Mick walked steadily towards the scanner, although he was just as reticent as the robed figure accompanying him. So many years had passed. Would their records have been archived? Did they still exist at all? So many had forgotten they existed and the two travelers had slipped into the realm of folktales and fiction. Probably none would believe who they are just on word alone. It would be different here, however, as long as the records still existed to match the ones they carried.
They walked in silence to the admittance station. Mick held out his identification bracelet. The computer took some time to process him, but he let out a sigh of relief when the machine acknowledged his identity. His companion shuffled forward and was careful to keep the hand from being visible while pulling out a pendant to scan. The processing time was just as long, but it finally recognized the data.
They walked over to the doors, which slid open immediately for them. On entering, an attendant emerged within a moment to usher them back. Other visitors scowled at their prompt reception. Some were vocal at the preferential treatment. Mick ignored the shouts as more doors sealed behind them. He experienced relief again. He had left the wars behind and was tired of the fighting.
The attendant ushered them into an office and set refreshments on a table between their chairs. The desk was piled with record cards and, surprising to Mick, even binders of papers. The youngish woman occupying the desk was somewhat mousy and a nervous smile. Perhaps she had already seen their records. Maybe she was just the nervous sort. He reckoned she would have a better life as a librarian. Her job was probably hideously stressful.
“Mr. Michael Mulligan and Mr. Lanny Bertram,” she said, nodding at each in turn, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. I am your caseworker Alice.”
“Mick, please, Miss. My full name is too alliterative for a conversation.” He gave her a pleasant smile to attempt at breaking the professional demeanor.
“Of course, of course!” Her smile continued to serve as a weak defense against the shaking that was growing more pronounced.
The hood concealing Lanny’s face nodded in silence.
“So, this says you were stationed on the Phoenix. How exciting!” It was now obvious that the state she exhibited was due to their records.
Mick gave her a small chuckle.
“Not much exciting on a sleeper ship, Alice. Most of the time is spent packed away like freight.”
She was doing her best not to look at Lanny. She knew what he was. Or, more accurately, was made into.
Alice shared the chuckle, but her voice cracked a little.
Mick sighed, and said, “Alice, would you feel better if a security detail were present?”
She managed to shake her head.
“No, no, it’s alright. It’s just,” her voice trailed off.
“So, you have never seen ghosts appear out of cheap, lurid novels?”
This seemed to calm her a bit, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
“So very true. I read those books when I was young. The tales of bravery and heroism fascinated my young imagination.”
A low voice, almost a growl, emitted from the hood.
“There was no heroism, just duty. We all did what was needed.”
The sudden voice caused the young woman’s eyes to widen. Tears began coursing down her face.
“I realize that now. I read quickly and I scanned your records.” She began to sob.
“Anything you need, I will make certain you will get. I have requested to assist as many of your crew as possible. It’s only what is right for the lives you have all lived.” She couldn’t speak any longer but, to Mick’s shock, reached her delicate hand towards Lanny. A taloned hand, at the end of a long, sinewy arm, slowly emerged. Alice reached out quickly, wrapping her hand around the monstrous appendage. She held tight, while Lanny held it carefully to avoid hurting her. She reached the other hand towards Mick, which he accepted.
“Thank you for your sacrifices for us all, gentlemen. Welcome home.” The last words were croaked out through a fresh paroxysm of sobs.