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The Lost Red Paladin

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Shiro was not fond of visiting the Garrison library. It was too big. Too quiet. Too… empty. Besides, almost every book was available to be read on his tablet anyway. However, Shiro couldn’t deny, there was some sort of satisfaction from holding and reading the reference book about quantum physics. And Adam was borrowing his tablet for the day until his recently dropped one was fixed.

Shiro had just finished his reading on the third floor and was on his way to the back exit when something in the corner of his eye made him do a double take.

See, the Garrison had a dress code for students and staff during a certain period of the day and at certain facilities. It was a strictly enhanced policy that no one could break. So yes, seeing a teen wearing a red hoodie in the library, sitting cross-legged at the end of one of the aisles rang all sorts of alarms in Shiro’s head.

He glanced around and noticed there was no one but the two of them on that floor. Technically, the third floor only had reference materials and students usually had the textbooks downloaded on their own devices. Maybe Adam wasn’t the only one with a broken tablet…? The teen gave no indication he was bothered by Shiro’s scrutiny.

Shiro began to slowly approach the teen and took note of the mountain of books on the floor surrounding the teen. He stopped right in front of the teen but was still ignored. He opted to clear his throat to gain attention.

“What?” asked an annoyed voice. The teen had the audacity to not even look at him!

Before Shiro could say anything, the teen glanced up at him with a raised eyebrow. “If you want this book, there’s three more copies on the third shelf. Call number QC18312. Z49F. 2050. V12.”

Shiro wasn’t sure what was more confusing; the fact that the teen had recited the book’s call number without looking at the spine or the fact that the teen casually assumed Shiro wanted the book at all.

“Um.. What are you.. Why are you here dressed like that, cadet?”

The teen frowned. “Cadet?”

Shiro frowned back. “You’re not a cadet?”

“…No, I’m just reading,” said the teen waving his hand towards the books around him, like it was the most obvious statement.

“…” Shiro stared at the teen, trying to comprehend the situation.

“Library’s public, ain’t it?”

Slowly, Shiro shook his head. “No. No, it’s not. Not this one. How’d you get pass the sliding doors at the main entrance?”

The teen looked genuinely surprised. “There’s a main entrance?”

“What entrance have you been using?” Shiro asked incredulously.

A lot could be said about Galaxy Garrison’s security when Shiro was led to the faulty staff exit on the third floor of the library. Which just so happened to be connected to the empty ground space outside. And had a completely climbable fence leading out to a barren desert where civilization should have been non-existent.

Except for Keith “I’ve-been-reading-here-for-a-year” Kogane.

 


 

Matt was sitting on the couch when he heard the door open and knowing it was his roommate, called out, “Found what you needed, Shiro?” He turned to face Shiro and immediately froze when he also saw a casually dressed teen at the doorway. “… I don’t recall you looking for a-…” Matt shrugged. “-test subject?”

Shiro sighed. “Matt. Meet Keith.”

‘Keith’ nodded. “Hi.”

“Hi…” Matt responded unsurely. He gave an accusatory gaze at his roommate. “Shiro?”

“Found him in the library.”

Matt gave Shiro a disbelieving look.

“He’s not a cadet, Matt.”

“Oh.” Well that changed things. Matt got off the couch and motioned for a handshake with Keith. “Congratulations! How’d you infiltrate us?”

Shiro’s shoulders sagged. “Matt, really?”

Keith returned the handshake though. “I didn’t know the library was off-limits.”

Matt stared at Keith and when he realized he was telling the truth, Matt laughed. He laughed until he was wheezing and clutching the back of the couch, trying to keep himself from rolling on the ground.

“It’s not that funny.” Shiro deadpanned.  

Matt’s face was red as he tried to breathe properly. He was still giggling and wiping his teary eyes when he finally stood properly again. “It’s hilarious. Why’d you bring him here, then?”

“I can’t just let him go!”

Matt and Keith echoed the same question simultaneously, “Why not?”

“He infiltrated the main base of a private military organization.”

“Nuh-uh.” Matt wiggled his finger authoritatively. “Infiltrating means he had a mission to break in. Keith here just wanted to read.”

Shiro stared at Matt like he was an alien species. “Whose side are you on?”

