Twelve Hours...

The sun was a whisker away from the horizon when he turned off the computer. Nothing had changed. He called Michael, and the phone rang a very long time before it was answered.

"Anton?" the voice was weak and slurred.

"What have you done, Michael?"

"Goodbye, Anton. Give my love to Mary."


"Don't call for the ambulance officers, Anton."


"Goodbye, Anton."

Anton stared at the telephone a very long time. He had no intention of calling for help. There was absolutely no chance their data was in error. Michael had chosen his own end, and he would respect that.

He picked up the phone again and called Braxton's office.

"Ah, Anton! Your timing is perfect. Our guests are just arriving. Please come to the planetarium straight away."

"I'm sorry, but I'm going home, sir."


"I've given it a great deal of thought. Actually, that's not quite true. I've given it very little thought at all. It's our anniversary, you see, and I'm going home to celebrate it with my Mary."

There was a long pause, and Anton swore he could feel Braxton's anger burning through the earpiece. He imagined Braxton's thin birdlike face, flush and red as he prepared to rip into Anton.

Anton wouldn't give him the chance.

"I know how important tonight is. But frankly, you're an astronomer yourself, sir. You should be able to handle it, despite your relatively crude skills and your lack of social graces. You can earn your keep on this one."

"This will mean your job, Anton. I won't renew your contract next month. You will be replaced."

"I won't be. Trust me on that, Mr. Braxton."

Anton hung up, and within seconds the phone was ringing. As he walked down the hallway to the side door, he could hear it ringing over and over and over. It was still ringing when he left the building and walked to his car. He paused before getting in, taking in his last south seas sunset, breathtaking in its beauty, and then got in the car and drove home.

* * *

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