Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to
happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again,
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though.
The history of the Galaxy has got a little muddled, for a
number of reasons: partly because those who are trying to keep
track of it have got a little muddled, but also because some very
muddling things have been happening anyway.
One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and
the difficulties involved in trying to exceed it. You can't. Nothing
travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception
of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel
people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were
powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and
were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere
that there wasn't really any point in being there.
So, by and large, the peoples of the Galaxy tended to languish
in their own local muddles and the history of the Galaxy itself
was, for a long time, largely cosmological.
Which is not to say that people weren't trying. They tried
sending off fleets of spaceships to do battle or business in
distant parts, but these usually took thousands of years to get
anywhere. By the time they eventually arrived, other forms of
travel had been discovered which made use of hyperspace to
circumvent the speed of light, so that whatever battles it was
that the slower-than-light fleets had been sent to fight had already
been taken care of centuries earlier by the time they actually got
This didn't, of course, deter their crews from wanting to fight
the battles anyway. They were trained, they were ready, they'd
had a couple of thousand years' sleep, they'd come a long way
to do a tough job and by Zarquon they were going to do it.
This was when the first major muddles of Galactic history set
in, with battles continually re-erupting centuries after the issues
they had been fought over had supposedly been settled. However,
these muddles were as nothing to the ones which historians had
to try and unravel once time-travel was discovered and battles
started pre-erupting hundreds of years before the issues even
arose. When the Infinite Improbability Drive arrived and whole
planets started turning unexpectedly into banana fruitcake, the
great history faculty of the University of MaxiMegalon finally
gave up, closed itself down and surrendered its buildings to the
rapidly growing joint faculty of Divinity and Water Polo, which
had been after them for years.
Which is all very well, of course, but it almost certainly
means that no one will ever know for sure where, for instance,
the Grebulons came from, or exactly what it was they wanted.
And this is a pity, because if anybody had known anything about
them, it is just possible that a most terrible catastrophe would
have been averted - or at least would have had to find a different
way to happen.
The huge grey Grebulon reconnaissance ship moved silently
through the black void. It was travelling at fabulous, breathtaking
speed, yet appeared, against the glimmering background
of a billion distant stars to be moving not at all. It was just one
dark speck frozen against an infinite granularity of brilliant night.
On board the ship, everything was as it had been for millennia,
deeply dark and Silent.
At least, almost everything.
Click, click, hum.
Click, hum, click, hum, click, hum.
Click, click, click, click, click, hum.
A low level supervising program woke up a slightly higher
level supervising program deep in the ship's semi-somnolent
cyberbrain and reported to it that whenever it went click all it
got was a hum.
The higher level supervising program asked it what it was
supposed to get, and the low level supervising program said
that it couldn't remember exactly, but thought it was probably
more of a sort of distant satisfied sigh, wasn't it? It didn't know
what this hum was. Click, hum, click, hum. That was all it was
The higher level supervising program considered this and
didn't like it. It asked the low level supervising program what
exactly it was supervising and the low level supervising program
said it couldn't remember that either, just that it was something
that was meant to go click, sigh every ten years or so, which
usually happened without fail. It had tried to consult its error
look-up table but couldn't find it, which was why it had alerted
the higher level supervising program to the problem.
The higher level supervising program went to consult one of
its own look-up tables to find out what the low level supervising
program was meant to be supervising.
It couldn't find the look-up table.
It looked again. All it got was an error message. It tried
to look up the error message in its error message look-up table
and couldn't find that either. It allowed a couple of nanoseconds
to go by while it went through all this again. Then it woke up its
sector function supervisor.
The sector function supervisor hit immediate problems. It
called its supervising agent which hit problems too. Within a few
millionths of a second virtual circuits that had lain dormant, some
for years, some for centuries, were flaring into life throughout the
ship. Something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong, but none
of the supervising programs could tell what it was. At every level,
vital instructions were missing, and the instructions about what to
do in the event of discovering that vital instructions were missing,
were also missing.
