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

In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 43: To New Challenges

    A small starmans’ bar a few corridors back from the new ore hauler’s berth was the place Tyrone and Justine selected to say their farewells to Joseph and his crew. Once they moved Joseph’s boxes aboard Tyrone led the group there. He didn’t notice the name of the place as he stepped inside but it had the atmosphere typical of a starmans’ bar: cheerful, easily overheard boasting on a backdrop of slightly dated but catchy music. The name didn’t matter, chances were they would never be back.
    “Over there.” Justine pointed out a round table with exactly the right number of chairs, a couple rows back from the bar.
    “Good eye.” Tyrone started toward it, the others trailing after him.
    “I wanted a round table. It helps keep everyone engaged in one conversation, as long as you’re still able to hear the person opposite you. This place doesn’t seem too noisy for that.”
    Crowds weren’t large at this time of day, but there were enough patrons that they were inconspicuous. The peculiar nature of starmans’ bars played a role in that. They hosted crews from all over the Teton Sector and foreign nations as well, and the “expected” style of dress had a large range. The only person to take any notice of them was the server, who came to greet them as they took their seats.
    “Welcome,” she said as she passed out menus. “Will you want anything from the kitchen or just drinks?”
    “Just drinks,” Tyrone answered, “and please bring the bill to me.”
    She returned soon after to jot their orders on a notescreen, and within a few minutes everyone sipped in comfort. Tyrone and Justine stuck to non-alcoholic beverages since they would fly out soon after leaving, but Joseph and his crew ordered a variety of beer, wine and whiskey. Great Mandan Laker wasn’t scheduled to leave her bay until tomorrow.
    Joseph arranged to get her under way quickly by most standards, of which Tyrone was glad. Planned purchase though it was, the balance in their business accounts afterward alarmed him. The ship and equipment nearly emptied their coffers, and he’d feel better when she started to bring and income.
    “Some of you are too new to know it,” Tyrone began, “but we’ve been working toward this for quite a few years. I hope you’re all excited, because Joseph, Justine and I are about as excited as we can be to get our second ship in space.”
    “Others of us know full well how excited you are,” Charlie laughed. “You’d barely gotten Garden Variety Animal operational when you started talking about this ship. Well, one of you anyway.”
    “What was that like?” Gordon grinned and glanced sideways at Joseph. “I think you’re the only one who met all three before they even had one ship.”
    “Well, mostly they tried my patience.” The rest of the table laughed. “Tyrone and Joseph are completely irrepressible, as Samuel and Rebecca will soon learn, and Joseph is the worse of them. I thought when they bought the Animal I’d get some peace and quiet, but it wasn’t two months before Joseph came along again asking if I knew anything about ore haulers. On no day before or since has it been such a misfortune to me that I am an honest man. Once he knew I’d sailed on one before he couldn’t stop coming up with more questions!” Charlie lifted his hands theatrically, careful not to hit anyone in the head.
    The others tried to muffle their laughter, but for a moment theirs was the loudest table in the bar.
    “I think you’re exaggerating,” Nathan said.
    “Well yes, I am.”
    “Not by all that much,” Joseph admitted. “I made quite a pest of myself. There was a lot to learn.”
    Tyrone swallowed his coffee too quickly trying to clear his mouth, and his words came out in a raspy gasp. “Joseph managed to learn plenty too.” He rubbed his throat in hopes of eliminating the sting. “By the time he mentioned it to me he could already counter most of the objections I could raise.”
    “What about Justine?” Nathan asked.
    “Oh, I wasn’t that involved at that time. Tyrone and I had just started to date, there was no reason to include me in that kind of decision yet. It was only a few months into operating Garden Variety Animal.”
    “I didn’t know in those days how serious that relationship would become either,” Joseph said. “It wouldn’t have changed that much, but I’m glad we were talking about it well before he was making plans to propose. Early on he and I both thought we’d get a second light freighter, the bulk hauler idea was a big change in plans.”
    “I’d imagine,” Charlie said. “Hard to imagine a worse time to start that discussion than when your partner is embroiled in planning a wedding.”
    Tyrone groaned involuntarily, and the others laughed. “You know it really wasn’t that hard, there was just so much to do. Justine may disagree, she had to do more of it than I did.”
    She gave him a funny look, which he interpreted as you have no idea what you’re talking about do you? “No I didn’t, you did at least as much.”
    “I did?”
    She smiled and leaned against him. “You probably didn’t realize it because my list of things was longer. You got all the menial, time-consuming things that could be done aboard ship.”
    Tyrone sipped his coffee absently, thinking back to see if that revelation matched up. “I guess I did.” He could recall lots of envelopes and guest lists and that sort of thing, but the planning was mostly a fuzzy blur. Justine and God were the important parts.
    “So what did you think of the ship?” Gregory gave the couple a sly look.
    Tyrone didn’t take the bait. “Plenty of cargo room, I’m sure she’ll be as profitable to operate as Joseph always predicted.”
    “She has great defenses too, plenty of guns and strong shields,” Justine said. “Any pirates that decide to take you on are liable to regret it after a few minutes.
    “I think Gordon was hoping you’d notice how spacious it is,” Nathan snickered.
    “Oh, that!” Justine widened her eyes as though she hadn’t thought of it already. “I did actually, it’s quite roomy. The view from the lounge area is impressive, even if it was just of a docking bay.”
