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Improbable Cause

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Peter Nureyev has, by his own definition, a sound plan. By most other definitions, he has a sound problem. It plays out not unlike a wind instrument: After untold hours of practice, unequivocal technique, and contingencies than span the ascending order of the alphabet, he very effectively, very magnificently, blows it.

On a map, Ag Aporia cannot be seen without extensive use of a microscope. On Ag Aporia, beneath the business end of the microscope, the sun is setting like a signal flare. Peter watches it from behind steel strings. Instrument strings, still tender on the tips of his fingers. They look, in the light, almost like prison bars.

He adjusts the clamp on his ear. The chains are getting uncomfortably warm.

He doesn’t remotely play a wind instrument, of course. Not remotely — though perhaps in person. The devil is in the details. And the Angel is, by the time anyone might stop to consider this, long gone.

He certainly doesn’t remotely play the lyre. That is to say, no one who has spent any length of time within hearing range of his lyre-related noise events would ever make the mistake of thinking he did. This is vital. Key. Instrumental, in fact.

What he does play depends on the game to-hand. Cards. Jack of hearts. And, well.

The fool.

“Pete,” says Buddy, for what he now gathers is not the first time. She speaks in subspace static. A disconnect wavelengths wide. “An estimate, if you please. Are you still with us?”

That’s the question of the hour, isn’t it? Funny, that. And that’s the problem — the one he didn’t plan for. Even a bad plan starts to look good, when all the cons are pros.

The whole situation really is beginning to put a bit of a wrinkle in his designs — or several, judging by his reflection.

“Apologies, Captain.” He stretches to full length, full of languid warmth and empty promise. There is a hollow note from the lyre, a put-down.

He sits up. This doesn’t stop him from lying, but it does make his back ache. Weeks and wreaks of calisthenics. He’s stretched sore.

The sorest of him, hollow in his chest, beats and beats him at his own game.

Though, lying in the bowl of a solar array hadn’t much helped. It’s an advantageous position, predicated meticulously on select criteria like visibility, surveillance area, exit strategy, and Oh, My, it’s Warm. It’s lost some of its appeal, now, in light of the fact that it’s just the right angle to pulverize what remains of his spinal column.

On the platform below, a bit of a crowd is gathering. Soliciting the main event. Something Juno so quaintly coined a — what was the phrase — “Relay Race.” Obstruction of the law is not always a spectator sport, but spectators do sometimes tend to be contemporaneous with spaceship shootouts.

All of which is to say that, after four record-breaking heists and several long sessions of pointing at it, contemplating at it and, where all else failed, introducing it to the nearest hard surface, they still can’t read The Map. This is a bit of a problem, because they can’t exactly stop to ask the nearest spacefaring good samaritan which way to the Curemother Prime, please.

If asked how a compass works, Juno Steel would respond, after a moment of careful thought: “Magnets.” Peter Nureyev, after the same moment of thought, would respond: “Very well, I hope.” Rita, who requires neither additional names nor additional moments to think, did in fact respond: “We’re gonna need a cow.”

Peter’s still not entirely convinced she hadn’t misunderstood the question, but he’s learned to reserve his judgment.

The Compass, as per Rita, requires four main acquisitions. Item the first: The Needle (A big honkin’ comms relay, you can’t miss it). Item the second: Multidimensional Ruby, 23 mg (Whatever you do, don’t eat it).   Item the third: The Mirror (For the laser beams. Also watch out for the laser beams.) Item the fourth: A box of Fortuna Fudge Fancies, extra tuna. (And a diet Fish Fizz!)

Overhead, a swarm of fliers capitalizes on his moment of inattention. The mistake of evidencing nonzero motor function is all the provocation they need to mount an ambush of advertisement.

The Zero-G Guarantee! glares on his glasses. FREE!!! fall, buzzes on rotor wings.

He waves them off one-handed, peeling himself up from the solar panel to peer at the readout. The readout (“RITA!-out,” according to exactly one person) is a matter of some technological ambiguity, which Rita had explained with quite a lot of words having to do with “kinetics,” and “differential factors,” and “Stop touching that, Mista Steel!

Presently it reads, as he understands it, “Main power shut down in...Lemon-less-than-two-times-lime?”

“T-minus thirty minutes,” says Juno, as if this is abundantly obvious.

“Right on schedule,” says Buddy. “How’s the heavy lifting, Juno?”

