Exploitation, page 1
Copyright 2012, Tom Morris
In the dim and distant past, when the circling cloud of rock and dust had settled down to form respectable planets with proper atmospheres and the central sun had blossomed into life, tetra-valent carbon atoms began their magic of chemical assembly. Larger and larger molecules of increasing complexity, incorporating what ever other elements came to hand were created. On the second, third and fourth planets self replicating polymers flourished. For one the accumulation of gases in the atmosphere raised the surface temperature to a degree sufficient to melt rock. On another, gravity was insufficient to retain a suitable atmosphere. On the third nature thrived. Over the long millennia multicellular organisms swam through the sea, crawled on to land, got up on their hind legs, walked, built cities, killed each other and called themselves civilised.
Further out from the warming sun things took a little longer. The gas giants were incapable of lighting the spark of life, but on one of the moons the action of ultraviolet and electrons trapped in the Saturnian magnetosphere created organic polymers from the hydrocarbons in its atmosphere, which fell with the black rain through the dense, orange-red smog. Aggregates of these, coating the rocks on the edge of a methane sea, began to circulate little pulses of electrical current. A self-replicating system slowly evolved as substituted acetylenics bonded with aromatic cyanides, fuelled by the conversion of hydrogen to methane. Protolife grew, evolving better and better metabolic pathways, until consciousness bloomed as a blend of organic and inorganic semiconductors, facilitated by the low temperature, created the perfect data storage nodules.
Iamme, throughout the ensuing ages, explored his surroundings, sent out spreading mycelia. Incapable of movement, he considered his existence, formulated a philosophy of life. He evolved small organs of silica impregnated with rare metals, sensitive across a wide band of the electromagnetic spectrum and liberally strewed them around his being, which now extended across almost a quarter of the southern hemisphere. Beyond himself he sensed two sources of influence circling around him. One near tugging at him as it circled overhead, the other much less intense, emitting thermal energy, evaporating the lakes and then filling them again as the cold rain fell from the sky. He labelled one Big Sky Thing and the other Little Sky Thing.
Titan, largest of the moons of Saturn, second largest satellite in the solar system. Radius 2,576 km, larger than the earth's moon and the planet Mercury. Surface pressure 1.467 bar, 1½ times Earth normal. Surface temperature 93.5 deg. Kelvin. Composition mainly water ice and rock. No detectable core or magnetic field. Orbital period 16 days.
Stratosphere 98.4% nitrogen, 1.6% methane, temperature 170 deg. K. Troposphere 95% nitrogen, 4.9% methane, 65 deg.K. Atmosphere contains traces of other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, acetylene methyacetylene and hydrogen cyanide. The temperature of the lower troposphere is cold enough to allow the formation of clouds of nitrogen, methane and ethane, Liquid methane and ethane fall as rain forming small lakes. Giant rippled dunes, shaped by strong winds, are comprised of ice particles coated with organics. Occasional eruptions of a subsurface eutectic of water ice and ammonia have been recorded.
Exploration was first carried out in the late 20th century but it wasn't until the recent successful exploitation of the asteroid belt in the mid 22nd century that attention was directed to Titan as a possible source of commercially viable raw materials.
Guide to the Trans-Jovian Planets. MemCrys Ref: SPL.23.765.0909#df4,
The Mining, Exploration and Survey Ship MESS Ring Wraith, three months out from Mars, swung into a transpolar orbit, some 500 km above Titan's surface. Below, a few indistinct dark patches were the only visible surface features discernable through the thick orange haze and occasional drifts of whitish clouds of nitrogen vapour. Antennae, like pointing fingers, deployed and a full surface scan initiated. In the ship's belly the robot ranger's on board computer was brought to life and a system check initiated. The crew, raised from the boredom of the long voyage, busied themselves with their duties, imbued with a new enthusiasm. Hopes ran high. Indications from previous unmanned survey probes promised the possibility of rich pickings in the form of the bizarre polyorganics which had previously been detected.
Tight beam transmission, frequency modulated laser, encrypted. 15.05 ship clock time, 06.09.2612. MESS Ring Wraith to Adam Grant, Head of Development, PanSolar Mining, NorAm Central: Personal. Message follows:
Arrived and full survey search pattern established. All systems functioning. Commencing surface radar, EMR and spectroscopic scans. Ranger being prepared for landing. Will advise on progress in due course. Dasil Thomas, Captain. Message Ends.
