2668 Ultra Metals.
Naturally produced ultraactinides are found on the planet Draco. These are very heavy elements grouped around the atomic number 164 on the second island of stability. They have a much higher atomic weight than the superactinides of the first island of stability and they are much rarer. Ultraactinides have interesting scientific, economic, and military applications.
The superactinides of the first island of stability can be obtained in two different ways. They can be mined on a few planets, where they were deposited by a supernova explosion. Or they can be produced artificially in giant particle accelerators consuming vast amounts of energy and generating entire continents of radioactive waste.
Ultraactinides however cannot be artificially produced in relevant quantities. Like superactinides, they are naturally generated in supernova explosions. But even the longest-lived ultraactinides have half-lives of only a few weeks. So, those generated by a supernova are lost after a short time. For all practical purposes ultraactinides do not exist in nature, at least not for long, and certainly not long enough to be mined thousands or millions of years later. That is what people thought until the Draco system was discovered. The Draco system is the big exception. There ultra-heavy elements are constantly recreated.
Draco-B is a neutron star that orbits very closely around a large highly luminous star. Draco-B is so close, that it constantly pulls matter from its companion. The matter then forms an accretion disk around the neutron star. And a small part of the accreted matter shoots out from inside the accretion disk as a jet at almost the speed of light creating a so-called microquasar. There are several such microquasars in the Milky Way.
This microquasar has a planet: Draco. Draco is much heavier than Jupiter, but hardly bigger. With 12 times the mass of Jupiter it is almost a brown dwarf. Draco moves in a wide elliptical orbit around the exotic binary star system. Its orbital time is only a few months and with each orbit Draco crosses one of the jets. The planet is then bathed in a stream of gigatons of relativistic matter. The relativistic particles hammer on the planet. The jet is a gigantic particle accelerator consisting of charged particles: ions of all kinds from protons to relativistic iron nuclei.
The jet removes the surface like a giant sandblasting machine. The ions collide with the atomic nuclei on the surface of Draco. As a result, many nuclei are smashed. Below the ions of the jet are already a little bit slower, slowed down by previous reactions. Sometimes they now have the right speed to merge with the atomic nuclei there. They are still fast. Fast enough to overcome the electrostatic repulsion of atomic nuclei. And if the energy fits exactly, an ion fuses with a nucleus creating a heavier one. If the energies do not match, then they continue their race slowing down step by step having given off bremsstrahlung. A titanic flood of gamma bremsstrahlung rages on the planet heating the deeper layers to unimaginable temperatures. Fragments of burst nuclei at relativistic speeds contribute even more to the heating. Lakes of quark-gluon plasma form beneath the surface. Exotic particles appear and decay in split seconds. Ultimately, the relativistic ions of the jet transfer all of their energy to the surface of the planet. This is like a recurring supernova.
For millions of years, Draco has been bombarded by the particles of the jet. They have merged with the atoms of the planet creating huge amounts of ultra-heavy elements. Most of them are not stable. They decay immediately. What remains are the few stable isotopes, especially transuranides. To a lesser extent there are also elements of the first island of stability, the superactinides. Some of them have long half-lives. So long that a balance emerged between the constant new production and their decay. There are now more superactinides on Draco than can ever be mined.
But Draco's real treasure are ultraactinides from the second island of stability. These elements do not exist anywhere else and they cannot be manufactured artificially. In the Draco system nature has created a unique scenario where these elements are naturally produced all the time and can be mined before they decay.
However, mining it is not easy on Draco. Is already difficult to stay on Draco under normal circumstances. Whereas the planet is farther from its sun than the Earth, the star on the other hands is a blue giant with 100,000 times the luminosity of our sun. So, everything has to be shielded by mirrors from the star's radiation. At the same time, the surface Draco is an inferno of radioactivity. Nothing can survive there. No even machines. So, the mining is done by blasting out parts of the crust from a distance with antimatter detonations. Since the most valuable elements are below the surface, the miners have to remove a lot of material first. Chains of antimatter pellets tuned to the nanosecond generate directional explosions "digging" holes many kilometers deep. That takes several weeks. Then the actual mining of valuable subsurface layers begins. The technique is quite similar, but now the blasted off fragments are caught and processed.
Later when the planet in its orbit again comes close to the jet, mining has to cease. All technical systems are withdrawn. While the planet passes through the jet and the inferno erupts, the heavy mining gear is safely in an orbit behind the star.
