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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 38: A Full Complement

    A chicken bone from last night’s dinner rolled back and forth between Joseph’s teeth as he read the messages from Rebecca again. They were among several documents open on his notescreen, all about her. He’d read them several times already trying to decide whether to hire her. After lunch he’d be interviewing her by video call, and that was probably when he’d make the final decision.
    Unless the interview went bad in a spectacular fashion she was going to get the job. She was qualified, if a little green, and Captain Friedrich had nothing but good to say about her. To add to that, they had technically already seen her in action. Tyrone was right about a full crew on the new ship, and she was the best option that didn’t involve hiring a stranger at the shipyards.
    Joseph still had some anxiety about the whole thing, and stemming from hiring an outsider. Rebecca wasn’t a complete unknown to them, but they had never met in person. He wasn’t that comfortable about hiring Silas either, the man Justine’s father had recommended, but her father was a much closer connection than Captain Friedrich.
    The bone splintered slightly as he bit down a little too hard. He plucked it from his mouth and tossed it on the plate in front of him before it could cut his mouth or something. Dental professionals would probably tell him not to chew on it anyway.
    “A little aggravated over there?” Justine asked from across the kitchen.
    “A little, I guess.” Once again, he’d put a little more force in than he’d intended. The bone nearly bounced off the plate.
    “Is it my cooking or something else?” she laughed.
    “Definitely not your cooking.” Justine’s presence had improved the quality of their meals significantly. The two men were not bad cooks, but neither of them would have bothered cooking a whole bird of any kind. “I’m just a little agitated about the job interview.”
    “I thought you already wanted to hire this girl.”
    “I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it. Tyrone told you I was going to start with a partial crew originally, right?”
    “Yes, and I’m glad you changed your mind about it.”
    “So am I, but the biggest reason was that I didn’t want to hire people we didn’t already know. Now here I am, about to hire someone I don’t know.”
    “She does come highly recommended. She isn’t a total unknown either, she was on the Comet.”
    “If she hadn’t been I’d be even more uncomfortable with it. I’m glad we’re in range of the instant communication beacons so I can interview her face to face before making a final decision.” Joseph began to clean away the remains of his lunch. It was almost the appointed time for that call, and it would be bad manners to keep her waiting.
    “I agree with you about that by the way,” Justine said. “I wasn’t thrilled with Tyrone’s thought to just hire someone at the shipyard. We aren’t that large of a company, I don’t want to trust our livelihoods to just anyone. There are plenty of fine out-of-work starmen hanging around shipyards in search of a new gig, but just as many are there for a reason.”
    “Thanks, I feel vindicated a bit.” Joseph said. “I should get back there.”
    “Alright, hope it goes well.”
    “Me too. I think it should, she seems like a good fit.” He walked down the corridor and into the workroom, closing the door behind him.
    Seated at his desk, he thought back on the days when he was going to job interviews trying to get work. He’d been nervous for every one, and it struck him as somewhat perverse that he was just as nervous now that he was the interviewer. Only now did he realize there was just as much for the interviewer to be worried about. Every interview was a chance to pick the wrong candidate.
    Finally it was time to stop worrying and make the call. Rebecca answered immediately, another point in her favor. Her nervous smile appeared on the screen in front of him, seated at a desk in what looked like a fairly nice living room.
    “Hello Captain Essert.”
    “Hi Rebecca, nice to finally see you face to face. You can call me Joseph, we aren’t really a large enough company to stand on that particular point of etiquette.”
    “Alright,” she chuckled. “I’m not sure Captain Friedrich would have either, but it was company policy.”
    “How is your recovery going? She said you were going to be fine, but I never found out exactly how injured you were.”
    “It’s going well,” she said. “I’m technically recovered already. The doctor wants to check my wounds once more to make sure they’ve healed correctly, but they were all muscle or skin only. No broken bones or damaged organs. The medical team did have to cut my armor off me though, and they got most of my hair in the process.” She tilted her head for a moment so that her brown, barely shoulder length hair hung more visibly. “It used to be a lot longer. At least that will grow back.”
    “I’m glad to hear it’s going well. When is your last doctor visit?”
    “Tomorrow. The doctor technically already cleared me to star working again, but with no ship for me to get back to she wants to take one last look.”
    “Not unreasonable. Alright, into some actual interview questions then.” He looked to his notescreen, scrolling through to find her work history. “You were a general deckhand on the Comet, what did they usually have you doing?”
    “I learned a little of everything, including helm, but most of the time I was running sensors. The Comet was a relatively old ship so it needed a lot of maintenance, and my other major duty was helping the ship’s mechanic with that.”
    Joseph nodded approval of the answer. He had the main positions on the ore hauler filled from the beginning, and what he really needed for the rest of the crew was generalists who could fill in where needed. Despite the small crew complement, an ore hauler was also a large enough ship that someone would be on duty on the bridge at all times. A basic understanding of piloting the ship was good in the people standing those watches.
    A few more questions about her credentials and ability to do the work of the position followed, all of which she answered to Joseph’s satisfaction. He was not really expecting otherwise, knowing her history. Her actual experience aboard ship was fairly limited, since she had been the new hand on the Comet and not working as a starman before that. Her actions in the pirate attack demonstrated that she was well worth whatever training she might need. As they talked she relaxed a little, her body language and voice shifting subtly to calm confidence.
