What is the most valuable thing in the Universe? 

What is the most valuable thing in the universe? You might say gold or diamonds, but there are entire planets and asteroids composed entirely of gold. Diamond, on the other hand, being simply pressed carbon, is almost one of the most abundant substances in all known galaxies. In fact, that tree that may be growing under your window is the rarest object in the universe. Well, maybe not the particular tree, but the wood. The species of tree that are found on Earth are found...only on Earth and nowhere else, and the Earth itself, as you know, is the only one. 

A long time ago, there were fears on Earth that aliens would invade our planet and start pumping our resources. Those are the very ones that the Earth is not rich in, in general. Well, or enslave and kill people. Come on! Why would a race that has reached the level of technology that allows it to travel at speeds near or equal to the speed of light need slaves? A replicator and С1004Р-series droid alone can build or do any job faster and better than a million human slaves for the same time (not to mention the fact that humans stand out neither in strength nor dexterity among animals even on their own planet). It's different with animals and plants, though. Did you know that the wings of the common city pigeon glow with a rainbow in the ultraviolet? But the Grouwloks of Tau Cancer adore them, because they can see in the same ultraviolet light and are willing to pay enormous money for them to admire their beautiful iridescent wings. 

Of course, there is a downside to all this. For example, the venom of the same royal cobra is loved by the inhabitants of the planet Arkoy of the Hi-1 Orion system. It causes them wild euphoria instead of death, putting them into a narcotic trance.

What I mean is that before the confrontation of extraterrestrial civilizations was imagined as a struggle for limited resources, it turned out that the resources are almost infinite, and relations are built as in a huge zoo, or, if you like, as in a colossal agricultural market. I can imagine how surprised the captain of the first Earth ship was when he met the inhabitants of the system HD 114729 of Centauri constellation who first of all asked if there were any animals on board and sniffed the frightened ship cat for a long time, not without interest glancing at the crew! 

You may ask, how could this market have formed in principle, if the distances between the stars are unusually large? It was simple. Or rather, just after the invention of the engine, which was able to accelerate the first spaceship to the speed of light. And then Einstein's theory of relativity kicked in. You know, the one about the twins. The fact is that the faster you move, the slower time runs for you. Once you reach the maximum speed of light, time stops. Can you imagine? For the Earth, tens or hundreds of years would pass, and on the ship, you pressed a button, boom! And you're there. It was the stopping that was the problem. But the problem was solved. On the one hand, yes, on leaving, the astronaut might no longer see his family or even the state of which he once was a citizen. The flight, by planetary standards, could last for thousands of years, but for the pilot himself it was a matter of seconds. Therefore, in many languages, space travelers and explorers were called "eternals." The legends say that somewhere in the galaxy there are still the very, very first traders, born with the first stars and the first to discover travel at the speed of light...

And then again, there was a nuance. Let's say you are 20 light years away from a trading partner. You have a shipment of goods brought to you and you want to take more. The pilot makes two jumps at 20 light years and for him to pass just, well, a couple of hours (including loading), but for the planet from where he left, will pass all 40 years. Whether these goods will already be needed is unknown. To solve the problem, a number of stations called "temporal" were made, which orbit at different speeds, from normal (relative to Earth) to 90% of the speed of light, equalizing the time gaps. Usually they were located near objects with increased gravity, something like black holes, stars or gas giants. The pilots, on the other hand, traveled between stations of adjacent levels.  To be honest, that didn't add much order, but it did create a full-fledged market. In addition, all the research laboratories and complexes were placed on common planets, which sent the results to stations where time flows more slowly. Can you imagine? You arrive in a few minutes at the next station, and there is already available technology for your ship, ahead of your time by tens (and sometimes thousands) of years!


- All right, is everybody ready? - The captain listened to the crew's standard rehearsal of readiness. High speed meant death for anyone who didn't have time to get into the special pod. 

When the roll call was over, the ship began to accelerate. At one point, the stars flashed brightly, and the bulk of the giant station grew in front of the ship. 

- The transport ship MS15D "Penguin" requesting permission to dock, the navigator began as usual. 

The captain squinted at the compartment airtightness indicators - usually the cargo compartments were detached from the ship, allowing them to be moved by external loaders without access to the ship, but loaded, as a rule, with animals, they had a passageway into the ship's internal systems. Everything was in order.

- Centauri Base to transport ship MS15D Penguin, - the synthesized voice answered when all crewmembers had already climbed out of their pods and settled into their seats, - follow the indicated course. Your cargo will be picked up within one hour and 15 minutes local time. Please direct all complaints to the number below. 

