That morning I could find nowhere to park, but what else did you expect on planetary pay-day? If the captain hadn’t been so busy sweet-talking the Duranian ambassador last night, we wouldn’t have been in this position now. That is, half a workcycle from the interface zone and still cruising for a gap in the crowds. At this rate, we were never going to make the Fiscal Encounter Annual Rendezvous (FEAR for short) and I, Field Accountant Richard T’Ssuh – Rich to my friends – would be trapped, tortured, torn limb from limb and cast into the outer darkness of space by the furious and impoverished crew. Which would be pretty cold for a start.
Already I could sense the growing impatience of the bridge officers behind me: the whispered rasp of scales on skin; the flutter of ruffled feathers; the hesitant grumbling of the twin-folk. Never trust any species who only travel in twos, my father always used to say, and he was right.
‘Richard? What’s happening?’ The captain’s sultry voice echoed through the recycled air. ‘We should be parking by now.’
‘Yes, Captain.’ I risked a glance behind and saw Captain Suluki running one elegant hand through her long blonde hair and smiling. Must have been a good night with the ambassador then. That would explain a lot. ‘It’s just that we’re … a little behind schedule and we’ve lost our parking space.’
Which is all your fault, I wanted to add but didn’t. After all, I had my career to think of. If she hadn’t been late on duty today, we wouldn’t be in this life-threatening situation now.
The captain harrumphed, and a swish accompanied by a sudden wave of Duranian perfume told me she’d got up to stand next to me, and was adjusting her tunic. The perfume smelt of dying flowers. Mustn’t have had time to shower, I thought.
‘Lost our space?’ she snarled, a strand of hair brushing against my cheek. ‘Let’s see if we can get it back then. It’s highway hell out there. Worse than usual by the looks of it.’
Following her gaze to the viewing screen, I had to agree she was right. Hundreds of space ships in all shapes and sizes were crowding round the tiny planet which had been set aside years ago for processing the annual payment schedules in the sector. It used to be called Earth, but that soon changed to Efficient Accountancy Response To Hyperspace, or Effi for short. To be honest, I used to live there myself, but it’s not something you admit to in polite society these days. Not if you want to get on. My official birth record lays claim to Mars.