From Into Everywhere
It had no name, only a number assigned by a rip-and-run survey team before the rise and fall of the two empires, and it was old, about twice the age of Earth. The tectonic plates of its lithosphere had set in place after its outer core had cooled and solidified; any mountains it might once have possessed had long ago weathered to dust; after its magnetosphere had decayed most of its original atmosphere had been blown away by the solar wind of its star. It had been cold and virtually airless when the so-called Old Old Ones, said by some to have been the first of the Jackaroo’s clients, said by others to have been the Jackaroo’s precursors, had arrived, thickening its atmosphere and rebooting its hydrological cycle by bombarding the vast ice-cap on the dark side with comets diverted from the red dwarf’s threadbare Oort cloud. Now the slime planet was cloaked in a reducing atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and ammonia, and a shallow sea turbid with ferrous iron spread across its substellar hemisphere, broken by a single sodden land-mass near the terminator between light and darkness. Enormous rafts of sticky foam generated by blooms of photosynthetic bacteria floated everywhere on the sea, and colonies of stromatolites grew in a few muddy bays on the sunward edge of the lone continent.
Those colonies were what had brought Tony Okoye and the crew of wizards here, in a three-way partnership with the broker on Dry Salvages who had purchased the old survey team’s report. Unprepossessing mounds like melted candle stumps, built from layers of sediments and bacterial filaments and slime, the stromatolites contained nodes of archival genetic material and communicated with each other via a wide-bandwidth transmission system constructed from arrays of microscopic magnetic crystals. The chief wizard, Fred Firat, believed that they were the remnants of a planetary intelligence, a noosphere woven from algorithms that were the common ancestors of the various species found in active artefacts left by the Elder Cultures. A root kit or Rosetta stone that would unlock all kinds of secrets, including the causes of sleepy sickness, Smythe’s Syndrome, counting disorder, and other meme plagues.
Fred Firat had the grandstanding rhetoric and unblinking gaze of someone who carried the fire of true crazed genius, and like all the best salesmen, prophets and charlatans he was his first and best convert to his cause. He was convinced that the scant data buried in the records of that old expedition pointed towards something of fundamental importance, had sold the idea to Ayo and Aunty Jael during a virtuoso performance via q-phone. Which was how Tony had found himself embarked on what might be the biggest score of his freebooter career.