Terran Date: 4897.14.18
A rough hand shook her shoulder, rousing her from standby mode. She yawned and rubbed a grey eye. “Is it time yet?”
When there wasn’t an immediate answer, her vision instantly focused on a disapproving man in his hundreds, brows creasing in deep wrinkles, mouth in a permanent upside-down u. He was wearing the black uniform of a captain – including the medals pinned across the right breast of his jacket, offsetting the silver shoulder guard.
“Junior Secretary Echo Madrugada,” he said, slowly. “What is the meaning of this?”
Madrugada searched for the right answer, glancing over the shoulder of the captain. She only saw herself in the reflection of the guard. “It’s exactly what it looked like,” she replied, head bowed. Captain Rogi snorted and said, “Office, please,” and walked away. The junior secretary sighed and stood up from her high desk, stepping down from the ladder, grumbling.
The police station spanned a block wide and stood four stories high, which meant it would take some time to get topside. She ignored the jeers from her fellow workers, mostly citing their amusement that she was no longer ‘spotless’, and a couple of catcalls, and waved them off with a tiny hand. Truth be told it wasn’t the first time, but at least it pulled her away from the mundane tasks of filling out reports and filing them, answering lost tourist queries…
Madrudaga looked out of the story-high windows, distracted by the the rising of Ixion, sister planet to Hyperion. She could see the tiny lakes and oceans it was dotted with, and the lush forests… and missed them. At least the start of Lowlight was soon; finally she could take leave and spend time with her family, and perhaps introduce them to Artemus. But being the rank she held, that probably wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Not if Captain Rogi has anything to say about it, she thought, rolling her eyes.
“Welcome,” said a slender gynoid, dressed in the white and green uniform of a receptionist, as she entered the vast library. Captain Rogi was standing at his desk – made of ancient Terran oak – deactivating a holograph of Hyperion. Nearby, several secretaries typed away the incoming reports.
Madrugada saluted, bowing again.
“Junior Secretary Echo Madrugada.” She shirked at the way he said her title. “This is the sixteenth time you have fallen asleep this week. I simply cannot overlook this anymore. It’s a shame I have to do this before Lowlight, but -- ” The captain frowned at the sudden commotion outside, and heard the receptionist chirp her warning as another – a male, burly in shape and wearing the black and red uniform of an Enforcer, stumbled in. He chirped as well, and saluted as an afterthought.
“Senior Lieutenant Artemus Sota,” Captain Rogi addressed, stressing the title, “what is the meaning of this?”
Artemus held up a gloved hand. “Don’t punish her sir.” When the captain made the gesture to continued, he added, “It’s my fault she’s been hibernating a lot. I… uh…” He glanced down at Madrugada, whose face was a shade he wasn’t quite familiar with. “I’ve been bustin’ a lot of people lately, and of course, that’s more paperwork.”
“You think?” the junior secretary interjected.
“Aw, I’m sorry, Ec. Lot’s of people cuttin’ up, and y’know, bein’ an Enforcer and all… it’s what I’m programmed for.”
“Well, don’t be so… over…” Madrugada furrowed her brows together, and looked at the captain.
“Overzealous,” he said.
“I haven’t slept in three days.” For emphasis, she rubbed her eye again. “And I still haven’t filed everything!” She was sure, if Artemus had a face instead of a polished steel head of a well-made man, he’d be averting his eyes. “That’s why, Captain Rogi.” To them, the silence he was deciding over the punishment, and the junior secretary looked up at her partner with a worried glance.
“Obviously, Madrugada,” the old captain said, “this is the truth. Senior Lieutenant Sota has had a seventy-two percent increase in the apprehension of deliquents and criminals over the span of two months; in direct coorelation, your performance in submitting reports and queries has decreased forty-secen percent. You are, after all, assigned to him. I admit,” he added, “that I have forgotten this.”
“So, am I free to go?” Madrugada ventured. “I mean, the punishment.”
“A day’s reduced pay. And Sota, you shall not work the afterhours until your partner has proper sleep and her permission. Is that clear?” He dismissed them after they chorused, and settled back to the chair, looking at Hyperion again. Rogi expanded the view to including Ixion and Basilicia, the bureaucracy planet. There were reports of incidents of frenzies and a viral epidemic, killing scores of its inhabitants and visitors hours at a time. So far there were no signs of point of origin.
Captain Samuel Rogi began to feel diseased at the notion of such a fate falling on Hyperion.
“Really, Ec, I’m sorry,” Artemus apologized for the fifth time, “you could have said something earlier.”
“I tried,” she exclaimed. The enforcer shirked. “Just… forget it, Artemus.”
They were back on the main floor, this time not as crowded. Still, some desks were cluttered with paperstacks, food, and general items belonging to that person. She climbed the ladder to her desk, and adjusted her seat to look directly at the towering enforcer. “But,” she said, and Artemus’ ears – antennas where a Terran’s should be – perked up, “thank you.”
“No need, Ec,” Artemus said. He leaned on the desk and tilted his head. “Not if you really want to. Do you?”