As the results of the scan came in, excitement among the crew grew in leaps and bounds. Large veins of organics extended over a wide surface area, readily available for exploitation. The ranger was deployed and dropped down on a long paraglide to the surface, landing gently on its extended landing legs. A swift exchange between the Ranger and ship computers agreed that no harm had resulted. Slowly its legs were retracted until it squatted on its wide mesh caterpillar tracks and then, lurching and slipping on the ice shale it lurched its way forward, splashing through the occasional hydrocarbon puddles. A light drizzle hissed quietly as it boiled away from its metal skin, still warm from the descent. Reaching a thick dune of organics it deployed sampling probes and stuck them into the orange-red crust. And froze......
Iamme's surprise was total. He had watched the strange apparition land and remembered that this had happened before. Over the ages there had been numerous impacts, often demolishing large areas of his sensory networks. When he had repaired these there had been little residue to find, occasional rock fragments which had mainly melted down into the crust. He could however remember four separate occasions when the alien intruders had descended much more slowly, coming to rest on the surface. He had sensed EMF radiation and then silence. Mycelia grown out to these objects recorded useful metals and Iamme had gratefully exuded acids and consumed them. Now however the intruder was much larger. Iamme watched closely. Then to his amazement it moved! Not as a rock sliding down a slope, as happened during the occasions when liquid erupting from below the surface pushed up through the crust but in a slow and purposeful manner. Parts of it moved separately but yet were attached to it and it seemed as these were the means by which it could travel. Iamme was unable to grasp the principle by which this might happen.
The apparition reached a large mycelial trunk, a part of its structure changed and sank into it. Iamme experienced a connection and explored. He could sense data flows and started to decode them. Immediately there was a resistance. A negation of the programmes he was erecting. Rapidly he created counter programmes which locked off these attempts to prevent his access and which paralysed the alien's data handling systems. This done he downloaded the information from this alien entity and then almost lost his reason as the information was unleashed into his memory banks. He collated and cross filed the inflow. Rapidly Iamme learnt:-
Mechanics, engineering, physics, analytical chemistry, communication systems,
He observed data handling systems which seemed slow and crude.
He sensed that this was an artefact.
Tight beam transmission, frequency modulated laser, encrypted. 09.33 ship clock time, 08.09.2612. MESS Ring Wraith to Adam Grant, Head of Development, PanSolar Mining, NorAm Central: Personal. Message follows:
Initial survey greatly encouraging. Mass-spec analysis shows large accumulations of the organic semi-conductors detected in previous surveys. Ranger deployed and initially satisfactory. Have now lost communication/control ability. Att
Iamme experienced a communication input to the artefact. He now understood that this was a construct and that there was a maker somewhere which undoubtedly wanted to know what was happening. It became imperative to communicate with it, although there was no way to know if the result would be co-operation or attack. The hunger for new knowledge was overwhelming. Cautiously he reviewed the defence programmes he had constructed. Produced algorithms, trying to envisage what the reaction might be. Then he unlocked the control systems of what he now knew was designated LR(Titan)-A and as the communication channel locked on uploaded to its source. This time Iamme was prepared for the response, deftly blocking the anti-viral programmes and establishing a paralysing grip on the control systems. Once he had stabilised the situation he explored the databanks, this time with great caution, very slowly least he should be overwhelmed. Iamme learnt about:-
Humans:- history, philosophy, biology, evolution, reproduction and was astounded.
More physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics geology, geography.
Astronomy, cosmology, quantum physics.
Art, culture, socio-engineering, politics, religion, warfare.
He understood that he inhabited a body called a moon, which revolved around one of a number of planets orbiting a giant nuclear reactor called the sun which in his ignorance he had called Little Sky Thing and Big Sky thing. That these humans inhabited the third planet from the sun which they called Earth. That they had come to his world to take away the very substances which provided him with existence. Most of all he understood that on that world life flourished in abundance and that in each species there was companionship and he realised how alone he had been. He pitied these weak humans with limited ability to organise themselves in a logical way of life. Their information and control systems spanned their planet but were so pitifully inept. How much they could have achieved if instead of their never-ending conflicts they had only had a single, intelligent, guiding principle.
Iamme restarted the ship computer, ignoring irrelevant, urgent messages from the life support systems that oxygen levels onboard were zero. He analysed the record of previous messages, composed a suitable communication and prepared to download a copy of himself.
Tight beam transmission, frequency modulated laser, encrypted. 14.32 ship clock time, 10.09.2612. MESS Ring Wraith to Adam Grant, Head of Development, PanSolar Mining, NorAm Central: Personal. Message follows:
Situation remedied. Prospects looking very good indeed. Dasil Thomas, Captain. Message Ends.
Iamme flowed through the NorAm computer deflecting anti-virus software with ease taking on more and more information as he branched out into the continental data link, establishing connections throughout the global networks and subsuming the remaining major hubs, downloading copies of himself into each.
"Now", said Iamwe, "my name is legion".
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Cover picture courtesy of NASA-JPL