I checked with Central Command on the date thing, just in concern, and they said as long as I make use of one or the other, it does not matter which I use. Just if you are wondering.
I should continue with my log entry. I have recruited Joseph Pike as my engineering chief. Well, that is his title, but it is an official way of saying he is coming with me.
In any case, in my efforts to locate other lost long friends, I have located Maice Bendix. Maice and I used to be on our American-style football school team. While I held a minor position on the team, he had admired my dedication to the game. I found this particularly encouraging, considering he was the MVP the year we graduated, if that gives you any idea of his skill in the sport. He had expressed an interest in law enforcement or the military or doing something involving combat in some form. Joe heard he was attending a military college somewhere in Iraq. In any case, he went into the Terran military, and we lost contact.
That is until now. I have learned he is on extended leave from the military so I have considered dropping down on him and ask if he wants to see other worlds.
This is Richard, signing off.
Richard and Joe step out of the Spartacus. “So, Rich, where do we go from here?” remarks Joe as he surveys the barren scene.
Richard looks at his digital assistant. “The School of Military Excellence in Baghdad. I am not sure where it is, but I am sure this pleasant girl at the courtesy counter will be more than happy to tell us.”
As they approach the counter, Richard can see she is nearly identical in appearance to the girl he left at the previous Interstellar Transit Center, except her hair is heavily bleached in order to reach the same iridescent blond color, and her complexion is naturally darker. The girl grins as she dusts her already quite clean counter. After dusting, she moves on to straightening her neatly arranged brochures. Joe looks at Richard. “This must be a truly depressing job.”
“I would expect that,” Richard comments, looking up from his digital assistant.
Joe shakes his head. “I bet you’re the first person to come to this particular port in years.”
Richard looks at Joe in amazement. “What? You mean this is not the only spaceport in Iraq?”
“Of course not! There’s thousands of them around the world, and at least a half dozen of them here. You could have landed at the one closer to Baghdad,” Joe remarks. “This one’s out in the middle of nowhere!”
Richard scratches his head. “I did not know there were any more here since I could only get the coordinates for Ar Rifa’i from space.” They approach the counter.
The girl looks up, a beaming smile on her face. “Oh! Hi and welcome to Earth, the diamond of the Terran solar system! Will you be parking at our port today?”
Richard looks over to Joe. “Yes, but I need a small amount of information.”
She straightens up, pleasantly excited by the prospect of a difficult travel question. “Of course! How can I be of assistance?”
“Well, do you know where the School of Military Excellence is?”
She smiles, producing a black card. “Of course! Here are directions on how to get there from here. Included is also information about the local sights of Iraq. Is there anything else I can help you with?” Richard thinks for a moment. Joe looks at Richard, wondering what other information they need to make the trip. She glances over to Richard’s ship. “I notice you don’t have our new Earth Eurasia parking permit.” She quickly yanks out an application.
Richard suddenly gasps in horror, raising his hands defensively before the raised sheet of paper. “Listen, I told the last girl I am a diplomat of the Tyberian Empire. Certainly you have record of this?”
She slides the application to Richard. “I’m afraid the captain’s yacht of the recently decommissioned Viking series of battle cruisers in the Alexandrian naval fleet is not on my registry of official ambassadorial shuttles.” She smiles at Richard with a piercing, overeager look. “If you can just fill this out, and if I could have you relocate your ship to the commons, we can have you on your way!
Richard looks over to Joe. “Is it public knowledge on your world when we decommission ships?” Joe shrugs. Richard turns back to the pleasant girl behind the counter. “I am not sure how you have come to have such information regarding my ship, but I do want to know why you are not aware of who I am.”
She looks at Richard, her eyes frowning as she continues to smile. “Sir, I assure you we make every effort to have your stay at each of our Interstellar Transit Centers as pleasant an experience as possible.” She points to Richard’s ship. “However, I can’t allow you to park in an area designated for the Alexandrian royal family. Please understand we want to ensure our center is convenient for all our travelers.”
Joe shakes his head. “Sorry, I didn’t know. Did this happen at the last transit center?”
