The whine of the engines quieted down to a hum and the occupants of the shuttle took their first look at their new surroundings.

For the past several months all nine passengers had trained constantly for their new job. They all had to know electronics and mechanics and procedures as well as they knew their own language. They were all now what had been once called ‘astronauts.’

The Commander looked out his view port at the myriad of stars. From the planet these same stars looked nothing more than blurry specs in the sky, but up here, in the frigid depths of space, they all now looked like the hopes of those aboard the shuttle. ’Reach to the Stars’. That was the motto of their mission. What would they find when they did reach for the stars? Life? Or nothing?

Someone spoke up in the front of the small shuttle. They were nearing the Station.

Along with the other astronauts, the Commander unbuckled his safety belt and floated to the forward port. There, on the brink of sight, he could see the faint shape of frozen grey steel and plastic, in the shape of a star. The Commander’s breath was stolen from him when he saw what would be his home for the next five years. It looked so small before the giant colossus of the planet. Rotating silently on it’s axis, the Station possessed all of the hopes of an entire generation.

Ever since the last great war, the nations of the world had put aside their differences and had created, each in their own way, this station. The huge star was the pinnacle result of ten years of technological advances and the largest man-made structure in the history of Earth. The greatest step man had ever made toward the colonization of space.

The pilot computer instructed the crew to return to their seats for docking. The astronauts complied and waited silently as the Station loomed closer in the forward port until it was all they could see. Then, in the side of it, the hull seemed to peel away, revealing a large empty docking bay.

The pilot expertly guided the small craft into the bay and waited for the monstrous doors to close behind it. The Commander looked out his window as the sound of gas hit his ears. The room around the shuttle seemed to shimmer slightly as gas was pumped into the chamber. A light on the wall turned from red to green when there was enough air in the room. The shuttle doors were opened.

Out stepped the nine crew members each carrying two bags. They all walked out of the bay and waited in the hall for their host.

They did not have to wait very long, for as soon as the shuttle was emptied of it’s cargo, their host appeared before them. Again the Commander witnessed the air shimmer before his eyes, but this time it had nothing to do with gases. This shimmering was due to the Station Projector. A station-wide holographic system that allows the station computer to easily communicate with the crew via an ‘avatar’.

The Japanese can do anything these days.

The avatar was in the form of a tall, skinny man whose hair desperately needed a trim.

“Good day.â€