“Book readers gotta stay united, sorry Shiro.” He turned to Keith with an excited glint. “Ever read original sci-fi books? I have a whole collection from the 90’s!” Matt was already pulling Keith towards his compartment, leaving Shiro dumbfounded.

 


 

Eventually, Shiro just sighed yet again, walked out of the room and proceeded to report about the faulty library staff exit. And maybe also suggest opening the library to the public. If not, he could probably help Keith gain access to some of the books. They were just normal reference materials. There was no harm in seeking knowledge.

By the time he got back, Matt and Keith were at the dining table and papers were scattered as they sat across each other. Matt was frowning as he looked over some of the papers and Keith was… writing?

“Hey Shiro?” Matt called without looking at him. “Remember those mock exam papers you printed last week and you gave me the answer sheet so that I could check your answers later?”

“Yeah, why?”

Matt didn’t answer him.

Curious, Shiro joined them at the table. Matt handed Shiro two of the exam papers he had printed – only it was already filled and marked. The score was almost perfect. Shiro put two and two together and slowly turned to Keith. The mock exam papers covered every single topic ever taught at the Galaxy Garrison; from basic physics to advance materials required by any future astroexplorers. And here was a teen who lived in the desert, answering the mock exam papers like it was a piece of cake.

“He’s doing the third one.” Matt whispered. “And he’s got almost every question right so far.”

Shiro inhaled sharply. He stared at Keith, long enough till Keith finally stared back. Holding out the two marked exam papers, Shiro had to ask, “You really did all these questions?”

Keith’s lips twitched. He almost looked smug as he responded, “What, like it’s hard?”

Shiro laughed. “How do you feel about playing with a flight simulator, Keith?”

This time, Keith grinned.

 


 


 

“RISE AND SHINE KEITH!!!”

Keith tried to block Matt’s cheery wake-up call but it was futile as he was practically dragged away from the pillow on his bunk.

“The Sun is up! C’mon sleepy head!”

“Matt.” Keith groaned. “The Sun doesn’t even set in space. It’s always up.”

“Semantics, young padawan.” Matt announced regally. He then proceeded to shove a water pack in Keith’s hand and made sure Keith stayed upright on his bunk. “Wake up before Shiro eats all of today’s rationed breakfast eggs!”

“One time.” Shiro whispered vehemently. “That was one time.” He was balancing two plates of food and he handed one to a groggy Keith. Matt had skedaddled to probably get Sam from wherever he was.

“Thanks.” Keith placed the plate on his lap and uncapped his water pack for a quick gulp.

Shiro sat on his bunk right beside Keith’s and they both ate comfortably.

“Good dreams?”

Keith looked up at his co-pilot. He shrugged playfully. “Just about that one time someone disturbed me in the library.”

Shiro scoffed. “Brat.”

They both shared a smile before Matt burst in the crew quarters with Sam. The little crew basked in idle chat, carrying easy conversations from the quarters to the bridge. When they reported back to the Garrison with a live video feed, Matt and Keith were seen to be idly bouncing off each other in zero gravity – Matt was laughing, Keith looked annoyed. Sam was float-reading on his tab despite being Mission Commander. He was this close to a new breakthrough in his side research. And Shiro was busy explaining how productive they all were.

“How is floating around productive?” asked the exasperated voice of Commander Iverson.

Keith smoothly replied, “We’re assimilating ourselves to all possible gravitational pull and centrifugal force from the planet Pluto, sir.”

“Nice.” Matt grinned and they not so subtly shared a high-five at the completely bullshit reason of floating around in the spacecraft. Everyone knew they already underwent the necessary gravity training back at the Galaxy Garrison.

Shiro looked absolutely done. And so did Commander Iverson. It was no better than the previous video feed of them playing Monopoly – Space Edition and having to explain how they even snuck it on board. It was, surprisingly, Sam who did it because his daughter gifted it to him. Keith, Shiro and the Galaxy Garrison refused to believe it. Matt was just happy to build ‘space stations’ (houses) at every ‘planet or moon’ (property) he landed on.

It was day 84 of the Kerberos Mission.

Pilots - Takashi Shirogane and Keith Kogane.

Senior Science Officer and Chief Engineer - Samuel Holt.

Junior Science Officer and Communication Specialist - Matthew Holt.

ETA to Kerberos: 65 days