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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 42: There At Last

    Joseph leaned against the wall in a corridor outside the docking bay, looking at the ore hauler through the windows. Somehow he’d managed to be first to arrive at the meeting point outside the bay, despite the fact that two of his crew members arrived the day before and were already moved into their quarters. Garden Variety Animal arrived earlier than scheduled, so Tyrone and Justine dropped him off before going to be unloaded. They would have to come back to unload his boxes, but at least he hadn’t had to walk across the station.
    He let the other crew members know when he’d landed. All but Rebecca were already on the station, but it was a big place. Vermillion Station was primarily a shipyard, and like the agriculture on Couradeen Station that industry needed a lot of space. The two were almost the same size.
    Vermillion was again similar to Couradeen in that everything was decentralized. Passenger ships might dock anywhere, unlike Orson where they were all directed to one part of the station. Rebecca’s ship would dock near here, which was fortunate since it was the last in. Samuel and Charlie both docked miles down the station, and were working their way to the meeting.
    While he waited, Joseph took a look at his ship. Only on a shipyard would she ever fit in a docking bay. She was just over a thousand feet long, two hundred wide and two hundred tall with the height of the cargo intake and outflow hatches included. Most stations just didn’t bother with docking bays that large, and that included the asteroid mines. Ships this big were designed to moor to a station, not land in one. That said, Joseph had been careful to select a model capable of atmospheric landings. Not all metal refineries were in space, and he wanted no limits on their potential destinations and customers.
    The ship was shaped like a fat fish. It reminded him of the catfish he and his father would catch when he was young. The intake hatches on the top, and the corridor that provided access to them, looked like a long dorsal fin. More corridors that resembled the barbels bulged out of the hull, running from the bridge and quarters in the bow to the mechanical and engineering sections in the stern. Even the dark brown hull color added to the comparison.
    A momentary fit of nerves struck Joseph as it occurred to him that he would have to fly the thing. Garden Variety Animal wasn’t difficult for him to pilot, but this ship was huge by comparison. He’d only flown ships this large in simulation. He brushed the worry away; Charlie had flown plenty this big, and the old man wouldn’t let him make any serious mistakes.
    As though summoned by Joseph’s thought, a door slid open at the end of the corridor and Charlie approached. He dragged a small hovercart stacked with a few boxes and suitcases behind him. “Is this an okay place to dump these?” The white-haired man gestured at the boxes. “I came on the station tram, I have to take the cart back.”
    “You could, but I’d go over to where the gangway is connected and see if there’s space there.” He pointed to the ship’s starboard side, where the tube extended into the docking bay wall. “That way you won’t have to carry them as far when we board.”
    “Good plan,” Charlie grunted. He continued past Joseph and out of sight around the corner. It was only a minuted before he reappeared. “Plenty of space,” he reported. “I didn’t see any of your things over there.” He stopped next to Joseph and joined him at the window.
    “We got in early enough for Tyrone and Justine to drop me off, but there wasn’t enough time to unload before they had to be at the warehouse. They’ll come back to drop off my boxes before they get the outbound load.”
    “Got it.” Charlie gestured out the window. “Mighty fine-looking ship you got yourself there.”
    “Thank you. I was just comparing her to a catfish in my head.”
    Charlie laughed, rocking the hovercart back and forth with one foot. “Most bulk haulers have a little bit of a funny shape to them like that. The dominant design priority is to keep that center area empty for as much cargo space as possible. Still, a fish isn’t a half bad look for a spaceship. Even better if you happen to like fishing.”
    “I do.”
    “Well, there you are then. Do you have a name for her yet?”
    “It took a while, but I finally came up with one. Great Mandan Laker.”
    Charlie chuckled. “Doesn’t make any sense to me. Some history thing I take it?”
    “Yup. Ancient Earth history. Look it up sometime, it’s interesting reading.”
    “I may do that. What’s her cargo capacity?”
    “Big. One point four million cubic feet. She can land and take off under a one hundred twenty thousand ton load. We’ll be one of the larger haulers working the frontier mines.”
    “Impressive,” Charlie nodded. “Well, I’d love to grill you on the specs, but I need to get the cart back. Plus, you probably don’t want to repeat them all half a dozen times.”
    “Not really, especially since I’m sure Melissa will do that for us while she gives us the tour.”
    Charlie vanished back the way he’d come. It wasn’t long before he was replaced by Samuel, the man Justine’s father had recommended. Joseph never saw him in person until now, and was surprised by how tall he was. Samuel stood several inches above him, and Joseph was himself slightly more than six feet.
    “Captain Essert?” he asked, holding out a hand as he approached. Like Charlie he pulled a hovercart with a few boxes.
    “That’s me.” Joseph shook the hand, and reflected that it would take a while to adjust to that mode of address. “If you go around the corner, there’s space to pile your things near the gangway.” Samuel nodded and set off. It wasn’t much longer before the three men stood at the windows, looking into the docking bay and talking idly about the ship.
    The door opened once more and Rebecca joined the little group. She was the only one to arrive wearing her body armor. She had no cart, only a single large duffle bag and a fairly nice rifle slung over one shoulder. Joseph waved her closer as she approached the group uncertainly.
    “Gentlemen, I present our final hire, Rebecca Eckerts, the best marksman of Bolinscar Industries.” All of them laughed at his theatrical introduction, and Rebecca flushed slightly.
    “Well, formerly anyway,” she said.
    “How do you know she was their best marksman?” Samuel gave Joseph a puzzled look.
