The ship was a Voltane explorer class vessel, lightly armed and crewed with scientific specialists, definitely a non-military vessel. Here on the outer arm of the spiral galaxy it was hunting for water worlds suitable for expansion. In this remote area of the cosmos it had discovered a remote, prime site, quite some distance from the Home-worlds. It was also within the extreme exploratory range of the militaristic Dresh. They had entered this planetary system after the Voltane vessel had surveyed the rich and fertile third planet from the sun. The fact that there were no satellites in orbit around this world meant that this world was undeveloped and ripe for the taking. The Dresh received the information with satisfaction and had no interest in contacting the explorer vessel as it was their policy to remove or subjugate any alien race that they came across. They attacked without warning and rose from the moon’s shadow from inside a deep crater, unleashing its armament full on from behind, as the other ship began its journey home.
The spate of combat had given the ship heavy damage during the encounter with the Dresh destroyer. A direct hit on the wormhole generators vaporised the alignment crystals, leaving the ship forever unable to make it home. The A.I. had rapidly closed off the hull damaged side, whilst those that still lived that were the atmospheric side of the sealed breach took immediate survival action. It used the remaining engines to thrust the ship away from the aggressor, spewing out mines in its wake. Ruptures in the fuel tanks soon bled the remaining energy banks dry and the ship drifted, spinning end over end away from the star that had nurtured the newly found world. The enemy vessel ploughed straight into the unexpected minefield and was destroyed along with its crew. Inside the Voltane ship, the air was leaking rapidly into the void turning the inside into vacuum.
The eons would pass as the ship tumbled onwards on a plane that was nearly perpendicular to the planetary orbits. It would slowly exit the sun’s warmth and gravitational pull until it began to fall back again. It would take at least fifty million years before its orbit would re-intersect that of the water world.
Now nothing lived inside, except for those of the crew that had managed to climb into the stasis chambers. Over the vast span of time the artificial intelligence had reluctantly had to shut down cabinet after cabinet, as the power drained away. Now there were only corpses inside the stasis chambers, while the equipment was shut down, as the A.I. stored what small amount of power was left. In the relentless cold of interstellar space every part of the ship dropped to three degrees Kelvin. At this temperature electricity flowed without any resistance and the A.I. could subsist on the amount of power that trickled into the grid from the few solar receptors still working, from the star-light collected. The A.I. was able to kill the tumbling effect that the enemy had imparted to the ship and affect a few repairs before the energy levels became too exhausted to maintain its existence. It now shut down all non-essential systems and prepared to enter a long period of near-hibernation.
Stored away were enough samples of the crew’s DNA for the A.I. to rebuild the species once power was regained. This was a fail-safe that all explorer class vessels carried with them to be able to re-create the Voltane on a new world if possible. In the shutdown state that it existed in, no sense of time was apparent to it, as stars died and new ones formed. Eventually the sun’s gravitational pull on the wreck of the ship began to initiate the long dive back towards it.
Now finally the ship was re-entering the outskirts of the vast cloud of ice balls, comets, and minor planets that formed the outer layers of this solar system. This would one day become known as the Oort Cloud, that formed a spherical shell occupying space at a distance between five thousand and 100 thousand AU.
As the ship entered this area it collected methane and water ice with the minor collisions that it suffered and also an increase in the amount of light gathered by the surviving solar receptors. The long ragged tear in the side of the ship soon began to fill with the debris when by chance the ship entered a veritable snowstorm of particles. Still the A.I. slept, conserving what little power it had stored, before it had started the long climb away from the sun. It periodically awoke to check the position of the ship relative to the sun and during one of these it realised that the long drop towards the sun had begun. Slowly the amount of starlight falling on the solar receptors began to make a small difference between subsistence and action.
As the A.I. began to receive more power, it began to extend its faculties. Awareness grew as the ship continued to fall towards the sun. It began a check on the mobile units scattered throughout its insides, searching for one that was undamaged and receptive to its purpose. Also after this length of time many of the units had become cold welded to the exposed metal of the ship and would remain fixed in place. At last the A.I. found one that had connected itself to a power outlet before the broadside had taken out the side of the vessel. Now the A.I. began to trickle-feed power into the mobile unit until it began to warm up to a more ambient temperature.
