starkids by cynthia li
Hello, says the young woman with a taxi. She stares at the person standing at the sidewalk, the brown kid with a baggy pale blue t-shirt and a bright teal support cane and two duffel bags.
Hello, mixter, she says again, and Kas blinks and gets into the car.
At the station ey scans eir ticket from eir phone at the turnstile — a security guard squints at em but lets em pass — and takes a seat at Station No. 6, leaning eir cane against the bench. Ey rotates eir shoulder and winces; eir bags are too heavy and it feels funny. Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is very fun.
Next to em is some kid slumped over their backpack, asleep, earbuds in. Ey fingers the edge of eir wrist brace. Eir entire body is buzzing. Ey took eir meds before ey left but ey’s still anxious.
Kas waits for the ship.
When Jenna was fourteen and Kas was fifteen they were in that coffee shop in the middle of the desert, stirring her drink, a few months after the astronauts landed on Mars. “The scientists say they’re going to build an outpost.” She sighed. “Can you imagine? Not in our lifetime, I don’t think, but what I would give to go up there.”
Astronomy wasn’t something they could sustain themselves on. She moved to the Bay Area and got into computer software. Kas moved to Seattle and works part time as a barista in an indie café that pays decently well, and every time else as a freelance writer.
But it doesn’t keep them from dreaming of the stars.
Tech advanced faster than they thought it would. Now there are spaceships that take two hours to get to the Moon and soon, they’re going to start populating Mars, only a day trip away. All this time they’ve somehow managed to keep in touch.
Jenna’s moved to Luna with her girlfriend already, a few months after the one Habitat on its surface opened. She runs checks on the tech that keeps the city online.
Two weeks later, she texts.
She says things are stable. She’s got a week that she’s managed to clear out, wouldn’t ey like to come by for a few days?
Kas looks at eir life — thirty years old and ey’s accomplished approximately nothing except a farily impressive amount of slam poetry events and medical trauma.
Ey takes a few vacation days. It turns out indie cafés, the ones run by two trans women (who are married and adorable), are pretty good about that, even if they’re white. Ey packs a few changes of clothes in a duffel bag and fills the other with meds and braces and a spare cane. Jenna uses her engineer privilege and a few favors to get em a free round trip.
So here ey is.
The ship stops and the doors slide open with a hiss. Kas finds eir seat. Hefts a duffel bag on the overhead compartment. Pain shoots through eir wrists and back and shoulders but that’s how it is for most things. Connective tissue disorder means eir joints suck and about ten billion other symptoms besides.
Ey sticks the other one below the seat in front of em and sits down with a sigh. Window seat. Ey takes a breath. Can feel eir heart rate going up. Eir skin is hot and itchy and sweaty under the wrist braces so ey takes them off.
The engine hums to life.
Jenna smiles in this café like she did so many years ago, fifteen years older, dream come true. She stirs her coffee and talks about her job, the code she’s running, the stuff she’s seen up here.
They’ve both grown up, and changed, but some things stay the same.
Kas laughs with her. Tells her about eir writing, the customers ey has to deal with. Ey gets some weird looks — ey doesn’t look disabled, and ey and Jenna are brown, and there are only rich white folk living here right now — but ignores them.
This isn’t a long vacation. They might not see each other for a long time. She’s needed up here. And Kas isn’t rich enough to live here, and ey needs a place to pick up meds and a hospital nearby. It’s one thing to build a city and quite another to get people to stay.
But for now they’re together, and ey can forget the things ey has to do. And their faces glow with all the smugness of kids to whom grown-ups once said that’s impossible, and who proved them wrong.
They both got here in the end.