Five minutes later, Vera and Lori were sneaking along the back row of Navigation just as Blaine was pulling up the star charts. 'Nice of you to join us Vera.' Commander Blaine said coolly as she turned around to face the tiered rows of students, her needlepoint eyes pinned on Vera.Vera flinched and groaned before slowly straightening up while Lori quickly dived in her seat. She twizzled around on her pilot chair as if she'd been there the whole time. 'Do you think the stars beyond you?' Blaine questioned. Vera swallowed. 'Yes.' 'Well then, I suggest that you leave this classroom if you think your time is better suited to wandering the corri-''Please don't take my answer out of context Commander.' Lori bawled into the back of her hand. Anger bled into Blaine's features. 'Excuse me?' 'I merely stated that I agreed with your statement. Proxima Centauri, our nearest star bar the sun is only 4.2 light years away yet we have been incapable of producing an interstellar spacecraft that can travel that distance without the death of the crew before arrival or the craft itself disintegrating from the velocity it would have to reach to arrive within a reasonable time frame.' She took a steadying breath. A student somewhere coughed and Vera glanced around. All eyes were on her. Her palms prickled with sweat and she bunched her shoulders.'So...,' her voice wavered, 'do I think the stars beyond me, Commander? Yes. I do. Because they are. But that doesn't mean for a second that I think any less of them.'Vera glanced at Lori on the last sentence. She was sucking on a length of her hair and trying not to smile. Blaine folded her arms and chewed the inside of her cheek. 'Don't ever interrupt me like that again Vera. Is that understood?'Vera slouched and nodded firmly. 'Take your seat. I think you'll find a few credits have disappeared in your absence.' Vera fumed internally and stepped sideways to her chair. Blaine swiped aside the schematics of Alpha Centauri, her eyes glaring at Vera through the pale blue light of her Control Panel as she went through the motions.Vera shrank into the cushioned leather, sliding all the way down until Blaine's face was no longer visible through her CommDeck. She grudgingly swiped her wrist against the armrest. The chip glowed faintly and Vera's heart sank as the credits she'd earned moments ago vanished into thin air and then some. Bye-bye bacon.She rubbed her eyes with her fingers. 'I can't believe you did that.'Lori held her hands up innocently. 'Hey, don't blame me. You're the reason we were late in the first place, remember? You and your mysterious pipeline travels.' She wiggled her fingers at Vera as if she'd been practicing magic in those blasted tubes.Vera stared back intently. Lori chuckled. 'Speaking of death stares...' Lori glanced over her screen, 'if her eyes were laser beams, there'd be a hole in your chest right about now.'Vera looked down and started to pick dust bunnies off her hoodie.'Would have been a shame too. Your fun bags are the best thing abo-' Lori hit the floor with a howl. Blaine paused and looked up from her Control Panel, the HoloScreen behind her remained blank. 'Is there a problem ladies?' Her words were laced with contempt.'Vera shook her head and blurted, 'No ma'am.' as she twiddled the pin of Lori's chair back and forth across her knuckles smugly. Lori swore under her breath and picked herself up off the cold metal floor. She swiped the pin from Vera's open palm and grunted with the effort of righting her chair.Now it was Lori's turn to give Vera death stares. Vera shrugged.'You take my bacon, I take your chair.'Lori huffed and began wrestling with the chair, rolling it back and forth as she tried to figure out where the hell the pin had come from. Her confused face was a picture. She scrunched her nose real cute and her pursed lips looked more inviting than ever. Vera took a mental snap snot before looking back at Blaine, who was now taking the podium.'Since it's clear that looking to the stars is boring some of you, how about we look at something a little closer to home.' Hushed voices filled the room. Blaine raised her hand. A small silver remote was visible in her palm. She pushed a button and a hollow thud resonated around the room. The wall behind the HoloScreen began to slide open, panel after panel sliding upwards and thumping into place.Vera leaned forward, her eyes focused on the slither of sparkling black unfurling before her. Lori's eyes widened at the sound and she made a mad scramble for her CommDeck, hoisting herself over the top to get a better look. Blaine had everyone's attention now. It's not like no one had seen the outside before. Haven had hundreds of viewing ports dotted throughout the station all of which faced the space station New Eden or the Shining Black. It was meant to act as a constant reminder that that was where they were headed and what they were working towards. But no one had seen Odessa. Not like this. The last thud of the sliding panels rang out and the room fell silent as all eyes fixed on the desolate planet before them. None of the schematics or HoloSketches could have prepared them for what lay before them. Long lines of feathering clouds were scattered through the atmosphere like giant ridged slashes, the guts of the surface seeping out through the cracks and into space. It reminded Vera of the time Lori upchucked her bean curry in the Zero-G field.The beast that was the never ending storm held the surface inexorably in her clutches, trapping it beneath her suffocating wall of dust and debris. Lori nudged Vera with her elbow.'I guess the Nav Charts don't show us everything, huh?''We only see what they want us to see.' Vera said, her voice as light as air. Lori threw Vera a concerned look. Vera lost herself in the dirtied oceans of smog roving across the surface until Blaine's gravelly voice of authority dragged her painfully from their depths. 