Today's Reading

A thoughtful silence from the Artilects. He listened to the strum and burr of the vast starship plowing its way through interstellar wastes, slowing for rendezvous with their final goal.

"Of course, we 'machines'"—the voice managed an arch tone conveying much about their mood—"do not make policy for your human complement."

Redwing grinned. He stroked the finger snakes and they wriggled back happily. "I do have plans, y'know."

"You seldom speak of any."

"Not to you, no. They're mostly over your pay grade."

"We do not fathom the implication."

"You don't rate on the job scale as highly as humans. That's a condition of your employment."

"You created us!"

"So we did. People dead for centuries did. Let's abide by their judgment."

"We can be more effective if we know more."

Redwing stood, wiped his hands, put them under a faucet to clean away the mud. Gardening settled him, a thin echo of Earthside by immersion in earth. A feeling Artilects could never muster.

He sighed again. "Okay, here's how I see our situation. If Glory won't have us, we can rejoin Mayra's colony on the Bowl. Catching up to them will take time, but this old craft can manage it. But I hope it won't come to that. I have my mission. Explore, make contact, learn. Send the results back Earthside. Negotiate a place, a way, for us to colonize. Because we're sure as hell not going back home."

And even better—in a week or two, he could wake a few crew for company. Real, human company.


ONE

WAKING

Nature and Nature's Laws lay hid in Night:
God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.
It did not last: the Devil howling "Ho!
Let Einstein be!" restored the status quo.

—J. C. SQUIRE, "In continuation of Pope on Newton"


Captain Redwing let the Astro display unfold on the display wall. He set it to show the whole-sky first, then pivoted it to automatically sweep the sky for reassuring landmarks: a squashed Big Dipper, Southern Cross wrenched by the angle, a bright star in Cassiopeia—ah!

Sol, of course. Brightest, except for Sirius. All of human history summed up in a dot of light. A small spark of joy: We've made it. So far from there.

He paused, listening to the vast beast-whistle of deep space. For long decades, his orders and installed programs had held SunSeeker on its deceleration heading, shedding its tenth-of-lightspeed momentum. The fusion engines hummed as they collected plasma and used it to fire thrust against their velocity. SunSeeker's huge magnetic dipole fields now braked them, making the ship abnormally bright in the microwave spectrum. Any minds around their target world, Glory, would see a glowing advertisement in their sky: Here we come.

Seeing Sol was good for the soul, somehow. But his real interest was in the other spark directly behind them: the Bowl's sun, a cheery G star ember. A sixth of a light-year or so behind them, chugging along, standing off from the Glorian system. Precaution: so that its mass did not perturb the swarm of halo iceteroids here, nudging them into comets that could plunge into the Glorian system. When entering someone's home, wipe your feet first....

His eye caught off his starboard arm the glitter of sparkling molecules, clouds like luminous water. The Astro Artilect was finishing its detailed scan of the huge volume around Glory out to a quarter light-year. A soft chime told him the work was done. He beckoned Beth Marble over to his side.

Dead black space. Redwing peered doubtfully at the big screen, filled by ... nothing.

"No Oort cloud at 'all'? But the Glory star is a G3, right? It should have a swarm of iceteroids swinging along, way out here."

Beth Marble shrugged. "Nothing like Sedna within a quarter of a light-year. Recall when we boomed past that ice rock, beyond Pluto? First one found, back centuries ago? Here, nothing even a tenth Sedna size, or even a thousandth."
...

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