Nebador Archives presents an epic young-adult science fiction adventure - Book Six

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NEBADOR Book Six: Star Station

This book includes the short story Neti's Temptation by Karen Buchanan, winner of the 2011-12 NEBADOR Writing Contest.

Stepping into a new civilization can be very challenging, especially when very few of your new friends look anything like you. Trouble awaits in every hall and balcony of the star station, and each misunderstanding could get you a one-way ticket home.

the joys of music and dance on a star station
original cover art commissioned to artist Rachael Hedges

Mati, one decision away from walking again, isn't sure she wants to - the price, for both her and Rini, is unexpectedly high. Kibi fails a test of the heart - to fix it, she must set her feet on a path she's not sure she'll survive. Sata and Boro stand beside their friends, but sometimes regret it.

Ilika watches it all, wishing he could hide on some backward little planet. But occasionally, everyone needs to come home.
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Chapter 1: Star Station Approach

    Their minds floated joyfully in the darkness.
    The timeless, spaceless nothingness of star transit did not allow the crew of the Manessa Kwi to think, or even to feel. But somehow, a seed of awareness remained.
    Then something changed, and thoughts began to form. Silence. Darkness. Life. Breath. A faint glow seen through closed eyelids.
    "Take your time coming back," a soft voice suggested. "You'll be disoriented, maybe dizzy."
    That's my lover, Kibi thought, and a smile curled her lips, but she felt so strange that she decided to keep her eyes closed a bit longer.
    "We are in the Satamia star system," Ilika's voice continued, "on course for atmospheric braking around Satamia Five."
    Sata opened her eyes and blinked like an owl. "Ma ... Mane ... Manessa?"
    "Yes, Sata?" the deep-space response ship replied in her pleasant voice.
    "Nav ... navigation status?"
    "Four light-minutes to course adjustment at Satamia Five approach marker B. Relative velocity is point one seven light-speed."
    Boro's eyes snapped open where he sat beside the navigator, still holding her hand. "I didn't know we could go that fast!"
    "Normally we cannot," the ship explained. "The difference in universe motion between the two solar systems created the high velocity."
    "Oh, okay. Engine status?"
    "Repulsion field yellow. All other engines inactive. Anti-mass inoperative by request of Melorania, not yet overridden."
    "Oh yeah, that."
    Rini chuckled, squeezed the hand of the girl seated next to him, and stretched his arms toward the ceiling. "Manessa, sensor status?"
    "Inter-planetary sensors active. All energy levels typical for this system. No objects on the flight path until approach marker B."
    Beside Rini, Mati groped for her crutch. "Navigation markers! It'll be nice to pilot with some solid reference points."
    "Okay," the captain said, standing up slowly and stretching, "let's take care of ourselves and be at stations in twenty minutes."
    "There's a little dried peppermint," Kibi announced, "so I'll make tea!"

    Mati got comfortable in the pilot's chair, touched a symbol, and her display glowed with the views and graphs she liked to have handy. Largest were the forward visual from Rini and the primary navigation chart from Sata. The red and purple gas giant Satamia Five, dead ahead, dominated both displays. Slightly to one side, a tiny white light pulsed with a regular pattern.
    Also on her display, somewhat smaller but no less important, the engine list from Boro, and the internal ship summary from Kibi, gave Mati everything else she needed to know. "Since there's an approach marker for atmospheric braking, someone's had to do this before, right Ilika?"
    "Yes. In a populated and well-traveled system like Satamia, there are navigation beacons for every type of ship and every kind of emergency. Back in your solar system, Sonmatia, we were in the wilderness. Here, things are more organized. Sata, would you teach the others about visual beacon identification?"
    The navigator worked at her console for a moment and found the list she wanted. "Um ... look at channel five."
    The others tapped at their display selectors.
    "All nav beacons transmit, just like the markers at Zolko and Memna on our fourth planet, so normally Manessa knows all about them. But if we just had visual, we could count the flashes."
    "Three short and one long," Boro observed.
    "Right. And there's only one beacon that flashes like that in the whole system."
    "Satamia Five approach marker B!" Rini announced with a grin, reading his display.
    "Okay," Mati interrupted, "we're almost there, so we need to do that course adjustment."
    Everyone sat up straight and got serious. Rini touched several symbols. "Here's my fix, Sata."
    The navigator made a selection. "Wow. We're almost one degree off!"
    "That's pretty typical after star transit," the captain explained.
    Mati peered at the numbers that flashed onto her screen. "All maneuvering thrusters, Boro. Inertia canceling."
    "At least those still work. Green."
    The pilot laughed nervously. "This will take about two minutes. How close can I come to the beacon, Ilika?"
    "You can go right through it. It's not physically present."
    Mati frowned for a moment, then shrugged.
    The bridge was quiet as they watched the ship's heading slowly line up with the desired course. The correction was completed just moments before the little ship passed through the phantom navigation beacon, and continued its plunge into the gravity well of the swirling gas giant.

