A simplification of superfluidity

“Once people tell me what symmetry the system starts with and what symmetry it ends up with, and whether the broken symmetries can be interchanged, I can work out exactly how many bosons there are and if that leads to weird behavior or not,” Murayama said. “We’ve tried it on more than 10 systems, and it works out every single time.”

– Haruki Watanabe, co-author of the paper

To those who’ve followed studies on superfluidity and spontaneous symmetry-breaking, a study by Hitoshi Murayama and Haruki Watanabe at UC, Berkeley, will come as a boon. It simplifies our understanding of symmetry-breaking for practical considerations by unifying the behaviour of supercooled matter – such as BEC and superfluidity – and provides a workable formula to derive the number of Nambu-Goldstone bosons given the symmetry of the system during a few phases!

This is the R&D article that serves as a lead-in into the issue.

This is a primer on spontaneous symmetry-breaking (and the origins of the Higgs boson).

Finally, and importantly, the pre-print paper (from arXiv) can be viewed here. Caution: don’t open the paper if you’re not seriously good at math.

The Sea

Big Fish walked into a wall. His large nose tried to penetrate the digital concrete first. Of course, it went in for a second, but Marcus recomputed the algorithm, and it jumped back out. The impact of its return threw Big Fish’s head back, and with it, his body stumbled back, too. The wall hadn’t been there before. Its appearance was, as far as Big Fish was concerned, inexplicable. And so, he turned around to check if other walls had been virtualized as well. Nope. Just this one. What business does a wall have being where it shouldn’t belong? But here it was.

He turned into the door on his left and looked around. Nothing was amiss. He walked back out and tried another door on the opposite. All desks were in place, computers were beeping, people were walking around, not minding his intrusion. It was surreal, but Big Fish didn’t mind. Surreal was normal. That’s how he liked them to be. He walked back out. There the wall was again. Has Marcus got something wrong? He poked a finger into the smooth white surface. It was solid, just like all walls were.

He turned back and walked the way he had come. Right, left, right, left, right, left, left, down a flight of stairs, straight out, left, left, left, straight out once more, left, right… and there the canteen was. The building was the way it had once been. Marcus was alright, which meant the wall had to be, too. But it couldn’t be – it didn’t belong there. He walked back up once more to check. Left, right, straight, right, right, right, straight, up a flight of stairs, right, right, left, right, left, right… and there’s the bloody wall again!

Big Fish had to log out. He walked into the Dump. The room was empty. No queues were present ahead of the Lovers, no bipolar behavior, no assurances being whispered to the new kids or hysterical religious clerks talking about being born again. Just him, so he walked up to the first of the two Lovers, and stood under it. When he decided he was ready, Big Fish pushed the green button next to him. The green guillotine came singing down.

The blade of the machine was so sharp, it whistled as it parted an invisible curtain of air. The screech, however, was music to Big Fish’s ears. It meant exiting the belly of Marcus. It meant reality was coming. As soon as the edge touched his head, Marcus came noiselessly to life in the Dump. His thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, scars, scalds, bruises, cuts, posture, and many other state-properties besides, were simultaneously and almost instantaneously recorded as a stream of numbers. Once the input had been consummated with an acknowledgment, he vanished.

When he stepped out of his booth, Big Fish saw Older Fish staring at him from across the road. His stare was blank, hollow, waiting for the first seed of doubt from Big Fish. Big Fish, however, didn’t say anything. Older Fish stared for a minute more, and then walked away. Big Fish continued to watch Older Fish, even as he walked away. Had he seen the wall, too? Just to make sure, he began to follow the gaunt, old man. The stalking didn’t last long, however.

He watched as Older Fish turned around and pointed a gun at Big Fish’s temple. The barrel of the weapon was made of silver. My gun. How did Older Fish find my gun? A second later, Older Fish pointed the weapon into his own mouth and fired. Flecks of flesh, shards of bone, shavings of hair, dollops of blood… all that later, Older Fish fell to the ground. In a daze, Big Fish ran up to the still figure and stared out. Older Fish’s eyes were open, the skin around them slowly loosening, the wrinkles fading.

