nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.

Light Speed

by Jewelianna, written for Mary

Justin looked around him and sighed. He hated flying school, with all of the passions of a billion burning fuel pods. His stepfather had taught him to fly when he was barely more than a child. In Ardore, it had been necessary. Given the remote location of their home, Justin had to know how to go for help if something ever happened to his mother or stepfather.

They’d moved to the city of Befri two years ago, though, and living with other people required following the rules. As a result, Justin was stuck in flying school even though he bet that he could probably fly circles around even their instructor.

Oh, yes. The instructor, who was quite attractive with his long hair combed back from his face, a dark chocolaty brown but highlighted in gold. His nose was rather large, his hands short-fingered, but his smile came easily and it lit his whole face, even his silvery-blue eyes. Justin thought he was one of the most attractive men he’d ever seen.

It was, perhaps, the only redeeming quality of the entire awful flight school.

“Justin,” the instructor called, pulling Justin’s attention back from daydreaming.


Patiently, the teacher asked the question again. “What is the first thing you do when you power up your ship?”

“Turn on the motion sensors, check the monitors for obstacles during lift-off, check gauges for any malfunctions, put the ship into gear.” Bored, Justin spun the pen in his fingers. His clothes itched, these awful uniforms that the school insisted that training pilots wear.

“You forgot to buckle your safety belt,” the teacher added. “If you ever need to bail out, you want to make sure that you’re fastened into the seat.”

“When you’re flying in space, you don’t want to be bailing out,” Justin challenged.

Mr. Chasez, the teacher, smiled at him. “Let’s get you licensed to operate within planetary airspace before launching into the rest of the galaxy.”

Whatever, Justin thought, and went back to doodling. He couldn’t wait until the month of training was over and he could get back into his ship.


On his first lesson, Justin gritted his teeth to stay within the authorized speed limits and out of the major flight paths that he loved to travel. Instead, he flew over farms and other useless areas, not barrel-rolling or jumping the ship into hyper-speed. Someday, he thought. Light Speed. The idea of it made him shiver with delight.

“Good, very good,” Mr. Chasez said, watching as Justin hovered the plane over the landing pad at the school. “You’ve handled a ship before.”

“Since I was practically still a kid,” he answered. “These classes are really a waste of time.” The craft stopped right on the marker. Justin unbuckled his safety belt and hopped out.

“Same time next week?” Mr. Chasez asked, punching the date into his flashy pocket calendar.

“Sure, whatever.” Justin flipped off the switch on the navigational unit that sat in the back of his vehicle. Someday, he thought, he’d be flying in space, with real R2 units to help with navigation. He was stuck with lousy panel systems until then.


Justin’s room at his parents’ apartment was tiny, barely large enough for his bed and dresser. Still, he’d squeezed in an entire programmable computer system that allowed him to keep in touch with not only his friends back home but also the goings-on in the rest of the galaxy. A message light was flashing when he returned from class.

Sitting down at his desk, he watched the tiny holographic image of his friend Trace appear. It was fuzzy, and flickered in the sunlight that streamed in from the half-open blinds.

“Justin. Something’s happened here. There’s trouble. I don’t know what’s going on, but people have started disappearing. It started about a week ago, and it’s like someone’s just gone in the morning. Vlad, down at the out rig post, said there’ve been massive ships coming in at night. I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t think anyone knows about it. No one’s stopping it. You’ve gotta do something, Justin. It’s gonna be night again soon.”

The message stopped abruptly, the image fading into nothing but air. Justin immediately tried to summon Trace on the communication system, but was unable to get through to him.

“Well, now what?” he said into the empty air. He listened to the message again, then went to find his stepfather.

After watching it together, his stepfather couldn’t think of any answer either. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said.

“But it sounds really important. And I can’t get a hold of Trace!”

“Justin,” his stepfather laid a hand on Justin’s shoulder. His imperial ring glittered on his smallest finger. “Sometimes you just have to have faith that things will work out for the best.”

Justin sighed. His stepfather left, with his mother, to attend a meeting downtown.