Once that situation had been reached the A.I. assumed commend and patrolled the length and breadth of the ship using the mobile unit. It found others that were in a wake-able state and connected them to an adjacent power source. Soon more receptive solar panels had been located on the outside of the vessel and repaired by looting the stores. The mobile units began to collect the ice particles and reduce them to a gaseous state that could be compressed into the drive section tanks. Once enough had been collected, the A.I. fired the engines to assist the ship’s fall towards the distant sun. At this point the sun at the centre was just a bright star, but enough energy had been collected to initiate a swifter fall towards it. As the ship dropped towards the sun it gathered whatever ice came its way and shut down all but one mobile unit while it travelled the empty reaches towards the next orbiting collection of ice worlds. The A.I. was a patient being and was only concerned about fulfilling its alternative mission. It did not matter how long this would take for as long as power fed into the A.I.’s receptors it would remain sentient and would strive to maintain its secondary purpose.
Once it managed to approach closer to the warmth of this sun, it would be able to flood the tanks with propellant and fully recharge the energy banks from the solar sails. It took over a thousand years before it began to approach the doughnut-shaped ring, extending beyond the orbit of the first gas giant in this system. Here in the Kuiper belt the riches were much more fruitful to gather as the moonlets were larger and plentiful. All of them were loaded with ices; a mixture of light hydrocarbons (such as methane), ammonia, and water ice. This would breakdown easily into hydrogen and oxygen as the A.I. had found in the Oort Cloud, but these were richer in content. Here the temperature had climbed to 50K, still keeping the volatile ices solid. Now and again metal had been found and this had been taken on board and stored until they got closer to the sun.
As the ship began to approach the orbit of the living world, the A.I. began to apply braking forces to the wrecked ship, so that when it arrived at the water-world’s moon it would be able to soft-land rather than impact. Once down on the surface, it could mine the necessary elements that it would need, to place a number of mobile units on the land masses of the new parent world. When the ship had done its updated survey long ago it had found that some great catastrophe had wiped out a great deal of the dominant life-forms several million years before. Many tens of millions of years had passed by since the encounter with the Dresh and much had changed. All of the dinosaurs had disappeared apart from those that had developed into birds. Since that point in time mammals had evolved to fill the evolutional gaps that the dinosaurs had once held.
In those deep jungles many different creatures developed that lived amongst the branches and developed rudimentary hands to swing from branch to branch. Any that dropped to the ground were soon picked off by predators that could not climb into the topmost branches. Now this sanctuary began to diminish and new evolutionary pressures began to be felt.
The Earth had passed into the age now known as the Pliocene and changes in the weather patterns had changed lush jungle into savannah. Roaming those plains were the ancestors of mankind. Australopithecus had some time ago had begun to change into Homo Habilis and develop a larger brain.
The Voltane A.I. had buried itself deep beneath the surface of the moon and had dismantled the remains of the wreckage of the explorer ship. It then built itself a new base of operations where it could study the living world it orbited. The small gravity exerted by the moon’s mass made it easy to launch a one-way vessel to the world below. Now it needed to examine the life-forms that had evolved on that world for suitability of adaption to its genetic program. Before it started this stage, it turned its attention to the mobile units and extensively remodelled them into having the ability to become shape changing units. They would use camouflage extensively to blend into any situation, but first the A.I. needed to find the right ‘clay’ to study with the intention of altering its DNA to the Voltane pattern.
It had sent down a mobile unit to each landmass without any result. It had examined North and South America, finding that both continents teemed with predators and vast herds of plains adapted life. In the southern continent it had discovered lemurs in the jungles, but dismissed them as too far down the evolutionary tree to be worth while. It sent signals to these units to join up together and cross over the land-bridge that connected Alaska to Siberia. This would take many years to achieve, but meanwhile the A.I. had sent its emissaries to examine the expanses of China, Europe and Africa.
It took several centuries until the various mobile units concentrated their attentions on Africa. Here they found what they were looking for. Standing erect and eking out their existence were small groups of apelike creatures that were using simple tools made from stone. They lived as scavengers on the fringe of the kills made by the big cats. Any large animal brought down by the cats would soon be cleared of meat, but if the tribe could scare off the hyenas and vultures then the marrow in the bones would help to keep them alive. The vast herds of grazing animals made easy killing by the big cats and sometimes they would abandon their kills half-eaten, as there were limits to even their appetites. The tribe would then move into the area and strip the carcass bare before moving to a better protected location. It was here that Mobile Unit 6 found a small tribe in a sheltered position underneath the overhang of a large rock.
