Space Command. A network among systems. A command above commands. A far-flung bureaucracy of space-worthy and not-so-worthy leaders, officers, cadets and various auxiliary support personnel and associated service workers. A team of seasoned space experts and well-meaning novices, dedicated to maintaining lawfulness, order and the purportedly inalienable rights of Space Command and its affiliated partners and commercial agents throughout its expansive galaxy. At least, that was the theory.
Blouder Base was one of the most significant bases in the Space Command network. A complex tangle of pods, docks, living habitats, entertainment arenas and interlocking, lattice-like bridgeways made out of impressive see-through minerals mined primarily from the Pagoleran system. A first time visitor approaching the base in his, her or its Blaster, Floater or ClearCruiser was always impressed and suitably awed by Blouder’s sprawling layout and vintage 4th SCID century architecture. The space halls of Blouder had played host to some of the most revered names in Space Command command: Prime Commander Pin Vennison, the first Commander to subjugate the Planet of the Gilled Marauders; Section Leader Falu Moonion, who’d bravely, but hopelessly, led his under-equipped brigade into the deadly vortex of a green hole due to an order badly mangled in the communication chain and, of course, Prime Commander Dunnon Blouder, the founder and mastermind behind the base and its namesake, whose sage and bearded face adorned some of the most important chambers of the facility.
Then there were the current occupants.
Prime Commander Ledder studied his face in the chamber mirror, admiring his thick and assertive brown beard.
Upon learning that he’d been chosen to take over Blouder Base, Ledder’s first leadership decision had been to grow a full-size, inarguably masculine and flagrantly authoritative beard, the kind of beard one saw in the portraits of the pioneering Space Commanders of the past. Men who had staked Space Command claims on wild, untamed planetary systems. The Sporgum system, with its collection of badly damaged, misshapen flora inhabited by fruit-hoarding, bear-sized ground bees. The Lavabroad-McGinley system, with its gigantic gas planet, Morphon, and its small, speedy, mineral-rich satellites guarded by the poorly organized and badly equipped Thumb People. And the wild, hot and lawless Needle Butte system, with the dry and dusty twin planets of Orange Wasteland I and Orange Wasteland II, where Space Command troops had battled stubborn livestock entrepreneurs with brigades of saw-gun wielding shock troops.
All of these planetary systems had been brought under Command control by leaders proudly sporting conspicuous beards with a manliness and forthrightness that couldn’t be denied. Beards that impressed the men under their command with their bristly, fertile multitude of hairs. Refulgent and pugnacious displays of facial ornamentation that silently spoke of the rigorous marshalling of individual follicles into tightly regimented shows of collective force – virtual hair analogies for the skills required by a military leader.
Of course, each commander’s beard had manifested its potency in a unique way. Commander Crowe-Nelson had favored an impressively rounded, snow-white iteration with the smoothness and even curve of a weighty shovel. Commander Kivverkorn had awed his men with a curling, complex web of lengthy orange and red hair that descended in immense, spiraling cascades all the way to the vicinity of his navel. And Commander Foon, ever-businesslike and efficient, had worn the merest, understated patch of shield-shaped, ink-black hair, emblazoning his chin with subtle potency, as though to declaim that his detractors would be foolish to judge his troops’ strength and determination by a superficial estimate of their size.
Yes, in the long Space Command tradition, the men and women under his direction would surely be suitably impressed with Ledder’s ample and rich facial décor. But there were other, non-martial benefits to be gained from a beard’s well-established effect upon the sensibilities of the feminine gender. Nothing made a woman more aware of a man’s manliness than the way he wielded his facial accoutrements. Even the strongest-willed woman would never be able to grow a true beard, and Ledder believed that fact added a subtle, undeniable tinge of beard envy to the meditations of the women he encountered.