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Atlas

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The McClain household is filled with the sounds of conversation and laughter. The children watch their cartoons while the adults sit and gossip. It’s a good day. Supper went off without a hitch and no petty arguments have sprung up. Everyone is happy.

Lance came home with his friend Hunk for the weekend and he’s glad it went off without a hitch. Life is never dull with the McClains after all, and he’s glad for the break from the madness by washing the dishes with his mother. Hunk helps out too. He’s too nice not to. He helps by collecting all the stray cups and plates left around the dining room while Lance washes the dishes and his mom rinses and hangs them to dry.

It’s calming. Scrubbing off all the grime. Making them clean for future use.

Lance has always been a cleanly person. He isn’t one to obsess over it, but he likes when his stuff is clean. He likes when his laundry is done and he doesn’t have to scramble for clean clothes. He likes feeling clean. His skin care routine, while slightly vain, is therapeutic and leaves him feeling relaxed. There is just nothing that compares to the fresh clean feeling after a shower, or the feeling of being able to roam around your room without having to worry about tripping on any stray objects.

Washing the dishes with his mother is different.

The fact alone that he’s helping the woman who has helped him through some of the toughest times in his life is reason enough for Lance to help her with the dishes, but it is also a time of bonding. Anytime something is bothering him, doing the dishes is the perfect time to talk about it with her as everyone else would rather watch the television than watch them do chores.

Today is different.

In front of the kitchen sink is a window with a perfect view of the sun set. It’s barely 6, so the sun is getting ever closer to reaching the horizon. Instead of talking about any little thing that bothers him, Lance looks beyond the horizon. He looks to the stars that the sun blocks out. After the sun sets they will reveal themselves one after another, and just like every night Lance will want to reach for them, but he will never reach them. Not in this kitchen.

They finish the dishes in relative silence. Chatter from the living room makes its way into the kitchen as a backdrop to listen to. When they are done, his mother hugs him with a quick gracias hijo before turning to join the rest of the family in the living room. Lance gives the counters a whip down to get rid of any access water and checks the time. It’s almost 6 o'clock. Pretty soon the Garrison will be making an announcement.

He’s almost certain he knows what it’s going to be about. Every year they make this announcement and every year everyone knows it is coming, but no one can do anything till it’s put out for all to see. That way everyone has an equal chance.

Hunk, who had put all the leftovers away like the angel that he is, checks the time with him. 

The seconds tick away and they both head into the living room with the rest of the McClains where they change the channel from the kids cartoons to the local news channel. Sylvio and Nadia complain, but the moment it hits 6 the news lady changes topic and she has everyone's attention.

“We have all been waiting for it and it’s finally here. The Garrison has announced they will be accepting applications to compete as a Candidate for a chance to join Atlas’s crew on its trip to the stars! Just like every year, the Garrison will be hosting the competition on their base in Nevada, the Galaxy Garrison. The requirements to become a candidate are as follows.” A list pops up to the side of the news woman and she starts reading it off. Every year Lance watches this broadcast, and every year he checks off everything that applies to him. The only difference between then and now is that he can confidently say he has achieved all of the necessary requirements.

The news lady finishes off reading the list of requirements. “If you wish to apply as a candidate, you can find information on how to apply on the Garrisons website under Atlas! The Garrison will be accepting applications starting tomorrow, Monday, at 6am. Just like in previous years, the Garrison will only accept hard copy applications for the first five days before they start accepting virtual applications. You can find where to mail your application on the Garrisons website under Atlas based on your location. Once the five days are up the Garrison will start accepting virtual applications starting Friday and the deadline will be Sunday at midnight.”

“Now, I know everyone is excited to see this year's Trials, but this year is going to be a little different.” The lady says. “In previous Trials, Candidates were picked by Garrison Leadership, but this year the judges during the candidate trials are none other than Atlas Leadership, Admiral Coran Smyth, Colonel Allura Raimon, and Captain Takashi Shirogane! Along with them will be the Major, Lotor Syncline.” Next to the news woman images of the mentioned people show up in profile view.

The first one is of an older man, maybe in his late 40’s early 50’s, with bright orange hair despite his age. Most Garrison uniforms are the same, but joining atlas means a wardrobe change. Instead of the gray with black trim, the man has a light grey button down with a black tie. Over that is a full orange  button jacket with black trim. The buttons are off center to the right, and the jacket has 4 gold bars on the shoulder with a flap buttoned over them. Pinned to the flaps are 4 stars in a row. Below the man's image is his name and rank, Admiral Coran H. W. Smythe.

