Space was never something Yuuri loved, per se. He loved his family, loved the shallow ocean of Hasetsu space station, loved his robotic poodle Vicchan.
And yet, almost every night during his childhood he’d found himself passing by the observatory, the glittering colors of the Aria nebula cloud catching his eye. It was there at the outskirts of Known Space that Yuuri first understood that going past their station, into the Unknown, didn’t necessarily mean you came back. It was also there, surrounded by ships of all sizes, crews of all kinds, that Yuuri’s dream career took shape.
He thinks of Hasetsu sometimes, fond memories of a coastline that only stretched a couple kilometers before the fake horizon that surrounded them, a wall so cleverly made that Yuuri took years to understand why his sister teased him for wondering if there was another town across the gently rolling water.
Even the seagulls crying along the shore had been robots.
Perhaps it is this childhood of simulations, so close to the edge of the known universe, that has Yuuri so unsure of whether Viktor is human or not. He is far too beautiful for a seedy bar like this, far too at ease with the slimy substance in his cocktail glass.
Far too accomplished-looking to have any business to do with Yuuri.
“Look,” Viktor says, a charming smile on his pale face, cheekbones so sharp Yuuri fears his fingers would cut open against them. “It’s only a short trip. But I do need a good pilot for it, and I was told you’re one of the best.”
Yuuri doesn’t know what else to say. He’s certainly not the best, hardly even counts as a pilot nowadays.
Viktor looks at him like he already knows Yuuri will agree, that all he has to do is smile and Yuuri will fly him to the ends of the universe. It’s tempting. Perhaps the end of the universe is more forgiving than the bustling underworld of New Tokyo III.
“I hope you find a good pilot?”
The perfect slant of Viktor’s silvery eyebrows are quick to move into a frown. He flicks some of his equally pale hair out of his eyes, revealing only a second eye – you can never assume, Yuuri has learnt from experience. As someone from a rather backwaters space station he’d still been privy to many of the shifting trends of genetic engineering, whether in example or hearsay.
Viktor, to be quite honest, looked like a most successful and tasteful result of such experiments.
“I was hoping you would be my good pilot.”
“That’s a lot to hope for,” Yuuri says, knocking back his tiny shot glass.
He didn’t come here to drink, not really, but something about Viktor makes him want to.
“Name your price. Anything you want.”
Yuuri looks at him, really looks at him, foregoing the awkward glances from before to drink in the effortless beauty only marred by that frown.
“And if I don’t want anything?”
“Everybody wants something,” Viktor counters, leaning an elbow on the sticky table. “I happen to be someone who can meet most requests.”
Perhaps he’s high-ranked in the military, or simply rich enough that his arrogance is merely the truth. Still, Yuuri gets the feeling that Viktor believes this, cheeky wink and all.
“Fine,” Yuuri sighs, done with the conversation and the strange man already and definitely ready to go back to what he refuses to call moping. “You want to know what I want? I want to go back in time and fix all the mistakes I’ve made.”
“Oh, but Yuuri,” Viktor all but purrs, standing up to stretch a hand out to him, eyes glittering with promise. “You won’t need to go back in time for that.”
“Come along, then! Nothing could be simpler.”
Viktor’s hand is as unnaturally pale as the rest of him, perfectly slender, beckoning to solve all his problems in life.
Yuuri, utter fool as he is, takes it.
He can’t help but marvel at the interior of Viktor’s ship. It looks like the hyper modern ships at the Academy except better, somehow. Yuuri can’t put his finger on it. There’s something though, something about the way Viktor navigates the narrow control bridge as if most of the digital wall panels and blinking buttons are completely useless to him.
“Here you go,” Viktor tells him, pressing a large blue button that slides the floor open at the very center of the room, a lone chair rising from underneath. “I don’t use the chair much but it might be a bumpy ride, so please get comfortable!”
“But,” Yuuri starts, even as a curved holo panel flickers to life right in front of the chair.
Well, that mostly explains how he’ll pilot the ship.
“Where did you find a ship like this?” he asks instead, a little in awe at the information rapidly displayed on the screen, numbers and stats and an upper case ALL CLEAR in the middle. “This is the control panel?”
