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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 16: Settling In

    “I didn’t notice when we were flying in how interconnected all the domes and towers are.” Allison was looking through the clear sides of a shaft that ran between two of the Carvers’ domes. Several other such connections were visible in the distance.
    “Yeah, each structure is usually linked to all the ones nearby to make it convenient to move people and cargo between them. I know there are a few exceptions, but I don’t spend enough time here to know which ones. It’s a big station.”
    “Very big. I’m glad they’re here, I was worried about what I was going to have to buy to get from my apartment to my job.”
    Joseph laughed. “Hopefully you won’t need to buy anything. You certainly won’t need to travel five miles down to the central shaft and five miles back up every day. You might want to buy something like this little wagon eventually though.”
    They had borrowed a small, open-topped vehicle from the Carvers to speed their travel around the station. They were short, usually built for two to four passengers and small amounts of cargo; a week’s groceries, for example. They had a similar vehicle aboard Garden Variety Animal for getting around on stations, but Tyrone’s destination was the opposite direction.
    “Couldn’t I get something more like that truck you and Tyrone have? That would be a little more familiar.”
    “Well, there are larger versions of this that look more like a pickup. You could get something like that, but I wouldn’t recommend a planetary vehicle. There are a lot of differences between planetary vehicles and station vehicles.”
    “Size was the first one I noticed.”
    “It’s difficult to miss.” Joseph nodded as they passed into the second dome. “It’s really an effect of all the others.” He gestured at the traffic corridors. “Every cubic inch of usable space on a space station has to be constructed. Couradeen isn’t stingy with that by any means, but everything is tighter than it would be on a planet, so it’s helpful for vehicles to be smaller.”
    “True. I really wouldn’t want to try to maneuver any of my parents’ farm trucks in here.” She gave the little vehicle a curious examination. “It seems like there’s a lot of stuff missing too. Is that taken out to make it smaller or is it smaller because it was taken out? It seems like some of the stuff you’d usually expect in a car isn’t necessary here.”
    “It’s a little of both, but you’re right. A lot of the systems that station vehicles lack only exist at all to meet challenges that don’t exist on stations. For example, there’s no reason to have a complex shock absorption system when you’re always driving on decking that’s extremely flat and doesn’t get potholes. Or climate control in a vehicle when the station is already climate controlled.”
    “Or bother with a roof when there’s no weather to keep out?” she asked with a grin.
    “Exactly. I’m actually of two minds about that one. These things can go pretty fast and enclosing the cabin would cut down on wind noise when you get them up to speed.”
    “Would you want to be driving them that fast anyway?” Allison’s voice was reproachful, and he glanced over to catch a disapproving frown. “Like you said the corridors are narrow, and people walk through them too.”
    “I wouldn’t in these corridors, but there are larger ones that are restricted to vehicle-only traffic. The Carvers don’t have any that large between their properties, there isn’t enough traffic volume. But the central shaft is where the major transportation artery is, and that’s restricted to vehicles. So are most of the attachments between it and the domes. On those we could go that fast.”
    “That makes more sense. Have you ever used it?”
    “Not often, but I’ve been down there a few times. If you want to see some truly impressive gravity manipulation, you should go at least once. The attachments to the domes and such come in from every angle, and they all have to join the same roadway. It’s interesting to watch a big cargo vehicle do a barrel roll beside you before merging into your lane. And when you do it yourself, it feels like nothing happened.”
    “Sounds exciting. Also terrifying.”
    “It does take a little getting used to. This looks like our place.” He brought the little cart to a stop outside a large warehouse bearing the name “Naumann Farming Supply Company.”
    “That’s the one.” Allison stepped out of the little cart. “Are you coming?”
    “No.” Joseph dug in his pocket, looking for his phone. “I’ll stay out here and find something to read. They aren’t interviewing me for a job, and it looks better if you come in on your own.”
    She sighed. “Yeah, but I’d feel more confident with you along.” She squared her shoulders. “Wish me luck.”
    “Good luck. And God’s blessings.” Joseph smiled slightly as she straightened her back, marched across the corridor and vanished into the store. She was doing a good job of looking more confident than she was. Eventually she would be as confident as she looked.. 
    A positive experience with being independent would help with that, and she would have one here. It was a difficult transition for any young adult, regardless of circumstances. Making important decisions like jobs and apartments was nerve-wracking with little or no experience to indicate the right choice. Supportive friends and family who had that experience and a community of honest people to deal with made it much easier.