Admiral Coran has been with Atlas since it was first thought up. He worked on it with Colonel Alfor Raimon, and Captain Zarkon Daibazaal, and has gone on every trip since its first lift off. Of the three, Coran is the only one still going on Atlas trips.

The image to the right of the Admiral is a picture of a woman. Despite looking almost a decade younger than the Admiral, she has a full head of silvery white hair. Her outfit is similar to his, but instead of orange it’s pink and the Admiral rank is replaced by the rank of Colonel, a silver eagle spreading its wings. Below her Image is her rank and name, Colonel Allura Raimon.

While the daughter of Colonel Alfor, she is a brilliant strategist rather than a mechanic. Where her father was one of the leading heads in the creation of Atlas, Allura Raimon has made a name for herself by leading the most successful operations during her time on Atlas.

Below Admiral Coran is the man no one can mistake, Captain Takashi Shirogane. His uniform is just like the others, but instead of the orange or the pink with black trim, his uniform consists of mostly black with white trim. Pinned to his shoulders are two silver bars, representing his rank as Captain. Just like the other two, his name and rank is below his image, but hardly anyone needs it when it comes to Shirogane. Setting a new record for Atlas by becoming Captain in two years is a good way to make a name for yourself, but that isn’t why everyone knows and practically worships him. Sometime during one of Atlas’s previous voyages, Shirogane put his life on the line to save another officer and wound up losing his arm. He had been renowned as a hero around the world when the news reached Earth, and when the offer was made for him to stay and live a good life, he insisted he continue to work on Atlas.

Anyone and everyone wants to be like Takashi Shirogane. Who they don’t want to be like is Major Lotor Syncline. To the right of Shiro, and below Allura, is Lotor. His uniform is a violet purple with black trim, and pinned to his shoulder is a gold seven pointed leaf, signifying his rank as Major.

No one knows what Lotor did, but one year Atlas returned and he had been demoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Sergeant Major. The details had been classified as to why, but that year Atlas had returned with almost 30 people dead, and people talk. Some suspect he killed them himself, while others think he botched a mission. There’s even a crazy rumor that he locked up and tortured his own crewmates for information on aliens . Whatever it was that he did, it was three years ago and he's slowly made his way back up to Major.

“We have been informed that they will be conducting one-on-one interviews with all the candidates after the trials, so this is a perfect chance for everyone to meet their heroes!” The lady finishes off with a big smile before turning to talk to her fellow anchorman about what she thinks, but Lance could care less about that.

A one on one with the judges?

They’ve never done that before… Let alone with Atlas Leadership.

His breath hitches and he turns to Hunk, who looks like he’s made the same realization. “We’re going to talk to Takashi Shirogane.” They both gasp out at the same time.

Lance throws his hands in the air with a whoop and Hunk swoops in to hold him up in one of his bear hugs while spinning and jumping around. Nadia and Sylvio jump around to the side, feeding off their energy, while Lance's siblings laugh at the duo's antics.

“We’re going to talk to Shiro!”

“And Coran!”

“And Allura!” Lance smirks at Hunk. “Think I got a chance?”

In the background Lance hears Sylvio gag and his siblings chuckle.

Marko pops in by throwing an arm around his shoulder and smirking down at his younger brother. “She’s way out of your league hermanito .” Lance scrowls. “And old! She’s in her 30s!”

Lance puffs up his chest in a bid to defend Allura’s honor. “Yet she looks younger than you, and you’re in your 20s.”

Rachel oohhs from her spot on the couch and Marco scowls in mock offence, pressing a hand against his chest for extra measure. “At least I don’t moisturize 24/7 to retain my youth!”

“At least I don’t have caterpillars for eyebrows.”

“How dare you!” Marco gestures to his face and rolls his eyebrows in a way Lance will always be jealous of. “My eyebrows are perfect!”

“Your eyebrows ,” Veronica walks in and Lance waives, “are going to get them late.” Lances waive falters and his eyes widen. A quick glance at the television reveals it’s almost 6:30 and it’s a two hour drive back to the Galaxy Garrison. If they want to make it back before curfew and with time for stops, they need to leave now .

