"They dedicated this place to an idea they didn't even agree on?"
"Uh-huh. To one side, it meant engaging in negotiation with the understanding that each side would cede ground on some issues. To the other, it meant the exact opposite: that their position was sacrosanct, and the most they'd agree to was a delay in achieving it."
Irran rose and took a few steps towards the entrance. "Maybe Wendl's the lucky one here. If he dies without ever learning the truth about this, he'll at least have an easy death. The rest of us" well, it's one thing to discover that the people you've traded your future to visit have all died. It's another to learn that their leaders murdered them all out of arrogance. We're stuck here now. Even if we survive, there's no way to escape that truth, nowhere to run to, no place to hide. The psychic damage we face is inescapable. I can't, in good conscience, either tell the rest of the team what you've learned or withhold it from them."
Kharlin rose and joined him. "We have to do something. They need to have some kind of closure, even if it's contrived. But then what? Where do we go? What do we do?"
"How about this. We gather Rumbly and the team and take the landing craft back into orbit. I know we can't go home, but we also don't have to stay down here. If we only ground to get resources, we can live aboard ship for a good long time."
"All right, but what about getting closure?"
"I was coming to that. It will be a good deal easier to speak in generalities from orbit than it would be down here. We don't have to talk about the biological weapons that intentionally disrupted their DNA, how the targeting strategies failed to limit the affected populations, or even how the ecosystems unraveled from its effects. Instead, we can wrap up the entire collapse of mankind as the closing act of a planetary drama that they all unknowingly played a part in, and could only appreciate from the vantage point of intercarnate existence."
"Well, sure, except for the fact that none of the belief systems we've reconstructed shared that view of reality with us."
Irran grinned. "Come on, Kharlin. We both know that you don't have to believe in co-incarnation to experience it. Besides, after participating in a meta-narrative on that scale, mankind ought to at least have benefit of an audience. Besides, as far as I'm concerned, orbit is the best place to see the beauty of any world."
Copyright 2011 by P. Orin Zack