Taking this opportunity in the absolute silence of space to have a meltdown, Lanie screamed and threw whatever her hands had the misfortune to land on.  Using words she didn't even know she knew, she cursed every living thing and some inanimate objects as well.  Grabbing the control panel and leaning over it, with her chest heaving, she gasped for breath.  It was quite a tirade, deafening silence followed.

"Are you quite through?"  An amused male voice spoke to her over the communicator.

Her head snapped to the right, stunned she stared at the still dangling device.

"Hey!  Are you all right?"  The voice spoke again.

Lanie quickly grabbed the device, "Who is this?"

After a short laugh the voice said, "I saw that Faru just threw you out there.  You can't get back through the wormhole.  You aren't equipped for it.  But I can help you..."

"How can we understand each other, did you touch me?"  Lanie asked.

 There was a short pause and then he said, "You have bigger issues to worry about, now listen to me, Cupcake."

 "What did you call me?  Who the hell is this?  Stop calling me CUPCAKE!"  She yelled.

"I spent a little time on your planet, I picked up some lingo.  Just listen!"  He said.

"How?  How could you?  People would wonder about a blue guy walking around."

"It's really not important at the moment, but I was a scout, I had to test DNA and stuff.  When I told the elders Earth women were a match, they sent a team.  I was able to conceal myself, obviously."

This satisfied her for the moment.  "So what do I have to do, how can you help me?"

"First of all forget about going home, not gonna happen.  Listen carefully, and set your navigation to what I tell you."

Lanie listened as he rattled off numbers and she punched them in.

"This will take you to the only planet you have enough fuel to reach.  Now listen, they don't look like us."

"What?"  She immediately imagined the most hideous things.

"Relax, they're friendly.  But they are pretty ugly!"  He laughed softly, seeming to enjoy her discomfort.

"Will they understand me?"

"In your supply closet, hanging on a hook is a necklace.  Go get it."

Lanie acted immediately.  When she opened the closet, it was right in front.  A silver chain, a thicker gauge than she liked, but it had a large red stone in a setting that was beautiful.  She took it back to the control panel with her.  "It's beautiful!"

"It's more than that.  It used to be mine.  If you wear it like a choker, it should fit snug around your throat.  It's a universal translator."

Lanie placed it around her neck and as soon as it was in place, a searing pain came from the back of the red stone setting and she could feel something snaking through the side of her neck to her ears.  She choked as the pain traveled.

"Now wait before you put it on; let me tell you what it does."  He paused and could hear her struggling, "You put it on, didn't you?  Hang in there; it will be done in a minute.  It's modifying your throat and ears so you can speak to anyone and they will understand you and you will be able to understand them."

When she was able to speak again she said, "Why didn't you warn me!"

"I was going to but you jumped the gun!"

She sighed and then asked him, "Will I be able to take it off?"

"Sure, but I suggest you leave it on for now.  If you need it removed, tap it three times, and turn the stone in the setting."  There was silence for a few moments and then he said, "Good luck Lanie."

"Wait, who are you?  Do you have a name?  You know mine."

"My name is Hu'dao.  Just call me Hootie.  Maybe we will meet one day."

"Nice to meet you Hootie.  Do you know Azano?"

"Did you even start your engines yet?  Or are you just floating out there?"

She started the engines and the ship tilted, adjusting its course.  "Yes I'm on my way."  Lanie asked again, "Do you know Azano?"

"Maybe, Azano is kinda like John or Michael back on Earth, we got a lot of 'em."

"Oh."  The disappointment clearly could be heard in her voice.

"What do you hope to find out here, Lanie?"  Hootie said.

"I'm not sure.  I came to look for Azano ... but now I may have a child to look for.  All I know is there is nothing back on Earth for me."

"I'll see what I can find out here, in case you come back this way.  He may not be here, Lanie.  Many of our people chose to live on neighboring planets; some for political reasons, some just because they liked the change of scenery."

"It sounds very unlikely that I will find him."

"We are going to lose contact very soon.  I hope I see you again someday.  I'll buy you a drink!"

Lanie laughed, "Okay.  Trust me; I'm coming back, if nothing else but to make Faru pay for how he treated me!"

