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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 44: First Flight

    The gentle metallic hum of the bridge door as it rolled back was the first warning Joseph had that someone else was about to join him. He twisted his head to see who. The stairwell and elevators for the level were separated from the bridge itself by a thick bulkhead, which was fairly good soundproofing. With the door closed, he couldn’t even hear the clatter of footsteps on the metal decking. Of course he might not have even if the door had been open. Rebecca had light footfalls.
    “Good morning,” Joseph said. “Or evening, or something. What is it for you?”
    “Morning,” she smiled. “I thought I ought to come help you stay awake for your last couple hours, since you’re the only one adjusting your sleep cycle.”
    “I think you thought right. Thank you.”
    “You’re welcome.” She gave him a curious look as she descended the shallow ramps down the center of the bridge. Three tiers of two stations each occupied the middle, with extra screens and various equipment around the edges of the room. “I know we had to get at least two people on each eight hour shift, but you could have picked Charlie or Gordon to do it instead. It’s not your fault the three of you happened to operate on more or less the same time zone.”
    “True, I could have.” Joseph almost regretted the decision now, since he was turning his night and day to almost opposite where they had been. “Since I don’t have anyone waiting for me at home, and Charlie and Gordon both have families, I wanted them to stay lined up with the family schedule as much as possible. It will make life easier for them when we’re in port to visit or in range of the instant communication network.”
    “Very considerate of you.” She sat at the copilot’s station and swivelled the chair to face him. For a spit second she reminded him of Tyrone, but the bridge was so different from Garden Variety Animal’s cockpit that it passed at once. “Are you sure you weren’t just trying to get points for being a good boss?”
    “I won’t pretend I didn’t think of that, but it wasn’t the only reason,” Joseph chuckled. “You can’t make every decision based on what will make your employees happy. Or so they tell me, I haven’t had employees for long enough to know.”
    “Well, you have them now. It is nice to have a boss who’s willing to inconvenience himself once in a while, and nicer to know it.”
    “Captain Freidrich wouldn’t do that?”
    Rebecca shook her head and took on a distant expression. “She was, but she isn’t the only boss I’ve ever had. Some of the others weren’t.”
    “Somehow I’d forgotten the Comet wasn’t your first job,” Joseph said. “I did look at the rest of your work history, I’m not sure why I didn’t remember that.”
    “My other jobs don’t translate very strongly to work aboard a spacecraft.” She shrugged the oversight away. “There wasn’t a lot of reason for you to spend much time on them.”
    “No, but I probably ought to have remembered they existed. I guess I got a little scatterbrained for a while there. Were your parents pleased with the change to work aboard ship?”
    “Not necessarily, but they weren’t angry about it the first time. My Mom was disappointed since she wanted me to earn a degree. Dad thought it was as good an idea as any other option I had.”
    “What about the second time?” Joseph asked.
    “Mom wouldn’t talk to me for a full twenty-four hours after I told her,” she laughed. “Dad isn’t so sure how he feels about it. I was back to their house by the time you interviewed me. They were in the kitchen, feeling guilty because they hoped you wouldn’t hire me.”
    “I disappointed them on that score. I can’t say I’m sorry about it.”
    “Neither am I.” Rebecca swung her chair around to stare out the windshield at the glow of faster-than-light travel. “When I started I wasn’t sure how I’d like space travel. As it turned out I loved working aboard the Comet, up until the last forty-eight hours. No job I could find at home would be as good, and they would get tired of having me around the house before too long.”
    “Funny how parents try to get you to stay home, then get annoyed that you’re always at home.” Just a few months before Joseph left to work on a space station, his parents constantly pushed him to find better work and get out of the house. He smiled at the memory of that; once he found the job, all they could talk about were the risks of life and work in space. “My folks were the same way. They never spent much time in space, and thought of it as more dangerous than it really is. Do your parents live on the surface?”
    “Yes, in a pretty large industrial town. The same description would apply to them.”
    “We’ll go to more dangerous places than the Comet, so it’s not an unreasonable thing for them to worry about.”
    “I might not have mentioned that to them,” she said hesitantly.
    Joseph gave her an amused look. “You either did or you didn’t. It’s your business what you tell them, I won’t send them a message to tattle on you. Just remember that you may have to explain that decision someday.”
    “Hopefully not until they’ll be able to understand it.” She finally looked away from the window and turned to face him again. “I’m not sure they’ll ever be able to understand what I love about spaceflight. Even after what happened to the Comet I couldn’t wait to be back in space. I love the travel.”
    “I’ve always appreciated the chance to explore,” Joseph agreed.
    “Every place you land is completely new,” she nodded. “Well, maybe not every place, but you get to see new and interesting ones, even if it’s only through the windshield sometimes. You tend to meet interesting people too, which is fun.”
    “It’s fun to see interesting things, I don’t always enjoy meeting interesting people.” Joseph thought of the Temorran Kindred as he voiced the disagreement. “Still, I rarely pass up a chance, and it’s always an adventure.”
