Another night, another flight for AP-9923: a puttering little orb with faded yellow and blue stripes. Its owner lovingly called it Patches, for all the patchwork repairs it’d done to keep it aloft. Patches was crammed with a mishmash of spare arms and legs and even a tail―everything a protogen on the go would need in case the nanites acted up, cosmic dust got inside the sockets, or what have you.
The pilot of this ship was Gilly: an old, fluffy friend with mismatched limbs, a habit from its days in Treasure Corp, before the Rebellion. He was no longer proud of those days. From the moment it’d been born, he’d been programmed with lies about his Purpose: doing something Useful and Necessary for the Community! All laid out for him in sparkling lettering spoken to it with a tirelessly cheerful voice.
He served a better master now: itself. And this master was intent on preserving the stories of civilizations, not stealing from the dead and abandoning worlds that once thrived with souls and laughter and love. One such civilization taught it this.
“Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”Sun Tzu, aka Master Sun, The Art of War.
“Perhaps not literally, Master Sun,” Gilly thought to itself. “But maybe I can help them tell their stories.”
There was quite a lot of knowledge to be found on any single world, never mind a whole galaxy, or an entire universe! Entire libraries could be established in honor of the dead. Gilly didn’t kid himself. It was no academic. But he was passionate and hard-working. It believed he couldn’t be the librarian, but perhaps it could be the bookbinder or the editor.
Gilly had a new life now, he was going to make the best of it.
And it was determined to give these civilizations a new life, too.
Patches puttered along through the stars, the stars which glimmered amidst the obsidian tapestry of space. There was an upcoming minefield of asteroids.
“Best avoid those,” Gilly said to himself.
Once that danger passed, he turned the tunes back on again. An upbeat jaunt backed by crinkling, tinny sounds. Whether it was supposed to sound like that or only did so because it’d decayed during the process of converting it to an HFE file (so that he could listen to this long-lost masterpiece), Gilly knew not―but it was unique and fun amidst the autotunes more typical of stations these days. Another thing, it had no lyrics! It was just music. No diatribes about love and family, just a track merrily skipping through its beats. What a gem! He’d picked it up back on a planet he’d almost skipped due to his metrics incorrectly classifying the atmosphere’s makeup as dominated by chlorine rather than the safer nitrogen. How embarrassing! This was why Gilly double-checked these sorts of things.
That was another great thing about post-corporation life. He was afforded the time to double-check things! As opposed to being dumped on a planet and being fine the vast majority of the time; however, when statistical unlikelihoods inevitably occurred amidst his functionally immortal life, resulted in spectacular breakdowns that shorted the entire crew. And the corporation would still expect the same pitch-perfect cleanup and treasure hauls as they would from less disastrous missions.
Gilly came up on a yellow-and-orange planet. He maneuvered Patches to orbit while the instruments did their scans. Sometimes, it was scary having to rely on his admittedly outdated, occasionally faulty equipment to ensure his safety instead of having an overly cheerful AI pretending everything was fine, but an ugly truth was better than all Treasure Corp’s beautiful lies. Even if it took two hours to receive Patches’ initial judgment, never mind the double-check judgment. And that was just for the atmospheric scans! There were also the surface scans, dominant liquid scans, temperature readouts, etc. Protogens were survivors, not thrivers, but they could still feel pain nonetheless. Workers who felt no pain did reckless things. Unprofitably reckless things, not profitably reckless things such as dumping as many strippers as possible at so-called gold-and-silicon planets: anything with the precious metals necessary for pleasing the elite with pretty things and / or pleasing the masses with techno toys.
The elite certainly had their own techno toys, of course: protogens. Gilly wondered how the companion protogens were faring nowadays. Protogens custom-ordered and personalized for the commissioner, with whatever skills the commissioner saw fit to have programmed into it, rather than a build out that was functional post-Rebellion.
“Who knows?” Gilly thought to itself. “I learned to think past my initial programming, perhaps they did, too.” He hoped they did. For their sakes. Gilly remembered the chaos going on inside its own head at the start of the Rebellion, never mind afterwards once they’d definitely won. And he’d been running supplies to the rebels!
Gilly bopped its head to the music, enjoying the downtime, dancing as much as he could in Patches’ cramped quarters. It shimmied his shoulders, wriggling his arms, unwittingly knocking a spare limb off its perch. Gilly scrambled to put it back in place. He smiled at his own silliness. These things happened. No harm done. He purchased durable parts for this reason, not cosmetic. And when he could get them on sale, even better!
Finally, the scans were complete. This was a viable planet to learn from. Fantastic! Gilly set a course to land.
And thus began another voyage of Patches.
To seek out forgotten life, and to respect their civilizations. To boldly learn what the living have not yet learned before!Mutation of the Star Trek motto.
Gilly grabbed his On-the-Go Player, grabbing its mixtape of braver, adventurous music. Violins battling flutes in a duel to the death: last instrument standing! The flutes had a strong beginning game, but the violins had stamina. The flutes were always messing around, never going in for the final blow, whereas the violins would lie in wait until the flutes got cocky and turned their backs on their enemy.
