Disclaimer: Steam Powered Giraffe belongs entirely to Isabella and David Bennett, as well as Sam Luke, Steve Negrete, and anyone else they draft into their dramatic musical shenanigans. I just write fic based entirely off my own loony ideas. Please don't nick what little I have.
AN: SPOILER ALERT! This fic contains massive spoilers for, and wild-arse head-cannons inspired by, Steam Powered Giraffe's magnificent album, The Vice Quadrant: A Space Opera. Read no further if you don't wish to be spoiled or assaulted by head-cannons.
Peter A. Walter IV had had his doubts about training with a Becile. Two prior generations of family history told him that it was bad news. Beyond bad news. In fact, it was such bad news that he preemptively requested that he train separately from Algernon Becile for as long as possible.
What was really annoying was, no matter the roster, there was always some asshole who got him and Becile confused. Apparently, the only difference was the hair. Which was almost always under some form of Space Wimple.
He really, really wanted it made clear that he wanted nothing at all to do with Becile
Alas, that would not be possible since his selection for the Cosmo's crew.
Which meant that Pete had to meet him. Bury the hatchet. Smile and shake hands. For the sake of humanity.
Remember Uncle Norman. This guy could also be a statistical outlier.
But there was a reason he'd taken a sub-orbital flight to test the suit. He needed time to get used to the idea of working with a Becile. The entire family was madder than a pack of rabid raccoons. Green matter did things to the brain, he knew it. Uncle Norman was living proof of that. And living proof of Nice Beciles.
He had to stop blaming them for Pappy. What had happened to Peter A. Walter III had more to do with earlier Beciles than Algernon Becile. He wasn't even born when Rabbit's core had caused multiple Nightmare events through time and space.
Walter Robotics was still picking up the mess from that one. Thank synchronicity for Government Contracts.
He reached the apogee of his test flight. Looked out over his home. Everyone I ever knew... lives there... It all looked so small and precious. And he wasn't even out of the atmosphere yet.
Though the weird tingle through his blood stream was slightly worrying... He could feel his entire cardiovascular system. Weird.
He ran through the checklist. All systems green. Everything was in perfect working order. Pete began the slow descent back to Canaveral. He'd done the actual thing he'd come up here to do. Now he had lots of time to think things through.
Becile - Algernon Becile, that is - could not be blamed for the actions of his family. Just like he couldn't stop his own Pappy from making some... really... terrible decisions. One of the things that Government Contracts had to bite them all collectively bite them on the ass. Algernon was not to blame for that, either. He'd been just a kid when all that happened.
One day, all of the Steam Powered Automatons would be re-united once more. He hoped. Once the government had finished with them.
Walter Robotics was still trying to lure the government away from the heirloom robots by trying to produce shinier, more advanced bots. So far, little had worked.
Not his fault. Not his Pappy's fault. Well... not entirely.
Not Becile's fault.
Just a series of dumb things out of their control. The Jon would say that holding a grudge was a waste of time, and time was limited for humans. Though... not in as many words. He'd say, "Life is short, so spread the love."
It was ridiculous how hard he missed that loopy bot.
For The Jon, then. And Uncle Norman, Rabbit and The Spine. He owed this new Becile half a chance. Just a chance. If he added Holly into the mix, he might even make it an entire chance.
Pete pressed against his suit, where the locket rested. He couldn't take it out, not this high. The little metal heart pressed close to him. Holly. That beautiful, freckled face. That easy smile. Her laughter. Her love for everything on the entire planet. The way she had yawped, "COOL!" upon seeing Uncle Norman for the first time.
She'd won the entire mansion's hearts, that day.
Holly would give Becile a chance.
That decided it.
Al watched the jet land. Perfect three-point landing, of course. He could understand why a Walter wouldn't want anything to do with him. Both their families had been fighting since the last century. With much chicanery on both sides, if the stories were to be believed.
He kept his Space Wimple off so people wouldn't confuse him with Walter and keep asking him how the suit worked. He had black hair. Pete Walter was a blond. Other than that, they apparently looked practically identical.
Al was prepared to bet that Pete Walter was pretty sick of it, too. Maybe when the base saw them together... the differences would stand out.
Al had a few witnesses with him as he strode out to meet Walter on the runway.
He was prepared for the posture as Walter spotted him. Body language that read, What the hell? in large print.
Then Walter took off his helmet. Revealing an identical face. Even their expressions were the same. The same bemused eyebrow making a break for the hairline. The same semi-snarl of disbelief.
Walter dropped the helmet. Struggled to free himself of the heavy gloves. And then to wrench his head free of the wimple.
Black hair emerged in a sweaty tangle of scruff.
"Is this some kind'a joke, Walter? Why'd you dye your hair?"
Walter pulled a strand in front of his eyes and stared at it. "It was blond when I went up... I'm as confused as you are... It must be something to do with blue matter exposure. Maybe it'll fade." He swept his hair back, and it was like looking into a mirror.
"The resemblance is uncanny," they chorused.
"Hey!" They said together.
"Did you--" And again.
"Stop that!" And again.
They gave each other identical hairy eyeballs. Someone was taking photographs as fast as their Kodak would let them. Someone else was taking film.
"Locker room," said Walter. "I need a shower and we both need to work this out."
It annoyed Al that they even walked exactly the same.