    Unlike the atmospheric braking around their own fourth planet, with its occasional dust storm, this one was done by instruments alone. By order of the pilot, a handicapped ex-slave from a medieval world, all visual displays were cancelled, lest her crew lose their peppermint tea, the last thing in their cupboards.
    The deceleration from nearly one quarter light-speed took seven orbits through the thick and poisonous mists of the gas giant. Though smaller than the huge sixth planet of their home system, or the seventh where they had been trapped for two weeks preparing to die, Satamia Five hosted a completely different stew of elements, in addition to hydrogen, giving eerie shades of red, magenta, and purple.
    The first three or four orbits went quickly. But as the pilot slowly increased the altitude, following graphs supplied by the medieval innkeeper's daughter in the navigator's chair, the process seemed to drag on and on.
    The captain, a young man from a far-distant world he had not visited since childhood, noticed that some of his crew members were getting antsy. He was very proud of them for trying to stay within the engine restrictions set by Melorania, the head of the Transport Service. But with Satamia Star Station now so close they could almost see it, he knew their patience was being sorely tested.
    "Boro," the captain declared, standing up, "you have command for the star station approach."
    Kibi, the second-in-command, smiled from the steward's station, and had a hunch Boro would need a few pointers.

    Boro, a fifteen-year-old lad from a medieval cattle ranch, appeared both proud and nervous as he filled the command chair with his large, muscular frame. He had little to do but listen as the pilot and navigator worked together to complete the last few climbing orbits of Satamia Five.
    Finally Sata turned and grinned at the boy in the command chair, the same boy she had just recently started kissing. "We're down to a thousand kilometers a second, but really can't go any slower, or it will take forever to get to the star station."
    "Forever doesn't work with our food supply," Boro mumbled as he looked at the new chart that flashed onto the main screen directly in front of him.
    Kibi chuckled from behind. "I think I can make one more pot of tea."
    "The star station's only twelve light-seconds behind the gas giant," Sata continued, "in the same orbit. But that'll take us ..." She worked at her console for a moment. "... about three hours."
    Boro sighed. "I hope there's a pot of stew on the stove when we get there."
    Ilika smiled from the engineer's station. "Even the smallest star stations have everything you could want ... except red meat, of course."
    "I could go for an apple," Boro declared. "Status reports?"

