Four and a half days of peace. That’s what Leon ruined the moment he and his brother stepped foot into Aiden’s room.
“You’re in luck Ángie, looks like Aiden’s not here right now!” Of course, Leon didn’t see him hovering on the wall beside the door.
Both screamed, with the pipsqueak launching himself halfway across the room before his brother caught him by the shirt tail. He hung sideways in the air, desperately clutching at his pocket. Must’ve nearly lost his phone or something.
Leon stood him back upright. “There you go.” He patted him on the shoulder, too busy gawking at Aiden to notice him flinching every time. “Aiden, this is my little brother, Angelo.”
While Aiden got a better chance to take in the shivering little weirdo, his hand still gripping his pocket for dear life. Wide eyes darted in every direction, as if he fought for his life by just standing there. The kid looked haunted. “Is he good?”
“Oh, Ángie gets nervous around new people. I told you about the ghost thing, right?”
Aiden shrugged. Everything Leon said went in one ear and out the other. “Probably.”
Leon clamped both hands on his brother’s shoulders. “He’s really shy.” He continued, completely oblivious to the poor kid hyperventilating. “So please don’t be too mean to him.”
Aiden gave a non-committal grunt. He didn’t want this new guy to get too comfortable, but he had no interest in messing with him. Angelo seemed like the type to crumble to dust if Aiden even looked at him wrong. He didn’t want a heart attack on his hands.
“It’s okay, really…!” Angelo jerked away. “I-I-I don’t wanna make you guys change because of me.” His hands folded over each other as his head lowered. “Just pretend like I-I’m not here.”
“Okay.” Aiden pushed himself off the wall and over to his bed.
Leon pointed to the bunk above it. “I guess that’ll be your bed for now.”
“Th-That ladder looks really high…” It didn’t, but someone as short as Angelo might think so. Aiden wondered if his arms could even handle the strain of climbing up; they looked like they could snap under any pressure.
“I’m sure you can climb it! We’re in zero gravity anyway, so you shouldn’t have to worry right now. See?” Leon drifted over to the ladder and pulled himself up with one hand. His feet rose above Aiden until they stopped with a faint thud. “Ow! Be careful of your head.”
Aiden snorted, only to have his amusement interrupted by bug eyes staring daggers into him. Funny for someone on the verge of tears two minutes ago. What did Angelo think he was gonna do, cry him to death? Aiden stared right back. That got him to stop looking and focus on his pocket.
“Ángie, come up here!” A hand reached down from the top bunk. Angelo took it, getting lifted up and out of Aiden’s way. Good riddance. “There’s seatbelts to help strap you in while you’re sleeping. You also wanna make sure your covers are tucked in good so they don’t float away.”
“Kind of like a human pizza pocket?” With a bed between him and Aiden, Angelo’s voice could barely be heard.
“Where’s your bed?” Process of elimination should’ve told him it was the single bed on the other side of the room.
“This one!” Leon kicked himself off the top bunk and down to the single bed on the other side of the room. He lifted an orange bag at the foot of it. “Your backpack’s over here. I realized there’s no space under your bed to put stuff. Well, technically there’s a lot of space, but Aiden probably wouldn’t be too happy about you using it. The good news is that you’ll be safe from seeing…” He trailed off after making eye-contact with Aiden.
“Seeing what?” goaded the only one who could grow a beard.
“You’re not… always the best at covering yourself when you put on clothes in the morning. And since you sleep nude…”
Aiden lifted his hands. “Hey, I do what I can. If you’re looking so hard, then that’s on you.”
“I try not to.” Leon’s eyes wandered to the desk between their beds. “Anyway, this is the desk. I mostly use it for charging. The super cool thing is just above it.” He opened the window covering to a starry sky. “Gosh, I can’t get enough of this view! I don’t know why we even had this closed in the first place.”
