Her birth had been unremarkable. No signs in the heavens, no omens, no witches screeching prophecy. History would later embellish her coming into the world with all kinds of portents, and revise certain ancient texts to include details that made her coming an event foretold. It was quite a thing to have that kind of power, and in that circumstance it helped, rather than harmed, the fabric of the future, for how else could such a creature as she be explained? No science existed then or now to provide reasonable theories, and the humanities possessed no case studies from which to extrapolate even the simplest of philosophical analysis. No, she had been unique among humans, and in a time where the concept of the alien, the outsider, was limited to invading hordes of horsemen from the East and the occasional caravan up from the deep South, it made far more sense to derive her origin from the divine, rather than the otherworldly.

It was then ironic that a great host of opposing forces had been arrayed against her coming, prepared for generations by secret cults who possessed crumbling scrolls that contained true prophecies, ones penned by the hands of immortal beings in ichor and blood upon cured skins, in a separate reality from the base mortal revisions of kings. These shadowy cabals of worshippers had long known of her impending birth, and had moved mountains to prevent it. But the age and countless reinterpretations of the scrolls had profaned their meaning, making precise augury impossible. Thus she had been shielded from their machinations long enough to take her first breaths. The event of her birth had happened in a regular hospital, on a Wednesday morning just as the sun was rising, to an ordinary couple whose occupations are now lost to the vagaries of time and the rewrites of history. She weighed seven and a half pounds, had brown eyes and a very fine floss of auburn hair, and she did not scream when the doctors cleared her throat. As no one knew who she would become, she was released on schedule and went home with her parents, to lead an average childhood. The agents who sought her didn’t locate the hospital until she was in her twenties, and by then she’d become far too strong to be assassinated in her sleep. The fact that they’d missed the birth was one of the key contributors to the renewal of their discipline and vigor, and their coming to prominence once more in political fields. It would only take them half a decade to re-secure their hold on parliament, something that had been relaxed over the centuries, as there’d been little reason to have a direct influence on the populace. Maintaining influence over the bureaucracy of nations was expensive, both in material assets and in the dilution of their ideology, so it was an endeavour that was pursued only in times of great need.

Her birth and subsequent growth into a young adult had been classified as a “great need”.


Her limp was much less pronounced than it had been, but she’d had years of physiotherapy and learning to live with it to thank for that. Even still, a keen observer would be able the detect the slight dip in her hips whenever she took a step, and the way she favored her left leg whenever standing at rest.

The accident had shattered her pelvis, though describing it like that made it seem as though it had broken into a million pieces, like a ceramic plate tossed onto the kitchen floor in the heat of an argument. The bone had cracked and separated in three places, and the pain had been excruciating. Paralysing. Once her rescuers had peeled the remains of her subcompact car apart with their pneumatic jaws of life, she’d been removed from the wreck with as much care as humanly possible and strapped to an orange plastic backboard, the kind with fist-sized holes along its edges to allow for easy carrying. Rendered immobile, her lower body a universe of screaming pain, she’d been further strapped to a helicopter and airlifted to George Aphonse Memorial Hospital, where the finest bone surgeons in the state had attended to her horrific injuries. It had been the professional opinion of three of the four specialists who’d overseen her admission that she’d never walk again. It was the fourth doctor, Emil Merin, who’d rejected those opinions and recommended her for a controversial and experimental procedure that took advantage of the latest advancements in nanotechonolgy.

Tiny robots had been injected into her bloodstream, their preprogrammed routines propelling them to their destinations along the ragged edges of her destroyed pelvis, where they anchored themselves and began manufacturing the tools they’d need to re-knit her. The greatest objection raised had stemmed from a fear of a failure to contain the machines, both during their operation and after. Emil assured the family and insuring agents that the robots were only good for one thing, and that was the task they’d been assigned, and after they completed their work they became biologically inert and passed through the body like any other waste product.

Emil was a fantastic salesperson, and that made him an excellent liar.


“Mars,” he announced, his voice booming over the PA and filling the cavernous auditorium, “is a warning.” He let a silence follow the last echoes of his pronouncement, just long enough for unpretentious drama. “Venus,” he continued, “is a warning.”

“This fuckin’ guy,” Slack said, groaning. “I swear to God he wishes he’d been an actor instead of a college professor.”

Shelly elbowed him in the ribs. “Quiet.”

“We were not always the only life-bearing planet in this solar system. Once, there were three, with thriving civilizations filled with sentient minds who lived, dreamed, and died much as we do. They made the same mistakes we do, too, and this is what led to their eventual demise and the destruction of their worlds.

“I see many skeptical faces, and so it should be. Question what you are told! It is your inalienable right to think critically, and you should do so at every turn! Yet my job here is not to provide proof, only create reasonable doubt. In the trial of this solar system’s past, there is much evidence that can supply ample evidence to the dead histories of Mars and Venus.

“Do you know what a billion years looks like? Can any of us truly fathom the far-reaching effects of such a vast expanse of time? How much erosion would a billion years of wind cause? What would a billion years of tectonic movement do to the surface of a planet? How many mountain ranges would rise, and coastlines fall? And if we compounded these grinding, agonizingly slow natural processes with our own contributions, what then? What would a billion years of stripping the ozone layer look like? A billion years of oil spills, rising sea levels rising, melting ice caps, trash accrual, devastating warfare, overpopulation, overfarming, drought, famine… what would billions of years of these things do to a world?

“I’d only ask that you look to Mars, where we have evidence of water, and therefore the potential for life, but a thin atmosphere and nothing but dust. I ask you to envision that planet once sustaining an ecosystem as lush as ours has been, and then having thousands and thousands of years of sentient hands reshaping it. Harvesting it. Burning its resources and eroding its protections at rates unparalleled in nature. What would it look like then?

“And if it were to die in the process? If the minds of the populace couldn’t be swayed in time to find better ways to sustain their ways of life, and everything crumbled around them while the sky broke open and rained down deadly radiation that obliterated any hope of recovery? Where the protective shield of the atmosphere cracked and vanished, allowing planet-crushing asteroids to beat the surface with hammering fists more powerful than all of our own weapons combined? What would be left then but dust and ashes, to be blown across dead plains and eventually dispersed into nothing?

“Look to Mars as a warning,” the professor said, placing his old hands on the lectern, and leaning out over the audience. “We must change our ways, before it’s too late.”

Slack had fallen asleep. Shelly wanted to beat him up for his inattention, and she realized that he represented the majority of people who went about their daily business without any real concern for the things the professor was talking about. She wanted to weep.