Chapter 4:

Hina X Erika

The Hoshinauts

“Hey,” Erika said once she and Hina were alone in Harmony, “sorry for earlier.”

As Erika’s words registered in Hina’s mind, a grin broke out across her face.

“So you can apologize,” Hina teased.

“Of course I can,” Erika huffed. “Only reason I didn’t was that I was ordered to keep my distance from you all.”

“Is that so?” Hina said, floating over towards Erika. “Then why are you doing it now?”

Though they were the same height, Hina was floating half a head higher, tilting her head to look down at Erika, but she didn’t appear intimidating. Instead, she wore a warm expression on her face that made Erika feel at ease.

“You three made me realize how dangerous this really is,” Erika mumbled. “I can’t afford to ignore problems when I see them.”

“You’re scared?” Hina inferred.

Erika bristled at that. She resented being toyed with, but as she looked back at Hina’s kind eyes, she felt compelled to answer.

“I’m… scared,” she admitted, dropping her head to hide her embarrassment.

“That’s surprising,” Hina said. She snaked a finger under Erika’s chin and gently lifted it until their eyes met. “I didn’t realize you could be this cute.”

“I’m not cute,” Erika said, pushing Hina away from her.

She couldn’t believe she was getting so flustered by Hina’s advances. It had been a long time since anyone had made her heart race like that. If they had been on Earth, she was sure her knees would have given out. She was so desperately seeking safety that she was willing to find it in the arms of a teenage girl. Those large, muscular arms.

“I’ve always thought you were cute,” Hina insisted, reaching up to the ceiling to stop herself from floating back too far. “Shame you can’t see it yourself. Maybe if you lightened up a bit…”

“I can’t,” Erika said.

“More orders?” Hina guessed. “I know what that's like.”

“I doubt it,” Erika shot back. She recognized that Hina was ten years her junior, and a minor at that. She needed to do everything she could to bring herself under control and keep Hina at arm’s length.

“I’m not just some kid, you know. I’m a hoshinaut. Wherever I go, I have to be aware of what I say and do. The Hina Johnson you see in the media is a character, an exaggeration of my most marketable qualities. There are times when I want to be cute, but I have to play the role of a strong, cocksure, and—above all else—dashing pilot. I understand what it’s like to have to suppress yourself for your job.”

“I’m not suppressing… I…” Erika trailed off.

“It’s OK,” Hina cooed. “If it’ll make you feel better, you can talk to me about it. You said it yourself. We can’t afford to ignore problems, and you’re obviously stressed. I promise I won’t tell anyone. You can trust me.”

“No,” Erika said, shaking herself back to her senses. “You’re the person I can trust the least.”

“That’s so mean,” Hina said, though she didn’t look hurt in the slightest. “How can you say that?”

“I was told to be wary of you,” Erika said. “Hina Johnson is highly perceptive and has great intuition. If you open yourself to her even slightly, she’ll read you from cover to cover.”

“I like that. What else did they say about me?”

“That you—Never mind. I shouldn’t say any more.”

“That’s OK. I can guess. I’m more interested in who gave you this information.”

“I’m definitely not telling you that.”

“God, you’re cute,” Hina sighed.

“Enough,” Erika shouted. “I’m not falling for that again.”

“I’m not trying to trick you,” Hina told her. “I’m serious. If there’s ever something you need to talk about, I’ll listen.”

“There isn’t, but thanks.”

She meant it sincerely. There were things she could never tell Hina, no matter how good it would feel to get them off her chest, but she appreciated the offer.

“So, what were you apologizing for?” Hina asked.

Erika blinked. It had only been a few hours ago. How could Hina have forgotten already? “For sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. You know, with the sleeping arrangements.”

“Oh that,” Hina chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. I should be thanking you. Sachiko has a blind spot when it comes to Yasu.”

“A blind spot when it comes to Yasu?” Erika’s briefings hadn’t mentioned anything like that.

“How should I put it? Like I said, we have to play characters in public. It’s like we’re the idols of space. We have to act like we’ve got no interest in romance. That’s why they house us on a remote island, so we can’t meet anybody. Doesn’t completely solve the problem though.”

“I think I see where this is going,” Erika said. “Like a stereotypical all-girls school.”

Hina nodded. “I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, and some of the girls really go for that. My first year in the program, it felt like Sachiko was spending all her free time making sure they didn’t get too close to me, but when Yasu arrived, she took over that role. Because of that, Sachiko trusts her.”

“And it never occurred to Sachiko that Yasu was chasing off the other girls out of jealousy? Sounds like classic stalker behavior to me.”

“That’s harsh, but not entirely wrong. Sachiko’s not the best when it comes to figuring people out, but she realizes that Yasu and I don’t want to hook up.”

