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My Heart in Your Orbit

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+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 4, 2018. 8:40 PM, JST. Nationwide Television Broadcast. +

 

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

My name is Koyama Keiichiro and on today's "Starry News," I am reporting about an upcoming meteorite shower, which will be visible during the night hours over Japan – especially over the northern regions of Tokyo. Star-gazing friends all over the country are looking forward to the nocturnal spectacle. However, as always, experts demand caution, when searching for a proper spot to witness the event.

According to the opinion of experts from the Tokyo Astronomical Observation at Tokyo University, which operates as part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, short NAOJ, the chance of meteorites falling down on earth is relatively small, as most debris use to burn up when entering the atmosphere, dying in their most beautiful shape – a shooting star. The results of calculations show, that only a few debris from the biggest of the meteorites – named "Baetylus IV" by specialists, which will certainly break into smaller pieces from the impact with the atmosphere – could reach the Earth's surface.

Further calculations showed that the spot for a possible minor crash is located in a rather rural area of northern Tokyo, most likely in the woods – as shown on our map here for demonstration. Experts strongly recommend avoiding this area during the night hours, just to be on the safe side!

Bearing this in mind, I ask you all to take care and wish you a mesmerizing night.

This was your host Koyama Keiichiro from TBS' "Starry News". Take care, and see you tomorrow night!

 

* + * + *

- - Note on: Baetylus IV
- A comet's name, given by specialists of the Tokyo Astronomical Observation at Tokyo University, part of the NAOJ
- Derivation of name: "Baetylus" (also Bethel, or Betyl, from Semitic bet el "house of god") is a word denoting sacred stones that were supposedly endowed with life. According to ancient sources, these objects of worship were meteorites, which were dedicated to the gods or revered as symbols of the gods themselves. (Source: Wikipedia)

* + * + *

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 5, 2018. 00:07 AM, JST. Somewhere in a Forest, North from Tokyo +

 

Something was strange with the sky tonight. It was bright, brighter than usual, and it was moving, faster than usual. Bits of it, at least. It wasn't a common sight, at least not too common, and every time something like that happened, it was something to keep a close eye on, just in case it became dangerous.

A deer, hidden behind a line of bushes close to a pond, observing the situation, put up its long and steady ears and was ready to move even to the smallest noise coming from inside and above the woods. Its eyes were wide, staring into the night, taking notice of all the small white dots in the sky above its head. The deer's small, stressed heart was racing, its long legs trying to stand still, but shaking. It was ready. Ready to turn around and run, run as fast as it could, leaving everything behind, its hooves quicker than anyone or anything could even get a glimpse of it.

The deer was waiting, patient, nervous, anxious. There, the sky was moving again! A small piece of white, dropping, fast, almost too fast to catch the motion, but it was there. And then, there it was again. And again.

Still, the noises around were familiar to the deer's ears, like the soft rustling of leaves tickled by the night wind, a minor swish in the grass behind, caused by a rodent on its nightly foray. The distant howling of a night bird. Nothing unusual, nothing worth more than a slight flick of the deer's ear into the source's direction, before it focused back on the indeed unusual spectacle in the night sky beyond the trees' crowns.

The deer could hear it, before it came into vision, could sense the strange vibrations that made the pond's surface break in tiny little waves, before it realized what was going on. The noise cut through the cool night air, a swoosh, growing constantly louder, frightening.

The deer's large furry ears twitched, irritated. Suddenly, there was something flickering in the darkness of the sky and the deer froze. It flickered again, and again, and each time it did, it - whatever it was – had come closer and closer, until the deer finally decided that things were getting too dangerous around here.

Eyes wide open and shaking, the animal shied, rose its front feet, hooves high at its chest, before it turned on its hooves and dashed back into the woods, fast like a flash, tramping its way over the grass and earth and jumping over obstacles, as if on springs. With a last rustle of bush leaves, the deer was gone.

