First Admiral John Wheeler climbed the wide marble stairway wearily. Shoulders slumped forward, his black polished boots dragged up each step. At a small landing he hesitated, rubbed his set jaw and straightened his tie. His uniform, usually crisp and stiff, hung loose and lacked luster. He'd been up most of the night, wearing a path in his office carpet.
Had he been able to see the sun, Wheeler would have judged it to be after dawn, on February 16, 2142, his sixty sixth birthday. The occasion passed unnoticed in the dimly lit hallway. Early in the morning hours, alone in his office, Wheeler made a decision. It hadn't come easily. It countered everything in his long and distinguished career, one which he'd spent building what he now wanted to pull down. During those rising years he'd not once shied from hard decisions. His determination, this time, was different.
At the landing, a small window, slightly higher than Wheeler's head, cast a beam of light across the marble floor. Colored by the atmosphere's high particulate count, the faded sun drew a dark orange stripe in the white stone floor. Above Wheeler's head, heavy thick glass held back the outside air.
Wheeler looked out, remembering, long ago, when it was still possible to go outside. In those days when the wind blew, one could brave the elements. Any gust, Wheeler knew, had been still for years, and the weather remained unchanged from day to day. No wind, no weather, nothing lived beyond the glass. An entire generation lived ignorant of life outside the confines of an acrylic dome. Their sky curved above in a maze of plastic triangles.
He continued upward, taking each step on leaden feet, yet not wavering from his purpose. The ache in his heart did not, he knew, come from a fear of death. He feared rather, his inability to stop the madness.
At the top of the stairway, Wheeler surveyed the large reception room. The walls were barren and painted stark white, like a morgue. The air hung heavy and oppressive. At the far end, a single desk broke the monotony. A young girl, perhaps twenty, with short dark hair, sat dull eyed behind a wooden desk. She looked bored, passing the time working diligently on a rebeleous fingernail. They all look so young, he thought.
She looked up when he approached, her expression never changing, looking, but not seeing, or caring, her face blank.
"Yes?" she said, in a tone emphasizing her indifference.
"Is he in?"
"Please tell him that Admiral Wheeler would like to see him." Wheeler concentrated, trying to keep his voice steady, trying not to think about what he was about to do.
Without answering, the girl pushed a button and spoke into her communicator.
"Sir? Admiral Wheeler to see you...yes, sir."
The girl looked at Wheeler, seeing him for the first time, gazing in frank appraisal. "He says you know the way."
She dismissed him, forgetting him casually. She had turned back to her nails when Wheeler shot her, aiming his laser at the narrow part in her hair. She slumped forward quietly, her limp body slipping out of the chair, falling to the floor, out of sight behind the oak desk.
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