Graphus was sharing dinner with the proprietors of the Two Moths Gaming House when someone mentioned Staever was walking the camp. A moment before, he’d been marveling at the ability of the brothers to recount the worst Twelve-Stone games of their lives while lost in a desert. Now, a bit of salted clam halfway to his mouth, he forgot he was eating.

“I did what I had to,” he murmured.

“Eh?” one of the Moths asked. “Gonna finish that clam?”

“I apologize.” To cover his embarrassment, Graphus tossed the scrap his way. The man had watered less than he had. “I didn’t know I spoke out loud. I was recalling a game of my own. Capture on three different nodes, no water between them. But finish your story first.”

The Moth launched into a tangent about women he’d known in a Long Reach village. Graphus watched the camp while the brothers droned on and interrupted each other. Around where he lay, a thin plank between his body and the sun-scorched rocks, shelters packed tighter than shops around a Whites waterhole. Being from the Eye, a whole city built as a shelter from wind, lobsters knew how to handle hot siroccos from the east. Some draped cloth over posts. Some had cobbled together whole frames big enough for their families. One shelter consisted of three wagons pounded together in a triangle, and at least one of its neighbors was halfway to copying its example.

Staever appeared, catching the attention of the two women who guarded the pyramids. One of the builders grunted and went on working. The other went to Staever with a question. Graphus held his head up. If they had to encounter each other, he would not avert his eyes like a child.

“That’s him!” The hungry Moth cut across his brother’s lament for a claw band he’d dropped in the ocean. Both craned their antennae toward Staever.

I’m the reason he’s there at all, Graphus thought, as Staever made his way along a row of hovels cannibalized from a desert cruiser. I’m the reason we’re all here. Without me we’d be building another Eye.

“Don’t you know him?” one of the Moths asked.

“He used to work for me,” Graphus said. “I was going to tell you about my game…”

The Moth waved him off. “Call him over. I want to know what goes on in that guy’s head.”

“He’s a lobster who feels pain more acutely than most do.”

“Call him. He’s probably coming here anyway.”

“I can’t.” Graphus knocked the rest of the clam loaf into the sand. The Moths stared at him. “We…had a disagreement. About how to run the journey. I…”

How could he finish? Half of him expected Staever to be grateful. The other half welcomed all Staever’s hatred, the price Graphus had known beforehand.

“I doubt he’d want to see me.” He mumbled farewell to the bemused Moths.

There must be a way to do penance. Graphus beat an aimless path through the mobile torchlit shantytown. Every desert ends in the sea. The exodus had no shortage of troubles. Perhaps he could solve one.

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