As he paced back and forth in the passenger lounge on the small space freighter, Harry Salem wished he was back on Earth Prime. He wished he was sitting in his officebeneath the clouds watching the ebb and flow of traffic following the proscribed air patterns thousands of feet below him. He wished for his bank of holoscreens with their connected spread sheets on which he could analyze the movement of the raw materials that drove the Directorate’s business. To have been pulled away from something important and sent on this fool’s errand was anathema to him.He didn’t even know this Lydia Thompson. Granted, she was the titular head of the division in the Directorate where he worked, but she had not been on Earth Prime since before he had been born. He had been forced to wade through the hundreds of files the Directorate had fed him about her. She had a long and valued history as one of the Directorate Elite. However, within the past 100-years, she had been acting erratically. As far as Harry could tell, she had had one Youth Treatment too many and belonged on one of the retirement planets. Granted she had a core of devout followers within the system. All her business on Earth Prime was being done by proxy. Harry had no time for anyone who could turn their back on one of the great companies that drove the interplanetary economy. At 23, Harry considered himself an idealist.
For twelve Earth days Harry had been confined to either his small state room, the general access dining room, or the meager passenger lounge and he was fed up. He was fed up with the lack of living space. His room was barely more than a bed and a desk. He was fed up with not being able to wear his own clothes. He hated the mandatory pressure suit that everyone was required by law to wear while traveling in space. It fit him so tightly that he felt naked. Like most of the other passengers, he opted to wear the loose fitting tunic over it. He was fed up with space travel. Space travel on a small freighter was not what he had expected it to be. There was nothing to do. Passenger liners with their gaming rooms, unlimited buffets and night clubs did not fold space towards the new territories on the frontier.
Harry walked up to the bar and poured himself a drink. It was an open bar. There were no stewards on duty. The clock above the bar read 4:30 afternoon Earth Prime Time. Close enough, Harry thought. There was no one on board who would object to his early drinking, anyway. Harry needed to get to Magnum-4, probably the most isolated planet in the explored galaxy in any of the corporate space sectors. It certainly was the most isolated planet in Directorate space. Only, there were no direct flights to Magnum-4. He had to fly to Emerson-5 first, and then pick up the scheduled supply freighter to take him there. If he missed the freighter currently loading at Emerson-5, he would have to wait a full 24-days before the next freighter departed. The last thing that Harry wanted to do was spend 24-days in the boondocks of Directorate space with nothing but time on his hands. Tossing down his drink, Harry wondered, why me? Then he poured himself another.
There were other passengers in the lounge, but Harry didn’t know them. He didn’t want to know them. He could tell that they were not “his” kind of people and so he had no intention of starting up a conversation with a perfect stranger out of sheer boredom only to have to remember that conversation for the rest of his life. Since he would not talk to any of them if he were on Earth Prime, why should he change his modus operandi and do so now? Anyway, there was no one there he wanted to talk to… except, perhaps, for the stunning creature that sat on the far side of the lounge. Harry was not immune to beauty and she was indeed beautiful. He had been studying her since he first saw her on the second day of the journey.
She had long, blue-black hair that glistened beneath the lounge’s soft light. Her hair was like a black waterfall that wrapped around her neck and across her left shoulder endingbelow her left breast. Harry guessed that she was about his age. She had that special glow of someone who was actually young and not remolded by the genetic manipulation of Youth Treatments. She wasn’t wearing a tunic and the pressure suit revealed the kind of body that only comes from youth and exercise.
Harry smiled behind his glass. Since she hadn’t undergone the genetic alteration of a Youth Treatment and since she didn’t seem the kind of young woman who would advertise herself by changing her hair color, then her black hair must be the result of a recessive gene that had worked its way to the surface of her genome. Either that or her mother had had a Youth Treatment or two before conceiving her. Either way that made her literally one in 10-billion. Her skin was pinkish and not the universal olive. Her eyes were almond shaped and icy blue, not the normal brown. She was reading an electronic tablet and its light reflected in the coolness of her eyes. She was holding the tablet in her left hand and as she finished each page, she languidly dragged her right index finger across the screen.
Harry stared at her over the top of his glass. There was something fascinating about her movements. Floating. That’s it, Harry thought. It looks like she’s floating as if the air were as thick as water. Harry sipped his second drink and examined the girl more closely. Harry wondered what she would look like done up to the nines and sitting at his table in the Directorate’s private dining room or at the opera. Harry was a snob and he knew it. He reveled in it. He was one of the Directorate elite on the fast track to bigger and better things. A beautiful young woman like that would make even the most jaded Directorate executives take notice.
Harry’s PCD beeped. He answered it. “Hello?”
“Mr. Salem, this is the communications officer.”
“I’ve received a message for you from Magnum-4. It’s marked ‘personal’. Do you want me to forward it to your device or would you rather read it directly off the secure channel in my office?”
Harry was momentarily taken aback. If anything, he had hoped for a communication from Earth Prime recalling him from this ridiculous mission. But then curiosity got the better of him. What could anyone on Magnum-4 want with me?
“I’ll take it in your office,” Harry said. Harry put his glass down and walked towards the door. However, before he exited the lounge, he took one last look at the dark-haired beauty and watched her slowly turn another page on the tablet. With a woman like that on my arm, I’d be top floor in no time.”