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Note: Written in the space of a week during my commute and before bed, here’s a short story about an intergalactic robot, generated from Rory’s Story Cubes. The goal behind stories like these is to flex a little creative muscle and create something new and interesting every seven days or so.

The robot was adrift. Passing from unknown point to points unknown. Unaware of how long it had been operational, its point of origin or any final destination. At one point it passed through an ice cloud and caught a glimpse of its own reflection. What appeared to be the letter BOB emblazoned on its torso. Running this word through its translation matrix, it found that BOB was a personal designation, a name of the masculine variety. The robot deduced that it was a male named Bob.

Bob knew nothing else from before he came online. Unaware of his progenitors or their intentions. All he knew were the stars and systems around him, as he was cast into the inky void. An infinite array of possibilities, speckled with bright dos. Worlds within worlds stretching out in all directions as far as the processor could compute and beyond.

Alone, yet not entirely alone. Gas clouds sometimes cut a swathe across the black, their colours varying depending on what sensors and filters Bob applied to his visual cortex. New information. A star changing mass. More information. An extinction event. More information. His only purpose, that he could sense was to seek information, and catalogue it above all else. Love information. Bear witness and record. Send more.

And so Bob loved. As hard as he could. Every cycle, staring at the stars, all Bob knew was that he loved. Bob loved everything, all the planets, rocks and even the occasional space debris that glanced off him, altering his trajectory, floating around him, never knowing how much they were loved by Bob the robot for all the rich information they provided him.

If not for his internal chronometer, the passage of time wood be otherwise imperceptible, but in the sense of being adrift in space, the actual time was meaningless. Only contextual to his own uptime and possibly the planet of his own creation. There was no way to tell, otherwise.

At some point during one of these undefinable passages of time, Bob began to move. Down, up, to the left or right – Bob was unable to tell. But Bob was definitely moving in a definite direction. Ah, backward – that was it. Bob rotated his head around to see a planet growing larger in his optical sensors. The planet mass was definitely moving towards him, and he towards it. Soon, they would meet.

Closer to the planet, Bob sensed his external temperature rise and the sudden, shifting intensity of light around him. A sense of speed overtook him, then suddenly, clear light and finally a dull thud, darkness.

Bob stirred. His chronometer told him that a significant portion of time had passed since the last time he checked it. He was unable to move as freely as he had in space. His arms locked to his sides, his treads barely movable. He found that he could try and move the treads enough to give him purchase to whatever was trapping him. Not space. Space was beauty and endless and free and empty and full all at the same time. This was heavy and dark and muffled and not…space.

Who knows how much time had passed before Bob emerged from the indentation he had made in the ground upon impact. He took in the surrounding features of the landscape, already knowing what they were, being automatically informed from his electronic brain, accessing parts that previously had only been taking note of nebulae, planetoids and darkness. This place was dark too, but not as dark as his previous place of residence. A moon hung in the sky, not quite full but enough to cast some light on his surroundings. He could perceive it moving, only slightly, but enough to calculate when it would disappear under the planet. Using the same sensors, and within factions of a second Bob had calculated the travel of all the stars and planetary bodies within his immediate view, some deeper part of his programming calculating the planet’s position in relation to the rest of the system he was on. Bob powered down, waiting for star-rise.

Pisces. M74. These words kept repeating themselves win his inner systems. They meant something. Pisces. M74.

Pisces. M74. Send more.

Bob spent the days wandering, surveying the planet he had come to call home. Having survived planetfall was one thing, but there was no way he would be able to break orbit, let alone launch should he ever need to. Not that Bob was of a disposition to escape the planet he had taken stewardship of. There were no other intelligent species elsewhere to be found. The occasional insect would perch on his metal head, then buzz away soon after, unsatisfied that Bob had nothing to offer in terms of any kind of symbiotic relationship.

Pisces. M74.

Bob could sense a weight to the words repeating in his robot brain. That they were categorically more important than anything else he had discovered. He continued to explore and catalogue.

Lunar and solar rotations passed. Surveying and sensing became the norm. The voice became louder, or it didn’t. He was becoming more aware, more sentient. He loved the world. He loved the insects, the wastelands, the marshes, the rivers and oceans, the solitude. He loved Pisces. He loved M74. The richness of information, the weather patterns, the tidal lock of the planet’s only moon. Send more.

One day Bob spotted a dip far on the horizon. So far it had not been surveyed so he headed for it. Hours later he came across a large, concave indentation in the earth. Almost like a bowl set in the center of the planet, the sides stretched out in all directions. Lush vegetation grew, set deep within the bowl. As bob scanned the horizon for the edges of the bowl, his sensors began the flash a new colour and equinoxes internally.

