Chapter 4

[Report by VanNet encrypted router.]

This is a threat. The enemy implies we are on the edge of a second Collapse. There are intimations of a repeated mistake—an error we will make again. Perhaps it is a demand for surrender.

[Personal notes, scratched in Hive leather with a flake of Ionian stone.]

The Collapse was a murder. A genocide. Why does the enemy imply it was OUR error?

I was born long after the Golden Age, but I do feel loyalty to that time, and compassion. Humanity thought it was immortal. So did I, once.


—That we are weak—obvious, and false. No.

—That we made errors in our defense—our enemy is not a strategy instructor. No.

—That everything grown must die, hope is futile, etc.—tiresome. Death may be inevitable, but life is worth fighting for to protect and extend. No.

—That the Traveler is using us for its own ends. Then why would it sacrifice itself? No.

—That the Darkness is not OUR enemy. It is only the Traveler's enemy.

Does the enemy suggest we should have turned on the Traveler during the Collapse? Cracked it like an egg?

I see shades of the prisoner's dilemma that occupied Kuang Xuan. If Traveler and humanity cooperate, both suffer. If humanity maims the Traveler as it tries to flee, both are destroyed. But if the Traveler chooses to help us, and we turn against it, offer it to the enemy…

The enemy suggests this would have been our salvation.

For now, I subsist on thick pemmican and vitamin paste. I crave fresh food. I must invite someone to share this meal I will someday cook. My palate is… toughened. I will need a taster.

Perhaps I should not have sent the Sumerian woman away.