Authors: Mackey Chandler
The Middle of Nowhere
Third book in the
Sequel to "Down to Earth"
Editing services by Leo Champion
April was tired and depressed. Her trip down to Earth had been such a failure. She hadn't rescued the two lieutenants who had asked her to help them get to Home. She'd spent a great deal of Eddie's money, but if it made war less likely, as he was hoping, she didn't see how. She had certainly tweaked the giant's nose as far as irritating North America. But she couldn't see that had really improved anything about the USNA ignoring their treaty obligations with Home. Eddie's fortune was still at risk if whoever replaced President Wiggen wanted war with Home and there wasn't a single candidate who wanted peace with Home. It was just a question of how long each favored waiting to start up hostilities again.
About the only thing she could claim to have accomplished for sure, was Preston Harrison was not going to ride the Patriot Party ticket to the USNA Presidency. He'd tried to arrest her and she'd shot him dead for his trouble. Her Earth hosts, the Santos, intimated that might not have been the best PR move of all time. But the fool swore to her face he'd kill her family and nation as his first official act. What did he expect?
Whatever their private plans and opinions, April doubted other candidates would make such a public threat if they ever intended to stand under an open sky again. If they did she'd be happy to put a smoking crater where any of them showed themselves. Harrison had certainly underestimated how difficult one young girl could be to drag off under arrest.
Things were sort of a mess. Her Earth hosts didn’t feel safe going back to their home and instead were sailing away to do her job and rescue the men she'd intended to extract. Her bodyguard was sitting in the other shuttle couch beside her, apparently betrayed by his own government, the same as the lieutenants, mixed up in politics that didn't concern him. Assigned to her by Wiggen it was true, but because she'd asked for him she felt responsible.
She had to sort out the businesses she'd inherited from her brother. She wasn't even sure what all of them were and if he'd left anybody in charge running them. There was the real possibility some people would blame her for precipitating his apparent traitorous theft of the armed merchant
and the destruction of it in Lunar orbit while collaborating with the USNA.
Since she'd walked away from her interest in their courier business and left her share to him she certainly had not expected him to leave anything to her. She had bluntly made clear she didn't approve of his business practices and had separated herself before going down to Earth. So why had he left everything to her? Why not their parents or her grandfather? A friend even, if he had one. Was it guilt?
Just about everyone she could think of had a good reason to chew her out or blame her for things ending in such a muddled mess. She wasn't looking forward to facing the music.
This was a freight shuttle, so it would dock at the north end. They wouldn't go to the passenger dockage for two people. Not unless they were high end VIPs and VIPs didn't ride freight shuttles. To switch docks was another hour for the flight crew, a couple hundred bucks of propellant for maneuvering jets and an expensive hour on the shuttle airframe to move it. The north end was industrial and lacked carpet and bright colors and shops. There would be an unlocked com pad at the airlock with a camera and touch pad for crew. Jon might not even send security all the way up to the north hub for one person, knowing both crew and she would direct them to check in.
"I don't know much about Home," Gunny spoke up from the other couch. "I mean I know about
, because I read your folder. That told me a little bit about Home, but otherwise I only know what I've seen on the news and we know how reliable that is. Are there any customs I should be aware of to avoid offending people?"
"I've been thinking about my own problems so much I didn't stop and think about what you need in practical terms," April admitted. "I have a bad habit of assuming everybody knows what I do and probably more. Look, I'm not sure who I'll get you placed with. I have to look at the companies my brother left me. One of them may need you," she assured him.
"Believe it or not we've got an actual employment agency running from before I came down. How about if you stay on as my bodyguard for a month? You hang out with me and I'll try to explain things as they come up. You can read the recordings of the public meetings when Home was formed. Especially the few before the war will explain how we voted to break off with North America, not what the press reported. You can meet people and get a feel for how things work. I have to go around and smooth things out with a whole lot of people. Don't be surprised if some of them are angry with me. I didn't get the basic things I intended to done on Earth and blew a bundle trying. But I don't think anybody will be angry enough to hurt me. Guarding me shouldn't be hazardous."
"How much are you paying and where would I stay?"
"Say, a seventy a month
basic cafeteria access and your air and water fees. The Holiday Inn is really too expensive for a month. Let me see if the company still lets transients rent out space in the company barracks."
"Yeah, thousand dollars, USNA, unless you insist on EuroMarks."
"That seems, generous," he said. So generous he was somewhat dubious.
"It won't after your first two hundred dollar t-shirt or you need to buy a cheap lunch off station and the best you can find is a forty-five dollar thin cheeseburger, ten dollar fries and a fifteen buck beer with a ten buck tip. It's gotten worse since so much lift capacity was lost in the war."
"I see," Gunny said, slightly stunned at those numbers.
"If we hadn't had the devaluation back the year before I was born think what it would be."
