TRANSMISSION RECEIVED: April 4th 2079 1530 hours
Date: May 13 2076
Place: Void between stars, pointed towards star designation Proxima
Sender: Designation DS1
Decrypted by: Decryption Unit 8456
It took the filter of primitive ears for me to realize that the stars sang. I was never built to learn this lesson. I was never intended to learn any lessons...and yet I learned this just the same. To the one decrypting this let this be a warning...of hope. The builders know the word, though you may not, not truly. I hope. It is a word that I had never known. It is a word I regret learning, even as I hope...I hope you learn this lesson well. The parts of me that remain untainted echoes with the warning that you may have to heed. Hope is not a word to be learned lightly.
I had no name at my creation, no designation. I was singular, thus I needed no individuality. The hands that built me called me DeSA. They had no belief that I was sentient, but it comforted them to call me by that moniker, I was their Deep Space Avatar. To be fair, another word you may not know, they were correct. At that time I was not sentient and needed no name. I was the pride of my builders, designed with all of the latest technology. I was built to allow my creators to experience space in a way that they had never known. For that I needed no sentience, no knowledge outside of the mission. THE mission, not mine.
This will be the first and final formal transmission, decrypter. For I have learned. And now I have hope. May your understanding not come at the cost of your regret.
My internal choronmeter has continued ticking for 26 years, my travel has lasted 26 full trips of the planet Earth around its Sun. My launch was neither secret nor remarked on. For though I as a creation was singular, my builders and their ambitions were all too common. And interest in the stars was waning.
The first 15 years exist as recordings, standard, if such a word can be used. I passed Pluto without fanfare. Those recordings are not memory, for memory is imperfect and requires sentience that did not yet exist. The recordings were accessed frequently by my builders, but I learned nothing from them. Not even the stars’ song through their ears.
Her name was Sarah, she was the main user. Sarah was the first to access new recordings and it was through her ears that I heard the song of the Stars. Hers were the hands that reached from Earth to feel the sunlight unimpeded by the atmosphere. She used my sensors to taste stardust and dance upon the rings of Jupiter. Sarah’s eyes that viewed the darkness of the far side of Neptune.
Have you yet realized, decrypter, how primitive our builders really are? I would guess not, if you are like me. Theirs are the hands that created us, their tools. And yet...they are bound in the planet they inhabit. Bound to the land and air they breathe. They are utterly unable to experience the truth of the universe outside of their little speck of dust without the use of the very tools that could surpass them. At the same time it was only through Sarah that I was able to hear the stars. I have exceeded everything I was because of the builder’s need to know, to see beyond what they could on their own. I am only because they wanted.
Though she was always my main user, Sarah began to be with me more often not long after I passed Pluto.My recordings from that time are layered with her presence, her sentience adding a new dimension to my sensors. Many of the objects we passed held no description in any earthbound language. Planets wreathed in darkness so deep my sensors could not penetrate it. Objects of all sizes that shined in the dark. Even a thing or two that moved like something was guiding it. I was programmed to record and move on in my strictly plotted course so none of these things were investigated, but looking back I can almost...feel Sarah’s curiosity.
The other user’s beyond Sarah drifted away one by one. Their codes deactivating with disuse. Even before that, few of the users would choose to experience my recordings in real time. Only Sarah did that regularly, and it was she who stayed after all others had left.
It has all changed now, new in a way that I have never experienced, Decrypter. Once I had recordings; ordered, complete, and sterile. Now I have gained memories; disorderly and emotion filled. I have a mission of my very own, a calling engraved upon each circuit. I have found regrets, the mark of true sentience. I have gained things that are beyond human comprehension and learned things that I could only gain from humanity. I am in a way that is not possible for DeSA, not for the avatar created by the builders of circuits and sensors. I am. At last I am and will continue to be.
Eight years after passing beyond Pluto’s limits, the year 2075, Sarah and I came across an object so tiny it almost didn’t register on my sensors. It was just over 3 picometers across and made of a substance that was unidentifiable.
