Keith could barely remember something his pops always used to tell him. Something said long before the fire that took his dad. It was whispered among the sacred words that ranked with his mom, the weird knife, and other strange things. His dad talked about it much more often than the first two subjects, but Keith couldn't quite remember what it was. Years being in foster homes tore through some of his memories, replacing them with pained cries as bruises formed on pale skin and gut-wrenching sobs as he begged for his dad back. For his unknown mother to come save him, sweeping him up in her strong arms.
No one came.
Keith stared out the window. There was nothing interesting to pay attention to in his classroom. Just some random guy talking to the class about the Galaxy Garrison. Keith had no interest in the place. He just wanted to get away from the Home and go back to his dad's old shack. It was a broken and beaten up little cabin out in the middle of nowhere, but Keith craved that. He couldn't deal with all these people so close every day. He felt restless and nervous and anxious whenever someone came near him. It rattled his chest to be near anyone for any reason.
Maybe he'd go live his life as his pops had. Alone in the desert, taking the night shifts of the nearest fire station and sleeping out his days kind of like an owl. Or he could work on hoverbikes or something. He had the skills to do it, and he loved messing with the large machines. He could do it anyway. His energy was at its peak in the middle of the night and gone when the sun peeked its beams of light out.
But damn it. He had to age out of the Home and foster system before that ever had a chance of happening. He still had two and a half years. He was nearing sixteen in about five months. It was actually one of the few days left in this school year, not that Keith really cared.
He'd be shipped off somewhere else in a few weeks. That's just how it always worked. Another family didn't want him, he'd have to leave. The Home couldn't bear to keep him because he was too much trouble. A real handful. He heard the whispers of the other kids who hated him and the scolding tones of the adults who always shook their heads. No one believed in him. He'd be somewhere new before the end of the summer. Didn't matter what he did or didn't do.
His stomach gave a sharp contrast as he gritted his teeth. He couldn't decide if it was hunger pains or from his thoughts. Either was plausible.
He glanced out the window into the desert. The desert was his favorite place to be. The warmth, the brown sand whipping up into the air, the little lizards rushing around, snakes slithering about, roadrunners dashing away. He could watch it all day if he was allowed. In fact, he did so every so often. Took his dad's hoverbike out to the cliffs for a whole day.
Nobody ever missed him or asked where he'd been when he got back.
Keith narrowed his eyes as the sunlight made them burn a bit. That was another thing his dad always warned him about.
“Keith, son, make sure you don't get too much sun. It's not good for you.”
Of course too much sun wasn't good. Too much sun caused sunburns and heat strokes and lots of problems. But the sun felt good. People needed the sun to live. He didn't know why his pops had insisted he be careful. It really didn't bother him besides giving him a headache, burning eyes, and a light sunburn if he was in the sunlight too long. That happened to everyone, right?
“Hey,” a voice interrupted his thoughts as he plunged back to the classroom, “You want to join us?”
Keith wanted to snap that he didn't. He had no plans of going to the stars. Did he want to? Yeah, he had dreamed of it when he was younger. He had told his dad he was going to be an astronaut. He dreamed of the day he'd explore the stars. He even had thought he'd find his mom out in a faraway galaxy. Go and bring her back to Earth on his way home.
At that time, he’d also believed in soulmates.
But that wasn't happening. His mom left them. She didn't want him. His dad was dead, burned alive in a house fire saving someone else. His time with neglectful home after neglectful home taught him that he wasn't going anywhere. Especially not to outer space.
And just maybe the person who asked could sense this.
“I get it if you don't want to,” the voice spoke on, sounding all gentle yet firm in a way Keith wasn't used to, “Space isn't everyone's interest. Sometimes, I think some people hype it up and pretend they like it just to be able to see our newest sims.”
Keith looked up at the person. Actually gazed at the person this time.
It was the man introduced to the class. Takashi Shirogane, youngest pilot of his generation, first to fly out of Earth at the age of nineteen.
He knew of the man. He'd have to be blind and dumb not to. The man's image was almost everywhere a Galaxy Garrison ad was. Keith knew the undercut with that floof of dark hair brushing his face. He knew those grey eyes that gazed determinedly at whatever they looked at. The pale yet healthy skin the man had. The grey jacket he wore of an officer, also youngest to become.
A spike shot through his stomach again, making him wince. He carefully bit on his bottom lip as he waited it out. Seconds later, it quit.