    Couradeen Station was a tight-knit, welcoming community, even to transient outsiders like he and Tyrone. The Carvers were evidence enough of that, they were the only customers to invite the two starmen to their home. They would look out for and encourage Allison, and so would their friends. He and Tyrone would have willingly taken her somewhere else, but he was glad she’d decided to give the sation a shot. He was sure it would be the right place for her, at least for now.
    Joseph settled into his reading, checking the time occasionally. He wanted to catch up on the news from Orson Station. Like small town news all over the universe, the stories from the station of twenty thousand residents were not extraordinary. He kept up with anyway. It was fun to read about places, businesses and people you recognized from thousands of light-years away.
    Allison came out about an hour later, nervous excitement on her face. Joseph saw her as she came across the corridor, looking less tense and walking more naturally. He stuck his phone back in its pocket as she arrived and got in the cart.
    “I got the job!”
    Joseph laughed. “Good. That’s one errand taken care of for the day. How did it go?”
    “Well, Mr. Carver was right, they were pretty much ready to hire me on the spot. They did ask a few more questions, and the owner wanted to show me what I’d be doing.”
    “And what will you be doing?” Joseph pulled the cart out of the parking spot and headed toward Hickory Tower. Allison had already told him he wanted to look at those apartments before they checked anywhere else.
    “Writing and tracking invoices, mostly. They have a small retail store at the front, and I’ll probably help with that, but the owner said most of their business is larger deliveries to the domes. That was pretty much what I expected, that’s how my family has things delivered.”
    “It’s helpful that you know a little bit about what to expect too, I’m sure.” Joseph turned the cart into another connecting tube. They had to go back through one of the Carver domes to get to Hickory Tower, but they didn’t have to cross the whole thing.
    “There was one thing I didn’t quite understand.” Allison frowned slightly, fiddling with her purse. “Mr. Naumann said one of the things they do the most business in is fertilizer, but Mr. Carver mentioned that he usually has you and Tyrone ship that in for him. Why isn’t he buying it from Mr. Naumann?”
    “Well what do you know,” Joseph laughed, “A farming question I actually know the anser to!”
    Allison chuckled. “Usually I know more about that than you do.”
    “In this case it’s as much a shipping question as a farming question. The Carvers have one of the larger farming operations. I think they’re one of the ten biggest on Couradeen Station. They need way more fertilizer than most operations, enough that it’s cheaper for them to order it directly.”
    “Most farmers on Couradeen Station don’t own multiple domes then?”
    “Nope, most own one or part of one. A single dome is a mile across, which gives them almost five hundred acres of land. I think a lot of the domes are split in halves or quarters. Very few people own half a dozen of them like Carvers. With that much land to fertilize, they just bring in a whole shipload. Mr. Naumann probably orders it the same way, although I’m sure he orders more often.”
    “If he’s supplying it to a lot of the small farmers, he’d definitely need more. It seems like it would be cheaper for any farmer to order directly. I suppose they just don’t have the space to store it all.”
    “On that I have no idea. To be honest, I don’t even know that we ship in all of the Carvers’ fertilizer. Having multiple domes gives them the ability to grow a lot of different things, and we ship in a lot of ‘specialty’ supplies for them. Thousands of rubber tree seedlings, for example.”
    Allison snickered, and they might have continued on that topic, but they had arrived at Hickory Tower. Joseph found a place to park on the tower’s main level, where large glass doors opened into the structure’s lobby. Signs advised that resident vehicles had to take the elevator to the bottom level of the tower where they were garaged.
    “Will you please come along this time?” Allison asked. “I’ve never picked out an apartment for myself, I don’t really know what to look for.”
    “If you’d like, sure.” Joseph reached for the cart door. “It wasn’t really appropriate for a job interview, but looking at an apartment is entirely different. You still have to do most of the talking though. It’s your decision.”
    “That’s fine, I just need you to stop me from making any serious mistakes.” Allison smiled as he got out and turned toward the lobby. “Also to make sure I don’t forget any important questions.”
    “You can count on me for that much.”
    The lobby reminded Joseph of a hotel, but without a check-in counter. Directly across from the doors was a bank of elevators, and to the right an open door labeled “office.” Coffee tables surrounded by armchairs were scattered around the rest of the room. 
