New Carthage, Carthage System
1731 Local Planet Time, 5 April 3304
The shuttle from Marker Depot to the planet was a short but efficient ride on a modified Saud Kruger Dolphin. The small shuttle had eight seats, all immaculate and white. Leon sat with a bag of meager belongings he’d stuffed into an old canvas military knapsack. The Federation insignia was faded but Leon could feel the eyes of his fellow passengers as they eyed him up.
There were four other members of this flight besides himself. A tall thin man with a balding head and a pressed white coat stared out the viewport as they made their descent towards the atmosphere. He didn’t appear to have any luggage under his seat. In the row ahead, a woman with her black hair in a tight bun scanned idly through the news feeds and made occasional taps in response to messages she received on her com tablet. The last two men sat in the rear of the shuttle making mute conversation with one another.
The shuttle began to shake, the viewports slowly closing over with the ablative protective shielding. Window Looker sighed, and settled back in his chair, eyes closed. Outside, the ship would just be barely striking the atmosphere and even the rarefied air at this altitude would begin to rub against the hull. Bun and Tablet sighed, resigned as the tablet fizzled and displayed NO SIGNAL as they entered the unavoidable signal blackout that being completely surrounded by the effects of reentry began.
“Esteemed passengers,” an even voice spoke over crisp and high definition speakers throughout the cabin. “We are now beginning our descent into the atmosphere. Please ensure your persons and all belongings are properly secured in accordance with Imperial Flight Operations Bureau Guidelines. We thank you profusely for your cooperation and estimate our entry time at three and a half minutes at current speed and heading.” The message ended with a pleasant musical chime. Leon was still adjusting to the day-to-day Imperial life. Everything was much more personal somehow, he thought. When you couldn’t rely on a computer or bot, you had to rely on people. And if it was a person at fault, you had to make sure you did your job well. Imperial precision was well known but there was a care that went into every aspect of their job. Even the flight operators seemed overwhelmingly concerned that everything operate as expected. And expectations, apparently, were very high.
A few minutes later the sudden hum and faint whoosh of air rushing past the hull informed the passengers that they had entered the atmosphere of New Carthage. The ablative shields retracted and the viewports now shown a blue blur as the ship screamed over the oceans of the planet. Leon kept his head forward and tried to breathe slowly. He could feel that .88G pulling down on him and after so much time in space it felt like someone was sitting on his chest.
“First time planetside?” A soft and gruff voice said. Leon opened his eyes to see Window Looker giving him an appraising look.
“No, just haven’t been in real gravity for a few months. You don’t really get used to it.” Leon replied. Window Looker smiled, his lips thin.
“Not really no.” His eyes grew a bit hard when they scanned down to Leon’s military surplus bag. “I’d try and hide that if I were you. Not a lot of love for those stars around here.”
It was Leon’s turn to get distant. “There’s no love lost here. It’s all I had to bring my stuff in.”
“Deserter?” The question was direct but not accusing. Leon shook his head.
“Did some work there. It’s where my family lives… Lived.”
“Ah. One of those.” The man said turning his eyes to the cloud layer outside. “Listen. They might give you some flak but they’re good people. Consul Lavingy rewards good work. Everyone rags on the new Initiates but it’s all a big family in that circle.”
Leon looked toward the man. “How’d-”
“I’ve been around more than you know, young man. I pride myself in an ability to read people.” The older man smiled, a sly twinkle to his eye.
A chime sounded. “Esteemed passengers, we are beginning our final approach to New Aeneas Starport. Please remain seated until we have made contact with the deck. We thank you for the privilege of assisting you this day.” The shuttle banked and within a few minutes a large elegant city full of white reaching spires appeared through the viewports. The Dolphin touched down soft and with a light clunk the landing structs connected. The older man stood and stretched, the two men in the back of the shuttle stood as well. The woman was busying herself getting her comm tablet back online.
“Well young man, I hope I can see great things from you soon. Good luck.” The two men in the back stepped forward to flank the other man and as one they turned and exited the cabin. Leon wasn’t more than a few steps behind.
At the bottom of the gangway four men in crisp uniforms waited. Leon’s stomach bottomed out. Was he already being arrested? What had he done? They took one look at Window Man and saluted as one. The older man took one more backward glance.
“Welcome to New Carthage.” He said, walking through the group of armed men as they fell in step behind him.
“This way please, Governor Peck.” One of the guards said, leading the man off to a waiting transport vehicle. Leon stood at the top of the ramp, dumbfounded.
“He does that from time to time.” The woman said as she sidled past him, not looking up from her work. “He likes to ride the shuttles. Gives him more of a feel for what the comings and goings on.”
“Was…was that?” Leon said, pointing a finger as the strange planetary transport dissapeared beyond view. The woman had already reached the bottom of the ramp and did not stop to answer his question.
Inside the terminal, a man in a white and purple uniform was waiting for him. He directed Leon to a small closed circuit shuttle that would take him directly to campus. Initiation was to be that evening.