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