I - The Observer

Things were very quiet on the border of the Great Expanse. If it had a postal address, it would be: The Great Expanse, Edgelands, Greater Jard, Earth. It is the same earth that you know and love, but it is a different time. It is a time of great advancement and moderate moral enlightenment; though, depending on who you ask, debatable on the latter point. Alas, the Great Expanse does not have a postal address. Presumably, this is why getting mail delivered in the region could be so difficult.

Granted, anything could be considered quiet when compared with the great cacophony of the seven cities (or 6 metropolitan areas) of Greater Jard, but here was a lazy silence, a thick silence. A silence that dripped with something like intention, but smelt a little off. The kind of silence that waits for you to make the first move.

A man sat in an Observer’s node. More accurately, he dozed. He dozed in his sweltering node because reviewing centuries of ancient and artifacted data did nothing to alleviate the boredom, and the struggling climate control could never quite tickle the threshold of comfortability. He dozed still, because the old data belied the extreme monotony that was the Expanse Meteorological and Geological Survey for nearly a thousand years previous. He dozed because nothing ever happened at the border of the Great Expanse, certainly not while you looked at it.

It ought to be noted here that an Observer’s node at the edge of the Great Expanse was a great place to travel if you were completely devoid of curiosity. It was also a great place to be sent, if you were in the habit of asking untidy questions, (and were of course, not a janitor or cleaner of professional repute.)

The Observer’s node, of standard modular construction, was marked on three non-clear sides with the Meteorological and Geological Conglomerate insignia. This was a gold etching of a goat astride a globe, wearing what might be called an optimistic grin. Ironically, it communicated a sense of ruggedness and adventure that had seemingly deserted the Meteorological and Geological Conglomerate (M&G Cong.) a long time ago. A passing tourist might describe it as “neat”, had there been any tourists out here. There were far better places for them to visit within the loose empire. But we are not a tourist. So here we are.

Outside the (thankfully) sand-proof carboplast exterior of the node, and along the nervously humming C-rail system stretching into the distance, the sand-wasps snoozed. There was sparse dune grass growing alongside the spartan columns that elevated the rail system and its powerful c-shaped arrays of compulsion plates. The grass dreamt of a great wetness; primitive life forms tend to think very slowly, and broadly. The few clouds that had been motivated enough to show up were now regretting that decision, and trying to nap without anyone noticing. The sand appeared to slump against the side of the node, heat taking away any sort of organization the little granular fellows may have had. It was truly an oppressive heat; you could have fried a three-cheese omelette on the carbon grey roof of the node with no issue at all.

Only the dark smudge that menaced the horizon appeared to be making forward progress.


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