Stars and the Stratosphere (BruisedLavender and Dr

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  1. Gabriel Casella’s feet couldn’t have been more rooted to the ground had they been glued there. His posture couldn’t have been straighter had there been a rod in his spine. And his resolve couldn’t have been firmer had his life depended on it.

    “Casella.” Commanding officer Bassett furrowed her brow at the cadet from across her desk. “Please, have a seat.”

    “Permission to decline, Ma’am.” Gabe didn’t break eye contact. Didn’t even blink.

    “That’s some curious insubordination, Cadet,” the Commanding Officer observed, though not unkindly. She’d known this young man since his enrollment in the Earth-Interstellar Alliance; this wasn’t characteristic of his demeanor.

    Bassett wouldn’t have been the first to comment on his change in character, and she probably wouldn’t be the last. But that was neither here nor there, and Gabriel knew that sitting down would only condemn him to moments longer spent in this office when he should be preparing. “With all due respect, Ma’am, I know why I’m here. And I am prepared to tell you that I won’t change my mind; I want to go.”

    Bassett inhaled deep and folded her hands in front of her—a gesture that only put Gabriel all the more on the defensive. It was a gesture that beseeched him to listen before he committed to any ‘hasty’ decisions. Apparently his Commanding Officer refused to acknowledge that his decision had been made two years ago, and he still stood by it.

    “You’re sharp, Casella; and you’re frank, as usual. I like it. But so am I, and just because I am perhaps the only Commanding Officer on this planet who will let you get away with it doesn’t instill any confidence that you are cut out for this mission.”

    “I have been cleared physically, cognitively and psychologically, Ma’am.” He could feel heat creeping into his cheeks, and was helpless to stop it as he recited everything he had planned in light of Bassett’s accusation. “I understand mission objectives and wish to apply my skills and training accordingly. I was pegged to leave this planet over two years ago, and should have, had a broken clavicle not prevented me.”

    “And a damn good thing you broke that collar bone, or you’d be lost to this planet and all humanity, young man.” A beat passed between Commanding Officer and cadet, a silence that, out of sheer obstinacy, neither of them was keen on breaking. Until Bassett saw fit to address the looming elephant in the room: “Abigail is gone, Gabriel. A devastating truth, I know, but a realistic one. You are not going to find her—no one is.”

    “Acknowledged, Ma’am.” Gabriel looked straight over her shoulder, staring above the streams of sunlight that flooded through the window panes. Anything to avoid that look in Bassett’s eyes. Pity and exasperation; he was sick of seeing it.

    Bassett nodded once. “And you can look me in the eye and assure me that your missing sister is not the reason you’re are so eager to pursue this mission? That you’re not of the irrational mindset that, somehow, you will find her?”

    “Yes, Ma’am.”

    “Because this is only a quick, general reconnaissance task, Casella. As far as the EIA is concerned, the Hestia is gone. We can’t and won’t be risking an entire other crew in its futile pursuit.”

    So instead you risk the lives of an entire crew in pursuit of absolutely nothing at all, Gabriel thought to argue. But didn’t. “Understood, Ma’am.”

    “So why, then?” Bassett angled her head and tucked her hands underneath her chin. “You lost direct family to the barely understood vacuum of outer space, Gabriel. You realize that should the same thing happen on the Athena, no one will come looking for you, specifically, let alone the ship. So why do you continue to pursue this?”

    Her questioning had become increasingly more invasive, more personal in nature. Gabriel wasn’t sure if she even had leave to delve so deep into his motivations if he’d already passed every test, requirement and prerequisite with flying colours, but now was not the time to question the authority of the Commanding Officer to whom he would be answering on the space craft. Ultimately, he offered a shrug of the shoulders. “Why does anyone pursue the unknown, Ma’am? I have been training for this since I was eighteen years old. I have the skills, the inside knowledge, and the will to do it. Do I really need any other reason?”

    Bassett said nothing for another long and contemplative moment. Measuring the merit of his response, no doubt. Screening for deceit. Gabe wondered if she would find any.

    Evidently, the answer was no. “Well, then,” the Commanding Officer rolled her shoulders back and unclasped her hands. “I guess there is nothing else for us to discuss.”

    “No, Ma’am.”

    “Then you know where to be. An hour early at the docking station, have all of your paperwork ready, and pack minimal provisions—and I do mean minimal. Everything that you will need will be provided for you upon your arrival. Are you familiar with the protocol?”

    “Yes, Ma’am.”

    “Then I will see you next week on the Athena, Cadet.”


    Gabriel, hands clasped behind his back, nodded and turned to leave, mustering every ounce of willpower not to sprint from Bassett’s office. As if she could smell the apprehension emanating from his skin, she left him with just a few more words. “And, Casella? When I say go light on the provisions, I’m not just referring to physical baggage.”

    Touché.. Before leaving Bassett’s office, he offered her what he hoped would come across as a reassuring smile. Given that he felt he might tear a muscle in his face, however, he wasn’t convinced—and neither, he imagined, was she.


    The lost EIA ship Hestia was supposed to have been Gabriel Casella’s first excursion into outer space. Instead, it had ended up being his sister, Abigail’s, first and last.

    Other than sex, expressed gender, and eye colour, the fraternal twins had differed in very little from birth, onward. From similar temperaments to interests, all the way to identical intelligence quotients, they were the case study in genetics and upbringing that doctors would have killed for. That said, it came as little surprise to anyone that the two of them aspired to enroll in the services of the Earth-Interstellar Alliance.
    The competition between them always ran strong, but for that reason, their work and effort was never subpar. Which was precisely what got them ranked in tenth percentile in terms of aptitude, at which point they had successfully overshot enough applicants that the rivalry had come full circle, and petered out. Once more, they stood as equals—as they always had.

    That was until the Gabriel had—for luck or whatever reason—been selected over Abigail for the mission on the Hestia. An opportunity that he was forced to pass up for a stupid loss of balance at the worst of times; a short fall from a staircase that had landed him with a broken collarbone. Fortunately for the Alliance, they hadn’t needed to go far in finding an understudy.

    “I’m telling you, it’s just karma,” Abigail had boasted, visiting her brother in the hospital the day after his unfortunate slip. At that point, the doctors hadn’t been convinced that surgery wasn’t necessary. “Or maybe someone put a hex on you. I’ve never seen such shit luck in my life.”

    “Karma doesn’t happen until after you die, dumbass.” Coming from someone doped up on pain killers, however, Gabriel’s insult didn’t have much of an impact.

    Abgail shrugged, vermillion curls bouncing on her shoulders. “Well then, maybe the universe took pity on me: for once I get to scope out the cute men before you call dibs on them and go on to tell them not to bother with me because I’m as gay as you are.”

    At that, Gabe couldn’t refrain from grinning. It wasn’t uncommon for people to assume that, given all their similarities, they also shared in non-heterosexual orientations. The truth was, the similarity was not at all in their sexuality, but in their sexual preferences. This had sparked heated arguments in late adolescence over crushes and prom dates. That was where similarity became particularly problematic—and, at times, vindictive.

    “Oh, lay off. You know full well that they always prefer boobs, anyway.” Gabriel let out a sigh, wishing desperately he could move his arm to scratch an itch near his ribs. The impulse of a flinch only made him wince in pain. “Seriously, Gail, can we not do this? I really wanted to be on the Hestia tomorrow—you know that. I’ve been preparing for weeks, and I’ve never felt so damn… depressed.”

    “Would you be less depressed if they hadn’t slotted me into the spot that was supposed to be yours?” Maybe he was just too drowsy to properly read into intonation, but his sister sounded almost… sad. Disappointed.

    “No,” he replied, after a moment of contemplation. This wasn’t, he realized, about jealousy. “I don’t think so. Though it is gonna be weird, not having you around to harass me for a year. So I guess that’s kind of a bummer.”

    Abigail snorted and planted her weight on the edge of his bed. “It’s gonna be weird not having you to harass. But maybe if you come to miss it, you’ll appreciate it all the more when I get back.”

    “Jerk,” he murmured, but her grin was contagious. “Can I say something really stupid and obvious?”

    “You kind of just did. Well, stupid, at least.”

    “Something else, then.” He stared at her face, at the dimples in her cheeks and the dark circles around her blue irises. Features that he’d grown up with, that mirrored his own expressions for over two decades. He wouldn’t see them again for an entire year, and the thought was unsettling. “Be careful? I mean it. Lots of shit can happen up there, and after a month, you’ll be too far from Mission Control to radio in for help. And don’t give me that look—you’d be telling me the exact same thing.”

    His sister, of course, shrugged it off. “Don’t doubt me, Gabe. I’d like to go into space with your full confidence in me, if you don’t mind.”

    “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Doubting you would be like doubting myself; and my ego is too healthy for that.”

    “Yeah. Well.” Abigail smiled. “You can count on seeing me again. I’m not gonna pass up the chance to rub it in and gloat about how great it was.”

