Progress: Story up until "I wasn't sure if that was meant to be a declaration of pride or an intimation of an outstanding debt. Both, probably."

Chaff is one of Greg Egan's short stories, set unmistakably in the Distress Universe.

It details the occurrences in El Nido de Ladrones ("The Nest of Thieves"). It's written in first person.

Location Edit

El Nido de Ladrones - the Nest of Thieves - occupies a roughly elliptical region, fifty thousand square kilometres in the western Amazon Lowlands, straddling the border between Colombia and Peru. It's difficult to say exactly where the natural rain forest ends and the engineered species of El Nido take over, but the total biomass of the system must be close to a trillion tonnes. A trillion tonnes of structural material, osmotic pumps, solar energy collectors, cellular chemical factories, and biological computing and communications resources. All under the control of its designers.

The deliberate manipulation of the area (under the banner of Operation Back To Nature) has had extreme terraforming effects. Most notably, it's shifted the riverbed of the Putumayo River in segments and over the course of El Nido's existence continued to do so, rendering eyewitness reports and maps obsolete. Much of the artificial life in the area, interconnected and communicative, can defend itself on a molecular level, neutralising or even domesticating foreign toxins.

Several attempts from outside forces to destroy the area were foiled:

  • A lethal plant virus was introduced to the system, but was altered and incorporated into the communication's system.
  • Fires were started, but were smothered by focussed carbon dioxide.
  • In an attempt to image El Nido, radioisotope-laced nutrients were introduced, but deliberately regurgitated by the system before they yielded truly useful information.

Story Edit

Chaff follows a mercenary sent into El Nido to capture Guillermo Largo after he disappeared into the region with "some highly classified genetic tools" - alive.

Technology Edit

Politics Edit

Colombia's Situation Edit

In Chaff, Colombia is stuck in an "undeclared civil war", owing to "Marxist terrorists and drug barons". This has driven some people into El Nido. A figure of thirty thousand farmers is mentioned.

Along the seven hundred kilometres between Bogotá and the Colombian border, "five different guerilla organisations [hold] territory".

Dates mentioned and derived Edit

  • 1980: Guillermo Largo is born.
  • 2003: The time Guillermo Largo's copy of Heart of Darkness was printed.
  • 2005: When Guillermo Largo graduated.
  • 2010: When Guillermo Largo ceased buying printed books.
  • 2029: Guillermo Largo's father died of a cerebral blood clot.
  • 2035: When Guillermo Largo disappeared into El Nido.

People and Organisations Edit

Characters Edit

Celebrities Edit

Organisations Edit

  • The Company: Presumably going by a different name outside of cynical discourse, this company is insinuated as having been the last employer of Guillermo Largo; this is not confirmed, however. They're said to want thermonuclear rehabilitation of the area - something that they eventually got according to a footnote in Distress.
  • The Security Council: Again, probably a cynical quip, referring to the governing bodies of the area. (They're mentioned as presumably not objecting to the area's obliteration.)