The junior secretary’s face went into that peculiar shade of red and glanced away. It wouldn’t hurt; plus the remaining personnel were watching with interest, as if watching someone defuse a spore bomb. “Well, I’ve been thinking for a long time, to be honest. Since I’ve started actually…”
Artemus leaned in closer as her voice faded. He shouted after a moment, shattering the sudden silence that fell on the station. “It’s a date!” Madrugada watched as he went around the desks, slapping high-fives with the other enforces. She received messages and queries of congratulations and emoticons from the other secretaries, mostly asking why it took her so long. If she learned from working in the station, was that more often than not, the secretary and enforcer bonded very tightly, moreso in the afterhours. How that ended up so well as a system, she didn’t know.
At least, that awkward stage of courtship was over with. Well, according to the holobook anyway.
“Ah,” her mother crooned through the teleball,” do you hear that, Bermik? Our little one is growing up!”
Madrugada rolled her eyes as she attached the stars of Xen to her earlobe. “You don’t have to tell him, Mom…” She plucked the teleball out of the air and gazed at the video feed. “It’s bad enough I’m embarrassed about it…”
“Oh, Echo, it will be okay! Everything’s moving so fast…” Her mother looked back at her, smiling. There was a hint of sadness that Madrugada caught every now and then, but ignored that part. She was happy, and that mattered the most. Echo released the ball; she heard her father whistle as she showed off her outfit – a sleeveless blue blouse, a white, long skirt made from the dense feathers of the auwat, flat sandals, and a silver silk bow made from the long ribbon in her ponytail.
“You look stunning,” she heard him say. Static jumbled the rest of his words. Lately, the communications between them had been shoddy at best for a few days. It was too early for Ixion’s wet season to start. She did hear him say something about a storm popping up before the teleball disconnected. White static and the words “CONTACT UNAVAILABLE” scrawled against the video screen. She’d have to make it a point to take pixs.
Before she left her apartment though, she grabbed her parasol, acting on the feeling that it was going to rain soon.
The twin suns of Angelos and Daemonius rested on the horizon, blue and orange respectively, bringing on the twilight and faint bands of Andromeda, and casting long shadows on the metropolis of Quet. But, all through the city were sounds of celebrations; the soundhorns blaring “Our Joy” at different times, making for an interesting cacophony of sounds. Banners of salutations, luck, and encouragement charms were all over the placce, mostly hung from businesses, clothing, or rather any blank space.
The smell of pastries and delicacies mingled with the sharp smell of old gunpowder in Quet Square as Madrugada entered through the large, red gates that were shaped like an incomplete triangle. During Lowlight, it was were the majority of offworlders and pilgrims resided, and the best place for the merchants to gather as well, from the lanky Watkans hailing from the moons of Jagger, to the dark, mysterious Zels from the planet Sanxo. She checked her watch as she approached the summit, and sent out a query every two minutes. It didn’t help that she appeared to be a lost adolescent that got separated from her group, and had to wave off assistance. Krit, to be this small in stature!
“Oh, where the hell are you?” she shouted, eliciting surprised looks around her. Any moment now, the ceremony was going to start. Another query. She hoped Artemus was not distracted, lost, or worse –
“Aye, Echo!” She followed the call and saw him waving with fervor, and returned it by waving her parasol. She didn’t think it was possible for him to look better out of uniform, even though he wore a simple dark collared shirt and denims. “Artemus, what fragrance,” she asked, “is that? It’s a bit strong.”
“Oh,” he said, after lifting his arm to smell. What an odd action. “I guess someone sprayed me. It’s pungent. You really look nice, Echo. Again, the peculiar shade of red colored her face, highlighting her grey eyes even more.
“Same to you,” she blurted, turning away. The enforcer laughed.
“What has gotten into you? It’s the air, isn’t it? Or,” he asked, leaning down, voice hushed, “do you have something in mind?” The thought never crossed Madrugada’s mind, not even her fellow secretaries suggested or even giving him her earrings. It wasn’t a secret now. Besides, it would mean great luck to the both of them.
Before she could reply, the telescreens plastered high among the buildings burst into life – and so did the crowd – as they displayed a very lean, tall woman in an simple yellow jeweled dress that glinted in the dying lights, basking her in a glow. “Salutations!” she shrieked. “It’s another Lowlight, citizens of Quet! Another year of growth and prosperity has fallen on us, praise the Lightbringer, and all thanks to you as well!”
An offscreen band began their music, overpowering the other speakers until they blended in as well. Madrugada squealed in delight at the recognition of her favorite song, “My Wish” by Ausi C’wa. Fireworks exploded off in the distance. She barely noticed that Artemus had taken her small hand into his and squeezed back, and that she wore the happiest expression in some time.
Madrugada looked up at Artemus and most certainly spotted the cue; she wrapped an arm around his neck and stood up on the tips of her toes.
She stopped when she heard a low, chirping noise. She couldn’t ignore it any longer. “Artemus? Do… do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” She heard the annoyance in his voice, as subtle as he was trying to make it. Madrugada pointed in the direction of the sound source and the enforcer adjusted his antennae. “I don’t see…” He stiffened.
Amongst the crowd were two beings with an awkward gait and posture, blood trailing from their maws. Their clothes were torn and shredded, skin a light, sickly blue. “Artemus?” Madrugada stood behind him, clutching the back of his shirt.
Without warning, the air exploded into panic and so did the crowds.