Check it for Air Leaks

Ah, the harrowing business of buying a new ship. The first few are easy choices: are you a fighter or are you a trader or explorer? If the former, once you’ve got enough money to move on from your Sidewinder, you’ll probably aim for an Eagle or possibly a Viper. If the latter, an Adder or Hauler might be for you, until you can afford a Cobra Mark III.

But then, when you’ve a bit more money in the pot, the options can become a little more bewildering.

Of course, it’s mostly the fun kind of bewilder, because in Elite, ships don’t depreciate in value.

Cars do. And that’s why buying a new one of those – even though it doesn’t have a frame shift drive and you don’t need to check it for air leaks – is considerably scarier.

Also that cars cost real money. Lots of it.

Buying a car isn’t a totally unpleasant experience. If you’ve found one you like then you can look forward to the satisfaction of driving it, and that can keep you going through the paperwork. But there’s also the nagging worry about whether you’re actually allowed to do it.

It’s a lot of money. I mean, it isn’t, in comparison to some cars, but it’s quite a lot for me. And there’s always the worry that I’ll get into trouble. I’m not sure who with, but I think it goes back to my life of crime*.

Yep, I had one. I was a rogue. A villain. I stole. From my mum.

I must’ve been about six. We lived on an estate. When I say ‘estate’, I mean the extended grounds of a stately home. And the stately home had a farm shop. My mum wanted some milk, so she gave me… I don’t know, twenty pence, or whatever it was, and told me to go get some.

Now so bear in mind that A) this was in an altogether less paranoid age, and B) the estate, even full of tourists as it often was, was just ‘home’ – so it wasn’t an issue for me to run over to the farm on an errand.

But when I got there, temptation led me astray, for there, in the farm souvenir shop, was a little mouse finger puppet. It was cute, it was fluffy, and it was twenty p.

I returned home sans milk, but very much avec souris.

It did not end well.

And although my mother was entirely right – entirely right – to put me firmly straight on the scumminess of stealing the milk money – from your own mum, I mean come on – I wonder if that lesson sunk in a little too deep.

Because now, at forty-summat, and although the money belongs to Ket and I both and we’ve agreed I can spend it, there’s still part of me that’s worrying that this shiny nearly-new car will end up being another mouse finger puppet.

It’s not Ket that I fear will object, I should say. Nor my mum. It’s just… someone. Authority. Some sort of general sanction that’ll befall me when society finds out I’ve been doing adult things without a licence.

Because I’m sure there must be some sort of licence. Probably from the training course I never took. Do you get into trouble for not doing the course? I don’t know! It’s all very stressful, though. It’s like the fridge-freezer all over again, but more so.

(* I’m not going to tell you what my predictive text wanted to type instead of ‘crime’, but I’m quite surprised. It’s not a word I can have typed very often…)

HISTORICAL NOTE: After about a year of driving it – maybe even less – I stuffed this car by sliding it gently into a wall in snowy weather. And its onboard computers didn’t care that the collision was quite gentle, they damn well fired those airbags anyway. Which wrote the car off. Just that. Not the collision damage – that was superficial. No, just the safety system protecting me from mild acceleration forces that weren’t anywhere near being uncomfortable, much less dangerous. I was more shocked and disorientated by the bags deploying than I would’ve been from the actual ‘impact’ (it barely even warrants that word). So I had to get rid of the car I quite liked and enjoyed driving — the car that felt like, for the first time in my life, I’d been able to choose and buy quite a decent car that, albeit not new, gave me that sense of being Something Nice — and replace it hastily with… /deep sigh… a functional car. One that functions. That at least can be said for it.

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