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Stargazing

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Working for the new Boss isn't much like working for the old Boss. Half the time, I'm not even sure he is the boss.


I don't ask, either -- you learn quick in my line of work that everything is need to know, and I don't. Just being in this place gives me the impression there's a lot I should have worked out and haven't, or at least, a lot I should want to know and still don't. I don't care much either way -- I've got no plans to go digging. Maybe if I just don't find out, I won't end up with the same look in my eye that everyone I pass has.


You know, the one that screams I know things.


I'm careful not to stare in the mirror too much, though, just in case. Never know what you might accidentally pick up.


Mostly it's an easy gig, even if it's a bit boring -- I get an assignment, I go somewhere and do something, and then I come back. Sometimes I scrawl out a report, but I can usually put it off until the new Boss comes to... remind me. He doesn't seem too annoyed about having to chase it up, and it took me a while to figure out why.


At first I figured he hated paperwork as much as I do, and took any excuse to get out of the office -- then I saw what it looked like when he went back in. I know what a secret looks like, and I've got no business knowing his.


But even with all of this, the days are too long -- I've really only got the one skill, and as useful as it might be, it's not always needed. I find that as long as I'm not in the way, no-one pays me any mind. So long as I'm not fucking up, I can do pretty much as I want.


On days like that, I used to think about going home -- just packing up, and seeing if I couldn't get some work with whoever took over back home. On days when there's nothing left to do, taking my chances doesn't seem like such a bad idea.


For some reason, I never do.

 

~~~~~

 

I use the elevator a lot.


They gave me a cubicle, but I'm not a fan -- it's a tiny block slotted into a bigger block, surrounded on all sides by just the same, and still nothing fits right. The chair is too narrow, the pens too thin, the computer too old -- even the air feels thick. It's like wearing someone else's life, and they were a size smaller than me.


So, like the Boss, I find reasons -- any reason -- to escape.


I see a lot of the same people, riding the elevator, but none of them see me. The interesting one -- the really interesting one -- is this woman, right? She moves like she has somewhere to be , always carrying these thick books covered in jagged symbols that make my teeth hum and my skin crawl, and that would be okay, except that one day, I notice that she doesn't just not see me -- she doesn't see anyone.


She moves through the world like nothing outside of her head matters, and I don't think she's there for the same reason the rest of us are. She isn't that pretty -- not a supermodel or anything, dressed practically and not for looks -- but I can't stop watching her. I think a lot of things, that day.


It's rude to stare, I think. I got no excuse for staring, I think. She doesn't notice, and I don't stop. It happens again and again and again.


It's almost like she feels familiar, but we've never met and I can't think of anything to say, anyway. I guess it's a good thing she doesn't see me.


But when the door ding and I step forward and she steps out, I'm too surprised to stop -- we bang into each other full on and even though she stumbles, she doesn't make a sound. There's no curse and no gasp, but there is a hard frown. She slaps her hand out, stopping the doors in their attempt to shut, and looks at me.


Her eyes are bright and cold.


"Sorry," I mutter, dropping down to gather her scattered belongings together. I'm clumsy in my nervousness -- books scape along the tiles, papers crumple beneath my touch -- and she makes a frustrated sound that freeze me in place. I look around uncertainly, and spy a scrap about to slide beneath the elevator and the door; without thinking I sprawl over, snatching desperately, and the doors slam onto either side of my wrist.


I sit up in the doorway, startled at how much it hurt, and she stares at me with a bland expression. She's not very impressed, and she's not very sympathetic.


I stand.


"Sorry," I say again, but the apology is hollow. I smooth the paper out, keeping my hands busy -- it's a newspaper clipping full of words I don't recognize, and a few that I do, and put my teeth on edge. Her other papers, the books, they're already gathered neatly in her other arm, held close to her chest, and she just holds her free hand out silently. I placed the paper into it, searching for something to say. "Stars?" I asked, at a loss.


"Stars," she agrees, but it's sharply -- like she expects me to argue. I nod amicably, but this doesn't impress her either. "Tonight, there's--" She stops, frowning as she looks over her shoulder, down the hallway. "This isn't the right floor."


She pushes past me, into the elevator, and slaps the doors open when they try to close.


"Well ?" the woman demands, and I realize she's waiting for me. For a second, I consider not -- but I do have somewhere to be, so I step in beside her, keeping close to the wall. "Where are you going?" she prompts, impatient to be moving.


It seems like a question I should know the answer to.


I don't.

