Another snippet of “The Middle of Nowhere”

Chapter 4

Sleeping in low G was a treat. You barely dented the mattress. It was almost like floating on your back in water. She still had her clothes on from last night. Either she or Heather had managed to get her shoes off. She was in the back against the wall and Heather was curled up arms crossed in front of her and head pinning April’s arm. In this low G it didn’t even cut off the circulation and make it tingly.

April could see the glow of the clock on the com board, but it wasn’t pointed this way. Not that she had any appointments. It was just habit to know. Her bladder was telling her it was on a timeline though. She hated to wake Heather up.

Heather saved her the trouble by waking and stretching like a cat. Then she seemed to realize she wasn’t alone, the extra arm gave it away, and tried to get up real slowly and not disturb April.

“I’m awake. No need to be sneaky, but hurry back so I can have a turn at the bathroom.”

“Okay,” she went off barefoot and left the door open a crack. When she came back she had a glass of water and a bottle of pills.

“You need anything for your head?” she offered.

“I’m good. I’ll be right back.” She used the toilet and washed her face and rinsed her mouth out. Maybe Heather would loan her some shorts and a top. They’d be big but clean.

Heather was still in bed with an arm thrown over her eyes.

“You didn’t drink much more than me,” April protested. “A couple beers with supper and that one drink after we moved. Maybe you just have a headache. It happens.”

“No, I get one sometimes from just a single glass of wine. I should know better. The Naproxen will kick in soon and it’ll dull it. Breakfast will help too.”

“Can I borrow some gym shorts and a t-shirt? I’ll run my stuff through the quick cycle and put ’em back on after breakfast.”

“Top left and middle right drawers,” she offered with a wave of her hand, eyes still closed. “You shower first and I’ll lie here and let the pills do their thing.”

When she came back Heather was asleep again. She eased back out and stuffed her clothing from last night in the laundry unit. It would pump it down and vacuum tumble it on quick cycle. Good enough one time for something she only wore six hours or so.

Barack, Heather’s little brother was hanging around out in the big room looking forlorn.  He brightened up to see her.

“Hi April. Wow, I haven’t seen you in a long time. You’ve got Heather’s stuff on.”

“Yep, I didn’t go home last night. Heather let me stay here. She’s back asleep so I’m going to just be quiet until she wakes up again.

“She didn’t drink again did she? She can’t do that,” he assured her solemnly.

“Indeed, you are right, she did, and is paying for it.”

“Let’s make breakfast then. She’ll want it when she staggers out.”

“I ‘m not sure I want to mess with your Mom’s kitchen. She might have something planned.”

“Nah, she’s on New Las Vegas and won’t be home until Tuesday. I can make pancakes. You want me to show you how?”

Heather woke up again to a strong spicy scent that made her mouth water. She used the bath again showering and letting the hot water beat on her face. By the time she was presentable Barack and April had the grill and most of the dishes cleaned up. On the table was a plate of pancakes with pumpkin pie spice and pecans in them, and hot sausage patties. A small fry pan was waiting to finish off eggs for her. Best of all somebody had made coffee.

“You’re hired. When can you start girl?”

“Barack showed me how. I had no idea how to make a pancake,” April admitted.

“Mmmm. I may have to promote him to minor minion.”

“What is he now?”

“Just barely above a nuisance.”

“It isn’t nice to talk about people like they aren’t there,” Barack protested.

“It isn’t nice to put a tea bag in somebody’s wet wash.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“Three months.”


“I think three months seems longer to Barack than to you,” April offered.

“Whose side are you on?” Heather asked beady eyed.

“Yours, in the long run. Barack is a resource.”

“Umm,” Heather restrained her tongue with effort.

“So, we had an almost duel and you got the bank started on paper. I can’t believe nothing else happened while I was gone,” April said trying to change the subject.