    “Is that a promise?”

    “I don’t make promises,” she’d replied. “I just state facts.”

    It was the last conversation that the two would ever have. Four months later, after an indecipherable transmission that never should have been able to reach Earth at that distance, the Hestia and all of its crew disappeared completely. Mission Control attempted to send signals to retrieve its coordinates for four more months, until they stopped trying altogether, and it was nothing more than a lost cause.

    “I don’t make promises. I just state facts.”

    You lied to me, Abgail.
    The fact was, Abigail Casella was as good as gone.


    “ID, please.”

    Gabriel hardly heard the administrator over all of din of the docking bay. Choosing to mirror what he’d seen everyone in front of him do, prior, he handed over his EIA identity card. The balding administrator tapped it against a crystalline screen, which was soon flooded with sapphire font, with a picture of the cadet appearing in the upper right corner. “Casella, huh? Hey, wasn’t one of the people on the Hestia—”

    “Can we get this moving?” No amount of noise pollution could have dulled his ears to the topic that the man had been about to breach. And it was not up for discussion. “The line behind me is kind of long.”

    The administrator frowned, punched a couple of buttons on the keypad beneath the screen, and handed back the card. “D-13. Remember that, ‘cause that’s where you’ll be spending any and all hours that you don’t happen to be conscious,” he went on to explain. “Uniforms will already be waiting for you at your bunk. Better get your shit together; take-off is in 11:00 hours, and expect a briefing as soon as you’re outta the stratosphere and everyone’s settled.”

    Having only picked up on half of the man’s words, Gabriel could only deduce that D-13 referred to wherever he was supposed to go next. So he left the administrator and the line, and boarded his new home for the next Earthen year: the EIA Ship, Athena.

    Was Gail this confused the first time she boarded? He couldn’t prevent the question from forming in his mind as the narrow white-and-steel corridors opened up before him, already semi-crowded with people in their gunmetal-grey uniforms. For all the money the EIA put into a ship, it was poorly marked; or, at least, ill-equipped for newbies, such as himself.

    “You’re either lost, or wondering what the hell you’re doing here.”

    The unfamiliar voice caught him off guard. Gabriel turned to find himself face to face with a young woman, gunmetal-clad and with dark hair pulled back from her warm-toned visage. “A bit of both, to be honest.” He confessed, self-consciously shouldering his tiny bag of personal belongings. “I’m supposed to find D-13. I’m guessing that’s either where I’m supposed to put my stuff, or I’ve walked into the weirdest game of battleship.”

    “A bit of both,” the woman quipped. “Keep going straight, then take a sharp left. D quarters should be down that hall. Your ID’s also your key card.”

    “Straight, left, ID. Got it; thanks.”

    “Oh,” the stranger called, just as Gabe turned his back, “And you’re not late to the game. Trust me, it hasn’t started yet.”

    “Ah… whatever. Thanks.” At that, he picked up his pace and moved on. Not the smoothest way to make himself welcome among his colleagues, perhaps, but the truth was, Gabriel hadn’t so much as considered the merit of even casual acquaintances since the Hestia—and therefore, Abigail—had gone missing. Every snarky remark, warm gesture, or even playful insult dredged up memories that he no longer wished to entertain. There must have been something, some unexplained, esoteric connection between people who shared a womb; although he’d had yet to confide in any psychologist, Gail had always felt like more than just immediate family… more like, an extension of him. Now, in her absence, he suffered the most painful phantom limb syndrome imaginable.

    Painful, but not unmanageable. Otherwise he’d never have been able to fly under the radar as he’d been screened for any mental health disturbances. And, fortunately, he was already well prepared to be unpopular. Do the work. Get the experience. Get home.

    Don’t think about Abigail.

    With no further problems locating D-13, Gabriel tapped his ID against the sensor near the door; immediately, the light above it illuminated green, allowing him entry. What lay beyond hadn’t been quite what he’d expected. He’d had a feeling the bunks would be small, crammed, even stifling; and, to an extent, it was just that. What he hadn’t counted on was that the small, crammed, stifling room was to be shared with someone else.

    “Huh… and here I thought Bassett was just being a bitch when she told me to pack light,” he murmured as the door slid closed behind him. Bunk beds, and six drawers that doubled as a desk: this was to be his home for the next three-hundred, sixty-five days. And he couldn’t even count on a moment of solitude. “Too bad Gail never had the chance to warn me about this.”

    Stop it. Don’t think about Abigail. This isn’t about Abigail.

    Except that it was. In a very big way, for Gabriel Casella, it was.
    #1 Dreamless, Jul 9, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2016

  2. The blue warmth of his father’s eyes, focused on him while Lilian checked the content of his bag one last time, created a bittersweet meddle of familiarity and restlessness. He found it hard to decide what hurt him the most and made it so difficult to leave - the adamant fragility of that blueness, or the joyful innocence of the little red-dressed girl next to him.

    “When are you coming back, Lil’?” Sophie asked, in a childish adorableness that did anything but ease the ache in his chest.

    “As soon as the mission is over,” he tried in a vain attempt of dodging the question - but even a six-years-old, or perhaps especially a six-years-old, could not be satisfied by such coward vagueness.

    “When will it be over?” she insisted with a pout.

    Lilian bit his lip, looking around the room. His eyes fell on the tulips that brought glimpses of color to their grey balcony. They’d just started blooming alongside Spring and warm weather.

    “You see these?” he asked, pointing towards the flowers. “Next year, when they start flowering again, I’ll come back to watch them.”

    Like a scarlet sparkle, Sophie rushed to carefully observe the red petals, as if to make sure of their trustworthiness. With a nod, she came back to her brother’s right arm and squeezed it tightly.

    “I’ll water them every day. They’ll be the reddest and prettiest in the whole world,” she affirmed. Lilian was about to answer her that he couldn’t wait to see that when she seemed to remember something of extreme importance, and ran to her room with a shrieked “Wait!”.

    The child between them now gone, Lilian had no other choice but to face the worry in his father’s complexion. They looked at each other, both of their minds filled with so many complicated feelings that they could not possibly reduce into words.

    “Do you really have to go?” his father finally asked in his soft, unyielding tone.

    “I don’t have to,” he answered, trying his best to sound confident, though it was always hard to act like an adult in front of the one that had taught him how to walk. “I want to - I need to. We’ve talked about this, dad…”

    “I know, I know,” the older man cut him before he had a chance to repeat words said one, two, three - too many times in the past month. “Just checking one last time. One year’s gonna be long without my baby.”

    “I’m twenty-four, dad. That’s hardly a baby age,” Lilian answered with a smile.

    “Rule number one of parenting - your child is always a baby. Even when he hasn’t been living at home for years.”

    They shared a quiet laugh - and that was the moment Sophie chose to storm down the stairs and tackle Lilian’s leg. She carried a small book under her arm, which she presented to her brother proudly.

    “You’re bringing this with you,” she decreed. “Because you’re going on your own journey now, and, and - you can read it when you miss us and feel lonely in outer space.”

    The book in question was The Little Prince, a very old tale by a forgotten writer from another century. It’d always been Lilian’s favorite story, what had made him dream about discovering the universe in the first place, and he’d made sure to read it to his little sister - soon enough, it’d become her favorite as well, the one she asked Lilian to read for the hundredth time when he spent the night.

    Feeling an indescribable, overwhelming emotion washing over him, he took the book and gripped it tightly. Although Lilian did not cry, he hardly managed to repress the glimmer of contained tears in front of that hopeful, innocent, adorable little face. She’d look so grown up by the time he’d come back. Hugging her tightly, he promised her that he’d read it every night before falling asleep - and though he already knew the book by heart, he’d keep that promise. Millions of kilometers from home, he’d need the reassurance of a well-known book.

    He then hugged his father in a manlier, but not any less affectionate embrace, and said good-bye. It was only a year, after all - what was one year in front of all of those they’d share together after his return, and what was homesickness in front of the incredible opportunity he was offered, in front of his dream fulfilled?

    He tried not to think of his father’s warnings. He tried not to think about the Hestia tragedy, about the risks of no returns. He would return.

    * * *​

    To be truthful, despite the daydreams of journeys in space and unquenchable curiosity that had filled him since a very young age, the odds of Lilian’s aspiration to be fulfilled had been incredibly slim from the start. Fate had continuously put obstacles along his way, and he’d had to put aside his idle nature to work harder than ever, continuously. He still had troubles believing that he’d made it in the end.

    His first handicap had existed since the very instant of his birth - his social class. Lilian was from what the politically correct intellectuals called a"popular background", or a"less advantaged environment". Although he never got to the extent of calling his family "poor", they’d always had financial problems - which had been harsher than ever during the war. And these problems proceeded, in parallel, to make Lilian’s dream even more desirable - as being part of the EIA went along with enough of a salary to keep his family from need - and further away, since the education required to enter the Alliance was quite possibly the most demanding in the world, and therefore, one of the most expensive. One that was not often joined by kids from cheap public schools.

