The Journey to Neverland
Morning comes, and Alfred finds himself huddled on the floor of a toilet stall. He was fine up till very recently, having spent the previous night occupied with travelling to where his ship was docked via his dome's rather old shuttle bus. The covers of the seat of the bus had been cracked with age and Alfred had absent mindedly picked at the stuffing whilst he watched his childhood home zip by in a blur of dusty yellow before slipping away into the distance. The Earth-bound ship, his new home for now, was very different in comparison to anything he'd ever seen on the planet before, all bold, sleek lines of monochrome with bright lights and shiny windows that hadn't yet been smeared opaque by the atmosphere. It was exciting, it was different; it was like a dream coming true because there in front of him had been something which represented a future, a very large representation of the possibilities he could find.
He queued up to board and was assigned his room all within the space of a hour and Alfred had quickly unpacked with a frenzy of excitement in his small room. His room mate, a small, quiet man called Kiku, had watched the sudden chaos with an unreadable expression from the bunk he'd retreated to with a book after he had introduced himself. For Alfred, that was all easy. That was all doing something, there was a plan and it needed action and Alfred lost himself in the motions.
But then he'd run out of things to do. Kiku had watched him from the corner of his eye as Alfred grew progressively more anxious, rearranging his things, standing up to stare out of the window, sitting down to his laptop, getting up again, all whilst the feeling of panic took root and bloomed in his chest. It was now, with an empty task list and hours to wait before take off, that Alfred suddenly understood what exactly it was he had just done and was in the process of doing.
He had excused himself for a walk but hadn't got far before all of his anxiety came to a head and he needed to get away from all of the people, away from the windows where he could see the landscape he'd soon be leaving behind without knowing if he'd ever see it again and away from the exits and doors, most of all, because he was half scared that he'd just walk out of one.
He chose the first bathroom he came to and squashed himself on the floors in a stall, pillowing his head in his arms as he squeezed, and still squeezes, his knees in a desperate attempt to calm down and rationalise.
He extracts an arm from where it is hooked under his knee and glances at his watch. It is 10.38am. By now, he should be at work. By now, his parents would be up and assume he is where he is supposed to be, at work now themselves. It took him five hours to get to the ship, so he has until 12pm to board a bus back and get home before them, to pretend that nothing had happened. He has until 12pm before whatever choice he makes becomes the only one he has left. If his parents were to find out, if they were to know where he plans on going or if his job were to get wind of what he is doing then he doesn't think there will be any chance of fixing it completely. His boss and colleagues would consider him a flight risk and which would ruin his chances at moving up the career ladder, his parents would be broken hearted that he had thought about leaving in the first place, not even adding on the hurt that he didn't plan on saying goodbye, and he knows that if he goes home to talk about it with them he'd be talked out of it instantly. He doesn't even think that he'd put up much of a fight.
Alfred buries his face back into his knees and bites on his cheeks, not hard enough to draw blood or cause any real pain but enough for him to focus on. What was he doing? Was he really going to throw his whole life away, all of what he'd built and all of what he could have, just like this? On a whim? Because that's what this is, a whim, and he knows it. What if there is nothing waiting for him on earth, what if there isn't anyone who wants him to work in history, what if he can't settle in or make friends or get enough money together to try again; is it worth the risk?
He hears the door to the bathroom open and he stills, breathing slowly through his mouth before carefully going to uncurl himself and move to the toilet where his feet won't be seen.
He's too late. The footsteps of the other person stop on front of the mirrors over the sinks but they quickly start moving again, towards where he's hiding. The footsteps slow down before coming to a stop in front of his door and Alfred watches as the person shifts their weight from one foot to the other, as if they're deciding what to do.
'Hello?' They say in a soft, tentative voice. Alfred knows it's stupid, because the other person, a young man by the sounds of it, obviously knows that he's here, but for a second he thinks that maybe if he doesn't say anything they won't notice him.
