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Chapter 3

The pages of the mental dictionary turned once more in Carter’s head, flicking past phrases unsuitable and ill-fitting, before finally settling on ‘eternal twilight.’ It had, he then realised, taken him the best part of his career to shape the endless void into two words of description. Eternal Twilight. An overwhelming darkness, punctuated by the occasional sparkle of distant stars and the haze of disembodied dust particles. Similar in many ways to the night sky, he recalled. But only at twilight, from the top of the ridge where he and Shanade had gone to make out, now more than forty years previous. Of course, he could still remember the spot in the finest detail. Every individual element of the place, and this included that view of the looming sky; his own personal image brought to mind upon hearing the word ‘twilight.’ It fitted like a glove. Eternal twilight. That was what it was. He had always known that it had spoken to him. She had thought he was mad. ‘Silly’ was the word she had used. But, all that time, he had been right. It was speaking to him now. It was saying, ‘I knew you would come back. I knew that you couldn’t keep away.’

Carter sat, hunched in his usual shape, a grizzled grey bear in the deep night, against the panoramic windows. The small canteen was deserted, the other crew members having decided to call it a night, if indeed it was accurate to call anything up here in the eternal twilight ‘night.’ A deck of cards was strewn haphazardly across the opposite table to that at which Carter was bent. He was staring at them, leaning still further over the plastic cup and the moist warmth of the steam coming up from the liquid before him.

Blackjack, they must have been playing, he pondered to himself. The pattern in which the cards lay; likely inconclusive to the common eye, indicated pairs of cards, despite the untidy means in which the cards had been thrown down by the unfortunates. Perez had seemed jovial; he must have been second from the left, where jack-spades lay alongside ace-clubs. He concentrated and revisited the moment, briefly. Bryant had thrown down his pair in frustration, and they slightly under-lapped the strewn deck, suggesting that he had vented his anger before the game had even ended. One card was face up; a queen-diamonds. Carter couldn’t see Bryant’s other card, for it had landed face-down, but he knew it was a five. Five-spades, he hazarded. Fifteen was always the most useless first hand in Blackjack. Bryant seemed temperamental at the best of times. Abu had been dealt in, but his cards were hidden. He had followed Bryant out of the canteen when he had left, probably for a night-cap. The African had a tell that Carter was certain he had identified. The angle at which he had sat, head tilted slightly to the left, no apparent indication of shock or displeasure. His hand had been moderately good, eighteen or nineteen perhaps. One of the girls, Marissa Herman, had played. Pretty little thing. She too had followed Bryant to his alcohol spring, wherever the hell that sprung from, and had left her cards face up; the tenderness of her placement indicative of a woman to Carter, who reckoned he could have guessed a woman had held the cards even had he not overlooked the game. The cards were down, both visible, one neatly overlapping the second. A two and a four. Three hits and she would have been in the game.

If not for this guy, Perez. The man was possibly the biggest cheat that Carter had since witnessed. He would have to make sure that one day soon, the Latino would get his comeuppance, whether with cards or without them. Only the four crew members had taken part. He didn’t know where the others were. He, Carter, had been at the next table, but they had not asked him to join their game. Part of him didn’t blame them. He knew that Perez had seen him, that he knew ol’ Carter was summing up their next moves. He knew Perez had seen something in him. It had been his game after all, and he must have guessed that this American old-timer would see straight through his twisted scheme. Carter always liked to win, and he had never lost at cards. He didn’t know how. Neither had Perez that day in the hangar. He did now.

He stood slowly, not out of age, as a reaction to arthritic pain or cold muscles, but like a man with patience, with confidence and with dignity. In two steps he was stood before the card table. Bryant had been ‘dealt’ queen-diamonds and five-spades. Abu; ten-hearts and eight-clubs. Carter stood, one hand hooked in his dark NASA overalls, for about a minute, before picking two cards off of the top of the strewn deck and setting them down. Both were aces.

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