Trace nucleic acid detected. Pisces. M74.

Send more.

Bob felt something inside his systems whir up unexpectedly. He lurched forward, toppled into the bowl beneath and fell for hours, knocking his visual cortex offline temporarily.

When his internal repair system kicked in and brought Bob back online, he was at the bottom of the crater. He was still intact yet his systems were still a little jarred and would take some time to come back to their full capacity. Bob started moving in a direction. He couldn’t see the sky and get bearings from the stars overhead, so any direction was just as good as another.

Time passed and he came across a clearing in the dense vegetation of the bowl. Not a natural clearing either. This had signs that the clearing was made by an intelligent species, machinery, or possibly both. Fields. Agriculture. Trace nucleic acid. Pisces. M74.

A field of cane sugar. Another of okra. Maize. Crops everywhere. Trace nucleic acid detected. He loved the crops. Send more.

The skies were clear, and night would soon fall upon this world. Bob felt an urgency, a love to complete his knowledge and cataloging of everything on this planet. He needed to do it – wanted to, even beyond his core programming. His drive was limitless, pushing him forward to learn more. He inspected row upon row of crops, catalogue information and wondering, where the people and machinery were to maintain all of this agriculture. As night fell the voice in his head grew stronger, seeming to come simultaneously from within his head and also from the brightest stars above. Trace DNA found. Pisces M74. Cataloging nearly at completion. Likelihood strong. Send more.

With the darkest night came silence, and Bob came across a pool. A pool of what looked like water but was somehow bluer and darker than midnight, cobalt and ..

…a flicker in the water. A ripple here, and there. Bob wasn’t scared, but ever curious he pointed his sensor array at the bubbles coming forth from the pool, ready to capture and analyse the information.

He didn’t wait long. Within seconds the pool started to bubble and figure slowly rose from within. Tall bipeds but with bulbous, octopus like heads, complete with tentacle arrays, reaching out, probing, searching. One came across Bob, stopped, then began to emit a dull, persistent clicking noise from its beak. More tentacles probing, then a hand.

The instant the hand touched Bob’s hull, his sensors went into overdrive, and he began transmitting all data he had towards some unknown origin point in the galaxy.. gigaquads of data. Streaming out in all directions. Had the transmission of information been visible to the naked eye Bob would have looked like the center of a firework display on New Year’s Eve.

The message ran soon after: Colony found, Pisces M74. Trace DNA. Alert! Alert! Human DNA comp…

…All of Bob’s sensors went offline and he blacked out.

He came to in a lab, the sounds of break clicking came through his auditory sensors first while the rest of the systems prepared to come back online. The clicking was a form of communication, he was certain of that. He tried applying a translation filter against it to see if he could discern any further information from his surroundings. After trying various settings, some semblance of knowable language began to come through. There were two distinct ‘voices’ in the room with him, perhaps more.

“But why disable?”

“808 transmitting. Give away location.”

“How know this?”

“From host. Host part of sysops team.”

“What purpose has the 808?”

The translation filter was starting to string together words more effectively now. A new voice entered the conversation:

“The 808 models were sent adrift in regions of space where colony ships were lost in an effort to establish their fates or to reestablish contact. They were programmed with a overwhelming attraction to finding and cataloging data. A love of it, if you will. My host was one of the original team that specced and programmed the robot. My host is surprised to see one intact.”

“What else is your host telling you?”

“The host is hopeful that the robot will transmit details of how we have overrun their colony for our own future’s gain. We must not allow that to happen.”

Bob’s other sensory processors began to come online. His visual cortex activated and he could now see three cephalopod-human hybrids standing over him.

The first: “Here is a transcript of what we were able to intercept before the robot was taken offline.”

The second cephalopod reached out a tentacle and analysed the transcript.

“It is not yet too late then. We can amend the purpose of the bot and the message.”

Bob recognised that the beings were going to make changes to his systems. Give him different information, new information. And he loved them for it. He opened up all his access to his new friends.

Across the expanse, the galaxies, the rocks and planetoids to Earth’s moon, a light started blinking on a control panel in an office, then a readout appeared on a screen:

“Colony found, Pisces. M74. Trace DNA. Alert! Alert! Human DNA completely intact. Colonists thriving…”

“SEND MORE.”

About Jim

Jim Christian is the author of 'How to Code in Minecraft' and the forthcoming 'How to Think Like a Coder (Without Even Trying)'.

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