(When we have faster-than-light ships)
Now that the Kepler Observatory is finding planets by the thousands (and it has barely touched the sky) it's almost certain that civilizations great and small have occupied some of them off and on for billions of years. In A Reluctant God we find the leftovers of an advanced civilization, and boy are they impressive. When there are billions of civilizations scattered over vast space, and - more importantly - over vast time, pretty much anything is possible.
Here's an excerpt describing one find. Our hero, Bobby the PsychFet, describes it to the Empire of Earth and its allies. The "Watchers" FYI are nanobots whizzing around the Milky Way in FTL pods in a huge search for bad guys. They have found an abandoned planet and staggering technical remnants.
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The point-of-view zoomed to a large moon orbiting the gas giant. It was about the size of Mars and was an odd, metallic color. As the POV zoomed it became clear that it was almost covered with an urban rind – an ancient planetary city of roofs, mostly deteriorated by the billion years of space debris that had pummeled it after its atmosphere had escaped.
“This was the home planet of the locals. The gas giant was much of their sky at all times. The red dwarf rose from and sank into the giant. The washes of deadly radiation and particles from all the stellar activity around was somewhat shielded by the gas giant’s magnetic field and its bulk itself, but it was still challenging for the residents, so they built the endless fields of shielding roofs we see in such disrepair now. When their technology reached the right point, they began planning their escape from this place. To build the fleets they needed to move their whole population – which The Watchers are estimating to be in the billions – they created these astounding factories, general foundries actually, capable of being programmed to build essentially anything. That’s why The Watchers have named this place Ultimate Factory. The population – they must have been incredible engineers – built interstellar passenger and cargo ships by the hundreds of thousands and ferried themselves away. When the last creature left, it turned off the lights, but left the foundries intact and we believe fully functional. Sort of a gift to the gods in gratitude for their successful migration.
“All we have to do is learn how to make them run. The foundries get all the raw materials needed to build – anything at all really – directly from the gas giant. The engineers on Nexus have already activated one of the harvester machines ‘way down in the gas giant and it is sending kilotons of pure elements to several of the orbiting foundries as we watch.”
Excitement was bubbling under the surface of the audience Bobby was narrating to.
“Keep it in your pants, people,” said Belushi.
Bobby continued, “We’ll tour one of the orbiting foundries, then we will reorganize into teams to develop action plans. By the way, this history is as told by the hundreds of immutable plaques left all around the mother planet in several languages. It took our interpretive programs almost no time to decipher them. It’s clear they were meant to be found and read by visitors. Linguistically brilliant, actually. And the foundries were clearly meant to be used.”
With that, the POV dove toward one of the extravagant foundries. “For perspective, the foundries are all basically identical. Nearly twenty kilometers on a side, slightly trapezoidal, made of several very exotic molecular materials and held together mostly with attraction and stasis fields.” The exterior was a gigantic mesh woven of golden, green and silver materials. “These structural materials are pristine. The whole of each foundry is protected by very subtle fields that selectively filter out any particle or radiation that might degrade them. We are in the process of trying to understand the field generators. If there are not discoveries here that we can use against Satan, I’ll be very surprised,” said Bobby.
“A group of twenty-three APs on Nexus, all one-time entrepreneurs in a mythic place called Silicon Valley in Christian Era history and known for some reason as 'hackers,' came up with the programming code that turned on the foundries.”
After the presentation Bobby said privately to Feynman, “We must find these people. Powerful allies they would be.”
“If they are still around, Master Yoda,” muttered Feynman.
Plans were downloaded into the foundries. Within days, fleets of new FTL heavy weapons were being churned out from the Ultimate Factories at a stunning rate. The manufacturing quality was flawless.
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POV = Point of view (of course)
Belushi and Feynman are "APs," artificial personalities - there are a lot of them in the book.
Nexus = Giant, alien-built water planet, home of several Earth Empire allies.