The people of the world below were a sort of hyper-evolved crabs – except, of course, that they could have not possibly have any biological relation to any Earth creature. Even after all the years, Gimmel-5-2-Shashti found itself defaulting to terrestrial terms. Home-sickness, perhaps. Regardless: the pseudo-crab-people were only the second species Gimmel-5-2-Shashti had observed to develop the use of complex tools, and the only ones to get so far as the telescope.
They could see their doom coming.
Gimmel-5-2-Shashti recorded the preparations the people were making, ready for the biannual transmission back home – a focused beam aimed at where the Earth should still be, even after all these years. If observed the crab-people building shelters – most would be woefully inadequate, and even the few that were deep enough and far enough away from the impact point would have complete ecological collapse to deal with. It saw others constructing crude missiles, which mostly failed to break atmosphere. With a few more decades, maybe they could have changed their fate. As it was, nothing their science could produce could save them.
There were riots. There were what appeared to be religious congregations. There were suicides. Gimmel-5-2-Shashti noted them all down, recorded the death-throes of a world, and then…
1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 – and on up to 173, and the looping back around to one. The signal repeated again and again and again: a tight beam aimed right at Gimmel-5-2-Shashti. It was the first such signal it had received in a very long time – the first such signal since shortly after it had left Earth, in fact.
1, 2, 3, 5, 7…
Crabs were, in all likelihood, extinct by now. In all likelihood, so were Gimmel-5-2-Shashti’s creators. Even if they survived this, the crab-people of the world below would most likely leave no mark that would still exist in a million years.
Gimmel-5-2-Shashti listened to their broadcasts, watched their rallies and riots. It saw them build their bunkers, even though they must know the futility of doing so. It saw them create their art and continue with their scientific research, in spite of the coming apocalypse. It pondered the signal (…89, 97, 101…): a call for help, it decided. Save Our Souls, space man. A hopeless, desperate plea.
Maybe they would destroy themselves in a decade or two – they had a rough outline of nuclear physics, so far. Maybe they would survive, unite, and send out their own exploratory probes. That last was a pleasing thought.
Gimmel-5-2-Shashti beamed its final report into the night, then activated its thrusters and set a collision course for the asteroid.