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The Pangalactic Interstellar Starship Musain and the Space Kittens

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At first, Grantaire isn't homesick at all. It's kind of hard to be, in space, and he's increasingly convinced this isn't an extended hallucination. He settles in on the starship Musain pretty easily, as they speed away from Earth and everything he's ever known. Courfeyrac makes sure he has a comfortable bunk, Cosette makes sure he has clothes, even if the cloth isn't anything he's used to, Éponine tells him the human-safe programming for the food machine that he can't help calling a replicator in his head, and Joly and Bossuet seem to be on a mission to teach him extraterrestrial board games to keep him occupied. If he doesn't have a specific purpose on the ship yet, at least he isn't bored or lonely.

Almost a week out, Grantaire looks out the viewport and has to sit down hard on the smooth floor, because he doesn't recognize any of the stars. He's known the constellations since Grandpa taught him when he was a child, but he hasn't got the familiar tether anymore, and he stares at the stars for twenty minutes and still can't find a familiar shape, nothing in the least bit familiar.

“Grantaire?” Combeferre asks some length of time later. “Feuilly was looking for you, something about the biological programming in the heating system that you'd discussed. Are you well?”

The wonderful thing about Combeferre is that he probably means “healthy,” because he's a wonderful doctor. “Blood pressure normal, no dizziness or difficulty breathing,” he says, because apparently those are common problems with space travel.

“Blood is fascinating,” says Combeferre, and it's amazing how it doesn't sound creepy in his voice. “Human biology in general is. We should discuss it, you may have more insights about Earth biology than she since you were brought up there. You don't look happy.”

“How many miles away from Earth are we?”

Three or four of Combeferre's limbs twitch at once, which seems to be his primary mode of body language, not that Grantaire has figured out how to interpret that yet. “Approximately one point six light years on a trajectory away from your southern hemisphere.”

“The stars are different.” Grantaire looks back at them.

“The positions of them are,” Combeferre agrees. Watching him sit down is an interesting process, but Grantaire tries not to watch too closely in general. “But they're not different stars, we haven't gone far enough for that. I wish I knew the names of yours, or had a star chart, I might be able to point them out. Marius might be of help there.”

“Thanks. It's just taking some getting used to.”

“I never saw a star, at home,” Combeferre says. “No one but the spacefarers do, there, and I was a doctor who assumed I would stay on the surface. It was chance that Enjolras and Courfeyrac and Bahorel crash-landed and I was the only one who knew how to treat two of them. We don't live on the surface, too much sunlight to be healthy, so when we took off, it was disorienting to say the least.”

“Disorienting is a good word for it.” Grantaire sighs and heaves himself to his feet. “I should go see Feuilly, I still don't know how to be of use on this boat, but I figure I should know how it works first and that might get me somewhere.”

“If you're sure. Anyone would talk to you. It's always an adjustment, for everyone. Feuilly grew up on a ship, but he's the only one.”

“Thanks. You're all being great.”

A few uninterpretable twitches. “Maybe we shouldn't have taken someone who comes from a planet not hooked into the pangalactic network. Most of us could call home, can call home, when we need to, if we have people there. You can't, not yet. And no one knows when first contact with your broader planet is expected.”

Grantaire's phone has battery, but it hasn't had network in several light years, which is a sentence he never thought he would say. He's filled it up with photos of the crew of the Musain and the views around the ship and played more 2048 than any reasonable person should, addicting Joly and Bossuet in the process, but there's no chance of calling home. “There's really only one person.” And she's an important person, but he's trying not to think about that, because then he'll want to turn around. “I still can't believe you started Starfleet without me.”

“Of course.” Combeferre has the most patience with references to things he's never seen, and Grantaire couldn't be thankful enough even if he mostly seems to treat it with amused tolerance.

“I should go find Feuilly.” At least the bowels of the ship don't have an unfamiliar view. “Thanks for the chat, I'll see you at communal time.”

“Take care of yourself, Grantaire,” says Combeferre, and stays at the viewport when Grantaire leaves.

*

Enjolras tracks him down the next afternoon when he is ingloriously doing dishes in the ship's kitchen, since the replicator can do eggs and cheese but somehow not an omelet. At least he's discovered that extraterrestrial spices are delicious.

Enjolras startles him, which is a real feat in someone made out of stone, and immediately starts into saying “Combeferre tells me that on your planet one of the recreational activities includes stroking domesticated animals.”

