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Authors: Terry Pratchett

The Long Utopia

BOOK: The Long Utopia
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For Lyn and Rhianna, as always


For Sandra



, in the remote Long Earth:

On another world, under a different sky – in another universe, whose distance from the Datum, the Earth of mankind, was nevertheless counted in the mundanity of human steps – Joshua Valienté lay beside his own fire. Hunting creatures grunted and snuffled down in the valley bottom. The night was purple velvet, alive with insects and spiky with invisible jiggers and no-see-ums that made kamikaze dives on every exposed inch of Joshua’s flesh.

Joshua had been in this place two weeks already, and he didn’t recognize a damn one of the beasts he shared this world with. In fact he wasn’t too sure where he was, either geographically or stepwise; he hadn’t troubled to count the Earths he’d passed through. When you were on a solitary sabbatical, precise locations kind of weren’t the point. Even after more than three decades of travelling the Long Earth he evidently hadn’t exhausted its wonders.

Which was making him think. Joshua was going to be fifty years old this year. Anniversaries like that made a man reflective.

‘Why did it all have to be so strange?’ He spoke aloud. He was alone on the planet; why the hell not speak aloud? ‘All these parallel worlds, and stuff. What’s it all for? And why did it all have to happen to

was he getting another headache?

As it happened, the answers to some of those questions were out there, both in the strange sideways geography of the Long Earth,
and buried deep in Joshua’s own past. In particular, a partial answer about the true nature of the Long Earth had already begun to be uncovered as far back as July of the year 2036, out in the High Meggers:

As long as they lived in the house in New Springfield, and it was only a few years in the end, Cassie Poulson would always try her best to forget what she’d found when she’d dug the cellar out back, in the summer of ’36.

Cassie hadn’t been too sure about her new world when she’d first arrived, just a year before that. Not that she was unsure of her own ability to make a home or raise a family, out here in the barely explored wilds of the Long Earth. Or of the relationship she had with Jeb, which was as strong and true as the iron nails he was already turning out of his forge. Nor did she doubt the folks who had walked with them all this way, an epic trek of more than a million steps from the Datum, in search of a new home in one of the myriad worlds revealed just a few years back by Joshua Valienté’s pioneering exploration in the very first of the Long Earth airships.

No, it was the world itself that she’d had trouble with, at first anyhow. Earth West 1,217,756 was forest. Nothing but forest. It was all totally alien for a girl who’d done most of her growing up in Miami West 4, which back in those days had been little more than a minor suburb of its parent city on the Datum.

But it had got better as their first year wore away. Cassie had learned to her delight that there were no real seasons here – none of the summers that turned Miami West 4 into a ferocious oven, and no winters to speak of either. You could just kind of relax about the weather; it would never bother you. And meanwhile, aside from the usual suite of mosquitoes and other nibbling insects, there was nothing in this forest that would harm you – nothing worse than a finger-nip from a frightened furball, nothing as long as you stayed away from the rivers where the crocodiles lurked, and the nests of the big birds.

And it got better yet when she and Jeb had cleared enough ground to start planting their first crops, of wheat and potatoes and lettuce and beets, and the chickens and goats and pigs started having their young, and she and Jeb had hammered together the beginnings of their own home.

Yes, it was all going fine, until the day Jeb decreed they needed a cellar.

Everybody knew that a cellar was a sensible precaution, both as a store and as a refuge from such hazards as twisters and bandits with Stepper boxes. While Jeb and the neighbours didn’t expect any trouble, well, you never knew, and it would be a comfort to have it in place before they started a family.

So here was Cassie, digging in the earth with the bronze spade she’d carried with her all the way from Miami West 4, while Jeb was off with a party trying once more to hunt down a big bird. The work wasn’t hard. The ground had already been stripped of tree cover and the roots dug out, and Cassie was strong, toughened up by trekking and pioneering. By early afternoon Cassie, filthy and sweating, was digging into a hole that was already deeper than her head height.

Which was when her spade suddenly pushed into open air, and she fell forward.

