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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 8: Building Trust

    Tyrone was lying on one of the two couches in the starship’s living room, watching a family sitcom Allison had never heard of. Allison joined Joseph on the other. Tyrone, who’d begun to sit up to make room, leaned back again with a shrug and paused the screen.
    “Haven’t you finished that yet?” The big pilot gestured to the beer bottle in her hand. Joseph had left his in the kitchen sink, where Tyrone’s had been already.
    “Nope.” She laughed as she swirled it around a bit to check how much was left. “I’m less than half finished.”
    “Well, it’s best to go cautiously when you’re introducing yourself to alcohol. Did you answer all her questions?” He turned his eyes to Joseph as he asked.
    “I don’t think she’s completely convinced yet, but we made progress.”
    “Good enough for now, I suppose. I’ll start the episode over, I’m only a couple minutes in anyway and it’s the one we haven’t seen yet. Unless you want to start at the beginning, since I presume Allison’s never seen any of it?”He gave her an inquiring look.
    “I haven’t,” she confirmed. “How far back is the beginning?”
    “Most of two seasons; probably around forty episodes.”
    “Well, don’t go all the way back now then. You’ll never get to the new one tonight if you do. I’ll just have to follow along.”
    “Alright.” Tyrone nodded compliantly and reset the video. “The episodes are fairly self-contained anyway. If you like this one, we can start at the beginning afterward.”
    That turned out to be an accurate prediction of their evening. Allison sipped on her beer and laughed at the slightly corny jokes of the show, which portrayed a family of six living on a heavily-settled Tetonite planet. After three hour-long episodes, Tyrone surrendered control of the screen and announced he was going to bed.
    Joseph checked the time as his partner left. “Well, Tyrone was up hours before me so I’m not that tired yet, and we don’t have a very pressing timetable for tomorrow. I’d be up for watching a few more if you like.”
    “Sure,” Allison agreed, setting her finally-emptied beer bottle on a table. “It’s nice to be able to relax a little. I always felt too stressed for that in Nevarris, even when I wasn’t working. Maybe if I watch enough episodes I can learn some of their tricks. I’d love for all my problems to be totally resolved within a few days.”
    Joseph laughed. “So would I. Unfortunately we don’t live such privileged lives. Those are reserved for fictional characters.”
    After another episode they fell to talking, mostly of unimportant things. Allison told him a little about her family, and he told her stories from when he and Tyrone were growing up. They were the kind of details one would usually talk about with new friends, and those were conversations Allison hadn’t had for a while. 
    “It’s nice to be able to talk about stuff like home an family again.” She was sitting cross-legged on the couch so she could face Joseph. “Nobody at Terrence’s club was very interested in those things at first, and by the time they were I was far less willing to share them.”
    “That surprises me a little. Usually someone like Terrence would try to get as many personal details as possible.”
    “He did, but more about my past than my family. He started asking more about them once I was in Nevarris. I didn’t answer them for the most part. I wasn’t willing to admit to what he was, but I also didn’t want him anywhere near my sisters.”
    “You already seem more comfortable around us than you were there.”
    “I am.” She smiled and leaned back on the arm of the couch. “I’m expecting to sleep way more soundly tonight than I have since I left home.”
    “I hope you do.” Joseph returned the smile. “I have to ask though, what makes you so willing to trust us? You don’t really know who we are, beyond being co-owners of a freighter.”
    “I don’t know, because you helped me?” The question had caught Allison by surprise. Joseph arced one eyebrow at her in polite criticism, and she didn’t need him to explain why. Terrence had seemed to help her at first as well, so she probably ought to have something a little more solid to go on.
    She cast around mentally, trying to come up with a better reason. It wasn’t as though she didn’t have any, she’d been thinking about that for a good chuck of the day. Several had stood out to her, differences between the two situations, but she was struggling to recall what they had been.
    “Given what has already happened to you, there was every reason for you to think we’d break any promise we made.” She could hear the curiosity in Joseph’s quiet statement. “Frankly, there still is.”
