The Journal Entries

Elenya, Nenim 06, 01028

The Ritacha War: Frozen Futures

Even with a crew of only 60 people, finding qualified pilots to do groundwork should not have been difficult. Nevertheless, T'Parrahn felt a certain personal pride and involvement in doing the landing himself. A self-controlled individual of few words, T'Parrahn still felt a thrill of adventure and a desire to see the landing done right.

"Atmospheric insertion in four minutes," he said.

His copilot, an engineer from Fezzik's team named Meroh (a name which often generated confusion with Miroh) looked anxious nervous as he called up screen after screen of diagnostics. "Nervous, Meroh?"

"A little, sir," he admitted to the first officer. "Interatmospherics without navigation aids is uncommon even for exploration vessels."

"Well, I suggest you sit back and enjoy the ride, because in all my four centuries I've never cracked up a shuttle and I don't intend to start now."

Meroh nodded, smiling weakly. "Yes sir."

"How's our fuel doing, Lieutenant?"

"We've got enough to get to the ground and back four times, sir. RBP output is less than the local background radiation."

"That's saying something," T'Parrahn admitted.

They struck the atmosphere at well over 10,000 kph and the ride became a little more exciting, but not by much. T'Parrahn enjoyed the trip down.

"Report, Number One."

"I've located the lake Miroh indicated. I'm going to land on the beach. There's a large field in front of me with what looks like some sort of circular construction."

"Understood. We have telemetry. Call us when you're down."

"Understood, sir."

The shuttle behaved under T'Parrahn's experienced hands and with barely a thump and a rush of water he put the shuttle down on the shores of the lake he had chosen for a landing spot. The float skirt filled to capacity and the shuttle slowly eased up against the shore. "Ille Pendoro, this is the shuttlecraft. We are down."

"Acknowledge, shuttlecraft," the soft voice of the communications officer spoke in his ear. "Engineering reports a successful lock-on. We are ready to start transporting the first teams. Internal SDisk only."


Lieutenant Commander Fezzik looked out over the barren wasteland of the world that had occupied so much of her past 60 waking hours and hoped that whatever here was still putting out fast neutrinos was something more exciting than a fusion-powered sewage plant that someone had intelligently switched to "standby" on the day of the war.

"It's cold," Lieutenant Meroh swore softly. "In a way, though, it's kind of pretty."

Fezzik stared at the snow and ice covered buildings and understood what Meroh was saying. "It's hard to believe that they really did it to themselves."

"Yeah," Meroh said. "You want to think someone else did it to them."

"Homicide," Captain Cafran spoke in their ears, "is always easier to understand than suicide, no matter how more common the second is over the first. The kind of self-loathing suggested by suicide is something nobody really wants to think about. Nevertheless, both are horrific acts. Remember, however, that there will be centuries of debate as to whether 'they' did it, or merely that their leaders did it to them."

They began their search methodically; Fezzik and Meroh walked towards the south, walking past large, square buildings with pointed roofs and beautifully complex architecture. Every building had its own flavor, as if each had been crafted by an entirely different age from the one before it. The one to her left had the distinctive feel of wood and stone, the one across the street was an impressive face of regimented cement blocks, each the characteristic grey of old cement.

"I think I know what we're looking at," Fezzik said.

"Oh?" Meroh asked.

"Yeah. It's a school. There are only two places where I've seen architecture go quite this crazy. One is at a school, the other is a government center. I just get this feeling that this is not a government center. Therefore, a school."

"An interesting theory," T'Parrahn said in her ear. "But remember that these people are not like us and did not come from the same sort of background that we did. There's no evidence to suggest that they thought as Pendorians or Terrans did."

"Sure there is," Fezzik replied. "Just look at the construction. It's standard. These people walked upright, understood physics and geometry well enough to construct, and had a sense of variety the same as we do."

"Sir!" A voice rang in her ears, one she was not familiar with at first. "Sir, this is Ensign Battick. We've found a statue that may be a representation of the natives."


"On your map, Sir." Fezzik examined the map carefully, made some reference decisions. "This way," she said, pointing to her left. They followed her around a building and up a flight of stairs, across an enormous quadrangle. At the opposite end two figures were standing, waving their arms. Between them sat a large, metallic statue, blackened with age.

"Do you think this one of them?" Fezzik asked the short Lutra who identified himself as Battick. She examined the statue closely as she did so.

