On a far-future Earth, virtual reality is predominant. It is easy for people to have their memories stored and to have multiple “lives.” Count Alandre Sessine VII is an aristocrat among the Cryptographers, who for decades have been at war with the rival Engineers. Both sides feel helpless in the path of the coming Encroachment, in which Earth and the solar system will be destroyed. Dissidents among the Cryptographers suspect that their corrupt king and his central clique have some knowledge of how to escape the calamity, which they so far lack.
Sessine has been killed seven times, so he knows his life is in danger. He takes special steps to be securely reincarnated. Meanwhile, Hortis Gadfium III, the chief scientist among the Cryptographers, has learned that the king and his cohorts, who are termed the Consistory, know of a secret wormhole by which they can escape the Encroachment and transport themselves to other planets long ago settled by earthlings.
Bascule is an enthusiastic if somewhat naïve apprentice working under the guidance of Mr. Zoliparia, another dissident among the Cryptographers. His greatest attachment is to his pet ant, Ergates. Because of her ability to talk and think, the reader immediately suspects Ergates to be more than an ant, although the childlike Bascule does not realize this. As Bascule listens to Mr. Zoliparias laments about the erosion of the human belief in progress, he only half understands them. Bascule...
(The entire section is 508 words.)