The Curve of The Earth


By Simon Morden

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Welcome to the Metrozone — post-apocalyptic London of the Future, full of homeless refugees, street gangs, crooked cops and mad cults. Enter Samuil Petrovitch: a Russian émigré with a smart mouth, a dodgy heart and a dodgier past. He’s brilliant, selfish, cocky and might just be most unlikely champion a city has ever had. Armed with a genius-level intellect, extensive cybernetic replacements, a built-in AI with god-like capabilities and a plethora of Russian swearwords — he’s saved this city from ruin more than once. He’s also made a few enemies in the process — Reconstruction America being one of them. So when his adopted daughter Lucy goes missing, he’s got a clue who’s responsible. And there’s no way he can let them get away with it.


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Petrovitch wanted to be alone, to worry and to brood, but he was part of the Freezone collective and that meant never having to be alone again. Company was built in, through the links they wore. Except for him. He didn't wear a link: he was so connected that, at times, it felt like it wore him.

So he'd taken himself off so he could pretend – not far, just to the top of the hill which overlooked the collection of different-sized domes below. The narrow strip of land before the sea looked like a collection of luminous pearls cradled in the darkness of a winter night.

He'd reached the summit, as determined by at least four satellites spinning overhead, and sat down on the wet, flowing grass to wait. He faced the ocean and felt the first tug of an Atlantic gale stiffen the cloak he'd thrown around him.


"Yobany stos." He'd been there for what? A minute? Less. "When there's news, vrubatsa? Otherwise past' zabej."

He hunched over and stared at the horizon. The last vestiges of twilight were fading into the south-west, but the moon was almost full behind the racing clouds. Enough light for him to see by, at least, even if the climb up would have been crazy for anyone else.

Somewhere over there, over the curve of the Earth, was his daughter, his Lucy, and she had been out of contact for fifty-eight hours and forty-five minutes.

These things happened. Once in a while, the link technology they all carried failed. It meant a break in what kept each individual bound together with the rest of the collective, and a quick trip to the stores for a replacement.

White plastic pressed against bare flesh. A connection restored, and the collective was complete once more.

Lucy was beyond the reach of any Freezone storeroom. She was on the other side of the world, and even he couldn't just pop over and present her with another link. There were difficulties and complications, not entirely of his own making.

The clock in the corner of his vision ticked on, counting the seconds. Relying on other people still didn't sit easily with him, though he'd had a decade to get used to the idea. Relying on the Americans and their ultra-conservative, hyper-patriotic, quasi-fascistic, crypto-theocratic Reconstructionist government?

His heart spun faster just thinking about it. They had a joint past, one that barely rose above mutual loathing, and he was certain there was something they weren't telling him. There'd been – a what? At this distance it was difficult to tell. The Freezone had only just started the laborious process of gathering the raw data and trying to fashion meaning from it.

He pulled his cloak tighter around him, not for warmth but for comfort.


There was a figure standing next to him, dark-clothed, white-faced. It hadn't been there a moment before, and it wasn't really there now. It stared west with the same troubled hope that Petrovitch had.

[There's,] and the voice hesitated. It hardly ever hesitated. The only times it ever hesitated were when it was dealing with meat-stuff. Important meat-stuff.


[There's been a development.]

"Tell me."

[There is no sign of Lucy.]

"Yeah. That figures." Petrovitch clenched his jaw and bared his teeth. "Where the huy is she?"

[The search-and-rescue team's initial findings do not indicate the actions of any outside agency.]

"They wouldn't, would they? I knew it. I knew it was a mistake to let her go. I should have—"

[Forbidden it?] said Michael, looking down on Petrovitch. [She is twenty-four years old and an autonomous citizen of the Freezone.]

"She's still my responsibility."

[Not by law or custom. Need I remind you what you were doing when you were twenty-four? Or when you were eighteen?]

Petrovitch fumed. "It's not the same."

[Sasha, we will find her.]

"Of course we will. Tell me what they're saying."

