At thirteen, Gary watches as his dad’s ship explodes into a fireball that blots out the sun. The news calls it a tragedy, but the world moves on. Gary doesn’t. He runs away from his first foster home after a week, after he sits at the top of the stairs and listens to his new parents argue about how best to handle his ‘situation’. ‘Situation’ being the way he talks to nobody, eats nothing, stays by himself in his room all night until the screaming wakes everyone up.
He hits the streets, spending the years wandering from city to city with no destination. He gets better at stealing, at lying. When he’s alone his thoughts turn against him, until he wants to climb the nearest tower and throw himself off the edge. Nearly does, a few times, occasionally with a bottle in his hand, more often without. He meets people, sticks with them, makes his home in the busiest part of wherever he’s staying, surrounded by constant noise that almost manages to drown out the voices in his head.
When he gets arrested, it happens so quickly he barely knows what’s happening, until he wakes up and realises he’s the only living thing on a ship light years away from earth and has to somehow survive it for the next five years.
“Do you really think I’d try to hang myself with guitar string?!” he yells during one of his homemade videos (if he’s honest he can barely remember Quinn’s face anymore, and if he’s really honest he sort of hopes none of these ever reach her, because he’s never let anyone in yet, why break a habit now?) and sighs and agrees when HUE says yes.
If people came on board they’d probably say he was crazy, and maybe he is, a bit, but the fridge magnets and nicknames and HUE and scribbles on the wall are all that stands between him and the abyss, sometimes, so he’ll gladly take crazy.
After the first year he’s managed to sort of accidentally on purpose hack (is it called hacking if the AI lets you do it?) into HUE’s ‘people settings’ and gets him to be a lot more chill, to the point he actually gives clapback once or twice (that bed-throwing trick really hurts, damn).
Then, all his wishes get answered.
Avocato is basically a man-cat, no matter what fancy name his species has, and at first Gary is thrilled, estatic, over the moon (what does that even mean, anyway, how can anyone be over the moon), forces Avocato to play cards and chat and introduces him to Mooncake (properly, sans guns) and generally has the best day of his incarceration to date.
He falls off a balcony and Avocato gets caught and then he has an awkward meeting with the woman who’s skin he’s currently wearing’s family, and then he rescues Avocato or Avocato rescues him and then they get rescued by Kevin, the idiot, and finally they’re back and safe, and end up being –friends.
The thing is, Gary is a people person, but people aren’t usually a Gary person. And the last time he told someone how he felt, they filled out a form for a lifetime course of antipsychotics. So, yeah. He’s used to making noise for attention, not so used to actually being listened to. But turns out Avocato only cares about getting his son back, which suits Gary just fine.
Then Quinn turns up, and it all goes to hell. He’s so used to talking to her, albeit on camera and not the real thing, some things kind of… slip out. And she doesn’t know who he is, doesn’t know his name, definitely couldn’t give two shits about him. He doesn’t know why that hurts so much, when he’d half started convincing himself she was imaginary anyway, but it does.
Then she watches the damn videos, and looks at him like she’s never seen him before, and tells him things she says she’s never told anyone else, and he… can’t. He tries, he really does, but every time he gets close, something gets him by the throat, squeezes his heart, stuttering it’s pounding rhythm of can’t trust anyone, and the nightmares get so bad he doesn’t sleep for nearly two weeks, waking up in the infirmary with a worried Mooncake hovering.
Then Avocato dies. And the one thing he asked Gary to do, he can’t. Littlecato disappears, hides himself in the vents, and it’s only when HUE wakes them up in the middle of the night that they even realise he was planning something the whole time, escape shuttle gone before they even have time to track him.
The Lord Emperor sends out a galaxy-wide broadcast two earth-months later, when they’ve exhausted every resource trying to find him, never giving up hope, and Gary has to watch someone he cares about die in front of him for the third time in his life.
His dad tells him he has a choice, to go forwards or backwards. He looks back on his life, at all the people he failed, all the people he could never open up to, and who paid the price for it. His dad tells him that going backwards holds only pain and suffering. Gary just laughs, and says
Since when have I had anything different?