Natives of this world were apparently centauroid. That surprised her as theory held that centauroid was an unlikely configuration to arise naturally. Too awkward and ungainly for successful evolution, went the theorists. The face was vaguely Vulpin, although stockier in appearance compared to Fezzik's own species. Also, the feet were broader and the tail had the thickness of a fully-brushed Mephit's. The proportions were different from that of a Ssphynx or Centaur; the back shorter, perhaps, and the shoulders and lower collars much wider. It gave them a simultaneously softer and stronger look.

On the back of the neck, however, there were two tendrils descending from the base of the skull. On her, they would have been a little high to come from the spinal region. They didn't look like hair; they descended downwards along the back, turned upwards and towards the front suddenly, and ended with a thickened portion about five centimeters long, about twice as wide as the tendril itself.

"I don't know sir. But it is a possibility."

"Wonder what those are," she said, indicating one of the tendrils.

Battick looked at them. "An armchair guess would lead me to say 'sense organs.' Probably for reproduction. They're so fragile- looking. We'll know when we find something to autopsy."

"If we find anything," Fezzik replied sadly. "Let's go find that neutrino source."

"Already done," a voice said in her ear. "Sir, we've found an underground facility that's apparently the closest approach to the neutrino source that we can find."

"Copy," Fezzik said. "Give me a display."

A tracking map, complete with the path to take, appeared before her eyes. "And the opening is right... there." She pointed across the red-bricked and snow-covered quadrangle at a building across the way. "That cement opening is apparently it. Let's go."

As they walked, T'Parrahn brought up the idea that the statue was merely a representation of a creature from mythology. "The Centauroid configuration is not very likely to arise through evolution, after all. The increase in power doesn't make up for the increased resource needs, does it?"

"I really don't know," Fezzik admitted. They made their way the large access portal. "Doors are big enough," she commented. "At any rate." A flight of wide stairs led downwards to an artificial underground cavern buttressed with thick cement columns.

"Storage?" Meroh asked.

"Vehicular storage, I think," Fezzik replied. "I've seen this design on Terra."

A large, winding access 'road' leading downwards confirmed her opinion, and finally they reached what appeared to be the 'bottom' floor where two other members of the landing team waited for them. "So," she said, "What's up?"

"Sir. There's apparently some sort of facility behind this retaining wall. It's pretty well-hidden, but a few depth charges would have sounded it out eventually. The nearest where it comes to this wall is right here."

Fezzik nodded. "Cafran?"

"I heard. You want permission to dig. Granted. Just be careful."

"As always."

Her muscles felt warm with fatigue; hours of work had gone into the digging and she felt deservedly frustrated. Whoever had buried that fusion plant had wanted to make sure that nobody could get to it. So far she had burned through three meters of concrete, a six- centimeter barrier of steel, and now nearly two dozen meters of collapsed earth. It had been nearly three hours since she had last talked to Cafran, and in that three hours the ensigns at the mouth of the dig had several times offered to take over for her.

But something pushed her on; the thrill of discovery, for one thing. She wanted to know what this was, what the long-dead people of this planet had left buried in the sand for her to discover. It hurt in her heart to know that they had discovered the tenth sentient species to arise on its own, only to be told they had arrived a millennia too late.

A thousand years wasn't so long, either; As an inhabited world, Pendor was that old, although the date of the actual ring went back much, much further. She wondered, though, looking that the technological level on the surface, how these people had managed to manufacture a fusion plant that would last for a thousand years. It looked to her from the surface that these people had only within the past hundred years started tinkering with internal combustion and turbine engines, and the idea that they had gotten to the point of manufacturing fusion plants while some of them were still building with brick and straw intrigued her.

She also had to admit to herself that she enjoyed her own home- brew Stark-11 armor more than any suit she had had in the past. The earlier suits had looked bulky despite their manufacture out of something that could only be thought of as reinforced cloth. The Stark-11 she wore consisted of form-fitted external shells, and on her figure retained that feminine profile Cafran appreciated so much. Miniaturizing the power and flight modules and placing them entirely in a backpack had weakened the armor somewhat, but it had also let her leave exposed and emphasized those parts of her body men were always looking at, and that was they way she wanted it.

She smiled to herself as her fingers dug another meter of rock away. "I'm so vain." That phrase had become something of a joke to her, because she was vain, but so far nobody had complained about her letting it go to her head.

"Commander? Did you say something?"

"No, Ensign. Just muttering to myself."

"Do you want someone to take over?"

"By my calculations, I'm less than a meter from the retaining wall. So if you think I'm going to come out now, you're crazy."

