Humans have left a tragic legacy on planet Earth – trails of death and destruction and disease, and as fate would have it, they would eventually have to bear the brunt of it all. What limited produce remained was now entirely genetically manufactured in laboratories, hospitals were on constant standby for the next killer virus attack, and a permanent blanket of smog stifled the air, making it lethal to step outside maskless within city limits. And now, to top it off, a race of aliens had landed overnight to construct an ominous contraption high up in the sky before leaving as mysteriously as they had arrived.
It took days of painstaking, arduous work. But with the combination of Jooheon’s mental prowess and Changkyun’s research team, a ray of hope finally shone bright.
“What they have sent us is a test, a test where we must display our bravery, and our aptitude for surviving and thriving as a species,” Changkyun’s wild white hair bristled with electricity as he paced across the conference auditorium.
“…and so, the only way for the survival of humanity is if we ride that roller coaster in the sky,” Changkyun hurled his piece of chalk across the room for emphasis, panting as he beamed at the members of the conference. “As proud members of the Mon Star Platoon, we will represent the human race, ride that monolithic beast with fervor, and return triumphant!”
The Starship military commander-in-chief nodded thoughtfully, fingers tented. “The data is indisputable. But how does your platoon propose to reach the coaster? And what of the potentially grave peril you may face? I’m afraid we cannot provide any funding for transportation or safety, as we’re saving up to provide the entire military personal hoverblades.”
“They put together a hoverblades petition,” another chairperson sniffled. “If there’s a way to say no to those adorable faces, I won’t hear it.”
Changkyun adjusted his glasses and smiled enigmatically. “Don’t concern yourself. The Mon Star Platoon has its ways.”
Kihyun is a professional, so he deals with the morons of the JYP Intelligence Bureau as he would with children: through lies, fake smiles, and a good dose of over-the-head sarcasm.
"What do you mean, Shownu’s booked?" he asked.
The officer at the front desk, Mark, cowered a bit. But the bureau director standing behind him coolly stepped forward and took off his shades. Who wears shades indoors? Oh that’s right. Assholes.
"He means back off, Cap," Jinyoung threw a warning glance at Kihyun, putting a hand on Mark’s shoulder. Mark looked equally terrified of both the superiors.
“Shownu’s helping out on special biz ops. We’re not letting go of our best subject matter expert until we’re done."
Kihyun tried to simmer down his growing anger with a forced smile. Our best subject matter expert? Not only did these buffoons have the audacity to steal one of his own men, now they were giving him attitude about it.
“I have two potential teammates in mind,”Kihyun had declared when Changkyun debriefed him on Mission Cloud 9. The scientist pushed for a larger team but Kihyun insisted. He wanted those two and by god he'll get those two.
"With all due respect, Director," Kihyun patiently began, "Shownu’s time with your team may be cut short, on account of a high-priority case issued by headquarters."
“And which case is that?” Jinyoung leaned forward, curious.
“That’s classified information.”
Jinyoung scoffed. “Look here-“
“Look here, Captain, but I’m not letting him go. There’s no way in hell. You can go ahead and whine at headquarters if you’ve still got a problem.”
Generally, Kihyun did have a problem with the Bureau. Tonight, however, he had about nineteen different problems, the Bureau being only two of them. "Of course not, Director. I respect an organization that utilizes its resources to the fullest."
Jinyoung took his hand off Mark’s shoulder, and the latter sighed in relief. "All right, then. You have a good night, Captain-"
"But choosing to keep Shownu is no longer under your jurisdiction, I’m afraid," Kihyun shrugged.
"Director," Kihyun said, putting on his best look of concern. "You see, this isn’t any ordinary case. The higher ups have just given me an all-clear over the entire tactical support branch to pick and choose members for my own team." When in doubt, lie.
Jinyoung thought about this for a minute. "Who’s in charge?"
Kihyun tried again, "Hey, I didn’t even want to be a part of this. I drew the short straw."
That convinced him. A depressing number of people would believe that about him. Maybe he should use a different idiom.
