You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station — Chapter 9

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station. If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead to the next chapter.

"She was novel and exciting and knew things about snacks and cousins."
“She was novel and exciting and knew things about snacks and cousins.”

The walk across Crossroads Station from the docking section to the Xeno-Native Enclave takes about ten minutes if you’re moving quickly and of an average-sized species.  Anno knew that from years of being a teenager who’d go hang out at the docks after school before begrudgingly returning home to her crowded family quarters.  Back then, she’d been a lot younger, not pulling a suitcase, and not shepherding a litter of gawking, easily distracted five-year-olds.

Today, the walk took a lot longer, and somehow, they seemed to pass every food stall in the merchant’s quarter — more different food stalls than Anno remembered being there; more than she’d have thought could fit — and every single one of them seemed to have sweets on display.

Anno didn’t know how she and Drathur could possibly have dragged the kits past some of the mouth-watering displays of sugar and confectionary if Kya hadn’t chipped in and tantalized them all with vivid descriptions of the treats and snacks awaiting them in Clori’s quarters.

“You’re really good with kids,” Anno observed after Kya helped distract the kits from a s’rellick booth selling bright blue balls of glistening fruit-flavored sugar served on sticks.  The reptilian woman working the stall had looked disappointed to see a whole group — three adults and three children — manage to walk away without buying any of her wares.

“I have a knack for it,” Kya said, adjusting how Darso was sitting on her hip.  The little boy had conned Kya into carrying him and pulling his suitcase.  Both of the girls looked jealous, but Anno and Drathur had their own suitcases to pull.  They weren’t going to be carrying any children on this walk.

“And you get practice with these alleged cousins you were going to tell me about?” Anno prompted.

“Yes,” Kya agreed.  “Iko has a kid — a primatoid, just like her; they look so much alike she could’ve been cloned — and T’reska has three xeno-native children already, and another egg on the way to hatching right now.”

T’reska was the only cold-blooded member of the family — a s’rellick girl who seemed on the surface to be the least like their mother of any of them, but she’d always claimed her heart was more like Clori’s than anyone else’s.  Somehow, Anno wasn’t at all surprised that T’reska had joined the Xeno-Native Enclave as a mother already — it was a way to prove her similarity to Clori.

“Ma must love that,” Anno said drily.

“She does, yes,” Kya agreed.

Originally, the myrmecoidal matrons had begun by only working with mammalian mothers, but over the years — long before Anno’s family; generations before Anno’s family — they’d started including more and more different species, as long as they could find a way to grow the one inside the other.  And so the Xeno-Native Enclave had shifted to include egg-laying species like the reptilian s’rellick, so long as the individuals involved were willing to brood the eggs they laid, bonding with the growing baby inside, instead of abandoning them in a cave with a bunch of other eggs to all hatch together away from adult interference.

“What species are her kids?” Anno asked.

“Heffen, human, and Ululu,” Kya replied.

“Well, at least one of those belongs hatching out of an egg,” Anno said drily.

Anno’s closest sibling in age was an Ululu — her avian brother Lut with his long neck, white feathers, and broad wings.  They’d been close in more than age.  He’d been born like a mammal, since Clori was his mother, and like all the siblings, he’d finished gestating in her pouch, as Woaoo are marsupials.

Anno didn’t know if it did weird things to naturally egg-born people to be born in a more mammalian way — maybe they need the stillness and quiet of an egg to properly finish cooking?  But she definitely wondered and worried about whether mammalian babies were served poorly by missing out on being carried around inside their mothers’ bellies before being born.

Anno had felt close to her litter for months before they were actually born; she felt them moving inside her, and she knew they’d been listening.  All three of them would kick and move around when she’d played her favorite song at the time, like they were having a little gestational dance party, and then, after they were born, playing the same song had been the best way to get all three of them to stop crying at the same time.  She and Drathur would still turn that song on if they needed to cheer the kits up.

At another level, Anno knew she was being ridiculous — carrying her grudge against her mother to an unreasonable extreme.  There are so many different ways to have children, and so many different ways to love and support them.  Her issues with Clori had to do with the unwieldy size of their family and the way she’d neglected their cultural connections… not with anything as petty as her biology.

“T’reska is hoping the new baby, when it hatches, will prove to be a Woaoo like Ma,” Kya said.

Anno snorted.  “I bet she is.”

T’reska had always adored Clori beyond reason, beyond the normal level of a child loving their parent.  It had edged into a sort of hero worship, and it meant T’reska had spent a lot of time defending Clori whenever Anno had fought with her.

“Ma says she doesn’t care — that every species is precious and special in its own way — but I know she’s hoping it too.”  Kya’s ears skewed.  “She couldn’t admit to it — because it goes against everything in the enclave, the whole philosophy of Xeno-Nativity, but I see the look in her eyes when T’reska talks about the idea of there being a second Woaoo in the family.”

Anno heard a tone in Kya’s voice that was complicated — a crack or a wedge — something that meant the felinoid wasn’t quite sure how she felt about Xeno-Nativity.

Kya was younger than Anno by about six years, just enough that she was still probably finding her footing in the world.  And now that Kya was a girl, Anno wondered if Clori and T’reska were pressuring her to become a Xeno-Native mother too.  If the myrmecoidal matrons could mess with everyone’s biology enough to let Clori gestate an avian babe in her marsupial pouch and let T’reska lay eggs with a human and Heffen in them, then they’d have absolutely no problem putting whatever baby they felt like inside Kya’s belly, no matter what biology the felinoid had been born with.

“Is that all the cousins?” Darso asked, still nestled in Kya’s arms.

“Not exactly,” Kya said.  “Our brother Lut and his mates hatched a clutch of six eggs a couple years back, probably around the same time as you three were born, but they don’t live on the station anymore.  They have a nest out in the asteroid belt, so you won’t see them today, but we might be able to convince them to come visit later this week.”

“Convince them?” Anno asked, a quaver in her voice.  She and Lut had been very close… and then she’d disappeared for eight years.  She couldn’t blame him if he were mad at her and didn’t want to see her.

“How do we convince them?” Loi asked sweetly, skipping along beside Kya.  Both of the girls had fallen in step beside their felinoid aunt, trying to soak up as much information from her as possible.  She was novel and exciting and knew things about snacks and cousins.

“Well, we might take pictures of you playing with the cousins who are here today and send them to Lut, showing what a good time his own kids would have if he brought them,” Kya suggested.

“Okay!” all three kits shouted in chorus.

Anno laughed, and Kya winked.

“That’s a clever way to get the kits to cooperate with taking their pictures,” Drathur said admiringly.  He’d been the odd man out throughout the whole conversation, but he was taking it well.  He’d likely have a lot more of that ahead of him when they got to the Xeno-Native Enclave…

“You’re welcome,” Kya said, accepting the compliment.

“Kya’s always been clever,” Anno observed.  “It’s nice to see her putting her powers to use for the side of good.”

“You mean instead of annoying you?”  Kya’s eyes twinkled with mirth at her own certainty of her ability to get under Anno’s skin.

“Yes, I mean instead of annoying me.  Thank you.”

Continue on to Chapter 10

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