The next day, when all the fires had been put out, the remaining Planeteers solemnly helped the emergency workers clear the rubble. Wheeler, for the most part, stayed off to the side in total shock over the events of the previous day. Meanwhile, the others were pulling debris from above where the vault had been.

"Maybe she's still alive somehow," Gi said half-hopefully.

Kwame just hung his head sadly. Ma-Ti reluctantly spoke up. "I really do not think so, Gi. The pain I felt from her... there is no way she could have survived." Here he looked over at Wheeler, who was crying quietly into his hands.

"I just can't believe she's gone," Kwame grunted as he lifted another piece away. "The reality is probably going to hit us hard when we get back to the island." Ma-Ti and Gi nodded as they pulled off another piece. As they tossed it aside, Gi noticed a large hole in the ceiling of the vault the sheet metal had been covering.

"Kwame, quick! The flashlight!" she said and hurriedly took the light he handed her. As she turned it on and leaned down to see, she could feel heat rising up even through her suit. 'This is like an oven,' she mused, not realizing the implications of that fact. She turned the beam to search along the floor, seeing various scraps of lead littering the area. Then the white light fell upon a hulking, dark-yellow figure curled upon the ground. All of Nukem's clothing had been burned off, leaving blackened, charred marks in their wake on his yellow, plated skin, now glazed a deep ochre. Gi nervously turned the flashlight onto a smaller figure slumped by the far wall. She gasped as she saw Linka's form. The entire chest and stomach of her suit had been burned away from Nukem's blast as was most of her torso. What part of her face that was visible through the darkened visor was reddened from having been baked by the intense heat. Gi had to fight back a wave of nausea as she quickly turned away from the sight of her lost comrade. "Guys... don't look in there... she..." She shakily handed the light back to Kwame.

"We should... tell Wheeler and—and we should get Nukem and Linka out of there," said Kwame as he pocketed it.

"We can let the emergency crews do that. I personally could not handle it," stated Ma-Ti as he walked over to his American friend. Wheeler did not look up as Ma-Ti sat down next to him. "Wheeler..." the Kayapo began.

"You found her. She's dead." Wheeler saw his friend nodding sadly out of the corner of his eye. Fresh tears began anew. "And it's all my fault! I killed her! If I hadn't turned away, if I hadn't been so stupid! I love her, Ma-Ti, and yet because of me, she's dead..." He fell to his knees. "I killed her!" He punched a piece of the rubble in sadness, frustration, and anger at himself and what he had done.

"Wheeler! Take it easy! You will damage your suit," Ma-Ti cautioned.

"I don't care! I'm far enough from the radiation anyway. I don't even know how you can stand to look at me. I can't even stand to look at me. In fact, you know what?" He ripped off his lead helmet and put his ring to his temple like a gun. "Nice knowin' ya, Ma-Ti. Fi—oof!"

Kwame, who had come up with Gi while the two had been talking, had seen what Wheeler was doing and had tackled Wheeler to the ground. "Wheeler, no!"

"Kwame, let go!" The young man struggled in Kwame's grip.

"Wheeler, what are you doing?" asked Gi frantically.

"Trying to end this miserable thing called my life."

Gi knelt down beside where Kwame was pinning him down. "You know Linka wouldn't have wanted you to do that."

"She is right," said Ma-Ti. "You know, I was still connected to her when she... when she died. Her last thought was of you, how much she loved you still."

Wheeler looked up at him incredulously, tears in his eyes. He was about to say something when one of the emergency workers came up to them, talked quietly to Gi and handed her something, walking away again. "Let him up, Kwame."

The tall Planeteer nodded and stood up, offering Wheeler a hand. Wheeler stood solemnly and faced Gi as she gave him what the emergency worker had handed to her. He held it up and watched as Linka's ring sparkled in the light, at first glance unscathed, though undoubtedly contaminated with radiation, which was indeed found to be true when Wheeler dropped his hand to his side, bringing the ring close to the Geiger counter beside him that had been softly clicking before. The Geiger counter suddenly screeched at the increased REM's. Wheeler sighed and put his helmet back on to protect his head.

"Great. Now even this won't work. Is there anything that's not messed up because of me?"

"Maybe Gaia can help," suggested Ma-Ti as Wheeler broke down once more.

"Come on, guys," said Gi in a slightly shaking voice and spoke the desire that had been lingering in the backs of all their minds. "Let's go home."

~~~~~

AN: So, what do you think? I have to admit, the idea for the story wasn't *quite* mine, but I warped it enough so that it is, more or less. But don't bother to ask me where I got it. I'll never tell. I'm not allowed. Until next time (if I ever finish another fic) Diana