Chapter 55

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Putting on her most media-friendly smile, the Chief Executive of the Galactic Conglomerate turned to face the waiting pack of reporters, while trying to resist the urge to shuffle her feet.  Even now, a week after impact, the scorched and lifeless surface on which she stood was still uncomfortably warm.

She squinted as an arid gust of wind blew ash into her face, doing her best not to sneeze, while internally cursing the need to hold a press conference here, of all places—here on this barren, blasted moonscape, this stark reminder of Xarnax Splurmfeen's final, genocidal act of vengeance.

The politician in her understood the reasons—the need to be seen as on-the-spot, as in-touch-with-the-people, as not-just-another-heartless-scumsucking-bureaucrat—the need to manage the optics.  You didn't get to be head of the largest organisation in the history of the galaxy, without a very clear understanding of that.

So, she knew why she was there.  But that didn't mean she had to be happy about it.  And it didn't stop her wishing she was on her climate-controlled executive shuttle, sipping on a cocktail while scrunching her way back to Galactic Central, instead of standing in a smoking wasteland, ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes, just to keep the bloody media onside.

A nod from her one of her PR hacks indicated that it was time for proceedings to get underway.

"Greetings, citizens of the Conglomerate.  I come to you from the scarred and blackened surface of the planet Earth, the hapless target of an unspeakable act of wanton villainy.  I am here to tell you that while in no way, shape, or legally liable form, responsible for this tragedy, GalCon deeply regrets the loss of Earthling lives.  Investigations are under way, and steps will be taken to ensure that an act of such barbarism can never occur again.

"So, citizens, this is a time for mourning.  A time for sombre reflection.  It is also, however, a time for relief.  A time for rejoicing.  A time for recognising those brave few individuals, without whom this tragedy would have been immeasurably worse.

"Standing here, amidst the destruction wrought by just a fragment of the Rigellian battle-station's armour, one can only imagine the scale of devastation that would have ensued, had the station itself collided with the Earth.  Yes, the planet now bears several of these scars, scattered across its surface, and yes a handful of lives have been lost.  But thanks to a small, diverse group of unexpected heroes, billions of lives have been saved, and the Earth lives on.  Its scars will heal.

"So, join with me, citizens.  Join with me in recognising these noble people, these valorous few."  With a grand, sweeping gesture, the Chief Executive turned expectantly towards her PR team. "I give to you, citizens, the saviours of the Earth!"

Suddenly the centre of attention, the PR team shuffled, nudged each other, looked awkward, and after a few seconds of ferocious, whispered debate, pushed forward a gangling, spotty youth,  wearing a T-shirt, jeans and a vacant expression.  After a brief look around, the teen stumbled towards the Chief Executive, as the media contingent broke into hesitant, half-hearted applause.

The Chief Executive took the newcomer's hand, and gave it a warm shake.  "Who the hell are you?" she hissed, smile never faltering.

"Um.  Johnno."

"What the hell is a Johnno?"

"It's a me.  I'm the work-experience kid."

"The what?"

"The work-experience kid."

"What the hell is a work-experience kid?"

The boy's forehead creased, as he considered how to answer this.  "Um.  I been doing work-experience at Committed Coffee.  You know—learning how to make coffee and stuff.  I went to the coffee shop to see if it was open again, and them people over there"—he indicated the PR team—"grabbed me.  I din know what they wanted 'cause they was jabberin' away in some words I din know, but then they stuck this thing up me nose, and then I could understand 'em.  I said I weren't really a proper barista, but they said I would have to do."

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