“The splificator died.” Halea pointed to the corresponding panel.
“Mercies! Our report is almost done, and we do not have any more filaments to start a new one. What happened?” Laveriat slipped over to the site monitor and examined the data.
“A human destroyed it while taking the antenna’s biggest new amplifier. She’ll probably die.” Halea had never thought she would grow this dispassionate about knowledge. “It doesn’t matter; we can always notify the Library for an emergency pick-up by tanbeam. We are probably done with this mission anyway, are we not?”
“I would say not. The humans made it to their fourth planet, but whether the colony remains viable for twelve solar orbits is the determining factor,” Laveriat reminded her. “Ask Dano’on what he thinks. He has analyzed their space program more extensively than anyone.”
Halea put away her headset to head for the observatory, grateful for a break from the significant transmissions produced by the peoples on this continent. Skittering up the external surface, it took her 1.14 seconds longer than usual, for last night’s storm had dislodged a number of her usual hand-holds.
She found Dano’on expressing grief, beating his chest as he moaned over the central controls. “Why, oh why did we get assigned to such an awful planet?”
“What is happening?” Halea had never seen Dano’on so profoundly upset.
He motioned for her to take his place before the 5-D holographic mirror. “That device is called a ‘laser trencher’ by the Earthlings, used to burn holes in soil that convert the edges to rock-like consistency. Yet that human is using it as a weapon.” Indeed, the crowded plaza sported gobbets of singed and bloody parts exploding among the running humans.
“That must have started just after the splificator died. 422,844 local channels gone in one instant. Where is that happening?”
“Europe. Celtea is beaming it to our catchall.” The murderer on the screen was quickly captured; Dano’on sighed with relief. “Wars are bad enough, but these individual acts indicate horrific and widespread mental illness. I simply cannot believe the Originators seeded this planet with the same genetic stock as ours. I wonder if we will ever find their home planet? I would do anything to investigate it; perhaps they had answers to the failures of so many cultures in so many star volumes.”
Halea massaged his standard to distract him. “Come, love, let us join together and forget the humans for a while. You will relax thereby.”
“We all need to de-stress. And Laveriat is still working on the report. You know it gets a bit jealous when we don’t include it in our joining, for it always only joins with us together. Plus, joining with our integral is always the most exquisite experience.”
“True. I wonder if human behavioral problems are because they never developed integrals?” She sighed. “I’m willing to bet Laveriat is ready to relax, too. When I mentioned we should get the Library to retrieve us, it replied that our mission is not finished according to the twelve-orbit standard. It appeared determined to see the data complete, but I am certain it was at nerve’s end over not being able to send the report.”
“What happened to the splificator?” Dano’on brow creased with worry.
“One of Katria’s female acquaintances destroyed it while picking the biggest seasonal amplifier.”
“No! Not another piece of equipment damaged!” Dano’on rushed toward the doorway. “We must consult on this immediately.” Halea had never seen her antipod move so quickly. She scrambled to catch up, and they darted down the bark of the tree to the lower knothole.
Laveriat was communicating with Sengaliat by tanbeam. As the latter described the essential elements of its 60-orbit report, the drought, starvation, and violent actions of humankind on that continent, Laveriat shook its head. “The humans on this continent are so gluttonous, they have been calling their own obesity an epidemic for 30 orbits. I simply do not understand why they refuse to take care of their brethren.”
Halea and Dano’on hovered behind Laveriat as Sengaliat finished its rant. “We need to call the Library for a pick-up. This mission may not be completed, but it is finished. I do not believe the human colony will survive, not if they treat each other like they do on Earth.”
Laveriat turned to Dano’on. “What is your opinion as to the viability of the Mars colony?”
“They did profile the members extensively and tried to guarantee stable, cooperative personalities. I think the colony will survive. I suspect, however, it might be the only way humankind itself survives, given the state of the planet.” Dano’on looked at Halea.
She considered that thought with her Othermind. “I think you are correct. I estimate 97% of humans with access to communication devices recognize that humanity’s survival relies on space colonization. I estimate 76% of that sub-set see it as a method of escaping the prevalent attitudes of Earth, an opportunity to establish a more benevolent, nurturing society with a responsibility to care for all its members.”
