by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, September 2017
The little lapine aliens hopped into the bar, one after the other, noses twitching and long ears swiveling. Narchi had never seen their species in the All Alien Cafe before, and all of a sudden, here were a dozen.
Narchi’s heavy hunched shoulders straightened a little at the sight of the group of them. There was something comforting about how they moved together, leaning in to whisper one to the other, all a part of a little herd.
Narchi was a herd alien. At least, she had been. Then those naked-skinned primates and reptilian scientists had come to her homeworld, talking about all the sparkling wonders of the universe, and she couldn’t resist. So, she’d hitched a ride and found herself here on Crossroads Station, fifty lightyears from home, and unable to pay for a ride back.
And, sure, it was sparkling out here. There were sentient alien versions of just about every living thing that there’d been back home — right down to the flowers and trees. It was amazing to walk up to a sentient tree, introduce yourself, and then be ignored because the sentient tree had other things to do than talk to a sentient buffalo. It was also painfully lonely. And depressing.
So, Narchi had settled into a pattern of hauling cargo crates around all day — she had the strong back for it — and drinking her loneliness away at the All Alien Cafe while watching the crowds walk by at night. Eventually, she’d earn enough to commission a starhopper to take her back home. Of course, she was sure that if she ever got home to her space-travel world, it would feel small and claustrophobic now, cut off from the smorgasbord of cultures up here in the sky.
So, she tried every drink on the menu once, ate at every little food stand in the merchant quarter, and tried to get to know as many of the aliens around as would make time for her. She wanted to absorb it all.
To that end, Narchi got up from the bar, carrying her bright-orange drink, and went over to the table with the little lapines. They were sitting in a circle, chattering rapidly to each other, but they all quieted down when Narchi loomed over them with her broad shoulders covered in thick, curly, brown fur and her massive head topped with sharp crescent horns.
“May I join you?” Narchi asked.
The little lapines looked at one another, glances darting back and forth, noses twitching furiously, until all of them came to a sort of consensus — all eyes turned to look at the same lapine whose tall ears suddenly drooped, realizing he’d been elected their leader. He looked up at Narchi and said, “We’re having a sort of family conference, you see. Otherwise–”
Narchi waited no further. She grabbed a chair from a neighboring table and shoved her way in to the family gathering of rabbit aliens. “I love family conferences,” she said, her voice coming out as a much too loud and low bellow. “My family is a long ways away, and I don’t get to see them anymore. What are you conferencing about?”
The lapine who’d been elected leader raised one ear to a half-mast flop, intrigued by the big buffalo alien’s surprising gregariousness. “We’re trying to make a plan for where to live.”
“We just got here!” another lapine piped in.
“We need quarters for nearly a hundred,” offered another.
Narchi blinked at the dozen rabbit aliens around her. “A hundred?” she asked.
“Oh, we’re just the heads-of-family,” the unofficial leader said. “The others are over at the nearest playground, letting the kits play, but it’s going to be awfully crowded trying to cram a hundred of us into my quarters tonight.”
“Your quarters?” Narchi felt a little dizzy talking to these rabbit aliens. They talked a lot faster than her own people. Still, it was awfully nice to be talking to a big family. If she pictured their long ears as horns, they were almost like little versions of her own people.
“Yes,” the leader explained. “See, I’ve been living here for a while, but I only recently saved enough money to fly home and bring the rest of my family out.”
Now that made sense to Narchi! Except for the part where his family had willingly come with him… She didn’t think anyone else on her homeworld was interested in traveling into space. No matter how interesting it was up here.
Suddenly, though, all the little rabbit aliens began flooding Narchi with stories of their trip and the conditions they’d left on their homeworld. Apparently, unlike Narchi’s people, they hadn’t evolved on their own, they’d been uplifted by a race of primatoids that enslaved them. Crazy primates. Always causing trouble.
“Look,” Narchi said, her bellowing voice breaking into the cacophony of chattering lapines, “it’s not much, but if some of you would like to crash in my quarters for a while, you’d be more than welcome.”
Twitching noses. And silence.
Embarrassed by her unguarded and unprompted offer, Narchi bellowed on, “I know two sets of quarters won’t house a hundred, but it’ll come a lot closer than one set. Besides, I think they assigned me bigger than usual quarters here. Cause I’m big. But I don’t need the space. In fact, it’s kind of lonely.”
Looks passed among the rabbit aliens, and the twitching noses slowed. Finally, the unofficially elected leader held a small paw out and said, “My name’s Roscoe. And I think you’ve just found yourself a new family for a while.”
Narchi’s wide muzzle split into a grin, and she imagined her crescent horns standing taller with pride like the little lapine’s ears could. “Believe me,” she said, taking the lapine’s tiny paw in her broad, hoof-like hand and squeezing it ever so gently, “It’s my honor.”