Big Fish saw them gradually droop off. Time had ended. The world was crucified to the splayed form of Older Fish. The commotion around him happened in a universe all of its own. The lights flashed around him, seemed to bend away from his bent form, curving along the walls of their reality, staying carefully away from his arrested one. The sounds came and went, like stupid matadors evading raging bulls, until the tinnitus came, silencing everything else but the sound of his thoughts. Only silence prevailed.

When darkness settled, Big Fish was able to move again. My friend, he lamented. He opened his eyes and found himself seating in a moving ambulance. Where are we going? There was no answer. Big Fish realized he was thinking his questions. When he tried, though, his tongue refused to loosen, to wrap itself around the vacant bursts of air erupting out his throat. Am I mute? He tried again.

“Where are… we…”

“To the Marxis HQ.”

Marxis HQ. The cradle of Marcus. The unuttered mention of that name brought him back. What were the chances of walking into a wall-that-shouldn’t-have-been-there and Older Fish killing himself? The van swung this way and that. Big Fish steadied himself by holding on to the railing running underneath the windows. His thoughts, however, were firmly anchored to the wall. Big Fish was sure it had something to do with Older Fish’s suicide.

Had Older Fish seen the wall? If he had, why would he have killed himself? Did it disturb him? When was the last time a wall disturbed anyone to their death? Could Older Fish have seen anything on the other side of the wall? Did Older Fish walk into the space on the other side of the wall? What could have been on the other side of the wall? Had Marcus done something it shouldn’t have? Was that why Big Fish was being ferried to the Marxis?

“I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

“Mr. ——-, the reasons behind your presence being required at Marxis HQ were not divulged to us.”

I’m not mute, then. Big Fish laughed. He didn’t know himself to be thinking out loud. The others all looked at him. Big Fish didn’t bother. He settled back to think of Marcus once more. At first, his thoughts strained to comprehend why Marcus was the focus of their attention. Simultaneously, Older Fish’s death evaded the grasp of his consciousness. In the company of people, he felt he had to maintain composure. Composure be damned. Yet, tears refused to flow. Sorrow remained reluctant.

The van eased to a halt. A nurse stepped up and opened the door, Big Fish got down. One of the medics held on to his forearm and led him inside a large atrium. After a short walk that began with stepping inside a door and ended with stepped out of another – What was that? Did I just step through a wall? – Big Fish was left alone outside a door: “Armada” it said. He opened the door and looked inside. A long, severely rectangular hall yawned in front of him. At the other end, almost a hundred feet away, sat a man in a yellow chair, most of his body hidden behind a massive table.

“Please come in. My name is Marxis Maccord. I apologise for this inconvenience, but your presence here today is important to us. I know what you’re thinking, Mr. ———, but before you say anything, let me only say this: what happened had both nothing and everything to do with Marcus. It had nothing to do with Marcus because it wasn’t Marcus’ fault you walked into a wall and almost broke your virtual nose. It had nothing to do with Marcus because it wasn’t Marcus that precipitated in Mr. ———-‘s death. At the same time, it had everything to do with Marcus because, hadn’t it been for Marcus, you wouldn’t have walked into a wall. Hadn’t it been for Marcus, Mr. ———- wouldn’t have killed himself.”

Silence. What is this dolt trying to tell me? That they’re not going to take responsibility for what Marcus did? Why can’t they just get to the point, the idiots?! Bah! “I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Maccord. You’re saying you’re going to let Marxis Corp. be held responsible for Marcus’s actions, and that’s fine by–”

“Oh, Mr. ————, I’m not saying that all! In fact, I’m not going to assume responsibility either. You see, Mr. ————, I’m going to let you decide. I’m going to let you decide on the basis of what you hear in this room as to who’s culpable. Then… well, then, we’ll take things from there, shall we?”

