EXT – day – outside a diner with “Kwon’s Kosher Cajun Curry” on the flashing neon sign.
Camera slowly zooms in toward the door.
Cut to interior of shiny, cheerful-looking diner. A half dozen patron sit here and there, a news show drones quietly in the corner screen, some Bollywood-Bluegrass music bounces quietly in the background. At the counter there is a single patron (older, slender, weedy looking gent, ADAM) in front of a cup of coffee and chatting with KWON FOGEL behind the counter, a mixed-race far-easterner in his 60s with a yarmulke on hs head, who is topping off Adam’s cup.
Helton walks in to the tinkling of a bell.
Kwon looks up and smiles, and reflexively starts to say “welcome”, but seeing who it is and the expression on Helton’s face, he just pours a cup of coffee, and grabs a bowl full of something from under the counter and puts it out a seat over from Adam. Helton nods a greeting to Kwon, and to Adam, and sits down silently at his spot, takes hold of the cup, and turns it a bit but doesn’t drink.
Helton: (looking into his cup, to no-one in particular) Nope.
Adam: (consolingly) Ah, you’ll pass next time.
Kwon: Well, everyone has to be bad at something.
Helton: (moodily) Maybe, but not THIS bad… I broke the sim.
Adam: (hides his chuckle behind a sip of coffee) Fifth time isn’t a charm, huh?
Helton: Guess not.
Kwon: (wiping counter) Keep teaching, then?
Helton: (shrug) Dunno. Next cycle doesn’t start for three weeks.
Adam: Finish one more cycle, you can celebrate the same career for more than three years.
Kwon: He’s right, then that would be, what, fourth time you stayed long enough to qualify for a pay bump?
Helton: Yeah, but it’s not going anywhere.
Helton picks up a spoon and absently stirs the stuff in his bowl.
Kwon: (shaking head in quiet exasperation) Of course it’s not – new kids each time, same material. You knew that when you started.
Helton: I know, but I thought it would be… different… each cycle. But every change I try to make gets blocked, so it grinds on the same mediocre path as the cycle before.
Adam: You always think that.
Kown: (as if pointing out the obvious that been said many times before) Each job, wanting to make a difference, be unique, be really good at it. Always end up feeling-
Helton: -utterly replaceable. Yeah. Sad, ain’t it?
Kwon: You don’t need to save the world-
Helton: Don’t want to, just want to find my place in it.
Kwon: Than pick a place, and make it work. Think I always wanted to be here my whole life?
Helton takes a drink of coffee, swirls it around a bit, contemplating.
Adam: Look at the bright side.
Helton looks blankly/questioningly at him.
Adam:(sets cup down) For the first time, in how many career attempts? Seven? Eight?-
Kwon: -Nine- don’t forget that geology thing-
Adam: -nine attempts, you finally found something that you aren’t good at, so you can quit thinking IT might be the ONE perfect career. Maybe poetry in dead languages, maybe mechanic, maybe soldiering-
Helton:- Don’t WANT to be too good at that-
Adam:- maybe teaching or cards or terraforming, but NOT piloting. It’s progress, see?
Helton looks at him, then gets a slight grin and chuckles.
Helton: Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I guess.
Adam: Each person gotta find their niche… you’ll find yours. Eventually. (then, jokingly half under his breath) about the time we find an honest lawyer around here.
Adam and Helton sit silently at the counter for a moment sipping coffee, looking at the screen in the corner, Kwon does busy-work behind the counter. On the news-screen, images of marching troops and tanks roll by for a few moments. Then a “NEWS FLASH” announcement pops up, and a pretty announcer replaces the soldiers.
Newscaster: (at higher volume) Just in, word that a passenger ship was forced into Bradburry Four Five One, when it caught a swirl as the Deep Dark pulled back that left the planet accessible for the first time in almost five hundred years. Bradburry had two planets being tarraformed, and some terraforming machines appear to still be operating on automatic. Bioactivity is level three or lower, and perhaps both planets have been returned to a state of nature. Scientists had high hopes for these worlds, as the terraforming teams were from among the best geo-scientist of the day.
Sound fades down into the background and camera focus returns to Helton.
Helton: “state of nature” (snort, then sarcastically) Hell’of’a euphemism for “Everyone died”
Adam: (musing) Wonder what percent water is it? Five hundred years of converting silicates and carbonates into hydro is a lot of cubes. Might be worth checking out.
Helton: Depends on how many terraformers have been working, what sort of rock it had, what sort of plan they had. Could be half… Might be less than 10%.
Images of the planet flash up on the screen.
Kwon: News Full Wall
The images now expand to take up most of the available back wall, magnifying them significantly. The planet looks mostly shades of tan, very few clouds, one tiny ice cap, and a few little slivers of equatorial water as the image rotates.
Helton: (squinting at it a bit) Ouch. Looks less than 2% water, few clouds. Plan must’a been a bad one. Or else too many talkers and not enough do-ers.
