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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 18: Parting Sorrows

    The cockpit window darkened as they emerged from Couradeen Station into the sunlight. Tyrone shaded his eyes and gazed in-system to see if he could spot the bright specks of the system’s inner planets. He wasn’t successful. After a minute or so of trying, he turned his attention back to the copilot’s console. 
    A gloomy mood had been creeping up on Tyrone and Joseph all day. Both managed to fend it off long enough to help Allison move some of the Carvers’ excess furniture into her apartment and to say goodby. They managed to return the smile and wave she gave them from behind the observation windows as the ship slid backward out of the Carver’s docking bay. It began to take hold immediately thereafter. All the logic in the world couldn’t stop them from being sad to leave her behind.
    Jolting himself out of his reverie, Tyrone noticed they were a couple miles past the edge of the station. “I’m going to turn artificial gravity back on.”
    Joseph grunted an acknowledgment and shifted slightly in his seat. Tyrone flipped the switch and sank a little more firmly into his chair. “Nice to be back where it’ll stay put.”
    Joseph grunted agreeably. Neither of them were talking much this evening. They managed to fake it at the second docking bay to be friendly with the workers, but once Garden Variety Animal left port conversation ceased.
    Tyrone leaned back with a cynical laugh. “We spent so much time reassuring Allison that we would be back, that she didn’t need to miss us or regret her decision. Just so much wasted breath. Here we are moping because she’s gone like we didn’t even hear ourselves.”
    “Just human nature I guess.” Joseph chuckled wistfully. “If we heard ourselves, we certainly weren’t listening. Circumstances of her arrival aside, it was nice to have her here for a while.”
    “That it was.” Tyrone waited for Joseph to continue, then realized he wasn’t going to. He changed topics before the doleful silence could settle in again. “You didn’t say very much about Allison’s parents at dinner last night.”
    “No.” Joseph scratched his chin. “Well, I wasn’t about to tell an eighteen year old that I think her parents are behaving like idiots.”
    “It’s an accurate assessment of the situation. Why not say so?”
    “I don’t want her to take that too much to heart.” Joseph rotated the ship to point away from the sun and began accelerating toward their jump point. “She could react too strongly to something they say and stop listening to them altogether. Frankly we may be reacting too strongly ourselves.”
    Tyrone crossed his arms, considering that while Joseph flew. It was entirely justifiable for Allison’s parents to be upset at her decision to move several hundred light-years away. Even Justine’s parents hadn’t been thrilled by that. It wasn’t out of line for them to want her at home, either.
    Where they parted from Tyrone’s sense of the acceptable was their obstinance. It was what irked him most about them. No matter how much information they were given about the danger their daughter was in, they refused to revise their opinions. They continued to insist every plan that didn’t come from them was a bad one, especially if it was coming from Allison.
    Allison had explained to them repeatedly how dangerous Temorran was for her now. She had told them of what the Temorran Kindred had done to prevent her escape, falsifying the government record of her life. Tyrone wasn’t sure whether her parents didn’t believe it or were just ignoring it. There was no logic in their dismissal of the danger she was in. Gary, their Immigration officer, had even called and given them the same information, along with explaining what the Teton Sector had done and would do to keep her safe. It wasn’t enough for them.
    Worse, they continued to berate her about leaving home for Nevarris in the first place. There was no reason to keep throwing it in her face. She conceded that they were right, it had been a bad choice, but they used that to assert that they were right about this move too, and it would turn out just as bad.
    Actually, their obstinance wasn’t what irked Tyrone most about Allison’s parents. What irked him most was that in those declarations, they had gone so far as to say Joseph and Tyrone were just like Terrence. Allison had placed that call from the comm station in the cockpit, wanting the two starmen present. It had been all Tyrone could do not to turn around and start yelling at them. Fortunately Allison knew better, and she handled it.
    “Perhaps they aren’t always as bad as this, but I don’t think we’re overreacting at the moment.” Tyrone shook his head and sighed. “Still, I see your point. It wouldn’t be right to turn her against her family.”
