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'The U.A.F. Gallant! What a great name for a starship. I just know we're going to have tons and tons of fun living here. Sandy and I will explore every square inch… except for the restricted areas. Then maybe...'
Scott jerked his head around. His mother was looking through the serving window of the kitchen into the dining room where Scott and Sandy sat working at the table. She had an excellent view from there.
"Don't daydream when you're supposed to be doing your school work."
Glancing down at his Math workbook, Scott saw he had only done two questions in the last half hour. One of them was wrong. He had written 5 square yards instead of 5 squared. From across the polished, wooden table his thirteen year-old sister snickered. Scott was a year older than Sandy.
"Sorry, mom," he replied in what he hoped sounded like a subdued voice. He didn’t know how she could expect him to concentrate their first day living on the largest class of starship ever built. It was like a city flying through space!
"I know this is exciting," she continued with a twinkle in her eyes, "but your school work still needs to be done. As soon as you finish your day's goals, you may go out and look around.”
Scott sighed and looked back down at his workbook.
For the next hour it was all Math and Science. Boring stuff when compared with exploring one of the largest starships ever to sail the outer reaches of the galaxy, but what must be done, must be done.
The Langlish family had just moved onto the Gallant starship after Mr. Langlish had finally gotten permission to open his furniture store on the gigantic starship. It was amazing how much red tape and security clearances had to be passed before a family could live on the Gallant. It was understandable because spies or criminals would be extra dangerous when the Gallant was sent on secret missions. Still it had been frustrating, even Scott and Sandy had been interviewed a couple of times.
Although large sections of the Gallant were empty [they always were except in times of relief operations or war], the starship still carried over 100,000 people. Most of the people were military personnel and their families. But some of the people, like Mr. Langlish, were civilians who had seen the opportunity of not only selling to the people who lived on the starship, but also to the people on the remote planets that the Gallant visited and protected.
Mr. Langlish had leased an apartment on Level 45. He and Mrs. Langlish had been there several times getting it ready, but late last night was the first time Scott and Sandy had seen it. It was a medium-sized apartment with three bedrooms, a bathroom with a tub almost big enough to swim in, a family room, a study, a dining room, a living room, a store room, and a kitchen.
"Finished!" declared Sandy closing her books with satisfaction. She went into the kitchen.
Moments later Scott was at her side. He rubbed his hand through her shoulder-length, light-brown hair. "So am I."
"Don't Scott," she complained, ducking out of his reach.
The musical notes of the doorbell interrupted them. Mrs. Langlish walked between Scott and Sandy, separating them on her way to the door. She pressed the Open button and the door slid noiselessly into the wall on the right side.
Three people stood in the light blue hallway. The first one was a tall, slender woman with short, black hair. She looked to be about forty. In her hands was a tray with a towel covering the top of it. On her left was a teenage girl. She had her mother's dark hair, only longer, and dazzling green eyes. The other person was a boy of thirteen. His hair was a dark brown, like Scott's, and freckles were dotted over his grinning face.
"Hello. I'm Mrs. Lewis," said the woman with a friendly smile as she introduced herself.
"I'm Mrs. Langlish."
"We're your neighbours across the hall. Janna's just baked some of her special chocolate-chip cookies and we thought you might like to try them."
"That was very thoughtful of you. Won't you come in?"
Complete introductions were made. The girl's name turned out to be Janna and the boy's name was Dick. Soon they were all seated in the comfortable family room chairs and couch except for Mrs. Langlish. She went into the kitchen to start making a pot of tain, then returned to ask the young people if they would prefer milk, rejer juice, or lemonade.
“Milk," said Sandy at once. "It's the only thing that really goes with..." Sandy stopped when she caught her mother’s eye. Silently it warned, “Where are your manners? Guests first.”
“...chocolate-chip cookies,” finished Dick.
“Actually, may I have a cup of tain as well,” asked Janna.
“Of course,” answered Mrs. Langlish with a smile. She glanced at Scott with an unspoken question.
Scott secretly wished he could have a cup of tain as well to impress Janna, but he knew his mother might not allow it so he decided not to risk asking.
“I’ll have milk, thanks.”
Mrs. Langlish returned with the drinks on a small tray. Sandy passed the milk around as Mrs. Langlish poured the tain into three cups. Soon Mrs. Langlish and Mrs. Lewis were chatting like old friends. Where Scott, Sandy, and Dick were concerned, the cookies and drinks simply seemed to disappear. Janna nibbled on a cookie and sipped her tain with a contemptuous eye on Dick, who had just gulped down the last of his milk and was helping himself to his fifth cookie.
"That's enough, Dick," said Mrs. Lewis who had also noticed.
"But mom..." began Dick. He caught a glint in her eyes that said no more. It was amazing how much a mother’s eye could communicate!