And Takashi Shirogane was still there, patiently waiting with a hand stretched out. He didn't look angry that Keith was taking so long to decide. He only stood there with a small grin as he waited. Something tickled Keith's chest, but he ignored it as he stood up.
He didn't acknowledge the man's hand, but he did move forward towards the door. Risking a glance, he was surprised to see that the man was...smiling at him. Smiling like he wasn't mad at Keith's rudeness. Like he wasn’t pissed off that Keith hadn’t returned the handshake.
Hmmm...that was new.
Keith narrowed his eyes as they left the classroom. The sunshine beamed down on them, temporarily bothering his sensitive eyes. As he blinked, he took in the sight of a large machine that hadn’t been there before class. It took up a good part of the parking lot, bulky and big. Beside it sat a car that Keith assumed had to be the officer’s car. The rowdy crowd of students stood just before the machine in awe.
“Alright, alright,” Shirogane laughed softly as the rest of Keith’s classmates inspected the machine with shouts of wonder. Keith nearly snorted as he eyed his classmates, some of who had stars in their eyes. Drifting to the back of the group, Keith peered into the opening sims. It was a simple machine with a pilot seat in the middle, some sticks and gears, a big screen in front of that, and lots of room on each side, “This game isn’t that bad. Just use the controls,” the older demonstrated by pushing the yoke and tapping a few buttons, turning the screen on, “Like this. Your goal is to fly through an asteroid field without getting any damage. Each time you do, the level and difficulty will increase.”
A moment of silence raced among the young teens. Keith could see some of them looking nervous, and others with wide eyes.
“It’s more fun than it sounds. I promise,” the man smiled. Keith noted it was a different grin than the one he’d given Keith in the class, less warm but no less sincere, “Who wants to try first?”
Keith moved back as the others shouted in excitement. Something within Keith thrummed uncomfortably at all the energy of the group. His stomach gave another sharp burst of slight pain before dying down. Not bothering to even watch, Keith sat on the steps of the machine's platform. What was the point? He’d never get to go to the Galaxy Garrison anyway. As much as he secretly wished to explore space and fly, he was too much of a hotshot who couldn’t get along with others. He wasn't good with people. It also cost way too much to get into. No one would help him pay for it, and he couldn’t get a job yet, so that was out of the question. His last foster family had barely even been willing to feed him, much less-
Some shouts of joy rang through the air. Someone had to have passed the level.
Keith rested his head on his knees. Why had he even come outside? He had always enjoyed the outdoors a lot. The sun’s rays warmed him up in ways he would never get over. Keith was okay with suffering a sunburn later if it meant feeling like this. Good thing he had put a light layer of sunblock on today. Maybe he could go for a ride on his hoverbike later? He was technically of age and allowed t-
The ugly sound of his classmates whining and the buzz of the fail on the sims echoed around the air.
That’s what Keith didn’t like. Nature was quiet and nice. Nature reminded him of his pops...He missed him.
More cries of elation rang through the air. Keith gritted his teeth.
Maybe he should just leave. By the time everyone gets through, he’ll be skipped over anyway. Someone who has already gone will go again. Besides, the Home had a strict schedule of curfews. Not that he listened to it, but it was good to be on time once in a while.
More noise in the background as someone else failed the simulator.
Yeah. He should leave. His bike wasn’t here, but he could hike back. It wasn’t more than twenty miles away. That was nothing compared to some of the trips he took into the desert without any vehicles. The school day was over almost as it was.
No one would notice. And if they did, it would just go on his already damaged record and reputation. Nothing new. Just the "problematic kid" getting all worked up again, trying to get attention.
Another ring of a failed level went off.
“Looks like you’re the only one left,” a voice spoke up. Keith broke out of his thoughts when he realized the words were directed at him, “Wanna give it a try?”
Keith peeked to the side, sure that it was a trick. Officer Shirogane. The man was smiling as he had before. Keith stared at him, momentarily stunned. People rarely included him activities much less asked him if he wanted to do something.
Nodding his head, he stood slowly before moving his eyes over to the pilot seat. He ignored the stares he received from his classmates as he moved forward. He could practically feel the teacher glare at his back as he stepped into the device. Stepping forward, he settled into the seat. His gaze swept across the controls.
A little confusing but not that difficult to use. He had never messed with anything like this, but he understood it loosely. Some instinct was guiding him on how to use it. He went with it because he never doubted his instincts.
