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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey

Hall of the Phoenix Machines

The suicide machines seemed to have only one purpose: to destroy themselves. Their grace, their complexity, the sureness and boldness of their design made that seem absurd, but there they were, ripping themselves to scrap. Were they alien devices with some unfathomable purpose? scientists asked. Were they terrestrial constructions that had gone horribly, horribly wrong?

The suicide machines were housed in a vast hall in the center of an enormous nickel-iron asteroid, just beyond the orbit of Mars. Someone had obviously constructed the hall for the machines. Of course, devices as large and complex as the suicide machines, could easily have built the place themselves. The hall was purely functional, a planet-sized machine shop, full of smaller, simpler contraptions obviously used to construct and repair the suicide machines. In fact, the whole complex seemed designed to build the machines and allow them to demolish themselves, so that the smaller machines to put the pieces back together. Then it could all begin again.

The scientists studied the machines. Took readings. Argued. Wrote books. Went on lecture tours. One scientist had a nervous breakdown. Another quit and became a born-again evangelist. The suicide machines continued destroying themselves and other machines put them back together.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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