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Les Enfants des Étoiles

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Courfeyrac remembers his recruitment quite well. He’s not sure whether or not that makes him one of the lucky ones. Maman and Papa had told him that he was selected for something very important, that he was a very special little boy. That they’d all be going on a trip together, and that Courfeyrac would not be coming home with them. He remembers packing all his things into two suitcases, arguing over what must come and what could be left behind, and insisting that M. le Singe be allowed to sit with him, even though he was getting far too old to be carrying around stuffed animals.

He remembers Maman and Papa and Charles all crying as they hugged and kissed him goodbye. Little Elise cried too, but she was a baby and didn’t know any better. Gerard didn’t cry, but still hugged him close, and made him promise to be good.

He remembers crying as well as they packed back into the car, waving goodbye as long as they could until they were out of sight.

And then they were gone, and Courfeyrac began his new life as one of les enfants d’étoiles.

 


 

Feuilly doesn’t remember his recruitment at all. He has fuzzy memories of before , a gentle voice singing lullabies, strong hands lifting him higher so he could see the world, a bed in a room that was all his own with a nightlight to keep the monsters at bay. But at four, he'd been among the youngest to enter the program, making it harder to remember a time when these people weren’t his only family, and when this wasn’t the place he thought of as home.

In some ways, it made things easier. Sure, he cried and cried and had all sorts of nightmares when his parents died only a few months after his arrival. And maybe he envied that everyone else got vid calls and occasional personal visits from their families, but at least he could spend those moments studying, crafting, giving himself every extra chance he could get to grasp concepts or make something special for one of his crewmates. And if he didn’t have a family to visit on the annual Holiday vacation, he’d just go with one of them. Courfeyrac’s family still asked after him on occasion, and Jehan’s mother sent him homemade fudge for years .

So maybe having no family made him different, but it also made him everyone’s. And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

 


 

At night, there was nothing that Jehan liked better than going outside and viewing the stars. Light pollution from the nearby city meant that it wasn’t as clear as it could be, but it was still wonderful to lie in the grass, stare up, and imagine what it would be like, when he was living within that twinkling wonderland.

There was something tragic the day he found out that he couldn’t ride a star or hold one in his hand, that many were much larger than the sun, and even the smaller ones could probably swallow the earth whole. But even then, he could counter this with the stories he learned of mariners setting their courses by star positions long long ago, and crews who had done the same in the ever-expanding network of the known universe. He once got a book of constellation mythology from somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy, and poured over it religiously, fascinated at how it overlapped with the stories he heard from Earth, even if the names and shapes and points of reference were different.

One day, he’d master the language, and read the book in its original tongue. But for now, he could go to the planetarium, set it for that planet’s night sky, and dream about what it would be like to see another world’s stars.

 


 

Evangeline laughed when it was announced that two more girls would be added to the program to help balance out the gender ratio. “Help” indeed. Now it would only be five to two, rather than five to one. Apparently the thought that men were more suited to space than women was harder to shake than it had any right to be.

The higher ups said that the new girls showed promise, that they’d latch right in and be caught up in no time. Rumour was they were foster children from a less than ideal home. They certainly looked the part at least: both were scrawny and probably underfed, and the one with the meek but ever-present smile seemed to flinch when anyone spoke too loud. They’d need a fair amount of food and training, and probably some extra care, if they ever wanted to keep up physically and mentally.

All the more reason for her to recruit Musichetta, and perhaps Feuilly, and take these two under their wing.

 


 

The training was tough. Life back home had been harder.

Here, Éponine was pushed everyday to reach a new limit, whether it was pedalling on stationary bikes, studying languages from galaxies away, or learning how to do even the simplest of tasks underwater in a giant protective suit. Back home, it had been about maintaining a careful balance between meek and defiant to keep herself safe without becoming mentally broken. Here, she had to learn what kind of food would keep for long periods of time, and how to transform the needed amounts of nutrients into something edible. Back home, she’d often skipped meals to make sure her younger siblings had a share.

God, she hoped they were doing alright in their new homes, wherever they were.

Being away from her father and from her past was a dream come true. And if what she heard was true and one day they’d be launched into space forever, then as far as Éponine was concerned, that day couldn’t come soon enough.

 


 

They grew up together, learned together, studied together. But as fun as cooperation was, they shone best in competition.

Apparently someone noticed, because they were given ample opportunity to do just that. There were athletic competitions (Grantaire and Bahorel usually won these), debates (the triumvirate, as he, Courfeyrac, and Enjolras were nicknamed, were near unstoppable, though Grantaire could give a very good speech if he could stay on topic), and various arts showcases (Cosette shone at music, Jehan at composition, and Feuilly at traditional art. Courfeyrac and Musichetta were brilliant onstage, but Joly and Bossuet could do quickfire comedy like no-one. Somehow Grantaire always managed to place in the top three no matter what the discipline.)

