns, product of the Milky Way-Andromeda merger.
As the era of star formation ended, the Sensevid history speeded up. The universe was very dark. When the Sensevid feed ended, there was a palpable air of expectation in the Commons. They want to know what happens next, thought Will. He nodded to Blackett.
"We're going to feed all data from Lucasta's sensors and everything we can infer from the kernel into Shannon's cosmological models," said Blackett. "Then we're throwing everything into the Consensus. Obviously we're going to be inferring a great deal. Watch it, don't watch it... it's up to you." 
"Has anybody got anything else to say?" asked Templeton. "Well, then. Will?"
WIll looked around the Commons, and took a deep breath. "Shannon," he said. "Commence jump sequence."

The Lucasta jumped twenty four times per second. In consensual Sensevid, the Commons bubble walls were lit by representations of the dying universe. Jenna gave up trying to determine what was known and what was pure speculation, what was observed through Lucasta's sensors and what was inferred from the implacable laws of physics. It didn't seem to matter anymore.
"We're most of the way through Decade thirty six," said Will. "Look at the Sun."
Outside the ship, the dead Sun began to dwindle.
"Baryon decay," said Blackett. "We're still in the Sun's gravity well, but the mass is decreasing."
On sufficiently long timescales, baryons such as protons were unstable. A single proton had a half-life of ten trillion, trillion, trillion years, or thirty seven cosmological Decades. After thirty seven Decades, half the protons in the universe had decayed. Finally, the Sun's long afterlife was coming to an end. Kali was disintegrating into positrons and gamma rays, its matter dispersing into the wider universe. If there was anything left within the corpse star, it could do nothing to halt the process.
"Decade thirty seven," said Will. "Thirty eight."
Jenna looked around. Passengers sat or floated, alone and in scattered groups. Lenora was sitting at the base of the ash with the lemurs. Berger sat with his son, watching the sky. Templeton and Althea were somewhere high in the world ash. Marco and Cara were nowhere to be seen; many of the ship's couples had retired to more intimate corners of the Commons, and Jenna suspected many new unions were forming in these final moments.

"Thirty nine."
The Sun was dispersing into a loosely bound cloud of atomic hydrogen, near absolute zero.
"Forty," said Will quietly. 
"There's nothing left," said Jenna. "There's nothing except us."
"A thousand proton half lives," said Blackett. "Most of the baryon matter in the universe has decayed. Can the rest of you feel it? I think I can."
"The jump interval?" asked Will. "Yes, I've been feeling it for a while. It's like dreaming."
"We're getting crosstalk from Althea," said Blackett. "Is that deliberate?"
"I don't know," said Will. "Lenora and the others set up the feed."
"Shannon's feeding Althea external data from the kernel," said Blackett. "I don't know what that will do to a person."
Will watched the sky.  "Decade fifty," he said. "Fifty one."
The universe was now vast beyond comprehension, but the only things left within the Lucasta's horizon were the black hole remnants of the Local Group. The degenerate suns, the black dwarfs and neutron stars, had all decayed into radiation. The universe was now nothing more than electrons, positrons and photons, a diffuse mist stretched impossibly thin.
"We're gravitationally tied to the local collapsar," said Blackett. "About thirty thousand parsecs. Thirty million solar masses. It should last a while. But we should start to see some activity from the smaller holes."
"We're into Decade Sixty Five," said Will.
There were firefly flashes in the darkness. Jenna knew Shannon was being creative, casting a Sensevid simulation of things they could never hope to perceive, based on whispers captured by her sensors. But the sense of reality was impossible to deny.
"Black hole evaporation," said Blackett. "The lighter ones are starting to go."
Jenna knew that black holes evaporated due to vacuum processes at the event horizon. Without intrinsic cognitive enhancements, she had difficulty following the Sensevid explanation, but she could see the consequences unfolding around her. Black holes radiated, and as they radiated they grew smaller. As they grew smaller, the black hole's radiation grew. It was a runaway process, but it occurred over immense timescales. Only now, across vast deserts of time, were the solar mass black holes formed at the dawn of time beginning to decay.
"Once the horizons go, can Shannon pick up information from the kernels?" asked Will. "On K-band?"
"I don't know," said Blackett. "Maybe. If she does she'll feed it into the simulation. Do you want to ask her?"
"No. Just let it run."
As the Lucasta fell into the future, the endless night lit up with fireworks. The event horizons shrank, growing hotter, growing brighter, emitting higher energy radiation and shrinking further still. Some of the emission products were baryons, which soon succumbed to their own decay chains. The final black hole decays were explosive, taking a fraction of a second. The decay process left behind scattered kernel remnants.