“Oh yes, just use the gloves in the chair. They’re sensitive though!”
Viktor disappears behind a backdoor, leaving Yuuri to prod at the gloves and glasses left on the plush seat. Yuuri is of course used to piloting, but these look nothing like the ones offered in piloting school, certainly not like what he’s been flying the past few months. First of all the gloves are too thin, the material silky and white but lighting up in a bright burst of color once Yuuri nudges the fabric. There are no pads at the fingertips, no orientation nodes visible to the naked eye. The glasses weigh close to nothing, fitting over his eyes smoothly, adjusting on their own until they feel molded to his skin.
He’s not sure how to turn them on, merely stares at the holo screen as if the answer would appear unprompted. On a regular ship there would be a button to the side, but the sleek glass is smooth under his searching hands. A moment later Viktor returns, making a noise as if impatient.
“The sooner we go the better,” he says pointedly, and Yuuri’s cheeks heat up.
What a rookie mistake, to not even be able to start the ship! Though, surely, ships haven’t advanced this much in the few months since Yuuri dropped out.
“I’m not really familiar with this set-up,” he mumbles, and Viktor catches himself.
“Oh,” he says. “No, of course not. Here, let me.”
Viktor motions for him to hold out his hands, and slides the gloves onto them with care. His fingers brush over Yuuri’s skin, surprisingly warm to the touch.
“Just tap your pointer fingers to the glasses,” he says, voice gentle as he steps back.
Yuuri does, and wow. The ship seems to melt away, leaving him with a perfect view of the outside hangar through a layer of the written information that was previously on the holo screen. He turns, finding the 360 degrees of view with no discernible ship to hold him steady just short of dizzying.
“This is incredible,” he breathes, hearing Viktor’s snort despite not being able to see him.
“Tap the left side again,” he says, and when Yuuri does the ship comes back into focus, though only as a silhouette. “It’s probably easier to navigate if you see the ship outline, since you’re not familiar with the size.”
They spend a few more minutes guiding Yuuri through the sensitive navigation commands that are a combo of tapping the holo screen and moving his hands. It takes a little adjusting, since he’s used to having solid plates under his fingers. Where he would usually touch the plates – one hand for the direction of the ship, the other for navigating the holo screen – now all he has to do is keep his right hand up at his side and the ship will move as it moves; the other he can use to tap and drag the information displayed, the words and numbers catching onto the glove.
“Some things are easier by voice command,” Viktor tells him, or rather the silhouette that must be him. “Stick with autopilot until we’re off planet, and then you can play around a little along the way.”
“You still haven’t told me where you got this technology,” Yuuri mumbles, too busy looking over the flight path out of the hangar. “Are the coordinates pre-set?”
The answer comes flashing over the dull grey background of the empty parking spot just opposite of them. They are, in fact, pre-set to somewhere Yuuri can’t quite make sense of.
“And you haven’t told me where we’re going.”
“It’s a surprise!” Viktor says, much too cheerful. “Autopilot, take us out of the hangar, please.”
Yuuri takes the glasses off as the ship smoothly undocks, staring incredulously at Viktor.
“A surprise? You want me to fly you somewhere I don’t even know?”
“Ah, well. It’s not the destination I need help with.”
There is something vaguely guilty in Viktor’s expression, and Yuuri wishes he had another shot to strengthen his nerves. Whatever he agreed to was most likely a terrible idea.
“Say, Yuuri, are you any good at hitting moving targets with plasma blasters?”
“Am I what.”
“Thought so. Don’t worry! I’ll handle the guns while you keep us on the right path.”
Speechless, Yuuri can only stare at Viktor’s enthusiastic grin. Meanwhile the ship makes it out the exit, slowly ascending through tall buildings towards the sky, and, inevitably, space.
“I want to ask, but I don’t think I’ll like the answer,” he says weakly once he finds his voice again, slumping down in the pilot’s chair.
