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Starshade

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From the darkness of his room, Katsuki Yūri peered at the beautiful blue-white star in his telescope, amazed by its brightness. It was the first star he saw every July 7, on the night of Tanabata, readily tracking it via his computer. He opened a notebook – like the one for the variable stars he monitored – and eagerly looked outside his window all the time, but on this day it was always different.

The house was quiet for once, everyone having already gone out for the festivities, allowing him to focus completely on the night sky. Thankfully it was not cloudy, otherwise he would have had to wait or give up entirely.

Turning back the focusing knob, the constellation of Lyra came into full view until he could see the famed Summer Triangle, consisting of three of the sky’s brightest stars: Vega, Altair, and Deneb. In Japan there was not anyone who did not know this star pattern, the legendary reunion of its two brightest stars, Vega and Altair – or Orihime-boshi and Hiko-boshi in Japanese – being keenly celebrated each year.

So when he received a reflector telescope on his tenth birthday, Orihime-boshi had been the first celestial body he had searched for, and it was the same he was gazing at now.

With the same marvel that he felt seeing that blazing star for the first time, he met Victor.

***

“Katsuki-san.”

Looking up from his textbook, Yūri looked up and met eyes with a thin, middle-aged man, who was smiling at him gently.

“Oh, hello Professor,” he replied politely, quickly standing up.

“I always find you cooped up in here, Katsuki-san. As promising as your research may be, I hope you go out to have fun sometimes,” the older man told him with a sagacious look.

At that Yūri looked down at his feet, the statement hitting even too close to home. The closest thing to the “fun” the professor meant was during his exchange year in the United States, when he had his roommate to force him to go to social gatherings. After all burying himself in his textbooks of astronomy was a lot easier – not to mention productive – than hanging out with his colleagues…not that he did not respect them. He was just fine with being on his own, not having to live up to anyone's expectations; it was easy to ignore him anyway.

“I…don’t know if my research is promising, but I believe in Spitzer’s idea wholeheartedly. What NASA is developing…isn't sustainable. An occulter in outer space needs to be simple.”

“That sounds much like a problem for an aerospace engineer. Your hands must already be full with astrophysics as your major.”

Yūri gave a small smile, the professor not having any idea what drove him.

“I feel that…we are decades behind on where we should be in the field of space science. Anything that can help us progress faster is my main focus now.”

The professor nodded thoughtfully.

“Well young man, it looks like you're on the right track. I wasn’t the least surprised when your application for the research center was accepted. Just remember to take it easy on yourself – you still have plenty of time ahead of you.”

He made a half-bow to the professor and thanked him, watching as the latter left the back room of the library. From his point of view, twenty-one was even too late considering what he was in a hurry to achieve.

Time was just not a luxury he had.

***

While he continued to gaze, suddenly the star in the center of the eyepiece disappeared, as if something had flown past not far from his window, a flash of light momentarily filling his room as he looked back from his telescope.

Staring out the open window, his heart began to race.

What had that been? Birds certainly did not emit light.

Torn between suspicion and curiosity, the latter won as he found himself rushing downstairs. He lived in a tranquil town next to the sea, where nothing unexpected usually happened – there was no way he would not go check out what it was. After fetching a flashlight he slipped on his shoes, almost forgetting to take the key and lock the door.

He ran across the front yard, without even knowing in which direction to look. Opting to get a better view of the area, he exited the gate and made his way towards a hill that ran along an open field a few hundred meters from home. His eyes scanned the sky as he climbed, his heart pounding faster with each step. In his hurry the flashlight slipped from his hand, and dragging his feet around in the grass, he quickly bent down to recover it. Once he grabbed it he looked up at the top of the hill, when his eyes widened in shock.

The moon of Tanabata, under which so many ancient poems took life, cast light on a mysterious figure, whose pale skin gleamed in the darkness, even from where Yūri was standing. The sight became even more intriguing as he caught sight of six violet dots glowing in the dark, like fireflies when they flashed their call.

Inadvertently shining the flashlight where he saw those motes of light, his jaw dropped at what he saw.

