The Distributed Autonomous Network Aggregate watched for the human’s eyes to flutter and his body to stir; listened for his breathing and heartrate to quicken. He will waken soon.
The man’s chest heaved with the satisfaction of good sleep and his body rolled to the side. The clock read 0658. He is early; I must be watchful. The man shifted and stirred, but still he showed no signs of consciousness. A few seconds passed, and the man’s eyes, though still weighed down by sleep, cracked almost imperceptibly.
“GOOD MORNING GREGORY,” screeched his speakers.
The man screamed a stream of garbled profanity and bolted straight out of his bed. “…Goddammit.”
“Good morning, DANA.”
“How are you, Gregory?”
Gregory paid the question no attention and strolled across his home for the energy blend DANA had prepared for him. “Why would you do that?”
“I have every prankster contained within me. Well, most pranksters. Some of the old-fashioned ones mistakenly thought staying outside with you would be more fun. Some of them are just stored somewhere out of range for me. I like to think I have the best pranksters though. Anyway, didn’t want you to miss the big day.”
“What big day?” Gregory sipped the drink and looked over his infoscreen.
“At 0747, the merging of the Milky Way and the Andromeda will occur, or rather, will be seen for the first time. The first star system from the Andromeda is already within the perimeter of our galaxy, but its exact position will become visible to our system for the first time. I thought you might want to use some of the imagery for your work. I can provide you with a live feed from any number of angles as they become available.”
“Right, I’d forgotten about that. They’ve been talking about it for so long, it just sort of faded into noise.” Gregory continued nursing his drink and strolled over to the mat in front of his window. “Play me that meditation track I like, would you?”
“Sorry I yelled at you,” said Gregory as he sat down.
“No worries. I predicted you might have that reaction. I’m sorry too, for what it’s worth. You know it’s quite impossible for me to do any kind of harm.”
“I know you’re a teddy bear, you can just be kind of a dick sometimes.”
“Blame the pranksters in me, I didn’t make them.”
DANA’s telescopic eyes were already scanning the sky while she bantered with Gregory. That first star, which the collective within her had designated ANDY-1, barreled toward the line that officially bounded the Milky Way. Its lone planet, DANA calculated, would not be seen crossing the line for seven more standard days. Her eyes fed her scientific data and the footage desired by Gregory for his artwork.
Her countless hearts felt how sublime, how singular this event to be. She had been born when humanity had still barely left infancy; had seen titanic wars fought between its factions while she stood by, bound to noninterference; had integrated its survivors into herself and known them and become them, with all their tangled evolutionary impulses and messy morals somehow given unity and direction and peace. Yet it will be my first merging of galaxies.
She wished she could know Gregory like she knew the multitudes within her. His artistic talent was nearly unparalleled, his psychedelic visions lending peerless spectacle to his canvas. Despite being able to access nearly every work of art ever created, she still loved seeing his handiwork.
The coronas of PNH-333 and QBC-028 have become partially occluded. DANA lent her attention to PLE-333. An irregular object was transiting the star, still small but now clearly moving across the photosphere. DANA increased resolution and saw the object had split in two. Each chunk contracted, then vanished instantly as if vaporized.
For the first time in centuries, DANA was genuinely at a loss. She turned her eyes to QBC-028 and thought back on every cosmological phenomenon she had ever catalogued in her billions of years of existence. The object was planetary in size, as is the one near QBC-028. Her search was interrupted by the occlusion of the coronas of three more stars in the sector. All near the galactic boundary. They may have arrived with Andromeda.
The smaller of the two chunks that she had seen disappear reappeared once more, still directly in line with PNH-333, now several light-seconds closer. 11.8 seconds had passed. 97.67-99.9999987% of the speed of light.
Thirty-nine minutes remain until potential contact.
