The Crowds on Crossroads Station

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, July 2017

“He knew he’d out-stepped his place, but he was suddenly very excited about seeing the insides of Crossroads Station.”

Roscoe’s velvety nose twitched, but his long ears stood tall in spite of his jittery nerves.  The view of Crossroads Station on the viewscreen was intimidating:  three concentric wheels, rotating in alternating directions, each one lined with rows after row of glowing windows.  Shuttle pods and star cruisers of all designs were docked on the outer ring.

Roscoe had never felt small before.  Well, certainly, he was literally small — only half the height of High Royal Quejon whom he served, but then all the members of his race of uplifted lapines were smaller than the grand elven primates who’d uplifted them.

Still!  Roscoe served a High Royal!  And the court he served on was the foremost in their solar system!  Except now Roscoe realized, for the first time, what it meant when High Royal Quejon talked about an entire galaxy of other solar systems…

“Can you establish contact?” High Royal Quejon asked from her throne-like passenger seat in their — suddenly small-seeming — two-man spacecraft.  It was a top-of-the-line model in their own solar system.

Roscoe worked the controls and managed to pull up a video display on the viewscreen of a brightly-colored, broad-shouldered, mechanical biped.  “Welcome to Crossroads Station,” it said.  “Would you like to be assigned a docking port?”

Roscoe glanced over his shoulder to see High Royal Quejon frowning her slender lips.  “I thought this was a human station,” she said.  “Why am I talking to a robot?”

The colorful metal man said, “Crossroads Station is technically a terran outpost, yes.  However, many species live and work here.  Right now, I’m working the dock assignments.  Would you like one?”

“Yes,” Roscoe said, eagerly.  He knew he’d out-stepped his place, but he was suddenly very excited about seeing the insides of Crossroads Station.  So, he accepted the robot’s docking assignment, and once the video communication was turned off, he listened obsequiously to High Royal Quejon’s reprimands while carefully docking the ship.

High Royal Quejon agreed that the best plan at this point was to board the station and seek out the leaders of the human government in person.  After finishing the docking procedures, the two of them debarked their small ship’s airlock.

On the other side, an entirely new kind of world opened up to Roscoe.  Giant curved windows far above Roscoe’s tall ears let him see the inner wheels of the station rotating in the star-studded sky.  All around him, crowds and throngs of various aliens milled and lumbered and strolled and charged about.  Some were feathered, others scaled, and many had fur like him.  The tallest alien he could see had a long, curving neck and feathered wing-like arms.  The most common type, though, were about twice Roscoe’s height with angular muzzles, triangular ears, and ruddy red fur.

The only aliens that interested High Royal Quejon though were the primatoids that looked like shorter, thicker versions of herself.  She pointed at one of them and said, “There, that one’s a human.”  She looked down at Roscoe and added, “Go arrange a diplomatic meeting for me.”

Roscoe hopped over to the human and said nervously in the Solanese he’d learned for the occasion, “Excuse me, but I serve the High Royal Quejon of Ourouri System.  We’re here to make diplomatic connections with the Human Expansion.”

The human gave Roscoe a quizzical look.  He recognized it as quizzical, because the human really did look a lot like High Royal Quejon, except for rounder ears, broader features, and a shock of fur on top of its head.  Also, looking at the human closer, Roscoe realized that its skin was truly bare; High Royal Qujon’s skin was covered with a fine downy fur.

“I’m just a tourist,” the human said.  “So, I don’t know my way around either.  Good luck though.”

Roscoe watched the human amble off, just one of the crowd, no more or less important than the feathered, scaled, and furred aliens all around.  Then Roscoe looked back at the ruler he’d been serving his entire life.  Her posture was stiff and awkward.  Her long jeweled robes looked out of place.  She was lost here.

But for once, Roscoe felt right at home.  He knew better than to wave goodbye as he disappeared into the crowds on Crossroads Station.

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