The Promise of New Heffe

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Exploring New Places, July 2018

“Her people had lived in borrowed, rented corners of human space stations for Jeaunia’s entire adult life. Finally, they would have a world of their own.”

The evacuation of Heffe VIII occurred when Jeaunia was only a pup.  Her memories of waiting in the long lines on the hot spaceport tarmac were dim.  She did remember playing games with her cousins on the crowded flight to Crossroads Station afterward, and she thought she could remember the view of the swollen Heffen sun through the spaceship’s rear windows.  She couldn’t be sure, though.  The bloody smear of red giant sunlight in her memories could have been a fabrication.  She had been very young.

Jeaunia’s entire body felt light when she saw the news flashing across the vid screens above the embassy offices — Expansionist Government Grants Deed for Type 1 Planet to the Confederacy of Heffen Refugees!  Her paw pads rested firmly on the cool floor of Crossroads Station’s refugee district, but she couldn’t feel them anymore.  Her people had lived in borrowed, rented corners of human space stations for Jeaunia’s entire adult life.  Finally, they would have a world of their own.  A new world.  With a young, yellow sun.

Jeaunia padded the rest of her way to work in a daze.  She wrapped her arms tight around herself, as if she could hold on tight to the feeling inside:  her people would have a planet again.  Forests.  Savannahs.  Real homes.

The glass-paneled door to the daycare where Jeaunia worked required a key-badge to open.  It kept the pups inside from getting out, and it kept unauthorized adults from getting in.  Jeaunia looked through the glass of the door.  The wriggly Heffen pups ran wild on the other side, and her co-worker Aga looked back at her.  Aga waved and started speaking to Jeaunia before the door even finished sliding shut behind her.

“So…” Aga said.  “Will you move there?”  Her flop-tipped ears kept twitching on the top of her head, catching the sounds of pups rough-housing and playing throughout the room.  It was hard to have a coherent conversation while working, but it made the workers crazy when they didn’t even try.

“Well… yeah,” Jeaunia said.  She grabbed a smock to throw over her clothes and fur.  It wouldn’t entirely stop the pups from getting food and paint in the long fur of her white ruff and orange mane, but it would limit the damage.

Aga always had an easier time with the pups that way — her fur was short.  She was ethnically Golan instead of Petriezski, meaning her muzzle was flatter and her fur much shorter than Jeaunia’s.  Apparently, back before the exodus of Heffe VIII, Golan had been underprivileged minorities.  That hadn’t remained true among the refugees on Crossroads Station.  Losing their planet had been a great equalizer.

“Really?” Aga said, wrinkling her already flat nose.  “You’ll be… like a pioneer.”  A pup crawled on Aga’s lap and grabbed one of her ears.  “Living in the wilderness.”

Jeaunia barked a laugh.  “It won’t be that bad,” she said.  “The government’s been planning this for years.  Since practically before we moved away from Heffe.  I’m sure, they’ll have the infrastructure in place in no time.”

Aga nodded solemnly, considering that.  Well, as solemnly as she could with the pup on her lap pulling her ears, mimicking her nod, and whining, “I want to paint, I want to paint” at her.  Aga stood up and walked the pup over to an easel.  “I’ve been following the news reports all day,” she said.  “Well, whenever I can.”

Aga might have been following the reports all day, but Jeaunia had been listening to her family plan and scheme about their future lives on a hypothetical New Heffe for most of her life.  Several of her littermates would probably join the building teams that would be the first to set out.  She’d have to say goodbye to them soon.

“I still don’t see what the big deal is,” Aga said.  “Trees?  Land?”  She shrugged.  They’d had this argument before.  Many times.  Jeaunia had always kind of thought that if Aga hadn’t known she was planning to move away to New Heffe some day, the Golan woman would have asked her out.  As it was, there was no future for them together, so instead Aga just flirtingly teased her.  “If you want trees, there’s always the arboretum.”

“Speaking of which…” Jeaunia tilted her head toward the corner of the nursery closest to the arboretum, wordlessly asking if they should take the pups there.

“Oh, right.  But, no, we’ll just go to the playground today.  The arboretum’s too hard on a day this busy.”  Aga looked around the room, tallying the pups up.  “We’re still four short.  We’ll go when they get here.”

