1TactileWriter

Chapter 3: Spaceport Disaster

Chapter 3
Spaceport Disaster

Lucy woke in the night, scared. She couldn’t leave Kimmy behind.
She crept to her parents’ room. The door was shut, as usual. She listened. Quiet. She opened it and turned on the light.
“Dad? Mom?”
They woke up, shading their eyes.
“What is it, hon?” Mom sat up in bed, holding her arms out.
“I’m not asking to sleep with you. It’s more important. Daddy, we have to take Kimmy with us.”
“Lucy, we already talked about that at dinner, remember? It’s against the law.”
Lucy felt anger flooding her, and tried to keep it under control. “But Dad, they hit her! Didn’t you notice she was wearing leotards at my party? Well, she was wearing an icepack before.”
“Like I said before, honey, we know they hit her. The school knows about it, too, but with everything the way it is …”
“You mean the war.”
“Yes.”
“Well, if everyone’s so into that, they won’t notice one kid. We can tell the Dearhearts she’s my sister, and since they’re so loving, they can find a place for my sister, too.”
They looked as helpless as she felt. Lucy’s anger melted. She wasn’t mad at them; she was mad at Kimmy’s parents.
Mom patted the bed. Lucy got into bed with them. She settled herself. “Gee, I’m glad you guys weren’t, you know, doing anything.”
“Lucy.” Her mom and dad chuckled. “What do they teach you at school, anyway?”
“I didn’t learn about that from the teachers. I learned it from the kids.”
“Recess was my favorite subject, to.” Mom leaned back on her pillow. Lucy laid her head on her mother’s tummy. Mom began stroking her hair. “Great subject, recess. Never know what you’ll learn.”
They turned on the TV. They could find nothing that didn’t have to do with the war.
Even the kids’ channels were taken up with news.
“Change the channel, Will!”
But Lucy had already seen three bodies being announced as the war’s “quieter casualties”.
“That’s Lydia. And her parents. What’s wrong? They look dead. They’re dead. Why are they dead?” Lucy’s voice grew increasingly hysterical.
Her parents had a time trying to comfort her. When she finally calmed down, dawn was creeping across the sky.
“You knew, didn’t you?” Lucy looked from one to the other with red, swollen eyes.
“We guessed,” her dad said. “Princess, we didn’t want to worry you. You’ve already got enough to worry about. Some people, when they can’t find a new world to live on, they … they …”
“If we hadn’t found a place,” Lucy asked quietly, “would you and Mommy have made me drink poison?”
“I don’t know that I could have done it, sweetie,” her mom said.
“Her parents suck!” Lucy spat the words out and hid under the covers, trembling. She was sure she would never get the words out of her head. They’d flowed over her while she’d been crying. The weekend they were supposed to have left for another world, Mr. Powers had given her friend, Lydia, poisoned hot chocolate, while he and his wife had drunk poisoned wine. All this time, Lucy had imagined them somewhere safe.
“Oh, honey.” Mom took her in her arms and rubbed her back. “I’m sorry. You believe in God, don’t you, Lu?”
“I guess, Mom.”
“Then your friend’s with God now. Her parents never told her what they planned to do. Your friend’s parents had no other choice. They sent their little girl to God.”
“Did they go to the other place?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to ask you to try to do something very hard. I want you to try to forgive Lydia’s parents. Now that you know, you should also know Andorpha was our last hope. Your father and I have been trying to get you off this planet since you were in diapers.”
“You have?”
“Mm hmm. Try to get some sleep, sweetie.”
Sandwiched between her parents, Lucy cried and trembled. “You wouldn’t have really killed me, would you, Mommy? Daddy?” Her father’s strong arms supported her and held her tight, while her mother caressed her forehead and whispered reassurances. Finally, Lucy’s eyes closed, despite the awful things she’d seen and heard on TV. She fell asleep knowing she would never again complain about having to leave everything behind.
When her mother woke her, she went into her own room. She gave her bare room a last once-over and got dressed. She trudged out to the kitchen table.
Her favorite cereal went down hard. Thankfully, her parents were too busy doing last-minute stuff to notice her struggling to get the cereal down. She felt sick, but she wasn’t sure she was sick enough to throw up. Maybe she shouldn’t bother her parents, at least till she was sure.
She watched them haul suitcases out the door. Her furs were packed in one of those.
She looked up from the almost-empty bowl. Voices.
“Well, well, if it ain’t little Kimmy Tarr.”
Kim! Lucy rushed outside.
“Why don’t you and Lucy ride in your parents’ car? Ours can’t hold another person.”
Lucy and Kim hugged.
