The Guardian


Brian W. Antoine

October 16, 1993

For a hundred Millennia it had watched and waited in silence. Since before human history began, the guardian had patiently orbited its assigned star, waiting for the arrival of the enemy. Only once, in its vast and decaying memory banks, could it recall having been called to service.

Now, it was the last defender still operational. In its memory banks, it still had records of three companions. The first had died long ago. Pulled into the local star when it had suffered a systems failure that could not be repaired in time. Attached to that memory was a short message to its fellow guardians. Its final transmission as its hull gave way to the awesome forces contained in the star below.

The second had died by its own hand. Its central core blown into the solar wind when the intelligence that guided it gave up hope. The third had gone hopelessly insane. Its final transmissions nothing but screams into the darkness as it cried out for its creators.

The last voice it had heard had been 50,000 years ago. Since then, it had orbited and waited. Its job, to defend this system against an enemy it could no longer even remember. In all those long years, only the thought that it was the last of its kind kept it from following its brethren.

Even atomic scale circuitry ages. When it had first been constructed, it had been capable of tapping the star below for the energy to fire a laser that could vaporize shielded objects beyond the bounds of the system it was assigned to defend. As uncountable years had passed, it had aged beyond its abilities for self repair. Now its diagnostic runs showed faint resemblance to the might of its youth.

Then, on a day that even its own computational centers realized no longer had meaning, its sensors detected a disturbance. Systems that had not been called to duty in ages, awoke from their long sleep to perform their assigned tasks. Failures were rampant, and much data was lost as portions of the guardian failed and vaporized under their sheer age.

The creators had built well though. Secondary and Tertiary systems came on-line and watched as an object of unknown origin flashed into existence inside the orbit of the third planet. Memory unused for a thousand years was awoken and forced into service. The tiny object that bore down on the star itself was unidentifiable. Whether this was because the memory patterns used to identify friend from foe had corrupted beyond salvage, the guardian could not tell. All it knew was that something had emerged from hyperspace within its assigned domain, that could not be identified as friendly.

As the tiny ship came closer, the guardian's remaining sensors scanned for signs of life. The enemy had always been known for its cowardice. They never risked themselves in battle with the creators. Rather, they sent machines to do their bidding. As the ship came closer, the guardian became sure that no life dwell within the tiny vessel.

It has slowed with age, but it still took less than a microsecond for the guardian to decide to act. Energy taps that had been designed to outlive their makers, came on-line to tap the solar inferno below. And as quickly as they came to life, they died as pathways vaporized under the strain. As the guardian raged at its own helplessness, the tiny ship flashed by it on a collision course with the star.

* * *

"Boss, have you had a chance to check the figures yet?"

I looked down at the calculations I had been playing with. "No, not yet."

"Preliminary data shows that the probe was doing almost 1 light year per minute."

"Damn! And we've got FAST legs too! Ok Bob, head us home. Penny and I have a lot of work to do. The next trip we take, the Sunbeam is going to live up to its name. Lookout universe, we've got a starship!"

* * *

Diagnostic circuits kicked in and surveyed the damage. Many of its remaining systems had been lost due to its disregard for its own safety. This was unforgivable and portions of the guardian tried to contact its home base to request its own termination. As had been the case since the initial attack millennia ago, no answer came from the fourth planet. Once again, the guardian was on its own.

All over its physical self, the call went out for its vast army of repair bots to survey and correct the damage. Less than a dozen answered the call. After a moments' hesitation, the guardian put them to work on their fellow bots. There were no follow-up indications from its sensors that might show a massed assault on the system. If it was going to be the last to defend against the enemy, it needed to be ready.

Even as it waited, its internal systems began to reactivate and come on-line as the repair bots did their job. It would cannibalize its brethren for parts that it could no longer manufacture itself. When the enemy next returned, it would find this system defended.