WARNING:
CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.

In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 9: Making Adjustments

    “Coffee.” Joseph made the announcement as he slipped into the cockpit where Tyrone was doing morning system checks. He set a mug on a stretch of console at the pilots’s position, which Tyrone carefully picked up and sipped from.
    They both rose early, but they had completely different characters in the morning. Tyrone tended to stomp around blearily in a slightly grouchy mood until he’d finished waking up. Joseph was a cheerful riser and somehow didn’t need that spin-up time; he was instantly ready to go.
    “Are you awake enough yet for us to talk about our next move?”
    “I think so.” Tyrone sucked down a quarter of the mug, wincing slightly as it scalded his throat on the way down. “The coffee helps. Could you be more specific? I’m not sure if you’re talking about our next cargo, ships, what we’ll need to do for Allison, or dealing with our new notoriety among petty criminals.”
    “I think we need to talk about all of them, but I’m mostly focused on the second and the fourth at the moment.”
    Tyrone thought for a moment. “Which were those again?”
    Joseph laughed. “Ships and our new enemies. Are you sure you’re awake?”
    “No, but I don’t think it matters. You can always tell me again later. What did you have on your mind?”
    “That you and Justine should take the new ship, when we have the money to buy it.” Tyrone looked over at his partner to see if he was kidding, but Joseph’s face was devoid of humor. “If we bought something comparable to Garden Variety Animal, we actually have the money now.”
    Tyrone frowned at Joseph. They had planned to buy a more expensive, more resilient ship because Joseph had wanted to make trips into more dangerous parts of space. Hauling to and from precious metal mines in systems with no habitable planets could be very lucrative, but those trade routes also attracted more attention from pirates.
    “Why would we buy another of these? You don’t want to go on trade routes to the asteroid mines with the same defenses.”
    “No, I don’t.” Joseph shrugged. “Maybe I wouldn’t do those runs, just keep doing the unaffiliated systems like we already have been. It’s familiar turf now. The reason I’m suggesting it is that the Temorran Kindred, and by now the Ventalian Mafia as well, will be looking for Garden Variety Animal, and they know it by name. 
    “You’ve been married for almost a year now and away most of that time. We were trying to build up enough money for our new ship, and we’re almost there. Then you and Justine were going to operate this one together. There’s always the risk of pirates, but I don’t like the idea of you starting a family on a ship being actively hunted by gangs. Especially when I brought that trouble on it.”
    Tyrone considered his words for a moment, analyzing his partner’s reasoning. He certainly didn’t want the Temorran Kindred hunting his wife, but he wasn’t sure it would come to that yet. He and Justine weren’t planning to loose much time on having children once Joseph was on his own vessel though. Joseph had a point, and Tyrone said as much.
    “It’s something to think about, but I don’t think we need to make a decision right now. We don’t know what the fallout of this is really going to be. I’m not convinced the Temorran Kindred even have the resources to hunt us outside of their own system.”
    “The Ventalians certainly do,” Joseph shot back.
    “Maybe we’ll stop freighting to unaffiliated planets then.” Tyrone shrugged as he replied. “There’s plenty of work inside Tetonite space, and the Ventalians won’t stand a chance there if they tried to attack us. They probably aren’t foolish enough to try. I’m just saying that we have more options than you’re looking at.”
    Joseph grimaced. “I know we do. But I’m feeling guilty and I don’t want this coming anywhere near Justine or the children the two of you don’t have yet.”
    “Thank you. I don’t want it falling back on them either. There’s plenty we can do to minimize the chances of that without trading ships and letting them chase you instead, so lets focus on those first.”
    Joseph sighed. “That’s fair.”
    “Another point, while we’re near it.” Tyrone gave his partner a stern look. “From what the two of you said about your conversation last night, you’ve already told Allison she shouldn’t be feeling guilty for what Terrence and the Temorran Kindred do. The same applies to you.
    “Yes, you’re the one who intervened and brought us to their attention. Yes, you could have just let it lie. However, if you had, Allison would have been sold as a slave within the week. Instead, she’s here with us. So don’t walk around feeling guilty because you did something right. That’s just silly. Even if it does bring trouble on us. So take your own advice.”
    Joseph held up his hands. “Alright, alright. Consider me duly chastised.”
    “So considered.” The two laughed and fell to sipping their coffee.
    Tyrone drained his, then broke the silence. “What are we going to do with Allison once we get to Couradeen?”
