Chapter 02: The Job at the End of the Galaxy

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Marshall moved slowly through the outpost. There was never any need for rushing in a place like this. In fact, it seemed imperative to do just the opposite. Boredom became a genuine enemy, almost like a mental illness: it drove men to do incredibly stupid and dangerous things if left unchecked. It was midday. He'd gone back to his quarters and read for an hour and a half after breakfast, waiting for his food to settle, then had exercised.

He didn't do it nearly as much as he used to, but it was a habit he didn't want to let die completely. He was still in fairly decent shape, since he did it every day. It was more than the average civilian did, at least. And he'd taken to downing the magic diet pill that the corporations had finally perfected. Not only did it kill fat, it built muscle. Then he'd had a nice, long shower and another smoke, lying in bed, reading a bit more.

Enough time had finally gone by that he decided he should get to his job. Of course, if Nate hadn't fixed that ultranet connection problem yet, then this part of his job was utterly pointless. Something was bugging him about that. He frowned as he moved through the toasty metal corridors of the outpost, listening to the faint, eternal shriek of the winds. Their ultranet connection usually went down at least once a week, that was life out here.

But in every case since they'd arrived, it was back up within the hour, usually less. Had something a little more serious gone wrong?

Marshall found the prospect of a genuine problem turned his stomach and brought a familiar rising sense of panic that he was very disappointed to find was still so close. In the days and weeks following his...incident, he found that panic following him around for damn near everything. Even for something as simple as human interaction, it was there, whispering into his mind of all the things that could possibly go wrong.

He clamped down on it, calling on his training in a way he hadn't been able to during those dark days, and was vaguely pleased to see that the panic subsided. But he could still feel it there, lurking in the darker corners of his mind.

Marshall stopped outside the door that led to the greenhouse, where their resident botanist spent the majority of her time. Conversations with Andrea were always awkward. He had a feeling that she had taken the post solely because it carved away the number of people she would be forced to talk to on a daily basis. Of course, the trade off for that was that she couldn't just up and leave if she felt the need to. She was trapped here, a prisoner like the others.

He hit the buzzer. There was a pause, then the door slid open. Andrea peered cautiously out at him. Marshall could feel the haze of heat from the greenhouse.

"Yes?" she asked after a moments' hesitation.

"Today's the day to send off the weekly report," Marshall replied almost apologetically.

"I have my report finished, but the ultranet connect is still down."

"Oh...damn. Okay, then. Thanks. I'll see what I can do about that."

"Okay." Andrea shut the door.

Marshall lingered for a moment, wondering if he should just give up. Viktor was still out on the ice fields, gathering his own data, and Paul...well, Paul was probably up by now, and there was a good chance he didn't have his report completed. Even if the ultranet was down, Marshall wanted the reports actually ready to go.

And that would take a little bit of a push on Paul's part.

He turned and started walking, heading for the cafeteria.

* * *

Paul sat in the cafeteria with two plates of food. One of them was already empty and the other was half-gone. Marshall sat down across from Paul, who was clearly still waking up. He glanced up after a moment, spied his boss and frowned slightly.

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