“It wasn’t until the Bythrahnin spacefolder had zoomed past the planet’s out-sized moon that Najiltrin realized she might be leaving Earth for good.
“Delvre ghotrol nevath,” she muttered, and hoped her AI assistant wouldn’t notice. But, of course, TahKedert heard everything.
“The Director would not approve of such talk,” it said. Like every Tah-class android, TahKedert spoke only Interstellar, a language Najiltrin found as lifeless as a Graalanthi sea sponge. In Interstellar, the phrase she’d just muttered in Bythrahnesh would have come out:
“Goodness, how irritated am I.”
But that, she realized, was irrelevant. No matter how she said it, her only option was to return home and make her case. For while the director of the Bythrahnin Institute for Scientific Investigation might be satisfied with a mere two-cycle study of this lonely world, Najiltrin knew there was more to Earth than spectacularly well-preserved ruins.
Where, for instance, had the so-called humans gone?
“Even took their AIs with them,” said Najiltrin.
“Not surprising” said TahKedert. “Surely the concept of sentient rights is universal. The organics would not have had a say in ...”
Najiltrin’s eyebrows arched.
“An assumption? From you?” she asked.
“Feeling insulted is outside my operational parameters,” said TahKedert. “Nevertheless ...”
“Forget it,” said Najiltrin. “Consider this: Why did the humans leave?”
“Insufficient data,” said the android, “which I’m certain must intrigue you, based on our previous conversations.”
“So?” said the twenty-something exoculturalist.
The android’s broad face pivoted in Najiltrin’s direction.
“I believe the question your grant committee would ask is ‘why does their disappearance matter?’” it said.
“You can’t be serious,” said Najiltrin. “An entire ...”
“With what consequence?” asked TahKedert. “Did it disrupt interstellar travel? Cause a rift in the Continuum? Raise or lower the price of Tsrundian hot cakes?”
“The answer,” said Najiltrin, “depends on the direction the Earth people went.”
“Elaborate,” said TahKedert.
“Were they running toward a paradise,” asked Najiltrin, “or away from a predator?”
“Insufficient ...” the android began.
As the Earth’s heavily cratered moon receded behind them, Najiltrin called up an image of Earth on her holosplay and made a silent vow to return at all costs.
(To be continued)
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