Chapter 2

Zack left early that morning, saying he wanted to get moved in as much as possible that day. Once again, technically the truth. He loaded up everything he thought he'd need into his car and got out of the driveway with no issues. His parents didn't suspect a thing.

His friends had all texted him the night before saying they were still going with him. Five of them would be joining his crew. His pilot would be Andrew Lord, his best friend since he was only eleven. He had the most hours in their old high school's flight simulator, and he had gotten quite good. His navigator and science officer would be Layla Al-Khalil. She was a few years older than him and had a bachelor's degree in astronomy. Next was his mechanic, Miley Sato. She was his sister's age, just a few years younger than him, but had graduated high school at a young age. Next, he needed someone with some business sense if he was going to make it up in space, so he enlisted the help of his old friend Cedric Johnson, who was currently in community college for business. Finally, he needed a first mate. He wanted it to be someone tough, and his first choice was his fellow graduating classmate Claudia Martin. She was very outdoorsy and spent her time camping and shooting guns, plus she had a lot more common sense than Zack so he felt she'd be a good second in command.

Zack was thinking about his upcoming adventure when he pulled into the spaceport parking lot. Several ships could be seen coming and going. He drove over to the used lot. Spaceports were places where spaceships came and went, yes, but they were also places where people bought and sold ships as well. He checked his phone. His position was geotagged, and he saw that his friends were already here as well. Great, he thought, they can give him additional opinions on ships.

After parking his car, Zack tried the password he found on his college fund account. It worked! He felt guilty as he withdrew all that cash and put it into his savings account, but if he didn't do this, he'd spend his entire life thinking "what if."

With the funds secure, he exited his car and walked to where his friends were. He could see them off in the distance, huddled under an overhang. One of them saw him and waved. Zack jogged over to them.

"Thanks for coming, guys," he said. "I can't even begin to describe what this means to me."

"Then don't describe it," Layla said, her synthesized voice from her wheelchair's computer sounding somewhat choppy. "Let's get a ship and get out of here before anyone suspects anything."

Zack laughed. He led the way into the used shipyard, his friends trailing behind him. It wasn't long before one of the salespeople approached him.

"What can I help you kids with?" he asked.

"We're not kids," Miley said, looking the salesperson in the eye. She was on the short side, barely five feet tall, so she wasn't as imposing as she tried to look.

"Sure…" said the salesperson. "Look, kids, I'm not going to sell anything to you."

Zack stepped up. "My name is Zachary Forrest, I'm eighteen years old, and I have credits. Legally, you have to serve me." Zack showed the salesperson his account balance.

"You're the buyer?" he asked. "Why didn't you say so? Right this way, Mr. Forrest. Are your friends coming with you?"

"They're my crew," Zack clarified, "and yes, they are."

The salesperson snickered slightly, but he led the way into the shipyard.

"You're gonna want this whole row right here," he said, gesturing to a section marked mid-level frigates. "These are all in your price range. Just take your time and if you want to see any of them, let me know."

Zack gestured for Cedric and Claudia to stay close to him. They would help him make the best decision.

The six of them wandered the row looking closely at every ship. They asked to be given a tour of several of them, but none of them really clicked for Zack. They had been there around two hours when Zack felt his pocket start to vibrate. He checked his messages.

Where is college fund money?

It was from his dad. He was screwed.

"Guys," Zack said, "we need to get a ship as soon as possible. Let's just check out four more and commit. That one three ships back was good enough."

They nodded.

Thankfully, the next ship they laid eyes on was absolutely beautiful.

It was three decks, with a rounded forward section. The bridge was on the upper deck, the windows a half circle along the front. The ship extended a bit, ending in a flattened aft section. The engines were on either end with the center of the aft section extended slightly back. It looked a little bit like the body of a stingray, but rounder on the port and starboard sides. The panels were well kept. The ship had a metallic grey color.

"Can we get a look in that one?" asked Zack.

"The Buttercup?" asked the salesperson. "Sure. You've got a good eye, kid."

"That name's gonna have to change though," Zack replied, following him inside.

