01 – Lanan

The dawning sun crawled over the horizon and into a fair morning sky, flooding the room with vibrant, orange light that bounced off the white, partially reflective walls. A large, soft bed protruded from the wall angled perpendicularly to the floor-to-ceiling window. Nestled beneath the covers was a woman whose eyelids met the dawn rays. At 0600, the room’s lighting activated and brightened to a soft level that the sunlight overpowered. Opaque lumigraphic pictures and decorations appeared on the walls and tables, and an alarm sounded its tones which were simultaneously gentle and annoying.

     The woman eased back her covers, raised her torso from the bed, and stretched her arms. The alarm stopped when she placed her feet on the cool floor. She was a Terran with light, peach skin and emerald eyes that contrasted with her dark garnet hair long enough to hang below her shoulders. Her only clothing was a pair of white bracers—one on each wrist. The light from the window illuminated her clear skin and beautiful feminine physique and made her bracers shimmer as she walked to the next room to shower with hot water and soap—a luxury afforded primarily to officers. When she returned to the bedroom, her body and hair were completely dry as a result of using a shield-scrubber—a hygiene system utilizing lumionic field sweeps instead of water and chemicals to clean the surface of the body. Shield-scrubbers are more efficient than traditional showering and are the primary source of body hygiene for starmen, soldiers, and the majority of the civilian population. Of course, there is nothing particularly pleasant, nor unpleasant, about cleaning one’s body with lumions.

     She approached the window and tapped her finger on the pane, summoning a small lumigraphic user interface. With another tap, the illusion of daytime vanished. Her bedroom fell into darkness, and the lights above her increased in luminosity to compensate, still maintaining a pleasant softness. The sun and morning sky disappeared along with the sunlight across the landscape. Adjacent buildings, kilometers of deciduous forest, and distant mountains remained visible but were under the relative darkness of a night made bright by a gentle giant with a halo—a gas giant ten times the size of Luna as seen from Earth. Akos V, as the giant was known, sat in its permanent spot halfway between the horizon and zenith and stretched its glimmering bands of rings across Lanan’s night sky. The real sun would not rise for another three days, and after it had breached the horizon, it would take another four days to reach solar noon.

     The window itself was not actually a transparent object, but a part of the building’s outer wall built as an opaque photoreceptive electroluminescent (OPEL) panel. An observer looking out would assume an OPEL panel was just a pane of exceptionally clear glass, but an observer looking in would see a featureless section of wall. Others with interior rooms, thus lacking OPEL panels, relied on simulated-depth lumigraphy to maintain the pleasant illusion of living in an exterior room.

     A desk was situated against the wall opposite of the bed. Next to it and away from the window was a pair of white Accellus 4 boots composed of the ultramaterial known as SIRAC, or semi-metallic, impact-resistant, ablative crystal, the same material as her bracers. After stepping into them, the boots covered the Terran’s legs from her toes to her knees. By directing a single thought to her surgically-implanted neural interface, she commanded the boots’ omnium conversion-coupled REMASS modules to create an adaptive polyalloy bodysuit at the cost of a portion of the boots’ internal MS-91 omnium supply, the process taking five seconds during which her body was wrapped in bright light. The bodysuit covered her from the neck down, adhered to her like a second skin, and the suit created lift while providing modesty only to where it was most necessary—a process termed hyperdermal lamination. As the Navy’s standard uniform for both officers and enlisted personnel, the bodysuit was white with orange stripes and large dark mesh patches on the shoulders and lateral areas of the torso and thighs. Parts of the bodysuit, like circles on the hips and the outlines of the dark patches, created a subtle orange glow. The Federation’s Accellus 4 successfully merged the protection of a bulky spacesuit, the utility of an armory, the variety of a wardrobe, and the freedom of motion of being naked—all in a package that was aesthetically appealing and comfortable to wear.

     “Good morning, Atara,” said a woman in the living room as the clothed Terran walked in. She was an Elestan with light, cool gray skin and dark blue hair clamped in a ponytail. Rectangular lumigraphs surrounded the Elestan as she sat on the couch. She was wearing the same Accellus 4 bracers and a REMASS short jacket over her naked body—mostly concealing her breasts—with her arms out of the long sleeves. Her boots sat on the floor next to her. Neither she nor Atara looked a day over twenty-five standard years.

     “Morning, Xann,” Atara said as she approached the REMASS terminal. She ordered her breakfast, waited for it to fabricate, and carried the steaming plate of food to the couch. Before she could open wall-spanning lumigraph to watch the morning news, Xannissa had done it for her.