Another 1 hour and 15 minutes? So we lost 220 standard years just on this delivery - thought the captain, - well, a couple of dozens of years, in general, don't make a difference.

The pilot steered the ship on the indicated course. No other ships were visible. However, 'visible' didn't mean anything in space. Even a ship the size of a city would hardly be visible to the human eye at the distances and speeds that modern technology used. Radar showed a few ships near the base, but nothing out of the ordinary. 

The navigator took his eyes off the screen:

- The Grouwloks' ship 'Sssoon' is in contact. Shall I accept their call?

The captain waved his hand - there was nothing to do anyway:

- Go ahead. Maybe they'll say something interesting?

The navigator hummed - the speech of the inhabitants of Tau Cancer was as colorful as their eyesight. Listening to them was difficult and unusually boring, the point was often lost in the beginning. That said, he suspected, not unreasonably, that the automatic translator was throwing out about sixty percent of what they were actually saying. "Well, maybe an hour is just enough," he thought, pushing the button.

- To the captain of the magnificent MS15D Penguin! You are greeted by the blue-winged grrrrnat of the third planet of Tau Cancer, Mrrrrkan - the navigator could hardly keep from rolling his eyes, - we met several long standard millennia ago, when the valiant captain of the magnificent ship MS15D Penguin was visiting the blessed homeland of Mrrrkan on Tau Cancer in order to sell doooooooves to our blessed homeland...

Yes, the captain remembered the incident. It was hard to forget. He had once taken a full load of pigeons from a Martian farm for delivery to Tau Cancer. The negotiation almost drove him crazy: the Grouwloks saw such patterns on their wings and in such colors that they could neither describe nor show. In the ultraviolet they looked more or less the same. For them, however, it was important to have at least three of the unnamed colors on the wings and at least two others on the tail. After hours of incessant bickering, and trying all the pigeons captured from the farm in general, they managed to find a couple to satisfy buyers, just before the captain was about to utter an almost Grouwlok-like long ornate phrase about where they could fly and what they should see in the darkest and most distant places in the galaxy. To his surprise, the Grouwloks paid so much money for the pair of pigeons that the MS02D "Penguin'' immediately became the MS04D "Penguin . 

- ...the magnificent captain of the MS15D Penguin, Thomas Smith, of the humble service, which will undoubtedly be paid at the promptest possible date of delivery? - the interlocutor finished, snapping the captain out of his recollections. 

The captain realized that his answer would probably seem unusually rude to the Grouwloks, but he couldn't help but regret that he had contacted them at all:

- What's the job?

Even without special eyesight, the captain saw the white face of his interlocutor change color. 

- Ahemhhmmmmmmmmsshhhhhhhh....

This was the first time Smith had heard such hiss from the Grouwloks, but he decided to pretend he didn't see or hear anything:

- There's something wrong with our connection, Mrrrrkan, I can't hear you. 

His face turned a little white, but, to the captain's satisfaction, Grouwlok's speech became a little less pretentious. 

- After our meeting, I asked the gene-weavers to fulfill an order for me... it has been several thousand years according to their local time, but they have not delivered the work, so I humbly ask that you try your best... - it looks like Mrrrkan began to come around again - ... and I will give you 10,000 energy credits, in addition to any reasonable expenses you have incurred…

The captain thought - not a bad sum, but something was off. Gene-weavers... One of the oldest races in the galaxy. It was rumored that they could make any animal that would perform any task at all. A laser from the eyes? No problem! A little work on the laser glands and it's done! A light engine? Elementary - just give it sharper food... And still they don't do the job? With pigeons? They'd have pigeons glowing in every spectrum, in colors that even Grouwloks can't see!

- ...the other vessel we hired for such a humble.... never... captain? - voice drowned in the interference, the ship reached the unloading point and a pair of loading drones headed for the "Penguin."

- All right. Very well, I will think about it, - said the captain. 

- Splendid!...Your...decision...will never be forgotten... - Mrrrkan's voice was gone again. The message "Order taken" flashed up on the screen.

- What do you mean "accepted"?! I said "I'll think about it"! 

- Technically, you said "very well, I'll think about it," - the navigator remarked melancholically, - if they have the same interference as we do, they might not have heard the end of it, and they're kind of used to your brevity. 

- Put me through to him, - Smith ordered, opening his accidentally approved terms of agreement.

- Interference, sir. They seem to be the reason for the unloading queue. 

