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The Five - Part 3

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Morning seemed to come early for Radu but he didn't mind as much as he usually did since this was a morning where he felt particularly well-rested.

A faint pinging had woken him and he rolled over to wake Harlan, who had migrated during the night.

“Harlan,” he whispered, placing a kiss below his ear. When that didn't seem to work, he repeated, louder, “Harlan!”

“Hmm?” came the groggy reply.

“Your Comp is going off.”

There was a scramble as they tried to locate it, eventually finding it under the side table.

“Harlan, good morning!” said a disturbingly cheerful voice when Harlan answered. The face of their manager, Borl, appeared in the screen. “Hope I didn't wake you, it's late afternoon here on Mars.”

Harlan rubbed his eyes to try and wake himself up as Radu slipped out of bed, wrapped in a sheet, and headed toward the bathroom, still listening to the conversation.

“Why are you on Mars?” Harlan asked, stifling a yawn and attempting to prop himself up.

“Oh, this and that,” the man said distractedly, “but what I really called to ask is if you can get here by tomorrow morning?”

“What for?” Harlan said grumpily and Radu grinned around his toothbrush. Harlan was not a morning person and Radu was not sorry that Borl was having to deal with it.

“Last minute book signing at the University of Mars!”

The man must be immune to any other emotion besides cheerful since he seemed to be blissfully ignoring Harlan's glare.

“I didn't even write that book!” Harlan protested, sighing and sitting up in bed, fully awake in his indignation. “Goddard did!”

“No one will care, the event is almost sold out already,” he reassured him and continued in a cajoling voice, “and you know you're everyone's favorite out of The Five.”

Radu snorted softly. That was an easy way to get Harlan to agree to it, even if it wasn't precisely true. Radu read the feeds. He didn't much like Borl but he was reluctantly impressed by his ability to pick up on Harlan's weak points.

“Alright, we'll be there,” Harlan said with a sigh, emphasizing Radu's presence like he did every time he talked to the man. Radu could just imagine the plastered on smile Borl had right now and Radu frowned to himself as he splashed water on his face.

“Excellent,” Borl said, still annoyingly perky, “see you at eleven hundred Martian time!”

“Gah!” Harlan said after he disconnected, “why can't the man ever use standard? I hate figuring it out.”

“Oh-Eight-Twenty-One Alpha,” Radu said off-hand, drying his face. Now that the visual was disconnected, Radu stepped back into the bedroom, the sheet left lying on the bathroom floor.

Radu saw Harlan's attention immediately shift and he rolled out of bed all the while giving Radu a lingering look.

“I'll never know how you do that,” Harlan said, the annoyance gone from his voice as he sauntered over to Radu, giving him a quick peck before stepping into the bathroom.

Radu heard him turn on the water for the spa tub and he smiled to himself. Harlan must have seen it because he said, in a pleased voice, “you're in a good mood this morning.”

“Mmm,” Radu said, slightly distracted as he picked up the sheet he had dropped, “I am feeling better,” he replied absentmindedly, lingering over a few images left over from the night before.

“Join me?” Harlan asked and Radu looked up to see Harlan lounging back comfortably in the large tub looking at him intently, one eyebrow raised. Radu felt himself grin in reply as he set the newly folded sheet aside.

He never turned down an offer like that.

&&&

It was going to take them fifteen hours or so to get to Mars on time, even in their newly upgraded shuttle, a fact which Harlan made no secret about disliking.

Borl had arranged the shuttle for them early on in the tour when Goddard was still with them, so it was roomy enough for three and practically spacious for two who shared a bunk already. They were originally going to have a personal pilot but both Goddard and Harlan immediately put a stop to that idea.

It was a planet jumper, only capable of inter-system travel. Small hops from planet to moon to space station and Radu knew Harlan was disappointed in its inadequacies. It never stopped him from flying it, however. Better than nothing, Radu figured.

After Radu set the flight plan, he left Harlan in the cockpit doing some hands-on flying and wandered into the small bunk area to catch up on the day's news feed.

He always checked first to see if their friends had anything recent in the feed and was pleased to see that Suzee's gala had been well received. There was no denying that she was the favorite.

He curled up on the narrow bunk and scanned the article on his Comp:

'Cat Zee stunned club goers in her one of a kind catsuit made from the skin of a rare Venus python which she designed herself...'