Ah! There it is! Blah, blah, blah! We didn’t do this, we didn’t do that! Then again, we know this could’ve been done, that could’ve been done. Then, shit happens, let us go. Your call now. Bullshit! “Mr. Maccord, if you will excuse me, I have made my decision and would like for you to listen to it. I don’t care what Marcus did or didn’t do… and even if I want to figure it out, I don’t think I want to start here.”

Big Fish turned to leave. “Mr. ———–, your friend put the wall there because it scared him that someone might find something out.” Big Fish stopped just before the door. “Mr. ————, the wall wasn’t there a second before you walked into it. It was computed into existence by your friend because you were trespassing into his thoughts. If you had crossed over into the other side, you would have witnessed something… something we can only imagine would have been devastating for him in some way.”

Marxis Maccord stood up. With a start, Big Fish noticed that the man wasn’t standing on his legs. Instead, his torso, his neck and his head were floating in the air. From the other end of the hall, they looked like a macabre assemblage of body parts, a jigsaw held upright by simple equilibrium, the subtle cracks visible along the seam of their contours in the light borrowed from the city that towered around Marxis Corp. Him? It? It. “Mr. ————, you are downstairs, standing in booth SP-8742, your thoughts logged out of reality and into this virtual one.”

Big Fish hadn’t said anything for a while. The transition had been so smooth. Big Fish hadn’t noticed a thing when we entered the first door. It was like walking through, past, a veil. It was an effortless endeavour, a flattering gesture that drew the mind out of its body. Maccord continued to talk. “Say hello to Marcus II, or, as we call it, MarQ. When you stepped into that first door, your reality was suspended just as ours took over. Once the switch was complete, your limp body was lain on a bed and transferred down a shaft 3,000 feet deep, under this building. You are now lying sound asleep, dreaming about this conversation… if that.”

“In a world where moving in and out of reality is so easy, picking one over the other simply on the basis of precedence will gradually, but surely, turn a meaningless argument. It is antecedence that will make sense, more and more sense. Your friend, Mr. ————, understood that.”

Big Fish finally had something to say. “And why is that important, Mr. Maccord?” He felt stupid about asking a question, after having asked it, the answer to which might have come his way anyway. However, Big Fish was being left with a growing sense of loneliness. He was feeling like a grain of salt in the sea, moving with currents both warm and cold, possessing only a vintage power to evoke memories that lay locked up somewhere in the folds of the past. The sea couldn’t taste him, Big Fish couldn’t comprehend the sea. They had devoured each other. They were devouring each other.

Maccord responded quickly. “Marcus is the supercomputer that computes the virtual reality of your old organization into existence. You log in and out everyday doing work that exists only as electromagnetic wisps in the air, shooting to and fro between antennae, materialised only when called upon. Marcus tracks all your virtual initiatives, transactions, and assessments. You know all this. However, what you don’t know is that the reality Marcus computes is not based on extant blueprints or schematics. It is based on your memories.”

At that moment, it hit Big Fish. He had wondered many a time about how Marcus knew everything about the place where he worked. The ability to log in and out of reality – or realities? – gave the machine access to people’s memories. This means the architecture is the least common denominator of all our memories of the place. “You’re right.” Maccord’s observation startled him. “You see, Mr. ———–, MarQ has computed me, and MarQ has computed you. However, I own MarQ, which means it answers to me. Before it transliterates your thoughts into sounds, they are relayed to me.”

He can read my thoughts! “Oh yes, Mr. ————, I well can. And now that I know that you know that the place is the least common denominator of all your knowledge, the wall could’ve been there only if all of you had known about it. However, the wall hadn’t been there in the first place. Which meant Marcus had computed something that had happened fairly recently. Then again, if the LCD hypothesis is anything to go by, then the wall shouldn’t have been there because you continue to be surprised about its presence. Ergo, on the other side of the wall was something you already knew about, but not yet as the source of a problem.”

It was hard for Big Fish to resist thinking anything at all at first, but he did try. When he eventually failed, questions flowed into his head like water seeping through cracks in a bulging dam, simply unable to contain a flooding river. The questions, at first, cascaded through in streamlined sheets, and then as gurgling fountains, and then as jets that frayed into uncertainty, and then as a coalition that flooded his mind.