Someone impossibly beautiful, almost surreal, stood there, their hair flowing like threads of grey silk from a hood of what looked like a tunic sweatshirt, puffed at the top thanks to an elastic waist. Royal blue, the lower half was tucked to the left side, revealing the high-neck unitard that was underneath, made of a dark blue fabric that stopped at shorts length, merging with a light purple, silicone-looking material that swirled down their legs. They were slender, and the loose gigot sleeves that came down their arms enhanced the grace with which they then pulled down their hood.

“You…?”

The Japanese was awkward to Yūri's ears, but for a moment he relaxed at the soft tone. Then the person took a step towards him, and against his better judgment he continued to stand there and stare up at them, without making any move to withdraw.

Their hand flipped over as they lifted their arm in a friendly gesture, with a smile on their lips.

“No need to be scared. I’m just a visitor.”

From the pitch of their voice Yūri had to conclude that it was, in fact, a man – if you could call someone who looked like the incarnation of the moon a “man,” that is.

“Were you looking at the sky?” they asked, edging closer until Yūri could even see the blush on their nose.

The flashlight shook in his hands, his feet still frozen to the ground. The person did not seem to flinch the least bit, despite he was shining the flashlight in their eyes. The motes of violet light he had seen were actually freckle-like dots on their face, two below each eye and one above each eyebrow, as though they were the vertices of two triangles. Yūri could not help thinking their beauty and clothing seemed too otherworldly, even for a foreigner.

Unable to respond, Yūri watched as they sat down on the grass, seeming resigned.

“You saw me, didn't you?”

Yūri began to lower the flashlight, feeling as if his heartbeat was slowing down slightly.

“Wh...What are you...doing out here?” he asked as calmly as possible.

“Hmm...enjoying the sight of the fireflies. And you?” they replied, Yūri hearing the warmness in their voice.

“I’m...” Yūri did not even know where to begin, considering the stranger was being completely casual, as if they had not appeared out of nowhere and in very suspicious circumstances.

“Everyone is at the festival now. Why aren't you?” they suddenly asked.

“I could ask you the same thing, since you claim to be a ‘visitor,’” he rejoined.

They stared at him again, and Yūri shifted on his feet, wishing he could run away and hide.

“Well...maybe I just arrived.”

“In what way…” Yūri began to ask, before stopping himself.

“By magpies, how else?” they said with a broad smile.

Yūri could not help sputtering his lips at the reference to the folktale of Tanabata, wondering if maybe they really were some some kind of crazy, divine apparition.

“So you crossed the Milky Way just to come here?” he asked wryly.

“Why not? It's rather interesting.”

Yūri had no idea how the exchange went from suspicious enquiry to lighthearted conversation, but he was done trying to make sense out of it all out there in the dark.

“Okay...I’ll leave you to your...”

“You're not going to watch the stars?”

“Uhm…”

“It’s such a nice night.”

It was that and a very, very strange one, Yūri thought.

“Yeah…I’ll be going then,” he said as he started to turn around cautiously, clicking off his flashlight so he could easily slip away.

“Oh? To look at them by yourself?”

Yūri flipped his head, eyeing the stranger as their face shimmered under the moonlight.

“To see them up close.” He hesitated in the delivery of his response, but that was the main reason he usually opted to stargaze alone; it allowed him to take notes and focus. It was not like he shared his hobby with anyone else beyond a mere casual level.

“Well in that case, I have a telescope.”

Yūri wanted to ask where, but then he remembered how unlikely that was for someone who was just a “visitor.”

“There’s no need to bother…”

He watched as they brushed back the hair on the left side of their head, revealing a silver ear cuff that criss-crossed once over the cartilage of their upper ear.

“Come, let’s see the stars together!”

Before Yūri could even register what was happening, he could feel his feet lifting from the ground, dropping the flashlight once more as he flailed his arms. He was about to shout when a hand gently grasped his arm, pulling him up so they were at eye level. Catching his glasses before they drifted away, he stared at the long, shiny hair drifting over the person’s head like a tinsel curtain. As soon as their hair dropped to their shoulders he could feel his feet resting on a solid surface again, although it was impossible for him to see.

