As more information poured in, Najiltrin faced a startling realization: No children had walked the Earth for nearly 100 cycles prior to the human crisis.
“Perhaps,” said TahKedert, her AI assistant, “this simply reflects the development of longevity therapy.”
Najiltrin clucked her tongue.
“Organics have an instinctual urge to reproduce,” she said.
“Really?” asked TahKedert. “The Ghrendahlese have only one child every 15 cycles.”
“An urge all the same,” said Najiltrin, “unless the humans tinkered with their genome. But other than longevity treatments and a few dozen medical therapies, they didn’t indulge in genetic manipulation. You said so yourself.”
The robot called up a holosplay from the desk in Najiltrin’s makeshift office. A web of access points spread across the virtual screen.
“I spoke too soon,” it said. “We have discovered a database of advanced genetic techniques.”
“Right,” said Najiltrin. “Medical treatments.”
“Plus terabytes of data devoted to genome remapping.” said the robot. “It dates from 13 cycles before the disappearance of children from the archeological record.”
“Could their experiments have wiped the children out?” asked Najiltrin.
“Leading the entire adult population to flee in shame?” asked TahKedert. “Unlikely.”
“What about news reports?” asked Najiltrin.
“Nothing survived,” said the robot.
“Or was destroyed,” said Najiltrin. “But why? I’d kill to interview one of the humans.”
TahKedert tapped the holoscreen.
“Murder may prove unnecessary,” it said, as a scratchy video appeared, and a 40-something female stared out at them.
“Held out ... ng as poss ...” her weary voice crackled. “ailed ... them ... leaving ...”
A series of coordinates followed, overlaid with bursts of static.
“So we know where she went?” asked Najiltrin.
“The file is partially erased,” said TahKedert. “We have only three of the four coordinates needed to locate this human, if she still exists. And before you ask ... “
Najiltrin’s heart sank. Even with three coordinates, the number of possible locations was still enormous.
“What if you correlate to known human colonies?” Najiltrin asked.
“Which of the 1,500 should I start with?” asked TahKedert.
“Exactly,” said the archaeologist. “It’s a start. I want every available resource thrown at this.”
“I doubt Director Pothrejnon would approve,” said the AI.
“He’s my problem,” said Najiltrin. “I’ve just given you yours.”
(To be continued)
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