“Doing swell. Think I pulled a muscle. Get it? Because—”

“Yes, and you’ll remember I said to exercise—in particular—caution. Now. Last call, darlings. Everyone armed?”

“Sure, got a load of punch-lines,” says Juno, wasting no time.

Peter, grinning pointedly, says, “To the teeth.”

Jet, who is the third act in today’s three-ring circus, says, “I have a number of arms. I also have a number of legs, should they be required.” There is, as a backdrop to this statement, a number of explosive noises from what is, by the sound of it, a laser weapon of the Bad News caliber.

(Visit Ag Aporia: The Cutting Edge of Space!)

Buddy, now perhaps reevaluating a long line of life choices, sighs. “Well now, don’t everyone go out on a limb. Thank you for checking in. Standby, stay safe, and see you soon.”

From Peter’s vantage point, he can just see the telltale signs of space-chase chaos. Jet’s slice of the evening’s program is well underway: The port security had its work cut out for it — or out of it, namely by photonic weapons traveling at annihilatory speeds. ‘A complete shipshow,’ is what Juno had called it. No one had contradicted him.

That was step one. Simple. Formulaic.

On to step two. Peter slips himself from the sunny side of his solar panel. As he scales down the spit that skewers it, the city swelter rises. Even the breeze boils off. In his ears, it doesn’t whistle. It sizzles.

The relay is an unapologetic centerpiece, a scheme of embellishment with no constraints. It looms with alarming angles, red and radiant from every edge, bristling with perpendiculars and pivoting parts as if some giant had grasped its top and turned it like a screw. A six-hundred-story screw, strung with city strata, with shadiness in spades and next to no shade.

It pronounces up, levels and layers of communication. Tall as stories.

Below now, Peter crosses into its shadow. He picks his way across the crowd, one pocket at a time.

Ag Aporia — where most people assume the Ag is short for agricultural, this is a half-truth only because it has since come to mean Aggravated, that being the predominant condition-per-capita — subsists mainly on the power of suggestion. It stays afloat, in the most charitable terms, only by the seat of its galactic pants. A backwoods buoy held together by little more than spit, glue, and a beaming billion-cred stake through the heart. It’s the last stop on the edge of known cosmographical space, and its redeeming qualities are consigned to a list of two: Point One, its comms relay is irrefutably the best of its kind, and Point Two, “The view, Juno dear, is simply out of this world.”

It’s built to standard, though exactly whose standard is a matter of question. Really, it’s all a bit of a letdown, albeit a very slow one. It loiters just this side of zero-G, on the technicality of a decimal point. Microgravity: Things still fall down, but they have to think about it first.

Ag, indeed. Ag Aporia is tourists all the way down. To Peter, it’s just another floating city.

He takes Step Two right off the edge of the platform, and down. He waves —Ta-ta, apotheosis! — to the stairs, the path not taken. Platforms pass by in technicolor motion, their numbers blurring zero, zero, zero, peeling like petals. A sonic bloom. Synthetic.

His ears ache, ever so slightly. The momentum of landing twinges both knees in joint protest. He navigates the lower levels with a meters-long bounce in his step. The sound it makes is the sound of absence. Deep in the acoustics of his own skull, his pulse steps, hops, en-un-ci-ates.

He seems to have acquired a bizarre sort of headache that aches like a door-knock at the chambers of his heart. Probably the heat.

From the sign demarcated Aeroponics, humidity pearls and drips in concert. Peter, for whom a circle is really only a well-rounded line, does not enter directly. Further down, he tests the tensile strength of a pipe, still warm from the day’s cycle. He maps the lights to their shadows. Gives the ventilation a cursory once-over, just so it doesn’t feel left out. Strums a thoughtful note. Six more decibels here. Four less at the turn. He counts four blind spots.

Play to your advantages. First rule.

He enters now, and cuts across a lattice of leafy vegetables suspended in situ to, oh dear — to Juno, who has by some course of action come to be wearing an entire nature documentary. He appears, by the substance of his speculation on the parentage of the plants, to be taking this turn of events poorly.

Peter, who does not take anything unless it is sufficiently rich, peers over the rim of his sunglasses to watch Juno extract a strongly demoralized root vegetable.

He waits a polite moment to be noticed, and isn’t. To be fair, Juno does have more than a few vegetables on his plate. While he waits, Peter sets aside the lyre and flicks through his files, paging down a list from curt to mild to sly to winsome, turning each one over, sampling — see how this one looks in the light, and doesn’t that one pop — and applies cheery and inane in equal measure.

