Derelict, Part VI

We last left our protagonist sleeping and dreaming restless dreams. When he wakes, he finds good news and weird news…

Part VI

“Time to wake up, Boss.”

“Mmph. Whzzat.” Consciousness returned slowly, almost painfully.

“I’ve got a couple of interesting things to report. The ambient gas pressure is up to 0.05 bar. At the current rate, the surrounding environment will reach 1 atmosphere in about twenty hours. More good news: it’s a 26 / 72 mix of oxygen and nitrogen, some CO2 and an unusually high level of argon, which should be no problem.”

That last bit woke me up. Life was beginning to beckon. “That’s terrific news, Galen. Are you sure we’ll get to one atmosphere?”

“No,” Galen replied tersely. “One other bit of news: the artifact is beginning to exhibit its own power increase.”

“Really.”

I pulled out the artifact. It still looked like a featureless sphere about thirty centimeters across. Then, as I watched, it began to change.

The change was subtle at first, then became more noticeable. Lines appeared on the smooth surface, then the lines coalesced, swirled, reform. I set the artifact on the floor and watched. This activity went on for another twenty minutes, then the shape became somewhat familiar. The artifact as forming the shape of face. You could see where the eyes were, and where the mouth and nose would form. I didn’t see any hint of ears or hair. It was starting to look something like those idealized pictures of the man in the moon from children’s books.

It took another hour to fully form, but it was fascinating to watch. Then, finally, one eye, then the other fluttered open. The eyes looked more like real eyes than the weird mechanical iris that had been evident earlier. Then the mouth began to move. It mouthed the same word several times. It took me a moment to realize that it was actually speaking in English.

It was saying: “Wait.”

After several more tries, the eyes closed, but the face remained. There was nothing to do, but wait. “Galen, I’m going back to sleep. If I’m not awake, then, wake me when the atmosphere is more or less breathable.”

As I drifted off to sleep, I found myself looking forward to finding out the answers about this ancient derelict that I’d helped bring back to life. Where had it come from? Who built it? What were they like?

***

I was wrong, of course; things are never that simple.

The atmospheric pressure crept up to about 90% of Earth normal. I cracked the seal on the EVA suit when the pressure reached 3/4 Earth normal and let the suit’s life support system pump air from the external environment rather than the O2 tanks. I made sure the transition happened slowly; getting the bends wasn’t something I needed right now. The ship’s air had a funny odor, but other than that seemed perfectly breathable. Besides, it was easier to communicate with Galen through the suit, and the heads up display was pretty useful. I cranked up the external sensors so I could hear any ambient sounds.

Then I turned my attention to the artifact. It was still inert – looked for all the world like it was sleeping. I picked it up and shook it. The eyes fluttered open. “You may stop.”

The artifact spoke in a fairly pleasing baritone, although its English was somewhat stilted. He told a tale that was at once illuminating and confusing. He was called the Ambassador, or Envoy. His function was to act as a go-between, but it wasn’t clear whether that meant contacting new races, or as an envoy between… between what?

Here is the story he told.

The derelict was already very old when the Envoy was created. The ship had been built to transport the Builders to what was a much younger planet Earth. He (it??) didn’t know how old the ship actually was when he was created, but his first memory was that of the derelict entering Earth’s solar system. The Envoy had been built to replace an earlier Envoy which was somehow destroyed.

When he came to life, the ship was being run by AI’s, aritificial intelligences. These AI’s had been created by the Builders to run the ship until they approached a habitable planet. As the ship moved through the outer solar system, the AI’s, which were highly sophisticated cognitive beings, split into factions. Some of the factions were pretty simple – the Engineers, for example, ran the ship’s technical operations. However, there was a faction known as the Coordinators, who managed the overall running of the ship. The Coordinators were perhaps the ultimate cybernetic creation. Either purposefully or accidentally – the Envoy wasn’t sure which – the Coordinators had the ability to adapt to situations, and to evolve.