Justin paced through the apartment, then out onto the balcony, where the sounds of evening traffic flying by bombarded his senses. He knew that something was wrong. If only his parents hadn’t taken the plane. He could be to Ardore, check things out, and be back in Befri before morning.

Justin needed a plane. He didn’t have time to fool with doctoring papers enough to rent one, and paying for a hired flight would cost everything in his savings.

There was one place, though, where Justin thought he might find a place. He grabbed his hover board and took off for school, hoping that security wasn’t increased at night.


Just as he’d hoped, the planes sat on the landing pad without anything more than basic security code to secure them. Justin almost laughed at how easy it was to crack the simple symbol sequence and unlock the hatch to the plane. He had his hands on the ignition switch when a face appeared in the hanger doorway, looking right through the front windshield of the plane.

Mr. Chasez. He was frowning, and mouthing the words “Come out here, now.” Justin swallowed deeply and slunk out of the pilot’s chair, back down the still-open hatch of the plane.

“What are you doing, Mr. Timberlake?”

“I, um. I thought I left something here, and I was just coming back to see if I could find it.”

“Right.” Mr. Chasez paused. “Do you want to tell me what you’re really doing, or are you going to go through the trouble of making up something that you left and have us both futilely search for it?”

Justin blushed. “I, um.” He didn’t know what to say, and decided that honesty might be the best track. Perhaps JC would admire his confession and not call the imperial guard. “I needed a plane. A friend at home is in trouble, and I need to go help him.”

“Why don’t you buy a ticket for a transport vessel?” JC asked.

A transport vessel, right. Justin hadn’t thought of that. He hated public transportation. “It’s an emergency. I need to get there tonight.”

“Ah. Well, come on then.” JC walked past Justin, toward the plane.

Justin spun on his heel and watched, confused. “Where are we going?”

“To help your friend. You’re not licensed yet, so I’ll fly.” He stopped at the end of the open hatch. “Right?”

Justin was stunned frozen. “You mean you’ll fly with me all the way out there and back. You’re not going turn me in for trying to steal a ship?”

“If you’re telling the truth and it is an emergency, I’ll forgive you. If you’re lying, then we’ll discuss it with the authorities. Deal?”

Justin broke into a run, throwing his arms around his teacher. “Thank you so much, Mr. Chasez! I swear, it’s a real emergency.”

“We’re off duty, so call me JC.” He smiled back at Justin. “And you can tell me the story on the way. Come on.”

Strapped in beside his teacher, Justin smiled. “Can I fly, then, if you’re here?”

“Why don’t you let me get it out of urban air space, and then I’ll let you take over.”

Justin pouted, but he couldn’t complain too loudly in case JC decided it was best not to go. He started to tell JC the story of Trace’s mysterious message and the urgency it had left deep in his belly. Intuition told him that whatever was going on in Ardore, it needed to be taken seriously, and carefully.


Once they had left the city, JC allowed Justin to take over the controls, and didn’t say a word when Justin pushed the ship into hyper-speed, blasting them across the rocky mountain terrain to the deserts beyond. It wasn’t too long of a trip before the sandy soil below them turned green, indicating they were approaching the planet’s agricultural center. Justin slowed the craft, letting JC take back over the controls as they approached the small town of Ardore.

“Just set it down back there,” he said, pointing behind the government outpost. It was almost dark, though they’d been racing with the sun at their backs for the whole of the journey. When Justin stepped out, the smells of the country rushed back at him. The wind blew dirt onto his black pants, a reminder of why people always wore light colors in the country.

With JC at his side, Justin walked to the main street of the sad little town. It was so much smaller than he’d remembered. He headed into the outpost to see if there was any news about the strange phenomena Trace had mentioned. Then, he figured, he’d head out towards The Ayala farm to see what was going on.

The lights were down inside, and strange music played as Justin perused the aisles, waiting for the owner to be done helping his customers. When they left, Justin approached the counter.

“My stars, Justin Timberlake,” the man said. “I never thought I’d see you in these parts again.”

