Chapter 16

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Theodora calmly typed a financial report as the floor pitched and swayed underneath her. Occasionally, a sliver of cloud would leap into view before dipping below sight once more. The almost oceanic motion had been getting more pronounced lately, as the wind rocked the vast structure to and fro, but Theodora had long since grown accustomed to it. The only unusual part of the scenery was the fifty-meter crane bobbing gradually upward.

The red crane, starkly visible against the cloudless sky, moved toward the apex of the EXN building, buoyed by a combination of mechanical pulley and magnetic field. For whatever reason, the company had decided to add five hundred meters to the tower. They would mostly consist of absurdly expensive executive suites and observation decks. Not that there weren't already enough of those. No one had the balls to say it, but everyone involved knew that the company was building the extension for the sole purpose of flaunting the fact that it could.

Finishing the report, Theodora gathered her things and left her office, leaning to accommodate the pitch of the tower. Her only vacation for the year started that day and she was eager to start it. She reached the elevator and watched the floors blur by as it sped downward. Theodora felt her weight fall away, and her stomach crawl into her chest. The unpleasant sensation persisted for several minutes before the elevator began to slow down. Theodora shook her head to clear it once the black platform came to a stop.

The main floor was just as disgustingly spacious as it was every day. The hologram that hung from the ceiling showed the monstrous face of some higher-up who had done something noteworthy recently. As she made her way to the exit, it fluidly shifted into the much more pleasing figure of a starship, a slender column of blue and red capped by two mighty engines.

The Facem project was completed more than twenty years ago, and even now, the company was slobbering over it uncontrollably. It had been by far the largest expenditure Exonavis had sustained in its three-hundred-year history, so perhaps the promotion was justified. Commendations for the Facem were not limited to the EXN PR department. Some pundits would commend the project as the first step into the great void beyond the sun's domain. Of course, the United Districts of Sol and its ideals of harmony and intrepid advancement were a common theme in any discussion of the project. Even the investors and company executives made remarks about Facem's great ideological importance. Beneath their pretty words, however, none could hide the look of displeasure in the eyes as they spoke about the tons of antimatter that had been manufactured for the exotic propulsion system. Naturally, no one in a position of any influence would mention that the stuff had cost EXN several million dollars for every kilogram. Not to mention the garishly complicated and power hungry containment system that kept it tame. As for the pundits and their giddy congratulation, they all had a terrible misunderstanding of both history and politics. The UDS had only a rudimentary role in the design of the starship. It had been engineers under the payroll of the company that had built her. After all, Exonavis was a "military contractor". The whole thing was a political ruse on the grandest scale.

Theodora stepped into the cold morning air. The sky was surprisingly clear, presenting a wide patch of blue for the first time in months. It would likely disappear before the hour was out. The skyscrapers concealed most of the blue anyway.

Compelled by a combination of habit and simple awe, Theodora looked up and tried to find the top of the EXN building. Even the base of the skyscraper was heavily shrouded in the underbellies of the clouds. She could just barely make out the slim needle of the upper floors through the wisps on the edge of the short-lived clear patch. A number of poets had written about the skyscraper, comparing it to a pen scratching on the unmarked parchment of the heavens, or a sword skewering the celestial dome, or a modern Olympus, housing the new gods. The especially obtuse ones called it a monument to the perpetual march of technology, commenting on its sloping shape and how it looked, from the ground, like a road leading to the stars.

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