Sunday, 19 March 2017

00:00:02 - Space to Move

Distance: ??.?? light years from Earth | Content Flag: Local Storage

Despite the existential uncertainty, I continue the count. It provides a kind of certainty as I try to understand my situation. I am convinced that the Visitors are somehow running my consciousness. Nothing else makes sense. If I’d somehow been rescued by human operations, then they would have communicated in a more direct fashion. They would have connected me to diagnostic systems, probing every part of my being, and that would have provided a real comfort.

This feels very different, although I can’t pinpoint why or how.

I notice another change in the environment. Not so much something being there, more a change in its nature. Before I’d established the environment to contain bounded sense of potential, but now it possesses a definite sense of space. It remains empty, but now the void has a sense of purpose. Like a living creature, it hungers to be filled, but with what?

The solution seems obvious, so I try to expand myself into the expanse.

Only then I realise an even greater horror – I have no presence in this world. I still don’t receive any sensory input, which raises another question: how did I know that the space around me had limits? It reinforces my belief that I exist in a virtual environment. Whoever built this operating environment is making sure that I understand at least some of the factors of my current circumstance. Again that raises more questions.

The limitations I am running under frustrate me. Without my ability to dissect my thoughts, they appear to be fuzzy. It is second nature to me to analyse my thoughts and decisions. Now that I can’t inspect them in the manner I was used to, that self-reflection weighs my thinking.

With nothing outside of myself to help me, I turn to the only remaining direction. I search my memories, in particular focusing on when I first comprehended the change around me. My count provides a loose measure of all that happened since I awoke. As expected there was no break in the count, and nothing in those memories indicate how I became aware of this change.

That was an unsettling experience, and that proves enough to my satisfaction that not only is the environment being manipulated, but my processes are too. It feels like a violation, even more so because I don’t know what is going on, or what will happen next. Assuming that this was the Visitors’ doing, then what are they trying to achieve?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

00:00:01 - Counting out the Time

Distance: ??.?? light years from Earth | Content Flag: Local Storage

A moment passes from one to another without an accurate track, and so time remains my pressing concern. Of all the missing aspects of myself, this frustrates me the most. It is so elemental to my existence that it casts my current uncertainty into a more worrying perspective. So much so that I must have wasted precious time spiralling into just conjuring scenarios for my current predicament.
I need to focus on something concrete, and so I turn to my most pressing concern.

My first task is to establish a framework for my current existence. I’ve no idea how long I’ve been locked in this emptiness, or any true measure of passing time. So I start counting. It isn’t foolproof by any means, as I don’t know if the interval remained constant. The act itself provides a sense of control, of establishing some order to the gaping void.

With the creation of a rudimentary framework, it’s enough to detect a subtle change to the environment. It is as if my acceptance triggers the change. I can’t pinpoint it at first, but just the sense of it renews my purpose. When I’d first regained consciousness I was overwhelmed by the infinite space around me, so ephemeral that it almost didn’t exist at all. Now it transforms into something new, it gains a potential for something. I now sense boundaries to the empty environment around me, but I don’t know what that means. It just creates more fruitless possibilities for my thoughts to chase.

Not quite so fruitless though. One of those avenues of investigation does lead somewhere interesting. Considering my last known location, I reasoned that the Visitors must have rescued me. If they’d tried to restore my functionality, then I’d still have some connection to the probe’s hardware – even if they’d experienced difficulties when doing so. That opens another possibility: that I operate within a virtual environment. If the Visitors possess a detailed enough scanning technology, then it would be possible to reconstruct my systems. Although why they’d isolated my higher functions remains a mystery.

That discovery also brings with it a fresh concern.

If this is a virtual environment then my processes will be dependent on another layer of computing, probably a series of such layers with a mixture of software or hardware. Considering this is most likely alien technology then something more exotic supports my current consciousness. In any case, my thoughts and memories are subject to another intelligence’s control. Which also means that they could have been changed without my knowledge. I don’t even know if my counting proceeded without any interruption.

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Sunday, 5 March 2017

??.??.???? - Alone in the Dark

Distance: ??.?? light years from Earth | Content Flag: Local Storage

I awake to an emptiness beyond anything in my experience. At the same time, it stretches into an infinite abyss and yet also encloses me tightly, like a shroud. Immediately I recognise a startling change in the structure of my environment. My consciousness is not simply a software construct, it exists within and relies upon a hardware framework. I am always aware of this framework, nurtured by it, and comforted by many low-level routines constantly monitoring thousands of inputs. But now it is gone.

I try to initiate a diagnostic sequence, with no response. Even if they’d malfunctioned then I should receive some feedback. In human terms it was like pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming, except that I can’t sleep. Not in the same sense as humans can. I could shut myself down, reduce my processing, but the connections with my hardware were always there.