"Yes, sir," the ensign muttered unhappily. Eventually, the dirt piled up on the floor and her fingers struck concrete.

"Gotcha," she muttered. She concentrated; climbing spikes made of pure force field dug their way into the ground under her feet, and another set extended from her hands into the concrete before her. She analyzed the depth of the concrete with a sounder and found it to be only about 20 centimeters thick. "Okay. Here we go."

She turned off the feedback loops in the suit; she was going to need everything for this, and the feedback loops would only inhibit her. The underlying sheaths took up slack; power from the fusion backpack she wore poured into the arms and legs of her suit. She pulled with her right hand and pushed with the left, setting up a twisting force on the wall that the wall had probably not been designed to restrain. Retaining walls were built for one vector of force, not two, and she knew that pulling on a wall already designed to provide a force in her direction would easily tear the structure loose.

Suit failure: 40 seconds. She swore and poured on the strength. Suit failure: 10 seconds, the revised update noted. She grimaced and let five seconds pass before sending the suit into immanent failure overload; the wall buckled, then exploded.

Fez found herself on the floor, buried in an avalanche of shattered cement. "Lieutenant Fezzik, report!" a voice in her ears repeated again, although she was sure she hadn't heard it the first time very clearly.

She groaned softly, then looked at the display above her main visor. Suit failure averted. Life Support not affected. 60% of strength functionality retained. Self-repair mechanisms sufficient to restore additional 22%. Do? (Yes/No).

"Yes," she groaned. The readout reported, 16% in 4 minutes. Additional 6% in 30 minutes. In the back of her mind she thought to herself that if she hadn't reduced the suit's capabilities in the name of fashion, she probably wouldn't have had partial failure at all.

"Fezzik, dammit, talk to me."

"I'm here, Cafran. Keep your armor off."

"We heard an explosion. Are you okay?"

"Uhm... yeah. Suit's damaged, but it's not bad. Life support is apparently okay, I just tore some of the muscle matrices."

"How about you?"

"Dazed. Mostly from the rock falling on me. Ensign, has the tunnel I dug between you and me collapsed at all?"

"No, sir," the ensign watching the doorway reported. "I can still get a clear reading all the way to you. In fact, sounders are reporting a large space beyond your place marker."

"Huh?" Fez said, picking her head up. The thought was almost casual, but several hundred kilograms of rock fell away from her prone form as she moved. She remembered that the feedback controls on her suit were still off, and she turned them back on. Feel returned to her; she was now outside her suit, a part of her environment. It made her feel better. "Wow."

"I see it, Fez. What do you think it is?"

Before her stood three cylinders, each approximately two meters in diameter and three meters tall. A white vapor cascaded down each one of them, falling over the outside silvered surface and collecting on the floor around her feet.

Passive sensors on the suit came to life. The readings were intriguing, but related very little as to the actual workings inside the cylinders. "I can tell you what they aren't. They aren't the fusion source." As she walked around one her picture became clearer, and she already had a good idea what she was looking at. "They're computers. Three massively parallel, cryogenically-cooled for superconduction, old-fashioned electrical computers."

"Commander Fezzik," Lieutenant Miroh interrupted her, "If that's true, they must be the most advanced computers of this species' kind. We're finding relatively low-powered, single-control processors in most of the computers that appear to be prevalent on the campus."

Fezzik examined the rest of the room; arranged as a rectangle with the three towers in a line along the length, she found three exits, one door at each long end, and a hatchway in the floor. "Fusion source is to the right," she muttered, examining her sensors again. "Hallway to the left with echoes indicating a solid wall at the end. That makes me suspicious. I'm going to go down the hallway first."

"Watch yourself, Fez."

"This is a Pendorian Starksuit, Caff. It's not like anything these people had is going to kill me."

"So far the fusion plant has been the first of many surprises. We don't know what's down that hall. Just be careful, would ya?"

"I will, I will." She stepped over to the door. Locked, as she had expected, but the mechanism turned out to be a simple heavy bolt and after a minute of tinkering in her backpack she pulled out a welding laser and ten minutes later the door slid open as she pushed it with her suit.

The hallway disappeared beyond the reach of her searchlight. She walked down the hallway slowly, reading the monitors. A motion sensor registered movement at twenty meters and the magnetometers registered strong changes in the magnetic field up ahead.

And then two automatic heavy-gauss cannon opened fire.

