by Mary E. Lowd
The Lucky Boomerang stayed docked at the interstellar space station for more than a month before it was time to head home to Earth, bearing a treasure trove of new knowledge, strange goods, and even one of the translator parrots who wanted to come along.
Trugger and the mice had become regular customers at several of the food carts during their month-long visit, and Kipper learned about interstellar law. Most importantly, she learned that the humans running the space station — Crossroads Space Station — wouldn’t trade or deal with societies that didn’t afford equal rights to all their members. This meant, if dogs wanted to oppress cats and ban them from traveling to space, then these humans wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them.
Cats would be as free as dogs, if the dogs wanted humans to acknowledge them.
Kipper didn’t think that any other single fact had ever made her feel more vindicated in her entire life.
Communication between the crewmembers of The Lucky Boomerang and the many peoples of Crossroads Station had gotten easier when Obsidian uncovered an archive of ancient human movies on the space station’s computer systems, some of which overlapped with the ancient human movies that dog and cat archeologists had managed to recover over the years. And most importantly, the versions on the Crossroads Station database had subtitles, translating the old human languages (which cats and dogs already knew how to translate) into Solanese, the most commonly spoken language on the space station.
So, between the translation programs Obsidian was able to write and the parrots who chose to keep hanging out with the interesting new spaceship that had docked at their station, communication went from halting and uncertain to something that flowed as easily as a frisbee flying through the sky.
Or a boomerang.
But as much as Kipper reveled in the discoveries they were making — and Trugger and the mice seemed to want to live on Crossroads Station forever — they needed to take everything that they’d learned back home. She needed to return her crew to their families.
Kipper spoke with each member of her crew individually, feeling them out, before she declared it was time to go. And when it came down to it, the only crewmembers who wanted to stay behind were Nioli and Gy’krr. The bonded octopus-raptor pair had no place back in the solar system where they felt comfortable or needed, but here? They could be liaisons between two worlds — the complicated interstellar hub of Crossroads Station and their own relatively small, simple solar system.
Many of the dogs — President Truman, especially — back home would be furious with Kipper for leaving an octopus and raptor behind as their solar system’s representative diplomats. But those dogs could go to hell — their own personal hell of realizing that the humans out here were just people, living their own lives, and didn’t imbue a bunch of canines hundreds of lightyears away with an inalienable right to oppress the other animals around them.
Everyone else, when push came to shove, wanted to go home, even if some of them were more ready for it than others.
Amelia had spent many hours crying over the shattering of her religious beliefs. But Kipper had arranged for one of the humans who’d been teaching her about interstellar law — a kind one who didn’t entirely understand what had been explained to her about the dogs on Earth but who wanted to help — to come to The Lucky Boomerang and speak with Amelia for awhile.
Amelia had listened to the human talk about her life on Crossroads Station — the day to day minutia of being a human living a normal life for a human — and then the human, generously, had listened to Amelia’s own halting, sob-wracked words, as she processed the profound disappointment of her deity being no more godly than any other mundane person. The dog’s tears had dried up. She had found a way to cope with learning that her gods… were only human.
The human had even given Amelia a hug before leaving. The curly-furred dog had closed her brown eyes as tight as she could and absorbed all the warmth and love that she could find in that embrace. A human’s arms, wrapped around her body! A human! And her! And then… the moment was over. And Amelia resolved to move on.
Neither Sequoia nor Amelia planned to stay with The Lucky Boomerang after returning to Earth. The squirrel had been disappointed by the stars, nearly as badly as the dog had been disappointed by humans. They planned to go, together, back to Sequoia’s family home in Europe and find their bearings anew.
Sequoia hadn’t found what she’d been looking for in the stars — up close they weren’t as she had imagined them, weren’t friends waiting for her with their transcendent glow, weren’t acorns she could collect, weren’t deities anymore than humans were — but she’d found something else among them, something she might love even more. A funny, serious, kind of lost, curly-furred dog with a heart that burned like a star. A Good Dog, whether any humans ever said so or not.
And Yvette? She didn’t care about winning first place in any contests any more. She was surrounded by friends and work she loved, and an entire universe of possibilities. She planned to stay a crewmember of The Lucky Boomerang for a long time, and she hoped that would involve visiting Crossroads Station again soon.