They even walked the same when they were angry.
They got a lot of peculiar looks, all the way to the locker room. Which didn't help the overall mood any.
"Something weird is going on," said Al. "I know that much. And none of us can help what's happening right now because of it."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," grumbled Walter. He hung up his suit. Skinned out of the rest of his clothes. The last thing to come off his body was a silver chain with a heart-shaped locket. This, he hung on a peg by the showers
Naturally, the instant he was in the shower, Al had to look. A picture of the pair of them. Walter looking strange with his former blond hair, and a strawberry-blonde with a gorgeous array of freckles and an easy, heartfelt grin. Even the photo glowed with young love. The piece of paper on the other side read, Fly with me, spaceman. Love you. It was finished with two names. Peter and Holly. Joined with a heart.
It was so cute he could gag.
And just for a moment, a very brief moment, he could understand how his great-grandfather could go to war over a pretty girl.
If someone smiled at me like that... I'd destroy galaxies.
Walter was glaring at him. Head oozing foam and suds. "That's not yours. The locket or what the contents represent."
Al laughed and put it back. "You're a lucky guy, she looks fabulous."
"It's not just her looks, pal," Walter began to wax lyrical as he scrubbed his hair. About Holly's smile, the way her freckles lined up when she genuinely laughed. About the way they'd both met and saved each other. About how they were both waiting to have the wedding until after all this space nonsense was done and dealt with.
Al could hear the love in every word. Jealousy flickered and died out. In its place rose a fragile bloom of vicarious joy. He found himself saying, "Does she have a sister?"
Walter laughed. "Sorry, she's fresh out of siblings." He emerged in a cloud of steam, vigorously towelling his hair. Which was still a scruff of black. "Didn't wash out?" he guessed.
"Didn't wash out."
Walter cursed and reached for the locket first. As if he wasn't dressed without it. "Well I don't feel like wearing name tags everywhere I go. Maybe the base has some Peroxide. No. Wait. That doesn't work on blue-mattered hair." Another curse. One far stronger. "Maybe if I always have the locket out in the open..." Walter started pulling on his clothes at last.
"We could always put numbers on our shirts like linebackers," said Al. "I don't mind being number two. I have a shitty family anyway."
Peals of laughter. And the hint of a tear. "All right. You're okay. What do I call you?"
"I prefer Al."
"My friends call me Pete."
"Yeah, darling. Blue matter finally hit when I was up in the stratosphere," Pete said on the phone. "I'm now a brunette." Chuckles. "Oh, it was on the news? That's great. I don't need to warn you about anything else, then. I found out why. Al and I are time twins. Down to the second. Born at exactly the same moment. It has a proven effect on DNA." He spotted Al and waved. Absently signed, My girl to him with his free hand. "Yeah, the boys at medical want to play with us, now. First scientifically documented case. They want to see how you cope, too. Don't mind being a guinea pig, do you? See you soon?"
He was walking on air by the time he'd finished blowing kisses down the phone.
Al was less than amused. "You are nauseatingly in love, did you know that?"
"Yes." Al laughed it off. "I wish I had someone who could make me feel like you look, buddy. You look like you're having a blast."
"And a half," Pete agreed. It was an hour and a half, given good traffic, to the base from her current home amongst all the Astronaut Wives. He had time for a brief physical at Medical. And he had license to threaten them if they tried to turn it into an extended physical. Few around the base had missed how much he and Holly were in love, and fewer still were inclined to get in their way.
He could only hope that one of those assholes wasn't in charge, today. "I have medical obligations before she gets here."
"Have fun," smiled Al. "I have paperwork."
"Enjoy the mouse wheels."
"Have fun on the SAT's."
Al watched him go before he checked the roster. One of the disapproving gooseberries was in charge of medical, today. Which meant that Pete would be in tests for about ten minutes before more sympathetic hearts could wrench Pete out of their grasp.
Which meant he had a window of opportunity.
Nobody had to know...
And he and Walter did look astonishingly similar.
Al powered through his paperwork as fast as he could so he could change into casual clothes and be waiting at the parking lot for Holly's car.
She wore her hair long and loose, in free-flowing curls that moved as if they had their own willpower. She looked like a dream come to life as she sashayed out of the car and freed her hair from the scarf that had bound her hair.
All he could think was, God, she's beautiful...
Some dark corner hoped that this trick would work. That it would put a sliver of a wedge between them. That it would give him a chance to have her for himself. Al rationalised it by telling himself that it was only a dumb trick. That she'd see through it and no harm would be done. That you couldn't blame a guy for trying.
Just a little taste of that love...
It had to be worth it.
Al copied Pete's easy smile. "Hi, darlin'," he said. "It's been too long."
Holly looked him up and down just once and said, "It's been never and you know it. You're not my Pete."
Al laughed. "Good one. Nobody else has been able to tell us apart. Hell, if we don't focus, we end up saying the same thing at the same time. It's creepy."
"There he is," she cooed. And in that moment, she glowed.
Pete was glowing too. All but flying across the ground to her.
They spun as they collided. Kissed like they were slaking each other's soul-thirst with their lips.
Such chaste and pure love could send evil blind.
I just want a little slice of that, thought Al. Spare me a crumb?
Pete finally put Holly down with a satisfied sigh and a, "Missed you."