The journey had taken many centuries, and apparently cyberevolution occured at a much faster rate than normal biological evolution. By the time the derelict entered the solar system, the Coordinators had changed so radically that their original Builders might not recognize them.

Not that the Coordinators cared. Apparently, the majority of the Coordinators – there were apparently a fairly good-sized population – decided that the Builders’ intention was to “enslave” them when they reached Earth. The Envoy had no idea how the Builders would even come to exist. (I suspected I might find large cryogenic chambers somewhere on the ship, maybe in that central core area that was closed off.) The main faction of Coordinators then decided to park the ship at some convenient location and continue their existence.

At that point, the minority faction tried to stage some sort of cyberrevolt, but the revolt was crushed. Some of the leaders were simply deleted from the ship’s electronic network – killed, in effect. Others were banished to some kind of remote data storage facility. The other, less sophisticated AI’s took part, some taking one side, some the other. The revolt was crushed when the main Engineering AI came over to the side of the majority. The Engineering AI was rewarded by having it’s code modified so it could achieve Coordinator status – a sort of cybernetic promotion. It then powered down most of the ship’s function, leaving the fore section of the ship up and running on a secondary antimatter reactor, which was the main source of power. The engineering ‘bot I’d freed had been one of the engineering AIs which had joined the revolt, but had been halted by the guardian robot I’d destroyed.

The main network was rerouted to exist mainly in the forward eighth of the ship. There, the Coordinators and those friendly to it “lived”. The Envoy was not destroyed, but instead banished by being ejected from the ship. Since the Envoy had advocated the completion of the mission – which was to get to Earth, they launched him towards Earth as a kind of punishment. The Envoy’s construction consisted of millions of micromachines – essentially a nanotechnology variant – on a molecular scale, which allowed him to morph to whatever shape was appropriate. His normal resting state was the featureless sphere.

He had been banished to Earth, in effect, and had become an object of worship by the primitive people who unearthed him.

I realized that the doors I’d seen were simply specialized constructs consisting of micromachines whose sole purpose was to be a door. At this point, I began asking questions.

Who were the Builders?

The Envoy didn’t know; he was built to replace an Envoy that was either destroyed or malfunctioned. Only a limited subset of the original Envoy’s memory had been transferred. Some of those were garbled, and while he had some graphical information of various living beings, he wasn’t sure if any of those were actually likenesses of the Builders.

Why was there no likeness or evidence of the Builders on the ship?

The Coordinators had eliminated all the direct likenesses of the Builders they could find, except for some materials in the core library, which was protected. However, they did not erase indirect evidence. I’d seen some engravings and artwork in the arcology, but had noticed the lack of any pictures of the race.

Now that the ship had been reactivated, what would be the response of the Coordinators?

The Envoy was unclear on that. They might not even notice that the ship had been reactivated, instead trusting to the eternal vigilance of the guardian ‘mech. It had been over a million years since the Envoy had been banished. The Coordinators may have evolved into something else.

I filled the Envoy in on details of my brief fight with the guardian. How had it known English?

The Envoy didn’t know, but speculated that radio and television signals had reached the ship at had somehow been assimilated.

Would it be possible to free the remainder of the minority faction?

The Envoy was silent for a long time. Then it replied:

“Perhaps. It would involve sending a replica of my master program, perhaps along with your Galen, through the network in order to locate the storage area. It will likely be guarded by powerful IC – intrusion countemeasures – so it would be risky for us.”

I grinned savagely. “How about if you took along a human?”

The Envoy didn’t understand.

I pointed at the cyberdeck. “I can jack directly into the cyberdeck using a neurolink helmet and essentially travel along with you inside the network. You’ll have to help us adapt to the appropriate data formats, but that means you’ll have an unpredictable, ornery human along with you.”

The Envoy pointed out that it would be extremely dangerous.

“More dangerous than sitting here?”

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