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As with the moment before the space jet took off from Earth and she ended up at Neptune Shores, Bella felt like she was standing on the edge of a giant precipice, looking over the edge, afraid to take the next step, which was to jump into the great abyss beneath her. That ocean was her life, in particular, the next step in her life, what she'd been working for, her college education. As she approached her work station in the debarkation bay with the airlock to her left and the passage to the general concourse to her right, her insides trembled. The water in that abyss was deep and she might drown. She breathed in and exhaled as she neared the tour guide counters, behind that was the meeting room.

Bella had accepted the work contract with Neptune Shores in exchange for her university scholarship because she wanted to get away from home and experience the freedom of living in space. She was young with her entire life in front of her. She had dreams to pursue, and she didn't want to sit around on Earth with a whole solar system to explore. Better than that, a whole galaxy. Of course, until they increased the yield of the antigravity engine, or invented something else, the entire magnitude of the universe itself was not within reach, but even that could be one day.

Even though she was ready to leave the resort, as the door to the meeting room scanned her bio signature, her stomach not only had raging butterflies but it felt hollow or empty, like this place was going to leave a void in her life. Last night she was looking forward to getting on the cruise ship, and she still was, but for some reason she had a sentimental feeling about this place. She remembered how excited she was to leave Earth and venture here—frightened and excited was more like it—and now she was leaving, going home. Back to a normal life. University life. College. Dorms. All that. It was crazy how she could be torn by two competing emotions—excitement and fear.

Halo would be going back to school in Japan. Astra would be attending classes in Seattle, Washington. Caprica, the East Coast. NYU. And Bella would be moving to Stanford. At least that was the plan. Things were going to change and she had to accept it.

Bella sank into the seat she usually sat in and leaned back. The room had six long and narrow tables with three chairs behind each one. Caprica and Astra came in next, laughing and chatting. Seeing Caprica's long blue hair in a ponytail and Astra's short style dyed white, gave Bella a boost of mood lightening endorphins. She perked up at the sight of her friends. Behind them, several more of the guides entered and nestled into their seats.

"What did I miss last night?" Bella scooted up in the chair and placed her elbows on the table.

"A beach party at midnight," Caprica replied. She sat next to Bella, touched her shoulder. "Some guys who came in on that commercial craft, the ones stationed on the moon."

Astra took a seat at the table next to Bella's, still only a short space away from her. "They were with the Navy, on two weeks leave. They weren't that good looking, though."

"Yeah, we ditched them eventually. Wish you could've been there. Halo showed up."

Bella glanced at Caprica.

"He stayed for a little bit and then left."

Astra said, "Speak of the King of the Underworld."

Halo dropped into the chair next to Astra and elbowed her. "I'm not the devil. I'm a Samurai, well, sort of..." He grinned.

"Last but not least." Bella caught his eye, leaning forward.

"Didn't get much sleep last night."

"Stayed up too late at the party?" Bella pursed her lips, drummed her fingers on the table.

"No," he wagged his head. "Just a lot on my mind."

"I know the feeling."

With that, Nassan Jondu, the guide supervisor waltzed into the meeting room with his mouth distorted by a smug grimace. His eyes roamed over the crew he'd groomed over the course of the last year. As he stopped in front of the group, he folded his arms and exhaled loudly.

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