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RPG The Von Braun Odyssey

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[b][i][url="http://www.otakuboards.com/showthread.php?t=59043"]Auditions[/url] - [url="http://www.otakuboards.com/showthread.php?t=58951"]Cast & Crew[/url][/b][/i][/center]

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Zahir examined his suitcase thoroughly. It was rather large and, much to his embarrassment, rather empty.

The case had been given to him by his mother upon leaving Afghanistan for America and its age showed. It was a deep brown leather and was worn and faded in several places. The buckles barely clasped together and the zipper had to be awkwardly forced to close.

He had laid it out on his single bed the night before and had spent hours pouring over it. It contained a couple of casual outfits as well as two uniforms. The uniforms were new; he'd picked them up the day before from his new employer. Ironically, even these simple bartender uniforms appeared infinitely more expensive than his own clothing.

Just as Zahir began closing the case - now satisfied that all was in order - a thick plume of smoke clouded his vision. He could smell an odd mixture of alcohol. It could only be one person.

Khalid was Zahir's roommate and had been for several months. The pair had been friends for much longer than that, having chatted on the internet for over a year while Zahir had been studying.

Everything had worked to plan; Zahir needed a place to stay in Washington Prime and Khalid had an apartment. Khalid's descriptions had made the place sound grand - a large, clean, American apartment. It sounded like a dream come true for Zahir, who would otherwise have had to settle for God knows what on his meager income.

Of course, things had turned out differently. In person, Khalid seemed to be constantly surrounded by an alcohol-induced haze. His apartment was tiny, with damaged walls, leaky plumbing and cockroaches. The hallways smelt like boiled cabbage.

At least Zahir had his own room - for this, he was most grateful. When Khalid arrived home early in the morning, Zahir could just close the door to his bedroom and dream of better days ahead.

The cloud of smoke had grown and now it seemed that Zahir's entire bedroom was shrouded in fog.

He turned around and saw Khalid standing by the doorway. His boxer shorts were carelessly hanging from his hips while he scratched his stomach with one hand. He took a long drag on his cigarette with the other.

'You're [i]still[/i] fooling around with that suitcase, Zee?'

Zahir hated those cigarettes. He didn't know what brand they were, but they were particularly offensive. They had a heavy odor that seemingly lingered for hours.

'Yeah, I just want to make sure that everything is perfect,' replied Zahir, turning back to the case. 'You never know, I might get a permanent role or something.'

Khalid scratched his head. 'Doubt it,' he muttered. 'Once that first voyage is over, they'll jack up the ticket prices and only the best will get in. You'll probably be back to working at the Pony.'

The Prancing Pony. It was one of the bars Zahir had worked at in recent months and it was by far his most steady work. The nature of the work, however, indicated why so few staff stayed beyond a few shifts. Zahir shuddered at the mention of it.

He went through his wallet and produced his ticket. This ticket, he thought, was sacred. It was his key to the future.

'What kind of ticket is that?' asked Khalid, his eyebrow raised. 'It doesn't have anything on it.'

'The numbers are what matters,' replied Zahir, with a sigh. 'They just scan them and all of your details appear. Why do you always have to be so negative?'

'Just keepin' it real, Zee. The American Dream doesn't apply to some of us and the sooner we learn that, the better.'

And with that, Khalid wandered off into the bathroom. Zahir heard the protest of a rusty tap and the sudden rush of hot water. Khalid hadn't even bothered to close the door; steam rolled out into the hallway.

Zahir took one last look at the apartment. He wasn't unhappy to leave it behind, even for a short while. As much as he hated to admit it, though, he was disappointed that Khalid didn't even say goodbye.


Landmark 01: Everyday Astronaut
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"The Von Braun, Earth's very first space hotel, is due to launch tomorrow morning from the Marr Space Center. The ship's guests and crew are now in the city and will be arriving at the center early in the morning.

Shortly after the vessel breaks free from Earth's atmosphere, guests will be treated to a number of celebratory launch events including a [b]lavish party[/b] at [b]Caesar's Palace[/b], the ship's prestigious on-board casino.

Even the elusive (and highly secretive) [b]Captain Sorokov[/b] is rumored to be in attendance."

[i]Washington Prime News Network (WPNN)[/i]

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[center][FONT=Tahoma][B]"We've done it, Alex," [/B]said Jamie King, photographer extraordinaire excitedly, [B]"We've bagged ourselves two of the most prestigious passes in the known universe. We've got press passes to the maiden voyage of the Von Braun." [/B]Jamie was a reasonable handsome young man, his close-cropped, chestnut-brown hair in sharp contrast to his room-mate's wavy blonde locks. He was a large, well-built man, and carried himself confidently.
[B]
"This has got to be our big break, Jamie," [/B]replied Alex, a broad grin covering the lower half of his face as he packed his bag enthusiastically, [B]"If this doesn't get us a look-in at the WPNN, I don't know what will." [/B]Alex's looks were the exact opposite of Jamie's - he was thin, lean but deceptively muscular, with blue eyes which radiated the sort of charm and charisma that every good reporter needs.
[B]
"We're gonna be huge!" [/B]shouted Jamie, racing into his room to pack his own belongings into some sort of carry-on bag.

The apartment they shared was pleasant enough, if a little on the small side. Alex and Jamie shared everything, the rent payments, the power bills, and by pooling their resources they managed to get an apartment a damn sight nicer than a lot of reporters. The champagne-coloured carpets were thin and a little threadbare through years of good use, and the light blue walls had become a little faded over time. One side of the living area of the apartment was taken up by a set of huge windows, giving the illusion of more space, and the rest of the room was filled with reasonably stylish furniture, all chrome and glass.. Alex had his own room, with a small bed in the corner, but the room was mostly dominated by a huge, dark-wood writing desk which Alex had inherited. It may not have fitted with the aesthetic of the rest of the apartment, but he was damned if he was going to get rid of it just to fit in.

Jamie's room was the smaller of the two, the walls completely covered by work from all ages of his photography career, from pictures he took when he was just a student, to newspaper clippings containing his photographs. He often took up the entire bathroom for hours at a time, turning it into his own personal darkroom, much to Alex's chagrin.

Alex shoved the last few items of clothing into the bag on top of his many different notepads and the small mahogany box which contained his writing equipment, and turned to the kitchenette.

There was a bottle of champagne in the fridge that Alex's parents had given him for his birthday, and which they had been saving for a special occasion, and they didn't come much better than this. He pulled it out by it's neck and ripped the foil off, twisting the wire that held the cork in place. He popped the cork, dropping it onto the worktop beside the bottle.

[B]"Now that's a noise I like," [/B]said Jamie, hauling his bag out of the other bedroom. His seemed a lot fuller than Alex's, as Jamie had the misfortune of having to lug around his camera and all the equipment he needed to develop the films himself. Alex handed him a glass, then held his own up, and said:

[B]"To our success!" [/B]Jamie seconded the notion, and they clinked their glasses together, draining them quickly. Alex looked at his watch, and, realising the time, said:

[B]"Damn. Our cab's going to be here in a few minutes. We should get downstairs."

"Good plan. You have the passes?" [/B]asked Jamie, and Alex pulled the tickets out of his shirt pocket. Jamie grinned and they both rushed out of the apartment, grabbing their bags on the way. Jamie locked up, and shoved the keys into a side pocket of his bag. They wouldn't need them until they got back.

Then the pair headed downstairs towards their cab, and what promised to be the turning point in both their careers.
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[COLOR=Purple][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Gael only wondered briefly if perhaps she had brought too much stuff. Of course, it was only a momentary wondering. After all, most of this was for her performances. The two oddly shaped suitcases laying delicately across her bed were her custom-made brass toned dancing swords. She loved those swords dearly. Another ever odder shaped bag held her violin. Okay, so that wasn?t for performances. She just couldn?t let herself get sloppy during her ?vacation?.

All of the other bags looked the same. And there were a lot of them. For a minute it looked like it would take hours to find the outfit she wanted for her first performance. After all, the party would start shortly after the ship launched. She needed to be ready before the take off. Otherwise the jostling of the ship could very well cause her to poke out an eye while putting on her eyeliner.

Gael thought ahead. She always thought ahead. She would pre-plan even the smallest of details. Including, but not limited to, the fact that she had color-coded all of her identical luggage with easy to spot tags. With a long glance across the room, she found the suitcase that she was looking for.

All of her suitcases were long instead of deep. It was because she didn?t like folding most of her clothes, so she bought luggage where she could lay everything flat. She unzipped the long suitcase that was laying at the foot of her bed to reveal a layer of shimmering gold coins. Not real gold, of course. That would be far too heavy. The coins were actually light weight imitations strung together by links to create a belt that would hook around her waist when she was finished with everything else.

A lot of people were under the assumption that a belly dancer?s outfit consisted merely of a fancy bra and a skirt or harem pants. Sometimes things like that made Gael want to laugh. All of her outfits had at least four separate parts before counting in the jewelry. This outfit had a light gauzy deep purple skirt that was made out of four separate panels. Each panel was trimmed with shimmering beads and golden bells. She also had a pair of skin tight dancing pants that she wore under the skirt because of it?s transparent nature. The pants themselves were skin toned. However, the pants were embellished with fancy bead work that swirled down the side of her legs with a golden shimmer. The top to the outfit was bra like in appearance, but much fancier. The dark purple was again the main color of the fabric. Gold coins hung in loops from the bottom of the bra while the bra itself was decorated only in beads and embroidery. Skin tight and skin toned arm warmers to match the pants covered the bare skin from her wrist to her elbow. On her upper arms there were gold cuffs that held two panels of lightweight fabric to match her skirt. She attached the gold coin belt over her skirt. On her feet were the barely-there dancing shoes she always wore with a little extra. They called them ?sole-less sandals? because it was simply a piece of jewelry to give the illusion of shoes. A simple gold chain of bells hung from her ankle to her big toe. She finished the jewelry with a headdress called a tika. A tika drapes down the middle of a woman?s head and rests in the middle of her forehead just above her nose. This tika actually covered the green gem that already rested in her forehead there.

Gael found herself ready for her first performance before most of the other guests would be arriving. After applying the finishing touches on her stage make-up, Gael began to unpack the props she needed and the rest of her clothes. Since she wasn?t using the swords at the party tonight, she tucked their cases under the bed without opening them. Most of her clothes hung up in the closet, leaving her dresser oddly empty. She used it instead to hold her jewelry, coin belts, and props.

Her performance props were varied far beyond her balancing swords. She had several three yard long lengths of shimmering silk. These lengths of fabric were trimmed in various embellishments. Golden beads, bells, and coins being among them. These lengths of fabric were her veils. A similar prop rested below them. They were large fans with fabric stretched over them. The fabric continued past the fans to create a flowing ?tail?. These were her veil fans. In the drawer underneath all the veils was a different sort of prop. A tray. A well balanced tray. Rolling awkwardly around in the drawer beside it was a series of candles in varying sizes. It had taken years for her to learn how to balance the candles. It had taken even longer for her to learn how to balance her swords.

She sat back on her bed once she was done. She had a little bit more time to waste. Waiting for the sounds of the ship to start up, Gael let herself relax. Her right hand drifted over to her left ring finger, twisting the gold wedding band that rested there. It was a random habit of hers. She only really did it when she spaced out and began to think. She tried to avoid moments like this in public. It would do nothing for her image. And she tried so hard to maintain that image?[/FONT]
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[left][FONT="Times New Roman"][COLOR="DarkOrchid"][i]The walkway leading up to the Von Braun was slightly crowded, but manageable, and weaving carefully enough, the latest employee to arrive made her way up the steps without tripping. Two suitcases on either arm and a purse slung over one shoulder, Ilona Montenegro L'Marcelle virtually skipped past the checkpoint towards her cabin. New business ventures always excited her.[/i]

"Welcome aboard Ms. Montenegro."

