That Ribbon of Highway
The slow fires of eternity burned within them, these three grandfathers of stars, these eggs of civilizations, as through the ageless black they lumbered, ever faithful to the instructions of their masters, given so many eons ago: Proliferate. Prepare. Make way for us.
Now these dark leviathans were awakening, beginning to feel the tickle of the nearby yellow sun, growing as a distant hole in the black tapestry of the universe. As they drew nearer, they tasted the flavor of its solar breath over their bodies and found it a refined meal; the star had aged well, to a warm and gentle vintage, since their last visit, and they noted the change with mechanical pleasure: the conditions aligned, their calculations were in agreement; between them they shared a pleasing congruity.
Yet something was not as it should be.
Though the yellow sun had become the fertile garden they’d expected, the seed of the second planet was not as they’d left it. From afar they detected a surfeit of oxygen and nitrogen; the planet was awash with hydrogen, carbon.
Incongruity. Misalignment. The conditions were not in agreement.
They awakened more completely, expanding the wings of their consciousnesses wider to swish about these blues and greens and browns they were tasting from the planet in the light of this refined sun.
Only, as the cells within them awakened from the cold hibernation of eons, one of the travelers awakened in error. With its kin, it tasted the blues and browns and greens and, like them, came to the pleasure of alignment between their conclusions.
However, during their long sleep since the last star, many thousands of years before, portions of its instructions from their creators had been forgotten. In those places where it reached deep inside itself for guidance, it felt only dim memory, half-remembered creeds.
With this new congruence of unconformity, its two kin shouldered the wings of their consciousnesses once more, and powered down despite this strange taint to their meal. Misalignment, yes, but, as per their instructions, they were not to create life through extinction, as, above all, their masters had feared making entreaties to the void only to hear the echoes of themselves coming back to them out of the darkness, pips of insignificance in a long, lonely universe.
They peered far ahead through the swells and tides of gravity around the outer gas planets, and the clockwork disturbances of comets and unclaimed tumbling stones, and with the most imperceptible adjustment, angled toward the yellow sun, ever to move through the universe, ever to sleep between the cradles of the stars, fulfilling the instructions of their masters, wherever they might be.
To aid their exit out of the system, they would bask in the yellow star’s generous feast briefly, and use its gravity to boost them out into the silence of cold oblivion once more, where they would again shutter their minds and wait until they were next needed.
Except … in their adjustments they suffered in surprise. Their kin had not turned with them. It was spreading the wings of its consciousness further and had begun to slow.
Assessments indicated it was manoeuvring to fulfill their primary initiatives. It would proliferate, it would prepare, it would make way for their masters, and it would protect what it had wrought.
If the burst of signals the two ancient leviathans sent to the breakaway traveler could be translated as words, they would be read as: Come with us. Come with us. Come with us. Come with us. Come with us…. And if machines could be said to contain sadness, as the signals gained longer intervals due to the burgeoning distance between them, it could also be said that they understood the futility of their cry across the darkness, because their signals weakened in strength as the distance compounded but they continued to plead with their kin nonetheless, as if the machines could also understand hope, could also comprehend desperation and loss.
Originally they had numbered five, but two of their kind had faded in the vastness between the stars. The first was simply not alongside upon awakening at one of their destinations — how long ago, they could barely remember. The other had angled up and out of the galactic plane, slowly rising out of the cone of their experience. For centuries the three had hailed it, and it had replied over increments of thousands of years — still here … still here … still here … until it no longer was and the expanse of space sounded like stars huffing with fire and the cold tinkle of dust over dead rocks; the ether hid no words for them anymore.
So, as the breakaway traveler settled in comfortably around the malappropriate planet, its two companions, having slung around the sun to bolster their escape velocity out of the system, sent a final, strong entreaty to their ancient kin; and when their impassioned plea was ignored, they sent no more signals, though they would still be within range for decades, as if the machines could also understand separation, inevitability, acceptance.
The three had become two.
The remaining traveler turned its attention to the planet slowly heaving beneath it — breathing with life, misalignment — and spread the wings of its consciousness to its fullest capacity, content in the congruence of purpose. The equivalent of long-unused limbs came to life and it stretched and scanned, revelling in its completeness, and made itself ready for the coming execution of arranging this land to alignment.
It would propagate. It would prepare. It would make way.
But it was not to …
It was not to …
It was not to …
But it was not …
not to …
It was …
not to …