Journey (Tiro)

By Tiro

This is a five-section piece intended to give a longstanding character a bit of a trip out. The challenge set was to write a ‘day-in-the-life’ item relating one of her jobs, but from the point of view of others who interact with her, rather than her own.

Frankly, she irritates me. Just look at her, sitting there, slovenly, relaxed, as though my office belongs to her. I’m not happy with this, I’m really not. This is too important to be messing around with some drifting panhandler, playing around with grown-ups’ livelihoods. If it were up to me, she’d have been out the damn door long before she had chance to get this comfortable.

But Brockas insists she’s the right man for the job. Ex-prefect, he says; knows her stuff. And if Brockas says it then I can’t object. At least, not openly. I’ve no choice but to use her. So, I hand her the prepared chip. She reaches out and closes her fingers around it, her face all serious. I’m not convinced.

“You understand how important this is,” I say yet again. “This isn’t some game.”

She smiles, damn her.

“Yes, I understand. You can relax,” she says, as though it’s even remotely possible; “I’ll take good care of your data.”

She’s signed; she’s got the chip. There’s not much more to be said. I nod, and she turns and walks out.

I sit, tapping my fingers on the desk, and give it a few minutes. Then I lean over and buzz my secretary on the intercom.

“Contact Kyso, ask him to get up here right away. Tell him it’s on.”

Rufus reached up and pulled the switch. The fuel hose hissed, and dropped away from the hull. He jabbed the control on the tender that pulled the hose slithering, snake-like, back onto its reel.

Round the front of the ship, the skipper stood at the foot of the loading ramp, checking the manifest on a mobter. Rufus watched her frown as she ran her finger up and down the screen, checking the payload, the stowage, the mass calculations. He knew this woman: Vela, her name was, and she stopped off here quite often. He could never decide whether her conscientious checks were just old-fashioned, or whether she’d had some bad experience that made her reluctant to rely on the software that everyone else took for granted.

Evidently satisfied, she tapped the screen to sign off and dismissed the mobter, which glided away across the concrete. Vela turned to make her way up the ramp and caught sight of Rufus. He glanced away hurriedly and tried to look busy with his tender.

“Salve, Rufus,” she called. He turned back to her, and waved a small, awkward wave.

“Oh, um… Hello, Vela. Ma’am. I, um, hope everything’s okay for you..?” Damn, he thought. Try and sound a bit more stupid and juvenile, why don’t you? Go on, tell her it’s nice weather, or something, that’ll really bowl her over.

“Never mind the ‘ma’am’, Rufus, you know me better than that,” she said with a grin. “Everything’s fine, thanks. You good?”

“Very good, thanks. Um. Where you off to?”

“Oh, here and there. Couple of bits to drop off, pick up, you know. Be back here next week.”

Despite himself, Rufus couldn’t help but feel pleased. He tried not to show it.

“That’s good, then,” he replied as casually and cheerfully as he could. “Have a nice flight!” She smiled, waved, and walked up into the ship. Moments later, the ramp started to haul itself closed. Rufus finished packing his equipment onto the tender, and made his way back towards the terminal building.

“Meridiani Ascent, this is Victor Rubicon Five-Zero-Five, requesting pre-filed departure and clearance to orbit two-eight east.”

Marcia glanced up from her book, quickly checked the clearance on the screen, and thumbed her transmit key.

“Victor Rubicon Five-Zero-Five, I have your pre-filed. Climb to five thousand, maintain fixed ground position. Turn to zero nine zero degrees and initiate orbital ascent profile as filed. You are cleared straight-in ascent to orbit two-eight. On arrival at two-eight switch to Mars Orbit on one-one-three-six decimal eight-seven.”

“Cleared direct vertical ascent to five thousand, maintain FGP. Turn to zero nine zero degrees, climb by profile. Cleared to orbit two-eight; wilco, Victor Rubicon Five-Zero-Five.”

“Victor Rubicon Five-Zero-Five, readback correct. Have a good trip, Vela.”

“Thanks, Marcia. Talk to you again in about a week.”