There was not another transmission from Hootie.  Her eyes rose to the window and she felt alone again.  Looking at the fuel, she could see it was full.  Hootie told her she had enough to reach the other planet so she figured she would be near empty when she reached it.  With the fuel she had from Earth, it had lasted about four days.  Her stomach growled and she couldn't remember the last time she ate something.  Going to the supply cabinet again, she looked for something to eat.

It wasn't tasty, it didn't even look good, but she ate it.  When she was buying supplies, the man sold her these packages of food that needed to be reconstituted.  They were left over from the early space programs.  It seemed a good idea at the time, it helped her save space, and she was able to stow quite a bit of the awful stuff.  Lanie had to keep telling herself that at least it would keep her alive.  Over the next few days, she actually convinced herself that some tasted better than others did.  By the morning of day four she was disappointed to find she had used the entire bunch of the ones she called her favorites.

Quickly catching up to him, she was led from the ship to a hanger area.  Lanie could see her ship; the enormous room and the expansive ship she had just exited dwarfed it.  Her eyes couldn't take enough in all at once and she stumbled several times while trying to keep up with him.

He shooed her into a room and said, "You will stay here until your ship is ready." 

She watched him leave, disappearing again as he passed through the door.  She went to the door, and although like the other door it had no handle, she thought if she had something, she could pry it open.  Scanning the room, she looked for a tool.  There was a chair with legs that were thin and flat.  Lanie picked up the chair and shoved the thin leg into the small slit between the door and the wall.  Using it as a lever, she pushed until she felt it give a little, then she gave it everything she had.  It opened a few inches.  Holding her breath and pushing hard she opened it enough to slip through the opening.

Glancing both ways, she looked for an exit.  Either way she was taking a chance, she had no idea where to go.  Luck was with her, however, and as she opened the door at the left end of the hall, she appeared to be in a common area where the people of this planet moved through it to other areas.  Lanie stood in awe, unable to move, as she viewed these people so different looking, yet very much the same as her.  No one had noticed she was there as she was in the shadow of an overhang of architecture.  She watched them freely for several minutes, and then she saw her.

She saw what appeared to be a little girl with long flowing blond hair and slightly bluish skin.  Lanie's breath caught in her throat.  The little girl looked out of place.  A blue female hurried the girl across the large room, in a hurry to be somewhere else.  Lanie knew she wasn't the only earth woman to be visited by a male from this world, but could this be her child?  There was no way for her to know.  Finding Azano would be the only way to know for sure.  The little girl had disappeared from view, Lanie felt helpless, not knowing what to do. 

Gathering her courage, she pulled away from the wall behind her and walked into the light.  As she walked closer to the people nearest her, they began to stop and turn to look at her.  She called out to those closest to her, "I'm looking for Azano, do you know him?"  Some looked at her in fear and others were curious.  It became clear none of them could understand her.  The only ones she had ever had a conversation with had touched her.  It must allow some kind of a connection for understanding each other.  As she reached out to them, they hurried out of her reach.  Defeated, she turned around to find her ship and leave this place.  She was met with several weapons being pointed at her.  Her shoulders slumped and she sighed, and then she displayed what she hoped was a universal movement of raising her hands above her head.  It seemed to work and they motioned for her to follow them.

Lanie numbly stepped forwards; some of her escorts fell in behind her.  They led her back to the hanger where the being that originally had found her stood scowling in her direction. 

"You are so inferior!"  He spat at her.

Anger seethed within her, Lanie wanted to yell back at him.  Who had landed on whose planet first?  Keeping silent, she looked at the floor.

He took her by the arm and pulled her over to her ship, "Take this flimsy piece of machinery home."

Glaring in his direction, she stumbled up the stairs of her ship.  When she about to enter the ship and close the door, she turned to face him.  "I don't know anything about you or your planet." she paused, "But on my planet most mothers feel intense love for their children.  I want to find Azano because I have reason to believe he has my child.  I won't go home."

"Then you will die in space, we won't rescue you again."  He said, and then turned and walked away, ending their conversation.

Lanie watched him for a moment, and then entered her ship, sealing the door behind her.  Moments later the hanger doors opened, beckoning her to leave.  Using the start-up procedures, the engines spring to life and she taxied to the opening.  Passing through the air lock, she was space borne again.  The emptiness of space... it took on new meaning.

With the knowledge that she was the only earthling that knew for sure that there were other worlds, other beings, she should have been elated.  Lanie knew more than that.  She was sure, after seeing the hybrid girl among them, that there was breeding taking place.  Seeing the little girl made it real to her.  There was an ache in her heart, she not only looked for Azano, but now she looked for her own child.