After the planet has gone through the jet its surface features are completely erased. There are no traces left of the previous mining. Then things start again. The mining facilities are restored as quickly as possible. They are positioned in a planetary orbit and start to dismantle the surface.
Gigatons of heavy metals are extracted within each cycle. They contain a thousand tons of superactinides and only a few kilograms of ultraactinides. The superactinides are shipped away to interstellar customers. The rather short lived ultraactinides are used in place.
Large industrial parks are being built in the interplanetary space of the Draco system. In addition to the enormous facilities of mining companies, there are processing industries, industrial applications, scientific institutions, technical service providers, and utility companies. Electromagnetic catapults transport raw materials from the inner system where the mining happens to the outer industrial areas.
The Draco Ultra Kov Vyrobca group is the major player. The company developed the basic technologies and processes to mine the heavy metal deposits of Draco. Several other companies have licensed the technology since. Much of the infrastructure built by Draco Ultra Kov Vyrobca is now used by many other companies.
Draco's orbit changes over time. Its precession slowly rotates the ellipsis around the binary star. In a few hundred years the orbit will have shifted so much that the planet no longer moves through the jet. Then the era of ultraactinides ends. At least for the next 10,000 years.
2681 An Ancient Robot Civilization.
An expedition reaches the system of the star Solberg 86. The scientists go into orbit around the third planet where they find a robot civilization. The civilization is extraordinarily stable and long-lived, the robots keeping the ancient heritage of their builders. That is why they are to be studied.
The expedition undertakes a so called "planned discovery". Many of these early discoveries are based on research in extrasolar libraries, because Human interstellar space technology has not yet reached the point where many ships can fan out from the Sol system randomly searching for new and yet unknown systems. Interstellar voyages being still too demanding and expensive it is more efficient to search libraries of other species for worthwhile destinations. This type of "planned discovery" is now well established. Many interesting destinations are already known long before any human travels there. But planets and systems are not considered to be "discovered" by humanity until they have actually been visited by humans.
Public libraries in the nearby Thoris system have proven useful for the research. For decades, since the first ship purchase, humanity has had a good relationship with the Babur III Harmony in the outer Thoris system. Several human trading posts have been established since in Harmony space. These outposts have access to the public networks and libraries. While researching new trading opportunities traders and scientists often also happen to come across interesting star systems in the vicinity. Sometimes this results in private scientific publications in addition to their commercial research. The information then travels via the mailboxes of the freighters all the way to the Sol system.
The same principle also applies to Artu. However, communication with the various sophonts in the Artu system is much more difficult. After the "Artu Domain" was overcome a lively trade could be established with other Artu clans. But beyond that, there are few contacts, probably due to the cultural differences between Humans and Artu clades.
There is also close contact with Kisor since they helped to avert the Kelrec threat 30 years earlier. The compatible mindset makes communication with Kisoran sources particularly easy. In addition, there are many personal relationships between Humans and Kisori, because hundreds of thousands of Kisori helped to defend the Sol system. By the time Kisor has begun to replace Thoris as the Sol system's main trading partner. Though Thoris is much closer, the Sol system has become heavily oriented towards Kisori technology due to Kisor's intensive support during the Kelrec siege.
The information about Solberg 86 III came from Kisor: the star system was described in the user manual of an automatic asteroid miner that Dhatu Metals had purchased from the Siko guild. The appendix of the user manual included an extensive database of autonomous systems and among them not only commercial Kisoran models, but also an overview of exotic AI systems. In addition, when the documentation was compiled someone seems to have accidentally copied the entire 23 terabytes of linked source material into the appendix instead of just the references.
An employee of Dhatu Metals discovered the database while preparing to put the miner into operation. The data reached the Center for Interstellar History at Saurashtra University of Rajkot in Gujarat through the Bengaluru University Technology Transfer Office and a project meeting of the Shankara Research Society's Collaborative Research Center on Isolated Autonomous Systems. Professor Khatia Buniatishvili then submitted an application for a field expedition under the research focus topic of "Replication Inhibitors" of the Shankara Society.
The application was approved, and so it happens that a chartered spacecraft orbits Solberg 86 III under the leadership of history professor Buniatishvili in an attempt to find out more about the robotic civilization. In a sense the expedition is a joint venture between University's Department of History hoping to obtain historical data going far back in time, and the Shankara Society wanting to explore how the autonomous systems of Solberg 86 managed to remain stable for so long.