Grantaire blinks at them, and Enjolras keeps watching with head tilted, which seems to be their version of everything from expectant to disapproving. Judging by the lightness of tone, it's probably more the former, but he can't tell where it's leading. “Yes. Cats and dogs and … I mean, some people have snakes, I always thought that was kind of cool, they're smooth instead of furry.”

“I'd like to show you something, if I may.”

Despite being the one to speak to Grantaire first, to really be the one to ask him to stay, Enjolras doesn't talk to him much. They're always in the cockpit, or with their friends, and they're friendly enough, but they're quiet. “Of course. Show away. Something I can help with?”

“The opposite, maybe.”

“This I have to see.”

“You don't have to.”

“Right. Sarcasm. Maybe not wise around aliens.”

“I never get Courfeyrac's jokes either,” says Enjolras, which is sort of mind-boggling to consider, and starts walking, expecting Grantaire to follow. Grantaire dries his hands and leaves the rest of the dishes for later, trailing after them into the private quarters of the ship, and finally to Enjolras's room. “Come in, if you're comfortable.”

“If you're comfortable,” Grantaire echoes, but all Enjolras does is nod, awkwardly, and lead him inside.

Enjolras's room is neat, the walls covered in the moss and lichen that spots the ship, and there's not much decoration, but there's rustling as soon as they enter, and then both of them are mobbed around the ankles by half a dozen little creatures which, when Enjolras scoops one up, prove to be fist-sized rocks with eyes and legs. “They're friendly,” Enjolras says, offering it to Grantaire. “I keep them in here mostly so they aren't underfoot, they'll clean excess lichen when they're older but they're slow to grow.”

Grantaire takes it from Enjolras, surprised at how light it is—but then again, maybe he shouldn't be, given Enjolras, Bahorel, and Jehan are all light on their feet. Somewhere on Earth, a geologist just got a boner and doesn't know why. “What should I do?” he asks.

“Whatever you would do to something similar on your planet, I suppose. They're affectionate, and you may want to sit down. Once you start playing with one, the rest want equality.”

A few weeks on, Grantaire knows enough to smile at that, because Enjolras talks passionately about all the planets in the loosely-connected group of societies who have all made contact with each other and how they all ought to be equal, no stand-outs. “Where do I sit down, then?”

Enjolras nods to the stone pallet, covered in moss, which must be the bed. Grantaire has a much better mattress in his room, for which he can only be thankful. “The bed is fine.”

Grantaire cradles the creature closer to his chest as he sits, mostly because it's smooth and he's a little afraid of dropping it, and he's surprised to find that it vibrates against his chest like a cat would, and that it's warmer than stone would imply. “Some of the animals we have in our homes, they vibrate like this when they're happy.”

“It's a sign of happiness for them too.” And it must be true, because the others are somehow hopping up on to the bed, the littlest picked up by Enjolras and kept like they want something to do with their hands, and crowding against Grantaire's side. “The doctors say the vibrations are beneficial, where I'm from, and Combeferre agrees. Everyone on the ship, when they're upset, they come to enjoy their company for a while. You're welcome to do the same. It didn't occur to me that no one would have told you.”

“Thank you.” Grantaire holds the first one closer to his chest, and the vibration turns into more of a rumble, the creature nestling into his arms. Now that they're up close, he's beginning to see the variations in them, the colors and how close-set their eyes are, the way one of them is strutting across his lap already and another is just nestling against his side. “This is—this is a lot of help.”

Enjolras's expressions are still fairly opaque, but Grantaire knows smugness when he sees it, and Enjolras is definitely pleased to have found a way to cheer up the Musain's newest resident. “As I said. You're welcome.”

“I don't want to invade your private space.”

“Then knock, that's your custom, isn't it?”

“And you whistle. Or … something that functions like whistling, anyway.”

“As long as we know how you announce yourself, we'll be prepared for it.” Enjolras hitches their little creature in his arm and uses the other to gesture at Grantaire. “You can be a little firmer with them. The exoskeleton is strong.”

“Exoskeleton? There's something else inside?”

Enjolras tilts their head. “Did you think we were solid stone?”

“No. I just don't like to ask about people's inner biology, because it's not like I could answer any questions you asked about my biology.” He switches stone kittens to one that is managing to look as pitiful as any Earth kitten ever could. This one starts vibrating right away, its legs wiggling in his grip. “Combeferre could probably tell you more about how blood works than I can.”

“Combeferre probably knows more about my own body than I know about my own as well,” says Enjolras, stealing one of the other creatures from where it's nosing against Grantaire's stomach. “That's what makes him such a good ship's doctor. He's been a student of exobiology for ages.”

