Panther Force Five
In a large, dark hanger, an elderly man and woman sit at a chipped linoleum table, drinking tea. They look haggard, world–weary, bone-tired. Both wear flight suits, helmets sitting on the table next to them. Their helmets and suits, both formerly brightly colored, are worn, fabric threadbare at the elbows, helmets cracked and dented from obvious years of use.
BLUE: You hear from Yellow?
GREEN: Their hip's healing nicely, they say.
BLUE: That's good, that's good.
GREEN: Red says she expects it'll be another week or so before they can sit comfortably.
BLUE: I had an uncle with hip replacement. Took him a month before he could even walk again.
GREEN: Well, I hope Yellow mends quick. It's rough not having the whole team.
Another older man enters, limping slightly. He places his helmet on a nearby counter and wipes his hands on a rag.
BLACK: It was just a bad regulator. Should be fine now.
The woman in green pours a cup of tea and places it at the empty seat next to her. The man in black sits, slowly, clearly arthritic.
BLACK: [sipping from the mug] Thank you. Sugar?
The man in blue puts down his mug and uses that hand to pass the sugar bowl. He then picks up his mug again. His other arm does not move.
BLACK: Arm still buggin' ya?
BLUE: Just saving my strength.
BLACK: You should get it looked at.
GREEN: I've been telling him.
BLUE: We're already short one Panther.
GREEN: And we're managing. If you need to take some leave—
BLUE: Arm's fine.
BLACK: Arm's not fine. I could order you to—
BLUE: When Yellow gets back.
GREEN: You better.
They sit in silence and sip their tea. There is a faint bleeping signal. The man in black looks at a device on his wrist.
BLACK: Red Panther patrol complete.
GREEN: I guess I'm up.
The woman in green stands, downs the last of her tea, and grabs her helmet off the table.
BLACK: Keep an eye on Green Panther's flight gyros. I was seeing some power fluctuations last time we linked up.
GREEN: I'll take a look. [exits]
BLUE: Think the Agency'll ever front for some new equipment?
BLACK: [wincing] Maybe? I'll submit another request.
BLUE: We fight interstellar threats for fifty-odd years and our biggest enemy is paperwork.
BLACK: Brave new world.
In the background, a large hangar door opens. Moments later, a giant robotic panther walks past, graceful despite the squeal of metal and a high-pitched whine of giant belts complaining from age and grime. Twin booster engines propel the rusty green robot into the clouds. The two men at the table wave to the robot nonchalantly as it departs, then return to their tea.