Emil wiped the sweat off his brow, finally done with cleaning his and his brother’s bathroom. His blond curls fell out of place in the process of cleaning everything twice, sometimes three times, not that he could keep track. Still, he admired his handiwork. Was it up to Lorenzo’s standards? Probably not, but if he wanted it any cleaner, he’d have to do it himself!
“Hey Lorie, I’m done with the bathroom!” Emil announced his exit.
Lorenzo, still in his hat and cape, sat slouched over at his desk. Whatever he worked on had to be serious for him to sacrifice his posture! He looked over at Emil through reading glasses. “Excellent timing.”
“Really? I took kind of a while.” Something on screen caught Emil’s notice. Tabs upon tabs of documents. “Hey, what’s all this?” He leaned on his brother’s chair, studying them. “Are these all Angelo’s?”
“What’s up? Is something wrong with them?”
“I don’t know.” Lorenzo sighed. “But there has to be something wrong with them. That’s why I wanted to ask for your opinion on the matter. I’m not the best at judging age, but doesn’t Ranger Summers look… young to you?”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to call him by his first name?”
“It would be unprofessional.” He answered exactly how Emil knew he would.
“To answer your other question,” Emil stood up and took a closer look at the document with Angelo’s picture on it, “yeah. He does look young. But Rookie said people think he’s younger too, so maybe it runs in the family.”
“He doesn’t look that young, though.”
He had to agree with that. “He doesn’t. But Angelo is really short, skinnier than me, and his eyes are huge. That kinda guy would prolly look young no matter what. Him being shy and sheltered reeeally doesn’t help.” The more he talked, the more he found himself agreeing with Lorenzo. “Okay yeah he does seem weirdly young. But what, are you thinkin’ he might be underaged?”
“Exactly.” Lorenzo nodded.
“Why would a kid wanna sneak into the IF?”
The older Galhardo-Alverez rested his head on his hands. “Maybe he wanted to sabotage the mission. His brother may be in on it too.”
“Lorie.” Emil leaned beside him. “There’s no way. Number one, we were all randomly picked–most of us, anyway. Two, I’m the one who picked him, and I was blindfolded when I did it. Three, the only reason he got picked in the first place is because Command forgot to assign our 8th guy. There’s no way he coulda accounted for all that! Sure, I’ll give you that it’s hard to buy that he’s 18, but I don’t think there’s some kinda secret plot for underaged star rangers to take us out.” Saying it outloud made it sound even more ridiculous!
Lorenzo thought for a moment. “I’ll concede that he couldn’t have planned for it, but I still don’t trust him.”
Well. Emil did the best he could do. He shrugged. “Besides, if they are planning something, they’re doing a lousy job.” He crouched, pretending to prowl around. “Imagine bein’ on a secret mission and havin’ to take a whole week to find your phone.”
“Why don’t they just use Angelo’s?”
“You just called him Angelo~”
“I meant–!” Lorenzo gave up. “It’s bad form, but we’re in private.”
“Angelo doesn’t have his phone with him.” Emil answered.
“Then whose phone did I see him using on camera this morning?” He saw the suspicion rise in Lorenzo’s eyes.
“That’s… weird. Aiden doesn’t have a phone.” He caught himself before he joined in. “Maybe he found Leon’s phone, but…”
“I dunno, if he did, Leon probably would’ve said something about it. Huh.” That stumped him.
The big screen filled with Angelo documents transferred down to Lorenzo’s laptop, swapping out with a view of the ship’s cameras. Emil spotted Leon and Angelo in the kitchen eating granola bars.
“Hey, I should go ask ‘em about it!”
Lorenzo stood up. “Actually, there’s maintenance checks that need to be done in the engine room. I need you to stay here and watch the cameras in my absence.”
“Aww maaaan, but I wanted to have lunch with everyone.”
“You can have lunch when I return.” With that, he exited the room.
Emil slumped in the chair his brother left behind, hungry and lonely.
“Why do pretty boys have to suffer?” He asked no one in particular while spinning dejectedly.
Just then, his meal ticket appeared. Leon had just left the kitchen, making his way upstairs. Since he was already on his way up, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to ask for a little favor, would it?
Emil turned on the intercom option for the stairway. “Pssst. Roookiiie. Can you heeear meee?”
