Far From Paradise by P.G. Baumstarck

EXTRACT FOR
Far From Paradise

(P.G. Baumstarck)


Prelude - Iceberg

Mohr was trying to sleep in the transport but the turbulence kept waking him. He would just be drifting off when the jet would lurch and jounce as if they had hit a pothole. Nearly 150 years since man had first acquired wings, he thought, and the sky was still a bumpy road.
The transport's hold was filled with the other men of his platoon. None had said a word since lifting off, as they were all dampened by the surprise news of defeat. Colonel Kurkland had delivered the news that morning at reveille: the Home Guard War was over. Officially the settlement with the Norwegians was being branded as a 'ceasefire,' but the terms had more the ring of a 'humiliating surrender.' Mohr's men were also bearing the brunt of the shock, as they were being flown back to Oslo only an hour after roll call. They had awoken that morning thinking of themselves as soldiers still engaged in a desperate struggle, and now it was not even lunch and they were being carted off as post-war surplus.
While Mohr was depressed like everyone else, he was also partly relieved. After the war's rocky start, he had been anxiously awaiting news of their first big victory. But this had never come. The reports had stayed an endless stream of convoys being blown up, bases being harassed, and engagements being denied. And yet the brass had let it drag out, first for one month, then two, and then even for a few weeks more. At last it was over.
Mohr glanced over at Janus sitting next to him. He texted—to not have to shout over the jet noise—, ">Think this is the end of the army?"
Janus looked back. ">Has to be," came his swift reply. ">What do you think this war cost? / One billion? / Two?"
">If that ... " Mohr shook his head.
">And now they're still just throwing in the towel."
">Yep ... / Even if the whole company's not going under because of it, / I can't imagine the army has much chance of being profitable after this. / Probably nothing left to do but split us up and sell us off."
">That must be why we're all collecting back in Oslo / the fire sale," said Janus.
">Ah, right. / Our transport sets down on an auction block / and the bidding starts before a panel of security contractors."
">And world dictators."
">Heh, yeah."
They had posited that as a joke, but, as Mohr considered it, the more likely it seemed. His grin faded.
">If it came to that, what would your choice for next gig be? / Africa? / South America? / Asia?" Mohr was trying to salvage the joke.
">Well, definitely not South America, all those jungles ... / And definitely not Africa, there they got jungles and deserts. / Though southeast Asia has jungles, too, I guess ... / Fuck, I don't care where, just no jungles—that's my only rule."
Mohr chuckled.
In the hold there arose some excited chattering from the men. Mohr and Janus looked around but saw nothing to explain it. When they checked the transport's forward cams, however, they understood: they were at last approaching the city.
For many of the men, this would be their first sight of Oslo. They were slobbering over every angle coming from the transport's external cams, and some were even looking out of the windows—to behold the original photons. Mohr thought this irreverent, but he could not blame them. There were several modern ruins, but none with the combined mystery of Oslo.
The low-rise sprawl of the city's outskirts lay ahead, painted a pallid mien by the sullen and overcast day. This sight alone would not have been exceptional had it belonged to any other city, but the mere knowledge that this was Oslo made it fantastic and eldritch. Coming closer, all the city's conspicuous absences came into focus: no cars, no lights, no movement. Trees and greenery were everywhere growing wild, terrorizing the streets. And the buildings were all dilapidated and speckled with broken windows.
Approaching the city center, the heights of the buildings climbed through low-rise, mid-rise, and incipient high-rise levels. But where the city should have had its crowning island of arcologies, in Oslo there was a strange void. The buildings were absent from so large a space as to suggest an impact crater. Inside it, every lot was piled high with debris, yet the streets had been cleared for the corporate army's vehicles. It was a strangely manicured city of rubble.
They soon neared the location of the corporate army's base in the old St. Hanshaugen Park. The last time Mohr had seen Alpha Base—as it had been called back in the early days—it had been just a cluster of buildings with a heavily defended perimeter. Over the years he had heard of it being turned into a hardened installation and renamed 'The Bunker,' but that was all. He was curious what had become of it, as this was his first time back to Oslo in four years.
At first sight of the base, Mohr was stupefied. The Bunker was a squat nanometal dome dominating the center of the park. Its featurelessness at first yielded no sense of scale, but, comparing it to the few surrounding buildings and control towers, Mohr gauged that its footprint was larger than ten square blocks. Its ground level was ringed with eight, massive, twenty-meter–wide hangar doors, all of which were open and ferrying in great tides of men, vehicles, and supplies as if into eight sacrificial mouths. The surrounding oblong expanse of the park had been thoroughly paved to create 'St. Hanshaugen Tarmac.' Everywhere were transports and heavies landing and dusting off, and in between disgorging men and cargo into the teeming maze of ground traffic. Mohr looked for any tents or temporary structures set up on the tarmac, but there were none. Everything was going inside the Bunker.
He had not thought about it that morning, about what it would mean to have the entire corporate army relocating to Oslo. But if at least ten thousand men and all their attendant supplies were going to fit in there, then that structure had to be greater than even that stupendous dome. That had to be only the iceberg peak of a staggering underground complex. Something with the rackspace, garages, messes, food stores, heads, infirmaries, gymnasiums, vid theaters, sim farms, and even the whorehouses and distilleries to sustain an entire division underground for weeks.
Turning to Janus, Mohr repeated his opening question, now rife with self-sarcasm: "Think this is the end of the army ... "
Janus huffed and shook his head at the astounding scene. "Now I wish it had been. 'Cause, otherwise, this ... " he gestured out the window. "This can only be the beginning of something tremendously fucked."