[That at eleven fifteen local time, a search-and-rescue team comprising USAF, Alaskan police and University of Alaska personnel, flying out of Eielson Air Force Base, conducted a preliminary search of the University of Alaska Fairbanks North Slope research station. The single known occupant of that research station, Dr Lucy Petrovitch, was not located despite a thorough search of all the solid structures. There was nothing to indicate that she had either left the station on an expedition, or been forced to leave against her will. A search of the immediate area has commenced, though it will be necessarily limited in scope.]

"What the huy does that mean?"

[It means they have four hours of daylight in any twenty-four-hour period, and the air force transport must return to base. An overland expedition is being arranged. They estimate it will arrive in a week,] and Michael paused again. [Which seems unnecessarily delayed. I will attempt to ascertain a reason for this.]

Petrovitch felt impotent rage rise like a spring tide. His skin pricked with sweat.

[Talk to me, Sasha,] said Michael. [Tell me what you're thinking.]

Lucy's link was standard Freezone issue. Satellite enabled, always on, not just reliable, but dependable: powered by the heat from her body.

"They don't go wrong. They just don't." He looked up at Michael's avatar, framed against the silver-lined clouds. "She took a spare. I made her, because I'm a good father. And neither of them are working."

To prove the point, he pinged her machine – both of them. He got nothing, and there was so rarely nothing.

"Something's happened. I want to know what. I want to know now."

[How many of our protocols are we going to break this time?] asked Michael. "As a point of reference? More than the Baku incident?"

[More than Beirut. We're going to break them all if we have to. Assemble an ad-hoc. They can decide.]

Michael polled the Freezone collective and selected five names with the required expertise and wisdom. There was no need to wait for them to assemble, exchange pleasantries, enquire about the kids; that wasn't what an ad-hoc was about. He'd been in enough to know the score.

There were preliminaries, though: for the record.

[Welcome, Freezone ad-hoc committee number four thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, convened on February fifth, twenty thirty-four, at twenty forty-eight Universal Time to discuss the preliminary response of the Freezone to the disappearance of Lucy Petrovitch. Please state your names.]

The five people could be anywhere on the planet. They could be in the mother dome in Cork, or planting electric trees in the Sahara. It didn't matter.

"Mohammed al-Ghazi."

"Stephan Moltzman."

"Jessica Levantine."

"Gracious Mendelane."


Petrovitch blinked. "Hey," he said.

"Hey, Sam."

She shouldn't have been on the ad-hoc. Though she was one of the few North Americans they had, it was a veritable United Nations as it was. The point being, it was personal for her. She was Lucy's big sister in all but name. She wasn't going to even pretend to be impartial.

He used a backchannel to talk to Michael. "Are you sure about this?"

[You don't get to question the make-up of the ad-hoc, Sasha. That's one protocol you don't get to break.]

That was him told.

Addressing the committee, Michael gave them bald facts: shortly after midnight, three days ago, Lucy Petrovitch lost contact with the Freezone. That she had been conducting research on Alaska's frozen, dark North Slope was a complicating factor, but not the primary concern.

The point was, she'd vanished. And no one seemed to be in any particular rush to find her.

[We need to decide what assets we dedicate to the search, and how they are best deployed.]

Human minds worked differently to Michael's. There was a long gap before anyone spoke.

"I would say, we do everything, despite the Americans," said Mendelane, "but it cannot be denied that we require – at the very least – the co-operation of the relevant authorities. We must tread carefully."

"She is one of us," said al-Ghazi. Where he was, he could see the same sky as Petrovitch, the same Moon illuminating the tops of the electric trees as they cooled and clicked in the Saharan night. "There is no question of us doing nothing. Would they permit Freezone personnel in Alaska? Or our proxies?"

[I will pass on a request to the US State Department,] said Michael. [You must decide whether we ask, or whether we insist. And if we insist, how forcefully we put our demands.]

"I would be cautious," said Mendelane.

"I wouldn't," said Tabletop. "I'd threaten them with everything we can, and if that's not enough, we make shit up until they give in. Look, Lucy's not the sort of kid – not the sort of woman – to go wandering into the night in her slippers and dressing gown, especially when that night lasts for twenty-plus hours and it's fifteen below. If they're not interested in looking for her, we'll do it instead. We could have a team on the ground by tomorrow morning."

