‘. . . there are seven known types of Dying Will Flames in the known universe, and each has its own fascinating property: Hardening for Lightning, Tranquilizing for Rain, Disintegration for Storm, Activation for Sun, Propagation for Cloud, Construction for Mist and, lastly, Harmonization for Sky, which brings all other Flames together and forges metaphysical bonds that go beyond academic comprehension and are more alike to mysticism and magic than scientific. If even things on Earth are still unknown to humanity, it is therefore logical to assume that life on Earth is not, in fact, the only life out there, which brings up an important question: do aliens also possess Dying Will Flames or is it something uniquely found in humans?’
—excerpt from “Aliens? With My Flame-Type? It’s More Likely Than You Think,” an essay by Pidge Gunderson
It’s chilling hour in the dorm room of Hunk and Lance. It is a sacred hour (that can sometimes turn into multiple hours) where Lance and Hunk essentially do nothing after a long period of doing something. Two hours worth of physics homework due the next day? Redbull is consumed, coffee is inhaled, and what would have been two boring hours of homework is instead completed in a single epic hour. Following that victory, with the last dregs of energy, Lance and Hunk pull all the blankets and pillows off their beds (as well as any secret plush toys) and pile them on the floor. Netflix is them set up on one of their laptops and either an ocean documentary (Lance’s choice) or a Disney movie with cute and cuddly talking animals (Hunk’s choice) is chosen for mindless entertainment.
Lance and Hunk are amid a heated debate between Blackfish and Zootopia when they hear something crash in the hall outside their room.
“What was that?” Hunk asks in a whisper.
Lance waves a hand languidly and rolls onto his back. “Probably a raccoon. Don’t worry about it.”
Another crash is heard, followed by vehement swearing.
Lance raises his head. “Is that . . . Pidge?”
“Oh no,” Hunk says. “Not again.”
Lance gets to his feet and prods Hunk with a toe. “Come on, buddy,” he says. “Time to get up.”
“But it’s chill time,” Hunk says plaintively, “and Pidge is, like, never chill. And he’s been even worse ever since the whole flamenco thing came out—”
“Flamingo,” Lance corrects.
“They’re called Flames,” Pidge calls through the door. “Now could you two dummies come and help me before you get the attention of the whole floor with your obnoxiously loud voices?”
Lance opens the door and leans on the frame, arms and legs crossed and obviously trying to look cool. “If anybody is going to the one to alert the neighbours of your shenanigans, it’s going to be a certain Tweety Bird carrying double his weight in junk and dropping it in front of innocent people’s doors.”
Pidge looks at him blankly. “There is so much wrong with what just came out of your mouth that I don’t even know where to start.”
“Better to just ignore it,” Hunk says, peeking around Lance and yawning. “What are you doing anyway?”
“None of your business,” Pidge says.
“Uh, yeah it kind of is,” says Hunk. “We’ve seen you so now if you get in trouble and people find out that we didn’t stop whatever illegal thing you’re planning on doing then Lance and I would be taken in as accomplices and get in trouble too. May as well just tell us.”
“Well? You heard the man,” Lance says. “Start talking.”
Pidge looks at them and sighs. Sulkily, he tells them, “I was planning to plant a bomb in Iverson’s office.”
“A BOMB?!” Hunk shrieks.
Lance slaps his hands over Hunk’s mouth. “Shush! We don’t say B-O-M-B in a government facility unless what proceeds it is ‘da,’” Lance hisses, then slowly removes his hands.
“DA BOMB?!” Hunk shrieks.
Lance pats him on the shoulder. “Good job.”
“Oh my God,” Pidge says, rolling his eyes. “You guys are so dramatic. It’s just a paint bomb.”
“Phew,” Hunk says, his whole frame sagging in relief. “On your way, then.”
“We’re coming with,” says Lance. He's already putting on his shoes.
“What? No!” Hunk cries. “I don't want to bomb Iverson’s office!”
“It’s a paint bomb,” Pidge reiterates.
“It's still a bomb!”
“Pidge, you stay there for a sec,” Lance says authoritatively.
“You can't order me around,” says Pidge.
“It'll just be a moment, promise.”
“Whatever. I need to sort out my stuff again anyway.”
“Thanks,” Lance says, then pulls Hunk back into their room and shuts the door.
Immediately, Hunk says, “I don't want to plant a bomb, Lance.”
