1. blf says

    They are, says the mildly deranged penguin, navigational homing beacons for TSM (Transparent Space Muck, also known as Totally Stupid Monster). This is an invisible — well, transparent to all electromagnetic radiation — very diffuse gas(?) which dissolves almost everything it encounters. It’s living, albeit astonishingly unsentient (hence its nickname), and feeds on Carbon (in almost any form).

    The homing beacons are emitted, inert, by the bazillions as the TSM wraps through space. Most encounter nothing, or do not find sufficient Carbon, and remain inert. (It’s not known how long they last, functioning samples which seem to be billions of years old have been reported.) When large quantities of Carbon are encountered, they attach themselves and start broadcasting…

    Despite being called “beacons”, they are not manufactured. More sort-of extruded as TSM-poop. How the TSM senses the broadcasts is unclear, the prevailing hypothesis is it requires a large orange buffoon to amplify the signal. TSMs are known to prefer Carbonized lumps.

    It’s difficult to say when these beacons landed, how long they have been broadcasting, or where the nearest approaching TSM might be. Have any spacecraft been vapourised recently? Dissolving spacecraft are frequently the first (and only) warning of an incoming TSM.

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