The captain returned with a few chairs just in time to hear a question that made his blood run cold.
“I just noticed something.” Emil began. “How come none of the captains are wearing capes today?”
Lambaco giggled. “Capes?” She turned to Captain Pryce. “Imagine if you guys wore capes. Oh my gosh, this kid’s adorable.”
“Yes, it would be very ridiculous to wear capes at a conference meeting.” Lorenzo answered, swallowing his own embarrassment.
“But--” Emil began. “I guess so…” He gave up. Thankfully.
Lorenzo desperately tried to change the conversation. “I brought chairs.”
Dr. Jones accepted the first one. “Oh, thank you so much.”
She sat down and rested her head on the table.
Lt. Lambaco received the second one. “Thank you~ What a nice boy you are! So polite for your age.”
Lorenzo tried giving the last one to Captain Pryce, but she handed it off to Lt. Joshi instead. He admired that; putting others before oneself was an essential trait of any good star ranger. She looked so dependable doing it, too.
She crossed her arms and stared intently at where the Celestion-7 captains stood. Lorenzo noticed the people who surrounded them earlier were nowhere to be seen. Before he could dwell on that, Emil’s phone buzzed. He checked it.
“Ah, kids these days.” Vanderbilt sighed. “Distracted by their phones.”
“I knooow.” agreed Lambaco. “My oldest is so obsessed with hers. Make sure you’re not texting while driving the ship~” she warned Lorenzo.
“I wouldn’t think of it.”
“Who could it possibly be?” Vanderbilt waved a hand dismissively.
“One of our rangers had important info to send to us.” Emil sounded oddly professional, which made Lorenzo a little proud. He reverted back to his normal self and whispered to Lorenzo. “Mia and Rookie found Aiden.”
Lorenzo breathed a sigh of relief. Now he only had to worry about the eighth ranger. “Let Ranger Kim and Allen know he’s been found.”
“Important info?” A smile formed on Captain Vanderbilt’s face. “I wonder if it was one of those mems.”
Emil tilted his head. “...Mems?”
“I believe the correct pronunciation is me-me’s.” suggested Joshi.
“Oh, mehmees?” Lt. Lambaco chimed in. “I love those!”
“Captain Vanderbilt, I’m not looking up memes on my phone.” Emil promised.
“Meem?” repeated Vanderbilt. “That doesn’t sound right at all!”
“Excuse me, Captain Vanderbilt?” Lorenzo figured this was a good enough time to ask his question. “Do you know where anyone who works with Command might be right now? We need to talk to them about something.”
“You should’ve asked earlier.” Pryce answered. “They were flocked around Captain Stone and Lt. Myers.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Now why don’t you busy yourself with the rest of those chairs? My feet are killing me.” Vanderbilt whined.
“Right away, sir.”
Lorenzo excused himself while the others continued to argue about how to pronounce memes. When he returned with the other chairs, Pryce still maintained an elegant stare in the direction of the Celestion-7 captains.
Vanderbilt noticed, too. “A little envious, aren’t we?”
“Envious? No. I’m not related to any big names,” her eyes wandered between Vanderbilt and the Galhardos, “so I’m lucky to have gotten the chance to pilot in the first place.” Her gaze returned to the Celestion-7 captains. “I’m concerned. Knowing how dangerous your missions are, I worry about what Command is putting them up to, especially at their age.”
“They do seem pretty up there in years…” Emil added on.
“I’m sure they know what they’re doing.” reassured Joshi.
Pryce looked back toward the others. “They’d have to, otherwise they would’ve participated in the tournament like the rest of us. Heck, most of us weren’t even captains to begin with; the IF couldn’t pull that many away from their routes.”
“They thought the Celestion project was beneath them anyway.” Vanderbilt leaned back in his chair. “How foolish of them to miss out on a chance to make history. That tournament was a cakewalk for a bonafide captain like me.”
“And yet you still lost to a child.” Her words stung Lorenzo.
Vanderbilt took a deep breath. “Ha! Debbie, you clearly don’t understand. Someone needs to be able to clean up after these kids, and I just happened to get stuck with the job!”
“Big talk about cleaning up from someone who couldn’t even clean up the competition.” muttered Emil.
“Emil!” Lorenzo fought the urge to clamp a hand over his brother’s mouth. “I apologize, I’m sure he didn’t mean to say that.”
“I’m pretty sure I did!” Emil squandered any chances of apologizing. “I get it. Lorenzo’s younger than the average captain. If he got picked just ‘cuzza our dad, I could understand being mad about it. I could understand being mad at me. But I’m not gonna sit here and let anyone pretend that my brother didn’t earn the right to pilot the Celestion-5.” He stood up, smiling. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had enough of being condescended to for one day~”
Emil left the table.
