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

In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 58: Changed Circumstances

    “Allison, did you get all the invoices for Monday done yet?” Larry tramped past her desk in the warehouse office as he asked, a harried expression on his face.
    “I finished them an hour ago,” she called after him. She and the burly owner were the last two in the supply company’s office, a common occurrence for a Friday evening.
    “You did? How?”
    “There aren’t that many orders for Monday, they’re just big ones. I’m working on Tuesday already.”
    “Oh. Well good, that makes this a lot easier.” He walked back toward her with a large screen in one hand, scrolling through the list of shipments with the opposite finger.
    “Putting together shipping papers? Yeah, Katie had me do it a couple times while you were on vacation last month. It’s a little difficult to get them ready when half the paperwork isn’t done yet.”
    “Very. You’re right, there aren’t as many as I thought. At least something’s going right today. I forgot you wouldn’t be affected by our little shipping mishap.”
    “Not until next week anyway. When we don’t have the right product and I have to delete it from every order manually, I’ll be a little testy.” Allison shut down her computer and began to pack up her things.
    “Hopefully that isn’t going to happen. I called the factory and they’re going to send a ship out over the weekend. We should have our fertilizer by the time we need to send out the orders.”
    “Good. Are they going to collect the other stuff at the same time?”
    “No, they offered us a reduced price to keep it. Since we sell pearlite anyway, I took it. It’s a pain, but we have enough space to store it until we sell it off. Might as well make a little extra money off of their mistake.”
    “Why wouldn’t they want it back?” Many things about the distribution business still mystified Allison. Her parents were farmers, and it was an entirely different business. She wondered occasionally if she shouldn’t have picked a job in one of the agricultural domes. Fortunately Larry never seemed to mind explaining.
    “All kinds of possibilities.” Larry gazed absently at the screen in his hand. “I think they hire most of their ships, so it’s probably that they’d have to pay return freight on it. It’ll still mean they take a hit, but at this point it’s less of one to just give us a discount.”
    “Well, as much as I love to learn about the business, I’m ready to head home.” Allison slung her backpack onto one shoulder. “You’ll have to explain it to me next week.”
    Larry laughed. “If you remember by then, I’ll be happy to. Do you want a ride?”
    “Not today, thanks. I like the walk, otherwise I would have bought a cart by now.”
    “Alright. If you’re ever in a hurry all you have to do is ask.”
    “If it ever comes up I will. Have a good weekend!”
    Allison checked for traffic as the windowed door of the warehouse office closed behind her. She had to ascend a couple levels to Baker Dome’s main traffic floor, where the tube that connected it to it to Ottawa Dome opened. The corridor outside the warehouse wasn’t usually very busy, but foot and vehicle traffic had to share it. The cargo trucks used on stations were much smaller than their planetary equivalent, but still much larger and heavier than the carts used by people. Look before you leap.
    The rather gloomy industrial lower levels soon gave way to the agricultural dome’s main traffic level. A band of open corridor ran around the circumference of most of the round domes, sealed off from the sections where crops were planted. It was a little bit of public space that allowed residents to pass through them to go between towers or reach jobs and suppliers that were on one of the domes. The public corridors usually had transparent exterior wall sections similar to the casings above the crop production areas.
    Allison walked slowly as she passed through the wide tubes. It was a Friday evening, she had no plans for tonight or Saturday other than meeting Lauren for their usual weekend pursuits, and she enjoyed the view of Couradeen Station’s exterior from the tube. There was no reason to hurry.
    Lauren was the first person she’d met on Couradeen Station who wasn’t a coworker or an associate of Joseph and Tyrone. The two young women had taken to having dinner together most nights in the last couple months. Like Allison, Lauren came from a large family, and now that they lived alone both found it difficult to cook only for themselves. Eating together had let them, at least for the most part, cook an amount that wouldn’t spoil before it could all be eaten. Allison still had leftovers for her work lunches most days.
