The Galactic Star Factory

The last thing I remember was a sine waveform and thirty seconds of intensifying, painful sound rising in frequency from 440 hertz to 1,320 hertz in a linear interpolation. And then it stopped.

When I awoke, I beheld a massive expanse of stellar clouds and star systems—incredible nebulous arrays of blue, white, and pink formations stretching vastly against a sea of black and violet space.

I knew I was aboard a surface lander equipped with hyperbolic propulsors that had transported me from—I do not know where I had launched from, only that it was forty-seven billion light-years away, and my course was set for 1106-5.

Where exactly was I headed? I accessed my on-board computer. 1106-5 was the system coordinate for a young star in the Speculative Quadrant, and my destination was 4725, a mega-asteroid abundant in organohalogens.

Apart from that, the on-board data files were compromised. I surmised that somewhere between my sleep and awakening—when my lander spanned the immense cosmic distance—bursts of quantum radiation and gravitational waves from black holes had bombarded the craft and disrupted the computer system.

Nevertheless, I concluded that I was on an experimental deep-space mission, to collect sample chemical compounds on 4725 and return home, if I could find where home was.

My lander, traveling automatically and supersonically, approached and navigated through the 1106-5 solar system. I felt a surge of nervousness as 4725 gradually came into view among twelve orbiting planets, and the anxious feeling compelled me to check my retropropulsors, to ensure that the craft would descend upright and safely on the surface of the asteroid.

Penetrating the obscure and opaque stratosphere of 4725, the lander glowed brightly from atmospheric friction, but fortunately, I felt no heat inside. I held on tightly to my seat. The space vehicle shook and reverberated violently, but finally, it landed without incident.

Everything was still. The rocket boosters of the lander exhaled a hissing sound as the engines cooled. I looked at the computer sensor readings. They confirmed that the chemical signatures of the asteroid were dense in carbon and halogens, especially chlorine and fluorine.

Hypothetically, there could have been life on 4725, but the closest thing the computer detected were the organohalogen molecules that formed when chlorine and fluorine bonded with carbon. I readied myself to collect the sample compounds when I realized there was no spacesuit in the lander.

A twist of incomprehension hit me. I looked at the sensor readings again, and I noticed there was zero percent oxygen in my craft. A terrifying sense of fear came upon me, but I managed to control it as far as I could. I checked if there was an emergency backup supply—nothing.

Someone at home had made a terrible mistake. I did not know what to do. I began to grow frantic, and I was panicking and screaming when, suddenly, I observed I was not breathing, nor was I emitting a voice. I had died! Surely, I had died—in the blank interval of time when the hyperbolic propulsors had thrust me into distant space—I had died; but wait. I was conscious and thinking and moving, so how could I be dead? I—

I stopped and reflected awhile. I opened the hatch door of the lander and stepped out. I looked around, and I perceived that asteroid 4725 was a giant, coordinated space factory bridged to other asteroids in the 1106-5 system.

And there, on 4725, I saw its denizens—millions and millions of mindless humanoid robots the size of small children, one meter high, slaving away in the unlivable, toxic, contaminated environment—producing bleaches, dyes, flame retardants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and plastics, which the surface landers would pick up and transport across interstellar space for consumption on the forty-billion human-inhabited planets in the Milky Way.

I stood before the monstrous, inhuman scene, and I saved an encoded copy of my memory. My awareness began to fade. The young star at the center of the 1106-5 solar system glimmered dimly through the thick, polluted haze.

Link to the science article that inspired this story. Honda's disaster recovery robot can climb laddersHubble captures image of collision-inspired galactic star factory

The Luminium Man

He had been considering the problem for some time, except that he could not find the correct metal, when it occurred to him while giving a lecture: light, almost weightless, compared to other metals—luminium.

Over the next few weeks at his office, he drafted designs for a luminium brain and a luminium body, with the metal applied in the appropriate degrees in the arms, the legs, and the torso to ensure stability and mobility.

The mechanical engineers and the computer scientists in his department at Kim Chaek University of Technology regarded the concept incredulously when he showed them the drafts. Why, the mechanical engineers said, even if the metal was hypothetically the right choice, there were problems of electrical conductivity, to say nothing of poor fatigue strength. And the computer scientists were absolutely convinced that, in spite of a program for autonomous anthropomorphic movement, the needed algorithm for a luminium brain was, at present, mathematically impossible and never bound to result in consciousness anyway.

He thought about these things in his office, looking outside the open window, at the tall magnolia trees swaying in the wind and the pink flowers floating on beds of luminous green leaves, under a morning shower of sunlight. A cool breeze entered the room and blew against his cheek. Suddenly, he felt an itch on the back of his neck, and he had another, profounder, scientific intuition.

Sensations and impressions were necessary reflexive components in the activation of consciousness. What he needed was an embodied luminium brain—in a sensing, feeling, thinking luminium body—to bring into algorithmic awareness the beautiful world the luminium man would find himself in when he was born. The flood of insight and felt equations overwhelmed him in a hot-flash. His heart was throbbing painfully, and he was gasping heavily. More cool air was blowing in the room.

Yes, that was it, the luminium algorithm, the mathematical formula for the luminium man, all before him in a sudden image of surging emotion. But that was a complication—an image of emotion. How could he explain something subjective, variable from person to person, to his scientific peers? How could he exposit in rigorous analytical, rational, and systematic language something he experienced deeply, forcefully, and sublimely?

The algorithm was like a work of art, concrete and indivisible. He knew what it was and how it could be applied, but he could not accurately express it in abstract, logical terms. Still, he could try, however arabesquely, and present it at the annually held National Conference of Scientists, where he would appeal for party-state funding for his brilliant idea: a noble race of luminium men and luminium women—who would do everything no one else wanted to do—who would solve the problems of indifference, laziness, and lethargy, which he saw in his country and which he read about in the three generations of the three great leaders’ works—who would liberate the nation from all its toils and burdens—who would give the people the leisure time to pursue self-development, their true interest, and allow them to live a dignified human life for the first time in history.

And so, against all the political and bureaucratic difficulties involved, he found a way through favors and supplications, and he presented his thoughts at the National Conference of Scientists, illustrating the vision like an enormous tapestry. When he finished, there was a cold vacuous silence in the large conference hall; and then there was a cough, followed by a chortle, and, after that, a cascading outburst of eruptive, uncontrolled laughter.

All the scientists at the conference stood up in mocking denunciation, furiously shouting at him and attacking the luminium man as so much imaginary nonsense, like the hucksterism of an astrologist and a fraud. The party officials and the security cadres in attendance looked upon him suspiciously, and the finance representatives for the planning bureaus were extremely disappointed, for they had all wasted an hour only to hear a madman tell them a science-fiction story.