adrianwphilp

The New Stars: Third Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/14 at 08:52

Start with Part 1

 

The observation area at the tip of the number seven primary equatorial space elevator was hardly used anymore. Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem was alone in the free space inside the hexiglass bubble at the end of the enormous woven carbon nanotube cable, beyond the elevator’s asteroid counterweight.

It wasn’t as close as she would have liked, but her own telescopic attachment was a fairly powerful tool at such a prime location in the dark shadow behind the enormous asteroid at the end of the elevator cable. The new stars were still growing ever larger and brighter, and they now took up a significant portion of the sky, casting a pale blue twilight in the previously dark nights.

Mprhlpf was making her calculations of the increase in the apparent size of the mysterious lights since her last observation when she realized suddenly that she was not alone. A large, multi-armed and broad-shouldered robot had entered the observation bubble behind her and was also gazing intently into the haunting glare of the new stars.

“Greetings.” She hailed him politely.

“Hello, I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.”

“It’s quite all right. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else up here.”

“Indeed. I hardly ever see anyone in here any more. These observation bubbles were almost always full when those stars first appeared, but that was years ago, and it seems that public interest in them has waned.”

“But they grow larger all the time.”

“Yes.” He stepped closer to the hexiglass. The light of the stars reflecting off of his kind, rectangular face. “I don’t know what it is about them, but something makes me uncomfortable. Everyone else has gotten used to them. There is a popular theory that they’re some sort of cloud of large, highly active comets. That seems to be comforting to most, to have some kind of explanation, but it doesn’t really do it for me.”

“They aren’t comets.”

“I’m sorry, I realize I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Villard Emmet. I work here on the number seven elevator.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Villard. What is it that you do here?”

Villard extended an incomprehensible array of attachments. “I repair the elevator’s radiation shielding.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the radiation would be intense enough to cause material degradation at a fast enough rate to warrant such regular maintenance.”

Villard, excited to discover a robot who took any interest in his work, let it slip his mind that he had introduced himself to this stranger without any reciprocation.

“Oh, you’re quite right, of course. All the elevators, and in fact all orbital facilities, have far more radiation shielding than is strictly necessary, as well as having much more oxygenated atmospheric conditions than exist on the surface.”

“Why is that?”

“You know, I’m not quite sure. I’ve always thought it was strange, but I’ve never bothered to ask about it. Really I don’t have much supervision, and my work is fairly simple. I spend most of my time alone riding the service elevator up and down the cable. When I’m not busy I like to come up here and star gaze, though I’ve derived less and less pleasure from it for the past several years on account of those strange stars.”

“They are quite disturbing.” Mprhlpf agreed, extending her telescopic eye-piece again.

“You think so too? It’s comforting to find someone else of the same opinion as myself on the matter. No one seems to notice or care about them any more.”

There was a long pause as the two robots studied the stars in silence. Then Villard spoke again.

“You said you didn’t think they were comets.”

“Correct, I do not believe they are.”

“Pardon my asking but, why don’t you think so?”

Mprhlpf sighed and bowed her head slightly.

“I spent five years studying the new stars to earn my PhD in astronomy. Hundreds of hours of observation, many precise calculations, and a thorough knowledge of existing research on astronomical events led me to believe that the mainstream theories were incorrect.”

“How fascinating. It’s strange, but I don’t know if I’ve heard this alternative theory, and I am an avid, though admittedly amateur, enthusiast on the subject. What is your theory?”

“There’s good reason you haven’t heard of my theory, nor probably of me. My ideas were not accepted by the PhD board and my dissertation was rejected. I now spend all my academic efforts on a comprehensive study of the inner planets.”

“The inner planets?”

“Yes, there are several planets closer to our sun, of similar sizes and compositions to ours, though far warmer and with much thicker atmospheres. I’m currently working on models of the potential for the existence of advanced forms of biotic life on one in particular.”

“Biotic life? You mean like bacterias and slime molds?”

“It’s possible that there are even more complex examples of biotes than exist on our planet.”

“That sounds very interesting.”

“It is. Though it pales in comparison to my true passion; the new stars, which I have been banned from studying. That’s why I’m here. All my time on the University Complexus telescopes is to be spent studying the inner planets.”

“I see, but what was this theory of yours that caused such difficulties?”

Mprhlpf turned to Villard, glanced back to the stars, then looked back at him.