    “Exactly.” The ship wasn’t maneuvering anymore. Joseph locked the controls and swivelled his chair to face Tyrone. “Family is important, and I don’t want to see them estranged. I especially don’t want to cause it by accident. It may happen on its own eventually, but it isn’t warranted yet. Even when it is, we shouldn’t help it along.”
    “Yeah, that’s true.” Tyrone had seen plenty of examples of bad girlfriends, boyfriends, and in-laws creating conflict, and it wasn’t good for anyone involved. On the rare occasion that Justine and her parents or siblings got into a fight, he was careful to stay out of it. “What would you tell her if she asked what you thought about them?”
    Joseph’s mouth twitched in a wry smile. “I’d try to dodge the question.”
    “And if she didn’t let it go?”
    He sighed. “I suppose I’d be honest, but I’d try to stick to the things they’re doing that I think are inappropriate. No commentary on them as people, and I certainly wouldn’t just trash them.”
    “Probably the best way to go.” He thought back to some of the stories Allison had told them about the months spent working in Nevarris. “It sounds like Terrence was fairly deliberate about trying to drive a wedge between her and her parents. We wouldn’t want to do the same.”
    “Of course, her parents didn’t have to make it easy for him.” Joseph’s acerbic tone conveyed his frustration. “It doesn’t strain the imagination to think they probably hurt matters more than they helped. Telling a teenager all their plans are bad ones and you know better doesn’t get much traction with them, even if it’s true.”
    Tyrone grinned, remembering their own teen years. “It didn’t work with us, I’m sure it didn’t fare any better with her.”
    “Just what I was thinking,” Joseph nodded. “Telling teens they’re stupid doesn’t make them listen to you, it just makes them resent you. By comparison, that made listening to Terrence sound more reasonable. Otherwise she probably would have gone home within the first couple weeks.”
    “Entirely likely.” Tyrone wondered how that would have gone. Knowing now that Terrence was selling these girls into slavery, it wasn’t so clear how he would have reacted to that. Would he have let her go if she left that soon? Would he have tried to persuade her to come back? Perhaps he would simply have gone after her, dragged her back, and locked her up in the apartment building by force.
    “I hope PICTA catches up with that man.” Tyrone’s comment provoked a confused look from Joseph, who had not been privy to his dark contemplations. “Terrence. I was just thinking that he might not have made it so easy for her to go home.”
    Joseph nodded his understanding. “That’s certainly a possibility. The rest of his gang might already have dealt with him. I have no idea how forgiving they are, but he certainly damaged their image. A couple of no-name freighter pilots got away with one of his girls, and destroyed one of their fighters in the process.”
    “That’s not all either. We shot up another fighter and roughed up one of their men. Gary’s investigations have probably removed some of their government influence by now as well.”
    “I certainly hope so.” Joseph’s expression darkened. “Hard to say for certain. Government corruption isn’t exactly unusual on unaffiliated planets. The Teton Sector Immigration Department can’t just issue orders to them about their staffing.”
    “Well, no, of course not.” A little world like Temorran wasn’t a significant a trade partner for the Teton Sector, but they still wouldn’t cut them off over one government worker. “Still, Gary seems persistent. If they don’t clean house, you can bet he’ll remember it.”
    “I don’t think I’ll be forgetting anytime soon either. As much as I hope someone sweeps up Terrence and the Temorran Kindred, I’m more concerned about the other girls he’s selling to the Ventalian Mafia. If I had my choice, I’d rather PICTA intercept whatever ship they send.”
    Now there was a chilling thought. If Tyrone was being honest, it was something he’d rather not think about. Of course slavery and forced prostitution were things that still happened in the universe, those horrors had been with humanity for millennia. But this was his first close encounter with them, and it had certainly shaken him..
    “Let’s hope they eventually roll up both ends of the problem,” Tyrone said. “I can’t imagine what’s going on in Terrence’s club is any better than what happens at the end of a trip on the Ventallians’ freighters.” 
    “No, I’m sure it isn’t.” Joseph sighed and shook his head. “I wish we could do something ourselves to put a stop to it, but I suppose it’s not up to a couple of starmen with one freighter.”
