Author : Asher Wismer
It was about the size of a leaf, but a little flatter, with scalloped edges and covered all over with a glimmering sheen of circuitry. At one end, a little nozzle protruded, making a gentle swell in the surface of the leaf, while other, smaller holes ringed the circumference.
There were millions of them.
I watched from the dark surface of Mercury, feeling the faint, persistent gravity pull of the Sun beneath my feet. Mercury itself was just large enough (to one standing on its surface) to obscure the Sun from view, but everything in the “night” sky still seemed unnaturally bright.
I shifted in my heavy suit, resisting the urge to take my helmet off and scratch that point right between my shoulder blades, and watched the soft rain of leaves.
They weren’t really leaves, of course. With micro-micro processing reaching the theoretical limit possible without resorting to quantum mechanics, these were little more than chips of solar cell material, an electrolytic fuel generator, and a tiny gas reservoir in the center. Smelters, assemblers, and of course the hundreds of redundant computer chips that would one day form a cohesive brain.
In a few hours, the sun would rise over Mercury’s horizon, and the little leaf-ships would absorb and release massive amounts of solar energy, accelerating to .05 the speed of light.
Here, on the current dark side of the slowly rotating mini-planet, everything was gray and dusk, no sharp shadows of any sort. Even the shining star of Venus was dulled by distance, and the only things reflecting were the little leaf-ships. Far beyond, the glow of Earth was dulled by pollution and decay.
Once the little ships reached the Asteroid Belt, they would home in on Ceres, the largest known asteroid. They would use their miniscule fuel stash to decelerate and, buffeted by the faint solar winds, would land on Ceres’s surface. There, the smelters would smelt, the assemblers would assemble, and eventually they would build a rocket engine to steer Ceres out of its millennia-long orbit.
It would crash into the North Pole of Mars, vaporizing the mostly CO2 icecap and release it into the atmosphere. The added atmosphere thickness would help warm the planet, taking years off the projected time necessary to terraform it.
I would be long dead, of course. It had taken all my money to build the little fleet, and all the fuel I had left to get me to Mercury. This was my final project, my life’s work, and I would last long enough in my reinforced suit to watch the little leaf-ships flash into life with the Sun’s rays. The morphine injector would do the rest before the sun had a chance to boil me alive.
For the living, I make my final sacrifice.
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