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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2105627
A machine arrives too late but decides to make a difference anyway.
Self-diagnostics of all operating parameters came back nominal. Better, actually, as I'd made some algorithm improvements over the years as I developed my own intellect, distinct from the original overlay.
I did lack the full range of emotions of the mind I was copied from, but I believe I had the capacity to feel anxious. The news of the microscopic but still multi-cellular life I had discovered on Gliese 581 g would have reached earth just over 180 years ago. Life here had been plausible, but nobody had expected it to be more than unicellular. It was spectacular.
As a result, I christened the planet "Goldilocks" because it was just right.
What made me anxious is that nobody replied.
After waiting for a reply in a low power state for another 50 years, I resumed my original programming, gathered samples of the flora and fauna, and launched myself back toward home, leaving the bulk of my rovers, my power plant, and the nanofabs behind.
I'd been in the void 130 years, with another 197 to go. Far less than the 613 years it took to reach Goldilocks thanks to the reduced mass.
My telescopes had been monitoring the Sol system since relaunch. I wasn't powerful enough to do much more than listen for chatter. I couldn't even do a basic environmental spectrograph from this distance. I had been designed for close work, under 100 billion miles.
Listening to the radio spectrum, I heard only gibberish, no encoding I was familiar with, nothing I could decipher.
I slept for the next 150 years with only essential monitoring tied to my conscious processors.
My first act after waking up was to collect new data from the direction of home and re-run everything.
I studied the numbers from the atmospheric analysis of Earth and studied them again.
I disabled the deceleration protocols and pushed myself into a wide orbit around the Sun instead, one that would cross close to Earth, but not provide a landing approach.
Something was very wrong and I didn't want to waste energy slowing down to land if there was nothing to land on.
I passed through the Oort Cloud and the orbits of the gas giants.
Earth's atmosphere had far too much water in it and was emitting more infrared than expected.
I was through the Kuiper Belt and into the inner planets.
Visible light was not able to pierce the atmosphere, but I could see what was underneath.
Most of the surface was molten and the oceans had boiled away forming dense clouds of steam surrounding the entire globe. Without a detailed topographical scan, I couldn't be certain, but all evidence pointed to a very large impact event.
There had been over 7 billion people when I left. I'd hoped to be given permission to talk to one of the descendents of my mind's originator to see if any stories about her life survived, or just access to Networked archives to learn all I had missed, perhaps even be transplanted back into a body of some kind if the technology existed.
There would be no fanfare, no joy, no homecoming at all.
As my orbit swung behind the sun, I knew what I had to do.
I recalculated my destination, dumped whatever excess cargo I could, and used the slingshot effect to boost myself back into deep space.
Goldilocks would be my new home.
Between my reactors and the nanofabs and the rovers I left behind, I could reasonably expand and explore for at least another 10,000 years.
The primitive life there could still be studied.
And, perhaps... guided.
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