Jupiter Jones grew up with her head in the stars, not the clouds. She had a natural talent for mathematics and sciences, unsurprising considering her parentage, and a pure love for any and all kinds of stories. She used to get in trouble during physical education classes for staring at the sky when she should have been running, during history classes for sketching graphs and planets when she should have been memorizing dates. She grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars and Doctor Who, on any and every PBS science broadcast, on Bill Nye the Science Guy. Her mother signed her up for a library card when she was 5 years old, and her every spare minute was spent in the library, reading sci-fi and encyclopedias filled with black holes and lightyears and quasars. Her Auntie Nino one day spent 15 precious dollars on the big, beautiful Jupiter poster that hung above her bed.
Her mother never, ever discouraged her or told her to shut up. She kept Vassily from recruiting Jupiter into the business too young, wanting her to get to be a child, to shield her from her harsh future. When she wasn’t too tired from the day’s work, Aleksa would teach her whatever maths her teachers couldn’t or wouldn’t. Young Jupiter had an insatiable curiosity, greater than her mother could keep up with, and she was always rattling off an unceasing stream of questions and postulations. She was always in advanced mathematics and sciences, and took them as electives and extracurriculars when possible. The public school she attended could only offer so many advanced STEM classes so they arranged for her to have an independent study hour in the library.
When she entered high school she started to become aware of what she wanted from her life. And what she likely couldn’t have. But she kept dreaming. Kept hoping.
At 16 she started working with her family part-time.
In her junior year she took the PSAT and caught the attention of the National Merit Scholarship Program. The school guidance counselor started giving her college brochures and scholarship opportunities. And she almost went. She almost got out. She brought them home, but kept them under her bed for a few days, afraid to know the answers to the questions she would have to ask. But she couldn’t leave them unasked. She had to try. For herself.
One fateful night at family dinner, she told them. Told them about the scholarship offers and the schools. Cousin Vassily threw the brochures in the trash, told her she couldn’t make it, that she was supposed to stay and help her family, because family sticks together. She looked to her mother, in that moment, and Aleksa couldn’t look back. Jupiter realized, years and years later, that her mother had fought a battle against selfishness and lost. She couldn’t bring herself to help her daughter leave her. Maximilian’s little planet was all she had left from her old life and so she kept silent. Eventually, Jupiter came to understand, and much more eventually, forgive, her mother.
There, at seventeen years old, the stars let her fall. And she just kept falling.
Jupiter didn’t show up to her own graduation. She received her diploma and achievement awards in the mail. That summer was the worst of her life. Uncle Vassily told her she could have the whole summer off if she started with the family business full time in the fall. So she had it off. A hedonistic whirlwind of boys, parties, and alcohol. She saw it as her only chance to live, and how convenient that she could also drown the fires of ache and rage that ate away at her insides and filled her lungs with ash and regret.
And in the autumn she picked up her gloves and toilet brush, and let go of her childish hopes.
It was a life half lived. Years of anonymity, of unhappiness, of dull hostility, of half-heartedly dusted shelves.
Then, oh then, the stars snatched her back up. The sky cracked open and deposited the whole universe in her lap, giving her entire planets and galaxies and constellations. Giving her Earth. She saved it, from someone with much more power and education and entitlement than she, and it became hers. She, Jupiter Oksana Jones, legally acquired the whole earth in just a few intense days.
Suddenly everything was bright again, undiscovered and awaiting her. The stars shone and the oceans in her mind bubbled and frothed with all the possibilities a universe could grant. She returned to housecleaning just long enough to figure out where she would go from there.
Scholarships, grants, extra houses for her cousin’s business, and she got her undergrad, her masters, and now…
12 years. Two completed degrees. She cleaned houses, saved planets, wrote papers, went on dates, traveled the universe, had family dinners, researched and began implementing an alternative to human-based Regenex. And now…
“It is my pleasure to present to the University of Chicago for the first time, Dr. Jupiter Wise-Jones, whom we are pleased to grant a PhD of astronomy and astrophysics after the submission of her brilliant dissertation on the existence of wormholes and their possible use in intergalactic travel. Congratulations, Doctor.”
She might have been nervous. She might have been afraid of the future she had worked so long and hard to achieve, afraid that it wouldn’t be all she’d dreamed of. But she was at peace. Jupiter accepted her regalia with ease and turned to the audience. In the third row sat her whole family. Her cousins, her auntie, her mother. Her husband.
She smiled widely. She was proud of herself. She should be.
The stars had called her back to life, to hope. And now they were calling her to educate the human race of planet Earth, to show them the way through star systems and quadrants, to show them their place in the universe and teach them how to live their lives among other species. In time, they would learn and grow and change, for the better. She wanted to change the world. They weren’t quite ready. But they would be.
And now, she was ready.