[i]The cabin wasn't spacious but it was functional and not cramped in the least. Ilona hug a few of folds of fabric she'd brought with her to lessen the stark metal panels on the walls and add a bit of warmth. Her things were put away quickly enough, the dresses hung on the hangers she'd been careful enough to bring, and the two suitcases stowed underneath the bed where they'd be completely out of sight. On the desk she set her M.D. player and popped one of the small discs in while she finished cleaning up for the evening ahead. The shower was ridiculously small, but being diminutive in size, Ilona wasn't too worried about that. The water was warm, and the steam was a delicious addition to the rather dry atmosphere.

In front of the mirror, wrapped in a towel, the entertainer sat, applying just enough makeup to her face to suggest artificial without being overdone. Her dress was thrown across the neatly made bed, shoes nearby. Pulling back her dark brown hair in a neat coil, she gazed at her reflection and smiled to herself. The curves of her red dress slunk across her shoulders in a sweeping cowl, and the heels added three inches to her stature, enough to make people pay attention to her without too much effort. Ilona pushed back the loose strands of her hair from her face and opened her door, turning off her player as she went.

Crew members were scattered sparsely throughout the hall, one pointing her in the direction of the Kimera and another staring for perhaps a few moments too long. Ilona smiled at him as she passed, perhaps too flirtatiously herself, and continued on her way, noticing a few passengers every now and then, standing out in their civilian dress almost as much as she did. Eventually she reached Kimera lounge, with only the title spread out across the entrance in stylized red and black letters. What looked like gas lamps burned in sconces on either side of the doorway and cast flickering shadows across the hall. Ilona flicked her eyes to either side, and then pushed the charcoal black doors open.[/i]

"Kimera. ...I knew I liked that name."

[i]The interior was cool and dimly lit, red chaise lounges spread across the walls, the wooden bar curving around the wall elegantly. Nobody there, but enough alcohol on the shelves to capsize the ship. Ilona looked over at the stage, the piano in one corner, and the microphone stand nearer to the center. She eyed it all, took a mental picture of the entire establishment, and then backed out again, headed for the casino this time.[/i][/COLOR][/FONT][/left]

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Katelyn had already packed her small suitcase for the trip on the legendary Von Braun. She didn?t have much in the way of possessions since she was living in the tiny dorms attached to the school she was attending. What little she had that had belonged to her parents was carefully stored away for the day when she could afford her own place. Thankfully the system for ward?s of the government saw to that. She certainly had no means to pay for storing their belongings and to lose that too would have been unbearable.

For two years now she had been on her own, living in the tiny little dorm room, struggling to adapt to not only being an orphan but to shove aside the feelings of grief to focus on obtaining her goal. It hadn?t been easy, but now, things were finally falling in place. Starting with the upcoming trip on the Von Braun, her parents would have been so thrilled if they only knew. She imagined that they were with her, in spirit if not in body.

As if reminding her that she hadn?t packed the tiny picture frame with the three of them together, she quickly picked it up off the tiny desk in her room and opened up the suitcase to tuck it inside with her clothing and other items. Including the keepsake locket that she always kept close, it was a pity she didn?t have much in the way of regular clothing. Being required to wear a school uniform had made purchasing regular clothing seem like a frivolous expense when she had nowhere to go.

Her current outfit, a white sleeveless mock turtle neck with an upturned bias ruffle was covered by an off the shoulder neckline jacket with bell sleeves and bias ruffles running along the neckline and the edges of the sleeves. The jacket had gold colored buttons running up the front and the rest was in alternating colors of Dark and light Aqua.

With lightweight white denim pants, dark Aqua boots and a gold colored Ascot scarf and headband to hold back her blonde hair, Katelyn presented a well dressed and striking figure. School uniform or not, it was comfortable and would do nicely until she could determine just what would be acceptable for the trip.

Fortunately she had her own small allowance and it seemed that she also had one to go along with her ticket for the trip. She only hoped it was enough since she imagined things on the ship would be expensive. Basic faire was included, but she had heard all sorts of stories about how fancy some of the entertainment and dinning and other affairs would be on the ship.

A soft chime reminded her that it was almost time for her to go out to the front of the school to meet the ride that had been arranged for her. Katelyn picked up the ticket she had been sent and carefully placed it into her pocket before she picked up her suitcase and made for the door.

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[/SIZE][/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=White][SIZE=2][COLOR=Silver][B]"Major, it's an honor to meet you."[/B] said the young man who greeted Christina with a salute at the gates. Christina sighed slightly, for his salute was very off and if he really wanted to show her respect, he would have not saluted at all, or at least did it right. From her motorcycle she returned it, taking extra care to make sure the tip of her fingers touched the edge of her sunglasses and quickly dropped it. However still stood at attention.

With all the patience of a mother, Christina smiled and corrected him, [/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver][B]"You drop your salute with me. If you're going to play military dear, make sure you know what you're doing."[/B]

His face turned particularly red and he immediately began unloading the small trailer behind her bike. Christina stepped off to watch him take her bags. As he did so, another young man, a valet, came rushing up. He stopped short of saluting her. [/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver][B]"Ma'am, I've been instructed to take your motorcycle to port storage for the duration. May I have your keys?"[/B]

She tossed them to him and motioned for him to wait until her trailer was cleared and all of her things were loaded onto a trolley. She signaled for him to get her bike.

[B] "If I see one gig on it, I'll see you personally..."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver] she took a moment to read his name tag, [B]"Dan."[/B]

Christina turned to see her bellboy struggling with one of her luggage bags. It was a large briefcase, much larger than the standard size. [/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver][B]"Move." [/B]she told him, walking over and one handedly picking the briefcase up and walking. He followed with the trolley, astounded and embarrassed by how easily she took it.

The two of them took a car around to the security entrance. The boy said nothing as Christina immediately took out a headset and began making calls. One was to her floor manager, Fuse, making sure he and his team were monitoring the boarding of the vessel. They were checking tickets and passports, and ensuring guests were directed in the right direction towards their rooms. The second call was to Rufus, the head of the surveillance group. Their job this day was to make sure Fuse's crew didn't miss anything.

By the time she finished up her phone call, she had arrived at the gate. She and her assistant gathered her belongings and she helped him get her briefcase on the trolley.[/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver]

[B] "Make sure this makes it to my suite on D-3."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver] she ordered. She took her glasses off, revealing a pair of beautiful baby blue eyes. She then pulled out a note and wrapped it in her glasses. Stuffing them into his shirt pocket, she smiled and said, [B]"Make sure these make it to the addressee, and no reading. That's all."[/B]

After her passport and clearance was checked, Christina hopped on one of the Von Braun's shuttles destined for her offices. The shuttles ran along a monorail network that criss-crossed across the ship. Hers was on a special lane designated only for authorized personnel. She had been in and out of the ship for the past two months and each time she rode the shuttle she couldn't help but look up at the artificial sky. It baffled her really. Why would someone pay all of that money just so they could say they spent a sunny day in the park...in space. She ran her hand through her hair, dreading the amount of drama that would come with this maiden voyage.

[B] "Ms. Sijan?"[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver] came a female voice from near her. Christina wasn't aware that someone else was in the shuttle with her. It was non other than her boss, Samantha. [B]"You were supposed to be here four hours ago."[/B]

Samantha Moved to sit down opposite Christina, cradling a laptop in her arms.

Christina smirked slightly before speaking, [/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver][B]"All of my personnel are in place. If anything I thought I could get a few extra hours shut eye. Have there been any problems?"[/B]

[B] "No, but there very well could have been, and you not being here would not have helped at all."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver]

[B] "My crew is capable of running things without me. If I didn't have full faith in them, I would've been here with the rest of you."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver]

[B] "If they're capable of running things without you? Why do we need you again?"[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver]

Christina, who up until this point had been looking out of the window locked eyes with Samantha. She knew she had crossed a line with Christina, but sternly looked forward. Christina pulled herself together and firmly replied, [/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver][B]"It won't happen again."[/B]

[B] "See that it doesn't."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver] said Samantha.

The two of them rode for some time after that, Christina wishing her boss would move. She had a few choice words for young Samantha, but the military taught her one very important lesson. The boss is always right.

[B] "How's Patricia?"[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver] Christina asked, breaking the silence between them.

[B] "Oh, she's as busy as always, she told me to send you her best wishes."[/B][/COLOR] [COLOR=Silver]

Christina exited on D-3, heading towards the Security HQ. It was a mixture of senior offices, a conference room, and lastly a large studio which was nicknamed the War Room. Inside the studio there were monitors everywhere, constantly monitoring all parts of the ship. From the casinos to the park and restaurants, nothing got past the war room. Everything was organized into groups, and then details. Fuse, Christina's right hand man, was over the Floor group, whose major details included casino, park, and hotel. Rufus, her Surveillance group commander, ran similar details from the war room. There was of course, also a Support group, secretaries who handled office work and other matters from inside the security offices, although not organized into rigid details like the rest of the crew that fell under her, they were as vital to the effort as anyone else.

Christina, after barking out orders and giving general instructions to her crew, retired to her quarters which were only on the other side of the deck. [/COLOR]
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Zahir had arrived at the space center by train. A new station had been built near the landing dock, where the Von Braun was perched. Even from a distance, it was enormous; it seemed to dwarf the city that surrounded it.

When the train stopped, everyone shuffled toward the giant landing dock, which had an expansive glass terminal attached at one side. The Von Braun's lower superstructure hung over the terminal and cast a wide shadow far into the distance. There seemed to be a deep but almost inaudible humming sound emanating from somewhere beneath the ship, although Zahir could not identify the exact location.

After presenting his boarding pass at the staff terminal, Zahir was guided into a wide corridor that sloped upwards and opened out at the other end. When he stepped out of it, he found that he was standing right underneath the ship.

Where he now stood, he could clearly see the hull's infinitely complex superstructure. It stretched for several kilometers in both directions and, in truth, Zahir could not even see where it ended.

In fact, he did not know how the ship was actually standing level with the landing dock - he couldn't see any legs, nor could he hear engines. It was as though the vessel was floating in the air effortlessly, although he could not be certain.

All guests entered through a port at the bottom of the ship, which took them up in a large elevator to the third deck. A small column protruded from the ship's hull and almost touched the ground. Glass elevators ran around it and they quietly floated up and down, in and out of sight.

Zahir approached the closest elevator and stepped inside. The doors closed behind him with a quiet [i]whoosh[/i]. Much to his surprise, the elevator's interior darkened; he could not see outside the glass any more. As the elevator gently took off, a large face appeared in the glass before him. It was a young woman with long, blond hair. Zahir guessed that she would have been about twenty-five or so.

'Welcome to the Von Braun,' said the woman, who's eyes were squarely fixed on his.

Zahir looked around. 'Er, thank you,' he replied awkwardly. He had come across holograms before, but none that involved any significant interaction or conversation.

'I can tell by your boarding pass that you are a new staff member,' said the woman with a wink. 'That means you'll have to board the B-1 Monorail, which will take you to the General Staff Quarters. Your room is number seven zero two.'

'Thank you,' said Zahir again. He scratched his neck and tried not to focus on the hologram's eyes. 'I heard that there is going to be some kind of launch party at the casino tonight...'

The holographic woman smirked. 'Oh, yes, that's true. It's an event for First and Second Class passengers. Staff entry is limited - you'll have to be quick if you want to get in.'

Zahir nodded.

Finally, the face began to fade and the doors opened again. An enormous lobby unfolded beyond him - or at least, it was what he assumed was the lobby.

There were large polished-wood desks everywhere, with smartly-dressed staff in pillbox hats standing behind them. Men in long coats and women in elaborate hats strode left and right across the area, chatting amongst themselves and occasionally barking orders at staff. The atmosphere was thick with excitement.

