The sun had gone down a few minutes ago and the world outside Connor's window was growing increasingly dark behind the glow of the city lights. Connor sat on his bed, datapad resting on his knees and a mound of pillows behind his back, his favorite stuffed animal – a floppy eared dog that had been with him for his entire eight years – tucked beside him.
The app for the Ancient dictionary his mom and Dr. Jackson had compiled was open on the datapad. Connor had been seeing these symbols his whole life, and his mom had always tried to explain what they meant and teach him and his little sister certain words or phrases, which meant he had a pretty decent feel for the language, but last month she had finally agreed to start giving him proper lessons. In anticipation of the next session, Connor was skimming through the dictionary, with its Ancient text followed by an English transliteration and a definition.
He flicked through the digital pages, sounding out words as he went, rolling the vowels and consonants around in his mouth as if searching for a particular taste. He went faster the further along in the alphabet he went, ignoring vast sections of text. He was skipping through the 'O' section at a rapid pace when a word happened to catch his eye, startling him with its familiarity.
"Optusus," he read. Heh. It sort of sounded like 'octopus.' "Optusus," he repeated, turning his attention to the definition. Fun to say too.
"Optusus, adjective," he read aloud. "The condition of being highly pleasing, fantastic, awe-inspiring or amazing."
Connor leaned back against his pillows, pondering. He repeated the Ancient word and a wicked smile crossed his face. "Hey, Em!" he called.
"What?" she bellowed back from her bedroom across the hall.
"You're the most optusus sister ever!"
"What?!" There was a scrambling sound and Emily appeared at his door, glaring at him with all her six year old might. "Did you just call me stupid?"
Connor grinned. "No, I called you optusus."
Emily ran down the hall towards the living room, shouting. "Mom! Connor just said I'm stupid!"
Ugh. Sisters. Way to ruin a perfectly good joke. "I did not!" he bellowed, levering himself off the bed and following her, ready to defend himself.
Emily had planted herself in front of their parents, who were lounging on the couch.
"What is it, sweetie?" asked their mom with a sigh.
"Connor called me something mean."
"I did not!"
"Connor, hold on," said Elizabeth, raising a finger. "Emily, what did he say?"
"He said I was ob– op-tissues or something like that."
Elizabeth looked bewildered and raised an eyebrow. "Obtuse?" she offered.
"Man, I knew the kid had a good vocabulary for eight, but geesh," said their dad.
"Not helping," muttered Elizabeth, shooting her husband a look. "Connor," she said, fixing her eyes on him with that awful Mom Stare that you couldn't look away from. "What did you call your sister?"
"I didn't call her stupid."
"Connor." There was that warning note in her voice, also scary and inescapable.
Connor sighed. "I said she was the most optusus sister ever."
"Optus..." Elizabeth mouthed, the end of the word trailing off into silence as she started laughing, propping her head in her hand.
"Wait, doesn't that mean...?" began John.
Elizabeth nodded, still laughing.
"What?" demanded Emily. "What does it mean?"
Connor took his mom's laughter as a good sign. "Awesome," he piped in, smiling, proud to know something Emily didn't. "It means awesome." His dad looked at him with a peculiar smile on his face and Connor suddenly found the outline of his bare feet on the carpet very interesting. Everyone knew it wasn't cool to get caught complimenting your sister.
"Oh," said Emily. She looked confused for a moment, her little lips quirked into a frown and her eyebrows raised. "Op–tu–sus," she repeated slowly. "Awesome." Her frown became a smile. "Optusus!" she shouted, throwing her arms in the air. She began dancing around the room chanting the word, her dark curls bouncing as she wiggled. She looked so happy that Connor joined in, waving his arms and sing-song-ing the new word. They started pointing at things around the room – from the couch to the windows and paintings – and calling them optusus.
"Okay, okay!" said John, laughing as he stood up. "We get the picture."
Emily bounced up and down as she turned in a circle. "... and my mom and my dad and my–" She squealed as John picked her up and held her upside down by her legs.
"How about this?" he said, grinning. "Is this optusus?"
Emily cackled. "Daddy!" she cried in mock protest.
"What about this?" said Elizabeth, and Connor felt a pair of arms grab him, pull him onto the couch and start tickling him.
"Mom!" He squirmed, laughing until his ribs hurt.
John flipped Emily upright and set her on her feet, where she promptly collapsed into a giggling heap on the floor. Connor wriggled out of his mother's lap and flopped onto the floor next to his little sister. Emily pushed a curtain of hair out of her face and smiled angelically at him. "And my brother."
Six years later
"Alright, we're moving into position!" came the voice over the com.
The crowd gathered in the observation deck moved to the ship's viewport and a crewman finished handing out the special glasses. Connor and Emily shuffled after them, wedging between their friends at the railing, which was positioned just in front of the room-spanning window.
"This is going to be good," said Rachel, biting her lip with excitement, her tinted glasses already in place. Emily replied in agreement and reached for her own glasses perched on top of her head. She had seen similar sights before, but never with a view this expansive; the view-screen of a jumper was tiny by comparison.
Emily craned her neck to look out the window. Star-splattered blackness gaped bottomless and infinite beneath them, a fact that made Emily glad of Connor's shoulder pressed against hers, even though the view around and above them was much the same. Somehow reminding herself that there was no up or down in space didn't help.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please ensure that your glasses are firmly in place and please... do not remove them until we have safely exited the viewing area."
A murmur of excitement ran through the crowd, followed by gasps of delight as the first streaks of color became visible. Not only were the glasses meant to protect the passengers' eyes from the intense light to come, but they were equipped with false-color filters that made the viewing possible, bringing the gases into the visible spectrum.
Wispy and delicate swaths of cloud tinted in a pastel rainbow of colors gradually thickened into voluminous swirls of brighter hues as the ship's arc angled the observation deck closer to the nebulae. Emily felt her lips part in amazement at the riot of gold and green, purple, red and blue, all in dozens of shades and glowing like she'd never seen them among the darker tones of dust and matter. Toward the center of the great cloud the light grew brighter and another round of exclamations filled the deck. Rachel leaned as far as she could over the railing, her mouth hanging open. A shiver of awe ran through Emily straight to her core. Stars were being born. Burning brilliant ingots of light, shining through the roiling haze of cloud, nestled deep, growing in the heart of their gaseous furnace. They beamed, incandescent with a newness that took Emily's breath away, though she knew these infant stars were still eons old compared to her.
Her hand found Connor's, seeking some human contact in the face of such overwhelming, humbling spectacle. "Way, way optusus," she murmured.
"Practically the definition," he whispered back.
Emily nudged her brother's shoulder and he returned the gesture as they grinned at each other and turned back to watch the nebula swirl and stars grow up.
A.N: Thanks for reading! :)