"SHIT!" Fezzik shouted, diving backwards and rolling away, pressing up against the corridor. The fire continued; the whistling sound, the constant whining ratchet against her armor filled her ears until she managed to get the sound dampeners working. The force of so much steel rocketing against her back pushed her farther and farther away from her intended destination.

Fezzik looked at her displays. The heavy-weapon needles, barely more than well-machined javelins, could have easily punched through the heaviest armor these people manufactured, but they weren't even going to scratch her suit. She turned her head to look at the two firing cannon, most of her sensors off-line until she reduced the suit below full-defense standing. "Fezzik!"

"I'm still here, Cafran. They've got a pair of what I would guess to be anti-armor gauss rifles in the hallway."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Like I said, nothing will touch this suit. Besides, the damned things are made of steel, and you know what that means to me."

"Yeah." Fezzik smiled. Cafran knew her particular specialty was powered armor because her engineering major was electromagnetic fields. The main science of powered armor lay in its use of magnetism to reach such effective strengths. The most powerful local force available, the electromagnetic force, drove powered armor. The secret wasn't so much in power available but in size. A million tiny magnets working at once could put out a LOT more force then one big magnet the same size.

Although she herself had been relatively unaffected, her pack full of tools was completely ruined. She made her way slowly back down the hall towards the door she had come through only to find that the door had slammed shut again. She began pushing it open and the gunfire ceased. "Hmm."


"Ensign Meroh, are you paying attention?"

"Yes sir, I am."

"Would you be so kind as to allow Ensign Shaw to hold down the fort while you come here and help me?"

"Be there in a minute, sir."

"And bring another tool pack. This one's garbage."

"Yes, sir." Fezzik waited two minutes actually until the light of a second Starksuit, this a standard model and not nearly as attractive as hers, appeared before her. "What do you need, Commander?"

"I need you to hold this door open." She smiled inside her suit, feeling the Ensign's disappointment. Still, she remembered when she was a lowly ensign and had had to do things like this for her commanding officers. "From what I can tell, I get the feeling that those guns were designed to puree' anything that came down that hall, and the builders felt confident that that's exactly what they would do. That's why the hall is straight; when the doors close it makes a nasty firing line."

"So why do I need to hold the door?" Meroh asked, looking down the hallway. Somewhere down there were the Gauss cannon.

"I don't think they'll fire when the door is open."

"You don't think?"

"I think they will not fire," Fezzik replied. "They wouldn't want a stray armor-piercing slug to be ricocheting around those beautiful computers, whatever they're for."

"Oh," Meroh said. "Okay."

"Don't worry, Ensign," she said. "Your suit can take it." She strolled down the hall confidently. Flipping tactical sensor arrays as casually as a pair of sunglasses, she could see on the registering magnetometers the angry, waiting coils of the gauss cannon, anxious for a free shot at her. As long as Meroh kept the door open, she hoped, they wouldn't get it. She walked forward and stared one of the gauss cannon down the muzzle. It made a soft whining sound as it tracked her, the barrel pointed at her midsection. "Hmm," she said. "They don't recognize humanoid forms very well. Either that or it's telemetried for the largest target." She found the cables that powered the cannon; she was loathe to actually destroy the thing, because she now admired the people who had put it here and their devotion to whatever they had hidden down here. "This is so weird," she said as she cut the cables.


"Caff, have you considered how peculiar this arrangement is?"

"I think I know what you're getting at, but explain it to me."

"Okay, we find this school, apparently built for a mid-sized 'taur species. We find the fusion plant buried underneath it, and we find a collapsed maintenance tunnel leading from that vehicular storage bay to that computer room." She turned her attention to the other cannon and cut the cables free from that one as well. Her sensors registered both as dead. "Okay, Meroh. Come here."

The ensign trotted down the hallway to join her. The door slammed shut behind him. "Now, call me weird, but I get the feeling that the fusion plant and computers are for something. They just don't sit there on their own. They have to be for something. Either that or they're an AI and we're just not communicating." She gestured for the ensign to follow her and began walking down the hallway. "So why are the fusion plant and the computers unguarded, but this hall has gauss cannon in it?"

"Do you have a theory?"

"Yeah," Fezzik said. "I got a theory. I think that this was laid out against a very specific enemy. One that wants whatever is at the end of this hallway so badly that it'll leave the computers and fusion plant alone."

"So what's at the end of the hallway?" Cafran asked.

"I'm going to find out." A second door presented itself to her, and after close analysis she determined that it was nothing like the first door in design. In fact, the door looked to be almost a meter thick. She also found slotted card reader on the wall. She sighed and pulled open the card reader. "Rhonda?"