'Um, are you okay?' Still Alfred doesn't answer and watches as the person outside his door shifts to the other foot.
'Do you need me to get anyone, or anything?'
'No,' he surprises himself by answering and without his self-control his voice catches before he's able to stop it. He forces himself to speak again, more normally, 'I'll be alright, but thanks! Just ah... just needed to get away for a bit.'
'Cool uh, okay. Me too, you know? It's a lot to think about.'
It's hard to keep up a conversation when one of the participants in locked in a toilet but the other man has that small wobble in his voice that Alfred is trying to cover up in his own and he realises that this guy isn't going to go away any time soon. So, legs beginning to cramp anyway, he shakily gets to his feet and unlocks the door.
The other man is his height and seems to be his age, with shoulder length, wavy blond hair and large round glasses perched on his nose. They're slipping, and he pushes them up as Alfred emerges.
He gives a small smile. 'Hey, glad you're alright. I didn't know whether to disturb you or not, if I'm honest.'
Alfred shakes his and sticks out his hand for the other to take. 'Nah, I'm glad that you did. I was talking myself round in circles in there.'
The man takes it and gives it a quick shake. 'I know the feeling, bit crazy this, eh? I'm Matthew.'
Matthew nods at him. 'Nice to meet you. You here with anyone?'
He obviously doesn't mean the bathroom and Alfred swallows the hot flash of loneliness and regret that makes itself known in his throat. 'Nope, all alone! You?'
Matthew ducks his head and shifts his feet again. 'Same.'
'Do you...' Alfred pauses, uncertain if he wants to hear the answer, but he heard the wobble in Matthew's voice and he must be Alfred's age; he must be worried about similar things to what Alfred is so he presses on, 'Can I ask you something kinda personal? Do you think we're doing the right thing, leaving here? I mean it's a long way away and everything and it's not like there's an easy way back.'
Matthew blinks at him and takes a long breath in before answering with a voice filled with unexpected finality. 'Yeah. I mean, I don't know what your reasons are, of course, or what you're giving up, but-' He stares at the spot between Alfred's eyes and continues, 'but we're going to Earth, even if it goes horribly wrong or we don't get what we're going there for, it's Earth, isn't it? It's worth a try.'
It's what Alfred wanted to hear, it's the validation of his selfishness that he needed but it doesn't quite soothe his concerns as much as he had hoped.
Matthew must have noticed, because he tries again, sounding slightly panicked, 'I'm sure you'll be fine though, whatever happens! I mean, I'm going there because I'm hoping to work with all of the animals they've got; my parents warned me that they won't care about that and will probably put me to work on a farm or something but as long as you're fit to work they're not gonna turn us away, right?'
Alfred fights down the euphoric glee trying to become a grin on his face and instead says, 'Yeah, but farms have animals too, right?'
Matthew laughs. 'I bet I'll get trodden to death by a cow.'
Alfred claps him on the back. 'Hey, that sounds like a great way to go! Don't worry, man, I'll write home for you and say it was a elephant, or something. You know, keep your street cred up.'
Matthew rolls his eyes and grins at him. As he jabbers about the elephants that used to live on Earth before the Fall, later on in one of the canteens on their deck where they go for lunch, Alfred notices the clock hit 12 and feels nothing but excitement.
He'll be fine.
Peter is twelve, and the trip is finally coming to an end. It's been so many years, here on the ship, that if not for the books and videos he sees in school he would have forgotten how the domes and living stations from his home planet looked, now far far away. He thought that he was prepared for the sight of Earth, their species' old home world, he's seen so many photos of it that all he needs to do is hear the name to have it brought up in his mind, as detailed and as clear as anything he's seen with his own eyes. But, nothing could have prepared him for the real thing.