"The university said it would take them a week," said Moltzman. Petrovitch didn't know him personally, just his reputation score, which was a respectable eighty-something. "Why would they say that if, firstly, a military search-and-rescue could be deployed in hours, and secondly, they know we could do it faster, with most of our people half a world away?"

[That is a good question,] noted Michael, and Moltzman's pregnant rep birthed another point. [I can suggest some possible answers, but assigning probabilities to them will take time if I am to be accurate.]

"It's because she's a Petrovitch," said Tabletop. "This whole thing was a set-up from start to finish: the original invitation, which she should have refused, the fact that she was alone, in winter, in the dark, in an isolated location. I said she shouldn't go."

[An ad-hoc said she should accept.]

"They were wrong!"

[Samuil Petrovitch was on that ad-hoc,] Michael reminded her, reminded them all. [He agreed with the decision made then.]

"That's come back to bite him on the arse, hasn't it?" She lapsed into sullen silence, and the dead air that followed stretched uncomfortably.

There was another protocol surrounding the ad-hocs, that the petitioner wasn't supposed to speak on their own initiative: they could answer questions, clarify positions, discuss motivations. But not be an advocate, and certainly not grandstand. The committee members weren't a jury, and an ad-hoc wasn't a court.

Petrovitch held his nerve, and his tongue.

[It may have been that the ad-hoc was not in possession of all necessary information, although I did my best at the time.] Having slapped him down once, Michael was now taking responsibility for Petrovitch's piss-poor judgement. [That also may be the case here: however, this is the way we decided we would conduct our decision-making, and if you do not come to a consensus, I will dismiss you and convene another ad-hoc.]

"No," said al-Ghazi quickly. "We will decide." He had no way of knowing if he was in the first ad-hoc or the tenth: the Berber tribesman had embraced the nature of the Freezone's ad-hocracy with all the fervour of a convert, and he'd been called on to play his part.

[We have not heard from one of the committee. If you please, Mrs Levantine.]

"Well now," she said, and Petrovitch imagined her leaning back in her chair, knitting needles maintaining a steady click-clack rhythm. She didn't knit out of utility, but out of respect for the craft. "Lucy's the age of my eldest granddaughter, and I know she hasn't got her birth mother or father to worry about her, but she has Sam and Madeleine, and all of us instead. She never struck me as a silly girl: a little too serious for her own good, if you ask me, so I agree with Tabletop. She wouldn't walk out of a safe place for any reason except a very good reason. So either someone took her, or she was persuaded – by someone else or her own mind."

"You think she is still alive," said Mendelane, "despite what an extended break in linking usually means?"

"Oh, for certain. No one would take the trouble of going all that way just to, you know, hurt her."

"Will whoever has her look after her? Until we find her?"

"Well now," she said again. "We can hope, can't we?"

Moltzman cleared his throat. "So, what do we need to do? Demand in the strongest possible terms that the authorities treat her disappearance as a crime, not as accidental or negligent. That they put all reasonable effort into finding her…"

"Strike 'reasonable'," said Tabletop. "They need to prove to us they're doing everything they can. Missing persons is an FBI thing: we want nothing less than someone on the ground, up on the North Slope, directing local assets."

"One of us or one of them?" asked Moltzman.

"Both," said Tabletop emphatically. "We watch over their shoulder so we know it's being done right."

[Does everyone agree to this course of action?] Michael tabulated the votes, and reported back the result. [The committee is unanimous. The question remains, who do we send?]

"I will go," offered al-Ghazi. "I would be honoured to accept the duty."

Honoured he might be, but the Americans would eat him alive. Petrovitch jumped in, almost without thinking. That was a lie: he'd done nothing but think since Lucy had gone offline. When the moment presented itself, he was ready.

"No. That's my job," he said.

Tabletop was instantly furious. "Sam: they've got one Petrovitch already. We're not giving them another."

"Who else, then? You?"

"You know I can't… anybody. Anyone else but you."

"Fine. Name someone better equipped to survive Reconstruction America. Someone who'll get Lucy, and bring her home."

"This isn't meant to happen, Sam. You're not supposed to get involved again."

"Yeah, well. I am involved." A muscle in Petrovitch's face twitched, and he started to notice the cold and the wind again. "I suppose I'd better tell Maddy."

It was just him and Michael again, on the hillside, with the domes below and the sky above.

