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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 32: Happy Returns, Big Changes

    A display opened on the windshield to show Orson Station, and Joseph smiled. They were finally home. Garden Variety Animal returned to her registered home port once a month, and this month had been unusual. It was almost a surprise that the station was unchanged.
    “There’s a happy sight.” Tyrone had barely been speaking for the last hour. He lounged in the copilot’s chair, doing nothing to help Joseph guide the ship in. “It feels like we were gone longer this time.”
    “Yeah, it does. Are you going to keep coming back this often?”
    “I don’t know.” Tyrone almost stopped there, but at a look from Joseph explained. “Well, I’ll have to look up the local requirements for having it as the home port. Once a month seems like a lot when there’s no other reason to visit.”
    “Fair, it is pretty frequent for a ship that does long hauls like us. For the regional transports once a month isn’t that much.” No response came from Tyrone, who gazed into space or at the sation’s HUD image. Joseph shook his head and gave up on the conversation, glad he didn’t need his partner’s help to fly.
    Little of Joseph’s attention was needed to maintan their course. Thirty minutes of steady deceleration as they drifted toward the station would put them at a moor near Tyrone and Justine’s apartment. He amused himself trying to spot places he recognized on the sation. On the uneven cylindrical center section that was difficult. Shops and dwellings occupied most of that structure, and while some levels had larger or smaller diameters, there wasn’t much to tell you what was on the inside of the wall. A few familiar locations jumped out at him from the three rings around the cylinder. Most were distribution warehouses, the main industry on Orson Station.
    Tyrone recovered a bit when they came close enough to see the sation without electronic aid. He flipped off the artificial gravity as they closed, before they passed through the rings. The gravity fields there were poorly-contained. Sure enough, as they passed upside-down between the top and middle rings the ship lurched and gravity tried momentarily to tug the starmen to the ceiling.
    “Figures.” Tyrone pulled himself snug in his seat again and tightened his restraints. “I wish they would fix that, it’s a nuisance.”
    “Oh, but the rings don’t need better gravity containment.” Joseph rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know that the gravity is almost always off or reduced there anyway?”
    The station council had insisted the poor containment wasn’t a problem since before they had moved to the station. It was a pet peve of many pilots that lived there, but most others didn’t care. Passenger flights were always routed to the bottom of the station where the interference didn’t occur. Only ship-owning residents and occasional freighter pilots had to worry about it.
    Clear of that obstacle, they proceeded toward the moors, a jumple of protruding corridors with airlocks at their ends. A few minutes later, mindful of their damaged thrusters, Joseph connected to their assigned mooring slip.
    “I’ll let Justine know we’re here,” Tyrone said. “We should be just in time for dinner.”
    Joseph started shutdown procedures for the ship systems. Most of them didn’t need to be active while connected to the station any more than in a docking bay or resting on a planet’s surface. 
    Tyrone unstrapped and stood in the restored gravity, looking at his phone. His reaction to the device’s alert tone said what the message was before he spoke a word. “Justine is here.” He hurried from the cockpit without waiting for a response.
    Joseph smirked at the heads up display. The two had been married for just over a year and apart for most of that time. He lingered in the cockpit, waiting for all the shutdown cycles to complete. They deserved a little time for a nonverbal greeting in private.
    When he found them, just inside the airlock in the cargo hold, they were past that stage. Justine still had her arms around Tyrone’s neck, where they contrasted with his several shades darker skin. Tyrone was fairly tall, but standing together this way her black hair still brushed against his nose and cheekbones.
    Tyrone noticed his arrival and started to let go, but she didn’t let him. “Joseph doesn’t care.” Justine tended to drag out the ends of her words, making them run together and giving her smooth voice a mild sing-song quality. “Do you?”
    “Nope, not at all. I can go back to the cockpit for a little bit if you want,” he offered.
    “Thanks, but I don’t think that’s necessary.” She sighed and released her husband with a smile. “I’m awfully hungry right now anyway, I was waiting to eat with you two. Can I talk you into getting some takeout to bring to the apartment and help finish the packing?”
    “That sounds fine to me. Looks like you’ve been working hard today,” Joseph said. Her hair was in a loose ponytail, where it must have been all day. Battered exercise clothing, a tight-fitting gray-and-orange tank top and shorts in the same scheme, were joined by running shoes that had holes in the toes.
    “It should. I’ve cleaned most of the apartment, and most of what we’re brining aboard is boxed up. I’ve been sweating all day, I’m surprised Tyrone didn’t wrinkle his nose and push me off after the first whiff.”
    “I’m not,” Joseph said as Tyrone snorted. “He hasn’t been able to carry on a conversation for the last four hours.”
    Once they had finished laughing, the trio went in search of dinner. Tyrone and Justine walked hand in hand, and depending on the corridor width Joseph stayed ahead or on their right. It was a nice change of pace to be somewhere that he knew his way around, instead of strange towns and stations.
    “Joseph, what time did they give you to bring the ship to spacedock tomorrow?” Justine asked.
    “They said they would call me when they were ready for her, but to expect early afternoon.”
    “Did they say how long it was going to take? Our next load is supposed to leave early in the morning Friday, so we only have tomorrow to get everything done.”
