It turns out that after a lot of study and consideration, the alien government wants to go viral.
“It's low-risk,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire desperately tries to keep his face straight because it's probably a good idea but it's also a hilarious one. Floréal, sitting across from them, is rigid and entirely serene in the way she only is when she's trying not to lose it. “And it's a way to get a message to many people, not just to your governments. You both stressed the importance of the court of public opinion.”
“If people believe it,” says Grantaire, because it has to be pointed out. “Floréal only did because she trusts me.”
“It's still a good opening gambit, though,” says Floréal. “They would just have to be prepared to go slow.”
Enjolras leans into Grantaire's shoulder, which hasn't stopped being weird quite yet. “They won't want to make a quick approach. It may be years before anyone gets even into orbit officially, we just want people to know that we're out there.” They look between Floréal and Grantaire. “And you two are the only Earth natives officially out in the world, which means you're the only two who speak one of Earth's languages. They may ask you to be part of this video, or to make or edit text for it. You don't have to say yes.”
“I'm not exactly an ambassador,” says Grantaire.
Enjolras frowns at him. “You've done well at it so far.”
Floréal is too far away to kick Grantaire, but she looks like she wants to, which is more effective at shutting him up than Enjolras being comforting is. “We'll do it. Behind the scenes even if we're not comfortable on the camera. There are people with human ancestry out there in the galaxy, Éponine is proof of that, so their throats can make the appropriate noises if Grantaire and I decide against it.”
Enjolras nods, slowly. “Of course. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do, and if you're too intimately involved, they may want to call you in to one of the larger government hubs, instead of chancing your getting a signal out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Fuck that,” says Grantaire. “I'm not going anywhere without the Musain.”
Enjolras ducks their head, but that's definitely a smile. “As I said, no one has to make decisions about anything yet. I just wanted to let you know the avenue they're considering for first contact and that they may want you to be involved.”
“We'll think about it,” says Floréal. “If nothing else, I really want to see what kind of message of peace the interstellar government wants to send to Earth.”
Grantaire can already see Floréal as some kind of terrifying liaison between Earth and space, striding around taking great joy in her heels and minions, attending a thousand parties populated by people he can't even imagine. Maybe not yet, but he should have realized the second she set foot on the Musain that that's where she would end up. “So I guess you should just let me know what I can do from here,” says Grantaire, because Enjolras is still looking between them, waiting for some kind of answer.
“I'll pass that along. They might try more to ask you if either of you were political experts. As it is, I may have to ask you to make reports of some kind to send on, everything you've both told me about your governments and other organizations.”
“Reports I can do.” Grantaire makes a face. “Unenthusiastically, but I can do them.”
“We'll work on it together. Two heads are better than one.”
“As Joly and Bossuet prove,” Grantaire agrees, and turns to Enjolras. “Is that all we needed to talk about on this particular subject?”
“I can't think of anything else right now. Though we may have to ask you some technological questions at some point as well, given their preferred form of approach. We don't want to do anything too advanced for your technology.”
“Oh, great, poke fun at our world's technology,” says Grantaire, grinning at Enjolras. “That's sure to win you friends—though if you promise faster internet, you've won over plenty of the Earth already.”
Enjolras grabs his hand, which isn't a natural gesture for them yet but which Grantaire appreciates the effort for. “I'm not worried about the whole Earth,” they say, and Floréal laughs and stands up, telling them she'll talk to them later before walking out.
Grantaire looks at the pilot's seat, with its instrument panel and all the buttons and command pads he's spent days and days trying to commit to memory. “We're changing vectors today. You told me that.”
“Yes, and I've showed you how to do it three times. You know how to do it, and we're in a relatively debris-free area, so you won't steer us into an asteroid. I'll be right here.” Enjolras taps the co-pilot's seat, which is properly Grantaire's. “I won't make you, but you're ready. I say this as your teacher.”
Much as Grantaire doesn't know about Enjolras and their culture, he's managed to figure out by now that teachers and students are important, that it's significant and intimate in ways it isn't on Earth. “Okay, fine. But if I crash us and we all die, the last thing I say will be that I told you so.” The pilot's seat is exactly the same as the co-pilot's, and Grantaire tries to content himself with that as he sits down, Enjolras taking the co-pilot's seat and pulling it in close like Grantaire does when he's learning. “So what do I do first?”
“You pick the music, and then you turn off the translation.”
Grantaire looks at them, alarmed. “You mean I have to do this and I can't even ask you easily if I'm fucking it up?”
Enjolras just looks back, patient, waiting for him to do as asked. Grantaire really wishes he'd found some other way to make himself useful on the ship rather than learning how to pilot. “You'll be fine. You know how to do this, and you understand me well without the translation on.”
“Okay.” Grantaire takes a deep breath and puts on some music, one of the instrumental playlists he's put together since Enjolras seems to have a fondness for movie soundtracks. That's the easy part, since he's still using Earth technology. He fumbles turning the translator off in the cockpit on his first try, but he gets it on the second, using the moss pad because he's found that he likes it better even if there aren't any odd buttons to press.
When the translator is off, Enjolras squeezes his shoulder and leans back in their chair, saying something that sounds vaguely familiar in cadence, probably an encouragement of some kind. Grantaire goes back to the panel, going through the systems checks Enjolras insists he does every time even if it's been less than ten minutes since they were done. Everything is in order, running smoothly as it ever does. Feuilly, as chief engineer, keeps the ship purring under them.
The next part is the harder one. They've been traveling straight for a while, but they need to change directions to aim more exactly for their next destination and there's a star system with a little more radiation than the ship's shields can withstand that they want to avoid coming up. It doesn't take as much math as Grantaire might have feared, at the beginning, or maybe it's just the kind of math he gets instinctively, like how to put puzzles together and put together a bookcase that won't tip over. It takes looking at their path like he's lining up for a shot in pool and then tapping away at the moss pad until it's going in the right direction.