[Good luck with that,] said Michael.

"Yeah." Petrovitch scrubbed at his face and thought about getting up. "Probably best done in person. Difficult to land a punch over a link."

Michael's avatar patted him on the shoulder. Petrovitch could feel the reassuring pressure, despite it all happening somewhere on a virtual interface buried deep in his brain.

"You'd better fuck off now. Certain you've got better things to do than nursemaid me."

[You know where I am…] The avatar vanished, and Petrovitch levered himself up.

"You're everywhere," he said, and started back to the sea.


It was almost like old times. The four of them, kicking their heels and waiting for something to happen.

Petrovitch paced, cursing both the vagaries of international travel and international diplomacy. First to his left, then his right, were the arrival gates and all the paraphernalia of arriving: scanners, customs, officials in suits and paycops in armour.

Madeleine and Valentina sat at opposite ends of a row of seats: Madeleine dwarfed her chair, made it seem fragile and childlike, while Valentina was very still, upright, self-contained.

Tabletop leaned against a pillar, obscuring the moving advertising on the screen behind her. Every so often, a pair of pixelated eyes would pop up behind her shoulder, widen, then duck down again. She hadn't noticed – like Petrovitch, she was fixated on the gate.

There was a rush of people. Many of them managed to look both tired and bewildered, still adjusting their bags and pockets after the formalities of entry into the Metrozone. Some looked up, searching for the holographic signs that would tell them where to go, then drifted away. Others were met, by friends and family, and there was a moment of awkwardly public reunion that was joyous and constrained in equal measure.

Then there was Newcomen and his handler Auden, at the very end of the tail. The ever-urbane Auden had one hand at his countryman's back, his dark infoshades and black tie making him a conscious parody of what he really was: not a consular staffer as advertised, but a National Security Agency spook.

Newcomen appeared singularly discomfited. He was dragging a huge suitcase on wheels – no, worse than that, the suitcase was motorised and it was following him like a dog on a lead. He looked grey, something of an achievement for someone with his corn-fed complexion, and his G-man buzz cut had gone spiky with nervous sweat.

Petrovitch stopped his pacing, and scowled. Behind him, Madeleine and Valentina simultaneously stood. It took Madeleine much longer to reach her full height, and he could see Newcomen's eyebrows crawl up his forehead.

The two Americans stopped in front of him, and Auden deliberately pushed the other man forward into the space between them.

"Dr Petrovitch, can I introduce Agent Joseph Newcomen of the FBI?"

Petrovitch did a thing that meant that Auden had to take his abruptly opaque glasses off, revealing a pair of unnaturally deep blue eyes. They narrowed at the affront.

"I can hack your contacts too, if you like. Destroyed any good cities lately?"

"So hostile, Doctor. You really shouldn't throw accusations like that around, in public, without any evidence." He flicked his now-useless shades into a nearby bin. "I'm actually here to help."

"As opposed to what? Lead an assassination squad into the Metrozone on the back of an Outzone invasion?" Petrovitch's own eyes whirred and clicked, cycling through ultraviolet and near infrared. Auden was actually blushing. "Tabletop says you were in charge. More than good enough for me."

Auden leaned slightly to one side to catch sight of Tabletop's pink hair and cat eyes. He brought his fingers to his temple in the mockery of a salute. "Now, where were we?"

"You were attempting to introduce me to this…" Petrovitch glanced up momentarily at Newcomen, "this vat-bred Reconstructionista as an escort, which is nothing but a distraction to the main cause. Helping would imply doing something, instead of this. Where is she? Where's Lucy?"

Newcomen cleared his throat. "Uh, Doctor…"

"Past' zabej! I don't want to hear from you until I'm ready. Come on, Auden. You've a much better idea what's happened to her: what d'you say to taking a little walk with me? Somewhere no one's looking." Petrovitch stared pointedly at the other consulate staff dotted around the concourse, trying to remain incognito but with flashing augmented-reality arrows pasted over their heads, placed there by Michael. "Why don't we sort this out man to man?"

"We know that's not going to happen." Auden gave his fixed smile. "That's not in either of our interests."

"Or we could just take you. Right here. And you know it." Petrovitch rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling for ancient scars.