~~~~~


She's on top of the roof that night, just where she informed me she would be -- but it wasn't exactly an invitation so much as a statement of fact, and I don't think she would have left if I didn't show up. It's not like she was waiting for me.


I thought about it for a while, about whether I should go or not -- and about whether or not she wanted me to. In the end, I had nowhere better to be, and when I step out on the roof in the cool air, she looks up and sees me.


"Finally," the woman snaps, in lieu of greeting -- I'm late, even though I'm not. "Look at this."


She steps back from the telescope and the door slams shut behind me as I let it go -- a heavy, metallic clang -- but she doesn't seem to notice. We're alone up here, without even an entertaining view.


The tube is dwarfed in my hand, but I stare down into it anyway, with no idea what I'm looking for. When I figure it's been long enough to look like I know, I stand up.


"Isn't that fascinating?" she demands, and my participation isn't required for this conversation just yet. I nod, but her expression doesn't change, and she shoos me away as she makes a note in the book on the ground. She adjusts the telescope, and utters-- "What do you remember?"


About what? I automatically go to respond, but I see her looking at me and close my mouth again. It's a pretty long way to the ground, from up here, looking over the edge of the roof -- if you jumped, you'd probably die.


"Chanting." The word comes out slowly, but it tastes right -- like I said, there's a bunch of stuff I've got no intention to go digging in, and this is one of them. Getting nosy about What Happened isn't going to help. "You?"


The look she gives me is amused, even if her lips aren't.


"Everything," she informs me, as if that explains it all. I think of the symbols on her books and a skitter runs down my spine, but I don't walk away. "Did you really come up here because you were interested in the stars."


It's not a question. She's onto me.


"Yeah." The lie comes easily -- like they always do. Then I point up, even knowing how ridiculous this path is. "That's my favourite."


After a second her eyes flick up, and from the look on her face, there is one there. Would you look at that -- this is already going better than I expected.


"I don't recognize it," the woman challenges, but she's nowhere near as good a liar as I am. A few strands of hair have been teased loose by the wind, coming free of her severe bun, but it doesn't make her look playful so much as irritated.


I say nothing for a while, but only because my mind has gone blank. Do stars have names? They probably all have names.


She waits.


"Orion," I tell her, because why not? If it was good enough for our dog when I was a kid, it's good enough for a pinprick of light in the sky.


"Orion is a constellation ," she informs me, and points to the left. "And it's there."


I glance in that direction, but it doesn't enlighten me much. She's laughing at me, I think -- not smiling or sounding amused in any way, but still laughing. I figure it's the kind of thing she's had a lot of practice with.


"Is that so?" I say.


The woman sighs and steps forward, lifting my hand in hers -- her touch isn't soft and neither is her skin, no matter what it looks like. The pads of her fingers are rough.


"Here," she lectures, and traces my finger across the night -- over, angle, down-down, angle, over -- but it's too quick and I couldn't have kept up, even if I wasn't just staring at her. "See?" I nod automatically, but she doesn't buy it. "Honestly," she adds, criticizing my obvious ignorance as she drops my hand, stepping away.


I look back to the stars, and study her from the corner of my eye. She doesn't seem all that mad, scrawling in her notebook -- even her quick notes are careful and neat and even. Eventually she looks to me again, but it's only a brief, dismissive glance.


"Well," she states, shifting the telescope again. I wonder if she's annoyed by what she sees through it, or if this is just how she always looks. "Are you going to tell me what you really remember?"


I guess I'll have a chance to find out.


"About what?" I ask, feigning ignorance -- and I swear, she almost smiles.