I sat on a hill overlooking the observatory sipping from a thermos of tepid coffee and staring at the building in the distance. The architecture was all flourishes, domes and statues and pillars and obelisks. It was an older design, half-classical and half-art deco, intended to be not just a place of science but a temple to the stars. A place to excite the imagination. A place where the common man could go and gaze up in wonder at the night sky and feel like a scientist or a philosopher or what have you.
A dying gift from a rich man who spent his life hoarding his wealth and his land, and then decided that only in his death would he share it. Who wanted to take care of the “common man,” but only when he’d never have to interact with them himself. Who thought he knew best how to uplift the poor and the beaten down: not money, not land, not kindness, but a building where they could go and look up at the sky.
The observatory had been built in a strange location. I’ve never been much for science, but I knew enough to know that observatories are supposed to be built on mountains, not hills, in dark places, not overlooking crowded bright cities. There’s something funny in that. But then, everything’s kind of funny when you’re drinking bad coffee and trying very hard not to think about how much you want to scratch your arms and your chest.
To the man’s credit, the grounds around the observatory were teeming with people. Very few of them seemed interested in science or astronomy. Most of them were enjoying the lawn out in front of the building, sitting in the sun, picnicking, talking, laughing. How much more enriched would the lives of the people in the city have been if they’d just had access to the space, if they’d just been able to do the low, quiet, simple things that bring pleasure to low, simple folks.
Not everybody wants to look at the stars. Not everybody wants to know what waits in the void of space. Some people just want to lie on their backs and feel on the sun on their skins and watch the clouds float by. They’re happier that way.
Manny had told me that I was supposed to wait until night, but he hadn’t said anything useful about the book or the contract or much of anything, really. There was nothing to do but wait, but that was fine. I had a good vantage, high up and isolated. I’d see everything below me and here anyone coming up behind me. I was armed, I had food, I had coffee, and I had time.
I waited for as long as I could before I gave in and scratched my arms.