Combeferre’s personal favourite were the science fairs. It was fun taking what they’d learned in classes and transforming them into something meaningful and useful. Perhaps he’d never come up with something patent-worthy yet, but as far as he was concerned, it was only a matter of time. Between he and Joly, they’d managed to 3D print near-complete 3D printers, researched growing healthy plants in space using the water tank as a test, and attempted to find new applications in turning waste into energy. (Joly had refused to be his partner on the last, but Bahorel had gleefully agreed. It had been an interesting experiment, to say the least.) Grantaire invariably went by the old standby of a vinegar and baking soda volcano, finding ways to make it new and interesting each year. Once, there was a very complicated Rube Goldberg machine attached to get it to function, all completely hidden within the volcano’s walls. He deserved the win that year, but the damn volcano invariably placed much higher than any volcano should. Still, Combeferre had won more than his share, and enjoyed figuring out new ways to apply and combine technologies in ways that might make the future brighter.

 


 

It wasn’t surprising that they’d look for ways to turn this into a news story, to try and make them all celebrities, or at least give them their five minutes of Earthly fame. After all, they would be the first crew of their kind to enter space: the first that had grown up together, the first whose entire focus was to be a stable, family-like group as much as a crew. They were meant to be the perfect size for diplomatic missions, while also serving as a microcosm as to what it would be like when whole communities, perhaps even cities, were to live together in the closed confines of space.

The surprising part was that Cosette was chosen to be one of the faces of their crew.

Even years later, she still felt like a new arrival; getting near but never quite catching up to those that had been in the program for those few extra years. But she was smart, cheerful, and kind. Most of all, she was told, she was beautiful. It was that, as much as any other factor, that made her a good candidate for publicity, just as Enjolras’ looks made him one as much as his natural intellect and charisma.

And so she fitted public appearances into her calendar, and speech memorization into her daily schedule, and watched as Enjolras did the same.

 


 

Fourteen was large enough a crew to be self-sustaining for a small vessel, but far too small if any sort of generational intent was to be fulfilled. Still, Musichetta had to wonder if part of the reason for adding two more girls, along with making it look better on paper, was to make it easier to foster the sort of relationships needed for procreation and study how mating, perhaps even pregnancy, worked in such a crew as theirs. The gravity controls were supposed to be stable enough for human testing, after all, and in a group their size… well… losing anyone would be difficult, but it would be safer than putting a large number of humans at risk.

The thought made considerations of life and love weighty, but nonetheless it was fascinating to see relationships develop among their tightly knit crew. Bahorel and Evangeline certainly hit it off, constantly bantering and besting each other in various contests in which they tried to be the brightest and flashiest. Cosette and Marius were also head over heels, and it sometimes felt like pure sugar intake just to be watching the way they looked at each other. Éponine, she was fairly certain, fit in there somewhere, but she hadn’t pinned down how . Enjolras and Feuilly certainly weren’t dating, but they had a sort of mutual appreciation of each other that went above and beyond, creating another sort of sweetness. Grantaire pined for Enjolras as well, though he enjoyed his fair share of cuddles elsewhere. And Courfeyrac, well, he flirted with everyone in the name of good fun.

As for Musichetta? Well, she had her boys, and they had each other as well as her. Unconventional, perhaps, but so was growing up with the intent to enter the stars. They’d manage both just fine, she was sure.

 


 

It was over a decade into the program, a decade of learning, working, being not quite normal children, but at least allowed to be children nonetheless, before they started thinking about assigning roles.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Enjolras would be Captain. He took to leadership like a fish to water, bringing all those around him into his gravitational sphere. Those closest satellites, Courfeyrac and Combeferre, shone alongside him and would clearly be first and second officers. For everyone else, there seemed to be a natural area of concentration, whether it was Bahorel in security, Marius in communications, or Joly in medicine. Even Bossuet had an uncanny knack for cooking. But Grantaire? There was no place in which he felt truly at home.

The higher ups tried inserting him into multiple configurations, and while it never went poorly, it was never right . He’d mess something up and have to cleverly solve it, or else the calibrations for someone else would clearly put him at a handicap in a way that made him frustrated far more than inspired to find just the right thing.

There was a spot for everyone in the crew. They were made for this mission, after all.

So why did he feel like a jack of all trades and a master of none?

Why did he feel like there was nothing really there for him?

 


 

Joly couldn't say when he first became interested in medicine. He remembers having a play doctor’s kit even in the time before , and vaguely remembers using its stethoscope to hear his heartbeat and his teddy bear’s in turn. He’d always be interested in how things worked as well, taking things apart and putting them back together, though less so than Jehan and Combeferre, who would examine all the pieces and contemplate them individually, and wonder what else they could make from the parts.