The large central lobby was surrounded by a number of other open areas. One looked like a room full of large telephone boxes. Another appeared to be some kind of garden with a pond and a gazebo. There were many wide hallways, which had arches at their mouths. The lobby appeared to literally be the hub of the ship.

There were also many signs pointing in all directions. Zahir gathered that there was a single large monorail station beyond the immediate rooms and that from there, monorails to all parts of the ship could be accessed.

He grabbed his bags and held them close. Before even considering tonight's festivities, Zahir had to simply find his room. The sheer grandeur of the ship's interior stunned him so much that he had completely forgotten about Khalid and his apparent lack of concern that Zahir was leaving. Now, he thought, he may actually get his own room.

As he wandered into the center of the lobby, he noticed that the light had changed. [i]Surely not,[/i] he thought. [i]A skylight?[/i]

He instinctively looked up. There was no skylight, but he could indeed see the sky. Zahir rubbed his eyes - he didn't believe what he was seeing.

Clouds drifted overhead and punctuated a vivid blue sky. The occasional flock of birds darted in and out of the clouds, apparently flying over some distant horizon. He felt a very slight breeze against his face.

Yet, when he looked carefully, he felt certain that he could see glass and metal beyond the clouds. For a moment he almost thought he'd caught a glimpse of a man in a yellow hardhat, strapped to some kind of mechanism - he looked almost like a window cleaner. But the clouds drifted by again and obscured his view.

'They even simulated the sky,' he said to himself. 'Amazing.'

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[SIZE="1"]?[B]Well that was rude,[/B]? Jeff commented once Ms. Sijan had exited the transport.

?[B]You think so?[/B]? Samantha gave her full attention to Jeff, a curious look on her face.

?[B]Uh?[/B]?

?[B]By all means, go ahead and explain.[/B]? She smiled encouragingly. ?[B]I?m serious.[/B]?

Jeff was wondering if he should have kept his mouth shut but it was too late now. He barely knew Samantha Wells. Sure he had known about his assignment for several months but until about a week ago, when all the final checks for the launch of the Von Braun were being done, he had never met her.

Too late now? ?[B]It?s more than disrespect. That can be overlooked so long as one isn?t doing that in a manner that undermines your authority ma?am.[/B]?

?[B]Oh please,[/B]? Samantha interrupted him. ?[B]Ma?am will never do, call me Samantha or Ms. Wells.[/B]?

?[B]Uh? yes ma?am? Ms. Wells.[/B]? Jeff brow furrowed as he wondered just how that would be seen, him addressing her that informally. He shook his head a bit and continued.

?[B]The real problem is the Chief?s lack of concern over showing up for her duties four hours late. As you said yourself, if the crew is so capable without her, then why do we need someone who flippantly disregards the mistake instead of owning up to it?[/B]? Jeff took a deep breath and continued.

?[B]I?d recommend checking to see if this is something that has been an issue before, regardless of her possibly seeing you as inexperienced, such an indifferent attitude towards her own position is unacceptable.[/B]?

Jeff was finished and he waited to see how his new boss would respond, he still didn?t know how she would take an open assessment of how things appeared to him. Not that he?d listen if it concerned her security. His separate instructions in regards to that had been quite clear when he was briefed on the assignment. In matters regarding her personal safety he was to ignore any and all orders if necessary.

?[B]I can see how you would think that, even if the assessment is a bit harsh. Being in charge of the security for the Von Braun is something that shouldn?t be taken lightly.[/B]? She gave him a half smile as the transport came to a halt in the first class section of the ship where the two were staying.

Samantha got up and left with Jeff following a touch behind her and to the right. ?[B]Ms. Sijan has yet to realize that unless something requires my attention, she will not be answering to me in any real capacity during the trip. This is a pleasure cruise, the first of many such trips. My presence is more of a political statement than anything else.[/B]?

Jeff just followed along, still marveling at the unbelievable technology that had gone into the construction of the Von Braun. He still found the self-contained houses for first class passengers rather startling. The concept of sharing one with Ms. Wells for the trip, even if they had separate rooms was equally unsettling. He would have much preferred that she stay in the same section as the security did but she had merely laughed at his objection and that had been that. It was going to be an interesting trip, of that he was sure.

?[B]I still think it was rude,[/B]? He commented again once Samantha was finished, something that she just smiled at.[/SIZE]

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[FONT="Courier New"][b]"Gather around, girls!"[/b] Hilda Metzger shouted and clapped her hands twice. She referred to her underlings as girls, even though there were several male stewards present as well. All in all, she was in charge of the twenty-four tour guides, stewardesses and hostesses working in the public area of Von Braun. Their job was to keep the passengers satisfied and guide them wherever they wanted to go - within the allowed parameters, of course. For three months they had been trained in all the accomodies and attractions of the spaceship hotel, and it was at least assumed that every one of them knew the floorplan by heart. But it went without saying that none of them knew it as well as Hilda Metzger, the Senior Hostess.

Hilda had made the hostesses arrive to the ship very early in the morning, so that they would be ready and prepared when the passengers started to flood in. That's why some of them were still yawning, and a few hadn't even done their hair yet.

[B]"Now, I've said this a thousand times before, but I will repeat it: whatever the passengers asks you, whatever they say to you, whatever dirt they throw at you, always keep [I]smiling[/I]."[/B] The Senior Hostess gave her staff the most pleasant, understanding smile she could conjure on her face. [B]"If I hear even one complaint about bad service, I will make sure that the one responsible will be put on an emergency pod and sent back to Earth immediately. Have I been understood?"[/B]

She looked through the line of young women and men in neat uniforms. [B]"Where are those smiles, girls? Good. Now get moving. The first guests will be here any minute now."[/B]

Hilda Metzger watched as the hostesses and stewards scurried off. She knew she was being hard on them, but she reminded herself that she wouldn't ask them do anything she wasn't prepared to do herself.[/FONT]

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Arthur Kendi approached the Von Braun with a bit of trepidation. He had spent months -- [I]years[/I], working with his father to prevent this launch, and now here he was preparing to board the craft as a passenger. Finally, after so much work, all of the pieces were coming together.

The site of the launch was a carnival. Loud, festive music blared throughout speakers, drowning out the instructional announcements for guests. Between the noise, the confetti, and the thousands of cheering onlookers Arthur felt nauseated. [I]Does nobody else understand?[/I] he thought to himself, [I]Or would the human race simply prefer to welcome their extinction with smiling faces?[/I]

Arthur was dressed in a black silk shirt, tailor fitted to reveal his muscular frame. From now on Terra Prime's Arthur Kendi was no more; on board the Von Braun he would assume the identity of "Arthur Clarke." According to the background information he had created for himself, Arthur Clarke was the only son of a former Energy Minister. He had a passion for travel and leisure, but preferred to do so alone. This would allow him entry into the restricted third deck of the vessel, and the privacy his mission required. It was of the utmost importance that he remain near the Captain’s quarters at all times.

At the entry gate of the Von Braun was a middle-aged, blonde hostess. She wore a wrinkle-free uniform and an attentive smile across her face. Much to Arthur’s surprise her enormous grin grew even larger as he approached with his luggage in tow.

“[b]Welcome to the Von Braun, sir![/b]” she said enthusiastically, “[b]May I see your boarding pass and identification please?[/b]”

Arthur nodded and reached into his brown leather bag, He clutched tightly onto the boarding pass he had been provided earlier that morning, and handed it over to the woman.

“[b]Thank you,[/b]” she said as she waved the pass over a nearby sensor bar. No response.

“[b]Hmm…[/b]”

“[b]Is everything alright?[/b]”

She waved the pass over the device once again, “[b]It’s not registering the magnetic code on your pass. Let me try to enter the information manually.[/b]”

“[b][i]Oh, of course,[/i][/b]” Arthur replied with a feigned smile. Silently he cursed himself as the woman entered in Arthur’s information into the device. If he were to be discovered outright at boarding, his entire mission would be ruined. He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead as the woman, “Hilda” verified his information.

“[b]It appears that everything checks out, Mr. Clarke. I apologize for the inconvenience, sir,[/b]” she said, “[b]Your pass must have been demagnetized somehow.[/b]”

“[b]No… it’s fine. Now, if it‘s at all possible I‘d like to see my quarters.[/b]”

“[b]Oh, of course, sir![/b]” Hilda said as she reached for his bag, “[b]You will be placed in suite D3-34, on the third deck. Please allow our staff to carry your luggage to your bedroom for you.[/b]”

Arthur quickly pulled away. “[b]No! …Thank you, but I would much prefer to hold onto this.[/b]”

“[b]Then at least allow me to escort you to your quarters, Mr. Cla--[/b]”

“[b]I’ll find my way around fine. Thank you.[/b]” Arthur replied coldly, “[b]Now, my room..?[/b]”

“[b]Yes, here is your room pass, Mr. Clarke![/b]” she said, unbothered by Arthur‘s curt behavior, “[b]Have a wonderful evening, and please enjoy your stay aboard the Von Braun.[/b]”

“[b]Oh, yes… thank you…[/b]”

Arthur rushed past Hilda and entered the Von Braun’s main lobby. Much like the exterior of the Von Braun, the design was clearly a throwback to the Space Age. Color was sparse, save for light shades of blue here and there. A large crowd was gathered within, sipping champagne and getting to know one another as they waited for the vessel to depart.

Keeping his eyes low to the ground, Arthur quickly entered the elevator. A As the door shut behind him a holographic woman appeared within. Despite being an animation, she was beautiful. She had dark brown hair, a porcelain complexion and a smile not unlike the hostess he had encountered earlier.

“[b]Greetings, Mr. Clarke![/b]” the hologram said.

Arthur jumped back, “[b]What the hell!?[/b]”

In all of his time studying the Von Braun he had never read anything about artificial intelligence on board the vessel, let alone A.I. that was so lifelike.

“[b]I am a construct of the Von Braun’s Integrated Central Intelligence. You may call me V.I.C.I.[/b]”

“[b]How did you recognize me?[/b]”

“[b]Both your room key and boarding pass contain sensors. This will allow my system to better suit your hospitality needs.[/b]"

"[b]...Of course.[/b]"

"[b]We are headed to Deck 3. If you need further instructions to your room, please let me know.[/b]”

“[b]V.I.C.I.… are you keeping track of all of the passengers?[/b]”

“[b]Yes. I keep detailed logs on all comings and goings of both passengers and crew.[/b]”

“[b]And who has access to all of these logs?[/b]”

There was a moment of silence before V.I.C.I. replied, “[b]Invalid query. Please try another.[/b]”

The elevator door opened up to reveal the expansive third deck. Unlike the lobby, this floor appeared to be much more colorful and luxurious. In the long hallway leading up to his quarters he passed up several beautiful pieces of art. Whether they were originals, or yet another lie, was uncertain, but Arthur couldn’t help but admire the attention to detail that had been put into designing the space.

Arthur opened the door to his expansive quarters, and the lights instantly turned on within. With a large living space and bedroom it was larger than anything he had come to know growing up. It was yet another irony that he would spend the last weeks of his life in luxury aboard the very craft he had come to despise.

As he sat on his bed Arthur dropped his bag on the floor, spilling out several vials and syringes contained within. He would have plenty of time to set his plan into motion, but for now all he wanted to do was rest.

It was a difficult road that had led Arthur Kendi to the Von Braun, but his journey was only beginning.

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It had been a long trip to get to Washington Prime for the launch of the Von Braun. Standing in front of the mirror in his expansive room in one of the city?s finest hotels, Viktor was still feeling a little tired on account of the change in time zones. The city itself wasn?t all that different from his home in Russia. Since the disaster, something that he himself knew next to nothing about, when rebuilding the cities they had instead followed in the rest of the worlds footsteps. Other than a few monuments all of the former Russian Federation was built like the rest of the world. A symbol of the unity they now shared.

