Watch duty on Ilium is not the most interesting job in the world. As a matter of fact, it’s number four hundred and eleven, sandwiched neatly between monitoring crop growth and picking sand out of airlock seals with a tweezer.
Dan has spent a lot of time thinking about it. He arrived at the exact number one lonely graveyard shift by pulling up the list of all the jobs on the colony, and spending six hours meticulously sorting them by average idle time per day and average job satisfaction.
There were only four hundred and fifteen items on the list.
Right now, he’s wearing his regulation pressure suit, sitting in his regulation chair, and drinking his crappy regulation instant coffee. His legs are cocked on the desk, and his head is leaned back. He’s looking at the sky through the clear Plexiglas ceiling, the vast, dark panorama of untwinkling stars stretching from horizon to horizon. His eyes are open, but they’re barely moving. Dan’s pretty sure that if he stays here for one more minute without anything happening, he’s either going to transcend to a higher state of consciousness or slip into a coma and die.
The bell rings. Dan blinks; that’s not right. He sits up, rubbing his eyes with his palms. He looks at the alarm light on the wall, which is calmly blinking orange. The light never blinks. The alarm never rings. Both of those are very bad things.
He picks up the phone. He never picks up the phone, except to joke around with the other watchers, which he usually doesn’t do because they’re all very bored and depressing people. He speaks into the mouth piece.
“Uh, hello, this is DG. I’ve got something here, anyone else picking this up?”
“Uh, negative, Danny, it’s clean over here. How about you JD?”
“Nothing here, Paul. Just stars and dir- wait, no, I’ve got something too. Huh. Looks like a splashdown out by Danny. Not big, way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s – wait, no that can’t be right.”
“JD, buddy, what’s going on? I’ve got no eyes over here.”
“Nah, this can’t be right. Looks like it’s moving.”
“Could be a bug in the monitors. You run a diagnostic, lately, Danny boy?”
But Dan isn’t listening any more. Instead, he’s staring out of the wide, North-facing window into the night. His coffee sits cooling on the desk. The phone hangs limp in one hand. Out over the dead, empty hills, colonized only by sparse tufts of tardigrass, something is moving. It’s like a dark blanket, or a swarm of locusts, or a pouring, black fluid, or perhaps something of all three. In any case, it’s huge, it’s black, and it’s moving.
Specifically, it’s moving right at him.
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