I watched the stars: burning halos of light and energy and blood and sweat and all in all it was nice, and I was relaxed. My parents may be really disappointed and probably think I'm dead but they've never floated weightless out in the space ocean with the steel whales and the shoals of asteroids carried by the gravity tide, so I think it's safe to say they're wrong.
Ford yawned as he stepped to the controls and fell into the seat next to me. After a long long while of us letting the stars seep into our bones and brains and veins, even though we both were pretty much one with space anyway, Ford said, “There's a whale ahead,” in the same drowsy bored voice he always used unless we were taking a stroll through customs.
I squinted. Blocking out half a star in the distance was the ship he'd pointed out. It only took me a moment to realize it was beached, a floating relic from under the sea, probably ruined a long time ago on the reef of battle. I adjusted our trajectory. Soon we were upon the beached whale.
“Looks recent,” Ford said.
“Still warm.” I leaned back. “You want to jump on?”
I got close enough for Ford to board the whale. The rest was waiting for his sparse communications. I closed my eyes and listened.
“Passenger ship. Looks like it was raided. Lights are half on. Searching rooms. Someone else got here first. Looks like most have been ejected, but a few bodies are lying about. Looks like it's been about a day, maybe.”
“Any survivors?” I asked.
His voice crackled after a moment. “There's a little girl in the vent. I'm taking her back.”
When Ford arrived back, he had the girl in his arms. She was thin, about eight years old, thin lips and hollow almond eyes and dark curly hair and rigid cheeks and black eyes and sharp elbows and she clung to Ford like any little girl who had probably seen her parents murdered before her would.
“That's all?” I contemplated going back myself and looking for actual money.
He took the girl to the kitchens as I started the ship back up and continued on our original current. After an hour or so I went back to the kitchens and found Ford with her sitting there. She was wrapped in a towel.
“This is our pilot, Finn.” Ford's voice was different, brighter, lighter even than his customs voice. I scowled. The little girl shrunk. “It's okay. Finn's always in a bad mood.”
The sudden influx of estrogen was probably making me woozy, I decided. “What's your name?” I asked, shooting her my best grin.
She didn't speak. Her eyes burrowed holes in the table.
I looked at Ford, who shrugged. I cleared my throat. “We'll drop her off at the station. Someone is probably worried, if there's anyone left.”
I could tell Ford wanted to argue with me, and sure enough he asked the girl to stay there and followed me back to the cockpit, and his voice was clipping for once instead of drawling.
“She's got no family left, Finn. No one is looking for her. We can't just drop her off.”
“This is my ship Ford. My rules. I ain't taking care of a kid.” I looked at him sharply. “If you want to step off of this ship you can do as you like. The kid goes.”
Ford paused and left the cockpit. I drowned myself in the stars.
We reached the station the next day, after I slept a few hours. I'd done my best to keep the mud and dust off of my boots but Ford looked like he was about to step off and I sighed as my goals of becoming one with space were ruined when I had to go get supplies. Hadn't done that in a while. When I got back I found Ford and the girl were gone. I sat in the cockpit for a long, long time, focused on the hazy lights in the distant ocean waves.
The fire in my veins seemed cooler, whiter, like it had lost its color and its heat and its reason for being. The Outer Rim. I contemplated Pluto and the other rocks that floated distant and cold, and the gases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn and the stars, cold and distant fires that burnt holes in my retinas like plasma and dropped like birds shot through the chest with stardust and so much ancient sprawling city that my lungs caught like that girl's parents thrown out into the airless recesses of the deep ocean, and I had to think about breathing.
When I looked over I found Ford with me, as usual slouched in the seat, probably feeling the same things, his hand paused on his stubble.
“I thought women liked kids,” he said, eying me, judgmental as always, though his voice was finally normal.
I smiled. “Why didn't you take care of her then?” I turned and went back to the controls, and sat again to let the stars fire up in my neurons.
Always dress well was my motto. A little cleavage never hurt when you were getting through customs.