Then, in the voice of someone who is, in some sense of the phrase, having a blast, he says, “Spec-tac-ular! Would you just look at all this greenery!”

Juno, in response to this spontaneous combustion, jumps. More specifically, he jumps in zero-G.

Once he is finished extricating himself from the ceiling, he says, “You know what, funnily enough, I think I am. Um. Hi.”

“And, my word, is that a fountain?”

“Nope. Broke a water line.”

“How vibrant! It reminds me—” Peter, channeling treacherous quantities of Rita, takes a monumental breath in preparation for launch “—there’s this little spot out past the belt, you’d love it I’m sure, Fontus it’s called, and there’s a vineyard on the peninsula with the most outstanding lighthouse aviary, but in the spring, and I must say it’s even clearer than the crystal coast of Phloxagopolis, you know, but the waterfall, Juno — and do you know what they call it?”

Juno looks up at him with an advanced glaze. “Not a damn clue.”

“Catchwind Falls! Isn’t that just? Isn’t this so like a stream, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yep. That would be because of the stream. From the pipe. That I broke.”

“Magnificent. I hope you don’t mind, I thought I might drop in, though you…do seem to have your hands full.” Then, blithe as ever, “…unseasonable weather?”

The trick, behind the song and dance, is this: He does not say, hasn’t said since Cerberus, has scaled verbal fire escapes and rhetorical rooftops around that phatic finality, hello.

Because hello hangs like a core countdown. The thing that happens before it all comes crashing down.

This way, no matter the distance, they are only ever mid-conversation.

“Shoulda seen the other guy,” says Juno, indicating the defeated vegetation. “This—this is—” A sneeze. “This is a hostile work environment. I mean, they call this stuff the great outdoors?”

“Oh, now, I wouldn’t be so sure. Some would say it grows on you.”

“Yeah, which part? The doors?” His voice cracks a bit. It sticks like static. More static.

That is defamation of character. You know I don’t use doors.” Peter leans in to add, sotto voce, “I do have a reputation to uphold.”

Juno fixes him with a look that is positively enterprising. “Yeah, I guess you could say they’re too…entry-level for you. Eh…?”

“You could say that, yes, but must you?”

Juno, undeterred, extends a generous handful of root vegetables, root first.

Peter, sensing that he is expected to do something about this, rallies, “Dear me, how —how thoughtful! Tremendous! What a…tasteful arrangement of,” and, eyeing a particularly bulbous specimen and desperately rifling his pitiful culinary index, invents, “Salad.”

The look on Juno’s face is not promising.

“My favorite kind,” Peter adds, because an abject in motion stays in motion.

“Your—you wanna try that again? You’ve never seen one of these—” Juno gestures with a vegetable that appears to have the complicated structure of a science project with a beard “—before today?”

“Why, has it committed a felony? Are you asking me to testify, Detective? You should know I don’t capitulate.”

“It’s. A. Plant.”

“Is that such a crime?”

“Sure, if you stab someone with it.” Juno gives him a look that is plainly sizing up his candidacy for testing said stab. “Next you’re gonna tell me you don’t know what a rhinoceradish is.”

Peter tries a honed stare, uncertain if he is being messed with. “A…common varietal, is it?”

“Or a spacklesquash.”

“Oh, you made that up.”

“I mean…yeah, but it’s pretty good.”

“Well — potayto, potahto, as they say.”

Reaching past the possible potato plants and their potato particulates, he plucks Juno to his feet. Or rather, this is what he would have done, had not the state of gravity, or lack thereof, had other ideas in mind, including but not limited to: Peter overshoots. Juno just shoots. He bounces up and into Peter’s chest, and they bargain with their feet in bounding backward ballroom steps.

Rita had warned them about this. At least, he thinks she had. Her actual words had cautioned them against something frighteningly called “the central figs,” which Juno had later translated on her behalf as, “the orbital-centrifugal-who caaaares.”

Possibly a premature assessment, as it turns out, because what turns out is them. They turn in midair, finding footing and floating in turns, dancing a distance without a floor. Spinning, then slowing, then swaying.

They manage, in a fit of long division, to get themselves disentangled. Juno emerges pieces at a time from the vegetable kingdom. His arms are a comfortable weight around Peter’s middle, so effortlessly taking up space. He wears it on his skin, a life lived in, full of mars and Mars and here, from hip to thigh to knee, whose hands are describing a revolution into the small of Peter’s back. Up close, he has on a patina of pollen, filtered a little pink in the spectrum lights. It lends him a sepia sheen, and he’s a vision —

— out of time. Borrowed time. Every moment stolen.

