From the crest of the fossilized sand dune, Bru looked out on the wide desert plain. Wind whispered a gritty rattle as it shushed in her hair. She scanned the desert through binoculars— a tower, a wall circling the tower, vehicles, dozens of them. She stowed the binoculars, set the recorder, opened the scanner then worked her way down the dune. The slope was steep, the rock hot and gritty. Several times, she slid, but righted herself. The only sound the scraping of her boots.
Heading across the plain, she stopped to scan the rusting, rotting vehicles, not surprised to find bones in them, bones in ragged black or sun-bleached uniforms, cracked sun-eaten boots. As she walked, the scanner chimed as it catalogued the bones, dated the age and size of the remains, and counted the equipment. Pushing on into the sun, she came to a stack of skulls. She knelt. She found a hole in the forehead of each skull. Legend said that at C-1, there was a daughter who had six hundred kills, all of them shots to the head. But Bru saw no horse bones. Kaavi had written that there were bones of horses at Foundation, but she saw none. Perhaps Kaavi had made a mistake. Bru closed on the wall that loomed up like a rusted red shield.
A structure of welded metal. Leading up to the wall there were killing channels, machines of all kinds strapped together with rusting steel bands. The channels narrowed into kill boxes as they approached the wall where firing slots ranged. And in the kill boxes, the carnage had been catastrophic. She remembered the text written four hundred years before – The Solerian stands in the center of the Citadel like a spindle in the nucleus of a cell. The Founder had written it down and from the writing came the structure of all Citadels.
The walk was slow and hot as she circled the walls. She counted as she paced—one hundred, two hundred, three hundred units. To her left, the sun now behind her, she saw the gate and at the gate thick piles of machines rusting. Entering the kill box, she threaded her way through matériel and skeletons to the gate where she stopped. The gate, a massive barrier of steel plating, still pocked with the black residue of explosions, was shielded by sharp-pointed spiles driven into the ground and anchored in concrete to create a hedgehog. She entered the gate. Inside she saw the tower tilting to one side. The steel latticework had not yet decayed. Around the footings of the tower there were stacks of bones and weapons. She examined the skulls. From the angle of the holes in the skulls, she judged that gunfire had slanted down on the attackers.
She left the tower and approached the buildings—thick concrete blocks—no doors, all blown open, hinges ripped like paper, and she held up. A half-destroyed sign over the entrance, in faded black lettering, read Dese R se Mote . Her heart beat faster. Was she the first daughter to see the mythical C-1. Was this the beginning of time? Her hands were clammy, sweat soaked her jerkin and rolled down her sides. And she then entered the ruin.
It was primitive—wood chairs, a long wide bar, a broken mirror. In the mirror, she saw herself in her transformed body—heavy shoulders, thin waist, long hair the color of rusted steel. Her arms were thick and muscular. Her beard trained down her chest. She was shocked. The transformation had taken two months. The genetic knock-ins had made her sick, the facial hair turned her into an animal. She had not looked at herself in a year and a half. She turned away from the mirror. Her scanner chimed. Body count—ten thousand Exos. She scrolled through the inventory—a thousand daughters. At Foundation, in C-1, one thousand daughters stood off ten thousand Exos for a year. This was C-1. She squatted and ran her fingers through the dust on the floor. If the Founders died there, there would be DNA.
She reset the scanner. She drew the device from her pocket and clicked talk. The first words she had spoken since she left the team in the dry lake bed came as a rough croak in a dry throat.