Lance and Hunk run around the house collecting their things and shoving them into their bags. By the time they’ve collected everything and said their goodbyes, Veronica is waiting for them at the door with their mother. 

She pulls Lance into a tight hug and he chuckles as he wraps his arms around her. When he moves to pull away her arms tighten around him and he feels her shudder and hears her sniffle. Eventually she pulls away and wipes at her tear stained eyes before clearing her throat. “You two better call me when they get back to you.” She sniffles again and tears collect in her eyes but not one falls. “I need to know if I’ll see you again.”

“Oh, mama .” Lance pulls her into another hug and they hold onto each other tight. “We’ll call.” He promises. When he pulls away, his shoulder is wet and her eyes are red, but he smiles at her reassuringly, even though he wants to cry too. “You’ll still see me for the next two weekends. Even if I get accepted as a candidate, trials won't start for at least a month!”

She squeezes Lance's arm before letting go and gesturing toward the door. “Go. Before you get in trouble.”

Both boys do as she said and file out of the house to Veronica's car where they wait as she gives her own last goodbyes. When she’s done, she joins them in the car and they start the two hour journey back to the Galaxy Garrison.

 


 

Just like Hunk and Lance, Katie had wanted a break from the Garrison and had gone home for the weekend. At home with her mom and Bae Bae, they played family games, did house work, and gardened with a lot of bug spray. Plants will never be her forte, but someone has to help her mom out around the house and there’s only so much Bae Bae can do without opposable thumbs.

Now, the sun is edging towards the horizon, the chores are done, and what’s left of the Holt family rests on the couch with Bae Bae between them as they watch the news. It’s that time of year when Atlas returns, and any day now the Garrison will be releasing word of the upcoming trials.

No one can ever be certain when Atlas returns. Its yearly trip is always an estimate, as sometimes it comes back early and sometimes it comes back late. It’s not like Earth can contact them while they’re on voyages. Each trip takes Atlas thousands of light-years away from Earth and our scanners have limited range without something to bounce off of. The only way the Garrison knows when Atlas is a month out is simply because it’s already here, sitting just outside the solar system.

Katie got her first read off of Atlas two days ago, which means the Garrison isn’t far behind and they’ll be announcing to the masses soon.

It’s always a week of happiness for the Holt family when Atlas returns as that’s the closest they’ll get to a full family till it takes off for its next voyage. This year, Katie plans to expand their time together. She’s managed to rig up a computer with the power of a Garrison supercomputer, but compressed to the size of a large laptop. It still has its odds and ends, mainly because she isn’t the best at welding (she has no patience for it), and it’s a relative mess of wires and circuit boards thrown in a box that she stuffs into her bag when she’s up and about. It’s a hassle when going through airport security, but it can reach beyond Kerberos and pick up radio waves. So long as something doesn’t get in the way. 

Like a planet.

It may not be pretty, but she got it working just in time. It may be vain for her to say it, but she knows she’s going to be joining Atlas’s crew this year. There is no doubt in her mind that when it takes off, she’ll be on it. So while the computer is useful right now for contacting her estranged brother, it will prove more useful for her mom.

The newswoman switches topic from some celebrity to Atlas and Katie leans over Bae Bae to rest against her mom. Bae Bae, not one to be squished, wiggles out from under Katie just to crawl on top of her and settle down. Katie just pets the dog as the lady goes over the same information they give every year.

“Now, I know everyone is excited to see this year's Trials, but this year is going to be a little different.” The news woman says, as if to prove her wrong. “In previous Trials, Candidates were picked by Garrison Leadership, but this year the judges during the candidate trials are none other than Atlas Leadership, Admiral Coran Smyth, Colonel Allura Raimon, and Captain Takashi Shirogane! Along with them will be the Major Lotor Syncline.” Four pictures pop up to the side of the newswoman of each person with their name and rank listed below them.

This is new.

The lady continues to relay her information, but that seems to be the only new information she is going to provide compared to previous years so Katie tunes it out in favor of cuddling closer to her mom.

Katie understands why the Garrison only takes physical copies when they first open the gates for applicants. She even relishes in the head start it gives her over people who have to mail their applications, but she will always call it archaic. It’s a surefire way to protect against most fraud and minimize bots, but it’s the Garrison for crying out loud! You would think they have measures that can detect when someone is trying to scam their way into getting accepted, but just like all government agencies, where they specialize in something, they lack in something else. In this case, it’s bot management.