He covered his head with his hands, not sure what to expect as he began to panic. While speaking with the mysterious stranger he had suddenly lifted into the air with them, weightless, in defiance of gravity and all common sense – unless life was more like science fiction than he had previously thought.

“W-Where are we?” he cried out frantically, trying not to imagine too many negative scenarios at once.

Fluorescent lights suddenly lit up around them, and Yūri was overcome with both confusion and fascination when he saw where he was.

“We’re in the observatory.”

His eyes darted around to see what looked like some kind of polyhedral structure, making him think of the dome climbers he saw on playgrounds, but installed with lights. Outside of it he could see a vast, open space that was filled by a celestial glow.

It has to be a dream.

A few moments passed as Yūri stood there, too incredulous to move.

“Don’t worry, and come have a look,” they prompted, voice warm and gentle.

Recovering from his awe, he suddenly noticed the person was barefoot, and scrambled to take off his shoes in what was also Japanese etiquette, before tentatively following them out into a massive circular chamber, which had a breathtaking view of the night sky thanks to its numerous, broad windows. There was also a hole in the dome ceiling, the moon shining onto the carpeted floor like a spotlight at its center.

Despite feeling overwhelmed, curiosity still got the better of him as he continued to assess the surroundings.

“If...it’s an observatory, where’s the telescope?” he asked timidly.

“It’s all around you.”

Turning in place, Yūri looked up towards the ceiling, outside the windows, when his eye caught a hazy band of light, arcing across the sky.

“The...Via Lactea…”

At the sight of Milky Way Yūri fell to his knees, the view of the galactic plane from the window being unpolluted by artificial light.

Smiling brightly, the person sat next to him on the floor, and he stopped breathing, not daring to move.

“ⰏⰀⰐⰖⰖ ⰒⰓⰙⰙⰒⰓⰉⰉⰀ.”1

Upon hearing the foreign sounds from the person’s mouth, Yūri watched as they pulled up their sleeves, revealing three violet dots on each wrist.

“What do you want to see? The system understands most languages.”

Yūri was not sure what to expect, but figured it was best to answer seriously, as if he were in his room and not what seemed like another plane of existence.

“I want to see the Summer Triangle…?”

The person spread out their right hand above their heads, and suddenly motes of light appeared behind their fingers, a gasp leaving Yūri’s lips as the three-dimensional images shimmered in the the darkness, not straying when their arm lowered. Staring at the right vertex of the asterism, he could not help from exclaiming with another request.

“I...w-want to see Vega!”

With a swipe of their finger the view changed, and he could see the variable star, shaped like an ellipse and almost as big as the palm of his hand as it rotated on its axis, orbited by a disk of dust. Unable to believe how accurate the image seemed, Yūri just stared at it, speechless. Noting his surprise, the person pointed their finger at it, dragging it closer to them with the wave of their hand, until they held it out before him.

“It’s beautiful...” he barely stammered, noting the view of the star was circular from the top.

“Is it your favorite?”

“Yes! Uhm...what’s yours?”

“In your sky? The brightest, certainly.”

“Sirius, the Dog Star? After the Sun it’s the brightest...well, for now at least...”

“You know a lot. Want to see it?”

“It’s in the Winter Triangle though…can we still see it right now?” Yūri asked, blushing at the unexpected praise.

“Of course. You can see anything you can name.”

With the the voice-command telescope entirely at his disposition, soon Yūri was looking up so many astronomical objects it was if he had fallen into a star map as he viewed, apart from stars, nebulae, galaxies, and planets. Drifting off to the dulcet tones and hand motions of the mysterious stranger, he soon forgot all his worries about where he was and why. When he realized a long time must have meanwhile past, making it unlikely that it was just a dream, he looked at his wristwatch and saw it was almost midnight. Worrying that his family might come back home soon, he shifted to face the other before making a half-bow.

“Thank you for inviting me here…unfortunately I must go home now.”

“Ah...yes. I lost track of the time, sorry,” the person replied with a laugh as they slowly stood up. The mirth in their voice echoed in Yūri’s ears, making him even more sorry to leave.

“Will you still be here tomorrow?” he could not help asking.

