Going For A Song

Author: David Barber

“You’re not old enough to remember Patty Blue, the singer,” the salesman said. He still wore his hair in a spacer crop, though he hadn’t been out in the dark for years.

“Spacers broadcast her songs when coms traffic was slow and that voice would haunt you.”

He rotated the hologram of the Patty Blue thoughtfully.

“Anyway, this Ceres Series Four is named after her. It’s got 10 billion miles and three ex-owners on the clock, but they don’t make ships like this any more.

“You’re right,” he nodded. “It looks like a ring stuck on a funnel.

“Habitat was spun up for gees, but the seals were always leaking and worn rotors could shake you out of bed. All the ones still flying have the ring locked. These days folk just take null-g meds.

“Funnel’s there to stop backscatter from the drive—”

He leaned in confidentially.

“—but if you wanted kids with just five toes, you banked some sperm. They pulled the rotor out of this one. Pilot’s station’s shielded with an extra tonne or so of ice instead.”

Customer’s attention hadn’t drifted. Perhaps there was a sale here, hobby project for a rich kid, restoring vintage.

“Lot of history in that ship. Owned by the Swanns, brother and sister, before she escaped down a gravity well to get married, and he drank himself to death on Vesta. Can’t blame her for wanting more than the dark can offer.

“It’s a six-berth, but they rigged it so everything could be handled from the pilot’s station.

“Spacer named Perry piloted it solo for years. No older than you when she brought the Franklin back single-handed in ’57. Spent the salvage money on the Patty Blue.”

Perry had shipped out in the years when spacers made a living jockeying ice in the Kuiper, boosting it down to markets in the Inner System.

“She even piloted the Patty Blue as a safety ship for the Voyager Challenge Cup. Not many spacers have seen that gold disc up close.

“Met her a few times when I crewed out in the dark. Spacers always end up in the same bars. Where else would they go? Took an outsize in vac suits, forearms like hams. She kept the Patty Blue running like new. I was surprised to hear she’d retired.”

The salesman had a far-away look in his eyes. The Ice-Rush was over; who could compete with AI mining fleets? Hard to know where you belonged any more. There were still some spacers flying their own ships, but it must feel like shouldering the door marked pull.

“Anyway. Even with their faults, I’ve always liked the Series Four. This one’s in the junk-yard orbit round Vesta.

“When I say junk-yard— I mean the Patty Blue would make a good restoration project,” he adds, liking the idea of keeping it all going a bit longer.

Then the customer explained his idea.

The brat just wanted an old rattletrap to run into the ground, and bragging rights about seeing Saturn or Triton Station. When he and his monied pals had had enough, they’d dump the Patty Blue and buy passenger berths home.

Spacers had shared years out in the dark, not some road trip round the Rings. One is just playing while the other was our life.

“Anyway,” he said. “The Patty Blue is going for a song.”

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