    Allison gave him a disbelieving stare, then sighed with exasperation. “Even now? You fought two battles for me, and faced down a third. Don’t you think that merits a little trust?”
    “I suppose, but those things hadn’t happened yet when you decided to come with us to Couradeen Station.”
    Why had she decided to get on the ship? She looked at the ceiling, thinking back on the day and trying to remember what her reasoning had been. “Well, there were a lot of little things that reassured me.”
    “Like what?”
    “Like the way the two of you talk and act. It’s a lot different from the way most of the people I’ve been around the past few months are.” Their behavior actually made it difficult to conceive that the two starmen would do anything but keep their promises.
    “I’m not sure I understand.” Joseph’s voice was doubtful. “I’m certain we’re a lot different than them, but I don’t know what about that would be reassuring.”
    “Do you remember when you first came over to talk to me? It didn’t take long to figure out that you were angry, but I didn’t realize right away how angry you were. You were keeping it firmly under control. Terrence was known for violent outbursts.” She paused to take a breath and shivered a little, remembering some scenes she’d witnessed in the club. “I realized at some point during our conversation that you were angry to a degree Terrence could never have achieved without hitting someone. You were just a lot more stable.”
    “I would have been quite willing to hit him, if he’d stuck around. I take the point though,” he acknowledged. “Anything else?”
    “Yes. And I have a couple of less subjective reasons to explain too, so get comfortable.” The starman laughed and obediently pulled his legs up on to the couch. “There were two specific things you did during our first talk that Terrence never had. You apologized to me every time you realized your anger had let you into doing something rude. Second, when I hesitated to agree to your initial offer, instead of trying to berate me or coax me into accepting, you offered a less risky alternative.”
    “Taking you back to your parents’ house?” Joseph frowned, trying to remember if there had been anything else.
    “Right,” she confirmed with a nod. “Going shopping with Tyrone was sort of the same way. He’s massive, I’m sure he could crush Terrence like a bug, but he behaved like a perfect gentleman.” She paused, thinking back to the shopping trip for examples of what she was talking about. “He asked me about what to get when he was picking out the beer and the food. He helped carry things for me while I was looking at clothes, something all the men working for Terrence would have considered beneath them. He seems very measured and calm. The only exceptions I saw today were times when our lives were actively in danger.”
    “That’s an apt description of Tyrone, yes. He doesn’t get excited about much.” Joseph looked amused by her assessment of his partner. “What were your less subjective reasons?”
    “First, you weren’t hiding anything from me.” She thought back to her careful interrogation of him as they drove to her apartment. “When I asked what kind of ship you and Tyrone flew, you told me. I kept asking follow-up questions, and you kept answering them and volunteering related things that I hadn’t actually asked about. You were fine with telling me how big a ship, where you operated, and what you were carrying on the trip. And then you explained to me as much as you knew about farming rubber trees.”
    Joseph smiled as he recalled what she was talking about. “Which isn’t a lot.”
    “No, but it was a big difference from talking to Terrence, certainly from our first meeting. He always tried to give me as few details as possible. You tried to give me every detail I might want to know. You were answering questions as completely as you could.”
    The starman’s eyes lost focus a bit as he too tried to think back to their conversations while driving around Nevarris. “That’s true, I was. I didn’t really want to hide anything from you. You were making important decisions in a short amount of time and I thought the more information you had, the better. And I thought it would make you more comfortable.”
    “Well, you thought right. It helped a lot.” She smiled again. “You didn’t even realize how much.” She ran a hand through her hair, phrasing her next reason carefully, because it had been the most telling factor to her. “The second was that you weren’t promising me a perfect life. Terrence did that, and I fell for it, and I was watching for that. He basically promised me he could make all my dreams come true. Maybe he could have, but he wasn’t going to.
