08:17, Thursday the 12th, Lunar 3, Luka 16
The Dimensional Divide
Onboard the Neptune’s Rhapsody
An unexpected, dull drumming sound woke me from darkness. I flailed toward my window, sure it was the dog about to fall from the second floor because he saw a bird again, but no window was there–I wasn’t home. I was still in that dim and gloomy little closet pod I’d been given for a room, on that weird, old ship, flying through interdimensional space to hell knows where with a bunch of pirates.
“Pietro, c’mon,” Jane said, her voice obscured through the door. “You’re gonna miss breakfast.”
I stumbled toward her in the dark. “C-coming.”
She looked me up and down when the door slid open, overhead lights filling in from outside. My eyes burned from the change.
“You’re still wearing that?” Jane blinked. “Divine Lords, Pietro, did you sleep all day and night?”
Scratching the back of my already-itchy head, I laughed. “Guess I was exhausted.”
“No kidding. We’ll have to get you some new clothes and things… and lights,” Jane said, pointing into the void behind me. “Unless ‘dirty, smelly sweat cave’ is like, your aesthetic.”
It lowkey was, but a light would be a welcome addition.
I left the dress I’d worn to Central Booking behind, instead wearing the grey smock and shorts they made me wear, along with the school sweater I had with me. It was sweaty and gross (and, you know, embarrassing) but it was better than wearing a dress I never wanted to see again, and better than wearing a skort for school. There was something powerful about wearing pants out in the open like it was nothing, even if it was just on the way to breakfast… and with a bright-ass pink sweater covered in prancing reigndeer that said ‘I’m a doe-eyed Brooke Regina Doe!’ in cutesy cursive, glittery print.
“Remind me why your school’s mascot is a reigndeer…?” Jane asked. “Isn’t your planet like, half water?”
I shrugged. “Believe me, when I burn this thing, the last thing I’ll be thinking about is the stupid fucking deer.”
“Oh no, don’t,” Jane said, looking at it closely. “Someone will take it. It’s super cute.”
The space Jane and I had walked through on the way to the Captain’s Quarters had been repurposed overnight with benches that looked a bit like my school’s cafeteria seats. Food had been set out on one bench near the front end of the room, with a small line of people waiting for their turn with trays in hand. It appeared to be more like a pot-luck in style, with dishes of all kinds stuck out in mis-matched bowls and containers.
“There’s not a schedule or anything, but usually everyone cooks or brings something once a week, even if it’s just bread,” Jane said. “Most of us can’t cook, so…results vary.”
Not all of the dishes looked particularly…edible, or smelled like it. What I did recognize wasn’t breakfast (at least to me). There were baked beans and curry noodles along with boxes of apples and raw potatoes, and several different unidentifiable mixtures that didn’t smell all that pleasant. Some of it had meat in it, too, which wasn’t really my thing. I played it safe with an apple, cheese and bread. Jane, on the other hand, loaded up a plate chock full of instant noodles, and then covered them with what appeared to be baked beans.
Baked. Fucking. Beans.
I have seen some weird shit in this life, but this was, without a doubt, the most bizarre, most aberrant, most vile thing I’ve ever seen, let alone done to food.
“Don’t knock it ‘till you try it,” Jane said, holding up her tray. She went back to get a mug of something, some strong-scented, steaming brown drink equally foreign to me. “Is that all you want? Really?”
My stomach growled in protest of the abomination she’d just created. “Oh yeah. This is… fine.”
We sat down at a table by ourselves. Jane immediately tore into her dish, wolfing through it with such voracious speed and delight that this was obviously not a first-time combination. I picked at mine much more slowly, mesmerized by the grisly sight of her food crime, and how such a sophisticated spy-pirate girl who infiltrates prisons across the galaxy could eat something so weird like a rabid beast. And then there was the suspicious substance in her cup.
“What’s that?” I asked, afraid the water on the ship might well be brown and gurgly like that.
“Coffee.” Jane took a swig. “Not any good, but does the job.”
“Coffee?” I whispered, leaning in close. “Isn’t that… illegal?”