"Yeah," Holly sighed back.
Al had to comment. "Wow. That's the first time I've witnessed human simbiosis. How'd you two do it?"
"Mutual rescue," grinned Holly.
Their hands intertwined like they belonged together. They floated in step towards the new lab. Designed to test how far this time twin phenomenon worked. Something Al was not looking forward to because it was also testing natural twin phenomenon like phantom sensations and twin telepathy.
It was already shaping up to be a long day.
Holly's presence was just going to make it even longer.
"You sure you don't have a sister?" he begged.
"Sorry," sang Holly.
"Aunty your age?"
"Some distant relative who looks a lot like you?"
"Girlfriend who wants someone almost exactly like your boyfriend?"
Chiming giggles. "Are you really that desperate, Lieutenant Becile?"
"I'm lonely," he pleaded. "Seeing you two together kind'a makes me painfully aware of that."
"Well I can't help you. Sorry," her smile was so bright. So cruel. "You'll have to find love on your own."
Story of his life. All the women he wanted were with someone else, and they didn't know anyone who wanted him. And his few and scattered attempts at random flirting just scared the girls away.
The few girls on the base had begun finding something else to do when he entered their sphere of notice, too.
Sometimes, life was just not fair.
Lieutenant Becile had been right. Watching and listening to them doing the exact same thing was creepy. Lt Becile had every single one of Pete's mannerisms. Even his inflections were identical. And often in concert with Pete.
The boffins were now doing different tests on them. Pete was doing dexterity competency tests while Lt Becile was strapped into a device guaranteed to induce vertigo.
Pete broke out in a cold sweat on the monitors. He was breathing just as hard as Lt Becile. Though she fancied Becile looked decidedly greener than Pete.
"...so dizzy," Pete whispered.
"...twist it left," slurred Becile.
She could actually see their flight engineer, watching in the same overview post, mouth the words, "What the hell?"
"That is uncanny," said General Bristol.
Both men threw up at exactly the same time.
"Proximity isn't any kind of interference," said Doctor Smith. "We could test one of them in San Fransisco and the other in New York, and we'd get the same results."
Holly watched the nurses swarm, putting both men on stretchers and administrating palliative care.
"I'm interested in the cognitive advantages in times of stress," added Smith. "They seem to link their minds as... I don't know... parallel problem-solvers."
"Parallel processors," said Holly. "I've been designing some for the WINK probes."
General Bristol stared at her. "The WINK probes."
"If you don't know about the project, I'm not allowed to tell you," she said. "My bad for mentioning it. I thought you knew because the programs are linked."
"What? You expect me to be dim because I'm pretty?" She smiled at the assembled men. "You guys really messed up when you decided to exclude women from your program. There's a reason why Walter Technologies is leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors."
To a man, they all looked at their Waltercorp technology as if it suddenly had become radioactive.
"Yes," she singsonged, "it aaaaallll has girl cooties. Grow up, gentlemen. You really need to. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to help my boyfriend feel a little better after that ordeal." The looks on their faces as she literally skipped out of the room was worth a billion dollars.
The link between them was growing stronger. Al could feel Holly's fingers running through Pete's hair. Her hand in his. And when he opened his eyes, all he had by his bedside was a rather plain, mousy nurse who wouldn't make eye contact.
He tried flirting anyway. Brushing her hand with his and putting on his best smile. "Don't suppose you'd like to be my angel of mercy?"
She went bright red and mumbled, "...you're teasing..."
Well, at least she wasn't running away. Maybe he had a chance with this one. "Not at all. It's been my experience that all girls are beautiful when they smile."
There it was. Slightly askew teeth peeking out of pink lips that dimpled her reddened cheeks. "...stop it..."
He ran his index finger up and down her pinkie. "Are you sure you really want me to? I'm starting to think maybe you and I could start something wonderful together..."
She withdrew her hand. Coughed. "...ihaveaboyfriend..."
"Oh. Sorry." Al sighed, looking up at the ceiling so that he didn't have to look at people in love. "All I want is someone to hug and kiss me," he mock-wailed. "Why is that so hard to find?"
O god, Pete and Holly were hugging each other. He could feel it. He could smell her.
Why didn't this damned thing come with an 'off' switch?
Out in the depths of space... and ancient probe powered by radiation passed through a purple nebula of gas and nucleotides. And that could have been the end of it, if it wasn't for a bolt of blue energy, from a long-ago explosion.
On Earth, such energy had released nightmares.
Out here... it sort of did, too.
The nebula ate the probe, first. Ate the knowledge and learned where both probe and energy had come from. It learned of human. It learned of hunger. It learned of want.
We... are... it thought. We... are... lonely.
This way. This way to the tiny blue orb where the things had come from.
Maybe it could ask it...
They had a dance before the launch, of course. Showing off their astronauts and some cleared technology to the investors who made it all possible. And to show willing, the military had even shipped in Colonel Walter's Steam Man Band for the event. And some Walter Technicians to make sure the ancient automatons didn't malfunction in the middle of a hob-nob hoedown.
Al watched them cautiously. They must have known he was a Becile just by looking at him As if their electronic optics could detect the traces of green matter in his blood. But he stuck to his chair like he was glued to it. It wasn't as if there were many girls he could dance with. The only one who wanted to was twelve years old and star-struck so hard that she thought he was Pete.