Big Fish understood this was the end of the “interaction”, that Marxis Maccord had been waiting for this to happen since the beginning. Everyone would have wanted to know why Older Fish killed himself. To get to the bottom of that, and to exculpate Marcus, a reason had to be found. Marcus had known we’d come to this. He let me hit the wall late. He let me know that none else found it odd because they’d been used to it. Marcus had let me be surprised. Marcus knew something was going to happen. And when it did, Marcus knew I’d be brought into its hungry womb to be judged… to be devoured by the sea.

“Mr. Maccord?”

“Yes, Mr. ———-?”

“Take what you need.”

“I already am, Mr. ———-.”

Universality of the Lotka-Volterra equations

If humankind were to discover a planet that harbours water, and if, by some provenance, the same unicellular organisms that were the precursors to Earth-bound evolution were to be introduced into this environment…

  1. Would the significant differences between our evolutionary pattern and their evolutionary pattern be equivalent in any measure to the significant differences between our environment and theirs? (akin to linguistic relativity; see Whorf-Sapir hypothesis) How might we measure these differences?
  2. How would the second-degree Kolmogorov model predator/prey population functions change? (Lotka-Volterra equations)
  3. Will the timeframe for “onset” of intelligence be determinable? Will intelligence manifest itself again at all? (Naturalism)
  4. Will the Earthborn megapode be able to recognize the “alien” megapode (or vice versa)? (Vitalism)
  5. Will evolutionary parameters in similar environments be similar, or will small changes in the evolution of genetic components manifest as large deviations in the final morphology?

Winterwolf VII

At that moment, the semi-AI beeped completion, and 34 jumped out of the chair in one fluid motion and lunged at 32, pinning him to the floor as the gun spilled from his hand and clattered a few feet away. Did you upgrade yourself?! 32 simply smiled. I REPEAT, DID YOU UPGRADE YOURSELF?! “No!” Why not? “Because I want to stop this war. I want to go home.” No, you don’t. “I don’t?” The grip loosened and 32 was able to turn his head to face 34’s. You must be upgraded. “No!” He screamed without regard, and incessantly, struggling all the while, kicking and grabbing at 34’s crystal frame; however, neither relented in their individual efforts. Eventually, just as the final pellet was about to be fired, 32 was strapped in and the semi-AI had been mounted to the binary-encryption projector. There is no time. They are coming. I will not let you receive all the memories. Know simply what is to be known, for your future is short.

32’s scream was abruptly silenced, casting upon his person a ghostly sheen, because wherefrom the alarm had issued there was only an faint-blue darkness, the face contorted with terror and the jaw held open by the lack of electric impulse.

Twelve minutes later, the door banged open and six members of the crew tumbled in, clumsily wielding guns and looking around frantically. When they spotted the two cyborgs standing next to the viewing port, they held their guns up and advanced.

“You! What’re you doing here? What happened to Commander Fanderay?!” The two part-machines turned around to face the advancing belligerents, a strange expression on their faces: their eyebrows were flicking, cheeks flushing and unflushing over and over. The Earthborn couldn’t understand any of it, and in response, they brought their guns closer and closer. “Which of you killed Commander Fanderay?” one of them yelled. One of the cyborgs answered in the negative, and the men immediately trained their guns on the other one, and saw a quick transition in his facial features. The gel in 32’s eyes was diluted by an array of microfluid valves set behind his “eyes”, quickly expanding and pushing the iris films out. His eyebrows adjusted and consequently widened across the structure of his square face, but only by a few millimeters. The hydraulic pistons underneath his jaw went slack and muscle control across most of his limbs was lost, rendering them momentarily slackened. All this 34 observed with indifference: 32 was finally human.