    “I sent them the diagnostic data so they know what thrusters need to be replaced. The tech I talked to said the parts have all arrived, so it should only be a couple hours of installation work. We’ll fit in the pressurized zero-g bay so they want us in that. Since the ship will be in there, I’d like to get our replacement interceptors before we take her over. Missiles are easier to load with no gravity, and it’ll be a good way to pass the time.”
    “They still insist on having a pilot hanging around while they’re working?”
    Joseph laughed. “Boy do they. He only reminded me half a dozen times.”
    Tyrone chuckled. “They need to get a lot of ships through the zero-g bay in a day, they don’t want to wait around on pilots. I still find that annoying, but it’s not like they have anywhere to park the ones they’re done with.”
    “I was hoping they weren’t going to do that this time,” Justine commented. “I guess it doesn’t affect our timetable anyway. You said you’d heard from the other captains that were involved in the battle right? What did they say? I never caught up with what was going on.”
    “Captain Meyer contacted us a couple days ago,” Tyrone said. “He said everything was wrapped up in the system and White Onyx Devastator was leaving the area. They didn’t find any evidence of more pirate activity in the system, which is good considering how far inside Teton Sector space it is.”
    “I did some research on deserted systems in Teton Sector space after you guys told me what happened. It’s scary how common they are.”
    “Well, that one is better-charted now. Since the Devastator was there for so long, Meyer kept his crew busy with any surveying task they had the equipment to do. They charted most of the asteroid belt nd discovered a whole bunch of dwarf planets on the edges of the system.”
    “What about the other ship?”
    “Captain Friedrich told us the Comet has been scrapped. Bolinscar Industries decided to replace her. She wound up riding back in the scrap barge with what was left of the pirates’ corvette.”
    “She was older than we thought,” Joseph added. “Over fifty years.”
    “You can still get a lot of service life out of a fifty year old ship,” Justine protested
    “Yeah, but the maintenance costs on an old ship are higher. Somebody decided the price of putting her back in service was too close to the price of a new ship”
    “Friedrich mentioned that the replacement would need a crew of four instead of eight,” Tyrone reminded him. “I’m sure that was part of that equation.”
    “Are they a big enough company to absorb the four extra people or are those crew members going to be out of a job?” Justine asked.
    “Bolinscar is pretty big,” Tyrone said. “They have a lot of ships. I’m sure they’ll be able to reassign them.”
    “Good. I guess that’s as happy an outcome as you could hope for.”
    “Just about,” Tyrone agreed. “Oh, do we need to start moving things aboard ship tonight or are we going to wait for tomorrow with that?”
    “We’ll have all morning tomorrow,” Joseph said. “It could wait.”
    “No, we should probably start tonight,” Justine contradicted. “At least the furniture and heavy things. We need to get Garden Variety Animal back on schedule, and you two have another appointment tomorrow.”
    “We do?” Tyrone furrowed his brow. “I don’t remember anything else.”
    “There wasn’t anything else until a few hours ago. Someone from PICTA called me to set up meetings with you. They want to talk to you about Allison. I told them you could meet tomorrow afternoon. I thought the ship would be at dock in the morning, but since they asked for separate meetings with each of you I think it will still work.”
    “Oh. Why did they call you instead of us?” Joseph asked.
    “I don’t know. I’m the contact for our business, that could be why. I didn’t bother to call and let you know since you were only a few hours away.”
    Would they want to talk about Allison or the gangsters? Joseph had forgotten the counter-trafficking organization still wanted to talk to them. The pirate attack had driven it from his mind. Several weeks had passed since their escape from Temorran, could they provide any useful information anymore? Someone at PICTA must think so.
    “Well, I guess we’ll be moving things tonight then,” joseph said. “This is becoming our busiest stop ever.”
    “It was bound to be when we scheduled it, and the only unusual thing about it then was the move,” Justine said.
    “Are you going to miss the apartment?” Joseph asked.
    “Not in the slightest,” she replied. “It wasn’t a bad place, but the defining feature was that Tyrone was never in it.” Both men laughed.
    “Tyrone, what about you?”
    “I barely remember what it looks like now. Once Justine moves aboard, there won’t be anything there to miss.”
    Dinner was from Woodline’s, a pizza place they frequented when they were on the station. It was one of the few things they agreed they actually would miss. Justine and Tyrone would still be back from time to time. Even if they moved her registration, Garden Variety Animal took loads for several companies with warehouses here. No metal ore moved through Orson, so Joseph might never visit again.
    Once at the apartment, they ate with one hand and boxed things with the other. Justine already cleared out most of the small flat’s contents, but there was enough left to keep them busy through dinner.
    “I forgot how small this place is.” Joseph stuffed some towels into a box. “I haven’t been here since I helped you move in.”
    “Garden Variety Animal’s kitchen and living room combine to about the same square footage,” Tyrone said. “I get so used to the ship that the size surprises me every time I’m here.”
    “Well, it was big enough since I was the only one here,” Justine said, “but I’m still glad those days are behind us.”
    Two hours ticked past as the trio moved all the furniture and the heaviest of the boxes to the ship. Tyrone and Joseph were just as sweaty as Justine by the time they called a halt to spend some time in the living room catching up. Tomorrow promised a lot of activity as well, and they wanted to go to bed early, so they left the rest of the work for the morning.

Published: August 19 2018

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