by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original, December 2020
The short, stout, furry alien stared out the starship’s curving bridge window at the star-studded black sky. His black fur blended into the sky like a shadow, but the blaze of white over his forehead stood out like a brand. His rounded ears splayed, and he curled his heavy claws into fists. “I don’t belong here,” he muttered, and the ship’s computer translated it. “None of my people do.”
The human and s’rellick scientists — smooth-skinned primatoids and scaly-green reptilians, respectively — conferred among themselves and then agreed to take the badger-like alien home to the surface of his world.
“Thank you,” the badger-like alien said, bowing his fuzzy head. Then he backed away from the yawning window, as if it were a portal that he could fall through and never land, floating forever, lost in the void of space. He backed into the nearest hallway and pressed his back against the firm wall, feeling its comforting solidity like an anchor.
Rerin watched him, wondering how the s’rellick and human scientists looked to him. Esoteric. Lofty. Out of touch. Strange scaly and naked gods of the sky. They seemed that way to her sometimes. She wasn’t one of them. She was the ship’s janitor — and, at least at a superficial level, she ought to look more familiar to the badger-like alien: black-and-gray fur, a fluffy ring-striped tail, and curved ears that showed her emotions in how they moved.
Right now, Rerin’s ears were perked forward with interest and curiosity. When she’d joined this mission, she’d expected the sentient races that the scientists discovered on their survey to be more excited by first contact with the outside universe. Instead, many of them were afraid, confused, or simply uninterested.
Rerin reached a paw out to the badger-like alien and rested it on his shoulder. He looked around to see her, and relief filled his shiny eyes. “It’s not only lizards and monkeys up here?” he said.
“There are all kinds of species up here,” Rerin said. “Even fish that fill their spaceships with water to breathe.”
The badger-like alien’s eyes twinkled with what seemed like laughter, but then he turned serious again. “That’s a relief. I was afraid…” He trailed off.
Rerin suspected that he didn’t even know what he was afraid of. Simply, his world had turned upside down in the last week, and suddenly the sky was filled with a larger, more powerful network of beings than lived in the tunnels and subterranean kingdoms of his home.
“Don’t give up on space,” Rerin said. “You may not feel like you belong up here, but there are wonders…” Now she trailed off, thinking about the disparate alien species who lived side-by-side on Crossroads Station and the glittering virgin worlds she’d seen on this ship as they searched for previously undiscovered sentient life. Her ring-striped tail swayed lazily from side to side as she lost herself in beautiful memories. “…so many wonders…”
“Treasure in the sky,” the badger-like alien said.
“Yes,” Rerin agreed, a grin splitting her fuzzy muzzle. She might be only the night janitor on this ship, but it still felt like she was on a voyage to collect treasure from where it had been hidden among the stars.
“I’ll try to convince my people to see it that way,” the badger-like alien said. “And maybe someday we’ll be comfortable joining you up here.”
But not today. Today, he intended to return to the safe warrens and splendid grottoes under the mountains on a world that had suddenly become small. There was treasure on his own world too, and for now, that was enough for him.
Let the treasure in the sky be a seed. Someday, it might bloom. For now, let it sleep above the mountains.