Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Twenty Five

I cross the mighty sea of stars

My only thoughts are of you, baby.

I let the solar winds guide me

Back to where I'll find you, baby.

The age-old Second Cold War love song floated around the tables in the Terran Turf Saloon, a small coffee shop and tavern on the edge of Arcology Three. It was one of those few songs that lasted up to the present. In the Thirty Third Century, music is something that has the capacity to cater to just about every taste imaginable. During my studies on the Information Wars, I had learned about how music was categorized into very small and easily identifiable classes. In this day and age, it simply didn't work. There are as many different kinds of music as there are colors in the visible spectrum, including all the multitudes of shading each color can have.

For example, Rock used to be a category of generally loud music played by combinations of fretted string and percussion instruments. Usually, there'd be singing in it as well. That category ended up being broken down into different sub classes like Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Pop Rock, Alternative Rock, Rock & Roll, and much more. Those classes had already turned up by the start of the Twenty First Century. Later on, rock artists and composers began combining woodwind and brass instruments from what was called Classical music with their electronic instruments. Eventually, every single type of music had managed, somehow, to cross over into every other type of music. Sometimes, the results were pleasant to listen to, others never made it past their debut.

Even with all of this in mind, the arts are still an ever-expanding facet of Human culture. Now, with Humanity scattered across hundreds of worlds and spread out over a sphere three hundred light years across, new kinds of art and music still manage to make their appearance in vast quantities. If we manage to finally seal a pact with the Thargoids, who knows what kind of new ideas could emerge!?

Getting back to music, you simply have to know the name of the artist you want to hear. Thank God for free subspace music networks, or people would be sitting for weeks on end inside a music store before deciding on something to take home with them!

Someone in our little exploration group, I think it was Jenny, had made a request of the electronic DJ to play "Solar Winds" by Darrian Holmes, a soft ballad written sometime in the 24th Century, just before the Second Cold War started. Holmes had a talent for combining electronic and "classical" instruments. Her singing was decent too and this particular song made her some ridiculous sum of money less than two weeks after its release.

It wasn't the song, but the lyrics I was listening to:

How far away you are.

How I wish you could be here.

My heart tells me I love you.

My heart tells me you love me.

(And so) I cross the mighty sea of stars

My only thoughts are of you, baby.

I let the solar winds guide me

Back to where I'll find you, baby.

All of a sudden I found myself thinking about what had to have been one of the best months of my life, sharing a bed with Terri aboard the Weaver's Dream. Like the other memories that returned to me during that awful inaugural board meeting three months ago, the image of Terri lying next to me, wearing nothing at all, was little more than a faint shadow. Desperately, I tried to reel it back into the forefront of my mind and it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I sighed and let the moment pass.

"Hey man, what's eating you?"

I returned to the real world and blinked once, "Huh?" I asked.

It was Steve Mandrake, the Arrow's communications technician, who saw me slip off into my daydream, "You looked kinda upset for a minute there."

Was I upset? I asked myself, then thought about it, I guess I really miss Terri.

"Oh, that song just brought back a couple of memories," I said, waving my hand toward the wall speaker by our table.

"You too, huh?" remarked Hank Middlewell, the broker. He then continued, "I got to see a live performance of that tune by Stephanie Bryant."

"How'd she do?" asked Jenny, deciding to join our discussion group.

Hank shrugged, "Considering the fact that she was over a hundred and fifty years old at the time, not too bad. Even with the age treatments we do these days, there comes a time when your voice just can't do what it used to."

"Didn't Stephanie make a killing singing all kinds of opera?" asked Steve.

"Not opera," replied Jenny, "She did musicals."

"Ah," was Steve's response.

"Wasn't she related to Darrian Holmes?" I asked, trying to remember.

"Yeah," said Jenny, "She's her great-to-the-tenth granddaughter."

"Musical family," I mused.

"I don't know," answered the engineer, "I just remember seeing a show that Stephanie played in."

"What show was it?" asked Hank.

Geez, here I was brooding over my girlfriend and now we're having a discussion of culture! I thought. Well, I'd rather do that then be sitting and sulking.

