So much of Valan’s life had gone according to schedules – work shifts at the refinery, then as security; training; now, deployment. Even leave time had had its tasks that needed doing in a timely fashion. The skunk was so accustomed to waking up at a set time that even now, when he truly didn’t need to, he woke up six hours after he’d closed his eyes to sleep.

Still, the unfamiliar realization that he could lounge about in his comfortable shuttle seat was a rather nice one.

His timing was good; the shuttle was just making its approach, its engines starting to rumble as it sank through the wispy clouds of a blue Tandavere sky. Valan’s seat wasn’t close enough to the “window” to see much of the world itself, but he’d been on enough different worlds to have some appreciation for that brilliant azure sky that they were passing through.

Their pilot wasn’t military, so Valan’s Authority training found a few things to pick at about their descent. One thing he couldn’t fault, though, was the comfortable smoothness of their landing; from the moment they first met winds to the touch of the docking cradle, there was hardly a lurch to be felt. Nothing that would have woken him up – though maybe that wasn’t saying much; time and scheduling aside, he could sleep through a lot if it wasn’t the sound of an alarm.

The pilot announced their arrival and thanked the passengers for their patronage. Buckles rattled as the passengers undid their harnesses, and people started rising to their feet.

A good portion of the shuttle was taken up by members of Valan’s platoon – a dozen in all. It wasn’t hard to tell them apart; even in civilian dress, extensive training and their close work together had instilled some common mannerisms. And here, at least, it seemed that attitudes toward the Authority were favourable; the porters, hardly lazy to begin with, stood up straighter and snapped to when they saw whose luggage they were retrieving.

Well, maybe resort staff had good reason to appreciate them. Servicemen were well-paid, and had little enough to spend that money on during their careers; they could afford to be generous customers on leave.

Such as with Valan’s room selection. He’d opted for a spacious suite that, with occasional requests from room service, could meet his every need such that he’d not need to leave it for the whole month of his stay.

But where would the fun be in that?

He’d just got back down to the lobby when a smooth voice observed, “It strikes me as curious, Valan, that you of all people would actually choose a world such as this for your leave.”

Valan laughed, continuing on to the courtyard with the ermine in tow. “Just because I grew up on an iceball doesn’t mean I mind being warm, Sarrel. I just need to keep my fur thinned if I don’t want ‘warm’ to become ‘dangerously hot.’ Believe me, I like the feel of sunshine just fine.”

“No doubt,” the ermine laughed, tugging at the waistband of Valan’s shorts. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you. You wear very little so well.”

Now Valan slowed his stride, turning to the other man with a grin, reaching up to his jaw. “Drop by my room later,” he murmured, “and I’ll show you how well I wear even less.”

“Splendidly as usual, I’m sure,” Sarrel breathed; then he slid his arm around Valan’s waist, and sauntered with him towards the pool.