Lenie Clarke--amphibious cyborg, Meltdown Madonna, agent of the Apocalypse--has grown sick to death of her own cowardice.
For five years (since the events recounted in Maelstrom), she and her bionic brethren (modified to work in the rift valleys of the ocean floor) have hidden in the mountains of the deep Atlantic. The facility they commandeered was more than a secret station on the ocean floor. Atlantis was an exit strategy for the corporate elite, a place where the world's Movers and Shakers had hidden from the doomsday microbe ßehemoth--and from the hordes of the moved and the shaken left behind. For five years "rifters" and "corpses" have lived in a state of uneasy truce, united by fear of the outside world.
But now that world closes in. An unknown enemy hunts them through the crushing darkness of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. ßehemoth--twisted, mutated, more virulent than ever--has found them already. The fragile armistice between the rifters and their one-time masters has exploded into all-out war, and not even the legendary Lenie Clarke can take back the body count.
Billions have died since she loosed ßehemoth upon the world. Billions more are bound to. The whole biosphere came apart at the seams while Lenie Clarke hid at the bottom of the sea and did nothing. But now there is no place left to hide. The consequences of past acts reach inexorably to the very floor of the world, and Lenie Clarke must return to confront the mess she made.
Redemption doesn't come easy with the blood of a world on your hands. But even after five years in pitch-black purgatory, Lenie Clarke is still Lenie Clarke. There will be consequences for anyone who gets in her way-and worse ones, perhaps, if she succeeds...
Behemoth: Seppuku concludes the final act (begun in ßehemoth: ß-Max) of Peter Watts's chilling and powerful Rifters series.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Peter Watts calls himself "a reformed marine biologist." Canada's Globe and Mail calls him "one of the very best hard-SF writers alive." The two volumes of ßehemoth complete the trilogy he began with Starfish and Maelstrom. He is currently writing an unrelated literary novel involving space vampires for Tor. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
Peter Watts is a former marine biologist and the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of novels such as Starfish, Maelstrom and Behemoth, and numerous short stories. He has been called "a hard science fiction writer through and through and one of the very best alive" by The Globe and Mail and whose work the New York Times called "seriously paranoid."
Read an Excerpt
By Peter Watts, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 Peter Watts
All rights reserved.
The essence of humanity's spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another.
— E. O. Wilson
I would gladly lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.
— J. B. S. Haldane
Phocoena runs silent out of Atlantis, threading between peaks and canyons that cover and impede her progress in equal measure. Their course is a schizoid amalgam of conflicting priorities, the need for speed scraping incompatibly against the drive to survive. To Lenie Clarke it seems as though their compass bearing at any given moment could be the work of a random number generator; but over time the net vector resolves to southwest.
At some point Lubin decides that they're safely out of the neighborhood. Haste becomes the better part of discretion; Phocoena climbs into open water. She skims west down the slopes of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, occasionally twisting this way or that to avoid moguls the size of orbital lifters. Mountains give way to foothills; foothills, to a vast endless expanse of mud. Clarke sees none of it through the ports, of course — Lubin hasn't bothered to turn on the outside lights — but the topography scrolls past on the nav panel in a garish depth-synched spectrum. Jagged red peaks, so high that their tips almost rise above darkness, lie well out of range behind them. Transitional slopes, segueing indiscernibly from yellow to green, fade to stern. The abyssal plain flows beneath them like an endless blue carpet, hypnotic and restful.
For long merciful hours, there is no virulent microbe to track; no betrayal to withstand; no desperate battle to fight. There is nothing to do but dwell on the microcosm receding behind them, on friends and foes brought finally into war-weary alignment — not through negotiation or reconciliation, but through the sudden imminence of the greater threat, the threat from outside. The threat Phocoena races toward even now.
Perhaps not such a blessing after all, this interlude.
Eventually the seabed rises before them into a great color-banded escarpment swelling across the screen. There's a gap in the wall ahead, a great underwater canyon splitting the Scotian conshelf like God's own icepick. Nav lists it as The Gully. Clarke remembers that name; it's got one of the biggest shortstop arrays this side of Fundy. Lubin indulges her, edges a few degrees off course to intersect one of the colossal structures halfway up the canyon's throat. He flashes the forward floods as they drift past. The seamill looms huge in the beams, the visible arc of its perimeter so slight that Clarke could have taken it for a straight line. One of its great blades passes above them, its base and its tip lost in darkness to either side. It barely moves.