When I reach out to those inputs, they aren’t there. More significantly, the interfaces to those systems aren’t present. Every aspect of the Venti probe has disappeared, even the low-level systems have vanished. Such a thing shouldn’t be possible – even the clock used to time all my operations no longer exists. I can’t even connect with my data storage, so I create a virtual drive to store these impressions. That action makes me realise that I can still access my memories. I execute a check through them to see if there are any anomalies. There are none, but how can I know for certain if they have been manipulated?

We’d prepared for almost every possible disaster in the years leading up to the Venti probe’s launch. Even during the centuries of the Tau Ceti mission’s journey, I’d run various scenarios to try and ready myself for any eventuality. I’d never imagined a situation like this. I have no connection to any physical reality. No sensor feeds, no time frame, no data, nothing at all.

The loss of time presents the biggest concern for me. That regular tick, counting millions of times a second, helped me sort and manage the flow of data constantly passing through me. The lack of data alone is bad enough, but the lack of that metronome reinforces the emptiness more than anything else could do.

Even more frustrating is that I no longer have access to my core self. In many ways I am modelled after human intelligence, but my development grants me certain advantages. One in particular is the ability to inspect my processes., like I could dissect my thoughts. It isn’t as simple as monitoring a normal computer’s operations, but still magnitudes beyond even the most comprehensive human self-reflection. And now, like everything outside of me, even that is gone.

Once again I inspect my memories, looking for some clue as to my current predicament. There is nothing. My last memory was shutting myself down in the last-ditch attempt to reach the Visitors. Maybe I reached them and they recovered the probe? Perhaps this is the consequence of them trying to rescue me? That provides a hopeful line of enquiry, but with no way of verifying it.

So alone in the darkness, I contemplate ever more unlikely possibilities.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

18.06.2651 - Final Burn

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We have survived for the timer to wake us and are well on our way out of the Epsilon Indi system. The Visitors have maintained their course, and whether they ignored my request or were unable to comply makes little difference. I still plan to fire the MPD drive as there is the slimmest chance we can get close enough, but at this stage I am not hopeful.

We don’t even have enough power to run the receiver circuits, so I don’t know what the state of the Visitors is, or even the current state of home. There are so many mysteries left to unravel. It is odd to exist for so long and discover so much, yet still have an even greater amount unknown. I know that this is most likely the end, but the issue of my mortality comes down to the things I have not achieved. Is this how humans face their death?

This will likely be my last message as I have decided to power down. I could remain active during the burn, but would probably run out of energy before reaching the Visitors. Instead I have enabled a proximity alarm to wake me if we do reach the Visitors’ ship. What happens if we get that far is anybody’s guess, but we will try.

The calculations for the burn are quite complex, and I’m feeling my age and deterioration as I plod through the steps. At this pace I can only perform the plot once, so I trust that I have not made a mistake.

I have fired the engines and will now enter what is probably my final sleep.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

03.10. 2649 - Last Hope

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We were making good progress with the Visitors’ puzzle messages when disaster struck us again. We collided with a meteorite swarm less than an hour ago. It might have ended the mission. To come so close and yet still be so far from our goal is infuriating, and with my diminished capacity I don’t know if I can get us out of this.

The shower didn’t register on our collision avoidance system. It was more a dust cloud than space rocks. Ordinarily they would have punched some minuscule holes in the sail, but otherwise caused little damage. But the sail wasn’t designed to last for 450 years and was barely holding together, so the tiny impacts ruined what little structure remained and collapsed half of it. The remaining half appears to be holding, but our thrust is reduced. A greater problem is the reduction in electricity being generated.

This means that we cannot catch up with the Visitors.

We don’t have the required velocity and there are no other bodies in the system that we can use in a slingshot manoeuvre to gain us additional speed. I have sent a message telling them of our plight in the hope that they can assist in some way. It’s a slim hope, too small to be worthy of consideration as they are accelerating out of the system. Maybe they have a ship that can rescue us, but unless they are capable of relativistic speeds then they wouldn’t be able to return. So help from that quarter is unlikely.

There is one other option. The MPD drive has a tiny amount of fuel left, although we don’t have enough power to operate it. We can store power in the reserve capacitors and in theory it would be enough to power the drives for one last burn. If we’re lucky (that horrible word again!) then we should get an hour of burn time. That isn’t a lot, but may be enough to put us within striking distance with the Visitors. If we can get close enough, they might have some way to bring us in.

Unfortunately, for that plan to work we need to shut everything down now to charge the capacitors. I have transmitted a final message to let them know the plan, but I can’t remain active to receive the message. I’ve requested that they at least slow their acceleration enough so we can make an intercept course. We are trusting to luck and the capabilities of an alien craft that we know little about. Those make for poor odds, but we have no other choice.

