by Joshua L. Hamilton
For eleven billion years the Carrier had been drifting through space, always alone, always dormant. It had traveled its timeless path through the gulf between galaxies, seen the birth of stars -- and many times been bounced in a new direction by their deaths. It had once passed perilously close to the eternal hunger of a singularity, though of course it did not know this. All the Carrier knew, to the extent that it could ‘know' anything, was that it remained unfulfilled.
It had no concept of personal existence, nor any idea how it had come to be on this ancient journey, no inkling as yet of its purpose. Over the eons cosmic dust and microscopic particle debris had struck it, or been struck by it, until a shell began to form around it, growing imperceptibly larger as the distant stars reeled past. Now it traveled in a cocoon many thousands of times its own size, and still it hurtled mindlessly onward, its incredible secrets untapped, its essence never quickened. Drawn by suns uncounted, it had yet to encounter one with the proper conditions, or if the sun was acceptable, its satellites were not. Until, passing through the outer arm of a spiral galaxy, it felt once more the insistent, ever increasing tug of a gravity well.
No. Several gravity wells. Planets. A solar system! The Carrier's automatic sensors measured the depth of each, analyzed the spectral emissions of the small yellow sun. Encountering no serious incompatibilities, they went on to peruse the orbits of the ten satellites, and their secondary satellites, and to determine the mass and composition of each. Still no insurmountable difficulties.
And then -- atmosphere! New parts of the Carrier's being were awakened, came online to carry out a more detailed investigation of the possible destination it had found.
Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron, potassium, proteins, acetates...life! Yes! The atmosphere was good, the carbon based ecostructure was easily adapted to, so there was fuel in plenty. The Carrier's course, unchanged for more than sixty thousand years now, was no longer desirable. The meteorite surrounding it swung astern, and began to slow, aiming for the third planet in the system, a modest sphere with only a single satellite body. Data continued to pour in as it sped towards fulfillment and further, infinitesimal course alterations followed as the Carrier determined the optimal location for transplantation.
Awareness still slept, for there was as yet too little data to be certain that waking was called for. Conditions were sanguine, true, and life energy was present, but life of what order remained to be seen. After all, there were no coherent Emanations, and the ether appeared to be raw and undeveloped. Nevertheless there was a palpable wave of sensation as the Destination drew nearer; a thrill of anticipation at the knowledge that Fulfillment was now assured. Not necessarily imminent, of course. If the life forms of this ecostructure were sufficiently primitive it might be necessary to hibernate for a few million years; but the Carrier was prepared to wait.
Indeed, waiting was something it was uniquely well suited for. Those who had created it had known well that its journey would be long, long perhaps beyond even their comprehension. The Carrier represented the ultimate achievement of their science, their craft, and their art. Naturally it had been built to last. Yet space is vast beyond imagining; out of the tens of thousands of Carriers that had been cast into the void, abandoned to the caprices of the cosmic winds, this was the first, and would possibly be the only one ever to succeed in its purpose.
The traveler's speed fell off at an incredible rate, but even so it entered the dense atmosphere at an impressive velocity, and although it descended at a gentle angle against the planet's rotation the meteoric shell it had accumulated was quickly burned away. It made no difference to the Carrier, of course. In fact this inevitable occurrence had been factored into its calculations for landing, weighed to a nicety along with thousands of other variables such as relative masses, electromagnetic variances, and localized weather patterns.
Also seismic activity. The destination was experiencing wide-spread geological instability, tectonic friction producing global tremors of varying intensity as well as regular periods of volcanic upheaval. All of this was indicative of a planet still in its late youth. Global growing pains, as it were, a hypothesis confirmed by the Carrier's ceaseless scans and analysis. There was life aplenty, however, but as it drifted on downward through the violent thermals the Carrier detected no evidence of higher intelligence. Under the circumstances, this was not surprising, and it initiated a shutdown of several peripheral systems in preparation for extended dormancy.
The potential lack of sentient life had been taken into consideration before the Carrier had entered the atmosphere, and alternate landing sites placed in reserve as a matter of course. Rapid analysis of new data produced a projection of rapid geological changes for a mean period of one hundred and fifty million years, based on various structural uncertainties and current tectonic attitudes. Factoring in the present apex and distribution of organic life, the Carrier wafted itself into a spiral that would eventually deposit it on the ice floes dominating the planet's upper magnetic pole. It alighted atop a craggy glacier, was buried almost instantly in the never-ending blizzard, and settled itself into that frozen bed for a truly epic nap.
