Snippet – 2nd Chapter of “The Middle of Nowhere”

This is the third book in the “April” Series – “Down to Earth” being the second.

Chapter 2

The next morning when she got up it felt strange to be in her own room. Somehow it made her feel about eight years old. She showered and dressed, and when she went out Gunny was sitting watching the recording of the second assembly of Home. “You been up long?” she asked.

“Hours and hours. It’s been boring and I thought I’d go mad waiting.”

“Just got up, huh?”

“Yeah, just saw your mom before she took off. She explained something you should know. Part of the reason everybody was in such a jolly mood when we arrived. Last night when we were in Tonga, the Patriot Party made a big move and tried to pull a coup on Wiggen. They let them carry it out far enough to really nail down who were talkers and who seriously intended to overthrow the government. There were about seven hundred arrested and about three hundred killed. The Patriot Party is pretty much gutted. Word was getting out while we were on our way up in the shuttle. Most folks here figure you precipitated it with Harrison.”

“Does that change anything for you?”

“Not for the better! They were willing to allow me to be arrested if it helped them flush out all the bad guys. Never mind the danger to me or to you. That terminates my service. I gave them years of loyal service and they use me like a pawn. I’m done.”

“I don’t blame you, but wouldn’t it be smart to leave as gently as possible? You know they screwed you, but if you can leave and still get your retirement, sell your house, and feel free to go down there again openly…Well, I’ve heard living well is the best vengeance. If things get back to normal, and I can call Wiggen, I might even be able to put in a good word for you.”

“Amazing advise from a young lady who ends her disputes by orbital bombardment.”

“How about if we go get some breakfast. I think much better on a full belly.”

* * *

         Gunny declared the cafeteria breakfast ‘not bad’. April bought him the standard service plan and he got his own card. He could get anything on the menu as often as he wished. Any special orders or catering he had to pay upfront. Air and water she’d arrange off her pad.

April pointed out a number of characters and told a few stories about them. Nobody mobbed them but five different people stopped and welcomed her back. They walked out down the main business corridor and she pointed out the bank, employment agency, ship’s chandler and general store, as well as a shop new since she left offering bespoke clothing for men and women

“Is there a gun shop? I really need to buy something. Is that a problem?” he added.

“Nah, you want a laser?” April suggested. “I have to go get one from Jeff and explain I loaned mine out. I can try to get you a deal if you want.”

“As much as I’d like to try one out, I’d rather go with what I know right now.”

“In that case, Zach sells firearms,” she turned back to the Home Chandlery and Provision Company. “I remember seeing them on his special board.”

First think she did was buy Gunny spex and sign him up for com service. She figured she’d cover that as he might be on call. Then she let him see to his own pistol.

There were three pistols laying on the carpeted counter. Gunny wasn’t happy with any of them. Two were caseless Sigs and one was a Portio Custom Arms chambered for 10mm Hornady. He’d never carried that caliber before, but it looked like he was going to try it.

“What kind of ammo you stock in 10mm?”

“Full metal jacket for cheap target shooting, frangible copper rounds, special segmented defense rounds,  memory metal rounds, armor piercing and special hard core armor piercing.”

“A box of each and three of the cheap plinking stuff. I need a hanging holster and a lefty inside the waistband clip holster. You got a leather holster? I’d rather that than synthetic.”

“I do indeed. And I will throw in a free cleaning kit and a bottle of neatsfoot oil.”

Gunny tried his new card and was relieved when it worked. He loaded and holstered the new gun and clipped it inside his pants on the left, cross draw. The rest was bagged. He reached and touched hands lightly with Zack instead of shaking grounder style.

“Ah, another little custom thing,” April said, embarrassed she hadn’t told him.

“Yeah Mr. Muños taught me that one last night in the cafeteria. I think he’s going to be a friend. He impressed me. That feels better,” he said, pressing the pistol against his hip with his elbow.

They walked back home in companionable silence. “What is on the agenda for the day?” He finally asked when they were inside.

“I need to talk with my Grandpa about Bob’s businesses. I suppose Jeff and Heather next and Eddie Persico or the other way around if one is busy,” she prioritized. She put a call in to her com and waited. “And I need to get back with my Japanese study group and see if I learned anything visiting the Santos. I’m hoping my instructor thinks my accent is a little less horrible.”

“You’re still in school?” The idea seemed to surprise him.

“I don’t ever expect to not be in school. There’s too much to learn. I need a ticket for ground landing shuttles too, and I bet I’ll never get back to Hawaii before my student driver permit expires. I’ll have to start all over again,” she complained.

Gunny just horse snorted through his nose in amusement.

“Hello little gal,” her Grandpa greeted her on the com screen.

“Gramps when can we get together and talk?”

“Right now if want. I’m at home.”

“Yeah, please. Come on around.” His apartment was cut out of common cubic, like Bob’s, but it had its own door on the public corridor. It was a seven meter walk. He had the codes so he came right in a minute later. April introduced Gunny and he went off to the other side of the room and seemed to get engrossed in his pad. Gramps had a cheap portfolio, well stuffed.

“I know you’re probably wondering if this was something your brother did after your breakup with him. I think you will be happy to know he wrote a will leaving everything to you right after your first business venture together. Remember what that was?” He asked smiling.

“The  meal delivery service? Where we picked up a meal from the cafeteria and delivered it to peoples apartments? I was what? Nine years old?”

