The ship is set up in a pretty ingenious way. There’s the Commons, where members of every species mingle, and there are the districts. The districts can be relatively ‘safe’, comfortable spaces for the individual species that occupy them. A human in the Human District would be surrounded by an amalgamation of their home culture, and it’s the same for any other species in their district. Think of a district like a countries embassy in the ship. It’s a little spot of home soil, if you will, a tiny spot of the familiar surrounded by the alien and weird.
Or you can think of it as boring and same-old, same-old surrounded by OTHER SPECIES AND CULTURES like I do.
The Commons, though, is the melting pot. I’m a human, and my neighbor is a kleltan, but we still get along, and sometimes we get together to play cards (he taught me a kleltan card game that I love, but he always wins). I’ve had omola food for breakfast and krogif food for dinner. If I ever want traditional human food, I know of a restaurant a few blocks from my apartment that has the best tacos I’ve ever had. It’s called MacDonald’s (yes, new arrival humans, I know), and you should try it.
With the pay from my consulting job with security and the money from Jenny’s second cafe, I was making enough that I didn’t have to work at the first cafe anymore. It was a golden opportunity to explore the ship whenever I wanted, but it also meant that I couldn’t live in the empty storage room above Jenny’s first cafe. Which meant finding a new place to live.
I was sitting at a table outside Jenny’s cafe, reading through real estate listings on my handheld, when Bendi approached. “Good morning, Jack.” He said.
It was surprising enough that any councilor would come this far from the Council buildings, but that it would be Bendi made me suspicious. “Hi, Bendi. What are you doing out here?”
Bendi took a seat across my table and smiled. “I heard that you have come into a considerable bit of money. I wanted to see what you planned to do.”
I put down my handheld and shrugged. “I’m not really sure.” I said. “I went from a short-order cook at a cafe to being pretty well off practically overnight. I don’t need to work to get by anymore. It’s really weird.”
Bendi laughed. “Does that mean you do not work at the cafe anymore?” He asked. “Then why are you here, now?”
“I was just finishing breakfast.” I said. “Jenny said I need to find a new place, she wants her storeroom back.” I waved my arm at the Commons, which was all around us. “I have no idea where to look.”
Bendi laughed again, and it was a little annoying. “Jack, you have the Commons, with all of its possibilities. I think you should spend some time investigating here before you head back out into the districts.”
He was right.
The Commons isn’t just the center of the ship’s government, and there’s more to it than the security headquarters, the medical center, one research lab, and a cafe on the edge of the city. There are also museums, theaters, schools and universities, and businesses. There are three different companies in the Commons that buy fruit from one district and sell it to another. And that’s just the fruit business.
People also live there, and that means there’s a healthy real estate market. There are houses on the edge of the Commons, but in the center are mostly apartments and condominiums (which are just apartments you buy). I looked at the house listings on my handheld but turned that down. I didn’t want a yard I’d just have to spend weekends mowing. I looked at the apartments, and those were a little more my level.
One problem was pricing. I had a bit of regular income from the security consultations, and once Jenny’s cafe got up and running that would increase, but mostly I had enough to live off and a big pot I could use once. I had to buy something and I needed to do it quickly.
The second problem was options. I was drowning in them. I called one listing I’d found, and I realized quickly that it wasn’t a good fit. “Hi, I saw your listing for an apartment. Is that price accurate?”
A high-pitched, yet still gruff, voice answered. “Yeah, that’s the price.” He said. “Why, you think that’s too high?”
“No, seems low.”
The voice grew suspicious. “What’s your home district,” He paused. “Jack Winslow?”
“Human.” I said.
The voice laughed. Ever been laughed at by the roughest, most gravelly-voiced sedrecm you’ve ever heard? “The apartment’s for smaller species! Didn’t you look at the ‘size’ section?” He laughed at me some more, then hung up.
That was the sixth call that went that way. I just wish one of the other five had mentioned the ‘size’ section, that would have helped a lot.
On the third day, I felt dejected, so I went over to Jenny’s new cafe instead of moping about the original. She’s was there, training the new staff, and put me to work teaching the new cook some of my favorite recipes. He was a kleltan, and he didn’t mind me joking about his species’ large ears or long arms. He joked about my supposed lack of hearing, so we were even.
Once that was done, I went to the front of the cafe and checked in with Jenny. She was working at the counter, coaching a waitress when I found her. I took a seat at the counter and she joined me. “What do you think?”
I shrugged. “I think it’ll work. It’s a nice building, what’s on the upper floors?”
“There are a few offices, some apartments,” Jenny said. “it’s a nice building, too. You should see if they have an empty unit.”
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” I asked. “You do something innocent, tell me to go somewhere, then it all just coincidentally works out. You’re secretly manipulating me to do stuff, aren’t you?”
Jenny stared at me, shocked. She was silent for a moment, then chuckled. “No, Jack, I’m not. Sometimes you just need a push in the right direction.”
I hate that she’s right.
You will never convince me that I did it out of spite, but I spent the rest of that day looking at other listings. I found a nice condo, but it was so close to the Council building that I could see the Council’s private tram platform. There wasn’t another tram platform anywhere near the building, so I passed.
Another place was great, but it was built for taller species (like goardens), and the ceilings were fifty feet high. When I entered the main room, I understood why some of the smaller species had buildings for themselves. Who wants to live in a place with ceilings eight times as tall as you are?
It wasn’t until the next morning that I contacted the people at the building Jenny had suggested. Over the phone, they said they had a few empty units, and asked me a bunch of questions about what I was looking for. I answered them as best I could (I was looking for a place to sleep and eat), but by the end of it, they made it sound like they’d found me the perfect place.
