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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 48: Wanderers' Problems

    “I first thought I’d like to own a mine of my own when I was eighteen. I started work in an asteroid mine around then, one in an older and well-populated system. Go figure, I met my wife at the same time. Our courtship went rather quickly, we were married a little after my ninteenth birthday, and Savannah arrived a few weeks after our first anniversary.
    “Our own mine was a goal that seemed pretty unlikely after that, and to be honest I didn’t mind. I barely thought about it for a few years. I had a family instead, and I was content with that. My wife and I had set aside some money with that plan in mind before we found out Savannah was on her way, but even then I figured we’d use it for a house or something along that line.”
    “I remember you almost did that a few times too,” Savannah interrupted with a look at Joseph. “It seemed like every time they were about to do that we got moved to a different station.”
    “I think it was only twice, but she’s right. They offered me promotions to management jobs in both cases, and those jobs were how we met the families who became our business partners. We’d discuss opening a mine from time to time amongst the eight of us, usually when we were annoyed about some decision in the ones we worked for.
    “We started to call our occasional gatherings ‘mine plan meetings’ as a joke. After a few years of that we realized we actually had the skills and could get the resources we needed to do it. The meetings became serious instead of facetious, and someone ran across this system while they poked through survey data.”
    “Sounds like you’ve smoothed out the difficult parts of the story,” Joseph grinned. “My business partnership has involved a lot more arguments than that description implies.”
    “Well yeah, I did. I don’t think you want me to drone on for an hour after all.” Savannah nodded fervently, and Rhett scowled at her in feigned affront. “It’s worked out better than we could have hoped, honestly. Everyone’s kids came along, even the adult ones, although they’re obviously free to leave and pursue other careers. I’m sure they will, but for now they’re all still here.”    “It’s a pretty impressive place, especially when you consider it’s only a year old.” Joseph took another look at the common area. He had no idea how they’d managed to cut such smooth floors out of rock.
    “Well, we’re on the verge of having a successful business, and I certainly don’t regret a minute of the time that led up to it.” Rhett said. “Still, I think you and your partner were wiser in how you went about it. I tried to save to start a business while I provided for a family. It’s not the most efficient way to do either, and probably not the most efficient way to use money. You two had the better method, you built a business before either of you started a family.”
    “Happy as I am about our ships, I think you’re wrong about that.” Joseph shook his head with a faintly regretful expression.
    “Why is that?” Rhett asked.
    Savannah looked at him with a curious smile. Joseph hesitated and rapidly revised the contradiction he’d been about to offer. A significant part of the reason he disagreed was that he was still single himself, and he didn’t want what he said to sound like complaint. To complain about one’s single status wasn’t a good way to change it, and that was doubly true around an attractive girl.
    “You’re right that it’s easier to do when you don’t have the expenses of a family,” Joseph admitted. “The thing is, I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to have a family. Not in relation to other life events, at least. The right time to get married is when you’ve found the right person to marry, not after some arbitrary life event like a business or career is built.
    “My disagreement isn’t that I think either of us was right or wrong in how we started our businesses. It’s more that I think you and Tyrone were both right about when to get married and start a family. Myself too I suppose; I don’t have one because I haven’t found the right person, not because I was waiting until I had my business to look.”
    “That’s true,” Rhett agreed. “I just wonder how things might have been different if we’d built the business before we had the kids. It might have made for an easier childhood for them, for one thing. You might get to find out.”
    “I will, I hope. Of course, Tyrone and I are in a business with much lower capital requirements, and another asset those years gained you was experience in your industry. More experience in spaceborne freight operations would have helped us a lot early on, we struggled to keep our hold full enough to pay our loan the first few months.”
    Savannah nodded in approval. “Also, if I can speak in my role as oldest child for a moment, it’s not like you and Mom’s desire to devote money to this ever cost us anything crucial to our childhoods. Nicer cars to ride in and a few more toys at Christmas wouldn’t have changed our lives much. Ten year old me might not have agreed with that, but that’s mainly because when I was ten I wanted to fill my room with every doll known to man.” Joseph had to hold his breath to avoid breathing in the coffee he’d just drunk before he could laugh.
    “That’s not much of an exaggeration,” Rhett chuckled. “You never saw a doll you didn’t want.”
    “I was the same way with other toys,” Joseph said. “Anyway, I can point out one other flaw in your theory. Gallivanting around the galaxy at random on a freight ship doesn’t make it easy to find a spouse.”
    “You visit a lot of places though, don’t you meet a lot of people?” Savannah asked with a sharp look.
    “Less than you’d think. Most of our time is spent in deep space, not at port. Even when we are at port, I spend most of my time on business errands. It isn’t that often that I meet girls at all, and even less often one I’m likely to see again. The ones I do, I don’t get to see very much.”
    An image of Allison, whom he’d only seen in person once since he and Tyrone brought her to Couradeen Station, flitted through his mind. They talked regularly and she’d adapted well to her new home, but future visits would be necessarily rare. Agricultural stations didn’t have much call for ore haulers.