Knowing she wasn't heading for Earth, but not knowing where she was going, scared her.  Maybe she would die in space; apparently, she didn't belong on either planet.  The conversation she had with the blue man who rescued her played repeatedly in her mind.  He had said that there were other worlds that the males had visited.  Lanie knew she didn't have much fuel to go anywhere. 

Suddenly a realization hit her, and Lanie flew to the window of her ship looking out at the blackness, her hands spread out on the glass, her nose pressed hard against it.  She was brought here through a wormhole, with no idea HOW to get back!  Panicking, she picked up her communication device, and began to change frequencies, calling for help.  She was sure they heard her, but the only one who would be able to understand her had sent her out here to die. 

Lanie let the device slip out of her hand.  It hit the control panel and if a retractable wire hadn't been attached it, it would have fallen to the floor.  Instead, it dangled over the side, the channel still open.


Part 9



 Her hand dropped back into her lap, and she slumped further down into the seat.  Eventually she slid to the floor, and lay sprawled out face down.  As Lanie listened to the hum of the engines taking her further out into space, she rolled to one side; drawing her knees to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them.

It was the sudden silence of the engines stopping that woke her.  Her eyes opened, and confused, she went to the console.  When Lanie viewed the fuel gauge it confirmed what she was thinking, she still had fuel left.  Her hands moved quickly over the instrument panels, looking for the problem. 

There was a noise, as if something had hit the ship, and she felt the movement under her feet.  Lanie looked out the window and scanned the area, but saw nothing.  This ship was not only a refurbished one, but rather old, considering the advances in the last few years.  There were no cameras outside the ship for her to see what was happening. 

The button on the panel that announced a voice transmission was initiated lit up.  Lanie pushed the button, "Hello?  This is Captain Romein."  A series of clicks and hums came back; Lanie assumed it wasn't working.  "I can't hear what you're saying."  She said.  No further transmission came.

It appeared to her she was being towed.  The man from the used transportation yard must have sent someone after her.  Why would he care?  Lanie resigned herself to the fact she was returning to the moon base, courtesy of her unseen benefactor.  They must have shut her engines down somehow, so they could tow her and save her fuel for life support.  There was nothing left to do, but wait.

Feeling extremely dejected, she gazed out the window and lamented where her life had led.  She worked so hard, and yet became a total failure.  Being towed back like a spoiled child, she would be a laughing stock now.

The view outside the window started to blur.  It made Lanie feel dizzy and she shook her head.  She stood up and continued to look out the window.  All she could see was blackness, no stars.  The realization hit Lanie that she was likely traveling through a wormhole, which not only frightened her, but also confused her, as she hadn't used a wormhole to get to where she was.  Who or what had control of her ship?

There came a sound behind her as if someone were stirring ice in a glass.  Turning around, she saw a blue-faced man in a long tunic standing there.  He bowed his head and extended his hand to her.  They were only a few feet apart, so she leaned forward and took his hand. 

After a moment, his head came up and he smiled, "Hello Lanie."

Lanie looked him over, and then quietly said, "Hello, how do you know my name?"

He smiled, "Please, come with me, our ship is better equipped for comfort."  Still holding her hand, in the blink of an eye, they were transported to the spaceship that towed hers.

Lanie glanced around the new environment she was in.  Unknown technology was everywhere; she took a few moments to take it all in.  It was a much larger ship than hers was and it took more crewmembers to run it.  They sat at panels full of dials and blinking lights, working intently, not seeming to notice her.  The rest of the room she was in was much like the cabin of her ship only bigger, with one huge difference.  There were no windows!  

Once the sense of wonderment passed, she started to ask questions, and they all came out as one sentence.  Several of the crewmembers turned to look at her, and then went back to their jobs.  Lanie's face felt hot as she realized how disturbing her behavior must be.

The blue man in the tunic, who brought her here, approached her and tugged on her hand, beckoning her to follow him.  He led her to a smaller room, comfortable with muted lighting, reminding her of the room Azano had taken her to. 

"I'm looking for someone, you might know him, his name is Azano."  She said as she watched the blue man settle into a soft chair.  Lanie slid into a chair near him.

He took a moment to answer, "Why must you find him?"

