Author : Willis Weatherford

Weighty darkness pushed in on the edges of the cavern, craving admittance to the subterranean council meeting. Eight faces made ominous by three weeks of beard growth stared across the glowrods at one another. Blued gun barrels, gripped tightly, glinted softly, and the steady flow of an installed stream gurgled up from a crack in the floor, like the last bloody breaths of a dying animal. They were the Remnant.

“Chronos, how long until sunrise at our entrance point?”, inquired Achilles with a quick glance at the timekeeper. Chronos had been an executive before the Excavation and Descent, and owned the only working watch. His detail oriented mind was also adept at estimating the two times that still mattered: sunset and sunrise.

“Five minutes until the sun first touches the horizon.” They had quickly discovered – all of them – that the Excavators could still function in the pre-dawn sunrise glow. Only direct light sent them lumbering underground.

“Good.” Achilles rubbed his heel, injured in a past foray. He had chosen his “Nom de Bellum”, as they called their new names, for just that reason. One of the first things they had done after the Excavation was cut out the subdermal IDNodes and change their names. Both had been crimes against the State before the Excavators emerged. Now, there was no State to enforce the Universal Identification Act of 2063, and any connection to the DataBase was a death sentance.

“We top out in one minute, arrive at the target at 0 past sunrise, extract Citizens 11 and 12 within two minutes, reboard as soon as possible, and hopefully return by 8 past sunrise.” Everyone seated around the glowrods was familiar with this routine by now. Everyone except citizens 7 and 8, now renamed Guns and Bolts, had been on at least one or two successful rescue missions. Guns and Bolts had been on only one, a failed attempt to extract citizens 9 and 10. They had been Guns’ friends. He glowered in the monochrome light, eyes sunken and red.

“Remember,” Achilles said with a new weight in his voice, “more than two is not an option. Gravity will not allow it. Only 11 and 12, nobody else. Ok. Let’s move out.”

Eight pairs of boots stomped through the grey dust towards the surface. At the hatch, they donned tanks, and regulators, and headlamps. The hatch opened, the cold rushed in, and they walked out onto the dark surface. A few miles away, they could see the familiar band of sunlight right where it always was, highlighted on the circular rims of craters. A few steps brought them to the only remaining functional vessel: StateProbe 21. They clambered inside, buckled in, and blasted off towards the earth. As they hurtled through space, Chronos could see the Moon quickly diminishing behind them from one window, and the earth quickly growing in another. They were headed straight for the line between terrestrial day and night, light and darkness. Then he caught Achilles’ eye. The old man, once a maintenance worker at a city park, gave a grim smile, and gave a familiar speech:

“Rescue Mission 5 is underway. May we bring new souls from the terror of light into the safety of darkness. May each man count it a glory to blow even one Excavator off the surface of our planet. May our return add a few more to the the Remnant.”

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