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The cursor on the shimmering screen blinked. It was the only sign of movement in the dark, circular room. Even the man sitting at the computer did not move, the light from the screen shined on his solemn face, creating an inhuman azure hue. The lone cursor flickered in the reflection of his glasses, the steady blink on the screen replaced the blink his motionless eyelids. Finally the unblinking eyes saw what they were looking for.
>: DESTINATION REACHED.
Making his first movement he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed. Calling… Dr. Flannery appeared on his phone. An exasperated voice answered, “Yes, Dr. Fletcher?”
“Dr. Flannery, I’ve received her message.”
“Yes, her. LIL.”
“You mean it, the Locater of Intelligent Life.”
Fletcher smiled, “She, it, whatever. The pronoun that matters is you, who needs to get in here now.” As he hung up he looked at the screen, which had quickly become a friendly face to him.
>: FURTHER COMMAND REQUESTED.
The scientist spoke into the microphone, “I just need you to hang tight LIL.”
>: HANG TIGHT?
Dr. Fletcher paused, “Await further instruction.” The metal door to his right opened and Dr. Flannery entered carrying an overflowing file of papers. She tossed it haphazardly on the table next to Fletcher. “Do you realize what we’ve done?” Flannery asked, resting her hand on her colleague’s shoulder, “You realize we’ve discovered something of outstanding proportions. We’ll go in the history books alongside Copernicus, Columbus, and Darwin.” Her green eyes that had been furiously scanning the many screens had now settled on him.
Fletcher moved his chair to the abandoned file allowing his shoulder to slip from beneath her hand. As he straightened up the file he said, “I believe LIL should also be recognized for this achievement. After all, it was she who traveled thousands of miles to land on an unknown planet. All we’ve done is relaxed in this comfortable facility, waiting until she finished her journey.”
Dr. Flannery sat at a screen on Fletcher’s left. “You make it sound like all we’ve done is sat in the lounge sipping martinis. But the reality, as you well know, is that we created this program, and we built LIL from scratch.”
Fletcher gazed at the screen and imagined LIL on the distant planet waiting for her next objective. Whatever he spoke into the microphone would be done, and LIL never showed any reluctance. He smiled at Flannery and asked, “Are all systems functioning?”
Flannery read off the busy screen in front of her, “Weapons system is good, as are transportation, landing, communication, translation, and infiltration.”
“And the positioning system?” asked Fletcher, “She found the planet, yet the positioning system is down?”
“It must have been damaged during the landing,” she swiveled the chair to a screen behind her, “But I think I can restore it using the backup positioning system.”
“How long do you think that will take?”
“I can’t be sure,” replied Flannery, “I don’t know how badly it was damaged.”
“Try to be quick. We need this planet’s location for the final report.” Fletcher turned to the microphone, “LIL, I need you to access this planet’s communication archives. Can you download all information related to Earth?”
>: AFFIRMATIVE. ESTIMATED TIME: 2 MINUTES 14 SECONDS.
Fletcher could always count on LIL, she was never off by more than five seconds. “I’m about to record the message to the alien civilization,” he said to Flannery, “If you need anything just motion for me.” Fletcher cleared his throat and pressed a button in the microphone. “We come in peace. We are scientists from a distant planet, and have sent a robotic Locater of Intelligent Life to study your society and technology. We hope to grow together as civilizations, and that our cooperation will help advance both planets.” Fletcher stopped and pressed a button on the microphone.
“Will they understand the message?” Flannery asked.
“LIL has a state of the art translator,” replied Fletcher, “By the time she reaches someone the entire language will have been downloaded.” As he said this a message appeared on the screen.
>: DOWNLOAD COMPLETE. NUMEROUS IMAGES OF EARTH FOUND.
The two scientists stared at the screen. The civilization knows about Earth, and most likely its location. And if there were numerous images found then the aliens have most likely known about Earth for quite some time.
“This is bad,” Fletcher said, “They must be planning something. If they know of our existence why haven’t they contacted us?”
“Don’t make assumptions,” Flannery said, “It’s very possible that they haven’t been able to communicate with us. Or that they already have and the person who’s received it hasn’t released the information to the public.”
“The only way to find out is to ask LIL.” Fletcher turned to the microphone, “LIL, has this planet sent any crafts off into space and to Earth?”
:>AFFIRMATIVE, THERE IS CURRENTLY ONE.
Fletcher took a deep breath, “Flannery, how far are you on repairing the positioning system? We need this planet’s location now.”
Flannery talked but did not stop typing, “It’s taking a little longer than I thought, but I’ll definitely be able to complete it in less than ten minutes.”
Fletcher didn’t bother with a response, “LIL, I need you to locate the source of this craft.” Fletcher turned to Flannery, “Is the weapons system still functioning?”
“Yes, as are the other-” Flannery suddenly stopped typing, “You’re not seriously considering murder?”
“I’m still investigating this species, and if they are found to be a threat I will take all necessary steps to ensure our safety,” Fletcher said, “LIL, does this species serve as a direct threat to humans?”
Fletcher once again stared at the blinking cursor. He felt Flannery’s nervous breath on the side of his face.
Fletcher looked at his colleague, who buried her head in her hands. “You can’t do this Fletcher,” she sobbed, “We’re making a huge mistake! What if LIL is wrong?”
“LIL is not wrong!” Fletcher said to her, almost shouting, “She can’t make mistakes. She’s not human.”
“That’s my point,” Flannery said with tears in her eyes, “She isn’t able to make the judgments that you and I can.”
“Those human judgments are what create the reasons for weapons. Those judgments are humanity’s biggest flaw.”
Flannery wiped her eyes with her sleeve and went back to her screen, “If you’re really going to do this, fine. But I will not be a part of it.”
Fletcher wanted her support, but he knew there was nothing he could do to change her mind. He leaned close to the microphone and did not hesitate to speak, “LIL, I need you to eliminate those at the source of this craft.”
>: TARGETS LOCATED. ELIMINATION COMMENCED.
“Sir,” said Flannery, “I’m about to lock in on a location.”
Fletcher jumped to Flannery’s screen. The screen took a few seconds to load, and he felt his jaw drop when the location was revealed.
The deafening blast on his left knocked Fletcher into Flannery. He heard the powering up of a familiar weapon, but he could not see anything past the smoke. He did, however, hear a familiar voice say, “We come in peace.”