Chapter 1 - Second

As the Jotunheim neared the rendezvous, her first sensor contact came in the form of one of her forward drones sighting a drone from another ship—like two advance scouts from separate armies meeting. The drones interrogated each other and verified that they were friendly, and so Frisch knew that they had found the Human fleet.
After registering with the net, sensor data from the eleven other Human ships was streamed to the Jotunheim, and her own vision was added back. Tacspace came alight with the wide gathering of friendlies. Their ship took up position in the fleet's standard three-layer formation: heavyweight carriers and battlecruisers in the center; cruiser and destroyer screens rotating around those; and finally a much thicker valence of probes and defense platforms extending out in all directions.
The Jotunheim was the last ship to arrive, so all of the captains now convened in a simspace meeting. Frisch and the other commanders appeared with Commodore Hadamard around a circular table. National emblems hung behind each of them, with Hadamard's Confederation seal shining subtly the brightest—to signify his command.
"Good to see you all in one piece again, ladies and gentlemen," said Hadamard. "Cards on the table."
Frisch realized this meant that they were to share the cryptographic keys to the sections of the sensor grid they had just laid. After doing this, a holo appeared over the table showing a projection of the unified grid. Each probe appeared as a dot on the surface of a great sphere, with its visibility drawn around it as a breath of light. The completed net was a lambent shell woven around the Hezokeen position. None of the near- or mid-range probes showed any contacts, but the long-range ones dimly revealed hundreds of Hezokeen ships lurking at the center. Also shown were the recorded tracks of past Hezokeen patrols, which came arcing out of their fleet core like stellar prominences. A counter at the bottom of the holo showed that all 2,013 probes were online.
"Excellent," remarked Hadamard. "So, we discussed our strategy back planet-side, but, now that we're out in the field, let's recheck the tactical situation. The grid's up, so now the next move is the Hezokeen's. And they have a limited number of options.
"First, even though we've surrounded their fleet with a sensor grid, this is still space, so they could try to pick up and move away. But the grid's sensors are all hyperspace-capable and could move with them, so the Hezokeen would just end up with two thousand probes chasing them. They won't try that.
"That leaves the other option, which is to try to destroy the grid here in a pitched battle. If they can take out enough of the sensors to fracture the grid's coverage, they can make an escape. That's what we can most likely expect.
"Now, it looks like the Hezokeen haven't spotted the grid so far, but, once they do, we can expect—" Hadamard broke off when he was interrupted by a sidechannel. He was looking off as he read something. "Set condition red and prepare for immediate scramble. Meeting adjourned."
Oh fuck, thought Frisch. He snapped back to the Jotunheim's tacspace context and relayed the brief orders. The bridge officers pressed around him, eager for details.
«What is it, Captain?»
«We've got no contacts on the screens ... »
«Did Hadamard say anything?»
Frisch flashed them negative responses while he checked the sensors himself. Their immediate vicinity was clear, and the grid showed no activity from the Hezokeen fleet ...
«Did anything happen while I was in the meeting?» Frisch asked. «Anything at all?»
«Well ... » said Kittelsen. «There was this weird signal that came from Earth. Computers analyzed it—just a mathematical sequence. Probably someone running a hypercomm test. It was a little high-power for that, though.»
Frisch first dismissed that. But then it struck him as a second thought: a mathematical sequence ...
Hadamard soon came on the comms, fleet-wide address:
«I'll keep this short. Just minutes ago we intercepted another rogue hypercomm transmission. This one was cast from the Earth in the direction of the Hezokeen fleet. All of our comm systems would have seen it and discarded it.
«I've talked with Fleet, and they've confirmed that this had the same characteristics as the first pirate signals some weeks ago. Only back then it was the Hezokeen fleet that spoke first, and their Earth-side agents who replied. The signal just now was cast first from the Earth, and the Hezokeen fleet hasn't responded yet. Since they're maintaining comm silence, HQ thinks there's a fair chance this might have been the 'go' code for some operation. Possibly an invasion. Our main fleet is already mobilizing for that eventuality.
«So let me be clear: we are on high alert, poised to oppose an all-out invasion by the Hezokeen. Even though the MINDEFs didn't want to lower the Space DEFCON to two—just in case this turns out to be a false alarm—the entire fleet is to act like it. All ships in flight are scrambling to emergency battle rendezvous, and everything in port will put to the skies within the hour.
«Our job is to watch the sensor picket and provide any forewarning and profile of a Hezokeen move. To do that we'll be fanning out, every ship for itself, to watch the lines. Patrol in strict stealth and investigate any possible contacts from the grid. We'll maintain comm silence, only breaking it in case of a confirmed Hezokeen sighting. —And that's a mass sighting. I don't want anybody sending back 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' for just a five-ship patrol»
Frisch dimly recalled 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' as the priority code for an en route invasion of the Sol system. He remembered a day in officer candidate school where they covered 'common three-letter emergency codes for events that will never actually happen.' But now one of those was actually being invoked ...
«If we see nothing from the Hezokeen within twenty-four hours,» Hadamard continued, «then we rendezvous at Point Kappa-Niner. But stay sharp. If there really is an invasion on the way, Fleet will need as much warning as possible so that they can start evacuating cities Earth-side. That's our job here: sight the Hezokeen, save lives. The second we get a confirmed sighting, we run Plan Lima back to the system and join up with the fleet.
«If there are any questions, we'll be out of whisper range in a minute, so make it fast. Other than that, good luck, and good hunting»
Once the channel closed, Kittelsen announced to the Jotunheim's bridge: «NAV: Dispatch orders received: / Patrol grid branches Victor through Tango»
«CO: Proceed / speed: stealth +0.5»
With their ship on its way, Frisch could finally react to this change of stakes. But he was still stupefied—an invasion? They had not even seen an alien ship first-hand on this mission yet, but, if what Hadamard had just said were true, then not five minutes from now the Hezokeen fleet would set off on a straight shot for the Earth—and their own puny flotilla would be the first thing to be swept aside.
In tacspace the Human ships were splitting up, and the great mass of probes and plats was breaking back down into individual accompaniments for each vessel. The Jotunheim's engines were still hot from the ride in, so she was quickly making her way out from the rendezvous, climbing back up to a lonely place along the grid.