There was a time when this was the competition. Not so long ago the currents of the Gully produced almost as many joules per second as a good-sized geothermal plant. Then the climate changed, and the currents with it. Now the array is nothing but a tourist stop for amphibious cyborgs: weightless derelicts, slumbering in the long dark.
That's us, Clarke reflects as they pass. For just this one moment she and Lubin are weightless too, poised precisely between two gravitational fields. Behind them: Atlantis, the failed refuge. Ahead —
Ahead, the world they've been hiding from.
Five years since she's been ashore. Back then the apocalypse was just getting under way; who knows how wild the party's grown by now? They've learned a few things — broad strokes, dark rumors, bits and pieces filtered from that fraying patch of the telecom spectrum that spans the Atlantic. All of North America is quarantined. The rest of the world bickers over whether to put it out of its misery or simply let it die on its own. Most still fight to keep ßehemoth at bay; others have embraced that Doomsday microbe, have seemingly embraced Armageddon itself.
Clarke isn't quite sure what to make of that. Some death wish buried in the collective unconscious, perhaps. Or maybe just the grim satisfaction that even the doomed and downtrodden can take in payback. Death is not always defeat; sometimes, it is the chance to die with your teeth buried in your oppressor's throat.
There is much dying, back on the surface. There is much baring of teeth. Lenie Clarke does not know their reasons. She knows only that some of them act in her name. She knows only that their numbers are growing.
* * *
She dozes. When she opens her eyes again the cockpit glows with diffuse emerald light. Phocoena has four bow ports — two dorsal, two ventral — great perspex teardrops radiating back from the nose. A dim green void presses down on the upper ports; below, a corrugated expanse of sand rushes past beneath Clarke's footrest.
Lubin has disabled the color-codes. On nav, Phocoena races up a gentle monochrome slope. The depth gauge reads 70m and rising.
"How long have I been sleeping?" Clarke asks.
"Not long." Fresh red scars radiate from the corners of Lubin's eyes, the visible aftermath of an operation that slid neuroelectric inlays into his optic nerves. Clarke still winces inwardly at the sight; she's not sure she would've trusted the corpses' surgeons even if they are all on the same side now. Lubin obviously thinks the additional data-gathering capacity was worth the risk. Or maybe it's just one of those extras he's always wanted, but never been cleared for in his past life.
"We're at Sable already?" Clarke says.
Bleating from nav: hard echo up the slope at two o'clock. Lubin throttles back and slews to starboard. Centrifugal force swings Clarke to the side.
Thirty meters. The sea outside looks bright and cold. It's like staring into green glass. Phocoena crawls up the slope at a few sluggish knots, sniffing northwest toward a wireframe assembly of tubes and struts swelling on nav. Clarke leans forward, peers through shafts of murky light. Nothing.
"What's the viz out there?" she wonders.
Lubin, intent on his piloting, doesn't look over. "Eight point seven."
Twenty meters from the surface. The water ahead darkens suddenly, as though an eclipse were in progress. An instant later that darkness resolves into the toe of a giant: the rounded end of a cylindrical structure half-buried in drifting sand, fuzzed with sponges and seaweed, curving away into the hazy distance. Nav pegs it at eight meters high.
"I thought it floated," Clarke says.
Lubin pulls back on the stick: Phocoena climbs into the water alongside the structure. "They beached it when the well ran dry."
So this great sunken pontoon must be flooded. Girders and struts stand on its upper surface, a monstrous scaffold rising into daylight. Lubin maneuvers the sub between them as though threading a needle. Nav shows them entering a submerged arena enclosed by four such structures arranged in a square. Clarke can see their dim outlines through the water. Pylons and trusses rise on all sides like the bars of a cage.
Phocoena breaks the surface. The outside world ripples as water sheets down the acrylic, then wavers into focus. They've come up directly beneath the rig; its underbelly forms a metal sky a little less than ten meters overhead, held from the earth by a network of support pylons.
Lubin climbs from his seat and grabs a fanny pack off a nearby utility hook. "Back in a few minutes," he says, popping the dorsal hatch. He climbs away. Clarke hears a splash through the opening.
