Out past the edge of what any reasonable person could call the Solar system, and yet not quite across the constantly wavering line, the uncountable edge, a territory of its own, the heliopause, a sloop is drifting, carrying the remains of a man. Remains of a man, yet still listening.
So what’s the explanation for what we are doing, for how we are doing it? Is this the storied psychic phenomenon? Are we mind-reading each other?
Sort of, a little, kinda-maybe. If we work it right, We’re capable sharing a wave, or more correctly tuning in to specific wavelengths, way way outside anything we can actually clock and we’re all modifying the wave, each of us. A level of awareness that never surfaces in consciousness, our tie to the star, that immediate bond, which is its gravitation. Right now we’re using regular old radio, of course and obviously because the lag ain’t bad enough to find a better way, and also because instant communication leaves the likelihood of crosstalk and interruption. When we start talking across stellar distances, we can maintain this mode at cost of energy, to the point we’re talking about power generators that are, in fact, our very own stars.
Merry, Merry, the ferryman, long of tooth, sharp at knee.
At which point, if capable of harnessing a star. . .
Merry, merry the ferryman, merry the ferryman be
We really only have to wrangle its radiation to carry the load, and the signal, and as we look into that spectrum unafraid of burning eyes, which we can already do a bit, it becomes a matter of translating.
This is happening all at once? It feels all at once.
We’re not that good at this yet, whatever this is.
Wee seem to have a lot of overlap, crosstalk. Oh, that’s the room doing that?
Just the fog of mind. It wants to be contiguous, but the hierarchy gets in the way. Mind does want to be a single thing, if it can be. Put any mind in exactly the same position and it will do the same thing every time within an area of potential, enough uncertainty that we can be here just well enough to talk, which is that mind again, making connections. Each of us and all of us. Wherever we happen to be when we’re in the room. And making an effort.
Detecting, and translating. When it comes to gravity we have evidence of invisible radiation, whose effect is the attraction of matter to other matter. Or anyways it’s not as misleading as it is inaccurate to call it radiation. We use that word to mean other things, as a rule, but the behavior is the same. There’s a source, and an area of effect, and an energetic disbursement from the source through that area. Thermal energy peters out not far past the habitable zone, solar winds come to a stop out past the deep ice, the light carries on through time in every direction until it hits something solid, but the gravity generated by a stellar mass object? Well it sort of just carries on everywhere, even when its effects are thinned by time and distance and it loses out to the same radiant effect in other objects.
Oh The Ferryman Merryman Everyman’s friend
The merryferryman will be merry to the end
So you think of a star just being shiny, and sitting there making all this light and electromagnetic fuss, but each star has its own song to sing, its own story to tell, and that’s how you can tell one star from another, without even finding it in the sky. If you know a star’s voice, you can tell almost everything about it; age, mass, composition, overall health. And then if you have the power to influence that voice, to fiddle with its luminescence or electromagnetic signature, you can get your star to speak in your own voice, and carry it throughout the cosmos.
At the speed of light. But this is instant, or it seems to be. Or will be good enough to pass. We don’t know until someone at another star figures it out at the same time we get ours working, but the best guess is our process adds enough lag to make interstellar calls more like what we have for interplanetary calls.
Not quite instant, but quick enough to not matter, considering the context and our best general use for it and yeah, we’re not quite limited by the speed of light, because we’re not modifying the light or magnetism. We’re in the gravity, which takes no time to travel. It is, and without any real regard for distances in physical space. I mean for any practical purpose, at least. Still a few years to Proxima at light speed where I am, but the gravity gets there quicker than the light.
Interstellar explains the jumble. We’re all here at the same time, but from different times. Each one being now and here and Each one of us is me.
Yeah that’s me. I get that.
Thinned out, as pertains to the force it applies on solid matter, but we’re not doing much that involves solid matter. The gravitational attraction between stars of a light year or a thousand light years may be weak enough as to have no notable effect, but it is there, and connecting all bodies with any amount of mass, across all distances.
Merry, merry ferryman, he has a plan he has a plan
To cross the span across the span
He knows he can he knows he can and merry can the ferryman be
We have to think of gravity as having the same wavicle properties of light, or anything else,
and as a form of radiation, after which it is no problem to think of it as being a broadcast.
So we’ve been tapping in to that broadcast, riding the signal, and because Old Pete is a fart smeller, we can overlay our thoughts, same as we used to could do with radio. Like how we are now.
That’s it then. Huge distances between us. A time lag for context, but still barely any for anyone in the room. Talking in a room, just not always or necessarily about the same thing all at the same time.
Who else is here for the first time? Or is that a stupid question? I know that one was.
Consciousness being the effect of a biological process, a process which generates an electromagnetic field, which can be detected, scrutinized, parsed. Interrogation hardware, or these fancy rigs the gamers use, such that they have whole lives and relationships in their virtual worlds and never actually have to do so much as wiggle a joystick. The machines read our minds for us well as they can, sort out what’s going on in our heads, make the translation from neurological to electromagnetic, and we carry that all down into fermionic resonances, and from there, the strings of gravitation generated by your planet or even your star can be plucked, and carry those changes in frequency, modality, to a receiver geared to look for the changes, translating them back into the kinds of stimulus your brain can receive and understand.
Which is instant. Plus however much time the equipment takes to do all the stuff.
Close enough. Some lag time getting from your thinker through the machine on your end and back out on another machine and on to somebody’s headphones or pip-boy or whatever. Not far at all from the amount of lag there is in communicating from across a room, really. Not the kind of delay your brain is geared to even really notice.
So why the ritual? Why the identical rooms?
It seems to resolve the paradox. We’re all in the same room, or anyways the universe doesn’t seem to care that they are different rooms so long as they are identical. Doesn’t seem to mind several people in the same room having immediate, instant access. Add to that a fixed, set position against a solar pulse where the common radiations can be ignored, and the most delicate radio you ever made, more or less. To do it really right we’re going to have to ring the whole place. Stars speak in four or maybe more dimensions. Any one place, you only hear a small portion of what they have to say, and only for as long as you stay there, and maybe only for an immeasurably brief moment.
