“Zero, are you sure An’s signal led you here? We’ve been wandering around for hours,” Alia huffs, kicking at the sand beneath her feet. The Tex-Dome was the last place anyone had expected Alia’s friend to be hiding, least of all El. She hadn’t been home in a long, long time.

“He ain’t gonna be alive, y’know. Outsiders don’t last long here,” El grunts.

“You said that already when you made us put on these stupid outfits!”

“They’re my culture. My crazy Texas culture. That’s offensive, Blondie.”

“I agree with Big Sister Elanor. These clothes are quite nice,” Koharu says, swishing her skirt in the wind. “It is miraculous how little the culture of Texas has changed since my time.”

“That’s what floatin’ alone in a space dome forever does. Nothin’ ever changes.”

“I understand that well.” Koharu nods, her lips quirked upward. “I have been in space longer than Texas, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, we know alright.”

The desert air blows into El’s eyes. It’s comfortably familiar.

When the ranch burned down and his mother died, Hēdonē left behind every mark of her past. His hair cut, clothes abandoned, home left to ashes. There was nothing left for him in that place, as that person, anymore. It was all gone.

“I know this place like the back’a my hand. Kid, Z, you two should go mess around at the poker table. Get us some cash.” El gestures to a particularly rowdy table in the corner of the bar. “Amelie is the bartender— she’ll know if some city boy came by.”

Koharu nods quickly and takes Zero’s hand, tugging her along to the table. It’s selfish, really, because they don’t need money-- El just isn’t sure he can face Amelie in front of them all.

God. Amelie.

She’s standing by the bar, cleaning out a mug, baby strapped to her chest. She already had four when El had left the dome, but over the years the number of children stumbling around the bar has only risen. Morrigan, the eldest, is nine now, eating a bread roll with her older brother behind the bar. They’ve all grown up.

“Is that the bartender?” Alia asks, poking El’s arm. “She’s super pretty. Reminds me of Eva.”

El snorts. “You mean your buddy’s ex-wife? Is that meant to be a compliment?”

“Duh. Eva’s a bombshell, dude.”

The words are a pathetic attempt at stalling. El needs to--

“Come along, мальчик!”

The bar was loud. Always, always loud.

The man who brought Hēdonē here, some sort of military man far from home, grinned wide. “Come, умняшка! Let me buy you a drink! Давайте веселиться, yes? A reward for saving my life!”

“Yeah. Get the booze comin’.” Hēdonē ignored his strange words— a free drink was a free drink.

The soldier laughed, hearty and loud. “Yes! Yes! Бармен, bring the drink!” He slammed down on the bar. “Quick! Быстро!”

“On the way, pretty boy!” The bartender, extremely pregnant, called out as she fumbled for bottles and glasses.

Hēdonē isn’t the talking type. The man prattles on.

“I am greatest солдат, yes? Friends say, Анато́лий, you are best in camp! Greatest солдат!” Cолдат, Hēdonē thought of him as, whooped. “Yes! Yes! Слава! Разгул!”

The bartender returned, drinks in arm, and sat them down on the bar. “You’re paying, city boy?”

“Проблема на потом! Tab!”

She grunted, but slid the drinks over.

The night passed quickly— before an hour had gone by, Cолдат had already torn through a dozen drinks. His words morphed into a slurred mess, even more nonsensical than before.

“Она совсем крошечная. Маленькая леди! Настолько мал. Я защищу ее, ты знаешь. Я буду… да, да, хорошим братом. Так меня называет маленькая возлюбленная. Да!” Hēdonē didn’t bother responding. He kept going. “Дорогая моя Алия! Ох, она взрослеет! Она хочет быть солдатом, как я!”

“You know a lick of what he’s sayin’, boy?” The bartender asked, tilting her head.

“No. I just want the free drinks.”

“You’ve only had one so far. Haven’t even finished it.”

Hēdonē didn’t say a word. His only defense was being a lightweight, which was… embarrassing.

“I see. Lightweight, then? Nothin’ to be ashamed of at your age. I’ll help you build up a tolerance,” the bartender said. “I’m Amelie. You’ll wanna know that if you’re gonna become a regular.”


“Hēdonē.” Amelie squinted. “Odd name, I oughta say. Who gave it to you?”

“Me. I picked it.” Hēdonē swished the whiskey around in his cup. He hadn’t got a taste for it, not yet, with the way it burned his throat. It was like liquid fire.

“Good choice then, boy.”

“I know.”

“You’re awful humble.”

“I know that, too.”

Amelie frowned. “You sure about that? Cause, by the looks of you, I’d doubt there’s a lick of confidence beneath that scarf.”

“I’m confident I could cut your head off right now.”

“I’m confident you haven’t killed anyone before.”

Not on purpose, Hēdonē thought. He said nothing.

Amelie swiped the glass of whiskey from his grasp and downed it. “You gotta stop thinkin’ of them like people.”


“To kill ‘em. They can’t be people. They gotta be bugs.” She lifted another bottle from the bar and refilled the cup. “Pesky little things that no one’ll miss.”

The cup slid back across the bar and into Hēdonē’s hand. He took another sip with his left hand and felt his gun materialize in the right.

“Что ты делаешь, мальчик?”

She recognizes him on sight.

“Ellie,” Amelie says, and the terror melts away, “We’ve missed you.”

“You’re pregnant again,” El croaks. “I missed you, too.”

Amelie laughs softly and steps away from the bar. “Come on, now. I’d like a hug.”

She doesn’t need to ask twice. El steps over, arms open, and squeezes them around her. “Hi, Ame.”

“Hi, Ellie.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit like I promised. I just--” She starts, but Amelie shushes her softly.

“The galaxy is big, sweetie. You had plenty to explore.”

“I know. I know. I’m still sorry.”