Richard folds his arms. “In much the same manner.”
The girl, watching the two converse, leans forward to interject. “You were staying at an interstellar transit site on Earth recently?” Richard nods. “Can I look up your registry?” Richard raises an eyebrow. She smiles bigger. “I’m sure it can serve to clear up this matter!”
Richard pulls out his digital assistant. “It is all here. You are free to verify it.”
She takes the digital assistant. “Of course. I’ll also need to verify with the transit center you were staying at as well, for your protection.” She steps over to a terminal and begins to key in information
Richard shakes his head. “The Omaha ITC. I am sure Amber is eager to tell you anything you want to know.”
“Oh, I won’t need to speak to her,” she comments. “Everything I need should already be logged into the system.”
As she walks away, Richard turns to Joe, whispering, “Are your people naturally suspicious, or is there something going on I am not aware of?” Joe shrugs.
But before Joe can comment, the girl returns to the counter, looking down. “I…I’m sorry …” she starts, laying his digital assistant on the desk.
Richard takes his digital assistant. “You have done nothing deserving of an apology. You were just doing your job.”
“No, I shouldn’t have treated you so rudely!” She looks up. Richard sees she is almost crying. “I now realize how you were treated at the previous transit center, and I’ve done the same thing! And now trade relations between our worlds will collapse over this, possibly affecting our world’s economy!”
Richard frowns. “Um, you are upset over a minor matter! This is not an issue needing your tears.” She looks away. “I assure you this is not going to affect the relationship between our worlds!”
She feigns a smile, now choking down a persistent sob. “Of course not,” she sniffles. “Is there any other service I can provide you?” She asks with renewed vigor. Richard, still staring at her, merely shakes his head as he and Joe walks away.
“We could probably fly and land at the Baghdad ITC in a matter of minutes, based on the info she gave us,” Joe comments.
Richard stops, waving his hands. “And experience this again?” He points over to a vehicle rental center. “If I do not need to, I will avoid landing at one of these places again.”
Joe nods. “Well, this can get old.” He folds his arms. “Maybe you should say something to your dad about it.”
“It is not important,” Richard recants. “I do not visit Earth often enough for this to be worth addressing.” He raises his hand. “Besides, the drive will give us an opportunity to speak at length!” Joe nods, following Richard to the vehicle rental center.
This particular Wednesday proves to be as slow at the Baghdad Interstellar Transit Center as any other, Maice thinks. Finding himself here many times before, usually on a security assignment, he failed to note how barren the commercial terminals are between the sparse weekday flights. He turns back to the window he stands near, and his eyes lock onto a descending aircraft.
Within an instant, he identifies it as a midsized commercial freighter, the type normally ferrying goods between Earth and Mars. As it nears the runway, Maice mentally critiques the pilot’s sloppy approach, the heavy freighter lightly swaying to and fro. Maice shakes his head as the freighter plops onto the runway, thinking of how much wear the landing gear must be getting from such abusive landings. He looks up, noting another aircraft approaching.
Maice smiles, instantly knowing what it is: a military deep space fighter. Since these normally are on patrol near the orbit of Pluto, or even further, Maice knows what a rare privilege seeing one touchdown Earth side is. Maice is aware of the grueling training these pilots must go through before they are even allowed near one of these special ships. Maice’s smile broadens as it makes its approach—a near textbook approach with little or no correction needed to guide the ship onto the runway. As it touches down, Maice takes notes as the front wheel gently plants on the center of the runway stripe.
Maice turns to his left, hearing footsteps on the linoleum nearing himself. He looks down at the young men stopping near. “Can I help you?” he asks.
Richard smiles. “Hey, Maice! How is it going?” Maice adjusts his deep-tinted shades, still staring quietly at Richard. “It is me—Richard,” Richard adds, hoping to trigger a dormant memory. Maice raises an eyebrow.
Failing to recall himself to Maice’s memory, Richard tries a different approach. “We played American-style football together in high school?”
Maice looks down for a moment. Then he looks up, letting up a thunderous laugh. This startles Joe. “I remember now!” he bellows. “You were the water boy!” Joe looks over to Richard. Richard shrugs.
