By Charles Stross
A brief tale set within the "Freyaverse", among "Saturn's Children" and "Neptune's Brood". initially released as a part of the "Engineering Infinity" anthology in 2011.
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Extra resources for Bit Rot (Freyaverse, Book 1.5)
It was as if there were a novella by Balzac round every bend. Prospectors now drove up in Airstreams, pulling gas-fuelled dredges to suck up whatever remained on the river bottoms. A century of flooding and storms had knocked loose the gold from the prehistoric beds, sluicing it down into the rivers. Miners in wetsuits were ‘sniping’ the streams, and swam in the underwater darkness holding giant cauldrons of light. Everything about gold was in opposition to Coop’s life on our farm. It must still have felt to him that he came from nowhere, the horror of his parents’ murder never spoken of by us.
Shasta and Columbia burned. Were rebuilt and burned again and rebuilt again. Sacramento flooded. A hundred years later, at the time of Coop’s obsession, there would still be five thousand full-time gold miners along the banks of the Yuba and Russian rivers. They scouted out the old towns in the Sierras named after lovers and dogs and characters in novels—names that were a time capsule of hunger and desire for a new life. Ne Plus Ultra! At each filament-like dot on the county maps, something had happened.
The grey structure had slowly risen on its skeletal struts, and even before it was completed, Coop would lounge on its sloped roof and gaze at the adjacent hills as though they were a road out. Now, a decade later, there was a leak somewhere within the tower’s dark interior. The minute Coop opened the trapdoor and looked down, panic hit him. There was in his mind the possibility of a snake or even a corpse in that unseen water. He stood for a last moment in the sunlight, pulled up the ladder he’d used to climb onto the apron roof, and dropped it down through the water.