Concept Art Writing Prompt: Jellyfish Sentinels Explore Deep Space

This week's writing prompt takes us to a distant nebula, where robotic creatures seem to seek out something in the cold reaches of space. Can you come up with a story based on these jellyfish-inspired hunters?

This photomanipulation, simply titled "Sentinels," is the work of Jan Oliehoek via Design You Trust. So what are these creatures doing out in space, and what are they searching for?


Here's my story based on the artwork:

Roger-3200 celebrated the fifty-fifth anniversary of his time in space by spinning a little story. He told himself that Roger Prime had left PanSpace at age 35 to climb the five highest mountains in the world. On the hike up K2, he met a boorish young xenobiologist who constantly corrected his Urdu and talked Roger's ear off about extremophile experiments until Roger realized they were in love. They eventually settled in Vancouver, where they adopted a pair of girls who grew up to be terrible flirts. This Roger, the Roger who cruised through space, could envision his imagined husband's face as clearly as if it were a memory: the cleft of his chin, a small scar crossing his eyebrow from a childhood fall.

Roger-3200 believed he made a better robot than he'd made a man. Roger Prime had believed it long before he'd spread his consciousness across the Sentinels, and all the other Roger Sentinels believed it, unless the journey through space had changed their minds. Two dozen men and two dozen women had shared their consciousness with these probes, guiding their mechanical systems with human intelligence. The flesh and blood volunteers had then gone on with their meatspace lives while their thousands of robotic offspring scuttled off to seed the universe with humanity's message for the rest of existence: We are here. You are not alone.

Roger-3200's sensory processes had been reconfigured for his new body, and he loved the way his jellyfish tendrils caught in the folds of malleable space, the swishing of his sperm-like flagellum, all the movements that made his journey through the vacuum autonomous. But while the neuroengineers could soften the crushing boredom of space, they could not do away with it completely. Even Roger, who, as a teenager, had loved nothing better than studying astrophysical spectra, could derive only so much excitement from the daily readings from his sensors. PanSpace had uploaded as much entertainment media as his tertiary memory could hold, and put in place a lock forcing him to view it in real time. But Roger-3200 preferred the upgrades they had made to his imagination, letting him record and playback his favorite visions like home movies flickering in his mechanical brain.

He imagined that Roger stayed at PanSpace, playfully obsessed with the idea of rendering the Sentinels obsolete. He'd die centuries before intragenerational interstellar transit became possible, but his breakthroughs would prove key to its invention. He imagined that Roger had struck out for the asteroid belt, consulting for a mining company until he was rich enough to retire to a terraformed bubble estate on Mars. He imagined that Roger decided to have a cloned child who grew up to be a virtuoso painter, preferring earthly palettes to celestial ones.

Sometimes, when he puts his systems on autopilot and pretends that he is a homing pigeon, or some other creature with a set destination, Roger-3200 wonders what the other Roger Sentinels imagine. He can't be the only one playing out alternate lifetimes for his original self. Roger the man might only get one life time, but Roger the idea must get billions, spread out over thousands of Sentinels and millions of years. When one of them finds a distant civilization, will he stick to protocol? Extend his Pioneer programming as an olive branch from the human race? Or will he whip his tail and say to them, "My name is Roger, and this is my story."

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