John was born at 4:24 in the morning on the twenty-eighth of October. He was, by all accounts, less troublesome than Scott, who'd insisted on wrapping his umbilical cord around his neck on his way through the birth canal and terrifying his brand new parents. After Scott, John was a welcome relief, an easy six hours, uncomplicated. He was not, however, as briskly born as Virgil, who took only twenty minutes to make his way into the world. This was subsequent to a bacon double cheeseburger that may, in retrospect, have been a bad idea. The doctor described him as having practically been shot across the room.
So, twenty-eight on the twenty-eighth. Auspicious, a champagne birthday. John's never been that particular about his birthday. Base acknowledgement is really all he asks, liable as he is to forget the day on his own. It's hard to know when to mark it, all those different factors-the time-zone he was born in, versus Universal Standard Time in space, versus Tracy Island Time.
Nevertheless, he's reminded of his birthday when he goes to the cargo hold to unload the latest shipment up from the island, and there's a small, gold-toned box among the usual supplies, tied with a white bow. That's different.
Nice, though. He wonders who went out of their way to get it placed with this month's supplies. He'll have to check the manifest and see who he needs to thank. At the moment he's just grateful it's small, after the year when Gordon had sent up an inflatable shark as big as he was. Worse, he'd rigged it with a pressurized air cannister, so it had inflated pretty much as soon as it was out of the box (labeled, helpfully, "companion module"). Then he hadn't had the heart to deflate the thing, with it's exaggerated sharky grin and comically large dorsal fin, so it had floated around the station, lurking in the gravity ring and scaring him half to death everytime he forgot it existed.
This is probably not an inflatable anything, for which John's very thankful, as he tugs the white satin ribbon loose. Nicely wrapped, probably it's Grandma he has to thank.
Then he loosens the lid, and the little gold box explodes in his face.
On Tracy Island the rest of the family is waking up. Probably someone's remembered it's John's birthday, but their schedules are so muddled up, it's very probable that half of the boys don't know what day it is. Virgil's the worst offender, having once been off by an entire week and a half.
It's one of those rare, quiet mornings.
Then there's a blood freezing scream from the bathroom adjoining Scott's bedroom. It is, as one would imagine, from Scott, who happens to be having his blood frozen. And he goes stumbling out of the shower, hair halfway lathered and fumbling for a towel, shivering in the sudden absence of hot water. And the fact that the taps wouldn't turn off. Suddenly the omnidirectional showerheads in the bathroom had seemed like a bad investment. This has only happened once before, and Scott doesn't bother to get dressed as he bolts for the lounge. Things are going to get worse before they get better if he doesn't do something.
In the same moment, the kitchen begins producing bagels. All perfectly round, uniform, but with that slightly stale, manufactured taste of everything that comes out of the automated module. Alan's sat at the counter meandering his way through the homework he's almost always allowed to stack up, and when the module dings he goes to investigate. He is subsequently pelted in the face by a volley of baked goods and retreats to the lounge, yelling for Grandma.
It's amazing how quickly a million gallons of water can move from one place to another. The swimming pool on Tracy Island is Olympic sized, and a meter deeper than the regulation two meters. There's no shallow end, because Gordon's of the opinion that anyone who wants a shallow end can go splash around on the beach. But as he reaches the end of his lane, the floor of the pool is a lot closer than it seems like it should be. He stops and suddenly he's standing flat on the floor of the pool, shoulders above the water, trying to get his breath and pushing his goggles up. Okay, well, now it's definitely chest-waist deep. And the edge of the pool overhead is about three and a half feet above his head. So that's great.
Virgil's down in TB2's hangar, working as he almost always is, fiddling with some superfluous bit of maintenance on his ship. Overhead, the lights go out and the massive chamber plunges into darkness. This gives him a moment's pause, but he's the sort of person who's never without a multitool and a flashlight. He retrieves the latter and turns it on, beams it around the interior of the hangar. He's about to tap his comm and find out what the deal is when a warning klaxon sounds. Slots open in the ceiling far overhead, and the pool begins to drain into the hangar, a million gallons of water that exist partially in case of emergency, in case anything's on fire. Nothing's on fire, especially not Virgil, who hadn't been on fire to begin with and is now completely drenched, and up to his knees in chlorinated water.
Over the speakers placed throughout the house, loud, brassy strains of big band music pick up with "It's A Small World, After All". One after the other, all about a beat out of sync. Kayo, sitting in the center of her room and trying to meditate before the start of the day proper, opens one eye. Then she sighs, refocuses, and goes back to meditating.