Chapter 2 - Obsolete

Hanssen waited till the next morning to jet back to Leknes. When he lifted out of Bergen, the sun was hanging low but determined in the sky, the day already hours old from its perspective.
Steffens called once he was in flight. Hanssen had been wondering how everyone back in Leknes would take the news of the treaty.
"Cassie?" he answered the call.
"Haze, good—we're glad you're coming back."
Keying on her tone, Hanssen looked at her with concern.
"It's the Brigadier."
***
Following the last leg on his OHUD map, Hanssen ended up outside of the Brigadier's hospital room. He entered softly and approached Krohg's bed, where the man was propped up to receive visitors. Thin tubes ran between his face and arms and some attendant machines. These were all blank of displays—their data available only over privy hospital augspace.
Krohg turned towards him. "Hanssen ... " he said, his voice an intrenchant whisper.
"Sir." Hanssen sat in the chair next to the bed. "How are you?"
"Better, better ... It wasn't so much the aneurism as it was the ... falling down afterwards. ... 'Falling down,'" he repeated with a laugh-like exhalation. "No way for a professional soldier to go."
Hanssen tried to grin but accomplished nothing. "I've ... talked to the doctors. They said they patched you up, but that you won't let them administer a simple OPN treatment to make the cure permanent." One of Krohg's sons had caught Hanssen in the waiting room and explained the obstacles the man was offering to his treatment. Hanssen had agreed to talk to him about it, if only to find out his reasons.
Krohg chuckled to the limits of his ability. "'OPN treatment,'" he echoed. "I don't even know what that means."
"Sorry, it's 'Out-patient nanome—'"
"No, no, I know what it means ... But what does it mean, really?" He gave a sarcastic puff.
Hanssen drew back. "Then is your objection some ... religious thing?"
His eyes drifted down. "Perhaps. I suppose it's a 'religious thing' whenever we act on belief. And sometimes contrary to reason."
"... So you're against the level of technology or—"
"No, no, I'm not against the technology. Far from it ... " He turned to look out the window. He struggled to muster his ever failing voice, "It just feels like this world ... Like this world ... isn't mine anymore." He sighed. "I mean, how could it be? With space elevators, and alien embassies, and ... " A hoverbus flew past. "And hover-everythings," he gestured choppily outside.
He looked back to Hanssen. "I just feel that, wherever humanity's going ... its future ... isn't mine anymore. And the longer I wait around the more alien I'll become."
Hanssen looked down into his hands. He could see why Krohg had not wanted to explain this to his children. Maybe he was only telling Hanssen because he was accustomed to taking what Krohg said at face value, without arguing or reinterpreting. Yet Hanssen did feel called to say something contrary, as if Krohg were contemplating suicide and he had to talk him back from the ledge.
"But of course it's your future. Everyone's ... future," Hanssen said thinly. "And don't you want to see how we get through all this? Leknes and the corporate army? With Norway still in pieces. And the depression? Don't you want to see if the world ... "
Krohg raised a hand weakly, dispersing Hanssen's words. "The human race will get through. It always does. Even if some parts of it don't. And now I only want to see the end of my life the way I always thought I would. Or as close to it as I can get."
Hanssen remained silent for a minute more. He did not know if he would pass Krohg's reasons along to the man's son, waiting outside. If at all, he could only present it as something simple and neutered. 'He thinks it's his time.'
"Thank you for coming to see me, Hanssen."
"Of course, sir. ... If there's anything I can—"
"You've already done it. Listened."
Hanssen stood to go. He caught the man's eyes. The glance was solaced but also held an eager, inner spark. He covered Krohg's hand where it rested on the bed, giving it a departing grip.
"Take care," said Krohg, turning back towards the window.
Out in the hall, Krohg's son looked to Hanssen. "Did you ... " he started.
But Hanssen only shook his head. And the man understood. Hanssen left.
Hanssen remembered meeting Krohg five years ago during the Singularity's recovery efforts. At the time the Brigadier had found him as another wreck among the ruins. He had offered to take him back to Leknes and employ him there, to let him heal at his own rate. Yet in all the time since they had never shared any breakthroughs, and Hanssen was afraid the man might think that he undervalued their connection. So Krohg making this confession to him at last felt like an affirmation of their unspoken closeness. He knew what Hanssen could not say, and did not blame him.
But the meeting had gone entirely differently from Krohg's perspective. He had opened up to Hanssen only because sometimes deeply personal facts could only be discussed comfortably with strangers, and that was what Hanssen was to him. Krohg had taken Hanssen back to Leknes to let him open up, but with that never happening Hanssen had stayed a distant charity case to him. To Krohg this meeting only reaffirmed their distance, and at a time when it was too late to be changed.
***
Soon afterwards Hanssen received two messages. The first was from the Brigadier to the Mayor, CC'ed to him, announcing his resignation for medical and personal reasons. The second was a reply from the Mayor, appointing Hanssen as commander of Leknes's Home Guard, and promoting him to a full Colonel accordingly. Remembering his duties, Hanssen scheduled a conference for later that day—he still had to discuss the ceasefire with the men.
But until then he walked around Leknes, and finally ended up in his usual booth in Lutefisk's, overlooking the bay. By then the sun had breached the zenith, at last tipping the day's scale over from new to old.

Far From Paradise by P.G. Baumstarck

EXTRACT FOR
Far From Paradise

(P.G. Baumstarck)