The captain scolded himself. A deposit of 5,000 energy credits had arrived on the account - if the contract was to be broken, they'd have to pay back 10,000 EC. The Penguin didn't have that much money.

"I wonder what Grouwloks would call the color of Captain's face if they saw him now," thought the navigator as Smith turned his pained face toward him.  

- Where is it?!

- Wait a minute, - said the navigator. One of the reasons the ship needed a navigator was the utter chaos of galactic navigation - there was no single center, no fixed point of orientation, and the journey, which sometimes took several thousand standard years, could result in the arrival point changing its original position dramatically. The navigator was of course assisted by the computer, but he always checked the intended route. 

- SMSS J031300.36-670839.3. 

- Distance?!

- From here? 5,900 light years...

The captain was not afraid of the time that would pass on a standard planet. Like all "eternals," he did not and could not have a family, in the classic sense of the word. He had women on almost any station, but if he did have children, they had long ago turned into entire nations. He was philosophical about it. And the captain was only frightened by the technological leap at the point of arrival. The possible devaluation of the stipulated sum was less frightening - the sum was kept in a standard bank and sometimes the interest on it was a thousand times the sum itself.  

- That is, 12,000 years. Swell. - After a little silence, he continued, - Gentlemen, the journey is not a short one. If anyone wants to leave the ship, now is the time. I'll pay you all the money I owe to you....

A shock reverberated through the ship. The crew, who had already forgotten about unloading, shuddered. The shock and hum repeated, rolling through the corridors of the ship - a new, empty compartment had been put in place. 

When the unloading was finished, the crew dispersed into pods, preparing for another jump.

- Well, let's see, - thought the captain, - I hope it turns out to be just easy money.

The stars flashed and faded again. A giant red star grew menacingly almost to the entire screen - the ship had no windows, which was always considered a structural vulnerability, but a huge number of cameras placed throughout the hull of the ship, combined with holographic screens, allowed to adjust the view as convenient, up to the seemingly absolute absence of walls. 

For a moment the captain thought he was off course and they were flying straight into the depths of the red giant. 

However, the ship habitually stopped, correcting its course against the solar wind.

The crew climbed out of the pods, taking their seats.

- Patch me through to the base, - the captain ordered.

- Connecting... - the navigator responded. - No one answers. I'll try again. 

After several attempts it was clear that nobody would respond. 

- All right, let's try to get closer to the base... - said the captain thoughtfully.

"Penguin" moved briskly toward the planet, barely visible against the colossal sun. Smith peered at his instruments, but the planet was clearly in Goldilocks' belt. 

- Beginning descent," the pilot announced. - 100 ... 50 ... 10 kilometers ...

- So, what are those towers? - The captain nodded toward the giant towers, towering for miles above the surface of the planet. 

- The towers of Atmtech Technologies, they project a field that prevents the atmosphere from evaporating, - the navigator read, - they don't seem to be working.

- No atmosphere?

- No, sir. Apparently, it was blown away by the solar wind as soon as the towers shut down. 

The landing went smoothly even without planetary assistance - there weren't even any gusts of wind without atmosphere.

The port was small enough to accommodate obviously no more than a couple of dozen ships. No one met the crew. There were not even any automated systems or robots. 

- So no one will refuel us either, - the pilot tried to joke.

The captain nodded grimly and took his blaster from the rack. The navigator nodded just as grimly and clipped one on his belt too. Though there had been no wars for a long time, pirates and wild animals were often the cause of the entire crew's deaths.

According to regular protocol, the captain was supposed to stay on the ship, but the situation was not typical - to land without permission was a violation of interplanetary law, so the captain decided that it would be easier for him to handle a possible conflict if he went in person.

To their surprise, the door to the main building opened quietly as they approached. Apparently, there was no atmosphere in the building itself either. The lights, however, were working-red, dim, faint, like a star, staining the corners and niches black. 

The corridor ended in a hall with a large table, obviously for negotiations. 

- What do weavers look like, anyway? 

- No one knows. They look different every time. At least that's what they say. - The navigator responded.

- Sweet. There's no one here, anyway.

Behind the hall was another corridor. It was a long, very wide and high, and went somewhere far into the distance, so far that they couldn't even see what the beams of the spacesuits' lanterns were supposed to illuminate. 

- Boss, look - a door. - The navigator approached one of the inconspicuous niches. - It was locked. 

- No handle, no window, no screen, - the captain added, - only this. 

He scrutinized the ledge. It looked as if a hand or a tentacle had been placed upon it -- or at any rate, it looked as if anything could be placed upon it. The captain put his hand on it, but nothing happened.

