‘All the Way’, Graham Storrs

Illustrations © 2009 Sarah Cerulean

 [ Eden through my eyes, © 2009 Sarah Cerulean ] ‘Someone’s on the down-wire,’ the supervisor told me over the link. I looked up from what I was doing, bolting a bracket the size of a house onto the end of T15. ‘She says she wants to see you.’

‘Who is it?’

‘Eden, she says.’

I looked out at the stars all around me and the thick trunk of the tether climbing up to vanish into the Moon above. ‘ETA?’

‘Bit more’n a day.’

In the distance I could see the bright slash of the supply tether that would bring the gondola and my granddaughter down the wire to meet me.

The two-tier space-elevator was invented because people aren’t really designed for living in zero-G. After a while they get sick and die. So you take a standard space elevator—which is a space station in geosynchronous orbit with a tether down to the planet’s surface—and you extend the tether way, way beyond the station and tie on a second station. This second station is now swinging ‘round the planet like a bucket on a string and people can live there quite happily, feeling the force as if they had real gravity.

So it’s sort of ironic that, by the time the first two-tier el was being built, there were hardly any standard humans left in space to enjoy it. People I met these days just weren’t standard any more.

Take me, for instance. This is my fifth deathday. Five years now since my old blood-and-bone body lay down and died and I was uploaded into a little box about the size of one of those thumb drives I had when I was a kid. It took me a while for me to work out what to do with myself, now that I was immortal and all, but, like most scans these days—the ones who don’t want to live in VR—I chose a career in space.

My deathday party was a quiet affair. Just me and bottle of scotch. I drank to the old bastard who died and bequeathed me himself. The alcohol had no effect on me, of course, but I’ve got I nice little add-on I found on the grid that simulates getting hammered almost perfectly. Doug Cameron was his name and I will be, quite literally, eternally grateful for what he gave me. Here’s to you, Doug! And to me too, I suppose, since I took his name along with the rest of his personality.


You couldn’t blame Eden for being unsure. Last time she saw her granddad, he was a shrivelled thing lying in a hospital bed, ninety-five and riddled with cancer. She was a scared-looking kid back then, genemodded in the fashions of the time, trying to look cool, or hot, or something, with leopardskin fur growing on her upper arms, and her eyes and hair bright violet. Fifteen and trying not to retch at the sight of old Doug’s decaying body, hanging back behind the other visitors so she wouldn’t have to talk to him. I remember seeing her through old man’s eyes, looking for her mother’s face and not finding it. Her grandmother, my own dear Penny, didn’t go to see the old man. Not even once.

‘My you’ve grown, Eden. I suppose I should get Earthside more often. Keep in touch more.’ It felt funny to say words out loud instead of just thinking them into the link, but Eden wasn’t auged like that. She wore her linknode as a facial tattoo—a pretty one, all flowers and birds—and talked to people with her mouth when they were right there with her.

She ran her eyes up and down me. ‘You look...’



I smiled. I supposed I must. Three metres tall and almost as broad, the macrobot my brainbox rode around in was built for strength. My hands, with a span as wide as Eden was tall, could wrestle multi-tonne masses in free-fall, and my feet and tail were designed for gripping onto things while I worked. ‘I was out on the wire when you arrived. I didn’t think to change into something less... functional.’

‘It’s OK. I sort of knew what to expect.’

‘It’s good to see you,’ I ventured, although it wasn’t, particularly. The old man had seen her a dozen times, maybe, when she was growing up. I didn’t know her at all, really.

She nodded. A silence fell. I dredged up another platitude to fill it but she didn’t let me get it out.

‘Grandma’s dying,’ she blurted. ‘We need you to come and talk to her. She’s being so... She won’t listen to anyone.’

I looked into her distressed face. In the old man’s time, I’d have got up and paced around in agitation but my hormones weren’t like that now. There was a module in my software that simulated them and I’d tuned the responses way down. Who needs agitation when you can have inner peace?

‘Penny doesn’t want to talk to me either,’ I said. ‘She hasn’t wanted to for many years now.’ The fact still filled me with bitterness. It made me mean. ‘You’ve wasted your trip. This was your mum’s idea, I suppose.’ My daughter, Terri, had always been romantic like that.

Eden steadied her gaze, tilting up her chin defiantly. Now I saw Terri in her! ‘Mum asked if you’d come. I said you’d only upset Gran, but Mum asked me if I’d come and get you.’

We rode the wire up to Partway Station, neither of us talking much on the long journey. It would be another six years before Alltheway Station was complete. Until then, the best way to leave the Moon was from the Partway Shuttleport at the zero-G point. As we exchanged the gondola for the shuttle, I took Eden to visit the observation lounge. We hung in the webbing and admired the massive disc of the Moon, and I pointed out several of the hundred-plus settlements down there.

I shed most of my mass before we set off, storing all those litres of nanites away in their vats in my quarters. After that, my body was as near standard as it could be. I was even wearing clothes, although it was pretty obvious I wasn’t exactly human anymore. Eden seemed much more comfortable with me now. Looking human wasn’t a big deal here at Partway but I knew it would be down on Earth.

The shuttle took almost a day to get us to Earth orbit and we spent yet another day crawling down the old Florida Spacebridge. Blue ocean and brown land rose to meet us, and when we finally hit atmosphere and the sky started turning blue, I felt my mood lifting. Whatever the beauty and grandeur of space, there’s nothing like that feeling of being home when you go back down.

By the time we reached the ground, Eden had been out of Earth’s gravity for about a week and it took her most of the four-hour hop to London Heathrow to get her land-legs back. Me, I just let my body automatically adjust—strengthening its endoskeletal matrix and amping up its muscles —and I didn’t even notice the change.