He is sitting in the corridor outside his living quarters. Mum and Dad are arguing, again, and he doesn't really want to be in there right now because he knows that as soon as they see him they'll pretend that nothing's the matter and he thinks that that's probably worse. With a sigh, he gets up, floor too hard to actually sit on for long periods, and goes for a wander around his 'neighbourhood'. As he passes doors of the others living here he wonders what kind of families live inside them: a mum and her kids, an elderly couple, someone young looking for something new, or maybe they're just like him, dragged here because their planet couldn't support them and they took a chance at building something better. A split family with barely anything to their name hurtling towards an unknown utopia.
It's been hard to get news of Earth and of the colony they'll be joining, when their ship stops only to refuel itself, but apparently it's going well. This is a comfort, at least, because not much else is these days. Some people live on space stations or spaceships and nothing else and although Peter finds an odd sort of comfort being surrounded by metal his parents, and many others, do not. Fights and spats amongst the passengers and crew have been increasing in the last few months, especially once everyone knew that they were getting close to the end of the flight. The ship they're on isn't even that small, so maybe it's not cabin fever after all and more impatience that drives the tempers high and tolerance down.
As he gets to a plaza of sorts, (the town square, as it is affectionately known,) he notices a huddle of people clambering over each other to reach and get a look out of the large, expansive windows there. Deciding against trying to force his way through the excited mass he goes forward and off to the side of the huddle to a smaller porthole and gazes out curiously.
What he sees is spellbinding, unlike anything he has ever seen before. It is not difficult to understand what is so interesting. Amongst the glittering, never-ending stars lies the Earth, shining bright and blue and all of a sudden Peter forgets how to breathe. It's blue, more blue than it ever was in the photos from his school books, there are swirls and blurs of greens and browns and whites mixed in all together but there is blue blue blue. In no picture did it ever look like this, earth was brown and dead and dry, this wasn't Earth. This wasn't the home humans had ruined, this wasn't what they had left behind. This, this couldn't be Earth, couldn't be his new home because there was so much water and-
Peter is jostled, another boy has pushed him away from the window where he had pressed his face close to the glass to see -his breath still mists the glass- but now he can only see the inky blackness of space from behind the boy's head and so he ducks away from the crowd of bodies and goes off in search of his parents, heart pounding furiously in his ears.
Francis, and the people he is with, are the first who will arrive on Earth. Their ship will get there the fastest and thus all aboard will be trained in a skill necessary to facilitate the setting up and maintenance of the first colony, distinct from the research bases already dotted about there. His mother must have known, because every adult he encounters are all young and healthy with intelligence and passion. There seems to be a entry requirement, because there are people from other planets besides his own that share the same qualities and all see to be formally trained, in one way or another. For the first time, he is grateful for his drafting.
Francis is happy to learn that he can pick what he wants to learn, out of the options that are available to him, and he chooses geology. The study of the soil and its chemistry isn't what he ever foresaw himself doing, but it seems to fit, somehow. As he learns about the tectonic movements of the earth, how the structure of the planet operates and how this in turn can affect and be affected by the weather, he feels like he's becoming a part of something once more. There is a goal at last, a purpose, and though he still feels as though there's something missing from his life the feeling is lessened by simply working past it; there is something to focus on.
It is lessened more so, maybe, by Arthur. Arthur is the unfortunate man assigned to share Francis' room, sleeping in the bunk above his, and specialising in agriculture. He wants to see the sea, has always wanted to see the sea, and when he talks about the oceans and cliffs and the rocking of far away waves Francis feels a part of himself become alive and real. Despite the nonchalance he coats it in, there is passion in Arthur's voice, there is a drive and a yearning which Francis recognises as one he used to share and to see it reflecting from Arthur's eyes makes his own burn with a longing he can't understand or explain. There is a tugging deep in his stomach and he starts to gaze out of the windows in anticipation, Arthur's voice drifting around his head to settle between his ears.