"You agreed not to," said Auden. At least he looked nervous now.

"Yeah, well. There'll be another time. Come on, then. Let's get this over with."

Auden relaxed, just a little. "Dr Samuil Petrovitch, this is your liaison, Joseph Newcomen. I hope you'll find him as useful as they do at the Bureau."

"That's supposed to be a recommendation?" Petrovitch stepped back to examine the agent. "They've sent Joe Friday, right? Just the facts, ma'am?"

Auden intervened. "Now you're just being cruel, Doctor."

"Yeah, I can only stomach talking to one of you at a time. Auden, in words that even you can understand, fuck off back to that fortress you call an embassy. We'll take it from here."

The spook held up his hands in surrender. "Hey, I know when I'm not wanted."

"You're never wanted. You killed my friends and kidnapped my wife. It's an affront to basic humanity that your government appointed you to the Metrozone in the first place, and if I have the time and the inclination after all this is over, I will hunt you down and kill you like the dog you are."

Auden kept smiling around the edges, but he started to back away.

"That's right. Start running, little man. It won't help, but it might buy you an extra day or two." Petrovitch's lips turned thin and mean.

"Good luck, Agent Newcomen," called Auden. He twirled his finger in the air, and the people he had positioned in the hall gravitated towards him. He reached into his pocket for a new pair of infoshades and stalked off.

Petrovitch watched the man's back until it was out of sight, then finally turned to Newcomen.

The agent looked ready to turn tail and flee. If he had to cross the Atlantic on foot, so be it.

"And what the huy am I supposed to do with you?"

In Reconstruction America, a single swear word could cost him a twenty-dollar fine. Petrovitch had cussed more in five minutes than Newcomen had heard in the last five years.

"I, uh. I'm here to, uh."

"Yobany stos, stop. Just stop." Petrovitch dug his hands into his coat pockets and clenched them into fists. "I know why you're here. I know who you are, where and when you were born, who your parents are, where you live, work, drink coffee, your entire case history at the Bureau, how much you earn and what you spend it on. I know you better than you know yourself, because you tell yourself little lies, and I see through them."

Newcomen stared longingly in the direction that Auden had taken.

"That govnosos Auden's going to be of no help to you now, even if he pretended to be in the first place. He's the Bad Shepherd. He's thrown you to the wolves, and he doesn't care what we do to you."

The FBI agent closed his eyes for a moment, and his lips moved in a muttered mantra. When he regained his composure, he seemed to have visibly grown. He topped Petrovitch by a head anyway, and when he stood straight, he looked less like a sack of rubbish and more like a college pro footballer. Which he had been. He had the clean good looks of an advertising model – selected and spliced for, like his height, his eye and hair colour – except for the vague knot on the bridge of his nose. The perfect all-American ideal.

Petrovitch didn't know whether to pity him or despise him. After all, Newcomen hadn't chosen to be born that way.

"Dr Petrovitch. I have a job to do. An important job given to me by my government, one they trust me to do to the best of my abilities. I do not intend to make them ashamed of me."

"Yeah, okay. Maybe we've got off to a bad start. I blame Auden: seeing him enrages me in a way few others can manage. Welcome to the Metrozone, Joseph Newcomen. You've read the Fed's files on me, right?"

"I've read the briefing notes," said Newcomen. Even as he said it, Petrovitch could see him trying to put names to the three women behind him.

"Chyort. They've told you jack shit, haven't they? I'm guessing that out of the whole Bureau, they've picked the one guy who'd never even heard of me before." Petrovitch blinked. "Is that why you bought a copy of Fodor's Guide to the Metrozone two days ago?"

"I had heard of you before, sir!"

"So who's that?" He pointed at Madeleine.

"That's… your wife?"

Madeleine's fingers flexed in a way that appeared both casual and menacing. Petrovitch looked back at her. Two metres tall, lean in a way that a tigress was lean, hair caught up in an intricate mathematical plait that coiled over her shoulder. If she wanted to rip someone's head off, he wouldn't stand in her way. He'd even enjoy the show.

"Assuming that you're not so stupid as to walk into this situation blind, I have to believe you're willing to learn." Petrovitch stood aside. "In order, my wife, Madeleine Petrovitch, Valentina Pavlichenko, hero of the second battle of Waterloo, and Tabletop. Whose reputation, by the look of you, precedes her."