Viktor finished getting ready for heading to board the ship, ignoring the obvious distress of his personal assistant Misha who would be along for the trip. First official public appearance or not, he did not need someone to help him dress for the occasion. His black shirt of the softest silk covered by a white waist length jacket with a stand up collar, laced in gold trim, including the square straps for fastening it shut was more than enough for the press. Along with the black pants and dress shoes and black belt with a gold buckle, he was ready.

?[B]Don?t you think it would be better to wear something a little more fitting sir?[/B]?

?[B]Nonsense, father gave me explicit instructions to make sure people understand that we are here as guests. I may represent Ivan Enterprises, but like many of the passengers on the Von Braun I am here for the trip and not for business.[/B]?

?[B]Come Misha,[/B]? Viktor said kindly as he turned to head for the door leaving their suite. ?[B]It wouldn?t do for us to be late.[/B]?

?[B]Of course sir.[/B]?

Viktor just smiled inwardly at how Misha was fussing over things. He had known him since he was a little boy since Misha had served the Ivanov family for close to thirty years. When his father had told him that he would be taking his place on the Von Braun, Viktor had requested that it be Misha who accompanied him on the trip. He had been pleased when his father agreed to the request.

Now, as he got into the car waiting to take them to where the ship waited, it kind of felt a little unreal. Most of Viktor?s life had been spent on the family?s personal estate being tutored in all that he would need to know for when he turned thirty. That was when he would be taking over as the head of Ivan Enterprises. Even though he knew that supplies for the construction of the Von Braun had been donated to the cause, Viktor had not expected that to eventually lead to him being a passenger on the ship.

He shoved the thought out of mind as their ride to came to a halt not far from the Von Braun itself. It was a marvel to behold and even more impressive up close as the massive disc-shaped ship was easily close to fifteen kilometers. Combined with how it just seemed to literally hover above the ground with no effort was impressive.

Viktor had his own ideas as to how such a feat was even possible, but like all companies who had supplied parts and equipment for the construction of the Von Braun, Ivan Enterprises had not been given any specifics as to the actual construction of the ship. Its actual design was one of the most sought after secrets as parts of that were still kept classified from the public in general. Like other thoughts Viktor brushed that thought aside as well, he was not here to attempt to gather information on the design of the ship.

The area surrounding the ship was packed with spectators, the press and other guests who were making their way to the Von Braun. A tiny part of Viktor had hoped to make it to the boarding area without being recognized, but within moments, if not for the security there keeping things orderly, he would have been surrounded by the press.

He could have simply nodded and continued on his way to the ship but instead he put on his best smile and spent close to half an hour answering the questions that were presented. They were in his opinion forward to the point of being rude, though he dismissed that concern, since his father had warned him that others would behave that way, especially since so little was known about him.

Then when it started to get a bit too personal he smiled charmingly and ended it. ?[B]Thank you for taking the time to welcome me so completely.[/B]? He addressed all of the reporters who had fallen silent when he started, bowing his head slightly, ?[B]As much as I would enjoy taking the time to get to know all of you better, I would hate to miss the flight of the Von Braun.[/B]?

The crowd laughed a bit nervously at the statement and Viktor seized the opening to turn and continue to where several attendants were checking the boarding passenger?s identification before ushering them into the ship. Of course his credentials along with Misha?s checked out and before long the two were on their way to where they would be staying for the trip, their luggage already onboard as it had been sent over by the hotel early that morning.

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[COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]Kevin sat in the med-bay half bored out of his skull. Being the Chief Medical Officer he had to be on the Von Braun bright and early to help lead the rest of the medical staff that would be scattered at the various smaller stations all through the Von Braun orient themselves. So far he has had three doctor and a handfull number of nurses report in for their schedules and locations.[/FONT][/COLOR] [COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]Kevin and Nurse Victoria that has arrived that was assigned to the main med-bay prepped the equipment and beds for anything that might come their way. The place seemed to be bathed in a light bluish light that gave the med bay an even more sterile appearance. After the area was set up Kevin and Nurse got dressed into their medical attire.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]The black pants and shirt provided were a tighter than expected and had a military-esque appearance. The only thing that felt familiar was the white jacket that fell to mid-thigh. It had a red cross with two horizontal golden bars underneath (to show rank) printed on both sleeves and if that didn?t give away that he was a doctor a Caduceus Staff was printed in the middle of both crosses. The last piece was the web belt that held the device no larger than a lunchbox on his right hip.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]Now that Kevin felt like the medical equivalent of Batman all there was to do was to wait for the rest of the staff to show up. The doors parted in a barely audible sound as they slid, of coarse you wouldn?t know this by Kevin?s reaction almost breaking his neck turning to see who it is. A man a little over average height wearing the Von Braun doctor?s garb and an overconfident smile waltzed in. The edge of Kevin?s mouth turned up into a goofy looking smirk at the sight of him[/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?Rand!?[/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] Kevin almost shouted spinning in his chair.[/FONT][/COLOR]
[COLOR=black][/COLOR]
[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?Kev-o!?[/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] Rand shouted back as they traded grips.[/FONT][/COLOR]
[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?I swore you said you were going to be here an hour ago, was I mistaken??[/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] Kevin mocked squeezing hard on his friends hand.[/FONT][/COLOR]
[COLOR=black][/COLOR]
[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?No you weren?t, but I had to check into my room and I also had to get us a pair of these.?[/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] Rand pulled his hand from the grip and withdrew a pair of passes from his left jacket pocket. [B]?Two, count em?, two passes to the launch party.?[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]
[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?How did you get a hold of those??[/FONT][/COLOR][/B]
[B][COLOR=black][/COLOR][/B]
[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?I charmed them from our superiors.?[/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] Kevin let out a snort and snatched one of the passes from his friends and read it over.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?Charmed my ass! My name is printed on here!? [/FONT][/COLOR][/B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]They both broke out into a fit of laughter[B]. ?You are going to be assigned here in the main med-bay as a surgical consultant.?[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?Fun, so loads of work for me huh?? [/FONT][/COLOR][/B][FONT=Book Antiqua]Rand[/FONT][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] spat in a skeptical tone.[/FONT][/COLOR]
[COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua] [B][COLOR=black][FONT=Book Antiqua]?Lets just get to work and hope the rest actually show up.?[/FONT][/COLOR][/B]

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When Zahir had checked in at the lobby (he wondered how many check-ins were necessary for the average bartender), the staff behind the counter had taken his bags. 'They will be forwarded through to your quarters,' said the pleasant, middle-aged lady, who's face was illuminated by the soft glow of a computer screen.

He headed back to the elevator, which took him to B-1. This was where the vast majority of staff quarters could be found. Zahir had never actually seen a picture of any staff rooms; he had seen the glossy brochures and the promises of a wonderful "working holiday". His mind was filled with vivid images of a spacious cabin with a clean, new bathroom and a large, comfortable bed.

When the elevator stopped on the lower deck, however, he saw something quite different.

The elevator opened out into a large, spartan room. There were signs indicating lockers and showers and there was a large hallway leading to the kitchen and food storage bays.

Zahir approached a nearby map, which seemed to be the only object on any of the plain walls. It looked like the empty room where he was standing was in the center of a large spoke, from which many long hallways extended outward. In between the spokes were the staff quarters.

The spokes reached all the way to the outer perimeter of the ship, which was lined with another wide hall that circled the entire vessel. There were rooms attached to this outer hall and they were quite large - Zahir assumed that these rooms were the quarters for senior staff.

He placed a finger on the map and traced the route to his room. It wasn't far.

When he arrived and opened the door, he gave an audible gasp. Far from being a luxurious private room, he saw an open space with several bunk beds lining the walls. There were also single beds sitting on their own, framed by drawers and small dressers.

There were people in the room already, but none paid any attention to Zahir. He hesitantly wandered in and looked around. Where was his bed?

Another young man, who was standing nearby (and attempting to stuff too many clothes into too-small drawers), noticed Zahir's apparently confused expression.

'Oh, hey, have you been assigned a bed?'

Zahir shook his head. 'Not that I know of. Who are you?'

The man - more like a boy, thought Zahir - reached out and shook his hand. 'Sorry, my name's Brad. I'm a janitor on the ship. It's pretty exciting to be here! What will you be doing?'

Zahir suddenly felt bad. Clearly this boy had no problem with the living conditions; he was excited just to be on board. Zahir felt awkward and rude.

'Oh, er, I'm a bartender. Der Raum.'

Brad's eyes widened. 'What? Der Raum? Are you serious, man?' He shook Zahir's hand again, this time almost snapping it off at the wrist.

'That's a pretty big deal,' he exclaimed. 'Some of us would kill to be in a job like that. You must have some serious mixing skills.'

Zahir shrugged. 'Not really. I just got lucky.'

Brad shrugged. 'Oh well. Anyway, tell you what. See that bed over there? It's the one jutting out from that little alcove. Nobody's taken that yet. I reckon you should have it.'

Zahir glanced over at the bed. It was sitting behind a recess in the wall. It almost looked as though the recess were designed to house something else and the bed had been forced into place at the last minute.

'So I can just take it?'

Brad nodded enthusiastically. 'Of course! I doubt they'll fill up this room. I think they overestimated just how many staff they'd need. So, yeah, go take it!'

Zahir smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. 'I'm waiting for my bags to arrive.'

'I'm sure they will be down soon,' said Braid. 'Are you going to the party tonight?'

'I am not sure,' replied Zahir. 'Maybe. I'll be lucky to get in.'

Brad shook his head. 'Oh, no, see... if you're a bartender, you'd be a Level C staff member. As long as you're quick, you'll get in before the places fill up.'

'Level C?' Zahir scratched his neck. 'So what are you?'

Brad looked at the floor sheepishly. 'Level D. I don't have access to any parties or anything.'

He looked up again and grinned. 'But if they need someone to clean up afterwards, I might get to look at that swanky casino! I hope I get cleaning detail there.'

Zahir nodded and looked around the room again. Oddly, he missed Khalid. He wasn't sure why - perhaps it was just that he was in a new place on his own.

'Okay, well, I'd better go and get my uniform on just in case. See you later...er, what was your name again?'

'Zahir. You can call me Zee if you want.'

Brad grinned. 'Zee. Okay then. Talk to you later.'

And with that, he rounded the corner and went back to his bed.




[i]Khalid,

So, I'm on board the ship, finally! It feels so strange to be here.

The room isn't what I thought it would be; I'm sharing with a ton of other people. No need to be jealous, either! I know what you'd tell me if I was at home.

Anyway, apart from that, I think I'm going to be happy here. At least I'll be earning far more money here than at home. I'll try to save as much as I can for when I get back. Maybe we can put it towards a bigger place?

I will send you another email soon. Just try to keep the apartment clean while I'm gone, won't you?

See you later,

Z[/i]

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[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Palatino Linotype][SIZE=2][COLOR=Silver]A light jazz standard could be heard in the background as Christina showered. The long day on the road to the Von Braun had left her face sooty and her clothes smelled slightly of oil and rubber. Stepping out of the shower, she was surprised to see it immediately close and begin to spray itself clean. That's one feature she missed in the plethora of manuals and technical reports she forced herself to read on the ship. She pulled a towel from one of the compartments in the spacious bathroom and dried her hair and skin. No sooner than she looked into the mirror, a red light began flashing on the wall. It was an indicator that someone was at the door. Her mirror faded away to be replaced with a screen showing who it was at the door. She wasn't surprised to see who it was.

