Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Two

Boston Base, like I said before, is quite a crowded space station. Nobody ever knew that you could pack over fifteen thousand people into such a small space, but they managed it! I knew this had to violate almost every Federal health code and safety regulation in the book, but that didn't change the fact that breathing space on this station was almost unheard of. I wonder how many times the Federal inspectors have been bought off so that the population could remain this high.

This is just ridiculous, was the thought that kept popping up during my time here.

Mind you, we're not talking about so many people that it looks like a perpetual riot in progress, but I swear you couldn't walk two meters without having to step past another person. Thank God the corridors were wide. The slidewalks also managed to keep folks moving around in a relatively safe manner. Of course, that was on the lower levels where gravity was at 1G. In the weightless hub of the station, people floated about, hanging in the air like professional basketball players or underwater divers without a pool.

I took a lift from the center of the station and down into the "Gravity Zone," where most of the residents lived. Feeling the shift from zero gravity to just a little less than 1G can tie your stomach in knots! Fortunately, I've been at this for a while and I knew what to expect. The lift doors opened and I stepped out, looking around at the scenery. Despite all of this overcrowding and lack of privacy, I still preferred this place to Sirocco Station. Some may call me weird, but I feel like this is more real. I also enjoy the company of people. Being alone on my ship during all those cargo runs sure takes its toll. Well, if it's interaction you want, Boston Base is the place for it! Sometimes, though, you need to watch yourself. This may be a Federal colony, but that didn't always keep tempers from flaring up. I knew that my best option was to take care of business before seeing the sights... however few there were.

I strode into the station lobby and into another crowded mass of citizenry. I found the station map and took my time figuring out where I was and where I needed to go. My instincts told me that the people I needed to see would be found on the VIP level and the detailed map enabled it to locate that section of the station with very little trouble at all. I was grateful that everything was color-coded and that coding was consistent from station to station. Having found the information I needed, I turned away from the large electronic map board and made my way out of the lobby and into a maze wide passageways.

You definitely know you're in a crowded space station when there's a waiting line for the main lifts. The main lifts are meant to carry over fifty people at a time and, if the station has four of them, you can imagine how overcrowded the place is if there was a line. I waited my turn and was lucky enough to be among the next group of people to be let onto the elevator. The short, impish man at the control panel for the lift watched me with deep-set eyes. I returned his gaze and said "VIP Level." He nodded and keyed in my request. Once the last person in line was admitted into the lift, the doors closed and we began to descend. Much of the lift was made of transparisteel, so those of us against the wall could watch our descent. Like most space stations, Boston Base rotated about its center axis to provide its artificial gravity. It was a much more cost-effective method of not only maintaining 1G, but also for keeping the station stable in its orbit. Most ships had gravity plates in the floor, but this was necessary because of the incredible G-forces that today's interplanetary drives could put out. Accelerating under full power, even ships like the Lion or the Lanner, with their "hamster wheel" engines, could still turn crewmembers and passengers into a quivering lumps of jelly if it wasn't for gravity generation technology. Yet, we still spin our space stations.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's more for nostalgic reasons than anything else. In the late 21st Century, when we were just beginning to leave the confines of our little blue Earth, space stations were built to look like huge spinning doughnuts in space, not like the blocky Coriolis or cylindrical High Port stations. Not only that, but people traveled between Earth, the Moon, and Mars in huge ships that would spin around their central axis to simulate gravity. Needless to say, in the last twelve centuries, we have definitely come a long way, which I suppose is natural for any race!

I was one of the last people to get off the elevator. The VIP residences were located along an outside wall of the station so that the affluent could enjoy a view of space through a real window instead of a fake holographic projection. To me, it didn't make much difference, space was space, whether seen through a transparisteel window or glimpsed on a projection screen. Of course, those rich folks walking through these plush hallways probably wouldn't want to hear me saying that, so I just kept my thoughts to myself as I made my way to my destination.

I knew exactly where I needed to go. Maximillian Weaver, one of the head partners of Weaver, Baker, Dreyfuss, and Stone, a huge mining company, was throwing a big party for all of his friends and co-workers. From what I gathered, it was another "I'm the richest man in the system" party. Naturally, lots of imported cuisine was essential and Merlin Ice fish definitely qualified. I've never actually tasted it myself, but they say it's quite a treat. Of course, most of the places I went to eat at were generally among the more affordable: I never felt it worth shelling out one cargo run's profit for a lousy plate of grub. Yes, restaurants DO get that expensive out here! A buddy of mine told me he paid out five hundred credits for dinner for two at the God's Eye Café on the Mars High Orbital City. I couldn't help but laugh. I remember telling him, "Hey, man, if you were so desperate to get laid, you could've saved yourself a lot of cash by going down to the South Sector!" He was not amused, especially as the person he took to dinner was his mom. Hey, how was I supposed to know?

After a five-minute walk through some of the most plushly decorated corridors I've ever seen, I arrived at the door to Mr. Weaver's suite. I pressed the call buzzer and waited. As I expected, I was greeted by a short man wearing a porter's uniform: A red jacket trimmed in gold and gilt.

"Hello, I'm here to see Mr. Weaver. I believe he was expecting me."

The little man seemed to be sizing me up. Clearly, I wasn't the sort of person he was used to dealing with. Maybe I should've put on my good flight suit, the one with my shiny gold Star Pilot's wings on it. (Actually, they are very pretty to look at... and the nice uniform impresses the ladies.)

