When I First Saw Her

Here is a fanfic/freebie story for ‘A Symposium in Space’, my f/f futuristic tale.

This story is about how Phaedra first met the Timea, along with Sokrat.

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 in the middle of 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. “Something caught your eye, did it? 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. It would no longer be true, if I bought something here. “I’ve only just become a pilot. This is my first ship I’m looking for.”

My youth, plus my revelation that I was looking for my first ship were clues 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 such 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 vessel’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 from 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.

“How much?” I asked. The question sounded ridiculous to my own ears. This vessel had already decided I was hers. Still, there were legalities to tend to.

“Well, she may be outdated, but she is a genuine antique!” Gytelem said. Now that she knew I wanted the ship, the used spaceship dealer was changing her tune completely. “This vehicle has a certain amount of historical value, which means I can’t sell her too cheaply!”

“A curious change in attitude, my dear Gytelem,” an amused voice said. “Weren’t you just telling me you’d be willing to give this ‘piece of junk’ away for free? Just to keep it from taking up extra space on your platform?”

I turned, distracted from the stick in my hand, just for a moment.

The speaker was a spry, elfin life giver, with shaggy gray hair and long, white side whiskers. Never had I seen so many wrinkles on a woman’s face. Or rather, a life giver’s face. This stranger made me think of a time, when life givers were called women. Each wrinkle gave a character, a quirk, an expressive turn to her rosy countenance. The stranger’s dark eyes lively and inquisitive, darting all over me, taking in every detail of my appearance.

“Sokrat,” Gytelem said, as if the other life giver’s name was an infusion of hemlock in her mouth. “I didn’t hear you approach.”

“No, I’m sure you were too preoccupied with this lovely young customer,” Sokrat said, She winked at me. It was more conspiratorial than lecherous. “May I try out the seat next to you?”

The question was addressed to me, not to Gytelem. My fingers stroked the stick in front of me. More of its tingling warmth kissed my fingers.

“I don’t think she’ll mind,” I said, pulling my attention with some effort away from the stick.

“She? Listen to her talk! As if this undersized bucket were communicating with her!” Gytelem let out a barking laugh. “‘Love’ has driven this pilot mad!”

“Love has driven more than one person mad, Gytelem,” Sokrat said. She scrambled into the cockpit with much more difficulty than I had. Still, Sokrat was much more spry than one would expect an aged life giver to be. “I wouldn’t be here, if it hadn’t,” Sokrat said, as she settled into the seat next to me. “Besides, what makes you so certain that this old ship isn’t communicating with this young pilot?” Hands speckled with age caressed the arms of her seat. “Why, this is quite comfortable!” Sokrat leaned her shaggy head towards Gytelem. “Why don’t you just let her have…what are you going to call this ship?” One of the old life giver’s keen dark eyes peered at me.

A name popped into my head, which my mother had mentioned in many childhood tales. Great Aunt Diana herself had mentioned it in her holo vid. The name of Great Aunt Diana’s ship.

“The Timea,” I said, as I gently caressed the stick, wondering if this vessel would approve. An answering ripple of heat touched my fingertips, soft and sweet.

“What a pretty name!” Sokrat said, nodding vigorously. She patted her arm seat in a timid fashion. “Why don’t you just give this nice young pilot the Timea and be done with it, Gytelem?”

The used spaceship dealer’s mouth opened and closed, as she stared at Sokrat.

“Especially, when you were ready to pay someone to get this eyesore off your platform?” Sokrat asked. She gave the control panel a wary look, after uttering the word ‘eyesore’. “No offense.”

“None taken,” I said, although I was a bit insulted. Eyesore, indeed! Especially considering some of the ostentatious junk sitting on this very platform!

“Are you trying to ruin me, Sokrat?” Gytelem asked in an aggrieved tone. “Not to mention corrupt the local youth by encouraging them to run off with genuine antiques for a fraction of their price!”

“Ah, but would giving this local youth…what is your name, my dear?” Sokrat asked, turning to me, once more.

“Phaedra,” I said, taken aback by the abrupt return of her attention. There was a force to Sokrat’s keen gaze, a strength which belied her tiny, frail form.

“Phaedra,” Sokrat said, slowly, as if she was tasting every syllabel of my name. My cheeks heated up. It reminded me of how Pausania had once said my name. “Phaedra and the Timea. Lovely names for lovely companions.”
“Companions?” I asked stupidly.

Gytelem perked up at Sokrat’s words.

“What are you saying, Sokrat?” the used spaceship dealer asked. A lot of the rancour left her voice.

“Simply that you’re only sheltering me, my dear Gytelem, because of the debt you owe me,” Sokrat said. Her manner was as pleasant and amiable, as if she was discussing the weather. “Otherwise, you’d never harbour a woman, whom Alkibiadea was hunting.”

I’m not sure which shocked me more; Sokrat calling herself a woman instead of a life giver, or the revelation that the infamous space pirate, Alkibiadea was after her.

Gytelem stood very still at Sokrat’s words, even though her round body quivered with repressed indignition.

“Here’s a question, which provides a solution to two of your problems, my dear Gytelem, this ship and myself,” Sokrat said. She nodded with good humour at the used spaceship dealer, who was turning an unhealthy shade of purple. “Will you allow Phaedra to fly off with the Timea, free of charge, if I were to depart with it?”

Normal color returned to Gytelem’s face, as she considered Sokrat’s words. She took a deep breath.

“Provided that you leave immediately,” she said.

“Go ahead and take the Timea for a spin, Phaedra,” Sokrat said. She turned to me with a smile. “If you don’t want her, don’t return to this platform.”

“I already know that I want her,” I retorted. My hand tightened, possessively, on the stick. “You can already tell the Timea will outrun most ships, even pirate ships.” I examined the console, while watching Sokrat out of the corner of my eye. “Which she may have to, if I’ve got Alkibiadea’s intended prey on board.”

“Don’t worry about Alkibiadea,” Sokrat said, shaking her head. “You and your ship are perfectly safe, as long as I’m on board.”

“How in the heavens do you figure that?” I demanded. The purr of the engines was thoughtfully soft, as the Timea came to life. Not that she’d ever been lifeless, oh, no. She’d just been waiting for her chosen pilot’s touch to awaken her.

“Well, one is always hesitant to destroy what one loves, isn’t she?” Sokrat asked. The console lit up. Its reflection cast a halo around her shaggy head. “Even if one cannot resist chasing her lover from one end of the universe to the other.”

I didn’t ask what she meant. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to understand. Besides I was busy to trying to figure out how navigate the Timea out from between the clunky spaceships on either side. Fortunately, she was easy to manuever.

This was looking like the beginning of a beautiful relationship. It was the beginning of more than one.

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