Prelude - Iceberg

Mohr was trying to sleep in the transport but the turbulence kept waking him. He would just be drifting off when the jet would lurch and jounce as if they had hit a pothole. Nearly 150 years since man had first acquired wings, he thought, and the sky was still a bumpy road.
The transport's hold was filled with the other men of his platoon. None had said a word since lifting off, as they were all dampened by the surprise news of defeat. Colonel Kurkland had delivered the news that morning at reveille: the Home Guard War was over. Officially the settlement with the Norwegians was being branded as a 'ceasefire,' but the terms had more the ring of a 'humiliating surrender.' Mohr's men were also bearing the brunt of the shock, as they were being flown back to Oslo only an hour after roll call. They had awoken that morning thinking of themselves as soldiers still engaged in a desperate struggle, and now it was not even lunch and they were being carted off as post-war surplus.
While Mohr was depressed like everyone else, he was also partly relieved. After the war's rocky start, he had been anxiously awaiting news of their first big victory. But this had never come. The reports had stayed an endless stream of convoys being blown up, bases being harassed, and engagements being denied. And yet the brass had let it drag out, first for one month, then two, and then even for a few weeks more. At last it was over.
Mohr glanced over at Janus sitting next to him. He texted—to not have to shout over the jet noise—, ">Think this is the end of the army?"
Janus looked back. ">Has to be," came his swift reply. ">What do you think this war cost? / One billion? / Two?"
">If that ... " Mohr shook his head.
">And now they're still just throwing in the towel."
">Yep ... / Even if the whole company's not going under because of it, / I can't imagine the army has much chance of being profitable after this. / Probably nothing left to do but split us up and sell us off."
">That must be why we're all collecting back in Oslo / the fire sale," said Janus.
">Ah, right. / Our transport sets down on an auction block / and the bidding starts before a panel of security contractors."
">And world dictators."
">Heh, yeah."
They had posited that as a joke, but, as Mohr considered it, the more likely it seemed. His grin faded.
">If it came to that, what would your choice for next gig be? / Africa? / South America? / Asia?" Mohr was trying to salvage the joke.
">Well, definitely not South America, all those jungles ... / And definitely not Africa, there they got jungles and deserts. / Though southeast Asia has jungles, too, I guess ... / Fuck, I don't care where, just no jungles—that's my only rule."
Mohr chuckled.
In the hold there arose some excited chattering from the men. Mohr and Janus looked around but saw nothing to explain it. When they checked the transport's forward cams, however, they understood: they were at last approaching the city.
For many of the men, this would be their first sight of Oslo. They were slobbering over every angle coming from the transport's external cams, and some were even looking out of the windows—to behold the original photons. Mohr thought this irreverent, but he could not blame them. There were several modern ruins, but none with the combined mystery of Oslo.
The low-rise sprawl of the city's outskirts lay ahead, painted a pallid mien by the sullen and overcast day. This sight alone would not have been exceptional had it belonged to any other city, but the mere knowledge that this was Oslo made it fantastic and eldritch. Coming closer, all the city's conspicuous absences came into focus: no cars, no lights, no movement. Trees and greenery were everywhere growing wild, terrorizing the streets. And the buildings were all dilapidated and speckled with broken windows.
Approaching the city center, the heights of the buildings climbed through low-rise, mid-rise, and incipient high-rise levels. But where the city should have had its crowning island of arcologies, in Oslo there was a strange void. The buildings were absent from so large a space as to suggest an impact crater. Inside it, every lot was piled high with debris, yet the streets had been cleared for the corporate army's vehicles. It was a strangely manicured city of rubble.
They soon neared the location of the corporate army's base in the old St. Hanshaugen Park. The last time Mohr had seen Alpha Base—as it had been called back in the early days—it had been just a cluster of buildings with a heavily defended perimeter. Over the years he had heard of it being turned into a hardened installation and renamed 'The Bunker,' but that was all. He was curious what had become of it, as this was his first time back to Oslo in four years.
At first sight of the base, Mohr was stupefied. The Bunker was a squat nanometal dome dominating the center of the park. Its featurelessness at first yielded no sense of scale, but, comparing it to the few surrounding buildings and control towers, Mohr gauged that its footprint was larger than ten square blocks. Its ground level was ringed with eight, massive, twenty-meter–wide hangar doors, all of which were open and ferrying in great tides of men, vehicles, and supplies as if into eight sacrificial mouths. The surrounding oblong expanse of the park had been thoroughly paved to create 'St. Hanshaugen Tarmac.' Everywhere were transports and heavies landing and dusting off, and in between disgorging men and cargo into the teeming maze of ground traffic. Mohr looked for any tents or temporary structures set up on the tarmac, but there were none. Everything was going inside the Bunker.
He had not thought about it that morning, about what it would mean to have the entire corporate army relocating to Oslo. But if at least ten thousand men and all their attendant supplies were going to fit in there, then that structure had to be greater than even that stupendous dome. That had to be only the iceberg peak of a staggering underground complex. Something with the rackspace, garages, messes, food stores, heads, infirmaries, gymnasiums, vid theaters, sim farms, and even the whorehouses and distilleries to sustain an entire division underground for weeks.
Turning to Janus, Mohr repeated his opening question, now rife with self-sarcasm: "Think this is the end of the army ... "
Janus huffed and shook his head at the astounding scene. "Now I wish it had been. 'Cause, otherwise, this ... " he gestured out the window. "This can only be the beginning of something tremendously fucked."