- Shouldn't there be a bare hand? - he muttered. - We've got to find where the atmospheric generators turn on...

They walked down the corridor. To their horror it also branched off into other corridors equally long and wide. 

- Captain, so where do we go? - asked the navigator at the first fork.

- Let's go straight ahead. It will be easier to go back anyway.

They walked for a long time, trying to find any distinction in the endless number of doors. At last the corridor ended. To their surprise, the door in front of them opened just like the door to the building itself.

Behind the door was a large room filled with a huge number of monitors. In the middle stood a table and several unusually shaped chairs. The control panel was nowhere to be seen. 

The captain, tired from walking down the long corridor, sat down in one of them. The planet's gravity was slightly greater than Earth's, which "Penguin" supported. The table immediately flashed with instruments. They were projected from somewhere right onto the surface. 

"What big buttons," thought the captain, but as soon as he put his hand over the table, they quickly blinked and shrank, adjusting their size to his palm.

- Okay, the controls are there, - the navigator sat down in the chair beside him and began to quickly click on some of them.

- Do you know how it works? - asked the captain.

- Partially, - the navigator nodded, - the towers aren't local, I told you - Atmtech Technologies. They're old. My father used to work with them. Simple construction, but reliable. - He stopped there.

- Captain, what kind of atmosphere do you want? What if the hosts don't breathe oxygen? It would kill them. 

- If they survived without the atmosphere, the oxygen wouldn't kill them. But if I don't take my helmet off, I'll die for sure. 

- I wouldn't recommend taking the suit off, Boss. You know we have no immunity to the local microorganisms anyway... Oh, look what I found, - the navigator interrupted himself.

The captain looked in his direction. The monitors above the navigator came to life, showing the corridor they had walked down. Scott pressed a couple of keys and the camera showed an image from a camera, obviously behind one of the doors. 

- Wow, - they both burst out. The room the camera showed... didn't look like a room at all. Only at an angle could you see that the walls, which were actually screens, were "showing" the landscape of some planet. The blue grass with the green sky looked enchanting. Somewhere in the distance red mountains were projected. There were several animals in the room that resembled horses, whose white skin glowed in an unusual soft but bright greenish light.

- Xenon...

- What? - the captain interjected.

- Xenon. The green sky means large impurities of xenon. Strange, considering that it is heavy and inert. You can't breathe it, and hydrogen there, or oxygen, should be higher...

- Aren't they on a plateau? 

- Yeah, I guess so. 

- See what else there is...

The navigator looked through the cameras for a while. The captain got bored and decided to take a closer look at the room when Scott called out to him.

- Boss, you need to see this...- he said in a muffled voice.

The captain looked at the monitor and was stunned: the camera showed a large room, illuminated by the same soft red light as the corridor they had recently walked down. The room was filled with cylinders, about two meters in diameter. In each of the cylinders was... a person. Women, men; white, black: practically all races... They hung immovably in their vessels, with breathing tubes in their mouths.

- Are they alive? - Confusedly he asked.

- I think so. Let me try, - he pressed a few buttons, one of the monitors displayed a cardiogram with a bunch of other information in an unfamiliar language. - Yeah, that's right. That's good. Just...

- Only what? - The captain raised the pain.

- They have no brain activity... 

- What do you mean?

- Well, they're not really people. Like vegetables. They don't think. It's like they've all had lobotomies... - he added quietly. - That's not all. Look.

The navigator pressed a button. The screen showed what appeared to the Captain to be the same room. Only when he looked closely at the cylinders did he realize that the room was different - there were Grouwloks floating in the cylinders. The navigator pressed some more - Sortians, more - Estradians, more - these the captain did not know any more. 

- That's enough, - the captain muttered hoarsely. - Look for the pigeons and let's get out of here. I don't know what the hell is going on here! Where are the weavers?

- I have an idea, - said the navigator.

- Well?

- Well, - he said, drawing a strange picture on the screen, - this message keeps popping up often. Too often, actually. Including...

- ...in English, - said the captain, looking at the monitor. On the monitor was a large message: "Attention! Invasion is in process!"

- It doesn't make any sense...

- Why?

- If the invasion is over, why aren't there atmospheres and weavers? If not over, where are the invaders? Our ship is alone in port. All the animals, at first glance, are also there-at least there don't seem to be any empty cages. 

- Maybe they came for the weavers and stole them all?