“It’s good to see you, Tarrif. How is Olma?”

“She is good, good. Enjoying her grandchildren.” Tarrif was a portly old man, one of the few who could remember the days of the Republic. He didn’t speak of them often, and only to children, as if the world before the Empire had only existed in some sort of fairy tale.

“That’s wonderful. We’ve come to pay a visit to the Ayalas. Trace sent me a message that there was some trouble.”

A cloud immediately passed across Tarrif’s face. “The missing, you mean.”

“Right.” Justin waited, but the outpost manager offered no more information. “He said nothing was being done to stop it.”

“There is nothing to do. We do not know why people are being taken, or how. Only that they go to sleep at night and are not there in the morning when their family awakes.”

Justin looked back over his shoulder at JC. “We should go find Trace. Maybe he’s learned something more.”

Saying goodbye to the shop keeper, and taking the sweet they were offered, JC and Justin walked back onto the dusty street.

”How do you get to Trace’s?” JC asked. Justin pointed down the road.

“It’s there. It’s about an hour’s walk, so we should probably take the…” his voice died off as he recognized two figures walking toward him. “Fuck.”

“What?” JC asked. The color had drained from Justin’s face.

“I don’t believe it,” the smaller of the two men said as they approached. “Justin?”

“Hi Lance,” he answered. He shuffled his shoe, a bit. “Nick.”

“What are you doing here?” Lance asked.

“Just visiting a few friends.” He looked up at Lance and saw the kindness in his eyes. It brought back the hurt all over again. “You guys are still, um.” Together, his brain said, but the word didn’t make it out of his lips.

“Yeah. Two years now.” Nick, the other man, linked their hands together. “How’s life in Befri?”

“It’s good. Um, this is JC,” Justin said politely. “He’s a, um. A friend.”

“Pleasure,” JC said. Sensing something was uncomfortable, he took Justin’s arm. “We need to get going if it’s going to be a long ways to the farm, right?”

Justin nodded. “It was, um, good to see you,” he offered lamely.

Lance smiled. “You too.”

As they walked back to the ship, JC kept his hand on Justin’s forearm. “Old boyfriend?” he guessed.

“Yeah,” Justin said. He’d managed to put Lance out of his brain for almost a year now, but it all came rushing back. “He dumped me, for um. Nick.”

“Ah,” was all JC said in reply. They got back in the ship and for once, Justin didn’t ask if he could drive.


The Ayala farm was deserted when Justin and JC arrived. What should have been a boisterous evening meal time was nothing but silence. The house was dark.

“Damn it!” Justin cursed, beating on the door. He punched in the code that he’d memorized as a boy. It opened with a slow hiss.

Inside, there was still evidence that people lived there. A bowl from a late night snack waited by the dishwasher, the sheets in the bedrooms were tousled. But there was no sign of life.

”What’s going on here?” Justin asked. “Where did they go?”

“I don’t know,” JC replied helplessly, picking at the blankets and dropping them again. “Was there any other information in the message he sent? Any clues?”

Justin thought back carefully. “He said something about ships coming into the outrig post outside of town at night.”

“Then we should head there,” JC answered, “and see if they can give us some answers.” He stepped closer to Justin, closing a hand over his shoulder. “We’ll find out what’s going on,” he promised.

Justin hung his head and let JC pull him into a comforting hug.


The main town was served by the outpost store and repair shop where Tarrif worked. Traders who came through for crops and other drifters went to the outriggers at the edge of town, where the rolling hills fell to dry, arid desert.

Justin had been taught from an early age that it was a place to be avoided.

They flew in under the cover of darkness, and even through his worry Justin felt a peel of excitement when JC flipped on the cloaking devices. They circled around through the south and landed behind a large rock outcropping.

“Now what?” Justin asked, jumping down to the dirt. Somehow, JC had turned leader in this expedition.

“We wait and see if anything happens,” JC said simply. He sat and took a long drink of water from his canteen before passing it to Justin.

