"Lost on a far away, frozen rock. Who will stock the freezers for the coming darkfall?"

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"The Dark comes. We must prepare." Ulgi stirred his stew pot, but did not glance up from the broth as he spoke. "We must stock the freezers."

The others rolled their eyes. A few snickered. Only the older members of the clan remained impassive in the face of Ulgi's words. Still, it wasn't immediately apparent that even they believed.

"Who will stock the freezers?" enquired Ulgi when no one responded to his first statement.

There were no volunteers.

So Ulgi repeated, "The Dark comes. It will be a long darkness. We must prepare."

"You prepare, Old Man. All we want is our stew." This from one of the younger pups, a boy by the name of Afram. "Not that there's much to it tonight."

"The stew is thin because nature is thin. She is shrinking. She prepares for the Dark."

Somebody made a farting noise with their mouth. Such disrespect made the elders gasp, but none admonished the youthful miscreant responsible. They shuffled on their feet nervously.

Ulgi stirred the stew without looking up, his ancient shoulders bent yet proud. Ulgi was a SynMan, the last one left on all of Crassite. Once there had been many SynMans, or so the legends told, but now there was just this one. And what a pitiful specimen he was. His very bones squeaked as he stirred the stew.

When the brew was finished, Ulgi extinguished the light that had heated the pot, and hefted the great vessel by its thick, warm handles, shifting it to the serving table. This huge dish had once fed many mouths, many more than were present in the clan today, and it seemed odd to the people that Ulgi would use so great a vessel to cook so meager a portion of stew. As the SynMan ladled out their shares of the food, careful not to spill a single drop, he asked each of the clan members in turn, "Will you stock a freezer?"

First the elders approached, their chipped bowls held in palsied hands;

Of Rancor, Ulgi asked, "Will you stock a freezer?"

And Rancor answered, "No, I am too old." After receiving his food, the elder wandered off, wiping his one spoon on the soiled breast of his tunic.

Next in line was Manoa Two. Of her, Ulgi asked, "Will you stock a freezer?"

And Manoa Two answered, "No, I am too old." Ulgi ladled her portion into her bowl, and she turned away to follow Rancor, because she had no spoon of her own.

Astar stepped forward. Of her asked Ulgi, "Will you stock a freezer?"

And Astar said, "No, for I am barren," extending her bowl to receive sustenance from the SynMan.

So it went, time after time, face after face, denial after denial. Fifty three times the clansmen held out their bowls to their provider, and fifty three times Ulgi was denied. The last in line stepped forward. There was just enough stew left to provide this final portion.

It was Afram. Ulgi asked for the last time that night, "Will you stock the freezers?"

Afram laughed, and held out his bowl. Ulgi ladled it full.

"No. Because I believe you're stuffed full of shit, old man." The elders gasped, but Afram didn't care. He was large, and heavily muscled. He was the strongest and most brutal of the clan members, and none of the others dared to cross him. Afram pushed Ulgi roughly, so the old man was forced to take a stumbling step backward to keep from falling. The SynMan was unnaturally heavy in Crassite's delicate gravitation, and Afram was, for a fleeting moment, reminded of the magic he had once believed the SynMan possessed. But there was no danger. The old man didn't make a move to defend himself. Afram laughed, and walked off. Old Manoa Two had best be finished with Rancor's spoon, he thought to himself, otherwise the old farts would be waiting to eat their soup.

As the clansmen finished eating and filed out of the Chamber, Ulgi turned to clean his cooking utensils. Hefting the great serving dish once more, the SynMan lowered it to the floor. With a small porous stone and a few well and sparingly placed jets of pure water, he methodically cleaned the stew pot to prepare it for the next day's meal. Ulgi's bones squeaked as he worked.

Outside the chamber, which was nothing more than a large dome of metal with a few small windows and one round door, two of the clan elders came together in conversation. The first to speak was Axial. He said, "The SynMan is old. Perhaps he is wrong."

"Perhaps," ceded Midred cautiously. Her aged face was craggy with lines and wrinkles, her hair wiry and gray, as was Axial's. "But the Text does speak of the Dark. The Ancients have recorded its coming many times."

"But the Ancients were all SynMans. Like Ulgi."

"Not all of them."

"Then which of them were and which weren't? Do you know?"

Midred didn't reply right away. She hiked the leggings of her stained jumpsuit higher about her knees, which popped and complained as she lowered herself to a long, angular rim of metal that stretched away from one side of the Chamber. It made for a convenient bench, at least, though nobody knew its true purpose. Perhaps it was just a bench, but Midred had never thought so.

Axial pursued his position when his companion didn't immediately reply, "The Ancients also wrote of flying among the stars like comets, and of clans that were a thousand members strong. Where are these people now, if they ever existed? And what of the SynMans? We are told legends of times when there were a dozen SynMans, but where are they now?"

"They passed into the Dark, as the Text says."

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