When I first saw her, every other ship on Gytelem’s Used Spaceship Platform disappeared. Quite a feat, considering how huge most of the other ships were.
“And here is the latest model, well below the current market’s price!” Gytelem gabbed, with unrelenting enthusiasm. She hadn’t stopped talking, since she’d first latched herself onto me. “Perfect for impressing your lover, since I doubt you’re old enough to have a beloved!” She cackled at her own joke. “It features an extensive light display, which appears on any angle of the ship you chose! The design can be altered, any way you like? You want a giant heart to appear, flashing on and off, starboard, with cupids flying out of it? This ship can make it happen! You want something a little more exotic, like yourself standing nude with a supernova? This ship can do that, too, although I wouldn’t show too much, unless you want the Interstellar League of Decency breathing down your neck…wait, where are you going?”
I wasn’t sure. My feet started moving, as if by themselves.
“Always moving on impulse, you!” Pausania used to say, too many times to count. “Don’t you ever know where you’re going? Decide on a direction and be done with it!”
“I have decided,” I thought, before I realized I was speaking out loud. I walking towards the ship, which had caught my eye. She was the only ship on this platform, which was small, sleek, and somehow hiding behind her clunky sisters.
“Ah, have you, now!” Gytelem said. She was jogging along side of me. All of her jowls, as well as her various necklaces of metallic beads bounced, as she tried to keep up. “You have something particular in mind, do you? A ship caught your eye, did she? You pilots are so romantic! Always claiming to fall in love with a particular ship at first sight, as if a hunk of metal, beams, and circuits was alive!” Her comment was followed by coarse laughter.
I flinched. I used to laugh in exactly the same way at such pilots, along with Pausania.
“Should you be poking fun of your customers’ inclinations?” I aksed. My words came out much sharper than I’d intended. “Especially if those inclinations are making you money?”
“Oh, please, Captain! I meant no offense!” Gytelem bowed, making her many rolls of fat wiggle, beneath her sequined tunic. “I didn’t mean to insult you, or any other pilot! No, not Gytelem, never!”
“I’m not a captain,” I said, feeling a little weary. It was the third time I’d denied captaincy, although I would become one, if I started piloting my own ship. In the most informal sense of the word. “I’ve only just become a pilot. This is my first ship I’m looking for.”
Hopefully, my youth, paired up the fact I was looking for my first ship would clue Gytelem into the fact that I wasn’t able to spend much money. Not that Gytelem had clued into much of anything. She didn’t seem to realize I’d just spoken. She continued on apologizing.
“On the contrary, I think it’s charming!” Gytelem said, with a vigorous nod. “Rather like how little girls fall in love with their dolls, before they’re old enough to receive a lover’s attention! I’m a business lifer, you see, Captain. I’ve very little time for romance itself, let alone romantic notions! I know the insides of these ships too well for any of that. Still, I’d never dream of insulting those, who cherish romantic fancies…what in the universe are you doing? You can’t be interested in that ship!”
‘That ship’ was only a few steps away. Her exterior was smooth, simple, lacking any adornment. No netting for extensive light displays, no buttresses, and thank you, goddesses, no carytoids. Her sides were covered with grime, but a hint of silver winked at me, from beneath the dirt.
“I mean, this thing doesn’t even have the basic panels!” Gytelem squawked. She sounded more and more panicked, as I approached the tiny vessel. “There’s barely any space inside for yourself, let alone anyone else!”
I stretched out a hand towards the ship’s side. My fingers brushed against its surface. A tingling spread up my fingers into my hand. I gasped, as I took a step back.
A panel was rising from the ship’s surface. I realized it was a door, leading into the ship’s cockpit. I could see a couple of comfortable seats, along with more space in the back than I’d anticipated. My eyes were drawn to the simple stick in front of the driver’s seat. It might have been from an antique automobile from Old Earth.
“See how primitive it is?” Gytelem asked. She shook her head in disgust. “Although I’m impressed that you succeeded in opening the hatch.” She wrinkled her nose at the word ‘hatch’. “It refuses to open for most people. Not that most people would even look at this outdated bucket.”
“May I try out the pilot’s seat?” My question came out breathy. I wasn’t sure if I was asking Gytelem, or ths ship herself.
“Well, if you really want to, I suppose there’s no harm in you sitting there,” the used spaceship dealer said. Confusion dulled her tiny, black eyes, as she blinked at me. “I still have no idea why you’re interested in this ugly little thing, when there are so many bigger, better vessels right under your nose.”
Not really hearing Gytelem, I climbed through the opening into the cockpit. Yes, it was a real, old-fashioned cockpit, like the ship my great aunt used to fly. My mother had once shown me a holo-vid of Great Aunt Diana, waving for a cockpit, just like this one.
Tears prickled in my eyes, at the thought of that smiling old woman, waving at her grand niece. Pausania had often accused me of being sentimental. One of my hands reached for the stick.
A pulse of warm energy entered my fingers, welcoming my hand. It didn’t matter what Gytelem said about ships being nothing, but metal, beams, and circuits. This ship had just accepted me, as much as any living creature might have. I felt it in my gut, my hand, and my heart. I belonged to this ship, now.