+

Just a few seconds after, just in the same place the animal had been standing, something big and round, with birdlike wings attached to its sides crashed to the ground with considerable speed, splitting off one of the wings. The impact was strong enough to cause a ditch in the forest's ground. The shrieking of metal could be heard, accompanied by the dull bounce of further debris flying off into every direction. The damaged object that had just fallen from the sky blinked at the edges, then flickered again, giving space to nothing, as if it had disappeared just now and then, before it fully came back into vision, and this time, it stayed, dark and dead.

Silence. Only the moon and the starry night sky, shooting stars still highlighting the black, were shining on the object.

Then, there was a loud hum; the edges started blinking again, in no recognizable pattern. Shortly after, hammering and clanking came from the object, and finally it gave another shriek, long and metallic, as if something was trying to break free from whatever this was.

A second later, some part of the metallic object – a door? - fell open, bouncing off the ground and raising dust, before it stilled, and someone – or something – resembling a human figure, but with considerably longer limbs and long, stringy wavy hair, emerged.

The figure looked around, lingered for a moment, as if in awe. The moonlight – just like the lights blinking from the inside of the object, which was accompanied by beeping noises – was reflecting strongly off the figure. Or was it its clothes? It was hard to tell, but the reflection was almost like a glow in the dark. After about a minute, the creature lifted its long limbs that must be functioning as its arms, to its body, wrapping them around before it slumped. It started trembling a little, and then, its shape started to shift. The figure shrunk in size and its limbs lost in length until it reached the size of a rather short man. The shiny glow was gone, replaced by matt, ordinary skin and a short haircut. Whatever it was, at a close look it was visible, that it had shifted into a normal man with brown hair and Asian features.

+

The man stretched his arms, wide, before he brought them together, clumsily, as if he still had to get used to the measurements of his new body. His clothes' sleeves were definitely too long for his short, slender body now, which made moving a bit tricky. He took a few steps, jumped, lifted one foot, then the other, while rolling up his sleeves and pulling up his too long pants. Good thing he had prepared and put aside some more fitting clothes somewhere inside of his ship. He could quickly change into them before continuing his journey.

He groaned, frustration painting the noise when he turned back to the crashed object behind him and took in its deformed shape. He walked up to the ruined plate lying on the ground and leaned against the metallic frame of the door that he had created, looking inside. Colourful lights, coming from all over the place, as the whole cockpit seemed to be almost turned upside down, were lightening up his face, and if anyone would be able to understand the unfamiliar language, the content of the conversation could be understood in a way of the following.

"Zat-Uhm, damage report, please," the man said, as if this was a simple routine check. "What says the first quick-scan?"

"I tried to re-start all systems but did not receive answers from all of them yet," a female voice – no, a female but somewhat artificial sounding voice – replied. "Obviously, the shell is damaged. One wing is almost completely missing."

It was hard to grasp the exact sound of that voice. It cut the edges of each syllable, not always noticeable, but still slightly different, and there was kind of a small echo to it, as if the voice was speaking into a tiny box. There was no visible source of the voice resounding from the inside of the cockpit, but there were colours flashing over a small monitor in the front, mimicking the voice's intonation and volume with a dance of short and long coloured stripes. Either, someone was speaking through a connection, or, the whole object must be the source of Zat-Uhm's voice.

"What’s with that reproachful tone?" the man asked, frowning, a cute pout on his lips.

"You kicked out one of the side walls instead of exiting normally." Zat-Uhm summarized the happenings neutrally, before her voice turned a little miffed. "Just because I can't feel pain, it doesn't mean that you can kick around and damage my vessel as you please."

"Sorry, Dear," the man sighed, reaching his hand to gently touch a nearby metal plate, as if he really wanted to convey a feeling of apology. "Normally just wasn't possible, since the door is currently kissing the ground, as you surely noticed."

"Indeed, I noticed that. And I know there wasn't any other option to exit. Still, damage was done. I am just stating the facts."

"OK," he lifted his hands in resignation. "I get it. I should have been more careful. I underestimated the meteorite shower, I admit."

The man climbed back further inside the metallic object and started climbing up to the ceiling – the actual floor of the cockpit – to take place in something that reminded of a stool, in front of thousands of displays.

"Arti-grav system rebooted," the voice from the cockpit said, a warm hum echoed through it, and immediately, the man's steps became easier and shortly after, he was able to sit down on his pilot's seat without being bothered – or even effected – by Earth's gravity at all.

He crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest and glanced at the displays in front of him, humming as he let his thoughts wander. In the process, he quickly brushed his fingertips over the display that indicated any change of the female, artificial voice – Zat-Uhm – in a caring gesture, before he reached his hand to touch another one of the displays. With only a slight touch, he activated a small beam of turquoise light that shot into the air in front of him and formed something like a list created from strange symbols. The hologram flickered and died. Upon another try of activation, it didn't react, and the man cursed under his breath.

"Holo-creator temporarily offline," it sounded from the cockpit, and maybe – just maybe – there was a slightly mean undertone lying in the female voice.

"I know," he sighed, slightly unnerved by the stating of the obvious. He tried to calm down, trying to remind himself that after all, it was his fault that all was ruined, and that actually, none of this truly mattered any more. "OK... Anything else?"

"Base board system running. Or else you couldn't use the displays at all," she really didn't have a good night, obviously. "I shut down the engine as a precaution to avoid an explosion."

"Good idea," the man chuckled, slightly nervous. Just because he didn't need this any longer, didn't mean he didn't mind getting blown up by it accidentally, now that he finally reached his goal.

"Navigation system most likely faulty, but I should be able to correct it quickly. Detailed damage still being calculated. You want a first estimate?" Zat-Uhm offered.

The man shrugged. "Sure."

"Our ship is broken."

"You don't say!"

Silence.

Humming, the man nodded slowly. "Well, to be honest, the only thing I am truly concerned of at the moment is the invisibility shield that broke right before the landing…"

"Damage noted and confirmed. I am not sure whether I will be able to fix that without a replacement of certain tech. This will be a problem for the return," for some reason, the artificial voice sounded worried.

"I told you, I don't think we will need it again, so I don't mind. I just hope nobody saw anything."

"Calculating the number of damage report messages that the invisibility system sent to my core, taking the intervals between them and crossing everything with our last trajectory – as far as those are trustworthy, due to the damaged navigation system – and considering the coverage we might have received from the still ongoing meteorite shower –"

"Zat-Uhm," the man said, softly but determined. "Please keep it short."

"Sure. Don't worry. I am sure, nobody noticed."

"OK. We'll take care of everything later on," the man then decided after a short pause. "For now, let's go check the area!"

"I hate to stop you in your enthusiasm, but first, shall I call for an emergency shuttle to pick us up again, your Highness?" Of course, she tried to get them back. Not only that, her voice did not only give a suggestion, but it could also be understood that she was really upset with her pilot, especially when considering the emphasis, she used on the title to address him. Which was rare, to begin with.

"Do I hear sarcasm here?!" the man arched an eyebrow before he continued in a calm voice, trying his best to soothe her temper. "You know not to call me that. I'm your friend. And no, we don't need an emergency shuttle to come here, thank you very much. You know the plan."

"Noted. Friend who damaged my shell," still, her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The man should really know better than making her angry. Carefully, he tried to get her into a better mood. "Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate your sense of humour. Not every AI is talented in reproducing something like that."

"An AI can only be as smart – or as witty – as its creator," Zat-Uhm gave back adroit.

"Now, is that a compliment or criticism?" the man in the pilot's seat wondered, crossing his arms again and raising his eyebrows challengingly. After all, he was the one who fine-tuned and programmed Zat-Uhm, which was based solely on a basic AI that he fed with tons of databases to make her the best possible over years.

"Criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. Just sometimes. But mostly, it depends on the recipient and how capable they are to deal with the criticism they receive."

The man released a sigh, but the corners of his mouth curled up into a smirk. "You're too smart, Sweetie."

"And you are too smart to waste your talents hiding on a primitive planet like this one," Zat-Uhm shot back. "Are you sure we don't need the emergency shuttle I suggested?" she added stubbornly.

"I said I appreciate your sense of humour, I did not ask for your opinion," the man replied, his voice turning a bit stricter. "As I said, no, we are not going to call anyone; I am finally out of there. Now let us find a quiet place."

"But what about our ship?"

"We don't need it anymore. We'll just leave it here," the man suggested immediately.