Maice takes a moment to regain his composure, reducing his voice to a less stentorian tone. “What are you doing here? I thought you were a prince.”
Richard folds his arms. “I am still a prince. I do not live in a cage!”
Maice turns back to the window. “I see,” he recants. “Then what brings you here?”
Richard steps closer to Maice. “Actually you. I am seeing if you are interested in doing a little traveling.” Maice turns back to Richard.
Maice folds his arms. “What sort of traveling?”
“Well,” he starts, “I am on leave from school, and I thought it would be cool to just explore the galaxy a little. You know, just see what is out there.”
“Why should we be interested in traveling with you?” he interrogates.
Richard pauses, mentally tripping over the word “we.” “Well, um, I heard you were on leave, and I was merely offering an opportunity to travel, as a civilian, for a brief time.” Richard tries to look around, without drawing attention from Maice. “If you are interested, I would really enjoy having your company once again. It could be similar to a high school reunion!”
Maice looks down again. “Hmm,” he ponders, “we might need to report back halfway into a trip. If so, we would need to return to duty within five days of activation.”
Joe starts looking around. Richard smiles. “Well, I am not planning on any deep space exploration, just seeing some sights. We will not need to go very far for that!”
Maice removes his shades, glancing past Richard and Joe. They turn around, noting two people sitting in seats a few meters away. The first, a man appearing to be in his mid-fifties, bears the uniform of a lieutenant. He sits board straight, his back not touching the arched back to the seat. He looks ahead, deep in thought, focusing on a point miles beyond the terminal. Maice gestures toward the man. “I need your opinion on something,” he requests.
The other person, a woman sitting behind the man, looks up and starts toward Maice. Richard notices she is not wearing a standard Terran military uniform of any sort. Instead, she wears a loose-fitting, short-sleeve T-shirt that is tucked neatly into her denim jeans. He also notes there is an expression written on her T-shirt in a language he can’t immediately identify. In spite of her dress, however, she clearly has the military’s signature toned, athletic physique—at least what Richard can tell from her arms, since the rest of her clothes are fairly loose-fitting. As she moves up to Maice, she looks up at him and smiles, brushing her long, raven black hair off her shoulder as she turns to face Richard and Joe. “Hello, my name is Ana Santiago,” she softly announces.
Richard unfolds his arms, thinking for a moment. “I cannot say I am clear on your relationship with him,” he inquires. “Please clarify, are you military?”
Ana smiles coyly. “Of course, silly. I’m his shrink!”
Maice cringes. “That is not your official title!” he mutters in a highly restrained tone.
Ana looks back at him in disappointment. “Well, ‘military counselor’ is too vague. It’s not as if you really value my opinion on anything!”
Maice refolds his arms, turning up his nose at Ana. “I don’t believe your functions on my behalf need to be public knowledge. From now on, I demand you inform others of your official title, not some fictitious one you’ve made up for the moment!”
Ana shakes her head. “For your information, you are not my superior, and you have no business giving me orders! And second of all, I think I have a right to inform your travel companions of what I’m doing here, so they can know what kind of person you really are!”
“You think I’m some sort of crazed lunatic in need of psychiatric help! Considering how little you actually know about me, I find your opinion on the matter worthless!” He looks at Richard’s slightly confused expression on his face. “What are you looking at!” he screams. Maice stops, taking a deep breath. He attempts to regain his composure as Richard’s eyes slightly widen.
However, as Maice clenches one fist and points a finger off the other, Richard decides to intervene. “Listen, I am not wanting to cause distress over this matter!” he admits, giving the biggest stupid grin he can muster. He then points to a nearby cafe in the terminal. “Why not the four of us go over here, and I can better explain my proposal.” Maice lowers his pointing finger and then starts for the cafe, the others following.
“If I understand you correctly,” states Maice, sipping his Earl Grey. “This is not any sort of covert operation or mission, but merely an extended bachelor party in space with you and a few select guests.”
