'If they existed, they would be here' ENRICO FERMI. In the second volume in Stephen Baxter's epic Manifold Series Reid Malenfant inhabits the universe Malenfant kick-started in TIME ('science fiction at its best' FHM) -- and 'they' are here. When Nemoto, a Japanese researcher on the Moon, discovers evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence in the solar system, the Fermi Paradox provokes both Malenfant and Nemoto to question why now? Because, suddenly, there are signs of intelligent life in deep space in all directions. Deeper layers of Fermi's paradox unravel as robot-like aliens, the Gaijin, seem to be e-mailing themselves from star to star, and wherever telescopes point, far away, other alien races are destroying worlds!
by Stephen Baxter
To my nephew, Thomas Baxter. And Simon Bradshaw and Eric Brown
Innumerable Suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these Suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds...
-- GIORDANO BRUNO (1548-1600)
If they existed, they would be here.
-- ENRICO FERMI (1901-1954)
Sections of this novel appeared in substantially different versions inPrologue
Science Fiction Age
magazine and in
an anthology edited by Peter Crowther.
My name is Reid Malenfant.
You know me. And you know I'm an incorrigible space cadet.
You know I've campaigned for, among other things, private mining expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I've tried to get you to pay for such things. I've bored you with that often enough already, right?
So tonight I want to be a little more personal. Tonight I want to talk about why I gave over my life to a single, consuming project.
It started with a simple question:
Where is everybody?
As a kid I used to lie at night out on the lawn, soaking up dew and looking at the stars, trying to feel the Earth turning under me. It felt wonderful to be alive -- hell, to be ten years old, anyhow.
But I knew that the Earth was just a ball of rock, on the fringe of a nondescript galaxy.
As I lay there staring at the stars -- the thousands I could pick out with my naked eyes, the billions that make up the great wash of our Galaxy, the uncounted trillions in the galaxies beyond -- I just couldn't believe, even then, that there was nobody out
looking back at me down
Was it really possible that this was the
place where life had taken hold -- that only
were there minds and eyes capable of looking out and wondering?
But if not,
where are they?
Why isn't there evidence of extraterrestrial civilization all around us?
Consider this. Life on Earth got started just about as soon as it could -- as soon as the rocks cooled and the oceans gathered. Of course it took a good long time to evolve
Nevertheless we have to believe that what applies on Earth ought to apply on all the other worlds out there, like or unlike Earth; life ought to be popping up everywhere. And, as there are
hundreds of billions
of stars out there in the Galaxy, there are presumably hundreds of billions of opportunities for life to come swarming up out of the ponds -- and even more opportunities in the other galaxies that crowd our universe.
Furthermore, life spread over Earth as fast and as far as it could. And already we're starting to spread to other worlds. Again, this can't be a unique trait of Earth life.
So, if life sprouts everywhere, and spreads as fast and as far as it can, how come nobody has come spreading all over
The universe is a big place. There are huge spaces between the stars. But it's not
big. Even crawling along with dinky ships that only reach a fraction of light speed -- ships we could easily start building now -- we could colonize the Galaxy in a few tens of millions of years. One hundred million, tops.
One hundred million years.
It seems an immense time -- after all, one hundred million years ago the dinosaurs ruled Earth. But the Galaxy is one hundred times older still. There has been time for Galactic colonization to have happened
times since the birth of the stars.
Remember, all it takes is for
race somewhere to have evolved the will and the means to colonize; and once the process has started it's hard to see what could stop it.
But, as a kid on that lawn, I didn't see them. I seemed to be surrounded by emptiness and silence.
blare out on radio frequencies. Why, with our giant radio telescopes we could detect a civilization no more advanced than ours anywhere in the Galaxy. But we don't.
More advanced civilizations ought to be much more noticeable. We could spot somebody building a shell around their star, or throwing in nuclear waste. We could probably see evidence of such things even in other galaxies. But we don't. Those other galaxies, other islands of stars, seem to be as barren as this one.
Maybe we're just unlucky. Maybe we're living at the wrong time. The Galaxy is an old place; maybe They have been, flourished, and gone already. But consider this: Even if They are long gone, surely we should see Their mighty ruins, all around us. But we don't even see that. The stars show no signs of engineering. The Solar System appears to be primordial, in the sense that it shows no signs of the great projects we can already envisage, like terraforming the planets, or tinkering with the Sun, and so on.
We can think of lots of rationalizations for this absence.
Maybe there is something that kills off every civilization like ours before we get too far -- for example, maybe we all destroy ourselves in nuclear wars or eco collapse. Or maybe there is something more sinister: plagues of killer robots sliding silently between the stars, killing off fledgling cultures for their own antique purposes.
