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A Russian Lullaby

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Pidge is the one who finds it, of course. It’s late, and she’s trawling through deep-space signals—looking for a particular radiation signature that might lead them to a replacement power source for the food replicator—when an odd pattern catches her attention. It’s faint, and a little chaotic, and it takes her a moment to isolate it.

It certainly doesn’t look like a radiation signature. It almost looks like…

Chewing her lip for a moment, Pidge reaches for her headphones. Plugs them into the modified port on the console. She hesitates for a moment, then slips the bulky phones over her ears.

She listens for a second. Then two.

Then she flings the headphones off, shoots to her feet, and takes off running down the corridor.


“Pidge,” Lance groans, still fumbling with the tie on his robe. “Pidge, I was just about to go to sleep. What’s this about?”

“You’ll see. Shiro, do you know where Keith is?”

Shiro, who had been trying very hard to make some progress in a book on Altean etiquette when Pidge interrupted him, hums. “Probably. Want me to grab him?”

“Yeah. And hurry. Hunk!” She raps smartly on Hunk’s door and is rewarded by the sound of bare feet on a metal floor. The door slides open, and Hunk blinks down at her.

“Uh. Yeah?”

“I’ll meet you guys in the comms room,” Shiro says as he peels off to jog in the direction of the training deck.

“Hunk, follow me.”

“Why?”

“Reasons! God, what is with everyone and the questions?”

“Well—“

“Rhetorical! Come on.”

Pidge drags them both in her wake, moving quickly toward the comms room she left in such a hurry just moments before.

Hunk follows readily enough, but Lance is still dragging his feet. “Pidge, this is gonna wreck my circadian rhythm.”

But Pidge is ignoring him. When they reach the comms room, she flings herself down in her seat and jams the headphones back on her ears. When she hears what she’s listening for, she puffs out a relieved sigh. “Oh, good. I’ve still got it. Hold on, I think I can isolate it a little more.”

Shiro and Keith join them a couple minutes later, but Pidge just shushes Shiro when he tries to needle her for another explanation. Then she slides the headphones off, takes a deep breath, and presses a button on the console.

For a moment, all they hear is static. Then a voice cuts through, a little fuzzy but perfectly comprehensible.

“—took home the ultimate prize this year, in an unexpected twist. I think we can all agree nobody saw that coming! But the real shocker came when—”

“Pidge,” Shiro says, “What are we listening to?”

“Shhh!”

“—little Sonja Henie, just eleven years old, won the hearts and minds of her audience even if she didn’t take home a medal.”

Everyone is quiet now, listening intently to the voice crackling out of the speakers. The penny drops for Lance a moment before the rest of them—Pidge sees his eyes widen, just slightly, when the announcer makes his next statement.

“We’ll bring you more updates as the Winter Olympics continue to unfold. But first, a word from our sponsors!”

“Shit,” Lance whispers, hand going to his mouth. “This is from Earth. This is a radio broadcast from Earth.”

Pidge grins, eyes flitting from one stunned expression to the next. “I told you it was important.”

“No kidding,” Hunk barks, startling all of them as a huge grin spreads across his face. “How’d you find this?”

“Sifting through radiation signals. We must be passing through the wavelength.”

A trio of songsters is singing an a capella ditty about some soap brand, and Lance is tapping his toe. “This sounds old,” he comments. “Really old.”

“1924,” Pidge confirms. “The announcer dropped the date earlier.”

“That makes sense,” Shiro says. His grin is slower than the others, disbelieving but sincere. “We’re so far away, modern signals wouldn’t have time to travel this far.”

The announcer comes back on to introduce a song, and Pidge feels a comforting wave wash over her as music—Earth music—pours out of the speakers. It’s ancient, but the instruments and the melodies are right, and no one on the ship has heard any Earth music that they didn’t bring with them since the planet itself faded in Blue’s metaphorical rearview mirror.

“Baby,” the singer croons, “You’re only teasin’ me, but baby, you sure are pleasin’ me! I’m in danger when you are near...”

Keith lets out a startled sound, and they turn as one to look at him. “I— I know this one,” he explains, the first words he’s spoken since coming into the room. “One of my, uh, caretakers was really old. She had all these records...”

“—My bobbed-haired baby, Bobby! Bobby, be mine!”

Lance laughs. “Always figured you’d be into like, grunge metal. Who knew you had a thing for oldies?”

Keith shrugs, a little self-consciously. “They’re nice.”

“That was Bobbed-Haired Bobby, by the Arcadian Serenaders! Now put on your dancing shoes all you toe-tappers and skirt-flappers, because here’s Ted Weems with Somebody Stole My Gal!”

A bouncy horn beat rolls out of the ship’s speakers, and now Lance is bouncing right along with it. He lets out another peal of laughter, jumping to his feet. “Somebody dance with me!”

When nobody immediately leaps at the chance, he drags Pidge out of her seat. “Come on, Pigeon!”

