Chapter Five: A Trip to the Mall "So what do you want to do?", Pete Bott asked his twin sister, boredom filling his voice.
Jessica Bott, in an equally bored monotone, replied, "Nothing, I guess. I don't know. What do you want to do"
The twins were human and natives of Earth, both fifteen years old. Their years on Earth had been, for the most part, enjoyed by them both, but at present the two were less than happy. They had recently moved to the planet Neptune, due to a business venture their parents were taking. This was only their second day in their new home, and already their parents had had to leave on a one and a half week trip for work, leaving Pete and Jessica by themselves on a strange new planet where they had no acquaintances. Both saw Neptune as a droll, mundane place, mainly because they had no knowledge of the area in which they now lived in and didn't know of anything fun for kids their age to do. They had already unpacked everything from the move; that was what they had used to occupy the first day of boredom and apparent monotony. Now the two of them sat in their living room, in desperate want of somewhere to go or someone to meet on Neptune. Unfortunately, neither of them knew where to find it.
Pete was tall for his age, just about two inches shy of six feet. Running a hand through his light brown hair, a gesture which he often used absent-mindedly, he finally made a suggestion. "We could look up the closest mall and see what's over there. Go get a snack, play video games--whatever. Something like that." While he knew that both he and his sister would welcome this idea gladly, he tried to say it nonchalantly, as if he didn't care one way or the other.
"Yeah, that's probably our best option.", agreed Jessica, whose appearance matched that of her twin brother; light brown hair, slightly freckled face. The main difference was that Jessica's eyes were blue and Pete's were brown.
Eager to explore the new planet so as to adapt as quickly as possible, the twins searched a local phonebook and found that the mall was a convenient five or six minutes from their home. Since the legal driving age on Neptune was fourteen and a half, Pete and Jessica both knew how to drive, though Jessica had started her learning a few weeks earlier than Pete had and was slightly more experienced than he. The Bott family owned two hovercrafts, which had made automobiles obsolete decades ago; one was being used by their parents who were away, and the other, a blue and gold model only two years old, still rested in the garage. Both twins got into the hovercraft, or "ship", as the more common term was, and Jessica drove them to the mall.
"I hope we get to do something exciting.", Jessica casually remarked on the way to their destination. "It's still a month until school starts, and if I have to wait until then to meet new friends and find new places to hang out, I won't like it"
"Yeah.", said Pete. "Maybe we'll meet someone cool at the mall." It wasn't long before the pair arrived at the mall and stepped inside. When they did, they were shocked to see how unusually crowded it was. There were people--most blue-skinned Neptunians, some not--in every bench, seat, or corner the twins saw. From the looks of things, getting anywhere--not to mention finding somewhere to go in the first place--would not be easy or comfortable tasks. Nevertheless, the twins continued onward, searching for something--anything--that looked like it would be of interest.
It was hard for both Pete and Jessica to hear each other; the voices of all the crowds around them almost seemed to drown out any other sound. While each voice and each conversation was distinct and separate, they seemed to all blend together in an ongoing series of meaningless noises and gibberish. Pete had to raise his voice slightly to be heard. "Hey Jess, are you hungry? The food court's right over there." He was pointing to their right.
"Sure, I could go for a snack.", his sister replied, looking to where he had pointed. "I guess we'll have to try Neptune style food some time anyway"
"Yeah.", Pete agreed, "But there might be a restaurant with an Earth motif. Let's go check 'em out"
Pete advanced into the large area known as the food court, where tables and chairs filled with people dominated most available space. Jessica followed closely behind him, trying to avoid the living obstacles, yet inevitably bumping into a few people anyway. Both of them quickly looked around, scanning the restaurants--mostly fast food--that surrounded the food court, trying to find the one that would serve foods most similar to those they had been familiar with on Earth. "Hydro Burger.", Jessica awkwardly read from a sign, thinking it a strange name for a restaurant. "Authentic Earthling Cuisine." She paused, then asked her twin, "Why is it called the Hydro Burger"
"Who knows?", Pete replied. "Maybe its a reference to Earth being three fourths water. Not many other planets have that much water, you know"
"Maybe.", Jessica said. "But isn't Neptune's atmosphere mostly composed of hydrogen anyway"
"Good point." Pete shrugged. "But I don't really care. All the slogans and stuff these companies always come up with are stupid anyway. Let's just go in and eat"
"Okay.", Jessica agreed. They moved towards the Hydro Burger, hoping that the name didn't mean that the food was excessively went. When they got inside, they were not surprised to see that the restaurant, just like the rest of the mall, was overly crowded.