Jeaunia nodded, absently gathering up a few stray robo-toys the pups had left whirring away on the floor.  She was standing in a small, enclosed room on a giant, rotating space station, surrounded by the vast emptiness of dark, black space.  In her heart, however, she remembered a forest, green with trees and shrubs, ripe with juicy berries ready for the picking, and echoing with the happy shrieks of her littermates and cousins playing chase among the towering tree trunks.

How could she explain that?  Aga had been a city pup before the exodus.  Gleaming metal walls that partitioned off the limited domesticated patches of wilderness, keeping all the trees trapped inside tiny bubbles of arboretum — that was normal to her.  Maybe Aga didn’t belong on New Heffe.  But Jeaunia’s heart had been reaching ineffectually toward it — not knowing the exact shape or look of what it reached for, except that it would stand in for the world she’d lost — since she’d first set paw on Crossroads Station.  What was the possibility of one romantic relationship compared to a whole homeworld?

“Yeah,” Jeaunia said.  “I’m definitely going.”  She placed a paw lightly on Aga’s shoulder, twitching her claws just enough to catch her friends’ attention.  “Will you visit?”

Aga looked uncertain.  Of course, her expression might have had more to do with trying to fend off a pup wielding a paintbrush full of chameleo-paint.  “Interstellar flights are expensive…” she said.  And relationships stretched across solar systems untenable.

Before Aga could say anything more, a harried Heffen mother showed up at the glass door, four pups clinging to her.  One held each paw, another was clinging to her knees, and the final one had hold of her bushy tail.  Jeaunia helped the woman divest herself of her litter.  She was a nanny herself, so she’d be spending the day watching a different child.  A privileged child in the human quarter.  A single human child watched by a single Heffen nanny, as opposed to the entire roomful of bouncing Heffen pups, crowded together under the watchful but overworked eyes of Jeaunia and Aga.

As soon as the mother was gone, Aga handed around wristlets.  The youngest pups needed help snapping them on, but the older litters were used to the routine.  Within minutes, Jeaunia and Aga were out the sliding door and walking down the hallways of Crossroads Station with a whirlwind of pups skittering around them.  The wristlets exerted a gentle electro-magnetic force toward the master-wristlets Jeaunia and Aga wore, keeping the pups from straying far, but the entire walk was still an exercise in controlled chaos.

At the playground, Jeaunia adjusted the settings on her wristlet, expanding the field so the pups had the full run of the colorful jungle gyms and artificial gravity pockets.  She sat down beside Aga on a bench at the perimeter of the wide, bubble-ceilinged room, and suddenly her pendant computer began to buzz.  She flipped open the faux-locket case and looked at the messages streaming across the glowing screen, all of them from members of her big, messy family.

“What’s wrong?” Aga asked.

Jeaunia’s eyes must have betrayed her concern.  “I’m not sure,” she said, glancing rapidly between the locket screen and the gaggle of pups she was responsible for watching.  The pups were more important — several of them looked like they would be whimpering for help with a particularly erratic grav-pocket momentarily — but the messages definitely had her worried.

Jeaunia shut the locket case and silenced the still-buzzing computer.  “Some of my cousins are angry,” she said.  “Something about houses on New Heffe?  I don’t have time to read it now…”

As she spoke, both she and Aga saw one of the littlest pups get stuck in a gravity whirl.  Aga ran to help him.  Soon, Jeaunia found herself sucked into helping the pups in their play as well.  The afternoon passed quickly and slowly at once.  There was no time for anything but pups’ concerns:  who was playing the bouncy mount first; who pushed whom into the grav-pocket; who wanted to go home; and who missed their mums and dads.

Jeaunia was exhausted, as always, by the time she tightened the electro-magnetic field flowing from her wristlet.  She watched the pups follow their wrists, reluctantly at first but more willingly as the pull grew stronger, toward her and Aga.  She noticed something odd:  there was a human, sitting on a bench at the far side of the park.  A male with his arms crossed and his body leaned back.  He looked harmless, but it was strange to see a human in the Heffen section of Crossroads Station, at least, one who wasn’t buying food at one of the Golan booths.  Spicy Golan confections had proved quite popular among the dominant species on Crossroads Station and was one of the main sources of Heffen income there.

After the playground, the pups were tired.  Jeaunia and Aga put the littlest ones down for a nap, and the older ones read interactive stories on their own until snack time.  Then they all played singing games together until, litter by litter, their parents came to pick them up.