He let her have a dance, of course. Nothing flirtatious. Let her think that he was Pete until her dying day. At least he could make one girl on this Earth happy.
Pete had barely taken his eyes off of Holly all night long. She was similarly glued to him. The only people in the world for each other.
The bots on the stage started a number that sounded a lot like a tango. Very Latin-American.
"You got me feelin', you got me feelin', oh oh... I'm over the moo-oo-oo-oon."
Of course. Any space-related shindig had to have space-related love songs. Al watched the robots so that he didn't have to watch Pete. If he closed his eyes, he could feel her against him and it almost drove him mad.
Nobody in this wide world had looked at Al like Holly looked at Pete.
On stage, Rabbit was playing with his mike like it was an imaginary lover. Dipping it and caressing it like he could be making out with it at any given moment.
But then again, this was the robot who had famously had an eight-minute affair with a toaster. Who knew what it was into?
That dancing of his was getting thoroughly risque. Combined with the concussive "Oh! Oh! Oh!"s, it practically painted a picture... treading a fine line that most people at this 'do didn't get at all. But Holly and Pete definitely did. He blushed blue. She turned pink. Both giggling to each other like...
...like teenagers who had nearly been caught making out by a parental figure...
Al put it together in seconds. All those wet dreams when Pete was home on leave.
They hadn't been waiting in complete purity, then.
He had to go outside to cool off. Realisations like this made him want to punch something. And that would make him look like every other lust-crazed Becile in his messed-up family history.
I am not my crazy ancestors. I'm going to be different. I'm going to win some woman's heart and share my life. Not try to own anyone.
"It's going to be okay, Al my pal," soothed Pete. He was without his significant other. "After the flight, I'll propose to Holly and you, my friend, are going to have hundreds of lovesick space fans to pick from."
"Yeah sure," he laughed. "Maybe some of them will be over twenty-one."
Pete got the giggles too. "I thought you cut a striking figure with little Mary Sue Morgandorfer."
"She thought I was you. I wasn't going to kill her dreams." He looked up to the moon. Someday, they would have bases up there. And elevators that went all the way up to it. How different would it be, in that not-so-distant future? "Speaking of striking figures, where is your other half?" What a comfortable phrase. Other half. It made him feel incomplete by comparison.
"Swapping gossip with the other girls in the Ladies' Bathroom, of course." He smiled. "Hope she doesn't give away too many secrets."
"Like the holiday fun you two had and why she's not pregnant?"
"How'd you--? Oh. Wait. Nevermind. Sorry. I -ah- forgot." He blushed blue.
"We have got to find a way to turn this thing off. All the boffins have been able to do is enhance it."
Pete cleared his throat. "For the record, there's more than one way to keep a girl happy. And there's zero risk involved."
Al could weep. He really could. "It's not fair," he moaned. "I'd give anything for an off switch."
"Well... there is one thing... You won't like it."
Pete took Al to his lab, where assorted Matter experiments. "Technically, this is above your pay grade, but since this time twin thing is driving us both crazy..."
"Wait. What am I doing to you?"
"I keep feeling your heart breaking, buddy. It's brutal."
Al looked dumbstruck. "I... had no idea..."
"It's okay. I remember what it was like to want love. Everything's all about yourself and it hurts." He wove through the mazes of glass to find a bubbling red potion that smoked. It had been in an ice bath, not over a bunsen burner. "This is a formula I've been working on that should latch on to the green matter in your blood and the blue matter in mine and use that to distinguish our DNA enough to sever the link. Or at least tone it down to the point where we can ignore it again." He carefully measured even amounts into test tubes.
"Is this one of the famous Walter kill-or-cure things?"
"We've had more cures than kills, for the record."
"What the hell is in this stuff?"
"Red Matter. Greatly diluted to the point where it won't burn your tongue out." Pete managed a nervous rictus. "There's the equivalent of one grain in there. Aught to be plenty."
"If I spontaneously combust, I want my headstone to say you talked me into this."
"Deal. And I want mine to say I did this for a friend."
It burned on the way down. Pete could feel it in stereo. Sinking into his gut and blooming out through his blood vessels.
I can feel it in my veins, thought Al. And he knew it was Al doing the thinking.
Damnit... I'm so sorry... His entire circulatory system felt like it was on fire. A feeling that settled into his racing heart. Just as it did with Al's.
The fire faded, apart from a sensation akin to mild heartburn. Still in stereo.
Pete imagined a wall. An impenetrable wall between himself and Al. The duality of his sensations faded to a singularity... and then faded completely.
Al's crooked grin and stuttering laugh was worth a fortune. "That's amazing. I really thought I was gonna die for a minute."
"You picture a wall between us, too. It might help."
Al frowned, and then grinned. "Holy shit. Holy shit! It's working! You're a genius. You're a god-damned mad genius."
They clapped hands together in a celebratory handshake... and the walls shattered. Once again, they were closer than ever before. Joined thought. Joined feeling. Joined souls...
Both backed away as if they'd been burned.
"Okay," they chorused. "Touching is out."
Holly was watching them as they snuck out of the lab. "So it worked, huh? Glad you're not dead."
"It was kill or cure, darling. And it works as long as we don't touch."