'Your trials on Odessa are no less than two months away. In the coming weeks, your training will not only intensify but expand to include four additional subjects.'Lori groaned, 'More? Seriously?' Vera's interest spiked. The rest of the class eagerly waited in unison.'Those subjects will be,' she pretended to flick through her HoloDeck, 'Survival Skills.''No surprise.' Vera rolled her eyes.The beginnings of a smirk slowly crept across Blaine's face, 'Strategy.'Vera glanced at Lori and mouthed, 'What?'Lori slowly shook her head, her face crumpled as if she'd just eaten something sour. Why did they need Strategy? 'Combat,'Every student peered at their classmates. Blaine laughed. 'Oh yes, the atmosphere of Odessa will do strange things to your classmates minds but they'll be the least of your problems I assure you.' Murmurs erupted around the room.'And the final subject?' Vera pushed. Blaine smiled from ear to ear. 'Tracking.'The word alone left a furore in its wake, the class shattering into its cliche groups as their raised voices crashed around the room like the water surging through the pipes in the showers. Adhara, a short girl sat on the first row blurted freeze-dried corn chips over her CommDeck, 'Tracking? Tracking WHAT?''There are no visible colonies or habitats in that sector besides the training grounds Commander.' Blaine's eyebrows furrowed. Vera had taken her seat and was trawling through the schematic on Odessa's surface on her CommDeck. She swiped across the schematics with a hunter-like precision, zooming in and out of curious locale in the blink of an eye.'How did you get those?' Blaine's voice thundered up the tiers. Vera's heart stopped. She'd pulled them from another Commander's personal data field three months ago thinking she could get the jump on her classmates.No one had access to these schematics yet.Shitzilla.Blaine climbed the tiers with surprising agility, rows one through three all twisted in their seats as she made her approach, her boots slamming against the metal stairs in time to Vera's heartbeat. Her fingers zoomed across the keyboard, the time altering calm encompassing her like a soft blanket.Blaine grabbed Vera viciously by the shoulder and shoved her and her chair aside. Vera seethed in pain and scowled at Blaine's fingernails. She wished they'd split and break off entirely. Blaine's glare was like a supernova being swallowed by a black hole, blazing across the page with fierce intensity, her pupils solidly black and heartless.'Show. Me. How.' She snarled.Vera pointed to the familiar glowing green folder in the corner of her HoloScreen and swallowed. 'I only thought to check the Navigation Resources Commander.'She swiped the schematics aside slightly and pulled up the folder, hastily selecting the schematics menu. Hundreds of floating orbs fluttered across the screen before slowing to display a row of three, the center object was shown as being much larger than those around it. Vera skimmed through the materializing stars and planets, transitioning from left to right with a wave of her hand until she found the brown and red orb clouded with slashes of debris. Just like the planet outside the window.Blaine straightened her eyebrows drawn in confusion. She swooped to check Lori's dashboard. Lori tensed and pressed herself back into her still wonky chair. Her eyes nearly popped out of her skull. The restricted schematics were in her folder too. She started to mouth something to Vera but was quickly silenced by Blaine's accusatory face spinning round to meet hers. Lori's mouth audibly snapped shut.Blaine's features turned hostile in that moment. Lori had the distinct impression that she was stood before a firing squad staring down the black pits of two harbinger rifles. 'Everyone load your resources and upload the Odessa schematics to your deck.' Blaine shouted. Lori jumped. Blaine smiled, briefly satisfied. Vera could almost see her thoughts spiraling around that big brain of hers.Yes Eve, I caught them with restricted documents. Yes Eve, I apprehended them myself. Yes Eve, I'll deal with them rig-'Commander?''What?' Blaine hissed.'Requesting further instruction.' Blaine's face fell. Seren was sat two rows below them on the lower left side. Blaine shifted toward her. Her HoloScreen flashed with the familiar reddy brown of Odessa. Blaine drifted towards her releasing her grip on Lori's armrest. Lori shot forward and panic whispered in Vera's ear. 