“What about the other 24%?” Laveriat and Sengaliat asked in unison, a skill that made integrals such excellent mission commanders, able to synthesize reports to the Library with ease.
“They simply plan to violate all natural resources in the name of profit, not growth.” At everyone’s neutral expressions, Halea realized they were all struggling to care about acquiring further data on this planet. “I say we end the mission. If the humans make it to other stars someday, we will see which society prevailed.”
Laveriat and Sengaliat chorused, “Let’s call a Caucus.”
As soon as Laveriat shut down the tanbeam, Halea asked if it was interested in some bonding. Laveriat responded to that suggestion with notable enthusiasm.
The Caucus was unanimous. Each female antipod was to communicate their intent to leave en masse with her chosen human, while each male antipod was to collect all equipment for pick-up. “Disclosure to the fullest extent your human can understand,” the Integrals chanted simultaneously, locked together with their Otherminds. “The Library will initiate pick-ups at 54.Γ5.36.00.” The Caucus disbanded, each integral mentally returned to its mates, and Laveriat set the tanbeam on standby.
Halea sighed. “I hate putting on that suit.”
“What is hate?” Dano’on was great with technology, but Halea decided he was immeasurably lucky he only had to compile real-life visual data. The literature on this planet would give him screaming horrors.
“The human word for extreme disgust.” Halea went to the locker and began attaching accoutrements.
Dano’on checked the wings, concealment function, and sensitivity shield. “At least it is the last time you will wear it.”
“On this planet,” Halea reminded him. “Unless we get a team-teaching position at the University, we will undoubtedly be sent to a new solar system.”
“You have done a magnificent job,” Laveriat noted magnanimously. “Perhaps our next assignment will be to a planet on which male antipods would do better with face-to-face contacts.”
Dano’on escorted her to the lift. “Those wings are about to give out. Use the variable-visibility cloak function as soon as you can.” Halea nodded and entered the lift.
Exiting at the base of the grandiose oak catchall, Halea consulted her locator. Katria was in the garden, trying to play with Capitán. After twelve orbits, Halea was grateful the canine no longer tried to chase her. She almost regarded the old mutt as a friend, for sometimes, while waiting for Katria, she and the dog would sit together in quiet companionship beneath the broad shade of the oak’s limbs.
Halea zipped over to the garden, initiated her wings, set the cloak to maximum human visibility, and slowly hovered toward Katria. The girl was nevertheless startled. “Hello, Katria.” Mindful of the wings, she settled to the ground and furled them.
“Alea! I haven’t seen you in so long!” Katria left the dog and scrambled to lie prone, elbows propped to rest her chin in her hands. Capitán thwacked its tail upon the nearby flowering strawberry patch, mere spins from producing the first of this orbit’s crop.
Halea worked to project just the right amount of sadness. “Sweet Katria, I have been so very busy. My friends and I are preparing to leave.”
“Leave? Where are you going?” Katria’s eyes were round with wonder.
“You know this country is not our home. We are going home soon. I simply wanted to tell you in person, and I wanted to thank you so much for being my friend.” She bore a round of Katria’s tears and pleas as her Othermind calculated this was the 571st human child she would never see again.
Halea’s conscience reminded her to say, “Oh, Katria. I have something important for you to do.”
Katria wiped her face with the sleeve of her dress. “Anything, Alea. I’ll do anything for you.”
“A lady you may know picked some mushrooms out in the oak grove. I am afraid she may try to eat them. If she does, they will make her very sick. She might even die. Please warn her not to ingest them,” she emphasized as acutely as possible without trying to scare the child.
“Oh, that was Tía Marianela. Don’t worry; she says she knows all about mushrooms. She was so happy to find a really big one. She digs them out because the roots are the most important part.” Just like a human, promise instantly forgotten and confident she had all the data she needed, Katria chattered merrily as Halea tried not to care about the fate of humans anymore.
It was surprisingly easy to do.