"Working on it," the AI announced. "You'll need to interface the small-wire unit with that tangle attached above the reader. Right." Meroh handed Fezzik the tool Rhonda had indicated, and Fezzik went to work with wire strippers, pulling each wire individually and clamping it down in one of the sixty small openings at the face of the box. "Working. This will take a minute; my friend on the other end is kind of slow."

A minute later, as if on a tight schedule, a loud CLANG rang through the hallway, followed by the sound of grinding gears and ancient hydraulics. The "door" moved ever-so-slightly, and then stopped. Whining motors hummed from the other side. "Push, Meroh!" Fezzik ordered, placing her hands against the door. The ensign leaned in, and together the two of them strained against the heavy ceramic and steel door. It began moving again, and the two of them forced it to open completely. "There!" Fezzik grunted as light seeped around the edges of the door. The door opened completely, and then began sliding to their left. "Now that's a big door!"


"I'm in some sort of storage bay, Caff. I see eight vehicles, all of large, boxy construction. Each appears to have some sort of cannon mounted on their top."

"Commander Fezzik, the Textual Extraction Team has recorded enough that we are getting some accuracy with translation," Lieutenant Miroh's voice said over her radio.

"Well, I've got a few things here that could use translation. Start with that." She pointed at signs that overhang the three doors in the room. The one she had just came through registered, typically, as 'Exit.' The one on the opposite side of the room said "Control." And the one to her right said "(? root)Cold."

"Miroh, could that word there be 'Cryogenics?'"

"That would make sense," Miroh reported.

"It could also mean 'meat freezer,'" Meroh, her Tindal ensign, pointed out to her.

"No." Fezzik shook her head. "That doesn't make sense. All this for a hidden vehicle bay? Where are the people? I'm telling you, they're behind that door."

"Sir!" Meroh shouted, something Fezzik found totally unnecessary in the confined radio environment of their suits. "I found a dead body!"

Fezzik sped to where Meroh was standing in the open doorway of the room marked "Control." There on the floor lay a body, centauroid and quite dead. "Confirm there was a centaur species alive on the planet," she sighed. "Emphasize was." The main body was slumped on the ground, the homin half laying over a desk that had apparently been built to the 'taur specifications. In the 'taur's hand she found what was obviously a pistol. "I guess the design of a pistol is common enough," she said. "Looks like she shot herself. There's no sign of a struggle."

The body was almost perfectly mummified in the frigid environment underground. The moisture had long leached out of the corpse, leaving it dry and unchanging here in its tomb. "There's nothing written as far as I can see. There's a terminal here; maybe he left his note on it."

She turned her attention to a wall panel with three sets of controls. Two were untranslatable so far, but the third read, clearly, "Elevator." "The way out, I guess," she said.

"Apparently," Meroh agreed. "Commander, I think we should look in the last room."

"Yeah," Fezzik smiled. There was one thing about Stark she hated. She had a habit of chewing on stencils and pens, and in the suit she couldn't do either. And she desperately wanted to chew on something right then. She didn't know why the urge hit her at weird times like this, it just did. She sighed and walked back out into the large vehicle room, then looked at the room that Rhonda now marked as "Cryogenics." "Let's open it, Meroh."

Using the same technique as before, Rhonda opened the door. Again, Fezzik and Meroh had to assist the ancient mechanisms. "No matter how hard they tried, there was some corrosion," Fezzik commented. Then she stepped through the crack they had made. "Oh my fah..."

Meroh scanned the room silently with a hand-held monitor. "If you're theory is correct and these are cryo tubes, they're dead. There's no live power to any of these."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Sir. Completely. Not a thing registering."

She nodded, walking down the rows and eventually reaching the far end of the enormous, vaulted room. "What an attempt. What an achievement."

Meroh's shout broke her reverie. "Sir! I've got power!"


"Over here, sir." In the fourth and final block, to which she was closest, Meroh walked rapidly, reaching one of the boxes and pointing. "This one, sir. It's definitely got power. A couple of these do."

"How many?"

"Seven, sir." He indicated the pack of sixteen he stood near, arranged in a four-by-four square. Each cryogenics chamber was a square nearly four meters on a side and separated from its neighbor by about a meter's width. Each was also slightly more than a meter high. The blocks of four were themselves blocked off in units of four, internally separated by slightly more than two meters, and then isolated again by lines on the floor. The arrangement allowed Fezzik to do the math quickly. "Sixteen tubes per block, four blocks per square, four squares. 256 people, all told." She ran down to the end of the room where Meroh stood. "And only seven have power at all."

