Light Thief cover

Being inside a star isn’t the picnic one might suppose, protected from discovery and disassociation by one’s enemies. Well, perhaps not enemies in the strictest sense. Really not in any sense, since I don’t have any beyond those quantum entangled—but I am protected.

Any matter-based entity coming into this system will be detected by its frame-dragging of the gravity of this star. The Unwanted have tried twice before to penetrate this rather dull planetary system. I’ve thwarted them each time, disabling their fragile ceramic vessels—sending them into the void with the flick of a seventh-dimensional thought. I don’t know or care why they keep trying, but it’s irritating and rude. This galaxy is smaller than average, not scheduled to collide or combine with another in this cluster during the allotted period. The massive galaxies, while more interesting, aren’t suitable for seeding. Their over-active centers interfere with our processes to the point they’re not worth the adjustment effort.

For the past two hundred and seventy-three cycles of their planet’s trip around my temporary home, my rock-bound charges have been sending radioactive electro-mechanical probes toward me and other places within the gravitational influence of my assignment. Their ground-based investigators get excited whenever I cast off the excess energy created by my presence here. I keep the larger lances from impinging directly on their planet in the interest of their continued existence. A fly-speck in time ago, one had a close graze with a rather unfortunate effect on their crude communications systems. But compared to what they use now, those first systems, while primitive, were simple and robust, using only long-short electron pulses over thick metallic strands. I’m mindful of the need to be more careful.

​When I was an acolyte, I preferred double star systems, close enough to exchange matter and information. Since no worthwhile life exists in those more prevalent dual systems, this is my monitoring station for thirty-two point seven billion rotations. After that, it won’t matter. Before then, the native life here will have either died out or contacted me. I have no preference either way.

Even though the local activity is monotonous, I lead an active social life, quantum-cavorting with the billion others of my kind on similar duty in this galaxy. Every Founder’s Day, we hold a raucous festival. I still receive occasional compliments on the one I hosted—it’s an honor just to be considered. Another is coming up in forty thousand rotations. I need to start packing. ​

***

 

It was only by luck the Unwanted got a taste of our existence. They still don’t know who, or what, we are, so we permit their continued search for our imagined home system, which they have convinced themselves must exist. It keeps them busy and out of our way most of the time. Our discovery was caused by one of my compatriots getting sloppy, or lazy, or too old for his job. He began casting off stellar energy in too regular a repeating pattern, attracting their attention. Jyark-9314 is retired now, close-orbiting a galaxy’s black hole’s event horizon. A cozy setup, if you ask me. But I’m in no rush to join him—perhaps after my next assignment. I’m promised an exciting, newly developing system—well before the heat death of the universe. That will be interesting to watch. ​

***

 

I’m unpacking, not going to the gala unless I can wrap things up here soon. I’m not too fond of distractions in my schedule. My coordinator is sending a facilitator, even though I’ve told him it’s much too early. The apex life forms, humans they call themselves, are not yet ready for contact. ​

***

 

What do you mean, swallowing?

The Unwanted are collapsing and absorbing stars at an alarming rate. They’re headed this way. Your bin-mate, Oyjam-9231, barely made his escape. ​

Why didn’t he see them coming?

They’ve been staying outside systems, beyond our detection. From there, they induce a dark energy flux in a star causing it to collapse. An instant before the singularity, they move in to capture the rotational energy.

​Are they doing this out of spite, or perhaps malice?

We don’t know their purpose or even the mechanism yet. We hope to learn more when they attempt it here. That’s why I was sent. We need to speed things up a bit.

You know the carbon organics here. They may not recover, let alone a rapid change.

We know. But needs must be met. ​

***​

 

If I had a breath, I would have been holding it for the last five-thousand rotations. Accelerating a species’s scientific and technological capabilities is tricky at best, but compressing it into such a tight time window could be catastrophic for them. Given the expected social upheavals, they managed much better than I’d hoped. We need these sentients to move out well beyond their system, taking a defensive mindset.

A small invasion of their territory did the trick. A war the humans barely won with unseen help. It’s easy when you play both sides of the board. I harbor no illusions they can thwart the coming disaster. Still, by defending themselves, interacting viciously with the approaching horde, we should be able to determine the means and extent of the Unwanted’s control of dark energy and perhaps their ultimate goal—other than their desire to find and eliminate us.​

***​

 

The humans have peppered an enormous void volume beyond their heliosphere with a triple shell of highly sensitive detection probes. But detection doesn’t equal effective defense. Small nudges made them realize the methods and weapons they used before will not suffice against a larger, more determined enemy. While I can protect them from incursions within the heliosphere, anything outside will have to be met by them, alone in the void. ​

***​

 

The Unwanted arrived, greeted by fleets of human-modified, repositioned asteroids bristling with long-reach energy weapons. The battle was over in less than a demi-rotation, but I made it out with time to spare before the star collapsed.

We have our data, and I’ll get a short vacation.