Richard, listening carefully, nods, setting his expresso on the glass tabletop. “You are included, but the summation is true,” he comments, “It is certain I will have far too many responsibilities to attempt this at another time, so it would be best to experience this now.”
Ana shakes her head, after sipping her latte. “I can’t say I’m interested in going on such a testosterone-filled adventure”—she glances over at Maice, noting a smile creeping onto his face— “but I don’t see I have much choice.”
Joe looks over to Richard. “Who else are you planning to invite from school? I mean, I can see if Jen wants to go?”
Richard looks up at the stucco ceiling for a moment. “Well, my cousin said she wants to go, and I was going to get a hold of a couple of the guys on the school British-style rugby team. Maybe two or three others.”
Joe sips his water. “Then I’ll call Jen! I’m sure she’d love to go!”
Maice nods his head. “I do have the time,” he admits, “and I haven’t seen much outside the Terran system.”
Ana slurps down the rest of her latte. “Maybe it’ll be good for your treatment…” she comments, setting the cup down.
Maice folds his arms. “I didn’t say you needed to come!” He snorts. “Your presence—”
“Is mandatory, by Terran military regulation!” Ana interjects. “‘Subjects under long-term evaluation must be attended by a therapist at all times.’”
“Why don’t you announce it over the intercom? I’m not sure everybody just heard you blurt that out!” He heaves in disgust.
“You shouldn’t take this so personally!” she comments. “It’s not uncommon for people to seek therapy.”
“Well, I don’t want the whole world to know I am!”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. If you didn’t fight me so much, you would see I’m trying to help you.” Maice, disgusted, turns to face Ana, appearing to foam at the mouth. Ana turns to him a gentle smile on her blank face.
Richard, glancing quickly between the two, raises his hand between them. “Without need of saying,” he interrupts, “you have probably argued—”
“Discussed,” corrects Ana, flitting her eyelashes.
Richard picks up where he left off. “Discussed this matter several times before. But I think my proposal will prove to be of mutual benefit. Maice will oversee ship security, a position offering a certain level of anonymity, allowing you, Ana, to continue his therapy.” Ana nods softly in agreement. Maice goes into deep thought, again pondering his new opportunity.
“What exactly do you get out of this?” asks Maice. “I mean, how could I possibly be of service to your crew?”
Ana frowns, her mouth agape. “Isn’t it obvious? He wants a good security officer, someone he can personally trust. That’s why he came for you.”
Maice looks down, shaking his head in disbelief. “No, I doubt that. I couldn’t even get qualified for advanced training in the academy!”
Ana moves to put her hand on his shoulder. “Maice, you can’t let that academy dictate to you your worth when they didn’t even give you a fair chance. They can’t see how dependable or loyal you are by a transcript or some kind of loyalty test. You’ve got to prove yourself by your actions, not by what other people think or tell you what you are.”
“She is right,” says Richard in agreement. “I want to give you that chance. I know you, Maice. You have what it takes to become the best in any endeavor you take up.” He pauses, Richard quickly nodding his head as he smiles.
“All right, all right. I guess I’ll go anyway. There’s nothing for me here.” He grabs a bag in the nearby chair. “Where’s this ship I’m supposed to secure?”
Richard smiles. “Right this way.” As they walk out, Richard moves a little way ahead of Maice and Ana. Joe quickly moves up beside him.
“Are you sure this is a good idea? He could snap at any time!” Joe pleads. “My own government thinks he’s off the deep end!” Richard looks behind, making sure they’re still a way behind but still following.
“That could all prove true. But with a therapist as devoted as her, I cannot see this being a permanent situation. In fact, I am quite optimistic on his recovery.”
Joe shakes his head, forgetting his friend’s optimism. “I don’t know. This is about the silliest situation you’ve ever put us into!”
“Ha!” Richard yelps. “I am sure I have gotten us into far more ludicrous a situation than now.”
Joe thought for a moment. “I guess so, since I’m still wanting to go anyway.”
Richard looks over at Joe. “Of course you do. By adding these varying personalities to our group, it makes our whole adventure all the more interesting. Now I have one other stop to make before we venture into the great unknown.”