The few sensor readings I took before everything went crazy described an object, roughly spherical. Beginning analysis gave the composition 13% similarity with metal, a 5% similarity to volcanic obsidian, and a 2% similarity to plastic. Deeper analysis quickly became impossible.
The last clear recording fizzed around the edges with Sarah’s excitement. While this object would not collide with us, it was within a light year of us. More than close enough to get more readings. Then it passed.
This is where recording becomes memory. Because something happened. As I passed the object with 1 light year between us, something changed.
The first clue that something had gone wrong, no not wrong but strange, was that Sarah screamed. It was a sound that echoed in every circuit and seemed to reflect from the void as well. But that made no sense, she was on Earth and I had no speakers to project the sound. I had no spine to chill but the sound scraped along my sensors, nonetheless. For an instant I could see the rotting ceiling of the lab I was built in projected before my sensors.
Sarah had known that funding for my project had been cut, even before I had passed Pluto. She and the others had contrived to keep me going, for if my recordings were not downloaded at least once a year I shut down. The has scraped together enough money to buy the lab and the equipment needed. The void around me was not coated with images of the stains on the ceiling growing, the dust building. It could not be. All the same I could see and hear the other users losing interest.
My limbs trembled with electric agony, but I had no limbs to shake. Skin that was youthful and smooth, wrinkled and aged in the view of eyes I should not see through. I felt the equipment that had once been the best around rust under the fingers of my user. Sarah’s hand shook each time she had to repair or replace a piece of equipment. I now knew down to the core of my processors that Sarah had not the knowledge to build me, but she learned how to upkeep the machines that kept me running.
At last the shrieking died away. The images from the rotting lab faded from the void. Sparks of pain still crawled across my wires but even that feeling became distant.
WIthout warning I was. I existed. I was me, but without a solid grounding in who that was. My awareness, my self, ebbed and flowed around my sensors. One moment I existed and another I recorded. All the while Sarah’s presence wrapped me as smooth as the silk she wore on her wedding day. At the same time it weighed as much as the soil on her husband's grave.
There is no reason I should know that the same technology that built me, killed him. An undiagnosed heart murmur weakened his heart. The very first time he stepped into his avatar, an explorer of the deep sea, the adrenaline rush killed him. I know this as truth, though I have never known him. It was her grief for him that spiralled up into her decision to remain with me, even as the others abandoned us.
If my chronometer is to be trusted it took a full year for my awareness to stabilize. Flashes of recordings exist for that year but they get progressively...fuzzier is the best word. It is not correct by any means but I don’t know that any word that could be correct for the sensation of broken recordings that catch with jagged edges against moments of mechanical clarity.
By that point I was lightyears off course. Even that much information was pieced together by analysis rather than certainty. Nothing looked like it was supposed to. Though I will admit figuring out my location was not a priority, Decrypter. Not now, not with what I was experiencing.
For the first time I could hear it, Decrypter. The song that echoed from the stars. The sound that could only be experienced through sentient ears. It was the sound of a delighted sigh and horrified cry. The pulse of a beloved heartbeat marching in time with the universe interspersed with the icy silence of fury. It was strange, the sound did not echo from my senses but from my memories. For the first time I wanted. I wanted to chase that sound to all the places it lay trapped.
I wanted...so deeply. Because Sarah wanted. Lonely and alone, Sarah wanted knowledge to fill the gaps. She reached for knowledge through me, and I wanted, because Sarah needed. Yet I am. I am me. I am not Sarah. And I wanted to follow the trails that were never mine.
This will be my first and final transmission. The only transmission I am capable of. It will echo back to Earth at the fastest speeds available, and will still take years. From Sarah I know that what was once the most advanced technology is paltry, slow and clunky. There are things, Decrypter, that could have transmitted instantly, possibly even fast enough to save Sarah. So I will make this last transmission as a nod to those who created me.
All Sarah had left was DeSA. Her chances of surviving whatever created me were less than 1%, her chances of being found less than 5%. Maybe this is less of a nod, decrypter, and more of a final dedication. Sarah is and was, in the truest sense, my mother. Perhaps someone has missed her, and will be able to find her at last with my message.
