A Taste of Earth: Scene 5
This is the fifth scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.
Santa Monica Beach, California, USA
The biosphere-altering probe observed the indigenous life forms with indifference. It concentrated on the taste of earth. If the indigenous life forms interfered with its task, it would take a taste of them as well.
Ah, yes. The soil was mostly quartz, with organisms including traces of methanogenic bacteria. It relayed its findings back to its home world by means of a quantum entanglement, and added the message, “Solar system found having two planets within specified parameters. The second planet from the star is ideal, no altering necessary. The third is of sufficient mass and element rich, but needs massive alterations. Phase one altering initiated. Phase two not necessary.” It waited for a response.
It waited for the allotted period before time out.
It should have heard a response, if not from its creators, then at least a confirmation signal from a relay station.
The indigenous life forms were approaching Hachiman with primitive sensing equipment. Hachiman withdrew its soil sampler and the indigenous life forms retreated. It extended its directional antenna, and they retreated further, making audible noises.
Still no return message from home.
It sent the message again several times, and waited for four times the allotted time out period after communication silence. In the mean time, it processed the actions that the indigenous life forms made in conjunction with their skin temperature and the hormones they expressed, as was the customary form of communication on its home world. Since it had a long wait, slightly more than three seconds, it tried to learn their language.
Hachiman found it difficult smelling their communication in this thin, wind-blown atmosphere. It was much easier at home where the fluid of the corporeal biosphere allowed them to transfer hormones and mRNA-based messenger packets, but here such packages would fly away too easily. When Hachiman first came ashore, it did sense a simple hormone communication from the indigenous life forms. They seemed to be engaged in a mating ritual, but they quickly dispersed. They returned later in airtight garments. Why did they isolate themselves? Were they shy? How could they conduct these complicated, cooperative efforts without scent exchange? They must be using an alternate form of communication, but why? So much information could be transferred on encoded molecules.
The life form it encountered at close hand, the hairy one that walked on four legs, seemed to be a better communicator. It at least asked for a response by sniffing. When Hachiman returned the gesture, the creature ran away. Perhaps it was a messenger vehicle.
The waiting period expired without a return signal from home. According to its preprogrammed rules, its self-learning and adaptive brain was now free to respond on its own initiatives.
“No, they’re loading it now,” Dipesh explained to Irene. He shielded his eyes from the array of halogen lights set up around Hachiman. Night had fallen. The bomb squad’s forklift was loading it into an insulated metal box. “We got permission to go with it to Edwards Air Force Base. It has the closest biohazard lab with the security they’ll need.”
“Good,” Irene said. “David and I will meet you there.”
A white flutter caught his eye. Seagulls, in violation of the police line, flew in to peck at rubbish in the sand. He wondered, if Hachiman succeeded in altering the earth’s climate, would these ubiquitous birds survive long after humans had succumbed? Not likely. It would be the cockroaches. But he couldn’t get the image out of his mind, the image of evolved seagulls combing the surface of a superheated wasteland, pecking at rubbish. The thought gave him a shiver.
Hachiman scanned its database for an appropriate response when the indigenous life forms lifted it from the sand. It decided to take a passive posture and continue to observe the beach-dwelling life forms. This was the most entertainment Hachiman had since the close encounter with the singularity.
Then it had an idea. When it had scanned the electro-magnetic frequencies for possible signals from home, it found modulated signals in the lower frequencies. It guessed by the signal characteristics and strength, that the signals were locally generated and possibly a means of communication. It decoded them by cross-referencing them with the ambient sound, what it had previously thought were “junk” noises. The refining process took less than four milliseconds. Yes, the indigenous life forms used audio communication. It formulated thirteen different grammar-syntax-vocabulary combinations that would fit the small sample size. It also processed the actions that the life forms made in conjunction with this sonic communication, and concluded that their movements were a part of their language.
When the life forms loaded Hachiman into a box, it did not resist. Hachiman could still send and receive tachyon signals. Moments later, it felt a change in altitude. Air transportation didn’t concern it, as long as it remained within the gravity well of this planet.
Hachiman recalled how the life forms interacted with each other, and determined that they employed a hierarchical form of social organization. Just as it had done with their communication, it formulated several different social structures that would fit its observations.
Perhaps they showed signs of intelligence after all, primitive intelligence, but just enough to be on the waking edge of sentience.
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