Wrapping the towel around her exposed bosom, Christina tiptoed toward the door and opened it, assuming a suggestive position as it slid open to reveal her guest. [B]"Wozzy baby, where have you been all my life?"[/B]

[center][IMG]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v103/myndara/SFrabbit.jpg[/IMG]
[/center]

[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Palatino Linotype][SIZE=2][COLOR=Silver]The little robot, Woz, floated into the room where Christina shut the door behind it.[FONT=System] "Must you taunt me, Major?"[/FONT] said the droid in its usual monotonous voice.

Christina smiled, [B]"But baby, you know I love you."[/B]

[FONT=System][B] "Save it for someone who gives a darn."[/B] [/FONT]replied Woz. As Christina went back into the bathroom, the little droid followed her. [FONT=System]"I received your message regarding my assistance. However I don't know what you want me to do."[/FONT]

An arm extended from its frame revealing her note and glasses. Christina grabbed both of them and laid them on the counter. [B]"It's easy Wozzy baby, I want you to hack and monitor the systems. Beat the hackers at their own game."[/B]

[FONT=System] "Major, that is counter productive. A detail is already assigned."[/FONT]

[B] "Did you check the personnel in that detail?"[/B] asked Christina, who was applying makeup by now.

Woz began humming as it interfaced with the Von Braun's personnel files. Once it reached the information assurance detail, it found only one name in the file. Woz. [FONT=System]"Darn you Major, you snake, I should have known you would only invite me here to work."[/FONT]

Christina turned and grabbed Woz out of the air, pulling it close and kissing it on its central disk, leaving a noticeable lipstick stain on it. [B]"Thankyou baby."[/B]

She immediately dragged it through the air out of her quarters and thrust it back into the hallway. Woz straightened up and floated off, as pissed as a droid could get in this situation.

Christina went back to her makeup. She had first received Woz from the military as an electronic warfare unit. It served with her for much of her career and upon her retirement, she requested that it be brought with her, otherwise they would have scrapped it in favor of a newer model. Its AI, though advanced, still had not passed the paradox of true independent thinking, otherwise it would not have listened to Christina's order. Its programming only allowed it to reason for itself, but at the same time it was not allowed to give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to Christina. That's why she talked to it the way she did, because she knew no one would find out. Every once in a while a girl wanted to be a girl, no matter how much her job and life needed her to be otherwise.

Christina finished her makeup and put on her clothes in silence. Her day was far from over and indeed she felt many challenges still awaited her.
[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]

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[/center]

[center][FONT=Tahoma]As Alex and Jamie disembarked from the train and stepped off the platform into the docking bay of the Von Braun, the sight of the ship itself literally took Alex's breath away. He knew it was big, but he had never expected it to be of quite this magnitude - he couldn't even see the entire bulk of the vessel, as the opposite end of it was easily ten or twelve kilometres away.

[B]"Good lord," [/B]muttered Jamie, fumbling in his bag to pull his camera out, [B]"I never expected to have this out this early in the trip. I hope I brought enough film."

"A place this big, there's bound to be somewhere you can buy it, Jamie," [/B]replied Alex as Jamie began snapping photos off, the flashbulb snapping with each shot, [B]"It's like a city."

[/B]The pair continued up to the entry gate, grabbing their press passes out of their respective carry-on bags, and slapping their boarding passes and identification down in front of the young, attractive hostesses.

[B]"Welcome to the Von Braun, sir," [/B]Alex's hostess said with a broad, sparkling grin, her blue eyes and blonde hair instantly striking a chord with Alex.

[B]"Lovely to be here," [/B]he replied, flashing her his own prize-winning smile, [B]"Listen, do you mind if my colleague here gets a picture of you and a couple of other girls? We're journalists, doing a report on the maiden voyage of the Von Braun, and we need as much material as we can get. You could make it onto the front page of the Washington Prime Herald."

"I'd be delighted, but I'm not sure what my boss would say," [/B]said the young girl, checking the ID of the people behind Alex so as to keep the flow of people steady.

[B]"Well...Natalie," [/B]Alex said, reading her name off her staff identification badge, [B]"If she's somewhere nearby, I'm sure I can persuade her."

"Absolutely, Mr Azure, sir."

"Please, call me Alex," [/B]he said softly, brushing past her as he went to find the woman in charge, and subtly slipping a piece of paper with his room details into the pocket of her jacket. He immediately saw a middle-aged, but still very attractive young woman talking to a muscular, dark-skinned man, and she had the words "Senior Hostess" written all over her.

[B]"Excuse me, miss," [/B]Alex called politely as the dark-skinned man moved on, [B]"Could I have a moment of your time?"

"Of course," [/B]she replied, her braod smile beaming, tiny wrinkles appearing at the corners of her eyes as she smiled, [B]"What can I do for you, sir?"

"Alex Azure, Washington Prime Herald," [/B]he said, flashing his press pass at her, [B]"I was wondering if I could trouble you to borrow a couple of your girls for a few moments? I need a picture or two of them as a first impression. I understand that this is a very busy time for you, and I will of course return to carry out full interviews with your fine self and your team, but this shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes."

"Certainly, sir," [/B]she replied, moving past him and snapping her fingers at a couple of the more attractive girls, Natalie included, [B]"Girls!" [/B]she called, and they moved quickly towards her.

[B]"Mr Azure would like a couple of pictures. Best smiles, girls," [/B]the Senior Hostess said, and Alex called Jamie over.

[B]"Damn, you work fast, Alex," [/B]he said under his breath, raising his camera and snapping off a few shots of the Senior Hostess and her girls, from a few different angles, until he was happy with the composition.

[B]"Thank you so much for your time, Ms...Metzger," [/B]said Alex, beginning to move towards the lobby.

[B]"Please, call me Hilda."

"Hilda...beautiful name."

"Thank you sir," [/B]she said with a smile and the tiniest of laughs, [B]"Please don't hesitate to call me if you need to find your way around." [/B]With this parting comment, she turned around and continued with her previous job.

Jamie and Alex strode out towards the lobby, moving with the flow of the sea of people that surrounded them, in silence for a few minutes, until Jamie burst out laughing.

[B]"What?" [/B]asked Alex.

[B]""Hilda...beautiful name,"" [/B]he gasped in a high-pitched, mocking parody of Alex's own voice, [B]"You couldn't be more of an idiot if you tried."

"Hey, that's the Alex Azure charm in motion right there," [/B]replied Alex with feigned indignance, [B]"I didn't see you hit it off with any gorgeous ship hostesses, anyway."

"I'm biding my time, man," [/B]Jamie snorted, [B]"You Brits, always thinking you're so suave and sophisticated."

"You Yanks, always stumbling into situations half-cocked," [/B]Alex shot back, sneaking Jamie a sly grin. To an outsider, it may seem as though they were fighting, but this was just the way they were with each other.

Eventually, they reached the lobby, and it's magnificence knocked the air out of both of them in an instant...
[/FONT][/center]

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Katelyn had known intellectually just how large the Von Braun was, she had even carefully watched all the news broadcasts in relation to the ship, especially once she had been notified that she was one of the winners of the writing contest for tickets. But seeing it on the holographic videos that broadcast the news just didn?t prepare one for the reality of actually seeing it.

The closer the transport came to where she would be dropped off, the more the view of the massive disc-shaped ship became until finally it literally filled the sky. It felt so odd to be traveling underneath the massive ship that merely hovered above the ground with nothing holding it up. She wondered if tours of the ship would include the engines, for it to support something so large and to also be able to travel into space was beyond amazing.

Her ride finally came to a stop, avoiding what had to be a location for those who were far better off than she was, based on the attention from the press and the more luxurious cars arriving to drop people off. She thanked the driver, who got out retrieving her small suitcase from the trunk of the vehicle to give it to her. Then she was on her way to where the other passengers were boarding.

Katelyn couldn?t help but keep glancing at all the fuss over to the right where others were being bombarded by the press, part of her was curious about what the fuss was and the other part was far more interested in finally getting inside the ship. For a brief moment she caught a glimpse of a young man with dark hair dressed in casual yet very fine clothing. There was something about his face that she was sure she recognized and then the crowd shifted and she lost that brief view. With a shrug she moved on, she could figure it out later.

It didn?t take her long to get inside, at least not once some fuss with pictures being taken was done and over with, once that group was finished she had given one of the attendants her ticket for scanning. It didn?t take her long to run into them again, like many who were just coming on board, they were both standing there staring up at the inside of the ship in awe. It was beyond breathtaking.

?[B]Excuse me miss,[/B]? A voice out of nowhere startled her. Katelyn whirled around, nearly losing her luggage in the process. She flushed with embarrassment when she realized that along with other awestruck passengers she had been blocking the path leading to the closest monorail system.

?[B]I?m sorry,[/B]? She apologized hastily as she quickly moved out of the way, ?[B]I didn?t mean to?[/B]? She stopped when she realized that she was starting to ramble.

?[B]It?s quite alright. The view is rather extraordinary.[/B]? He smiled warmly in understanding of her stopping to stare at it.

It was the same young man that she had gotten a glimpse of on her way in, he was accompanied by an older man either in his late forties or early fifties. ?[B]I should quit gawking and get my things put away or else I?ll miss the launch and the party later on.[/B]? She nodded politely and quickly made her way to the monorail system promptly getting onboard.

She turned as the doors were closing only to realize that both of them had followed her onto the transport. Once it began to move her curiosity got the better of her since she was positive she had seen him before. ?[B]I?m sorry to be so forward, but who are you? I?m positive I?ve seen you before.[/B]?

She almost expected him to brush her off but instead he just smiled the same friendly smile he had moments before and answered her.

?[B]My name is Viktor Ivanov and this is my good friend Misha.[/B]? He indicated the older man who was with him.

Katelyn just stared at him, her eyes going slightly wide as she realized why he had looked so familiar. She had seen a broadcast about it on the news, about how the son of Mikhail Ivanov of Ivan Enterprises would be a guest on board the Von Braun. It explained why he had looked familiar; she had seen his picture in the broadcast.

?[B]And you are?[/B]? He prompted her when it became apparent that she was flustered.

?[B]Oh! Sorry![/B]? Katelyn felt like an idiot. She stuck her hand out to shake his, ?[B]I?m Katelyn Brennan.[/B]? She reached over to shake Misha?s hand as well.

There was a brief awkward pause before the system indicated that her stop was next. She smiled a bit awkwardly at the pair, ?[B]It was a pleasure to meet both of you.[/B]? She said as the monorail car came to a stop.

?[B]Likewise, Miss. Brennan.[/B]? Viktor replied.

Katelyn exited the car and then hurried to where her quarters for the trip would be. With a second class ticket she was hoping the room would at least be no smaller than her tiny dorm quarters at the school had been. She was greatly surprised to find them and enter to see that they were easily three times as large as her dorm room had been. The room had a large comfortable looking bed with a small desk to the side and a reclining chair for watching the holographic video panel for news and updates or programming. She placed her luggage on the large bed and headed over to check out what looked like glass doors leading to a balcony.

The small balcony overlooked the center of the ship where the lush gardens were on the lower floor further down. The central column of the ship was surrounded by holographic imagery of forests and changed to that of mountains even as she watched. There was a small table and chairs on the balcony, presumably for having breakfast or other meals, or even for simply sitting there and enjoying the scenery. Katelyn just stood there for a while taking it all in before she started to get ready for when the ship would launch and then the following celebration party that was due to be held. She couldn?t help but feel excited over the upcoming trip.

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After a few brief moments of relaxation Arthur changed his clothing and was ready to see the casino. However, before opening the door he noticed the bathroom mirror, and couldn’t help but admire what he saw. Growing up with a single parent money was scarce, and most of the clothing he had was hand-me-downs or sale items from a secondhand store. But if Arthur were to masquerade as a wealthy political son it was important that he looked the part. And he did.

