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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 11: Travel Tedium

    Allison glared at her computer screen peevishly, reading a few lines and not taking in a word that was in them. The forms the Teton Sector Immigration Department sent her to fill out were long. Pages and pages of questions to answer. She was three quarters done, but she’d been at it for hours and her motivation was flagging.
    Still, she had to get them done. If she didn’t she’d either have to go back to Temorran or keep flying around with Tyrone and Joseph. The first was a bad plan for her health; the second didn’t seem so bad, but she couldn’t just be a burden on the starmen forever. She filled out another answer, sighed, and rested her head on her hands.
    The more questions she answered, the more sense the length of the forms made. It was perfectly reasonable for them to want all the information they’d asked for. She’d just been blind sided by how much they wanted.
    There were some seeming exceptions to this rule of reasonableness. Quite a few questions were things like “do you have any ties to organized crime?” or “have you ever engaged in the forging of official documents?” You would have to be an idiot to answer anything but “no” to those questions, even if you had. She couldn’t imagine Terrence or any of his underlings filling out this questionnaire and answering truthfully, because the Immigration Department would instantly deny their application.
    Most of the questions weren’t that hard, but a few she had to spend time thinking about to answer. Dates were particularly tricky, and she’d spent a lot of time with pen and paper working out exactly when something had happened based on other things that happened around it.
    Allison realized she’d stopped reading questions again and gotten lost in pondering them. She sighed again and, with no little effort, dragged herself back to the task. She didn’t want to stop halfway through and have to pick it up again later. She answered another question. Two more to go before the end of the page.
    “So this is where you’ve been hiding since we finished checking the plants this morning.” Joseph walked into the kitchen with his own computer and a coffee cup. The two starmen drank coffee well into the afternoon. “Sorry,” he added as the girl jumped in her chair, “didn’t mean to startle you.”
    “I haven’t been hiding!” She ignored her increased heart rate and protested that accusation instead. “I’ve been right here for hours answering questions.”
    “Well, okay, I know you weren’t,” he admitted. “How are the forms going?”
    “Actually it’s been going well.” It had been, after all, she was relatively close to done. “I’m getting tired of working on them though, I’ve been getting frustrated with how much there is to answer.”
    “They ask a lot of questions.” Joseph nodded, sitting down with his coffee mug. “Have to know everything there is to know about you.”
    “I meant to ask you about some of them.” She turned her computer sideways so he could see it and pointed out one of the questions she’d noted earlier. “Why are they asking if an applicant has ties to organized crime? If they do, they would have to be pretty stupid to admit it by answering the question honestly, wouldn’t they?”
    “Yeah, they would. There are some criminals that are that stupid too, but that’s not really why the questions are on there. Do you know what ‘perjury’ means?”
    “Lying under oath?” Allison was fairly sure that was the meaning. She’d had no direct experience with it, only seen it in movies or shows. It wasn’t something that came up often on Temorran except for public officials or serious criminals. All too often it didn’t come up for the latter. 
    “Right. At the bottom of those forms there’s a place for your signature, and next to it there’s a warning that you’re under oath. It reads something like ‘your signature means the information you provided is true to the best of your knowledge, under penalty of perjury.’ I may be paraphrasing, but that’s the important bit.”
    “How does that connect to the questions?”
    “Well, they aren’t really there because Immigration expects them to screen out criminals. They’re there so that, no matter how far through the system someone has gotten, we can toss them out if we discover it. It doesn’t come up a lot, but did you notice some of those questions are about what you intend to do once you’re in the Teton Sector?”
    “Yeah. Is that the same kind of thing?”
    “Yup. Some of them are things that, if you’re born in the Sector, the government couldn’t stop you from doing unless you committed a crime in the process. If you come in from a foreign nation though, we make you promise not to do it under penalty of perjury. If you do, the government can force you to leave the country even though you haven’t committed any other crime. You committed one by violating the promise you made to get in.”
    “Am I in any danger of that?” It didn’t sound like anything she was planning to do at Couradeen Station or later, but the thought made her a little nervous. She scanned some of the questions again, looking for any promises she might violate.