Something Katie isn’t ready for is all the people who will show up at the Galaxy Garrison.

It won't matter if they get accepted as a candidate, some people come just to see Atlas, or to see the cargo ships dock. Most cases it’s both. Atlas itself doesn’t dock. Instead, it sits in outer orbit. If you’re lucky enough, you can see cargo ships exit their hangers and fly down to Earth. It’s a true sight to behold, but it will never compare to Atlas’s first and last lift off. Few people got to see it in person, but Katie will always cherish the memory.

The Atlas is a true work of art. One she wishes to be a part of.

It is a massive white ship with a touch of black and the occasional orange highlights. With the four main thrusters in the back, the two on the sides, and the hull. It has the unfortunate shape of a wide arrow, or a crossbow, but it’s a feat of engineering few have been able to replicate, let alone afford. If anyone has the goal of exploring space, their best bet is through Atlas.

Atlas was a huge leap in engineering and other countries struggled to keep up. Before it was first launched, The Garrison had to trudge through old ISS agreements and renew them so that everyone could have a taste of space. There is no such thing as a monopoly on knowledge and Atlas makes that known by allowing people from all over the world to compete for a spot on its roster. When it comes to applying, people all around the world can turn in their physical copies by mailing it to the nearest Garrison base where it will be scanned and uploaded to one of the Garrisons private servers to be run through fraud detection programs, then sent to the necessary people to look through and approve or disapprove.

It’s a long process as thousands of people around the world apply (even more virtually), but the moment your application has been processed and imputed into the system an automated email is sent back to the applicant. The sooner you apply, the sooner you know and the more time you have to get to the Galaxy Garrison. Should you be accepted .

Not that she needs to be accepted to go to the Galaxy Garrison. She goes to school there. Tomorrow morning, at some god awful time, she will be off to the airport where she will fly back to the Galaxy Garrison just in time to print her application forms and turn it in with the rest of the masses. 

Right now, she’s in no rush. Not when it means she will be leaving her mother for an undetermined amount of time. So instead of scrambling for an earlier flight, she lays against her mom as Bae Bae crushes her to bask in their presence for just a little while longer.

 


 

The clashing of metal echoes through the building, accompanied by the occasional scuff of shoes or a grunt, but each clang is quick before it’s followed by another one.

It’s a rather large building (it’s a gym after all), and it houses multiple large rooms with various purposes. The Gym was made separate from the Galaxy Garrisons main buildings, giving it space for its outdoor sports and track, yet without its outside facilities it’s the second largest building in the Galaxy Garrison, right behind the research facility and followed closely by the simulators (which are more tall than wide). The Galaxy Garrison is one of the biggest, if not most famous, of the Garrisons and they definitely put their money where their mouth is when it comes to their equipment.

The Galaxy Garrison is funded for its aerospace technology and its Astro-Exploration program, which means it needs the best of the best equipment if they’re going to reach beyond their planet, let alone explore the cosmos every year. Like all Garrisons, the Galaxy Garrisons purpose is to turn cadets into future astro-explorers. One such cadet, who would be one of the best if not for their character issues, makes use of the gym to let off some steam despite the late hour.

Keith Kogan makes use of the deserted gym to get in a late spar with no wandering eyes.

The training room has many purposes, but Keith's favorite by far is the Gladiator. With the Gladiator, he doesn’t have to worry about holding back and can put his all into fighting. He doesn’t have to worry about overwhelming another cadet, or finding someone who can keep up with him. The gladiators are the best sparring partners simply because they can take on any fighting style, and you can increase the difficulty. There is also the nifty fact that you don’t have to worry about the Gladiator getting mad when you beat it.

Keith has had too many instances where a fellow cadet couldn’t accept their defeat. It’s best to just avoid the situation entirely.

The Gladiator swings for his head with its dulled sword and Keith ducks under before swiping up, only for it to be deflected with a swing from the side. Their movements are quick, trading blows left and right. Keith loses himself in the motions, pushing himself to keep going as the bot swings, blocks, and kicks. It’s a dance that few can keep up with and Keith relishes the movement, the flex and pull of his muscles, the steady cadence of his breath, the swish of the door, his pulse in his ears-

The swish of a door?

