"New Hire"

This is what will probably be piece of a story I'll be working on in the future. It comes from an assignment I did for a workshop at the Muse Online 2009 writers' conference.

New Hire

O'Tool's bad leg ached with the morning fog. It was times like this he hated the plantation. He hated even more the thought of sitting behind the huge desk.

Wesa Ryan held out the first of many cups of tea the director would drink over the next twelve hours. The tall man nodded his thanks to the matronly secretary and limped into his office. His Assistant for Procurement, Mac, sat in a chair in front of O'Tool's desk with a reader. He popped to his feet with far more agility than was proper for a man of his gray hair. "Good morning, Colonel."

"Morning, Gunny." O'Tool placed his palm against the lock plate of his desk. The various systems embedded within its Bayern mahogany came to life as he seated himself. His glance swept the readouts and the holos hanging behind the gunny--nothing immediate required his attention. He leaned back in his high-backed chair and smiled up at Mac as the other waited at parade rest. "Well, Gunny, what have you got for me?"

The heavyset man returned the smile. "I've got a peach, sir."

"Oh? How so?"

Mac's smile widened to a grin. "He's the little man who wasn't there. You know, sir, the sort that disappears while you're looking straight at him."

O'Tool steepled his fingers. "Interesting. Does this paragon of invisibility have a name?"

"Sean Murphy, sir."

The director inclined his head as he mused, "A nondescript name for a nondescript person." He paused a moment, then asked, "Where did you find him?"

The older man pressed a button on the reader to link with his superior's system as he answered, "On Tara, sir. Doing his Imperial service in the Coast Guard."

"How did he come to your attention?"

"He was caught sneaking some equipment out of Marine Headquarters."

O'Tool squinted an eye at the other. "If he was caught, why are we interested in him?"

Mac chuckled. "It was his twenty-fourth trip, sir. Apparently, he and his mates were living a very high lifestyle. As I understand it, a case of the Commandant's scotch had vanished a couple of weeks before."

"And where is he now?"

Mac's grin was at full strength as he answered, "Outside sitting next to Mrs. Ryan's desk. You walked by him."

O'Tool looked at his assistant sharply. He realized he had only been aware of his secretary's presence in the outer office. He was a bit taken aback that he must have looked at Murphy without it registering. The director found it daunting as he considered himself a very observant man. He cleared his throat and smiled at Mac. "Alright, Gunny, please show Mr. Murphy in if you can find him."

Mac ushered in a small colorless man. It occurred to O'Tool that the man, with slight changes to his hair and skin, could be from practically anywhere in known space. With a little work around the eyes, he might even pass as Yamoto or Xenese.

The director stepped around his desk as much to have a closer look as to shake hands. "Mr. Murphy?"

Murphy's grasp was neither soft nor hard. He smiled slightly. "Sir?"

"Have a seat, Mr. Murphy. Do you know what we do here? What are your impressions?"

Murphy replied, "Well, sir, the sign at the road said this was a recycling center. I assume the materials recycled are rather valuable considering the reinforced guard shack and the two bunkers sited in the edge of the forest covering it."

O'Tool regarded him with growing respect. "You noticed them, did you?"

Murphy nodded. "Yes, sir. I saw a man moving through the trees suddenly disappear. That gave me one. I figured if there was one, there mostly likely was a second on the other side of the road."

The director shot a look at Mac. The elderly man had that expression that promised someone over at security a fanny-wapping.

Murphy continued, "I also found interesting the faint sound of small arms fire to the north and the scent of burning vehicles on the breeze from the east."

"What exactly did you do in the Coast Guard, Mr. Murphy?"

"Contraband search, sir. I was aboard the Point Comfort."

O'Tool nodded. "You were a 'ferret.'"

There was neither pride nor shame as he answered matter-of-factly, "Yes, sir, I was the boarding party's 'ferret.'"

O'Tool was unable to place Murphy's accent. "Tell me, Mr. Murphy, what planet did you grow up on?"

"Actually, sir, we moved around a lot."

The director raised an eyebrow. "Military?"

Murphy shook his head. "No, sir. My daddy was in construction."

O'Tool was struck by Murphy's choice of words; not his "father" or "papa" or "da"--but his "daddy." He decided he looked forward to reading the background file on Mr. Murphy. He turned to to Mac. "Gunny, please escort Mr. Murphy to intake and start his processing."

He drained his cup of its tea and buzzed for a second as his door closed. Pulling the right lower drawer out, O'Tool eased his leg onto it and absent-mindedly cursed the Xenese sniper for the umpteenth time. He settled back and called up Murphy's dossier with a feeling of satisfaction.

29 December 2009: Feast of St. Thomas Becket, USS Constitution takes HMS Java off Brazil 1812, Texas statehood 1845, Irish Free State becomes Ireland 1937, Vaclav Havel first president of Czechoslovakia after Warsaw Pact collapse 1989.

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