When Francis is twenty six, they finally get there. The stations below are set up on a nice bit of land close to the sea but also to a freshwater river too; there's fertile fields and dense forests with lots of wild-life and wild fruits and vegetables. He knows all of this before they're allowed down because that's all part of the training and survival lessons they're given. Each member must be capable of pulling their weight in areas other than their specialisation and Francis is now well versed on which plants he can eat and which he can't, how to make simple animal traps and how to catch a fish.
He feels ready to go and is excited to finally get to work and see these fields, seas and forests for himself, excited to see so much that he's only heard about and seen in pictures. And though he says otherwise, Arthur is just as excited, Francis knows, because anytime anything to do with Earth is mentioned he sits a little straighter, comes a little closer, and opens himself up a little bit more to get as much information as he can.
'Do you ever think,' Francis asks him one night, 'about where we're landing?'
Arthur turns over in the bunk above him and the metal creaks under his weight. 'What on earth are you talking about.'
'We're landing on what was once a country,' Francis explains, 'it once had people who had a language and a culture and a history. It's not just land, it was once a place that humans long ago spoke about.'
Arthur offers no further input, so Francis continues. 'It could have been someone's favourite place to go on holiday, or it could have been a small village where children grew up and played, or it could have been the site of a terrible battle from long long ago.'
'It probably was the site of a battle, at least once.' Arthur mutters from his bed.
Francis ignores him. 'It seems like a shame. Whatever is there will be built on by us; it's almost as if we're destroying its history.'
'We're not destroying it,' Arthur's voice is quiet but speaks volumes; he's thought about this before, 'we're adding to it. We're just another story for it to keep.'
Francis laughs and calls him sentimental but regrets it when Arthur throws a well aimed pillow at him.
'Shut it! Now, give that back.'
'Francis! Give. it. back.'
'Why? You threw it at me, I did not take it from you.'
'For fuck sake, you utter waste of a human.' He's clambering down and once Francis sees his toes on the rungs of the ladder he rolls onto his belly, trapping the pillow beneath him. Arthur tugs on his shoulder and succeeds in rolling Francis back over but before he can do much else Francis grabs him and pulls him down to the bed. Arthur gives an undignified squawk, his head hits one of the metal frames and he tumbles gracelessly onto Francis' lap.
Francis can't help but laugh. 'Oh Arthur I'm sorry, are you-' but he's stopped by Arthur punching him in the eye, hard, and then there's one of their neighbours hammering on the wall next to Francis' ear, bellowing for them to shut the fuck up already because it's 1 am and some people plan on trying to sleep tonight.
They are taken down in the shuttle the next day in the afternoon. They're not allowed outside yet, they need to adjust to the planet's gravity and get used to the micro bacteria in the air, so they are housed in the Arrivals' building and assigned a room to sleep in for the time being. Francis has a black eye and Arthur has an egg-sized lump on his forehead but they're both too busy staring out of the window at the dazzling sunshine to complain that they've been put together, again.
Ludwig disappeared with Gilbert two days after his attack. Thanks to his illness though, they both easily convinced their parents that they'd rather stay home than making the trip to their grandparents' house and so they saw them off with ease, Gilbert trying not to grin and Ludwig trying not to give them away with how much he was sweating. As soon as they were alone he and his brother went to their rooms and packed a bag, Ludwig agonising over the situation with himself the whole time. When the day came a still wobbly Ludwig was bundled in his brother's transport pod and they both travelled to their boarding dock. It was so easy to leave.
Maybe that's what Ludwig is hurt most about. Neither parent seemed to care that he couldn't make it to his grandparents', neither parents called to check in one them whilst they were away. They probably wouldn't know anything was wrong until they returned, a few days too late to stop them.
Despite the ease of everything else, the trip itself is horrible. Ludwig's body, having only barely adjusted to his own ship's gravity systems, now finds itself thrust upon a different one and is rebelling angrily against him. The attacks are more frequent now than ever, leaving him unable to work at anything for long before another one knocks him back to bed. Today is one such day, he curls up in his bunk and tries not to complain or let his brother know how bad he feels; Gilbert does enough for him already.
