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The entrance to the Imperial Dining Hall was located at the rear of the Celestial Sea, one floor below the Atlantic Deck which held the casinos, bars, and lounges. All four of the dining halls ran back-to-back covering the length of the ship from stern to bow. As Bella took her first step from the elevator and entered the vestibule, the glitz and glamour of the dining room struck her with awe, visible through a pair of propped open doors. She batted an eye at the interior lighting, glimmering off crystal and silver, and anything else with a shiny reflective surface. A male and female host welcomed her to the Imperial Hall along with Halo, Caprica, and Astra.

Bella swore under her breath. She should have bought the matching gloves and purse that came with the dress. It would have been epic, even if all she did was remove the gloves at the table and tuck them in the purse, which would sit in her lap under her napkin, out of sight. But still...she would have the items for her grand entrance.

As the female host, a young woman in a gray and blue uniform much like Bella's tour guide outfit, led them into the dining room, Bella pondered how nice it was to share this evening and the cruise home with her friends. Even if she never told them about her father's death and her family turning their backs on her, she had this moment in time to enjoy. It was better than the alternative. She could be in her room crying her eyes out, ordering room service for the entire cruise.

She was about to pull her seat back when Halo beat her to it. She thought he'd drop into the seat himself, but instead he opened a palm toward the chair, gesturing for her to sit down.

Bella winced out an anxious smile, and with reluctance lowered herself into the chair.

Caprica winked at her, and in return, Bella mouthed out a hasty, shut up.

Astra grinned from ear to ear.

Halo was oblivious as he pulled his own chair out and sat next to Bella. When he looked up, he caught Caprica and Astra in the middle of their not so clever stares and smiles.

"What?" he said.

"Nothing," Astra replied.

"You didn't get my chair for me," Caprica said.

"I was closer to Bella," he replied. "It was a kind gesture. Nothing more."

Bella bulged her eyes at Caprica, her jaw clenched, teeth grinding together. When Halo glanced at her, she faked a smile.

"Good news," the waiter said. "Since we're between worlds, the legal drinking age is nineteen, set by Space Venture."

"Is it free?" Bella asked. "Because my ebill account took a hit with this dress."

"No, but the water is no charge."

"Surely you can spring for some bubbly?" Caprica said.

"No, I can't." Truth was she had her heart set on the gloves and purse that went with her dress. She did the math. If she bought the matching set, she'd overspend on the money that she allotted herself for the trip home. She didn't want to dig into her savings account which was meant for living expenses during her upcoming college life. "I'll take water...with lemon, please," Bella said.

She watched as Caprica and Astra ordered and received flutes of champagne. Halo declined the alcohol in favor of water, likely a kind gesture to help Bella not feel out of place.

After the waiter placed menus in front of everyone at their white-clothed table, everyone ordered a variety of appetizers. Bella had shrimp cocktail. Halo and Astra ordered Caesar salads, and Caprica had a lettuce wedge. They placed their orders for dinner—steak and lobster for Bella—she was determined to go surf and turf. Another reason she wasn't spending her ebills on drinks.

As the waiter went off to put their orders in, Bella laughed with her friends and enjoyed herself at the dinner table. Glasses clinked throughout the expansive hall as hundreds of passengers smiled and chuckled, some more loudly than others considering alcohol they consumed. Caprica and Astra were among some of them, each of them already on their second glass of bubbly. After finishing off the appetizers, it wasn't long before the main course arrived. Bella savored the steak and the lobster, catching smiles and glances from Halo.

"I can see you're not ashamed to clean your plate," he said.

"It was good," Bella replied. "What can I say?"

"Action speaks louder than words."


"What are you guys whispering about over there?" Caprica said and then took a draw from her champagne flute.

"We're not whispering." Bella cut her eyes over at her friend. "We're just not as loud as you and Astra."

"Are we ready for dessert?" the waiter interrupted, a timely intrusion as far as Bella was concerned.

"I hear the chocolate melting cake is to die for," Astra said.

That was something everyone could agree on based on their orders.

Bella wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin and accidentally bumped elbows with Halo. They shared a shy smile. She was about to say, sorry, when a clanging noise got everyone's attention in the dining hall. Bella swiveled in her chair as the maitre'd stood in the center of the room in front of a glass case on a tabletop. She hadn't noticed the large rectangle object before with all the waiters and waitresses rushing back and forth on their errands. She had her back to it too.

The maitre'd introduced the captain of the ship and his crew. Captain Antonio Francesca addressed the crowd of happy dinner guests.

"I am most pleased to have you aboard the Celestial Sea on our voyage back to Earth. I do hope that you spread the word about the first ever space cruise ship, and I very much hope you plan to return to Neptune Shores in the future. Before you disembark back home, be sure to stop by our customer service desk on the bar and piano deck to book your next vacation. We're offering special discounts for bookings made before you leave the ship."

Captain Francesca's mouth curled into a wide, tooth-filled grin. Then he cleared his throat.

"Now, without further ado," he said, "a special treat while you enjoy your desserts tonight, our guest of honor, the president and CEO of the Space Venture Corporation, Electra Draco."

The crowd burst into applause as the woman with short blonde hair and striking blue eyes replaced the captain in front of the glass case. Bella tried to catch a glimpse of what was in the encasement but the captain blocked her view as he stepped aside. As Electra Draco began what Bella was sure had to be a preplanned speech, another person moved into position behind the CEO, her personal assistant and spokesperson, the snaky looking Cygnus Lo. If he were anymore lanky, he'd be a support pole like the ones scattered throughout the dining hall. Bella imagined a split tongue slithering out of his mouth.

Draco thanked everyone for taking part in the first ever space cruise, and then she ended by moving out of the way and directing all eyes to the glass case. Bella finally got to see what was inside, and then she remembered Halo telling her what would be on display before they boarded the ship.

"These two katana swords were donated by Dr. Jett Mintaka," Draco said, "head of our medical staff at Neptune Shores. They will be on display for the remainder of the cruise and then auctioned off once we arrive at Earth. It's all for a good cause. The money raised will be donated to help orphans throughout the Interplanetary Federation."

One of the swords was in a black sheath and the other in a red one.

"Bet you'd like to train with a real blade, wouldn't you?" Halo elbowed Bella.

"That would be exciting."

"Swords in space? Are you kidding? It'd be stellar."

"Interstellar," Bella said.

"I think you have to be outside the solar system for that, but yeah, I like the thought of that."

"I know what you're thinking," Electra Draco said at last. "But don't worry. The katanas are safe inside this double reinforced glass case. Only I have the passcode to open the lid, and there's an alarm on top of that. Besides, I can't think of a reason why anyone would need a sword on this pleasure cruise anyway." She ended her speech with a polite bow and then Bella and her friends ate their chocolate melting cakes.

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