Condensation escaped in puffs as Caramel stared at the enormous spaceship, her mouth wide open.
‘Careful.’ Jorde nudged her. ‘Your jaw will freeze if you gawk at the ship too long.’
Caramel glared at him but continued to gawk. A bit of drool slid from the corner of her mouth and she shut it quickly, hoping he hadn’t noticed. Jemm did, however, bursting into a giggle. Caramel wiped it away with the back of her hand, stifling a grin.
‘How awesome is it?’ Micah shook his head. ‘The biggest Caramel Cardamom Crystal powered ship in the galaxy and we get to go on it.’
‘It’s pretty awesome.’ Sass nodded. ‘But you think a gazillion dollar ship would be painted something other than gun metal grey? At least my spacesuit design has a bit of zazzle in it.’
Caramel chuckled, glancing down at her shimmering silver attire.
‘Hard to believe it’s the only reason Sass agreed to come,’ Micah whispered. ‘For months it was all, “who would want to go on a huge space monstrosity?” Blah blah blah, but once the Chairman offered her the chance to design that suit, she was all Stellarcadia this, Stellarcadia that.’ He rolled his eyes.
Sass screwed her nose up at her twin. ‘Wait till you see my presentation, Caramel. It’s gonna blow your high top boots right off.’
Caramel tried to smile, but all she could manage was a grimace.
‘Oh, don’t be like that,’ Sass scolded. ‘You know it’s a top secret collaboration and I can’t tell you about it.’
‘I know, I know.’ Caramel held up her hands in surrender. ‘My mum forbade me to read anyone’s thoughts about it, so don’t worry. Your super-secret-space-suit design is still safe.’
‘At least you didn’t have to practically beg your parents to let you go to the youth summit.’ Kirra put her hands on her hips. ‘Mine think this is all some kind of conspiracy. But I don’t get it.’ She frowned. ‘Where’s the Caramel Cardamom Crystal? It looks like a giant bug to me.’
Jorde coughed, masking a chuckle. ‘It’s in the core of the ship, Kirra. The Caramel Cardamom Crystal could hardly be on the outside. It would melt away and lose its power the moment it burst through Ishqwartz orbit.’
‘Oh! There’s the Chairman of the Intergalactic Council,’ Jemm squealed.
A tall man with pale green skin, short cropped red hair with silver streaks, paced across the icy loading bay. Ziggy, his personal Elvin guard followed, stopping directly behind him as the Chairman approached the podium.
The cadets stood to attention and Caramel spied her parents across the gathering crowd. Carob shot his daughter a wink. Caramel tried to contain her reaction, but her shoulders bobbed up and down in nervous giggles.
Jemm offered her a hand in support and Caramel accepted it gladly. The Chairman held up a small black crystal box in his webbed hand. He placed it onto the icy ground, and a giant holographic mirror image of himself lit the sky above. Caramel couldn’t help but gawk again.
‘Ambassadors of the Intergalactic Council, parents, and friends.’ The Chairman’s voice echoed across the frosty arena. ‘Thank you for joining me on Ishqwartz today, and for accepting my invitation to the very first flight of our newest passenger vessel. It is equipped to transport over one thousand personnel with full battle capabilities!’ He raised his arms in a V shape and the holographic lens zoomed in on his face. His pale green skin shimmered and his vivid blue eyes lit up. ‘May I present to you... the Stellarcadia!’
The crowd cheered and Caramel and her friends hollered and clapped until the Chairman extended his hand to full webbed capacity. He turned to Caramel and the forty-nine other children lined up in front of the great vessel.
‘Congratulations cadets. Each of you has been selected to attend our very first Intergalactic Youth Summit. It is an historic moment, younglings, and I look forward to each and every one of your innovative presentations aboard this truly spectacular ship.’ He bowed towards the enormous oversized bug, as Kirra put it.
Caramel nibbled on her fingernails at the mere mention of the presentations.
‘Cadets, please wave your family and friends goodbye, and stand by for Inertial Energy Matter Transport. On my mark, Ziggy.’ The Chairman fiddled with an earpiece, shaking his head a couple of times. Caramel blew her family an air kiss and the Chairman closed his hand swiftly.