The director had Mark lead Kihyun into the building’s interior. As he was walking away, he heard one of the officers ask, "C'mon, Jinyoung, why'd you gotta give him a hard time? Mon Star Platoon helped us with the E.Titans invasion, they fought right next to us!"
"No, we helped Mon Star Platoon. If it weren’t for us, they’d have been tripping over each other’s feet clad with that particular week’s genetically modified excuse of fashion soles cooked up by their mad scientist. The E.Titans would’ve grown pity over us and left Earth thinking we were a charity case. Now lay off, Jackson."
Kihyun heard laughter before the doors soundlessly shut behind him. Be the bigger man, Kihyun.
Two days ago, Wonho was peacefully minding his own business. And it was a pretty darn important business. He ran the most well-known hospital chain in the east coast. Every day Wonho would patrol the wards, ensuring his patients received exceptional care with the best medical treatments the world had to offer. He wasn’t one of the most reputed doctors in the country for nothing.
Wonho didn't mind the giant pink cloud permanently perched up in the sky- he thought it was kind of pretty, actually. Definitely added color to the boring grey drabness of Drabville. Nor did he particularly care for volunteering with the Mon Star Platoon again. He somehow kept getting roped in to the scientist’s crazy missions ever since he played that prank at the city gala last year. It took an entire team of expert software developers four nights to bring the grid’s extraterrestrial security system back up.
In any case, he was having a fine time spending his life on solid ground, thank you very much. Heck, Wonho didn't even like roller coasters.
And yet here he was, against his will about to embark on a dinky spaceship ("Hashtags have a deep meaning to me!” Jooheon appeared hurt when Wonho pointed out the childish paint job), soon to be hurtling towards his inevitable death.
“Enjoy your time, my loves!” Jooheon cooed. He shoved a picnic basket packed to the brim into Kihyun’s hands and pinched Shownu’s cheeks. “Make sure you don’t eat too much before the ride!”
“Leader, might I be so bold as to question the choice of… propulsion, for the craft–”
“It’s fine,” Changkyun assured, hustling Wonho into the spaceship’s cockpit. “My floating jellyfish are perfectly harmless. In fact, their molecules have been altered to purify the air around you as you fly. Now isn’t that just dandy? Kihyun, will you keep an eye on these cute little scamps?”
“Yes,” Kihyun said, handing the basket over to Shownu. As long as Kihyun maintained that Shownu and Wonho are a handful by themselves, Changkyun would allow him to keep his dream team for all of his missions. In reality, Shownu and Wonho were perfectly capable of taking care of the job and of each other, leaving Kihyun to focus on his own work.
“…gonna ride that coaster, gonna show them all, gonna be the bravest guy in the world, gonna…” Shownu mumbled to himself, mouth in a tight-lipped smile, hands shaking in excitement as he held the picnic basket. He was clearly looking forward to the trip.
“Have fun!” Changkyun waved as the loading dock slowly rose up. “Remember the driving directions I told you – straight up! Now show them what you got!”
The minute the ship doors closed, Kihyun excused himself to the hyposleep pod (perfect for long naps in limited time) and promptly nodded off, giving the other two full rein of the ship.
All was well until they were mere seconds away from the Cloud.
Shownu fumbled with the controls while trying to avoid the mobs of genetically mutated creatures gone wrong that flew through their path.
“Wonho,” Shownu groaned, “could you have possibly chosen a route with more angry birds than this one?” He swerved to avoid a rather large chunk of feather balls that whirled in front of the console window.
“Well, I’m sorry!” Wonho raised his head over the display modules. “But it seems that home base neglected to point out that the Cloud is enveloped by an enormous gravitational field and also never thought to build a spherical thruster into this ship. And unfortunately I am not a clairvoyant to know any of this. Now, will you please concentrate on piloting this mess?” He roughly pulled down his over-sized vision goggles.
Shownu turned, but Wonho was completely immersed in the display in front of him. Shownu chuckled amusedly. The poor guy was getting more and more antsy the closer they got to the roller coaster.
“For your information,” Wonho continued, as though he had never stopped, “there is a rather high energy signature coming from somewhere near here, so I didn’t just drag us along for a picnic despite what Jooheon thinks. I mean, come on, this is going to be anything but a picnic!” Wonho sighed.