"And we have to think about walls," added Al. "Half a cure's better than nothing, right?"
"Now all we have to do is cure your lady problem."
"Doubt you have a bottle of Love Potion Number Nine in here."
More laughter. Not that what he'd said was terribly funny. It was that they had both come so close to dying that everything was funny. They were laughing through sheer relief. Glad to laugh. Glad to breathe. Glad to live.
Pete sought his relief in Holly's lips and the feel of her hair. Relieved at the absence of echoing heartache from Al. He came up for air to find Al staring up at the stars in the dark.
"You okay, pal?"
"...it's... even lonelier... without you there." He wiped his face on his sleeve. "I'm gonna go back in there and flirt outrageously with every girl I see. Someone has got to be available. Or even willing."
"That's the spirit. Never give up."
It was only after the evening was over and they walked together to their bunks that he broached the subject. "Al? If something weird happens up there because of my Blue Matter? If it endangers the crew... I expect you to kill me quickly."
"Same for me, Pete. Only with the Green Matter. We both know that shit's unstable."
"And the red matter."
"Jesus, we're atom bombs waiting to happen."
And that, too, was funny for all the wrong reasons.
Strapped in. Staring out the windows at the sky. Hundreds of yards above the ground. Strapped to a glorified firework and held together by the prayers of a nation.
In a few short hours, they would all be household names.
Walter, Becile, Fenton and Dwight.
In a few short hours, they would all be irresistible.
"Nervous?" murmured Pete.
"Hell yeah," giggled Al. This was the ultimate expression of 'do or die'. It was possible to have both happen.
They ran the third systems check. Everything was green.
"Heard you tried to sing to your girl," said Fenton. He was the one going out with the mousy nurse. Candace.
Pete laughed. "Yeah... it didn't go too well."
"It's the only thing different about us," joked Al. "I can actually sing."
Nervous laughter abounded.
Mission Control interrupted. "All right, Cosmo. We're ready to launch. T minus one minute."
Translation: cut the cackle, you're all live.
"Roger that, Mission control," said Al.
"I will return," murmured Pete.
Al knew for a fact that Pete had been getting cosy with Holly until the very last possible instant. He'd 'peeked' through his 'wall'. Vicariously enjoying what it felt like to be loved so completely.
He had the wall back up, now. He didn't need it for this stage in the mission. Until they passed the stratosphere, all they had to do was hang on and pray that they didn't blow up.
T minus 10.
Four hearts raced in unison. Four men were very glad of the space diapers they wore. Four men got intensely religious as the engines fired up and it was impossible to hear their prayers.
Four men started to feel the engines pushing them up.
The rocket shuddered as the clamps released.
Four pairs of hands gripped their harnesses with white-knuckled tension,
Four men began to have trouble breathing as the rockets strained to lift tons of equipment and fuel from the ground.
Four men sank slightly into their cushioned seats.
Four faces distorted with the G-forces.
Clouds of vapour obliterated their view of the sky.
Four men concentrated on not blacking out.
Four hearts raced to tachycardia levels of activity.
Al swore he heard Pete cry out, "I love you, Holly!" and thought, I love her, too.
The horizon started to change. Curve more.
It was impossible to move. Barely possible to breathe. Al could still pray, so he prayed, Lord, do not let me die alone...
Blue skies faded down to dark. Not the night, but the endless black of the cosmos. Al's first unencumbered breath was heaven. No feeling short of love could envy this. He knocked his walls down and focussed on the instrument panel.
Freefall was a tangible relief.
"Houston, we are establishing orbit," said Pete. His walls were down, too. Elation and relief echoed back and forth. "The view is incredible."
"Roger that, Cosmo. We're keeping an eye on you from down here. Stand by for contact from Parkes."
Al and Pete shared identical grins. And thumbs'-ups with Fenton and Dwight. They had clearance to move around the re-entry vehicle and the support capsule.
There were experiments to run while they were aiming for ten orbits around the Earth. A new record.
The blue orb wasn't talking to them. It got closer. To the very edge of its air. Where an artificial moon sailed around.
Several things happened at once.
A blue bolt of light speared it, on the same vector to hit the capsule.
It felt two minds think of the same face.
One half went along the beam, into something inside the artificial moon. Satellite. Yes. It was called satellite. It was called Cosmo.
She was 'she'. She was... 'daughter'. She was... alone. She was... in pain!
Where was the other who was with her?
The other had to come back!
She followed the scattering shards of the satellite. No longer orbiting the silent blue orb. The other had to be in it.
She had... fingers. Yes. And... claws. YES! They cut through the metal like it was fragile. Two forms similar to her own were within.
But where was the other?
She didn't understand.
She picked one of the forms. The... people. Yes. The other had to be inside one of them.
Carefully, methodically, she began pulling one apart. Trying to find where the other had gone. It had to be in here. Somewhere. Somewhere inside the smaller and smaller pieces.
She had to find it.
The other one of the people was gone. Vanished in a purple streak of light. She roared her frustration and tore more of the satellite into littler bits. It wasn't working. Where was the other?
Wait. That piece wasn't a piece. That was another people!
She moved towards it. Felt its mind.
So much like the other.
She felt its love. Changed herself, unconsciously, to match the images in his mind.
He was a 'he'. And he loved her. And he was... gasping. Yes.
