It had been a satisfying mission, in as far as they could relate to such a notion. All Stones had been deployed, save one. But then, at the extreme limit of their plotted course, a problem had arisen.
Dimensions were heavily compressed in that region and even minor rifts in their enclosing fabrics caused huge energy imbalances to ripple out across the planetary system they had chosen to analyze. Accordingly, they had been about to abandon their observations and move on when a surprise had come to light; or to put it another way, given the scope of the input parameters, anomalous data had arisen. It had manifested itself in the form of sentient life on one of the planets in that troubled system. Not a problem in itself, if it had taken the form of a single species; unfortunately two had presented themselves for consideration, each displaying substantial promise.
It was not in their nature to propel a circular piece of metal skywards and deliberate on the outcome of its fall. Rather, they determined to divide one Stone into two in the hope that each of the resultant Stones, although weaker than the unified parent, would create a benign zone within which each species could prosper. “Hope” of course, in this scenario, was not a vague indeterminate concept, rather it was a positive state of consciousness brought about by rigorous analysis of the available data. Had that state been negative, then one of the species would have been abandoned to its inevitable fate, a decision that would have been based on entirely different parameters.
The arcane science used to nurture the Stones was prohibitively dangerous and so their numbers were few, their importance inestimable. Consequently, procedures for utilizing them to best effect were well documented. Even this procedure.
They had delved into the fractal complexities of their final Stone and had eased it apart into polarized components, a fraught procedure even for such intellects as theirs. In point of fact, “Stone” was a term of reference, for despite its crystalline appearance it was primarily organic in composition and, being organic, it had resisted their efforts. Even as two it had sought to be one, intense binding forces seeking to undo their efforts. But they had been ready: the housings had been in position and the fail-safe had been programmed, for should the Stones merge they would not act as one without initialization; they would simply negate one another, leaving both civilizations at the mercy of the elements.
The possible scenarios consequent upon the passing of the rogue “Hellion” had been difficult to predict. They had christened it thus because of its troublesome nature: too many variables. They could have simply destroyed it but that was not in their nature. They had in fact marked it down for further study, for their initial scans had revealed a very odd internal structure.
The housings were almost indestructible but nevertheless the fail-safe had been devised so that at least one of the species would have a chance for survival should catastrophe occur. It had been activated upon their leaving. It was a temporary measure but “temporary” only to such as the Aesnagärk. It would be four cycles, maybe five, before the Hellion passed beyond the orbit of the planet.
The actual consequences of the Hellion’s next passing had fallen at the extreme limit of the projected envelope and catastrophe had indeed occurred. The fail-safe had been activated. And again a second time, for the prison that had been created for an errant Stone was by no means impregnable. Should the hard-edged technology used to create a housing have been overcome by the marauding Hellion then the prison would only suffice between cycles. Much would now depend on the procedures they had instigated, necessarily embedded in the myths and cultures of the species involved, for it would hinder that species greatly if those within it were aware of an all-powerful benefactor.
So the procedures had been enacted, and with apparent success. Indeed, why not? They were tried and tested, albeit rarely. The fail-safe had instigated those procedures on both occasions and followed them through. But there was cause for concern. Severe anomalies had been attendant upon the second cycle, the most critical just subsequent to it: a severe weakening of their beacon.
The disruptive Hellion was about to pass by a third time and already the Stones had ceased their transmissions. And although the beacon had not yet weakened as before, its strength had already fluctuated.
Now, at such an extreme range, they could not effectively monitor their charge, let alone influence it. One further cycle, two at most, and the Hellion’s orbit would no longer be a cause for concern. The prison would then retain its captive, until such time as they chose to retrieve it. And yet? The decision was unanimous. As they aligned their empyreal cocoon with the faltering pulse from that distant planet, the attention of the Aesnagärk fell with unwavering resolve upon the specifications of their fail-safe and the strength of their beacon. It also fell upon alternative scenarios.
Thus would their return be somewhat more alacritous than their departure; any factor used to highlight this difference would be inconstant and would swiftly stray into the realms of the exponential.