Is it too late to jump ship? It’s only a few kilometers to the ground…
“You’ll have plenty of time to practice before we reach the robot factories. The destroyers are slow anyway, but they’re expecting us. It’s too much work handling both the flying and plasma blasters at the same time, so that’s why I need a pilot!”
There are too many things wrong with those sentences, and Yuuri isn’t even sure where to start.
“What are plasma blasters?” he starts with, because he’s heard of plasma and he’s heard of blasters but never in the same sentence.
“Handy little things. Really effective! But they’re not the easiest to use on moving targets… I really should have listened to Lilia and done a fifty-fifty set-up.”
Viktor trails off, then claps his hands together with another of his very bright grins.
“Well, enough about the ship! Why don’t you tell me about yourself, Yuuri?”
“I’m not a very interesting person.”
Yuuri fiddles with the glasses, avoiding Viktor’s too curious gaze. He can feel his cheeks heat up, all too aware of how shabby he must look. When was the last time he got some proper sleep in a proper bed? He’s a mess, truly, a far cry from the properly groomed pilot student on his ID chip picture.
“I find you terribly interesting,” Viktor huffs, as if he’s decided to disagree with anything Yuuri says. “We’ll be spending an awful lot of time together if we survive the first part of the trip, so we might as well be friendly!”
“If we survive?”
There was something about a robot factory and destroyers, right? Maybe he should have asked about that part instead.
“Don’t worry, I have the utmost faith in your piloting capabilities! We’ll make it through without as much as a scratch!”
“I,” Yuuri starts, staring out the windshield where the atmosphere gives way to the dark vastness of space, “have to use the bathroom.”
It takes approximately fifteen minutes of splashing cold water on his face and asking himself why did I agree to this before Viktor comes knocking on the door.
“Yuuri? I don’t want to stress you but it’s probably a good idea to start practicing now. Unless you think we’ll be fine! In which case I absolutely believe you.”
“Then you’re absolutely out of your mind,” Yuuri mutters, running his hands through his hair and staring at his hollow-eyed reflection.
Unless he’s the one out of his mind, in which case all of this would make a whole lot more sense.
“Yuu-ri, I resent that! Besides, you’re a pilot! Shouldn’t you enjoy some excitement in your life?”
Yuuri pushes the door open, giving Viktor a flat look.
Of course, Viktor only smiles at him. He’s very pretty when he smiles. Not that it matters; Yuuri has no faith in his capabilities to let them outrun whatever destroyers are. They don’t sound very promising.
“I’ll ask you again later,” Viktor sings, leading the way back to the bridge.
Half an hour later, Yuuri is tempted to change his previous answer. This ship is amazing. He barely has to think before it follows his commands, smooth and easy like an extension of his own body.
He’s going to steal this ship. It’s only logical – his career has been so steadily going downwards that theft wouldn’t be much of a surprise to him now. He’ll grab a few years of provisions and head into Unknown Space, to see if it really is all that interesting. And if he doesn’t return, well. It wouldn’t be a great loss for humanity.
“Looks like you’ve got the hang of it now,” Viktor says with a hint of what sounds like awe.
That can’t be right though. Yuuri must be projecting the awe he feels for the ship onto Viktor, whose silhouette leaves and seems to be heading downwards.
“Can you hear me?”
Viktor’s voice resounds through the room, a little too loud.
“Yeah. Maybe tune it down a little.”
“Alright! It’s easier to work the guns from the control room, so I’ll be down here. I’ll open the flight map up for you.”
A 3D map flickers to life before Yuuri, showing a myriad of little dots shaped like an asteroid belt.
“We’ll be going straight through here,” Viktor tells him, a red line appearing through the dots. “Our target is the factory in the middle, it’s on the opposite side of the biggest asteroid from our direction. I’ll blow a hole through the entire thing so don’t worry about navigating that.”
So it is an asteroid belt. The map enlarges, showing a blinking blue dot among the green that represents the asteroids.
“I don’t recall any asteroid belts this close to our sector,” he mumbles, racking his brain for all the major space phenomena until the long empty stretch that marks the beginning of uncharted territory.
“Oh, it’s right past the Aria nebula. The ISU lay claim to it once it was discovered by them, and since then it’s been shielded.”
