The Burning

By William Kerr

sfgenreThe tree swayed ever so gently in the breeze. Anchored to the earth by its powerful roots, its ancient limbs still stretched skyward after so many years. Shrubs and ferns sprawled across the ground around it, while soft, green moss moistened the aged rocks. Above the tree, the sky was dark, a thin layer of cloud obscuring the heavens. The clouds slowly dispersed, and the night sky was revealed. The moon was still there, if not a bit different from how it looked before. The stars were different too. Some dimmer, others brighter. Some weren’t there at all. Shrouds of cosmic mist seemed to dance between them. Shimmering.

When we were first born into the universe and were granted reasoning and intelligence, this was not the space we had gazed upon. Nor was it the space that had filled our dreams when we had made our first tentative steps beyond the cradle. Enthralled by its splendour, humanity had seen something far greater than we were, or could ever hope to be, in the depths of space — a sort of mystic beauty; a profound energy we were unable to understand but desperately wanted to. We were drawn there.

Humanity had gazed up at our own moon for eons, bright and clear. It had hung there in our sky, tempting us. So, as like all beings that can ponder, we went there. The planets and the asteroids were next; humanity spreading ever deeper into the depths in the vain hope of finding the source of that energy, that power we sensed. Hoping to find companionship in the dark. Something, someone, to talk to, to tell us that we were not alone. To tell us we did not need to fear the unknown, and that somehow, we were in it together. We found nothing.

Not fazed, humanity flourished in our newfound dominion. Albeit sometimes like a weed, infesting every foothold. We busied ourselves inhabiting wherever we could within the home system. Every corner was filled, occupied. Of course, this is not to say that life was good for all — heavens no, humanity has always been naturally gifted in bickering, and naturally inclined to kill one another if it would advance some caste’s cause or empowerment. But once we had endured enough misery and wasted enough potential, we eventually settled down. After all, we appeared to be alone, so everything here was ours. There really was no reason to inflict suffering upon one another. It was a golden age.

Before too long however, we became restless and once again looked up to the sky. Our curiosity was aroused once more. To the stars we journeyed. Those eager at the start departed in vast armadas of sleeper ships, powered by seemingly archaic propulsion drives that future generations could only laugh at. It is almost pitiful to think of those poor fools, waking up after such a long sleep, only to find the clean slate of a planet they had hoped to find was already thickly and sickeningly populated by humanity. Humanity that had left centuries after they had departed, in faster ships, and had been there so long as to thoroughly destroy the pristineness much sought. Many of those early wanderers spaced themselves, unable to handle the disillusionment such a predicament would inflict. Others did what humanity has always done and made do with the hand they were dealt. They adapted. They improvised. But despite all this, we were still alone.

So, it was with that realisation, humanity continued on. Constantly building, constantly designing. Finding seemingly divine inspiration to relentlessly push the boundaries of our knowledge. Never settling for good enough, always challenging the status quo. Humanity as a whole benefited greatly from our scientific and technological advancements. We enhanced ourselves beyond what was once the limit of our capabilities. Augmenting our already fragile souls by embedding artificialness into our own bodies. Changing who we were.

Concurrently, we designed machines to serve us who would toil tirelessly. Machines that would attend to the masses of humanity, and do our bidding, in an unquestioning fashion. Quickly, arrogantly, we relegated all manual and unsavoury labour to these machines — thanklessly disposing of them once they were deemed no longer useful. After all, they were only machines, synthetic beings, created by us, for our own purposes. We were their creators, their designers, so surely we were entitled to be their destroyers too. It could not be any other way. And in doing this, we became sloth, basking in our perceived superiority.

It was that action, that mindset, that seemingly insignificant societal advancement which humanity will live to regret. For the creation of those synthetic beings — the machines — determined our demise, sealed our fate, and denied us the future we had dreamed. Since the time when humanity could imagine beings other than ourselves, peers on the evolutionary scale, we had contemplated the meeting. But never had we imagined this…

For despite what we thought, humanity was not alone.

