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The emergency hatch popped from the hull and lodged into the ceiling plaster. Astronaut Allan Rowan, his narrow face pink from the billowing smoke,  emerged from the cramped smokey portal and drew a huge gulp of clean air. Teary-eyed, he scanned the inside of the house. A compound smell of burning carpet and wood reached up the side of the spacecraft and found him. Soon the house would burn, he knew. The retro thrusters were too late flaming out.

To his left: a white wall adorned with various framed family photos, all of which hung askant and teetered from their nails; the 10-ton reentry vehicle had ramrodded the wall into a 75 degree angle. Just a love tap is all it was. 

A swing of black smoke rushed over his face and he busted into a violent coughing fit, after which he turned his head to the right, where the afternoon sun blazed inward through what remained of the house's southern wall. Kestrel's fuselage jutted halfway out into the front yard, its spent engines sighing black smoke toward the street. The bulk of the craft blocked much of the view of the neighborhood, but Rowan could still manage a decent view of the house's front lawn, now a deep chasm of dirt and pink clay.

He remembered the view from the cockpit window as Kestrel screeched across the residential street churning up asphalt, then skated over the overgrown front lawn, then kicked through the house as if the walls were made of cardboard and balsa wood. He'd seen no Ripe on the streets during that brutal crash-landing, nor did he see any now through the breaks in the wall.

But they would come, he knew. They were on their way, attracted to the activity of the crash.

Rowan smelled smoke. Lowering his eyes to the shuttle's left wing, where a wide-screen television and a bramble of wires had settled on the shuttles white thermal tiles. A leather couch, crushed below Kestrel's scalding heat shield, blistered and smoked from the searing atmospheric reentry. Rowan made his thin lips into a hard grimace.

First the couch, then everything else, he thought. We need to get Wescott out of here. Or do him quick.

After making another quick survey to make sure the place was safe, Rowan reached back down into the smokey shuttle interior and, heaving with all his might, brought up Spacekid.

"Okay, Spacekid, breathe!'' Rowan hollered as he whacked Spacekid's back again and again. "Pull yourself together!"

When the kid had coughed himself out, Rowan hastily lowered him down over the side of the shuttle and dropped him into the ruins of the living room. At first, the kid's feet settled unevenly on the wreck of a coffee table and he nearly turned his ankle. 

"Watch for the feet," said Rowan.

"Huh?" Then Spacekid glanced at the floor and saw the smashed legs protruding from underneath the shuttle like the witch's legs in The Wizard of Oz, toes pointing up to the shattered ceiling. Carefully he stepped over the legs and the puddle of blood in which they lay.

"Hopefully that was the only killbilly in the house," grumbled Rowan unsentimentally. "Turned into hot jelly from the tiles. You okay down there?"

"Sure. I guess."

Rowan sighed, glad that the clumsy kid had managed to de-plane without turning an ankle or worse. The landing party already had one gimp to slow them down---Wescott's left leg had shattered below the knee, and he would have to be carried/dragged to the group's next destination, wherever the hell that was. Last thing they needed was for Spacekid reduced to a sack of potatoes. Though the kid, like everyone else, had spent the past two years eating rationed dehydrated foods and supplement pills, Spacekid somehow managed to retain his world-famous pudgy features. This wasn't a kid you wanted to be carrying.

Rowan fixed a serious glare on the boy. Spacekid. The "first kid in space." The viral Internet sensation that had, through the great influence of social media, given the Space Agency a new lease on life. Until the sh-t hit the fan, that is. But the kid's place in pop culture wasn't going to cut him any breaks with the People nowadays. The People nowadays seriously didn't give a damn. The kid would have to toughen up. And quick.

"Dig around," Rowan said. "See if you can find some kind of a weapon. Something sharp. Think: penetrate-the-skull." He made like he was going to sink back into the portal but then stopped himself abruptly. Spacekid had already ventured dangerously close to the exposed front yard. Rowan cupped his hands and called him back: "HO NOW! Where you going, boy?"

Then, as he'd so often done on the Station whenever he lost his temper with the kid, he softened his tone and tried again. "For the moment, we're safer inside. The Ripe don't like the heat, remember? They'll stay away." The blistering leather couch chose that moments to whoosh into an open blaze.

Spacekid gave him a look of compliance and then, his eyes ablaze with panic, he pointed emphatically to a stretched of the ceiling where the Kestrel's tall vertical stabilizer had opened a massive gap into the floor above. The bisected floor above had already started to fold downward from its own weight, spilling some of the contents of what appeared to be the bedroom of a little girl. A series of brightly colored stuffed animals rained down upon Kestrel's sooty hull. But these things weren't what Spacekid was pointing to; a large bureau teetered on the edge, just above Kestrel's small access portal.

Not moments after Rowan got a visual on the object in question, the bureau scooted forward and fell. Rowan disappeared back into the access portal like a gopher zipping back into its hole. The bureau crashed over the small opening and rolled down the side of the hull, coming to a splintering rest on the cluttered floor.

"Good eye, son," Rowan said when he popped back out of the hole. He gave the kid a wink, then, after drawing a deep draught of fresh air, he disappeared back into the smokey access portal to assist the other survivors.

Or kill them.


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