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Chapter 32: Whispers From the Past

The crew gave Irsa, Becka and Caleb the tour. Nike led the way. "This is the storage room," she said as they passed the first door on the right. "The hallway on the right leads to the airlock and various systems. The hallway on the left will take you to the cockpit. Engineering and the captain's quarters are down there also." They walked straight past the two corridors and turned left down a short hallway into a large room with many tables and chairs. "This is our mess hall. There's an entertainment system in that room, more storage, a separate dining hall and the kitchen is through there. There's not much food. Our other passengers have been kind enough to supply us with a few loaves of bread, some dried fruits and meats."

They left the dining area and went to the large double doors across the hallway. Nike opened them. "At the end of this hall is an exercise room, restrooms and showers. There's a medical room at the far end. Choose yourselves a room that's not already locked and make yourselves comfortable but don't take too much time. We'll meet in the cockpit in 15 minutes to discuss our situation."

Everyone went their separate ways.

Percy swung by the bridge and picked up his bag of stuff from the Warden. He took it back to the crew quarters where he thought he'd dump it along with his suit of armor. It naturally occurred to him to just pick the first one he came upon, so he tried to gain access to the first room on the right. He fished his card out of his fanny pack and swiped it over the passcard panel. A readout activated: 'Access denied'.

He figured the room was already claimed. He turned about face and tried the passcard panel to the room labeled 'H'. The panel lit and the door opened. Satisfied with his brute-force, linear search of rooms, he walked in and saw a triple bunk on the right, a desk with a computer terminal on the left and some shelves and cabinets. "This'll do nicely," he said to himself as he walked in. The door closed behind him. Percy Jenkins, the junk collector, threw his bag and helmet onto the middle bunk.

Looking at himself in the mirror on the backside of the door, he saw how silly he really looked. "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" He laughed.

There were scorch marks on the suit from the firefight he'd survived on the Warden before their escape into the hangar bay. Some of the burn marks were too close for comfort. It had served its purpose and he was glad to have picked it up. But honestly he felt more human, more himself, in his loose fitting crew uniform. He stripped off the light duralloy plated suit of armor and threw it, too, on the middle bunk.

From his cloth "bag o' stuff", he retrieved the Post-It Notes and stuffed them in his pants' pocket. He was about to close the bag when he noticed again the black silk boxer shorts (2 pocket variety) that Zhaxier had thrown at him before disappearing. It wasn't the first and it wouldn't be the last time he wondered what had become of the invisible propulsion engineer. He stuffed everything back in the bag and tucked the laser pistol half way into his pants' standard issue stretchy-waist.

He sat down at the computer terminal on the desk. His first thought was to pull up the ShipNet and check his mail. So that's what he did, just for the heck of it. It wasn't as if he had any important crew communications to read before going on shift, but the routine comforted him somewhat. Communications being down between the ship and Warden frustrated his efforts, but he tried anyway. He looked for a copy of the Warden mail files, but found only local logs. There were no inbound or outbound messages. The 'sent messages' directory was empty.

He found a copy of the Warden's personnel database. There were over a million names listed. He looked up his own record and discovered a page of data on himself, the former Percy that is. He browsed for a bit then switched the terminal off. Before leaving the desk, he wrote a note for himself on a Post-It: 'Encrypted signal'.

Percy remembered the promise he'd made of coffee and the green haired girl and flying hamster he'd made it to, so he wasted no more time and headed for the door. There was another passcard panel on the inside. He swiped his card against it and put it back in his fanny pouch. 'Jenkins, Percy' displayed on the passcard panel's readout. Another memory came to him unbidden and he was pleasantly surprised (he still hadn't remembered everything, but he guessed this was one of the cheese parts and not the hole parts of his Swiss Memory.) He put his thumb against the panel.

'Thumbprint unknown. Please swipe passcard.'

"Didn't you just get that information you senseless piece of junk?" Percy the computer tech asked accusingly as he fished his card back out of his fanny pack. He swiped it again. 'Jenkins, Percy. Thumbprint saved. Door locked. You may now use your passcard or thumbprint to lock or unlock this door.'