    “My last few questions might not have easy answers. First, I want to talk about why you want to leave Bolinscar Industries. You did say they were going to put you on another ship as soon as an opening was available. They’re a large enough company that you probably won’t have long to wait, so why leave now to join us?”
    She rubbed the palm of one hand slowly as she framed her answer. “What it comes down to is that I’d feel safer working with people who are willing to take the kind of risk you took to save us.”
    Joseph tilted his head and frowned. “You realize the reality is the opposite? Because we take that kind of risk you’re more likely to be put in danger by working with us. Multiple people have pointed out that we should be a little more careful about what risks we take in the future.”
    “From one perspective that’s true. If you’re willing to do that for strangers though, how much further would you go to protect your own crew? I’m also contrasting with Bolinscar. They’re not a bad company, but if Captain Friedrich had done what you did there’s a good possibility she would have been fired.
    “That never would have come up, because as much as I admire her I know she wouldn’t have done it. She would have stayed where you started, at the edge of the battle calling for help, keeping enough distance to get away if the pirates turned toward her ship. The rest of the crew weren’t inventive enough to come up with what you did to cripple the corvette either. I was probably the most aggressive with our defenses.”
    “I know from talking to them before we resumed our trip that they were fairly impressed with how you performed under pressure.”
    “I was surprised myself, honestly.” She looked down at her hands. “Anyway, I’d prefer to be flying with people who will react like that if their crew members are in danger.”
    Joseph nodded, absorbing what she’d said. It was a fact that both he and Tyrone, and probably Justine as well, would fight to the last second to protect their crew. If he was less reckless about local trouble she might really be safer on their ore hauler than another Bolinscar ship, except for where he planned to fly it. 
    “I know I brought this up already in our messages,” Joseph said, “but it’s worth discussing here as well. I plan on taking this ship to frontier systems to get cargo. You know we were shipping cargo to unaffiliated space before, and many of those worlds are rough places. The asteroid mines we’ll most often visit can be even rougher, and the territory we’ll be flying through is certainly more dangerous. Are you sure this is something you want to do?”
    “Yes. I did think it over some more after you mentioned that, and I understand the danger involved. Frankly I still prefer the idea of flying with you than Bolinscar. We’re more likely to face dangerous situations, but you’ve already shown you can find the unconventional way to survive them.”
    “We have been told by people in law enforcement agencies that some of these mines are havens for various kinds of criminal activity.” Joseph knew PICTA wasn’t exactly law enforcement, but the term would serve. “Does that change your thoughts on it at all?”
    “No, not really,” she replied. “Every planet and station in the Teton Sector has at least a little of the same. The asteroid mines are tiny by comparison to most stations, and I’ll already be on my guard. I don’t know that I would even leave the ship at those stops. What would there be for me to do?”
    “Not much really.” Joseph acknowledged the point with a flick of his head. “I’m not sure I’ll spend much time in their facilities myself. Tyrone and I had a previous brush with the kind of group we might run into out there and apparently caused them a significant amount of trouble. They are likely to be watching for us.”
    “They aren’t likely to find you. I did a little research on that too after you mentioned it. The Ventalian Mafia has no known presence out there, and they’re looking for the wrong ship. You’ll be easy for them to miss.”
    “True enough,” Joseph laughed. “I hope you’re right about that. I don’t think there’s anything more for me to ask, you’ve got the job.”
    “Great!” She smiled again, happily instead of nervously as at the beginning of the call. “What do I do next?”
    “I’ll send you the paperwork that needs to be filled out and instructions for where to send it. My partner’s wife handles that kind of thing for us. After that I’ll let you know where to go. We’ll be placing the order for the ship shortly, and taking delivery at Vermillion Shipyard in about a week and a half. You can start booking passage now, and I’ll give you the exact location on the station as soon as I have it.”
    They exchanged a few more pleasantries, then ended the call. Joseph leaned back in his chair with a sigh and put his hands behind his head. The ore hauler had a full crew now, and that was progress, even if he was concerned about its makeup. Hopefully he hadn’t just helped Rebecca make a huge mistake. Only time would tell.
    He returned to the kitchen to find something to drink and to quiet his mind’s neurotic worries. Justine was still there, now scrubbing out one of the cabinets. She was already enacting her plan to rearrange the kitchen.
    “Need any help?” Joseph asked.
    “Sure, grab a rag,” she replied. “This cabinet and the one next to it had some leaky bottles in them.”
    “We tended to be a little haphazard in storage of things. You apparently noticed.” He sat down and started on the other cabinet.
    “I did. I’m glad you didn’t mind me changing things up.”
    “It’s you and Tyrone’s ship now, it should be arranged the way you two want it.”
    “How did the interview go?”
    “The hauler has a full crew now. I just hope I’m not enabling her in a big mistake.”
    Justine looked up from her cabinet and frowned at him. “Why would it be a mistake?”
    “I’m worried about taking her to these fringe mines. Some of them are a lot worse than places Tyrone would never have taken you. Maybe I’m more touchy about it than I need to be after our brush with the slavers.”
    “You probably are, but that’s not a bad thing. Protect her. You and the rest of the crew are more than capable of that. If someplace you dock is really that bad, I doubt she’ll protest much if you keep her on the ship until you leave.”

Published: September 30 2018

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