It was a long wait. JC tried to keep Justin’s mind off of his friend as he asked him questions about school, about what it was like moving to the city.

“What’s that?” Justin asked, pointing in the distance toward two moving lights. They swept in quietly, the ship landing without making a sound. The back hatch opened and a group of people moved on quickly before the door closed and the ship was gone again. The whole thing took barely five minutes.

“Come on!” Justin yelled, jumping up. “We’ve got to follow them!”

“We can’t,” JC said grimly. “Look.” The ship climbed steadily before switching from the jets to the boosters and breaking the atmosphere. “It’s going into space.”

“So we just let them get away? What if they’ve got Trace!” Justin was never one to just let things get away from him. “Come on, we’ll grab one of the trade vessels and be right behind them.”

“Justin,” JC held him firmly by the shoulder. “I’m not certified to fly one of them, never mind the fact that we’d never be able to get it out of here in time to catch up to them. They’ve probably already jumped to light speed.”

Justin felt his lower lip tremble. He would not cry. It was just all so hopeless. “So, that’s it, then?”

“It has to be. For now. They’ll be back,” JC said. “I know a guy who’s got a ship that’ll probably be able to keep up with that one. But we’ve got to go back to Befri to find him.”

Justin looked around. “Why are you doing all of this to help me?” He had been taught to be suspicious of overt generosity from strangers.

JC just shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do. Plus, I like you. I want to help you.”

Justin accepted his answer. Together, they boarded the plane and began the flight back to the city.

“Thank you,” Justin said quietly as they cruised back over the mountains.

“Thank me when we find your friend,” JC answered, easing up on the controls. “Why don’t you fly for a bit?”

Justin took over and focused on navigation for the rest of the journey.


JC’s friend Chris had one of the strangest-looking ships that Justin had ever seen. The silver paint had a purplish gleam to it, and it’s sleek, aerodynamic body was covered in holographic decals of musical acts from all over the galaxy.

A real intergalactic ship, Justin marveled. He couldn’t believe that he was going to be flying in one.

“What did you tell your parents?” JC asked as they waited for Chris to get clearance for the flight.

“That I’m staying with a friend, studying for the license test.” He didn’t like lying to them, but he knew they’d never let him go on this kind of dangerous mission. He hoped, secretly, that it wasn’t going to be too dangerous, that it was going to turn out to be nothing, despite the sick twist of fear in his belly that it was bad. Very bad.

They had just left the urban center when Justin yawned, widely, stretching his arms.

JC led Justin to the back of the ship as they cruised back to Ardore. “Here,” he said, pressing a button to open a small sleeping bay. “Why don’t you get some rest, so that you can stay up tonight to keep watch.”

Justin knew he was being coddled like a child, but his eyelids were hanging heavily. Sliding between the sheets, he made JC promise to wake him if anything happened.

JC dimmed the lights and went back to the front, settling into the chair beside Chris.

“Cute kid,” Chris said, eyes on the skies.

“He’s not a kid. He’s worried about his friend, that’s all.”

“Uh-huh, and you’re just out to help him.”

JC drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “He’s a nice guy, and something’s going on that’s weird. I just want to find out a little more about it, is all.”

“Sure,” Chris said, and JC knew the implications. He was known for going out on a line for his friends, but this was above and beyond, especially for someone he didn’t know well. For one of his students, no less.

“You’ve got more of your father in you than you thought. Always looking for trouble.”

It was trouble, but JC couldn’t think beyond Justin’s sad face and worried blue eyes. He’d do what he could to help, and then maybe address that other itch he felt whenever Justin was nearby.


Same outrig post, same rock cluster to hide behind. There were clouds that night, keeping the moon away. Justin hunkered down and waited, munching quietly on an energy bar to fill his rumbling stomach.

They hadn’t been there long when Justin heard the soft crunch of someone walking across the sand. He turned, expecting to see JC or Chris. Instead, Lance stood off beside the ship.

“Hi,” he said, stepping closer. “I was hoping that I’d find you out here.”

“What are you doing here?” Justin asked, caught between confusion and suspicion.

