It's a Big Universe Pt.3
Terran is careful to land his spaceship where it can't immediately be found. He fiddles with the controls a little longer than he needs to, wondering if this was really the best idea. Jace deserves to see something amazing, and Century 726 is incredible, but there's no telling when someone will recognize him and start yelling for him to go away. He doesn't want Jace to be caught up in that.
Jace is currently staring out the window at the rows of spaceships all around. Terran doesn't think he blinked once while they were going through the planet gate and then descending through the atmosphere.
From where they are, Terran can see the super tall buildings of Espire to their left and the less impressive but still huge buildings of Gamron to the right.
"Where are we going? Are there two cities really close to each other? How do cities work here?" The questions come spilling out of Jace's mouth and Terran feels himself smiling despite his worry.
"We're going to Gamron. C'mon." He leads Jace to the hatch and opens it up, stepping down onto the weightier gravity. "Stand next to me."
Jace stands next to him, face slightly contorted as he glances around them, trying to take in everything at once. "My chest feels funny."
"It's the difference in atmosphere. Hold still." Terran punches a code into the side of the ship and a light mist suddenly surrounds them.
"What was that? It made my skin tingle," Jace asks when the mist fades away.
"It adjusts your perception and allows your body to accept the difference in gravity and air. See?" Terran moves around and breathes deeply, gesturing for Jace to do the same. "Now we're ready. Gamron is that one. Over there is Espire. All the rich people live there. Gamron is looser."
Jace walks next to him, almost bouncing instead of walking. "I've never been anywhere except home," he says, clasping his hands together. "The furthest I've gotten was the test ships that we go on in school. I always wanted to travel out farther. Mari couldn't take it, so even though I loved it, I knew I couldn't go anywhere."
"But you came with me," Terran points out, confused. "You left Mari behind."
"Yeah," Jace says, looking kind of sorrowful. "I did. I can't believe it. I can't believe I'm on another planet!"
"Don't worry about it." Terran smiles encouragingly. "We can be back to him as soon as you want. It hasn't even been a full day since we left."
"It hasn't?" Jace shakes his head. "It feels like a lifetime."
"Time is different in space," Terran says quietly. "You'll get used to it."
Jace just nods, too busy taking in the bustle and noise and transports whizzing past on highlighted routes to pay any attention to Terran. Gamron is a pretty standard city among the Centuries. Terran doesn't think it's anything special, but he knows that to Jace, it must be the most amazing thing he's ever seen.
Terran catches a glimpse of himself on the side of a waiting transport, the gold of his tattoos gleaming under the city lights. He realizes that Jace and Mari never mentioned them and wonders if Earth the Second fell under that category of planets whose lighting and air were too natural for them to be revealed.
The lights in Gamron are all high tech, at least 13th generation, so naturally they bring out the more hidden things. Jace is pointing out all the strange things he sees and asking too many questions for Terran to keep up with and it isn't until Terran ducks them into a little alley that Jace calms down a little.
"Wow," Jace whispers to himself, "wow." He looks at Terran delightedly, gratitude and wonder spilling out of his eyes. "It's just incredible. How many different species live here?"
"Around two hundred," Terran answers absently, wanting Jace to follow him but reluctant to tug on his arm. "This way. I'm gonna treat you to your first buzzwater."
"That sounds…" Jace trails off, apparently not sure how it sounds.
Terran chuckles just a little. "It's like a primitive buzz. Like uh," Terran searches his brain for an example Jace might understand, "do you have buzz on Earth?"
"You mean alcohol?"
Terran tilts his head. "Um, yeah, I think that's right. Well, buzzwater is - was - a homemade brew that is very popular among certain circles. There's Mixer and Dream as well, but you can make those a bunch of ways. Buzzwater is its own thing."
"Are Mixer and Dream other drinks? Brews?" Jace stumbles a little and latches on to Terran's shoulder for a moment, causing a moment of tension.
"Yeah. Mixer tends to have a sharper taste and Dream is all about making you happy." Terran stares ahead and relaxes when Jace releases him.
"Can it do that? Make you happy?"