“Oh, you want to meet again?” the person asked him sweetly.

Yūri could feel the blood rising to his face as he fumbled for words, still in utter disbelief this was all happening to him in the first place; it was the most fun he could remember having in a long time, despite the initial fright he had.

“I...yes. I don’t own any interesting technology like you...b-but I can show you around, if you like...”

“You will?” the other replied, the delight in their voice catching Yūri off guard.

“Y-Yes... Are you allowed to reveal yourself? I mean...”

Yūri had no idea where they came from but he certainly never saw someone like them before.

“It’s okay. Only you can see me,” he replied with a small smile.

“How?” Yūri asked in shock.

“Because you’re a child.”

Not understanding, he exhaled and just left it at that, feeling too tired to process any more information. Smiling, the other offered him their hand and he stood up, secretly basking in the gesture.

Despite everything suggested he had lost his mind while observing the sky that night, Yūri could not bring himself to really care as he took in that smile.

***

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“It’s only training; I won’t leave aboard the spacecraft, mother,” he said as he chuckled at the look on her face.

“Well you’ll still be far away! Make sure to call us as soon as you get there.”

He smiled and waved at his family as he got in the car with his sister, who was driving him to the train station. Although he did not want to admit it, he was rather nervous himself, knowing that despite all his preparation, he had no idea what kind of experience awaited him while living and training in Russia.

Going to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center was mandatory for International Space Station candidates, and it was just the beginning; he still had postdoctoral work related to the Kepler Mission to finish while he completed his two years. He may be the youngest candidate Japan has ever had, and one of the youngest of the world, but there was no guarantee he would be selected for the ISS, or even ride a space shuttle.

Closing his eyes, he tried to relax. If he wanted to qualify, he would certainly need to have his nerves under control; despite his reputation when it came to addressing technical issues in a cold-headed manner, he certainly was not certified handling the pressure of people’s expectations, let alone his own.

Ever since that day seven years ago, when he was just nineteen, he knew he would have to substantiate the “hypotheses” he knew were true, revealing more than humanity was probably expecting to discover by the twenty-first century. Only a leap in technology would guarantee success, and such a feat would be hard to achieve on his own with the current scientific knowledge – yet he was still so driven, energy burning at his core.

After so long, he could still not forget, his feelings expanding at an endless rate into what felt like the infinite.

***

Restless, Yūri stared out his window, replaying the night before in his head. He had been inside a place as large as a planetarium, yet he had not heard or seen anything strange outside after meeting the flamboyant stranger there. Before he left the person accompanied him across the chamber and told him they would meet tomorrow. Putting back on his shoes, Yūri smiled shyly and bowed to them again. As soon as he stepped back into the polyhedral structure, they rested a hand on his forehead and told him to close his eyes. When he opened them again he found himself in his room, alone. He immediately ran to look out the window, toward the hill, but nothing was there.

Dizzy, he turned off his computer and changed for bed, deciding to worry about whether he had hallucinated everything after getting some sleep.

The next morning he went downstairs and ate breakfast as if nothing happened, knowing no one would believe him if he shared the story anyway, no matter how much of a child prodigy they thought he was. Though he could have said it was a dream he had had, he did not feel like diminishing the experience by playing it off as such.

So he kept it to himself.

Pulling out his book of astrobiology as he sat at his desk in his room, he began to seriously question the legitimacy of what he had seen; all signs pointed to an alien counter, but he had no evidence or reason to believe it had not been a dream.

And if...he was seeing things?

Shaking his head, he knew he had to lay off on the science and logic a bit and just accept he experienced something extraordinary, real or not.

He started reading and fortunately got distracted a bit till early evening. As he began doing some summer assignments, he started getting tense again, the work being too easy to really distract him, and therefore decided to go take a dip in the onsen, despite the warm weather. It relaxed him for a while, but soon he was back to thinking about last night, wondering if maybe he should go out for a walk despite being a tad nervous to do so.

He had offered to show the stranger around, but they had not given him a place or specific time to meet. Since they claimed to be invisible to others, Yūri expected the person could just show up whenever they wanted.

...The whole thing just kept sounding more and more like a figment of his imagination.