    Alongside had come the war, one that had ravaged Lilian’s country and hometown for five years. It had taken his innocence, his teenage-hood, his arm, his mother. Great parts of the child he used to be had been lost in the ruins and bunkers of his town, and great parts of the adult he’d become had been born from the weapon factories and bombardment alerts. It was a miracle, perhaps, that his faith in humanity had not exploded with his house, had not collapsed on his mother’s deathbed - and that miracle’s origin could probably be found in the corners of Sophie’s smile.

    The loss of his arm at the age of 15 in a bombshell explosion, which he had first seen as his life’s tragedy, as the definitive condemnation to death of his unrealistic dream, turned out to be the luckiest event of his existence. The idea of building himself a prosthesis had come two years after the accident. It had first originated from purely material needs - with the death of his mother and a newborn to take care of, Lilian needed to earn more to help his father, and that would have been a lot easier without a missing member.

    He’d stolen textbooks from his town's bankrupt library, and at night, instead of sleeping, read of engineering and robotics, of neurology and motility, of biology and mechanics. Then, he’d accumulated second-hand pieces, some discretely taken from his job at the factory, others in the great cemetery some parts of the city had become.
    Even his father, filled with parental optimism and filial idealization, hadn’t believed that a 17-years-old could possibly construct a working prosthesis. Yet to everyone’s astonishment, six month after the armistice, Lilian one day came to work with a functioning left arm. It was quite far from the one he had today, and looking at the prosthesis he’d perfected over the years, smooth and efficient, equipped with both essential and useless gadgets, he could not help but smile with the recollection of the poor excuse of a robotic arm he’d built in the past, although it had had the merit of working correctly after months of labor.

    His peculiar story soon became a news item in the local paper, even made it to the margin of a national one - and it was precisely that margin that made an administrator from the country’s most prestigious military school knock on his door and offer him a scholarship. After four years of training in spatial engineering, ship piloting and military strategy, he’d become an official member of the EIA - and with his promotion to the rank of cadet two weeks before, had been offered to him what he’d always dreamt of: the unknown.

    After a short discussion with Officer Colpit, who had been in charge of him for a few months already, Lilian received an ID to match his new uniform, rank, and mission. Excitement flowing through his veins and lightening the azure of his eyes, he walked one last time alongside the corridors of the quarter he’d worked at for the past months. As he arrived closer to the ship that would, finally, finally fulfill a fantasy entertained by years of imagination, Lilian received a hard pat on the back that he supposed was meant to be a manly display of friendship. He already knew who had initiated it before he even turned around.

    “Never thought you’d manage to become a cadet and yet - look at you, in your fancy little uniform with that fancy new ID. I could almost take you seriously,” Stan greeted him with a smug grin. He was two years older than him, significantly more muscular and had a good ten centimeters of height advantage over him – attributes which had contributed to shaping their relationship in that of a brotherly, affectionate bullying. Lilian essentially being the one bullied. Although he’d protested and complained of such treatment for the past three years that they’d known each other, he knew part of him would be miserable should Stanley suddenly become a good, peaceful Samaritan.

    “Usually, people just say congratulations, you know,” he replied with a smile.

    “Congrats, Heather. For half a shrimp, it really is an exploit.”

    “If we’re going to be on the same ship for the following year, can I entertain the hope that your lame jokes will at some point come to an end?” Lilian asked. And “jokes” was a big word to define Stanley Cooper’s definition of humorous teasing – which mainly consisted of putting the words half, arm, single, or any pun somehow linked to robots in his sentences whenever he had the chance to.

    “Why? I think they’re not half-bad. Looking at them at arm’s length, they’re even –” he started, but was interrupted by the playful, yet nonetheless painful punch of a robotic arm.

    * * *​

    Lilian’s heartbeat had already taken a rhythm significantly faster than the norm, but it became positively erratic when they arrived in front of the Athena’s docking bay. They presented their Identity Cards and were given what they both guessed were room numbers.

    “Ah, we’re not in the same room. I won’t have to cope with your nerdiness h24, it seems,” Stan commented with a smirk that did not manage to hide his disappointment quite well.

    “Honestly, I didn’t even know we were going to have roommates,” Lilian answered as he examined the walls, trying to contain his fascination and excitement.

    “Well duh, princess. What did you expect? A canopy bed in a private palace for your beauty sleep to be optimal?”

    Lilian raised an eyebrow, not even bothering to grant the irony of that comment with an answer. They both knew that Stanley had had quite a wealthy upbringing, miles away from the conditions Lilian had grown up in.

    The curiosity of knowing who he’d share his room with was however too powerful to resist asking one of the administrators. The man, whose eyes rested over tired dark circles, seemed to be irritated by the request, but complied anyway. After briefly looking at his computer, he answered in a bored voice:

    “Gabriel Casella. Now move along, ok?”

    Although Lilian had never before heard of that name, it seemed to be familiar to Stanley, as his eyes lightened up with an undecipherable feeling.

    “Casella like in… Abigail Casella?” he asked as they started walking towards the room they’d been indicated.

    “You know him?”

    “I knew his sister,” he answered in an uncharacteristically complex tone. “She was super hot, but always refused to date me from some reason.”

    “Yeah, a real mystery,” Lilian deadpanned. “…Why the past tense, though?”

    “She was on the Hestia,” Stan simply said, and it was enough. More than enough.

    All Lilian could manage at that was an eloquent “oh”. Although he’d himself lost a loved one, he could not possibly imagine the pain the man had to be going through right now, going to space one sole year after his sister had died in a similar mission. Part of him wondered if that Gabriel was only looking for some sort of closure, or was fuelled by a morbid desire to be closer to his sister. Maybe he simply wanted answers, wanted to understand what had happened – and why. The Hestia’s disappearance had been a tragic mystery for the entire EIA, and all of the pain and confusion they had all felt was probably more intense than ever in the heart of this man.

    Realizing what path his train of thoughts had just wandered on, Lilian felt a pang of guilt in his chest – who was he to try to understand a man before even getting a chance to meet him? Chasing the image of his new roommate that was quickly building in his mind, he silently promised himself that he’d meet Gabriel Casella without the least preconception. Whoever that guy was, he deserved a blank slate, and in the same way that Lilian despised being judged or pitied for his arm and backstory, he’d do his best not to do so for the tragedy that had fallen upon this man’s family.

    When he finally arrived in front of D-13, Lilian parted with Stanley, held his breath, an opened the door. The room was not much larger than what he’d lived in throughout his childhood, and although it felt weird to be back in such a small space after years of spacious university, then military allocations, it brought him a strange sense of familiarity where the uneasiness of novelty should have settled.

    In front of the desk stood who Lilian supposed would from now on be his roommate. Dark, auburn locks, the same cadet uniform, and that look in the brown of his eyes – the look of someone accustomed to agony. He wondered if he could decipher that expression because of how many time he’d seen it in the mirror and in his father’s tired gaze, or because of what Stanley had just told him. So much for no preconceptions. Gabriel was taller than him (which wasn’t exactly difficult, since he himself barely measured over 170cm) and was, as much as he could say of a man’s appearance, beautiful.

    Feeling a slight wave of panic grow as he stood there, not knowing what to say, Lilian managed to keep a composed expression and say in what he hoped was not too much of an awkward tone:

    “Hey, I’m Lilian Heather. I think we’re going to be roommates for the time being so uh, nice to meet you,” he greeted him with a soft and sincere smile, doing his best to ignore the unsettled beating of his heart.
    #2 BruisedLavender, Jul 9, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2015
  3. The sound of the door opening behind him startled Gabe. He stood, ramrod straight, before turning to lay eyes upon the person with whom he'd supposedly be sharing a room. A young man, slightly shorter than him, with a particularly unassuming expression and a peculiar robotic arm. Of course, the latter clause immediately brought questions to mind, but none which Gabriel felt comfortable asking when all he knew was his roommate's name.

    "Um, yeah. It would appear that way, I guess." He agreed, offering a nod. "I'm Gabriel Casella."
    That was it; just a name. If he had anything else to offer, anything about himself about which he felt was particularly noteworthy, then he would have been happy to say more. But what more was there that his new roommate needed to know? Oh, and I had a sister who worked on the Hestia. You know--that EIA ship that went missing over a year ago?

    Fat chance. That wouldn't help either of them, especially not him. Not when he was attempting to make an endeavour to define himself apart from his sister.

    Glancing over his shoulder, he looked to where he'd thrown his bag of belongings on the lower bunk, before promptly shouldering the strap again. "Oh--I just got here, myself. I don't have dibs on any particular bunk, so... if you have a preference for the top or bottom one, then by all means, have at it."