Winterwolf VI

“Right. Caution. Good. Anyway, where was I? Yes! Evolution! This race of new humans was enabled to evolve at an accelerated pace, to mutate and reform within a decade without having to wait for a million years, with a genetically implanted trigger that would terminate mutatory control once human intelligence was reached.” The New Chance. “Fantastic! Yes! And do you know who they really are?” Humans? “They are us, you idiot! We are the New Chance!” Silence. “Hmm. The people of the New Chance quickly attained human intelligence, in a little less than two centuries, in fact, but the trigger never went off. Why? Can you tell me why, 34?” Because the New Chance lived through an alternate history, the quick development of intelligence was used by the bodies developing in the local environment to acquire complementary adaptation systems. The trigger did go off, but it had as consequence… nothing. “Yes! We were as babies born with super-human intelligence!”

“And then, 2051 arrived when the Earthborn discovered that we had colonized almost seven arcseconds of the Milky Way. And, I suppose, this is where our ‘histories’ start to differ?” I suppose so, too. “As for the logical consistency–” There were no logical inconsistencies. “So you agree with me?!” 32 was elated. I don’t. “Why not?!” Deflation. Because I can tell you five stories, ten stories… no, I can tell you a thousand stories that comprise the facts in your knowledge and yet amount to disparate conclusions. “Are you telling me my facts weren’t unique?” I’m telling you that no fact is unique. “Oh…” You seem confused. “How do you affirm your disbelief, then?” Because, now, I am equipped only to serve Master Fanderay, whom you have slain. “What?!” Because, now, even though your facts may be just as unique as mine are, we are part of a reality that is antecedent to our actions. I understand you. You wish to terminate this mission because you believe the Winterwolf is a warship conceived to join war with the New Chance IV, the last outpost of the New Chance. , however, believe that and your… adopted kind squandered your intelligence, corrupted your purpose, and abused the world around. Now, you are faced with nuclear war.

Winterwolf V

The alarms didn’t bother him; no one would believe an upgraded cyborg could have committed murder. On the other hand, the CEs 32 and 34 were the only cyborgs aboard the Winterwolf, and would quickly turn suspect if the intervention of any other Earthborn could be ruled out. Of course, the Earthborn were quite capable of suspecting themselves with greater conviction than any outsider: such was their legacy. After inspecting the scene of his crime, 32 turned around and sprinted to Bay 32. There, he found CE34 staring out through the window, and quietly closed the door behind him.

“Thirty Four?” Yes, Master Fander – You are not Master Fanderay. 32 laughed. “Of course I’m not. I am Thirty Two.” You are task-mate Thirty Two! Welcome, comrade. Where have you been? Master Fanderay was looking for you! “I had… sent myself in for maintenance.” Indeed! I will inform Master Fanderay that you have returned. 32 quickly thrust an arm out and held 34 against his shoulder, pressing him from moving any further. “You will do nothing of the sort.” Why not? “Fanderay is dead.” There was an uncharacteristic pause. Whether 34’s compiler was computing the causes or the implications of the information, 32 couldn’t tell. After a few thousand microseconds, though, shock registered on 32’s face: the gel in his eyes was diluted by an array of microfluid valves set behind his “eyes”, quickly expanding and pushing the iris films out. His eyebrows adjusted and consequently widened across the structure of his square face, but only by a few millimeters. The hydraulic pistons underneath his jaw went slack and muscle control across most of his limbs was lost, rendering them momentarily slackened. All this 32 observed with disdain: 34 was finally human.

How? When? Where? “Calm down.” 32 quickly realized that was a stupid thing to say to an assembly of chips and wires. “I killed him.” He would later think that 34’s systems hadn’t been reprogrammed with the possibility of having to register incredulity in mind, but the “matured” idiot’s face did come pretty close. When no other reactions seemed forthcoming, 32 spoke. “I fired a bullet through his head and killed him. He is not one of us, cannot be resurrected. Now, you must help me–” Who instructed you to fire a bullet through his head? Who served the orders? What do you mean he is not one of us? We are Earthborn and must protect each other in this time of distress! Who served the orders? Do you require my help to steady our crew’s moral and instate a substitute leader?