     “Thank you,” Atara told her as she sat down. “Have you eaten yet?”

     “Almost done,” Xannissa said, sounding focused despite her fatigue. She hadn’t given Atara a single glance. Instead, her eyes darted from line to line on a document she read. Then, her fingers raced across a lumionic keyboard resting on her thighs, tapping the keys without making a sound. “Done!” she shouted, closing all the lumigraphs and commanding her lumionic keyboard to disappear. She let her hands fall between her thighs, flopped her head back on the couch, and closed her eyes.

     “Let me bring you something to eat,” Atara offered as she set her plate of food down on a coffee table in front of the couch. Xannissa smiled but didn’t perk up again until Atara brought her a plate.

     “Thank you,” Xannissa said with a weak voice, opening her eyes and accepting the hot food.

     As the reporters on the lumigraph carried on, Atara asked, “Advanced propulsion reports?”

     Xannissa chewed her mouthful of food, swallowed, and said, “How did you know?”

     “Because you told me last night, before bed,” Atara said, smiling.

     “Oh, that’s right,” Xannissa said. She giggled a little as she manipulated her food with her lumionic fork. “Those were their final project reports. Now everything is done!” she said joyfully despite her fatigue. She took another bite of her food, chewed, swallowed, and then said, “Can you believe another semester has already come and gone?”

     “It goes by fast,” Atara said between bites. “Seems like yesterday when we became instructors.” After finishing her food, Atara stood up from the couch. Xannissa finished at the same time and offered her empty plate to her friend. Atara took the plates and dropped them into a recycling receptacle where they would be collected and transmuted back into omnium at a centralized location.

     Xannissa stood up and said, “I’m going to shower.” Atara nodded while the Elestan threw her jacket over her the couch, leaving her upper body bare like the rest of her. When she returned, clean, dry, and her hair in a ponytail held by her SIRAC hair clamp, she placed her feet into her boots and clothed herself in the standard uniform bodysuit. She picked up the short jacket that covered her torso to her waist, drew her arms through the long sleeves, and left it unfastened like usual. Atara was standing by the door.

     “I’m ready,” Xannissa said. The time was nearing 0730 as they left their suite eight-hundred meters above ground level in the twelve-hundred-meter-tall Tower One.

     Atara and Xannissa had been close friends since their childhood. Together, they partook in what was termed a service partnership—a legal relationship within the Military that was more significant than a friend, but less than a marriage, though it is often thought of as one. Service partnerships have their advantages, such as having two dear friends partnered together on all assignments, shared living quarters, shared assets, and, if the two enter a permanent partnership, a Q-comms link that enables them to communicate across unimaginable distances without fear of interception or interference. The major disadvantage lies in the consequences of abandoning a temporary or permanent partnership, such as demotion or discharge from the Military.

     The pair made their way down the immaculate corridor outside their suite. Instead of forming hard edges, the floors and ceilings curved to meet the walls just before they connected. A fist-sized, spherical drone passed slowly across a wall, shield-scrubbing the wall to perfection as it hovered millimeters away from the wall’s surface. The lighting was kept at a functional and attractive level, radiated by circular lumigraphs projected on the ceiling. The light from these lumigraphs was directed mostly downward, making the bright lumigraphic circles themselves difficult to see unless standing directly beneath them. Other Navy starmen and officers passed by; all of whom were female and wore standard uniform.

     “I can’t believe it’s already been thirteen years,” Atara stated.

     “Thirteen years too long, right?” Xannissa replied, confident she knew how Atara was feeling.

     “No,” Atara said gently. “I may miss command, but I don’t regret reassignment; at least, not anymore. They would have pressured me into the admiralty eventually.”

     “That’s true,” said Xannissa, “but I still believe you would have made a fine admiral.”

     “I couldn’t live with myself if I had to make every decision from afar. That’s not the kind of commander I ever wanted to be.”

     “I understand.” After a few seconds of silence, “Oh! What are your plans for after the exercises?” The two turned down another, wider corridor.

     “Oh, um,” Atara stammered as the question caught her off guard. “I’m going to stay here at the academy.”

     “Well, I’m heading to Earth to see Aedan. Want to join me?”

     “Isn’t he coming back in six months?”

     “He may be,” Xannissa said, “but that won’t stop me from taking a little vacation.”

     “I’ll let you know after the exercises,” Atara said, fighting back a grin.

     “Oh, come on Atara,” the Elestan said while grabbing her friend’s arm.

     Atara followed up her sudden laughter by saying, “Sure, I’ll go. I really wanted to keep you in suspense.”

