This page contains:
- Disregard for personal autonomy
- Body transformation
- Mental health issues
- Trans misgendering or other transphobic depictions
When Jenea and I sneak out to the observation deck of the SSE Patroclus after lights-out, I think he’s going to kiss me, but instead he waits until I’m distracted by the stars and tells me he set himself on fire.
I tear my gaze from the outer edges of the Milky Way swirling beyond the meter-thick glass of the spaceship’s hull. Jenea is curled up on the bench beside me, barefoot and pale, watching the glimmering spread of the galaxy like him not meeting my eyes makes this any easier to swallow.
All I can manage is, “What?” I heard him fine, but what else is there? I’m sorry? If it makes you feel any better, the other patients had no idea?
If it makes you feel any better, the other patients kind of figured?
He tugs at a strand of his hair, which has grown long since he arrived on the ship. It was spared by the fire for the most part. The worst burns are below the neck, though some crawl up his jaw and cheeks like an exquisite figurine dripping melted wax. He’s gone through a few reconstructive surgeries—most patients on the SSE Patroclus do, “quality of life procedures” the doctors call them—and his caseworker had been about to schedule him for another when he put his foot down: no more. So the caseworker, balancing the tenets of Do No Harm with the snarling boy in front of them, postponed the procedure a month to see if he’d “come to his senses.”
I know Jenea. He never will. That’s why I love him.
Eventually, Jenea says, “Have you heard of Caeneus? The transgender Greek hero?”
I have, vaguely. I’m not sure where he’s going with it but I’ll take any excuse to hear him talk; any excuse to stay here just a little bit longer. I say, “No, I don’t think so.”
“He was born Caenis,” he says, voice soft and raspy and low. “Beautiful maiden, all that mess. Then he caught the attention of Poseidon, who assaulted him and gave him one wish in return. So he wished to have the body of a man so nothing like that would ever happen again.” He sniffs absently, picking at a bandage. “Then he became a warrior or something. I can’t remember.”
I open my mouth to say something like, There’s so much wrong with that I don’t know where to start. As if having a body assigned male at birth stops terrible things from happening. As if having a body assigned female at birth can’t be a man’s body.
But I understand Caeneus’s reasoning. The impulse of it. Because if the bastards of Xiollion wanted to sponsor my top surgery in return for what they did to me, I wouldn’t turn them down. It’d certainly be easier than this.
I wish I could shove all these thoughts away and kiss him.
A month before I met Jenea, field medics from the SSE Patroclus dragged my body off Xiollion, a small moon of the gas giant Corsynus V. When the triage nurse saw me, she didn’t quite scream, but she did throw up. Pictures of me that day are kept in the ship’s files, sent back to Earth to be used in my captors’ eventual war crimes tribunals. I once cracked the ship’s computer to find the photos. I was confused at first. I thought I’d gotten the wrong file, maybe a close-up of ground meat.
My caseworker explained that I’d been lucky—lucky I’d relearned how to walk so quickly, that it only took a few “quality of life procedures” to make me a working citizen again, that I was the only survivor of the Xiollion laboratories on the SSE Patroclus. I never really felt lucky, I guess, until the medics brought Jenea on board at our next stop.
It’s fascinating, what a person looks like without skin.
Fascinating what war can do to people like us.
The SSE Patroclus is a Blessing-class hospital ship. Its job is to sweep through the backwater systems of the Milky Way and clean up the mess the war made. The living are stitched back together, the dead are packaged away for inspection, and it’s off to the next system, the next set of corpses and almost-corpses, as many planets and as many rounds as it takes.
I draw tally marks on the wall beside my bunk in the youth dormitory. According to projections, we can hit two more systems before we reach capacity and have to head back to Earth. That means I have about three months left on the ship, give or take.
The best time to bring up top surgery was a long time ago. The next best time is now.
