Prologue

Werther and Hailee travel to the core of an ancient starship, searching for answers to her mysterious origin.

Two thousand years is a long time. Enough for people to forget the hows and whys. That's what we did; we forgot where we were going. There were clues, legends, and rumors but let's face it: we didn't know. We might never have known if it weren't for Hailee. Most of us didn't bother asking the existential questions anyway. Life goes on.

Our home, Ophelia, was alive. She was a vast, complex organism but she had no consciousness. She provided all that we could ever need. There were pools, gardens, pathways, housing, and giant windows to gaze at the stars. She simulated night and day, provided gravity, and an abundance of food. She self-healed and auto-corrected. The Ancients designed Ophelia to nurture us but we didn't even know why. It was clear we were heading somewhere but it was as much a mystery as her origin.

It always fascinated Hailee that somebody, long ago, built Ophelia from nothing. Someone must have designed Ophelia, given her life - given us life. Were there other ships? Perhaps hurtling through space to some other destination or even our own. How could we forget something so important? "Who chose these specific flowers? Whose job was Chief Flower Chooser?", she once asked. These were questions Hailee asked endlessly.

But me, I didn't spend my hours pondering the fate of man. Instead, I spent them marveling at the girl with the wide eyes right in front of me. I adored her beyond measure. Her brief touches left me longing for more. A tap on my shoulder, a quick hug, a gentle touch on my wrist as she raved about this or that, and yes even her head in my arms as she drifted away for the last time. But Hailee didn't have time for romance with so many unanswered questions lingering about. She never did.

Looking back, she was always going to go to the Core. I saw her lust for answers grow day after day. It was her evolution. And, of course, there was never a question of whether I would go with her. My obssession was simpler but just as strong. Journey to the Core wasn't forbidden but it was generally considered to be suicide. And so it proved.

The End

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