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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



Le Merdier


The planet of Reynir Church lies on the very edge of the Sol System, a short distance beyond Pluto. Its long, graceful orbit around the sun lasts for just over 312 years. Because of its position and its long orbit, Reynir Church has become the official gateway to the rest of the galaxy.

All explorers, settlers, and merchants leaving Near Space must pass through Reynir Church before entering Open Fields, and the empty realms of Far Space. This last human checkpoint has less to do with population control of the galaxy-it's a big place and largely empty; even felons have been known to pass easily through Reynir Church, with the understanding that they wouldn't be coming back-than with a biological imperative. No mere passport stamping station, Reynir Church is a sterilization center.

The reason is simple: Humanity is burden enough for the galaxy. The Open Fields don't need travelers carrying bio-waste and new pathogens with them onto pristine new worlds.

No one wants to make the mistakes we made on Earth, hauling animals and plants around the world and introducing them into eco-systems that couldn't cope. Humanity remembers all too clearly the rabbit plague in the Australian outback, the stray ship-cats that killed off the ground-dwelling birds in Hawaii, and the rhinovirus that wiped out the semi-intelligent marine mammals on Europa just a hundred years ago.

All ship cargoes and passengers must undergo a rigorous bio-scrub before passing through Reynir Church. Even the vessels themselves-the little cargo haulers and drones that will eventually touch a planet's surface-are sterilized. It's not an easy process, and the rigors of the bio scrub sometimes prove too much for even the bravest travelers.

Each traveler begins with a chemical bath and a skin scrape. Those travelers who object to having all their hair sheared are given a multimedia presentation on the skin and hair mites that infest even the cleanest bodies. Then they're reminded that they will be losing the top two layers of their skin during the mandatory thermal scrub, and that their hair wouldn't survive anyway. Once their egos heal up, most travelers cope well with this external cleansing.

The internal sterilization is what stops most travelers. Under sedation, each passenger is injected with autonomous nanobots that do a search and destroy mission on 99% of the flora and fauna in the passengers' vascular and digestive systems. Since some microorganisms, such as certain intestinal bacteria, are necessary for human health, each passenger receives a new, lab-grown crop. While this all happens during sedation, some travelers have complained about stomach and health problems for weeks after purgation. A few become ill enough that they have to turn back, right on the border of Open Fields. While those that go on without them are often saddened to leave companions behind, they know that those who stay were the weak ones who probably wouldn't have lasted long on the frontier anyway.

There's one other aspect of Reynir Church that's worthy of note. After each ship, its cargo and passenger are sterilized, the waste from the various bio-scrubs are stored in cubic boron-nitride containers webbed with an ultra-dense latticework of buckyballs. Constructed of the strongest known substances in the solar system, the containers are guaranteed not to leak. Of course, they do anyway. When Reynir Church's continent-size glaciers shift, and slam a few hundred billion tons of ice into a new configuration, nothing can stop them. And nothing can stand up to the pressure.

Thousands of waste containers have burst open like New Year's poppers, sinking into the deepest ice layers of the planet, far enough down that they've hit a seam of liquid water, born of the weight from all the ice above. And there's somethng else.

Something is moving on Reynir Church. Deep in the subterranean water, under all that ice. It shows up on seismographs and thermal scans. The little robot subs sent into the ice can't see much through the thick bio-toxic soup, and quickly succumb to the enormous water pressure. Something is definitely moving down there. Something we made.

The underground water system of Reynir Church is officially a class five biohazard zone. Small groups of scientists periodically go down into the deepest ice caverns to study to goo that bubbles up from the below, and the chemicals that still seep into the ocean. There's a theory in some scientific circles that we're seeing the way that life on earth might have started. It's still widely held that a comet probably bought many of the organic compounds needed to jumpstart life on the young Earth. Reynir Church has some scientists speculating that it might not have been a comet after all, but some passing alien craft randomly dumping its latrines into Earth orbit.

Billions of years later, that alien race is probably long gone. But we're still here. Someday, what's under Reynir Church may stand where we stand now, wondering uneasily if their true origin is some interplanetary outhouse. Let's hope that neither they nor we ever know the answer for certain.


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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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