The air was hot and damp from all the people crammed into the tiny room. It would have made more sense to hold the extraordinary hearing in the mess hall rather than the small and poorly lit conference room. Metal chairs scraped across the floor as seated spectators rose to leave. Although the council still had a few items of business to handle, most of the people had only been interested in the outcome of Franco’s trial.
As the security team retrieved his father, Rand place his arm around his sister, pulling her close. The thought of never seeing his father again made his heart pound in his chest, and he was sure everyone in the room could hear it. At fourteen years old, Rand was nearly as tall as his mother. Their eyes met, and he could see Hannah fighting back tears as well. It was an uncommon bond that held the fragile Solis family together. Franco would have taken Hannah as his wife if such unions were permitted, but the city of Cheyenne didn’t recognize family ties.
A tear slid down his father’s cheek, but he couldn’t wipe it away with his hands bound securely behind his back. “I’m sorry,” he said to them as he was led from the room.
The following morning, Rand stood rigidly at the brig’s bulletproof window, trying to look older and more confident than he felt. “Let me see him,” he demanded.
“I can’t do that, Rand. I have strict orders not to allow the prisoner to speak to anyone.” The gangly security guard stood behind the glass, his face flushed from the heat. Cheyenne didn’t waste precious energy cooling the brig.
Rand placed his hands on the steel counter. “He’s scheduled for process in less than an hour. You know I can’t see him in the recycle center; it’s a sterile environment. If I’m going to say goodbye, it has to be here.”
Before the guard could turn away, Rand begged, “Please. He’s my father.”
“I’m sorry,” the guard said, but he didn’t look sorry. “Franco never should have insisted that you and Jacinda know he was your father. It’s unseemly. The only reason I know whose DNA I carry is because my last name is Coen, meaning one of the Coen males is my father.”
“But he did tell us,” Rand said quietly. “I remember the first years of my life with him and my mother, the years before I was placed in Gen Pop, and I have a bond with both of them.”
The guard shook his head. “That’s part of the reason Franco is sitting in a cell waiting to be recycled; he never followed the rules. I, for one, believe in following the rules. Where would Cheyenne be if everyone did whatever they wanted?”
“I just want to say goodbye. Everything he says to me will be recorded so it isn’t like he can start any kind of revolution.”
“I’m sorry, Rand. I have my orders.” The guard closed the communication tube.
Anger welled up inside Rand and, for a moment, he considered his chances of success if he forced the issue, but the guard was never going to open the gray metal door marked VISITORS, and Rand knew of nothing powerful enough to break the glass. After a moment, he nodded curtly and walked away. It wouldn’t help his sister if he ended up in the brig beside his father.
Franco’s dissension over Jacinda’s career assignment had cost him his life, and it was little comfort to Rand that, in doing so, another child would be born. Rand cursed under his breath as he walked through the tunnel that connected the brig to the armory. His father was right; Jacinda was by far the most talented musician to be born in Cheyenne in three generations. Relegating her to the kitchens was a disservice to the city, but Franco wasn’t the first citizen to be found guilty of treason by trying to change the laws.
It was early October, twenty years after Franco Solis had been convicted of treason, and the Com Room was quiet. Pearl-gray LED light gently colored the peeling beige paint on the dingy walls. Sitting at an ancient computer screen, Rand Solis studied satellite images. As a topographer, his responsibility included looking for signs of manmade constructions among the thousands of square miles of landscape photographed each day. The work was tedious but made more interesting when Rand imagined himself walking through the thick forests or climbing up the rugged mountains he studied.
Across from Rand, in the narrow Com Room, Nathan Forsythe sat at his communications center thumbing through an old novel. Books were very rare in the city, the most radical having been destroyed long ago. Although the computer mainframe held e-books and old videos from the days before the Last Human War, both Rand and Nathan enjoyed the privacy of reading the rare printed page. Nathan’s favorite novels explored the tactics and military strategy warfare, which helped him beat Rand at chess, Twix, and Risk. Rand leaned more toward science fiction, space opera, and the strength of human resolve.
Rand studied the satellite images on the screen before him as Nathan tipped his chair back and to read “The Logic of War and Peace” for the fifth time. The gentle turning of pages was the only sound in until, after seven hundred years of monitoring the ancient receiver, the transmitter crackled to life, emitting a steady beeping sound.
Leaning back on two legs as he was, the noise startled him and Nathan almost fell over. Recovering quickly, he shouted, “Rand! Look at this!” The sweep of the radar showed a blip at the very top edge of the screen.
Rand was already on his feet as Nathan began punching keys, opening the intercom to the Observation Bay. “I’m receiving an unidentified signal,” he shouted into the microphone.
Rand was standing behind Nathan before he finished the report. “Do you trust the readings?” Rand asked cautiously. “The blip could be a malfunction. This equipment is more than six hundred years old.”
“The signal is faint and coming from the most northern edge of communication range. I don’t know if it’s real or not.”
Rand dashed back to his computer and his fingers raced across the keyboard, calling up all the information he could find regarding the signal they were receiving. After several minutes of research, Rand whispered, “For the love of light. The signal is coming from a Kloussen Drive. I know legends claim the hard-drive would someday be returned to us, but it can’t be. No one really believes those old myths.”
Nathan’s hand shook as he held the microphone and tuned the transmitter frequency. On October fourth, Nathan made the first contact with anyone outside of the city for more than six hundred years. Nervously, he said, “We are south of you. Please come to us.”
The two men heard what might have been a girl squeak loudly, and then a frightened whisper, “Who said that?”
The signal was fading, quickly, Nathan pleaded, “Don’t take it from the sun.” But the signal died as he spoke the words.
While Rand and Nathan stared at the screen, hoping the signal would return, Jack Delaney called from the Observation Bay. “Was that it? That all you got?”
Visibly shaken, Nathan leaned over the intercom microphone. “Yeah, signal’s gone. We’ll keep trying to re-establish contact, but there isn’t much we can do. The satellite ears are at maximum already.”
Two hours later, the two men gave up trying to pick up the signal.
Rand retied the string that held his long dark hair in place at the nape of his neck. His hair was thick and grew fast. It would be ready for harvesting in another month. “Do you really think that came from a Kloussen Drive?” he asked his coworker.
Nathan blew out a sigh, still somewhat shaken by the event. “I don’t know. Seems pretty unlikely to me.” He rubbed a hand over the stubble of beard on his chin, almost as long as his dark blond hair. Nathan hated shaving and often went for weeks before Rand harassed him into recycling the hair.
At his computer, Rand c