Grantaire checks three times, makes little adjustments even if he's pretty sure his third try takes it back to how he had it the first one, and looks at Enjolras, who only nods. Grantaire takes a deep breath and puts in the command for the vector change, and then holds his breath as he feels the ship's rockets turn on, changing their position. It's a little rough, a little bit of a jolt, but it only takes a second to even out. “Is that okay? Is it a problem?” he asks, because Enjolras understands his tone well enough at this point to understand that.
Enjolras shakes their head and leans in to kiss Grantaire, clasping his shoulder tight. The music is rising in intensity, and Grantaire wants to laugh a little at that, but he lets Enjolras linger instead, lets the kiss last. He deserves it, no doubt, after changing the vector of the ship without fucking up. When Enjolras pulls away, they say something quiet and no doubt good, hand coming up to rest against Grantaire's neck.
“I think I love you,” says Grantaire, because it's a little easier to say with the translation off.
Enjolras looks at them like they understand anyway, though, and pulls their chair a little closer before tapping the instrument panel again, showing Grantaire what he needs to do next.
“I'd like that,” says Bossuet, clearly already considering it. “It would save you having to go and film anywhere else, Grantaire. We aren't about to relinquish you and Floréal yet.”
“We have no intention of being relinquished, don't worry,” says Grantaire. “And we could definitely film some things on board here. You guys are a good first impression to have.”
Joly grins. “The whole universe would be jealous. It's been a generation or two on my planet since there was a first contact for a society as advanced as yours.”
Grantaire looks from Joly and Bossuet to Musichetta on their other side, arguing with Bahorel and Cosette about some aspect of the show, to Marius and Courfeyrac already taking out a deck of cards from their planet to start a game, to Combeferre and Feuilly and Jehan, deep in some serious discussion, to Floréal and Enjolras, who are both pretty obviously listening in on Grantaire's conversation, Floréal assessing and Enjolras smiling, right at Grantaire. “The whole universe should be jealous,” he says. “I get to hang out with all of you, after all.”
Both Joly and Bossuet are grinning now, but all Joly says is “Then we should definitely be the ones featured in the first contact video, if we've charmed you we'll get your planet on our side in no time.”
“Let's hope so,” says Grantaire, and lets them change the subject.
Maybe Enjolras is thinking the same, because they look over at Grantaire more often than usual, quiet and content and not paying much attention to what they're doing.
That means it's Grantaire who's looking at a video monitor focused in the middle of a field on the continent of the planet that hasn't yet been inducted into the galactic alliance and sees someone in the middle of it, on their back. The speakers say something, untranslated, and Grantaire bats Enjolras's hands out of the way to turn the translator back on in the cockpit. “Play that back,” he says.
Enjolras looks at him. “Play what back?”
Grantaire points at the monitor. “What did that person say?”
Enjolras presses a few combinations Grantaire doesn't have yet, and the monitor goes back a few seconds before playing again. “Sometimes,” says the person, an echo of a voice, “I really don't want to be on this planet.”
Grantaire tips his head back against his chair and starts laughing, because there's really nothing else he can do, no better sign that he could possibly imagine. After a second, Enjolras starts laughing too, the monitor paused on the person below them. “One good turn deserves another, right?” Grantaire asks when he's calmed himself down. “We've still got some quarters free, I know we do, this ship is made for twenty people.”
“You think we should?”
The person looks melancholy, whoever they are, like Grantaire was feeling the night the Musain found him. Maybe they don't really mean what they're saying, just like Grantaire didn't, but that doesn't mean Grantaire isn't happier than he's ever been, these days. “Are you going to get in trouble picking up another stray from an uncontacted society?”
“We're all strays of some kind or another here.” Enjolras hits the intercom button. “Crew, please check in, we may be picking someone up and I'd like your votes on the matter.”
“Did you ask them to vote on me?” Grantaire asks.
“It was unanimous,” says Enjolras, and makes the pattern to answer the call from engineering, the first “yes” coming in.
“It's pretty overwhelming,” he says, to let her know he's there. She jumps, but she's still holding on to the handle next to the port. “We'll be setting down in a little while, when we're over the place where it's full day. We'll send you home, if you want. They picked you up like they picked me up, and maybe you didn't mean it, that you didn't want to be there.”
“I knew it,” she says quietly. “I knew there had to be something up there, that the traders from across the sea weren't making it up. I knew it.” She glances at him. “I'm not going back unless you make me.”
“Nobody ever made me, once I said I wanted to stay. They probably won't make you, except in the case of extenuating circumstances.”
She goes back to looking out the viewport. “Is it as big out there as it looks?”
“Yes. And a lot bigger. There are people I can't even begin to describe and huge spaces where there's just nothing there and stories it takes more than a month to watch. But it's awesome.”
“I want to see it.”
“Okay.” Grantaire sits down on the other side of the viewport, looks down at the planet below them. Everything that would be green on Earth seems to be purple, and the oceans seem to be gently glowing. No two planets are the same. “Then you'll see it. Mind if I sit with you for a bit?”
Louison shakes her head, so Grantaire settles in.
It isn't long before Enjolras's voice crackles over the intercom. “Please prepare for landing, everyone, expect to start descending soon.”
“It's safe to stay here,” Grantaire tells Louison, because she started shifting to get up. “Just hold on.” He thinks back to what Joly and Bossuet told him before he took off for the first time. “It's a whole new universe.”
Louison presses up against the glass until her breath fogs it. “I can't wait.”