(six months ago)

Gregor was drunk. He wasn't sure how drunk he was, which was part of the nature of being drunk in the first place. But he was pretty sure that it had been a while since his last drink, and that seemed wrong somehow. But there was nothing left to drink, and in all likelihood that meant that he was sobering up, which was not something he was looking forward to.

He was sitting at the cheap desk in the corner of his cheap hotel room, staring at the wall in front of him. The wallpaper was peeling. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that SOME of the wallpaper was still managing to cling to the wall. The light that came from the bulb in the middle of the ceiling was watery and depressing. Not that Gregor needed help with that, he had his own motivations for feeling like he did. His clothes felt . . . WRONG. Over the years of service in the Syndicate he'd grown used to the feel of a uniform. It had felt right somehow, natural. But his uniform had been taken away from him, and these civilian clothes clung to him in all the wrong places, constantly reminding him that he was out of place.

The door was pushed open from the outside, and two very large men were there grinning at him. Gregor barely looked up.

"It's time to go, friend." said one of them. "You're only paid up until midday, and it's 12:01 now."

"So that means that our boss wants you out of here, double quick like," said the other, "and you know what he said to me? He told me that he's not even going to charge you for the extra minute. Talk about a heart of gold, that one."

Their grimy laughter filled the room as each one stepped sideways through the doorway one after the other. Both were too large to fit through the door otherwise. Gregor was picked up by the back of his shirt and the next thing he knew the pavement outside was rushing up to meet him, violently. It served to remind him that he wasn't quite as drunk as he would have liked. It hurt, but it was nothing compared to what he was feeling inside. The small knapsack that held his few worldly possessions, the stuff that the Syndicate had let him take with him, landed nearby, and the laughing goons closed the front door behind them as they loomed back inside.

Gregor stayed where he was, not seeing any point in moving, until he realized that the two of the proprietor's henchmen might be back to make him move along. He didn't need that. So he peeled himself off the pavement, picked up his meagre belongings, and started walking. He didn't care where he went, but he just started moving until he found good reason to stop.

He was on Earth, in the last city to exist on the home planet. Over the centuries after discovering space travel, with millions of new suitable worlds to colonize within their grasp, humanity gave up in the attempt to salvage their already dying planet. They rationalized this by telling themselves that it wasn't the only planet they had anymore. So eventually, the planet became so polluted and toxic that everyone left, because it was no longer safe. Except here, the last city on Earth. The city was covered by a large eco-dome that kept in the artificial breathable atmosphere. There were atmospheric regulators and simulators lining the interior of the vaulted dome, so that during the day there would be simulated weather going on above the city, clouds drifting around and rain coming down from the sprinklers. It was raining now, lightly drizzling the city to make it damp.

Gregor kept walking until he eventually hit the gap. The skyscrapers and apartment blocks of the city were clustered at the centre of the dome, and the wall of the dome touched the ground almost a quarter of a mile away from the last buildings on all sides of the city. This circumference of empty space was called the gap. Ahead of him Gregor could see the wall looming ahead of him. But also, nearby, there was an airlock to the outside. He moved towards it until he was touching his head to the glass.

Outside it was raining too. But the difference was that the weather simulators weren't pouring down corrosive acid. The deadly rain lashed at the glass of the outer airlock door, and Gregor saw mother Earth having another one of her temper tantrums. Humans had abused and polluted their planet to the point that it had turned against them. Earthquakes, floods, acid rain, all of these things began to drive away or destroy all life on the planet. Ultimately this city was the only place left that was safe. People still left the safety of the dome, but they wore protective suits that shielded them from the rogue elements. They went out in search of scrap or salvage, earning them a few credits to help them pay for the next meal. It wasn't glamorous, but it was a living if you were careful. The city was simply called 'Earth', since it was the only inhabitable place on the planet, when you say you're going to Earth, there's only one city that you could possibly be talking about. That's the kind of joke that's funny to a toddler, for about five seconds. Or at least it would be, if it wasn't just so sad.

As Gregor stood there with his forehead pressed against the glass, he watched the slime green rain pour down over the barren landscape outside. He knew the glass was there for his own protection, because if anyone went out there without the special suits the salvagers wore, his life span could be measured in minutes. But, would that really be a bad thing? As he stared, he started to think that maybe he should just press the button beside the airlock, and take a walk outside to let the home planet destroy him. He had nothing left to live for, after all. The Syndicate had been his whole life, and they'd kicked him out. He wasn't told why, or given any chance to clear his name. He was just stripped of his uniform and given the boot. What else had he left? It would be so easy to just press the button and take a walk. Then he found himself actually thinking about it. He struggled to find a single reason why he shouldn't do it. His finger trembled over the button beside the door.

"Wow, you look like a man who's seen the back end of hell."

The voice came from Gregor's left, and he turned his head to see a man leaning against the wall not far from the door. He was grinning.

"You don't know what I'm going through." Gregor said. The man laughed and ruffled his own hair, which already looked a little ruffled in the first place.

"I can tell you what I see. You're a Syndicate man, only not anymore, am I right?"

Gregor was shocked, and blinked. "How do you know that?"

"I told you I can see it. You're physically fit and have the regulation haircut, those are kind of a giveaway." said the man, taking a few steps towards Gregor. He reached out to touch the material of Gregor's shirt. "That, and you're wearing your 'civilian clothes'. I don't know if you know this buddy, but they give those exact clothes out to everyone on the day they kick them out of the organization."

Gregor nodded and looked down at his clothes, hating them even more. "They didn't say why I was being terminated. They didn't let me say anything. I've been in the Syndicate for as long as I can remember. I have no idea what to do now." he said. He had no idea why he was telling a stranger all of this, but like with deciding to open the door, he was having trouble to find a reason not to.

"What did you do when you were in the Syndicate?" the stranger asked.

"I was a Lieutenant on the SSC Torrent. I thought I'd been doing a good job until they told me I was terminated."

"Impressive. That's the Syndicate's flagship, the fastest and deadliest ship in the Syndicate fleet."

Gregor nodded. "My name's Gregor. Formally Lieutenant Tammond." he said, mostly to prolong the conversation. This was the most human contact he'd had since he'd been terminated. It felt nice to talk to someone.

"Captain Logan, a pleasure to meet you."

"You're a captain?"

"Yes, but not with the Syndicate. It's more of an honorary title more than anything. But I have a ship, and a crew, and I'm in charge of the safety and well-being of that crew. So while the title might be honorary, the responsibility isn't. Why do you ask?"

Gregor considered this.

"Are you looking to hire someone?"