“Captain told us to.” Aiden remembered Galhardo’s orders back when they were moving from the ship to a hotel. He mentioned something about privacy concerns, as if anyone would scale 40ft up military spacecraft just to break in and steal the laptop sticking out from under Leon’s bed.
“Oh, right.” Leon lifted his chubby face toward the top bunk. “Ángie, come down and look at the stars!”
Angelo propelled himself off the bed. He got that step right, but instead of going down, he floated across the room, softly splattering into the other wall. Leon had to pry him off by the ankle. Once that spectacle resolved itself, Aiden headed toward the door while the two bunched up by the circular window.
“We should go back up to the observation deck sometime.” Leon told his brother. “I wanna make sure you’re able to get a better look at space before you have to go home. Maybe some pictures too!”
Aiden stopped himself on the doorframe. “He’s going home?”
“Yeah, he’s gotta be back in time before school starts.”
That opened up several questions, but the only one that concerned Aiden at the moment was what he could eat. He left his roommates behind and glided toward the kitchen door.
Jun, Roxie, and Emil sat inside watching TV on the couch. Sort of. Only Jun sat on the couch like a normal person. Roxie hovered crisscross above the cushions. While parts of Emil’s body touched it–his hip against the armrest and his elbow on the back–no one in their right mind would call it sitting. On one hand, what a waste of a couch. On the other, he kind of had to respect the chaos of it all, mild as it was.
“Hey Aiden, what’s up?” Emil waved.
“What’s for lunch?”
“Uhhhhh,” Jun tried to remember, “There was like, tomato soup? Cheese sticks, a pineapple drink thing, some pretzels, and some dried oranges.”
“Cried oranges.” corrected Roxie.
“Oh yeah, there’s a typo on the menu.”
“They cried all of their juices out, how sad.”
“What the–?” Aiden glanced over his shoulder to see Angelo hovering behind him, clutching a few food packages. Leon followed suit.
“S-Sorry!” Angelo cowered.
“Are you following me?” Aiden distanced himself, making his way over to the boxes on his left.
“Angelo mentioning pizza pockets reminded me that I was kinda hungry.” Leon answered. He looked down at his brother. “What were you saying?”
“Well, there’s cheese,” Emil lifted a finger toward the boxes, “tomato soup’s kinda like a sauce, and pretzels are like a really crunchy crust if you believe hard enough, so there’s pizza here in theory.”
“Wow, theoretical pizza. Yummy!” Leon chuckled. “What’re you guys watching?”
“The beautiful game of béisbol~!” answered Emil. That was baseball in Spanish. Aiden knew this because it sounded almost exactly like baseball in English. Otherwise, he mainly knew curse words.
“Oh, who’s playing?”
“I have no idea!” He checked the screen. “The Corvids and the Lynxes. The great thing about watching baseball is that you really don’t have to pay attention to the game at all. Me an’ Roxie have mostly been chatting about our sports careers. Roxie here was the star pitcher on her softball team.”
“Really? Wait, didn’t you do baton twirling?”
“I contain multitudes, Rookie.” Unable to stay in place, Roxie continued floating upward. “The captains are baseball boys!”
“Yep!” confirmed Emil. “I had to beg Dad to let us play sports, but he caved in and let us play one year.” He craned his head backward in order to view Aiden, who at this point moved to the water dispenser by the table. “What about you? I feel like you’d be good at track.”
Aiden smirked. “Probably, but it’s kinda hard to be on a sports team when you don’t go to school.”
“Oh, it doesn’t have to be like, formal or competitive or anything like that.” Jun tugged Roxie’s doctor’s coat to keep her from drifting away. She snuggled up to him. “People kept trying to get me into competitive surfing, but it wasn’t my style.” Typical Jun response.
“I got my exercise in other ways. Running from the law is great cardio.” The notch on the water dispenser had already been flipped to heat, so all Aiden had to do was fill a syringe so he could hydrate his soup. Working with needles always gave him the creeps.
“What about you guys?” Emil uncontorted himself to face the Summers brothers, not caring that his nurse hat drifted off. “You play any sports?”
