Axiomatic

Axiomatic by Greg Egan Read Free Book Online

Book: Axiomatic by Greg Egan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Greg Egan
Tags: Fiction, Science-Fiction
always written the “history”, James. Why should the future be any different? Believe me. It’s happening.’

    ‘How do you know?’ It was a stupid question; her boss was on all the foreign affairs committees, and would be Minister next time the party was in power. If he didn’t have access to the intelligence in his present job, he would in the long term.

    She said, ‘We’re helping to fund it, of course. Along with Europe, Japan, and the States. Thanks to the embargo after the Hong Kong riots, the Chinese have no war drones; they’re pitting human soldiers with obsolete equipment against the best Vietnamese robots. Four hundred thousand troops and a hundred thousand civilians will die — while the Allies sit in Berlin playing their solipsist video games.’

    I stared past her, into the darkness, numb and disbelieving. ‘Why? Why couldn’t things have been worked out, defused in time?’

    She scowled. ‘How? You mean, shunted? Known about, then avoided?’

    ‘No, but ... if everyone knew the truth, if this hadn’t been covered up—’

    ‘What? If people had known it would happen, it wouldn’t have? Grow up. It is happening, it will go on happening; there’s nothing else to say.’

    I climbed out of bed and started dressing, although I had no reason to hurry home. Alison knew all about us; apparently, she’d known since childhood that her husband would turn out to be a piece of shit.

    Half a million people slaughtered. It wasn’t fate, it wasn’t destiny — there was no Will of God, no Force of History to absolve us. It grew out of who we were: the lies we’d told, and would keep on telling. Half a million people slaughtered in the spaces between the words.

    I vomited on the carpet, then stumbled about dizzily, cleaning it up. Lisa watched me sadly.

    ‘You’re not coming back, are you?’

    I laughed weakly. ‘How the fuck should I know?’

    ‘You’re not.’

    ‘I thought you didn’t keep a diary.’

    ‘I don’t.’

    And I finally understood why.

    * * * *

    Alison woke when I switched on the terminal, and said sleepily, without rancour, ‘What’s the hurry, James? If you’ve masturbated about tonight since you were twelve years old, surely you’ll still remember it all in the morning.’

    I ignored her. After a while, she got out of bed and came and looked over my shoulder.

    ‘Is this true?’

    I nodded.

    ‘And you knew all along? You’re going to send this?’

    I shrugged and hit the check key. A message box popped up on the screen: 95 words; 95 errors.

    I sat and stared at this verdict for a long time. What did I think? I had the power to change history? My puny outrage could shunt the war? Reality would dissolve around me, and another — better — world would take its place?

    No. History, past and future, was determined, and I couldn’t help being part of the equations that shaped it — but I didn’t have to be part of the lies.

    I hit the SAVE key, and burned those 95 words on to the chip, irreversibly.

    (I’m sure I had no choice.)

    That was my last diary entry — and I can only assume that the same computers that will filter it out of my posthumous transmission will also fill in the unwritten remainder, extrapolating an innocuous life for me, fit for a child to read.

    I tap into the nets at random, listening to the whole spectrum of conflicting rumours, hardly knowing what to believe. I’ve left my wife, I’ve left my job, parting ways entirely with my rosy, fictitious future. All my certainties have evaporated: I don’t know when I’ll die; I don’t know who I’ll love; I don’t know if the world is heading for Utopia, or Armageddon.

    But I keep my eyes open, and I feed what little of value I can gather back into the nets. There must be corruption and distortion here, too — but I’d rather swim in this cacophony of a million contradictory voices than drown in the smooth and plausible lies of those genocidal authors of history who

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