“Those are the biggies. I think we were hesitant to speak around Gunny at first. They got a company started to go capture a snowball. Probably from around Jupiter. It’s going to be tough making the actual vessels to do it. There is still a shortage of all sorts of materials. We don’t have the cash to buy into it, but maybe we can get some work from them. Jeff would rather we wait and get involved in a stony asteroid capture. I can’t start to tell you all the foreign money coming into Home now. Not USNA but the smaller ones, Greece and Italy and Iceland. You’d have to be stupid not to grab a share of it.”

“Is the suit cleaning module selling?”

“Oh yeah, but how many p-suits are there to de-stink? It’s a limited market. He is always coming up with nice little inventions like that. They are a steady money not a big hit. Let’s go in the living room where there are cushions,” Heather said and topped off her coffee. Barak cleaned up her dishes without being asked.

Heather sat in a love seat and closed her eyes. “House, dim lights thirty percent,” she ordered. “Jeff and I have some friends on the moon working on making our own semiconductors. We have a lot of germanium in the Rock and when they vacuum distill it out it isn’t that far off the purity needed to make diodes and transistors. It’s use has kind of lagged silicon in the industry, but if it’s what you own a ton of then it’s time to look into using it again. We’re looking at how we can use iridium and gallium too because there will be a lot of that. The lunar people keep asking about our real estate venture on the moon. Not that I don’t welcome their business, but I don’t understand why they don’t just claim right by where they live. It’s not like there isn’t plenty of wide open spaces.”

April sat in an opposing love seat. They were crème leather and had a narrow table between them of that limestone with tiny little fossil shells in it. Barack came in from the kitchen and surprised her by sitting hip to hip and wiggled under her arm.

“He’s got a crush on you,” Heather told her.

April felt him stiffen. “He’s welcome to have a crush on me,” April said, giving him a squeeze. “I might steal him away and have pancakes every morning,” she joked.

“I’m not old enough to have a crush,” Barack protested, embarrassed still.

“A crush isn’t necessarily about sex,” Heather explained. “There’s a guy in the radio room has a man-crush on Jeff, and he’s straight as can be, but he just adores him. Maybe English doesn’t have good words for it, admiration, idolization, fandom, something like that.”

“I like April,” Barack said taking her hand. “I think that’s a good thing. You do too. All three of you look happier when you’re doing stuff together.”

“True,” Heather agreed.”She scared the snot outta me going to Earth. It’s nasty down there.”

“Maybe we should put one of your drives on Home like they did the Rock and push it off around Mars or someplace further away from Earth.” Barack suggested.

“Now there’s an audacious plan. If you suggest that to Jeff he’ll start planning how.”

April didn’t think it was all that farfetched.

* * *

         Gunny was intently studying the screen when she came in after noon. It was almost time to have lunch despite her late breakfast. She decided not to ask if he made it home last night. He hadn’t quizzed her and it was none of her business.

“How can you operate Home on the taxes you charge?” Obviously that was what he was reading. “I’d pay less tax here than the property tax on my house in Maryland, never mind income taxes, sales taxes, retirement taxes and medical taxes, excise taxes, luxury taxes and fees on my phone and automobile and, well, you get the idea.”

“We pay air and water and fees for infrastructure maintenance. If an airlock controls go bad or a lamp in the corridors burns out they fix it. They have to keep the air plant up and cover leakage and stuff. If they ever have to do something huge like replace a bearing at either end it’ll cost us thousands of dollars each.”

“That’s just like a condominium fee to keep common elements up. It’s cheap.

“Then you will probably want to pay tax so you can vote on stuff, right?”

“Not until I get my status straightened out with the Navy. I decided you are right and I should leave gently if possible. You still feel like talking to Wiggen for me?”

“I’m happy to try,” She looked at the com clock. “It’s nine something in her morning. I find most people are still putting out fires and sorting things out at that hour.”

“Yes, but if you wait too long they are hungry for lunch and will be irritable or blow you off so they can go to lunch. Same thing towards the end of the day. You know, there is probably only an hour – hour and a half twice a day it’s optimum to call a working person.”

“Okay, lunch first, and then we call Wiggen. Write me out a cheat sheet with the names of the guy who sent you to me and the one who wanted to arrest you, and anything else I need.”

