Nathaniel Best blinked in darkness. He lay like a lead mannequin on something cold and smooth, molded to the contours of his body. He tried to turn his head then thought the better of it.
As light slowly emerged his eyes adapted. He was staring through a frosted window. No, that’s not it, he thought. This is something else. I’m… that’s right! I’m being reborn! I’ve been frozen and am now being resuscitated.
It had worked. All his planning and hard work, the application of his vast fortune to this endeavor of such critical importance for the future of humanity, had paid off. Gerome Getrell and the Recombination Group were long dead no doubt, annihilated in fire and dust. But Nathaniel Best — the genius behind Best Transcendence Systems, the man who had built a globe-spanning technology empire from nothing, the man who could leap over any challenge — had survived Eschaton deep in the bowels of the Rocky Mountains.
The shell of his cryopod opened slowly, and he grabbed at the breather on his face and yanked it free. A whoosh of stale air flooded his lungs as he breathed in deep. He sat up and looked around. The massive comms & control screen on the wall gave no reassuring green status light. Some of the computing systems were active, but some had failed. The celling lights grew brighter, but some of them were dead. He shook his head. He’d known that the people he’d put in charge of the power systems would fuck it up, but he simply hadn’t had the time to supervise every aspect of the vault’s construction.
Nathaniel swung himself over the edge of the cryopod and with trembling legs made his way down the three steps that separated his cryopod from the lower end of the chamber. Here lay seven more cryopods. In them lay his CFO, his mistress, his wife and two kids, his favorite bodyguard, and his mother-in-law. He hobbled to the nearest pod. It wasn’t frosted over. A sunken cadaver stared up at him. Lotus, his personal assistant, who was good at nothing but being his mistress.
Face contorted with disbelief, he looked down at the power unit that connected to all seven pods. No green light. It had failed. And unlike his pod, none of these had been built with redundant power systems. Wordlessly he staggered around the room, looking down into each of the pods. Dead, all of them. Long dead. No, no, no, no! This isn’t how I planned it! Nathaniel slumped to the polished granite floor, head in his hands. It was the power systems people. They’d failed him again.
He remained on the floor for a long time. He wanted to sleep, but he knew that wouldn’t help. He willed himself to stand, and shuffled to a smooth metal door. He knew it led to the food stores and latrine. The ID pad next to it displayed no reassuring green light. He put his right hand on the pad anyway, and looked into the small camera that was supposed to scan his retina. Nothing happened. There was no chirp to indicate that the system was working, and no soft, soothing feminine voice telling him he’d been verified. So much for the backup systems team, those incompetent fucks.
Clenching his teeth, he walked to the only other door out of the chamber. This ID pad was just as lifeless as the first. “No! I refuse to believe this,” he croaked, startling himself. His legs were firm beneath him now. He had his mind and his body. He would overcome. He always had.
Nathaniel Best – founder and CEO of Best Transcendence Systems, billionaire a dozen times over, recipient of multiple honorary degrees, guest at state dinners in Canada, Vietnam, India, and of course the White House – sat at the comms & control desk and tapped the touchscreen to life. With a low hum, the flickering lines of a keyboard appeared, and next to it a date in bright characters:
0328 Mountain Time, April 9, 2377. Then with a sharp crack, the screen reverted to black.
He shook his head, then rasped, “No! I refuse to accept this!” He banged his fists on the dead screen.
Then he stood again, remembering the secondary computing system. I can use it to override the door locks! He couldn’t suppress a smirk. I will win. I always win.
He found the correct wall panel and activated the latch, which thankfully was mechanical. He flipped the panel to the side, revealing a slender slab of metal with blinking red and green lights across its front. It slid out on rails and as it did, a thin display screen popped up. Reaching under the slab, Nathaniel pulled out an antique physical keyboard, attached to the computer by a thin cable.
Ah, say what you want about old tech, but it gets the job done. He grinned in anticipation. It was his skill with computers that had started his rise, and now that same skill would give him the ability to triumph over adversity that would render lesser men hopeless.
Nathaniel tapped the power button and immediately the system beeped to life. Seeing the screen with all its familiar icons spring to life was like coming home after a very long absence indeed. He opened the terminal application and found his way into the security override system. A prompt asked for a password. He remembered it. He entered a long string of letters, numbers, and other symbols with glee. He hit enter.
INCORRECT PASSWORD. TRY AGAIN.
Wait. I did it right. He knew the password was
mis7ersm4rtypants!!, the nickname Lotus had given him.
He typed the password in again, this time more deliberately. He took a deep breath and hit enter. The error message flashed on screen again, taunting him.
No, no, no. No. This isn’t happening.
He thought again. Maybe it was
mis7ersm4rtypants!!! Maybe I just misremembered it.
Slowly he entered the characters, then hit the enter button one more time.
This time the error message was different.
THREE FAILED LOGIN ATTEMPTS. SECURITY OVERRIDE LOCKED.
“Those fucking IT clowns! I hired the best people! I paid them above market rate! And this is what they fucking do to me?!” He kicked the computer. Then he grabbed it off its rails and smashed it on the floor. Pieces of keyboard and screen flew satisfyingly across the room.
Panting, he leaned against his cryopod. Then it came to him. The password was
He stood up tall. With all that commotion as the techs were putting me in the pod, they were giving me all sorts of useless information and there was so much chaos because they were so incompetent. It’s no wonder I misremembered the password!
He knew there was no way to get through those doors. He’d made sure they were designed to bank vault standards. There was no food in the chamber. His plan had been perfect, but as usual his lessers had failed him.
Nathaniel Best knelt down under his cryopod and popped a small latch. It opened, revealing an even smaller black pad. He put his left thumb on the pad and a drawer opened. He reached in and pulled out a semiautomatic pistol. It was right where he’d left it minutes ago, centuries ago.
Fate wanted him to die slowly in this chamber, like the people he’d brought with him, like the staggeringly expensive technology he’d paid to have installed in the center of a mountain. He wouldn’t give fate the satisfaction. He stood, then put the gun to his temple. “I win.”