Jane nearly spat out her drink laughing. Her whole face wrinkled, like she was trying not to spit it out but laughing so hard she couldn’t help it. She started banging her hand flat on the table, and then her knee.
My face grew very hot. “Well, isn’t it?”
“Sure is. Genuine, illegal danger bean juice,” Jane wiped her lips, still sputtering in and out of chuckles. “You know everyone else in the galaxy drinks this stuff, right? Like, all the time? Even kids and grandmas? We put it in cakes, for fuck’s sake.”
“Really? I thought it was like alcohol, or smoking.”
“Yeah, again, all things everyone everywhere else does,” Jane said, still bemused. “Only those things actually can be bad for you.”
“You do those too?”
“Eh. I love me a good cocktail for sure. The others, here and there.”
“Wow. I would’ve never guessed,” I said, munching on my apple. “Next thing you’ll tell me you’re into drugs, too.”
Jane snickered at me for that, but never said if she was or wasn’t, and just went back to eating.
She didn’t seem the type, but maybe I was wrong for thinking there was ‘a type’ for such things out in the Worlds, especially if coffee was as tame and common as she claimed. On Lumeria, you can’t buy alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, or any other drugs in a store, so you already have to do an extra illegal step to get your hands on one of those things from somewhere else. A single instance could lead to half a dozen costly infractions — infractions that were, in my opinion, less worth it than the things I’d done getting mine. The laws were so strict and illicit substances so hard to come by that most people wouldn’t risk the consequences unless they were filthy rich or just plain addicted, which was uncommon, but not unheard of.
We were alone at the table for a while, but others soon found us — first to chide Jane for getting arrested again, but more and more people seemed intrigued by me. A group of them came over and sat with us.
“Haven’t seen you before. Welcome aboard,” said an older golin guy, smiling as wide as his pointy, thin face could. He had a lunch tray in his hand like the others, his full of raw potatoes and a rice dish I hadn’t noticed as an option. His deep umber skin was covered from head to toe in layered scales. He wore black pants with a deep yellow shirt covered in an elaborate swirl print.
Along with him were two guys, one a pudgy, bearded koibito fellow with coloring I’d never seen before, his skin covered in patches of pink along with the more typical orange and black, and his ass-length hair done into tiny microbraids held back in a bun. He was covered in what looked like dirt and oil, stains and spots all over his otherwise light clothes, and a cup of coffee like Jane’s in hand. The other guy was a knobby, thin blond Fen guy in khaki shorts, his floppy ears almost bigger than the rest of him combined. His ears were raised in alert.
“Yep, Pietro here just joined up yesterday.” Jane motioned to me. “Found em’ in a Lumena holding cell.”
“I can see that,” the golin man said, pointing between my grey shorts and bald head with his fork. “Nice to meet you. The name is Mwenze,” he said, extending an arm. He hesitated, seeming to remember. “Oh right — your kind don’t really do that.”
People from my planet don’t make a habit of touching hands as a greeting, especially not with strangers.
“This is Jack,” Mwenze said, pointing to the Fen. “And Cove,” he added, nodding to the other.
Jack waved, shyly. If he said hello, I didn’t hear him.
“Heya Pietro,” Cove said, shooting me a much more standard Lumerian double thumbs up and some finger guns. Jack then mirrored him in kind.
“And this is Hart,” Mwenze added.
Not realizing there had been another person there, I craned my neck around. Hidden behind the first three was a girl, a somewhat rare manner of person I’d never seen in the flesh before. She was Lumerian, too, but not like me. Her skin was deep brown, and atop her head were a pair of antlers and pointed ears. Her face was covered in deep amber freckles. I’d forgotten what her people were called — the fallow, maybe? They lived on my planet once, but they’d left a long time ago. I’d only ever seen them in books and movies, but she was definitely one of them. She carried a large sketchbook under her arm, and a bag of what looked like art supplies. She didn’t seem too happy to be there.