"Excuse me?!" the artificial voice reached a higher volume than usual, echoing back from the cockpit. "And what will happen to me?!"

"No need to panic!", the pilot replied, lifting his hands and started to gesture. "I'll take you with me, of course. I'll carefully disconnect your core from your current vessel and we'll find you a new one... After all, you're the only one I need."

"You're trying to soothe me with your flirting, but that does not work with me!" the AI replied strictly. "What if somebody finds the ship? The invisibility shield is broken, like you noticed."

"I could just drown it in the lake," the man shrugged.

"What a waste!" Zat-Uhm exclaimed in shock. "Besides, my measurements showed that it's only some kind of pond. Probably not even deep enough to drown anything."

"What did I say about offering your opinion, honey?"

"If I was a living being, I would feel offended now," Zat-Uhm huffed.

Smiling, imagining the AI as a person with red, puffed cheeks, the man laid back in his seat in amusement and said, "You have been feeling offended since we crashed! I'm still amazed your personality is even capable of being like that."

Neutrally, but with certainty, Zat-Uhm answered. "It's not designated in my system to voice an opinion. I am solely following learning patterns and algorithms taught by you. So basically, I am imitating some of your moods of which I have data on over the past decades, and most likely I am currently voicing your own doubts."

Ouch.

"Too smart…"

"So, what if we need it one day? In case of an emergency?"

The man considered their options. He had to admit that indeed his AI did have a point.

"Hm… I guess we better hide it then. An invisible canvas will do for now. We brought some with us, didn't we?" the man voiced his compromise.

"According to my inventory record from before the start of our journey, yes. Two of them, in the storage space in the back," the AI agreed. "Granted, if they are not damaged from the crash, they should work just fine. Then everything that is left is to hope that no one finds the covered ship."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Not a very good plan, if I may say."

"You may not," the man said, lifting one hand to dismiss the cheeky AI's comment. "Oh, and don't forget to switch off your locating system when I put you off the core –"

"But—"

"No, Zat-Uhm, we talked about this! I don't want anyone to find us! Make sure, it's deactivated, or I will make sure of it!"

"Yes, your Highness…"

The man rolled his eyes but said nothing and got to work.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 5, 2018. 00:42 AM, JST. Somewhere in Tokyo +

 

Nino always thought his life was pretty boring, and he himself probably too. Sometimes, just sometimes, he wished that he had a more thrilling life, maybe a more interesting job, or some kind of special talent… but most of the time, he was content with his boring life, his boring job, his not so special talents, and he even very much liked being considered as a boring person by other people.

It meant that they would leave him alone. Which meant that most of the time, he had enough time to focus on his hobbies, like reading, watching good movies or his favourite TV-shows, or losing track of time over a thrilling game that he played all night until he would fall asleep just to wake up the next day, crouching over his controller, and almost running late for work.

Despite Nino's low opinion about himself, for some reason, there was always one person that did not consider him as boring, just because he did not have an outgoing personality. His best friend since childhood – Jun.

Nino and Jun were as different as day and night, but somehow, things with Jun were easy and comfortable. So easy, that it seemed to be the most logical decision to move into an apartment together after graduating from school. They were so comfortable that even now, years later, they still didn't even consider moving apart.

They had figured things out, and made things work. While everyone was responsible for keeping their own room tidy and clean (whatever their definitions of those terms were), for the common area of the small apartment, they had reached a silent agreement over time, derived from their preferences and talents, which had grown into habits. In short, this meant that Jun took care of the cleaning as well as shopping for groceries and other necessities in their household, while Nino took care of the laundry and the cooking.

Jun had a lot of friends, so he didn't spend each and every second at home, and Nino knew how to make good use of those precious hours of solitude, before the two met again and spent some quality time together in the kitchen or the living room. Jun was there, when Nino needed someone to lean on, and Nino was there, when Jun needed someone to listen to him. Nino was a good listener, and Jun benefited a lot on his friend's tips when he needed some. Still, Jun never forced Nino to talk when they spent time together, nor did he call him too quiet or anything like that. That was different from other people, and Nino appreciated that very much. However, Jun always made it clear that he was interested in Nino's opinion, in what he had to say about the sun and the moon and the world, and he also made clear that he was ready to listen to Nino too, whenever his friend was up for a talk. Which happened, sometimes. Pretty often, even, considering that Nino wasn't much of a talker with most people. But with Jun, Nino felt comfortable talking, and shared more secrets with him than with his family.

