by Mary Ruth Pursselley -
Robin Corpsman had been told that the Steakhouse Arjentina was the best place to have dinner in Zirconia, so he headed there. This was his last night in town, and he planned to enjoy it.
The restaurant doors swung inwards, injecting him into a U-shaped room glowing with neon blues and greens. Wait staff dressed in black moved among the tables, their steps matching the beat of rhythmic music flowing from hidden speakers.
Robin made his way to the obsidian-top bar and pulled a stool out for himself. The waiter behind the counter offered him a good evening.
“What can I get you?”
“Dinner and a drink,” Robin said, “whatever’s best here.”
“Coming right up.” The waiter smiled, a look that promised an excellent meal, but with an exorbitant ticket attached.
Robin didn’t mind. Why not splurge on his last night in town and the school’s tab? Tomorrow morning he’d be heading landside, back to bland food, gritty water, ash, earthquakes, and lava. Back to his quest.
He’d have to spend enough time at one of the already-established digs to keep Trinity’s archaeology department directors happy, but as long as they had something new to brag about and display in the museum, they didn’t usually complain about the time Robin spent chasing legends. His quest, should he ever succeed, would benefit them too.
The waiter brought a glass flute of something that sparkled silvery-green. Robin lifted the flute and took a sip; the taste was exquisite, like nothing he’d had before.
Seeing the waiter watching him, he nodded his approval and raised the flute as if in a toast. The waiter smiled and nodded as he walked back into the kitchens.
Robin took another sip and swirled the drink slowly in the glass. If he ever succeeded in his quest, the whole of Trinity University, the entire Christchurch community, and even the high-ups on the Avenir would be toasting him. His discoveries would be the greatest in Eclectian history. He would be guaranteed a relatively easy life and substantial income for as long as he lived.
If he failed, he’d likely keep working as an archaeologist until age or ash lung disabled him. Then Trinity’s darling poster child would be left to fend for himself on a planet that was far from merciful to the weak.
The two potential futures were always standing over him, taunting him with suspense about which one would become reality. Reality hinged on the chances of him drawing the wildcard from a deck shuffled by fate and volcanoes.
The wildcard was Empathia.