An Offer She Refused

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Ten years later.

Hull rolled along the edge of the Katanga Bay in the plexiglass-covered carriage of the crane, its arm moving over to start repairs on the red scow that floated alongside the drydock.

A meteor had slammed into the long rectangular transport, leaving a giant hole in it. A section of the Katanga Bay's roof was raised open like the lid of a toolbox. Bubbling inside was molten steel in a ladle that slowly turned on its side and poured into a cast that pressed and turned the metal into long, thick steel sheets.

Hull tapped a series of numbers onto a ten-key pad built into the right armrest. A moment later the other crane arm, on the other side of the drydock, came to life and slowly rolled along the track towards Hull and stopped near the scow.

Using the joystick on the right armrest, Hull made the unmanned crane arm reach into the drydock, pick up a steel sheet, turned and held it against the side of the scow. Hull gripped the other joystick and turned her crane towards the sheet. She pressed down on the trigger with her thumb, and the tip of the crane arm ignited. The sparks from the tip flickered as it traced along the edge of the new piece of steel, melding it to the old metal over the hole. Hull repeated this again and again, moving either of the two joysticks, the repair work reflected on the polarized square lens on the face of her welders mask.

Halfway through the repairs, she noticed a rocket in the distance but didn't pay much attention to it. Many ships regularly flew past the drydock to land on the surface of Duskatelle below, either to deliver supplies or livestock to various tent communities scattered across the planet, or to sell various kinds of arms to the inhabitants below, so they could defend themselves from the dangers of Duskatelle or whatever terror the galaxy might decide to send there.

Hull finished the last weld when she noticed the ship was approaching the drydock itself. She took a better look at it. It was a giant rocket, half the size of the Katanga Bay. It was neon yellow, and instead of a name on the nose, it bore an illustration on either side of a standing naked woman with a large silver dagger stabbed in her back. The speaker, mounted to the control stick of the carriage, crackled.

A male voice on the other end said, "Permission to dock."

"Identify yourself," Hull said.

"Coalition of Forces Starship Lady Killer, on official business."

"No official business to be had here, buddy." She eyeballed the ship. "You need repairs?"

"Negative. We have someone who wishes to speak with you, Major Hull."

"The war is over," Hull said.

"Respect doesn't end, ma'am," The voice said. "Do we have permission?"

Hull frowned at the ship and let out a loud sigh. "Dock at the O-Ring. On my way."She punched the emergency stop button, unbuckled herself from the chair and climbed down the metal ladder, into the drydock.

She walked down a long gray corridor with tracks of bright lighting above that cast her shadow large and wide. Every few dozen yards she passed a large sliding yellow door. Each of them had names spray-painted in black stencil; FOUNDRY, SUPPLY, REACTOR and so forth.

Hull reached the other end of the corridor and walked up the winding metal stairs. She stepped onto an expansive landing with riveted walls, framed with long sections of clear plexiglass that overlooked the space ahead and the yellow planet of Duskatelle below. Hull could see the large rocket slowly moving backward as it prepared to dock. She walked across the landing, turned the corner and walked down to the other end.

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