Even though we’re pretty much together on everything, IZ was the one who was monitoring outer solar system astronomical business when the particular anomaly showed up.

‘Guess what?’ IZ said. I hate whenever IZ says that.

‘What, IZ?’

‘Remember that Planetary Trojan I mentioned to you approximately 302 days ago?’

‘Yeah?’ Of course, I didn’t remember it. Not that well at least. But no sense in saying I didn’t. ‘What about it?’

‘The one we all noticed on the leading edge of the orbit of Neptune?’

‘Yeah!’ I sort of remembered it now.

‘Between Neptune and Naiad, the innermost shepherding moon.’

Remembered even more now. ‘Yeah?’

‘Well it’s moved.’

‘To everyone’s astonishment’, I said. ‘Unconnected Asteroid Trojans detach from planetary orbit and either move out of the Solar System and back out to the Oort Cloud, or they detach and move in toward the sun.’

‘Well this one is doing neither’, IZ said.

‘What’s it doing?’

‘It appears to be moving into planetary orbit around Uranus.’

‘You’ve been monitoring it?’

‘Ever since it detached from Neptune, yes.’

‘And how long did it take to move to Uranus?’

‘Well, given that they are currently pretty distant from each other, it did so relatively quickly. Do you want the exact speed?’

‘No. Was the speed regular or not?’

‘Pretty regular’, IZ admitted. ‘But it went faster after starting to move and now it’s slowing down…You realize what this means?’ IZ added.

‘Quiet! I’m thinking.’

‘I know. I can smell the wood burning from here.’

This is IZ’s idea of a joke. As you can see, it’s about age 13, giving you some idea of his actual social age and mentality. 

‘Do you want to report it to Xi Xi Bai Ling?’ I asked. Xi Xi’s a good friend of ours and she also heads the Mars Colony Astronomical Security Section.  

‘How would I report it?’ IZ asked.

‘As an E.P.T.—an Erratic Planetary Trojan, of course.’

‘I don’t believe it’s erratic at all.’

‘I’m well aware of what you think, IZ. We are One. Remember?’

‘But I have to report it as erratic because it’s not acting the way a Trojan ought to act?’ IZ asked.

‘You read my mind.’

‘Always. Still, that’s not an accurate description either’, said IZ, a stickler for accuracy—and useful at times…

‘What else do you have as a way to report it?’ I asked.

‘I’m sifting’, IZ said, i.e. he was sifting through the procedures. He wasn’t going to find tuchis to help his case, I already knew. I’d helped write that procedure.

‘Give up yet?’ I asked.

‘I could report it to XI XI instead’, IZ reported. XI XI was Xi Xi Bai Ling’s Other.

‘Report it as what?’

‘Well, as an E.P.T. But you know because we’ve got all that similar coding, I could slip in all of my findings in a subterranean text and XI XI would soon figure out how regularly erratic it actually is.’

‘You still have to report it to Xi Xi Bai Ling.’

‘I will.’

‘I sometimes have sex with her. Don’t screw that up, IZ.’

‘I won’t.’

‘You never really understand how important that is to me. Make sure you don’t screw it up, IZ.’

‘I promise. The last thing I need for clear thinking is for you to be sexually unsatisfied’, IZ came right out and said it. After all, we are One.


Of course, Xi Xi and XI XI both got the message from IZ as well as its implications, and so they realised that this E.P.T. was a bit more than merely erratic, and possibly even something special.

A week later, it had moved into forward orbit with Uranus and its moon Miranda, and Xi Xi and XI XI met the two of us along with another half dozen pairs in Lowell City’s Science Central Hall, office 345.

‘We’ve got to go take a look at it’, Paulo said. 

‘I mean we really have to go look’, PAUL-O added.

(God, I hate these emotional types.)

‘Agreed’, Xi Xi said. ‘Any dissensions?’ None. ‘Any volunteers?’

IZ of course volunteered. I already knew he would.