    There would be no such meal tonight, because Lauren would be on the way back from another part of the station that she’d had to visit for work. Those trips happened sometimes, and. Allison never remembered the exact details. Some new apartment or hotel opening on a tower on the other side of the Shaft, most likely. It was incredible how huge the station was, the trips were often a similar distance to visiting a neighboring town on a planet. Lauren had an hour of driving to get home today.
    The walk was a familiar one by now, from Baker Dome to the Carver-owned Ottawa Dome and then to Hickory Tower, but she still enjoyed it. These views were the reason she’d yet to buy one of the motorized carts that many used to travel between the structures on the station. At first she’d assumed she would need one as soon as possible. She’d likely get one eventually, but it had dropped a long way down the priority list. Lauren would take her anyplace she had to go for longer trips. The walk to work had turned out to be shorter and much more enjoyable that she’d anticipated. Consider that and the fact everything she needed to buy was available in Hickory Tower or by delivery from another part of the station, and it just wasn’t a necessity.
    Allison had become comfortable with Couradeen Station and its inhabitants in a remarkably short amount of time. She often forgot she’d lived here less than six months. The same could never have been said of Nevarris, due to her far less stable circumstances. Here she had few immediate worries, and while an independent life brought its own challenges, constant anxiety wasn’t one of them.
    The problems she faced here were more long-term ones. With the urgent matters under control, she had the luxury to worry about, for example, what kind of future she wanted and what profession she should enter. There was also the relative novelty of planning future purchases. Often those were needs for her apartment, since she’d decided not to drain her savings immediately to furnish it. Still, she was already able to set aside a little money to buy things she didn’t strictly need, but wanted.
    As she neared the middle of the tube connecting Ottawa Dome and Hickory tower, the last leg of her walk, Allison stepped between a pair of shrubs planted in the grassy strip next to the roadway to get closer to the window. With no need for ditches next to their roads to drain away rainwater, the station’s occupants had instead turned that space into long, thin parks. She wasn’t the only one who appreciated the unique view from the connection tubes, and the green strips were the perfect place to enjoy it.
    Since she had a little time, she sat in the grass to watch the space traffic for a while. The connection tubes were one of the only places you could see clearly both above and below the station’s irregular surface. She could see treetops in a nearby agricultural dome and the lower floors of a nearby tower in the same place. She could also see the forest of massive pipes, similar to the connection tubes, that secured the structures to the Shaft. That central structure was just about the only thing she couldn’t see, since it was thirty miles straight down from where she sat. It was straight down from just about any part of the station, really.
    It was impressive how Teton Sector station design found the spots that offered spectacular views and turned them into parks. The effort expended to make them green was equally impressive. One of the first things she’d learned on the station was just how much it took to grow plants in space. Very few things simply grew on their own the way they would on a planet. Even those who worked in entirely different businesses knew a little bit about it.
    “Even I had to learn a little about it for work,” Lauren had once told her. “I never really expected I’d need to know much about gardening to do interior design. On most stations people limit themselves to houseplants, but here a lot of people want small gardens and those have to be worked into the design more carefully.”
    Allison sat down on the grassy strip, carefully arranging her skirt to avoid dislodging her pistol or flashing anyone, although there probably wasn’t anybody to see anyway. She watched the station for about fifteen minutes, the ships streaking by below and occasionally the hum of a cart in the corridor behind her.
    In addition to the wonderful scenery, these little parks were her favorite place to read. When she tired of watching ships, she pulled her computer from her bag and opened her current book. She spent a good hour on the grass of the park before hunger kicked in and it was time to get home.
    As she resumed her walk, she got a call from Lauren. Phone to her ear, Allison walked toward the now-visible lobby level of Hickory Tower.
    “Hey, I managed to leave earlier than I though I was going to. Not early enough to make it in time for dinner, but would you still want to go to the range tonight, around seven?”