"I think it was The King and I," Jenny answered, "I'm not sure. I saw lots of shows when I was going to Harvard. I'd take the tram into New York every weekend and see my boyfriend. Broadway was our usual thing, though sometimes we'd go to the MET for and opera or to Avery Fischer for an orchestra concert." She gazed off into space remembering. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hank's expression become considerably darker. Ouch, I thought.

We sat in silence, listening to Darrian's soft voice as she sang the chorus of her hit song once again. To me, it seemed like all conversation had stopped and everyone became caught up in the old tune. If that was what was really going on and not my imagination, I completely understood why. The crew had the hope in their hearts rekindled by the completion of TerraCorp I's homemade drive coil. Each hyperspace jump we completed brought us between eight and eighteen light years closer to human space. Therefore, every two weeks, the crew of the enormous factory ship had something to rekindle their hopes anew.

Even so, we were still over seven hundred light years from Alioth. Thinking about that brought an old saying to my mind that definitely applied to us, The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

A tenor voice from a nearby table roused me from my thoughts and riveted my attention.

"Of course, when we get back, what are supposed to do? I mean, nobody's gonna know who we are. If our families survived, we won't be anything more than distant cousins to them."

"So, what's wrong with that. A chance to start over and make a new life for yourself. We still have shares in TerraCorp that'll pay dividends if they get this ol' bucket running up to spec." This came from a deeper, older sounding voice. I resisted the urge to turn and join the discussion.

"Yeah, if they get her up to spec. You heard what the old man said, those folks haven't seen a space dredger in over three hundred years. What makes anyone think this Weaver guy'll be able to use us?"

"What are you saying, Harry?"

"I don't know. I'd just watch out."

"Look, I've been at this longer than you have and, to me, this is the safest bet we can take. We're going home and you can either stay on board or not. If you want to learn how to make money for yourself again, stick around, if not, take your ten shares and get out of here so someone else can help us out."

I gave a little sigh of relief, thinking, At least some people are on our side.

"Oh sure, John, leave my home to some sap from Earth who's had it good all his life and has no idea what it's like to fight for your life every day."

"Harry, I'd trade places with that guy in a heartbeat. As it is, I don't know what I'm gonna do yet, but I'd like to get home first."

"Well, you know Mr. Best isn't too happy with this either."

That grabbed my attention. Frank Best was the Vice President in charge of Personnel and Stores. He'd been spending his time during staff meetings trying to punch holes in all of Weaver's proposals concerning personnel assignments and use of materials. This new piece of information only served to confirm in my mind the idea that he was trying to slow down the transition as much as possible. I had no idea what his reasons were for behaving in this way. Perhaps he was incompetent and simply trying to find any way possible to hold onto his position of power in the ship's command structure. At any rate, we seemed to be making regular hyperspace jumps, so that couldn't be how he was trying to slow things down.

I then found myself thinking, Maybe he's just frustrated at the idea of change but, actually, knows this is all for the best.

"Harry, Mr. Best will do what the rest of the voting employees in his section tell him to do. If they want him to take us home, he'll find a way to get us home, by any means possible. You know that. He's always been good to his word."

Voters? I asked myself. I glanced across the table at my companions, all of us had hunkered low to the table and were listening to the dialogue as it panned out.

"True, so far, but John, that was before the idea of joining a new company came up. Remember how he told everyone about his vision of us becoming the first sovereign man-made world in human space? Wasn't that how he won the vote three years ago?"

"Part of the vote, yes, but not all of it. The honesty part was more of what won him the billet. He's always been outspoken, but when his voters give him an order you know he does his damnedest to carry it out."

The sound of a chair moving told me that Harry was about to leave his table. He said, "Well, we'll see. We've got at least a year to go before we hit the new Frontier region."

"Don't remind me, Harry." John then stood up and we watched as the two jumpsuited men strode out of the restaurant, still discussing their vision of the future.

?The DJ switched songs to Elwood Friemantle's "Living in the 50's" and the four of us from the Crimson Arrow tried to enjoy the rest of our coffee.

* * * * *

"Well, Mark, are ya ready?"

?"Ready to throw chairs at people, that's what I'm ready for!" It was hard to keep from being cynical as we headed toward another one of our infamous board meetings.

?Max Weaver managed to keep grinning as he patted my shoulder and said, "Don't sweat it that much. Things are moving forward."

?"At a snail's pace, maybe?" I ventured.