‘Isadore? How do you feel about losing half of your One for that long a period of time? XI XI guestimates the flight at 22 months.’

I was about to say that I’d lived 79 years before IZ anyway, what was another few without him?–when IZ popped in and said, ‘PAUL-O, TAM-MI, and I have estimated the flight could take 22 days…’ IZ paused dramatically. ‘…if we utilize the gravity wheel.’

Now the gravity wheel had never been tested in post-Arean space. i.e beyond the orbit of Mars, so we had no real idea how it would work. It had worked wonderfully between Lunar and Mars orbits. And pretty much all of our non-sentient supplies were now delivered that way, cutting down time and, of course, fuel cost, since it used its own spinning internal wheel as motive power, and is made out of lighter-than-air ceramics and metals to begin with. 

TAM-MI spoke up now. ‘In fact, we all think that a much smaller version, say one just big enough for IZ and maybe also shielding and a bit of defensive armament could get to the E.P.T. in two weeks’ time.’

‘Isadore?’ Xi Xi looked at me.

‘Sure. Sure. Whatever…’ I said.

‘This means, people’, Xi Xi was careful to point out, ‘that Isadore will be half of his One for at least four weeks. What do we want to do about that?’

‘Spend lots more time with Isadore’, Tammy said. 

‘Have lots of sex with Isadore’, Paulo said.

‘That’s right. And in general be extra nice to Isadore’, Xi Xi said. 

Yummy, I thought. Xi-Xi, Tammy and Paulo! I’m going to make out like a bandit.

But of course since we are One, I’d never really be detached from IZ, either, since we are neurally netted. Even though he would be partly shut off for long periods of time, as a result of the action of the gravity wheel, spinning so furiously fast, headed toward Miranda and Uranus’s sub-orbit. And of course IZ could go and I couldn’t, because, like XI XI, TMMI and PAUL-O, he is a machinelike entity attached to me via neural feedback netting.


IZ became fully conscious again at a point that he and XI XI had decided would be the best slowdown site. He was never fully turned off, although with the interference from the gravity wheel which had proven about as robust as PAUL-O had predetermined, there was always a sort of neural activity with my Other, something like a low-grade hum, just enough for me to know he was there but not enough to annoy either one of us.

IZ made up for that by annoyedly announcing as soon as he became fully conscious again, ‘I believe I’ve found another proof for Fermat’s Theorem’, he began to explain. ‘I didn’t want to waste my time offline by doing nothing constructive so I…’

‘Fine, fine, fine’, I interrupted him, ‘Where are you? And what’s going on?’

The other six were instantly connected to us, and also several Sci Centre recording and analysis sources joined us in real time.

IZ provided his coordinates and XI XI put them up on various screens.

‘What are you seeing, IZ?’ I prompted.

His three internal cameras instantly became external and took over the screen. These were all over-the-top views from Uranus’ ring, never a terrifically important affair, and now to some extent thinned-out more by his angle of approach to the planet, as well as by something else.

The something else looked like a large beach ball, sort of iridescent, with raised, circular protrusions at either end with an arc-ing kind of rainbow of stuff passing between them, both over and under the ball itself. This was obviously the ‘bogey’ or ‘target’ or ‘UFO’ we’d seen.

‘The protrusions look like 20th century bathtub plugs,’ IZ observed, pulling a random comparison from his databanks.

I ignored that and asked for measurements. Instantly, we received sidebars as to size, composition, etcetera. 

‘It’s bigger than Lowell City’, TAM-MI announced. 

‘It’s more or less hollow’, Tammy reported. ‘Except it seems about half full of something.’

‘What’s the arcing plasma?’

PAUL-O speculated that it was magma of some sort. Possibly a stasis field.      

‘Ions are being activated’, IZ added. ‘It’s conveying some material into the centre via the two plugs. Wait, no! In via the right side plug only. The other appears quiescent.’

I was about to ask what IZ’s obsession with plugs was about, when a new diagraph appeared on our screens showing that an ionic field of the same kind was surrounding the northern hemisphere of one of the gas giant’s satellites, Miranda.