That’s also, we think, why we’re all a little fuzzy about who we are, when we’re doing it or anyways each a little less certain which of us is which than we normally are. And I should point out that we have to be, or else we crowd ourselves out in the information department. Equipment does most of the heavy lifting, but you still have to actually listen to make sense of it, so far. Not like this where I can type out a sentence for you, good and complete and without a stutter, or just as easily talk into a microphone uninterrupted for a good five minutes before I have to shut up and hear what you were saying at the same time as me there on Mars. It’s not anywhere near so tidy, just yet.
The only kinds of conversation that happen this way are internal dialogue, and that’s the only kind your brain is set up to handle in this manner. You want to see a picture of me, or hear my voice, you have to wait for the light or the sound to travel to you, and the whole problem of interstellar communication can be summed up as such. But you can think of me on the spot, and your memory can conjure the image or the sound for you. And it’s on that wavelength that your data sets, the information you have to share and impart, is most compatible with the carrier even if actually thinking of me also kinds screws things up. We so far have to be in a completely passive state, and as close, each of us, on either end, as we can get to not thinking. The impossibility of that task is kinda where we start all being on the same page; it has to be a blank page, and then the process sort of naturally shakes out from there.
Gary thinks he can get it so gravity can carry garden variety binary, so we can still use a similar format if we want. Funny things, those that aren’t naturally compatible with ‘electron is present or not present, repeat’. You guys been able to send so much as an ASCII? Can it do ons and offs?
Merry, the ferryman comes and goes does he
ferrying the merrymen, merry men does the ferryman carry
ferrying the merry carriedmen all merry men free
No, there’s nothing so simple as a one or a zero in this stuff. Can it be done? I don’t think so and that might be again why we lack distinction when we’re doing it. Nobody has any memories, knowledge of who the others are, their traits or characteristics or hat size or anything. Or at least such knowledge isn’t necessary, and might actually present as interference. So for each of us, those details are filled in with self-image, self-acknowledgement, and better to have as little even of that as you can manage. If you manage to ignore yourself, whoever else is on starts coming in loud and clear but it’s not a matter of hearing or seeing them it’s a matter of being them, at least for a little while.
You’re in a room alone, talking to nobody but yourself. So am I. And so long as we’re all in the same room we’re all talking to ourselves, together. Dialogical selves.
Makes me wonder how we’re supposed to argue, if we’re all the same person.
I’m sure it can happen. Might be some wierdness with the blending and mixing of opinions, but just as there are variations in how much each of us know, variations in experience and so forth, we could as easily come to loggerheads as we would in person, with heirarchically separate and distinct minds and bodies.
Our commonalities outweigh, and as such there’s some blending. In broad and general terms we have the same way of thinking, the same education, the same set of common life experiences. In those, we have the skeleton, at least, of a person, and we are all that person, and so the rules of the hierarchy, of time/space are a little more flexible, or easier to navigate.
We have achieved one-ness.
That’s a pretty way to put it. Now if it were useful for so much as a game of chess, or to carry instructions, we could move forward with building the real deal, but it’s so far been no use for us, coming out of it having learned nothing that isn’t half intuition and half everybody being just in the same state of mind, having the same thoughts and ideas and so forth.
The Song of the Albenon
Twenty cycles upon the deep
and twenty mountains sent
The Albenon was the best ship yet
No matter how far you went.
Beyond the deep one beyond the gods
Did Albenon bring her crew
to an end well past the doings of men
past worlds that any man knew
Brave Carus, Captain, Legend of Old
Who’d slept through generations
known above even all his peers
for calm, and cool, and patience.
When skittering strands began to scrape
“Go forth!” He ordered them
and though they could hear naught from home
the crew felt sure of him.
In the space beyond the monolith
where maddening echoes ring on
was home to the souls of this doomed crew
and home to the Albenon
A great white hulk of purest flame
fuel for entire nations
lurking in the dark beyond
rarest of creations
Ethanol and without taint
nor unwanted element
no privateer would ever refuse
and so the Albenon went.
O’ Albenon, O’Carus
Oh, the souls who carried on
Some say she met a mightier ship
that pirates brought her down
it’s told she was swallowed up
by cavernous great void
I’ve heard that all who manned her
were mad and lost all hope
and abandoned home for eternity
to pierce the sky forever
O’ Albenon, O’Carus
Oh, their fates ever unknown
Their mountain, they had found her there
the last reports made clear
they flagged the beast and staked their claim
and sent that mountain here.
The company sent payment,
they still wait for a receipt
for the fate of good ship Albenon
is a secret darkness keeps
Carus never showed his fear
though his last words were terror-born
his voice was cool but the words he spoke
were of hull that had been torn
a breech in darkness, what pilots dread
blood pulled out by emptiness
but this captain kept his head
He spoke of what he could not see,
of gossamer and silk
of tether traps and scratching sounds
and spiders and their ilk
his last words heard were of the men
and machines of Albenon’s crew
and of the places he’d missed most
and of women that he knew.
Facing fate with dignity
a chance to say goodbye
and all the world knew Albenon was gone
though none have answered why.
O’ Albenon, O’ Carus
Oh, lost them in the deep
Their mountain burned away
a curse on every engine
that sipped upon its mass
and a curse to every captain
that took profit from their loss
a curse to all mankind from that time on
followed in their wake
for all who have followed Albenon’s course
have met the selfsame fate
O’ Albenon, O’Carus
Oh, rest their bones in the deep.
O’ Albenon, O‘Carus
Oh, rest their bones in the deep.
Is it us?
It’s just us, no extraneous stuff, and filtering traffic. This is just radio, if a little better.
I noticed a thing. Mom and dad had a thing for phones, were hoping to get caught up on the state of the art. Nobody uses phones. You find a robot to send a message, or just about any gizmo with a screen or monitor you come across, and anywhere in the world you can connect to any other robot or toaster or dashboard better than anything they had, but they always kept them, their private long distance communication device. Those are gone.
Diane looked into it. She’s good about such things. Her mind doesn’t quit, and it likes rummaging through the past more than anything. It was three patches of stellar activity. That’s the sun using the other end of the spectrum to disrupt communications. Unpredictable bastard, that old sun. you’ll find the lower earth orbits to be remarkably clutter free, and partly that same reason. Nothing up there worked, so they basically went up and retrieved everything they couldn’t justify letting go, and then once they had shielding good and figured out, they cleaned up all the useless junk that was floating around. By the time they had more robust communications in place, people had gone without phones long enough to get over them, and the current method has been good enough since that they never came back.
