Entering again into the world of the bright and well maintained, this was probably where her host lived.  A chair was brought for her and he motioned for her to sit.  A smaller snail-like being entered the room and nuzzled her host. 

"Welcome our guest, dear.  Oh, where are my manners?  My name is Ku and this is Harni, my wife."

Harni slid over to where Lanie sat.  Although she was smaller than Ku, she was still quite robust, and slightly intimidating.  Lanie made herself sit still. "What is your name, dear?"

Lanie cleared her throat, "Lanie, Lanie Romein."

"Where do you come from, you are so tiny and cute!"

"She comes from Earth, Harni."

Lanie jumped up from her seat so fast, Harni let out a small yelp, "How did you know that?" Lanie asked.

"I have been to your planet."

"You have?" Lanie cried in disbelief.

Ku chuckled, "Come sit down, you should find this food palatable.  It's like fruit."

For a girl who wasn't good at trusting people, Lanie sure had to do a lot of trusting lately.  It crossed her mind this food may kill her, but she couldn't come up with a good reason why Ku would want her dead, so she sat down again.  Ku and Harni picked at the various colored items of food on the table. 

"Try some of our wine." Ku said sliding a glass in her direction.

Lanie brought it to her lips and smelled it.  She couldn't smell any alcohol, she took a sip.  It reminded her of a sangria, she smiled. "It's good!"

Ku ad Harni laughed. 

"So tell us your looong story, Lanie."  Ku said.

I was visited by..." she paused, "I feel funny calling you all aliens, what should I say?"

Ku laughed low in his throat, "Lanie we are all residents of the universe, just people."

She nodded and started again, "I was visited by someone from another planet. I was just a kid.  He, uhh, was intimate with me. Before he left, he like...put me to sleep or something.  Anyway, when I woke up he was gone and I think he took our unborn baby with him.  But that's not all.  I felt something for him.  I spent the next few years assuring my place as a Starship Captain.  I should have got a commission and I didn't.  I got angry and just wanted to leave Earth and look for Azano, which was my original plan."  She took a sip of wine; it was obvious there was something intoxicating in it.

"Azano is the father?"

"Yes, I think so, if there is a child.  So I ran out of fuel and was towed to a planet about four days from here.  It was his planet I'm sure, but the people were mean and rude."

Ku interrupted, looked at his wife and nodded, "Krayton."

"Krayton?" Lanie asked.

"I'm sure that is the planet where you were treated so poorly." Ku informed her. "So they set you adrift?"

"Well, they can't be all bad.  Azano was nice, and someone named Hootie hailed me after I was out of the airlock and helped me find this planet.  He gave the coordinates, and he gave me this translator."  Lanie tapped the red stone on her throat.

"Basic issue." Ku said offhandedly.

"This?" Lanie said pointing at her throat.

"Yes, very common.  The air regulator I gave you is a simple one, too.  You might want to buy better ones."  Ku said.

"I don't have any money." She said, throwing her hands in the air.

Harni was quiet up until now; she shook a piece of the fruit-like object at Lanie, "You need a job."

Lanie nodded, "I guess I do."

"Your fuel is insufficient for space travel.  I had my crew modify your ship to take better fuel."

"You modified my ship?  How can I repay you?  I have no money!"

Ku sat and stared at her for a moment, and then said, "You are unique here, you will draw attention in a way it will be useful to me."

Lanie didn't like the sound of this.

"You could travel between planets looking for your child...your boyfriend.  When you do this, you could deliver and pick up various items for me. I would pay you generously."

"Is it...legal?"

"Of course.  No one needs to know, you would be discreet.  It would be embarrassing at the very most should anyone find out what you were carrying."

"What is it?"

"You don't need to know."

"I do if I'm going to accept this job."

"You won't even see it.  It will be loaded when you land and unloaded when you return here. You don't have to know."

It was a hard bargain, but Lanie was considering it.  It would give her all the freedom she needed to reach her own goals. 

"You owe me for the work on your ship, try it just once." Ku tried to sway her.

Lanie sighed, "All right."