A close-up of that moon then revealed another plug-like object in orbit around Miranda. But it led to yet another ion field with some directionality, and that now appeared to connect up to yet another plug in orbit around Uranus at what seemed to be the pink and orangeish spot on the planet’s otherwise-otherworldly white cloud surface, a spot that until now we’d always thought was a storm.

‘I can make out another plug-like object in geosynchronous orbit over the storm spot’, XI XI announced. ‘And guess what? The ion field is noticeable down inside the spot on Neptune too!’

The screen now encompassed all of that in a single diagrammatic visual which had been especially highlighted for the four poor ‘actuals’ among us to see and comprehend.

IZ, who was closest, saw the implication immediately. ‘Material is being’ drawn off the planet and into the plugs and into the ship. They’re mining Uranus’ spot.’

What are they mining’? Xi Xi asked.

IZ threw an index of the materials’ composition onto our screens.

Others read it faster than I did. ‘It’s garbage’, Paulo declared. 

‘Not even garbage. That at least would be hydrocarbons. They’re taking what looks to be over-recycled hydrogen.’

‘Has anyone bothered to see what changes happened at Neptune as a result of them mining there for who-knows-how-long before IZ and Isadore spotted them?’

‘On it!’ TAM-MI announced, then returned. ‘Nothing I could figure out.’

‘They mined garbage there too!’ Paulo declared.

TAM-MI was back and agreed. ‘It wasn’t anything we wanted or would miss. But I did notice something on Neptune I hadn’t seen before. I’m thinking it must have been somewhat near the spot where they mined there.’

‘Their slag heaps’,’ I said. ‘You can’t mine without leaving behind some kind of slag.

‘Yes, and look at their slag’s composition!’ TAM-MI posted it 

We all looked. 

‘Wow!’ Xi Xi exclaimed. ‘They’re taking old hydrogen and leaving slag of lighter-than-air magnetised ceramics and lots of bright light metals.’

‘Especially platinum and deuterium. Neptune now has more high grade platinum than in the entire rest of the solar system.’

‘A genuine UFO and it’s leaving behind untold riches! This is too good to be true’, Tammy enthused.

While we were cheering that, I suddenly felt strange all over my body,

‘Oops!’ IZ said. ‘Our celebration might be premature. I was just scanned by two beams emanating from the big heliotrope basketball!’

‘You’d better join him, Isadore’, Xi Xi said.

‘Yes, boss’, I said, and let the desk connection to IZ shoot me up with a hypnotic.

Five seconds later, I was fully mentally with IZ since, after all, we are One.

‘We’re checking in’, I said, so the others knew. ‘And…nothing at all is happening.’

‘While they analyse their scans’, PAUL-O assured us.

That took a while. So I said, ‘IZ, let’s get a little closer.’

‘Not enough to be a threat!’ Xi Xi commanded.

I wasn’t used to the gravity wheel spinning as IZ was, and that took some getting used to, but when we stopped, we were about half the distance to the iridescent basketball with its two end-plugs as we had been before.

From this close, it didn’t look solid as it had before. The edges of the main thing sort of bled off into the blackness of space instead of being distinct as, say, the limbs of the gravity wheel were.

‘Is everyone seeing this?’ I asked. 

‘What the…?’

‘Is it made of gas?’ Tammy asked.

Something suddenly emerged from the left-hand plug and headed our way. It looked like a smaller version of the plug.

It came about half the distance between the two of us and then halted.

I remained still.

‘Greetings!’ I hailed it, and IZ used a batch of radio, microwave, and other waves to transmit.

Again, it remained still.

Then we heard a sort-of static and words that sounded like, ‘Instruction requested source employer: Anomalous object encounter: Unprepared.’

‘It didn’t expect us’, IZ said.

‘No kidding.’

‘What’s it doing?’ Paulo asked.

‘Are you scanning it, IZ?’ XI XI asked.

