We’d lived on the dark side of the Earth since before I was born. Darkness didn't worry us. The Venusian cloud cover would even keep the surface toasty for a while. Eventually, though, the metal sea would cool, the atmosphere would freeze, and not long after that our power stores, once considered vast enough to bear out any catastrophe, would run dry.

‘One year,’ I said.

The senator rested her hands on the standing desk in front of her and made lazy flicking motions with her fingers. Her eyes, focused on the space between us, skimmed over data I couldn’t see. ‘We have nine months. That’s with energy rationing. And this—’ her wrist twitched ‘—we were expecting ambitious. But this would demand nearly the entire manufacturing capacity of the planet.’

‘Yes,’ I said.

Outside, beyond the dome, black clouds roiled. The lights of the city underlit them a sallow grey and thick whips of lightning crawled along their belly. When the energy rationing started, that sky would be the black of a cave.

She focused on me again. ‘About these other stipulations …’

‘Begin now,' I said. 'The whole encounter was recorded. Release it all. Set the old machine in motion. Memetics, viral propaganda, social campaigns. In fact, let’s get medieval: speeches, posters, documentaries. Dramatisations. Every instrument we have.’ I leaned forward. ‘But provide no outlet. Marshal law if you have to. Make them stew.’

I let that hang. The senator, for a moment, looked afraid. Clearing her throat, she said: ‘The president has ethical concerns …’

I’d have been worried if he hadn’t, and said as much. ‘If you had any other options,’ I said, ‘you wouldn’t have let this get so far. The president wasn’t designed for this kind of apocalypse. May be best to disable his empathy subroutines for the time being. But I suppose that’s none of my business.’ I rose. ‘I’ll expect your call shortly.’

The rigmarole took longer than I’d have liked. Every day mattered. By the time we had the housing in orbit, we were well behind schedule, and not every corporation had given the support we’d demanded. We had no credible competition; nobody else had a plan. They were just afraid. But there were consolations.

By happy circumstance, around the time we’d be ready to launch, Jupiter would be right where we wanted it.