He opens his eyes. There is chatter, but the sounds are meaningless. He feels a puncture and sharp pain shoots up his spine. His head feels like it might combust from the heat. It grows so intense, he is blinded for several long, agonizing seconds. And then just like that, it is over, leaving him winded and blurry-eyed as an artificial cooling sensation ran through his body. He is rocked forward and stumbles as his vision starts to right itself.
“Here we go.”
“Oh, he’s pretty!”
“Is he taller than me? I can’t tell.”
“Guys, back up. Give him some space. Go get his clothes.”
“Kai,” one of them says. The one who called for his clothes. “Has your communicator kicked in yet?” He wipes the tears away and focuses on the body before him. The face. There are many other people in the room. “Speak,” the one before him orders.
“I speak,” he says.
“We got us a smart one,” someone says near the back, snickering proudly at his sarcasm.
“Jongin,” the one before him says again, handing him a bundled up uniform. “You are our new Kai. I am Suho. It will process soon.”
“I am the jump pilot,” Kai says, emotionless as he accepts the clothes and looks over the crowd. Eleven of them.
“That’s right,” Suho says encouragingly, rewarding him with a smile. “You will be piloting with Tao and Kris in shifts.” He turns to gesture for the aforementioned two to come forward. One looks like gold melted roughly into a human mold, and the other floats above the floor, heads higher than the others. They offer their own versions of smiles in greeting and introduce themselves. The one called Kris has long fangs that somehow manage to tuck into his mouth when it was closed.
“You will join them when you have acclimated,” Suho explains. His voice was soothing. “In the meantime, who wants to show him around? D.O.?”
“No,” comes the response, presumably from D.O., who stands to the side, looking like he wants to be anywhere but there.
“I will!” volunteers the tall one standing next to him. His skin shimmers like finely milled red glitter.
“Perfect,” Suho says, clapping his hands together proudly and smiles at Kai again, who is shakily pulling on the grey jumpsuit, tucking his long tail through the small flap in the back, too aware of his own nudity now as the rest of them introduced themselves, and the sight of two of them, Baekhyun and Chen, who apparently choose to not wear any clothing. Chen’s lower half was different though. Where the rest have what were roughly two legs each, Chen had possibly four or more, constantly shifting his weight around on the maroon colored tentacles. It made him uncomfortable. He shuddered.
The volunteer—Chanyeol—grabs his bicep and guides him to an exit, chuckling quietly. “Don’t stare, or he’ll shoot it at you,” he whispers.
“He does not conform,” Kai protests, craning his head back to keep his eye on the oddity. His ears twitched to try to hone in on Chen's location when Kai loses sight of him.
“Kicking in already, huh?” Chanyeol says, smiling as he leads him down a curved hallway. The walls rounded out, like they were in a tunnel. “So you’ll probably know this on your own. It’s been a while since we’ve had to replace anyone, so I don’t remember exactly how it works, but anyway. Yes, we run the humanoid terragenesis and terraforming ship. It’s normally for bilateral humanoids. But his people are bilateral enough, and they’re the ones who power the voyage to make them possible, so...be nice.” He says it cheerily enough, but Kai detects the warning loud and clear.
“This is the mess hall,” Chanyeol explains, and they dip their heads into a doorway briefly so Kai can see the small cafeteria and kitchen. “Self serve, so clean up your mess. Replace and refill whatever needs it. Or we might have to get a replacement for you.”
“I am a replacement,” Kai states, although he intended it as a question.
“You are the second Kai. Yes.”
“Am I a clone?” Kai asks.
Chanyeol laughs, clapping him on the back like he just made a joke. “Clone! That’d be so cool, but I think only Sehun’s people can do that. No. You are just the second Kai. We needed a new Kai, so here you are.”
“What happened to the last Kai?”
“He died.” Chanyeol doesn’t expand on that, walking briskly to the next stop. He palms another panel and a bigger door slides open. “This is the rec room. Keep it clean.”
“Are those the rules for everywhere?”
Chanyeol laughs again. “Yep. Unless you want D.O. to kill you. Then I’ll have to explain all of this to the new Kai!” He giggles at his joke that he recycled from the mess hall.
The tour takes ages. Chanyeol is energetic and cheerful and Kai just wants to shut off for a while to let everything finish sinking in. They reach another room and Chanyeol gives him a mischievous look before he lets Kai look inside. “This is the break room. We go here together every couple of days. You can skip out if you want to, or you can just come and observe.”
“Nothing? Ooh, that’ll be fun. I won’t spoil it then.”
Chanyeol points out the crew’s private quarters next, paging each room so the crew can greet them all over again. None of them were particularly pleased about that.
They stop at Baekhyun’s room longer than the others so Chanyeol can whisper to him all about the new Kai and the quirks he’s discovered. Kai tugs on the sleeve of his jumpsuit awkwardly, careful that his tail not knock over anything and trying to look around the room at anywhere other than the small nude humanoid.
“Why does he not wear clothing?” Kai asks later, once they’ve left.
“He didn’t want Chen to feel embarrassed.”
“...Oh.” That made no sense. Chen’s genitals were covered. Or at least camouflaged. Baekhyun’s...were not.
“And this is you,” Chanyeol says, stopping at a closed door. “Any last questions?”
“Am I the only replacement?”
“Oh no,” Chanyeol says, patting him on the arm. “Goodness, no. I am the only Chanyeol, and Baekhyun is. Umm,” he ticks off his fingers, looking to the side, lost in thought. Kai realizes his fingers are each the size of Kai’s entire hand, the shimmer ending as it reached Chanyeol’s fingertips, turning to a matte burgundy instead. “And Sehun. That’s it. Don’t feel bad. You’re not lesser or anything. If anything happens to me, there will just be a new Chanyeol too. It’s okay.”
“How was the last Kai?” He wanted to ask how the last Kai died, but chooses to postpone that for another day.
Chanyeol purses his lips, looking uncomfortable. “He was shorter than you. Bulkier. Nice guy. Did his job. Didn’t talk much. Sang a lot.” He taps at the panel and brings up a small hologram. “Anyway, palm here please to program this room to you. It’s been cleaned out and should be ready to go.”
Kai complies, splaying his fingers out on the white panel. He expects cold plastic, but his hand sinks in a bit. It forms around him, squeezing gently for the briefest moment before releasing. He jerks his hand back, eyes wide at Chanyeol as the door slides open.
“It’ll be okay,” Chanyeol repeats, slapping him on the back as he walks back toward his quarters. “Get some rest. Then come down to the mess and get some food.”
His quarters are small and simple. It matches the others’ rooms. Just a small bed, a desk, a chair, a small dresser, and a bookshelf. There is an alcove that houses more uniforms. They looked too small for him, and worn. The name tag on one said “Kai”. The rest of the room is spartan. The bedding looks new. Only the clothes of its previous owner, his predecessor, are out of place. Everything else is just like him.
“Kai,” he says aloud as he lays on the bed, staring up at the plain ceiling. “I am Jongin.” He remembers Suho calling him that when he first awoken. That’s all he has. Did he have a previous life before this? Or was he just made to order because the Kai before had died?