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The Family Business


Ben Livingston
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The cool, fresh air was rejuvenating, but it carried with it the perception that he was no longer alone. The fine wires danced between the engineer’s fingers, twisting themselves like dancers into a wire nut. Benjamin Livingston wiped the sweat from his brow and peered down the Jefferies tube ladder, where a crewman stepped into the cramped area and proceeded down to another level, away toward some other miniature catastrophe. Ben was having trouble enough solving his own disaster. The sooner they got this controller repaired, the sooner they’d be back on their way. The sound of receding footsteps faded.

Carefully replacing the repaired connection, Ben closed up the panel. Taking a step down the ladder, he activated the flow controller. Lights sprang into being, and Ben beamed with satisfaction, a reflection of the lively display panel. He recorded the completion of the work, then hastily climbed back to the tube entrance. A crewman waited for him.

“We’re all set to get the engine back online,” stated the crewman.

Ben nodded in agreement. A team stood by, waiting and watching, as matter and antimatter streamed once more toward one another. The reaction: exajoules of energy; an engineering staff relieved. After sustaining so much damage, the question was thus: repair the engine, or float in the middle of the black abyss until some other Federation ship could be sent for them. And no engineer was about to just sit tight. Pride, and duty, demanded it.

An indicator change to show they had moved to warp, but none of them needed those, anymore. For his part, Ben could tell by the feel of the deck plating when he stood by the engine. The vibration was different, somehow, when they were headed forward. Some kind of a communal excitement, shared by ship and crew, coursed through the steel.

-----

The floor tipped in what had become an accepted, even anticipated, shift. Somewhere, a bottle rolled from one side of the small room to the other. Canvas covered the workbench in a systematic, gently folded mass. Aging, knobby fingers ran themselves back and forth over the sheet, scanning it for defects. As they came upon a tear, their master lifted the canvas, delicately inspecting it. Behind Arthur Livingston, a hatch creaked open; boots stumbled down the ladder.

With the utmost care, the man forced a needle through, and looped it around, stitching together the two sides of the rift. As he worked, the room around him continued to creak; swells took the wooden room this way, then that. Working patiently, ever cognizant of the prize he purchased by his labor and focus, the needle was passed through the canvas. It has been foolhardiness that had ruined it; pushing a thing past its limits happened all too often aboard the vessel. And now, here he was, again.

The needle passed through the cloth a final time before being tied off. Nodding, Arthur called up to his companions. The men took it and disappeared up the ladder. Arthur followed them up and into the bright light. Shielding his eyes from the noon sun, wind ripped past him; the sound of a flapping flag filled the air. The sailmaker made his way to his favorite location, the forecastle, as the repaired sail was hoisted; he watched in anticipation. The rip had been small, but in a critical location. If it held, they’d get home days sooner.

-----

Beside Ben, a Tellarite engineer looked up at him. “It really is remarkable, isn’t it?” he asked. The pair had worked together with greater frequency of late. Ben smiled.

“I just can’t believe it’s possible. Hundreds of us, all the way out here, and this beauty to get us where we need to go.”

The crewman nodded in agreement. “My father and grandfather worked on starships. Nothing like this, mind, but it got me thinking. And here I am. They could never have dreamed of this, though.” The engine hummed; a “well-oiled machine” might have been a good description for it three-hundred years before, but the technology that went into this ship was of a different class altogether. The sound, at first loud, was now settling into the silence; it was the new calm, the sound that should always be there when the ship was headed somewhere.

“My father never left Earth,” Ben commented in reply. “He was content there. I don’t think any of my family were particularly adventurous. Actually, I didn’t know I was, until I joined Starfleet. We were just never a ship family, I suppose.”

“That’s alright; it’s got to start somewhere. Maybe your kids will be?”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Maybe they will. I hope so.”

-----

Arthur’s grim countenance gazed on his work. It had held; they were well on their way back to port. Not a moment too soon, for his taste. The salt breeze that had long tasted of adventure and discovery had turned bitter for him. Certainly, for the first few voyages, it had seemed a blessing to stand at the forecastle looking out at what was to come. The loneliness had come later; now, Arthur had a wife he longed to see. He longed to see her beautiful hair most of all. Fine, colorful, smooth; it was everything that the sail thread was not.

Then there was little Stephen. The boy’s full embrace would be waiting for him; months of pent up affection finally released. Yes, Arthur had to get home. Turning around, he looked off the ship’s bow. It was only a few hundred miles to go.

A glass bottle rolled up against his foot. How it had arrived so far forward was a mystery, but its former contents was no puzzle. Rum. Always grog with their earnings, and it wasn’t thrown in as rations like the British Navy did it. It was as though his shipmates wanted to stay aboard forever, the way they drank or gambled their wages. Not Arthur Livingston. No, thank you. If Arthur had anything to say about it, he’d work the ships all his days, if it meant Stephen wouldn’t have to do it. Let the boy get some schooling, then. One life was a fair price to pay, one man’s years squandered away in the blue abyss, to buy his family’s freedom from it. He would pay that price, that no Livingston would need step aboard a ship again.

-----

Ensign Ben Livingston

Assistant Chief Engineer

Starbase 118

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