“Okay, one: boring. Two: it's only a prank, no need to get so worked up. And three: if we don't go with Pidge he’ll get caught. That boy has no chill and is way too mouthy with Iverson to not be on some special Garrison watch list. He needs us there to keep him from doing something even more stupid.”
“So you admit the bomb is stupid!” Hunk says.
Lance drags a hand down his face. “Not the point Hunk.”
“I know,” Hunk says. He frowns thoughtfully before groaning, and says, “You’re right.”
Lance grins. “I'm always right.”
Hunk scoffs. “You definitely aren't.”
They go back into the hallway. Pidge is standing there, all his gear packed away and staring at them while looking distinctly unimpressed.
“I can hear you guys through the door, you know,” he says.
“Uh, no you can't,” Lance says.
“Uh, yes I can,” Pidge says mockingly.
“No you can’t. Know why? Because I said so,” Lance says triumphantly.
“Nice save,” says Hunk.
“You guys aren't coming with me. After I plant the bomb, I have . . . something else I need to do.”
“Oh? And what's that?” Lance asks.
“Probably his girlfriend,” Hunk says casually.
Lance cackles. “Dude,” he says, wheezing.
“What?” says Hunk. “What’s so funny?”
“You said that the ‘something else’ that Pidge needs to ‘do’ is his girlfriend.”
Hunk blushes. “I-I-I just meant, like, a secret date or a call or something.”
Lance shakes his head, still chuckling. Softly, he repeats with the highest respect, “Dude.”
“My point is,” Pidge interrupts loudly, “that I don't want you guys there, so go away.”
“Yeah, no. Too bad, so sad. Sorry, not happening,” Lance says. He inspects his manicured nails for imperfections. “May as well resign yourself to our presence.”
Pidge makes an inarticulate noise of frustration. “Can't you just mind your own business and leave me alone?!”
Hunk steps forward and puts both hands on Pidge’s shoulders. “Look, how about Lance and I tag along for the bomb part, but leave afterwards so you can do your . . . something else by yourself. Would that be okay?”
Pidge visibly relaxes. “You're doing that Rain thing where you calm me down again.”
Hunk lifts his hands up and chuckles nervously. “Not on purpose,” he says, looking shifty.
“Fine,” says Pidge, “you guys can help me bomb Iverson, but after that you're leaving me alone.”
“Deal,” Lance says, sticking out a hand and smiling smarmily.
Taking Lance’s hand, Pidge already looks like he’s regretting it.
Getting into Iverson’s office is the easiest part. Things get slightly dicier after that – mostly because Pidge and Lance get into an argument.
“Why do I have to be the lookout?” Lance demands. “Nobody wants to be the lookout. It’s the most boring role!”
“Look, you’re the one who wanted to come in the first place,” Pidge says. “This is my idea, my plan, and we’re doing it my way. If you don’t like it, you can go back to your room.”
“But why can’t Hunk be the lookout for once?” Lance whines.
“Because Hunk is the one who won’t mess everything up,” Pidge snaps.
“Hey now,” Hunk says nervously, eyes darting to Iverson’s open door every other second, “let’s just calm down and get this done. Lance? Can you please watch the door? If Iverson or another teacher comes along, you’re way better at stalling and talking your way out of things, so it only makes sense for you to be the lookout. And Pidge, Lance totally knows how to make paint bombs. His older siblings and middle school teachers would definitely back me up on that.”
Pidge and Lance are silent.
“Fine,” Lance says finally. “But you guys better hurry. If Iverson’s the one to spot me, I won’t be able to stall for long. That guy hates me.” He turns away and takes his standard lookout position under the frame of the open door. Behind him, he can hear Hunk and Pidge getting the supplies ready.
“Have you already broken up the dry ice?” Hunk whispers.
“Of course,” Pidge hisses like a cat whose tail is being stepped on. “What do you take me for? A noob?”
Lance slowly scans the hallway, right to left, back and forth.
“Why do you have so many bottles? We won’t be able to get them all set up and get away before one of them blows!”
“It’ll work,” Pidge says stubbornly.
“It won’t,” Hunk wails quietly. “It won’t work with two of us. How were you going to do it by yourself?”
“Are you a noob?”
“Pidge, you have five bottles!”
“Then we just won’t use all of them! Jeez. . . .”
“Uh-oh,” Lance says.
“Uh-oh? What uh-oh? I don’t like it when you say uh-oh,” Hunk frets.