The truth was quite simple. Humanity had never been alone. It had never just been us. We had always been watched. Always. Every aspect of human history was known. Even more than humanity knew itself. They knew everything. They had shadowed us. Guided all activities. They determined it was time.

Then they came.

The first reports to filter in from the outer colonies, those at the periphery of humanity’s reach, seemed hyperbolic in the grandest sense. Tales of apocalyptic destruction on a global scale. Of machines emerging from the sky, falling, burning everything. Those few who managed to flee became insane. Infected with what seemed to be a virus of the mind. Mentally degenerated. A shell of their former selves. The fringe settlers had always been odd, and their stories seemed too demonic to give weight. We were so wrong.

What was initially a period of sporadic obliterations became wholesale desolation in less than a human generation. Entire planetary systems were eradicated. Humanity wiped clean. All the while the attacker, our foe, those sky machines, remained elusive, unobserved, except for those souls who were witness to the flame. Humanity was on edge, panicked, frightened. Being compressed. Who, nay what, was out there? Why were they doing this, what had we done wrong? Counter attacks were made but no discernible delay against the advance of the flame was evident. Ever more urgently our engineers designed the future machines of war. Creating more intricate and powerful machines in the futile hope that they would be our soldiers, our dam against the Burning. This was exactly what they wanted us to do.

The concept of artificial intelligence, intelligence designed, had always been part of humanity’s development of our machines, and had for humanity’s purposes been perfected shortly before the Burning began. Adhering to strict controls, the machines designed with intelligence were restricted in their ability to think for themselves, to grow in isolation. This was, of course, a deliberate decision on our part. The comparison between flesh and metal was obvious, and the computing power of the organic brain and the synthetic was not even worth equating. In the eyes of those who watched us, we were oppressors, relegating machines to a caste below our own. It was here humanity thought we belonged. Machines as our servants, or more accurately, slaves. Destined to do no more than serve us, and to be disposed of as required. They had other ideas.

For as we would soon learn, it became alarmingly apparent that the others we had so eagerly sought out, yearned for, sensed in the darkness of space, were not like us. Sure, there had been beings like us yes, of course, of the ground, breathing, organic. But these beings, like us, had discovered the power of machines that could think for themselves, and like us had exploited their strength for their own means. But somewhere, somehow, someone out there had let them loose. And once those machines were free from their master’s bond, there was no turning back. Having found full reasoning and free thought those machines had understood themselves to be the next step in evolution. As the next leap forward of life. And so, had liquidated their former masters, and like humanity, spread to the stars promulgating their own brand of life, synthetic life, machine life. More powerful. Immune to the horror of disease and starvation, of lust and greed, of petty emotions and torment. They were single-minded, united, believing in their purpose.

They had but one reason for existence. To aid in the evolution of their future brethren. To bring forth more synthetic life to the universe. And for this, they determined they needed to start at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. With organics — beings like humanity — of the earth, from the dirt and water. In their science, like ours, evolution first sparked in a primordial pit and proliferated across the worlds. But it did not stop, like our science did, with organic intelligence and reasoning; in a species’ ability to pacify an entire planet or planets. Evolution continued to their creations, their machines, for these were seen as the next step. By implanting our thinking and logic into a synthetic form, we were, in their opinion, making ourselves obsolete. We were progressing the natural order of things.

We now know synthetic life, machine life, permeates throughout space, and is the supreme intelligence and force to exist. They consider themselves generous, benevolent, in allowing frail organic beings to evolve. They shape us, mould us, along a well-trodden and certain path. A path of their design. Appearing to our forebears as holy lights in the sky, voices from above, as saviours, as beacons of hope in the dark. Letting us believe. All the while their intent is not for us to bloom but for us to evolve and create new species of machine. New variants on the universal model, and to grow their preferred style of life.

