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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey

A Cabinet of Curiosities

Traditionally, objects in a "Wunderkammer," or "curiosity cabinet" relate to each other in intuitive ways rather than following any strict principles of scientific philosophy. It is a charming tradition from the Earth of the 16th century, and, in the past, the objects have fallen into two categories-'naturalia' and 'artificialia', objects created by Nature and those constructed by the hands of intelligent beings. We offer here a set of objects both Natural and wholly Unnatural, but all collected with great care.

Our current cabinet hosts a set of catastrophes-cataclysms large and small. Please turn your attention to the Apocalypse Cabinet.

  The Core of Galaxy NGC 4261
Since it cannot be seen in the visible spectrum, a black hole might be an ironic object with which to introduce the cabinet, but we consider this galactic core central to the cabinet's concept. A collapsed star means not only death to itself, but to the star system that surrounded it. What civilizations died in the collapse of NGC 4261's nucleus? What new life was born?

  The golden minarets and dome from the God-King's palace on Lithia
Considered by most historians as the most physically beautiful civilization the galaxy has ever produced. We are happy to present Lithia's cultural and spiritual heart. Those who've read their history will remember that Lithia was one of the so-called "ideational" worlds, neither quite existing or not-existing in this or any other space-time. Because of its purely conceptual nature, Lithia has both always and never existed, and is always new and unique to each traveler who observes it, reborn in that person's mind's eye. Or not.

  The Wings of the Archangel Gabriel
In the life of the galaxy (or any galaxy), there are almost as many dead gods as there are traditional physical life forms. The wings you see here once belonged to a principal servant of one of the major Gods in the latter days of Earth. Since that is the home planet of the Wunderkammer tradition, we thought it appropriate to select one of its more enduring and controversial deities. You can find supplemental materials on this and other "Colorful Gods of Earth" in the museum gift shop.

  An Alchemist's Alembic
Also from 16th century Earth, this device for alchemical distillation is emblematic of the physical sciences that would come to dominate that world's culture for most of the next million years. Alchemists referred to their experiments as The Great Work. While formally attempting to transmute base metals into gold, this is clearly a metaphor for intellectual and spiritual growth through knowledge of the physical world. We include the Alembic in this collection to acknowledge and honor the death of curiosity in the galaxy.

  One Kilogram of Pazyrykium
Pazyrykium is not only one of the deadliest and most radioactive substances ever discovered: at just over 90 billion years, it also has the longest half-life of any known matter. This sample from the far edge of the known universe has long since lost expelled the major portion of its radioactive properties, pointing out not only the advanced age of our universe, but also to its imminent end.

  The Kiss
Plastination is one of those inventions common to almost all technological civilizations. Water in tissue is replaced with rigid polymers, preserving the physical form of a being. Among a handful of civilizations plastination moved from being a purely scientific process to an art form. In fact, to avoid an invasion by a neighboring world, the entire population of the planet Tophagoides 668 committed suicide and their bodies were plastinated while making the same obscene gesture toward the invading starships. In that defiant spirit, we offer this plastinated kiss created by a human artist on Triton, one of Jupiter's former moons. It was once said that since it's is unlikely that any two lovers will die at exactly the same time, one will be left alone, making all love a tragedy of sorts. But what is ecstasy without tragedy? So, we offer this kiss and wonder if, frozen like this, it will become the last kiss ever?

The stars and planets are very far apart these days, and we are reaching the end of the life. Will there be a Big Crunch with the birth of a new universe, or just a soundless, endless freeze? Our best minds have been arguing about this for a billion years and will no doubt argue until the last moment of time. We can only hope that we are lucky enough to end up like the plastinated lovers in this final tableau. Though long dead, we are here to witness their affection. There are worse fates then ending up in some future civilization's Wunderkammer. At least it will mean there is someone left to care.


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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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