“I don’t dance,” she grouses, but a smile is tugging at the corner of her mouth. She lets him pull her into an odd little approximation of a box-step, and only yelps when he spins her out for a twirl. Hunk manages to catch her, arms flailing for a moment before he makes a sweeping bow.

“May I have this dance, Miss Gunderson?”

She pretends to think about it very carefully, before nodding. “Fine. But I’m leading.”

Hunk snorts out a laugh as she sweeps him up into an even sloppier dance than she and Lance had managed. Meanwhile, Lance is trying to goad the brick wall that is Keith into joining in the idiocy.

“Come on, loosen up! You’re as tense as a board.”

“I’m not tense!”

“Then stop acting like someone duct-taped you to a two-by-four!”

Shiro doesn’t get up, but he does clap along with the beat as he laughs openly at the awkward display of rhythmic deficiency. Just as Keith is finally getting his feet under him, the door hisses open to admit Allura and Coran.

“What— What in heaven’s name is all this?” Allura is blinking around at them a little owlishly, her expression of confusion only deepening when Pidge attempts to dip Hunk and the two of them end up in a heap on the floor.

“Earth music,” Shiro explains.

Coran’s mustache twitches in befuddled amusement. “I’ve heard your Earth music. It doesn’t sound anything like this.”

“Old Earth music,” Lance clarifies, managing to spin Keith out and reel him back in without destroying any furniture. “Like, really old.”

Pidge explains the transmission as she stumbles to her feet, pulling Hunk after her. She’s interrupted several times by wailing horns, but Allura seems fascinated.

“How wonderful,” she finally says, clapping her hands together. “That such a primitive transmission can reach us all the way out here is truly astonishing.”

“Let’s slow it down for all you lovebirds out there,” the voice of the announcer interrupts. Another song comes on, this one a little more mellow. Violins and tinny French horns fill the air and the dancers break apart with awkward chuckles.

As the song becomes progressively slower and more sentimental, the group slowly sinks back into their seats. A few more follow, in the same vein. A particularly familiar refrain catches their ears, and Pidge thinks she can hear Lance murmuring along.

“It had to be you,” he hums with the woman on the radio. “Wonderful you...”

Another few songs roll by, and finally the announcer interrupts again. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached the end of our broadcast day. Before we leave you to your sweet dreams, here’s one last tune we know you all love.”

The music that follows this announcement is soft, gentle, all strings. Keith closes his eyes, and Lance sways slightly in place. Shiro’s expression is distant, and Pidge looks away when she sees that Hunk’s eyes are a little damp.

A voice, male and soprano, rises above the tune.

“Where the dreamy Volga flows, there’s a lonely Russian rose...”

Pidge rests her cheek on her hand, eyes flickering to the wide window of the comms room. Outside the stars drift lazily by like leaves on a river current, faint points of light in a vast expanse of nothing. The song seems to float by in much the same way. The distance between them and the Earth, already so incredibly vast, seems to grow as the music flows over them.

A hundred years, she thinks. A hundred years since these songs were sung, broadcast to any home with a radio. To restaurants about to close, to couples dancing in their dining rooms, to clusters of kids who’d begged to stay up just a few more minutes.

To her own great-great-grandparents, maybe. She’d never met them, but she’d seen their picture. Her great-great-grandfather’s red Holt hair made sharp gray by the black-and-white film development. They would have been young, courting or just married, her great-great-grandmother’s eyes bright with hope for the future and too relieved by the end of one war to see the shadows of the one that would take her husband.

She’d never know, Pidge thinks distantly, about the war that might still take her great-great-granddaughter.

“Rockaby my baby, somewhere there may be, a land that’s free for you and me, and a Russian lullaby...”

The music trills to a close. The announcer comes back on, a smile in his voice.

“Thank you,” he says quietly. “And goodnight.”

The transmission fades to static. No one makes a move to shut it off.

Eventually, the static fades too. Pidge doesn’t bother trying to find the transmission again. It was a miracle, she thinks, that they found it at all. Who knows how it made its way out here, ricocheting off of planets and arcing through vast stretches of empty space, to be picked up on the Castle’s sensors. They took a wormhole, but this transmission took the long way.

And it’ll keep going, she knows. Further and further, deeper into the unknowable reaches of space, for another hundred years. And another after that.

Shiro gets up first. He nods a silent goodnight to the rest of them, and slips out of the room. Allura and Coran have already gone, Pidge realizes, though she didn’t notice them leaving.

Hunk goes next, and if there are dried tear tracks on his cheeks no one mentions it. Keith follows him out.

Lance is the only one who speaks, and even then it’s just one word.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, and slips out into the hall.

Then it’s just Pidge. Pidge, and the endless silence of space. She fingers the band of her headphones, eyes tracking a star as it wanders past the window. She imagines, for a moment, that it’s Earth’s own yellow sun—distant but not out of reach, warming the surface of a planet untouched by the war she might never see the end of.

A hum starts, absently, in the hollow of her throat.

“Somewhere there may be… a land that’s free… for you and me...”

She closes her eyes.

“And a Russian lullaby...”

(illustration: Russian Lullaby, by stardustinjune)