Declan’s impulse buy started an intergalactic war and he was singing along to the radio without a care in the universe. One hand on the joystick, the other patting his knee as he sang, he steered us into black space.
“Dec, do you realize what we’ve just done?” I shouted over the music. “We’ve started a war, Dec. A war!”
He cracked a smile. I was slowly regretting saying yes to this little adventure, but it was so hard to say no to his adorable puppy-dog eyes. Still, I was upset and guilt wasn’t something I could easily dismiss.
I reached across the control panel and switched off the music. “Declan, listen to me!”
“Hey,” he protested. “You’re harshing my mellow, Bell.” He pouted as he positioned the spaceship into hyperspeed, propelling us even farther into endless space. He set the ship on autopilot and faced me, smirking. “You’re cute when you’re mad.”
I rolled my eyes, knowing his sweet talk had a way of making me forget the trouble our adventures caused. “We started a war back there! Terra and Mars have already alerted the Milky Way Federation; they are going to attack the Galaxy of Perpetua tomorrow morning. And it’s all our fault because you just had to have this spaceship. We shouldn’t have even been on that planet and we didn’t need a spaceship this big and why did we make another stop on Mars and…” I stopped, seething.
Declan pushed himself away from the control panel and ducked out of the cockpit, avoiding any discussion of guilt. The screen indicating our location showed that we were entering the elusive NoMan’s Territory, a cluster of dysfunctional and fragmented galaxies just outside of both the Federation’s and Perpetua’s jurisdiction. Declan was trying to avoid arrest by reaching the other end of the universe, but the universe wasn’t that big. They’d find us. And we’d rot away with the other scumbags and con artists of the galaxies in an interstellar prison.
“They’ll just send a bounty hunter after us,” I called after Declan, who had disappeared somewhere on the ship.
“Bell, relax!” Declan’s voice came from nowhere in particular. I heard him walking around the deck above me, probably taking advantage of the ship’s fully stocked kitchenette.
I slumped back in the co-pilot’s chair and crossed my arms, furious but refusing to yell again, unless I could yell right in his face. His ability to act without thinking of the consequences was cute when we were only running from the local authorities on Mars; then, it was exhilarating, all the adventures we had, and we never had to clean up the messes because we could always outrun them, moving from city to city. But this was one mess we couldn’t ignore and even though we tried to run, I had a feeling this one would catch up. How could he be so nonchalant about the war, the virus, everything? I’d known Declan my whole life, and before this night, I thought I might have fallen in love with him. I was so excited about today, too. We were supposed to run away together. But along the way to purchase a getaway ship, he’d left out some information about where we were getting it, and the day definitely didn’t go as planned. Could he really be so reckless?
He returned a few minutes later with two glasses of wine and a goofy smile. He’d changed into a suit and added grease to his normally unruly mass of hair. And he smelled nice. Really nice. I blinked, unsure of what he thought was going to happen next.
“Declan,” I said harshly. “We transported a deadly alien virus that could wipe out all of Terra and severely damage Mars’ ecosystem, declaring war on their entire galaxy. Don’t you feel a little bad about that?”
He scoffed and took a sip of wine. “First of all, how were we supposed to know Perpetua would use us to declare war? We didn’t know they’d stash the virus on board and cure us so we’d make it to Mars without dying first. Plus, we bought this thing fair and square–sort of. The Galaxy of Perpetua set us up.”
“How do you know we’ve been cured? The symptoms aren’t easy to detect.”
“If we weren’t cured, we’d be dead by now. And if it hadn’t been us, it would have been someone else. Perpetua has been itching to declare war on Terra for ages. It was inevitable, so stop acting like this is all our fault. Have some wine.” He slumped down in front of the control panel, clearly annoyed with this conversation.
I didn’t respond. I looked down at my hands, still feeling awful that we’d just up and left after putting two galaxies at war. I hazily noticed something on my forearm: a small cluster of pink bumps, like goosebumps, only they itched. I scratched them absently, thinking I had bigger problems right now.
“Bell,” Declan said softly. “Bell, we had to get out of there anyway. This is our life; we have prices on our heads right now, and you know the governments of Mars and Terra want us dead for all we’ve done. We need a restart, a do-over.”
I shook my head slightly. I knew he was right, but I could never get over our sins as quickly as he did. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a con-artist. Maybe I didn’t want to live this way. But if I really felt that way, I’d have to leave Declan, a natural born rebel with great hair. I’d had a crush on him for too long, I was in too deep to just leave now. He made me feel brave, even if the aftertaste was bitter as hell.
“This war is actually good timing,” he mumbled. “Maybe they won’t even notice we’re gone. Besides, we know there’s a cure. Terra will be fine.”
I sighed, deciding I’d just think about this later. I scratched my arm again. Man, was I allergic to something?
“Hey, what did you mean by ‘sorta’ paid fair and square?” I asked after awhile, trying to distract myself from my guilt and the growing rash on my arm.
“I paid half in counterfeits.”
I smacked him on the arm and he let out a yelp.
I shook my head. “I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“Hey, you have to admit, it’s been a pretty rad first date.” The console started beeping, informing us that we were entering the many galaxies of NoMan’s Territory. Declan flashed his perfect smile at me again, and I was starting to believe that maybe our actions would sort themselves out. They always had before, and Declan seemed so sure that everything was okay. I was almost sure I could trust him, and didn’t really think I had a choice otherwise. The war definitely burned any bridges back to my old life.
“You ready for a fresh start, Bell?”
I couldn’t help but smile, thinking about starting a new life with no criminal record, no government on my tail, and no one to tell me I didn’t belong. And I could start this new life with Declan, reckless as it may be. Maybe I couldn’t trust him, but the guy sure knew how to make this life look fun.
“If stealing a spaceship, declaring war on the Milky Way Federation, fleeing the wrath of two galaxies, and rushing a one way trip to NoMan’s Territory was our first date, I can’t wait to go on a second.”
I scratched my arm and watched the galaxies ahead grow bigger and brighter as we approached, but I didn’t notice the rash was spreading. I didn’t notice Declan’s neck had the same rash, crawling up under his greasy, black hair. I didn’t notice him absently but obsessively scratching his neck like I was scratching my arm.