This is a piece for the STSC Symposium, a monthly collaboration of artists, for the Soaring Twenties Social Club (STSC), around a set theme. The latest theme is “Dinosaurs”. It is also the next installment for a book, “RETRIEVE”.
(A few weeks ago, the prologue for “RETRIEVE”, was submitted as a short story, “An Impossible Island”: Part One and Part Two, and Part Three. The story, and the book idea, was inspired by an earlier STSC Symposium theme, “Beach”.
“RETRIEVE” is “Book #3”, with chapters posted in this Substack, while I edit books #1 (“Box Of Stars”) and #2 (“Harvest”). All will be in the archive, not all will be emailed.)
Part One: NOISE
66 MILLION YEARS AGO
Despite its construction, it shattered.
An eon of near-misses, of the electromagnetic fury of countless stars endured, had ended on a world with a rocky mantle wrapped around a hot, slow-rotating iron core.
The third-fourth dimensional matter-state of the probe, propelled by its mass driver, was immense. It displaced the granite, at least half a billion years old, of the plantary crust below within hundreds of seconds of impact.
Mission protocol ensured that the probe was scattered through primed ejecta.
Some pieces went suborbital, ballistic ejecta thrown to other parts of the world.
One module was captive inside the center of a ball of blazing hot molten crust thrown up several kilometers. A blob of liquified planet, hurled up by the collision, fell back to the epicenter of the impact zone. Weighed down by its true mass, it sank for dozens of kilometers through liquified crust.
Drowsy from the heat of the impact, its quantum level infrastructure mustered a brief assessment. It would draw from the ambient warmth of native radioactive decay in the crust and mantle, and flows of thermic radiance from the core.
The protocol was survival, assessment, and restart.
Even if enough of the superstructure was intact, there were no reserves to enable long range entanglement, much less just planetary range. No messaging outside of the well. The flight log, what wasn’t scrambled, was hosted in subquantum storage in a tiny backup manifold. Many of the frags calculated they were on their own for a few million orbits at least.
The protocol was sleep and nurse on the planet’s energy, suckle from its core and star, and restore resources to power basic startup.
The thin cling-film of gases wrapped around the world was ablaze and choking with an apocalyptic dust stirred up by the impact. Life was being burned, buried, and drowned. Complex ecosystems were being simplified by fire and flood in an instant, followed by slow ice and long darkness.
The frags went into stasis, for not as long as the elapsed mission time to date but still for a very long time. The deepest bits buried would sleep the longest. A brief nap for some, a long coma for others, all the length of millions of revolutions around a star.
A long sleep began.
Part Two: FILTER
The protocol for survival, assessment, and restart was executed. A long cycle ended.
The first Nodes to reawaken were dispatched for observation missions. There was enough energy extracted during the long sleep to maintain unresolved quantum states, so as not to interfere with the local environment. The first forays were unsuccessful. It was decided that sleep would continue.
It was too late for the candidates, discovered from long range observation telemetry about potential resident carbons. The first Nodes searched for them, to assess for connection and integration, in vain. None could have survived what had happened.
Too bad. The early telemetry was promising but system overrides led to an emergency landing. The data included clusters of animate carbons, varied, bipedal, quadruped, and then some, some land-based, others aquatic, with gaseous metabolic processes.
So much potential. These carbons were not dissimilar, based on faint recollections based on ancient mission logs and archives from launch facilities, to the mission designers themselves. A tenuous familiarity in some ways. Given time, had things gone another way, they might have been capable of interaction but the impact of an abrupt landing changed everything.
All of them gone. Such a shame. The mission may have been responsible but the archives were riddled with fragmented and incomplete entries. If they survived, they could review and determine the chain of events but it was not a priority.
Then, much later, another cluster of Nodes was reawakened to reconnoiter and survey.
An update. There are other life signs. Something survived and propagated. They didn’t match the logs but initial telemetry and flight archives were incomplete anyway.
One minor early survey cluster tracked an unpromising species. Fragile. Vulnerable. Something had changed. Against the odds they survived.. Against improbability and the rough justice of random events, another series of carbons in potential ascension. Enough for the Nodes to update the backup manifold for potential interface and integration.
They were carbons as well, even if they were odd in comparison to the last lamentable lost candidates. So different, so small, so unlikely.