“Someone’s in a bad mood.” Captain Vanderbilt remarked, not looking much better.
Lorenzo looked down at his brother’s empty chair. “He’s… always been sensitive to how others treat me.”
“That’s very sweet of him.” responded Lt. Lambaco.
“Hmph. I was joking about cleaning up after you guys.” Vanderbilt absentmindedly poked a finger into the table. “Didn’t your parents get a handle on Roger’s hotheadedness?”
“His name is Emil.” Lorenzo picked up Emil’s chair as well as his own. “I apologize for his outburst, but I must be going now. We have to talk to Command.”
Vanderbilt perked up. “You know… I think I heard one of them say earlier that they lost something near the entrance. I can’t imagine being so careless.”
Lorenzo couldn’t either.
“Would you take my chair too?” Vanderbilt stood up. “I need to make a call.”
He walked away, leaving Lorenzo with three chairs to carry. When he went to go pick up Vanderbilt’s chair, Lt. Joshi stopped him.
“Don’t worry.” Joshi glanced toward his captain and back at Lorenzo. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Lt. Joshi.”
Lorenzo walked over to Emil, standing by himself near one of the chrome, pear-shaped speakers. He didn’t know what to say when he got there, but that didn’t matter because Emil spoke first.
“I’m not apologizing.”
“We have to be professional about this.”
Emil tapped his foot. “Why do we have to be the only ones? Wait, I got it.” He began to imitate their father’s Venezuelan accent. “I am so sorry, my sons, but as my sons, you will be held to a higher standard. If people think you are below that standard, they may try to harm you. Do not let them be lice upon the hair de su reputación.”
It was somewhat unnerving how well he mimicked their father and how well he was able to predict the gist of what Lorenzo would’ve told him.
“Why do we always have to be the ones to suck it up when people mess with us? When they don’t respect us?” Emil began pacing. “You were as polite as could be and what thanks did you get? Humiliated, looked down on, and treated like a servant boy!”
Lorenzo thought for a moment. “We could always file a report against Captain Vanderbilt for harassment.”
Emil stopped and spun to face him. “How well has that worked before?”
“They couldn’t catch everyone who made fun of me.” Lorenzo reminisced back to his early school days. “All they did was call me a robot. It wasn’t that bad. They got tired, eventually!”
“That doesn’t mean you should’ve had to put up with it.” Emil pouted. “And that’s exactly the problem! It’s not just Vanderbilt this time. I don’t think anybody there saw us as equals. You were called a child!”
Lorenzo had nothing to say to that. He thought he’d accepted that being seen as a kid by Vanderbilt, but being treated that way in front of other captains did embarrass him a little, while Pryce calling him a child still hurt minutes later.
Something eventually came to mind, though.
“We could tell Dad.”
The blond squinted. “No! That’s a terrible idea!”
“Why not? If Command won’t do anything about it, Dad will.”
“That’s exaaactly what they’re gonna expect from us. Whiny rich boys crying to Dad. Waaah.” He mimicked crying with his hands. “Besides, that feels wrong! How are we supposed to be equals if we can call on him when things don’t go our way?”
“It’s only a backup plan in case Command doesn’t enforce the rules, which they should.” Lorenzo had utmost faith in the IF to follow and enforce its rules.
“No.” Emil placed his hands on his hips. “If we’re gonna be adults, we gotta handle this like adults. By ourselves.”
“...I agree. But how?”
He tilted his head back and sighed. “I don’t know. Let me think.”
Emil didn’t cause that big of a scene, but Lorenzo could feel the back-and-forth stares of onlookers, realizing something was wrong. Obviously, this situation upset Emil, but he needed to calm down.
Lorenzo decided to approach things his way: Self-isolation.
“They’re not important. We need to focus on ourselves and our mission.” he advised. “Captain Vanderbilt told me that the command team might be on the first floor.”
“And you believe him?”
“We don’t have anything else to go on. You can stay here and calm down while I go back down stairs and look for them.” Searching the entire first floor would take a lot of time, time that couldn’t be wasted going down the stairs.
“I’ll go too!” Emil offered.
Lorenzo shook his head. “I need to take the elevator. It’s the only way I’ll have enough time to look.”
He appreciated the offer, but if anyone overheard their earlier talk on the elevator, they might shut it down just to get to Emil’s head. Lorenzo couldn’t let that happen. He also had something to tell him.
“As your older brother and your captain, it is my job to keep you safe. Not the other way around.”
“Wow, uh, that’s out of nowhere. Thanks!” Emil smiled a chipped-toothed smile, a reminder of the time he fought one of Lorenzo’s bullies. “But there’s no rule that says we can’t look out for each other~” He winked.
Lorenzo sighed, shook his head, and turned to leave. There was no winning with Emil, but Lorenzo appreciated the constants in life.