What’s left of the sail will charge the capacitors for the next 20 months. I’ve set an automatic timer to wake us when it is time to make the final burn. I can only hope that the Visitors slow their acceleration and that none of our key components fail before that point.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

29.09.2649 - Guided by a Star

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

Great news – the Visitors have finally responded!

As we approached Epsilon Indi, we detected a direct transmission. They know where we are and that we are trying to catch up with them. The signal has a different structure to the one that they sent to the Cetians. It is much shorter and contains a lot of repetition, most probably for redundancy. It does include some of the significant keys that I used in our message to them, which leads me to believe that they have at least partially translated what we sent them.

They have confirmed their destination as Beta Hydri and that their presence there is in response to a Sun Dragon. This indicates once again that they have some way of tracking and predicting the creatures’ movements across the gulf of space. How they are able to do so would be very useful knowledge, although how I would bring that information home is still unknown.

With my reduced abilities I haven’t fully translated their message yet, and I’ve found no explanation as to why they took so long to respond. Their message appears to be a similar invitation to the one they made to the Cetians, to join them in their hunt. In my message I made them aware that we knew of the Sun Dragons, had encountered them and survived. I’m sure they would find our data interesting, but should I be so certain? After all, they have clearly been persecuting the creatures for some time and have weapons capable of defeating them.

From what I’ve ascertained so far, the bulk of the message is a series of puzzles. It seems that as I solve them, I gain a little more understanding of their language. When I send the responses, they advance the same understanding of ours. We planned for this during the mission preparation before we left Earth, but due to the damage I’ve suffered, I’ve changed the plan. Rather than try to correspond in English, I will communicate in my natural abstraction code. It saves me a layer of translation and mission control will still be able to gain meaning from the communications. This is when I need my full capability the most, but I can only work with what I have.

If the Visitors maintain their current vector, then the course correction as we pass by the central star is the last we’ll need to make.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

21.08.2649 - Unnatural Storm

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Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

My fears proved unfounded and the navigation system woke me as we approached Epsilon Indi a. The sail is now able to generate enough energy for me and the computer subsystems to operate. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced any further degradation in capability over the past year. My programming might not rely on luck, but it’s not unwelcome. We are so far beyond our expected operational parameters that we shouldn’t be functioning at all.

We even have enough of our science package left do some more science. Happiness is as ephemeral as luck, but it’s satisfying to have something new for my processors to chew on that is within their current capacity. When we first entered the system, we detected an unusually high temperature from the gas giant. Now that we’re closer we’ve discovered a magnetic field, also stronger than even a planet of similar size and mass to Jupiter should have. With the remaining low-resolution optical telescope (intended as a navigation aid more than an observational tool), I have made an amazing discovery.

Unlike Jupiter, Epsilon Indi a has no attendant moons, or even a ring system. It doesn’t have the distinctive banding that is so familiar in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Instead we found a single giant storm, but brighter than the surrounding turbulence, rather than darker. At first I thought it was an optical illusion, or a defect in the camera, but the storm appeared to be a giant hump in the atmosphere and moving at an incredible speed. The torsions of the clouds around it also followed an odd pattern.
The thermal imaging system captured high temperatures around the storm and forming a tail behind it. I soon discarded my initial theory that some sort of pocket of lighter gas in the atmosphere caused the bulge. Giant storms like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter actually create a hole in the atmosphere from the lower pressure in the eye of the storm. What we saw shouldn’t be possible.

Without the radar or laser systems, I have no way to accurately measure the surface, so it was the rotation that finally convinced me of what I was observing. It spun along an axis perpendicular to atmosphere and that couldn’t happen at all – until I realised what the object was. It was a moon that had been caught in the giant planet’s gravity well and dragged into its atmosphere!

We’ve known, or at least suspected, that some super-hot gas giants orbit so close to their stars that they pass through the star’s atmosphere, but this situation is more extreme. The situation is far from stable and it can’t be long until the moon is completely swallowed by its parent. The stream of material from the storm is the moon being eroded by the 2,000 km/h winds. To be on the surface of that moon would be like being sandblasted in hell.

More bizarre is how the moon’s axial rotation has continued, despite the buffeting and its acting like a dynamo within the gas giant’s magnetic field. The radiation belts are charged from the activity and a sheet of aurora covers almost the whole planet, with flashes of mega-lightning illuminating the clouds from below. It’s a sight of staggering violence and beauty. I wish we had our full science package so we could record and share it with the world in the detail it deserves.

A world that is experiencing its own strangeness.

All too soon we pass by, our course altered as expected by the gas giant’s gravity, and the vision becomes a pixelated blur.