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This is a short story about a AI controlled transport starship that suffered from an accident and becomes lost in interstellar (intergalactic?) space in such a way that it would take a prohibitively long time to return to civilization.

The ship in its despair moves further into the emptiness and discovers another lost ship(s) there gathering mass as a hobby, to pass the time? It then takes over this task with an unremembered goal behind it.

That's as much as I can remember about it and many searches have been fruitless. The story itself was discovered once in a 'Top science fiction/speculative fiction short stories' type list in a lost thread somewhere.

Edit: This was read sometime in the last year as a part of a list of new or lesser known SF short stories online. I think I saw in a post on /r/printSF which I can't seem to find regardless of how I word my search terms.

Night Watch sounds familiar but I recall the collection of mass was a key part and have no memory of any crew.

  • 1
    As you've searched yourself have you found anything similar and ruled it out? If so could you edit those into your question? Also when would you have read this and would it have been new at the time? – TheLethalCarrot Nov 14 '19 at 11:36
  • Please check out this question and answer about the story "Night Watch" by James Inglis. Is that the story you're thinking of? It is an AI starship, it does suffer an accident, it does meet up with similar ships from other civilizations; at the end they head out into intergalactic space. But it's not a transport ship, it's a space probe, Automatic Stellar Observation Vehicle. – user14111 Nov 14 '19 at 12:03
  • It does sound like Night Watch. The probe is called Asov (Automatic Stellar Observation Vehicle) and it is damaged by a meteor. It comes to life millennia later when it is caught in the outer fringes of a supernova, and it heads to the galactic centre where it meets probes from other civilisations. The story ends when the stars in the Milky Way are dying, and the probes head out into interstellar space towards a different galaxy. – John Rennie Nov 14 '19 at 12:17
  • It's definitely not Night Watch. The ship is a giant ship hauling cargo along the filaments that connect galaxy clusters. Something goes wrong, and it finds itself at the centre of the great void. It can't use it's intergalactic drive and the Delta v to the edge of the void is too much for conventional propulsion. Stranded, it heads to the geometric centre of the void and discovers an accumulation. – DavidW Nov 14 '19 at 12:36
  • (con't) There is an intelligence there, possibly from the first ship to arrive. Apparently this is not the first time this has happened. The ship can wait, or take some obscure blind jump out. The ship asks the accumulation for details, and finds it has collected billions of ships. They have all transferred all their knowledge, shed all their spare mass, and jumped on. The ship opts to do the same, observing that who would want to hang out with God. – DavidW Nov 14 '19 at 12:40
11

"Bubbles", by David Brin

Basically there is an AI ship that conducts trade between galaxies. A Grand Voyager. The cargo are gifts, since the time scales of travel are so long that any meaningful payment system wouldn't work. The ship is autonomous, and gets loaded with antimatter, which causes it to fall to the center of a bubble, where it meets the Coward, who is as you describe.

I first read it in an anthology book of Brin's work called Otherness, which is full of other memorable works by Brin.

It looks like the full text can be found here.

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    This is definitely the story. "Somehow, when the explosion sent her tumbling in Kaluza space, she had slipped off the rails. She had fallen. Fallen nearly all the way to the center[...] The calculations were clear on something else, as well. Even should she accelerate with everything she had, and get so close to light-speed that relativistic time foreshortened, she would still never make it even to the nearest galaxy." – DavidW Nov 14 '19 at 21:05

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