The Other Forty-Two
by Sean Williams
After a thousand years frozen between thoughts, Heart awakes to another dead system.
It wasn't always dead. The planets have been extensively mined and parked in an orbital configuration that might last a billion years. The sun is surrounded by lenses casting complex beams and sheets of light out into the void. (These refractions were what drew Heart here.) There is biological life in abundance and evidence of advanced warfare.
The civilization that once ruled here, however, is long gone.
Instead of feeling despair, Heart begins the long process of cataloging her find. She is an expert archaeologist, as well as a capable explorer: those two skill sets are a rare combination. A seeker of knowledge on the edge of the known universe, the data she carries will be of great interest when she returns home.
On an icy moon among the system's outer planets, she finds something odd: an impossible configuration of matter in which electrons appear to be frozen. It looks like a monument of some kind, but under closer examination, she discovers that those electrons are indeed moving, only very, very slowly. The configuration is a sphere fifty thousand kilometers across, sustained by means unknown.
Clearly a machine. But for what purpose Heart can only guess.