With a gloved thumb, Peter traces a line in gold dust from brow ridge to cheekbone. If he concentrates, he can maybe just conjure the ghost of body heat through the fabric on the far side of his skin. They call it lunar leather, but of course it’s plastic. Incredibly expensive, incredibly en vogue plastic. Fool’s gold, all of it.

It’s so close to a feeling, this space between heartbeats like the space between suns, between atoms, between things that never touch. The degrees of separation are an atomic desolation. The same things that hold him together keep him apart.

“Hey.” Fingertips, coarse from practice shots, touch his collarbone. Tracing the outline of the man that lives beneath his skin. It shoots little bolts, blaster bolts, bone deep. “You, uh. Got a little sun, there.”

“Mm. A touch.”

He breathes.

“Does it—should I—”

But the air is full of cumulus cotton.

“No.” And now he’s feeling the heat, really sweating, sweating it out in the confines of his own skull. “…no.”

He wants to be held down to this, or maybe just held, beheld, with that look that lights through him like paper. He feels sunburned to the soul.

“How’s the leg?”

Peter, still spun around with stun-shot starshine, tries and fails to make sense of this. Leg? What l— “Oh…I — ah, that. Well, I simply can’t stand it. I’m afraid we may have no other recourse. You’ll have to pick me up.”

It wasn’t meant as a proposal, but Juno — a lady who seems to take even the suggestion ‘dry clean only’ upon himself as a direct personal challenge — takes him up on it. He takes him, in fact, hoists him up on it, strongly, and with biceps. Juno’s pulse is in his palms, warm on the underside of his thighs. “Now what? You got a plan?”

Yes.

No.

All his best laid plans are just that: Lying, cards face-down.

The lights glare on his novelty lenses, rendering the world with glitches.

He leans into it, and into Juno, foreheads flush, and makes his mouth grin. “I do, as it happens. I call it changing the world.”

“Right, yeah. Simple stuff.”

“I like to think so.” He waves a hand, spinning out of thin air. “All in the wrist.”

“And speaking of, why can’t we ever change the world with something that has one syllable? Why’s everything always a goddamn crossword?”

“Well, people do pay more for things with exorbitant vowels. Pizzazz, Juno,” and he makes sure to pop his p’s, dot his i’s, and cross his t’s directly against Juno’s ear, “is Profit.”

“In that case, I got plenty of pizzazz I’d like to put on the market.”

“Now that, I really must contest. I admit I’m really quite fond of those vowel sounds of yours.”

“That’s — god, you’re rich.”

“Careful. Not too loud, mind you. You never know, you might attract a thief.”

“Catch a thief,” Juno corrects, close to him as the clamp of a cuff. “All in the wrist.”

A laugh. He thinks it might be his. “What in the world do you take me for?”

And they both know the answer to that.

Juno catches him, as promised, by the lips.

There are a handful of things to do with living in close quarters for which Peter is now realizing he’s vastly underprepared. Quotidian quandaries, like the small machine in the kitchen that inputs forks and outputs fire. Which, truth told, isn’t noticeably different to his experience with Vespa. With Buddy, he runs the risk of going in with a simple question, if I might pop in for just a tick, and leaving two hours later feeling like his brain has been taken out, had its outermost layer peeled off, and put back raw and tingling. All of which is collectively a more positive reception than the Unnatural Disaster, who makes blaster-fire look happy to see him.

And then there’s Rita, who just yesterday found him with Juno in medias res and, amidst multiple objections, decided their strange lack of hospitality and clothing were inconsequential details compared to the urgent need to extol the virtues, in painstaking detail, of something called Crabon Dating: The Age of Crabs.

He’s still coming to terms with the fact that there’s been a whole other galaxy, under his nose, and these are the things it’s been doing when it isn’t up to no good, hosting dinner parties, giving grand openings, and inviting him to try the wine.

This is one of them: Juno smiles.

Juno’s smile is not something for which they manufacture tactical protective equipment, much less sunglasses. It’s nothing like the sun, but only because the sun is in fact too small a scale. It takes all the things that sunlight thinks it is, all the pieces and particles, phases and photons, gathers them up, and lays out the constituents in living color.

Prasmatic, is the word.