    “I seriously doubt it.” Joseph smiled reassuringly. “Your story doesn’t exactly scream ‘political subversive.’ Most of them have to do with trying to change our form of government or particular policies, things we decided as a nation a long time ago. If a few of our people want to agitate over an issue they have that right, but we have no obligation to import activists for it.”
    “Oh.” Allison sat back in the chair again, relieved. “Once again, things that make perfect sense when they’re explained. I thought maybe I should go back and look for anything about what jobs I could take.”
    “No, nothing like that. Finding a job is one thing we specifically want immigrants to do. I’m glad you asked about it though, it’s good to understand the scope of what you’re promising.”
    “No arguments here. Did you and Tyrone finish your statements?” The two starmen had much less paperwork to do. Most of it was to prepare written statements of what happened on Temorran and why they’d decided to bring Allison on board. They had already told the Immigration caseworker they’d been speaking with about it on the video call, but they still needed the legal documentation.
    “We did.” The starman took a sip from his mug and leaned back. “Tyrone is giving his one more read, then he’s going to send both of them. I think the case officer is already looking into the story from what we told him on the video call.”
    “His name was Gary.” Allison supplied the information distractedly, yet another worry popping into her head.
    “That’s right. I’m awful with names, it's a wonder I remember yours.” He rolled his eyes for his own failings and then grinned.
    “I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or amused by that.” She tried to give him a stern look, but failed. “He’s trying to confirm our story from Temorran sources then?”
    “Yeah. The most likely candidates would be the starport we used and whichever Temorran government controls that region.”
    “What happens if they lie?” She was more than a little worried about that. The Temorran Kindred probably had planted people in the government, or had paid them off. They knew for a fact the starport had their operatives on staff from their experiences there.
    “Well, in the first place remember what Gary told us. They don’t take every word a source tells them as gospel truth.” He gave her a stern look. “So you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying over it.”
    “Easier said than done.” She squirmed guiltily anyway though. She was still edgy and prone to being afraid of things she needn’t be.
    Joseph nodded once in agreement. “It isn’t so easy to stop being afraid. You have every reason to still be skittish. But try not to worry about things you can’t change, especially when they aren’t likely anyway.”
    “Well, I’ll try. I can promise that much.”
    “Good. Also, remember that they aren’t really looking to get the same whole story from someone on Temorran. They’re looking to corroborate certain details. Your birth date, for example, or that there was a disturbance on our dock when we were loading.”
    “And if someone gives a story that completely contradicts ours?” she challenged.
    “That might cause us more trouble. But the first thing Gary is going to investigate then is whether that person has ties to the Temorran Kindred. Very few people on Temorran have any reason to lie about us, and most people don’t make a habit of lying just because.”
    “I suppose not, they usually have a reason. Lies are harder to keep track of.” Like most children, Allison had learned that lesson when trying to get away with rule-breaking.
    “It’s usually something fairly important too. In your case, there just isn’t enough at stake for anybody but the Kindred to lie about anything that happened. Even if the Temorran government in your region was heavily influenced by the Kindred, they aren’t likely to do it. They import too much from the Teton Sector. They won’t risk that relationship over a gang’s grudge against one girl that evaded them.”
    Allison gave a noncommittal shrug. She didn’t really understand enough about international trade to know if he was right. The two starmen had been right about enough other things that she was willing to trust them on it.
    “Also I’d just like to point out that if I’m wrong about all of that and the Teton Sector won’t take you in the consequences aren’t dire for you. Tyrone and I will just keep toting you around until we find somewhere you can settle. There are plenty of other independent stations and unaffiliated planets that will be safe for you.”
    “Thanks.” She gave him a warm smile. Everything she’d seen so far told her she could rely on the two mens’ promises. If they weren’t worried about it, she would try not to worry either. “You two do seem to have plans for everything.”
    Joseph laughed at the remark. “I don’t know about that, but we adapt. If one plan doesn’t work, we find an alternative.”
