Separation Anxiety

“Attention all travelers. Attention all travelers. Passengers on OLC Intrepid Light should report to Cosmodrome Terminal S for preboarding and cabin assignment. Passengers on OLC Intrepid Light should report to Terminal S for preboarding and cabin assignment. We thank you for your patronage.”

Auburn’s coffee was mostly water at this point, anxious stirring having melted most of the ice. The spaceport terminal was a bustling mass of humans, lyricians, and frames with places to go and people to see and cargo to carry. Everyone had a destination. Everyone had an origin.

The jackalope’s feet were propped atop his duffel bag as he sat on a high stool in the coffee shop just past the security checkpoint. He wasn’t given to nervousness – there’d always been a steadiness about him – but today he was tapping his toes against his luggage and wondering why he’d gone for cold brew instead of wildflower tea. He loved wildflower tea.

Did he? Trellis would make it for him some mornings. Something about the way it was loose leaf, how he always made sure there were mountain dandelion heads in it, floating gently on top of a bittersweet brew with just a few drops of honey.

He did. He did love wildflower tea. But he would never order it himself. Something about where it came from. Something about how the deer always knew exactly what blend of herbs would go together, how the flavors danced across the palate like a choreographed ballet, how they’d sit and lean against each other on the porch as the rain watered the forest and the garden and they’d let the silence do the talking.


“You could stay,” he said flatly, voice sharp-edged.

“I could give up my life, yeah. I’d rather not do that. If you were given the opportunity, wouldn’t you do something like this?” Pleading. It wasn’t like him to beg.

“It’s n-not giving up a life, it’s, it’s building one.” Distant. Fearful. Afraid. Of what, being alone? Auburn thought.

“I want to explore, Trellis. I want to find new opportunities! That’s what the frontier offers. That’s what’s beyond the belt. You’re so damn focused on the trees you can’t see the stars.”

The rain on the roof and the creaking of the branches in the forest outside punctuated the silence between them. For a moment the air was thick enough with tension to choke on. Trellis set about taking the first bite.

“How dare you.” The words hit like timber-fall. He wasn’t stuttering anymore.


His datapad chirped. He turned his arm to look at the message; the haptic interface jumped off the pad’s screen and hung amber text in the middle of the air, but the words may as well have shot him in the chest.

I'm not coming. --T

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Original Follows
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Trellis:

My transport for Tethys leaves in twelve hours.

You, obviously, mean the world to me -- I cannot begin to stress how sincere about this I am -- and I don't want to leave without sharing a moment and saying goodbye. I love you.

I'm going to Orbridge Port Euclid, and I'll be waiting at the cafe stand just off cosmodrome intake. I hope you'll be able to see me.

With love; longears.

Seven years and change of love, months of separation at a time, their last real moment together an angry one. This was his last chance to say goodbye.

God damn him.

Auburn gestured for the chord keyboard to reply. He thought a thousand things to say atop ten thousand more. He ground his teeth so hard he nearly chipped a tooth. He gestured away the keyboard and wrapped his hand around the screen to choke it back into standby mode.

He stood up and pushed his chair out, the metal legs making a scraping noise against the concor floor that would have woken the dead even in the din of the terminal’s bustle. He threw his bag over his shoulder and his coffee in the compost, unconsumed.

Guess that’s it then, he said to himself.

He choked back a sob.

Low Places

In contrast to many animals, leporidae are incapable of sweating of any kind. Nearly all of their heat exhaustion and thermoregulation occurs through their ears.

Auburn wished he could sweat now.

Maintenance of Tethys’ hydrocrackers was not comfortable work. Cramped (not for a frame, certainly, but absolutely for a jackalope of his size) and hot (an uncomfortable 45 degrees Celsius this far down from the solar collector) and dirty (a considerable amount of hydraulic fluid that was fine for Lyricians but not so much for the gaskets of the frames they’d tried to send down to do the work themselves), it was probably his least favorite job, but it was among the most critical of his functions — without the hydrocracker, there’d be no drinking water for Telemachus City, no heat for the few hundred thousand working and living and thriving there (“in no short part due to Guldsommar Generosity,” he mused, disappointedly).

After rotating the collar of the upward feed line until it was wrench-tight, he squeezed through a set of return pipes and very carefully past a photovoltaic reflector path into a control area. Using his wrench for leverage, he grabbed the cutoff valve with two meaty peach-furred hands and twisted clockwise to open it. The equipment flushed to life, no drips or spurts or splashes.

Another job well done. He smiled and lifted his wristcom to his mouth.

“Hydrocontrol, maintenance complete. Wheels are turning.”

“Copy clear, Auburn, looks like she’s hummin’. Union break?”

“Nah, Cole, I think I’m done for the day. Don’t think there are any other travelers left to process in my queue.”

“Yeah, yeah, was hoping to pawn off some of these wastew–“

“Nnnnnnope.”

“C’mon, man, the treatment plant could use an engineer like you helping them with their work orders!”

“The treatment plant could use any competent wrenchwringer!” Auburn shot back.