I have a check-up every other week, just like everybody else. I strip down to my boxers and binder in the exam room and the doctor checks every scar, takes my vitals, makes sure my replacement organs are running the way they should. She presses her thumb into my temple like she’s trying to see if pressure will make the new part of my face cave in. My caseworker sits in the corner because there is no such thing as privacy on the SSE Patroclus. I can’t see my file on her tablet, but I know what it says because I stole a few documents yesterday to check my request went through:
DOB: 15 Dec 2282 (age 17)
Medications: Testosterone cypionate, 0.3mL/wk, 2 others [expand list ➤]
Notes: Patient request made
I think about Jenea’s face lit up by starlight on the observation deck; his hair falling across his face; his lips curving around the words as he described Caeneus’s single wish.
“So,” my caseworker says. “What’s this about a request?”
The doctor finishes and I squirm back into my shirt. “I want to talk about top surgery.”
My caseworker pulls a face. I can’t quite tell what it is, but I don’t like it. “As in, gender confirmation surgery? A mastectomy?”
“Yeah, whatever you want to call it.” I know the rules: under Earth medical jurisdiction, top surgery is available at age seventeen as long as it’s signed off by a guardian and medical professional. I know it’s covered as an essential expense. I know people fought for it to be covered for centuries before I was born. I know I have a right to it. “Not here on the ship or anything like that. Just the signatures for when we’re back on Earth, when I’m off your hands.”
My caseworker and the doctor exchange a glance. Something is said between them in the silence that makes me feel like a small child listening to his parents having a tense, terrible conversation about him outside his bedroom door.
“We’ll look at the results of this physical,” my caseworker says, “and consider it.”
Consider is a bad word on this ship. I open my mouth to say something, anything—my last physical was fine, I’m fine, I promise—but the light above the doctor’s door flashes, signaling the end of my exam, and the caseworker and I are ushered out to the waiting room.
“It’s just—” I say weakly as the intercom calls out a patient number. Someone gets up and disappears into the line of exam rooms. “This is really important to me.”
My caseworker doesn’t look up from her tablet. “I’m sure it is.”
I don’t know why I ever try to explain it. Cis people never understand—existing two inches to the left of your body, having to cut out the past seventeen years with a knife to keep from crying when you look in the mirror, wanting to scream you tried to fix me but you didn’t fix me RIGHT. All cis people ever do is say your screaming is getting annoying, it can’t be that bad; if you’re still alive it can’t be that terrible, can it? Don’t you know how lucky you are to have a body at all, in a war like this?
I look for Jenea in the crowd but don’t see him.
Nobody has secrets here. We keep to ourselves—we know who’s new by who mumbles in apology every time they get a sideways glance, who makes excuses for their bodies, who still screams in their sleep—but if someone asks, we’re honest. So when Jenea asks me what happened on Xiollion, I tell him.
We’re deep in the starship’s garden this time, taking a walk because it’s the closest thing we can get to running away, right after the intercom calls for all youth patients to return to our dormitories. The tinny voice promises punishments for those caught wandering after lights-out.
“What are they going to do,” Jenea says flatly, picking at the spot where two of his fingers fused together in the flames. “Push us out the airlock?”
The SSE Patroclus is on its way to the Endrimia system, where we’d been told there was some kind of experimentation ring. Looking at the description, I can’t tell it apart from Xiollion at all. Maybe that’s why Jenea’s asking. Or maybe he doesn’t see the connection, and he’s just curious. Like friends tend to be, about each other.
“I was a test subject,” I tell him under a sprawling oak with drooping limbs. “Military augmentation division. You know, not enough time to properly test bionics before grafting them onto soldiers, so you use the next best thing.” The next best thing: the undesirable citizens. If I wouldn’t help the war effort by choice, they were going to make me help by force. What good is having a hacker on your side if he spits in your face every time you look his way? “I still have one, actually. Guess which of my eyes isn’t real.”
Under the oak tree, Jenea leans in. His expression is dull and incurious but his own eyes betray him: shining like starlight, flickering from detail to detail, bright and brown and beautiful. His breath brushes my cheek. Any closer and our lips would touch.
