Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strange Visitor

There are some problems associated with launching into the sky on a pair of flaming wings. The most important of these is that you send a blast of incredibly hot air over everything around you.
To help minimize the damage, I'd constructed a a self-repairing launchpad for my roof. It could fold itself down to the size of a chimney and unfold itself in less than a minute. Just a little project of mine.
I was about to launch into the air, when the New Archivist dropped a call. "Phoenix. Great to see you. I'm sending down a shuttle to pick you up. It should be there in a minute."
I spend the next fifty-four seconds tracking the shuttle using a dozen classified radar frequencies, before it landed on my yard. Didn't even mess up the grass.
Neurotron played the theme from Close Encounters as one of the most gorgeously high-tech looking doors I have ever seen in my entire life opened in fascinating slow motion.
I think you pay a little too much attention to doors. One sentient computer's opinion.
Behind the titanium-crystal door, I saw two figures. One was the familiar form of the New Archivist, dressed up in some kind of red robes (I'm sure it was inspired by some sort of complicated alien tradition).
Standing next to her was Acme the Android.

Acme was Rava-Iss' personal assistant. An anthropomorphic creature called the Automated Constructor and Molecular Engineer. It took me about a second to think of the acronym.
Our relation had been relatively cordial until the One Day War. Things had gone south when I abandoned the Archivist to a fiery death in an imploding strangelet moon in order to save myself.
Acme had taken this personally, as if my letting his creator die in order to preserve myself was a reason for him to hate me.
"I am a murderer, but you were going to stand by and let my civilization be annihilated."
"Rava-Iss gave his life defending that civilization."
"And what did you do? Other than kidnap a defenseless girl and brainwash her?"
"I'm right here," The New Archivist piped up.
"And I'm glad to see you," I said. Nice save, Neurotron commented. "Which reminds me. I made you something." I pulled a three-hundred-terabyte flashdrive out of my lab coat. "The entire story of the One Day War. Footage from a million cell phones, analysis by a hundred programs, and brilliant narration by yours truly."
"Great, thanks," she said with all the enthusiasm someone musters when thanking a dentist during a root canal.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong."
So she was stonewalling me. Fortunately, I am a master of deduction. The most plausible explanation was that she was already struggling to cope with her vast banks of data, and my high-tech flashdrive would only exacerbate the issue. It was also possible I was picking up a signal when none was there.
"So, Phoenix," Acme snarled, "what have you been up to lately?"
I'm sure he was expecting some description of dark deeds, but I was really enthusiastic about my latest line of scientific inquiry. "I've been working on a more efficient way to make Ultrasteel. You see, an aerosol of ferric ascorbate can-"
"Oooh. Ow. Sorry." Acme and I stared at the New Archivist, "Headache. Sorry. I'm fine"
"You really need to do something about this."
"I'm fine."
The New Archivist spent the next thousand kilometers claiming everything was okay, until we reached her Archives. At that point, there were more interesting things to talk about.

We passed through the airlock into the vast and ancient spaceship my friend curated. "In case I haven't made this clear before, I really don't like this idea."
"Don't worry Acme, you made it perfectly clear," the New Archivist said.
"Of all the people in all the universe, he is the one most capable of stealing the secrets of the Archives, and the one with the most desire to do so. He really shouldn't be here."
"He is my friend."
"At least don't show him the science stuff. He should be content with the alien culture."
I considered jumping into the argument, but decided against it.
"We can trust him, he is my closest friend."
"You can't let your past life interfere with being a good Archivist."
Oh snap! He went there. The New Archivist bristled. "Go. Go away. Go feed the Silarian Srolac of something."

The contents of the Archives are grouped by civilization, not be subject. The New Archivist started me off with the Cloud People, some methane-based life living in a gas giant about three hundred light-years from Earth. They had started out their civilization in the carcasses of vast slain creatures (the New Archivist called them windwhales). The civilization had flourished, creating great works of art from the entrails of the vast corpses they inhabited (aliens can be gross). Unfortunately, by the time the Archivist had arrived, the windwhale population had been devastated, and the Cloud People's society was on the brink of chaos.
"And Rava-Iss didn't help them? He didn't teach them about species conservation, or give them cloning technology, or genetically engineer a better windwhale?"
"I think you already know the answer."
It dawned on me that in a very real sense, the vast edifice surrounding me was nothing more than the mausoleum of the galaxy. Fortunately, I have a very high tolerance for tragedy, so it didn't bother me that much.
Next, she showed me artifacts retrieved from the core of a star. "I'm sorry. How do you have a transparent pane of glass holding about a metric ton of gas at twenty million degrees and a million atmospheres?"
"Trade secret."
Gentleman that I am, I refused to conduct any sort of study on that glass. No spectral analysis. No use of my sensory tendrils. No crystallography. No trying to chip off a bit to study later. And it was only partly because the New Archivist was standing right there.
She showed me some scrolls printed on graphene. "It's a naturally occurring substance there. All the great works of Altarian literature were first printed on graphene. This is a testament to... to... It's hard to describe. It's an emotion. Sort of a combination between the feeling really having to go to the bathroom and the feeling of unrequited love." Those are two emotions humans don't usually associate with each other.
"Is the odd combination of emotions a result of some sort of exotic biology?"
I took a second to imagine a species which associated the denial of romance with being unable to relieve oneself.
Next, a bunch of giant blocks of ice. "These are from a small moon in the Perseus arm of the galaxy. The moon had sentient ice mountains which communicated by sending mounds of ices toward each other on glacial flows. The mountains were all dead by the time the Archivist arrived, but he saved as many of their texts as he could. These two deal with science, and this one is a religious work."
"I see." Alien science. And I didn't even make an effort to hijack it. Personal growth. "How is information recorded in the ice? Trace chemicals?"
"It's aggguuuuchhhhhhh."
"Come again?" What was that? Some strange alien concept with no translation in any Earthly language?
"Ugggggh. Sorry. I have to gouuuuuggggg."
"Well, don't let me stop you from gouuuuuggggging."
I was left along in the Archives for three minutes and twenty-four seconds. In that time I came up with twelve ways to scan the blocks of ice, leave the Archives, and escape before anybody noticed I was gone. Instead, I let Acme come and give me the boot. I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice.

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