From her position in the control tower, Marcia watched the ship’s engines fire – in silence, thanks to the shielded glass of the tower windows – before lifting slowly off the ground. The ship hovered for a moment on a cushion of blue flame, before its undercarriage began to fold up into its belly. The hatches closed, and the vessel started upwards again, slowly at first, then accelerating upwards until it vanished into the heavy overcast.

“Salve, amica; make yourself comfortable there. Where’d you like to go this fine afternoon? Hmm? Verrill Amalgamated? Yeah, I know that one. The big offices on the wharf. I can take you there, no problem at all. Not too busy at this hour: journey’ll be about… oh, only about ten minutes, I reckon. Be about twenty dee; or thereabouts. That all right for you, mina? Bene. Here we go, then.

“Actually, you’ve picked a good time for it. The roads have been chaos all day. Everyone wanting to get home for the long weekend, you know how it is. Lot better now, though. Everyone’ll be at home putting the last touches on their costumes and such.. You ever seen Consualia here on New Oberon before? Oh, you’re in for a treat. I tell you, there’s nothing quite like it. I mean, I’ve been some places and seen some festivals, but nothing beats the carnival here. The procession, floats, music, the dancing, the insane outfits – and I mean seriously raving mad, here… Seriously, if you’re up for a party, there is no better place in the Empire.

“Do you mind me asking where you’re from? Forgive me, it’s just that’s not a local accent, I don’t think, is it? Oh. Oh? Ah. Well, hope you don’t mind me prying. You don’t need to worry about that with me, I’ll tell you that much. Honestly I think it’s downright uncivil the way some people talk about you guys. I mean, it’s only luck of the draw that any one of us wasn’t spaceborn; it’s not like we can decide who we are beforehand, is it? There but for the grace of the gods, I always say, you know what I mean? Anyway still, I bet you’ve seen some places, eh? Me, I’d love to travel a little more. I get to go away occasionally, usually stay in-system, though. I’d like to see more of the Empire, though – I have this ambition to go see Sol one day. Hah. Yeah, but you can’t party all the time, can you?

“Right, here we are. Looks like that’s eighteen seventy-five. Call it a round eighteen, it’s been good talking to you. No, my pleasure. Hope you enjoy your stay; have a good day. All right, thanks. Bye-bye now.”

“Hello, Patterich. I hope you’re having a nice day. I’m not having a nice day. Do you know why I’m not having a nice day, Patterich? I’ll tell you why. This is why: I’ve just received a delivery from you. A nice young lady, very nice, I think you met her a few days ago, has just been in here. She’s come all the way to New Oberon with a certain something in her hand, and she’s just handed that certain something to me. Now this – see this chip I’m holding up? – this is the certain something she handed me. And I can tell it’s the something from you, because I see your seal on it, the encryption’s correct and the checksums, well, they just check out.

“So I run it through my terminal, and what do I find, Patterich? I’ll tell you. I find jack diddly shit, is what I find. I find nothing. Ni-hil. Why do I find nothing on this chip, Patterich? Why has that nice young lady – very nice, by the way – been sent across light years, across the perilous depths of space, Patterich, to deliver me a big chip full of absolutely stinking nothing? Am I to suppose that she has somehow tampered with the contents? I suspect not: I have used this particular nice young lady before and I see no reason she’d start screwing us around now. And, as I may have mentioned, the checksums thing? And how they check out? They don’t do that, Patterich, if someone’s buggered about with the chip, you see. That’s the point.

“So I can only conclude that you’ve sent me an empty chip. I’m not sure quite why you’d do that; really, I’m not. I’m not sure why, when I’ve assured you of the nice young lady’s trustworthiness, you would not take me at my word. Have I perhaps let you down in some way, Patterich? Have I given you reason to treat me like some naive amateur? I don’t think so. So as you can imagine, I’m a little curious as to why are indeed treating me that way.

“I told you I needed that information by tomorrow, Patterich. I still need that information by tomorrow. By the time you get this, I will either have received it via another courier, presumably one you felt was more suitable than my selection, or I won’t. And if I haven’t received it, then I would very strongly advise you to start looking for a more suitable line of work, because I promise you, by this time next month you will not find a job in this one.

“Now enjoy the rest of your nice day, won’t you?”

(More about Tiro)


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