She noticed Harnie patted his arm and smiled.

"You need a weapon, and a little training.  You're too...nice."

Ku was right; the only time she didn't let people use her as a carpet was when she had been drinking.  False courage.  She couldn't stay inebriated all the time so she had to toughen up, or she wouldn't survive. "Why are you helping me? Lanie asked.

"Because you will be useful to me. You are not on Earth any more, little girl. Life is harder than you think out here.  The wars are still going on, but on a planetary scale, and it's played differently."

Lanie sat quietly thinking about what Ku had said.  The people of Earth were ignorant infants, but they were no better.  She felt Ku was right, it was the same, just different.  "All right, I'm in.  I have to start somewhere."

"Good. I will have you talk to my advisors.  They will prepare you."

"Are you some kinda big deal here?" Lanie asked.

"I'm like your leaders; I keep order as much as I can."

Over the next few days, Lanie learned much about life in the universe.  This planet was as she suspected a crossroads for interplanetary travel.  They prided themselves on having supplies for most of the species that passed this way.  What she saw that day she arrived was a small sampling of the people she would encounter.  The trick would be not to be shocked or repulsed by who she would meet.  Some were very close to humanoid while others were hideous.  She gained confidence and desensitized herself over the next few weeks by spending time in the bars with them.  Her tolerance for their social drinks became improved and Lanie no longer became drunk so easily.  True be told, she was gaining a reputation. She now freely called herself The Ice Queen.  It suited her.  She was a little tougher, and a little more hardened than before. Knowing to reach her goal, she would have to be strong and be ready for things she never dreamed of before.

As she scraped the last morsel from the container, she absentmindedly raised her head and looked out the window.  The planet she was aiming for was close, and she hoped she would reach it today, because her fuel was almost gone.  As if on cue, her engines began to stutter.  Jumping up, she ran to control panel, and reached for the communicator.  "Hello?  Can anyone hear me?  I'm running out of fuel."

Moments passed and Lanie keep her eye on the planet.  Her ship was starting entry procedures in accordance with the coordinates she had plotted.  If she hit their atmosphere and it had a gravity pull, she would crash if her engines ran out of fuel.

A voice finally returned her call, "We will take control and see you in safely.  Please remain calm."

A purple light seemed to engulf the ship and cast a purplish glow into the cabin.  Lanie sat at the control panel and waited.  Buildings came into view and she could see where she would land.  Trying to imagine what it would look like on the surface, she craned her neck in odd directions.  As the ship descended further, the light became darker, and the air outside the ship looked polluted. 

The ship vibrated slightly and she felt a thump; she was sure she had landed.  The voice asked her.  "Have you visited this planet before?"

Picking up the communicator she answered, "No, I'm kinda a new traveler."

"You are in an airlock, are you an air breather?"

"Yes."  She smiled, it seemed like a silly question, but it probably wasn't.

"What is your air mixture?"

"Um I breathe oxygen, and uh, nitrogen, and ...stuff."  She had made the mistake of thinking a captain wouldn't need that information, and didn't retain it after the test.

There was a long pause.  "Where did you come from?"

It was her turn to pause.  If she told them, she was from Earth it may not go well for her, being so far from home.  Not knowing the name of the planet she just left, she told them, "I don't know."

"If you have an empty container, quickly throw it out your hatch."

Without asking why, she did as they asked.  Then it hit her, they would test the air in the container.

While Lanie waited for them to figure out her air mixture, she silently thanked Hootie for the translator.  Not being as prepared as she thought for space travel, she pitied the other captains venturing out from Earth.  She knew she had been extremely lucky.

When the voice spoke it startled her from her thoughts, "Our atmosphere would be volatile to you.  We will place a breathing device in the airlock, and the airlock will be filled with your air mixture.  When you have the apparatus on, just announce it, we will hear you."