‘You’re quite a lot like him,’ Eden said in the taxi out to the hospital, ‘but not in some ways.’

‘What?’ I’d been gazing through the windows, readjusting to the scale of it all. Ten billion people squeezed into one tiny planet! It was something I’d just taken for granted before.

‘I mean, I remember him as grumpy and sarcastic. I never dared talk to him. You’re sort of calm, peaceful.’

‘You only knew me when I was sick.’

‘Grandma’s sick. She’s still nice.’

The hospital was just another hospital, its wide, bright corridors full of bustling robots. I linked to the local grid as we entered the building and asked for Penny. A simulated nurse appeared in my sensorium and led us along the route to my ex-wife’s room. Eden said she was going to the café and left me to gather my courage outside the door.

‘I wondered how long it would be before they sent you to see me,’ she said, scowling at me.

She looked tired and worn. She looked every year of her very long life. I wanted to weep for her all over again.

‘They think I can talk you into being uploaded.’

A tiny smile appeared on her thin lips. ‘Go on then.’

I smiled back and sat down beside her. ‘I think I will. You know my views on the matter. There are people who love you and don’t want to lose you.’

‘They’re going to lose me whatever I do, only, if I have myself uploaded, there’ll be a copy of me hanging around that thinks it is me, like some kind of animated holograph. It’s too damned creepy.’

‘You could come out to the Moon with me. I’m working on Alltheway. When the station is built, we’ll start on the starship. Ten years from now, I plan to be in the crew that takes her out.’

‘A crew that’s all uploads and AIs, I hear. No people.’

‘I’m still people, Penny. I’m still Doug Cameron. Everything about him that mattered, anyway.’ She shook her head, looking sad. ‘And I still love you. When they copied Doug into here, -’ I tapped my head as if that’s where my processor was. ‘- they copied everything, every memory, every thought, every feeling. I was there the day we met. I was there the first time we made love, when Terri was born, when we paid off the mortgage... I sat up all night with you and watched the first Mars landings. I held you when your sister died.’

‘Stop it!’

I closed my eyes and looked away, all the old pain flooding back. The silence dragged out until she spoke again.

‘We went through all this when Doug made his decision. You were there that day too, right? I told him if he did the upload, I didn’t want anything to do with whatever they copied out of him. With you. There was only one Doug Cameron, only one man I loved and wanted to spend my life with. That man wasn’t a piece of software running in a fancy robot body. He was a unique and fragile accident of evolution, the product of a time and place we grew up in together before cognitive augmentations and cyborgs and space elevators and genemodded teenagers. Do you know there is a gang of wolf-kids in New York who have been killing and eating rival gang members?’

She fell silent again and I absorbed the fact that in her mind I was the same kind of abomination as those kids with their illegal mods. I’d known it would be impossible to reach her but I’d known I would try anyway. I gave it another shot.

‘What harm would it do you to be uploaded? As you say, when you die, you die. But an upload would mean you were still around for your family. Eden tells me she has a partner and they’re thinking of contracting to have kids one day. Wouldn’t you like to know that something of you would still be around for your great grandchildren? I know Terri would like that, and Eden. And maybe... Maybe if you were uploaded, you’d see things differently. I’d like to take you out there, show you some of the things I’ve seen these past few years. We’re going to the stars, Penny. Can you believe that? I’m going. And you could come too. We could start again, you and me. It would be like...’

I stopped talking. The tears running down her face were eating into me like acid.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to...’

‘But you did. That’s why I didn’t ever want to see you. You’re too like him. It’s horrible. And I know how you must feel—about me—and I always hated the thought that I’d have to reject you again, because I know what it’s like to be in love like that and see the person you love pull away from you and go somewhere you don’t want to follow.’

‘I—I was dying, Penny. I had no choice.’

‘Rubbish! You could have chosen to go on living. You might have had another five years, ten even. We could have had those years! Me and Doug. You stole them, so the cancer wouldn’t get to your precious brain, so they’d get a clean upload. You could have had more treatments but you thought you could live forever, you stupid, selfish man!’

I stood up, horrified at what she was saying, aware that she wasn’t even railing at me but at the old man, that I was just a reminder of her pain, not in any way a substitute for what she’d lost. I stumbled through an apology and fled the room. I ran down the corridors and out of the hospital and I kept running until I was off-planet and headed for home.

 [ Space Elevator, © 2009 Sarah Cerulean ] The big, concrete platform for Alltheway Station was being spun up. A whole comet, rubble and ice, mixed with cement, inside a tough polymer bag, was being warmed by the sun at the aphelion of its tight, elliptical orbit, and whirled around so fast it would flatten into a gigantic plate, two kilometres across. By the time it reached us here at the Moon, the tethers would all be in place and the platform could be guided in and attached. We were building the biggest space station ever. A whole city, with one-third gravity and a spaceport on it’s outer face that, one day, would fling the first starships out into interstellar space.

I had a message from Eden when Penny finally passed away. It was there in my mail one day when I got off my shift. It was short and to the point and it thanked me ‘for trying to help Grandma’. It made me laugh and rage both at the same time. So I wasted another bottle of scotch on my unresponsive system and let my illegal software add-on keep me drunk for three days before I went back to work.

I hung by my feet on T17 and watched the tugs nudging a freighter into the dock on T2. From her markings she was carrying nanite paste from the new factory on Ceres. Behind her, the Earth was a blue crescent, dazzling and remote.

Another world.

© 2009 Graham Storrs

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