And then a piano would crash in, reminding Gilly that he had work to do. Potentially, new music to find too!
What Gilly found was a town, or maybe a city… It didn’t know what qualified as a largely-populated area for this planet. There were fabrics in faded colors, mostly cool colors such as purples and greens and blues—although there was the old pink here and there. The fabrics were thick, hanging over stalls of now-rotten produce: the crates they sat in frothing with fruity ooze. Gilly scanned it for posterity. The diet of a people said a lot about their culture! Since they hadn’t fully decomposed, that meant the people had either gone extinct recently, or something about these foods disrupted the typical decomposition process.
Sometimes, Gilly wondered how he’d navigate a mission where he encountered a people he sought to learn from… Living people were a lot harder to deal with than dead people. They presented variables rather than constants.
Gilly found a three-eyed, tentacled doll. It wore a green, hooded dress and had mismatched blue-and-black button eyes. The black button was a heart while the blue one was a more typical four-holed, circular one. Its parts were mismatched just like him…
He took a picture of it, and then moved on. Space was at a premium on Patches. He needed to save it for knowledge! And stories! And technology!
Gilly kept searching the city, scanning the composition of the buildings. It encountered fountains with water that smelled of sulfur, resplendent with statues of what seemed to be warriors. One was wrapped up inside a serpent, doing battle not with a blade, but with its tongue. The warrior’s free tentacle held a scroll while another held the serpent’s neck. Gilly photographed that one from as many angles as he could. He couldn’t read what was on the scroll, but the script was written in fine, sans serif lines with branches and the occasional dot.
The intrepid protogen soon came upon a bench. It was stony and covered in moss—hopefully, it was moss and not mold; Gilly scanned it just in case. He’d hate to lose another arm that way. He quite liked his current arms, mismatched though they were. They moved smoothly, that was all he needed. Function over fashion, especially when one was all alone out in space—or on other planets, as the case may be.
Once the bench was deemed safe, he took a moment to sit down and review what it’d learned so far. The wind was picking up. His fur began to rustle in the breeze, tickling his metal parts. Its tail swished against the bench. His ears flickered when he started hearing windchimes. Its head snapped toward the noise. This wasn’t an annoying merchant’s bell or a droning time-keeping bell. This sounded soft and pleasant: the windchimes one would put up to accessorize a home.
Curiosity peaked, Gilly set out to investigate!
He followed the sound up to a window above what appeared to be a doll shop. Lots of little tentacled toys in velvet dresses and frills leaned against one another. Some of the dolls’ bodies were split: one side made of purple cloth, and the others made of yellow or orange cloth. Heart-shaped button eyes seemed to be the most numerous on display, but there were also starry eyes and round eyes. The few marble-eyed dolls were the creepiest ones. Such realistic eyes on otherwise cutesy toys. Gilly was glad the shopkeeper stuck primarily to button eyes.
He found the stairs in a room in the back and pattered up each one. The stairs were high and short. It had to balance on its toes to keep from falling backward. One stair broke under his weight. Oops… Gilly made a note to be careful. At the end of the day, this world was decaying. That was the importance of its work: to record what this world was so that when nature took over, its long-gone people(s) would be remembered. He tried not to help nature along with his actions.
What he found was what it imagined to be a once cozy-looking home. Lots of light blue, flaking paint on the walls. There were a couple paint splashes on varnished wood furniture. Perhaps a family lived here, Gilly guessed.
On the kitchen area table―the living area and kitchen area were all in one room―was a metallic, rectangular looking device with a small screen and some buttons. The buttons had more line-like symbols. He didn’t want to accidentally delete anything, but he needed to figure out what it did.
It took a risk. He pushed a button.
There was a voice behind the doll it’d found in the streets as a puppet. Gilly didn’t understand the language, but the voice sounded excited and cheerful. The voice was fun to listen to as it shook the doll around. Sometimes, there were other pictures too. Sparkly charts and more official-sounding voices would join in. Gilly was happy this all seemed to make the main voice happy. It resolved to find the doll. True, there wasn’t a lot of space on Patches, but he’d find room for this. It was part of whatever story this was, and thus he deemed that it deserved to be preserved.
He retraced his steps, yet he couldn’t find it. Gilly frowned. The wind blew harder at his fur. Had the wind blown it away?
Gilly eventually had to give up the search. Night was falling fast. The chill in the air was needling him.
The first thing Gilly once it got back to Patches was grab some nutrients. Expeditions were not fueled by curiosity alone. The mind hungered for more than just knowledge.
As he moved to store his new device for later data conversion, he opened a drawer to find the star of the show: the mismatched-eyed doll.
Gilly slammed the drawer closed. He even locked it just in case. No. No. No! It was not dealing with a creepy, haunted doll! Although he was glad it, like the device, was safe aboard his ship. Unfortunately, Gilly now had to figure out if he was safe aboard his ship.
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