    In the office, Allison asked a receptionist about vacant apartments and showed her the letter from Immigration. The woman’s eyebrows rose directly into her graying hair as she read it, but she offered no comment. She politely gave Allison a short form to fill out and went to fetch a leasing agent.
    Joseph knew as soon as the leasing agent appeared that he wasn’t going to like the man. He was middle-aged and spoke in strident tones. The first thing he did was insist that they had to look at one of the luxury apartments at the top of the tower. Joseph shook his head discretely to warn Allison off, but she had agreed before she noticed the signal. She gave him an apologetic look, which he answered with a shrug. It wasn’t the end of the world.
    The luxury suites were very nice, and Joseph noted that the one they examined had a view of the Carvers’ domes. Of course, they were also far outside of Allison’s intended price range. It didn’t help that the leasing agent had simply assumed they were a couple and taken them to a suite intended for a young family, not a single person. 
    He didn’t realize his mistake until Allison used the singular when saying it was out of her price range and she’d like to see one of the cheaper units. Abashed, he offered to show her one of the smaller luxury units. She politely but firmly declined the offer, and they returned to the elevators.
    “This is more what I was expecting.” Joseph spoke too softly for the agent to hear as they entered the second unit.
    “Yeah.” Allison preceded him into the living room, inspecting the empty apartment. “I see what Mrs. Carver meant now, that it would be similar to the ship.” The design had the same serviceable-but-nice feel. Different materials were used in many places, like the kitchen cabinets, which were wood in contrast to the ship’s metal ones.
    “Similar, but a little bigger in most rooms.” Joseph poked his head into the bedroom. “And much bigger in here.”
    Allison came to examine the bedroom and the attached bathroom, while Joseph returned to the living room and looked out the large window. In the Couradeen towers, the nicest apartments were those high enough to look out on the station’s skin. This one was the next-best thing, with a good view of the interior of the cylindrical station. He could see a maze of the stem-like attachment tubes for the farming domes and solar arrays, and the occasional spacecraft zoomed past below his feet.
    “That’s pretty cool.” Allison, her tour complete, joined him by the window.
    “It’s definitely a nice view. It reminds me of looking up at the bottom of a tree.”
    Allison studied it herself for a moment. “It sort of does. One with a lot of skinny branches. Someone who grew up on a station might think differently, but I think I’d rather have this view than the one from the last apartment.”
    “It’s certainly unconventional, even for a space station. And it’s neat to be able to watch the spacecraft come and go. What do you think?”
    Allison took a few minutes before answering, staring out the window. “It’s nice, probably the closest there is to work, and anything else would be fairly similar. Unless there’s something you think I’m overlooking, I think I’ll take it.”
    “Nothing you’re overlooking so far.” Joseph stretched and stepped away from the window. “Let’s go back down to the office and look at the paperwork. There might be something in there, but at this point it seems unlikely.”
    An hour later, the lease was signed and Allison had collected her keys. Joseph was glad he hadn’t mentioned to the nervous girl that he and Tyrone had taken two weeks to select their first apartment on Orson Station. It was a big choice to make, and she didn’t have two weeks to spend on it.
    “You can sleep on the ship tonight if you want,” Joseph offered as they walked out of the empty apartment that was now Allison’s. “Tyrone and I will help you move your things in the morning before we go over to pick up our cargo.”
    “Alright. I should talk to Mrs. Carver again too. After staying on the ship, it hadn’t really occurred to me that beds are furniture and most apartments don’t come equipped with them.”
    “It’s a peculiarity of shipboard beds that they’re pretty much built into the thing. A lot of the furniture is. For now, on to the last stop of the day.”
    “Are we in a hurry?” Allison gave him an amused look. “If you walk any faster I’m going to have to run to keep up.”
    Joseph laughed and slowed down a little. “Sorry. I want to get to the range before it gets too crowded, and it’s past four so people should be coming back from work soon.” A listing of the businesses that operated in Hickory Tower had been provided with the lease paperwork. Joseph had quickly located a range among them, down near the resident parking level. 
    “Isn’t it a little odd that Hickory Tower has a shooting range? I couldn’t even tell you where there was one in Nevarris.”
    “That was Nevarris. Shooting sports are a national pastime in the Teton Sector, there are ranges all over the place. I think Carvers even have one set up in one of their domes. I don’t recommend ever going to this one on a Saturday, you’ll probably have to wait hours to get a lane.”

Published: April 22 2018

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