Keith turns to glance at what caused the noise only to be rewarded with a kick to the stomach that topples him over and a chuckle from the perpetrator who distracted him. “End training sequence” rings through the room and the Gladiator relaxes its fighting stance before heading off to its charging port. While the Gladiator heads off, Keith picks himself up from the floor while absentmindedly rubbing his sore stomach.

That’s definitely going to leave a mark.

Keith grumbles as he heads over to the bench that holds his duffle bag, pulling out his bottle of water and a hand towel to wipe away sweat before it can fall into his eyes.

Threat to his eyes taken care of, Keith turns to the traitor. “You couldn’t have been less distracting?”

The man isn’t fazed by Keith's question and only joins him at the bench, offering another water bottle when Keith finishes his own. “I thought it was about time I checked in on you.” The man says. “Curfew is going into effect in 10 minutes and I would rather you not get expelled after all the work I put into getting you back in the Garrison.”

Keith crushes the second bottle as a response before packing his stuff. “Thanks for the heads up.” He throws his duffle over his shoulder and makes his way toward the exit. “Wouldn’t want to put all your hard work to waste.”

The man just shrugs before following Keith out. They walk together for a little bit, but it's when they pass the Instructors Lounge and the man continues to follow him that Keith knows something's up. He waits till they're in a hallway with no stray wanderers around before he stops to confront the man.

"Why are you following me?"

"I can't escort you to your dorm room out of the kindness of my heart?" The man mocks in offense, but Keith knows he's not really bothered.

"Maybe." He replies. "But I know you, Adam. You wouldn't unless you had a reason."

The man, Adam, smiles at Keith. "You got me. I wanted to see if you got your candidate application forms filled out."

Keith hums before turning back to his path toward the dorms. “I did. Just waiting to print them.”

“Good.” Adam checks his watch while following Keith. “Print them tonight. I’ll turn them in for you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Keith looks at Adam questioningly. “They’re taking applications now?” Adam nods. “I’ll just turn it in myself then.”

“You’ll be too busy running laps.”

Keith pauses before turning to Adam, betrayal written across his face. “You’re reporting me for missing curfew?”

Adam just raises an eyebrow before checking his watch again. “You’re five minutes late.” A pause. “Six now.”

“Wha-!” Keith sputters before pointing at Adam in accusation. “You know I left the gym with full intention of heading to my dorm! I wasn’t purposely skipping past curfew!”

“I know.” Adam agrees. “Should have paid better attention to time. You would have made it back before curfew went into effect.”

Keith stares at Adam in shock before schooling his features. “You used to let me get away with it.”

“My leniency when it comes to you got you expelled.”

And left me alone goes unsaid.

The rest of the walk to the dorms is in silence, neither man wanting to touch the touchy subject of Keith's expulsion.

Keith's dorm is like everyone else's dorm. It’s your standard 12-by-20 foot room with two beds on opposite sides of each other, matching desks, and a dresser next to each bed. Decorations tend to vary depending on the person, but Keith's roommate keeps his side of the room rather clean so he takes it as a blessing. Even if Keith's roommate is an ass.

Despite it being passed curfew, Lights Out doesn’t go into effect till 2230. The time between curfew and Lights Out gives cadets an hour and a half to finish whatever they need to get done before going to sleep. James Griffin, Keith's asshole roommate, sits at his desk on his side of the room supposedly working on an assignment. If his hands weren’t sitting still, as if they froze mid type, Keith would believe he was minding his own business, but instead his hands don’t move and he knows Griffin is paying attention to whatever is happening.

Keith decides to ignore his annoying presence and pulls out his own laptop.

A few clicks later and their shared printer is spitting out his application. Once done, Keith hands it over to Adam, who hasn’t stepped a foot into the dorm.

He gives it a once over before nodding his head in acceptance. He makes a move to leave before pausing and turning back to Keith. “Don’t forget, 0500 tomorrow. Laps.”

The door shuts behind Adam as he leaves and Keith collapses on his bed with a grown.

“You’re lucky he’s turning that in for you.” Griffin says from his seat at his desk. “You could be turning that in after laps, but instead you’ll probably be one of the first applicants to have theirs turned in.”

Keith can practically feel the disdain in Griffin's words. “I don’t need you to tell me how lucky I am.”

Griffin scuffs at his words and the sound of computer keys clacking fills the room.