“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”
Breyer shot up from the chair at his desk, intending to retreat and get a better view of the situation but instead falling backwards, hitting one of the chair legs with his knee. He scrambled up again and plastered himself against the wall. “What are you doing—who—”
“Zip it,” the person who had, it seemed, just magically appeared in his room, hissed. “I need to—oh, shit. Shit shit shit. Okay. Um—”
The person dropped a smoking, round metal object with gears and levers onto the floor. They started backing away. “I think that’s going to blow up, so—”
It blew up. Breyer screamed and attempted to move even farther away from the combustive thing, but of course he was against a wall, so that would’ve been extremely difficult. Looking at it, though, Breyer realized the ball had only made a dinner-plate-sized burning black ring in the plush red carpet, and even then the flames were dying out. But still. It could’ve been worse. You never know.
The stranger cut their eyes at him, then reached for something on their belt.
“Wait! Please don’t—please don’t incinerate me. Just—who are you? And why—why did you appear in the middle of my room while I was studying?”
“None of your damn business,” they snapped. “Leave me the hell alone. I will incinerate you. You got that much right.”
Breyer laughed. “You wouldn’t have much success.”
Even from across the room, Breyer could see the stranger jerk their neck in his direction. Beneath the greasy swoop of dark brown hair cutting across their forehead, their already stormy black eyes shone with an unspoken threat. “Oh? And why’s that?”
There were several loud raps on the door, right behind where Breyer’s unwelcome guest was standing. They jumped and turned to face the source of the noise.
“Your Highness?” a muffled voice called. “Is everything—?”
“I’m fine,” Breyer said quickly. “Just studying.”
There was a moment of silence, then footsteps retreated down the hall.
“That’s why,” Breyer continued smugly.
“Oh, should I have said Your Highness?” The stranger bowed mockingly, holding their hands to the side. The tips of slender, dirt-smudged fingers poked out from cream-colored cutoff gloves that looked like several stitches had been dropped in the making. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
Breyer laughed, shortly, a second time. “Um, hello? Breyer Brugard Brafflin, the crown Prince? Honestly, I’m surprised you don’t recognize me. I’m the first ever person of color heir to the throne.” He glanced down at his hands, at the smooth, warm russet-brown skin, so unlike anything anyone born into his royalty had ever looked like. “There was quite a stir among the country when my mother—”
“I don’t have time for petty shit like racism,” the stranger growled. “Nor do I care who you are. But if you value your life—and it sounds like you do, Prince—you’ll shut your flapping trap and let me get out of here.” The stranger strode over to a window.
“No one speaks to a member of the Royal Family like that.” Breyer moved away from the wall to get a better view of the person now prying at the wooden windowframe.
“Ding ding ding, your Royal fricking Highness, I am nobody. You hit the jackpot. Congratulations.” They fingered the black utility belt slung across their waist. The stranger pulled a dull, thick-bladed knife out of one of its open pockets and began to force the window open.
“Wait! That’s royal property! I’ll call the guards!”
They scoffed. “Like I care. I could take on—”
The person stopped. Previously on their knees, prying at the window, they suddenly fell back on their ankles and let their gloved right hand, with the knife, drop to the floor. All the color drained from their face, their fawny tan skin turning to an ashy sandish color. “Oh, no,” they murmured. “My, my, no, no, no.”
They glanced sideways at Breyer. This, for some reason, made him feel nervous. He again stared at his hands while he waited for the stranger to speak.
“Yes, you’re right, your Royal Highness Prince Breyer. I’d be horribly outnumbered; I could never make it on my own. I do suppose I’ll need your help, now. Isn’t that a shame?”
Breyer dared a glance back up at the stranger’s face. They were stuffing their dagger back into their belt. “Wait, but you seemed so sure about being able to take on—”
“Nope, nope,” they interjected, a little too cheerily for Breyer’s taste. “No chance. So will you help me?”
Breyer, seated uneasily on his four-poster bed, followed the stranger with his eyes as they moved about the room. Currently, they were poking around in one of his desk drawers.
“Dude, don’t you have anything in your room?” They slammed the drawer shut and opened another.
“I’m not your ‘dude’—”
“Yeah. Whatever. Highness. Do you have anything useful? Like food? Or tools?”
“Or fresh fresh clothes?” Breyer muttered under his breath.
The stranger spun around to face him. Breyer, rendered speechless as he was by their dangerous glare, noticed that they had a small, curved scar under the edge of their left eyebrow--the side of their face that wasn’t shaded by their hanging hair. As soon as Breyer saw the one mark, he spotted another, a faded scratch on their cheek, by their ear. How many more do they have?
After a moment, they straightened up, glancing nonchalantly over Breyer’s body. “Thanks, your Highness, but I’m good.” They scoffed under their breath. “Considering how smart you’re supposed to be, I find it surprising that you’d even consider anything in your wardrobe being able to fit me.” They smirked and turned their back on him. “You’re rather plump for that, don’t you think?”
