It's a Big Universe Pt.1




For as long as he can remember, Terran has been drifting around the universe in a little spaceship, all alone.

The universe is a big place. There's a lot to see.

Terran visits all the stars in the Melodron System, where they've built a city out of a planet and there're walkways through space with trains that run faster than the speed of light. Terran went on one of them. It felt like he blinked and he missed out on a whole year. But space can feel like time sometimes. It gets a little confusing. His own spaceship can go pretty fast; it can even spatial-switch if he wants it to, but mostly he doesn't bother. It's not like he needs to go so fast anyway. Hyper-X is fast enough, like a blink, faster than light.

For a short time - or a long time, he's not sure - Terran used the spatial switch to get him places, just popping here or there, but after Merlin remarks on how much he misses by simply not flying past it, Terran stops. Using spatial-switch too much makes him feel odd anyway. It's a very familiar feeling, like he's done it all his life, but that's no help. He can't remember all his life. And with no memories, familiarity is almost scary. Besides, he has all the time in the world to get to places.

Terran knows that Alpha Six is a scary place, but he goes anyway, because they have blue weeds that taste like moonshine and Terran chews them on board his little spaceship and everything gets hazy and he forgets that he hasn't got anywhere to go. By the time he comes back to himself, he's drifted out past the Claris Belt and he has to turn around pretty quick before he gets sucked into the Maelstrom Nebula. Plenty of people didn't believe that there could be a whirlpool in space. They obviously had small heads.

It always surprised him that the universe, while being a big place, had people out everywhere, places that weren't even habitable at one point. People built cities and planets from nothing, these days. There wasn't much left to disbelieve in. Still, most people didn't travel as much as he did. Most people didn't travel at all. Their homes were what they knew.

Terran didn't know a home.

Sometimes he ventures all the way out to Oblivion, where civilizations used to be, where planets and cities and spaceships still hang there among the stars, frozen in time. Terran feels a deep connection to Oblivion, like he used to know it better, like it used to know him. He studies the architecture and walks the wild gardens where no people or animals are anymore and understands the true feeling of abandonment. Terran, as far as he knows, wasn't abandoned. He was sent, somewhere, at some point, a long, long time ago. These ancient cities could have been his home, for all he knows. He pretends, sometimes, that they were. It's not like he has any other home.

Terran visits Alpha Nine the most often, because that's where Merlin is. If people think space whirlpools and blue moonshine weeds are crazy, they should talk to Merlin. He's the craziest thing in the universe and he's not even crazy.

He's an oracle, of the last pure oracles left in the universe. Terran wonders what will happen when Merlin's gone. He knows the rule: "there must always be a truth sayer," but Terran doesn't know if there's any more like Merlin anywhere else. Maybe. Hopefully. If Merlin knew, he wasn't going to tell Terran. Merlin has been alive for a very long time. Terran asked him once. Merlin said, "Since the universe was twice as small and nobody was exiled out of themselves."

Merlin spoke like that a lot, in riddles. Or at least, Terran didn't understand him. What did it meant to exile someone out of himself? People can't get turned inside out. It's not even possible to take somebody's soul out. He knows some have tried. It's possible to remove a soul-bond, but that was like murder, really. Souls weren't meant to be cut up and they can't ever be removed. Merlin wouldn't clarify anything beyond, "Don't mourn your memory. You don't need one."

Terran couldn't mourn his memory if he'd never had one, but maybe he did have one at one point. If Merlin knew, and he probably did, he wasn't going to tell. Terran asked him other things instead, like why Feastor was completely green or humans never made a third Earth. Merlin didn't always answer him, and if he did, it was often in riddles again, but Terran didn't mind too much. At least he had someone to talk to.

He talked to his spaceship sometimes, but it was an inanimate thing. It couldn't talk back and Terran could only go so long without talking to someone who talked back. Sometimes when he made his way back to Alpha Nine and he stepped out onto the rocky terrain, he felt like the planet had gotten considerably older since his last visit. It was possible. Terran didn't keep good time when he was alone.

Which was always, since he was always alone.