Lance held up his hands in peace. “I know you want to find Trace, and I thought this could help.” From his pocket, he pulled a small electronic device. When he turned it on, a holographic map of the galaxy hovered between them. A soft beep filtered across the screen. “The ship that’s been coming. Nick stuck a homing beacon on it the last time that he did some work on the engines.” Nick had been trained as a mechanical technician when they were in school, Justin remembered. “He said that he didn’t trust them not to run off without paying, so he wanted to track them.”

With the push of a button, the image vanished, and Lance passed the device to Justin.

“Thank you,” was all he could think of to say.

“You’re welcome.” Lance bit his lip. “They started on the west side of the town, and have been moving toward the east. My family’s pretty far away, but.” He smiled, hopefully. “Find out what’s going on, OK?”

Justin saw JC coming out of the ship from the corner of his eye. He waved, then turned back to Lance. “Go to my parents, in the city. They’d take care of you. Take your parents, you sister’s family. Take Nick. Just get out of here, OK?”

Lance nodded. He reached forward and hugged Justin, tentatively. “I never meant to hurt you,” he whispered into Justin’s ear.

“I know.” Justin’s hand rested smoothly on Lance’s back. “Go to the city, OK? Be safe.”

“I will. We will.” He waved to JC, then, and ducked back into the darkness. A moment later Justin saw the twin engines of his flier light and zip back toward the town.

“Everything OK?” JC asked, approaching.

“Yeah.” Justin smiled. “We just got a break.”


The ship arrived as expected, and Justin watched from the front of Chris’s ship as the people were loaded into the back of the foreign vessel’s cargo hold. The door closed and the ship’s engines lit.

“Here we go, boys,” Chris said, flipping the switch to his own engines. The ship came alive with a roar. As Justin watched the other ship leaving, Chris piloted his own craft upward, until Justin felt the tug of gravity in his gut. He watched excitedly, forgetting for a moment about his friend as the ship left the atmosphere and burst into the dark, into the stars.

“Wow,” he breathed, watching as the ship they were following began to pick up speed. Then, it disappeared.

“Ready?” Chris asked, and JC grabbed onto the armrests. Justin did the same as Chris squeezed his steering wheel and Justin was pushed back.

Light speed, he thought. Wow.


They jumped out of light speed what seemed like hours later, but Justin knew that time was deceptive when traveling that fast. He turned on the homing beacon that Lance had given him and waited for the flashing blip. It showed up, not far from where they were.

“We’re really close,” he said, watching as the tiny green dot moved steadily to their left.

“It looks like they’re going down over there,” JC said, pointing toward a large white planet.

“Dircoun. Nothing but snow and fuel pod construction.”

“What’s that?” Justin asked.

”They have to keep the fuel cool because it’s so volatile, so the Wipre corporation moved all of their production centers to the far corner of the universe.” JC glanced at Chris. He knew that Chris had heard the same rumors about how Wipre got workers for their far-off production centers. Frozen planets didn’t have a very large labor supply to pull from.

“Can you follow it down?” Justin asked.

“We’re going to watch where he lands, and follow that beacon,” Chris said. “We’re not going down right away because by now they know we followed them, and landing right behind them won’t get us anything. We’ll orbit for a bit, then take her down a few miles away.”

“Oh.” It occurred to Justin that while he was technically orchestrating the whole thing, maybe he wasn’t thinking quite clearly as to how to go about it. He was grateful to have JC there, and Chris. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Chris turned in his chair and smiled at Justin. “Hey, relax. We probably won’t get anywhere near wherever they’re going until tomorrow, so don’t worry about it now.”

Easier said than done, Justin thought. They watched as the other ship began to descend into the planet’s atmosphere, taking Justin’s neighbors with it into the snow.


It was cold on the ground, too cold to stay outside for long. Justin’s teeth were still chattering long after JC hauled him back into the ship and shoved a cup of hot liquid into his hands. Chris bundled up and headed outside to check the thrusters and his R2 unit.