    Do you want top or bottom? Damn, Gabriel. As if that isn't one of the gayest things you could say to someone you just met... A year ago, he might have laughed at himself. But his unintentional double-entendres didn't seem nearly as funny without a certain twin to poke fun at him.
    Maybe it really was impossible to define himself apart from Abigail.
    "Have you been aboard an EIA craft before?" He asked, as a petty attempt to make conversation. "This is my first round in space... I had no idea we'd be crammed into these little dorms like sardines."
  4. It was, in the end, surprisingly easy to forget, or rather ignore, what Stan had taught him mere minutes ago. Even the name itself, when pronounced by its owner, felt so much different, so much richer than it seemed in the mouth of a bored administrator or in Stanley's. Hazy whispers in a broad corridor seemed pale and of very limited influence compared to the discovery of a new individual, a new human being with thousands of complexities, memories, traits. A unique assemblage of shapes and colors - and Lilian could feel the tingling of new-born curiosity, that familiar ebullition he always sensed when discovering someone, something, anything - new and interesting. He was under the impression that, somehow, understanding the mechanism behind the complex expression and tone of his roommate would be as much of an adventure - and of similar difficulty - as this long-awaited spatial exploration.

    His short reverie ended as Gabriel asked him to choose his bunk. It wasn't supposed to be a hard question, but really - Lilian had no idea, having never slept in a bunk bed before.
    "Oh hem…" he said hesitantly, ruffling his hair along the way. "I really don't care either… Bottom is fine I guess?"
    He punctuated that with a shrug and a lopsided smile. Really, they were going to be lightyears away from earth, surrounded by nothing but void, so who cared about being closer or not to their ship's ground?

    What Gabriel then said probably would have angered 15-year-old Lilian, because really - the guy was going in outer space, and he was complaining about sharing rooms? But many years had passed, and he'd grown a lot since those times. The young boy who couldn't stand rich people without being overwhelmed with bitterness (and much less hear their complaints) was now but a blurry memory, and he could acknowledge that yes, being "crammed like sardines" was not exactly ideal. He himself, accustomed to solitude and in need of it at regular intervals, felt a little worried at the idea of not being able to be alone if he ever needed to.

    "First time too," he admitted, not bothering to hide his excited smile as he said those words. "Yeah, I didn't know either. But since it's just the two of us, we'll definitely find ways to… Y'know. Respect each other's personal space. I'm sure we'll manage to work things out and let us get some alone time when needed," he said with what he hoped would be a reassuring smile.
    Really, Lilian could understand the longing for solitude, and it was something he himself cherished dearly. He was sure he could also go bother Stan in D-7 should his roommate feel unable to deal with human interactions, at least for a few hours.

    #4 BruisedLavender, Jul 13, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2015
  5. This was beyond pathetic: that the first conversation he had to have with someone he'd be working with was about bunk beds. If Gabriel had realized that his social competence had declined so dramatically over the past year and a half, he might have had the foresight to at least had the foresight to practice some verbal exchanges in a mirror, or something. As it stood, his sole goal consisted simply of coming across as human; if he could pull that off, then, at the very least, Bassett would not be the wiser, and he'd keep his job while maintaining a modicum of pride.

    Returning the lopsided smile (albeit with half of the heart put into it), he admitted, "Dumb question, I know. But I grew up sleeping on bunk beds all my life. Some people can get be way more particular about which one they'd prefer than you'd think." But that was where he stopped, not offering an inkling of a hint as to the context of that experience. He'd made his decision around how to approach the topic of Abigail, if asked: and that was with honesty and brevity. And only if he were asked. Nothing would be offered; as far as he was concerned, this was a new chapter in his life, one apart from the sister who had always been a part of him.
    She would want you to move on. That's what everyone had told him; this ship, this mission, was the beginning of his endeavour to do so.

    "And I was forced to share a room all my life," he added, as an aside, hoping his observation hadn't come across as a complaint. "Not in a room this small, but from what I gathered from the mission manual, we won't be spending a lot of time in here... Eight hours to sleep, unless it's a day off. Which probably won't even coincide..."
    Gabe caught himself when he realized he was rambling. Not only had he failed to establish a primary topic of conversation that wasn't completely awkward, but he couldn't even keep it going, without becoming long-winded.

    Scratching the back of his neck, he struggled for a save, before his roommate could write him off as hopeless. "Then again, I guess that depends on our individual duties. What do you specialize in?" There were various and sundry needs surrounding a reconnaissance mission aboard the Athena, which extended beyond manning battle pods, should they encounter hostile alien life. There were the mechanics and the techs, the navigators and programmers, tacticians and strategists, and then there were the niche areas that comprised of only a few people at most. Areas like foreign data interpretation, which, incidentally, happened to be Gabriel's. High ranking though it might have been, it comprised of independent, isolating tasks that required long hours of work at the computers.
    Given his current social inadequacies, however... maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.
  6. The mention of shared rooms and bunk beds brought back the sinking sensation of heaviness to Lilian's chest. Waves of words kept crushing, twirling back and forth - "I knew his sister", "she was on the Hestia." He tried to refrain the compassion, the flow of profound empathy that threatened to swell and diffuse in him, for he knew that compassion from a stranger was often received with the same degree of humiliation as pity. But it was difficult - to silence his imagination from picturing with nauseating exactitude how everything, everything - from two beds in a small room to talking, sleeping, breathing- must have become a challenge to endure, salt rubbed on a fresh wound for the boy in front of him. He wanted to silence it because he knew it was unfair to project the pain he had felt on Gabriel's individual experience. Whatever architect had constructed this world had used of impressive sadistic creativity when designing pain - for it could be found a ludicrous amount of colour palettes. So Lilian knew that this compassion was uncalled for, and that he was unable to possibly imagine how this stranger felt - yet he simply couldn't help feeling and imagining. It made him sad - such blatant lack of control - but was at least grateful for the one he sometimes managed to have on his body. In spite of his inner turmoil, Lilian could keep an unperturbed face.

    That control would prove to be of short duration, however, as Gabriel's next words caused a flush to creep on his cheeks. He felt so stupid. Not that he hadn't read the mission manual himself, or that there was anything new in what his roommate was telling him. It was just a sensation he'd often felt, one that had started on his very first day of training and hadn't really stopped ever since - that he was out of place, that everyone knew what they were doing much better than him. He tried to cling on the small bits of confidence he could hold onto, but that didn't keep him from blushing and biting his lips like the idiot he felt like. He didn't know what to respond - "Thank you", "I knew that", "You're right"?

    In the end, Gabriel saved him the trouble of coming up with a socially adequate answer by more or less changing the subject and asking him what his specialty was. Now that was something Lilian knew how to answer without feeling like a fool.

    "Oh, I'm... I'm from the Engineering Department," he said with a coy smile.
    That section was composed of roughly four or five engineers directed by an officer (a perspective which stressed if only a little the lone worker Lilian was used to be). They shared a common occupation - mainly, to design new, more adapted systems and technologies as the mission progressed, as well as to supervise the technicians and facilitate the programmers' tasks - but also each had a specific field of their own; such as data reception, resource sustainability, or in Lilian's case -

    "Specialised in robotics - which is ridiculously cliché," he laughed softly, showing his mechanical arm, "but well. Let's just say I'm... very invested in my job."

    He put his bag and sat on what would now be his bed, then looked back up at Gabriel and asked with a friendly smile:
    "What about you? What do you specialise in?"
  7. "Robotics? Really?" Gabe wasn't entirely sure why that shocked him so. Clearly, the guy was no stranger to mechanics, considering it looked as though he went day to day dealing with it. Perhaps it was the irony--or, not irony, that wasn't the right word--of the fact that Lilian not only lived it, but made it part of his career. He had almost been afraid to call attention to his roommate's mechanical arm, the same way in that it was not polite to call attention to other glaring flaws in people.
    Then again, perhaps that was biased of him to assume that Lilian perceived it as a flaw at all. Maybe he was proud of it; hell, Abigail would have bragged it right up, had she had a robotic limb. Maybe this guy wasn't much different.

    Scratching the back of his neck, Gabriel took a seat atop the waist-high dresser. "That's actually pretty awesome. I heard you have to be crazy skilled to land a position like that... kudos." Suddenly, his own area seemed to pale in comparison. And here he'd thought he would never feel that competitive edge again, without his sister in his life. "Well, I can't exactly say that my niche is quite so interesting... But I'm in the programming department. Collecting, interpreting and decrypting data from extraterrestrial systems and communications that we might encounter. Which will be pretty darn useless, I guess, if we don't encounter anything of the sort in this reconnaissance mission..."

