by Ben R
"Hey, Larry, you can mark down another one."
Larry glanced up from his computer monitor. "Really," he said, with only the faintest touch of surprise. "So what is it this time? A Dyson sphere? A ringworld? Maybe a pyramidal planet or a toroidal star?"
Arthur lifted his eyes from the scanner hood. "Nah, it's another one of those Dyson ladders. Looks like a new type, too."
Larry raised an eyebrow. "Ah, and what's it shaped like this time?"
His co-worker looked back to his instrumentation. "I'd say... A bit like a Buckyball molecule. Or a soccer ball, whichever you prefer."
"Ah, so a cage made up of bridges forming a regular pattern of pentagons and hexagons, enclosing an entire star?" Larry smiled. "Sounds like yet another thing for the boys back on Earth to start shouting about. 'Oh, this thing can't possibly exist. It violates every known law of physics. Just like the last 200 Big Dumb Objects we've found.'"
That elicited a chuckle from Arthur. "Oh, come on now, you know we're supposed to call them 'Stellar-scale Megastructures of Extraterrestrial Origin' or something like that," he chided.
"Hey, I call 'em as I see 'em," said Larry unapologetically as he typed up the log entry. "No use to them that I can see, apart from driving our primitive scientists up the wall. I wonder though, whether the guys on the ground sometimes think us in the Extrasolar Cartography & Survey corps are just sending them fake data to relieve boredom?"
"I'm sure the thought crossed their minds, and not just once," chuckled Arthur as he made another adjustment to the telescopes. "I would have paid to see the looks on their faces when Hamilton reported back that Proxima Centauri was cubical."
Larry sighed and sat back in his chair, then dialed up the exterior camera view on his computer. The star appeared in the view, a bright circular patch about the size of his smallest fingernail. The megastructure surrounding it was barely visible as a network of faintly-lit lines arching behind it like the web of some impossibly huge spider, reflecting the star's light. It was an amazing visual effect, one that would be totally invisible to an observer from much farther out.
"Y'know, I wonder what they were like," he said suddenly.
Arthur looked up. "What who were like?"
"Them. Y'know, what are they calling them now, the BOBs? The Big Object Builders. The guys who constructed these things."
Arthur shrugged. "Not a clue. They've never left anything behind to indicate what they looked like or what they thought. No writings, no art, not even shards of pottery. Just a whole lot of Big Dumb... er, Stellar-scale Megastructures." He looked back into his instruments, lining up for another picture. "Must have been ridiculously advanced, technology-wise. Or maybe just had crazy super-psychic powers that let them just think stuff like this into existence."
"Yeah, but what would motivate people with that kind of technology or power to make a whole bunch of rather useless bigger-than-star-sized things, and other oddities?"
Again, another shrug. "I dunno. To see if they could?"
Larry pondered this a bit more, contemplating the view of the star and the ladder around it. The kernel of an idea was forming somewhere in his brain.
"Okay, what about this," he said. "Say your species achieves ultimate technology or psychic abilities. All the problems of science are solved. What does your race do with itself after that?"
Arthur looked up again, a strange look on his face as he tried to imagine himself in such a position. "Er... I dunno, get really bored?"
"I'd imagine so," said Larry. "And what does one do with oneself when one gets bored?"
Again his colleague thought about this. "Well, one would find something to occupy oneself with." Anticipating Larry' next question, he went on, the same idea forming in his own head. "Some people go find things to read or to watch - to entertain themselves. Some people go out and kick garbage cans over and spray graffiti on public buildings. And some people..."
"Some people," continued Larry, "make art."
Arthur sat back in his seat, rolling this idea around in his head. "Well..." he said finally after a few minutes, "that would kinda explain why we haven't found any artifacts belonging to the BOBs, aside from the Big Objects themselves. And also why they don't really have any visible functions."
"Exactly," said Larry. "Their only function is to be there and look pretty, and possibly make some pretentious comment on the state of humanity... er, BOBinity?... and society. Kinda like the 'Mona Lisa' or Michaelangelo's 'David' or something."
Arthur contemplated this. Finally, he said, "You know the science boys back on Earth won't like that explaination."
Larry laughed. "Yeah, you're probably right. I doubt somehow that humanity at large is at the point where the idea of creatures that make planets into corkscrew shapes as recreation is even possible, much less believable. Especially the guys crunching our data back home trying to figure out how they did it."
They descended into silence for a while. Then suddenly Arthur spoke again. "Y'know, that's kind of a frightening thought. Some kind of people out there, making all these wacky, near-impossible things just because they're bored. What's to stop them from turning Earth or our sun into the cosmic equivalent of a Picasso?"
Larry shrugged. "Nothing, I guess." He considered this for a few more seconds. "Then again, maybe there is something stopping them."
"Well, art needs someone to look at it, appreciate it, debate about its meaning, et cetera. It wouldn't be art otherwise, right?"
Arthur stared at him. "Are you saying they leave us alone because we're supposed to be their audience?"
"Maybe. Who knows? Maybe we're totally off track here. After all, we're talking about some unimaginably ancient and advanced creatures here who were probably pulling stars like taffy long before humans learned to bang rocks together. Who knows what a being like that would be thinking?"
"Yeah, well, I guess we'll never really know for sure unless they stick a huge sign somewhere that says 'Applause Please'," chuckled Arthur.
Larry grinned. "Well, there's always the next star system for that," he said. "Meanwhile, I guess we might as well just sit back and appreciate the view."