Something like anger flared up inside of him. Instead of humoring it, Breyer realized that this was a good opportunity to find more about the person who had, by means unbeknownst to him, appeared out of thin air in his bedroom. He said slyly, “So you’re a woman, then?”
He watched the back of their head for any sign of emotion, but the person didn’t flinch. “There are plenty of men who would find that their wardrobe passes quite easily as women’s dress. You are not one of those people.” A pause. “And I don’t mean that as a compliment.”
Breyer frowned. “So you’re a man?”
No more information was given.
Breyer studied the person’s clothes. They were wearing worn leather trousers that cuffed mid-thigh, a few inches above the top of their black boots, which were falling apart. Breyer thought he was right to offer the person some of his garments, even if they wouldn’t have fit. The stranger looked like they hadn’t taken off their mud-encrusted shoes for years. They had on a dirty white blouse with thin balloon sleeves, cuffed at the end. As they turned to examine his chest-of-drawers, Breyer saw that the front of the shirt was a button-up, undone a few inches below the collar. The person’s chest was flat. There was also hair, prickly, on the bit of exposed leg between their trousers and boots, and fine hair, in between their eyebrows. Did that mean that they were a man, then? But their stature was too slim for that, and besides, their voice was too high to be that of a male’s. It was also too deep to be that of a woman’s. And they were shorter than Breyer, but taller than most of the females he’d had encounters with. Who was this person, really?
The stranger turned to see Breyer studying them. They rolled their dark eyes and slammed the door of a cupboard. “Okay, Pretty Boy. You have nothing but watches and books and rings. I lose. Where the hell do you keep your snacks?”
“Snacks?” Breyer blinked.
“Fine, then, if you don’t have anything here, then where’s the kitchen?”
“It’s on the lower level—but the cook—”
“Can you call for something? I haven’t eaten in days.”
Breyer blinked again.
“That’s not an exaggeration, Highness. Get me some food, or I’m going to faint in your room. Seriously.” When Breyer didn’t move, the stranger sighed. “Please, Skippy?”
“I don’t understand why—I’m literally the Prince,” Breyer muttered as he got up and crossed the room. Near one of his wood bookcases, he pulled a cord, which, in turn, rang a bell somewhere. Only a few seconds later, there were several light knocks on his door. “Your Royal Highness?”
“Bring a tray of food and drink to my room.”
“Yes, sir.” Someone pattered away.
Breyer once more studied his unexpected guest. By now, they were slouched in his chair, picking at their gloves while they stared at the floor.
“I’m doing you a huge favor, you know,” Breyer ventured. “The only reason I haven’t called anyone is because if they came, I’d never learn more about you. But I want to know: How did you get here?”
“Favor,” the stranger muttered. “Favor, favor. Well, Highness, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if the only options are Find Out More About Me or Have Me Arrested/Possibly Killed, you’ll have to either go with the second, or reconsider.” They let their head drop against the back of the chair, elongating their neck, to stare at the ceiling.
“Can you...” Breyer grimaced. “Can you at least tell me your name?”
The stranger shifted and flitted their eyes at him languidly.
Breyer laughed bitterly. “Of course. I—”
“Jupiter,” they interrupted.
“My name is Jupiter. Happy?”
“I—” Breyer stammered. “That’s a girl’s name.”
“And I look like a girl?” The stranger stood up abruptly and stared out one of the windows. “When is the food getting here?”
There was a knock on the door. “Now,” Breyer said primly, then called: “Thank you. Leave it in the hall.”
A few seconds later, he opened the door and rolled in a cart, covered in white and laden with gleaming silver dishes. The strange—Jupiter—turned from their place by the window. Their eyes alit.
Rushing over to the cart, they pulled the cover off one of the plates, then frowned. They dropped the lid on the floor and moved on to another one.
Breyer tilted his head. “What’s—what’s wrong with bread?”
“I have a gluten intolerance.” Jupiter popped a piece of cheese into their mouth.
Breyer laughed aloud.
“Ah, yes, food allergies. Greatest known cause for amusement. Stand-up comedy’s most successful. Sure to bring the most solemn of men to tears.” Jupiter bit a chunk out of a piece of jerky. “Bread, the singular most hilarious entity known to humankind.”
Breyer’s merriment disappeared. He lowered his light brown eyes to the floor and kept them fixed there as Jupiter ate.
They were done surprisingly soon, considering the fact they had said that they were about to faint from hunger. They turned back to Breyer, wiping their greasy hands on their pants. “Okay. What now?”
Breyer shook his head, as if he were trying to get water out of his ears. “You’re asking me?”
Jupiter laughed. “No, I’m totally shitting you. I’m gonna leave now, ‘kay? Have a nice day, Humperdinck.”