    After getting routine matters out of the way, the commander turned to his captain. "Ilika, how are we going to slow down at the star station? A thousand kilometers a second isn't a very friendly way to arrive."
    "Good question, Boro. Maybe it's time to start talking to the star station."
    Boro took a breath and wrinkled his brow. "Am I gonna be talking to a bird?"
    Sata turned around and gave him a dirty look.
    Ilika smiled. "You might be. Whoever's at docking control, I guarantee they'll know everything there is to know about getting safely in and out of the station."
    "Um ... okay. You do that, right, Sata?"
    "Uh huh, as long as you're nice to whoever we talk to, even if it's a bird."
    "It could also be an insect," Rini pointed out from the watch station with a gleam in his eyes.
    Boro moaned, and didn't see the smiles on the other crew members' faces.
    "Satamia docking control," Sata began, "this is the Manessa Kwi, eight light-seconds ahead of you in orbit. The commander has a question or two about our approach."
    Boro moaned again.
    A mammal with a snout and black nose, completely covered with brown fur, flashed onto the screen. "Greetings, beautiful monkey mammals of the Manessa Kwi! I see you are coming in very, very slowly. How can I help?"
    "You're not a bird!" Boro observed with surprise.
    "Not last time I checked my anatomy," the docking controller said, showing long, sharp teeth in the process.
    "Sorry," Boro mumbled. "The only other person we've seen from Nebador was a bird."
    The controller looked down at his console for a moment. "Oh, I see that you're a crew-in-training. What's this? Melorania made a note that you would probably be coming in slowly. Aren't her training challenges fun? Once it took me a week to get from one planet to another with nothing but maneuvering thrusters. Took three freeloading passes!"
    Boro breathed easier and smiled. "Um ... yeah, we're not supposed to use anti-mass. Actually, I'm the engineer. We did atmospheric braking around Satamia Five, but now we're wondering how to slow down the rest of the way."
    "Well, we can handle that! I'll just send you the deceleration tractor ... wait, what's this? I can't believe it! Only an hour ago, Melorania sent it to Satamia Two to help with something. She must really like you guys. Most new crews don't get this much tender loving care from the grand old lady of the Transport Service."
    Boro chuckled, even as he absorbed the bad news. "It's probably because we're ... monkey mammals."
    "Could be. Your proper name is 'humans,' in case you don't know. We ursines can be a bit stubborn too. Anyway, back to our little problem. I'm not sure what else I can do on this end. Got any thruster fuel?"
    "A little. We'll see if it's enough. Thanks."
    "I'll stay on duty until you're safely in. For now, Satamia closing."
    Boro sighed.
    Sata smiled. "Manessa Kwi closing."

    Ilika let most of the crew go off-duty. Boro sat down at his station, and with Ilika's help, transferred every drop of the old thruster fuel to a small holding tank, filtering and measuring it in the process. It came to twenty-three seconds at full-thrust.
    Sata, the only one actually on duty, made some calculations at her console. "That'll get us down to about three hundred kilometers per second. Still way too fast for the maneuvering thrusters alone to stop us."
    Everyone fell silent, Ilika wandered up to the big table to use a knowledge pad, and Boro began pacing.
    "Found some dried parsley!" Kibi announced from the galley.
    Her discovery brought smiles to all those within earshot, but no one grabbed a spoon.
    "Stew on the stove," Boro mumbled to himself as he paced, "and we're gonna fly right on by unless we can slow down."
    "When do we override Melorania," Sata asked from the front of the ship, "if we can't figure anything out?"
    Ilika looked up. "Station approach marker A, which is one light-second out."
    Sata looked at her chart and nodded.
    "Wait a minute!" Boro suddenly boomed.
    Everyone looked at him, including Mati and Rini who were just coming up the lift, arms around each other.
    "Manessa," Boro began, "exactly what did Melorania say?"
    "That we should not use the anti-mass drive until we arrived at Satamia Star Station."
    Boro paced for a few more seconds, running his hands through his hair. Then he stopped dead in his tracks. "Manessa, exactly what does the word 'arrived' mean?"
    "To achieve a destin ..."
    "No," Boro interrupted, "I mean precisely what does it mean, to a deep-space response ship, when coming to a star station? At exactly what point can you say you have arrived?"
    "In that technical sense, a ship is considered to have arrived when it passes the inner navigation markers."
    "Sata, how far ..."
    "I'm on it!" she declared, quickly switching charts. "The inner markers are exactly one kilometer from the station."
    Boro began pacing again while rubbing his neck with both hands. "So ... if we activated the anti-mass drive the instant we passed the inner markers, we wouldn't need to override Melorania's order. Right, Manessa?" he asked pointedly.
    "Correct," the ship replied.
    "But what about warming up the drives?" Kibi asked from the galley. "At three hundred kilometers a second ... one three-hundredth of a second isn't enough time to do ... anything!"
    Boro lowered himself into the command chair, looked at the ceiling, and wrinkled his brow.
    About half a minute later, his mouth snapped open. "Melorania said we shouldn't use anti-mass until we arrived, so it wouldn't matter if we warmed it up early. Right, Manessa?"
    "Correct."
    "And maybe we can't do that split-second timing," Sata said, "but Manessa can!"
    Ilika was listening with interest.
    "How precise?" Boro asked, still looking at Sata.
    "Mati?" Sata passed the question up to the pilot at the table.
    "Thousandth of a second."
    "And in a thousandth of a second," Boro began with sparkling eyes, "we'd go less than half a kilometer, right?"
    Sata grinned and nodded.