'What the heck Pink?'Vera shook her head not taking her eyes off Blaine as she patrolled the rows. Her hands were bunching into fists beneath her hoodie. Blaine tapped her fingers rhythmically across her folded arms as she passed from HoloScreen to Holoscreen, each student bringing up the same folder and the same set of schematics.Blaine turned in place and inclined her head toward Vera, her tiny supernovas now quelled into the slimline of saturn's rings.Lori mumbled into her wool jumper to hide her mouth, 'She's giving you slitty eyes Pink. Why's she giving you slitty eyes?'Blaine's fierce persona faltered for a split second. Her features grew soft as she mused in quiet concentration for a moment, her gaze drifting over each CommDeck in turn, each fizzing version of Odessa hovering just above each deck.'The Eves have decided to give you a head start it seems.'Blaine shot Vera and Lori one last savage look.'Don't waste it.' Vera slumped on her chair and finally started to breathe again. Her faint and ghostly reflection glared at her from the HoloScreen. Too close.Lori was not so secretly poking her in the arm to get her attention. Vera slapped her hand away and pointed in Blaine's direction under the deck. She was pulling up her own pale electric blue version of Odessa which flashed into existence after a few faltering starts in the center of the deck. The storm clouds animated around the rotating planet just as it did through the window. But there was no ferocity in them. No danger lurking beneath their boughs.'The past few months you've undergone extensive training, both physical and mental, to prepare you for the trials that await you on Odessa...'Vera slowly tuned Blaine out. It was nothing she hadn't already heard before. She felt like a child again, grasping onto the ends of her blanket waiting with bated breath for the last chapter.Waiting for the moment that the young hero rise up and defeat the mad pirate or fall to his blade. The twist. The cliffhanger. Anything more than the stupid trials.What she was desperate to know was what happened next.Vera rotated the floating orb around and around like a spinning top.'Uh-oh. I know that face.''What face?..' Vera mumbled over the hoodie ties that she was steadily chewing. Gum wasn't allowed near the decks. No thanks to me.'That face,' Lori said coyly, nudging her arm before spinning her chair to face her, 'the face you get when your minds ticking something over or when you're really, really hungry and you're torn between waiting for pizza or smashing the flash cooker and eating dehydrated food cubes instead.'Vera turned. Lori raised an eyebrow.'Am I right?''It's not like you get a prize.' Lori frowned and punched Vera lightly on the arm. 'Seriously Pink. What's riding you?' Vera remained ambivalent. 'I can't say.'Lori reached out and Vera took her hand. 'Not until I'm certain.' Vera's eyes bored into the HoloScreen. Lori nodded and stroked Vera's hand reassuringly.'If you have to go see them, I'll understand.' Vera half smiled. 'Thanks.''Even if they do freak me out.'Vera snorted. 'You can't even see them.''And that's precisely why they freak me out.'Vera laughed despite the ball of anxiety swelling in her gut. *The high pitched Class End alarm resonated down the hallway and the class shuffled out towards the cafeteria. Vera rubbed her eyes.'I cant believe its only 8.30.''Why did they give us a class first thing anyway?''I could explain but my radar is sensing food just around the corner and its clouding my thoughts.' She paused in the middle of the hallway and stared up at Lori mustering her best doe eyes. She stuck her bottom lip out for effect.Lori threw her hands up. 'Okay I get it. I'll find us a seat and you can head up first.'Lori shook her head and smiled as she turned the corner and watched as Vera literally skipped to the food bay.Vera swiped her Chip across the scanner at the start of the bay. The number 265 appeared on the screen. She slipped a tray out from the dispenser below it and placed it on the rails. She skied it towards the food and eyed up her options. She wasted no time in adding all her favorites from each steaming platter to her own tray, her credits decreasing with each portion.Hash browns, sausages and a couple of toast slices later, she was gliding back to the table where Lori sat waiting with a glass of apple juice for each of them. Lori pecked Vera on the cheek before heading up. Vera tried to disguise her smile. It had only been a few weeks since they'd officially become a 'thing' but it still felt strange. Skulking around the Tech rooms late at night and staring longingly at each other from across the cafeteria made a habit of making you think that something was wrong with it. As if it was forbidden. She was all too happy to continue skulking about in the dead of night, partly because she knew what she felt about Lori felt right, so how could it ever be wrong? And partly because risking being seen was kinda kinky.But Lori was a bossy bitch. She'd thundered across to her table one breakfast, slammed her tray down, yelled, 'To hell with it!' and kissed her with every initiate and commander present. And that was that.A tray slid into view in front of her, a petite girl with blonde hair and tattooed arms attached to them.'Geez, you two need to get a room.' Her eyes rolled back into her head so far, Vera wasn't sure they'd come back.'You know you're only jealous Cassie.' Lori winked as she slid in next to Vera with her tray full of beans and eggs.Vera stopped chewing and looked at Lori's tray in disbelief.'Why do you do this to me?''Do what?' Vera stuffed a steaming hash brown into her mouth. 