“Hang on.” Yuuri frowns at the map, desperately trying to catch up to all the info. His depressing evening certainly took an unexpected turn after Viktor showed up. “The ISU has a robot factory behind Aria? And you want us to blow it up?!”
The ISU, or Intergalactic Space Union, was already not happy with Yuuri. He didn’t need to hammer the last nail in his coffin by openly attacking them, too.
“Just a small part of it. We’d need several more ships to make some actual damage, unfortunately.”
“Why can’t we just go around it? Or is that it, you just need my help to blow up government property? We’ll either die or get imprisoned.”
“When you put it like that, I don’t sound like such a good guy. I assure you there’s no threat to your life.”
Yuuri groans. Hadn’t Viktor just said if we survive the first part of the trip? Though that would mean they were heading somewhere else afterwards. He is not going to ask.
“Yuuri, listen to me. What would you do if someone told you that there is actually life out there, besides humans? And that these robots are being built to invade them?”
“I don’t know,” Yuuri deadpans. “No one ever told me that before.”
“Then I’m telling you now.”
“Of course you are,” Yuuri sighs, staring upwards in resignation even though there’s not really any up or down in space. “And you expect me to believe you?”
“What sounds more believable, the ISU secretly preparing an invasion, or me being a crazy person wanting to blow up government property?”
Viktor sounds amused, like he knows things Yuuri don’t that somehow make this situation funny. And when he does think about it, recalling the one time the ISU held their meeting at the pilot academy and Yuuri had to meet them…
At least Viktor seems a lot more genuine as a person. Yuuri likes to think he’s a good judge of character, but should he really let his gut feeling decide this?
“So this ship, it’s alien technology?”
“Yes and no.” He can practically hear Viktor grinning. “If you help me, I’ll tell you everything there is to know. Until then, I’m afraid it’s classified. Top secret.”
“You already told me some stuff,” Yuuri points out, and this time Viktor does laugh.
It’s a quiet laugh, almost fond. Yuuri pretends it doesn’t make him blush.
“And who will believe you?”
If the holo screen was a little more substantial, Yuuri would knock his head against it. He settles for a heavy sigh, but he knows, and he knows that Viktor knows, that he already made up his mind.
“Fine.” Yuuri adjusts the glasses, makes a sweeping check over the holo screen and pulls his gloves on tighter. “Fine, let’s blow it all up and get it over with.”
It’s easier said than done. They jump the ship through hyperspace right onto the outskirts of the asteroid belt, bypassing the nebula – one day Yuuri will have to fly through it just to see the dust clouds he spent so much time admiring from afar. Now they’re behind him, and he nervously wets his lips as he eases the ship forwards. He tries to ignore how smooth the jump was, how precise their point of emergence. Definitely not human technology, he thinks, knowing all too well how bumpy and dangerous the jump was on the few military ships that used it.
“They should notice us any time now,” Viktor says, sounding distinctly more serious now.
“Let’s hope your plan is as solid as you think.”
“Yuuri, you doubt me now? I’ll have you know-“
An angry beeping starts, red-colored warnings flaring up before Yuuri’s eyes. All he has to do is focus on flying, and somehow maneuver them to get a clear shot at the target asteroid. The beeping is all Viktor’s.
It’s a breathtaking feeling, to see everything around him without restriction. The ship outline is a faint glow, giving him an idea of the size and how close he can get to the asteroids. Other than that he might as well be hovering on his own in space, nothing between him and the rocks he’s speeding towards. He’s thankful that the prototype ships he flew back at the academy felt much worse, or he might panic at the strangeness of it all. He can hear and feel the hum of the ship, the chair solid underneath him. And yet he might as well be inside a flight simulation, though even those haven’t ventured quite this far technology-wise.
“Keep it steady now.”
Yuuri braces for impact, but all he feels is a slight lurch of the ship as Viktor must be firing the plasma blasters. The plasma looks like an orange blob, wobbling as it hurtles forwards. It catches onto a huge rock slightly below their path, expanding to envelop the whole thing in orange, and then-
There’s no sound, but Yuuri can’t help but imagine some kind of slurping noise as the plasma implodes on itself and sucks the asteroid with it.