    Of course, it wasn't as though the question of alien life on other planets and from other galaxies and solar systems was up in the air anymore. The entire reason that the Earth-Interstellar Alliance existed, after all, was because contact had been made, approximately half a century ago. The trouble was, as to whether this alien life was hostile or not remained largely unknown, but many well-versed scientists, anthropologists and astronomers theorized that the fact these entities had ventured close enough to Earth to be discovered meant that hostility was a threat that continued to hang in the air. Hence the reason for the necessity of the Starfigher battle pods on every EIA ship that broke through Earth's orbit and ventured deeper into the dead of space.
    So little continued to be known about these entities that it necessitated jobs such as Gabriel's, though the extraterrestrials were far from an open book, and far from stupid. Any data that they managed to get their hands on would either be contingent on the aliens' attempt to communicate, or for the discovery of a relic that did not belong to Earth or humankind.

    "So in the meantime, until we find anything interesting, I'm basically not much different from any other programmer. Have to make sure all databases are updated frequently and that systems continue to run smoothly... You know, all that exciting desk work that people to look forward to." He shook his head with an ironic grin. "A shame I don't have an aptitude for building robots."

    |O.o.C: I am so sorry this took so long and is so crappy :( I had a reply typed for you but before I could post, I walked away from my laptop and my computer decided to reboot, so I lost everything. Again, I apologize, my next post won't be this bad, but I made you wait so long and I just wanted to get you something...|
  8. Lilian's feelings regarding his arm were complicated. On one hand, it was undeniably a handicap - he had not been able to save all of its nervous connections, and as the result, his movements, though he was improving them day after day, were not as smooth as ones an arm of flesh and bones would be capable of.
    But what he truly missed was touching. He'd been able to recreate some receptors to temperature and matter, but the sensations they procured were nowhere near what he used to feel when holding a hand, hugging someone, seeking the warmth of a fire. To counter that, he touched most things with his right hand, but it still was an obstacle in some situations. One of them being when making love to the girlfriends he'd had.

    Yet still - it had been his life's blessing and most important accomplishment. He was planning, once he'd be done working for the EIA, to push his researches further, and to design affordable prosthesis for the hundreds of thousands of people that had been, like him, wounded by the war.

    A sustained flush spread on his cheeks at Gabriel's praise, and he was only able to mumble some incoherent sort of a thank you as a response, averting his eyes. Saying that Lilian had never been very good at dealing with compliments was, needless to say, a beautiful euphemism.

    As his roommate described his occupation, however, that blushing embarrassment was quickly replaced by the glimmer of captivation.
    "That is so cool!" Lilian exclaimed, voice filled with excitement. Though he hadn't yet been born when extra-terrestrial life had been discovered close to Epsilon Eridani, that perspective had been, ever since his early childhood, a source of fascination. So many philosophical questions flowed from that idea - what would their civilisations be like? What would govern their set of ethics and morals, would they too distinct good and evil the way humans tried to? Would they have religions? Art? Genders? Numbers? Families? Love?

    "It must be so difficult though, to decipher informations left by a civilisation so different from our own," he commented, admiration shining through his blue eyes. Though Gabriel had been complimenting Lilian's skill, it was obvious that he was himself incredibly intelligent. One had to be to occupy such a difficult job, and Lilian knew how selective the EIA was when it came to these kinds of positions. "I wonder how many senses they have..." he continued dreamily. "Do they communicate through sonic wave like us? Do they perceive light? If so, which frequency, which colours? Their reality must be so different from our own!"

    Realising that he might have showed a bit too much enthralment, he laughed softly, biting his lip.
    "Sorry, I get way too enthusiastic about things like this. If we do come across extra-terrestrial signals, you'll have to tell me what you find out, alright? In exchange I can teach you how to build robots if you ever want to do something else than a boring, E.T-less desk job."
    Lilian didn't think Gabriel was serious about wanting to have robot building skills - he'd probably just said it as a joke, but at least if he was, the offer was there.
  9. "Oh... you really think so?" Had he been more of the suspicious type, Gabe might have misinterpreted Lilian's enthusiasm for what he considered to be a very mundane occupation compared to robotics as sarcasm. But there was no mistaking that glimmer of intrigue in the other man's eyes, and it was almost enough to make him feel validated for his job aboard the Athena.
    Almost. But his expectations for whatever 'exciting' data they'd gather on this reconnaissance mission were not high, and eve since the disappearance of the Hestia (and, therefore, of his sister), Gabriel had long since lost the initial zeal for linguistic and code decryption of foreign (or, more specifically, alien) data).

    Fortunately, he was no less an expert at it, otherwise the Athena would never have let him aboard. He supposed that had to count for something. "To be honest, I think a lot of people would be happier if we didn't find any alien data or receive communications," he explained with a half-smile. "We don't know for sure, but a lot of the philosophers and theorists think that the fact extra-terrestrial life made itself known to us almost a century ago is not a good sign. There's a good potential that they've been studying us with hostile intentions... But, if you ask me, we're not actually going to know any of that until we hear from them, or make eye contact. Then again, I'm not an astro-anthropologist. Just the guy who interprets and organizes real words from weird sounds and symbols." Then again, when he said it like that, maybe the job really didn't seem so mundane...

    "I'll make sure you're the first to know if I do end up finding something, though," he assured Lilian, just as the screen across from the bunk beds lit up with the EIA's insignia. Attention all personnel aboard the EIA Space Craft Athena, an artificially polite voice articulated. Mission briefing will take place in Auditorium A at 10:00 hours. Repeat: mission briefing to take place in Auditorium A in five minutes.

    "Huh... they sure don't give us long to settle in, do they," Gabe mused, scratching the back of his neck. "I guess we'd better go make sure we know where Auditorium A is so we're not late. Commander Bassett is a bi... um, a bit picky when it comes to tardiness." Nice save, genius... He didn't know Lilian well enough yet to know whether or not it was safe to share his the feelings of frustration he harboured about their Commander. Frankly, experience dictated that it was always best to err on the side of caution. "Anyway... If you're ready, let's go. This ship is a lot bigger than I'd thought... not hard to get lost."
  10. Lillian listened to him, captivated. He’d always thought that war, conquest and the other stupidities these entailed were the product of something broken in humanity. A gear that hadn't worked out quite well from the start, and caused drastic consequences millions of years after. But if even extra-terrestrial beings could show hostility for... (For what anyway? Resources? Xenophobia? Colonisation?) then it probably meant that there was something dark in nature itself, and... that wasn't a possibility Lilian enjoyed considering. Still, he couldn’t help the bright smile that came to his face when his roommate promised him he’d let him know.

    His eyes turned towards the screen, feeling both nervousness and excitement running through his veins as the microphone spoke. Things were about to truly get serious. Gulping, and trying to forget the anxious knot in his stomach, he got up from the bed and went towards the door.

    "I know, right? It seemed a lot less huge from the base…" Lilian laughed slightly. Good thing that Stan had been there to show him, or he’d probably have got lost too. Not that he was ever going to tell him that (the guy had more than enough material to tease him as it was). Still, if Gabriel was as lost around this place as he was, maybe it'd be wiser to seek Stanley's directions once again.
    "A friend of mine works with the techs, so he’s been on the ship quite a few times before to prepare it for exploration. He’s the one that showed me the rooms so… He probably knows where Auditorium A is too, I guess," Lilian offered. He then clicked on the button beside the door to open it.

    As it turned out, he would not even need to look for Stanley - he was waiting for them not far across the corridor, his own roommate by his side.
    "Move your ass, Lil’! Just cause you're half-crippled doesn't mean the commanding officer will have mercy!" he shouted. Lilian sighed. Deeply.
    "Sorry in advance for anything stupid he may say," he murmured in his roommate's ear.

    When they arrived close to him, Stanley offered a handshake to Gabriel, presented his own roommate - a programmer - then proceeded to lead the little group towards Auditorium A. Somewhere along the way, he whispered to Lilian: "Dude. He's as hot as his sister!"
    "...Are you serious?" he mouthed back with a glare. He knew Gabriel could not possibly have heard them - but seriously? Somehow, he thought Stanley must have knocked his head on the ground as a small child. Hard. His ability to judge what was appropriate and what was not had clearly been altered.
    "Yeah! You're lucky, sharing a room and all... That creates bonds. Maybe you'll be able to get hanky panky," he added as he wiggled his eyebrows with a shameless, terribly irritating grin.
    That remark got Lilian coughing and blushing so hard he could feel his cheeks and ears burning. He wasn't even gay. Why was he friends with that guy. Why.

    It was easy, however, to dismiss his embarrassment (and the images Stan's unwelcome remark had brought to his mind against his will) as he entered the auditorium. It was... majestic. Spacious, with a vertiginously high ceiling, and in front of the audience's area stood an immense window - nothing like the small one their room had. For now, it only showed the concrete ground and buildings of the spatial station - but Lilian could only imagine how would it look like after the ship's take off.
  11. "Oh--so you know someone here already," Gabe commented with a partial smile. "That certainly makes things easier." It wasn't as though he himself didn't recognize a soul on the ship, but rather, his relations with any prior friends and classmates had become... strained, to say the least. He hadn't spoken with anyone since the disappearance of the Hestia, and most of them treated him as if he were off limits; like some ticking time bomb that would detonate at the utterance of a wrong word.
    He'd be lying to claim that that analogy was entirely wrong.