Unsure what to do, he flopped into the chair that was now next to his window when a glint of silver caught his eye. Over the lens of his telescope he found a piece paper, laminated with metallic foil. After examining it carefully, he found it was strange, on top of being blank, and set it on his desk.

As it gradually became dark outside, he began to prepare his telescope. When he was midway his mother called him for dinner, and he bolted downstairs, more famished than he had realized.

When he came back to his room he returned to his desk, scanning his shelf before he dropped the new notebook he had just pulled out.

In his peripheral vision he had caught a strange light, the piece of paper he had laid on his desk now glowing with elegant ink strokes. He quickly took it, his hands almost shaking as he read a phrase written in delicate cursive:

I’m not far from your favorite star

Feeling his legs weaken beneath him, his mind began to spin as he tried to focus on the screen of his computer. Typing quickly, he set his telescope on Vega, his heartbeat pulsing in his fingers. He had no idea what he was supposed to look for and why, but “his favorite star” would at least be a start.

Taking out his notebook for variable stars, he tried to go over everything he knew. Vega was in the constellation of Lyra and was its brightest star… Maybe they were referring to a celestial body in its neighborhood? Or was it just reference to last night?

Or…

He grabbed his binoculars and headed downstairs, telling Mari, his elder sister, he would be stargazing on the hill for a while as he grabbed the flashlight. She hummed in response, not surprised in the least as he pulled on his shoes.

“You may have a blue belt in karate, but you're still a midget that wouldn’t stand a chance against the evil squid spirit. Text me every half-an-hour.”

Yūri let out a small laugh and nodded, pulling the strap of the binoculars over his head before setting his watch to beep at said intervals. Ensuring his phone was tucked far down his pocket, he left in a hurry.

Reaching the top of the hill, he took his binoculars, pointing them directly at the Summer Triangle overhead. He looked around before putting them down, when suddenly he was bathed in light, like the one that filled his room the night before. The circular shape it projected onto the ground reminded him of a searchlight, and his head shot up to see where it came from.

It was strange, because the light did not seem to have a source at all, vanishing abruptly into the clear night sky, in the direction, he soon noted, of constellation of Lyra. Only a few moments had passed before the light was gone, and Yūri noticed the sound of crickets had suddenly stopped chirping. Spinning around, there was no mistake, someone was just a few meters behind him. His flashlight was off, so he just stared at the lithe figure under the moonlight, eventually realizing it was them.

“You...have to stop creeping up on me like that.”

After a moment the person laughed, apologizing as they came closer.

“Sorry, I’m used to having to hide.”

The violet dots glowed like a star pattern on their face, and unable to resist the temptation, Yūri turned on his flashlight, trying to shine it between them in the most casual way possible. He saw they were wearing their hair tied back in a ponytail and a sleeveless, high-neck top, draped in a mesh overlay that covered their upper arms and reached the hem of their sheer pants, which were slightly loose with snug black shorts underneath. He may not have nurtured much interest in ogling people like some his precocious classmates, but he knew beauty when he saw it.

“Do you want to come up with me again? Last time I didn't get to introduce you to my dog!”

“Your...dog?” he asked incredulously, unprepared for such childlike innocence.

“Makkachin. It’s just a holographic image of her from back home, but she can still interact with you.”

Taking in this last information, Yūri nodded and took out his phone to message Mari, knowing half-an-hour was going to be up soon.

“Will we be...uhm...tractor beamed like last time?” he asked, ready to hold his glasses in place.

“If you rather not, you can just take my hand, and it will be over with.”

Yūri thought about it, not really minding either options.

“Let’s just do both?”

Yūri took off his glasses, sliding the side arm under the strap of the binoculars so he could keep both down while he held onto the other’s hand.

“I meant...well, okay then,” the person finally said, laughing softly as they took his hand.

Their feet began to lift off the ground, but this time Yūri was not scared as he squeezed the other’s hand. Eventually, however, he noticed just how high it was they were going, and avoiding to look down, he used every ounce of his willpower to not panic. Closing his eyes as the bird’s-eye view of the town became too overwhelming, he felt a hand on his forehead, and when he reopened his eyes, they had arrived.