Lanie agreed, gathered a few of her things, and walked to the hatch.  As she opened it, she saw a pedestal table with a mask on it.  This was her protection?  Picking it up, she examined it.  It looked like a doctor's mask, but as she held it in her hand, she could tell there was a filter of some sort between the fabrics.  Raising it to her face, she covered her nose and mouth, and that was when she realized there were no ties.  Just as that thought came to her, the mask forced its way down her throat.  Gagging and choking, she hit the floor.  Lanie gasped for air, and then she was breathing easier.  What was it with these crazy devices that invaded her body?

The airlock door was opened and in slithered one of the inhabitants of this planet, they were indeed ugly.  The smell alone made her wrinkle her nose, but the assault to her eyes, paralyzed her.  Hootie's words echoed in her head, they're friendly.  Lanie slowly rose to her feet, with her mouth agape, having to mentally remind herself to shut it.  She stood looking embarrassed.  The being reminded her of a snail, but without a shell.  The skin looked slimy and it glistened.  It glided, rather than walked, and its eyes were on the end of appendages.  Lanie did notice it appeared to be smiling.

"Welcome to Tentalu!  You are certainly lost little traveler; a long way from home!  What stumps me is how you got here! Your air mixture tells me you are from Earth!"

Lanie felt uncomfortable and she fidgeted, sliding her hands along her hips looking for non-existent pockets, "Well... it's a long story."

The being laughed so loud it made Lanie jump.  "You must have dinner with me tonight and tell me more."

She smiled, 'A girl's gotta eat."  This brought more laughter from her new friend.

He turned around and told her to follow him.  "Your ship will be fine there.  Don't worry.  After you see the city, we'll decide how we can help you."

That seemed like a good idea to her.  She needed all the help she could get.  Lanie followed him out of the airlock and through a large doorway.  The environment changed drastically.

The simple act of walking through a doorway took her from a facility that was clean and well maintained to a dark, pollution filled city.  Many noises combined to create a constant hum of activity.  Voices, music, something mechanical, an engine maybe, all swirled through the dingy air. As they moved through the streets, Lanie caught sight of many different species of beings.  There seemed to be a lot of businesses in a center area, where most of the beings were gathered. 

Trying to make sense of what she was seeing, Lanie proceeded to put them all in order, snail-like ones seemed to live on this planet.  The others, the ones with  antennae, the bug-like, lizard-like, even some humanoid-looking beings, they were most likely travelers like her.  This had to be sort of a cross roads of the universe, many provisions were being sold here.

Just as her host motioned Lanie ahead of him through a door way, there was an outburst of music and loud voices.  She turned to see where the noise came from.  Two figures spilled from a doorway, one landing on their back on the ground.  A bar fight? The other stood over it with a weapon that looked like a large knife.  Her host blocked her view and hurried her forward.

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.


Part 6



Lanie wandered away from the desk and leaned against a near wall.  She didn't know if she was more upset because she may be stuck rooming with a guy or that the woman had laughed when Lanie said she would be a captain.  Dragging her way back to her room, she found it empty.  Hopefully he had realized his mistake and left.

Her things had been delivered, and she went about unpacking.  Humming to herself and daydreaming about having her own star ship, she was settled quickly and was nearly done when the door to the room opened.  A blond-haired man with a light brown beard and mustache, walked in.

"Hey!"  The man said, and threw himself across the bed opposite Lanie.

Assuming this was the mystery man, since she hadn't seen his face, Lanie said, "Are you sure you have the right room?"

"Yup.  Been here a year already.  You just startin'?"

She sighed, "Yes."  She looked away and moved a few of her belongings on the desk.

"Whadaya studin'?  Medicine, or Tactical?"

"I'm going to be a captain."

"What's your name?"


"Ahhh  Captain Lanie, the Ice Queen.  How'd I get so lucky?"

Lanie spun around to look at him, her fists clenched.

"Your reputation precedes you.  You know there has never been a female captain, right?"

"Then I will be the first."  She said with venom.

"No, no you won't, you know why?  I'll tell you, because women are too emotional...but wait...I'm talking to the Ice Queen, maybe you will make it."  With that, he turned away from her and put a pillow over his head.

Lanie rolled her eyes and picked up a tablet from the desk, and then she threw it at the wall.  Grabbing her purse, she quickly left the room.