It was Bossuet who drove him towards it, though. After all, he always had at least a bandaid on, if not a sling. Learning to do the first aid was a good act at first, and became soberingly vital as he realized that if he didn’t know how to treat anything that went wrong in space, perhaps no-one would.

And so he practiced and he trained. He learned how to make every small scrap of a bandage roll count, how to disinfect, and how to check for infection. He learned the name of each bone, organ, and artery, and how they all connect to each other. He even learned the basics of surgery, though he prayed that he’d never have to use it.

Maybe he’d never officially have the title “Doctor” in front of his name. There was no graduate certificate, after all, only years of training around the basic curriculum. But he’d be knowledgeable and he’d be ready, no matter what was to come.

 


 

There was an ongoing joke that stated that Bossuet was born without luck. He sustained more injuries than nearly the rest of the crew combined, half of them due to freak accidents and paper really liking to bite at his fingers. He also had a tendency to lose games of chance and have personal items disappear and reappear in the strangest places. To top it off he was already seeing the starts of hair loss in his mid teens.

But Bossuet didn’t think he was unlucky at all. After all, he had a place in this wonderful group of people who were closer than friends, closer than family. He had a boyfriend and a girlfriend who enjoyed flirting with him, and being flirted with in return. He had a purpose, a drive, and chances lying ahead of him that most people could hardly dream of.

He just hope that all his luck wasn’t used up already, and that things would go smoothly once they were up in the sky.

 


 

Preparing for a spacefaring mission is a lot of work.

He always knew it would be. After all, they were moving over a dozen lives aboard for who knows how long? Months? Years? Forever? Still, the amount of things involved was staggering, and every last item had to be carefully measured and calculated to make sure everything was safe for launch. And the clearance checks were too damn frustratingly thorough, especially since they’d all been living primarily at the centre for ten, fifteen years. What were they supposed to get up to? Fireworks in the planetarium? Jehan would’ve cried!

Bahorel took out his frustration in the gym, sometimes sparring with Grantaire, sometimes punching a well-loved bag that he was going to miss immensely once up in space. (It was an unneeded piece of cargo, and he’d have to resort to his second and third favourite forms of training, or else fashion one out of worn items once they’d been adrift for a while. Evangeline had asked if she could practice on his abs. He’d given it due consideration.)

But more than anything, they could all feel the excitement building. The moment that their lives were all hinging upon was soon approaching. And soon, they’d be up there in a whole different place, seeing sights that only a handful of people had ever seen before. Putting all the training from all those years to good use at last.

He was itching so hard to get up in the air. They all were.

It’s what they’d been waiting for all their lives, after all.

 


 

The last week was especially hard between the building tension of the upcoming launch and all the families coming for what might very well be their final goodbyes. Marius spent most of it with Cosette and the leader of the project, M. Fauchelevant. (Cosette had told him once that M. Fauchelevant’d been the one to find her and Éponine, and bring them into the program all those years ago. He’d never quite learned the details.)

His grandfather came by for a short visit about halfway through the week. There was a long look, a hand clasped on his shoulder, and a few words about pride and representing the best planet in the universe. It was stiff, like most of their interactions, but at least it was a proper goodbye.

He joined Courfeyrac’s family for a full day of togetherness and farewells. They’d adopted half the crew as extended family, and had wanted to properly say goodbye to all of them. Elise was in lycée now, and Charlotte, who hadn’t even been born when they began, had just started collège. She hugged and kissed both of them just as much as the rest of the family, and made Marius in particular promise to send pictures and video messages no matter where they ended up in space.

Marius couldn’t begin to imagine how hard it would be for Courfeyrac to let them go now, even growing up so apart from the rest of his family. But at least they would always be there, providing support from home.

 


 

Fifteen years, two months, and seventeen days after les enfants des étoiles first opened its doors, the ship is deemed space ready and the rockets prepped for launch. They’re all buckled in and braced for a takeoff that is more abrasive and shocking than any of them expected, but that mission control and all onboard devices agree was a completely success.

They take a moment to enjoy the view, marvel at the wonders, and then it’s to work, all hands on deck as they venture out of the solar system and towards the edge of the galaxy. And then they are a speck in a sea of stars and planets, travelling several times faster than light.

It’s an hour or two of chaos, but ones that they’ve drilled endlessly. And soon everything is going smoothly, and they’re well on their way to the Andromedan planet that is to be their first official stop, or their test voyage, depending on how it fares.

As Enjolras takes his seat in the Captain’s chair, he's certain it will go just fine. What follows will truly be the voyage of a lifetime.