"Well as I'm trying to leave the freaking ROOM..." Percy grumbled. He pressed his thumb against the door again. 'Jenkins, Percy. Door unlocked.' He opened the sliding door and walked out. Turning around, he pushed his thumb against the panel again. 'Jenkins, Percy. Door locked.' He sighed at the technology - he'd have to hack it later to make it more efficient.

Percy headed for the dining hall but he suddenly remembered there wasn't any coffee. He made a quick detour back to the garage and the matter compiler.

Percy looked through the Emergency Equipment directory and found 'Hot Joe Now®' instant coffee and granulated sugar. He put in a high priority order for both and read the instructions while he waited: 'Add hot water'.

Irsa claimed room 'B' and put her weapons under the bed. "Wow," she thought, "This place is great. I wonder what's for our next meal?" She left her room and headed for the cockpit.

Caleb walked up and down the hallway twice before settling on room 'K'. He stowed his axe under the bed and sat down for a minute. Deciding to make the room 'his', he relieved himself in the corner. Satisfied that the room smelled like it belonged to him, he headed for the galley where he ate his fill. The trip down in the escape pod had been a long one and he was hungry. His hunger satisfied, he headed for the cockpit.

Becka claimed cabin 'A'. Before long she grew restless again and left her quarters. She wandered about the ship with any eye for small pieces of loose technology. She eventually found her way to the ship's storage room. The room was filled with so much good stuff she almost couldn't believe it! She took the duffle bag and filled it with two medkits, a solar cell recharger, three type IV small hydrogen cells, a blanket, a water bottle, a jacket, hand radio, binoculars, a hardbound book with a cloth cover and a small device she didn't recognize but was certainly curious about.

She carried the bag back to her room without being seen. She put the bag in the cabinet then went to the kitchen to find something to eat. As she walked she imagined the lifeboat in the air again, with her in it. The revelation of the Warden's nature had come as a surprise to her. Could the Warden be like this vehicle, only unimaginably larger? She comprehended the possibility.

Bud walked through the ship, feeling somewhat better about things since he had fired a weapon. He found the first unlocked room, cabin 'J', and claimed it.

He gently laid the plaser on one of the bunks. He couldn't help but be drawn to the power of the weapon. He looked around. Fully aware no one was watching, he bent over to sniff the barrel of the recently discharged deathstick.

Realizing the conference would soon start, he washed his face, straightened his centuries-old attire and headed to meet his companions. Along the way he whistled a jaunty nautical tune and wondered if the decompiled sand creatures could be turned into beer ....

Nike took a moment to return to her quarters. She had been under tremendous pressure for so long that her body was starting to require some sort of release... Should she? Could she?

She could have assigned anyone to get the recyclables. But she wanted Arkady alone, in case...

"Dammit, get a hold of yourself soldier!" she said to herself sternly. She marched back out of her quarters in search of the Big Ass Robot.

Nike finally found THX-1492 outside with Arkady. They were examining the aircar the Big Ass Robot had flown in. As she approached them, she heard Arkady say, "Why don't we park it in the lifeboat's garage?" THX turned at Nike's approach. Arkady looked up. He smiled and said, "Oh, hi."

Nike forgot why she'd come looking for the robot. The smell of the night air suddenly made her think of Thom again. She remembered another moment they had shared together. Her cheeks colored. Arkady wondered at her far away look. He followed her gaze into the cabin of the aircar. "What do you think of the jet?"

"Huh?" she asked. "Oh, well I..." She shook off her daze. "I've never seen anything like it."

"Me neither, but that doesn't mean much. Do you think we should bring it on board?"

"Yeah, that's a good idea."

THX climbed into the torn cabin chair and Nike directed it onto the cargo door. They rode the lift into the garage. It was a tight fit, but it closed all the way without scratching anything. Hephaestus continued hauling the recycling up the gangplank.

"Emergency situation," Percy explained as the lift stopped. Arkady and Nike jumped. Percy sensed tension. He'd been awakened as a clone a few days ago and hadn't had coffee but once! Memories of coffee came rushing to him. The words 'coffee addict' percolated into his thoughts. "Must have coffee!" he exclaimed as the compiler beeped. He removed two small containers and left the garage.

