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At first it was a small thing, a discrepancy, a set of coordinates not logged in the main computer. Someone had taken this ship somewhere, and they hadn’t wanted their bosses to know. It could have been anything really.

But then I saw it again, buried in some circuitry down long halls in the depths of a cargo hauler, the same coordinates. I checked the star maps and found nothing there. Again, I found it in the engines of a passenger ship, a tiny chip betraying the desires of its operator. A line across my screen, this ship too had been there.

I should let it go, I told myself, checking pressure seals on a shuttle, but somehow I couldn’t. What was this place frequented by so many and always purged and deleted.

At night in my room, I imagined what it might be. A den of pirates, an uncharted civilization, a paradise. It could be anything. It would be a mistake to go alone into something that could easily prove lethal. But I couldn’t shake it, of course I couldn’t. And there in the quiet, I made my decision, I would go.

I told Center I was taking a shuttle out to test its drive. A frequent occurrence, and one that would never be questioned. Carefully I typed in the coordinates, waited for the computer to plot its route. The magenta button flashed. This was my last chance to call it off. My finger hovered, and then with only a few grams of pressure it was done. The ship carrying my body hurled itself hundreds of light years away in a single moment.

As the sensors came to life again I regained some awareness of my surroundings. I was just above a planet. Forests, oceans, and desserts stretched out beneath me. No grand pirate hoard or great civilization, at least not that I could make out. A single beacon sent waves reaching up from the surface. A single point on the planet advertising itself as a place I might land. I had to see it, of course I did. I placed my hands on the controls again, and slowly the ship began to descend.

The beacon led me down into a flat area of sand along a coastline. I could see the depressions in the ground from the many ships that had come before. To one side, cliffs and an ocean stretching out to the horizon. Staring at it made me a little dizzy after so much time spent in space. To the other direction, a forest. Tall trees and auburn leaves, a single path marked with boot prints. I had to follow it, of course I did.

I left the shuttle and walked the path, it led up a small hill, through trees all rustling with the ocean breeze. A creek ran along side the trail babbling as it rushed over rocks and fallen branches. At the path’s end I found a small log cabin. It looked quite primitive and must have been constructed from materials in the forest. The door was unlocked. I stepped inside.

There was no artificial lighting, but daylight poured in from a window. Inside I found a simple wooden table, surrounded by many small stools. Along the back wall was a small power generator, the only modern thing in the cabin. Next to it, a stove, a kettle, a wooden counter top. Teacups and jars filled with tea. And a metal drum with a spigot. Beneath it a small washing basin.

On the opposite wall I found a note. “Enjoy the tea, enjoy the peace, but please share this place only with those you trust.” A dozen signatures adorned the bottom half of the paper. I recognized one of them. The captain of a cargo ship I had worked on moths prior. Beneath the paper carved into the wooden wall were many more signatures, a few I recognized, most I didn’t.

I filled the kettle and set it to boil. As I waited for my tea, I took my knife and carved my name into the wood.