“That’s,” Yuuri starts, swallowing audibly. “That’s certainly effective.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Viktor preens, though like isn’t precisely the word he’d choose.
Perhaps frightened is better. A large enough blaster might swallow an entire planet. He certainly wouldn’t want to come up against that if he were military.
“Ah, look,” Viktor says, “destroyers incoming.”
What can only be described as a swarm of shiny metal things come sweeping across the front, and Viktor fires tiny blobs of plasma that make them bump into each other haphazardly, expanding before imploding in random bursts of orange.
“They’ll be sticking together, so why don’t you show me some of those daring moves, pilot?” Viktor suggests, and Yuuri wonders if his eyes are sparkling with excitement.
Yuuri’s certainly aren’t.
“Most people would call them idiotic,” he mumbles, adding a rearview window to the holo screen and preparing himself for inevitable death.
If the ship had been any less responsive, Yuuri is sure they would have died several times over. As it is he keeps on swerving, spinning; Viktor easily keeping up with the changes of direction as he hits destroyers with pinpoint accuracy.
“I thought you said hitting those destroyers wasn’t easy,” Yuuri comments as Viktor catches what must be fifty of them in a chain reaction.
“It’s easy with a good pilot,” Viktor shoots back, and Yuuri tries not to feel flattered. “See if you can speed up a little, we want to hit that factory before they bring out the big guns.”
Yuuri has only flown faster than their current speed in simulations. And, well. That one other time he Does Not Think About. Either way, speeding up is most likely preferable to whatever those big guns might do to them.
He brings the ship into a tight spin, spearing through yet another mass of destroyers. Viktor lets out an encouraging whoop, and Yuuri discovers that somehow, even though the ship is clearly spinning, the control bridge is not. There isn’t time to wonder about the technology behind it, though, or what other amazing things this ship can do. They’re going too fast for him to react with his eyes – Yuuri exhales slowly and allows instinct to take over.
It’s a feeling much like stepping off an edge and plunging feet first into deep water, only in slow motion. His breaths are loud in his ears, heartbeat a conscious flutter in his chest, and then.
He hates it, but only because resurfacing is so painful. After, everything is too loud, too bright, too overwhelming. Yuuri hates it, but-
It lets him fly without restraints.
The entire universe feels spread out before him, an endless thought that never ends, a hitched breath that won’t release. He’s so alone, and yet he’s filled with vibrant colors, feels energy touch his fingertips. He is everything and nothing at once, and the destroyers and asteroids are merely an afterthought in the eternity that encompasses him. He guides them through the blur, relishes in a ship designed to obey his every move. He feels Viktor, triumphant, a pulsating light beneath him.
The factory doesn’t stand a chance. When the asteroid it hides behind implodes in yet another cascade of orange, Yuuri notes the size, the impressive shields, the lack of life forms.
Perfect, Yuuri, he hears Viktor, and then the factory is gone. The plasma disintegrates it into atoms, billions and billions of them scattering on impact, ghosting across his skin as they pass through. Shortly afterwards the ship jumps through hyperspace, a pre-set command that Yuuri doesn’t interfere with. His mind is white noise, filled with cosmic static, and then Viktor is there.
It’s difficult, to shake out of it. It’s been months, not since that flight, and Yuuri’s limbs are shaking as he emerges from the depths of the universe.
“Yuuri, it’s alright,” Viktor croons, and he comes to in Viktor’s arms, an explosion of loud in his head.
He gulps down air, wrestling the mess in his brain, face scrunched up in pain as he deals with the aftermath. It’s possible he cries, at a loss after the perfect stillness, wrenched from a temporary peace.
“Oh, Yuuri,” Viktor sighs, thumbs gently swiping at his cheeks. “Everything will be alright.”
Curling into himself, Yuuri clings to Viktor’s jacket. His presence is soothing, a balm to the ache in his soul. It’s less pain and more loss, a shiver that refuses to stop. At best, Yuuri would take hours to calm down after taking the plunge – now, he feels his senses return in mere minutes.