“I didn’t plan very well for this,” Justin said, holding the cup just under his lips and breathing the steam.

“I don’t think you can plan for these things.” JC sat across from him, holding a cup of his own. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m good, I’m good.” Justin took a tentative sip, and when the liquid didn’t scald, he drank more. “Worried, but good.”

“OK.” JC reached over and ran a hand over Justin’s thigh. “We’ll find them, OK? We’ll get them home.”

Justin nodded. “I know.” He finished his beverage, and brought the empty cup to the washer. “I think I’m gonna head to bed,” he said.

JC followed him into the sleeping bay, stripping into a pair of the pajamas that Chris kept there.

“JC?” Justin asked tentatively, curled up on the bunk.


“Are there any more blankets? I’m still really cold.”

A quick search of the cabin revealed none. “I think that’s all of them.”

“Oh. OK, goodnight.” Justin rolled over, shivering under the blanket.

With a sigh, JC knelt by the bunk. “Here, move over,” he said, sliding in behind Justin, wrapping an arm around him. “Body heat, OK?”

Justin hesitated, but after a few moments he relaxed back into JC’s embrace. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” JC said. “Sleep.”


When Justin awoke, the sleeping bay was dark and quiet. He could hear the soft snores from Chris’s bunk, and the quiet hum of the cloaking shields that kept their ship hidden in the snow. He was warmer, thankfully, but the thought of venturing outside again made him shiver.

At the movement, JC tugged him closer in sleep. Justin went willingly. He’d never slept with someone before, not all night long wrapped in another person’s arms. It was strange, and he tried to keep still, but it was wonderful.

Face to face, now, Justin pressed a kiss to JC’s cheek softly. He didn’t know if he’d ever get another chance.

Easily, he drifted back to sleep.


In the morning, they turned on the homing beacon again and narrowed the field so that they could track the signal on the ground. Chris had landed them close to where the other ship was docked.

“Maybe Justin should stay here,” Chris said to JC. “You and I can go check things out first, figure out what we’re going to do.”

“What?” Justin’s mouth gaped. “These are my friends, this is my thing. Why do you want me to stay?”

JC looked at him, uneasily. “Justin, these energy companies are known to be ruthless when it comes to trespassers. They’re afraid of spies and losing some of their secrets. It’s likely we’ll all be shot on the spot should we be seen.”

“I’m not afraid,” Justin argued, chin jutting out. “That’s flauk shit.”

JC shared another look with Chris. “If you come with us, you do exactly as we say. No questions, no arguments.”

“Fine,” Justin said. He took the heavy coat that Chris threw his way, cinching it at the waist with a thick black belt. Chris tucked a laser gun into the belt.

“Don’t even think of using this,” Chris warned. “It’s for show only.”

Justin rolled his eyes, and closed his hand over the cold metal of the gun. It fit perfectly into this palm.

They flew as close as they dared, and Chris left his R2 unit ready to go in case they needed to make an emergency escape. They went on foot the rest of the way.

From a hill at the edge of the complex, they peered down into a deep ravine. Workers moved speedily around large vats of steaming blue liquid, pouring massive cauldrons into smaller pods and packaging them onto trucks. Chris produced a telescope and passed it to Justin.

“Tell me if you see anyone you know,” he said. Justin began to scan. The faces all looked the same, drawn and hopeless.

“There,” he said, focusing on two men working near the cargo ship. “That’s Trace, and his father.”

“Where?” Chris asked. Justin pointed him in the right direction. Chris nodded briskly and stowed the telescope.

“Stay here,” he ordered, and disappeared. Justin slid back down behind the rock, huddling close to JC for warmth. JC threw an arm over Justin’s shoulder.

“He acts like he’s done this kind of stuff before,” Justin commented.

JC tucked his free hand between his legs to keep it warm. “Chris has done a lot of things in his life.”

“Where did you meet him?” Justin asked. It was curious, this quiet, kind flying teacher would be friends with such an adventurous, brash outlaw. Justin had figured by this point that Chris had to be an outlaw.

