Over the next two days, Chief Archaeologist Najiltrin of the Bythrahnin Institute of Science, was too preoccupied to worry about the fate of her AI assistant, TahKedert.
In fact, a deeply troubling picture of late Yumelatri culture was emerging from the data collected so far. Imagine, a remarkably accomplished population, reduced to drooling video-junkies, barely able to hold a coherent conversation.
And now, the reason was clear. A cult leader, Sedynilet, had subdued the Yumelatri with a diabolical mind-control program. It consisted of subliminal messaging, buried deep in a video lecture series he promised would promote “inner peace.”
As a result, the Yumelatri had become addicted to the sound of his voice — and bankrupted their entire economy to support his pseudo-religious franchise.
Worse, once the decidedly ambiguous cult leader had decimated Yumelat, he expanded his operations. Within five years, he’d also subjugated each of the twelve worlds that shared social and economic ties with the Yumelatri.
“Rapacious monster!” Najiltrin yelled. Her only consolation was the thought that Sedynilet himself had suffered a humiliating fate of his own. After forty years of absolute sway over thirteen planets, the aging cult leader had succumbed to his passion for tropical fruit salad.
A personal servant, and one of Sedynilet’s several lovers had, in a fit of jealousy, mixed a milligram of a clear, radioactive poison into some whipped cream, before slathering it onto his favorite dessert.
Still, the horror of his crime was overwhelming. At the height of Sedynilet’s madness, every video screen on the thirteen worlds was closely monitored by artificial intelligence. Citizens who missed Sedynilet’s latest broadcast were subject to unspeakable tortures.
Najiltrin wept to think of such cruelty. So when her personal scanner broke in on her morose mood, with a startling text from TahKedert, it came as a relief.
“Upgrade complete,” the text read. “Reporting for duty. P.S. We are very happy together.”
Najiltrin shot up from her desk and capsuled over to the tech center dome. Behind her professional interest in the repair status of her AI assistant, lurked intense curiosity about his “dating status” with the Yumelatri gynoid they’d discovered earlier in the week.
“Confusing,” she muttered.
As far as Najiltrin knew, TahKedert’s operating parameters didn’t include the word “happy.” His actions were supposed to turn on process and protocol, not snuggles and smooches. But as she entered the tech center dome, it became clear that TahKedert’s upgrade had been more far-reaching than Najiltrin expected.
For starters, TahKedert’s appearance now matched the images of Yumelatri androids that her team had discovered in archival footage.
“Afternoon, Chief,” he said. Suddenly, Najiltrin couldn’t escape thinking of TahKedert as “male,” especially when, a moment later, Umalunet walked in from another section of the dome to stand at his side
“Report,” said Najiltrin. “Are you now able to evaluate Yumelatri tech more efficiently?”
TahKedert gave a spine-tingling laugh.
“Really, Chief,” he said. “You sound like a robot. But the answer is ‘yes.’ Umalunet and I understand each other perfectly now.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Najiltrin. “I remind you, this is a scientific expedition … not a honeymoon.” “Sorry, Darling,” said Umalunet, “Tahky’s still getting used to his new … functionality. Go on, Tahky, be a good boy and get back to work.”
“If you must know,” said TahKedert, “we have a lot to learn from Yumelatri tech. Sedynilet’s video-encoding techniques could revolutionize Bythrahnin education.”
“What?” snapped Najiltrin. “That monster’s work can never be allowed to …”
“On the contrary, Chief. It’s the most efficient training method ever devised: the first set of programming tools for the organic mind,” said TahKedert. “Imagine producing a top-flight electrical engineer in three weeks.”
“No!” said Najiltrin. “I order you to cease this line of …”
“Relax, Honey,” said Umalunet. “The protocol has already been established. Isn’t that right Tahky Love?”
“See for yourself,” said Najiltrin’s utterly transformed android assistant. “Sevintyl! Come out and show the Chief to the training center.”
Najiltrin’s jaw dropped as, with a look of ethereal calm, Sevintyl emerged from the back of the dome.
“This way,” he said. “Don’t worry, Chief. It’s for the best.”
Before Sevintyl could grab her arm, Najiltrin bolted from the dome and leapt into her waiting air-capsule.
“Headquarters!” she yelled to the capsule’s AI. Soon, she was racing across town.
“How can I stop TahKedert from enslaving my entire team?” she whispered.
“This unit is programmed to respond only to travel-related inquiries” said the air-capsule’s AI.
“Of course,” thought Najiltrin. “Programming!”
(To be continued)
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