Even in a ship powered by one of Bythrahnin’s new slipstream engines, the journey to Yumelat from Najiltrin’s homeworld gave the renowned archaeologist two solid weeks to map out the details of her preliminary excavation.
In fact, she’d gone over the specifications so many times, they ran through her mind like the lyrics of a favorite song. Weary, she glanced away from her tablet and up at the sole window in her quarters. The tranquil beauty of deep space never failed to soothe her nerves. But with no more scanner readings to evaluate, a nagging question renewed its assault on her mind.
“How in the Lebjulna star cluster can I get TahKedert a companion?” she asked herself. She knew better than to ask Director Pothrejnon, only a month after wrangling an upgraded ship out of him.
The problem weighed on her by day and even invaded her dreams. In one nightmare, TahKedert, tasked with finding her a companion, had suggested stuffy old Pothrejnon as “the only logical choice.”
So on the second day after her lander touched down on Yumelat, Najiltrin welcomed the distraction provided by a video uplink from Sevintyl, a promising young member of her team.
“Chief, I believe we have something,” he shouted. “Level 2, southwest sector. Have a look!”
The screen shifted, to display a scrap of holovid footage. Najiltrin saw a bustling street scene, in which a stream of advanced-design androids moved up and down the causeways, poured in and out of the shops and stopped under colorful nylon umbrellas, apparently to compare notes.
“Not a living Yumelatri in sight,” Sevintyl’s voice called out over the video. “Except here. See that?”
The video zoomed in for a closer look at the wizened Yumelatri, travelling in squat vehicles we might be tempted to call golf carts. Their pale green skin bespoke their rare, copper-based biology.
But Najiltrin had expected that. What she hadn’t expected was their listless eyes, which never looked up from the flexible view screens draped over their laps. What were they so absorbed with?
Sevintyl’s face reappeared on Najiltrin’s screen.
“The exciting thing,” he said, “is we’ve found an android resembling those in the video, in the back of what may have been a clothing store. Estimates are, we could extract it easily.”
“Hold … hold on,” said Najiltrin, “until I capsule over.”
She stood up, brushed a few breakfast crumbs off her olive green field uniform and raced down to the base of the pale yellow dome that formed her temporary headquarters.
A sleek air-capsule parked just outside whisked her up and over the ruins of the once-bustling Yumelat city. Minutes later, she arrived at the excavation site where Sevintyl greeted her breathlessly, with a few other members of the team.
“In here,” he said.
Najiltrin paused in the doorway and cast an experienced eye over the partially excavated shop.
“I hope you made complete 360 holoscans before digging in,” she said.
“Please, Chief,” said her young assistant, “give me that much credit.”
Najiltrin frowned. She was starting to sound like Pothrejnon.
“Let’s have a look,” she said. Sevintyl nodded and led her to the back of the site. where a slender figure lay face up in a rubble of broken concrete and shredded synthetic fibers.
“We believe she may be operational,” said one of the other team members.
“She?” asked Najiltrin. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she realized that the figure was a gynoid modeled after a Yumelatri female. “Has TahKedert seen this?”
“Yes, Chief,” said Sevintyl. “It rushed off to get a battery pack the moment we …”
The clomp of metallic feet in the threshold of the crumbled shop made everyone’s head turn.
“With your permission,” said TahKedert, “this unit could be an invaluable source of information.”
Mission protocol required Najiltrin to make no such move without reviewing the data back at her dome. Yet something in the tilt of TahKedert’s head told her she’d soon be worn down by a torrent of impeccable logic.
“Go ahead,” she said.
TahKedert found the access port he needed, attached the adapter he’d fashioned back at the team’s tech dome, and connected a compact battery to the gynoid. One by one, the status lights along her left arm began to glow. Najiltrin and her team gasped as the alien device opened a pair of gleaming, opalescent eyes.
The eyes fluttered and rotated, until they came to rest on TahKedert. The gynoid’s torso twisted slightly, and she raised herself on one partially corroded elbow. She opened her mouth and spoke in a startlingly melodious voice.
“Hi gorgeous. Wanna help me up?”
(To be continued)
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