So far out here the sun appears as faint as a firefly at twilight. The vast and terrible worlds of gas and thunder are imperceptible; the insignificant rocky retinue of the inner planets might as well not exist. The cold is tantamount. The spaces between molecules ensure that even dust is a stranger. Out here the only visitor is a transient blast of microwaves and the stray leakage of radio voices pinging for home.
Elementary as it was the vehicle traveled onward; set in motion in time so distant that even the positions of the constellations had changed to become stretched and skewed. Its heart was intact, its limbs useless since nearly the beginning of its journey. White blossom flower, gray and black its stalk, gold flecked in its tumble; what beauty remains no man would see.
The world as it was known had traveled around its stellar master for many billions of years—over its existence it grew green and rich with the patina of life. The dance of evolution produced creatures of intelligence which sent out into the universe their metal boxes full of silicon switches and spark gap lightening. They used shutters of diamond to steal peaks up Venus’s skirt and dropped wheeled versions of themselves upon rusty deserts and floated on orange methane seas. The creatures themselves eventually visited a few of these worlds. They sent calling cards out as far as they could hurl them. They screamed at the top of their voices to the distant stars so they might call back. And they waited.
They waited so long that they forgot why they called in the first place. They scampered over the snows of Triton and built vessels that could roam further than dreams had dared dream. It was brought home to them that the universe was full of living things, great and beautiful, some ungainly, some nearly impossible to describe…all of them unable or unwilling to communicate with them. Sentience was not theirs to find.
The great ships made landfall on worlds suited to the species, the call to preserve their genetic heritage ensured that the universe was full of their diaspora. So far out here the world of their origins was a memory reflected in confused histories and legends. The root of their cultural tree was cut—its fostering energies lost, the understanding of accomplishments, of where they have come, where they have gone; faded.
—This is the beginning of a story I am writing about the Voyager probes. The feat of sending intelligent machines to the stars never ceases to astound me.