    And speaking of which...

    It came as a surprise when they stepped into the hallway, only to encounter the very friend that Lilian had spoke of just across the corridor. The pleasantries of idle socialization and introductions had never caused him anxiety before, and he'd done just fine with Lilian, so far. But going out of his way to meet knew people was something that the data interpreter hadn't planned to engage. Unfortunately, it looked as though he had little choice.
    "Ah... hi. Gabriel." He flashed a half-smile and shook hands with Stanley and his roommate, not catching the other guy's name when he mentioned it. He'd be lucky if he remembered Lilian's name at the end of the day, let alone someone of whom he would probably see very little. "Nice to meet you both... but, um, we should get going. If you know the way, by all means, lead on."

    Whatever Stan and Lilian discussed ahead of him was lost to Gabriel's ears, but that was just fine with him. It was better that his roommate fraternize with people who were more readily able and willing to return social engagement. Anyway, he knew it would only be a matter of time before he screwed up and blew his cover.
    He hadn't realized, however, just how soon that time would come.

    The introductory assembly was about as boring and trite as he'd imagined. Commander Bassett went on about how lucky she was to have such a competent crew (and she couldn't have had Gabriel in mind, on that note), about the objectives of the mission, the code of conduct, and general protocol. Most of it went unheard by Gabriel's ears, simply for the fact that he'd read their handbook, and was already well aware of most of what was being covered. But overall, the assembly was a mercifully short one, and a half hour later, the crew of the Athena was dismissed.
    Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as turning back and heading to the bunk again. Not for Gabe, at least, whose path was promptly blocked by a taller man with dark hair, shaved around the ear at one side. "Casella! I honestly didn't think I'd see you here." He addressed Gabe with a smile that was anything but friendly. "At least, I didn't think they'd let you on this ship, after what happened to your sister. That's rough, huh? Must be hard, being on a ship after--"

    "Excuse me." Cheeks flushed with suppressed rage, Gabriel pushed past the man and his provocations, leaving Lilian and any other onlookers likely wondering if he was avoiding the instigation of a fight. "Not interested in your provocations, Aaron. Grow up; you're on a space craft. It's about time you grew out of diapers."

    "Nice. Guess you had to develop a backbone of your own, without Abigail to come to your defense, huh?" Aaron called, but Gabe was already beyond the crowd, making his way back to his bunk in long, measured steps.
  12. Commander Brasset's speech, unlike what he would have thought, actually helped greatly to ease Lilian's doubts and anxiety. Partly because she mostly repeated what he'd already read about, which certainly was reassuring, but also because being in the middle of that crowd, to whom Basset addressed as "a crew", made him feel like he belonged in a way he hadn't since leaving his home country. It felt... Comforting.
    It was also much shorter than he'd expected - half an hour at most.

    Lilian turned to see that Gabriel was already on his way back, and talking to someone he'd never seen before. A friend, perhaps? He didn't look particularly benevolent, but maybe that was just - ok, most likely not a friend. Though he couldn't hear what they were saying, the way his roommate had just pushed him, and the glimpse of his expression he could catch (a meddle of rage and pain) told Lilian that this was far from a friendly exchange. Instinctively, he followed Gabriel, making his way out of the crowd. He however lost sight of him fairly quickly (why did this ship have so many corridors?) and got lost a few times before finding D-13 again. When he did, though, he hesitated in front of the door. Should he come in, or leave Gabriel in peace? Lilian couldn't successfully evaluate the gravity of the conflict that had just occurred. It could be just an unimportant provocation... Or it could be worse.

    Taking a deep breath, he pressed the entrance button. Gabriel was standing in the middle of the room. It was hard to understand exactly which feelings laid under the strange expression he wore - a vibrant reminder that they had met no more than an hour ago - but whatever it was; it looked painful. Silently, softly excruciating.

    A wave of compassion washed over Lilian, chest growing tight and words remaining stuck in his throat. What was he supposed to say? He didn't know him, didn't know exactly what had made him upset (though the familiar glimmer he found in his chestnut eyes told him that it had to be linked to his sister, one way or another, but it wasn't as though he could ask about that, could he?).

    "Are you..." he started, voice soft and insecure. Are you ok? That had to be the stupidest thing to ask in such a situation. Of course he wasn't ok. He didn't look ok and had no reason to be. Lilian bit his lip, averting Gabriel's eyes. His own fell upon the bag he'd dropped on his bed half an hour before. Without really thinking things through (which was unusual for him, as it almost always led him to idiotic actions or awkward situations), he sought something from that bag and gave it to Gabriel - a small chocolate bar, from some local brand of his hometown.

    A small silence installed itself between them before Lilian managed to give an explanation of a sort.

    "...Chocolate was found to greatly increase the secretion of serotonin," he said, perhaps a bit too quickly. "So, like. It makes you happy. Unless you're diabetic. Or allergic to chocolate. "
    This was so awkward. Maybe he didn't even like sweets. He hoped he'd just take it anyway, and pretend what he'd just done wasn't the dumbest attempt to comfort a stranger ever witnessed in human history.
    #12 BruisedLavender, Aug 21, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2015
  13. Gabriel returned to his bunk, only because he had no idea, through his lens of rage and pain, where else to go. The entire ship suddenly felt intensely claustrophobic, and even in his own room, he wasn't even guaranteed privacy (that was something that he'd realized he'd be forfeiting prior to joining this mission, but it didn't bother him any less). He should have known better.

    He should have known that by participating in this mission, in light of what had happened with Abigail and the Hestia, that he woulds be under the scrutiny and the recipient of some unfair and unwarranted attention. The truth was, though, that a part of him had known, and he'd thought he had sufficiently mentally prepared himself for it. He'd thought...
    Perhaps it was true, then. What people used to say, that he knew his sister better than he actually knew himself. Among so many other things, it would appear that they were right.

    The young man found himself standing bewildered in his room, staring at the communication screen on the wall that wasn't currently turned on, when Lilian walked in. Oh, goddamnit, he thought, pressing a quiet sigh from his lungs. Did he see what happened? He'll probably think I'm some kind of basket case. Way to make a good first impression, Casella... "Hey, um..." Gabriel searched the overworked nooks and crannies of his mind for the right words, while knowing full well that they didn't exist. Whether or not his roommate had caught wind of what had happened to his sister, lost on the Hestia, anyone who had witnessed the way he'd stormed off could deduce there had been a bit of a scene, and probably for a reason. The thing was, he wasn't sure he was quite comfortable enough yet to divulge that reason to his robotics-oriented roommate.

    Before he could think up an excuse, however, Lilian was holding out something for him to take; chocolate. Of all the possible gestures or reactions to his quiet rage, this was how he'd chosen to respond?
    Dumbfounded, Gabriel couldn't help but smile, shoulders shaking in a quiet chuckle. "Serotonin, huh? I knew there must be a reason why chocolate always put me in a better mood." Though he wasn't in the mood to eat, Lilian's gesture seemed so genuine that he took the chocolate and broke a piece off for himself, before offering the remainder back to his roommate. "Good thing I'm not allergic or diabetic. But, uh... listen..." He turned the shiny brown rectangle over in his hands, hazel eyes averted to the floor. "Sorry about that, back there. We've got a couple bullies on board, is all."
    • Love Love x 1
  14. Lilian felt his lips stretch in a radiant grin as he took the rest of the chocolate bar. The smile on Gabriel’s followed by his quiet laugh were proof that somehow, his clumsy attempt at comforting him had worked, if only a little: and that made him feel ecstatic. He knew it was something small, unimportant - but each of Lilian’s emotions had always seemed to be more intense than most people’s, so this was hardly a surprise. Still; usually, those powerful sentiments were some he felt about his own situation, not that of other’s. He did not lack compassion - but for him to be so pained by a stranger’s suffering, and so happy to see him smile the next second was as odd as it was unusual. He wondered if this strange phenomenon was because he somewhat identified to him, or for some other reason he couldn’t fully grasp.

    He was pulled away from his reflexions when Gabriel… apologized? Lilian looked at him, brow furrowed with confusion.
    "Why are you apologizing? None of this is your fault."
    Not to mention - why was he apologizing to him? It was not as though any of this had bothered Lilian, appart from how sad it’d made him feel to see his roommate in pain (and that was hardly Gabriel’s fault). He hadn’t understood everything that had occurred back in the Auditorium, but from what he had gathered - someone had gone to talk to Gabriel and said something that enraged him. That person was probably one of the "bullies" he’d just mentioned. Gabriel had left and gone to his room. …Really, what exactly was he feeling sorry about?
    "I mean, those guys were trying to start a fight, right? But you left. You did the mature thing. They should be the one feeling sorry, not you."

