[Back-story: I started writing this about 8 years ago and then got side-tracked when I started my fantasy novel. This is definitely a “first-pass” writing, never edited. I’m not even sure where I was taking this. In any case, here it is for your perusal. As always, opinions/comments are eagerly welcomed!]
The wind blew hot across the blacktop of the tarmac. Small zephyrs swirled among the parked ships, kicking up the dust from the nearby dunes. The noonday sun beat down relentlessly in its eternal attempt to burn everything to a cinder. Sane people were doing all they could to stay indoors away from the blistering heat of the afternoon sun. Even the flightline crews were keeping a low profile today, only venturing out if necessary and then running back to the cooling shelter of the hanger bays as soon as their tasks were completed. The man shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun as he made his way to the Administration Building. It wasn’t that he loved the heat and the misery it caused. Far from it. It was simply that he hated being here in the first place and the only way he was going to get off this god-forsaken rock was to make his daily pilgrimage to the Administration Building and try once again to get the fools there to do there damn jobs.
A high-pitched whine overhead caused him to look up instinctively. The blunt-edged triangular shape of an Imperial Scout was on final approach. Drachen-class, thought the man absently, one of the new classes. Another poor fool consigned to this living hell, he thought.
The glass doors of the Administration Building slid apart with a barely audible hiss as he approached them, the chilly refrigerated air slapping him in the face as he entered the building. The whine of engines and the shouts of the flightline crews were silenced in mid-sound as the doors slid closed behind him, surrounding him in the cold air and the quiet hum of machinery. He strode purposefully across the lobby, stopping before the receptionist’s desk. The pretty young girl looked up from her terminal, an official smile plastered on her face.
“Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?” she asked in her bureaucratically correct manner, the official smile never wavering.
A thousand sarcastic replies flew through his mind in an instant but were discarded just as quickly. Sarcasm would get him nowhere fast. Besides, it wasn’t really her fault that he was still stuck on this wind-swept, sun-baked planet in the middle of nowhere. He put on his own official smile, the one he saved for people who wanted something from him, usually money.
“Mr. Lury, please,” he asked, trying to force as much pleasantness into his request as he could.
“One moment, sir,” she replied, adjusting the volume on her headset as she placed the call, announcing the visitor to the unseen person on the other end. After a moment, she turned her attention back to her visitor.
“Mr. Lury will see you shortly, sir. If you will just have a seat…” She gestured towards the cluster of faux leather chairs in the middle of the lobby.
He was taken aback for a moment. For the past eight days, he had been greeted with one brush off after another. Missing paperwork, improperly completed paperwork, it went on and on. One thing he would not miss when it was all said and done would be the paperwork. The Service was drowning in it these days. Now, just like that, he was suddenly one step closer to his goal.
With a thank-you to the young receptionist, he turned and took a seat in the lobby. Settling into one of the over-stuffed chairs, he tried to relax. No need to go into the meeting with a short temper, reasoned the sensible side of his personality. No need? replied the other half of his mind. Eight days stuck in this backwater of the Imperium was more than enough reason. Twenty-eight years of loyal service, constantly putting his life on the line and the least they could have done for him was to arrange his for his retirement to take place on a more hospitable world! When Sorenson mustered out last year, they arranged for him to be cut loose on Regina. And he with only sixteen years of service! They even put him up at a first-class hotel, all expenses paid, while they processed him out. Not that he had anything against Sorenson. Far from it, he was a good man and had gotten a bum deal when they had refused his re-enlistment request after sixteen years of exemplary service. They had certainly owed Sorenson some kind of a perk, at the very least, he thought.
The lobby of the Administration Building looked just like all the other lobbies in all the other Imperial Scout Service Administration Buildings in every other starport he had ever traveled through over the years. They might as well have been pressed out of a form-cutter in some nameless factory somewhere. Give the Admin boys credit, though, he admitted. What they might have lacked in design style, they more than made up for in creature comforts. Even at a Class C facility like this one, they certainly weren’t hurting. From the deep pile of the sound-absorbing carpet, to the rich, dark reds of the imported wood paneling (Boughene River Valley mahogany, he thought, impressed), only the best would do, it seemed. Even the over-sized, flat-panel video monitors imbedded in the walls were state-of-the-art, providing a constant stream of entertainment and news for workers and visitors alike.
He was only vaguely paying any attention at all to the newscast streaming across the monitors. The smartly dressed newsreader was rattling off the latest trivia that was passing for news these days. Besides, he thought, the time-stamp on this newscast is over two weeks old. News only travels as fast as the ship carrying it. Class C facilities like this one weren’t exactly high on the Express Boat Service’s customer list. If they were lucky, a passing Scout or an enterprising Free Trader might drop by with the latest entertainment modules but that was rare. In a place like this, you took what you could get and counted yourself lucky.
He turned his attention to the people coming and going around him. For a Class III starport, Hefry was doing pretty good business. Of course, the presence of an Imperial Scout base did a great deal to boost the local trade presence. If the Scout Service ever pulled out, Hefry would probably quickly slide down to a Class IV rating and that would be the end of that. All the better to get out of here fast, he thought ruefully.
As it was, trade looked to be brisk in this corner of the Imperium and Hefry was doing its best to pull what share of it in that it could. The expansive lobby area was being crisscrossed by an assortment of individuals. Newly-minted Scouts in their neatly pressed white uniforms, looking oddly out of place as they tried to impress their fellows on what was assuredly for many of them their first duty assignment. More than one of them stared at him in his worn flightline kit, the black leather jacket showing off the colorful service patch of the Exploration Branch on his left sleeve, the gold-toned winged serpent coiled on the left breast, the symbol of the Imperial Scout Service. The silver rank insignia on the collar standing out brightly against the jet black of the jacket. Scout Leader, it said to any who could interpret the symbol. Not many made it to this level. We are a dying breed, he reflected sadly. Which is why he took special pride in wearing the old-style duty uniform. Someone needed to keep the old traditions alive, to remind people of the things that had made the Service what it was.