"Sure," Terran replies, puzzled by Jace's skepticism. "There's the Empathies too. Drinks made to make you feel any emotion you want."
Jace is shaking his head, like he can accept huge cities and spaceships but not drinks that change your emotions.
Terran stops abruptly, moving aside so Jace doesn't bump into him. "We're here." He walks across the street with Jace right next to him and steps through the doorway lit by large red lights. "Keep close to me."
Jace looks more overwhelmed by this one bar than by the whole rest of the city. Terran swallows his hesitation and lets Jace grasp the back of his shirt. They weave through the crowd until they reach the back.
"Wada," Terran calls out, and a pale-blue skinned creature turns around. Jace whispers, "he looks a bit like an elephant."
Wada smiles, which is vaguely creepy, since most of his teeth are silver, but Terran knows he means no harm. "Uthru!" He moves towards them, still smiling. "Uthru, you forget about me? It's been two years!"
"Can't be," Terran frowns. "I was here two months ago!"
"Joking, uthru, don't worry so much. But you surprise me. I never saw you with someone before." Wada squints at Jace where he's still hiding behind Terran. "He's human."
"Yeah." Terran stops frowning. "He wants to try your buzzwater."
Wada grins, which is still creepy, and claps his seven-fingered hands. "Of course! Go and sit, I'll bring it."
"Thanks." Terran steers Jace into the corner where no one will bother them. Jace looks thoroughly confused and uncomfortable.
"What were you saying? It was like you were talking with food in your mouth."
Terran hadn't even thought of Jace not being able to understand. He switches languages all the time and it doesn't make any difference to him. But of course Jace wouldn't understand. Terran makes a mental note to buy a nano-translator as well as clothes.
Wada brings over two glasses of buzzwater, which look suspiciously like poison. "Tell Wada what you need. You always need something," he says when Terran takes a sip from his glass and cracks his neck in response. Jace is just looking at his, hesitant to drink.
"Clothes," Terran says, jerking his head in Jace's direction. Then, switching languages, says, "just try it, Jace. The first sip shocks you and then it gets more mellow after that."
"It looks dangerous," Jace says. He takes a sip anyway and almost slaps himself in the face. "What the-?"
Wada chuckles. "Is that his first real buzz?"
"So, clothes, for the Earth boy. I can get it delivered here. They won't go to your ship."
Terran nods again. Nobody wanted to go to his ship, not with those black stripes on the side.
"You ought to get an illusion for it, so you can get in more places."
"I have one," Terran says sadly, sipping at his drink and watching Jace react to his. "What difference does it make? I don't need to stick around and besides," he points at his face, "these are what really make the difference."
Wada's face remains impassive as he cracks his knuckles. "I don't see anything."
Terran sighs. The light in the bar is too low-frequency to show his tattoos, but Wada knows what he means. If it wasn't for the fact that Wada refused to touch him and let him interact with his customers, Terran could almost count him as a friend.
Jace is staring at his empty glass with dazed eyes. "That was good," he says hoarsely. "I think?"
Wada stands up and Terran quickly mentions, "a nano-translator."
"I got it, uthru. See you in another two years."
When Wada disappears into the crowd, Terran stands up too. "Come on, Jace. You need food to wipe out the buzz. I know just the place."
And so an hour later, Terran is watching Jace sigh in contentment after finishing his "first ever space meal" and they're both quiet for a little while.
"Did that, um, elephant-guy call you uthru?
Terran winces almost imperceptibly. "He did."
"What does it mean? Is that your real name?"
"No." Terran sighs, an entirely different sigh. "Terran is my name, at least as you would hear it. Uthru," he frowns, "means cursed."
Jace jerks his head up. "What?"
"Uthru. Burit. Klikitekit. They all mean "cursed" and that's what people call me. I told you, didn't I? That I'm bad luck?"
"That's," Jace scowls. "Bad luck is not the same as cursed. They just call you that straight out?" He looks at Terran and blinks in surprise. "What's on your face?"
Jace is looking more bewildered by the second. "What? They weren't there before!"
"Earth's lighting is too primitive to show them."