He still isn't happy about her presence here. She ignores his safe-distancing maneuver and rises to follow.
The air wafting through the hatch blows cold against her face. She climbs onto the sub's back and looks around. The sky — what she can see of it, through the girders and pylons — is gray and overcast; the ocean beneath is gunmetal to the horizon. But there are sounds, behind her. A distant, pulsing roar. A faint squawking, like some kind of alarm. It's familiar, but she can't quite put her finger on it. She turns.
A strip of sandy shore, maybe fifty meters past the jacket of the rig. She can see tufts of weathered, scrubby brush above the high-tide line. She can see moraines of driftwood, pushed into little strips along the beach. She can see surf pounding endlessly against it all.
She can hear birds, calling. She'd almost forgotten.
Not N'Am, of course. The mainland's still a good two or three hundred kilometers away. This is just a way station, some lonely little archipelago on the Scotian Shelf. And yet, to see living things without either fins or fists — she marvels at the prospect, even as she marvels at her own overreaction.
A steep metal staircase winds around the nearest pylon. Clarke dives into the ocean, not bothering with hood or gloves. The Atlantic slaps her face, a delicious icy sting across her exposed skin. She revels in the sensation, crosses to the pylon with a few strokes.
The stairs lead onto a walkway that runs the perimeter of the rig. Wind strums the railing's cables; the structure clatters like some arrhythmic percussion instrument. She reaches an open hatchway, peers into the dark interior: a segmented metal corridor, bundles of pipe and fiberop running along the ceiling like plexii of nerves and arteries. A T-junction at the far end leading off to unknown, opposite destinations.
Wet footprints on the deck lead in here, and turn left. Clarke follows.
Sound and vision fade as she penetrates deeper into the hulk. Bulkheads muffle the sound of the surf and the miraculous squawking of the gulls. Her enhanced vision fares better — the overcast ambience from outside follows her around a half-dozen corners, peeps in through portholes at the end of unexplored corridors — but the desaturation of color in her surroundings tells her that she's moving through darkness too deep for dryback eyes. That reversion to black-and-white must be why she didn't notice it sooner — dark streaks on the walls and floors could be anything, from rust to the remains of an enthusiastic game of paintball. But now, following the last smudged footprints to a hatch yawning open in the bulkhead, the realization sinks in:
Carbon scoring. Something's burned this whole section.
She steps through the hatch into what must have been someone's quarters, judging by the bunk-bed frame and the bedside table that occupies one modest wall. Frames, skeletal remnants of furniture, are all that's left. If there were ever mattresses or sheets or blankets here, they're gone now. Every surface is coated in dark greasy soot.
From somewhere out in the hall, the creak of metal hinges.
Clarke steps back into the corridor and tracks the sound. By the time it stops she's got a fix, and a beacon — light, bouncing dimly back down the passageway from around a corner just ahead. That way was dark and silent when she stepped into the cabin; now, she can even hear distant waves.
She follows the light. Finally she comes to an open hatch at the base of a companionway, leading up. Ocean breeze sneaks past her into the rig, carrying the sound of seabirds and the wet rubbery scent of Ascophyllum. For a moment she's taken aback; the light pours down from the head of the stairs, easily bright enough to bring color back into the world, and yet the walls are still —
The polymer around the lip of the hatch has bubbled and burned; all that remains are lumpy, flaking clots of carbon. Clarke pulls experimentally at the wheel; the hatch scarcely moves, screeching softly against the deposits caking its hinges.
She rises into daylight, and devastation.
It's a small rig, as such things were measured. Nowhere near the city-sized monstrosities that once crowded the ocean hereabouts. Perhaps, by the time it was built, oil was already falling out of fashion; or perhaps there simply wasn't enough left to warrant a bigger investment. For whatever reason, the main hull is only two stories thick along most of its length. Now Clarke rises onto the wide-open expanse of its roof.
The rig's deck stretches over half the area of a city block. There's an elevated helipad at the far end, and a great crane whose tendons have been cut; it lies across the deck at a messy angle, struts and crossbeams slightly crumpled on impact. The derrick at the nearer end is relatively intact, thrusting into the sky like a wireframe phallus. Clarke rises in its shadow, into something that was once a control hut of some kind. Now it's a rectangular ruin; none of the four walls remain intact, and the roof itself has been thrown halfway across the deck. There were control panels and electronics here once — she recognizes the general outlines of half-melted instrumentation.