“Ruby, this is Gunny. He’s working for me, at least temporarily. Ruby is the best cook on Home. She can do special orders if you have taste for something.

“Huh, got you some muscle,” Ruby said appraising him frankly. “I saw him when you came home. Wasn’t sure who was guarding who. He looks like he’ll do,” she decided checking out the gripes showing above his waist band, and offered her hand to touch.

“Ma’am, a pleasure to meet you.”

“All mannerly too. Very nice.”

“What’s fresh?” April asked.

“We have some really nice cantaloupe, and some raspberries that are over ripe and may be gone tomorrow. They finally got some sausage that may be hot enough to suite you.”

“I’d like a double order of pancakes with the raspberries in them and on top too. A half cantaloupe, and a couple patties of the hot sausage.”

“And you, big boy?” Ruby asked Gunny.

“Same, but just two pancakes, please.”

Ruby squinted at him. “On a diet?”

“Indeed, I have to limit my carbohydrates or I start to pack it on.”

“You fooled me. I was sure you were gene mode like this one,” She nodded at April. She turned away and started their orders.

When she came back Gunny couldn’t help himself. “Ma’am, may I ask why you thought I was modified?”

“Your eyes. The doc who is modified to be so fast has quick eyes. They track side to side faster than normal. April was the same way after she had that mod. You’ve got the same look.”

“Thank you. I appreciate the information.” She seemed to have more, but just nodded.

“Not much gets past her does it?” Gunny asked when they were well away.

“She’s smart and pretty fast for an unmodified person. You might find it interesting she was a professor of Medieval Music. Her husband was the command pilot last year who set up the ambush of the Pretty as Jade and the James Kelly, and destroyed them.”

“I take it one should be polite to his wife as a matter of self interest?”

“Yes, but also she is trained with weapons, being an experienced loadmaster on combat aircraft. Not to mention she prepares your food,” she added after consideration.

“A small kindness now and then even seems appropriate,” he looked back, reappraising.

“I do a little trade with her,” April said, and then regretted it.

“What do you supply? Spices or something?” Gunny asked innocently.

“Information,” April admitted. Determined not to lie to him.

Gunny opened his mouth like he was going to say something. “This coffee is Okay, but not as good as the stuff at your house,” he said after a tiny pause.

“Thank you. We carry the same blend on our ships.”

“Ten-fifteen in DC,” April said checking her pad on the way back. “Let’s do it.”

April had Gunny sit to the side of the camera angle. His note was in front of her. She punched in the number Wiggen gave her when she was staying with the Satos in Hawaii. It had failed when they tried using it during the coup.

A young man in an Earthie style business suit appeared. “Please do not identify yourself. This number is among a group which was compromised. Your number is no longer useable, but a new number will appear on your screen which is not available to me. If you have code words or authentication procedures they remain valid and will be required to validate the new number.  Please record or memorize the new number before disconnecting. This number will return to general service within 30 days and will not work again.” The screen went gray except for a ten digit number and a blank entry box.

April recorded it and hesitated. She had no password. On a guess she typed April Lewis and hit enter. The system accepted that and disconnected.

“Well, looks like we’re not the only ones couldn’t get through,” Gunny said.

April punched the new number in. She didn’t get Wiggen, she got a very well dressed middle aged woman behind a desk. “May I have your name and business please?”

“No, I’m not sure I want to do that. I expected President Wiggen direct. The way things have been going I have no idea if you are her secretary or her jailer.”

“I can assure you she is very much in control of her office. She is however in a meeting that is sufficiently important she is taking no direct calls. If you’d like to hold she will take the calls after in the order she wishes. I’d say in another twenty minutes at least. If you wish to remain anonymous be aware she may give priority to identified callers. She will however be made aware the call is from an off planet number.”

“That seems reasonable,” April had to admit. “Please inform her April Lewis of Home called about a personal matter and I’ll await her call back. It is not an immediately life or death issue.”

“Thank you Miss Lewis. Your call is in the queue,” she promised and logged off.

“I’m going to read some of my stuff from my brother. You want some tea? I’ll make a pot.”

