Astra inclinant, sed non obligant
A short sci-fi story written for @caffeinewitchcraft’s Caffeine Challenge #12. My brain took the prompts and veered off a bit, but this was fun to write! The title means “The stars incline us, but do not bind us.”
I was born on the Saratoga, a class 2 transport running supplies between the consolidated colonies of the outer ring planets. It’s down in the records as the middle day of seven in a Night cycle as we drifted between suns, all lights on emergency use only until we could make it in range of the next system to recharge the auxiliary batteries. Mom always said that Night stretched so long because I was hoarding all the light for myself, so I could burst to life as five pounds six ounces of screaming starfire. She said she knew I’d be fine out here in the black, that she knew I could make my life here and be happy without a sun and a planet because even from that very first moment she could see the light in my eyes; a true spacer, whose inner fire keeps them warm even in the darkest times.
I never had the heart to tell her she was wrong.
My defection started like this: I was seven sol-years old and setting foot on a planet for the first time. Gravity dragged at me. My feet and hands felt heavy, my head hurt. The floor seemed to roll out in front of me, curving and bucking when I tried to walk. I fell more than a few times, and my mother tried to get me to go back to the shuttle, but I refused. Everyone else in my class had been planetside, even Monica and Neil, both two years younger than me, and I was determined to have my turn.
One of the station attendants gave me a pair of crutches and I gritted my teeth and kept going, one shaky step at a time, until I was through the doors and really, really in-atmosphere for the first time in my life.
The heat of the sun felt like a caress over my hair. The breeze tugging at my shipsuit was a revelation. There were sounds I’d never heard before, smells I’d never dreamt of, more colors than I’d ever thought possible. Actual living animals flew above me. Vibrant green plants pushed between cracks in the stone path, utterly unplanned-for.
It was too much. I cried. I screamed. I curled in a ball on the ground—real, solid ground!–and bawled my tiny heart out while the sun beat on my neck, and I refused to move no matter how my shipmates coaxed and pulled and scolded. Mom always said after it was some kind of sign, that it was proof I knew I belonged in space, even that young. The rest of the adults laughed about it for years. They’d muss my hair affectionately whenever it came up at a party, or a holiday, or a community hearing, or a graduation ceremony, and say things like That’s our Astra, and A born shiprat, you are.
I wasn’t allowed off-ship again for a decade.