Whether it was resting bitch face or otherwise, she looked pissed, but sat down with her tray nonetheless, taking a seat the farthest from the rest of us. Jack sat down beside her, the two of them sharing some apples.
“Tell us about yourself,” Mwenze said. “Doesn’t look like you’re much younger than Jack or Jane.”
“And you’re tiiiiny,” Cove said, looking me over. “That’s good for ship maintenance. There’s lots of little places that are hard to get into on this old thing…”
“W-we’re mechanics,” Jack said, his voice quiet and soft. “Or… well, trying to be.”
“Always looking for more hands to help out around here,” Mwenze said. “If you’re into that kind of thing.”
“Hey–don’t try to poach my new recruit,” Jane said, pointing a finger. “I need some help on the damn Nav deck.”
While the rest of them were jabbering on, I found myself most interested in Hart. She kept quiet, to herself. She’d only looked over at me once or twice, but never smiled, mostly kept munching on her apple.
“Pietro? I said tell us about yourself,” Mwenze repeated.
“Oh–sorry about that,” I said, realizing I’d never answered. “I guess there’s not much to say. I’m sixteen, uh, from Lumeria…I like swimming, of course.” Most of what I would’ve said to introduce myself didn’t apply anymore. I wasn’t in school, wasn’t studying anything, not on the swim team… those things were all I had left. “Just got arrested again, that was fun. Guess it was the drop that broke the fallow’s back, cause now I’m here…”
Absolute silence overcame the table when I stopped speaking. Tension replaced the otherwise fun banter that had been there before, all of them with their eyes wide. Cove laughed, uncomfortably. Jack’s ears had shot up straight. Mwenze nudged him beneath the table; hardly a stealthy gesture for someone of his size.
Hart got up without another word and left, leaving her apple and sketchbook behind.
Like a switch flipped for an otherwise quiet, calm guy, Jack was suddenly furious with me. Rage burned in his eyes. He jumped up to his feet. “What the fuck is wrong with you, bottomfeeder?” His voice strained, cracking; he wasn’t someone who normally spoke that way, and it showed.
“What?” I jumped, startled by his words, and began looking around me for someone else he must’ve meant his anger for, but no one was there.
Jack slammed a hand down on the table and got up. “Don’t play dumb. How dare you say that–in front of her, no less! You absolute bait for brains fuck, you–”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Jane said, clamping her hand down one of Jack’s hands. If she hadn’t been holding him back like that, he might’ve lept over the table and pummeled me one. “They didn’t mean it, Jack. They don’t know.”
“The hell they don’t!” Jack shouted.
“Don’t know what?” I asked, still lost.
“That word.” Jane turned back to me. “The F-word. It’s really, really bad, Pietro.”
“Especially from you,” Cove added. “Er, not that it’d be any better from any of us…”
F-word? That just made me all the more confused. Jack had just said fuck about a dozen times, and I didn’t even remember saying it. Tracing back over my words, I realized the only thing I could’ve said was fallow, as in ‘the drop that broke the fallow’s back,’ but that was just an expression. I sunk down in place, hiding behind my tray of still-barely-touched food. Was it that? Something else..?
“Just go check on her,” Jane said, to Jack. She got up and handed him Hart’s sketchbook and food. “C’mon. I’ll talk it over with them. And they’ll apologize later.”
“You fucking better,” Jack said, still glaring at me. “If I hear you say anything like that again, I’ll wring your neck. Got it?”
Jack stormed off without saying much else. Awkward silence filled the air for some time.
No one said anything, apart from Mwenze and Cove both blathering on a bit about how the coffee was exceptionally bad today (which they both seemed rather proud of), and then both asking to excuse themselves when they were done eating. The cafeteria was starting to empty out. I was busy trying to convince myself that nothing had happened, that I was okay, and that I hadn’t just made a huge blunder by mistake, and that there was absolutely no reason to freak out or to cry… let alone in public…
“You doing okay over there, Pietro?” Jane asked, eyeing me carefully. She waited until we were alone to speak. “You didn’t eat much, and it’s been an awful long time since you last ate, I bet.”