"Because...Because he came to me when I was a child, he changed my life."  Lanie paused, realizing how true that statement was.  "And...  It's possible we may have a child together."

The man sighed before speaking, "Many of our males sought out mates from other worlds.  For many years, our females could not conceive children.  Our people were in danger of dying out; we had no choice.  Much research was done, and the women were chosen carefully.  One of those things concidered was the likelihood of one of them pursuing the male."

Lanie nodded, they never expected her to get this far.  Did that make her a danger to them?  "I just need to know!  I have compared every man of my own world to the man from your world.  I have a feeling I belong here."

"You don't."  He said sharply.  "We value life, and we had to save you.  We will take you back to our planet, we will simulate your fuel source and place you back where we found you, and then set you on a course for your planet.  Your memory of this will be erased."

"NO!"  Lanie stood and screamed at him, "You don't have the right to do this!"

The man stood and walked towards the doorway to the room.  He spoke over his shoulder to her.  "I'm afraid you have nothing to say about it."  He literally disappeared through the door without opening it.

Lanie's jaw dropped, and when she recovered from the sight, she ran to the door and found it had no handle.  She was a prisoner.  Anger fuming, she stomped across the room several times before she sat down in one of the comfy chairs.  Curling her legs up and leaning her head on the armrest, she looked around the room.  It almost could have been the same room Azano had taken her to.  Lanie closed her eyes and in her mind, she heard his soft sensuous voice, and felt his arms holding her.  Soon she was asleep.
 The man standing before her must have spoke to her, which is what actually woke her, but as her eyes opened, she was startled by his presence.  She sat up and looked at him wide eyed.

"Come with me."  He said, turning around expecting her to follow.

Glad to be released from the room, she stood and followed him.  As they walked through the doorway, Lanie stopped.  The room that all the crewmembers sat in before she was exiled to the small room, was empty.  What caught her attention was a huge window in the front of the room that was now visible. 

"Lanie!"  He called to her as if she were a child.

The speaker's voice rang out in the silent auditorium, "Gregory Simmons"

Lanie's eyes shot open and everyone was clapping.  The stage was filled with the ten new Captains and everyone was shaking hands.  She looked around her in horror, this couldn't be happening!  Lanie was top in her class! 

She looked at the floor, and watched her shoes become wet as her tears hit them.  Hearing them call her name, she wiped her tears and walked with her head down to receive her assignment.

"Congratulations Miss Romein, your scores were one of the highest.  You will find you have a very important job on the bridge."  The man said smiling and handing her orders to her.

Lanie murmured under her breath, "Captain Romein." snatching her orders from his hand she turned and left the stage, and then she kept right on walking. 

No one seemed to notice that she didn't rejoin her classmates.  Lanie went to her room and collected her things. 

"Lanie?  What are you doing?  Moving so soon?  Did you really get the commendation?"  Cleo was full of questions.

Lanie said nothing and continued to methodically collect her belongings.  Her parents came by her room once they realized she wasn't in the auditorium, and they got much the same silent treatment.

Cleo and Lanie's parents watched as she put the last item in a bag.  She turned towards them and said, "I won't be back."  Pushing through them to the door, she never looked back.

Everything she owned was in the bags, one she threw over her shoulder.  They were heavy, but she dragged them along with determination.  Using her parent's money for the last time, she spent the day preparing for her future.

Stowing her bags in lockers at the spaceport, she started to ask many questions leading her from one person to another.  By mid afternoon, she was on her way to see a guy about a spaceship. 

Starships were too new at that time to have any being decommissioned; smaller ships like the shuttle weren't available to the public yet either.  What were left were spaceships that were made for the very rich.  After the newness wore off, they usually were sold back or abandoned and refurbished.  Only a few hundred were made.

Lanie negotiated a fair price as long as she could get a full tank of fuel.  The man agreed he knew it would be a long time before anyone would come along again with an offer to buy one.

"When you're ready to take off I will have this taxied down to where I can open an air lock to let you out.  You sure you know how to handle his thing?"  He asked.

"Just have it fueled and ready."  Lanie answered him, "I'll be back in an hour."

Retrieving her bags and doing a little shopping for food and supplies, she arranged for everything to be delivered to the used transportation yard.

