They found it one day lying in the fields. It was utterly unexpected—there had been reports of such sightings but this time, here was an intact machine; still apparently in some kind of working order.
At first they tried to keep it quiet, requesting a police cordon, and a news blackout; but such news doesn’t take long to leak. It was difficult to keep the public out, and the army had to be called in; but it did mean that the best brains from all over the planet were soon alerted to the presence of the machine, and arrived on the scene within days.
The first thing they marvelled at was its incredible compactness. The design was astonishing, everything beautifully engineered. The outside was covered with a flexible membrane of several layers, which appeared to contain a heat regulation system which protected the centre of the machine. The really exciting thing was that the internal motor appeared still to be functioning, in spite of its entry to this environment, which might have damaged it.
Innovative power system
Initially the fuel system that supplied the motor was a mystery. They could not make out how it could store enough fuel for such a long voyage; there appeared to be a limited amount of fuel storage, but insufficient for the distance it had clearly travelled. However, examination of the fuel injection system revealed an astonishing fact: the machine was designed to burn multiple fuels, and had a revolutionary plenum, which could adapt to and use fuels from almost any environment. It had been designed to travel here, making use of any materials it encountered on the way.
The sophistication of the machine and its astonishing abilities at first suggested that it might contain a crew; but gradually it became obvious that it was a self-guided pre-programmed machine, controlled by a very powerful, miniature computer. At least, that was the closest analogy they could make. Remote sensing revealed a vast amount of electrical signalling, centred on the ‘computer’, but the computer’s structure was unlike any they had seen before. Some amazingly advanced intelligence must have designed such a machine.
The next step was to try to decode the electrical signals; but the codes were vastly too complex. Without knowing the programming language, it was clearly going to be a hopeless task. Only the machine builders would know that, and they didn’t appear to have sent a code book with the machine—though it was searched for.
Shrewd modular design
A few fragments of the machine had come loose, and these were the subject of intense analysis. The machine appeared to be built of a sub-structure of tiny modules, and these were taken apart to try to understand the nature and purpose of the machine. They revealed an astonishing new level of complexity, for these modules turned out to be veritable machines themselves. Each of these had its own membrane (of a different kind to that covering the whole machine), its own data store, and many ingenious little motors, providing power to the module. The fuel for the motors passed through a membrane in a very clever one-way valve system. Faced with this ‘machines-within-machine’ complexity, the analysts stood astounded at the genius that had conceived such an engineering marvel.
Consummate self-copying capability
But even more astonishing things were yet to come. Analysis by one of their brilliant mathematicians of the data stored in the small machines suggested that encoded here were instructions for building further machines. Could it be that this machine was self-replicating? The conclusion seemed unavoidable.
All was now ready for the visit of the Professor. He was the one who they wanted to see the machine, for he had said that such machines could not exist. He was a deeply religious man, who held firmly to his faith that there was no intelligence greater than theirs: and certainly no beings outside their own world. At last they had the evidence to confound him. And soon he arrived.
He examined the machine, looked at the remote sensors, and the data that had been gathered. He pondered as he walked up and down. Everyone was in silence as they waited to hear what he could say now. At last he spoke.
“I know it looks like a machine. I know it appears to be have been built by some great intelligence. But since we know that there is no greater intelligence than ours, this cannot be so. I conclude it is just the chance result of natural forces.”
After the initial stunned silence, there was a wave of uncontrollable laughter. As it was reported on the news, the whole world fell into hysterics. The laughter could even be heard by the designer of the machine.