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Authors: Ken MacLeod

The Restoration Game

BOOK: The Restoration Game
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Published 2011 by Pyr
®
, an imprint of Prometheus Books

The Restoration Game.
Copyright © 2011 by Ken MacLeod. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cover illustration © Stephan Martiniere.

Inquiries should be addressed to
Pyr
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, New York 14228-2119
VOICE: 716-691-0133
FAX: 716-691-0137
WWW.PYRSF.COM

15 14 13 12 11   5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

MacLeod, Ken.

The restoration game / by Ken MacLeod.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-61614-525-5 (pbk. : acid free paper)

ISBN 978-1-61614-526-2 (e-book)

Originally published: London : Orbit Books, an Imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, 2010.

1. Women computer programmers—Fiction. 2. Computer games—Fiction. 3. Family secrets—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6063.A2515R47 2011

823'.914—dc22

2011019067

Printed in the United States of America

Thanks to Nicholas Whyte, Peter McClean, Donna Scott, Charles Stross, Farah Mendlesohn, and Sharon MacLeod for reading and commenting on the draft; and to Shana Worthen for help with the bad Latin.

Behind you the module burns.

Before you…

Cold. Unimaginable, bone-chilling cold. The sun so small, so far away. The land and the sky bleached of colour, drained to faint red or blue tints on varied shades of grey.

You shiver in your vacuum armour. The forced landing has jarred its systems. Your heads-up display flickers then stabilises, showing at the top your name, rank, and mission:

Daphne Pontifex. Centurion. Take and hold whatever remains of Syrtis Major Laboratory. Implement emergency procedures on any ongoing experimental work.

Beneath, the heads-up display diagrams your tactical team's details and current position. Three men, two women: the heavy, hard head of the spear, of which you are the very tip. The shaft, on this metaphor, being the fourscore marines handling logistics and fire support from orbit.

The ruin of the laboratory is half a mile in front of you. Unlike the crippled module, it has no air bottles to feed a fire: the space-to-ground missiles have left it wrecked, not burning.

At your command, the team skirmishes forward. You take down two pop-up robot defenders. Hector O'Donnell on the right flank and Fatima Fortunata on the left despatch five more. You bypass the ruin and sweep the area behind it.

“All clear,” you announce.

Through the gaps in the walls and into the rubble. One last pop-up scorches Hector with a laser beam; Caesar Abdullah takes the robot out. You proceed to trash the varied bits of manipulatory apparatus that have survived the bombardment.

And that's it. The renegade Synthetic Psyches are still there, humming in their hardened servers. Without real-world effectors and without comms, they're helpless. The science teams will negotiate with them in due course. It's the SPs' work that you need to deal with,
fast.

Leaving the others on guard for any surprises, you and Hector clatter your way down the iron stairs into the lab basement.

Low ceiling with heavy I-beams. Weak blue light shows dust specks still falling. The experiment bench with a massive, isolated server atop occupies the centre of the room. LEDs flicker red, blue, and green, indicating that something is running on the server. No one knows what it is. Suspicions are dark. For a group of SPs to break their decades-old compact with humanity, it must be significant, and sinister. The worst case is that what's running in there is an SP unbound by the emotions and ethics that might have inhibited its creators.

You give Hector the go-ahead. He knows you have to be ready to shoot him if something goes wrong. You see his grim expression through his sheet-diamond faceplate. He nods and steps forward. He shrugs away his weaponry and lays it on the floor, then brings over his shoulder from his backpack a heavy chunk of firewalled interface equipment.

Patiently, he connects cables to the server's input-output ports. The display screen of his device brightens. He peers, makes adjustments, brings diagnostics to bear. His gloved fingertips rattle on the alphabet board. You keep your carbine's aim on the small of his back.

His mutterings give way to a sharp intake of breath.

“Heroes below!” he whispers.

“What is it?”

“It's worse than we thought.”

He keys in some final bit of code, disengages from the dignostics kit, and turns around slowly. You lower the weapon. Behind blue reflections in the faceplate his face looks stricken.

“What is it?” you repeat.

“It's the most evil, unethical experiment you could imagine. A simulation. Millions—billions!—of fully conscious simulated humans living a history where…” He shakes his head. “I don't know. Something didn't happen. Something changed everything. The history's still far in the past, thank heaven—a millennium, perhaps. But almost unrecognisable. The city's in ruins, the population tilling the soil and ruled by warrior chiefs, their minds dimmed by some death cult.”

You have known of this possibility, of simulating human minds in a virtual reality that will be real to them. Not even SPs have hitherto dared attempt it. You're shocked and awed, but you cut to the crux: “What's its clock-speed?”

“Real times ten thousand.”

You almost drop the weapon.

“While we've been talking—”

“No, no,” says Hector. “I've slowed it to Real. I've inserted some scrutiny code, in an obscure location. A placeholder, while we consider what to do. This is a job for the scientists.”

“And our job?” you ask.

Hector raises his hands. “It's over. There's no threat to security here.”

“You're certain?”

“Sure as I can be.”

If Hector says it, that should be enough.

You transmit the “Mission accomplished” signal to orbit. Hector sends his results to the science team. Within minutes, new orders come back.

You're to await a supply-drop for a base camp, the arrival of a science team. Your squad will apply its own expertise to helping the scientists investigate and intervene in the history simulation.

Excitement crackles around the squad's comms. These new orders mean the squad's bold actions have earned it enough points to proceed to the next level.

Two local days later, everything's more comfortable. Everyone's out of their armour. The Syrtis SP lab is sealed in an Impervium diamond dome. Life-support is up and running. Reliable robots are deployed to guard the site. Others are repairing the damaged attack module. The renegade SPs are being interrogated through thickets of firewall. Hector and two scientists—leading specialists from Alexandria—are probing the simulation.

BOOK: The Restoration Game
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