The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue.
Chapter 4: Troubled Awakening
He was awoken by a tremor, more of an internal tremor, and felt completely disoriented. The cabin lights were on dimly, and he had a vague feeling that his aunt was going to bustle in and ask in her chirpy voice what sort of nonsense was going on. Confusion on waking: this never happened to Gerry; no matter where he was, he had an innate sense of where he was the instant he woke. He rolled out of bed to his feet, and lurched a bit before he got his balance. This, at least, was a familiar feeling, but it did nothing to bring clarity to the situation. Seeing the vacc suit piled around the desk caused only a fraction of a second’s further confusion, then it all came back in a flood. The familiar anxiety about Auntie fled, and left a sense of loneliness. Jump. They must have exited jump. He waved his hand over his hand comp, and the greeting scene showed jump exit in the ship status, ship position. News was being uploaded. He stumbled to the fresher and was violently ill.
“If you suffer from jump sickness, take an LSPill, by the sink.” It all seemed a bit surreal. Sometime after the heaves that came after sensation and reason insisted his digestive tract was long empty (proving them wrong), in short pause before the heaves that acquiesced that now the tract was completely voided, Gerry realized that this was the computer, cuing off his entering the fresher so soon after jump exit. He thought that there was no way he could hold down a pill or the water to wash it with. The LSPill was tongue-dissolved, though, and despite tasting like some sort of toxic mistake, left him with one half-hearted abortive heave as the only sign that he had ever been sick. He felt confused and exhausted, but no longer sick.
He again remembered his status as an illegal runaway. Within a few hours of jump exit, with another 75 hours of in-system maneuver before they hit the massive high port of Nundis, a Purser’s Message rolled onto his hand comp, and simultaneously across the PA in his cabin. “Passenger Fynne: We hope you had an enjoyable passage with us on Ley Lightning’s Scarlet Maid. We have had an administrative inquiry about your passage, and would like to have the Purser address this with you soon to avoid any delay. Please contact Third Officer Garciablackburn or another member of the crew to indicate when a short meeting would be possible.”
He felt the lump in his throat, and it felt like he was pulling back into his head, his field of vision getting a little narrower. He solidly sat on the desk chair, looked away from the message, and went over his story again.
Gerry placed the handcomp on the desk surface and typed , “I can meet you guys in my cabin right now” on the holographic keyboard. He could type in midair well enough, but he felt he needed the solid surface to steady him just then. He wanted to check the news, but shut it off again quickly. He picked up the glove of his vacc suit. He looked at the number on the inside of the cuff; he could send her a message. It would take a while to get there, and the reply would take longer to catch him.
The raps on the door were light, but rapid. “Come in!”
It was the purser. He had barely seen her the whole trip, but here she was. There was another crew member, the large Fourth Officer, whom he’d seen just once since he had brought him to his cabin a little over a week ago. “Please give us a minute, Jack, and I’ll meet you in the lounge,” the purser said to him as the door opened. Gerry thought this was no accident: he’s the muscle in case I go nuts, but she is just letting me know he’s nearby. She doesn’t think I will freak out, though, or she would have had him stay in the room.
“May I come in?” She was in the same uniform, but the jacket was on, bodice mostly concealed, and she looked much more official.
“We have received an official message from the Starport Authority that your Legal Guardian has alleged that you are a runaway from Griik Maeii.”
She held up a hand sharply, in a motion the seemed almost about to cover his mouth, and had a similar effect in interrupting him, “But before you say anything, you might want to understand our obligations. Sit, please. May I?”
He nodded, flopped on the edge of his unmade bunk, and she perched on the edge of his desk chair. Paused, and made a little soothing gesture with her hand before beginning.
“You are legally documented as traveling under your father’s direction. We are required to inquire into this allegation and respond, and we are only required to take any action if our inquiry makes it obvious that the documents are false. The only practical way we would know this is if you told us.” She gave just a hint of a smile, and he saw that twinkle he saw before, “Now, are these documents false?”
