“Lich, Lich and Karloff, just a moment!” the secretary chirped from her spot seated behind the desk. Tony tried not to recoil when he looked at her; her skin was missing and her exposed facial muscles shined around her green eyes. She was in a smart turtleneck that showed off her slim figure, the metal headset of the phone wrapping over her naked pate with just a bit of skull showing.
“How can I help you today, sir?” she said, beaming at him with a full set of perfect white teeth.
“Uh… I’m Tony Connor, I’m here for my first day. They said I had to get a badge first.”
“Oh, of course – the air-breather. Well, let me see if I can pull your file.” She scooted back in her chair and dove into a filing cabinet, pulling up a file in a green folder and held it up. “Here we go. Let me get Ravendark on the line.”
She pressed a page button on the phone and waited a moment. “Herb, I have that new hire here. You want to come pick him up? Wonderful, thannnnnks.” She pressed another phone button. “Sorry about that, who are you holding for? Oh, Hazimer the Mad, I’ll transfer you. Thanks again for calling Lich, Lich and Karloff.”
Tony looked past the receptionist and into the endless sea of cubicles behind her. The phones rang in a staccato throughout the rat maze, and a few plants poked up here and there, but nobody was walking around. The murmuring susurrations of dozens of adjusters each working with a client become a dull background noise Tony worked to compartmentalize and ignore.
“There he is!” came a voice, cheerful and full, and Tony turned to see a pale man in a white dress shirt and maroon suspenders, sleeves rolled up, smile at him. His canines were elongated and his hair was slicked back forming a perfect widow’s peak. He had a coffee mug in one hand, and he took a sip, then licked the viscous red liquid off his lip and reached in for a strong handshake.
“Herb Ravendark, New Accounts, great to meet you Tony. Heard a lot of awesome things about your work over at Gojira Building Insurance, you come highly recommended. And so full of blood! Oh, but where are my manners. Let me show you around, get you your badge.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ravendark. It’s been a dream of mine to work in deep-space accounts instead of just colony worlds.”
“Tony, please! My father is Count Ravendark – call me Herb. We’re a family here. Come on, let’s get you set up.”
Herb took Tony on a winding path through the cubicle maze to a side room with a small machine attached to a camera set up across from a blue banner hanging by unfolded paper-clips from the ceiling.
“Now let me just get your photo here and the machine’ll spit out a badge for you, should get you to anywhere in the building except the floors staffed by the nightwalkers. We don’t have any lights on those floors, due to their condition, so it’s not gonna be much use to you anyway. Hold on a second, smile big, aaaaand… there we go. Should be just a few minutes. Tell me a little about yourself, Tony.”
“Well, uh… Herb,” Tony started. “My family is from a near-colony on Titan, we’ve been there since just after the Necrowarp opened up on Earth. I always had an eye for numbers, so actuarial work seemed like a good fit. I worked for local interests for a bit until I got my first chance at GBI, but I always wanted to work deep-space and colony insurance. It’s where the big boys play, right?”
“Oh, you have no idea, Tony. You ever write a policy for a colony ship? You wouldn’t believe some of the riders they tack on. Especially the Missionaries. They expect all sorts of exemptions because they’re bringing the holy word to a new system. Between you and me, I think they’re just trying to get out of paying.”
“And the pirates?”
“The pirates are very real, and a real problem. Any time you have established space lanes you’re going to have piracy. But you don’t need to worry about that. They know better than to try and come into to established space. And most travellers know enough to bring extra security. Usually the threat of resistance is enough to keep them at bay. They got complacent from years of feasting on unattended sleepships, now that the Necrowarp lets humans staff their ships with, pardon the pun, a skeleton crew of the undead to keep an eye on things, the pirates are really just more bluster than threat. Still, they can be a problem if the colony ship is on a less-used spacelane. Oh, your badge is done. Let’s get that on your pocket, here… oh that’s a good picture. Really brings out the blood in your neck. Come on, I’ll introduce you to your underwriting team!”