Miranda slammed her hand down on the counter, startling the salesman awake.
She lifted two fingers, letting the blue glow of her credit chip peek out from underneath her hand. “I want to buy a ship.”
The man’s sleepy scowl melted into a smile. “Absolutely, Miz…”
“Captain! Of course. Yer here for a ship after all. If you’ll follow me?” He came around the counter and led Miranda to the back door. “You came to the right place. Seeley’s Spacers has the best used ships this side of the Hub.”
Miranda snorted. Seeley’s was barely more than a junk lot. Bantam might be the biggest city on Martingale’s World, but Martingale’s World was in the ass-end of nowhere, as far as the rest of the Solarian Empire was concerned. Most of the junkers rusting in the yard were barely worth their weight in scrap. No one came to Seeley’s unless they couldn’t afford better.
Miranda could afford better.
Not much better, in truth. She’d hoarded credit for years to afford her own ship. But she could have gone to a used lot on any Empire world and gotten something decent. She didn’t have to come all the way back to the planet she’d grown up dreaming of escaping.
No, Miranda thought. I did.
“Annie, let’s go!” Kitty, petulant as always. They’d gone by the pet store to look in the windows, hadn’t they? Now it was her turn.
Miranda pressed her face closer against the chain-link fence. Breathing in brought the tang of metal and the ripe smell of sweat, as workers stripped or refitted the ships in their bays. They took all kinds – square-nosed haulers, clawed cargo loaders, landfliers. The real big ships were up at the station, since atmosphere and gravity were a little too hard on them. But if it was small enough to land on a planet, and not totally trashed, Old Man Seeley would make you an offer on it.
Most of the ships he sold were broken down and sold for scrap metal. Her father had bought a couple of wall panels for their habitat from Seeley’s. So when the ships came in, the men swarmed over them, picking and prying.
Only one bay stood quiet. Down at the end, a pretty little scavenger ship sat in her bay. Miranda had pored over the library holos looking at pictures of ships, and she was pretty sure it was an early TESS model. The extra-large cargo hold gave her a long nose, which many though awkward, but Miranda thought the shape was charming.
One of the workers had told her that Old Man Seeley refused to let the TESS be broken down. He was too miserly not to put it up for sale, but he refused to remove even one bolt. It had belonged to his son, the man said, and he shook his head and looked off into the distance. Miranda didn’t really know what that meant, but she didn’t really care. The ship was for sale. It would take a lot of odd jobs to save up enough credit, but one day…one day it would be hers.
Someone grabbed Miranda’s arm and wrenched her around.
“You little brat! Out here looking and the ships again?”
Miranda winced. She’d spent too long dreaming and her mother had come looking. She leaned away as the woman screamed, red in the face.
“Ain’t I told you to come straight home after school? Bad enough I gotta let you go for the morning, now I gotta loose you for the afternoon too. Lazy cow. We got work left to do! You want us to starve?”
Her sister was clinging to her mother’s arm, crying. Really crying – ugly fat sobs and snot all over her face. “Don’t hurt her mommy, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
“Shut up. Wipe your face. And you.” She fixed her beady brown eyes on Miranda.
Miranda knew what was coming, but she couldn’t pull free of her mother’s grip. One weathered brown hand struck her face. There was a sharp crack as palm met cheek.
“Enough. Ain’t no luck big enough to get you off-planet, girl.” She set off down the street, yanking on Kitty’s hand as the little girl stumbled along beside her. Miranda, cradling her hand against her stinging cheek, followed.
Miranda ran her hand down the ship’s exterior panel. Her hand came away covered in ten years’ worth of grime, which she wiped against her pants. A serial number was pressed into the metal siding, and she traced the numerals with one finger. “Yep, this is the one.”
The salesman squinted. “Hmm,” he mumbled around the toothpick in his mouth. “Sure you want this one? She’s real old. I got some Helios haven’t been taken apart yet.”
Miranda sighed, a shaky exhalation. “I’m sure.”