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The image of the swollen sun blazed like a deep crimson ocean in the wall-screen, the dark supergranulations in the sun's surface pulsing slowly, hypnotically. Thalia Sharaane gazed at the image for a long time before turning. "Where is he?" she murmured, repeating the question that had just been put to her. "Don't you think I'd like to know myself?"
The man standing on the far side of her desk stirred. "We're going to have to make some decision about what to do if he doesn't show, Thalia," Snyder said.
"It might not be necessary."
"Well, in my opinion--"
"I didn't ask," she snapped.
"I'm giving it anyway. We're too dependent on him. He at least ought to let us know if he's planning to delay arriving. What was the last update he sent you?"
Sharaane didn't bother answering, because they both knew the answer: it had been weeks since the last n-channel communication, and no final itinerary had been received, nor any reply to their messages. Either he would come or he wouldn't. She gazed again at that enormous body of roiling, fusing gases: a supergiant red sun, over a hundred million kilometers in diameter. A box in the upper corner of the screen showed the near companion star, Honey, orbiting so close it practically caressed its primary, Betelgeuse. The Starmuse space station was actually orbiting in the very fringes of Betelgeuse, at the outer edge of its photosphere. This sun system, as they knew it, would not be here much longer. She wondered, could theyreally hope to survive the violent transformation that would change it into something beyond imagining?
Thalia turned. "I trust him. He'll be here. I'm sure of it." She pressed her lips together, feeling tension rise into the back of her neck. Yes, she trusted him--to a point. She'd loved him once, after all. And she respected him--and needed him. The entire project needed him. But Project Breakstar would go off, had to go off, whether he was here or not; forces were converging that could not be stopped. She was prepared for either eventuality; but without him to guide it all at the end ... she simply did not care to dwell on those odds.
Snyder had moved to stand beside her. "Sorry," he said gently. "I know you're worried, too." He joined her in contemplating the image of the sun system, assembled on this screen from dozens of remote satellites. It was hard to imagine, to really believe, deep down in the core of one's being, that they were actually floating inside this star.
"It's too lulling," Snyder said, startling her.
She frowned. "Lulling? What do you mean?"
"Just that it's so large, and so ... steady. Predictable."
"With all of the trouble we've had mapping the changes, you can say that?"
He shrugged. "I just mean it's easy to start thinking of that as our only problem. To forget the other problems." Snyder cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable. Thalia looked at him sharply, and he sighed. "I'm sorry--I just keep wondering if something's happened to him. There are people who wouldn't like what we're doing. If they knew."
"That's extremely unlikely, you know."
He nodded. "Unlikely. Yes." He seemed about to say something more, then frowned, having apparently decided to keep it to himself.
Sharaane scowled. "Well, if something's happened, it would be out of our hands, then, wouldn't it?" When he didn't reply, she added, "Just do your part, and let me worry about the rest. Make whatever preparations you feel you need."
Snyder nodded dubiously. He hesitated, then turned away and left Thalia staring at the relentless, glowing face of the sun.