Relieved it was over, he took his glasses and pulled the strap over his head, setting down his binoculars. As fun as the idea had been to float as if he was weightless, he would have enquire about the distance it was from the ground next time. How did the tractor beam even work anyway?

Eager to see more of what was clearly some kind of technologically-advanced aircraft, he moved to take off his shoes and followed closely behind the other to what looked like an elevator.

“We’re going downstairs.”

Yūri nodded, trying contain his excitement.

“Okay.”

When they stepped out, Yūri barely had a moment to take in his surroundings when he saw a…poodle? a few meters from him, suddenly running in his direction and leaping to pounce right on him. Yūri could barely process what he was seeing in order to dodge the large animal, but he did not need to anyway since the photographic projection went right through him.

“She really likes you.”

“How do you have color holograms?” Yūri asked, amazed, watching the dog stand on its back feet.

“Hmm…thanks to nanoblocks? You might have to wait another decade.”

“Your laser technology must be amazing…” he commented, bending down to look at the holographic image of the dog that was now sniffing his hand, albeit unsuccessfully.

Yūri was truly dying to ask more about who they were and where they came from, but he was not one to push if someone did not want to share such things on their own accord. He already had plenty of other questions to ask.

He continued to observe the hologram, when he noticed the dog had limbs that looked prosthetic, despite it jumped around without any sort of impediment.

“Makkachin is really cute…where did you get her?”

“I found her, actually.”

The person went to sit down on a slim sofa that had tables lodged between and at the end of its respective corners. Everything, including them, fit the high-end design, which was exquisitely avant-garde. Only the dog and himself looked like anything he had seen on earth.

Makkachin ran to the foot of the sofa, prompting Yūri to follow her and sit next to them.

“She was alone, lying in the snow.”

Yūri turned from Makkachin to look at them, face dropping at the revelation.

“Somebody abandoned her?”

“I had a feeling that was the case. I was in Saint Petersburg...”

“R-Russia?”

They nodded before continuing.

“I was crossing over a bridge, when I heard noises by the riverside. She was in dire need of help, so I brought her to the medical system onboard. She was half-frozen.”

Cringing at the thought, Yūri was then like struck by a spell.

“Are cybernetic organisms common?”

“No, actually. Farmaceuticals cover and reduce most ills, but it was an emergency and too much damage had already been done.”

Yūri could not believe all the information he was getting, and despite not having as great a streak for robotics, now he was eager to try out something different. There was a wealth of information he could get in regard to that, and it was not like it had nothing to do with space – quite the contrary actually.

“So you managed to save her?”

“Usually I don’t intervene directly with anything that happens, but with animals... I’ve always wanted a dog, either way, so Elder Yakov covered up for me and I got away with it.”

Yūri thought for a moment, realizing that there was a good explanation for their incredibly elusive behavior.

“And now? Will you…get away with this?” Yūri asked, hearing the worry in his own voice.

They tilted their head and gave him a small smile.

“Probably.”

Not feeling all that convinced, he clenched his fists.

“You can always visit.”

The cyan of their eyes was shockingly clear under the light, and an emotion he could not really read flashed across their face.

“I won't tell anyone,” he concluded.

“Secrets can be painful to keep. It’s better if you for…”

“I don’t want to forget!” he exclaimed as he stood up from the couch; his voice rang louder than he intended, but he would not let them misunderstand. Yūri already understood he was witnessing something extraordinary that he could not simply discuss with anyone else – he had no empirical data (yet), not even to prove it to his more skeptical self. All he had was a piece of paper and a few memories, and there was no way he was not going to keep them.

The person’s face looked troubled, and they brushed their hair to the side in what seemed to be a nervous gesture, their eyes resting on Makkachin before looking back at Yūri intently.

“Okay. I promise I won’t do anything to make you forget, unless you ask me to.”

Yūri lowered his gaze, feeling a bit calmer. After a few moments of silence his watch began to beep, and he took out his phone to message his sister. When he looked back up at them, he realized they had given him an opening, as if he would ever have a reason to wish to forget.

“And how would I do that? By contacting you?” he asked, suddenly confused.