Leon looked up. “Emil?”
“I’d come down and get lunch myself, but my dearest brother has so kindly trapped me in our room. Could you grab me a granola bar so that I don’t starve to death?”
“Sure thing! I was just coming up to talk to you.”
Food and conversation, Emil couldn’t wait! “Ooh, and if there’s any of those red Electrades in the fridge, can you get me one of those too?”
That Leon, what a good sport. Emil watched him leave one screen and enter the next, from the stairway to the kitchen. Though he’d rather be with the others in person, he had to admit it was kind of entertaining watching everyone like TV characters.
His eyes wandered to some of the other screens. Mia sat on her bed reading. Nothing much to see there. Jun spotted Roxie while she lifted a monster of a barbell. Now that was entertainment! Just before he could tune in, though, something caught his attention.
Poor little Angelo fell off of his bunk bed ladder. What a pitiful looking criminal mastermind he’d make. If he robbed Emil at gunpoint, he’d probably just give him the money for moral support. Heck, he’d throw in his credit card for good measure. He couldn’t even picture it without laughing to himself.
The laugh faded into a sigh. He wished Lorenzo could relax more. Worrying about imaginary threats had to do a number on a guy, and Emil didn’t want to see that happen to his brother. Or their father.
Aiden sat on his bed, grabbing something from the back wall. He came back into view with Leon’s phone. Emil couldn’t help but smile knowing for sure that someone finally found it. Just in time for Leon’s birthday!
Emil had big plans for that day. Back on Earth, he convinced Lorenzo to let him buy a cake in advance. Only one though, which unfortunately meant he couldn’t get a separate one for Angelo, whose birthday came three days later.
…Weren’t they twins? Could twins be born days apart? He’d have to look that up.
Anyway, Emil cleverly decided to get a cake that would account for both of their tastes. Gathering intel couldn’t be easier; Leon was an open book and none too suspicious. This led him to an orange and lemon cheesecake, with Leon favoring lemons and cheese and Angelo liking oranges. Leon mentioned wishing he’d brought a constellation map with him and that Angelo liked building model kits. The presents were in place.
As excited as he was for those birthdays, he didn’t know if he’d be able to put everything together so cleanly for the ones afterward. They should make it to Mars by Roxie’s, meaning the cake situation should work itself out, but what about a present? And Mia. She never gave up information about herself so easily. Would Lorenzo want to eat something as unhealthy as a cake in front of the others? Would Jun and AIden be able to have cakes at all? They’re not too picky, but they should have something special!
Most importantly, how would he be able to afford all of this when he and his brother earned less money than everyone else? So much brainwork on an empty stomach. Life could be so cruel!
But it had it’s moments. He heard a knock on the door.
“Delivery!” Leon’s muffled voice came from the other side.
Emil opened the door to the rookie’s bucktoothed, smiling face, his hands holding a granola bar and a drink. “Thanks Rookie! This should tide me over for a bit. I am in your debt~”
“Aww, no, you don’t have to do anything special.” Leon declined.
“Of course I do.” Emil winked. “After all, you’re the soon-to-be birthday boy!”
“Oh, that’s right! It’s in three days, huh?”
“August 20th” He took the snacks. “You’ll be…” A sudden, horrible realization came over him. “You’ll be 19 soon.”
“Yeah!” Leon tilted his head. “Is something wrong?”
“I just turned 18 this May.”
He too realized the horror of the situation. “Wait. Then that means… You’re younger than me?”
“I… guess so?” Emil saw Leon as something like a little brother. How could it come to this?
“Gosh, that feels so wrong…” Leon’s face twisted in disgust.
“It does! Let’s never speak of it again!” The blond opened his granola bar. “Anyway, what didja need me for?”
“Oh, you guys have cameras in your room right?”
“Sure do!” Emil looked back in his room at the camera panel. He saw Angelo heading for the burner room. A little early to be doing the next burning, but maybe he wanted to get some practice in.
“I don’t know if there’s a rewind function or anything,” Leon rocked back and forth on his heels, “but if there is,I was wondering if you could go back to the day Angelo lost my phone to see where it is.”
Weird. He still didn’t have his phone yet? The one Lorenzo saw Angelo with had to be his. So what gives? Did Angelo…? No. Emil wouldn’t let his brother’s doubts mess with his head.