Within an instant, her body seemed as though it were being pulled in a hundred different directions. A heartbeat later, she toppled onto the floor near two silver space boots.
‘Totally Elvo. It’s even bigger than it appears on the outside.’ Caramel scrambled to her knees.
Jorde, the owner of the boots, shuffled over to help her, but Micah rushed past, taking Caramel’s hand. ‘Did you hurt your leg? I know a great healer if you need one.’ He winked. Carmel huffed while he helped her up. She rubbed her leg, still feeling a bit giddy, unsure if it was the transport or the excitement. The room was alive with chatter, and a moment later the Chairman entered in a beam of light, and paced across the stage to the podium.
‘Take your seats, younglings. We have a few housekeeping details to address.’
The cadets bustled up the stairs, taking their seats in the bleachers. Caramel and Jemm huddled together and Jorde plopped down beside them, while Micah, Sass, and Kirra, filed in along the row taking seats in succession. Jorde was frowning, and Caramel shot him a questioning look, but he shook his head as the Chairman held up his hand again.
‘Younglings, I don’t think I need to remind you of what a privilege it is to be here. I expect you to be on your best behaviour as we journey together over the next three days.’
Many of the cadet’s heads bobbed up and down in agreement, while Caramel wrung her hands, lunging forward in her seat.
‘Our itinerary will proceed as follows: In a moment, a member of the Stella crew will usher you to your slumber-cube, where your belongings have already been stowed. This afternoon we begin our first ten presentations. Please check the memo to ensure that you provide your data to the technical crew before the deadline.’
Caramel gripped her seat. She wasn’t in the first ten, but that didn’t give her any consolation. Her fingernails had already taken a beating in the few brief moments on board the ship.
‘I am looking forward to hearing the incredible innovations, from each of your home planets over the next three days. Meanwhile, this wonderful ship will be spiriting us towards Amzalu.’ The Chairman chuckled. ‘I am sure you are all aware of the fabulous amusement facilities that will be ours exclusively for the night.’
‘Oh yeah, baby,’ Micah bellowed and the cadets erupted with cheers. Caramel grinned from pointy elvin ear to ear, and the Chairman smiled brightly. A cascade of shooshes echoed throughout the arena as the cadets eventually settled into silence.
‘We have factored in lots of social time.’ The Chairman paused. ‘This will give you, our most advanced young minds, an ample chance to mingle before our momentous “hyperspace jump” home to Ishqwartz.’
Caramel inhaled. The thought of a hyperspace jump chilled her to the bone. Jemm knew how Caramel felt about going “hyper”. She squeezed her hand and shot her a wink.
‘A few rules whilst on board. Firstly... no one, and I mean no one, is allowed to enter the Caramel Cardamom Crystal Core room. It is important that the frigid temperature be maintained, to ensure the crystal stays in its solid form whilst powering the ship.’ The Chairman’s gaze burned down at Caramel.
The Chairman glared at her a few more seconds, then glanced up over the crowd. Caramel’s heart sank. She was dying to see the Caramel Cardamom Crystal Core.
‘Secondly, as I mentioned, I encourage you to explore the ship, however...’ Caramel shifted uneasily in her seat feeling the Chairman’s gaze upon her again. ‘There are several designated areas restricted to the Stella crew only.’ He pointed to the blue bracelet encompassing his wrist. ‘Your translator bracelets will allow you everywhere, except those areas. Please wear them at all times.’
Caramel repositioned the bracelet on her wrist.
‘Now, younglings...’ The Chairman’s voice sounded a bit drab. Caramel shook her translator, wondering if it was malfunctioning. ‘The Stella crew will show you to your quarters and we will reconvene in two hours.’ The pace of his words had slowed dramatically, and Caramel glanced around to see if anyone else noticed. He stalked out of the room as the Stella crew, dressed in black spacesuits, streamed into the arena. Caramel and Jemm were met by a young girl about their age, with long silky dark hair and eyes the colour of coal.
‘I am Ariel.’ The girl smiled, ushering them out of the arena. I am your assigned Stella crew member.’
‘How totally elvo is this?’ said Jemm in mind speak. Caramel nodded, following along eagerly, but her leg started to twinge.
Not now. She rubbed her leg, attempting to shake off the sensation. I am not gonna miss a moment on this ship.
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