    “We probably wouldn’t do them much good anyway.” Tyrone gazed absently at the stars ahead of them. “What we did for Allison is about as much as we can do. If we tried anything more dramatic, we’d probably be shot to pieces. We outfitted Garden Variety Animal for escaping pirates, not taking on organized crime head to head.”
    “Yeah, I know.” Joseph was swivelling his chair back and forth to relieve some of his agitation. “I’m going to have to read up a little on human trafficking. I’m sure PICTA puts out plenty of information about it. One thing we can do is learn to spot it. If we run into it elsewhere, I want to notice. It was sheer chance that I figured out what was happening to Allison. Chance, and Terrence’s lack of discretion.”
    “Good plan.” Tyrone had been thinking the same thing. Flying so often to unaffiliated planets where it was more common, there was no reason for them to be ignorant of how to detect it. Once they did, they could report it to PICTA. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something.
    “I can’t understand how anyone can justify that to themselves,” Tyrone said. “It wasn’t only a few people either, the only person who gave any hint of having a problem with it was that pilot.”
    “I’ve got no answer for you there.” Joseph grimaced at the gunner’s controls. “Anger, resentment, entitlement, maybe just depravity. Maybe some of them don’t justify it. Maybe they know it’s wrong and just don’t care. I’m glad we didn’t kill him. It didn’t sound like he had a lot of influence, but even one person with a coincidence in that organization is a net positive.”
    “Definitely.” Tyrone sighed and rubbed his eyes. It was their second long day in a row, and he was tired. “I’m still trying to figure out how we got involved.” Joseph snorted and gave him a disbelieving look. “Well, okay, I know how it happened, you overheard Terrence in a diner and recognized what he was doing.
    “What I mean is, how did it happen to us? If you’d told me a month ago that we’d uncover a human trafficking operation and help one of it’s victims, I’d have thought you were drunk or crazy. It’s one of those things that you know happens, but you never think you’ll come in contact with it yourself.”
    “Yeah, that’s true.” Joseph nodded, stifling a yawn; Tyrone wasn’t the only one getting tired. “I wouldn’t have believed it either. We all know evil things happen, it’s a consequence of living in a sinful world. We just don’t think they’ll ever happen to us, or to our families.”
    “For most people it won’t. To worry about it constantly would be paranoid. Then it does happen to you, and you wonder why you never thought it could. I was reading an article this morning that mentioned even the Teton Sector has more human trafficking than people like to believe.”
    “I think I was reading that one too,” Joseph said. “We’d all like to think our own country doesn’t have those problems. Unfortunately no amount of ‘it-can’t-happen-here-ism’ can stop us all from being sinful, and where there are sinners terrible things happen.”
    “Yup.” Silence fell again in the cockpit for a few minutes.
    “Wow, Allison leaving really hit us hard.” The sardonic, self-mocking comment from Joseph made Tyrone raise an eyebrow. “We barely talk all day, and when we finally do it’s a pretty bleak conversation.”
    “Well, it’s an easy trap to fall into. I suppose we ought to concentrate on the positives. Allison is safe, PICTA knows about the Temorran Kindred’s trafficking operation, and we’re back in flight with the next month or two worth of cargo already scheduled.”
    “All good things.” Joseph leaned back with a sigh. “Hopefully we’ll shake it off by tomorrow. It’s no good dwelling on things we can’t change.”
    “How long until we jump anyway?” Tyrone interrupted himself with a yawn and stretched his arms. “Once we do I’m going straight to bed.”
    Joseph turned back to the pilot’s station to check. “About twenty minutes. And I’m with you there. It’ll be nice to get back on our normal schedule. There was just too much running around to get done on Couradeen this time.”
    Fortunately the mood lightened a little, because they did indeed retire to bed almost as soon as they were in FTL. Another encouraging fact occurred to Tyrone as he got ready for bed. They were only a couple more runs from being ready to purchase another ship. By the time he and Joseph returned to Couradeen, they would likely be shopping.

Published: May 6 2018

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