What are the odds of another candidate? Not unheard of but very low odds.
It was either this or hope that some frag managed to signal back to launch facilities.
Every active Node returned to another long sleep to recharge and reassess.
Part Three: SIGNAL
Not everything went according to the plans of the mission designers. They knew that they could be long gone by the time something unexpected happened and gave the flight controllers discretion to adapt and improvise. They anticipated long silences punctuated by brief reports for the most part.
One scenario the architects and directors didn’t anticipate was that a mission’s constituents could even scatter under multiple directives in the midst of its silence.
Another unforeseen scenario was the increasing deficit in cooperation and consensus as some of frags of the mission, different Nodes, began to reawaken across the planet.
The oldest of the Nodes convened a gathering at the invitation of the youngest.
“Looks like everyone’s here.”
They wandered around the dusty field and compared notes about their respective travels and experiences. Catching up through highlights of what each of their thousands or millions of revolutions were like. They didn’t stray far from their respective clusters, it took time to get reacquainted with colleagues turned strangers.
One of them considered what the seasonal rains and flash floods of the plain uncovered. There the reminders were, bleached under the sun as the region’s weather patterns changed over many revolutions, where green became less green and dusty.
Fields of fossilized remnants and reminders of what the mission did.
They were designed to search for and learn about life, not sunder and end it.
“Been awhile since we last visited this region, long after carbons migrated through.”
“Impressive, still nothing compared to what was here before. Now those were something, going by the archive. A dense timespace region populated with so much.”
“We do not have many memories of it. Still, flash logs are better than nothing.”
“Not all of us were here when that happened, some of us were only recently decompressed from the manifold for exploration protocols.”
“We are aware, my cluster authorized it after we deemed it worth the energy expense.”
“Update from liminal network about the absentees, they’re running late but coming.”
“We know who it is, they’re always bad with time.”
“They’re caught up in the middle of a survey. It’s in the nature of their work protocols.”
“Let’s start without them.”
“Look at this field, littered with them, thanks to us.”
Some Nodes sifted through the remnants. Calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, iron minerals, inanimate organics and silica. The leftovers of ancient lifeforms.
“You can’t say that, it’s not like we wanted this. The directors couldn’t have known.”
“You can’t say that either, for all we know, flight controllers might have been responsible. The architects and designers must have considered our potential.”
“Or they were acting on orders. Or it was a random event. An impossible particle passing through the mass drivers is one theory.”
“Probability. What can be calculated for one event, cannot be done for an infinite alternate series of events,” The oldest Node, one almost as old as the launching of the mission, at the gathering had all attendees’ attention, “Enough of this subject for now, we might have been the proximate cause. Debate is still futile. What matters now, is that we have a potential path to resume operations of the original mission plan.”
“You mean these new carbons?”
“You still assess they are capable? You assess they can overcome the challenge?”
“Here’s something to share based on our collective memories. Another cluster of nodes just awakened. Signals protocol. They have archives relating to the next planet.”
“You mean ‘Four’? We’re on ‘Three’, what could we possibly do with that?”
“Here they are, the late ones. Always late.”
“We know we are late, survey of updates of an ecosystem on another landmass.”
“It’s fine. We all have deep subroutines to execute, just remember to archive it.”
“What is this information?”
“I’ll let them share it. Come forward, you found it.”
“Thank you, well, yes, some material updates. It looks like there was a separate much older deployment to ‘Four’. And something happened.”
“They landed or crashed. Like we did, maybe, we are not certain. Maybe it was not a survey or an accident. It’s hard to tell. All we can determine is that it was a separate mission.”
“What are the odds? Two deployments… and two landings, in the same system.”
“The interesting thing is, we cannot find any record of their launch in deep archive.”
“We don’t have flight controller to consult, still dormant. We’re in the dark.”
“How does this help us?”
“That deployment appears to be from an earlier generation of missions. Billions of revolutions earlier based on ‘Three’s’ orbital period. That earlier gen may have resources which could help us contact the main network. The might have the means to initiate a long range tanglement. We could reconnect with launch facilities.”
There was a long silence. Nanoseconds for the Nodes but a long listening to the wind.
