Another shake of her longcoat didn’t keep the strong fuel smell away. Turbines whirred to life and whimpered as they slowed to stillness once more. Sounds of machines and voices echoed up and bounced off the metal ceiling and walls. Mareli walked the length of the hangar surveying the ships for sale. Her back was to the shiny, new ones. Her pockets were too light to afford that. “Something more than parts hanging together,” she muttered.
There were plenty of buyers today. They all watched each other as much as the ships. If one paused and took a long look at one ship in particular, they all would try to see what he saw in the ship. Maybe it was a good buy. Maybe it was the gem in the pile of garbage. Others, like Mareli, kept their own counsel. She would trust her own thoughts, though her knowledge was a might bit weak. What was she thinking? A ship? Just so she could get out of town fast if someone took exception to her luck? Likely as not, she would need a book, too. “Can ya learn to fly a ship by book?” She guessed most did. And then practice. Trouble was, unlike practicing a song, miss a move on a ship, and it’s time to take a dirt nap. Mareli hummed through a wince thinking on that halo of reality. “How delightful.”
She walked on to the next ship in line. Now, then, this looked promising.
“All your bluster. I’m standing, you wretch.” The man a few steps closer to the ship, snarled beneath his breath. Mareli couldn’t see his face, but all the tension was in his hunched shoulders. His hands at his side flexed and relaxed, grasping air only to let go again. “Took it from me, but what have you got? Nothing, now. All gone. Couldn’t feel it, but I know it was there. Heard about it. Gone, gone, gone, and I’m here. Still here.” His voice hiccupped on the last words, escaping through clenched teeth.
That man was trouble, and he glared at the ship in front of Mareli as if it had a soul and a life to shrivel under his gaze. Mareli looked back to the ship. It was…a ship. Not big. Reminded her of a beetle in a way. Its wings could tuck in close or spread out.
“What do you want?” The man turned his sharp gaze on her. She had lingered too long. Best play was to walk away. Fold the cards dealt and wait for the next hand. No fun that way.
“The ship,” she said back to him. She folded her arms, one hand holding the pommel of her cane, and gave him her best stage smile.
With one swift stride, he was a hair’s breadth away. She could smell the dirt on him. The sweat and stink wafted around her, and she instinctively held her breath until she could handle it. She missed the smell of fuel in that moment. “Not yours. Mine. By rights. Mine.”
“I don’t know all the rules, but pretty sure you have to buy it. You all do buy and sell things on this floating rock, right?”
“Passes to me. I’m family. I’m kin. She would have left it to me.”
Even without overhearing his previous comments to the ghost-of-family-member-past, Mareli could tell that was a lie. The man had tells all over his person, and he was too angry to hide them. That twitch at the corner of his eye. The stillness of his hands. How broad the pupils dilated, like he was ready to blast her with his sight. On this planet, she’s not sure he couldn’t. She had seen a few things in her time here. “Well, mister, she didn’t. For sale. Says right here on the screen describing it.” She pointed to the holographic image floating above a post in front of the nose of the ship.
Mareli took a moment to realize no one had stopped to take notice of what was going on between them. People kept to themselves here, it looked like. Could be a good thing for her. If she plays her cards right too often.
“It is mine,” he stated again, as if the repetition would make it so and unnerve her. His fingers clenched and did not release, staying in white knuckled fists.
“Mister, I don’t know what happened with you and your family, but you take a swing at me, and I swear,” she tapped the top of her cane, “I will end you.”
Someone finally noticed the growing tension between them, and an older woman with more white than red in her hair, came over. “May I help you two?” She had a badge of the hangar authority on her.
Before the man could speak, Mareli turned with a smile, setting both hands on the pommel of her cane set to the concrete floor, and leaned forward as if ready to start a tap dance. And so she was. Of a sense. “I am glad you have arrived. I’ve got my eye on this beauty here,” –beauty being in the eye of the beholder – “and think you’ve just made yourself a mighty fine sale, if we can come to terms. Let’s deliberate in the office, shall we?”
“No!” The man shouted just as Mareli turned to walk away with the woman.
Taking a knee as she stepped forward, the man went over her shoulders. He stumbled and tripped, nearly falling down. A nearness attained when Mareli swung out her cane at his feet. He crashed to the ground. She stood, swinging the cane in a full circle, and brought the pommel down on the man’s shoulder. The shoulder crunched in chorus with the man screaming in agony.
“Now,” Mareli hooked her arm with the sales woman’s, “ante up. What’s your opening bid?”