'...new line the highlight of the season...'

'...said she felt inspired by the infinite quality of the universe...”

She was easily the most successful out of all of them having started her own business in less than a year after returning home.

The usual searches for Goddard and Miss Davenport yielded nothing, and hadn't for months. Not surprising, since no one had heard from Goddard since he left and Davenport had taken some low profile teaching job at a small school he couldn't remember the name of.

Next was Bova and it seemed he had won some sort of eligible bachelor of the year award. Radu frowned. Saying that Bova would be displeased about these turn of events would be a vast understatement.

Finally, he searched for Rosie and a few small articles popped up about some kind of demonstration she was organizing. It was all surprisingly neutral in tone which was not something that happened quite often about any of them.

Before he could read any further, Harlan came in then and flopped onto the low bunk opposite. Radu looked up from his Comp.

“Bored of flying already?” he asked.

Harlan sighed, “only a month left in our contract,” he said, crossing his arms behind his head, “and then we're free to do whatever we want.”

Radu rested his chin on drawn up knees.

“What will we do, though?” he asked. With the tour, there was always a schedule, always something to do and, as much as he hated actually being around so many people, at least he always knew where they were going next.

“Explore the galaxy, see planets outside of Sol, have adventures,” Harlan looked over at him and said, carefully, “maybe even go to Andromeda, if you wanted.”

Radu stared, hesitating, at the blanket on the bunk. He tried to smooth out a wrinkle with his foot.

“I don't think there's much left,” he said softly.

“I'm sorry, that was a stupid idea,” Harlan said quickly, obviously berating himself.

“No, it's all alright,” Radu insisted, “someday, maybe, but not...yet. I don't think I could...not yet.”

They were both silent for a while after that, lost in their separate thoughts. Radu realized that Harlan must have dozed off at some point so he crossed the small space to join him, curling up next to him on the tiny bunk.

And yet he couldn't sleep.

&&&

“Hail UM landing bay, this is the Calypso requesting permission to dock,” Harlan said through the transmitter once they hit the approach lane, “two passengers, Harlan Band and Radu 386, event code 873453. Do you copy?”

“Roger that Calypso, you are cleared to land in docking bay number 12. Please be advised that all non-human passengers are required to check in at the front desk. Welcome to the University of Mars.”

“Thank you UM landing bay, Calypso out,” Harlan switched off the transmitter with a stony jaw and glanced over at Radu.

Radu shrugged casually, which seemed to satisfy Harlan. He shifted into the landing procedure.

Radu stared blankly at the small dot of the University slowly growing in size. He knew that if he had been a non-human from a Sol planet, he still wouldn't need to check in. The way it was phrased was their attempt to be a bit more politically correct. Radu hated it even more than outright contempt.

Borl was there waiting for them in all of his usual cheerfulness to escort them to the event hall. Radu was wearing his hood again to avoid the looks and found himself trailing along behind them, only spared a quick disinterested glance by their manager.

He did notice that Harlan was slowly opening and closing his right fist, a nervous tic that he had picked up somewhere, and Radu resigned himself to the fact that it was going to be a very long day for the both of them.

Harlan had loved all the attention they got at first, not surprising, but after forced politeness with people who treated Radu like he was nobody, it had turned into something to be despised, something to get through. It wasn't only wearing himself down but Harlan seemed able to hide it better, at least.

Radu winced once they hit the inner hallway as screams of delight broke out from a long line of fans. He had to take some deep breaths before the shooting pain in his head subsided into a dull ringing and he relaxed again once they turned a corner only to look up and see the woman behind the front desk scowling at him as a tag was shoved across the desk. He fidgeted with it for a moment before pulling the hood even lower over his face.

The day was already unbearable and it had barely even started.

Radu eventually found himself standing along the back wall of the event hall behind the temporary stage. He was bored out of his mind already, having tuned out the well-rehearsed speech that Harlan always gave and resigning himself to waiting out the long line of people crowding the stage just to get Harlan's autograph.

Every now and again he would catch a small telling movement from Harlan, such as a false smile or a terse nod and all he wanted to do was run up to him and drag him back to their shuttle and fly away, saving them both from the whole charade.

It wasn't the first time he felt the whole situation to be pointless.

Radu was just wondering whether he should risk sneaking off to find something to eat when he heard a light voice saying his name. He looked up and focused on Harlan but only heard him giving an overly polite thank-you to some woman.