"That's of course easy for me to remember. My paycheck was suddenly one tenth what it was the month before. The prices didn't all instantly adjust either. I kept a bunch of clean uncirculated greenback notes figuring they would be worth more as collectibles in my lifetime rather than turn them in. I'm pleased I'm on the plus side of that deal already."
"But if they were in your house or a bank box you might never recover them."
"No, no. They're out in the piney woods. You have to dig down as far as my arm will reach under a big old pine tree where you have to crawl under the branches. You get down there and you find a screw out cap. Then the stuff is on a line hanging down at the end of a three meter plastic pipe. There's old money, some newer money, a few gold coins and a spare pistol. I'm sure I'll be able to recover it someday. I have the GPS coordinates memorized."
"That kind of caching things is hard to do on an orbital habitat."
"Not at all. I can hide stuff on a ship or an aircraft. That's one way I can earn my keep. I will teach you how to cache stuff so others don't find it while I'm working for you. Perhaps there are a few other tricks an old man can teach you if you want," he sounded amused again.
April was still processing the original question. "Gunny, we don't have many
different from North America, after all most of us are recently from North America even if we were ignoring a lot of the stupider regulations. The reasons we separated aren't about everyday living for the most part. I can't think of anything important, but I'm sure we'll run into little things as you get settled in. But we
have a lot less laws," she emphasized.
"Don't assume anything you see is illegal by ground side standards. You can use your judgment to let your minor child alone in your apartment, or let them go to the cafeteria unsupervised. They can be in public in short sleeves or even shorts. Marijuana and tobacco are legal to own and use, but it
against regulations to pollute the air or have an open flame in public spaces. And you can own and carry any crazy sort of weapon you want."
"Burn in thirty seconds," announced their pilot. After a very short burn there were a couple minor taps on the attitude jets and the lurch of the grapples pulled them the final couple centimeters flush to the station with a >clunk<.
The second officer passed through and opened the airlock hatches. The pilot waited at the hatch of the flight deck for them to exit before she'd leave her vessel. There was the slight pressure change when it opened and they had to swallow and force a yawn to get their ears to feel right. Neither had any carry-on to deal with. April motioned Gunny ahead. He'd never been in zero G and she wanted to be behind him to watch and help him. He was so big he sort of blocked the view, which is why she was to the outer door before she saw it was the tunnel for the south end passenger docks.
She grabbed the edge of the flange. "Why aren't we up at the freight docks?" she asked their copilot. "You didn't have to dock here for us."
"We were told using the north docks would create a problem. It isn't big enough to handle a crowd meeting the shuttle," she explained.
Just then Gunny reached the end of the tube. It did have a line for newbies to go hand over hand. April heard a loud swell of voices. She hurried after him without another word to the crewwoman. Where the tunnel opened up there was Jon manning the entry station himself and here, outside spin where they restricted access, were her parents and Jeff and Heather, Ruby and Easy, Eddie, Doris, her Grandpa Happy and a couple of Jon's off duty people as well as a half dozen of the militia guys.
Looking through the entry bearing opening to spin there were folks packed elbow to elbow around the rail looking down through the short tunnel at them, turning slowly and there was a banner tied on the rail that said, "Welcome Home April". It was so long you had to watch it make a full turn to read it all. The noise level indicated there were quite a few folks out of sight on the spin side of the opening behind the ones at the rail.
For a wonder somebody had bothered to clean up the graffiti along the hairline crack that marked the seal and rotating and zero G sections. The last time April was here an elaborate ocean liner on the spin side had been cruising around and around on a circular sea drawn on the non-rotating end. There would be something new up in a week at the most. When she was younger someone had done a Model T going past an old fashioned town.
She looked up and most of them waved at her. What else could she do without looking stuck-up? She waved back. Then a dozen people all tried to hug her at once and she was squished. Somebody had her left hand and gently squeezed it. She couldn't even see who it was so she just squeezed back.
She folded her other arm over her sore ribs, worried she'd get bumped but people were careful though they still reached to touch her hand or shoulder.
Gunny had been signing in at the entry com before she'd looked up and waved. It didn't look like she was going to get a chance to log in. She was more or less swept along by both hands and elbows as the mass of friends and family all took off for the rim of the bearing like a bird flock. Somebody kindly grabbed her by the belt in back and pulled her over to the rail as they approached it.
She gave the rail a token touch but there was no need to swing over it. More hands grabbed her patting back or arm or shoulder, whatever they could reach, urging her along and a succession of people most of whom she at least knew by sight hugged her.
The astonishing thing was the tone of the brief greetings spoken softly in her ears as she was passed along. "Good job, good job, welcome back." – "You scared us. Damn Earthies." – "Hated to see you on the slumball, but thanks for going." – "'bout time you came Home dammit."
She had home and a bed in mind, but ended up at the cafeteria, carried along in a human tide. A hand fell on her shoulder and a male voice asked what she wanted? "Coffee please," she told the fellow, giving the hand a touch. Wasn't he from maintenance? She wasn't sure.