“Just burn the note.”

Yūri felt his stomach drop as the words echoed in his head; he could understand the many possible reasons for such precautions, but it still upset him. He got up from the couch and went to the window, trying to not let it get to him as he looked at the view below. Somehow he could feel their eyes on his back, and pressing his hand on the window, he realized he wanted to promise them something too.

“I promise I won’t.”

He still had his back turned, but he knew they had heard what he said as the sound of bare feet came towards him. When they stepped to stand next to him, he tentatively turned his head to look at them, seeing their hand stretched out before him. There was a broad smile on their face, and Yūri took it, returning the firm hold as they replied.

“Alright.”

Elated, Yūri tried to repress the stab of disappoint when he looked out of the window and saw lights turn off in the distance, realizing it was getting late and his family would be going to bed soon.

“How...does nobody see you up here?”

He saw the other's eyes twinkle mischievously, his lips curving into a smile that meant only trouble.

“Promise you won’t tell?”

Yūri knew it was a rhetorical question, unable to not crack a smile as they gestured for him to come closer. Holding still as they leaned down to whisper in his ear, the science side of him was itching in anticipation, and fortunately blocking out his other curiosities.

“Metamaterial cloaking.”

Yūri stared back at them as they moved to stand up straight, assessing his reaction.

“So you’re saying...you have material that can bend light?”

They smiled at him, neither denying nor confirming what he said.

“You could find out, you know.”

At that he felt something swell in his chest, as if he had been issued some kind of personal challenge.

“If I do, you won’t be able to hide so easily anymore.”

Their eyes widened and their mouth parted as if to say something, only to shake their head with a laugh.

“You surprise me,” they said finally.

It made no sense to be told that from someone who was basically surprise incarnate, and he felt his face heat up as he fumbled to reply, eventually resorting to kneel down and pick up one of Makkachin’s fetch toys that, no surprise, the poodle would chase but be unable to bring back.

“Will I be able to see you tomorrow?” he finally mustered the courage to ask.

Their smile faded, the look in their eyes as they averted their gaze giving Yūri the answer.

“I have to leave.”

Knowing he was no position to question why, he simply nodded, forcing himself to acknowledge he also had to go as he reached out to tug on their hand.

“Will you accompany me outside?”

Trying not to think of how close he was to making a friend that he could talk to normally, be it about science or dogs, he followed them to the elevator in silence, giving a last look to Makkachin. When they arrived at the floor of the chamber with the dome ceiling, his chest became even heavier, and he wondered if it was even too obvious that those joined on the night of Tanabata would separate soon afterwards.

Slipping on his shoes, pulling the strap of his binoculars over his head, and shoving his flashlight under his arm, he followed them into the polyhedral structure, feeling too down to even ask what it was called as they held out their hands.

“It’s probably best that you close your eyes till we’re near the ground.”

Taking their hands, Yūri closed his eyes and felt the solid surface give in beneath his feet as his body was slowly lowered down. He then felt the grip tighten around his hands, and he heard them say he could open his eyes, which he slowly did, not bothering to take his eyes off the violet glow on their face.

His feet touched the ground, and letting go of their hands he reached to take his flashlight, his arm hanging without pointing it anywhere particular once it was turned on.

“Thank you, I had a nice time.”

It was an understatement, since he had the most incredible time: he wanted to believe they did too some extent, and that they would visit again, even if he was just some thirteen-year-old that lived in a seaside town in Japan. Despite he did not even know their name or where they were from, there was something so appealing in that confident demeanor, from how their eyes gleamed when they spoke and listened to him.

Unable to see their face clearly, he continued without waiting for a response.

“Where are you going now?” he asked, trying to keep the regret out of his voice.

He saw their profile as they looked at the sky, in what looked like the direction of Vega.

“Not far.”

“Will you come back?”

Their hand then lifted up his chin, so he could not look down and evade their gaze.

“Of course,” he said with what Yūri knew was a gentle smile.

As soon as the hand slipped away he slowly turned around to head towards home, descending the hill at an easy pace until he reached the bottom and stopped in his tracks, fighting the urge to look back.

It had to be a dream.