- Hmmmmm... Look for the pigeons. Whoever it was, they didn't come for them, did they? Make our atmosphere, I've got a feeling we'll be here for a while. 

The navigator got to work. To his surprise, the equipment allowed him to set almost any atmosphere from any planet on the list, even set his own. Moreover, it was possible to restore both within the building and for the entire planet. It was obvious that different atmospheres were definitely required for the creatures from different worlds contained in the rooms, but the same setting in the building itself puzzled him. What do weavers actually breathe? "Maybe it's just a standard factory setting?" - he shrugged. After thinking for a while, he decided to settle on the atmosphere inside the building. 

The captain contacted the ship in the meantime. Everything was unchanged. Not the slightest movement... When the navigator finished fiddling with the atmosphere setting, the captain pronounced:

- All right. Let's assume that there is no one here. But why is there no equipment which helps with genetic engineering either?

The navigator raised an eyebrow in surprise.

- Gene-weavers are notorious for changing any living thing the way they or their customers want... Then there must be at least some equipment that does it. There's nothing like that in the rooms we looked at. 

- There could be two possibilities - they program the right genes at the beginning of the life cycle, and then let the animals grow on their own, or the equipment is brought in when it's needed. Either way, it's somewhere away. 

- Look it up. Pigeons, too. Either way, we'll need to load them onto the ship somehow, which means we need to open the doors. 

The navigator went back to the cameras. The spacesuit began to shake a little - the air started to come in. The captain already wanted to take off his helmet, but changed his mind - it was not reasonable in a biofactory with a message of threat. There was nothing to do, so he decided to take a closer look at the beasts. The instruments obeyed him as obediently as Scott's. As if anticipating his wish, the monitors immediately showed the cameras. Maybe the owners from this console were checking them out, too. He was quickly distracted. What was even more amazing was that the cameras could zoom in on the animals, circling around them, showing every detail. Some of the animals were admirable, others looked utterly disgusting. He watched and watched until he noticed a mark in the form of a small circle and six smaller wounds around it on one of the animals. He would have missed it if he had not thought he had seen such a mark before. For the sake of interest, he began to scrutinize each successive animal. That's right, after a short search, the mark was on every one of them. 

- Scott, I think I found how they connect to the animals - he pointed to the mark. - Do you have anything?

- There's something odd. Here, - he pressed the key a few times. The camera showed a gigantic room, at first glance no different from the others except its size. The captain took a closer look. Everywhere, from floor to ceiling, it was covered with insect-like creatures no bigger than the palm of his hand. 

- Well, well, well,-  muttered the captain and drew the camera closer to the nearest group. Six legs and a long and apparently sharp trunk. - Just like mosquitoes. Only bigger. I think we found how they change genes. This is their equipment. Or is that what weavers are? - They looked at each other.

- What about the atmosphere? 

- There's no atmosphere there...

- Anaerobes? 

- You won't know unless you let the gas in, - Scott tried to joke. 

However, the room was clearly divided by several dense partitions.

- What for? - muttered the captain.

- Do you think a different atmosphere was prepared for each of them?

- This makes no sense at all. The same creature could not have evolved on the same planet, but in different atmospheres, and still be completely similar to other organisms...

- So they are also artificially created?

- Yes. I think so. Looks like these "spiders" are also artificially created, but to control other animals... 

- Well, that leaves two possibilities. These weavers are clearly smaller than these spiders. So, it's either bacteria or viruses.

- Ha! You're a freaking genius! Of course they are! Who else modifies genes to suit their needs? Viruses, of course! They control spiders, which they control to create bigger animals! That's... original! That's why no one knows what a gene weaver looks like!

- I'm afraid you're missing a nuance, - Scott muttered, - a virus is not intelligent. It simply has no brain. 

- Yes, that's right. - The captain pondered. 

He thought he was so close to solving it. Could viruses be intelligent? On the one hand, the very ability to parasitize at the molecular level - to make the genes of living beings make themselves - is amazing. On the other hand, there are such viruses on Earth and they are not intelligent at all. Or were they?

The navigator plucked the captain from his musings again.

- I found something. Look. - He pointed a finger at the monitor. 

The captain looked closely. It showed a list of substances, their names in different colors and blinking with different frequencies.

- What was it? - asked the captain.

- I found the "deflecting attack" section. As I understand it, if we launch these substances into the ventilation, it will help the weavers to come to their senses. 

- Or maybe that danger is us?

- Well, we are in spacesuits anyway - the navigator shrugged nervously, but took his hands off the keyboard.

- All right, go ahead, - the captain waved his hand. - We don't have time to be here forever.