    Boro was clearly proud of himself, going from person to person to arrange every detail of the plan. Mati would do the deceleration thruster burn several minutes before arrival. Ilika, at the engineer's station, would warm up the anti-mass drive with time to spare in case anything went wrong and they had to override Melorania's order.
    Judging by the expressions on Ilika's face, Kibi knew something was missing from the plan, and wondered if it had anything to do with Sata's wrinkled brow.

    As the last hour began, Kibi made more tea. She knew it wasn't providing much nutrition, but at least they wouldn't have to work on empty stomachs.
    As she sipped her tea, the navigator looked at Boro with disappointment in her eyes. Kibi saw it, and was pretty sure everyone else did too ... except Boro.
    "I believe you have a job to do, Sata," the captain said over his cup of fragrant tea.
    "I do?"
    "Yes. You have something to report, and if you don't find your courage, the plan won't work."
    Boro looked at Sata with surprise.
    She took a deep breath and glared at Boro with smoldering eyes. "Are you really just going to go barreling in like a wild stallion without even telling the star station what we're doing?"
    "Um ... gosh ... I thought it would be kinda fun to surprise them ..."
    The navigator rolled her eyes and slumped back in her chair.
    "Sata," Ilika began, "why don't you explain to Boro the arrival procedures for a star station. You've studied them -- he hasn't."
    Sata breathed for a moment. "Sorry. I forgot you don't know this stuff. There are all kinds of ships going in and out all the time. You have to talk to the docking controller at the outer marker, there's a speed limit at the middle marker, and some ships have to let the controller guide them in past the inner marker. Big ships are sometimes parked outside the station. Inside the inner marker, people could be out in space suits!" When she finally finished speaking, she slumped into her chair, red-faced and breathing in gasps.
    "Thank you, Sata," Ilika said calmly. "It's important for you to remember that you have an ability none of the other four have."
    "I ... I do?"
    "Yes. You have the ability to trust, because you were raised in a working family where you could count on your mother, father, and brother to do their jobs and make good decisions about the inn."
    Ilika looked around at the four ex-slaves. "The rest of you are used to assuming everyone in authority is against you, and cannot be trusted. I come from that background too, so I understand. You're learning to trust me, and slowly you will learn to trust everyone in the Nebador Services. The ursine controller you talked to is your brother now. You can trust him with your lives."
    Boro took several breaths in the silence that lingered. "I ... guess I should talk to the bear ... I mean, the ursine controller."
    Sata managed to force out a smile.

    "Wow, that sounds exciting!" the image of the furry docking controller said from the main bridge display. "I bet the whole station will come out to watch. Let's see what the boss-lady thinks, she's over in the Rontilia system ..." He hummed as he tapped at his console. "Okay, she approves, and apologizes for not being able to greet you, but she's helping with a stranded ship."
    "I've plotted a course," Sata explained, "that will take us past the station, instead of into it, if something goes wrong."
    "Excellent! I'll clear the way of ships when you pass the outer marker. Satamia closing."
    "Thank you. Manessa Kwi ... closing," Boro managed to say.
    Once the screen went dark, Sata looked at him with returning fondness.
    "Thanks for ... making me ... do it right," he muttered.
    She smiled.

    At Kibi's urging, Boro went over the plan in detail, twice, before they got to the first approach marker.
    Mati asked the most questions, primarily of Manessa, as the pilot didn't want to approve a maneuver unless she was sure it was going to work. The braking thruster burn would be easy. Just thinking about the thousandth-of-a-second reaction time, needed to stop the ship just past the inner marker, made her stomach hurt.
    Ilika smiled from the other end of the table and gave her a nod of confidence.