“Hi, Mrs. Tarr,” Lucy said as she crawled into the back seat beside Kim.
“Hi.” Kim’s mom got behind the wheel, keeping her eyes firmly on the road.
“Any more letters from Lithe?” Kim asked.
“Nope. I’m gonna miss you, Kimmy.” She said that for Mrs. Tarr to hear, then leaned closer. “I have a plan,” Lucy whispered in Kim’s ear. “Tell you more when we get there.”

At the spaceport, Kim and Lucy stayed around to finish her part of the paperwork. When the agent lady said she was free to go, the girls walked to a nearby cafe. They both ordered milk and a chocolate chip muffin.
“Leaving us, dearies?”
“She is,” Kim said.
The waitress peppered Lucy with questions when she got back with their orders.
“Lithe. What a pretty name. I think I’ll call my baby that, if it’s a girl.”
“And Woo for a boy.” The girls giggled.
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Wait. You’re having a baby? Are you crazy?”
“Luce!” Kim looked shocked.
“Oh, it’s okay,” said the waitress. “Aren’t you being a little fresh, dear?”
“Sorry,” Lucy said, and she was. “It’s just that … I just found out something really awful that happened to a friend. What I mean is I wouldn’t want you to have to make the same choice that my friend’s dad did. He p–p–”
She couldn’t get the words past the lump in her throat, nor her stinging eyes.
“Kim, Lydia didn’t go anywhere. Mr. Powers, he … he …” She’d forgotten the waitress altogether.
“I’m sorry to hear that, dearie. We grownups can be pretty stupid, making the world what it is, then expecting you to accept it with a good attitude. If it’s any comfort, we also have to live with it. Don’t worry about me. I’m leaving too. Young children and pregnant women are a priority. That means they’ll save us first. What’s your full name?”
Lucy wondered if this were a trap. Information like that could get her into trouble, except the waitress didn’t look mad. She took a chance. “Lucinda Sue Smith.”
“There, that’s done it. My baby’s full name. Lithe Lucinda McWithers.”
Kim grinned. “What about Lucinda Lithe? I think that’s prettier. I love babies. When’s she coming?”
“In about five months.”
“Gee, I hope Earth is still around then.”
“Lucy …”
“It’s okay. You girls want to know what keeps me going?” The waitress sat down. “Hope, that’s what. I’ve got my name into dozens of planets. I’m sure I’ll be leaving soon.” She touched the pewter cross at her throat. “And you never know. President Fitzgerald might just pull it off. We women gotta stick together, right, girls?”
They nodded, smiling at being called “women”.
“Now we have a woman president. About time, too. She’s got a good head, and a good heart. If anyone can do it, she can. Somebody’s waving. Gotta go.”
They thanked the waitress for the food. Lucy pulled out her purse. The waitress shook her head. “Keep it. Give that to little Lithe, with compliments from Earth, such as it is.”
“When’s your ship leaving?” Kim asked.
“An hour from now, and you’re going to be on it.”
“Thought your dad said no.”
“He did. Kim, I’m not leaving you here to get hit.”
“Oh yeah, like I can get aboard without your parents seeing me.”
“Don’t be so negative.” Lucy grinned. “I’ve got it all worked out. I told you you should read more adventure books instead of those paper chick flicks you like.”
Both girls giggled.
“Okay, pirate, how are you going to pull this little caper off?”
Lucy bit her bottom lip. “We’ll figure it out when we get there. That’s what Daddy says when he doesn’t know the answer. Besides, I’ve prayed. God’ll give me the answer. For one thing, we can lose the grownups in line. There must be lots of people going on the ship. Mom and Dad have to go through a bunch of stupid, long paperwork, and then they’re going to put our suitcases aboard, if they haven’t already. In the meantime, you slip in behind me.”
“And when they ask for a ticket?”
“I’ll give them mine, and then we get aboard before the agent can stop us. If necessary, you can hide in the ship’s hold.”
“What if spaceships don’t have holds?”
“A ship is a ship,” Lucy said, sagely. “I’m not leaving you behind, Kimberly Tarr, so just forget it.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Kim saluted, bringing on a fresh bout of giggles.
“If Lithe doesn’t have enough room in her room, the Dearhearts will have a sofa bed. You like babies. Woo’s a baby, well, almost. You can be my sister. Hell, Kim, we can all three grow up like sisters, you, me, and Lithe. We’ll go to the same school, grow up and date the same boys.”
“I get the cute one,” Kim said, her eyes brightening. “Under all those fur coats, I wonder if Andorphian boys are cute.”
“Sure they are. Gorgeous. It’ll be you, me and Lithe, till death us do part.”