Chapter 1 - Second

As the Jotunheim neared the rendezvous, her first sensor contact came in the form of one of her forward drones sighting a drone from another ship—like two advance scouts from separate armies meeting. The drones interrogated each other and verified that they were friendly, and so Frisch knew that they had found the Human fleet.
After registering with the net, sensor data from the eleven other Human ships was streamed to the Jotunheim, and her own vision was added back. Tacspace came alight with the wide gathering of friendlies. Their ship took up position in the fleet's standard three-layer formation: heavyweight carriers and battlecruisers in the center; cruiser and destroyer screens rotating around those; and finally a much thicker valence of probes and defense platforms extending out in all directions.
The Jotunheim was the last ship to arrive, so all of the captains now convened in a simspace meeting. Frisch and the other commanders appeared with Commodore Hadamard around a circular table. National emblems hung behind each of them, with Hadamard's Confederation seal shining subtly the brightest—to signify his command.
"Good to see you all in one piece again, ladies and gentlemen," said Hadamard. "Cards on the table."
Frisch realized this meant that they were to share the cryptographic keys to the sections of the sensor grid they had just laid. After doing this, a holo appeared over the table showing a projection of the unified grid. Each probe appeared as a dot on the surface of a great sphere, with its visibility drawn around it as a breath of light. The completed net was a lambent shell woven around the Hezokeen position. None of the near- or mid-range probes showed any contacts, but the long-range ones dimly revealed hundreds of Hezokeen ships lurking at the center. Also shown were the recorded tracks of past Hezokeen patrols, which came arcing out of their fleet core like stellar prominences. A counter at the bottom of the holo showed that all 2,013 probes were online.
"Excellent," remarked Hadamard. "So, we discussed our strategy back planet-side, but, now that we're out in the field, let's recheck the tactical situation. The grid's up, so now the next move is the Hezokeen's. And they have a limited number of options.
"First, even though we've surrounded their fleet with a sensor grid, this is still space, so they could try to pick up and move away. But the grid's sensors are all hyperspace-capable and could move with them, so the Hezokeen would just end up with two thousand probes chasing them. They won't try that.
"That leaves the other option, which is to try to destroy the grid here in a pitched battle. If they can take out enough of the sensors to fracture the grid's coverage, they can make an escape. That's what we can most likely expect.
"Now, it looks like the Hezokeen haven't spotted the grid so far, but, once they do, we can expect—" Hadamard broke off when he was interrupted by a sidechannel. He was looking off as he read something. "Set condition red and prepare for immediate scramble. Meeting adjourned."
Oh fuck, thought Frisch. He snapped back to the Jotunheim's tacspace context and relayed the brief orders. The bridge officers pressed around him, eager for details.
«What is it, Captain?»
«We've got no contacts on the screens ... »
«Did Hadamard say anything?»
Frisch flashed them negative responses while he checked the sensors himself. Their immediate vicinity was clear, and the grid showed no activity from the Hezokeen fleet ...
«Did anything happen while I was in the meeting?» Frisch asked. «Anything at all?»
«Well ... » said Kittelsen. «There was this weird signal that came from Earth. Computers analyzed it—just a mathematical sequence. Probably someone running a hypercomm test. It was a little high-power for that, though.»
Frisch first dismissed that. But then it struck him as a second thought: a mathematical sequence ...
Hadamard soon came on the comms, fleet-wide address:
«I'll keep this short. Just minutes ago we intercepted another rogue hypercomm transmission. This one was cast from the Earth in the direction of the Hezokeen fleet. All of our comm systems would have seen it and discarded it.
«I've talked with Fleet, and they've confirmed that this had the same characteristics as the first pirate signals some weeks ago. Only back then it was the Hezokeen fleet that spoke first, and their Earth-side agents who replied. The signal just now was cast first from the Earth, and the Hezokeen fleet hasn't responded yet. Since they're maintaining comm silence, HQ thinks there's a fair chance this might have been the 'go' code for some operation. Possibly an invasion. Our main fleet is already mobilizing for that eventuality.
«So let me be clear: we are on high alert, poised to oppose an all-out invasion by the Hezokeen. Even though the MINDEFs didn't want to lower the Space DEFCON to two—just in case this turns out to be a false alarm—the entire fleet is to act like it. All ships in flight are scrambling to emergency battle rendezvous, and everything in port will put to the skies within the hour.
«Our job is to watch the sensor picket and provide any forewarning and profile of a Hezokeen move. To do that we'll be fanning out, every ship for itself, to watch the lines. Patrol in strict stealth and investigate any possible contacts from the grid. We'll maintain comm silence, only breaking it in case of a confirmed Hezokeen sighting. —And that's a mass sighting. I don't want anybody sending back 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' for just a five-ship patrol»
Frisch dimly recalled 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' as the priority code for an en route invasion of the Sol system. He remembered a day in officer candidate school where they covered 'common three-letter emergency codes for events that will never actually happen.' But now one of those was actually being invoked ...
«If we see nothing from the Hezokeen within twenty-four hours,» Hadamard continued, «then we rendezvous at Point Kappa-Niner. But stay sharp. If there really is an invasion on the way, Fleet will need as much warning as possible so that they can start evacuating cities Earth-side. That's our job here: sight the Hezokeen, save lives. The second we get a confirmed sighting, we run Plan Lima back to the system and join up with the fleet.
«If there are any questions, we'll be out of whisper range in a minute, so make it fast. Other than that, good luck, and good hunting»
Once the channel closed, Kittelsen announced to the Jotunheim's bridge: «NAV: Dispatch orders received: / Patrol grid branches Victor through Tango»
«CO: Proceed / speed: stealth +0.5»
With their ship on its way, Frisch could finally react to this change of stakes. But he was still stupefied—an invasion? They had not even seen an alien ship first-hand on this mission yet, but, if what Hadamard had just said were true, then not five minutes from now the Hezokeen fleet would set off on a straight shot for the Earth—and their own puny flotilla would be the first thing to be swept aside.
In tacspace the Human ships were splitting up, and the great mass of probes and plats was breaking back down into individual accompaniments for each vessel. The Jotunheim's engines were still hot from the ride in, so she was quickly making her way out from the rendezvous, climbing back up to a lonely place along the grid.


Chapter 2 - Obsolete

Hanssen waited till the next morning to jet back to Leknes. When he lifted out of Bergen, the sun was hanging low but determined in the sky, the day already hours old from its perspective.
Steffens called once he was in flight. Hanssen had been wondering how everyone back in Leknes would take the news of the treaty.
"Cassie?" he answered the call.
"Haze, good—we're glad you're coming back."
Keying on her tone, Hanssen looked at her with concern.
"It's the Brigadier."
***
Following the last leg on his OHUD map, Hanssen ended up outside of the Brigadier's hospital room. He entered softly and approached Krohg's bed, where the man was propped up to receive visitors. Thin tubes ran between his face and arms and some attendant machines. These were all blank of displays—their data available only over privy hospital augspace.
Krohg turned towards him. "Hanssen ... " he said, his voice an intrenchant whisper.
"Sir." Hanssen sat in the chair next to the bed. "How are you?"
"Better, better ... It wasn't so much the aneurism as it was the ... falling down afterwards. ... 'Falling down,'" he repeated with a laugh-like exhalation. "No way for a professional soldier to go."
Hanssen tried to grin but accomplished nothing. "I've ... talked to the doctors. They said they patched you up, but that you won't let them administer a simple OPN treatment to make the cure permanent." One of Krohg's sons had caught Hanssen in the waiting room and explained the obstacles the man was offering to his treatment. Hanssen had agreed to talk to him about it, if only to find out his reasons.
Krohg chuckled to the limits of his ability. "'OPN treatment,'" he echoed. "I don't even know what that means."
"Sorry, it's 'Out-patient nanome—'"
"No, no, I know what it means ... But what does it mean, really?" He gave a sarcastic puff.
Hanssen drew back. "Then is your objection some ... religious thing?"
His eyes drifted down. "Perhaps. I suppose it's a 'religious thing' whenever we act on belief. And sometimes contrary to reason."
"... So you're against the level of technology or—"
"No, no, I'm not against the technology. Far from it ... " He turned to look out the window. He struggled to muster his ever failing voice, "It just feels like this world ... Like this world ... isn't mine anymore." He sighed. "I mean, how could it be? With space elevators, and alien embassies, and ... " A hoverbus flew past. "And hover-everythings," he gestured choppily outside.
He looked back to Hanssen. "I just feel that, wherever humanity's going ... its future ... isn't mine anymore. And the longer I wait around the more alien I'll become."
Hanssen looked down into his hands. He could see why Krohg had not wanted to explain this to his children. Maybe he was only telling Hanssen because he was accustomed to taking what Krohg said at face value, without arguing or reinterpreting. Yet Hanssen did feel called to say something contrary, as if Krohg were contemplating suicide and he had to talk him back from the ledge.
"But of course it's your future. Everyone's ... future," Hanssen said thinly. "And don't you want to see how we get through all this? Leknes and the corporate army? With Norway still in pieces. And the depression? Don't you want to see if the world ... "
Krohg raised a hand weakly, dispersing Hanssen's words. "The human race will get through. It always does. Even if some parts of it don't. And now I only want to see the end of my life the way I always thought I would. Or as close to it as I can get."
Hanssen remained silent for a minute more. He did not know if he would pass Krohg's reasons along to the man's son, waiting outside. If at all, he could only present it as something simple and neutered. 'He thinks it's his time.'
"Thank you for coming to see me, Hanssen."
"Of course, sir. ... If there's anything I can—"
"You've already done it. Listened."
Hanssen stood to go. He caught the man's eyes. The glance was solaced but also held an eager, inner spark. He covered Krohg's hand where it rested on the bed, giving it a departing grip.
"Take care," said Krohg, turning back towards the window.
Out in the hall, Krohg's son looked to Hanssen. "Did you ... " he started.
But Hanssen only shook his head. And the man understood. Hanssen left.
Hanssen remembered meeting Krohg five years ago during the Singularity's recovery efforts. At the time the Brigadier had found him as another wreck among the ruins. He had offered to take him back to Leknes and employ him there, to let him heal at his own rate. Yet in all the time since they had never shared any breakthroughs, and Hanssen was afraid the man might think that he undervalued their connection. So Krohg making this confession to him at last felt like an affirmation of their unspoken closeness. He knew what Hanssen could not say, and did not blame him.
But the meeting had gone entirely differently from Krohg's perspective. He had opened up to Hanssen only because sometimes deeply personal facts could only be discussed comfortably with strangers, and that was what Hanssen was to him. Krohg had taken Hanssen back to Leknes to let him open up, but with that never happening Hanssen had stayed a distant charity case to him. To Krohg this meeting only reaffirmed their distance, and at a time when it was too late to be changed.
***
Soon afterwards Hanssen received two messages. The first was from the Brigadier to the Mayor, CC'ed to him, announcing his resignation for medical and personal reasons. The second was a reply from the Mayor, appointing Hanssen as commander of Leknes's Home Guard, and promoting him to a full Colonel accordingly. Remembering his duties, Hanssen scheduled a conference for later that day—he still had to discuss the ceasefire with the men.
But until then he walked around Leknes, and finally ended up in his usual booth in Lutefisk's, overlooking the bay. By then the sun had breached the zenith, at last tipping the day's scale over from new to old.

