The Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition

Temporal Spiders, Spatial Webs

By Lavie Tidhar

Space was full of sound.

David NeateTo say that in space nobody hears your screams, Spider thought, was a somewhat limited statement; something that applied to people, perhaps, but which certainly didn’t apply to it.

Spider drifted through space, listening. In the breeding grounds, where his initial psyche underwent long and challenging cycles of evolutionary process, an interest in sound was encouraged, the selection routines singling out the complexities of sub-programs, binary trees and neural networks that composed the embryonic it for further cycles.

Spiders, after all, were bred for music. Music, with a capital em and a pointed the in front of it.

The Music.

Now it drifted, in a state it could only define as leisure, through the vastness of Trans-Neptunian space. On the outskirts - such as it were - of the solar system, where the Music was yet faint.

Soon it will disappear altogether, only faint echoes of it felt against its skin as light and radio waves bounce randomly.

Then the time of leisure will come to an end, and work will begin.

#NNP247HUB6MIRROR12

A faint quiver, the brush of a signature packet asking for acknowledgement. Spider (SPIDER100,674,284EXPLOR-HUB/1234.5678.9101/5, to give it its full name) responds immediately. So Mars Mirror (or, rather, hub six of mirror twelve of the structure composing Mars Mirror) wants to talk. The handshake takes ten minutes of real-time, with seven hops across the scattered Major Space Hubs, entities much like himself in size and build, but with resources only for the sorting of network traffic. Dull, slow and careful, they have, Spider often thinks, much resemblance to ancient, human civil servants.

The conversation goes something like this:

      #Ready to reproduce?# HUB6 sends a sense of amusement with the words,       conveyed in a minuet of brief, precise code.

      Spider sends the equivalent of a snort. ~I can still hear you, can’t I.~

      #Found a place to nest yet?#

      ~Still looking,~ Spider sends, ~still looking.~

While waiting for HUB6’s snippy conversation, Spider listens to everything else. Snatches of classical music, broadcasts from the remote asteroid belt; miner’s conversations on an open, unscrambled line – a sign they are off shift and heading back home, to whatever rock their kibbutz or longhouse or work unit is settled on. Conversations in Iban, in Hebrew, in Chinese – all the migrant populations that have re-embraced close-quarter socialism for the benefit of space colonization. It watches compressed video feeds being sent from the Moore telescope on the edge of the system, as the packets of data make their long, circuitous route through endless hops across hundreds of Minor Space Hubs, on their way to Earth.

It listens, and talks to HUB6, and looks for a suitable nest as the acceleration carries it further and further away from the Music.

Some time later, HUB6’s messages vanish as the time-lag increases, until Spider is out of range of the Music, its body absorbing nothing more than random light- and radio-waves, carrying no more encoded meanings.

Spider is out of the sphere of Music, out of the sphere of human habitation.
A lonely entity, Spider’s body is small, a ten-metre length and width roughly-circular rock. Spider’s rockface can be deceiving, however. Dotted along its outer shell are hardened instruments, minute antennae, and a whole array of concealed communications devices that cover it like a rash.

Underneath, within the secure, skull-like encasing of its body, Spider’s brain resides in stately seclusion, at the heart of this converted, tiny asteroid. The inside is packed: Spider, to take one analogy oft used by the opponents to such rush expenditures, is like a Trojan horse.

As network traffic decreases there is a corresponding increase in system traffic. This area of space is full of orbiting objects, giant (in comparison with Spider) rocks: a thick belt of frozen debris, like something worn by a Nordic ice-giant.
Spider scans the rocks, so many giants, so many with diameters larger than 100km, searching for a place to roost.

It is very particular.

Spider begins broadcasting in all ranges: light waves, short-wave radio, long-wave radio, sending on all channels simple ping codes, the equivalent of shouting ~hello can you hear me?~

      None return.

Satisfied that it is now truly out of range of the music, Spider is too busy to worry about the complete silence that surrounds him. It identifies, at long last, a likely roosting place, a minor rock with a comfortable diameter of only 50km, whose outer rim of ice conceals a heavy, metal-packed body.

Escalating, Spider estimates reaching the rock within an Earth day, twenty-four hours of gentle escalation before it will hatch.

Spider is filled with a sense of excitement, moderated by his constant alertness: its young psyche, not so long out of the breeding grounds, is geared only for this monumental process of life, the extension of the sphere of the Music. So unlike, it thinks, HUB6, whose complex, confusing personality requires him to be oh-so-integrated into the semi-autonomous team of the giant Mars Mirror, caching and data-streaming and always talking, to the vast machinations of the Earth or Moon Mirrors, which make sure data is kept up to date, on immediate access, regardless of where you are in the system.
It prepares itself.

A shower of ice creates a breathtaking vista; as Spider comes crashing into the rock the impact disrupts the sheen of ice and sends it spinning into space like a gigantic, delicate rainbow. Spider burrows deep into the rock, the force of the impact creating a comfortable crater like a wound in the rockface.

If it was silent before, Spider thinks, now it is practically tomb-like. Its communication devices, its senses, are now obsolete, useless. It doesn’t matter. Spiders may have a short life span, but that life is eventful, to say the least. Spider’s body begins to change as holes open in its hardened skin, and as the grubs inside begin to blindly crawl out into the stone of the new nest. What is this life, Spider thinks, quoting an old poet, if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare?

Spider sits at the heart of the rock and waits for his children to find their way out, to eat their way through the rock, and to take wings.

From some distance away, the disintegrating rock appears like a mirage: as if a corpse is being consumed by small, dark ants. As thousands of objects emerge, in stately, slow-motion movement from the rock and fly away in all directions, the rock suddenly seems like a budding flower, its leaves soaring away in concentric circles, at its dying heart a small, broken shell all that remains.

Spider’s children spread and expand over this area of the Kuiper Belt: tiny Space Hubs, Routers, Mirrors, talking excitedly to each other, spreading away, establishing a long, transparent web of communication until they hit the farthest reaches of the Music itself, and the spheres explode, in this remote region of space, into a symphony of Music.

 

Lavie Tidhar, 26, born in Israel now resident in the UK, has won this year Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition. Lavie writes poetry and has had several stories accepted for publication in various anthologies and magazines. He also writes a regular review column for an online site and reviews short fiction magazines for a bi-monthly magazine.

Photo: Lavie Tidhar

 

Copyright 2003 © Lavie Tidhar and ESA. All Rights Reserved
This story may not be reproduced, published or distributed in any form without the permission of the author and the European Space Agency

 
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