Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Twenty Six

Another month, another two hyperspace jumps... and another two staff meetings. I had finally managed to get used to the argumentative atmosphere of TerraCorp I staff meetings and had begun to get a handle on just what the different Vice Presidents were interested in accomplishing.

After the latest meeting was concluded, however, I wasn't in the least bit interested in any of that nonsense. Jenny, Hank, Steve, and I had established something akin to a decent friendship and found ourselves touring the vistas of the mighty Arcology Number Three on a regular basis. Looking around the vast enclosed city, when I wasn't thinking about all the ridiculous politicking going on during the staff meetings, I found much about the place that was very interesting and enjoyable.

The four of us made our way along a walkway on the second story of the central plaza toward a cheap restaurant called Spacey's Grill, another of our usual "hang-outs." In the several months that we had to explore the ship, the four of us decided that Arcology Three had the widest variety of places to eat and other things to do.

That's probably the result of Personnel and Stores choosing this place as their "Kingdom," I thought, casting my gaze toward the northwest corner of the plaza. Sticking up out of the inner corner of the three-story mall that surrounded the open concrete quad was a gigantic skyscraper. It rose into the air, thrusting its form over five hundred meters toward the gigantic transparisteel dome covering the great arcology. Over the big entrance arch was a large flag displaying a bright green stripe on its upper half and a deep blue stripe on its lower half. In the middle of the flag, embroidered in gold letters was the legend "TerraCorp I Office of Personnel and Stores."

"Hey Mark, you suppose this building was being used by P&S before the misjump?" I heard Steve ask.

"You know, Steve, with the way things are being run around this place, I really wouldn't have a clue," I replied. Another funny thought struck me and I couldn't resist mentioning it, "If I didn't think it'd start another half-hour argument, I'd ask Frank Best about it at the next staff meeting." I started chuckling despite my serious feelings on the issue of staff meetings. Maybe I'm developing a sense of humor where government is concerned.

"And how is Mr. Beast these days?" Chortled Jenny, who'd been privy to several conversations between members of the Recycling Division. Most of those employees had little that was nice to say about the Office of Personnel and Stores. In fact, most all of that division referred to Frank Best as "The Beast," a term which I was certain did not bode well for positive working relationships between those two departments anytime soon.

I didn't even bother trying to cover my feelings, even walking less than a stone's throw away from the man's "palace."

I said, "He's just like the rest of 'em. They all want control and nobody's willing to compromise. Though I think some of these arguments that go on in the staff meetings happen just out of spite, like they're just trying to piss each other off at times."

"Heck, I figured that's what politics was all about," commented Hank.

I was heating up once again, just remembering the past few weeks of staff meetings and when I spoke, my words came out quickly and very little was under my control, "That's the problem, Hank. On a friggen starship there aren't supposed to be any politics!"

"Hey, man, it's not my fault," the younger man replied defensively.

I took a deep breath, calming my nerves. True, it's not his fault, I thought. "No, you're right," I answered, "It's not. I just don't like being in the middle of politics. I didn't have to deal with that when I was in the Navy, everything was clear-cut and pretty logical. You know, they'd say, 'There's the enemy, kill it,' and it was that easy. This political backstabbing and crap makes me sick. I just hope we get home soon so Max can whip these people into shape."

"Amen to that!" Exclaimed an exasperated sounding Jenny Rayburn.

"Well, here we are," said Hank as he cast his gaze toward the entrance to Spacey's Grill.

Stepping through the doorway brought us into a very large open room with a distinctly old Earth motif. The outer walls had the look of brick trimmed with wood (and it could very well have been real!). A large mock fireplace sat in the middle of the dining area, the small flame inside adding to the rustic atmosphere. The place was just as busy as ever. Uniformed servers attended to the myriad guests seated around tables of varying sizes.

A hostess took note of the size of our party, as was still customary in the higher-class establishments back home, and brought us to a table large enough to seat the four of us and, possibly even a few extra newcomers should any happen to arrive. (Though none of us were expecting any.)

We sat down and regarded the rest of the patrons, some of whom recognized us and many who didn't. Moments later, another woman dressed in a white blouse and black miniskirt strode up to our table, introduced herself as our server, and began taking our drink orders.

As soon as she departed in the direction of the bar, there was a flurry of activity at the entrance to the restaurant. A large crowd seemed to be gathered outside and a good deal of shouting seemed to be going on. I couldn't make out what was being said, but it didn't matter much a few moments later when a tall man dressed in a long coat and wearing a wide brimmed bush hat stepped into the room. He was flanked by four others, two of whom were dressed in the deep blue and gold of the GalCop police and holding a pair of vintage laser rifles. The man's other two companions were dressed similar to the man with the hat, though the colors of their coats varied.