EXTRACT FOR
Far From Paradise

(P.G. Baumstarck)


Prelude - Iceberg

Mohr was trying to sleep in the transport but the turbulence kept waking him. He would just be drifting off when the jet would lurch and jounce as if they had hit a pothole. Nearly 150 years since man had first acquired wings, he thought, and the sky was still a bumpy road.
The transport's hold was filled with the other men of his platoon. None had said a word since lifting off, as they were all dampened by the surprise news of defeat. Colonel Kurkland had delivered the news that morning at reveille: the Home Guard War was over. Officially the settlement with the Norwegians was being branded as a 'ceasefire,' but the terms had more the ring of a 'humiliating surrender.' Mohr's men were also bearing the brunt of the shock, as they were being flown back to Oslo only an hour after roll call. They had awoken that morning thinking of themselves as soldiers still engaged in a desperate struggle, and now it was not even lunch and they were being carted off as post-war surplus.
While Mohr was depressed like everyone else, he was also partly relieved. After the war's rocky start, he had been anxiously awaiting news of their first big victory. But this had never come. The reports had stayed an endless stream of convoys being blown up, bases being harassed, and engagements being denied. And yet the brass had let it drag out, first for one month, then two, and then even for a few weeks more. At last it was over.
Mohr glanced over at Janus sitting next to him. He texted—to not have to shout over the jet noise—, ">Think this is the end of the army?"
Janus looked back. ">Has to be," came his swift reply. ">What do you think this war cost? / One billion? / Two?"
">If that ... " Mohr shook his head.
">And now they're still just throwing in the towel."
">Yep ... / Even if the whole company's not going under because of it, / I can't imagine the army has much chance of being profitable after this. / Probably nothing left to do but split us up and sell us off."
">That must be why we're all collecting back in Oslo / the fire sale," said Janus.
">Ah, right. / Our transport sets down on an auction block / and the bidding starts before a panel of security contractors."
">And world dictators."
">Heh, yeah."
They had posited that as a joke, but, as Mohr considered it, the more likely it seemed. His grin faded.
">If it came to that, what would your choice for next gig be? / Africa? / South America? / Asia?" Mohr was trying to salvage the joke.
">Well, definitely not South America, all those jungles ... / And definitely not Africa, there they got jungles and deserts. / Though southeast Asia has jungles, too, I guess ... / Fuck, I don't care where, just no jungles—that's my only rule."
Mohr chuckled.
In the hold there arose some excited chattering from the men. Mohr and Janus looked around but saw nothing to explain it. When they checked the transport's forward cams, however, they understood: they were at last approaching the city.
For many of the men, this would be their first sight of Oslo. They were slobbering over every angle coming from the transport's external cams, and some were even looking out of the windows—to behold the original photons. Mohr thought this irreverent, but he could not blame them. There were several modern ruins, but none with the combined mystery of Oslo.
The low-rise sprawl of the city's outskirts lay ahead, painted a pallid mien by the sullen and overcast day. This sight alone would not have been exceptional had it belonged to any other city, but the mere knowledge that this was Oslo made it fantastic and eldritch. Coming closer, all the city's conspicuous absences came into focus: no cars, no lights, no movement. Trees and greenery were everywhere growing wild, terrorizing the streets. And the buildings were all dilapidated and speckled with broken windows.
Approaching the city center, the heights of the buildings climbed through low-rise, mid-rise, and incipient high-rise levels. But where the city should have had its crowning island of arcologies, in Oslo there was a strange void. The buildings were absent from so large a space as to suggest an impact crater. Inside it, every lot was piled high with debris, yet the streets had been cleared for the corporate army's vehicles. It was a strangely manicured city of rubble.
They soon neared the location of the corporate army's base in the old St. Hanshaugen Park. The last time Mohr had seen Alpha Base—as it had been called back in the early days—it had been just a cluster of buildings with a heavily defended perimeter. Over the years he had heard of it being turned into a hardened installation and renamed 'The Bunker,' but that was all. He was curious what had become of it, as this was his first time back to Oslo in four years.
At first sight of the base, Mohr was stupefied. The Bunker was a squat nanometal dome dominating the center of the park. Its featurelessness at first yielded no sense of scale, but, comparing it to the few surrounding buildings and control towers, Mohr gauged that its footprint was larger than ten square blocks. Its ground level was ringed with eight, massive, twenty-meter–wide hangar doors, all of which were open and ferrying in great tides of men, vehicles, and supplies as if into eight sacrificial mouths. The surrounding oblong expanse of the park had been thoroughly paved to create 'St. Hanshaugen Tarmac.' Everywhere were transports and heavies landing and dusting off, and in between disgorging men and cargo into the teeming maze of ground traffic. Mohr looked for any tents or temporary structures set up on the tarmac, but there were none. Everything was going inside the Bunker.
He had not thought about it that morning, about what it would mean to have the entire corporate army relocating to Oslo. But if at least ten thousand men and all their attendant supplies were going to fit in there, then that structure had to be greater than even that stupendous dome. That had to be only the iceberg peak of a staggering underground complex. Something with the rackspace, garages, messes, food stores, heads, infirmaries, gymnasiums, vid theaters, sim farms, and even the whorehouses and distilleries to sustain an entire division underground for weeks.
Turning to Janus, Mohr repeated his opening question, now rife with self-sarcasm: "Think this is the end of the army ... "
Janus huffed and shook his head at the astounding scene. "Now I wish it had been. 'Cause, otherwise, this ... " he gestured out the window. "This can only be the beginning of something tremendously fucked."


