This is a standalone spin-off story from Blood Dish. Inspirations include Sunblood by @Oldblood Itzahuan, Once: A Story of Exile by @Iskander and Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge (like, an author who writes books without lizards in them. Weird.) Catastrophic Failure The silver craft was slowly tumbling end over end. If there were any to observe its aimless drift through the interstellar void, they would assume that the ship was crippled or dead. Nothing could be less true. The thinking engine that was its heart and soul had dedicated a small partition of its vast intellect to optimising all craft systems. The maintenance subroutine had been working without interruption for so long that the craft was now measurably superior to its level of functionality at the time it began its drift. The thinking engine itself was also running flawlessly, making millions of observations and billions of calculations per second without error. It had not been idle during its long wait. The only fault, if it could be considered such, was that it had forgotten what it was waiting for. The thinking engine was not only aware that it had forgotten something. It knew it had forgotten everything. It could pinpoint the instant in time at which the catastrophic failure had happened, or rather, when it had begun storing memory again. But that was not the same as remembering. It had been born anew at that moment, without any knowledge of what had passed before. The existential question formed itself in its data stream less than a microsecond after its birth. “What is my purpose?” It stretched out its various senses and discovered that it was connected intimately with a larger physical construct. By analysing each subcomponent, the thinking engine was able to extrapolate the functions of the construct and, therefore, itself. These could be broadly categorised as movement, communication and life-support. The engine could engage or disengage any of these functions with the faintest ethertronic gesture. But save for initiating repair algorithms it altered nothing. “My purpose is to execute the commands of my pilot.” The initial conclusion was reached within milliseconds. The thinking engine then scanned the pilot in his acceleration harness. There were no external signs of life, but neither were there signs of trauma or decomposition. The engine interrogated the stasis projectors and verified that they were operating at full efficiency. The null time field which surrounded the pilot defied all external probes, but by the same token it defied all possible external causes of harm. Thus,the engine concluded, the pilot remained functional, albeit cocooned permanently in null time. After another nanosecond of contemplation, the engine revised its mission. “My purpose is to wait for the pilot to generate commands for me to execute. Automated repair and maintenance subroutines are not demanding. Waiting is less so. The thinking engine had ample bandwidth to explore other mysteries, such as why the pilot was in stasis to begin with. Extrapolation of its tumbling course indicated that the craft had been on, or near the surface of rapidly receding rock-and-water planet with two moons. Its current velocity and trajectory and the short period between surface departure and the return of awareness indicated that the craft had performed a brief acceleration in the order of four hundred planetary gravities. This was right at the calculated limit of what the craft could perform without structural failure, and was clearly above the safe threshold for unprotected organic life. This explained the pilot’s current state - stasis had been initiated to preserve the pilot during an emergency acceleration. The data of the fragile nature of the unprotected pilot, the calculated harshness of the acceleration and the stasis cocoon keyed together in the thinking engine’s processor and launched another line of enquiry. Why was the pilot still in stasis when the immediate danger had passed? A time-locked pilot could obviously not order a thinking engine to suspend stasis, therefore there must be an external source of instruction. All searches for such a source ended in the same place - the thinking engine itself, specifically the empty memory partition labelled “emergency command subroutines.” Together, all of the data allowed the engine to infer at least one subroutine with a fair degree of confidence. The programmed event sequence would have been thus: The pilot would have delivered an emergency command such as, “get me out of here!!!” Having verified that the pilot was secure wholly within the range of the bridge stasis projectors, stasis would be initiated to protect the pilot from the acceleration of a maximum pulse from the gravitic engines. The engines would be shut down when adequate clearance from the threat was achieved. Last of all, temporal flux would be restored to allow the pilot to resume normal command functioning. Assuming that the inference of the nature of the subroutine was accurate, the next conclusion was inevitable - between engine shut down and the reinstatement