"What's that?!" Gooseman stood stock-still in the doorframe, effectively preventing his Captain, who was returning from a mission with him, from entering their unit's office as well.
"Goose!" Zach protested behind him. "If you'd just move a little more into the room, please!" He more or less shoved the young man half a meter through the door till he was able to weasel around him. The first thing he saw was the reason why the ST had stopped dead. The first thing he thought was Not again!
Next to the door stood a battery of connected, roughly knee-high rectangular plastic boxes with flap lids and rounded edges: apparently dust bins. From left to right: black, blue, green, yellow, and white. At each end of the row hung a tiny orange box from the top of the bin. The one attached to the black bin was labeled with ammo shells, the one on the white said batteries. Each of the bins and boxes carried a big and friendly — and somehow threatening — label of their unit. Wonderful.
Zach turned on his heels and studied the other two officers of his unit, who had returned earlier. "Tell me that this is a joke!" he demanded.
"Sorry, Zach. I'm afraid not." Niko gave him an apologetic smile. "It came this morning, short after you and Goose left. Apparently, somebody at the BWL's Committee for Responsible Use of Resources decided BETA wastes too much and ordered us to recycle properly."
"Was that the same person who came up with the biodegradable — hence water-soluble — dust bins last year?"
"Probably. But these don't dissolve." The hacker gave him a wicked grin. "I tested it."
"Cold morning coffee."
Niko frowned. "Which bin did you empty it in?" she asked.
"Yellow?" The telepath hesitated. "I don't think that's correct..."
"Correct?" Zach interrupted. "What do you mean?"
"Black is for metal, blue is glass, green is bio-waste, white is paper, and yellow is for all the rest."
"See, it's right," Doc argued. "It was the rest of the coffee!"
"But it's biodegradable. It should have been in the green bin, I think."
"Do you expect me to disconnect that thing and empty it into the next?"
"Forget about it." Zach shook his head and headed for his desk. "This is getting much too far for my taste." He'd almost added Take Goose as an example but caught himself in time. The ST already sat on his desk, moving a tea bag around in a mug filled with steaming water, but he'd been a pain in the butt on this mission and Zach knew better than to give him an argument to consider that behavior appropriate in the future.
Five minutes later the ST swiveled around at his desk, studied the bin battery, and hesitated.
"Sorry to ask, but... which box?" he frowned. The tea bag dangled from his fingers, rotating slowly — and dripping — on its thread.
Zach shrugged indifferently and escaped to the first draft of his report. He had decided to gloss over some of the details and that was something he'd better concentrate on.
The telepath looked up from her telekinetic exercise and studied Goose's tea bag. "Bio, I think." Niko pointed at the center bin. "Green. Right, Doc?"
"Nah!" The hacker made a dismissive gesture. "That's multi-component waste!" he declared.
"Multi-comp—" the ST stared at him incredulously. "Are you taking me for a ride?!"
"You? Never!" Doc shuddered theatrically. "But that's multi-component waste!" he repeated, failing to hide his grin. "You have to sort the components in the proper bins."
"Yes. First, the label is paper, that's the white bin. The pin is metal, so put it in black. The tea leaves in the bag are bio-waste, so the green bin is right for them. And the thread and the bag itself are for yellow." He threw a look over his shoulder at Niko. "Did I forget anything?"
"No, I think that's all." She hesitated and added: "The ammo shells go in the casket on the left."
"The ones Shane is about to fire at you," she shrugged.
"Goose, you wouldn't, would you—?" the hacker stuttered.
"Nah, I won't." The ST dropped back at his desk. "That wouldn't solve the tea bag issue, would it?" He fumbled a thick, padded envelope out of one of his desk drawers.
"What's that for?" Zach demanded.
"Getting rid of the bag." Goose shrugged. "He said I should ask when there's a problem."
It was growing dark already, when there was a faint sizzle and the light on Zach's desk went out. "Not my day," the captain sighed, dismounting the lamp to free the dead light tube.
"Any idea whether that's glass or metal?" Doc asked with a nod towards the dead light tube on Zach's place.
"Difficult. You can't dismantle it, so—?" Niko gave him a helpless shrug.
"I'll take care of it." Zach stuffed it into his pocket as he went to get himself a new one.
"Issue solved," he declared when he came back from the supplies department five minutes later.
"And where is it?" Doc asked curiously. "In glass or in metal?"
"In the bins from the S6s."
The next morning:
Office of Cmdr. Walsh
"What the heck—?!"
The tea bag rotated slowly around its thread, dangling down from the soaked label still carrying 'Ceylon Kenilworth, first flush' in friendly letters between Walsh's pointed fingertips.
The equally tea soaked card in the envelope carried a single word in all-too-familiar handwriting: How?