Scott ran quickly through the list. He clicked a few names. The microphone in his helmet rustled, transmitting the sound of gas streams pouring from the ventilation ducts. The navigator quickly switched to the cameras. Apparently, gas was being sprayed everywhere, even in the animal rooms.

Nothing happened for a while, but soon the cameras began to pick up movements. Here and there. Too fast to tell what was moving. After a few minutes, several of the spiders they had seen earlier quickly crawled into the room. They rapidly climbed onto the desk with the computer, standing at the furthest distance from the humans, and began to quickly press keys. 

The sound of ventilation changed. The captain squinted his eyes at the helmet's readings - the gas appeared to be a nitrogen-oxygen mixture - almost like on Earth. Apparently having done their business, the spiders scurried busily out of the room. While the captain and navigator looked at each other, staggering about, a man entered the room. He stumbled at the entrance and would have fallen had he not grasped the jamb with his hand.

The captain reflexively grabbed his blaster. 

- I... it's all right... I mean you no harm, - the stranger said, clearing his parched throat. - I've come to thank you for your help and offer you mine in return.

- Yes, of course, - the captain relaxed a little, but kept his hands on his weapon. - We've come for the cargo of a certain Grouwlok Mrrrkan. I apologize for the intrusion, but no one at the port met us, and...

- Oh, no! Thank you very much for your help. I have conveyed your request and the cargo is on its way to your ship. - The man turned around awkwardly at the door, and threw over his shoulder - Please forgive me, I have not recovered from the hmmm... attack. I'm afraid I won't even be able to see you off back to your ship. Good day!

Smith and Scott looked at each other again, and hesitantly walked back toward "Penguin." Indeed, the outer compartment was already joining the ship. 

Once they were inside, the captain checked the cargo through the cameras. 

- Pigeons indeed, - he muttered. - On the other hand, what did I expect? - He laughed. 

The navigator looked at him thoughtfully, but said nothing, checking the reverse course.


The Supermind was slowly coming to his senses. He'd only been this bad once. And it had been so long ago. He tried to remember, but consciousness and memory struggled to return to him.

SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 in the South Hydra constellation was one of the oldest stars in the universe. And one of the first to see life. Shy at first, then violent, fast and fierce. There was no Supermind then. There was a parasite, a virus that used host cells to replicate itself. But at some point, an error crept into the replication. A thread appeared between the new cells, microscopic even by the standards of the virus, but strong and endless. It passed freely between the host atoms, binding the new virus cells. All it could do was transmit a faint signal. Or transmit nothing. 

As the number increased, the connections began to make sense. Billions and trillions of cells joined together, exchanging signals. 

The Supermind remembered how their consciousness began to awaken. His consciousness. And he looked around.

Life all around was busy with itself, running away, catching up, multiplying, and dying. No one cared about the mysterious disease that was sweeping over his kin here and there. Until out of the chaos of life emerged a competitor - intelligent life. It occupied the entire planet, becoming the most widespread species, and then a target that the young Supermind could no longer miss in its greed for development. Lazily, without much interest, the Supermind tried to exploit the competitor, but received such a rebuff that it nearly killed him.

They treated him with drugs, and he increased his resistance; they tried to isolate the sick, and he increased his encapsulation time; they began to kill carriers, and he synthesized proteins, taking control of local bodies, and made the first steps on the path that would help him so much later. After all, what is the difference between dead and alive? It is, after all, the same organism it was a second ago, the same set of molecules and atoms, it just needed a little strength... 

The struggle was fierce, until suddenly it stopped. There were no living things left on the planet. There was no more DNA line that could synthesize cells for him. And that's when he got really scared. One by one, the cells that were his brain encapsulated, assuming, by their inescapable ancient nature, to wait out the famine. And the Supermind began to lose its sanity, becoming more and more foolish. 

Only once a ship with new life landed on the planet, wondering in horror what had happened to the once life-filled planet. A small part of the Supermind awoke and greedily pounced on the crew. By the time he partially regained consciousness, the entire crew and the settlers who had arrived with the spaceship had been destroyed. He poorly remembered on the verge of black oblivion how he had managed to save one of the aliens and get inside his brain, learning information about the surrounding stars. 

He knew that when the rescuers arrived, he had to be ready. Or he would be dead. He was ready to fight for his life, and leave his homeland, never to know hunger or the cold touch of death again! All he had to do was to find something that would be useful to the aliens, that they would want to take home with them. But what could it be? What is the most valuable thing in the universe?