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16

Soon, very soon, Richard E. Sains will kneel down next to a dying N’Rett. To this one, he will tell his secret, albeit in an Earth language that the poor creature had no hope of ever understanding. Language does not come easily to a N’Rett.

This strange confession over, he will lean forward, and try and check the broken insectile body for signs of life. We should be cautious, obviously, and wary of attributing human traits to him; but it has to be said that there and then, Sains sighed softly.

Perhaps, the senseless slaughter was getting to him after all.

17

But, for now, look at the Dog. See how it runs! The creature is really hitting its stride, and now Sains can receive only fragments of its thought processes. The human brain cannot understand such speed, cannot hope to integrate so much information. But he does not worry: to a certain extant, the Dog can be let to its own devices.

Watch it run, though! For the sheer joy of it! Watch it, that is, if you can. The people of N’Rett, for instance, are not able to see it anymore. After a brief period of confusion, of panic, even, they have given up on tracking its progress. Their instruments are inadequate for that task, and in any case they do not even understand them fully. They dimly understand that something alien and vaguely terrifying has been unleashed on their world. Something that came with the great ship from beyond the star, and the ungainly bipedal creature standing on top of Red berry Hill; something to fast to be seen or photographed. Some reports mention a wind, come from nowhere; strange tracks left in the mud; vehicles, or even He’hen trees, overturned by its passage. But the Dog itself, they cannot directly perceive. It is too fast.

And yes, they are people, the inhabitants of N’Rett. For all that they look alien, even nightmarish, they are individuals, who think, and love, and hate, and often are afraid – with good reasons, it must be said. The inhabitant of N’Rett look like insects, it is true, but they do not form hives and their thoughts are their own: each is engaged in its own pursuit. In that respect, they are more “people” than Richard E. Sains, Contact Corporal (Second Class) could ever hope to be.

But enough! They make a depressing subject, the people of N’Rett, when you consider what will happen to them. Let’s look at, let’s glorify in, even, the Dog running. Did you know that the Dogs’ first masters were also their ancestors? That was a long time ago, obviously, long before the humans, the Earth-born people. The old Huylee, the Martians, were also the Dogs’ makers and, clearly, they did not think anything was too good for their creations.

18

Sains speaks.

“ I can say this to you, because you are going to die soon, if I am not mistaken. And you will not understand me, anyway. Not that understanding me would do you any good. I am afraid that you would just die in even more despair.

It’s not a big secret, you know, that I want to tell you. The old Martians knew it, for instance, and I often fancied a few of my people understood it, too. Strangely, the Huylee did not despair. They were able to look it in the eye and not flinch. They tried to do something about it. Sometimes I wish we were more like the Huylee. But then, I suppose, with their planet dying all around them, they had enough reasons to despair already.

The secret is this: you have been fucked over. And it wasn’t me or the Dog that did it. It all happened a long time ago, and we had no say about it.

You see: it takes a long time for inert matter to come alive. It’s a lengthy and complicated process and, inevitably, errors are made time and again. These mistakes, by the way, do not disappear: they stay with you always. And staying alive for any length of time? That’s even more difficult, even more complicated. This universe we share is not a friendly place, I don’t know if you have noticed. So more mistakes will occur.

As for intelligence? For inert matter to become alive, to endure all this time, and eventually to develop awareness? This is as near impossible as it can get and still be happening, from time to time, in a limitless universe. So do not ask for perfection. Take what you have been given and know that it is from a poisoned cup that you sip the elixir of life.”

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