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Part 6

Part 7

Planetary Acquisitions decommissioned the program three decades after its initial trial. However, they kept all slave ships operational just in case they produced viable finds. Years flutter by like a tree shedding its spring petals, and so we desperately cling to this chunk of dirt-and-machine we call home.

Are we just fools?

The alarm buzzed and flickered the lights. Ateri roused stone-faced and eye half-shut, and sat straight up, ignoring the crick he'd developed in his tail. His wide ears swiveled toward the noise. Jakari, who laid at his side, woke less alert. Ateri leaned over her and touched the screen facing her half of the bed.

"What's the emergency?" He asked. His normal voice rasped lower and more even-toned than usual.

"Sir, the running lights are out," Gurt the communications officer said.

Pirates are hailing us. Ateri's face turned down. Of all the deviations suffered, pirates were the worst. Only second in seriousness was their commissioner being AWOL this entire last week, and Ateri had stressed enough over that.

"We're on our way," Ateri said. The screen turned to a plain blue field with the Planetary Acquisitions logo, a krakun's clawed hand clutching an entire planet.

"Why, what's wrong?" Jakari asked, yawning.

Ateri climbed off her and the bed, his long foot catching on a sharp-edged device that hid underneath a pile of clothing. He winced, pulling his foot onto his knee and checking underneath the large middle toe, but found no injury. Small objects cluttered the room, which wasn't "theirs" so much as it was Jakari's. Photographic frames, clay and holographic sculptures, and layers of clothes overdue for recycling covered the corners.

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