Don't Write What You Know;
Write What You Care About -- Passionately!
- David B Riley
They say graduates of the Martian School of Economics really go places. That's certainly true for Sarah Meadows. After taking a job with the Gompers Insurance Company they send her to weapons training on her second day on the job. She's soon parachuting out of space ships, hunting down cargo pirates and even trying to salvage a derelict vessel that may be haunted. Not to mention getting involved in a war between Earth and a reptilian race.
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Sarah found herself wishing for a window—dearly, dearly wanting one. Her cubbyhole of an office had no window, just a door. It was at the end of a long hallway. The other agents were mostly in the bullpen, a consortium of desks and tables in a large airy chamber that overlooked the Mars City Mall. And it had plenty of windows. But, she didn’t like to complain–and she was the newbie. So, she looked around at her gray walls and wondered where to put her framed diploma from The Martian School of Economics and her newly issued all lines insurance license from the Ministry of Banking and Insurance.
Then, there was a knock at the door, even though the door was open. She looked over at a nondescript little man of about 40, with thinning blond hair and a pathetic excuse for a moustache. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“That bald lady in the lobby said to see you?” It seemed like more of a question.
“Come in.” She pointed at the vacant chair across from her desk. “I’m Sarah. What can I do for you?”
“I need to buy some life insurance,” he said.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place.” She turned on her notebook. “Can I get your name?”
“Last name?” she asked.
“So, that’s Phillip Phillips?” she confirmed, wondering if this was a joke being played on her by the other agents out in the bullpen.
“That’s right,” he confirmed. “Phillip P. Phillips. Wanna know what the P. Stands for?”
She didn’t. She really didn’t. “Address?”
“Two zero one Tulip Esplanade,” he said.
“Tulip Esplanade?” That was the infamous Mars City sewage treatment plant. This had to be a joke. “You live at the sewage plant?”
“That’s right. I have a little apartment above the office, me and Curtis. In case something bad happens, they can come get us,” he said.
“Something bad?” she asked.
“You don’t want to know,” he said. “What are you?”
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“What are you? You kind of look like a redhead, but not?”
“I’m a strawberry blonde,” she said.
“Oh. You have pretty eyes,” Phillip said.
“Uh, thank you, Let’s finish this up. How much coverage did you want?” she asked.
“Enough to cremate me and take care of me mother,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I worry about me mother. And, I may not have long to live.”
“Are you ill?” she asked. She pulled a health questionnaire out of the drawer.
“Na, I ain’t sick or nothing. But, the government’s out to get me,” he stated, rather matter-of-fact. “I think they want me dead.”
This had to be some kind of joke. “Out to get you?” she asked.
Philip nodded. “That’s why I need insurance. They could push me in some vat. One minute I’m there, the next minute me mother is all alone. She doesn’t live with me. She has her own place. Nobody but me and Curtis lives at the plant. I get free rent.”
“I guess that’s a good deal,” Sarah agreed.
“They’re already monitoring my communications. I figure it’s just a matter of time before they take me out. They keep making me get fired,” he said. “Though, they haven’t messed with me since I got the sewage job.”
“Who, precisely, are they?” Sarah asked. This had to be some kind of joke.
“The government,” Philip said. “You know.”
“Why are they so interested in you?” she asked. This had to be a joke.
“It’s a conspiracy,” he explained. “They want to keep me from running for office. They wouldn’t let me run for mayor.”
“Why is that, Philip?” she asked, then immediately regretted it.
“They said I didn’t provide the required signatures with the form. How was I supposed to know all the people who signed the form are already dead?” he explained. “It could happen to anyone.”
“Were they dead when they signed them?” Sarah asked.
Phillip sort of shrugged. “Beats me. Some guy got the signatures for me.”
“I see.” She turned her notebook around so Phillip could look at it. “Well, a lot of people buy a million doubloon policy, but there are plenty of other options. This is the amount of coverage and the right figure in blue is the monthly premium. And you can save ten percent by paying it every six months instead of monthly.”
“I guess I’ll go with the million. Me mother will like that,” he decided.
“Excellent,” she said.
It took another half hour to get everything filled out and signed. She walked him out to the front door. Then, she headed out to the break area. No one was snickering or even paying any attention to her. She looked over at the bald lady who worked in reception. “I’m Sarah,” she said.
“I know that,” was the reply.
After a few awkward moments, Sarah asked, “What’s your name?”
“I can’t give that out to just anyone,” was the answer.
Sarah took a bag of some orange stuff from Martian Hydroponics out of the vending machine and retreated back to her gloomy little cubbyhole office. Suddenly, she sensed a presence at her doorway. An Almerian dragon completely filled the entrance. “May I help you?” She’d never seen one so close. They sure were large. They were usually about five meters long with big, pointed heads and small wings on their backs. The wings were from an era when their ancestors actually flew. This one was at least that big, though it extended out into the hall, making its exact dimensions merely a guess.
It looked at her with its big golden eyes. “Are you Sarah Meadows?” it asked.
Its presence was baffling to her. “Yes. Did you want to buy insurance?”
It made an odd cackling sound. “That is rich.” It cackled some more. “I’m Dragon. I own the Gompers Insurance Company. Humans can’t pronounce my Almerian name. Everyone just calls me Dragon.”
“Own it? Isn’t Gompers a publicly traded company?” she asked.
“Oh, that’s just for the regulators.” Dragon stared at her again, then finally said, “Here at Gompers, everyone starts out as an insurance agent or underwriter. Then, most agents stay as agents. Being an agent is an important job, obviously. But, for some of our employees, their careers may take a different track.”
“Un, I’m not sure I understand? I just started two days ago,” Sarah pointed out.
“I know that. Time is irrelevant, Miss Meadows. The important thing for all of our employees is that they achieve their full potential.”
“And what is my potential, exactly?” Sarah asked.
“We have an opening in our Special Operations Division. Interested?” Dragon asked.
“What does special operations do?” she replied. She didn’t recall any mention of special operations at orientation.
“I like to think of them as glorified claims adjustors,” Dragon said.
“And what do they actually do, precisely?” Sarah asked. She wasn’t really sure about the term glorified claims adjustor.
“Whatever it takes,” Dragon replied.
She looked at her gray walls for a second. “I guess I could give it a try.”
“Splendid. We’ll start your training tomorrow. One of my assistants will call you later this evening to give you directions to the training facility,” Dragon said.
“Okay, I guess,” Sarah said.
“Most of our employees enjoy our training,” Dragon said, “those that live through it, anyway.”
She wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Uh?”
“That’s a joke. A little dragon humor,” Dragon said. “We’ll start you out on weapons training, then go on to other things.”
Sarah looked over at the door. Dragon was gone. “Weapons training?”