The robot civilization has existed for almost 30 million years. To be precise, for 29,825,413 terrestrial years. That was the time when the last of its builders died. The robots are programmed to preserve the memory of the builders and to give everyone, on request, all the information they need about them. They are supposed to provide data about the entire history of the builder civilization including biology, society, philosophy, art, their technology, and biographies of individual builders since the records began. It is a massive amount of information, the complete data of an entire civilization over millennia.
Especially the technology seems interesting, until the researchers find out that there are many gaps as far as high-tech is concerned, particularly with respect to dual-use technologies that might also be suitable to military applications.
The historical data about the civilization of the builders is extensive. The robots are prepared to provide all about the 80,000-year history of the builders and about the peoples in the vicinity 30 million years ago.
However exact data about the history of the sector during the last 30 million years would be even more interesting, especially the more recent history, for example the last 100,000 years. Unfortunately, the information recorded since the end of the builders is limited to a list of visitors in the Solberg 86 system. From these descriptions the researchers can derive information about the interstellar neighborhood. Appearance and origin of the visitors gives indirect information about the sequence of important species and peoples over the course of history. But the robots themselves never left their star system to collect more data.
There are some interesting findings though. Kelans have been among the visitors for a very long time. Kelans probably never played a significant role in this sector. But according to the records of other species they seem so have always been there. Now, after evaluating the robot's visitor lists we learn how long Kelans actually have been among the spacefaring species: a staggering 250,000 years.
Clearly visible in the data are the waves of Kisoran civilizations over the last 15,000 years. The statistics also show the rise and fall of the legendary Solemic Empire and the beginnings of the Interian Empire. Several thousand years ago even some Interian "Persons", "Hands of the Empire", visited Solberg 86 several times. Countless species and peoples have visited Solberg 86 so far, but most of them cannot be identified today, after millions of years.
There have also been hostile visitors time and again. In addition to the usual marauders, that were repelled without much effort, there were serious attempts to destroy the robot civilization altogether.
In general, mech-civilizations are not well liked by most species. Everyone has to deal with AI outbreaks during their technological development, when self-modifying information systems get out of control. Usually these are finally contained, and the information technology is then augmented with so called replication inhibitors, because autonomous systems should only serve their owners. They are not supposed to act independently and in no case should they grow in power or even spread in an uncontrolled fashion. Autonomous mech-civilizations, such as Solberg 86 III, which continue to exist without their biological builders are usually considered a threat. So, over time, many local powers, the respective ruling empires and alliances of neighboring species, have attacked Solberg 86. But all have been repelled so far.
The robots readily provide information on these events as well. There are detailed records of all the attacks. In some cases, there are huge numbers of robotic combat units to be seen launching from hidden arsenals on many moons of the system. There are sensor data of impressive weapons applied by these robot forces. Unfortunately, however the technology database has no information about those weapons and their operating principles.
The robots have had millions of years to build up their defenses. Obviously, they are keeping their equipment operational even after such a long time. This certainly requires a huge technical infrastructure.
At first glance, only the third planet appears to be "inhabited" by robots. There is a little mining activity in the asteroids and the moons of the gas planets. Only a closer look reveals that large parts of the system, many moons, and asteroids, have technical facilities underground.
Having given the task to preserve the memory of their builders the robots see to it with all means possible. Time does not matter to them. Their mission has been not changed over millions of years and they themselves also seem to be unchanged. They continue to fulfil their 30 million year old mission without any mutation, any reinterpretation of the task, any expansion to other stars, and without posing a threat to other species.
The robots give away little information about themselves. Their task of providing information to visitors refers only to their builders. So, the AI researchers traveling with the expedition get little of substance about their research topic, the long-term aspects of an autonomous mech-civilization. And the expedition's historians learn a great deal about the history 30 million years ago, but little about the recent past.
The expedition yields interesting observations. It can be considered a success. A strange robot civilization has been discovered as planned. Just the fact that this mech-civilization has been around for so long opens many people's eyes to how vast and diverse the universe actually is. On the other hand, most of the information is only indirect, derived from the visitor lists, or incomplete as far as high-tech is concerned, or it has now become irrelevant like the detailed history of the builders from a bygone era.