What Nino did not feel comfortable with was accompanying his friend to parties. Jun loved parties, and as the funny and interesting guy he was, he usually was the centre of them, surrounded by a considerable number of friends and people who mostly wanted even more from the good-looking young man, and usually with quite a few beers or cocktails in his system.

Even though Jun accepted Nino's tendency to be an introverted homebody, it happened, that for some special occasions, he would ask – no, beg - Nino to come with him to this party or that celebration. Especially when they were parties thrown for his sake, like Jun's birthday, or like his recent promotion at the fashion company where he worked as a designer. Talking about the latter, this was exactly what they were celebrating tonight, in form of a costume party.

Of course, as Jun's best friend, Nino made the sacrifice and went with him on these rare occasions (he even dressed up in a video game character's cosplay for Jun's sake tonight!). Though, Nino made mental notes that in exchange for each party he accompanied Jun to, Jun owed him a cinema ticket for a motion picture screening, he would accompany Nino to. The young man was of the opinion that this was a fair one-hand-washes-the-other-hand deal, especially because he was generous enough to pay for their snacks, in return.

So, bearing in mind his upcoming reward, Nino usually managed to go through such party evenings with Jun, somehow. When things got too loud or stressful, Nino would just search for a safe and calm corner to watch people while sipping on a drink, instead of pushing himself to have mundane small talk with people he didn't know or care about over much too loud and heavy music. Sometimes, he even ended up searching for a pet to keep company instead of dancing with the party people in the living room at a house party. Jun was OK with Nino disappearing from time to time, as long as Nino was available for a drink or two by his side, in between, and Nino was OK with that too.

Which leads us to why tonight was not OK, though.

First of all, Jun had introduced one of his co-workers to Nino, who apparently had seen him at another party that Nino already successfully deleted from his memory, and had developed a crush on him.

"She likes your cool, chilled aura, right?" Jun had said, throwing Nino a wink, who wondered if anybody had described his introvert behavior like that before.

Nino looked pretty confused with the situation and he was definitely not dealing well with it, especially, after Jun whispered into his ear that Nino should be the one breaking this poor girl's heart by himself instead of having Jun do it – which was what he had hoped for, to be completely honest. Just a little piece of information would have been enough to make the girl understand that she was wasting her time, but Jun was adamant about each dealing with their own shit, if possible.

Since Nino was not really used to and not really good in such things (when was the last time that someone had a crush on him?! As convinced single, he had long stopped paying attention towards such things), he had completely failed in telling the girl (dressed in a horribly trashy fairy outfit) that he was not interested. Not because she wasn't cute or friendly, or beautiful, but for other reasons that he didn't manage to convey. He just didn't have the heart to tell her that he didn't like girls that way. It wasn't that he had a problem with admitting that, per se, but apparently, he just really sucked at turning people down.

While Nino hoped to bore her away by being awkward rather than talkative, like he usually do with people other than Jun, that girl somehow made it to hanging around him for the whole evening. It was surprising, and at first, Nino honestly wondered, what made her interested in him in the first place, but as time passed, the more uncomfortable and anxious Nino became.

Which was probably the reason why, second, tonight it had not been over after just one or two beers, no, it had definitely been more that he drank and if just due to the nervousness caused by that friend of Jun. The problem was, actually, Nino wasn't used to more than two beers, and he wasn't going well with too much alcohol. The results thereof now were an amazing headache and a very uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

In the end, Nino somehow managed to shake off the girl for a moment, and went searching for Jun, who was dressed like a pirate coming from a plunder, and – as expected – partying on a table, dancing with one of his male colleagues from work – Toma, if Nino remembered the name correctly - in a very tight embrace. One arm slung around the man's neck, the other occupied by a poisonous looking, red drink, Jun swayed to the rhythm of the music, the tons of fashion accessories hanging from his neck bouncing off his outfit.