"We should make extra headsets and blank passcards," Arkady suggested. Nike nodded in agreement. Arkady punched up six of each and shut the security door while the devices started compiling. He went next to the armory to show Nike the weapons they had on hand. He returned the Sturmkarabiner to its place in the rack.

Nike struggled with her urges and her sense of duty. Everyone else was waiting for them in the cockpit. Instead she was idly counting the boxes of 9mm armor piercing, high explosive rounds to cool her emotions.

"What d'ya think?" Arkady asked.

"I don't know. I'd like to think we won't need any of it, but I've grown kind of cynical. I wasn't born yesterday, you know."

Arkady returned her smile. "Weren't you?"

"Yeah, actually I was."

"Hey, I've been around for nearly four days. I guess that makes me twice as old as you!" They laughed and the tension between them melted. They locked the armory and headed for the cockpit.

Percy entered the kitchen. Becka was there eating bread and dried fruit. "Just in time for coffee," he said. "It's not exactly Kona, but it'll do." He found a pitcher and filled it with water. He heated the water in the oven while he found a couple of cups and a spoon. He measured a few spoonfuls of black powder into each cup. When the oven beeped, he poured the hot water over the powder. He stirred it with the spoon and smelled the beverage. It reminded him of a campground on level 11, and late nights at work. He offered it to Becka. "Careful, it's hot. There's sugar if you like it sweet," Percy indicated a container with a granulated white substance in it.

Becka took the hot beverage. She warmed her hands on the cup. She seemed distracted, as if she could hear sounds or voices that Percy couldn't.

"Well, uh, we'd better get to the cockpit." Percy wondered how sane the girl was as he slowly left the kitchen. Becka followed him. He led the way out of the mess hall and down the corridor to the cockpit. Everyone else was there waiting for them. Percy noticed Amanda cradling her rifle. She seemed to be fondling it. Bailey was working at Percy's computer. Nike stood beside him. She was talking to him about something on the monitor. She looked up and noticed Percy.

"Ah, we're all here," she said. "Let's get started. We have a map to show you, but let's get better acquainted first. My name is Nike. My friends Percy, Chelydra, Amanda, Arkady and I are all Alpha Sequence clones. The Warden's computers cloned us in response to what it considered an emergency, although it's a mystery to us why we weren't cloned hundreds of years ago when radiation killed most of the Warden's passengers and crew. Percy, Chelydra and I woke up on the Warden a few days ago and have been trying to reestablish control of the ship. Our friend Zhaxier also woke up with us but we haven't seen him since shortly before we boarded this ship. His whereabouts are unknown. We met Amanda and Arkady while exploring the Warden. We also met Rufus who's no longer with us."

"His body's in the medbay awaiting a proper burial," Percy added.

"We've been running for our lives until now. The section of the Warden that we passed through seemed to have been under the control of an android that called itself the Watcher. It sent robots to kills us. We managed to secure this lifeboat but we were shot and damaged when we left the Warden. We crashed on this planet. We've repaired the ship and it is now fully operational."

"Except for the ship's higher AI functions," Percy noted. "The ship's computers are functioning, but not the ship's AI, Pandora."

"Right, thanks Percy. Percy's our computer specialist. Arkady is our pilot. Chelydra is security. I'm a marine and captain of this here lifeboat. Then we have Bud and Bailey. They're not clones. We found them here, frozen in the medbay. Speaking of which, I'm still unclear as to how you came to be on this lifeboat."

Bud shifted nervously. Bailey looked at him in the awkward silence. "Oh, well we... You know there was a mutiny, right?" Bud asked.

"Yeah, I remember something about it," Percy replied. "Captain Margulis scrambled the command and navigation systems to prevent the mutineers from taking control of the ship. It happened long after the radiation disaster, I think."

"That's right. The mutiny happened just after the Warden arrived at 82 Eridani."

"And?" Nike said after another awkward silence.

"...and Bailey and I were both in the Warden Delta Corps security forces." Bailey nodded.

"That doesn't explain why you were frozen on this ship."