“Aw, cheer up! Worst case, imagine the awesome legacy we’d leave-”
Wonho let out a shriek. “Don’t you dare even joke about that!”
In the few seconds it took for Shownu to stop laughing and turn back to face the screen, a giant object rammed itself into the backside of the ship.
Lights flashed on the control panel, and Shownu felt the spaceship resisting his touch. He tried his best to steady the rocking ship and aim for the Cloud.
“Stay calm,” Shownu announced, knowing full well that through Wonho’s ear-piercing screams, he was anything but calm.
The spaceship suddenly lurched forward, caught in the Cloud’s abnormally strong gravitational field and began hurtling towards it.
“Are you ok?” Shownu groaned as he massaged his head from the impact.
He looked around the cockpit and saw Wonho slowly lifting himself off the floor and a wobbly Kihyun coming out of the sleeper cabin, wincing as he held his shoulder. Nobody had sustained major injuries, and there were only a few minor cuts shared out.
The spaceship itself seemed, surprisingly, not all that damaged, apart from the fact that the drive controls had stopped working.
But Shownu wasn’t worried. Not with Wonho around. The boy had a knack at fixing things extra quickly when it came to high-altitude situations.
“Oh, now this is just great!” Wonho whined. “Not only are we stuck on some out of the way, fancy cloud system an alien’s cooked up, but you’ve gone and crashed the only way off this godforsaken nightmare!”
He kicked the pilot’s chair and subsequently hurt his foot. He winced.
“I know of course, you two will be expecting me to fix it, but even with my fantastically superior intelligence, I’ll never be able to.”
He waved his hand towards the rear compartment of the ship in an attempt to prove his point, but was disappointed when everything seemed to be pretty much intact.
“Wonho, cut the fake modesty crap,” Kihyun yawned as he replied amidst loud retorts. “We’ll deal with the repairs on our way back. Let’s check out the Cloud. You guys ready?”
Shownu opened the rear hatch door to survey their crash site. The spaceship was partially embedded in the pink cloud that cushioned their landing. Except, of course, it obviously couldn’t have been a real cloud to be holding up any mass at all, much less their ship sans the floating jellyfish.
They were first greeted with an oddly placed smell of cotton candy.
Right in front of them, sitting on an unnecessarily elaborate throne cloud was a creature who appeared human enough, yet not all at once. He was snoozing, his head bobbing down and jerking back up every few seconds. There was this strange aura surrounding his body, and the Cloud seemed to breathe along with him. Even the sunlight shone off him in the most unnaturally perfect way.
“It's so beautiful...” Shownu gasped.
The Cloud Prince (Shownu decided that was an apt nickname) suddenly opened his eyes and, is he flying towards them? Shownu glanced over at the other two, both with looks of extreme suspicion.
The person gently glided closer and closer until he was mere centimeters away from Shownu’s shocked face. He spoke with the softness of prominent class.
“Did you just.. call me an it?”
“What should we call you then, your Highness?” Kihyun cut across from Shownu’s left, lifting up his chin in defiance.
Flustered, the Cloud Prince swiveled his head over at Kihyun and narrowed his eyes, before floating backwards to resume position at his perch.
“I am Hyungwon, from the far reaches of this galaxy, sent on an expedition to learn more about your alien kind.”
"Excuse me, but alien?” Wonho chortled loudly. “Have you forgotten where you are? You’re the alien here-"
Hyungwon threw a lightning glare that automatically shut Wonho up before he proceeded. Kihyun decided that he’s got to learn that skill someday.
“We have performed extensive research on the human species,” Hyungwon’s voice was crisp clear as he spoke. “And we have come to the conclusion that you don’t nearly have the amount of excitement in your lives as you deserve.”
He eyed the Loud Idiot making it totally plain that he was reaching for his shooter. Hyungwon tilted his head up to the sky and signed in agony. It was his ill luck that his boss had decided to choose him as a partner for his unnecessarily philanthropic volunteer trip.
“Before you grow all the more suspicious of me, let me assure you that I come in peace. And I am cordially inviting you to experience what is assuredly the most exhilarating, spine-tinglingly awesome ride of your lives.”
