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Moments before she was ready to serve lunch, Red checked in with her again.
“Anything else you need?”
She realized her party hadn’t cleared their presence yet with the park rangers. Pushing her bangs off her forehead, she said, “Yes, can you do me a favor and run to the ranger station on the far side of the landing field? Usually, someone would have come by to check our permit, but maybe there’s a staff meeting running long or something. Tell the person at the desk our permits are in order, and I can show them after I’ve served lunch. Our line has a good reputation, so the ranger should be okay about it.”
“No problem.” Despite his cheerful answer, he hesitated. “What does Drewson do on these trips ashore?”
“As little as possible, believe me. Privilege of rank, or so he says. Actually, he’s not too good with the guests, so his absence is probably better for all of us, as far as the size of the tip at the end of the voyage.” Meg hoped she hadn’t said too much to the rookie, but her frustrations with Drewson grew every time he was assigned as the pilot bringing her ashore with passengers.
As Red walked away, she served the buffet luncheon, which met with approval from their guests. The Far Horizon featured one of the Virochol Lines’ most experienced gourmet chefs—he shipped out as a package deal with their Captain, so her ship was much sought after for charters.
Red came to report in the middle of lunch service, a puzzled frown on his face.
“What did the ranger say?” Meg asked, plating more mini sandwiches.
Shaking his head, Red said, “No one there.”
“What?” She paused in the middle of drizzling artful condiments on the individual Azrigone beef patties. Laughing, thinking perhaps he was kidding, she said, “Are they out to lunch or something?”
“Place is all closed up. I knocked, on the off chance someone was left as a caretaker, but the station shows all the signs of being abandoned." He ran one hand through the dark maroon hair that gave him his nickname.
“Impossible. The rangers and their families live here year round. I’ll go check for myself later.” Annoyed at his failure to complete the simple task, she said, “Mr. Trever asked to go fishing, and that’s your job.”
“Any hints on the best spot?” Red surveyed the lake.
“I never paid much attention. I think there’s a sand bar off to the left. Try there.” She gestured vaguely. “The fishing gear is in the boat module, which you’ll have to bring from the shuttle.”
Red departed to handle the task and she kept serving lunch and drinks. A few minutes later, she heard the purr of the small boat’s motor and raised her head long enough to watch Red skippering three guests onto the beautifully colored lake.
Finishing the lunch service, she had a bit of free time before the mid afternoon snack. Mingling with the passengers held no appeal for her. She wasn’t working charters to try and snag a generational billionaire or intergalactic businessman. Meg sent as many of her credits as she could to her family, on their home world, to buy more land for the Antille spice farms. Scanning the beach for a moment, she considered the primary guest and the men he’d brought along on this cruise. A mix of businessmen like himself and faded celebrities to fawn over him and impress the men he wanted to do deals with. Shaking her head, she couldn’t wait to see the last of this bunch.
Taking a glass of the refreshing faquilada fruit drink, she wandered toward the TDJ pavilion, hoping she knew a few of the cruise staff or crew. A woman in the other line’s uniform came to meet her, waving cordially. Delighted, Meg recognized Sallira, a casual acquaintance in the Guild. Their circle of mutual friends was wide, so catching up on gossip took a few minutes. Then Meg said, “Hey, what’s the deal with the ranger station? My guy said it was closed. Did you see anyone official when you landed?”
Sallira shook her head. “No, he’s right, the staff is all gone.” Making a funny face of regret, lips scrunched, she sighed. “Too bad, I had a flirtation going with the senior ranger last time I was here.” One eyebrow raised suggestively, she sipped her drink. “I was anticipating more fun and games this trip, if you know what I mean.” She nudged Meg in the ribs with her elbow. “Harmless fun, but he sure was cute.”
Meg stared at the Falls and then the lake. The park gave the appearance of order, serene and beautiful as always. Maybe the Sector Thirty government had decided to cut costs by eliminating the rangers? But then why hadn’t she seen a bulletin to that effect? The captain gave her the permit token before the shuttle left the Far Horizon this morning, so he must not have known the permanent staff was gone either.