Tomasine Acero folded her hands on her desk, and then opened them in a manner that she hoped would suggest both an understanding on her part and an acceptance of the inevitability of fate. “You have to understand their point of view,” she said. “They are trying to sell a house. You are saying that you want to rent it before you buy, well, that makes them uncomfortable.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smar were not calmed by Acero’s hand motions, Mrs. Smar in particular. “Uncomfortable? We’ve been living in a damn Honvar ever since the Caern came! All our clothes are in plastic bags…there wasn’t any time to pack.”

“I understand,” Acero said.

“I don’t think you do,” Mr. Smar said, gripping his wife’s shoulders tightly. “We just want a house in our old colony. And we need it before our Ellroy starts school. We don’t want to uproot the poor guy, not after the raid.”

“He saw what happened to our neighbors,” Mrs. Smar said, her eyes on the floor. “He saw it before we did. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have made it out in time. But my poor boy, having to see…those pieces flying, and all that blood. We need this house, Ms. Acero.”

“And I understand that.” Acero had her fingertips down on the desk, supporting the palms. Hands like sheltering structures. “But you aren’t the only one from your colony looking for houses that survived the raid to come back to. And the seller, he wants proof that you aren’t going to rent for a year and be on your way.”

“You want proof?” Mr. Smar almost leapt out of his chair. “Go by my house. Go by the burned-out crater that used to be where my family lived. Go and see the charred and mutilated body parts that used to be old Mr. Fufferds and his wife. Maybe they can cut those bits down from the trees while they’re at it. We survived a raid, Ms. Acero. My own father couldn’t even say that. I think we’ve suffered enough.”

Acero found herself involuntarily self-hugging. She shook away the image of some kindly retired couple strung about a yard, and the alien mind that considered such a dismemberment amusing. She placed her palms together. It was time to project strength and resolve. “What the seller is asking for is some sort of deposit. Your Honvar, maybe?”

“Can’t do it,” Mr. Smar said. “Our ship’s our livelihood.”

“Well, in that case, how about your boy? You could give the seller him.”

“I’m not selling my son into slavery,” Mrs. Smar said.

“He wouldn’t be a slave,” Acero said. Hands open again, fingers apart, bent out at the wrist. Imply trust. “He would be an indentured servant. Only until the seller is convinced of your intent to buy. He’d still be able to attend his old school, see his old friends, only his time outside of school would belong to the seller.”

“Is there any other option?”

“Not unless you want a colony further out, Mrs. Smar. But I wouldn’t suggest it. The further out you go, the closer you are to Caern worlds…” Acero massaged her temple, looked to the left, and projected pure, unadulterated concern. “..,.I just wouldn’t want anything more to happen to you.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smar looked at each other and then simultaneously turned around in their chairs to watch their six year-old son play through the window to the lobby,

“Where do we sign?”