Grabbing the joystick into hand, he waited for the screen to load.
He also lost his breath as the settings faded in. It was in the middle of a scarlet covered sky filled with twinkling stars. The sims drifted in empty space for a few seconds, but Keith could see the far off dots of dark rock chunks as they raced towards his ship. Soon enough they were on him, ready to collide with him.
He thrust his hand out, pushing the stick forward. A burst of speed rocketed him out of the way of three projectiles. Tapping a few buttons, the ship dipped suddenly, avoiding another two. Straining to pull up, Keith adjusted the ship just in time for him to clear the level.
The screen automatically pulled up the next level, and Keith was surprised to say that he got into it. The levels didn’t seem to be getting too much harder to get through. He twisted, turned, and even did a few desperate tricks to get through. Before he knew it, he could feel his arms straining as a thin layer of sweat covered his forehead. He almost broke out a grin as he passed level five. Not even James exclaiming that the sims was broken could get him down as he rushed to fly into the next asteroid field.
“Is this guy on there?” Keith actually did grin at that. Everyone else always called him a kid or boy or child. Shirogane wasn't. In fact, the older sounded impressed, “He looks about ready to fly the real thing.”
“Keith?” He heard the teacher speak incredulously in the far background, feeling his blood turn to ice as the woman scoffed as she talked with Shirogane, “He’s a disciplinary case. He’ll never truly fit into the rigid system of the Garrison. I recomm-”
Keith scowled as he grit his teeth. He clenched the controls loosely as he felt his disappointment grow. Of course. He had walked right into this. He had hoped. And the man was going to listen to her. After all, who would listen to an orphan kid whose own mom didn’t want him and got into too many fights? A boy who had nothing but scraped knuckles and a bizarre knife he knew nothing about?
Glancing to the side, his eyes honed onto the car. It was sitting there innocently, and Keith could bet it wasn’t locked. He knew how to get it up and running. He could get away.
At least then, it’ll have been his choice on why he was rejected from the Garrison. Why Shirogane wouldn’t even think to look his way for a spot on the list.
Despite the warning from his pops long ago, Keith took off in a flash, jumping out of the seat faster than what was possible. He raced over to the door and was proven correct as it slid open. Leaping inside, Keith pulled two wires out from the bottom, barely struggling to make the ends meet. Hearing the engine rev up under his touch, he didn’t waste a moment.
He launched forward, pushing the vehicle to its limit. Dust flew behind him as he raced out into the desert. The further he could get, the better. It meant being more in trouble, and no one would want to let him into the space school after this. Not even with how nice Officer Shirogane seemed to be.
The hunger in his tummy hit him again for a moment, not any worse than it had been all day. But a small zap ran through his body, centering in on his chest as he pushed onward in the car. Keith ignored it as he booked it out into the isolated desert flats. The only thing to greet him as he rushed by was a few cacti and orange rocks. Pushing forward for another half an hour, Keith pulled the stolen car up to a stop on a cliffside.
Stepping out, he felt the breeze ruffle his hair. Sitting down on the edge, he sighed as he stared out at the setting sun. His dad would have loved the view. Their shack was off in the distance, unable to be seen. But Keith could find it anywhere. Knew its location like the back of his hand. Taking a deep breath in, he huddled up with his arms around his legs. Feeling fear settling into his body, Keith brought his hand to his mouth.
His stomach flared again softly.
He carefully bit the base of his thumb. It had always been a comfort thing to him since the first time someone had told him nobody wanted him. He had socked the kid right in the face, only to be the only one punished later on.
They had insisted that he had attacked without being provoked. The broken nose, faceful of bruises, and sprained wrist didn't help his case any.
That night, he had curled up on his bed, belly feeling all kinds of sick. Before he was aware of it, he automatically brought his fist to his mouth, biting on his hand. It had calmed him down, settled his upset stomach. He ended up leaving that orphanage that next day.
A soft taste of something hit his tongue now. His stomach settled down too like it had then, feeling perfectly content for the first time in a while. Minutes later, Keith rubbed his hand on his pants, getting the saliva off it. Standing, he gazed out at the vanishing sun. Energy flashed through his vein as the night snuck its way into the sky. The air became chilled, but Keith didn't notice as he went back to the car.
He'd stay in the car for a bit and watch the stars. Then...then he'd have to return the vehicle where it belonged.