Chapter 1 - Second

As the Jotunheim neared the rendezvous, her first sensor contact came in the form of one of her forward drones sighting a drone from another ship—like two advance scouts from separate armies meeting. The drones interrogated each other and verified that they were friendly, and so Frisch knew that they had found the Human fleet.
After registering with the net, sensor data from the eleven other Human ships was streamed to the Jotunheim, and her own vision was added back. Tacspace came alight with the wide gathering of friendlies. Their ship took up position in the fleet's standard three-layer formation: heavyweight carriers and battlecruisers in the center; cruiser and destroyer screens rotating around those; and finally a much thicker valence of probes and defense platforms extending out in all directions.
The Jotunheim was the last ship to arrive, so all of the captains now convened in a simspace meeting. Frisch and the other commanders appeared with Commodore Hadamard around a circular table. National emblems hung behind each of them, with Hadamard's Confederation seal shining subtly the brightest—to signify his command.
"Good to see you all in one piece again, ladies and gentlemen," said Hadamard. "Cards on the table."
Frisch realized this meant that they were to share the cryptographic keys to the sections of the sensor grid they had just laid. After doing this, a holo appeared over the table showing a projection of the unified grid. Each probe appeared as a dot on the surface of a great sphere, with its visibility drawn around it as a breath of light. The completed net was a lambent shell woven around the Hezokeen position. None of the near- or mid-range probes showed any contacts, but the long-range ones dimly revealed hundreds of Hezokeen ships lurking at the center. Also shown were the recorded tracks of past Hezokeen patrols, which came arcing out of their fleet core like stellar prominences. A counter at the bottom of the holo showed that all 2,013 probes were online.
"Excellent," remarked Hadamard. "So, we discussed our strategy back planet-side, but, now that we're out in the field, let's recheck the tactical situation. The grid's up, so now the next move is the Hezokeen's. And they have a limited number of options.
"First, even though we've surrounded their fleet with a sensor grid, this is still space, so they could try to pick up and move away. But the grid's sensors are all hyperspace-capable and could move with them, so the Hezokeen would just end up with two thousand probes chasing them. They won't try that.
"That leaves the other option, which is to try to destroy the grid here in a pitched battle. If they can take out enough of the sensors to fracture the grid's coverage, they can make an escape. That's what we can most likely expect.
"Now, it looks like the Hezokeen haven't spotted the grid so far, but, once they do, we can expect—" Hadamard broke off when he was interrupted by a sidechannel. He was looking off as he read something. "Set condition red and prepare for immediate scramble. Meeting adjourned."
Oh fuck, thought Frisch. He snapped back to the Jotunheim's tacspace context and relayed the brief orders. The bridge officers pressed around him, eager for details.
«What is it, Captain?»
«We've got no contacts on the screens ... »
«Did Hadamard say anything?»
Frisch flashed them negative responses while he checked the sensors himself. Their immediate vicinity was clear, and the grid showed no activity from the Hezokeen fleet ...
«Did anything happen while I was in the meeting?» Frisch asked. «Anything at all?»
«Well ... » said Kittelsen. «There was this weird signal that came from Earth. Computers analyzed it—just a mathematical sequence. Probably someone running a hypercomm test. It was a little high-power for that, though.»
Frisch first dismissed that. But then it struck him as a second thought: a mathematical sequence ...
Hadamard soon came on the comms, fleet-wide address:
«I'll keep this short. Just minutes ago we intercepted another rogue hypercomm transmission. This one was cast from the Earth in the direction of the Hezokeen fleet. All of our comm systems would have seen it and discarded it.
«I've talked with Fleet, and they've confirmed that this had the same characteristics as the first pirate signals some weeks ago. Only back then it was the Hezokeen fleet that spoke first, and their Earth-side agents who replied. The signal just now was cast first from the Earth, and the Hezokeen fleet hasn't responded yet. Since they're maintaining comm silence, HQ thinks there's a fair chance this might have been the 'go' code for some operation. Possibly an invasion. Our main fleet is already mobilizing for that eventuality.
«So let me be clear: we are on high alert, poised to oppose an all-out invasion by the Hezokeen. Even though the MINDEFs didn't want to lower the Space DEFCON to two—just in case this turns out to be a false alarm—the entire fleet is to act like it. All ships in flight are scrambling to emergency battle rendezvous, and everything in port will put to the skies within the hour.
«Our job is to watch the sensor picket and provide any forewarning and profile of a Hezokeen move. To do that we'll be fanning out, every ship for itself, to watch the lines. Patrol in strict stealth and investigate any possible contacts from the grid. We'll maintain comm silence, only breaking it in case of a confirmed Hezokeen sighting. —And that's a mass sighting. I don't want anybody sending back 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' for just a five-ship patrol»
Frisch dimly recalled 'Zulu-Echo-Zulu' as the priority code for an en route invasion of the Sol system. He remembered a day in officer candidate school where they covered 'common three-letter emergency codes for events that will never actually happen.' But now one of those was actually being invoked ...
«If we see nothing from the Hezokeen within twenty-four hours,» Hadamard continued, «then we rendezvous at Point Kappa-Niner. But stay sharp. If there really is an invasion on the way, Fleet will need as much warning as possible so that they can start evacuating cities Earth-side. That's our job here: sight the Hezokeen, save lives. The second we get a confirmed sighting, we run Plan Lima back to the system and join up with the fleet.
«If there are any questions, we'll be out of whisper range in a minute, so make it fast. Other than that, good luck, and good hunting»
Once the channel closed, Kittelsen announced to the Jotunheim's bridge: «NAV: Dispatch orders received: / Patrol grid branches Victor through Tango»
«CO: Proceed / speed: stealth +0.5»
With their ship on its way, Frisch could finally react to this change of stakes. But he was still stupefied—an invasion? They had not even seen an alien ship first-hand on this mission yet, but, if what Hadamard had just said were true, then not five minutes from now the Hezokeen fleet would set off on a straight shot for the Earth—and their own puny flotilla would be the first thing to be swept aside.
In tacspace the Human ships were splitting up, and the great mass of probes and plats was breaking back down into individual accompaniments for each vessel. The Jotunheim's engines were still hot from the ride in, so she was quickly making her way out from the rendezvous, climbing back up to a lonely place along the grid.