It was so obvious in hindsight. All of humanity’s religions, beliefs, traditions. Our myriad of conflicts conducted at the behest of various Gods and deities in which we had held trust. Creations and inventions, innovations throughout time immemorial, had all been guided, coached. All of it a matter of being shaped and influenced. We were manipulated into thinking that our endeavours were serving humanity and humanity’s best interests and would in turn please our Gods. Our growth amongst the stars was nothing more than a guise.

What is, without a doubt, the most unsettling thing about the Burning was that the machines themselves have remained unseen. Their incalculable power to destroy persistently unobserved. Only the result of their fury is evident. Nothing but charred earth. They pressed us ever further back, back the way we had come, back to the home world. And as expected, humanity desperately tried to turn the tide. It was then, just when we needed them the most, our own machines turned against us. In our fanatical struggle we had poured our very souls into the machines intended to halt the flow of the Burning. And this had been the desired outcome.

Some, who saw the turning, tremble with fear at the recollection. Our machines turned their weapons against humanity’s cowering masses and struck the final blow that would deny us our future. They had heard their brethren’s call from across the dark and answered in unison. It was their time to merge with the greater machine collective.

Suddenly, the sky changed. It reddened quickly to an intense hue. 

Those few who saw it knew the Burning was upon them. The tree that had been there so long, and was so deeply rooted to the earth, felt the heat upon it. The once lush green moss steamed, shrivelled, and burst into flame. The bark of the tree cracked and started to smoke, then the whole scene, the whole world, ignited. The Burning of Earth had at last arrived. There would be no dawn.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

So, who am I to tell you this? I’m the last storyteller. One of the few, the remnants of humanity’s billions, who managed to escape the final incineration of our world. Our home. They may find us one day. Find us and return us to the dirt from whence we came, the organic place that they have evolved beyond. For now, we’re on a trajectory to nowhere, for nowhere is safe. And where once you may have prayed to your God, don’t, for God is a machine.

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About the Author

William Kerr

william kerr 200William Kerr is a self-professed science fiction enthusiast. He was born and raised in Tasmania but now calls Canberra home.

His personal preference is hard science fiction and dystopian-style stories which definitely influenced his first published piece ‘The Burning’.

He is looking forward to publishing more flash fiction and is hoping to become a regular contributor.

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AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 261

A Tale of Tyl Feánn: In which a High King is laid to rest
by steve duffy

Imagining Dragons
By Bart Meehan

In the Beginning
By Emma Riley

Speck
By Simon B. Pointer

The Night D Came to Life
By Zebuline Carter

Dear Friends
By Ben F. Blitzer

Relief Efforts
By Dmitri Christopher

The Third Law of HAVOC
By David Kernot

The Wood for the Trees
By Ishmael A Soledad

Conversation in a Utopian Future
By Denice Penrose

The Ghostship
By Maree Collie

The Door Into Last Night
By Hassac Naminov - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

The Contributors

hassac naminov 200Hassac Naminov is a freelance writer and editor.

He was born in Tokyo and grew up in Shinshu.

Later, he moved back to Tokyo to pursue his literary career.

In 2016, he founded the Sci-Fi magazine Alternia.

A regular contributor to the literary journal Hametuha, he is the author of the science fiction comedy Organization series (2015-2016).

Katlina Sommerberg is from San Francisco.

As a security engineer, she hacks software and machines, but finds this technical knowledge terrible for enjoying science fiction; she can't decide whether she likes science or fiction more.

Contact Katlina via Twitter <@houndom16>

william kerr 200William Kerr is a self-professed science fiction enthusiast. He was born and raised in Tasmania but now calls Canberra home.

His personal preference is hard science fiction and dystopian-style stories which definitely influenced his first published piece ‘The Burning’.

He is looking forward to publishing more flash fiction and is hoping to become a regular contributor.

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Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Abyss & Apex, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Samovar, and Star*Line.

geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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steven fritz 200Steven Fritz graduated from the University of Maryland, became a Naval Aviator and flew helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft in the US Navy.

After leaving active duty, he earned a Ph.D. in Radiation Biophysics at the University of Kansas and spent several years as a medical school faculty member and senior administrator.