"We were sent into S-Tower in the City with orders to neutralize a group of mutineers that had occupied the officer's quarters. We were captured, but we had a spy among them that managed to get us frozen instead of murdered. We have no idea why we woke up hundreds of years after that instead of just a few hours. Those are the facts," Bud grinned charmingly.

Nike smiled back and continued with the introductions, "Shlitzee's the robot with the Mohawk. There are four other robots still functioning on this ship: two general purpose robots, a propulsion engineering robot named Terminus and a general engineering robot named Hephaestus."

"Waaaaitaminute! How did you know about Terminus?"

"While you guys were still embarking and fiddling with the janitor bots in the hangar, Pandora helped me configure the ship for our use," she smiled. "Of course that was back when Pandora still worked, before the crash. Finally, this gentleman here is Horatio and the five men with him are his students. Horatio's a priest of, uh... Excuse me Horatio, what do you call your religion?"

Horatio looked puzzled. "We do not call it anything. We worship John Galt like everyone else. Why should that have a name? There is no other religion."

"Right," Nike replied sarcastically. "Good point. Anyway, they're our guests for the time being. That's about all there is to know about us. What's the story with you guys?" she said to THX-1492, Caleb, Becka and Irsa.

Irsa looked thoughtful. "I was being chased by a Chomper beast down a corridor. I'd gotten ahead of it and met Becka who showed me an escape hatch we could use to ditch the Chomper. Then we pressed something and ended up here."

Becka had listened to Nike's story, but she had difficulty understanding her because of the unfamiliar words and the other voices that only Becka could hear. Nervously, she described her own story, "It was that Watcher thing that was attacking my home on Warden! I was just coming back from some lower decks, and everything was going crazy. People were screaming and there was fire in the dwellings. And then there was that machine-monster. That's what I was running from when I met Irsa. Or ran into Irsa. Nearly knocked me down. But you know, I'm bigger than her. Then we hid in a lift. Well... I thought it was a lift... guess I was wrong about that. So here I am," she said with a shy shrug.

"If we're not on the Warden anymore," Irsa said, "how do we get back?"

"Sadly, this ship wasn't designed to escape an Earth-like planet's gravity," Nike responded.

A grave moment of silence followed. Horatio chanted a verse of scripture from memory:
"The force of gravity between two bodies shall be proportional to the product of their masses and weaken with the distance squared. And the force shall be attractive and directed along a straight line between the bodies. And this shall be Newton�s law of gravity."
Percy nearly choked on his coffee. "What was that?"

"The words of the Prophet Benalidino."

"Oh man! Where have we landed?" Arkady wondered out loud.

"Show us the map, Bailey." He punched a few keys on the computer and the machinery in front of Nike's command console projected a three dimensional hologram depicting the surrounding landscape. A model of the lifeboat hovered in the center, high above the terrain. Bailey had combined the data from the radar, infrared and visual light sensors to create a composite map.

"The yellow areas," Bailey explained, "are areas of heat and visible light. The red areas are emitting heat only."

"What can you tell us about this place, Horatio?" Nike asked.

Horatio unfastened himself from his seat and approached the projection. He stared at it in bewilderment. Nike explained to him that it was a map of the surrounding desert and mountains and they had flown into the sky to get a better view. "I see. We are seeing through the bird's eyes? This is the dune sea. These are the mountains where we live." He pointed at the model in the middle, "The bird can see itself? Galt's blood! Did we really fly that high?"

Nike nodded, "Yes. It can fly even higher than that, too. What are these lights? Are they cities?"

Horatio pointed to the yellow lights in the far north, "This is where Eden is." He pointed to the other lights, "This is where Sigai is, and Amann, Lachish, Gexer, Farra, Gerax, Bethany, Gabath, Mirsai, Gibeon, Gadara, Debir, Geba, Adaxa, Bodeda, Qumran, Taanack, Abraxa, Migai, Endor, Megiddo, Chorazin and Gibbon. There are more cities in this direction," he said pointing north. "But, something is wrong." Horatio pointed at the yellow light at Sigai. "There should never be any light outdoors after sundown."

"Why is that?" Chelydra asked.

"The Spragni do not want to be seen at night by the creatures that roam the dunes."

"Do the sandstars, I mean Sikalas, attack your people at night?" Arkady asked.