    He put the remaining chocolate in his bag to save it for later, then looked back at Gabriel.
    "Hopefully once we take off they’ll be busy enough to leave you alone. And if not… well, we won’t fight them, since that’s prohibited, but we can always prank the hell out them until they stop," Lilian said with a mischievous smile. "Childish; probably, but 100% satisfying."
    • Love Love x 1
  15. "No, not so much starting a fight as... just being jerks, I guess." It was a lie: he knew Aaron Fabian, had never liked him, and the guy had never liked him, either. No doubt, he saw an opportunity to unravel and undue one of his longtime high school rivals, and had jumped on it. Gabe had thought people would have the sense to leave their grade school pettiness behind. Apparently, not everyone had. "Can't guarantee it won't happen again, but hey, at least I played the bigger man and just walked away, right? Though I've never tried my hand at pranking... Let me know if you have anything good in mind."

    Popping the small piece of chocolate into his mouth, Gabriel glanced at the screen next to their bunks. Evidently, a meal would be served soon in the mess hall. But the sweetness of his tongue reminded him that he really had no appetite, particularly not after that last altercation. "I think I'll get myself familiar with some protocols for a while," he declared, taking a datapad from the drawer of their shared desk. "You should go and snag something to eat before it's all picked over. Let me know how terrible space food tastes when you get back, huh?" He flashed a cheeky smile, but his lips couldn't maintain it for long. Particularly not in light of the concern of Lilian's face... Why was it that the young man, who he barely knew, and who barely knew him, was so eager to have his back?
    I guess there is such a thing as genuine people...

    "I'm fine," he added, in case his roommate had any doubts. "Just going to take my mind off of school yard bullies for a while. I'll see you later."

    Gabe spent the next couple of hours going over protocols and ship procedures on the datapad. When he ran out of things to read, at last, he decided to wash the events of the day off of his skin with a shower in the tiny ensuite bathroom attached to their room. It felt good to be out of the clinging uniform, and into a pair of more comfortable pants designed for bedtime, but he decided to forgot the shirt. They'd need to talk to someone about the temperature in their room; it actually felt too warm for his liking, while the rest of the ship cranked on air conditioning. He wondered if Lilian would agree, or if his roommate preferred the warmer temperature.
  16. Lilian found Gabriel's "I'm fine" quite hard to believe, but as there was not much he could do about it, he decided it'd be best to leave him some privacy and do as he'd suggested. Not to mention that he was indeed getting hungry.
    He got lost again on the way to the Cafeteria - how were they supposed to explore the depth of the Universe if they couldn't find their way in their own spaceship? Would some directions, or a clear plan at least be too luxurious for their budget? It was unbelievable. He still managed to find the room anyway, after some time spent wandering around and ending up in places he wasn't supposed to be in.

    The dinner was actually fairly edible. Since they hadn't left the ground yet (the departure was scheduled tomorrow morning), it was still organic and made with more or less fresh ingredients. It was to be expected, however, that the lyophilized food they were going to serve for the rest of the year would be devoid of any taste or proper texture whatsoever. A few years ago, Lilian probably wouldn't have minded, as that was the kind of food he'd eat on a daily basis. Tasteless food was infinitely better than starving. But truth be told, after years of properly cooked meal, it'd take a while to adjust back to these poor excuses of a nourishment.

    Stanley wasn't anywhere to be found, so Lilian found himself sitting amongst complete strangers. Some of them he'd met before but had never truly talked to, others he was seeing for the very first time. He knew he was supposed to get to know them, as they would spend the next year together, and he tried to - but really, all he wanted was run away from this small talk-filled hell. It wasn't as though he could try to silently blend in either - his arm, as it often did, attracted waves of unwanted attention. Many questions were asked - "How did it happen?" "How does it work?" "Isn't it a handicap?"- questions he'd heard billions of times already in the past, and had answers prepared for each of them.

    On his way back, he noticed a library - nothing like the one made of paper books he had back at his father's apartment, but rather immense ranges of holographic devices. He looked around - most of them were technical documentaries, but there were some novels here and there. He spoke briefly with the librarian - a young, cute and terribly shy boy who couldn't have been older than 20 - and learnt that they were free to be borrowed by the entire crew. That was good to know - as of course Lilian wouldn't have the time to read during day time, but books had always been loyal companions to confront sleepless nights. He wouldn't take anything today - a book of his own was waiting in his room, one with far more emotional value - but he probably would sometime in the future.

    Coming back to his room, he opened the door.
    "Hey, I'm back -" he announced but stopped abruptly when he saw his roommate, or more precisely, the absence of his shirt. He blushed a little, still not very used to that kind of sight - back where he came from, nudity, even partial, tried to be hidden at all cost. That got the friends he'd made at University to call him somewhat prudish, a term which used to offend him slightly. No matter how much he wanted to divert his eyes or ask him to put on a shirt, Lilian managed to keep eye-contact. If they were going to live together, he supposed he'd better stop being modest now. Although Lilian had received a thorough training before boarding, he remarked that Gabriel's muscles were much more defined than his. Ok - that was not the kind of thought he was supposed to be having right now. Damn it.

    "Hem, the food is ok for now, but I think we have to brace ourselves for what's coming once they'll have run out of frozen organic ingredients," he said with a little laugh. "Are you hot?" he then asked, doing his best to forget the potential double meaning of that question which got his cheeks and ears to feel even hotter.
    #16 BruisedLavender, Sep 18, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  17. Lilian wasn't alone in having been referred to as a 'prude' growing up. Having been so hyperaware of his own sexuality from a fairly young age, Gabriel had often insisted on keeping covered when his peers had changed in front of one another in bathrooms without blinking an eye. And it was only for that very ridicule (and with someone like his sister to talk to, and to help build his confidence) that he finally worked up the nerve to finally walk along the beach without a shirt on, or to change in front of other boys and men without feeling self-conscious. Certainly, it did not change the way it made him feel to see and admire the forms of other men, but it caused him to stand out far less, at the very least.

    That said, it hadn't occurred to him in a very long time that someone--namely another male-identifying individual--might take offense to his skin and semi-nudity, particularly not on a military ship such as this. For that reason, hurrying to grab a shirt hadn't exactly been a priority on exiting the shower, especially not with the temperature of the small dorm room.

    But it was that very lack of forethought that landed him feeling like a grade-A jerk when Lilian returned, and he saw the look on his roommate's face. Well, this certainly wasn't the range of expressions he had hoped to see on his first day with the person he'd be sharing a room with for a year. First all smiles, then that genuine sympathy that for some reason had stayed with him like a stain on clothing, to this look of... what was it, shock? Mortification? Both?

    "Oh... hey, well, if the food doesn't suck, then that's already a huge plus, in my books. My loss if I don't get any of the fresh stuff while it lasts," the redhead commented, but was already on his feet and fumbling through the drawers next to their beds for the shirt that matched the comfortable sleepwear bottoms. "Sorry... I just hopped out of the shower not too long ago," came his scrambled and haste explanation. "I thought it was a little warm in here, but... anyway. Sorry. I shouldn't just lounge around here like I'm the only person in the room... especially since you have as much a right to be here as I do."

    Finding the matching grey top, Gabe pulled it over his exposed torso, a tint in his cheeks that matched his hair. He didn't know Lilian well; who knew what drove him to such bashfulness? But it wasn't his business to ask, and if it was really something that the latte felt should be discussed, he trusted that his roommate would divulge it on his own. "Oh--I guess we never really established who gets top or bottom, did we?"
    Well, Lilian certainly was not the only one to fall victim to his own self-inflicted double-entendres.

    "The bunks, I mean," Gabriel hurried to correct his misstep, and nervously scratched the back of his neck. "Did you want the top bunk, or would it be easier for you to take the bottom one? I mean--I don't mean to insinuate that your arm is a handicap, I just..." Better just stop while you're ahead, before you dig yourself so deep into this hole that you're stuck in it for a year. Smooth, Gabe. "Sorry," was all he could manage at last, shaking his head. "I'm really screwing this whole roommate thing up, aren't I?"
  18. Although Lilian did feel a bit more comfortable about looking at Gabriel without a bare chest to distract him, he absolutely did not want his newly found roommate to go out of his way for the sole purpose of his own selfish amenity.
    "No, no," he assured while waving his hands, sounding almost panicked. "Really - it's alright! I'm just not used to it - but we're gonna live together for a year, so it's best to get used to that kind of thing, right?" He let out a coy laugh, lips stretched in a bright smile while his cheeks were still pink with embarrassment. "I'm just a bit shy when it comes to that sort of of stuff. It's kind of a cultural thing," he explained, looking away awkwardly. "But there's no need to be modest - we're both guys, and you're right. It's pretty warm."