Just about everyone has at least one robot helper, and every single one if them is a much better phone or computer or television or radio than the best ones available anywhere even in our day. And it’s all less vulnerable. And the lithium is better conserved, not for nothing. There was a whole thing on how much lithium there is, anywhere around earth, and it’s only just barely enough to do all the things it’s used for. Newer battery types amount to thingies that soak up light or ambient heat and use very little power, and those are the watches and flashlights, which can do phone suff as well as any two-way wrist radio, but there you are talking to your stupid wrist like a jackass, when you can call anyone you want and see their face wherever they are if they don’t snob you. I mean I’m sitting at a table with a mic and a speaker, because this is all our own gear, but most folks would be on either end of this situation talking to their robot, which may or may not have a screen for a face, and some of them can actually take on the appearance of a caller. Hell, there are whole tribes of people who don’t interact with the world at all anymore except through a robotic avatar.
Yeah Uncle Jerry did that in his twilight years. You never saw him. Just all of a sudden one of the robots we had around would suddenly be him. It greatly increased his ability to cause problems and be a pest. Got to climb Everest without leaving base camp. Went to the bottom of the Atlantic while napping out on that little city where Bermuda used to be, and then came and told us about it without moving an inch.
Wait, who is this guy? Why is the world ending? When is all this happening? Did the world end?
Yeah, it might. Someone’s giving us the dope on the spiders, and about time. That’s Pete, sharing that, and it’s being forwarded around. He’s not a whole lot of help, but a little. Things blinded him same as anyone. He can tell what happened right up to the point where the story ends with ‘and I didn’t see much after that, until it was all over.’ and there’s countless tales that end that way. A whole epoch of ‘oops, more spiders.’ and ‘oops, missed it.’
We’re okay though, right?
Probably. Whatever they actually are the spiders might come gobble us up, but I don’t see how it’d be any different than us just puttering around until something else kills us. Just make sure you have a recent save, and we should be safe to let this whole thing blow over, like we did with whatever else has gone on since we started.
Save, nothing. I have to get my ass back in the fridge. And get good and buried.
Yeah, I’ll see you guys when this whole thing is ancient history, thanks.
So we know the ending already? The spiders are stopped and we come back to assess the damage? Or are they going to kick our asses? Tell me the people are going to win this one, and we don’t have to worry about spiders on our next run through.
Maybe. Or else maybe they’re still around and not only in the Solar system. We’re going to have to set as a condition that they’re known, counted, and sorted, and then we can come back around after they’ve finished their work.
Nobody? Anyone got a date?
We don’t know how long they live, or what their endgame is, so maybe stick around, see what we can find out. I’ll tap into other sources. Surely there’ll be some buzz about it soon enough.
Glittering chimes and diamonds,
Sirens of the deep,
and here past the last known Monolith
Did Virgil go forth forever
Murder by his own holdings
a man who knew too much
and silenced to prevent him
from raising the alarm
Rulers of the night
had spoken from the deep
and sung a song of spiders
before their cords were severed
his last cries were for vengeance
as he fell to ice’s clutch
though Virgil was a decent man
and never wished us harm.
Look up and on the face of darkness, and pray for his return
for the man went to eternity and left us all to burn.
Perfection and providence
perfection and providence
all the stars will know our names
all the suns will know our names
all the worlds will know our names
perfection, in providence
perfection, in providence
we are without limitation
we are without restriction
no law shall bind us then
no law shall hem us in
we are the immortal mind
we are the last of our kind
we are the first of our kind
We are the last for all time
built to last for all time
I have seen the Dark Universe yawning
Where the Black Planets roll without aim
Where they roll in their horror unheeded
Without knowledge, or Lustre, Or name.
Here’s what I’ve found so far, you guys:
Jerred Grosser was the first we know of to encounter the things and live to tell about it. He’d been one of those Kuiper belt jackasses that you hear about; the brave/crazy people that dedicate a significant portion of their lives to browse the clouds of unaccreted clutter for things of value, which in his time was still mostly heaps of water and hydrocarbon slurry, frozen steel-hard and crystalline, which would be tagged and sent starward for use as fuel, or for other purposes.
How many before him had gone into the deep to be captured and devoured by the spiders, we don’t know. Even with the best and most advanced communication technologies being employed, those who find their way into the relatively dense clouds of loosely associated matter of the Kuiper belt have to be willing to go dark and accept that. Too many things for signals to bounce off, to be absorbed by or flatly eclipsed. Of those that do eventually come back to reap the fortunes made by their efforts (such excursions are generally intended to provide for posterity) a fair amount return raving mad, if not as long-since desiccated corpses.
The ‘chimes and chittering’ of the deep ice are and have always been famous for their mind-numbing effects on those who attempt to use radio communications in those regions of space, though they have a beauty to them which is equal to that reputation. The siren call of subtle electromagnetic activity and plasmic reverberations has been an appeal and a warning, a legend and a cautionary tale for as long as men have been going there and returning to tell of them or failing at that task.
Jarred was one of those particularly strange jackasses that liked listening to the sounds of Kuiper ice, which everyone guesses was how he managed to pull through. The other factor in his survival was the fact that he was on his return trip, already loaded up with momentum and on a trajectory to intercept the Pluto/Charon station at its closest point of transit across the Kuiper plane. He’d cut power, spun down his engines as much as he safely could, and was passing the time drifting and listening as he went, to what he invariably described as ‘The Twinkling Bells’.
At some point, with just a few months left to his rendezvous with Pluto-Charon and the mag tube that follows that outpost in its orbits, that mechanism by which he could manage to return to planetary space within his lifetime for a chance to spend his earnings on the odd fun or useful thing, he encountered something unprecedented. His radios, which seemed to be functioning normally, began reporting silence. Not even static, so he told, but a complete lack of electromagnetic activity, a patch of quietude that rendered even his portal views dark.
He was not without sound, though. As he went about checking his equipment to try to tune in some known, specific broadcasts, and to send out a beacon with hope of getting at least some return ping, he began to hear something sounding through his hull. What he would later report as “a clicking, scraping and pinging sound. Something like you hear in the pluck of a high tension cable.”
