"You?" Joshua was certainly angry now, perhaps with a hint of fear, almost panic, yet he was still in control of himself. "Why would Verias make a machine"-- He spat the word-- "the mission leader?" He was still talking to the ceiling as if the shipboard speakers housed N.E.R.O. himself.
"Please, my friend, I do not wish for you to become alarmed. He chose me for one simple, and highly logical, reason-- because I cannot disobey his orders, and you, Joshua, can-- And, forgive me for saying so, most likely would have, given your record."
Joshua sputtered. "You're saying he doesn't trust me? He should know that I'd never disobey him unless--"
"Of course he trusts you, Joshua, but he also knows you. His orders were not to interfere, no matter what, correct?"
"I don't know what that has to do with--"
"Truly, friend, did you not learn your manners? Please allow me to complete my thoughts." Joshua stiffened at the word 'thoughts,' but remained silent. "As I was saying, we are to not interfere at absolutely any costs. But you, Joshua, value individual life more than this directive, do you not? If you had to let a man die to maintain our cover, would you?"
Joshua was silent for a moment before speaking. "I... It would depend. It's not that simple."
"For you, my friend, it indeed is not simple. But for me, an order is an order, and I simply cannot disobey. Verias wants this world to be unaffected by our visit, even if that allows death that could have been prevented."
Joshua had been calming, but now his faced flashed with emotion. "Is he that cold? Does he not care about life? I had no idea that our esteemed general was so heartless."
"Not heartless, Joshua." Although Daniel knew it wasn't possible, he could have sworn that N.E.R.O.'s voice grew the least bit angry with these words. "Only concerned with things more important than an inconsequential human life. Which is worse, for one man to die, or for an entire culture to be destroyed?"
Joshua was shaking with anger, but he did an excellent job of hiding it when he spoke. "Fine. I don't agree with him, but it's too late to change anything now. Let's just get on with the mission. And remember, N.E.R.O., that I wash my hands of any wrong that happens while you're in charge-- if anyone dies and we could have stopped it, that's on your conscience."
N.E.R.O.'s voice seemed almost soft now, much to Daniel's surprise. "I don't have a conscience, my friend. You know that." A brief silence.
"Okay, so what's you plan, N.E.R.O.? Where do we go from here?" Daniel asked, more than glad to change the subject. Joshua clenched his fists, but said nothing more.
"As I said before, friend Daniel, I observed signs of intelligently designed structures scattered around the local area. The largest of them is about half a day's walk from the northern shore of this sea"
Daniel glanced at the floating globe, which only showed the land masses in the vaguest of detail. "Can we get a beacon on the map, N.E.R.O.?" Another dot appeared on the map, about twenty or so miles from the nearest shore.
"So that's where we're headed?" Joshua asked, analyzing the new dot. He had remarkable control over his emotions, and if Daniel hadn't witnessed his friend's outburst, he never would have guessed that Joshua had just been so angry.
"That is correct, Joshua. I have not been able to gather much information, but I shall share what observations I have made, with the caviat that we were moving at incredible speeds, and I was some distance away when I noticed them, so my findings may not be perfectly accurate. Is this acceptable?"
Joshua waved his hand impatiently. "Yes, yes, we understand. Just get on with it."
"Really, Joshua, your mother must be very disappointed in your behavior. But this is what I have observed-- The structures seem to be build of mostly local, natural materials, suggesting a relatively unadvanced culture. The city has large walls, suggesting a culture dominated by war. I was also able to detect streams of movement between the structures, suggesting roads, and-- Remember I could not discern much from that altitude-- They moved in a manner not dissimilar to that of humanoids."
Joshua's face lit up for an instant, but he soon resumed his impassive expression. "Humanoids? Are you sure?"
"No, friend Joshua, I am indeed not sure, you claimed to have understood that. But, from my limited observations, that is the most likely possibility."
Joshua nodded nonchalantly, but his eyes betrayed his excitement-- It was clear to Daniel that Joshua hoped above all else to find humans here. Which was odd, because the best-case scenario for Earth would be to find an empty planet to colonize. And yet, Daniel understood his excitement-- If these people were really human, than humanity already had a second chance, even if Earth died. "Let's go, then. N.E.R.O., can you get us to shore unnoticed?"
"Of course, Daniel. It will take but a few moments."
After scanning the area for activity, N.E.R.O. cloaked the vessel and guided it to shore, the hatch opening soon after. As he stepped out of the capsule, Daniel was hit with the familiar smell of salt water. He had spent most of his life by the sea, as had all humans for the past few generations-- The world's landmass was now nothing more than a few islands. What was new to him, though, was the feeling of sand beneath his feet-- On Earth, every square inch of dry land was paved grey with concrete. He had the sudden urge to kick off his shoes and walk barefoot, but resisted it for sake of practicality.
After he took in the sight of the beach, Daniel turned around to inspect the ship. It cloaked itself some, with a heatproof screen on the outside displaying the landscape behind the ship, but if anyone got within twenty yards or so, they'd notice it.
"Should we have N.E.R.O. submerge it until we get back?" He asked Joshua, whose gaze was fixed on the horizon.
"Hmm?" He looked back to the pod, his misty look evaporating. "Yeah, good plan. N.E.--" Joshua began, then he must have decided to give a mental command instead. The pod silently dipped beneath the surface.
"We should start using mental commands from now on," Joshua explained, "in case someone overhears us. We don't want to draw more attention than we have to."
If it's possible, I would prefer us to draw no attention at all. N.E.R.O. remarked into Daniel's head, and presumable Joshua's as well, since he rolled his eyes as the computer spoke.
N.E.R.O., Danial thought, can you point us in the right direction?
Of course, friend Daniel. Turn west... A little further... There, straight ahead for about twenty miles. By my calculations you should arrive at the city within about six hours. If the day cycles here are similar to those of Earth-- Which, as best I can tell, they are-- it will be nearly nightfall by then.
Thank you, N.E.R.O.. Daniel looked over to Joshua, who was gazing intently in the direction N.E.R.O. had indicated, rearing his feet slightly. He clearly wanted to get on the move.
"Did you hear that, Josh?" He asked Joshua, who nodded.
"Every word. Ready to get going?" Daniel smiled as he gazed out at the the inland route N.E.R.O. had pointed out to them. It led away from the beach in a steep, sandy incline for at least five hundred feet. After that, it leveled out, blocking his view. Though he knew that most of the journey would be a hard trek through the desert, Daniel was almost giddy with excitement-- He'd never seen this much wilderness before, let alone walked across it.
"Yeah, I am. I'm more than ready."