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Observational Astronomy

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When Nya’s born, Kai’s constellation gains a star.  

He’s holding her gently in his arms when a warm feeling, like the warmth of a campfire, starts to glow in his chest.  The feeling spreads languidly, wrapping through his limbs and cradling him like a hug.  He closes his eyes and lets go, not sure what’s happening except that he feels warm and safe and good.

“Oh,” says his mom, sounding far-away.  “Ray, look.”

 When Kai blinks back to himself, there’s a second star twinkling brightly beside his own.  The lines connecting the two are faint, like looking at erased pencil marks on his skin.  They glimmer when he turns his head just right.  

The same two stars wink at him from Nya’s skin.  

The proper term for what they have is an asterism, but in the modern era people tend to call them clusters.  Almost everybody belongs to one- Kai’s parents share six stars in a diamond-like pattern on their collarbones, lines the dark-gold of a completed cluster.  They say they’ll introduce them to their clustermates, but disappear before they get the chance to.  

“How many more do you think there are?” Nya asks one day, feet swinging idly as she perches on the workbench.  

Kai grunts.  “Of what?” he asks, focused more on getting the angle of his hammer just right than the actual conversation.

Nya flicks a tiny chunk of slag at him.  “Of our cluster, dingus.”

“You couldn't have led with that?”

“And not give you something to complain about?”  She huffs.  “Please.  We all know how much you like to whine.”

“I’ll give you something to whine about, once my hands are free-”

 “Hmm,” cuts in a new voice.  “Your metal is loud and heavy, useful to slow one down.  Useless in the art of stealth.”

The new man is just going gray around his temples, but the way he’s leaning on his staff and the good minute he spends berating Kai make him seem far older.  “Ha!” he exclaims at the tail of his speech.  “Thought I’d find something special here.”

Kai wants to tell him exactly what he thinks of that statement.  But then the sky blackens and the undead rise and he’s too busy fighting to think of anything other than protect.  This is his parents’ home.  This is his clustermate.  He can’t let anything happen to them.  

The tanks disappear over the horizon, taking Nya with them.  

Kai’s chest burns.  

Someone is calling his name.  The man from before stands beside him, the one who hassled Kai and then saved his life.  “I’m sorry about your sister,” he says.  “But if you want to save her, you need to come with me.”

“And why should I listen to you?” Kai demands, fingers gripping white on the hilt of his sword.

The man is somber as he pulls aside the collar of his shirt.  Six stars in a diamond pattern gleam in the fading light.  “Because your parents were my clustermates,” he says.  “You shouldn’t have to lose yours so early either.”

The man, who tells Kai to call him Sensei Wu, takes him up a mountain to a monastery in the clouds.  Kai’s eyebrows twitch as he enters the courtyard.  Something about this place feels… familiar, even though he’s never been here in his life.  It feels like coming home after a long trip away.  

A blur of blue skids to a stop before Kai.  

“Hey, Cole!” hollers the blur, which reveals itself to be a boy with wild red hair and freckles spattered across his skin.  “The new kid’s here!”  He beams at Kai.  “Heyo!  I’m Jay.  Nice to meet you and all that jazz.  What’s your name?”

“Kai,” says Kai.  “Wait, who are you?”

Jay’s grin grows wider.  “We’re your new teammates!  That’s Cole, with the big eyebrows over there-” he gestures to the boy who’s just entered the courtyard- “and that’s Zane on the roof.”

“What’s up,” says Cole, sending Kai a lazy wave.  

“Nice to meet you,” says Zane pleasantly, smiling down at him.   

What in the world has Kai gotten himself into.  

Kai might not be the most observant, but even he can see the divide between Zane and Jay-and-Cole.  The latter two are almost never seen without each other.  Cole makes breakfast in the morning with Jay clinging to his back.  Jay badgers Cole into playing video games even when the other boy is just so bad at them.  

It’s not until Cole strips off his shirt in the middle of training that Kai realizes why.

“You’re clustermates?” he asks, examining the two stars dotted on his chest.  Zane watches from several feet away, face carefully blank. 

“Yep!” says Jay, pulling down his own shirt to reveal a matching pair.  “Found out right after I got here!  This dummy tripped over air and smashed straight into me.”

“Let the record show that Jay was the one who tripped, not me,” says Cole dryly.  He obliges Jay as he points out which star is his and which is Cole’s own.

“How many do you have?” Kai asks.  

