Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Six

I climbed down the steel ladder and soon found myself standing in the midst of a crowd of well-dressed party attendees. None of the guests seemed worse for wear. I could see some couples moving to the music on the wooden dance floor with others mingling around a hastily constructed refreshment table. I was pretty confident that Mr. Weaver and Mr. Dreyfuss decided to keep the guests in the dark about the failed assassination ploy. I chuckled to myself as a line from an old Earth 2-D video show rattled around in my head, "Whatever you do, don't mention the War!"

"Mark! Glad you could make it on down!" Mr. Weaver, still holding that same cigar, walked on up to me and slapped my arm with his free hand. "So, whadaya think?"

I looked around again, taking in the scenery, and lied, "It's nice," then I threw in some truth for good measure, "It reminds me of some of those Federal Military balls they had."

Weaver's eyebrows went up, "You worked for the Military?"

I sighed, "Well, I didn't get these for serving pastries in a sweet shop," I gave a little gesture to the block of colorful ribbons on my flight suit.

The older man took a moment to study my little collection. "Very impressive, soldier," he gave me another slap on my shoulder. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I gotta get back to my little executive meeting over there," he indicated a cluster of several elderly business types in full three- and four-piece suits. There were two older women with them, dressed in flourishy evening gowns and the entire group seemed to be in a very heated discussion.

"Well, yeah," I said.

He turned to go, then turned back for a moment and said, "By the way, Jeannie's over there," he pointed toward the far end of the dance floor where, sure enough, Mr. Dreyfuss's daughter stood. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the first time I ever got her name! Weaver continued, "and, I thought your pilot's manual would've said something about pressing the ladder stud before opening the hatch. You were lucky she was over there when you forgot that."

I glanced down at the floor, embarrassed, "Yeah, I'll remember that next time."

Weaver laughed, "Good. Well, have fun," The man with the cigar and red dinner jacket turned and strode away.

I looked back out across the dance floor. Jeannie Dreyfuss hadn't moved and was now staring across the dance floor at me. The multicolored lights shimmered off her sheet of blonde hair, giving it an extra touch of effervescence. I looked at her and she looked right back at me. I wasn't sure what I was thinking, but I decided to walk over to her. She stayed right where she was, though now appearing to watch the rest of the party.

"Hey, care to dance?"

The girl turned her lovely face to look at me. "Sure," she said and we headed on out under the lights. The music was light and fast paced, so we were able to start on comfortable footing.

I also realized she was at a bit of a disadvantage, though she didn't know it, "By the way, I'm Mark."

"Oh! Hi, I'm Jeannie." She extended her hand and I took it.

"Nice to meet you finally."

The beat was very easy to get into and the music carried us away...

* * * * *

"This is Boston Base Sys Con to Weaver's Dream. You are cleared to dock in bay eight."

I took my hands off the steering bar at hit the autopilot switch. For a ship the like a Panther class clipper, that docking bay was a very tight fit and I knew it would be much safer to let the ship's computer guide us in. I locked the controls up, leaned back, and rested my feet on the navigation console, watching as we drew nearer to the huge space station.

It didn't seem like it had very recently been the victim of an assassin's laser beam. The debris must have been cleared away and, hopefully, someone had managed to patch up the hole in the outer wall. That's a tough break for Jeannie and Mr.Dreyfuss, I thought as I looked across the bridge at the young woman who was now seated behind another bank of instruments and watching the action.

"It doesn't look like anything happened," she said.

"Well, I imagine they're pretty quick about cleaning this sort of thing up. Vipers don't waste time and neither do repair crews. They had to patch up that hole before the air leak started pushing the station out of orbit."

"You mean the station could get kicked out of its orbit?" Jeannie looked a little worried.

"Well, space stations have retro rockets built into 'em for just this sort of thing. I wouldn't worry about it. I'm sure everything's just fine."

* * * * *

"Thanks again for everything, Mark," Mr. Weaver shook my hand a third time, "It didn't really come home to me that you saved our lives until we came down here." Anyone could see what he meant. A very thick airtight security door sealed off the section of corridor leading to Dreyfuss's monolithic apartment.

I looked over at it and sighed, "Well, I figured it was the least I could do."

"Well, we all appreciate it. Hey, how long are you staying here?"

"Oh, I plan to ship out tomorrow afternoon sometime. I'm going to sleep for a long while, that's for sure!" I had actually stayed awake for the entire 12-hour escapade through space, manning the helm of Mr. Weaver's enormous yacht... Though an hour of dancing and talking with Jeanette Dreyfuss helped to beat the monotony.

"Could you maybe stick around a couple of days. I may have a little job for ya. It'll be worth your while."

What's he planning on? I wondered, Well, I could always use some extra cash. I may as well see what he comes up with. "Just don't take too long," I answered, "I've got places to go."

Weaver laughed, "You traders are all alike! You always have someplace to go! Don't worry, if you don't hear from me in two days, then go ahead and split. I know I'd do the same."

I nodded, "Two days, then. I look forward to hearing from you."

"All right then, take care." The older man hit a control on his side of the door and the heavy steel hatchway slid down between us. I turned and headed for the elevator.

* * * * *

I took the elevator up into the upper residential decks where gravity was about eighty percent of normal. This was the part of the station that was designed to resemble one of those executive plazas: Lots of walkway surrounding a few individual manicured trees and a few long rows of well-pruned hedges. Now don't get me wrong, it was actually very pretty, but it certainly wasn't the great outdoors. Maybe if there was a blue sky I would have been better convinced. Still, seeing trees on a space station, even a rugged trading post like Boston Base did help to remind the folks who lived here of what Earth was like. At least the trees were allowed, for the most part, to grow naturally. They weren't cut into ridiculous geometric shapes like you see in some of those corporate parks. Sure, they might be works of art, but God never intended trees to grow like that. I've always been a fan of letting things be.