"You mean, only certain rays make them show up?" Jace is still blatantly staring but Terran can't blame him. "But you've always had them?"
"When I was cursed, these marks came with it. I was the cursed one, bringer of bad luck, and I was sent out into the universe to always be alone."
"When was that?"
"I don't know. A long time ago." Terran sighs again, heavily, like a burden is settling onto his chest. "A long, long time ago. How old are you, Jace?"
"Twenty-three." Jace says it guardedly, like he's not sure he wants to know what Terran's about to tell him.
"All I know is that I'm cursed, I'm marked, and that I'm alone and I have been for a long time. Yoongi won't tell me how long and I think that periodically I forget. The last time I was out in Oblivion, eight years passed in a day, and that was four years ago. But it depends on how you count years. And if we're going by earth years, then I'm more than an hundred years old. But I don't remember all of it, and I don't seem to age, so how can I really know?"
Jace is obviously confused. "But, why are you cursed?"
"I don't know that either. Yoongi says I was exiled out of myself, so I must have done something really bad, but I can't remember. And every time I ask Yoongi, he doesn't answer or he says that I didn't do anything. So I don't know. But don't look like that Jace, I'm used to it. It's all I know. It's alright."
"It's not," Jace whispers but doesn't have anything else to say, so he goes quiet again.
A small beep sounds and Terran half-smiles. "Your clothes and translator are at Wada's. Let's go pick them up." He leads Jace back through the maze of alleys to the bar with low, red lights and grabs the unassuming box from beside the door, dropping gold cards onto the table nearby.
As they're walking back through Gamron toward Terran's spaceship, Jace continues to stare at everything and not say a word. Terran wonders if he told him too much and now Jace doesn't want to be around someone who is cursed. When they reach the ship, Terran pauses.
"Do you want to go home now?"
Jace blinks again, his eyes not quite as dark as his hair, which is still as dark as space. "Do you want me to?"
Terran frowns. "I mean, okay, do you want to go somewhere else? See new things? I mean, do you want to travel more with me?"
"I want to see everything," Jace breathes, sincerity clearly there. "I'd like to travel more with you. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, of course." Terran doesn't say anything else and simply lets them inside. "So, I said you could have a Zama-tech room. By the way," he says over his shoulder, "Wada is a Zama."
"Oh," Jace replies. "Well, now I know that."
Terran smiles gently and sets down the box, opening it to reveal clothes that couldn't possibly fit Jace. "So, when you try them on, they'll naturally fit with your body, and when you take them off, they'll shrink again. That way they take up less space. Um, this is a nano-translator. It goes on your neck and connects to your brain. You'll be able to understand and speak other languages." Terran picks up the small, metallic circle and presses it to Jace's neck, just below his hairline.
Jace yelps quietly at the minor shock, then stretches a little as the signal connects. "It feels, hang on, I don't feel it anymore."
"That's Zama-tech. Anyway, it's been an exciting day so you should probably get some rest. Oh, and this," Terran points to a panel near the door, "is the control panel for the room. The top button will lead you to the command deck. Are you okay?"
Jace shakes his head and grins. "This is crazy."
"It is," Terran agrees. "But you're okay with it?"
"Oh yes." Jace flops onto the bed. "Very okay."
"Good." Terran watches Jace fondly for a moment before leaving.
"Goodnight," Jace calls after him.
Terran smiles. "Goodnight."
Terran figures he has one more chance to show Jace something special before he decides that he can't leave Mari all alone any longer, so he thinks very hard about where to take him.
Currently, the ship is floating above the Field of Ashes, a cluster of broken up moons that were destroyed during a war long ago and now just hover in place, like a graveyard, the pieces dull and crumbling. Terran hadn't even meant to go there, but sometimes the ship seems to have a mind of its own and if Terran doesn't pay attention, he'll find himself somewhere he didn't mean to go.
Not that it ever mattered before, seeing as he didn't need to go anywhere in particular. But he's got another person aboard his ship, someone who's only been to two planets, someone who deserved to see something worthwhile, and Terran leans against the ceiling of the control room as he thinks. He's released the gravity for the moment, and the ceiling is just as good as the floor now.