He pulls back. “The left one,” he declares.
I remind myself to reply. “Yeah. Yeah, the left one.”
“What does it do?”
“Nothing. It was just a grafting test.” No anesthetic because that was money they couldn’t spare—I passed out halfway through. Small mercies. “What a waste, right.”
We walk for a little bit more, sticking to rougher paths between butterfly bushes and fake waterfalls so we don’t run into our caseworkers or any snitches. In the simulated twilight descending on the garden, Jenea takes my breath away over and over. He skips his compression garments as often as he can get away with it, letting his body scar as naturally, as brutally as it can. He cut up his uniform too, turning the baggy pants into shorts and slicing the collar of his shirt to show the twists of his burns.
It’s not just that I keep staring at his exposed skin like the teenage boy I am, his legs and warped chest, my new testosterone kicking everything into overdrive. It’s just—it’s him. Refusing the surgeries. Showing himself. Owning a body labeled female, labeled something to be fixed.
I ask him, “Why did you do it?”
He doesn’t flinch. Nobody ever does. “Governor of my settlement wanted me as a wife. Said I’d rather give him a charred corpse. The choice was easy.”
Easy? I imagine him standing in a puddle of accelerant, facing down his governor in the far depths of space and striking a match. Exploding into flame with a roar like the galaxy itself was screaming in rage.
Like Caeneus turning his body into something else to keep terrible things from ever happening again.
Easy, he described it. Easy.
My caseworker refuses to sign off on top surgery.
She reminds me of the nurses on Xiollion: always annoyed I’d lived through another procedure, hair pulled so tight it stretched the face. There’s even a mirror behind her desk, just like the mirror on the ceiling of the surgical theater, throwing my body back at me right when I’m trying to get away from it. Hair growing out from my surgical crew cut, chest large enough I can see it even with my binder, my broad pale face and shoulders wrecked with scars. Testosterone has done something but it has not done enough. I pretend I don’t see it.
I pretend I don’t see my eyes watering.
“I’m sorry,” my caseworker says. She can’t even bring herself to sound like she means it. “But it’s the best medical decision for you right now.”
This—this must be a joke, some sick joke. All my new organs work the way they should, I’ve healed, my body is holding together perfectly. I’ve survived dozens of awful surgeries, haven’t I? Why should this one be any different? They can do it without anesthetic for all I care. “I’m old enough. It’s legal. You just said I passed my physical. Look, tell me what I need to do to get those signatures and I’ll do it.”
She doesn’t move. No, she can’t do this. She can’t just refuse. I’ve read the laws. I know the legislation and the medical forms and the procedure itself top to bottom. There used to be all kinds of rules about gender confirming surgery: you had to be on hormones for however long, you had to live a certain way, you had to jump through the hoops cis people set out for you. There’s none of that now. If you want hormones, you sign a form and they give you a vial. If you want surgery, you get a few signatures and it’s yours. You hit seventeen and that’s it, that’s all you need.
It’s just a signature. That’s all she has to give me. She can’t just refuse.
“Tell me what I need to do,” I say again, “and I’ll do it.”
“You’re a special case, Amavon,” my caseworker says finally, carefully.
She doesn’t get it. Of course she doesn’t. I should never ask cis people for anything. If they don’t understand why the boy I love doesn’t want to be “fixed,” there’s no way they’ll understand why I do. They don’t understand that this body never once belonged to me. It was always claimed by something else—by family, by doctors, by tests, by she, her, girl, daughter, the F on my birth certificate and medical records, my period and my chest and everything. And on this ship, I have been taking it back piece by piece, and there’s one piece left.
Please, just let me have it, just let me have it, please.
I keep talking, like I can make her understand if I just want it hard enough. “Everyone here is a special case.”
“It’s not about whether your body can handle it,” she says. “It’s about whether you can.”
I slam my hands on the desk. “There’s no difference!”
