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Science Fiction High School American

I drum my fingers against my leg and peer out the window to my right, wondering how long it is until we arrive on Rectar.

Not that I want to go. I don’t.

This spaceship is just really hot.

I stare down at the duffel bag scrunched underneath my chair, then suddenly stand up. “I’m going to the bathroom,” I announce to no one in particular and rush past the seats in which my mom, dad, and older brothers Aiden and Xaviar are sitting. I stumble throughout the foggily-lit hallways, dizzy from the palpable pulse of the gravity field and speed stabilizers, until I find a door labeled “restroom.” I groggily push it open, lock the door behind me, and falter into the bathroom. Lights snap on automatically.

I rest my hands on either side of the sink and stare at the mirror, trying hard not to heave. I focus instead on my reflection.

My short black hair is swept to the left across my forehead. It’s naturally dark, but I dye it to give it the pitch-black effect. My eyes, watery and crystal blue, stare, wide open, back at me. My skin is pale as death, my face carefully marked with precise, dramatic makeup, most noticeably, eyeliner. My chapped lips are parted, slightly, to reveal my straight front teeth.

It isn’t enough. I feel myself begin to gag. Quickly, I look down and distract myself by examining my outfit.

Mom told us to dress warmly for the flight. She’s wearing a long beige pantsuit, or something. I ignored her instructions and donned instead black tights, short denim overalls, and a strappy bra. I was fully aware that I’d be freezing, but I’m not, actually; I’m really flushed. I wonder if everyone else is, too, or if I’m just overreacting.

Overreacting. Definitely overreacting.

Shut up.

I brush off my internal monologue and limp over to the toilet, flip the lid down, and sit on it, pushing my head into my hands and swallowing repeatedly. I got the limp in my right leg from when a car hit me at a crosswalk three months ago. I had to have crutches and some stupid cast for a while, and I’m still supposed to be using them, or at least some sort of cane or brace, but the doctors say I’ll always have a slight walking impairment no matter what, so there’s not even a point anymore.

I sigh, lean back, and stretch my legs out in front of me, crossing them. I thump the toes of my sneakers together listlessly. I really, really don’t want to do this.

“Attention: We will arrive at Rectar Southeast Space Station in approximately ten minutes. Thank you for your consideration.”

I glare at the loudspeaker perched neatly in the top corner of the room and curse. Why can’t I just stay on my planet?

Someone knocks on the door. “Cal? Cal, you in there?”

It’s Aiden. I sigh again and stand up, telling myself not to feel faint even as I wobble unsteadily to the door. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just taking a break.” I pull open the door.

Aiden’s standing there, concern in his dark brown eyes. “You good? You’re sure?”

I nod, pushing down whatever’s starting to crawl up my throat, and step out of the bathroom. “Fine, really.”

“Well, okay.” We start walking back to our seats, but since I don’t know where they are in relation to the bathroom, I let Aiden lead. I don’t let on, though. I wouldn’t want him to think that I’m weak. I’m not.

“I wanted you to see Rectar. It just came into view. It’s a lot yellower than I imagined.” He steps aside to let me pass down the aisle to my chair.

I push back the metal sheet covering the window above the seat and scan the galaxy for this new planet. It isn’t hard to spot. We’re traveling at Mach 8, I think, and getting visibly closer by the second. Rectar is a slightly oblong planet, splattered with patches of grayish-blue and greenish-yellow. It looks cold.

Somehow, I can hear Mom smiling. Maybe it’s the smacking sound of saliva gathering at the corners of her lipsticked mouth, or maybe I just know. I turn to see her peering over my shoulder in delight. “Isn’t it beautiful!”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.” I duck under her and fall abruptly into my seat, bouncing a little on the cushion. I slide the metal plate shut without asking Mom and stare at the floor. I bring my knees to my chin and curl up in my seat, closing my eyes.

Please let this just be over.

I can hear Mom sliding the window open again and taking pictures on her phone. I hug myself tighter and squeeze my eyes shut until I imagine they’re run through with wrinkles like cracks in worn asphalt.

Soon enough, I’m met with a barrage of questions. “Why are your eyes closed? Are you okay? Do you need an aspirin? Are you on your period? Are you drinking enough water?”