He must have fallen into a daze, because he wakes up in a panic to the sounds of Gilbert kicking the door open and flinging his work bag against the wall with a thud. He tries to sit up but the world pitches alarmingly, so for the good of both of them and the state of their floor he lays back down gingerly. 'Bad day?'
Gilbert snorts and flops down on the floor to tug off his boots. 'I'll fucking say, there was massive electrical surge in one of the computers and it fucked up at least a third of people's personal systems on the ship.'
Ludwig clucks his tongue in sympathy and looks his brother over with concern. Despite looking harried he doesn't seem too worse for wear, but he works far too much in order to support them both and it's tiring him out. However, someone needs to pay for their keep and it sure as hell can't be Ludwig at the moment.
Gilbert catches him staring and glares at him, knowing what he's thinking about. They've been down that particular road before and despite how guilty Ludwig feels he can't get further than simply mentioning the topic before Gilbert either walks away or throws something at him to get him to shut up. The guilt sits on Ludwig like a stone, pushing down on his chest. His brother had a life, had a future, and he gave it all way to become this, an engineer's whipping boy for a brother who can't even sit up most of the time let alone pull his own weight. Useless.
Gilbert throws a boot at his head and Ludwig yelps. 'Get rid of that look from your face, I'm doing this because I want to, ya hear?'
Ludwig nods, because that's what his brother wants him to do.
'Good. Besides, it wouldn't have been half as bad if the head engineer wasn't such a dick. Rumour is that there's a boy genius on board we picked up at the last stop but when ol' Stevie went to get him to help the boy turned him down.' Gilbert gives a scoff. 'He's got balls, whoever he is. Either that or he's an idiot. Besides, if they'd let me have a look at it I could've probably done it.'
Ludwig rolls his eyes but refrains from saying anything further. He leaves Gilbert to undress and unwind in silence, only speaking to him again once he's sure his brother has relaxed enough.
'What if nothing changes, when we get to Earth.'
Gilbert, from where he's sprawled himself in their chair, visibly stiffens. He's obviously considered this too, then. Maybe the possibility has been on his mind just as much as it's been praying on Ludwig's. How could it not? 'It will.'
'It will!' Gilbert has clenched his e-tab tighter, Ludwig can see the whites of his knuckles from here. 'It will, so there's no point worrying about it.'
Ludwig breathes deeply. 'It's something we've got to think about.' He says gently. If not for him, for what Gilbert will do next.
Gilbert curls his lip and refuses to look up. He prods his tab awake with more force than is needed. 'No, it's not. If it don't work, if you still can't do anything more than roll about, then at least you'll be better off than home.'
'I might be, but what about you?'
'What about me?' Finally, Gilbert looks up and he's furious. Gilbert is very free with his emotions, but never has anything negative been directed towards Ludwig before and it startles him. 'You think I was happy back there? Just because I was strong enough for them? Well you're just as fucking stupid as they were if that's so.' He stands up, crosses the room and starts to pull on his boots again.
'You were wasting away there.' Gilbert's voice cuts though Ludwig like a knife because it's the truth, no matter how much he tries to deny it. 'They were happy to let you die if that's what it came to and I somehow was supposed to not care about that. It was fine, right? As long as they had one of us. But that meant I had to be everything, Lud. I had to be both of us and both of us had to be fucking perfect.'
Gilbert looks at him, curled up pathetically in bed and shakes his head at him, face unreadable. 'What kind of life is that?'
Boots on he wrenches open the door and walks out with a bang, leaving Ludwig mortified. How selfish of him.
There we go, chapter 2! Thank you Guest for the lovely comment, I'm glad you liked my Alfred! We've now got the whole cast of characters introduced and they're finally off on their way, though not all at the same time.
Thank you for reading, reviews really do make my day :)