All the while, Jeaunia worried over the messages in her locket.  The pendant buzzed until she had to turn it off.  When the final litter of pups were gone, she reopened the pendant computer.  Messages streamed across the screen, all loading at once, all jumbled and out of order, too many and too fast to make sense.

“Your cousins are still angry?” Aga asked.

“I’d better get to my mom’s quarters,” Jeaunia said.  “Besker is threatening never to speak to… someone? …again.  I think there’s some sort of family meeting happening.  Or maybe it already happened…”

Jeaunia looked helplessly at the mess of a nursery, robo-toys strewn everywhere, carpet covered in crumbs.

“Go on,” Aga said.  “I’ll clean up.  But you better make it up to me tomorrow.”

Jeaunia swished her tail, dipped her ears, and said, “Thanks!”  Then she was out the doors, rushing through the  alleyways of merchant stands in the main ring of Crossroads Station toward the inner ring filled with individual living quarters.  From the messages, she wasn’t completely sure whether she should head to her mother’s quarters or her aunt’s…  They were at different ends of the Heffen section, twenty minutes apart by tramavator.  She decided to start with her mother’s quarters.  Those were close enough to walk to.  If no one was there, she could still catch a tramavator car to Aunt Kally’s.

Outside the door to her mother’s quarters, Jeaunia heard muffled yelling.  A male voice — probably her cousin Besker — and her mother’s voice barked at each other.  Reluctantly, Jeaunia reached her paw to the door and opened it.  The yelling stopped.  She peeked in.

Besker’s long black fur was rumpled and wild.  His eyes glared.  He stood over Jeaunia’s mother who sat in a chair, looking determinedly at a holo-painting of the old family estate hanging on the wall — blue-leafed trees surrounded a red-stone building.  She was studiously avoiding Besker’s glare.

“You’re ruining all of our lives,” Besker barked.

Jeaunia’s mother hunched her shoulders a little more.  Her ears were already flat.  She still wouldn’t look at him, and she didn’t say anything.

Finally, Besker huffed and turned away from his aunt.  He looked Jeaunia up and down before speaking to her.  His tone was eerily different when he did, much softer.  “We’re having a big celebration in Ma’s quarters.  You’re welcome to join us.”  He looked back at Jeaunia’s mother, and his tone turned cold again:  “You’re not.”

Besker stomped out of the quarters.  The rumpled black fur of his mane and tail made him look like a storm cloud.  A moment after the front door slammed behind Besker, another door opened.  Jeaunia’s littermate Bala peeked her muzzle out of their mother’s bedroom and said, “He’s gone?”  She looked around to be sure and then came out.  Her fur was a pale gold, and her mane much shorter than Besker’s.  “Thank heaven.  He’s such a brute.  I won’t miss him at all.”

Bala continued talking about how much she’d always disliked Besker.  Their mother continued staring at the holo-painting on the wall.  The blue leaves in the painting shimmered, moving gently as if in a wind.  Mother’s shoulders began shaking, and Jeaunia realized that she was silently sobbing, tears matting the fur under her eyes.

Jeaunia’s head was spinning.  “What is going on?”

“It’s my money,” their mother said, still looking at the painting.  Her gaze moved over the scene of trees and paths around the central red-stone building.  She was actually looking at the painting now instead of merely staring at it.  It seemed to give her strength.  She turned to look at her daughters, half of her litter.  “When you were newborn pups, my parents divided their estate.  They gave the land and the home I’d grown up in to my sister.  It broke my heart for them to give it away — I loved it so much.  But I was alone with a litter to raise.  I couldn’t care for a place like that.”

When Jeaunia and her littermates were pups, they’d lived in an apartment in the city.  They’d visited their cousins on the family estate, but they hadn’t lived there.  Jeaunia remembered their apartment, but her heart had been at their cousins’ home.  She understood how her mother felt.

Her mother continued, “But I needed the money.  They gave her the land; they gave me and Peff the equivalent money.  Peff spent hers on buying another piece of land.  I kept ours in the bank.”

Jeaunia realized that she knew where this was going.  “Wait, are you saying that you still have that money?  Money equivalent to the value of the entire property that the family estate was on?”  All kinds of emotions screamed inside Jeaunia’s chest.  But one question rang out above the others:  “Why have we been so poor if you have that much money?!”

Her mother looked her steadily in the eye.  Her ears stood tall.  “It’s Heffen money, Nia.  It’s no good on Crossroads Station.”

