Captain Dona Graham sweated it out in the anteroom with two dozen other relatively junior officers.
She had received written orders to attend. That was all the information she had. It was also three days of travel. She’d been given vouchers for transport, food and accommodation.
These were thorough if not lavish.
Her job was being covered by her assistant, who would do well enough. There were some pangs of regret for her students, most of whom she would never see again.
There could only be one reason for all of this.
Something was up, and it could only be one thing. There was a war on, or there shortly would be.
Secretaries ushered people in and out of a row of offices along the back wall. Phones and communicators buzzed at the reception desk.
The voices were low, calm and unhurried.
The rest of them sat and waited.
The air of tension was unmistakeable.
She would be reassigned, and so would the others. Some of them were distinctly pale. Some of them seemed terribly young. The young man sitting directly across from Dona chewed his lip, checking out the room from the corner of one eye.
The eyes came up, met hers, and a faint grin passed over the narrow but intelligent features. He gave a quick shrug and looked away, assessing the competition. They exchanged another look and now it was Graham’s turn to shrug, raise her eyebrows and settle a little further into her seat.
The door in the middle of the big back wall opened. A Brigadier-General came out, looking pleased.
“As you were, ladies and gentlemen.” Anywhere else, they would have been leaping to their feet to salute.
There was a sign on the door that said otherwise.
In this environment, top-heavy with brass, and numerous enlisted troopers busy rushing about, efficiency demanded some slackening of military decorum. Otherwise nothing would ever get done.
People’s arms would wear out from the sheer saluting.
The pale blue eyes, not without their humour, focused on Dona.
Now was the time to get up.
The Brigadier’s big paw extended, Captain Graham took a quick stride and they shook hands.
“Good morning, sir. Good to see you again.”
Brigadier-General Rand had taught for a few years at the Staff College, where Dona had held an assistant professor’s chair in the History department, at least until a few days ago.
He ran his eyes up and down her frame of a hundred and eighty-eight centimetres.
Apparently, the Brigadier approved.
“So, how’s your father?” Rand and Colonel Dudley Graham had served together thirty years previously, in a particularly vicious little war that had long since been forgotten by everyone but them.
Such bonds, once made, were not easily broken. They got together when they could.
“Oh, you know him. Just as stubborn as ever, sir.”
The Brigadier reached up and gave her bicep a squeeze as every eye and ear in the room followed along. It was better than him ruffling Dona’s hair, but not by much.
“That’s always a good trait. Mostly. Jesus, H. Christ. What are they feeding you people down there? Anyways, good luck to you.”
There were muted chuckles and looks exchanged. They were keeping out of it, but it was a public place and these two were obviously old friends.
That sounded ominous.
“Don’t worry. They’ll tell you all about it.” Brigadier Rand smiled, nodded around the room, and with one last quick wave, headed for the door in his usual bulldog posture, head down a bit but the shoulders wide and well back.
The door of the inner office opened again and a captain in full dress uniform poked his head out.
Those beady black eyes swept the room.
“Sir.” It was the intelligent one, the cool one from the other side, the opposing row of generic upholstered office chairs lined up in what could have been any civilian business interior.
Those dark eyes flicked back, assessing her as he unfolded himself.
They were both standing now. If anything, Lieutenant Aaron was a bit taller than Dona, which was really saying something.
“Follow me, please. We’re running a bit late.”
This was it, then.
With a bit of part-time work, a new, quieter apartment, one or two nice friends, it’s like maybe I didn’t need that escape so much anymore. Then there’s the whole question of money--all the work involved in writing 21 novels didn’t seem to be paying off. But escape is escape, and maybe you can’t put a price on that sort of a thing.
This particular novel was originally intended for submission, and of course we sort of expect rejection after rejection, ultimately losing patience and just publishing it myself anyways.
That all adds up to a real lack of any other motivation to work on it.
Publishing one small excerpt hopefully will not spoil my chances with publishers, and I have to admit to some temptation to share this story with readers in the form of a serial, hoping that this would spark the sort of enthusiasm to actually finish it.
> Louis Shalako
Please check out my books and stories on Google Play.
Thank you for reading.