A bellicose laugh over the comms. “Yeah you’re right about that. All right, sounds like we’re wrapping up.”

“Fire up the gravlift for me. Auburn out.


“Looky looky! Guldsommar’s most talented waterboy,” came a squeaky voice from the descender airlock.

Paying no mind to his engineering manager, Auburn peeled the coldsuit from his upper torso, sliding his huge arms out of the upper sleeves and shimmying the rest down his legs. He threw it into his locker, crumpled, and slid himself into a tank top and a pair of Guldsommar-issue work slacks. “What can I say, I know my niche. You should try it sometime, Oleg. Afraid you might crack a talon?” He pulled his button-down work shirt out and wiggled his way into it.

“Got more important things to do than knock pipes with grease-knuckles, wolpertinger,” the osprey frowned as the shirt started to button. “You, ah, got a call while you were out. Someone at Aldyne’s looking for you.”

The locker door slammed shut. Auburn wasn’t one much for visibly shaken, but he sure looked that way now. “I assume they left a message.”

“They did, ja. I didn’t pry. Just said they were with Stellar Agriscience, said to call back soon as possible. I thought you didn’t know anyone in the inner rim.”

The jackalope’s silence spoke volumes. Oleg continued unabated. “Anyway,” he said, laying the transpariflex in his hand down on the bench behind Auburn’s locker, “here you go. Hope is good, ja? Never good when those inner rim guys make long distance calls.”

“No.”

“Anyway. Cole tells me you are off shift. Work went well I hope?”

“The gaskets on cracker 4 should be good to hold for decades to come. Pleased to say that the next fellow touches ’em won’t be me unless something catastrophic happens. The icegrind heads might have a few sols left of life on ’em, though. Probably need to be replaced sooner rather than later.”

Ja, ja, okay, will bring it up at the next planning. Take off. Get some sleep. Cool off? Maybe return that phone call?”

Auburn rolled the flex up and put it in his bag, threw the bag over his shoulder, made towards the door.

“Maybe,” he said, sliding it shut behind him without a second thought.


Auburn’s home — a condo in the neighboring city of Hallusport — was described accurately as “spartan,” though it left a lot of room for that word to do a lot of work. The concor walls were bare save for the hotel-style decorative lighting and on-lease artwork that came with the rental, the furniture and electronics were Guldsommar standard issue company stock for employee housing (“only the finest for our frontier founders” he’d scoffed once when the bed they’d provided him didn’t fit his nearly seven-foot frame and promptly split in half after a week of use), the pantry stocked just enough for a couple meals in advance.

After sloughing off his work clothes and hitching up his boxer briefs, he fumbled around in his bag for the transpariflex. “Open message,” he said to it, and the blank transparent sheet sprang to life with a full-page video message.

“Hey, longears. It’s, uh, I know. I know it’s been a while,” the voice began, soft like the caress of cotton, dewy like morning leaves, gentle like a mist settling in the branches of an enormous forest. Auburn’s ocean-blue eyes locked on to his correspondent’s golden ones, his expression and state shifting from exhaustion to fondness, an ever-so-slight tremor in his hand as he held the flex.

“Sorry to send you a message from my work address, I uh, well, actually have a work-related question that I wanted to propose, but also I’ve got a new job now, with Aldyne — yeah, yeah, I know, I know, but it’s arboriculture on a space station! I get to work with trees in space! I’m so excited. I can’t believe it. I’m going to get a chance to make some world a better world, where people like us can live. A new home for Lyricians. We’re going to be explorers! I’m going to be an explorer. A pioneer,” the

The camera panned away. A blur of gray and mint-green turned to walls of white, configured in a drum, with rows and rows of tree plantings and trimmings and agricultural equipment, peppered throughout with lush patches of all shades of green. “Look! Look at this. Isn’t this magnificent? It’s so…it’s so green! We did so much work to bring this back on Earth, and now it’s here. I’m so happy. Doesn’t this make you happy?”

It did.

The camera panned back, an image of mostly nose and eyes. He was never any good with technology, the jackalope laughed to no one in particular, echoing hard off the concor. “Auburn, I, uh, I know it’s out of the blue for me to call you like this. We haven’t spoken for years. I know that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wanted to hyperlight you and let you know that, well, we need people for the venture. We need ably-minded folk. I need a good hydrologist and I need a good engineer, and I know you’re both of those, and it’d be nice to see you again, e-even after all that, uh.”

The feed went quiet briefly. “Anyway. I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to catch transport out of the Jovians but if you can, please. If you can make it to Novaterra, meet me at New Mawsynram. Just…call first, okay? I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to see you.”

In the background, someone called a name. “Oh, uh, that’s me. Okay. I’m gonna hang up now, um, okay. Love you. Take care. Call me either way, okay? Okay. Bye for now. Look!” the message said, camera panning back to the lushness. “Look again! Okay. Bye for real now, okay, bye. Uh. End transmiss–“

End transmission.

///Shigo, Trellis R.
///Aldyne Stellar Agrisciences
///Technologies for the Modern Frontier

[CARNET ENCRYPT // 33KAPPA-979 // MESSAGE VALIDATED]