Star Shy

“It’s completely safe!” Grant reassured the 14-year-old girl, his granddaughter. The scrawny bundle of bags shook her head; everything else shook. She wore a bulging green canvas backpack on her back with several colorful pouches clipped to its various zippers for more storage. A forest green messenger bag hung from her right shoulder and she carried a lime-green satchel with her left hand. She nodded at the sign.

“Transportation to another dimension? Really, grandpa?” She tried to inject teenage annoyance in her voice but her grandfather raised her. He could hear the fear in her words and smiled in return.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of these across the world, it’s only happened once,” he shrugged and put a hand on the straps on her shoulder. “And they came back fine, it was just an inconvenience.” He tugged at the straps. “Looks like you’re all set for any inconveniences that come our way. I’ve been through dozens of times, we’ll be fine. Besides,” Grant pointed at the bright red number painted on the wall behind the teleportation pad: 35. “I even picked your lucky number.” The girl rolled her eyes but nodded.

“Okay, so how does it work?”

“Just step on it and press the button. Everything goes black for a second and then when the lights come on your parents will be waiting for us.” The girl took a deep breath then hopped onto the black metal platform. She turned to face her grandfather but her eyes were closed.

“Ready!” she said.

“Alright,” Grant stepped on the pad next to her. The circular pad wasn’t much bigger than a small car, its limit was four at a time. White walls surrounded the back of the platform and came around to the front. Grant fed his tickets into a mechanical slot in the wall closest to him.

“Teleportation in five seconds,” a female voice said. “Four,” she continued the countdown second by second. At one Grant felt his granddaughter’s hand slip into his and he squeezed it. “Teleporting,”  the voice said. The lights in the room went out leaving everything pitch black. Suddenly light returned and Grant realized something was wrong. He held the girl’s hand tightly and tried to pull her closer to him without alerting her.

“Are we there yet?” she asked. She kept her eyes closed but Grant guessed she noticed there was light again.

“Not yet, keep your eyes closed, Cassie,” Grant said while he tried to figure out his next step. They stood in the middle of a large, white-marble hall. Marble pillars lined the sides, but the width of the hall reminded Grant of an eight-lane highway. He expected to see his daughter and son-in-law but saw no one. He did not hear the busy sounds of the teleportation station.

“What do you mean not yet? It’s supposed to be instant!” the girl opened her eyes. “Whoooooaaa,” she looked around at the gleaming stone floors and walls. “Are we in another dimension?”

“Not necessarily,” Grant said.

“Well, we haven’t been atomized and I still feel like I exist,” the girl replied with genuine sarcasm. Despite himself, Grant chuckled. “So how do we get back?” she asked. Grant shrugged. He was about to elaborate but he heard voices coming down the hall. He looked toward the sound and saw a group of kids, about his granddaughter’s age, turn a nearby corner and into the hall. They stopped as soon as they saw the pair. After a moment of processing the situation, a girl with pink hair broke off from the group and dashed toward Grant. The rest of the group trailed behind her at a slower pace.

“HI! Welcome!” The pink-haired girl waved and smiled at Cassie. She seemed unsure and took a step backward while Grant stepped in front of her.

“Hi, I’m Grant,” he said.

“I’m Jessie,” the girl introduced herself as the rest of the kids arrived: two boys and two girls. She pointed them out clockwise to introduce them too. “That’s Rana, Margo, Andy, and Mark.” Grant decided they seemed friendly enough. He nodded at each one as they were introduced, then stepped aside.

“This is my granddaughter Cassie.”  The girl gave the group a weak smile. “She’s kind of shy,” Grant added. “Where are we?” he asked to take the focus off her.

“This is the Star Academy. We get estrellas like…,” She looked at Grant and he caught a golden flash of light in her eyes. Then, she looked at Cassie with the same light. “…her all the time.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of the Star Academy, but it seems like a nice place. Can you help us get home?”

“I’ll do it!” Mark and Andy both volunteered in unison and stepped forward.

“Yeah, I’ll get you home right now,” Jessie said. Then, she cast a glance to the boys on her left with narrow, slitted eyes. “You guys have to train.” They sighed, groaned, and turned to leave without another word. Jessie extended her hand toward Grant.

“Think about your home and give me a handshake,” she said. Grant thought about his daughter waiting for him and shook the girl’s hand; he thought he saw a light purple pulse pass from his hand to hers.

“Got it,” she turned to the two girls. “Wanna visit?” she asked them. Rana and Margo both nodded. Jessie raised her hand slowly while keeping her eyes on Cassie. She waited until she had the girl’s attention then wiggled her fingers in the air. “By the way, you can learn this too,” she said while looking Cassie in the eyes. A tall black portal opened next to them. “You can come back here any time you want.”  Margo and Rana walked into the portal first to show them it was safe.

“Really?” Cassie asked with a loud whisper. Jessie nodded.

“As sure as your favorite number is 35,” Jessie winked.

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