“Sure, I’m still catching up on the Assembly videos. I’ll take some tea.”

It wasn’t twenty minutes, but over an hour went by before April’s com chimed and she transferred it to the big screen at the com desk. President Wiggen shocked April. She had bags under her eyes and was slumped like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“Miss Lewis, I was advised you were on the manifest for the Home supply shuttle. Your bodyguard was listed too. Did he really accompany you to Home? Or was that a ruse to lift somebody else?”

“Oh, that was Master Sergeant Gunny Mack Tindal. He’s really the reason I’m calling. He got caught up in the coup attempt on you. He tried calling Captain Yoder who assigned him to me and got a Captain Maddow who claimed to have no records of his duty assignment at all. He wanted to arrest him, so Gunny took the advice of the State Department lady and grabbed his cash money and disappeared with me.”

“Ah, yes, I’m familiar with more of the details where they touched my personal protection. Captain Maddow actually was innocent of any conspiracy. He was however put in as a placeholder to get Captain Yoder out of the way. He sat in the stockade for a few days as did some others, but we sorted it all out and none of them will suffer for it.”

“Well, Gunny wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t get sorted out into a shallow grave somewhere. He might lose his house if his automatic payments aren’t made for utilities and taxes. He’d really just like to take the retirement he has the service to qualify for and be done with it.”

Wiggen’s face already tired went to unhappy. “I’m sorry he didn’t have confidence we’d straighten things out. We weren’t going to let them start executing our people. Maybe he thought the coup would succeed,” she speculated.

“We didn’t actually know there was a coup until we got up here,” April assured her. “We simply were cut off and couldn’t contact anyone. Then we had a missile attack on Mr. Santo’s home and an unknown force, maybe Chinese, landing aircars in their woods. We ran for it.”

“Yes, you took care of the Chinese sub in your usual subtle manner,” she accused. “The train of reentry vehicles blazing across the sky was on the TV news everywhere that night.”

“Well, if you know some more subtle way to stop one lobbing missiles at you let me know. At least I didn’t use anything explosive on it, just some plain old Rods from God,” April said.

“And the aircars?” Wiggen demanded.

“What about them? I didn’t even shoot at them. When I shot the missile down it just happened to crash on them.”

Even Wiggen couldn’t help smiling at that. “From anyone else I wouldn’t believe that,” she assured her. “It’s just…” she seemed at a loss for words.

“My one friend on Home said that by the most amazing coincidence there seems to be a history of expensive damage, death and destruction strewn closely behind me. I never meant that to happen.”

“Very well put. I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll direct the Navy to retire the Master Sergeant with a clean record and all his proper retirement. The arrest warrants against him and others that night are already gone. I owe him that for his service. As to his house and other personal affairs, that is yours to straighten out. Smart politicians don’t get involved in things at that level, it always looks dirty to someone, and I didn’t make him yank his money and run. I’m still not sure I shouldn’t be a bit miffed on that. I suspect the way this conversation is going he is in no rush to come back?”

“I don’t think so. I’m hoping to hire him at least temporarily.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Wiggen asked.

“I also have to thank you for your previous invitation to the state dinner, but I think it would be best for both of us if I stay home for now.”

“Oh God yes,” Wiggen agreed. “I have a few guests who’d probably crawl over the table to attack you with their silverware. Not that it wouldn’t be entertaining. Now, if there is nothing else, I have some other calls to return, and a nation to run,” she said drolly.

“That’s all. Thank you for straightening that out,” April said heartfelt.

Wiggen disconnected with a nod.

“Well, you weren’t the last call to get returned,” Gunny noted.

“And she didn’t ask anything about the Santos.

“I got the impression most people who know him would be happy to ignore Santos, and hope he returns the favor.”

“He’s a sweet old guy,” April said. “I can’t imagine why anybody can’t get along with him.”

Gunny remembered reading Santos’ folder. Santos the congenial host was a sweet old guy. Santos the master spy was scary. There was nothing he could say. Nothing he should say, it was classified, after all.

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