She caught herself, stepped back, took a breath, and looked closer. She’d broken through the wall of the nascent cellar. Beyond was a deep black, like a cave. She knew of no animal that would dig a burrow as big and deep as this looked to be; there were ground-dwelling furballs here, but nobody had seen one much bigger than a cat. Still, just because nobody had seen such a critter didn’t mean it couldn’t exist – and there was a good chance it wouldn’t enjoy being disturbed. She ought to get out of there.

But the day was calm. A couple of her neighbours were chatting over lemonade just a few yards away. She felt safe.

And curiosity burned. This was something new, in the endless unchanging summer of New Springfield. She bent down to peer into the hole in the wall.

Only to find a face looking back out at her.

It was human-sized, but not human. More insectile, she thought, a kind of sculpture of shining black, with a multiple eye like a cluster of grapes. And half of it was coated with a silvery metal, a mask. She saw all this in the heartbeat it took for the shock to work through her system.

Then she yelled, and scrambled back. When she looked again, the masked face was gone.

Josephine Barrow, one of her neighbours, walked over and looked down from above. ‘You OK, honey? Put your spade through your foot?’

‘Can you help me out?’ She raised her arms.

When Cassie was up on the surface, Josephine said, ‘You look like you saw a ghost.’

Well, she’d seen – something.

Cassie looked around at her house, which was almost ready to get its permanent roof put on, and the fields they’d cleared for their crops, and the hole they’d already dug to make a sandpit for their kid to play in some day . . . All the work they’d put into this place. All the love. She didn’t want to leave this.

But she also didn’t want to deal with whatever the hell was down in that hole.

‘We need to cover this up,’ she said now.

Josephine frowned. ‘After all your work?’

Cassie thought fast. ‘I struck groundwater. No good for a cellar here. We’ll dig a well some day.’ There was a heap of rough-cut timber leaning against the back wall of the house. ‘Help me.’ She started to lay the planks over the hole.

Josephine stared at her. ‘Why not just fill it in?’

Because it would take too long. Because she wanted this hidden
for good, before Jeb got back. ‘I’ll backfill it later. For now just help me, OK?’

Josephine was looking at her strangely.

But she helped her even so, and by the time Jeb got back Cassie had spread dirt and forest-floor muck over the timber so you’d never know the hole was there, and had even scraped out the beginnings of a second cellar around the far side of the house.

And by the time they sat down to eat that evening on the porch of their home, Cassie Poulson was well on the way to forgetting she’d ever seen that masked face at all.

And a few years later, in March 2040, Miami, Earth West 4:

It was only a coincidence, historians of the Next would later agree, that Stan Berg should be born in Miami West 4, the Low Earth footprint city where Cassie Poulson had grown up. Cassie Poulson, on whose High Meggers property the primary assembler anomaly proved to be located – an anomaly which, in the end, would shape Stan Berg’s short life, and much more. Strange, but only a coincidence.

Of course, in the very year Stan was born the town began to change dramatically, as the first of a flood of refugees from a Datum America blighted by Yellowstone began to show up. By the time Stan was eight years old an increasingly crowded, lawless and chaotic camp had been taken over by government and corporate interests, and transformed into a remarkable construction site – and by Stan’s eleventh birthday there was a new ‘star’ in the sky, stationary above the southern horizon – not a true star, but the orbital terminus of a nascent space elevator that reached down to the local version of Florida, built by a community of hastily recruited stalk jacks that by then included Stan’s own mother and father.

But whatever the convulsions that would colour Stan’s young life, there was nothing strange about the love that filled Stan’s mother Martha from the moment she first held her child. And
at least, saw nothing strange in the apparent curiosity with which, eyes precociously open, Stan inspected the changing world from the moment he was delivered into it.

