“It’s definitely a fine ship,” Natasha said, patting the warm, metallic side of the Canary. “But to be honest, Hersh, I’m looking for something a bit more robust, something that I can rely on to get me back and forth across the Cluster. Something with…I don’t know…more cargo space?”

Hersh grinned, flashing two of his gold-capped teeth at her. “Ah, you’re wanting to get into the shipping business, aren’t you? Just like Braham Jordan, right?”

“That’s a bit lofty, but yeah.”

“Well then,” he said, slinging his arm over her shoulder. “Let me show you something else.”

The hangar was busy that day; plenty of people, like her, were willing to cash their refund checks and buy their first airship. Couples, some with children, followed excited salesmen around the hangar and gawked at the impressive collection of airships, shuttles, and trams. Hersh led her around the portly, metal-sided class-C airships with names like Canary, Robin, and Finch. She had already seen these and liked them, but didn’t want those particular models. She had also given thoughtful consideration to the shuttles — small, one-, two-, or three-person passenger vehicles with names like Wasp, Hornet, and Yellowjacket. They were also inexpensive and she could afford one outright today if she bought one, but none of them had the cargo space she wanted. She gave no thought to the airtrams, however. They were bulky, multi-passenger transports with no interstellar abilities at all. They could take many people many different places on any state, but getting them off required a class-A airship, which were all State-owned and illegal for citizen purchase.

Hersh stopped at a free terminal at the intersection of two aisles — one for class-B airships and one for more class-C’s. “We got a new model in last week,” he said, swiping through the user interface. “I don’t think it’s in the showroom, yet…oh, here it is. The Skylark. It is still outside.”

Natasha was smiling at the nearest class-B shuttle — a Goshawk. It was one of four — two Goshawks, one Eagle, one Falcon — in Hersh’s inventory. They were gorgeous ships — shiny, gleaming beacons of wealth and job security. Affording a class-B would take her most of her life.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Hersh said, walking up to her. “That Goshawk is identical to the model Jordan owns.”

“I recognized it,” she said. “Four shuttle docks, twelve private cubes, captain’s quarters, and even voice-recognition.”

“Wanna take a look inside?”

She scoffed. “Would you give a starving dog a rubber bone?”

“I wouldn’t sell you anything you couldn’t afford,” Hersh promised. “Come on, let’s take a look at what you can…”

They walked by the class-Bs, and even though Natasha had good sense with her she had to fight back a twinge of envy and lust. Braham Jordan, the most expensive air-privateer in the Hellenic Cluster, didn’t just have a Goshawk. He had four leased-out airshuttles — three Wasps and a Hornet, one on each dock. He also owned a Robin and a Sparrow with two paid captains. Skyfleet magazine had jokingly called him Admiral Jordan in their last issue, but the man had adopted the title for himself. Admiral Jordan. It sounded a bit more authoritative than Admiral Muller. Or even Captain Muller.

She followed Hersh outside, where she flinched and slipped her sunglasses on. Hersh was unfazed — being born here on Argos, he would. Natasha, however, was a native Corinthian and hated the heat and closeness of the sun. She wrapped her cowl over her face and hunched her shoulders. The sun glinted off the outdoor plane of new inventory — trams, shuttles, and ships had been placed where they could before they could be moved into the hangar showroom. Custodians were cleaning the exteriors of some transports while maintenance workers repaired pre-owned ships for resale. Natasha thought about buying a used craft, but considered the costs of upgrade and remodeling. She wasn’t interested in turning a profit through re-selling her ship — she wanted to make the money she spent on the transport through shipping. A used ship would just cost her more money in the long run; she would spend more money prepping and older ship for transport than she would on a new one.

Hersh led her around the corner to a plump class-C, new and gleaming in the hot, bright sun. “Here she is,” Hersh announced. “Ain’t she a beaut? She’s one of the newer class-Cs.”

Natasha held her hand up to guard her eyes and frowned: like the other class-Cs, the Skylark was a plump, two-storey, streamlined airship with rounded corners, two runners, and flexible wings. As she cut a semi circle around it to get into the shade, she noticed a great difference with this model. The Skylark had smooth, curved wings attached to the body with V-shaped branches. The pilot’s visor was blue rather than black — which she assumed had a functional purpose rather than merely aesthetic. The cargo hold door was down, and pale, soft light came glowing out from the insides. Reconsidering these new changes, she smiled again.

“Ha ha!” Hersh exclaimed, noting her expression. “I thought you might like her. She’s our first Skylark. We won’t be getting anymore until next season.”

“Can I see the inside?” Natasha asked.

“Of course you can,” he said. “C’mon.”

She stepped into the cargo hold, greeted by the pale pink light from recessed outlets in the walls. She immediately liked the cargo space; it was small, but could accompany at least 25 kilos of merch. There were four separate sleeping quarters and a captain’s bunk — no private room, but she knew that already — and a small mess hall. Surveying the space provided, Natasha placed her hands on her hips and nodded.

“I like it, Hersh,” she said finally. “I like it a lot. I could deal with a bit more space, but the floorplan is open and makes up for the size constraints.”

“Well you won’t find much bigger in a class-C,” the salesman remarked. “But the Skylark’s a step in the right direction.”

“Skylark,” Natasha repeated, tasting the word. She liked the way it rolled off her tongue. “I think you made yourself a sale, my friend.”

“Splendid!” Hersh clapped his hands. “I guess I will draw up the paperwork. You have the down payment with you?”

“Just a bank transfer away,” she said, looked around and admiring the interior of her newest purchase. “Let’s do some business.”