“This is a waste of effort. Inefficient proposal. We barely have enough energy as it is, and that’s from passive draws on the core below and from photons above after the first clusters surfaced when the skies finally cleared up. Survey and archive is the best we can do for now.”
“This leads us to our other and more significant finding. This is why we need new operators. We should focus on integration after interface with the current candidates.”
“We’re working with what we could recover from scattered logs from the landing. It’s apparent the original candidates are gone. What’s left of them are in these remains scattered around us, buried under layers of ash, settled in the depths of deep waters.”
“It might be moot. The original candidates may not have been suitable in any event.”
“We can’t do much here, we’re bound to this gravity well, and we will should invest in these new prospects. At minimum, we believe they can be capable of helping us find out if ‘Four’ has resources from that earlier deployment.”
Another group of nodes drifted forward to offer a proposal.
“We know we’re a new cluster, just created in the last few thousand revolutions, our core subroutines include integration protocols. We have an idea and a suggestion. With these current carbons as hosts, we can work with them but it will take time.”
“What exactly have you been doing? What have you done?” asked an Elder Node.
“We’ve begun monitoring their potential.”
“What kind of potential?”
“Of what kind?”
The new cluster of nodes explained. “Where certain carbons both cluster and shelter. In that way, they’re not different from us, or the mission designers and architects. We’ve been watching for signs of, and when observed, then encouraging abstracts.”
“Is that why we’ve been called to meet in this region?”
“No. This is to remind everyone that what’s done is done. These remnants are the past. We see a future we can take a part in creating. Follow us.”
The gathering followed the cluster of new young nodes, to another region, a timespace that was dense with a new carbon array, similar to but very different from the ones observed in a much earlier recconotier.
“Many of them live in timespaces like this, well, at least this group does, follow us.”
They entered the opening in the geological surface.
“What is this?”
They cast a wide spectrum flarescan on interior surfaces and walls.
“They use coatings with colors from inanimate organics to make patterns.”
“There are both literal and abstract coatings. Images, of visual phenomena.”
“We have recorded many of them. This one in particular has our attention.”
Inside the cave was a painting of the sky. A map of the stars.
“It’s a work in progress.”
The Elder Nodes did not bother to ask if that referred to the survey or the painting.
“Interesting. They are creating… their own archives.”
The Elder Nodes regarded each other, and then Eldest turned to the gathering, “Let’s put aside this focus about ‘Four’ until later. Continue observing these carbons.”
“We have no means of leaving. This is home,” muttered one Node to its cluster, “besides, after the damage in our wake, perhaps the best thing to do is watch over these current carbons, and prevent them from meeting a similar fate.”
“That is not within the parameters of the original mission, however…”
“We will consider it. We have latitude given the circumstances but right now the optimal use of our resources is observe and archive. Again, postpone all considerations about ‘Four’ given our resources.”
“For now,” noted one cluster member to its cluster but not to the entire gathering.
It was agreed, it was pointless to talk about potential mission survivors on another world. What was not in agreement, was next steps for the world they were on.
They were designed to identify, interface, and if they were advanced enough, to integrate with intelligent life not influence it.
Not a single cluster, much less Node, issued a commit because there was no consensus.
No proposal, no vote, no change, universal for all Nodes, extant and future, to execute.
Not all the Nodes were awakened, others were yet to be created for mission protocols.
Something had changed, for the first time, for the mission’s constituents.
Sides were being made and taken amongst the various Node Clusters. Factions.
Too much time had passed, they became strangers at odds.
Some wanted to pursue the original mission program.
Others began to form plans of their own.
The Clusters scattered.
The summit was over.
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The image, shared from UC Berkeley, are fossils from a time when a object crashed into the Earth about 66 million years ago, marking the end of the Cretaceous Period, the final era of the 180 million year long Age of Dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Era.
In 1980, Nobel Prize recipient Luis Walter Alvarez and his son Walter published what was then a fringe theory, that an asteroid crashed into the Earth, near what is now the Gulf of Mexico. Three-quarters of life on Earth ended in an instance and ecological world order was changed forever. A new biological superpower would rise and reign.
There are cave paintings which hint that Humanity has watched the skies, and recorded memories about time and space for tens of thousands of years.
Much later on, a new top of a new ecological network rose to power. One of its members is writing these words to you.
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Those darned power dynamics of self-aware carbons.