    “I’m not sure yet,” Joseph admitted. “We’ll need to help her find a place to stay and a job at least if we’re going to leave her there.”
    “It’s mostly an agricultural station, and she did grow up on a farm.” Tyrone knew the farmers were usually in need of laborers to one degree or another, as well. On a space station there were no seasons to contend with, so planting and harvesting were both year-round tasks. “Mr Carver might even have a job for her. If she doesn’t work out, he can always blame us.”
    “It would wrap things up in a nice bow for us if he does.” Tyrone gave him confused look. “Have a job for her, not blame us.” Joseph rolled his eyes as he clarified. “You need more coffee.”
    “I do. We’ll need to talk to immigration with her just for her to get permission to stay on the station. She’s not a Tetonite. We should probably address that before anything else.”
    “That’s true. We should probably start talking to them before we get there. I don’t know how long that paperwork takes.” Joseph took another drink, thinking. “If we can’t get it done fast enough she’ll have to leave with us again. Asylum-seekers are usually fleeing a government, not gangs, so it might take some convincing.”
    “Actually, fleeing from gangs isn’t that unusual for people coming from unaffiliated planets. It might still take us some fast talking, but it shouldn’t be too far out of the ordinary.”
    “I hope you’re right. If we can’t get it done fast enough we can keep her with us until its finished, so maybe it’s not that huge a concern. She’s allowed to keep traveling with us pretty much indefinitely, as long as we don’t stay grounded for too long.”
    “That might be better anyway.” It was Joseph’s turn to look confused. Tyrone elaborated. “Terrence and his thugs were smart enough to read the information screen on our docking bay. They know we were going to Couradeen Station. That’s the first place they’ll go looking for her, and we won’t be around to protect her if they show up. Not that the people living on Couradeen wouldn’t do it, but we know to be on the lookout. If she stays with us for another run we’ll be in a completely different part of Tetonite space, and they’ll have to look that much harder to find her.”
    “Well, they’d only have to trace our ship to know where to look. But it’s a valid point. Ships’ destinations are mostly public information while they’re in port, but their flight history isn’t. They’ll have to ask around to track us, and the only people they’re likely to find who still remember are our friends.”
    “Who we’ll tell all about this little episode and the people that might be coming after our passenger.” Tyrone nodded, smirking. “They could very easily find themselves under investigation, and Tetonite police take that a little more seriously than Temorran’s version. Ultimately it’s up to Allison, but it’s something to consider.”
    “We’ll have to talk to her about it. Maybe today while we’re checking all the plants. We’ll need stuff to talk about, otherwise we’ll all die of boredom.”
    Tyrone snorted. “You’re not wrong. I have no idea how long it’s going to take us either.” Joseph groaned in good-natured dread, then put his feet up on the copilot’s console and sipped his coffee. His partner was a hothead, but he did take more time to enjoy the little things in life than Tyrone did. Maybe that was a luxury afforded by waking up quickly; he had more time to spend.
    “One other thing I was going to say.” Joseph had resumed his serious manner. “I don’t think we should be walking around non-Tetonite ports unarmored anymore. I know on a lot of planets we haven’t been wearing armor so that we can blend in better. It’s not part of most cultures the way it is in Teton, and there was never much danger to us in any of those places.
    “There’s every chance we’ll be in danger anywhere we land now. All we know for sure about the people we’ve crossed is that they’ll be upset with us. We have so little information we can’t even say for certain whether the Ventalian Mafia will be hunting us or not. We won’t know that, or whether they have a presence in any given port, until we’re attacked. 
    “I think we need the time a good suit of light scouting armor gives us to react if that happens. It’s a little bit of certainty, a variable we can control. We’re running short on those now. If we make the locals a little nervous, so be it.”
    Tyrone didn’t answer immediately. They hadn’t done that in the past for exactly the reason Joseph had just dismissed. In countries where combat armor wasn’t a common mode of dress, it made people nervous. In the Teton Sector about an eighth of the population wore armor on a daily basis for a wide variety of reasons. Most did it by preference rather than as a job requirement, and nobody even looked twice at them. He suddenly realized they probably should mention that to Allison before they got to Couradeen, so it wouldn’t startle her.
    On most unaffiliated worlds, armor was only worn by soldiers, police, or guards of some kind. The people holding those positions were not always a friendly sight to the rest of the population either. Armor indicated authority and at least willingness to use force. They had been to planets where the default assumption was that anyone in armor was a danger to be avoided. On the other hand, that was comparing against the danger of retribution from the gangs.
