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Published: September 16 2018

    Seated at his desk in the workroom of Garden Variety Animal, Joseph scrolled through pages and pages of ship specs on the screens in front of him. He couldn’t possibly review everything he needed to look at in one sitting, but that wasn’t the goal. While they were still moored at Orson Station, he wanted to take advantage of the faster data transmission to download all the information possible for the ship models they were considering. Ultimately the decision was down to him, since he would be the captain, and he needed to make a selection during their next freight run.
    Until he started researching their purchase months earlier, he hand not appreciated just how wide a variety bulk ore hauling vessels came in. For such an expensive piece of equipment he thought the options would be more limited. Ore haulers were in high demand, and with the size of the investment owners wanted their ships to be just so. There were highly customizable models from the biggest manufacturers in the Teton Sector, a massive selection of other options from smaller makers boasting this or that unique feature, all the way to small yards doing custom builds. There was more variety in ore haulers than in the much smaller inter-system freighters like Garden Variety Animal. 
    Footfalls in the hallway alerted him to Tyrone’s approach. “We’re back.” The big man stuck his head in the workroom, and noticed what was on the screen. “How goes the search? Have you made any decisions yet?”
    “Not yet.” Joseph tried not to look too grouchy as he turned toward his partner. “It’s nice to have a wide selection, but there is such a thing as too many choices.”
    “We have a lot of variables to balance, so it’s good that there’s a wide range.”
    “Yeah, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice too much of what we need. No choice between either having the speed we need or the equipment we need, we should be able to get everything. It’s just a matter of sifting through all the choices in our price range. I think that will take me most of this trip.”
    Tyrone stepped into the room, crossing his arms. “Just make sure it doesn’t take longer, because the end of this trip is pretty much when we need to have the decision made. Vermilion Shipyard is our next stop, and the dealers will want us to have our order in ahead of time so they can have it ready when we get there.”
    “Yeah, I know,” Joseph said. “Our crew will need somewhere to sleep when they arrive too, so we’ll want it ready.”
    “What are you thinking for armament?”
    “I’m not entirely sure on that yet. I’d like a set of heavier guns, closer to what that corvette had or maybe even larger. I’ll still want a few smaller guns for taking on fighters at close range.”
    “Keep in mind, other nations aren’t always too pleased about the amount of firepower on Teton Sector merchant ships,”
    “I haven’t forgotten, but I’m anticipating bringing most of our cargo into the Teton Sector. Most foreign ports we dock at will be in frontier systems, and they’re more willing to overlook a heavily armed ship. In some cases they even welcome one.”
    “True, I just don’t want any more struggles with port authorities that we absolutely have to have. Of course, you’re the one who will have to deal with it, so I guess that’s up to you.”
    Joseph laughed and rolled his eyes, already anticipating the exasperation those conversations would bring. “That’s one reason for picking out the crew I did. They’re all well behaved. Once we’ve been to a port once, they won’t mind having us back again.”
    “They’re a good group,” Tyrone agreed. “Keep in mind that Charlie was going to retire, he’s only going to work for us for a couple years.”
    “I know, he’s doing us a favor more than anything. I’m glad he likes us enough for that, because he used to take frontier mine runs when he was younger. He can tell us what to be on the lookout for. Two years ought to be enough time to find some decent hands to take his place.”
    “Do you have any idea where to find some decent hands for right now? There’s only four, counting you, and that’s not enough to operate an ore hauler.”
    “Listed crew complement on most of the newer models is six.” Joseph waved a hand at the computer screen. “We should be able to make do with five, so that leaves one more person to find. I’ve got a few ideas of where to look.”
    “Such as?”
    “Mr. Carver sent me a couple names of people who might be interested, but he didn’t know if they were looking. Justine’s dad sent me one guy who definitely is, and I looked over his letter and work history. I’m planning to contact him tomorrow, he’s who I’m counting on as the fifth.”
    “The shipyards usually have a few people hanging around looking for work too, we could hire one of them to fill up the crew.”
    “We could, but I’d prefer not to do that unless it becomes clear we absolutely need a full crew and there’s no other way to get one. I know there’s a limit to how long it can be done if we keep buying ships, but for now I’d like to keep our hiring ‘in the family’ as much as we can.”
    Tyrone clenched his jaw a little, then sighed. “Yeah, there’s something to be said for working with people you know and trust. I don’t think you should be running short on crew to start. It’s an unfamiliar ship on unfamiliar routes with unfamiliar cargo. That’s a lot that can go wrong already.”
    Joseph tilted his head. Tyrone had a good point. Of the crew he’d hired so far, only Charlie had any experience in what they were doing, and it had been thirty years ago for him. “Alright, that’s fair. You’re probably right. I’ll try to get a sixth person to start with instead of after the fact.”
    “Good plan. Thank you. I’ll be less nervous about it this way. What about the ships you’ve looked at so far? Any frontrunners?”
    “For the moment, my favorite is a model called Outworld, made by Copper Shipyard. It has an edge on most of the others in sub-FTL speed, and you aren’t paying a lot extra for it. We also wouldn’t have to add any equipment mounts to arm it the way I’d like to. No missile tubes that have to be loaded from outside the ship.” He glared at the deck beneath him as he said it, as though it was the ship’s fault.
