By Charles Stross


No book gets written in a vacuum, and this one is no exception.

I'd like to thank my editors, Marty Halpern at Golden Gryphon and Ginjer Buchanan at Ace, and my agent Caitlin Blasdell, all of whom helped make this book possible.

I'd also like to thank my hundreds of test readers — in no particular order: Simon Bradshaw, Dan Ritter, Nicholas Whyte, Elizabeth Bear, Brooks Moses, Mike Scott, Jack Foy, Luna Black, Harry Payne, Andreas Black, Marcus Rowland, Ken MacLeod, Peter Hollo, Andrew Wilson, Stefan Pearson, Gavin Inglis, Jack Deighton, John Scalzi, Anthony Quirke, Jane McKie, Hannu Rajaniemi, Andrew Ferguson, Martin Page, Robert Sneddon, and Steve Stirling.

I'd also like to thank Hugh Hancock, who valiantly helped me MST3K my way through the Bond canon.








August 25, 1975, 165°W, 30°N. The guys from the 'A' and 'B' crews have been sitting on their collective ass for five weeks, out in the middle of nowhere. They're not alone; there's the ship's crew, from the captain on down to the lowliest assistant cook, and the CIA spooks. But the other guys have at least got something to do.

The ship's crew has a vessel to run: an unholy huge behemoth, 66,000 tons of deep-ocean exploratory mining ship, 400 million bucks and seven years in the building. The CIA dudes are keeping a wary eye on the Russian trawler that's stooging around on the horizon. And as for the Texan wildcat drilling guys, for the past couple of days they've been working ceaselessly on the stabilized platform, bolting one sixty-foot steel pipe after another onto the top of the drill string and lowering it into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

But the 'A' and 'B' teams have been sitting on their hands for weeks with nothing to do but oil and service the enormous mechanism floating in the moon pool at the heart of the ship, then twiddle their thumbs nervously for eighty hours as the drill lowers it into the crushing darkness.

And now that Clementine is nearly on target, there's a storm coming.

'Fucking weather,' complains Milgram.

'Language.' Duke is a tight-ass. 'How bad can it get'

Milgram brandishes his paper, the latest chart to come out of the weather office on C deck where Stan and Gilmer hunch over their green-glowing radar displays and the telex from San Diego. 'Force nine predicted within forty-eight hours, probability sixty percent and rising. We can't take that, Duke. We go over force six, the impellers can't keep us on station. We'll lose the string.'

The kid, Steve, crowds close. 'Anyone told Spook City yet?' The guys from Langley hang out in a trailer on E deck with a locked vault-type door. Everyone calls it Spook City.

'Nah.' Duke doesn't sound too concerned. 'Firstly, it hasn't happened yet. Secondly, we're only forty fathoms up from zero.' He snaps his fingers at the curious heads that have turned in his direction from their camera stations: 'Look to it, guys! We've got a job to do!'

Clementine — the vast, submersible grab at the end of the drill string — weighs around 3,000 tons and is more than 200 feet long. It's a huge steel derrick, painted gray to resist the corrosive effects of miles of seawater. At a distance it resembles a skeletal lobster, because of the five steel legs protruding from either flank. Or maybe It's more like a giant mantrap, lowered into the icy stillness of Davy Jones's locker to grab whatever it can from the sea floor.

Duke runs the engineering office from his throne in the center of the room. One wall is covered in instruments; the other is a long stretch of windows overlooking the moon pool at the heart of the ship. A door at one side of the window wall provides access to a steel-mesh catwalk fifty feet above the pool.

Here in the office the noise of the hydraulic stabilizers isn't quite deafening; there's a loud mechanical whine and a vibration they feel through the soles of their boots, but the skull-rattling throbbing is damped to a survivable level. The drilling tower above their heads lowers the endless string of pipes into the center of the pool at a steady six feet per minute, day in and day out. Steve tries not to look out the window at the pipes because the effect is hypnotic: they've been sliding smoothly into the depths for many hours now, lowering the grab toward the bottom of the ocean.

The ship is much bigger than the grab that dangles beneath it on the end of three miles of steel pipe, but it's at the grab's mercy. Three miles of pipe makes for a prodigious pendulum, and as the grab sinks slowly through the deepocean currents, the ship has to maneuver frantically to stay on top of it in the six-foot swells. Exotic domes on top of the vessel's bridge suck down transmissions from the Navy's Transit positioning satellites, feeding them to the automatic Station Keeping System that controls the ship's bow and stern thrusters, and the cylindrical surge compensators that the derrick rests on. Like a swan, it looks peaceful on the surface but under the waterline there's a hive of frantic activity.

Everything — the entire 400-megabuck investment, ten years of Company black operations — depends on what happens in the next few hours. When they reach the bottom.

Steve turns back to his TV screen. It's another miracle of technology. The barge has cameras and floodlights, vacuum tubes designed to function in the abyssal depths. But his camera is flaking out, static hash marching up the screen in periodic waves: the pressure, tons per square inch, is damaging the waterproof cables that carry power and signal. 'This is shit,' he complains. 'We're never going to spot it — if...'

He trails off. Good-time Norm at the next desk is standing up, pointing at something on his screen. There's a whoop from the other side of the room. He squints at his screen and between the lines of static he sees a rectilinear outline.

'Holy — '

The public address system crackles overhead: 'Clementine crew. K-129 on screens two and five, range approximately fifty feet, bearing two-two-five. Standby, fine thruster control.'

It's official — they've found what they're looking for.

The atmosphere in Spook City is tense but triumphant.

'We're there,' announces Cooper. He smirks at the hatchetfaced Brit in the crumpled suit, who is smoking an unfiltered Camel in clear violation of shipboard fire regulations. 'We did it!'

'We'll see,' mutters the Brit. He stubs the cigarette out and shakes his head. 'Getting there is only half the

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