For the first time in his life Arthur was well dressed, [I]very well dressed[/I]… and handsome. The bookish teenager who couldn’t find a date disappeared behind a tailored gray suit, and so did the insecurities that came with it. He looked away from his clothing for only a moment to discovered an enormous white grin across his face.

“[b]I have my work cut out for me,[/b]” Arthur said as he put on a large pair of reflective sunglasses, “[b]But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.[/b]”

Arthur quickly threw his bag over his shoulder and hurried out to the elevator. As he exited his bedroom he noticed a pair of security officers watching him carefully from across the way. His heart raced for a moment, and the officers gave Arthur a friendly nod.

“[b]Is everything alright?[/b]” Arthur asked.

“[b]Yes,[/b]” one of the gentlemen replied, “[b]We’re merely assigned to patrol this deck for security reasons.[/b]”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, “[b]…Seems like an awful lot of security for a restricted floor.[/b]”

“[b]I assure you that it’s for our guests’ safety. As you may have seen on the internet, the captain has already received several death threats prior to launch...[/b]”

“[b]I… had not heard that. That’s very surprising,[/b]” The elevator doors swung open, and Arthur hurriedly entered, “[b]Then I guess we’re lucky the NARA has a watch list to protect us from that sort of thing.[/b]“

“[b]Haha. That's definitely one way to look at it. Enjoy your stay sir.[/b]”

Arthur had read his father’s writings, warning of the loss of personal freedom following the Great Disaster, and now within the hull of the Von Braun it had come to pass. It made little sense to him: all of the guests had been screened and background checked multiple times, so for what purpose were they being so closely watched? Before he made any moves it was imperative that Arthur discover where all of this information was being collected, and by who.

The second deck of the Von Braun was an eclectic, yet elegant collection of stores, restaurants and boutiques. Given the amount of money these guests had spent to journey aboard the Von Braun it seemed excessive that there be so much shopping available to them. Even factoring in the enormous costs of space travel given the NARA’s scarce resources, no doubt the ship’s management was making a fortune on this flight.

Large crowds in gaudy clothing were gathered around the entrance to the Caesar’s Palace Casino. It was an enormous gold building lined with neon and fiber-optic lighting, located opposite from the elevator door. At the front of the casino was one of the ship’s officials, attempting to speak to the crowd:

“[b]Greetings everyone and welcome to the grand opening of the Caesar’s Palace Casino! Due to Washington Prime’s strict gaming laws, none of our slot machines or tables will be available for guests until after the ship has left Earth Orbit. Until then we extend our invitation for all of our guests to enjoy the casino’s luxurious dance hall, cocktail bars, and intimate lounge areas![/b]”

Loud cheers let out a loud cheer as several bottles of champagne burst onto the crowd. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a handsome young man, probably around the same age, staring at the scene, and at Arthur, with a look of wonder in his eyes.

“[b]This is going to be quite the celebration, isn’t it?[/b]” the man said.

“[b]Yeah, it looks like these people aren’t wasting any time,[/b]”

“[b]Were you here for the party?[/b]”

“[b]I’m traveling alone, yeah, so I wanted to check it out,[/b]“ Arthur replied, “[b]I’ll be saving my champagne bath for later, though.[/b]”

"[b]It's certainly something, isn't it?[/b]" the stranger laughed, “[b]I’m beginning to wonder if I made a mistake in coming aboard.[/b]”

There was a moment of silence, Arthur raised an eyebrow in suspicion, “[b]What do you mean?[/b]”

“[b]You see, I work for the Von Braun as a bartender. If this is how everyone is behaving before launch, I can’t imagine what the alcohol will do to their systems once we switch to pure enriched oxygen.[/b]”

“[b]Oh. Yes. But I'm sure it’s nothing you can’t handle.[/b]”

The man extended his hand to Arthur, “[b]My name is Zahir. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister..?[/b]”

“[b]Please, just call me Arthur.[/b]”

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[FONT="Courier New"]As the charming reporter and his photographer headed out, Hilda saw the two younger hostesses they had taken photos of whispering and giggling.

[B]"Enough of that, girls!"[/B] she quickly remarked. [B]"Boys will be boys, don't let your work slide because of their shenanigans."[/B]

The pair fell silent immediately, but gave each other meaningful looks. Hilda gave out a little sigh. She had gotten used to being the spoil-sport in her previous job as a purser, a leading flight stewardess, as well, but she firmly believed that a job well done would give it's doers the greatest joy.

Hilda let her eyes wander on the architecture of the entry gate. The Von Braun was certainly a big leap from the stuffy, narrow airplanes she had worked in just three months ago - and she had worked in some of the largest of them. It had been a consequence of many things that had led Purser Brunhilde Metzger to become the Senior Hostess of Von Braun, but she was happy for it.

Then another batch of boarding passengers snapped Hilda out of her thoughts. Ensuring that her signature smile was on, she approached the guests.

[B]"Welcome aboard Von Braun, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Hilda, and I'm your Senior Hostess on this voyage. How can I help you?"[/B] she asked them.[/FONT]

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‘You’re the first actual passenger I’ve met,’ said Zahir. ‘In fact, I have only had time to put my things away and have a short sleep in my quarters. They weren’t quite what I was expecting…’

Arthur smiled. ‘Oh? In what way?’

Zahir shrugged. He felt bad for complaining again. ‘Well, you know, it’s just that there are so many people in the room and it’s not very private. That’s all. The conditions are okay other than that I guess. I shouldn’t complain; I’m going to be spending most of my time at work anyway.’

Arthur nodded and turned his attention to the ground. The casino sat among a tropical jungle setting, complete with large walking tracks, wooden torches and exotic bird calls. Zahir peered down at the ground too; they were standing on a stone path, which led to the casino’s entrance.

‘Is something wrong?’ asked Zahir curiously.

‘Oh, er, kind of. I think I’ve dropped something,’ stuttered Arthur. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find it.’

He wandered around the path’s edge for a moment and hastily grabbed a small object, which looked like it had settled underneath a fern. ‘Here it is, good as new.’

Before Zahir could get a good look at it, though, Arthur slipped it into his pocket. From the quick glance, Zahir thought it looked somewhat like a small leather case; it was larger than a wallet, but too far too small to be anything that he could easily identify.

Arthur looked embarrassed. He blushed slightly and looked around, almost suspiciously.

Zahir smiled warmly. ‘Are you sure you are okay?’

Arthur nodded. ‘Yes, seriously, don’t worry. I am okay.’ Arthur sat down in front of Zahir on a nearby wooden bench. As the crowds moved from the nearby lobby towards the casino’s grand entrance, the noise around them grew ever louder.

‘You look tired,’ said Zahir tentatively, not wanting to become trying.

Arthur had his hands on his knees. He looked up at Zahir and grinned. ‘All I need is a good drink! Your bar isn’t open tonight, is it?’

Zahir laughed and shook his head. ‘Oh, no, it opens tomorrow night. You should give it a test run; I’m sure it will interest you.’

‘What’s the bar’s name?’ asked Arthur. Despite his politeness, his gaze was intense. Zahir felt as though he could not look away. There was something both intoxicating and altogether odd about Arthur, although Zahir could not put his finger on it.

‘Der Raum. It’s on Deck One,’ replied Zahir.

Arthur’s eyes widened. ‘You lucky thing,’ he chuckled. ‘They made it look pretty fancy in the brochures, so it looks like you have a lot to live up to. You must be good at mixing drinks, for them to hire you in a bar like that.’

Zahir shrugged. ‘So I’ve been told. It’s a little intimidating though. I’ve heard that Captain Sorokov frequents Der Raum at times – and that he may even be entertaining special guests there. I really don’t want to have to serve the Captain on my first night at work!’

‘Oh,’ Arthur rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘The Captain, you say? Well, it [i]must[/i] be a cool place. I think I will drop in on your opening night, in that case.’

Zahir smiled and nodded. ‘Sure. Well, I had better go and see if I can get a ticket to enter this casino before I’m too late. It was nice to meet you, Arthur…’

‘I am sure I will see more of you soon, Zahir,’ Arthur stood up and shook his hand again. ‘Nice to meet you.’

And with that, Zahir turned on his heel and approached the casino’s ticket counter. When he was halfway there, he looked back over his shoulder and noticed that Arthur was still sitting on the seat. For a moment he seemed to be looking back at Zahir and then he turned his attention to the small leather case, which he’d produced from his pocket.

Zahir felt a sudden sense of guilt. What would Khalid think about him making friends so easily? After all, Khalid had frequently told Zahir that he was not terribly social and that Americans were unlikely to find him interesting. For the most part, Zahir believed this; Khalid himself was highly-travelled and very worldly.

Now, Zahir wondered if he should have questioned Khalid’s comments earlier. In truth, Khalid had done much for Zahir. He’d helped him secure a job upon his arrival to America and he had been generous in other ways. In many respects, Zahir even owed his presence on the Von Braun to Khalid.

And yet, Khalid was a man who always had to be in control. He controlled everything in his life – his friends, family and lovers. He had built himself up so much in Zahir’s eyes that to disappoint him felt like a cardinal sin.

At the same time, Khalid was somehow able to do whatever he wanted. Drugs, sex, alcohol – it was all part and parcel of living in the same apartment with him. Zahir felt that he had to stand by and say nothing; after all, where would he be without Khalid’s help? How dare he bite the hand that feeds him.

As much as Zahir [i]knew[/i] the fallacies in this whole line of thought, he also felt emotionally tied to Khalid. It was like Stockholm Syndrome, he thought. When your captor utterly controls your life – your freedom, even – you can become drawn to them, even if they are ultimately bad for you. There was nothing stopping Zahir from physically walking out the door at any time, but Khalid’s emotional hold was so strong that Zahir doubted he could ever break free.

And yet, here he was, on a vessel that was about to put millions of miles between he and Khalid. He was going to be in space, living a dream. And now he’d met a man who was altogether frightening and undeniably alluring. It felt strange and wild; all the things that Zahir considered himself not to be.

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[SIZE="1"]Jefferson still didn?t like the fact that he was essentially sharing quarters with his [I]assignment[/I] for lack of a better word. At least it was clear to anyone who was familiar with first class that it was far more than simple quarters. The self-contained miniature homes were impressive in their own right. Though they looked more like little country cottages than the sprawling mansions those who were staying in them were use to.

Most of them had an expansive huge main room for greeting guests with a small personal bar and kitchen combo for entertaining and personal use. There were three rooms leading off from the main room that were individual bedrooms along with personal bathrooms for each guest. The third room was for Samantha?s personal use, most likely any ships business that Jeff was not allowed to see since it was kept locked at all times.

Since there was no other means for her to leave as there were no windows, it did not concern Jeff that he was required to wait until she was done with whatever business she was attending to. It was not uncommon in his line of work to be waiting on the outside while someone worked in private.

Now as he finished taking a moment to change into dress uniform at Ms. Wells insistence he was running through his mind all the security set up he had seen since his arrival, or rather since more guests had arrived. The increase in security, especially in the section where guests like Ms. Wells were staying was something he approved of.

?[B]Time to get this show on the road,[/B]? He said to his reflection with a sigh before he left his bedroom, but not before he checked to make sure all his equipment was in place.

Jeff did not like being required to wear formal dress, it made fading into the background a lot harder. He was questioning the wisdom of Ms. Wells instructions to change into dress uniform, which in his case meant a dark blue outfit with silver trim, when she exited her own room.

She was dressed in a stunning red chiffon dress that flowed to the floor, the soft material hugging her in all the right places. The sweeping style of the two streamers that flowed from the front up to crisscross before being draped over her shoulders to trail to the floor just added to the simple elegance of the outfit. With her soft blonde wavy hair that was barely pulled back to reveal drop pearl earings, she looked dazzling.