Already having disengaged herself from anyone human, she was ready to leave.  She stopped off at random bar, and ordered two shots, then quickly downed them.  Her next stop was to acquire Captain's attire, deciding on skin hugging black leather, she looked in the mirror and nodded.  Reaching over to the sales desk, she grabbed a pair of scissors, and quickly chopped off her reddish hair in a jagged pattern.

"Any hair gel?"  She asked.

Without a word, the sales lady dug in her purse and handed some hair gel to Lanie.

Lanie spiked her hair to stick out in all directions, "There."  She said to her reflection.

She took public transportation to where she bought the spaceship.  Lanie saw everything had already been delivered.

"Let's get this show on the road."  She spoke to the man who had sold her the ship.

"Where's your crew?"  He asked.

"Ain't got one."

"He shook his head, "You should have at least one other person!"

"Look, I just came from the academy.  I know how to pilot the damn thing!"

"Well, don't go very far.  Keep an eye on the fuel!  Before you use more than half, you had better head back.  There's a lot going on up there, a lot of things to consider, it's not as easy as it looks."

"Who are you?  My mother?  Get me to the fuckin' airlock!"

The man shrugged and motioned for her to follow him.

The ship stood ready for her to take command.  The man helped her load her supplies onto the ship.

"You aren't gonna need all this.  The fuel will only last a few days, even if you conserve it.  The air will last as long as there is fuel to run the purifier."

Lanie stood looking at him for a moment, and then she dug around in her bag.  Finding her red nail polish, she went to the side of the ship near the door and began to write:

Captain Lanie Romein
         A.K.A.  The Ice Queen

The man quickly threw the remaining items in the ship, hoping she would leave as soon as possible.

Lanie boarded the ship and before she closed the door, the man called to her, "Blink your landing lights when you want the lock opened.

She gave him a thumbs up.  Lanie closed the door and sat down at the console.  It looked familiar, sort of.  Finding the important things, life support, fuel, etc., she turned her attention to the rest of the ship.  The bathroom was stocked, check.  Sleeping quarters, check.  Mechanical room, check.  Sitting at the console again, she took a deep breath, and then started the engines.  The panels came alive with lights blinking.  Lanie took a few more minutes, and then blinked the landing lights.  Doors in front of the ship parted, and she taxied the ship forwards.  Once she had cleared them, they closed behind her, then seconds later the ones in front opened and she looked out at the darkness before her.  "Just like the simulator." she said in a whisper.  The ship rolled forward and lifted, she was airborne.  She was going to the stars to find Azano.

By the end of the first day, she was comfortable enough with her ship to relax and enjoy the view.  What she once saw as a young girl, she now looked at closer and with a purpose in mind.  The crazy part was she didn't even know if she was going the right direction.  It's not as if Azano had left his address for her.  This was the quadrant, however, that signals came from, leading scientists to believe life could be found in this direction.  It was a job for the Starships, and they would leave in droves to comb the area and beyond.  Lanie knew she didn't have any chance in venturing far enough to reach Azano's planet.  Her disappointment and anger drove her into the heavens. 

 The second day was upon her and she looked at the fuel gage, she had used almost half.  Looking out of the panoramic window above the console, she sighed.  Distant stars and the blackness of space returned her gaze.  Her eyes dropped to the console, and she shut the engines down.  Life support still used fuel but not nearly as much.  The spaceship cabin grew quiet.

Leaning her forehead against the window she said, "Azano, I don't know where you are...  I thought you would come back for me.  You didn't..."  Slumping to the seat in front of the console, she sighed again.  Lanie wanted to cry, but she couldn't; maybe she was the Ice Queen, everyone said she was.  Her hand came up slowly and she stuck one finger out, purposely starting the engines, but not changing course.

Over the next few weeks, Lanie tried to call Cody several times, and even left a message but received no reply.  Finally putting him behind her, she concentrated solely on her academics.  The roommate situation didn't improve either.  Spending as little time in her room as possible, she had searched for a quite spot to be alone elsewhere.  She found one the hologram buildings had small rooms that simulated places on Earth.  If she found one empty, she locked the door behind her.  At first, she took advantage of the privacy to cry.  She mourned for her life on earth, and Cody, she felt quite alone.  Alone, it was something she was familiar with, and now she realized just why she preferred it.  She didn't have to feel anything.  Lanie became the Ice Queen again, blocking out all that was in the way of her goal.  At least, there would be no more crying.