?"Actually, a little faster than that."

?We arrived at the door to the conference room.

?"I'll just let you do the talking. If I get involved, it won't be pretty," I did my best to remain cool. We only met once every two weeks, but each meeting managed to keep my adrenaline going until the next one. I wondered if that was how Weaver managed to seem so energetic all the time.

?Well, he assured me that companies don't behave like this back home, so I'll just deal with it and look forward to when we finally have agreeable people working for us.

?I pressed the "door open" stud and the hatch slid aside. Weaver stepped through into the conference room. I followed close behind, fighting the urge to scream at the group of familiar faces that surrounded the long table.

* * * * *

?"You cannot deny these facts!" Frank Best of Personnel and Stores had leapt to his feet in response to a comment about his playing favorites with certain other shipboard departments.

?Louis Smart, Vice President in Charge of Recycling and Waste Management was particularly bitter about the fact that his unit seemed to be on the lowest priority level when it came to assigning new personnel. Smart had gone on at length to explain just why fully-manned recycling plants and treatment facilities were important. In fact, he had been bold enough to suggest that some other departments whose services were "no longer as important as they used to be" should be able to transfer some of their "non-essential" personnel. This brought about some rather hostile retorts from Emily Howard of Resource Gathering and Tim Mulligan of Shipboard Operations.

?"Well, you're denying the fact that our ship needs functioning recyclers. You take your breathing air for granted, Frank."

"Take my breathing air for granted?" Best spluttered, "You're out of your mind!"

"Maybe we should transfer our people from the plants in your sector to someone else's. At least then we'll have some of our recycling facilities running at full capacity."

"Well, how are you gonna do that without my signature, Louis? Remember, personnel assignment is my responsibility."

"And you'd never transfer someone from your sector if there was even the slightest chance you and your ivory tower clan would experience a second of being less than completely taken care of."

Best leaned across the table, the shadows in the room giving his sculpted features an even more menacing appearance."

He spoke softly and slowly, "And do you think that your children should be denied their breathing air? Maybe you should remember that it's my department that gives you and everyone else their living space. You feel like cutting off the air in an arcology? You'd better be ready to turn your treatment plants into apartment buildings. I'm sure your residents will love getting freshly purified drinking water and they should be able to get used to the smell after a couple of weeks."

Smart didn't say anything for a moment. Another moment passed, and silence prevailed. Frank Best gave a curt nod as if to say "so there" and sat back down.

Sitting next to Max Weaver, who still maintained the picture of calm, I felt like I was ready to pick up the table and throw it across the room. My adrenaline was so high that I was sure I would've been able to do it.

At the far end of the table, Mitch Williams cleared his throat.

"Well, now that the petty bickering has been laid to rest for the time being," he was clearly more than a little annoyed with the behavior of his subordinates, "I think we can finally get back to what's on the agenda."

"What are we on?" asked Jodie Pratchett of Research and Development.

Williams looked at his printed agenda sheet and replied, "We were discussing the allocation of cargo space to additional fuel storage. That way we could increase the number of hyperspace jumps we'd have to make before stopping to refuel."

"A very sensible idea," remarked Tim Mulligan. The Vice President in Charge of Shipboard Operations leaned back in his seat.

"Sensible?" said Emily Howard in a state of disbelief, "And what happens if we have another drive coil malfunction and we have to build another one? Where are you gonna put the materials? Hell, we had to dump half of our onboard security craft just to be able to build the last coil and that only took us how many years? Good Lord, I was just a baby when they had finished the actual construction. Magnetizing the thing took over thirty years!"

"Well, we can cross that bridge when we get to it," Mulligan replied, "Remember jettisoning cargo isn't hard to do. Besides, it was the actual gathering of materials that took so long. That's not going to change if we have another coil blow-out."

I clenched my fists under the table, hoping that I wasn't about to break my own hands.

"True, I concede that point," The young woman replied.

There was a collective sigh of relief around the table and Williams then spoke.

"Well, if nobody has any further objections, I think we can finally implement a new directive."

Everyone glanced around the table at each other, but no words were spoken.

"Good," Williams said and made a note on his paper, "We'll start on this with our next fuel run."

Around the table, heads nodded in acknowledgement. I sat back in my seat and felt some of the tension drain from my body.

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Four

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