--

Merlin gives him something he can understand on one of his visits. He gives him a set of coordinates. Terran wonders why he needs to go anywhere specific. He'd spent his whole life drifting and Merlin has never sent him anywhere specific before. But it was time, apparently.

"The first person you see when you leave your ship will come with you and keep you company. You'll have someone to talk to and you'll keep track of time. You can go places and it'll mean something."

Terran also wonders why anybody would want to come away with him when he was bad luck. Nobody ever wanted anything to do with him. They never touch him and most don't sell to him or speak to him. Terran isn't bothered by it anymore. But the idea of someone keeping him company was intriguing. Merlin was always right, so it had to be true. Terran plugs the coordinates into his spaceship's navigation and sets off through the stars to find his company.

Merlin's coordinates take him to Earth the Second. Earth the First was all used up by now, black and dark and completely abandoned. Terran has never been there. There was nothing to see or do or gain from going to used up planets. Earth the Second is pretty old too, having been built years and years and years ago by humans who wanted off the used up Earth but didn't want to venture out into the wide, wide universe. Of course, at this point the humans had mostly all ventured off into the wide, wide universe, leaving Earth the Second as one of the last remnants of old humanity. That and the moon's dark side colony. But nobody lived there anymore. Terran visited once. It was lonely.

Earth the Second still has some life to it. It's a bit old-fashioned, but the tech is still better than a lot of places. Terran only knows this from what they say at other places. He's never bothered to visit Earth the Second, on account of it always seeming like a boring place to visit. But this time, this time it has something to offer: company. Terran is excited.

He lands his spaceship exactly where Merlin had told him to. It's not a big spaceship, at least on the outside, but he still marvels that he was able to fit it in between houses and trees. Okay, he may have crushed a tree or two, but trees were not people, so they probably didn't mind. He adjusts for the planet's gravity and opens the hatch, climbing out and breathing in the air that was clearly made for humans to breathe. It's pretty dull, as far as air goes.

The air on Amisser is sweeter, but it was made to be so, to be as close to paradise as the Amisserians could design. It also has purple moss-like stuff instead of grass. Terran crouches down to feel the grass of Earth the Second. Nothing special, really, just green and sort of scratchy. Earth the Second is a pretty unremarkable planet, as far as he can tell.

He gets up and turns around. His breath gets caught in his throat for a moment. There's a boy staring at him, standing outside the house with his arms at his sides and his mouth open. The boy has jet black hair, dark as the space in between stars, and his face is amazed and pretty.

Terran has seen a lot of different sorts of people. He's seen lots of humans, of course, and half-humans, and meta-humans and humanoids. This particular human boy just might be the prettiest he's ever seen. He wonders if Merlin knew that. Well, here he was, the person that was supposed to fly away with him. Was he supposed to just collect him? Would he know? Did Earth the Second have any sort of oracles that might have informed the pretty boy that he was supposed to fly away with a strange boy in his spaceship?

There's only one way to find out, he supposes. He marches forward, the pretty boy just watching him silently, still very surprised. Terran reaches out once he's close enough and grabs the boy's wrist. "You're gonna come with me."

Pretty boy stares at Terran's hand on his wrist. "I'm what?" His voice is mellow, somewhere between deep and middling, a pleasant, smooth sort of voice. He doesn't move or anything, just asking that simple, surprised question.

"You're gonna come with me." Terran figures that pretty boy must not know that he was part of Merlin's plan to give Terran a friend. "Right? Don't you want to?" He adds as an afterthought. Doesn't he? He hadn't considered that the someone might not want to come. But why would Merlin tell him all this if he was going to be rejected. No, Merlin is always right. So, eventually, the boy would come.

After another second of staring, pretty boy removes his wrist and looks up at Terran with a peculiar look on his face. "Do you know me?" He asks, like they've met before.

"No," Terran replies, still unsure of how to proceed. Merlin only said that this boy would come away with him, not how to make it happen. "I just know you're supposed to come with me."

"You just know? Come with you where? Where are you gonna take me? You gonna tell me I have some interstellar destiny?" Pretty boy sounds like he doesn't believe a word he's saying.

