Each grain of azurcose was a truncated icosahedron. She remembered this from school as thousands of them avalanched into her crystal mug of dark brown coffee, “like a million tiny footballs,” she whispered. Only these had flat faces, whereas the tiles on a football were convex, giving it its smooth rounded shape. “Thirty-two faces… Twelve pentagons, twenty hexagons, sixty angles, ninety lines. Remember that the next time you slurp your darn SyraNova drinks,” she mimicked her Chem teacher’s gravelly voice.
Someone snorted a few booths away, the group of punks she’d clocked on her way inside, only other people in the diner besides the cook, the server, and herself.
She wasn’t going to make him stay in her life if he didn’t want to, baby or no. How could she? Korratrea was still a free country, unless there’d been a coup she hadn’t heard about yet, which was unlikely.
The short one slid in beside her, and two more across the table, while the cautious one sat lightly at the adjacent table to her right. Clack-clack-clack, the man’s knuckles tapped on the hard plastic surface beneath her chin. Clack-clack-clack.
“Did you order yet?” he asked.
“Nope, just trying to enjoy this coffee.”
“Nice ring. Where’s your husband?”
“He said he was on his way.”
The man smiled to his friends, who laughed. “Yeah, well, I think he’s crazy to leave you alone like this. Middle of the night, strange neighborhood… Uncivilized company.” His friends laughed again.
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing.”
He reached around her shoulders with his left arm and let it rest on the back of the booth. “Amazing girl like you, if I was him I’d be afraid someone might take you away.”
“Did you take Chemistry in high school?”
“How about Geometry, do you remember Geometry class?”
He stared at her quietly, boldly, in offended disbelief.
“Because if you do, you’ll probably recall hearing about the Goldberg polyhedron. It’s a multi-sided shape made up of hexagons and pentagons, the faces joined together at vertices like this, here.” She picked up the azurcose shaker and sprinkled some out on the table. “Every grain is like a—”
“Like a tiny football,” said one of the friends, before a dark glance silenced him.
“That’s right,” she continued, “and unlike snowflakes each grain is one hundred percent identical. Zero variation, upon production at least.”
“Is there a point to this little lesson?” He let his hand fall gently on the back of her left shoulder.
“There is,” she nodded. “Because azurcose, due to its structural shape, has an amazingly high degree of both molecular strength and flexibility. So if I were to say, smash this container on the wall, the stuff would fly everywhere.” She swept the shaker up and crushed it on the wall to her left, simultaneously leaping out of the booth, eyes closed, and flipping backwards onto the tabletop behind them. As the short man and other two sat groaning and rubbing their eyes the tall one darted from the farther table, his lightblade drawn and glaring.
Waiting for him to slash, she caught the knife under the sole of her boot and stomped it down against the plastic tabletop, pivoted on his hand, and caught the hinge of his jaw with the toe of her other boot. Two seconds later she was out the door and in the pilot seat of her motordeck sailing up toward the storm cloud where she could lose them. Their engines revved and hummed below, behind her, fading gradually as she launched into the flashing mist and set the coordinates for Jadengate 794.
* * *
The motordeck hatch shot open as she approached, and the vehicle maneuvered into position on the landing board. Zipporah swiped the ignition card and stepped out before the pilotside door closed and the board raised the motordeck into the ceiling. Removing her jacket, kicking off her boots, and pulling the elastic band out of her hair, she grabbed a bowl of leftover noodles from the fridge and plopped into the basket chair in the corner by the window. Space looked cold and blue, like it always did.
After dinner she checked her mail, took a shower, and crawled into bed—the bed they’d shared until a few months ago, before he ditched her. Her fingers dragged across the skin of her softly rounded stomach as she descended, away from consciousness, her mouth whispering, “Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways…”
The Egg in the center of the living room broadcasted the System Daily News from every angle, literally, as she cleaned up and made breakfast. Dark matter readings off the Southeast edge of Chambrek’s orbit were “disturbingly disproportionate,” higher than any time on record. The InterSolar Truth Observers commissioned a quantification team to investigate the anomaly. Planet-wide political and social reconstruction on Taldrathon was coming along nicely, with fewer incidents of intra-species assaults-and-consumptions than in prior weeks. System health in general was up, effective plague containment, lower cancer and terminal disease statistics, continued vaccinations on the Outer Four (less advanced worlds), and the Sun shone bright and strong despite the frequent outcries of the Implosion Hypotheorists. Zipporah felt in her soul that it would be a good day.
While eating her breakfast salad the phone rang, she jumped up and ran into the living room. “Egg off! Hello and greetings…” She stood waiting.
Her eyes dropped to the maroon carpet. “Hi, Mom.”
“Don’t sound so excited to hear from me. Where were you last night? I called seven times and no answer.”
“Cabin fever. I went out for coffee.”
“What happened to the coffee maker I gave you for Christmas? Does that not work anymore?”
“No, it works. I wanted some air so I went over to the sand fields for a short walk. It was nice, actually.”
“Did you see anyone?”
“A few guys at the diner. I’m fine, Mom, no worries please.” Zipporah glanced at her boots next to the doormat, eyeing the brown crust on the right toe.
“You aren’t fighting again, are you?”
“Me, fight? Pshhh, I… Come on, I… Pshhh.”
“Okay, just remember, ‘those who live by the sword will die by the sword.’”
“Will die by the sword,” she echoed, “yes, I remember. Thank you, Mother.”
That afternoon she went for a jog around Power Town, the enormous generator in the center of their quadrant, forty-six cubic miles of engine machinery encased in a mammoth bubble of reinforced explosion-proof glass. The platform of steel grating around its perimeter measured to just under fourteen miles, a little more than a half marathon. She’d been running there for years and had completed the lap with no problem a few weeks ago, but that was before she’d started to show, and this time she only made it three-quarters of the way around before having to slow down and walk.
“What are you doing, child?” she said cradling her belly. “Trying to make me a couch potato?”
* * *
Nights were quiet, slow, and lonely. She took her mom’s advice about steering clear of the sand fields and the outlands in general. The worlds were too dangerous these days, and the child far too precious. She spent her free time listening to music, reading French Existentialism, praying, and dreaming of the day when Karrick would return. He would return, she felt it, knew it to be true. The only question was when.
On the fifth waning moon of Quintember the doorbell chimed at four o’clock in the morning. No phone call, no warning, no guests expected, and by now Zipporah was visibly pregnant. She approached the door in her husband’s boxers, a t-shirt, and one sock, and pressed a button illuminating the screen by the keypad. Three soldiers appeared on the step, one in uniform and two in full body armor behind him. Captain’s hat.
“No, no, no,” she bowed her head against the door. Then, drawing a deep breath, punched a code on the keypad. The door clanked, parted, and slid open.
No, no, no…
“I have news from the Colonel, ma’am. May I come in for a moment?”
“Just say it.”
“Your husband, Lieutenant Karrick Dallens, perished honorably in service of the KWPAF.”