    Lilian hadn't expected the bunk thing to come back to the table, and was quite surprised to hear him bring it up again. Was it really important? But before he could answer that he didn't care the least, Gabriel somehow... stumbled in his own words and fell flat on the floor. Figuratively (thankfully). Hardly feeling offended about his comment regarding the arm (he'd heard much, much, much worse) he just found it a bit hilarious and weirdly adorable. They'd need to do something about how awkward they felt around each other, that was for sure. But for now, Lilian just couldn't help the sincere laugh that escaped from him, though part of him felt bad about it.

    "Hey, it's alright," he assured when he stopped laughing, a grin still lightening his face. "Don't worry, it's not a touchy subject. I've had my prothesis for about... seven years now, and I'm still improving it, but it's hardly a handicap when it comes to motility anymore. It is still one for sensory receptions though, so that's what I've been mostly working on. But yeah, when it comes to moving, apart from... dancing or whatever implies really intense coordination, it's actually more efficient than my biological arm. I could probably carry that bed," he finished with another little laugh. He did feel thankful that Gabriel was considerate enough to wonder about that kind of technical details, and about whether he'd offended him or not. That was hardly the case for a great majority of the people he'd met over the years - who either only cared about how cool his arm was - asking to touch it, for Lilian to perform "tricks" of sorts - or were overly attentive and mothered him till suffocation.

    "So yeah," he finished with what he hoped came across as an amiable tone, "If you have any questions or whatever, feel free. And as for beds... As I said, I really don't care, and I've never been in one like this before. Do you usually top or bottom?" Perhaps it was for the best, but when he'd learnt English ten years ago, parts of its more... precise vocabulary hadn't been included in the program - and it was with complete innocence that he pushed the innuendo even further down the road, a friendly smile on his face.
  19. "Seven years, huh? I guess that's probably long enough that it's just become like an extension of yourself," Gabe mused, genuinely finding the idea of Lilian's robotic arm interesting. "Though, for the records, I think I'd pay in cash to see you pick up these bunk beds single-handedly." He tried at a small smile, forced but not ill intended. He'd gotten lucky; his roommate for the next year was no only understanding and fairly laid back, but uniquely fascinating.
    This was sincerely as good as it was going to get, short of having a room to himself on this arduous trip. He could settle for that.

    "Well, if you don't care about bunks... I hope you don't mind if I take the bottom." Taking a seat on the bed below, he reclined against the hard mattress and flat pillow. If he couldn't have the luxury of taking his shirt off without making Lilian uncomfortable, then he would have to make due dealing with the overly warm bedroom by sleeping on top of the sheets. Really, it could have been worse. "The day apparently starts at 5am... as if time has any real relevance out here, in space," he commented, closing his eyes. "Regardless, I'm going to try to get some sleep... 'night, Lilian."

    Gabriel's sleep was fitful, much as he had expected. The bed was too firm, the air too warm, his mind too preoccupied. The hour was lost on him when at last he decided to give up, and sat up slowly, mindful of the steady breathing of his roommate that suggested Lilian was fast asleep. In bare feet and without a sound, he made his way over to the door, which opened at the press of his palm to the adjacent censor. The cooler air of the corridor was refreshing on his perspiration-speckled brow, and for a moment, he considered wandering for a short time, to collect his thoughts and tire his body.

    He didn't get far, however, before encountering the last person he wanted to see at this hour.

    "Casella. What brings you out of your hidey hole at this hour?" Aaron, a sneer on his face, approached the astonished redhead, arms folded across his chest. "Nightmares keeping you awake? Dreaming of your dearly departed sister? Consider it closure, dude; she's dead. Gone. It's high time you moved on."

    "The actual fuck, Aaron?" All out of niceties, Gabriel hissed, tensing. "What are you doing up?" You really have nothing better to do than piss me off? That's sad, man. I pity you."

    Aaron continued to grin, unfazed. "You know what I think? You need to get laid. That'll take your mind off of obsessing over your sister. I know you're a fag, and all, but hey, surely someone on this ship might be desperate enough. Hell..." Sneer intensifying, he leaned in. "If you're as good in bed as your sister was, maybe I'd consider a little romp."

    And that was the last blow to Gabriel's pacifistic resolve that he could take.

    Without hesitation, his fist met Aaron's cheek, instantly leaving a red mark that would darken to a bruise beneath his eye. Aaron stumbled back, a hand to his cheek, and fury mirrored in his brown eyes. Gabe had just opened up a dangerous can of worms that would not easily be closed. "Hit a nerve, did I? Well that's not all I'm gonna hit."
    And that was how the fistfight began, right outside the door of Gabriel and Lilian's chamber.

    O.o.C: Sorry for the delayed posts! I just started a full time job, and I've also been pretty sick. :C I hope this post is ok! Feel free to have Lilian break up the fight, or otherwise wonder why Gabe's got bruises in the morning, hahaha
  20. It took some time before Lilian could fall asleep, and the yellowing pages of The Little Prince with their discolored illustrations provided less comfort than he'd expected. He almost felt guilty for the apprehension that was settling in his guts, this quiet, creeping anguish that crawled slowly and left him restless - he was supposed to be grateful, not afraid. How many people in the world had had the luck to be selected for such an endeavor? How many in his country? In his town? What had been the odds of him being chosen? Even amongst his peers at the EIA, he was to be counted as lucky, a one in a thousand.
    And yet, he was afraid. Of course he felt excited too, but the perspective of never coming back was still... unsettling.

    Time was another issue. As Gabriel had said, "it meant nothing in space", but that didn't mean it'd stop meaning anything to them. This "year" that they were going to spend on board of the Athena - god knew how much longer would pass on Earth during that period. The relativist calculations came roaring in his mind, and he realized that even if everything went well (and he tried not to listen to the hunch under his skin that told him otherwise) he'd probably lied to Sophie when saying he'd be back next Spring. Hopefully she'd forgive him.

    When he did manage to fall asleep, it was more some sort of light-headed torpor, floating in a blurry space between cognizance and unconsciousness. He had strange dreams, like those that occur in fevered, weakened minds, painfully vivid while being foreign and out of place. For this reason, when he heard the sound of punches being thrown and insults being propelled, Lilian first dismissed it as another element of a lively nightmare.
    But as his eyes opened and every elements of his dreamworld disappeared apart from those punches, he had to admit the evident.
    Some people were fighting outside of their cabin.

    Sleepily but worried, Lilian asked Gabriel in a whisper whether he was hearing the noises, too. And when he was met with no answer, not even the slow breath of a sleeping roommate, what was truly going on struck him in a pang of epiphany. He rushed out of bed - somewhat tripping on the way down - and immediately went outside, to find exactly what he'd expected - Gabriel and the "jerk" from earlier fighting like madmen.
    Impulsively Lilian rushed and grabbed the latter before he could throw what was likely to have been a particularly painful hit in his roommate's face. He stepped between the two, effectively putting an end to their fight.

    "Go back to your fucking room, now," Lilian said icily to the guy he didn't know, his accent more flagrant in a way it solely did when he was either very angry, very flustered or very happy. "We haven't departed yet, and I'm sure the disciplinary officer would be glad to throw you out before we do."

    "The fuck is your problem?" he answered angrily, frustrated that the robotic arm made him utterly unable to move. "And go ahead, call the officers, I'm sure they'll find it interesting that this faggot was the one that started-"

    "Which is why you're in front of our room, in the middle of the night," he deadpanned. "Naturally. You just happened to find yourself here. Just like at the auditorium before."

    Apparently this was enough of a menace to make Aaron give up, because as soon as Lilian's grip let go of him, he was running away, not without a few threats on his way out that he'd be back soon enough. Like Lilian cared. He had never been into a single disciplinary procedure since his arrival at university, not even in high school, and this guy looked like a grade-A troublemaker. If things were to turn awry, he was positively certain that their superior would take his word over that of someone like that. And it wasn't as though he could physically hurt him.

    Although he apparently had hurt Gabriel, and Lilian turned towards him, a worried look upon his face. He didn't look too bad, but still bad enough for it to be noticed. Without a word he took him back to their room, got out of his bag the aid-kit he always carried with him - his arm necessitating extensive care. It was a small box he'd designed to take very little place, but that could open in a click to take the size of a small suitcase. It contained various artefacts - from cold medicine to emergency surgery tools to disinfectants. What he needed though was ointment, one he knew could heal most bruises in the course of a night, and an ice pack to ease the pain.

    Not a word was said while he applied the cream, both sitting on Gabriel's bed. It occurred to him that his roommate may have not wanted his help, or that he'd rather patch himself up on his own, but Lilian didn't really leave him the place to say no. For some strange reason, he just... knew that the fight that had just occurred hadn't been Gabriel's fault. Maybe was it because he'd been avoiding it just a few hours before, and that it had probably taken some deep provocation for him to resort to violence. But mostly, it was... call it intuition. Lilian trusted Gabriel. And that was strange, because if anything - Lilian had never been a very trusting person.

    O.o.c - haaaha, considering the time it takes me to answer, you really don't have to apologize! College is being annoying. I hope you feel better!
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