Once in the empty hallway Lanie quietly cursed her luck.  "Damn."  Irritated that her high school nickname had followed her here, she thought of Cody, she was hardly an Ice Queen any more.  Realizing that she promised to call him, she went in search of a video phone.

Lanie was directed to a room with small-enclosed booths in which video phones had been installed, giving complete privacy.  Finding one unoccupied, she quickly entered and punched in Cody's number.  She sat down, excited to tell him all that had happened to her so far, as she listened to the phone ring.  It continued to ring and soon an electronic voice asked if she wanted to leave a voice message.  Disappointed, she ended the call.  He knew I was going to call, where was he?

Lanie familiarized herself with the campus, checking room numbers where her classes would be.  Running into a few other people, she asked what all of the other buildings under the dome were for.  She learned they were used for a variety of things from housing the professors and other workers on the base, to training the students.  Some contained hologram representations of star ships to maneuver, while others were weapon ranges.  Lanie was excited to get started. 

Regretting that soon she would have to return to her room, she stopped in the cafeteria.  She picked out a salad and some fruit and sat down at one of the empty tables.  Picking at the salad, she thought of Cody, maybe she should try to call him again.  Her thoughts were interrupted by her roommate who yanked out a chair next to her and sat down.

"Hey Captain Lanie!"  He said loudly.

Lanie looked up to see several people looking at her in confusion.  "You're an ass, ya know it?"

He smiled, "What?  You said yourself you were gonna be a captain!  Might as well get used to to callin' you that?"

"Not that I really give a shit, but what's your name?" 


"Perfect.  Listen JackASS, we have to room together, but we don't have to be friends.  I suggest you move along."

"Oooooo Beware of the ICE!"  He rose from the table and disappeared through the doorway.

Lanie fumed and stabbed away at her salad with her fork, never bringing a bite to her mouth.


Part 5



Hours had passed, and the journey to the academy was nearing its close, Lanie could feel the shuttle changing speed, preparing to land.  Squirming in her seat with excitement, she tried to get a view of the base from her window.  It was a spectacular sight.  The glow of the moon itself against the backdrop of dark space was dramatic.  The immense clear dome that covered the base reflected the light within it.  Tall, silver, spiral buildings stretched up to the limit of the dome, and she could see smaller darker buildings strewn throughout the landscape under the dome.  The academy was housed under the dome, but Star ships were launched from another area adjacent to the domed area and accessed thru an underground tunnel.

The shuttles were much smaller and could enter the dome through a small runway and air locks that led to a disembarking platform.  There were a few people waiting to return to Earth, not everyone was a student or a professor, some visited family.

Lanie gathered her things, and after notifying the baggage handlers where to send her luggage, she decided to have a look around.  As she left the spaceport, her phone rang.  Not bothering to see who it was, she was sure it was Cody. 

"Hey you!"  She answered her phone, smiling.

"Sweetie!  Dad and I are so sorry we couldn't see you off.  We'll come visit as soon as we can."  Her Mother said.

"Oh hey, it's fine.  Ya know, Cody was there, and yeah I'm fine!"

"All right then, kiss kiss, see you soon."

"Right, Mom.  Bye."  Lanie sighed and dropped her phone back into her purse, disappointed it wasn't Cody.

Although she had looked at the map many times, Lanie took it out and checked it again, intending to walk to the academy building where she would be living.  It didn't seem far, and she started walking.  Whether inside the building or outside, if you were under the dome, the air was filtered and climate controlled.  The air was still and odorless, it reminded Lanie of the air in Azano's spaceship.

 Clearly, walking was not a normal mode of transportation here.  Many times during her walk, the hum of public vehicles broke the silence as they passed her.  The buildings she passed were cold and stark in appearance.  They all had the silver color of steel, with no windows, or architecture to please the eye, just straight lines.  Seeing nothing to hold her interest, she looked up, the glow from the deflected lights on the street, and at the top of the buildings, reflected in the ceiling of the dome and glared down on her.  Focusing on the road ahead of her, she saw the Academy coming into view.  It was the only thing of real color she had seen.  In large golden lettering in an arch above the entrance, were the words Space Academy.

