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Fertile didn’t begin to describe it. The park was an outcry, a verdant protest not only against the drab metal and polymer that comprised the other thirty-nine rings of Borman Station but also the barren vacuum through which it floated. It was hallowed ground, a sacred reminder of what it was like to live in a world without ceilings, in a world that didn’t seem to constrict around you every time you blinked.
Two hours. That would be enough, right? Hawke tried to remember how long this had taken last time. Fifteen minutes too early wouldn’t give her crew enough time and fifteen minutes too late would mean—well, it wouldn’t be good. No, two hours should do it. She set the timer and slipped the ring back around her finger just before an electric jolt sent her flailing to the dirt.
The ‘ol rock didn’t have a name back then. Just like most rush-colonies out in the Verge, nobody had thought of it as a permanent settlement, a home. Far as most were concerned it was only good for one thing, and that was the ore nestled deep beneath it’s weathered face. So folks had come from as far as the Council Worlds to dig up its innards and make off with riches, and a fair number even managed such. But then Boss Knossos came.
It was small and out of the way, one of those kitschy eateries that tried after the aesthetic of a bygone age. The theme was Americana, and both the menu and decor were trying to take the diner back to when that word meant something, back when a place in Old Sol had been known for checkered tile floors, stiff coffee, and breakfasts that required three different animals to create. The last was the reason Montauk spent every morning there. As far as the retired Inquisitor was concerned, there was no finer delicacy in all the stars than drippy eggs, toast soaked with the fat from animal milk, and strips of pork that sizzled on your plate. And considering Montauk never managed to stay in bed until after the station’s simulated sun-rise, the added benefit of the place being open all-hours was one of the best strokes of luck he’d had since leaving the force.
“Two coffees,” said a voice from down the counter one morning. Montauk froze. It wasn’t that there was rarely a customer besides him this early in the day, it was that he could have picked that voice out from a crowd of ten-thousand. He turned slowly on his swivel stool, and even though he’d known the raven-haired woman would be standing there, his jaw drooped a little when she tipped her large-brimmed hat in his direction.
Space is quiet. You might not notice during the day, when you’re bustling about, making sure the little pocket of atmosphere you set out in doesn’t collapse in on itself. But at night? At night even the churn of an Alcubierre drive isn’t enough to keep the dull thuds of your heart from echoing endlessly into the great empty. It’s the eternal beat, accompanied by every haunting thought, every neurotic inkling that dances through your vacant mind, all making the music of madness that keeps the sleep away.
There was a light in the sky that didn’t belong. Ryan blinked, and finding that it was still there told his suit to magnify times six. The glass faceplate of his helmet became a screen and he moved it around until he found the small patch of light again. Except it wasn’t just one light, it was four. Four lights, fixed in the same arrangement as the shuttle that had dropped him on this hellish rock, and gliding across the night’s sky at a pace no star could hope to match.