CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.
In A Starship's Wake
By Stephen Schamber
Chapter 10: The Next Step
Joseph started cooking breakfast while Tyrone was finishing the system checks. By the time Tyrone got back to the kitchen to pour himself more coffee, he was dumping chopped-up vegetables and scrambled eggs into a pan. They joined the hash browns already on the stove, and Joseph laughed to himself as he realized it was the same breakfast he’d had yesterday in the diner. It was a fairly common meal for them, when they weren’t too lazy to cook.
He and Tyrone finished their breakfast and started looking over morning news from the Teton Sector before Allison emerged to join them. Joseph looked up from his datapad to greet her and was momentarily lost for words. He hadn’t realized that in only one day he’d become accustomed to her wearing pants and a t-shirt. This morning’s knee-length blue dress caught him off guard.
He tried to keep the surprise from showing on his face, but failed. She spotted it and smiled, a bit nervously. “You look lovely this morning.” It was about all he could think of to say.
Her smile broadened. “Thank you.”
“Breakfast is on the stove.” Tyrone made the comment in the bland tone he used when he was trying not to laugh. Joseph fixed his partner with an irritable glare, and received only a smirk in return.
Allison scooped the rest of the eggs and hash browns onto a plate, seasoned them a little, and sat down. “Sorry I startled you. I forgot I never told you I mostly prefer to wear dresses. Tyrone already knew because he was there when I bought them.”
“No need to apologize,” Joseph assured her. “It’s good to keep me on my toes. You weren’t really comfortable wearing them when you were working for Terrence I suppose?”
She made a negative sound and shook her head, pulling her fork out of her mouth and swallowing. “Not at all. I didn’t think they were very utilitarian for busing tables in the first place, and I never wanted to set foot in that place in one.
“I think working there made me uncomfortable in them all together.” Her voice fell sadly. “I would never wear one in the apartment or around Nevarris either. The excitement of leaving drove it out of my head for a while when I was picking them out yesterday. It was back this morning, but now that I’m somewhere safe I don’t think I should let that stop me. Now’s the time to get comfortable with them again.”
“That’s a good plan.” Tyrone nodded approvingly. “And I suppose we can help by not making you feel self-conscious. Which we’re so far failing miserably at.” Joseph and Allison laughed.
“I guess we should change topics then.” Allison looked back at her plate to cut up another bite of egg. “Today we spend a lot of time in the cargo bay looking at plants, right?”
“Yup.” Tyrone rose to pour his third mug of coffee. “More specifically, we prod the dirt they’re sitting in with cheap moisture meters. If they read what they’re supposed to, we move on to the next pot. If they don’t, we’ll have to adjust the irrigation line.”
“They should all read what they’re supposed to today, shouldn’t they?” Joseph recalled their client, Mr. Carver, mentioning that the irrigation system shouldn’t need much adjusting the first few days. He’d shipped enough plants into Couradeen Station to know.
“That’s what Mr. Carver said.” Tyrone echoed his thoughts. “I never actually talked to the farmers from Temorran, did you?”
Joseph shook his head. He didn’t think they had been at the port, and since he and Tyrone were hired by the buyer rather than the seller, he’d had no reason to contact them. “Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He rose and began collecting plates. “Let’s grab some more coffee and get back there. The sooner we start, the sooner we’re done.”
“You make it sound like it’s going to be boring.” At least Allison was approaching the task cheerfully.
“Well, it does seem likely.” Joseph started the dishwasher and accepted a refilled coffee mug from Allison, then the three trooped back to the cargo bay.
Tyrone located and distributed the moisture meters, and they started working. It was, as Joseph had expected, interminably boring. They had to set a pattern immediately just to avoid losing track of which pots had already been checked. Fortunately there was enough space for everyone to work on the same rack of seedlings at the same time.
“So what happens when we get to Couradeen Station? You unload these of course,” Allison gestured at the plants, “but what do you do after that?”
“For us or for you?” Tyrone asked.
“Both, I guess.”
“We’ll be picking up another load bound for a mining settlement. We’ll only be staying in port at the station for about thirty-six hours. Maybe less.” Tyrone frowned at his meter, then shook his head as the reading settled into the normal range.
Joseph picked up the second question. “For you, we don’t really know for sure yet. We have to talk to Immigration and get approval for you to stay there. We should try and at least get a message to the office on the station today, after we finish back here. They’ll need plenty of information from us.”
“What if they don’t let me stay there?” The alarm she felt was evident in her voice. “I’m not going to get you in trouble just by being on board when you dock am I?”
“Then you’ll have to keep traveling with us until we get it straightened out.” Joseph gave her a reassuring smile. “And no, you definitely won’t get us in trouble when we dock. You’re allowed to travel around the Teton Sector with us fairly freely. If we land on a planet you’re restricted to the port city we land in, but aside from that you can go wherever we do. As long as we don’t stay grounded anywhere for more than a week and you don’t stay behind anywhere, it’s fine. Of course, nobody is likely to check anyway unless you break a law.”
