Today's Reading

EARTH CALLING

Drifting through interstellar space, three light-years out from the star 31 Aquilae, the Neána abode cluster picked up a series of short, faint electromagnetic pulses that lasted intermittently for eighteen years. The early signatures were familiar to the Neána, and faintly worrying: nuclear fission detonations, followed seven years later by fusion explosions. The technological progress of whoever was detonating them was exceptionally swift by the usual metric of emerging civilizations.

Metaviral spawn chewed into the cometry chunks that ed the vast cluster, spinning out a string of flimsy receiver webs twenty kilometers across. They aligned themselves on the G-class star fifty light-years away, where the savage weapons were being deployed.

Sure enough, a torrent of weak electromagnetic signals was pouring out from the star's third planet. A sentient species was entering into its early scientific industrial state.

The Neána were concerned that so many nuclear weapons were being used. Clearly, the new species was disturbingly aggressive. Some of the cluster's minds welcomed that.

Analysis of the radio signals, now becoming analogue audiovisual broadcasts, revealed a bipedal race organized along geo-tribal lines, and constantly in conflict. Their specific biochemical composition was one that, from the Neána perspective, gave them sadly short lives. That was posited as the probable reason behind their faster than usual technological progression.

That there would be an expedition was never in doubt; the Neána saw that as their duty no matter what kind of life evolved on distant worlds. The only question now concerned the level of assistance to be offered. Those who welcomed the new species' aggressive qualities wanted to make the full spectrum of Neána technology available. They almost prevailed.

The spherical insertion ship that left the cluster—it didn't know if it was one of many being dispatched, or alone—measured a hundred meters in diameter, a mass comprised of active molecule blocks. It spent three months accelerating up to thirty percent of light speed along a course to Altair—a trip that took just over a hundred years.

During the lonely voyage the ship's controlling sentience continued to monitor the electromagnetic signals coming from the young civilization that was its ultimate goal. It built up an impressive knowledge base of human biology, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their constantly evolving tribal political and economic structures.

When the ship reached Altair, it performed a complex flyby maneuver, which aligned it perfectly on Sol. After that, the physical section of the sentience's memory that contained all the astrogation data of the flight from the cluster to Altair was jettisoned and the constituent blocks deactivated. Its weakened atomic structure broke apart into an expanding cloud of dust, which was quickly dispersed by Altair's solar wind. Now, if it was ever intercepted, the insertion ship could never betray the position of the Neána abode cluster—for it no longer knew where it was.

The last fifty years of the voyage were spent formatting an emplacement strategy. By now, human ingenuity had produced starships that were flying past the insertion ship in the other direction, in quest of new worlds out among the stars. The information blasting out from Earth and the solar system's asteroid habitats had become increasingly sophisticated, yet, conversely, there was a lot less of it. Radio signals had been in decline since the internet had begun to carry the bulk of human data traffic. For the final twenty years of the insertion ship's approach it received little apart from entertainment broadcasts, and even those were shrinking year by year. But it had enough.

It flew in south of the ecliptic, shedding cold mass in irregular bursts like a black comet—a deceleration maneuver that took three years. This was always the riskiest part of the voyage. The humans' solar system was scattered with a great many astronomical sensors scanning the universe for cosmological abnormalities. By the time it passed the Kuiper belt, the insertion ship was down to twenty-five meters in diameter. It emitted no magnetic or gravitational fields. The outer shell was fully radiation absorbent, so there was no albedo, making it invisible to any telescopes. Thermal emission was zero.

No one perceived its arrival.
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