Lanie was mounting the stairs to the entrance when a transportation vehicle stopped in front of the building and several students disembarked, running up the stairs ahead of her.  They chattered and laughed as they entered the large doors into the academy.  She quickened her steps to catch the doors before they closed, following the students.

Once through the doors she stopped, surprised by the onslaught to all her senses.

The noise struck her first, the atrium of the building was filled with students rushing passed her.  There was a burst of color from the bleakness of the street; everything was bright and warm, from the orange carpet to the abstract paintings on the wall.  Stepping into the large room, she wormed her way to a counter in the center; Lanie took her place in line and waited.   

Even though the air was filtered, she could tell there was a dinning room near by.  Her stomach began to growl with hunger the longer she stood in line as odors from the kitchen drifted to her. 

It was finally her turn to register; she gave her name and received a room number, a code, a small information booklet, and a schedule.  The man at the desk pointed to a diagram on the wall and suggested she view it to find her room.  She thanked him, exiting the line, and approaching the diagram.  Lanie got a general idea where she was, and then looked around the room to translate the map to reality.

Seeing the hall that would take her to her room, she started towards it.  Her stomach had other plans and sidetracked her to the dinning room.  She stood in the doorway and watched people going through a cafeteria line and then sitting at one of the tables.  Even with everyone talking at once, the noise level was much quieter here.

Lanie looked at the booklet she had been given to see if there was anything about the cafeteria she needed to know.  Just what she was afraid of, she needed a badge to get in line.  Sighing, she decided find her room and then see about how to get a badge.

Down a long hall she walked, looking for the number of her room.  Plaques on the walls with numbers and arrows helped her find her way.  Arriving at her door, she used her code to open it.  The room contained a bed, desk, and closet for each student.  Each room had its own small bathroom with a shower.  Lanie's room also contained a sleeping man.

Looking at her schedule, she could see she was in the right room.  He must have the wrong room, she reasoned.  She put down the small bag she was carrying and walked to the desk.  Seeing a badge with her name on it, she smiled.  Deciding her hunger took priority over the mystery man in her room, she headed for the dinning room, intending to speak to someone about it before she returned.

After sating her hunger, she approached the desk and stood in line again, waiting to speak to someone about the person in her room.  When it was her turn, she smiled sweetly and said, "There is a man sleeping in my room, and I need someone to wake him and get him to the correct room."

"What makes you think he has the wrong room?"  Said the woman at the desk.

"W-Well...it's a man; I share a room with a man?"

"It's possible.  Do you think on a Star ship there is room to give everyone personal quarters?"

"Um, I don't know, but I will be the captain so I won't have to worry about that."

The woman laughed, "Really.  Well when the guy wakes up, check his room number, but you're probably stuck with him."  She then looked at the person behind Lanie, "Next!"

Part 4



Years passed and she left for college, intent on the study of the universe, sciences, and whatever it would take to get her into the space program.  Science had advanced to the point of exploration to the nearest planets.  No life had been found, wormhole travel was in its infancy.

The boys had turned into men and were a little harder to dodge.  One in particular was very insistent and she finally agreed to a date with him.  To her surprise, they had a great time.  She was relieved that Cody kept his hands to himself.  Lanie agreed to see him again.  They became inseparable, and the inevitable moment came when he tried to kiss her.  She turned away.

"Lanie, we've been going out for over a month, what's wrong with a kiss?"  Cody asked.

First looking at the ground, then looking in his eyes she said, "Nothing.  Nothing is wrong with a kiss.  I just...I dunno...I don't want a relationship."

"Really?  You don't want the dream of a white picket fence, two point five kids and a dog... and a man who adores you?"

She shook her head, "I don't have time for that, I'm going to be a Starship Captain."

Cody took her hand, "Even Starship Captain's have sex." he said smiling.

Pulling her hand away she smiled, "I didn't say I wouldn't have sex, I said I didn't want a relationship."

"I have found my soul mate!"  Cody raised his hands to the sky, "Thank you Jesus!"  He said laughing.