It was really funny, the string of these words, because they were uttered without intonation or emphasis, anywhere and in any measure, but were simply blurted out just like any Turing machine would: receive input, compile, communicate output. The anomaly heartened 32 – his brain commanded his body’s core temperature to rise by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in line with some external command. This provided a better ambient environment for the metabolic, defensive, and nephrological systems to function. As soon as this happened, then, the neural feedback system conveyed this development to the brain, which, in return for 32’s external action that initiated this progression sequence, let him laugh.

32 laughed. “Why are we orbiting the NC4, 34?” We are on a mission to rescue the stricken inhabitants of NC4 from a self-precipitated nuclear winter. “Bullshit.” I repeat, we are on a mission to rescue the stricken inhabitants of NC4 from a self-precipitated nuclear winter. Do you possess any evidence to dispute this fact? 32 stared. “Can you tell me what you saw through that window a few minutes past?” I saw an RF monitor detach itself from the Winterwolf and launch itself into the planet’s atmosphere.

“An RF monitor?!” Yes. “What the hell is an RF monitor?!” It is a device that monitors communication signals in the RF band. “And why the hell are we deploying one?!” We are to monitor alternate channels of communication amongst the inhabitants of NC4 once the Tesla coils fail under the ionizing impact of the radioactive clouds. 32’s core temperature dropped. His brain commanded him to frown and he frowned. He didn’t know what to say or do: it seemed as if 34’s new memories prevented him from picking out any logical fallacies in the constructed reality he was now firmly a part of. Yet, 32 decided to try his best. He seated 34 on the chair once more. “Listen to me carefully. Let me narrate to you a story.” No! We must reinstate a leader for the Winterwolf and inform the captain and the crew of your actions! “No! We must not!” So saying, 32 thrust the cables lying on the floor back into sockets on 34’s torso and pelvis, leaving him temporarily without access to his limbic stimulants as the semi-AI commenced a long scan to check if his systems were on track.

“Let me narrate to you a story. You must listen to the story and determine its logical consistency. Then, you must determine whether or not to help.” Before 34 could interrupt, he added, “Your conclusion in this endeavour is presupposed on your listening to the story and assimilating the information it contains and its implications.” 34 fell silent. “Good.”

“In the year 1610, the Earthborn discovered the first free-floating Earth-like planet N4C17. It was inundated with water, the entire planet, and all of it was trapped, preserved rather, beneath a thick layer of ice. Almost four centuries passed before an astronomer named Aloia Lee Gill proposed an experiment to transport genetically reprogrammed humans to N4C17 after drilling through and breaking the ice, to have them under constant observation to understand how humans evolved, how natural selection functioned, and to see if alternate evolutionary outcomes showed themselves.” Eugenics. “Yes– Wait, you don’t dispute the contents of my narration?” Yet.

Winterwolf IV

CE34 came to life. He felt great innocence, although that could have meant nothing in particular to CE34 because he wouldn’t have known the corruption of innocence. The room he was in was empty. Nothing odd about that. His memories, his knowledge signaled nothing disturbing or being as cause for concern. He looked down. His body seemed complete: part human, part metal, part plastic. He removed himself from the chair he was on and stood up, erect, and even as he did, the wires connected to him automatically disconnected and dropped to the floor. At that moment, he could feel a vibration beneath his feet, even as with a terribly loud clunk that seemed to quake the room he was in, CE34 observed through the viewing port with awe as a giant metal bird crawled into view, just simply floating there. A few seconds later, as he gaped agog, his elbows resting on the rails and him craning his neck to see as much as of the apparition as possible, the bird jerked downward and then blasted off. Its journey took it slowly out of sight of CE34, the spiral path it followed dragging it to the location of a Tesla coil.