My appointment wasn’t until after lunch, so I spent the morning doing a little shopping. I had, at most, three changes of clothes, and laundry was getting tedious. I bought some new outfits, with a good, sturdy pair of boots and an all-weather jacket. I also bought a hard-bound notebook for drawing. I figured it would be a good place to take notes, too, since, up until that point, I’d been typing notes into my handheld and half of them had disappeared.
I can’t believe I forgot that I liked to draw. Adjusting to the ship can take time.
I ate lunch at a new melsak food stall then walked the block to my appointment, dressed in what became almost a uniform, with the bag I’d bought in the Repook District over my shoulder. There was a light rain as I walked, but for some reason, my optimism couldn’t be wetted down.
The building manager met me at the front door. He was an urgad, and all four arms were folded across his chest when I entered. He looked at me and held out a hand. “Are you Jack Winslow?”
I shook his hand. “I am. Nice to meet you.”
The urgad nodded. “Yeah, you too. I’m Jik, I take care of the building. You wanted to see the unit on the fifteenth floor?”
“Sure.” I said.
We got onto the lift and rode it to the fifteenth floor. The large window on the back of the carriage showed exactly how high we were going. I’m usually afraid of heights, but seeing the Commons laid out under us left me too awed to be afraid. The lift was fast, but not uncomfortable, and we reached the fifteenth floor sooner than I expected.
Jik led me down the hall, past other apartment doors, to a unit on the far side of the building. At the door, he tapped a screen and entered a code. The door opened and the lights inside turned themselves on. “Come on.” He said, then walked inside.
I followed him into the unit and stopped, stunned, just inside the door. The door closed behind me, but my jaw hung open.
We entered into a short hallway. There were closets and a door into a bathroom, but as I forced myself past those, my surprise took off. The far wall, on the outside of the building, was a massive window, from floor to ceiling. If we could see one side of the Commons from the elevator, we could see the other side from the living room. To my left was a modestly large kitchen, but the living area caught my attention. Two steps led down to the carpeted floor, with a few couches in place. The couches were all directed toward the window, as was I.
“That’s going to need some big curtains.” I said.
Jik laughed. “Nah, just dark out the screen.” He went to the wall and tapped a keypad. The windows slowly darkened until nothing could be seen through them. “It’s just a big screen, you can do whatever you want with it.”
I turned to him and smiled. “Ok, that’s cool. Let’s see the rest of it.”
Jik nodded his big, bald head and showed me the rest of the apartment. There were two bedrooms, both with big closets and regular-sized windows. One had a door to the bathroom, but the other was on its own. There was also a small study off of the kitchen. It had no windows or closet but was perfect for storage or an office.
The apartment was awesome, and I told Jik I was interested. Instead of taking me down to an office or shoving a bunch of papers in my face, he gave me a straightforward price. We discussed it a bit and I haggled him down, but when we were done, neither one of us was disappointed. We shook on it, then went to the huge screen in the living room and did the paperwork there. There was a maintenance fee, charged every cycle, for basic upkeep of the apartment and common areas (like the elevator), but I could afford that. In the end, I signed, Jik signed, and we both got everything we wanted out of the deal.
I moved into my new apartment the next day. Jenny helped carry my two boxes of stuff from my old place and was suitably impressed by the new one. I had negotiated for Jik to leave all the furniture, which he said was left by an old tenant, and since I had little else to move, I was home within an hour.
Once everything was unpacked, Jenny went downstairs, but not before patting me on the shoulder with the badian hand she was ‘wearing’ and congratulating me on my new place. With her gone, I went around the apartment and set everything up just the way I liked it before I realized I had no food in the kitchen and would have to deal with that.
Being an adult takes a lot of work.
I grabbed my bag and headed to the elevator. It was a short wait, but when the doors opened the gates of heaven opened behind them and an angel spoke my name.
“Jack?” Maria asked. “What are you doing here?”
I smiled at her and stepped onto the elevator. “I just moved in. I bought a place on this floor.”
She tapped the bottom to hold the door. “You did? Congratulations! I’m on the nineteenth floor! Can I see your apartment?”
“Sure,” I said and held out my hand. “follow me.”
Maria took my hand.
We left the elevator and walked to my apartment. The door opened as we approached, and I gave her the tour. She complimented me on everything and especially liked the view. When she was done, I took a seat at the breakfast bar and smiled at her. “So, you like the place?”
“Jack, this is amazing. I’m really proud of you.” She said. “You’ve come a long way since they brought you to the Hold.”
I had to fight back tears. “Thank you.”I waved to the kitchen. “But don’t be too proud, I don’t have any food in the place. I was on my way to buy groceries when I ran into you.”
Maria smiled at me and outshone any sun. “Well, then, let’s go get you some groceries.”
“Want to get lunch on the way?” I asked. She said yes and held out her hand to me. I stood and reached for her hand.
And then her handheld rang and ruined it.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Maria said and reached into her purse. She answered her handheld and walked over to the window. I watched her as she talked, careful not to listen too closely. She pressed on something, but in the end, it was clear she’d lost the debate, and as she ended the call, the sadness on her face broke my heart. “I’m sorry, Jack, that was work. They need me to go into the office.”
I frowned. “That’s ok,” I said. “if we don’t work, we don’t eat.”
“Yeah,” Maria’s sadness melted and she gave me another one of her angelic smiles. “We can’t all be famous explorers for a living. Can I get a rain check on lunch? I owe you a date?” she held out her hand.
I shook it. “It’s a date.”
Maria released my hand and put her handheld into her purse. “Good! Ok, I have to go to work.” She walked down the hall and out the door, but just before it closed, she peeked back in. “Thank you for showing me your apartment, Jack.”
I smiled at her. “Any time.”