Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.
The late part of the day-cycle was often slow in Ethra Station’s bookkeeping department. Just now it seemed especially slow to Ella. She had entered all the incoming and outgoing lading statements: Everything offloaded from the gigantic freighters standing off the surface, including a few new convicts headed for the planet just as she had been a couple of years before. Everything (and everyone) onloaded to surface-going carriers, vehicles small enough to maneuver a planet-sized body’s atmosphere, geography, and gravity. And conversely: everything hoisted from the planet’s surface into orbit near Zaitaf, and from there transferred into one or the other of those big freighters, depending on the cargo’s destination.
She now had two assistants working under her supervision. Her eyes were starting to glaze over as she checked their entries when Lohkeh poked his head around the corner nearest to her work station.
“Pretty woman!” As though he’d made a discovery.
Ella felt her body warm in response. “Hello, there,” she greeted him. He slid onto a stool beside the desk. “Who let you loose?” She set her hand on the table top near him.
“Just got in from the loading dock and thought I’d come by and see what you’re up to.” He touched her hand and stroked her fingers. If a Samdelan could purr, she would have.
“Not much,” she said. “Just working on today’s lading sheets.”
“That sounds exciting. Are you almost done?”
“Should be, by knocking-off time.”
“Mmmh, that’s good.”
He lifted her hand to his face and brushed her skin his lips. She felt the prickle of a day’s beard growth. A delicious little shiver coursed down the back of her neck.
“Would you like to do something for me?” he asked, his voice low and sensual.
“Sure,” she replied: Something having to do with a bedroom?
He pulled a sheet of paper out of the bag on his workbelt. “We need to update these figures,” he said, as though this were something they both needed to get right. He unfolded it and spread it on the desk. “See, the received goods numbers are wrong. It says in the accounts that 700 cartons were shipped from Tamehal. But that’s not correct. The actual number shipped was 690.”
Reaching around her to the electronic lading system on her desk calculator, he deftly brought up records from the freighter of the day, which had come in from Tamehal via Krae. “So this” – he seemed to know exactly where to highlight the line indicating the specific shipment – “should be the same as this.” He pointed to a line on the printed sheet, reading 690 containers.
“Well, yeah. This is what was unloaded.”
“Why would what was unloaded be less than what was loaded?”
“It wasn’t. This – 690 crates – is what was loaded. Somebody just made a mistake.”
“So, whoever made the mistake needs to fix it.”
He gave her a look: was it the are you stupid look or the don’t get on my nerves look? She wasn’t sure but sensed neither was good.
“No. Then we’d have to jump through a dozen hoops. We need to move this stuff planetside now, not sometime next year. And besides, if we start with that bullshit, whoever made this mistake will get in hot water.”
“Maybe they should.”
“We watch each others’ backs. Don’t we.” It wasn’t a question. This was Syndicate doctrine. Ella grew up with it, no less than Lohkeh did.
She nodded. And, without further comment, changed the entry.
The favor did not go unrewarded.