The porter sighed and asked, "Your name, sir?" He seemed in no mood to stir any unnecessary muscles.

"Mark Pritchard." I thought about adding in that I was Commander of the Gray Wolf, but didn't. Besides, I don't think it would've meant very much to him. The porter probably thought, I was either just another hauler come to ask him for a raise or maybe a rock hermit come to ask him to keep his miners off my personal asteroid.

The porter nodded, "One moment, sir. Come on in and have a seat," He indicated a padded bench just inside the door. I've been greeted by porters before and I knew they were supposed to let you into the entryway... Probably for the purposes of a weapon scan. Well, nobody had to worry: I make it a point to keep my laser pistol tucked away in my ship's locker, especially if I'm making house calls on wealthy executives. Some would call that a crazy idea. I call it a show of good faith... Again, it goes back to me saying, "Hey, I'm still alive, aren't I?" Besides, if it came down to it, I still had a few tricks up my sleeves.

After about five minutes of waiting silently followed by a few seconds of a humming sound which I knew had to be the weapon scanner, the porter returned, smiling brightly. He must have been told exactly who I was and why I was here. He stopped just in front of the beautiful mahogany inner door and said, "Mr. Weaver will see you now, sir. Please follow me."

I kicked a bit of dust off of my boots and brushed off my leather name badge. I rose from the bench and checked my flight suit zippers as the porter turned and headed back through the inner doorway. I followed in close pursuit.

After passing through a small dark hallway, we entered the main living room. It was astounding! The vaulted ceiling had to have been at least six meters high and a huge, highly ornamented chandelier hung from the ceiling. It was the sort of chandelier that you would see in an opera house or some other major performing arts palace. Everywhere you looked, the décor was lavish: Gold, silver, and crystal glimmered atop polished wooden tables and shelves. The deep red carpet was so thick and soft it felt like you were walking on air.

I found Mr. Weaver standing right near the entranceway, dressed in a pair of comfortable looking slacks and a red sport jacket over a black turtleneck shirt. I guess I was expecting him to be lounging in one of his armchairs and dressed in something more resembling an ornamental bathrobe or a full business suit. I also figured him to behave like a classic "stuffed shirt" sort of man. Well, contrary to all my expectations, Mr. Weaver was a very cheery individual who totally deviated from any impression I had of rich corporate executives and his demeanor was warm and welcoming.

"Hey there, c'mon in!"

I took a few more steps into the room, taking in the splendor of the wealthy man's bounty, "This is quite a place you have here, sir!" I was truly impressed.

"Well, thank you, sir!" He walked over to me, "By the way, I don't think we were officially introduced," He extended his open hand, "Max Weaver."

"Mark Pritchard," I took his hand and shook it, adding, "It's a real honor and a privilege to meet you, sir." I figured that was appropriate, after all, how many people can claim they shook hands with one of the wealthiest miners in the Federation?

I released his hand as he gave a backhanding gesture with his other arm, "Oh please! I'm just an asteroid miner who got lucky, that's all." He turned and headed toward an overstuffed easy chair sitting beside a polished coffee table. "Anyone could've done it. It all amounts to being in the right place at the right time." He paused and then added, "Well, maybe it takes some brainwork too, all things considered." He chuckled as he sat down and motioned for me to sit on the sofa across from him. I did so and felt the soft warm velvet of electrically heated cushions and padding. This guy was loaded!

"Well, I suppose I was in the right place at the right time when I saw your message on the Bulletin board," I was referring to a small message I found while surfing through the electronic bulletin board. I remember it clearly, it read, "Special Delivery of Merlin Ice Fish for Mr. Weaver at Boston Base. Highest Prices paid for fast transport." I made an inquiry and, after finding out how much I was to be paid, I figured it would be more than worth it. I took the job.

"Yes, well, I believe we have an agreed-upon payment. How much did you manage to bring?"

"Seven tons. I would've had nine if some pirates hadn't shot a hole into my cargo bay."

His eyes grew wide, "SEVEN tons? That'll feed everyone twice and still leave enough left over for Dreyfuss's birthday party next week!"

I started to get nervous, "So... is that too much?"

He blinked and looked over at me, "Oh, no! Not at all! I'm just thinking about how many happy folks we'll have here at the party tomorrow... Now Dreyfuss'll be able to get some for his big bash too! He was thinking of putting out an add, now he won't have to worry about it. You managed to kill two birds with one stone!"

He stood up, walked over to his desk and removed his minicomputer, a very small, flat keypad with a holographic display instead of an actual screen. He pressed a few keys and, after a moment's pause, held the computer before me. The numbers on the screen were quite pleasing to my eye: thirty-five hundred credits for seven tons of Merlin Ice Fish! I pressed the "accept" button and typed in my Universal Account Number and pass code (both of which the computer neatly encrypted for me.) I pressed "Enter" on the tiny keypad and watched as symbols flashed across the floating three-dimensional display. After a giving a few beeps and chirps, the computer displayed a new message: "Transfer of Cr. 3,500 to account holder Pritchard, Mark J. complete."

"A pleasure doing business with you, sir," I said as I handed the minicomputer back to the smiling Maximillian Weaver, "My ship's in bay 4. I'll be back there at fourteen hundred hours. You can off-load then."

"Good enough. I appreciate your coming through so well for us, Mark." He extended his hand once more and I shook it. The deal was done.

Chapter Three

Chapter One

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