Or maybe the answer is more benevolent. Maybe we're in some kind of quarantine -- or a zoo.
But none of these filtering mechanisms convinces me. You see, you have to believe that this magic suppression mechanism, whatever it is, works for
race in this huge Galaxy of ours. All it would take would be for
race to survive the wars, or evade the vacuum robots, or come sneaking through the quarantine to sell trinkets to the natives -- or even just to start broadcasting some ET version of
anywhere in the Galaxy -- and we'd surely see or hear them.
But we don't.
This paradox was first stated clearly by a twentieth-century physicist called Enrico Fermi. It strikes me as a genuine mystery. The contradictions are basic: Life seems capable of emerging everywhere; just one star-faring race could easily have covered the Galaxy by now; the whole thing seems inevitable -- but it hasn't happened.
Thinking about paradoxes is the way human understanding advances. I think the Fermi paradox is telling us something very profound about the universe, and our place in it. Or was.
Of course, everything is different now.PART ONE
...And he felt as if he were drowning, struggling up from some thick, viscous fluid, up toward the light. He wanted to open his mouth, to scream -- but he had no mouth, and no
What would he scream?
I am Reid Malenfant.
He could see the sail.
It was a gauzy sheet draped across the crowded stars of this place.
Where, Malenfant? Why, the core of the Galaxy, he thought, wonder breaking through his agony.
And within the sail, cupped, he could see the neutron star, an angry ball of red laced with eerie synchrotron blue, like a huge toy.
A star with a sail attached to it. Beautiful. Scary.
Triumph surged. I won, he thought. I resolved the
the great conundrum of the cosmos; Nemoto would be pleased. And now, together, we're fixing an unsatisfactory universe. Hell of a thing.
But if you see all this, Malenfant, then what are
He looked down at himself.
A sense of body, briefly. Spread-eagled against the sail's gauzy netting. Clinging by fingers and toes, monkey digits, here at the center of the Galaxy. A metaphor, of course, an illusion to comfort his poor human mind.
Welcome to reality.
The pain! Oh, God, the
Terror flooded over him. And anger.
And, through it, he remembered the Moon, where it began...Chapter 1
A passenger in the
tug, Reid Malenfant descended toward the Moon.
The Farside base, called Edo, was a cluster of concrete components -- habitation modules, power plants, stores, manufacturing facilities -- half buried in the cratered plain. Comms masts sprouted like angular flowers. The tug pad was just a splash of scorched moondust concrete, a couple of kilometers farther out. Around the station itself, the regolith was scarred by tractor traffic.
Robots were everywhere, rolling, digging, lifting; Edo was growing like a colony of bacilli in nutrient.
a Japanese Sun flag, was fixed to a pole at the center of Edo.
"You are welcome to my home," Nemoto said.
She met him in the pad's air lock: a large, roomy chamber blown into the regolith. Her face was broad, pale, her eyes black; her hair was elaborately shaved, showing the shape of her skull. She smiled, apparently habitually. She could have been no more than half Malenfant's age, perhaps thirty.
Nemoto helped Malenfant don the suit he'd been fitted with during the flight from Earth. The suit was a brilliant orange. It clung to him comfortably, the joints easy and loose, although the sewn-in plates of tungsten armor were heavy.
"It's a hell of a development from the old EMUs I wore when I was flying shuttle," he said, trying to make conversation.
Nemoto listened politely, after the manner of young people, to his fragments of reminiscence from a vanished age. She told him the suit had been manufactured on the Moon, and was made largely of spider silk. "I will take you to the factory. A chamber in the lunar soil, full of immense spinnerets. A nightmare vision!..."
Malenfant felt disoriented, restless.
He was here to deliver a lecture, on colonizing the Galaxy, to senior executives of Nishizaki Heavy Industries. But here he was being led off the tug by Nemoto, the junior researcher who'd invited him out to the Moon, just a kid. He hoped he wasn't making some kind of fool of himself.
Reid Malenfant used to be an astronaut. He'd flown the last shuttle mission -- STS-194, on
-- when, ten years ago, the space transportation system had reached the end of its design life, and the International Space Station had finally been abandoned, incomplete. No American had flown into space since -- save as the guest of the Japanese, or the Europeans, or the Chinese.
In this year 2020, Malenfant was sixty years old and feeling a lot older -- increasingly stranded, a refugee in this strange new century, his dignity woefully fragile.
Well, he thought, whatever the dubious politics, whatever the threat to his dignity, he was
It had been the dream of his long life to walk on another world. Even if it was as the guest of the Japanese.