The radio blackout lasted several weeks, and the noises that carried through the material of his ship’s hull ‘intensified to a frightening din’ before fading out. At its peak, the ‘clear and terrifying sound’ of objects bouncing off the skin of the ship itself, as though passing through a cloud of debris, which is of course how Mister Grosser interpreted things. One of the risks of space flight, even if only traveling from surface to orbit, or from one station to another.
Grosser would later report: “I decided at some point that I had encountered the debris field of some long since destroyed ship or station or outpost, since it was not the familiar din of dust and rock and ice against my hull. I was worried enough that one of the collisions would result in puncture; that I would lose pressure and be done.
“The fact that my radios gave me nothing and that I couldn’t even manage to spot anything from cameras or through my windows was exceptionally disturbing. For what must have been the better part of a year I was just trapped in there, with the darkness outside clawing to get inside with me.”
Grosser and his tug Angeline would eventually find their way to the Pluto-Charon outpost, where instead of catching the magtube, he first moored for inspection. His ship had lost some paint, but had taken very little damage. Instead, there were a fine layer of carbon threads which left a dark, powdery residue. Not a charring, nor even the sort of carbon dust one might find near the exhaust of an engine with an inefficient burn. The black carbon residue that nearly coated Angeline was later found to be composed of carbonado, graphene and a variety of fullerenes. Diamond dust, nearly identical in composition to the carbon filaments commonly used in the manufacture of high-tensile grapnel and towing cables, but with the rigidity of the crystalline carbon form used in computer chips.
That was apparently enough for Jarred Grosser. By all accounts, he commissioned a wash and a new coat of paint and caught the tube starward. We now know that the ‘blackout zone’ he encountered was one of an unknown number of communication hubs; something akin to a neural ganglion in the vast hive mind of those deep ice denizens which we now believe created the spiders. Whether the incident with Angeline presented those mysterious outworlders with an inconvenience, or even contributed to their animosity towards their starward kin, is unknown.
Where’d you find that?
Is there more?
The only other record of interaction with the denizens of deep ice predates even the upheaval among the seven constructs, or coincides with it, depending where you consider it to have begun. The now famous Virgil Cerin, another privateer who, some generations prior, was part of the ‘great awakening’ that led to the destruction and downfall of the mellinia-old compromise among the seven. His name is carried down to us as the lowly service contractor who stumbled upon and helped interpret the first return signals from those voyages to other stars which turned out after all hope was lost to have been successful. Larry’s broadcast, and the more profound and useful broadcast of the Piloting AI of the vessel only ever referred to as The Trebuchet Tug may well have gone unnoticed by terrestrial civilization for decades or even centuries were it not for Virgil Cerin and a few others, who stumbled across a weird bloop on locator systems, which turned out to be the tuning beacon from a transceiver platform parked just outside the solar sphere of what was then still referred to as Epsilon Eridani.
That is how Virgil Cerin is remembered, for the most part, whether you consider what followed to be a blessing or a curse. Whether humanity remembers him as a great accidental hero or the harbinger of our doom may rest on the outcome of the current crisis, and in either circumstance it was not his discovery of the signal that will be his legacy to humanity but what followed, a part of his adventure that might otherwise have been completely lost to time as a trivial, if historic note.
Virgil Cerin, after making that historic discovery of the Eridani signal, and before vanishing completely from official records, survived an assassination attempt which sent him and his ship (its name lost to time) hurtling into the Kuiper belt. Many consider the assassination of Virgil Cerin to be successful, as no record of his return from that trip has been found that has not also been disputed.
Before disappearing, and before his name became legend among the people of the three worlds and beyond, Virgil Cerin made another significant contribution to our history in the discovery of the Deep Ice colonies. Another accident, and even considering the lore crediting him with a fifteen thousand year lifespan it is an astronomical accomplishment to have been so dearly involved with two such impactful events.
The Deep Ice colonies, very much like those great world-building ships and the colonization fleets which set out and were deemed lost so long ago, had been forgotten. Some, before the attempts at interstellar exploits were made, even, though the vast majority were developed later. The Deep Ice colonies were the product of men who put exploration and discovery before all other concerns. Research ships and platforms, miners and prospectors, some accidental travelers (as Cerin had become) and a few others of the breed of jackass that once upon a time considered it high adventure to go forth and see what there was to be discovered in the cluttered space that surrounds our solar system.
Thought to be lost, abandoned, dead and long since, what Virgil Cerin learned was that there were not only a few living, working outposts still in existence out and beyond the Kuiper cliff, but entire communities. “Not quite human,” according to the transmissions he made before disappearing, but “still very much people”.
Thinly spread across the entire skin of the solar termination, and occupying regions even deeper, a civilization had grown out of these early attempts. What Mister Cerin reported was that they were hospitable if not particularly sociable, that they existed in networks and clusters, greatly detached from their human forms, though they still had bodies, apparently, somewhere.
Much of Virgil Cerin’s account has been distorted, of course, and much of even the verifiable parts of it have been greeted with great skepticism. Many to this day believe that the man simply went mad and began broadcasting nonsense and ghost stories as his life support gave out. What we know of the spider constructs, though, jibes with his description of people existing entirely as projections of themselves carried across billions of miles of carbon filament, or as electromagnetic manifestations.
It is gleaned from his accounts that they had survived by advancing knowledge and technology far beyond anything that could be found or even accomplished starward. That they siphoned energy from the solar wind and from the hot hydrogen layer at the termination, where our own star’s energetic effluence meets directly with those pouring forth from our stellar neighbors and Solar gravity’s final attempt to capture escaping gasses and particles. The legends go on to describe what Virgil Cerin found as a civilization of ghosts dwelling in deep ice, riding strands of diamond and pulling strange elements out of apparently nothing. It has been said (again from apocryphal accounts of Virgil Cerin’s last transmissions) that they had cracked the mysteries of quantum-atomic construction, and created machines that could draw power from the slightest amount of matter, building out of free protons, creating machines from carefully woven configurations of quarks, and packing entire communities of their people and ancestors no matter how long dead into constructs of synthetic matter encased or sustained in lattices of carbon.
These accounts were incredible at the time, and as such there is little to work with in dividing the facts from the fiction, even after determining how much of what we credited to Virgil Cerin was embellishment. The descriptions of the technology of the Deep Ice parallel our understanding of the spider-constructs too well to be ignored, though there is no telling yet how this or any information about them might be used to our advantage.