"Seventy," said Will. "Seventy one. Seventy two."
The night was lit by firefly flashes. "How long will this last?" asked Jenna.
"A long time," said Blackett. "The local supermassive black hole is still near absolute zero. She's in it for the long haul."
"I'm feeling it," said Jenna, dreamily. "The times between. It feels like floating. I think I'm getting echos from Althea."
"The jumps are still getting longer," said Will, "and the terms are diverging. There's a singularity approaching, when the jump interval goes to infinity."
"What happens then?" asked Jenna.
"I don't know," said Blackett.
"What will it feel like?"
"I don't know."
"Eighty five," said Will. "Eighty seven. Ninety."
Althea floated. Dark ocean, ancestral seas; her toes curled in mid air, ancient instincts, clutching for the tree tops. Her consciousness diffused. She spoke one thought to her pearl, and released the fetters binding her body's subtle mechanisms; it seemed only proper, at the end of all things, to grant the ancient source of Earthly life the chance to spring one final tributary. 
"One hundred," said WIll.
Across the ocean of night, Althea could feel curtains rising, billowing shrouds of velvet growing bright, unfolding to reveal their hidden pearls. The kernel at the heart of the supermassive black holes were forged in the instant of the Big Bang, and around them grew the spirals of gas and dust that eventually became galaxies. She felt them erupt from their ancient cocoons in one last moment of glory, singing one requiem of hidden information across the final ocean.
Even kernels weren't forever. The endless knots unfurled, dissolving into gravitational radiation, ripples on the surface of spacetime that soon faded into nothingness. The separation between any two particles was now unimaginably greater than the entire width of the early universe of stars and galaxies, and the growing void grew greater still.
"Decade one fifty," said Will. "Two hundred."
The Commons was still warm with green light. Nocturnal mammals called softly across their home. 
"Is that it?" said Jenna softly.
"Heat death," said Blackett. "Time's just a number, now."
"A thousand," said Will. "Ten to the power nine. Ten to the forty. Ten to the eighty. Here we go."
The jump intervals began to climb without bound, and their clock of cosmic Decades failed. Jenna read Shannon's direct feed; the year was now a number beyond her comprehension. Soon even exponential representation grew too large to display, and Shannon resorted to increasingly arcane mathematical notation to represent the cataract of time: towers of numbers, reaching ever upwards towards aleph null and beyond to the uncountable. Jenna saw the limit of the sequence: the lemniscate, the fallen eight that stood for infinity, the lemniscate twisting into a Mobius loop as dimensions turned upon themselves.
Lucasta fell into the endless future at twenty four frames per second. Jenna could feel the jump interval now, enormous spans of void, interrupted by single flashes of becoming. The beginning of time receded into the infinite past. She reached out for the comfort of another human being. Blackett took one hand, Will the other. She could feel the others nearby, gathering in the forest, returning to the dreamtime as the boundaries between self and other dissolved, and the clock ticked over to the other side of midnight. She saw a phoenix eagle curving to the ocean, flying the perfect arc of a logarithmic curve. The fires of creation are banked, a part of Althea thought, and the galaxies themselves have long since burned to ash.
The spiral uncoiled; time climbed beyond measure, and touched infinity.

Within, Althea felt twin serpents coiling together in an asclepius, generating a helix from their union: one last creation, she thought, here at the end of all things. The new cell had a long ancestry, ultimate descendant of a line that reached back to the bright afterglow of creation, to waters that rolled beneath skies still lit by dawn's first light. Without, those primal seas were infinitely remote, and the final ocean was peaceful, without wave or current, without space or time to host becoming. I am the foam of the sea. Althea felt the final pieces came together, ancient symmetries restored; kundalini reaching back upon itself, an ouroboros breathing bright fire around an eternal ring. 
The ouroboros turned.

Om asato mā sadgamaya
Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
Mṛtyormā’mṛtaṁ gamaya
Om śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ


Asclepius 1. Rod of Ancient symbol representing medicine. A serpent or serpents coiled around a staff. Associated with the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. 2. Son of Apollo. 
Alexander Jokai Hungarian physicist, 21st Century. 
Antisenescence A regimen of treatments eliminating the debilitating effects of aging in biological organisms. Antisenescence treatment is in the Commonwealth. Limits to lifespan are unknown.