She would not let him die! She needed the love.
She took him inside her energy. Revitalised him on a cellular level. The... suit. Yes. The suit-thing around him suffered damage, but she made certain that he did not. He was alive as long as they were together.
She flew away with him. Holding him tight and feeding off the endless love that made her hurts feel less.
Yes. This was what she needed. This... astronaut. Yes.
He was hers.
Just like the debris with the pictures inside was hers. It had her face in there. And his face too. All hers.
The astronaut was hers.
And nothing would take him away.
Garbled words. "Come in... Walter... Cosmo..." Static and incomprehensible noises filled the in-betweens.
Someone... someone was trying to talk to...? Him?
He was... Commander... Walter? Commander... Cosmo? They were both names. His shattered memories knew that much. He was flying so fast that time was flowing backwards.
This was... wrong.
How could he be alive?
He made himself slow down just by thinking about it. Came to a relative stop. Touched his feet upon a rocky moon where no man had gone before.
Pappy... (who was Pappy?) had believed in six impossible things before breakfast.
There was someone he'd made a promise to. Someone... he had to come back to.
He was a long way away. And a long time ago.
Maybe he'd learn what he could do and who he could help along the way back.
Al had hit his escape releases without thinking. Now he was trapped in the depths of space. Somewhere between the Earth and... he had no frame of reference. The vectors were entirely messed up. He couldn't even find Earth.
But he found her.
Her hair was made out of lasers and she... she was made out of cosmic forces. Nebulas for her skin. Cosmic energy in her freckles.
Casually pulling apart the Cosmo as if she was looking for something.
O God. O God, no.
She was pulling apart Fenton like he was another thing to destroy.
"Stop it," he said. "That's not right. Leave him alone."
He couldn't tell if she heard him, but she dropped the tattered fragments of Fenton and worked on the remains of the capsule.
Al couldn't help it. She was so lovely.
His oxygen was running out. The scrubbers couldn't keep up with the carbon dioxide build-up in his suit.
He was dying.
Sorry, mom. Sorry, Holly. Sorry, Fenton. Sorry Houston...
He kept his eyes on the entity. The daughter of space. If he was going to go out doing one thing, it was going to be admiring a being worthy of admiration.
Terrible and fantastic and glorious and wonderful and fearsome and...
She was coming closer.
Unfiltered radiation was messing with his brain. Accelerating the damage started by the lack of oxygen.
Are you willing to be my angel? He summoned the energy for one last smile. Just as his eyes shut for the last time.
And he awoke in her arms. Watching her laser hair tear apart... moons?
He didn't question it. He didn't dare.
He was with her. And it was indescribable.
"Who are you?" he said. There was no air to say it with. And he didn't dare ask why he was still alive.
"Who are you?" she echoed.
"I am..." he faltered. There used to be a name. He couldn't find it any more.
"You are astronaut," she said. Her voice soothed his worries from his mind.
"Yes." A name appeared, but it wasn't his. "You are Cosmica." It was poetry on his tongue. She was his world. His universe.
The stars could shatter and he wouldn't care, as long as she was with him.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you," she echoed.
No human body could contain the feelings she gave him. And he was still hungry for more.
The only answer was to become... less... human.
Dwight woke to Mission control urgently trying to contact Walter. They didn't know. They couldn't know.
"...got the Cosmo's distress signal. You were hit by an unknown force. An energy with... with Earth as it's source..."
Whatever hit them... hit Walter square in the chest. There was no way he could have survived.
They hadn't seen it. He took stock. There was nothing left of the Cosmo. Just scattered debris and... that was a tooth. Someone's tooth had just been torn right out of his mouth. Root and all.
Dwight seized a remnant of space suit.
No... not Fenton...
"What's your status?"
She was right next to him, tearing the remnants of the Cosmo to pieces like a child would idly pluck petals off a daisy.
She looked right at him.
He very briefly felt like he had parsley in his ears. He knew without asking that she had been the one to pick Fenton to pieces. And prayed that Fenton had not been alive before she began.
He was crying as he opened the comms. He didn't care.
"This is flight Engineer Dwight. Ground Control, do you read? The explosion, it hit Walter! Hit him right in the chest..." She was studying him with those bright, glowing eyes. He was dead, anyway. "I'm losing air, I'm spinning out.... high above the Earth. I don't think... I can hold out... much longer..."
"Dwight! Dwight, keep the scaffolding in your sight. Hold on there!"
They must have thought they were near the beginnings of the station... He couldn't even see the scaffolding...
A purple flash of light. A sound like nothing else. And he was in the bright purple arms of... Commander Walter?
"Ground Control, this is Walter. I'm bringing Dwight back home."
Somehow, the air in his suit was clean and plentiful. The concussion from the explosion was just... gone.
"Commander Walter? How?"
"Something happened a long time ago," said Walter. As if they hadn't just been sharing bawdy jokes in the mess hall, shortly before launch.
They were halfway down to Canaveral before Dwight realised that this... entity... was hardly Peter Walter, any more. His suit wasn't of Earth make. A name plate identified him as Commander Cosmo. There were no American Flags on his costume. Just a starburst emblem across his chest.
The press said Dwight arrived back to earth without a scratch. They didn't mention the burns across his exposed skin, where exposure to Cosmo had seared him. They did not think to talk about the post-traumatic mental scars that meant that Dwight would never fly again.