    “Sure, I’d planned to head down there and get some practice in anyway.” Allison’s shooting had improved tremendously since her move, and she was eager to improve further. She’d come to enjoy what was apparently the Teton Sector’s  national pastime, especially since it was what led to her friendship with Lauren. On her very first range visit without Joseph, she’d asked the girl for a few pointers since she happened to be in the lane next to her.
    “Alright, good. See you down ther in a few hours then!”
    Allison walked over the threshold of the tower as Lauren hung up. Once she’d taken an elevator down a few levels and arrived home, she dropped her bag on the table and headed toward the fridge for some food.
    As she passed she flicked on a wall mounted screen set to show a local news broadcast. It was good to keep up on what happened on the station. Despite the relatively low population density the station was home to a lot of people. She also had enemies to watch for, and the news might tip her off to any fishy incidents. She was always alert for suspicious activity now.
    Shortly before seven Allison headed to the range, eleven levels below her apartment. Outside of the nearly one hundred shooting lanes, separated by two sets of heavily soundproofed doors, was a waiting area with a number of cushioned chairs and shelves of range supplies for purchase. Allison bought a box of rounds and sat to wait.
    Lauren arrived only a few minutes after. Her blonde hair was visible just above the shelves before she walked into Allison’s field of view, waved and gave her a bright smile. Allison returned the gesture and she went to purchase her own supplies.
    “How was your trip?” Allison asked when her friend finally walked over.
    “Good, it looks like we’ll get the contract. It’s going to be a large hotel, so it’s a good one to land. How was work for you?”
    “Pretty normal for me, but a lot of other people had a bad day. One of our suppliers shipped us the wrong thing.”
    Lauren grimaced. “Ever distributor’s worst nightmare. Well, let’s get in there before all the lanes are gone.”
    Range rules demanded shooters don hearing protection before they entered the lanes. Most would not be practicing with subsonic weaponry, and in an enclosed space so many gunshots echoed. The girls had headsets that incorporated microphones and electronics to enhance their voices while muffling the shots, so they could still talk normally. Lauren suggested them after their second or third session so she wouldn’t have to yell advice to Allison, and get hoarse as a result.
    They always shared a lane now to conserve space on the range. Lauren would usually try to monitor and improve Allison’s aim while she shot, so they never shot at the same time anyway. There was no reason to tie up a second lane. The hundred rounds each shot went by quickly, and soon they were back in the waiting area.
    “You’re definitely getting better.” Lauren cast an amused eye at Allison’s tattered target. “I can’t tell anymore if you ever miss the target completely, all the shots are too close together to count the holes.”
    “I don’t think I am, but I still get some outliers. I’d like to get rid of that.”
    “They don’t show up for a few magazines, so I think that’s more due to extended firing. It probably won’t come up off the range. Do you even carry an extra mag?”
    “Only one.”
    “Yeah, those don’t show up until late in the third, so I don’t think you need to worry about it. What about your gun?” They stepped into the corridor and headed for the elevators. “Do you still want to get a different one? It almost seems like you should have worn that one out by now with how much time we spend down here.”
    Allison laughed. “I’m pretty sure if it hadn’t worn out for Joseph it won’t wear out for a few years yet. I might get a different one, I do like the way yours handles better, but it feels a little ungrateful to retire this one.”
    Lauren rolled her eyes. “It’s not ungrateful. It’s better to have a weapon you’re comfortable with. Ask Joseph, he’ll agree. He gave you one he could spare because you needed one. If he has any sense, he doesn’t expect you to use it forever.”
    “Well, he has sense, so he probably doesn’t,” Allison laughed as the elevator doors closed. “I’ll think about it. It’s a cost thing as well, and there are still some things I’d like to get for the apartment first.”
    “Fair enough.” The doors opened for Allison’s floor. “Hey, if you aren’t busy tomorrow come up to my place and we’ll watch movies or something.”
    “Alright, I will. See you tomorrow.”

Published: October 14 2019

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber