And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

Meister Eckhart

Dosha stared out through the porthole at the great expanse of space before him. He breathed slowly as he took it in, still a little giddy at the prospect of finally leaving home. He swept his gaze from the swirls of sea and clouds upon the great marble that was earth up to the inky black of space. This was his dream, it was finally here; a soft sigh escaped him as he turned around to the busy gangway behind him.

All around, people hurried by, some lugging bags others doing final checks before the Grey Cloud departed ISS-3. ISS-3 was earth's biggest space-port and handled majority of the system's traffic. Though the port was constantly abuzz with a myriad of ships coming in and out of Mars, the Grey Cloud was by far the largest ship that had docked in earth's orbit for nearly two decades. With a length of half a kilometer, and nearly half the span, the Grey Cloud was large enough to be seen from earth. It was Earth's second and only star-class cruiser, tasked with determining the fate of its predecessor, The Musk.

'Calling all hands aboard deck 1!'.... 'All hands aboard deck 1!'. 'Deck 1! That's me!', he thought to himself as he drifted out of his reverie. He straightened out his coat and hurried down the gangway to the flight-deck where he met Shiv adjusting the flight controls and looking at readouts. Shiv shifted his built frame around to glance at Dosha and mutter, 'Where were you? The colonel will be here in a...'

Dosha took Shiv's silence to mean that it was too late and the captain was at the door. They both turned and stood at attention as the bear of a man stalked into the flight-deck, followed by a train of officers and aids. Close behind him walked a young lady with a notebook, looking about curiously and occaisonally jotting things down. She immediately struck Dosha as the sort of girl who'd ordinarily make him stare at his shoes; confident and rather pretty. However, for some odd reason, his eyes didn't fall to his feet; and were still making out the colonel's companion when said colonel loomed in front of him and grunted uncomfortably.

Our hero looked about him and saw that Shiv, and the rest of the deck's crew were down on one knee as custom dictated. The colonel's companion giggled silently as Dosha flushed and fell to his knee in salute. Colonel Bay glared down at him and muttered, "I hope that you're far better at tending minds than you are a soldier. Get up. All of you, get up!"

He continued as the crew rose to their feet, "I don't have to tell you all how crucial it is to the empire that you do your jobs, and that you do them well. Earth and Mars' citizens are depending on us to bring back The Musks' remaining crew, or at the very least find out whatever terrible fate may have befallen them." Bay paced up the deck and stared intensely into Shiv's eyes, "I've never worked with a crew so young before, and I'd honestly prefer not to. However, this is a long mission, and the council ruled in favor of fresh young crew members. It will be in your best interests to prove my fears wrong and do a good job."

Dosha could see Shiv let out a lung-full of air as the Colonel turned away from the ship's young pilot to face the rest of the crew. "You'll also know that the Grey Cloud carries a sentient mind, who will be handling navigation once we leave the system and will be complimenting all of your roles in maintaining the ship's efficiency. The academy has been gracious enough to loan us the time of one of their engineers, who's responsibility will be to care for the Mind over the course of the trip." The colonel turned to face Dosha once more, "We ran cruisers fine before the academy's Minds came around. I trust that neither of you will get into our way."

With that final remark, the colonel stormed off the deck and left the deck in awkward silence. Dosha stumbled off to his terminal, trying to figure out just how badly things had gone. His earpiece suddenly chirped and a cheery voice interrupted the silence of his thoughts "What's stuck up his..?". "Watch your language Quirk!" he snapped. "Well, I know you were thinking it.", the voice replied, "My brief study of human psychology tells me that the Colonel doesn't like me very much."

Dosha nodded in silence. The Mind was right. His superiors had warned him of possible hostility from the ship's senior staff. Despite the fact that artificially intelligent minds had been in the making for the last, oh, five decades... not everyone had embraced the reality of just how powerful they had become. Dosha faced the uphill task of maintaining peace between the ship's crew and Quirk's infinite intelligence. "Yeah, you're a bit of an acquired taste Quirk", he quipped back at the mind with a smile, "Just try and be nice!"

Dosha headed out in the direction of his quarters, lost in thoughts about the things they'd see: The Lesser planets, the Kuiper Belt, and possibly even an encounter with Voyager 1. He thought about Quirk, ran through its last diagnostic checks in his head, thought about possible improvements to its modules... He was so lost in thoughts that he barely heard the small shudder as the ship's locks released from ISS-3 and its fusion engines came to life. He only just caught sight of earth slipping past through a porthole. He ran to the window and felt a wave sentimentality wash over him as he left what had been his home for the last 20 or so years.

He shook away these irrational thoughts, squared his shoulders and turned away from window back in the direction of his quarters, once again losing himself in his thoughts. Until... "Dosha... ! Hey Dosha! Meet Zahra". He looked up to see Shiv pointing in the direction of the mesmerizing young lady from before. "Zahra's Colonel Bay's niece... I'm giving her a tour of the ship," Shiv continued, ignoring Dosha's dumb-founded stupor.

Dosha reached out for an awkward handshake and mumbled something about it being a pleasure to make her acquaintance. Shiv just went on, "Dosha's an old friend of mine. He's our resident boffin... programs the minds and stuff. He wants to run a fleet some day," he finished off with the playful incredulity that Dosha had almost gotten used to.

"Is that so?" Zahra asked, with a curious look on her face, "Why would you want to do that? Isn't it interesting enough working with minds?"

Dosha thought for a moment. Her question seemed pretty genuine, and he'd never really thought about it before. "Well... I just think that whoever explores the worlds outside our system holds the key to the continuity of the human race. The artificial minds are pretty smart, and their getting smarter by the day... The only thing that humans will continue to do better than them is to explore, discover and innovate. I'd like to be part of that... giving humanity new hope," he finished off with a thoughtful smile.

Shiv yawned loudly and butted in, "And there you have Dosha. I hope you weren't too bored... he can go on about this existential mumbo-jumbo for ages. Here, let me show you where I fly the ship from!" Shiv showed off his chiseled features with a wide grin as he led Zahra off towards the flight-deck. Dosha raised his hand to wave them good-bye, and saw Shiv's companion turn and give what seemed like a helpless smile and wave back as they disappeared down into the ship.

"Well, that went well!" Dosha frowned as Quirk once again interrupted the silence of his thoughts. "It's nice to see that you're sarcasm module is functioning correctly" he snapped back at the mind over the comms unit concealed in his ear, "If you're not careful, it may develop an unfortunate bug."

"You know what confounds me about you humans," the mind went on, unfettered by Dosha's veiled threats, "The minute I think that I've met an intelligent, rational human, they do something entirely irrational... and it usually involves some other human, and a bunch of hormones that I think your race should have abandoned a long time ago."

"I don't know what you're talking about Quirk", Dosha answered the mind with a hint of exasperation.

"I've spent the last five years with you, and I notice subtleties you wouldn't have the slightest clue about... and I'd say that you're about to do something irrational," Quirk replied smugly. "Anyway... I've done some digging around, and this Zahra girl has the most interesting past...", it continued.

"No... it's fine, Quirk... I'll figure things out myself." Dosha replied, fighting off the temptation to listen to Quirk list off her favorite food, color, and brand of holo-phones. Minds like Quirk had access to a nearly limitless volume of information, and finding the scoop on the Colonel's niece would be an effortless task for it. However, Dosha felt like that would somehow be wrong... he was an academy scholar, trained to use knowledge for good.

Finally at his quarters, he slumped into his bunk and switched off his comms unit... preparing for the long journey ahead.

This is my first stab at sci-fi... so it may not be the best quality. I hope you like it a little though! To be continued...