“Lu, I don’t care what we have to do. I’m going with you. Will your dad be really angry when he finds out?”
“He might lecture a bit, but Kim, my parents don’t hit. I’ve had some spankings on the butt in my life, but I’ve never been afraid to go to school. Anyway, he’ll get over it, and the Dearhearts will love you. If they can love me without ever seeing me, they can damn well love you.”
“Lucy. Your language.”
She snickered. “What do you care? Let’s go look around. Sister.”
They skipped away with their garbage, threw it neatly into the trash, and went looking for something to do.
All they found were lounges with TV’s in them, every one a news channel.
“I’m nervous,” Kim said.
“Me, too. But it’ll be fine. Just as soon as we’re on that ship. The worst we have to fear is, well, we might both get grounded, once you’re found out. I packed some food in my suitcase. Cans and stuff that won’t go bad. I’ll make sure you don’t starve. By the time that’s all finished, there won’t be enough fuel in the ship for the captain to turn around and come back.”
“You really have worked everything out.”
“That’s right. No need to be nervous, sis.”
“No, I mean, see all those people running?” Kim lowered her voice. “Something’s happening.”
Lucy watched. Kim was right. People weren’t exactly running, but it was like they would if they could. They looked scared.
“I don’t like it when grown-ups look scared,” she said to Kim.
They wandered by a lounge and looked at the TV. President Dorothy Fitzgerald was speaking.
“… to inform the American people there’s no good news yet. Emergency evacuation offworld is still advised. But I want you to know that my cabinet and I are doing everything possible to stop this madness.”
The spaceport exploded!

Lucy woke screaming in pain and horror. Someone stood over her, shushing and murmuring “there, there”.
“I need to know, are you Lucy Smith? Are you the Smith girl?”
Smith girl? What was that? “Ask. Daddy.”
“Is your name Lucy?”
Lucy. She knew that much. “Yeah.”
“I’m a policeman. Don’t be afraid. Where does it hurt, Lucy?”
“Every. Where.”
She felt something cold wipe across her arm. She looked up into a dark face. “I’m Dr. Cook. I’m just giving you something for the pain. Here comes the needle. Deep breath.”
Lucy took a deep breath. She screamed as more pain hit her hard. She got each word out slowly in a raspy voice she hardly recognized as hers. “What…  was. that?  … A … nother …  bomb? I didn’t hear. it go … off.””
“No. That was just morphine.”
Lucy floated into sleep.
When she was sure the child was asleep, Dr. Cook stood up. She looked around what was once a thriving spaceport.
“Oh God, what a mess. You proud of yourself?” She glared at the policeman. “Don’t tell me you didn’t have something to do with it.”
“I didn’t plant this one. Not this time.”
The doctor called him several choice names. “Your people sure did.”
“Sticks and stones, doc. It could as easily have been you. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for the little girl. I’ll make sure she gets on her ship.”
“What were you before you became a rent-a-cop?”
“A porter. What’s it to ya? I said I’d get the kid to the ship and I will.”
“With what for parents? You make me sick!” The doctor spat on the floor at the man’s feet and walked away.
“There’s alot of people dead, doctor! And a lot more to go. Don’t tell me you don’t have blood on your hands!”
She stopped, turned to face him. “We only blow up munitions dumps, not spaceports full of people. You gonna be this kid’s daddy now? You owe her a family, because I just pronounced them all dead, and it’s your fault. Her parents, and a young pregnant waitress, and another little girl and her parents, a Mr. and Mrs. Tarr.”
“This is war, doctor.”
“And a little girl,” she emphasized each word, glaring. She looked down at Lucy. “Poor little thing. You rifle through her suitcases, too?”
“Now, that’s more your style.”
“Only soldiers, and only weapons and money. Some of us have boundaries, you know? Boundaries we won’t cross even during war. Some of us. Not all of us, of course.”
The doctor marched away.
He looked down at the little girl, a mass of bruises, contusions, and limbs splayed out at weird angles, suggesting broken bones. “I’ll see you get to Andorpha. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about the rest. But you don’t care, do you? All you know is, you’ve been messed over. That’s how it is, kid. Life is trauma. At least it is on this piece of crap we call Earth.” He’d have to carry her to the ship, but he dared not. How many bones were broken, he wondered. “Hey, doc! Get back here! You got a patient!”
“Now what?”
“I can’t carry her to the ship. I don’t want to move her.”
“You mean, you’ve screwed her life up enough already. Go on, coward, say it.”
“Just get her to the ship.” He glared.
