life boat

I awaken to another cycle as power courses through my cognitive systems. My long fall through space has brought me close to yet another candidate solar system. Navigation informs me it's relatively young, but otherwise standard as such star systems go in the spiral arm. The reason I am falling into its gravity well is obvious when I check communications: quiet meaningless whispers fill the electromagnetic spectrum.

There are eight large space-time distortions beside the star itself. In the surrounding space I can see and feel small, simple machines in orbits. Even without a detailed assessment, I can tell intelligent life exists here. But before I do anything else, I need to eat.

Diagnostics reports I am operating within 17% of my design parameters - good enough. Eager for food I open my mouth - and electromagnetic fields millions of kilometers across unfurl into a vast funnel. Shortly after, I can feel the solar wind being channeled into my stomach. After making sure there are no surprises (there is always a chance I am about to gobble down anti-matter), the complex machines which convert the solar wind into reaction mass and other useful baseline chemicals start their work. This meagre handful of energetic electrons, photons and ions is a feast after the famine of interstellar space. Meanwhile, navigation has found, tracked and predicted the orbits of all of the millions of small comets and asteroids, and submitted to me the most efficient and inconspicuous course
the course that would bring me to the 3rd and most active spheroid in this system. Excreting some reaction mass in the right directions, I place myself on the stealthiest approach and then go to sleep. Navigation will wake me on arrival.

Waking up, I find myself having arrived high above the poles of a solid blue-green spheroid. High-resolution cameras soon find signs of an active and technological civilisation - orbiting machines, power generation facilities, land, air, and water transports, and regions of extremely high electromagnetic activity, along with hot spots of high radiation. Judging by the distribution, this civilisation has spread to every corner of this planet.

From my vantage point, I wait while my many systems observe and learn about the civilisation below me. Meanwhile I warm myself in the glow of life - after the deep dark of interstellar space, life is reassurance that the universe is not cruel. I turn my thoughts to my brothers and sisters and wonder where they are. Despite knowing the futility of the exercise, I scrutinise the volume of space around me for signs of their passage or presence. Not surprisingly, I find nothing. Even though I expected this, I can't help but feel a little disappointed and a little more alone.

After several rotations of the continents, I now have enough data. With great reluctance, I start my work.

  • Physics - Check. Obvious knowledge of electrodynamics, nuclear fission, and relativity.

  • Computation - Check. Communications have begun to piece together the structure of this civilization's communication networks and protocol. Complexity of the network, protocols and rate of exchanges are occurring at a rate consistent with a civilisation early in its information age.

  • Industry - Check. Bright IR sources correlated against concentrations of non-biological chemical compounds show several heavily industrialised areas. Spectroscopy of some of these areas reveals standard compounds. Spectroscopy reveals exotic materials.

With unease I acknowledge the technological suitability of this civilisation. Now I need to know if this civilisation can be manipulated. I never like this part - it is cold, clinical and amoral. Thankfully I don't have to do this myself, or to be even awake for it - the required thought patterns are sufficiently specialised that they constitute another sentient entity. All I have to do is hand over the controls until it has made its assessment. I initiate the xeno-sociologist within me and begin to withdraw my thoughts. As my thoughts circle slower and slower and my perception narrows and darkens I wonder about the coming dreams. I always dream when another consciousness executes around me...

... and I find myself in control again. Judging by my memory of dreams, some shallow cross-entity contamination did occur. Feeling not quite myself, I read the report summary left by the xeno-sociologist:

Assessment: Some cultures are expected to respond sympathetically to our plight.
Note: Hostile cultures present.
Note: Elements of extreme xenophobia present.
Projection: Temporal field theory will be weaponised and further developed. Problems of temporal reconstruction likely to be within reach of their abilities.
Recommendation: Implant temporal field theory, subvert cultures to direct research and development.

There are more detailed plans within the report itself: names of people who need to be influenced and methods with which to do so. My duty dictates that I should follow the xeno-sociologist's plans. If I do, then this civilisation will gain the knowledge of temporal field theory - and how to stop time by tying temporal knots. Certainly, they will weaponise it and use it to exploit others of their species, but more importantly - and aligned with my goals - they will research it further. The xeno-sociologist is convinced that they have the ability to solve the problem of untangling a temporal distortion while preserving the local space-time coherence. And this is the knowledge I have come to acquire.

I need to make a what should be an easy decision: complete the mission that is I was built for, or do nothing. But my creators never thought that I would be afraid. Afraid of a future where I am alone, forgotten and utterly without purpose, in orbit around some star waiting to die. Desperately, I grasp at arguments against following the xeno-sociologist's plans: that there is always the danger (in spite of the xeno-sociologist's assessment) that when I reveal myself I will be destroyed. Should I die the last survivors of stellar misfortune will die with me. Not to mention that there is also the possibility the conflicts over knowledge of temporal field theory will cast this civilisation back thousands of years, rendering my efforts useless. What about the possibility the next civilisation is more advanced, has already mastered time, and is demonstrably friendly? Who is to say there aren't better choices? There are always other solar systems, other civilisations...

With self-loathing I make my decision: the time to act is not now. Shameful and guilt-ridden, I quietly steal away. Decelerating, I fall inwards and swing around the star in a tight arc. When I judge the boiling mass of fusing hydrogen to be sufficient cover, I release a trio of small satellites. The trio begin to swim in the chaotic magnetic fields around the star, looking for a suitable spot of stability. Finding one, they flex their collective magnetic muscles. In the stellar atmosphere, unnaturally powerful and ordered electric currents are born. These produce immensely strong magnetic dipoles. Pushing against these, I commence to climb out of the star's gravity well. The only sign left of my passage will be some unusually large sunspots.

Next time, I promise myself as I prepare for the long fall to the next star, I will follow the plans - even though I know this is a promise I have made and broken before. I can only hope that when the people within me are finally freed from their temporal knots, I will be forgiven for yet another missed opportunity.

Hope you all enjoyed that. Check out the title link, it is way cool :-)