The man in the hat leaned over the hostess station and spoke softly to the pretty young woman behind it. The four of us at our table watched as the hostess looked directly at us and pointed. The man in the hat, who I knew had to be Frank Best, nodded to her, slipped her a credit coin, and then maneuvered through the sea of astonished patrons toward our table, flanked by his entourage. Out of respect, I got to my feet. (Though, at the time, I wasn't sure how much respect I actually felt for the man!) Jenny, Steve, and Hank seemed to understand and followed my example.

"Commander Pritchard, I presume?" Mr. Best asked and extended his hand.

"That's right, Mr. Best," I replied, taking his hand and shaking it. I felt a bit nervous as I still wasn't quite used to being addressed by the false Navy rank that Max Weaver had bestowed upon me when we introduced ourselves to the leaders of TerraCorp I.

The man in the bush hat and the long coat turned toward the four others of his party and said, "Why don't you folks wait for me at our table. I'll only be a minute."

The GalCop lieutenant beside him gave a suspicious glance toward our party, but then turned and headed off in the direction of an isolated table in the far corner of the room. The other men followed suit.

As soon as the others were out of earshot, Frank Best gestured toward the table saying, "Well, shall we sit down?"

I shrugged and seated myself. The other members of my group did likewise and Mr. Best took a vacant chair between Jenny and Hank. I could tell that Hank was exercising self control to keep from looking extra annoyed at the newcomer. I gave him what I hoped was my best "behave yourself" look and then turned to the Vice President of Personnel and Stores who had removed his hat and placed it on the table before him.

There was a moment during which none of us spoke, then Mr. Best cleared his throat.

"You're waiting for me to say something, Commander?" He asked with raised eyebrows.

I shrugged, "Well, I figured you wanted to talk to us about something so it seemed like a good idea."

"Actually, yes, I did want to speak with you. More precisely, I wanted to come and ask you a few questions. I figured a less formal setting with friends present would make you a little less wary than if I were to summon you to my office."

I nodded, "That's true. I'd probably be a little suspicious if you sent for me through the more formal channels."

"All the more reason for me to meet you here with your... fellow shipmates." he cast a gaze upon the others seated around us.

I spread my hands in the universal "okay, you got me" gesture and replied, "Well, you're here and we're here. What can we do for you?"

"Well, actually, I was curious about your opinion of our current situation."

Now that's a loaded question if I ever heard one, I thought to myself.

"Well,do you want me to comment on?" I asked, "The fact that we're finally heading back for home? I think it's terrific that you folks finally got back on your feet and are interested in returning to civilization."

The older man gave a nod, "Yes, many of the people in my department share the same feelings." There was another pause before he brought up his next question, "Do you think this supposed merger between the remnants of TerraCorp and your mining company will actually be a benefit to us?"

I looked around at the others and nobody seemed to be wanting to look at either of us. I simply shrugged and said, "I really can't say. I'm a Navy man and don't know enough about business relationships to answer either way."

"I see," said Frank Best. There was another pause before he then asked, "How well do you know Max Weaver?"

For some reason, that question made me somewhat nervous. I decided on giving a more roundabout answer than would likely have been acceptable in court."

"I met him at Boston Base and have been working for him for some time now."

"Some time...? Would that be years? Months? What?"

Damn! I thought.

"I don't exactly recall, it's been a madhouse ever since I signed on to work for him and I've been living day to day."

"Commander," the executive began, using what I felt was a slightly condescending tone, "I am just trying to establish whether or not you've had enough time to feel out Mr. Weaver's quirks and eccentricities enough to give me the sort of answers I need."

This galvanized me into action, "Well, what sort of answers do you want? I told you I'm not an expert on business. I worked for the Federal Navy and haven't spent any time doing the corporate thing. It was only by signing on with Weaver that I began to understand the politics of trading."

Wait a minute... I thought, Did I just say "work" or "worked?"

The answer to my question came in the picture of Frank Best smiling widely, saying, "Thank you very much for your time... Commander... I believe that's all I needed to know." He then stood up, picked up his hat, and left our table, striding over to the rest of his crew at the far end of the restaurant.

A grim silence hovered around us for a long time. I glanced at Jenny Rayburn, who was wearing her "almost pouting" expression and asked,"

"I said 'worked' didn't I?"

She nodded gravely without speaking and none of us felt much like eating for the rest of the night...

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Five

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