    “You offered me help getting out of a bad situation, not a perfect future. A promise of a ride and protection from the people trying to hurt me. A job on a strange station, further from my family than I ever thought I would go. Not a guarantee of easy money for doing a job you won’t explain.”
    “Well, I haven’t explained what the job will be yet,” Joseph contradicted.
    “Do you know?” Allison raised an eyebrow in inquiry.
    “Well, no.”
    “Exactly. Really you don’t even know if there will be a job for me, you’re just confident that you can find one. Terrence obviously knew exactly what kind of work I’d be doing, I was going to Nevarris to work for him. And I shouldn’t have agreed to it without finding out.”
    “On that we agree,” Joseph nodded. They sat in silence for a minute, both waiting for the other to speak, but neither had much more to say on the subject..
    “Well, those are my reasons.” Allison watched Joseph’s face to see if he was convinced. It didn’t appear that he was. “I didn’t need to be a genius to see there’s a world of difference between you two and Terrence, or that you’re the better choice of the two. That was enough.”
    “Those are pretty good I guess, as far as trusting total strangers is concerned, Joseph nodded. “I seem to recall you saying that even if we were lying, you probably wouldn’t be in any worse circumstances.”
    Allison laughed and nodded. Then another thought occurred to her and she started laughing even harder.
    “What?” Joseph gave her an apprehensive look. “If you keep laughing so loudly you’ll wake Tyrone up.”
    “Do you realize how absurd our conversations since dinner have been?” She managed to get herself under control. “You spent most of an hour trying to convince me it was a good idea for you to help me. I spent most of an hour trying to convince you it was a good idea for me to trust you. And neither of us was entirely successful!”
    Joseph slowly smiled and then started laughing as well. Allison hadn’t noticed before that his laugh was a low, pleasant rumble that would have seemed more appropriate for Tyrone. “That is a little bit backwards, isn’t it?”
    “More than a little. Normal people beg to be rescued and try to convince others to trust them. We’ve reversed those roles completely.”
    “Well, you can’t play by the rules all the time.” Joseph stood up. “It’s late, we probably should go to bed.” He picked up her empty beer bottle and helped her off the couch.
    “Alright,” she agreed, stretching and stifling a yawn. She was suddenly conscious of how sleepy she’d gotten during the hours of watching TV. “I don’t think we settled much for all we talked a lot, but I enjoyed the talking.” She gave him a warm, sleepy smile. “Goodnight.”
    “I enjoyed it too.” He returned the smile. “Goodnight.” He disappeared into the kitchen, and she headed for her cabin. She must have been more tired than she knew, because she had to put a hand on the wall to balance.
    That really shouldn’t come as a surprise, she reflected as she slipped into her cabin and closed the door. It had been an eventful day. It was worth the stress though. For the first time since moving to Nevarris she’d made some actual friends, and she felt infinitely safer here in deep space with them than in her apartment by the club.
    Her thoughts bounced back and forth through the events of the day with little or no pattern as she prepared for bed. She knew Joseph was right that she ought to be more nervous about the two men, upstanding citizens though they were. Examining herself in the mirror above the small sink as she brushed her teeth, she tried to determine whether she was crazy. It didn’t feel like insanity, but then how would she know if it did?
    It wasn’t hard to predict what her mother would say about her latest adventure; she’d be horrified. That outlook wasn’t unreasonable, but safety or danger were relative things. As risky as coming on board Garden Variety Animal was, compared to where she’d been this morning it felt like the safest place in the world.
    Pulling on some pajamas, she dropped her dirty clothes on the floor next to the bed. She wasn’t sure what else to do with them. There was probably a way to do laundry aboard ship. Tyrone or Joseph would surely be more than happy to show her in the morning. 
    She burrowed under the covers, wondering how long it would take her to fall asleep. It always took a while at the apartment, and once asleep she slept uneasily. It might be reduced here, but it would still take some time to stop worrying and fall asleep. She was wrong about that; she was asleep almost as soon as her head hit her pillow.

Published: February 25 2018

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