A/N: Just some clean up on this chapter and ch. 3, fixing typos and a continuity glitch. :)

#-#

Stephen Jacobs surveyed the gathering, his expression carefully neutral. Inside, though, his stomach was churning. He just hoped he'd make it through this last ridiculous meeting. As if the deadlines of Operation Cleanup weren't enough by themselves, Forthright himself had called this last-minute debacle of a meeting and they had only been notified a scant hour before. As if the answers they could give would be any better now than they were four years ago.

Brad Thompson, Jacobs' intern, hustled into the conference room as if his lab coat were on fire. He bent to whisper in Jacobs' ear: "Forthright isn't coming. He'll telecomm."

Jacobs nodded and Thompson bustled back out. His stomach tightened queerly as he watched the kid leave. He liked Brad, he liked Brad's new wife and their new baby boy. He'd miss the kid.

He'd miss a lot of things.

He looked around the room again, into the faces of his teammates, searching for reinforcement for his wavering resolve. His eyes settled on Koicto. There. He could see it in her eyes, her set jaw, in every line of her: Arcadia never second-guessed anything. When she made a plan, she executed the plan, no questions, no excuses. They had gone over their options time and again, and they had devised their current plan of action. In only a few hours, they would execute it. In the long run, it was best for everybody; and after all, what was a year? And this silliness of missing people…they were the ones who would miss him, if any missing were done. After all, for him, the time would go by in a blink, half a heartbeat. Hardly a moment.

The whole business just made him squirm, that was all; this mess had just been one disaster to the next, hardly digging out from one before having the other fall on their heads. The fact that their employer, from their direct supervisor up to Forthright himself, refused to believe them-- well, that's why they had their own plan. He'd pushed for it hard, had to, since it was a frightful expenditure of money and resources for something no one else really thought was necessary. But he was Dr. Stephen Jacobs, and eventually they relented on the condition that he and his staff mention to no one, not family, not friends, what they were to do. After all, they couldn't have everyone taking this "easy way out," as Franz had called it. As if Franz was doing something difficult-- as one of the supervisors for the whole division, he'd be on Forthright's own cruise ship for the human race's five-year "vacation."

That was simple enough. None of them had any family, and only acquaintances, not friends. They didn't get where they were by having social lives.

He tapped his pen against the table. "Brad says Forthright's not coming. He'll be calling instead."

Emile leaned back in his chair with a visible sigh of relief. "Good. That guy makes me nervous."

Jacobs grinned at him; he felt the same way.

"Forthright's an idiot," Arcadia snapped. "That's why you can't stand him. Anybody who can't hold a reasonable conversation makes you nervous."

Sohn and Koicto. His senior team. Their antagonism was palpable; their genius, undeniable. They wouldn't be working with him, and certainly not on this project, if they weren't the best the world had to offer; but at times they could hardly seem to stand one another. Emile Sohn was unparalleled at hardware design, with only Jacobs and Koicto able to compete, though Jacobs lately had been giving more and more hardware work to Emile while he himself had begun to specialize in casings and relations-- his protégé had surpassed him, and he knew it. (Besides, he'd quite enjoyed laying out the physical design of the starliners' "wheels.") Koicto held the top spot for programming, no question. But her fondness-- or obsession, as Sohn called it-- for pushing envelopes bothered the younger man. "She wastes space," he'd complain at least once a week. "All that memory that could be doing something…real."

Jacobs knew exactly what he meant. When he himself had first begun working with Arcadia Koicto, he had puzzled over the vast amount of memory she essentially wasted in her creations, adding programs that ultimately, repeatedly, failed to produce the desired results. But her elaborate programs never interfered with the machinery's intended specifications, and the longer he watched her work with the delicate lines of code, the more he found himself defending the installation of it.

If anyone was going to "crack the code" for synthetic life, it was going to be Arcadia Koicto.

So Jacobs would listen patiently to Emile's complaints, and continue to let Arcadia pursue her pipedream. Because maybe, someday, the damn code would work, and then there they'd be, at the dawning horizon of a new world paradigm.

And what roboticist wouldn't give his…well, his anything to be there?

Thompson's reentry brought him back to the present. Again he bent to Jacobs' ear, as if the rest of the team wouldn't know soon enough; but he answered to Jacobs, and took his work seriously. "Meeting's been called off. Something big came up, and they're canceling."

Jacobs leaned back and closed the file in front of him as Thompson left again. "That's it, folks. Meeting's called on account of rain. Back to the real world."

The sound of chairs scraping the floor filled the conference room; everyone had more important things to do than listen to Shelby Forthright complain about their timeline, and the cancellation was a welcome reprieve. Arcadia, though, hesitated by Jacobs' chair. "You all right?"

He leaned back nonchalantly. "Sure. You?"

She cocked her head at him, scowling. "You look like you're going to throw up."

He swallowed, her words nearly making themselves prophetic. "I admit to a certain…nervousness."

She grinned at him, but managed not to laugh outright. "You know there's nothing to cryo."

"Of course."

"Tomorrow morning will be three years from now, and everything will be fine."

He held up his hand. "You're seriously freaking me out now. I can't think like that, Cady. I need my days to all line up in a row."

"That's so boring," she replied, but her grin was still there, lightening the criticism; he picked up his file and left the room with her.