Laura wanted us to be friends and I knew enough to know that getting cozy with the boss was a good way of greasing my way through this place. She liked to think that she took me under her wing, that she was offering a helping hand to a fellow gender warrior or something like that. We ate our lunch together at the staff canteen more often than not, and I made a point of agreeing to visit her in her quarters once or twice a month to watch old space shows. After a day or two on the job I knew that Laura wasn’t flirting with me, she was just lonely and scared. Her juvenile visions of living off world hadn’t factored in being trapped with a bunch of people who don’t share your vision of a beautiful future.
“Those guys hate having a woman boss,” she told me, one of those interminable nights in front of the flat screen in her quarters. I knew she was talking about my co-workers on the docks, not the crew of HMS Space Cowboys or whatever it was on the TV. I honestly hadn’t noticed anything of the kind, but maybe this was the first time Laura had ever heard the kinds of things that working stiffs always said about the suit who was cracking the whip. In my experience, no one gave a damn whether the suit bottom was pants or a skirt. But, I knew that this was the tenuous thread that bound her in friendship to me, and I wanted to keep her on my good side.
“Men,” I said, trying to sound disgusted. “They never think a woman can keep up, am I right?”
“God, it must be terrible for you, Nat,” she said. “Women always get the short end of the stick in male dominated jobs, especially physical ones. How do you keep going?”
“I keep to myself, and work hard,” I lied. The truth was that I got along just fine with the guys. Especially after I split Lefty Connolly’s lip when he grabbed my ass the first week. After that I became a regular in the monthly poker game. But Laura knew nothing about that.
“Even so,” she said, “it must be tough out there among them.” She paused, but I didn’t think she’d gone back to watching the hoary episode of Stargoons or Transgalactic Space Pirates or whatever it was. “I’ve got an idea,” she said, finally, a grin spreading across her face. “I’m going to make you my assistant.”
“Your what?” I said, frowning. I didn’t want to end up taking a pay cut just so I could sit on my ass all day in Laura’s office making coffee and answering the phone.
“Not officially, of course,” Laura said. “I can’t get you out of your regular jobs. But you can help me out when it gets quiet on the docks. Come in first thing tomorrow, and I’ll show you around.” She smiled. “This is going to be great,” she said. “I’m totally snowed under with communications right now, and there’s hardly anything coming in on the transports for a couple of days. And this will be fabulous for your career.” I tried not to roll my eyes.
“Sound great, Laura,” I said. Seeing an opportunity, I continued. “Well, I’d better be well rested if I’m going to be taking on a lot of new responsibilities.” I yawned. “I should probably head back to my quarters.”
“Okay,” Laura said. “You sure you don’t want to stay to the end?” She cocked her head toward the TV screen.
“Definitely,” I said, and left. It was early enough that I caught Lefty in his quarters before he’d gone to the bar. As it turned out, we never actually made it to the bar that night.