It goes straight from his heart to his face, to the heartbreaking shape of his lips. Peter, whose expressions don’t tend to find his face unless given an atlas to find the way, holds that face, those lips, between his hands and wishes, wishes on every star in his sky, that he could do the same.

There is a thought. A terrible thought, a deforestation of a thought, the kind that happens without any roots to keep out the flood, and one he thought he’d crumpled up and put where it belonged, that thinks: What nerve.

He can’t afford to chew his nails, but his thoughts — those he bites to the bleeding quick. For years, he’s been sharpening his teeth. Cutting his teeth on one case after another. Sometimes the case has a mask. Sometimes the mask consumes you.

And that isn’t something he can file away, file down.

That train of thought that sounds like the passage of an unstoppable express rattles: Rangian street poker. Winning hand gets torn in two.

A second train Mag-rails: “Best to keep things zipped-up, hush-hush”

Two trains leave their stations. The first tracks red dust, and doesn’t stop. The second tracks red lasers, twenty years dead.

Hush —

What is the time of collision?

Hush

Heat shivers down the back of his neck, like a prey-instinct, like a laser might strike at any moment.

What nerve. What audacity, what—here, after, after you’d—and after I’d—

He’s seen the wealth of the world, seen the inside of a hundred vaults, gold and glitz and glitter and empty empty empty

hush.

The world seems to have bottomed out while he wasn’t looking. He comes back to it, one ache at a time. He’s standing. Possibly on feet, or maybe on kilometers.

And in the midst of all this mental traffic:

“—okay, it’s okay, listen, hey, heyheyhey. Don’t—do you want—” Ah.  Juno.  Juno, looking like something is considerably the matter. Well, can’t have that. He wonders, distantly, what it could be, and whether he can work the catch of his slipjoint from wherever his hands have gone. “How about, let’s, let’s take a walk. Okay? Let’s go take a look at the, um.”

Sometimes, he wonders about Lassonionic sight.

“Yes, I think I would like to see the um.”

Thankfully, all the necessary workings of his lower half seem to know what to do without any input from a higher authority. After a time, the momentum and the forward motion seem to be catching on in other, more advanced regions. He moves, and the world moves on. The pressure on the back of his neck feels less like a precision laser and more like ordinary fatigue. It still hangs, but less like a city and more like a sword.

To fill the void, Juno puts names to the flora as they pass. Some of them even sound real. Peter sees them as they are identified, the details rendering, emerging, only as he turns to look at them. Thick leaves, velvet purple and waxen, striated spines shimmering in artificial mist, and drooping root systems so abstruse he wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn they hold executive meetings in the night. Juno speaks the world back into shape like hammering out all the dents.

Things are, when he names them.

Peter burns so hot it itches. There’s a dizzy pulsing in his sinuses. A sort of molten turmoil alerts him to the fact that he might actually be bodily changing state. Though perhaps not altogether unfamiliar territory, apart from the volcanic activity, not to put too fine a point on it.

“Do you want,” says Juno, picking his words like locks, “to, uh, to keep going? Still got some time. I think if we get through the rest of Um there’s an expo on Well, Actually. Pretty sure you’ve already seen most of Oh No.”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t mean to imply I don’t enjoy the, ah, nature of our excursion…only, I wonder if I might ask a personal question.”

“Really giving me the hard sell, there. Really boosts the confidence.” And, after a moment of increasingly uncomfortable silence: “I — yeah, so that was…rude. Really rude! Wow! Why am I shouting! Sorry. Kinda nervous. Of course. Of course you can.”

“I…” He gives this a millisecond’s hesitation, during which time some silent majority of his brain function departs, boards a shuttle, goes on an expedition, arrives at the Cliffs of Adoration, and screams, all before politely resuming its station with perfect sangfroid.   “I appreciate that. All right, then. I’ll try to be frank. I respect that it was a difficult, that is, a significant choice for you, to leave your home. Would you say that — No. No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Juno. You shouldn’t have to revisit this, for me.”

“Wait, stop. What makes you — actually, can we sit? Hell, no offense, but you look like you’re about to fall over.”

Which, given he’d been going for something more along the lines of svelte, is a tad disappointing to hear.

“By all means.”

They sit, because there is no ground here, on the polished floor, looking up at the aerial roots. The air swims with mist, incandescent in the dim lights like a diffusion of gemstones, a diorama of liquid opal, emerald, sapphire, rose quartz. It’s alkaline on the back of his tongue, petrichor and herbaceous, but not earthy. All gravitas, no gravity.

