The trouble with space travel was that it meant a heck of a lot of paperwork, and took up a great deal of time. In more ways than one. Karlan Staithley dropped the last of the Time Anomaly Records onto his desk, and stretched out until he felt his muscles pop. Another long day in the Interplanetary Administration Office, and it didn’t look like that was likely to change any time soon. Not that Karlan didn’t love his job, because that statement wouldn’t be true at all. Anything could happen at any moment in the universe, and quite often did.
Only last week he’d been recording the goings-on of a gang of Gilarryan pirates who’d been making good use of an immobility spray to take what, and who, they wanted from passing ships. A list of what crimes they’d committed would definitely come in handy when trial-day arrived. And as recently as yesterday, he and his boss, Inspector Hannai Bilbathnot, had been celebrating the final sign-off to the new Concord of Agreement between the Farsan and the Myleorites. A miracle in itself really, as the two planets had been engaged in intermittent warfare for hundreds of years. Karlan hoped that this would at last be the beginning of something good. It should at the very least reduce that paperwork.
He smiled to himself, stood up and walked to the beverage dispenser to refresh his Gregorshan tea. An acquired taste, he admitted, but an ex-boyfriend had switched him onto it a long time ago, and it certainly hit the spot. As indeed had the boyfriend (oh, happy memory!) but that was another story, for another day. For now he remained standing, took a deep sniff of the pungent liquid – apple-bracken and winter leaves – and then a few welcome sips. Almost at once he felt the warmth of it spreading through his body. Thank the stars themselves that, no matter what happened in the universe and how many years passed by, there was always, somehow, time for tea.
When he’d finished his drink, he planned to go home. Maybe stop off on the way at one of the flonker beer bars, but he never stayed long. He’d never been much of a one for night life, at least not in public. He preferred a quiet evening in with his music and his thoughts. He hadn’t had a serious relationship for a while and, actually, he found it rather suited him. Oh yes, it suited him just fine.
“You sure about that then?” said an unfamiliar voice.
Karlan whirled round, spilling most of his tea in the process. He cursed and dropped the container, which at once crumpled itself into nothing as the Virtual Cleaning Master incinerated it, and the liquid inside it, dammit.
The citizen who stood in front of him wasn’t of any race he was familiar with. He had the fair, sleeked-back hair of the southern Andovians, a narrow face that reminded him of the Outer Pretulians, and the pale skin of the Winter Planet people. Quite a nice physique too under his deep green tunic. In fact, very nice, from what he could see. Karlan shook his head, dispelled the thought. He couldn’t afford any distractions.
“Who on the planet are you?” he said, stepping back and resting his hand on the Emergency Button. Just in case. “And, more importantly, how the hades did you get in?”
The stranger smiled. Briefly. “My name is Tuluscan Six and I come from the planet Lamaria. It’s five space-kaladia north-north-west of the furthermost rings of the Winter Planet. You haven’t discovered it yet. But in exactly one year you will. Unfortunately because of the slight shift of timescales between us, your attempts to make first contact end up with the whole of Lamaria burnt to a crisp. In your language. Though what a crisp is I really couldn’t tell you. I haven’t been privy to that part of your culture yet. The death of our planet is a great shame, partly because of the destruction of a whole culture, partly because the guilt of it drives you as a people away from space travel and much knowledge you could have gained is lost. But it’s mainly a great shame, in my mind, because on the principal timeline you and I get to meet, we each think the other is as sexy as a Lamarian wood-tiger (and they’re very sexy by the way), we fall in love and everything changes. I’d hate to miss out on all that. Wouldn’t you?”