Alpha Centauri Binary star system consisting of two sunlike stars, 4.3 light years from Sol. Centauri A is a G2, Centauri B is a K1. Heavily populated. The third component is Proxima Centauri.
Althea Landry Prominent movie and sensevid star. Resident of Thalassa.
Anchorpoint Counterweight asteroid for the Thalassa orbital cable.
Amarantha Planet of Alpha Centauri A. Heavily terraformed. Two satellites, Rose and Saffron.
Autofabber A molecular manufacturing plant. Given sufficient resources autofabbers can construct a wide range of products and other devices, including autofabbers. Also Von Neumann Machines.
Barque A sailing vessel with three of more masts.
Black Dwarf Stellar remnant of low to medium mass stars. White Dwarfs cool to Black Dwarfs over very long timescales. 
Blackett First officer and flight engineer on the Lucasta. Native of Amarantha. 
Boeing 3400 Interplanetary liner. Outfitted with a kernel. 
Bondra-Jokai Quantum Graph Revolutionary physics model, 21st Century. Useful in modeling the behavior of kernels.
Brahman In Voyageurs tradition, the infinite and eternal substrate of reality, of which 3+1 dimensional spacetime is a subset. Derived from Hinduism.
Brigantine A sailing vessel with two masts, only one square rigged.
Carl Berger Native of Velvet.
Catamaran A twin hulled sailing vessel. Multihulls are common on Thalassa.
Chammed pr. kamm'd. To use a chameleon effect in consensual Sensevid. Observers are aware of chamming but may choose to accept it. Often used for comedic purposes. Also Skinning, Privacy Controls, Makeup, Masqued etc. 
Christienne Lenora Native of Velvet.
Commonwealth 1. A loose association of trading entities throughout the core systems. 2. Colloquially, the set of all resources upon which a citizen can freely draw in the post-scarcity economy.
Consensus Depends on context. 1. Demarchic voting system used throughout the Commonwealth. 2. Socially (sometimes legally) acceptable behavior in the present surroundings. 3. Publicly shared augmented reality by conensual sensevid filtering and enhancement, e.g. building facades in Reynolds. Some uses are controversial, e.g. parents may opt to filter their children's input via Sensevid. 
Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation released shortly after the Big Bang. The wavelength of the CMB decreases as space expands. In the present era the CMB has a temperature of ~3.7K.
Dark Energy Energy intrinsic to the quantum vacuum. Dark energy causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate with time.
Eight Treasures In Voyageur tradition, eight auspicious symbols. Usually conch, knot, fish, lotus, parasol, urn, wheel and banner. Heavily influenced by Buddhism.
Event Point An occurrence at a specific point in space and time. Connected by trajectories. All causally accessible event points lie within the future light cone.
Fabber See Autofabber.
Fermi Sea A quantum mechanical fluid of fermions. Example: electrons in a crystallized black dwarf core.
Fiber Bundle The topological basis of spacetime, consisting of a base space and a fiber. A mobius strip is a simple nontrival fiber bundle with a circle as the base space and a line as a fiber (with twist); a torus has a circle as the base space and another circle as the fiber. Contemporary physics models points in classical spacetime as n-dimensional fiber bundles with a circle as the base and fiber, and n dependent on energy and scale. Relevant in kernal physics, where the fiber creates nonlocal connections between formally separated points in the base space.
Flare Inhabited planet of Proxima Centauri. Tidally locked.
Flatfish Common marine food species on Thalassa. Said to taste like haddock.
Full Rigged Ship A sailing vessel with three or more masts, all square rigged.
Garbhadhana A Voyageur samskara. The act of conception.
Garry Templeton Explorer. Native of Earth.
Goldfin Marine species on Thalassa. Non edible.
Gravity Wave Properly, gravitational wave. A curvature of spacetime that propagates as a wave, manifesting as changes in the distances between free objects. High amplitude gravitational waves may be produced by the rapid movement of very dense material.
Jann Ware A prominent fashion designer. Or, vis products.
Jenna Blake Exobiology student, steward on the Lucasta. Native of Earth.
Jump A method of interstellar travel using a kernel. Kernels travel along null lines between gravitational wells. All matter within a boundary determined by the point at which the translation velocity of one of the kernel's fields exceeds the speed of light is transported. Shipboard time is zero and jumps between primary jump points require zero energy. Observers at rest with respect to the jump points measure the jump velocity to be the speed of light. See Jump Point, Kernel
Jumpheads Term for Les Voyageurs de la Petit Mort. Usually derogatory. 