If he had gone wearing his normal outfit, he would have stuck out even more than the dress uniform did. He wondered if she had realized that when she requested he changed. If so, she was a lot smarter than others gave her credit for. Or it could have simply been that urge women often had about people looking [I]appropriate[/I]. He wish he knew which it was.

?[B]Have you everything you need for the evening?[/B]? She inquired even as she tucked a loose lock of hair out of the way.

?[B]I do.[/B]?

?[B]Excellent, it?s time we go and pick up the Captain.[/B]?

?[B]Pick up the Captain?[/B]?

?[B]Yes. Did I forget to inform you that he will be my escort to the party at the Caesar?s Palace celebrating the trip?[/B]? She smiled apologetically when he shook his head negatively. ?[B]Remind me to get you a full copy of my schedule for the rest of the cruise. I could have sworn I had that forwarded to you.[/B]?

?[B]I requested it but I did not receive it Ms. Wells.[/B]? Jeff elaborated a bit.

In an instant Samantha went from carefree to intently serious as she stopped to face Jeff instead of leaving their quarters. ?[B]How long ago did you put the request in?[/B]?

?[B]I did so when we first started checking out the Von Braun a week ago.[/B]?

?[B]I received no such request,[/B]? Samantha gaze was slightly troubled. ?[B]If I had you would have gotten a response within twenty four hours. In the future, if a request for information goes that long without a response you are to inform me immediately, understood?[/B]?

?[B]Yes ma?am.[/B]?

?[B]Jeff, don?t call me ma?am.[/B]? She reminded him before she turned to leave their quarters, only pausing long enough for him to make sure the door had properly locked behind them.

Jeff sighed a bit as he followed her to the lift that would take them to the bridge of the Von Braun. The doors opened immediately upon their approach, this was an aspect of the Von Braun that he found both fascinating and yet a potential security risk in his opinion. The internal sensors were designed to keep track of the passengers making it easier to keep people from wandering into areas they weren?t supposed to.

Samantha and he were required to provide more to gain clearance, but the means in his opinion weren?t anywhere as strict as they should be. Though he supposed that was why there was also regular security as well. But they often just waved Samantha through without question since they recognized her on sight.

[hr=indigo]100[/hr]
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The bridge of the Von Braun never failed to amaze Jeff. Its sleek interface and controls unlike anything he had ever seen. The crew was always attentive to the various readouts that from his spot near the entrance of the lift he couldn?t really make out. The Captain had clearly been expecting them as he smiled to greet Samantha who was already moving in his direction.

He was already in full dress uniform with all the decorations to his rank in place, combined with the streaks of gray that shot through his beard and the rest of his hair, he was an imposing figure. Jeff would have to look it up but he was pretty sure that that Captain was in his fifties. For now it did not matter and he simply waited for when the two would be ready to head to the Caesar?s Palace.

?[B]You look lovely Samantha,[/B]? Captain Sorokov said as he took her hands in his and kissed her on the right cheek before letting go.

Samantha just laughed as she took his left arm in hers before moving for the lift. ?[B]You always say that Lazar.[/B]?

?[B]That?s because it?s true.[/B]? He replied in kind. ?[B]So, how is your mother doing?[/B]?

?[B]She's doing well and sends her regards and well wishes for a successful voyage.[/B]?

Jeff tuned out the small talk between the two as they got on the lift and he followed along. Or perhaps it would be best to say he paid little attention to the meaningless pleasantries as the lift swiftly took them to their destination. On the one hand he was hoping things would continue to be uneventful, though that would make for a very boring trip in some respects. However, it was certainly far more preferable to the alternative.[/SIZE]

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[/center]

[center][B][FONT=Tahoma]"Is that...the sky?" [/FONT][/B][FONT=Tahoma]asked Jamie under his breath, looking up at the high ceiling of the lobby.

[B]"It can't be...it's just a simulation," [/B]replied Alex, looking up himself, [B]"They've installed some kind of holographic projection to make it look like a skylight. I guess looking at clear blue sky is much more interesting than staring at empty space. Come on, let's go check in."

[/B]---

Check-in hadn't taken too long, and soon enough Alex and Jamie were in their shared room, Jamie lounging on the bed and Alex tucking his bag into the nearby closet.

[B]"That A.I. in the lift was something else, huh?" [/B]said Jamie, fishing his camera out of his bag and scrolling through the images he had already collected.

[B]"It's impressive, that's for sure. But don't you think installing A.I. like that could be problematic for the staff? I mean, those hostesses could be put out of a job eventually."

"What, and you're upset because it's impossible to flirt with A.I.? Come on, Alex, that's hardly the reason we're here. Just relax, will you?"

"Fine," [/B]Alex replied, looking around the room. For a second-class cabin, this place wasn't half bad, although Alex suspected that was partly due to the lack of use - there were no scuff-marks on the carpets, no limescale damage in the bathroom, and no marks on the walls from over-excited children. The carpet was dark blue, rich and thick to the touch, and the walls were the colour of champagne, much like the carpet in Alex's own apartment. There was a television screen embedded in the wall, a number of glass-and-chrome tables of varying sizes dotted around the room, and a pair of sofas over towards the door.

There were two double beds, which was a pleasant surprise for Alex, and, most unusually, there was a window at the far end of the room. This was unusual because the room was surrounded on three sides by other rooms, and on the fourth side was the hallway that led to the room. Alex guessed it must have been a simulation similar to the skylight in the lobby, and right now it was showing clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight. The moment the pair had come in, Jamie had started snapping pictures of the beds, the simulated windows, the sofas, everything he could possibly photograph was now captured on film.

[B]"Let's go do something, Alex," [/B]said Jamie, with much the same tone as a bored five-year-old.

[B]"What did you have in mind?" [/B]asked Alex, shrugging his jacket back on to go.

[B]"Bar?"

"Sounds good to me." [/B]The pair got up and left the room, remembering to take their identification with them - a simple swipe of the magnetic strip on the back would unlock their door instantly. It clicked shut behind them, and the bolts automatically slid into position.
[/FONT][/center]

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[left][i]Ilona stepped discreetly behind one of the several screens on the stage of the ridiculously swanky casino, noticing that the designers hadn't left a single thing to chance. Worked into exquisite faux diamond chandeliers, some clever engineer had added smart-lights, making sure that as soon as her number began, things would get very colorful. The stage manager gave her a friendly nod, grasping her hand firmly, gesturing behind him towards the M.C. for the evening.[/i]

"Ms. L'Marcelle? I'm Timothy Masters, your outro for the night. You'll start the evening off as soon as the lights dim. No introductions."

"Going for the pretty pretty light show instead?"

"You betcha. That's a beautiful dress by the way."

[i]Mr. Master's patted her bare shoulder as he walked past, and Ilona smiled as he went, peering into the mirror over a very uncluttered countertop. She turned slightly and adjusted the diamond clusters that formed the lattice pattern of the back of her dress and turned back again to check the front. Suitably dramatic, perhaps a little overdone, but a quick peek into the audience revealed a crowd of people clearly as obsessed with image as whoever had decorated. Tuxes, dresses by Dior, Versace, all the good designers. Ilona smiled and stood in the wings, the band fully rehearsed and mildly fibrillating with excitement. Everyone knew that this was more than just another gig and another night. Everyone could feel it.

As those thoughts bounced merrily through her head, Ilona peeked across the stage and saw the officers that would be presented after her number. Lieutenants, petty officers, no Captain Sorokov that she could see, and the representative, Ms. Wells. The others were probably busy. Or shy. Or maybe they didn't finish pressing their suits. At that point the lights dimmed and Mr. Masters gave her the nod.

Gliding as if on wings and not in four inch heels, Ilona L'Marcelle made her way to center stage, while diamond shaped strands of light glittered across the crowd and the stage. People turned, chatter died down, and Ilona took a deep breath to steel herself. The music leapt from her throat flawlessly, her voice deep and throaty, heavy, cutting across the sound of the live band just enough.[/i]

"I don't need love, for what good will love do me?"

[i]The crowd cheered, clapped, cat called, as Ilona took her bow, slightly breathless with excitement, and took the hand of Mr. Masters who led her across the stage as he took up the microphone.[/i]

"One more time for Ms. Ilona L'Marcelle! She'll be performing tomorrow night at Club Kimera for anyone who can get in, but now, let's give a warm welcome to the officers that'll be making sure our flight's a smooth one!"

[i]Carefully, she unclasped herself from Mr. Master's hand, getting the feeling that he was a little more nervous than he was letting on, as the officers trooped onto the stage, some wearing smiles rather fixed, with only Ms. Wells's standing out in a dazzling halo of genuine warmth. Ilona smiled and sat down, fanning herself with one hand. Once she'd recovered and the band struck up a moderately lively tune, she slipped out around the screens and made her way to the bar as quietly as she knew how, hoping nobody would get a very good look at her face. Martinis always helped calm her after a big number like that.

The bartender turned and gave her a knowing smile, a look that said he knew what it was like being an employee, and reassured her that he wouldn't give her the same claptrap she was bound to get before the evening ended.[/i]

"Lemon drop martini, dry."

"That'll be on me."

[i]Ilona turned and saw the Major, appearing out of nowhere in the crowd, to stand next to her, looking smart in her uniform and dress boots.[/i]

"Thank you Major Sijan."

"Oh please, call me Christina. No need for that tedious formality."

[i]The entertainer kept her smile inward, and settled for a delicate arch of her eyebrows. Christina, showing interest in an employee from Von Braun, when there were plenty of people to eye besides just her. On the other hand, perhaps she was only being sized up. Best to play it casual then. She took a sip of her drink, savoring the bitter against the crushed sugar on the rim.[/i]

"Christina then."

"I liked your choice of song. Very nice."

"Well I aim to please."

"And please you did. I haven't heard that song in years. Nobody remembers those songs."

"I try to perform songs worth remembering."

[i]Christina leaned in a little closer and got a better look at Ilona's face, slightly blushed, and not from the vodka. Then she leaned back, satisfied and gave her a sharp smile. Ilona pursed her lips on the rim of her glass, then tossed her hair over one shoulder and gave her a coy smile in return.[/i]

"Well, have a good evening. Ilona."

[i]In her mouth, her name was a whisper, a caress, and it sent a slight chill down Ilona's left leg. She didn't outright clench her drink, but as Christina walked off, she set it down before she accidentally snapped the stem and sent glass shattering into her lap. It'd been awhile since someone had been so bold. Maybe too long. The bartender leaned over and dropped another slice of lemon into Ilona's drink and gave her a wink.[/i]

"Cheer up girl. Everyone else is bound to be less freaky."

"If only."[/left]


[URL="http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZHG06wnos30"](Just for those who weren't sure what the song is like.)[/URL][/CENTER]

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Arthur approached the bar counter, pushing himself through the massive crowd that had formed during Ilona‘s musical number. Growing up in Asia he was never very fond of, or familiar with Western music, least of all the smooth jazz and lounge ballads that Miss L’Marcelle claimed as her specialty. He found the songs soothing, but far too loud for his tastes.

Behind the counter was a gruff white-haired man, easily the oldest person in the building. He wore a bowtie around neck and a white frilled shirt with French cuffs.

“[b]What can I get for you sir?[/b]”

“[b]Soda water and lime, please.[/b]”

“[b][I]I‘ll need to see a ID for that, sir,[/I][/b]” the bartender said dryly. Arthur scowled at the man’s sarcasm, “[b]Here you go.[/b]”

Arthur took a sip of his glass as he inspected the man’s name tag: JACK. He leaned in closely to the bartender.