    “Oh, speaking of interesting things, what do you think of the main window in the lounge?” She grinned as she asked.
    “Hard to believe none of us really listened when Melissa pointed it out on the tour,” he laughed. “I think her mistake was that she set it to a view of the stars. An entire windshield filled with stars is just the normal view from any cockpit at sub-light speeds, and it’s not new to us. Fill it with a panoramic recording that makes it look like we parked the ship on a tropical beach and it’s a different story entirely.”
    “Did you know about that feature when you picked out the ship? I spent about an hour and a half looking at the different scenes my first time off watch.”
    “I’m sure I read some reference to it in some marketing material and just blew past it as irrelevant. It was a nice surprise once we figured out what it was.”
    “Very nice,” she agreed. “Anyway, even if we don’t get as many opportunities to leave the ship and explore here as I did with the Comet, I'm thrilled to be back in space. Everyone I meet who grew up on a station seems to have the opposite opinion though, they always ask what life on the surface is like.”
    “Tyrone and I talked about that a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed the same thing. People romanticize what they haven’t experienced, I suppose. Justine has always wanted to live on a planet.”
    “I think I caught that when we were at the bar,” Rebecca said. “Do you think she and Tyrone will ever do that?”
    Joseph laughed. “I have no idea. Nor do I know whether I’ll ever want to go back to that. It’s just too far into the future. Right now I’m preoccupied with the business, and they are too.”
    “It is a long way out to think,” she admitted.
    “There’s plenty of more immediate things for me to focus on to get this ship into service too. Any plan for my retirement takes a backseat to that.”
    “It seems to be going well so far,” Rebecca said.
    “It’s been a good start. I’ll be more comfortable once we get through this first voyage. Tyrone didn’t comment on it much, but we used almost all our money on this ship. He doesn’t have to tell me that it makes him nervous, and I don’t disagree with the sentiment. We have employees and his family to provide for. Once we make our first delivery our finances will look a lot better and we’ll both be more comfortable.”
    “Are you worried about running out of money?” She gave him a concerned look.
    “Not really, we have enough left for everybody’s first month’s pay, and this ship will finish two runs before that runs out. We’d just like to be a little further ahead than that. It isn’t a lot of room for mishaps.”
    “That’s true,” she agreed. “It’s good that the first voyage is going so well then. We didn’t have so much as a hiccup on the shakedown run. I’m not sure if that’s normal or not, but there haven’t been any problems since either.”
    “New ships are usually expected to perform well. Shakedown runs are hopefully only to give the crew time to get used to the ship.” They were also the best time to find any defective parts that made it past the manufacturer, as opposed to half way through the first voyage. Joseph decided not to mention that. They hadn’t found any defective parts, so hopefully there weren’t any.
    “Great Mandan Laker is living up to that,” Rebecca said. “Another thing I noticed is that it’s remarkably well-thought-out. The Comet had all kinds of weird, inconvenient quirks. Storage spots with odd shapes that made them nearly useless, cabinet doors that wouldn’t open all the way because something was behind them, that kind of thing.”
    “I noticed that too,” Joseph nodded. “The Animal doesn’t have many, but it looks like Laker has even less.” He admired the bridge as he said it. The tiered design gave it a neat feel in his opinion, and it was spacious. Most of the ship was, and that was welcome.
    “A question on a different subject entirely,” Rebecca warned, “What’s the deal with this Eerifax system we’re visiting for the first trip? I was going through the navigation computer’s system database for practice during my watch, and couldn’t find it in there. You did say it was a Teton Sector system, didn’t you?”
    “Teton Sector databases probably still have it programed with a number designation,” Joseph said. “I thought I updated our records, did you look there or only at the official database?”
    “Only the official one. That explains why I couldn’t find it. I thought they updated the official database to use a name once someone picks one.”
    “Most of the time the name is picked by the first settlers, and I don’t think they update the database until the settlers request it. I guess they haven’t yet, even though they picked a name.”
    There were probably lots of reasons not to make the change immediately. Eerifax was a long way out. Despite it’s status as part of Teton Sector space it qualified as a fringe system, well outside any trade routes and disconnected from the instant communication network. The settlers were very much on their own.
    “How much did you find out about the system and settlers?” Rebecca asked. “I never really thought about it when you told us our destination, now I’m curious.”
    “Details on that are a bit sparse for my taste,” Joseph admitted. “We’ll get the chance to ask them though. Justine arranged the trip with the buyer, and she mainly focused on the job and any risks to the ship. She doesn’t have my sense of curiosity about other things. I do know the asteroid miners are the first settlers, and they’ve been there less than a year. Our delivery is iron ore, and if it’s good quality this buyer will order from them regularly.”
    “Will that mean we take the run regularly?”
    “I don’t know, but I hope so. The timetable for our trips into the Teton Sector is fairly erratic right now, since we’ll take cargo to other nations as well. Exploration is fun, but it would be nice to have a regularly scheduled trip home.”

Published: November 18 2018

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