Most of the men changed into civilian clothes on the way down to the planet’s surface. A couple wanted to show off their dress uniforms and new ranks before making that change. Jamison was in the latter group.
The major’s insignia would help to quiet his father’s insistence he should have stayed home and taken his position on the sales floor. Even before the vessel landed the men gathered together their possessions and prepared for the mad rush out the doors, through the crowds, and into the arms of loved ones.
Jamison had a plan though. He was going to hang back, let everyone else out first in the rush, then he would walk out in his pressed uniform. He thought he had more than earned the right to make an entrance.
The shuttle made a familiar hissing as it prepared to touch down. The ship thumped, followed by a slight jolt as the landing gear settled. Finally the bay doors opened. Dropping a long gradual ramp, almost all the men ran down.
Jamison and the other man in uniform chose to march out, standing tall. Both of them stopped cold as soon as the crowd came into view. In the traditional greeting area, there were only about a eight people. No large families, no children at all.
Among this small group were an abundance of tears, but few if any tears of joy. The sobs of both the men returning home and those who came to pick them up were delivering an unexpected crescendo of misery. The man beside him saw a sister in the small group, and bolted to her waiting embrace.
Jamison saw no one. No father. No mother. No brother. No sister. No one.
He collapsed on the ramp. Tears threatened his vision, but he held them back. The effort draining all other life, so he simply melted down to a heap. Squelched emotions since his rescue now overwhelmed him. When his head hit the ramp he closed his eyes. Not because he was unconscious, but because he didn’t want to see anymore.
In a moment, someone shook him. It was Johnson. He looked totally different in civilian clothes, but it was him. Johnson explained he was due some shore leave. He invited Jamison to stay with him for a while. Jamison refused, he had a home to go to. He wanted to see his family. Johnson explained as gently as he could, he had neither.
Eventually Jamison did stand back to his feet. He realized then MPOs had been waiting around the perimeter. Each of the men had walked out to meet with one. All except Jamison, his MPO, a bossy but pretty, young woman, had broken ranks and come to him at some point while he had been down on the ramp.
Captain Chambers was examining him with a device of some kind. As she moved the device up to his head looked straight into her green eyes. He realized she resembled his kid sister. Again he fought back the tears.
He was the last one cleared to leave the landing area, Johnson took him to the rail and they headed into the city. Jamison looked around the ads on the train. Almost all of them were advocating either the Kilkians or the Dibolocos.
Jamison studied several ads, both sides claimed to be better than the other. Both claimed their side would grant humanity some level of relief. He wondered, what humanity needed relief from. After a while he looked back across the almost vacant railcar at Johnson, who was watching him.
Jamison said, “It’s almost as if they were two political parties trying to sway voters.”
“Yep, it’s a lot like that. Only this never ends. And after years of promoting their cause people can get fanatical.”
Jamison asked, “What do you mean?”
“We are coming up to the edge of town. It’s going to look a lot different than you remember it. About ten months ago we had bad rioting between the factions. Lots of people died.”
The two men stood side by side, staring at a devastated city. Some sections were burned out. Others were apparently vacant. And at first there were no businesses. But then they entered a section where business thrived. There were bars, strip joints, houses of prostitution and even drug houses with big neon signs proclaiming their business.
“Is that legal now?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter what is legal when there is no law enforcement.”
They moved past these neighborhoods and came into another that looked a little better, although it was almost as vacant. Johnson led the way as they disembarked and walked across a vacant street to a big unmarked building.
Johnson approached the door and it clicked unlocked as he approached. Before entering he looked up at a camera above the door and said, “This is my friend, Jamison. He will be staying with me for a while.” After a moment a display beside the camera said, “Welcome, Identity registered.”
When they entered Jamison was shocked to find he had entered a room kind of like the food court at a mall. Quite a few people were milling about, many of whom greeted Johnson. A little further in were some pretty traditional looking shops.
They found an elevator, and went up three floors. Down the hall to the right and soon they were in Johnson’s humble flat. One bedroom, no kitchen, a pull out bed in the main room Jamison was free to use for as long as he wanted.