Jay’s face scrunches up.  “Five, maybe?  It’s hard to know for sure.”  He gives Kai an obvious look-over.  “And what about you, Mr. Anime Hair?  Care to share with the class?”

Cole groans.  “Don’t harass the poor guy.” 

“Hey!  He was asking questions first!”

“I don’t mind,” Kai says, pulling down his own shirt.  “These are mine and my sister’s.”

“The one who’s missing?” asks Cole.

“The one who’s kidnapped,” snaps Kai.  

Jay pays their conversation no mind.  He’s stepped closer to Kai, hand reaching out almost unconsciously.  

“Cole,” he says, “look at this.  Doesn’t it look like-”  

His finger touches his skin.

Kai’s first star felt like being wrapped up in a warm, soft blanket.  This feels almost exactly the opposite.  Light fizzes through his chest, bubbly like soda and bright like a rainbow, buzzing with excitement and warmth.  He feels light, like he could almost float away.  

Jay lifts his finger.  Right where he touched, a new star winks up at them.

“Holy cow,” Jay says, quietly, like he can’t believe his own eyes.  “Holy cow!  Cole!”  He tugs at his own shirt again, glancing wildly between their marks.  

“Holy cow,” Cole echoes, eyes wide like a baby deer’s.  He stretches out his hand but draws it back at the last second.  “Wait, can I-”

“Yeah,” Kai blurts.  He fumbles out his own hand, reaching for Cole’s.  “Yeah, you can.”

Their palms touch.  Adrenaline surges through Kai’s veins.  Cole feels like a challenge, like the rush of satisfaction after perfecting a sword or adding the last stroke to a plate of armor.  He feels like Kai could conquer the world as long as they did it side-by-side.

They fall back, panting in unison.  Cole’s grin is wide and Kai can’t stop himself, doesn’t want to stop himself, when he feels a matching grin split his own features.  

“Wooo-whoooo!” shouts Jay, seizing their hands and pulling them into a circle.  “We’re clustermates!”

The warmth in Kai’s chest pulses brightly.  He wonders if Nya, wherever she is, can feel it too.

“Congratulations,” says someone softly.  Zane stands a short distance away, watching them with a small smile.  

Kai extracts himself from the hug.  “Zane-” he starts, but the other waves off his attempt.  

“It’s alright,” he says, and he doesn’t sound upset.  “I’m happy for you all.  I’ll let you have a moment of privacy now.”

Jay’s expression as Zane walks off can only be described as torn.  

“Is he not-” Kai asks in a whisper, though what other answer is there?  Zane’s been here much longer than he has.  If he was a part of their cluster, they should have known by now.

Cole shakes his head.  “We don’t know.”

“We thought he might be void,” Jay says with an awkward shrug.  “‘Cause it only makes sense, right?  This?”  He gestures between the three of them.  “The thing is, I still should have gotten his star even if he was void.  But we’ve touched- and nada .”

Of course, they find out why months later.  

“Guess this explains why you don’t have any stars,” Jay says weakly.  

“You’re being rude,” Nya hisses, smacking at him.  

It’s a bit hypocritical, considering she hasn’t looked away herself.  But none of them have.  They’re all paralyzed by awe, staring at the mass of wires and switches in the place where Zane’s organs should be.

Out of all the outcomes Kai envisioned for today, finding out one of your teammates is a robot was not on the list.  

“This doesn’t change the way we see you,” Cole says.

Kai shakes his head fervently.  “No matter what you’re made of, you’re still our brother.”

Zane swings the panel closed with a quiet sigh.  “Would you give me a moment by myself?” he asks, staring studiously at the floor.  “I… need some time for reflection on this.”

They give him some space but linger outside the bunker, because clustermate or not, this isn’t something you leave someone alone with.  Then giant tree monsters attack, Zane reappears to save the day, and the sky splits open in a blast of cold light.

Afterward, once they’ve all calmed down from that absolutely insane show of power, Zane beckons them closer with a small, pleased smile.  It’s incredible how relaxed he is, not only in comparison to several minutes earlier, but also the entire time Kai’s known him.  Something happened in that bunker, he thinks, and Zane confirms it as he fumbles with his gi.  

“I remember now,” he exclaims.  “I had a father who made me and cared for me.  I know who I am.”

On the inside of the panel, etched across from where his heart should be, are two small stars.  Their lines are measured and precise.  Whoever put them there did so with care.  

