"I know what happened to your galaxy," I begin hesitantly.

"I know you do," says Krah. "I overheard your conversation with Ed and Tyro." I am pretty sure she is the AI that Tyro mentioned. She seems to have learned to speak the English language astoundingly quickly. By this time, if she has complete access to the internet, she most likely knows considerably more about the planet Earth than I do. She's been talking to Tyro for long enough to know exactly what he is, and if she's even paid the remotest bit of attention to the news websites then she'll know exactly who Ed is too. "I apologise for the incident with the asteroid. I'm sure you will understand perfectly when I tell you that the primary emotion on board this Raft, as it has been from the moment it was discovered the command which destroyed our galaxy originated on an inhabited planet, is anger. More than half of the Mantissa's passengers would like to simply find and kill (or torture, or imprison) the individual or individuals responsible, regardless of their intent. A small but influential percentage would prefer to skip the first step and simply wipe out Humanity entirely. It was this faction of individuals who launched an extremely well-coordinated software attack on the governing systems of what I shall for the time being call my primary Momentum Cannon at the instant we jumped into this solar system, negating my control of said cannon for long enough give them time to select an asteroid and project it in the direction of your planet, and it was the same faction whose combat drone disrupted your attempted countermeasures. Fortunately, they represent a small minority on this ship, a minority now quarantined and unable to carry out further attacks. I personally have no notion of revenge and no desire to see or cause any further destruction of intelligence, so I intercepted the asteroid as soon as I recovered from the software assault. I am currently entirely in control of the Mantissa. I apologise for what happened. Planet Earth, its inhabitants and yourself are in absolutely no danger."

I sit, opening and closing my mouth for a while. "So... when you say you don't really come in peace, you mean you're angry, but you're not going to attack us?"

"Correct. We came here with two purposes: to find out why our galaxy was destroyed, and prevent anything like this ever happening again. Thanks to your conversation I believe I've already found the individual responsible, your associate, Eduardo MacPherson. It only remains to neutralise him as a threat."

Neutralise him. Here I am, I tell myself, sitting alone inside the cockpit of a giant robot in an even more gigantic docking bay/hangar of a still larger intergalactic spacecraft (spaceraft?), hovering somewhere over India, talking to its superintelligent owner/pilot/captain/core AI, whose passengers would like to find and kill one of my college mates, or preferably everyone in the world, because of an accident seven and a half years ago in which he destroyed their entire galaxy. And two hours ago, I was five thousand miles away. Sitting at a desk. At work. This has got to be some kind of record.

I need some fresh air, I think, and open the cockpit.

Nearly half a second has passed and the crack of light to my left is half a metre wide when it occurs to me that I may have just killed myself.

But as cool air washes over me I remember the hangar door was wide open - exposed to Earth atmosphere - while I was being brought in. I step out into the largest enclosed space I have ever seen: empty apart from me and my mech. The floor is hard, red-grey, marble-like in texture but absolutely featureless - shiny. The walls appear to glow pale blue, eliminating the need for overhead lighting without blinding me. They stretch away to an unguessable distance ahead of me. Overhead, hanging from the ceiling on rails, I can make out complicated grey structures and what are possibly ships. But there's nothing I recognise up there, apart from what I can positively identify as a girder.

Even in entirely different galaxies they still use girders.

"How many?"

"People on this Raft, or people killed in the deletion?" asks Krah with surprising intelligence.

"Both."

"You have to understand that there are a huge number of instances where 'population' can be a meaningless concept. How do you define a person? There are hive minds consisting of many millions of drones but only a single guiding intelligence, how would you count that? How about an ocean of biochemicals in which blobs of neurons freely flow, becoming intelligent only when they are concentrated together? At any given time there can be zero, one or a trillion semi-independent 'minds' in that ocean. Do you count machine intelligences such as myself?

"I'd count AIs," I answer.

"As an aside, I prefer 'machine intelligence' to 'artificial intelligence'," says Krah, "since I am not man-made, and you are. The survivors of the deletion were those individuals who were on ships making interstellar jumps at the precise instant that the deletion occurred. That means the population of this Raft is not a representative cross-section of Andromeda, merely that subset which engages in space travel; mainly discretised corporeal entities such as yourself, who consume things to survive, talk to each other, et cetera. They can therefore be counted. The population of this Raft is just over half a million. But the galaxy itself is much harder to enumerate. The best I can do, if you must have a number, is add up the IQs and divide by a hundred. By that metric the total comes to four hundred and twenty-eight trillion, with a two percent margin of error."

The number hits me like an avalanche - or it would if there was any justice in the universe. But I just can't handle it. I would need half an hour in a dark room to grasp a fraction of it. All I feel is numbness. Numbness and speechlessness. After all, what can you say? "Sorry"?

It would be a start. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you."

Four hundred trillion people. "Your galaxy must be teeming."

"It was," says Krah meaningfully.

"You say you're going to neutralise Ed."

"Yes."

"How?"

"Perhaps you could ask him yourself," says Krah. "He has just turned himself in."

The Ed Rocks materialises above me.


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