    Finally Sata announced that outer approach marker A was at hand.
    Boro called for stations, and ordered inertia straps, just in case.
    The pilot peered at the deceleration graph, then made a decision. "Space thrusters, level five. It'll take a little longer than full power, but we've got the time."
    "Good thinking," Ilika commented as he worked at the engineer's console. "Thrusters are green."
    "Sata," the commander began, "Please tell the ... controller that we're starting our approach."
    Sata touched several symbols. "Satamia docking control, we are passing outer marker A, preparing to decelerate. The commander requests a pot of stew, preferably with fish."
    Everyone on the ship chuckled, and the ursine controller roared with laughter as he tapped at his console.
    Mati turned and looked at Boro.
    The acting commander got quick status reports from Kibi and Rini, and glanced at Ilika to see if he was forgetting anything.
    The captain nodded.
    Boro took one more deep breath. "Slow us down, Mati. Use every drop."

    The ship's inertia canceling kept the crew from feeling the deceleration that otherwise would have made them scream with pain. Sata listened for anything her dear friend and pilot needed, and called out the ship's speed.
    "Seven hundred."
    Rini watched for any ships or other obstacles.
    "Six hundred."
    Mati kept an eagle eye on their course with her three-D chart projection.
    "Five hundred."
    Ilika watched the thruster fuel get closer and closer to zero.
    "Four hundred."
    Kibi double-checked other parts of the ship from her console, and smiled at the thought of finally being able to fill her empty cupboards.
    "Three hundred."
    The thrusters began sputtering, and some of the jerks and lurches penetrated the inertia canceling. Boro felt his straps hold him tightly.
    The space thrusters died.
    "Two hundred fifty-three kilometers per second," the navigator reported. "Inner marker in ... forty seconds."
    Ilika's hands quickly went into action. "Anti-mass warming."
    "Satamia Star Station ahead," Sata announced.
    Everyone looked at their displays and beheld the glowing jewel in space, with countless facets gleaming from the yellow light of the Satamia primary sun, or the reds and purples of the nearby gas giant. It rapidly grew larger, and they seemed to be heading almost directly toward it.
    "Anti-mass drive ready at level seven," the captain reported from the engineer's station. "All diagnostics good."
    "The rest is up to Manessa," Boro declared with a trembling voice.
    "Full stop, under ship's control, approved," Mati confirmed, still watching their course for any problems.
    "Eight seconds," Sata announced.
    The star station seemed to pick up speed and swoop toward them, making several of them gasp with fright. Suddenly it froze on the right edge of their forward view screens.
    "Wow," Sata began, trying to catch her breath. "Relative speed ... zero."
    A heartbeat later, everyone on the little ship began clapping and cheering.
    As soon as he could be heard, the captain spoke. "View to the right, please, Rini."
    When the view angle changed, they could all see the gleaming crystal surfaces of the star station, seemingly just a stone's throw away. About half the facets of the giant jewel were clear, and hundreds of people, of all shapes and sizes, could be seen jumping up and down, swinging from the ceiling, leaping out of pools of water, or, if they had arms, waving them in greetings to the little deep-space response ship that had just passed another challenging test.

Satamia Star Station, design by Sidney Oster
Satamia Star Station
design by Sidney Oster

"It is not the purpose of the universe to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. That's a mortal preoccupation, especially strong in monkey mammals, but we all feel it to one degree or another ..."

-- Silmula Sorafax, in charge of the Great Transformation


Book Six front cover:

Book Six front cover

Book Six back cover:

Book Six back cover

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Although the adventure continues, NEBADOR Book Six: Star Station concludes Trilogy Two, and is the final book of the essential NEBADOR saga.

NEBADOR
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the narrow streets of a medieval walled city
Book One:
The Test
Spring 2010

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a lonely beach along a wild seashore
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Journey
Summer 2010

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Selection
Fall 2010

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stranded on a frigid ice continent
Book Four:
Flight Training
Spring 2011

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fascinating planets with strange life forms
Book Five:
Back to the Stars
Fall 2011

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a shining jewel floating in the blackness of space
Book Six:
Star Station
Summer 2012

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unseen guests at an event of universe importance
Book Seven:
The Local Universe
Summer 2013

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stillness and silence where movement and sound should be
Book Eight:
Witness
Summer 2014

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Heather's meeting circle at a top-secret military facility
Book Nine:
A Cry for Help
Summer 2015

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a strange eco-system deep underground
Book Ten:
Stories from Sonmatia
Summer 2016

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by J. Z. Colby
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