Published: September 23 2018

    Orson Station was not a bad place to live, Tyrone thought as they walked into The Park through a tunnel. He didn’t have a strong attachment to it, but that was mainly due to how little time he’d spent here. For all its faults it had a few good amenities, and one of the best was The Park.
    In a planetside town you would expect to have Centennial Park, Riverfront Park, Washington Park and a whole list of other common names for the public green spaces. With only the one, Orson Station simply named it “The Park.” The station really only needed one, and it was big.
    “Where should we go?” Justine asked, looking around from the small rise where their tunnel let out to see what places were unoccupied.
    The Park was the top level of Orson Station, a big agricultural dome just like the ones on Couradeen Station. It was nearly a mile in diameter. They stood near the headwaters of an artificial stream that twisted along about a third of the dome’s outer edge before turning inward to flow into a lake near the center. Instead of crops, the dome was filled with stands of trees, flower beds and a good layer of grass, some of which was mown. With no wind or storms to knock them over, most of the original trees were still standing, now nearly a hundred years old.
    Paths cris-crossed the dome, many lined with occasional flower beds and benches. A lot of the creatures Tyrone would expect in a planetside park were also present. Songbirds flew back and forth from nests in the trees to strategically placed feeders, and squirrels squabbled over leftovers the birds dropped or acorns from the oaks. He knew the lake had more than its share of fish. Waterfowl were the only thing missing, and park staff had assured him that the mess they made wasn’t worth the trouble.
    “I didn’t have anywhere in particular in mind,” he answered as he looked around. It wasn’t too crowded, they had come at a good time. “Why don’t we walk for a while and decide as we go?”
    “Okay.”
    They turned to follow the stream around the dome and down to the lake, the path they nearly always took. There were a number of little spots they had picked out throughout the park where they would sit and talk, and Justine had even more where she went to read. Sooner or later they would just pick one and sit down.
    “I know you don’t want me to go overboard until Joseph leaves, but how much are you going to let me rearrange Garden Variety Animal?” Justine put her hand in his, and they slowed down a little.
    “Well, that depends on what you want to do.”
    “That’s not very helpful dear,” She gave him a pout, and he laughed. 
    “Well, I don’t want to do anything like, say, moving the kitchen to the cargo bay. Other than that, it’s mostly fair game. Joseph and I haven’t put a lot of effort into decorating, and we just put the furniture wherever it was easy to use. Is there some project you’ve been thinking about?”
    “A few projects, nothing as extreme as relocating major appliances though.”
    “Well good, that’s a pain on a normal house and far harder on a starship.”
    “I’ll keep that in mind. I was thinking of cleaning out the room you’ve been using for storage so that it can be another workroom, at least for the time being.”
    “I don’t think there’s any problem with that. A lot of things in there are either to go with the new ship or waiting for when you’re aboard. Whichever it is, they won’t need the space much longer.”
    “Okay, good. We can probably cram whatever is left into one of the spare cabins for now. They aren’t getting much use in the foreseeable future.” The couple turned onto a bridge across the stream and paused to watch the water for a while. “I’d like to start painting a few rooms too. You and Joseph have left everything in the stock material colors.”
    “We didn’t think we’d do a good job of picking colors, and the stock materials don’t look all that bad. Better than a poor paint selection would.”
    “Agreed, but not nearly as nice as a good paint selection.”
    Tyrone chuckled and squeezed her hand. “We would undoubtedly have done poorly. You feel free to take care of that sweetheart, I’ll happily help with the painting as long as you figure out what the colors should be. Any other projects you already have in mind?”
    “Projects, no. Rearrangements, yes. Starting with the kitchen, the way the two of you organized it never made any sense.”
    “We never had trouble finding anything,” Tyrone protested. She pulled his arm to draw him on, and they continued toward the lake.
    “That doesn’t mean it’s well-organized.” Justine tossed her hair. “That just means you’ve memorized the location of everything you need. You have cabinets that are half dishes and half food. Knives, forks and spoons are in a drawer at one end of the counter, as far as they can possibly be from anything else. About the only thing that does make sense is that the coffee, mugs, filters and mill are all in the cupboard above the coffee maker.”
    Tyrone snorted, trying to stifle a laugh. “Coffee is very important to us.” It wasn’t surprising that the one thing that made sense would involve their favorite drink.
    “You don’t have to tell me. Anyone who’s spent ten minutes talking to you probably knows.”
    “Hey now, that’s not true. I make a point of not mentioning it until the eleventh minute.”
Both laughed, and they paused to watch the birds at a feeder by the lake. “One of the benefits of our move to mainly Teton Sector shipping routes is that I won’t have to monitor the supply so carefully. We’ll never be too far from somewhere that we can get decent coffee.”
    “The unaffiliated planets don’t have any that’s up to your standards?”
    “Not very often. There are a few places here and there, but you have to look harder and it’s not guaranteed. In the Teton Sector it’s a fairly rare place that doesn’t have at least one roaster, at least for medium to large stations. We’ve been to unaffiliated planets where every ounce of coffee is shipped in from off world already roasted and ground.”
    “How awful!” Justine teased.
    “I know. I don’t know how they can stand to live like that. It must be terrible for them.”
    “Did you really want to switch to just doing Teton Sector shipping?” Justine turned to keep walking, pulling him along, and they aimed for a cluster of maple trees among which they often sat. “I know we changed our plans with the gangs looking for Garden Variety Animal outside the sector, but I was never sure you wanted to do shipments to unaffiliated space once I was with you anyway.”
    “Originally, no I didn’t, but I also didn’t want to keep doing shipments outside our boarders for every trip,” Tyrone said. “An occasional trip to unaffiliated territory was fine with me, but not to all of the same places Joseph and I went. I wanted to be a lot more choosy with our destinations.”
