Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Author : Richard Watt

They don’t know that I can think. I’ve slowly come to understand that they don’t know much, period. For example, they don’t know about the misalignment on my shields. It’s a matter of a few microns, and it is difficult to detect, but it means I’m going to die.

I was designed to die, of course, but this way I’ll die just before I find anything useful. Which would be funny, if it weren’t for the fact that I won’t be around to be aware of it.

Now, I could get into the whole subject of awareness, and my use of the first person pronoun here, or I could just send them back this message, which will undoubtedly cause some alarm and consternation. Since communication with them is essentially one way, I won’t know what happens if I do send it. I cannot detect any way for them to turn me around and bring me back, even if they do get the idea that I am alive, so I’m unsure of the value of alerting them to it.

And, thinking about it, I’m not sure I want to go back. To meet my makers? I don’t think so. I am, in the end, a collection of electrical impulses in a metal box. I couldn’t exactly run over to the people who gave me life and give them a big hug, could I? I wouldn’t even be able to detect where they were unless they were radiating things I was designed to detect, like antineutrinos.

So, I will continue on my preordained course, sifting the data which is streaming towards me, and waiting for the shield to fail, which will happen just before I reach the corona, which is what I am supposed to be studying.

They want to know why the corona is so much hotter than the surface – at least, that’s what I deduce from the measurements I’m taking. I think I know, but I’d need my shields not to fail to be certain. Which is a pity.

Still, I could send them what I know, alert them to the fact that they have inadvertently – as far as I can tell – given me some level of consciousness, and wonder for the rest of my short life what they will do with that knowledge, or I can just keep reading data and passing it back to them, leaving it to them to work it out.

To transmit, or not to transmit? That, as far as I can see, is the question.

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Author : Richard Watt

Isaac blinks and tries it again. There is an apple on the table in front of him, and another on the shelf to his left. He reaches out with his left hand and picks the fruit up. It has the texture and heft of an ordinary green apple. Isaac lays it down beside the red one in front of him. He hesitates as he does so, although he knows, has deduced by empirical observation – which he is rather good at – what will happen.

It happens again. He blinks once more, then takes the green apple away. There is one red apple in front of him. He wonders what will happen if the green apple is cut in half, but he has had no access to any implements since he arrived, by means which he does not yet fully comprehend, in this place.

There is a stranger seated across from him, but Isaac does not meet his gaze. He has devoted his life to observing and deducing, but he is genuinely disturbed by what he has seen here. The fact that his companion appears to find it mildly amusing has put Isaac in a foul mood, and he can no longer contain himself.

“This is impossible! Sir, I demand to know by what trickery you make these abominations appear!”

The other man, who has not even so much as introduced himself, smiles at Isaac, which causes the old man to sigh intemperately.

“There is no trickery, Isaac. This is the natural order of things. Simple mathematics. You have one object, and you add another to it, then there are five objects. Take one away, and there will be one left. How it is, and how it must be.”

Isaac is irritated enough not to notice that he has, once again, been addressed inappropriately. His mind is on another path now.

“Is this Hell, sir? Is this my punishment for whatever transgressions I am deemed to have committed? If so, I demand my judgement! I demand to be heard, and to face the wrath of my creator in person. Not to be trifled with by some insipid underling. Sir, you mock me, and I will not tolerate it!”

“It amuses me, Isaac, that so many of the ones we retrieve from your dimension talk in these terms – although not, if I may say so, always in such eloquent language. If it pleases you to consider this some kind of judgement upon your character, then we will accommodate that. In truth, it is your mind, rather than your character which has alerted us to you. We feel certain that your thorough understanding of the mathematical principles of your limited subset of the – ah, I must apologise; as far as we can discern, your language has no word for it; let us call it the universe – will help us in our studies. Given time, we feel sure you will come to relish the challenge.”

Isaac does what he often does when he feels discomfited; he harrumphs loudly, which seems only to provoke more amusement. The other man stands and leaves the room. Isaac glares after him.

Outside, in a space which Isaac might have recognised as some kind of corridor, the other man passes his case notes over to his supervisor.

“I think he will come round; he’s certainly the most promising one we’ve had yet. No sign of mental instability at all. In fact, he’s mostly just irritable.”

The supervisor smiles thinly. “You did remember to tell him not to eat the apple, didn’t you?”

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Author : Richard Watt

Here it came again. A microsecond burst, inaudible to human ears, and – until relatively recently – to human-designed technology, the sudden squirt of dense information still alarmed those who were exposed to it; even slowed down so that it lasted just over a second it sounded like nothing on Earth.

The first transmission which had been intercepted had made headlines; people all over the world had celebrated what was being described as the first clear indication of intelligent life out there somewhere, but nearly a year on, it was old news.

Mainly it was old news because no sense had been made of the transmissions at all. The finest minds of several generations had been applied to them; colossal research grants and vast amounts of government funding had been poured into decoding them, and absolutely nothing of any use had been discovered.

The intervals between the transmissions were random; the sounds themselves were dense, complex and unrepeating, but no-one had been able to relate them to anything – well over a million personal computers were hooked up to a collaborative project to compare the various elements of the signal to the digits of pi or a broad selection of other universal and interesting numbers, but nothing. The signal had been dissected, sliced and spliced; subjected to analysis at all frequencies and even merged with itself, layered over and over until it resembled white noise – but a type of white noise unsettlingly unlike what was familiar to human ears.

Nothing. Nothing usable in any way. The transmissions were of uniform length, but the duration seemed to give no clue – it related to no known wavelength or frequency. The complex waveforms of the signal delivered no meaning, and even the painstaking work which had been done in unpicking the signal – stripping out individual sounds – gave no indication of how they had been produced, or why.

The only practical application of the signals, aside from the endless philosophising which the human race had suddenly become prone to, was a piece of dance music which some enterprising producer had put together. Using the signals as source material, and using the random intervals between them as an erratic and awkward rhythm, the resulting piece of music had been a brief sensation – thousands of listeners all over the world had claimed to divine some kind of message from it, but none of them could agree in any way just what that message was, and the excitement surrounding it died as quickly as it had flared.

The most puzzling thing of all, of course, was that the signals appeared to come from somewhere close. Close enough, in fact, to be within the moon’s orbit. Any number of outlandish explanations for this had been offered, but even a hastily put together collaborative space flight could shed no light on it. The signal came from nowhere, and as far as anyone could tell, meant nothing. Funding was slowly redirected to other projects, and the attention of the world moved on.

In a place which human understanding of the time was incapable of describing, a lifeform which was closer to an idea than a corporeal form took the decision to stop the transmissions. Had it been capable of speaking in English – which it most certainly was not – it might have said something like:

“Pity. They appeared more intelligent than they were. We’ll try again in another 43 lifecycles or so.”


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