My caseworker puts one of her nails between her teeth and stares at me and it takes me a second too long to realize I’ve dug my own grave.
That night, in my bed, trying to make out Jenea’s silhouette in the bunk across the room. Surrounded by the snores and shuffling of a dozen other ruined kids like us.
Exploding into flame with a roar like the galaxy itself was screaming in rage.
Is that what he had to do? Is that what tore him apart and put him back together—scars and burnflesh swallowing him whole, devouring his body so the first thing you think when you look at him is oh god instead of girl?
I roll over into my pillow, breathing hard. I wish I could wear my binder to sleep. Wrap something around my chest and squeeze my lungs in exchange for breathing better in my own skin. I wish I could dig my fingers into my flesh and pull it out, take myself apart if it means being put back together right.
Someone starts to whimper. We all ignore them.
Is this how Jenea felt right before he struck the match?
The SSE Patroclus reaches Endrimia, a dying system tightly orbiting a pair of fading red dwarfs. Our target, a miniscule desert planet, is a shattered mess. According to the report, someone set off a planet-breaker nuke to erase evidence but it didn’t go off right, so it just looks like someone took a bite out of an apple. Exploded pieces circle the atmosphere, a mockery of Saturn’s shining rings. All that work to blow it up and the experimentation facility is still intact, running on emergency power and shining lights so bright we can see it as soon as we enter the atmosphere.
We strap down for landing. By the time we’re on the surface and the patients are allowed to unbuckle, there’s a maintenance team inspecting a tiny crack in the hull’s observation portal. No worries, someone tells us, it’s just cosmetic. It’ll be patched up good as new in hours. Past the hull, beyond the meter-thick glass I stared through while Jenea told me he burned himself alive, field medics wander out to the surface in their pressurized suits and break open the facility doors.
I stand by the portal alone, face pressed to the glass like a little kid. Xiollion was a moon, but it looked a lot like this: a dark surface with a thin navy atmosphere showing every star every hour of the day. No plants. No water. One sickly cloud on the horizon, hundreds of miles away. Even the experimentation facility is the same from the outside: a sprawling nest of buildings and tubes, spreading like a sickness. My hands jitter, tapping against my thighs, and eventually I have to step back and shake them out and squeeze my temples until my head stops throbbing.
This isn’t Xiollion. The constellations are unrecognizable here.
I don’t know how long I stand there, watching, before the medic on comms radios back to the ship. I pull out my tablet to catch it, wrangling it out of its encryption and laying it out plain.
It’s a short message—just a few words because there’s not much to say. I read it over and over anyway, just to make sure, as if it will change the next time I do.
Someone smashed the oxygen recycler and left the facility to suffocate. There’s nothing to bring back but corpses.
When the medics start pulling out swaddled bodies destined for the cargo bay, I can’t breathe for wondering if they look like me. How many were cut apart and turned inside out, pain for the sake of more pain. That’s what war is, isn’t it? Horror on both sides, infecting everything in a devouring blight, where pieces like me are cut out so the rest can survive.
I throw up in the nearest lavatory.
It’s Jenea that finds me, because of course it is. He works open the stall lock with a card and sits beside me, a perfect angel among buzzing fluorescent lights and bleach, and says, “You’re fine.”
I gasp for air. I’ve been dry heaving for the past few minutes. My stomach cramps and my mouth burns. “I know.”
I imagine someone overhearing and thinking the edge to his voice is cruelty. No. God, no. It’s his version of kindness and I need it, I need it. I wipe my lip. “Okay.”
When I’m ready, Jenea helps me up and steadies me by the arms and smiles, a little bit. I smile, too, to see it. The skin swollen around his left eye, more of it pulling down his lip, connecting part of his jaw to his neck; he’s perfect.
Not just because he’s beautiful. But because he did it. He took that step. He spat in the faces of those who laid hands on him and claimed himself in a rush of gasoline and pain.
He did what he had to do.