“I used to play soccer in middle school!” Leon answered. “If my high school had a team, I probably would’ve played then too, but I got a job instead. The good news is I know how to fry a lotta seafood.”
“Important question. Does ‘a lotta seafood’ include shrimp?”
“Yeah, I cooked a lot of shrimp!”
“Yes yes yes yes–!!” Emil could’ve set off a fire with how fast he rubbed his hands together, but soon he coughed and tried to play it smooth. “So how about you Angelo? You play any sports?”
“No.” Angelo looked away. “I’m not very athletic.”
“Ahh, no need to feel bad about it.”
“Yeah, everyone has their skills and weaknesses.” added Jun.
Angelo let out a feeble laugh. “S-Skills?”
“You have skills!” Leon argued. “You’re really good at putting models together. And you’re better than me at video games!”
“Not really, I just practice more.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, fellow gamer!” Roxie vaulted herself over Jun. “Also you have other high points like being polite and muffin-shaped and you follow directions like a good little lamb.” More like a sheep. “I would rate you an A+ in being a patient, very good teaching material for my assistant.” She tapped Emil’s arm. “By the way, did you consume your protein yet~?”
“Oh yeah!” Leon patted his brother’s back. “You should probably go eat at the table while I get my stuff ready.”
Angelo took a step forward, then stopped himself a little past the couch. “Big Brother? Are you sure you don’t want me to get your food for you?”
Leon blinked, then sighed. “Don’t worry about me, I can cook my own food. Besides, this is your first time here!”
Aiden stopped mid-swig of his soup. “Big Brother? You call him that all the time?”
“Oh yeah,” Emil turned his head, “I wanted to ask about that, but I didn’t wanna sound rude.” Lucky for him, Aiden didn’t mind.
“I do it out of respect.” The shortest boy stared at nothing but the table as he sat down. “Like how it feels rude t-to call your mom and dad by name. Th-That kind of thing.”
“I don’t have either of those.” Even if Aiden did, he doubted he’d care.
Aiden shoved a few pretzels into his mouth and resumed soup-drinking. They went good together.
“Oh, now that you mention it,” Leon grabbed his lunch, “I haven’t called home in a while! Ángie, can you hand me my phone?”
His brother’s hand went into one pocket, then the other. It came up empty both times. “I-I don’t have it. Did I lose it…? I sh–I should look!”
“That’s fine, I’m not in a hurry. We can go look for it after we eat, okay?” Leon moved over to where his brother sat. “Besides, you’ve only been in this part of the ship. There’s not that many places it can be, right?”
Wrong. Two days later and they were still searching the same three rooms. Aiden couldn’t take a nap or use the bathroom in peace without them showing their faces. Both of them, every time. Leon could be empty-headed for sure, but it took a special kind of brainless to lose a phone in the most cramped area of the ship. Did it run in the family?
The weirdest thing of all was that sometimes Angelo would look up at his bed as if he sensed something there. One time, he stopped just as Leon left the room.
He looked at his bed, then at Aiden. “Did you hear anything?”
Aiden’s interaction with Leon and Angelo went about as I expected lol. I do kind of feel bad for Mr. Grumpy bc having two roommates in a space that small can get a little too stuffy - no matter who’s in there with you. Plus I’d imagine Angelo’s anxiety mixed with Leon’s high energy over finding a phone would become taxing. Bravo for Aiden for being generally chill about it.
Bad press calls for desperate measures. For the Interstellar Forces, sending a small crew to Neptune was the bet they were willing to make - at the risk of losing what little respect they have left (and maybe some lives).
A roll of dice and a lack of options led to the selection of the Celestion-5’s crew, a collection of inexperienced astronauts ranging from space-loving dreamers to cynics only in it for the money.
It’s them against the universe, and their odds are a gamble at best. Learning how to live together can only help. Though with the crew’s pervasive personal problems, that might be the real journey.