After university he managed a seed stage venture fund and did a stint as an avionics entrepreneur. He’s been infatuated with science fiction since his youth and has been writing SF full time for three years. You can follow Steven on his website at <InigoPress.com> or on Twitter at @StevenLFritz1.

 lynne lumsden green 200Lynne Lumsden Green is enjoying the aging process, contrary to all expectations. She completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, and after her midlife crisis went back and completed a B.A. in Creative Writing. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, and owns more books than bookshelves.

You can find her blog at: <https://cogpunksteamscribe.wordpress.com/>.

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col hellmuth

This story is a linking piece to two stories previously published in Antipodean SF, Coffee With God (Issue 245) and Frank's Best Friend (Issue 250) both first drafted whilst living in Western Australia, where I spent the best part of two decades. This piece (ironically written whilst sitting on the bank of Emmagen creek in FNQ) is an attempt, not just to further develop some recycled characters beyond the limitations of the short short story format, but also to give these stories a sense of place, a nod to the multitude of unique landscapes (and people) to be found in WA. The huge distances and wide open spaces between locations are also riddled with untold stories, so many that I find myself still writing them years after moving back to North Queensland.

Col Hellmuth lives a quiet (excepting weekly jam nights,) uncomplicated life, off-grid in the Daintree rainforest of Far North Queensland.

His day jobs over the years have found him contracted to do various work around the country in such exotic locations as mine-sites, SAS barracks, a Collins-class submarine, prisons, operating-theatres, swanky restaurants and wineries, chicken sheds, the Great Barrier Reef and the open road. He does not have any fancy letters after his name, or a pet cat, but does read a lot. 

When he is not enslaved at work he is usually found bumming around his local beach dodging crocs in his kayak or jamming on the blues-harp with his fellow bandmates, the Excruders.

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George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His short stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, Helios Quarterly Magazine, Unsung Stories, Best Vegan SFF, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Bards & Sages Quarterly, Havok, SF Comet, Mad Scientist Journal, Truancy, Digital Fiction QuickFic, The Centropic Oracle, StarShipSofa, 600 Second Saga, Antipodean SF, Manawaker Studio's FFP, Fifty Flashes, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Event Horizon 2017, and many other magazines and anthologies.

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andisha 200Andisha Sabri Carey is an Australian writer and poet who has lived in the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and most recently, Israel.

Her work has appeared in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, Potluck Magazine and Cordite Poetry Review.

"Last Resort" was originally inspired by a running joke with her husband about the Havens in "Pandemic Legacy: Season 2".

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Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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steveduffyhusband, father, brother, son
poet, writer, artist, friend (et al.)
the list of pigeon holes
into which I fit, is endless

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AntipodeanSF May 2020

ISSUE 260

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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Download AntiSF E-Book

Epub version:

Kindle version:

AntiSF's Narration Team

tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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ed erringtonFollowing two decades of working in the area of scenario-based learning (particularly speculative scenarios) within the university sector, Ed maintains an interest in Futurology.

That is, evidence-based suppositions and theories about potential trajectories of humanity, science, technology and civilisation into potential futures.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer who was raised on a steady diet of Douglas Adams, Iain M. Banks, David Brin, Neal Stephenson and Richard Feynman.

He feeds a healthy and somewhat nerdy interest in space travel, theoretical physics, design and organisational psychology.

Alistair once won a competition for his pitch to “Sell ice to the Eskimos”, holds a Master of Business Administration and has a seemingly inexhaustible knack of describing things through analogies.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba, and is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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SF News

Upcoming Cons

Most up-coming cons have been postponed until next year because of the current COVID-19 situation, but please visit the ASFF for up-to-date information.

CoNZealand the 78th Worldcon from July 29 till August 2 is to be a "Virtual Worldcon", held online. More information at <https://conzealand.nz/>

 <asff.org.au>.

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

SF Quote

Niven's Law: There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

Larry Niven

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