Scott makes it to the lounge and nearly collides with Alan, slips and falls flat on his ass in the middle of the floor. He's still goosebumps all over and slick with soap, clutching the towel around his waist as Alan helps him to his feet, a little bemused.
"Was that you yelling, Scott? Actually, I'm pretty sure that was screaming. Was that you screaming?" Alan's about to make a joke about Scott and panicking, but Scott gets him by the arms and okay, so Scott's maybe actually panicking a little.
"Where the hell is Gordon?"
Alan blinks at him. "Uh. The same place Gordon always is when we get time off? Scotty, what's gotten into-"
"Someone pranked John."
"Oh shit. Shit." Scott doesn't even tell him off for language, it's that bad. "It wasn't me," Alan insists, and then blanches. "You think Gordon...? But he wouldn't, no one does, we all agreed-after last time-"
They've had to declare a moratorium on prank wars. There'd been plenty of saran wrap across doorways and jello'd comm units. Gordon and Alan had managed to dissassemble and reassemble Pod-B in Scott's bedroom. Virgil had filled the hallway outside of Alan's room with paper cups full of water. Toothpaste had been injected with hotsauce. Gordon had been duct-taped to the ceiling. All in good fun.
Someone had made the mistake of pranking John.
The problem isn't that John can't take it. The problem is that John takes it too far. John has access to every system on the island, and he hadn't appreciated having an entire month's supply of fruit replaced by an entire month's supply of black jelly beans. He'd made life a living hell on Tracy Island, distant, untouchable and vengeful. There hadn't been hot water. Every speaker in the house had played Never Gonna Give You Up for four straight hours. He hadn't let up until Virgil had been delivered to the holocomm in the living room and an appropriate punishment had been declared.
Then there'd been a moratorium called on pranking each other.
Distantly "It's a Small World" increases in volume and Scott's shaking his head. There's still soap in his hair. "Oh god, okay. Go get him. I don't even know what he did, but it's gotta be Gordon, who else would?"
Alan's nodding along, convinced. He hasn't done it, and Scott wouldn't have done it. Has to be Virgil or Gordon. He's not entirely sure it's not Virgil, because Virgil's wily and pins everything on Gordon. Virgil once put "Gordon is the Best" on the side of TB1 in eight foot high neon purple paint. Scott had put sharpie on the rims of Gordon's goggles in misdirected retaliation. It's probably for the best that the pranks had mostly stopped. "Right. Right, okay. Oh man he's so stupid."
"Go, Alan. Maybe we can head this off."
Scott hitches up his towel.
Above the table in the middle of the room, the holocomm blinks on, and John appears. He's not mad. He's almost smiling. Beneficent. Glittering. Oh no.
"Someone sent me a birthday present," he remarks, casual and bright. Chipper, almost. John is never chipper. "Someone sent me about three hundred cc's of golden glitter in a spring loaded container, and now I'm going to be spending the next eight hours doing a complete system purge." His smile widens, that unnatural grin of pure unfettered malice that's the reason they don't have prank wars any longer. "I hope no one needs any hot water before the last speck of glitter is cleared out of TB5."
The air conditioning comes on. The AC on Tracy Island is incredibly efficient and Scott's trembling in his towel in seconds.
"Tell me who did it and this all stops."
"John, if I knew who to throw under the bus right now, I would throw them under the bus. It has to be Gordon. Virgil always forgets your birthday, so it has to be Gordon. A glitterbomb. That just screams Gordon, doesn't it? Right?" Scott sucks his breath through his teeth and shivers. "John, it wasn't me."
The AC diminishes slightly, stops breezing up Scott's legs. This is a small blessing. "Well, go put a ladder into the pool and call him up on the carpet. I'll be here." John pauses and arches an eyebrow. "But before that, go put on pants, Scott. How am I supposed to take you seriously in a towel?"
"Okay, okay. You didn't exactly let me finish my damn shower, John."
John shrugs, and the Machiavellian grin reappears. "Well, pop down to the hangar and see Virgil. Probably there's still at least a foot of water downstairs. Rinse off. Get dressed. Tie Gordon up and toss him in the space elevator, I'd like a word about the sort of birthday I'm going to have, cleaning up glitter for the next eight hours."
The AC kicks back on and Scott yelps. "I'm going, I'm going."
In the far distant English countryside, Lady Penelope pops open her compact to check the time. She wonders, idly, if her birthday present made it up to TB5. She'd sent it three months early. She just hopes it was remembered, and that one of his poor, hapless brothers placed it with the appropriately dated shipment and then forgot about it entirely.
Her grin at the thought of John, in space, shining like the stas he's always loved, is a hundred times more wicked than any of John's have ever been.