I wince and keep my eyes closed. “I’m fine, Mom, just a little seasick--carsick--spaceship… sick... Plane sick? Space sick?”

I hear Aiden’s muffled laugh across from me. “Fine then, smart-ass, what would you call it?” I snark at him.

“Sick,” Aiden snorts.

I roll my eyes under their closed lids and allow myself to smile. Aiden’s the only person, really, who brings me joy.

It sure as heck ain’t my parents.

Mom’s still hovering over me. “Why are your eyes closed? Are you okay?”

No, you idiot, I want to scream.

But instead, my eyelids flutter open and I regurgitate a forced smile onto my face. “I’m fine. Just a little queasy.” I shut my eyes again. Not looking at things is my (extremely unhealthy) way of coping with things. For some reason, I just don’t really like to see.

I close my eyes a lot.

I glance over at Aiden, who catches my gaze and pats the empty seat next to him encouragingly. In one swift motion, I bound across the aisle to him. I slide into the chair, push back the armrest that separates the two seats, and curl up in his lap.

“I’m so afraid,” I whisper to him, hot, hot tears running down my face and dripping onto his pants. “I just want to go home. Why can’t we just go home?”

Aiden picks at the wet spots on the burgundy fabric and curls his hand protectively around my head. “I don’t know, Cal,” he whispers back. “I won’t say I dislike this as much as you do, because there are parts that I’m actually looking forward to, but to see you hurting this much--I’d go back in an instant if it meant I could get you out of this crap.”

“It’s not that I’m weak,” I stutter. “I--”

“It’s okay,” he murmurs. “That’s always been your façade, I know, and I can’t begin to understand it because it’s kind of the opposite of mine. But it’s okay to let your guard down. It’s okay to be weak, sometimes, around people you can trust.”

“Stop being so freaking wise,” I say, a quiet laugh masking my pain.

Aiden kisses the top of my head, and we sit for a while, my face buried in his chest. Then he asks me, “You having another crisis?”

I sniffle and lie. “No.”

“You sure?”

“No.”

“Oh, Calliope, dear, dear Calliope.” Aiden sighs and hugs me tighter. “How I wish I could take your pain away. You’ve been through so much more crap than anyone ever deserved, and handled it so well, and been so much stronger than I ever could have, and you’re only fifteen, and a girl.”

I reach up to yank one of his burnt orange-brown curls lightly. “Hey now, we don’t tolerate sexism in this house.”

Aiden laughs and tousles my hair. “Look, you’ve gotten my shirt all snotty.” He pretends to be distraught.

I sit back, pull several tissues from the box in the pocket of the empty seat in front of us, and hand some to him. I wipe my face, dismayed to see streaks of makeup come off when I pull the tissue away. Better go back to the bathroom and fix that before anyone sees. As Aiden’s cleaning his shirt, I get ready to stand up but am startled by a loud announcement.

“Attention, everyone. We’re approaching the Rectar Southeast Space Station in a few minutes. Please find a seat as we prepare for the landing pad. Expect slight turbulence. Thank you.”

My head swimming, my voice rises in pitch as I whisper to Aiden, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to. Please don’t make me--”

Aiden looks at me gently. “It’ll be okay, Cal. Breathe with me. In, out. In.”

I try to steady my panicked breaths and focus only on Aiden. Only on his eyes. Breathe in, breathe out.

I hear the scratchy whir of engines as our plane--spaceship--whatever--nears the ground at an alarming rate. My face goes into a tight-lipped grimace as the ship lands clunkily on the ground, jolting everyone, making bags and beverages in assorted containers tumble around on the floor. A trickle of orange energy drink (probably Xaviar’s) spills out of a painfully visual can and streams straight towards Aiden’s shoes.

“Heads up, your sneakers are about to get soaked,” I say quietly. I point to the vilely colored liquid snaking towards his shoes.

“Ah, shoot,” Aiden mutters, pulling up his feet just in time. The nastiness meets the vehicle’s wall with a tiny splatter of orange, then sinks, bubbly (why is it bubbling?), into the grey carpet.

Aiden grabs my hand and squeezes it. “You ready?”

“No.”

He guides me to my feet. “Come on. You can do this.” He pushes me into the aisle. “Grab your bag, Cal.”

I lean down, hook my index finger around the straps of my worn green duffel bag, and sling it over my shoulder.