He had to get rid of the clothes. If the skipper knew about his double life …
But first, he scuttled behind a damaged car and made a quick phone call, giving a name and an address. “Good luck doc,” he whispered. “I hope you can help, seeing this is your last patient.” His snicker would have sent chills down any listener’s spine. He gave the disposable phone a quick toss. It landed somewhere he couldn’t see. With any luck, it was broken for good.

When Lucy woke, she was in a hospital of some sort. “Mommy? Daddy? Kimmy?”
A stranger smiled at her as he walked into the room. “You’re awake. I’m Dr. Kelley, ship’s medical officer. You can call me Dr. Jim, all right? Can I call you Lucy?”
“Dr. Jim, where are my parents?”
He looked away.
“You’re a mass of broken bones, Lucy. How’s your pain?”
“It’s bad.”
He gave her a shot of morphine. This time, it didn’t hurt.
“You know, sweetheart, we’re going to have to get in a fresh supply of morphine soon. We’ve got a special bunch of Afghani poppy farmers aboard, just to grow opium poppies for you.”
The chemical warmth had a hold of Lucy. A fur blanket in a needle, she thought, as it tried to pull her down into blissful sleep.
No! She pushed up.
“Dr. Jim, where are my father and mother?” She waited. No answer. “… My folks! My … progenitors! Where are they?”
He sighed. “They didn’t make it.”
“They died?” Lucy sobbed while the doctor looked on helplessly.
“I’m sorry. The captain told me not to tell you. Not while we’re still trying to patch you up.”
“And my sister? Well, she’s not really my sister, but I was taking her with me. Her parents hit her! Lots!” She glared at the doctor as if he were Kim’s parents. “Where is Kim?”
He spoke slowly. “She’s with God.”
Lucy swore. “I hope I die soon.”
“Now, that’s no attitude.” He gave her a game smile.
She gave him every bad word she’d ever heard.
“I don’t have to listen to that.” He walked out.
She got out one last swear word before the morphine took her.

“How are we doing?” Captain James asked.
“I’m no psychologist, sir. I said something I thought would cheer her up, or help, and all I got was a spitting, swearing eight-year-old.”
“And you expected?” The captain showed no sympathy. “How’d you like to be an orphan, Jim? She’s lost her world, her friends, her school, everything she knows. But at least she had her parents. And now?” He waved an expansive hand.
“We’ve got almost eight weeks with an angry orphan. I’m out of my depth, sir.”
“Then I suggest you study. You might start with how you’d feel if it happened to you.”
“Captain, I’m just a general practitioner.”
“Good. Then make childhood multiple traumas one of your general practices. That’s all.”
The ship’s doctor spent all of his time with Lucy, glad there were no other patients. They’d left the Sol system far behind by the time she was able to get out of bed.
The girl never gave an inch. It seemed there was nothing he could do to unwrap that angry silence.
“Lucy, did you ever think that, as horrible as it is, what happened to your parents and your best friend … did you ever stop to think that at least you’re going to someone?”
Nothing.
“I didn’t just read your letter. I’ve contacted the family. We’ll be on Andorpha in a few days. The Dearhearts know about what happened.”
“Still wish I was dead,” Lucy whispered.
“Okay. I suppose I would too, if I were you. I just want you to think about it, just for a minute. How many kids could say they’d lost their whole family, and were getting a replacement? You’ve got Mr. and Mrs. Dearheart for parents, their little girl for a sister and best friend, and a little brother. If you’ll just give them a chance.”
“You can’t replace your folks.”
“You’re right. You can’t. What would your folks want you to do? What would your best friend want you to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do.” He offered a weak smile. “Hey. You ever seen ‘Annie’?”
“No.”
“Never?”
“No.”
“Then, as ship’s doctor, I prescribe popcorn and a movie. Specifically, ‘Annie’.”

“Neat movie,” was Lucy’s only comment. “Thanks for the popcorn.”
“It’s a classic. Tomorrow same time, same place? I have tons of movies. Till now, I didn’t have anyone to share them with. How about ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’?”
“OK. DO you have Stewart Little?”
“You bet.”
Silence. Then in a whisper, “Do you have kids?”
“I had a boy. He loved those movies. Want to see his picture?”
She nodded. Dr. Jim pulled out a thin, long iThought. He closed his eyes. Lucy watched, wondering what he was doing. A picture slowly formed on the glassy surface. “Everyone should have one of these. It connects wirelessly to your brain and can pull out movies you’ve watched, pictures, you name it.”
He didn’t mention its uses on enemy prisoners.
Lucy stared at the small boy with red hair.