“He was kind of a jerk, huh?” My voice came out very small. However hard I tried to stave it off, the moment she broached the topic, I was on that breathless verge of falling apart. “I still don’t know what I did.”
Jane seemed to empathize, nodding to herself. “Fair. From his perspective, you probably looked like the biggest dick in the galaxy.”
“But what did I do?” My shoulders slumped. “I didn’t even say anything.”
“That phrase–that word in general. It’s… extremely hurtful to Hart’s people,” Jane explained. “I know it’s common on your planet so you probably don’t know any better… at least you better not.”
I shook my head, fast as I could. “I thought that’s what you call them. They’re–”
“Lumerians,” Jane said, before I could finish. “The original Lumerians, from before your ancestors came.”
“Well, yeah.” I knew that much. “But we bought the planet fair and square. Everyone knows that. I figured they called themselves something else now, wherever they are.”
Jane breathed out through her teeth, appearing overwhelmed. “Yeeeah… The tribes tell the story differently.”
“Well, how different?”
“Pretty damn different.”
“What, like we stole it?”
“I… see,” I muttered, taken aback. I didn’t dream that could actually be the case. “I think I’m just gonna head back to bed. I’m just–”
“Oh ho ho, no you’re not,” Jane said. “It’s time to get to work. There’s a nice haul coming through Carthage today and we’re gonna check it out. We’re headed there now.”
“Carthage?” My eyes widened. “Damn. That’s… far.”
“Yeah, we jumped a few times last night,” Jane said, stretching her arms behind her back. “It’s good you slept through it without noticing. I figured you’d be one to get sick as hell seeing as you could barely walk yesterday, so I guess that’s one thing you have going for you.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, bummed out all of the sudden. We were that far from Lumeria already? “No turning back now, I guess.”
“You wanna leave already?” Jane asked. “After one little argument?”
I totally did want to leave; I was straight up panicking and trying to tell myself not to cry, which only made me closer to bursting into tears and having a full-on fucking meltdown, but I didn’t want to go home, either. I was stuck.
My throat was tight. “No, I just… it’s a lot. The last few days have been… a lot.”
“Yeah, I can see that. But leaving won’t fix any of that. Neither will sleeping,” Jane said. “You’ll feel better if you get out a little. I told everybody I’d stick with you for a few days while you get adjusted, so you don’t have to worry about anybody else, okay?”
“Stick with me?” Pietro asked. “What are we even gonna do?”
“Well, the main thing we need is new forcefields for the ship. There’s an RPC fleet coming through Carthage today, so we’re hoping to nab one off them.”
“Wait, like… the Lumerian Royal Police Corps?”
“One in the same.”
My hands clasped over my head, elbows flat on the table. I was at my limit; I couldn’t take anymore. “I don’t get it. Why? Why would they be here? Why would the same dudes from home who hate my haircut be out fucking here?” Tears finally rolled down my cheek, and once the first one did, several more followed. Once I realized it was out of my control, it got worse.
Jane pressed her lips firm, watching me lose composure. “Wanna go back to my room and cry a bit before we get there?”
A snotty whimper escaped me. “D-Don’t make fun of me.”
“I’m being serious,” Jane said. “Let’s go pet some cats and eat chocolate.”
Unlike the abyss I slept in the night before, Jane’s room was twice the size of mine, pink, purple, and full of hanging baskets of little green plants and tiny potted trees. There was a heart-shaped cat entrance cut into the panel of the door, too. The cats were there to mice the ship, but Jane was the one who took care of them, and they came to her room to take care of any needs they couldn’t fulfil elsewhere. As a result, Jane kept the room sprayed thick with perfume. It smelled like if my sister Portia rolled around in a litter box. Despite this, Jane kept her space very tidy and well-furnished with a surprising amount of fancy glass bottles, chocolate, and assorted jars of pickles.