“No, even a little before that. I think you supplied the money again, because he’s spent all his and he took care of all the footwork.”

“Oh, the used clothing. He offered to buy clothing from tourists after they wore it. Why clean it or take it back to Earth when he’d give them more than the retail price for dirty and used? That worked pretty well didn’t it? Even though we got maybe two or three tourists a month back then. And he picked up the down leg luggage shipping it freed up cheap too.”

“It did,” her Gramps agreed. “It’s interesting, Bob sold the company off, but retained an interest. He was still getting a small income from it. He did that with almost every venture that succeeded. Individually they aren’t much but they add up to a nice little income. Here, there is a folder on each one, and notes about any obligations you have.” He gave her a short stack of hard copy and a memory chip.

“Then making me his heir wasn’t something he did in guilt. It gives me hope I didn’t cause his other – behaviors.”

“We’re all responsible for ourselves little gal. You can influence people, but blaming your behavior on others is a lie. Nobody made your brother selfish,” he insisted. “If you assign blame for what a person is then who made Eddie generous? See? If a person has good qualities people are happy to allow it is their own volition. In fact I imagine it was just plain inertia that you stayed his heir. It reflected his earlier personality, not lately.”

“I don’t understand why that happened. Mom and Dad or not selfish. You certainly aren’t selfish. He wasn’t raised that way so where did it come from?”

Her Gramps shrugged. “People are complicated. I’m not sure it is learned. There are all sorts of things folks do that we just put up with because they are not extreme enough to warrant intervention. Where do you draw the line? Pretty soon you are counseling people for taking the last biscuit.”

April remembered some fellows who rushed to hog all the stuff in the cafeteria, and saying something didn’t sound too extreme to her at all, but she didn’t say it.

“We gave Bob’s clothing and shoes and stuff we were sure you wouldn’t want to charity. Fred Folsom in station com who preaches a Sunday service keeps a locker of household things for folks who need a hand.” He explained.

“We saved this for you though,” he said opening the box he’d kept to last and laying the contents out on the couch between them.

A few memory modules were a mystery she’d have to explore, a food service card apparently he didn’t like to carry, A couple certification cards for environmental tech and some IT specialties. A couple hard prints of photos. The one on top was a girl on a beach. That must be her grandparent’s neighbor in Australia. Decency dictated she should be notified.

There was a short stack of business cards with a rubber band. The top one was blank with a hand written blurb, probably a password. It said – SAF)dz$PckXib.  Out of curiosity she checked and the other side was blank too. A tiny two bladed pen knife was sharp and apparently unused. It had elaborately embossed and enameled handles with a level of finish that said expensive. There was also a common multi-tool still new in the box.

Oddly there was a man’s tie, something she had never seen Bob wear. It was so different she could see why they saved it out of the clothing for her. Besides being a mystery. It was very pretty, with shades of blue and grey in a fine basket weave and subtle dark red edging to the grey parts, rolled to fit in a small clear box that was almost a cube. On the back a little label said, ‘Hermes – Paris and underneath that – SILK. She rolled it back up and fit it in the box again.

“I suspect these things were gifts,” her Gramps suggested.

That left a small decorative box. It had a sliding top in a dovetail grove, but no notch for your finger like most of that sort had. Fitted so closely it wouldn’t slip on its own. The grain was matched to the body so maybe they didn’t want to mar that. There was a band of carving around the sides and a very complicated dragon inlaid on each end. The inside was divided with thin wooden partitions.

There was a substantial rose gold chain. What they call an anchor chain but the links were puffy like they had been made out of dough and allowed to rise. There were some plain gold hoops, an impressive pair of simple diamond studs and the emerald and diamond earrings her grandparents had given Bob. April pulled those out and held them. She couldn’t help it, she started quietly sobbing.

“Those mean something to you,” he grandpa said, arm around her shoulders. She couldn’t answer she just nodded yes. She put them back in the box. The chain she put on over her head. Her Gramps held her until she stopped crying. Then they put everything back in the portfolio and  closed it up.

“I’ll read the business summaries in the next couple days,” April promised.

“They’ve been waiting, a couple more days isn’t going to matter,” he assured her. He went in the kitchen and made them tea without asking. He used the big tea pot and carried a cup to Gunny too who nodded his thanks.

“What are you going to do now?” her Gramps asked gently. He must think her fragile, April thought. He never used that hushed tone of voice.

“I have to see Heather and Jeff, she still has the Moon thing going on. Eddie deserves to hear what all his money bought. That looks a little better than it did yesterday. At least we know the Patriot party isn’t going to be in power next year. What are you doing now?”

“I’m helping Heather get her expedition ready as I promised you. Jeff and I are still working on some things even though we have the next generation of ship designed. We are saving up ideas for the next level of ship, and beyond. I’m getting some treatments from Jelly you were worried I’d skip. He can do everything important for life extension therapy without me going down to Italy. I’ll see you soon, Dear,” her Gramps promised and patted her knee. He got up and made a abbreviated wave of his hand to Gunny who wasn’t even looking up, and left.”

She took the personal items in her room and returned to the living area. It seemed rude to disappear and leave Gunny alone without a word. It wasn’t like having a guest,” she thought. But it wasn’t anything else that fit the rules of behavior she’d picked up either. She contacted Jeff and Heather and agreed to see them over supper. Gunny saved her from wondering what to do by announcing he was still not adjusted to Zulu time and he was going to take a nap. That sounded pretty good actually, so she said she would nap too.

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