Star Light, Star Bright
written for the Yuletide 2004 Project
by Amy L. Hull, amilynh at comcast dot net
Thanks to the several folks who betaed and encouraged and caught little glitches and made the story better for it. No infringement on the creators or owners of any of Alien Nation copyright intended; written for pleasure and not profit.
Some nights he glances up briefly at the stars on his way into the house. Of course, most nights he can't see them through the smog. For the longest time, he was glad of that, of the insulation from the universe. It felt safer here where he couldn't see the galaxy, where he could at least pretend that those out there who had enslaved them and shipped them around like cargo couldn't see them either.
Tonight he's lying on his back, high up in the mountains. The air is ever-so-slightly thinner and it's much cooler than amongst the heat-retaining city buildings below them. The vast expanse of black above him, undiluted by city lights, is punctuated by the tiniest sliver of a moon surrounded the brilliant flickers of the ancient glow from distant suns. Here the canopy seems endless, overwhelming, and he feels a shudder ripple through him, even inside the "rated to 20 degrees" sleeping bag Emily had so eagerly picked out for this Father-Daughter camping trip with the Trail Guides.
Even this many years later, this much open space is a disconcerting change from the confines of the cramped quarters and metal ceilings and floors of the slave ship. In their first months on Earth, he'd struggled with warring panic and elation over the sky that, like their world, was opened up to them. But there were pitfalls in this new life on a new planet and with a new culture and language to assimilate and responsibilities and choices available that were both terrifying and exhilarating in their strangeness. Susan and he, like many Newcomers, had battled the conflicting emotional charge of freedom, of the greatness of both danger and opportunity.
George shifts again, the pine needles on the ground crackling slightly against the crisp whisper of the nylon sleeping bag.
To his right, a quiet, almost tentative voice says, "Dad?"
George starts, swallows, and clears his throat, which still feels slightly tight when he says, equally softly, "Yes, Emily?"
"I'm glad you came."
George smiles in the dark, able only to see the outlines of his daughter's shape next to him in her matching sleeping bag.
She turns on her side, propping her head up on her hand.
George knows that pose will drive boys--Newcomer and human alike--crazy in a few short years. He tries to push that thought, the thought of her growing up, away.
"Are you having fun, Dad?"
He is silent for a moment, looking back at the sky, then at his daughter.
The night is punctuated only by a breath of a breeze blowing the autumn scent of pine and dust through the needles of the trees on the slope above them and the faint, crackling sounds of insects and small rodents foraging for food. George remembers when small sounds like this, so random after the ordered mechanical sameness of the ship, were one of the most terrifying aspects of the early days in the refugee camps, how he and Susan had slept on either side of Emily--though none of them had those names yet--to buffer her from this strange and threatening new world.
He realizes that the silence has stretched long and Emily's posture has started to droop.
George takes a breath, holds it for a second. Lets it out. Takes a breath again. Speaks this time. Mostly controls the slightly ragged edge to his voice. "Do you know that it was probably just earlier this year that I began to believe that you weren't going to be taken away from us?"
Even in the dim light, George can see the stiffening in her stance that indicates she's frowning. "Dad--"
George moves to mimic Emily's pose. "You truly are a child of our people's lives here, Emily. You may have been on the slave ship, but it was never your life. Buck is different that way; he's caught between the worlds. I'm not sure he fully believes in the stability we've built."
"I don't think I totally...no, that's not true. I do. I've known since we moved into the house, even if I didn't understand it then." Emily paused then continued, "You know, I really missed sleeping with you at first."
Sleeping with Emily tucked between them had not been new in the refugee camps; they'd been sleeping like that for months already on the ship, knowing the time was coming. Buck had been taken, and all too soon, Emily would be too, dragged away screaming for help they could not give, for protection they could not offer.
"We missed you too. Did you know I used to get up in the middle of the night and stand in your doorway to watch you sleeping?"
"Of course I did."
"Dad. Duh." Even without light he can tell she's rolling her eyes at him. "But I didn't tell mom about it."
"No." Emily plucks at the fabric of her sleeping bag. Then she looks up and says, "I didn't tell you she was doing it, did I?" He can hear her broad smile in her voice. "Well, until now."
George chuckles and reaches out to touch the side of her face.
"I love you very much. And I feel so fortunate to have been allowed to share all the parts of your life. Every moment is a blessing." He sits up and scoots his sleeping bag a little closer to hers. Pointing at the sky he says, "Do you see the Big Dipper?"
She sits up and leans her chin on his shoulder--when did she get tall enough to do that?--and looks along his arm to where he is pointing. Her hand, pale against the dark sky as it joins his, traces the shape in the air along with him. "That one?"
"Those two stars in the bowl point straight to the North Star. Matt told me once it was a navigational tool for sailors on Earth for centuries because it's always in the north. It guided them on their journeys and helped bring them home again."
She snuggles against him, cheek tucked into his shoulder and arms wrapped around his. He leans his cheek against her head, the softness and scent of her reminding him of holding her when she was a newborn, of holding her between him and Susan short years after her birth, sobbing inconsolably along with her after Buck was inevitably taken. Now she smells of Earth lotions and the beauty products pre-teens so love, combined with the fresh-air scent of Earth's mountains. These are the scents she's growing up with, not the smell of sweat and fear and metal and fuel, and for that moment, it's not so bad that she's growing up.
He disentangles his arm to put it around her and her arms go around his waist. For long, peaceful moments, he sits quietly holding her, cherishing this time with her while at least part of her is still a little girl. "You asked me if I was having a good time."
Emily nodded slightly against his shoulder.
"The best," he says, kissing her forehead and looking back at the open sky with its guiding stars.