"Let's explore," said Sandy wiping a milk mustache from her face.
"We'll show you around," offered Janna as she set her empty cup gently on the low table.
"They've got some really neat places,” added Dick.
"You can eat out if you like,” said Mrs. Langlish as they went to put their glasses in the dishwasher. "Do you two have your cards and POI?"
"Yes, mom,” replied Scott and Sandy in unison.
"Good. Be sure to be back by six, because Sgt. Walters is coming to talk with us about life here on the Gallant."
When they were standing in the outside hall Janna asked, "What would you like to do first?"
"What is there to do?" asked Scott looking around and trying to remember all the things they had read about the Gallant.
The hallway seemed to stretch away in both directions almost into infinity. Every 150 feet it was intersected by another hallway. All the main hallways in the Gallant were 15 feet wide. The walls were painted in light, friendly colours. Each section was a different colour. On the doors were printed in neat, black letters the apartment number and the family name of the people who lived there.
"Let's go to the amusement park," suggested Dick.
"Great idea," said Sandy.
Janna made a face as if to say she could have thought of a better idea; however, she said nothing as she led the way to the ElLift. Stepping through the doorway onto the ElLift, they could feel the light pressure of the ElLift as it adjusted to their number and weight.
“All to Amusement Park section three,” said Dick.
There was no sensation of movement even though they were zooming through the belly of the Gallant toward their destination. A couple of minutes later the door slid open and they were in the middle of the amusement park, which was two levels high. They were surrounded by the different rides, games, and concession stands. Bright, lively colours were everywhere giving the park a festive look. Laughter, squeals of delight, and an occasional groan of disappointment floated through the air.
"Let's go on the Crash Fighters," said Dick as they wandered through the park.
"That is so childish," commented Janna with scorn oozing from her voice.
"No, it's not!" responded Dick, "Crash Fighters are exciting. Com'on Sandy, you're not scared, are you?"
"Of course not. I love bumping into people and so does Scott."
Scott blushed. He had been thinking how beautiful Janna was, and he didn't want to say anything to offend her. "That was a long time ago,” he managed to mutter.
Sandy looked at her brother in surprise, "But..."
"Forget it," said Scott, his voice a bit firmer, "You and Dick go and play."
Sandy frowned at the way her beloved brother was trying to sound 'grown-up' to impress Janna. She shook her head in disappointment as she set off after Dick, who was already on his way to the Crash Fighters. She soon forgot about Scott and Janna though as she climbed into her Crash Fighter. It was a circular ball with a seat and controls in the very centre. With the controls the ball could be made to roll in any direction in the arena including up the slanted walls. The seat and controls were padded and fixed so that no matter how the outside of the ball spun the inside stayed straight and level. The object of the game was to push or bump or trick your opponent down the court, which was about double the length of a tennis court, and across his own goal line. There were always lots of surprises as the two players bounced off the walls, ceiling, floor, and each other.
For the next hour and a half Sandy and Dick enjoyed the rides in the park. Scott and Janna wandered around. They tried a few of what Janna considered the more dignified rides. Scott would have rather been zipping along with Sandy and Dick but, on the other hand, he enjoyed Janna's company.
"If you two kids are finished, let's get something to eat,” said Janna in her superior voice as Sandy and Dick came off of a ride.
"Don't talk like an adult!" snapped Dick, “'Cause you're not. You're only fifteen, so there!"
"Well, I don't sleep with a stuffed gaboo bear."
Dick didn't miss a beat, "And I don’t spend two hours in front of a mirror admiring myself!"
Scott and Sandy looked on in surprise as Dick and Janna glared at each other. They would never have dreamed of talking like that, and they could well imagine what their parents would have said if they tried. It would not have been pleasant!
Cautiously Sandy ventured, "I do feel a little hungry." She half expected that they would both turn on her.
Instead, Dick grinned at her as if nothing had happened, "There's a good Holburger place two levels down."
Janna headed for the nearest ElLift with Scott following.
Dick was still grinning. He knew he had scored one on Janna. "Sometimes she gets too haughty for words. You can't let her push you around. I guess Scott's probably like that too."
"No, he isn't," protested Sandy loyally.
"He will be soon."
By that time they had reached the ElLift where Janna was impatiently tapping her foot. Dick flashed her one of his broad, impish grins. They entered and were quickly zoomed to their next destination.
As they were getting off the ElLift a man who was just getting onto it smiled at them and said, "Hello. How are you, ladies and gentlemen, doing this evening?"
The man was medium height and obviously in good shape. His dark brown hair matched his merry, brown eyes. He was wearing a uniform which consisted of a green pull-on shirt, black dress pants, and black dress shoes.
“I... I..."stuttered Janna.
"Fine, thank you, sir," replied Scott politely, "How about you?"
