Side note: A good pen died in the writing of this chapter. A faithful companion who was strong until the finish. It gave its ink so that I might write. I hope you enjoy this chapter all the more knowing of its sacrifice. R.I.B, my faithful servant, R.I.B.*
The attempt to communicate wasn’t going well.
‘Is this man stupid or insane?’ snapped the head of the communication team. Obviously a construct, although Flip couldn’t place him. The anger gave it away.
‘We’ve greeted him in every language on file,’ the construct continued, ‘and nothing. We’ve tried the basic SETI protocols – mathematical formulas, the Fibonacci sequence, that sort of thing. Nothing. Is he deaf?’
Flip floated closer. The others moved aside, showing her the respect due to a Rider, but their auras showed a certain puzzlement, as she wasn’t an expert in this area in the slightest. With that in mind, she approached with deference, giving the team leader a friendly ping.
‘Excuse my curiosity. He is not responding?’
‘Oh, he knows something is going on. If our historic records on human physiology are correct, he is definitely worried. But he’s not even trying to respond to us.’ The construct moved with agitated jerks, which Flip found most unusual.
‘I am sure, if he heard you, he would respond,’ Flip said. ‘Perhaps he is deaf. What proved successful the last time you did this?’ After all, these were the experts.
The construct went very still.
‘Last time?’ he said. And now Flip was reminded of a mouse that had just seen an owl soar overhead.
‘We have never communicated with a sentient being before, have we?’ Flip asked. The construct twitched.
‘Of course we have. We are in regular contact with the machines –’
‘A sentient biological, I mean. Apologies for the miscommunication.’
‘Well, no,’ the construct said, defensively. The emotional responses were most disconcerting. ‘There are no sentient biological. I mean, until now.’
‘And this one can’t hear our transmissions. Well, start with the basics,’ Flip said. She was aware that her tone was less deferential, but she was also aware that she was never actually dealing with professionals.
‘Have you tried interfacing with his machines?’
‘Of course,’ came the terse reply. ‘A thousand years of parallel technological evolution has changed them beyond our ability to talk to them.’
‘Predictable. It was a slim chance. Can he see you? Have your crew manifested visually?’
There was another, slightly shifty, pause.
‘That was our next step,’ the construct said.
‘Excellent,’ Flip said. ‘And from there, I assume you were going to lead him to the old machines.’
‘Oh, er, yes, to the machines. They will eliminate him and our problems are over!’
A burst of static hiccoughed out of Flip’s mind as she tried to process the scrambles logic of this statement. Constructs really were all insane, she realised.
‘That is one option,’ she said slowly. ‘Or – and this is more likely to be sanctioned by the council – we could ask the machines to speak on our behalf.’
The tension – which would have been immediately evident even to a biological as it hyper-charged the air – dissipated almost instantly. The only dissatisfied member of the crew was the leader.
‘Well, that would work as well, I guess,’ he said, and bobbed off in a sulk.
* Rest In Bin.