In a few succinct movements, Juno gathers him back to his chest and, with some fine-tuning adjustments, rests his chin atop the crown of his head. He inaugurates, with the halo of his jaw and the ermine mantle of his arms. There’s a subliminal hum from the lights, buzzing with the effort of persisting. If Peter closes his eyes, it’s not so different from the buzz of insects.

“Nureyev,” says Juno, very quietly, and something in Peter fizzles. Juno’s chin lifts, tilts back a little, replaced by the flex of his fingers on Peter’s scalp — circles on his throbbing temples, gentle over his eyebrows, around his ears, the base of his skull, and the knife-hinge of his jaw. He lets those fingers slip off his sunglasses, fold them away.

“I need you to know there’s nothing you can’t ask me. I mean it. Nothing. Maybe I can’t always…respond, whatever, exactly, but you can always ask. All this crap I have is—it’s mine, and, and I’m yours, and it’s yours too, if you want it.”

The colors from the lights flicker and fluoresce on Juno, alive as if all the world’s riches live beneath the surface of his skin. Peter reaches to touch them, trailing from his face, to the hollow of his throat, to his hand in Peter’s hair. That, Peter takes and pulls down to his lips, kissing hotly the center of his palm and pressing it to his chest.

“I do,” he says, easily.

“When I met you, you handed me the worst thing that ever happened to you, your whole life, on a piece of paper. Believe me, anything bad that’s happened to me, you can have it. Anything good, too—but, I already told you you’re the best. Kinda hard to give you yourself. So.”

“Oh,” says Peter, because it’s the most he can say without bursting. Possibly into tears, more likely into flames.

“Anyway,” says Juno, like he hasn’t just taken the entire world very neatly to pieces, “What was your question?”

“Just that…” He swallows. Juno’s knuckles twitch. “Do you feel more…productive, here, than before?”

“Productive?” Juno’s chest rises beneath him. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t feel more productive. I just feel more. It’s…I don’t know, like a dam, maybe? There’s just…a lot, a lot more of it all now, and it’s kind of confusing, sometimes, and—god, this is really dumb, I shouldn’t tell you—”

“No, please—”

“But, you know, I cried yesterday, for ten whole stupid dumb minutes, because I remembered about rabbits. It’s really…exhausting, actually. It’s a good thing, I think. It’s just an undeveloped muscle. Maybe that’s productive. Dunno, maybe it doesn’t matter. Being a good person isn’t about being a good detective, or a good whatever, good at your job in any measurable way. Trust me, if you tie your personal value to your successes it just becomes this ever-moving target.”

“If that’s true, then what, if I may, is the point? Juno, I have, shall we say, a limited skillset. One at which I excel. If not for that, if not to—” All his thoughts seem to be getting in the way of one another on the way out. “Where does that leave me, in circumstances beyond my control?”

“There’s a lot outside our control, huh. Makes it hard to feel like you have a choice, sometimes, or like it even matters. Like everything you do is just…reaction, like it’s all determined by…by shitty parents, by other people, by whatever the hell the guy throwing entire watermelons at your face in the produce section of the grocery store had for breakfast last Tuesday because it damn sure wasn’t a nice big bowl of Cheer-Os.” He clears his throat. “Yeah, I’ve definitely looked into that hole. And maybe that’s how it is, who can say, but…I think that’s looking at it backwards. Your choices make their own meaning. The universe doesn’t define your choices. Your choices define the universe.”

This is Juno Steel: The sort of person who says earth-moving things, the kinds of things that grind the whole world as you know it to gravel, unrehearsed, sitting on the floor covered in potato because he tried to fight a plant and lost.

Peter, from the center of a wasteland, says, “And…if not? Why bother?”

The shoulder under his head shrugs. “Why bother with anything? Why save lives if they’ve only got a sell-by date, why put out flowers that wilt in a week, why read a book if it’s just gonna end? I guess…because it makes you richer. Almost everything is temporary. And I think maybe that’s okay. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t mean anything.”

There’s a dripping, somewhere, from a leak, or from condensation. The ambience stirring to itself in soliloquy, like it’s weeping for him.

“And…us? Are we…temporary?”

“Nope.” A pair of lips kisses the top of his head, and smiles, and stays. “We’re a choice.”

This is what he will remember, after, once the heist goes off with a hitch, one that removes the relay like a splinter, and he stands at the hour of what might be the only choice he has, thinking of four item lies, and four letter truths.