This is how completely the hut has been destroyed: Lenie Clarke can simply step onto the main deck over what's left of the walls.
All this space, this uninterrupted visibility, unsettles her. For five years she has hidden beneath the heavy, comforting darkness of the North Atlantic, but up here — up here, she can see all the way to the edge of the world. She feels naked, like a target: visible from infinite distance.
Lubin is a small figure on the far side of the platform, his back turned, leaning on the western railing. Clarke walks toward him, skirting the wreckage, suddenly oblivious to the wheeling of the gulls. She nears the edge, fights momentary vertigo: Sable Archipelago spreads out before her, an insignificant chain of sandy dots in the middle of the ocean. The nearest looks big enough from here, though, its spine sheathed in brownish vegetation, its beach stretching almost out of sight to the south. Off in that distance, Clarke thinks she sees tiny specks in vague motion.
Lubin's wearing a pair of binoculars, panning his head slowly from side to side. Scanning the island. He doesn't speak as Clarke joins him on the railing.
"Did you know them?" she asks softly.
"Perhaps. I don't know who was out here when it happened."
I'm sorry, she almost says, but what's the point?
"Maybe they saw it coming," she suggests. "Maybe they got away."
He doesn't look away from the shoreline. The binocs extend from his eyes like tubular antennae.
"Should we be out in the open like this?" Clarke asks.
Lubin shrugs, startlingly, chillingly indifferent to security.
She looks down along the shoreline. The moving specks are a bit larger now, some kind of animals from the look of it. They appear to be moving this way.
"When do you suppose it happened?" Somehow, it seems important to keep him talking.
"It's been almost a year since we got a signal from them," he says. "Could've been any time since then."
"Could've been last week," Clarke remarks. There was once a time when their allies were much more faithful in their correspondence. Even so, extended silence doesn't always mean anything. You had to wait until no one was listening. You had to be careful not to give the game away. Both corpse and rifter contacts went dark now and then, back in the early days. Even now, after a year of silence, it's not unreasonable to keep hoping for news, someday. Any day.
Except now, of course. Except from here.
"Two months ago," Lubin says. "At least."
She doesn't ask how he knows. She follows his magnified gaze back to shore.
Oh my God.
"They're horses," she whispers, amazed. "Wild horses. Holy shit."
The animals are close enough now to be unmistakable. An image comes to her, unbidden: Alyx in her seafloor prison, Alyx saying, This is the best place I could possibly be. Clarke wonders what she'd say now, seeing these wild things.
On second thought, it probably wouldn't impress her. She was a corpse kid, after all. She'd probably toured the world a dozen times before she was eight. Maybe even had a horse of her own.
The herd stampedes along the beach. "What are they doing out here?" Clarke wonders. Sable wasn't a proper island even back before the rising seas partitioned it; it's never been more than a glorified sand dune, crawling around the outer edges of the Shelf's exhausted oil fields under the influence of wind and currents. She can't even see any trees or shrubs on this particular island, just a mane of reedy grass running along its backbone. It seems absurd that such an insignificant speck of land could support creatures so large.
"Seals, too." Lubin points along the shore to the north, although whatever he sees is too distant for Clarke's unmagnified vision. "Birds. Vegetation."
The dissonance of it sinks in. "Why the sudden interest in wildlife, Ken? I never took you for a nature lover."
"It's all healthy," he says.
"No carcasses, no skeletons. Nothing even looks sick." Lubin slips the binocs from his skull and slides them back into his fanny pack. "The grass is rather brown, but I suspect that's normal." He sounds almost disappointed for some —
ßehemoth, she realizes. That's what he's looking for. Hoping for. Up here the world burns its hot zones — at least, it burns those small enough to carry any hope of containment in exchange for the lives and land lost to the flame. ßehemoth threatens the entire biosphere, after all; nobody gives a damn about collateral damage when the stakes are that high.
Excerpted from ßehemoth: Seppuku by Peter Watts, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2005 Peter Watts. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
THE TRIGONOMETRY OF SALVATION,
THE SKILL OF THE CHASE,
THE HAMILTON ITERATIONS,
EPILOGUE: SINGULAR HESSIAN,
NOTES AND REFERENCES,
TOR BOOKS BY PETER WATTS,