Because boys like us have to do things ourselves.
We’ve left Endrimia, and there’s a week before Jenea’s month is up. Terror blossoms in the tense muscles of his jaw, in the spaces between his grit teeth, like someone desperate to run when all the exits are blocked. Which is true. The SSE Patroclus is only several hundred thousand square feet of metal and glass, surrounded by a hungry, hollow vacuum. The nearest planet is millions of miles away. So when all the other kids have gone to bed and it’s just us in the dorm kitchen, I invite him to break into the medical wing with me.
Jenea grimaces into his mug. “You mean, break in for you.”
I hold up my tablet, which contains a nicked download of my caseworker’s key cards. During my last meeting with her, I sobbed my understanding of her decision, sniffled apologies for my attitude, and swiped the codes from her computer when she went to get me a glass of water. “O ye of little faith.”
“Fine. But only to keep you from doing something reckless.”
This isn’t reckless. I’ve been planning this for days.
Besides, if anyone in the galaxy will understand, it’s him.
We sneak out of the dorms and slip down the back stairs. Artificial night has fallen over the ship, a desperate attempt to keep us all in line with our circadian rhythms. It’s silent except for the hum of emergency lighting and the distant clunking of machinery, a metal heartbeat that thrums in back corners like this. A few security personnel must be up at this hour. Maybe a graveyard shift of nurses. But nobody that really matters to us. Nobody we can’t avoid.
I swipe us into the back of the medical wing through a janitor’s entrance.
“So,” Jenea mutters, huddling into the beige sweater he’s wearing over his cut-up uniform. “What’s this about?”
The medical wing at night reminds me of the laboratories, all long shadows and dark corners. In a place like this, still and cold, it’s hard to remember we’re careening through empty space at thousands of miles an hour. Away from Xiollion. Away from everything else. So far away that the shapes of the stars distort and the sky becomes a perfect stranger every time we peer out the portholes.
Still, I manage a grin. “You’re asking now?”
“Figured I should know what I’m getting into.”
“I’m making a point.”
Jenea wrinkles his nose at me.
“And you can make one, too,” I say, “if you want.”
He’s done all this for me. I love him. It’s the least I can do.
The surgical unit rests deep within the medical wing, swallowed by concentric rings of wards. Around the edge are the general exam rooms, then the non-intensive units. It gets worse as you get closer to the center. Trauma centers, critical care, emergency surgery. I spent a lot of time at the center when I first got here. Now, I float around the outside, exam room to exam room, waiting to get back in.
We skirt the circle, avoiding on-duty nurses and insomniac patients, Jenea padding beside me on bare feet. It takes me a bit, but we find it: a silent hall with an empty operating room, the kind of place nobody will find us. At least not for a while. I wave my tablet over the lockpad, data cloaked in my caseworker’s profile and codes. A little light turns green and the doors slide apart like an opening mouth.
Jenea hesitates, shivering in his sweater. I hold out my hand for him. He takes it, following me through the decontamination chamber and into the operating room.
Without the patient and doctors, the room is unbearably empty. It’s just white and medical mint green with dry, sterile air and not much else. A lonely operating table. Massive lights on articulated arms. A single cart of spare equipment and sharp edges.
And the surgeon’s computer. The one my caseworker has access to, because there’s no such thing as privacy on the SSE Patroclus. I know because every time I went under the knife, she watched. Just like the nurses of Xiollion.
She was never going to help me. Nobody ever helps people like us, not really. I should have known better than to ask.
I boot up the surgeon’s computer, logging in with my caseworker’s card. The screen is all blue light and plain text with ancient icons that haven’t changed since computers were invented hundreds of years ago. I swear the ship’s systems haven’t been updated in a few decades. Xiollion had better programs than this.
I skim the terribly designed menus until I find it—the emergency patient override.
This is for Jenea. He stayed with me, he kept me upright, he made everything clear. He should get to make his point first. It’s the least I can do for him.