They didn't mention how Holly came running out of Mission control and stopping short. Not just because of the stellar heat emanating from his body, but also because of the utter horror at realising...
He didn't recognise her.
Holly knew what hit the Cosmo. She knew it was Blue Matter energy. Another legacy of Rabbit's core explosion. A beam made out of pure nightmares that made the impossible a reality.
Ground Control kept trying to contact the Cosmo. No cameras survived to spot it in space. They had observatories around the world searching the sky for any hint. Any news.
Holly listened with her hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes. Please. One word. Let him still be alive...
And then what? Nothing up there could catch them, let alone bring them safely down. Ground Control needed days. They had hours at best. Assuming they weren't already dead.
That didn't stop her heart from craving his voice.
Seconds ticked painfully into minutes. Minutes crawled into an hour.
Not Pete. Dwight. He sounded panicked and on the verge of tears.
Pete was dead. Hit in the chest by one of Rabbit's nightmare beams. She knew, without a doubt, that this was her nightmare. Something happening to Pete had always been her nightmare.
There was a sound... something that sounded unreal.
Pete's voice! Well... sort of Pete's voice. There was something... wrong.
And yet he was coming home. With Dwight.
But... what had happened to Becile and Fenton?
Mission control couldn't track them. There was no craft. But... if there was no craft... How were they coming home?
They didn't turn up on the radar. Telescopes detected a purple streak of light headed towards Canaveral base with a purpose and almost impossible speed. And that it slowed as it neared.
Had Peter encountered aliens? It seemed about right for Blue Matter Nonsense.
She rushed outside to spot the approaching object. It was small, fast, and purple. And it was coming their way.
Pete was on it. Pete was inside it somehow.
Pete was it.
Holly didn't know she was running until she nearly broke a heel on the tarmac. She stumbled nearly to a halt as Dwight scrambled out of Pete's grip to crawl in shaky gratitude along the ground.
He was purple. All over. Purple and pink and his eyes glowed.
And there was not a hint of recognition in them
He was too hot to get close to. She'd never hold him again. Never to kiss those lips.
"You... knew me," he said. He sounded like an alien.
"You don't remember? Not even one thing?" she pleaded. "We only said goodbye yesterday."
He stared at her with a lost look in his glowing eyes. "It's been thousands of years," he said. "The blast shot me through time and space. I... I remember I made a promise..."
"...you told me," she whispered, "you'd hold me..."
Just the tiniest shake of his head. A confused frown. "That's... not the promise..."
She still tried to get closer. Some hidden part of her believed in fairytales. Maybe a kiss would help him remember.
He was too hot. Getting too close singed her skin. Burned her eyebrows.
He didn't understand. But he understood that she was upset. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can only contain so much of my power."
Now she knew it was her nightmare.
Astronaut lived for her presence. Lived for the thrills. They once passed through a star and he left something green inside it. Something that took it over. A blue bolt of nightmares hit it. Something... familiar... from long ago.
Something from when he met her.
The star became alive. Learned to hate. Howled against the universe and tried to punch him with its plasma. It tickled as it went right through him and he laughed.
Cosmica laughed with him. There was no end to the joys that this universe had for him. There was no end to the speeds they could travel at.
No end to the glories of destruction that they were both capable of.
They would go on forever. Two solitons leaving beauty in their wakes. Together.
He had never felt the impact of time so hard as when he was on Earth. He was immortal and unchanging. She wasn't.
She was called... Holly. He had trouble remembering her name.
He had trouble watching her burn herself. Every time. Every time she tried to get close to him.
Humans could not withstand direct exposure to his aura.
Walter Robotics tried to fabricate some kind of shielding. Every time they tried, they failed.
Year by year, he watched her fade. Lines under her eyes. Grey in her hair. Deeper and deeper frowns etched into her face.
Sometimes... he would remember... that she smiled.
And the ghost of what that meant haunted him.
Not even the robots could withstand his natural heat. He could only bear to see an almost-familiar face start to melt before he never wanted to repeat that experiment.
They all knew him, and he couldn't remember more than fragments.
He was hurting them.
After his latest adventure, he made his apologies. He couldn't bear to watch their smiles fade and burn, any longer. Better to leave and forget completely, than to keep hurting them by reminding them of what they'd lost.
Let him be dead to them. Let them mourn, at last, the loss of Commander Peter Walter. He wasn't that man, any more. He couldn't remember ever being him.
He found one of the Space Whales. Asked about a way end his misery.
The whale was only too glad to point him towards a green star. It said that it would contain his power and end his torments.
Commander Cosmo believed him. Willingly flew into the Necrostar's maw.
What he didn't expect was the intensely macerating hate. Something... no. Someone almost exactly like him had hurt it. Yet it had been able to stow a seed of itself inside the other. It would eat him alive and the Necrostar would have its freedom.
It only took him a few decades to realise that he had been tricked. He reached out across the signals. Trying to find someone who would receive his SOS.
He was in such pain... that he nearly missed.
The Necrostar was hungry. It knew what it wanted and this... this was not it. The space whale known as Jumbo had fed him the wrong one.
It needed to hatch out of the other.
And for that, it needed the other to die.
