The hastily scribbled words read, ‘Project and our lives in danger. Whatever happens, know I love you always. Dad.'
Nova ran her fingers over the tattered note. Refolding it carefully she returned it to her chest pocket and leaned back. Looked out the cockpit window. The answers had to be out there, somewhere. In the never-ending darkness of space.
Bernard broke the silence.
“Since receiving that message two months ago, you have read it eighty-two times. More than once a day. By now you should have memorized it. Still, you bring it out, over and over again, as if you expect to see something you haven’t noticed. Each time I sense increased blood pressure, a shift in your cardiovascular system, and both tear ducts perform their inexplicable service. Why don’t you share with me the contents? I am your friend.”
A calm shake of the head. “You’re a machine, Bernard. You would never understand.”
“I should like to try.”
“You’re also my friend,” said Nova after a deep sigh. “And I love you for that. Without you I’d have no-one.”
Diodes flashed softly, as if Bernard blinked in thought.
“Once again, a hard-to-interpret response. Typical of that paradox of a species known as humans. Liable to cause provocation overload, if unprepared. I resign myself to a simple ‘thank you.’ And believe me, it’s a gamble at that.”
Here Bernard paused for a sigh of sorts. A long sloping blip.
“Nova, I appreciate you too. Perhaps one day I shall understand what human love is. Honestly, I hope I’m spared.”
She had to smile at Bernard’s algorithmic dilemma. Something in the distance caught her eye. She reached for the binoculars.
“Ah, the target of our dubious detour is within visual range,” Bernard said. “How unfortunate.”
“Looks kinda divey.”
“I could have told you that! We must return to our original course at once and head for home!”
Laying down the binoculars, Nova grabbed the bag of pastries and smelled them. They looked delicious.
“I’m sure it’s fine. Stay on course.”