    “The kids here have the same problem.” Savannah leaned back and looked at Joseph. “There are a few likely couples among the older ones already, but it’s a small pool of people. If nobody here suits you, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to meet others.” She jerked her eyes from Joseph’s face as she realized she was staring, then blushed as she caught her father’s smile.
    “That’s one of the things I’m sure will lead a few of the kids to move away eventually,” Rhett said.
    “If it we start regular shipments from you and the timing works out, they’re welcome to hitch a ride with us when the time comes,” Joseph said. “Young people go where there’s opportunity, so you might attract a few quality ones to come work out here as well.”
    “Or at least visit regularly,” Rhett suggested, tone bland.
    “Or that,” Joseph agreed, trying not to blush himself. There was no fooling a father. It seemed to Joseph that Savannah wanted his attention, and Rhett could tell very well that she’d gotten it. He groped mentally for a change of subject, and was only partly successful. “It’s hard for you to even talk to outsiders, since you’re out of range of the instant communication network.”
    “Yeah, message travel time is twenty hours one way.” Savannah made a mock-horrified face. “Two days to get a response makes it hard to stay in touch with people. I’ve managed it with a few of my closest friends from before the move, and that’s it.”
    “I’ve noticed the challenge since Tyrone and I started flights to unaffiliated worlds. It takes a long time to have a conversation. Those few letters and recorded messages start to take on a different character though, and there’s some charm about that. One message is a lot more meaningful when it’s the only one you can exchange with someone for days, and I tend to put a lot more effort into them.”
    “I’ve noticed that too,” she nodded. “It does make each one a little more special.”
    “I can’t say I’ve noticed it much,” Rhett said. “But then, most of the friends that matter are here with me now. When you get down to it, your Mom and them are all the company I really need”
    “Us young people probably feel the lack most intensely. It’s still affects everyone on the station, which is probably why everyone’s so eager to talk to your crew.” Savannah glanced toward the playground and sighed. “Brace yourself, I think you’re about to experience that firsthand.” Savannah twitched her head to indicate a little girl running toward them.
    “More than I already have you mean?” Joseph smiled.
    “Is that really your ship?” The little girl pointed roughly in the direction of the Laker while she stared wide-eyed at the starman.
    “Aren’t you supposed to introduce yourself before you ask questions?” Savannah laughed.
    The little girl made a face at Savannah. “Hi, I’m Ivy, is that really your ship?”
    “Hi Ivy, and yes, it really is my ship,” Joseph answered.
    Savannah rolled her eyes and Rhett put one hand over his face. Joseph spared an amused glance for their exasperation, but he wasn’t as bothered by the distraction. Before too many years passed Tyrone and Justine’s children would do the same thing. He might as well get used to it. Besides, what was the harm in children’s questions?
    “Is it fast?” Ivy asked
    “Not really,” Joseph said. “It’s made to carry things, not to go fast.”
    “Oh. How did you get it?”
    “My friend and I decided we wanted one, so we saved our money for a long time. Once we had enough we bought the ship. We’ve only had it for a week or so.”
    “I thought you said it was your ship.” She gave him a confused look.
    “It’s mine and my friend’s. We share it.”
    “Oh.” She paused to think of another question. “Can I get one someday?”
    Joseph laughed. “Maybe, if that’s what you want. You might change your mind by then.”
    “Okay Ivy, why don’t you go back to play with the others?” Savannah suggested before she could ask another question. “You can come back if you think of something else you want to ask,” she added as Ivy opened her mouth to complain.
    “Well, okay,” she agreed and ran back toward the playground.
    “My youngest sibling,” Savannah explained before Joseph could ask. “Sorry.”
    “Don’t be, it won’t hurt me to tell curious kids about my ship,” he laughed.
    “I didn’t realize you’ve only had the ore hauler for a week,” Savannah said.
    “I guess I forgot to mention that,” Rhett said. “I didn’t make a general announcement of it, but I figured it would get around to most of the station by the time you got here.”
    “A week and a few days, this is the maiden voyage. We’ve learned most of her quirks already I hope. There’s nothing too odious to deal with. She’s a brand new ship, so I would be a little upset if there was.”
    “That’s an interesting coincidence,” Savannah commented. “Today’s shipment is our first major delivery. I don’t know if Dad remembered to mention it to you, apparently his memory is slipping.” She shot her father an impish grin. Rhett rolled his eyes and sipped his coffee in dignified silence.
    “It is interesting,” Joseph agreed.
    “Both businesses will become profitable on the same ore,” Savannah said.
    “Technically we’re not profitable until we make back our investment,” Rhett disagreed. “That will take quite a few more shipments for us, probably less for you. We’ll both start generating income with the same ore though, so I guess it’s a valid observation.”
    “Either way, it’s a cool connection,” Joseph said. “It sounds like you’re as eager as I am for that ‘generating income’ thing to happen.”
    “Definitely, we’ve watched the money dwindle for a year,” Rhett said. “We made a few small sales with our light freighter, but the amount involved wasn’t anything like this. The total tonnage of all those shipments combined would barely touch your hold. This is our first big sale, and may lead to a longer contract. It would be nice to have regular outbound loads.”
    “A regular schedule gives a lot of stability,” Joseph agreed. “I’m hopeful I’ll find a few things like that for the Laker.”
    “Maybe this will be one of them.” Savannah gave Rhett a look Joseph couldn’t quite identify as she made the suggestion.
    “Hopefully,” Joseph agreed.

Published: December 30 2018

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