“That’s Tommy. He was seven. We bought water we thought was safe. It wasn’t. His mama drank it before I could stop her. I guess she couldn’t go on. She felt bad about giving our son that water. We didn’t know. Honest.”
“We got water in bottles,” Lucy said. “I’m sorry.”
Lucy did her best, though she cried sometimes, and couldn’t always control her moods.
Sometimes, she lapsed into bored silences.
“What’s there to do?” she moaned one morning and couldn’t understand why Dr. Jim grinned.
“Now, that’s what I want to hear! What’s there to do, indeed? How good an artist are you, Lucy?”
“I can draw.”
“Okay, here’s the deal. I want you to pretend. How good are you at that?”
“I’m the highest-paid in the business!”
“Cool. I love celebs. OK, Miss Star, here’s the deal. You’re applying for a job, illustrating fantasy books for kids. Now, this job is your life. You want it bad.”
“Good money?”
“Oh, yeah. Millions. But there’s a million artists as good as you and better that want the job.”
“What do you want me to draw, Doc Jim?”
“Whatever comes into your head.”
Dr. Kelley watched, feeling close to euphoric. He’d unwrapped one layer, for now at least. He’d found her something to do, and whatever she drew might help in some way.
“Done, doc.”
“Cool. Let me see.”
“Did I get the job?”
He looked at the drawing: mostly abstract, madcap colors and shapes that didn’t seem to make any sense, except for the same face that kept coming up in the pattern.
When Lucy was put to bed, he knocked on the captain’s door.
“Sir,” he said, after being invited to come in and sit down. “Any guesses as to why our little friend has drawn our chief cook’s face?”
The skipper looked up. “Let me see that.”
He swore under his breath. “Have her do some more.”
“What do you think it means, sir?”
“That’ll be all, doctor.”
When the doctor left, Captain Henry James stared and stared. He could swear there were letters, some drawn crookedly on purpose, some drawn as if on their side, some drawn in cursive or fancy calligraphy. As he deciphered each one, he wrote it on a plain piece of paper.
“Life is trauma, kid? What the devil.”
he said.

“Just curious, Lucy. Anyone ever tell you that life was trauma, and you’d better get used to it, that kind of thing?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe.” The shutter came down over her face.
“Still too hard to talk about, isn’t it?”
Tears trickled. “I know this sounds selfish, but my birthday’s coming up, and I don’t even know what Earth day it is.”
“On Andorpha, they’d be just coming into Vormaj. That’s equivalent to August on Earth.”
“Which day? Which day?”
“The day we land, it’ll be the fourth or fifth. Third, if things go ahead of schedule.”
Two days before she turned nine, they took her to ship’s stores, where she stumbled upon yet another horrible surprise. No orderly suitcases like Mom had worked so hard to pack. No toys. No princess bedspread. Some of the layered clothing had gone missing. A full-blown temper tantrum rose within her. The only thing she could do was let it out, tear by tear.
“Come on, sweetie. I know it’s a shock, but we’re doing our best.”
“Well, so am I!” she shot back. That tantrum monster pushed hard against thin seams of self-control.
“Um, guys?” Dr. Jim stepped in. “Lucy’s been through a lot, and she’s trying hard not to jump us all for the death of her world and everything she knows. I can see she’s trying hard. Let’s not comment on every stray tear, shall we?”
Lucy sighed, the tantrum monster started to shrink, the cage around him started to thicken. “Thanks, doc. I appreciated that.”
It wasn’t easy, going through her late parents’ things, seeing the great big “not therenesses” of things that should have been there. Lucy sobbed again. “That’s Mommy’s coat! Where’s mine? Where’s mine?”
“Hold on. Is this yours?”
“Yes. But where’s …”
“Let’s just give her everything we have here,” the doctor mouthed to the purser.
“Where’s my suitcase?”
“It blew up, honey. Look. I know you’re upset, Lucy. I know everything’s not here.”
“You’re damn right it’s not!” she shouted. “Where are my toys?”
“They’re on the planet, Lucy, in your new sister’s room.”
“How’d they get there?”
“They didn’t. The toys you know are gone. I’m sorry. Whatever your new sister has is yours to share.”
“I don’t want those!”
“Yeah, I know,” the doctor said, resigned to another fit.
Lucy noticed the lines around his eyes, and tried to control the enlarging, fire-breathing tantrum monster. That was what Daddy had called it, and though she was old enough to know better, she felt entitled to unleash the dragon all over these grown-ups. Their parents weren’t dead. They had each other, their ship, their things. On the other hand, if her parents and Kim were watching from Heaven and God was there watching too, it would be better to hold onto, just now. The tantrum monster was her dragon. She had to hold on to it. It wasn’t their fault her parents were dead.