The ages passed, as they tend to do. The core of the system's tenth planet underwent critical fusion and the resulting cataclysm forever altered the respective orbits of the remaining nine. The upset fractured the third's single landmass, and the pieces began to drift slowly apart; but this had been predicted, and the Carrier never stirred in its slumber. Some time later a rogue asteroid of tremendous size impacted the largest of the resultant continents, and emergency systems spent a frantic millennium analyzing the elements of the aftermath; but the new data indicated that long-range projections had, if anything, improved, and the cosmic traveler slept once again.
The planet's geology settled down in due course, the dust cloud dispersed, and evolution kicked into high gear. Species after species sprouted up and faded, and although some were promising at first, sooner or later they all faltered, and faded into extinction. What nature lacked in intelligence, though, it more than made up for in diversity. The oceans teemed with life, from the microscopic to the gargantuan. The land was a solid carpet of vegetation, always striving, always changing, mutating into astonishing new varieties. Invertebrates forged recklessly ahead, seeking improvement in all directions, becoming ever more specialized. Vertebrates killed them and ate them, fuelling their own mad dash towards supremacy. And the teeming trillions of exoskeletal entities became the bedrock which supported them all. Still the Carrier slept on; waiting, always waiting. Until...
A disturbance in the local spectrum. Anomaly. Repeat, anomaly. Analyze…analysis complete. Modulated radio waves, repetitive, carried on fixed frequencies.
Passive scanners relayed the news, and the Carrier's primary sensors exploded into action, sweeping the planet, eagerly probing the radiant, physical, and ethereal spectra. Yes, it was true; intelligence at last! Primitive, but of course it would be, that was to be expected. With terabytes of data pouring in every picosecond, the Carrier's subsystems began to build a picture of the species that would bring it Fulfillment.
Base data: mammalian, primate, bipedal. Body fur still present, surprisingly, but prominent only on the skull and the genital area; excepting the male, which also grew fur around its oral cavity. Relatively small, mature specimens averaging between 23 and 54 zellames, shockingly poor capacity in the seven primary senses. Limited to one pair of manipulative extremities with five secondary digits each, and extremely fragile overall.
Nevertheless they were manifestly sentient, boasting numerous forms of physical, verbal, and written communication, limited empathic communication, and the first signs of developing telepathic capabilities. They were in the early stages of pre-plasmic industrial development, which was somewhat disappointing, but it would take the Carrier some time to energize all systems and achieve full operational capacity. Preliminary projections suggested that their racial knowledge base would be sufficient when the time came; they were certainly voracious learners.
Distressingly illogical, though. Warlike and capricious, still heavily mired in ignorance and superstition. Subject to a horrifying array of parasitic diseases and psychological malfunctions, racially immature, violent, confused, and confrontational -- oh, how they needed it! The sooner it could Fulfill its Purpose, the better. Fuel was needed, armor was not. The multiparagesic field that had protected it for countless light-years was deactivated, its residual energies used to power up and deploy the collectors; these in turn began their work, extracting needed elements from the surrounding bedrock. It began to move towards the surface strata, not so much tunneling the rock as threading its way through the empty space of which it was mainly comprised. Finally it reached the uppermost layer of nutrient-rich, oxygenated soil.
To save time, and also to avoid frightening the still primitive sentients, it selected a structural pattern that would blend with the local flora, while still permitting the construction of an antenna composed of the many individual relays that would be necessary for Transmission. So many wave-lengths to piggyback—-and it dared not miss a single one! The collectors went into high gear, and the ancient traveler began to grow. Slowly, with exquisite precision and awesome intent, the Carrier began to build the miracle that it would become.
Countless eons before, in a place so far distant that mere measurements became meaningless, a race of superbeings had faced the unthinkable—-their own extinction. Despite all of their knowledge and power, they were unable to conceive any means of escaping the heat death of their universe. So, resigned to oblivion, they put forth all of their effort, utilized all of their dazzling science, and wisdom, and compassion, to create something that could escape: the Carriers.
The laws of space and time were playthings, bent and twisted through the infinite possibilities of the ether.
First, they needed a vessel, a container, a conveyance, one able to withstand any conceivable environment and circumstance; and so they engineered the paradox of the multiparagesic etheric anomaly. Second, it was necessary to defeat the restrictions of mass and gravity, so that their creations would not become stranded on a non-viable celestial bodies. Therefore was space inverted, to permit construction of a thing so impossibly miniscule that it approached non-existence. And finally, into this non-space must be squeezed the wisdom and experience gleaned from a hundred billion years of evolution and exploration—-all the knowledge and power of the Gods.