“Iverson incoming,” Lance reports. “Coming from left field, walking in step with a potential civilian casualty.”
“Stop trying to talk in code and do your job!” Pidge orders. “And be quiet Hunk! You’ll give us away!”
Hunk and Pidge go quiet just as Iverson spies Lance. He starts to walk more purposefully towards Lance, forcing his companion to catch up.
“McClain!” Iverson barks, eyes squinted in suspicion. “What are you doing loitering outside my office?”
Lance clasps his hands behind him, tilts his head innocently, and grins. “Waiting for you, of course, Mr. Iverson. I wanted to ask you something important,” he says. “It’s actually really lucky that Mr. Sawada is with you too, ‘cause it actually involves my late Flame essay.”
Mr. Yoshisato Sawada, a mixed Japanese-Italian-American man, raises an eyebrow. “Oh?” he says. “You mean the essay that was due last Wednesday?”
“The very same,” says Lance. “I seem to have lost my only copy, so I’m retracing my steps and trying to find it.”
“Uh-huh,” Mr. Sawada says.
“That doesn’t explain to me why you’re out past curfew, McClain, or outside my office,” Iverson says harshly.
“I wanted to ask you if I could look for it in your office Mr. Iverson, in case I might have dropped it the last time you called me in for reprimanding,” Lance says. He’s mentally patting himself on the back for his A+ bullshitting skills. “And Mr. Sawada told me that if he didn’t have my essay in his hands by the end of today, then I would get a zero. He also said that he would be very disappointed in me, and I always hate disappointing my favourite teacher.”
“Uh- . . . huh,” Mr. Sawada says. He’s probably thinking back to last Wednesday when, right at the beginning of class, he collected the class’s essays – including Lance’s.
Behind his back, Lance makes frantic gestures with his hands and hopes that Hunk and Pidge get the message to hurry up.
“So . . .” Lance says, cold sweat beginning to break out across his forehead. “Can I search your office Mr. Iverson?”
“No,” Iverson says, swift and immediate. “And tomorrow you have detention with me for staying out past curfew. Now get out of my sight, McClain.”
“But Mr. Iverson—”
“Out of my sight!”
Lance glances over his shoulder, sees Hunk and Pidge’s wide eyes, the dry ice shards primed to drop and bottle caps ready to be screwed on, and mouths, On three.
“You’re right, Mr. Iverson.”
“Sorry Mr. Iverson.”
Lance skips jauntily past Iverson and Mr. Sawada, drawing their eyes with the incongruity.
Creeping out of Iverson’s office with haste, thinly shrouded in Lance’s Mist Flames and going in the opposite direction as Lance, were Hunk and Pidge.
Lance, Pidge, and Hunk start running.
The three of them meet up in front of Hunk and Lance’s dorm room, hysterical with laughter. Whenever they start to calm down, they remember Iverson’s scream of rage echoing down the halls, nipping at their heels as they ran, and acting like an extra dose of adrenaline.
By the time they have all calmed down, Hunk is leaning heavily against the wall, Pidge is nearly brought to his knees, and Lance is sprawled on the floor.
“That was great,” Lance says.
“I thought I was going to die,” Hunk says.
“Iverson’s not even activated his Flames,” Pidge scoffs. “There’s no way he could kill you.”
“I don’t know,” Lance says. “My older sister hasn’t activated hers and I’m pretty sure she could murder me with her pinkie finger.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re a toothpick. I could kill you with pinkie finger.”
It’s Lance’s turn to scoff. “As if, midget.”
“Hey,” Hunk says in concern. “Lance, Iverson is going to think you’re the one to prank him because you were outside his office. You’ll get in trouble.”
Lance shrugs. “I figured,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Lance. . .” Pidge says.
Lance laughs lightheartedly. “Seriously,” he says, and sits up to pat Pidge on the head. “Iverson would’ve found some other excuse to punish me anyway, so it’s not a big deal.”
Pidge looks down. Quietly, he says, “Thanks.”
“No problem, midget,” Lance says. “Now, didn’t you say you had something you wanted to be doing now?”
Pidge looks up. “Right,” he says, mouth set with determination. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“See ya,” Lance calls out to Pidge’s retreating figure.
“And now,” Hunk says, with great feeling, “it’s back to chilling hour.”
“We’re following him,” Lance says, still looking in the direction that Pidge disappeared to.
“Not again,” Hunk complains.