The Star Ship

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These days, before her Daddy died, are good days. Nat's little, naive, but happy. The pain in her arm's always there thrumming insistently, yet she keeps smiling. In Nat's dreams, she soars freely over communes and factories, but tonight she's jostled, pulled from sleep like a fish pulled from water. A groggy hand rubs her eyes as she adjusts to reality. "Hey Sunrise," says her Daddy in warm tones. "Do you know what today is?"

"It's my birthday," says little Nat in a waking voice. She opens her eyes, her father's face over her with a sad, hopeful smile. It's that feeling she gets when she see's Daddy sometimes at the beginning of the day, when he says goodbye, or at the end when he kisses her forehead, leaving to maintain the commune.

"That's right, your birthday," he says proudly. "How old are you today?"

Nat holds up three fingers on her left hand.

"Close. Try adding one more."

She inexpertly lifts a fourth finger.

"There you go. You're four today. You're a big girl now, and guess what."

"What?" Nat asks beaming.

"I made you something."

She looks for his hands, but they're hidden. Conspiracies bloom. "What is it?" she asks.

Daddy reveals a polished metal tube with a cone on top, fins on bottom. He hands it to Nat and she eagerly takes it.

"What is this thing?"

"This is a star ship." He smiles and watches her eyes as they puzzle over the pretty toy.

"Ooh," she says wonderfully. "What's that?"

"Well," he laughs and ruffles her hair. "A long time ago, there were lots of star ships. They blasted off, zooming from earth with giant rockets. People go inside, they go up here near the top, and then fire comes out the bottom. The fire pushes the rocket into the sky, past the clouds, and up into space."

"What for?"

"To leave the Earth. To live among the stars."

Nat scrunches her face in disbelief. "That's not real. That's imaginary, right?"

"Nope. Or at least that's what they say. It's not real these days. Could you imagine anyone staying here if they could fly away in a rocket? But back in the olden days, thousands and thousands climbed in rockets just like these and blasted out of here. They just kept going and never looked back."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Hell, why do you think?"

Nat looks at her dad, the salt and pepper hair, the rough stubble that never goes away. His eyes are red but he's smiling at her and that's a good thing. "I think it's 'cause the contany... contany-ation."

He nods. "Contamination? That's a good guess, but not quite."

"Why then?"

"Well, at first only a few people rode the ships. They did it to prove they could. Then a few more flew further and further away to do experiments on far away planets."

"Like Jupiter?"

"That's right. But then lots of people started to fly. They went to space to colonize, to find new homes. When the first calamity hit, even more people flew away. People could see the second and third calamities coming, so they flew away. And that's when the last of the star ships blasted off. Never has there been another again. But you know what?"

"What?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if one day there's another star ship, and we'll all climb inside and blast off just like they did in the olden days." He shows a melancholy smile. "You and me and your mom will climb in and blast off and live among the stars. We'll find those people who left before us, find their colonies and join them and they'll say, 'Hi, what took you so long? We've been waiting all this time.'"

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