Lanie laughed too, she felt better that he knew where she stood.

"So can I kiss you now?"  Cody asked.


Cody drew her to him and kissed her passionately.  As the kiss ended, he smiled and said, "Whadaya think?"

Pushing out her lower lip Lanie said, "Pretty good."  In reality, every kiss, every touch would be compared to Azano's.

Their non-relationship progressed, and soon they were sleeping together.  Cody was tender and experienced and somehow it just happened.  The first time they were together Lanie was surprised when Cody held her close and said he felt honored being her first.  Azano did say her body wouldn't be altered, but she had no idea that it was even possible that she would remain a virgin.  Several times over the course of their non-relationship, Lanie would make sure that he knew that no strings were attached.  He would reply with a very curtly, "All right already!  You can do without me!"

She was sure he was the one who wanted the two point five kids' situation.  Wasting his time being with her seemed crazy.

They were in their last year of college and Lanie was at the top of her class.  Exploration and usage of wormholes were beginning to get them farther into the universe.  Still, no life had been found, but signals beyond where they had been, lured them forwards.  Lanie knew they were there.  She had applied to the Space Academy and was awaiting the acceptance letter.  Cody's expertise was in propulsion and he had been accepted at Global Aeronautics.  They would soon be parting ways.

Lanie saw it as one-step closer to her goal, but she could see that Cody didn't want their non-relationship to end.  She promised to stay in touch and meet again in the future.  Not having solidified her plans, she hoped she hadn't jinxed herself.

The mail arrived at the same time every day so Lanie felt she was safe to check it about an hour after the designated time.  In the apartment where she and Cody lived, the mail was still loaded into locked cubbyholes.  Putting in her code, the mail door slid to the left.  She could see nothing was in there, but she put her hand in all the same to make sure, then pushing a button, she locked it again.  Climbing the stairs to their second floor apartment, she felt a little disappointed.

As she opened the apartment door, she saw Cody sitting in a chair facing the door with a grin on his face.  He was waving an envelope.

"Guess what I found in my mail slot?"  He teased.

"I have no idea."  She said with a half smile.

He shoved it towards her, "Well, look at it."

She took the envelope from him and looked in disbelief as she realized they had mistakenly put her letter in his slot.  Lanie held the letter from the Space Academy she had been waiting for.  She ripped it open and began to read it.

"Well?"  Cody stood up and tried to look over her shoulder.

'They asked if I would mind missing graduation, and can I come within the week to start my training!"  Lanie jumped around the room like a spider monkey.  She missed the forlorn look that Cody wore as he watched her.

The rest of the week went fast as she gathered her things to pack.  Cody held her a little closer in those last days, kissed her a little deeper.  She would miss him, but she had made it clear from the start, no strings attached.

On the day she left, Cody hugged her and told her, "I know I wasn't supposed to fall in love with you...but I did.  I wanted you to know that, before you left, because I want you to know I will always be here for you."

Lanie didn't know how to answer him, so she kissed him, and then turned towards the shuttle that would take to the moon base.  As she got to the entrance to the shuttle, she turned around to wave, but he was gone.

When she got to her seat, she sent Cody a message.  She promised as soon as she was settled, she would videophone him.  Waiting for him to answer her, she fell asleep.  They would be there within twenty-four hours, since this was a commercial flight, it didn't travel as fast as the Starships.

Later, a Sky Hostess touched her shoulder and asked if she would like something to eat.  Lanie shook her head to clear it, glanced at her phone, no message from Cody.  "Maybe something light, thank you."

"Soup?  Or a salad?"

"Salad's fine."  Lanie smiled at the Sky Hostess and adjusted herself for comfort in the shuttle's seat.

 Looking out the window, she thought briefly about Cody and why he hadn't answered her.  Her thoughts drifted to the new adventure she was starting.  After four years of study in college, she would have two more years of study at the Space Academy before they would give her a commendation as captain of her own Starship.  Before she would actually be sent on a mission there would be another year of hands on training.  By then she would be about twenty-five years old, and ten years since Azano had visited her.  Lanie thought of him every day.