The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky, casting rays of silver light down upon the tops of pine trees that swayed in the wind. A line of them stood like vigilant sentinels, spreading shade across the green field.
Jena Morane watched them with fascination.
Behind her, a curving city street flowed like a river around houses that were hidden behind their own foliage. Through contact with her Nassai, she could feel people walking along the sidewalk. A pair of teenage girls if their silhouettes were any indication. The Holy Companion himself could not have made a more picturesque setting.
Dressed in black pants and a matching t-shirt, Jena stood with hands clasped behind her back. “How long am I going to have to stay here?” she asked of the man approaching from her left.
“You don't like it?”
Jena pursed her lips, turning her face up to the sky. She blinked when sunlight hit her eyes. “To be honest, I don't,” she muttered. “There's something a little too perfect about Belos.”
The man wore white pants and a black t-shirt, keeping his eyes downcast as he approached. “Jena, Jena, Jena,” he said, shaking his head. “You know what our friends from Earth would call this?”
“I suspect you'll tell me.”
“They have a beautiful little phrase,” Nate Calarin said. “They call it Digging up the Garden of Eden.”
Chewing on her lip, Jena winced. She let her head hang, strands of short auburn hair falling over her face. “I'm not familiar with the reference,” she said. “But I figure it has something to do with admonishing cynics.”
Tall and slim, Nate stood with his arms folded, a smile on his dark-skinned face. “I would think you'd welcome an easy assignment,” he said. “You've more than done your fair share of the difficult work.”
“Then you don't know me,” she snapped. “I've been here three damn months, Nate. Three. You know what my days consist of? Meet with the City Watch; check reports on crime. Scan sensor data for any ships passing through the system. Read the local news. Did you know they’re erecting a monument to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this colony next week? Now you do.”
Nate flashed a tiny smile, bowing his head to her. He chuckled softly, which only spiked her ire. “You are a tough one to please, Jena,” he said. “Most Keepers would be pleased to have-”
“An assignment like this...”
Mouth hanging open, Jena threw her head back. She let out a frustrated groan. “I grew up on the Fringe, Nate,” she grumbled. “Alaros. You know what it's like out there? Your summers are spent in a deluge.”
“I fail to see-”
“The planet is really only habitable near its equator, and most of that is swamp. It's hard to eek out a life.”
“There are other options, you know.” Nate lifted his chin to stare at her with eyes that smoldered. “Your people could return to Leyria.”
“But we like the challenge.”
That was something that Core Worlders like Nate Calarin would never understand: the human need to push yourself to your limits. Leyria had designed solutions to provide for just about every human need – and the existence of such solutions was a good thing in her mind; no one should be forced to live without the basic necessities of survival – but some people chose to strike out on their own.
She turned around and found herself staring across the field to where the narrow road marked the edge of the residential sector. In the distance, the skyscrapers of the inner city glittered in the sunlight.
Jena frowned, nodding to herself. “Come on then,” she said, hanging her head. She brushed hair away from her face. “We should get down to the Hub so I can go about my riveting daily routine.”
The Hub was a dome-shaped building at the centre of the city. On its top floor, a concourse of small stores formed a ring around open cafés. Tall trees in the central garden reached up toward the skylight.
Jena's office was on the second level of the concourse. Four cream-coloured walls surrounded a wooden desk with a single glass panel situated in the middle, and blinds on the window segmented the sunlight.
Jena breathed out a sigh.