I swiftly made up for whatever I hadn’t eaten the last several meals in the form of dark chocolate covered nuts and pretzels while Jane rummaged through her closets for something new for me to wear that night. We both agreed that a jailhouse smock might be a bad idea to wear to a place crawling with police officers from my planet. In some ways, it may have also been an excuse for her to give me space and time to process. With how fashion forward she was, I knew it really wouldn’t take that long for her to put something together if she was trying, but instead she took her time, and let me sit there with a little orange kitten named Moose in my lap.
“How about this?” Jane asked, emerging from the closet with a pair of black leggings, the smallest she had. “I think these are actually Hart’s. They’ll be a bit big, but it’ll work.”
“Sure,” I said, without looking closely.
I’d pulled my sweater out over my knees, as if to hide as much of myself as possible, and kept focused on the little kitten. It had curled up into almost a complete circle, it’s tiny little pink toes peeking out from the ball of fluff. My head was itching again. By then all sorts of little hairs were trying to poke back through my scalp. In Jane’s mirror I’d seen it for the first time; my head was covered in little red dots, both from the razor burn, and from ingrown hairs trying to make their way free. Some looked festered and gross, like zits. Some might have also been regular zits, too.
At least the cats liked me.
Jane sat down beside me. “Hard day, huh?”
“Yeah. Seems like I piss people off wherever I go…”
“People out here have a much different perspective than on your planet, Pietro,” Jane said, speaking a bit softer than usual. “To be real, until I spent some time on Lumeria, I didn’t get how different you guys are. A few months ago if I heard someone new say that I’d probably dump them out the airlock, too…”
I hugged myself, keeping my face low. “I had no idea. I swear.”
“I know, but you definitely owe Hart an apology. And I take back what I said about that sweater. We’re totally gonna burn it.”
“My sweater?” It was the only thing left I had that smelled like home, even if I hated it. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Yeah, I forgot. The whole deer thing is pretty offensive, too.”
“Oh, Divine Lords…” I squeezed the bridge of my nose. “It’s just a mascot.”
Reigndeer were a status symbol on Lumeria, right up there with diamonds and gold. The Fisks had a pair of them that just lived in their yard. A lot of rich people did. I’d heard it was because when Hart’s people left with all the money they got for our planet, they became super wealthy. They took most of the reigndeer with them, but the ones that were left were the most outrageously expensive luxury pets on the planet.
“Yeah, but you might feel weird if something important to you was a mascot. Especially in a place that was stolen from you.”
“I still can’t believe that,” I murmured, scratching behind my ear. “I can’t believe I wouldn’t have… known.”
“Makes sense you would’ve been taught otherwise. Remember when we said there’s a lot about Lumeria that needs changing? That’s a prime example, right there.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“All in good time,” Jane said, and pat my shoulder, just like Legato had the night before.
I hugged myself a little deeper. “There’s a lot more, isn’t there? A lot of things I don’t know?”
Jane flicked me, square in the middle of the forehead.“Eh, with a skull as thick as yours? Probably. But you had to start somewhere.”
I laughed, without expecting it.
“We should probably get dressed,” Jane said. “C’mon.”
Jane didn’t have much in the way of clothes I would typically wear, but we settled on the pair of leggings that fit me more like pajama pants and a dress I could tie into a shirt, along with a short black wig and a bandana I could use to make it look less fake. I hoped to keep my same socks and sandals, but Jane wouldn’t allow it. Apparently my feet looked too… ‘suspicious.’
“And they squeak so loud.” Jane puckered a disgusted lip. She wrapped a dark bandana over her hair, and wore a hood overtop of it still. “Here. My feet are probably bigger than yours, but this should work. At least wear boots if you’re gonna wear socks.”
“Is this about stealth or fashion?” I asked, looking through her closet. The cat crawled out of my lap, much to my chagrin. “Why do you own like, forty pairs of shoes?”
“So I like shoes. We all have hobbies,” Jane muttered, from the door. “Not my fault your hobby is being gross.”
“Hey–hey–you cannot judge me after what I saw you do to those noodles,” I said, following her with boots in hand. She didn’t wait for me to put them on, so I did one at a time as we walked. They were so big that they were only marginally quieter than the sandals, clunking along with each step.