Chapter One The Ruined World Mariner City Mars June 15, 5343 (Earth Reckoning, Common Era) The lift door opened, and Kalani Temblar stepped out into the wreckage of the ruined city. She had been working hard, but that wasn't what had her perspiring. It was fear of what came next, not the effort of what she had just done, that had drenched her brow and neck with sweat. She did not attempt to wipe the sweat away. That would have been impossible, even had she been wearing an ordinary pressure suit, and the suit she wore was far from ordinary. She stepped away from what was officially called the Emergency Evaluation Vertical Covert Entrance, Technology Storage Facility. According to the files, the last Chrono Patrol agents to use it, hundreds of years before, had simply called it the Dark Museum Drop Shaft. Whatever it was called, Kalani sincerely hoped she never had to go down it again. There was too much down there in the underground museum, too much in too many ways. Still beats being out on the surface, she told herself. Best to be off-planet as soon as possible. She patted the bulge of the data recorder in her suit pocket. What she had recorded already in there would turn everything--everything--upside down. The evidence she had uncovered in the Dark Museum was going to give the Chronologic Patrol's Central Command fits. If she stayed alive long enough to get it to them. She stumbled through the thrice-cursed cityscape. Mariner City had been abandoned to plague a thousand years before, then entombed by the murderous symbiote-mold--then wrecked by an explosion in the Dark Museum hidden underneath it. She made her way around the smashed buildings, giving as wide a berth as possible to the thicker clumps of symbiote-mold that covered everything. The old files said that, way back when, the stuff had been even thicker and more virulent outside the city. Unfortunately, she was about to have the chance to find out if that was still true. Lurching and stumbling through the crumbling, mold-covered wreckage, she arrived back at her lander--and was disheartened to see that it had already acquired a thin dusting of mold. She could almost imagine that she could see it growing. She glanced at the arm of her suit and didn't need to imagine anything. The thin tufts she had first noticed a few hours ago were now plainly visible. The lander was purpose-built for landing on, and traveling across, Mars: a short fat cone with three legs and thrusters in the base. Nothing fancy. The cabin wasn't even pressurized. No sense sending something sophisticated down to this place. The Interdict Law made it clear that any ship that landed on Mars had to be incinerated, for fear of contaminating whatever else it might touch. Her pressure suit was actually two suits, one inside the other. Once she was off-planet and safely back in space, alongside the one-person Chrono Patrol transport that had gotten her to Mars orbit, the first thing she would do would be to beam all the data she had captured over to a datastore that wasn't hopelessly saturated with Martian contaminates. Then she would abandon the lander, sending it into a burn-up trajectory with the Martian atmosphere. Then she'd seal herself in a fabric bubble, pump in a pure oxygen environment, and ignite the outer suit. It would disintegrate completely, leaving her in the supposedly fireproof inner suit. She sure as hell hoped it was fireproof. Watching from the inside as her pressure suit burned was going to be a new experience for Kalani, but the people she was tracking had done it, or something very like it. She was going to have to do a lot of the things they had done. She could see that now. She climbed up into the lander and sealed the hatch. The hatch, and the hull itself, for that matter, weren't designed to hold pressure in but merely to provide a reasonably smooth aerodynamic surfAllen, Roger MacBride is the author of 'Shores of Tomorrow' with ISBN 9780553583656 and ISBN 0553583654.