“Doesn’t look that way to me,” Erika commented. “Yasu’s all over you every chance she gets.”

“She’s just a bit confused. It’s… complicated between us. Being childhood friends isn’t really the easy path to romance that manga makes it out to be. When you get close as kids, you learn a lot about each other. They learn things you wouldn’t want a lover to know, and you learn things you can tolerate in a friend, but not in a more intimate relationship.”

“Sounds perfect to me,” Erika quipped. “You know each other's flaws, but you’re still so close.”

“Hmm. I guess we value different things.” Hina put her hand on her chin while she thought of a better way to convey her feelings to Erika. “Imagine you suddenly found yourself in a room with hundreds of people, but one person’s standing closer than the others. Would you decide that, out of all the people in the room, you like this one the best, just because she’s nearby?”

“No,” Erika frowned, “I guess not.”

“That’s Yasu and I. We’ve always known each other. Like, seriously, there’s a photo of us holding hands as babies. I want to explore the world. I want to meet the other people in that room, because maybe one of them is the person I’m really meant to be with.”

“But in the real world, it’s not like you can meet everyone,” Erika pointed out. “If you really think that there’s one perfect person for you, you have to accept that either there’s a good chance you’ll never meet them, or that fate will guide you to them.”

“Like fate has guided us together now?”

Erika had to suppress a laugh. Hina was coming on way too strong. It was obvious that, though her handsome looks made her quite the lady-killer, she was inexperienced when it came to wooing. She was trying to figure it out as she went. It had worked at first, but only because she had caught Erika by surprise at the end of a tiring day.

In a way, her clumsiness was… cute.

“Hardly,” Erika smiled, relieved that she had regained her composure. “You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this. I’m sure you’ll meet someone wonderful someday, but it won’t be me.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. We have a lot of time to get to know each other. I might just make you fall for me yet.”

“You’re wasting your energy. Instead of focusing on me, you should be thinking about what to do if Yasu does something drastic. She’s a much bigger threat than I am.”

“I can handle Yasu,” Hina scoffed. “Been doing it my whole life.”

“What if she forces the issue and doesn’t take rejection well? Could you really continue to work together after that?”

“She’s not going to do anything,” Hina reassured her, “and even if she did, we’re both professionals. We won’t let our feelings interfere with the mission.”

“Just… let me know if you need me to jump in again. Signal me or something. You don’t have to deal with this alone.”

Now it was Hina’s turn to look away in embarrassment. She ruffled her fingers through her hair in frustration.

“Look, forget it,” Hina said. “I don’t want to talk about Yasu anyway. I’d much rather talk about you.”

“So you can learn all about my mission?”

“That’s part of it,” Hina admitted. She decided to take a chance and slowly float back towards Erika. “Would you believe me if I said I have a thing for older women?”

“But we’re the same age,” Erika replied.

“Lie to me again. You’re so cute when you lie.”

“This is inappropriate,” Erika stated. “Maybe I should be more worried about your behavior.”

“I wouldn’t be trying so hard if you weren’t interested,” Hina said.

“Even if I were interested, I’m smart enough not to act on it.” Erika opened the cabin door behind her and backed into it, making sure Hina wouldn’t follow. “Good night,” she said, pulling the door closed.

“How did it go?” Sachiko asked as Hina entered Zvezda.

“I thought I almost had her, but then she put her guard back up,” Hina answered. “I’m not saying it's impossible, but it’s unlikely she’ll talk.”

“I know this is difficult,” Sachiko said, “but I wouldn’t be asking you to do this unless it was important. Come on now, say it with me.”

“Anything for the space program,” Hina recited along with Sachiko.

“Have you ever had to do anything like this?” Hina asked.

“Not quite. It’s harder in public. You have to flirt with plausible deniability. Make the target think you’re flirting with them, while everyone around you sees it as a normal conversation. It’s easier if the target is attracted to you.”

“Pretty sure that’s not the problem,” Hina said, “but maybe I came on too strong, too fast.”

“Try apologizing in the morning,” Sachiko ordered, “and then back off for a few days. Make up a reasonable-sounding excuse for your behavior. I’ll continue to antagonize her, and if you keep offering her a sympathetic ear, we may still have a chance.”

“I’ll do my best,” Hina nodded. She turned to leave, and then paused. “Hey, Commander, how do you deal with the guilt?”

“There’s nothing to feel guilty about,” Sachiko said. “What we’re doing is so important that the ends justify the means.”

“Come on,” Hina insisted. “That’s not how feelings work. I’m sure you feel guilty when you think about what you’ve done.”

“No, I don’t,” Sachiko said. “I just don’t think about it, ever.”
Lucky / Glenn
Pope Evaristus