One death in life The last of the alien boarding party struggled up the ladder, through the nose hatch into the air lock, and departed the Irene Adler. The hatch boomed shut, there was the whir and thud of the air lock, and a faint shudder went through the tiny vehicle as the far larger xeno ship undocked from the Adler. Trip Wilcox leaned back against an equipment locker and breathed a weary sigh of relief. The xenos hadn't found what they were looking for. He had won--this round, at least. But he had no desire to celebrate. He was too close to the end for that. The end of the mission, the end of the voyage--and the end of his life.Better, though, to go out with a win--perhaps a very big win indeed. Bad as things were, facing his own end would be a thousand times more bitter if he had to die knowing that he had lost, knowing that his own personal end was a mere drop in the ocean of defeat, one death among countless billions, perhaps even the death of all humans everywhere.He felt ridiculous, thinking of things in those terms, but Special Agent Trevor Wilcox III had been trained to focus on facts, not feelings. And as a matter of cold hard fact, he knew that threat was real. If his own death was some part of the cost of preventing that disaster, then he could have no regrets at all about the exchange.He was going to die alone, on this ship. There could be no doubt of it. But that was of little consequence compared to the threat of universal death. BSI Special Agent Trevor Wilcox III cut the ship's interior gravity field to seventy-five percent, waited for the artificial grav to fade, and moved slowly upward, hand over hand, to the Adler's cramped and tiny flight deck. He eased himself down in the pilot's chair, strapped himself in, and watched as the alien craft backed away from the Adler. He stared at the other ship, marveling at her sheer size. It was a miracle that she had bothered to dock at all. That ship was a whale to the Adler's guppy. It could have swallowed him whole.He reminded himself of the good news: They had not found what they were looking for. Keeping this pack of xenos from finding the decrypt key was only part of the job.He had to keep them from finding it if they came back for another try. He had to keep the key safe from any other xenos who might come looking for it. He had to make sure his ship got home, that the key was delivered, and that his fellow humans--preferably his fellow BSI agents--would be able to find the key after it had remained hidden from all other eyes.He had to find a way to do all that, and to make all the arrangements, in the briefest possible amount of time. And he had to make it all work, reliably, after he was dead.As best he could figure, he had about a week left.Think, Trip told himself. Think while your mind is still clear and you still have the strength left to carry out a plan. There's no hope left for you, but the only hope left for everyone else is that you can sit down, right now, and do the very best thinking of your life.He stared out the viewport at the gleaming expanse of cold and distant stars--and at the giant alien spacecraft that was already turning--either for home, or to bring her weapons to bear on the Irene Adler.It was with a distinct sense of relief that he saw the big ship not merely turn, but depart, making no further attempt to interfere with him. It was likely only a temporary respite.You've got a chance to come up with a plan, he told himself. Now is the time to do it.Because it was the only time he had left. Two facts in rumor Rumors weren't supposed to circulate in a place like BSI Orbital HQ, but they did. Even though the agents, technicians, and support personnel of the Bureau of Special Investigations were endlessly trained and indoctrinated to seek the cold, hard, verifiable facts and nothing but the facts, human nature was what it was.Senior Special Agent Hannah Wolfson heard three different versionAllen, Roger MacBride is the author of 'BSI Starside Death Sentence', published 2007 under ISBN 9780553587272 and ISBN 0553587277.