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The car lurched to a stop in front of the apartment building. Len leaned back in the driver’s seat and fished through his pocket for his cigarette case. When he found it, he lit one of the Luckys and let the draws of dense smoke numb every inch of him.
“Don’t go near the door.”
The words rung like a bell in Tommy’s head. How many times had Father spoken them? They’d been his final ones too, or at least as far as Tommy was concerned. They were the last words he’d ever heard another voice speak, “Be a good boy, Thomas. I love you. Don’t go near the door.” For years it had been easy to honor those words until, one day, a bevy of strange scents and sound stirred Tommy from his slumber.
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.
Note: This story is the third in a series. While it’s not necessary to read the previous two to enjoy this entry, you can find them here:
A horn blared, severing the stillness of the suburban night. I just had time to leap out of the way as tires screeched and a sports car peeled through the intersection, xenon headlights searing my vision. “Eat shit, faggot!” called a too-familiar voice as it passed, something wet and heavy splashing against my chest, coating me in a lukewarm goo. A cacophony of laughter followed, only waning when the car finally disappeared around the block’s far corner.
Opting to stay prone on the grassy strip where I’d fallen, I closed my eyes, focusing on the wetness that was beginning to permeate my sweater. But before I could wallow too deeply in my embarrassment, an elephantine finger prodded my torso. “Don’t worry,” said Lognar, suckling at his finger. “It’s not real shit.”
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.
A shrill wind blew the day they drove the drones out. Bringing with it a chilly bite that few of them had ever felt, it seemed to add even more weight to Mother’s statement about how there would be no room for the useless now that the Cold Times were returning. So out they went, all hundred and a half of them, and the first of them to leave was Bombus.