“But it’ll be worth a whole lot on New Heffe, I bet,” Bala said.  Her muzzle split into a grin, and her ears flicked.

“Yes,” their mother said.  She didn’t look happy, just determined.

“That’s why Besker’s mad?” Jeaunia asked, still figuring it all out.  “Does he…  I mean…”  She couldn’t figure it out.  “Why would that make him mad?”

Mother shrugged.

Bala said, “He wants the money.”

That incited their mother to speak. “No, he wants his old life on Heffe VIII back.  He doesn’t see why anything should change.”

Jeaunia could understand that.  Even though it had been years ago, she still wanted that life back too.  She’d been looking forward to reconstructing it on New Heffe.  She wasn’t sure why extra money in the family should be a problem.  She wasn’t sure why they weren’t all celebrating at Aunt Kally’s right now.

“But everything has changed,” Mother continued.  “And it’s not my responsibility to coddle my sisters’ grown-up pups.  If Besker wants a large estate in a prime location on New Heffe, he can work for it.  Just like I worked to care for you two and your brothers when I was younger.  Now, I’m getting the reward.”  Mother’s head tilted up, pointing her muzzle into the air.  She looked proud.  More than proud — haughty.

Jeaunia could see how Besker would find such an attitude hard to take.  Her mother was always irritating when she got this way.  “What do you mean, ‘large estate in a prime location’?” Jeaunia asked.

Bala’s brushy tail began swishing wildly behind her, and their mother got up.  She went over to the computer console and called up a rotating hologram of New Heffe — blue oceans and gold continents, frosted with white swirls of cloud — in place of the painting of the old family estate on Heffe VIII.  It was the same image Jeaunia had seen on every holo-screen today.

Mother zoomed the image in, and one of the gold continents grew and expanded until it took over the entire scene.  As the golden continent grew closer, blue snakes of river appeared.  Greener and ruddier patches appeared.  The gold took on the mottled texture of forests seen from above.  Angular gray shapes appeared amidst the trees.  Finally, the image was magnified enough to see that the angular gray shapes were streets and buildings.  Whole networks of cities.

“Is this from a photograph?” Jeaunia asked.  “They can’t have built these cities already.”

“This is an artists’ rendition,” Mother said.  “But it’s from blueprints that have been under development for years.”  She sounded really excited.  She held out a paw and pointed a single dull claw at a corner of the hologram.  “That’s my estate.”

Jeaunia peered at the angular splotch of gray surrounded by blotchy gold.  It was near a spider’s web of gray intersections.  But not too near.  It looked like it was a comfortable distance from a very big city.

It didn’t look anything like the memory of space and air beneath the branches of the trees on Old Heffe that Jeaunia carried inside her heart.  But, then, a zoomed out artists’ rendition of her old home might not look much like home to Jeaunia either.  She tried to feel excited.  She mostly felt confused and conflicted.  “You’ve already picked where to live?  Isn’t that what everyone else is doing at Aunt Kally’s right now?”

Mother shrugged again, nose still held high.

“Aren’t we all going to live near each other?” Jeaunia asked.

“I can’t help what choices others make,” Mother said.  She turned the hologram off.  The screen went dark.  No rendition of New Heffe; no painting of Heffe VIII.

Jeaunia stared at the dark screen, trying not to feel the same blank darkness inside.  This wasn’t going how she’d expected.  Or how she’d planned.

“Mom’s giving me an advance on my inheritance,” Bala said.  “So, Mekal and I are going to buy a place in the city near her estate.  That way we can take our pups out to visit all the time.  Like we used to visit Aunt Kally’s when we were pups.”

“I’d give you an advance as well, Nia,” Mother said, tilting her head to the side, looking at her daughter closely.  “I’m giving advances to both of your brothers and their families.  Or, since you’re still alone, you could live with me, help me care for my estate.  I’d pay you.”

The holo-screen was still dark, but Jeaunia pointed to where the spider’s web of city lines had been.  “Would I need an advance to afford to live in that city?”

“The capital?” Mother asked.  “Probably.”

Now it all made sense.  Jeaunia didn’t feel dark inside anymore.  Just cold.  “What about Aunt Kally and our cousins?  Where will they live?”

“Wherever they want,” Mother said.  Then she revised her statement, “Wherever they can afford.  They’re welcome to visit.”  Suddenly, she looked small and sad.  She looked away from Jeaunia.  “Somehow, I don’t think they’ll want to.”