I strode around the park, breathing in the recycled air. At least it had cooled down some; most of the station's residents were probably asleep. They always kept an artificially induced day/night cycle on these stations, mainly because it helps human beings to adapt better to being in space. It was at times like this that I appreciated that. I like being around people, but there are those times when a man needs some time alone underneath a big sky. Well, since I wasn't on Earth or Mars, this artificial big sky would have to do.

I headed into the center of the arboretum where a few of those classic metal and wood park benches could be found. Upon reaching the site, I stopped dead in my tracks. The thought of running into Dreyfuss's daughter again did cross my mind, but I conveniently forgot about it. Well, there she was, sitting by herself on a bench under a street lamp. She was still wearing her little white cocktail dress and that translucent waistcoat. She was also wearing another variation of her sad expression. Though, it she seemed to be beyond pouting. This time, she seemed really upset. I thought about it for a moment, well, if I suddenly came back home to discover that it wasn't there anymore...

As much as I didn't like her little burst of bad attitude on the bridge of the Weaver's Dream, I was glad that I went down to the party and spoke with her. She actually was a smart kid and I had a feeling that living up here couldn't have been easy on her. Most folks raise their kids planetside, in as Earthlike a place as possible.

Well, anyway, I knew there was a chance I'd not see her again after tonight, so I had to at least say goodbye. I walked up to the bench she was sitting on.

I couldn't resist the urge to say, "Looks like I'm not the only one who's used to bein' alone."

She turned her lovely face up to look at me and said, "Well, at least you have somewhere to go home to."

I breathed, "Well, hold on a second here, it's not like you're never going home. Just give them a couple of days to patch up the hole and 'fab a new apartment. It'll be like you never left it!" I didn't know just how true this was, but it was the only think I could say that sounded at least a little cheery.

Now it was her turn to gawk at me, "What are you on? The construction guy said it'd take three weeks!"

Needless to say, I felt pretty stupid at that moment. Ah well, how was I supposed to know, "Gee, I though they could put those things together in less time than that! So, what are you gonna do in the meantime?"

She resumed her unhappy expression; "We're staying at Uncle Max's place until they rebuild ours,"

"Well, at least you have a place to stay."

She looked up at me with a contemptuous expression, "I'm leaving in two weeks for Earth and I don't know when I'm going to be back here. I didn't exactly plan on having to spend my last two weeks in someone else's house!"

"Well, it's not exactly how anyone would plan on spending it, but at least you'll be with your family and with Mr. Weaver. That doesn't sound so bad. I don't think I'd be complaining." That was true. I'd be making sure I had first dibs on that couch with the heated cushions.

Her eyes narrowed into slits and the tone of her voice changed into something that I could only describe as condescending bitchiness, "You don't get it, do you? It's bad enough I have to move onto another planet, but I'll be moving into some big dorm full of people I don't even know. At least I knew I had two weeks to stay in my own room and not have to deal with anybody. Now, here I am, stuck in someone else's place and sleeping in a room that's not even mine. Not only that, but I'm sharing it with two other people!" She smacked her hand on the bench, bit her lower lip and I could see tears streaming down her cheeks. I knew I was missing a piece to this puzzle, Maybe life among the affluent isn't as happy and serene as I think.

I sat down on the other end of the bench and, to keep from getting strangled, I opened the collar on my flight suit. When I looked down at myself, a sudden random thought struck me, You know, I forgot I was still wearing the monkey suit! I brought my attention back to the young Jeannie Dreyfuss. I figured I should just admit I didn't understand.

"Am I missing something here?"

She sniffed once, then looked back at me, "Do you have any idea what it's like being me?"

I thought about it, I remember reading something in the RIG about the families of rich executives. They called the kids Silver Sons and Diamond Daughters... pretty darn cheesy if you ask me, but there it was. Whenever something happened to the company that their father or mother was a part of, the newsies couldn't help but to direct the peoples' attention to their family life and then they start bugging the kids about Mom and Dad... I dunno, but that stuff gets to me. I forgot most of the thousand history lessons that I had in school. However, one that I actually remember recalled a time, centuries ago, when the media, starved for interesting things to report, would turn the private lives of the wealthy and successful into entertainment for the masses. Voyeurism became extremely popular and, eventually, networks began dedicating large chunks of their broadcasting time to it! It got so bad around the early-2000's that some countries actually had to start making laws to prevent some of these all-out invasions of privacy. This was one of the many little "battles" that were fought during the Information Wars on Earth. Actually, it was a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Anyhow, after thinking about that, I did begin to see what it might be like living the life of Jeannie Dreyfuss.

"I suppose the only safe place you had was your father's suite."

"More like under the covers in my bedroom," she replied.

I nodded, "I see. So, those reporters from the RIG really pry pretty deep."

"You better believe it," She then smiled, looked over at me with a sarcastic grin and said, "Didn't you hear? I'm pregnant with Uncle Max's love child!"

I laughed and responded with some of my own sarcasm, "No! Well, when's it due?"

She laughed and replied, "Last month!" We both laughed and then she added, "And they say my Dad's been running an underground gun-running network since he was fourteen!"

Y'know... for some reason, I didn't find that very funny...

Chapter Seven

Chapter Five

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