They said it was the end of darkness as we knew it, an age of perpetual light: morn­ing and day and dusk and dusk and dusk, and morning again. Launched into orbit, the space mirror would spin, big as a house, moving through the sky at twenty times the speed of sound, its reflective wings unfurl­ing like the petals of some massive morning glory seeking sun. Something like that should have had a better name. It should have been baptized by some blind singer in an ancient Dane’s mead hall. Moon Slayer, he would have called it. Star Demolisher. The Mohicans, whose burial mounds we still came upon in the woods, would have made it the One Who Keeps the Light Warm Until the Dawn Awakes. Hell, even NASA would have come up with something passable. But it was the Russians who dreamed it up, and so it was the Russians—who once had named their own country the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for God’s sake—who got to name it: Znamya. Banner.

It was built to crash. By the time they actually got it up there, the Soviet Union had eaten itself and was cracking its own bones for the marrow and there was a whiff of death about the whole thing. At a signal from Moscow, the mirror would detach from the space sta­tion, find the sun, reflect it earthward, and slip a beam of daylight along the surface of the world, slicing through night, across the continents, the seas, racing toward Russia, hunting for home. It would circle the globe a few times, then—foom!—hit the atmosphere. Self-immolation.

People on couch
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