Final Report
by B. A. Barnett

Alex jostled the recorder. "Does this damn thing even work?"

A grating whir of feedback answered yes.

"So, yeah, you'd think a linguist would be better at talking to people, but I—"

From somewhere down the corridor came the screech of metal against metal, the slam of a heavy object against the ground.

"They're going to be here soon." Alex surveyed the room with weary eyes. So much metal, so much technology, and none of it could stop them. Why had he wasted time barricading the door? "Jefferson said the doors would hold them; he said that about the building's external security too. They got past that and now—"

Gunshots in the corridor, like an angry pelt of rain.

"Someone needs to tell people what happened. It should be Tara apologizing to whoever finds this – it's her damn fault they're free – but she . . ." Alex wiped the sweat from his brow, listened to a man's scream, then silence – the symphony of Jefferson's demise. "If anyone finds this. I told her not to open the vault until I could translate the inscription. It was a prison; that's what it said. Built by the New Beijing Colony two hundred and six years ago, written in one of the old Earth tongues – a Mandarin dialect. The vault was a prison, but Tara had already opened it by the time I got there. Damned human curiosity."

The gunshots resumed. Tara had gotten hold of the gun, he guessed.

"Tara sent Rose in first, of course. Wouldn't do for the team leader to embarrass herself on film by being the first one to scream at any surprises. So my wife went in first." Alex dug a flask out of his jacket and drained the last of its contents. "They never told me if Rose screamed."

"Alex!"

Alex buried his face in his hands, his head pounding as fiercely as Tara banged on the door. From the accompanying metallic clang, he guessed she was using the butt of the gun. She was never as hands on as she claimed.

"Alex, let me in!"

"There's no point," Alex whispered into the recorder. "They'll get through this door faster than the others. But I think I remember why I barricaded it now."

"Alex, please!"

The banging stopped; the gunshots resumed. Alex leaned closer to the recorder. "I don't know what these things are – I'm just the linguist, as Tara liked to remind me – and I don't know how the colonists ever trapped them. All I know is that they warned us before abandoning this place. They left damned clear instructions on that vault, but our illustrious leader didn't want to hear it. She wouldn't have even brought a bookish twit like me if our funders hadn't insisted on it. And now my wife is dead." Alex gave a dry, bitter laugh. "A bookish twit – Tara's words."

The shooting ceased. Alex's hand hovered above the stop button, swaying slightly, as if to conduct Tara's ensuing scream.

"I wanted someone to know who's responsible for this," he said. "I wanted someone else to hear that scream."

Tara's shriek became a choked gurgle, then silence.

Alex ended the recording.

The End

Story Copyright © 2007 by B. A. Barnett. All rights reserved.


About the author

B. A. Barnett lives in southern New Jersey with her husband, with whom she shares a tragic love of prematurely cancelled television shows. Despite the "Would you like fries with that?" jokes made about her employment prospects during college, she has put her dual degree in English and music to practical use working in the arts administration field, most recently as a grant writer for an opera company.

Her short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming with publications such as Leading Edge, Aoife's Kiss, Fictitious Force, and Flash Me Magazine, and this summer she will be attending the 2007 Odyssey Writing Workshop.

You can visit her online at www.babarnett.com.