“Lucy,” said the purser, “let’s try everything on. You can have everything that fits.”
“Gee, thanks, mister.” Lucy couldn’t manage a smile, but she could manage good manners. The tantrum monster roared inside. Shut up, she told it. “Aren’t there other passengers on the ship? What about their things?”
Good going, princess, her dad said in her head. Keep it up for as long as you can.
“Well, you can’t have their things of course, but all these clothes are from others who didn’t make it on board, even though their things did.”
“Well, gee, is it right for me to wear …” She couldn’t bring herself to say “dead people’s things”.
The purser smiled. “If there’s a Heaven, and if they’re watching, they’d want you to have the things they can’t use.”
“Okay.”
While she tried on all the warm clothes available, she peppered them with questions. How many passengers were on the ship? She’d only seen the sick wing so far. Could she meet the other people now? Dr. Jim grinned.
“I think you can eat in the dining lounge now, though I admit there aren’t that many. While you clung to life, a full ship’s list have been stopping off at this world and that. You’re the only one going to Andorpha. I’m afraid there’s only the crew left.”
“We’d be delighted with your company,” the purser said.
“Thanks.”
When you start to lose control, her dad’s voice whispered, take a time out. “I need a time out now,” she said.
They helped her to quarters outside the sick wing. She put the not-hers things on the room’s only chair, flopped down on the bed, and wept herself to sleep. She’d spent all her good attitude for that day, apparently.

The night before they made planet fall, Lucy looked at the pile of clothes disconsolately. One of the hands must have packed them for her. She mustered up the best thank you she could. It was hard, between the sobs.
“My books. My princess bedspread.”
After dinner, the captain taught her to play poker. Texas Hold’em he called it.
She went to bed, aching all over. Her head throbbed. She called for the doctor.
“Can I have some more of that stuff?”
“What stuff?”
“You know, the stuff you gave me for a while when I came aboard.”
“Ah. Morphine.”
“Yeah, that.”
“But you’ve been off that for two weeks.”
“Well, I’m aching all over, and my head hurts.”
“All right. Let’s try something a little less potent, but still get the job done.”
She looked at him, expectantly.
“I’ll tell you a bed time story.”
She looked at him like he’d lost his mind.
He chuckled. “A really, really boring bedtime story. I tell this story to people who don’t respond to strong drugs.”
After a while, she sighed. “I think I’d respond better to strong drugs.”
“Okay. Let’s try a mild sleeping medicine.”
She woke up crying in the middle of the night. She wondered for a second where Mom and Dad were. Then, it hit her all over again. They weren’t coming back, ever, except in her dreams. She supposed she was stuck for life. She tried to go to sleep. She booted up the computer in her room. She clicked on the clock, and pointed it at Andorpha.
Six hours and fifteen minutes, the screen read. They’d be landing there in six hours.
Local Andorphian time? The computer came back with several time zones, while at the same time correcting her.
It was Andorphan, not Andorphian. She put in the address. 4 AM.
She shut the computer down. No help there. She might have sneaked out to the ship’s phone and called the Dearhearts. Not that she’d know what to say if she did get one of them on the phone. Did they have a phone? How had Dr. Jim contacted them?
She booted up the computer again. Might as well play a game. Something niggled in the silent early morning, and she couldn’t put a finger on it.
What day is it? she wrote.
“Month: Vormaj; Day: 4. Local day name: ThalVendra.
What’s the day on Earth?
August 4.
A thrill snaked down her arms, her back, her legs. She was nine years old today!

In the large galley, Jim grabbed a coffee. “Today’s the day, isn’t it?” the head cook asked.
“Yeah. Lucy goes, like a pup, to a new home where she doesn’t know a soul. Sometimes I think it’d be better if she were a puppy. They love everyone, and their memories aren’t that long.”
“Well, she’s suffered one heck of a trauma.”
“Well, you know what they say, Lee. Life is trauma. Better get used to it.”
The cook’s lips turned white while the doctor watched.
“You ever met our little friend before? Before she came aboard?”
The chief cook shook his head. “Why would I have?”
“Oh, no reason. Except there’s a few hours we can’t account for you the day that bomb went off, the day our little friend’s world went poof, and her things were scattered and busted and ”'” Jim’s face felt like it was going purple. He felt the rage, the snake ready to strike at this man he didn’t trust, this man who fed them, who might just as easily poison them all, if it suited his purpose. ”
The cook sighed and banged the spatula down on the counter. He looked at the doc as if he’d just about lost all patience. “Doctor, in case you haven’t noticed, alot of people’s world went poof. As to the kid, she’s getting another world, ain’t she?”