The coldness in Jeaunia’s chest clenched and tightened.  She felt angry with her mother but also angry at her aunt and cousins.  They should all be discussing this together.  They should all be celebrating!  Jeaunia clenched her paw into a fist and slammed it into the wall beside the dark, empty holo-screen.

Bala’s muzzle gaped open.  She stared at Jeaunia, stunned.  “What’s wrong with you?  You just found out that you’re rich, and we have a new world to live on.  My pups don’t have to grow up on this station.  They’ll get to run free in Mother’s estate.  You can even live on her estate.  We’re all better off than we were this morning.”

“Not all of us,” Jeaunia muttered, turning away.  She stomped to the door, claws clicking angrily against the floor.  “I’m going to Aunt Kally’s,” she shouted without turning back to look at them.  She flattened her ears, refusing to listen to anything her mother or sister said as she stormed through the door.

Except Jeaunia didn’t go to Aunt Kally’s.  She walked to the tramavator, even waited for a tram car to come.  But she didn’t take it.  She watched the tram car fill with other Heffens and a few avian and reptilian aliens, but she didn’t get on.  She watched the doors slide shut, and the tram car pulled away.

Jeaunia walked the corridors of the station, seeing the shadow of her orange-furred body reflected dully in the metal walls.  Her blurry reflection followed her as she wandered aimlessly, unwilling to go back to her mother and sister; yet unable to go be with her aunt and cousins instead.

She knew that if she went to be with her cousins, she’d get swept away in their plans.  They were surely voting and negotiating and arguing over where to buy homesteads on New Heffe.  Except it wouldn’t be near the homesteads of her own mother and litter.  She didn’t want to choose which part of her family to be near.  She liked it here — everyone was close.  Why did that have to change?

But then she imagined trees and open air instead of metal corridors, closing her in.  To hell with them all!  Jeaunia wished that the swollen red giant of a sun that had scorched Aunt Kally’s land had burned her mother’s money as well.

She hadn’t been rich this morning; she didn’t want to be rich now.  She wanted to be surrounded by her family.  But she didn’t want to hear Besker say that Mother should split the money between them all, that Mother was being selfish, that Mother was ruining the family.  And she knew he’d say those things.  Aunt Kally would agree, and her other cousins too.

They were the ones being selfish.  It was Mother’s money.  Except why wouldn’t Mother just give it to them?  Money was nothing next to family.

Except…  Why should she have to?

Did they all value money more than each other?

Jeaunia’s wandering paws brought her back to the playground where she and Aga had brought the nursery pups earlier.  She sat on the same bench where her locket computer had buzzed incessantly at her all afternoon, and she stared at the empty play equipment — brightly colored climbing structures and shimmers in the air, giving the tell-tale sign of grav-fluctuations.

The empty playground made her think of Old Heffe.  The planet was still there, baked and broiled by a swollen sun.  No one on it.

After a while, Jeaunia noticed that the human man was still sitting on the far side of the playground, staring at the empty equipment much as she had been.  When he noticed her staring at him, he smiled, a weak turn of his primate lips.  He looked sad and tired, like she felt.  Jeaunia smiled back, and the human man gestured at the space on the bench beside him, inviting her to come over and sit beside him.

Jeaunia’s ears flicked back, uncertain, but then the human man shrugged in such an unguarded, innocuous way that she decided she could use the company.  Her tail swished behind her as she crossed the playground to sit beside him.  When she sat with a comfortable amount of empty space between them, her tail curled around her side primly.

“What do you think of the images of New Heffe?” the human man asked.

Jeaunia narrowed her eyes at the human, trying to figure out why he cared.  “It’s beautiful,” she said.

He nodded, but his lower lip pouted out.  He still didn’t look happy.  “I lived on Heffe for, oh, about seven or eight years,” he said.  Then he looked at her, like he was sizing her up.  “You must have been a puppy when…”

“Yes,” she agreed.  Neither of them wanted to refer directly to the evacuation of Heffe VIII.  “I guess you lived there about as long as I did.”  She laughed at the realization.  “What do you think?  Does it look as beautiful as the Heffe you remember?”

Together, they stared at the image of a blue, gold, and green world, slowly turning on the vid screens.

“No,” he said.  “But memory does funny things to a place.  Makes it glow.”