Joshua Valienté was always sceptical about Bill Chambers’s Joker stories. But, he would realize in retrospect, if he’d paid more attention and thought a little more deeply about what Bill was saying, he might have got some earlier clues into the meaning of it all. Such as what Bill told him in 2040 – the same year Stan Berg was born – as he travelled with Joshua in an airship into the High Meggers far beyond New Springfield, a story about a Joker he called the Cueball:

Joshua had actually glimpsed this Joker himself. He and Lobsang had in fact discovered it, nestling in that band of relatively domesticated worlds called the Corn Belt, on their first journey out into the deep Long Earth, during which Joshua had first learned the meaning of the word. ‘Jokers,’ Lobsang had said. ‘Worlds that don’t fit the pattern. And there
a pattern, generally speaking. But the broad patterns are broken up by these exceptions: Jokers in the pack, as scholars of the Long Earth call them . . .’ Joshua already knew many such worlds, even if he’d had no name for the category.
Joker had been a world like a pool ball, an utterly smooth, colourless ground under a cloudless deep blue sky.

But even though he’d seen the place for himself Joshua knew better than to take Bill’s stories at face value. Bill Chambers, about Joshua’s age, had grown up alongside him at the Home in Madison, Wisconsin. He’d been a friend, a rival, a source of trouble – and always a consummate liar.

Bill said now, ‘I know a fella who knew a fella—’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘Who camped out on the Cueball for a bet. Just for a night. All alone. As you would. In the nip too, that was part of the bet.’


‘In the morning he woke up with a hangover from hell. Drinking alone, never wise. Now this fella was a natural stepper. So he got his stuff together in a blind daze, and stepped, but he says he sort of stumbled as he stepped.’


‘He didn’t feel as if he’d stepped the right way.’

‘What? How’s that possible? What do you mean?’

‘Well, we step East, or we step West, don’t we? You have the soft places, the short cuts, if you can find them, but that’s pretty much it . . .’

: on Step Day the world had pivoted around mankind. Suddenly, in return for the effort of building a Stepper box, a crude electrical gadget – and some, like Joshua, didn’t even need that – you could step sideways out of the old reality, out of the world and into another, just like the original yet choked with uncleared forest and replete with wild animals – for it was only in the original Earth that mankind had evolved, and had had a chance to shape its world. Whole planets, a short walk away. And, in either direction, East or West, you could take another step, and another. If there was an end to the Long Earth, as the chain of worlds became known, it was yet to be found. After Step Day everything had been different, for mankind, for the Long Earth itself – and, in particular, for Joshua Valienté.

But even the Long Earth had its rules. Or so Joshua had always thought.

‘. . . Anyhow this fella felt like he’d stepped a different way. Perpendicular. Like he’d stepped


‘And he emerged on to some kind of other world. It was night, not day. No stars in the clear sky. No stars,
sort of
. Instead . . .’

‘Your storytelling style really grates sometimes, Bill.’

‘But I’ve got ye hooked, haven’t I?’

‘Get on with it. What did he see?’

‘He saw all the stars. All of them. He saw the whole fecking Galaxy, man, the Milky Way.
From outside

Outside the Galaxy. Thousands of light years from Earth – from any Earth . . .

Bill said, ‘Still in the nip he was, too.’

That was the trouble with combers, Joshua had concluded. They were just expert bullshitters. Maybe they spent too much time alone.

But, he realized, reflecting in February 2052, he’d tended to think even of Lobsang as a bullshitter, albeit a shitter built on a truly cosmic scale. If only he’d listened to Lobsang when he’d had the chance.

Now it was too late, for Lobsang was dead.

Joshua had been there when it had happened, in the late fall of 2045:

He and Sally Linsay had waited by the door of the Home in Madison West 5. It was early evening, and streetlights sparked.

Sally was in her travelling gear, her multi-pocketed fisherman’s jacket under a waterproof coverall, a light leather pack on her back. As usual, she looked like she was going to light out of here at any moment. And the longer the Sisters took to answer the damn door, the more likely that became.

‘Look,’ Joshua said, trying to forestall her, ‘just take it easy. Say hello. Everybody here wants to see you, to say thank you for what you did for the Next. Busting those super-smart kids out of the Pearl Harbor facility—’

‘You know me, Joshua. These Low Earths are mob scenes nowadays. And places like this. This
, where they lock you up for your own good. I don’t care how happy or otherwise you were here, Joshua, with those penguins.’

BOOK: The Long Utopia
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