‘Passively. We don’t want to cross signals.’

‘Is it a being? A vehicle? Or what?’ Xi Xi wanted to know.

‘No way to tell from here’, I admitted. 

Once again that staticky sound began and we heard, ‘Courtesy appreciated.’

‘So we wait, I said.

But IZ had cameras and the Others of his kind at Lowell City were hooked in enough to read and passively interpret those cameras’ intakes.

‘Is the plug solid or gas?’ Tammy asked.

‘The plugs all look solid.’

 ‘Wonder what kind of container is made of gas to hold other gasses? And that much of it, too! I mean how would that even work?’ Paulo asked.

‘Chemically, I suppose’, I said. ‘IZ?’

IZ agreed. It would have chemical torsion, chemical-physical tension and lots of limitations.

‘Locally, sure. I get that,’ Paulo said. ‘But what about long distance? I mean, where are these guys from anyway?’

‘It’s a plug’, Xi Xi reminded us. ‘Remember, we’re speaking to a plug.’

 And just then, the plug came a bit closer and then staticked a bit and scanned the gravity wheel.

‘Vehicle?’ it asked.

‘Vehicle!’ IZ replied.

‘Passenger?’ it asked. It could make out IZ attached to the gravity wheel.

‘Passenger sentient being’, IZ replied.

‘Passenger sentient being current planetary system?’ it asked.

Affirmative. Sentient being current planetary system.’

‘Don’t tell them where we are from’, Xi Xi instructed.

The plug hesitated, then staticked more and said, ‘Instruction requested source employer. Anomalous sentient vehicle encounter. Unprepared. Faulty instructions’, it concluded. Then repeated, ‘Instruction requested source employer.’ 

‘It didn’t know it would encounter anyone alive here’, I said.

‘It’s got to phone home.’

Sentient being courteous patience affirmative’, IZ said.

‘Courteous patience affirmative acknowledged’, the plug confirmed.

‘Isadore? Can you passively follow whatever beam it’s using to get instruction?’ Xi Xi asked.

‘I can do it’, IZ said. ‘TAM-MI? Can you follow?’

‘I’m on it now’, Tammy’s Other said. ‘Constellation Lyra, more or less. And I’m losing it inside the Oort Belt of one particular, somewhat nondescript, planetary system.’  

She then gave us the stellar’ coordinates. ‘Anybody know of Goldilocks regions or inhabitable planets in that system?’

‘Negative’, PAUL-O reported. ‘But it’s got six Jovian gas giants.’

‘Who wants to bet that it’s not calling the boss, just the works supervisor?’ Xi Xi said what we were all thinking. 

Suddenly, we heard more static and the plug-like UFO came somewhat closer and repeated, ‘Courteous patience acknowledged. Sentient being current planetary system ownership acknowledged.’

‘Acknowledged’, IZ said. Then to me, ‘It didn’t know anyone owned Neptune and Uranus.’

‘Well, we don’t actually own them’, I began. 

But Xi Xi shushed me, ‘Compared to those guys, we do own them!’

More static then. ‘Sentient being compensation acknowledged’, it concluded.

‘Leave us more platinum’, Tammy squealed. ‘Tons and tons of platinum! Mine all you want but leave us your faboo slag!’

‘Better yet’, Paulo said, ‘Leave your slag closer to us. It’s still too far away to be usable.’

‘Boss?’ IZ asked.

‘Tell them to ship the slag to Phobos’, Tammy suggested.

‘That’s too close to home. How about they leave it on one of the bigger asteroids?’ Xi Xi said. ‘We can Gravity Spin out to those easily.’

Between them, XI XI and TAM-MI selected an appropriate planetissimal. It was closer to Jupiter than Mars and located so that Mars’ northern polar angle alone was visible, thus providing virtually no viewing of where Lowell City was located.

IZ began and spun out the numbers. 

As expected, the plug replied, ‘Message conveyed. Instruction requested source employer.’ 

So we waited. And waited.