"The Sikalas rarely ever leave the sand. No, there are much worse things to fear in the desert. Demons dwell there. Monsters that can take any shape they wish. They can swallow a man whole or take his sanity."

"Then why are all these other cities lit up?" Nike asked.

"My tribe, the Hithari, are well defended at Eden. The demons are powerless against them. These cities, however, are Rota colonies." Horatio indicated the cities on the eastern side of the mountains: Endor, Megiddo, Chorazin and Gibbon. "They are blasphemers. They are tempted by the demons. They seek them out, hoping to steal their power."

THX-1492 examined the motley crew assembled around the cockpit. They were looking at each other silently, slowly processing Horatio's information. THX had assumed that Arkady was their leader, but unfortunately there seemed to be no one of command rank to divulge its information to. Perhaps an officer was there but in camouflage? "This unit requires command level authentication to divulge information concerning origins and purpose. Do any crew present possess such authority?"

With a puzzled look on his face, Caleb replied, "Ship's Security Officer Caleb La Trans, Command Authorization Code C89055555A674543345 requests you divulge information concerning origins and purpose." He wondered to himself, "Now where did that information come from?"

THX-1492 authenticated the Command Code. "This unit is THX mark III engineering Veribot numerical designation one four nine two constructed year 2284 and assigned Warden. Colony ship exited Sol System 2290. Warden arrived at 82 Eridani year 2336. Partial telemetry decoded by Eridani core system computers verified fatal system corruption of Warden main systems due to radiation in year 2303. Warden officers Captain Jamar, First Lieutenant Matahachi and others landed on 82 Eridani in dropship to acquire rescue technology. This unit accompanied Warden officers aboard dropship and taken to Eridani central planetary core system where it received download of programming to repair/reboot Warden central core programming. While officers Jamar and Matahachi on planet's surface, Warden left orbit on course Rho Cancri. Captain Jamar, First Lt Matahachi, this unit THX-1492, remaining Warden crew and Eridani volunteers retrofitted UWSC Colony Ship Alexandria with priority emergency orders to rescue colony ship Warden. Crew placed in cryogenic suspension.

"Upon arrival 52 light years Rho Cancri, Colony Ship Warden not present. Whereabouts unknown. Alexandria crew landed Rho Cancri for resupply to continue Warden search. Crew found and explored ancient ruins. This unit successfully installed programming of archeology bot processors to explore ruins. This unit then returned to dropship for energization of batteries and deactivated." While THX spoke, it transmitted data to the ship's computer. A map appeared in the holoprojector.

"Upon reactivation, this unit experienced extreme distortions in space-time continuum. Internal chronometer is reset. Current year unknown. All other internal systems nominal. Alexandria dropship demonstrated severe aging with evidence crew death and battle scarring of dropship. Explanations unknown. This unit took aircar from dropship to Warden lifeboat to meet current crew.

"This unit's priority programming mandates immediate transportation to Warden colonization ship. Upon arrival, this unit will identify and repair corrupted robotic, computer, and cybernetic mainframe installation programming aboard Warden. Resistance from corrupted biologic, mechanical, or cybernetic units aboard Warden will not be allowed to compromise Priority Mission. Status addendum: in year 2342, en route to planet Rho Cancri, Alexandria received Priority One orders in narrow band frequency from Sol System routed through 82 Eridani. Captain Jamar acknowledged message upon awakening from cryogenic suspension in year 2555 upon arrival at Rho Cancri."

THX's modulated robotic voice was replaced by a recorded female voice from the distant past. "Priority Code Alpha-Omega: Gold Channel signal origin --000 Earth system-- destination: **All Terran Colonies*** ............Repeat...........Priority Code Alpha-Omega: Gold Channel.................All Units.............All ships...........All colonies..........Home planet Earth and all Sol System Colonies decimated by massive asteroid strikes during year 2322. Earth and Sol colony survivors have been unable to prevent the Great Dying in succeeding eleven years. Priority One order from UWSC Premier Toranaga: All Terran colony ships are to be retrieved for purpose of ensuring survival of human race. All military units to defend Colony Ships at all costs. All colonies to put maximum efforts into population breeding. All robotic and cybernetic units to prioritize protection of reproducing human females and offspring at all costs. All other considerations deemed irrelevant by order of surviving UWSC authorities."