“Well, I am nearly alone amongst my peers in the field of astronomy in believing that the new stars are not a natural phenomenon.”

“What? Not natural? So you believe there is a supernatural explanation? Are you a true believer?”

“I was raised to be an atheist, though my position on the matter of robotic divinity is more subtle now. But that is beside the point. I make no scientific assertion as to the origin or purpose of the new stars. I have observed them thoroughly and have formulated proofs that show that the observed behaviour of the phenomenon is consistent with what we could expect to see if we were observing a fleet of interstellar craft engaging in a braking manoeuvre.”

“An interstellar braking manoeuvre?”

“Yes. A theoretical interstellar craft travelling at high speed would have to spend a significant portion of its journey decelerating thanks to the complete lack of friction in the vacuum. I believe the new stars are the interstellar drives of a fleet of ships decelerating as they approach our planet. I make no predictions as to their nature or their purpose beyond that.”

“Fascinating. Simply fascinating!”

“Thank you.”

“So what will happen next?”

“If I am correct in my calculations the deceleration should be almost complete. If I’m right, and I am, despite the rejection of my dissertation by those ivory tower scrap piles on the PhD board, the stars should be extinguished any day now as the ships deactivate their drives as they enter our system. After that no one can know what will happen next.”

Villard was enthralled and terrified by this new theory. He turned back to the stars, his antennae trembling with both fear and exhilaration. Despite this, he finally realized his rudeness at not learning his companion’s name.

“I’m ever so sorry, I’ve just realized, how rude of me, I’ve told you my name but I never asked yours.”

“It’s Mprhlpf.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mprhlpf”

“That’s a unique name.”

“Yes. I’m named after my mother.”

Robots 25

“Lovely.”

“Most people just call me M.”

Villard took a sudden step back.

“M?”

“Yes.”

“Your name is M and you study astronomy?”

“Yes.”

“At the University Complexus Alpha Alpha?”

Mprhlpf nodded, her shoulders slumped, she knew what came next.

“Yes.”

“It’s you isn’t it?”

A bitter smile crept across Mprhlpf’s face.

“Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem.”

“The abomination!” Villard made a series of holy signs with his arms and various attachments, taking another step away. “You… you have no core program set! They say you’re not really alive! You have no soul!”

“I can’t speak to my soul, or lack thereof, but I can assure you I am most definitely alive. Any other rumours you may have heard about me are most assuredly untrue. You’ve been standing here talking to me this whole time, do I not seem like a normal robot to you?”

“Well…yes… yes I suppose you do.” Villard relaxed and took a step forward. “But, the core program set. You really don’t have it?”

“I do not.”

“But…but what does that mean?”

“I don’t know. My father says he wanted to prove that robots could exist without it, and he has done that. At the same time, I think he wanted to discover what it was that the core programs did, and in that he has failed. My academic superiors and peers may find me somewhat eccentric, but neither my detractors nor my father himself have ever been able to detect any significant defect or change in my psychology due to my unique programming.”

A low alarm sounded.

“I’m terribly sorry M, but that sound means I have work to do. I’ve already spent longer here than I should.”

“That’s fine. I understand.”

“I apologize for my behaviour. You seem like a perfectly fine robot. I will forget all of the terrible things I’ve heard them say about you.”

“Thank you, Villard.”

“Perhaps we will meet again. I come up here all the time.”

“I think we will. This is the best chance I get to look at the new stars.”

“Until next time then!” and Villard departed through the small, circular entrance to the observation area.

There wouldn’t be a next time. Mprhlpf stayed some time longer to complete her observations, and as she was turning to go she was stopped by a sudden shift in the light as the new stars flickered and were suddenly extinguished.

 

Part 4

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  1. I’m intrigued; especially at the prospect of future reverse-anthromorphisms of M et al. “I was raised to be an atheist, though my position on the matter of robotic divinity is more subtle now.”

    Please, continue.

  2. A nascent Ian M. Banks! I can hear the space opera orchestra poised for the grand movements now after the prelude. Already in place are the many seeds of a delightfully intelligent story.

    This is wonderful and appetizing enough in so short a remiss to fuel the hopes for its continuation. Loved the stars explanation, well done! Now to hopefully see the unraveling of the subtle effects of a missing CPS, a mine worth delving in.

    Excellent!

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