"Wow, there's nowhere to sit.", Jessica remarked, visually searching the tables for two empty seats.
"I can see a couple of places.", Pete said in contradiction. "No empty tables, but a few empty seats. We'll order our food and then see what it looks like"
Approximately eight minutes later, Pete was holding a tray with two cheeseburgers for himself, a chicken sandwich for Jessica, and beverages for both of them. Surveying the area, he noticed that their seating options hadn't changed a whole lot in eight minutes.
"You see that table in the far left corner?", he asked Jessica.
"I think so. The one with two empty seats"
"Yeah, that's the one.", Pete said with a hint of sarcasm, wondering why Jessica would think he would need to point out any other table. There were already four people at the table; two humans, a Neptunian male, and a young pink-skinned woman from Venus, but Pete and Jessica thought that if these people were friendly, they wouldn't mind some extra company from two young strangers.
They walked towards the table, which held the only empty seats they could see. The four occupants it already had were chatting amongst themselves and enjoying their lunch, seeming not to notice Jessica and Pete. That is, until Jessica started talking to them. "Excuse me, but do you mind if my brother and I sit here? There's no other seats left"
The four of them looked up at Jessica, then exchanged glances with each other, wondering what to do. It probably wouldn't be pleasant or comfortable to have two total strangers, probably a decade younger than the ones who were already there, join them for a meal. However, it would feel rude and equally awkward to refuse them.
"Sure, you guys can sit with us.", replied one of the humans, a blond haired man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. Both twins thanked him, then sat down and began eating.
For a few minutes, everyone at the table was silent. It would have been awkward for anyone there to continue their own conversations in the presence of total strangers; yet as they all ate in silence, each person still felt pretty awkward anyway. Finally, the blond man extended a hand to Pete and Jessica.
"I'm Mac.", he said. He wore a white T-shirt under a worn, faded purple jacket, and for some reason unknown to Pete and Jessica, there was a pair of goggles, the kind a pilot would wear, resting on his forehead right above his eyes.
"I'm Jessica.", said Jessica, who was less shy than her brother. "This is my brother Pete." She shook Mac's hand.
"Hey.", Pete said in response to his being introduced.
Mac motioned to the large, burly Neptunian who was sitting next to him. The blue-skinned being had a shaved head, but probably his most noticeable physical feature was the fact that his right arm stopped a few inches below the shoulder and a mechanical appendage, silver in color, was in its place. "This is Skrank.", said Mac.
"Hi.". Skrank greeted Pete and Jessica with a slight wave of his non-mechanical hand.
When the other two people at the table saw that everyone was meeting people and introducing themselves, they felt the need to do so as well, to avoid being rude if not anything else. Both the human woman and the Venusian female spoke at once, then realized what had happened and glanced at each other as if asking which one would speak first. "I'm Yea.", said the Venusian woman, extending a hand. Pete and Jessica both shook it.
Yea had a slender build, thinner than most of the others but still just as tall. Her hair, which was naturally a bright orange color, came down in a ponytail at the back of her head. "I guess I'm the last to be introduced.", said the human woman. "I'm Tech"
"Tech?", asked Pete. "Is that a real name"
"No.", Tech replied with a slight smirk, "But it is for me." She was about Mac's age, or a few years younger. The shortest one of the group, she had short, light brown hair and eyes of the same color. Now that everyone had been introduced, Mac thought it best to continue friendly conversation to be polite to their 'guests'. He brought up a few general conversation starters, such as "how are you" and "what are you doing today". At first neither Jessica nor Pete talked very much, keeping their replies short and concise; though they didn't fully realize it, they were both slightly intimidated just by the presence of people who were as much older then them as these were, yet were still at the age where they were considered 'young adults' and might still be interested in some teenager-like things. However, it wasn't long before the twins felt welcomed into the conversation and began elaborating more on their answers. Mac's other friends joined in, too.
"So, do you two come here often?", Skrank inquired.
