Grantaire walks until he can't see the road and collapses in the middle of a field so he can look up at the stars. It's comforting, drawing the familiar lines of constellations that would tell him even if he didn't already know that it's too fucking cold to be out star-gazing at least two hours away from the city.
Right now, comfort outweighs common sense, and Grantaire settles in, pretending his ears aren't already nipping with the cold.
“Sometimes,” he tells the uncaring sky, “I really do not want to be on this planet.”
Everything is normal for about five minutes, until he starts seeing lights that aren't stars, and some kind of low humming that vibrates in his bones, and Grantaire passes out right about the same time the fucking spaceship comes into view above him, flooding the field with light.
“Your temperature was suboptimal according to our doctors, you're lucky we have doctors accustomed to working with organics.” That's definitely the being talking, in plain French (Grantaire thinks of universal translators and decides that doesn't even make his top ten list of things to ask), though its voice is weird, echoing strangely in a middle register that comes out sounding like chimes.
The being looks like a sculpture of a human made of marble, veined in crystal, but it moves, and there's some kind of lichen growing on its head, and Grantaire thinks he can be forgiven for blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, which is “I really hope this is the sexy kind of abduction and not the kind where you steal my organs for science.”
The being tilts its head, and it looks so much like a person that Grantaire feels bad thinking about it like it's an object. “You were the only adult intelligent life in range of our scans when we landed, and our translators indicated a desire to get off the planet. We assumed you were in distress.”
Grantaire pinches himself, but he doesn't wake up, and nothing grows to look more normal. He's got nothing to tether himself to right now, and it's too easy to think this is real. He wants it to be real. “You're really, seriously, truly aliens. Or an alien. You could be the only one on this … wherever we are.”
“I apologize, I told Combeferre I would orient you and I haven't done so. You're on the Musain, an exploratory vessel. There have been reports of radio waves coming from this sector, and it's been far too long since anyone observed a class one … that doesn't matter.” Grantaire doesn't want it to stop, when it seems so enthused about the shithole of a planet Grantaire apparently just stepped off, but it seems to have a mission in mind. “My name is Enjolras, this ship is crewed by a mix of people from different planets, but we share a common goal of observing the societies of other planets to see how best to live.” It raises its palms, and they can't share many gestures, but it still seems expectant.
“My name is Grantaire. I'm human, from the planet Earth. Um … do you have a concept of pronouns? At all? Because I feel bad calling you 'it.'”
“We do. Or some members of the crew do, so we use them. I'm 'they.' What are you?”
“Oh, the ones we're assigned at birth have to do with distinctions about having children, and I've stuck with mine, so I'm 'he.'” Grantaire is the worst possible first contact ambassador, he really should ask to go home and tell Enjolras to set down in a city somewhere and find people who know how to deal with aliens.
Enjolras tilts their head again, assimilating the information. “Interesting. Combeferre has a database. He'll like to document humans. Are you the only intelligent species on your planet?”
“That's a matter of serious debate, I am not qualified to address it.” He shrugs. “Sorry. You probably could have picked a better human if you'd scanned around a little more.”
“You were in distress.” And then, a little unsure, “You were distressed? No one should be on this ship if they don't want to be here.”
Grantaire has people at home. Well, he has person, but Floréal has a dozen friends and this is a dream anyway. He can apologize to her for choosing to leave her in the morning. Floréal is the only thing he would really regret leaving. “I want to be here. Fuck, I'm the only human I know of who's had contact with extraterrestrial life.”
Enjolras straightens. “I need to introduce you to Éponine! She's human, or mostly, but she doesn't have much knowledge about her species because she was brought up across the galaxy. There's food she eats, though, and she finds the atmosphere breathable, which was why I was sure we could take you on when we heard the recording.”
“Right. Wow, that's … I don't know what to do with that. But okay. I'm not dreaming, am I?”
“I don't dream. I wouldn't know.” They squint at some of the moss on the bed, seeming to find some kind of meaning in the patterns going up the wall. “Your system seems to be stabilizing. Would you like to see more of the ship, meet the crew?”
“How many people are there?”
“Twelve. Thirteen, with you. Can you stand?”
“Yeah, I'm fine, I feel fine, I think I probably just fainted because of the spaceship.”