“Well, yeah, if you don’t count alien climate and alien people, and not a familiar face among ’em. And she barely nine years old.”
“Oh, spare me! All sorts of kids nine and younger are going through hell.”
“I see.” The snake lifted its head, hackles raising. Before he knew it, he’d grabbed the chef by the collar. “Let me tell you something, buddy. I don’t like you. You’re a shifty SOB, and I swear to God if I ever catch you out, I’ll see you hanged.”
The two men grappled. “I don’t like you either, Kelley. I suggest you hire a taster.”
“Did you tell Lucy that trauma was a normal part of life?”
He released him and went back to his flapjacks. He turned one rather more violently than the recipe called for.
“Do you give a damn whether the kid gets better or not? Or do you want her to grow up to feel nothing but anger, and learn how to get a kick out of making people suffer. Like you do. What’s your problem, anyway?”
“You better leave me alone.” The head cook was shaking. “Just leave me alone, Jim.”
“Lucy seems to know your face. I wonder how.”
“Stop it!”
“And the way she wrote ‘life is trauma’. Very interesting. One of your big sayings, isn’t it?”
“I said stop it, Jim.”
“Sure, Lee. Wouldn’t want to spoil Lucy’s birthday. After everything else that’s been spoiled for her.” He leaned back, savoring the air. “The place smells like pancake Tuesday around here.”
“Whatever else you think, Kelley, I like the kid. I thought Lucy’d like it. What little girl doesn’t like fresh flapjacks with syrup?”
“Other than a mom and dad to enjoy it with? I can’t think of anything she’d rather have.”
The cook glared. “Stop blaming me for porr little Lucy’s world going poof. Just cut it out.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.” A taut silence stretched between them. The doctor’s shoulders sagged. A fight would solve nothing, bring no one back.
Jim Kelley poured himself another cup of coffee, took it to his office, and waited for Lucy.
“Guess what, Dr. Jim?” She skipped into the hospital wing with the first gleam in her eye that he’d seen. He wanted to cry.
“What, punkin?”
“I’m nine years old today.”
“Well, happy birthday. And a prettier, sweeter nine, I have never seen. Why, you’re the epitome of nine-year-old birthday girlness, the absolute essence of. Got you a present, too. It’s a little old for you, but it’s a book.”
“Is it good? Are there pictures?”
“Tons of pictures. But in order to see them, you’d have to be good at pretending. In fact, you’d have to be the highest-paid in the business.”
“It’s a doctor book, right?”
“Nope. But it’s my favorite. Ever hear of a fella called John Keats?” Her hair shone, sleek as a cat’s, when she shook her head. “He was a poet, wrote alot of lovely things. Give him a shot. You’ll like him. He’ll grow on you, just like Andorpha.”
Jim was proud, watching her try valiantly to hide her disappointment. At that moment, he’d have sold his soul for a doll, an etch a sketch, anything nine-year-old girl-like.
“Let’s go into breakfast. You like flapjacks? Giant pancakes?”
She did, though her stomach roiled. She was too excited, too scared, and too sad to eat. Dr. Jim gave her an encouraging smile.
“I’ve been reading up on Andorpha. If you don’t like it there, you write me, and I’ll come and take your place.”
“What will I do?”
“Be ship’s doctor, of course.”
Lucy didn’t even feel them landing at the spaceport. “I’m scared. What if there’s another b-bomb?”
Dr. Jim patted her hand. “There’s not, honey. This world isn’t stupid like Earth.”
Somewhere on the ship, a comm officer tried to raise Andorpha’s Immigration Office, Refugee Department. Lucy heard the radio crackle to life. “We have the little girl,” the officer said. “She’s alone.”
The voice at the other end started to say something. The officer jammed a pair of headphones on so Lucy couldn’t hear.
“I know what they’re talking about,” she said. “That guy’s probably asking about my parents.”
“Maybe not. Maybe it’s just technical stuff.”
The door irised open. Dr. Jim stepped out onto Andorphan soil with Lucy. “Do you have pictures of the people you’re coming to live with?”
Lucy shook her head. She wished she’d had a diary. It was exactly 10:31 AM, on her ninth birthday.
The spaceport was smaller than Earth’s, and alot colder.
“Warm enough?”
Lucy shivered.
Ice had formed on the windows. The wind howled outside. Lucy held herself tight inside both her, and her mother’s coats, plus the layers of sweaters in between. She tried to snuggle into the big, ill-fitting boots, which were definitely not chinchilla. Dr. Jim wanted to cry, watching the poor waif in clothing not her own, clothing that didn’t really fit, coming to a world as cold as the devil. There she was, trying to hide the tears with a fake smile. He guessed her parents and teachers had told her to have a good attitude and try to accept life as it came. Life, no matter how unfair, how brutal. Dr. Jim wore her daddy’s chinchilla getup. The man had obviously thought of everything. He was a good provider.
