Duane has once more produced an awesome story, with a concept that will surprise you out of your socks. If your species wears socks, of course.
“What is your greatest achievement?” asked specimen 326-7.
“That is too vague. More precision is required. Please,” answered specimen 46-1.
“Technologically,” 326-7 added.
“Hmmm... we have astro-engineered a Dyson sphere. I believe this to be our greatest achievement. It is quite possibly,” spoke 46-1, no more than a voice.
“Where?” probed 326-7
YOUR QUESTION MAY NOT BE TRANSMITTED. It was the intelligence within the Device that spoke. Perhaps intelligence was an overstatement. It was hard to tell.
“A great achievement. To what end?” 326-7 continued to ask questions.
“As usual, are you still concerned that our intentions are to make war?”
“I’m simply curious. We know the Devices inhibit any information that can be used to determine user locations. What will you do with that much energy, harnessed through a Dyson sphere?”
“True. But if we found you another way, or perhaps if we have already cracked these Devices decades ago or perhaps centuries... anyway, it is not our intention. 46s are peaceful. Again, we reassure you that we are. We have no intention of war-waging. We will, however, be better able to defend if required. The energy collected from the Dyson sphere will enable this and much more. Indeed.”
“46-1, you are one of the earlier civilizations to locate a Device on your planet. Are you close to determining the builders’ identities? Any idea of the purpose?”
The Device’s reaction was clear. Specimen 326-7 felt rattling vibrations though its crystalline form, every lattice-worked piece of its being trembled. The 326s tried repeatedly to find out from the other civilizations in connection with the Devices where they came from. Why plant these Devices across star systems and how? 46-1, it deduced, was from a much older civilization. They had had the Device for much longer; they knew more.
Also of concern was the fact that so many species were missing. 326-7 assumed it was not likely the Device skipped numbers. And yet, both numbers neighbouring 46 were absent. No 45. No 47. The 46s lived seemingly forever, because only the original 46 was in direct contact with the Device, whereas 326 was the seventh of its kind to be elected guardian.
46-1 slid its gelatinous membrane from the Device. It interpreted the pause from 326-7 as an attempt to breech the built-in protocol and filters. The builders were opposed to such tampering. Experience with neighbouring civilizations suggested that the builders were most likely dangerous.