     “That wouldn’t have worked,” Xannissa said, smiling. “You can’t hold back that smile you make when you try to hide something from me.” She let go of Atara’s arm. The two arrived at the lifts where about twenty other women dressed in Accellus 4 standard uniform were gathered. The lifts took them down seven levels to a floor where they could transfer to the high-capacity express lift that transported them to Tower One’s transit hub located about six-hundred meters above ground level.

     The transit hub was a great open space within Tower One. Invisible lumionic airscreens shielded the platforms within from the wind outside. Parked inside were five, hulking G-85 dropships and fourteen of the smaller G-11 shuttlecraft with a fifteenth slipping through the airscreen. These vehicles were part of the normal mass transit system that ferried students and personnel between the Fifth Fleet Academy (Tower One), the other facilities of the Lanan Sector University (Tower Two and from there the various other “Buildings”), the massive Tetra 5 starbase, the Lanan Orbital Dockyards, and other military installations across the surface of Lanan. The transit hub’s platforms teemed with starmen, officers, and cadets. As Atara and Xannissa approached the shuttles, a Navy police officer recognized them immediately and guided them toward a shuttle that was ready to depart. Both of them were surprised when the shuttle was loaded from bow to stern with cadets and junior officers.

     Those aboard stood from their seats and saluted the senior officers as they entered the cabin. The junior officers sat dressed in standard uniform while the cadets wore temporary Accellus 4 gear controlled by a lumionic interface projected from the bracelets. The cadets’ bodysuits were locked into the combat variant—solid dark gray and designed to serve as the base for Accellus 4’s modular REMASS SIRAC armor which the cadets lacked. Instead, they wore a REMASS-generated version of the white jacket which was a part of their normal uniforms and looked like a full-length version of Xannissa’s short jacket.

     The shuttle’s cabin seated twenty-eight people divided by a center aisle, and the seats were arranged in pairs with the first two pairs facing fore, the next two aft, and so on. In between the aft- and fore-facing seats was a removable REMASS table. Large OPEL panels covered both sidewalls of the craft, allowing for sweeping views of the surroundings. The smaller panels on the floor and ceiling allowed those aboard to see above and below.

     After commanding the cadets and junior officers to be at ease and sit down, Atara and Xannissa walked to the last unoccupied pair of aft-facing seats. The two didn’t realize who they were sitting across from until they had settled themselves.

     “Lieren!” Xannissa said through a smile. “What a coincidence! I have good news: you’re assigned to our ship.” Lieren smiled back out of relief.

     “Thank you, Commander Cetalo,” said Lieren. “I look forward to serving both you and the captain.” She was a Larissian, thus possessing lavender skin, dark violet hair, and golden eyes. She had a bob hairstyle parted in the middle, and she wore her cadet jacket unfastened, exposing her slender body beneath laminated with a dark gray bodysuit.

     “Hello captain,” said the junior officer seated next to Lieren.

     “Cothlis Naret?” Atara asked to the black-haired Elestan seated across from her. Her hair was also bobbed, much longer in the front than in the back. Her skin was a neutral gray and her eyes were a cool silver. As an ensign, she was wearing her personal Accellus 4 in standard uniform.

     “It’s been a while,” Naret told her.

     “Indeed it has,” Atara said. “How was your deployment to the Frontier?”

     “That was the kind of service I signed up for,” Naret said with a grin.

     “Was it exciting?”

     “Was it. Mind if I tell you about it?” Naret’s face glowed as the shuttle began to move away from the platform. Meanwhile, Xannissa shut her eyes and covered her mouth with her hand as she let out a prolonged yawn.

     “You seem exhausted,” Lieren said. “Are you okay?”

     With her eyes still shut and waving her hand, Xannissa said “I’ll be fine.”

     The gravidyne shuttle started its ascent by relying on its gravitic propulsion system which altered the gravitational flux within and around the craft to propel it forward. No one aboard could feel the vehicle’s rapid acceleration toward the sky as they too were being accelerated uniformly with the craft—every atom acting as a point of force to move the craft upward. The gravitic control system was responsible for cabingrav, maintaining the passenger’s sensation of Lanan’s 0.9 standard g of gravitational acceleration relative to the shuttle’s floor.

     Xannissa tried to keep herself awake by listening to Naret’s tales from the Frontier—battling rogue corporate syndicates, capturing pirates and other criminals, and providing relief to struggling colonies as a show of goodwill—but after several minutes, she placed her head sideways upon the table with her eyes closed and arms folded in her lap. Lieren was the only one of them who seemed to take note.

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