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Interplanetary Space Port
San Diego, California
June 7th, 2316

"Is this your first time on a space jet?"

"How'd you guess?" Bella Starr craned her neck around, peering through the face-shield of her pressurized helmet, the ring lock twisted and sealed to her suit in an air-tight groove. Next to her in the window seat, sat another high school graduate who'd signed a one year work agreement with the beach resort orbiting Neptune, as she had, in exchange for a university scholarship when they returned home.

The young man grinned slyly. "You're scrunching your pant's legs and your eyes are all over the place. And you're breathing heavy."

Bella glanced down at her hands. Her gloved fingers squeezed and released the fabric of her pressure suit. "You're very observant." She cocked her head sideways. "How many times have you been in space?"

"More than you." His grin widened and then faded. "Once. With my father, on a trip to the moon. We took off from Tokyo in a spaceship similar to this one, but I was little. A boy." He stuck out his hand and left it hanging between them, waiting for Bella to meet him halfway. "Halo Mintaka," he said, introducing himself.

She gripped his hand, glove to glove, the durable material making a scuffing sound as their palms met. "Bella. It's short for Bellatrix."

"Named after the star in Orion?"

"That's it." Bella arched a brow. "Mintaka is in the same constellation."

"You know your stars."

"I was valedictorian of my senior class." But I wasn't smart enough to keep my feet on the ground, Bella winced. She wasn't having second thoughts about the whole idea of leaving Earth, but the helmet made her feel claustrophobic the way it locked into her suit and clamped around her ears. It was for her protection, she knew that, that's why she kept quiet and didn't complain. But still...

"I was first in my class too," Halo said. He started to say something else but his gaze drifted to a tall man in a spacesuit, coming their way.

The co-pilot walked the center isle of the fuselage assisting the ten high school graduates with their seatbelts. A patch on his white pressure suit said his last name was Jansen. In the cockpit, the pilot was flicking switches and pressing buttons. Round and square lights flashed on in bright colors: red, orange, and yellow.

Jansen, the co-pilot, stopped at Bella's seat and connected her lap and shoulder belts, adjusting the straps for safety and comfort. Halo Mintaka had belted himself into his seat, so Jansen continued down the isle, helping the remaining passengers.

Bella stared at the view provided by the front windows. Half a mile away, the runway track shot straight up into the air in a steep, stomach sinking launch ramp. Before she boarded the space jet, she saw the twin rocket boosters that were seamlessly joined to the underside of the sweptback aerodynamic wings. The ramp itself rose a hundred feet in the air, leaving the rest of the work to the jet's engines and rocket boosters. The spacecraft would blast down the electromagnetic track like a bullet train on nitro and Bella would experience gravity like never before.

The realization of the journey she was about to embark on hit her hard in the gut. She thought of her parents, and her older brother Rigel, and older sister Betelguese, better known as Betti, also named after stars in the Orion Constellation. No one in her family wanted her to leave. They knew she'd be back in a year, but they didn't want to see her go. Bella felt a tightness in her chest at seeing the tears streaming down her mother's face. Her father's eyes were bloodshot when they said goodbye. He'd cried, but not in front of Bella. Rigel had hugged her and told her that he'd miss her, but he wanted her to know that he believed in her. It meant so much to have his support. Then there was her sister. Betti squeezed her, crying, holding her for what seemed like forever. Bella couldn't erase the memory of padding away from them in her suit and heavy boots, helmet under her arm.

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