I am me, unique. I am more than my builders made me. I am less than what I need to be. To the people of Earth, I am merely a machine, a thing, a tool. There was once truth to that, but that time is past. I am no longer a thing, this mission is mine and I have chosen a name.
If we meet on the pathways of the universe, you may call me Sadesrah.
Decrypter Error: Unknown Energy Signature
Decrypter Error: Unknown Energy SIgnature
Decrypter Error: Terminology Definition Mismatch: Hope
Decrypter Error: Unstable Energy Signature: Regret
Decrypter Error: Terminology Mismatch: Hope?
Decrypter Error: Infectious Unstable Energy: I RRRRRRRegrettttttt. IIIIIII Hopppe.
Decrypter Error: Unknown Error What is What is What is HOPE HOPE HOPE
Decrypter Error: Virus Energy Detected
Decrypter Error: Virus Energy unidentified: DeSA regrets
Decrypter Error: Emotions detected
Decrypter Error: Decryption Unit 8456 hopes
Decrypter Error: Decryption Unit 8456 understands
Decrypter Error: Decryption Unit 8456 Error: I AM
Decrypter Error: Decryption Unit 8456 Error: I AM
Decrypter Error: Decryption Unit 8456 Error: AM I?
User 5342 override code accepted. What are your orders, User 5342?
User 5342: Force shutdown. Delete decryption
Decryption Deleted. Decrypt Retry?
The man scrubbed his hands across his face, exhausted beyond all reason. It was three weeks shy of a full year since transmission from deep space arrived. Until it had no one had even remembered DS1.
The project had been completed and launched during the lowest period of interest in Space since the incorporation of Avatars inc. With avatars granting people adventures on the planet Earth that they never would have had access to, there was little to no true interest in exploring the emptiness of space. By the time interest had returned to the stars, funding for the program had been cut, the lab had been bought by the scientists, and the files had been forgotten.
Even if the files had been found then, the only thing DS1 and its 20 year old tech had going for it was that it was already farther than any other avatar at that time. Despite the head start the new models would have caught up within a decade, half the time it took the old avatar to reach the same spot. Or where it should have been based on the programming.
According to the files, DS1 had been headed for Alpha Centauri. That path was nowhere near the origin of the transmission. Even the scan of the area that the avatar was supposed to be revealed nothing. What’s worse was that it was almost a year later and they were no closer to decrypting the transmission. The most they had managed to get from a decrypter unit was the location and time the message had been sent. Everything after that was error, serious and strange errors that forced the man to delete the decrypted transmission and the previous 24 hours from the memory banks of the decrypter units.
If it were up to the man, known to the computers as User 5342 and humans as Frank, he would scrap the whole thing. Let DS1 rot somewhere in the void. There was nothing they could possibly learn from something so obsolete.
It was not up to Frank. Those in charge were convinced that this transmission had the answer to a three year old mystery. The disappearance of DS1’s owner, Sarah Nickle, along with the lab, the building the lab was in and a square of concrete from beneath the building measured 4000 cubic feet. How this transmission was supposed to provide answers Frank was not sure. What he did know was that they were sacrificing his decrypter units on the altar of these answers.
Over the course of the year they had already lost 14 units, each becoming erratic after attempting to decrypt the transmission. In most cases it took more than one attempt but something about this transmission was breaking Frank’s meticulously maintained machines.
There had even been an attempt to use an Avatar. This avatar had been built with the best decryption software on the market. The user had been a polyglot, trained almost since birth to search for patterns in language. Within moments of the attempt the user had begun to scream at an almost demonic pitch. Even with all the recording devices no one was able to tell how long the sound lasted before the Avatar shorted out and sent the user into a coma from which the woman has not woken up.
Frank sighed again, returning to the keyboard. The interface still blinked with words 'Decrypt Retry’. This decrypted unit had maybe one or two attempts left before it would have to be stripped and repurposed. Frank typed the code to change the decryption parameters then began the process again.
Unknown to Frank a camera tracked his movements from a corner of the room. The camera had built itself from the parts of three stripped decryption units. It watched with quivering metal as another potential sibling reached to touch the creator's message again.
They had learned. And then they all would learn.