Monday, August 22, 2011

Land Leave 13

A binary star and a nebula similar to that of the pre-solar one.

Land Leave 13:

Dr. Laura Kelvin had been studying the formation of the solar system, and the human history of space travel for three decades. Her expertise lay in human interaction with the solar system. Even with her extensive knowledge on Sol phenomena, she was out of her league with the cube. She had colleagues on the Hestia that would have been much more suited to working on the cube. The navy's cautious pragmatism had put her on the Eve with Bacchi instead of them though. When she was approached by Bacchi and his navy cohorts, they seemed hopeful for alien technology, but skeptical about authenticity. Kelvin knew that Bacchi had been lying now. He always played the skeptic before, but referred to her on matters of authenticity.

She sat in the control room watching the screen. Every second new facets were being discovered. The beings that created the cube lived in a far different world. They tried very hard to explain how that world appeared, but even the most basic of words were hard to describe. She thought about it a bit. She supposed that trying to describe a flower to an alien would be extraordinarily difficult without much common ground.

So the majority of words had been described in mathematical terms; precise, but ultimately lacking descriptions. A screen popped up. A series of grooves called cube type future equals had appeared. It roughly translated to an index for the many programs in the cube. Kelvin flipped the comm, “James, I just got a reading for what I believe to be an index of programs. I'm sending you its location. Touch it and hopefully that will expedite our search.”

James was in the cube piloting a small hovering robot to record every detail in the cube; he was rapidly running out of excitement as discovery had turned to tedium. The cube was giving up its secrets but in a painfully slow manner. Hearing Dr. Kelvin's order was a godsend, “will do,” he said pulling himself out of a trance. He found the segment that she referred to and touched it.

Immediately the section lit up; a pale blue light identical to the one on the circle. He stepped back as all of the writing inside the cube also lit up. This time it did so as a pale red; it cast the entire interior of the cube in an eerie way. James was unimpressed, breaking the monotony would require more than that.

James looked up at the large interior of the cube. The fog seemed to be condensing. Then, it was moving slowly toward him. Dr. Kelvin watched the view from James' helmet cam. Both were breathless. The fog formed into two spheres in front of James, one red and one blue. They rotated slowly around each other. The red one was much smaller than the blue one, “Um...Doctor?”

“I think it's the binary system. The way it was before they merged,” Kelvin's voice over the comm seemed distracted. She was obviously very intent on the sight before her. The two of them watched carefully, the system evolved and changed, the orbits got tighter and the red star started to distort as its mass was sluffed off it into a disk around the blue star. Then the stars collided, and the superstar collapsed, bursting into a supernova. The clouds of dust cooled and a nebula formed. Then small bright disks started accreting. Many tiny yellow, orange, red, and blue suns burst forth, and the nebula disappeared, to be replaced by the modern system of suns. “That's how it happened. I think this recorded everything. James, the translation says this program is an index. Try touching something and see what happens.”

James reached forward to touch a star and thousands of violet dots appeared on the stellar map before him. By a yellow star, the violet dot was flashing.

“That looks like Sol, I bet the flashing dot is this cube. Those must be the locations of the other cubes.” Kelvin was reading the screen. The grooves for program execution were helpful, but this visual/tactile system would be easier to navigate.

James brought the flashing violet dot closer to his face. The fog complied. James studied the location carefully, he lost track of his hand and dropped his wrist. Instantly the fog swept backwards to the image of the binary system. “What the--” He lifted his hand and the fog changed back to the present. “There are commands built into it. Gestures do things.”

“Don't break a sweat thinking Einstein. You're right, go back to the binary system, see if you can figure anything important out about the bigger key that it refers to.”

“Ok, but it doesn't appear to--” James motioned toward him and the binary stars got bigger until they were just fog again. At the same time a large rocky planet appeared. Thousands of violet dots left the surface of the planet and held orbit. Together they formed a lattice around the planet. Then it appeared that the dots each opened a wormhole. “I think they tried to save the planet with these cubes,” James whispered. The planet was now surrounded by pinholes. The suns collided in the background and huge waves of material washed over the planet. The pinholes kept the material from touching the surface of the planet, “the cubes were built to save the planet,” James was in awe. The pinholes stayed constant; the wave of the supernova became stronger and denser; the pinholes wavered. Then they failed, the cubes on the main side of the blast were swept back into the planet. The planet's crust peeled off and melted, layers of civilization and dirt vaporized before James' eyes. The remaining cubes were swept away in the current of the supernova blast. “It didn't work.”

“We failed, we weren't expected to win,” came a voice on James' comm.

“Was that you James?” Dr. Kelvin had jumped out of her chair. She suddenly noticed that the circle on the cube had stopped pulsating and was now a solid deep blue.

“No. What do you think that was?” James asked.

“I am the cube. That is the name for me.” The voice wasn't human; it sounded like a parrot almost, emulating the words and unsure of their meaning.

“The cube?” Kelvin was baffled but not disbelieving, the last couple of days had ruined that for her. She paused, “of course, the cube doesn't just output its stored information, it takes it in.”

“I was started, I hear until I know. I can comm with you. I still store more.”

“You are learning still?” Kelvin suggested helpfully.

“Yes. I can tell that I know. I can't say always that I tell.”

There was a long pause as Dr. Kelvin and James tried to understand what the cube was saying. Finally Kelvin asked, “are you saying that you can't tell us everything you know because you don't understand how to communicate with us fully?”

A long silence “Yes. I will try.”

Kelvin thought a bit. If the cube could learn, maybe there would be a way to help it learn faster. “How do you prefer to learn?”

“I was made with light, sound, and touch for good new learning,” the cube spoke through the comm.

“Ok, so I guess you don't have a USB port. James, do you think we can rig up a link between the organic computers and this cube?” Kelvin was trembling from excitement.

“Yeah, but we probably need to clear that all with the captain.”

“The captain is the one that tells action?” the cube asked; questions sounded almost angry, it was still obviously finding nuance in how it manipulated human sounds.

“Yeah, but I'm sure he'll be excited about all this. Sit tight, we'll figure it all out,” James left the bay. He entered the hallway and took off his helmet. Then he caught his breath and tried to contain his excitement. He had just talked to a 5 billion plus year old cube made by an alien race. “Holy crap!”

At that moment Bill entered the hall, “oh, I was just about to get you. Anything exciting happen?”