Terran can't really blame him. This is a little shifty. Of course pretty boy would have reservations. Everybody had reservations where he was concerned. Even on old, old Earth the Second, of course people would have reservations concerning him. He rubs his stomach absently, trying to think of where to go from here.

"Are you hungry?" Pretty boy says next, an odd question considering the circumstances.

"Yeah," Terran says anyway, 'cause he's kinda always hungry. He's always lonely and that makes him hungry, so he's always hungry.

Pretty boy considers him with his head cocked to the side, a faint smile dancing around his lips, eyes still wide with surprise. "Well," he says, "I guess you should come inside."

Terran follows the boy into the house without hesitating because he hadn't anything else to do and he wasn't about to just leave without doing what Merlin had said to do. Though, he's kinda done his part. Just how exactly is he supposed to get the boy to come away with him?

There's another person in the house, munching on a sandwich. She – Terran guesses by the body shape - swallows hurriedly and stares at Terran. "Jace, who's this?"

Is that pretty boy's name? Terran rather likes the sound of it.

Jace shrugs. "How am I supposed to know? He just landed his spaceship in my backyard and I'm supposed to know who he is? He's hungry, that's what."

The girl looks at Terran again, as if determining his worth, then holds out the other part of her sandwich. "Here," she says, looking distinctly pleased with herself when Terran accepts it and bites into it.

It's a good sandwich. Terran's never had authentic Earth food, but this is pretty good. It tastes a bit like the air, not very sweet but fresh and greenish. He finishes the sandwich half in record time and looks back at the two boys who were staring right back at him.

"What's your name?" Jace asks.

"Terran," Terran says, standing very still. He can't remember the last time someone asked for his name. Merlin's the only one who call him that. Everyone else, if they recognize him without his spaceship, doesn't talk to him. They whisper about him and say he's bad luck, but they certainly don't say his name.

"Come sit down," the second boy offers, when none of them say anything for several more moments.

Terran follows the two of them to a sitting area and sits down after they do. Jace puts his arm around the girl's shoulders. Terran can't help but stare at that.

"Merlin didn't tell me about you," Terran hears himself say, still unnerved by how close Jace is sitting to the girl and how totally carefree they are about it. They're not the close that others are, where they exchange souls and promise not to give them back, Terran can tell that much. They aren't soul-bonded. But they're so close and it's so very strange. Terran hasn't spent a lot of time hanging around people. He sees them at a distance and wanders through crowds that don't mind a cursed, bad luck kid because they're all just as bad, but he has very limited experience actually being around any particular person for an extended period of time.

Merlin doesn't count, because Merlin isn't a person. He's an entity and Terran knows his bad luck can't rub off onto an entity.

The girl looks at Jace again. "Jace, what's he talking about?"

Jace shrugs again. "Mari, I literally have known him about a minute longer than you have. How am I supposed to know anything?"

Mari pouts a little, then looks at Terran like she's just realizing how stiff he is. "Are you okay?"

"You're, uh," Terran doesn't want to be rude, but this is Earth the Second, he doesn't know how their manners work, so he just goes with it, "you don't mind that he's touching you?"

Mari looks at him peculiarly just like Jace did, and is, again. "No? Why would I?"

"People don't like when I touch them, even by accident. I know some people touch, but I haven't been around a lot of humans. Do you all touch? It's not…forbidden?"

"Of course it's not!" Mari leans forward a little. "Why would people care if you touched them?"

"I'm bad luck," Terran says simply.

Even out here on Earth the Second, they didn’t know that he was bad luck? Perhaps he wasn't that famous. But maybe they just didn't recognize his spaceship. Maybe they didn't understand the blank stripes on the side. Against the dull and dusty white of the ship's exterior, the black stripes were arranged in a careful order and amount and everybody - who didn’t live on Earth the Second - knew what those meant.

Mari is looking at Terran like he's crazy. "That's crazy," she says, reaffirming his look. "And what did you mean by 'Merlin'? Like, the King Arthur one?"

“Who is King Arthur?” Terran is puzzled.

“He’s a figure of legend, and Merlin was his wizard friend,” Mari says, like she can’t believe he doesn’t know who these legend people are.

