BOOKS BY FREDERIK POHL
SIEGE OF ETERNITY
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
THE SIEGE OF ETERNITY Copyright (c) 1997 by Frederik Pohl
First Edition: November 1997 Printed in the United States of America 0987654321
With affection and gratitude this book is dedicated to my shipmates on the schooner Rembrandt van Ryjn, who know why.
SIEGE OF ETERNITY
THE WORLD WAS GOING ABOUT ITS EVERYDAY BUSINESS WHEN something happened that was quite strange.
For one part of the world, that everyday business it was going about amounted to nothing more than watching its television screens. Some of the world's people gazed at a prizefight in Kenya, some watched cop shows and soap operas in the Americas, a tiny fraction sat somnolent before the finals of the English National snooker matches. When those programs were interrupted for a news bulletin that part of the world was seriously annoyed.
The bulletin that interrupted their programs quickly made the viewers forgive the annoyance-at least, it did for that fraction of those viewers who believed it was real. The bulletin said that a Genuine message from space had been received on a seldom used radio frequency. Most of the message was indecipherable. A small portion was easier to decode and it turned out to be a crude form of video. Before long the simple animated drawing it displayed filled all the world's screens.
The animated sequence started with a dark screen, except for one tiny pinpoint of intense brilliance. Then that spot exploded. Smaller, less brilliant spots of light flew in all directions. That runaway expansion gradually slowed. Then it stopped entirely and reversed itself as all the spots, first slowly, at increasing velocity, fell back to the center of the screen.
That was it. That was all there was.
As entertainment, it was pretty poor stuff. But, after all, it did come from some off-Earth source. The people at the radio telescopes sure of that; so the scientists and the newsmakers began to try to figure out what the cartoon meant. Their best guess was that it represented a condensed account of the life of the universe: beginning in the Big Bang, expanding as far as that original impetus would carry it, then recollapsing into the Big Crunch as everything fell back together again. So said the pundits. But not even they could think of any good reason why some extraterrestrials would want to tell the human world about it.
However, that wasn't the end of it. A few months later there was another of the same. This one was somewhat more interesting, too. It had people in it-well, sort of people, at least, though they were not in any way human ones.
This second message ran a little longer than the first. It started with that same old birth-and-death-of-the- universe bit, only this time a figure then appeared. The figure looked either comical or terrifying, depending on how seriously you took it. The creature depicted was as skinny as a scarecrow, and it had a head with a wide, toothed mouth that grinned like a Hallowe'en pumpkin. Its 'hands' were a forest of fingers, at least a dozen of them on each side; each digit ended in a menacingly sharp talon, and what the creature was doing with them was pitilessly crushing the bright coal that had been the universe. It wasn't alone, either. Around it appeared seven other, smaller figures, each one uglier than the next. One had a beard. One had a stupid smile. One had half-closed eyes. All were perfectly hideous, by the standards of any ethnic group on Earth.
That was it. A moment later the picture winked out. All that was left was the attempts of the world's savants (and some of the world's nonsavants, who played it for laughs) to figure out what it was all about.
Some people, especially the people who made their living as the world's stand-up comics, took it to be a joke. It didn't take some of the comedians very long to identify the scarecrow as the one from Oz, and not much longer than that to give Identities to the seven others. They mixed up their children's classics, to be sure. But the one with the beard they called Doc, the dumbly smiling one Dopey, the drowsy-eyed one Sleepy: why, they were the Seven Ugly Space Dwarfs, though there was no Snow White anywhere to be found.
Not everyone was amused. The world's terrorist crazies were getting particularly active around then, and some people thought the message might have something to do w/'tft that. Others took it to be a warning of some modern-day Armageddon about to happen, or perhaps an advance notice of the Second Coming of Christ.
It wasn't any of those things, though. As it turned out, it was a whole lot worse.
Uptown traffic was terrible and there was an abandoned vehicle on the Henry Hudson Elway at Sixty-first Street that everybody was afraid to approach until the bomb squad got there. Colonel Morrisey's driver had to detour all the way over to Broadway. It was snowing enough to slow everyone down, and the traffic went from terrible to worse.
10 A.M. Traffic Advisory
The New Jersey Turnpike is mined between Exits 14 and
15 southbound. One lane is open during mine-removal activities.
An abandoned car, presumed booby-trapped, is in the
northbound Henry Hudson Elevated Highway at Sixty-first
Street and traffic is diverted.
The Lenni-Lenape Ghost Dance Revengers have declared a free-fire zone within four hundred meters of the World Trade Center from 4:00 to 4:30 P.M. today.
No other warnings currently in effect.
Fortunately they wouldn't be coming back that way, because a plane would be waiting near the yacht basin on the river. But the woman who was on her way to arrest, or rearrest, her favorite agent was getting short-tempered. Her name was Hilda Jeanne Morrisey. She had kept that name unchanged all her life, even through her two marriages-both of them brief, ancient and (as she now thought) pretty damn stupid, since there were so many less troublesome ways of having sex. Hilda Morrisey stood a hundred and sixty centimeters tall and weighed fifty kilograms, give or take a kilo or so. That weight also had not changed since her long-ago days as a police cadet, although it was true that it seemed to take more and more effort to keep it so. Her rank in the National Bureau of Investigation was full colonel. It had taken a lot of work on her part to keep that unchanged, too. Colonel Morrisey was long overdue for the promotion that the Bureau's higher brass kept trying to force on her.
The thing about that promotion wasn't that Hilda Morrisey objected to either the higher pay or the higher rank.