In the Service of the Public
Alison’s vision blurred as she stretched the skin of her forehead towards the ceiling in a desperate attempt to stop her eyes from drifting shut. The eminent professor was pleased with his own accomplishments. He droned on, happy to let the audience bask in the light of his genius.
With an effort, Alison snapped the fuzzy image before her into a sharp, three-dimensional representation of the source of her lethargy. After all, it was an honour to have been selected for the Interstellar Coalition Public Service leadership development program. It offered Alison the chance to rub shoulders with colleagues from the seven Coalition planets, and it was a hopeful sign of things to come back on Earth.
Not to mention that the prestigious Hawker Memorial School of Interstellar Government was named after the woman who had bound the human race together after its first encounter with intelligent extraterrestrials — the reptilian Aazorks. As Earth’s inaugural President, Hawker had also negotiated the first Aazork treaties. That, in turn, had paved the way for the Coalition, and inevitably the ICPS.
Six months of dedicated training about the habits and cultural traits of the various species that made up the Coalition was a huge investment by the Earth bureaucracy. Alison’s heart swelled with pride just thinking about it. The trip out to this giant space station in the middle of nowhere had taken nearly three months, and the trip back would take just as long — a full year out of Alison’s life, but time well spent.
As the professor’s self-important drone continued unabated in the background, Alison couldn’t help but wonder what she would do upon her return. She certainly wished that a better faster-than-light drive had been invented, and that the relativity effects had been overcome. Being away for a year was difficult, but by the time she returned over 10 years would have passed on Earth. She’d been a perfect choice — no family, excellent at her job, and practical enough to see the time invested as worthwhile. This trip would propel her to the heights of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, but she didn’t even know who would be in charge when she returned, let alone what position she might hold.
A wave of muted noise suddenly rippled across the room. The professor stopped speaking, visibly struggling with the concept that anything could be more important than his lecture.
Alison turned to the man sitting beside her. He was staring at his datasheet in horror.
‘What’s going on?’, she asked.
Her fellow student’s face was ashen. It took him some moments to formulate a reply. ‘News just in on the quantum entanglement coms system. There’s been an accident back home. Scientists started that damn Extra Large Hadron Collider and the Earth has been swallowed by the black hole it generated!’
Alison slumped back in her seat trying to process the shocking information. She could only wonder what a career in the Aazork public service might be like.
‘In the Service of the Public’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 169 (July 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?. See my bibliography for more details about my published work.