'Baaaaansss AAAAGGG eeeeggcch?''Would you like to use your adult words V?' Cassie said as she poked several holes in her egg yolk and watched as the yellow goo seeped out disinterested. Vera glanced between their two trays.'The both of you disgust me.''Consider it pay back for scaring sticks outta' me. I thought Blaine was gonna fry me in my chair.'Vera shushed her and nodded towards Cassie.Be careful what you say.Lori unraveled the piece of wire keeping her hair in place and shook it out, fluffing it with her hands. 'I know', she mouthed.'Blaine did seem on edge today.' Cassie said. She'd moved onto slicing small ravines through her egg white and was watching the yellow run through the crevices.'I think the Eves giving us the charts early without telling her did her nut.' She popped a slither of egg into her mouth, 'like she wasn't important enough to know before we did.'Vera waved her hand. 'That's just the Commanders in general. None of them want to be here. They want to be on Edie.''Edie?'Lori simply tilted her head toward the bay window. New Eden hovered beyond the threshold, perched above the western hemisphere of Odessa.'Oh.' Cassie didn't even look out the window, instead she fiddled with something in her lap before putting it on the table. It was a small bundle of tissues. She slid them over to Vera and glided her wrist across Vera's outstretched one. Both their Chips glowed and Vera's total crept up by twenty. Cassie smiled sincerely, Vera hadn't thought she was capable. Cassie was a right snobby idiot.'I checked the boards this morning. Thank you.'Vera nodded once and slowly unwrapped the tissue even though the crisp salty sweet smell had given what was inside away while it'd been sat in Cassie's lap.Cassie shuffled in her seat. 'Those classes... That Blaine mentioned... Could you...You know?''For this,' she peeled the bacon from the tissue and jiggled it in the air, 'and this' she flashed her chip,'I can do anything.''So when do you think that they'll introduce the new classes?''Today.' Vera said without skipping a beat. Cassie blanched. 'Today? You can't be serious?''I'm never serious.' Vera said, her face blank. Lori snorted and tried to hide it by coughing.'The screens over by the food bay have been updated and our schedules for today have changed. We have Zero - G last as usual but they've managed to squeeze in survival just before.'Vera sliced her last piece of toast, cutting it into odd shapes and started laying out her candied strips of bacon in between each cut of toast.Cassie's tattoos writhed around her arms as she clenched her fists. Vera almost felt sorry for the poorly done skull which was now screaming across her knuckle.'Replacing free time?' Vera was finishing up her food tower. Cassie cleared her throat. Vera looked up at her.'Replacing free time?' ,she hissed through gritted teeth.'I thought that much was obvious.' Cassie screeched with frustration and slammed her fists on the table.'Then what the hell did I just pay you for? ARGH!'She threw her legs out and stormed off.'Pfft, how were you supposed to know? It's not as if your psychic.'Vera turned dramatically towards Lori and gripped her shoulder. She pulled her forward and stared hard into her panicked eyes.'Maybe I am.'A faint sprinkling noise came from the table. Vera turned to see her bacon and toast tower had collapsed. Vera gasped.'See. If you were psychic, you would have seen that coming.'While Vera mourned the demise of her tower, Lori started to eye up Cassie's tray. 'Well, she won't be needing these anymore...'Lori reached out to grab the last of her eggs.'No! No! No! No! No!' Vera tried to stop her but it was too late. Lori's Chip flashed as she touched the plate and her total decreased by fifty. She shrank back and tapped her wrist as if the chip was faulty.'Wha- Fifty? For what?''Stealing tends to be frowned upon in polite society.' Vera's lips pressed into a thin line. Lori's head span around looking for any Commanders or cameras.'How...' She whined. Vera tapped the edges of her tray.'Micro sensors embedded in the metal. It's how they know what food you've taken too.'Vera reached over with her knife and fork and swaddled the remaining whole egg on Cassie's plate onto her knife before slipping it on Lori's plate.Lori's eyes widened. Vera tilted her head in amusement and recalled the time she'd first met Lori and had a similar reaction.Vera had been struggling to get both her circuits going during one of her compulsory engineering lessons. No matter how many combinations she tried, the plugs were having none of it. Lori had ducked under her work station, all sweat, dirt and racing stripe hair and had jammed a huge wad of pink gum in the center of her console. The circuits sparked up. While Vera tried to remember how to speak Lori muttered the same words to her as she repeated now. 'Gotta' know how the system works if you expect to cheat it Sugar.'Lori sat flabbergasted, looking from the eggs now on her tray, to her wrist, to Cassie's abandoned tray.Vera winked.' I'll jack yours later'Lori wasn't entirely sure what Vera meant.But she liked it.