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Five teens, lost in space on a living starship.
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CHAPTER 3 - Vega Construction Base -- Omicron Vector Approach -- 0945, January 29, 2365 (Present Day)

   "Incoming message packet. It's from an Argonaut courier, Captain. Origin is from the Omega Point."
   What in the world is that boat doing here? A fleet messenger was not expected for several weeks, and it was an old Navy axiom that unscheduled messengers seldom brought good news. This made Stephen plenty nervous. From Erin, he thought. Okay, so what could she possibly want?
   Stephen Campbell ran his fingers through his sandy-blond hair, doing what he could to look nonplused. Finding no other excuse to delay receiving what he expected would be bad news, Stephen asked, "Has the message made it through the encryption protocols yet?"
   The com officer across the narrow isle from him studied his screens for a beat. "Uh, encrypt deconstruction in a minute ot two, Sir. Stand by."
   Ten officers were on the bridge with Stephen, all studiously attending their duties. Each was wearing the sky-blue, one-piece flight suit common to the Colonial Academy. Loose cords and connector pins, displaying their gaudy yellow and black warning stripes, hung from each suit, ready to be inserted into the FTL prep systems at a moment's notice. Stephen was at the center of the bridge, occupying the largest chair in the room, where numerous interactive screens surrounded him--many projected in mid air like the walls of an electronic cage. While he waited for the message to reconstruct, Stephen assembled the base's construction status reports and the mail packets from the previous three weeks. He made sure the outgoing messages were fully encrypted and set them into the queue. "You still have tight-beam on the courier, right?"
   "Aye, Sir," Com replied. "We're locked on. Looks like a good pilot out there."
   "Okay, good. Send this off as we wait for deconstruction." Stephen released his logs to the com station.
   The lieutenant across the isle threw some switches and passed his fingers through the ephemeral interactive screens at his station. "Message packet away, Sir. Incoming E.D. complete. You should have readable logs now."
   Stephen sighed silently. "Thank you, Mr. Gao. Do you have full-stream packet verification?"
   "Affirmative--message receipt at one hundred percent."
   "Very good. Give me fifteen minutes to review the logs and then release the courier. Wish the pilot well, and extend our thanks. I'll take the messages in my cabin."
   Stephen pushed out of the command chair and glanced to his left. He passed through a projected map of the sector without noticing. It shimmered for a second in his wake. "Nav, you have the conn."

   "Stephen; it's Erin. By now you should have retrieved the logs. It was a tough one but we got through it. Still not sure why they withdrew so quickly ... I think they would have won eventually," She paused for a beat, "Well, maybe ...."
   Stephen could not believe what he was seeing. He swore he held his breath during the entire message.
   "... Well, I'll try to send you a better message soon as I can. Just thought I'd sneak a quick note on this courier before it left. Take care, love, and I'll see you soon. Give Peter my love."
   Stephen sped through the fleet logs before opening any personal mail. And as usual, the fleet's tour was largely mundane, except for the last day. Twenty-five Wasatti warships.
   A silent prayer passed through Stephen's lips before he opened his eyes, realizing how it should have ended. She's a tough one, that girl.
   Stephen rechecked the date stamp on Erin's logs and realized the courier had taken 11.7 years of normal space-time to arrive on a daring direct-line flight, although it was only two months for the courier pilot. For Stephen, it had been three adjusted years awake, with time following him around his erratic wanderings in and out of K-T-space. That battle, although in real time was nearly twelve years old, had been fought while he was still at Mars. A universe with two ways of reckoning time--normal space and adjusted K-T-space--made his head spin.
   Stephen reached out to the glowing hologram suspended above his cabin desk, still displaying Erin's frozen image. She looked exhausted, and decades older than the last time he saw her. He tried to calculate the relative time displacements since they were last together, but lost track of all the jumps. It was enough to make a man crazy. Marry a girl your own age, and if you were not careful you end up with a woman the age of your grandmother. For a space couple spending time away from each other they were luckier than most. Both spent time fooling the aging process in K-T-space, and if they were truly lucky, their relative times away from normal space would cancel out. If she stayed young, Stephen hoped he would stay just as young, or old, or whatever. It was all a balancing act subject to some detached admiral's schedule.
   Stephen directed his personal messages to Archive and then composed a briefing for Governor Essen. He reviewed it once, and then a second time, editing out some of his negativity before sending it on to the base. ....
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