Breyer stomped his foot and started to speak, but Jupiter just laughed again. “What are you, three?”
“Wow, so old. Very much maturity.” Jupiter, dagger in hand, returned to the window they’d been crouched at a half hour before and once again attempted to open it. Outside, the sun was setting, the pale blue sky of dinnertime giving way to the dusky purple of post-meal napping.
“Hey. I’m not letting you leave until you—until you explain this mangled metal thing and huge, charred hole in my carpet. And how you just appeared out of nowhere—where did you come from? How did you get here? And for the love of all things holy what is your gender?”
Jupiter’s prying was successful—the window shot open. The knife, previously pressed tight against the wooden frame, went flying through the air. Jupiter, still clutching the sill, fell back on the floor. Unfortunately, the window, affected by the backstabbing forces of gravity, came banging down on Jupiter’s hand. They cursed, snatched their arm away, and (for some reason) began rolling across the floor. Breyer was left, open-mouthed, in the middle of his room.
That, to say the least, was not the way he expected things to go.
Jupiter moaned and slowly stood up. They held their left hand out in front of them, flexing it. “Oh, it’s bleeding. Lovely. Great.”
“Well, that’s what you get for trying to—”
“Shut your mouth, Highness. I’m leaving.”
“Not until I know more about you!”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to come with.” Jupiter scooped (with their good hand) their knife up from the floor and stowed it away in their gadget belt. They stalked over to the window and opened it aggressively, jamming it upwards with force so as to ensure its stability. “Ah, crud. Third story. I need rope. Golden? Got rope?”
“I’m not getting you anything else.” Breyer straightened up to his full height, which was actually rather tall if you thought about it. “And my name,” he added, “is Breyer.”
“Okay, Ice Cream, since you’re not getting me rope I’m going to tear your bedsheets apart. Just an FYI.”
“What—” Breyer walked a few steps to his desk chair and sat down. “What are you saying?”
“Oh, shit. Right. Which world is this? And when?”
Breyer’s mouth fell open. “Excuse me?”
Jupiter raised their eyebrows as if to say, Get on with it.
“What—what world this is? Isn’t—isn’t it the only one?”
“Nope.” Jupiter grabbed hold of the edge of a bedsheet, attempted to rip it into a strip, then grimaced. “Right. Hand.”
“It’s Jupiter, dumbass.”
Breyer sighed. “Jupiter. I can get you rope, and tools, and whatever you want from me. I just need you to tell me what’s going on here.”
“See, but if I did that, Porcelain, then you’d tattle on me, and we can’t have that, now, can we?” Jupiter frowned. “Either I’m leaving, and you’re zipping it, or you’re coming along, and compensating me for it. So which’ll it be, Highness?” Jupiter flicked their knife in the air and caught it without looking.
“I don’t need to know about your smothering Royal Family, babe, or how you’ve never been left on your own or actually trusted with any of your own decisions and how this would be a chance to see the world as it is and understand the kinds of things and people that are out there. I don’t care. All I need to know is, are you coming?”
Breyer thought for a few moments. “What do you mean, ‘compensation’?”
“Your virginity. To my sister. You’re a prince, so at any rate, you’ll be better than the god-awful sort of folk she’s been getting in with recently. You’re rich, or something, right? Refine her taste for me.”
Jupiter looked down at the floor to see if his jaw was resting on it. It wasn’t, so he managed to stammer, “Why the hell would you ask that?”
“Oh, watch out, the Heir said a nono word.” Jupiter ran their good hand along the sides of their shaved scalp. “Damn, my pixie’s growing in fast.”
Breyer choked down something in between hysteria and a sob. “Why—how did you even know—I can’t believe you assumed—why is that the thing—”
Jupiter sighed. “Look, mate, it’s pretty obvious that you’ve never done anything, or rather anyone, in your lifetime, so if that’s your question, then there’s my answer; but also, my sis is kind of a charming lass, and my family could use the money, so if you two tango together and end up liking it, maybe you’ll get married, and I’ll be rich, and thieving will be a hobby as opposed to a necessity in my life.” Jupiter fingered the edge of their dagger’s blade. “What do you say, Highness? Action, adventure, excitement, in exchange for something that really hardly matters, anyway? Defy your parents—show ‘em that you can do whatever, or whoever, you want, because you’re your own person and don’t belong to them? Get a taste of the outside air, maybe experience, for once, pleasure? What’s your consensus? You in?”
Breyer could hardly breathe, his brain was being overloaded with so many things he never thought he’d even have to consider, but under, over, behind and in front of them all was one single, silent, lurking, underlying word: Yes.
“Yes,” he said.
Jupiter grinned. “Attaboy.” They deftly slid their dagger into its belt pocket. “Now, Highness, are you ready to escape? Where’s some rope?”