“Twelve enormous star class ships are being prepared for launch,” the broadcaster proclaimed. “The first Starseekers are about to depart.” Annie had never seen crowds so big. Her eyes were glued to the holovision as the news showed masses of hungry people coming in from the ice storms. “The kingdom cities and tropical regions have swelled in number as people seek out depleting food and heating resources. Our only hope to turn this tide is the success of engineers to keep us warm and the Starseeker mission to find new sources of food.”

Annie climbed about and peeked over the couch. Her small boots anxiously wiggled about as her mom and dad spoke in hushed voices.

“She’ll be all right, Dania,” her father said to her mother, Ellen. He rarely used this affectionate name for her mother. “Jordan says he can keep her safe.”

Ellen’s brow creased with worry as Bryn held her tight. Her mother saw her peering over the couch and smiled. “There’s one more thing I need to do.” She kissed Bryn before she went and left him standing alone, shaking his head.

“There’s always one more thing,” Bryn said as he laughed and sat beside Annie. “She is determined to make us late.”

Annie wanted to stay close, so she snuggled under her father’s arm. Two small robots hovered nearby to project the story pictures of a comforting tale, but they also zapped each other with colored beams of light. The hologram picture flickered, disturbed by each zap.

Bryn pleaded to the battling droids with amusement. “Knock-it-off you two, and just tell the story. That’s strange!” He said to Annie. “I’ve never seen E-Chip and Gen-E disagree.”

“E-Chip!” Ellen called. “Come please, I have a job for you.” E-Chip left with one last zap, and shot off to the bedroom.

Gen-E sputtered in annoyance, but could now tell the story her way.

While Annie giggled, her father scowled at the droids.

He ruffled his brown hair in agitation before he looked down at Annie. His stern brown eyes were sad, but then he smiled and kissed her on top of her head. He glanced up when Gen-E bleeped. A curious look was on his face.

“I’ve got it!” he claimed as he picked Annie up and sat her on his knee.

“I just realized why the two bots are fighting!” The familiar spark of discovery was back in his eyes.

“Who’s fighting?” Annie asked.

“The droids, I mean — their story files are not the same. The droids are linked, but they have separate files. The new version of this legend I loaded on E-Chip is different from the story in Gen-E. Old stories can lose important details after generations of reloading.”

Annie nodded as if she understood. She was simply happy he wanted to include her.

“Begin boarding please, begin boarding,” the automated voice of the ship announced.

Commander Bryn sighed and called to Ellen. “It’s time to leave.” He set Annie down before him. “You’ll have plenty of time to hear this legend from E-Chip before we get back. It’s time to go and get your mom.”

Annie ran to find her mother in the bedroom. E-Chip was recording. Annie hopped at her mother’s feet to be picked up. Bryn growled behind her, scooped her up in his arms and tickled her. He turned to Ellen and asked, “Are you done? We have to go.”

“Yes, I’m done.” Ellen laughed and kissed them both. “I’m just leaving a message for Annie to play later.”

“Your mother is such a worry wart,” Bryn said.

They waved at E-Chip’s camera and said, “Good-bye!”

Bryn held them both for a long moment. “It’s almost time to launch, we have to scoot!”

Annie was carried above a river of faces in her father’s muscular arms. Bryn quickly made headway through the corridors as Ellen followed holding his hand. E-Chip and Gen-E flew behind in their wake. The central launch bay held a churning sea of people. The tears and hugs of family members wished the twelve ships a safe journey.

Uncle Jordan, who was really Bryn’s best friend, was waiting. He was built much the same as her father only his bristly hair was darker brown and cut short. He was also dressed in his new Master instructor’s robe. Bryn and Jordan had both trained with the first Starseekers. Jordan accepted an appointment to stay behind and teach, while her father was chosen to command a star ship. “I was wondering if you two were even coming,” he scowled. His brow then rose with delight when he saw Annie. “Well, there’s my favorite girl.” Annie smiled instantly in response to his familiar exuberance.

Bryn set Annie down by her mother and went to talk to Jordan.

Ellen kneeled down beside Annie. “Give me a hug, little angel,” she said. Her protective arms felt warm and secure as she held Annie close. The comforting scent of cherry almond rose from the waves of her golden hair. Her mother removed a cord from around her neck and hid in her hand what hung on it. Annie saw Jordan’s eyes grow tense and dart about. Ellen tucked the cord around Annie’s neck under her tunic. “Keep this hidden for luck. It will keep you safe while I am gone. We’ll sing and dance together soon.” She promised as her blue-violet eyes glistened with tears.

Her father had then held out his arms saying, “Come here, you little monkey.” He lifted Annie up into the air and caught her in his arms. “I can’t wait until you’re old enough to fly with us.” He peppered her with kisses and made her giggle. His kind brown eyes shined as he grinned. “My sister promised to take very good care of you while we’re gone.” He gave her another peck on the cheek. “Master Jordan is a very good teacher and he’ll be helping you with your studies. So be good and pay attention.” He poked and tickled her in her belly making her laugh again. He then put her into Jordan’s arms. “Keep her safe,” he said to Jordan. His furrowed brow betrayed his misgiving of leaving her.

“We love you,” her mother whispered giving Annie one more kiss. Tears were glistening in her mother’s eyes when Bryn’s comforting arm guided her away to board the ship.

The noisy crowd carried her parents away in a sea of hopeful expectation. It was the biggest launch into deep space that the world had ever seen.

At a viewing port above launch bay, Annie saw twelve Starseeker ships blast off together. The group split apart, and they flew off in different directions. Jordan pointed out the ship returning to Tamaroon. She watched as it disappeared among the stars.

Jordan took her to the surface world that day to stay in Caldera with her aunt. Living in her high apartment wasn’t much different from space, but getting use to real gravity and seeing the sun rise and set was totally new and strange.

Two weeks later, Annie hurried with her Aunt Constance and Master Jordan to Gosar city. There was news about the loss of contact with her parent’s ship. In the end, the Starseeker Commander stood before the families of the missing crew. “We are deeply sorry for your loss,” he said with great sincerity. “All standard rescue efforts have been made. To search any longer, would cause us to stray from our mission, to secure the survival of the people….” Annie had gone numb as she realized her parents would not return. Happiness vanished that day.

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