“Hey,” Xavier snarls at me. I realize I almost hit him in the face.

“Sorry,” I mutter, and find Aiden again.

We listen boredly to the pilot’s announcements over the loudspeaker. I shift from time to time, trying to ignore the stiff ache in my right leg. Finally, we’re told we can go.

I follow the small flow of traffic, letting my family lead me to wherever the exit ramp is. Aiden’s walking next to me, his arm around my waist, hovering, guiding me.

I wish I didn’t have to be so weak.

We reach the door to the exit. It’s large and square, with rounded corners, and opens by lifting up instead of swinging out. There are no handles or knobs. The pilot controls everything.

Mom keeps making excited noises and glancing between her phone and the nearest window. Her manicured fingernails make annoying tapping sounds on the device’s screen.

The door opens and Mom practically flies out onto the ramp. Dad and Xaviar follow a little less excitedly, then it’s me and Aiden. A few bodyguards are standing, somehow, with our luggage on either side of the ramp (how did they get there already?) and they shadow Mom and Dad as they walk down.

Mostly Mom, though. Everyone knows she’s more important.

The air here smells like brittle hay and mint. Aiden’s suitcase wheels produce a steady, low whir as they roll down the ramp. The air hits me like I’ve just entered a walk-in freezer, and I realize it would’ve been wise to dress like Mom told me.

I don’t care. I don’t regret it.

Aiden hugs me as I stumble down the ramp, blinking in the light and gasping, trying to get used to this new atmosphere. I look around blearily.

We appear to be on a stretch for spaceship landing and takeoff. The highway extends for what seems like miles, looping around in a circular pattern, but we’re the only aircraft to be seen. Tall, tall walls made of some futuristic grey material that look a bit like bricks surround us roughly on all sides. I breathe in the sharp air, trying to comprehend just how massive this place really is.

Aiden tugs on my hand, and I stumble off to wherever he’s leading me, my duffel bag bouncing uncertainly against my back. I blink rapidly, trying to adjust to the bright light, but eventually just close my eyes and hang on to Aiden.

He knows where we’re going, even if I don’t.

“Wake up, Cal,” he whispers to me after a minute. I open my eyes to see that we’re being led through an intimidating door on the side of a building. The bodyguards lock it behind us. Once inside, it has the feel of a basement, although we’re on ground level. Metal racks filled with machinery reach creakily to the ceiling as we navigate the narrow hallways between them. We reach a door opposite the one we came in and are met with a blindingly bright and empty hallway. The speckled white and grey tile stares defiantly at me from the floor. The lights are unbearably white and come every few feet, which seems like far too frequent. Doors sit lifelessly in their frames on either side of the hall. The hallway is straight and long, and we’re plodding, plodding through it.

I close my eyes for most of it. Red spots dance under my eyelids where my vision is stained by the lights. Mom’s stilettos tap sharply against the tile. Just when I feel like my brain is about to explode, I open my eyes and we’re at yet another door being held open by a man in a black suit. Ahead is some kind of outdoor courtyard, and a limo waiting for us.

“Thank God,” I mutter, and duck into the car, sliding into the backseat behind Xaviar. Aiden joins me and throws his suitcase to the side. The inside looks pretty much like a normal car, only longer and more posh. The tan leather cushions seem to move of their own volition as I squirm around.

“We’re almost to the hotel,” Aiden murmurs. He sighs and strokes my hair. “Then you can close your eyes, and sleep. Or we can talk, if you want.”

Talking. Talking. I shake my head. How can you talk about feeling foreign with a brother who wasn’t adopted?

Crisis. I’m having another crisis.

It sucks.

I lay my head in his lap and try not to cry as the limo glides over city streets. I don’t look out the window, or wonder about the strange men driving the car and “defending” my parents.

It’s supposed to be the kids, too. We’re supposed to have bodyguards.

But in terms of importance, I’m damn well last.

After what feels like an hour (but Aiden tells me it was only seven minutes) of listening to Mom’s pointless conversation and the gruff acknowledgements of the thugs supposedly protecting her, the car stops. The bodyguards get out of the limo and open the doors for us. 

I exit last, wearily dragging my bag behind me. I stumble up to the doors of the hotel, held open by yet another gruff man in a suit, and walk inside, behind my parents and Xaviar. Aiden, once again, is supporting me.