Small modules of software - agents - surged through the
logical pathways, grouping, consulting, re-grouping. They quickly
established that the ship's memory, all the way back to its central
mission module, was in tatters. No amount of interrogation could
determine what it was that had happened. Even the central mission module itself seemed to be damaged.
This made the whole problem very simple to deal with.
Replace the central mission module. There was another one,
a backup, an exact duplicate of the original. It had to be
physically replaced because, for safety reasons, there was no
link whatsoever between the original and its backup. Once the
central mission module was replaced it could itself supervise the
reconstruction of the rest of the system in every detail, and all
would be well.
Robots were instructed to bring the backup central mission
module from the shielded strong room, where they guarded it,
to the ship's logic chamber for installation.
This involved the lengthy exchange of emergency codes and
protocols as the robots interrogated the agents as to the authenticity of the instructions. At last the robots were satisfied that
all procedures were correct. They unpacked the backup central
mission module from its storage housing, carried it out of the
storage chamber, fell out of the ship and went spinning off into
This provided the first major clue as to what it was that
Further investigation quickly established what it was that had
happened. A meteorite had knocked a large hole in the ship. The
ship had not previously detected this because the meteorite had
neatly knocked out that part of the ship's processing equipment
which was supposed to detect if the ship had been hit by a
The first thing to do was to try to seal up the hole. This turned
out to be impossible, because the ship's sensors couldn't see that
there was a hole, and the supervisors which should have said that
the sensors weren't working properly weren't working properly
and kept saying that the sensors were fine. The ship could only
deduce the existence of the hole from the fact that the robots
had clearly fallen out of it, taking its spare brain, which would
have enabled it to see the hole, with them.
The ship tried to think intelligently about this, failed, and then
blanked out completely for a bit. It didn't realise it had blanked
out, of course, because it had blanked out. It was merely surprised
to see the stars jump. After the third time the stars jumped the
ship finally realised that it must be blanking out, and that it was
time to take some serious decisions.
Then it realised it hadn't actually taken the serious decisions
yet and panicked. It blanked out again for a bit. When it awoke
again it sealed all the bulkheads around where it knew the unseen
hole must be.
It clearly hadn't got to its destination yet, it thought, fitfully,
but since it no longer had the faintest idea where its destination
was or how to reach it, there seemed to be little point
in continuing. It consulted what tiny scraps of instructions it
could reconstruct from the tatters of its central mission module.
`Your !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! year mission is to !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!,
!!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, land !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! a safe distance !!!!! !!!!!
..... ..... ..... .... , land ..... ..... .....
monitor it. !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!...'
All of the rest was complete garbage.
Before it blanked out for good the ship would have to pass
on those instructions, such as they were, to its more primitive
It must also revive all of its crew.
There was another problem. While the crew was in hibernation,
the minds of all of its members, their memories, their identities
and their understanding of what they had come to do, had all
been transferred into the ship's central mission module for safe
keeping. The crew would not have the faintest idea of who they
were or what they were doing there. Oh well.
Just before it blanked out for the final time, the ship realised
that its engines were beginning to give out too.
The ship and its revived and confused crew coasted on under
the control of its subsidiary automatic systems, which simply
looked to land wherever they could find to land and monitor
whatever they could find to monitor.
As far as finding something to land on was concerned, they
didn't do very well. The planet they found was desolately cold
and lonely, so achingly far from the sun that should warm it, that
it took all of the Envir-O-Form machinery and LifeSupport-O-Systems they carried with them to render it, or at least enough
parts of it, habitable. There were better planets nearer in, but
the ship's Strateej-O-Mat was obviously locked into Lurk mode
and chose the most distant and unobtrusive planet and, furthermore, would not be gainsaid by anybody other than the ship's
Chief Strategic Officer. Since everybody on the ship had lost
their minds no one knew who the Chief Strategic Officer was
or, even if he could have been identified, how he was supposed
to go about gainsaying the ship's Strateej-O-Mat.
As far as finding something to monitor was concerned, though,
they hit solid gold.