Amelie cups his face like she did when they were small. “Don’t worry, Ellie. We’re just fine. I know how hard it is to be back for you.”

She can’t read El as well as she thinks. He isn’t grieving. She is-- he is-- El is a coward.

“Thanks,” He settles on.

Alia has been quiet. That’s the thing that snaps El out of his trance.

“Blondie?” She turns away from Amelie, but no one is behind him. Gorn. Gorn.

Then, like some cruel joke from the universe, El hears a scream. He’s not going mad, because Ame perks up too.

“The back room,” She says, pulling away from El.

“Girl keeps gettin’ herself into trouble. Dammit.”

Amelie keeps hold of El’s hand and pulls her along to the back. The floorboards creak as they step. Now it’s gone quiet. A blade materializes in El’s hand. Ame presses a finger to her lips.

When they burst through the door, it’s not the gory display they’re expecting.

“—and then, when we got back, Ko had won, like, a gazillion rounds! We were rich rich!” Alia squeals, squeezing a mystery man’s shoulders.

He’s short, which is the first thing El notices. Taller than Alia, but not by much. He’s dressed like a server at the bar. He looks like a regular Texan guy. El, however, can put two and two together. She knows who this is.

“Lia, that’s— that’s great. I’m so glad you’ve been well,” Alia’s captain says. Alia’s captain.

The second thing El notices— though, it’s not really El, it’s Hēdonē— is who this captain happens to be.

“Fuckin’ Cолдат,” she mutters, just as Alia finally notices them.

“El! El, I found An!” She grins, wide, and breaks away from Anatoly. “He’s been here! And— and Zero was right, it happened to him too! The glowy sparkles! We were just talking about it!”

Definitely Cолдат.

“Good for him. Let’s get the gorn out of here.”

“What? Already? Ko and Z prob’ly haven’t even finished their game!”

“You’re the one who decided this ‘mission’ was important. Get Cолдат guy ready, and we’ll go back to Hermes.”

“Uhm,” Cолдат starts, “maybe—”

“Sold… solat? What are you talking about?”

“Doesn’t matter. Can we get out of here?”

“Listen, I think—”

“No! What’s up with you? You’ve been freaking out since we landed!”

“You have no fucking clue what I—”

“Ssssssshut it,” a voice hisses from behind the door. A familiar one. Silas.

“Damnit,” El grunts as the snake-headed man grabs his arm, “The gorn are you doing here?”

“Who— El, what is—” Alia sputters, but Silas pays her no mind.

“Mister Lambert,” he gestures to Cолдат, “informed me you had ssssssset foot in town after you were banisssssssshed. Exxxxxpliccccitly banissssshed.”

“You called the fucking pigs on me?!”

“He’s a snake! And— and I thought you were going to try to kill me again!”

“It’s a metaphor, dipshit!” El shouts, “and the first time wasn’t personal!”

“You two know each other?!”

“Sssssshut up, Hēdonē,” Silas hisses, “You’re coming with me.”

Before El can draw his gun, Silas is slamming his into the back of her head.

It’s cold.

“El? El, are you okay?”

Cement cold. Familiar cold. Cell cold.

“Can you— gorn, do you have a concussion?”


“Alia?” El grumbles, trying to pull himself up.

“Oh! Woah— hey, stay down there. Snake guy hit you pretty hard,” Alia says, scooting closer to El.

Silas. “Where’s that bastard?”

Alia shrugs. “He threw us in here and booked it.”

“Oh.” She flexes her fingers.

Oh indeed, man.”

Wait. “Us?” El looks at Alia, legs crossed on the concrete floor. “Why the gorn did he arrest you?”

“Uhm,” Alia squeaks, “I sort of punched him.”



“Why?” El rasps.


“Why did— I don’t understand, Alia,” the other girl squirms at the use of her name rather than a playful epithet, “I don’t understand what you had to gain by punching a guy and gettin’ fuckin’ arrested.”

“I didn’t have anything to gain.” Alia shrugs, her lips pursed. “I just wanted to stick with you.”

“You don’t make any sense. No gorning sense at all,” El mumbles, pulling her arm across her face.

The air in the cell doesn’t thicken. It never does, not with Alia.

“I think,” Alia starts, tracing a circle on the floor, “that I just wanna go wherever you go.”

Elanor swallows. “What?”

“I like being with you a lot, El. More than I’ve ever liked being with anyone before.” She pauses, scratching at a fleck of paint peeling from the floor, “Even if it’s something like this, I… I have a lot of fun with you. I like it. I wanna keep doing this forever.”

“Even if a lot of it sucks lumps?”

“Yeah. Even if all of it sucks lumps,” Alia says back.

“If you do this— if you really want to stick with me, it’s going to hurt. A lot.”

“Not all the time. We’ll have fun, too.”

“You were gonna be an aerospace engineer,” El mumbles weakly, his cheek against the ground.

“I wanted to be. I wasn’t— that was never gonna happen.” She says it with the same confidence she says everything else-- Complete conviction.

“It still could, once this is all over.”

“I don’t think I want it to happen anymore.”

The air tastes like dust and cigar smoke. El sits up. “Because you met me,” He says. It’s not a question.

“Because I met you,” Alia repeats, grinning.

Elanor isn’t sure when she reached across the room. All she knows is that her body is pressed against Alia’s, arms wrapped around her. They fit into each other like Aster and Neutron do now, both fine on their own but something far better together. Now, with Alia’s arms wrapped back around El, the idea of being anywhere else other than with her seems impossible. This is what’s right, this is how it’s meant to be. They both breathe, not in unison, but complementary. When Alia breathes in, El breathes out.

“I wanna go where you go, too.”

(They both do, Alice. They both do.)

When Anatoly arrives with their bail, they are still intertwined on the floor.

Tiny Star