“And the cold.” For an alien raised on a different planet who just met Grantaire five minutes ago, Enjolras manages to sound way too disapproving.
Grantaire swings his legs off the mossy bed and stands up, shifting his weight to prove he's fine. “I'm fine. I'll meet everyone.”
Enjolras hits a moss pattern on part of the wall, and Grantaire is surprised to hear a crackle of static. “All personnel to the common room, please,” Enjolras says, which must mean it's some kind of intercom. “Our guest wants to meet us.”
Enjolras isn't the only stone person—there are two more of them, one taller and made of rougher stone where Grantaire can see the joints through the moss and lichen and one smaller and a delicate green color Grantaire wouldn't be able to replicate in paint if he tried. They call the taller one Bahorel and the smaller one Jehan, and Grantaire wonders if the translators are giving him names he can pronounce and decides it doesn't matter if it is, because that's very helpful of it.
Three of the people seem to be plant-based, probably the same species, humanoid except that they can unravel limbs into vines that can stretch out to reach Grantaire and touch him gently on the arm to say hello. They're Courfeyrac, Cosette, and Marius, and Marius explains that he's the ship's translator and he might ask Grantaire if he'll put some of his language on file, and is delighted when he offers his skills at English and Italian as well.
Two of the beings are actually one being, and they're reptilian and have several legs Grantaire decides not to count for his own peace of mind and two heads. Enjolras introduces them separately, as Joly and Bossuet, and says they chose to bind their lives together before they left their home planet, which sounds like a story Grantaire wants to hear. They're sitting next to someone named Musichetta, a feathered humanoid whose beak somehow does not keep her from having a wicked grin.
“Combeferre is the ship's doctor,” Enjolras says when they get to someone with at least twenty limbs. Grantaire hasn't got any guesses for what Combeferre's construction is, and he's not about to ask, but Combeferre manages to look friendly nonetheless, like a teacher Grantaire had when he was fifteen who sat him down and helped him with his homework. “And Feuilly is the mechanic,” he adds, nodding at the next person, who seems impossibly tall with impossible thin limbs covered in fur.
“And I'm Éponine,” adds the last person, the only piece of familiarity in the room. She doesn't look friendly, or quite like anyone he's met, though he couldn't put a finger on what makes her different if they asked him. “I was surprised to pick up a human. I never knew exactly where my home planet was.”
“Well, look upon it, all ye mighty, and despair, or something,” he says, and winces when she gives him a look as blank as the ones he's getting from everyone else. “Pop culture, sorry. I'll try to not do that.”
“I'll show him around,” says Éponine, looking over Grantaire's shoulder at Enjolras. Grantaire is surprised to find he's disappointed by that. “We're still in orbit, he still needs to decide if he's staying or going, and I'm the most familiar thing on this ship. Remember the trouble Joly and Bossuet had at first?”
Enjolras sweeps their hand out in some gesture she must be able to interpret, because she takes Grantaire's elbow in her hand a second later. Grantaire looks around the room. “Nice to meet you all,” he says, because he has no idea what else to say and his grandmother will be proud that he still has his manners to fall back on. “I'll see you around, I guess.”
“That remains to be seen,” says Éponine, and drags him out of the room.
Éponine stops in front of what must be the primary view port on the ship, a window taller than Grantaire is and wide enough that the whole crew could stand shoulder to shoulder and see out. They're looking down at the earth, somewhere night is falling, cloud systems swirling below, and it's dizzying, it's wonderful, and for the first time, he wonders if it might be real. “They're not always good at reading human microexpressions,” she says after a little more silence. “You were getting overwhelmed.”
“I've never met non-human intelligent life.” He considers the zoo he went to as a child. “That I know of.”
“I grew up in a spaceport that sees all types, so I never had that problem, but some of the others, they have. Talk to Joly and Bossuet about it, or Feuilly, his society was almost as isolated as yours, though they've been documented for ages. Humans, sometimes a scavenger ship will come through, and scavengers don't like to share where they've been, so there are people like me out there, who get taken.”
“I just never thought any of this was real, at all.” He laughs sharply. “God damn, they started Starfleet without us, didn't they?”
“Yours isn't the only planet with culture,” she warns. “If you make a reference I don't get, I'll play you an episode of The Great Romance of Shulia Shamia and nobody wants that.”