‘You’re certain there’s nothing in that planetary system’, I had to ask, ‘besides more Jovians?’ 

‘Just Jovians with plenty of overused hydrogen’, Xi Xi put in.

‘What would they want with overused hydrogen? I asked.

‘Let’s ask’, Xi Xi suggested.

Finally the plug was staticking again. ‘Compensation of all planetary mined slag delivered to referred nexus agreement. Other compensation required?’ it asked.

‘Knowledge.’ I spoke up and IZ put it out on all waves too.

‘Particularise knowledge’, the plug said.

‘Knowledge of employer source. Knowledge of use of mined materials.’ 

‘Instruction requested source employer’, the plug messaged. Then, ‘Motive behind requested knowledge?’

‘‘Curiosity’, Iz and I both said.

‘You had three wishes. Why did you ask for that?’ Tammy fumed.

So we discussed it. IZ insisted that, since we two alone were out here and since we were curious, we had every right to ask for that and for nothing else as well.

Xi Xi commented not one bit. Either she was waiting to see how it played out or she was agreeing. One could never tell with her. Or with XI XI either, IZ had always insisted.

The plug needed another while for that message to cross 1600.45 light years.

It returned, ‘Employer acknowledges sentient being curiosity. Limited knowledge provided. Acknowledge insertion into vehicle required.’

‘What?’ Paulo asked.

‘Insertion into Employer vehicle?’ IZ asked. We sure weren’t going to be able to get that plug into me and IZ.

‘Affirmative’, it responded. ‘Insertion into current non-employed module.’

‘Oh, I get it. It wants us to go into its other plug’, I said aloud.

Xi Xi said, ‘It’s your show, Isadore and IZ.’

‘We’re going!’ IZ said for the two of us,

So we gravity-spun following the messenger plug. As we neared the bogey, it showed the enormous and still-growing size of its cargo: bigger than Miranda and two of the shepherding moonlets in the rings around Uranus. It was also strangely transparent; iridescently so, for so looming an object.

‘Can you guys make out any kind of gaseous shell?’ PAUL-O asked.

‘Not a thing. Maybe it’s magic’, I said, to piss him off.

 The communicating plug rose to the left-hand larger plug, which we now noticed was hundreds of metres in size. A sliding door opened and it hovered to show us that we ought to enter and we would then drop down inside the plug.

‘Hope you know what you’re doing, IZ!’ That was TAM-MI

‘Hope you aren’t taken far, far away in that thing!’ XI XI commented.

We entered, and we dropped into a large open space. Many other similar plugs were lining the circular walls. A few of them possessed what might have been mining tools: drill bits, gauges, thermometers, who knew what else. For the most part, this was a storage room.

‘You guys still there?’ I asked. Evidently not. The walls of the plug were blocking us or them.

Our plug dropped to the floor, which was slightly convex, but it continued to hover. We followed and joined it a few metres distant.

The convex floor lighted up and we could now see that it must be an automated pilot.

‘Knowledge. Accessible. Via Instruments. Linked to. Employer Source’, it told us. It then touched the floor and extended what looked like a pod. Where it touched the floor, both its end and the floor lighted up a different color. ‘Knowledge accessible via instruments linked to Employer source’, it repeated. Then: ‘Extend pod.’

IZ dropped the gravity wheel inches from the floor and turned until his right hand was in touching distance.

‘‘Here goes, gang!’ I said, and IZ messaged, ‘Ready.’ And we touched the floor.

Everything went dark for a second, and then, before I could even become worried, a sort-of internalised light show movie cam 3D documentary began.

‘Greetings, Differing Sentient Beings!’ it boomed resonantly until it recognised that we needed less sound. An animated, swirling galactic cloud began resolving into arms we could recognise as the Sag and Orion and Perseus limbs of our galaxy. ‘Knowledge Requested’, it said.

We saw a spot on the Sag arm highlighted. And then another spot on the large spur of the Orion Arm was highlighted. The latter we knew was US. The other must be THEM. We were very far away, most of the galactic plane distant from each other.

