Magdus would have expected the garden to be deserted on this day, of all days. Even the fossils who usually gathered here to ruminate on the gleaming folly and irritate him with their constant misapprehensions that he was interested in hearing about their physiological complaints … even they would be up on the Outer Ur-Decks, watching the formation and departure and whatever pageantry had been deemed worthy of going along with it.
To his mild irritation, he was not alone.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” the youngster said, approaching Magdus and sitting down next to him without so much as a by-your-leave. He looked out across the fractured vale of mirrors and ice, and made a whistly little exhalation-noise of disbelief. “It really is.”
Magdus grunted noncommittally.
It was odd, on consideration, to refer to the intrusive conversationalist as a ‘youngster’, although it was patently true. Despite the fact that Magdus Foylaa looked a whole lot younger and more vibrant, and the chatterbox was very clearly pushing through the last threadbare decades of his fade, the truth was Magdus was in the flush of his Third Prime, while the fellow who’d just plopped heavily into the chair beside him was still some centuries short of his fourth millennium if Magdus was any judge. And Magdus was. There wasn’t all that much else to do around here, after all.
No. There were a few charismatic and almost grossly vital Final Primers like Magdus around, and plenty of fading old fossils who would never see another Prime … but as old as he looked, this lad was an innocent youthful rarity in this mouldering derelict. There weren’t many folks between Second and Final around. Not even among the officers.
“Have you ever seen a ghost down here?” the lad asked.
“Plenty,” Magdus said.
“They’re not really ghosts, of course,” the lad went on earnestly. “They’re just audiovisual space-time events generated by the remains and tunnelling signatures of the people who were working down here when the engine went fractal.”
“Ghosts is easier to say though,” Magdus remarked.
“Fair,” the lad grinned. He had big teeth, Magdus noticed. Big old thoks. If he wasn’t so handsome, even faded out as he was, Magdus would have said they were too big. In fact, the young fellow was big in general. It was hard to be certain because of the hunch and the droop and the general reductive effect of a deeply faded pre-Primer, but you could adjust for that. When this fellow hit his Final Prime and got a bit of twang back in his tendons, he’d be abnorm levels of big. Not severe, but noteworthy.
Magdus wondered if that was why he was on the Shoo.
“Why aren’t you watching the departure?” he asked.
“Why aren’t you?” the lad shot back promptly.
“I think leaving’s a mistake,” Magdus said, “and I don’t like crowds, and I like being down here by myself.”
Say what you like about his youth and his teeth and his unseemly size, the kid wasn’t slow on the uptake. He pushed himself back to his feet and gave a subtle gesture with his left hands when Magdus opened his mouth to half-heartedly protest that he hadn’t meant it that way. It was a slightly clumsy signal – in fact, along with his vaguely quirky Xidh dialect it only heightened his oddity – but Magdus read it well enough. No offence taken, happy to oblige.
“Say no more,” he inclined his head and gave Magdus another smile. “Another time.”
“What’s your name?” Magdus spoke up as the fellow was turning to leave.
“The name’s Stansgaard,” the lad said, turning back. “Stansgaard Strangle.”