Kwon: But they said it had good geo-guys?
Helton: Maybe, but that was one of the early ones, back when they were still sorting out the leftovers from the atmo CO2 fiasco. A lot of smart people have bad plans. That’s, what? A dozen tarraformed planets that have come out of Black-Out in the last year? Dead, hanging on, or thriving, and about the same success rate from the privately funded amateurs as the big government programs with lots of experts. Just shows most folks really don’t know as much as they think they do. Heck, this place was almost a bust early on.
Kwon: If a few top idiots in office don’t get their act together, it might be one yet.
Kwon waves at the screen, and the news show goes back to regular screen-size and lower volume of war-related news in the corner.
Kown: So, what now?
Helton shrugs, holds out his cup for a refill. Kwon pours some in, then goes to fill Adam’s cup. Adam pulls his away.
Adam: (jokingly) Hey, not that stuff! I like my coffee like my women – fresh, hot, black, and sweet.
Helton: (in mock confusion) Then why are you married to old, cold, bitter, and pale?
Adam: (Straight faced) Family tradition.
Suddenly from the back room a shrill voice calls out angrily
Adam’s Wife: (OC) Adam! ADAM!!
A look of feigned fear crosses his face, and Adam downs his remaining coffee and bolts for the door.
Kwon and Helton watch him leave, grinning; not the first time something like that happened.
Helton scoops up a spoonful from the bowl, and pauses before he puts it in his mouth, looking at it.
Helton looks at Kwon, with a look of “what is it?” on his face?
Kwon: New experiment. You’ll like it.
Helton sniffs it deeply, smiles, and takes a bite. He starts chewing. He chews slower, then waves his hand to signal he wants something because the food is so spicy-hot, and Kwon, grinning, hands him a ready glass of water. Helton gulps some down.
Helton:(breathing exaggeratedly and fanning his mouth with his hand) I like spicy, but Holy COW!
Kwon hands Helton a Costco-sized seasoning canister. Helton looks at it.
INSET: A two-liter sized canister labeled ARMY brand “BLAND” seasoning. “Kills flavor FAST!”
Helton sprinkles a bit on his bowl and stirs it around. While he does this, Kwon talks.
Kwon: You said you wanted more food with some kick. So?
Helton: (tentatively tries another sample) Success. A little less kick next time.
Kwon: Well, you better make up your mind soon – pretty soon they won’t be approving job transfers unless you pay the right people more than you can afford, or put a uniform back on.
Helton grunts in acknowledgment. He takes another spoonful. There is a beep, and a screen in the counter-top in front of him display the words “message for Helton from Blondie[display] [forward] [delete]”
Kwon looks down, sees the notice, and politely turns away to fiddle with something facing away from the counter.
(change camera view to counter-level, looking at Helton)
He taps the counter, scans the message for moment while spooning some stew into his mouth, then taps the counter again to clear the message. He looks up thoughtfully.
Helton: How far to Nivin Three A?
Kwon: Normally about a week each way.
Helton: (looks thoughtful for a moment, shakes his head dismissively) Won’t work.
Kwon: (sounding like he’s encouraging more info) Recently it’s been closer to a day coming back ‘cause of a big swirl headed this way, sometimes less going out with a lucky midpoint transfer…
Helton: (thinking out loud, half to himself, half to Kwon) Hmmm… Two days each way either end conventional, a day transit there, week back. Less than a week grounded. Tight. (shakes head a tad)
Kwon looks inquiringly with raised eyebrow, as if to say “spill it”
Helton: Sis and her other half moved there a few years ago. Seems she’d like me to visit, and maybe work for him for a bit. Needs a reliable techie – things are growing fast, between kids and folks fleeing the bombings and conscriptions on 3 B. In any case, he definitely sounds like he needs some help to get some things straightened out. Only three weeks ‘till the next cycle starts… It could work, but-
Helton shakes his head dismissing the idea. Kwon rapidly punches up a few things on a screen behind the counter. Popping up on a wall screen is a departure schedule at the local space-port.
Kwon: (looking at it) There’s an independent in port headed out this afternoon going that way. Get away, do you good. If you’re a day or two late, they’ll hold the contract for you.
Helton: Dunno. Awful tight margin.
Kwon: (trying to talk him into it) You can bring back some spices that are expensive here from Nath Imp/Exp as personal baggage. Make you twenty percent, save me fifty. Pays your ticket.
Helton pauses for moment, indecisively, then stands up, pats his pockets, realizes he doesn’t have his wallet.
Helton: (frustrated) Ah, crap. It must have dropped out in the sim!
Kwon: (waving it aside as if it’s nothing) That’s OK, cash is a pain if they think you’re using it too often, anyway. When you’re back.
Helton gives a quick wave and heads for the door in a hurry.
Kwon: (smiling at his friend’s retreating back) Happy transit. Via con Dios!