Shownu snorted before he guiltily caught himself.
“No gimmicks?” Wonho squarely crossed his arms. “You’re hiding something. I can tell when people are lying. I have a psychology degree, you know.”
Of all the planets, Hyungwon was assigned this toxic brain dump.
“Were you sent here alone?” Kihyun started, trying to sound as professionally threatening as possible. “I mean," he gestured at Hyungwon, "what if you get killed? We humans are very dangerous..."
Hyungwon rolled his eyes. "Right. Anyway, as the guardian of this fun-filled ensemble, let me guide you into my TS Mantis 360." A pair of snickers was briefly hushed by another award-winning glare.
He led the way over a long cloud bridge.
Wonho always had the habit of talking too much to make up for his fear. And Wonho had never been more scared in his life.
“Is this some kind of shady bet you had with your alien friends? Do you really expect us to believe that nonsense you spewed out earlier? What we ‘deserve,’ HA. Deserve, my foot.”
“Are you riding with us? I think you should, on the account of liability.”
“So is this your true body or did you transmogrify? Or did you kill the human and are now using his carcass? I wouldn’t put that behind you, quite honestly. I sense evil in your eyes.”
Hyungwon remained silent.
“Why did you name this ride TS Mantis 360? And what does the TS stand for?”
“Are you actually a mantis-“
“Shut up,” Hyungwon replied conversationally.
The group made it to the coaster entrance with Wonho surprisingly still alive and kicking.
The trio stepped onto a simple floorless train one behind another and strapped on their safety harnesses. This was it. They were about to ride what could certainly be the first and last alien roller coaster of their lives. And for what reason again, exactly, none of them were completely sure.
Kihyun and Shownu started panicking as the current situation hit them in full force, while Wonho was downright on the brink of tears.
Hyungwon gave a slight nod, telepathically locking in the restraints and freeing the coaster train from its breaks.
“Now remember,” Hyungwon’s voice amplified itself over the increasing mechanical noise. “To complete the ride, you will need to pick as many sacks of the All-Powerful Fruit as you can. Got it?”
“The what?” Shownu questioned.
“The what?” Kihyun panicked.
“THE WHAT?” Wonho screamed with all his might.
“Good luck!” Hyungwon grinned and lifted two thumbs up. And with a blink of an eye the coaster shot through the air.
They whizzed through the sky, going on hills and loops and nail-biting turns. The twisting track took them through the clouds and often dipped down to a breathtakingly beautiful view of the landscape below. Kihyun was pretty sure the coaster train veered off the track several times. But throughout the entire ride, an invisible electromagnetic tube seemed to keep them from falling off the path entirely.
Out of the three of them, Shownu was the lone rider who genuinely enjoyed himself. He threw his hands up in the air and whooped and hollered as they were taken up hundreds of meters before being plummeting down at a G-force that was illegal in most countries. Kihyun felt sick.
“Do you see that?!” Shownu pointed as he yelled over the din of Wonho’s extraordinarily non-stop screaming.
Kihyun blinked away his tears and squinted at the direction of Shownu’s finger. Not more than a quarter of a mile away, a sudden rip in the sky had materialized right over the path of the tracks. The longer Kihyun stared the larger the rip became, pulsing fluorescent blue.
Kihyun wondered if he should have become a news anchor, after all.
They got closer and closer all too quickly. Kihyun shut his eyes a fraction of a second before the rip swallowed their train whole.
And then it was all black.
Back on the ground…
“How do you think it’s faring up there?”
Changkyun poofed his cheeks up at the sky.
“They are three very qualified humans for this job. And once the intern’s sent them on their way, we have our trusty friend looking over their interplanetary travel segment.”
Jooheon nodded thoughtfully. “Never expected to say this but I miss him,” he sighed. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen that crazy sucker.”
“We’ll meet up soon enough, remember?” Changkyun grinned. “Our reunion is well overdue.”
The trio came to, and found themselves in a completely unfamiliar world. It was nighttime in the middle of a sparse forest, a bit too warm for Kihyun’s taste, the atmosphere was light enough to make him slightly woozy…
And everything was blue.
