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We Are Stardust

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We came from all places. From the desert cities of Vulcan to the rainforests and rushing falls of the Amazon. We came from places where the animals our ancestors hunted were long disappeared. We came from flood and famine. We came from the frozen, forgotten steppes and the golden, corn-fed plains of Iowa. We came from cities whose automated highways extended as long as rivers. We came from towns where there were more churches than stores. We came from villages where no one believed in God. We came from mountains where Standard was an unknown tongue.

We joined because we read books about stars when we were children. We joined because someone gave us a telescope. We joined because we failed out of law school. We joined because we spoke twenty languages. We joined because we wanted to meet new people and see new things. We joined because we wanted to get laid. We joined because we didn't know how to stay still. We joined because we had no family. We needed money, a place to live, a paycheck. We joined because we belonged to two worlds and could not choose one.

We said goodbye to great-grandmothers who had no teeth. We said goodbye to brothers just learning to speak. We said goodbye to hard-drinking mothers and ex-wives who'd left us nothing more than bones. We left disappointed fathers with no goodbye at all. We left the wet sound of cicadas in the bright and glistening leaves. We left the sound of rain on the thin roof. We left cows and roosters and waking at dawn. We left the screech of sehlats and the smell of tikiri leaves. We left the cacophony of cities that never sleep -- cabs and newsies and beat cops cornering thieves. We left warm beds and the smell of bread in the morning. We left dogs and cats and favorite paintings. We left babies to whom we read one last book. We left our languages. We left the familiar bite of harissa, of unripe olives, of chipotle. We left the everyday flavors of plomeek, of oysters, of miso, of kim chee, of homemade cheese. We left spiced garbanzos with cassava. We left borscht and vodka.

To get to San Francisco, we sold our belongings. We hitch-hiked. We journeyed light years. We escaped slavery. We got drunk and nearly didn't make it in time. We rode motorcycles. We rode donkeys. We rode transport shuttles. We defied authority, or our fathers. We saddened our mothers. We risked our lives stowed in dark and rustling trucks moving across the border. We sailed on boats held together with rope. We trekked from the north on foot, fighting not extinct bears and wolves, but elements that would always live on. The wind attacked us and tried to hold us back, but we fought and won.

We arrived with our lives in our suitcases, in our aircars, in our hands, in our minds. We arrived with our families, with our children, with our beagles, with our photographs, with the clothes on our backs, with stashes of poi and li hing, halvah and tortillas, chutney and sauerkraut. We arrived with sourdough culture in a jar. We came with books that gave us comfort, with the words of our ancestors printed on our skin. Sometimes we arrived with nothing at all.

We went off into the unknown, taking courage in a bottle. We closed our eyes as our stomachs threatened to heave. We grabbed the hand next to us, then let go before anyone could see. We saw stars. We were among them. In the galaxies and the wonders unknown, the sky a foreign country.

Our first night on the ship we spent sleepless. Hums and clanks and thrums. The darkness so deep and complete. No windows. No moon. No howl of coyote. No swoop of nighthawk. No night blooming cereus. No sun creeping through the blinds. No roosters, no nocturnal mousers making a clatter downstairs. Our bodies felt strange. We were cold, we were hot, we felt light, we felt heavy. Our skin cracked in the artificial air.

We met other races. We traded. We interpreted. We tried to speak languages that tied our tongues. We made mistakes. We shook hands instead of touching faces. We bowed instead of shaking hands. We neglected to remove our shoes. We accepted disgusting foods to be polite. We did not know to belch to show we liked things. We refused gifts without knowing we were refusing them. We forgot to bring gifts without realizing we were forgetting. We used our left hands when we should have used our right hands. We made eye contact. We tried not to make eye contact. We were wrong both times. We mispronounced honorifics. We wore the wrong colors and brought death to mind. We laughed loudly. Or did not laugh at all. Sometimes death came at our hands.

We spent nights on new planets, sleepless, strange wind in our ears, with only the stars familiar. A planet free of disease and pain, a planet with a city floating in the clouds, a planet that granted our wishes and brought back our pasts, a planet where a computer controlled people for six thousand years. Planets of peace, planets of war. Planets where no one lived, or where no one died. A planet where one man spent two lifetimes, his only companion an ion cloud. Planets with no doctors. A planet whose water could make us disappear. Planets at war for five centuries. Planets where life was not what we knew as life. Planets where love was forbidden. Planets where there was no time.

We saw black stars, quasars, energy fields, ion storms, and comets. We met children who barely aged. We saw flowers the size of lakes, trees no larger than our fingers. We saw insects as big as ourselves. We saw yetis and bipedal lizards. We saw green rain and beings made of light. We saw love in all its forms, and hate.

We fixed ships that could not be fixed, crossed distances that could not be crossed. We heard sounds that had never been heard until we heard them, saw colors that had never been seen until we saw them. Sometimes, we were lonely. We were bored. We hooked up. We broke up. We married and divorced. We met old friends from alternate times. We sat in the engine room, tightening bolts, tightening wires, as the ship hurtled into oblivion. We saw our own destruction over and over again, then came out the other side. We thanked our gods. We loved our lives.

Some of us were killed by salt-loving women, by silicon-based life forms in the darkness of mines, by Rigelian fever, by our doppelgangers. Killed by galactic barriers, ion storms, cloud creatures, androids, phasers, robots, radiation, unknown flora, lightning, explosive rocks, computers. Killed by one of our own. We were killed in battle, in innocence, in sacrifice, in ignorance. Killed by gods, by soldiers. Killed for food, and sometimes for entertainment.

We lost many (Carlisle, Kaplan, Robau, Marple, Hendorff, Mallory, Rizzo, Olson, Grant, Latimer, Dehner, Kelso, Mitchell, Barnhart, Darnell, Green, Mathews, Rayburn, Sturgeon, Tomlinson, Tormolen, Gaetano, Galway, Jackson, Lang, O'Herlihy, O'Neill, Tracy, Compton, D'Amato, Harper, Thompson, Watkins, Watson, Wyatt). Whole ships died. Transporters malfunctioned. Bodies floated in the vast blackness of space. We lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sons. We lost friends and lovers. We lost our memories and our minds.

How many days, how many light years between us? How many milk runs and diplomatic missions? How many star systems? How many shifts, how many orbits? How many Earth Standard Days? Time was thicker than blood.

We aren't Human, we aren't Vulcan, we aren't Orion. We aren't black or white, Asian or Latino. We are Starfleet. We are particles. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and iron. We are these, in varying degrees. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All the universe is our garden of Eden.