“Is that part of the normal immigration system?”
“Not exactly. It’s an exception made for ships in case they hire on foreign crew members or for emergencies like yours. We’re taking responsibility for you until either you’re formally granted permission to settle in the Teton Sector or you return home. Although that might not be an option for a while.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t seem like a great idea at the moment.” Allison jabbed her meter into another pot.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about getting permission to stay in Teton either.” Tyrone looked up from the seedling he was fiddling. “We should be able to get it quickly on the basis of what happened on Temorran. If not, you have no criminal record and Temorran is fairly similar culturally to the Teton Sector. It will only be a matter of time to get it through the normal process.”
“Just a matter of getting through the process.” Joseph nodded agreement with Tyrone. “I’m sure the paperwork is a pain in the neck. I’ve never had to go through it before. But if we have to do it we’ll get it done. In the worst case scenario, you’re just stuck traveling with us for longer than we’d anticipated.”
“Okay.” Allison nodded, her confidence restored. “The sooner I get clearance the better then. I don’t want to be a burden on you any longer than I have to.”
“Actually, it might benefit you to stay with us for another trip or two.” Tyrone exchanged a look with Joseph, who nodded agreement again. “Joseph and I were talking about that this morning before you came out.”
“Why?” Allison looked puzzled.
“Our destination was displayed on the ship information screen outside our docking bay on Temorran. That will be the first place the Kindred goes looking for you or us.”
“Oh.” For a minute nobody said anything as she thought it over. “Would they be able to find me there at all? It sounds like it’s a fairly big place.”
“It’s big, but if they can get onto the station they could find you before anyone figured out what they were up to.” Joseph finished the row he was working on and stepped over to the next rack in line. “They’ll have trouble tracking us any further once we leave unless they have someone on the station already. Ship destinations are posted at their docks and are technically public information, but once they’ve departed the data isn’t easy to get to. The port logs aren’t public, you have to show a reason to access those.
“The only option they’ll have that doesn’t expose why they’re looking for us is to ask around at the docks. They might not start doing that right away either, it will take them a few days of looking to figure out that you aren’t there. There are a lot of ships going through the station and by the time they arrive, we’ll be long gone. The only people who will remember where we went are our friend and business partners, who by then will know your story. If Terrence’s thugs ask them, they’ll let security know there are foreign gangsters on the station.”
“What happens to them then?” Allison asked curiously.
“Most likely they’ll be ordered off the sation.” Tyrone smiled in a slightly predatory way as he provided the answer. “If they arrived on their own ship, they’ll be provided an armed escort out of the system.”
“Can they refuse to go?”
“Well, they can try, but station security will just arrest them and ship them off the station by force.”
“I’d almost like to be there to watch.” Allison jabbed her moisture meter into the next pot a little more forcefully than necessary.
Joseph laughed. “Me too, but we already got to watch Terrence get dragged off once. It’s probably better if we aren’t there. Some of the Kindred seem a little unhinged, and they’re more likely to resist arrest if we’re actually right there in front of them.”
“Probably,” Allison admitted. “Terrence already demonstrated that yesterday.”
“Well, it’s up to you what you want to do.” Tyrone returned them to the subject at hand. “You can stay with us for another stop, or even several, even once you’re allowed to stay on a Tetonite station without us. Wherever you wind up, it will be harder for the Temorran Kindred and their allies to find you.
“Or you can stay on Couradeen. There’s a lot of agriculture on the station and you grew up on a farm, so you probably won’t have much trouble finding work. We operate out of there a lot as well, so we have a lot of contacts.
“Frankly, even if they do find you there I don’t think they’ll be able to do much about it. We’ll tip off the station authorities, our contacts and for good measure your neighbors. With all of them watching out for you, there might as well be an army between you and them.”
“That’s a cheerful thought.” Allison smiled at Tyrone’s comparison. “Just to be sure, I don’t have to make the decision right now do I?”
“Of course not.” The two starmen responded in unison, and Allison dissolved into laughter. Tyrone and Joseph also chuckled.
“It’s all academic until Immigration signs off on it anyway.” Joseph didn’t think it would take that long to get their approval in this case, but it was worth remembering. “If we can’t get that on time and you like Couradeen, it shouldn’t be too long before we’re back on the station anyway.”
They continued to talk as they worked, but they moved on to lighter subjects. Allison was growing more comfortable with them, and shared more about growing up on Temorran and her family. The two starmen told her stories about their home and childhood, and how they had eventually decided to go into business together.
Checking the seedlings didn’t take as long as Joseph had feared, but it took long enough. It was past Tyrone and Joseph’s normal lunch time before they were finished. As they had expected, none of the irrigation heads needed to be adjusted yet.
“I’ll warm up the rest of the lasagna from yesterday,” Tyrone offered, packing the moisture meters away again.
“Sounds like a plan.” Joseph looked at Allison. “Why don’t you and I go send a message to the Immigration Department? We may as well get that ball rolling. Once it’s done you can stop worrying about it.”