“No. No, ma’am!”
“OK. So you are Gerry Fynne, and your father Hugo Fynne authorized you to travel on this ship.”
“Yes, yes, he did.”
“Alright then. Thank you.” Her hand was warm and soft. “I should tell you that if we receive another such allegation, we are required to treat it as a new inquiry. I may end up asking you the same questions. Regulations.” She pronounced the last word with a small shrug, and a disdainful tone. Then rising without ceremony she strode towards the door. “The dancer will be leaving us here on Nundis. Her name is Shih-Ya.” A twinkle and she was gone down the corridor. He took a parting glance as the cabin door slid shut.
He said a prayer of thanks, then buried himself in the news for hours before wolfing a Pesto Ham and Swiss Stayfresh and laying down to sleep. He woke feeling rested, and sent Clyde a message before he realized that it was 0430 ship time. He had not worked out what time Clyde's shift was, but he figured that was likely a mistake. As he was the junior member of the ship’s black gang, his shift got moved around largely at the whim of the other members, or so it seemed.
He noticed that there were arrivals in the ship status, small craft that would rendezvous with the Maid. She was bringing her vector in slowly to zero out at the Highport parking orbit, but had relatively small maneuver drives despite her long legs in jumpspace. While this was occurring, though, high passengers and freight could be transferred to outgoing ships by much faster small craft. Really middle passengers could do so as well, but they were further down the list of priorities, and would often not be willing to pay the extra fees. A fast shuttle bound for the highport had met them 6 hours earlier, he saw. That had taken 6 passengers and 118 tons of cargo on towards the highport. And would beat them in handily by some 48 hours. That was listed openly, as anyone could have booked passage on it. There was no immediate answer from Clyde.
He noticed that there was a private docking set for just under 2 hours. It did not list the purpose. He briefly panicked: the ship had sold him out, the authorities were sliding in to pick him up for further questions. He took his three breaths. He actually prayed, this time a prayer of surrender: whatever You want. He was powerless to do anything.
He opened his eyes and realized that as well as being futile his fears were off here: it was certainly not a vessel after him. First, he did not rate a vessel; they’d just wait until the Maid docked and pick him up. Secondly, if for some unlikely reason they had sent a vessel after him, they would not even list the rendezvous as a private docking; they would let the crew know, but listing something would just project the possible action. Lastly, if they had wanted to trap him, the ship would not have involved the crew in a charade. No, he was suddenly wrapped in the realization of his own insignificance like a warm blanket. He had so often wanted to be somebody of note or importance, in the phantasies of youth. Now he saw what a blessing it was to be largely unimportant to those plying the star lanes. Not that no one cared at all…
To the extent the crew could take any discretionary action with him, it would be to make sure he stayed in his appointed berth through the next two jumps; if he was removed, the vessel would lose the money for future passages. He could not help noting that they were running with a couple of passenger cabins open. The purser’s manner had begged him to keep his mouth shut, he reminded himself. Just as he was feeling more comforted by these thoughts, his breathing settling down to an unnoticed normal cadence, his handcomp beeped with a message, from Clyde. “Dancer’s leaving in 90. Lunch? I got a deal for you, but you’ll need to leave the ship soon after we dock”
“Deal? What sort?”
“Cost you a bottle of booze, but not for me. Get a chance to do some EVA. Pick up a bottle of Megan’s Mist from the duty-free before we dock. We need to haul over to a free trader, meet a buddy of mine from their black crew who’ll let us EVA, but they've due to leave two hours from when we dock.”
His breathing was back up. He knew, when he imagined Clyde as some pawn in a police plot to trap him, that he was really dipping into paranoid thinking. He briefly envisioned Clyde in a tailored suit with a low-profile covert model needler in a shoulder rig. He snorted, and the paranoia left so quickly that the blink of an eye seemed glacial.