Excerpt: Of Kindred and Stardust

If ever there was a time to strip and run through the space station naked, today would’ve been it.

Gods, the thought of it loosened more than one of the stubborn knots in my shoulders. Liberty just by shucking my pants and then some… Not really the homecoming I’d been expecting, but the looks of sheer horror could hold me over for a while if I tried it. At least until I got back from Earth. After that, everyday boring Dath Bellin would return to business, all plants and data, pretending like he didn’t make a run for public indecency. But once—just once—this Dath Bellin wanted to be reckless, throw care to the wind, and scream, “I’m home, baby!” in all the ways no one saw coming.

Fuck, it’d been a long four years.

Snickering at the lapse in thought, I continued down the long, brightly lit corridor, fingertips tracing the bright white and gunmetal grey wall. Staff bustled past me in both directions, some of them engrossed in conversation, their snug black uniform jackets with the robin’s-egg blue and white crossroad patches of ECHO-Crosspoint Space Station welcoming me home. Others rushed towards the lifts with tablets and mugs in hand, likely on their way to the cafeteria down on deck four for a quick lunch before returning to their offices. Most of them ignored my star-struck daze, the occasional brow quirked at how I caressed the lukewarm metal wall, loving the soft pulse and hum of electric wires beneath the surface. I was one shiny control panel away from trying to jack myself into the systems to get at everything I’d missed.

Never thought I’d be so sick of living in my own damn ship, but hey, the day was here.

Not even the day. The year. A whole fourth year.

Why did I agree to this mission to begin with?

I’d been asking myself the same question since the day I left, the answer as lost to me as the parts of my ship, the Sleipnir, that got ripped off during our intra-galactic exploration. Plants, I’ve kept telling myself. I went for the plants and stayed for the tourism. The last four years had put my training to the test, stretching my astrobiology PhD to its fullest with more of the universe than my memory could ever hang onto. I’d always wanted to work among the stars, and the mission to the Alpha Centauri solar system had launched entire new worlds at me, forcing me to rethink every classification I thought I knew and reconsider the meaning of life—if it really was forty-two, because the hell if I knew anything more than how small I was in the grand scheme of things. I fell in love out there, even with the planets we barely made it off of and the pre-flight check prayers that ended in, “Shit, shit, shit! Not another bloody fucking incident report.

But as much as the mission made all my nerdy botanist dreams come true in galactic brilliance and failed alien bug spray, being back at Crosspoint warmed my heart with the fuzziest damn bunnies. Some of it may have been the pot of coffee I’d practically inhaled in the med bay after arrival. It may have even been being away from the rest of my team, allowing me to think without distractions or wondering if we’d return with the whole five-person crew without befalling a disaster of natural or close-and-way-too-personal proportions. Or maybe it was as simple as considering the station home and wanting to plaster myself to its spaciousness and the fact that it was stationary ish.

In any event, here it was, right where we’d left it in Mars’ orbit: thirty decks of space-proofed tin can thanks to ECHO Causroy-Belforte Limited and the relatively new multi-national Milky Way Space Agency. Crosspoint itself was still a baby—only seven Earth years into the project that needed to last for decades longer—but it was worth calling home away from home. Though that was part of the point, to be honest: for more people to call this home. Most of us at the station conducted research, especially on the inter-planetary level, with hopes we’d get a similar station built out by Jupiter. But Crosspoint was more than that: it was a multi-purpose facility, acting as part of an evacuation plan for Earth, a refuge from war, environmental disaster, and any catastrophe thrown at our beloved blue ball, especially if it turned out we could no longer live on Earth’s surface in the future. Crosspoint was the lifeboat of lifeboats orbiting in wait.

And one very colourful lifeboat at that.

Damn, what had people done at the station on New Year’s Eve? Raise a Party God incarnate?

Stopping outside of one staff lounge, I poked my head inside, raising a brow at the trailing red and green streamers still hanging off one of the long steel tables across the room. And glitter, more fucking glitter, stuck on the floor and chairs, content to lay in glistening splendour thanks to the white lights above. I’d been finding the silver and gold specks throughout the corridors, almost as bad as the random clumps of rainbow-coloured cake sprinkles I was certain some space-born Hansel and Gretel had dropped on their way through, drunk as anything.

I didn’t know what I’d expected in the wee hours of the morning… night… whatever time we hit the docking bay, but it wasn’t all this cheer. Honestly, I’d forgotten what day it was, focused more on getting back, dumping the remains of my gear in my room, and picking up the pieces of my life—whatever was left of it. But roaming the halls, taking in the scents, sounds, and feels… I was ringing in 2099 with the fading echoes of good times and unapologetic joy, clinging to the leftovers that didn’t quite want to let go: confetti, empty bottles, and stains on couches I didn’t question.

I was just sad I’d missed it all.

Next year, I promised myself, retreating into the hallway. I still had an entire four years to digest mentally, uncertain as to how I truly felt about them. My emotions felt like they’d been stuck on tumble dry for a decade, bashing my thoughts around like rocks stuck in the cycle, dinging off every bit of machine until it looked as battered as my ship.

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