Kihyun hopped off the train and immediately grabbed Shownu’s hand to stop his impulsive mad dash towards a nearby lake.
With his other arm, Kihyun placed a firm hold around Wonho’s shoulder. The doctor had collapsed into a fit of sobs the second he laid eyes on the incredibly gorgeous night sky in the distance. He flailed frantically for Shownu’s hand and began howling about the beauty of the black expanse before them, with glittering diamonds drifting so serenely in the dark sea. This, of course, got Shownu emotional too, and the two ended up a tangled mess right at a perplexed Kihyun’s feet with Shownu holding Wonho in his arms.
The space jump must have been way too stimulating for these two, Kihyun decided. That wormhole probably fried their neuronic inhibitors to make them act like children again. He was confused (and envious, he admitted) as to why he hadn’t turned insane, too.
It looked like a one-man job from here on out.
Keeping a close watch on his newly adopted sons, Kihyun walked around to spy any trace of fruit. Soon, they chanced into an orchard of trees with fruit so bright and blue that they appeared as fluorescent as the rip in the sky. Kihyun assumed these were the all-Powerful Fruits that Hyungwon so graciously let them know about the last second.
He gently placed his two teammates down near an empty patch of blue grass before proceeding. He then approached a promising-looking tree, its limbs heavy with bright blue fruit, and gave it a strong spin-kick.
A bounty of fruits pattered to the ground, as did a tall, giant-eared man in an elaborately sequined top hat. Kihyun ignored him in favor of the fruits.
“What ho!” hollered the man in his deep voice, pointing at Kihyun. “Who is this creature that pilfers the sacred blue-fruit?”
“Hey! Did you just call my Captain a hoe?” Shownu snarled, showing a brief moment of lucidity in between his and Wonho’s emotional bonding moment.
“It’s, hic, an archaic expression, hic, of surprise,” Wonho hiccupped, ready to educate even in the midst of severe emotion. “Even the air tastes different here, and I feel like I’m flying, and oh god, there are stars, there are stars everywhere–”
The ear-man attempted to snatch the burlap sack, but he was no match for the Captain. Kihyun sent him flying across the landscape with a kick, where he landed out-of-sight behind a large shrub.
It was quiet. And then a huge cheer suddenly erupted, and dozens of tiny native inhabitants that came up to Kihyun’s waist rushed from hiding to kneel in front of him.
“You have saved us from our foul oppressor!” they cried. “We are forever indebted!”
Kihyun thought for a bit. “Okay,” he might as well milk the situation for what it’s worth. He gestured at his empty burlap sacks. “Give me your fruits.”
“Anything! All for the savior of bluekind!”
The blue-people set to work, whistling a cheery tune, and filling sack after sack with the fruits. A giggling quintet of blue-maidens approached Shownu and Wonho with vessels heaped with jewelry and clothes, and began to beautify their savior’s companions.
Soon, Kihyun was being carried back to their roller coaster train via palanquin. On either side of him were a thoroughly dolled-up Shownu and Wonho. The three were flanked by blue-people carrying over a dozen fruit-sacks in merry procession.
They were met with a grim surprise when they reached their train. The blue-people gasped and fearfully hid behind the three humans.
The ear-man’s top hat rotated like a propeller as he descended down from a nearby tree. He cackled as he brandished an extra-large can of peanut butter. “You may have the sacred fruit, and the people on your side,” he sniggered, waving a giant spoon at their train. “But how will you return home covered in-”
Shownu headbutted the ear-man into orbit before he even finished speaking. Shownu was always suspicious of men with top hats after a certain incident in training with the JYP Intelligence Bureau. Shownu strutted back towards his palanquin, swaying his new poofy silk pants with each step.
He raised a fruit above his head, and bellowed a war cry to the cheering crowd.
“Live free!” he screamed.
He then proceeded to hurl fourteen fruits towards the now-orbiting ear-man. Kihyun tsk-tsked. Very over-stimulated. Shownu was definitely getting a timeout.
