The lander rocked gently as it descended toward Jetzt, the capital city of Schwarzer Regen, a tidally locked world on the fringe in an unremarkable system.
“Sloppy flying,” chided Ambassador Sterne. “This is how they greet the son of Grand Empress Sonne IV?”
Hoff, slovenly splayed over a lounger, drink in hand, said, “Excellent flying. Comparable to the finest graduates of the Imperial Navigator Academy, in fact. The winds here are unlike any you’ve ever known.” He made a swooping gesture and splashed deep emerald liqueur on his opulent robes, which spat it off as vapor rather than desecrate their imperial colors with stains.
Hoff was an Ambassador’s Contrarian, appointed to Sterne and charged with opposing his every opinion and decision, at least in private. It was his aunt’s idea, and he hadn’t yet found a suitable approach to overturn it. Sterne despised the position, but even more so the man. Hoff executed his duties too naturally.
Sterne turned to a mirror and made small adjustments, tugging at minute wrinkles at the cuffs of his gloves and plucking individual hairs from his head that refused to remain in place. “It’s hot in here,” he said. “Stifling.”
Hoff sipped his drink loudly, and it left color on his lips. “It is,” he said. “Indeed, it is.” He sipped again.
Sterne knew better than to think he’d leave it at that.
“But it will be quite cold out there.”
And there it was. “Will it?”
“Oh yes, frigid even. Bitter cold. Jetzt lies 15 degrees past the terminator to the dark side. It snows endlessly.”
“Endlessly?” Sterne looked at Hoff in the mirror and raised one eyebrow.
“Yes, just so.” He smiled as he said it.
“A capital city buried in the snow, blanketed only by fierce winds, and perpetually in darkness. What could the lot who made that placement decision possibly have to offer the Stewardship?” He picked at lint that wasn’t there.
“The site was selected for its deposits of 126, according to your dossier…”
Sterne wheeled around to face Hoff directly now. “Weapons grade?”
Hoff sighed. “It has many uses for its remarkable properties, not limited to transportation, medicine, manufacturing, communication, data processing, not to mention its intrinsic value for pure research. And yes; it’s capacity for destruction.”
At last, thought Sterne, an assignment worthy of his attention. For this, he would even smile in the snow.