“He said he never thought he would get to leave the planet until the Musain came along.”

“Not everyone has the freedom or cultural ability to. He was lucky. He shouldn't have had to be lucky, but he was.”

“I'm lucky too.”

Enjolras seems to be paying way more attention to the little creature they're thoroughly lavishing affection on than is really warranted. “Are you? Combeferre says you seem distressed. Homesick. We haven't found a way to let you call home, and you didn't elect to go down to the surface of Earth to say goodbye to anything or anyone. Perhaps you're regretting this, now that you're certain you aren't dreaming.”

“I'm regretting it a little, but that doesn't mean I want to go home. If I went, I would regret that too, probably more. I want to visit another planet and keep petting your weird space kittens and … a lot of things. Just because I miss home doesn't mean I don't want to be here.” That's a little too honest, for someone he hardly knows, and Grantaire scoops up another one of the creatures so he has two in his arms at once, curling them in close to his chest, where they both seem perfectly happy. Whoever invented the pet rock was missing out.

“Understandable. Just let us know if you ever change your mind. We don't want anyone here against their will, and our route is erratic to say the least.”

“No one's really explained the point of this voyage to me, actually. Like, how do you make enough money for fuel and supplies and stuff?”

“We all do odd jobs, long distance, for the most part, but the Musain is technically a vessel that's part of an exploratory mission, and gets a fuel stipend from the united governments. We look at political systems, for the most part. We took footage from Earth, you have some interesting ones.”

“Interesting is one word for it. The dominant political systems on Earth are a mess, I really hope the universe at large does a better job at it or I'm going to be really disillusioned.”

“Some planets do well. All could do better. There's no such thing as perfection, but we hope to collect some ideals.”

“Well, you won't find them on Earth.” Grantaire curls up a little more, so he can pull more of the creatures closer. He's covered in little vibrating rocks, and it is one of the more bizarre and adorable situations he's ever been involved in. “Or anywhere, probably. But the universe is a big place.”

“It is.” Enjolras doesn't sound happy, and Grantaire is learning to read their tone more easily than he reads their expressions, but they don't object, either, not out loud. “I haven't named them yet, though Jehan tells me I should, that it's important. I'm hoping to give each one a name from a different planet. Maybe you could name one.”

“Thanks. I'll start thinking about names.”

Enjolras doesn't seem to have much to say to that, and Grantaire doesn't want to bring politics up again and make a nuisance of himself, so he concentrates on the creatures, swapping them back and forth for what must be more than an hour before someone whistles outside the door and Enjolras sits up straight. “That will be Courfeyrac. I'm due in the cockpit.”

“Of course.” He gently dumps all the creatures back on the bed and discovers that they can make unhappy little crooning noises that make him want to return to them immediately. “Thanks for this, seriously. I feel a lot better.”

“You're welcome whenever you'd like to come.” Enjolras raises their voice. “I'm coming, Courfeyrac, Grantaire and I are here.”

“Both of you come on, then, we've got a good view of a comet out the viewport.”

Grantaire hasn't seen a comet up close yet, so he's the first to stand up, doing his best to ignore the crooning. “You still all gather for comets? You must have seen a hundred by now, a thousand.”

Enjolras stands as well, putting the last of the creatures down. “It's special every time, though. It never stops being special. Come on, you'll see.”

“I think I'm starting to,” says Grantaire.

*

“You look better than I did the last time I saw you,” says Combeferre the next time he catches Grantaire alone. “Happier.”

“Enjolras introduced me to their pets. I suspect that had something to do with you.”

“They asked about you. They were worried. I said that you were homesick and mentioned what I'd figured out about your planet's habits. They did the rest.”

Grantaire, who's doing the dishes again because apparently space aliens are too cool to clean up after themselves in the kitchen even when they're fastidious elsewhere, scrubs a pot while he thinks that over. “It's nice to know you're keeping an eye on me. All of you.”

“Any of us would do the same. We're family here, and that includes you now that you've chosen to stay.” Combeferre takes the pot from him. “These clean themselves, you know.”

Grantaire stares at the stack of sparkling dishes he's gone through, and he's not sure whether to be upset or celebrate the fact that he apparently lives in a utopia where no one has to do the dishes. “I didn't. I've still got a bit of a learning curve, I guess.”

“You'll get there,” says Combeferre. “Now, I came to find you because Musichetta and Jehan are having some sort of musical contest in the common room and you'll regret it forever if you miss it.”

“I can't wait,” says Grantaire with complete honesty, and dries his hands on his pants before he follows Combeferre out.