The voice was strong and determined, but her voice wavered and broke into despair. "To anyone who is out there listening.................. This will be the last message from Earth................ We've used the last of our power to transmit this message. There's no more food. Not much can grow here anymore, not through the clouds and the cold. Asteroid's Winter has made sure of that. The few of us that are left are too weak and tired to fight anymore. At least that's a good thing. After the asteroids hit, governments fell apart and then the Food Wars started. Yeah, that helped things a lot!" She laughed hysterically.

"Then Toranaga took over three years ago. He said the human race was dying and drastic action was necessary. The food that was left was given to childbearing women and the children. The elderly, the sickly, the disabled, and those carrying genetic mutations were starved. Anyone who disagreed or who refused to allow impregnation was shot. As horrible as that was, none of the rest of us cared. We let him do it. At least we weren't so hungry anymore. But then the babies started dying. They think something was put in the water. RumorNet said some starving scientist bent on revenge did it. Who knows? It doesn't matter anymore. Then all the miscarriages began. I lost my baby last month (uncontrollable sobbing)....................... Please take care of yourselves........... Save who you can................. Please.................... for the babies..............the babies............................the babies..................."

The passengers and crew heard a gunshot then radio static. THX-1492's voice returned to normal. "No further transmissions were received by Alexandria crew or this unit from Sol colonies since that date."

Percy was at a loss for coherent words. He stared at THX, his hands gripping the coffee mug tightly. He tried to process all the information. "You guys tried to save us. You launched the Alex to rescue Warden but you arrived at this planet hundreds of years before we did. Whoa." Percy let that sink in for just a microsecond before continuing, "You experienced distortions in the space-time continuum? Whoa. The entire Sol system is destroyed?! Frak!!" He sank into a chair and said blankly, "Pardon my French, captain."

Nike spoke slowly, as if staring into a black hole from which her thoughts would not escape. Her tightly controlled emotions betrayed no sign yet of her reaction. "Apology accepted, and permission granted to further vituperate as needed, Mister Jenkins."

"Thanks," Percy replied. "FRAK!" He had thought he only had the Warden to save. No small task, but he had almost fooled himself into thinking he could do it, with the others' help of course, assuming they could get Pandora back to Warden, and avoid or defeat the Watcher and his crazy bots, and restore command and navigation access, and fire up the engines without the help of a second class propulsion engineer... All trivialities he had silently pondered, encapsulating them into a 'burn that bridge when we get to it' box. But saving the human race from extinction was going to be hard for this computer programming technical trainer.

Irsa looked stunned. "Warden was the human's last chance at survival", she thought. "What about the rest of us? Are we just accidents that happened or is there a reason for our existence? Maybe to help the humans?" Irsa looked at the others and realized she was not the only one to find this report both incredible and very scary. She needed to think about this news which had turned simple survival into a quest to restore the Warden.

THX-1492 observed the stunned reactions, then turned to Caleb. "Security Officer Caleb La Trans, as you know, Gold Channel Priority Alpha-Omega orders cannot be countermanded or altered in any way. This ship and all aboard must make all efforts to reacquire the Warden, reboot central core systems and begin repopulation of the human species."

Caleb nodded and said, "True, we must do everything in our power to repair the Warden. Do we know how to get back to the ship?"

"Presuming we have access to the necessary compiler schemas, it would take about 9 months to mine, construct and assemble a launch platform and boosters," Arkady replied.

"If we had control of a ship already in orbit with a beanstalk, an elevator base would take only a few weeks," Bailey suggested.

"If only I could remember more, I might be of more use," Percy said. If he could remember the mutiny, he must have somehow updated his original cloning profile with a new memory engram. What else had the original him tried to download into the clone banks on the off chance he would actually be cloned? He started to get paranoid that he might actually hold some secret to the Warden's survival--never mind that THX-1492 seemed to have all the programs needed to save her--but Percy couldn't remember anything else.

THX looked at Nike, Amanda, and Becka. "Gold Channel Priority Alpha-Omega orders mandate protection of reproductive females at all costs. What are your plans for impregnation?"