Viktor hushes his cries, keeps him steady as the world spins before slowing to a halt.
“Yuuri, Yuuri,” he mumbles, repeats his name like a secret prayer, a fervent promise. “It’s all okay now.”
Yuuri, I’m taking you home.
Half an hour later, Yuuri starts to feel a bit more like himself. Viktor takes him to a lounge, settling him down on a couch with a blanket over his shoulders, a steaming mug of tea placed in his hands.
“Better?” Viktor asks, and he gives a tentative nod. “That was terribly impressive, Yuuri.”
Shrugging, Yuuri sips at the tea.
“It was more impressive how you calmed me down.”
Viktor smiles, then, the back of his hand brushing over Yuuri’s cheek.
“It’s lucky we’re compatible,” he says, and Yuuri frowns into his tea.
“You can do it too?”
“Hmm, no. Not to the extent you can.” Viktor taps his lips, his curious eyes causing Yuuri to blush hotly. “I wasn’t sure you could or that we would be compatible, but I’m glad my hunch was correct.”
“You knew who I was.”
It’s not precisely an accusation, but Viktor coughs all the same.
“I was sent to bring you back.”
“I thought you said you’d bring me home.”
“Oh, you heard that?” Viktor looks delighted. “Well, I suppose I should make us something to eat, and then-“
Yuuri’s hand is on Viktor’s arm, hindering his attempt to stand up. The touch is vaguely electric, like he can feel more of Viktor than simply solid skin.
“You said if I helped you, you’d explain.”
“I suppose I did say that.” Viktor settles down again, watching him in contemplation. “Why don’t you have some more tea?”
Eyeing Viktor with suspicion, Yuuri takes another sip. It has Viktor smiling, warm and soft as if he finds Yuuri’s compliance cute.
“Have you ever considered being something other than human?”
“What? Why wouldn’t I be human?”
“Well,” Viktor starts, his smug tone making Yuuri twitch. “You just connected your brain to the universe. Know any other humans who can do that?”
“I know you.”
“Aha!” Viktor taps Yuuri’s nose, grinning when he blinks in surprise. “This is where your logic fails.”
Irritated, Yuuri sets the mug down on the low table, crossing his arms instead.
“It only fails if you’re not human.”
“There you have it.”
Yuuri stares at him. Sure, Viktor is too beautiful. Sure, the ship is too advanced. But, really?
“What about my family?” he blurts out, and Viktor hums.
“Well, your father is human.”
“And my mother?!”
Viktor’s smile is too bright, and Yuuri groans into his hands.
“Does my father even know?”
“I’m glad you’re taking this so well! And I’m not sure.”
“This really isn’t how I thought my day would turn out,” Yuuri mumbles, glaring through his fingers when Viktor laughs.
Still, an awful amount of things are starting to make sense now. Things his mother has told him. Things he can do that has others – humans – look at him weirdly.
“Yuuri,” Viktor says, serious again. “I wish we’d met for a different reason, but we need your help. Your people need your help.”
It’s a lot to take in. Mere hours ago he was a royal fuck-up, doing odd jobs to stay afloat and procrastinate going home, not wanting his parents to know all their hard work to get him into piloting school was for nothing. And now? Now he’s an alien, apparently.
Could be worse.
“I’m not sure I’ll be much help,” he mumbles, reaching for the teacup again just to have something to hold on to.
“You will be.”
Viktor looks at him like he believes it, like Yuuri is somehow going to single-handedly save an entire world he didn’t even know existed. It won’t last long, Yuuri’s sure of it. But then, what choice does he have? Just turn his back on someone who thinks they need his help? Yuuri hasn’t felt needed in a long time.
“Okay,” he says, sees Viktor’s beautiful face morph into something a little like relief. “Yeah, okay. Sure.”
Thank you, says Viktor’s voice inside his mind, eyes boring into his. Viktor then takes his hand and presses a kiss to his palm, Yuuri’s heart a wild flutter in his chest.
Maybe, Yuuri thinks.
Maybe being an alien isn’t so bad.