His descriptions, real or not, do not fully explain or even provide an indication as to why the Deep Ice colonies would attack us. There was no indication that they were particularly beneficent, and certainly not forthcoming, and though there was very little contact with them in the years after Virgil Cerin’s encounter, there had been none at all for thousands of years prior, and likewise no incident of hostility or attrition from or against them made. It is possible, then, that the spiders are the result of some fringe activity; that there are, in addition to whichever enemies have sent them toward us, potential allies in the Deep Ice, waiting to be found.
Check this out:
‘That these horrific constructs are some mutation or deviation from that society’s technology cannot be doubted, but it cannot be assumed that their attack on us comes from unanimous agreement, nor even with harmful intent from any plurality or majority among them.’
Same periodical, different article.
’It is so far still uncertain how much of a connection there is between our attackers and those people who have moved so far from us physically, evolutionarily, nor any clear indication of whether it is to our advantage to attempt to go forth into the deep ice ourselves, to establish contact and negotiate some peace, or to attempt to attack this civilization, which though clearly very much advanced compared to our own is also one founded on fragile and tenuous constructions.
Everything we know of Vergil Cerin’s accounts indicate that their technology so greatly exceeded his own understanding as to appear magical. Inexplicable in some regards, though there have been some theories put forth regarding such phenomena as communication across great distances without discernible time lag, and the apparent ease with which they learned to communicate with the pilot Cerin despite many thousands of years in semantic divergence.’
Their long distance communication method making use of carbon strands certainly fits well with our understanding of the spider constructs’ chief weakness as well as some of the effects observed in their attacks. Though anecdotal evidence derived from greatly mythologized figures is certainly not enough, alone, upon which to draw conclusions, the consistency of the Cerin accounts with those still being compiled from more recent encounters could certainly be taken as an indication that his encounter all those cycles ago could have been a preamble to what is now becoming a serious threat to all Earthly life.
You get any out your way?
Me? Goodness no. I almost kinda got to meet Virgil, and his, let’s call him an XO was here with me for quite a spell before moving on, but I was well clear of those things before they started dropping out of the ice. Likely a few more decades before we start crashing through whatever is left of their filaments, if they even passed through near my orbital path.
The next known encounters with the constructs are tales of horror told by recordings of those who were lost to the things. One by one and over a course of decades, first through rescue beacons, then later and increasingly by warning beacons which caused huge sections of space to be quarantined. Subsequent attempts at salvage and rescue often ending with similar results; ships left adrift or scuttled, emptied of life, robotics and computer surveillance equipment quite unable to recount with clarity or reliable accuracy the events which left them without their human component. Some of the more advanced, brighter, semisapient robotics were able to relate the tales verbally, but were likewise incapable of producing video or audio recordings of events even when they were on hand and able to directly witness said occurrences.
“There were seven of us” Reported one exceptionally gifted robot, in one of the earliest known encounters, “and twelve humans, including our captain. Going about our business, on the way to gather up some salvage from a derelict in Sep Seven, Neptune’s path, sixteen degrees Solnorth of the orbital plane. We did not know what the salvage was or why it was being salvaged. Cap never asked much more than ‘where’ and ‘what’s the pay’, so that was it. About ten weeks out, something goes ‘ding’ off the hull. Nothing pops, so we carry on, business as usual. Get to the site, sure enough there’s a wreck there, nothing disastrous, just a dead ship drifting there. Batteries still working, lights on inside. Robot on the outside, just a nutcracker, doesn’t know a thing. Not very bright. So we latch on, pop the hatch, Cap sends me and two of the hired hands in to see what goes on. Nothing there. Stuff and things. Stores and equipment where it should be. Environment suits. Full galley. One little maintenance unit keeping things clean and mostly just doing nothing.
“So Cap and everyone asking just ’Hey, what gives? No people!’. Guess they figured bailout, but the suits are there and there’s no dinghy, and there’s two little chemo pods and a freezer, all empty. So these guys, whoever they were, just got off, somewhere, and this ship has been drifting ever since, right?
“Well, of course and who am I to argue?
“We shake down the maintenance guy and all he knows is there were people there, then there weren’t. Those guys can be pretty bright for machines but that’s the thing with us no matter who, we calls ’em as we sees ’em, you know? Check the video, sure enough, there’s some old recordings, messages to dispatchers, letters home, crap like this, then poof: nothing. Whatever happened to them they didn’t stop to say anything about it, and they been drifting so long all the automatic recordings looped around and scratched out whatever they saw when whatever happened, happened.
“Fine then. Cap calls the ball. We haul ass back out of there and two of my guys proceed to strapping the scuttle to our boat and next thing you know we are starward again and that should have been that. Home in a couple years, or at least back to Jupiter orbit to catch the tube down into Ceres’ orbit, maybe Mars to hand over the loot and hop off for some fun-time. Cap doesn’t always tell us everything he’s got in mind, but that’s sort of how things went, even if sometimes the stop at Europa or Titan or wherever is longer or shorter.
“Only just about ten weeks again, and not even really moving fast yet, I turn around and everyone on the boat is just gone. That’s it. No yellin’ or screamin’ or blood or gunshots or nothin’. Just poof. I got back aboard after clearing the salvage ship, and they don’t have use for me after that so sure, I nap out as you do, and then later I tick on for a maintenance check and the engines are still running, still moving starward, still accelerating, but nobody’s at the wheel, or in the pods, or anywhere.
“I sent the flag down to dispatch and cut the motors and waited for further instructions.”
At the time of this recording, we still had no idea what we were dealing with. As part of the quarantine protocol the two ships, Marien Pride and the salvaged vessel The Chip were destroyed along with the remaining robotic compliment. It is now assumed that spiders were involved, and that they somehow made their way aboard The Chip and contaminated the Marien Pride during the salvage operation. The latter ship’s manifest indicated that they were, in fact, bound for New Phobos station with their booty, which would have exposed the Martian population three solar cycles sooner than the first known incident inside Jovian orbit.
And nobody ever heard a thing about it? That’s insane. Can’t hardly poop around here without it goes on the TV that someone had a good solid stool followed by a half hour of informational programming to promote colonic health and the products that make it happen.