"Actually, no.", Pete answered. "We just moved to Neptune from Earth like yesterday. This is our first time here"
"Oh, so you're new in town?", asked Yea. "How are you adjusting? Have you made any new friends yet"
"No, not really.", Pete admitted reluctantly. "You four are the closest things to friends we've met so far"
"Well, thanks.", said Mac, trying to sound grateful for the compliment. "But why are we just the closest things? Can't we be friends anyway"
Pete realized his mistake and saw that he had probably not offended, but at least slightly annoyed Mac. "Uh, yeah, of course we can be friends.", Pete corrected himself, glad that their new acquaintances had turned out to be so nice. "But we just like happened to meet here at the mall and probably won't ever see each other again"
"Oh, we'll see about that.", Mac replied quietly.
The six of them continued talking for a while, everyone enjoying their conversations and learning something new. Pete learned that Skrank shared his interest in science fiction and comic book super heroes. Jessica found out how Tech had earned her name; she was an expert on computers, machines, and technology in general. Afterwards, when all six had finished eating, Jessica and Pete were ready to go home, satisfied with having met new friends so early in their trip. However, Skrank suggested that they show the twins around the mall and maybe around town, so they could get familiar with their new area. "Since you're here by yourselves and you've got nothing else to do, why not?", was his reasoning. Everyone agreed to this happily and the group of them decided to go towards the mall's arcade.
"Yeah, we can go to the arcade.", said Tech, who was only interested in the video games because of her love for machines. "But its crowded inside. There's a shortcut near the back where probably nobody else will be"
"Oh, I remember going that way before.", said Yea, more to make friendly conversation then for any other reason. They exited the building and Tech led the way to their destination. They walked on a paved pathway that led passed the back of the mall, where the power generator, dumpster, and other such things were located.
"It's kind of chilly out here.", remarked Pete, feeling cold.
"Yeah, it is.", Jessica agreed. "Is it always this cold on Neptune"
"Yes and no.", Skrank answered them. "It does often have temperatures like these, but when you live here--especially for me, because I was born here--you get used to them. You two are used to Earth, which is much closer to the sun than Neptune, but you'll adjust after a while. And we don't always have temperatures like this, we're just in winter right now." Jessica mentally noted another thing she would have to adjust to; if she were on Earth at the time, it would have been summer.
Suddenly, Tech stopped walking and looked up at the sky. The others stopped too, not sure of what Tech was looking at, but curious to find out.
"What're you looking at, Tech?", Yea asked her friend.
Tech didn't answer. She was still staring intently at the sky, a look of interest and surprise on her face.
Wondering why, Yea looked up as well. So did Mac, Skrank, Jessica, and Pete, who was especially intrigued by what he saw. It appeared to be a comet or a meteorite; they didn't know exactly what it was, but it was obviously something plunging to the planet's surface. As the unknown object continued its rapid descent, it left behind a fiery streak in the air from having entered the atmosphere unprotected, yet strangely did not appear to be burning up.
The object landed on the ground with the impact of a loud thudding sound. Upon impact, it created a crater about three and a half feet in diameter.
None of them said anything; they were too surprised and confused. Suddenly and without warning, Pete ran over to where the object had fallen for further investigation.
"Pete, come back!", Jessica called after him. "You don't know what that is or where it came from!" But to Pete, her words were meaningless, for he was to enthralled with the excitement of it all to listen. As Pete approached the crater, the others crowded around him to see what he had found and, if necessary, try to protect him from the object incase it turned out to be a danger of some sort. Pete bent down and picked up the object. Then he got back up and examined it for a moment, unsure of what to do next.
"Pete, what is it?", asked Jessica anxiously.
"Yeah, Pete, don't keep us all in suspense.", Skrank agreed. "Tell us what you found"
The others made similar remarks, eager to see what had fallen from the sky.
"I don't know exactly what it is. It's looks like a crystal, but its a shiny green. I wonder how it didn't break when it"
At that moment, Mac did something that none of them expected would happen; Mac himself was even a little surprised at it when he realized what he had done. With pain and anger filling his mind, Mac reached out his arm and in one single gesture, grabbed the crystal away from Pete.
"Hey!", Jessica protested, offended at Mac's unexpected action against her brother. "What are you doing? You can't just"
"You kids want it?", asked Mac, already heading away from the rest of the group. "Then follow me. I'm going to make sure that this thing doesn't hurt anybody ever again."

To be continued...