“Tonight’s the night!” Jed grinned, his blond hair falling in front of eyes as blue as the Robins-Egg Nebula. The pale skin of his face was quickly corrupted by the bright neon signs and lights from bustling shops all along the promenade. His eyes were so wide with gleeful abandoned I could have sworn I could see the stars reflected in them. He laughed, a raucous sound, that exploded from him and diffused into the simulated gravity of Artis Portum. Behind us the ridiculous curve of the enviro-dome climbed as high as any night sky. Everything seemed dark, the only light was the artificial glow of street lamps and shop fronts and the massive Andomiter Galaxy. The spiral seemed to slice space in half, stretching away under the spurious horizon in blues, reds, and greens. We walked slowly along fake cobbling in the warm darkness of the longest night. Jed spun on his heel to face me, still laughing. “Come on Seck! We’ve no more exams. All of the Alpha Conexus is at our fingertips, We’re the ‘Verse’s latest up ‘n’ comes. Why so glum?” I allowed myself a small smile, the exams had been grueling. It was good to be free. Jed’s grin widened and he swooped into my path. His arm swiftly wrapped around my shoulders and drew me further along the street. There was almost a skip in his step. He watched me as we walked, as if looking for something in me. A mood, a reaction, I’ve never been sure what he was looking for. But eventually he seemed satisfied that, whatever it was, was there. He turned his attention back to the street. “So,” he said, wrapping his voice around his smile so they were one and the same. “Where would the intrepid Veracis, Bardos Seck like to celebrate his graduation?” To my eternal surprise, I laughed out loud. Graduation was such a pleasing prospect, and I really had never enjoyed the company of another person as much as that small town Terran. The two of us, in the glow of Andromeda, I let my guard down. I laughed. “Anywhere, so long as I can still see Andromeda and I don’t have to drink beer.” Then both of us were laughing. We moved together, weaving through the pedestrians. All too quickly we reached a doorway. A small porthole set into a grey-green wall. The were no neon lights above this door. Jed turned to face me with a look of reserved hope. “Now they do sell beer… but I really think you’ll like it in here. It’s very low-key. Quite like. What’ta ya’ say?” I felt the steep line of my Veracis eyebrows rise slightly, but I was more amused than anything else. My amusement must have shown because another grin broke across Jed’s face. He gently grabbed my arm and pulled me through the door. I never found out if that bar was a low-key quiet place I would enjoy. I stepped through that door, reckless, excited about the future. Headless of the training I had just graduated from. I should have been watching, I should never have entered an unknown location without at least being alert. But…. The two of us, in the glow of Andromeda, I let my guard down. With a shout from the soft darkness, it ended. “In the glory of the Empire!” Letting my guard down killed Jed, it nearly killed me. It will not happen again.