The journey was long. Millennia, in fact. But the thinking part of the Progenitor was asleep, and didn’t notice the time pass. The thinking part was just one of many parts of the Progenitor, and not all were asleep. Passive sensors listened for transmissions of varying spectra, but heard nothing more than the ordinary interstellar background noise. More active sensors were periodically activated to scan the surrounding starfield and verify it was still on course. If needed, the propulsion systems could be brought online to alter its trajectory. If the adjustment needed significant calculation or analysis, the thinking part of the Progenitor would be awakened to take charge. And the power systems were always online, feeding trickles of electrons to those few parts of the Progenitor that required it. One of these systems was the clock. Its power needs were tiny, using the vibration frequency of a handful of atoms at its center to track time. But this humble clock was one of the most important parts of the Progenitor – and at this moment, it performed the most significant action of its thousands of years of existence: it sent a signal to the thinking part of the Progenitor. For all intents and purposes, this signal said “WAKE UP!” The thinking part became alert. Awake, it did not think of itself as just a part of the Progenitor. Sensors and power systems and even the clock were just an extension of itself, as were the myriad of other systems, so it thought. As far as it was concerned, it was the Progenitor. Fully awake, the Progenitor assessed its surroundings. It was still in deep space, unable to feel any significant gravity well. But “deep” is a relative term. One star was much closer than the rest of the thousands visible. The Progenitor located this nearest star and performed a quick calculation – it would pass within a few dozen astronomical units in just a handful of years. The Progenitor consulted the Protocol. A suitable planet or moon must be located. After a few more calculations, the Progenitor altered its course toward a long orbit around the nearest star, which it began to think of as ‘the Star’. At the same time, it activated telescopes and other long-dormant sensors, training them on the Star and its system. Data collection was slow, but the Progenitor had plenty of time. First it analyzed the spectrum of the Star itself – it was a smallish orange star, only a little a bit bigger than the ubiquitous red dwarfs. It was right in the middle of the main sequence, giving it billions of years before its structure changed significantly. All in all, the Star fit the requirements of the Protocol very well, so the Progenitor turned its attention to its planetary system. Weeks and months went by, and it slowly built up a picture of the Star’s planetary system, pixel by pixel, byte by byte. Sensors would be trained on an object for weeks or more to record enough data. There were six bodies large enough to be called planets, the three largest primarily composed of gas, and the three smallest of rock and ice. The closest, a rocky planet, was far hotter than parameters allowed, and the most distant, a gas giant, was much too cold. The second farthest planet from the Star, another gas giant, seemed promising at first – or at least a few of its satellites did. One showed signs of moderate warmth from tectonic activity, most likely due to the gravitational tides from its planet. But a closer look revealed a desolate, volcanic wasteland, with almost no atmosphere to speak of. The second satellite, a smooth, icy ball, showed signs of a subsurface ocean. But with no surface atmosphere, the Progenitor relegated it to ‘marginal’ status, only worthy of further analysis if no other bodies in the Star’s system better met the Protocols. None of the other satellites appeared interesting, so it turned its attention elsewhere. During the years-long approach to the Star, the Progenitor spent the majority of its time and effort analyzing the second and third planets, a medium sized rocky ball and a slightly larger gaseous planet. For a time, the rocky planet was occulted behind the Star, so it focused on the gas giant. There were three significant-sized satellites – the Progenitor dismissed the two closest for being far too volatile and hot. But the third looked promising – wispy clouds over blue water, with scattered brown islands. The Progenitor fired up additional, more power hungry sensors, directly imaging the moon over a period of months. There were seasonal changes – some islands disappeared, others changed shape and color. At this analysis, alarms went off inside the Progenitor’s processors. Seasonal changes in color could mean multicellular life, and pre-existing multicellular life rendered a body unacceptable in the Protocol. The Progenitor’s databanks indicated that simple life could cause these results, but that was unusual for the degree of change it observed. It turned its spectrum analyzers towards the moon, reading the ingredients of its atmosphere in the light. If it had the capacity for such feeling, the results of this analysis would fill the Progenitor with disappointment – various reducing and reduced molecules in the atmospheric spectrum of the moon gave a very high likelihood of complex life, and only a small likelihood of its absence. But it had no such emotional capacity, so it moved on, turning its sensors to the second rocky planet when its occultation by the Star was complete. Only if no other suitable body were found would it return to this moon. The Progenitor was immediately interested in the rocky planet – cloud cover was very light, and shallow seas and rivers crisscrossed the surface. There were seasonal changes, but no significant color changes, and the spectroscopic analysis provided further data that met