    “Alright. You’re right about that.” Tyrone thought about his own armor, currently sitting in the bottom of his closet. “We probably haven’t been paying as much attention to ours as we should anyway. We do live in space after all.”
    “You haven’t been keeping your armor maintained?” Joseph gave him a surprised look.
    “Not as well as I should. It’s still airtight. I haven’t checked on the filter in months, and I have no idea how well the personal shield is working. Or the electronics in the faceplate.”
    Joseph shook his head and sighed. “Coach Winters would be disappointed in you. You were one of his best squad leaders, and now here you are not maintaining your armor.”
    “Yeah, yeah, I know. Just don’t tell him about it.” Tyrone grinned at the thought of what their old school coach would really have said. He was a former drill sergeant in the Teton Sector military. “Now I’ll be ‘properly motivated,’ to use his phrase. Still, I haven’t smashed it around, so it should be in decent shape.”
    “Good to hear. I was worried for a minute there. Where are we headed with our next load anyway?”
    “Let me check.” The events of yesterday had pushed it from Tyrone’s mind as well. He called up the ship’s itinerary on one of his screens. “A Tetonite planet for a change, although it’s on the edge of our space. Food, equipment and medical supplies going to a gem mining settlement on Krake. We’ll be running nearly empty from there to Tilden Mining Platform, but the weight we’ll be carrying is gems, so we’ll need to be on our toes.”
    “Oh, right. I’d forgotten we were making that trip, to be honest. Another expensive shipment to loose.”
    “Very. But we won’t loose it. There aren’t that many pirates in Teton. The more often we take unusual runs, the sooner we can afford our second ship.”
    “True. If I remember right from looking at the information for the load, Krake has been settled for less than ten years. It can be difficult to get anyone to ship to someplace like that at all.”
    “Other than small companies like us.” Tyrone laughed, reflecting on that. “They have a ship of their own for supply runs and for getting their product out. They needed more than theirs can handle on this trip, so they called us in.”
    “That happens to us all sooner or later. I hate it when we have to turn down a cargo because our ship is too small. How did they find us to hire us?”
    “Justine. One of the foremen is a friend of her uncle, and was asking if anyone knew a smaller transport company they could hire. They had gotten a quote from one of the big carriers, but as you always say, their pricing models don’t like unused cargo capacity. The miners weren’t thrilled with the quote. We’re charging half as much, and it’s still an above-average price for us.”
    “The joys of being small businessmen. We can turn a profit where a big company can’t.” Joseph finished his coffee in one swallow. “Have we been getting more referral business from Tomah Freight lately?” The large cargo hauling company tried to help find someone to carry cargo that they turned down or quoted unfavorably like the gem mine trip, and had sent the two more than one good job.
    “Not for a couple of months.” Tyrone shook his head.
    “Ah, well. Best not to rely on them for work anyway.” He stood up and collected Tyrone’s empty mug. “I’m not bringing you a second cup, so hurry up and finish. I’ll leave your cup by the pot.”
    “Thanks,” Tyrone snorted at his partner’s back as he disappeared. He entered the commands to run the last check, on the FTL drive. He probably should have been more grateful. It was nice to have his coffee delivered.
    Though they’d rounded it off with normal discussion of cargo and business, it had been far more serious than their normal morning conversation. There was no denying that their world had changed for the worse since yesterday. 
    That dark thought was quickly erased as he remembered Allison sitting and watching TV with them the evening before, and he sighed. She’d looked for all the galaxy like she couldn’t remember how relaxation worked. Only time would tell for sure, but it seemed likely their world had in fact changed for the better by adding her to it. Hers definitely had.
    There was always a price to pay for doing the right thing. He couldn’t fault Joseph’s judgement yesterday, or the decision he’d made, hotheaded as it was. Allison’s freedom had been at stake. Tyrone hoped he wouldn’t have done differently.
    He was grateful for Joseph’s concern about his family and future, and maybe he should take him up on the offer to switch ships. Joseph was never one to run from the consequences of his actions, and he was demonstrating it again by trying to direct the fallout from this at himself. Tyrone did have his wife to think about. 
    Tyrone had meant what he said about Joseph taking his own advice. The Temorran Kindred alone was to blame for the things they had done or would do to the three aboard Garden Variety Animal. Maybe they would all do well to remember that.

Published: March 4 2018

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber