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Okay, this was supposed to auto post yesterday, but I got the date scheduled wrong. So my apologies for that.

Fleet 13

“Now,” I asked, handing the tablet back. “What else did you need me to sign?”

Her eyes lit up like I had told her Christmas was coming early this year. “Wait here.”

She ducked out of sight around a stack of boxes and came back seconds later with a stack of tablets that filled her arms. My jaw dropped. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“Actually, yes.” She dropped the stack to the counter top with a clatter and handed me back the first tablet, flipping the page on the screen with her thumb. She showed me the next form. When she spoke her voice took on the quality of a bored lecturer or a speech delivered a thousand times. “This is an authorization for the transfer of alcohol ration. Make sure you check the dates on the transfer.” She flicked her thumb again. “Fill this one out completely for full receipt of shares. That’s how you’ll get paid. The third form is to authorize deduction of profit in the ship’s store. We don’t usually use regular money, since no one can be sure it’ll still be worth anything when we get back, so everything is done on credit. The ship’s store has a variety of personal items, books, clothes, entertainment, food stores, etc, usually for a very small percentage of your shares.”

“Decent prices?”

She gave me a frank look and shrugged. “In dollar value? No. It’s a bloody scam, but most people can go a whole voyage and lose less than a percent of their shares and it’s not like you can head down the way to another store.”

“Fair enough.”

She dropped her gaze to the tablet, flicking the screen again before continuing her lecture. “The final form is to authorize implantation of tracking and interactive software. It’s required for the use of a grav-gun and to interact with the more secure levels of the ship.”

“Secure levels?”

“Cryo storage, high priority cargo holds, navigation software, some things on the engineering deck or tech access. Can’t forget your keys if they’ve been implanted,” she said, handing me the tablet.

I flipped back to the first form. “This is why I hated being an officer before. It’s too much paperwork.”

The young woman with the old voice laughed. “This is just standard crew stuff. You haven’t even gotten to the officer’s paperwork yet. The Captain will handle that.”

I rolled my eyes and read through the first form. “Is there really that much whiskey on this ship?” I asked. “It seems like a lot to hand out.”

“It adds up,” she agreed. “But we make very certain we’re well stocked. It’s not just whiskey either, we keep most things in stock. You can swap any time you like. Personally, I go with tequila. I’m a margarita girl. We actually make most of it ourselves,” she added, collecting the tablets she’d dropped earlier. “One of our technicians is a master brewer. He sets it up to distil while we’re in orbit and then lets it age while we’re all in cryo. He’s got a specific program set up in the enivronmentals for the minor holding bay on the port side. It’s well worth the energy cost.”

I filled out the forms while I listened. “Good idea.”

“The really good stuff is the stuff he lets ferment planet-side. Twenty to Fifty years in an oak cask turns even cheap stuff into liquid gold. Long term storage is the key.”

I looked up. “I really hadn’t thought about that. I suppose then that long term investments are big then, too?”

“The ship’s accountant keeps a set of brochures handy,” she said. “I made a fortune off my last set. More money that I’ll ever need.”

“Then why are you still on ship? If you’re that rich why don’t you get a place on Earth?”

“And do what? Age? Settle down? Earth is so crowded you can barely breathe. And Mars has no atmosphere so you really can’t breathe. Staying on the long-haul keeps me moving. I get to watch the universe change at the speed of light. People on Earth have no idea. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched the stars age. Every time we touch land we are in a new place. Even Earth becomes a new planet after a few decades. Watching time pass becomes a drug all it’s own. I couldn’t stop the long-haul now if I wanted to.”

She laughed suddenly, breaking the spell. “Listen to me. I make it sound like a fairy tale.” She picked up the stack of tablets. “The truth is I’d get bored on Earth.”