2947-02-12 - Tales from the Inbox: Junia's Frontier

I'll be more or less incommunicado for several weeks; this post was prepared in late January for publication. By now you all have probably read the reason for my unannounced disappearance so shortly after the holidays. The next time I dispatch Tales from the Inbox the day of publication, it will be from our new studio at Håkøya!

Junia stood at the bank of the luminescent stream, content for the moment to take in the sights. She was not technically allowed out of the compound at night, but with her mother spending more and more time with Blake, and Gus entertaining Sapphire as usual, it was becoming easier to sneak out every day. 

Berkant was a notably picturesque world during the day, but at night, the hills around the group's remote homestead were even more beautiful. Bioluminescent freshwater microbes lit up the streams as they wound their way down into the valley, the subtle green glow competing with the bluish illumination provided by the planet's two moons. A small herd of rotund buffadillos dozed standing upright near the gurgling water, with fast-growing creep grass climbing up around their splayed feet, seeking a position from which to catch the morning sun.

Junia had at first resisted her mother's decision to drag her out to the Frontier, but after a full year on Berkant, she had changed her mind. The reclusive life in the little compound had quickly taken on elements of a vacation trip to paradise, and even after the novelty of the gorgeous surroundings had faded, Junia had not resumed her complaints. The company her mother kept was strange indeed, but that same company almost made up for the remote solitude of their new life.

Not all of that company held Junia’s interest, of course. Blake was friendly, but rough and none too bright; Junia didn’t know what her mother saw in the man, but he divided Faye’s attention, which Junia found liberating. Gus was clever and inventive, but he spent so much time tending Sapphire’s terrarium that he was rarely seen outside the compound. 

Sapphire herself was the compound’s real heart and soul, and the strange creature was the main reason Junia had not complained about the quiet Frontier life even after the idyllic novelty had worn off. Though she couldn’t speak, the sapient had a way of understanding people, and a way of making people understand her, which Junia had come to respect. Though wholly alien, Sapphire had become almost an older sister for the compound’s lone teenager – an older sister who always listened, and didn’t need to interrupt to make her observations known.

Of course, even Sapphire’s calming influence couldn’t keep Junia content forever. She knew that in a year, maybe two, the Frontier would become unbearable, and she would demand permission to leave. A return to the cramped and stifling Core Worlds – they seemed so from the Frontier, at any rate – might be too extreme, but the growing Frontier urban centers at Maribel and Håkøya presented a tempting middle ground.

Turning around at a rustle in the xeno-grass behind her, Junia saw Anas, the dog her mother had acquired at in the planet’s tumbledown spaceport town, slinking to her side. Even though the teen had double checked the seal on the compound’s outer doors as she crept out, the wily little cross-breed had managed to find a way to follow her. Junia knelt down and scratched him behind his ears, whispering for quiet.

When she stood to look back out toward the distant horizon, Junia knew Sapphire was nearby. The odd creature was as silent as always, but a familiar calm feeling had settled among her jumbled thoughts. Outside the compound, Sapphire never manifested a human-like appearance; the farther from her carefully-tended stand of mushroom-like host trees she wanted to go, the more of her form needed to be used to reach the spot. Junia was near the edge of Sapphire's reach; most likely, she had arrived only as a serpent-like pseudopod nosing through the grass.

"Why don't I fit in here, Saph?" Junia whispered. Gus had told her that Sapphire didn’t need to hear her words to know their meaning, but speaking was still the best way to construct a thought. "Do you think it would be better on Maribel?" Junia didn’t think she had quite fit in back on Planet, she hadn’t adjusted well to the teeming people of the liner, and she was beginning to see how the picturesque, rugged back country of Berkant would never feel like home. She was beginning to wonder if there was any place for her in the whole galaxy.

There was no answer. Sapphire could not speak, but not even the usual quiet reply was offered. Anas, sensing Junia’s distress, whined and butted his head against the teenager's leg.

Sapphire tugged Junia’s attention subtly, encouraging her to turn her attention to something. Taking the hint, Junia looked over her own shoulder. told Junia to look behind her. The compound's lights were all dimmed, but its domed atrium and multiple wings still glowed against the darkness of the hills beyond. When the group had first come to the place, Junia had looked at it in awe – the very thought of having so much wide-open space to call her own had seemed too great a fortune to bear. Now, the vast frontier distances seemed hopelessly lonely.

With another gentle nudge, Sapphire retreated back toward the safety of the compound with a sound not unlike a startled Terran snake rushing through the grass. Junia saw what she was being directed to see: a pair of lights crept across the starfield, circling lower toward the compound. The faint whine of turbines in the distance told her what they were. "Lighters." Junia muttered. Their compound had few visitors, and anyone who came by in the middle of the night were likely to be unfriendly.

Junia sprinted back toward the compound, Anas at her heels. "Mom! Blake! Gus!" She shouted, pounding through the front door. Sapphire had retreated into the wing housing the hydroponics system and fungal terrarium; she knew that her presence was better kept as a secret. "Someone’s coming." 

Today's Tales from the Inbox features the return of Junia (not her real name), who some of you may remember from Tales From the Inbox: Smugglers in Second Class. Junia sent this in herself, where prior entries related to her family's story were submitted by her mother. Also, our previous entries took place some years ago; the events Junia sent in are more recent, though I do not have the exact date.

While I have verified the identity of this person (or at least their understanding of details of the prior story which were not published in previous Tales from the Inbox episodes), I do not have any way of verifying the story (which as you can see, does not end here.) As usual, the audience is encouraged to make up its own mind about the veracity of the submitter.