alphabets, so this had been no easy task. But Pruit had honed her language skills on Herrod, where the soldiers in the Sentinel learned up to five ancient Kinley languages as training. These languages, dead for thousands of years, with odd syntax and varied pronunciation, were used by Kinley to speak in codes that the Lucien who barricaded had difficulty breaking.
    English and Arabic had unique personalities; though Arabic struck Pruit as the more sensitive and civilized of the two, English was the more expressive.
    She checked her heart rate and distance, and saw that it was time to cool down.
    “Screen off,” she said, and the screen went blank, the fibers that made up its surface returning to their neutral smoothness and light-tan color. The screen retracted into the wall at her side.
    She grabbed a towel, sat on the exercise mats nearby, and began the cooling stretch routine.
    There was a jump in volume from the control station. Central was scanning up and down on Earth’s broadcast frequencies, looking for an ancient beacon that did not seem to exist any longer, or if it did, was drowned out by the cacophony of transmissions from the rest of the planet.
    She waited to see if Central would comment on the abrupt noise, but the computer remained silent. Nothing new to report. Probably an entertainment program starting its broadcast. This world Earth was inundated with entertainment programs. Having few real worries of their own, in Pruit’s view, the natives delighted in make-believe ones.
    Earth was an interesting world in terms of natural resources. In addition to huge bodies of water, it appeared to have an almost unlimited supply of metals. Herrod was the opposite. It had almost no naturally occurring metal ores. Metals existed on the atomic level, bound up with other substances, but copper, gold, silver, tin, aluminum, and their ilk were virtually nonexistent in their naturally extractable forms. As a result, the Kinley civilization had matured without metals to mark their development. There was no Iron Age or Bronze Age in their history. The result of this was a science based almost exclusively in organic compounds and biological material.
    As Pruit spread her legs out to either side and laid her chest on the floor, she was aware of the pleasure of having her body fit again. She had been so drained upon waking the final time that it had taken her a full six months to regain muscle tone and strength. She had achieved them at last, and her muscles were now long and lean, her skin healthy and less ashen. Her hair had even regained much of its former shine. She was physically ready to begin the next phase of the mission.
    When her stretches were finished, she performed a brief fight routine, landing kicks and punches into a heavy target dummy. Then she showered and changed into her coveralls. She took a seat at the medical station and slipped the medical reader around her wrist.
    “Central, please confirm my medical check. I’m ready to move the mission into the third phase.”
    There was a pause as the computer examined her readings.
    “You’re ready, Pru,” the computer agreed. It was still using Niks’s voice, and it had developed his patterns of speech more and more since her final waking. Pruit supposed the computer was continually drawing on recorded conversations between Niks and her. Central even altered its voice tone based on Pruit’s attitude, much the way Niks would have done.
    “Good,” she answered, peeling the reader off her wrist. She felt the glow of anticipation pushing out the sadness that had lately occupied her mind. “Let’s get to work.”
    She slid into a chair in front of the primary control station and pulled down three books from a shelf on her left. The first was her mission Master Book of contingencies. She opened it and flipped to the current page. It read:
Using reference material 20.-c, transmit to beacon location.
    She opened her reference book and confirmed the

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