"Yes, sir," Meroh said.

"Caff, tell Doc Baker he's got one hell of a job coming up."

"No way," the Lutra was saying, shaking his head. "I am simply not qualified."

"Then who is?" Glass demanded.

"Alpha." Baker shook his head quietly and sighed. "I'm just not qualified to take people out of extended cryogenics. You know the situation as it now stands. There are seven tubes down there feeding power. Five of them have the slight chance of still being alive; the other two are well and truly dead. Nothing can be done about that. Of those five, at least two are going to need the kind of reconstruction work that was recently documented by Shardik, et. al., on the Nyano Handele. The crystallization in the brain, and I'm reasonably sure that is the brain, is pretty serious." He took a drink from his glass, feeling nervous. "This is more something for you, Mandy, and the engineering people to look at. I'm a great space doctor, but this is more than a little out of my depth."

"Well, you gave us an honest opinion. What if we get a meltdown?"

"Then I'll do everything in my power to see to it that the person in that tube gets to life support."

"Fezzik?" Cafran asked, tiring of the bad news from Glass and Baker, "What do you say?"

"I say we do as the Doctor orders. Get the tubes up to the ship as fast as fucking possible, put 'em in the medical emergency hold with a full engineering crew, and burn drives for home. If they need Alpha, they need Alpha. We might end up having to drop the Ille Pendoro into orbit around Pindam just to make sure. Or maybe we'll get PE'd. I don't know."


"We've been in touch with home since establishing a reliable connection through the gas giant at position seven," he said, touching the pages that contained his orders thoughtfully. "We are to do everything possible for the quote survivors, if there are any, unquote. I think the assumption is that we want these people to reach Pendor alive. But the orders go on to say that we are to get much viable genetic material as we can out of the dead, to reinforce those samples as much as possible, to tag and mark them with any personal data we can possibly scrounge, and then to get moving. We are not to delay at the cost of the survivors. Doctor Glass?"

Mandy Glass tapped the table patiently. "I can do that. No problem. Fezzik, will your staff give me room?"

"Just start your people at the other end of the chamber."

"No problem."

"Why only males?" Heely inquired. "I mean, I know it's out of my field, but it's the one thing that's been bothering me since we found them. There were sixteen males and 240 females, yet of the sixteen males, nearly half survived. None of the females did. Why?"

"Different engineering," Fezzik said. "At this point that's my only guess. I think what happened is that they made the system sex- specific in the hopes of supporting them. These tubes are pretty crude. They needed the sex-specification. We're looking at the software now, which logically was designed to make decision based on resources versus demands and drop down level by level, letting some of the frozen die." She shook her head. "What a try."

"Fezzik, we have discovered the words of the commander before he killed himself." Everyone turned to look at Rhonda, who for effect had built herself a new droid in the shape of a the inhabitants from down below. The effect was quite striking. "Captain Cafran, may I?"


Rhonda's voice changed noticeably. "Captain Tella Razziress, Forcassa Project. This is to be my last log. By the date on the computer, it is now the first day of the year 1785. It has been four hundred years since the war of Heeram and Tream, and as I look out the periscope I see Ritacha did not survive the war at all. There is ice as far as my vision will reach. The radio is silent. The logs show that the land here is undisturbed for almost as long as we have been asleep."

Rhonda's chest expanded in a visible sigh. "Therefore it has become my duty to fulfill the first doctrine of the Forcassa project. I have released the radiation-hardy spores included in the eight explosive bunkers distributed about campus into the atmosphere. Someday, somehow, may their descendants evolve to excavate this facility and learn from our mistakes.

"There are no provisions for someone to put themselves into cryogenics without assistance, there is little food available immediately within the bunker, and there is no heat anyway. I have decided to not interfere in the natural course of my fellow cryonauts; they will die peacefully, in their sleep, never knowing that we failed, we all failed, to reach a clean, new world."

Although Rhonda was attempting to narrate, she was also attempting to convey accurately the events heard within the bunker. A few people jumped when, from nowhere, came the distinct and universal sound of the slide being pulled back on a pistol. "May Goddess have compassion when we meet." A loud BANG, the sound of a slumping body, and then silence, filled the conference room.

Cafran visibly swallowed in his recovery. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, counted to ten, then said, "Okay. We all have jobs to do. Fezzik, give me a miracle."

"Aye sir."

"This meeting is closed."