the requirements of the Protocol. And critically, the coasts of the landmasses of this planet were subject to periodic flooding – a large satellite provided cyclical tides, and seasonal temperature changes and seismic activity raised and lowered sea levels from year to year and decade to decade. Such flooding gave big areas of the landmasses a thin layer of soil – crucial to the plans of the Protocol. The Progenitor plotted a course of intercept, starting to think of its destination as “the Planet”. In the midst of its circuitous route, taking advantage of gravity slingshots from a pair of the gas giant planets, it continued to scan the Planet to determine an appropriate landing point. With the various tools and vehicles at its disposal, it could technically conduct its mission from anywhere on the planet – even the ever-frozen polar regions. But the Protocol recommended a location with relatively easy access to both large bodies of water as well as land to save resources. By the time it had finished its second gravity slingshot maneuver, the Progenitor had narrowed it down to an equatorial island, a subtropical, mountainous coast, and a temperate peninsula. With the last maneuver before entering orbit around the Planet, the Progenitor gave itself a brief respite – shutting down its major systems, including its thinking parts. When its clock reawakened it, it was settled into a steady orbit, the perfect vantage point from which to select its new home. While examining its three landing spot finalists, the Progenitor released hundreds of satellites, settling them into various geosynchronous orbits to have full coverage of the Planet. And it watched. For seasons, it waited, and watched – there was no hurry. The Protocol demanded it verify there was no multicellular life present, and if it took dozens of revolutions of the Planet to verify this, so be it. The Progenitor watched, imaging every square meter of the Planet with great detail. Portions of the shallow seas melted and refroze through the Planet’s year, changing the shape of coastlines from season to season, and depositing that critical layer of soil cover from erosion by the brute force of water. After analyzing the imagery of the surface for several years, finally the Progenitor concluded that there was no complex life present. At the same time, it selected the peninsula as its landing site – a sloping seaside hill should provide convenient access to the sea, while at the same time staying high enough to avoid the seasonal tides. The Progenitor touched down gently, slowed by retro-rockets and parachutes that, upon landing, were reeled in and recycled. It checked its various systems, noting a few that would need tweaks or minor repairs from the stressful landing cycle. Its fuel reserves were depleted from the descent, though on the surface they could be refilled with volatiles in the Planet’s environment. For a time, on its windswept cliff, looking out to sea on three sides, the Progenitor rested, reviewing the Protocol. Multicellular life must not be present, but simple unicellular life was acceptable – in fact, based on the information in its databanks, simple unicellular life was nearly ubiquitous throughout the galaxy, found on most planet and moon sized bodies within a habitable range of temperature. Segments and portions of the Progenitor, never before active, opened up and folded out of its structure. Tendrils writhed and crept into the sea, tasting and smelling and analyzing the water in a hundred ways. The expected simple, single-celled lifeforms were indeed present, though in very small concentrations at the water’s edge; the Progenitor’s databanks suggested that higher concentrations might occur at geothermal hot spots deep below the surface. But this was of no concern, per the Protocol. Other machinery folded out, including an array of solar panels. On the barren surface of the hillside, and further inland, there were nigh-unlimited hectares of land for the Progenitor to utilize, and it quickly covered more than a square kilometer with different parts of itself. Over days and weeks, the Progenitor replenished its power enough to draw on its small store of raw materials – metals and minerals – to construct suitable tools to break into the Planet’s own resources. Mattocks and spades and drills clawed out of the Progenitor’s innards, making their way to the bare rock of the Planet’s surface and prying it open. Furnaces fired, breaking down chunks of the Planet’s crust into the raw materials the Progenitor needed for its work. Years passed. The Progenitor constructed hundreds of rovers – swimmers, rollers, and flyers – to extend its reach by hundreds of kilometers. With the eyes of its many satellites, it anticipated weather systems long before they reached its barren, windy hills, closing up any delicate instruments to avoid damage from the elements. The Progenitor manufactured vast gas-production facilities, and over several decades, pumped out billions and billions of cubic meters of various gases mined from the planet’s own resources. Even with this massive production capacity, the effects on the planet’s atmosphere were small. Small effects, but critical for the next steps. And finally, with raw material stores topped up, with energy reserves at maximum, with the atmospheric gases subtly but crucially altered, and with an arsenal of instruments and tools, the Progenitor opened up its Heart – that most delicate and crucial part of itself, which had been closed like a tomb for millennia. With incredible delicateness, it drew off a tiny sample from one corner, gently heating it to the temperature of the sea. If the Progenitor had any sense of ceremony, it would have marked the occasion. A note in its logs with the date of the ‘first seeding’ would have to do.