    “You’ve talked about some of them. I always had the impression that you wouldn’t want to take me to the rougher ones.”
    “Definitely not.” Tyrone shook his head. “I didn’t particularly enjoy visiting them myself. The only thing to recommend them was the paycheck for the delivery.”
    Justine laughed. “Will we do any unaffiliated space shipments at all now?”
    “Here and there maybe, especially for Mr. Carver. He’s a good customer and most of the places he sends us are alright. Even for him I won’t accept a job until I look at the destination. We want to avoid anyplace the Ventalian Mafia is known to operate. To be on the safe side, I’d prefer not to visit any destination with high gang activity at all. The lines between groups are blurry in that world, at least to us.”
    “You won’t miss the money any?”
    “Safety should probably be my first concern, with you and eventually children on board,” Tyrone pointed out. “Still, I don’t think missing the money will even come up. Joseph is supposed to be the big earner now. He should bring in more than we ever did with trips to the unaffiliated systems anyway. Even if we move Garden Variety Animal exclusively to Teton Sector shipments, we should have more money coming in rather than less.”
    “As long as it works out the way Joseph was expecting that’s true. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t either, I’ve been working to schedule loads for the new ship already and had no shortage of interest.”
    “Good to hear.”
    They reached the maples, and Justine indicated she wanted to sit down by trying to trip Tyrone. She didn’t even come close to success. She laughed as he pinned her shoulders against him with one arm, put the other behind her knees and lifted her off the ground.
    “Is this what you were going for?” he asked.
    “No.” He lowered her into the grass, then sprawled out next to her. “There, that’s more like it.”
    “Except that your method would have left me with a mouthful of grass and dirt.”
    “But it didn’t.” Her eyes went wide and she put on a vacant, innocent expression. “You didn’t fall, picked me up and set me on the grass just like I was intending the whole time.”
    “Oh, so that was your plan from the very beginning.”
    “Of course!”
    Tyrone laughed. “Anyway, another positive for shipments in the Teton Sector is that we’ll have shorter trips. Population centers are closer together, so we’ll usually be a few days in faster than light travel instead of a week or more. In unaffiliated space you have to fly past system after system that’s completely empty to get to one planet that’s settled.”
    “We still have plenty of unsettled systems inside the Sector’s borders. Just look at your pirate attack.”
    “Yeah, but it’s pockets here and there instead of huge swaths of territory. Joseph likes the feeling of being deep in the unknown like that, off the beaten trail. I’m okay with it, but I’d rather be in more thoroughly-settled areas where I don’t have to stay cooped up on the ship for so long.”
    “I’ll keep that in mind when I’m scheduling our loads.”
    The two fell silent for a while, relaxing in the grass and thinking. The Park felt very much like being outdoors on a planet. Justine pushed on his side until he rolled onto his back, then set her head on his stomach, and Tyrone smiled. Far too many days had passed without moments like this.
    “I’ve been wondering about something since our meeting today,” Justine said. “How do you think Peter got Parello’s to let him use the dining room as his office this morning?”
    “I’ve been wondering too.” Tyrone shifted his shoulders and propped his head up with a fist so he could see her. “If there are a lot of ordinary people that do things for PICTA, maybe the things they provide are ordinary too. Things like a place to have a meeting in private.”
    “Perhaps. Parello’s could have just been happenstance, I know restaurants do that kind of off-hours thing for business owners and executives sometimes.”
    “Especially if they’re offered enough money to make it worthwhile,” Tyrone agreed. “Or the owners could be part of PICTA’s support network and we’ve seen God only knows how many PICTA operatives in the past.”
    “If that’s the kind of thing they ask a restaurant to do for them, what would they ask of a light cargo ship?”
    “Good question, I don’t know for sure. I thought about it, right after we left Temorran. I was still expecting that to blow up to a much greater degree than it did. I thought if it got too dangerous for us to work in unaffiliated space, maybe PICTA could find work for us.”
    “What did you think they would have you do?”
    Shamefaced, Tyrone laughed. “Thins more exotic than the truth, I’m sure. I was imagining taking weapons to their agents or transporting victims like Allison to safety. Based on what I’ve seen and learned of them since, the reality is probably much more tame.”
    “Maybe not much different from what we already do, pick this up here and take it there. An organization that size has a lot of supplies to move around.”
    “Probably.” He played with a strand of her hair. “You know, they might not have transports doing full loads most of the time. I’m sure there’s some of that, but given their preoccupation with secrecy it might not be the norm.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “If you want to hide what you’re moving you don’t want it to appear on a ship manifest. Instead of falsifying a whole shipment record to disguise it, you could just use a ship that’s already taking something else between the same two places, and stash whatever you’re moving in a corner. We’ve done that plenty of times for our family or friends just so they don’t have to pay to have something shipped. I don’t think that’s even technically illegal, as long as the item isn’t.”
    “That would be tough to coordinate on such a large scale, but it could work,” Justine said after a moment’s thought. Silence fell for a moment again. “Should we offer to move some cargo for them?” she asked at last.
    Tyrone didn’t answer immediately. He wasn’t opposed, would even like to, but he worried about it. “Maybe. If it doesn’t add to the danger we’re already in, I wouldn’t mind.”
    “It seems like they’re pretty careful to avoid that.”
    “Yeah, with good reason.”
    “What do you think Joseph has already promised to do for them?”
    “Who knows? Probably more than we will, if we do at all.”

Chapter 37: Talk In The Park

By Stephen Schamber

In A Starship's Wake

WARNING:
CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.
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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber