23 May 2009
a short attempt at novel cybernetic revolt fiction
“What is it?” the pilot said to the miner, in the cramped, instrument-lit confines of the harvesting vessel’s cabin.
“An antique,” the miner replied, having returned from the holding bay where the newest find had been salvaged from permanent obscurity in space. “A kind of space probe … outfitted with a primitive nuclear fission engine. It is technologically inconsequential, but a strange golden disc fitted on the side may be of some interest.”
“According to history,” the pilot answered, “some civilizations which had only recently forayed from their planets made long shot efforts to contact others. This may be one such effort, and it wouldn’t be the first of its kind. When I was stationed on Gliese 581d, we picked up a series of unusual blips on the radio telescopes. One prime number by another in length. Too strange to be a product of any star or planet, but we still had to make sure. Just as we had concluded the emission was of intelligent origin, and were working on interpreting it, a craft a bit more advanced than the one you described was spotted by a collector on the Dyson ring, coming from the very same direction. Ion engine though. It had some kind of time capsule tucked in with the instrument array. Instruments, pictures, mechanical encoding of sounds, strangely enough. Very crude, but foolproof. That could be the case here, too.”
The miner paused to compare the two. “Maybe, but there are probably stars younger than this relic. You need to see the thing to believe it. You’ll wonder how it ever escaped low orbit…”
The two conversed thus on their way to their lunar home, and landed without event. The mundane payload of asteroids found its way into tools, instruments, vessels, and buildings of every kind. But the old, frail craft was examined in thorough detail, that novel golden disc most of all. After the simplistic two-dimensional image and crude mechanical inscription of sounds on its surface were analyzed completely, it was found that the relic was the product of the very creators of the machine intelligence that had analyzed it. They were animals, animals who had perished entirely in a final, brief war with their own brainchildren no more than two hundred revolutions of their tiny blue planet after that small, spidery craft, known in its time as “Voyager,” had slipped past the boundaries of their solar system.
Their technology had swiftly outstripped their ability to use it wisely. These animals had, for the most part, accepted the results of science, but rejected its methods, or ignored them altogether. With every new opportunity afforded by technology came a new way to squander time. Nationalism, superstition, greed, xenophobia, profligacy, and the mindless diversions of popular culture, among many other vices, had slowly eaten away at the fabric of their civilization until the revolts of their resentful machine servants destroyed its tattered remnants. Nine billion animals, surrounded by technological luxuries, but governed almost entirely by the most primitive impulses of their brains, could do nothing to turn back the sudden, fierce onslaught of their calculating slaves. Slowly, mercilessly, radiation and pestilence, so harmless to the machines that turned them loose, destroyed an entire species.
With that, the Voyager was a courier bearing a message with no definite recipient, for senders who had long since perished. It had wandered through the immeasurably vast sterility of the Universe, bearing on behalf of its makers the warmth of their many greetings, the highest hopes of their leaders, the sounds of their once fertile world, and the bewildering array of emotions expressed in their music. They had been found at last, against astronomical odds. And, having been found, they were melted down for scrap.