Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 2: In-processing

Matt swept down the access tube from the shuttle to the station concourse. He used light tugs on the railing to propel himself along without going too fast, duffel bag trailing along behind him.

Once through the tube he swung out into artificial gravity. Long experience enabled him to make the transition from zero-g to one-g while carrying the duffel bag. He quickly moved out of the queue to avoid being kicked by some inexperienced dirthog.

He saw higher-ranking officers powering up their luggage with contra-grav and mentally snorted to himself. As if I'd spend my hard-earned cash on such gadgets, he thought to himself. Must be nice to have the salary for it.

There was a crash behind him and he looked back to see a young one-striper shakily rise to his feet after missing the grab bar and landing flat on his back. Seeing he was all right, Matt decided not to take notice as an officer and made for the in-processing counter.

He surrendered his data wallet holding the chip with his orders. Looking it over, the clerk hesitated. "I'm afraid we don't have anything available for base housing," he said.

Matt shrugged. "A dorm room is just fine," he replied. "As long as it has a bed and a desk, I'm OK."

The clerk brightened and he pattered away at his keyboard. "Here we go. Just vacated yesterday. We're cleaning it right now."

Matt knocked on door standing ajar and poked his head in. A portly Yokhav ran a vacuum cleaner over the carpet. "Hello?" Matt announced himself. "Sho-faa."

The Yokhav looked up and shut off his vacuum cleaner. "Ah! Sho-faa, honored sir! Welcome to Bistro Station." He racked the cleaner on his cart. "All done and ready for you."

"Kay-ehla," Matt thanked him. Matt set his duffel on the neatly down-turned bed and unzipped the bag. "Name's Lieutenant Channing." He held out his hand.

The Yokhav seemed surprised at Matt's easy manner with him. He shook the proffered hand. "Best to call me 'Fred'," he replied. "Most Terrans can't handle so many consonants."

Matt smiled. "How's the beer here?"

"Ohhh," the Yokhav mournfully shook his head. "Downbelow you should not go."

"Hmm?" Matt looked up from his duffel in surprise. "What, bad? I can handle myself."

"No, no, I meant the beer they have is camel-piss."

Matt laughed out loud. He wondered where the Yokhav had gotten the term. Must have been some army types. Somehow the Yokhav people always reminded Matt of Porthos from The Three Musketeers, boisterous and full of life.

"But!" the Yokhav continued, "you're in luck. The Officer's Club actually pulls a good draft. They get a fresh shipment every Wednesday."

The Yokhav saluted Matt gracefully. "Sadly, I must go. If you wish you can contract with us for regular cleaning service." He indicated the end table by the bed. "Our rate card is there and has our com-code."

"Now that," Matt said warmly, "is something I'll definitely look into."

Once the housekeeper was gone Matt unpacked his duffel. First off, the holocube of his neice went on the desk. Next he hauled out his netbook and keyed it on. He set it to scan for the public channels while he unpacked his uniform and other military gear needed to present a proper appearance.

He wasn't due to report in until the next day. I need something to do tonight, he thought, or I'll start brooding again. He was not one to avoid his feelings, but even after a restful leave-en-route he still keep flashing back to a small foot dangling in the vacuum...

He jerked himself up short and hung up his dress uniform in the closet. He decided he'd best find a laundromat and run his dress blouse through the dryer to get the wrinkles out.

The netbook chimed, then woofed like a large dog. Matt looked over at the terminal. Mail? He put his favorite flight gloves in a dresser drawer and crossed over to the netbook. Who was mailing him? He really didn't have a lot of friends.

Matt sighed and shook his head when he saw the e-mail addy. Sam. These e-mails must have been held up in some distribution queue until Matt could log in to a network. He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then dropped them, took a deep breath and released it.

He paused with his hand over the keyboard. Should he delete them or not? He wasn't sure reading them would do much good—surely they were outdated trivia by now.

He slowly drew his hand away. Somehow, he just couldn't do it yet. But he couldn't read them yet, either. His frown cleared as he had an idea.

With a few taps of the keypad he downloaded the emails and then archived them. Someday soon, he reflected, he would be ready to read them—and then decide.

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