Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Annette sways forward and for a second it’s like there’s no bonesetter in her bloodstream. She’s languid again. Graceful and alive. Pre-soldier.

We’re friends. That’s hard to come by this far out in the rings. Most of the other folks float silently around me in a stellar hermitage braid. Small living quarters from many different ages float amongst the wide thin ocean of spaceborne glittering rocks.

Some of the stones are boulders. Proximity sensors take care of those ones and automatically keep my ship safe. It’s the dust that’s worrying. Clogged injets or filters can mean slow death out here. They need constant maintenance.

Annette is here to double check my work. It’s not necessary but it’s nice to have another person to talk to once in a while. I’ve turned off the grav to make it easier for her. She hitches a smile back at me and with a little smirk I realize that I was checking out her body. We’re developing a little relationship here.

We’ve markered each other’s ships with private SOS position beacon tags. There’s no buddy system out here for the permanents but we felt like starting one up. We’re really bucking the bell curve of loneliness. There’s a silent amusement between us that I know we’re both enjoying.

I get a cheerful mock pout thumbs-up from her and a sarcastic grin goodbye. Emotions last for days in this timeless darkness and I’m smiling for days. With the silent hiss of the ringsand expanse rubbing the hull, I deliberately wait. It’s like I’m living inside a bell being sanded by wind.

Later that month, I call up the map. There’s a burst of three dimensional static and then I can see the planet floating flat in front of me like a milkspider’s eggsac framed by the rings. It has a red eye like Jupiter that stares at me from the center of the projection at the planet’s north pole. Maybe that’s why the founders named it Taurus. With the rings and the storming bullseye, it looks like a targeted dartboard.

I turn off the dataflow and config the custom holo to just show me Her and Me. I kick back in my chair and smoke, watching the two red dots float far apart in the rings of Taurus. I let my affection grow like a cancer inside me and I wonder if she’s doing the same thing.

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