Jeaunia turned her gaze back to the human man and tilted her head to the side.  He looked old; he had the wrinkles on his face that naked-skinned species got when they aged.  His head fur was thin, wispy, and gray.  He’d have been an adult when he lived on Heffe.  He’d seen it through an adult’s eyes.  “What brought you to Heffe VIII?” she asked.  “My understanding is that there weren’t a lot of out-worlders who lived there…”  It was strange to talk to an alien man who might know as much — or more — about her homeworld as she did.  And he had the knowledge from a different angle than all the stories she’d heard from her mother and aunt.

The human frowned now and titled his head down, like he didn’t want to answer the question.  Eventually, he reluctantly said, “I was a solar physicist at Wespirtech, young and arrogant.  The Petriezski government hired me as a consultant.”

Jeaunia looked away from the human.  Tears threatened to well up in her eyes.  She looked upward and held her eyes wide, trying to stop them.  But she couldn’t stop her ears from flattening atop her head.  “You’re one of the scientists who accelerated the sun’s expansion.”

“I was part of the team, yes.”  He stuck a hand out.  “My name’s Alan.”

Jeaunia didn’t take the human’s hand in her paw, and he let it fall back into his lap.  She intended to glare at him.  He shouldn’t take his role in the past so lightly.  He shouldn’t dodge his responsibility for how things had unfolded.  Their sun, a red giant, had been dying, but they’d have had another hundred years or so.  Or maybe it was a thousand?  Jeaunia wasn’t actually sure.  She hadn’t studied the science.  But she knew their sun’s death had been slow, and after the Wespirtech scientists had tried their experiments, the expansion happened much faster.

Yet, as she watched the human’s face, she could see he wasn’t dodging responsibility.  He was simply having a conversation, years after the fact.  A conversation that he didn’t have to have.  Honestly, she was surprised he still cared about Heffe at all.  Still, she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Have you blown any other suns up since then?”

“I don’t do physics anymore,” the human said.  “I stopped after… that.”

Jeaunia nodded curtly, but she kept sitting beside Alan.

“I was trying to help…” Alan said weakly.  “It wasn’t supposed to…”

“I don’t care,” Jeaunia cut him off.  She didn’t want to listen to his guilt.  Still, it intrigued her that he looked so consumed by it.  The more she thought about it, she realized she’d seen Alan around the Heffen sections of Crossroads Station before, buying Golan food, attending plays put on by the Heffen Actors’ Guild, and watching the pups on the playgrounds.

“Are you planning to go to New Heffe?” she asked him suddenly.

“Oh, no, no,” Alan said, clearly uncomfortable with the question.  He probably thought he wouldn’t be welcome there.  And he might not be.  Even so, Jeaunia wasn’t sure how welcome he felt here.

“Are you sure?” she asked.  “I feel like I’ve seen you around the Heffen parts of the station a lot.”

Alan didn’t have anything to say to that, and their conversation awkwardly petered out.  Eventually, he excused himself and hurried away from the playground, heading in the direction of the more human parts of the station.

Jeaunia watched him go, and she wondered how old he’d been when he came to Heffe VIII as an arrogant, young scientist.  Possibly the age that she was now.  And yet, his life seemed to be as consumed by the destruction of her homeworld — her species’ cradle in the universe and her own personal childhood — as her own life.

Jeaunia’s pendant computer buzzed again, and she opened the locket to see more messages from her cousins.  “Where are you?”  “Are you coming?”  “We don’t want to start making choices without you…”  Except, of course, they would.

And they should.

“Go ahead,” Jeaunia messaged back.  “I’ll be there shortly, but you don’t have to wait.”

In response, she was barraged with messages asking, “Are you sure???”  But she’d already told them what to expect from her.

Jeaunia took her time strolling through the metal corridors of Crossroads Station.  By the time she arrived Aunt Kally’s quarters, the small front room was packed full of her relatives — everyone except her own mother and sister — and they were all arguing heatedly, passionately, but civilly about several different cities planned for the northern end of one of the gold-green continents of New Heffe.  One was closer to an ocean.  Another was cheaper.  Yet a third sounded like it was likely to have a powerful art scene — many actors, musicians, and writers were already planning to buy lots there.

Jeaunia sat cross-legged on the floor, like one of the pups she’d watched all afternoon, and listened to the animated arguments rage back and forth.  These were the people who’d be on New Heffe — adults with their own lives, not the young cousins she remembered playing with among the trees.