And for that... it needed this one free to create the perfect murder.
It chewed on the human. The once-human. The hero. Not for any need to eat him, but out of pure spite. It couldn't harm it. All it could do was hurt it.
The Necrostar allowed Commander Cosmo to send a signal. It would have allowed him to do it as many times as he liked, but it sensed that the message got through.
So... I have a 'mother' of sorts. I will eat her, too.
The entire universe was going to go green. Green matter...
And all the dead would become its servants.
All it needed was one... little... mistake.
And to get their attention.
The Necrostar reached out. Pulling little threads here and there. Martian Sky Sharks. A Space Giant. The two space gods who had seen its conception... yes. They were ripe to create the Necrostar's paradise.
Come together, it whispered to nothing and nobody. Right now. Over me.
It knew they would obey.
Gidget had never seen Rav so... agitated. Usually the dulcet tones of Steam Powered Giraffe (formerly The Steam Boyz, formerly Colonel Walter's Steam Man Band, formerly Those Mad Robots What That Walter Boy Made) was enough to calm him from any potential misadventure. But this song, a light-hearted bouncy rock tune, had him muttering and scribbling things down in-between pressing 'replay'.
"Thank goodness f'r progress an' technology, eh, Booplax?"
"BOOPLAX!" The alien gestured, saying, I have no idea what you think you're doing, you mad human. I regret ever swearing life service to you.
Gidget was forbidden from translating. More's the pity.
"Yeah," said Rav. "If it weren't for Walter Wifi, they'd have never got the message. Pity it came out in a song. Binary star... Stop being random... nag, nag, nag."
"Booplax," said the alien. The co-ordinates are in the music, you immense mushroom! And to demonstrate, it dialled up the music and tried to show the matching numbers.
Rav looked up, then back down at his notes, then back up at the screens.
"Booplax, booplax-booplax!" Look at the sodding screen, for the love of [INCOMPREHENSIBLE GOD]
"Awright, calm yer jets. Wait. Is that a set of stellar co-ordinates?"
"Booplax..." Finally, he gets it.
"Why'd you reckon he's there?"
"...booplax..." Do I have to do this again? Fine. He capered over to the keypad and played the musical theme of the Starburner song.
Rav gaped as the numbers came up. "Well, how-dee," he murmured. Rav brought up a sector map. Which showed that there was only one binary star.
"Check the armoury," he grinned. "We got lives to save."
"Booplax..." About damned time.
Gidget knew this was going to end with breaking the law. "Shall I ready the travel music, sir?"
"In a mo', Gidget. I still gotta figure out a way to get there without lettin' Jumbo know we're onto him..."
WINK #109 had found what it was looking for. Perfect. Beautiful. Green. And smiling at it. It had no mouth to smile back, but it hoped orbiting the green apple in space would at least gain its notice.
She was 'she'. He was 'he'. It was a peculiar kind of love, but it was love.
Then it all went... bad.
A giant's teeth appeared out of a dimensional vortex and closed into the green apple's flesh like a vice.
WINK #109 fled. There had to be help. There had to be someone or something.
A long way away. Back. All the way back. To the place it had once belonged.
Humanity had spread. Across the solar system. Moon bases and ships and satellites, oh my.
And didn't they look pretty when they exploded?
Cosmica laughed with him. Ridiculing their faces as they stared. Just before they died.
It was glorious.
They tore through moon bases together. Destroyed intrastellar vessels. Ripped apart habitats. Space belonged to him! It belonged to her! How dare they invade his home?
They deserved it.
They all deserved to die.
He never saw Walter coming. By the time he could warn Cosmica, it was too late.
And way too late for him.
"No! NO! I need him! I need him! He's MINE! Give it back!"
"People aren't playthings," said Cosmo. "Listen. Please. He's not what you wanted."
Confusion. Still struggling against his grip. "He loves me. I need it."
"Do you? Why do you need it?"
"He loves me," she said. "We're solitons." She stared at him, for the first time. Not at the tiny dot of light that was where she had left him. "You... it was you. You're... you're the one I was looking for."
"He never understood what you wanted. He only understood what he wanted. He loved you for what you gave him." Her face... so much like another's. So much like... the woman on Earth. Her face would never fade. Would never wrinkle and wear. "Life is meant to grow, Cosmica. It is not meant to destroy."
"But it came apart so easily. Wasn't it meant to?"
Walter shook his head.
"Was... I wrong? It was fun... he said. He... he enjoyed it. I wanted him to be happy."
She had had no human body to mine for information or morals. The Astronaut's mind was half-destroyed by the time she got to him. He only knew the basic pleasures, and ignored the basic duties.
Walter could hear him, now. Begging. Regretting. Pleading... and finally dying.
A promise kept. Long, long overdue.
Cosmica wept for him. He had been the only mind she'd known. Together, they swept his body towards the edge of the system.
Walter almost didn't notice when the body began to twitch and writhe.
Something inside of the Astronaut. Something vile. Something... wicked. It was eating him up from the inside out. And it was going to hatch.
Together with Cosmica, he whipped it out faster, out of the solar system. Into the empty depths of space. It would buy them some time. Maybe enough.
He was going to need more than an innocent mind just learning the difference between right and wrong. He was going to need more than his own, rather significant powers.
He was going to need heroes.
All the heroes.