“Great," said the man with another broad smile as the doors closed cutting them off.
"Do you know who that was?" squealed Janna in excitement.
"Yes," said Dick, "and you made a complete fool of yourself… as usual."
It was apparent the man was an officer in some division and Scott was trying to remember what the green represented. He knew quite a few of the colors: red for security, blue for medical staff, purple for science, white for the chaplain corps, yellow for the fleet pilots and commanders. But the meaning of the green eluded him.
"It was Captain Danson!" whispered Janna ignoring her brother.
"Wow," said Scott, "the captain of the Gallant."
"It was nice of him to notice us," said Sandy impressed by the handsome leader.
"He is nice… and sooo handsome."
"And single," commented Dick maliciously.
Janna went a deep red and bit her lip in silence.
In victory Dick led the way to the Holburger restaurant. It happened to be a fully computerized one. The young people punched their orders into a machine on the wall and then sat down at one of the nearby tables. A few minutes later a light blinked and their orders were ready. The Holburgers were delicious. Dick had two because, as he said, "I'm a growing boy" to which Janna commented, "He's a pig.”
When they had finished their Holburgers Dick said, "Let's blow their minds on level 33."
For once Janna smiled, "I think that's the first good idea you've had."
"Which puts me one up on you,” shot back Dick.
Level 33 didn't look very special when they got there. It was like an apartment level with the same wide halls. The walls were painted a light brown, with white doors and black lettering. The only strange thing was that the doorways and intersecting halls were spaced further apart than normal.
"This is my favorite one,” said Janna as she led the way to a nearby door. The lettering read 'Woods IV'.
Janna pressed the entrance button. As the door slid open she stepped aside so Scott and Sandy could go in first. When they did, they had to stop and stare in amazement. It was like stepping out of the Gallant into the middle of light forest.
A stone pathway wound around bushes and trees. No walls were in sight. Even the doorway behind them had vanished. The ceiling looked like a sky with light, fluffy clouds actually floating across it. The sound of running water reached their ears.
Janna and Dick laughed at the startled expressions on the faces of Scott and Sandy.
"It's an advanced Grum 3D projection on the walls and ceiling," explained Janna.
"And most of the bushes and trees are fake."
"When Dick first came in here he climbed one of the trees and hit his head on the ceiling although it's two levels high," laughed Janna.
Dick rubbed the top of his head at the memory, "At least I didn't ask how they managed to grow it."
Scott wasn't paying attention. He reached out to where the wall was. He could feel it with his fingers but his eyes told him it was merely air, for there were trees beyond it and, yes, he saw a deer moving...
“Fascinating," he mumbled.
"If you want to know where the door is you just say 'open' or 'door' or clap your hands or make any loud noise," said Dick clapping his hands. Instantly the door reappeared behind them with the phone speaker and button on it's right side.
"Let's go to the waterfall," said Janna pushing passed Scott.
She half ran down the path, forgetting for a second her grown-up airs. As they went along they came across several other paths, but Janna stuck to the main one. Soon they came to a 10 foot waterfall flowing into a small round pool. A thin river snaked its way into the woods.
"Is it fake too?" asked Sandy.
Dick dipped his hand into the water and splashed her, "Does it feel like it?"
"No," squealed Sandy jumping back.
"At night they put a 3D of the stars up there," said Janna looking at the ceiling/sky. "It looks wonderful."
"I'm sure it does," said Scott.
"Try and find me!" said Dick to Sandy as he dashed down another path.
Scott and Janna sat down on the pool's edge as Sandy wandered off in search of Dick. In a few minutes Sandy came to a clump of trees. It reminded her of a similar thicket they had in their backyard before they moved. She ran her fingers over the bark, half lost in thought. It sure felt real enough.
I'm going to miss our old home, she thought, but living on the Gallant is going to be fun, too. There's so many things to do and see.
Absent-mindedly looking through the trees she saw two men talking. The man with his back to her was wearing the black dress pants and red, short-sleeved shirt of a security man. The other man was wearing everyday clothes - a light brown shirt and navy blue pants. The second man had jet black hair and, what Sandy really noticed, a long twirly mustache.
Suddenly the security man collapsed. Sandy saw a small gun in the other man's hand. Without thinking, she screamed. Jerking his head up the man stared into the trees, but couldn't quite see Sandy. For a minute he hesitated. Then the sounds of the other young people calling out for Sandy reached them. He shoved the gun into his pants and under his shirt. Turning, he disappeared into the bushes.
Scott was the first one to Sandy's side. She didn't say anything, only slowly raised her hand and pointed to the still body of the security man. When Dick saw the man he brushed passed them and ran to him. He rolled the security man over onto his back.
Looking back at Janna, who was standing in the trees, he exclaimed, "It's dad!"
Read the second chapter here.