The Golden Age
By Wright, John C.
Tor Science Fiction Copyright © 2003 Wright, John C.
All right reserved.
THE OLD MAN
On the hundred-and-first night of the Millennial Celebration, Phaethon walked away from the lights and music, movement and gaiety of the golden palace-city, and out into the solitude of the groves and gardens beyond. In this time of joy, he was not at ease himself; and he did not know why.
His full name was Phaethon Prime Rhadamanth Humodified (augment) Uncomposed, Indepconciousness, Base Neuroformed, Silver-Gray Manorial Schola, Era 7043 (the "Reawakening").
This particular evening, the west wing of the Aurelian Palace-city had been set aside for a Presentation of Visions by the elite of Rhadamanthus Mansion. Phaethon had been extended an invitation to sit on the panel of dream-judges, and, eager to experience the future histories involved, had happily accepted. Phaethon had been imagining the evening, perhaps, would be in miniature, for Rhadamanthus House, what the High Transcendence in December would be for all mankind.
But he was disappointed. The review of one drab and uninspired extrapolation after another had drained his patience.
Here was a future where all men were recorded as brain-information in a diamond logic crystal occupying the core of the earth; there was one where all humanity existed in the threads of a plantlike array of sails and panels forming a Dyson Sphere around the sun; a third promised, larger thanworlds, housings for trillions of minds and superminds, existing in the absolute cold of trans-Neptunian space--cold was required for any truly precise subatomic engineering--but with rails or elevators of unthinkably dense material running across hundreds of AU, across the whole width of the solar system, and down into the mantle of the sun, both to mine the hydrogen ash for building matter, and to tap the vast energy of Sol, should ever matter or energy in any amount be needed by the immobile deep-space mainframes housing the minds of mankind.
Any one of them should have been a breathtaking vision. The engineering was worked out in loving detail. Phaethon could not name what it was he wanted, but he knew he wanted none of these futures being offered him.
Daphne, his wife, who was only a collateral member of the House, had not been invited; and, Helion, his sire, was present only as a partialversion, the primary having been called away to a conclave of the Peers.
And so it was that in the center of a loud, happy throng of brightly costumed telepresences, mannequins, and real-folk, and with a hundred high windows in the Presence Hall busy and bright with monotonous futures, and with a thousand channels clamoring with messages, requests, and invitations for him, Phaethon realized that he was entirely alone.
Fortunately, it was masquerade, and he was able to assign his face and his role to a backup copy of himself. He donned the disguise of a Harlequin clown, with lace at his throat and mask on his face, and then slipped out of a side entrance before any of Helion's lieutenants or squires-of-honor thought to stop him.
Without a word or signal to anyone, Phaethon departed, and he walked across silent lawns and gardens by moonlight, accompanied only by his thoughts.
Copyright 2002 by John C. Wright
Excerpted from The Golden Age by Wright, John C. Copyright © 2003 by Wright, John C.. Excerpted by permission.
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