    “The kitchen and dining level was nice too,” Tyrone agreed.
    “We thought you might be a little jealous of the size of the captain’s quarters,” Nathan told them. “They’re quite a bit larger than what you have on Garden Variety Animal.”
    “Ah!” Tyrone nodded sagely, as though struck with sudden understanding. “They are very nice, that’s true.”
    Justine dropped the act to give an honest answer. “I’ll admit to being a tiny bit jealous of Joseph.”
    “Only a bit?” Nathan gave an incredulous look.
    “Only a bit,” she confirmed. “I can’t pretend I wouldn’t like more space, the cabins on Garden Variety Animal are a little cramped. They’re big enough for our purposes, so I don’t think about it too much. The compensation for the small living space is that the ship was designed to be operated by a single family, so we have it to ourselves.”
    Rebecca frowned at the description. “I would expect Garden Variety Animal to have more living space than normal, since it’s a family freighter.”
    “Oh, she’s much larger than average for a light interstellar freighter,” Charlie said. “I’ve flown quite a few of the single or double pilot designs. The Animal is to them what the Laker is to her. They have a similar cargo bay setup, but everything else is smaller or not there. The cabins are only a little smaller, but there is no living room or workrooms and the kitchens are much smaller, just enough space to store food and get it ready.”
    Rebecca’s eyes went wide. “I didn’t realize they were that small. The Comet was the only freighter I’d flown on, and after seeing the layouts of the other ships on the way home I thought they would all have those things.”
    Charlie shook his head. “Unfortunately not. When you compare the family freighters to a bulk hauler, you have to keep in mind what Justine said: the family freighters are meant to be occupied by a single family. Big freighters just can’t operate that way. If someone moves a family onto one, which does happen, they don’t have the run of the whole ship. On the Laker they might get one deck to themselves at most, and that would be much more cramped than a family freighter.
    “I can’t overemphasize the benefit of owning the ship, either. There’s a lot of reasons family freighter models are popular among those who own their own ship. I’ve known a few couples that decided to settle on a planet and just kept their freighter instead of building a house.”
    Justine gave Tyrone a calculating look, and he laughed. “Not for many years dear. The only useful thing I could do for a new settlement anyway is haul cargo.” She made a disappointed face.
    “Alright, sorry to back everything up,” Samuel said, “but being one of the new people, I’m still trying to get the time line straight. How long have you three been planning this purchase?”
    “A little more than three years, I think,” Tyrone said.
    “That seems about right,” Joseph agreed. “I had the idea not too long after we bought the first ship, and that was three years and a few months ago now.”
    “We knew paying off the first ship and saving that much money would take a lot of time,” Tyrone said, “so we started to look for a lot of cargo headed to unaffiliated systems. Everything out there is more of a hassle, which makes it hard to get ship owners to go. The ones that do command high pay.”
    “We also tried to find specialty cargo,” Joseph said. “Things that would need special handling and therefore pay even more.”
    “Special handling meaning it was hazardous cargo?” Rebecca asked.
    “A lot of it was just plain hazardous,” Joseph nodded, “but not always. Some cargoes needed attention during the trip, some were delicate equipment, that kind of thing. We liked the ones that needed special care when we could get them, because it gave us something to do during a week-long flight.”
    “Makes sense,” Samuel nodded. “How did Justine feel about the hazardous stuff?”
    “Well, again, by the time my opinion mattered that much they were already doing it,” she said. “Tyrone and I only met a couple months before they bought Animal. We didn’t start seriously dating until we noticed how much we missed each other during their deep space trips.”
    “I think my trouble is that I can’t picture the business without you doing the scheduling,” Samuel said.
    “No kidding,” Joseph said. “Those were the bad old days, when Tyrone or I were constantly trying to line up the next few loads and half the time we weren’t in range of an instant communication beacon to respond to messages.”
    “Anyway, they had paid off Garden Variety Animal and started to save for the ore hauler by the time Tyrone and I got engaged. We knew we wanted Animal to ourselves to start a family, and all of us liked the income potential of the ore hauler, so we stuck to that plan.”
    “I never did understand exactly why all three of you weren’t on the Animal for that part,” Nathan said.
    “One of the biggest reasons was that I didn’t want to take Justine to some of the places we were visiting,” Tyrone answered. “She also needed reliable communications to schedule our loads. Consideration for Joseph too, we wanted him to have somewhere to go before we had kids.”
    Charlie gave him a look. “You could have been on the same ship and avoided starting the family until there was another for Joseph.”
    Tyrone gave the look right back. “Apart from the other reasons, I don’t think that would have worked. Had we been together all the time for the last year, the family would have started on accident no matter what we did to avoid it.”
    Justine laughed beside him. “You can expect that we’ll be assembling you all again for a baptism within a year.” General laughter followed that comment.
    “Today is the end of an era and the dawn of a better one for us,” Tyrone said. “We have our second ship, we hired a great crew to run it and we have every reason to expect it to go well.” He raised his coffee mug in a toast. “May God make it a profitable enterprise for all of us.”
    “Hear hear!” Charlie said as the mugs, glasses and tankards clattered together. “I do want to retire one of these days after all.”

Published: November 11 2018

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber