Claude scuffed his feet against the burnished steel floor of his ship, a deep frown settled on his features. No matter how old he got, there were some women who always seemed to bring out the child in him, the contrite young boy who had just been given a firm scolding. Jelari could do it more easily than most.

“It’s not that I think it’s a bad thing,” she was explaining, her voice quiet and reasonable. “But really, Claude, even you have got to see that this is a little unhealthy. It makes sense for a mechanic to be devoted to his ship, but with this thing—Claude, I don’t know how else to say this. You treat it like a person.”

“I treat her like a ship,” Claude protested. “A good ship who’s gotten me through a lot of scrapes and deserves respect.”

“See?” Jehari said, giving him a look of profound disappointment. “You’re personifying again, Claude. You just called it a ‘she.’ A spaceship isn’t a person. It’s a piece of machinery.”

“Even landside sailors give their ships a gender,” Claude replied, but the sinking feeling in his heart told him he was losing yet another battle. Jehari just didn’t understand the special relationship Claude had with the Mermaid’s Wing. He’d raised the ship from a baby, just a junkyard scrap with a tiny spark of potential, and she had carried him through thick and thin. Every ounce of money Claude got from his various odd jobs wound up sunk into the Mermaid’s Wing, on engine parts or upgrades or new tools or even just a new coat of sealant. He could tell that his girlfriend was not amused.

“That is not the point, Claude, and you know it.” Jehari straightened and frowned, and inwardly, Claude groaned. This always meant that she meant business. “The point is that you are spending too much time working on the ship and not enough interacting with real human beings.”

By that, Claude knew that Jehari meant he’d been ignoring her, and he felt a pang of guilt. Jehari was a human, though, and humans could take care of themselves. The Wing couldn’t. “She needs me,” Claude protested weakly.

“Claude, this is not acceptable.” Jehari’s mouth was set in a thin line and Claude knew it was only a pale representation of the line he had just crossed. “I’m not going to live here with you and watch you waste all of your time on unnecessary engine diagnostics and triple-redundancy system installations. You need to make a choice. It’s either me or the ship.”

Slumping in his chair, Claude nodded. Somehow he had always known it would come to this. He felt a certain sense of defeat, but in the end, Jehari was probably right—it was better this way. He needed to learn how to let go and make choices. It was with a very real pang of regret that he dropped Jehari off at the next spaceport.

As he piloted the Mermaid’s Wing away from the station, Claude felt a lightness that he hadn’t experienced in months. He patted the control panel affectionately, noting as he did so that the Wing’s coolant system was running just a little below 90% efficiency. He’d have to take a look at that. “Don’t worry,” he told the ship with a smile. “I’ll take care of you.”

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The Past

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