The Artist

It was one of those unseasonably warm days in early January when the butterfly flitted onto my shoulder.  Those sixty degree days must have caused it to emerge prematurely, I thought.  Still it was strange, and I gently extended my finger for the creature to climb onto, marveling at its delicacy as it did so.  The butterfly perched on my finger as I examined it, realizing to my amazement that it was not organic!  As the tiny insect fluttered its wings, I saw that the wings were a polymer-type material, and I could see microgears meshing as the articulated legs moved.  Traces of microcircuitry could be seen running along the minuscule body.  As if aware that its true nature had been detected, the butterfly flew away, and I saw it no longer.

The technology that could create such a thing was still in the process of being created, and for what purpose had such an extraordinary thing, complex but delicate, been designed?  Apparently it had been devised just because its creator could do so, and he or she had engineered it for the joy of creating it.  Such a person lived in this time, yet ahead of it.  In all of human experience there had only been a handful of such individuals.

As a student of history, I knew that in the Hellenistic Age of Greece, there had lived an extraordinary man who demonstrated a knowledge of mechanics, hydraulics, and other technologies that was many centuries ahead of its time.  So great were this man’s capabilities that his understandings would not be approached until the Renaissance, and even then imperfectly so.  The great Leonardo DaVinci, himself a genius, could not get one of his predecessor’s machines to function, although in the present day they would, as Leonardo had incorrectly used square rather than pointed teeth in a gear design.  What if this remarkable intelligence had somehow managed to engineer around the problem of death, so that his consciousness in this world survived his physical body?  And what if that individual had continued to learn, grow, and evolve beyond a single human lifespan?

A few miles away, a most extraordinary butterfly flew through an open window.  Servomechanisms hummed and whirred as the consciousness of Archimedes smoothly extended his robotic arm to provide a roost for his returning winged creation…and a positronic brain turned to ponder other marvels that it was even then just conceiving…  


Not of This World…

First and Last Contact

What was it about big metal ships, anyways?  People always expected the alien visitors to come in them.  In reality, it was not practical to send large metallic ships nor was it feasible to send fragile biological life forms in them, as they are quite vulnerable to the stressors of space flight, and were possessed of a finite life span which made traversing the vast distances of space personally impossible.  But alien intelligences had evolved far beyond our own, making it possible for them to visit other civilizations by proxy.  Recognizing the brevity of their own existence, the aliens had first used nanobots to precisely duplicate their own neurology, and translate it in every nuance to an intelligent machine which in effect became themselves.  This guaranteed a functional form of immortality, with the software that represented an individual’s consciousness transferred to a different machine when the software of the biological body wore out.

So comprehensive was the transcription of the nanobots that the intelligent machine which it was transferred to retained the individual’s complete life experiences, their unique orientations and abilities, and all that was in essence their personality.  The resultant machine became, in effect, that specific individual in their totality without the annoyance of a high-maintenance, disease-prone body which deteriorated with aging and had a finite life span.  

Bigger is likewise not always better, and so for the purposes of interstellar travel the intelligent alien machines were quite small, not much larger than a Terran insect, really.  Each of these small but very sophisticated machines bore an individual consciousness which had once been a biological entity, and the unit was capable of sustaining, repairing, and even replicating itself.  With infinite patience and efficiency these tiny alien machines streamed across the vast reaches of space in diverse directions, with one penetrating the atmosphere of our system’s third planet from the sun to visit what was deemed by the unfathomable alien mind to harbor conditions hospitable to the generation of life.  The tiny but sentient and durable machine readily passed undetected by the sensing devices of the global military establishment as well as by SETI; it was so small as to be inconsequential.  Everyone on Earth was programmed to detect missiles and large metallic saucers, or at least a decipherable message from an E.T.

The alien consciousness in the tiny but remarkable vessel was drawn by the abundance of chemicals in the vicinity of Africa, where human life itself may have had its genesis.  Sampling the atmosphere to its satisfaction, the tiny craft identified an indigenous life form by a waterway, a massive, herbivorous mammal that humans call a hippopotamus.  Excited at its discovery, the minute alien buzzed about the great head of the hippopotamus, anxious to further investigate the sensory apparatus that seemed to be centered there.  The hovering movements of the alien caused a buzzing, droning sound in the ears of the large mammal, which in turn caused the hippo to perceive the probing alien as a bothersome mosquito.  The hippo snapped its powerful jaws upon the interstellar visitor, ending its long journey and quite crushing the extraordinary device.  Days later, the remains of the advanced alien technology would be excreted in a large pile of dung, and draw no attention whatsoever except for that of dung beetles, who had no use for or comprehension of evidence of vastly superior intelligences.

This would prove most unfortunate for the inhabitants of Earth, who thereafter would be visited by a planet destroyer sent by the perturbed alien civilization…