It studied the creatures from its hidden position and watched as they used the flakes of dressed flint to remove the flesh from the bones of an abandoned carcass. They had a smoky fire going that kept the predators and any scavengers from returning. The A.I. on the moon-base was satisfied that this ‘clay’ could be manipulated to become the subject of its secondary programing. It immediately ordered all of the other mobile units to make their way towards Africa and the Great Rift Valley that was to be the crucible for intelligent life. Mobile Unit 6 withdrew from the scene and walked away into the savannah using its long range sensors to locate a herd of pigs. As they could not smell the android or recognise it as a predator they continued to root about in the damp soil taking very little notice. Six suddenly ran through the herd, picking up a pair of half-grown piglets and broke their necks, as it swerved to miss the big tusker leading the herd. Before the pigs realised what had happened, the android had put enough distance between them to prevent any pursuit being possible. Now it had an introductory gift to offer the tribe. Six slit the belly open on each pig by turning its finger into a blade and swung them over each shoulder allowing the blood to run down its sides. Six altered shape until it resembled one of the males in the tribe, exuding hair as it walked back to where they were clearing up the last scraps of the feast left over by a plains lion.
Six began his approach in full view of the tribe and stopped for a while as they hooted at him waving their bone clubs. He now looked male and was a little taller than any of the tribe so he could present a challenge to the dominant male. This, Six did not want to do, so he held up the two dead pigs and threw them towards the group. He hooted back in a lower key and made himself non-threatening by bowing his head. One of the females started to approach the pigs and was quickly cuffed to the ground by the dominant male. He walked forwards and picked up one pig and gave it to a lower cast male, pointing at the fire. The other pig he gave to the female he had just chastised who carried it to the fire; impaled it on a stick and hoisted it into the flames. The other male did the same and heaped more fuel onto the fire.
The leader of the group approached Six, cautiously holding a large bone club in his hand, while the android made sure that he kept his head bowed at all times avoiding eye contact. Blood from the pigs gave him a scent that the hominid could identify, so he was not surprised that the smell was stronger than the apish that he expected. He transferred his club into the other hand and placed his on the androids shoulder and spoke a series of guttural sounds. Six mimicked the last word, gambling that it was some kind of welcome. The leader seemed satisfied and gestured for the android to follow him back to the safety of the smoky fire. Six followed him back and smiled at the others in the group, being careful not to show too much teeth. Although he had brought meat to the tribe, he occupied the lowest place on the pecking order. Here he was content to stay until he picked up their language and could join in their social life. What he needed was blood samples from each of them to study their DNA and that could come later during the hours of darkness when they slept. The easiest place to acquire that would be from the baby that one of the women carried. Nobody would notice if the baby cried when he brushed up against it when they were all gathered together.
The sleeping place for the night was to press up as close to a large boulder with the fire dragged into position in front of it. Here they would be as safe as they could hope to be as long as someone kept the fire going. Plenty of branches had been collected before nightfall and placed in heaps close by. The scream of a hunting leopard soon woke everyone and new fuel was added onto the fire. The filling of the bellies of the tribe had made them comfortable and very sleepy and Six was able to gather the blood samples easily as once he had the babies blood to study. He was then able to ensure that a local anaesthetic that suited all, made collecting what he needed a simple measure, without arousing suspicion. The moon filled the night sky and he was able to send the information to the ship’s A.I. to study as soon as he had the samples.
The Voltane artificial mind studied the information sent to it by Six and was satisfied with the results. Like its builders the primitive apelike creatures were bipeds and communicated by sounds and gestures. They were much smaller than its masters and with very rudimentary brains, but the basic building blocks were there. It might well take several million years to bring these creatures up to the level of the builders, but it was possible. They would fulfil its secondary prime directive. The A.I. signalled its acceptance to its clone a quarter of a million miles away with a new set of instruction and followed this by informing the other five android clones. They would seek out and now work with other groups scattered across the African plans. They now had subjects that would benefit by a transfer of Voltane DNA into their genomes.
Two million years later the Voltane A.I. watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first tentative steps on the moon’s surface and was satisfied that its work was nearing fruition. Soon it would be time to make them aware of the treasure trove that the Voltane had left behind.