Chapter 1

He wasn't going to do it.

Zachary Forrest – Zack to his friends – wasn't going to fall into the same routine for the rest of his life as everyone in his small town – go to one of the same four universities as most of his graduating class, get a degree in something sensible, and live out the rest of his life at a desk somewhere not too far from where he grew up. The world was huge. Heck, the galaxy was huge. There was just so much of it to see, and he was going to be one of the few lucky ones that would get to go up and touch the stars.

Unbeknownst to his parents, he had been saving all of his money he had ever gotten for any reason – birthdays, holidays, part-time work, even graduation, and putting it into a special account he had opened in secret. He loved living in an age of unprecedented mobile connectivity and network neutrality – he had opened the account while waiting at the doctor's office one day when he was only thirteen. By this point, he had somewhere around twelve thousand credits saved up. It wasn't much, but it was enough to purchase an old clunker with an airlock and an engine. Hopefully if his plan succeeded, he'd have even more for something better.

He had to do it when he was on his way to college. He had been accepted to a good university, and he committed as a ruse – he would never actually get there. His parents would never forgive him, but he'd never forgive himself if he didn't do this. His parents trusted him enough to let him drive himself to school. Halfway there was a spaceport. He'd get there and withdraw everything from his private account as well as his college fund, if the password he found in his parents' desk was the right one. This would put him close to seventy thousand credits, enough for a substantial frigate. Then he could ferry passengers or goods, which would allow him to really see the galaxy.

He needed a crew though. A ship that size couldn't be crewed by just one person. Sure, he had been studying ships his entire life in secret – how they work, how to fly them, how to fix them, and so on – but he was just one guy. Thankfully he had told a few close friends his secret and they were on board with his plan. They all told their parents that they were going to crash in his apartment at the university as a sort of "last hurrah" before starting classes in a few days, but they were all going on this adventure with him for as long as they wanted to stick around.

Zack was thinking of all this as he was sitting down for dinner with his parents. He must have looked distant as he was rolling his meatballs around with his fork because his parents snapped him out of it.

"Zack, you all right?" his mom asked him. He started slightly, looking at her.

"Yeah," he said, "just a bit excited is all."

"You know," she said, "it's really okay if we come down with you."

Zack shook his head. "It's all right," he answered. "This is a big moment in my life, setting out on my own like this for the first time, and I want to prove that I can really do it. I'll do everything myself."

He chuckled slightly under his breath. Technically that was the truth.

"Besides," he added, "it's only four hours away. If anything happens I'll just give you a call."

That part was less true.

"You're so lucky," his sister Amelia said, speaking up. "I wish I was going to college."

"You can come visit during school breaks if you want," Zack said.

He winced internally. He could lie to his parents, but his sister was another story. He wished she would come with him, but he couldn't risk telling her.

Zack's dad just smiled as he took another bite. "Let me know how campus is," he said. "I imagine it's changed a lot since I was there. I haven't been back in so long."

"Definitely," Zack replied, going back to his dinner.

The rest of dinner was uneventful. Zack finished up and went back up the stairs to his room. He looked out his window. New Arbor was a rural, backwater planet. The technology wasn't that different from mid-21st Century Earth in most places. His smart phone was his only connection to the universe beyond, and it all looked so wonderful to him. He had never seen a city with more than a hundred thousand people, and aliens never came to his world either except at the spaceports, and even then it was extremely rare.

Zack brushed his teeth and got ready for bed. If this worked, the next thing he'd see out his bedroom window would be the black of space.