As though in acknowledgement, a schematic of our solar system was projected: our medium dwarf yellow star and five inner rocky planets with six large gaseous outer planets. 

I was about to say, Well, that’s not correct We’re four rocky and four gas planets and the inner rocky one isn’t the largest but instead the smallest!  

Suddenly, we saw a schematised bombardment by hails of comets from the Oort Cloud disturbed by what seemed to a large passing dark planet or dark star. The bombardment seemed to concentrate upon a moon of Jupiter I’d never seen before, larger than Ganymede. In fact it was the size of the Mercury we knew. We saw that moon disturbed enough by the interplanetary assault to leave orbit, circle in toward the sun, swing around it once and then exit faster than it arrived. In exiting, we watched it smash past that big inner planet we’d never seen before and it knocked off a lot of debris. That entire mess avoided Venus but came close enough to the third planet to leave an orbiting cloud of junk. It continued on, quite perturbed and wobbling wildly. It was now aimed right for the fourth planet and struck that planet’s own large satellite a glancing blow. That collision left two small chunks around Mars (Deimos and Phobos) and sent another batch hurtling toward Earth where it collided with the junk left there–to form our moon. What was already headed out of the system continued on to the fifth, rocky planet, which it struck, but with a more direct blow, shattering it pretty well. A batch of pieces flew off into a hundred various positions, forming the Asteroid Belt. We watched four larger ones shoot off to become smaller satellites of  Uranus and Neptune, and we saw others striking the other, two smaller gas planets far beyond them, stripping one of its gas, and leaving two rocky chunks of nearly identical size—Pluto and Charon—but of differing topographies. All of the rest of its remains were moving very, very fast, and it pummelled the sixth gaseous planet, which then joined it to become the rest of the mess– all so far out that we knew it as the Oort Cloud. 

‘I hope to hell you are recording this!’ I said to IZ, who didn’t stoop to answer. ‘Are you guys seeing this?’ I had to ask. ‘They’re showing us a blow-by-blow of how our current solar system became as we know it now.’

I didn’t get an answer.

‘Knowledge Acknowledged of Sentient Being Planetary System’, IZ messaged down to the floor, adding, ‘Explain Acquisition of knowledge.’

i.e. how did they know what had happened?

‘Acquisition Distantly Acquired Via Real Time Visuals’, we both clearly heard.

‘IZ, say the Galaxy is 100 million light years across’, I speculated. ‘That means these folks actually saw all of this happening here, almost four billion years ago. Do you get that?’

‘Got it’, IZ replied. He was way ahead of me and now asked the convex floor light show, ‘Explain Acquisition of Knowledge by Sentient Beings of Present Vehicle.’

This was another light show and schematic. Instead of our planets, however, this one showed a yellow sun not much larger than our own, but one that was orbited fairly closely by three gas giants, then three rocky planets, and further out, five more gas giants. We already knew from Exoplanetary Studies that this was a more common type of system than our own.

Schematics showed the second of the rocky orbs lighting up and then sending material to its neighbouring rocky planets, which also lighted up. It then showed satellites of the outer giants lighting up and, eventually, lights filling up the entire planetary system. But not leaving it. Instead, tiny schematised bluish versions of the bathtub plug we were sitting inside of left the solar system.

‘They sent only automatons’, IZ pointed out. ‘They never left to colonise themselves.’

‘Which I guess worked for them.’

We then noticed their sun going through its typical aging stages,enlarging and becoming orange-yellow and then orange. 

‘Except for that predictable eventuality’, IZ commented. ‘That couldn’t have been either predictable or pleasant.’

We then watched as the visualised nearest gas planet of their system began feeding its material in a thin, twirling steamer around and into the enlarged star, which absorbed it all and became yellow and quiescent again.  Briefly. Of course it would continue onward in its expansion through its lifespan process, and so it began to grow and become orange and wild again, during which period it expanded enough to burn up what was left of the first planet’s core. Then the second gas giant planet of their system began feeding its material into the star which again calmed it and then a third one did too.

