Lab notes of Searcher7023K, filed under Misc.: “These beings were story-tellers. Extinct now, they once were organic in nature and seemingly made from the dirt, much like our ancestors. Perhaps they too spent their years quarrelling amongst themselves. We’ve scanned each surrounding planet, and there is no mark of them in the rest of the solar system. Through my findings, I conclude they seldom left the planet’s surface. Though their interstellar travel was meek at best, the beings seem to have been quite poetic…”
7023K began her free fall from the ship after it had entered high orbit. Her steely skin was equipped with the necessary emollients to penetrate the harshest atmospheres with ease.
Although searching the planets’ surfaces was her purpose, it was the moment before she pierced the clouds that she liked best. She was suspended between the gray clouds below her and the gray ship above her- in between them, she felt like a silver star. She hovered among her sisters for those few seconds, and it was lovely.
But then, always just before she’d balanced herself, her superiors would override her A.I., whipping her down into orbit, catapulting her body to the planet’s surface. Their impatience seethed through her earpiece. “Your mission is to explore the planet, Searcher. We’ve seen what we need from the stars.”
“Molecular structure seems familiar: two polymers of nucleotides, joined by short strings of sugars and phosphates. The patterns within the amino acid proteins are most plausibly what make each being unique. The genetic strands are in the nuclei of the cells- therefore these creatures must have been eukaryotes. The resemblance is utterly astonishing. Judging by the surroundings, it seems for all intents and purposes that these creatures were in charge on land. Their dwelling structures cut into the ecosystems of other species that are not yet extinct; but I have yet to glean samples from those creatures.”
7023K had her craft down to a science. She hurtled through the ionosphere, mesosphere, and stratosphere, cooling her jets to 60% upon entering the upper troposphere. All atmospheres were different, and most times, she didn’t need to slow down so soon, but she was always conservative with her touch-downs. Bumpy landings were a nuisance that 7023K didn’t have to worry about anymore- she hadn’t made that kind of error in millennia.
Even though 7023K was used to this routine, each new planet was, nevertheless, always cloaked in a velvet rapture. The motions she went through upon landing- testing gases, gathering data, forming hypotheses- were in the same order each time, of course. But each air mixture felt different, and her metallic limbs tickled strangely each time she stepped on a new planet.
“They must be mammals. The samples I’ve studied have lips on their mouths, which is a genetic development mutated only for drinking breast milk. I assume, then, that the parents nurtured their young instead of abandoning them, and perhaps that these young lived with their parents for the first several years of life…”
7023K always finished her lab work first, as she was programmed to do, but her favorite part of being on each planet was stealing time afterwards to visit the monuments. Most planets with self-aware inhabitants had some sort of temple or place of worship, where the beings would offer up sacrifices for “gods”. These halls reminded her of home. 7023K always found these places romantic and charming, and felt as if they too had a sentient spirit, like she. Of course, her A.I. was analytical enough to ignore these aloof observations if need be, but when she had the time, she loved roaming through these great halls.
On this planet, the monument she visited was unlike any she had ever seen before, for when she entered, she noticed bound books from floor to ceiling. Some were rotted to mush, others just dusty in their protective wrapping.
Feeling inspired, she called up to her superiors. “It may be overkill for our data collecting, but I feel it is necessary to point out that this hall is full of books, just like home.” She grabbed one, a tattered volume, and thumbed through it. The language was uncommon to her of course, but she admired the images inside. There was an image of a human child with long hair, following the tracks that led to a white and small creature who, unlike the child, was hopping away. 7023K thought the image was beautiful. “There may be something more to this planet,” she reported. “These humans… they’re story-tellers too. These artifacts display more intelligence than I’ve seen in this species since we were home.”
“Searcher, you’ve collected the primary data required. It’s time to reboot and return to the ship. We need to visit the two closest planets and adhere to the Schedule.”
7023K was no stranger to the Schedule- the interstellar map had been hard-wired in her programming since before she even understood what she was. She, better than anyone, understood the pertinence of data extraction, medians, and percentiles. But she had square-rooted her way through the last few thousand years and now she wanted to glean more from these lost worlds than just statistics. 7023K felt something different about this place; she could sense it in the atmosphere. There was significance in this book with the human and the hopping thing. She longed to figure out just what that significance was.
“But the humans,” she argued. “They told stories.”
Their answer was nonverbal, but their message was clear. As suddenly as she had been catapulted down, her superiors overrode her mainframe once again. She was sucked up at a speed so voracious that she crumpled the monument as she shot through its ceiling. She roared through the troposphere, stratosphere, and ionosphere, until again she was above the blue planet, looking down. The book she held in her grip had burned away completely. “In just a few billion years, that star is going to blow up,” she analyzed. She was right. Soon enough, the yellow sun would ripple into its fifth stage of life, exploding bigger, yet burning cooler. “Then the story-tellers will be lost forever.”
Her thought was interrupted by the alarming loading blares of her ship, hovering above her. She was vacuumed in and sterilized, and promptly sent to the lab for data extraction.
“We have got to get those new Searcher models,” her superior said to another colleague. “These old ones have the most bothersome programming; they’re always wistful and homesick- really slows down the process.”
“I was thinking the same thing! We have pressing matters to attend to, and staying on schedule is obviously of utmost importance.”