Jim taps his foot. He shifts back and forth, left and right. Time has slowed so much he's pretty sure that he can feel the rotation of the planet.
He counts the ceiling tiles. Then he counts them again by twos. And once more by fours, then by fives, just for fun.
Then he counts the floor tiles, and that's harder because of the chairs -- why do some people get chairs? -- and the fact that some of the tiles are hidden by the desks and counters. He has to extrapolate and do math based on the size of the ceiling tiles to work out the square footage of the building to come to a concrete number. It's not exact, but it'll do.
Then he counts the people. First all of the employees, then all of the other people waiting. Then he counts them separately. Then he counts the number of people waiting in lines, the interminable, awful lines, and the number of people waiting in the chairs.
He has a moment of envy over the people in the chairs, but then he realizes that the chairs are awful government chairs, uncomfortable and unforgiving. They hit just the wrong place in the back of the legs and creak in embarrassing ways if a person fidgets.
Everyone here is fidgeting. What else is there to do?
He doubles back on himself. He counts women. He counts men. He counts the windows.
He wonders when it was he became a person who counts, anyway. He doesn't do this anywhere else but here. There's nothing else to do. He'd pull out his communicator and text, but the big signs hanging everywhere warn that unauthorized communicators will be confiscated by the security guard. Jim's pretty sure he knows that security guard from somewhere. But then, he knows a lot of security guards.
The line slowly inches forward. One by one the people in front of him get through the process at the counter of processing and are sent from the line of standing to the awful chairs of sitting. One by one they're called from the awful chairs of sitting to the counter of photos. One by one they return to the chairs of sitting until they're called once more, and then they're free, smiling wide, relieved smiles of liberation as they stride purposefully past the people in the line of standing and burst through the glass doors into the bright Iowa sunshine.
Finally it's his turn at the counter of processing.
The clerk looks at his credentials skeptically. "Mr. Kilk," the lilac skinned female chirps in a high, reedy voice, not bothering to read closely enough to get yet another bored looking Terran's name correct, "this expired more than three years ago. Is there some reason why you haven't come in until now?"
"I was somewhat unavailable."
"I was off world."
The clerk sighs and inputs data on her vidscreen. "You were off world for employment?"
"Yes, I believe that a deferral was filed for me." His mother had said that she'd take care of that, but she was never so great with mundane things like paperwork.
More input, more sighs. "Only certain categories of off world employment qualify for deferring a renewal anyway, Mr. Kilk, and whomever filed your deferral for you did not indicate the nature of your off world work."
So at least she had actually filed for him. Thanks, Mom, Jim thinks. "And?"
"And," the clerk chirps snottily, "if you were not employed in one of these categories, the three years lapse requires that you complete five hours of remedial training and successful completion of both written and skills testing again." The clerk glances at the credential in one of her four hands. "Oh, you're dual qualified, wait," she taps at the screen, and makes something Jim thinks must be her native language's equivalent to a tsk tsk tsk. "Twelve hours of remedial training and four tests."
Jim smirks. He can outsnot the snottiest of civil servants. "I see, and what categories of employment would enable me to skip all of that?"
The clerk doesn't answer, she merely projects a holovid in front of Jim's face. A list begins to scroll in front of him. He's only to the B's (Biological-physical anthropologist, broadcaster: interplanetary news and information, budget analyst: space portal operations) when he bats at the projection and it disappears.
"Look," he says, putting on his more charming smile and leaning over the counter. "My name is James T. Kirk. Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet. It is a Constitution class heavy cruising vessel, seven hundred twenty-five meters long, with a crew of more than eleven hundred. I'm pretty sure that that is on your little list somewhere, but I'll be damned if I'm going to read the whole thing to figure out what category of off world employment that would fall under, because our shore leave ends in three days and I'd barely be halfway through. So tap at your screen, process everything and let me go sit down in one of those crappy polycarb chairs, huh?"
The clerk opens her mouth in a silent gasp. It's not a very pretty picture, Jim's pretty sure she could cram two of her fists in there. He shudders. She taps on her console. She passes his credentials back.
"Please go have a seat, Captain Kirk. Your driver's license has been renewed for another 6 years. The state of Iowa is glad to be of assistance."