Into the Silence – Chapter 6

The list was manageable, so far as I knew. Though I hadn’t worked in janitorial services as frequently as I had construction or other heavy labor industries, I did have some experience with the work.

I just hadn’t expected Gator’s needs to be so…extensive.

Maybe I just hadn’t known what I was getting myself into. “Deckhand.” That was my title, right? Well, what was that? I suppose I was thinking of “assistant,” or “handyman,” or “the guy on the deck…who happens to have a hand.”

Yeah, maybe I didn’t know as much about space-based transportation as I thought.

Still, though, as I said, the list was manageable. Five levels of shipboard atmospheric decks, all of which had to be washed each morning. Why this was, I don’t know. It’s not like any outside contaminants, or dirt, was going to be washing in while we were in the vacuum. Whatever.

Each deck level had a “sanitation station,” as the layout helpfully described, that would need to be cleaned out each morning as well. How they expected me to wash both the decks and the “sanitation stations” at the same time was beyond me. But there’s management for you.

Beyond that, my afternoons were expected to “be reserved for needed service.” Apparently, a deckhand was a combination of shipboard janitor and everyone’s personal slave.

Great.

I reminded myself it was better than getting pummeled by Dox.

Probably.

At least, I hoped it was. Otherwise, I’d made a huge mistake.

Gator wasn’t expecting me to actually do everything on the list before departure — because the stuff I just mentioned wasn’t even the start of the “full-system check” that he pulled from his data file. He just wanted me to familiarize myself with the routine and the layout of the ship, and then to get in the habit of evaluating shipboard conditions and reporting them to him.

How he expects anyone, let alone a human, to establish a routine in less than ten hours was and still is beyond me, but whatever.

As Gator was something of a second-in-command to the captain, he was largely responsible for making sure the day-to-day running of the ship went smoothly, while the captain himself mostly concerned himself with large-scale decisions like securing contracts and life-or-death situations. Of course, I wouldn’t really get an example of any of this until I actually met the captain, but it was good to know how the chain of complain worked if I ever needed to talk to someone about the job.

I’ve always made a habit of making as little noise as possible at a job — it may true that squeaky wheels often get greased, but they just as often get replaced, and I wasn’t ever about to risk the latter in the hopes of getting the former — but I quickly decided that this would be one of those jobs where I made less than noise. Not even silence, in my mind, would be good enough for this job. Between the freak house that was the crew, and then the terror-machine that was — no, lived in — its navigator’s seat, I was more than content to never be noticed, spoken to, or thought of by anyone aboard the ship for the duration of the trip.

Naturally, I didn’t get my wish. I never get my wishes.

About seven hours into my “systematic evaluation of the shipboard conditions (to be completed before each and every departure; NO EXCEPTIONS),” the captain returned with the Farseer Couriers.

Apparently, we were shipping out early.

I, of course, didn’t hear about this until the ship started moving. I had foolishly started on the top deck and worked my way down. So while I was in the bowels of the ship, oblivious to the very existence of a captain and couriers, they boarded the ship, loaded up whatever mysterious cargo we were transporting, cleared us for launch, and then proceeded to take off without warning me of the adjusting gravitic pressure. Or any of the other joyful surprises that accompany a shipboard launch from an orbital station.

Let’s just say the “shipboard conditions” on that level were less than stellar when the gravitic pressure stabilized. And I had to ignore Gator’s advice to “just have a look” instead of actively cleaning anything. Gross.

Once I finished, I made my way to the topdeck in order to have a few choice words with a certain navigator about employee communication.

As I reached level three, however, I ran into Em at the lift.

“Oh, there you are, hatchling,” she said, throwing a friendly arm around my shoulders. “Everyone said they hadn’t seen you for a few hours, so I came to find out if you were in trouble.”

I only gave a token resistance to her side-hug, because I quickly realized that trying to escape her grip would be like trying to wriggle out of chains. “I have a few words for Gator, when I see him,” I said. “I thought we still had four hours before departure, so I wasn’t strapped down or anything.”

Not that I knew what proper launching protocol was supposed to be anyway.

“Oh no!” Em cried, whirling around and grabbing both my shoulders to stare with her horrified-puppy stare at my face. “You weren’t loose, were you?”

I didn’t deign that with an answer, considering I had basically just said the exact same thing.

“Oh no!” she said again, wrapping me in an enormous bear hug. Have to admit, though I was horrified of being crushed to death, Em’s pretty comfortable. “I’m so sorry, hatchling. If this is one of Mearr or Gator’s dirty tricks to play on you, I’ll find out and I’ll make them pay.”

“Em,” I coughed, trying to disentangle myself from her embrace. “Em, it’s fine. Really. I’ll just talk to Gator about it and figure out what to do after that.”

I’d also have to find some more food, as I realized I had chucked the beans in the launch.

Figures. As soon as I get something solid in me, it comes right back out again.

“Are you sure?” said Em. “I’ll just check with Mearr to be sure it wasn’t one of his ideas.”

“Okay, Em,” I said, pushing my way past her toward the lift. “Sounds great. Hey, is there any food ready?”

“Oh, yeah, Chief cooked some up before we left, but…it’s all gone now.”

Again, figures.

“Fine,” I said, jamming the button for the lift. “I’ll find something.”

“Also,” said Em, with a low growl in the back of her throat.

I turned, cautious.

“Our visitors are here. They’re down on deck four. Part of the reason I came down here to look for you was to keep you out of their way.”

I felt my palms begin to sweat. “What do you mean?”

Em glanced up and down the halls before leaning toward me conspiratorially. “They’re pretty uptight. Came on, swept through the topdeck before telling us to not interfere with their loading of…well, whatever it is they brought. Then, once we had finished the launch, they told us to stay up top while they secured the cargo. It looked like they’d be willing to blast anyone who got in their way, but that might just be me. I don’t know what Cap is thinking, but I don’t like this at all.”

I tried several times to hush Em, because I really didn’t want to hear the whole story, but she just pushed on, oblivious.

“When we all realized you were missing, I thought maybe you had been vaporized.” She formed a gun with her thumb and forefinger and then made a laser sound.

I cringed with embarassment.

“Well, uh, thanks, Em. I guess. Nice to know someone’s thinking about me.”

“No problem, hatchling. Us younger folks have to stick together.”

The lift arrived at that moment, so we piled in and started for the top floor.

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