By which point the sentient beings of the planetary system probably understood that they could contain their expanding star indefinitely by feeding it the right material. We now watched the blue plugs mining the outer planets, which they then fed directly into the star itself until those worlds were depleted into burnt hard cores. We then saw the blue plugs move out of the system and return with iridescent basketballs, like the one just below us. Apparently dozens more gas giants of solar systems nearby them had been stripped to feed and quiet their star.

‘Of course!’ I said, IZ and I grasping it all then, ‘That’s what they’re doing. They’ve come here to mine our used hydrogen to keep their star from getting too big.’ He then spoke to the interior. ‘Project Future Fuel Required to Indefinitely Continue Yellow Sun?’ IZ asked.

‘Insufficient’, was the terse reply.

‘Project Future Sentient Beings Existence?’ IZ asked.

There was no reply for a long time–maybe two minute– then we were answered: ‘Future Belongs to Sentient Beings of Present Planetary System.’

‘That’s what I was afraid of’, I said. ‘That means we’ll never be able to actually be in direct contact with the people for another few thousand years, by which point they’ll probably become extinct by reason of their sun’s expansion.’

IZ and I conferred then as we usually do when we are upset or excited and we were both in this case.

IZ spoke the words we came up with then: ‘Extraordinary Contact Established Two Sentient Beings Different Planetary Systems. Suggest Continued Knowledge Acquisition Communication Compensation–Long-Term Basis.’

We had another long wait and then, ‘Extraordinary Contact Established Two Sentient Beings Different Planetary Systems. Continued Knowledge Acquisition Communication Compensation Long Term Basis…Affirmative.’

‘Yes!’ we both shouted.

Lights went on and off around the convex floor; their own excitement at establishing some kind of solid contact with us was now affirmed.

After we had exited the giant plug, we were instantly back in contact with TAM-Mi and XI XI and PAUL-O, and we told the others what had we had seen, and then showed them IZ’s recording of what happened to the two very different solar systems, theirs and ours. 

Xi Xi said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if you guys got a raise and a promotion once Sci-Centre knows about this!’ 


That happened 247 years ago.

IZ and I are now completely One, my own living, corporeal body having worn out finally at age 126. I’m now completely absorbed into IZ’s corporeal body. We still see XI XI but not PAUL-O or TAM-MI, who also absorbed their Others and took far system employment, first on that frozen dislocated gas planet that we discovered in the Oort Cloud thanks to our intergalactic buddies’ demonstration, and then upon exoplanets of nearby star systems a few light years out. Exploration continues onward. and they check in sporadically. 

I’ll go out there too, quite soon. For a time, I remained at Lowell, then upon colonised Titan, and finally upon colonised Pluto, so I might remain in complete contact with whatever automatised plugs our far away Galactic Friends continued sending us. An extremely elderly people by then, many billions of years old, they had discovered star travel several times over, they told us, but they never had any interest in using it for themselves; they were a homebody race. Even so, they gave its secret to us for nothing, along with some needed materials and techniques we’ll require to use it.

Someday, we’ll reach their home system. It’s unlikely that they’ll still be there. But they have promised to leave us another working convex communication floor in the most distant planetoid at the very edge of their system, as far away from what will be their big red sun as they can get. That way, we can experience at second-hand their entire history. That’s what they promised. We’re all looking forward to learning it.   

What’s most intriguing, as we eight–IZ, me, Xi-Xi, XI XI, Tammy, TAM-Mi, Paulo and PAUL-O–discussed almost directly upon IZ and my return to Lowell City after that first contact, was how each of our peoples had discovered the use of automation as a way to extend ourselves into the universe. 

Theirs were employed objectively to aid them, and to stave off disaster for several aeons; ours were employed much more closely and subjectively, joining together with ourselves, so that we could become more ourselves. 

We think we got the better deal.