The ceiling opened and the Priest Judge Arbitrator descended into the Control Center. Tloygruu bobbed his head up and down the correct number of times, but one hand snuck down to tug on his genitalia.
There was no need for concern or worry, he reminded himself. He had been told that at a certain point in the voyage the Priest Judge Arbitrator would appear, after all. But no one had explained to him exactly when that would happen, or what the Priest Judge Arbitrator would do.
The Pilot flapped a hand in his direction, and Tloygruu realized that he was still pulling on his genitalia. He ceased and sent a fluttering gratitude.
The Priest Judge Arbitrator, not looking in his direction, moved to the back of the room to stand in the alcove reserved for it, and inserted the inputs. Its mottlings were a neutral purple and brown. Tloygruu glanced at the polished metal surface of the display stand in front of him and noted that he himself was swirling with orange and blue.
“Frontro, tell us all when you expect that we will reach the new world.”
The Pilot turned to look at Tloygruu. She swirled orange and green, even around her neck fin – the Priest Judge Arbitrator had unnerved her, as well! “The estimate is four percent, all.”
Four percent. Ninety-six percent of the journey lay behind them. So long ago it had been, and Tloygruu but a Trainee Commander, when the signals had been detected – a new world of life, intelligence! Such a thing had not been seen for two hundred years. And so soon, they would be the first to see the new species, to learn and teach, and exchange. To meet The Other, and to realize themselves through The Other’s eyes. The Other would benefit in the same way, and could also expect advances in energy, medicine, and transportation.
The excitement spread throughout the Control Center. Frontro, Chali and Zhingi, and Tloygruu himself, became nearly translucent. Only the Priest Judge Arbitrator remained passive.
“Command,” the Priest Judge Arbitrator said. “Alter course. The new world will not be visited.”
The translucence was swept away by a dark tide.
“Priest Judge Arbitrator?” Tloygruu finally managed to say. “All would like to respectfully inquire as to the reason.”
The Priest Judge Arbitrator left the alcove and returned to the center of the room. As the ceiling opened and its platform began to ascend, it said merely, “With the lessening of distance, the transmissions of the senders have become readable.”
The ceiling closed behind it.
“Course is altered,” Frontro said. “We return to starting point.”
“To clarify,” Chali said, “our descendents will return to starting point, not us.”
“Zhingi,” Tloygruu said, “display for all the transmissions from the new world.”
In the air before them shimmered pictures. Bipedal creatures with multicolored, flapping skins moved about, operated machines, interacted with one another.
“They’re beautiful,” said Frontro.
And they were. So different, so new.
The pictures changed, and a large group of the beings were seen surrounding a single one, who sat and did nothing unexpected.
The picture changed again. Large structures loomed, and the creatures moved among them. Then the creatures were inside a structure, interacting with one another.
“There are accompanying sounds as well,” Zhingi said. “They include more than random noise, and the machines have translated the meaningful strings.”
Tloygruu could almost feel a tendril of orange snaking across his skin. “Let all hear the translations.”
They watched, and listened.
“What is that recurring noise – that one, which we just heard?”
“The laughter of many,” Zhingi said.
“In unison?” Tloygruu asked. “Are they a hive? Or is it that they require leadership, even in this?”
Soon they understood.
“Can we continue to watch, with the sound off?” Frontro asked.
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