Chapter 2 - Obsolete

Hanssen waited till the next morning to jet back to Leknes. When he lifted out of Bergen, the sun was hanging low but determined in the sky, the day already hours old from its perspective.
Steffens called once he was in flight. Hanssen had been wondering how everyone back in Leknes would take the news of the treaty.
"Cassie?" he answered the call.
"Haze, good—we're glad you're coming back."
Keying on her tone, Hanssen looked at her with concern.
"It's the Brigadier."
***
Following the last leg on his OHUD map, Hanssen ended up outside of the Brigadier's hospital room. He entered softly and approached Krohg's bed, where the man was propped up to receive visitors. Thin tubes ran between his face and arms and some attendant machines. These were all blank of displays—their data available only over privy hospital augspace.
Krohg turned towards him. "Hanssen ... " he said, his voice an intrenchant whisper.
"Sir." Hanssen sat in the chair next to the bed. "How are you?"
"Better, better ... It wasn't so much the aneurism as it was the ... falling down afterwards. ... 'Falling down,'" he repeated with a laugh-like exhalation. "No way for a professional soldier to go."
Hanssen tried to grin but accomplished nothing. "I've ... talked to the doctors. They said they patched you up, but that you won't let them administer a simple OPN treatment to make the cure permanent." One of Krohg's sons had caught Hanssen in the waiting room and explained the obstacles the man was offering to his treatment. Hanssen had agreed to talk to him about it, if only to find out his reasons.
Krohg chuckled to the limits of his ability. "'OPN treatment,'" he echoed. "I don't even know what that means."
"Sorry, it's 'Out-patient nanome—'"
"No, no, I know what it means ... But what does it mean, really?" He gave a sarcastic puff.
Hanssen drew back. "Then is your objection some ... religious thing?"
His eyes drifted down. "Perhaps. I suppose it's a 'religious thing' whenever we act on belief. And sometimes contrary to reason."
"... So you're against the level of technology or—"
"No, no, I'm not against the technology. Far from it ... " He turned to look out the window. He struggled to muster his ever failing voice, "It just feels like this world ... Like this world ... isn't mine anymore." He sighed. "I mean, how could it be? With space elevators, and alien embassies, and ... " A hoverbus flew past. "And hover-everythings," he gestured choppily outside.
He looked back to Hanssen. "I just feel that, wherever humanity's going ... its future ... isn't mine anymore. And the longer I wait around the more alien I'll become."
Hanssen looked down into his hands. He could see why Krohg had not wanted to explain this to his children. Maybe he was only telling Hanssen because he was accustomed to taking what Krohg said at face value, without arguing or reinterpreting. Yet Hanssen did feel called to say something contrary, as if Krohg were contemplating suicide and he had to talk him back from the ledge.
"But of course it's your future. Everyone's ... future," Hanssen said thinly. "And don't you want to see how we get through all this? Leknes and the corporate army? With Norway still in pieces. And the depression? Don't you want to see if the world ... "
Krohg raised a hand weakly, dispersing Hanssen's words. "The human race will get through. It always does. Even if some parts of it don't. And now I only want to see the end of my life the way I always thought I would. Or as close to it as I can get."
Hanssen remained silent for a minute more. He did not know if he would pass Krohg's reasons along to the man's son, waiting outside. If at all, he could only present it as something simple and neutered. 'He thinks it's his time.'
"Thank you for coming to see me, Hanssen."
"Of course, sir. ... If there's anything I can—"
"You've already done it. Listened."
Hanssen stood to go. He caught the man's eyes. The glance was solaced but also held an eager, inner spark. He covered Krohg's hand where it rested on the bed, giving it a departing grip.
"Take care," said Krohg, turning back towards the window.
Out in the hall, Krohg's son looked to Hanssen. "Did you ... " he started.
But Hanssen only shook his head. And the man understood. Hanssen left.
Hanssen remembered meeting Krohg five years ago during the Singularity's recovery efforts. At the time the Brigadier had found him as another wreck among the ruins. He had offered to take him back to Leknes and employ him there, to let him heal at his own rate. Yet in all the time since they had never shared any breakthroughs, and Hanssen was afraid the man might think that he undervalued their connection. So Krohg making this confession to him at last felt like an affirmation of their unspoken closeness. He knew what Hanssen could not say, and did not blame him.
But the meeting had gone entirely differently from Krohg's perspective. He had opened up to Hanssen only because sometimes deeply personal facts could only be discussed comfortably with strangers, and that was what Hanssen was to him. Krohg had taken Hanssen back to Leknes to let him open up, but with that never happening Hanssen had stayed a distant charity case to him. To Krohg this meeting only reaffirmed their distance, and at a time when it was too late to be changed.
***
Soon afterwards Hanssen received two messages. The first was from the Brigadier to the Mayor, CC'ed to him, announcing his resignation for medical and personal reasons. The second was a reply from the Mayor, appointing Hanssen as commander of Leknes's Home Guard, and promoting him to a full Colonel accordingly. Remembering his duties, Hanssen scheduled a conference for later that day—he still had to discuss the ceasefire with the men.
But until then he walked around Leknes, and finally ended up in his usual booth in Lutefisk's, overlooking the bay. By then the sun had breached the zenith, at last tipping the day's scale over from new to old.