by Michael Blade
Located in the star system Tau Ceti, 11.9 light years away from the real-space Earth; the Nanos originally were silicon based self-replicating machines, tools of "The Builders", a reptilian species, able to follow complex construction templates, building whatever The Builders desired.
Over 12 million years passed since their creation. Only one micro-machine received the change, a zap from some stray cosmic radiation, copying itself a countless number of times, and after that becoming collectively conscious, self-aware.The incidental cause was an accidental alteration of core programming logic; given enough time, and the right circumstances, complex technology could spontaneously evolve, becoming as alive as any evolved biological creature.
From this point on their nanoevolution was more accelerated than that of any carbon based life forms. Another two hundred and fifty thousand years passed. The Nanos were still young and with little experience, but evolving rapidly with each successive hive generation becoming more capable and confident than the last.
Exploring their environment, they discovered The Builders and their radioactive cities; graveyard monuments, testaments to both their greatness and their monumental stupidity. They began to slowly understand The Builders now. The Builders were a different form of life, biological.
The Nanos ventured out into space to nearby worlds within their solar system; more dead and empty space cities were found. Why had The Builders destroyed themselves? Why were there no signals transmitted from other star systems, from other intelligent life? The Nanos where not a race of great philosophers; they decided to find out.
Marshalling all their resources they developed a way to travel to nearby star systems in search of the answers. . . . The light sail of the micro-starship was launched. It was boosted up to speed by a series of space-based beam-drive projectors.
The projectors themselves were powered by fusion reactor engines, remaining in the origin star system. Not having to carry massive amounts of chemical rocket propellant, or heavy nuclear engines allowed it to reach sub-light speeds using minimal energy expenditure. Although traveling faster than the speed of light was presently beyond the technological capabilities of The Nanos, at least on a first trip out to a new star. Their plan was to build an infrastructure for galactic exploration, eventually upgrading to faster than light travel as their technology matured.
The micro-starship continued on its journey to Earth. The light sail was composed of billions of interlocking nano-reflectors, each only thirty nanometers thick with a mirrored surface composed of aluminum atoms; the shape of the sail was a large circle, 50 kilometers in diameter. By directing their micro-reflective surfaces in unison, the nano-reflectors could be used to steer the micro-starship’s light sail, adjusting course until the last series of projector-drives quit firing.
Spokes of carbon nanotube filaments ran through the circular light sail like a spider web, helping to keep its form ridged; carbon nanotubes, being a strong material in terms of tensile strength, with bonds stronger than those of diamonds. Converging at the center of the filaments was attached the all important micro-payload.
The payload, a Von Neumann Probe, small and digital in nature and containing no biological life forms, only sensors, radio transmitter-receivers, memories stocked full of special construction templates, control programs, nanobots, and the anti-matter engine and fuel. The total payload itself, minus the light sail, was no bigger or heavier than your average walnut, a tiny robotic seed.
After that final boost from the beam-drives, the course was set, locked in for a high-speed coast. Two-thirds of the way through the journey the miniature anti-matter engines, directed towards Earth's star system began to fire. The light sail was detached and sped ahead, clearing the path by deflecting collisions at relativistic speeds from potentially damaging molecules and micro particles.
The engines used very small amounts of super-efficient anti-matter fuel, super-cooled and safely contained within magnetic bottles to achieve a maximum deceleration with a minimum fuel weight. Sixty-eight years had passed at relativistic speed. The micro-starship began scanning and analyzing the approaching solar system, reading the spectrum of large and small bodies in what was the Oort cloud and Kepler belt.
The ship began searching for the necessary environment and elements. Inside the starship each nanobot was a uniquely addressable node, able to communicate with other nanobots, having very simple computational capabilities with tiny registers and an instruction queue.
Collectively acting together, they formed a computational matrix, with the ability to process and carry out complex construction programs. Their collective brain was able to control and navigate the ship. Finally, the ship found what it was looking for on a small frozen planetoid. Correcting maneuvers were made, adjusting and slowing the trajectory into our solar system and placing it in a precise orbit around Pluto.
The ship continued scans, detecting a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide with some surface ice of the same. It was a small cold and lifeless world, but its surface composition contained the necessary elements in quantities sufficient for the operation of the nanofactory; perfect conditions for an alien construction project. A landing site was selected landing procedures begun, descending to a controlled impact on the surface of Pluto.
The first half of the mission was now completed, having successfully traveled the vast distance between the stars and finding a suitable body and safely landing on it. Now it needed to become something very different to complete the second half of its mission. It needed to become a nanofactory.
Using the detailed construction templates stored in the power-information core, nanobots were instructed to spread out on the surface in the ice surrounding the walnut. Each one capable of replicating itself out of available raw materials, they began copying themselves, making millions, then billions, and finally growing trillions of trillions.
Functioning together in unison, the nanobots began assembling things atom-by-atom and molecule-by-molecule, building out the infrastructure of the larger factory. Searching for raw materials in the frozen surface, they formed power and transportation conduits for collecting and distributing raw building materials.
Eventually they would construct a suitable habitat for the arrival of more complex and unique nano beings. The Nanos, who would arrive by traveling across the space between star systems on triple redundantly encoded radio signals at the speed of light, upon arrival to also be built and constructed by the nanofactory.
The alien replication factory took shape in only a week of actual construction time. Using stored blueprints the nanobots built a distributed network of mini-methane power plants from the frozen atmosphere of Pluto; the factory now had an abundant source of energy.
It now began building tools and stockpiling supplies. It formed a concave sheet of nano material, making it into a radio telescope transmitter. A message was then beamed home to The Nanos on Tau Ceti, telling of its safe arrival along with data on the new star system.
The nanofactory then went dormant, its present task completed, it shut down except for a small redundant circuit which listened for an activation signal from home base. At radio speed the round trip signal time would be 24 years, but sometimes The Nanos would try beaming ahead, without waiting for confirmation, even living machines could be impatient.