One of her cousin’s pups, a boy named Ojo, came peeking out from Aunt Kally’s bedroom where the rest of his litter was probably playing games.  He scurried into the middle of the room and crawled into Jeaunia’s lap.

The little boy turned his muzzle up close enough that she could feel the breath from his nose on her ear.  He whispered, “Are we really all leaving?  This is my home.  I don’t want to leave Crossroads Station.”

Jeaunia squeezed Ojo around his fuzzy middle.  “Don’t you want a new home?  Don’t you want to live surrounded by trees and grassy plains?  With a big blue sky above you?” she whispered back.

Ojo shook his head fiercely.  “There are trees in the arboretum.  And I don’t want some stupid blue sky blocking out the stars.  Or for the gravity to be the same everywhere.  So boring!”

Jeaunia wanted to laugh, but instead she nodded solemnly.  This was where he’d grown up.  For Ojo, leaving Crossroads Station because his parents decided to move away wasn’t all that different from when she’d had to leave Old Heffe.

“Tell you what,” she whispered back.  “What if I stay here, and you can come visit me when you’re older?”

Ojo didn’t answer right away, and Jeaunia realized the room had fallen silent around them.  All of her cousins and her Aunt Kally were watching her.  They’d heard what she’d said to the pup.

Besker asked, “You’re not moving to New Heffe?”

Jeaunia tried to speak, but all her words got tangled up.  She hadn’t really thought this through yet, but she already had a whole room full of family looking at her expectantly, waiting for her to sort her life out to their liking.  It might not be so bad to have some distance from them.  Her friend Aga had been telling her that for years, but she’d been too afraid to listen.  This was her family.

“Of course she’s moving to New Heffe,” Aunt Kally said to all the others.  Her tone superior.  “She’s just trying to make Ojo feel better.”

The presumptuousness of Aunt Kally’s statement made Jeaunia angry, but she felt too tired to argue.  She didn’t want to explain herself or her uncertainty to everyone here.  None of them would understand — they were worried about big things like where to raise their pups and long-standing feuds over inheritances.  Jeaunia didn’t want to pick sides.  She simply wanted to spend time with all of them.

But that wasn’t going to happen — here or on New Heffe.  They’d all been too busy for her for a long time now.

She thought about Alan, still consumed by a disaster that had happened to someone else’s world, trapped in the past.  She didn’t want her life to be defined by a disaster in the past.  And truly, it hadn’t been.  She was happy here.  The promise of New Heffe had always been tantalizing, but it hadn’t stopped her from enjoying her life.  It hadn’t stopped her from spending time with Aga while they worked.

Then she thought about Ojo — and all the pups she watched at the daycare with Aga every day — and how they’d never lived on a planet.  Only here.  On Crossroads Station.  To them, a space station was enough.  It was home.  And it was beautiful.

Maybe Jeaunia hadn’t been looking forward to the promise of a new world so much as she’d been looking back, missing her childhood.  But her childhood was over, and a new planet wouldn’t bring it back.  A new planet wouldn’t make her cousins young again; wouldn’t erase their arguments and differing priorities; wouldn’t make life easy.

“I can’t make you and Mama get along with each other,” Jeaunia told her aunt.  “And I can’t make her give you her money.  But I do know that I don’t want to be in the middle of it.  I have a life here.  Maybe when you’re all settled, I’ll come visit.  Maybe I’ll even want to stay.  But for now?  No, I’m not moving to New Heffe.  And maybe not ever.”

Jeaunia gave Ojo another squeeze and then eased him off of her lap.  She left Aunt Kally’s quarters before any of them could figure out what to say.

Jeaunia walked back through the halls of Crossroads Station to her own quarters.  Her quarters might not be filled with trees or surrounded by grasslands.  But they were her own small rooms, filled with the pieces of her own life.  And she was looking forward to waking up in the morning and telling Aga she was going to stay.  They hadn’t talked about it earlier, because Jeaunia knew it would have been too hard.  Maybe tomorrow, Jeaunia would finally ask her out.  Maybe she’d take her some flowers, too.

And maybe when Jeaunia did go visit her family on New Heffe, Aga would come along, and they could visit their people’s new homeworld together.  For now, though, it was time to get serious about her life on Crossroads Station, instead of waiting for an imaginary future.

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