“Did you have a good flight?” Dianna gestured for Collins to follow her down. “They’re always rushing folks in and out without proper regard for what the human body really needs. There’s a bed and a hot meal waiting for you if you want to feel like a real person again.”

Collins raised a cup of cold coffee in one hand and a hot, stubby cigarette in the other. “I’m good for now,” he said. “Feelings can wait until duty is done, wouldn’t you say?”

“My father used to say that. A cop. Right up until his first heart attack. We put a little too much emphasis on duty, Mr. Collins, at the expense of good people we can’t afford to lose. I want you to be rested before you go down there. The excavation isn’t a war zone.”

“Look, if it’s something the Company thinks is important enough for a full fare ticket followed by a private jet, they think time is of the essence,” said Collins. “Tell you what. We make a quite jaunt down there. Then I’ll avail myself of that bed and that meal before I do anything else. Okay?”

As the talked, they had been descending into the excavation, protected by increasing layers of buttressed earth and plastic. With Collins leading the way, despite not knowing it.

“Oh, my dear Mr. Collins…” Dianna began.

Collins thrust aside the last protective curtain. A stone orifice, like the blasted-out window of a cathedral, greeted him. Pits and the weight of dusty age with dead plants clung to it. And in the middle, where it should have been empty or full of earth, there was the starry expanse of a nebula along with the light and gentle breeze of air being gently sucked into it.

“…once you’ve seen it, you won’t sleep for a week. Trust me. I know.”

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