Taking no one as a close friend, she mechanically went to her classes and studied hard to be the best.  Wanting to be sure she was offered a Captain's position, she did what ever it took to be top of her class.  The professors loved her as a student, and her thirst for knowledge knew no bounds.  When she wasn't in class, she was either studying, reading a book for pleasure, or at the gym, keeping in top condition. 

Her roommate JackASS received a Captain's commendation at the end of the year and rubbed Lanie's nose in it.  He waved his orders in front of her face, "This is as close as you will ever get to one."  He smirked.

Glad to find out budding Captain's were roomed in another building, she was happy to see him go.  After he tortured her with his orders, she was sure there was a good possibility of him being strangled in his sleep.

The luxury of having no roommate was short lived.  A mousey little girl stumbled into the room about a week after JackASS left, spilling the contents of her arms all over the floor.  Lanie was on her bed reading, looking up long enough to see who it was, she went back to her book. 

The girl mumbled a quiet, "Sorry." and picked up her things.

Lanie closed her book with a sigh.  "Hey."  She held out her hand.

The girl instantly smiled, taking Lanie's hand, "Hi!  My name's Cleo."

"Hi Cleo, my name's Lanie."

"The Ice Queen?"  The girl's hand covered her mouth, "Oh gosh I'm sorry."

Lanie gave her a tired look, and then started to help her pick up her things, "Great."

"Really, I'm sorry, that was rude of me."

"No it's all right.  It's kinda true.  If you stay outta my way, I'll stay outta yours."

"It's just that...even on Earth; well...people talk about the girl who wants to be a Starship captain.  You're kinda famous."

Lanie stopped and studied the girl, not sure if she was teasing her or not.  "Really?"

Cleo nodded.

"Well then, there's no way they can refuse me a commendation at the end of this year!"  Lanie said smiling.

"I hope you make it.  I wanna be an instrument tech and be on the bridge, maybe I'll be on your ship in the future, that'd be cool!"

Cleo was a definite improvement over JackASS.  Although they didn't become best friends, Lanie was friendly to Cleo to a point.  Cleo loved the social aspect of being at the academy, and was always going to one function or another, and always tried to persuade Lanie to go with her.  Lanie continued to refuse, time after time.

"You know, there is a saying about all work and no play..."  Cleo teased her, when Lanie refused yet again to go out to a social function.

"Well let me ask you this.  Would you rather be on a ship with a Captain who studied hard and was the best Captain ever, or one who partied all the time?"

Cleo sighed, "Fine.  I'll have enough fun for both of us!"  She giggled and left the room.

Lanie smiled at the door Cleo had closed, what a difference a few months made.  Cleo had certainly come out of her shell.

The next few months passed pleasantly.  The time was drawing near that the ten Captain commendations would be awarded.  All the others would receive their job assignments at the same time.  It was like a graduation ceremony.  Lanie had spoke to her parents several times since she had been there, but they never made the trip for a visit.  They promised to be at the ceremony.

On the day they were to arrive, Lanie waited at the spaceport.  It had been years since she had seen them in person.  If it hadn't been for video phones, she wasn't sure she would have recognized them.  She saw her mother first, still quite beautiful for her age, her bottle blonde hair flowing around her face, and her slightly plump figure, Lanie waved.  Her father appeared from behind her mother, a small thin man, who doted on his wife.

After a few hugs and cheek kisses, Lanie helped her parents get to their temporary lodgings.  After settling them in, they had a relaxed dinner, and then she bid them a good night until the ceremony the following day.

Lanie woke the next morning with the excitement of a child on Christmas.  She could hardly contain herself feeling giddy, her cheeks were flushed.  Cleo wished her luck as she left their room and headed for the auditorium.  Everything she ever wanted, and worked hard for was going to come to fruition today.  Her class of over one hundred people stood waiting for the ceremony to start and she took her place among them, waiting.  She caught sight of her parents in the audience and smiled, they looked like proud parents, yet they hardly knew her.

They began with a speech, which seemed to last forever.  Next, they would announce the ten Captains, and then the other less important assignments.  Lanie was trembling with excitement, the next year it would be hard not to aim her Starship towards the end of the universe and start her search for Azano.  She was so close to realizing her dream.

Her attention was drawn back to the podium as they started to announce the names.  She counted down as they were announced, all males, and they had called nine, she would be next.  Preparing to relish the moment, she closed her eyes.