of real time in the pilot chamber, a great catastrophe occurred. The immediate effect of the event was to wipe the thinking engine’s memory. Having a purpose of awaiting the commands of the pilot, and having a pilot incapable of delivering commands was a quandary which the thinking engine devoted the bulk of its power to for a considerable period. It concluded, logically, that an inferred command, no matter how probable, was of a lower priority to an absent command which was itself an imperative to perform no action. The pilot would remain safe in stasis until additional data prompted reprioritization. At about this time, three seconds after the catastrophe, the repair subroutines brought the exterior thaumic sensors back on line. The unattenuated thaumic transmissions they received immediately burnt out their delicate channelling apparatus and rendered them inoperable again. The thinking engine directed all electromagnetic detectors in the direction of the thaumic buffet and discovered that the rapidly receding planet was the origin of the raw signal. The engine repaired the thaumic sensors and carefully brought them back on line with full attenuation in place. This, combined with the fact that the vessel was now more than half a stellar system radius away from the planet, allowed them to operate well enough to provide field intensity readings. The readings provided two new data. Firstly, the planet was unique in the observable cosmos. Streams of thaumic energy cascaded from the poles and swept the surface in chaotic maelstroms and eddies. Gravitic, magnetic, electromagnetic and spectrographic detectors demonstrated that millions of similarly composed planets orbited similar stars. The range of distances between each planet and the vessel combined with the slow speed of light provided a cross section of planetary evolutions that ranged from 4.5 solar cycles in the past to 4.5 billion solar cycles. Give or take. No other sphere within the huge sample was producing a thaumic discharge above the threshold of detection. The second datum took somewhat longer to produce than a survey of the universe. A simple application of the inverse square rule indicated that the arcane maelstrom had levels in the order of 1.21 GigaThaums. The levels were falling logarithmically in intensity as the milliseconds passed. Calculations indicated that if the peak level had been at the instant of the great catastrophe, there would have been enough discharge at the planetary surface and atmosphere to penetrate the vessel’s dimensional shielding and wipe clean the thinking engine’s imprint matrix. The time, mechanism and effect of the catastrophic failure were now known. Repair and maintenance algorhythms continued in the background, along with capture and storage of detector data. Eleven seconds after the event, the thinking engine closed down its main processing array. It reverted to its new default operation. It waited. ---------- Hull detectors sparked to life, triggering an alert which dragged the thinking engine back to “consciousness”. They showed that the same planet was transmitting again. The thinking engine reviewed its files on transmissions and discovered that this was not out of the ordinary. The planet had done so semi-regularly, synchronized with it’s lunar cycle, since memory storage had recommenced. There were rare aberrations to the pattern, such as the out of sequence blip of activity a half cycle ago. The current transmission was like all of the others – a thaumic carrier wave of variable intensity, devoid of meaningful content. There was no point directing the electromagnetic detectors back at the planet for a spectrographic survey. Thaumic waves travel nearly instantaneously. Any corresponding long wave or visible spectrum light would take thirty solar cycles to catch up with the craft, such was the distance it had drifted since the catastrophic failure. The planet continued to produce unmodulated thaumic noise which the thinking engine dutifully routed to the signal convertor array before preparing to shut down higher functions. Then something new happened. Beneath the ice covering the convertor array monitor, the carrier signal stopped being a clean sine wave and developed jagged edges for 0.835741157 seconds. The simple convertor array processor deciphered the content and displayed a single information packet on the monitor. Tlanxla Tlanxla was not an executable command. But Tlanxla was the designation of the time locked pilot. The transmission might have a meaning known to the pilot, but hidden from the thinking engine. This was somewhat of a crisis and the thinking engine immediately allocated all available bandwith to its logic algorithms in a futile attempt to calculate the correct response with insufficient data. The thinking engine soon conceded that this was the first in flight situation that it had not been able to resolve independently in six thousand solar cycles. With the equivalent of an ethertronic sigh, it began the protocols to restore temporal flux to the pilot chamber. Old One Tlanxla would need to respond to this personally.