Chief Administrator Haren Jart stared out the octagonal window that occupied nearly the entire back wall of his office. As he gazed into the inky blackness, one punctuated by countless sparkling diamonds of star systems near and far, Jart allowed his mind to wander. He knew with certitude that dangerous times were upon him once again. Why else was I suddenly transferred to this space station?, he thought. Something was afoot, but just what….
As his mind toyed with the dour, nearly limitless possibilities, he closed his eyes and rested his worry-lined forehead upon the cool, armored glass. He felt an ever so slight ‘thrum’ in the glass, as if the heart of a great beast beat deep within the station. In a sense, there was such a heart, but it was diffuse. It was caused by countless machines and countless station denizens going about their workaday lives, performing innumerable tasks that, as a unified whole, kept this station alive.
Jart opened his eyes in time to see a construction vessel drift lazily across his window. Dragging a modular component behind it, the vessel was no doubt en route to the military starbase he knew lay hidden on the far side of Thorn, the dusty red planet that hung off in the distance like a misplaced Christmas tree ornament. It was because of Thorn that he was here on his own diplomatic space station.
A chime sounded from the desk behind him. “Sir? The delegation is here to see you,” said his secretary via the intercommunicator that was stealthily incorporated into the rosewood desk’s high-sheen surface.
“Thank you, Karen. You can send them on in,” he replied with long practice.
Jart pulled out his high back leather chair and settled his tired frame into its welcoming embrace. His eyes cast about the office, as they were want to do, to make sure nothing was out of place, nothing amiss for his visitors to notice. Not that they likely would, as his office was always kept quite dark with the exception of some tightly focused spotlighting that served to create small, fragile pools of light along the walls of his office. He preferred such dark environs not just for aesthetics, but also for the mental impact it had upon all who entered his domain.
Haren Jart was a lifelong spacer, a “vacuum sucker” as some disparagingly called the lifestyle; a man who had spent a long part of his life off-planet, living and working on countless vessels and space stations. Jart knew, deep in his bones knew, the dangers that were ever attendant to those who lived in the Endless Night. ‘It is always trying to kill you,’ a section supervisor on Jart’s first space-bound Company posting once sagely remarked to him. ‘Never forget that, Haren; it is always trying to kill you.' An involuntarily smile appeared across Jart’s lips as he recalled his old mentor, and disappeared just as quickly as he inevitably remembered his sup's death at the hands of a life support failure many years after the lecture. Jart honored his memory by never forgetting that all important lesson…and would never allow anyone else too, either. As a result, he always welcomed the dark of space into his office and personal quarters as a constant reminder that despite the seeming solidity of the station around him - around all of them - he was still caught in the maw of a great, devouring beast.
The door opened and two individuals entered. One was a tall male, gray at the temples like Jart, who wore a uniform of the admiralty. The other was a woman, dark of complexion with soft eyes, wearing an expensive designer business suit. “Welcome!” Jart stood. “Have a seat, won’t you,” he continued while pointing to two plush leather chairs that were placed just before his desk.
“Not before I shake your hand, old friend!” beamed the man in uniform, reaching out with a large paw.
Jart grasped his friend’s hand and laughed. “How have you been, you ol’ space barnacle?”
The uniformed man, Admiral Chester Alister, turned to Marjorie Souce, Thorn’s colonial representative to the Company. “Haren and I go way back,” he explained. “Haren was the senior Company rep on Frontliner I, back during the Second War,” he turned back to Jart as he sat down. “The bad old days! We’re honored to have you here, helming the Company’s Franchise HQ on their deepest space station.”
“As are we, Mr. Jart,” added Souce with a smile. “Thorn needs all the experienced Company personnel we can have in our relations with the Dregin.”
Jart’s face darkened momentarily. “Dregin relations, indeed. That is why I have called this meeting.”
Alister sat on the edge of his seat. “Is there…a problem?” He shot a glance at Souce. “We aren’t getting involved in that border skirmish, are we?” Souce’s face seemed to pale at the admiral’s suggestion.
Jart held up his hands, “Not that I am aware of.” His answer immediately put the colonial rep at ease, but his military-minded friend still hung on every word. “Last I heard the Senate rejected coming to the Rions aid.”
Now Alister’s face darkened. “I understand the decision, but I still feel guilty about it.” He turned to Souce to explain. “I oversaw the ferry operations during our lend/lease program with the Rions during the Second War. I would often hitch a ride with decommissioned Company warships and deliver them to the Rions. I found them to be a spunky people, not afraid to stand up to Dregin threats.” Alister looked down at his folded hands, “I wish we could help them.”
“We can’t afford another war, not yet. But don’t worry, I have…,” Jart searched for the right phrase, “…come to understand that the Company has made sizeable, um, lines of credit available to the Rions, with Senate approval, of course. There is even talk of another lend/lease program.”
“So what is the problem, Mr. Jart?” asked Souce.
Jart exhaled. “Nothing I can put my finger on, but….”
“…But you are worried,” concluded the admiral. “I confess I am too. We have detected sizeable fleet movements from the Dregins. Nothing provocative, mind you, but still sizable…and not all explainable by the Rion skirmishing.” The admiral laughed suddenly, “Glad I had that armor installed on The Hammer!”
“The Hammer? That’s what you’re calling that piece of junk that I have to share resources with?” mocked Jart.
"The boys picked the name,” replied Alister sheepishly. “Enlisted prerogative,” he chuckled. “Why, what do you call this fortress of diplomatic double-talk?”
“Some of the crew like to call it ‘Deep McD’,” Jart replied with a glower. “You know, after the Company’s first franchise op.” Alister burst out laughing.
Souce did not see any humor in the situation and just frowned. “Why would the Dregins…do something? I mean, they are turning quite a profit by trading with us.”
Jart turned serious again. “It’s not necessarily what they want to do. Your colony shares a star with the Dregin homeworld. Can you imagine how that must feel?”
“The spoils of their ill-considered war….,” retorted Souce.
“That may be true, but it still must rankle. Then there is the new colony of Russom II on the other side of Dregin space.”
“That new aquatic colony,” nodded the admiral.
“Right now, Dregin territory is looking like a piece of Zero Cheese. No empire can permit, nor survive, such a shambles of sovereignty for long.”
Alister pondered this. “You expect them to lash out?”
Jart just shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not a fortune teller. But my gut….”
"...Has survived enough Dregin attacks to know better,” finished Alister. The admiral played with his academy ring for a few moments. “I hope Project Epsilon makes it trials soon,” mused Alister to himself.
“Project Epsilon?” asked Souce.
“A new class of…vessel that the admiralty has sunk a lot of credits into with no return,” replied Jart, earning an annoyed look from Alister. “So far, anyway.” Jart sat forward and placed his palms flat on his desk. “Look, I’m here just to ask that everyone prepare for all…eventualities. At worst, a bit of caution will make us look all the more intimidating to the Dregin,” smiled Jart. “At best, it could save lives…if it comes to that.”
The admiral nodded and stood. ‘Message received, Haren. And thank you.”
Souce understood the meeting was at an end and stood as well. “Yes, thank you for the vague misgivings,” she replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. With that she turned a left. Admiral Alister raised an eyebrow at Jart and followed her out of the office.
When they were gone, Jart turned off all the lights in his office and swiveled his chair to look out the window with the warnings of his mentor echoing in his head….
Artwork by John Redd