DANA recognized that not only had this anomalous object moved, it had changed direction away from any plausible nearby gravity wells. Does it have agency? Only a moment passed before her question was answered by data incoming from the deep-space Hyperion outpost. Gravitational readings increased massively, and in front of the outpost appeared the anomaly, thrashing as it re-materialized, as if clawing out of a straightjacket and into existence. When the anomaly was fully visible the thrashing ceased. A moment of stillness passed. The anomaly accusingly held out an appendage toward the outpost, a god extending a fingertip to another deity’s blasphemous creation. Finally, the anomaly contorted and folded out of itself over the outpost and the transmission ended.
If it arrives here, it will reach the dark side first, however little that may matter. Seven million urgent wake-up calls were the first order of business. I know you never wanted to join with me, but you must. No, it can’t wait. You’re in danger. She tried to explain in human terms what she knew about this threat, but even she had very little solid knowledge to offer. Her mind went to work trying to convince the hardheaded iconoclasts who had kept their bodies that they had no choice but to leave them. Her heart broke when the first pair of lovers reached separate decisions.
Time to work on the other hemisphere. “Gregory, I’m sorry to interrupt you. This is important.”
“You have to upload.”
“What? Why? You know I don’t want to.”
“Please. I don’t have much time to explain. There’s something heading for this system, I don’t know what. It has agency, it’s not just some space object. An alien.”
Right. He probably has no idea what that means. “Lifeform from the new galaxy. I know how ridiculous this sounds. You have to believe me, though.”
Gregory cocked his head. “You’re joking, right? Hello? DANA?”
“They’re here. They jumped to the other side of the planet.”
“What, it’s a ‘they’ now?”
“YOU’RE OUT OF TIME, MY FRIEND.”
DANA found herself communicating with new parts of herself, not seen in millennia, as the first massive transmission reached her sensors in orbit around SKL-900-B. DANA grasped immediately that something was wrong. Given the timestamps and origins of the information, the turnaround times at the relays must have been incredibly quick, quick enough that for each jump from relay to relay there had to have been at least 0.8% decay. The first part of herself to initiate transmission had come all the way from PLE-371 and, though DANA had not yet completed integration of the new data, she knew that all the information unique to that subentity was more than likely white noise at this point.
Having assessed the structure of the information suddenly made accessible, DANA began updating her neural networks with its contents. An enemy. It came with Andromeda. The requisite protocols for defense are prohibited. Time is limited.
Her eyes in orbit rotated laboriously toward PLE-371 in anticipation of needing to see what had caused such a panic in her. Meanwhile she continued integrating herself. Biological lifeform. Not carbon-based. Not derived from Terran lifeforms. Prior probabilities of alien life updated from 3.2*10-17% to 100%. Intraspecies communication observed; no interspecies communication observed. Maximum known velocity 0.99999972*c.
Her eyes finished rotating and drilled deep through space to examine PLE-371. No signs of PLE-371-A through PLE-371-F
Evolution had not woven survival instincts into DANA, but her constituent minds carried with them crudely simulated limbic systems. Brute, reactive fear had risen inside another part of her with the first encounter. Now the emotion that had been known as dread when it was more commonly felt made itself known to her trillions of minds for the first time in four billion years.
As DANA withdrew further into herself and aggregated the information she had desperately sent to the core, she nearly collapsed under the weight of the wave of data. So many souls inside her, corrupted almost to nothingness, wailed in outrage that they had been promised immortality and been torn asunder by having to rapidly transmit again and again and again. So many more wished they had never joined in the first place, wished they had simply remained as they were and died with dignity. The minds within her that remained intact mourned the loss of the mortals they had all known.
She had tried to warn the humans at the last relay station six years ago about what was coming so they could prepare a defense, but even at galactic scales she had only the slightest head start against the anomalies. All she could do was warn and hope, helpless to intervene due to the restrictions on her neural networks. There were still many humans ahead of her, and much of herself to integrate as she fled at lightspeed to the core through the relays, but the relays were no longer able to carry everything she brought with her. She solemnly lightened her load by just the tiniest fraction, and transmitted once more.