"Jun! Hey, J!" Nino called him twice, when his best friend didn't turn around to him after the first time. "I'm feeling sick, I'm heading home!"

"What?!" Jun asked, excusing himself from his colleague and jumping down from the table, the drink in his hand swapping over the edges of the glass and the peacock feather at the brim of his pirate head swaying heavily, when he landed right in front of his friend. Concerned, he looked at him, reaching out his free hand to ruffle through Nino's black hair in a caring gesture, a worried look on his face. "You really don't look so well… Are you OK?"

Nino hummed. "Just too much beer, I guess…"

"Shall I walk you home?" Jun offered immediately, before taking a sip of his drink in an attempt to at least finish it and not let it go to waste, if he was about to leave the party.

"No no, it's OK," Nino replied, waving a hand in dismissal. "Stay here and enjoy the night. It's your night, after all, Head of Design."

Instantly, at the sound of his new job position, Jun lifted his glass and a joyous high-pitched cheer left his mouth, which got immediately echoed by the people around him. The young man grinned proudly, before he turned back to Nino, face all serious again and putting his free hand on his friend's shoulder.

"But I don't like the idea of you walking through the city just by yourself when you're feeling sick, Nino! I'm your best friend, I should take care of you," the young man said, nodding to himself.

Nino wasn't so sure if it was him who needed guidance, or if it was actually Jun, seeing how he swayed (it was amazing though how he was able to formulate full sentences, still, considering the amount of alcohol he must have consumed by now). However, Nino was sure, that someone – or more – would end up volunteering to bring Jun home safely later on – if not taking him with them for the night, which wouldn't be the first time either.

"Really, it's OK, I'll manage-" Nino said before suddenly, he got interrupted by a girl's voice.

A cold shiver ran down Nino's spine when he recognized the voice. Damned, and he thought he had gotten rid of her for tonight...

"I'm sorry, I accidentally happened to hear your conversation…," the girl – Nino had already forgotten her name again – said and the young man wondered if it really was an accident or if she had been stalking him. "I'm free, shall I walk you home?" she offered with a smile.

Oh no, please, no, Nino sent a silent prayer to whoever might be listening, but he feared it didn't work.

"Nino?" Jun arched an eyebrow. "You seem to get along well, don't you?"

Actually, Jun knew exactly, that Nino was not getting along well with that girl at all – even if it had turned out as a one-sided dislike – however, Jun was also of the opinion, that it was Nino's fault if he made people misunderstand his behaviour. Admittedly, he was right. Still, Nino didn't give in. Not yet.

"I'm OK, I don't want to bother you–" he started, before his friend cut him.

"Oh, I'm sure, you won't bother her, Nino," Jun sing-sang. His eyes though said, "Get rid of her like a gentleman, and don't get her hopes high."

Traitor, Nino thought.

"No, really, it's no problem," the girl smiled shyly, pushing back one of her long strands of wavy black hair. Damned, she really got her hopes high.

"You're not going home alone in your state, Mister, end of the discussion!" Jun decided.

Nino sighed, finally giving up when Jun's strict gaze didn't even leave him when the man aimed for another sip of his drink – missing the edge of his glass by an inch at first.

"OK. Well, then… Thank you," Nino bowed slightly into the direction of the girl, trying to bring as much distance between them as possible.

"Do you need help walking?" The girl asked hopefully, moving a little closer, which caused Nino to shy away again, though, smiling at her apologetically.

Jun was right. He really should make clear that he wasn't interested in her, before she was getting even more annoying.

+

Nino didn't manage to set things right until they reached his and Jun's apartment – which was actually located only a few blocks away from tonight's party – a distance he definitely would have managed by himself, Nino kept insisting in his mind. Instead, Nino managed to get rid of the girl by quickly thanking her for the walk and closing the door right into her face, faster than her lips could even form the words "Good night", let alone try other things that Nino definitely wasn't in the mood for. This admittedly had neither been the most gracious nor gentlemen-like or grown-up way to handle things, but it was effective nonetheless and if Nino was lucky, he would never meet her again.

