Author: David Barber
Trey was chatting about being an alien sex-worker with the Mr Lu franchise.
She was booked into a clinic on Pallas for cosmetic surgery, and what with expenses and everything, she was grateful to hitch a ride with Perry.
Perry piloted a bucket, lifting cargo into orbit round Pallas. She called it cargo, though it was just containers of vacuum-dried sewage. She rarely carried passengers and not many flew a second time, complaining about the sick air plant, or the condensation beading the bare hull that accelerations shook loose as icy indoor rain.
How can you make a living out of this? Trey wanted to ask, but she saw Perry was defensive about a craft obsolete a generation ago. Instead, she perched on the co-pilot’s couch, swinging her legs, watching Perry tapping away at ancient yellowed keys.
They’d hit it off right away, despite Trey being tiny and talkative, while Perry took an outsize in vacuum suits and most days could count the words she spoke.
Trey admired the way Perry didn’t fill silences with chatter. She knew Spacers could spend months flying solo, but then, lots of jobs were lonely.
The screen above Perry showed stars and the vast starship factory slowly sweeping round and round. Finally, Trey complained the display was making her sick.
Perry glanced up, puzzled. “It’s a window,” she said, but cancelled the spin.
Trey tried not to think about gravel bulleting unerringly towards that glass.
High above Pallas, the alien Jirt visitors were building a starship for humankind. In fact Perry’s cargo was soil-starter for the starship habitat, and she wondered about saying this, but Trey had already moved on.
She dismissed notions that she had sex with the Jirt. “That’s not what they want.”
Perry carefully nudged Pallas Orbital back into the cross-hairs.
The Jirt were pollinators, Trey explained, far from home without a flower. That’s what they miss most, she added confidentially. It’s what her surgery was about. For a career, you had to specialise.
It was night-cycle when they docked at Pallas Orbital, the cavernous space cold and empty. If you knew what those two were thinking as they stood there, it would have broken your heart.
Perry had already offered Trey a ride back anytime.
“You go down to Pallas much?”
Perry shook her head. No.
“Enjoyed talking to you,” Trey added. “You’re a good listener.”
“No, you’re interesting. You know stuff.”
Still they loitered, waiting for the future to be different. In the end it was Trey who said after she got out the clinic, they could meet up in that big park they had on Pallas.
You needed to book a ticket for Pallas Green. It had grass, and real trees grown spindly in the low gravity.
Perry couldn’t make it out. Big fleshy petals, and where the face might be, the innards of a flower dangled. Instead of arms there were just green tendrils, like fingers, and tucked inside the flower, were eyes and a mouth.
“What do you think?” There was an overpowering waft of sweetness. “I can do scent too.”
Perry backed away.
Perry didn’t stop until the bucket cleared Pallas.
What if Perry had let Trey explain it wasn’t for ever, and when they flew back, the sick air plant died, and it was Trey who kept them alive with precious oxygen under the lights, and Perry fell in love with a flower and never wanted Trey to change?
Anyway, that was the kind of story Perry told herself as she scrolled through the personal ads, hoping Trey would answer.