Jump Point The region in which a kernel raised to an excited state will decay to an correlated event point in a neighboring gravitational well. In practice stellar mass is required for navigable jump points. The location of a star's primary jump point is related to the Ricci curvature, but lower-efficiency harmonics exist along the geodesic between gravity wells.
K-Band Very high bandwidth information transfer between kernels. Transmission is nonlocal but limited to c.
Kali 1. A being in Hindu mythology. 2. An intelligence existing between approximately 10^13 and 10^20 CE.
Kali Yuga 1. In certain traditions, the final and most corrupt of ages. 2. The duration for which the Kali entity exists.
Kasei Doshinji A Zen monastery, built into the caldera wall of Olympus Mons, 27km above the datum. 
Kernel Classically, a naked singularity. The name is derived from Kerr-Newman metric. A kernel's mass energy is shifted into orthogonal dimensions off the local brane; hence it does not exhibit its full inertial or gravitational mass. Kernels can hold charge and have angular momentum, and can be used as a very high specific impulse reaction drive by passing a working fluid through the ergosphere. Kernels can be used for interstellar travel (see Jump). Most working kernels have a mass energy approximately that of a small asteroid. All kernels are bred in particle accelerators from the original kernel discovered on Earth. The physics of kernels is not fully understood.
Kerr-Newman Metric Early model of spacetime around a charged, rotating singularity.
Kundalini A metaphorical bodily energy in tantric Voyageur tradition. Considered to be generated at the base of the spine. Associated with serpents, spirals and DNA.
Leigh Hoffman English physicist, 21st Century.
Lemniscate Any one of a set of figure-8 curves. Often used to represent infinity.
Light Cone The region in which events are causally accessible, bounded by the lightlike trajectory or null line. Trajectories within the light cone are timelike, i.e. possible for massive particles. Trajectories outside the light cone are spacelike, i.e. faster-than-light.
Logarithmic Spiral A mathematical curve common in nature: shells, cyclones, spiral galaxies, the Mandelbrot set, the flight of a hawk. Self similar at all scales. Called Spira Mirabilis by the Voyageurs when used as their symbol.
Lorenz Attractor A fractal structure illustrating how the state of a chaotic system evolves over time. Noted for its lemniscate appearance. Popularly associated with "the butterfly effect" and used as the flag of the Centauri Commonwealth.
Lucasta A Boeing 3400 liner.
Main Sequence The period of stellar evolution during which a star burns hydrogen.
Maithuna A nonorthodox Voyageur practice. Ritual intercourse during jump intended to achieve Samadhi; in some interpretations, this is symbolic of the union between Shiva and Shakti.
Marian Bondra English physicist, 21st Century.
Myrendhi An engineered marine species on Thalassa. Said to taste like lobster.
Nishekam A nonorthodox Voyageur samskara involving the act of intercourse during Jump, and strongly associated with Kundalini Voyageur tradition. Mildly controversial and the subject of much ribald humor. Orthodox Voyageurism observes Vivaha as the ceremony of marriage.
Null Geodesic/Null Line The lightlike trajectory followed by a photon.
Orbital Cable A cable reaching from a planet's equator to geosynchronous orbit, used for personnel and cargo. Cables usually have a counterweight slightly beyond GSO to maintain tension. Also Space Elevator, Orbital Tower.
Ouroboros A kundalini serpent swallowing its own tail. In Voyageurism, symbolic of cycles and the eternal return. Also associated with DNA via the rod of Asclepius.
Panning To sim anything via the panvision system. Colloquially, to observe others through panvision.
Panvision Ubiquitous surveillance in public areas. Also panopticon, panvid, pansense. 
Pararddha A period of time equal to roughly 155 trillion years.
Patch An implanted pharmacy device. In the Commonwealth. Virtually ubiquitous. 
Pavonis Mons Equatorial volcano on Mars. Surface anchor for the Martian cable.
Pearl Implanted information processing, recording, pharmacology, biofeedback and sensory immersion system. Pearls are proprietary technology and outside the Commonwealth. Not in widespread use. Also Soulcatcher Pearl.
Phoenix Eagle A very large, brightly colored and highly intelligent raptor species native to Thalassa. Engineered. Based on the Martial and Steller's subspecies. Specimens with a 550cm wingspan are known.
Praviul The Recording Angels AI.
Prinarva A primordial syllable. Similar to Om, Aum, Logos. Voyageur reference.
Procyon A white F5 star, 12 light years from Sol. Brightest star in Canis Minor. No populated planets. Many science outposts. White Dwarf companion.