“His father knew my father,” JC said. “You could say that we were always meant to be friends.”

“That’s like Trace and I,” Justin added. “But it is our mothers who are close.”

JC smiled at that. “You are a good friend to him, to do all of this.”

Justin couldn’t imagine not helping. He appreciated, too, that JC noticed. “Thanks.”

JC tucked a hand under Justin’s chin and lifted it to look into his eyes. “You’re a good man, Justin.”

Justin’s mouth went parched, blood drained from his head to stare so intently at JC. “Not a boy?” he whispered.

“No.” JC leaned forward and kissed him softly, lips parting to take him in, to taste. Justin kissed back as best he could, but he was overwhelmed at the skill of JC’s mouth as JC nipped gently at his lower lip with sharp teeth. He twisted in JC’s embrace, lifting one gloved hand to the side of JC’s face. It was the most magical kiss Justin had ever experienced.


JC drew back and looked up at Chris, who had secured two uniforms of the company’s guards. “Here,” he said, tossing one to JC. JC took it and began to dress. Justin’s cheeks burned at being caught, but JC didn’t seem phased by it at all.

“What about me?” Justin asked, not wanting to be left behind.

Chris tossed him the ignition keys. “Go start the ship. We’ll be back in minutes and we’re going to have to leave quickly.”

Justin’s heart leapt. Start the ship? “What are you going to do?”

“Your friend and his father are almost done loading that ship. When it’s ready to leave, the gates are going to open and JC and I are going to get in, get them, and get out.”

“But what about the rest of them?” Justin asked, looking back down to where hundreds of people were working.

“There’s no time, and I don’t have room to transport them all. We’ll get these two, and then let them go back to the government for help with the rest.”

Justin didn’t look convinced, so Chris laid a hand on his shoulder, at the same time pulling the gun from his belt. “You’ve got to trust me on this,” he said.

“I don’t even know you,” Justin argued. “You fly the ship, let me go.”

“Justin,” JC said, standing close behind him. “You’ve got to do what he says.”

With stormy eyes, Justin grabbed the keys and ran back to the ship. He didn’t wish them luck or even safety in their quest.

Inside the ship, Justin pulled off his heavy winter clothes and sank into Chris’s captain’s chair. He had to slide it into a more comfortable position to fit his knees under the main console. His fingers itched to press buttons- shields and lasers. Everything he’d always wanted to do.

The beep of the R2 kept him from indulging. “How do I start this thing?” he asked. With a few more beeps, the engines roared to life below him. “Cool. And open the main doors?” A blast of chilly air flew in, and on the monitors Justin watched the belly of the plane lower its ramp.

Then, there was nothing left to do but wait.


He heard them before he saw them, the “schoop” of green lasers flying through white. There was movement, but the swirling snow kept him from seeing much more than that until a figure came running at him, full force. He turned off the shields and watched as Trace disappeared underneath the windshield. Footsteps pounded on the metal ramp, and seconds later, Trace burst into the plane, screaming. “They’re coming! Get ready, they’re coming!”

Justin wanted to grab his friend in a hug, but the panic in Trace’s voice sent him back to the cockpit. Seconds later he saw four more people running, up into the plane. He heard Chris before he saw them, heard him yelling to close the hatch and get the fuck out of there.

Justin did just that, throwing the vertical thrusters to their highest power and lifting up, until he could blast forward, away from the awful snowy planet.

“Light speed,” Chris panted, coming up behind Justin. He reached over Justin’s shoulder and threw in a set of numbered coordinates, and then slammed Justin’s hand down on the button that flashed them forward into the galaxy.

Once cruising, Justin realized he’d been holding his breath. He let it out in one long exhalation, then turned.

There was Trace and his father, and surprisingly, his mother too. Justin ran to them, hugging them, his other family. They showered him with thanks as Trace’s mom wept onto Justin’s shoulder.

There was someone else there too, though. A larger man, big across the shoulders, with a dark beard and laughing eyes.