He's half tempted to wake Jace up to show him where they are, but unless humans learned the history of planets and civilizations and wars far, far away from Earth, he knows that there'll be a lot of questions headed his way. Terran thinks that since they've already shared a couple of sad conversations and Jace has witnessed him both freak out and be called "cursed" like it was nothing, an enormous space graveyard wasn't really something the human needed to see. Terran doesn't intend to visit battlefields or memorials in their travels. Just happy places. Places that will make Jace's face light up and his eyes widen.
He hasn't known Jace that long but he already loves the look of wonder and delight that practically rolls off of the kid when he sees something new and amazing. Terran turns that word around his mouth for a moment. Kid. Terran knows he's pretty old. Even if he looks human, he's not. He's some version of human, a distant relation. But however he looks, he's decidedly older than Jace. So it makes sense to call him a kid. Terran thinks he might just try it later.
When he thinks of a good place to take them. Where will they go? There's so much to see. Terran needs to think of the perfect place. He doesn't know if he'll be keeping Jace around any longer, after this little time of adventuring is over. Yoongi had said that he wouldn't be lonely anymore, not that his companion would stick with him forever, but Terran thinks that even if Jace didn't, just knowing that someone existed out there who thought him worth spending time with and talking to and not bad luck would make him considerably less lonely.
Terran pulls himself back and realigns his thoughts. He's thinking of a good destination. Not loneliness.
"Amisser." He says it out loud. The paradise planet would be a good destination. But the near perfection of the engineered planet can mess with some people's heads. So maybe not yet.
"Glizer?" The jewel-covered planet was certain a wondrous sight and the singing caves were always hypnotizing. Terran drums his fingers on his knees and keeps thinking.
"Claris Belt. Apixis. Namdamobedanklika." They're all worthy options, truly. Maybe he should let Jace decide.
Terran pushes away from the ceiling and pulls himself over to the larger window, throwing up weather reports from the destinations he's been mulling over. Jace's new clothes could stand up to most atmospheres, and if they didn't go to a planet, it didn't really matter. He can always take them out in the pod if Jace wanted a closer look.
"Alpha One?" He types his request into the system. "Blue, star showers, winter," he started to smile as he realized what time of year it was on Alpha One. Yes, this was definitely it. Terran hasn't been back there in a while and now is the perfect time, with the season change just coming up, there'd be a very pretty meteor shower to watch while the sky turned from blue to pink.
The best part being the fact that there are no native inhabitants of Alpha One, so he and Jace can watch uninterrupted. Terran feels rather proud of himself for remembering. After Alpha One, he can reassess how Jace feels about being away from Mari and he honestly expects that no matter how much Jace loves being in space, his bond with Mari is far stronger. Terran is still amazed he came with him in the first place.
He yawns, his brain reminding him that it's best to sleep now so that he can be fully awake during the meteor shower. Terran hasn't watched one in years.
Though, really, that doesn't mean much.
Time doesn't mean so much in space.
And it's certain never meant much to Terran.
He pulls down on a lever, restoring gravity to its norm in the control room and then passes through the wall. Meandering down the halls that are both long and short at the same time, thanks to the spatial flux, Terran lets his feet guide him back to his usual sleeping room. He plunks down onto the bed, pulling up the sides to round it out more and leans back against the pillows.
What a day. What a night. What an indescribable measure of time that Terran can't be bothered to try and calculate. He still isn't sure about this whole "companion" thing. He can't help but wonder if when he eventually takes Jace home, he won't want to just stay there. Even though Terran can tell that Jace loves being in space, home means a great deal to people that aren't him. Terran doesn't want to make Jace choose.
But they at least have this next stop. He'll probably teach Jace how to use some of the controls and let him take the ship down to the surface. He can already see the look of excitement that will come across Jace's face. He's already gotten used to it. Terran very much likes that face.
He still has the trip to Alpha One to see it as much as he likes. After that, he doesn't know. Terran doesn't want to think about it anymore, so he rolls over and closes his eyes.