“I might want that. I've never seen extraterrestrial television.”
“See how you feel three hundred episodes in when you can't think or talk about anything else. It's happened to every member of this crew so far.”
“That happens on Earth too, don't worry.” He scrubs a hand across his face. “On Earth. That's a head trip. Not many people get to go up in space, from here. They all need special training, which I definitely don't have.”
“If you come with us, you'll need to do something,” she says with a shrug. “But there are enough of us that the load is light.”
“I'm not a doctor, or a pilot, or … I have some useful skills, I guess. Good at fixing things. If you happen to need some cooking and happen to have ingredients I recognize.”
“We're going to be in orbit around your planet for a while, ten day cycles at least, you can decide during those if you want.” She looks out the viewport, down at the planet, and he wishes it wouldn't be incredibly nosy to ask how she feels about seeing the planet her genes come from, even if she's never seen it. “Are you thinking of staying?”
“I think I would hate myself forever if I said I wasn't coming.”
There's something that sounds like a whistle behind them, and Éponine seems to think it's completely normal, because she says “Come on in, you aren't interrupting.”
Enjolras is the one to enter and look between them. Grantaire doesn't know how to understand his expressions or his gestures, but he feels like he should say something. “I'm just trying to assimilate that I'm not dreaming. And that I'm apparently invited to stay on a spaceship, just like that.”
“I can't prove a negative,” says Enjolras, slowly. “But I do believe this is reality.”
“Okay.” Grantaire looks from Enjolras to Éponine to the viewport. He thinks he sees a landmass, though fuck if he knows which one. “I'm starting to think it is too.”
Grantaire looks down at his phone, which is stubbornly out of service in the middle of outer space but somehow not running down the battery at all. He misses Floréal desperately, but if he sees her he's not going to leave and he's sure that this is real now. He won't be gone forever. He can fabricate art supplies if he can approximate the chemical combination, and find something to wear. “No, I'm ready to go. You guys should work on hooking humans up to your intergalactic wireless, though.”
“We'll make it a project,” says Bossuet. “Ask Feuilly, he's great at that kind of thing. And Combeferre can do it too. And Éponine, really.”
The static crackles through something that's recognizably a speaker—the viewport room is mostly moss-free and it's where Grantaire spends most of his time. “This is Enjolras in the pilot's seat, we will be leaving Earth gravity in approximately two hours. Please take care of all surface business and strap your possessions in for faster-than-light. Anyone getting off ...” There's another crackle. “Anyone getting off should report to the exit bay as soon as possible so we can catch the planet's rotation conveniently.”
“They mean you,” Bossuet says helpfully.
“I picked that up, thanks. You can let them know I'm not going anywhere. Everyone, if you want.” He sits down on the floor in front of the viewport, as ten days in he hasn't dared put any furniture there. They seem to like it minimalist. If aliens have a concept of minimalism. Grantaire is really not sure how this is his life. “Is it okay to watch takeoff from here? If we have to strap our belongings down it might not be such a good idea, but I'd like to.”
“There are handles,” says Joly, pointing out some metal decorations to the sides of the window. “Just hold on for the initial takeoff. We'll stay, if you want. We watched from here when we left home, with Musichetta for company. It's scary, but it's a whole new universe out there.”
“It is.” Bigger and stranger than he ever imagined it could be, no less. “Stay if you want, but I'm happy to watch on my own.”
“Well, we have some errands to do and some things to pack down before we go,” says Bossuet, “so maybe we'll be back in a couple hours.”
Grantaire waves them off and goes back to watching out the viewport. It's amazing how little he needs to occupy himself when there's so much out there to look at. He's going to spend the rest of his life painting stars.
He's not really surprised when Enjolras shows up about five minutes before takeoff. “Aren't you supposed to be piloting this thing?” Grantaire asks, looking up at them.
“Courfeyrac is piloting now, I did all the preparations. I thought I would join you, if you wanted.”
“Sure.” Grantaire makes what he hopes is an inviting gesture. “Glad to have the company.”
Enjolras nods, an odd gesture with the way their joints work but one they use anyway, and sits down on the other edge of the window, where they grab on to the handle on that side. “It's always a beautiful view,” they say, and they're silent looking out the window until there's a sudden hum of machinery and suddenly the ship is blasting away so fast that the stars blur around them.