“I dunno if we have rewind either, buuuuuut,” Emil smiled, trying not to let his confusion show, “I don’t need to check.” He thumbed back to his room. “Aiden found it by his bed. It’s with Angelo now. He should be in the burner room if you wanna go get it.”
Leon’s face lit up. “That’s great! Thank you so much!”
“Don’t thank me, I just watched. You should thank Aiden!”
He thought for a second. “I think I will, but after I go get my phone back.”
“Okay, you go get ‘em, tiger.” Emil waved as his friend turned to leave. Then, he remembered something he’d been meaning to say. “Hey, I hope your grandpa’s doing alright.”
Leon stopped in his tracks. “Hm? Did… something happen?
“Shoot!” He wasn’t supposed to find out this way. “Wait. Angelo didn’t tell you?”
“When he was crying the day that we let him out, he told me it was ‘cause your grandpa was in the hospital, but he made it out fine! Don’t worry!”
“That’s weird. Was it our dad’s side or our mom’s?”
“I dunno that much.” admitted Emil. “I think he told me later on that they found out after going to his house, but–”
“Okay yeah, then it has to be Gramps. Our mom’s dad is in Spain.” Leon squinted. “That’s super weird though. Ángie was crying over him?”
“Yeah?” That didn’t sound so weird to Emil. “Is something wrong with that?”
“They’re not… really on the best of terms. I guess maybe he was trying to make up with him? But that doesn’t–Sorry, I shouldn’t get into that here.” Leon stopped himself. “I’m gonna go find him. Thanks for the tip!”
“No problem… Thanks again for the snacks.”
Emil smiled, waving Leon away for real this time before returning to his room. He took a bite out of his granola bar to calm the uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. A week was a long time not to tell your brother about family trouble. But Leon could be pretty forgetful, so maybe it ran in the family. No, something didn’t feel right about that. Still, if something was wrong with Angelo, wouldn’t Leon be the first to notice. Wouldn’t he have called it out immediately if Angelo was underaged?
Unless he thought everyone knew already, a theory made a frightening amount of sense once Emil thought back to all the times Leon asked ‘When does Ángie go home?’ or ‘When do we get the real new guy?’ Emil thought he’d been joking, or still in shock. Come to think of it, it was really weird that Angelo didn’t know Leon would be on the ship either.
Sitting down in his chair, Emil spun with his thoughts. The more he tried to convince himself he was making something out of nothing, more inconsistencies, more somethings came up to prove him otherwise. Like how much Leon babied his twin brother.
Twin brother. That reminder made him choke on his granola bar. Leon and Angelo’s upcoming birthdays put some of Lorenzo’s words into a new perspective. Sure, it was hard to believe Leon would be turning 19, but Emil could still believe that.
Angelo turning 19? Impossible. No way on Earth.
Emil took a swig of his sports drink to wash down the granola, but he couldn’t wash away his concerns. Something felt very, very wrong about this whole thing. Could Lorenzo be right? He didn’t want to believe it, but his excuses grew flimsier than ever.
Then he turned to face the cameras, seeing something that threw the rest out of the window. Angelo, lit by furnace fire, held Leon’s phone in his hands.
The burner room filled up the screen once Emil changed the camera panel settings to focus on just that section. He couldn’t stop staring. He couldn’t stop laughing.
“No way, no way, no way...” He repeated to himself in pure shock.
Stunned, he watched the emotions play out on Angelo’s face. The boy lifted his brother’s phone up and down, visibly unsure of whether he should be doing this or not. He shouldn’t! But what was Emil supposed to do about any of this?
Just as Angelo looked like he was actually going to throw it, Emil’s fingers pressed the intercom setting.
“H-Hey! Ah-ah-ah! Friends don’t throw friends’ phones in the fire!”
Emil turned his microphone off, but kept the burner room audio on. Angelo freaked out. Emil freaked out. Everybody freaked out. No phones were harmed though, which was the most Emil could ask for at the moment.
How long would it last? Knowing that Emil was watching might’ve been enough to scare Angelo off. If he was desperate enough, though, who knew what he might do? Emil didn’t. This was all so messed up.
Just then, to Emil’s relief and horror, the door to the burner room opened.
Leon walked in.