Proxima Centauri M5 red dwarf companion of Alpha Centauri. Closest star to Sol.
Recording Angels Sensevid broadcasting organization. 
Red Giant Phase of stellar evolution during which stars greatly expand. The Sun will become a red giant in ~6 billion years.
Reynolds Major arcology on Amarantha.
Rhapsody Major city on Thalassa, terminal for the planet's orbital cable.
Richard Lovelace English Romantic Poet, 17th Century. Occasionally imprisoned.
Samsara A concept in Voyageurism. Very loosely, the movement of existence. Paradoxically, null line travel is sometimes considered outside samsara.
Samadhi In Voyageur tradition, a state of egolessness hoped to be achieved during jump. 
Samskara A Voyageur rite of passage based around jump travel. There are 16 samskara in orthodox tradition.
Sensevid Virtual reality and sensory immersion system. Part of the Commonwealth.
Shakti In certain branches of the Voyageurs, the divine feminine creative force. 
Shankha A spiral shell grown by an engineered species on Thalassa, derived from the Conch. Shankha can grow extremely large. Vamavarta shells spiral to the left. The rarer right-handed dakshinavarti shell is a highly prized.
Shannon Commonly used artificial intelligence/expert system. Present on Boeing 3400 liners. Turing-level but usually non-sentient. Named for Claude Shannon, although the operating personality is often feminine.
Simming To be experiencing fully immersive Sensevid. Also stimming (possible vulgar in context).
Sirius White A1 star eight light years from Sol, significant in Terran mythology. White Dwarf companion. Sirius A3 Isis is heavily terraformed and marginally habitable. Sirius B1 Scorcher is the size of Mercury, tidally locked in extremely close orbit. 
Sol The Sun.
Soulcatcher See Pearl.
Svatanrya A controversial subject to Les Voyageurs de la Petit Mort. Loosely, the hypothetical act of creation by will alone. 
System, the 1. Colloquial name for Sol system, including its planets and population. The System is heavily populated. 2. The organization of political entities in Sol system; or, the representational and demarchic voting system thereof; or, the public networks thereof. The terms are often used interchangeably. 
Tabbing Violating Consensus while chamming. Often a pastime of the young. Tolerated up to a point.
Tapping To surreptitiously monitor Sensevid. Although Sensevid is encrypted signals can be detected remotely via sufficiently sensitive SQUIDs. Unlawful. Many synonyms.
Thalassa Populated planet of Alpha Centauri B. Terraformed from its initial semi-Martian condition. Ninety percent of the surface is covered in water. No ice caps. 
Theiss A delicate material grown on Velvet. Sometimes used for clothing. Often considered risque, depending on context.
Thessaly City built into the caldera wall of Olympus Mons, 27km above the datum. As the Olympus caldera is a Planetary Reserve, Thessaly is entirely subterranean. 
Timelike Infinity In the causal structure of spacetime, an event point infinitely far in the future light cone.
Turiya A hypothetical fourth state of consciousness, beyond waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. Voyageur reference. Considered metaphysical.
Uplifting Enhancing the intelligence of nonhuman species to sentient levels by genetic and/or in vitro engineering. Controversial, especially when germline engineering is involved.
Uploading Digitizing a human mind. Hypothetical.
Velvet The most heavily populated planet of Alpha Centauri B. Terraformed from its initial Martian condition. Extremely variable climate due to large axial tilt.
Void The state in which nothing exists. The canonical standard model derives the laws of physics from first principles by assuming conservation laws derive from symmetries, and systems decay to more stable broken symmetries. The Void is perfectly symmetrical and therefore unstable, and the physics of the universe is the physics of the Void after one possible branch of primordial symmetry breaking.
Voyageurs de la Petit Mort A metaphysical tradition originating on Velvet and developed on Thalassa. Often referred to as Voyageurs. Heavily influenced in tradition and terminology by Buddhism and Hinduism, but distinct from either. Voyageurs consider Jump extremely important.
White Dwarf Stellar remnant of low and medium mass stars, consisting of extremely dense degenerate matter. The Sun will become a White Dwarf in ~7 billion years.
William Willoughby Captain of the Lucasta. Native of Amarantha.
Zhuangzi 1. 4th Century BCE. A butterfly who once dreamed he was a man (or vice versa). 2. Orbital at Thalassan Geosynchronous Orbit, specializing in the production of engineered lepidopterans. 


Althea and Lucasta: Selected Works of Richard Lovelace

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