Only moments after the trio and the last of the fruit sacks were placed on the coaster train, they were conveniently teleported back to Earth at the Mon Sta Platoon home base. Shownu had decided that he would write a letter of self-reflection after his particularly wild display of violence. Wonho, on the other hand, was seething at the unfairness of it all.
“I don’t believe this,” Wonho gasped. “Why weren’t we taken back to the Cloud? That lying brat stole our spaceship! Not that it was really in flyable condition anyway, but my custom-made nightlight is still up there. I swear to god if I ever catch sight of that pip-squeaking nincompoop again…”
“Wonho, we’re lucky enough to be alive and at home,” Kihyun points out. “So please shut your trap.”
They stepped off the coaster train as Wonho grumbled on and were soon enough greeted by Minhyuk spraying all of them with a water hose. Shownu miraculously survived the assault drench-free, but the other two did not.
“Don’t know what you little pricks got up to up there,” Minhyuk said, regarding them with a suspicious look from over his face mask. “And what happened to Jooheon’s ship? This is outrageous. Step aside so I can disinfect your excuse of a vehicle.”
Changkyun strode out to the ship tarmac with open arms.
“My friends!” He peered over their shoulders at the giant pile of burlap sacks getting wetter as they spoke. “I see that you have been successful in your mission. Great job!” he remarked with a wide grin. He eagerly motioned for the nearby workers to haul the sacks back into the headquarters building.
The trio gawked at the scientist.
“You mean… you knew about this whole fruit picking deal the entire time?” Kihyun retorted.
Changkyun laughed cheerfully. He stopped one of the haulers and took out the bluest, shiniest fruit in the sack.
“You have just completed the test mission to bring the first batch of the All-Powerful Fruit. Now, due to the similarities in climate and terrain with Earth and this fruit’s origin planet, we can sow the seeds and start planting our own trees in our greenhouses.”
By this point, Shownu and Wonho were intrigued enough to stop their individual side performances and pay attention to the scientist.
“This fruit’s powers will revolutionize the very definition of humanity,” Changkyun stared at the fruit teary-eyed. “After a single bite, the human race will become wiser, kinder, stronger people that can eventually restore this planet to all its former glory,” his last words cracked with strong emotion.
On an ordinary day, Kihyun would’ve regarded the mad scientist’s words as suspicious and highly questionable. How did Changkyun know about the existence of this fruit? Where did he find the technology to harness faster-than-light interplanetary travel? Why is his hair suddenly discharging a most peculiar electric glow? But enough not-so-ordinary things have happened today that the scientist’s words startlingly seemed believable.
“Oh,” Kihyun offered.
“That’s the spirit!” Changkyun wiped his tears and threw Kihyun the fruit. “Just a single bite should do the trick!”
Kihyun considered the fruit for a moment. He supposed it wouldn’t be a bad idea. After all, they have had a streak of luck from escaping near-death situations recently.
He took a bite first and waited for the imminent end. When his body didn’t turn inside-out, Kihyun proceeded to give one bite each to Shownu and Wonho- the latter chewed thoughtfully while the former inhaled his bite in seconds. Soon enough, the three transformed to beautifully illuminated versions of themselves in the most shimmering blue.
“Oh my god, the color doesn’t match my eyes!” Wonho wailed. “I paid good money for these purple implants…”
Meanwhile Shownu checked out his upgraded cerulean hair in the headquarters window reflection. He glanced around and when he thought nobody was looking, he flashed up a peace sign and winked.
Of course, not even the All-Powerful Fruit could change the personalities of these two fools.
Kihyun chuckled, then threw an arm over Shownu and Wonho’s shoulders and dragged them into the building. Mission: complete.
Several weeks later on one of Saturn’s less touristy moons, a few blissful souls were lazing around near a gorgeous privately-owned lake.
Changkyun clinked his chilled drink with the other’s glass and stretched back on his beach chair.
“Earth was quite something, wasn’t it?”
“Nothing like our home planet, but boy, we sure met some amazing humans.”
“They were a precious bunch, indeed. To another planet saved.”
“Amen, brother,” Jooheon turned to his other side and lifted his glass up to the third person sitting along with them.
“And to you, you son of a gun.”