Sometimes, Thom gets to put his feet on solid ground. Occasional corporo-bureaucratic necessities — such as undertaking in-person psychometric tests, or providing synchronised interior-exterior bodyscan data for the company database that can’t be provided by vascometrics– require turning up in person in a certain place at a certain time.

The company to which REZQ subcontract this work in turn subcontract to another company, who, through algorithmically-calculated layers of procurement and tendering, have established a small manned office on a massive, crudely-geoengineered planet whose name is a near-unpronounceable concatenation of dozens of brand identities.

The planet itself is vast, and has a gravitational pull many times the Earth equivalent. This would normally be impossible to occupy. However, it’s one of those places founded by a now-defunct and seemingly lunatic company from before true FTL (when planets closer to Earth would be much cheaper to colonise, if you could figure out a way of doing it). This company, and some others who jumped on the bandwagon, had figured out a way of creating pockets of localised antigravity, using the same technology as artificial gravity on starships.

Inside this small radius, Earthlike gravity is in place, and life can carry on more or less as normal: offices, commerce; some dwellings. Powered by a huge, robust geothermal power generation system, this generator could work for thousands of years, assuming it doesn’t break down (repair would be near-impossible; the process of using hardened drones that put the barebones in place could not be repeated now in anything like a cost-effective way when there are so many other cheap planets to plunder).

It’s inkeeping with the way people tend to do things now that this vestigial planet is still exploited, even though nobody really understands or takes responsibility for the how the planet came to be, or how it should be maintained or secured for the future. In fact, the risk of catastrophic breakdown is part of the attraction, as it makes the planet very cheap to occupy, and so the chosen venue for all kinds of cost-conscious companies to use as an outpost.

Of course, the office Thom needs to visit is only open for a tiny part of the day. And rarely at the times they advertise. So, as is often the case, there’s a lot of waiting around. A lot of waiting around being faintly anxious that, somehow, the gravity balancing system will fail, and suddenly you’ll find yourself crushed like an empty can of SPEED COFFEE.