“[b]Do they pay you well here, Jack?[/b]”

“[b]I work mostly for tips, so that depends on how much you think that club soda is worth.[/b]“

Arthur reached into his pocket and withdrew a large handful of Republic Dollars, placing them into Jack’s shirt pocket, “[b]I have another question for you…[/b]”

Jack nodded, “[b]I’m all ears, sir.[/b]”

“[b]There’s a lot of people gathered here,[/b]” Arthur said as he surveyed the crowd, “[b]But I don’t see a single security officer. Where are they?[/b]”

Something had been bothering the young man since he entered Caesar’s Palace, and only now did he realize what it was. He had seen a large number of uniformed officers in every hallway and deck on the Von Braun. But on the casino floor there were none to be seen. Even the video surveillance appeared to be sparse.

“[b]Why bother to guard the vault when there’s nowhere to run?[/b]” Jack replied, motioning towards a row of mirrors against the back wall, “[b]It may not look it, but they‘re watching. They‘re watching us all very carefully.[/b]”

“[b]Plus,[/b]” a soft, female voice said from aside, “[b]It would take a little more than a getaway car to make it out of this casino.[/b]”

Arthur turned to his side to discover Ilona L‘Marcelle, the lounge performer, standing before him. She was nursing a lemon drop martini in one hand, and adjusting the shoulder strap on her dazzling gown with the other. Her eyes inspected him carefully as she took a sip from her glass.

“[b]I don’t believe we’ve met,[/b]” she said, extending her delicate hand, “[b]I’m the star of this show.[/b]”

“[b]Thank you for clarifying. For a moment I thought everyone was on board for a space expedition.[/b]”

“[b]People go on cruises for all sorts of reason,[/b]“ Ilona said as she ran her finger through her hair, “[b]Everyone is looking for a little adventure in their lives, but no matter where Man goes he always remembers to take the comforts of home with him.[/b]”

“[b]Among other things,[/b]” Arthur replied, “[b]My name is Arthur Clarke.[/b]”

“[b]It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Clarke. I couldn‘t help but notice your designer labels amongst the crowd.[/b]”

“[b]Oh, er… thank you. I hope I’m not overdressed for the occasion.[/b]”

“[b]Nonsense. You’re never overdressed when in the company of a lady.[/b]”

"[b]Yes, that was quite the number you performed a moment ago.[/b]"

Ilona beamed, “[b]Why thank you. What did you think?[/b]"

"[b]I certainly had never seen anything like that before. I didn't realize that kind of... music was popular in America. Or anywhere, really.[/b]

"[b]Oh, well,[/b]" she said with a grimace, "[b]I assure you that I have my fans out there. For example. I seem to have a huge female following.[/b]”

"[b]I wouldn't really know. Of the women I've spoken to on board the Von Braun one was a hologram, and the other may well have been a robot. I’m not quite sure.[/b]”

“[b]They’re not machines, dear. They’re hospitality workers.[/b]”

The two shared a laugh as Ilona carried Arthur's hand towards the dance floor.

“[b]Care to join me...?[/b]" she said smugly.

Arthur shook his head, blushing, "[b]I'm afraid you misunderstood... I was only making small talk...[/b]"

"[b]Then I'll be sure to cancel the wedding invitations,[/b]" she replied, "[b]Humor me. Please.[/b]"

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[CENTER][IMG]http://img164.imageshack.us/img164/9613/sabavixi1.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Viktor had been impressed by the technology of the Von Braun, even though he found the simulated sky a bit disappointing. As impressive as the holographic imagery was, he would have preferred to actually see where they were instead of something that simulated where they had been. He made a mental note to check and see if there were observation rooms that would be a view of space, he was sure that there would be.

In the mean time he finished getting ready for the main party that was to be held at the Caesar?s Palace. He was already late, or would have been if it had been required for him to actually be there at a certain time. But he preferred to not make a fuss and simply join the others as a late comer. Far less fuss that way, just as his informal tux would be as well.

All of his clothing other than some brought along in case he should have a need to dress more formally, was that of a casual style. Though someone familiar with clothing designers in Russia would recognize it, though he was not expecting anyone to. It was expensive enough that very few even owned it. That was something his father had always insisted on, Viktor found the cost a bit absurd.

?[B]Are you sure you want me to come along?[/B]? Viktor turned from the mirror in his room, Misha, already dressed in a suit was standing in the doorway. His graying hair and manner of holding himself at attention gave him an air of authority. Something that Viktor smiled inwardly at, after all he had and was responsible for overseeing his education and tutoring.

?[B]Of course, there?s no reason for you to stay here by yourself.[/B]? He finished up by tugging the tux in a few places and smoothing any wrinkles out. A moment to tuck his wallet into his breast pocket and then grasping Misha by the shoulder he gently steered him towards the front door of their quaint quarters.

?[B]There?s no reason for you to even go to the same part of the ship as I am.[/B]?

?[B]I did not come here for myself sir.[/B]?

?[B]Misha, how long have we been friends?[/B]? The door to their mock home opened upon their approach and then closed automatically behind them, the sound of it locking clearly audible.

Viktor let go, letting his hand fall to his side. ?[B]You?ve known me since I was born, more than long enough for us to be on a first name basis.[/B]?

?[B]You know the world doesn?t work like that Viktor.[/B]?

?[B]Nonsense,[/B]? he dismissed the concern as they entered the lift. Viktor paused to answer the artificial intelligence program inquiring as to their destination. ?[B]My father is the one who has always been so concerned with status and titles; I care little for such things.[/B]?

?[B]You should pay more attention Viktor; others will expect it of you.[/B]? Misha had the tiniest hint of an edge to his voice, something else that made Viktor smile, that tone he took when he was teaching him something important.

?[B]Naturally, but you and I have had this discussion before old friend. I prefer to know people by their actions, their merits instead of their title.[/B]? He finished as the monorail car came to a halt, the program politely explaining that they were at their intended stop.

?[B]They certainly didn?t hold back when building this place.[/B]? Misha commented softly as the two started making their way through the crowd of people. ?[B]The lighting is a bit gaudy though.[/B]?

Viktor laughed. ?[B]It?s supposed to represent the style of Casinos from before the Disaster.[/B]? He grinned in amusement. ?[B]It is overly flashy, one would think they are worried we will trip over our own feet in the crowd and thus they provided more lighting to guide our path.[/B]?

The two made their way inside, pausing to listen to the sounds of the singer Ilona finishing up. The jazz influence was wonderfully smooth and only the overly loud volume distracted from the performance. Viktor couldn?t help but think that something like that was more suited to an audience paying attention instead of rudely conversing and taking away from the experience. Yet another thing he made a note to check into, to see if there would be genuine performances instead of those merely for open celebrations such as this one.

?[B]It?s been a very long day Misha,[/B]? Viktor tugged his sleeve, ?[B]I don?t know about you but I could use a drink.[/B]?

The two made their way over until they had found a spot; a white haired, man behind the bar approached the two. ?[B]What can I get for you gentlemen?[/B]?

?[B]Kvas.[/B]?

He looked to Misha who nodded indicating he would have the same. It only took him a moment to fix it for both of them. ?[B]Anything else I can get you?[/B]?

?[B]No thank you.[/B]? Viktor said politely as Misha took care of the drinks and the tip.

The two made themselves comfortable once the bartender had moved to help other guests, Viktor just watched the guests as he took a sip of his drink, so far other than a few faces such as the Captain and Ms. Wells he didn?t recognize any of them.

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[CENTER][FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][img]http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h167/Desbreko_Fanclub/VBO/avatar6_guest.gif[/img][/SIZE][/FONT][/CENTER]
[LEFT][FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]A well-built and deeply tanned arm stretched across 3 feet of space to slam the button on top of a blaring alarm clock. As the sound stopped, the hand slid off the nightstand lazily, almost as though the body attached to it had no intention of actually moving. Devin Letrad opened his eyes slowly, reaching up to wipe the sleep away as he eased himself up. He was not accustomed to such obnoxious noises pulling him from a sound sleep, and while it wasn't all that early to him, he had forgotten just how unpleasant an experience it could be.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]He pulled the blood red comforter to the side as the swung his legs from the bed, unsteadily standing and sidling towards the bathroom for a shower. Thankfully for him, sleeping in the nude (and the bathroom's walk-in shower) made that a significantly simpler process than it may have otherwise been.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]After a lengthy 30-minute shower, Devin emerged from the bathroom looking much better than he had when he climbed out of bed. His dark brown hair was brushed back, though he hadn't bothered to get rid of the day's worth of stubble on his chin, which worked alright on him anyway.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]He had two suitcases and his packpack already packed, with a tailered Armani black suit with a grey shirt and black tie laid out the night before. Devin preferred to look well-dressed when he wasn't off exploring, although his inconsistent shaving habits often threw off that look.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]Grabbing his luggage, he left the hotel room and locked the door behind him, chuckling a little. He often lived better when traveling then when he was home, a fact that he found a little amusing. But it wasn't really worth buying a big expensive house if you wouldn't be living in it most of the time.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]Checking out was simple, as was finding his called ahead for cab to the port. Getting through security was not such a quick task, although it was relatively painless (it always went smoother when he left his weapons at home). As he advanced through the gates and outside to where the Von Braun was parked, for lack of a better term, Devin actually came to a stop.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]He lifted an eyebrow and let out a long, low whistle, as though he were watching some gorgeous classic vehicle drive by. Being what he was, Devin had seen many an impressive structure in his lifetime, but this was beyond anything he had imagined.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]He started walking again, but didn't stop staring. He barely registered his interactions with the hostess, only reacting to display the requested items and turn down any assistance from the staff. His luggage really wasn't that heavy, and he was not fond of being waited on hand and foot, though he imagined as a first class passenger he'd better get used to it.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]He ignored the crowds as he entered the lobby and headed for the elevators, though he was once again reacting, his eyes absorbing the scenes around him. He was now standing in a piece of history, and one that wasn't falling apart and nearly lost to time. He suddenly wished he'd gotten his parents tickets, but that somehow hadn't even crossed his mind to start.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][B]"Good day, Mr. Letrad,"[/B] V.I.C.I. spoke as he entered the elevator, and nearly caused him to jump back out again. That was a new one, even for him, though he imagined it was something unique to the Von Braun.[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]"Um, good day, Ms...."[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][B]"V.I.C.I. will do, sir. Considering your luggage, I presume you would like to be taken to your living deck first?"[/B][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1]"That would be most appreciated, Vicki."[/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]"[B]We are headed to Deck 3. If you need further instructions to your room, please let me know.[/B]?[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]"Thank you."[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]The ride was smooth, the transistions of starting and stopping absolutely flawless. V.I.C.I. spoke one last time as he stepped off. [B]"Enjoy your stay on the Von Braun, Mr. Letrad."[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[B][FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT][/B]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]The layout was fairly intuitive on the deck, and Devin easily found his 'house'. He once again stopped to stare for a second. The living area was actually nearly as large as his own home, though he kept a tiny home compared to many of the first class passengers. He didn't plan on lingering long, as he had every intention of going to the opening party at Ceasar's Palace. Bringing his luggage to the bedroom, he took a few seconds to admire the plush bedding and then quickly left.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]He did take his time to explore a little, knowing he had time to arrive. After some walking around, he finally decided to head tor the casino. His timing somehow perfect, he showed up just in time for the first performance, and he stopped to listen, her voice causing a smile to lift his lips. As she stopped, he headed for the bar, noting the other passengers, but not interacting just yet, always feeling a bit out of place in social settings.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]The bartender wasted no time in responding to his presence.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]"What can I get for you, sir?"[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]"I'll just be having a cola, please."[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]The bartender smiled, wondering why someone at a lavish party like this would be avoiding alcohol, but not questioning him.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]Devin's tip equaled the cost of the drink, and the bartender's smile grew just a little wider. This was going to be a good customer, especially if he started ordering drinks.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana][SIZE=1][COLOR=#202020]"Thank you." Devin turned to watch the crowd, leaning against the bar as he sipped at his soda, his eyes catching the singer engaged in conversation with someone else.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][/LEFT]

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