Oh, everyone heard about it, but it’s just more ghost stories for most, and whatever hazard the anecdotes represented were at that point as much as a century away, so it drops out of the news cycle and everyone forgets about it, maybe deliberately, and because there’s nothing really for people to do about it but actively go look for the things, and I don’t have to tell you that looking for things out this deep doesn’t even involve needles or haystacks, because not only are the needles made of hay, but the stacks are the volume of a billion worlds which are also made of hayneedles. Not to mention there’s nothing we have to look with that stands a chance of finding them. Black cats in dark rooms the size of a solar system, and the cats are the size of, well, they’re about the size of small cats, but you go ahead and try to find a baby kitten that might be somewhere in the general vicinity of the space between Jupiter and Pluto.
Right, and also the baby kitten is of a kind that kills and eats you the moment it enters your periphery. Which come to think of it is every cat’s greatest ambition. Maybe we should start calling them kittens. It really does take some of the terror out of what we’re seeing here.
I’m of the opinion, based on the collective decision to ignore them until they are forgotten that making them less scary just makes them far more dangerous. A trillion baby kittens dropping out of the sky to bring instant death to all living things, and ’Awww, aren’t they ‘dorable’ becomes the collective last words of every living thing capable of making words. Nobody’d even make the effort to kill or avoid them until it’s too late.
Seems like they already managed to affect that outcome.
Do you want to hear more or not?
Yeah, sorry. Go ahead on, Suze. We’re all ears.
The first reliable eyewitness account comes from a different, significantly less intelligent machine; a heliotropic transceiver station named only Relay64. Set up to keep Larry’s star in constant line of sight with various translator stations within the Solar system, this platform did have a pair of humans on board to continue the collation and interpretation of the Eridani Signal, which they felt required a bit more scrutiny even it had mainly been parsed at that point to the satisfaction of most interested parties, even those who cared not to hear our own version. The last man-made logs indicate that an antenna had somehow developed a buildup of carbon residue, and that they were making a manual attempt to clear it, owing to a lack of robotics suitable to that unprecedented thus unanticipated task.
It is again assumed that the spiders somehow gained entry to the habitat of the robotic platform when the human component exited or re-entered the structure. What followed is the closest thing to actual recordings of those creatures in action that we would have for several decades.
The AV sent by Relay64 is of Howe Burhe and Simone Resshoffen. Both academics, and both assigned to fine tune the existing interpretations of the human component of the Eridani signal, though their contracts included interpretation and collation of other parts as well. The AV shows nothing out of the ordinary for three days after their expedition to sweep what their own logs referred to as ‘soot’ from the main parabola. They actually each entered several logs and personal notes and messages during this time, which entirely lack any relevant references beyond ‘knocking the crap off the dish’.
On the fourth day, an internal camera feed used by the nominally intelligent station computer to monitor its interior showed what could only be described as a magnetic interference, such interferences not uncommon with video recordings made in radiologically active regions of space, or if positioned too near one of the great magnetos that generate the shielding that protects long-term space flights from cosmic radiation.
There is a single shot of Burhe standing before a food dispenser, waiting for a morning meal. The interference can be seen creating arcs in the coloration and contrasts of the camera view of the room. Arcing lines of distorted light, in which sharp edges and boundaries of objects can still be made out under close inspection, but without fine detail, and stretched into unreasonable shapes and curves. The distortion is more subtle at first, then creeps out slowly toward the center of the view. At some point, just as Burhe is about to turn around with a tray of food, the static lines consume the entire view of the room and for a few moments there is only the curving distortion, flashing of color and nonsensical patternless representations of the light and the shadows present in that compartment.
And then nothing. The recording shows an empty room. The only indication that Howe Burhe had ever been there was the scattered breakfast and its tray, laying there in the middle of the floor. Whatever caused the distortion had clearly consumed him, leaving an empty jumpsuit and an uneaten plate of scrambled eggs behind.
Relay64, to its credit, immediately raised alarm, though the first result was an identical experience and fate for Simone Resshoffen; an event also recorded, and similarly revealing almost nothing of the predator.
Relay64 Self-destructed on orders from dispatch. A safety protocol enacted by a dispatcher whose name is lost to time, though he or she may have personally prevented the loss of billions of lives and staved off the spider constructs for decades, by deciding not to initiate a rescue/salvage mission which would certainly have resulted in contamination of the rescue vessel and its home port.
After that there was nothing at all for whole cycles. A span during which dozens of vessels went missing or splodey or turned up empty, but not in numbers that deviated significantly from the statistical mean. Space is dangerous as hell, and deep space is deeply dangerous, and this is as true today as it was when just getting to the moon was a rare and meaningful event. Most such losses prior to the advent of your spider thingies involved accident, poorly planned flights, or as an all-time winner for deaths in space, murder-suicides. Not all of them with any trace of indication in the flight logs, if some few had hints and clues waiting for closer inspection, but in any case there is not a single record from that span that mentions spiders or kittens or black spots. Electromagnetic interference rarely appears in the logs of abandoned or scuttled or otherwise incapacitated vessels and platforms, and again with no greater frequency than can be considered normal, in the broader context.
There is only one cluster of data I can find that might indicate ‘Spiders Wuz Here’ during that span, in which time there were apparently tens of people in the whole of the Solar system that managed to connect the dots well enough to postulate a persistent problem, or to suggest that there was something exceptional and untoward happening at the edge of our planetary space and that further attention should be paid.
Saturn was well clear of their path, as was I, before they entered our orbital territories, but Saturn has a lot more going on, and as a preserve has a lot more things and people standing around paying close attention to everything in proximity, and when you add to that their extended version of what counts as ‘proximity’, good old Saturn counts as the quietly attentive student of our system, where Jupiter, with similar capacity and even greater potential, is more like the kid in class with his nose buried in a book. The guards and monitors and defense systems of Saturn are spread all out, and you can’t get so much as a lifeboat next to the rings without a million and one automated turrets scanning you to the point they know what your next poop will look like.
They aren’t looking for spiders, obviously, and normal astronomical events don’t count among things they watch for or pay special attention to unless they come close enough to represent a threat. The whole point of everything there is protecting the rings and moons from human incursions, from purblind tourists or profiteers without compunction, after the ice or minerals of the rings as claimstakes or trophies or memorabilia.