“I know I’m not able to leave my own mark,” he says, almost shyly.  “But I want you all to know that I consider you my asterism.”

“Of course you’re part of our asterism,” Cole bursts.  “How could you not think that?  After all we’ve been through together?”

Nya draws him into a hug.  “You’re one of us,” she says simply.  She pulls back to look at him and her smile turns sly.  “Actually, I might have a way to fix that.”

Later that night, Nya dumps out a bag of supplies in their shared room.  “I’ve got needles and ink,” she declares, setting them upright together.  The last item is a small paring knife that Jay picks up immediately.  “And this .”

“Where did you get that?” hisses Cole.

“The kitchen, obviously,” says Nya with a roll of her eyes.  

“This seems slightly dangerous,” hazards Zane, but his eyes are shining.  

“No, we’re doing this,” Kai decides.

Jay brandishes the stolen kitchen knife with a wide grin.  

They can’t leave their stars on his skin.  But they can leave them someplace else.  

And they do.  The night is filled with whispered jokes and laughter, and when morning comes Zane has four new stars etched over top of his heart and they have the matching ones on their chests.  His smile shines brighter than the rising sun.  

They go about their business after that.  There’s more snakes, and dance competitions, and people turning into snakes because someone didn’t trust their clustermates enough to tell them, Jay.  When Nya shows them her sketches for a giant mech, they react enthusiastically because they’re equals on all fields, including the battle’s.  When Cole makes up with his father, they all feel his joy through their own marks.  

But for as perfect as they all mesh together, there’s something still missing.  Someone.  

The answer comes, from all places, in the form of one Lloyd Montgomery Garmadon.

Lloyd at first glance could easily be mistaken for a miniature black hole.  His hoodie is eternally flipped up, his pants hang over his black sneakers, and dark gloves cover even the exposed skin of his hands.  His mood constantly flip-flops, one moment snarky and rude, the next quiet and withdrawn.  He orbits their group, desperate for attention but withdrawing at the first sign of getting it.  

Kai’s chest aches when he looks at the kid.  

It’s not until the Fire Temple that he figures out why.

“It’s not worth it!” Nya screams.  “Kai, you idiot, we need to leave!  Now!”

“No!  I can do this!”

The volcano is falling to pieces around them.  The snakes have destabilized it in their bid to escape, and now the ground trembles with each chunk of stalactite plunging into the magma.  Kai races up the stairs.  Pebbles rain down on his head.  A wave of molten rock breaks against the wall.  

“This whole place is about to explode!”

“Then I better be quick!”

He can see the Fangblade now, clutched in Pythor’s scaly grip.  It’s all he sees as he throws his sword like a knife, by some miracle knocking the Fangblade loose and impaling it into the wall.  He’s so intent that he doesn’t notice the screams from the other side of the chamber, or Pythor escaping above him.  

What he does notice is the sudden burning of his mark.  Kai gasps out loud, hand clutching the material of his gi.  What’s happening?  He spins around wildly, concentration broken, searching for his clustermates in vain.  The Fire Temple is void of stars.  

“Kai!  Help me!”

Kai’s eyes lock on the small figure across the magma.  No, not void.  There’s one more star here, pleading with him with flushed cheeks and wide eyes.  

Something for Kai clicks.  

He abandons the Fangblade.  Lloyd squeaks as he spinjitzues across the magma, but Kai seizes the boy up in his arms and pulls him close.  Fire burns within him, hot and forceful with the need to protect.  “Hold on,” he shouts over the roar of the volcano.  “I’m getting us out of here.”

Lloyd’s bare hands, gloves burnt away, wrap around his neck. 

The warmth in Kai’s chest explodes.  Fire licks through his veins, burning him from the inside-out.  He holds onto Lloyd even as his eyes squeeze closed, even as the ground disappears from under his feet.  It feels like a bonfire has been lit in him, one that doesn’t plan to burn out any time soon.

They land on the Bounty, hands clutching tightly and tears streaming down their faces.  Kai sets Lloyd down gently to pull his gi to the side.  

A sixth star has appeared on his chest.  The lines connecting them all are dark and solid, arching up in a zigzag pattern from the one at the bottom- Lloyd’s.  Murmurs, then shouting, break out as their clustermates realize what’s happening and start vying to be the first to touch their newest and final member. 

Kai laughs and tugs Lloyd into a hug, everyone else falling into place with their gravitational pull.  

Their final star is here.