Charles Stross' follow-up to his critically acclaimed Singularity Sky is the story of Wednesday Shadowmist, a sullen teenager who is humanity's only hope of stopping interstellar war.
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July 04, 2005
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Excerpt from Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
just outside the expanding light cone of the present a star died, iron-bombed.
Something ' some exotic force of unnatural origin ' twisted a knot in space, enclosing the heart of a stellar furnace. A huge loop of superstrings twisted askew, expanding and contracting until the core of the star floated adrift in a pocket universe where the timelike dimension was rolled shut on the scale of the Planck length, and another dimension ' one of the closed ones, folded shut on themselves, implied by the standard model of physics ' replaced it. An enormous span of time reeled past within the pocket universe, while outside a handful of seconds ticked by.
From the perspective of the drifting core, the rest of the universe appeared to recede to infinity, vanishing past an event horizon beyond which it was destined to stay until the zone of expansion collapsed. The blazing ball of gas lit up its own private cosmos, then slowly faded. Time passed, uncountable amounts of time wrapped up in an eyeblink from the perspective of the external universe. The stellar core cooled and contracted, dimming. Eventually a black dwarf hung alone, cooling toward absolute zero. Fusion didn't stop but ran incredibly slowly, mediated by quantum tunneling under conditions of extreme cold. Over a span billions of times greater than that which had elapsed since the big bang in the universe outside, light nuclei merged, tunneling across the high quantum wall of their electron orbitals. Heavier elements disintegrated slowly, fissioning and then decaying down to iron. Mass migrated until, by the end of the process, a billion trillion years down the line, the star was a single crystal of iron crushed down into a sphere a few thousand kilometers in diameter, spinning slowly in a cold vacuum only trillionths of a degree above absolute zero.
Then the external force that had created the pocket universe went into reverse, snapping shut the pocket and dropping the dense spherical crystal into the hole at the core of the star, less than thirty seconds after the bomb had gone off. And the gates of hell opened.
Iron doesn't fuse easily: the process is endothermic, absorbing energy. When the guts were scooped out of the star and replaced with a tiny cannonball of cold degenerate matter, the outer layers of the star, held away from the core by radiation pressure, began to collapse inward across a gap of roughly a quarter million kilometers of cold vacuum. The outer shell rushed in fast, accelerating in the grip of a stellar gravity well. Minutes passed, and from the outside the photosphere of the star appeared to contract slightly as huge vortices of hot turbulent gas swirled and fulminated across it. Then the hammerblow of the implosion front reached the core . . .
There was scant warning for the inhabitants of the planet that had been targeted for murder. For a few minutes, star-watching satellites reported an imminent solar flare, irregularities leading to atmospheric effects, aurorae, and storm warnings for orbital workers and miners in the asteroid belt. Maybe one or two of the satellites had causal channels, limited bandwidth instantaneous communicators, unjammable but expensive and touchy. But there wasn't enough warning to help anyone escape: the satellites simply went off-line one by one as a wave of failure crept outward from the star at the speed of light. In one research institute a meteorologist frowned at her workstation in bemusement, and tried to drill down a diagnostic ' she was the only person on the planet who had time to realize something strange was happening. But the satellites she was tracking orbited only three light minutes closer to the star than the planet she lived on, and already she had lost two minutes chatting to a colleague about to go on her lunch break about the price of a house she would never buy now, out on the shore of a bay of lost dreams.