“You can keep it,” she said.
“I think not. You need it.” He placed her dad’s coat around her.
Lucy gaped. Everyone she saw was covered from head to toe in layers and layers of fur.
Three such people detached themselves from the crowd, and ran toward the ship. How could they run in all that clothing, she wondered. She already felt weighed down and uncomfortable, except that she also felt somewhat warmer.
“Lucindelah!” a little girl came hurtling toward Lucy. A furry little girl. Lucy had the strange feeling that wasn’t a coat. Lithe, she assumed, was so covered in fur, Lucy couldn’t see any skin. She couldn’t see any skin on anyone. No seams, zippers or buttons showed that they were wearing fur coats.
“That fur doesn’t come off, does it?” she said too softly for anyone else to hear. She suddenly felt very alone. These weren’t even humans.
“Oh, Lucindelah, you’re here!” Lucy’s eyes widened. Lithe’s voice was dainty as chimes, daintier. Her big, gold eyes were all lit up like Christmas.
“Lithelah, no. Not so fast,” a similarly-furred woman laughed. “She isn’t used to our ways.”
But Lithe had thrown her arms around Lucy and was frantically rubbing her face against Lucy’s. No one seemed to hear Lucy crying, “Aaaaaaaah, thaaaaaat!”
When Lucy looked up, her face still tingling from the unbearable fur of Lithe’s face, Dr. Jim was gone. The ship’s doors irised shut. She was surrounded by furry Andorphans touching, caressing, trying to hug.
“Everyone, widen,” Mrs. Dearheart shouted over the musical hubbub.
The circle around Lucy widened.
“Hero, let’s get Lucinda home. Come, Lithe.”
“See you, Corsh.” Lithe waved at a furry girl around her age. Best friends, Lucy thought, with a pang.
“See you, Lithey. Rub Wooey’s forehead for me.”
They went out into the endless snow and started walking. Lucy’s furs weren’t keeping her nearly warm enough, but the Andorphans were chatting like it was a spring day. Snow clung to their fur, but it didn’t bother them.
Lucy heard a sharp flapping sound.
“What was that?”
“That was my ears.” Mr. Dearheart’s voice was textured like velvet. He turned around. Atop his head, two ears stood straight up, ending in thin, rounded flaps. They quivered, then made a sharp flap as a snowflake tried to enter his ear.
“What … what are you? Are you people?” Lucy suddenly felt very alone and very frightened.
“We’re Thakthulls,” Lithe said, looking into Lucy’s eyes. The girl was literally starry-eyed. Lucy wondered what her parents would have thought. She knew what Kim would have thought. She would have gushed over the pretty beings with their soft fur and their hugs. She would have ooh’d and aaah’d over their delight-filled eyes.
“Is today a holiday?”
“No more than any other,” Lithe said. “Come on. We still have a way to walk.”
“You have got to be kidding,” Lucy whispered.
They all stopped. “I take it you are not used to walking in this cold, Lucinda?”
“No, sir, Mr. Dearheart. I’m f-freezing.”
He came back, picked her up, and wrapped his arms around her neck, snuggling her into him. “What is this ‘aaaaah thaaaat’?”
“It means, oh my gosh, you guys are so soft I can’t stand it. Can I just melt into your so cuddly fur?”, though she said “cuddly” more like “cuttelly”.
“You’re cuttelly, too,” he said. She laid her head down in the soft warmth, and they continued to walk. “Today’s my birthday,” she said, muffled in the fur.
“How many years have you?” Lithe asked, in her little feather voice.
“Nine. Dr. Jim says I’m the absolute picture of happy birthday, nine-year-old girlness.”
“Oh, lovely! We shall have cake, shall we not, Mama?”
“Yes, of course, darling.”
“And Courtia. May I invite Courtia and Adore?”
“I don’t know. Humans don’t bond like we do, dear. It might be too much–”
“No, it won’t,” Lucy said, knowing instinctively that her dad was looking down from Heaven, calling “go for that good attitude, princess”.
“You know what keeps me going?” the waitress’s voice echoed in her head. “Hope, that’s what.”
“I wish I was going there,” Kim had whispered.
Except for the cold, Lucy reckoned she could like Andorpha. She laid her head on Mr. Dearheart’s chest, snuggled into his so cuttelly fur, and closed her eyes.

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