Over my shoulder, I ask him, “What’s your patient ID number?”
His voice, faint: “What are you doing?”
I snort, pulling out the holographic keyboard. “Nothing sketchy, promise. What’s your number?”
I stop, but only because my name sounds amazing in his mouth. It’s my name, the name I picked, and he’s saying it. It’s lovely. It’s perfect. And it’s what gets me to look at him and find him by the door, clutching his sweater like it’s going to crumble to dust if he lets go.
Oh. Oh, I’m such a dick. I know damn well how he feels about the medical wing and I still asked him to come with me? My stomach twists at the sight of his trembling hands. I force my voice steady, to not sound as pitying as I feel. “Hey. It’s okay. I’m right here. Look; I’m getting you out of that surgery. See? If you tell me your patient ID number, I’ll strike it from the system. You can watch me do it.”
He says, too softly, “That’s not what I’m talking about. Amavon, please.” I try to speak but he keeps going. “I thought we were just going to—to see somebody, or steal a keycard, or something, but—” I think his voice breaks, or I imagine it. I probably imagined it. “Please, what are you doing?”
Slowly, I say, “After I get you out of that surgery, I’m going to make my caseworker give me the signature.”
“She thinks I can’t handle top surgery,” I explain, like he hasn’t heard me spill my guts on the group therapy floor. “She doesn’t think I’m ready for it, whatever that means. But I know the rules, and it doesn’t work like that.” My body can handle a measly cosmetic surgery. They can do it without anesthetic for all I care. “So I’m going to get it.”
And Jenea says, “No.”
I blink. “No?”
Jenea storms across the operating room. “No. No.” He shoves me out of the way and logs out of the surgeon’s computer. “Stop it. We’re leaving.” He turns off the screen and keyboard. “This was a mistake. You’re making a mistake.”
“Jenea,” I say, like saying his name will bring him back to me. He needs to come back to me. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” he repeats, breathless. His eyes flick to the cart of sharp things by the operating table. “This is because of me. Isn’t it? You think you can hurt yourself because I did?”
Blood drains from my face. “I never said how I was going to do it.”
Jenea shrieks, “We’re in a fucking operating room! I don’t have to guess!”
It explodes out of him, feral and foreign and filthy with rage. The space between my ears rings with the force of it. But why? I’m not going to do anything that could kill me; anything that would hurt me, even. It’s only going to be a little bit. To make my caseworker understand. To make it clear what my body can handle.
It’s nothing I can’t take. Nothing that hasn’t been taken from me before.
How dare he. He doesn’t get to do this. He doesn’t get to push back on this. He doesn’t get to make me fall in love with him and then tell me—tell me I can’t—
I say, “So you’re a hypocrite, then.”
Jenea splutters. “What?”
“You think you’re stronger than me? You think I’m weak? Is that it?”
The surgeons of Xiollion were so close to getting it right—turn me inside out, tear my body apart, empty my guts into a bin. If that’s what it takes, then so be it, and he doesn’t get to stop me. He doesn’t get to tell Caeneus not to demand the truth from Poseidon. He doesn’t get to turn on me like this, he’s wrong, he’s wrong. Please, just let me have it, just let me have it, please.
Heat and bitterness rise in my voice, even as it shakes. “You did what you had to do, and now you’re saying I can’t?”
“I did what I had—” Jenea gasps. “I—no. No. What are you talking about? I did what I had to do? Oh, god. Is that all I am to you? Some walking scars to look up to? A little doll to project all your shit onto? No, no, no. Did you think about this at all?” I scoff. Of course I did. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to think about since we met. His eyes blur with tears and I look anywhere else. He doesn’t get to lecture me. Crying won’t change that. “Did you stop to think about how I’d feel? You can’t do this, not because of me. Please. Please don’t make this my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” I say.
Jenea whimpers. “You just said it was. You just said it was.”
A tear slips over his cheek. “If you care about me at all, don’t finish that sentence.”