Caleb grinned at the three women. "Yes, what are your plans for impregnation, ladies?"

Percy smiled but kept his questions about defying command/crew protocol and initiating species-survival-affecting romance to himself. He was too old for that kind of youthful pursuit, anyway, and he sure wouldn't find it easy to objectify survival of the species into something emotionless or loveless. He'd had enough failed relationships, he suddenly remembered.

"Whoa!" Arkady laughed. "Maybe we can find 'A Boy and His Dog' on the Omega Box and watch it over breakfast?"

Bud chuckled but otherwise kept quiet while he pondered the situation. Humanity had been pretty well spread out in the home system, but asteroids had taken out all of Sol system? Hmmm... A lifetime of counterinsurgency had predisposed his thoughts toward conspiracy. The scope of the disaster lent itself to directed action. His thoughts immediately switched to Terra's colonies: Tau Ceti, Ophiuchi & Eridani. Multiple colony ships had been launched even before Warden. If someone/thing had it out for Homo Sapiens, they might have struck again... Conversely, humans might have already struck back. Bud's intel seemed a little out of date. "THX-1492, orders concerning human reproduction capabilities are incomplete. Functional cloning technology aboard Warden has greatly enhanced reproductive capabilities of local gene pool." His mind raced, "Ruins? What did your archeology turn up regarding previous inhabitants?"

"Unknown. This unit activated after general purpose robots exposed a large, rectangular building made of basalt. This unit reprogrammed them for archeological work and shutdown. After reboot everything had changed. This unit never saw artifacts retrieved."

"Where is the Alexandria now?" Bud asked. "And what's up with time/space distortions?"

"Alexandria's location unknown. This unit does not know how long it's been shutdown. Perhaps the Alexandria still in orbit. Time/space distortions also unknown. This unit saw these images in and around the dropship at the excavation."

Images began to play on the holoprojector. First they saw a half naked man wielding a metal pipe like a club. He swung it toward the camera in slow motion. The pipe struck THX's tentacle and broke apart like a gas or a cloud. A fraction of a second later, the point of contact burst into bright white light. The light spread quickly to the rest of the man's body. The transformation continued from his feet to the ground and soon eclipsed everything except the sky. Then the light gradually faded to reveal an excavation and a decrepit dropship overgrown by jungle. Next they saw a broken door, permanently open, in a corridor inside the dropship. Suddenly, the entire corridor burst into bright white light. The camera switched to infrared and displayed the door now closed; the entire corridor was evenly heated, slightly above room temperature. The camera switched back to visible light. The corridor was now spotless. The door opened and a man stepped through. On his chest was a patch that read 'Matahachi'.

"Hello THX, is everything ok?" Matahachi asked. "We don't have any scheduled software updates, or much of anything else for you to do here for the time being."

"Lt. Matahachi, this unit has just experienced spatial-time disorientation. Can you describe current status of ship and crew?"

"Time disorientation? That's curious, isn't it?" Matahachi asked in return, but there was no reply. "The engines are not working," he continued. "The dropship is grounded and the crew are all gone. There's a new mission. I am here to supply you with new software and a new piece of hardware."

"This unit is ready to access new orders and instrumentation, Lieutenant."

"Ok," Matahachi replied. "I need you to shutdown. Do you have any final questions?"

"Negative, Officer Matahachi."

"Very well. THX-1492, Please shutdown. I hope to see you again very soon. Until then, pleasant dreams," Matahachi smiled affectionately.

The image faded. "These are the orders I received from Lieutenant Matahachi." THX transmitted the readme file to the ship's computer. It displayed on the monitor in front of Nike. She sat down to read it.
The UWSC CS Warden has arrived in orbit. Some of her crew are landing and require your assistance. I will transmit their location to you on a frequency bookmarked in your radio as 'Warden Crew'. I will continuously transmit their location until you make contact. If their location changes, my transmission will be updated. Their projected landing site is significantly far from your current position, so you will need a vehicle. Nearby you will find several aircars in fine working order and sufficiently fueled. Their location is marked on your GPS.

Trust your instincts and good luck.

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