While he was addressing Petrovitch, Newcomen had gained a small measure of confidence. He lost it all again. They weren't dressed at all how women in America dressed – demurely. They didn't seem to know how they should behave, or how they should look at a man. To Newcomen's mind, they looked like ferals. They were all ferals. Especially that last one, the one with the crazy name. The ex-CIA traitor.

"Uh, ladies."

Tabletop stalked up to Newcomen, the heels of her boots clacking against the hard floor. She stared at his shiny leather shoes and the length of his bristly blond hair, and everything in between.

In return, Newcomen tried to look away from the bright pink ponytail, the lean – almost hungry – face, and the curve of her neck where it shadowed into the collar of her flying jacket. Tried, and couldn't.

She dismissed him with a flick of her hair. "I don't trust him," she said. "Get them to find someone else."

"It's him they sent," said Petrovitch.

Tabletop turned her back on them and walked to her pillar. "So why him?"

"She's got a point, Newcomen. Why you?"

The agent didn't respond, so Petrovitch kicked him, not gently, to get his attention away from Tabletop.

"Why'd they choose you? Plenty of other people they could have picked. You've no experience of Alaska, no experience of missing persons, you're pretty junior, never had any real responsibility before. In fact, could they have picked anyone less suited for this?" Petrovitch pursed his lips. "Yeah. That'll be it, then."

"Is insult," said Valentina, whose accent came to the fore when she was angry. "Americans do not care, do not see why we should care. Bastards all." If she'd had her favourite Kalashnikov, she would probably have shot Newcomen where he stood. As it was, she put her hands on her hips and looked sour.

"I," said Newcomen, beginning to bluster, "was chosen. Selected. I'm good at my job."

"You have not done job long enough to find out if good, bad, or merely competent." Valentina sneered at him. "We ask for help, and we get you."

"Dr Petrovitch, can't you control…"

Madeleine's timely hand on Valentina's shoulder cooled the temperature just long enough for Petrovitch to steer Newcomen away and down the concourse.

"Yeah, look. I know how it is in the USA, but over here? Men don't control everything, and especially we don't control women. I know that's what you're used to. You've lived your whole life thinking it. But if you want to survive more than five minutes in the Metrozone, then you have to realise a woman will not defer to you just because you've a pair of yatzja." He pressed his fingers to his temples. "If that's too much conditioning to break, treat them all as honorary men. Chyort, I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

Newcomen's luggage dogged their footsteps slavishly, but the agent still glanced around.

Petrovitch realised he wasn't checking where his spare pants were. He was stealing another look at Tabletop.

"Where are we going?" asked Newcomen.

"I said I'd look in on a friend. Couple of friends, really. We can do one on the way to the other."

"Just you and me?"


  • "This is British sci-fi at its hard-boiled best, and it's worth reading just for the irascible Petrovitch: a diplomat lacking diplomacy, who delights in confronting the idiocy of the world around him."—The Guardian on The Curve of the Earth
  • "Morden has built a fully realized, believable, post-apocalyptic world and populated it with full-bodied characters... He's also completely engaging and so compelling you don't dare look away from him, for fear you might miss something."—Booklist (Starred Review)
  • "With Equations Of Life, Morden has got hold of the comfortable old beta-tested cyberpunk genre by the scruff of its digital neck and released it in a smooth alpha version ready to take on all comers in the new age. I never thought I'd want to know what happens next to a smart-mouth anti-hero heart-attack victim in a ruined Metrozone city - but I do."
    Peter F. Hamilton
  • "Small, immoral, likeably unlikeable, Petrovitch steps fully formed onto the neon slick streets of London as if on the run from a classic anime..."—Jon Courtenay Grimwood, award-winning author of the Arabesk Trilogy on Equations of Life
  • "Off the wall, as any good science fiction should be."—Sunday Business Post Magazine

On Sale
Mar 19, 2013
Page Count
400 pages

Simon Morden

About the Author

Dr. Simon Morden holds degrees in geology and planetary geophysics. He was born in Gateshead, England and now resides in Worthing, England. Find out more about Simon Morden at

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