    “I saw her in action. I guess I never mentioned that to you. She was on the other freighter involved in that pirate attack Tyrone and I ran into early last month. She managed to keep quite a few of them from ever setting foot on the ship. Or any other, for that matter. Bother her too much and I’d give her better than even odds of taking you out with that rifle.”
    “I don’t think I’d have bothered her quite that much anyway, but I’ll make sure it doesn’t,” Samuel laughed.
    “I didn’t even have the rifle aboard the Comet, I used one of the emergency weapons. I decided if there’s a next time I want a gun I picked out. Emergency weapons aren’t bad, but this way I have one I’m familiar with.”
    “There’s space by the gangway for your bag, if you want to offload it.” Charlie waved in the appropriate direction.
    She looked at Joseph uncertainly. “Are we doing anything else before we board?”
    “No. We’ve got about half an hour until the sales agent arrives to give us a tour, but everyone meets here for that.”
    “I think I’ll just keep it with me for now then.” Rebecca set the bag by her feet. “I don’t have that much anyway.”
    “Interesting that the only woman on the crew has the least luggage to move aboard,” Charlie said. “I’m not sure whether I should be embarrassed or impressed.”
    “I don’t think you need to be embarrassed,” Rebecca laughed. “I haven’t been a ship hand for very long, so it’s mostly that I haven’t accumulated much that’s useful aboard ship. All I brought besides my armor and rifle are clothes, some personal electronics and pictures.”
    “That explains it,” Charlie agreed. “Don’t worry, in time you’ll have just as much junk to drag around as the rest of us.”
    “Anyway, to finish the introductions,” Joseph said. “These are Charlie Koltzikov and Samuel Rieger. Charlie is an old friend of myself and Tyrone, who helped us out with a lot of advice when we were purchasing our first ship. Samuel came highly recommended by Tyrone’s father-in-law, and has more years of experience aboard ship than me and Tyrone combined.”
    Rebecca pointed behind him as he finished. He spun to face the corridor that led to the gangway. The last two members of his crew had arrived.
    “Took you long enough, where have you two been hiding?” Joseph asked. Nathan, the talker of the two men, laughed while Gordon gave him a confused look.
    “We didn’t have very far to go to meet you, so we didn’t think we needed to leave early,” Nathan said. “Both of us got here pretty late last night.”
    “Well, your timing is convenient.” Joseph gestured toward Nathan. “The tall, lean, vocal one is Nathan Eerie, a pilot and navigator who always seemed to be docked a few bays down from us when we were first starting out. The stocky, muscular one is Gordon McLeod, until recently a dock mechanic for one of our frequent providers of cargo bound for unaffiliated space.” He repeated the other introductions for the benefit of the two men, and the group returned to idle chatter.
    “The cabins are nice on this thing.” Nathan gestured at the docking bay. “A lot more space than on the light interstellar ships. Tyrone and Justine are going to be jealous when they get a look.”
    “Well, they’ll just have to live with it,” Joseph said. “They made their choice, and with plenty of good reasons.”
    Melissa arrived a few minutes before the appointed time. “Good thing I wasn’t late,” she marveled as she joined them at the windows. “Usually when I come to do these tours it’s half an hour after the meeting time before the whole crew gets here. Why don’t we head inside and take a look? I know two of you have already been in the quarters, but since the rest of the ship was locked there’s still plenty to see.”
    Melissa took them through the vessel room by room, sure to point out all the features they might not immediately notice otherwise. She also provided them with the diagrams that showed the hidden storage points for emergency weapons and supplies. The ship was huge, and there were a lot of them to memorize.
    A walk around it also involved a lot of walking and either elevators or climbing stairs. Garden Variety Animal had only one level, but the rooms aboard the ore hauler were separated primarily by level. Living and work spaces were in the nose of the ship, and while that section didn’t have the full two hundred foot height, it was tall enough for ten decks.
    The topmost was the bridge, and it was an interesting switch not to have the bridge at the extreme front of the ship. For this vessel the living room and lounge area occupied that deck, and was almost as large on it’s own as everything forward of Garden Variety Animal’s cargo bay. The galley and dining area also had a deck of their own. Immediately below the bridge was the captain’s quarters, which included a separate office. The remainder were either crew quarters with two cabins on each deck, work spaces or passenger quarters. The last were designed more with transporting occasional comapny executives in mind than general passenger transport. Since they had no executives, at least some of those were probably destined to become storage rooms.
    Far more space, especially in the living room and galley levels, was devoted to window space than on Garden Variety Animal. This was partly because loading and unloading the ore hauler was a much longer process, and could even take multiple days if the equipment at the ports wasn’t up to par. The crew would actually have time to spend looking out of the windows when they weren’t darkened for faster than light travel, so it was worth including more of them.
    Melissa left once the tour was completed, and everyone helped move Charlie and Samuel’s boxes aboard. That task completed, Joseph went to stand in front of the window on the lounge deck while he waited for Tyrone and Justine to return. Rebecca joined him before long.
    “The docking bay looks smaller from this side,” she commented.
    “Probably because we’re so close to the wall,” Joseph chuckled. “All settled in?”
    “Pretty much. I didn’t have much to put away. When do we leave?”
    “The day after tomorrow. Today is moving in and getting this put away. Tyrone and Justine want to take us all out for drinks tonight to celebrate too, once Garden Variety Animal is loaded. We’ll spend tomorrow making sure we know what’s what on the ship, then we’ll make a quick jump a few systems away to make sure everything’s in order. After that, it’s off to the mines.”

Published: October 28 2018

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