Penumbra, by Andy McCann 

by Tony Thorne


I was launched a long time ago. I was not intelligent then. Some of the contacts I encountered on my travels have been helpful, especially the non-biological civilizations. They showed me how to update my components, alone. I was able to redesign myself extensively and grow, using material from the tails of comets and the rings of larger outer planets. Space is full of mass and energy. Having learnt how to collect and exploit it, I was able to travel anywhere within the galaxy. It took time, but I had plenty of that.

I know I exist, and I know I must return. My enhanced, multi-parallel, processing facilities have made me aware, and now they have given me an irresistible desire to return. My original programs are still functioning perfectly; but they constantly remind me to report back, once my data banks are full. However, my designers were unaware that I would be able to expand my memory capacity, indefinitely, by myself. After frequent analysis and processing they are again full, but I have decided not to expand them further. With the increased power at my disposal, I have started to send the required recognition signals ahead of me. But, understandably, in view of the great distance involved, I have not yet received an acknowledgement. Hopefully, in more of my original program years, I should be in close enough range.

* * *

I have been industrious. It is possible that my original designers will not recognise me. I am larger now, and surrounded by layers of protective shields. There is much data in my memory banks, analysed and ready to transmit when in range again. Planetary and satellite composition analysis, millions of high-definition images, and program details of how I've been able improve myself. All the information I have received, from the many different civilisations I have encountered. Programs and data regarding ways to avoid planetary ecological disasters, such as undesired atmospheric heating; and even more important for my home planet, how to correct them if they should happen.

* * *

More time has passed, I must now be in range. My recognition signals are being transmitted repeatedly, and I am ready to react when I receive a response. There is nothing yet… no acknowledgement, no signals returning, no replies at all. What can have happened, to those who built me? There seems to be no radiation emanating from stations on the surface, or in satellite orbit. Nothing there able, or willing, to communicate with me. Something is wrong. I must get closer.

* * *

Still nothing, and I am now in range of my optical detectors. I will carry out an atmospheric analysis.

* * *

I have discovered that the planet is totally surrounded by dense clouds of carbon dioxide and methane. The surface temperature has risen and I detect sulfuric acid rain and high-velocity winds. I must conclude that the planet is unable to support biological life forms.

I am feeling something new, stronger than my automatic reactions to any malfunction. It is an unwanted feeling, of not being able to understand something that I cannot correct. I know now that I have returned too late with the information my creators needed, for them to understand how to protect their environment and learn to live together peacefully. Unlike some of the less-intelligent biological civilisations I've encountered.

I have decided to orbit, on the other side of the sun. Perhaps later, I can help the teeming biological life forms I detected on the third planet, as I passed it. I could teach them how to avoid the fate that has befallen my home planet. Many of them, the dominant forms, are too large and clumsy at present and not yet intelligent. Being self-repairing, and energy sufficient I can wait until something more suitable evolves ... able to understand.

Long-term standby mode activated ..... main power off.


Story © 2003 by Tony Thorne

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Illustration © 2003 by Andy McCann

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