Why the hell do I have to be so helpless?

Once in the impossibly tall and grand lobby, I want to sit down in one of the chairs off to the side, but we’re rushed on into an elevator.

No time to wait. First class treatment. Served immediately.

I want to cry.

The elevator rushes up, and I count the number of buttons. Thirty-two.

Something makes a dinging noise. We step into the hallway. We’re told this entire floor is for us.

The entire floor.

I’m led to my room and given my key. I’m told by yet another bodyguard that Aiden’s room is to the left of mine. I’m only to call if I need anything. The man will be across the hall.

I walk through the opened door into my room.

It’s, of course, huge. I wasn’t expecting anything less. The lights are bright, again, but I find a switch to dim them on the wall. Every room is separate; there’s a kitchen, living area, bedroom with two massive beds, walk-in closet, and pristine bathroom. The bedroom has a sliding window that leads onto a railed balcony. I open the silver blackout curtains a crack and peer out.

This city is scary.

It’s like New York, but so much colder, and the buildings are all tall, so very tall. It’s eerily quiet, and everything is grey.

Everything.

I shut the curtains and fall back onto a bed. I lie, looking at the ceiling, studying the crown molding. The rest of the night passes blurredly. Right now, it’s only seven o’clock, but I’m dead tired from jet lag. A hotel worker knocks on my door, and I tell her I prefer to eat alone and to bring up whatever they’re serving. I text my family, telling them I’m retiring early for the night. I turn off all the lights and sit on the edge of the bed, internally crying.

On the outside, I’m a block of stone.

I hear a knock--but not from the front. It’s coming from a door near the corner of the room, which I just assumed was a closet or something. When I open it, Aiden’s standing there.

“Turns out our rooms connect,” he says, stepping into my room and closing the door behind him. He takes me in his arms and hugs my limp body. “You good?”

I swallow. “Sleep with me?”

“Sure.” He in his pajamas and me still wearing my clothes, we turn off the lights, push back the covers, and slide into bed. We just lay there, far into the night, and Aiden listens to me weep.

September 18, 2020 21:53

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11 comments

Felicity Anne
15:04 Oct 16, 2020

Wow, you are so talented! Keep up the fantastic work! :)

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19:48 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much!!

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Aissa Martell
20:12 Sep 24, 2020

Really like the family dynamics, witness protection in space cool.

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00:15 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you! I don't really know what you mean by "witness protection," though. The story didn't really have anything to do with that.

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Niveeidha Palani
01:19 Sep 20, 2020

Hello, again! Whoa, how do you manage to fit in 3400 words in that? I struggle to put in even 1000 words! You truly are amazing, and this story was too. And Aiden and Cal's relationship was so sweet and loving! I would like to see the original story you omitted. Hopefully you could put up a google doc link or something?

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22:07 Sep 20, 2020

Haha thank you! And ikr, as I was writing Aiden (especially since I have a semi-abusive brother) I was getting so upset that he didn't exist :(( That's a common theme in my stories--writing people I wish I had in my life. Sure, that's a great idea! Here it is. It's not that good, or better, or different or interesting, but everything in red is something that I changed/had to cut out. Hope you enjoy! https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TGXw7z1nB55HJNCC8B3IRcL3nIdNXoLRwTv3XfpQzHo/edit?usp=sharing

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Niveeidha Palani
11:11 Sep 21, 2020

Ah, aw, yes everyone has that feeling. You write people and you want them to exist. And I'm so sorry about your brother :( No, don't worry, I'll check out your link now!

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Niveeidha Palani
11:13 Sep 21, 2020

Whoa, 7 pages? That sure is long! And you did exceptionally well. Keep writing because you're extremely talented!

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00:40 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you! When I have time, I'll be sure to check out a few of your submissions :)))

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Niveeidha Palani
06:11 Sep 22, 2020

Aw, thanks Ink!

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21:56 Sep 18, 2020

Author's note: Originally, this story was 3.4k (well, it was actually 3,398, but still) words, but since Reedy's supposed word limit is 3k, I had to cut out 400 words, which hurt, a lot. In case you're insane and somehow enjoyed the above work, let me know if you'd like to see what I omitted and I'll find a way to get it to you :))

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