    Silence fell for a while. Joseph turned his attention to something he was reading on his computer, and she returned to the pages of questions for the Immigration department. After another half hour or so, she finished a page and scrolled down to see how much was left. She’d been resisting the urge to do that since before Joseph came in.
    There was only a page to go! After hours of working she was nearly done. Her excitement was dampened instantly when she remembered that she also had to prepare a statement. That had taken a couple hours apiece for Tyrone and Joseph, and would probably take as long for her. She rested her head in her hands again with a rather theatric sigh.
    Joseph chuckled and looked up from his screen. “What was that all about?”
    Allison waved a hand at her computer. “I checked to see how much I had left and got all excited when I saw it was only one more page. Then I remembered I still have to write a statement.”
    “Well, it should be a bit easier. You won’t be wracking your brain for every little piece of personal information you never thought you’d need to remember.”
    “Well that’s a relief,” Allison laughed. It was an apt description of the last few hours.
    “It’s a bigger piece of writing to do, but all you’re doing is telling a story. Just trying to recount the details. The events are fairly recent too, so it shouldn’t be all that hard.”
    “I guess it’s not such an impossible task. I just never thought that running away could involve so much paperwork!”
    “Neither did we,” Joseph laughed.
    She gave him a quzzical look, confused. At first she thought he meant what they were doing for Immigration, but that didn’t quite fit the way he said it. None of that had seemed to be much of a surprise to the two starmen either. 
    Finally she gave in to her curiosity and asked. “What do you mean? Did you run away?”
    “Not exactly.” He gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment, recalling old memories. “A few in our hometown have a very hidebound mind set, and did accuse us of running out on our responsibilities, but most were happy for us. We do still visit once in a while, and we do take shipments for there from time to time. It’s a logging town, so the load out is usually lumber of some sort.”
    “Why would you want to run away if you didn’t have to?”
    He gave her a searching look. “Doesn’t every kid dream of running away sometimes? No matter how good your childhood, it’s an exciting idea. No more chores, no more parents telling you what to do, no more school. Of course it never occurs to any of us at that age how hard it actually is to find food.”
    “Well, yeah, I guess they probably do. I definitely thought about it a few times. You still wanted to leave when you got older though?” Allison had wanted to leave for college but had always assumed she’d come back to the area, if not her hometown, when it was over. That seemed unlikely now, but living elsewhere was still a relatively new idea to her. She wasn’t sure it was the future she wanted.
    “Yes. We wanted to see new places beyond our little corner of the Teton Sector. We wanted to explore the universe a little, and see what else is out there. There were times we doubted that desire, but it was always there to one degree or another. It was usually stronger in me than Tyrone, I think.”
    “Was that because of Justine?” Allison knew from watching friends move before her that the distance tended to strain romantic relationships. Plenty survived it, but plenty didn’t. Fortunately...or maybe hadn’t been an issue when she moved.
    “Actually no. Tyrone and Justine met on our very first trip off our home planet, before we owned our own ship. She spent childhood in space, most of it on a station called Ashland Station that’s a major shipping point for asteroid mining in the Superior Cluster. He’d taken a job a few years before that on a much smaller station in our system. I think it was just being built when they arrived. Some people just have more wanderlust than others, and I guess I have more.
    “Oh. What were you doing on that station?”
    “We thought it might be wise to work in space for a while before we took the step of buying our own ship. Justine didn’t think we would follow through with it.” He laughed at some memory before continuing. “It is a big adjustment for someone who grew up on a planet to get used to working in space. We take gravity for granted, but on a ship or station it can be shut off whenever it’s convenient, and they do it a lot.”
    “We haven’t done it since I came on board.” Allison’s tone was disbelieving.
    “It hasn’t been convenient yet. You’ll see it though, that’s probably how the racks of seedlings will be unloaded.” The starman rose, refilled his coffee mug once more, and headed for the door. “You should try to get those questions and your statement finished. If you want to hear more of our old stories, we can tell them after that’s done.”
    Allison rolled her eyes. “You sound like a parent.” He wasn’t wrong though. “Fine. I’ll come find you if I need help.”

Published: March 25 2018

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