Terran can't believe just how primitive this planet it. "There’s no King Arthur involved, just Merlin. He's the oldest and most accurate oracle in the universe."

"The universe," Jace states, that disbelieving sound to his voice again.

"Yeah. I go to see him sometimes and he told me that I should come here and the first person I say would come away with me so I wouldn't be lonely anymore."

Mari looks perplexed and concerned; Jace just looks confused.

"Do you not want to come away with me?" Terran can't believe that Merlin would ever be wrong. He begins to prepare for disappointment. Not that he'd never been disappointed before, but this was Merlin, and Merlin always told the truth. He had never been wrong. Yet.

"Yeah, you want to go. You've always wanted to travel in space," Mari says suddenly, looking sideways at Jace with a fond expression on her face that Terran can't quite understand. “This is your chance. You should take it.”

Jace is surprised, for the third time. "What, you want me to just leave you?"

Mari is still smiling. "This is a great opportunity. And it wouldn't be forever, right?" She looks to Terran for confirmation. He nods. "See? It wouldn't be forever. Go off and see the stars you love so much. You'll regret it if you don't."

"Mari can come too," Terran blurts out, feeling bad about the idea of separating these two who are clearly very important to each other.

Mari shakes her head, looking down.

"He's afraid of space," Jace explains, the arms around Mari's shoulders drawing her closer to his side, his expression the fond one now. "I'll come back and tell you lots of wonderful stories, then, okay?"

"You better, and you better miss me a lot. I'm your best friend and you're gonna miss me," Mari says with a pout, a smiley pout.

Terran thinks that they're closer than some he's seen who do have a soul-bond. Maybe this is a different kind. Maybe they don't exchange souls, they just share them. Maybe this is something new that Terran just doesn't understand. He doesn't stick around places with a lot of people because he's always chased away, so even with all the stuff rattling around in his head, people are in general a mystery. He can't learn when he isn't allowed to. This odd soul connection is just another thing he doesn't understand.

Jace leans his forehead against Mari's for a moment. "Of course I'll miss you, you idiot." He looks over at Terran. "Do we have to go now? Do I need to bring anything?" He laughs a little, like he can’t believe he’s asking that.

"Whenever," Terran answers, a little afraid to separate the two of them. Separating people with soul-bonds was never a good idea. But they weren't bonded, were they? "And not really. Earth tech or materials don't hold up so well in other places." He makes up that last bit, but it's probably true anyway. This is a primitive planet, after all.

Mari pushes Jace away before pulling him back into a tight hug. "Go now then, before either of us changes our mind, okay?"

"We can come back anytime. My ship is really fast." Terran mentions it because maybe that will reassure Mari.

"How fast?" Jace asks curiously, still not caring in the slightest that Mari is now clinging onto his middle, face buried in his chest.

"Hyper-X, but it can go all the way to transient and spatial-switch too. I just don't usually need to use those."

"I can be back to you faster than the speed of light, Mari," Jace mumbles against Mari's hair.

Terran feels like he's intruding, but also like he's not, because they haven't told him to go away and he wonders if Merlin knew about all this too. He watches Mari and Jace hug for a long time, wanting something like that and knowing he'd never get it, but happy that they at least had some sort of soul-sharing going on. Maybe Jace could explain about this friendship thing a little more on the spaceship. Terran discards that idea as soon as he has it. He doesn't want to seem stupid or inept. He's taking a stranger with him into space. He should show that he knows what he's doing. At least when it comes to practical things, like flying a spaceship and eating and navigating and speaking different languages and those normal "get around in the universe" things, he's pretty okay.

Mari finally lets go of Jace. Terran can tell that she wanted to hug longer, but she has this face like it's hard enough to tell her friend to go have adventures without her, let alone break off contact with him. He wants to tell Mari that they really can come back anytime, but he figures that the silent conversation that Jace and Mari are having with their eyes is good enough. He waits patiently beside his spaceship and eventually Jace joins him. Mari has disappeared and Terran figures that that he's gone inside so she doesn't have to see them leave.

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