“Justin, meet Joey, the craziest son of a bitch this side of Endore.” Chris tossed a towel at the man, who was dripping with melting snow. “We used to work together, and it seemed he’d fallen on some rough times.”

“Damned fucking pirates,” Joey mumbled. “Busted the hell out of my ship and stranded me on that God-forsaken planet. Thank God Chris here came along to rescue me.”

Justin was dumbfounded. “Wait, you knew he was there? What?”

JC laughed. “No one knew. We were ready to go in, guns blazing, when Joey grabbed Chris from behind and dragged him away. I went chasing after them, and almost shot him to dust. Anyway, he knew where the women were being kept and got back there to get Mrs. Ayala. JC and I managed to get to these two, convince them who we were, and get out of there before anyone realized we weren’t real guards.”

“He carried me,” she said, eyes shining. “A true hero.”

Chris snorted at that, but didn’t say a word. Justin tried to process it all, but just shrugged. He hugged Trace again.

“I can’t believe you found me,” Trace said.

“I know.” When Justin thought back on it, the past few days had been incredible. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without JC.”

JC smiled shyly. “It’s nothing.”

“I think,” Chris said, looking around the small cabin, “that we need a drink. A toast.”

Justin smiled and agreed.

At home, Chris dropped the Ayalas at the capital, so that they would be able to make a report of their kidnapping. Joey stayed with Chris as they returned to Befri.

“What do you think will happen to the company?” Justin asked.

“They’ll get fined, and have to search out another place to get their labor. They might play it on the up-and-up for a while, but it won’t last.” Chris steered the ship carefully through the urban structures. The sky was a beautiful mix of gold and rose. Justin had never been so happy to see colors after being on the white planet.

“Someday,” JC said, “The corruption will end and the government will be able to do something about this.”

Chris reached over and squeezed his hand.

Justin watched them all, knowing there was some secret there.

JC asked that they be dropped off at his home, not the school. Justin didn’t argue, following JC through doors that slid open to either side. The apartment had wide windows on three sides and curved walls that led to high ceilings. The light had a tint of blue, the furniture sunken and cozy looking.

“Sit,” JC asked, drawing Justin to the couch. He went, taking off his shoes so that he could pull up his feet.

“I want to tell you the whole story,” he said. “Because otherwise, this doesn’t mean anything.”

“Ah,” Justin thought. The secret. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“I do. Because I care about you, Justin. Perhaps more than I should, but I’m drawn to you.”

Justin smiled at that. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

“I hate that I couldn’t tell you before,” JC continued. “But there were reasons. Real reasons, and if we continue this thing between us, you need to know, because it may be something that causes problems down the line.” He drew in a shaky breath, and took Justin’s hand in his. “My father was a Jedi,” he said. “He was killed in the Sith Wars, when I was still in my mother’s womb. I’m not supposed to tell anybody, but. I met Chris as part of the Resistance. That’s why I know how to do all of that stuff.”

“Oh.” Justin looked down at their linked hands. “I didn’t know, I mean. I never would have guessed.”

“That’s the idea,” JC smiled. “Mild mannered teacher by day, freedom fighter by night.”

“Wow,” Justin breathed.

“So, if you want to stop this now, I’ll understand. Being involved with me, it’s dangerous.”

“JC,” Justin said, lifting their joint hands to his lips, “I don’t care. It’s exciting. I got to fly a ship today! At light speed!”

JC leaned into Justin, bumping their foreheads together, smiling as he angled for a kiss. “It’s a little bit more complex than just flying around the galaxy. It’s politics and it’s economics and all kinds of other nasty things.”

“It’s you,” Justin answered. “And I want to be with you. So I’ll learn the politics or whatever, if it means that I can be with you. And if I get to fly, it’s what I always wanted anyway, so you don’t have to worry about ruining my life or anything.”

I think,” he said, kissing Justin between the words, letting his tongue dance over Justin’s wet lips, “that you are going to be great at this.”

“I know I will,” Justin boasted, and JC laughed. That was the stubborn boy from class. “I’ve got a great teacher.”


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