Author: David Barber
Christine Chiu was sniffing round the Ada Swann, wondering if Perry wanted to sell.
“You and I,” Chiu declared. “We are too old for this kind of life.” The old woman assumed a calculating familiarity, as if their age made them members of a club.
“I leave it to my family now,” she added, producing pictures of solemn grandchildren.
Perry had never liked Chiu.
“I will give you a fair price.”
“Got something lined up,” Perry lied. “Heading out soon.”
Chiu offered green tea but Perry didn’t want to owe this woman anything.
Though Perry and the Ada Swann were still space-worthy, they both had miles on the clock, and at some point wouldn’t be going out in the dark again.
Perry didn’t like to think about that.
She had a half-sister on Ceres who wanted her to retire there, but Perry imagined the state of her knees down a gravity well. Besides, she was busy tinkering with the Ada Swann.
Then in Ceres Port she was approached by a lawyer, young and sharply dressed, one of Christine Chiu’s brood, she thought.
“You going to make me an offer I can’t refuse? Send me a horse’s head?”
He looked puzzled, then smiled faintly. His implant connected him to the Net.
He represented Andrea Luca Stone, he said.
“When you acquired the Ada Swann by salvage, she was part owner.”
“That Andrea Stone’s dead.”
“She is alive and disputes your ownership.”
“You work for Chiu,” accused Perry.
He inclined his head. “You should take legal advice.”
The Ada Swann was named after its first owner. The woman had been a determined and foresighted Spacer who sold up one day to have a family while she still could.
Out in the dark, Perry got into the habit of chatting with the shade of Ada Swann. Lately though, Ada had started to nag.
I have my own ship, Perry argued, something most Spacers just dream of.
Ada waited until the night hours to answer. Then why aren’t you happy? she would murmur.
A Legal AI advised that if the identity of Andrea Stone could be proven, then the Ada Swann was at risk. Such cases were often time consuming and expensive.
What would you do? Perry asked Ada.
After some sleepless nights, Perry began quietly loading up with fuel and supplies, money no object. Where she was going, savings meant nothing.
The Ada Swann slipped out into the dark one last time.
Oumuamua means wanderer in some Earth dialect. It was the name given to a body that swung by the sun early in the 21st century, prompting stories that it was an interstellar traveller.
The Ada Swann soon exceeded the exit velocity of the wanderer, and began to gain on it. Perry wasn’t going to waste her last years throwing money at a legal dispute.
Further out in the dark than anyone had ever been, the Ada Swann finally closed on Oumuamua. Of course there couldn’t be a return trip, but Perry knew the painless Spacer trick of replacing your suit mix with nitrogen.
What surprised her, as she played her lights over the wanderer’s surface, were glimpses of something ancient and strange in the darkness. There was monumental alien script all along its length.
She began sending back live feed to the far-away worlds of her youth.
Bite on that, Christine Chiu.
Later, she picked up faint broadcasts from home about an urgent science mission and a re-supply drone about to launch.
Could she hang on that long? the worlds wanted to know.