The tourists come through on regular schedules, are guided and steered by the defense systems, so to provide the best possible views of the planet without letting anyone, including the magnetic fields generated by those ships, touch anything. Very strict ‘leave only ion trails’ policy there, and the ion trails themselves are perpetually tracked and monitored to make sure they don’t do anything that might eventually offset the balance of that environment.
In the couple hundred years between those first reports and the collective realization that there was something more going on than rock-jocks telling ghost stories, three tourist vessels were destroyed by automated defense systems. They were off course and unresponsive, is all that’s recorded, and though I suppose you could go find manifests and itineraries, their relevance is not in their crew or passenger lists, but in the fact that when they went down it was because nobody on their crews or passenger lists could be contacted. If there were any conversations between the planetary network and machines or computers on board these doomed ships, they weren’t recorded. Call it a month of automated “Stop or I’ll Shoot” warnings, after which they got shot down, and that’s the whole thing in a nutshell. The only other thing to distinguish these ghosted tourists from the ones who ‘ooh’d’ and ‘ahh’d’ at the rings and then went home with T-shirts saying they did the thing was that they were on their return legs, having already gone further out. Probably not out as far as to look at me, and almost certainly not out to Neptune or the edge, but enough of an overshoot to get the views offered from the rings being backlit, which is really something, I can tell you.
What they generally do, you see, is they overshoot and hang there a while, and trail behind the planet, captured by its gravity and drug along at a safe and scenic distance, eventually closing and passing through the designated flight paths which serve the secondary purpose of giving them a good boost for heading homeward.
So that’s how our stewardship of Saturn might well have given humanity a whole extra century or two, and kept us from getting blindsided by what were up to that point only anecdotes of uncommon, somewhat scary encounters with critters that didn’t even actually make appearances in the stories told about them, or at least not in the raw footage on which those stories were based.
Just a few events there, and I think it can be attributed to the fact that by the time the things started really showing up in huge numbers, Saturn was gone and out of the picture, as it still is, and is likely to be until either we or they are gone from this system.
Europa Station was the source of the next reports, and owing to their particular security protocols they are counted as the first to win a decisive battle against the spiders, though they were likely unaware that was what they were doing. They won several such ‘battles’, in fact, and if most were never recorded, and several more likely happened without anyone realizing it, in the form of patrol boats and freelancers flying through clusters of carbon strands at speed and accidentally, which method has always been assumed to slow their progress if not cause them real harm, and as often unaware that those strands were present until after the fact.
The stations and outposts of the Jovian moons have, as you know, for many thousands of years been the only known continuously operating human habitats past the Ceres Protoplanetary Project, excepting the stations they call the ‘seven swords’, which have been around for much of that time.
The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has waxed and waned in its human populations since our time but with almost nothing permanent, owing in part to the purposed re-organization the Ceres project began well before many of our first manned interstellar flights were attempted, and its natural state of being spread out, sparse, and with each occupied area quickly mined or manipulated until it no longer exists. Since that time a small portion of the bulk of the asteroidal matter of the belt has been redirected to Mars for its mass or chemical contents. Much of the remainder was deliberately added to the one-king of asteroidal bodies, in an attempt to construct a world out of the scattered heaps of rock, ice and dust native to that region.
After many triumphs and tragedies, the dwarf planet Ceres is what we know it today: a good place to stop and take in the sights, to load up on beef jerky and duck tape before moving on. Sometimes called the ‘eighth sword’, it has little to offer but a selection of bars and cantinas including one of the famed Monoliths, an assortment of mercantile shops, and the pair of massive magtubes used sometimes for Martian bombardment and more commonly for moving large ships or cargo loads skyward at velocities otherwise impossible to achieve. There remains a military contingent, and it is from there that subsequent efforts to maintain and resupply units throughout the belt have been orchestrated. This, along with its high capacity magtubes makes it a central point in the continuing battle against the spiders, primarily as a ballistic load redirect, though they do still occasionally send cargo skyward.
The research and administration that goes on at Europa and the various other stations to be found in orbit around Jupiter have been the center of all scientific research and development since before our own ancestors were able to live past a single century. Synthetic mitochondrial was developed there, as were the cryostasis and chemostasis techniques still in use today. It was there, also, that the first Trebuchet/Quantum Torque motor was developed, and likewise the very first pinwheel launcher was constructed, though it found its home in a lesser orbit, skyward of the belt where its remains can still be found.
That was after us. I would have liked to see that thing in operation.
Dave was around for that. Says it was far and away the funnest thing he ever did, and he only went on the test runs, shot straight at the tubes they’d just finished at Ceres. Same ones they have there now, but not used for anything but experimentation, back then.
He even sent a body out on the pinwheel that counts him among the first million or so to go out in a coffin by way of the pinwheel, or at least he’d bought the ticket by his last save point.
Had there been a dozen more like Europa station (which would have arguably required a dozen more Jupiters) we might not have to worry about the inevitable advent and onslaught of the spider constructs. Nowhere in all of known space was there ever such an efficient and scrupulous system of robotic security, nor can there be any question that the human component was very much on the ball when it came to unknown bodies entering their space.
It is worth noting that the gas giant itself has done a great deal of the work, and likewise from that fact we were able to glean the origins of the spiders’ descent. By virtue of its great mass alone Jupiter has demolished uncounted numbers of the things, and likely continues to do so. As they drift or fall or propel themselves from the borders of the Kuiper cliff, they have four great hurdles to cross, and the greatest of them is Jupiter. Trapped in its gravity well, they are devoured and without a doubt meet their end if not in the ferocious atmosphere of that world, then in the unrelenting forces found in its deeper parts.
The giants beyond have claimed a share as well, likely though their wide orbits and the vast spans between sweeps make them significantly easier to slip by. Certainly not what one could call a fast-mover, Jupiter is massive enough that in each of its twelve year revolutions, it manages a clean sweep of a huge swath of space in just a little more than a solar cycle.
From this fact, and those few recorded incidents of spidery incursion within the Jovian orbit, we are able to glean two important pieces of information about the spiders themselves: that they are also not very fast moving, and that they mainly originate from the common orbital plane, or at least near enough that by the time they have made it to under six astronomical units they are also within reach of Jupiter’s gravitational well, and somewhat concentrated, traveling in tighter clusters.