    “How do you know that if you haven’t settled on what you want the armament to be yet?”
    “It has eighteen turret emplacements.” They wouldn’t need that many, but he could certainly come up with ways to fill them. “Every angle of the ship is covered by at least two, so they could easily be split into fighter defense and larger guns to handle something like the corvette we fought. If I ran into that same situation, calling for help wouldn’t even be necessary.”
    Tyrone gave him a sharp look and shook his head. “You’d better still call for help if that happens. It’s my ship too you know.”
    “Well obviously, and I would. I’m just exaggerating to make a point. It comes with missile tubes built in as well. Four in the stern for interceptor missiles, and four in the bow, two interceptor and two offensive missiles.”
    “Interesting to have offensive missiles on a freighter,” Tyrone said.
    “The model was designed with frontier systems as the intended operating area. Based on just our own experiences at this point, you can’t deny it could be useful.”
    “They wold have come in handy a few times,” Tyrone admitted. “Still, don’t get too excited to use them. That’s not what you’re out there to do, and as we learned missiles are expensive to expend.”
    “I’ll do my best.” The list of ship models and specs finished downloading, and a message to that effect popped up on Joseph’s screen. “Thirty models down, only a couple hundred to go.” He would spend most of their flight in here to compare them all, and it had ‘tedium’ written all over it.
    “Well, I wish you luck.”
    “You don’t want to help?”
    “Not particularly.” The big man grinned at him. “Spec sheets are not known for reader engagement. Besides, you’re the one who has to fly the thing.” He made for the door again. “You keep at it, Justine and I will make dinner. After we eat she and I wanted to go walk around the station for a while. Can you handle taking the ship over to be loaded?”
    “Yeah, no problem.” After all, he had no sentimental attachment to the station. There was nothing he cared to see again, one way or another. Justine probably had a few things she did want to see, and Tyrone might too.
    Tyrone left, and Joseph returned to the computer. The Outworld was still his first choice after reviewing a few more sheets, although one of the others had a better FTL drive. It wasn’t that much better, and the living space was far less comfortable.
    Half an hour later he decided to give it up for a while and see how dinner was coming. He closed the spec sheet he’d just finished with and made to get up, but something in the corner of the screen caught his eye. He had several new messages. With a sigh he opened the mail program.
    Two of the messages were advertisements for ore haulers, containing the same spec sheets he’d already spent hours reviewing. He noted with a pulse of vindictive pleasure that both were models he’d already dismissed from consideration. One was a copy of the invoice from the mechanic, which he didn’t bother to open since they had already paid. The last was from someone named Rebecca Eckerts. The name rang a bell, but he didn’t recognize it immediately. Should he open it now or wait until after dinner? It couldn’t be any worse than the other three. He opened it.
    “Hello Mr. Essert,” the letter began. “I never got the chance to meet you because I was in the medical bay, but I was one of the crew of Bolinscar Red Comet. Captain Friedrich gave me your contact information.
    “Bolinscar Industries decided to scrap the Comet and replace it, which you may already know. The replacement ship only needs about half the crew. I was one of the crew members who wasn’t assigned to the new ship, mainly because I was still recovering.
    “The company hasn’t laid me off. They have a fairly large fleet and there are plenty of people scheduled to retire this year, so the plan to rotate me to a different ship when a spot opens. Still, it means a month or more of downtime while I wait.
    “Captain Friedrich mentioned that you were buying a new ship soon. She wasn’t sure she had the details right, but said she thought you were buying an ore hauler. If that purchase is pending or already took place and you have an opening to fill, I’d like to apply for a job on your crew. Attached are my application documents and a Letter of Reference from Captain Freidrich. Please let me know if you might be interested. God’s blessings, Rebecca Eckerts.”
    That explained why the name was familiar, for a start. Now that his memory was jogged, he recalled much of what the Comet’s crew said about her when they were talking aboard the Devastator. It wasn’t a lot of information. She was a good marksman and obviously good under pressure. 
    He couldn’t recall what she did on board the Comet, but those details would be in her job history anyway. He almost opened it to check, but his stomach reminded him that it was nearly dinner time. It could wait until after he’d eaten.
    Joseph decided as he stepped into the corridor not to mention the message to Tyrone and Justine yet. Crew decisions for the new vessel were also mainly his to make, and they would expect him to have firm reasons for hiring her, if indeed he did. Time to construct those arguments properly was important.
    Words Peter from PICTA spoke to him so recently also came to mind. Peter implied heavily that the frontier asteroid mines were hotbeds for human trafficking, and probably other crimes as well. Eckerts couldn’t be as young as Allison, but she was young enough for him to question taking her there.
    Freidrich might not have known where they were taking the ore hauler, so he would have to mention it in his reply. It might change her interest in the job. Come to think of it, he couldn’t really remember telling Captain Freidrich they were getting a new ship at all, never mind the type, cargo or destinations. Perhaps Tyrone said something to her. He’d have to remember to ask after he'd figured out whether to hire her.

Chapter 36: Decisions To Be Made

By Stephen Schamber

In A Starship's Wake

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