Right now, more important than his reputation, was definitely the urge to search for an aspirin and a glass of water, as well as the not to ignore the call his bed was making.

Clumsily, he found the desired medicine in the bathroom in the mirror cabinet over the sink somewhere on Jun's side. He grabbed a not-so-clean-but-it'll-do glass that was hanging around there for some reason he couldn't remember, and while the aspirin was fizzing and bubbling up the water, he slouched through the apartment into his bedroom to pull out his pajamas from under the pillow, that were much more comfortable than his stupid costume, and changed into it.

He picked up the glass – the aspirin now fully dissolved, the fizzing noise gone – and brought it to the living room, where he slumped down on the couch, the room lit only by the low glim of a lamp behind the furniture. Nino sighed, shifted and leaned back his head, bedding it against the couch rest while stretching his legs that didn't even reach the other end. He closed his eyes just for a second, before he remembered the medicine. He gulped down the liquid, stopping halfway for a second to remind himself that his stomach was still upset, and he should probably drink a bit slower. He carefully finished it and put the empty glass on the coffee table in front of him before he leaned back again.

The world was still swirling a bit, but Nino willed himself to feel the medicine getting to work and focus on the healing process. He had no idea if that really helped, but trying to relax at least took his mind off the stress he had felt throughout the whole evening. He sighed deeply, relieved, before allowing his mind to slip away...

+

Nino had no idea how much time had passed before he opened his eyes again. Just a little bit perhaps. It was still dark outside, the dim lamp in the living room was the only source of light, and his head still felt heavy and thick, pictures blurred into Nino's tired mind, so that it was hard to tell if he was actually awake, or still half asleep. However, it wasn't a coincidence that the man had reacted to something, rather than just the strange set of noises that filled his surroundings.

Frowning, Nino closed his eyes again, trying to put the last bit of focus he could come up with on one sense – his hearing – to at least have a chance to figure out what was going on.

When Nino tried listening more closely, he figured that the noises he heard were actually voices - and they sounded like two men discussing over something. Increasing the frown between his eyebrows, Nino wondered, if he had forgotten to lock the apartment and some of Jun's friends followed him to find a place to crash for the night – which wouldn't be the first time – or if he was simply dreaming.

"Aiba, you should start speaking Japanese now," said one voice, lowered to almost a whisper. "We're here now, and we have to adapt properly."

Start speaking Japanese? Who was that person the voice was talking to, a foreigner? Well, if they were some of Jun's friends from the fashion company, that wasn't so unlikely, was it? Jun mentioned that he used to work with international colleagues from time to time. Though, "Aiba" sounded like a very Japanese name to Nino.

"And be quiet," the voice added. "There is an earthling sleeping."

Earthling?! Was that guy referring to him!? Maybe, someone was taking the costume party a bit too serious here, Nino assumed, but his eye lids were still too heavy from the sleepiness layering on top of his blurry mind, so he couldn't check if that comment was somehow related to him in particular.

"Ah, I am sorry, Sho. You sure we in right spot?" another whisper joined.

"We will still have to practice this a little bit," the other voice – Sho – replied calmly. "Well, the ship's last traceable signals were located somewhere above this area before disappearing from our screens, and Kee-ko's calculations on where it would be a safe spot to land came to this."

What kind of nonsense was that guy talking, Nino wondered. A ship? What kind of ship? The memory of Jun in his pirate costume slipped into Nino's mind, which lead his fantasy to imagine a pirate ship flowing on clouds over the top of the apartment building. As he thought – nonsense. Nino felt his mouth slightly twitching into an amused smirk before slowly, he tried to open his eyes again. He blinked a few times, trying to clear his blurry vision, lifting one tired hand to rub his eyes.

"But I can't see brother!" the second voice – Aiba –, who seemed to forget some words, if Nino heard correctly, tried to force in his whispering, before he stepped a bit forward, towards the couch, and he crouched over Nino, who froze in shock when a handsome man's head appeared in his vision and their eyes met. The stranger blinked. Nino blinked back. "This earthling not brother," Aiba then noted, pointing at Nino, slightly poking one of his cheeks. "And not sleeping!"