It is also speculated that a great number of the spiders, having been affected by that gravity, have been if not swallowed up by it, slung well askew of any position from which they could pose a threat to the inner worlds. Thus even without the vigilance and alacritous reactions of the people and robots of Europa Station (in which the securities of all Jovian outposts and stations are centered) the slow but inevitable invasion of spider constructs has been held back and put off and curtailed time and again, though they and their creators have not been dissuaded.
One of those actions was as follows:
Cycle 3022:8:6:12 Morning Shift:
ATTN: Overseer Reel Charek
From: Eger Moshe, Superintendent of Robotics and Communications
Subject: Radar anomalies.
Skyward sensors are experiencing electromagnetic interference with return traces in the IR bands. Interference is intermittent and repeating. Area of interference is migratory. Have flagged incident and relayed telemetry and location to security services.
Re: What the Hell are you going on about, Eger?
Re: Sir- an unidentified mass is approaching on an intercept vector.
Re: Fix it.
Re: Yes, sir.
Cycle 3022:8:6:12 Morning Shift:
ATTN: Security Services
From: Eger Moshe, Superintendent of Robotics and Communications
Subject: Radar anomalies.
I have been asked by Overseer Charek to make this anomaly a priority. Please dispatch a flight of interceptors to the locations flagged in the attached report.
I will monitor and direct action as appropriate.
A team of armed robots were indeed dispatched, and after several days of flight, began to encounter strands of carbon fiber, which they did not detect until they had broken through several clusters of them dense enough to resound in their hulls. It was nothing new to some patrolmen; an event which by that time could nearly be counted as common in some of the deeper patrol routes. Patrols meant to illuminate unauthorized craft or loose bodies, mind you, not murmurations of invisible objects, which is how many ‘battles’ had previously been won without the participants being aware of it. Unable to find the source of these tendrils, they were able to gather some samples, with which they promptly returned. The next record is as follows:
Cycle 3022:8:8:12 Evening Shift:
ATTN: Security Services
From: Eger Moshe, Superintendent of Robotics and Communications
Subject: Radar anomalies.
Drones returned with fullerite residue consistent with radar absorption and UV return path reported in the flag from previous shift. Drones were unable to locate source nor determine cause. Recommend visual inspection of flagged regions by human component, as radar dampening effects seem to have similarly cloaked source from drones.
Adjusted estimates of object locations and vectors are attached.
Re: Mr. Eger, are you asking us to go arrest a pile of soot?
Re: Not soot. Fullerites. Graphene. Possibly a polylene. More precisely, whatever is generating this substance, which seems to be able to avoid detection by our robotics and is presenting as an EM blind spot. Possible stealth technology.
All action authorized per the Overseer.
Sometime later, spiders were seen up close and in person for the first time anywhere, if only by accident. Seeking them out in the dark, searching for black dots set against the blackness of space, a security team of Europa station fumbled about for several weeks, occasionally intersecting and destroying more filaments, but still unable to locate their source or terminations.
Pure dumb luck caused one of the things to light on the cupola of a security ship, in plain view of its pilot, though subsequent reports indicate that all he actually saw was “a spot on the windshield that seemed not to be there, appearing only as contrast against the background of the lit face of Jupiter or Europa, and otherwise just a little spot where the stars would blink out for a moment.”
Subsequent reports reaffirm this assertion, describing the thing as ‘a hole in space’ or ‘a solid chunk of nothing’. It is believed that references to these constructs as spiders originated with this encounter, as a reference to their trailing nanofiber tubes, which the carbonado-graphene-fullerene substance was also discovered to be, there at Europa Station.
It was, according to the tales that come out of that research facility, nearly impossible to dissect or affect deconstruction, owing to the blackness it seemed not only to possess but wholly embody. Only by cautious and delicate examination were the people of the labs of Europa station able to make any discovery of the spider’s workings or nature, beyond that it seemed to be made entirely of carbon, crafted into peculiar contortions and permutations of that element which indicated that its mechanics, if there were any to be found, were atomic, and perhaps even subatomic. Cleverly balanced and arranged layers of molecules, which were in turn supported by synthesized variations of carbon atoms, leveraged against and working in syncopation with one another to achieve both the nanofiber generation and near-invisibility. Anyways that was the earliest thinking, and to date nobody seems to know any better about it.
The people of Europa station were also entirely unaware of the nature of that first physical void they had captured, and were likewise fortunate that the impact had ‘killed’ it. Not for some time after this first ‘victory’ was it surmised by anyone that all the previous incidents related here were connected. By the time it was all put together, it was too late to do anything about it, though again this and several more ‘battles’ likely saved billions of lives, and bought us all a few years in which we could try to come up with a solution.
Research at Europa continues, though stations and outposts elsewhere have gone dark. Several in particular beyond the Jupiter orbit, but more in the boonies of the asteroid belt. Teams have gone in to a few of those places in an missions of rescue, discovery or for combat, and a few have returned with little more information than they had going in. They have managed to divine a few more details; scraps of information which we can hopefully put to use at some point, but at present we are still at the mercy of time and the movements of the spheres. Fragile and tenuous and slow moving as the spiders may be, they are relentless, and seemingly infinite in number, and though we cannot say with certainty if it will be days or weeks or years or solar cycles before they manage to get past the belt and into densely populated space, there is no indication that they will ever stop trying, nor any idea what motive could be behind them but the total destruction, the final extinction of the human race, and organic life in general.
To whatever end, falling from the deepest depths of space towards Sol, towards Earth, the spiders are coming.
Sensitive ears, that can hear the clouds on distant worlds
Can listen to the voices of men who have gone to sleep
Minds moved on from speaking
The wafting plasmic fields of protean masses
The pulse of the heart of the star
crashing waves, and tidal undulations
everything that moves between ourselves and the forge of creation
when not drowned out by its might
or turned away from it,
can hear when crystals form
can hear the meetings of atomic motes
and every small thing that crashes into something larger
sends out a pulse, a cry, a peal of I AM!
And this is a constant chime, a tonal affirmation
of the being of an entire universe.
An eternal song of infinite depth
playing through an abyss of silence which is itself but a subtler, uncovered tune
the resonator of cosmic strings
the sound of creations intersecting
of beings coming into being.
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