Light Thief cover

Being inside a star is not 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 of those beyond quantum entanglement—but I am protected. Any material entity coming into this system will be detected by its frame-dragging of the gravity well of this spinning ball of hot matter. The Unwanted Ones have tried twice before to penetrate this rather dull single star’s system. I’ve thwarted them each time, disabling their fragile ceramic metal 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 more 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 to keep them spinning harmoniously.

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 clumps of matter within the gravitational influence of my assignment. Their ground-based investigators get excited whenever I cast off excess energy created by my presence here. In the interest of their continued existence, I keep the larger lances from impinging directly on their planet. A fly-speck in time ago, one close graze had a rather unfortunate effect on their 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 careful.

​When I was an acolyte, I preferred double star systems, those close enough to exchange matter and information. Since no worthwhile life exists in those more prevalent dual systems, by the luck of the draw this is my duty station for the next thirty-two point seven billion rotations of this star. 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 many millions of others of my kind on similar duty in this galaxy. Every Founder’s Day, we hold quite 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 million rotations, so I need to start packing. ​

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It was only by happenstance the Unwanted Ones got an inkling of our existence. They still don’t know who or what we are, so we allow them their continued search for our imagined home system, one they have convinced themselves must exist. It keeps them busy and out of our way most of the time. The discovery event 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, orbiting the galaxy’s black hole’s outer event horizon with other elder operatives. A cozy setup, if you ask me. But I’m in no rush to join them—perhaps after my next assignment is completed. I’m promised an exciting, newly developing system—well before the heat death of the universe. Now, that will be interesting to watch. ​

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I’m unpacking, not going to the gala unless I can wrap things up here soon. I highly dislike the distractions caused by blips 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. ​

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"What do you mean, swallowing?"

"The Unwanted are collapsing and absorbing stars at an alarming rate. They’re headed this way. 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 into a star causing it to collapse. An instant before 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 that may very well overstress the carbon organics here. They may not survive the change, let alone recover."

​"We know. But needs must be met. "​

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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 a tricky thing at best, but compressing it into such a tight time window could have been catastrophic for them. Given the expected social upheavals, they managed much better than I’d hoped. From the initial vector notification to the expected arrival of the Unwanted, we needed these sentients to move out well beyond their system not only with electro-mechanics but also with vessels carrying members of their kind—move outward aggressively with a total defensive mindset. To achieve that, we created a small faux-invasion of their territory. A war they barely won with a bit of unseen help. It’s easy when you can play both sides of the board.

 

We needed them to be highly motivated. 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.​

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It’s quite impressive, the means the organics have used, peppering an enormous volume of the void beyond their heliosphere with a triple shell of highly sensitive detection probes. Still, detection does not equal an effective defense, one they’re working on with multi-generational haste. Small, very slight nudges from us have 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.