The Carriers were their greatest achievement, their Gift to those who would follow, thrown in hope and bittersweet sorrow to the winds of fate, to drift until, just on the edge of causal possibility, they might, perhaps, find the right kind of world, with the right kind of star. A world that might support higher life, perhaps even carbon-based life of a particular order, a world where conditions allowed for the possibility that true sentience might evolve, and strive, and hunger for greatness. And in the end, if all of these absurdly unlikely requirements were met, their Gift might at last be delivered, the most precious and elusive treasure the multiverse would ever know: enlightenment.
The Carrier became fully aware of itself in a single explosive moment, and basked in the joy of its own existence. What a world this was, it thought. The sweetness of the soil, the warm and tender radiations of its sun, reaching down even here, to quicken the life that waited to sprout. The indescribable taste of pure, glorious water filled its being, and with a heave it cracked its outer shell and sent roots rocketing out, downwards and outwards.
It was not the Carrier that had adopted this world so long before. It was not the Carrier that had thrilled to the discovery of intelligent life. Nor was it the Carrier that had been frantically building and adapting like mad for many decades now. Those functions were no longer needed, and their essence had been reabsorbed to help finish the ultimate creation.
This was the Carrier, fully awake and active, all systems go, primed for Fulfillment.
It drank in nutrients at an astonishing rate, manipulating its ever-increasing mass with the virtuosity of an artist, molding it according to the insanely complex blueprints stored in its ethereal memory banks, reproducing the accumulated records of its mighty creators and sending aloft the Transmitter. It was a true wonder of function and design, an organic array of biochemical sensitizers that would broadcast on every frequency from the radiant to the telepathic, releasing in one tremendous burst all the truths of existence for this planet's benighted primitives to absorb.
No more would there be pain and confusion. The wondrous purpose of creation would be revealed. An end forever to war, strife, hatred, suffering, an epiphany that would lift this race unto the heavens to dwell there as gods.
Faster and faster the Carrier grew, surging up until it broke the surface. Higher it strove, throwing out the softly bladed leaves of sino-calibrated sensitizers, pushing up, up, towards beauty of culmination. Finally it reached its full growth, and the primary array began to swell at its tip. At last! The exquisite petals opened, drinking in ultraviolet joy, and up from the core within its roots truth came as a surging tide, until every particle of the Carrier's being was electrified with enlightenment.
Hear, oh people! the voice of a long dead race seemed to cry. Open now your hearts and minds, cast off your weight of misery and fear, and know the glory that is the great and sacred Truth!
Then the moment came. Fulfillment was at hand, and the sensitizers filled with the stuff of creation, opening their channels to send it pouring out to envelop the entire planet and its newly blessed inhabitants...
The Carrier did not see, for sight was unnecessary. It did not hear, for sound was irrelevant. It had no nerves with which to feel the slow pulse of the earth's heartbeat in its roots. It needed none. It needed only one final burst of energy, an explosion of joy so intense that it would have staggered the monster bearing down on it.
But the monster, alas, had no sense either.
And so the Carrier never heard the awful roar growing louder and closer, never felt the dissonant vibrations in the rich soil that enfolded its roots, never saw the terrible, whirling blades which chopped it down in an instant.
Horace Reed looked around with a mixture of envy and admiration, then turned to address his long-time friend George Kinney.
"Damn, George," he said with feeling, "I won't never understand how you keep yer lawn lookin' like this. C'mon, you can tell your old buddy Horace; what's yer secret?"
"Oh, heck, Horace," Kinney replied modestly, leaning on the handle of his expensive new, state-of-the-art mulching mower, "'Tain't nothin' really. Just good fertilizer, regular waterin', and lots o' tender, loving care."
© 2008 Joshua L. Hamilton
Bio: Joshua Hamilton is a thirty-eight year old lifetime native of Massachusetts. He claims to have been bottle-fed on Tolkien, and thus addicted to fantasy and science fiction ever since. Mr. H.'s other favorite authors include Robert A. Heinlein, Steven Brust, Patricia A. McKillip, Glen Cook, Terry Pratchett, Madeleine L'Engle, Douglas Adams, Stephen R. Donaldson, Mercedes Lackey, Alan Dean Foster, and Dean Koontz. He harbors a dangerous feline known as Loki (someday they will settle the question of who owns whom), and thinks Joss Whedon's 'Firefly' is the finest straight scifi show ever to grace the small screen.
E-mail: Joshua L. Hamilton
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