Roger Miller, Second Lieutenant of the United Milky Way Republic’s Peaceful Peacekeeping Unit, hated his job. It wasn’t about the money: PPU paid him quite well, more than the average citizen. His coworkers were tolerable, with only a few who had pledged not to shower once their old tanker ship, the PPU Millicent, reached its orbit above Meridian. He even liked the distance he could get from his humdrum life on Earth, circling a planet like Meridian several star clusters away from the seat of the Republic.
No, Roger Miller hated his job because the damned expense reports would never arrive on time.
A busy man, Miller managed the finances for half a dozen star systems. Galactic empires in the throes of rebellion were expensive endeavors, with lots of cost centers that needed adjusting. Each planet, each base, each ship, just about each serviceman, all were tracked in what had to be a light-year’s long spreadsheet.
“Hey, Roger, you okay?”
Expense reports were a crucial element to this spreadsheet. An important cog in the great imperial machine. Yet, with few exceptions, they were the first item to be forgotten by everyone. Every quarter, Miller’s outbox queued almost infinitely with the same message, and almost all would go unopened.
“Rog, wait. Where are you going?”
Forty quarters later, he had finally had enough.
He left the sanctuary of his desk, nestled in the warm bowels of the ship large enough to hold an accounting department, and went on the march to the bridge. Already, Larry’s footfalls landed behind him, and the scent of his spearmint gum wafted forth. Miller needed a deep breath of the recycled air, a hint of rusting iron tickling his tongue, to handle his friend and that gum right now.
“Whoa, hey man, bad idea. This won’t end well.”
Larry was tenacious, like the scent of his gum in Miller’s nostrils. Miller preferred cinnamon, but he had yet to convince Larry to switch. Miller put up with the less than appealing spearmint scent while Larry kept pace through the narrow steel hallway, his warnings becoming an incessant buzz that drowned out the arc lamps overhead. But Miller knew what he wanted to do. And no amount of Larry’s babbling in the Six Quadrants would stop him.
“Rog, don’t go over the Manager’s head. Captain won’t even abide it. You know that.”
Miller did know that but forgot why he should care. The Manager was a computer bank buried in the ship’s stern. It ran hot, but was always cold in its calculation of what mattered most. Miller’s emails did not rank highly on that list. And while he had thought to slip a note past the Manager to the wonderful humans at PPU headquarters on Earth, the gap of 75 light years would be too much to cross in order to cool Miller’s temper.
Despite his rage, Miller was cool in his plan. The Captain was not only the highest-ranking official on the ship, but also anywhere in the Meridian Local Cluster. A directive from him would go a long way in resolving more than a few outstanding blanks on his spreadsheet.
“Look man,” Larry said between his gnawing on Spearmint Flavor #7, “I get how frustrating it is. I really do! No one ever fills out my polls on time for our graviball games.”
Perhaps Larry believed his graviball games were equal to managing the finances for the largest empire in the history of humanity. Larry wasn’t the brightest.
“Rog, c’mon, talk to me, brother.” They rounded the final turn, and the bridge doors loomed ahead. Miller had balled his fist, as he had expected combat with the guard at the bridge doors. Unexpectedly, the guard must have decided now would be best for a break. As the doors slid open, he wondered if the breach in protocol would get the Captain’s attention.
Larry tended to chicken out of things at this point; confrontation was not his specialty. To Miller’s great surprise, however, his friend inadvertently joined his quest, though he brought his loud talking down to a cowed whisper.
“Oh, this is nicer than Accounts Payable.” Larry’s remark about their shared office was true. While Accounts Payable looked like it had been cut from toughened cardboard by a six-year-old who stole his parents’ scissors, the bridge had been machined lovingly from steel and titanium.
In the middle of computer banks and star charts sat the Captain. Miller made his beeline, knowing he could steal only a few seconds of the Captain’s time. Larry followed close behind but finally, mercifully, shut up.
“Sir!” Miller offered his salute to the Captain, whose look of shock seemed genuine.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Second Lieutenant Roger Miller, sir.” Training had ingrained decorum in Miller, though he was currently off-book with his little request. “Sir, I have an urgent request.”
The Captain’s hazel eyes were notorious for boring through a serviceman’s soul and into the floor behind him. Miller had convinced himself he wouldn’t be afraid of that gaze. He had been wrong. His palms gushed sweat.
“What is it then?”
“Sir, it’s about the expense reports due to Accounts Payable. We have a debilitating backlog, and it’s important that we—”
The Captain didn’t try to hide his laugh. He closed his eyes when he did so, offering Miller his only break from the withering stare.
To his credit, Miller tried again. “Sir, we need these expense reports to be filled out on time. If you could send a directive to this sector, it would go a long way to—”
“Hold that thought.” Not the directive Miller had hoped for. He paused while the Captain made it obvious he was taking a deep breath. Perhaps the scent of Larry’s gum could make it that far.
The Captain served as commencement speaker for a lot of elite schools and commanded quite the speaking fee. His political eloquence was renowned throughout the galaxy. But Miller had learned to pick at the veneer of pretty words and find the truth underneath. His head filled in the Captain’s unspoken thoughts as the commanding officer began.
“Yes, Rufus, right. Look, I appreciate you bringing this important matter to my attention…”
Who let this dumbass onto my bridge?
“…and this is something I’m glad you’re working on. It’s a vital part of the Republic…”
I’m missing my graviball game for this.
“…but I can’t send directives out for each and every concern. That’s why we have the Manager, to ensure these matters run smoothly…”
Emails are hard. I’m too busy captaining things.
“…so thank you again, but I will trust the Manager to make this a priority should it deem it necessary.”
The Captain was snapping at two security officers while he was speaking, and the burly gentlemen were militarily precise in positioning themselves between Miller and Larry. He considered holding back his egregious sigh, but frustration got the better of him. The exhalation followed him toward the exit.
But as Miller turned, he spied a reflection of the Captain’s command screen in the polished steel of the bridge deck. A familiar form appeared in the glare. Name, ID#, Please list your expenses by accrued date…. The keyboard on the Captain’s chair made more noise than usual as he typed away.
Roger Miller may have hated his job, but he’d get at least one damned smile out of it.
Sometimes you need to take pleasure in the little things at the office.
Thanks to sister Alyssa for editing (and tearing apart what needed to go). And thanks to the Dev Team, including EEsDoNotItNow, Asdamk, DrummerMax64 and YFWE.