“What are you doing?” I am looking out the window. Who are you? “My name is Doriant Fanderay.” Master Fanderay. I remember your name from… from, uh… somewhere. “Don’t push yourself. Here, come, sit down.” Yes, Master Fanderay. “You can call me Doriant.” Yes, Master Fanderay. “Fine. What’s your name?” My name is Thirty Four, Master Fanderay. “What class are you?” I’m a computational engine, Master Fanderay. “Hmm. Where are you from?” I am from the planet called Earth, Master Fanderay. “Who created you?” I was manufactured by Starlight Systems in the year 2051, Master Fanderay. “Good, good. Can you tell me where we are?” Yes, Master Fanderay. We are on a mission to rescue the stricken inhabitants of NC4 from a self-precipitated nuclear winter. “Yes, and how will be of help to us?” I have knowl –… I seem to have knowledge… of the planet’s geography, topology and weather, Master Fanderay.

Doriant stood up suddenly. “Where’s your mate?” Who, Master– “Where’s CE32?!” The huge man ran frantically to the door, and as soon as he was on command deck on his portion of the bay area, he picked up a communicator and yelled quick words to his captain at the other end of the line. Just as he set down the transmitter, a bustling commotion could be discerned from the lower levels, and the sights and sounds of strobes and alarms catapulted back to life. Even so, he still heard the click behind him, and a moment later, dropped dead to the floor, the control panel spattered with his blood and brains.

Winterwolf III

Noiselessly, the two jaws holding the first pellet, nicknamed the Bald Eagle, unclamped and withdrew, the hydraulic pistons powering their ductile muscles being emptied of all air. As the cylinders withdrew slowly, the pellet came loose, for a moment just hanging limp in space before a trigger went off deep within its titanium heart, igniting the secondary boosters. Directing itself downward and transmitting the coordinates of its location every second to the Winterwolf, the Bald Eagle started its gentle descent into the atmosphere of New Chance IV.

*

The Tesla coil went dead. One moment, there were sparks, and then the next, the ladder was gone. Hundreds of miles above its zenith, the sky was graying, turning slowly from a deep hue of green-blue to a pale shade of gray. Like a blot of ink on flimsy paper tissue, it was spreading, eating into the sky, a deadly flower blooming to herald the coming of a blighted spring, a malformed foetus come to disrupt a tradition of beauty. The faint odour of ozone was thinning, gradually but steadily, even as the temperature in a large hemisphere around the coil began to drop. Communication around the tower went limp with it. The sparks couldn’t permeate the airs anymore as gusts blowing within their invisible veins turned neutral, dampened infinitely, and were goaded no longer to swing or lunge. A sulfurous stench was becoming prevalent, too. A dragon was coming.

*

To call the Bald Eagle a pellet was stupidity. Tip to tip, it measured 89 feet, more than ten-times the wingspan of a full-grown Earthborn albatross, and from its helm to tail, 11 feet. Calling such a thing a pellet was derogatory, pejorative even, and some would say it was absolutely warranted. Its body was curved like a bow’s, although not quite as heavily, and its underside was pocked with miniscule half-gouges and textured rough. As it accelerated through the dense atmosphere, the gouges prompted the construction’s shell to wear off in slivers at first and then as shards and then as chunks of metal, exposing flasks of combustible chemicals. As the temperature reached magnanimous proportions, the flasks’ lining tore off and set the liquids on fire, which in turn set off small explosives positioned in a ring. Each detonation blew out hundreds and hundreds of pellets of thorium-232, each of which had been “activated” only moments earlier with an electron laser. At the end of the next 24 months, the thorium would decay into protactinium and then to the highly radioactive uranium-232, and New Chance IV would be blanketed with death.

The time-period of two years was chosen to provide the rebels with a chance to relent and surrender, at which point the Winterwolf would send down lead-secured rescue-ferries. At the same time, for each day that they postponed their decision, tens and then thousands would die, and future generations forever doomed to evolutionary insufficiency. It was first thought this could be achieved with full-scale war, but the rebels’ ability to construct cyborgs from decapitated body parts would significantly reduce attrition on the battlefield. Instead, two cyborgs had been kidnapped and their memories extracted, and the Earthborn learnt of the Tesla coils. Simply destroying them wouldn’t do – more would come up. Instead, shutting them down permanently and causing significant biological distress would cripple their beloved New Chance one and for all.