He heard it again, this time coming from his right. He whipped his head around trying to seek out the source and caught sight of a man hunched over a wheeled garbage barrel. He was beckoning to him.

Radu tensed instinctively, thinking it to be someone messing with him but then man shifted the large cap he was wearing, briefly revealing distinctive ears before covering them back up again. Radu sucked in a breath.

“Follow me,” the man said, his whisper traveling across the noisy the hall. Radu looked around once more and then walked slowly toward the door.

He kept a bit of a distance as the man led him around a corner into a deserted service hall and he soon found himself standing outside of a small janitor's closet looking at the oldest Andromedan he had ever met.

The man gestured him inside and Radu went, far too curious about him to worry about it being some sort of trick.

The old man turned to him then and bowed deeply, hands outstretched with palms up, the Andromedan greeting of peace. Radu automatically returned the gesture, stunned into silence. Luckily, the man spoke first.

“It is an honor to meet you in person, Radu,” he said and, to Radu's even greater surprise, he covered his ears briefly with his hands, a sign of high respect among his people. “I am called Tavo.”

Radu took a shaky breath and said, in his native language, “it's been a long time since I've talked to one of my own kind.”

“So you do speak the ancient language, we had wondered,” Tavo replied in kind and Radu felt a jolt of homesickness, something that hadn't happened since those long years on board The Christa.

“We?” Radu asked blankly.

“Yes,” Tavo replied, “you have quite a following, Radu. Many of us look up to you, especially to your bravery and strength in these trying times.”

Radu shook his head. What was he saying? Radu had neither of those things. If he was so brave and strong, he wouldn't be hiding from the people who tried to hurt him.

“But I'm not...” Radu began, wanting him to understand.

But Tavo interrupted him, “even if you do not believe it yourself, we observe and we take your example and let it inspire us.”

“What are you saying?” Radu felt so utterly confused.

“I was instructed to tell you, Radu,” Tavo said, lowering his voice to the level that only Andromedans could hear, “that there is a resistance out among the planets and that you are not alone.”

“A resistance,” Radu repeated, stunned, turning the news over in his mind before wondering aloud: “how many of us are left?”

“Not many but enough to start over,” Tavo told him, “we are slowly gaining the support of others as well. Other members of the Sol system who believe the laws that attempt to control us are unjust.”

This was all so much to take in and Radu found himself slowly sinking down onto an upturned bucket. It was true that the laws were in direct conflict with the UPP peace treaty but anyone who had tried to say so had been silenced.

Tavo smiled at him kindly, “it is even better that your mate-” the closest equivalent word they had for a relationship “-is someone both high profile and obviously supportive.”

“He definitely is,” Radu agreed. “How can I help?”

“We were hoping you'd ask that,” Tavo said, “for now, keep going as you are. Your appearances in the media encourage us more than you know.”

Radu nodded distantly. He hated being so open to the public but if it helped the resistance than he would do it, there was no question about it.

“There is a camera in the event hall,” he began slowly, thinking it over. “I can make myself visible.”

“We will smile upon it,” Tavo replied, bowing his head once more, “but I think you are being summoned.”

Radu heard it then, Harlan's voice calling his name and sounding distinctly worried. He stood abruptly.

“I've got to go,” Radu said, hurriedly, “but I will remember everything you told me.”

They bid a hasty farewell, right hand to the forehead and then palm out, before Radu slipped quietly out of the door. He followed Harlan's voice to find him in the small antechamber they were using for breaks.

“Are you alright?” Harlan asked immediately, reaching out and surreptitiously taking his hand.

“I'm fine,” Radu said smiling, “I'm great, actually.”

And he was, he hadn't felt this alive in months. He shut the door behind them so they wouldn't be interrupted and then clasped both of Harlan's hands in his.

“I've just heard some wonderful news,” Radu said excitedly and proceeded to tell him everything.

&&&

There were a couple more hours left for the event and Radu used them wisely. At his first possible opportunity, he slunk into a background shot as a camera panned across the stage.

Quickly and subtly, so that those around him wouldn't notice, he curled his hands into fists and crossed them at his waist, staring meaningfully into the camera. Even though he was surrounded by people, he knew those who were looking for him would see it:

The Andromedan sign of solidarity.