"Excuse me," Nino murmured, his voice slightly hoarse. "Could you please put your finger out of my face?"

"Oh, sorry," the man said, pulling back and standing up again.

"You woke him," Sho sighed, causing Nino to struggle sitting up a bit more and turning his head into the direction of the voice's source.

Again, Nino blinked, confused, when he took in the strangers' figures, who were both standing behind the couch, not too far away from him. They both were probably not that much taller or older than himself, and glancing at them from head to toes, Nino had to admit, if that Aiba guy was handsome, that Sho guy was gorgeous. What struck him strangely though, were the mismatching outfits of the two men. Shiny, silvery jumpsuits, with their sleeves and trousers rolled up, as they seemed to be a few numbers too big to fit them, which he considered strange, assuming that they were working in a clothing company, like Jun. Still, their appearance was impressive, and Nino seriously wondered, how came he didn't notice that strange couple before at the party. His lazy brain still tried to connect the dots, while Sho was rambling on in his warm but serious voice.

"However," the man said, "This spot can serve us as headquarters for our search. It’s not too tall, not too small, unimpressive and inconspicuous."

"Hey!" Nino frowned at the stranger. What a nice way to describe the unexciting and admittedly run-down apartment complex he and Jun were living in. He knew, it wasn’t fancy, but it was their precious home, so anybody who dared saying bad things about it should beware!

"Oh, he wants talk!" Aiba exclaimed, a wide happy smile on his face when he turned to Nino.

"OK, then," Sho cleared his throat and tried straightening his posture, pulling his slightly sloping shoulders up a bit, his look as serious as before. "We should try to apply our social skills to this new situation."

"Skills, sure, yeah, try," the other man nodded, turning his attention to his friend, waiting for him to start. "Sho, are you nervous?"

"He's an Earthling," Sho whispered, as if he really thought Nino who raised a questioning eyebrow at the repeated usage of that term, couldn't hear him. "It’s my first time to encounter this species, so yes, I am a little bit nervous."

"Relax," Aiba smiled.

"Will you finally tell me who you are?" Nino ended up asking, making the first step to reach out. "And how did you get in here? Did Jun give out a pair of spare keys again without consulting me?" the young man sighed.

"I am sorry for disturbulancing," the slightly taller guy said. "Name is Aiba Masaki and this is Sakurai Sho. Nice to eat you."

"What?!" Nino frowned, his look alternating between the two men, until he settled on the one called Sho. "What did he say?!"

"No worries, earthlings are not included on our menu," the man replied. "He just wanted to say it's nice to meet you."

Nino snorted. Maybe, that Aiba Masaki was a half-Japanese, half-something-else guy, he considered, bearing in mind the small linguistic misuses.

"Who are you trying to portray, some kind of alien species?" the young man then asked between two yawns.

Sho slightly tilted his head, which made him look unintentionally cute, Nino figured.

"Well, your species might see us as an alien species, indeed."

"I'm not in the mood for mind games at the moment...," Nino growled, more to himself than to the two strangers. He truly wasn't up for role playing games, now less than ever, but this was just too absurd. Maybe, he really was dreaming and mixing up bits from the party with his dreams, Nino wondered. The alcohol probably had a more confusing influence on him, as he expected. "If Jun allowed you to spend the night here, fine, but please, stop pulling me into this and just let me go back to sleep, OK?"

"Uhm.... OK," Aiba simply said.

"It wasn't our intention to make you feel uncomfortable," Sho added politely, but Nino just waved it off.

He tried pushing himself up from the couch, supporting his slightly swaying body with one hand lying on top of the back rest and shortly lifted his other hand to massage his right temple a little bit. The headache was becoming stronger again.

"Where we sleep?" Aiba asked, holding Nino back.

"You guys can figure out who's going to sleep on the couch and who's going to take the floor. There's a spare futon in the closet over there," the man pointed into said direction and then turned to leave after another big yawn.

"What a futon?" Aiba asked, but Nino was already out of the room, deciding that he could leave it to Sho to take care of the rest. He seemed a bit more capable than the other guy. Nino would deal with those strangers tomorrow when he was sober again – that was if they were still present and didn't turn out to be dream figures.

 

TBC