The interior of the ship was just as gorgeous. Someone obviously loved it a lot. In addition to the bridge, there was a respectable cargo hold, enough bedrooms for the entire crew plus a bay for passengers to sleep, a kitchen and dining area, and numerous storage compartments. It was also very well lit. The interior walls were the same grey as the ship's exterior, but it didn't feel drab. Rather, there was something inviting about the ship.

"Get this one," Cedric said. "I have as good a feeling about this as you do."

Zack put up his offer to the salesperson. After some haggling, the Buttercup was in his hands.

It took a little while for Zack and his friends to transfer their things into the ship, but it was ready to fly. The purchase included enough fuel for a few hyperspace jumps, which was enough to get to a sizeable space station.

"We've only got five thousand credits left," Zack told his crew, now gathered in the bridge. "With fuel and routine maintenance once we dock with our first station, I imagine we'll be down to only a thousand. Plus we need more furniture and tools and stuff to buy."

"Big stations always have people in need of transportation," Cedric said. "We'll advertise once we get there."

"Any idea where to go first?" asked Claudia.

Zack thought for a bit. It was Layla who spoke up first.

"If I know my star charts right," she said, "Outpost Copper Alpha is probably our best bet. We've got enough fuel, and it's big enough to where we won't have a problem getting some business."

"Sounds good," Zack said. "Everyone, to your stations. Andrew, set a course for Outpost Copper Alpha."

"Aye aye, Captain," he said, smiling as he took the helm.

"Wait," Claudia said. "Before we take off, what are we gonna call this thing?"

"Buttercup isn't doing it for you?" asked Cedric, laughing.

"We need something about new horizons," Zack said, thinking. "Like a rebirth. We're saying goodbye to our old lives and we're reborn as new people in this ship."

"Like a phoenix?" asked Andrew.

"Yeah!" Zack exclaimed. "But that sounds like something I read about in a book somewhere, let's not rip it off. How about the Firebird?"

Everyone muttered sounds of agreement.

"Changing the name to Firebird in the central computer now," said Andrew, pushing a few buttons on his console.

Zack sat down in the captain's chair. He gripped the arm rests. This was his ship. He was the captain, and his friends were his crew. His stomach suddenly got butterflies.

Claudia took the seat next to him. "We'd better go," she said. "I just heard your pocket vibrate again."

Zack checked his messages. It was his father again.

Just saw where you are. Where are you going?

Zack teared up a little as he sent one final message.

Must follow my dreams. I'm sorry. I love you.

He flipped off his geotag and put a block on everyone's numbers except his crew. He needed some space for a while until he could get this all figured out.

"Mr. Lord," Zack said. "Take us out."

"Aye aye, sir," Andrew said as he gripped the controls.

The Firebird hummed to life as Andrew flipped several switches. A holographic display of the ship sprung up on Zack's armrest as well as Claudia's, and a similar one came up on Andrew's console. He looked as rings appeared around the display – the shields had come online.

The ship rumbled as it slowly rose into the air. Andrew was speaking into a headset, getting clearance from the controllers to depart the atmosphere. Within a few minutes, Andrew punched forward. The Firebird rose up and out, leaving the planet of New Arbor behind. The sky outside the windows darkened as they left the atmosphere.

"We're clear," said Andrew. "The coordinates are all laid in if you're ready to jump."

"Wait," Zack said. "Turn us around. I want to see our planet."

Andrew did as he was told. Zack peered out at his continent, looking down at where they came from. He couldn't even see his town anymore, they were so high up. He started to tear up. He wished he didn't have to be so dishonest to his family. He remembered once saying as a kid that he wished he could go into space and had gotten an earful about how dangerous it was, and how frightening it was to be away from your planet. His family was not the adventurous sort, but he was.

"I'm ready," said Zack.

Andrew turned the ship back around so they were facing the starry blackness. They had cleared the planet's gravity well, and Andrew pulled a lever on his console. The Firebird sped forward at an alarming rate before a vortex of light appeared all around them.

They had entered hyperspace.