His face fell. "I... don't have any money."

"I understand. We do offer an in-house loan program, starting at a low 30 percent interest."

He frowned. "I don't qualify for a loan." The ship rattled.

"I understand. We also accept collateral; property, intellectual or otherwise."

"All we have is this ship," The man said. He looked at his wife and child. "And each other."

"I understand. Have a good day."

The speaker went dead.

He stared in disbelief at the speaker.

"We're going to die out here!" She said and began to sob. Their daughter was so terrified that she couldn't move.

The speakers crackled back to life, and a deep, husky voice said. "This is Hull. I will assist. Adjust your heading to Nine, Z-Zelda, Tiger-Fi, Duskatelle."

"Duskatelle?" The little girl asked.

"It's a planet," He said, tapping on the keyboard built into the dashboard. "Cows, vagrants, and wide, open land. A real backwater world."

The woman smiled. "I like the sound of that!"

He turned a few dials and pressed a button. The computer calculated a series of numbers and displayed the total on a rectangular green screen mounted above the keyboard. He read it and let out a loud sigh. "It's nearby!" He typed out a command, and the rocket shivered as it adjusted course. He pressed the speaker button.

"Thank you, Hull. We're on our way!"

The thrusters suddenly came to life, and the rocket roared across the endless expanse of space. Moments later, a small yellow planet appeared in the distance. As they got closer, an L-shaped silhouette orbiting Duskatelle came into focus.

"There it is!" He said before the force knocked him and his family to the floor.


A ceiling panel fell and swung about overhead, hanging from a single bolt in the ceiling. Wires fell out and whipped about, their ends sparking and creating lingering vapors of smoke.

Bolts echoed throughout the hull like raindrops as they fell to the floor with loud thuds.

A fist-sized porthole on the back wall shattered, and air rushed loudly into space.

"Dear God, we're going to die!" The woman yelled, grabbing her daughter and holding her tightly.

The rocket lost control. It spun towards the L-shaped structure made of gray riveted steel. A set of giant cranes with Plexiglas-wrapped control carriages sat on a track on either end of the long side of the L. A large flat, round yellow hub protruded from the stubby end of the L, meant to dock larger ships. The faded Coalition of Forces "Flying F" insignia, a stretched italicized F with a small white star, was along the side of the structure with the words KATANGA BAY alongside it, in white stencil.

"No!" He yelled and repeatedly pressed the throttle on the dashboard's joystick.

The thrusters sputtered but wouldn't re-ignite. More air hissed out. Lael began coughing.

The man did the only thing he could do; he quickly moved from the dashboard and held his wife and child tightly in his arms.

The rocket rocked hard and then... stopped moving. The wires overhead hung there and continued to spark, gray smoke filling the air with a sharp, stingy smell of burnt copper.

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