Songs and Singing
“There’s a hole in my foodbot, Salt Yarrow, Salt Yarrow,” Julian’s
tenor belted out from the center of the mess hall. “There’s a hole in my
foodbot, Salt Yarrow, a hole!”
Yeoman Yarrow removed the front panel of the foodbot and sang,
“Well fix it, First Chief, First Chief, First Chief. Well fix it, First Chief,
First Chief, fix it!”
Lonicera walked into the cafeteria and moved in step to the song
across the floor.
“With what shall I fix it, Salt Yarrow, Salt Yarrow? With what shall
I fix it, Salt Yarrow, with what?”
The older man handed the implement to Julian with a grin, “With
a tyndale, First Chief, First Chief, First Chief. With a tyndale, First
Chief, First Chief, a tyndale.”
By now, the other crew in the mess joined in with the song as
Lonicera waltzed around the hall. The verses progressed from one
problem’s solution to another: the tyndale was too weak to do the job, so
it needed a battery, which was in the storeroom but the storeroom was
locked and the captain had the key. But the captain was on shore leave,
and on and on. As Julian finished the repair and replaced the panel, he
watched as the beautiful woman soared gracefully across the hall. Her
face was filled with joy. He looked at Yarrow, who nodded encouragingly
at him. As Lonicera waltzed past, Julian took her hand and the waltz
became a polka and the crowded mess hall launched into rowdier and
rowdier verses. Others joined the impromptu promenade, jostling and
twirling each other as the rhythm rushed and the volume swelled.
The bells tolled for the next shift and the salts fell to good-natured
grumbling, leaving for work or home.
In the softened din, Lonicera laughed. She beamed at Julian and
threw her head back and laughed. It took his breath away.
Three days later, Julian was belly-deep inside the engines of a
fighter, trying to replace a blasted fuel line. The ratchet he needed
slipped from his greasy fingers and clattered to the floor of the bay. He
blew out a breath rather than a curse and a slender, dirty hand lifted
the ratchet up to him. He took it, trying to see her face, but knowing it
was her. “Thank you!”
“With a tyndale, dear man, dear man, dear man,” she sang, and
then she was gone.
That evening, as he strolled the isolated passageways, checking the
various gages and lines that kept his ship vital and alive, he heard a
mournful tune echoing down from one of the side passages which ran
alongside the Tinker’s hearth. For being the center of what kept the
Tinker’s Damn alive, traffic along the corridors surrounding the engine
room were usually sparse. It was a man singing, in a bass voice which
made Julian shiver with sorrow. He’d never heard the song before,
which was rare on a ship full of Orchideans who loved ballads and
stories more than most anything else.
He followed the voice and came upon Lan-chi Yarrow, Petrosk
Sylva and his mate Benny who were seated in front of a thin Spa’Lab.
The singer was standing by the hearth-side of the corridor leaning
against the wall; his head tilted back, his eyes closed. But the song he
sang made Julian remember each person he’d ever loved who died. He
wasn’t singing words, just sounds: various vowels and hmmms and
occasional pocking noises. As Julian sat beside Yarrow, he noted the
engcorder in his hands. The salt put the wooden reed to his lips and
blew softly, harmonizing with the song of the thin Spa’Lab.
Sylva wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. “Missus Gidlasken
would have loved this.”
“Ayup,” his mate replied, wrapping his beefy arm around Sylva’s
A subtle shift in the engines meant the Tinker’s Damn was changing
course. Julian noticed it because he was attuned to his ship’s engines.
The Spa’Lab stopped mid-note. The silence startled the men. They
waited for him to continue; he did not. They glanced at each other and
shrugged. The Spa’Lab straightened, standing away from the wall, and
The next night, as Julian happened to be passing by the same
corridor, he nodded at Yarrow, Sylva and Benny who also just happened
to be passing. Sebastiana and her husband Alessandro wandered past
him and smiled. A voice, much higher than the one from the night
before, began a plaintive melody. The deep bass of last night’s singer
joined it. The salts grinned at each other and went into the corridor and
sat before the two men. The thin man leaned one hand against the wall
and rested the other on the shoulder of the youngest of the Spa’Labs.
Again, no words were used, only syllables and mouth-percussion, but
the eloquence of the music stirred the listeners to tears. There was no
break where one song ended and another began, they dovetailed into a
livelier one, and then receded into a slower one.
Yarrow joined them with his Engcorder, and another salt brought
a mouth organ. Other Tinkers hummed along as best they could.
Sebastiana sat between her husband and Julian and held their hands.
From behind them, a soprano began to weave her harmony into
the strain. Julian turned and smiled at the Spa’Lab woman. She didn’t
see him. She was moving her way slowly up the passage, trailing her
fingers along the walls as if she were plucking unseen harp strings
along its side. She came alongside the young tenor and he reached out
his hand to her. When they joined, the three solidified into one note:
strong, vibrant, beckoning. Sebastiana gasped beside Julian and he
realized he was having trouble breathing himself. Slowly the woman
climbed step by step as the bass lowered, matching her at thirds and
fifths and octaves. The tenor held his note, balancing the three.
The Tinkers Damn shifted gears and seemingly in response, the
three singers launched into a lively aria.
More and more of the crew crowded into the corridor but were
silent in awe. The singers held sway for an entire Movietime, barely
breaking for breath; never out of harmony; blending and banking and
weaving their song until Julian thought he could bare it no more and
might simply dissolve.
The ship shifted gears again and they suddenly fell silent. They
blinked slowly. Their hands fell from each other’s grasps.
“They can’t stop now!” Sebastiana hissed.
But they simply walked away.
The following night, the corridor was jammed full of salts and their
mates and children. Even the captain and the doctor were seated beside
their children, expectantly waiting while being told from everyone
around them about the singers.
“Her name’s Lonicera.” Sebastiana sat beside Julian while her son
and two daughters fought over being able to sit in Julian’s lap.
“See that pretty young woman sitting next to Claire?” His secondchief
pointed. “She’s the eldest, come back to the Tinker after serving
four years at the Academy on Lucidea. She’s received a commission as
the new comtech on the Tinker. She helped her mother trace all the
“I remember Poplaris Lobelia when she was a child. Couldn’t keep
her out of the comroom. Always questioning Yarrow. Near drove her
“Lobelia says your Spa’Lab’s full name’s Chirate Lonicera. She’s
unmarried. And she’s famous.”
“And absent tonight.”
Sebastiana’s husband Alessandro sat beside her and took one of the
three children out of Julian’s lap. “Who’s absent tonight?”
“The singers.” Julian nodded at Alessandro.
“I wonder why,” Alessandro mused.
Their son Democritus piped very calmly, “Because we’re still on
course to Hweng.”
“Yes, Democritus, we’re still on course to Hweng. What does that
have to do with the singers?” Julian turned the boy so he could see his
“Last night, they sang until we changed course to Hweng, then
they stopped singing.”
“Well, those are two separate things,” Alessandro stated.
Democritus frowned. “Maybe.”
“So, you think if we change course again, the Spa’Labs will sing
again?” his mother asked.
“Yes.” The boy nodded.
Julian grinned at Sebastiana, who leaned over and kissed her son.
They waited with some degree of patience, while salts played
impromptu duets and solos and eventually dancing broke out and
everyone had a great time, despite the worrying fact that the Spa’Labs
never made an appearance.
© Evelyn Rainey