I do. I care about him so much. I love him. He’s perfect.
But this isn’t the boy I know. This isn’t the boy I love, screaming rage and defiance in the faces of men and setting his body alight. The boy I love would do anything to make it right and know I’d do the same. He would understand.
I won’t let a stranger tell me what to do.
I say, “You can’t stop me.”
Jenea says, “Fine.”
His fingers shake, his lip quivers. He’s really crying now, the kind of crying that makes your chest hitch and your words stutter.
“Fine,” he says. “I’m leaving. And if you do anything in this room besides walk out behind me, then never speak to me again.”
He goes. The door opens to let him through and hisses behind him. The last thing I see is his heel, the hem of his beige sweater, a strand of hair.
The emptiness of the operating room is almost violent.
And I thought it’d be so simple to walk to the cart of sharp things, but I drag myself over and pull off the sheet and, and, and—
Security finds me minutes later. The unauthorized copy of my caseworker’s card set off an internal alarm; they knew from the moment we swiped into the operating room.
That’s fine. I accounted for that.
When Jenea said it was easy, he lied. Or maybe he just said it because he needs to believe it. Because the only other option is screaming until our lungs give out.
Earth is nothing like I expect, nothing like the pictures I studied for days before landing. The little blue dot is visible from the ship’s observation portal for just a moment before the intercom calls for all non-flight personnel to strap in for landing. There’s no sudden creeping of all the clouds and greenery and shining oceans; just a dot, then, when we’re released, blinding sun.
I step out onto the landing pad shielding my eyes, squinting against the glare from the glass spaceport. It’s hot. My ship uniform sticks to my skin and soaks through with sweat almost immediately, but it’s beautiful. Blue sky, grass, air. Sun. A world made for us. A world we were made for in turn. A stiff wind blows across the spaceport, ruffling a rainbow of flags.
“Keep it moving,” says a nurse, wheeling an exhausted and also-squinting patient in a chair. People flow out of the ship and onto solid ground in a steady, never-ending stream. I step aside.
There’s a lot to do now that we’re here. Those still in need of medical care will be sent to hospitals across the planet capable of bearing the weight of casualties from across the galaxy. Testimonies will be taken to convict galactic criminals. Refugees will be interviewed, documented, resettled. And the SSE Patroclus will be cleaned, tuned up, and sent out again. There isn’t a planet out there the war didn’t touch. The Milky Way needs all the help it can get.
I should head into the spaceport like everyone else. Track down what city we’re in, what continent we’re on. Get used to Earth’s gravity, oxygen content, day-night cycle. Transfer from my caseworker to another stationed here. Figure out what’s going to happen to me.
Instead, I stand on the edge of the landing pad and wait.
It takes almost an hour. My hands ache from holding my bag of luggage so I set it on the tarmac and tap my fingers on my tablet—it’ll have special locks on the programs until I’m no longer in government custody, thanks to my stunt in the medical wing. Birds come, flitting over the ships. And so do more people. Always more people.
But finally, I find the boy I’m looking for.
“Jenea,” I say, then again, louder. “Jenea!”
On the landing pad, he picks up his head. He stops.
My chest aches. Everything does.
I try to smile. “Hey.”
He doesn’t break from the crowd. He stands at the edge of it, ready to slip back in if he’s so much as startled. The sun gives his skin a peach glow. It turns his hair gold at the edges. Gives him a halo, an aura, that the depths of space could never.
He says, cautiously, “What?”
I don’t know what to say. Every word escapes me. I spent all those weeks trying to figure out the words for when he looked me in the eye again, how I’d ask for forgiveness, how I’d wipe everything clean and admit how I felt and explain how much I missed him. How I’d make things good again. But none of it sounds right. It’s all too hollow, too desperate, too much, not enough.
It’s the kind of apology that will take the rest of my life. If I ever figure out where to start.
So, for now, I’ll start here.
I say, “Did you know Caeneus used to have a constellation? Think we can find it?”